Miss or Mrs.?
Wilkie Collins

Part 2 out of 2

Wednesday, December 15th.--Ten o'clock.

"Dearest Natalie--As the brute insists, the brute must have the
invitation which I inclose. Never mind, my child. You and Launce
are coming to dinner, and I will see that you have your little
private opportunities of retirement afterward. All I expect of
you in return is, _not_ to look (when you come back) as if your
husband had been kissing you. You will certainly let out the
secret of those stolen kisses, if you don't take care. At mamma's
dinner yesterday, your color (when you came out of the
conservatory) was a sight to see. Even your shoulders were red!
They are charming shoulders, I know, and men take the strangest
fancies sometimes. But, my dear, suppose you wear a chemisette
next time, if you haven't authority enough over him to prevent
his doing it again!

"Your affectionate LOUISA."

The private history of the days that had passed since the
was written in that letter. An additional chapter--of some
importance in its bearing on the future--was contributed by the
progress of events at Lady Winwood's party.

By previous arrangement with Natalie, the Graybrookes (invited to
dinner) arrived early. Leaving her husband and her stepdaughters
to entertain Sir Joseph and Miss Lavinia, Lady Winwood took
Natalie into her own boudoir, which communicated by a curtained
opening with the drawing-room.

"My dear, you are looking positively haggard this evening. Has
anything happened?"

"I am nearly worn out, Louisa. The life I am leading is so
unendurable that, if Launce pressed me, I believe I should
consent to run away with him when we leave your house tonight."

"You will do nothing of the sort, if you please. Wait till you
are sixteen. I delight in novelty, but the novelty of appearing
at the Old Bailey is beyond my ambition. Is the brute coming

"Of course. He insists on following me wherever I go. He lunched
at Muswell Hill today. More complaints of my incomprehensible
coldness to him. Another scolding from papa. A furious letter
from Launce. If I let Richard kiss my hand again in his presence,
Launce warns me he will knock him down. Oh, the meanness and the
guiltiness of the life I am leading now! I am in the falsest of
all false positions, Louisa, and you encouraged me to do it. I
believe Richard Turlington suspects us. The last two times Launce
and I tried to get a minute together at my aunt's, he contrived
to put himself in our way. There he was, my dear, with his
scowling face, looking as if he longed to kill Launce. Can you do
anything for us tonight? Not on my account. But Launce is so
impatient. If he can't say two words to me alone this evening, he
declares he will come to Muswell Hill, and catch me in the garden

"Compose yourself, my dear; he shall say his two words to-night."


Lady Winwood pointed through the curtained entrance of the
boudoir to the door of the drawing-room. Beyond the door was the
staircase landing. And beyond the landing was a second drawing-
room, the smaller of the two.

"There are only three or four people coming to dinner," her
ladyship proceeded; "and a few more in the evening. Being a small
party, the small drawing-room will do for us. This drawing-room
will not be lighted, and there will be only my reading-lamp here
in the boudoir. I shall give the signal for leaving the
dining-room earlier than usual. Launce will join us before the
evening party begins. The moment he appears, send him in
here--boldly before your aunt and all of us."

"For what?"

"For your fan. Leave it there under the sofa-cushion before we go
down to dinner. You will sit next to Launce, and you will give
him private instructions not to find the fan. You will get
impatient--you will go to find it yourself--and there you are.
Take care of your shoulders, Mrs. Linzie! I have nothing more to

The guests asked to dinner began to arrive. Lady Winwood was
recalled to her duties as mistress of the house.

It was a pleasant little dinner--with one drawback. It began too
late. The ladies only reached the small drawing-room at ten
minutes to ten. Launce was only able to join them as the clock

"Too late!" whispered Natalie. "He will be here directly."

"Nobody comes punctually to an evening party," said Launce.
"Don't let us lose a moment. Send me for your fan."

Natalie opened her lips to say the necessary words. Before she
could speak, the servant announced--"Mr. Turlington."

He came in, with his stiffly-upright shirt collar and his
loosely-fitting glossy black clothes. He made his sullen and
clumsy bow to Lady Winwood. And then he did, what he had done
dozens of times already--he caught Natalie, with her eyes still
bright and her face still animated (after talking to Launce)--a
striking contrast to the cold and unimpulsive young lady whom he
was accustomed to see while Natalie was talking to _him_.

Lord Winwood's daughters were persons of some celebrity in the
world of amateur music. Noticing the look that Turlington cast at
Launce, Lady Winwood whispered to Miss Lavinia--who instantly
asked the young ladies to sing. Launce, in obedience to a sign
from Natalie, volunteered to find the music-books. It is needless
to add that he pitched on the wrong volume at starting. As he
lifted it from the piano to take it back to the stand, there
dropped out from between the leaves a printed letter, looking
like a circular. One of the young ladies took it up, and ran her
eye over it, with a start.

"The Sacred Concerts!" she exclaimed.

Her two sisters, standing by, looked at each other guiltily:
"What will the Committee say to us? We entirely forgot the
meeting last month."

"Is there a meeting this month?"

They all looked anxiously at the printed letter.

"Yes! The twenty-third of December. Put it down in your book,
Amelia." Amelia, then and there, put it down among the
engagements for the latter end of the month. And Natalie's
unacknowledged husband placidly looked on.

So did the merciless irony of circumstances make Launce the
innocent means of exposing his own secret to discovery. Thanks to
his success in laying his hand on the wrong music-book, there
would now be a meeting--two good days before the elopement could
take place--between the lord's daughters and the rector's wife!

The guests of the evening began to appear by twos and threes. The
gentlemen below stairs left the dinner-table, and joined them.

The small drawing-room was pleasantly filled, and no more. Sir
Joseph Graybrooke, taking Turlington's hand, led him eagerly to
their host. The talk in the dining-room had turned on finance.
Lord Winwood was not quite satisfied with some of his foreign
investments; and Sir Joseph's "dear Richard" was the very man to
give him a little sound advice. The three laid their heads
together in a corner. Launce (watching them) slyly pressed
Natalie's hand. A renowned "virtuoso" had arrived, and was
thundering on the piano. The attention of the guests generally
was absorbed in the performance. A fairer chance of sending
Launce for the fan could not possibly have offered itself. While
the financial discussion was still proceeding, the married lovers
were ensconced together alone in the boudoir.

Lady Winwood (privately observant of their absence) kept her eye
on the corner, watching Richard Turlington.

He was talking earnestly--with his back toward the company. He
neither moved nor looked round. It came to Lord Winwood's turn to
speak. He preserved the same position, listening. Sir Joseph took
up the conversation next. Then his attention wandered--he knew
beforehand what Sir Joseph would say. His eyes turned anxiously
toward the place in which he had left Natalie. Lord Winwood said
a word. His head turned back again toward the corner. Sir Joseph
put an objection. He glanced once more over his shoulder--this
time at the place in which Launce had been standing. The next
moment his host recalled his attention, and made it impossible
for him to continue his scrutiny of the room. At the same times
two among the evening guests, bound for another party, approached
to take leave of the lady of the house. Lady Winwood was obliged
to rise, and attend to them. They had something to say to her
before they left, and they said it at terrible length, standing
so as to intercept her view of the proceedings of the enemy. When
she had got rid of them at last, she looked--and behold Lord
Winwood and Sir Joseph were the only occupants of the corner!

Delaying one moment, to set the "virtuoso" thundering once more,
Lady Winwood slipped out of the room and crossed the landing. At
the entrance to the empty drawing-room she heard Turlington's
voice, low and threatening, in the boudoir. Jealousy has a Second
Sight of its own. He had looked in the right place at
starting--and, oh heavens! he had caught them.

Her ladyship's courage was beyond dispute; but she turned pale as
she approached the entrance to the boudoir.

There stood Natalie--at once angry and afraid--between the man to
whom she was ostensibly engaged, and the man to whom she was
actually married. Turlington's rugged
face expressed a martyrdom of suppressed fury. Launce--in the
act of offering Natalie her fan--smiled, with the cool
superiority of a man who knew that he had won his advantage, and
who triumphed in knowing it.

"I forbid you to take your fan from that man's hands," said
Turlington, speaking to Natalie, and pointing to Launce.

"Isn't it rather too soon to begin 'forbidding'?" asked Lady
Winwood, good-humoredly.

"Exactly what I say!" exclaimed Launce. "It seems necessary to
remind Mr. Turlington that he is not married to Natalie yet!"

Those last words were spoken in a tone which made both the women
tremble inwardly for results. Lady Winwood took the fan from
Launce with one hand, and took Natalie's arm with the other.

"There is your fan, my dear," she said, in her easy off-hand
manner. "Why do you allow these two barbarous men to keep you
here while the great Bootmann is playing the Nightmare Sonata in
the next room? Launce! Mr. Turlington! follow me, and learn to be
musical directly! You have only to shut your eyes, and you will
fancy you hear four modern German composers playing, instead of
one, and not the ghost of a melody among all the four. "She led
the way out with Natalie, and whispered, "Did he catch you?"
Natalie whispered back, "I heard him in time. He only caught us
looking for the fan." The two men waited behind to have two words
together alone in the boudoir.

