M. E. Braddon
Part 7 out of 9
unless they found a friendly keyhole.
Mrs. Austin looked up with an expression of surprise as her son
re-entered the room.
"I thought you had gone to look for Margaret," she said.
"There was no occasion to do so, mother; she has returned."
"Thank Heaven for that! I have been quite alarmed by her strange
"So have I, mother; but I am still more alarmed by her manner, now that
she has returned. I asked you just now to trust me, mother," said
Clement, very gravely. "It is my turn now to confide in you. The
business in which Margaret has been engaged this evening was of a most
painful nature--so painful that I am scarcely surprised by the effect
that it has produced on her sensitive mind. I want you to go to her,
mother. I want you to comfort my poor girl. She has locked herself in
her own room; but she will admit you, no doubt. Go to her, dear mother,
and try and quiet her excitement, while I go for a medical man."
"You think she is ill, then, Clement?"
"I don't know that, mother; but such violent emotion as she has
evidently endured might produce brain-fever. I'll go and look for a
Clement hurried down to the hall of the hotel, while his mother went to
seek Margaret. He found the landlord, who directed him to the favourite
Shorncliffe medical man.
Luckily, Mr. Vincent, the surgeon, was at home. He received Clement very
cordially, put on his hat without five minutes delay, and accompanied
Margaret's lover back to the Reindeer.
"It is a case of mental excitement," Clement said. "There may be no
necessity for medical treatment; but I shall feel more comfortable when
you have seen this poor girl."
Clement conducted Mr. Vincent to the sitting-room, which was empty.
"I'll go and see how Miss Wilmot is now," the cashier said. The doctor
gave a scarcely perceptible start as he heard that name of Wilmot. The
murder of Joseph Wilmot had formed the subject of many a long discussion
amongst the towns-people at Shorncliffe, and the familiar name struck
the surgeon's ear.
"But what of that?" thought Mr. Vincent. "The name is not such a very
Clement went to his mother's room and knocked softly at the door. The
widow came out to him presently.
"How is she now?" Clement asked.
"I can scarcely tell you. Her manner frightens me. She is lying on her
bed as motionless as if she were a corpse, and with her eyes fixed upon
the blank wall opposite to her. When I speak to her, she does not answer
me by so much as a look; but if I go near her she shivers, and gives a
long shuddering sigh. What does it all mean, Clement?"
"Heaven knows, mother. I can only tell you that she has gone through a
meeting which was certainly calculated to have considerable effect upon
her mind. But I had no idea that the effect would be anything like this.
Can the doctor come?"
"Yes; he had better come at once."
Clement returned to the sitting-room, and remained there while Mr.
Vincent went to see Margaret. To Poor Clement it seemed as if the
surgeon was absent nearly an hour, so intolerable was the anguish of
that interval of suspense.
At last, however, the creaking footstep of the medical man sounded in
the corridor. Clement hurried to the door to meet him.
"Well!" he cried, eagerly.
Mr. Vincent shook his head.
"It is a case in which my services can be of very little avail," he
said; "the young lady is suffering from some mental uneasiness, which
she refuses to communicate to her friends. If you could get her to talk
to you, she would no doubt be very much benefited. If she were an
ordinary person, she would cry, and the relief of tears would have a
most advantageous effect upon her mind. Our patient is by no means an
ordinary person She has a very strong will."
"Margaret has a strong will!" exclaimed Clement, with a look of
surprise; "why, she is gentleness itself."
"Very likely; but she has a will of iron, nevertheless. I implored her
to speak to me just now; the tone of her voice would have helped to some
slight diagnosis of her state; but I might as well have implored a
statue. She only shook her head slowly, and she never once looked at me.
However, I will send her a sedative draught, which had better be taken
immediately, and I'll look round in the morning."
Mr. Vincent left the Reindeer, and Clement went to his mother's room.
That loving mother was ready to sympathize with every trouble that
affected her only son. She came out of Margaret's room and went to meet
"Is she still the same, mother?" he asked.
"Yes, quite the same. Would you like to see her?"
Mrs. Austin and her son went into the adjoining chamber. Margaret was
lying, dressed in the damp, draggled gown which she had worn that
afternoon, upon the outside of the bed. The dull stony look of her face
filled Clement's mind with an awful terror. He began to fear that she
was going mad.
He sat down upon a chair close by the bed, and watched her for some
moments in silence, while his mother stood by, scarcely less anxious
Margaret's arm hung loosely by her side as lifeless in its attitude as
if it had belonged to the dead. Clement took the slender hand in his.
Lie had expected to find it dry and burning with feverish heat; but, to
his surprise, it was cold as ice.
"Margaret," he said, in a low earnest voice, "you know how dearly I have
loved and do love you; you know how entirely my happiness depends upon
yours; surely, my dear one, you will not refuse--you cannot be so cruel
as to keep your sorrow a secret from him who has so good a right to
share it? Speak to me, my darling. Remember what suffering you are
inflicting upon me by this cruel silence."
At last the hazel eyes lost their fixed look, and wandered for a moment
to Clement Austin's face.
"Have pity upon me," the girl said, in a hoarse unnatural voice; "have
compassion upon me, for I need man's mercy as well as the mercy of God.
Have some pity upon me, Clement Austin, and leave me; I will talk to you
"You will tell me all that has happened?"
"I will talk to you to-morrow," answered Margaret, looking at her lover
with a white, inflexible face; "but leave me now; leave me, or I will
run out of this room, and away from this house. I shall go mad if I am
not left alone!"
Clement Austin rose from his seat near the bedside.
"I am going, Margaret," he said, in a tone of wounded feeling; "but I
leave you with a heavy heart. I did not think there would ever come a
time in which you would reject my sympathy."
"I will talk to you to-morrow," Margaret said, for the second time.
She spoke in a strange mechanical way, as if this had been a set speech
which she had arranged for herself.
Clement stood looking at her for some little time; but there was no
change either in her face or attitude, and the young man went slowly and
sorrowfully from the room.
"I leave her in your hands, mother," he said. "I know how tender and
true a friend she has in you; I leave her in your care, under
Providence. May Heaven have pity upon her and me!"
Margaret submitted to take the sedative draught sent by the medical man.
She submitted, at Mrs. Austin's request; but it seemed as if she
scarcely understood why the medicine was offered to her. She was like a
sleep-walker, whose brain is peopled by the creatures of a dream, and
who has no consciousness of the substantial realities that surround him.
The draught Mr. Vincent had spoken of as a sedative turned out to be a
very powerful opiate, and Margaret sank into a profound slumber about a
quarter of an hour after taking the medicine.
Mrs. Austin went to Clement to carry him these good tidings.
"I shall sit up two or three hours, and see how the poor girl goes on,
Clement," the widow said; "but I hope you'll go to bed; I know all this
excitement has worn you out."
"No, mother; I feel no sense of fatigue."
"But you will try to get some rest, to please me? See, dear boy, it's
already nearly twelve o'clock."
"Yes, if you wish it, mother, I'll go to my room," Mr. Austin answered,
His room was near those occupied by his mother and Margaret, much nearer
than the sitting-room. He bade Mrs. Austin good night and left her; but
he had no thought of going to bed, or even trying to sleep. He went to
his own room, and walked up and down; going out into the corridor every
now and then, to listen at the door of his mother's chamber.
He heard nothing. Some time between two and three o'clock Mrs. Austin
opened the door of her room, and found her son lingering in the
"Is she still asleep, mother?" he asked.
"Yes, and she is sleeping very calmly. I am going to bed now; pray try
to get some sleep yourself, Clem."
"I will, mother."
Clement returned to his room. He was thankful, as he thought that sleep
would bring tranquillity and relief to Margaret's overwrought brain. He
went to bed and fell asleep, for he was exhausted by the fatigue of the
day and the anxiety of the night. Poor Clement fell asleep, and dreamt
that he met Margaret Wilmot by moonlight in the park around Maudesley
Abbey, walking with a DEAD MAN, whose face was strange to him. This was
the last of many dreams, all more or less grotesque or horrible, but
none so vivid or distinct as this. The end of the vision woke Clement
with a sudden shock, and he opened his eyes upon the cold morning light,
which seemed especially cold in this chamber at the Reindeer, where the
paper on the walls was of the palest grey, and every curtain or drapery
of a spotless white.
Clement lost no time over his toilet. He looked at his watch while
dressing, and found that it was between seven and eight. It wanted a
quarter to eight when he left his room, and went to his mother's door to
inquire about Margaret. He knocked softly, but there was no answer; then
he tried the door, and finding it unlocked, opened it a few inches with
a cautious hand, and listened to his mother's regular breathing.
"She is asleep, poor soul," he thought. "I won't disturb her, for she
must want rest after sitting up half last night."
Clement closed the door as noiselessly as he had opened it, and then
went slowly to the sitting-room. There was a struggling fire in the
shining grate; and the indefatigable waiter, who refused to believe in
the extinction of mail-coaches, had laid the breakfast
apparatus--frosty-looking white-and-blue cups and saucers on a snowy
cloth, a cut-glass cream-jug that looked as if it had been made out of
ice, and a brazen urn in the last stage of polish. The breakfast service
was harmoniously adapted to the season, and eminently calculated to
produce a fit of shivering in the sojourner at the Reindeer.
But Clement Austin did not bestow so much as one glance upon the
breakfast-table. He hurried to the bow-window, where Margaret Wilmot was
sitting, neatly dressed in her morning garments, with her shawl on, and
her bonnet lying on a chair near her.
"Margaret!" exclaimed Clement, as he approached the place where Joseph
Wilmot's daughter was sitting; "my dear Margaret, why did you get up so
early this morning, when you so much need rest?"
The girl rose and looked at her lover with a grave and quiet earnestness
of expression; but her face was quite as colourless as it had been upon
the previous night, and her lips trembled a little as she spoke to
"I have had sufficient rest," she said, in a low, tremulous voice; "I
got up early because--because--I am going away."
Her two hands had been hanging loosely amongst the fringes of her shawl;
she lifted them now, and linked her fingers together with a convulsive
motion; but she never withdrew her eyes from Clement's face, and her
glance never faltered as she looked at him.
"Going away, Margaret?" the cashier cried; "going away--to-day--this
"Yes, by the half-past nine o'clock train."
"Margaret, you must be mad to talk of such a thing."
