M. E. Braddon
Part 6 out of 9
Mr. Dunbar did not waste much time before he began the grand business
which had brought him to London--that is to say, the purchase of such a
collection of diamonds as compose a necklace second only to that which
brought poor hoodwinked Cardinal de Rohan and the unlucky daughter of
the Caesars into such a morass of trouble and slander.
Early upon the morning after his visit to the bank, Mr. Dunbar went out
very plainly dressed, and hailed the first empty cab that he saw in
He ordered the cabman to drive straight to a street leading out of
Holborn, a very quiet-looking street, where you could buy diamonds
enough to set up all the jewellers in the Palais Royale and the Rue de
la Paix, and where, if you were so whimsical as to wish to transform a
service of plate into "white soup" at a moment's notice, you might
indulge your fancy in establishments of unblemished respectability.
The gold and silver refiners, the diamond-merchants and wholesale
jewellers, in this quiet street, were a very superior class of people,
and you might dispose of a handful of gold chains and bangles without
any fear that one or two of them would find their way into the
operator's sleeve during the process of weighing. The great Mr.
Krusible, who thrust the last inch of an Eastern potentate's sceptre
into the melting-pot with the sole of his foot, as the detectives
entered his establishment in search of the missing bauble, and walked
lame for six months afterwards, lived somewhere in the depths of the
city, and far away from this dull-looking Holborn street; and would have
despised the even tenor of life, and the moderate profits of a business
in this neighbourhood.
Mr. Dunbar left his cab at the Holborn end of the street, and walked
slowly along the pavement till he came to a very dingy-looking
parlour-window, which might have belonged to A lawyer's office but for
some gilded letters on the wire blind, which, in a very pale and faded
inscription, gave notice that the parlour belonged to Mr. Isaac
Hartgold, diamond-merchant. A grimy brass plate on the door of the house
bore another inscription to the same effect; and it was at this door
that Mr. Dunbar stopped.
He rang a bell, and was admitted immediately by a very sharp-looking
boy, who ushered him into the parlour, where ha saw a mahogany counter,
a pair of small brass scales, a horse-hair-cushioned office-stool
considerably the worse for wear, and a couple of very formidable-looking
iron safes deeply imbedded in the wall behind the counter. There was a
desk near the window, at which a gentleman, with very black hair and
whiskers was seated, busily engaged in some abstruse calculations
between a pair of open ledgers.
He got off his high seat as Mr. Dunbar entered, and looked rather
suspiciously at the banker. I suppose the habit of selling diamonds had
made him rather suspicious of every one. Henry Dunbar wore a fashionable
greatcoat with loose open cuffs, and it was towards these loose cuffs
that Mr. Hartgold's eyes wandered with rapid and rather uneasy glances.
He was apt to look doubtfully at gentlemen with roomy coat-sleeves, or
ladies with long-haired muffs or fringed parasols. Unset diamonds are an
eminently portable species of property, and you might carry a tolerably
valuable collection of them in the folds of the smallest parasol that
ever faded under the summer sunshine in the Lady's Mile.
"I want to buy a collection of diamonds for a necklace," Mr. Dunbar
said, as coolly as if he had been talking of a set of silver spoons;
"and I want the necklace to be something out of the common. I should
order it of Garrard or Emanuel; but I have a fancy for buying the
diamonds upon paper, and having them made up after a design of my own.
Can you supply me with what I want?"
"How much do you want? You may have what some people would call a
necklace for a thousand pounds, or you may have one that'll cost you
twenty thousand. How far do you mean to go?"
"I am prepared to spend something between fifty and eighty thousand
The diamond merchant pursed up his lips reflectively. "You are aware
that in these sort of transactions ready money is indispensable?" he
"Oh, yes, I am quite aware of that," Mr. Dunbar answered, coolly.
He took out his card-case as he spoke, and handed one of his cards to
Mr. Isaac Hartgold. "Any cheques signed by that name," he said, "will be
duly honoured in St. Gundolph Lane."
Mr. Hartgold bent his head reverentially to the representative of a
million of money. He, in common with every business man in London, was
thoroughly familiar with the names of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.
"I don't know that I can supply you with fifty thousand pounds' worth of
such diamonds as you may require at a moment's notice," he said; "but I
can procure them for you in a day or two, if that will do?"
"That will do very well. This is Tuesday; suppose I give you till
"The stones shall be ready for you by Thursday, sir."
"Very good. I will call for them on Thursday morning. In the meantime,
in order that you may understand that the transaction is a _bona fide_
one, I'll write a cheque for ten thousand, payable to your order, on
account of diamonds to be purchased by me. I have my cheque-book in my
pocket. Oblige me with pen and ink."
Mr. Hartgold murmured something to the effect that such a proceeding was
altogether unnecessary; but he brought Mr. Dunbar his office inkstand,
and looked on with an approving twinkle of his eyes while the banker
wrote the cheque, in that slow, formal hand peculiar to him. It made
things very smooth and comfortable, Mr. Hartgold thought, to say the
least of it.
"And now, sir, with regard to the design of the necklace," said the
merchant, when he had folded the cheque and put it into his
waistcoat-pocket. "I suppose you've some idea that you'd like to carry
out; and you'd wish, perhaps, to see a few specimens."
He unlocked one of the iron safes as he spoke, and brought out a lot of
little paper packets, which were folded in a peculiar fashion, and which
he opened with very gingerly fingers.
"I suppose you'd like some tallow-drops, sir?" he said. "Tallow-drops
work-in better than anything for a necklace."
"What, in Heaven's name, are tallow-drops?"
Mr. Hartgold took up a diamond with a pair of pincers, and exhibited it
to the banker.
"That's a tallow-drop, sir," he said. "It's something of a heart-shaped
stone, you see; but we call it a tallow-drop, because it's very much the
shape of a drop of tallow. You'd like large stones, of course, though
they eat into a great deal of money? There are diamonds that are known
all over Europe; diamonds that have been in the possession of royalty,
and are as well known as the family they've belonged to. The Duke of
Brunswick has pretty well cleared the market of that sort of stuff; but
still they are to be had, if you've a fancy for anything of that kind?"
Mr. Dunbar shook his head.
"I don't want anything of that sort," he said; "the day may come when my
daughter, or my daughter's descendants, may be obliged to realize the
jewels. I'm a commercial man, and I want eighty thousand pounds' worth
of diamonds that shall be worth the money I give for them to break up
and sell again. I should wish you to choose diamonds of moderate size,
but not small; worth, on an average, forty or fifty pounds apiece, we'll
"I shall have to be very particular about matching them in colour," said
Mr. Hartgold, "as they're for a necklace." The banker shrugged his
"Don't trouble yourself about the necklace," he said, rather
impatiently. "I tell you again I'm a commercial man, and what I want is
good value for my money."
"And you shall have it, sir," answered the diamond-merchant, briskly.
"Very well, then; in that case I think we understand each other, and
there's no occasion for me to stop here any longer. You'll have eighty
thousand pounds' worth of diamonds, at thereabouts, ready for me when I
call here on Thursday morning. You can cash that cheque in the meantime,
and ascertain with whom you have to deal. Good morning."
He left the diamond-merchant wondering at his sang froid, and returned
to the cab, which had been waiting for him all this time.
He was just going to step into it, when a hand touched him lightly on
the shoulder, and turning sharply and angrily round, he recognized the
gentleman who called himself Major Vernon. But the Major was by no means
the shabby stranger who had watched the marriage of Philip Jocelyn and
Laura Dunbar in Lisford Church. Major Vernon had risen, resplendent as
the phoenix, from the ashes of his old clothes.
The poodle collar was gone: the dilapidated boots had been exchanged for
stout water-tight Wellingtons: the napless dirty white hat had given
place to a magnificent beaver, with a broad trim curled at the sides.
Major Vernon was positively splendid. He was as much wrapped up as ever;
but his wrappings now were of a gorgeous, not to say gaudy, description.
His thick greatcoat was of a dark olive-green, and the collar turned up
over his ears was of a shiny-looking brown fur, which, to the confiding
mind of the populace, is known as imitation sable. Inside this fur
collar the Major wore a shawl-patterned scarf of all the colours in the
prismatic scale, across which his nose lacked its usual brilliancy of
hue by force of contrast. Major Vernon had a very big cigar in his
mouth, and a very big cane in his hand, and the quiet City men turned to
look at him as he stood upon the pavement talking to Henry Dunbar.
The banker writhed under the touch of his Indian acquaintance.
"What do you want with me?" he asked, in low angry tones; "why do you
follow me about to play the spy upon me, and stop me in the public
street? Haven't I done enough for you? Ain't you satisfied with what I
"Yes, dear boy," answered the Major, "perfectly satisfied, more than
satisfied--for the present. But your future favours--as those low
fellows, the butchers and bakers, have it--are respectfully requested
for yours truly. Let me get into the cab with you, Mr. H.D., and take me
back to the _casa_, and give me a comfortable little bit of perrogg. I
haven't lost my aristocratic taste for seven courses, and an elegant
succession of still fine sparkling wines, though during the last few
years I've been rather frequently constrained to accept the shadowy
hospitality of his grace of Humphrey. '_Nante dinari, nante manjare_,'
as we say in the Classics, which I translate, 'No credit at the
butcher's or the baker's.'"
"For Heaven's sake, stop that abominable slang!" said Henry Dunbar,
"It annoys you, dear friend, eh? Well, I've known the time when----But
no matter, 'let what is broken, so remain,' as the poet observes; which
is only an elegant way of saying, 'Let bygones be bygones.' And so
you've been buying diamonds, dear boy?"
"Who told you so?"
"You did, when you came out of Mr. Isaac Hartgold's establishment. I
happened to be passing the door as you went in, and I happened to be
passing the door again as you came out."
"And playing the spy upon me."
"Not at all, dear boy. It was merely a coincidence, I assure you. I
called at the bank yesterday, cashed my cheques, ascertained your
address; called at the Clarendon this morning, was told you'd that
minute gone out; looked down Albemarle Street; there you were, sure
enough; saw you get into a cab; got into another--a Hansom, and faster
than yours--came behind you to the corner of this street."
"You followed me," said Henry Dunbar, bitterly.
"Don't call it _following_, dear friend, because that's low. Accident
brought me into this neighbourhood at the very hour you were coming into
this neighbourhood. If you want to quarrel with anything, quarrel with
the doctrine of chances, not with me."
