Part 7 out of 8
He finished the question by a word I shall not repeat.
"I tell you," she answered, in clear, ringing, resolute tones,
"that you have outraged me past all forgiveness and all
endurance, and that you shall never insult me again as you have
insulted me to-night."
After saying those words she fixed one steady look on him, then
turned away and walked slowly to the door.
A minute previously Mr. Meeke had summoned courage enough to get
up and leave the room quietly. I noticed him walking demurely
away, close to the wall, with his fiddle held under one tail of
his long frock-coat, as if he was afraid that the savage passions
of Mr. James Smith might be wreaked on that unoffending
instrument. He got to the door before my mistress. As he softly
pulled it open, I saw him start, and the rustling of the gown
caught my ear again from the outside.
My mistress followed him into the passage, turning, however, in
the opposite direction to that taken by the little parson, in
order to reach the staircase that led to her own room. I went out
next, leaving Mr. James Smith alone.
I overtook Mr. Meeke in the hall, and opened the door for him.
"I beg your pardon, sir," I said, "but did you come upon anybody
listening outside the music-room when you left it just now?"
"Yes, William," said Mr. Meeke, in a faint voice, "I think it was
Josephine; but I was so dreadfully agitated that I can't be quite
certain about it."
Had she surprised our secret? That was the question I asked
myself as I went away to light the fire in the Red Room. Calling
to mind the exact time at which I had first detected the rustling
outside the door, I came to the conclusion that she had only
heard the last part of the quarrel between my mistress and her
rascal of a husband. Those bold words about the "new wife" had
been assuredly spoken before I heard Josephine stealing up to the
As soon as the fire was alight and the bed made, I went back to
the music-room to announce that my orders had been obeyed. Mr.
James Smith was walking up and down in a perturbed way, still
keeping his hat on. He followed me to the Red Room without saying
Ten minutes later he rang for the kettle and the bottle of
brandy. When I took them in I found him unpacking a small
carpet-bag, which was the only luggage he had brought with him.
He still kept silence, and did not appear to take any notice of
me. I left him immediately without our having so much as
exchanged a single word.
So far as I could tell, the night passed quietly. The next
morning I heard that my mistress was suffering so severely from a
nervous attack that she was unable to rise from her bed. It was
no surprise to me to be told that, knowing as I did what she had
gone through the night before.
About nine o'clock I went with the hot water to the Red Room.
After knocking twice I tried the door, and, finding it not
locked, went in with the jug in my hand.
I looked at the bed--I looked all round the room. Not a sign of
Mr. James Smith was to be seen anywhere.
Judging by appearances, the bed had certainly been occupied.
Thrown across the counterpane lay the nightgown he had worn. I
took it up and saw some spots on it. I looked at them a little
closer. They were spots of blood.
THE first amazement and alarm produced by this discovery deprived
me of my presence of mind. Without stopping to think what I ought
to do first, I ran back to the servants' hall, calling out that
something had happened to my master.
All the household hurried directly into the Red Room, Josephine
among the rest. I was first brought to my senses, as it were, by
observing the strange expression of her countenance when she saw
the bed-gown and the empty room. All the other servants were
bewildered and frightened. She alone, after giving a little
start, recovered herself directly. A look of devilish
satisfaction broke out on her face, and she left the room quickly
and quietly, without exchanging a word with any of us. I saw
this, and it aroused my suspicions. There is no need to mention
what they were, for, as events soon showed, they were entirely
wide of the mark.
Having come to myself a little, I sent them all out of the room
except the coachman. We two then examined the place.
The Red Room was usually occupied by visitors. It was on the
ground floor, and looked out into the garden. We found the
window-shutters, which I had barred overnight, open, but the
window itself was down. The fire had been out long enough for the
grate to be quite cold. Half the bottle of brandy had been drunk.
The carpet-bag was gone. There were no marks of violence or
struggling anywhere about the bed or the room. We examined every
corner carefully, but made no other discoveries than these.
When I returned to the servants' hall, bad news of my mistress
was awaiting me there. The unusual noise and confusion in the
house had reached her ears, and she had been told what had
happened without sufficient caution being exercised in preparing
her to hear it. In her weak, nervous state, the shock of the
intelligence had quite prostrated her. She had fallen into a
swoon, and had been brought back to her senses with the greatest
difficulty. As to giving me or anybody else directions what to do
under the e mbarrassing circumstances which had now occurred, she
was totally incapable of the effort.
I waited till the middle of the day, in the hope that she might
get strong enough to give her orders; but no message came from
her. At last I resolved to send and ask her what she thought it
best to do. Josephine was the proper person to go on this errand;
but when I asked for Josephine, she was nowhere to be found. The
housemaid, who had searched for her ineffectually, brought word
that her bonnet and shawl were not hanging in their usual places.
The parlor-maid, who had been in attendance in my mistress's
room, came down while we were all aghast at this new
disappearance. She could only tell us that Josephine had begged
her to do lady's-maid's duty that morning, as she was not well.
Not well! And the first result of her illness appeared to be that
she had left the house!
I cautioned the servants on no account to mention this
circumstance to my mistress, and then went upstairs myself to
knock at her door. My object was to ask if I might count on her
approval if I wrote in her name to the lawyer in London, and if I
afterward went and gave information of what had occurred to the
nearest justice of the peace. I might have sent to make this
inquiry through one of the female servants; but by this time,
though not naturally suspicious, I had got to distrust everybody
in the house, whether they deserved it or not.
So I asked the question myself, standing outside the door. My
mistress thanked me in a faint voice, and begged me to do what I
had proposed immediately.
I went into my own bedroom and wrote to the lawyer, merely
telling him that Mr. James Smith had appeared unexpectedly at the
Hall, and that events had occurred in consequence which required
his immediate presence. I made the letter up like a parcel, and
sent the coachman with it to catch the mail on its way through to
The next thing was to go to the justice of the peace. The nearest
lived about five miles off, and was well acquainted with my
mistress. He was an old bachelor, and he kept house with his
brother, who was a widower. The two were much respected and
beloved in the county, being kind, unaffected gentlemen, who did
a great deal of good among the poor. The justice was Mr. Robert
Nicholson, and his brother, the widower, was Mr. Philip.
I had got my hat on, and was asking the groom which horse I had
better take, when an open carriage drove up to the house. It
contained Mr. Philip Nicholson and two persons in plain clothes,
not exactly servants and not exactly gentlemen, as far as I could
judge. Mr. Philip looked at me, when I touched my hat to him, in
a very grave, downcast way, and asked for my mistress. I told him
she was ill in bed. He shook his head at hearing that, and said
he wished to speak to me in private. I showed him into the
library. One of the men in plain clothes followed us, and sat in
the hall. The other waited with the carriage.
"I was just going out, sir," I said, as I set a chair for him,
"to speak to Mr. Robert Nicholson about a very extraordinary
"I know what you refer to," said Mr. Philip, cutting me short
rather abruptly; "and I must beg, for reasons which will
presently appear, that you will make no statement of any sort to
me until you have first heard what I have to say. I am here on a
very serious and a very shocking errand, which deeply concerns
your mistress and you."
His face suggested something worse than his words expressed. My
heart began to beat fast, and I felt that I was turning pale.
"Your master, Mr. James Smith," he went on, "came here
unexpectedly yesterday evening, and slept in this house last
night. Before he retired to rest he and your mistress had high
words together, which ended, I am sorry to hear, in a threat of a
serious nature addressed by Mrs. James Smith to her husband. They
slept in separate rooms. This morning you went into your master's
room and saw no sign of him there. You only found his nightgown
on the bed, spotted with blood."
"Yes, sir," I said, in as steady a voice as I could command.
"I am not examining you," said Mr. Philip. "I am only making a
certain statement, the truth of which you can admit or deny
before my brother."
"Before your brother, sir!" I repeated. "Am I suspected of
"There is a suspicion that Mr. James Smith has been murdered,"
was the answer I received to that question.
My flesh began to creep all over from head to foot.
"I am shocked--I am horrified to say," Mr. Philip went on, "that
the suspicion affects your mistress in the first place, and you
in the second."
I shall not attempt to describe what I felt when he said that. No
words of mine, no words of anybody's, could give an idea of it.
What other men would have done in my situation I don't know. I
stood before Mr. Philip, staring straight at him, without
speaking, without moving, almost without breathing. If he or any
other man had struck me at that moment, I do not believe I should
have felt the blow.
"Both my brother and myself," said Mr. Philip, "have such
unfeigned respect for your mistress, such sympathy for her under
these frightful circumstances, and such an implicit belief in her
capability of proving her innocence, that we are desirous of
sparing her in this dreadful emergency as much as possible. For
those reasons, I have undertaken to come here with the persons
appointed to execute my brother's warrant--"
"Warrant, sir!" I said, getting command of my voice as he
pronounced that word--"a warrant against my mistress!"
"Against her and against you," said Mr. Philip. "The suspicious
circumstances have been sworn to by a competent witness, who has
declared on oath that your mistress is guilty, and that you are
"What witness, sir?"
"Your mistress's quadroon maid, who came to my brother this
morning, and who has made her deposition in due form."
"And who is as false as hell," I cried out passionately, "in
every word she says against my mistress and against me."
"I hope--no, I will go further, and say I believe she is false,"
said Mr. Philip. "But her perjury must he proved, and the
necessary examination must take place. My carriage is going back
to my brother's, and you will go in it, in charge of one of my
men, who has the warrant to take you in custody. I shall remain
here with the man who is waiting in the hall; and before any
steps are taken to execute the other warrant, I shall send for
the doctor to ascertain when your mistress can be removed."
"Oh, my poor mistress!" I said, "this will be the death of her,
"I will take care that the shock shall strike her as tenderly as
possible," said Mr. Philip. "I am here for that express purpose.
She has my deepest sympathy and respect, and shall have every
help and alleviation that I can afford her."
The hearing him say that, and the seeing how sincerely he meant
what he said, was the first gleam of comfort in the dreadful
affliction that had befallen us. I felt this; I felt a burning
anger against the wretch who had done her best to ruin my
mistress's fair name and mine, but in every other respect I was
like a man who had been stunned, and whose faculties had not
perfectly recovered from the shock. Mr. Philip was obliged to
remind me that time was of importance, and that I had better give
myself up immediately, on the merciful terms which his kindness
offered to me. I acknowledged that, and wished him good morning.
