M. E. Braddon
Part 8 out of 9
better worth jotting down.
"'Some of your people were examined, I suppose?' said Mr. Carter.
"'Oh, yes, sir,' answered the waiter; 'master, he were examined, to
begin with; and then Brigmawl, the head-waiter, he give his evidence;
but, lor', sir, without unfriendliness to William Brigmawl, which me and
Brigmawl have been fellow-servants these eleven year, our head-waiter is
that wrapped up in hisself, and his own cravats, and shirt-fronts, and
gold studs, and Albert chain, that he'd scarcely take notice of an
earthquake swallering up half the world before his eyes, unless the muck
and dirt of that earthquake was to spoil his clothes. William Brigmawl
has been head-waiter in this house nigh upon thirty year; and beyond a
stately way of banging-to a carriage-door, or showing visitors to their
rooms, or poking a fire, and a kind of knack of leading on timid people
to order expensive wines, I really don't see Brigmawl's great merit. But
as to Brigmawl at an inquest, he's about as much good as the Pope of
"'But why was Brigmawl examined in preference to any one else?'
"'Because he was supposed to know more of the business than any of us,
being as it was him that took the order for the dinner. But me and Eliza
Jane, the under-chambermaid, was in the hall at the very moment when the
two gentlemen came in.'
"'You saw them both, then?'
"'Yes, sir, as plain as I now see you. And you might have knocked me
down with a feather when I was told afterwards that the one who was
murdered was nothing more than a valet.'
"'You're not getting on very fast with your letters,' said Mr. Carter,
looking over his shoulder at me.
"'I had written nothing yet, and I understood this as a hint to begin. I
wrote down the waiter's last remark.
"'Why were you so surprised to find he was a valet?' Mr. Carter asked of
"'Because, you see, sir, he had the look of a gentleman,' the man
answered; 'an out-and-out gentleman. It wasn't that he held his head
higher than Mr. Dunbar, or that he was better dressed--for Mr. Dunbar's
clothes looked the newest and best; but he had a kind of languid
don't-careish way that seems to be peculiar to first-class gentlemen.'
"'What sort of a looking man was he?'
"'Paler than Mr. Dunbar, and thinner built, and fairer.'
"I jotted down the waiter's remarks; but I could not help thinking that
this talk about the murdered man's manner and appearance was about as
useless as anything could be.
"'Paler and thinner than Mr. Dunbar,' repeated the detective; 'paler and
thinner, eh? This was one thing you noticed; but what was it, now, that
you could have said at the inquest if you had been called as a witness?'
"'Well, sir, I'll tell you. It's a small matter, and I've mentioned it
many a time, both to William Brigmawl and to others; but they talk me
down, and say I was mistaken; and Eliza Jane being a silly giggling
hussey, can't bear me out in what I say. But I do most solemnly declare
that I speak the truth, and am not deceived. When the two
gentlemen--which gentlemen they both was to look at--came into our hall,
the one that was murdered had his coat buttoned tight across his chest,
except one button; and through the space left by that one button I saw
the glitter of a gold chain.'
"'Well, what then?'
"'The other gentleman, Mr. Dunbar, had his coat open as he got out of
the carriage, and I saw as plain as ever I saw anything, that he had no
gold-chain. But two minutes after he had come into the hall, and while
he was ordering dinner, he took and bottoned his coat. Well, sir, when
he came in, after visiting the cathedral, his coat was partially
unbuttoned and I saw that he wore a gold-chain, and, unless I am very
much mistaken, the same gold-chain that I had seen peeping out of the
breast of the murdered man. I could almost have sworn to that chain
because of the colour of the gold, which was a particular deep yaller.
It was only afterwards that these things came back to my mind, and I
certainly thought them very strange.'
"'Was there anything else?'
"'Nothing; except what Brigmawl dropped out one night at supper, some
weeks after the inquest, about his having noticed Mr. Dunbar opening his
desk while he was waiting for Joseph Wilmot to come home to dinner; and
Brigmawl do say, now that it ain't a bit of use, that Mr. Dunbar, do
what he would, couldn't find the key of his own desk for ever so long.'
"'He was confused, I suppose; and his hands trembled, eh?' asked the
"'No, sir; according to what Brigmawl said, Mr. Dunbar seemed as cool
and collected as if he was made of iron. But he kept trying first one
key and then another, for ever so long, before he could find the right
"'Did he now? that was queer.'
"'But I hope you won't think anything of what I've let drop, sir,' said
the waiter, hastily. 'I'm sure I wouldn't say any thing disrespectful
against Mr. Dunbar; but you asked me what I saw, sir, and I have told
you candid, and----'
"'My good fellow, you're perfectly safe in talking to me,' the detective
answered, heartily. 'Suppose you bring us a little strong tea, and clear
away this dessert; and if you've anything more to tell us, you can say
it while you're pouring out the tea. There's so much connected with
these sort of things that never gets into the papers, that really it's
quite interesting to hear of 'em from an eye-witness.'
"The waiter went away, pleased and re-assured, after clearing the table
very slowly. I was impatient to hear what Mr. Carter had gathered from
the man's talk.
"'Well,' he said, 'unless I'm very much mistaken, I think I've got my
friend the master of Maudesley Abbey.'
"'You do: but how so?' I asked. 'That talk about the gold-chain having
changed hands must be utterly absurd. What should Henry Dunbar want with
Joseph Wilmot's watch and chain?'
"'Ah, you're right there,' answered Mr. Carter. 'What should Henry
Dunbar want with Joseph Wilmot's gold chain? That's one question. Why
should Joseph Wilmot's daughter be so anxious to screen Henry Dunbar now
that she has seen him for the first time since the murder? There's
another question for you. Find the answer for it, if you can.
"I told the detective that he seemed bent upon mystifying me, and that
he certainly succeeded to his heart's content.
"Mr. Carter laughed a triumphant little laugh.
"'Never you mind, sir,' he said; you leave it to me, and you watch it
well, sir. It'll work out very neatly, unless I'm altogether wrong. Wait
for the end, Mr. Austin, and wait patiently. Do you know what I shall do
"'I haven't the faintest idea.'
"'I shall waste no more time in asking questions. I shall have the water
near the scene of the murder dragged. I shall try and find the clothes
that were stripped off the man who was murdered last August!'"
CLEMENT AUSTIN'S JOURNAL CONTINUED.
"The rest of the evening passed quietly enough. Mr. Carter drank his
strong tea, and then asked my permission to go out and smoke a couple of
cigars in the High Street. He went, and I finished my letter to my
mother. There was a full moon, but it was obscured every now and then by
the black clouds that drifted across it. I went out myself to post the
letter, and I was glad to feel the cool breeze blowing the hair away
from my forehead, for the excitement of the day had given me a nervous
"I posted my letter in a narrow street near the hotel. As I turned away
from the post-office to go back to the High Street, I was startled by
the apparition of a girlish figure upon the other side of the street--a
figure so like Margaret's that its presence in that street filled me
with a vague sense of fear, as if the slender figure, with garments
fluttering in the wind, had been a phantom.
"Of course I attributed this feeling to its right cause, which was
doubtless neither more nor less than the over-excited state of my own
brain. But I was determined to set the matter quite at rest, so I
hurried across the way and went close up to the young lady, whose face
was completely hidden by a thick veil.
"'Miss Wilmot--Margaret,' I said.
"I had thought it impossible that Margaret should be in Winchester, and
I was only right, it seemed, for the young lady drew herself away from
me abruptly and walked across the road, as if she mistook my error in
addressing her for an intentional insult. I watched her as she walked
rapidly along the narrow street, until she turned sharply away at a
corner and disappeared. When I first saw her, as I stood by the
post-office, the moonlight had shone full upon her. As she went away the
moon was hidden by a fleecy grey cloud, and the street was wrapped in
shadow. Thus it was only for a few moments that I distinctly saw the
outline of her figure. Her face I did not see at all.
"I went back to the hotel and sat by the fire trying to read a
newspaper, but unable to chain my thoughts to the page. Mr. Carter came
in a little before eleven o'clock. He was in very high spirits, and
drank a tumbler of steaming brandy-and-water with great gusto. But
question him how I might, I could get nothing from him except that he
meant to have a search made for the dead man's clothes.
"I asked him why he wanted them, and what advantage would be gained by
the finding of them, but he only nodded his head significantly, and told
me to wait.
* * * * *
"To-day has been most wretched--a day of miserable discoveries; and yet
not altogether miserable, for the one grand discovery of the day has
justified my faith in the woman I love.
"The morning was cold and wet. There was not a ray of sunshine in the
dense grey sky, and the flat landscape beyond the cathedral seemed
almost blotted out by the drizzling rain; only the hills, grand and
changeless, towered above the mists, and made the landmarks of the
"We took an early and hasty breakfast. Quiet and business-like as the
detective's manner was even to-day, I could see that he was excited. He
took nothing but a cup of strong tea and a few mouthfuls of dry toast,
and then put on his coat and hat.
"'I'm going down to the chief quarters of the county constabulary, he
said. 'I shall be obliged to tell the truth about my business down
there, because I want every facility for what I'm going to do. If you'd
like to see the water dragged, you can meet me at twelve o'clock in the
grove. You'll find me superintending the work.'
"It was about half-past eight when Mr. Carter left me. The time hung
very heavily on my hands between that time and eleven o'clock. At eleven
I put on my hat and overcoat and went out into the rain.
"I found my friend the detective standing in one of the smaller
entrances of the cathedral, in very earnest conversation with an old
man. As Mr. Carter gave me no token of recognition, I understood that he
did not want me to interrupt his companion's talk, so I walked slowly on
by the same pathway along which we had gone on the previous afternoon;
the same pathway by which the murdered man had gone to his death.
"I had not walked half a mile before I was joined by the detective.
"'I gave you the office just now,' he said, 'because I thought if you
spoke to me, that old chap would leave off talking, and I might miss
something that was on the tip of his tongue.'
"'Did he tell you much?'
"'No; he's the man who gave his evidence at the inquest. He gave me a
minute description of Henry Dunbar's watch and chain. The watch didn't
open quite in the usual manner, and the gentleman was rather awkward in
opening it, my friend the verger tells me. He was awkward with the key
of his desk. He seems to have had a fit of awkwardness that day.'
"'You think that he was guilty, and that he was confused and agitated by
the hideous business he had been concerned in?'
"Mr. Carter looked at me with a very queer smile on his face.
