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[Illustration: She had recoiled into the narrow hall, driven by an
THE SHADOW OF THE ROPE
BY E.W. HORNUNG
ILLUSTRATED BY HARVEY T. DUNN
TO MY FRIEND
I. The End of Their Life
II. The Case for the Crown
III. Name and Nature
IV. The Man in the Train
V. The Man in the Street
VI. A Peripatetic Providence
VII. A Morning Call
VIII. The Dove and the Serpent
IX. A Change of Scene
X. A Slight Discrepancy
XI. Another New Friend
XII. Episode of the Invisible Visitor
XIII. The Australian Room
XIV. Battle Royal
XV. A Chance Encounter
XVI. A Match for Mrs. Venables
XVII. Friends in Need
XVIII. "They Which Were Bidden"
XIX. Rachel's Champion
XX. More Haste
XXI. Worse Speed
XXII. The Darkest Hour
XXIV. One Who Was Not Bidden
XXV. A Point to Langholm
XXVI. A Cardinal Point
XXVII. The Whole Truth
XXVIII. In the Matter of a Motive
She had recoiled into the narrow hall, driven by an uncontrollable
"I will!" she answered through her teeth--and she swept past him out of
"I'll tell you who I thought it was at first," said he, heartily.
The Shadow of the Rope
THE END OF THEIR LIFE
"It is finished," said the woman, speaking very quietly to herself. "Not
another day, nor a night, if I can be ready before morning!"
She stood alone in her own room, with none to mark the white-hot pallor
of the oval face, the scornful curve of quivering nostrils, the dry
lustre of flashing eyes. But while she stood a heavy step went
blustering down two flights of stairs, and double doors slammed upon the
It was a little London house, with five floors from basement to attic,
and a couple of rooms upon each, like most little houses in London; but
this one had latterly been the scene of an equally undistinguished drama
of real life, upon which the curtain was even now descending. Although a
third was whispered by the world, the persons of this drama were really
Rachel Minchin, before the disastrous step which gave her that surname,
was a young Australian lady whose apparent attractions were only
equalled by her absolute poverty; that is to say, she had been born at
Heidelberg, near Melbourne, of English parents more gentle than
practical, who soon left her to fight the world and the devil with no
other armory than a good face, a fine nature, and the pride of any
heiress. It is true that Rachel also had a voice; but there was never
enough of it to augur an income. At twenty, therefore, she was already a
governess in the wilds, where women are as scarce as water, but where
the man for Rachel did not breathe. A few years later she earned a berth
to England as companion to a lady; and her fate awaited her on board.
Mr. Minchin had reached his prime in the underworld, of which he also
was a native, without touching affluence, until his fortieth year.
Nevertheless, he was a travelled man, and no mere nomad of the bush. As
a mining expert he had seen much life in South Africa as well as in
Western Australia, but at last he was to see more in Europe as a
gentleman of means. A wife had no place in his European scheme; a
husband was the last thing Rachel wanted; but a long sea voyage, an
uncongenial employ, and the persistent chivalry of a handsome,
entertaining, self-confident man of the world, formed a combination as
fatal to her inexperience as that of so much poverty, pride, and beauty
proved to Alexander Minchin. They were married without ceremony on the
very day that they arrived in England, where they had not an actual
friend between them, nor a relative to whom either was personally known.
In the beginning this mattered nothing; they had to see Europe and enjoy
themselves; that they could do unaided; and the bride did it only the
more thoroughly, in a sort of desperation, as she realized that the
benefits of her marriage were to be wholly material after all.
In the larger life of cities, Alexander Minchin was no longer the idle
and good-humored cavalier to whom Rachel had learned to look for
unfailing consideration at sea. The illustrative incidents may be
omitted; but here he gambled, there he drank; and in his cups every
virtue dissolved. Rachel's pride did not mend matters; she was a thought
too ready with her resentment; of this, however, she was herself aware,
and would forgive the more freely because there was often some obvious
fault on her side before all was said. Quarrels of infinite bitterness
were thus patched up, and the end indefinitely delayed.
In the meantime, tired of travelling, and impoverished by the husband's
follies, the hapless couple returned to London, where a pure fluke with
some mining shares introduced Minchin to finer gambling than he had
found abroad. The man was bitten. There was a fortune waiting for
special knowledge and a little ready cash; and Alexander Minchin settled
down to make it, taking for the nonce a furnished house in a modest
neighborhood. And here it was that the quarrelling continued to its
culmination in the scene just ended.
"Not another day," said Rachel, "nor a night--if I can be ready before
Being still a woman with some strength of purpose, Mrs. Minchin did not
stop at idle words. The interval between the slamming of doors below and
another noise at the top of the house was not one of many minutes. The
other noise was made by Rachel and her empty trunk upon the loftiest and
the narrowest flight of stairs; one of the maids opened their door an
"I am sorry if I disturbed you," their mistress said. "These stairs are
so very narrow. No, thank you, I can manage quite well." And they heard
her about until they slept.
It was no light task to which Rachel had set her hand; she was going
back to Australia by the first boat, and her packing must be done that
night. Her resolve only hardened as her spirit cooled. The sooner her
departure, the less his opposition; let her delay, and the callousness
of the passing brute might give place to the tyranny of the normal man.
But she was going, whether or no; not another day--though she would
doubtless see its dawn. It was the month of September. And she was not
going to fly empty-handed, nor fly at all; she was going deliberately
away, with a trunk containing all that she should want upon the voyage.
The selection was not too easily made. In his better moods the creature
had been lavish enough; and more than once did Rachel snatch from drawer
or wardrobe that which remained some moments in her hand, while the
incidents of purchase and the first joys of possession, to one who had
possessed so little in her life, came back to her with a certain
But her resolve remained unshaken. It might hurt her to take his
personal gifts, but that was all she had ever had from him; he had never
granted her a set allowance; for every penny she must needs ask and look
grateful. It would be no fault of hers if she had to strip her fingers
for passage-money. Yet the exigency troubled her; it touched her honor,
to say nothing of her pride; and, after an unforeseen fit of
irresolution, Rachel suddenly determined to tell her husband of her
difficulty, making direct appeal to the capricious generosity which had
been recalled to her mind as an undeniably redeeming point. It was true
that he had given her hearty leave to go to the uttermost ends of the
earth, and highly probable that he would bid her work her own way. She
felt an impulse to put it to him, however, and at once.
She looked at her watch--it at least had been her mother's--and the
final day was already an hour old. But Alexander Minchin was a late
sitter, as his young wife knew to her cost, and to-night he had told her
where he meant to sleep, but she had not heard him come up. The room
would have been the back drawing-room in the majority of such houses,
and Rachel peeped in on her way down. It was empty; moreover, the bed
was not made, nor the curtains drawn. Rachel repaired the first
omission, then hesitated, finally creeping upstairs again for clean
sheets. And as she made his bed, not out of any lingering love for him,
but from a sense of duty and some consideration for his comfort, there
was yet something touching in her instinctive care, that breathed the
wife she could have been.
He did not hear her, though the stairs creaked the smallness of the
hour--or if he heard he made no sign. This discouraged Rachel as she
stole down the lower flight; she would have preferred the angriest sign.
But there were few internal sounds which penetrated to the little study
at the back of the dining-room, for the permanent tenant was the widow
of an eminent professor lately deceased, and that student had protected
his quiet with double doors. The outer one, in dark red baize, made an
alarming noise as Rachel pulled it open; but, though she waited, no
sound came from within; nor was Minchin disturbed by the final entry of
his wife, whose first glance convinced her of the cause. In the
professor's armchair sat his unworthy successor, chin on waistcoat, a
newspaper across his knees, an empty decanter at one elbow. Something
remained in the glass beside the bottle; he had tumbled off before the
end. There were even signs of deliberate preparations for slumber, for
the shade was tilted over the electric light by which he had been
reading, as a hat is tilted over the eyes.
Rachel had a touch of pity at seeing him in a chair for the night; but
the testimony of the decanter forbade remorse. She had filled it herself
in the evening against her husband's return from an absence of
mysterious length. Now she understood that mystery, and her face
darkened as she recalled the inconceivable insult which his explanation
had embraced. No, indeed; not another minute that she could help! And he
would sleep there till all hours of the morning; he had done it before;
the longer the better, this time.
She had recoiled into the narrow hall, driven by an uncontrollable
revulsion; and there she stood, pale and quivering with a disgust that
only deepened as she looked her last upon the shaded face and the
inanimate frame in the chair. Rachel could not account for the intensity
of her feeling; it bordered upon nausea, and for a time prevented her
from retracing the single step which at length enabled her to shut both
doors as quietly as she had opened them, after switching off the light
from force of habit. There was another light still glowing in the hall,
and, again from habit, Rachel put it out also before setting foot upon
the stairs. A moment later she was standing terror-stricken in the dark.
It was no sound from the study, but the tiniest of metallic rattles from
the flap of the letter-box in the front door. The wind might have done
it, for the flap had lost its spring; and, though the noise was not
repeated, to the wind Rachel put it down, as she mounted the stairs at
last in a flutter that caused her both shame and apprehension. Her nerve
was going, and she needed it so! It should not go; it should not; and as
if to steady it, she opened the landing window, and spent some minutes
gazing out into the cool and starry night. Not that she could see very
far. The backs of houses hid half the stars in front and on either hand,
making, with the back of this house and its fellows, a kind of square
turned inside out. Miserable little gardens glimmered through an
irregular network of grimy walls, with here and there a fair tree in
autumnal tatters; but Rachel looked neither at these nor at the stars
that lit them dimly. In a single window of those right opposite a single
lamp had burnt all night. It was the only earthly light that Rachel
could see, the only one of earth or heaven upon which she looked; and
she discovered it with thanksgiving, and tore her eyes away from it with
In time the trunk was packed, and incontinently carried downstairs, by
an effort which left Rachel racked in every muscle and swaying giddily.