But a mist seemed to come over my eyes as I turned round to go
away--a mist that prevented me from finding my way to the door.
Mr. Philip opened it for me, and said a friendly word or two
which I could hardly hear. The man waiting outside took me to his
companion in the carriage at the door, and I was driven away, a
prisoner for the first time in my life.
On our way to the justice's, what little thinking faculty I had
left in me was all occupied in the attempt to trace a motive for
the inconceivable treachery and falsehood of which Josephine had
Her words, her looks, and her manner, on that unfortunate day
when my mistress so far forget herself as to strike, her, came
back diml y to my memory, and led to the inference that part of
the motive, at least, of which I was in search, might be referred
to what had happened on that occasion. But was this the only
reason for her devilish vengeance against my mistress? And, even
if it were so, what fancied injuries had I done her? Why should I
be included in the false accusation? In the dazed state of my
faculties at that time, I was quite incapable of seeking the
answer to these questions. My mind was clouded all over, and I
gave up the attempt to clear it in despair.
I was brought before Mr. Robert Nicholson that day, and the fiend
of a quadroon was examined in my presence. The first sight of her
face, with its wicked self-possession, with its smooth leering
triumph, so sickened me that I turned my head away and never
looked at her a second time throughout the proceedings. The
answers she gave amounted to a mere repetition of the deposition
to which she had already sworn. I listened to her with the most
breathless attention, and was thunderstruck at the inconceivable
artfulness with which she had mixed up truth and falsehood in her
charge against my mistress and me.
This was, in substance, what she now stated in my presence:
After describing the manner of Mr. James Smith's arrival at the
Hall, the witness, Josephine Durand, confessed that she had been
led to listen at the music-room door by hearing angry voices
inside, and she then described, truly enough, the latter part of
the altercation between husband and wife. Fearing, after this,
that something serious might happen, she had kept watch in her
room, which was on the same floor as her mistress's. She had
heard her mistress's door open softly between one and two in the
morning--had followed her mistress, who carried a small lamp,
along the passage and down the stairs into the hall--had hidden
herself in the porter's chair--had seen her mistress take a
dagger in a green sheath from a collection of Eastern curiosities
kept in the hall--had followed her again, and seen her softly
enter the Red Room--had heard the heavy breathing of Mr. James
Smith, which gave token that he was asleep--had slipped into an
empty room, next door to the Red Roam, and had waited there about
a quarter of an hour, when her mistress came out again with the
dagger in her hand--had followed her mistress again into the
hall, where she had put the dagger back into its place--had seen
her mistress turn into a side passage that led to my room--had
heard her knock at my door, and heard me answer and open it--had
hidden again in the porter's chair--had, after a while, seen me
and my mistress pass together into the passage that led to the
Red Room--had watched us both into the Red Room--and had then,
through fear of being discovered and murdered herself, if she
risked detection any longer, stolen back to her own room for the
rest of the night.
After deposing on oath to the truth of these atrocious
falsehoods, and declaring, in conclusion, that Mr. James Smith
had been murdered by my mistress, and that I was an accomplice,
the quadroon had further asserted, in order to show a motive for
the crime, that Mr. Meeke was my mistress's lover; that he had
been forbidden the house by her husband, and that he was found in
the house, and alone with her, on the evening of Mr. James
Smith's return. Here again there were some grains of truth
cunningly mixed up with a revolting lie, and they had their
effect in giving to the falsehood a look of probability.
I was cautioned in the usual manner and asked if I had anything
I replied that I was innocent, but that I would wait for legal
assistance before I defended myself. The justice remanded me and
the examination was over. Three days later my unhappy mistress
was subjected to the same trial. I was not allowed to communicate
with her. All I knew was that the lawyer had arrived from London
to help her. Toward the evening he was admitted to see me. He
shook his head sorrowfully when I asked after my mistress.
"I am afraid," he said, "that she has sunk under the horror of
the situation in which that vile woman has placed her. Weakened
by her previous agitation, she seems to have given way under this
last shock, tenderly and carefully as Mr. Philip Nicholson broke
the bad news to her. All her feelings appeared to be strangely
blunted at the examination to-day. She answered the questions put
to her quite correctly, but at the same time quite mechanically,
with no change in her complexion, or in her tone of voice, or in
her manner, from beginning to end. It is a sad thing, William,
when women cannot get their natural vent of weeping, and your
mistress has not shed a tear since she left Darrock Hall."
"But surely, sir," I said, "if my examination has not proved
Josephine's perjury, my mistress's examination must have exposed
"Nothing will expose it," answered the lawyer, "but producing Mr.
James Smith, or, at least, legally proving that he is alive.
Morally speaking, I have no doubt that the justice before whom
you have been examined is as firmly convinced as we can be that
the quadroon has perjured herself. Morally speaking, he believes
that those threats which your mistress unfortunately used
referred (as she said they did to-day) to her intention of
leaving the Hall early in the morning, with you for her
attendant, and coming to me, if she had been well enough to
travel, to seek effectual legal protection from her husband for
the future. Mr. Nicholson believes that; and I, who know more of
the circumstances than he does, believe also that Mr. James Smith
stole away from Darrock Hall in the night under fear of being
indicted for bigamy. But if I can't find him--if I can't prove
him to be alive--if I can't account for those spots of blood on
the night-gown, the accidental circumstances of the case remain
unexplained--your mistress's rash language, the bad terms on
which she has lived with her husband, and her unlucky disregard
of appearances in keeping up her intercourse with Mr. Meeke, all
tell dead against us--and the justice has no alternative, in a
legal point of view, but to remand you both, as he has now done,
for the production of further evidence."
"But how, then, in Heaven's name, is our innocence to be proved,
sir?" I asked.
"In the first place," said the lawyer, "by finding Mr. James
Smith; and, in the second place, by persuading him, when he is
found, to come forward and declare himself."
"Do you really believe, sir," said I, "that he would hesitate to
do that, when he knows the horrible charge to which his
disappearance has exposed his wife? He is a heartless villain, I
know; but surely--"
"I don't suppose," said the lawyer, cutting me short, "that he is
quite scoundrel enough to decline coming forward, supposing he
ran no risk by doing so. But remember that he has placed himself
in a position to be tried for bigamy, and that he believes your
mistress will put the law in force against him."
I had forgotten that circumstance. My heart sank within me when
it was recalled to my memory, and I could say nothing more.
"It is a very serious thing," the lawyer went on--"it is a
downright offense against the law of the land to make any private
offer of a compromise to this man. Knowing what we know, our duty
as good citizens is to give such information as may bring him to
trial. I tell you plainly that, if I did not stand toward your
mistress in the position of a relation as well as a legal
adviser, I should think twice about running the risk--the very
serious risk--on which I am now about to venture for her sake. As
it is, I have taken the right measures to assure Mr. James Smith
that he will not be treated according to his deserts. When he
knows what the circumstances are, he will trust us--supposing
always that we can find him. The search about this neighborhood
has been quite useless. I have sent private instructions by
to-day's post to Mr. Dark in London, and with them a
carefully-worded form of advertisement for the public newspapers.
You may rest assured that every human means of tracing him will
be tried forthwith. In the meantime, I have an important question
to put to you about Josep hine. She may know more than we think
she does; she may have surprised the secret of the second
marriage, and may be keeping it in reserve to use against us. If
this should turn out to be the case, I shall want some other
chance against her besides the chance of indicting her for
perjury. As to her motive now for making this horrible
accusation, what can you tell me about that, William?"
"Her motive against me, sir?"
"No, no, not against you. I can see plainly enough that she
accuses you because it is necessary to do so to add to the
probability of her story, which, of course, assumes that you
helped your mistress to dispose of the dead body. You are coolly
sacrificed to some devilish vengeance against her mistress. Let
us get at that first.
Has there ever been a quarrel between them?"
I told him of the quarrel, and of how Josephine had looked and
talked when she showed me her cheek.
"Yes," he said, "that is a strong motive for revenge with a
naturally pitiless, vindictive woman. But is that all? Had your
mistress any hold over her? Is there any self-interest mixed up
along with this motive of vengeance? Think a little, William. Has
anything ever happened in the house to compromise this woman, or
to make her fancy herself compromised?"
The remembrance of my mistress's lost trinkets and handkerchiefs,
which later and greater troubles had put out of my mind, flashed
back into my memory while he spoke. I told him immediately of the
alarm in the house when the loss was discovered.
"Did your mistress suspect Josephine and question her?" he asked,
"No, sir," I replied. "Before she could say a word, Josephine
impudently asked who she suspected, and boldly offered her own
boxes to be searched."
The lawyer's face turned red as scarlet. He jumped out of his
chair, and hit me such a smack on the shoulder that I thought he
had gone mad.
"By Jupiter!" he cried out, "we have got the whip-hand of that
she-devil at last."
I looked at him in astonishment.
"Why, man alive," he said, "don't you see how it is? Josephine's
the thief! I am as sure of it as that you and I are talking
together. This vile accusation against your mistress answers
another purpose besides the vindictive one --it is the very best
screen that the wretch could possibly set up to hide herself from
detection. It has stopped your mistress and you from moving in
the matter; it exhibits her in the false character of an honest
witness against a couple of criminals; it gives her time to
dispose of the goods, or to hide them, or to do anything she
likes with them. Stop! let me be quite sure that I know what the
lost things are. A pair of bracelets, three rings, and a lot of
lace pocket-handkerchiefs--is that what you said?"
"Your mistress will describe them particularly, and I will take
the right steps the first thing to-morrow morning. Good-evening,
William, and keep up your spirits. It shan't be my fault if you
don't soon see the quadroon in the right place for her--at the
With that farewell he went out.