Henry Dunbar turned away with a sulky gesture. His friend watched him
with very much the same malicious grin that had distorted his face under
the lamp-lit porch at Maudesley. The Major looked like a vulgar-minded
Mephistopheles: there was not even the "divinity of hell" about him.
"And so you've been buying diamonds?" he repeated presently, after a
"Yes, I have. I am buying them for a necklace for my daughter."
"You are so dotingly fond of your daughter!" said the Major with a leer.
"It is necessary that I should give her a present."
"Precisely, and you won't even trust the business to a jeweller; you
insist on doing it all yourself."
"I shall do it for less money than a jeweller."
"Oh, of course," answered Major Vernon; "the motive's as clear as
He was silent for a few minutes, then he laid his hand heavily upon his
companion's shoulder, put his lips close to the banker's ear, and said,
in a loud voice, for it was not easy for him to make himself heard above
the jolting of the cab,--
"Henry Dunbar, you're a very clever fellow, and I dare say you think
yourself a great deal sharper than I am; but, by Heaven, if you try any
tricks with me, you'll find yourself mistaken! You must buy me an
annuity. Do you understand? Before you move right or left, or say your
soul's your own, you must buy me an annuity!"
The banker shook off his companion's hand, and turned round upon him,
pale, stern, and defiant.
"Take care, Stephen Vallance," he said; "take care how you threaten me.
I should have thought you knew me of old, and would be wise enough to
keep a civil tongue in your head, with _me_. As for what you ask, I
shall do it, or I shall let it alone--as I think fit. If I do it, I
shall take my own time about it, not yours."
"You're not afraid of me, then?" asked the other, recoiling a little,
and much more subdued in his tone.
"You are very bold."
"Perhaps I am. Do you remember the old story of some people who had a
goose that laid golden eggs? They were greedy, and, in their besotted
avarice, they killed the goose. But they have not gone down to posterity
as examples of wisdom. No, Vallance, I'm not afraid of you."
Mr. Vallance leaned back in the cab, biting his nails savagely, and
thinking. It seemed as if he was trying to find an answer for Mr.
Dunbar's speech: but, if so, he must have failed, for he was silent for
the rest of the drive: and when he got out of the vehicle, by-and-by,
before the door of the Clarendon, his manner bore an undignified
resemblance to that of a half-bred cur who carries his tail between his
"Good afternoon, Major Vernon," the banker said, carelessly, as a
liveried servant opened the door of the hotel: "I shall be very much
engaged during the few days I am likely to remain in town, and shall be
unable to afford myself the pleasure of your society."
The Major stared aghast at this cool dismissal.
"Oh," he murmured, vaguely, "that's it, is it? Well, of course, you know
what's best for yourself--so, good afternoon!"
The door closed upon Major Vernon, alias Mr. Stephen Vallance, while he
was still staring straight before him, in utter inability to realize his
position. But he drew his cashmere shawl still higher up about his ears,
took out a gaudy scarlet-morocco cigar-case, lighted another big cigar,
and then strolled slowly down the quiet West-end street, with his bushy
eyebrows contracted into a thoughtful frown.
"Cool," he muttered between his closed lips; "very cool, to say the
least of it. Some people would call it audacious. But the story of the
goose with the golden eggs is one of childhood's simple lessons that
we're obliged to remember in after-life. And to think that the
Government of this country should have the audacity to offer a measly
hundred pounds or so for the discovery of a great crime! The shabbiness
of the legislature must answer for it, if criminals remain at large. My
friend's a deep one, a cursedly deep one; but I shall keep my eye upon
him 'My faith is strong in time,' as the poet observes. My friend
carries it with a high hand at present; but the day may come when he may
want me; and if ever he does want me, egad, he shall pay me my own
price, and it shall be rather a stiff one into the bargain."
At one o'clock on the appointed Thursday morning, Mr. Dunbar presented
himself in the diamond-merchant's office. Henry Dunbar was not alone. He
had called in St. Gundolph Lane, and asked Mr. Balderby to go with him
to inspect the diamonds he had bought for his daughter.
The junior partner opened his eyes to the widest extent as the
brilliants were displayed before him, and declared that big senior's
generosity was something more than princely.
But perhaps Mr. Balderby did not feel so entirely delighted two or three
hours afterwards, when Mr. Isaac Hartgold presented himself before the
counter in St. Gundolph Lane, whence he departed some time afterwards
carrying away with him seventy-five thousand eight hundred pounds in
Henry Dunbar walked away from the neighbourhood of Holborn with his coat
buttoned tightly across his broad chest, and nearly eighty thousand
pounds' worth of property hidden away in his breast-pockets. He did not
go straight back to the Clarendon, but pierced his way across
Smithfield, and into a busy smoky street, where he stopped by-and-by at
a dingy-looking currier's shop.
He went in and selected a couple of chamois skins, very thick and
strong. At another shop he bought some large needles, half-a-dozen
skeins of stout waxed thread, a pair of large scissors, a couple of
strong steel buckles, and a tailor's thimble. When he had made these
purchases, he hailed the first empty cab that passed him, and went back
to his hotel.
He dined, drank the best part of a bottle of Burgundy, and then ordered
a cup of strong tea to be taken to his dressing-room. He had fires in
his bedroom and dressing-room every night. To-night he retired very
early, dismissed the servant who attended upon him, and locked the door
of the outer room, the only door communicating with the corridor of the
He drank a cup of tea, bathed his head with cold water, and then sat
down at a writing-table near the fire.
But he was not going to write; he pushed aside the writing-materials,
and took his purchases of the afternoon from his pocket. He spread the
chamois leather out upon the table, and cut the skins into two long
strips, about a foot broad. He measured these round his waist, and then
began to stitch them together, slowly and laboriously.
The work was not easy, and it took the banker a very long time to
complete it to his own satisfaction. It was past twelve o'clock when he
had stitched both sides and one end of the double chamois-leather belt;
the other end he left open.
When he had completed the two sides and the end that was closed, he took
four or five little canvas-bags from his pocket. Every one of these
canvas-bags was full of loose diamonds.
A thrill of rapture ran through the banker's veins as he plunged his
fingers in amongst the glittering stones. He filled his hands with the
bright gems, and let them run from one hand to the other, like streams
of liquid light. Then, very slowly and carefully, he began to drop the
diamonds into the open end of the chamois-leather belt.
When he had dropped a few into the belt, he stitched the leather across
and across, quilting-in the stones. This work took him so long, that it
was four o'clock in the morning when he had quilted the last diamond
into the belt. He gave a long sigh of relief as he threw the waste
scraps of leather upon the top of the low fire, and watched them slowly
smoulder away into black ashes. Then he put the chamois-leather belt
under his pillow, and went to bed.
Henry Dunbar went back to Maudesley Abbey by the express on the morning
after the day on which he had completed his purchase of the diamonds. He
wore the chamois-leather belt buckled tightly round his waist next to
his inner shirt, and was able to defy the swell-mob, had those gentry
been aware of the treasures which he carried about with him.
He wrote from Warwickshire to one of the best and most fashionable
jewellers at the West End, and requested that a person who was
thoroughly skilled in his business might be sent down to Maudesley
Abbey, duly furnished with drawings of the newest designs in diamond
necklaces, earrings, &c.
But when the jeweller's agent came, two or three days afterwards, Mr.
Dunbar could find no design that suited him; and the man returned to
London without having received an order, and without having even seen
the brilliants which the banker had bought.
"Tell your employer that I will retain two or three of these designs,"
Mr. Dunbar said, selecting the drawings as he spoke; "and if, upon
consideration, I find that one of them will suit me, I will communicate
with your establishment. If not, I shall take the diamonds to Paris, and
get them made up there."
The jeweller ventured to suggest the inferiority of Parisian workmanship
as compared with that of a first-rate English establishment; but Mr.
Dunbar did not condescend to pay any attention to the young man's
"I shall write to your employer in due course," he said, coldly. "Good
Major Vernon had returned to the Rose and Crown at Lisford. The deed
which transferred to him the possession of Woodbine Cottage was speedily
executed, and he took up his abode there. His establishment was composed
of the old housekeeper, who had waited on the deceased admiral, and a
young man-of-all-work, who was nephew to the housekeeper, and who had
also been in the service of the late owner of the cottage.
From his new abode Mr. Vernon was able to keep a tolerably sharp
look-out upon the two great houses in his neighbourhood--Maudesley Abbey
and Jocelyn's Rock. Country people know everything about their
neighbours; and Mrs. Manders, the housekeeper, had means of
communication with both "the Abbey" and "the Rock;" for she had a niece
who was under-housemaid in the service of Henry Dunbar, and a grandson
who was a helper in Sir Philip Jocelyn's stables. Nothing could have
better pleased the new inhabitant of Woodbine Cottage, who was speedily
on excellent terms with his housekeeper.
From her he heard that a jeweller's assistant had been to Maudesley, and
had submitted a portfolio of designs to the millionaire.
"Which they do say," Mrs. Manders continued, "that Mr. Dunbar had laid
out nigh upon half-a-million of money in diamonds; and that he is going
to give his daughter, Lady Jocelyn, a set of jewels such as the Queen
upon her throne never set eyes on. But Mr. Dunbar is rare and difficult
to please, it seems; for the young man from the jeweller's, he says to
Mrs. Grumbleton at the western lodge, he says, 'Your master is not easy
to satisfy, ma'am,' he says; from which Mrs. Grumbleton gathers that he
had not took a order from Mr. Dunbar."
Major Vernon whistled softly to himself when Mrs. Manders retired, after
having imparted this piece of information.
"You're a clever fellow, dear friend," he muttered, as he lighted his
cigar; "you're a stupendous fellow, dear boy; but your friend can see
through less transparent blinds than this diamond business. It's well
planned--it's neat, to say the least of it. And you've my best wishes,
dear boy; but--you must pay for them--you must pay for them, Henry
This little conversation between the new tenant of Woodbine Cottage and
his housekeeper occurred on the very evening on which Major Vernon took
possession of his new abode. The next day was Sunday--a cold wintry
Sunday; for the snow had been falling all through the last three days
and nights, and lay deep on the ground, hiding the low thatched roofs,
and making feathery festoons about the leafless branches, until Lisford
looked like a village upon the top of a twelfth-cake. While the
Sabbath-bells were ringing in the frosty atmosphere, Major Vernon opened
the low white gate of his pleasant little garden, and went out upon the
But not towards the church. Major Vernon was not going to church on this
bright winter's morning. He went the other way, tramping through the
snow, towards the eastern gate of Maudesley Park. He went in by the low
iron gate, for there was a bridle-path by this part of the park--that
very bridle-path by which Philip Jocelyn had ridden to Lisford so often
in the autumn weather.