"This doesn't end here, Mr. Linzie!"

Launce smiled satirically. "For once I agree with you," he
answered. "It doesn't end here, as you say."

Lady Winwood stopped, and looked back at them from the drawing-
room door. They were keeping her waiting--they had no choice but
to follow the mistress of the house.

Arrived in the next room, both Turlington and Launce resumed
their places among the guests with the same object in view. As a
necessary result of the scene in the boudoir, each had his own
special remonstrance to address to Sir Joseph. Even here, Launce
was beforehand with Turlington. He was the first to get
possession of Sir Joseph's private ear. His complaint took the
form of a protest against Turlington's jealousy, and an appeal
for a reconsideration of the sentence which excluded him from
Muswell Hill. Watching them from a distance, Turlington's
suspicious eye detected the appearance of something unduly
confidential in the colloquy between the two. Under cover of the
company, he stole behind them and listened.

The great Bootmann had arrived at that part of the Nightmare
Sonata in which musical sound, produced principally with the left
hand, is made to describe, beyond all possibility of mistake, the
rising of the moon in a country church-yard and a dance of
Vampires round a maiden's grave. Sir Joseph, having no chance
against the Vampires in a whisper, was obliged to raise his voice
to make himself audible in answering and comforting Launce. "I
sincerely sympathize with you," Turlington heard him say; "and
Natalie feels about it as I do. But Richard is an obstacle in our
way. We must look to the consequences, my dear boy, supposing
Richard found us out." He nodded kindly to his nephew; and,
declining to pursue the subject, moved away to another part of
the room.

Turlington's jealous distrust, wrought to the highest pitch of
irritability for weeks past, instantly associated the words he
had just heard with the words spoken by Launce in the boudoir,
which had reminded him that he was not married to Natalie yet.
Was there treachery at work under the surface? and was the object
to persuade weak Sir Joseph to reconsider his daughter's
contemplated marriage in a sense favorable to Launce?
Turlington's blind suspicion overleaped at a bound all the
manifest improbabilities which forbade such a conclusion as this.
After an instant's consideration with himself, he decided on
keeping his own counsel, and on putting Sir Joseph's good faith
then and there to a test which he could rely on as certain to
take Natalie's father by surprise.


Sir Joseph started at the sight of his future son-in-law's face.

"My dear Richard, you are looking very strangely! Is the heat of
the room too much for you?"

"Never mind the heat! I have seen enough to-night to justify me
in insisting that your daughter and Launcelot Linzie shall meet
no more between this and the day of my marriage." Sir Joseph
attempted to speak. Turlington declined to give him the
opportunity. "Yes! yes! your opinion of Linzie isn't mine, I
know. I saw you as thick as thieves together just now." Sir
Joseph once more attempted to make himself heard. Wearied by
Turlington's perpetual complaints of his daughter and his nephew,
he was sufficiently irritated by this time to have reported what
Launce had actually said to him if he had been allowed the
chance. But Turlington persisted in going on. "I cannot prevent
Linzie from being received in this house, and at your sister's,"
he said; "but I can keep him out of _my_ house in the country,
and to the country let us go. I propose a change in the
arrangements. Have you any engagement for the Christmas

He paused, and fixed his eyes attentively on Sir Joseph. Sir
Joseph, looking a little surprised, replied briefly that he had
no engagement.

"In that case, "resumed Turlington, "I invite you all to
Somersetshire, and I propose that the marriage shall take place
from my house, and not from yours. Do you refuse?"

"It is contrary to the usual course of proceeding in such cases,
Richard," Sir Joseph began.

"Do you refuse?" reiterated Turlington. "I tell you plainly, I
shall place a construction of my own upon your motive if you do."

"No, Richard," said Sir Joseph, quietly, "I accept."

Turlington drew back a step in silence. Sir Joseph had turned the
tables on him, and had taken _him_ by surprise.

"It will upset several plans, and be strongly objected to by the
ladies," proceeded the old gentleman. "But if nothing less will
satisfy you, I say, Yes! I shall have occasion, when we meet to-
morrow at Muswell Hill, to appeal to your indulgence under
circumstances which may greatly astonish you. The least I can do,
in the meantime, is to set an example of friendly sympathy and
forbearance on my side. No more now, Richard. Hush! the music!"

It was impossible to make him explain himself further that night.
Turlington was left to interpret Sir Joseph's mysterious
communication with such doubtful aid to success as his own
unassisted ingenuity might afford.

The meeting of the next day at Muswell Hill had for its object--
as Turlington had already been informed--the drawing of Natalie's
marriage-settlement. Was the question of money at the bottom of
Sir Joseph's contemplated appeal to his indulgence? He thought of
his commercial position. The depression in the Levant trade still
continued. Never had his business at any previous time required
such constant attention, and repaid that attention with so little
profit. The Bills of Lading had been already used by the firm, in
the ordinary course of trade, to obtain possession of the goods.
The duplicates in the hands of Bulpit Brothers were literally
waste paper. Repayment of the loan of forty thousand pounds (with
interest) was due in less than a month's time. There was his
commercial position! Was it possible that money-loving Sir Joseph
had any modification to propose in the matter of his daughter's
dowry? The bare dread that it might be so struck him cold. He
quitted the house--and forgot to wish Natalie goodnight.

Meanwhile, Launce had left the evening party before him--and
Launce also found matter for serious reflection presented to his
mind before he slept that night. In other words, he found, on
reaching his lodgings, a letter from his brother marked
"private." Had the inquiry into the secrets of Turlington's early
life--now prolonged over some weeks--led to positive results at
last? Launce eagerly opened the letter. It contained a Report and
a Summary. He passed at once to the Summary, and read these

"If you only want moral evidence to satisfy your own mind, your
end is gained. There is, morally, no doubt that Turlington and
the sea-captain who cast the foreign sailor overboard to drown
are on e and the same man. Legally, the matter is beset by
difficulties, Turlington having destroyed all provable connection
between his present self and his past life. There is only one
chance for us. A sailor on board the ship (who was in his
master's secrets) is supposed to be still living (under his
master's protection). All the black deeds of Turlington's early
life are known to this man. He can prove the facts, if we can
find him, and make it worth his while to speak. Under what alias
he is hidden we do not know. His own name is Thomas Wildfang. If
we are to make the attempt to find him, not a moment is to be
lost. The expenses may be serious. Let me know whether we are to
go on, or whether enough has been done to attain the end you have
in view."

Enough had been done--not only to satisfy Launce, but to produce
the right effect on Sir Joseph's mind if Sir Joseph proved
obdurate when the secret of the marriage was revealed. Launce
wrote a line directing the stoppage of the proceedings at the
point which they had now reached. "Here is a reason for her not
marrying Turlington," he said to himself, as he placed the papers
under lock and key. "And if she doesn't marry Turlington," he
added, with a lover's logic, "why shouldn't she marry Me?"


The Library.

The next day Sir Joseph Graybrooke, Sir Joseph's lawyer, Mr.
Dicas (highly respectable and immensely rich), and Richard
Turlington were assembled in the library at Muswell Hill, to
discuss the question of Natalie's marriage settlement.

After the usual preliminary phrases had been exchanged, Sir
Joseph showed some hesitation in openly approaching the question
which the little party of three had met to debate. He avoided his
lawyer's eye; and he looked at Turlington rather uneasily.

"Richard," he began at last, "when I spoke to you about your
marriage, on board the yacht, I said I would give my daughter--"
Either his courage or his breath failed him at that point. He was
obliged to wait a moment before he could go on.

"I said I would give my daughter half my fortune on her
marriage," he resumed. "Forgive me, Richard. I can't do it!"

Mr. Dicas, waiting for his instructions, laid down his pen and
looked at Sir Joseph's son-in-law elect. What would Mr.
Turlington say?

He said nothing. Sitting opposite the window, he rose when Sir
Joseph spoke, and placed himself at the other side of the table,
with his back to the light.

"My eyes are weak this morning," he said, in an unnaturally low
tone of voice. "The light hurts them."

He could find no more plausible excuse than that for concealing
his face in shadow from the scrutiny of the two men on either
side of him. The continuous moral irritation of his unhappy
courtship--a courtship which had never advanced beyond the frigid
familiarity of kissing Natalie's hand in the presence of others--
had physically deteriorated him. Even _his_ hardy nerves began to
feel the long strain of suspicion that had been laid
unremittingly on them for weeks past. His power of self-control--
he knew it himself--was not to be relied on. He could hide his
face: he could no longer command it.

"Did you hear what I said, Richard?"

"I heard. Go on."

Sir Joseph proceeded, gathering confidence as he advanced.