The days passed, and I did not see him again until the period of
my remand had expired. On this occasion, when I once more
appeared before the justice, my mistress appeared with me. The
first sight of her absolutely startled me, she was so sadly
altered. Her face looked so pinched and thin that it was like the
face of an old woman. The dull, vacant resignation of her
expression was something shocking to see. It changed a little
when her eyes first turned heavily toward me, and she whispered,
with a faint smile, "I am sorry for you, William--I am very, very
sorry for you." But as soon as she had said those words the blank
look returned, and she sat with her head drooping forward, quiet,
and inattentive, and hopeless--so changed a being that her oldest
friends would hardly have known her.
Our examination was a mere formality. There was no additional
evidence either for or against us, and we were remanded again for
I asked the lawyer, privately, if any chance had offered itself
of tracing Mr. James Smith. He looked mysterious, and only said
in answer, "Hope for the best." I inquired next if any progress
had been made toward fixing the guilt of the robbery on
"I never boast," he replied. "But, cunning as she is, I should
not be surprised if Mr. Dark and I, together, turned out to be
more than a match for her."
Mr. Dark! There was something in the mere mention of his name
that gave me confidence in the future. If I could only have got
my poor mistress's sad, dazed face out of my mind, I should not
have had much depression of spirits to complain of during the
interval of time that elapsed between the second examination and
ON the third appearance of my mistress and myself before the
justice, I noticed some faces in the room which I had not seen
there before. Greatly to my astonishment--for the previous
examinations had been conducted as privately as possible--I
remarked the presence of two of the servants from the Hall, and
of three or four of the tenants on the Darrock estate, who lived
nearest to the house. They all sat together on one side of the
justice-room. Opposite to them and close at the side of a door,
stood my old acquaintance, Mr. Dark, with his big snuff-box, his
jolly face, and his winking eye. He nodded to me, when I looked
at him, as jauntily as if we were meeting at a party of pleasure.
The quadroon woman, who had been summoned to the examination, had
a chair placed opposite to the witness-box, and in a line with
the seat occupied by my poor mistress, whose looks, as I was
grieved to see, were not altered for the better. The lawyer from
London was with her, and I stood behind her chair.
We were all quietly disposed in the room in this way, when the
justice, Mr. Robert Nicholson, came in with his brother. It might
have been only fancy, but I thought I could see in both their
faces that something remarkable had happened since we had met at
the last examination.
The deposition of Josephine Durand was read over by the clerk,
and she was asked if she had anything to add to it. She replied
in the negative. The justice then appealed to my mistress's
relation, the lawyer, to know if he could produce any evidence
relating to the charge against his clients.
"I have evidence," answered the lawyer, getting briskly on his
legs, "which I believe, sir, will justify me in asking for their
"Where are your witnesses?" inquired the justice, looking hard at
Josephine while he spoke.
"One of them is in waiting, your worship," said Mr. Dark, opening
the door near which he was standing.
He went out of the room, remained away about a minute, and
returned with his witness at his heels.
My heart gave a bound as if it would jump out of my body. There,
with his long hair cut short, and his bushy whiskers shaved
off--there, in his own proper person, safe and sound as ever, was
Mr. James Smith!
The quadroon's iron nature resisted the shock of his unexpected
presence on the scene with a steadiness that was nothing short of
marvelous. Her thin lips closed together convulsively, and there
was a slight movement in the muscles of her throat. But not a
word, not a sign betrayed her. Even the yellow tinge of her
complexion remained unchanged.
"It is not necessary, sir, that I should waste time and words in
referring to the wicked and preposterous charge against my
clients," said the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson. "The
one sufficient justification for discharging them immediately is
before you at this moment in the person of that gentleman. There,
sir, stands the murdered Mr. James Smith, of Darrock Hall, alive
and well, to answer for himself."
"That is not the man!" cried Josephine, her shrill voice just as
high, clear, and steady as ever, "I denounce that man as an
impostor. Of my own knowledge, I deny that he is Mr. James
"No doubt you do," said the lawyer; "but we will prove his
identity for all that."
The first witness called was Mr. Philip Nicholson. He could swear
that he had seen Mr. James Smith, and spoken to him at least a
dozen times. The person now before h im was Mr. James Smith,
altered as to personal appearance by having his hair cut short
and his whiskers shaved off, but still unmistakably the man he
assumed to be.
"Conspiracy!" interrupted the prisoner, hissing the word out
viciously between her teeth.
"If you are not silent," said Mr. Robert Nicholson, "you will be
removed from the room. It will sooner meet the ends of justice,"
he went on, addressing the lawyer, "if you prove the question of
identity by witnesses who have been in habits of daily
communication with Mr. James Smith."
Upon this, one of the servants from the Hall was placed in the
The alteration in his master's appearance evidently puzzled the
man. Besides the perplexing change already adverted to, there was
also a change in Mr. James Smith's expression and manner. Rascal
as he was, I must do him the justice to say that he looked
startled and ashamed when he first caught sight of his
unfortunate wife. The servant, who was used to be eyed
tyrannically by him, and ordered about roughly, seeing him now
for the first time abashed and silent, stammered and hesitated on
being asked to swear to his identity.
"I can hardly say for certain, sir," said the man, addressing the
justice in a bewildered manner. "He is like my master, and yet he
isn't. If he wore whiskers and had his hair long, and if he was,
saying your presence, sir, a little more rough and ready in his
way, I could swear to him anywhere with a safe conscience."
Fortunately for us, at this moment Mr. James Smith's feeling of
uneasiness at the situation in which he was placed changed to a
feeling of irritation at being coolly surveyed and then stupidly
doubted in the matter of his identity by one of his own servants.
"Can't you say in plain words, you idiot, whether you know me or
whether you don't?" he called out, angrily.
"That's his voice!" cried the servant, starting in the box.
"Whiskers or no whiskers, that's him!"
"If there's any difficulty, your worship, about the gentleman's
hair," said Mr. Dark, coming forward with a grin, "here's a small
parcel which, I may make so bold as to say, will remove it."
Saying that, he opened the parcel, took some locks of hair out of
it, and held them up close to Mr. James Smith's head. "A pretty
good match, your worship," continued Mr. Dark. "I have no doubt
the gentleman's head feels cooler now it's off. We can't put the
whiskers on, I'm afraid, but they match the hair; and they are in
the paper (if one may say such a thing of whiskers) to speak for
"Lies! lies! lies!" screamed Josephine, losing her wicked
self-control at this stage of the proceedings.
The justice made a sign to two of the constables present as she
burst out with those exclamations, and the men removed her to an
The second servant from the Hall was then put in the box, and was
followed by one of the tenants. After what they had heard and
seen, neither of these men had any hesitation in swearing
positively to their master's identity.
"It is quite unnecessary," said the justice, as soon as the box
was empty again, "to examine any more witnesses as to the
question of identity. All the legal formalities are accomplished,
and the charge against the prisoners falls to the ground. I have
great pleasure in ordering the immediate discharge of both the
accused persons, and in declaring from this place that they leave
the court without the slightest stain on their characters."
He bowed low to my mistress as he said that, paused a moment, and
then looked inquiringly at Mr. James Smith.
"I have hitherto abstained from making any remark unconnected
with the immediate matter in hand," he went on. "But, now that my
duty is done, I cannot leave this chair without expressing my
strong sense of disapprobation of the conduct of Mr. James
Smith--conduct which, whatever may be the motives that occasioned
it, has given a false color of probability to a most horrible
charge against a lady of unspotted reputation, and against a
person in a lower rank of life whose good character ought not to
have been imperiled even for a moment. Mr. Smith may or may not
choose to explain his mysterious disappearance from Darrock Hall,
and the equally unaccountable change which he has chosen to make
in his personal appearance. There is no legal charge against him;
but, speaking morally, I should be unworthy of the place I hold
if I hesitated to declare my present conviction that his conduct
has been deceitful, inconsiderate, and unfeeling in the highest
To this sharp reprimand Mr. James Smith (evidently tutored
beforehand as to what he was to say) replied that, in attending
before the justice, he wished to perform a plain duty and to keep
himself strictly within the letter of the law. He apprehended
that the only legal obligation laid on him was to attend in that
court to declare himself, and to enable competent witnesses to
prove his identity. This duty accomplished, he had merely to add
that he preferred submitting to a reprimand from the bench to
entering into explanations which would involve the disclosure of
domestic circumstances of a very unhappy nature. After that brief
reply he had nothing further to say, and he would respectfully
request the justice's permission to withdraw.
The permission was accorded. As he crossed the room he stopped
near his wife, and said, confusedly, in a very low tone:
"I have done you many injuries, but I never intended this. I am
sorry for it. Have you anything to say to me before I go?"
My mistress shuddered and hid her face. He waited a moment, and,
finding that she did not answer him, bowed his head politely and
went out. I did not know it then, but I had seen him for the last
After he had gone, the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson,
said that he had an application to make in reference to the woman
At the mention of that name my mistress hurriedly whispered a few
words into her relation's ear. He looked toward Mr. Philip
Nicholson, who immediately advanced, offered his arm to my
mistress, and led her out. I was about to follow, when Mr. Dark
stopped me, and begged that I would wait a few minutes longer, in
order to give myself the pleasure of seeing "the end of the
In the meantime, the justice had pronounced the necessary order
to have the quadroon brought back. She came in, as bold and
confident as ever. Mr. Robert Nicholson looked away from her in
disgust and said to the lawyer:
"Your application is to have her committed for perjury, of
"For perjury?" said Josephine, with her wicked smile. "Very good.
I shall explain some little matters that I have not explained
before. You think I am quite at your mercy now? Bah! I shall make
myself a thorn in your sides yet."
"She has got scent of the second marriage," whispered Mr. Dark to
There could be no doubt of it. She had evidently been listening
at the door on the night when my master came back longer than I
had supposed. She must have heard those words about "the new
wife"--she might even have seen the effect of them on Mr. James
"We do not at present propose to charge Josephine Durand with
perjury," said the lawyer, "but with another offense, for which
it is important to try her immediately, in order to effect the
restoration of property that has been stolen. I charge her with
stealing from her mistress, while in her service at Darrock Hall,
a pair of bracelets, three rings, and a dozen and a half of lace
pocket-handkerchiefs. The articles in question were taken this
morning from between the mattresses of her bed; and a letter was
found in the same place which clearly proves that she had
represented the property as belonging to herself, and that she
had tried to dispose of it to a purchaser in London." While he
was speaking, Mr. Dark produced the jewelry, the handkerchiefs
and the letter, and laid them before the justice.