"No," the girl answered, slowly; "that is the strangest thing of all--I
am not mad. I am going away, Clement--Mr. Austin. I wished to avoid
seeing you. I meant to have written to you to tell you----"
"To tell me what, Margaret?" asked Clement. "Is it I who am going mad;
or am I dreaming all this?"
"It is no dream, Mr. Austin. My letter would have only told you the
truth. I am going away from here because I can never be your wife."
"You can never be my wife! Why not, Margaret?"
"I cannot tell you the reason."
"But you _shall_ tell me, Margaret!" cried Clement, passionately. "I
will accept no sentence such as this until I know the reason for
pronouncing it; I will suffer no imaginary barrier to stand between you
and me. There is some mystery, some mystification in all this, Margaret;
some woman's fancy, which a few words of explanation would set at rest.
Margaret, my pearl! do you think I will consent to lose you so lightly?
My own dear love! do you know me so little as to think that I will part
with you? My love is a stronger passion than you think, Madge; and the
bondage you accepted when you promised to be my wife is a bondage that
cannot so easily be shaken off!"
Margaret watched her lover's face with melancholy, tearless eyes.
"Fate is stronger than love, Clement," she said, mournfully, "I can
never be your wife!"
"For a reason which you can never know."
"Margaret, I will not submit----"
"You must submit," the girl said, holding up her hand, as if to stop her
lover's passionate words. "You must submit, Clement. This world seems
very hard sometimes, so hard that in a dreadful interval of dull despair
the heavens are hidden from us, and we cannot recognize the Eternal
wisdom guiding the hand that afflicts us. My life seems very hard to me
to-day, Clement. Do not try to make it harder. I am a most unhappy
woman; and in all the world there is only one favour you can grant me.
Let me go away unquestioned; and blot my image from your heart for ever
when I am gone."
"I will never consent to let you go," Clement Austin answered,
resolutely. "You are mine by right of your own most sacred promise,
Margaret. No womanish folly shall part us."
"Heaven knows it is no woman's folly that parts us, Clement," the girl
answered, in a plaintive, tremulous voice.
"What is it, then, Margaret?"
"I can never tell you."
"You will change your mind."
She looked at him with an air of quiet resolution stamped upon her
Clement remembered what the doctor had said of his patient's iron will.
Was it possible that Mr. Vincent had been right? Was this gentle girl's
resolution to overrule a strong man's passionate vehemence?
"What is it that can part us, Margaret?" Mr. Austin cried. "What is it?
You saw Mr. Dunbar yesterday?"
The girl shuddered, and over her colourless face there came a livid
shade, which was more deathlike than the marble whiteness that had
"Yes," Margaret Wilmot said, after a pause. "I was--very fortunate. I
gained admission to--Mr. Dunbar's rooms."
"And you spoke to him?"
"Did your interview with him confirm or dissipate your suspicions? Do
you still believe that Henry Dunbar murdered your unhappy father?"
"No," answered Margaret, resolutely; "I do not."
"You do not? The banker's manner convinced you of his innocence, then?"
"I do not believe that Henry Dunbar murdered my--my unhappy father."
It is impossible to describe the tone of anguish with which Margaret
spoke those last three words.
"But something transpired in that interview at Maudesley Abbey,
Margaret? Henry Dunbar told you something--perhaps something about your
dead father--some disgraceful secret which you never heard before; and
you think that the shame of that secret is a burden which I would fear
to carry? You mistake my nature, Margaret, and you commit a cruel
treason against my love. Be my wife, dear one; and if malicious people
should point to you, and say, 'Clement Austin's wife is the daughter of
a thief and a forger,' I would give them back scorn for scorn, and tell
them that I honour my wife for virtues that have been sometimes missing
in the consort of an emperor."
For the first time that morning Margaret's eyes grew dim, but she
brushed away the gathering tears with a rapid movement of her trembling
"You are a good man, Clement Austin," she said; "and I--wish that I were
better worthy of you. You are a good man; but you are very cruel to me
to-day. Have pity upon me, and let me go."
She drew a pretty little watch from her waist, and looked at the dial.
Then, suddenly remembering that the watch had been Clement's gift, she
took the slender chain from her neck, and handed them both to him.
"You gave me these when I was your betrothed wife, Mr. Austin; I have no
right to keep them now."
She spoke very mournfully; but poor Clement was only mortal. He was a
good man, as Margaret had just declared; but, unhappily, good men are
apt to fly into passions as well as their inferiors in the scale of
Clement Austin threw the pretty little Genevese toy upon the floor, and
ground it to atoms under the heel of his boot.
"You are cruel and unjust, Mr. Austin," Margaret said.
"I am a man, Miss Wilmot," Clement answered, bitterly; "and I have the
feelings of a man. When the woman I have loved and believed in turns
upon me, and coolly tells me that she means to break my heart, without
so much as deigning to give me a reason for her conduct, I am not so
much a gentleman as to be able to smile politely, and request her to
The cashier turned away from Margaret, and walked two at three times up
and down the room. He was in a passion, but grief and indignation were
so intermingled in his breast that he scarcely knew which was uppermost.
But grief and love allied themselves presently, and together were much
too strong for indignation.
Clement Austin went back to the window; Margaret was standing where he
had left her, but she had put on her bonnet and gloves, and was quite
ready to leave the house.
"Margaret," said Mr. Austin, trying to take her hand; but she drew
herself away from him, almost as she had shrunk from him in the corridor
on the previous night; "Margaret, once for all, listen to me. I love
you, and I believe you love me. If this is true, no obstacle on earth
shall part us so long as we live. There is only one condition upon which
I will let you go this day."
"What is that condition?"
"Tell me that I have been fooled by my own egotism. I am twelve years
older than you, Margaret, and there is nothing very romantic or
interesting either in myself or my worldly position. Tell me that you do
not love me. I am a proud man, I will not sue _in forma pauperis_. If
you do not love me, Margaret, you are free to go."
Margaret bowed her head, and moved slowly towards the door.
"You are going--Miss Wilmot!"
"Yes, I am going. Farewell, Mr. Austin."
Clement caught the retreating girl by her wrist.
"You shall not go thus, Margaret Wilmot!" he cried, passionately--"not
thus! You shall speak to me! You shall speak plainly! You shall speak
the truth! You do not love me?"
"No; I do not love you."
"It was all a farce, then--a delusion--it was all falsehood and trickery
from first to last. When you smiled at me, your smile was a mockery;
when you blushed, your blushes were the simulated blushes of a professed
coquette. Every tender word you have ever spoken to me--every tremulous
cadence in your low voice--every tearful look in the eyes that have
seemed so truthful--all--it has altogether been false--altogether a
The strong man covered his face with his hands and sobbed aloud.
Margaret watched him with tearless eyes; her lips were convulsively
contracted, but there was no other evidence of emotion in her face.
"Why did you do this, Margaret?" Clement asked at last, in a
heart-rending voice; "why did you do this cruel thing?"
"I will tell you why," the girl answered, slowly and deliberately; "I
will tell you why, Mr. Austin; and then I shall seem utterly despicable
in your eyes, and it will be a very easy thing for you to blot my image
from your heart. I was a poor desolate girl; and I was worse than poor
and desolate, for the stain of my father's shameful history blackened my
name. It was a fine thing for such as me to win the love of an honest
man--a gentleman--who could shelter me from all the troubles of life,
and give me a stainless name and an honourable place in society. I was
the daughter of a returned convict, an outcast, and your love offered me
a splendid chance of redemption from the black depths of disgrace and
misery in which I lived. I was only mortal, Clement Austin; what was
there in my blood that should make me noble, or good, or strong to stand
against temptation? I seized upon the one chance of my miserable life; I
plotted to win your love. Step by step I lured you on until you offered
to make me your wife. That was my end and aim. I triumphed; and for a
time enjoyed my success, and the advantages that it brought me. But I
suppose the worst sinners have some kind of conscience. Mine was
awakened last night, and I resolved to spare you the misery of being
married to a woman who comes of such a race as that from which I
Nothing could be more callous than the manner with which Margaret Wilmot
had made this speech. Her tones had never faltered. She had spoken
slowly, pausing before every fresh sentence; but she had spoken like a
wretched creature, whose withered heart was almost incapable of womanly
emotion. Clement Austin looked at her with a blank wondering stare.
"Oh! great heavens!" he cried at last; "how could I think it possible
that any man could be as cruelly deceived as I have been by this woman!"
"I may go now, Mr. Austin?" said Margaret.
"Yes, you may go now--_you_, who once were the woman I loved; you, who
have thrown away the beautiful mask I believed in, and revealed to me
the face of a skeleton; you, who have lifted the silver veil of
imagination to show me the hideous ghastliness of reality. Go, Margaret
Wilmot; and may Heaven forgive you!"
"Do you forgive me, Mr. Austin?"
"Not yet. I will pray God to make me strong enough to forgive you!"
If my readers have seen _Manfred_ at Drury Lane, let them remember the
tone in which Miss Rose Leclercq breathed her last farewell to Mr.
Phelps, and they will know how Margaret Wilmot pronounced this mournful
word--love's funeral bell,--
"One word, Miss Wilmot," cried Mr. Austin. "I have loved you too much in
the past ever to become indifferent to your fate. Where are you going?"
"To your old apartments at Clapham?"
"Oh, no, no!"
"Have you money--money enough to last you for some time?"
"Yes; I have saved money."
"If you should be in want of help, will you let me help you?"
"Willingly, Mr. Austin. I am not too proud to accept your help in the
hour of my need."
"You will write to me, then, at my mother's, or you will write to my
mother herself, if ever you require assistance. I shall tell my mother
nothing of what has passed between us this day, except that we have
parted. You are going by the half-past nine o'clock train, you say, Miss
Clement had only spoken the truth when he said that he was a proud man.
He asked this question in the same business-like tone in which he might
have addressed a lady who was quite indifferent to him.
"Yes, Mr. Austin."
"I will order a fly for you, then. You have five minutes to spare. And I
will send one of the waiters to the station, so that you may have no
trouble about your luggage."
Clement rang the bell, and gave the necessary orders. Then he bowed
gravely to Margaret, and wished her good morning as she left the room.
And this is how Margaret Wilmot parted from Clement Austin.
A DISCOVERY AT THE LUXEMBOURG.
While Henry Dunbar sat in his lonely room at Maudesley Abbey, held
prisoner by his broken leg, and waiting anxiously for the hour in which
he should be allowed the privilege of taking his first experimental
promenade upon crutches, Sir Philip Jocelyn and his beautiful young wife
drove together on the crowded boulevards of the French capital.