"'You're improving, Mr. Austin,' he said; 'you'd make a first-class
detective in next to no time.'
"I felt rather doubtful as to the meaning of this compliment, for there
was something very like irony in Mr. Carter's tone.
"'I'll tell you what I think,' he said, stopping presently, and taking
me by the button-hole. 'I think that I know why the murdered man's coat,
waistcoat, and shirt were stripped off him.'
"I begged the detective to tell me what he thought upon this subject;
but he refused to do so.
"'Wait and see,' he said; 'if I'm right, you'll soon find out what I
mean; if I'm wrong, I'll keep my thoughts to myself. I'm an old hand,
and I don't want to be found out in a mistake.'
"I said no more after this. The disappearance of the murdered man's
clothes had always appeared to me the only circumstance that was
irreconcilable with the idea of Henry Dunbar's guilt. That some brutal
wretch, who stained his soul with blood for the sake of his victim's
poor possessions, should strip off the clothes of the dead, and make a
market even out of them, was probable enough. But that Henry Dunbar, the
wealthy, hyper-refined Anglo-Indian, should linger over the body of his
valet and offer needless profanation to the dead, was something
incredible, and not to be accounted for by any theory whatever.
"This was the one point which, from first to last, had completely
"We found the man with the drags waiting for us under the dripping
trees. Mr. Carter had revealed himself to the constabulary as one of the
chief luminaries of Scotland Yard; and if he had wanted to dig up the
foundations of the cathedral, they would scarcely have ventured to
interfere with his design. One of the constables was lounging by the
water's edge, watching the men as they prepared for business.
"I have no need to write a minute record of that miserable day. I know
that I walked up and down, up and down, backwards and forwards, upon the
soddened grass, from noon till sundown, always thinking that I would go
away presently, always lingering a little longer; hindered by the fancy
that Mr. Carter's search was on the point of being successful. I know
that for hour after hour the grating sound of the iron drags grinding on
the gravelly bed of the stream sounded in my tired ears, and yet there
was no result. I know that rusty scraps of worn-out hardware, dead
bodies of cats and dogs, old shoes laden with pebbles, rank
entanglements of vegetable corruption, and all manner of likely and
unlikely rubbish, were dragged out of the stream, and thrown aside upon
"The detective grew dirtier and slimier and wetter as the day wore on;
but still he did not lose heart.
"'I'll have every inch of the bed of the stream, and every hidden hole
in the bottom, dragged ten times over, before I'll give it up,' he said
to me, when he came to me at dusk with some brandy that had been brought
by a boy who had been fetching beer, more or less, all the afternoon.
"When it grew dark, the men lighted a couple of flaring resinous
torches, which Mr. Carter had sent for towards dusk, and worked, by the
patches of fitful light which these torches threw upon the water. I
still walked up and down under the dripping trees, in the darkness, as I
had walked in the light; and once when I was farthest from the red glare
of the torches, a strange fancy took possession of me. In amongst the
dim branches of the trees I thought I saw something moving, something
that reminded me of the figure I had seen opposite the post-office on
the previous night.
"I ran in amongst the trees; and as I did so, the figure seemed to me to
recede, and disappear; a faint rustling of a woman's dress sounded in my
ears, or seemed so to sound, as the figure melted from my sight. But
again I had good reason to attribute these fancies to the state of my
own brain, after that long day of anxiety and suspense.
"At last, when I was completely worn out by my weary day, Mr. Carter
came to me.
"'They're found!' he cried. 'We've found 'em! We've found the murdered
man's clothes! They've been drifted away into one of the deepest holes
there is, and the rats have been gnawing at 'em. But, please Providence,
we shall find what we want. I'm not much of a church-goer, but I do
believe there's a Providence that lies in wait for wicked men, and
catches the very cleverest of them when they least expect it.'
"I had never seen Mr. Carter so much excited as he seemed now. His face
was flushed, and his nostrils quivered nervously.
"I followed him to the spot where the constable and two men, who had
been dragging the stream, were gathered round a bundle of wet rubbish
lying on the ground.
"Mr. Carter knelt down before this bundle, which was covered with
trailing weeds and moss and slime, and the constable stooped over him
with a flaming torch in his hand.
"'These are somebody's clothes, sure enough,' the detective said; 'and,
unless I'm very much mistaken, they're what I want. Has anybody got a
"Yes. The boy who had fetched beer had a basket. Mr. Carter stuffed the
slimy bundle into this basket, and put his arm through the handle.
"'You're not going to look 'em over here, then?' said the local
constable, with an air of disappointment.
"'No, I'll take them straight to my hotel; I shall have plenty of light
there. You can come with me, if you like,' Mr. Carter answered.
"He paid the men, who had been at work all day, and paid them liberally,
I suppose, for they seemed very well satisfied. I had given him money
for any expenses such as these; for I knew that, in a case of this kind,
every insignificant step entailed the expenditure of money.
"We walked homewards as rapidly as the miserable state of the path, the
increasing darkness, and the falling rain would allow us to walk. The
constable walked with us. Mr. Carter whistled softly to himself as he
went along, with the basket on his arm. The slimy green stuff and muddy
water dripped from the bottom of the basket as he carried it.
"I was still at a loss to understand the reason of his high spirits; I
was still at a loss to comprehend why he attached so much importance to
the finding of the dead man's clothes.
"It was past eight o'clock when we three men--the detecting the
Winchester constable, and myself--entered our sitting-room at the George
Hotel. The principal table was laid for dinner; and the waiter, our
friend of the previous evening, was hovering about, eager to receive us.
But Mr. Carter sent the waiter about his business.
"'I've got a little matter to settle with this gentleman,' he said,
indicating the Winchester constable with a backward jerk of his thumb;
'I'll ring when I want dinner.'
"I saw the waiter's eyes open to an abnormal extent, as he looked at the
constable, and I saw a sudden blank apprehension creep over his face, as
he retired very slowly from the room.
"'Now,' said Mr. Carter, 'we'll examine the bundle.'
"He pushed away the dinner-table, and drew forward a smaller table. Then
he ran out of the room, and returned in about two minutes, carrying with
him all the towels he had been able to find in my room and his own,
which were close at hand. He spread the towels on the table, and then
took the slimy bundle from the basket.
"'Bring me the candles--both the candles,' he said to the constable.
"The man held the two wax-candles on the right hand of the detective, as
he sat before the table. I stood on his left hand, watching him
"He touched the ragged and mud-stained bundle as carefully as if it had
been some living thing. Foul river-insects crept out of the weeds, which
were so intermingled with the tattered fabrics that it was difficult to
distinguish one substance from the other.
"Mr. Carter was right: the rats had been at work. The outer part of the
bundle was a coat--a cloth coat, knawed into tatters by the sharp teeth
"Inside the coat there was a waistcoat, a satin scarf that was little
better than a pulp, and a shirt that had once been white. Inside the
white shirt there was a flannel shirt, out of which there rolled
half-a-dozen heavy stones. These had been used to sink the bundle, but
were not so heavy as to prevent its drifting into the hole where it had
"The bundle had been rolled up very tightly, and the outer garment was
the only one which had been destroyed by the rats. The inner
garment--the flannel shirt--was in a very tolerable state of
"The detective swept the coat and waistcoat and the pebbles back into
the basket, and then rolled both of the shirts in a towel, and did his
best to dry them. The constable watched him with open eyes, but with no
ray of intelligence in his stolid face.
"'Well,' said Mr. Carter,' there isn't much here, is there? I don't
think I need detain you any longer. You'll be wanting your tea, I dare
"'I did'nt think there would be much in them,' the constable said,
pointing contemptuously to the wet rags; his reverential awe of Scotland
Yard had been considerably lessened during that long tiresome day. 'I
didn't see your game from the first, and I don't see it now. But you
wanted the things found, and you've had 'em found.'
"Yes; and I've paid for the work being done,' Mr. Carter answered
briskly; 'not but what I'm thankful to you for giving me your help, and
I shall esteem it a favour if you'll accept a trifle, to make up for
your lost day. I've made a mistake, that's all; the wisest of us are
liable to be mistaken once in a way.'
"The constable grinned as he took the sovereign which Mr. Carter offered
him. There was something like triumph in the grin of that Winchester
constable--the triumph of a country official who was pleased to see a
Londoner at fault.
"I confess that I groaned aloud when the door closed upon the man, and I
found myself alone with the detective, who had seated himself at the
little table, and was poring over one of the shirts outspread before
"'All this day's labour and weariness has been so much wasted trouble,'
I said; 'for it seems to have brought us no step nearer to the point we
wanted to reach."
"'Hasn't it, Mr. Austin?" cried the detective, eagerly. 'Do you think I
am such a fool as to speak out before the man who has just left this
room? Do you think I'm going to tell him my secret, or let him share my
gains? The business of to-day has brought us to the very end we want to
reach. It has brought about the discovery to which Margaret Wilmot's
letter was the first indication--the discovery pointed to by every word
that man told us last night. Why did I want to find the clothes worn by
the murdered man? Because I knew that those garments must contain a
secret, or they never would have been stripped from the corpse. It ain't
often that a murderer cares to stop longer than he's obliged by the side
of his victim; and I knew all along that whoever stripped off those
clothes must have had a very strong reason for doing it. I have worked
this business out by my own lights, and I've been right. Look there, Mr.
"He handed me the wet discoloured shirt, and pointed with his finger to
one particular spot.
"There, amidst the stains of mud and moss, I saw something which was
distinct and different from them. A name, neatly worked in dark crimson
thread--a Christian and surname, in full.
"'How do you make that out?' Mr. Carter asked, looking We full in the
"Neither I nor any rational creature upon this earth able to read
English characters could have well made out that name otherwise than I
made it out.
"It was the name of Henry Dunbar.
"'You see it all now, don't you?' said Mr. Carter; 'that's why the
clothes were stripped off the body, and hidden at the bottom of the
stream, where the water seemed deepest; that's why the watch and chain
changed hands; that's why the man who came back to this house after the
murder was slow to select the key of the desk. You understand now why it
was so difficult for Margaret Wilmot to obtain access to the man at
Maudesley Abbey; and why, when she had once seen that man, she tried to
shield him from inquiry and pursuit. When she told you that Henry Dunbar
was innocent of her father's murder, she only told you the truth. The
man who was murdered was Henry Dunbar; the man who murdered him was----'
"I could hear no more. The blood surged up to my head, and I staggered
back and dropped into a chair.