But she could not have made much noise, for still there was no sign from
the study. She scarcely paused to breathe. A latchkey closed the door
behind her very softly; she was in the crisp, clean air at last.
But it was no hour for finding cabs; it was the hour of the scavenger
and no other being; and Rachel walked into broad sunlight before she
spied a solitary hansom. It was then she did the strangest thing;
instead of driving straight back for her trunk, when near the house she
gave the cabman other directions, subsequently stopping him at one with
a card in the window.
A woman answered the bell with surprising celerity, and a face first
startled and then incensed at the sight of Mrs. Minchin.
"So you never came!" cried the woman, bitterly.
"I was prevented," Rachel replied coldly. "Well?"
And the monosyllable was a whisper.
"He is still alive," said the woman at the door.
"Is that all?" asked Rachel, a catch in her voice.
"It is all I'll say till the doctor has been."
"But he has got through the night," sighed Rachel, thankfully. "I could
see the light in his room from hour to hour, even though I could not
come. Did you sit up with him all night long?"
"Every minute of the night," said the other, with undisguised severity
in her fixed red eyes. "I never left him, and I never closed a lid."
"I am so sorry!" cried Rachel, too sorry even for renewed indignation at
the cause. "But I couldn't help it," she continued, "I really could not.
We--I am going abroad--very suddenly. Poor Mr. Severino! I do wish there
was anything I could do! But you must get a professional nurse. And when
he does recover--for something assures me that he will--you can tell
Rachel hesitated, the red eyes reading hers.
"Tell him I hope he will recover altogether," she said at length; "mind,
altogether! I have gone away for good, tell Mr. Severino; but, as I
wasn't able to do so after all, I would rather you didn't mention that I
ever thought of nursing him, or that I called last thing to ask how he
And that was her farewell message to the very young man with whom a
hole-and-corner scandal had coupled Rachel Minchin's name; it was to be
a final utterance in yet another respect, and one of no slight or
private significance, as the sequel will show. Within a minute or two of
its delivery, Rachel was on her own doorstep for the last time, deftly
and gently turning the latchkey, while the birds sang to frenzy in a
neighboring garden, and the early sun glanced fierily from the brass
knocker and letter-box. Another moment and the door had been flung wide
open by a police officer, who seemed to fill the narrow hall, with a
comrade behind him and both servants on the stairs. And with little
further warning Mrs. Minchin was shown her husband, seated much as she
had left him in the professor's chair, but with his feet raised stiffly
upon another, and the hand of death over every inch of him in the broad
north light that filled the room.
The young widow stood gazing upon her dead, and four pairs of eyes gazed
yet more closely at her. But there was little to gather from the
strained profile with the white cheek and the unyielding lips. Not a cry
had left them; she had but crossed the threshold, and stopped that
instant in the middle of the worn carpet, the sharpest of silhouettes
against a background of grim tomes. There was no swaying of the lissome
figure, no snatching for support, no question spoken or unspoken. In
moments of acute surprise the most surprising feature is often the way
in which we ourselves receive the shock; a sudden and complete
detachment, not the least common of immediate results, makes us
sometimes even conscious of our failure to feel as we would or should;
and it was so with Rachel Minchin in the first moments of her tragic
freedom. So God had sundered whom God had joined together! And this was
the man whom she had married for love; and she could look upon his clay
unmoved! Her mind leapt to a minor consideration, that still made her
shudder, as eight eyes noted from the door; he must have been dead when
she came down and found him seated in shadow; she had misjudged the
dead, if not the living. The pose of the head was unaltered, the chin
upon the chest, the mouth closed in death as naturally as in sleep. No
wonder his wife had been deceived. And yet there was something
unfamiliar, something negligent and noble, and all unlike the living
man; so that Rachel could already marvel that she had not at once
detected this dignity and this distinction, only too foreign to her
husband as she had learnt to know him best, but unattainable in the
noblest save by death. And her eyes had risen to the slice of sky in the
upper half of the window, and at last the tears were rising in her eyes,
when they filled instead with sudden horror and enlightenment.
There was a jagged hole in the pane above the hasp; an upset of ink on
the desk beneath the window; and the ink was drying with the dead man's
blood, in which she now perceived him to be soaked, while the newspaper
on the floor beside him was crisp as toast from that which it had hidden
when she saw him last.
"Murdered!" whispered Rachel, breaking her long silence with a gasp.
"The work of thieves!"
The policemen exchanged a rapid glance.
"Looks like it," said the one who had opened the door, "I admit."
There was a superfluous dryness in his tone; but Rachel no more noticed
this than the further craning of heads in the doorway.
"But can you doubt it?" she cried, pointing from the broken window to
the spilled ink. "Did you think that he had shot himself?"
And her horror heightened at a thought more terrible to her than all the
rest. But the constable shook his head.
"We should have found the pistol--which we can't," said he. "But shot he
is, and through the heart."
"Then who could it be but thieves?"
"That's what we all want to know," said the officer; and still Rachel
had no time to think about his tone; for now she was bending over the
body, her white hands clenched, and agony enough in her white face.
"Look! look!" she cried, beckoning to them all. "He was wearing his
watch last night; that I can swear; and it has gone!"
"You are sure he was wearing it?" asked the same constable, approaching.
"Well, if that's so," said he, "and it can't be found, it will be a
point in your favor."
Rachel sprang upright, her wet eyes wide with pure astonishment.
"In my favor?" she cried. "Will you have the goodness to explain
The constables were standing on either side of her now.
"Well," replied the spokesman of the pair, "I don't like the way that
window's broken, for one thing, and if you look at it you'll see what I
mean. The broken glass is all outside on the sill. But that's not all,
ma'am; and, as you have a cab, we might do worse than drive to the
station before more people are about."
THE CASE FOR THE CROWN
It was years since there had been a promise of such sensation at the Old
Bailey, and never, perhaps, was competition keener for the very few
seats available in that antique theatre of justice. Nor, indeed, could
the most enterprising of modern managers, with the star of all the
stages at his beck for the shortest of seasons, have done more to spread
the lady's fame, or to excite a passionate curiosity in the public mind,
than was done for Rachel Minchin by her official enemies of the
Whether these gentry had their case even more complete than they
pretended, when the prisoner was finally committed for trial, or whether
the last discoveries were really made in the ensuing fortnight, is now
of small account--though the point provided more than one excuse for
acrimony on the part of defending counsel during the hearing of the
case. It is certain, however, that shortly after the committal it became
known that much new evidence was to be forthcoming at the trial; that
the case against the prisoner would be found even blacker than before;
and that the witnesses were so many in number, and their testimony so
entirely circumstantial, that the proceedings were expected to occupy a
Sure enough, the case was accorded first place in the November Sessions,
with a fair start on a Monday morning toward the latter end of the
month. In the purlieus of the mean, historic court, it was a morning not
to be forgotten, and only to be compared with those which followed
throughout the week. The prisoner's sex, her youth, her high bearing,
and the peculiar isolation of her position, without a friend to stand by
her in her need, all appealed to the popular imagination, and produced a
fascination which was only intensified by the equally general feeling
that no one else could have committed the crime. From the judge
downward, all connected with the case were pestered for days beforehand
with more or less unwarrantable applications for admission. And when the
time came, the successful suppliant had to elbow every yard of his way
from Newgate Street or Ludgate Hill; to pass three separate barriers
held by a suspicious constabulary; to obtain the good offices of the
Under Sheriff, through those of his liveried lackeys; and finally to
occupy the least space, on the narrowest of seats, in a varnished stall
filled with curiously familiar faces, within a few feet of the heavily
veiled prisoner in the dock, and not many more from the red-robed judge
upon the bench.
The first to take all this trouble on the Monday morning, and the last
to escape from the foul air (shot by biting draughts) when the court
adjourned, was a white-headed gentleman of striking appearance and
stamina to match; for, undeterred by the experience, he was in like
manner first and last upon each subsequent day. Behind him came and went
the well-known faces, the authors and the actors with a
semi-professional interest in the case; but they were not well known to
the gentleman with the white head. He heard no more than he could help
of their constant whisperings, and, if he knew not at whom he more than
once had occasion to turn and frown, he certainly did not look the man
to care. He had a well-preserved reddish face, with a small mouth of
extraordinary strength, a canine jaw, and singularly noble forehead; but
his most obvious distinction was his full head of snowy hair. The only
hair upon his face, a pair of bushy eyebrows, was so much darker as to
suggest a dye; but the eyes themselves were black as midnight, with a
glint of midnight stars, and of such a subtle inscrutability that a
certain sweetness of expression came only as the last surprise in a face
full of contrast and contradiction.
No one in court had ever seen this man before; no one but the Under
Sheriff learnt his name during the week; but by the third day his
identity was a subject of discussion, both by the professional students
of the human countenance, who sat behind him (balked of their study by
the prisoner's veil), and among the various functionaries who had
already found him as free with a sovereign as most gentlemen are with a
piece of silver. So every day he was ushered with ceremony to the same
place, at the inner end of the lowest row; there he would sit watching
the prisoner, a trifle nearer her than those beside or behind him; and
only once was his attentive serenity broken for an instant by a change
of expression due to any development of the case.
It was not when the prisoner pleaded clearly through her veil, in the
first breathless minutes of all; it was not a little later, when the
urbane counsel for the prosecution, wagging his pince-nez at the jury,
thrilled every other hearer with a mellifluous forecast of the new
evidence to be laid before them. The missing watch and chain had been
found; they would presently be produced, and the jury would have an
opportunity of examining them, together with a plan of the chimney of
the room in which the murder had been committed; for it was there that
they had been discovered upon a second search instituted since the
proceedings before the magistrates. The effect of this announcement may
be conceived; it was the sensation of the opening day. The whole case of
the prosecution rested on the assumption that there had been, on the
part of some inmate of the house, who alone (it was held) could have
committed the murder, a deliberate attempt to give it the appearance of
the work of thieves. Thus far this theory rested on the bare facts that
the glass of the broken window had been found outside, instead of
within; that no other mark of foot or hand had been made or left by the
supposititious burglars; whereas a brace of revolvers had been
discovered in the dead man's bureau, both loaded with such bullets as
the one which had caused his death, while one of them had clearly been
discharged since the last cleaning. The discovery of the missing watch
and chain, in the very chimney of the same room, was a piece of ideal
evidence of the confirmatory kind. But it was not the point that made an
impression on the man with the white hair; it did not increase his
attention, for that would have been impossible; he was perhaps the one
spectator who was not, if only for the moment, perceptibly thrilled.