Major Vernon struck across this path, following the tracks of late
footsteps in the deep snow, and thus took the nearest way to the Abbey.
There he found all very quiet. The supercilious footman who admitted him
to the hall seemed doubtful whether he should admit him any farther.
"Mr. Dunbar are hup," he said; "and have breakfasted, to the best of my
knowledge, which the breakfast ekewpage have not yet been removed."
"So much the better," Major Vernon answered, coolly. "You may bring up
some fresh coffee, John; for I haven't made much of a breakfast myself;
and if you'll tell the cook to devil the thigh of a turkey, with plenty
of cayenne-pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I shall be obliged. You
need'nt trouble yourself; I know my way."
The Major opened the door leading to Mr. Dunbar's apartments, and walked
without ceremony into the tapestried chamber, where he found the banker
sitting near a table, upon which a silver coffee service, a Dresden cup
and saucer, and two or three covered dishes gave evidence that Mr.
Dunbar had been breakfasting. Cold meats, raised pies, and other
comestibles were laid out upon the carved-oak sideboard.
The Major paused upon the threshold of the chamber and gravely
contemplated his friend.
"It's comfortable!" he exclaimed; "to say the least of it, it's very
comfortable, dear boy!"
The dear boy did not look particularly pleased as he lifted his eyes to
his visitor's face.
"I thought you were in London?" he said.
"Which shows how very little you trouble yourself about the concerns of
your neighbours," answered Major Vernon, "for if you had condescended to
inquire about the movements of your humble friend, you would have been
told that he had bought a comfortable little property in the
neighbourhood, and settled down to do the respectable country gentleman
for the remainder of his natural life--always supposing that the
liberality of his honoured friend enables him to do the thing decently."
"Do you mean to say that you have bought property in this
"Yes! I am leasehold proprietor of Woodbine Cottage, near Lisford and
"And you mean to settle in Warwickshire?"
Henry Dunbar smiled to himself as his friend said this.
"You're welcome to do so," he said, "as far as I am concerned."
The Major looked at him sharply.
"Your sentiments are liberality itself, my dear friend. But I must
respectfully remind you that the expenses attendant upon taking
possession of my humble abode have been very heavy. In plain English,
the two thou' which you so liberally advanced as the first instalment of
future bounties, has melted like snow in a rapid thaw. I want another
two thou', friend of my youth and patron of my later years. What's a
thousand or so, more or less, to the senior partner in the house of D.,
D., and B.? Make it two five this time, and your petitioner will ever
pray, &c. &c. &c. Make it two five, Prince of Maudesley!"
There is no need for me to record the interview between these two men.
It was rather a long one; for, in congenial companionship, Major Vernon
had plenty to say for himself: it was only when he felt himself out of
his element and unappreciated that the Major wrapped himself in the
dignity of silence, at in some mystic mantle, and retired for the time
being from the outer world.
He did not leave Maudesley Abbey until he had succeeded in the object of
his visit, and he carried away in his pocket-book cheques to the amount
of two thousand five hundred pounds.
"I flatter myself I was just in the nick of time," the Major thought, as
he walked back to Woodbine Cottage, "for as sure as my name's what it
is, my friend means a bolt. He means a bolt; and the money I've had
to-day is the last I shall ever receive from that quarter."
Almost immediately after Major Vernon's departure, Henry Dunbar rang the
bell for the servant who acted as his valet whenever he required the
services of one, which was not often.
"I shall start for Paris to-night, Jeffreys," he said to this man. "I
want to see what the French jewellers can do before I trust Lady
Jocelyn's necklace into the hands of English workmen. I'm not well, and
I want change of air and scene, so I shall start for Paris to-night.
Pack a small portmanteau with everything that's indispensable, but pack
"Am I to go with you, sir?" the man asked.
Henry Dunbar looked at his watch, and seemed to reflect upon this
question some moments before he answered.
"How do the up-trains go on a Sunday?" he asked.
"There's an express from the north stops at Rugby at six o'clock, sir.
You might meet that, if you left Shorncliffe by the 4:35 train."
"I could do that," answered the banker; "it's only three o'clock. Pack
my portmanteau at once, Jeffreys, and order the carriage to be ready for
me at a quarter to four. No, I won't take you to Paris with me. You can
follow me in a day or two with some more things."
There was no such thing as bustle and confusion in a household organized
like that of Mr. Dunbar. The valet packed his master's portmanteau and
dressing-case; the carriage came round to the gravel-drive before the
porch at the appointed moment; and five minutes afterwards Mr. Dunbar
came out into the hall, with his greatcoat closely buttoned over his
broad chest, and a leopard-skin travelling-rug flung across his
Round his waist he wore the chamois-leather belt which he had made with
his own hands at the Clarendon Hotel. This belt had never quitted him
since the night upon which he made it. The carriage conveyed him to the
Shorncliffe station. He got out and went upon the platform. Although it
was not yet five o'clock, the wintry light was fading in the grey sky,
and in the railway station it was already dark. There were lamps here
and there, but they only made separate splotches of light in the dusky
Henry Dunbar walked slowly up and down the platform. He was so deeply
absorbed by his own thoughts that he was quite startled presently when a
young man came close behind him, and addressed him eagerly.
"Mr. Dunbar," he said; "Mr. Dunbar!"
The banker turned sharply round, and recognized Arthur Lovell.
"Ah! my dear Lovell, is that you? You quite startled me."
"Are you going by the next train? I was so anxious to see you."
"Because there's some one here who very much wishes to see you; quite an
old friend of yours, he says. Who do you think it is?"
"I don't know, I can't guess--I've so many old friends. I can't see any
one, Lovell. I'm very ill, I saw a physician while I was in London; and
he told me that my heart is diseased, and that if I wish to live I must
avoid any agitation, any sudden emotion, as I would avoid a deadly
poison. Who is it that wants to see me?"
"Lord Herriston, the great Anglo-Indian statesman. He is a friend of my
father's, and he has been very kind to me--indeed, he offered me an
appointment, which I found it wisest to decline. He talked a great deal
about you, when my father told him that you'd settled at Maudesley, and
would have driven over to see you if he could have managed to spare the
time, without losing his train. You'll see him, wont you?"
"Where is he?"
"Here, in the station--in the waiting-room. He has been visiting in
Warwickshire, and he lunched with my father _en passant_; he is going to
Derby, and he's waiting for the down-train to take him on to the main
line. You'll come and see him?"
"Yes, I shall be very glad; I----"
Henry Dunbar stopped suddenly, with his hand upon his side. The bell had
been ringing while Lovell and the banker had stood upon the platform
talking. The train came into the station at this moment.
"I shan't be able to see Lord Herriston to-night," Mr. Dunbar said,
hurriedly; "I must go by this train, or I shall lose a day. Good-bye,
Lovell. Make my best compliments to Herriston; tell him I have been very
"Your portmanteau's in the carriage, sir," the servant said, pointing to
the open door of a first-class compartment. Henry Dunbar got into the
carriage. At the moment of his doing so, an elderly gentleman came out
of the waiting-room.
"Is this my train, Lovell?" he asked.
"No, my Lord. Mr. Dunbar is here; he goes by this train. You'll have
time to speak to him."
The train was moving. Lord Herriston was an active old fellow. He ran
along the platform, looking into the carriages. But the old man's sight
was not as good as his legs were; he looked eagerly into the
carriage-windows, but he only saw a confusion of flickering lamplight,
and strange faces, and newspapers unfurled in the hands of wakeful
travellers, and the heads of sleepy passengers rolling and jolting
against the padded sides of the carriage.
"My eyes are not what they used to be," he said, with a good-tempered
laugh, when he went back to Arthur Lovell. "I didn't succeed in getting
a glimpse of my old friend Henry Dunbar."
STOPPED UPON THE WAY.
Mr. Dunbar leant back in the corner of his comfortable seat, with his
eyes closed. But he was not asleep, he was only thinking; and every now
and then he bent forward, and looked out of the window into the darkness
of the night. He could only distinguish the faint outline of the
landscape as the train swept on upon its way, past low meadows, where
the snow lay white and stainless, unsullied by a passing footfall; and
scanty patches of woodland, where the hardy firs looked black against
the glittering whiteness of the ground.
The country was all so much alike under its thick shroud of snow, that
Mr. Dunbar tried in vain to distinguish any landmarks upon the way.
The train by which he travelled stopped at every station; and, though
the journey between Shorncliffe and Rugby was only to last an hour, it
seemed almost interminable to this impatient traveller, who was eager to
stand upon the deck of Messrs. ----'s electric steamers, to feel the icy
spray dashing into his face, and to see the town of Dover, shining like
a flaming crescent against the darkness of the night, and the Calais
lights in the distance rising up behind the black edge of the sea.
The banker looked at his watch, and made a calculation about the time.
It was now a quarter past five; the train was to reach Rugby at ten
minutes to six; at six the London express left Rugby; at a quarter to
eight it reached London; at half-past eight the Dover mail would leave
London Bridge station; and at half-past seven, or thereabouts, next
morning, Henry Dunbar would be rattling through the streets of Paris.
And then? Was his journey to end in that brilliant city, or was he to go
farther? That was a question whose answer was hidden in the traveller's
own breast. He had not shown himself a communicative man at the best of
times, and to-night he looked like a man whose soul is weighed down by
the burden of a purpose which must he achieved at any cost of personal
He could not hear the names of the stations. He only heard those
guttural and inarticulate sounds which railway officials roar out upon
the darkness of the night, to the bewilderment of helpless travellers.
His inability to distinguish the names of the stations annoyed him. The
delay attendant upon every fresh stoppage worried him, as if the pause
had been the weary interval of an hour. He sat with his watch in his
hand; for every now and then he was seized with a sudden terror that the
train had fallen out of its regular pace, and was crawling slowly along
What if it should not reach Rugby until after the London express had
left the station?
Mr. Dunbar asked one of his fellow-travellers if this train was always
"Yes," the gentleman answered, coolly; "I believe it is generally pretty
regular. But I don't know how the snow may affect the engine. There have
been accidents in some parts of the country."