They had been southward, and had returned to the gayest capital in all
the world at the time when that capital is at its best and brightest.
They had returned to Paris for the early new year: and, as this year
happened fortunately to be ushered into existence by a sharp frost and a
bright sunny sky, the boulevards were not the black rivers of mud and
slush that they are apt to be in the first days of the infantine year.
Prince Louis Napoleon Buonaparte was only First President as yet; and
Paris was by no means the wonderful city of endless boulevards and
palatial edifices that it has since grown to be under the master hand
which rules and beautifies it, as a lover adorns his mistress. But it
was not the less the most charming city in the universe; and Philip
Jocelyn and his wife were as happy as two children in this paradise of
brick and mortar.
They suited each other so well; they were never tired of each other's
society, or at a stand-still for want of something to say to each other.
They were rather frivolous, perhaps; but a little frivolity may be
pardoned in two people who were so very young and so entirely happy. Sir
Philip may have been a little too much devoted to horses and dogs, and
Laura may have been a shade too enthusiastic upon the subject of new
bonnets, and the jewellery in the Rue de la Paix. But if they idled a
little just now, in this delicious honeymoon-time, when it was so sweet
to be together always, from morning till night, driving in a sleigh with
jingling bells upon the snowy roads in the Bois, sitting on the balcony
at Meurice's at night, looking down into the long lamp-lit street and
the misty gardens, where the trees were leafless and black against the
dark blue sky, they meant to do their duty, and be useful to their
fellow-creatures, when they were settled at Jocelyn's Rock. Sir Philip
had half-a-dozen schemes for free schools, and model cottages with ovens
that would bake everything in the world, and chimneys that would never
smoke. And Laura had her own pet plans. Was she not an heiress, and
therefore specially sent into the world to give happiness to people who
had been born without that pleasant appendage of a silver spoon in their
infantine mouths? She meant to be scrupulously conscientious in the
administration of her talents; and sometimes at church on a Sunday, when
the sermon was particularly awakening, she mentally debated the serious
question as to whether new bonnets, and a pair of Jouvin's gloves daily,
were not sinful; but I think she decided that the new bonnets and gloves
were, on the whole, a pardonable weakness, as being good for trade.
The Warwickshire baronet knew a good many people in Paris, and he and
his bride received a very enthusiastic welcome from these old friends,
who pronounced that Miladi Jocelyn was _charmante_ and _la belle des
belles_; and that Sir Jocelyn was the most fortunate of men in having
discovered this gay, lighthearted girl amongst the prudish and
pragmatical _meess_ of the _brumeuse Angleterre_.
Laura made herself very much at home with her Parisian acquaintance; and
in the grand house in the Rue Lepelletier many a glass was turned full
upon the beautiful English bride with the _chevelure dore_ and the
violet blue eyes.
One morning Laura told her husband, with a gay laugh, that she was going
to victimize him; but he was to promise to be patient and bear with her
for once in a way.
"What is it you want me to do, my darling?"
"I want you to give me a long day in the Luxembourg. I want to see all
the pictures--the modern pictures especially. I remember all the
Rubenses at the Louvre, for I saw them three years ago, when I was
staying in Paris with grandpapa. I like the modern pictures best,
Philip: and I want you to tell me all about the artists, and what I
ought to admire, and all that sort of thing."
Sir Philip never refused his wife anything; so he said, yes: and Laura
ran away to her dressing-room like a school-girl who has been pleading
for a holiday and has won her cause. She returned in a little more than
ten minutes, in the freshest toilette, all pale shimmering blue, like
the spring sky, with pearl-grey gloves and boots and parasol, and a
bonnet that seemed made of azure butterflies.
It was drawing towards the close of this delightful honeymoon tour, and
it was a bright sunshiny morning early in February; but February in
Paris is sometimes better than April in London.
Philip Jocelyn's work that morning was by no means light, for Laura was
fond of pictures, in a frivolous amateurish kind of way; and she ran
from one canvas to another, like a fickle-minded bee that is bewildered
by the myriad blossoms of a boundless parterre. But she fixed upon a
picture which she said she preferred to anything she had seen in the
Philip Jocelyn was examining some pictures on the other side of the room
when his wife made this discovery. She hurried to him immediately, and
led him off to look at the picture. It was a peasant-girl's head, very
exquisitely painted by a modern artist, and the baronet approved his
"How I wish you could get me a copy of that picture, Philip," Laura
said, entreatingly. "I should so like one to hang in my morning-room at
Jocelyn's Rock. I wonder who painted that lovely face?"
There was a young artist hard at work at his easel, copying a large
devotional subject that hung near the picture Laura admired. Sir Philip
asked this gentleman if he knew the name of the artist who had painted
"Ah, but yes, monsieur!" the painter answered, with animated politeness;
"it is the work of one of my friends; a young Englishman, of a renown
almost universal in Paris."
"And his name, monsieur?"
"He calls himself Kerstall--Frederick Kerstall; he is the son of an old
monsieur, who calls himself also Kerstall, and who had much of celebrity
in England it is many years."
"Kerstall!" exclaimed Laura, suddenly; "Mr. Kerstall! why, it was a Mr.
Kerstall who painted papa's portrait; I have heard grandpapa say so
again and again; and he took it away to Italy with him, promising to
bring it back to London when he returned, after a year or two of study.
And, oh, Philip, I should so like to see this old Mr. Kerstall; because,
you know, he may have kept papa's portrait until this very day, and I
should so like to have a picture of my father as he was when he was
young, and before the troubles of a long life altered him," Laura said,
She turned to the French artist presently, and asked him where the elder
Mr. Kerstall lived, and if there was any possibility of seeing him.
The painter shrugged up his shoulders, and pursed up his mouth,
"But, madame," he said, "this Monsieur Kerstall's father is very old,
and he has ceased to paint it is a long time. They have said that he is
even a little imbecile, that he does not remember himself of the most
common events of his life. But there are some others who say that his
memory has not altogether failed, and that he is still enough harshly
critical towards the works of others."
The Frenchman might have run on much longer upon this subject, but Laura
was too impatient to be polite. She interrupted him by asking for Mr.
The artist took out one of his own cards, and wrote the required address
"It is in the neighbourhood of Notre Dame, madame, in the Rue Cailoux,
over the office of a Parisian journal," he said, as he handed the card
to Laura. "I don't think you will have any difficulty in finding the
Laura thanked the French artist and then took her husband's arm and
walked away with him.
"I don't care about looking at any more pictures to-day, Philip," she
said; "but, oh, I do wish you would take me to this Mr. Kerstall's
studio at once! You will be doing me such a favour, Philip, if you'll
"When did I ever say no to anything you asked me, Laura? We'll go to Mr.
Kerstall immediately, if you like. But why are you so anxious to see
this old portrait of your father, my dear?"
"Because I want to see what he was before he went to India. I want to
see what he was when he was bright and young before the world had
hardened him. Ah, Philip, since we have known and loved each other, it
seems to me as if I had no thought or care for any one in all this wide
world except yourself. But before that time I was very unhappy about my
father. I had expected that he would be so fond of me. I had so built
upon his return to England, thinking that we should be nearer and dearer
to each other than any father and daughter ever were before. I had
thought all this, Philip; night after night I had dreamt the same
dream,--the bright happy dream in which my father came home to me, the
fond foolish dream in which I felt his strong arms folded round me, and
his true heart beating against my own. But when he did come at last, it
seemed to me as if this father was a man of stone; his white fixed face
repelled me; his cold hard voice turned my blood to ice. I was
frightened of him, Philip; I was frightened of my own father; and little
by little we grew to shun each other, till at last we met like
strangers, or something worse than strangers; for I have seen my father
look at me with an expression of absolute horror in his stern cruel
eyes. Can you wonder, then, that I want to see what he was in his youth?
I shall learn to love him, perhaps, if I can see the smiling image of
his lost youth."
Laura said all this in a very low voice as she walked with her husband
through the garden of the Luxembourg. She walked very fast; for she was
as eager as a child who is intent upon some scheme of pleasure.
LOOKING FOR THE PORTRAIT.
The Rue Cailoux was a very quiet little street--a narrow, winding
street, with tall shabby-looking houses, and untidy-little greengrocers'
shops peeping out here and there.
The pavement suggested the idea that there had just been an outbreak of
the populace, and that the stones had been ruthlessly torn up to serve
in the construction of barricades, and only very carelessly put down
again. It was a street which seemed to have been built with a view to
achieving the largest amount of inconvenience out of a minimum of
materials; and looked at in this light the Rue Cailoux was a triumph: it
was a street in which Parisian drivers clacked their whips to a running
accompaniment of imprecations: it was a street in which you met dirty
porters carrying six feet of highly-baked bread, and shrill old women
with wonderful bandanas bound about their grisly heads: but above all,
it was a street in which you were so shaken and jostled, and bumped and
startled, by the ups and downs of the pavement, that you had very little
leisure to notice the distinctive features of the neighbourhood.
The house in which Mr. Kerstall, the English artist, lived was a
gloomy-looking building with a dingy archway, beneath which Sir Philip
Jocelyn and his wife alighted.
There was a door under this archway, and there was a yard beyond it,
with the door of another house opening upon it, and ranges of black
curtainless windows looking down upon it, and an air of dried herbs,
green-stuff, chickens in the moulting stage, and old women, generally
pervading it. The door which belonged to Mr. Kerstall's house, or rather
the house in which Mr. Kerstall lived in common with a colony of unknown
number and various avocations, was open, and Sir Philip and his wife
went into the hall.
There was no such thing as a porter or portress; but a stray old woman,
hovering under the archway, informed Philip Jocelyn that Mr. Kerstall
was to be found on the second story. So Laura and her husband ascended
the stairs, which were bare of any covering except dirt, and went on
mounting through comparative darkness, past the office of the Parisian
journal, till they came to a very dingy black door.
Philip knocked, and, after a considerable interval, the door was opened
by another old woman, tidier and cleaner than the old women who pervaded
the yard, but looking very like a near relation to those ladies.
Philip inquired in French for the senior Mr. Kerstall; and the old woman
told him, very much through her nose, that Mr. Kerstall father saw no
one; but that Mr. Kerstall son was at his service.
Philip Jocelyn said that in that case he would be glad to see Mr.