Thrilling also was the earlier evidence, furnished by maid-servants and
police constables in pairs; but here there was no surprise. The maids
were examined not only as to what they had seen and heard on the night
of the murder--and they seemed to have heard everything except the fatal
shot--but upon the previous relations of their master and mistress--of
which they showed an equally extensive knowledge. The constables were
perforce confined to their own discoveries and observations when the
maids had called them in. But all four witnesses spoke to the prisoner's
behavior when shown the dead body of her husband, and there was the
utmost unanimity in their several tales. The prisoner had exhibited
little or no surprise; it was several minutes before she had uttered a
syllable; and then her first words had been to point out that burglars
alone could have committed the murder.
In cross-examination the senior counsel for the defence thus early
showed his hand; and it was not a strong one to those who knew the game.
A Queen's Counsel, like the leader for the Crown, this was an
altogether different type of lawyer; a younger man, with a more engaging
manner; a more brilliant man, who sought with doubtful wisdom to blind
the jury with his brilliance. His method was no innovation at the Old
Bailey; it was to hold up every witness in turn to the derision and
contempt of the jury and the court. So both the maids were reduced to
tears, and each policeman cleverly insulted as such. But the testimony
of all four remained unshaken; and the judge himself soothed the young
women's feelings with a fatherly word, while wigs were shaken in the
well of the court. That was no road to the soft side of a decent,
conscientious, hard-headed jury, of much the same class as these
witnesses themselves; even the actors and authors had a sound opinion on
the point, without waiting to hear one from the professional gentlemen
in the well. But the man in front with the very white hair--the man who
was always watching the prisoner at the bar--there was about as much
expression of opinion upon his firm, bare face as might be seen through
the sable thickness of her widow's veil.
It was the same next day, when, for some five hours out of a possible
five and a half, the attention of the court was concentrated upon a
point of obviously secondary significance. It was suggested by the
defence that the watch and chain found up the study chimney were not
those worn by the deceased at the time he met his death. The contention
was supported by photographs of Alexander Minchin wearing a watch-chain
that might or might not be of another pattern altogether; expert
opinions were divided on the point; and experts in chains as well as in
photography were eventually called by both sides. Interesting in the
beginning, the point was raised and raised again, and on subsequent
days, until all were weary of the sight of the huge photographic
enlargements, which were handed about the court upon each occasion. Even
the prisoner would droop in her chair when the "chain photograph" was
demanded for the twentieth time by her own unflagging counsel; even the
judge became all but inattentive on the point, before it was finally
dropped on an intimation from the jury that they had made up their minds
about the chains; but no trace of boredom had crossed the keen, alert
face of the unknown gentleman with the snowy hair.
So the case was fought for Mrs. Minchin, tooth and nail indeed, yet
perhaps with more asperity than conviction, and certainly at times upon
points which were hardly worth the fighting. Yet, on the Friday
afternoon, when her counsel at last played his masterstroke, and,
taking advantage of the then new Act, put the prisoner herself in the
witness-box, it was done with the air of a man who is throwing up his
case. The truth could be seen at a glance at the clean-cut, handsome,
but too expressive profile of the crushing cross-examiner of female
witnesses and insolent foe to the police. As it had been possible to
predict, from the mere look with which he had risen to his feet, the
kind of cross-examination in store for each witness called by the
prosecution, so it was obvious now that his own witness had come forward
from her own wilful perversity and in direct defiance of his advice.
It was a dismal afternoon, and the witness-box at the Old Bailey is so
situated that evidence is given with the back to the light; thus, though
her heavy veil was raised at last, and it could be seen that she was
very pale, it was not yet that Rachel Minchin afforded a chance to the
lightning artists of the half-penny press, or even to the students of
physiognomy behind the man with the white hair. This listener did not
lean forward an inch; the questions were answered in so clear a voice as
to render it unnecessary. Yet it was one of these questions, put by her
own counsel, which caused the white-headed man to clap a sudden hand to
his ear, and to incline that ear as though the answer could not come
without some momentary hesitation or some change of tone. Rachel had
told sadly but firmly of her final quarrel with her husband,
incidentally, but without embarrassment, revealing its cause. A neighbor
was dangerously ill, whom she had been going to nurse that night, when
her husband met her at the door and forbade her to do so.
"Was this neighbor a young man?"
"Hardly more than a boy," said Rachel, "and as friendless as ourselves."
"Was your husband jealous of him?"
"I had no idea of it until that night."
"Did you find it out then?"
"I did, indeed!"
"And where had your husband been spending the evening?"
"I had no idea of that either--until he told me he had been watching the
Though the man was dead, she could not rid her voice of its scorn; and
presently, with bowed head, she was repeating his last words to her. A
cold thrill ran through the court.
"And was that the last time you saw him alive?" inquired counsel, his
face lightening in ready apprehension of the thrill, and his assurance
coming back to him on the spot, as though it were he who had insisted
on putting his client in the box.
But to this there was no immediate answer; for it was here that the
white-haired man raised his hand to his ear; and the event was exactly
as he seemed to have anticipated.
"Was that the last time you saw your husband alive?" repeated Rachel's
counsel, in the winning accents and with the reassuring face that he
could assume without an effort at his will.
"It was," said Rachel, after yet another moment's thought.
It was then that the white-headed man dropped his eyes for once; and for
once the thin, hard lines of his mouth relaxed in a smile that seemed to
epitomize all the evil that was in his face, and to give it forth in one
sudden sour quintessence.
NAME AND NATURE
The prisoner's evidence concluded with a perfectly simple if somewhat
hesitating account of her own doings during the remainder of the night
of her husband's murder. That story has already been told in greater
detail than could be extracted even by the urbane but deadly
cross-examiner who led for the Crown. A change had come over the manner
in which Rachel was giving her evidence; it was as though her strength
and nerve were failing her together, and henceforth the words had to be
put into her mouth. Curiously enough, the change in Mrs. Minchin's
demeanor was almost coincident with the single and rather sinister
display of feeling upon the part of the white-haired gentleman who had
followed every word of the case. On the whole, however, her story bore
the stamp of truth; and a half-apologetic but none the less persistent
cross-examination left it scarcely less convincing than before.
There was one independent witness for the defence, in addition to the
experts in photography and chains. The landlady of the house at which
Rachel called, in the early morning, on her way home with the cab, was
about five minutes in the witness-box, but in those five minutes she
supplied the defence with one of its strongest arguments. It was at
least conceivable that a woman who had killed her husband might coolly
proceed to pack her trunk, and thereafter fetch the cab which was to
remove herself and her effects from the scene of the tragedy. But was it
credible that a woman of so much presence of mind, to whom every minute
might make the difference between life and death, would, having found
her cab, actually drive out of her way to inquire after a sick friend,
or even a dying lover, before going home to pick up her luggage and to
ascertain whether her crime was still undetected? Suppose it were a
lover, and inquire one must: would one not still leave those inquiries
to the last? And having made them, last or first; and knowing the grim
necessity of flight; would one woman go out of her way to tell another
that she "had to go abroad very suddenly, and was going for good?"
"Inconceivable!" cried the prisoner's counsel, dealing with the point;
and the word was much upon his lips during the course of a long and very
strenuous speech, in which the case for the Crown was flouted from
beginning to end, without, perhaps, enough of concentration on its more
obvious weaknesses, or of respect for its undoubted strength. For the
prisoner's proceedings on the night of the murder, however, supposing
she had committed it, and still more on the morning after, it would have
been difficult to find a better epithet; the only drawback was that this
one had seen service in the cause of almost every murderer who ever went
to the gallows--as counsel for the prosecution remarked in his reply,
with deadly deference to his learned friend.
"On the other hand," he went on, wagging his eyeglasses with leisurely
deliberation, and picking his words with a care that enhanced their
effect, after the unbridled rhetoric of the defence--"on the other hand,
gentlemen, if criminals never made mistakes, inconceivable or not as we
may choose to consider them--if they never made those mistakes, they
would never stand in that dock."
It was late on the Saturday afternoon when the judge summed up; but a
pleasant surprise was in store for those who felt that his lordship must
speak at greater length than either of the counsel between whom he was
to hold the scales. The address from the bench was much the shortest of
the three. Less exhaustive than the conventional review of a
complicated case, it was a disquisition of conspicuous clearness and
impartiality. Only the salient points were laid before the jury, for the
last time, and in a nutshell, but with hardly a hint of the judge's own
opinion upon any one of them. The expression of that opinion was
reserved for a point of even greater import than the value of any
separate piece of evidence. If, said the judge, the inferences and
theory of the prosecution were correct; if this unhappy woman, driven to
desperation by her husband, and knowing where he kept his pistols, had
taken his life with one of them, and afterwards manufactured the traces
of a supposititious burglary; then there was no circumstance connected
with the crime which could by any possibility reduce it from murder to
manslaughter. The solemnity of this pronouncement was felt in the
farthest corner of the crowded court. So they were to find her guilty of
wilful murder, or not guilty at all! Every eye sped involuntarily to the
slim black figure in the dock; and, under the gaze of all, the figure
made the least little bow--a movement so slight and so spontaneous as to
suggest unconsciousness, but all the more eloquent on that account.
