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Title: The Betrayal of John Fordham
Author: Farjeon, B.L. (Benjamin Leopold)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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        (New York Public Library)



                                 THE

                       BETRAYAL OF JOHN FORDHAM



                                  BY

                            B. L. FARJEON

                              AUTHOR OF

             "Aaron the Jew," "A Fair Jewess," "The Last
               Tenant," "The Peril of Richard Pardon,"
                              Etc., Etc.



                                * * *



                       R. F. FENNO AND COMPANY
                           112 FIFTH AVENUE
                               NEW YORK



                         COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY
                            B. L. FARJEON.



_Betrayal of John Fordham_.



                                 THE

                      BETRAYAL OF JOHN FORDHAM.


                                * * *



                              CHAPTER I.

                      JOHN FORDHAM'S CONFESSION.


My name is John Fordham, and I am thirty-four years of age. So far as
I can judge I am at present of sound mind, though sadly distraught,
and my memory is fairly clear, except as to the occurrences of a
certain terrible night in December two years ago, which are obscured
by a black cloud which I have striven in vain to pierce. These
occurrences, and the base use to which they have been turned by an
enemy who has made my life a torture, have brought me to a pass which
will cause me presently to stand before the world as a murderer. No
man accuses me. It is I who accuse myself of the horrible crime,
though I call God to witness that I know not how I came to do it, save
that it must have been done in self-defense. But who will believe me
in the face of the damning evidence which I afterwards found in my
possession--and who will believe that when the fatal deed was done I
did not see the features of the man I killed, and did not know who he
was? My protestations will be regarded as weak inventions, and will be
received with incredulity--as probably I should receive them were
another man in my place, and I his judge. It is the guiltiest persons
who most loudly proclaim their innocence, and I shall be classed among
them.

Am I, then, weary of life that I deliberately place myself in deadly
peril, and invite the last dread sentence of the law to be passed upon
me? In one sense, yes. Not a day passes that my torturer does not
present himself to sting and threaten me and aggravate my sufferings.
My nights are sleepless; even when exhausted nature drives me into a
brief stupor my fevered brain is crowded with frightful images and
visions. So appalling are these fancies that there is a danger of my
being driven mad. Death is preferable.

And yet, but a few moments before I committed the crime, I was looking
forward hopefully to a life of peace and love with a dear and noble
woman who sacrificed her good name for me, and whom I promised to
marry when I was freed from a curse which had clung to me for years.
The night was cold, the snow was falling, but there was joy in my
heart, and I walked along singing. Great God! my heart throbs with
anguish as I think of the heaven which might been mine had not cruel
fate suddenly dashed the cup of happiness from my lips. But it is
useless to repine; I yield because it is forced upon me. One consoling
thought is mine. The dear woman I love with a love as true and sincere
as ever beat in the heart of man, will turn to me with pity, will
visit me in the prison to which I go of my own accord, and in the
solemn farewell we shall bid one another will extend her hands and
forgive me for the wrong I have done her and our child.

These last words cause me to waver in my purpose.

Our child! Hers--mine. I am the sweet little fellow's father. I saw
him yesterday with his mother, though neither he nor my dear Ellen
knew that I was near them, for I was careful they should not see my
face. How he has grown! Yesterday was his fourth 'birthday, and to-day
Ellen is wondering who left the toy horse and cart at her lodgings.
His sturdy little limbs, his lovely hair, his large brown eyes with
their wonderful lashes, the music of his voice! What bliss, what
torture I endured as I followed and listened to his prattle.

"Oh, mother!" he cried, dragging at her hand. "Look--look! Do look!"

His excitement was caused by a display of toys in a window, and they
stood together--Ellen and my boy--gazing at the treasures there
displayed. He liked this, he liked that, and wasn't this grand, and
wasn't that beautiful? and, oh! look here, mother, and here, and here!
He was especially fascinated by the horse and cart. Very tenderly did
Ellen coax his attention to a box of white lambs, which was to be
obtained for sixpence, and they went into the shop, where it Was
placed in his arms, for his little hands could not grasp it firmly,
and he wanted to carry it home himself. As he and his mother walked
away I observed him look longingly over his shoulder at the horse and
cart, and doubtless there was in his young mind a hope that one of
these fine days when he was a big, big man such a treasure might also
be in his possession, and that he would be able to ride off in it
straight to fairyland. I am sure Ellen would have given it to him
could she have afforded it, but she is obliged to be economical and
sparing with her pennies. She earns a trifle by needlework, and,
through a solicitor, she receives a pound a week from me, whom she
believes to be thousands of miles away. Upon this she lives in modest
comfort, saving every penny she can, and looking forward cheerfully to
the future. The future! Alas for her--for Reggie--for me!

Reggie's father hanged for murder! But he need never know. He does not
bear my name, for Ellen would not have it so. "Not till the laws of
God and man sanction it," she said, and I let her have her way. Spirit
of truth and justice! Show me the path wherein my duty lies.

More than one path is open to me. I could disappear at sea beneath the
waters, and my enemy would never discover how and by what means I had
severed the cord of life. He would hunt for me, and gnash his teeth at
the escape of his prey. Some satisfaction in that. Oh, miserable fool,
to express such a sentiment! But let it stand. I have no desire to
conceal my weaknesses. Being gone, Ellen would still receive her pound
a week. This is secured to her, and it is this my enemy would snatch
from her. "You have money left," he cried. "I will have my share of
it, or I will denounce you." He shall not succeed. He shall not rob
Ellen, nor shall he denounce me. No man except myself shall bring me
to the bar of justice.

I could kill him, and the world would be rid of a monster. I am
strong; he is weak. I have held him with one hand, so that he could
not move a step from the spot upon which he stood. Dead, he could do
no more mischief. Wretch that I am! Add murder to murder? No. I will
not burden my soul with conscious guilt.

I will do what I resolved to do, and this confession, when it is
completed, shall be sent to Ellen. Condemn me, world. Ellen, in my
last hours I look to you for one blessed ray of light. There was a
dread crisis in my life when you were my guardian angel, and saved me
from destruction. You will not fail me now. Receiving consolation at
your dear hands, from your pure heart, I shall lay down my load, and
with sobs of thankfulness shall bid the world farewell. In heaven,
where the truth is known, we shall meet again.



                             CHAPTER II.


Were it not necessary I would make no mention of my child-life, but
this record would be incomplete were I to pass it over in silence. All
that I can do is to dwell upon it as briefly as possible.

My mother died a few weeks after I was born; my father waited but
twelve months before he married again, and in less than two years his
second wife was a widow. Thus I lost both my parents at too early an
age to retain the slightest recollection of them. By his second
marriage my father had one child, a boy; my half-brother's name was
Louis, and by him and my stepmother I was regarded with aversion--by
her, indeed, with a much stronger feeling, for when I was old enough
to reason out things for myself I learned that she hated me.

My father had made a fortune by commerce, and in his will he behaved
justly to those who had a claim upon him. Half of his fortune was left
to his widow, without restriction of any kind except that she was to
rear and educate me, and that her home was to be mine until I was
twenty-one years of age; then I was to become entitled to my share,
one-fourth, which was so securely invested and protected that she
could not touch it. The remaining one-fourth was left to Louis in the
same way. Two of my father's friends were appointed trustees, to see
to the proper disposition of his children's inheritance.

In the conditions of this will my stepmother found a double cause for
resentment. She was angry in the first place that the whole of the
fortune was not bequeathed to her, and in the second place that she
was not appointed trustee; and she visited her anger upon me, an
unoffending child, who could have had no hand in what she conceived to
be a plot against her. Upon her son she lavished a full measure of
passionate love, while I was allowed to roam about, neglected and
uncared for. Nothing was too good for Louis, nothing too bad for me.
He had the best room in the house to sleep in, I the worst; he was
always beautifully dressed, and I was made to wear his cast-off
clothes. It was the breast of the fowl for Louis, the drumstick for
me, and dainty dishes were prepared for him which I was not allowed to
taste; my meals were measured out, and if I asked for more I was
refused. He was taken to theatres and entertainments, I was left at
home. His Christmas trees were at once a delight and a torture to me.
They could not prevent me from looking and longing, but not a toy fell
to my share. The heartless woman told me that I had robbed her and her
son of their inheritance, and I have no doubt that she had nursed this
grievance into a conviction. "You are nothing but a pest and a
nuisance," she said. And as a pest and a nuisance I was treated. In
these circumstances it would have been strange indeed if my child-life
had been happy.

I was glad when I was sent to school, and I did not look forward to
the holidays with any feeling of pleasure. Studious by nature, I did
well at school, and good reports of my progress were sent home, which
my stepmother tore up before my face. Notwithstanding this systematic
oppression I strove to win affection from her and Louis, but every
advance I made met with cold repulse, the result being that we became
less and less friendly. At length I gave up the attempt, and suffering
from a sense of injustice preserved my self-respect by an assertion of
independence. Instead of bending meekly beneath the lash, I stood up
boldly, and seized and broke it. This really happened. One scene,
which lives in my memory, will serve as an illustration.

I do not say it in praise of myself, because these things come by
nature, but I have a tender feeling towards all living creatures, and
cannot bear to see them tortured. To Louis it was a delight, and even
his pets did not escape when he grew tired of them. He had some white
rabbits, and one day I saw him bind all the limbs of one of them round
its body till it resembled a ball in form. Then he threw it high in
the air again and again, and frequently failing to catch it the poor
thing fell upon the gravel path in the garden till it was covered with
blood. I was fourteen years of age at the time, Louis was twelve. I
darted forward, and picking up the wounded animal was loosening its
bonds, when he snatched it from me. I endeavored to take it from him,
telling him it was cruel to torture the helpless creature. We had a
struggle, and his screams brought his mother from the house. She fell
upon me, and dragged me away.