Kerstall junior; upon which the old woman ushered the baronet and his
wife into a saloon, distinguished by an air of faded splendour, and in
which the French clocks and ormolu candelabras were in the proportion of
two to one to the chairs and tables.
Sir Philip gave his card to the old woman, and she carried it into the
adjoining chamber, whence there issued a gush of tobacco-smoke, as the
door between the two rooms was opened and then shut again.
In less than three minutes by the minute-hand of the only one of the
ormolu clocks which made any pretence of going, the door was opened
again, and a burly-looking, middle-aged gentleman, with a very black
beard, and a dirty holland blouse all smeared with smudges of
oil-colour, appeared upon the threshold of the adjoining chamber,
surrounded by a cloud of tobacco-smoke--like a heathen deity, or a
good-tempered-looking African genie newly escaped from his bottle.
This was Mr. Kerstall junior. He introduced himself to Sir Philip, and
waited to hear what that gentleman required of him.
Philip Jocelyn explained his business, and told the painter how, more
than five-and-thirty years before, the portrait of Henry Dunbar, only
son of Percival Dunbar the great banker, had been painted by Mr. Michael
Kerstall, at that time a fashionable artist.
"Five-and-thirty years ago!" said the painter, pulling thoughtfully at
his beard; "five-and-thirty years ago! that's a very long time, my lord,
and I'm afraid it's not likely my father will remember the circumstance;
for I regret to say that he is slow to remember the events of a few days
past. His memory has been failing a long time. You wish to know the fate
of this portrait of Mr. Dunbar, I think you said?"
Laura answered this question, although it had been addressed to her
"Yes, we want to see the picture, if possible," she said; "Mr. Dunbar is
my father, and there is no other portrait of him in existence. I do so
want to see this one, and to obtain possession of it, if it is possible
for me to do so."
"And you are of opinion that my father took the picture to Italy with
him when he left England more than five-and-thirty years ago?"
"Yes; I've heard my grandfather say so. He lost sight of Mr. Kerstall,
and could never obtain any tidings of the picture. But I hope that, late
as it is, we may be more fortunate now. You do not think the picture has
been destroyed, do you?" Laura asked eagerly.
"Well," the artist answered, doubtfully, "I should be inclined to fear
that the portrait may have been painted out: and yet, by the bye, as the
picture belonged by right to Mr. Percival Dunbar, and not to my father,
that circumstance may have preserved it uninjured through all these
years. My father has a heap of unframed canvases, inches thick in dust,
and littering every corner of his room. Mr. Dunbar's portrait may be
"Oh, I should be so very much obliged if you would allow me to examine
those pictures," said Laura.
"You think you would recognize the portrait?"
"Yes, surely; I could not fail to do so. I know my father's face so well
as it is, that I must certainly have some knowledge of it as it was
five-and-thirty years ago, however much he may have altered in the
interval. Pray, Mr. Kerstall, oblige me by letting me see the pictures."
"I should be very churlish were I to refuse to do so," the painter
answered, good-naturedly. "I will just go and see if my father is able
to receive visitors. He has been a voluntary exile from England for the
last five-and-thirty years, so I fear he will have forgotten the name of
Dunbar; but he may by chance be able to give us some slight assistance."
Mr. Kerstall left his visitors for about ten minutes, and at the end of
that time he returned to say that his father was quite ready to receive
Sir Philip and Lady Jocelyn.
"I mentioned the name of Dunbar to him," the painter said; "but he
remembers nothing. He has been painting a little this morning, and is in
very high spirits about his work. It pleases him to handle the brushes,
though his hand is terribly shaky, and he can scarcely hold the
The artist led the way to a large room, comfortably but plainly
furnished, and heated to a pitch of suffocation by a stove. There was a
bed in a curtained alcove at the end of the apartment; an easel stood
near the large window; and the proprietor of the chamber sat in a
cushioned arm-chair close to the suffocating stove.
Michael Kerstall was an old man, who looked even older than he was. He
was a picturesque-looking old man, with long white hair dropping down
over his coat-collar, and a black-velvet skull-cap upon his head. He was
a cheerful old man, and life seemed very pleasant to him; for Frenchmen
have a habit of honouring their fathers and mothers, and Mr. Frederick
Kerstall was a naturalized citizen of the French republic.
The old man nodded and smiled and chuckled as Sir Philip and Laura were
presented to him, and pointed with a courtly grace to the chairs which
his son set for his guests.
"You want to see my pictures, sir? Ah, yes; to be sure, to be sure! The
modern school of painting, sir, is something marvellous to an old man,
sir; an old man who remembers Sir Thomas Lawrence--ay, sir, I had the
honour to know him intimately. No pre-Raphaelite theories in those days,
sir; no figures cut of coloured pasteboard and glued on to the canvas;
no green trees and vermilion draperies, and chocolate-coloured streaks
across an ultramarine background, sir; and I'm told the young people
call that a sky. No pointed chins, and angular knees and elbows, and
frizzy red hair--red, sir, and as frizzy as a blackamoor's--and I'm told
the young people call that female beauty. No, sir; nothing of that sort
in my day. There was a French painter in my day, sir, called David, and
there was an English painter in my day called Lawrence; and they painted
ladies and gentlemen, sir; and they instituted a gentlemanly school,
sir. And you put a crimson curtain behind your subject, and you put a
bran-new hat, or a roll of paper, in his right hand, and you thrust his
left hand in his waistcoat--the best black satin, sir, with strong light
in the texture--and you made your subject look like a gentleman. Yes,
sir, if he was a chimney-sweep when he went into your studio, he went
out of it a gentleman."
The old man would have gone on talking for any length of time, for
pre-Raphaelitism was his favourite antipathy; and the black-bearded
gentleman standing behind his chair was an enthusiastic member of the
Mr. Kerstall senior seemed so thoroughly in possession of all his
faculties while he held forth upon modern art, that Laura began to hope
his memory could scarcely be so much impaired as his son had represented
it to be.
"When you painted portraits in England, Mr. Kerstall," she said, "before
you went to Italy, you painted a likeness of my father, Henry Dunbar,
who was then a young man. Do you remember that circumstance?"
Laura asked this question very hopefully; but to her surprise, Mr.
Kerstall took no notice whatever of her inquiry, but went rambling on
about the degeneracy of modern art.
"I am told there is a young man called Millais, sir, and another young
man called Holman Hunt, sir,--positive boys, sir; actually very little
more than boys, sir; and I'm given to understand, sir, that when these
young men's works are exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, sir,
people crowd round them, and go raving mad about them; while a
gentlemanly portrait of a county member, with a Corinthian pillar and a
crimson curtain, gets no more attention than if it was a bishop's
half-length of black canvas. I am told so, sir, and I am obliged to
believe it, sir."
Poor Laura listened very impatiently to all this talk about painters and
their pictures. But Mr. Kerstall the younger perceived her anxiety, and
came to her relief.
"Lady Jocelyn would very much like to see the pictures you have
scattered about in this room, my dear father," he said, "if you have no
objection to our turning them over?"
The old man chuckled and nodded.
"You'll find 'em gentlemanly," he said; "you'll find 'em all more or
"You're sure you don't remember painting the portrait of a Mr. Dunbar?"
Mr. Kerstall the younger said, bending over his father's chair as he
spoke. "Try again, father--try to remember--Henry Dunbar, the son of
Percival Dunbar, the great banker."
Mr. Kerstall senior, who never left off smiling, nodded and chuckled,
and scratched his head, and seemed to plunge into a depth of profound
Laura began to hope again.
"I remember painting Sir Jasper Rivington, who was Lord Mayor in the
year--bless my heart how the dates do slip out of my mind, to be
sure!--I remember painting _him_, in his robes too; yes, sir--by gad,
sir, his official robes. He'd liked me to have painted him looking out
of the window of his state-coach, sir, bowing to the populace on Ludgate
Hill, with the dome of St. Paul's in the background; but I told him the
notion wasn't practicable, sir; I told him it couldn't be done, sir;
Laura looked despairingly at Mr. Kerstall the younger.
"May we see the pictures?" she asked. "I am sure that I shall recognize
my father's portrait, if by any chance it should be amongst them."
"We will set to work at once, then," the artist said, briskly. "We're
going to look at your pictures, father."
Unframed canvases, and unfinished sketches on millboard, were lying
about the room in every direction, piled against the wall, heaped on
side-tables, and stowed out of the way upon shelves, and everywhere the
dust lay thick upon them.
"It was quite a chamber of horrors," Mr. Kerstall the younger said,
gaily: for it was here that he banished his own failures; his sketches
for his pictures that were to be painted upon some future occasion;
carelessly-drawn groups that he meant some day to improve upon; finished
pictures that he had been unable to sell; and all the other useless
litter of an artist's studio.
There were a great many dingy performances of Mr. Kerstall senior; very
classical, and extremely uninteresting; studies from the life, grey and
chalky and muscular, with here and there a knotty-looking foot or a
lumpy arm, in the most unpleasant phases of foreshortening. There were a
good many portraits, gentlemanly to the last degree; but poor Laura
looked in vain for the face she wanted to see--the hard cold face, as
she fancied it must have been in youth.
There were portraits of elderly ladies with stately head-gear, and
simpering young ladies with innocent short-waisted bodices and flowers
held gracefully, in their white-muslin draperies; there were portraits
of stern clerical grandees, and parliamentary non-celebrities, with
popular bills rolled up in their hands, ready to be laid upon the
speaker's table, and with a tight look about the lips, that seemed to
say the member was prepared to carry his motion, or perish on the floor
of the House.
There were only a few portraits of young men of military aspect, looking
fiercely over regulation stocks, and with forked lightning and little
pyramids of cannon-balls in the background.
Laura sighed heavily at last, for amongst all these portraits there was
not one which in the least possible degree recalled the hard handsome
face with which she was familiar.
"I'm afraid my father's picture has been lost or destroyed," she said,
But Mr. Kerstall would not allow this.
I have said that it was Laura's peculiar privilege to bewitch everybody
with whom she came in contact, and to transform them, for the nonce,
into her willing slaves, eager to go through fire and water in the
service of this beautiful creature, whose eyes and hair were like blue
skies and golden sunshine, and carried light and summer wherever they
The black-bearded artist in the paint-smeared holland blouse was in no
manner proof against Lady Jocelyn's fascinations.
He had well-nigh suffocated himself with dust half-a-dozen times already
in her service, and was ready to inhale as much more dust if she desired
him so to do.