"In consequence of the depth of snow?"
"Yes. I understand so."
It was about ten minutes after this brief conversation, and within a
quarter of an hour of the time at which the train was due at Rugby, when
the carriage, which had rocked a good deal from the first, began to
oscillate very violently. One meagre little elderly traveller turned
rather pale, and looked nervously at his fellow-passengers; but the
young man who had spoken to Henry Dunbar, and a bald-headed
commercial-looking gentleman opposite to him, went on reading their
newspapers as coolly as if the rocking of the carriage had been no more
perilous than the lullaby motion of an infant's cradle, guided by a
mother's gentle foot.
Mr. Dunbar never took his eyes from the dial of his watch. So the
nervous traveller found no response to his look of terror.
He sat quietly for a minute or so, and then lowered the window near him,
and let in a rush of icy wind, whereat the bald-headed commercial
gentleman turned upon him rather fiercely, and asked him what he was
about, and if he wanted to give them all inflammation of the lungs, by
letting in an atmosphere that was two degrees below zero. But the little
elderly gentleman scarcely heard this remonstrance; his head was out of
the window, and he was looking eagerly Rugby-wards along the line.
"I'm afraid there's something wrong," he said, drawing in his head for a
moment, and looking with a scared white face at his fellow-passengers;
"I'm really afraid there's something wrong. We're eight minutes behind
our time, and I see the danger-signal up yonder, and the line seems
blocked up with snow, and I really fear----"
He looked out again, and then drew in his head very suddenly.
"There's something coming!" he cried; "there's an engine coming----"
He never finished his sentence. There was a horrible smashing, tearing,
grinding noise, that was louder than thunder, and more hideous than the
crashing of cannon against the wooden walls of a brave ship.
That horrible sound was followed by a yell almost as horrible; and then
there was nothing but death, and terror, and darkness, and anguish, and
bewilderment; masses of shattered woodwork and iron heaped in direful
confusion upon the blood-stained snow; human groans, stifled under the
wrecks of shivered carriages: the cries of mothers whose children had
been flung out of their arms into the very jaws of death; the piteous
wail of children, who clung, warm and living, to the breasts of dead
mothers, martyred in that moment of destruction; husbands parted from
their wives; wives shrieking for their husbands; and, amidst all, brave
men, with white faces, hurrying here and there, with lamps in their
hands, half-maimed and wounded some of them, but forgetful of themselves
in their care for the helpless wretches round them.
The express going northwards had run into the train from Shorncliffe,
which had come upon the main line just nine minutes too late.
One by one the dead and wounded were earned away from the great heap of
ruins; one by one the prostrate forms were borne away by quiet bearers,
who did their duty calmly and fearlessly in that hideous scene of havoc
and confusion. The great object to be achieved was the immediate
clearance of the line; and the sound of pickaxes and shovels almost
drowned those other dreadful sounds, the piteous moans of sufferers who
were so little hurt as to be conscious of their sufferings.
The train from Shorncliffe had been completely smashed. The northern
express had suffered much less; but the engine-driver had been killed,
and several of the passengers severely injured.
Henry Dunbar was amongst those who were carried away helpless, and, to
all appearance, lifeless from the ruin of the Shorncliffe train.
One of the banker's legs was broken, and he had received A blow upon the
head, which had rendered him immediately unconscious.
But there were cases much worse than that of the banker; the surgeon who
examined the sufferers said that Mr. Dunbar might recover from his
injuries in two or three months, if he was carefully treated. The
fracture of the leg was very simple; and if the limb was skilfully set,
there would not be the least fear of contraction.
Half-a-dozen surgeons were busy in one of the waiting-rooms at the Rugby
station, whither the sufferers had been conveyed, and one of them took
possession of the banker.
Mr. Dunbar's card-case had been found in the breast-pocket of his
overcoat, and a great many people in the waiting-room knew that the
gentleman with the white lace and grey moustache, lying so quietly upon
one of the broad sofas, was no less a personage than Henry Dunbar, of
Maudesley Abbey and St. Gundolph Lane. The surgeon knew it, and thought
his good angel had sent this particular patient across his pathway.
He made immediate arrangements for bearing off Mr. Dunbar to the nearest
hotel; he sent for his assistant; and in a quarter of an hour's time the
millionaire was restored to consciousness, and opened his eyes upon the
eager faces of two medical gentlemen, and upon a room that was strange
The banker looked about him with an expression of perplexity, and then
asked where he was. He knew nothing of the accident itself, and he had
quite lost the recollection of all that had occurred immediately before
the accident, or, indeed, from the time of his leaving Maudesley Abbey.
It was only little by little that the memory of the events of that day
returned to him. He had wanted to leave Maudesley; he had wanted to go
abroad--to go upon a journey--that was no new purpose in his mind. Had
he actually set out upon that journey? Yes, surely, he must have started
upon it; but what had happened, then?
He asked the surgeon what had happened, and why it was that he found
himself in that strange place.
Mr. Daphney, the Rugby surgeon, told his patient all about the accident,
in such a bland, pleasant way, that anybody might have thought the
collision of a couple of engines rather an agreeable little episode in a
"But we are doing admirably, sir," Mr. Daphney concluded; "nothing could
be more desirable than the way in which we are going on; and when our
leg has been set, and we've taken a cooling draught, we shall be, quite
comfortable for the night. I really never saw a cleaner fracture--never,
I can assure you."
But Mr. Dunbar raised himself into a sitting position, in spite of the
remonstrances of his medical attendant, and looked anxiously about him.
"You say this place is Rugby?" he asked, moodily.
"Yes, this is Rugby," answered the surgeon, smiling, and rubbing his
hands, almost as if he would have said, "Now, isn't _that_ delightful?"
"Yes, this is the Queen's Hotel, Rugby; and I'm sure that every
attention which the proprietor, Mr.----"
"I must get away from this place to-night," said Mr. Dunbar,
interrupting the surgeon rather unceremoniously.
"To-night, my dear sir!" cried Mr. Daphney; "impossible--utterly
impossible--suicide on your part, my dear sir, if you attempted it, and
murder upon mine, if I allowed you to carry out such an idea. You will
be a prisoner here for a month or so, sir, I regret to say; but we shall
do all in our power to make your sojourn agreeable."
The surgeon could not help looking cheerful as he made this
announcement; but seeing a very black and ominous expression upon the
face of his patient, he contrived to modify the radiance of his own
"Our first proceeding, sir, must be to straighten this poor leg," he
said, soothingly. "We shall place the leg in a cradle, from the thigh
downwards: but I won't trouble you with technical details. I doubt if we
shall be justified in setting the leg to-night; we must reduce the
swelling before we can venture upon any important step. A cooling
lotion, applied with linen cloths, must be kept on all night. I have
made arrangements for a nurse, and my assistant will also remain here
all night to supervise her movements."
The banker groaned aloud.
"I want to get to London," he said. "I must get to London!"
The surgeon and his assistant removed Mr. Dunbar's clothes. His trousers
had to be cut away from his broken leg before anything could be done.
Mr. Daphney removed his patient's coat and waistcoat; but the linen
shirt was left, and the chamois-leather belt worn by the banker was
under this shirt, next to and over a waistcoat of scarlet flannel.
"I wear a leather belt next my flannel waistcoat," Mr. Dunbar said, as
the two men were undressing him; "I don't wish it to be removed."
He fainted away presently, for his leg was very painful; and on reviving
from his fainting fit, he looked very suspiciously at his attendants,
and put his hand to the buckle of his belt, in order to make himself
sure that it had not been tampered with.
All through the long, feverish, restless night he lay pondering over
this miserable interruption of his journey, while the sick-nurse and the
surgeon's assistant alternately slopped cooling lotions about his
wretched broken leg.
"To think that _this_ should happen," he muttered to himself every now
and then. "Amongst all the things I've ever dreaded, I never thought of
His leg was set in the course of the next day, and in the evening he had
a long conversation with the surgeon.
This time Henry Dunbar did not speak so much of his anxiety to get away
upon the second stage of his continental journey. His servant Jeffreys
arrived at Rugby in the course of the day; for the news of the accident
had reached Maudesley Abbey, and it was known that Mr. Dunbar had been a
To-night Henry Dunbar only spoke of the misery of being in a strange
"I want to get back to Maudesley," he said. "If you can manage to take
me there, Mr. Daphney, and look after me until I've got over the effects
of this accident, I shall be very happy to make you any compensation you
please for whatever loss your absence from Rugby might entail upon you."
This was a very diplomatic speech: Mr. Dunbar knew that the surgeon
would not care to let so rich a patient out of his hands; but he fancied
that Mr. Daphney would have no objection to carrying his patient in
triumph to Maudesley Abbey, to the admiration of the unprofessional
public, and to the aggravation of rival medical men.
He was not mistaken in his estimate of human nature. At the end of the
week he had succeeded in persuading the surgeon to agree to his removal;
and upon the second Monday after the railway accident, Henry Dunbar was
placed in a compartment which was specially prepared for him in the
Shorncliffe train, and was conveyed from Shorncliffe station to
Maudesley Abbey, without undergoing any change of position upon the
road, and very carefully tended throughout the journey by Mr. Daphney
and Jeffreys the valet.
They wheeled Mr. Dunbar's bed into his favourite tapestried chamber, and
laid him there, to drag out long dreary days and nights, waiting till
his broken bones should unite, and he should be free to go whither he
pleased. He was not a very patient sufferer; he bore the pain well
enough, but he chafed perpetually against the delay; and every morning
he asked the surgeon the same question--
"When shall I be strong enough to walk about?"
CLEMENT AUSTIN MAKES A SACRIFICE.
Margaret Wilmot had promised to become the wife of the man she loved;
but she had given that promise very reluctantly, and only upon one
condition. The condition was, that, before her marriage with Clement
Austin took place, the mystery of her father's death should be cleared
up for ever.
"I cannot be your wife so long as the secret of that cruel deed remains
unknown," she said to Clement. "It seems to me as if I have already
been, wickedly neglectful of a solemn duty. Who had my father to love
him and remember him in all the world but me? and who should avenge his
death if I do not? He was an outcast from society; and people think it a
very small thing that, after having led a reckless life, he should die a
cruel death. If Henry Dunbar, the rich banker, had been murdered, the
police would never have rested until the assassin had been discovered.
But who cares what became of Joseph Wilmot, except his daughter? His
death makes no blank in the world: except to me--except to me!"