"See what he has done," said Louis, pointing to the bleeding rabbit,
which had fallen to the ground.

"You did it," I retorted.

"It's a lie," he screamed. "You did it, you did it."

It was not the first falsehood he had told by many to get me into
trouble. Panting with rage, my stepmother ran back to the house, and
returned with a cane she had often used upon me.

"I will punish you for the lie," she said. "How dare you say my
darling would do such a cruel thing? You are a disgrace to the name
you bear."

She flourished the cane; I stepped back.

"I have told the truth," I said, "and I don't intend to be punished
any more by you for faults I do not commit."

"You do not intend!" she answered, advancing towards me. "I will teach
you; I will teach you!"

Swish went the cane across my face; only once, for as she was about to
repeat the blow I wrested it from her, broke it, and threw it over the
garden wall. In a frenzy of ungovernable fury she seized the first
weapon that caught her eye--a gardener's spade--and attacked me with
it, and at the same moment Louis ran at me with a three-pronged rake.
He slipped and fell, and in his fall wounded himself with the prongs.
His cries of pain diverted his mother's attention from me; she flung
away the spade, and caught him in her arms. Alarmed at the sight of
blood dripping from his face I stepped forward to assist her.

"Keep off, you murderer!" she shrieked. "You have killed my boy! You
will come to the gallows!"

She flew into the house with Louis, and I saw nothing more of her that
day. Louis, as I afterwards learned, kept his room for a week; it was
not till months had passed that we met again, and then I noticed a
scar on his forehead which I was told he would carry with him to the
grave. From that time I was made to feel that I had two bitter enemies
in my father's house. Arrangements were made to keep me at school
during holidays, and I was not sorry for it. Once a year only was I
allowed to visit my home, and then I was shunned; my meals were served
to me in a separate room, and not the slightest attention was paid to
my wants. I grew to be accustomed to this, and took refuge in study,
longing for the day to arrive when I should be free. I recall the
conversation which took place on that day between my stepmother and
me.

"You have made arrangements, I presume," she commenced, "for residing
elsewhere?"

"I have been thinking what I had best do," I said.

"That is not what I asked you. It is perfectly immaterial to me what
you have been thinking of. I presume your arrangements to live
elsewhere are already made."

As a matter of fact they were not, but I could not pretend to
misunderstand her.

"You wish me to leave the house soon?" I said.

"At once," she replied, "without a moment's unnecessary delay. You
shall not eat another meal here. Your presence is hateful to me."

"I have known that all my life," I said, mournfully.

"Then why have you remained so long?" she asked, speaking with angry
vehemence. "A man with a particle of spirit in him would have gone
away years ago, but you, like the creature you are, have sponged upon
me to the last hour. You are twenty-one to-day, and I am no longer
legally obliged to keep you. Go, and disgrace yourself, as you are
sure to do."

"I shall never do that."

"It has to be proved," she retorted. "As if any one knowing you would
believe a word that passes your lips! We shall see your name in the
papers in connection with some scandalous affair."

"You are mistaken. I bear my father's name, and I would suffer a
hundred deaths rather than see it dragged through the mire."

"Swear it," she cried.

"I swear it. But, hating me as you do, why should you be so sensitive
about my good name?"

"Your good name!" she said, scornfully. "It is only because I bear it,
because Louis bears it, as well as you, that I exact the pledge from
you. Otherwise, do you think I care what becomes of you?"

"Truly," I said, "I believe it would rejoice you to hear the worst."

"It would." %

"I hope to disappoint you. On my solemn word of honor nothing that I
do shall ever make our name a theme for scandal or reproach."

"I hold you to that. We shall see whether there is any manhood in you,
or the least sense of honor. Now, go!"

"Cannot we part without enmity?" I asked.

Persecuted and wronged as I had been, some touch of sentiment--of
which I was not ashamed--moved me to the endeavor to soften the heart
of my dead father's wife.

"No, we cannot," she answered. "To ask it proves your mean spirit. But
do you think we shall forget you? We have something to remember you by
Be sure--be sure that it will not be forgotten while there is blood in
our veins."

"To what do you refer?"

"There is a scar on my Louis' face inflicted by you, which he will
bear with him to the grave."

"No, no," I cried. "It is not true to say I did it. I deplore the
accident, but it was caused by his own cruelty."

"How dare you utter the lie? It is not the first time; you said as
much on the day you tried to kill him. Yes, you would have murdered
him had I not been by. We shall remember you by that, and it shall be
evidence against you if there is ever occasion for it. Cruelty! My
darling Louis cruel! He has the tenderest heart. You coward--you
coward! Had he been as old and strong as you you would not have dared
to attack him. But that is the way with such as you--to strike only
the weak. Time will show--time will show! You are going into the
world; there is no longer a check upon you. There will be a woman,
perhaps, whom you will beat and torture. Oh, yes, you will do it; and
you will lie to the world and whine that the fault is hers. Let those
who stand by her come to me and Louis--we will give you a character;
you shall be exposed in your true light. I hate you--I hate you--I
hate you! May your life be a life of sorrow!"

And she flung herself from the room.

The time was to come when these cruel words were to be used against me
with cruel effect; there was something prophetic in their venom.

I did not see Louis before I left the house, and on that day I
commenced a new life.



                             CHAPTER III.

For three years it was uneventful. I lived much alone, and made a few
friends, with one or another of whom I took a holiday every year on
the Continent. Then an event occurred which gave birth to the
startling incidents and experiences of my life.

Ten years ago this month Barbara Landor and I were married. I was
twenty-four, and Barbara was three years my senior. To a young man
in love--as I must have been at that time, though my feelings for my
wife soon underwent change, and I look back upon them now with
amazement--such a disparity is not likely to cause uneasiness. It did
not cause me any. I was swayed entirely by my passionate desire to
make the woman with whom I was infatuated my wife.

I had known her only a short time before I proposed, and was accepted.
Our engagement was of but a few weeks' duration, and during our
courtship I observed nothing in Barbara's manner to disturb me. No one
warned me; no friend bade me pause before I bound myself irrevocably
to a woman who was to be my ruin. Occasionally her face was rather
flushed, and she was eager and nervous, which I ascribed to the
excitement of our engagement. Her sparkling eyes, her rapid speech,
the occasional trembling of her hands--all this I set down to love.
She confided to me that she had no fortune, and that she had thought
of seeking employment as a governess or as a companion to a lady. She
possessed great gifts, which, of course, I magnified; she was a good
musician, could speak French, German and Italian fluently, and sang to
me in those languages with a rich contralto voice.

"Had it not been for you," she said, "I might even have got into the
chorus at the opera."

"Is not this better?" I asked, embracing her.

"Much better," she replied, returning my embrace.

She was a handsome woman, dark, tall, and commanding, and her nearest
relative was a half-brother, Maxwell, much older than she, for whom I
had no special liking. Naturally, after I had drawn from Barbara an
avowal of her love, I addressed myself to him. He stood towards her in
the light of a guardian, and she was living in his house. In reply to
his questions I was very candid as to my worldly position and
prospects, and he professed himself satisfied; but I remembered
afterwards that when I came courting his sister he would look at me
with an expression of amusement on his features, as though he was
enjoying a joke he was keeping to himself. He was in the habit of
boasting that he was a man of the world, and knew every trick on the
board. It was chiefly at his urging that the marriage was
precipitated.

"Long engagements are a mistake," he said. "Don't you think so?"

I replied that I was entirely of his opinion.

"That simplifies matters," he said, "because I am going abroad. I
shall not take a sister with me, you may depend upon that."

It was a plain hint, and the wedding day was fixed. Soon after this,
when I called to do my wooing, he told me that Barbara was not well
enough to see me.

"She has a frightful headache," he said, "and is not in a condition to
see anybody."

I was much distressed, and I asked if she had a doctor.

"Not necessary," he said. "She will get over it. When she is in that
state best leave her alone, old fellow. There's a hint for you in your
matrimonial campaign. Barbara hates the sight of doctors; she is a
delicate creature, very highly strung, something of the full-blooded
racer about her, the kind of woman that requires managing."

"I shall be able to manage her," I said confidently.

"I should think you would," he said, with a mocking smile. "Barbara
and you are going to have a high old time of it. By the way, can you
lend me a tenner for a few days?"

It was not the first time he had asked me for a loan, which was always
to be paid in a few days; but he never returned a shilling of the
money he borrowed from me. I gave him the ten pounds, and inwardly
resolved to have as little as possible to do with him after my
marriage.

I debated with myself whether I should communicate the news of my
engagement to my stepmother and Louis, and acting upon the advice of
Barbara--to whom I gave a truthful relation of my child-life--I wrote
to them in affectionate terms. To me no answer was returned, but
Barbara received a letter which she told me she tore up the moment she
read it.

"Your stepmother must be an awful woman," she said, "but we can do
without her and her beautiful son."

It was very considerate of Barbara, I thought, not to show me the
letter, the tenor of which it was not difficult to guess, but I could
not help looking grave.

"No long faces, you dear boy," cried Barbara. "Do you think I believe
a word she says? Do you think I care for any one but you? If she
hadn't been the meanest creature living she would at least have sent a
wedding present."