"Half my fortune!" he repeated. "It's parting with half my life;
it's saying good-by forever to my dearest friend! My money has
been such a comfort to me, Richard; such a pleasant occupation
for my mind. I know no reading so interesting and so instructive
as the reading of one's Banker's Book. To watch the outgoings on
one side," said Sir Joseph, with a gentle and pathetic solemnity,
"and the incomings on the other--the sad lessening of the balance
at one time, and the cheering and delightful growth of it at
another--what absorbing reading! The best novel that ever was
written isn't to be mentioned in a breath with it. I can not,
Richard, I really can _not_, see my nice round balance shrink up
to half the figure that I have been used to for a lifetime. It
may be weak of me," proceeded Sir Joseph, evidently feeling that
it was not weak of him at all, "but we all have our tender place,
and my Banker's Book is mine. Besides, it isn't as if you wanted
it. If you wanted it, of course--but you don't want it. You are a
rich man; you are marrying my dear Natalie for love, not for
money. You and she and my grandchildren will have it all at my
death. It _can_ make no difference to you to wait a few years
till the old man's chair at the fireside is empty. Will you say
the fourth part, Richard, instead of the half? Twenty thousand,"
pleaded Sir Joseph, piteously. "I can bear twenty thousand off.
For God's sake don't ask me for more!"

The lips of the lawyer twisted themselves sourly into an ironical
smile. He was quite as fond of his money as Sir Joseph. He ought
to have felt for his client; but rich men have no sympathy with
one another. Mr. Dicas openly despised Sir Joseph.

There was a pause. The robin-redbreasts in the shrubbery outside
must have had prodigious balances at their bankers; they hopped
up on the window-sill so fearlessly; they looked in with so
little respect at the two rich men.

"Don't keep me in suspense, Richard," proceeded Sir Joseph.
"Speak out. Is it yes or no?"

Turlington struck his hand excitedly on the table, and burst out
on a sudden with the answer which had been so strangely delayed.

"Twenty thousand with all my heart!" he said. "On this condition,
Graybrooke, that every farthing of it is settled on Natalie, and
on her children after her. Not a half-penny to me!" he cried
magnanimously, in his brassiest tones. "Not a half- penny to me!"

Let no man say the rich are heartless. Sir Joseph seized his
son-in-law's hand in silence, and burst into tears.

Mr. Dicas, habitually a silent man, uttered the first two words
that had escaped him since the business began. "Highly
creditable," he said, and took a note of his instructions on the

From that point the business of the settlement flowed smoothly on
to its destined end. Sir Joseph explained his views at the
fullest length, and the lawyer's pen kept pace with him.
Turlington, remaining in his place at the table, restricted
himself to a purely passive part in the proceedings. He answered
briefly when it was absolutely necessary to speak, and he agreed
with the two elders in everything. A man has no attention to
place at the disposal of other people when he stands at a crisis
in his life. Turlington stood at that crisis, at the trying
moment when Sir Joseph's unexpected proposal pressed instantly
for a reply. Two merciless alternatives confronted him. Either he
must repay the borrowed forty thousand pounds on the day when
repayment was due, or he must ask Bulpit Brothers to grant him an
extension of time, and so inevitably provoke an examination into
the fraudulent security deposited with the firm, which could end
in but one way. His last, literally his last chance, after Sir
Joseph had diminished the promised dowry by one half, was to
adopt the high-minded tone which became his position, and to
conceal the truth until he could reveal it to his father-in-law
in the privileged character of Natalie's husband. "I owe forty
thousand pounds, sir, in a fortnight's time, and I have not got a
farthing of my own. Pay for me, or you will see your son-in-
law's name in the Bankrupt's List." For his daughter's sake--who
could doubt it?--Sir Joseph would produce the money. The one
thing needful was to be married in time. If either by accident or
treachery Sir Joseph was led into deferring the appointed day, by
so much as a fortnight only, the fatal "call" would come, and the
firm of Pizzituti, Turlington & Branca would appear in the

So he reasoned, standing on the brink of the terrible discovery
which was soon to reveal to him that Natalie was the wife of
another man.


"Mr. Turlington!"

He started, and roused his attention to present things. Sir
Joseph on one side, and the lawyer on the other, were both
appealing to him, and both regarding him with looks of amazement.

"Have you done with the settlement?" he asked.

"My dear Richard, we have done with it long since, " replied Sir
Joseph. "Have you really not heard what I have been saying for
the last quarter of an hour to good Mr. Dicas here? What _can_
you have been thinking of?"

Turlington did not attempt to answer the question. "Am I
interested," he asked, "in what you have been saying to Mr.

"You shall judge for yourself," answered Sir Joseph,
mysteriously; "I have been giving Mr. Dicas his instructions for
making my Will. I wish the Will and the Marriage-Settlement to be
executed at the same time. Read the instructions, Mr. Dicas."

Sir Joseph's contemplated Will proved to have two merits--it was
simple and it was short. Excepting one or two trifling legacies
to distant relatives, he had no one to think of (Miss Lavinia
being already provided for) but his daughter and the children who
might be born of her marriage. In its various provisions, made
with these two main objects in view, the Will followed the
precedents established in such cases. It differed in no important
respect from the tens of thousands of other wills made under
similar circumstances. Sir Joseph's motive in claiming special
attention for it still remained unexplained, when Mr. Dicas
reached the clause devoted to the appointment of executors and
trustees; and announced that this portion of the document was
left in blank.

"Sir Joseph Graybrooke, are you prepared to name the persons whom
you appoint?" asked the lawyer.

Sir Joseph rose, apparently for the purpose of giving special
importance to the terms in which he answered his lawyer's

"I appoint," he said, "as sole executor and trustee--Richard

It was no easy matter to astonish Mr. Dicas. Sir Joseph's reply
absolutely confounded him. He looked across the table at his
client and delivered himself on this special occasion of as many
as three words.

"Are you mad?" he asked.

Sir Joseph's healthy complexion slightly reddened. "I never was
in more complete possession of myself, Mr. Dicas, than at this

Mr. Dicas was not to be silenced in that way.

"Are you aware of what you do," persisted the lawyer, "if you
appoint Mr. Turlington as sole executor and trustee? You put it
in the power of your daughter's husband, sir, to make away with
every farthing of your money after your death."

Turlington had hitherto listened with an appearance of interest
in the proceedings, which he assumed as an act of politeness. To
his view, the future was limited to the date at which Bulpit
Brothers had a right to claim the repayment of their loan. The
Will was a matter of no earthly importance to him, by comparison
with the infinitely superior interest of the Marriage. It was
only when the lawyer's brutally plain language forced his
attention to it that the question of his pecuniary interest in
his father-in-law's death assumed its fit position in his mind.

_His_ color rose; and _he_ too showed that he was offended by
what Mr. Dicas had just said.

"Not a word, Richard! Let me speak for you as well as for
myself," said Sir Joseph. "For seven years past," he continued,
turning to the lawyer, "I have been accustomed to place the most
unlimited trust in Richard Turlington. His disinterested advice
has enabled me largely to increase my income, without placing a
farthing of the principal in jeopardy. On more than one occasion,
I have entreated him to make use of my money in his business. He
has invariably refused to do so. Even his bitterest enemies, sir,
have been obliged to acknowledge that my interests were safe when
committed to his care. Am I to begin distrusting him, now that I
am about to give him my daughter in marriage? Am I to leave it on
record that I doubt him for the first time--when my Will is
opened after my death? No! I can confide the management of the
fortune which my child will inherit after me to no more competent
or more honorable hands than the hands of the man who is to marry
her. I maintain my appointment, Mr. Dicas! I persist in placing
the whole responsibility under my Will in my son-in-law's care."

Turlington attempted to speak. The lawyer attempted to speak. Sir
Joseph--with a certain simple dignity which had its effect on
both of them--declined to hear a word on either side. "No,
Richard! as long as I am alive this is my business, not yours.
No, Mr. Dicas! I understand that it is your business to protest
professionally. You have protested. Fill in the blank space as I
have told you. Or leave the instructions on the table, and I will
send for the nearest solicitor to complete them in your place."

Those words placed the lawyer's position plainly before him. He
had no choice but to do as he was bid, or to lose a good client.
He did as he was bid, and grimly left the room

Sir Joseph, with old-fashioned politeness, followed him as far as
the hall. Returning to the library to say a few friendly words
before finally dismissing the subject of the Will, he found
himself seized by the arm, and dragged without ceremony, in
Turlington's powerful grasp, to the window.

"Richard!" he exclaimed, "what does this mean?"

"Look!" cried the other, pointing through the window to a grassy
walk in the grounds, bounded on either side by shrubberies, and
situated at a little distance from the house. "Who is that man?--
quick! before we lose sight of him--the man crossing there from
one shrubbery to the other?" Sir Joseph failed to recognize the
figure before it disappeared. Turlington whispered fiercely,
close to his ear--"Launcelot Linzie!"

In perfect good faith Sir Joseph declared that the man could not
possibly have been Launce. Turlington's frenzy of jealous
suspicion was not to be so easily calmed. He asked significantly
for Natalie. She was reported to be walking in the grounds. "I
knew it!" he said, with an oath--and hurried out into the grounds
to discover the truth for himself.