Clement Austin did not forget his promise to do his uttermost towards
the discovery of the banker's guilt. He believed that Henry Dunbar was
the murderer of his old servant; and he had believed it ever since that
day upon which the banker stole, like a detected thief, out of the house
in St. Gundolph Lane.
It was just possible that Henry Dunbar might avoid Joseph Wilmot's
daughter from a natural horror of the events connected with his return
to England; but that the banker should resort to a cowardly stratagem to
escape from an interview with the girl could scarcely be accounted for,
except by the fact of his guilt.
He had an insurmountable terror of seeing this girl, because he was the
murderer of her father.
The longer Clement Austin deliberated upon this business the more
certainly he came to that one terrible conclusion: Henry Dunbar was
guilty. He would gladly have thought otherwise: and he would have been
very happy had he been able to tell Margaret Wilmot that the mystery of
her father's death was a mystery that would never be solved upon this
earth: but he could not do so; he could only bow his head before the
awful necessity that urged him on to take his part in this drama of
crime--the part of an avenger.
But a cashier in a London bank has very little time to play any part in
life's history, except that quiet _role_ which seems chiefly to consist
in locking and unlocking iron safes, peering furtively into mysterious
ledgers, and shovelling about new sovereigns as coolly as if they were
Wallsend or Clay-Cross coals.
Clement Austin's life was not an easy one, and he had no time to turn
amateur detective, even in the service of the woman ha loved.
He had no time to turn amateur detective so long as he remained at the
banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane.
But could he remain there? That question arose in his mind, and took a
very serious form. Was it possible to remain in that house when he
believed the principal member of it to be one of the most infamous of
No; it was quite impossible for him to remain in his present situation.
So long as he took a salary from Dunbar, Dunbar and Balderby, he was in
a manner under obligation to Henry Dunbar. He could not remain in this
man's service, and yet at the same time play the spy upon his actions,
and work heart and soul to drag the dreadful secret of his life into the
light of day.
Thus it was that towards the close of the week in which Henry Dunbar,
for the first time after his return from India, visited the
banking-offices, Clement Austin handed a formal notice of resignation to
Mr. Balderby. The cashier could not immediately resign his situation,
but was compelled to give his employers a month's notice of the
withdrawal of his services.
A thunderbolt falling upon the morocco-covered writing-table in Mr.
Balderby's private parlour could scarcely have been more astonishing to
the junior partner than this letter which Clement Austin handed him very
quietly and very respectfully.
There were many reasons why Clement Austin should remain in the
banking-house. His father had lived for thirty years, and had eventually
died, in the employment of Dunbar and Dunbar. He had been a great
favourite with the brothers; and Clement had been admitted into the
house as a boy, and had received much notice from Percival. More than
this, he had every chance of being admitted ere long to a junior
partnership upon very easy terms, which junior partnership would of
course be the high-road to a great fortune.
Mr. Balderby sat with the letter open in his hands, staring at the lines
before him as if he was scarcely able to comprehend their purport.
"Do you _mean_ this, Austin?" he said at last.
"Yes, sir. Circumstances over which I have no control compel me to offer
you my resignation."
"Have you quarrelled with anybody in the office? Has anything occurred
in the house that has made you uncomfortable?"
"No, indeed, Mr. Balderby; I am very comfortable in my position."
The junior partner leaned back in his chair, and stared at the cashier
as if he had been trying to detect the traces of incipient insanity in
the young man's countenance.
"You are comfortable in your position, and yet you--Oh! I suppose the
real truth of the matter is, that you have heard of something better,
and you are ready to give us the go-by in order to improve your own
circumstances?" said Mr. Balderby, with a tone of pique; "though I
really don't see how you can very well be better off anywhere than you
are here," he added, thoughtfully.
"You do me wrong, sir, when you think that I could willingly leave you
for my own advantage," Clement answered, quietly. "I have no better
engagement, nor have I even a prospect of any engagement."
"You haven't!" exclaimed the junior partner; "and yet you throw away
such a chance as only falls to the lot of one man in a thousand! I don't
particularly care about guessing riddles, Mr. Austin; perhaps you'll be
kind enough to tell me frankly why you want to leave us?"
"I regret to say that it is impossible for me to do so, sir," replied
the cashier; "my motive for leaving this house, which is a kind of
second home to me, is no frivolous one, believe me. I have weighed well
the step I am about to take, and I am quite aware that I sacrifice very
excellent prospects in throwing up my present situation. But the reason
of my resignation must remain a secret; for the present at least. If
ever the day comes when I am able to explain my conduct, I believe that
you will give me your hand, and say to me, 'Clement Austin, you only did
"Clement," said Mr. Balderby, "you are an excellent fellow; but you
certainly must have got some romantic crotchet in your head, or you
could never have thought of writing such a letter as this. Are you going
to be married? Is that your reason for leaving us? Have you fascinated
some wealthy heiress, and are you going to retire into splendid
"No, sir. I am engaged to be married; but the lady whom I hope to call
my wife is poor, and I have every necessity to be a working man for the
rest of my life."
"Well, then, my dear fellow, it's a riddle; and, as I said before, I'm
not good at guessing enigmas. There, my boy; go home and sleep upon
this; and come back to me to-morrow morning, and tell me to throw this
stupid letter in the fire--that's the wisest thing you can do. Good
But, in spite of all that Mr. Balderby could say, Clement Austin
steadily adhered to his resolution. He worked early and late during the
month in which he remained at his post, preparing the ledgers, balancing
accounts, and making things straight and easy for the new cashier. He
told Margaret Wilmot of what he had done, but he did not tell her the
extent of the sacrifice which he had made for her sake. She was the only
person who knew the real motive of his conduct, for to his mother he
said very little more than he had said to Mr. Balderby.
"I shall be able to tell you my motives for leaving the banking-house at
some future time, dear mother," he said; "until that time I can only
entreat you to trust me, and to believe that I have acted for the best."
"I do believe it, my dear," answered the widow, cheerfully; "when did
you ever do anything that wasn't wise and good?"
Her only son, Clement, was the god of this simple woman's idolatry; and
if he had seen fit to turn her out of doors, and ask her to beg by his
side in the streets of the city, I doubt if she would not have imagined
some hidden wisdom lurking at the bottom of his apparently irrational
proceedings. So she made no objection to his abandoning his desk in the
house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.
"We shall be poorer, I suppose, Clem," Mrs. Austin said; "but that's
very little consequence, for your dear father left me so comfortably off
that I can very well afford to keep house for my only son; and I shall
have you more at home, dear, and that will indeed be happiness."
But Clement told his mother that he had some very important business on
hand just then, which would occupy him a good deal; and indeed the first
step necessary would be a journey to Shorncliffe, in Warwickshire.
"Why, that's where you went to school, Clem!"
"And it's near Mr. Percival Dunbar--or, at least, Mr. Dunbar's country
"Yes, mother," answered Clement. "Now the business in which I am engaged
is--is rather of a difficult nature, and I want legal help. My old
schoolfellow, Arthur Lovell, who is as good a fellow as ever breathed,
has been educated for the law, and is now a solicitor. He lives at
Shorncliffe with his father, John Lovell, who is also a solicitor, and a
man of some standing in the county. I shall run down to Shorncliffe, see
my old friend, and get has advice; and if you'll bring Margaret down for
a few days' change of air, we'll stop at the dear old Reindeer, where
you used to come, mother, when I was at school, and where you used to
give me such jolly dinners in the days when a good dinner was a treat to
a hungry schoolboy."
Mrs. Austin smiled at her son; she smiled tenderly as she remembered his
bright boyhood. Mothers with only sons are not very strong-minded. Had
Clement proposed a trip to the moon, she would scarcely have known how
to refuse him her company on the expedition.
She shivered a little, and looked rather doubtfully from the blazing;
fire which lit up the cozy drawing-room to the cold grey sky outside the
"The beginning of January isn't the pleasantest time in the year for a
trip into the country, Clem, dear," she said; "but I should certainly be
very lonely at home without you. And as to poor Madge, of course it
would be a great treat to her to get away from her pupils and have a
peep at the genuine country, even though there isn't a single leaf upon
the trees. So I suppose I must say yes. But do tell me all about this
business there's a dear good boy."
Unfortunately the dear good boy was obliged to tell his mother that the
business in question was, like his motive for resigning his situation, a
profound secret, and that it must remain so for some time to come.
"Wait, dear mother," he said; "you shall know all about it by-and-by.
Believe me, when I tell you that it's not a very pleasant business," he
added, with a sigh.
"It's not unpleasant for you, I hope, Clement?"
"It isn't pleasant for any one who is concerned in it, mother," answered
the young man, thoughtfully; "it's altogether a miserable business; but
I'm not concerned in it as a principal, you know, dear mother; and when
it's all over we shall only look back upon it as the passing of a black
cloud over our lives, and you will say that I have done my duty. Dearest
mother, don't look so puzzled," added Clement; "this matter _must_
remain a secret for the present. Only wait, and trust me."
"I will, my dear boy," Mrs. Austin said, presently. "I will trust you
with all my heart; for I know how good you are. But I don't like
secrets, Clem; secrets always make me uncomfortable."
No more was said upon this subject, and it was arranged by-and-by that
Mrs. Austin and Margaret should prepare to start for Warwickshire at the
beginning of the following week, when Clement would be freed from all
engagements to Messrs. Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.
Margaret had waited very patiently for this time, in which Clement would
be free to give her all his help in that awful task which lay before
her--the discovery of Henry Dunbar's guilt.
"You will go to Shorncliffe with my mother," Clement Austin said, upon
the evening after his conversation with the widow; "you will go with
her, Madge, ostensibly upon a little pleasure trip. Once there, we shall
be able to contrive an interview with Mr. Dunbar. He is a prisoner at
Maudesley Abbey, laid up by the effect of his accident the other day,
but not too ill to see people, Balderby says; therefore I should think
we may be able to plan an interview between you and him. You still hold
to your original purpose? You wish to _see_ Henry Dunbar?"
"Yes," answered Margaret, thoughtfully; "I want to see him. I want to
look straight into the face of the man whom I believe to be my father's
murderer. I don't know why it is, but this purpose has been uppermost in
my mind ever since I heard of that dreadful journey to Winchester; ever
since I first knew that my father had been murdered while travelling
with Henry Dunbar. It might, as you have said, be wiser to watch and
wait, and to avoid all chance of alarming this man. But I can't be wise.