The wedding was a very quiet one. A friend acted as my best man, and a
few other of my friends were present. On Barbara's side there was only
Maxwell, who gave his sister away. She looked beautiful, and was in
high spirits. The ceremony over we hastened to Maxwell's house, where
I and my friends expected to sit down to a wedding breakfast. To my
surprise there was nothing on the table but the bridecake and a couple
of bottles of wine. It was not a time to ask for an explanation of
this inhospitable welcome to the wedding guests, but I was deeply
mortified, and I saw that my friends were angry and offended. Maxwell
made light of the matter; he filled the glasses, and in a florid
speech proposed the health of bride and bridegroom, to which I
responded very briefly.

"There is nothing else to wait for, I suppose," said my best man, in a
sarcastic tone.

No one answered him, and with shrugs and halfhearted wishes for
happiness he and the other guests took their departure, leaving
Barbara and me and Maxwell alone.

"Don't quarrel with him," Barbara whispered to me; "he has the most
awful temper."

For her sake I put the best face I could upon the slight that had been
passed upon me. Maxwell appeared to be unconscious that he had behaved
in any way offensively; he drank a great deal of wine, and urged
Barbara to drink, but she refused.

"A glass with me, darling," I said. "To our future."

She raised the glass to her lips, and set it down, untasted, with a
shudder. I had noticed at the meals we three had together that she
drank nothing but water.

"You do not like wine?" I said.

"I detest it," she replied.

"I'll drink your share whenever you call upon me," shouted Maxwell.
"She is quite right, isn't she, John? Milk for women, wine for men."

He was getting intoxicated, and began to troll out a song about wine
and women. I strove to quiet him, but he went on laughing hilariously.
Excited and enraged, I quickly emptied my glass, and was about to
drink again, when Barbara laid her hand upon my arm. I put the full
glass upon the table, at which Maxwell, who had been observing us,
laughed louder still.

"Maxwell!" cried Barbara, angrily.

"Barbara!" cried Maxwell, with his bold eyes upon her. "Well, my lady?"

They looked strangely at one another, and it was Barbara who first
lowered her eyes. There was something threatening in Maxwell's glance,
and she seemed to be frightened of him. I was not sorry, for I
accepted it as an indication that she would side with me in my desire
not to court his society when we returned from our honeymoon trip. We
were to start for the Continent in the evening, and there were still
two or three hours before us. To pass this interval of time in
Maxwell's company was not a pleasant prospect, but I scarcely knew how
to avoid it. He evinced no disposition to leave Barbara and me
together, and I felt awkward and out of place, and really as if it was
I who was intruding. The house was his, and in a certain sense we were
his guests. A bright idea occurred to me. I proposed that Barbara
should dress for our journey, and that we should go and lunch at an
hotel. Barbara, however, said she could not eat, and Maxwell cried
boisterously:

"What are you thinking of, brother-in-law? A newborn bride sitting
down to eat at an hotel on her wedding day. She would sink to the
ground in shame, wouldn't she, Barbara? But I accept your invitation
with pleasure, my boy. I am famished, and you must be. I insist upon
you fortifying yourself; it is a duty you owe to Barbara and to
society at large. With what is before you, it is absolutely necessary
that you should keep up your strength. Take my word for it; I'm an
older bird than you. Let us go. Barbara will nibble a biscuit, or make
a meal off a butterfly's wing, if she can catch one."

I turned to Barbara, and she whispered that it would be best. She was
tired and would lie down while we were away. I saw that she was weary,
and disgusted with her brother's behavior, so to save her from further
annoyance, I consented to go with Maxwell.

"I don't like to leave you for a moment, darling," I said, "but I must
get him away. I shall be back in good time; be sure you are ready."

I said this smilingly, as if I referred to woman's proverbial failing
in seldom being ready at an appointed time when she has to dress for a
journey or a dinner, or anything, in fact.

She did not return smile for smile. In a weak, helpless way she clung
to me for a moment, and then abruptly left the room.

"Oh, turtle doves, turtle doves!" exclaimed Maxwell, hooking his arm
in mine, as we walked along. "Oh, golden day, with love's fetters
binding one fast! Auspicious epoch in a man's career when he is strung
up for life! Love, honor, and obey, and all that sort of thing.
Connubial bliss, Darby and Joan, till death doth us part. Not for me,
my boy, not for me; but every man to his taste. Fol-de-riddle! Chorus
of infatuated bridegrooms--fol-de-riddle, fol-de-riddle!"

"Hold your tongue," I said, between my teeth, "or I'll not stay with
you another moment."

"Right you are, my sensitive plant," he returned. "I'm mum as the
inside of a screwed down coffin."

But he continued to sing softly to himself, and to chuckle as he cast
furtive glances at me. In such circumstances it was not likely that I
could enjoy my meal, and I sat for the most part doing nothing, while
Maxwell disposed of the various courses he ordered. Drinking did not
affect his appetite, and he would have kept at the table all the day
had I not called for the bill.

"Time to go, eh? Love's call must be obeyed," he said, rising, and
pouring out the last glass of wine in the bottle. With his left hand
on the table he steadied himself, and held up the glass.

"You're not half a bad sort, John, but you're a bit soft. You want
hardening, my boy, and you'll get it."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"What do I mean? Why, that Barbara's all your own now, all your own.
Well, here's a happy honeymoon to the fond couple." He drained the
glass.

I hardly knew how to take his words, and I did not answer him. On our
way back he borrowed twenty pounds of me, and I determined it should
be the last he would ever get from me. I was strongly inclined at
first to refuse, but I was afraid he would make a scene, and so for
Barbara's sake I gave him the money.

"Thank you, John," he said, pocketing the notes. "You're a trump, but
a trifle green. Here we are at the house. What a jolly wedding-day!"

I could have struck the mocking devil in the face, for by this time I
was thoroughly out of temper; but, again for dear Barbara's sake, I
refrained from uttering the hot words that rose to my lips.

The carriage was at the door and my wife was ready. Maxwell opened his
arms for a parting embrace, but Barbara slipped from him and entered
the carriage. As it moved away I caught a last glimpse of him standing
on the doorstep laughing immoderately, and I almost fancied I heard
him call after us, "What a jolly wedding day!"



                             CHAPTER IV.


The next day we were in Paris. We had a miserable crossing and two
miserable railway journeys. On neither of the lines could I get a
compartment to ourselves, both the French and English trains being
crowded to excess. On the steamboat Barbara was very ill, and I gave
her into the charge of the stewardess, being too unwell myself to
attend to her. We were not, as may be imagined, a very cheerful
couple, nor was this a cheerful commencement of our honeymoon. I did
my best, however, to keep up Barbara's spirits, but she continued to
be sad and despondent, and did not rally till we reached the gay city.
The bright sunshine and the animation of the streets did wonders for
us. I held her hand in mine as we drove to the hotel in which I had
engaged rooms, and life assumed a joyful aspect. The color came again
to Barbara's cheeks, the sparkle to her eyes.

"The worst is over, dearest," I said, "and we are together--and
alone."

She pressed my hand fondly.

Was I really in love? I cannot answer. The fire of youth was in my
veins, the light of hope was in my heart. Call it what you will--love,
passion, desire--Barbara was all in all to me, and our fond
endearments caused the hours to fly at lightning speed. The
embarrassments and mortifications of yesterday were forgotten; to-day
was ours, to enjoy. We dined at the hotel, by Barbara's plate a
caraffe of iced water, by mine a bottle of old Burgundy. At nine
o'clock, knowing that Barbara had some unpacking to do--for it was my
intention to remain in Paris a week--I said that I would take a stroll
in the streets, and would return at ten.

"It will take me quite two hours," she said, with a trembling
eagerness in her voice, "to get my boxes in order."

"I will return at eleven," I said gaily, kissing her.

I strolled through the brilliantly lighted streets in a dream of
delight. There was no Maxwell near to disturb me with his mocking
laughter. Barbara was her bright self again, and she and I were "man
and wife."

"Man and wife," I murmured. "Nothing can come between us now, nothing
can separate us. She is mine forever. I am really a married man."

I saw in the window of a jeweler's shop a brooch with two hearts
entwined. It was emblematical of Barbara's heart and mine, and I went
in and purchased it, and purchased also at a florist's a bouquet of
the loveliest flowers. It was now ten o'clock, and I had still an hour
to myself. A long time to carry a large bouquet of flowers amidst a
throng of people, but what cared I? Why should I hide my happiness?
Was I not proud of my beautiful Barbara, whose pure and innocent heart
I had won, and whose sweet companionship would brighten my days till
we were both old and white-haired? Let the whole world know that the
flowers were for my bride--let the whole world know that I was in
love. Was not this the city of love? The hum of merry voices
proclaimed it--the myriad stars, the soft air, the brilliant lights,
the animated gestures of men and women, all proclaimed it. There were
no dark shadows to blot the bright picture; joy was universal; there
was no sadness, no death, no cankered care to wither the glad hopes of
the future--all was light and love.

At a quarter to eleven I hastened to the hotel of which she was the
sun, and paced the boulevard a few yards this way, a few yards that,
and strolled into the courtyard, and looked at my watch, and
impatiently counted the seconds, and fretted and fumed until the
minute hand reached eleven. Then I eagerly mounted the stairs, and
entered our sitting-room.