"When I came to myself, I found the detective splashing cold water in my
face. When I came to myself, and was able to think steadily of what had
happened, I had but one feeling in my mind; and that was pity,
unutterable pity, for the woman I loved.
* * * * *
"Mr. Carter carried the bundle of clothes to his own room, and returned
by-and-by, bringing his portmanteau with him. He put the portmanteau in
a corner near the fireplace.
"'I've locked the clothes safely in that,' he said; 'and I don't mean to
let it out of my sight till it's lodged in very safe hands. That mark
upon Henry Dunbar's shirt will hang his murderer.'
"'There may have been some mistake,' I said; 'the clothes marked with
the name of Henry Dunbar may not have really belonged to Henry Dunbar.
He may have given those clothes to his old valet.'
"'That's not likely, sir; for the old valet only met him at Southampton
two or three hours before the murder was committed. No; I can see it all
now. It's the strangest case that ever came to my knowledge, but it's
simple enough when you've got the right clue to it. There was no
probable motive which could induce Henry Dunbar, the very pink of
respectability, and sole owner of a million of money, to run the risk of
the gallows; there were very strong reasons why Joseph Wilmot, a
vagabond and a returned criminal, should murder his late master, if by
so doing he could take the dead man's place, and slip from the position
of an outcast and a penniless reprobate into that of chief partner in
the house of Dunbar and Company. It was a bold game to hazard, and it
must have been a fearfully perilous and difficult game to play, and the
man has played it well, to have escaped suspicion so long. His
daughter's conscientious scruples have betrayed him."
"Yes, Mr. Carter spoke the truth. Margaret's refusal to fulfil her
engagement had set in motion the machinery by means of which the secret
of this foul murder had been discovered.
"I thought of the strange revelation, still so new to me, until my brain
grew dazed. How had it been done? How had it been managed? The man whom
I had seen and spoken with was not Henry Dunbar, then, but Joseph
Wilmot, the murderer of his master--the treacherous and deliberate
assassin of the man he had gone to meet and welcome after his
five-and-thirty years' absence from England!
"'But surely such a conspiracy must be impossible,' I said, by-and-by;
'I have seen letters in St. Gundolph Lane, letters in Henry Dunbar's
hand, since last August.'
"'That's very likely, sir,' the detective answered, coolly. 'I turned up
Joseph Wilmot's own history while I was making myself acquainted with
the details of this murder. He was transported thirty years ago for
forgery: he made a bold attempt at escape, but he was caught in the act,
and removed to Norfolk Island. He was one of the cleverest chaps at
counterfeiting any man's handwriting that was ever tried at the Old
Bailey. He was known as one of the most daring scoundrels that ever
stepped on board a convict-ship; a clever villain, and a bold one, but
not without some touches of good in him, I'm told. At Norfolk Island he
worked so hard and behaved so well that he got set free before he had
served half his time. He came back to England, and was seen about
London, and was suspected of being concerned in all manner of criminal
offences, from card-sharping to coining, but nothing was ever brought
home to him. I believe he tried to make an honest living, but couldn't:
the brand of the gaol-bird was upon him; and if he ever did get a
chance, it was taken away from him before the sincerity of any apparent
reformation had been tested. This is his history, and the history of
many other men like him.'
"And Margaret was the daughter of this man. An inexpressible feeling of
melancholy took possession of me as I thought of this. I understood
everything now. This noble girl had heroically put away from her the one
chance of bright and happy life, rather than bring upon her husband the
foul taint of her father's crime. I could understand all now. I looked
back at the white face, rigid in its speechless agony; the fixed,
dilated eyes; and I pictured to myself the horror of that scene at
Maudesley Abbey, when the father and daughter stood opposite to each
other, and Margaret Wilmot discovered _why_ the murderer had
persistently hidden himself from her.
"The mystery of my betrothed wife's renunciation of my love had been
solved; but the discovery was so hideous that I looked back now and
regretted the time of my ignorance and uncertainty. Would it not have
been better for me if I had let Margaret Wilmot go her own way, and
carry out her sublime scheme of self-sacrifice? Would it not have been
better to leave the dark secret of the murder for ever hidden from all
but that one dread Avenger whose judgments reach the sinner in his
remotest hiding-place, and follow him to the grave? Would it not have
been better to do this?
"No! my own heart told me the argument was false and cowardly. So long
as man deals with his fellow-man, so long as laws endure for the
protection of the helpless and the punishment of the wicked, the course
of justice must know no hindrance from any personal consideration.
"If Margaret Wilmot's father had done this hateful deed, he must pay the
penalty of his crime, though the broken heart of his innocent daughter
was a sacrifice to his iniquity. If, by a strange fatality, I, who so
dearly loved this girl, had urged on the coming of this fatal day, I had
only been a blind instrument in the mighty hand of Providence, and I had
no cause to regret the revelation of the truth.
"There was only one thing left me. The world would shrink away, perhaps,
from the murderer's daughter; but I, who had seen her nature proved in
the fiery furnace of affliction, knew what a priceless pearl Heaven had
given me in this woman, whose name must henceforward sound vile in the
ears of honest men, and I did not recoil from the horror of my poor
"'If it has been my destiny to bring this great sorrow upon her,' I
thought, 'it shall be my duty to make her future safe and happy."
"But would Margaret ever consent to be my wife, if she discovered that I
had been the means of bringing about the discovery of her father's
"This was not a pleasant thought, and it was uppermost in my mind while
I sat opposite to the detective, who ate a very hearty dinner, and whose
air of suppressed high spirits was intolerable to me.
"Success is the very wine of life, and it was scarcely strange that Mr.
Carter should feel pleased at having succeeded in finding a clue to the
mystery that had so completely baffled his colleagues. So long as I had
believed in Henry Dunbar's guilt, I had felt no compunction as to the
task I was engaged in. I had even caught something of the detective's
excitement in the chase. But now, now that I knew the shame and anguish
which our discovery must inevitably entail upon the woman I loved, my
heart sank within me, and I hated Mr. Carter for his ardent enjoyment of
"'You don't mind travelling by the mail-train, do you, Mr. Austin?' the
detective said, presently.
"'Not particularly; but why do you ask me?'
"'Because I shall leave Winchester by the mail to-night.'
"'To get as fast as I can to Maudesley Abbey, where I shall have the
honour of arresting Mr. Joseph Wilmot.'
"So soon! I shuddered at the rapid course of justice when once a
criminal mystery is revealed.
"'But what if you should be mistaken! What if Joseph Wilmot was the
victim and not the murderer?"
"'In that case I shall soon discover my mistake. If the man at Maudesley
Abbey is Henry Dunbar, there must be plenty of people able to identify
"'But Henry Dunbar has been away five-and-thirty years.'
"'He has; but people don't think much of the distance between England
and Calcutta nowadays. There must be people in England now who knew the
banker in India. I'm going down to the resident magistrate, Mr. Austin;
the man who had Henry Dunbar, or the supposed Henry Dunbar, arrested
last August. I shall leave the clothes in his care, for Joseph Wilmot
will be tried at the Winchester assizes. The mail leaves Winchester at a
quarter before eleven,' added Mr. Carter, looking at his watch as he
spoke; 'so I haven't much time to lose.'
"He took the bundle from the portmanteau, wrapped it in a sheet of brown
paper which the waiter had brought him a few minutes before, and hurried
away. I sat alone brooding over the fire, and trying to reason upon the
events of the day.
"The waiter was moving softly about the room; but though I saw him look
at me wistfully once or twice, he did not speak to me until he was about
to leave the room, when he told me that there was a letter on the
mantelpiece; a letter which had come by the evening post.
"The letter had been staring me in the face all the evening, but in my
abstraction I had never noticed it.
"It was from my mother. I opened it when the waiter had left me, and
read the following lines:
"'MY DEAREST CLEM,--_I was very glad to get your letter this morning,
announcing your safe arrival at Winchester. I dare say I am a foolish
old woman, but I always begin to think of railway collisions, and all
manner of possible and impossible calamities, directly you leave me on
ever so short a journey.
"'I was very much surprised yesterday morning by a visit from Margaret
Wilmot. I was very cool to her at first; for though you never told me
why your engagement to her was so abruptly broken off, I could not but
think she was in some manner to blame, since I knew you too well, my
darling boy, to believe you capable of inconstancy or unkindness. I
thought, therefore, that her visit was very ill-timed, and I let her see
that my feelings towards her were entirely changed.
"'But, oh, Clement, when I saw the alteration in that unhappy girl, my
heart melted all at once, and I could not speak to her coldly or
unkindly. I never saw such a change in any one before. She is altered
from a pretty girl into a pale haggard woman. Her manners are as much
changed as her personal appearance. She had a feverish restlessness that
fidgeted me out of my life; and her limbs trembled every now and then
while she was speaking, and her words seemed to die away as she tried to
utter them. She wanted to see you, she said; and when I told her that
you were out of town, she seemed terribly distressed. But afterwards,
when she had questioned me a good deal, and I told her that you had gone
to Winchester, she started suddenly to her feet, and began to tremble
from head to foot.
"'I rang for wine, and made her take some. She did not refuse to take
it; on the contrary, she drank the wine quite eagerly, and said, 'I hope
it will give me strength. I am so feeble, so miserably weak and feeble,
and I want to be strong. I persuaded her to stop and rest; but she
wouldn't listen to me. She wanted to go back to London, she said; she
wanted to be in London by a particular time. Do what I would, I could
not detain her. She took my hands, and pressed them to her poor pale
lips, and then hurried away, so changed from the bright Margaret of the
past, that a dreadful thought took possession of my mind, and I began to
fear that she was mad.'_
"The letter went on to speak of other things; but I could not think of
anything but my mother's description of Margaret's visit. I understood
her agitation at hearing of my journey to Winchester. She knew that only
one motive could lead me to that place. I knew now that the familiar
figure I had seen in the moonlit street and in the dusky grove was no
phantasm of my over-excited brain. I knew now that it was the figure of
the noble-hearted woman I loved--the figure of the heroic daughter, who
had followed me to Winchester, and dogged my footsteps, in the vain
effort to stand between her father and the penalty of his crime.
"As I had been watched in the street on the previous night, I had been
watched to-night in the grove. The rustling dress, the shadowy figure
melting in the obscurity of the rain-blotted landscape had belonged to
"Mr. Carter came in while I was still pondering over my mother's letter.