Yet to many in court, more especially to the theatrical folk behind the
man with the white hair, the gesture was but one more subtle touch in
an exhibition of consummate art and nerve.
"If they do acquit her," whispered one of these wiseacres to another,
"she will make her fortune on the stage!"
Meanwhile the judge was dealing at the last with the prisoner's evidence
in her own behalf, and that mercifully enough, though with less
reticence than had characterized the earlier portions of his address. He
did not think it possible or even desirable to forget that this was the
evidence of a woman upon trial for her life. It must not be discredited
on that account. But it was for the jury to bear in mind that the story
was one which admitted of no corroboration, save in unimportant details.
More than that he would not say. It was for them to judge of that story
as they had heard it for themselves, on its own merits, but also in
relation to the other evidence. If the jury believed it, there was an
end of the case. If they had any reasonable doubt at all, the prisoner
was entitled to the full benefit of that doubt, and they must acquit
her. If, on the other hand, the facts taken together before and after
the murder brought the jury to the conclusion that it was none other
than the prisoner who had committed the murder--though, of course, no
one was present to see the act committed--they must, in duty to their
oaths, find her guilty.
During the judge's address the short November day had turned from
afternoon to night, and a great change had come over the aspect of the
dim and dingy court. Opaque globes turned into flaring suns;
incandescent burners revealed unsuspected brackets; the place was warmed
and lighted for the first time during the week. And the effect of the
light and warmth was on all the faces that rose as one while the judge
sidled from the bench, and the jury filed out of their box, and the
prisoner disappeared down the dock stairs for the last time in ignorance
of her fate. Next moment there was the buzz of talk that you expect in a
theatre between the acts, rather than in a court of justice at the
solemn crisis of a solemn trial. It was like a class-room with the
master called away. Hats were put on again in the bulging galleries;
hardly a tongue was still. On the bench a red-robed magnate and another
in knee-breeches exchanged views upon the enlarged photographs which had
played so prominent a part in the case; in the well the barristers' wigs
nodded or shook over their pink blotters and their quill pens; gentlemen
of the Press sharpened their pencils and indulged in prophecy; and on
their right, between the reporters and the bench, the privileged few,
the literary and theatrical elect, discussed the situation with abnormal
callousness, masking emotion with a childlike cynicism of sentiment and
And for once the stranger in their midst, the man with more outward
distinction than any one of them, the unknown man with the snowy hair,
could afford to listen to what they had to say.
"No chance, my dear man. Not an earthly!"
"I'm not so sure of that."
"Will you bet?"
"No, hang it! What a beast you are! But I thought the woman was speaking
"You heard what the judge said. Where's your corroboration? No, they
ought never to have let her go into the box. I hear she insisted. But it
hasn't saved anybody yet."
"The new law? Then it shows her pluck!"
"But not necessarily her innocence, dear boy."
Thus one shaven couple. Others had already exhausted the subject.
"Yes, I finished it down at Westgate last week."
"In a way. It depends so much on the cast."
"More or less. I must be off. Dining out."
"What! Not going to wait for the end of the fourth act?"
"No, I'm late as it is. Ta-ta!"
The white-haired man was amused. He did not turn round, nor, if he had,
would he have known the retreating gentleman for the most eminent of
living playwrights; but he knew the reason for his sudden retreat. A
hush had fallen, and some one had whispered, "They're coming!" The
light-hearted chatter had died away on the word; perhaps it was not so
light-hearted after all. But the alarm was false, there was no sign of
the jury, and the talk rose again, as the wind will in a storm.
"We shall want a glass when this is over," whispered one of the pair who
had argued about the case.
"And we'll have it, too, old man!" rejoined his friend.
The white-haired man was grimly interested. So this was the way men
talked while waiting to hear a fellow-creature sentenced to death! It
was worth knowing. And this was what the newspaper men would call a low
buzz--an expectant hush--this animated babble! Yet the air was charged
with emotion, suppressed perhaps, but none the less distinguishable in
every voice. Within earshot a perspiring young pressman was informing
his friends that to come there comfortably you should commit the murder
yourself, then they gave you the Royal Box; but his teeth could be heard
chattering through the feeble felicity. The white-headed listener curled
a contemptuous nostril. They could joke, and yet they could feel! He
himself betrayed neither weakness, but sat waiting patiently and idly
listening, with the same grim jaw and the same inscrutable eye with
which he had watched the prisoner and the jury alternately throughout
the week. And when the latter at last returned, and then the former, it
was the same subtle stare that he again bent upon them both in turn.
The jury had been absent but forty minutes after all; and their
expedition seemed as ill an omen as their nervous and responsible faces.
There was a moment's hush, another moment of prophetic murmurs, and then
a stillness worthy of its subsequent description in every newspaper. The
prisoner was standing in the front of the dock, a female warder upon
either hand. The lightning pencil of the new journalist had its will of
her at last. For Mrs. Minchin had dispensed not only with the chair
which she had occupied all the week, but also with the heavy veil which
she had but partially lifted during her brief sojourn in the
witness-box, and never once in the dock. The veil was now flung back
over the widow's bonnet, peaking and falling like a sable cowl, against
which the unearthly pallor of her face was whiter far then that of the
merely dead, just as mere death was the least part of the fate
confronting her. Yet she had raised her veil to look it fairly in the
face, and the packed assembly marvelled as it gazed.
Was that the face that had been hidden from them all these days? It was
not what they had pictured beneath the proud, defiant carriage of its
concealing veil. Was that the face of a determined murderess?
Beautiful it was not as they saw it then, but the elements of beauty lay
unmistable beneath a white mist of horror and of pain, as a lovely
landscape is still lovely at its worst. The face was a thin but perfect
oval, lengthened a little by depth of chin and height of forehead, as
now also by unnatural emaciation and distress. The mouth was at once
bloodless, sweet, and firm; the eyes of a warm and lustrous brown,
brilliant, eloquent, brave--and hopeless!
Yes, she had no hope herself! It was plain enough at the first glimpse
of the deadly white, uncovered face, in the cruel glare of gas. But it
became plainer still as, with sad, unflinching eyes, she watched and
listened while, for the last time, the jurymen answered to their names.
Now they were done. The foreman shifted nervously in his place. In the
overstain of the last dread pause, the crowded court felt hotter and
lighter than ever. It seemed to unite the glare of a gin palace with the
temperature of a Turkish bath.
"Gentlemen, are you greed upon your verdict?"
"Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"
There was a simultaneous gasp from a hundred throats--a distinct cry
from some. Then the Clerk of Arraigns was seen to be leaning forward, a
hand to his ear, for the foreman's voice had broken with excitement. And
every soul in court leaned forward too.
But this time his feelings had a different effect upon the excited
"_Not_ guilty!" he almost bawled.
Dead silence then, while the clock ticked thrice.
"And that is the verdict of you all?"
"Of every one of us!"
The judge leant back in his place, his eyes upon the desk before him,
without a movement or a gesture to strike the personal note which had
been suppressed with such admirable impartiality throughout the trial.
But it was several moments before his eyes were lifted with his voice.
"Let her be discharged," was all he said even then; but he would seem to
have said it at once gruffly, angrily, thankfully, disgustedly, with
emotion, and without any emotion at all. You read the papers, and you
take your choice.
So Rachel Minchin was supported from the court before the round eyes of
a hundred or two of her fellow-creatures, in the pitiable state of one
who has been condemned to die, and not set free to live. It was as
though she still misunderstood a verdict which had filled most faces
with incredulity, but none with an astonishment to equal her own. Her
white face had leaped alight, but not with gladness. The pent-up emotion
of the week had broken forth in an agony of tears; and so they half led,
half carried her from the court. She had entered it for the last time
with courage enough; but it was the wrong kind of courage; and, for the
one supreme moment, sentence of life was harder to bear than sentence of
In a few minutes the court was empty--a singular little theatre of pale
varnish and tawdry hangings, still rather snug and homely in the heat
and light of its obsolete gas, and with as little to remind one of the
play as any other theatre when the curtain is down and the house empty.
But there was clamor in the corridors, and hooting already in the
street. Nor was the house really empty after all. One white-haired
gentleman had not left his place when an attendant returned to put out
the lights. The attendant pointed him out to a constable at the door;
both watched him a few moments. Then the attendant stepped down and
touched him on the shoulder.
The gentleman turned slowly without a start. "Ah, you're the man I want
to see," said he. "Was that the Chief Warder in the dock?"
"Him with the beard," said the attendant, nodding.
"Well, give him this, and give it him quick. I'll wait up there till he
can see me."
And he pressed his card into the attendant's palm, with a couple of
"Wants to see the Chief Warder," explained the attendant to the
constable at the door.
"He's been here all the week," mused the constable aloud. "I wonder who
"Name of Steel," whispered the other, consulting the card, as the
gentleman advanced up the steps toward them, the gaslight gleaming in
his silver hair, and throwing his firm features into strong relief.
"And not a bad name for him," said the constable at the door.
THE MAN IN THE TRAIN
Rachel fought her weakness with closed eyes, and was complete mistress
of herself when those about her thought that consciousness alone was
returning. She recognized the chamber at a glance; it was the one in
which generations of metropolitan malefactors, and a few innocent
persons like herself, had waited for the verdict of life or death. For
her it was life, life, life! And she wondered whether any other of the
few had ever come back to life with so little joy.
The female warders were supporting her in a chair; the prison doctor
stood over her with a medicine glass.
"Drink this," said he, kindly.
"But I have been conscious all the time."
"Never mind. You need it."
And Rachel took the restorative without more words.
It did its work. The color came back to her face. The blood ran hot in
her veins. In a minute she was standing up without assistance.
"And now," said Rachel, "I shall not trespass further on your kindness,
and I am sure that you will not wish to detain me."