The lights were burning, and the room had a cheerful appearance. A
communicating door led to the bedroom, and I listened at this door a
moment, but heard no sound from within. I arranged the bouquet of
flowers in a vase, which I filled with water, and then I turned out
the lights, with the intention of entering our bridal chamber. But the
door was fast. I tried very softly again and again to open it, and
then with greater force, but it would not yield.

"Barbara," I called in a low tone, "it is I. Why have you locked the
door?"

No answer reached my ears. I called several times, with the same
result. Long before this I had become alarmed, and had re-lit the gas
in the sitting-room. Stories of dark crimes committed in this city of
light flashed through my mind. The door was locked, but that might be
a blind. It was scarcely possible that Barbara could be in the room;
she had been decoyed from the hotel upon some pretense, perhaps by the
delivery of a false message from me. If so, what would be her fate?
And even supposing her to be in her room, how to account for the
frightful silence? Fool, criminal that I was to leave her alone, a
hapless woman in a strange city! It was I, and I alone, who had
brought the woman I loved into this perilous position.

I rushed down to the manager of the hotel, and asked if any visitors
had been admitted into my rooms during my absence, or any message
delivered to my wife. The manager, who was the soul of politeness, and
who was smoking a cigarette after the labors of the day, made
inquiries of the concierge and of the servants who had not retired to
rest. No person had called to see madame; no message had been taken to
her; she had not been seen to leave the hotel. Had she rung for
refreshment or assistance? No. Had any sounds of disturbance been
heard in her apartment? No, the apartment had been perfectly quiet.
Were they certain that madame could not have left the hotel without
being seen? It was not possible. She would have had to pass through
the courtyard, and the concierge or an assistant was constantly on the
watch, noting who came and who went. Then, how to account for the
facts of her bedroom door being locked and of her not answering to my
call? The servants could not account for it; the manager could not
account for it. With profuse apologies he hazarded a question. Was
madame subject to fainting fits? Was it that she had swooned? With my
permission he would accompany me to the apartment, and together we
could ascertain.

We ascertained nothing; we discovered no clue to the mystery. The door
defied all our efforts to open it, and no reply was given to our
summons. The suspense was maddening.

"See, monsieur," said the manager, stooping, and putting his eye to
the key-hole, "the door is locked from within. The key is in the lock.
Be tranquil; madame is safe; she has fallen into a sound sleep. I
myself sleep so soundly that----"

I interrupted him impatiently.

"If my wife has fallen asleep she must be awakened."

He did not see the necessity; if I would be patient madame would
herself awake when she had slept enough; then all would be well.

"My wife must be awakened," I repeated vehemently.

"Undoubtedly," he then said, falling complacently into my humor. "If
you insist, monsieur, madame must be awakened."

"But how?" I cried, in a fever of anxiety, which with every passing
moment grew more intense.

"As monsieur says," he replied, with exasperating coolness, "but how?"

"The lock must be forced."

"A million pardons, monsieur. The lock of the door is of a particular
kind. It is not a common lock--no, no. It was put on especially for a
distinguished visitor, who frequently occupies this apartment. It is
what is called a patent lock, and is the property of our distinguished
visitor. I cannot consent that it shall be forced."

"Then we will have a piece cut out of the door. By that means we can
reach the key, and turn the lock from within."

"Again a million pardons. The door is of oak; it was made for our
distinguished visitor. I cannot consent, monsieur, that the door shall
be destroyed."

"Hang you! Stand aside!"

I pushed him away, and applied my shoulder to the door. I was young, I
was strong, but I might as well have set myself against a rock. The
door held firm and fast, and the noise I made did not arouse Barbara.
Even in the midst of my despair I heard the manager remark, "These
eccentric English!" Finding my efforts vain, I beat the panels with my
fists. A servant entered, and whispered to the manager.

"Desist, monsieur," he said, stepping forward, "you are disturbing our
visitors. It cannot be permitted. In the adjoining apartment is a sick
gentleman. He has already inquired whether there is a fire or an
earthquake. If monsieur pleases, there is another way.'

"What is it? Quick--quick!"

"The window of madame's room looks out upon a courtyard at the back.
It is easily reached by a ladder. The night is warm; madame may have
left her window unfastened----"

I stopped any further explanation by hurrying him to the courtyard at
the back. On the way he insisted upon informing me that the hotel was
of the highest character and eminently respectable. No robbery had
ever taken place in it; no crime had ever been committed within its
walls. Madame was fatigued by her journey, and had probably taken an
opiate. I should find her asleep in her bed quite safe--quite safe.

"The ladder--the ladder!" I cried, in a frenzy. "Where is the ladder?"

It was soon brought--though I thought it an age before it was fixed
against the wall--and a porter commenced to ascend. But I pulled him
back with a rough hand, and said I would go up myself. "These
eccentric English!" I heard the manager again remark to those
assembled around him.

His surmise was correct. The window was closed but not fastened; I
pushed it open and stepped into the room.

It was dark, but by the light admitted through the open window I saw
the form of my wife huddled upon the bed. I laid my hands upon her and
called, "Barbara--dear Barbara!" A faint moan was the only response.

"Great God!" I cried. "She is dying!"

I swiftly lighted the gas, and the room was flooded with light. Then I
discovered the horrible truth. An empty brandy bottle rolled from the
bed to the floor, and on the dressing table was a corkscrew with the
cork still in it. The cork was new, and the bright capsule by its side
denoted that the bottle must have been full when it had been opened. I
bent over Barbara's stupefied form, the fumes of liquor which tainted
her hot breath were sickening. My wife was not dying. She was drunk!

The whole room was in a state of disorder; the bed curtains were torn,
articles of feminine attire were scattered about, brushes and combs
and other toilet requisites had been swept from the table, a chair had
been upset; but at that moment I took little note of these signs, my
attention being centred upon the degrading human spectacle which lay
before me on the bed--my wife, the woman I had idealized as an
embodiment of purity and simplicity.

I was not allowed to remain long undisturbed; I heard a smart rapping
at the bedroom door, and I became instantly conscious that I had a new
part to play. I closed and fastened the window, and drew the curtains
across it, I lowered the gas almost to vanishing point, and then,
turning the key in the lock, I opened the door just wide enough to see
the manager's face.

"Madame is safe?" he inquired.

"Quite safe," I replied.

"As I said. Asleep?"

"Yes, asleep."

"As I said. There has been no crime or robbery?"

"There has been no crime or robbery."

"And madame is well?"

"Quite well."

"I trust you are satisfied, monsieur."

"Perfectly satisfied."

"Is anything more required?"

"Nothing more."

"No assistance of any kind? The chambermaid is here. Shall she attend
to madame?"

"Her assistance is not needed. Good-night."

"Good-night, monsieur."

As he and the attendants left the adjoining room, I heard him remark
for the third time, "These eccentric English!"



                             CHAPTER V.


The first thing I did was to securely bolt and lock every door, to
darken every window that gave access to our rooms. I must be alone
with my shame and my grief. No one must know--the secret of this vile,
this unutterable disgrace must not escape, must not be whispered, must
not be suspected. From the friends who had been present at the wedding
ceremony I could not expect sympathy after the way in which they had
been treated; from strangers I could hope for none; by friends and
strangers alike I should be pointed at and derided. I must wear a
false face to all the world--as false as the face my wife had worn to
me during our courtship. For in the first flush of the frightful
discovery I did not stop to palter with myself, I did not attempt to
disguise the truth, to delude myself with the hope that this was a new
experience in Barbara's character. The fatal truth fastened itself in
my heart. Signs which had borne no baneful significance in the past
were now suddenly and rightfully interpreted. I understood Maxwell's
mocking words and laughter:

"You want hardening, my boy, and you'll get it," he had said, Again,
"Barbara is not in a condition to see anybody. When she is in that
state, best leave her, old fellow. There's a hint for you in your
matrimonial campaign." And then his last derisive exclamation, "What a
jolly wedding day!" The meaning of the looks he and Barbara had
exchanged on that day when we three were together after the ceremony,
was now clear to me, as clear and withering as a blasting lightning
stroke. She was a drunkard, and he was keeping the joke from me. His
look conveyed the threat, "Be careful, or I will betray you." Aye,
betray her before she betrayed herself! The momentary defiance in her
eyes died away, and she trembled in his presence.

"I will betray you!" Good God, how I had been betrayed! Barbara was
mine forever; as Maxwell had said, she was all my own. We were linked
together; our fates were united. There were no separate paths which
each could tread apart from the other. Hand in hand we must take our
way, and death alone could tear us asunder. On my honor as a man there
died within me during those few moments of torturing reflection all
the love I had borne for Barbara. I awoke to the fact that it was not
true love, but animal passion for her beauty, that had led me into
this pit of shame and despair.

Some men arrive, by slow and devious roads, at a belief that shakes
their faith to its foundations. Not so I. As surely as I knew that I
lived and moved did I know that I was wedded to a drunkard, and that
there was no civilized law that could divorce me from her. I was
Barbara's shield and protector, her lord, her master, her victim. Her
claim upon me was not to be evaded; even to dispute it would cover me
with ignominy, would make my name a bye-word. I could not break the
fetters of the law which bound us together and made us one. Had
Barbara not been a confirmed drunkard, she could never have drank a
full bottle of brandy in so short a time. Three or four glasses would
have overcome her, and she could not have continued to tipple.