"'I'm off,' he said, briskly. 'Will you settle the bill, Mr. Austin? I
suppose you'd like to be with me to the end of this business. You'll go
down to Maudesley Abbey with me, won't you?'
"'No,' I said; 'I will have no farther hand in this matter. Do your
duty, Mr. Carter; and the reward I promised shall be faithfully paid to
you. If Joseph Wilmot was the treacherous murderer of his old master, he
must pay the penalty of his crime; I have neither the power nor the wish
to shield him. But he is the father of the woman I love. It is not for
me to help in hunting him to the gallows.'
"Mr. Carter looked very grave.
"'To be sure, sir,' he said; 'I recollect now. I've been so wrapt up in
this business that I forgot the difference it would make to you; but
many a good girl has had a bad father, you know, sir, and----'
"I put up my hand to stop him.
"'Nothing that can possibly happen will lessen my esteem for Miss
Wilmot,' I said. 'That point admits of no discussion.'
"I took out my pocket-book, gave the detective money for his expenses,
and wished him good night.
"When he had left me, I went out into the High Street. The rain was
over, and the moon was shining in a cloudless sky. Heaven knows how I
should have met Margaret Wilmot had chance thrown her in my way
to-night. But my mind was filled with her image; and I walked about the
quiet town, expecting at every turn in the street, at every approaching
footstep sounding on the pavement, to see the figure I had seen last
night. But go where I would I saw no sign of her; so I came back to the
hotel at last, to sit alone by the dull fire, and write this record of
my day's work."
* * * * *
While Clement Austin sat in the lonely sitting-room at the George Inn,
with his rapid pen scratching along the paper before him, a woman walked
up and down the lamp-lit platform at Rugby, waiting for the branch train
which was to take her on to Shorncliffe.
This woman was Margaret Wilmot--the haggard, trembling girl whose
altered manner had so terrified simple-hearted Mrs. Austin.
But she did not tremble now. She had pushed her thick black veil away
from her face, and though no vestige of healthy colour had come back to
her cheeks or lips, her features had a set look of steadfast resolution,
and her eyes looked straight before her, like the eyes of a person who
has one special purpose in view, and will not swerve or falter until
that purpose has been carried out.
There was only one elderly gentleman in the first-class carriage in
which Margaret Wilmot took her seat when the branch train for
Shorncliffe was ready; and as this one fellow-passenger slept throughout
the journey, with his face covered by an expansive silk handkerchief,
Margaret was left free to think her own thoughts.
The girl was scarcely less quiet than her slumbering companion; she sat
in one changeless attitude, with her hands clasped together in her lap,
and her eyes always looking straight forward, as they had looked when
she walked upon the platform. Once she put her hand mechanically to the
belt of her dress, and then shook her head with a sigh as she drew it
"How long the time seems!" she said; "how long! and I have no watch now,
and I can't tell how late it is. If they should be there before me. If
they should be travelling by this train. No, that's impossible. I know
that neither Clement, nor the man that was with him, left Winchester by
the train that took me to London. But if they should telegraph to London
She began to tremble at the thought of this possibility. If that grand
wonder of science, the electric telegraph, should be made use of by the
men she dreaded, she would be too late upon the errand she was going on.
The mail train stopped at Shorncliffe while she was thinking of this
fatal possibility. She got out and asked one of the porters to get her a
fly; but the man shook his head.
"There's no flies to be had at this time of night, miss," he said,
civilly enough. "Where do you want to go?"
She dared not tell him her destination; secresy was essential to the
fulfilment of her purpose.
"I can walk," she said; "I am not going very far." She left the station
before the man could ask her any further questions, and went out into
the moonlit country road on which the station abutted. She went through
the town of Shorncliffe, where the diamond casements were all darkened
for the night, and under the gloomy archway, past the dark shadows which
the ponderous castle-towers flung across the rippling water. She left
the town, and went out upon the lonely country road, through patches of
moonlight and shadow, fearless in her self-abnegation, with only one
thought in her mind: "Would she be in time?"
She was very tired when she came at last to the iron gates at the
principal entrance of Maudesley Park. She had heard Clement Austin speak
of a bridle-path through the park to Lisford, and he had told her that
this bridle-path was approached by a gate in the park-fence upwards of a
mile from the principal lodge.
She walked along by this fence, looking for the gate.
She found it at last; a little low wooden gate, painted white, and only
fastened by a latch. Beyond the gate there was a pathway winding in and
out among the trunks of the great elms, across the dry grass.
Margaret Wilmot followed this winding path, slowly and doubtfully, till
she came to the margin of a vast open lawn. Upon the other side of this
lawn she saw the dark frontage of Maudesley Abbey, and three tall
lighted windows gleaming through the night.
The man who called himself Henry Dunbar was lying on the tapestried
cushions of a carved oaken couch that stood before the fire in his
spacious sitting-room. He lay there, listening to the March wind roaring
in the broad chimney, and watching the blazing coals and the crackling
logs of wood.
It was three o'clock in the morning now, and the servants had left the
room at midnight; but the sick man had ordered a huge fire to be made
up--a fire that promised to last for some hours.
The master of Maudesley Abbey was in no way improved by his long
imprisonment. His complexion had faded to a dull leaden hue; his cheeks
were sunken; his eyes looked unnaturally large and unnaturally bright.
Long hours of loneliness, long sleepless nights, and thoughts that from
every diverging point for ever narrowed inwards to one hideous centre,
had done their work of him. The man lying opposite the fire to-night
looked ten years older than the man who gave his evidence so boldly and
clearly before the coroner's jury at Winchester.
The crutches--they were made of some light, polished wood, and were
triumphs of art in their way--leaned against a table close to the couch,
and within reach to the man's hand. He had learned to walk about the
rooms and on the gravel-drive before the Abbey with these crutches, and
had even learned to do without them, for he was now able to set the
lamed foot upon the ground, and to walk a few paces pretty steadily,
with no better support than that of his cane; but as yet he walked
slowly and doubtfully, in spite of his impatience to be about once more.
Heaven knows how many different thoughts were busy in his restless brain
that night. Strange memories came back to him, as he lay staring at the
red chasms and craggy steeps in the fire--memories of a time so long
gone by, that all the personages of that period seemed to him like the
characters in a book, or the figures in a picture. He saw their faces,
and he remembered how they had looked at him; and among these other
faces he saw the many semblances which his own had worn.
O God, how that face had changed! The bright, frank, boyish countenance,
looking eagerly out upon a world that seemed so pleasant; the young
man's hopeful smile; and then--and then, the hard face that grew harder
with the lapse of years; the smile that took no radiance from a light
within; the frown that blackened as the soul grew darker. He saw all
these, and still for ever, amid a thousand distracting ideas, his
thoughts, which were beyond his own volition, concentrated in the one
plague-spot of his life, and held him there, fixed as a wretch bound
hand and foot upon the rack.
"If I could only get away from this place," he said to himself; "if I
could get away, it would all be different. Change of scene, activity,
hurrying from place to place in new countries and amongst strange
people, would have the usual influence upon me. That memory would pass
away then, as other memories have passed; only to be recalled, now and
then, in a dream; or conjured up by some chance allusion dropped from
the lips of strangers, some coincidence of resemblance in a scene, or
face, or tone, or look. _That_ memory cannot be so much worse than the
rest that it should be ineffaceable, where they have been effaced. But
while I stay here, here in this dismal room, where the dropping of the
ashes on the hearth, the ticking of the clock upon the chimney-piece,
are like that torture I have read of somewhere--the drop of water
falling at intervals upon the victim's forehead until the anguish of its
monotony drives him raving mad--while I stay here there is no hope of
forgetfulness, no possibility of peace. I saw him last night, and the
night before last, and the night before that. I see him always when I go
to sleep, smiling at me, as he smiled when we went into the grove. I can
hear his voice, and the words he said, every syllable of those
insignificant words, selfish murmurs about the probability of his being
fatigued in that long walk, the possibility that it would have been
better to hire a fly, and to have driven by the road--bah! What was he
that I should be sorry for him? Am I sorry for him? No! I am sorry for
myself, and for the torture which I have created for myself. O God! I
can see him now as he looked up at me out of the water. The motion of
the stream gave a look of life to his face, and I almost thought he was
still alive, and I had never done that deed."
These were the pleasant fireside thoughts with which the master of
Maudesley Abbey beguiled the hours of his convalescence. Heaven keep our
memories green! exclaims the poet novelist; and Heaven preserve us from
such deeds as make our memories hideous to us!
From such a reverie as this the master of Maudesley Abbey was suddenly
aroused by the sound of a light knocking against one of the windows of
his room--the window nearest him as he lay on the couch.
He started, and lifted himself into a sitting posture.
"Who is there?" he cried, impatiently.
He was frightened, and clasped his two hands upon, his forehead, trying
to think who the late visitant could be. Why should any one come to him
at such an hour, unless--unless _it_ was discovered? There could be no
other justification for such an intrusion.
His breath came short and thick as he thought of this. Had it come at
last, then, that awful moment which he had dreamed of so many
times--that hideous crisis which he had imagined under so many different
aspects? Had it come at last, like this?--quietly, in the dead of the
night, without one moment's warning?--before he had prepared himself to
escape it, or hardened himself to meet it? Had it come now? The man
thought all this while he listened, with his chest heaving, his breath
coming in hoarse gasps, waiting for the reply to his question.
There was no reply except the knocking, which grew louder and more
If there can be expression in the tapping of a hand against a pane of
glass, there was expression in that hand--the expression of entreaty
rather than of demand, as it seemed to that white and terror-stricken
His heart gave a great throb, like a prisoner who leaps away from the
fetters that have been newly loosened.
"What a fool I have been!" he thought. "If it was that, there would be
knocking and ringing at the hall-door, instead of that cautious summons.
I suppose that fellow Vallance has got into some kind of trouble, and
has come in the dead of the night to hound me for money. It would be
only like him to do it. He knows he must be admitted, let him come when
The invalid gave a groan as he thought this. He got up and walked to the
window, leaning upon his cane as he went.
The knocking still sounded. He was close to the window, and he heard
something besides the knocking--a woman's voice, not loud, but
peculiarly audible by reason of its earnestness.
"Let me in; for pity's sake let me in!"
