Wilkie Collins

Part 4 out of 4

She smiled sadly as his enthusiasm. "Are you going back to Mr.
Sharon to help you?" she asked. "That trick he played me has
destroyed _my_ belief in him. He no more knows than I do who the
thief really is."

"You are mistaken, Isabel. He knows--and I know." He stopped
there, and made a sign to her to be silent. One of the servants
was approaching them.

"Is the pocketbook found?" Moody asked.

"No, sir."

"Has Mr. Hardyman left the cottage?"

"He has just gone, sir. Have you any further instructions to give

"No. There is my address in London, if the pocketbook should be

The man took the card that was handed to him and retired. Moody
offered his arm to Isabel. "I am at your service," he said, "when
you wish to return to your aunt."

They had advanced nearly as far as the tent, on their way out of
the grounds, when they were met by a gentleman walking towards
them from the cottage. He was a stranger to Isabel. Moody
immediately recognized him as Mr. Felix Sweetsir.

"Ha! our good Moody!" cried Felix. "Enviable man! you look
younger than ever." He took off his hat to Isabel; his bright
restless eyes suddenly became quiet as they rested on her. "Have
I the honor of addressing the future Mrs. Hardyman? May I offer
my best congratulations? What has become of our friend Alfred?"

Moody answered for Isabel. "If you will make inquiries at the
cottage, sir," he said, "you will find that you are mistaken, to
say the least of it, in addressing your questions to this young

Felix took off his hat again--with the most becoming appearance
of surprise and distress.

"Something wrong, I fear?" he said, addressing Isabel. "I am,
indeed, ashamed if I have ignorantly given you a moment's pain.
Pray accept my most sincere apologies. I have only this instant
arrived; my health would not allow me to be present at the
luncheon. Permit me to express the earnest hope that matters may
be set right to the satisfaction of all parties. Good-afternoon!"

He bowed with elaborate courtesy, and turned back to the cottage.

"Who is that?" Isabel asked.

"Lady Lydiard's nephew, Mr. Felix Sweetsir," Moody answered, with
a sudden sternness of tone, and a sudden coldness of manner,
which surprised Isabel.

"You don't like him?" she said.

As she spoke, Fe lix stopped to give audience to one of the
grooms, who had apparently been sent with a message to him. He
turned so that his face was once more visible to Isabel. Moody
pressed her hand significantly as it rested on his arm.

"Look well at that man," he whispered. "It's time to warn you.
Mr. Felix Sweetsir is the worst enemy you have!"

Isabel heard him in speechless astonishment. He went on in tones
that trembled with suppressed emotion.

"You doubt if Sharon knows the thief. You doubt if I know the
thief. Isabel! as certainly as the heaven is above us, there
stands the wretch who stole the bank-note!"

She drew her hand out of his arm with a cry of terror. She looked
at him as if she doubted whether he was in his right mind.

He took her hand, and waited a moment trying to compose himself.

"Listen to me," he said. "At the first consultation I had with
Sharon he gave this advice to Mr. Troy and to me. He said,
'Suspect the very last person on whom suspicion could possibly
fall.' Those words, taken with the questions he had asked before
he pronounced his opinion, struck through me as if he had struck
me with a knife. I instantly suspected Lady Lydiard's nephew.
Wait! From that time to this I have said nothing of my suspicion
to any living soul. I knew in my own heart that it took its rise
in the inveterate dislike that I have always felt for Mr.
Sweetsir, and I distrusted it accordingly. But I went back to
Sharon, for all that, and put the case into his hands. His
investigations informed me that Mr. Sweetsir owed 'debts of
honor' (as gentlemen call them), incurred through lost bets, to a
large number of persons, and among them a bet of five hundred
pounds lost to Mr. Hardyman. Further inquiries showed that Mr.
Hardyman had taken the lead in declaring that he would post Mr.
Sweetsir as a defaulter, and have him turned out of his clubs,
and turned out of the betting-ring. Ruin stared him in the face
if he failed to pay his debt to Mr. Hardyman on the last day left
to him--the day after the note was lost. On that very morning,
Lady Lydiard, speaking to me of her nephew's visit to her, said,
'If I had given him an opportunity of speaking, Felix would have
borrowed money of me; I saw it in his face.' One moment more,
Isabel. I am not only certain that Mr. Sweetsir took the
five-hundred pound note out of the open letter, I am firmly
persuaded that he is the man who told Lord Rotherfield of the
circumstances under which you left Lady Lydiard's house. Your
marriage to Mr. Hardyman might have put you in a position to
detect the theft. You, not I, might, in that case, have
discovered from your husband that the stolen note was the note
with which Mr. Sweetsir paid his debt. He came here, you may
depend on it, to make sure that he had succeeded in destroying
your prospects. A more depraved villain at heart than that man
never swung from a gallows!"

He checked himself at those words. The shock of the disclosure,
the passion and vehemence with which he spoke, overwhelmed
Isabel. She trembled like a frightened child.

While he was still trying to soothe and reassure her, a low
whining made itself heard at her feet. They looked down, and saw
Tommie. Finding himself noticed at last, he expressed his sense
of relief by a bark. Something dropped out of his mouth. As Moody
stooped to pick it up, the dog ran to Isabel and pushed his head
against her feet, as his way was when he expected to have the
handkerchief thrown over him, preparatory to one of those games
at hide-and-seek which have been already mentioned. Isabel put
out her hand to caress him, when she was stopped by a cry from
Moody. It was _his_ turn to tremble now. His voice faltered as he
said the words, "The dog has found the pocketbook!"