Think what you will of me, I declare that I had no compassion for the
woman I had married. No pity for her stirred my heart. Perfect in its
devilish cunning was the duplicity she had practised. "You do not like
wine?" I had said to her. "I detest it," she had answered; and never
in my presence had she drank anything except water. Most artfully had
she concealed from me a secret which was to wreck all my hopes of
happiness, which was to shut out from me all the pure and innocent
pleasures which a man at my time of life might naturally look forward
to. What pity could I have for one who had done this evil?

I made no attempt to rouse my wife, not because I feared I should not
succeed, but because I had no desire to restore her to consciousness
and to hold converse with her. I needed time to review more calmly the
position in which I was placed and to decide upon my course of action
in the future. Meanwhile I applied myself to an examination of the
bedroom. One of Barbara's trunks was unlocked; the lid was down, but a
litter of feminine apparel on the floor denoted that it had been
hurriedly opened and the articles of clothing as hurriedly snatched
from the top, with no intention, as Barbara had indicated, of putting
her things in order, but rather of getting quickly at something which
lay beneath. Had I the right to search this trunk? was the question I
mentally put to myself. I did not, however, stop to discuss it. Right
or wrong, I raised the lid, and taking out the garments which first
met my eyes I found beneath them damning proofs of Barbara's
degradation. Five bottles of brandy were brought to light--the one she
had emptied made the sixth. She had provided herself liberally,
sufficient for six days at the rate she had commenced.

My first impulse was to throw them out of the window, but I checked
myself in time. The noise of the broken glass would have brought the
manager and his staff buzzing about me. What should I do with the
cursed things? Leave them in her trunk? No; it would be inviting a
series of disgraceful exhibitions such as that which lay within my
view. From me she would receive no assistance to reach a lower depth
than that into which she had fallen. I could at least make it
difficult for her to obtain her next supply of liquor without my
knowledge, so I carried the bottles to the outer room, and secreted
them in one of my own trunks, determining to get rid of them by some
means in the course of the next few hours. Then I huddled Barbara's
clothes into her trunk, and closed the lid. Without casting another
glance at my wife, who was now beginning to breathe more heavily, I
returned to the sitting-room, and sinking into a chair, burst into a
passionate fit of weeping.

Thus did I pass my bridal night.



                             CHAPTER VI.


At seven in the morning I heard my wife shifting restlessly and
moaning in her bedroom. I had not had a moment's sleep during the
night. My eyes closed occasionally from weariness, but sleep did not
come to me; nor did I woo it, for I felt the necessity of keeping
awake, lest Barbara should create a disturbance. Her condition was a
new and bitter experience to me, and I did not know what form it might
take. In whatever form it presented itself I must be prepared to cope
with it; and it behoved me, therefore, to keep on the watch.

I paid no attention to Barbara's moans, but went to my dressing-room
and bathed my face with cold water which refreshed and strengthened
me. In the front courtyard the birds were singing and the fountain was
playing. I threw the window open; the air was sweet and fresh, and I
was grateful for the relief it afforded me.

My wife continued to groan and toss about, and still I did not go to
her. At length she called my name in a fretful voice.

"Well?" I said, standing by the bedside.

"Why did you not come to me before?" she asked, querulously. "Did you
not hear me?"

"Yes, I heard you."

"And you kept away! How could you, love, how could you, when I am
suffering so?" She paused for a sympathetic word from me, which she
did not receive. "I am so ill, dear John, so very, very ill! My head
is on fire. Give me your hand."

I made no responsive movement, and she looked at me from beneath her
half-closed lids.

"You are not looking well yourself, John. Have you had a bad night?"

"A most horrible night."

"I am so sorry, dear. Watching by my side for so many hours has tired
you."

"I have not been watching by your side."

"You bad boy--what could you have been doing; and why do you speak to
me so unfeelingly? I am sure I have done nothing to deserve it. Oh, my
poor head! You did not know I was accustomed to these headaches."

"No, I did not know."

"I ought to have told you, dear."

"Yes, you ought to have told me. It would have been better for both of
us."

"I don't see that; unless you have deceived me, it could have made no
difference in your feelings, and I believed every word you said--yes,
I did, John, dear." She shuddered and moaned, as though seized with an
ague. "Get me something, or I shall go mad with pain!"

"What will you have? A cup of tea?"

An expression of disgust spread over her features. "Tea! It is the
worst thing I could take. You do not understand--of course you do not
understand. Put your arm round me, dear; let me lean my head on your
shoulder; it will relieve me." I did not stir. "What do you mean by
treating me so cruelly? I am your wife, and you promised to love and
cherish me. Have you forgotten so soon, so soon?" I did not reply, and
her voice grew more imploring. "When women suffer as I do, John, they
need something to keep up their strength. Oh, this frightful sinking!
I am sure a little brandy would do me good. Don't be shocked; I
wouldn't ask for it if I wasn't certain it would remove this horrible
pain."

"Otherwise," I said, with sad and bitter emphasis, "you would not
touch it, you have such abhorrence of it."

"Why, of course I have. I take it only as a medicine." I picked up the
empty brandy bottle, and placed it on the dressing table. "Oh, that,"
she exclaimed. "It was filled with lemonade, and I drank it every
drop while you were away last night. What kept you so long? Oh, my
head is racked! I hope no pretty Frenchwoman----"

"Be silent!" I cried, sternly. "Of what use is this subterfuge? You
cannot deceive me."

"I never tried to r I would not be so wicked. It is cruel of you to
pick a quarrel with me the moment we are married. People wouldn't
believe it if they were told. For God's sake, get me a little brandy!"

"From me, Barbara, not one drop!"

"You won't?"

"No, I will not."

"Brute! Leave my room!"

I was glad to obey her, feeling how idle it was to pursue the
conversation. The moment I was gone I heard her scramble from the bed
and lock the door. Then I heard the sound of things being violently
tossed about, and presently the door was unlocked, and she stood
before me with a flaming face.

"You are a thief!" she screamed. "You are a sneak and a spy----"

"Hush, Barbara! The people in the hotel will hear you."

"Let them hear! What do I care? You are my husband, and you are a
thief. How dare you rob me? How dare you sneak, and pry, and search my
boxes, while I am asleep? You'll be picking my pocket, next, I
suppose. But I'll show you that a married woman has rights. You men
can't grind poor weak women into the dust any longer. I'll show you!"
She rang the bell violently.

"The servants must not see you in that state, Barbara," I said, with
my back against the door.

"They shall see me in any state I please, and I will let them know--I
will let all the world know--that we have been married hardly a day,
and that this is the way you are treating me. I give you fair warning.
If you don't get me the brandy I will scream the house down!"

What could I do? A waiter rapped at the door, and asked what monsieur
required. I gave him the order, and when the brandy was brought I took
it from him without allowing him to enter. Before I had time to turn
round Barbara snatched the decanter from my hand, and ran with it into
the bedroom. In a few minutes she returned, looking, to my
astonishment, bright and well.

"See what good it has done me," she said, in a blithe tone. "When I am
suffering nothing has such an effect upon me as a small glass of
brandy. It pulls me together in a moment almost. The doctor ordered it
especially for me, and when I can't get it at once I feel as if I
should go mad. I don't know what I say or do, so I am not accountable,
you know. Ask the doctor. I'll let you into my secret, my dear.' All
women take it, from the highest to the lowest. Fact, upon my word. You
are a goose. Now, we will not quarrel any more, will we? Kiss me, and
make it up."

I kissed her to keep her quiet, and, indeed, I felt that I was
helpless in the hands of this brazen and cunning woman.

"Barbara," I said, "you have caused me the greatest grief I have ever
experienced."

"I am so sorry, so very, very sorry!" she murmured. "Can I say more
than that?"

"You can, Barbara. You can promise me never to drink spirits again."

"Do you think I ever intend to?" she asked, in a tone of astonishment.

"I don't know."

"Now listen to me, love," she said, with an ingenuous smile. "I will
never touch another drop as long as I live."

"Do you mean that truly?"

"Truly, truly, truly! I was so ill, and so unhappy at being left
alone! I can't bear you out of my sight, John, dear, and if you won't
take advantage of it I don't mind confessing I am a wee bit jealous.
We will not talk of it any more, will we?"

"It is a solemn promise you have given me."

"A solemn, solemn promise, love. If you have any doubts of me I will
go down on my knees and swear it."

"I take your word, Barbara."

While Barbara was dressing the manager of the hotel waited upon me,
and to my surprise handed me my account. As I had not been in the
house twenty-four hours I inquired if it was usual for his visitors to
pay from day to day. No, he replied blandly it was not usual. Then why
call upon me so soon for payment? Did he mistrust me? He was shocked
at the suggestion. Mistrust an English gentleman? Certainly not--no,
no. This with perfect politeness and much deprecatory waving of his
hands.

"But you expect a settlement of this account," I said, irritated by
his manner.

"If monsieur pleases. And if monsieur will be so obliging as to seek
another hotel in which he will be more comfortable, more at his
ease----"

"I understand," I said. "You turn me out. Why?"

"If monsieur will be pleased to listen. The servants were not used to
the ways of monsieur and madame; and there had been complaints from
visitors. The sick gentleman in the next apartment----"

"Enough," I said, impatiently. "I leave your hotel within the hour,
and I will never set foot in it again."

He was grieved, devastated, but if monsieur had so resolved----

These uncompleted sentences were very significant, and afforded a
sufficiently clear explanation of the proceeding. With suppressed
anger I ran my eye down the account, and pointed to an item of five
francs for brandy.

"Supplied this morning," he explained, "to monsieur's order. Five
francs--yes, monsieur would find it quite correct."