Some little time elapsed before he came back to the house. He had
discovered Natalie--alone. Not a sign of Launce had rewarded his
search. For the hundredth time he had offended Natalie. For the
hundredth time he was compelled to appeal to the indulgence of
her father and her aunt. "It won't happen again," he said,
sullenly penitent. "You will find me quite another man when I
have got you all at my house in the country. Mind!" he burst out,
with a furtive look, which expressed his inveterate distrust of
Natalie and of every one about her. "Mind! it's settled that you
all come to me in Somersetshire, on Monday next." Sir Joseph
answered rather dryly that it was settled. Turlington turned to
leave the room--and suddenly came back. "It's understood," he
went on, addressing Miss Lavinia, "that the seventh of next month
is the date fixed for the marriage. Not a day later!" Miss
Lavinia replied, rather dryly on her side, "Of course, Richard;
not a day later. "He muttered, "All right" and hurriedly left

Half an hour afterward Natalie came in, looking a little

"Has he gone?" she asked, whispering to her aunt.

Relieved on this point, she made straight for the library--a room
which she rarely entered at that or any other period of the day.
Miss Lavinia followed her, curious to know what it meant. Natalie
hurried to the window, and waved her handkerchief-- evidently
making a signal to some one outside. Miss Lavinia instantly
joined her, and took her sharply by the hand.

"Is it possible, Natalie?" she asked. "Has Launcelot Linzie
really been here, unknown to your father or to me?"

"Where is the harm if he has?" answered Natalie, with a sudden
outbreak of temper. "Am I never to see my cousin again, because
Mr. Turlington happens to be jealous of him?"

She suddenly turned away her head. The rich color flowed over her
face and neck. Miss Lavinia, proceeding sternly with the
administration of the necessary reproof, was silenced midway by a
new change in her niece's variable temper. Natalie burst into
tears. Satisfied with this appearance of sincere contrition, the
old lady consented to overlook what had happened; and, for this
occasion only, to keep her niece's secret. They would all be in
Somersetshire, she remarked, before any more breaches of
discipline could be committed. Richard had fortunately made no
disco veries; and the matter might safely be trusted, all things
considered, to rest where it was.

Miss Lavinia might possibly have taken a less hopeful view of the
circumstances, if she had known that one of the men-servants at
Muswell Hill was in Richard Turlington's pay, and that this
servant had seen Launce leave the grounds by the back-garden


The Drawing-Room.


"Say something."

"Ask him to sit down."

Thus addressing one another in whispers, the three stepdaughters
of Lady Winwood stood bewildered in their own drawing-room,
helplessly confronting an object which appeared before them on
the threshold of the door.

The date was the 23d of December. The time was between two and
three in the afternoon. The occasion was the return of the three
sisters from the Committee meeting of the Sacred Concerts'
Society. And the object was Richard Turlington.

He stood hat in hand at the door, amazed by his reception. "I
have come up this morning from Somersetshire," he said. "Haven't
you heard? A matter of business at the office has forced me to
leave my guests at my house in the country. I return to them
to-morrow. When I say my guests, I mean the Graybrookes. Don't
you know they are staying with me? Sir Joseph and Miss Lavinia
and Natalie?" On the utterance of Natalie's name, the sisters
roused themselves. They turned about and regarded each other with
looks of dismay. Turlington's patience began to fail him. "Will
you be so good as to tell me what all this means?" he said, a
little sharply. "Miss Lavinia asked me to call here when she
heard I was coming to town. I was to take charge of a pattern for
a dress, which she said you would give me. You ought to have
received a telegram explaining it all, hours since. Has the
message not reached you?"

The leading spirit of the three sisters was Miss Amelia. She was
the first who summoned presence of mind enough to give a plain
answer to Turlington's plain question.

"We received the telegram this morning, "she said. "Something has
happened since which has shocked and surprised us. We beg your
pardon." She turned to one of her sisters. "Sophia, the pattern
is ready in the drawer of that table behind you. Give it to Mr.

Sophia produced the packet. Before she handed it to the visitor,
she looked at her sister. "Ought we to let Mr. Turlington go,"
she asked, "as if nothing had happened?"

Amelia considered silently with herself. Dorothea, the third
sister (who had not spoken yet), came forward with a suggestion.
She proposed, before proceeding further, to inquire whether Lady
Winwood was in the house. The idea was instantly adopted. Sophia
rang the bell. Amelia put the questions when the servant

Lady Winwood had left the house for a drive immediately after
luncheon. Lord Winwood--inquired for next--had accompanied her
ladyship. No message had been left indicating the hour of their

The sisters looked at Turlington, uncertain what to say or do
next. Miss Amelia addressed him as soon as the servant had left
the room.

"Is it possible for you to remain here until either my father or
Lady Winwood return?" she asked.

"It is quite impossible. Minutes are of importance to me to-day."

"Will you give us one of your minutes? We want to consider
something which we may have to say to you before you go."

Turlington, wondering, took a chair. Miss Amelia put the case
before her sisters from the sternly conscientious point of view,
at the opposite end of the room.

"We have not found out this abominable deception by any underhand
means," she said. "The discovery has been forced upon us, and we
stand pledged to nobody to keep the secret. Knowing as we do how
cruelly this gentleman has been used, it seems to me that we are
bound in honor to open his eyes to the truth. If we remain silent
we make ourselves Lady Winwood's accomplices. I, for one-- I
don't care what may come of it--refuse to do that."

Her sisters agreed with her. The first chance their clever
stepmother had given them of asserting their importance against
hers was now in their hands. Their jealous hatred of Lady Winwood
assumed the mask of Duty--duty toward an outraged and deceived
fellow-creature. Could any earthly motive be purer than that?
"Tell him, Amelia!" cried the two young ladies, with the headlong
recklessness of the sex which only stops to think when the time
for reflection has gone by.

A vague sense of something wrong began to stir uneasily in
Turlington's mind.

"Don't let me hurry you," he said, "but if you really have
anything to tell me--"

Miss Amelia summoned her courage, and began.

"We have something very dreadful to tell you," she said,
interrupting him. "You have been presented in this house, Mr.
Turlington, as a gentleman engaged to marry Lady Winwood's
cousin. Miss Natalie Graybrooke." She paused there--at the outset
of the disclosure. A sudden change of expression passed over
Turlington's face, which daunted her for the moment. "We have
hitherto understood," she went on, "that you were to be married
to that young lady early in next month."


He could say that one word. Looking at their pale faces, and
their eager eyes, he could say no more.

"Take care!" whispered Dorothea, in her sister's ear. "Look at
him, Amelia! Not too soon."

Amelia went on more carefully.

"We have just returned from a musical meeting," she said. "One of
the ladies there was an acquaintance, a former school-fellow of
ours. She is the wife of the rector of St. Columb Major--a large
church, far from this--at the East End of London."

"I know nothing about the woman or the church," interposed
Turlington, sternly.

"I must beg you to wait a little. I can't tell you what I want to
tell you unless I refer to the rector's wife. She knows Lady
Winwood by name. And she heard of Lady Winwood recently under
very strange circumstances--circumstances connected with a
signature in one of the books of the church."

Turlington lost his self-control. "You have got something against
my Natalie," he burst out; "I know it by your whispering, I see
it in your looks! Say it at once in plain words."

There was no trifling with him now. In plain words Amelia said

* * * * * * * * *

There was silence in the room. They could hear the sound of
passing footsteps in the street. He stood perfectly still on the
spot where they had struck him dumb by the disclosure, supporting
himself with his right hand laid on the head of a sofa near him.
The sisters drew back horror-struck into the furthest corner of
the room. His face turned them cold. Through the mute misery
which it had expressed at first, there appeared, slowly forcing
its way to view, a look of deadly vengeance which froze them to
the soul. They whispered feverishly one to the other, without
knowing what they were talking of, without hearing their own
voices. One of them said, "Ring the bell!" Another said, "Offer
him something, he will faint." The third shuddered, and repeated,
over and over again, "Why did we do it? Why did we do it?"

He silenced them on the instant by speaking on his side. He came
on slowly, by a step at a time, with the big drops of agony
falling slowly over his rugged face. He said, in a hoarse
whisper, "Write me down the name of the church--there." He held
out his open pocketbook to Amelia while he spoke. She steadied
herself, and wrote the address. She tried to say a word to soften
him. The word died on her lips. There was a light in his eyes as
they looked at her which transfigured his face to something
superhuman and devilish. She turned away from him, shuddering.

He put the book back in his pocket, and passed his handkerchief
over his face. After a moment of indecision, he suddenly and
swiftly stole out of the room, as if he was afraid of their
calling somebody in, and stopping him. At the door he turned
round for a moment, and said, "You will hear how this ends. I
wish you good-morning."

The door closed on him. Left by themselves, they began to realize
it. They thought of the consequences when his back was turned and
it was too late.

The Graybrookes! Now he knew it, what would become of the
Graybrookes? What wou ld he do when he got back? Even at ordinary
times--when he was on his best behavior--he was a rough man. What
would happen? Oh, good God! what would happen when he and Natalie
next stood face to face? It was a lonely house--Natalie had told
them about it--no neighbors near; nobody by to interfere but the
weak old father and the maiden aunt. Something ought to be done.
Some steps ought to be taken to warn them. Advice--who could give
advice? Who was the first person who ought to be told of what had
happened? Lady Winwood? No! even at that crisis the sisters still
shrank from their stepmother--still hated her with the old
hatred! Not a word to _her!_ They owed no duty to _her!_ Who else
could they appeal to? To their father? Yes! There was the person
to advise them. In the meanwhile, silence toward their
stepmother--silence toward every one till their father came back!