"We cannot," said the doctor, with a broad smile and a bow; "you are as
free as air, and will perhaps allow me to be the first to congratulate
you. At the same time, my dear madam, and quite apart from your
condition--which is wonderful to me after what you've been through--at
the same time, and even with your fortitude, I think it would be
advisable to--to wait a little while."
The doctor raised his eyes, and all at once Rachel heard.
Overheard--outside--in the world--there was the brutal hooting of a
"So that is for me!"
Rachel set her teeth.
"On the contrary," said the kindly doctor, "it may be for the witnesses;
but crowds are fickle things; and I should strongly urge you not to
court a demonstration of one sort or the other. You are best where you
are for the time being, or at all events somewhere within the precincts.
And meanwhile your solicitor is waiting to add his congratulations to
"Is he, indeed!" cried Rachel, in a voice as hard as her eye.
"Why, to be sure," rejoined the other, taken somewhat aback. "There
must be many matters for discussion between you, and he at least seems
very anxious to discuss them. In fact, I may say that he is only
awaiting my permission for an immediate interview."
"Then let him await mine!" exclaimed Rachel, in a vindictive voice for
which she was apologizing in the next breath. "I owe you much," she
added, "if only for your kindness and sympathy during these few minutes.
But to him I owe nothing that I cannot pay in cash. He tried to keep me
from telling my own story in the box--they all did--but he was the worst
of all. So I certainly do not owe him my life. He came to me and he said
what he liked; he may have forgotten what he said, but I never shall."
"He would be the first to admit his error now."
"Perhaps; but he believed me guilty to the very end; and I utterly
refuse to see him to-night."
"Then I shall tell him so."
And the good doctor disappeared for the nonce, but was back in a couple
of minutes, full of the lawyer's expostulations. What did Mrs. Minchin
intend to do? Where did she propose to go? There were a hundred matters
for explanation and arrangement. Her solicitor said she had no friends,
and seemed himself most anxious to act in that capacity. Rachel's lips
curled at the thought.
"At least," said she, "I have the friends who guaranteed his bill, if
that has anything to say to his anxiety! But what I mean to do and where
I may go, are entirely my own affair. And as for the hundred matters he
mentions, he might have spoken of them during the week. Perhaps he
thought it would be waste of breath, but I should have appreciated the
So her solicitor was beaten off, with all the spirit which was one of
Rachel's qualities, but also with the rashness which was that quality's
defect. The man was indeed no ornament to his profession, but a
police-court practitioner of the pushing order, who had secured the case
for notoriety and nothing else. Rachel's soul sickened when she thought
of her interviews, and especially her most recent interviews, with one
whom she had never seen before her trouble, and whom she devoutly hoped
never to see again. She did not perceive that the time had come when the
lawyer might have been really useful to her. Yet his messages left her
more alive to the difficulties that lay before her as a free woman, and
to the immediate necessity of acting for herself once more.
After all there had been a silver lining to the cloud under which she
had lain so long. Others had acted for her. It had been a rest. But,
conscious of her innocence, and serene in that consciousness, she had
prepared herself rather for another life than for a new lease of this
one; and, while seeking to steel her soul to the awful sequel of a
conviction, in the other direction she had seldom looked beyond the
consummate incident of an acquittal. Life seems a royal road when it is
death that stares one in the face; but already Rachel saw the hills and
the pitfalls; for indeed they began under her nose.
She had no plans, nor a single soul to help her to make any. In all the
world she had no real friend. And yet, with the very independence to
which this isolation was largely due, she must pick and choose, and
reject, in the hour when any friend would have been better than none!
In the first ten minutes of the new life which Rachel Minchin began with
her acquittal, she had refused to see her own solicitor, and an unknown
gentleman whose card was brought to her by the Chief Warder himself.
With the card was a message which might have inspired confidence, and
the same might be said of the address. But it was enough for Rachel that
she knew no one of the name. The Chief Warder, one of the kindliest
mortals, displayed no little irritation under her repeated refusals; but
it was the agent, and not the principal, who was so importunate; and the
message was not repeated once the former could be induced to bear Mrs.
Minchin's answer. The Chief Warder did indeed return, but it was not to
make any further reference to the mysterious Mr. Steel who had craved an
interview with Mrs. Minchin. And now the good fellow was all smiles.
"Feeling more yourself?" said he; and, when Rachel said she was, he
asked her to listen now; and there was nothing to listen to. "The
coast's as clear as the Criminal Court," explained this pleasant
official. "A closed cab did it, with an officer on the box; and I'll
call you another as soon as you like."
Rachel rose at once.
"It was kind of you to let me stay so long," she said. "But I don't
think I will take a cab, thank you, if there's an underground station
within reach, and you will kindly tell me the way."
"There's Blackfriars Bridge within five minutes. But you will have more
than you can carry--"
"I have nothing worth taking away with me," said Rachel, "except the
things I stand up in; but you may give what I leave to any poor woman
who cares to have them. And I hope you will accept this trifle for
yourself, with my deep gratitude for all your kindness."
Indeed, the man had been kind, and his kindness would have continued to
the last had the trial ended differently. Nevertheless, Rachel's trifle
was a piece of gold, and one of her last. Nor was this pure generosity.
There was an untold joy in being able to give again. It was the first
real taste of freedom; and in another minute Rachel was free.
Oh, but what a miracle to hear her feet on the now deserted pavement, to
see her breath in the raw November night, and the lights of Ludgate Hill
beyond! Rachel raised her veil to see them better. Who would look for
her afoot so near the scene of her late ordeal? And what did it matter
who saw her and who knew her now? She was innocent; she could look the
whole world in the face once more. Oh, to rub shoulders with the world
A cab came tinkling up behind her, and Rachel half thought of hailing
it, and driving through the lighted town after all; but the hansom was
occupied, and the impulse passed. She put down her veil and turned into
the stream without catching a suspicious eye. Why should they suspect
her? And again, what did it matter if they did?
"Trial an' verdic'! Trial an' verdic'! Acquittal o' Mrs. Minchin! Trial
Everybody was buying the damp, pink sheets. Rachel actually bought one
herself; and overheard the opinion of the man in the street without a
pang. So she might think herself lucky! But she did, she did; in the
reaction that had come upon her with the first mouthful of raw air, in
the intoxication of treading the outer world again, she thought herself
the luckiest woman in London, and revelled rather than otherwise in the
very considerations which had appalled her in the precincts of the
court. How good, after all, to be independent as well as free! How great
to drift with the tide of innocent women and law-abiding men, once more
one of themselves, and not even a magnet for morbid curiosity! That
would come soon enough; the present was all the more to be enjoyed; and
even the vagueness of the immediate future, even the lack of definite
plans, had a glamor of their own in eyes that were yet to have their
fill of street lamps and shop windows and omnibuses and hansom cabs.
The policeman under the bridge was a joy in himself; he refreshed
Rachel's memory as to the way, without giving her an unnecessary look;
and he called her "madam" into the bargain! After all, it was not every
policeman who had been on duty at the Old Bailey, nor one in many
thousands of the population who had gained admission to the court.
Yet if Rachel had relieved the tedium of her trial by using her eyes a
little more; if, for example, she had condescended to look twice at the
handful of mere spectators beyond the reporters on her right, she could
scarcely have failed to recognize the good-looking, elderly man who was
at her heels when she took her ticket at Blackfriars Bridge. His white
hair was covered by his hat, but the face itself was not one to be
forgotten, with its fresh color, its small, grim mouth, and the deep-set
glitter beneath the bushy eyebrows. Rachel, however, neither recognized
nor looked again.
In a few minutes she had a better chance, when, having entered an empty
compartment in the first class, she was joined by this gentleman as the
train began to move.
Rachel hid herself behind the newspaper which she had bought, not that
she had looked twice at her companion, but because at such close
quarters, and in the comparatively fierce light of the first-class
compartment, she was terribly afraid that he might look once too often
at her. But this fear passed from her in the matchless fascination of
reading and re-reading five words in the stop-press column:--"MINCHIN
CASE--Verdict, Not guilty."
Not guilty! Not guilty! And to see it in print! Her eyes filled at the
sight, and she dried them to gloat again. There were columns and columns
about the case, embellished with not unskilful sketches of counsel
addressing the jury, and of the judge in the act of summing up. But
Rachel had listened to every word from all three; and the professional
report was less full and less accurate than the one which she carried in
her brain and would carry to her grave. Not that the speeches mattered
now. It was no speech that had saved her; it was her own story, from her
own lips, that the lawyers would have closed! Rachel forgave them now;
she was almost grateful to them for having left it to her to save
herself in spite of them all: so should her perfect innocence be
impressed upon the whole country as on those twelve fair minds. And once
more she pored upon the hurriedly added and ill-printed line which gave
their verdict to the world, while the train stopped and started, only to
stop and start again.
"And what do you think of it, madam?"
The voice came from the opposite corner of the compartment, and Rachel
knew it for that of the gentleman who had jumped in at the last moment
at Blackfriars Bridge. It was Charing Cross that they were leaving now,
and the door had not opened at that station or the last. Rachel sat
breathless behind her evening paper. Not to answer might be to fasten
suspicion upon her widow's weeds; and, for all her right to look mankind
in the face, she shrank instinctively from immediate recognition. Then
in a clap came the temptation to discuss her own case with the owner of
a voice at once confident and courtly, and subtly reminiscent of her
native colony, where it is no affront for stranger to speak to stranger
without introduction or excuse.
Rachel's hesitation lasted perhaps a couple of seconds, and then her
paper lay across her lap.
"Of what?" she asked, with some presence of mind, for she had never an
instant's doubt that the question referred to the topic of the hour.
"We were reading the same paper," replied the questioner, with perfect
courtesy; "it only struck me that we might both be reading the same
thing, and feeling equally amazed at the verdict."
"You mean in the Minchin case," said Rachel steadily, and without the
least interrogation in her tone. "Yes, I was reading it, as I suppose
everybody is. But I disagree with you about the verdict."