Even Josephine's extraordinary powers of self-control now gave
way at last. At the first words of the unexpected charge against
her she struck her hands together violently, gnashed her sharp
white teeth, and burst out with a torrent of fierce-sounding
words in some foreig n language, the meaning of which I did not
understand then and cannot explain now.
"I think that's checkmate for marmzelle," whispered Mr. Dark,
with his invariable wink. "Suppose you go back to the Hall, now,
William, and draw a jug of that very remarkable old ale of yours?
I'll be after you in five minutes, as soon as the charge is made
I could hardly realize it when I found myself walking back to
Darrock a free man again.
In a quarter of an hour's time Mr. Dark joined me, and drank to
my health, happiness and prosperity in three separate tumblers.
After performing this ceremony, he wagged his head and chuckled
with an appearance of such excessive enjoyment that I could not
avoid remarking on his high spirits.
"It's the case, William--it's the beautiful neatness of the case
that quite intoxicates me. Oh, Lord, what a happiness it is to be
concerned in such a job as this!" cries Mr. Dark, slapping his
stumpy hands on his fat knees in a sort of ecstasy.
I had a very different opinion of the case for my own part, but I
did not venture on expressing it. I was too anxious to know how
Mr. James Smith had been discovered and produced at the
examination to enter into any arguments. Mr. Dark guessed what
was passing in my mind, and, telling me to sit down and make
myself comfortable, volunteered of his own accord to inform me of
all that I wanted to know.
"When I got my instructions and my statement of particulars," he
began, "I was not at all surprised to hear that Mr. James Smith
had come back. (I prophesied that, if you remember, William, the
last time we met?) But I was a good deal astonished,
nevertheless, at the turn things had taken, and I can't say I
felt very hopeful about finding our man. However, I followed my
master's directions, and put the advertisement in the papers. It
addressed Mr. James Smith by name, but it was very carefully
worded as to what was wanted of him. Two days after it appeared,
a letter came to our office in a woman's handwriting. It was my
business to open the letters, and I opened that. The writer was
short and mysterious. She requested that somebody would call from
our office at a certain address, between the hours of two and
four that afternoon, in reference to the advertisement which we
had inserted in the newspapers. Of course, I was the somebody who
went. I kept myself from building up hopes by the way, knowing
what a lot of Mr. James Smiths there were in London. On getting
to the house, I was shown into the drawing-room, and there,
dressed in a wrapper and lying on a sofa, was an uncommonly
pretty woman, who looked as if she was just recovering from an
illness. She had a newspaper by her side, and came to the point
at once: 'My husband's name is James Smith,' she says, 'and I
have my reasons for wanting to know if he is the person you are
in search of.' I described our man as Mr. James Smith, of Darrock
Hall, Cumberland. 'I know no such person,' says she--"
"What! was it not the second wife, after all?" I broke out.
"Wait a bit," says Mr. Dark. "I mentioned the name of the yacht
next, and she started up on the sofa as if she had been shot. 'I
think you were married in Scotland, ma'am,' says I. She turns as
pale as ashes, and drops back on the sofa, and says, faintly: 'It
is my husband. Oh, sir, what has happened? What do you want with
him? Is he in debt?' I took a minute to think, and then made up
my mind to tell her everything, feeling that she would keep her
husband (as she called him) out of the way if I frightened her by
any mysteries. A nice job I had, William, as you may suppose,
when she knew about the bigamy business. What with screaming,
fainting, crying, and blowing me up (as if _I_ was to blame!),
she kept me by that sofa of hers the best part of an hour--kept
me there, in short, till Mr. James Smith himself came back. I
leave you to judge if that mended matters. He found me mopping
the poor woman's temples with scent and water; and he would have
pitched me out of the window, as sure as I sit here, if I had not
met him and staggered him at once with the charge of murder
against his wife. That stopped him when he was in full cry, I can
promise you. 'Go and wait in the next room,' says he, 'and I'll
come in and speak to you directly.' "
"And did you go?" I asked.
"Of course I did," said Mr. Dark. "I knew he couldn't get out by
the drawing-room windows, and I knew I could watch the door; so
away I went, leaving him alone with the lady, who didn't spare
him by any manner of means, as I could easily hear in the next
room. However, all rows in this world come to an end sooner or
later, and a man with any brains in his head may do what he
pleases with a woman who is fond of him. Before long I heard her
crying and kissing him. 'I can't go home,' she says, after this.
'You have behaved like a villain and a monster to me--but oh,
Jemmy, I can't give you up to anybody! Don't go back to your
wife! Oh, don't, don't go back to your wife!' 'No fear of that,'
says he. 'My wife wouldn't have me if I did go back to her.'
After that I heard the door open, and went out to meet him on the
landing. He began swearing the moment he saw me, as if that was
any good. 'Business first, if you please, sir,' says I, 'and any
pleasure you like, in the way of swearing, afterward.' With that
beginning, I mentioned our terms to him, and asked the pleasure
of his company to Cumberland in return, he was uncommonly
suspicious at first, but I promised to draw out a legal document
(mere waste paper, of no earthly use except to pacify him),
engaging to hold him harmless throughout the proceedings; and
what with that, and telling him of the frightful danger his wife
was in, I managed, at last, to carry my point."
"But did the second wife make no objection to his going away with
you?" I inquired.
"Not she," said Mr. Dark. "I stated the case to her just as it
stood, and soon satisfied her that there was no danger of Mr.
James Smith's first wife laying any claim to him. After hearing
that, she joined me in persuading him to do his duty, and said
she pitied your mistress from the bottom of her heart. With her
influence to back me, I had no great fear of our man changing his
mind. I had the door watched that night, however, so as to make
quite sure of him. The next morning he was ready to time when I
called, and a quarter of an hour after that we were off together
for the north road. We made the journey with post-horses, being
afraid of chance passengers, you know, in public conveyances. On
the way down, Mr. James Smith and I got on as comfortably
together as if we had been a pair of old friends. I told the
story of our tracing him to the north of Scotland, and he gave me
the particulars, in return, of his bolting from Darrock Hall.
They are rather amusing, William; would you like to hear them?"
I told Mr. Dark that he had anticipated the very question I was
about to ask him.
"Well," he said, "this is how it was: To begin at the beginning,
our man really took Mrs. Smith, Number Two, to the Mediterranean,
as we heard. He sailed up the Spanish coast, and, after short
trips ashore, stopped at a seaside place in France called Cannes.
There he saw a house and grounds to be sold which took his fancy
as a nice retired place to keep Number Two in. Nothing particular
was wanted but the money to buy it; and, not having the little
amount in his own possession, Mr. James Smith makes a virtue of
necessity, and goes back overland to his wife with private
designs on her purse-strings. Number Two, who objects to be left
behind, goes with him as far as London. There he trumps up the
first story that comes into his head about rents in the country,
and a house in Lincolnshire that is too damp for her to trust
herself in; and so, leaving her for a few days in London, starts
boldly for Darrock Hall. His notion was to wheedle your mistress
out of the money by good behavior; but it seems he started badly
by quarreling with her about a fiddle-playing parson--"
"Yes, yes, I know all about that part of the story," I broke in,
seeing by Mr. Dark's manner that he was likely to speak both
ignorantly and impertinently of my mistress's unlucky friend ship
for Mr. Meeke. "Go on to the time when I left my master alone in
the Red Room, and tell me what he did between midnight and nine
the next morning."
"Did?" said Mr. Dark. "Why, he went to bed with the unpleasant
conviction on his mind that your mistress had found him out, and
with no comfort to speak of except what he could get out of the
brandy bottle. He couldn't sleep; and the more he tossed and
tumbled, the more certain he felt that his wife intended to have
him tried for bigamy. At last, toward the gray of the morning, he
could stand it no longer, and he made up his mind to give the law
the slip while he had the chance. As soon as he was dressed, it
struck him that there might be a reward offered for catching him,
and he determined to make that slight change in his personal
appearance which puzzled the witnesses so much before the
magistrate to-day. So he opens his dressing-case and crops his
hair in no time, and takes off his whiskers next. The fire was
out, and he had to shave in cold water. What with that, and what
with the flurry of his mind, naturally enough he cut himself--"
"And dried the blood with his nightgown?" says I.
"With his nightgown," repeated Mr. Dark. "It was the first thing
that lay handy, and he snatched it up. Wait a bit, though; the
cream of the thing is to come. When he had done being his own
barber, he couldn't for the life of him hit on a way of getting
rid of the loose hair. The fire was out, and he had no matches;
so he couldn't burn it. As for throwing it away, he didn't dare
do that in the house or about the house, for fear of its being
found, and betraying what he had done. So he wraps it all up in
paper, crams it into his pocket to be disposed of when he is at a
safe distance from the Hall, takes his bag, gets out at the
window, shuts it softly after him, and makes for the road as fast
as his long legs will carry him. There he walks on till a coach
overtakes him, and so travels back to London to find himself in a
fresh scrape as soon as be gets there. An interesting situation,
William, and hard traveling from one end of France to the other,
had not agreed together in the case of Number Two. Mr. James
Smith found her in bed, with doctor's orders that she was not to
be moved. There was nothing for it after that but to lie by in
London till the lady got better. Luckily for us, she didn't hurry
herself; so that, after all, your mistress has to thank the very
woman who supplanted her for clearing her character by helping us
to find Mr. James Smith."
"And, pray, how did you come by that loose hair of his which you
showed before the justice to-day?" I asked.
"Thank Number Two again," says Mr. Dark. "I was put up to asking
after it by what she told me. While we were talking about the
advertisement, I made so bold as to inquire what first set her
thinking that her husband and the Mr. James Smith whom we wanted
might be one and the same man. 'Nothing,' says she, 'but seeing
him come home with his hair cut short and his whiskers shaved
off, and finding that he could not give me any good reason for
disfiguring himself in that way. I had my suspicions that
something was wrong, and the sight of your advertisement
strengthened them directly.' The hearing her say that suggested
to my mind that there might be a difficulty in identifying him
after the change in his looks, and I asked him what he had done
with the loose hair before we left London. It was found in the
pocket of his traveling coat just as he had huddled it up there
on leaving the Hall, worry, and fright, and vexation, having
caused him to forget all about it. Of course I took charge of the
parcel, and you know what good it did as well as I do. So to
speak, William, it just completed this beautifully neat case.
