This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
Collection:
Tags:
FREE Audible 30 days

the throbs of anguish.

“And whaur fae, laddie?” she said, as she turned her grey eye and scanned deeply the pale face of her son.

Silent, even dogged! Where now his metaphysics, his gibes on the physicalities, the moralities, the spiritualities?–all bundled up in a vibrating chord.

“Whaur fae, Charlie,” had she repeated, still looking at him.

“The devil!” cried he, stung by her searching look, which brought back a gleam of the old rebellion.

“A gude paymaster to his servants,” she said; “but I’m no ane o’ them yet; and may the Lord, wham I serve, even while his chastening hand is heavy upon me, preserve me frae his bribes!” And laying down the notes, she added, not lightly, as it might seem, but seriously, yet quietly,

“Nae wonder they’re warm.”

The notes had carried the heat of his burning hand.

“The auld story–billiards,” said she again; “for they are the devil’s cue and balls.”

No answer; and the mother seating herself again, looked stedfastly and suspiciously at him; but she could not catch the eye of her son, who sat doggedly determined not to reveal his secret, and as determined also to elude her looks, searching as they were, and sufficient to enter his very soul. Yet she loved him too well to objurgate where she was only as yet suspicious; and in the quietness of the hour, she fell for a moment into her widowed habit of speaking as if none were present but herself.

“Wharfor bore I him–wharfor toiled and wrought for him for sae mony years, since the time he sat on my knee smiling in my face, as if he said, I will comfort you when you are old, and will be your stay and support? Was that smile then a lee, put there by the devil, wha has gi’en him the money to deceive me again?”

Then she paused.

“And how could that be? Love is not a cheat; and did ever bairn love a mither as he loved me? or did ever mither love her bairn as I hae loved him? Lord, deliver him frae his enemies, and mak him what he was in thae bygone days–sae innocent, sae cheerful, sae obedient; and I will meekly suffer a’ Thou canst lay upon me.”

The words reached the ears of the son, and the audible sobs seemed to startle the solemn spirit of the hour and the place. “What would she say,” he thought, “if she heard me declare I had robbed my uncle?”

At that moment the door opened, and in rushed little Jeanie S—-th,–her face pale, and her blue eyes lighted with fear, and the thin delicate nostril distended, and hissing with her quick breathings,–

“Oh mither, there’s twa officers on the stair seeking Charlie!”

And the quick creature, darting her eye on the table where the notes lay, snatched them up, and secreted them in her bosom; and, what was more extraordinary, just as if she had divined something more from her brother’s looks, which told her that that money would be sought for by these officers, she darted off like a bird with a crumb in its bill, which it has picked up from beneath your eyes; but not before depositing, as she passed, a paper on a chair near the door.

“That creature is a spirit,” said the mother. “She sees the evil in the dark before it comes, and wards it off like a guardian angel; but oh! she has little in her power to be an angel.”

And rising, she took up the paper. It was only some bread and cheese, which the girl, knowing the privations of her mother, had bought with a part of her five shillings a week.

Thereafter, just as little Jeannie had intimated, came in two officers, with the usual looks of duty appearing through their professional sorrow.

“We want your son, good woman.”

“He is there,” said she; “but what want ye him for?”

“Not for going to church,” said the man, forgetting said professional sorrow in his love of a joke, “but for robbery on the highway; and we must search the house for five pounds in British Linen Company notes.”

And the men proceeded to search, even putting their hands in the mother’s pockets, besides rifling those of the son. They of course found nothing except the powder and shot, which had still remained there, and a handkerchief.

“That is something, anyhow,” said one of the men, “and a great deal too. The one who is up in the office says true; he was not the man.”

“No more he was,” said Charles. “I am the man you ought to take; and take me.”

“Sae, sae; just as I suspected,” muttered the mother. “Lord, Lord! the cup runs over. It was e’en lipping when John died; but I will bear yet.” And she seemed to grasp firmly the back of a chair, and compressed her lips–an attitude she maintained like a statue all the time occupied by the departure of her son. The door closed–he was gone; and she still stood, the _vivum cadaver_–the image of a petrified creature of misery.

Yet, overcome as her very calmness was, and enchanted for the moment into voicelessness and utter inaction, she was not that kind of women who sit and bear the stripes without an effort to ward them off. If Jeannie was as quick as lightning, she was sure as that which follows the flash. She thought for a moment, “God does not absolutely and for ever leave his servants.” Some thought had struck her. She put on her bonnet and cloak deliberately, even looking into the glass to see if she was tidy enough for where she intended going, and for whom she intended to see.

And now this quiet woman is on her way down Broughton Street at twelve o’clock of a cold winter night, which, like her own mind, had only that calmness which results from the exhaustion of sudden biting gusts from the north, and therefore right in her face. She drew her cloak round her. She had a long way to go, but her son was in danger of the gallows; and thoughtless, and as it now seemed, wicked as he was, he was yet her _son_. The very word is a volume of heart language–not the fitful expression of passion, but that quiet eloquence which bedews the eye and brings deep sighs with holy recollections of the child-time, and germinating hopes of future happiness up to the period when he would hang over her departing spirit. Much of all that had gone, and been replaced by dark forebodings of the future; and now there was before her the vision of an ignominious death as the termination of all these holy inspirations. But her faithful saying was always, “Wait, hope, and persevere;” and the saying was muttered a hundred times as she trudged weariedly, oh! how weariedly, for one who had scarcely tasted food for that day, and who had left untouched the gift brought by her loving daughter that night–for which, plain as it was, her heart yearned even amidst its grief, yea, though grief is said, untruly no doubt, to have no appetite. Perhaps not to those who are well fed; but nature is stronger than even grief, and she now felt the consequence of her disobedience to her behests in her shaking limbs and fainting heart. Yet she trudged and trudged on, shutting her mouth against her empty stomach to keep out the cold north wind. She is at the foot of Inverleith Row, and her face is to the west; she will now escape the desultory blasts by keeping close by the long running dyke. She passes the scene of the robbery without knowing it; else, doubtless, she would have stood and examined it by those instincts that force the spirit to such modes of satisfaction, as if the inanimate thing could calm the spiritual. She was now drawing to Davidson’s Mains: a little longer, and much past midnight, she was rapping, still in her quiet way, at the door of her brother.

The family had had something else to do than to sleep. There were the sounds of tongues and high words. Mrs. S—-th was surprised, as well she might; for though sometimes Mr. Henderson partook freely of the bottle when he met old friends in town, he and the whole household were peaceable, orderly, and early goers to bed. The door was opened almost upon the instant; and Mrs. S—-th was presently before Mr. Henderson and two others, one of whom held in his hand a whip.

“What has brought you here, Margaret, at this hour?”

“I want to speak privately to you.”

“Just here; out with it,” said he. “These are my friends; and if it is more money you want, you have come at an unlucky time, for I have been robbed by a villain of five pounds, which I could ill spare.”

Mrs. S—-th’s heart died away within her. She clenched her hands to keep her from shaking; for she recollected the old story about his own son–a story which had got him the character of being harsh and unnatural. She could not mention her errand, which was nothing else than to induce her brother to use his influence in some way to get Charles out of the hands of the law. She could not utter even the word Charles, and all she could say was–

“Robbed!”

“Ay, robbed by a villain, whom I shall hang three cubits higher than Haman.”

And the stern man even laughed at the thought of retribution. Yet, withal, no man could deny his generosity and general kindliness, if, even immediately after, he did not show it by slipping a pound into the hands of his needy sister.

“There,” said he; “no more at present. I will call up and see you to-morrow morning, as I go to the police office to identify the villain. Meantime, take a dram, dear Peggy, and get home to bed. The night is cold, and see that you wrap yourself well up to keep _out_ the wind and _in_ the spirit; it’s good whisky.”

Shortly afterwards she was on her way home, with more than blasted hopes of what she had travelled for.

His uncle the man he had robbed! Even with all her forced composedness, this seemed too much–ay, so much too much, that she was totally overpowered. She paused to recover strength; and, looking forward, saw a thin flying shadow coming up to her, with a shriek of delight; and immediately she was hugged rapturously and kissed all over by little Jeannie, whose movements, as they ever were–so agile, so quick, so Protean–appeared to her, now that she was stolid with despair, as the postures and gestures of a creature appearing in a dream.

“Oh, I know all,” she cried; “don’t speak–nay, wait now till I return.”

And the creature was off like a September meteor disappearing in the west, as if to make up again to the sun, far down away behind the hills from whence it had been struck off in the height of the day.

What can the strange creature mean? But she had had experience of her, and knew the instinctive divination that got at objects and results where reason in full-grown man would syllogize into the darkness of despair.

Nor was it long before she is running back, leaping with all the _abandon_ of a romp, crying–

“I will save dear Charlie yet; for I love him as much as I hate that old curmudgeon.”

“What does the girl mean? Whaur was you, bairn?” said her mother.

“Oh mother, how cold it is for you! Wrap the cloak about you.”

“But what _is_ it that you mean, Jeannie?”

“We shall be home by-and-by; come.”

And, putting an arm round her mother’s waist, she impelled her forward with the strength of her wythe of an arm.

“Come, come, there are ghosts about these woods;” and then she cowered, but still impelled.

Nor did the mother press the question she had already put twice; for, as we have said, she knew the nature of the girl, who ever took her own way, and had the art to make that way either filial obedience or loving conciliation.

“Oh, I’m so frightened for these ghosts!” she continued. “You know there was a murder here once upon a time. They’re so like myself–wicked, and won’t answer when they’re spoken to, as I would not answer you, dear mother, just now; but wait till to-morrow, and you shall see that I am your own loving Jeannie.”

“Weel, weel, bairn, we _will_ see. But, oh, I’m muckle afraid; d’ye know, Jeannie, Charlie has been robbing! And wha, think ye, was the man–wha but–”

“Hush, hush, mother, I know it all already; but let me beneath your cloak, I’m so frightened.”