The young widow's manner was as downright as her words. There was a
sudden raising of the bushy eyebrows in the opposite corner, a brief
opening of the black eyes underneath.
"Pardon me," said the gentleman, breaking into a smile; "I was not aware
that I had expressed an opinion on that point."
"I understood you were amazed," said Rachel, dryly.
"And are not you?" cried the other point-blank. "Do you mean to tell me
that you were prepared for an acquittal?"
"I was prepared for anything," replied Rachel, returning a peculiarly
penetrating stare with one at least as steady, and yet holding her
breath for very fear lest this stranger had found her out, until his
next words allayed the suspicion.
"Madam, have you followed the case?"
"Indeed I have," sighed honest Rachel.
"And as a woman you believe this woman innocent?"
It was hard enough to say no more than that; but Rachel was very fresh
from her great lesson in self-control.
"It is easy to see that you do not," she merely permitted herself to
"On the contrary," said he, with great precision; "on the contrary, my
dear madam, I believe this poor lady to be as innocent as yourself."
Again their eyes were locked; again Rachel drew the only inference from
so pointed a pronouncement, and yet again was the impression shaken by
her companion's next words.
"But I really have no right to an opinion," said he; "since, unlike you,
I cannot claim to have read the case. Nor is that the interesting thing
now." The stations had come and gone, until now they were at Victoria.
The speaker looked out of the window, until they were off again, and off
by themselves as before. "The interesting thing, to me, is not what this
poor lady has or has not done, but what on earth she is going to do
He looked at her again, and now Rachel was sure. But there was a
kindness in his look that did away both with resentment and regret.
"They say she has literally no friends in England," he went on, with
unconcealed concern. "That is incredible; and yet, if there be any truth
in it, what a terrible position! I fear that everybody will not share
your conviction, and, I may add, my own. If one can judge thus early by
what one has heard and seen for oneself, this verdict is a personal
disappointment to the always bloodthirsty man in the street. Then, God
help the poor lady if he spots her! I only hope she will not give him a
And now Rachel not only knew that he knew, but that he wished to apprise
her of his knowledge without confessing it in so many words. So he would
spare her that embarrassment, and would help her if he could, this utter
stranger! Yet she saw it in his face, she heard it in his voice; and
becoming gradually alive to his will to help her, as she instinctively
was to his power, she had herself the will to consult one whose good
intention and better tact were alike obvious. Mystery there was in her
meeting with this man; something told her that it was no accident on his
side; she began to wonder whether she had not seen him before; and while
she wondered he came and sat opposite to her, and went on speaking in a
lower voice, his dark eyes fixed on hers.
"If Mrs. Minchin wants a friend--and to-night I think she must--if ever
she did or will! Well, if she does, I for one would be her friend--if
she would trust me!"
The last words were the lowest of all; and in the tone of them there was
a timbre which thrilled Rachel as the dark eyes fascinated her. She
began to feel a strange repugnance--and yet more strange attraction. But
to the latter her independence gave instant battle--a battle the easier
to fight since the next station was Rachel's destination.
"Do you think she would trust me?" he almost whispered leaning towards
her. "As a woman--don't you think she might?"
As Rachel hesitated the carriages began to groan beneath the brake; and
her hesitation was at an end. So also was her limited capacity for
pretence. She sat more upright in her corner, her shoulders fell in
angles, and beneath the veil, which she had raised to read her paper,
her eyes carried the war of interrogation into the enemy's country.
"I seem to have seen you before," said Rachel, cool of tongue but hot at
"I think it very possible that you have."
"Were you at the trial?"
"From first to last!"
The pause that followed was really broken by the lights of Sloane Square
"You know me," said Rachel, hurriedly; "I have seen that for some time.
May I ask if you are Mr. Steel?"
"The Mr. Steel who sent me his card after the trial?"
"As a perfect stranger?"
"As a perfect stranger who had watched you for a whole long week in
Rachel ignored the relative clause.
"And because I would not see you, Mr. Steel, you have followed me, and
forced yourself upon me!"
The train stopped, and Rachel rose.
"You will gather my motives when you recall our conversation," observed
Steel; and he opened the door for her. But Rachel turned to him before
"Mr. Steel," said she, "I am quite sure that you mean kindly and well,
and that I above all women should feel supremely grateful; but I cannot
help thinking that you are unjust to the man in the street!"
"Better give him a trial," said Steel, coldly enough in his turn.
"I should prefer to," rejoined Rachel, getting out; and there was no
little sting in the intonation of the verb; but Mr. Steel was left
smiling and nodding very confidently to himself.
THE MAN IN THE STREET
Rachel's perturbation was only the greater from her success in
concealing, or at least suppressing it, during the actual process of
this singular interview. You may hold your breath without moving a
muscle, but the muscles will make up for it when their turn comes, and
it was so with Rachel and her nerves; they rose upon her even on the
platform, and she climbed the many stairs in a tremor from head to foot.
And at the top, in the open night, and at all the many corners of a
square that is nothing of the kind, from hoarse throat and on fluttering
placard, it was "Trial and Verdict," or "Sensational Verdict at the Old
Bailey," here as at the other end of the town.
But now all Rachel's thoughts were of this mysterious Mr. Steel; of his
inexplicable behavior towards her, and of her own attitude towards him.
Yet, when all was said, or when all that had been said could be
remembered, would his behavior be found so very inexplicable? Rachel was
not devoid of a proper vanity, albeit that night she had probably less
than most women with a tithe of her personal attractions; and yet upon
reflection she could conceive but one explanation of such conduct in an
"There is no fool like an old fool," quoted Rachel to herself; and it
was remarkable that until this moment she had never thought of Mr. Steel
as either elderly or old. His eyes were young; his voice was young; she
could hear him and see him still, so the strong impression was not all
on one side. No more, it would seem, was the fascination. Rachel,
indeed, owned to no such feeling, even in her inmost heart. But she did
begin to blame herself, alike for her reception of advances which might
well have been dictated by mere eccentric benevolence, and for her
readiness now to put another construction upon them. And all this time
she was threading the streets of Chelsea at a pace suggestive of a
destination and a purpose, while in her mind she did nothing but look
Impulsive by nature, Rachel had also the courage of each impulse while
it lasted; on the other hand, if quick to act, she was only too ready to
regret. Like many another whose self-reliance is largely on the surface,
an achievement of the will and not the gift of a temperament, she
usually paid for a display of spirit with the most dispiriting
reaction; and this was precisely the case in point. Rachel was ashamed
alike of her rudeness and her vanity; the latter she traced to its
source. It was inspired by vague memories of other women who had been
through the same ordeal as herself. One had been handed a bouquet in the
dock; another had been overwhelmed by proposals of marriage. Rachel
herself had received letters of which the first line was enough. But
there had been no letter from Mr. Steel. Ah! but he had attended her
trial; she remembered him now, his continual presence had impressed
itself very subtly upon her mind, without the definite memory of a
single glance; and after the trial he sent her his card, he dogged her
in the train! What was she to think? There was the voice in which he had
offered her his aid; there was the look in his eyes; there was the
delicate indirectness of that offer.
A year or two ago, with all her independence, Rachel would not have been
so ready to repel one whose advances, however unwarrantable in
themselves, were yet marked by so many evidences of sympathy and
consideration. She had not always been suspicious and repellent; and she
sighed to think how sadly she must have changed, even before the
nightmare of the last few weeks.
But a more poignant reminder of her married life was now in store for
Rachel Minchin. She had come to Chelsea because it was the only portion
of the town in which she had the semblance of a friend; but there did
live in Tite Street a young couple with whom the Minchins had at one
time been on friendly terms. That was in the day of plenty and
extravagance; and the acquaintance, formed at an hotel in the Trossachs,
had not ripened in town as the two wives could have wished. It was Mrs.
Carrington, however, who had found the Minchins their furnished house,
while her husband certainly interested himself in Rachel's defence.
Carrington was a barrister, who never himself touched criminal work, but
he had spoken to a friend who did, to wit the brilliant terror of female
witnesses, and caustic critic of the police, to whom Rachel owed so
little. But to Carrington himself she owed much--more indeed than she
cared to calculate--for he was not a man whom she liked. She wished to
thank him for his kindness, to give certain undertakings and to ask his
advice, but it was Mrs. Carrington whom she really hoped to see. There
was a good heart, or Rachel was much mistaken. They would have seen more
of each other if Mrs. Carrington had had her way. Rachel remembered her
on the occasion of the solitary visit she had received at Holloway--for
Mrs. Carrington had been the visitor.
"Don't tell Jim," she had said, "when you get off and come to see us."
And she had kissed her captive sister in a way that made poor Rachel
sometimes think she had a friend in England after all; but that was
before her committal; and thereafter from that quarter not a word. It
was not Mrs. Carrington whom Rachel blamed, however, and those last
words of hers implied an invitation which had never been withdrawn. But
invitation or no invitation, friend or no friend, Mrs. Carrington she
would have to see. And even he would be different now that he knew she
was innocent; and if it was easy to see what he had believed of her
before, well, so much the more credit to him for what he had done.
So Rachel had decided before quitting the precincts of the Old Bailey;
but her subsequent experiences in street and train so absorbed her that
she was full of the interview that was over when she ought to have been
preparing for the one still before her. And, in her absence of mind, the
force of habit had taken advantage of her; instead of going on to Tite
Street, she turned too soon, and turned again, and was now appalled to
find herself in the very street in which her husband had met his death.
The little street was as quiet as ever; Rachel stood quite still, and
for the moment she was the only person in it. She stole up to the house.