Looking at the matter in a professional point of view, I don't
hesitate to say that we have managed our business with Mr. James
Smith to perfection. We have produced him at the right time, and
we are going to get rid of him at the right time. By to-night he
will be on his way to foreign parts with Number Two, and he won't
show his nose in England again if he lives to the age of
It was a relief to hear that and it was almost as great a comfort
to find, from what Mr. Dark said next, that my mistress need fear
nothing that Josephine could do for the future.
The charge of theft, on which she was about to be tried, did not
afford the shadow of an excuse in law any more than in logic for
alluding to the crime which her master had committed. If she
meant to talk about it she might do so in her place of
transportation, but she would not have the slightest chance of
being listened to previously in a court of law.
"In short," said Mr. Dark, rising to take his leave, "as I have
told you already, William, it's checkmate for marmzelle. She
didn't manage the business of the robbery half as sharply as I
should have expected. She certainly began well enough by staying
modestly at a lodging in the village to give her attendance at
the examinations, as it might be required; nothing could look
more innocent and respectable so far; but her hiding the property
between the mattresses of her bed--the very first place that any
experienced man would think of looking in--was such an amazingly
stupid thing to do, that I really can't account for it, unless
her mind had more weighing on it than it was able to bear, which,
considering the heavy stakes she played for, is likely enough.
Anyhow, her hands are tied now, and her tongue too, for the
matter of that. Give my respects to your mistress, and tell her
that her runaway husband and her lying maid will never either of
them harm her again as long as they live. She has nothing to do
now but to pluck up her spirits and live happy. Here's long life
to her and to you, William, in the last glass of ale; and here's
the same toast to myself in the bottom of the jug."
With those words Mr. Dark pocketed his large snuff-box, gave a
last wink with his bright eye, and walked rapidly away,
whistling, to catch the London coach. From that time to this he
and I have never met again.
A few last words relating to my mistress and to the other persons
chiefly concerned in this narrative will conclude all that it is
now necessary for me to say.
For some months the relatives and friends, and I myself, felt sad
misgivings on my poor mistress's account. We doubted if it was
possible, with such a quick, sensitive nature as hers, that she
could support the shock which had been inflicted on her. But our
powers of endurance are, as I have learned to believe, more often
equal to the burdens laid upon us than we are apt to imagine. I
have seen many surprising recoveries from illness after all hope
had been lost, and I have lived to see my mistress recover from
the grief and terror which we once thought would prove fatal to
her. It was long before she began to hold up her head again; but
care and kindness, and time and change wrought their effect on
her at last. She is not now, and never will be again, the woman
she was once; her manner is altered, and she looks older by many
a year than she really is. But her health causes us no anxiety
now; her spirits are calm and equal, and I have good hope that
many quiet years of service in her house are left for me still. I
myself have married during the long interval of time which I am
now passing over in a few words. This change in my life is,
perhaps, not worth mentioning, but I am reminded of my two little
children when I speak of my mistress in her present position. I
really think they make the great happiness, and interest, and
amusement of her life, and prevent her from feeling lonely and
dried up at heart. It is a pleasant reflection to me to remember
this, and perhaps it may be the same to you, for which reason
only I speak of it.
As for the other persons connected with the troubles at Darrock
Hall, I may mention the vile woman Josephine first, so as to have
the sooner done with her. Mr. Dark's guess, when he tried to
account for her want of cunning in hiding the stolen property, by
saying that her mind might have had more weighing on it than she
was able to bear, turned out to b e nothing less than the plain
and awful truth. After she had been found guilty of the robbery,
and had been condemned to seven years' transportation, a worse
sentence fell upon her from a higher tribunal than any in this
world. While she was still in the county jail, previous to her
removal, her mind gave way, the madness breaking out in an
attempt to set fire to the prison. Her case was pronounced to be
hopeless from the first. The lawful asylum received her, and the
lawful asylum will keep her to the end of her days.
Mr. James Smith, who, in my humble opinion, deserved hanging by
law, or drowning by accident at least, lived quietly abroad with
his Scotch wife (or no wife) for two years, and then died in the
most quiet and customary manner, in his bed, after a short
illness. His end was described to me as a "highly edifying one."
But as he was also reported to have sent his forgiveness to his
wife--which was as much as to say that _he_ was the injured
person of the two--I take leave to consider that he was the same
impudent vagabond in his last moments that he had been all his
life. His Scotch widow has married again, and is now settled in
London. I hope her husband is all her own property this time.
Mr. Meeke must not be forgotten, although he has dropped out of
the latter part of my story because he had nothing to do with the
serious events which followed Josephine's perjury. In the
confusion and wretchedness of that time, he was treated with very
little ceremony, and was quite passed over when we left the
neighborhood. After pining and fretting some time, as we
afterward heard, in his lonely parsonage, he resigned his living
at the first chance he got, and took a sort of under-chaplain's
place in an English chapel abroad. He writes to my mistress once
or twice a year to ask after her health and well-being, and she
writes back to him. That is all the communication they are ever
likely to have with each other. The music they once played
together will never sound again. Its last notes have long since
faded away and the last words of this story, trembling on the
lips of the teller, may now fade with them.
THE NINTH DAY.
A LITTLE change in the weather. The rain still continues, but the
wind is not quite so high. Have I any reason to believe, because
it is calmer on land, that it is also calmer at sea? Perhaps not.
But my mind is scarcely so uneasy to-day, nevertheless.
I had looked over the newspaper with the usual result, and had
laid it down with the customary sense of disappointment, when
Jessie handed me a letter which she had received that morning. It
was written by her aunt, and it upbraided her in the highly
exaggerated terms which ladies love to employ, where any tender
interests of their own are concerned, for her long silence and
her long absence from home. Home! I thought of my poor boy and of
the one hope on which all his happiness rested, and I felt
jealous of the word when I saw it used persuasively in a letter
to our guest. What right had any one to mention "home" to her
until George had spoken first?
"I must answer it by return of post," said Jessie, with a tone of
sorrow in her voice for which my heart warmed to her. "You have
been very kind to me; you have taken more pains to interest and
amuse me than I am worth. I can laugh about most things, but I
can't laugh about going away. I am honestly and sincerely too
grateful for that."
She paused, came round to where I was sitting, perched herself on
the end of the table, and, resting her hands on my shoulders,
"It must be the day after to-morrow, must it not?"
I could not trust myself to answer. If I had spoken, I should
have betrayed George's secret in spite of myself.
"To-morrow is the tenth day," she went on, softly. "It looks so
selfish and so ungrateful to go the moment I have heard the last
of the stories, that I am quite distressed at being obliged to
enter on the subject at all. And yet, what choice is left me?
what can I do when my aunt writes to me in that way?"
She took up the letter again, and looked at it so ruefully that I
drew her head a little nearer to me, and gratefully kissed the
smooth white forehead.
"If your aunt is only half as anxious to see you again, my love,
as I am to see my son, I must forgive her for taking you away
from us." The words came from me without premeditation. It was
not calculation this time, but sheer instinct that impelled me to
test her in this way, once more, by a direct reference to George.
She was so close to me that I felt her breath quiver on my cheek.
Her eyes had been fixed on my face a moment before, but they now
wandered away from it constrainedly. One of her hands trembled a
little on my shoulder, and she took it off.
"Thank you for trying to make our parting easier to me," she
said, quickly, and in a lower tone than she had spoken in yet. I
made no answer, but still looked her anxiously in the face. For a
few seconds her nimble delicate fingers nervously folded and
refolded the letter from her aunt, then she abruptly changed her
"The sooner I write, the sooner it will be over," she said, and
hurriedly turned away to the paper-case on the side-table.
How was the change in her manner to be rightly interpreted? Was
she hurt by what I had said, or was she secretly so much affected
by it, in the impressionable state of her mind at that moment, as
to be incapable of exerting a young girl's customary
self-control? Her looks, actions, and language might bear either
interpretation. One striking omission had marked her conduct when
I had referred to George's return. She had not inquired when I
expected him back. Was this indifference? Surely not. Surely
indifference would have led her to ask the conventionally civil
question which ninety-nine persons out of a hundred would have
addressed to me as a matter of course. Was she, on her side,
afraid to trust herself to speak of George at a time when an
unusual tenderness was aroused in her by the near prospect of
saying farewell? It might be--it might not be--it might be. My
feeble reason took the side of my inclination; and, after
vibrating between Yes and No, I stopped where I had begun--at
She finished the letter in a few minutes, and dropped it into the
post-bag the moment it was done.
"Not a word more," she said, returning to me with a sigh of
relief--"not a word about my aunt or my going away till the time
comes. We have two more days; let us make the most of them."
Two more days! Eight-and-forty hours still to pass; sixty minutes
in each of those hours; and every minute long enough to bring
with it an event fatal to George's future! The bare thought kept
my mind in a fever. For the remainder of the day I was as
desultory and as restless as our Queen of Hearts herself. Owen
affectionately did his best to quiet me, but in vain. Even
Morgan, who whiled away the time by smoking incessantly, was
struck by the wretched spectacle of nervous anxiety that I
presented to him, and pitied me openly for being unable to
compose myself with a pipe. Wearily and uselessly the hours wore
on till the sun set. The clouds in the western heaven wore wild
and tortured shapes when I looked out at them; and, as the
gathering darkness fell on us, the fatal fearful wind rose once
When we assembled at eight, the drawing of the lots had no longer
any interest or suspense, so far as I was concerned. I had read
my last story, and it now only remained for chance to decide the
question of precedency between Owen and Morgan. Of the two
numbers left in the bowl, the one drawn was Nine. This made it
Morgan's turn to read, and left it appropriately to Owen, as our
eldest brother, to close the proceedings on the next night.