"I required only a small glass," I said. "It is an imposition."

He trusted not; such an accusation had never been brought against him.
Would monsieur be kind enough to produce the decanter? A proper
deduction would be made if only one small glass had been taken.

"Produce the decanter! Certainly I will."

I called to Barbara to give me the decanter, and, her white arm bared
to the shoulder, she handed it out to me. It was empty. I blushed from
shame.

"Does monsieur find the account correct?"

"It is correct. Here is your money."

He receipted the bill and departed with polite bows and more
deprecatory waving of his hands. As I sat with my closed eyes covered
by my hand, Barbara touched my shoulder. I looked up into her smiling
face.

"Have I made myself beautiful, dear?"

Most assuredly she would have been so in other men's eyes, for she was
eminently attractive, but she was not in mine. Her beautiful outside
served only to accentuate what was corrupt within.

"Why do you not answer? Are you not proud of your wife?"

Proud of her? Great God! Proud of a woman who had brought this shame
upon me, and who, but an hour ago, was as degraded a spectacle as
imagination could compass.

"Don't get sulky again," she said, and as I still did not speak, she
asked vehemently, "What is the matter now?"

"Simply that we are turned out of the hotel," I replied.

"Is that all? The insolent ruffians! It is a thousand pities we ever
came here. But why get sulky over it? Paris is crammed with hotels,
and they will only be too glad to take our money."

"It is not that, Barbara. I wish to know if you drank all the brandy
in the decanter."

"All? It wasn't more than a thimbleful. And see what good it did me."

"Did you finish it before you promised never to touch spirits again?"

"What a tragedy voice, and what a tragedy face! Of course I did. Do
you think I would be so dishonorable as to break a promise I gave
you--you, of all, men? That isn't showing much confidence in me."

"You will keep that promise faithfully, Barbara?"

"I should be ashamed to look you in the face if I did not mean to keep
it faithfully. You will never find me doing anything underhanded or
behind your back, John."

I rallied at this. My happiness was lost, but there was a hope that
our shame would not be revealed to the world. As for what had occurred
in this hotel, once we were gone it would soon be forgotten. The
swiftly turning kaleidoscope of life in Paris is too absorbing in its
changes to allow the inhabitants to dwell long upon one picture,
especially on a picture the principle figures in which were persons so
insignificant as ourselves.

"Not a sou," cried Barbara, snapping her fingers in the faces of the
servants who swarmed about us when we were seated in the carriage;
"not one sou, you greedy beggars!" We drove out of the courtyard, and
Barbara, turning to me, said in her sweetest tone, "I hope you will be
very good to me, John, for you see how weak I am. Oh, what I have gone
through since you put the wedding ring on my finger! The dear wedding
ring!" She put it to her lips and then to mine. "I do nothing but kiss
it when I am alone. It means so much to both of us--love,
faithfulness, truth, trust in one another. All our troubles are over
now, are they not, love? And we are really commencing our honeymoon."



                             CHAPTER VII.


There was no difficulty in obtaining accommodation at another hotel.
The choice rested with me, for I was not particular as to terms, I had
no scruple in spending part of my capital, my intentions having always
been to adopt a profession, and not to pass my days in idleness. My
inclination was for literature; I was vain enough to believe that I
had in me the makings of a novelist, and I had already in manuscript
the skeleton of a work of fiction upon which I intended to set to work
when I was settled down in life. Before our marriage I had confided my
ambitious schemes to Barbara.

"Delightful!" she exclaimed. "My husband will be a famous author. What
a proud woman I shall be when I hear people praise his books!"

I brought away from the hotel letters which had arrived for me, and
Barbara carried the bouquet I had purchased for her on the previous
night. The moment we were in our new quarters she called for a vase,
and placed the flowers in water. The brooch I had purchased at the
same time was still in my pocket; the device of two hearts entwined
was a mockery now in its application to Barbara and myself.

"How sweet of you to buy these flowers," she said, with tender glances
at me. "You will always love me, will you not--you will always buy
flowers for me? I have heard people say that marriage acts upon love
like cold water on fire--puts it out, but I should die with grief if I
thought that would be so with us. What are your letters about, dear?"

They were from agents, giving me particulars of two houses, either of
which would be a suitable residence for us when we returned to London,
and set up housekeeping. Barbara and I had made many pleasant journeys
in search of a house, and we had selected two in the neighborhood of
West Kensington. One was unfurnished, the other had been the residence
for a few months of a gentleman who had furnished it in good style,
and was desirous of selling the furniture and his interest in the
lease. I preferred the former, Barbara the latter, and I now gave her
the letters to read. The furnished house was offered to me for a sum
which I considered moderate, and an answer had to be given
immediately, as another likely purchaser was making inquiries about
it.

"Now sit down, like a good boy," said Barbara, "and send the agent a
cheque, and settle it at once. It will be the dearest little home, and
we shall be as happy as the day is long."

I had no heart to argue the matter; after the experiences of the last
twenty-four hours one house was as good to me as another. A home we
must have, and I earnestly desired to avoid contention, so for the
sake of peace I did as Barbara wished, and wrote to the agent to close
the bargain. While I was attending to my correspondence Barbara was
bustling about and chatting with a chambermaid with whom she appeared
to be already on confidential terms.

"What delightful rooms these are," she said, looking over my shoulder
as I was writing, "and what a clever business man my dear boy is! I am
ever so glad we moved from that disagreeable hotel. You must consult
me in these things for the future; I have an instinct which always
guides me right. The moment I entered the place I knew we should not
be comfortable there. Go on with your letters while Annette assists me
to unpack. You must not look on, sir; I shall not let you into the
secrets of a lady's wardrobe till we have been married a year at
least. When you have finished your letters you can arrange your
private treasures while I am arranging mine, or if you are too tired
you can lie on the sofa and smoke a cigar. Would it shock you very
much if I smoked a cigarette? It is quite the fashionable thing for
ladies to do."

I replied that I did not like to see women smoke.

"Then you shall not see me do it," she said, vivaciously. "I would die
rather than give you one moment's annoyance."

Annette was the chambermaid, a tall, thin-faced, spare woman of middle
age; and a stranger, observing her and my wife together, would have
supposed they had been long acquainted. Barbara was given to sudden
and violent likings and dislikings, and had once said to me, "I love
impulsive people. They are ever so much better and so much more
genuine than people who hum and ha, and want time to consider whether
they are fond of you or not. They resemble spiders who, after watching
for days and days, creep out of their corners when you least expect
it, and bind you tight so that you can't move, and say, 'I have made
up my mind; I am going to eat you bit by bit.'" I thought this speech
very clever when I first heard it, and I became immediately a
worshiper of impulsiveness. That Barbara should strike up a sudden
friendship with the new chambermaid did not, therefore, surprise me.
Together they proceeded with the unpacking of Barbara's wardrobe,
Barbara darting in upon me now and then to give me a kiss, "on the
sly," she whispered, "for she mustn't see." Then she would return to
Annette, and they would laugh and talk. My letters written, I lit a
cigar and took up a French newspaper. Once Barbara brought a peculiar
flavor into the room, and I asked her what it was.

"Cloves," she replied. "I dote on them." She popped one into my mouth,
and said, "Now we are equal and you can't complain. Oh, John, promise
me never, never to eat onions alone. I am passionately fond of them.
You are beginning to find out all my little failings."

She ran into the bedroom to tell Annette the joke, and there was much
giggling between them.

"How provoking!" she cried, darting in for the twentieth time. "I have
mislaid the key of my small trunk. Lend me your keys; perhaps one of
them will fit."

I gave her my bunch of keys, and she was a long time trying them. I
took no notice of this, being engrossed in a feuilleton, and taking
from the style in which the exciting incidents were described a lesson
for the novel I contemplated writing.

"Not one of them will fit," said Barbara, throwing the keys into my
lap. Shortly afterwards she called out, "Congratulate me, John, I have
found my key. It was in my pocket all the time. See what a simple
little woman you have married; and you thought me clever, you foolish
boy!"

So far as I can recall my impressions I am endeavoring to describe
them faithfully. I went through many transitions of feeling in those
days, now hoping, now despairing, now accusing myself of doing my wife
an injustice, now sternly convinced that I was right. On this day I
was comforted, Barbara was so bright, so ingenuous, and I firmly
believed she would keep the promise she had given me. She brought into
play all the arts and fascinations by which she had beguiled me in our
courting days. She ordered me to take her for a drive, to buy her
violets, to drive to the Magazin de Louvre to make purchases (where
she selected a number of things she did not need), to take her to a
famous restaurant to dine--"it is so dull," she said, "to dine in a
stuffy little room all by ourselves"--and, dinner over, she invited me
to accompany her to a theatre where a comedy was being played which
Annette had told her was very amusing.

"I can't live without excitement," she said. "I love theatres, I love
bright weather, I love flowers, I love handsome men--why do you look
so grave, sir? Do you not love handsome women? You are a ninny if you
don't, and if you don't, sir, why did you marry me?"

"Barbara," I said gravely, "it is a strange question, I know, but do
you think we are suited to one another?"

"It is a strange question," she replied, laughing. "My dear, we were
made for one another. Fie, love! Do you forget that marriages are made
in Heaven?"

"Ours, Barbara?"

"Certainly, ours."

Wonderful were the inconsistencies of her utterances; one moment
questioning whether she had not made a mistake in marrying me, the
next declaring that our marriage was made in heaven.