He opened the book with shaking hands. A betting-book was bound
up in it, with the customary calendar. He turned to the date of
the day after the robbery.

There was the entry: "Felix Sweetsir. Paid 500 pounds. Note
numbered, N 8, 70564; dated 15th May, 1875."

Moody took from his waistcoat pocket his own memorandum of the
number of the lost bank-note. "Read it Isabel," he said. "I won't
trust my memory."

She read it. The number and date of the note entered in the
pocketbook exactly corresponded with the number and date of the
note that Lady Lydiard had placed in her letter.

Moody handed the pocketbook to Isabel. "There is the proof of
your innocence," he said, "thanks to the dog! Will you write and
tell Mr. Hardyman what has happened?" he asked, with his head
down and his eyes on the ground.

She answered him, with the bright color suddenly flowing over her

"_You_ shall write to him," she said, "when the time comes."

"What time?" he asked.

She threw her arms round his neck, and hid her face on his bosom.

"The time," she whispered, "when I am your wife."

A low growl from Tommie reminded them that he too had some claim
to be noticed.

Isabel dropped on her knees, and saluted her old playfellow with
the heartiest kisses she had ever given him since the day when
their acquaintance began. "You darling!" she said, as she put him
down again, "what can I do to reward you?"

Tommie rolled over on his back--more slowly than usual, in
consequence of his luncheon in the tent. He elevated his four
paws in the air and looked lazily at Isabel out of his bright
brown eyes. If ever a dog's look spoke yet, Tommie's look said,
"I have eaten too much; rub my stomach."


Persons of a speculative turn of mind are informed that the
following document is for sale, and are requested to mention what
sum they will give for it.

"IOU, Lady Lydiard, five hundred pounds (L500), Felix Sweetsir."

Her Ladyship became possessed of this pecuniary remittance under
circumstances which surround it with a halo of romantic interest.
It was the last communication she was destined to receive from
her accomplished nephew. There was a Note attached to it, which
cannot fail to enhance its value in the estimation of all
right-minded persons who assist the circulation of paper money.

The lines that follow are strictly confidential:

"Note.--Our excellent Moody informs me, my dear aunt, that you
have decided (against his advice) on 'refusing to prosecute.' I
have not the slightest idea of what he means; but I am very much
obliged to him, nevertheless, for reminding me of a circumstance
which is of some interest to yourself personally.

"I am on the point of retiring to the Continent in search of
health. One generally forgets something important when one starts
on a journey. Before Moody called, I had entirely forgotten to
mention that I had the pleasure of borrowing five hundred pounds
of you some little time since.

"On the occasion to which I refer, your language and manner
suggested that you would not lend me the money if I asked for it.
Obviously, the only course left was to take it without asking. I
took it while Moody was gone to get some curacoa; and I returned
to the picture-gallery in time to receive that delicious liqueur
from the footman's hands.

"You will naturally ask why I found it necessary to supply myself
(if I may borrow an expression from the language of State
finance) with this 'forced loan.' I was actuated by motives which
I think do me honor. My position at the time was critical in the
extreme. My credit with the money-lenders was at an end; my
friends had all turned their backs on me. I must either take the
money or disgrace my family. If there is a man living who is
sincerely attached to his family, I am that man. I took the

"Conceive your position as my aunt (I say nothing of myself), if
I had adopted the other alternative. Turned out of the Jockey
Club, turned out of Tattersalls', turned out of the betting-ring;
in short, posted publicly as a defaulter before the noblest
institution in England, the Turf--and all for want of five
hundred pounds to stop the mouth of the greatest brute I know of,
Alfred Hardyman! Let me not harrow your feelings (and mine) by
dwelling on it. Dear and admirable woman! To you belongs the
honor of saving the credit of the family; I can claim nothing but
the inferior merit of having offered you the opportunity.

"My IOU, it is needless to say, accompanies these lines. Can I do
anything for you abroad?-- F. S."

To this it is only necessary to add (first) that Moody was
perfectly right in believing F. S. to be the person who informed
Hardyman's father of Isabel's position when she left Lady
Lydiard's house; and (secondly) that Felix did really forward Mr.
Troy's narrative of the theft to the French police, altering
nothing in it but the number of the lost bank-note.

What is there left to write about? Nothing is left--but to say
good-by (very sorrowfully on the writer's part) to the Persons of
the Story.

Good-by to Miss Pink--who will regret to her dying day that
Isabel's answer to Hardyman was No.

Good-by to Lady Lydiard--who differs with Miss Pink, and would
have regretted it, to _her_ dying day, if the answer had been

Good-by to Moody and Isabel--whose history has closed with the
closing of the clergyman's book on their wedding-day.

Good-by to Hardyman--who has sold his farm and his horses, and
has begun a new life among the famous fast trotters of America.

Good-by to Old Sharon--who, a martyr to his promise, brushed his
hair and washed his face in honor of Moody's marriage; and
catching a severe cold as the necessary consequence, declared, in
the intervals of sneezing, that he would "never do it again."

And last, not least, good-by to Tommie? No. The writer gave
Tommie his dinner not half an hour since, and is too fond of him
to say good-by.


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