The man standing at the window knew that voice: only too well, only too
well. It was the voice of the girl who had so persistently followed him,
who had only lately succeeded in seeing him. He drew back the bolts that
fastened the long French window, opened it, and admitted Margaret
"Margaret!" he cried; "what, in Heaven's name, brings you here at such
an hour as this?"
"Danger!" answered the girl, breathlessly. "Danger to you! I have been
running, and the words seem to choke me as I speak. There's not a moment
to be lost, not one moment. They will be here directly; they cannot fail
to be here directly. I felt as if they had been close behind me all the
way--they may have been so. There is not a moment--not one moment!"
She stopped, with her hands clasped upon her breast. She was incoherent
in her excitement, and knew that she was so, and struggled to express
"Oh, father!" she exclaimed, lifting her hands to her head, and pushing
the loose tangled hair away from her face; "I have tried to save you--I
have tried to save you! But sometimes I think that is not to be. It may
be God's mercy that you should be taken, and your wretched daughter can
die with you!"
She fell upon her knees, suddenly, in a kind of delirium, and lifted up
her clasped hands.
"O God, have mercy upon him!" she cried. "As I prayed in this room
before--as I have prayed every hour since that dreadful time--I pray
again to-night. Have mercy upon him, and give him a penitent heart, and
wash away his sin. What is the penalty he may suffer here, compared to
that Thou canst inflict hereafter? Let the chastisement of man fall upon
him, so as Thou wilt accept his repentance!"
"Margaret," said Joseph Wilmot, grasping the girl's arm, "are you
praying that I may be hung? Have you come here to do that? Get up, and
tell me what is the matter!"
Margaret Wilmot rose from her knees shuddering, and looking straight
before her, trying to be calm--trying to collect her thoughts.
"Father," she said, "I have never known one hour's peaceful sleep since
the night I left this room. For the last three nights I have not slept
at all. I have been travelling, walking from place to place, until I
could drop on the floor at your feet. I want to tell you--but the
words--the words--won't come--somehow----"
She pointed to her dry lips, which moved, but made no sound. There was a
bottle of brandy and a glass on the table near the couch. Joseph Wilmot
was seldom without that companion. He snatched up the bottle and glass,
poured out some of the brandy, and placed it between his daughter's
lips. She drank the spirit eagerly. She would have drunk living fire,
if, by so doing, she could have gained strength to complete her task.
"You must leave this house directly!" she gasped. "You must go abroad,
anywhere, so long as you are safe out of the way. They will be here to
look for you--Heaven only knows how soon!"
"Clement Austin, and a man--a detective----"
"Clement Austin--your lover--your confederate? You have betrayed me,
"I!" cried the girl, looking at her father.
There was something sublime in the tone of that one word--something
superb in the girl's face, as her eyes met the haggard gaze of the
"Forgive me, my girl! No, no, you wouldn't do that, even to a loathsome
wretch like me!"
"But you will go away--you will escape from them?"
"Why should I be afraid of them? Let them come when they please, they
have no proof against me."
"No proof? Oh, father, you don't know--you don't know. They have been to
Winchester. I heard from Clement's mother that he had gone there; and I
went after him, and found out where he was--at the inn where you stayed,
where you refused to see me--and that there was a man with him. I waited
about the streets; and at night I saw them both, the man and Clement.
Oh! father, I knew they could have only one purpose in coming to that
place. I saw them at night; and the next day I watched again--waiting
about the street, and hiding myself under porches or in shops, when
there was any chance of my being seen. I saw Clement leave the George,
and take the way towards the cathedral. I went to the cathedral-yard
afterwards, and saw the strange man talking in a doorway with an old
man. I loitered about the cathedral-yard, and saw the man that was with
Clement go away, down by the meadows, towards the grove, to the place
She stopped, and trembled so violently that she was unable to speak.
Joseph Wilmot filled the glass with brandy for the second time, and put
it to his daughter's lips.
She drank about a teaspoonful, and then went on, speaking very rapidly,
and in broken sentences--
"I followed the man, keeping a good way behind, so that he might not see
that he was followed. He went straight down to the very place where--the
murder was done. Clement was there, and three men. They were there under
the trees, and they were dragging the water."
"Dragging the water! Oh, my God, why were they doing that?" cried the
man, dropping suddenly on the chair nearest to him, and with his face
For the first time since Margaret had entered the room terror took
possession of him. Until now he had listened attentively, anxiously; but
the ghastly look of fear and horror was new upon his face. He had defied
discovery. There was only one thing that could be used against him--the
bundle of clothes, the marked garments of the murdered man--those fatal
garments which he had been unable to destroy, which he had only been
able to hide. These things alone could give evidence against him; but
who should think of searching for these things? Again and again he had
thought of the bundle at the bottom of the stream, only to laugh at the
wondrous science of discovery which had slunk back baffled by so slight
a mystery, only to fancy the water-rats gnawing the dead man's garments,
and all the oose and slime creeping in and out amongst the folds until
the rotting rags became a very part of the rank river-weeds that crawled
and tangled round them.
He had thought this, and the knowledge that strangers had been busy on
that spot, dragging the water--the dreadful water that had so often
flowed through his dreams--with, not one, but a thousand dead faces
looking up and grinning at him through the stream--the tidings that a
search had been made there, came upon him like a thunderbolt.
"Why did they drag the water?" he cried again.
His daughter was standing at a little distance from him. She had never
gone close up to him, and she had receded a little--involuntarily, as a
woman shrinks away from some animal she is frightened of--whenever he
had approached her. He knew this--yes, amidst every other conflicting
thought, this man was conscious that his daughter avoided him.
"They dragged the water," Margaret said; "I walked about--that
place--under the elms--all the day--only one day--but it seemed to last
for ever and ever. I was obliged to hide myself--and to keep at a
distance, for Clement was there all day; but as it grew dusk I ventured
nearer, and found out what they were doing, and that they had not found
what they were searching for; but I did not know yet what it was they
wanted to find."
"But they found it!" gasped the girl's father; "did they find it? Come
"Yes, they found it by-and-by. A bundle of rags, a boy told me--a boy
who had been about with the men all day--'a bundle of rags, it looked
like,' he said; but he heard the constable say that those rags were the
clothes that had belonged to the murdered man."
"What then? What next?"
"I waited to hear no more, father; I ran all the way to Winchester to
the station--I was in time for a train, which brought me to London--I
came on by the mail to Rugby--and----"
"Yes, yes; I know--and you are a brave girl, a noble girl. Ah! my poor
Margaret, I don't think I should have hated that man so much if it
hadn't been for the thought of you--your lonely girlhood--your hopeless,
joyless existence--and all through him--all through the man who ruined
me at the outset of my life. But I won't talk--I daren't talk: they have
found the clothes; they know that the man who was murdered was Henry
Dunbar--they will be here--let me think--let me think how I can get
He clasped both his hands upon his head, as if by force of their iron
grip he could steady his mind, and clear away the confusion of his
From the first day on which he had taken possession of the dead man's
property until this moment he had lived in perpetual terror of the
crisis which had now arrived. There was no possible form or manner in
which he had not imagined the situation. There was no preparation in his
power to make that he had left unmade. But he had hoped to anticipate
the dreaded hour. He had planned his flight, and meant to have left
Maudesley Abbey for ever, in the first hour that found him capable of
travelling. He had planned his flight, and had started on that wintry
afternoon, when the Sabbath bells had a muffled sound, as their solemn
peals floated across the snow--he had started on his journey with the
intention of never again returning to Maudesley Abbey. He had meant to
leave England, and wander far away, through all manner of unfrequented
districts, choosing places that were most difficult of approach, and
least affected by English travellers.
He had meant to do this, and had calculated that his conduct would be,
at the worst, considered eccentric; or perhaps it would be thought
scarcely unnatural in a lonely man, whose only child had married into a
higher sphere than his own. He had meant to do this, and by-and-by, when
he had been lost sight of by the world, to hide himself under a new name
and a new nationality, so that if ever, by some strange fatality, by
some awful interposition of Providence, the secret of Henry Dunbar's
death should come to light, the murderer would be as entirely removed
from human knowledge as if the grave had closed over him and hidden him
This is the course that Joseph Wilmot had planned for himself. There had
been plenty of time for him to think and plot in the long nights that he
had spent in those splendid rooms--those noble chambers, whose grandeur
had been more hideous to him than the blank walls of a condemned cell;
whose atmosphere had seemed more suffocating than the foetid vapours of
a fever-tainted den in St. Giles's. The passionate, revengeful yearning
of a man who has been cruelly injured and betrayed, the common greed of
wealth engendered out of poverty's slow torture, had arisen rampant in
this man's breast at the sight of Henry Dunbar. By one hideous deed both
passions were gratified; and Joseph Wilmot, the bank-messenger, the
confidential valet, the forger, the convict, the ticket-of-leave man,
the penniless reprobate, became master of a million of money.
Yes, he had done this. He had entered Winchester upon that August
afternoon, with a few sovereigns and a handful of silver in his pocket,
and with a life of poverty and degradation, before him. He had left the
same town chief partner in the firm of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, and
sole owner of Maudesley Abbey, the Yorkshire estates, and the house in
Surely this was the very triumph of crime, a master-stroke of villany.
But had the villain ever known one moment's happiness since the
commission of that deed--one moment's peace--one moment's freedom from a
slow, torturing anguish that was like the gnawing of a ravenous beast
for ever preying on his entrails? The author of the _Opium-Eater_
suffered so cruelly from some internal agony that he grew at last to
fancy there was indeed some living creature inside him, for ever
torturing and tormenting him. This doubtless was only the fancy of an
invalid: but what of that undying serpent called Remorse, which coils
itself about the heart of the murderer and holds it for ever in a deadly
grip--never to beat freely again, never to know a painless throb, or
feel a sweet emotion?
In a few minutes--while the rooks were cawing in the elms, and the green
leaves fluttering in the drowsy summer air, and the blue waters rippling
in the sunshine and flecked by the shadows--Joseph Wilmot had done a
deed which had given him the richest reward that a murderer ever hoped
to win; and had so transformed his life, so changed the very current of
his being, that he went away out of that wood, not alone, but dogged
step by step by a gaunt, stalking creature, a hideous monster that
echoed his every breath, and followed at his shoulder, and clung about
him, and grappled his throat, and weighed him down; a horrid thing,
which had neither shape nor name, and yet wore every shape, and took
every name, and was the ghost of the deed that he had done.