"We won't give it up just yet, Lady Jocelyn," he said, cheerfully;
"there's a couple of shelves still to examine. Suppose we try shelf
number one, and see if we can find Mr. Henry Dunbar up there."
Mr. Kerstall junior mounted upon a chair, and brought down another heap
of canvases, dirtier than any previous collection. He brought these to a
table by the side of his father's easel, and one by one he wiped them
clean with a large ragged silk handkerchief, and then placed them on the
The easel stood in the full light of the broad window. The day was
bright and clear, and there was no lack of light, therefore, upon the
Mr. Kerstall senior began to be quite interested in his son's
proceedings, and contemplated the younger man's operations with a
perpetual chuckling and nodding of the head, that were expressive of
"Yes, they're gentlemanly," the old man mumbled; "nobody can deny that
they're gentlemanly. They may make a cabal against me in Trafalgar
Square, and decline to hang 'em: but they can't say my pictures are
ungentlemanly. No, no. Take a basin of water and a sponge, Fred, and
wash the dust off. It pleases me to see 'em again--yes, by gad, sir, it
pleases me to see 'em again!"
Mr. Frederick Kerstall obeyed his father, and the pictures brightened
wonderfully under the influence of a damp sponge. It was rather a slow
operation; but Laura was bent upon seeing every picture, and Philip
Jocelyn waited patiently enough until the inspection should be
The old man brightened up as much as his paintings, and began presently
to call out the names of the subjects.
"The member for Slopton-on-the-Tees," he said, as his son placed a
portrait on the easel; "that was a presentation picture, but the
subscriptions were never paid up, and the committee left the portrait
upon my hands. I don't remember the name of the member, because my
memory isn't quite so good as it used to be; but the borough was
Slopton-on-the-Tees--Slopton--yes, yes, I remember that."
The younger Kerstall took away the member for Slopton, and put another
picture on the easel. But this was like the rest; the pictured face bore
no trace of resemblance to that face for which Laura was looking.
"I remember him too," the old man cried, with a triumphant chuckle. "He
was an officer in the East-India Company's service. I remember him; a
dashing young fellow he was too. He had the picture painted for his
mother: paid me a third of the money at the first sitting; never paid me
a sixpence afterwards; and went off to India, promising to send me a
bill of exchange for the balance by the next mail; but I never heard any
more of him."
Mr. Kerstall removed the Indian officer, and substituted another
Sir Philip, who was sitting near the window, looking on rather
"What a handsome face!"
It _was_ a handsome face--a bright young face, which smiled haughty
defiance at the world--a splendid face, with perhaps a shade of
insolence in the curve of the upper lip, sharply denned under a thick
auburn moustache, with pointed ends that curled fiercely upwards. It was
such a face as might have belonged to the favourite of a powerful king;
the face of the Cinq Mars, on the very summit of his giddy eminence,
with a hundred pairs of boots in his dressing-room, and quiet Cardinal
Richelieu watching silently for the day of his doom. English Buckingham
may have worn the same insolent smile upon his lips, the same bright
triumph in his glance, when he walked up to the throne of Louis the
Just, with the pearls and diamonds dropping from his garments as he went
along, and with forbidden love beaming on him out of Austrian Anne's
blue eyes. It was such a face as could only belong to some high
favourite of fortune, defiant of all mankind in the consciousness of his
own supreme advantages.
But Laura Jocelyn shook her head as she looked at the picture.
"I begin to despair of finding my father's portrait," she said; "I have
seen nothing at all like it yet."
The old man lifted up his bony hand, and pointed to the picture on the
"That's the best thing I ever did," he said, "the very best thing I ever
did. It was exhibited in the Academy six-and-thirty years ago--yes, by
gad, sir, six-and-thirty years ago! and the papers mentioned it very
favourably, sir; but the man who commissioned it, sent it back to me for
alteration. The expression of the face didn't please him; but he paid me
two hundred guineas for the picture, so I had no reason to complain; and
if I'd remained in England, the connection might have been advantageous
to me; for they were rich city people, sir--enormously
wealthy--something in the banking-line, and the name, the name--let me
see--let me see!"
The old man tapped his forehead thoughtfully.
"I remember," he added presently: "it was a great name in the City--it
was a well-known name--Dun--Dunbar--Dunbar."
"Why, father, that was the very name I was asking you about, half an
"I don't remember your asking me any such thing," the old man answered,
rather snappishly; "but I do know that the picture on that easel is the
portrait of Mr. Dunbar's only son."
Mr. Kerstall the younger looked at Laura Jocelyn, full; expecting to see
her face beaming with satisfaction; but, to his own surprise, she looked
more disappointed than ever.
"Your poor father's memory deceives him," she said, in a low voice;
"that is not my father's portrait."
"No," said Philip Jocelyn, "that was never the likeness of Henry
Mr. Frederick Kerstall shrugged his shoulders.
"I told you as much," he murmured, confidentially. "I told you my poor
father's memory was gone. Would you like to see the rest of the
"Oh, yes, if you do not mind all this trouble."
Mr. Kerstall brought down another heap of unframed canvases from shelf
number two. Some of these were fancy heads, and some sketches for grand
historical pictures. There were only about four portraits, and not one
of them bore the faintest likeness to the face that Laura wanted to see.
The old man chuckled as his son exhibited the pictures, and every now
and then volunteered some scrap of information about these various works
of art, to which his son listened patiently and respectfully.
So at last the inspection was ended. The baronet and his wife thanked
the artist very warmly for his politeness, and Philip gave him a
commission for a replica of the picture which Laura had admired in the
Luxembourg. Mr. Frederick Kerstall conducted his guests down the dingy
staircase, and saw them to the hired carriage that was waiting under the
And this was all that came of Laura Jocelyn's search for her father's
Life seemed very blank to Clement Austin when he returned to London a
day or two after Margaret Wilmot's departure from the Reindeer. He told
his mother that he and his betrothed had parted; but he would tell no
"I have been cruelly disappointed, mother, and the subject is very
bitter to me," he said; and Mrs. Austin had not the courage to ask any
"I suppose I _must_ be satisfied, Clement," she said. "It seems to me as
if we had been living lately in an atmosphere of enigmas. But I can
afford to be contented, Clement, so long as I have you with me."
Clement went back to London. His life seemed to have altogether slipped
away from him, and he felt like an old man who has lost all the bright
chances of existence; the hope of domestic happiness and a pleasant
home; the opportunity of a useful career and an honoured name; and who
has nothing more to do but to wait patiently till the slow current of
his empty life drops into the sea of death.
"I feel so old, mother," he said, sometimes; "I feel so old."
To a man who has been accustomed to be busy there is no affliction so
intolerable as idleness.
Clement Austin felt this, and yet he had no heart to begin life again,
though tempting offers came to him from great commercial houses, whose
chiefs were eager to secure the well-known cashier of Messrs. Dunbar,
Dunbar, and Balderby's establishment.
Poor Clement could not go into the world yet. His disappointment had
been too bitter, and he had no heart to go out amongst hard men of
business, and begin life again. He wasted hour after hour, and day after
day, in gloomy thoughts about the past. What a dupe he had been! what a
shallow, miserable fool! for he had believed as firmly in Margaret
Wilmot's truth, as he had believed in the blue sky above his head.
One day a new idea flashed into Clement Austin's mind; an idea which
placed Margaret Wilmot's character even in a worse light than that in
which she had revealed herself in her own confession.
There could be only one reason for the sudden change in her sentiments
about Henry Dunbar: the millionaire had bribed her to silence! This
girl, who seemed the very incarnation of purity and candour, had her
price, perhaps, as well as other people, and Henry Dunbar had bought the
silence of his victim's daughter.
"It was the knowledge of this business that made her shrink away from me
that night when she told me that she was a contaminated creature, unfit
to be the associate of an honest man Oh, Margaret, Margaret! poverty
must indeed be a bitter school if it has prepared you for such
degradation as this!"
The longer Clement thought of the subject, the more certainly he arrived
at the conclusion that Margaret Wilmot had been, either bribed or
frightened into silence by Henry Dunbar. It might be that the banker had
terrified this unhappy girl by some awful threat that had preyed upon
her mind, and driven her from the man who loved her, whom she loved
perhaps, in spite of those heartless words which she had spoken in the
bitter hour of their parting.
Clement could not thoroughly believe in the baseness of the woman he had
trusted. Again and again he went over the same ground, trying to find
some lurking circumstance, no matter how unlikely in its nature, which
should explain and justify Margaret's conduct.
Sometimes in his dreams he saw the familiar face looking at him with
pensive, half-reproachful glances; and then a dark figure that was
strange to him came between him and that gentle shadow, and thrust the
vision away with a ruthless hand. At last, by dint of going over the
ground again and again, always pleading Margaret's cause against the
stern witness of cruel facts, Clement came to look upon the girl's
innocence as a settled thing.
There was falsehood and treachery in the business, but Margaret Wilmot
was neither false nor treacherous. There was a mystery, and Henry Dunbar
was at the bottom of it.
"It seems as if the spirit of the murdered man troubled our lives, and
cried to us for vengeance," Clement thought. "There will be no peace for
us until the secret of the deed done in the grove near Winchester has
been brought to light."
This thought, working night and day in Clement Austin's brain, gave rise
to a fixed resolve. Before he went back to the quiet routine of life, he
set himself a task to accomplish, and that task was the solution of the
On the very day after this resolution took a definite form, Clement
received a letter from Margaret Wilmot. The sight of the well-known
writing gave him a shock of mingled surprise and hope, and his fingers
were faintly tremulous as they tore open the envelope. The letter was
carefully worded, and very brief.
"_You are a good man, Mr. Austin_," Margaret wrote; "_and though you
have reason to despise me, I do not think you will refuse to receive my
testimony in favour of another who has been falsely suspected of a
terrible crime, and who has need of justification. Henry Dunbar was not
the murderer of my father. As Heaven is my witness, this is the truth,
and I know it to be the truth. Let this knowledge content you, and allow
the secret of the murder to remain for ever a mystery upon earth, God
knows the truth, and has doubtless punished the wretched sinner who was
guilty of that crime, as He punishes every other sinner, sooner or
later, in the course of His ineffable wisdom. Leave the sinner, wherever
he may be hidden, to the judgment of God, which penetrates every
hiding-place; and forget that you have ever known me, or my miserable
Even this letter did not shake Clement Austin's resolution.