They waited and waited. One after another the precious hours,
pregnant with the issues of life and death, followed each other
on the dial. Lady Winwood returned alone. She had left her
husband at the House of Lords. Dinner-time came, and brought with
it a note from his lordship. There was a debate at the House.
Lady Winwood and his daughters were not to wait dinner for him.


Green Anchor Lane.

An hour later than the time at which he had been expected,
Richard Turlington appeared at his office in the city.

He met beforehand all the inquiries which the marked change in
him must otherwise have provoked, by announcing that he was ill.
Before he proceeded to business, he asked if anybody was waiting
to see him. One of the servants from Muswell Hill was waiting
with another parcel for Miss Lavinia, ordered by telegram from
the country that morning. Turlington (after ascertaining the
servant's name) received the man in his private room. He there
heard, for the first time, that Launcelot Linzie had been lurking
in the grounds (exactly as he had supposed) on the day when the
lawyer took his instructions for the Settlement and the Will.

In two hours more Turlington's work was completed. On leaving the
office--as soon as he was out of sight of the door--he turned
eastward, instead of taking the way that led to his own house in
town. Pursuing his course, he entered the labyrinth of streets
which led, in that quarter of East London, to the unsavory
neighborhood of the river-side.

By this time his mind was made up. The forecast shadow of
meditated crime traveled before him already, as he threaded his
way among his fellow-men.

He had been to the vestry of St. Columb Major, and had satisfied
himself that he was misled by no false report. There was the
entry in the Marriage Register. The one unexplained mystery was
the mystery of Launce's conduct in permitting his wife to return
to her father's house. Utterly unable to account for this
proceeding, Turlington could only accept facts as they were, and
determine to make the most of his time, while the woman who had
deceived him was still under his roof. A hideous expression
crossed his face as he realized the idea that he had got her
(unprotected by her husband) in his house. "When Launcelot Linzie
_does_ come to claim her," he said to himself, "he shall find I
have been even with him." He looked at his watch. Was it possible
to save the last train and get back that night? No--the last
train had gone. Would she take advantage of his absence to
escape? He had little fear of it. She would never have allowed
her aunt to send him to Lord Winwood's house, if she had felt the
slightest suspicion of his discovering the truth in that quarter.
Returning by the first train the next morning, he might feel sure
of getting back in time. Meanwhile he had the hours of the night
before him. He could give his mind to the serious question that
must be settled before he left London--the question of repaying
the forty thousand pounds. There was but one way of getting the
money now. Sir Joseph had executed his Will; Sir Joseph's death
would leave his sole executor and trustee (the lawyer had said
it!) master of his fortune. Turlington determined to be master of
it in four-and-twenty hours--striking the blow, without risk to
himself, by means of another hand. In the face of the
probabilities, in the face of the facts, he had now firmly
persuaded himself that Sir Joseph was privy to the fraud that had
been practiced on him. The Marriage-Settlement, the Will, the
presence of the family at his country house--all these he
believed to be so many stratagems invented to keep him deceived
until the last moment. The truth was in those words which he had
overheard between Sir Joseph and Launce--and in Launce's presence
(privately encouraged, no doubt) at Muswell Hill. "Her father
shall pay me for it doubly: with his purse and with his life."
With that thought in his heart, Richard Turlington wound his way
through the streets by the river-side, and stopped at a blind
alley called Green Anchor Lane, infamous to this day as the
chosen resort of the most abandoned wretches whom London can

The policeman at the corner cautioned him as he turned into the
alley. "They won't hurt _me!_" he answered, and walked on to a
public-house at the bottom of the lane.

The landlord at the door silently recognized him, and led the way
in. They crossed a room filled with sailors of all nations
drinking; ascended a staircase at the back of the house, and
stopped at the door of the room on the second floor. There the
landlord spoke for the first time. "He has outrun his allowance,
sir, as usual. You will find him with hardly a rag on his back. I
doubt if he will last much longer. He had another fit of the
horrors last night, and the doctor thinks badly of him." With
that introduction he opened the door, and Turlington entered the

On the miserable bed lay a gray-headed old man of gigantic
stature, with nothing on him but a ragged shirt and a pair of
patched, filthy trousers. At the side of the bed, with a bottle
of gin on the rickety table between them, sat two hideous
leering, painted monsters, wearing the dress of women. The smell
of opium was in the room, as well as the smell of spirits. At
Turlington's appearance, the old man rose on the bed and welcomed
him with greedy eyes and outstretched hand.

"Money, master!" he called out hoarsely. "A crown piece in
advance, for the sake of old times!"

Turlington turned to the women without answering, purse in hand.

"His clothes are at the pawnbroker's, of course. How much?"

"Thirty shillings."

"Bring them here, and be quick about it. You will find it worth
your while when you come back."

The women took the pawnbroker's tickets from the pockets of the
man's trousers and hurried out.

Turlington closed the door, and seated himself by the bedside. He
laid his hand familiarly on the giant's mighty shoulder, looked
him full in the face, and said, in a whisper,

"Thomas Wildfang!"

The man started, and drew his huge hairy hand across his eyes, as
if in doubt whether he was waking or sleeping. "It's better than
ten years, master, since you called me by my name. If I am Thomas
Wildfang, what are you?"

"Your captain, once more."

Thomas Wildfang sat up on the side of the bed, and spoke his next
words cautiously in Turlington's ear.

"Another man in the way?"


The giant shook his bald, bestial head dolefully. "Too late. I'm
past the job. Look here."

He held up his hand, and showed it trembling incessantly. "I'm an
old man," he said, and let his hand drop heavily again on the bed
beside him.

Turlington looked at the door, and whispered back,

"The man is as old as you are. And the money is worth having."

"How much?"

"A hundred pounds."

The eyes of Thomas Wildfang fastened greedily on Turlington's
face. "Let's hear," he said. "Softly, captain. Let's hear."

* * * * * * * * *

When the women came back with the clothes, Turlington had left
the room. Their promised reward lay waiting for them on the
table, and Thomas Wildfang was eager to dress himself and be
gone. They could get but one answer from him to every question
they put. He had business in hand, which was not to be delayed.
They would see him again in a day or two, with money in his
purse. With that assurance he took his cudgel from the corner of
the room, and stalked out swiftly by the back door of the house
into the night.


Outside the House

The evening was chilly, but not cold for the time of year. There
was no moon. The stars were out, and the wind was quiet. Upon the
whole, the inhabitants of the little Somersetshire village of
Baxdale agreed that it was as fine a Christmas-eve as they could
remember for some years past.

Toward eight in the evening the one small street of the village
was empty, except at that part of it which was occupied by the
public-house. For the most part, people gathered round their
firesides, with an eye to their suppers, and watched the process
of cooking comfortably indoors. The old bare, gray church,
situated at some little distance from the village, looked a
lonelier object than usual in the dim starlight. The vicarage,
nestling close under the shadow of the church-tower, threw no
illumination of fire-light or candle-light on the dreary scene.
The clergyman's shutters fitted well, and the clergyman's
curtains were closely drawn. The one ray of light that cheered
the wintry darkness streamed from the unguarded window of a
lonely house, separated from the vicarage by the whole length of
the church-yard. A man stood at the window, holding back the
shutter, and looking out attentively over the dim void of the
burial-ground. The man was Richard Turlington. The room in which
he was watching was a room in his own house.

A momentary spark of light flashed up, as from a kindled match,
in the burial-ground. Turlington instantly left the empty room in
which he had been watching. Passing down the back garden of the
house, and crossing a narrow lane at the bottom of it, he opened
a gate in a low stone wall beyond, and entered the church- yard.
The shadowy figure of a man of great stature, lurking among the
graves, advanced to meet him. Midway in the dark and lonely place
the two stopped and consulted together in whispers. Turlington
spoke first.

"Have you taken up your quarters at the public-house in the

"Yes, master."

"Did you find your way, while the daylight lasted, to the
deserted malt-house behind my orchard wall?"

"Yes, master."

"Now listen--we have no time to lose. Hide there, behind that
monument. Before nine o'clock to-night you will see me cross the
churchyard, as far as this place, with the man you are to wait
for. He is going to spend an hour with the vicar, at the house
yonder. I shall stop short here, and say to him, 'You can't miss
your way in the dark now--I will go back.' When I am far enough
away from him, I shall blow a call on my whistle. The moment you
hear the call, follow the man, and drop him before he gets out of
the church-yard. Have you got your cudgel?"

Thomas Wildfang held up his cudgel. Turlington took him by the
arm, and felt it suspiciously.

"You have had an attack of the horrors already," he said. "What
does this trembling mean?"

He took a spirit-flask from his pocket as he spoke. Thomas
Wildfang snatched it out of his hand, and emptied it at a
draught. "All right now, master," he said. Turlington felt his
arm once more. It was steadier already. Wildfang brandished his
cudgel, and struck a heavy blow with it on one of the turf mounds
near them. "Will that drop him, captain?" he asked.

Turlington went on with his instructions.