Joseph Wilmot stood for a few moments with his hands clasped upon his
head, and then the shadows faded from his face, which suddenly became
fixed and resolute-looking. The first thrill of terror, the first shock
of surprise, were over. This man never had been and never could be a
coward. He was ready now for the worst. It may be that he was glad the
worst had come. He had suffered such unutterable anguish, such
indescribable tortures, during the time in which his guilt had been
unsuspected, that it may have been a kind of relief to know that his
secret was discovered, and that he was free to drop the mask.
While he paused, thinking what he was to do, some lucky thought came to
him, for his face brightened suddenly with a triumphant smile.
"The horse!" he said. "I may ride, though I can't walk."
He took up his cane, and went to the next room, where there was a door
that opened into the quadrangle, in which the master of the Abbey had
caused a loose box to be built for his favourite horse. Margaret
followed her father, not closely, but at a little distance, watching him
with anxious, wondering eyes.
He unfastened the half-glass door, opened it, and went out into the
quadrangular garden, the quaint old-fashioned garden, where the
flower-beds were primly dotted on the smooth grass-plot, in the centre
of which there was a marble basin, and the machinery of a little
fountain that had never played within the memory of living man.
"Go back for the lamp, Margaret," Joseph Wilmot whispered. "I must have
The girl obeyed. She had left off trembling now, and carried the shaded
lamp as steadily as if she had been bent on some simple womanly errand.
She followed her father into the garden, and went with him to the loose
box where the horse was to be found.
The animal knew his master, even in that uncertain light. There was gas
laid on in the millionaire's stables, and a low jet had been left
burning by the groom.
The horse plunged his head about his master's shoulders, and shook his
mane, and reared, and disported himself in his delight at seeing his old
friend once more, and it was only Joseph Wilmot's soothing hand and
voice that subdued the animal's exuberant spirits.
"Steady, boy, steady! quiet, old fellow!" Joseph said, in a whisper.
Three or four saddles and bridles hung upon a rack in one corner of the
small stable. Joseph Wilmot selected the things he wanted, and began to
saddle the horse, supporting himself on his cane as he did so.
The groom slept in the house now, by his master's orders, and there was
no one within hearing.
The horse was saddled and bridled in five minutes, and Joseph Wilmot led
him out of the stable, followed by Margaret, who still carried the lamp.
There was a low iron gate leading out of the quadrangle into the
grounds. Joseph led the horse to this gate.
"Go back and get me my coat," he said to Margaret; "you'll go faster
than I can. You'll find a coat lined with fur on a chair in the
His daughter obeyed, silently and quietly, as she had done before. The
rooms all opened one into the other. She saw the bedroom with the tall,
gloomy bedstead, the light of the fire flickering here and there. She
set the lamp down upon a table in this room, and found the fur-lined
coat her father had sent her to fetch. There was a purse lying on a
dressing-table, with sovereigns glittering through the silken network,
and the girl snatched it up as she hurried away, thinking, in her
innocent simplicity, that her father might have nothing but those few
sovereigns to help him in his flight. She went back to him, carrying the
bulky overcoat, and helped him to put it on in place of the
dressing-grown he had been wearing. He had taken his hat before going to
"Here is your purse, father," she said, thrusting it into his hand;
"there is something in it, but I'm afraid there's not very much. How
will you manage for money where you art going?"
"Oh, I shall manage very well."
He had got into the saddle by this time, not without considerable
difficulty; but though the fresh air made him feel faint and dizzy, he
felt himself a new man now that the horse was under him--the brave
horse, the creature that loved him, whose powerful stride could carry
him almost to the other end of the world; as it seemed to Joseph Wilmot
in the first triumph of being astride the animal once more. He put his
hand involuntarily to the belt that was strapped round him, as Margaret
asked that question about the money.
"Oh, yes," he said, "I've money enough--I am all right."
"But where are you going?" she asked, eagerly.
The horse was tearing up the wet gravel, and making furious champing
noises in his impatience of all this delay.
"I don't know," Joseph Wilmot answered; "that will depend upon--I don't
know. Good night, Margaret. God bless you! I don't suppose He listens to
the prayers of such as me. If He did, it might have been all different
long ago--when I tried to be honest!"
Yes, this was true; the murderer of Henry Dunbar had once tried to be
honest, and had prayed God to prosper his honesty; but then he only
tried to do right in a spasmodic, fitful kind of way, and expected his
prayers to be granted as soon as they were asked, and was indignant with
a Providence that seemed to be deaf to his entreaties. He had always
lacked that sublime quality of patience, which endures the evil day, and
calmly breasts the storm.
"Let me go with you, father," Margaret said, in an entreating voice,
"let me go with you. There is nothing in all the world for me, except
the hope of God's forgiveness for you. I want to be with you. I don't
want you to be amongst bad men, who will harden your heart. I want to be
with you--far away--where----"
"_You_ with me?" said Joseph Wilmot, slowly; "you wish it?"
"With all my heart!"
"And you're true," he cried, bending down to grasp his daughter's
shoulder and look her in the face, "you're true, Margaret, eh?--true as
steel; ready for anything, no flinching, no quailing or trembling when
the danger comes. You've stood a good deal, and stood it nobly. Can you
stand still more, eh?"
"For your sake, father, for your sake! yes, yes, I will brave anything
in the world, do anything to save you from----"
She shuddered as she remembered what the danger was that assailed him,
the horror from which flight alone could save him. No, no, no! _that_
could never be endured at any cost; at any sacrifice he must be saved
from _that_. No strength of womanly fortitude, no trust in the mercy of
God, could even make her resigned as to _that_.
"I'll trust you, Margaret," said Joseph Wilmot, loosening his grasp upon
the girl's shoulder; "I'll trust you. Haven't I reason to trust you?
Didn't I see your mother, on the day when she found out what my history
was; didn't I see the colour fade out of her face till she was whiter
than the linen collar round her neck, and in the next moment her arms
were about me, and her honest eyes looking up in my face, as she cried,
'I shall never love you less, dear; there's nothing in this world can
make me love you less!'"
He paused for a moment. His voice had grown thick and husky; but he
broke out violently in the next instant.
"Great Heaven! why do I stop talking like this? Listen to me, Margaret;
if you want to see the last of me, you must find your way, somehow or
other, to Woodbine Cottage, near Lisford--on the Lisford Road, I think.
Find your way there--I'm going there now, and shall be there long before
"Yes; Woodbine Cottage, Lisford--I shan't forget! God speed you,
father!--God help you!"
"He is the God of sinners," thought the wretched girl. "He gave Cain a
long lifetime in which to repent of his sins."
Margaret thought this as she stood at the gate, listening to the horse's
hoofs upon the gravel road that wound through the grounds away into the
She was very, very tired, but had little sense of her fatigue, and her
journey was by no means finished yet. She did not once look back at
Maudesley Abbey--that stately and splendid mansion, in which a miserable
wretch had acted his part, and endured the penalty of his guilt, for
many wearisome months She went away--hurrying along the lonely pathways,
with the night breezes blowing her loose hair across her eyes, and
half-blinding her as she went--to find the gate by which she had entered
She went out at this gateway because it was the only point of egress by
which she could leave the park without being seen by the keeper of a
lodge. The dim morning light was grey in the sky before she met any one
whom she could ask to direct her to Woodbine Cottage; but at last a man
came out of a farmyard with a couple of milk-pails, and directed her to
the Lisford Road.
It was broad daylight when she reached the little garden-gate before
Major Vernon's abode. It was broad daylight, and the door leading into
the prim little hall was ajar. The girl pushed it open, and fell into
the arms of a man, who caught her as she fainted.
"Poor girl, poor child!" said Joseph Wilmot; "to think what she has
suffered. And I thought that she would profit by that crime; I thought
that she would take the money, and be content to leave the mystery
unravelled. My poor child! my poor, unhappy child!"
The man who had murdered Henry Dunbar wept aloud over the white face of
his unconscious daughter.
"Don't let's have any of that fooling," cried a harsh voice from the
little parlour; "we've no time to waste on snivelling!"
AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY.
Mr. Carter the detective lost no time about his work; but he did not
employ the telegraph, by which means he might perhaps have expedited the
arrest of Henry Dunbar's murderer. He did not avail himself of the
facilities offered by that wonderful electric telegraph, which was once
facetiously called the rope that hung Tawell the Quaker, because in so
doing he must have taken the local police into his confidence, and he
wished to do his work quietly, only aided by a companion and humble
follower, whom he was in the habit of employing.
He went up to London by the mail-train after parting from Clement
Austin; took a cab at the Waterloo station, and drove straight off to
the habitation of his humble assistant, whom he most unceremoniously
roused from his bed. But there was no train for Warwickshire before the
six-o'clock parliamentary, and there was a seven-o'clock express, which
would reach Rugby ten minutes after that miserably slow conveyance; so
Mr. Carter naturally elected to sacrifice the ten minutes, and travel by
the express. Meanwhile he took a hearty breakfast, which had been
hastily prepared by the wife of his friend and follower, and explained
the nature of the business before them.
It must be confessed that, in making these explanations to his humble
friend, Mr. Carter employed a tone that implied no little superiority,
and that the friendliness of his manner was tempered by condescension.
The friend was a middle-aged and most respectable-looking individual,
with a turnip-hued skin relieved by freckles, dark-red eyes, and
pale-red hair. He was not a very prepossessing person, and had a habit
of working about his lips and jaws when he was neither eating nor
talking, which was far from pleasant to behold. He was very much
esteemed by Mr. Carter, nevertheless; not so much because he was clever,
as because he looked so eminently stupid. This last characteristic had
won for him the _sobriquet_ of Sawney Tom, and he was considered worth
his weight in sovereigns on certain occasions, when a simple country lad
or a verdant-looking linen-draper's apprentice was required to enact
some little part in the detective drama.
"You'll bring some of your traps with you, Sawney," said Mr.
Carter.--"I'll take another, ma'am, if you please. Three minutes and a
half this time, and let the white set tolerably firm." This last remark
was addressed to Mrs. Sawney Tom, or rather Mrs. Thomas Tibbles--Sawney
Tom's name was Tibbles--who was standing by the fire, boiling eggs and
toasting bread for her husband's patron. "You'll bring your traps,
Sawney," continued the detective, with his mouth full of buttered toast;
"there's no knowing how much trouble this chap may give us; because you
see a chap that can play the bold game he has played, and keep it up for
nigh upon a twelvemonth, could play any game. There's nothing out that
he need look upon as beyond him. So, though I've every reason to think
we shall take my friend at Maudesley as quietly as ever a child in arms
was took out of its cradle, still we may as well be prepared for the
Mr. Tibbles, who was of a taciturn disposition, and who had been busily
chewing nothing while listening to his superior, merely gave a jerk of
acquiescence in answer to the detective's speech.