"No, Margaret," he thought; "even your pleading shall not turn me from
my purpose. Besides, how can I tell in what manner this letter may have
been written? It may have been written at Henry Dunbar's dictation, and
under coercion. Be it as it may, the mystery of the Winchester murder
shall be set at rest, if patience or intelligence can solve the enigma.
No mystery shall separate me from the woman I love."
Clement put Margaret's letter in his pocket, and went straight to
Scotland Yard, where he obtained an introduction to a
businesslike-looking man, short and stoutly built, with close-cropped
hair, very little shirt-collar, a shabby black satin stock, and a coat
buttoned tightly across the chest. He was a man whose appearance was
something between the aspect of a shabby-genteel half-pay captain and an
unlucky stockbroker: but Clement liked the steady light of his small
grey eyes, and the decided expression of his thin lips and prominent
The detective business happened to be rather dull just now. There was
nothing stirring but a Bank-of-England forgery case; and Mr. Carter
informed Clement that there were more cats in Scotland Yard than could
find mice to kill. Under these circumstances, Mr. Carter was able to
enter into Clement's views, and sequestrate himself for a short period
for the more deliberate investigation of the Winchester business.
"I'll look up a file of newspapers, and run my eye over the details of
the case," said the detective. "I was away in Glasgow, hunting up the
particulars of the great Scotch-plaid robberies, all last summer, and I
can't say I remember much of what was done in the Wilmot business. Mr.
Dunbar himself offered a reward for the apprehension of the guilty
party, didn't he?"
"Yes; but that might be a blind."
"Oh, of course it might; but then, on the other hand, it mightn't. You
must always look at these sort of things from every point of view. Start
with a conviction of the man's guilt, and you'll go hunting up evidence
to bolster that conviction. My plan is to begin at the beginning; learn
the alphabet of the case, and work up into the syntax and prosody."
"I should like to help you in this business," Clement Austin said, "for
I have a vital interest in the issue of the case."
"You're rather more likely to hinder than help, sir," Mr. Carter
answered, with a smile; "but you're welcome to have a finger in the pie
if you like, as long as you'll engage to hold your tongue when I tell
Clement promised to be the very spirit of discretion. The detective
called upon him two days after the interview at Scotland Yard.
"I've read-up the Wilmot case, sir," Mr. Carter said; "and I think the
next best thing I can do is to see the scene of the murder. I shall
start for Winchester to-morrow morning."
"Then I'll go with you," Clement said, promptly.
"So be it, Mr. Austin. You may as well bring your cheque-book while
you're about it, for this sort of thing is apt to come rather
NOTES FROM A JOURNAL KEPT BY CLEMENT AUSTIN DURING HIS JOURNEY TO
"If I had been a happy man, with no great trouble weighing upon my mind,
and giving its own dull colour to every event of my life, I think I
might have been considerably entertained by the society of Mr. Carter,
the detective. The man had an enthusiastic love of his profession; and
if there is anything degrading in the office, that degradation had in no
way affected him. It may be that Mr. Carter's knowledge of his own
usefulness was sufficient to preserve his self-respect. If, in the
course of his duty, he had unpleasant things to do; if he had to affect
friendly acquaintanceship with the man whom he was hunting to the
gallows; if he was called upon to worm-out chance clues to guilty
secrets in the careless confidence that grows out of a friendly glass;
if at times he had to stoop to acts which, in other men, would be
branded as shameful and treacherous, he knew that he did his duty, and
that society could not hold together unless some such men as
himself--clear-headed, brave, resolute, and unscrupulous in the
performance of unpleasant work--were willing to act as watch-dogs for
the protection of the general fold, and to the terror of savage and
"Mr. Carter told me a great deal of his experience during our journey
down to Winchester. I listened to him, and understood what he said to
me; but I could not take any interest in his conversation. I could not
remember anything, or think of anything, except the mystery which
separates me from the woman I love.
"The more I think of this, the stronger becomes my conviction that I
have not been the dupe of a heartless or mercenary woman. Margaret has
not acted as a free agent. She has paid the penalty of her determination
to force herself into the presence of Henry Dunbar. By some inexplicable
means, by some masterpiece of villany and cunning, this man has induced
his victim's daughter to become the champion of his innocence, instead
of the denouncer of his guilt.
"There must be some hopeless entanglement, some cruel involvement, by
reason of which Margaret is compelled to falsify her nature, and
sacrifice her own happiness as well as mine. When she left me that day
at Shorncliffe, she suffered as cruelly as I could suffer: I know now
that it was so. But I was blinded then by pride and anger: I was
conscious of nothing but my own wrongs.
"Three times in the course of my journey from London to Winchester I
have taken Margaret's strange letter from my pocket-book, and have read
the familiar lines, with the idea of putting entire confidence in my
companion, and placing the letter in his hands. But in order to do this
I must tell him the story of my love and my disappointment; and I cannot
bring myself to do that. It may be that this man could discover hidden
meanings in Margaret's words--meanings that are utterly dark to me. I
suppose the science of detection includes the power to guess at thoughts
that lurk behind expressions which are simple enough in themselves.
* * * * *
"We got into Winchester at twelve o'clock in the day; and Mr. Carter
proposed that we should come straight to the George Hotel, at which
house Henry Dunbar stayed after the murder in the grove.
"'We can't do better than put up at the hotel where the suspected party
was stopping at the time of the event we're looking up,' Mr. Carter said
to me, as we strolled away from the station, after giving our small
amount of luggage into the care of a porter; 'we shall pick up all
manner of information in a promiscuous way, if we're staying in the
house; little bits that will seem nothing at all till you put them all
together, and begin at the beginning, and read them off the right way.
Now, Mr. Austin, there's a few words I must say before we begin
business; for you're an amateur at this kind of work, and it's just
possible that, with the best intentions, you may go and spoil my game.
Now, I've undertaken this affair, and I want to go through with it
conscientiously; under which circumstances I'm obliged to be candid. Are
you willing to act under orders?'
"I told Mr. Carter that I was perfectly willing to obey his orders in
everything, so long as what I did helped the purposes of our journey.
"'That's all square and pleasant,' he answered; 'so now for it. First
and foremost, you and me are two gentlemen that have got more time than
we know what to do with, and more money than we know how to spend. We've
heard a great deal about the fishing round Winchester; and we've come
down to spend an idle week or so, and have a look about the place
against next summer; and if we like the looks of the place, why, we
shall come and spend the summer months at the George, where we find the
accommodation in general, and say the fried soles, or the mock-turtle,
in particular, better than at any hotel in the three kingdoms. That's
number one; and that places us at once on the footing of good customers,
who are likely to be better customers. This will square the landlord and
the waiters, and there's nothing they can tell us that they won't tell
us willingly. So much for the first place. Now point number two is, that
we know nothing whatever of the man that was murdered. We know Mr.
Dunbar because he's a great man, a public character, and all that sort
of thing. We did see something about the murder in the papers, but
didn't take any interest in it. This will draw out the landlord or the
waiters, as the case may be, and we shall get the history of the murder,
with all that was said, and done, and thought, and suspected and hinted,
and whispered about it. When the landlord and the waiters have talked
about it a good deal, we begin to warm up, and take a kind of morbid
interest in the business; and then, little by little, I put in my
questions, and keep on putting 'em till every bit of information upon
this particular subject is picked away as clean as the meat that's torn
off a bone by a hungry dog. Now you'd like to help me in this business,
I dare say, Mr. Austin; and if you would, I think I can hit upon a plan
by which you might make yourself uncommonly useful.'
"I told my companion that I was very anxious to give him any help I
could afford, however insignificant that help might be.
"'Then, I'll tell you what you can do. I shan't go at the subject we
want to talk about at once; because, if I did, I should betray my
interest in the business and spoil my game; not that anybody would try
to thwart me, you understand, if they knew that I was detective officer
Henry Carter, of Scotland Yard. They'd be all on the _qui vive_ directly
they found out who I was, and what I was after, and they'd try to help
me. That's what they'd do; and Tom would tell me this, and Dick would
explain that, and Harry would remember the other; and among them they'd
contrive to muddle the clearest head that ever worked a difficult
problem in criminal Euclid. My game is to keep myself dark, and get all
the light I can from other people. I shan't ask any leading question,
but I shall wait quietly till the murder of Joseph Wilmot crops up in
the conversation; and I don't suppose I shall have to wait long. Your
business will be easy enough. You'll have letters to write, you will;
and as soon as ever you hear me and the landlord, or me and the waiter,
as the case may be, working round to the murder, you'll take out your
desk and begin to write.'
"'You want me to take notes of the conversation,' I said.
"'You've hit it. You won't appear to take any interest in the talk about
Henry Dunbar and the murder of his valet. You'll be altogether wrapped
up in those letters of yours, which must be written before the London
post goes out; but you'll contrive to write down every word that's said
by the people at the George bearing upon the business we're hunting up.
Never mind my questions; don't write them down, for they're of no
account. Write down the answers as plain as you can. They'll come all of
a heap, or anyhow; but that's no matter. It'll be my business to sort
'em, and put 'em ship-shape afterwards. You just keep your mouth shut,
and take notes, Mr. Austin; that's all you've got to do.'
"I promised to do this to the best of my ability. We were close to the
George by this time, and I could not help thinking of that bright
summer's day upon which Henry Dunbar and his victim had driven into
Winchester on the first stage of a journey which one of them was never
to finish. The conviction of the banker's guilt had so grown upon me
since that scene in St. Gundolph Lane, that I thought of the man now
almost as if he had been fairly tried and deliberately found guilty. It
surprised me when the detective talked of his guilt as open to question,
and yet to be proved. In my mind Henry Dunbar stood self-condemned, by
the evidence of his own conduct, as the murderer of his old servant
"The weather was bleak and windy, and there were very few wanderers in
the hilly High Street of Winchester. We were received with very
courteous welcome at the George, and were conducted to a comfortable
sitting-room upon the first-floor, with windows looking out upon the
street. Two bedrooms in the vicinity of the sitting-room were assigned
to us. I ordered dinner for six o'clock, having ascertained that hour to
be agreeable to Mr. Carter, who was slowly removing his wrappings, and
looking deliberately at every separate article in the room; as if he
fancied there might be some scrap of information to be picked up from a
window-blind, or a coal-scuttle, or lurking mysteries hidden in a
sideboard-drawer. I have no doubt the habit of observation was so strong
upon this man that he observed the most insignificant things
"It was a very dull unpleasant day, and I was glad to draw my chair to
the fire and make myself comfortable, while the waiter went to fetch a
bottle of soda-water and sixpenn'orth of 'best French' for my companion,
who was walking about the room with his hands in his pockets, and his
grizzled eyebrows knotted together.