"Rob him when you have dropped him. Take his money and his
jewelry. I want to have the killing of him attributed to robbery
as the motive. Make sure before you leave him that he is dead.
Then go to the malt-house. There is no fear of your being seen;
all the people will be indoors, keeping Christmas-eve. You will
find a change of clothes hidden in the malt-house, and an old
caldron full of quicklime. Destroy the clothes you have got on,
and dress yourself in the other clothes that you find. Follow the
cross-road, and when it brings you into the highroad, turn to the
left; a four-mile walk will take you to the town of Harminster.
Sleep there to-night, and travel to London by the train in the
morning. The next day go to my office, see the head clerk, and
say, 'I have come to sign my receipt.' Sign it in your own name,
and you will receive your hundred pounds. There are your
instructions. Do you understand them?"

Wildfang nodded his head in silent token that he understood, and
disappeared again among the graves. Turlington went back to the

He had advanced midway across the garden, when he was startled by
the sound of footsteps in the lane--at that part of it which
skirted one of the corners of the house. Hastening forward, he
placed himself behind a projection in the wall, so as to see the
person pass across the stream of light from the uncovered window
of the room that he had left. The stranger was walking rapidly.
All Turlington could see as he crossed the field of light was,
that his hat was pulled over his eyes, and that he had a thick
beard and mustache. Describing the man to the servant on entering
the house, he was informed that a stranger with a large beard had
been seen about the neighborhood for some days past. The account
he had given of himself stated that he was a surveyor, engaged in
taking measurements for a new map of that part of the country,
shortly to be published.

The guilty mind of Turlington was far from feeling satisfied with
the meager description of the stranger thus rendered. He could
not be engaged in surveying in the dark. What could he want in
the desolate neighborhood of the house and church-yard at that
time of night?

The man wanted--what the man found a little lower down the lane,
hidden in a dismantled part of the church-yard wall--a letter
from a young lady. Read by the light of the pocket-lantern which
he carried with him, the letter first congratulated this person
on the complete success of his disguise--and then promised that
the writer would be ready at her bedroom window for flight the
next morning, before the house was astir. The signature was
"Natalie," and the person addressed was "Dearest Launce."

In the meanwhile, Turlington barred the window shutters of the
room, and looked at his watch. It wanted only a quarter to nine
o'clock. He took his dog-whistle from the chimney-piece, and
turned his steps at once in the direction of the drawing-room, in
which his guests were passing the evening.


Inside the House.

The scene in the drawing-room represented the ideal of domestic
comfort. The fire of wood and coal mixed burned brightly; the
lamps shed a soft glow of light; the solid shutters and the thick
red curtains kept the cold night air on the outer side of two
long windows, which opened on the back garden. Snug arm-chairs
were placed in every part of the room. In one of them Sir Joseph
reclined, fast asleep; in another, Miss Lavinia sat knitting; a
third chair, apart from the rest, near a round table in one
corner of the room, was occupied by Natalie. Her head was resting
on her hand, an unread book lay open on her lap. She looked pale
and harassed; anxiety and suspense had worn her down to the
shadow of her former self. On entering the room, Turlington
purposely closed the door with a bang. Natalie started. Miss
Lavinia looked up reproachfully. The object was achieved--Sir
Joseph was roused from his sleep.

"If you are going to the vicar's to-night. Graybrooke," said
Turlington, "it's time you were off, isn't it?"

Sir Joseph rubbed his eyes, and looked at the clock on the
mantel-piece. "Yes, yes, Richard," he answered, drowsily, "I
suppose I must go. Where is my hat?"

His sister and his daughter both joined in trying to persuade him
to send an excuse instead of groping his way to the vicarage in
the dark. Sir Joseph hesitated, as usual. He and the vicar had
run up a sudden friendship, on the strength of their common
enthusiasm for the old-fashioned game of backgammon. Victorious
over his opponent on the previous evening at Turlington's house,
Sir Joseph had promised to pass that evening at the vicarage, and
give the vicar his revenge. Observing his indecision, Turlington
cunningly irritated
him by affecting to believe that he was really unwilling to
venture out in the dark. "I'll see you safe across the
churchyard," he said; "and the vicar's servant will see you safe
back." The tone in which he spoke instantly roused Sir Joseph. "I
am not in my second childhood yet, Richard," he replied, testily.
"I can find my way by myself." He kissed his daughter on the
forehead. "No fear, Natalie. I shall be back in time for the
mulled claret. No, Richard, I won't trouble you." He kissed his
hand to his sister and went out into the hall for his hat:
Turlington following him with a rough apology, and asking as a
favor to be permitted to accompany him part of the way only. The
ladies, left behind in the drawing-room, heard the apology
accepted by kind-hearted Sir Joseph. The two went out together.

"Have you noticed Richard since his return?" asked Miss Lavinia.
"I fancy he must have heard bad news in London. He looks as if he
had something on his mind."

"I haven't remarked it, aunt."

For the time, no more was said. Miss Lavinia went monotonously on
with her knitting. Natalie pursued her own anxious thoughts over
the unread pages of the book in her lap. Suddenly the deep
silence out of doors and in was broken by a shrill whistle,
sounding from the direction of the church-yard. Natalie started
with a faint cry of alarm. Miss Lavinia looked up from her

"My dear child, your nerves must be sadly out of order. What is
there to be frightened at?"

"I am not very well, aunt. It is so still here at night, the
slightest noises startle me."

There was another interval of silence. It was past nine o'clock
when they heard the back door opened and closed again. Turlington
came hurriedly into the drawing-room, as if he had some reason
for wishing to rejoin the ladies as soon as possible. To the
surprise of both of them, he sat down abruptly in the corner,
with his face to the wall, and took up the newspaper, without
casting a look at them or uttering a word.

"Is Joseph safe at the vicarage?" asked Miss Lavinia.

"All right." He gave the answer in a short, surly tone, still
without looking round.

Miss Lavinia tried him again. "Did you hear a whistle while you
were out? It quite startled Natalie in the stillness of this

He turned half-way round. "My shepherd, I suppose," he said after
a pause--"whistling for his dog." He turned back again and
immersed himself in his newspaper.

Miss Lavinia beckoned to her niece and pointed significantly to
Turlington. After one reluctant look at him, Natalie laid her
head wearily on her aunt's shoulder. "Sleepy, my dear?" whispered
the old lady. "Uneasy, aunt--I don't know why," Natalie whispered
back. "I would give the world to be in London, and to hear the
carriages going by, and the people talking in the street."

Turlington suddenly dropped his newspaper. "What's the secret
between you two?" he called out roughly. "What are you whispering

"We wish not to disturb you over your reading, that is all," said
Miss Lavinia, coldly. "Has anything happened to vex you,

"What the devil makes you think that?"

The old lady was offended, and showed it by saying nothing more.
Natalie nestled closer to her aunt. One after another the clock
ticked off the minutes with painful distinctness in the stillness
of the room. Turlington suddenly threw aside the newspaper and
left his corner. "Let's be good friends!" he burst out, with a
clumsy assumption of gayety. "This isn't keeping Christmas-eve.
Let's talk and be sociable. Dearest Natalie!" He threw his arm
roughly round Natalie, and drew her by main force away from her
aunt. She turned deadly pale, and struggled to release herself.
"I am suffering--I am ill--let me go!" He was deaf to her
entreaties. "What! your husband that is to be, treated in this
way? Mustn't I have a kiss?--I will!" He held her closer with one
hand, and, seizing her head with the other, tried to turn her
lips to him. She resisted with the inbred nervous strength which
the weakest woman living has in reserve when she is outraged.
Half indignant, half terrified, at Turlington's roughness, Miss
Lavinia rose to interfere. In a moment more he would have had two
women to overpower instead of one, when a noise outside the
window suddenly suspended the ignoble struggle.

There was a sound of footsteps on the gravel-walk which ran
between the house wall and the garden lawn. It was followed by a
tap--a single faint tap, no more--on one of the panes of glass.

They all three stood still. For a moment more nothing was
audible. Then there was a heavy shock, as of something falling
outside. Then a groan, then another interval of silence--a long
silence, interrupted no more.

Turlington's arm dropped from Natalie. She drew back to her aunt.
Looking at him instinctively, in the natural expectation that he
would take the lead in penetrating the mystery of what had
happened outside the window, the two women were thunderstruck to
see that he was, to all appearance, even more startled and more
helpless than they were. "Richard," said Miss Lavinia, pointing
to the window, "there is something wrong out there. See what it
is." He stood motionless, as if he had not heard her, his eyes
fixed on the window, his face livid with terror.

The silence outside was broken once more; this time by a call for

A cry of horror burst from Natalie. The voice outside--rising
wildly, then suddenly dying away again--was not entirely strange
to _her_ ears. She tore aside the curtain. With voice and hand
she roused her aunt to help her. The two lifted the heavy bar
from its socket; they opened the shutters and the window. The
cheerful light of the room flowed out over the body of a
prostrate man, lying on his face. They turned the man over.
Natalie lifted his head.

Her father!

His face was bedabbled with blood. A wound, a frightful wound,
was visible on the side of his bare head, high above the ear. He
looked at her, his eyes recognized her, before he fainted again
in her arms. His hands and his clothes were covered with earth
stains. He must have traversed some distance; in that dreadful
condition he must have faltered and fallen more than once before
he reached the house. His sister wiped the blood from his face.
His daughter called on him frantically to forgive her before he
died--the harmless, gentle, kind-hearted father, who had never
said a hard word to her! The father whom she had deceived!