The blinds were down, and it was in darkness, otherwise all was as she
remembered it only too well. Her breath came quickly. It was a strange
trick her feet had played her, bringing her here against her will! Yet
she had thought of coming as a last resort. The furnished house should
be hers for some months yet; it had been taken for six months from July,
and this was only the end of November. At the worst--if no one would
take her in--
She shuddered at the unfinished thought; and yet there was something in
it that appealed to Rachel. To go back there, if only for the shortest
time--to show her face openly where it was known--not to slink and hide
as though she were really guilty! That might give her back her
self-respect; that might make others respect her too. But could she do
it, even if she would? Could she bring herself to set foot inside that
Rachel felt tremulously in her pocket; there had been more keys than
one, and that which had been in her possession when she was arrested
was in it still. Nobody had asked her for it; she had kept it for this;
dare she use it after all? The street was still empty; it is the
quietest little street in Chelsea. There would never be a better chance.
Rachel crept up the steps. If she should be seen!
She was not; but a footstep rang somewhere in the night, and on that the
key was fitted and the door opened without another moment's hesitation.
Rachel entered, the door shut noisily behind her, and then her own step
rang in turn upon the floor. It was bare boards; and as Rachel felt her
way to the electric switches, beyond the dining-room door, her fingers
missed the pictures on the walls. This prepared her for what she found
when the white light sprang out above her head. The house had been
dismantled; not a stick in the rooms, not so much as a stair-rod on the
stairs, nor a blind to the window at their head.
The furniture removed while the use of it belonged legally to her! Had
they made so sure of her conviction as all that? Rachel's blood came
straight from zero to the boil; this was monstrous, this was illegal and
wicked. The house was hers for other two months; and there were things
of hers in it, she had left everything behind her. If they had been
removed, then this outrage was little short of felony, and she would
invoke the law from whose clutches she herself had escaped. Rachel had
expected to be terrified in the house; she was filled insted with anger
It was as she expected; not a trunk had been left; and the removal had
taken place that very week. This would account for the electric light
being still intact. Rachel discovered it by picking up a crumpled
newspaper, which seemed to have contained bread and cheese; it did
contain a report of the first day of the trial. They might have waited
till her trial was over; they should suffer for their impatience, it was
their turn. So angry was Rachel that her own room wounded her with no
memories of the past. It was an empty room, and nothing more; and only
on her return to the lower floor did that last dread night come back to
her in all its horror and all its pitifulness.
The double doors of the late professor! Rachel forgot her grudge against
his widow; she pulled the outer door, and pushed the inner one, just as
she had done in the small hours of that fatal morning, but this time all
was darkness within. She had to put on the electric light for herself.
The necessity she could not have explained, but it existed in her mind;
she must see the room again. And the first thing she saw was that the
window was broken still.
Rachel looked at it more closely than she had done on the morning when
she had given her incriminating opinion to the police, and the longer
she looked the less reason did she see to alter that opinion. The broken
glass might have been placed upon the sill in order to promote the very
theory which had been so gullibly adopted by the police, and the watch
and chain hidden in the chimney for the same purpose. They might have
hanged the man who kept them; and surely this was not the first thief
who had slunk away empty-handed after the committal of a crime
infinitely greater than the one contemplated.
Rachel had never wavered in these ideas, but neither had she dwelt on
them to any extent, and now they came one instant only to go the next.
Her husband was dead--that was once more the paramount thought--and she
his widow had been acquitted on a charge of murdering him. But for the
moment she was thinking only of him, and her eyes hung over the spot
where she had seen him sitting dead--once without dreaming it--and soon
they filled. Perhaps she was remembering all that had been good in him,
perhaps all that had been evil in herself; her lips quivered, and her
eyes filled. But it was hard to pity one who was at rest, hard for her
with the world to face afresh that night, without a single friend. The
Carringtons? Well, she would see; and now she had a very definite point
upon which to consult Mr. Carrington. That helped her, and she went,
quietly and unseen as she had come.
There was still a light in the ground-floor windows of the Tite Street
house, strong lights and voices; it was the dining-room, for the
Minchins had dined there once; and the voices did not include a feminine
one that Rachel could perceive. If there were people dining with them,
the ladies must have gone upstairs, and Mrs. Carrington was the woman to
see Rachel for five minutes, and the one woman in England to whom she
could turn. It was an opportunity not to miss--she had not the courage
to let it pass--and yet it required almost as much to ring the bell. And
even as she rang--but not until that moment--did Rachel recognize and
admit to herself the motive which had brought her to that door. It was
not to obtain the advice of a clever man; it was the sympathy of another
woman that she needed that night more than anything else in all the
She was shown at once into the study behind the dining-room, and
immediately the voices in the latter ceased. This was ominous; it was
for Mrs. Carrington that Rachel had asked; and the omen was instantly
fulfilled. It was Mr. Carrington who came into the room, dark, dapper,
and duskily flushed with his own hospitality, but without the genial
front which Rachel had liked best in him. His voice also, when he had
carefully shut the door behind him, was unnaturally stiff.
"I congratulate you," he said, with a bow but nothing more; and Rachel
saw there and then how it was to be; for with her at least this man had
never been stiff before, having indeed offended her with his familiarity
at the time when her husband and he were best friends.
"I owe it very largely to you," faltered Rachel. "How can I thank you?"
Carrington said it was not necessary.
"Then I only hope," said Rachel, on one of her impulses, "that you don't
disagree with the verdict?"
"I didn't read the case," replied Carrington glibly, and with neither
more nor less of the contemptuous superiority with which he would have
referred to any other Old Bailey trial; but the man himself was quick to
see the brutality of such a statement, and quicker yet to tone it down.
"It wasn't necessary," he added, with a touch of the early manner which
she had never liked; "you see, I knew you."
The insincerity was so obvious that Rachel could scarcely bring herself
to confess that she had come to ask his advice. "What was the point?" he
said to that, so crisply that the only point which Rachel could think of
was the fresh, raw grievance of the empty house.
"Didn't your solicitor tell you?" asked Carrington. "He came to me about
it; but I suppose--"
Rachel knew well what he supposed.
"He should have told you to-night," added Carrington, "at any rate. The
rent was only paid for half the term--quite right--the usual way. The
permanent tenant wanted to be done with the house altogether, and that
entitled her to take her things out. No, I'm afraid you have no
grievance there, Mrs. Minchin."
"And pray," demanded Rachel, "where are my things?"
"Ah, your solicitor will tell you that--when you give him the chance! He
very properly would not care to bother you about trifles until the case
against you was satisfactorily disposed of. By the way, I hope you don't
mind my cigar? We were smoking in the next room."
"I have taken you from your guests," said Rachel, miserably. "I know I
ought not to have come at such an hour."
Carrington did not contradict her.
"But there seemed so much to speak about," she went desperately on.
"There are the money matters and--and--"
"If you will come to my chambers," said Carrington, "I shall be
delighted to go into things with you, and to advise you to the best of
my ability. If you could manage to come at half-past nine on Monday
morning, I would be there early and could give you twenty minutes."
He wrote down the address, and, handing it to Rachel, rang the bell.
This drove her to despair; evidently it never occurred to him that she
was faint with weariness and hunger, that she had nowhere to go for the
night, and not the price of a decent meal, much less a bed, in her
purse. And even now her pride prevented her from telling the truth; but
it would not silence her supreme desire.
"Oh!" she cried; "oh, may I not speak to your wife?"
"Not to-night, if you don't mind," replied Carrington, with his bow and
smile. "We can't both desert our guests."
"Only for a minute!" pleaded Rachel. "I wouldn't keep her more!"
"Not to-night," he repeated, with a broader smile, a clearer
enunciation, and a decision so obviously irrevocable that Rachel said no
more. But she would not see the hand that he could afford to hold out to
her now; and as for going near his chambers, never, never, though she
"No, I wouldn't have kept her," she sobbed in the street; "but she would
have kept me! I know her! I know her! She would have had pity on me, in
spite of him; but now I can never go near either of them again!"
Then where was she to go? God knew! No respectable hotel would take her
in without luggage or a deposit. What was she to do?
But while she wondered her feet were carrying her once more in the old
direction, and as she walked an idea came. She was very near the fatal
little street at the time. She turned about, and then to the left. In a
few moments she was timorously knocking at the door of a house with a
card in the window.
"It's you!" cried the woman who came, almost shutting the door in
Rachel's face, leaving just space enough for her own.
"You have a room to let," said Rachel, steadily.
"But not to you," said the woman, quickly; and Rachel was not
surprised, the other was so pale, so strangely agitated.
"But why?" she asked. "I have been acquitted--thanks partly to your own
evidence--and yet you of all women will not take me in! Do you mean to
tell me that you actually think I did it still?"
Rachel fully expected an affirmative. She was prepared for that opinion
now from all the world; but for once a surprise was in store for her.
The pale woman shifted her eyes, then raised them doggedly, and the look
in them brought a sudden glow to Rachel's heart.
"No, I don't think that, and never did," said the one independent
witness for the defence. "But others do, and I am too near where it
happened; it might empty my house and keep it empty."
Rachel seized her hand.
"Never mind, never mind," she whispered. "It is better, ten thousand
times, that you should believe in me, that any woman should! Thank you,
and God bless you, for that!"
She was turning away, when she faced about upon the steps, gazing past
the woman who believed in her, along the passage beyond, an unspoken
question beneath the tears in her eyes.
"He is not here," said the landlady, quickly.
"But he did get over it?"
"So we hope; but he was at death's door that morning, and for days and
weeks. Now he's abroad again--I'm sure I don't know where."
Rachel said good-night, and this time the door not only shut before she
had time to change her mind again, but she heard the bolts shot as she
reached the pavement. The fact did not strike her. She was thinking for
a moment of the innocent young foreigner who had brought matters to a
crisis between her husband and herself. On the whole she was glad that
he was not in England--yet there would have been one friend.
And now her own case was really desperate; it was late at night; she was
famished and worn out in body and mind, nor could she see the slightest
prospect of a lodging for the night.
And that she would have had in the condemned cell, with food and warmth
and rest, and the blessed certainty of a speedy issue out of all her
It was a bitter irony, after all, this acquittal!