I want to see him. I want to look in his face, and see if his eyes can
"You shall see him then, dear girl. A woman's instinct is sometimes
worth more than a man's wisdom. You shall see Henry Dunbar. I know that
my old schoolfellow Arthur Lovell will help me, with all his heart and
soul. I have called again upon the Scotland-Yard people, and I gave them
a minute description of the scene in St. Gundolph Lane; but they only
shrugged their shoulders, and said the circumstances looked queer, but
were not strong enough to act upon. If any body can help us, Arthur
Lovell can; for he was present at the inquest and all further
examination of the witnesses at Winchester."
If Margaret Wilmot and Clement Austin had been going upon any other
errand than that which took them to Warwickshire, the journey to
Shorncliffe might have been very pleasant to them.
To Margaret, this comfortable journey in the cushioned corner of a
first-class carriage, respectfully waited upon by the man she loved,
possessed at least the charm of novelty. Her journeys hitherto had been
long wearisome pilgrimages in draughty third-class carriages, with noisy
company, and in an atmosphere pervaded by a powerful effluvium of
various kinds of alcohol.
Her life had been a very hard one, darkened by the ever-brooding shadow
of disgrace. It was new to her to sit quietly looking out at the low
meadows and glimmering white-walled villas, the patches of sparse
woodland, the distant villages, the glimpses of rippling water, shining
in the wintry sun. It was new to her to be loved by people whose minds
were unembittered by the baneful memories of wrong and crime. It was new
to her to hear gentle voices, sweet Christian-like words: it was new to
her to breathe the bright atmosphere that surrounds those who lead a
virtuous, God-fearing life.
But there is little sunshine without its attendant shadow. The shadow
upon Margaret's life now was the shadow of that coming task--that
horrible work which must be done--before she could be free to thank God
for His mercies, and to be happy.
The London train reached Shorncliffe early in the afternoon. Clement
Austin hired a roomy old fly, and carried off his companions to the
The Reindeer was a comfortable old-fashioned hotel. It had been a very
grand place in the coaching-days, and you entered the hostelry by a
broad and ponderous archway, under which Highflyers and Electrics had
driven triumphantly in the days that were for ever gone.
The house was a roomy old place, with long corridors and wide
staircases; noble staircases, with broad, slippery, oaken banisters and
shallow steps. The rooms were grand and big, with bow windows so
spotless in their cleanness that they had rather a cold effect on a
January day, and were apt to inspire in the vulgar mind the fancy that a
little dirt or smoke would look warmer and more comfortable. Certainly,
if the Reindeer had a fault, it was that it was too clean. Everything
was actually slippery with cleanness, from the newly-calendered chintz
that covered the sofa and the chair-cushions to the copper coal-scuttle
that glittered by the side of the dazzling brass fender. There were
faint odours of soft soap in the bed-chambers, which no amount of dried
lavender could overcome. There was an effluvium of vitriol about all the
brass-work, and there was a good deal of brass-work in the Reindeer: and
if one species of decoration is more conducive to shivering than
another, it certainly is brass-work in a state of high polish.
There was no dish ever devised by mortal cook which the sojourner at the
Reindeer could not have, according to the preliminary statement of the
landlord; but with whatever ambitious design the sojourner began to talk
about dinner, it always ended, somehow or other, by his ordering a
chicken, a little bit of boiled bacon, a dish of cutlets, and a tart.
There were days upon which divers species of fish were to be had in
Shorncliffe, but the sojourner at the Reindeer rarely happened to hit
upon one of those days.
Clement Austin installed Margaret and the widow in a sitting-room which
would have comfortably accommodated about forty people. There was a
bow-window quite large enough for the requirements of a small family,
and Mrs. Austin settled herself there, while the landlord was struggling
with a refractory fire, and pretending not to know that the grate was
Clement went through the usual fiction of deliberation as to what he
should have for dinner, and of course ended with the perennial chicken
"I haven't the fine appetite I had fifteen years ago, Mr. Gilwood," he
said to the landlord, "when my mother yonder, who hasn't grown fifteen
days older in all those fifteen years,--bless her dear motherly
heart!--used to come down to see me at the academy in the Lisford Road,
and give me a dinner in this dear old room. I thought your cutlets the
most ethereal morsels ever dished by mortal cook, Mr. Gilwood, and this
room the best place in all the world. You know Mr. Lovell--Mr. Arthur
"Yes, sir; and a very nice young gentleman he is."
"He's settled in Shorncliffe, I suppose?"
"Well, I believe he is, sir. There was some talk of his going out to
India, in a Government appointment, sir, or something of that sort; but
I'm given to understand that it's all off now, and that Mr. Arthur is to
go into partnership with his father; and a very clever young lawyer he
is, I've been told."
"So much the better," answered Clement, "for I want to consult him upon
a little matter of business. Good-bye, mother! Take care of Madge, and
make yourselves as comfortable as you can. I think the fire will burn
now, Mr. Gilwood. I shan't be away above an hour, I dare say; and then
I'll come and take you for a walk before dinner. God bless you, my poor
Madge!" Clement whispered, as Margaret followed him to the door of the
room, and looked wistfully after him as he went down the staircase.
Mrs. Austin had once cherished ambitious views with regard to her son's
matrimonial prospects; but she had freely given them up when she found
that he had set his heart upon winning Margaret Wilmot for his wife. The
good mother had made this sacrifice willingly and without complaint, as
she would have made any other sacrifice for her dearly-beloved only son;
and she found the reward of her devotion; for Margaret, this penniless,
friendless girl, had become very dear to her--a real daughter, not in
law, but bound by the sweet ties of gratitude and affection.
"And I was such a silly old creature, my dear," the widow said to
Margaret, as they sat in the bow-window looking out into the quiet
street; "I was so worldly-minded that I wanted Clement to marry a rich
woman, so that I might have some stuck-up daughter-in-law, who would
despise her husband's mother, and estrange my boy from me, and make my
old age miserable. That's what I wanted, Madge, and what I might have
had, perhaps, if Clem hadn't been wiser than his silly old mother. And,
thanks to him, I've got the sweetest, truest, brightest girl that ever
lived; though you are not as bright as usual to-day, Madge," Mrs. Austin
added, thoughtfully. "You haven't smiled once this morning, my dear, and
you seem as if you'd something on your mind."
"I've been thinking of my poor father," Margaret answered, quietly.
"To be sure, my dear; and I might have known as much, my poor
tender-hearted lamb. I know how unhappy those thoughts always make you."
Clement Austin had not been at Shorncliffe for three years. He had
visited Maudesley Abbey several times during the lifetime of Percival
Dunbar, for he had been a favourite with the old man; and he had been
four years at a boarding-school kept by a clergyman of the Church of
England in a fine old brick mansion on the Lisford Road.
The town of Shorncliffe was therefore familiar to Mr. Austin; and he
looked neither to the right nor to the left as he walked towards the
archway of St. Gwendoline's Church, near which Mr. Lovell's house was
He found Arthur at home, and very delighted to see his old schoolfellow.
The two young men went into a little panelled room, looting into the
garden, a cosy little room which Arthur Lovell called his study; and
here they sat together for upwards of an hour, discussing the
circumstances of the murder at Winchester, and the conduct of Mr. Dunbar
since that event.
In the course of that interview, Clement Austin plainly perceived that
Arthur Lovell had come to the same conclusion as himself, though the
young lawyer was slow to express his opinion.
"I cannot bear to think it," he said; "I know Laura Dunbar--that is to
say, Lady Jocelyn--and it is too horrible to me to imagine that her
father is guilty of this crime. What would be that innocent girl's
feelings if it should be so, and if her father's guilt should be brought
home to him!"
"Yes, it would be very terrible for Lady Jocelyn, no doubt," Clement
answered; "but that consideration must not hinder the course of justice.
I think this man's position has served him as a shield from the very
first. People have thought it next to impossible that Henry Dunbar could
be guilty of a crime, while they would have been ready enough to suspect
some penniless vagabond of any iniquity."
Arthur Lovell told Clement that the banker was still at Maudesley, bound
a prisoner by his broken leg, which was going on favourably enough, but
Mr. Dunbar had expressed a wish to go abroad, in spite of his broken
leg, and had only desisted from his design of being conveyed somehow or
other from place to place, when he was told that any such imprudence
might result in permanent lameness.
"Keep yourself quiet, and submit to the necessities of your accident,
and you'll recover quickly," the surgeon told his patient. "Try to hurry
the work of nature, and you'll have cause to repent your impatience for
the remainder of your life."
So Henry Dunbar had been obliged to submit himself to the decrees of
Fate, and to lie day after day, and night after night, upon his bed in
the tapestried chamber, staring at the fire, or the figure of his valet
and attendant; nodding in the easy-chair by the hearth; or listening to
the cinders falling from the grate, and the moaning of the winter wind
amongst the bare branches of the elms.
The banker was getting better and stronger every day, Arthur Lovell
said. His attendants were able to remove him from one chamber to
another; a pair of crutches had been made for him, but he had not yet
been able to make his first feeble trial of them. He was fain to content
himself with being carried to an easy-chair, to sit for a few hours,
wrapped in blankets, with the leopard-skin rug about his legs. No man
could have been more completely a prisoner than this man had become by
the result of the fatal accident near Rugby.
"Providence has thrown him into my power," Margaret said, when Clement
repeated to her the information which he had received from Arthur
Lovell,--"Providence has thrown this man into my power; for he can no
longer escape, and, surrounded by his own servants, he will scarcely
dare to refuse to see me; he will surely never be so unwise as to betray
his terror of me."
"And if he does refuse----"
"If he does, I'll invent some stratagem by which I may see him. But he
will not refuse. When he finds that I am so resolute as to follow him
here, he will not refuse to see me."
This conversation took place during a brief walk which the lovers took
in the wintry dusk, while Mrs. Austin nodded by the fire in that
comfortable half-hour which precedes dinner.
WHAT HAPPENED AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY.
Early the next day Clement Austin walked to Maudesley Abbey, in order to
procure all the information likely to facilitate Margaret Wilmot's grand
purpose. He stopped at the gate of the principal lodge. The woman who
kept it was an old servant of the Dunbar family, and had known Clement
Austin in Percival Dunbar's lifetime. She gave him a hearty welcome, and
he had no difficulty whatever in setting her tongue in motion upon the
subject of Henry Dunbar.