"The reward which Government had offered for the arrest of Joseph
Wilmot's murderer was the legitimate price usually bidden for the head
of an assassin. The Government had offered to pay one hundred pounds to
any person or persons who should give such information as would lead to
the apprehension of the guilty party or parties. I had promised Mr.
Carter that I would give him another hundred pounds on my own account if
he succeeded in solving the mystery of Joseph Wilmot's death. The reward
at stake was therefore two hundred pounds; and this was a pretty high
stake, Mr. Carter told me, as the detective business went. I had given
him my written engagement to pay the hundred pounds upon the day of the
murderer's arrest, and I was very well able to do so without fear of
being compelled to ask help of my mother; for I had saved upwards of a
thousand pounds during my twelve years' service in the house of Dunbar,
Dunbar, and Balderby.
"I saw from Mr. Carter's countenance that he was thinking, and thinking
very earnestly. He drank the soda-water and brandy; but he said nothing
to the waiter who brought him that popular beverage. When the man was
gone, he came and planted himself opposite to me upon the hearth-rug.
"'I'm going to talk to you very seriously, sir,' he said.
"I assured him that I was quite ready to listen to anything he might
have to say.
"'When you employ a detective officer, sir,' he began, 'don't employ a
man you can't put entire confidence in. If you can't trust him don't
have anything to do with him; for if he isn't to be trusted with the
dearest family secret that ever was kept sacred by an honest man, why
he's a scoundrel, and you're much better off without his help. But when
you've got a man that has been recommended to you by those who know him,
trust him, and don't be afraid to trust him, don't confide in him by
halves; don't tell him one part of your story, and keep the other half
hidden from him; because, you see, working in the twilight isn't much
more profitable than working in the dark. Now, why do I say this to you,
Mr. Austin? You know as well as I do. I say it because I know you
haven't trusted me.'
"'I have told you all that was absolutely necessary for you to know,' I
"'Not a bit of it, sir. It's absolutely necessary for me to know
everything: that is, if you want me to succeed in the business I'm
engaged upon. You're afraid to give me your confidence out and out,
without reserve. Lor' bless your innocence, sir; in my profession a man
learns the use of his eyes; and when once he's learnt how to use them,
it ain't easy for him to keep them shut. I know as well as you do that
you're hiding something from me: you're keeping something back, though
you've half a mind to trust me. You took out a letter three times while
we wore sitting opposite to each other in the railway carriage; and you
read the letter; and every now and then, while you were reading it, you
looked up at me with a hesitating you-would-and-you-wouldn't sort of
look. You thought I was looking out of the window all the time; and so I
was, being uncommonly interested in the corn-fields we were passing just
then, so flat and stumpy and picturesque they looked; but, lor', Mr.
Austin, if I couldn't look out of the window and watch you at the same
time, I shouldn't be worth my salt to you or any one else. I saw plain
enough that you had half a mind to show me that letter; and it wasn't
very difficult to guess that the letter had some bearing upon the
business that has brought us to Winchester.'
"Mr. Carter paused, and settled himself comfortably against the corner
of the chimney-piece. I was not surprised that he should have read my
thoughts in the railway carriage. I pondered the matter seriously. He
was right in the main, no doubt; but how could I tell a detective
officer my dearest secret--the sad story of my only love?
"'Trust me, Mr. Austin,' my companion said; 'if you want me to be of use
to you, trust me thoroughly. The very thing you are hiding from me may
be the clue I most want to get hold of.'
"'I don't think that,' I said. 'However, I have every reason to believe
you to be an honest, conscientious fellow, and I will trust you. I dare
say you wonder why I am so much interested in this business?'
"'Well, to tell the honest truth, sir, it does seem rather out of the
common to see an independent gentleman like you taking all this trouble
to find out the rights and wrongs of a murder committed going on for a
twelvemonth ago: unless you're any relation of the murdered man: and
even if you're that, you're very unlike the common run of relations, for
they generally take such things quieter than anybody else,' answered Mr.
"I told the detective that I had never seen the murdered man in the
course of my life, and had never heard his name until after the murder.
"'Well, sir, then all I can say is, I don't understand your motive,'
returned, Mr. Carter.
"'Well, Carter, I think you're a good fellow, and I'll trust you,' I
said; 'but, in order to do that, I must tell you a long story, and
what's worse still, a love-story.'
"I felt that I blushed a little as I said this, and was ashamed of the
false shame that brought that missish glow into my cheeks. Mr. Carter
perceived my embarrassment, and was kind enough to encourage me.
"'Don't you be afraid of telling the story, because it's a sentimental
one,' he said: 'Lor' bless you, I've heard plenty of love-stories. There
ain't many bits of business come our way but what, if you sift 'em to
the bottom, you find a petticoat. You remember the Oriental bloke that
always asked, 'Who is she?' when he heard of a fight, or a fire, or a
mad bull broke loose, or any trifling calamity of that sort; because,
according to his views, a female was at the bottom of everything bad
that ever happened upon this earth. Well, sir, if that Oriental
potentate had lived in our times, and been brought up to the detective
line, I'm blest if he need have changed his opinions. So don't you be
ashamed of telling a love-story, sir. I was in love myself once, though
I do seem such a dry old chip; and I married the woman I loved too; and
she was a pretty little country girl, as fresh and innocent as the
daisies in her father's paddocks; and to this day she don't know what my
business really is. She thinks I'm something in the City, bless her dear
"This touch of sentiment in Mr. Carter's conversation was quite
unaffected, and I felt all the more inclined to trust him after this
little revelation of his domestic life. I told him the story of my
acquaintance with Margaret, very briefly giving him only the necessary
details. I told him of the girl's several efforts to see Henry Dunbar,
and the banker's persistent avoidance of her. I told him then of our
journey to Shorncliffe, and Margaret's strange conduct after her
interview with the man she had been so eager to see.
"The telling of this, though I told it briefly, occupied nearly an hour.
Mr. Carter sat opposite me all the time, listening intently; staring at
me with one fixed unvarying stare, and fingering musical passages upon
his knees, with slow cautious motions of his fingers and thumbs. But I
could see that he was not listening only: he was pondering and reasoning
upon what I told him. When I had finished my story, he remained silent
for some minutes: but he still stared at me with the same relentless and
stony gaze, and he still fingered his knees, following up his right hand
with his left, as slowly and deliberately as if he had been composing a
fugue after the manner of Mendelssohn.
"'And up to the time of that interview at Maudesley Abbey, Miss Wilmot
had stuck to the idea that Henry Dunbar was the murderer of her father?'
he said, at last.
"'And after that interview the young lady changed her opinion all of a
sudden, and would have it that the banker was innocent?' asked Mr.
"'Yes; when Margaret returned from Maudesley Abbey she declared her
conviction of Henry Dunbar's innocence.'
"'And she refused to fulfil her engagement with you?'
"The detective left off fingering fugues upon his knees, and began to
scratch his head, slowly pushing his hand up and down amongst his
iron-grey hair, and staring at me. I saw now that this stony glare was
only the fixed expression of Mr. Carter's face when he was thinking
profoundly, and that the relentlessness of his gaze had very little
relation to the object at which he gazed.
"I watched his face as he pondered, in the hope of seeing some sudden
mental illumination light up his stolid countenance: but I watched in
vain. I saw that he was at fault: I saw that Margaret Wilmot's conduct
was quite as inexplicable to him as it had been to me.
"'Mr. Dunbar's a very rich man,' he said, at last; 'and money generally
goes a good way in these cases. There was a political party, Sir Robert
somebody--but not Sir Robert Peel--who said, 'Every man has his price.'
Now, do you think it possible that Miss Wilmot would take a bribe, and
hold her tongue?'
"'Do I think that she would take money from the man she suspected as the
murderer of her father--the man she knew to have been the enemy of her
father? No,' I answered, resolutely; 'I am certain that she is incapable
of any such baseness. The idea that she had been bribed flashed across
me in the first bitterness of my anger: but even then I dismissed it as
incredible. Now that I can think coolly of the business, I know that
such an alternative is impossible. If Margaret Wilmot has been
influenced by Henry Dunbar, it is upon her terror that he has acted.
Heaven knows how he may have threatened her! The man who could lure his
old servant into a lonely wood and there murder him--the man who,
neither early nor late, had one touch of pity for the tool and
accomplice of his youthful crime--not one lingering spark of compassion
for the humble friend who sacrificed an honest name in order to serve
his master--would have little compunction in torturing a friendless girl
who dared to come before him in the character of an accuser.'
"'But you say that Miss Wilmot was resolute and high-spirited. Is she a
likely person to be governed by her terror of Mr. Dunbar? What threat
could he use to terrify her?'
"I shook my head hopelessly.
"'I am as ignorant as you are,' I said; 'but I have strong reason to
believe that Margaret Wilmot was under the influence of some great
terror when she returned from Maudesley Abbey.'
"'What reason?' asked Mr. Carter.
"'Her manner was sufficient evidence that she had been frightened. Her
face was as white as a sheet of paper when I met her, and she trembled
and shrank away from me, as if even my presence was horrible to her.'
"'Could you manage to repeat what she said that night and the next
"It was not very pleasant to me to re-open my wounds for the benefit of
Mr. Carter the detective; but it would have been absurd to thwart the
man when he was working in my interests. I loved Margaret too well to
forget anything she ever said to me, even in our happiest and most
careless hours: and I had special reason to remember that cruel farewell
interview, and the strange scene in the corridor at the Reindeer, on the
night of her return from Maudesley Abbey. I went over all this ground
again, therefore, for Mr. Carter's edification, and told him, word for
word, all that Margaret had said to me. When I had finished, he relapsed
once more into a reverie, during which I sat listening to the ticking of
an eight-day clock in the passage outside our sitting-room, and the
occasional tramp of a passing footstep on the pavement below our
"'There's only one thing strikes me very particular in all you've told
me,' the detective said, by-and-by, when I had grown tired of watching
him, and had suffered my thoughts to wander back to the happy time in
which Margaret and I had loved and trusted each other; 'there's only one
thing strikes me in all the young lady said to you, and that is these
words--'There is contamination in my touch,' Miss Wilmot says to you. 'I
am unfit to be the associate of an honest man,' Miss Wilmot says to you.