And the little sprite got in, keeping her head and the little cup of a bonnet protruding every moment to look round; yet if it could have been seen in the dark, with such a sly, half-humorous eye, as betokened one of those curiously-made creatures who seem to be formed for studies to the thoroughgoing decent pacers of the world’s stage.

“Ah! now we’re all safe, as poor Charlie will be to-morrow,” she cried, as they got to the foot of the long row, and she emerged in the light of one of the lamps, so like a flash from a cloud, running before her mother to get her to walk faster and faster, as if some scheme she had in her head was loitering under the impediment of her mother’s wearied, oh, wearied step.

Having at length reached home, Jeannie ran and got the fire as bright as her own eye, crying out occasionally, as she glanced about,

“Poor Charlie in a dungeon!” and again, a few minutes after, when puffing at the fire with the bellows,

“No fire for dear Charlie; all dark and dismal!”

And then, running for the little paper packet with the cheese and bread, and setting it down,

“But he’ll see the sun to-morrow, and will sleep in his own bed to-morrow night too; that he shall. Now eat, mother, for you will be hungry; and see you this!” as she took from her pocket a very tiny bottle, which would hold somewhere about a glass.

“Take that,” filling out a little whisky.

“Oh dear, dear bairn, where learnt ye a’ that witchery?” said the mother, looking at her.

But the sly look, sometimes without a trace of laughter in her face, was the only answer.

And now they are stretched in bed in each other’s arms; but it was a restless night for both. And how different the manifestations of the restlessness! The groans of the elder for the fate of her only boy, now suspended on the scales of justice–one branch of the balance to be lopt off by Nemesis, and the other left with a noose in the string whereon to hang that erring, yet still beloved son; hysterical laughs from Jeannie in her dreams, as she saw herself undo the kench, and Charlie let out, clapping his hands, and praying too, and kissing Jeannie, and other fantastic tricks of fancy in her own domain, unburdened with heavy clay which soils and presses upon her wings and binds her to earth, and to these monstrous likenesses of things, which she says are all a lying nature under the bonds of a blind fate, from where she cannot get free, even though she screams of murder and oppression and cruelty, and all the ills that earth-born flesh inherits from the first man.

Yet, for all these deductions from the sleep they needed, Jeannie was up in the morning early, infusing tea for herself and mother, muttering, as she whisked about,

“No breakfast for him made by me, who love him so dearly; but in this very house, ay, this night, he will have supper; and such a supper!”

In the midst of these scenes in the little room, a knock came to the door. It was a policeman, to say that she and her mother must be up to the office by ten.

“And shall we not?” said Jeannie, laughing; “wouldn’t I have been there at any rate?”

Then, a little after, came the stern Henderson, still ignorant of who robbed him. Mrs. S–th got up trembling, and looking at him with terror, so dark he appeared.

“Where is Charles?” he said.

“We don’t know,” said Jeannie, turning a side-glance at her mother. It was true she hated her uncle mortally, for the reason that, though he was to an extent generous to them, he was harsh too, and left them often poorly off, when from his wealth, which he concealed, he might have made them happy; and then how could they help the conduct of the son whose earnings ought to have relieved the uncle of even his small advances?

But though Jeannie hated the curmudgeon, who was, if he could, to hang her brother–worth to her all the world and a bit of heaven–the mother saw some change in the girl’s conduct towards her uncle. Though pure as snow, she flew to him and hugged him with the art of one of the denizens of rougedom, and kissed him, and all the time was acting some by-play with her nimble fingers.

“Where is your box, you naughty uncle? Doesn’t my mother like her eyes opened in the morning? Ah, here it is.”

And getting the box, she carried it to her mother, who was still more surprised; for she never had got a pinch from Mr. Henderson nor any one, though she sometimes, for her breathing, took a draught of a pipe at night.

“It is empty, you witch,” cried Henderson.

“Ah! then, my mother will not get her eyes opened.” And she returned it into his pocket with these said subtle fingers.

The mother got dressed, and took a cup of Jeannie’s tea, and in a few minutes they were all on their way to the police office. They found Captain Stewart in his room, and along with him the procurator-fiscal.

“Come away, Mr. Henderson; this is a bad business,” said Stewart.

“The villain!” cried Henderson; “I hope he will hang for it.”

“Ay, if guilty though, only,” replied the captain.

“Would you know the man?” said the fiscal.

“No, he had a napkin over his face; but I could guess something from his size and voice.”

“He admits the robbery,” said Stewart; “but he has an absurd qualification about a frolic, which yet, I am bound to say, is supported by his accomplices.”

“Then the money, five pounds, has not been got,” said the fiscal. “This is a great want; for without it, I don’t see what we can make of the case.”

“Money here or money there, I’ve lost it anyhow; and if he isn’t hanged, I’ll not be pleased.”

“Was there any but one man engaged in the affair?”

“Just one, and plenty.”

“He had a gun?”

“Yes.”

“Would you know it?”

“No. I was, to say the truth, too frightened to examine the instrument that was to shoot me.”

“Then we have nothing but the admission and the testimony of the accomplices, who say it was a frolic,” said Stewart.

“No frolic to me,” cried Henderson. “Why then didn’t they return the money?”

“They say they called and ran after you, and that you would not wait to get it back.”

“Then why didn’t they produce it to you?” said Henderson. “The money is appropriated.”

“A circumstance,” said the fiscal, “in itself sufficient to rebut the frolic. Yes, the strength of the case is there.”

“So I thought,” growled the man.

“You wasn’t in liquor?”

“No.”

“Are you ever?”

“I don’t deny that in town I take a glass, but seldom so much as to affect my walking; never so much as make me dream I was robbed of money, and that too money gone from my pocket.”

“Where do you carry your money?”

“In my waistcoat pocket. Sometimes I have carried a valuable bill home in my snuff-mull, when it was empty by chance.”

“Where had you the five pounds?”

“I am not sure, but I think in my left waistcoat pocket.”

“And you gave it on demand? It was not rifled from you?”

“I thrust it into the villain’s hand, and ran.”

“Well, we must confront you with the supposed robber,” said the captain. “But you seem to be in choler, and I caution you against a precipitate judgment. You may naturally think the admission of the young men enough, and that may make you see what perhaps may not be to be seen. I confess the admission of _three_ to be more than the law wants or wishes; yet there are peculiarities in this case that take it out of the general rules.” Stewart then nodded to an officer, who went out and returned.

“There stands the prisoner.”

“Charles S—-th!” ejaculated the uncle: “my own nephew! execrable villain!”

And he looked at the youth with bated breath and fiery eyes.

There was silence for a few minutes. The officials looked pitiful. The mother hung down her head; and little Jeannie leered significantly, while she took the strings of her bonnet, tied them, undid them again, and flung away the ends till they went round her neck; nay, the playful minx was utterly dead to the condition of her brother who stood there, ashamed to look any one in the face, if he was not rather like an exhumed corpse; and we would not be far out if we said that she even laughed as she saw the curmudgeon staring like an angry mastiff at the brother she loved so well. But then, was she not an eccentric thing, driven hither and thither by vagrant impulses, and with thoughts in her head which nobody could understand?

“Was this the man who robbed you, Mr. Henderson?”

“Yes, the very man; now when I recollect. Stay, was there any handkerchief found on him?”

“Yes; that,” said an officer, producing a red silk handkerchief.

“Why, I gave him that,” said Mr. Henderson. “It cost me 4s. 6d.; and it was that he had over his face when he robbed me of my hard-earned money!”

“It is true,” said Charles; “and sorry am I for the frolic, which my companions forced me into.”

“A frolic with five pounds at its credit,” said Mr. Henderson. “Where is the money, sir?”

“Ah! I know, dear uncle,” cried the watchful Jeannie, in a piercing treble of the clearest silver.

All eyes were turned on Jeannie.

“Then where is it, girl?”

“I saw him put it in his snuff-mull last night when he was at mother’s.”

“Examine your box, Mr. Henderson.”

The man growled, took out the box, and there was the five pounds. He looked at Jeannie as if he would have devoured her with his nose at a single pinch.

“Was Mr. Henderson sober, Miss S—-th?”

“No.”

“Was he drunk?”

“No. Only he couldn’t stand scarcely, though he could walk; and he called mother Jeannie, and me Peggy, and he said ’twas a shame in us to burn two candles at his expense, when one was enough.”

“_Saved by a pinch_,” cried Captain Stewart.

“Mr. Henderson,” said the fiscal, “the case is done, and would never have come here if your nose had happened last night to be as itchy as your hand. The prisoner is discharged.”

And no sooner had the words been uttered than Jeannie flew to her brother, hung round his neck, kissed him, blubbered and played such antics that the fiscal could not refrain searching for his handkerchief. He found it too; but just as if this article were no part of his official property, he returned it to his pocket; and then, as he saw Charles leaning on his mother’s breast, and making more noise with his heart and lungs than he could have done if he had been hanged, he resolved, after due deliberation, to let the “hanging drop” have its own way in sticking on the top of his cheek, and determined not to fall for all his jerking.

“BARBADOES, _15th July_ 18–.

“MY DEAREST LITTLE JEANNIE,–I am at length settled the manager of a great sugar factory, with L400 a year. Tell your mother I will write her by next post; and all I can say meantime is, that Messrs. Coutts and Co. will pay her L100 a year, half-yearly, till I return to keep you, for saving me from the gallows. Accept the offer of the old man. He is worth L500 a year; and you’re just the little winged spirit that will keep up a fire of life in a good heart only a little out of use.

“_P.S._–Tell uncle that I will send him five pounds of snuff, by next ship, in return for the five pounds I took out of his box on that eventful night, which was the beginning of my reformation.