Morgan looked round the table when he had spread out his
manuscript, and seemed half inclined to open fire, as usual, with
a little preliminary sarcasm; but his eyes met mine; he saw the
anxiety I was suffering; and his natural kindness, perversely as
he might strive to hide it, got the better of him. He looked down
on his paper; growled out briefly, "No need for a preface; my
little bit of writing explains itself; let's go on and have don e
with it," and so began to read without another word from himself
or from any of us.
BROTHER MORGAN'S STORY
IT was certainly a dull little dinner-party. Of the four guests,
two of us were men between fifty and sixty, and two of us were
youths between eighteen and twenty, and we had no subjects in
common. We were all intimate with our host, but were only
slightly acquainted with each other. Perhaps we should have got
on better if there had been some ladies among us; but the master
of the house was a bachelor, and, except the parlor-maids who
assisted in waiting on us at dinner, no daughter of Eve was
present to brighten the dreary scene.
We tried all sorts of subjects, but they dropped one after the
other. The elder gentlemen seemed to be afraid of committing
themselves by talking too freely within hearing of us juniors,
and we, on our side, restrained our youthful flow of spirits and
youthful freedom of conversation out of deference to our host,
who seemed once or twice to be feeling a little nervous about the
continued propriety of our behavior in the presence of his
respectable guests. To make matters worse, we had dined at a
sensible hour. When the bottles made their first round at
dessert, the clock on the mantel-piece only struck eight. I
counted the strokes, and felt certain, from the expression of his
face, that the other junior guest, who sat on one side of me at
the round table, was counting them also. When we came to the
final eight, we exchanged looks of despair. "Two hours more of
this! What on earth is to become of us?" In the language of the
eyes, that was exactly what we said to each other.
The wine was excellent, and I think we all came separately and
secretly to the same conclusion--that our chance of getting
through the evening was intimately connected with our resolution
in getting through the bottles.
As a matter of course, we talked wine. No company of Englishmen
can assemble together for an evening without doing that. Every
man in this country who is rich enough to pay income-tax has at
one time or other in his life effected a very remarkable
transaction in wine. Sometimes he has made such a bargain as he
never expects to make again. Sometimes he is the only man in
England, not a peer of the realm, who has got a single drop of a
certain famous vintage which has perished from the face of the
earth. Sometimes he has purchased, with a friend, a few last left
dozens from the cellar of a deceased potentate, at a price so
exorbitant that he can only wag his head and decline mentioning
it; and, if you ask his friend, that friend will wag his head,
and decline mentioning it also. Sometimes he has been at an
out-of-the-way country inn; has found the sherry not drinkable;
has asked if there is no other wine in the house; has been
informed that there is some "sourish foreign stuff that nobody
ever drinks"; has called for a bottle of it; has found it
Burgundy, such as all France cannot now produce, has cunningly
kept his own counsel with the widowed landlady, and has bought
the whole stock for "an old song." Sometimes he knows the
proprietor of a famous tavern in London, and he recommends his
one or two particular friends, the next time they are passing
that way, to go in and dine, and give his compliments to the
landlord, and ask for a bottle of the brown sherry, with the
light blue--as distinguished from the dark blue--seal. Thousands
of people dine there every year, and think they have got the
famous sherry when they get the dark blue seal; but the real
wine, the famous wine, is the light blue seal, and nobody in
England knows it but the landlord and his friends. In all these
wine-conversations, whatever variety there may be in the various
experiences related, one of two great first principles is
invariably assumed by each speaker in succession. Either he knows
more about it than any one else, or he has got better wine of his
own even than the excellent wine he is now drinking. Men can get
together sometimes without talking of women, without talking of
horses, without talking of politics, but they cannot assemble to
eat a meal together without talking of wine, and they cannot talk
of wine without assuming to each one of themselves an absolute
infallibility in connection with that single subject which they
would shrink from asserting in relation to any other topic under
How long the inevitable wine-talk lasted on the particular social
occasion of which I am now writing is more than I can undertake
to say. I had heard so many other conversations of the same sort
at so many other tables that my attention wandered away wearily,
and I began to forget all about the dull little dinner-party and
the badly-assorted company of guests of whom I formed one. How
long I remained in this not over-courteous condition of mental
oblivion is more than I can tell; but when my attention was
recalled, in due course of time, to the little world around me, I
found that the good wine had begun to do its good office.
The stream of talk on either side of the host's chair was now
beginning to flow cheerfully and continuously; the
wine-conversation had worn itself out; and one of the elder
guests--Mr. Wendell--was occupied in telling the other guest--Mr.
Trowbridge--of a small fraud which had lately been committed on
him by a clerk in his employment. The first part of the story I
missed altogether. The last part, which alone caught my
attention, followed the career of the clerk to the dock of the
"So, as I was telling you," continued Mr. Wendell, "I made up my
mind to prosecute, and I did prosecute. Thoughtless people blamed
me for sending the young man to prison, and said I might just as
well have forgiven him, seeing that the trifling sum of money I
had lost by his breach of trust was barely as much as ten pounds.
Of course, personally speaking, I would much rather not have gone
into court; but I considered that my duty to society in general,
and to my brother merchants in particular, absolutely compelled
me to prosecute for the sake of example. I acted on that
principle, and I don't regret that I did so. The circumstances
under which the man robbed me were particularly disgraceful. He
was a hardened reprobate, sir, if ever there was one yet; and I
believe, in my conscience, that he wanted nothing but the
opportunity to be as great a villain as Fauntleroy himself."
At the moment when Mr. Wendell personified his idea of consummate
villainy by quoting the example of Fauntleroy, I saw the other
middle-aged gentleman--Mr. Trowbridge--color up on a sudden, and
begin to fidget in his chair.
"The next time you want to produce an instance of a villain,
sir," said Mr. Trowbridge, "I wish you could contrive to quote
some other example than Fauntleroy."
Mr. Wendell naturally enough looked excessively astonished when
he heard these words, which were very firmly and, at the same
time, very politely addressed to him.
"May I inquire why you object to my example?" he asked.
"I object to it, sir," said Mr. Trowbridge, "because it makes me
very uncomfortable to hear Fauntleroy called a villain."
"Good heavens above!" exclaimed Mr. Wendell, utterly bewildered.
"Uncomfortable!--you, a mercantile man like myself--you, whose
character stands so high everywhere--you uncomfortable when you
hear a man who was hanged for forgery called a villain! In the
name of wonder, why?"
"Because," answered Mr. Trowbridge, with perfect composure,
"Fauntleroy was a friend of mine."
"Excuse me, my dear sir," retorted Mr. Wendell, in as polished a
tone of sarcasm as he could command; "but of all the friends whom
you have made in the course of your useful and honorable career,
I should have thought the friend you have just mentioned would
have been the very last to whom you were likely to refer in
respectable society, at least by name."
"Fauntleroy committed an unpardonable crime, and died a
disgraceful death," said Mr. Trowbridge. "But, for all that,
Fauntleroy was a friend of mine, and in that character I shall
always acknowledge him boldly to my dying day. I have a
tenderness for his memory, though he violated a sacred trust, and
die d for it on the gallows. Don't look shocked, Mr. Wendell. I
will tell you, and our other friends here, if they will let me,
why I feel that tenderness, which looks so strange and so
discreditable in your eyes. It is rather a curious anecdote, sir,
and has an interest, I think, for all observers of human nature
quite apart from its connection with the unhappy man of whom we
have been talking. You young gentlemen," continued Mr.
Trowbridge, addressing himself to us juniors, "have heard of
Fauntleroy, though he sinned and suffered, and shocked all
England long before your time?"
We answered that we had certainly heard of him as one of the
famous criminals of his day. We knew that he had been a partner
in a great London banking-house; that he had not led a very
virtuous life; that he had possessed himself, by forgery, of
trust-moneys which he was doubly bound to respect; and that he
had been hanged for his offense, in the year eighteen hundred and
twenty-four, when the gallows was still set up for other crimes
than murder, and when Jack Ketch was in fashion as one of the
hard-working reformers of the age.
"Very good," said Mr. Trowbridge. "You both of you know quite
enough of Fauntleroy to be interested in what I am going to tell
you. When the bottles have been round the table, I will start
with my story."
The bottles went round--claret for the degenerate youngsters;
port for the sterling, steady-headed, middle-aged gentlemen. Mr.
Trowbridge sipped his wine--meditated a little--sipped again--and
started with the promised anecdote in these terms:
WHAT I am going to tell you, gentlemen, happened when I was a
very young man, and when I was just setting up in business on my
My father had been well acquainted for many years with Mr.
Fauntleroy, of the famous London banking firm of Marsh, Stracey,
Fauntleroy & Graham. Thinking it might be of some future service
to me to make my position known to a great man in the commercial
world, my father mentioned to his highly-respected friend that I
was about to start in business for myself in a very small way,
and with very little money. Mr. Fauntleroy received the
intimation with a kind appearance of interest, and said that he
would have his eye on me. I expected from this that he would wait
to see if I could keep on my legs at starting, and that, if he
found I succeeded pretty well, he would then help me forward if
it lay in his power. As events turned out, he proved to be a far
better friend than that, and he soon showed me that I had very
much underrated the hearty and generous interest which he had
felt in my welfare from the first.
While I was still fighting with the difficulties of setting up my
office, and recommending myself to my connection, and so forth, I
got a message from Mr. Fauntleroy telling me to call on him, at
the banking-house, the first time I was passing that way. As you
may easily imagine, I contrived to be passing that way on a
particularly early occasion, and, on presenting myself at the
bank, I was shown at once into Mr. Fauntleroy's private room.
He was as pleasant a man to speak to as ever I met with--bright,
and gay, and companionable in his manner--with a sort of easy,
hearty, jovial bluntness about him that attracted everybody. The
clerks all liked him--and that is something to say of a partner
in a banking-house, I can tell you!
"Well, young Trowbridge," says he, giving his papers on the table
a brisk push away from him, "so you are going to set up in
business for yourself, are you? I have a great regard for your
father, and a great wish to see you succeed. Have you started
yet? No? Just on the point of beginning, eh? Very good. You will
have your difficulties, my friend, and I mean to smooth one of
them away for you at the outset. A word of advice for your
private ear--Bank with us."