Now, that looks as if she had been bought over somehow or other by Mr.
Dunbar. I've turned it over in my mind every way; and however I reckon
it up, that's about what it comes to. The young woman was bought over,
and she was ashamed of herself for being bought over.'
"I told Mr. Carter that I could never bring myself to believe this.
"'Perhaps not, sir, but it may be gospel truth for all that. There's no
other way I can account for the young woman's carryings on. If Mr.
Dunbar was innocent, and had contrived, somehow or other, to convince
the young woman of his innocence, why, she'd have come to you free and
open, and would have said, 'My dear, I've made a mistake about Mr.
Dunbar, and I'm very sorry for it; but we must look somewhere else for
my poor pa's murderer.' But what does the young woman do? She goes and
scrapes herself along the passage-wall, and shudders and shivers, and
says, 'I'm a wretch; don't touch me--don't come near me.' It's just like
a woman, to take the bribe, and then be sorry for having taken it.'
"I said nothing in answer to this. It was inexpressibly obnoxious to me
to hear my poor Margaret spoken of as 'a young woman' by my
business-like companion. But there was no possibility of keeping any
veil over the sacred mysteries of my heart. I wanted Mr. Carter's help.
For the present Margaret was lost to me; and my only hope of penetrating
the hidden cause of her conduct lay in Mr. Carter's power to solve the
dark enigma of Joseph Wilmot's death.
"'Oh, by the bye,' exclaimed the detective, 'there was a letter, wasn't
"He held out his hand as I searched for the letter in my pocket-book.
What a greedy, inquisitive-looking palm it seemed! and how I hated Mr.
Henry Carter, detective officer, at that particular moment!
"I gave him the letter; and I did not groan aloud as I handed it to him.
He read it slowly, once, twice, three times--half-a-dozen times, I
think, in all--pushing the fingers of his left hand through his hair as
he read, and frowning at the paper before him. It was while he was
reading the letter for the last time that I saw a sudden glimmer of
light in his hard eyes, and a half-smile playing round his thin lips.
"'Well?' I said, interrogatively, as he gave me back the letter.
"'Well, sir, the young lady,'--Mr. Carter called Margaret a young lady
this time, and I could not help thinking that her letter had revealed
her to him as something different from the ordinary class of female
popularly described as a young woman,--'the young lady was in earnest
when she wrote that letter, sir,' he said; 'it wasn't written under
dictation, and she wasn't bribed to write it. There's heart in it, sir,
if I may be allowed the expression: there's a woman's heart in that
letter: and when a woman's heart is once allowed scope, a woman's brains
shrivel up like so much tinder. I put this letter to that speech in the
corridor at the Reindeer, Mr. Austin; and out of those two twos I verily
believe I can make the queerest four that was ever reckoned up by a
"A faint flush, which looked like a glow of pleasure, kindled all over
Mr. Carter's sallow face as he spoke, and he got up and walked about the
room; not slowly or thoughtfully, but with a brisk eager tread that was
new to me. I could see that his spirits had risen a great many degrees
since the reading of the letter.
"'You have got some clue,' I said; 'you see your way----'
"He turned round and checked my eager curiosity by a warning gesture of
his uplifted hand.
"'Don't be in a hurry, sir,' he said, gravely; 'when you lose your way
of a dark night, in a swampy country, and see a light ahead, don't begin
to clap your hands and cry hooray till you know what kind of light it
is. It may be a Jack-o'-lantern; or it may be the identical lamp over
the door of the house you're bound for. You leave this business to me,
Mr. Austin, and don't you go jumping at conclusions. I'll work it out
quietly: and when I've worked it out I'll tell you what I think of it.
And now suppose we take a stroll through the cathedral-yard, and have a
look at the place where the body was found.'
"'How shall we find out the exact spot?' I asked, while I was putting on
my hat and overcoat.
"'Any passer-by will point it out,' Mr. Carter answered; 'they don't
have a popular murder in the neighbourhood of Winchester every day; and
when they do, I make not the least doubt they know how to appreciate the
advantage. You may depend upon it, the place is pretty well known.'
"It was nearly five o'clock by this time. We went down the slippery
oak-staircase, and out into the quiet street. A bleak wind was blowing
down from the hills, and the rooks' nests high up in the branches of the
old trees about the cathedral were rocking like that legendary cradle in
the tree-top. I had never been in Winchester before, and I was pleased
with the quaint old houses, the towering cathedral, the flat meadows,
and winding streams of water rippled by the wind. I was soothed, somehow
or other, by the peculiar quiet of the scene; and I could not help
thinking that, if a man's life was destined to be miserable, Winchester
would be a nice place for him to be miserable in. A dreamy, drowsy,
forgotten city, where the only changes of the slow day would be the
varying chimes of the cathedral clock, the different tones of the
"Mr. Carter had studied every scrap of evidence connected with the
murder of Joseph Wilmot. He pointed out the door at which Henry Dunbar
had gone into the cathedral, the pathway which the two men had taken as
they went towards the grove. We followed this pathway, and walked to the
very place in which the murdered man had been found.
"A lad who was fishing in one of the meadows near the grove went with us
to show us the exact spot. It was between an elm and a beech.
"'There's not many beeches in the grove,' the lad said, 'and this is the
biggest of them. So that it's easy enough for any one to pick out the
spot. It was very dry weather last August at the time of the murder, and
the water wasn't above half as deep as it is now.'
"'Is it the same depth every where?' Mr. Carter asked.
"'Oh, dear no,' the boy said; 'that's what makes these streams so
dangerous for bathing: they're shallow enough in some places; but
there's all manner of holes about; and unless you're a good swimmer,
you'd better not try it on.'
"Mr. Carter gave the boy sixpence and dismissed him. We strolled a
little farther on, and then turned and went back towards the cathedral.
My companion was very silent, and I could see that he was still
thinking. The change that had taken place in his manner after he had
read Margaret's letter had inspired me with new confidence in him, and I
was better able to await the working out of events. Little by little the
solemn nature of the business in which I was engaged grew and gathered
force in my mind, and I felt that I had something more to do than to
solve the mystery of Margaret's conduct to myself: I had to perform a
duty to society, by giving my uttermost help towards the discovery of
Joseph Wilmot's murderer.
"If the heartless assassin of this wretched man was suffered to live and
prosper, to hold up his head as the master of Maudesley Abbey, the chief
partner in a great City firm that had borne an honourable name for a
century and a half, a kind of premium was offered to crime in high
places. If Henry Dunbar had been some miserable starving creature, who,
in a fit of mad fury against the inequalities of life, had lifted his
gaunt arm to slay his prosperous brother for the sake of
bread--detectives would have dogged his sneaking steps, and watched his
guilty face, and hovered round and about him till they tracked him to
his doom. But because in this case the man to whom suspicion pointed had
the supreme virtues comprised in a million of money, Justice wore her
thickest bandage, and the officials, who are so clever in tracking a
low-born wretch to the gallows, held aloof, and said respectfully,
'Henry Dunbar is too great a man to be guilty of a diabolical crime.'
"These thoughts filled my mind as I walked back to the George Hotel with
"It was half-past six when we entered the house, and we had kept dinner
waiting half an hour, much to the regret of the most courteous of
waiters, who expressed intense anxiety about the condition of the fish.
"As the man hovered about us at dinner, I expected every moment that Mr.
Carter would lead up to the only topic which had any interest either for
himself or me. But he was slow to do this; he talked of the town, the
last assizes, the state of the country, the weather, the prosperity of
the trout-fishing season--everything except the murder of Joseph Wilmot.
It was only after dinner, when some petrified specimens of dessert, in
the shape of almonds and raisins, figs and biscuits, had been arranged
on the table, that any serious business began. The preliminary
skirmishing had not been without its purpose, however; for the waiter
had been warmed into a communicative and confidential mood, and was now
ready to tell us anything he knew.
"I delegated all our arrangements to my companion; and it was something
wonderful to see Mr. Carter lolling in his arm-chair with what he called
the 'wine-cart' in his hand, deliberating between a forty-two port,
'light and elegant,' and a forty-five port, 'tawny and rich bouquet.'
"'I think we may as well try number fifteen,' he said, handing the list
of wines to the waiter after due consideration; 'and decant it
carefully, whatever you do. I hope your cellar isn't cold.'
"'Oh, no, sir; master's very careful of his cellar, sir.'
"The waiter went away impressed with the idea that he had to deal with a
couple of connoisseurs.
"'You've got those letters to write before ten o'clock, eh, Mr. Austin?'
said the detective, as the waiter re-entered the room with a decanter on
a silver salver.
"I understood the hint, and accordingly took my travelling-desk to a
side-table near the fireplace. Mr. Carter handed me one of the
wax-candles, and I sat down before the little table, unlocked my desk,
and began to write a few lines to my mother; while the detective smacked
his lips and knowingly deliberated over his first glass of port.
"'Very decent quality of wine,' he said, 'very decent. Do you know where
your master got it, eh? No, you don't. Ah! bottled it himself, I
suppose. I thought he might have got it at the Warren-Court sale the
other day, at the other end of the county. Fill a glass for yourself,
waiter, and put the decanter down by the fender; the wine's rather cold.
By the bye, I heard your wines very well spoken of the other day, by a
person of some importance, too--of considerable importance, I may say.'
"'Indeed, sir,' murmured the waiter, who was standing at a respectful
distance from the table, and was sipping his wine with deferential
"'Yes; I heard your house spoken of by no less a person than Mr. Dunbar,
the great banker.'
"The waiter pricked up his ears. I pushed aside the letter to my mother,
and waited with a blank sheet of paper before me.
"'That was a strange affair, by the bye,' said Mr. Carter. 'Fill
yourself another glass of wine, waiter; my friend here doesn't drink
port; and if you don't help me to put away that bottle, I shall take too
much. Were you examined at the inquest on Joseph Wilmot?'
"No, sir,' answered the waiter, eagerly. 'I were not, sir; and they do
say as we ought every one of us to have been examined; for you see
there's little facks as one person will notice and as another won't
notice, and it isn't a man's place to come forward with every little
trivial thing, you see, sir; but if little trivial things was drawn out
of one and another, they might help, you see, sir.'
"There could be no end gained by taking notes of this reply, so I amused
myself by making a good nib to my pen while I waited for something
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