“Tell Mrs. S—-k and Mrs. W—-pe that their sons arrived at Jamaica; but, poor fellows, they are both dead.

“The same vessel that carries the snuff will convey to mother a hogshead of sugar and a puncheon of rum. So that at night, in place of the tiny phial which held a glass, and which you used to draw out of your pocket so slily when mother was weakly, you may now mix for her a tumbler of rum-punch; and if you don’t take some too, I’ll send you no more. But, hark ye, Jeannie, don’t give uncle a _drop_, though he tried to give me one that, I fear, would have made my head, like yours, a little giddy. Adieu, dear little Ariel.”

THE PROCRASTINATOR.

Being overtaken by a shower in Kensington Gardens, I sought shelter in one of the alcoves near the palace. I was scarce seated, when the storm burst with all its fury; and I observed an old fellow, who had stood loitering till the hurricane whistled round his ears, making towards me, as rapidly as his apparently palsied limbs would permit. Upon his nearer approach, he appeared rather to have suffered from infirmity than years. He wore a brownish-black coat, or rather shell, which, from its dimensions, had never been intended for the wearer; and his inexpressibles were truly inexpressible. “So,” said I, as he seated himself on the bench, and shook the rain from his old broad-brimmed hat, “you see, old boy, ‘_Procrastination is the thief of time_;’ the clouds gave you a hint of what was coming, but you seemed not to take it.” “It is,” replied he, eagerly. “Doctor Young is in the right. Procrastination has been my curse since I was in leading-strings. It has grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength. It has ever been my besetting sin–my companion in prosperity and adversity; and I have slept upon it, like Samson on the lap of Delilah, till it has shorn my locks and deprived me of my strength. It has been to me a witch, a manslayer, and a murderer; and when I would have shaken it off in wrath and in disgust, I found I was no longer master of my own actions and my own house. It had brought around me a host of its blood relations–its sisters and its cousins-german–to fatten on my weakness, and haunt me to the grave; so that when I tore myself from the embrace of one, it was only to be intercepted by another. You are young, sir, and a stranger to me; but its effects upon me and my history–the history of a poor paralytic shoemaker–if you have patience to hear, may serve as a beacon to you in your voyage through life.”

Upon expressing my assent to his proposal–for the fluency and fervency of his manner had at once riveted my attention and excited curiosity–he continued:–

“I was born without a fortune, as many people are. When about five years of age, I was sent to a parish school in Roxburghshire, and procrastination went with me. Being possessed of a tolerable memory, I was not more deficient than my schoolfellows; but the task which they had studied the previous evening was by me seldom looked at till the following morning, and my seat was the last to be occupied of any other on the form. My lessons were committed to memory by a few hurried glances, and repeated with a faltering rapidity, which not unfrequently puzzled the ear of the teacher to follow me. But what was thus hastily learned, was as suddenly forgotten. They were mere surface impressions, each obliterated by the succeeding. And though I had run over a tolerable general education, I left school but little wiser than when I entered it.

“My parents–peace to their memory!”–here the old fellow looked most feelingly, and a tear of filial recollection glistened in his eyes: it added a dignity to the recital of his weakness, and I almost reverenced him–“My parents,” continued he, “had no ambition to see me rise higher in society than an honest tradesman; and at thirteen I was bound apprentice to a shoemaker. Yes, sir, I was–I am a shoemaker; and but for my curse–my malady–had been an ornament to my profession. I have measured the foot of a princess, sir; I have made slippers to his Majesty!” Here his tongue acquired new vigour from the idea of his own importance. “Yes, sir, I have made slippers to his Majesty; yet I am an unlucky–I am a bewitched–I am a ruined man. But to proceed with my history. During the first year of my apprenticeship, I acted in the capacity of errand boy; and, as such, had to run upon many an unpleasant message–sometimes to ask money, frequently to borrow it. Now, sir, I am also a _bashful_ man, and, as I was saying, _bashfulness_ is one of the blood relations which procrastination has fastened upon me. While acting in my last-mentioned capacity, I have gone to the house, gazed at every window, passed it and repassed it, placed my hand upon the rapper, withdrawn it, passed it and repassed it again, stood hesitating and consulting with myself, then resolved to defer it till the next day, and finally returned to my master, not with a direct lie, but a broad _equivocation_; and this was another of the cousins-german which procrastination introduced to my acquaintance.

“In the third year of my servitude, I became fond of reading; was esteemed a quick workman; and, having no desire for money beyond what was necessary to supply my wants, I gave unrestricted indulgence to my new passion. We had each an allotted quantity of work to perform weekly. Conscious of being able to complete it in half the time, and having yielded myself solely to my ruinous propensity to delay, I seldom did anything before the Thursday; and the remaining days were spent in hurry, bustle, and confusion. Occasionally I overrated my abilities–my task was unfinished, and I was compelled to count a _dead horse_. Week after week this grew upon me, till I was so firmly saddled, that, until the expiration of my apprenticeship, I was never completely freed from it. This was another of my curse’s handmaidens.”

Here he turned to me with a look of seriousness, and said, “Beware, young man, how you trust to your own strength and your own talents; for however noble it may be to do so, let it be in the open field, before you are driven into a corner, where your arms may come in contact with the thorns and the angles of the hedges.

“About this time, too, I fell in love–yes, _fell_ in love; for I just beheld the fair object, and I was a dead man, or a new man, or anything you will. Frequently as I have looked and acted like a fool, I believe I never did so so strikingly as at that moment. She was a beautiful girl–a very angel of light–about five feet three inches high, and my own age. Heaven knows how I ever had courage to declare my passion; for I put it off day after day, and week after week, always preparing a new speech against the next time of meeting her, until three or four rivals stepped forward before me. At length I did speak, and never was love more clumsily declared. I told her in three words; then looked to the ground, and again in her face most pitifully. She received my addresses just as saucily as a pretty girl could do. But it were useless to go over our courtship; it was the only happy period of my existence, and every succeeding day has been misery. Matters were eventually brought to a bearing, and the fatal day of final felicity appointed. I was yet young, and my love possessed all the madness of a first passion. She not only occupied my heart, but my whole thoughts; I could think of nothing else, speak of nothing else, and, what was worse, do nothing else: it burned up the very capabilities of action, and rendered my native indolence yet more indolent. However, the day came (and a bitter stormy day it was), the ceremony was concluded, and the honeymoon seemed to pass away in a fortnight.

“About twelve months after our marriage, Heaven (as authors say) blest our loves with a son and, I had almost said, heir. Deplorable patrimony!–heir of his mother’s features–the sacrifice of his father’s weakness.” Kean could not have touched this last burst. The father, the miserable man, parental affection, agony, remorse, repentance, were expressed in a moment.

A tear was hurrying down his withered cheek as he dashed it away with his dripping sleeve. “I am a weak old fool,” said he, endeavouring to smile; for there was a volatile gaiety in his disposition, which his sorrows had subdued, but not extinguished. “Yet, my boy! my poor dear Willie!–I shall never–no, I shall never see him again!” Here he again wept; and had nature not denied me that luxury, I should have wept too, for the sake of company. After a pause, he again proceeded:–

“After the birth of my child, came the baptism. I had no conscientious objection to the tenets of the Established Church of my country; but I belonged to no religious community. I had never thought of it as an obligation beyond that of custom, and deferred it from year to year, till I felt ashamed to ‘go forward’ on account of my age. My wife was a Cameronian; and to them, though I knew nothing of their principles, I had an aversion. But for her to hold up the child while I was in the place, was worse than heathenism–was unheard-of in the parish. The nearest Episcopal chapel was at Kelso, a distance of ten miles. The child still remained unbaptized. ‘It hasna a name yet,’ said the ignorant meddlers, who had no higher idea of the ordinance. It was a source of much uneasiness to my wife, and gave rise to some family quarrelling. Months succeeded weeks, and eventually the child was carried to the Episcopal church. This choked up all the slander of the town, and directed it into one channel upon my devoted head. Some said I ‘wasna sound,’ and all agreed I ‘was nae better than I should be,’ while the zealous clergyman came to my father, expressing his fears that ‘his son was in a bad way.’ For this, too, am I indebted to procrastination. I thus became a martyr to supposed opinions, of which I was ignorant; and such was the unchristian bigotry of my neighbours, that, deeming it sinful to employ one whom they considered little other than a pagan, about five years after my marriage I was compelled to remove with my family to London.

“We were at this period what tradesmen term _miserably hard up_. Having sold off our little stock of furniture, after discharging a few debts which were unavoidably contracted, a balance of rather less than two pounds remained; and upon this, my wife, my child, and myself were to travel a distance of three hundred and fifty miles. I will not go over the journey: we performed it on foot in twenty days; and, including lodging, our daily expense amounted to one shilling and eightpence; so that, on entering the metropolis, all we possessed was five shillings and a few pence. It was the dead of winter, and nearly dark, when we were passing down St. John Street, Clerkenwell. I was benumbed, my wife was fainting, and our poor child was blue and speechless. We entered a public-house near Smithfield, where two pints of warm porter and ginger, with a crust of bread and cheese, operated as partial restoratives. The noisy scene of butchers, drovers, and coal-heavers was new to me. My child was afraid, my wife uncomfortable, and I, a gaping observer, forgetful of my own situation. My boy pulled my coat, and said, ‘Come, father;’ my wife jogged my elbow, and reminded me of a lodging; but my old reply, ‘_Stop a little_,’ was my ninety and nine times repeated answer. Frequently the landlord made a long neck over the table, gauging the contents of our tardily emptied pint; and, as the watchman was calling ‘Past eleven,’ finally took it away, and bade us ‘bundle off.’ Now I arose, feeling at once the pride of my spirit and the poorness of my purse, vowing never to darken his door again, should I remain in London a hundred years.