"You are very kind, sir," I answered, "and I should ask nothing
better than to profit by your suggestion, if I could. But my
expenses are heavy at starting, and when they are all paid I am
afraid I shall have very little left to put by for the first
year. I doubt if I shall be able to muster much more than three
hundred pounds of surplus cash in the world after paying what I
must pay before I set up my office, and I should be ashamed to
trouble your house, sir, to open an account for such a trifle as
"Stuff and nonsense!" says Mr. Fauntleroy. "Are _you_ a banker?
What business have you to offer an opinion on the matter? Do as I
tell you--leave it to me--bank with us--and draw for what you
like. Stop! I haven't done yet. When you open the account, speak
to the head cashier. Perhaps you may find he has got something to
tell you. There! there! go away--don't interrupt me--good-by--God
That was his way--ah! poor fellow, that was his way.
I went to the head cashier the next morning when I opened my
little modicum of an account. He had received orders to pay my
drafts without reference to my balance. My checks, when I had
overdrawn, were to be privately shown to Mr. Fauntleroy. Do many
young men who start in business find their prosperous superiors
ready to help them in that way?
Well, I got on--got on very fairly and steadily, being careful
not to venture out of my depth, and not to forget that small
beginnings may lead in time to great ends. A prospect of one of
those great ends--great, I mean, to such a small trader as I was
at that period--showed itself to me when I had been some little
time in business. In plain terms, I had a chance of joining in a
first-rate transaction, which would give me profit, and position,
and everything I wanted, provided I could qualify myself for
engaging in it by getting good security beforehand for a very
In this emergency, I thought of my kind friend, Mr. Fauntleroy,
and went to the bank, and saw him once more in his private room.
There he was at the same table, with the same heaps of papers
about him, and the same hearty, easy way of speaking his mind to
you at once, in the fewest possible words. I explained the
business I came upon with some little hesitation and nervousness,
for I was afraid he might think I was taking an unfair advantage
of his former kindness to me. When I had done, he just nodded his
head, snatched up a blank sheet of paper, scribbled a few lines
on it in his rapid way, handed the writing to me, and pushed me
out of the room by the two shoulders before I could say a single
word. I looked at the paper in the outer office. It was my
security from the great banking-house for the whole amount, and
for more, if more was wanted.
I could not express my gratitude then, and I don't know that I
can describe it now. I can only say that it has outlived the
crime, the disgrace, and the awful death on the scaffold. I am
grieved to speak of that death at all; but I have no other
alternative. The course of my story must now lead me straight on
to the later time, and to the terrible discovery which exposed my
benefactor and my friend to all England as the forger Fauntleroy.
I must ask you to suppose a lapse of some time after the
occurrence of the events that I have just been relating. During
this interval, thanks to the kind assistance I had received at
the outset, my position as a man of business had greatly
improved. Imagine me now, if you please, on the high road to
prosperity, with good large offices and a respectable staff of
clerks, and picture me to yourselves sitting alone in my private
room between four and five o'clock on a certain Saturday
All my letters had been written, all the people who had
appointments with me had been received. I was looking carelessly
over the newspaper, and thinking about going home, when one of my
clerks came in, and said that a stranger wished to see me
immediately on very important business.
"Did he mention his name?" I inquired.
"Did you not ask him for it?"
"Yes, sir. And he said you would be none the wiser if he told me
what it was."
"Does he look like a begging-letter writer?"
"He looks a little shabby, sir, but he doesn't talk at all like a
begging-letter writer. He spoke sharp and decided, sir, and said
in your interests that he came, and that you would deeply regret
it afterward if you refused to see him."
"He said that, did he? Show him in at once, then."
He was shown in immediately: a middling-sized man, with a sharp,
unwholesome-looking face, and with a flippant, reckless manner,
dressed in a style of shabby smartness, eying me with a bold
look, and not so overburdened with politeness as to trouble
himself about taking off his hat when he came in. I had never
seen him before in my life, and I could not form the slightest
conjecture from his appearance to guide me toward guessing his
position in the world. He was not a gentleman, evidently; but as
to fixing his whereabouts in the infinite downward gradations of
vagabond existence in London, that was a mystery which I was
totally incompetent to solve.
"Is your name Trowbridge?" he began.
"Yes," I answered, dryly enough.
"Do you bank with Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy & Graham?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Answer my question, and you will know."
"Very well, I _do_ bank with Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy &
Graham--and what then?"
"Draw out every farthing of balance you have got before the bank
closes at five to-day."
I stared at him in speechless amazement. The words, for an
instant, absolutely petrified me.
"Stare as much as you like," he proceeded, coolly, "I mean what I
say. Look at your clock there. In twenty minutes it will strike
five, and the bank will be shut. Draw out every farthing, I tell
you again, and look sharp about it."
"Draw out my money!" I exclaimed, partially recovering myself.
"Are you in your right senses? Do you know that the firm I bank
with represents one of the first houses in the world? What do you
mean--you, who are a total stranger to me--by taking this
extraordinary interest in my affairs? If you want me to act on
your advice, why don't you explain yourself?"
"I have explained myself. Act on my advice or not, just as you
like. It doesn't matter to me. I have done what I promised, and
there's an end of it."
He turned to the door. The minute-hand of the clock was getting
on from the twenty minutes to the quarter.
"Done what you promised?" I repeated, getting up to stop him.
"Yes," he said, with his hand on the lock. "I have given my
message. Whatever happens, remember that. Good-afternoon."
He was gone before I could speak again.
I tried to call after him, but my speech suddenly failed me. It
was very foolish, it was very unaccountable, but there was
something in the man's last words which had more than half
I looked at the clock. The minute-hand was on the quarter.
My office was just far enough from the bank to make it necessary
for me to decide on the instant. If I had had time to think, I am
perfectly certain that I should not have profited by the
extraordinary warning that had just been addressed to me. The
suspicious appearance and manners of the stranger; the outrageous
improbability of the inference against the credit of the bank
toward which his words pointed; the chance that some underhand
attempt was being made, by some enemy of mine, to frighten me
into embroiling myself with one of my best friends, through
showing an ignorant distrust of the firm with which he was
associated as partner--all these considerations would
unquestionably have occurred to me if I could have found time for
reflection; and, as a necessary consequence, not one farthing of
my balance would have been taken from the keeping of the bank on
that memorable day.
As it was, I had just time enough to act, and not a spare moment
for thinking. Some heavy payments made at the beginning of the
week had so far decreased my balance that the sum to my credit in
the banking-book barely reached fifteen hundred pounds. I
snatched up my check-book, wrote a draft for the whole amount,
and ordered one of my clerks to run to the bank and get it cashed
before the doors closed. What impulse urged me on, except the
blind impulse of hurry and bewilderment, I can't say. I acted
mechanically, under the influence of the vague inexplicable fear
which the man's extraordinary parting words had aroused in me,
without stopping to analyze my own sensations--almost without
knowing what I was about. In three minutes from the time when the
stranger had closed my door the clerk had started for the bank,
and I was alone again in my room, with my hands as cold as ice
and my head all in a whirl.
I did not recover my control over myself until the clerk came
back with the notes in his hand. He had just got to the bank in
the nick of time. As the cash for my draft was handed to him over
the counter, the clock struck five, and he heard the order given
to close the doors.
When I had counted the bank-notes and had locked them up in the
safe, my better sense seemed to come back to me on a sudden.
Never have I reproached myself before or since as I reproached
myself at that moment. What sort of return had I made for Mr.
Fauntleroy's fatherly kindness to me? I had insulted him by the
meanest, the grossest distrust of the honor and the credit of his
house, and that on the word of an absolute stranger, of a
vagabond, if ever there was one yet. It was madness--downright
madness in any man to have acted as I had done. I could not
account for my own inconceivably thoughtless proceeding. I could
hardly believe in it myself. I opened the safe and looked at the
bank-notes again. I locked it once more, and flung the key down
on the table in a fury of vexation against myself. There the
money was, upbraiding me with my own inconceivable folly, telling
me in the plainest terms that I had risked depriving myself of my
best and kindest friend henceforth and forever.
It was necessary to do something at once toward making all the
atonement that lay in my power. I felt that, as soon as I began
to cool down a little. There was but one plain, straight-forward
way left now out of the scrape in which I had been mad enough to
involve myself. I took my hat, and, without stopping an instant
to hesitate, hurried off to the bank to make a clean breast of it
to Mr. Fauntleroy.
When I knocked at the private door and asked for him, I was told
that he had not been at the bank for the last two days. One of
the other partners was there, however, and was working at that
moment in his own room.
I sent in my name at once, and asked to see him. He and I were
little better than strangers to each other, and the interview was
likely to be, on that account, unspeakably embarrassing and
humiliating on my side. Still, I could not go home. I could not
endure the inaction of the next day, the Sunday, without having
done my best on the spot to repair the error into which my own
folly had led me. Uncomfortable as I felt at the prospect of the
approaching interview, I should have been far more uneasy in my
mind if the partner had declined to see me.
To my relief, the bank porter returned with a message requesting
me to walk in.
What particular form my explanations and apologies took when I
tried to offer them is more than I can tell now. I was so
confused and distressed that I hardly knew what I was talking
about at the time. The one circumstance which I remember clearly
is that I was ashamed to refer to my interview with the strange
man, and that I tried to account for my sudden withdrawal of my
balance by referring it to some inexplicable panic, caused by
mischievous reports which I was unable to trace to their source,
and which, for anything I knew to the contrary, might, after all,
have been only started in jest. Greatly to my surprise, the
partner did not seem to notice the lamentable lameness of my
excuses, and did not additionally confuse me by asking any
questions. A weary, absent look, which I had observed on his face
when I came in, remained on it while I was speaking. It seemed to
be an effort to him even to keep up the appearance of listening
to me; and when, at last, I fairly broke down in the middle of a
sentence, and gave up the hope of getting any further, all the
answer he gave me was comprised in these few civil commonplace
"Never mind, Mr. Trowbridge; pray don't think of apologizing. We
are all liable to make mista kes. Say nothing more about it, and
bring the money back on Monday if you still honor us with your
He looked down at his papers as if he was anxious to be alone
again, and I had no alternative, of course, but to take my leave
immediately. I went home, feeling a little easier in my mind now
that I had paved the way for making the best practical atonement
in my power by bringing my balance back the first thing on Monday
morning. Still, I passed a weary day on Sunday, reflecting, sadly
enough, that I had not yet made my peace with Mr. Fauntleroy. My
anxiety to set myself right with my generous friend was so
intense that I risked intruding myself on his privacy by calling
at his town residence on the Sunday. He was not there, and his
servant could tell me nothing of his whereabouts. There was no
help for it now but to wait till his weekday duties brought him
back to the bank.