The terrified servants hurried into the room. Their appearance
roused their master from the extraordinary stupor that had seized
him. He was at the window before the footman could get there. The
two lifted Sir Joseph into the room, and laid him on the sofa.
Natalie knelt by him, supporting his head. Miss Lavinia stanched
the flowing blood with her handkerchief. The women-servants
brought linen and cold water. The man hurried away for the
doctor, who lived on the other side of the village. Left alone
again with Turlington, Natalie noticed that his eyes were fixed
in immovable scrutiny on her father's head. He never said a word.
He looked, looked, looked at the wound.

The doctor arrived. Before either the daughter or the sister of
the injured man could put the question, Turlington put it--"Will
he live or die?"

The doctor's careful finger probed the wound.

"Make your minds easy. A little lower down, or in front, the blow
might have been serious. As it is, there is no harm done. Keep
him quiet, and he will be all right again in two or three days."

Hearing those welcome words, Natalie and her aunt sank on their
knees in silent gratitude. After dressing the wound, the doctor
looked round for the master of the house. Turlington, who had
been so breathlessly eager but a few minutes since, seemed to
have lost all interest in the case now. He stood apart, at the
window, looking out toward the church-yard, thinking. The
questions which it was the doctor's duty to ask were answered by
the ladies. The servants assisted in examining the injured man's
clothes: they discovered that his watch and purse were both
missing. When it became necessary to carry him upstairs, it was
the footman who assisted the doctor. The foot man's master,
without a word of explanation, walked out bare headed into the
back garden, on the search, as the doctor and the servants
supposed, for some trace of the robber who had attempted Sir
Joseph's life.

His absence was hardly noticed at the time. The difficulty of
conveying the wounded man to his room absorbed the attention of
all the persons present.

Sir Joseph partially recovered his senses while they were taking
him up the steep and narrow stairs. Carefully as they carried the
patient, the motion wrung a groan from him before they reached
the top. The bedroom corridor, in the rambling, irregularly built
house rose and fell on different levels. At the door of the first
bedchamber the doctor asked a little anxiously if that was the
room. No; there were three more stairs to go down, and a corner
to turn, before they could reach it. The first room was
Natalie's. She instantly offered it for her father's use. The
doctor (seeing that it was the airiest as well as the nearest
room) accepted the proposal. Sir Joseph had been laid comfortably
in his daughter's bed; the doctor had just left them, with
renewed assurances that they need feel no anxiety, when they
heard a heavy step below stairs. Turlington had re-entered the

(He had been looking, as they had supposed, for the ruffian who
had attacked Sir Joseph; with a motive, however, for the search
at which it was impossible for other persons to guess. His own
safety was now bound up in the safety of Thomas Wildfang. As soon
as he was out of sight in the darkness, he made straight for the
malt-house. The change of clothes was there untouched; not a
trace of his accomplice was to be seen. Where else to look for
him it was impossible to tell. Turlington had no alternative but
to go back to the house, and ascertain if suspicion had been
aroused in his absence.)

He had only to ascend the stairs, and to see, through the open
door, that Sir Joseph had been placed in his daughter's room.

"What does this mean?" he asked, roughly.

Before it was possible to answer him the footman appeared with a
message. The doctor had come back to the door to say that he
would take on himself the necessary duty of informing the
constable of what had happened, on his return to the village.
Turlington started and changed color. If Wildfang was found by
others, and questioned in his employer's absence, serious
consequences might follow. "The constable is my business," said
Turlington, hurriedly descending the stairs; "I'll go with the
doctor." They heard him open the door below, then close it again
(as if some sudden thought had struck him), and call to the
footman. The house was badly provided with servants' bedrooms.
The women-servants only slept indoors. The footman occupied a
room over the stables. Natalie and her aunt heard Turlington
dismiss the man for the night, an hour earlier than usual at
least. His next proceeding was stranger still. Looking cautiously
over the stairs, Natalie saw him lock all the doors on the
ground-floor and take out the keys. When he went away, she heard
him lock the front door behind him. Incredible as it seemed,
there could be no doubt of the fact--the inmates of the house
were imprisoned till he came back. What did it mean?

(It meant that Turlington's vengeance still remained to be
wreaked on the woman who had deceived him. It meant that Sir
Joseph's life still stood between the man who had compassed his
death and the money which the man was resolved to have. It meant
that Richard Turlington was driven to bay, and that the horror
and the peril of the night were not at an end yet.)

Natalie and her aunt looked at each other across the bed on which
Sir Joseph lay. He had fallen into a kind of doze; no
enlightenment could come to them from _him_. They could only ask
each other, with beating hearts and baffled minds, what Richard's
conduct meant--they could only feel instinctively that some
dreadful discovery was hanging over them. The aunt was the calmer
of the two--there was no secret weighing heavily on _her_
conscience. _She_ could feel the consolations of religion. "Our
dear one is spared to us, my love," said the old lady, gently.
"God has been good to us. We are in his hands. If we know that,
we know enough."

As she spoke there was a loud ring at the doorbell. The
women-servants crowded into the bedroom in alarm. Strong in
numbers, and encouraged by Natalie--who roused herself and led
the way-- they confronted the risk of opening the window and of
venturing out on the balcony which extended along that side of
the house. A man was dimly visible below. He called to them in
thick, unsteady accents. The servants recognized him: he was the
telegraphic messenger from the railway. They went down to speak
to him--and returned with a telegram which had been pushed in
under the door. The distance from the station was considerable;
the messenger had been "keeping Christmas" in more than one beer-
shop on his way to the house; and the delivery of the telegram
had been delayed for some hours. It was addressed to Natalie. She
opened it--looked at it--dropped it--and stood speechless; her
lips parted in horror, her eyes staring vacantly straight before

Miss Lavinia took the telegram from the floor, and read these

"Lady Winwood, Hertford Street, London. To Natalie Graybrooke,
Church Meadows, Baxdale, Somersetshire. Dreadful news. R. T. has
discovered your marriage to Launce. The truth has been kept from
me till to-day (24th). Instant flight with your husband is your
only chance. I would have communicated with Launce, but I do not
know his address. You will receive this, I hope and believe,
before R. T. can return to Somersetshire. Telegraph back, I
entreat you, to say that you are safe. I shall follow my message
if I do not hear from you in reasonable time."

Miss Lavinia lifted her gray head, and looked at her niece. "Is
this true?" she said--and pointed to the venerable face laid
back, white, on the white pillow of the bed. Natalie sank forward
as her eyes met the eyes of her aunt. Miss Lavinia saved her from
falling insensible on the floor.

* * * * * * * * *

The confession had been made. The words of penitence and the
words of pardon had been spoken. The peaceful face of the father
still lay hushed in rest. One by one the minutes succeeded each
other uneventfully in the deep tranquillity of the night. It was
almost a relief when the silence was disturbed once more by
another sound outside the house. A pebble was thrown up at the
window, and a voice called out cautiously, "Miss Lavinia!"

They recognized the voice of the man-servant, and at once opened
the window.

He had something to say to the ladies in private. How could he
say it? A domestic circumstance which had been marked by Launce,
as favorable to the contemplated elopement, was now noticed by
the servant as lending itself readily to effecting the necessary
communication with the ladies. The lock of the gardener's
tool-house (in the shrubbery close by) was under repair; and the
gardener's ladder was accessible to any one who wanted it. At the
short height of the balcony from the ground, the ladder was more
than long enough for the purpose required. In a few minutes the
servant had mounted to the balcony, and could speak to Natalie
and her aunt at the window.

"I can't rest quiet," said the man, "I'm off on the sly to see
what's going on down in the village. It's hard on ladies like you
to be locked in here. Is there anything I can do for either of

Natalie took up Lady Winwood's telegram. "Launce ought to see
this," she said to her aunt. "He will be here at daybreak," she
added, in a whisper, "if I don't tell him what has happened."

Miss Lavinia turned pale. "If he and Richard meet--" she began.
"Tell him!" she added, hurriedly--"tell him before it is too

Natalie wrote a few lines (addressed to Launce in his assumed
name at his lodgings in the village) inclosing Lady Winwood's
telegram, and entreating him to do nothing rash. When the servant
had disappeared with the letter, there was one hope in her mind
and in her aunt's mind, which each was ashamed to acknowledge to
the other --the hope that Launce would face the very danger that
they dreaded for him, and come to the house.

They had not been long alone again, when Sir Joseph drowsily
opened his eyes and asked what they were doing in his room. They
told him gently that he was ill. He put his hand up to his head,
and said they were right, and so dropped off again into slumber.
Worn out by the emotions through which they had passed, the two
women silently waited for the march of events. The same stupor of
resignation possessed them both. They had secured the door and
the window. They had prayed together. They had kissed the quiet
face on the pillow. They had said to each other, "We will live
with him or die with him as God pleases." Miss Lavinia sat by the
bedside. Natalie was on a stool at her feet--with her eyes
closed, and her head on her aunt's knee.