She told him a great deal; she told him that the present owner of the
Abbey never had been liked, and never would be liked: for his stern and
gloomy manner was so unlike his father's easy, affable good-nature, that
people were always drawing comparisons between the dead man and the
This, in a few words, is the substance of what the worthy woman said in
a good many words. Mrs. Grumbleton gave Clement all the information he
required as to the banker's daily movements at the present time. Henry
Dunbar was now in the habit of rising about two o'clock in the day, at
which time he was assisted from his bedroom to his sitting-room, where
he remained until seven or eight o'clock in the evening. He had no
visitors, except the surgeon, Mr. Daphney, who lived in the Abbey, and a
gentleman called Vernon, who had bought Woodbine Cottage, near Lisford,
and who now and then was admitted to Mr. Dunbar's sitting-room.
This was all Clement Austin wanted to know. Surely it might be possible,
with a little clever management, to throw the banker completely off his
guard, and to bring about the long-delayed interview between him and
Clement returned to the Reindeer, had a brief conversation with
Margaret, and made all arrangements.
At four o'clock that afternoon, Miss Wilmot and her lover left the
Reindeer in a fly; at a quarter to five the fly stopped at the
"I will walk to the house," Margaret said; "my coming will attract less
notice. But I may be detained for some time, Clement. Pray, don't wait
for me. Your dear mother will be alarmed if you are very long absent. Go
back to her, and send the fly for me by-and-by."
"Nonsense, Madge. I shall wait for you, however long you may be. Do you
think my heart is not as much engaged in anything that may influence
your fate as even your own can be? I won't go with you to the Abbey; for
it will be as well that Henry Dunbar should remain in ignorance of my
presence in the neighbourhood. I will walk up and down the road here,
and wait for you."
"But you may have to wait so long, Clement."
"No matter how long. I can wait patiently, but I could not endure to go
home and leave you, Madge."
They were standing before the great iron gates as Clement said this. He
pressed Margaret's cold hand; he could feel how cold it was, even
through her glove; and then rang the bell. She looked at him as the gate
was opened; she turned and looked at him with a strangely earnest gaze
as she crossed the boundary of Henry Dunbar's domain, and then walked
slowly along the broad avenue.
That last look had shown Clement Austin a pale resolute face, something
like the countenance of a fair young martyr going quietly to the stake.
He walked away from the gates, and they shut behind him with a loud
clanging noise. Then he went back to them, and watched Margaret's figure
growing dim and distant in the gathering dusk as she approached the
Abbey. A faint glow of crimson firelight reddened the gravel-drive
before the windows of Mr. Dunbar's apartments, and there was a footman
airing himself under the shadow of the porch, with a glimmer of light
shining out of the hall behind him.
"I do not suppose I shall have to wait very long for my poor girl,"
Clement thought, as he left the gates, and walked briskly up and down
the road. "Henry Dunbar is a resolute man; he will refuse to see her
to-day, as he refused before."
Margaret found the footman lolling against the clustered pillars of the
gothic porch, staring thoughtfully at the low evening light, yellow and
red behind the brown trunks of the elms, and picking his teeth with a
The sight of the open hall-door, and this languid footman lolling in the
porch, suddenly inspired Margaret Wilmot with a new idea. Would it not
be possible to slip quietly past this man, and walk straight to the
apartments of Mr. Dunbar, unquestioned, uninterrupted?
Clement had pointed out to her the windows of the rooms occupied by the
banker. They were on the left-hand side of the entrance-hall. It would
be impossible for her to mistake the door leading to them. It was dusk,
and she was very plainly dressed, with a black straw bonnet, and a veil
over her face. Surely she might deceive this languid footman by
affecting to be some hanger-on of the household, which of course was a
In that case she had no right to present herself at the front door,
certainly; but then, before the languid footman could recover from the
first shock of indignation at her impertinence, she might slip past him
and reach the door leading to those apartments in which the banker hid
himself and his guilt.
Margaret lingered a little in the avenue, watching for a favourable
opportunity in which she might hazard this attempt. She waited five
minutes or so.
The curve of the avenue screened her, in some wise, from the man in the
porch, who never happened to roll his languid eyes towards the spot
where she was standing.
A flight of rooks came scudding through the sky presently, very much
excited, and cawing and screeching as if they had been an ornithological
fire brigade hurrying to extinguish the flames of some distant rookery.
The footman, who was suffering acutely from the complaint of not knowing
what to do with himself, came out of the porch and stood in the middle
of the gravelled drive, with his back towards Margaret, staring at the
birds as they flew westward.
This was her opportunity. The girl hurried to the door with a light
step, so light upon the smooth solid gravel that the footman heard
nothing until she was on the broad stone step under the porch, when the
fluttering of her skirt, as it brushed against the pillars, roused him
from a species of trance or reverie.
He turned sharply round, as upon a pivot, and stared aghast at the
retreating figure under the porch.
"Hi, you there, young woman!" he exclaimed, without stirring from his
post; "where are you going to? What's the meaning of your coming to this
door? Are you aware that there's such a place as a servants' 'all and a
But the languid retainer was too late. Margaret's hand was upon the
massive knob of the door upon the left side of the hall before the
footman had put this last indignant question.
He listened for an apologetic murmur from the young woman; but hearing
none, concluded that she had found her way to the servants' hall, where
she had most likely some business or other with one of the female
members of the household.
"A dressmaker, I dessay," the footman thought. "Those gals spend all
their earnings in finery and fallals, instead of behaving like
respectable young women, and saving up their money against they can go
into the public line with the man of their choice."
He yawned, and went on staring at the rooks, without troubling himself
any further about the impertinent young person who had dared to present
herself at the grand entrance.
Margaret opened the door, and went into the room next the hall.
It was a handsome apartment, lined with books from the floor to the
ceiling; but it was quite empty, and there was no fire burning in the
grate. The girl put up her veil, and looked about her. She was very,
very pale now, and trembled violently; but she controlled her agitation
by a great effort, and went slowly on to the next room.
The second room was empty like the first; but the door between it and
the next chamber was wide open, and Margaret saw the firelight shining
upon the faded tapestry, and reflected in the sombre depths of the
polished oak furniture. She heard the low sound of the light ashes
falling on the hearth, and the shorting breath of a dog.
She knew that the man she sought, and had so long sought without avail,
was in that room. Alone; for there was no murmur of voices, no sound of
any one moving in the apartment. That hour, to which Margaret Wilmot had
looked as the great crisis of her life, had come; and her courage failed
her all at once, and her heart sank in her breast on the very threshold
of the chamber in which she was to stand face to face with Henry Dunbar.
"The murderer of my father!" she thought; "the man whose influence
blighted my father's life, and made him what he was. The man through
whose reckless sin my father lived a life that left him, oh! how sadly
unprepared to die! The man who, knowing this, sent his victim before an
offended God, without so much warning as would have given him time to
think one prayer. I am going to meet _that_ man face to face!"
Her breath came in faint gasps, and the firelit chamber swam before her
eyes as she crossed the threshold of that door, and went into the room
where Henry Dunbar was sitting alone before the low fire.
He was wrapped in crimson draperies of thick woollen stuff, and the
leopard-skin railway rug was muffled about his knees A dog of the
bull-dog breed was lying asleep at the banker's feet, half-hidden in the
folds of the leopard-skin. Henry Dunbar's head was bent over the fire,
and his eyes were closed in a kind of dozing sleep, as Margaret Wilmot
went into the room.
There was an empty chair opposite to that in which the banker sat; an
old-fashioned, carved oak-chair, with a high back and crimson-morocco
cushions. Margaret went softly up to this chair, and laid her hand upon
the oaken framework. Her footsteps made no sound on the thick Turkey
carpet; the banker never stirred from his doze, and even the dog at his
feet slept on.
"Mr. Dunbar!" cried Margaret, in a clear, resolute voice; "awake! it is
I, Margaret Wilmot, the daughter of the man who was murdered in the
grove near Winchester!"
The dog awoke, and snapped at her. The man lifted his head, and looked
at her. Even the fire seemed roused by the sound of her voice! for a
little jet of vivid light leaped up out of the smouldering log, and
lighted the scared face of the banker.
Clement Austin had promised Margaret to wait for her, and to wait
patiently; and he meant to keep his promise. But there are some limits
even to the patience of a lover, though he were the veriest
knight-errant who was ever eager to shiver a lance or hack the edge of a
battle-axe for love of his liege lady. When you have nothing to do but
to walk up and down a few yards of hard dusty high-road, upon a bleak
evening in January, an hour more or less is of considerable importance.
Five o'clock struck about ten minutes after Margaret Wilmot had entered
the park, and Clement thought to himself that even if Margaret were
successful in obtaining an interview with the banker, that interview
would be over before six. But the faint strokes of Lisford-church clock
died away upon the cold evening wind, and Clement was still pacing up
and down, and the fly was still waiting; the horse comfortable enough,
with a rug upon his back and his nose in a bag of oats; the man walking
up and down by the side of the vehicle, slapping his gloved hands across
his shoulders every now and then to keep himself warm. In that long hour
between six and seven, Clement Austin's patience wore itself almost
threadbare. It is one thing to ride into the lists on a prancing steed,
caparisoned with embroidered trappings, worked by the fair hands of your
lady-love, and with the trumpets braying, and the populace shouting, and
the Queen of beauty smiling sweet approval of your prowess: but it is
quite another thing to walk up and down a dusty country road, with the
wind biting like some ravenous animal at the tip of your nose, and no
more consciousness of your legs and arms than if you were a Miss Biffin.
By the time seven o'clock struck, Clement Austin's patience had given up
the ghost; and to impatience had succeeded a vague sense of alarm.
Margaret Wilmot had gone to force herself into this man's presence, in
spite of his reiterated refusal to see her. What if--what if, goaded by
her persistence, maddened by the consciousness of his own guilt, he
should attempt any violence.
Oh, no, no; that was quite impossible. If this man was guilty, his crime
had been deliberately planned, and executed with such a diabolical
cunning, that he had been able so far to escape detection. In his own
house, surrounded by prying servants, he would never dare to assail this
girl by so much as a harsh word.
But, notwithstanding this, Clement was determined to wait no longer. He
would go to the Abbey at once, and ascertain the cause of Margaret's
delay. He rang the bell, went into the park, and ran along the avenue to
the perch. Lights were shining in Mr. Dunbar's windows, but the great
hall-door was closely shut.