“On reaching the street, I inquired at a half-grown boy where we might obtain a lodging; and after causing me to inquire twice or thrice–‘I no ken, Sawney–haud awa’ north,’ said the brat, sarcastically imitating my accent. I next inquired of a watchman, who said there was no place upon his beat; but _beat_ was Gaelic to me; and I repeated my inquiry to another, who directed me towards the hells of Saffron Hill. At a third, I requested to be informed the way, who, after abusing me for seeking lodgings at such an hour, said he had seen me in the town six hours before, and bade us go to the devil. A fourth inquired if we had any money, took us to the bar of a public-house, called for a quartern of gin, drank our healths, asked if we could obtain a bed, which being answered in the negative, he hurried to the door, bawling ‘Half-past eleven,’ and left me to pay for the liquor. On reaching Saffron Hill, it was in an Irish uproar: policemen, thieves, prostitutes, and Israelites were brawling in a satanic mass of iniquity; blood and murder was the order of the night. My child screamed, my wife clung to my arm; she would not, she durst not, sleep in such a place. To be brief: we had to wander in the streets till the morning; and I believe that night, aided by a broken heart, was the forerunner of her death. It was the first time I had been compelled to walk trembling for a night without shelter, or to sit frozen on a threshold; and this, too, I owe to procrastination.

“For a time we rented a miserable garret, without furniture or fixture, at a shilling weekly, which was paid in advance. I had delayed making application for employment till our last sixpence was spent. We had passed a day without food; my child appeared dying; my wife said nothing, but she gazed upon her dear boy, and shook her head with an expression that wrung me to the soul. I rushed out almost in madness, and, in a state of unconsciousness, hurried from shop to shop in agitation and in misery. It was vain; appearances were against me. I was broken down and dejected, and my state of mind and manner appeared a compound of the maniac and the blackguard. At night I was compelled to return to the suffering victims of my propensity, penniless and unsuccessful. It was a dreadful and a sleepless night with us all; or if I did slumber upon the hard floor for a moment (for we had neither seat nor covering), it was to startle at the cries of my child wailing for hunger, or the smothered sighs of my unhappy partner. Again and again I almost thought them the voice of the Judge, saying, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed.’

“I again hurried out with daybreak, for I was wretched, and resumed my inquiries; but night came, and I again returned equally successful. The yearnings of my child were now terrible, and the streaming eyes of his fond mother, as she pressed his head with her cold hand upon her lap, alone distinguished her from death. The pains of hunger in myself were becoming insupportable; my teeth gnashed against each other, and worms seemed gnawing my heartstrings. At this moment, my dear wife looked me in the face, and, stretching her hand to me, said, ‘Farewell, my love, in a few hours I and our dear child shall be at rest! Oh! hunger, hunger!’ I could stand no more. Reason forsook me. I could have died for them; but I could not beg. We had nothing to pledge. Our united wearing apparel would not have brought a shilling. My wife had a pair of pocket Bibles (I had once given them in a present): my eyes fell upon them–I snatched them up unobserved–rushed from the house, and–Oh heaven! let the cause forgive the act–pawned them for eighteenpence. It saved our lives, it obtained employment, and for a few weeks appeared to overcome my curse.

“I am afraid I grow tedious with particulars, sir; it is an old man’s fault–though I am not old either; I am scarce fifty-five. After being three years in London, I was appointed foreman of an extensive establishment in the Strand. I remained in this situation about four years. It was one of respectability and trust, demanding, hourly, a vigilant and undivided attention. To another, it might have been attended with honour and profit; but to me it terminated in disgrace. Amongst other duties, I had the payment of the journeymen, and the giving out of the work. They being numerous, and their demands frequent, it would have required a clerk for the proper discharge of that duty alone. I delayed entering at the moment in my books the materials and cash given to each, until they, multiplying upon my hands, and begetting a consequent confusion, it became impossible for me to make their entry with certainty or correctness. The workmen were not slow in discovering this, and not a few of the more profligate improved upon it to their advantage. Thus I frequently found it impossible to make both ends of my account meet; and in repeated instances, where the week’s expenditure exceeded the general average, though satisfied in my own mind of its accuracy, from my inability to state the particulars, in order to conceal my infirmity, I have accounted for the overplus from my own pocket. Matters went on in this way for a considerable time. You will admit I was rendered feelingly sensible of my error, and I resolved to correct it. But my resolutions were always made of paper; they were like a complaisant debtor–full of promises, praying for grace, and dexterously evading performance. Thus, day after day, I deferred the adoption of my new system to a future period. For, sir, you must be aware there is a pleasure in procrastination, of a nature the most alluring and destructive; but it is a pleasure purchased by the sacrifice of judgment: in its nature and results it resembles the happiness of the drunkard; for, in exact ratio as our spirits are raised above their proper level, in the same proportion, when the ardent effects have evaporated, they sink beneath that level.

“I was now too proud to work as a mere journeyman, and I commenced business for myself; but I began without capital, and a gourd of sorrow hung over me, while I stood upon sand. I had some credit; but, as my bills became payable, I ever found I had put off, till the very day they became due, the means of liquidating them; then had I to run and borrow five pounds from one, and five shillings from another, urged by despair, from a hundred quarters. My creditors grew clamorous; my wife upbraided me; I flew to the bottle–to the bottle!” he repeated; “and my ruin was complete–my family, business, everything, was neglected. Bills of Middlesex were served on me, declarations filed; I surrendered myself, and was locked up in Whitecross Street. It is a horrid place; the Fleet is a palace to it; the Bench, paradise! But, sir, I will draw my painful story to a close. During my imprisonment my wife died–died, not by my hands, but from the work of them! She was laid in a strange grave, and strangers laid her head in the dust, while I lay a prisoner in the city where she was buried. My boy–my poor Willie–who had been always neglected, was left without father and without mother! Sir! sir! my boy was left without food! He forsook visiting me in the prison; I heard he had turned the associate of thieves; and from that period five years have passed, and I have obtained no trace of him. But it is my doing–my poor Willie!”

Here the victim of procrastination finished his narrative. The storm had passed away, and the sun again shone out. The man had interested me, and we left the gardens together. I mentioned that I had to go into the city; he said he had business there also, and asked to accompany me. I could not refuse him. From the door by which we left the gardens, our route lay by way of Oxford Street. As we proceeded down Holborn, the church bell of St. Sepulchre’s began to toll; and the crowd, collected round the top of Newgate Street, indicated an execution. As we approached the place, the criminal was brought forth. He was a young man about nineteen years of age, and had been found guilty of an aggravated case of housebreaking. As the unhappy being turned round to look upon the spectators, my companion gave a convulsive shriek, and, springing from my side, exclaimed, “Righteous Heaven! my Willie! my murdered Willie!” He had proceeded but a few paces, when he fell with his face upon the ground. In the wretched criminal he discovered his lost, his only son. The miserable old man was conveyed, in a state of insensibility, to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where I visited him the next day: he seemed to suffer much, and in a few hours he died with a shudder, and the word _procrastination_ on his tongue.

THE TEN OF DIAMONDS.

At length I reached the Moated Grange, on a visit to my friend Graeme. But since I am to speak a good deal of this place, I may as well explain that it was misnamed. There was no moat, nor had there been for a hundred years; but round the old pile–hoary, and shrivelled, and palsied enough, in all conscience, for delighting the mole-eye of any antiquarian hunks— there was a visible trace of the old ditch in a hollow covered with green sward going all round the house, which hollow was the only place clear of trees. And these trees! They stood for a mile round, like an army of giants seventy feet high, all intent, it would seem, upon choking the poor old pile, throwing their big arms over the hollow, swinging them to and fro, and dashing their points against the panes as the wind listed. It would come by-and-by to be a hard task for the stone and lime victim to hold its place, with its sinews of run mortar, against these tyrants of the wood. And then they were as full of noises as Babel itself–noises a thousand times more heterogeneous–croaking, chirping, screeching, cawing, whistling, billing, cooing, cuckooing. “What a place to live in!” I thought, fresh as I was from town, “where, if there are noises, one knows something of their meaning–maledictory, yea, devilish as it often is, expressive of the passions of men which will never sleep. But these! what could one make of such a _tintamarre_? Nothing but the reflection–that is, if you happen to be a philosopher, which, thank God, I am not–that not one note of all this rural oratorio is without its intention; and thus we always satisfy ourselves. But when we run the matter up a little further, we find it a very small affair: two responses, one to each of two chords vibrating for ever and ever throughout all nature–pleasure and pain, pain and pleasure, turn by turn–the last pain being death!”

“How can you live here, Graeme?” I said, as we stood under the old porch, looking out, or rather having our look blocked up by the thickness, and our ears deaved by the eternal screeching and cawing of five thousand crows overhead.

“There’s gloom everywhere where man is,” he replied, “and screeching owls in every brain. You can’t get quit.” Then, lowering his voice, “I am haunted, and yet live here in this Moated Grange! The difference is this: in the town the gaslight and eternal clatter distract a man like me who is plagued from within; here I find some concord between the inside and the out, only the owls in the inside are more grotesque and horrible.”

“Well, Graeme,” said I, “it is needless to disguise what brought me here. The secret is out. The choke-damp has got wind. If the idiot had not blown his brains out, it would have been nothing. You could have paid him back, and he might now have had both his money and his brains.”

“Got wind!” cried he, clutching me by the breast of the coat with the fury of a highwayman or a spasmodic actor. “Did the villain Ruggieri tell you?”

“No.”

“So far well,” he added, taking a long pull with his lungs, as if he had got quit of an attack of asthma; “but though I may satisfy the widow, how am I to appease Heaven? Come,” he added, again seizing me with a force in which there was a tremble, “I want to ease my mind. You are my oldest friend, and a load divided is more easily carried.”

And leading the way into the parlour, where the fire had got into a fine red heat, and was sending a glare through the ruby and golden contents of several strangely-shaped bottles on the table, he threw himself on a chair on the one side, I taking one on the other. A few minutes of silence intervened.