Time went on. The clock in the hall had struck--ten or eleven,
they were not sure which--when they heard the signal which warned
them of the servant's return from the village. He brought news,
and more than news; he brought a letter from Launce.

Natalie read these lines:

"I shall be with you, dearest, almost as soon as you receive
this. The bearer will tell you what has happened in the village--
your note throws a new light on it all. I only remain behind to
go to the vicar (who is also the magistrate here), and declare
myself your husband. All disguise must be at an end now. My place
is with you and yours. It is even worse than your worst fears.
Turlington was at the bottom of the attack on your father. Judge
if you have not need of your husband's protection after

Natalie handed the letter to her aunt, and pointed to the
sentence which asserted Turlington's guilty knowledge of the
attempt on Sir Joseph's life. In silent horror the two women
looked at each other, recalling what had happened earlier in the
evening, and understanding it now. The servant roused them to a
sense of present things, by entering on the narrative of his
discoveries in the village.

The place was all astir when he reached it. An old man--a
stranger in Baxdale--had been found lying in the road, close to
the church, in a fit; and the person who had discovered him had
been no other than Launce himself. He had, literally, stumbled
over the body of Thomas Wildfang in the dark, on his way back to
his lodgings in the village.

"The gentleman gave the alarm, miss," said the servant,
describing the event, as it had been related to him, "and the
man--a huge, big old man--was carried to the inn. The landlord
identified him; he had taken lodgings at the inn that day, and
the constable found valuable property on him--a purse of money
and a gold watch and chain. There was nothing to show who the
money and the watch belonged to. It was only when my master and
the doctor got to the inn that it was known whom he had robbed
and tried to murder. All he let out in his wanderings before they
came was that some person had set him on to do it. He called the
person 'Captain,' and sometimes 'Captain Goward.' It was
thought--if you could trust the ravings of a madman--that the fit
took him while he was putting his hand on Sir Joseph's heart to
feel if it had stopped beating. A sort of vision (as I understand
it) must have overpowered him at the moment. They tell me he
raved about the sea bursting into the church yard, and a drowning
sailor floating by on a hen-coop; a sailor who dragged him down
to hell by the hair of his head, and such like horrible nonsense,
miss. He was still screeching, at the worst of the fit, when my
master and the doctor came into the room. At sight of one or
other of them--it is thought of Mr. Turlington, seeing that he
came first--he held his peace on a sudden, and then fell back in
convulsions in the arms of the men who were holding him. The
doctor gave it a learned name, signifying drink-madness, and said
the case was hopeless. However, he ordered the room to be cleared
of the crowd to see what be could do. My master was reported to
be still with the doctor, waiting to see whether the man lived or
died, when I left the village, miss, with the gentleman's answer
to your note. I didn't dare stay to hear how it ended, for fear
of Mr. Turlington's finding me out."

Having reached the end of his narrative, the man looked round
restlessly toward the window. It was impossible to say when his
master might not return, and it might be as much as his life was
worth to be caught in the house after he had been locked out of
it. He begged permission to open the window, and make his escape
back to the stables while there was still time. As he unbarred
the shutter they were startled by a voice hailing them from
below. It was Launce's voice calling to Natalie. The servant
disappeared, and Natalie was in Launce's arms before she could
breathe again.

For one delicious moment she let her head lie on his breast; then
she suddenly pushed him away from her. "Why do you come here? He
will kill you if he finds you in the house. Where is he?"

Launce knew even less of Turlington's movements than the servant.
"Wherever he is, thank God, I am here before him!" That was all
the answer he could give.

Natalie and her aunt heard him in silent dismay. Sir Joseph woke,
and recognized Launce before a word more could be said. "Ah, my
dear boy!" he murmured, faintly. "It's pleasant to see you again.
How do you come here?" He was quite satisfied with the first
excuse that suggested itself. "We'll talk about it to- morrow,"
he said, and composed himself to rest again.

Natalie made a second attempt to persuade Launce to leave the

"We don't know what may have happened," she said. "He may have
followed you on your way here. He may have purposely let you
enter his house. Leave us while you have the chance."

Miss Lavinia added her persuasions. They were useless. Launce
quietly closed the heavy window-shutters, lined with iron, and
put up the bar. Natalie wrung her hands in despair.

"Have you been to the magistrate?" she asked. "Tell us, at least,
are you here by his advice? Is he coming to help us?"

Launce hesitated. If he had told the truth, he must have
acknowledged that he was there in direct opposition to the
magistrate's advice. He answered evasively, "If the vicar doesn't
come, the doctor will. I have told him Sir Joseph must he moved.
Cheer up, Natalie! The doctor will be here as soon as

As the name passed his lips--without a sound outside to prepare
them for what was coming--the voice of Turlington himself
suddenly penetrated into the room, speaking close behind the
window, on the outer side.

"You have broken into my house in the night," said the voice.
"And you don't escape _this_ way."

Miss Lavinia sank on her knees. Natalie flew to her father. His
eyes were wide open in terror; he moaned, feebly recognizing the
voice. The next sound that was heard was the sound made by the
removal of the ladder from the balcony. Turlington, having
descended by it, had taken it away. Natalie had but too
accurately guessed what would happen. The death of the villain's
accomplice had freed him from all apprehension in that quarter.
He had deliberately dogged Launce's steps, and had deliberately
allowed him to put himself in the wrong by effecting a secret
entrance into the house.

There was an interval--a horrible interval--and then they heard
the front door opened. Without stopping (judging by the absence
of sound) to close it again, Turlington rapidly ascended the
stairs and tried the locked door.

"Come out, and give yourself up!" he called through the door. "I
have got my revolver with me, and I have a right to fire on a man
who has broken into my house. If the door isn't opened before I
count three, your blood be on your own head. One!"

Launce was armed with nothing but his stick. He advanced, without
an instant's hesitation, to give himself up. Natalie threw her
arms round him and clasped him fast before he could reach the

"Two!" cried the voice outside, as Launce struggled to force her
from him. At the same moment his eye turned toward the bed. It
was exactly opposite the door--it was straight in the line of
fire! Sir Joseph' s life (as Turlington had deliberately
calculated) was actually in greater danger than Launce's life. He
tore himself free, rushed to the bed, and took the old man in his
arms to lift him out.


The crash of the report sounded. The bullet came through the
door, grazed Launce's left arm, and buried itself in the pillow,
at the very place on which Sir Joseph's head had rested the
moment before. Launce had saved his father-in-law's life.
Turlington had fired his first shot for the money, and had not
got it yet.

They were safe in the corner of the room, on the same side as the
door--Sir Joseph, helpless as a child, in Launce's arms; the
women pale, but admirably calm. They were safe for the moment,
when the second bullet (fired at an angle) tore its way through
the wall on their right hand.

"I hear you," cried the voice of the miscreant on the other side
of the door. "I'll have you yet--through the wall."

There was a pause. They heard his hand sounding the wall, to find
out where there was solid wood in the material of which it was
built, and where there was plaster only. At that dreadful moment
Launce's composure never left him. He laid Sir Joseph softly on
the floor, and signed to Natalie and her aunt to lie down by him
in silence. Their lives depended now on neither their voices nor
their movements telling the murderer where to fire. He chose his
place. The barrel of the revolver grated as he laid it against
the wall. He touched the hair trigger. A faint _click_ was the
only sound that followed. The third barrel had missed fire.

They heard him ask himself, with an oath, "What's wrong with it

There was a pause of silence.

Was he examining the weapon?

Before they could ask themselves the question, the report of the
exploding charge burst on their ears. It was instantly followed
by a heavy fall. They looked at the opposite wall of the room. No
sign of a bullet there or anywhere.

Launce signed to them not to move yet. They waited, and listened.
Nothing stirred on the landing outside.

Suddenly there was a disturbance of the silence in the lower
regions--a clamor of many voices at the open house door. Had the
firing of the revolver been heard at the vicarage? Yes! They
recognized the vicar's voice among the others. A moment more, and
they heard a general exclamation of horror on the stairs. Launce
opened the door of the room. He instantly closed it again before
Natalie could follow him.

The dead body of Turlington lay on the landing outside. The
charge in the fourth barrel of the revolver had exploded while he
was looking at it. The bullet had entered his mouth and killed
him on the spot.


First Hint.

(Derived from Lady Winwood's Card-Rack.)

"Sir Joseph Graybrooke and Miss Graybrooke request the honor of
Lord and Lady Winwood's company to dinner, on Wednesday, February
10, at half-past seven o'clock. To meet Mr. and Mrs. Launcelot
Linzie on their return."

Second Hint.

(Derived from a recent Money Article in morning Newspaper.)

"We are requested to give the fullest contradiction to
unfavorable rumors lately in circulation respecting the firm of
Pizzituti, Turlington, and Branca. Some temporary derangement in
the machinery of the business was undoubtedly produced in
consequence of the sudden death of the lamented managing partner,
Mr. Turlington, by the accidental discharge of a revolver which
he was examining. Whatever temporary obstacles may have existed
are now overcome. We are informed, on good authority, that the
well-known house of Messrs. Bulpit Brothers has an interest in
the business, and will carry it on until further notice."


Back to Full Books