The languid footman came in answer to Clement's summons.
"There is a young lady here," Clement said, breathlessly; "a young
lady--with Mr. Dunbar."
"Ho! is that hall?" asked the footman, satirically. "I thought
Shorncliffe town-'all was a-fire, at the very least, from the way you
rung. There _was_ a young pusson with Mr. Dunbar above a hour ago, if
_that's_ what you mean?"
"Above an hour ago?" cried Clement Austin, heedless of the man's
impertinence in his own growing anxiety; "do you mean to say that the
young lady has left?"
"She _have_ left, above a hour ago."
"She went away from this house an hour ago?"
"More than a hour ago."
"Impossible!" Clement said; "impossible!"
"It may be so," answered the footman, who was of an ironical turn of
mind; "but I let her out with my own hands, and I saw her go out with my
own eyes, notwithstanding."
The man shut the door before Clement had recovered from his surprise,
and left him standing in the porch; bewildered, though he scarcely knew
why; frightened, though he scarcely knew what he feared.
For some minutes Clement Austin lingered in the porch at Maudesley
Abbey, utterly at a loss as to what he should do next.
Margaret had left the Abbey an hour ago, according to the footman's
statement; but, in that case, where had she gone? Clement had been
walking up and down the road before the iron gates of the park, and they
had not been opened once during the hours in which he had waited outside
them. Margaret could not have left the park, therefore, by the principal
entrance. If she had gone away at all, she must have gone out by one of
the smaller gates--by the lodge-gate upon the Lisford Road, perhaps, and
thus back to Shorncliffe.
"But then, why, in Heaven's name, had Margaret set out to walk home when
the fly was waiting for her at the gates; when her lover was also
waiting for her, full of anxiety to know the result of the step she had
"She forgot that I was waiting for her, perhaps," Clement thought to
himself. "She may have forgotten all about me, in the fearful excitement
of this night's work."
The young man was by no means pleased by this idea.
"Margaret can love me very little, in that case," he said to himself.
"My first thought, in any great crisis of my life, would be to go to
her, and tell her all that had happened to me."
There were no less than four different means of exit from the park.
Clement Austin knew this, and he knew that it would take him upwards of
two hours to go to all four of them.
"I'll make inquiries at the gate upon the Lisford Road," he said to
himself; "and if I find Margaret has left by that way, I can get the fly
round there, and pick her up between this and Shorncliffe. Poor girl, in
her ignorance of this neighbourhood, she has no idea of the distance she
will have to walk!"
Mr. Austin could not help feeling vexed by Margaret's conduct; but he
did all he could to save the girl from the fatigue she was likely to
entail upon herself through her own folly. He ran to the lodge upon the
Lisford Road, and asked the woman who kept it, if a lady had gone out
about an hour before.
The woman told him that a young lady had gone out an hour and a half
This was enough. Clement ran across the park to the western entrance,
got into the fly, and told the man to drive back to Shorncliffe, by the
Lisford Road, as fast as he could go, and to look out on the way for the
young lady whom he had driven to Maudesley Abbey that afternoon.
"You watch the left side of the road, I'll watch the right," Clement
The driver was cold and cross, but he was anxious to get back to
Shorncliffe, and he drove very fast.
Clement sat with the window down, and the frosty wind blowing full upon
his face as he looted out for Margaret.
But he reached Shorncliffe without having overtaken her, and the fly
crawled under the ponderous archway beneath which the dashing
mail-coaches had rolled in the days that were for ever gone.
"She must have got home before me," the cashier thought; "I shall find
her up-stairs with my mother."
He went up to the large room with the bow-window. The table in the
centre of the room was laid for dinner, and Mrs. Austin was nodding in a
great arm-chair near the fire, with the county newspaper in her lap. The
wax-candles were lighted, the crimson curtains were drawn before the
bow-window, and the room looked altogether very comfortable: but there
was no Margaret.
The widow started up at the sound of the opening of the door and her
son's hurried footsteps.
"Why, Clement," she cried, "how late you are! I seem to have been
sitting dozing here for full two hours; and the fire has been
replenished three times since the cloth was laid for dinner. What have
you been doing, my dear boy?"
Clement looked about him before he answered.
"Yes, I am very late, mother, I know," he said; "but where's Margaret?"
Mrs. Austin stared aghast at her son's question.
"Why, Margaret is with you, is she not?" she exclaimed.
"No, mother; I expected to find her here."
"Did you leave her, then?"
"No, not exactly; that is to say, I----"
Clement did not finish the sentence. He walked slowly up and down the
room thinking, whilst his mother watched him very anxiously.
"My dear Clement," Mrs. Austin exclaimed at last, "you really quite
alarm me. You set out this afternoon upon some mysterious expedition
with Margaret; and though I ask you both where you are going, you both
refuse to satisfy my very natural curiosity, and look as solemn as if
you were about to attend a funeral. Then, after ordering dinner for
seven o'clock, you keep it waiting nearly two hours; and you come in
without Margaret, and seem alarmed at not seeing net here. What does it
all mean, Clement?"
"I cannot tell you, mother."
"What! is this business of to-day, then, a part of your secret?"
"It is," answered the cashier. "I can only say again what I said before,
The widow sighed, and shrugged her shoulders with a deprecating gesture.
"I suppose I _must_ be satisfied, Clem," she said. "But this is the
first time there's ever been anything like a mystery between you and
"It is, mother; and I hope it may be the last."
The elderly waiter, who remembered the coaching days, and pretended to
believe that the Reindeer was not an institution of the past, came in
presently with the first course.
It happened to be one of those days on which fish was to be had in
Shorncliffe; and the first course consisted of a pair of very small
soles and a large cruet-stand. The waiter removed the cover with as
lofty a flourish as if the small soles had been the noblest turbot that
ever made the glory of an aldermannic feast.
Clement seated himself at the dinner-table, in deference to his mother,
and went through the ceremony of dinner; but he scarcely ate half a
dozen mouthfuls. His ears were strained to hear the sound of Margaret's
footstep in the corridor without; and he rejected the waiter's
fish-sauces in a manner that almost wounded the feelings of that
functionary. His mind was racked by anxiety about the missing girl.
Had he passed her on the road? No, that was very improbable; for he had
kept so sharp a watch upon the lonely highway that it was more than
unlikely the familiar figure of her whom he looked for could have
escaped his eager eyes. Had Mr. Dunbar detained her at Maudesley Abbey
against her will? No, no, that was quite impossible; for the footman had
distinctly declared that he had seen his master's visitor leave the
house; and the footman's manner had been innocence itself.
The dinner-table was cleared by-and-by, and Mrs. Austin produced some
coloured wools, and a pair of ivory knitting-needles, and set to work
very quietly by the light of the tall wax-candles; but even she was
beginning to be uneasy at the absence of hot son's betrothed wife.
"My dear Clement," she said at last, "I'm really growing quite uneasy
about Madge. How is it that you left her?"
Clement did not answer this question; but he got up and took his hat
from a side-table near the door.
"I'm uneasy about her absence too, mother," he said, "I'll go and look
He was leaving the room, but his mother called to him.
"Clement!" she cried, "you surely won't go out without your
greatcoat--upon such a bitter night as this, too!"
But Mr. Austin did not stop to listen to his mother's remonstrance; he
hurried out into the corridor, and shut the door of the room behind him.
He wanted to run away and look for Margaret, though he did not know how
or where to seek for her. Quiescence had become intolerable to him. It
was utterly impossible that he should sit calmly by the fire, waiting
for the coming of the girl he loved.
He was hurrying along the corridor, but he stopped abruptly, for a
well-known figure appeared upon the broad landing at the top of the
stairs. There was an archway at the end of the corridor, and a lamp hung
under the archway. By the light of this lamp, Clement Austin saw
Margaret Wilmot coming towards him slowly: as if she dragged herself
along by a painful effort, and would have been well content to sink upon
the carpeted floor and lie there helpless and inert.
Clement ran to meet her, with his face lighted up by that intense
delight which a man feels when some intolerable fear is suddenly lifted
off his mind.
"Margaret!" he cried; "thank God you have returned! Oh, my dear, if you
only knew what misery your conduct has caused me!"
He held out his arms, but, to his unutterable surprise, the girl
recoiled from him. She recoiled from him with a look of horror, and
shrank against the wall, as if her chief desire was to avoid the
slightest contact with her lover.
Clement was startled by the blank whiteness of her face, the fixed stare
of her dilated eyes. The January wind had blown her hair about her
forehead in loose disordered tresses; her shawl and dress were wet with
melted snow; but the cashier scarcely looked at these. He only saw her
face; his gaze was fascinated by the girl's awful pallor, and the
strange expression of her eyes.
"My darling," he said, "come into the parlour. My mother has been almost
as much alarmed as I have been. Come, Margaret; my poor girl, I can see
that this interview has been too much for you. Come, dear."
Once more he approached her, and again she shrank away from him,
dragging herself along against the wall, and with her eyes still fixed
in the same deathlike stare.
"Don't speak to me, Clement Austin," she cried; "don't approach me.
There is contamination in me. I am no fit associate for an honest man.
Don't come near me."
He would have gone to her, to clasp her in his arms, and comfort her
with soothing, tender words; but there was something in her eyes that
held him at bay, as if he had been rooted to the spot on which he stood.
"Margaret!" he cried.
He followed her, but she still recoiled from him, and, as he held out
his hand to grasp her wrist, she slipped by him suddenly, and rushed
away towards the other end of the corridor.
Clement followed her; but she opened a door at the end of the passage,
and went into Mrs. Austin's room. The cashier heard the key turned
hurriedly in the lock, and he knew that Margaret Wilmot had locked
herself in. The room in which she slept was inside that occupied by Mrs.
Clement stood for some moments almost paralyzed by what had happened.
Had he done wrong in seeking to bring about this interview between
Margaret Wilmot and Henry Dunbar? He began to think that he had been
most culpable. This impulsive and sensitive girl had seen her father's
assassin: and the horror of the meeting had been too much for her
impressionable nature, and had produced, for the time at least, a
fearful effect upon her over-wrought brain.
"I must appeal to my mother," Clement thought; "she alone can give me
any help in this business."
He hurried back to the sitting-room, and found his mother still watching
the rapid movements of her ivory knitting-needles. The Reindeer was a
well-built house, solid and old-fashioned, and listeners lurking in the
long passages had small chance of reaping much reward for their pains
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