“If it be as painful for you,” he continued, “to hear a confession as it is for me to make it, you may help yourself to bear the infliction by pouring into your stomach some of that Burgundy. I will take none. I have fire enough in my brain already;” and he pushed the bottle to me.

“You were a bit of a blackleg yourself,” he continued, as he threw himself back in the arm-chair, and compressed his chest with his folded arms till the blood seemed to mount to his face. “You were present at that game where I took the five thousand by a trick from Gourlay. You know, as a gambler yourself, that all the tribe are by constitution cheats. It is folly to speak of an honest gambler. The passion is a ten thousand times distilled selfishness, with no qualm of obligation to God or religion to keep it in check–only a little fear of that bugbear, society. Our club at the ‘Red Lion’ all knew this in our souls; but every one of us knew also that the moment he would be discovered cheating, he would be scorched with our hatred and contempt. He must leave our pure society on the instant–not of course that he was any worse than the rest of us, but only that he was unfortunate in being discovered. That night Gourlay and I were demons. We had baffled each other, and drank till our brains seethed, though our countenances and speech betrayed nothing but the extreme of coolness. He had won a thousand of me, and hounded me from post to pillar, offering to be cleared out by my _skill_, as he called it sneeringly. The fellow, in short, hated me, because the year before, at Baden-Baden, I had taken two thousand out of him, and would not give him his revenge.”

“He must have thought you honest,” said I; “otherwise he would not have thus badgered you to play.”

“No; he had not the generosity to think me honest. I repeat, no gambler ever thinks another gambler honest, and he lies when he says so. He knew himself to be a rogue, and thought it diamond in the teeth of diamond;” and, pausing and meditating, he repeated the word, “diamond–diamond–diamond.”

I looked at him in surprise. He continued to keep up the cuckoo sound, trying to laugh, and yet totally unable to accomplish even a cackle, as if some internal force clutched the diaphragm and mocked him, so that his efforts were reduced to a gurgling as in cynanche–like a dog choking with a rope round his craig, the sounds coming jerking out in barks, and dying away again in yelps and whines.

“You will know presently why that word produces these strange effects upon me,” he at length contrived to be able to say. “Nor less the form of the figure as painted in these hell-books. It is blazoned everywhere. The devil wears it in fiery lines on his face as he hounds me a-nights through these thick woods. Yet I am not afraid of it–rather court it, as if I yearned for the burning pain of its red signature in, and in, and in to my brain, as far as thought goes.”

“Have you got mad, Graeme?” I ejaculated. “What has the figure of a diamond, or of ten diamonds—-”

“_Ten_, you would say?” he immediately cried, as he started up, and immediately threw himself down; “_the_ ten, if you dared. You are commissioned by the powers yonder–you, you, too, along with the others, including the devil.”

“I have no wish to be in the same commission with that great personage,” said I, with a very poor attempt to laugh, for I felt anxious about my friend. “I gave him up when I threw his books into the fire, and swore never more to touch the unhallowed thing.”

I perceived that my attempt at humour increased his excitement. “Repeat the words,” he cried. “Say ‘the ten of diamonds’ right out with open mouth, and repeat them a thousand times, so as to give me ear-proof that the powers yonder,” pointing to the roof, “are against me.”

At this moment the door of the parlour was opened by some timid hand.

“Come hither, my pretty Edith,” he said, in a calmer voice, as a little cherub-looking child, with a head so like as if, after the fashion of Danaee’s, it had been powdered by Jupiter with gold dust, and a pair of blue eyes, as if the said god, in making them, had tried to emulate the wing of the Halcyon in a human orb, and intended, moreover, the light thereof to calm the storm in those of her father.

And so it did, to a certain extent; for Edith got upon his knee, and, putting her arms round his neck, kept peering with those eyes into the very pupils of her father’s, till the light of innocence, softening the rigid nerve, enabled them to regain somewhat of their natural lustre.

“What did Trott, the crazy girl who spaes fortunes, give you, Edith?” and coruscations began again to mix with the softer light.

“A card,” replied the girl, as she undid her embrace, and, casting her head to a side, viewed him timidly.

“She has been frightened,” thought I, “by some consequences resulting from the same question put at some former time.”

“And what was the name of the card?” he continued.

But the girl was now on her guard. She hesitated, and struggled to get away.

“Tell this gentleman, then.”

“The ten of diamonds,” cried she; and no sooner were the words out than she fled, like a beam of light chased by the shadow of a tombstone.

“You see how it is,” continued Graeme, getting into his former expression: “through this channel, this innocent medium, this creature the fruit of my loins, the idol of my heart, is the lightning of reproof hurled. A wandering idiot is prompted by the very inspiration of her imbecility to put into the hands of my child the emblem of my wickedness, that she in her love might place it before my eyes, there to develop the sin-print in the dark camera of my mind. No wonder she is alarmed at the mention of the words, for she read the horror produced in me when she held up what she called the pretty picture in my face. But, thank God! thank God!”—-

And he fell for a moment into meditation.

“For what?” said I, as my wonder increased.

“That her mother, who is within a week of her confinement, knows nothing of this mystery.”

I was silent. I might have said, “What mystery?” but I would only have irritated him.

“Rymer!”

I started. I was looking into the fire, with my ear altogether his, yet the strange mention of my name startled me.

“What could infamy–infamy, with just a beam of consciousness to tell it was infamy, and no more but that beam–think and feel to be worshipped by purity and love? I have shrunk from the embrace of that woman with a recoil equal to that produced by the enfolding of a snake.”

“Though she knows not, and may never know, anything of this affair which has taken such a hold of you?” said I, rather as a speaking automaton, forced to vocabulate.

“The very reason why I recoil and shudder.”

I had made a mistake–I would not risk another. “The man has got into the enfolding arms of mania,” I thought, “and I must be chary.”

“Will you keep in your remembrance,” he continued, “the words uttered by Edith, and how she came by them? Will you?”

“Yes.”

“Then take another glass; you will need it, and another too.”

I obeyed not quite so mechanically. The Burgundy was better than the conversation, and I made the pleasure of the palate compensate for the pain of the ear.

He now drew out his watch, and, going to the window, withdrew the curtains. The shades of night had fallen. It looked black as Tartarus, contrasted with the light within.

“Come here!” he cried; and when I had somewhat reluctantly obeyed what I considered the request of one whose internal sense had got a jerk from some mad molecule out of its orbit in the brain–“Do you see anything?”

“Yes,” said I–“a big black negative; but as for anything positive, you might as well look into a coal-pit and find what philosophers do in the wells of truth. There’s nothing to be seen.”

“No? Look there–there! See,” pointing with his finger, and clutching me tremulously, “once more–the traces as vivid as ever! See!”

I verily did think I saw something luminous, but it quickly disappeared. “Oh, probably the reflection of a lantern,” I said.

“Yes, a magic one,” he replied sneeringly.

“I know of no more magical lantern than a man’s head,” I replied, a little disconcerted by his sneer. “Chemists say there’s more phosphorus in the brain than anywhere else; and so I sometimes think.”

He made no reply, but, seizing me by the coat, dragged me after him as he hurried out of the room, and making for a back door, led me out, bareheaded as I was, into the wood. The darkness had waxed to pitchiness, and the noises were hushed. The crows had gone to roost; and had it not been for some too-hoos of the jolly owl, sounding his horn as he rejoiced that the hated sun had gone to annoy other owls in the west, the silence would have been complete. But, in truth, I hate silence as well as darkness, and have no more sympathy with the followers of Pythagoras than I have with the triumph of the blind Roman who silenced the covey of pretty women, in the heat of their condolences for his blindness, by reminding them that they forgot he could feel in the dark. I thought more of the fire inside, and the bottle of Burgundy, on which I had made as yet only a small impression.

“If I want darkness, I can as well shut my eyes,” said I peevishly, “and I would even have the advantage of some phosphorescent touches of the fancy.”

“Will you see that with your eyes shut?” he exclaimed triumphantly, as he bent his body forward to an angle of forty-five, and pointed with his finger to an object clearly illumined, and exhibiting distinctly a large card, with ten red diamonds sharply traced upon it. The advantage he had got over me was lost in the rapture of his gaze; and he seemed to be charmed by the apparition, for he began to move slowly forward, still pointing his finger, and without apparently drawing a breath. Though a little taken by surprise for the instant, it was not easy for me to give up my practical wisdom, which, as a matter of course, pointed to a trick.

“You do see it, then?” said he.

“Surely,” said I. “There is no mistake it is the figure of the ten of diamonds, probably stuck upon a turnip lantern.”

“I did not ask you for a banter,” he replied angrily. “I can draw my own conclusions. All I wanted was to satisfy myself that I was free from a monomaniacal illusion. We cannot both be mad; besides, you’re a sceptic, and the testimony of a sceptic’s eyes is better than the sneer of his tongue.”

Still he proceeded, I following, and the apparition retreating. “I told you to remember what Edith said,” he continued, as he still pointed his finger; “and I fancy you can never forget that before you. The two things are wide apart.”

“And so are the two ends of a rope with which a man hangs himself,” said I.

“It is gone!” cried my friend, without noticing my remark. “It has receded into that infinite from whence it was commissioned to earth to strike its lightning upon the eye of a falling, erring, miserable mortal.”

“It is gone,” said I; “and I am gone also–to finish my bottle of Burgundy, which I have as little doubt was commissioned from finitude to strike a little fire into the heart of another erring mortal, not at this moment perfectly happy.”