"We start as solicitor and clerk," said Mr. Carter. "You'll carry a blue
bag. You'd better go and dress: the time's getting on. Respectable black
and a clean shave, you know, Sawney. We're going to an old gentleman in
the neighbourhood of Shorncliffe, that wants his will altered all of a
hurry, having quarrelled with his three daughters; that's what _we're_
goin' to do, if anybody's curious about our business."
Mr. Tibbles nodded, and retired to an inner apartment, whence he emerged
by-and-by dressed in a shabby-genteel costume of somewhat funereal
aspect, and with the lower part of his face rasped like a French roll,
and somewhat resembling that edible in colour.
He brought a small portmanteau with him, and then departed to fetch a
cab, in which vehicle the two gentlemen drove away to the Euston-Square
It was one o'clock in the day when they reached the great iron gates of
Maudesley Abbey in a fly which they had chartered at Shorncliffe. It was
one o'clock on a bright sunshiny day, and the heart of Mr. Carter the
detective beat high with expectation of a great triumph.
He descended from the fly himself, in order to question the woman at the
"You'd better get out, Sawney," he said, putting his head in at the
window, in order to speak to his companion; "I shan't take the vehicle
into the park. It'll be quieter and safer for us to walk up to the
Mr. Tibbles, with his blue-bag on his arm, got out of the fly, prepared
to attend his superior whithersoever that luminary chose to lead him.
The woman at the lodge was not alone; a little group of gossips were
gathered in the primly-furnished parlour, and the talk was loud and
"Which I was that took aback like, you might have knocked me down with a
feather," said the proprietress of the little parlour, as she went out
of the rustic porch to open the gate for Mr. Carter and his companion.
"I want to see Mr. Dunbar," he said, "on particular business. You can
tell him I come from the banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane. I've got a
letter from the junior partner there, and I'm to deliver it to Mr.
The keeper of the lodge threw up her hands and eyes in token of utter
"Begging your pardon, sir," she said, "but I've been that upset, I don't
know scarcely what I'm a-doing of. Mr. Dunbar have gone, sir, and nobody
in that house don't know why he went, or when he went, or where he's
gone. The man-servant as waited on him found the rooms all empty the
first thing this morning; and the groom as had charge of Mr. Dunbar's
horse, and slep' at the back of the house, not far from the stables,
fancied as how he heard a trampling last night where the horse was kep',
but put it down to the animal bein' restless on account of the change in
the weather; and this morning the horse was gone, and the gravel all
trampled up, and Mr. Dunbar's gold-headed cane (which the poor gentleman
was still so lame it was as much as he could do to walk from one room to
another) was lying by the garden-gate; and how he ever managed to get
out and about and saddle his horse and ride away like that without bein'
ever heard by a creetur, nobody hasn't the slightest notion; and
everybody this morning was distracted like, searchin' 'igh and low; but
not a sign of Mr. Dunbar were found nowhere."
Mr. Carter turned pale, and stamped his foot upon the gravel-drive. Two
hundred pounds is a large stake to a poor man; and Mr. Carter's
reputation was also trembling in the balance. The very man he wanted
gone--gone away in the dead of the night, while all the household was
"But he was lame," he cried. "How about that?--the railway accident--the
"Yes, sir," the woman answered, eagerly, "that's the very thing, sir;
which they're all talkin' about it at the house, sir, and how a poor
invalid gentleman, what could scarce stir hand or foot, should get up in
the middle of the night and saddle his own horse, and ride away at a
rampageous rate; which the groom says he _have_ rode rampageous, or the
gravel wouldn't be tore up as it is. And they do say, sir, as Mr. Dunbar
must have been took mad all of a sudden, and the doctor was in an awful
way when he heard it; and there's been people riding right and left
lookin' for him, sir. And Miss Dunbar--leastways Lady Jocelyn--was sent
for early this morning, and she's at the house now, sir, with her
husband Sir Philip; and if your business is so very important, perhaps
you'd like to see her----"
"I should," answered the detective, briskly. "You stop here, Sawney," he
added, aside to his attendant; "you stop here, and pick up what you can.
I'll go up to the house and see the lady."
Mr. Carter found the door open, and a group of servants clustered in the
gothic porch. Lady Jocelyn was in Mr. Dunbar's rooms, a footman told
him. The detective sent this man to ask if Mr. Dunbar's daughter would
receive a stranger from London, on most important business.
The man came back in five minutes to say yes, Lady Jocelyn would see the
The detective was ushered through the two outer rooms leading to that
tapestried apartment in which the missing man had spent so many
miserable days, so many dismal nights. He found Laura standing in one of
the windows looking out across the smooth lawn, looking anxiously out
towards the winding gravel-drive that led from the principal lodge to
She turned away from the window as Mr. Carter approached her, and passed
her hand across her forehead. Her eyelids trembled, and she had the look
of a person whose senses had been dazed by excitement and confusion.
"Have you come to bring me any news of my father?" she said. "I am
distracted by this serious calamity."
Laura looked imploringly at the detective. Something in his grave face
"You have come to tell me of some new trouble," she cried.
"No, Miss Dunbar--no, Lady Jocelyn, I have no new trouble to announce to
you. I have come to this house in search of--of the gentleman who went
away last night. I must find him at any cost. All I want is a little
help from you. You may trust to me that he shall be found, and speedily,
if he lives."
"If he lives!" cried Laura, with a sudden terror in her face.
"Surely you do not imagine--you do not fear that----"
"I imagine nothing, Lady Jocelyn. My duty is very simple, and lies
straight before me. I must find the missing man."
"You will find my father," said Laura, with a puzzled expression. "Yes,
I am most anxious that he should be found; and if--if you will accept
any reward for your efforts, I shall be only too glad to give all you
can ask. But how is it that you happen to come here, and to take this
interest in my father? You come from the banking-house, I suppose?"
"Yes," the detective answered, after a pause, "yes, Lady Jocelyn, I come
from the office in St. Gundolph Lane."
Mr. Carter was silent for some few moments, during which his eyes
wandered about the apartment in that professional survey which took in
every detail, from the colour of the curtains and the pattern of the
carpets, to the tiniest porcelain toy in an antique cabinet on one side
of the fireplace. The only thing upon which the detective's glance
lingered was the lamp, which Margaret had extinguished.
"I'm going to ask your ladyship a question," said Mr. Carter, presently,
looking gravely, and almost compassionately, at the beautiful face
before him; "you'll think me impertinent, perhaps, but I hope you'll
believe that I'm only a straightforward business man, anxious to do my
duty in my own line of life, and to do it with consideration for all
parties. You seem very anxious about this missing gentleman; may I ask
if you are very fond of him? It's a strange question, I know, my
lady--or it seems a strange question--but there's more in the answer
than you can guess, and I shall be very grateful to you if you'll answer
A faint flush crept over Laura's face, and the tears started suddenly to
her eyes. She turned away from the detective, and brushed her
handkerchief hastily across those tearful eyes. She walked to the
window, and stood there for a minute or so, looking out.
"Why do you ask me this question?" she asked, rather haughtily.
"I cannot tell you that, my lady, at present," the detective answered;
"but I give you my word of honour that I have a very good reason for
what I do."
"Very well then, I will answer you frankly," said Laura, turning and
looking Mr. Carter full in the face. "I will answer you, for I believe
that you are an honest man. There is very little love between my father
and me. It is our misfortune, perhaps: and it may be only natural that
it should be so, for we were separated from each other for so many
years, that, when at last the day of our meeting came, we met like
strangers, and there was a barrier between us that could never be broken
down. Heaven knows how anxiously I used to look forward to my father's
return from India, and how bitterly I felt the disappointment when I
discovered, little by little, that we should never be to one another
what other fathers and daughters, who have never known the long
bitterness of separation, are to each other. But pray remember that I do
not complain; my father has been very good to me, very indulgent, very
generous. His last act, before the accident which laid him up so long,
was to take a journey to London on purpose to buy diamonds for a
necklace, which was to be his wedding present to me. I do not speak of
this because I care for the jewels; but I am pleased to think that, in
spite of the coldness of his manner, my father had some affection for
his only child."
Mr. Carter was not looking at Laura, he was staring out of the window,
and his eyes had that stolid glare with which they had gazed at Clement
Austin while the cashier told his story.
"A diamond necklace!" he said; "humph--ha, ha--yes!" All this was in an
undertone, that hummed faintly through the detective's closed teeth. "A
diamond-necklace! You've got the necklace, I suppose, eh, my lady?"
"No; the diamonds were bought, but they were never made up."
"The unset diamonds were bought by Mr. Dunbar?"
"Yes, to an enormous amount, I believe. While I was in Paris, my father
wrote to tell me that he meant to delay the making of the necklace until
he was well enough to go on the Continent. He could see no design in
England that at all satisfied him."
"No, I dare say not," answered the detective, "I dare say he'd find it
rather difficult to please himself in that matter."
Laura looked inquiringly at Mr. Carter. There was something
disrespectful, not to say ironical, in his tone.
"I thank you heartily for having been so candid with me, Lady Jocelyn,"
he said; "and believe me I shall have your interests at heart throughout
this matter. I shall go to work immediately; and you may rely upon it, I
shall succeed in finding the missing man."
"You do not think that--that under some terrible hallucination, the
result of his long illness--you don't think that he has committed
"No," Lady Jocelyn, answered the detective, decisively, "there is
nothing further from my thoughts now."
"Thank Heaven for that!"
"And now, my lady, may I ask if you'll be kind enough to let me see Mr.
Dunbar's valet, and to leave me alone with him in these rooms? I may
pick up something that will help me to find your father. By the bye, you
haven't a picture of him--a miniature, a photograph, or anything of that
"No, unhappily I have no portrait whatever of my father."
"Ah, that is unlucky; but never mind, we must contrive to get on without
Laura rang the bell. One of the superb footmen, the birds of paradise
who consented to glorify the halls and passages of Maudesley Abbey,
appeared in answer to the summons, and went in search of Mr. Dunbar's
own man--the man who had waited on the invalid ever since the accident.