"I have not a secret from you," I said.

"Nor I from you," she returned. "I hope you agree with me, John, that
there should be perfect confidence between man and wife, that they
should hide nothing from one another."

"I do agree with you; not even the smallest matter should be hidden."

"Yes, John, love, not even the smallest matter. Little things are
often very important, and it is so awkward to be found out. I am so
glad we are of one mind about this. When we first engaged I said to
Maxwell, 'John shall know everything about me--everything. All my
faults and failings--nothing shall be hidden from him. Then he can't
reproach me afterwards. I will be perfectly frank with him.' Maxwell
called me a fool, and said there were lots of things people ought to
keep to themselves, and that I should be horrified if I were told all
the dreadful things you had done. He spoke of wild oats, and bachelors
living alone, and the late suppers they had in their chambers with
girls and all sorts of queer company. But I was determined. You might
deceive me, but I would not deceive you. I would not have that upon my
conscience."

"You really kept nothing from me, Barbara?"

"Nothing, love."

"And you are keeping nothing from me now?"

"Nothing, love."

I did not press her farther. Her smiling eyes looked into mine, and I
had received incontestible proof that she was lying to my face.



                            CHAPTER VIII.


I was an inveterate smoker, and at this period my favorite habit was a
consolation to me. I smoked at all hours of the day, and Barbara had
encouraged me, saying that she loved the smell of a cigar. But on the
morning following the conversation I have just recorded she complained
that my cigar made her ill, and I went into the boulevard to smoke it.
When I had thrown away the stump I returned to the hotel to attend to
my trunks, which were not yet unpacked. These trunks were in a small
ante-room, the key of which I had put in my pocket. I had adopted this
precaution in order that they should not be in Barbara's sight, that
she should not be left alone with them, and that when I unpacked them
she should not see what they contained. Upon my return to the hotel
Barbara was in her bed-room, attending to her toilet, and Annette was
with her. It was Barbara's first visit to Paris, and we had arranged
to make the round of its principal attractions.

The first trunk I opened was that in which I had deposited the five
bottles of brandy I had found among Barbara's dresses. To my
astonishment they were gone.

I was positive I had placed them there, but to make sure I searched my
second trunk, with the same result. The bottles had been abstracted.
By whom, and by what means?

The cunning hand was Barbara's.

What kind of a woman was I wedded to who spoke so fair and acted so
treacherously, who could smile in my face with secret designs in her
heart against my peace and happiness? I could go even farther than
that, and say against my honor. Fearful lest my indignation might
cause me to lose control over myself and lead to a scandalous scene, I
locked the trunk and left the hotel. In the open air I could more
calmly review the deplorable position into which I had been betrayed.

It is the correct word to use. Treacherously, basely, had I been
betrayed.

It was long before I was sufficiently composed to apply myself to the
consideration of the plan by means of which Barbara obtained the
bottles of brandy. The lock of the trunk had not been tampered with,
and no force had been used in opening it. She must have had a
duplicate key. How did she become possessed of it?

I examined my keys, and I fancied I discerned traces of wax upon them.
I inquired my way to the nearest locksmith, and giving him the bunch
asked whether an impression in wax had been taken of any of them.

"Of a certainty, monsieur," he said, "else I could not have made
them."

"It is you, then, who made the duplicates?"

"Assuredly, it is I, monsieur."

"Of how many?"

"Of two, monsieur."

"Of these two?" indicating the keys of my two trunks.

"Exactly, monsieur."

"From impressions in wax which you received."

"Yes, yes, monsieur," he said, redundantly affirmative. "Have you come
to ask for them? But they were delivered and paid for last night."

"By a thin-faced, middle-aged woman, with gray eyes and a white face?"

"The description is perfect. I trust the keys are to your
satisfaction, and that they fit the locks."

"They fit admirably," I said, and I gave him good morning.

Annette! She was in my wife's pay; together they had conspired against
me. The first practical step towards obtaining access to my boxes was
taken when Barbara informed me that she had mislaid one of her keys,
and borrowed my bunch; then the impressions in wax, and Annette going
to the locksmith to give the order; then the packet containing the
keys which Annette had secretly conveyed to my wife while my back was
turned; then Barbara's complaint this morning that my cigar made her
ill, and my going out to smoke. During my absence my trunk was opened
and rifled. The petty little mystery was solved.

It was late when I returned to the hotel. I expected a stormy scene,
it being now two hours after the time I had appointed to take Barbara
to see the sights of Paris; but she was not in our rooms to reproach
me. In the bedroom I noticed that two padlocks had been newly fixed to
each of her trunks. I went into the office to make inquiries.

"Madame is out," said the manager.

"On foot?"

"No, monsieur; in the carriage that was ordered."

"Did she go alone?"

"No, monsieur; Annette accompanied her."

"Annette!" I exclaimed. "Has she not her duties to attend to here?"

"She is no longer in our service," was the reply. "She is engaged by
madame. It was sudden, but she begged to be allowed to leave. Your
wife implored also, monsieur, and as another woman who had been with
us before as chambermaid was ready to take her place, we consented--to
oblige madame."

"Is Annette a good servant?"

"An excellent domestic."

"Trustworthy, honest, and sober?"

"Perfectly. Madame could not desire a better."

Every word he spoke was in Annette's favor, and I felt that another
burden was on my life. If I could not cope with Barbara alone, how
much less able was I to cope with her now that she had such an ally as
this sly creature?

At five o'clock they came in together, my wife flushed and elated,
Annette quiet and placid as usual.

"I have had a lovely day," said Barbara, as Annette assisted her to
disrobe. "I suppose my dear boy has been running all over the city in
search of me."

"You are mistaken," I replied. "I have not searched for you at all."

"I am not going to believe everything you say, you bad boy," she said,
darting into the bedroom.

I divined the reason; it was to ascertain whether the padlocks on her
boxes had been tampered with. Reassured on this point, she resumed her
chatter.

"How lonely my dear boy must have been! I declare he has been smoking.
Annette, give me my cloves. Will you have one, John? No? Is it not
good of Annette to accept the situation I offered her? She will travel
with us to Switzerland and Italy, and will tell us all we want to know
about the hotels there, and what is worth seeing, and what not. She
will save you no end of money. And what a perfect lady's maid she is!
I wonder what possessed me to leave England without one; but I am glad
now that I did not engage one there, for I could not have got anybody
half so handy and clever as Annette."

While my wife was speaking Annette made no sign, and nothing in her
manner indicated that she understood what was being said in her
praise. Had she been a stone image she could not have shown less
interest. This was carrying acting too far, for her name being
frequently mentioned, she would naturally have exhibited some
curiosity.

"And only thirty-five pounds a year," my wife continued, and would
have continued her prattle had I not interrupted her.

"I should like to speak to you alone, Barbara."

"We are alone, you dear boy." I looked towards the imperturbable woman
she had engaged. "Oh, do you object to Annette? What difference can
she make? She understands no language but her own."

"I should prefer to be alone with you."

"To say disagreeable things, I suppose, when there are no witnesses
present. Oh, I know you. She shall not go."

"Do you think it right to oppose me in such a small matter? Surely we
ought to keep our quarrels to ourselves."

"Who is quarreling?" she retorted. "I am not. And as to what is right
and wrong, I am as good a judge as you."

"Annette," said I, addressing the woman in French, "leave the room."

"Oui, monsieur," she replied, with perfect submissiveness, and was
about to go when my wife said:

"Annette, remain here."

"Oui, madame," she replied, without any indication of surprise at
these contradictory orders. To outward appearance she was an
absolutely passive agent, ready at a word to go hither or thither, to
say yea or nay, without the least feeling or interest in the matter;
but any one who judged her by this standard would have found himself
grievously at fault.

"Very well," I said. "I will postpone speaking of a very serious
subject till I can do so out of the hearing of strangers. I will only
say now that you should not have engaged this woman without consulting
me."

"Indeed, I shall not consult you," returned Barbara, "upon my domestic
arrangements, and I am astonished at your interference. It is I who
have to attend to them, and I will not be thwarted and ordered to do
this or that. You think a wife is a slave; I will show you that she is
not." She paused a moment, and then shrugged her shoulders. "What you
have to say had best be said at once, perhaps. In heaven's name let us
get it over." She stepped to Annette's side, and whispered a word or
two in her ear; the next moment we were alone. "Now, John, what is
it?"

"With the connivance of that woman you have had false keys made, with
which, in my absence--artfully contrived by yourself--you have opened
my trunks."

"Go on."

"You admit it."

"I admit nothing. Go on."

"With those false keys you ransacked my trunks, and stole certain
articles from them."

"Stole?" she cried with a scornful laugh. "A proper word for you to
use."

"Never mind the word----"

"But I shall mind the word. You will be dictating to me next how I
shall express myself. If there is a thief here, it is you. I call you
thief to your face. You ought to feel flattered that I followed your
example, but nothing seems to please you. And you should consider, my
dear--what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. You opened
my trunks on the sly; I opened yours on the sly, and took possession
of my property which you had stolen from me."

"I admit," I said, speaking without passion, "that I was wrong----"

"Oh, indeed! And that admission justifies you?"

"The end justified me; what I found justified me."

"In your opinion, because you can do no wrong. Seriously, my love, do
you look upon me as a child, and do you think I will allow myself to
be spied upon and robbed with impunity?"

"What I did was for your good."

"Allow me, if you please, to be the judge of what is good for me. Will
it offend you to hear me say that no gentleman would act as you have
done?"