And I made my way as quick as possible into the parlour, glad to get quit of the chill of the night air. Meanwhile, there appeared signs of some extraordinary movement in the other parts of the house, the nature of which Graeme probably ascertained as he came along the lobby, for I heard bustling and earnest conversation; and presently little Edith came stepping in beside me, with something very mysterious in her blue eyes, far too mysterious for being confided to loud words, and so a whisper told me that her mother was taken ill, and that Dr. Rogers had been sent for. This little bit of information carried more to my mind than it brought away from Edith’s. I knew before that Mrs. Graeme was on the eve of confinement, and it now appeared she had been taken in labour. I saw, too, that my visit had not been very well timed, and the worse that Graeme himself was in the extraordinary frame of mind in which I found him–unfit for facing the dangers, repaying the affections, performing the duties, and receiving the honours or enjoying the hopes of his situation. A rap at the door was the signal for Edith’s departure, with the words on her tongue that she knew the doctor’s knock. I was now, I thought, to be left to myself; nor was I displeased, for I wanted a lounge and a meditation; though of the latter I could not see that I could make much, if any, more than confirming myself against all preternaturals as agents on earth, however certain their existence may be beyond the mystic veil that divides the two worlds. I had known Graeme’s crime and Gourlay’s self-murder; but the crime was a trick among blacklegs, and the suicide was the madness of a gambler, who had risked his money and was ruined at the moment he wanted to ruin another. Surely Heaven had something else to do with its retributive lightnings than employ them, in subversion of all natural laws, in a cause so inferior in turpitude to others that every hour pass into oblivion, with more of a mark of natural, and less or none of supernatural chastisement. I thought I might be contented with such a view of these prodigies as might quickly consign them to the limbo of men’s machinations; yet somehow or other–perhaps the Burgundy bottle, if it could have spoken, like that of Asmodeus, might have helped the solution–I got dreamy, and of course foolish, raising objections against my own conclusions, and instituting an _alter ego_ to argue against myself for Graeme’s theory. It has always seemed strange to me, that though mankind hate metaphysics, they are all natural metaphysicians, especially when a little _wined_. Perhaps the true reason may be, that as wine came from the gods, it is endued with the power of raising us to its source. At least, our aspirations, from being _devine_, become wonderfully _divine_, so that supernatural agencies wax less difficult to our imaginations; and while we are ten times more ready to meet a ghost, we are as many times more ready to admit their possibility. But the end of these grand and elevated conditions is generally sleep and an ugly nightmare; and though my case was an exception as regards the latter, I awoke in not a very happy mood, just as Graeme entered the room and told me it was twelve o’clock. As I rubbed my eyes, he sat down in his chair, and seemed inclined to court silence; but it was clear he could not achieve repose.

I felt no inclination to add to his apparent disturbance by any remarks on what I had seen; but it struck me as remarkable, that, while he got into contortions and general restlessness, putting his hand to his brow, throwing one leg over another, closing his hands, and heaving long sighs, he never so much as thought it worth his pains to ask my opinion of the scene in the wood. It seemed as if he was so thoroughly convinced of a divine manifestation against him, that he despised any exceptional scepticism as utterly beneath his notice or attention–thoroughly engrossed, as he appeared to be, with the terrible sanction of a portent of some coming retribution. His silence in some degree distressed me, as I thought he resented my levity in commenting upon his convictions; so it was with some relief that Dr. Rogers came in and sat down at the table, apparently to wait for a call to the bedroom. A man this of ostentatious gloom,–too grave to deign to be witty, too sanctified to stoop to be cheerful, and therefore not the man I could have wished to see as the medical adviser, and perhaps the religious confidant, of my friend and his wife. A temperate man, too, by his own confession, pronounced over the top of a bottle; and he drank as if for health, while his manner of beslabbering the glass with his thick lips indicated a contempt for its confined capacity; a tumbler would have suited him better; and he waxed apparently graver when the delightful aroma of the Bordeaux grape fondled his nostrils. We got into supernaturals immediately, though how the subject was introduced I cannot remember; but Dr. Rogers was a grave and heavy advocate for divine manifestation, and Graeme’s ear, circumcised to delicacy, hung upon his thick lips. I asked for instances beyond the domain of the addled brains of old women, or the excited fancies of young; and Graeme looked at me intently, without saying a word.

“I have seen hundreds die,” said the doctor, “ay, strong men, the tissues of whose brain were, in comparison of those of your old women and young enthusiasts, as iron wires to pellicles of flesh. And how do they die if they are Christians, as all men ought to be? What is there in death, think you, to subvert the known laws of physiology? We might suppose, that as the spirit is about to leave the mortal frame, it will be fitful, and flit from tissue to tissue, and gleam and die away, to flare up again in some worldly image, perhaps, of the past; as where I have known it show the face of an early beloved one, long since gone, in all its first glory, to the eyes of a lover. Such are mere exceptions, from which no rule can be drawn; but they occur, and we admit them as consonant enough to natural causes. So far we all agree; but where is that consonance in all those numerous cases which have come under my own observation, where the man–a strong man even in death–is rapt into a vision set in a halo of light, and showing forth, as an assurance of divine favour, the very form and features of Him who died on the cross of Calvary? Is there anything in physiology to account for this? And then it occurs so often as almost to amount to a rule.”

“I have too much respect for religion,” replied I, “to throw a doubt on certain workings of the spirit in that mysterious condition when it hovers between the two worlds, and when it can hardly be said to belong to earth; but the case is entirely different where the common agencies are all working through their fitted and natural means. We can never say that any of those means are superseded–only others are substituted; and we do not understand the substitution.”

“You are unfortunate,” said the doctor, with a triumphant gravity. “If you admit that supernatural agencies ever have–in any stage of the world, in any place, way, or manner, or by any means–had to do with earthly things, or have to do in those days, or will have to do in any future time or place on the earth’s surface, your admission closes up your mouth for ever.”

“To do, in those days, on this night, not many hours agone!” cried Graeme, with rolling eyes. “Who cares for admissions of those who see, when one’s own eyes are nearer the brain than are the eyes or lips of him who admits, or of him who denies?”

“Not hours ago!” said the doctor, fixing his big eyes on the face of Graeme; “and so near a birth?”

“Oh, she knows nothing,” said Graeme.

“And I am supremely ignorant,” said I.

“Of what?” inquired Rogers, turning his face again to Graeme, as if he would take him into his mouth.

But just as he expected an answer, a slight rap sounded from the door. Rogers himself opened it, and found that the call was for him. Graeme and I were left again together, but not to resume the former silence.

“I did not ask you,” said he, “what you thought of the figure in the wood, for I expected nothing but a sceptical sneer. You have heard Rogers. He is a shrewd fellow, belonging to a profession not remarkable for credulity.”

“Answer me this,” said I: “Did no one know the duplicate card you used in the cheat?”

“You were present and Ruggieri, no others; did you know it?”

“No.”

“Then do you know that Ruggieri is dead in Italy? and even if he had more penetration than you, the secret died with him. But, I tell you, he could not have known. Nothing transpired at the play to show that a duplicate card was used at all, far less to show that it was a particular card.”

“You may stagger me,” said I, “but never can convince me that you are not having a nice game played off upon you, something similar to your own; only in place of duplicates, I fear there are triplicates. Why might not Gourlay have been aware of the fact you think only known to yourself?”

“And yet have shot himself as a ruined gambler?”

“Certainly it is more probable,” said I, somewhat caught, “that he would have insisted upon your repaying him, under the threat of exposure. Yet one does not know what a man may do or not do, even if we knew the circumstances. Two doves will not pick up for their nests a straw each of the same shape. But I believe it is now settled, that no case of mystery has ever happened, or can be supposed by the most ingenious imagination, where the chances are more for supernatural agency than for human ingenuity or chance. The latter I put away out of your case, though the marvels of coincidence are stranger than fiction. Every one of us has a little record within his heart of such experiences. I have been startled by a coincidence into a five minutes’ belief in supernatural agency. One opens a book of six hundred pages, and catches, on the instant, the passage for which he looked the whole day before. An actor dies in ranting ‘there is another and a better world.’ A soldier is saved from the punishment of death for sleeping on his post, by the fact of having been able to say that St. Paul’s on a certain night struck thirteen, which it never did before. Andrew Gordon, the miser, drew a prize of twenty thousand pounds for the number 2001, which he dreamed of the night previous he bought the ticket. A shepherd was the discoverer of the Australian diggings, by having taken up a piece of what he considered quartz to throw at his dog called Goldy. Human history is full of such things; but, marvellous as they are, they are not more so than the ways by which man manufactures mysteries, and gets them believed as the work of Heaven. As to that illuminated figure I saw in the wood”—-

My speech was interrupted by a strange sound from the other end of the house. Graeme started to his feet. It was not one of pain coming from a sick-room, but rather one of surprise, and there seemed a bustle among the servants. The door opened, and a woman’s face, with two wild staring eyes, looked in. “Come here, sir,” she cried, and disappeared upon the instant.

“Something more,” ejaculated Graeme, as he hurried away. I was allowed no time for an absurd monologue. Graeme was not absent many minutes, when he hurried in as he had hurried out, but his face was not that which he took with him, braced up into surprise and fear, as that was. He was now as pale as death’s pale horse, and nearly as furious. His eye beamed an unnatural light–his breathing was quick and snatchy, as if every inspiration and expiration pained the lungs. He seemed to wish some one to bind him with ropes, that he might escape the vibrations of his muscles, and be steadied to be able to speak.

“Be calm,” said I, taking him by the shoulders; “what new discovery is this? Nothing wrong with Mrs. Graeme, I hope?”

“The child,” he cried; but he could get no further.

“The child is”–

“Is what?” said I.

“Is marked on the back with the figure of the ten of diamonds.”

“Pity it was not marked where it will wear its pockets,” said I; “but it will assuredly be a very fortunate child, nevertheless, and shall bear a load of diamonds on his back like the Arabian Alcansar.”

“Are you mad?” he cried.