Having sent for this person, Laura bade the detective good morning, and
went away through the vista of rooms to the other side of the hall, to
that bright modernized wing of the house which Percival Dunbar had
improved and beautified for the granddaughter he idolized.
Mr. Dunbar's own man was only too glad to be questioned, and to have a
good opportunity of discoursing upon the event which had caused such
excitement and consternation. But the detective was not a pleasant
person to talk to, as he had a knack of cutting people short with a
fresh question at the first symptom of rambling; and, indeed, so closely
did he keep his companion to the point, that a conversation with him was
a kind of intellectual hornpipe between a set of fire-irons.
Under this pressure the valet told all he knew about his master's
departure, with very little loss of time by reason of discursiveness.
"Humph!--ha!--ah, yes!" muttered the detective between his teeth; "only
one friend that was at all intimate with your master, and that was a
gentleman called Vernon, lately come to live at Woodbine Cottage,
Lisford Road; used to come at all hours to see your master; was odd in
his ways, and dressed queer; first came on Miss Laura's wedding-day; was
awful shabby then; came out quite a swell afterwards, and was very free
with his money at Lisford. Ah!--humph! You've heard your master and this
gentleman at high words--at least you've fancied so; but, the doors
being very thick, you ain't certain. It might have been only telling
anecdotes. Some gentlemen do swear and row like in telling anecdotes.
Yes, to be sure! You've felt a belt round your master's waist when
you've been lifting him in and out of bed. He wore it under his shirt,
and was always fidgety in changing his shirt, and didn't seem to want
you to see the belt. You thought it was a galvanic belt, or something of
that sort. You felt it once, when you were changing your master's shirt,
and it was all over little knobs as hard as iron, but very small. That's
all you've got to say, except that you've always fancied your master
wasn't quite easy in his mind, and you thought that was because of his
having been suspected in the first place about the Winchester murder."
Mr. Carter jotted down some pencil-notes in his pocket-book while making
this little summary of his conversation with the valet.
Having done this and shut his book, he prowled slowly through the
sitting-room, bed-room, and dressing-room, looking about him, with the
servant close at his heels.
"What clothes did Mr. Dunbar wear when he went away?"
"Grey trousers and waistcoat, small shepherd's plaid, and he must have
taken a greatcoat lined with Russian sable."
"A black coat?"
"No; the coat was dark blue cloth outside."
Mr. Carter opened his pocket-book in order to add another memorandum--
Trousers and waistcoat, shepherd's plaid; coat, dark blue cloth lined
with sable. "How about Mr. Dunbar's personal appearance, eh?"
The valet gave an elaborate description of his master's looks.
"Ha!--humph!" muttered Mr. Carter; "tall, broad-shouldered, hook-nose,
brown eyes, brown hair mixed with grey."
The detective put on his hat after making this last memorandum: but he
paused before the table, on which the lamp was still standing.
"Was this lamp filled last night?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; it was always fresh filled every day."
"How long does it burn?"
"When was it lighted?"
"A little before seven o'clock."
Mr. Carter removed the glass shade, and carried the lamp to the
fireplace. He held it up over the grate, and drained the oil.
"It must have been burning till past four this morning," he said.
The valet stared at Mr. Carter with something of that reverential horror
with which he might have regarded a wizard of the middle ages. But Mr.
Carter was in too much haste to be aware of the man's admiration. He had
found out all he wanted to know, and now there was no time to be lost.
He left the Abbey, ran back to the lodge, found his assistant, Mr.
Tibbles, and despatched that gentleman to the Shorncliffe railway
station, where he was to keep a sharp look out for a lame traveller in a
blue cloth coat lined with brown fur. If such a traveller appeared,
Sawney Tom was to stick to him wherever he went; but was to leave a note
with the station-master for his chief's guidance, containing information
as to what he had done.
THE HOUSEMAID AT WOODBINE COTTAGE.
In less than a quarter of an hour after leaving the gate of Maudesley
Park, the fly came to a stand-still before Woodbine Cottage. Mr. Carter
paid the man and dismissed the vehicle, and went alone into the little
He rang a bell on one side of the half-glass door, and had ample leisure
to contemplate the stuffed birds and marine curiosities that adorned the
little hall of the cottage before any one came to answer his summons. He
rang a second time before anyone came, but after a delay of about five
minutes a young woman appeared, with her face tied up in a coloured
handkerchief. The detective asked to see Major Vernon, and the young
woman ushered him into a little parlour at the back of the cottage,
without either delay or hesitation.
The occupant of the cottage was sitting in an arm-chair by the fire.
There was very little light in the room, for the only window looked into
a miniature conservatory, where there were all manner of prickly and
spiky plants of the cactus kind, which had been the delight of the late
owner of Woodbine Cottage.
Mr. Carter looked very sharply at the gentleman sitting in the
easy-chair; but the closest inspection showed him nothing but a
good-looking man, between fifty and sixty years of age, with a
determined-looking mouth, half shaded by a grey moustache.
"I've come to make a few inquiries about a friend of yours, Major
Vernon," the detective said; "Mr. Dunbar, of Maudesley Abbey, who has
been missing since four o'clock this morning."
The gentleman in the easy-chair was smoking a meerschaum. As Mr. Carter
said those two words, "four o'clock," his teeth made a little clicking
noise upon the amber mouthpiece of the pipe.
The detective heard the sound, slight as it was, and drew his inference
from it. Major Vernon had seen Joseph Wilmot, and knew that he had left
the Abbey at four o'clock, and thus gave a little start of surprise when
he found that the exact hour was known to others.
"You know where Mr. Dunbar has gone?" said Mr. Carter, looking still
more sharply at the gentleman in the easy-chair.
"On the contrary, I was thinking of looking in upon him at the Abbey
"Humph!" murmured the detective, "then it's no use my asking you any
questions on the subject?"
"None whatever. Henry Dunbar is gone away from the Abbey, you say? Why,
I thought he was still under medical supervision--couldn't move off his
sofa, except to take a turn upon a pair of crutches."
"I believe it was so, but he has disappeared notwithstanding."
"What do you mean by disappeared? He has gone away, I suppose, and he
was free to go away, wasn't he?"
"Oh! of course; perfectly free."
"Then I don't so much wonder that he went," exclaimed the occupant of
the cottage, stooping over the fire, and knocking the ashes out of his
meerschaum. "He'd been tied by the leg long enough, poor devil! But how
is it you're running about after him, as if he was a little boy that had
bolted from his precious mother? You're not the surgeon who was
"No, I'm employed by Lady Jocelyn; in fact, to tell you the honest
truth," said the detective, with a simplicity of manner that was really
charming: "to tell you the honest truth, I'm neither more nor less than
a private detective, and I have come down from London direct to look
after the missing gentleman. You see, Lady Jocelyn is afraid the long
illness and fever, and all that sort of thing, may have had a very bad
effect upon her poor father, and that he's a little bit touched in the
upper story, perhaps;--and, upon my word," added the detective, frankly,
"I think this sudden bolt looks very like it. In which case I fancy we
may look for an attempt at suicide. What do you think, now, Major
Vernon, as a friend of the missing gentleman, eh?"
The Major smiled.
"Upon my word," he said, "I don't think you're so very far away from the
mark. Henry Dunbar has been rather queer in his ways since that railway
"Just so. I suppose you wouldn't have any objection to my looking about
your house, and round the garden and outbuildings? Your friend _might_
hide himself somewhere about your place. When once they take an
eccentric turn, there's no knowing where to have 'em."
Major Vernon shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't think Dunbar's likely to have got into my house without my
knowledge," he said; "but you are welcome to examine the place from
garret to cellar if that's any satisfaction to you."
He rang a bell as he spoke. It was answered by the girl whose face was
"Ah, Betty, you've got the toothache again, have you? A nice excuse for
slinking your work, eh, my girl? That's about the size of your
toothache, I expect! Look here now, this gentleman wants to see the
house, and you're to show him over it, and over the garden too, if he
likes--and be quick about it, for I want my dinner."
The girl curtseyed in an awkward countrified manner, and ushered Mr.
Carter into the hall.
"Betty!" roared the master of the house, as the girl reached the foot of
the stair with the detective; "Betty, come here!"
She went back to her master, and Mr. Carter heard a whispered
conversation, very brief, of which the last sentence only was audible.
That last sentence ran thus:
"And if you don't hold your tongue, I'll make you pay for it."
"Ho, ho!" thought the detective; "Miss Betsy is to hold her tongue, is
she? We'll see about that."
The girl came back to the hall, and led Mr. Carter into the two
sitting-rooms in the front of the house. They were small rooms, with
small furniture. They were old-fashioned rooms, with low ceilings, and
queer cupboards nestling in out-of-the-way holes and corners: and Mr.
Carter had enough work to do in squeezing himself into the interior of
these receptacles, which all smelt, more or less, of chandlery and
rum,--that truly seaman-like spirit having been a favourite beverage
with the late inhabitant of the cottage.
After examining half-a-dozen cupboards in the lower regions, Mr. Carter
and his guide ascended to the upper story.
The girl called Betsy ushered the detective into a bedroom, which she
said was her master's, and where the occupation of the Major was made
manifest by divers articles of apparel lying on the chairs and hanging
on the pegs, and, furthermore, by a powerful effluvium of stale tobacco,
and a collection of pipes and cigar-boxes on the chimney-piece.
The girl opened the door of an impossible-looking little cupboard in a
corner behind a four-post bed; but instead of inspecting the cupboard,
Mr. Carter made a sudden rush at the door, locked it, and then put the
key in his pocket.
"No, thank you, Miss Innocence," he said; "I don't crick my neck, or
break my back, by looking into any more of your cupboards. Just you come
"Here," was the window, before which Mr. Carter planted himself.
The girl obeyed very quietly. She would have been a pretty-looking girl
but for her toothache, or rather, but for the coloured handkerchief
which muffled the lower part of her face, and was tied in a knot at the
top of her head. As it was, Mr. Carter could only see that she had
pretty brown eyes, which shifted left and right as he looked at her.
"Oh, yes, you're an artful young hussy, and no mistake," he said; "and
that toothache's only a judgment upon you. What was that your master
said to you in the parlour just now, eh? What was that he told you to
hold your tongue about, eh?"
Betty shook her head, and began to twist the corner of her apron in her
"Master didn't say nothing, sir," she said.
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