I went to business on Monday morning half an hour earlier than
usual, so great was my impatience to restore the amount of that
unlucky draft to my account as soon as possible after the bank
On entering my office, I stopped with a startled feeling just
inside the door. Something serious had happened. The clerks,
instead of being at their desks as usual, were all huddled
together in a group, talking to each other with blank faces. When
they saw me, they fell back behind my managing man, who stepped
forward with a circular in his hand.
"Have you heard the news, sir?" he said.
"No. What is it?"
He handed me the circular. My heart gave one violent throb the
instant I looked at it. I felt myself turn pale; I felt my knees
trembling under me.
Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy & Graham had stopped payment.
"The circular has not been issued more than half an hour,"
continued my managing clerk. "I have just come from the bank,
sir. The doors are shut; there is no doubt about it. Marsh &
Company have stopped this morning."
I hardly heard him; I hardly knew who was talking to me. My
strange visitor of the Saturday had taken instant possession of
all my thoughts, and his words of warning seemed to be sounding
once more in my ears. This man had known the true condition of
the bank when not another soul outside the doors was aware of it!
The last draft paid across the counter of that ruined house, when
the doors closed on Saturday, was the draft that I had so
bitterly reproached myself for drawing; the one balance saved
from the wreck was my balance. Where had the stranger got the
information that had saved me? and why had he brought it to my
I was still groping, like a man in the dark, for an answer to
those two questions--I was still bewildered by the unfathomable
mystery of doubt into which they had plunged me--when the
discovery of the stopping of the bank was followed almost
immediately by a second shock, far more dreadful, far heavier to
bear, so far as I was concerned, than the first.
While I and my clerks were still discussing the failure of the
firm, two mercantile men, who were friends of mine, ran into the
office, and overwhelmed us with the news that one of the partners
had been arrested for forgery. Never shall I forget the terrible
Monday morning when those tidings reached me, and when I knew
that the partner was Mr. Fauntleroy.
I was true to him--I can honestly say I was true to my belief in
my generous friend--when that fearful news reached me. My
fellow-merchants had got all the particulars of the arrest. They
told me that two of Mr. Fauntleroy's fellow-trustees had come up
to London to make arrangements about selling out some stock. On
inquiring for Mr. Fauntleroy at the banking-house, they had been
informed that he was not there; and, after leaving a message for
him, they had gone into the City to make an appointment with
their stockbroker for a future day, when their fellow-trustee
might be able to attend. The stock-broker volunteered to make
certain business inquiries on the spot, with a view to saving as
much time as possible, and left them at his office to await his
return. He came back, looking very much amazed, with the
information that the stock had been sold out down to the last
five hundred pounds. The affair was instantly investigated; the
document authorizing the selling out was produced; and the two
trustees saw on it, side by side with Mr. Fauntleroy's signature,
the forged signatures of their own names. This happened on the
Friday, and the trustees, without losing a moment, sent the
officers of justice in pursuit of Mr. Fauntleroy. He was
arrested, brought up before the magistrate, and remanded on the
Saturday. On the Monday I heard from my friends the particulars
which I have just narrated.
But the events of that one morning were not destined to end even
yet. I had discovered the failure of the bank and the arrest of
Mr. Fauntleroy. I was next to be enlightened, in the strangest
and the saddest manner, on the difficult question of his
innocence or his guilt.
Before my friends had left my office--before I had exhausted the
arguments which my gratitude rather than my reason suggested to
me in favor of the unhappy prisoner--a note, marked immediate,
was placed in my hands, which silenced me the instant I looked at
it. It was written from the prison by Mr. Fauntleroy, and it
contained two lines only, entreating me to apply for the
necessary order, and to go and see him immediately.
I shall not attempt to describe the flutter of expectation, the
strange mixture of dread and hope that agitated me when I
recognized his handwriting, and discovered what it was that he
desired me to do. I obtained the order and went to the prison.
The authorities, knowing the dreadful situation in which he
stood, were afraid of his attempting to destroy himself, and had
set two men to watch him. One came out as they opened his cell
door. The other, who was bound not to leave him, very delicately
and considerately affected to be looking out of window the moment
I was shown in.
He was sitting on the side of his bed, with his head drooping and
his hands hanging listlessly over his knees when I first caught
sight of him. At the sound of my approach he started to his feet,
and, without speaking a word, flung both his arms round my neck
My heart swelled up.
"Tell me it's not true, sir! For God's sake, tell me it's not
true!" was all I could say to him.
He never answered--oh me! he never answered, and he turned away
There was one dreadful moment of silence. He still held his arms
round my neck, and on a sudden he put his lips close to my ear.
"Did you get your money out?" he whispered. "Were you in time on
I broke free from him in the astonishment of hearing those words.
"What!" I cried out loud, forgetting the third person at the
window. "That man who brought the message--"
"Hush!" he said, putting his hand on my lips. "There was no
better man to be found, after the officers had taken me--I know
no more about him than you do--I paid him well as a chance
messenger, and risked his cheating me of his errand."
"_You_ sent him, then!"
"I sent him."
My story is over, gentlemen. There is no need for me to tell you
that Mr. Fauntleroy was found guilty, and that he died by the
hangman's hand. It was in my power to soothe his last moments in
this world by taking on myself the arrangement of some of his
private affairs, which, while they remained unsettled, weighed
heavily on his mind. They had no connection with the crimes he
had committed, so I could do him the last little service he was
ever to accept at my hands with a clear conscience.
I say nothing in defense of his character--nothing in palliation
of the offense for which he suffered. But I cannot forget that in
the time of his most fearful extremity, when the strong arm of
the law had already seized him, he thought of the young man whose
humble fortunes he had helped to build; whose heartfelt gratitude
he had fairly won; whose simple faith he was resolved never to
betray. I leave it to greater intellects than mine to reconcile
the anomaly of his reckless falsehood toward others and his
steadfast truth toward me. It is as certain as that we sit here
that one of Fauntleroy's last efforts in this world was the
effort he made to preserve me from being a loser by the trust
that I had placed in him. There is the secret of my strange
tenderness for the memory of a felon; that is why the word
villain does somehow still grate on my heart when I hear it
associated with the name--the disgraced name, I grant you--of the
forger Fauntleroy. Pass the bottles, young gentlemen, and pardon
a man of the old school for having so long interrupted your
conversation with a story of the old time.
THE TENTH DAY.
THE storm has burst on us in its full fury. Last night the stout
old tower rocked on its foundations.
I hardly ventured to hope that the messenger who brings us our
letters from the village--the postman, as we call him--would make
his appearance this morning; but he came bravely through rain,
hail and wind. The old pony which he usually rides had refused to
face the storm, and, sooner than disappoint us, our faithful
postman had boldly started for The Glen Tower on foot. All his
early life had been passed on board ship, and, at sixty years of
age, he had battled his way that morning through the storm on
shore as steadily and as resolutely as ever he had battled it in
his youth through the storm at sea.
I opened the post-bag eagerly. There were two letters for Jessie
from young lady friends; a letter for Owen from a charitable
society; a letter to me upon business; and--on this last day, of
all others--no newspaper!
I sent directly to the kitchen (where the drenched and weary
postman was receiving the hospitable attentions of the servants)
to make inquiries. The disheartening answer returned was that the
newspaper could not have arrived as usual by the morning's post,
or it must have been put into the bag along with the letters. No
such accident as this had occurred, except on one former
occasion, since the beginning of the year. And now, on the very
day when I might have looked confidently for news of George's
ship, when the state of the weather made the finding of that news
of the last importance to my peace of mind, the paper, by some
inconceivable fatality, had failed to reach me! If there had been
the slightest chance of borrowing a copy in the village, I should
have gone there myself through the tempest to get it. If there
had been the faintest possibility of communicating, in that
frightful weather, with the distant county town, I should have
sent there or gone there myself. I even went the length of
speaking to the groom, an old servant whom I knew I could trust.
The man stared at me in astonishment, and then pointed through
the window to the blinding hail and the writhing trees.
"No horse that ever was foaled, sir," he said, "would face _that_
for long. It's a'most a miracle that the postman got here alive.
He says himself that he dursn't go back again. I'll try it, sir,
if you order me; but if an accident happens, please to remember,
whatever becomes of _me,_ that I warned you beforehand."
It was only too plain that the servant was right, and I dismissed
him. What I suffered from that one accident of the missing
newspaper I am ashamed to tell. No educated man can conceive how
little his acquired mental advantages will avail him against his
natural human inheritance of superstition, under certain
circumstances of fear and suspense, until he has passed the
ordeal in his own proper person. We most of us soon arrive at a
knowledge of the extent of our strength, but we may pass a
lifetime and be still ignorant of the extent of our weakness.
Up to this time I had preserved self-control enough to hide the
real state of my feelings from our guest; but the arrival of the
tenth day, and the unexpected trial it had brought with it, found
me at the end of my resources. Jessie's acute observation soon
showed her that something had gone wrong, and she questioned me
on the subject directly. My mind was in such a state of confusion
that no excuse occurred to me. I left her precipitately, and
entreated Owen and Morgan to keep her in their company, and out
of mine, for the rest of the day. My strength to preserve my
son's secret had failed me, and my only chance of resisting the
betrayal of it lay in the childish resource of keeping out of the
way. I shut myself into my room till I could bear it no longer. I
watched my opportunity, and paid stolen visits over and over
again to the barometer in the hall. I mounted to Morgan's rooms
at the top of the tower, and looked out hopelessly through
rain-mist and scud for signs of a carriage on the flooded
valley-road below us. I stole down again to the servants' hall,
and questioned the old postman (half-tipsy by this time with
restorative mulled ale) about his past experience of storms at
sea; drew him into telling long, rambling, wearisome stories, not