“Yes, with reason,” I replied. “You know, nothing appears so outrageously insane to a madman, as that same God’s gift called reason. They say, those who are bitten by the tarantula, and get dancing mad, think the wondering crowd about them raving maniacs. And there was the weeping philanthropist in the asylum of Montrose, in Scotland, who wept all day, and could not be consoled, because of all the people outside the asylum being mad.”

“But,” he gasped, “the thing is there.”

“No doubt on’t,” said I, “and you ought to be grateful. I have read somewhere of one John Zopyrus, who went mad when he heard of a son being born to him; and here you are not mad, though you have a son (I hope) born to you, with ten diamonds besides.”

“But the thing is there,” he again cried.

“Ay, there’s the rub, my dear fellow; the rub is there–let the rub _be_ there; that is, go and rub, and the thing rubbed will not be there after the rubbing.”

“Madness, man! It is a true mother’s mark.”

“Verily, a real _noevus maternus_” said I, “impressed by an avenging angel on the mother’s brain, and transferred by nature’s daguerreotype to the back of the child.”

“You have said it.”

“Nay, it is you who have said it,” I continued; “and I will even suppose it is a mother’s mark, to please you for a little, though it has no more that character than this sword-prick in my left cheek. But taking it in your own way, I have a theory I could propound to you about these marks. We say that the soul is in the body. It is just as true that the body is in the soul. Every member of the entire physical person is represented in the brain, though we cannot discern the form in these white viscera. Now, see you, if a man loses his finger, his son will not be awanting in that member. But there are cases where the want of a member is hereditary. Why? Because the member was not represented in the cerebral microcosm of the first deficient person. From this small epitome in the brain, the child is an extended copy–_extended_ from a mathematical point, where all the members and lineaments are _intended_. So, when the fancy of the mother is working in the brain–say, in realizing some external image–it will impress it in the cerebral person (woman) there epitomized; and if she is in a certain way, the image will go to a corresponding part of the foetal point, which is the epitome of the child. A most ingenious, and satisfactory, and simple theory, which will explain the ten-of-diamond naevus, for”—-

“Dreadful imbecility!” he exclaimed, as he threw himself on his chair; “most unaccountable and cruel trifling with a notable visitation of retributive justice, indicated by visible signs of terrible import to him who must bear the cross, and be reconciled to an angry Deity.”

“Against all that may tend to penitence for a past crime,” said I, getting grave, where gravity might avail for good, “I have nothing to say. But Heaven does not work through the mean of man’s deceit and stratagem, and the good that comes of fear goes with returning courage.”

Conscious of getting into a puling humour, I had no objection to an interruption by the entrance of Rogers, who, having finished his work, was probably intent upon the gratification which generally follows.

“I wish you joy of the boy and the diamonds,” he said, as he seized Graeme by the half-palsied hand. “The nurse is reconciled to the omen of a fortune; and surely never was omen more auspicious, for no sooner had the strange indication shown its mute vaticination than it disappeared, that there might be no deduction of beauty from the favourite of the gods.” And drawing, with his lumbering hand, the tumbler near him, he filled it two-thirds up of pure wine, and presently his lips grappled with it like a camel at the bucket in the desert, with such effect that the contents changed vessels in a twinkling.

“Disappeared!” said I musingly.

“Yea, temperance hath her demands on occasions,” said he, thinking I alluded to the exit of the wine, and not the ominous mark; “for there be two kinds of this noble virtue, the jejune and the hearty, whereof the former observes no plethoric gratifications, and the other is not averse to an extreme of cordial indulgence.”

“Disappeared!” said I in a harping way, once again, “and left the skin discoloured.”

“But it was there, and I saw it with these eyes,” cried Graeme, “and the doctor saw it, and Betha, but, thank God, not the mother.”

“The vouchsafing of the eyes is an easy task,” drawled Rogers. “The truth of present fact is of the moment of experience as regards the seer; but, as a moral entity, it never dies. The great Author of nature has his intention in these mysterious signs. We know only that there are two kinds of these God’s finger-touches–the enduring and the evanescent. That we have now witnessed was of the latter kind, which we also call superficial in opposition to the other, which is painted on the _rete mucosum_, and never goes off. The difference of indications we know not, further than that a mysterious purpose is served by both. But might I ask if ever there was any occasion on which the figure of this card might, as connected with some thrilling incident, have been impressed upon the imagination of the mother?”

“Never,” cried Graeme, as he shook violently.

“Then it betokens fortune to the heir of the Moated Grange,” said Rogers.

“It betokens vengeance!” roared Graeme, no longer able to contain himself; and he began to pace rapidly the room. Then stopping before me–

“How long will you torment me with your scepticism? Here, Betha,” he cried to the woman, who at the instant again called Rogers, “what did you see on the back of the boy?”

“The ten of diamonds, sir,” replied she, evidently frightened by the wild eyes of her master. “But you are not to be feared. Do I not know God’s signs when I see them fresh from his very finger? I have seen them aforetime; and no man or woman on earth, no, even our minister, will convince me they are meant for nothing. This bairn will be a rich man, but it will not be by the devil’s books; for he who made the mark does not tempt to evil by promises printed on the bodies of them he loves.”

“I want not this drivelling,” said her master, on whom her reading of the sign had an effect the very opposite of that intended. “You’re a fool, but you have eyes. Say, once for all, you saw it, and will swear. Take her words, Rymer.”

“As clear as I see the mark on your cheek, sir,” she said, addressing me. “It was not from one who loved you so well as your mother did when she bore you, you got that mark.”

“I got it from a villain called Ruggieri,” I replied, caring nothing for the start I produced in Graeme, but keeping my eye on the face of Rogers.

I will say nothing of what I observed on that long, sombre, saturnine index. It was an experiment on my part, and I might have found something, merely because I expected it; nor do I think Graeme knew my object, though he felt the words as a surprise.

“And who is Ruggieri?” said the doctor, by way of putting a simple question.

“_Perhaps_ an Italian,” said I. “Rogers is, they say, the Scotch representative of that name.”

“It is a lie, sir!” cried the grave son of Aesculapius; but finding he had committed a mistake, he beat up an apology close upon the heels of his insult. “I beg your pardon; I simply meant that the two names are different, and that you were out in your etymology.”

“I am satisfied,” I replied.

“And so am I,” growled the doctor, as he shuffled out, followed by Betha.

“What the devil do you mean?” said the colonel, coming up, and looking me sternly in the face. “Is not this business serious enough for me and this house already, without the mention to that man, who knows nothing of me or of my history, of a name hateful to both you and me?”

“At present I have no intention of telling you what I meant by introducing that name in the presence of Rogers.”

“More mystery!” said he.

“No mystery–all as plain as little Edith’s card she got from Trott, or the blazon in the wood, or the mark on the child’s back. But I do not wish to dwell longer on a subject which gives you so much pain. I am to be off in the morning, and I should wish, before I go, to know what is to be the issue of all this wonderful working.”

Graeme had now seated himself; and I resumed my chair also, to wait an answer, which his manner seemed to indicate might be slow and delicate. We looked, in the dim light of the room, at two in the morning, like two wizards trying our skill in working out some scheme of _diablerie_; yet, in reality, how unlike! For though we had both been gamblers, and consequently bad men, we had for years renounced the wild ways of an ill-regulated youth, and settled down to tread, with pleasure to ourselves and profit to others, the decent paths of virtue.

“I am resolved,” said Graeme at length—-

“On what?” I inquired.

“On making amends. That money, which by means of the substituted card I took from Gourlay, sticks like a bone-splint in the red throat of my penitence. I cannot pray myself, nor join Annabel, nor listen to Edith, when they send up their supplications to that place where mercy is, and where, too, vengeance is–vengeance which, in the very form of my pictured crime, dogs me everywhere, as you have seen, though a philosophical pride prevents you from giving faith to what you have seen–vengeance which, though using no earthly instruments, is yet the stronger, and more terrible to me, for that very circumstance that it brings up my conscience, and parades its pictured whisperings before my vision, scorching my brain, and making me mad–vengeance, breaking no bones, nor lacerating flesh, nor spilling blood, yet going to the heart of the human organism, among the fine tissues where begin the rudiments of being, and whence issue the springs of feeling, sympathy, hope, love, and justice, all of which it poisons, and turns into agonies. Yes, sir, vengeance which, claiming the assistance of the fairest virtues, conjugal love and angelic purity, makes them smite with shame, so that it were even a relief to me that the wife of my bosom were wicked, and the child of my affections a creature of sin. What are these signs that haunt me but instigators to redemption? and can I hesitate when Heaven asks obedience?”

“A useless harangue,” said I, “when you have the means of saving yourself. Pay the money, read your Bible, and the signs will cease.”

“You have said it. I will pay the money; but I do not know where the woman Gourlay lives.”

“That is not a difficult matter. Where money is to be paid, the recipient will start out of the bosom of the earth. I am about sick of this chamber of mysteries–though no mysteries to me; and I go to bed. I doubt if you may expect to see me at the breakfast table in the morning.”

“Will you leave me in this condition?” he said, with an imploring eye.

“You will hear from me. Good night.”

In the midst of all these supernaturals, I remained myself pretty natural–got naturally among the comfortable bed-clothes, fell naturally asleep, and, in consequence of late hours, slept naturally longer than I intended. I started at seven, got my bag, and, without seeing Graeme, set out for C—- town, got breakfast, and then took the stage for a seaport not very far distant. Having arrived at my destination, I sought out the Eastergate, a dirty street inhabited by poor people, mounted three pair of stairs till I saw through a slate-pane, knocked at a door, and was met by a woman, with an umbrageously bearded face peering out from the side of her head-gear–that is, there was a head there in addition to her own.

“The devil!” said the man. “How did you find me out?”

“By the trail of evil,” I said, as I walked in, and shut the door behind me.

“Did you not know I was dead?” he continued, by way of desperate raillery.

“Yes, the devil was once reported to be dead and buried in a certain long town, but it was only a feint, whereby to catch the unwary Whigs. Let us have seats. I want a little quiet conversation with you both.”