There was but one place for her now. She would perish there of cold and
horror; but she might buy something to eat, and take it with her; and at
least she could rest, and would be alone, in the empty house, the house
of misery and murder, that was yet the one shelter that she knew of in
She crept to the King's road, and returned with a few sandwiches,
walking better in her eagerness to break a fast which she had only felt
since excitement had given place to despair. But now it was making her
faint and ill. And she hurried, weary though she was.
But in the little street itself she stood aghast. A crowd filled it; the
crowd stood before the empty house of sorrow and of crime; and in a
moment Rachel saw the cause.
It was her own fault. She had left the light burning in the upper room,
the bedroom on the second floor.
Rachel joined the skirts of the crowd--drawn by an irresistible
fascination--and listened to what was being said. All eyes were upon the
lighted window of the bedroom--watching for herself, as she soon
discovered--and this made her doubly safe where she stood behind the
"She's up there, I tell yer," said one.
"Not her! It's a ghost."
"Her 'usband's ghost, then."
"But vere's a chap 'ere wot sore 'er fice to fice in the next street;
an' followed 'er and 'eard the door go; an' w'en 'e come back wiv 'is
pals, vere was vat light."
"Let's 'ave 'er aht of it."
"Yuss, she ain't no right there."
"No; the condemned cell's the plice for 'er!"
"Give us a stone afore the copper comes!"
And Rachel saw the first stone flung, and heard the first glass break;
and within a very few minutes there was not a whole pane left in the
front of the house; but that was all the damage which Rachel herself saw
A hand touched her lightly on the shoulder.
"Do you still pin your faith to the man in the street?" said a voice.
And, though she had heard it for the first time that very evening, it
was a voice that Rachel seemed to have known all her life.
A PERIPATETIC PROVIDENCE
"Do you still pin your faith to the man in the street?"
It was Mr. Steel who stood at Rachel's elbow, repeating his question
word for word; but he did not repeat it in the same tone. There was an
earnest note in the lowered voice, an unspoken appeal to her to admit
the truth and be done with proud pretence. And indeed the pride had gone
out of Rachel at sight of him; a delicious sense of safety filled her
heart instead. She was as one drowning, and here was a strong swimmer
come to her rescue in the nick of time. What did it matter who or what
he was? She felt that he was strong to save. Yet, as the nearly drowned
do struggle with their saviours, so Rachel must fence instinctively with
"I never did pin my faith to him," said she.
"Yet see the risk that you are running! If he turns round--if any one of
them turns round and recognizes you--listen to that!"
It was only the second window, but a third and a fourth followed like
shots from the same revolver. Rachel winced.
"For God's sake, come away!" he whispered, sternly.
And Rachel did come a few yards before a flicker of her spirit called a
"Why should I run away?" she demanded, in sudden tears of mortification
and of weakness combined. "I am innocent--so why should I?"
"Because they don't like innocent people; and there appear to be no
police in these parts; and if you fall into their hands--well, it would
be better for you if you had been found guilty and were safe and sound
in Newgate now!"
That was exactly what Rachel had felt herself; she took a few steps
more, but still with reluctance and irresolution; and once round the
nearest corner, and out of that hateful street for ever, she turned to
her companion in unconcealed despair.
"But what am I to do?" she cried. "But where am I to turn?"
"Mrs. Minchin," said Steel, "can you not really trust me yet?"
He stood before her under a street lamp, handsome still, upright for all
his years, strong as fate itself, and surely kinder than any fate which
Rachel Minchin had yet met with in the course of her short but
checkered life. And yet--and yet--she trusted and distrusted him too!
"I can and I cannot," she sighed; and even with the words one reason
occurred to her. "You have followed me, you see, after all!"
"I admit it," he replied, "and without a particle of shame. My dear
lady, I was not going to lose sight of you to-night!"
"And why not?"
"Because I foresaw what might happen, and may happen still! Nay, madam,
it will, if you continue to let your pride sit upon your common sense.
Do you hear them now? That means the police, and when they're dispersed
they'll come this way to King's Road. Any moment they may be upon us.
And there's a hansom dropped from heaven!"
He raised his umbrella, the bell tinkled, the two red eyes dilated and
widened in the night, then with a clatter the horse was pulled up beside
the curb, and Steel spread his hand before the muddy wheel.
"Be sensible," he whispered, "and jump in! In a hansom you can see where
you are going; in a hansom you can speak to the driver or attract the
attention of any decent person on the sidewalk. Ah! you will trust me
so far at last--I thank you from my heart!"
"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman through the roof.
And Rachel listened with languid curiosity; but that was all. She had
put herself in this man's hands; resistance was at an end, and a
reckless indifference to her fate the new attitude of a soul as utterly
overtaxed and exhausted as its tired tenement of clay.
"Brook Street," said Steel, after a moment's pause--"and double-quick
for a double fare. We shall be there in a quarter of an hour," he added
reassuringly as the trap-door slammed, "and you will find everything
ready for you, beginning with something to eat. I, at all events,
anticipated the verdict; if you don't believe me, you will when we get
there, for they have been ready for you all day. Do you know Claridge's
Hotel, by the way?"
"Only by name," said Rachel, wearily.
"I'm glad to hear it," pursued Mr. Steel, "for I think you will be
pleased. It is not like the ordinary run of hotels. Your rooms are your
castle--regular self-contained flat--and you needn't see another soul if
you don't like. I am staying in the hotel myself, for example, but you
shall not set eyes on me for a week unless you wish to."
"But I don't understand," began Rachel, roused a little from her apathy.
She was not suffered to proceed.
"Nor are you to attempt to do so," said her companion, "until to-morrow
morning. If you feel equal to it then, I shall crave an audience, and
you shall hear what I have got to say. But first, let me beg of you, an
adequate supper and a good night's rest!"
"One thing is certain," said Rachel, half to herself: "they can't know
who I am, or they never would have taken me in. And no luggage!"
"That they are prepared for," returned Steel; "and in your rooms you
will find a maid who is also prepared and equipped for your emergency.
As to their not knowing who you are at the hotel, there you are right;
they do not know; it would have been inexpedient to tell them."
"Then at least," said Rachel, "I ought to know who I am supposed to be."
And she smiled, for interest and curiosity were awakened within her,
with the momentary effect of stimulants; but Mr. Steel sat silent at her
side. The cab was tinkling up Park Lane. The great park on the left, the
great houses on the right, the darkness on the one hand, the lights on
the other, had all the fascination of sharp contrasts--that very
fascination which was Mr. Steel's. Rachel already discovered it in his
face, and divined it in his character, without admitting to herself that
there was any fascination at all. Yet otherwise she would have dropped
rather than have done what she was doing now. The man had cast a spell
upon her; and for the present she did feel safe in his hands. But with
that unmistakable sense of immediate security there mingled a subtler
premonition of ultimate danger, to which Rachel had felt alive from the
first. And this was the keenest stimulus of all.
What was his intention, and what his object? To draw back was to find
out neither; and to say the truth, even if she had not been friendless
and forlorn, Rachel would have been very sorry to draw back now.
The raw air in her face had greatly revived her; the sights and lights
of the town were still new and dear to her; she had come back to the
world with a vengeance, to a world of incident and interest, with an
adventure ready waiting to take her out of her past self!
But it was only her companion's silence which enabled Rachel to realize
her strange fortune at this stage, and she had to put her question
point-blank before she obtained any answer at all.
"If you insist upon hearing all the little details to-night," said
Steele, with a good-humored shrug, "well, I suppose you must hear them;
but I hope you will not insist. I have had to make provisions which you
may very possibly resent, but I thought it would be time enough for us
to quarrel about them in the morning. To-night you need rest and
sustenance, but no excitement; of that God knows you have had enough! No
one will come near you but the maid of whom I spoke; no questions will
be put to you; everything is arranged. But to-morrow, if you feel equal
to it, you shall hear all about me, and form your own cool judgment of
my behavior towards you. Meanwhile won't you trust me--implicitly--until
"I do," said Rachel, "and I will--until to-morrow."
"Then there are one or two things that I can promise you," said Steel,
with the heartiness of a man who has gained his point. "You will not be
compromised in any sort or kind of way; your self-respect shall not
suffer; nothing shall vex or trouble you, if I can help it, while you
remain at this hotel. And this I guarantee--whether you like it or
not--unless you tell them, not a single soul in the place shall have the
faintest inkling as to who you are. Now, only keep your why and
wherefore till to-morrow," he concluded cheerily, "and I can promise you
almost every satisfaction. But here we are at the hotel."
He thrust his umbrella outside, pointing to a portico and courtyard on
the right; and in another moment Rachel was receiving the bows of
powdered footmen in crimson plush, while Steel, hat in hand, his white
hair gleaming in the electric light, led the way to the lift.
Rachel's recollection of that night was ever afterwards disjointed and
involved as that of any dream; but there were certain features that she
never forgot. There was the beautiful suite of rooms, filled with
flowers that must have cost a small fortune at that time of year, and in
one of them a table tastefully laid. Rachel remembered the dazzle of
silver and the glare of napery, the hot plates, the sparkling wine, the
hot-house fruit, and the deep embarrassment of sitting down to all this
in solitary state. Mr. Steel had but peeped in to see that all was in
accordance with his orders; thereafter not even a waiter was allowed to
enter, but only Rachel's attendant, to whose charge she had been
committed; a gentle and assiduous creature, quiet of foot and quick of
hand, who spoke seldom but in a soothing voice, and with the delicate
and pretty accent of the French-Swiss.
Rachel used to wonder whether she had shocked this mannerly young woman
by eating very ravenously; she remembered a nervous desire to be done
with that solitary repast, and to get to bed. Yet when she was there, in
the sweetest and whitest of fine linen, with a hot bottle at her feet,
and a fire burning so brightly in the room that the brass bedstead
seemed here and there red-hot, then the sound sleep that she sorely
needed seemed further off than ever, for always she dreamt she was in