We seemed rather a comfortable party round the fire.

“Ruggieri,” said I, “do you know that scar?”

“I have certainly seen it before,” replied he, with the utmost composure.

“Well, you know the attack you made upon me at Brussels, for the convenient purpose of getting buried along with your victim a certain little piece of dirty paper I have in my pocket, whereby you became bound to pay to me a thousand florins which I lent you, on the faith of one I took for a gentleman.”

“The scar I deny,” he replied, unblushingly; “and as for the bit of paper, if you can find any one in these parts who can prove that the signature thereto was written by this hand belonging to this person now sitting before you, you will accomplish something more wonderful than finding me out here.” And he laughed in his old boisterous way.

“The more difficult, I daresay,” replied I, as I fixed a pretty inquisitive gaze on him, “that you have a duplicate to your real name of Charles Rogers.”

“‘Tis a lie!” he exclaimed. “My father was–was–yes–an artist in Bologna–the cleverest magician in Italy.”

“And that is the reason,” said I calmly, “that your brother the doctor works his tricks so cleverly at the Moated Grange.”

Subtle officers accomplish much by attacks of surprise–going home with a fact known to the criminal to be true, but supposed by him to be unknown to all the world besides. I had acted on this principle, and the effect was singular. His tongue, which had laid in a stock of nervous fluid for roaring like a steam-boiler a little opened, was palsied. He turned on me a blank look; then, directing his eye to the woman, “You infernal hag,” he exclaimed, “all this comes from you!”

“I deny it,” said the woman, as she left his side and came round to mine. “But I now know, what I always suspected, that you are a villain. Sir,” she continued, “this man, and his brother Dr. Rogers, prevailed upon me to give them a paper, to enable them to get out of Colonel Graeme the money he won from my husband. I believe they have got it, and that they are keeping it from me.”

“They have not got it,” said I, “and never will. The money is yours, and will be paid to you, if to any.”

“Thank God!” she exclaimed. “No good could come out of the designs of this man and his brother. They made it up to terrify the colonel”—-

A look from the man stopped her; but the broken sentence was to me a volume. They sat and looked lightnings at each other; and I contented myself with thinking, that when a rotten tree splits, bears catch honey.

“Oh, I’m not to be frightened,” she continued, as she gathered up courage to dare the villain. “I will tell all about the ten of diamonds which I heard made up between them.”

“You most haggard of all haggard hags!” cried the man, as his fury rose, “do you know, that while I could have got you this money, I can cut you out of it? Was it the loss of the money, think ye, that made the wretched coward, your husband, shoot himself? No, it was conscience. They were a pair of villains. I know that Gourlay had a secreted card, whereby he was to blackleg Graeme, and that it was disappointment, shame, and conscience, working all together, that made him draw the trigger to end a villanous life. But the game is up,” he continued, as he rose and got hold of his hat; then standing erect and fearless, he held out his finger, pointing to me–“Rymer!” he said impressively, but with devilish calmness, “let your ears tingle as you think of me; it will keep you in remembrance of a friend, who, when next he meets you, will embrace you _cordially_–about the heart, you know. Good night!”

“And well gone,” said the woman, as she heard the door slammed with a noise that shook the crazy tenement. “Oh! I am so happy you have come to relieve me of an engagement which I was ashamed of, and which would have yielded me nothing; for their object was to force money out of your friend, and then divide it between them.”

“How did Rogers or Ruggieri find you out?” inquired I.

“I cannot tell; the nose of a bloodhound has a finer sense than a sheep-dog’s.”

“And how did you come to know of the compact between the brothers?”

“They got unwary under wine drunk at that fir table. The doctor was the medical attendant of Colonel Graeme, and this gave him means of working upon his conscience; and I know they have been at this work for a time.”

“But how did Ruggieri come to know about the ten of diamonds?”

“Oh, the card was found crumpled up under the table by Ruggieri himself, who, with you, was present at the play. He has the card at this moment. I have seen it. But this is the first time I ever heard of Gourlay’s intention to cheat. I will never believe that; but then I am his widow, and may be too favourable to him, while Ruggieri was his enemy, and may be too vindictive.”

“And how was the colonel to be applied to, after his conscience was wrought up to pay?”

“The doctor was to open the subject, and undertake to negotiate with me, to whom he was to hand over the money–one penny of which I never would have received.”

“The matter is now in better hands,” said I. “Will you be staunch and firm in detailing all you know of the scheme?”

“Yes, though I should not receive a farthing.”

“And you will be willing to go to the Moated Grange, and, if necessary, swear to those things?”

“I will; and, sir, serious though the whole affair has been to me–for I am poor, and have children–I sometimes wondered, if I did not laugh, at the queer, far-brought, devilish designs of the doctor. Oh, he is a very dragon that for cunning! I heard him say he would impress a painted piece of paper on the child’s back, so as to leave a mark, and swear it was a mother’s mark, graven by the hands of the Almighty. Oh the blasphemy and wickedness of man!”

“Go, dress yourself,” said I, “and come with me to the Grange.”

“I will, if you can give me some minutes to get a neighbour to take charge of George and Anne.” And away she went to get this family arrangement completed, while I sat panting with desire to free my friend from the agony of his condition.

It was about seven o’clock of that same evening that Mrs. Gourlay and I reached the Moated Grange. I got her shown into an ante-room, to wait the issue of my interview with Graeme. It happened that the doctor and he were together, and it even seemed as if they were converging towards a medium state of confidence. I could observe from the looks of the victim that he had been so far at least drawn into a recital of facts (the nature of which it was not difficult for me to conjecture), for I heard the word Gourlay fall from his lips, as the last of a sentence which my entry had cut short. Indeed, I may as well state here that Graeme afterwards admitted to me that when I entered he was in the midst of a confession of the whole secret of the false play, to which confession he had been first driven by his internal monitor; and secondly, led or rather pulled on by the arch-ambidexter, whose game it was to cheat the cheater, and get the money from him upon some pretence of seeking out Mrs. Gourlay and paying the money to her. I was, in short, in the very nick of time, and could hardly help smiling at the strange part I was playing in what was, as I thought, one of those serious melodramatic farces of which (in the Frenchman’s sense) this strange world of laughter and groans is made up.

“Dr. Rogers,” said I, after the customary greetings, “it is well I have found you. I picked up a poor woman by the way who lay under the seizure of premature labour, and knowing the generosity of my friend, I brought her here for succour and relief. She is in the green parlour, and, I fear, in exigency. Come.”

“May I see her?” said Graeme.

“Certainly, for a moment,” said Rogers. “Ah! I rejoice at these opportunities of employing the beneficence of our profession. Who knows but I may bring into the world one who will change the aspect of a hemisphere, and work out some great blessings to the human race!”

And following me, they arrived at the door of the green parlour. I opened it. Rogers walked forward, Graeme followed, and I stood in the midst of the three.

“Dr. Rogers–Mrs. Gourlay, an intimate friend of your brother, Signor Ruggieri.”

“Colonel Graeme–Mrs. Gourlay, the widow of that unfortunate man, Ebenezer Gourlay.”

To which Mrs. Gourlay responded by a curtsey, deep and respectful.

“I am master for the nonce. The door is locked, and Mrs. Gourlay must be delivered of her child with the naevus of the ten of diamonds on its back.”

And she was delivered, but not with the assistance of the doctor. She performed her part well. By a little drawing out, on my part, I got her to tell her story; how she had got acquainted with the two brothers; how they had laid their plans; how she came to know of the crumpled card, and the use they were to make of it; the trick of the impression on the child’s back; the forcing of the money from the colonel on the pretence of paying it to her, with her conviction that she would never handle a penny of it.

During the period of this extraordinary recital, it was my part to watch the countenances of the two listeners. Graeme sat as if bound to his chair; every word of the woman seemed to work as a charm upon him, relieving him of the conviction he had been impressed with, that he was specially under the judgment of Heaven, without depriving him of the consolation of a late penitence. Sometimes I caught his eye, and, I fairly admit, I was wicked enough to indulge in a little mute risibility to give him confidence in the conclusions he was fast drawing from the somewhat garrulous narrative of the poor widow.

As for the doctor, he held out like a Milo. From the first moment he saw the woman he knew that the game was up with him, but he knew also, what all hardened sinners know, that they owe it to the cacodaimon they obey, to deny everything to the last, as if they were afraid to show any indication of what they consider the weakness of being good. We allowed him to get quit upon the condition of silence on his part, for a prudent forbearance on ours.

Mrs. Gourlay remained at the Grange for some time, whereby we had an opportunity of further ascertaining all the details of the machination. A sum of money was given to her, and Graeme’s conscience was relieved, as well by this retribution as by a conviction to which we both came, that the game between him and Gourlay was rendered at least equal by the fact which we had both reason to believe, as stated by Ruggieri, that Gourlay himself intended to cheat, and that his death could be more easily accounted for on that theory than on any other.

So far as peace could be brought to one truly penitent, that peace was brought; and many a time since I have admired, in the happiness of the family at the Grange, that exemplification of the promise of our blessed faith, that there is no degree of guilt which may not be atoned for by the heart that is contrite, and trusts to the mercy of Heaven through the eternally-ordained source.

I may gratify a whim by informing the readers of the Border Tales that the secret of the mark on the child’s back was never communicated to Mrs. Graeme. The nurse had told her of the fact of the strange phenomenon, and she always clung to the belief that it was an omen of good fortune to the boy. But under what mysterious conditions is the chain of cause and effect kept up! The frequent allusion made by the mother to the fact of the mark, drew her son’s attention to the cards. He early became fond of playing with them, as boys do. The early feeling germinated, and became a kind of passion, and I have reason to believe he became a gambler like his father, squandering away a great part of his patrimony.

END OF VOL. XXII.