It would have been wiser, perhaps, had I refrained from uttering the
retort that rose to my lips.

"Would any lady act as you have acted?"

But who can control himself when he is brought face to face with an
overwhelming and undeserved misfortune.

"Best leave ladies and gentlemen out of the question," she said,
mockingly. "As you pay me the compliment of declaring that I am not a
lady, pay me the further compliment of designating what I am."

I was silent.

"I will give you a little lesson in frankness, my dear. When I married
you I believed I was marrying a man of honor, unfortunately I was
mistaken. It has not taken me long to discover that my husband is a
common spy--attached to the detective office, probably, the sort of
man who listens at keyholes and searches his wife's pockets when she
is asleep. Don't forget, love, that it was you who commenced it. If I
were a milksop I should sit down and weep, as some poor creatures do,
but I am not a milksop; I can protect myself. Therefore, John. I am
not going to make myself unhappy; I am much too sensible. I am not an
old woman yet, and I intend to enjoy my life. And now, my dear," she
added, after a moment's pause, "I am waiting for your next insult."

"I am afraid it is useless to argue with you," I said, sadly.

"Upon this subject, quite useless," she replied. "Upon any other I am
your humble servant. Have you finished, then? Thank you. Annette!"

The woman came in so promptly as to convince me that she had been
listening in the passage.

"She waited outside by my orders," said my wife, laughing.

I left them together.



                             CHAPTER IX.


When I had left Barbara and Annette together, I took myself seriously
to task. I asked myself whether I understood Barbara's character, and
the answer seemed clear. I had not studied it; I did not understand
it. She was a beautiful creature with whom I had fallen in love; it
was surface love, and I had made no attempt to probe the inner life.
In this respect I was no worse off than multitudes of men and women
who marry without knowing each other. Was Barbara to blame for it? No.
She was in a state of dependence upon a brother whose character I
detested. I had offered myself and was accepted. For the fate in store
for me I, and I alone, was to blame.

I would be lenient towards her; I would devise some wise plan by which
she could be wooed from the wrong path. After all, she was, perhaps,
to be pitied. Thus did I argue, thus did I manufacture excuses for
her, thus did I school myself into a calmer frame of mind.

In this better mood I met her when Annette was not with her, and asked
where she would dine.

"Where you please," she answered, meekly.

Her softened tone filled me with pity and remorse.

"My wish is to please you," I said.

She glanced at me in surprise.

"Are you setting a trap for me?" she asked.

"No, Barbara, only I have been thinking that we do not quite
understand one another."

"It seems so," she admitted, in a mournful voice, "and it is making me
very unhappy."

"Well, don't let it make you unhappy any longer. We both have faults,
and we will try to correct them."

"You dear boy!" she cried, throwing her arms round my neck. "Then you
confess you were in the wrong?"

"Yes, I confess it, Barbara."

"And I confess that I was in the wrong. Now, we are equal."

After a pause:

"No one is quite perfect, John."

"It is not within human limits, Barbara."

"We agree--we agree!" she danced about the room in delight. "Isn't it
delightful? Oh, I was beginning to despair!"

There was really something childlike in her voice and manner, and I
followed her movements with admiration. Suddenly she stopped, and
throwing herself on the sofa, hid her face in the cushion, and began
to sob.

It was the first time that an act of mine had caused a woman to sob,
and it unmanned me. I sat by her side and soothed her with awkward,
endearing words, and my efforts were rewarded; she became calmer.

"It is so sweet, so sweet, when you are like this!" she murmured, and
dried her eyes. "You are my dear old boy again, just as you were
before we were married. Oh, John, why did you go over my boxes on the
sly?"

"It was wrong; I have confessed it."

"But I like to hear you say it. You were wrong!"

"Yes, I was wrong."

"You mean it, dear--you are not deceiving me?"

"No, Barbara, I am not deceiving you."

She pouted. "It is nothing but 'Barbara, Barbara.' 'Yes, Barbara,'
'No, Barbara.' Not so very long ago you would say, 'No, my love,'
'Yes, my darling.' Now, my dear, dear boy, say out of your very heart,
'I am not deceiving you, my darling.'"

I repeated the words; to have refused, to have hesitated, would have
destroyed the good work, the better understanding, of which I seemed
to see the promise.

"I am not deceiving you, my darling."

"Oh, how good it is to hear you speak like that! It is like waking out
of a horrid dream to a delightful reality. And you truly, truly love
me?"

Again I answered, under pressure. "I truly love you."

"Then I don't care for anything else in the wide, wide world, and I am
the happiest woman in it. You had almost forgotten, had you not, John,
that I was alone in this city, without a friend but you? I have only
you--only you. I hardly cared to live, for what is life without love?
But I was frightening myself unnecessarily--or were you doing it just
to try me. You will be kind to me, will you not, dear?'

"Indeed, I have no other desire."

"See how a foolish woman can create shadows that terrify her. That is
what I did; but they are gone now, all blown away by my dear boy's
tender words. And you don't mind my little faults--you will put up
with them."

I ventured a saving clause. "Yes, Barbara, and I will try to correct
them."

"Of course you will; I expect you to. But you must do it in a nice
way. Long lectures are horrid. When I try to correct yours--for that
will be only fair play, John, will it, not?--you will see how gentle I
will be."

"At the same time, Barbara, while we are correcting each other's
faults, we must help ourselves by trying to correct our own."

"I promise, with all my heart; and when I make a promise in that way
you may be perfectly sure that it will be performed. That is a virtue
I really possess. And so we will go on correcting each other till we
are old, old people, ready to become angels, when we sha'n't have any
faults at all to correct. For angels are faultless, you know. I am
deeply religious, John, dear. There are angels and devils. The good
people become angels, the wicked people devils."

"You are mixing up things, rather, are you not, Barbara?"

"Well, it is full of mystery, and who does know for certain? But one
can believe; there is no harm in that, is there?"

"None at all."

"And I believe there is a heaven and a hell. You believe it, too, of
course?"

"Assuredly I believe there is a heaven, but not that there is a hell
hereafter."

She pondered over the words. "A hell hereafter! Why the 'hereafter,'
dear?"

"Because I have a firm conviction that we may suffer hell in this
life, but not in the next."

"A hell in this life! That would be awful. We will not suffer it,
love."

"I trust not, sincerely."

"'Trust not!' You mean you are sure we shall not, surely."

"I am sure we shall not, Barbara."

I was as wax in her hands, standing, so to speak, forever on the edge
of a precipice of her creating, and compelled to the utterance of
sentiments to which I could not conscientiously subscribe, in order to
escape the wreck of a possible happiness.

"That I believe in hell fire and you do not," she said, thoughtfully,
"shall not be a cause of difference between us. Everybody thinks his
own ideas of religion are right. Perhaps bye and bye I will try to
convert you, and if you feel very strongly on the subject of hell you
shall try to convert me. Which do you think worse--a hell in this
life, or a hell in the next?"

"I have never considered it. Don't let us worry ourselves about
theological matters during our honeymoon."

"You are right, John; see how quickly I give in to you. I will tell
you why, sir--because it is a wife's duty. You will never find me
behindhand in that. Our honeymoon! How nicely you said it. There shall
be nothing but sunshine and flowers, and the singing of birds, and
love. Oh, what a happy, happy time! And you are no longer angry with
me that I have engaged Annette?"

"I am not angry with you at all."

"John," she said, shaking her finger playfully at me, "that is an
evasion, and you mustn't set me bad examples. Answer my question
immediately, sir."

"Well, Barbara, so long as she does not bring discord between us----"

She stopped me with a kiss. "No, John, that will not do--it really
will not do, you bad boy. You mustn't take unreasonable antipathies to
people. A lady's-maid has a great deal to put up with, and mistresses
are often very trying. There, you see, I don't spare myself--oh, no, I
am a very just person, and I like every one to be justly treated. Say
at once, sir, that you are no longer angry with me for engaging
Annette."

Mistrusting the woman as I did, I was forced, for the sake of peace,
to express approval of her. Barbara clapped her hands, and declared we
should be quite a happy family.

It was after this interview that Barbara had a religious fit. Twice a
day she went to the Madeleine, and spent an hour there upon her knees.
Sometimes Annette accompanied her, sometimes I, upon her invitation. I
asked her why she, a Protestant, frequented a Catholic place of
worship.

"What does it matter, the place?" she asked, in return, speaking in a
gentle tone. "It does one good to pray. Even to kneel in such a temple
without saying a prayer strengthens one's soul. Through the solemn
silence, broken now and then by a sob from some poor woman's broken
heart, a message comes from God. Women are greatly to be pitied,
John."

"Men, too, sometimes," I said.

"Oh, no," she answered, quickly, "there is no comparison."

A trifling incident may be set down here, in connection with the
brooch, with its device of two hearts, which I had purchased as a
present for Barbara on the first night we were in Paris, and which I
afterwards determined not to give her. I was in the sitting-room
clearing my pockets. Among the things I had taken out was the brooch,
which I had almost forgotten. I was still of the opinion that it would
be an unsuitable gift, and I was thinking what to do with it when
Annette passed through the sitting-room to the bedroom, her eyes, as
usual, lowered to the ground. In the course of the day I went to the
jeweler of whom I had purchased the brooch, and he took it back at
half the price I had paid for it. I thought no more of the matter.



                              CHAPTER X.


I had taken circular tickets for a two months' ramble through
Switzerland and Italy, intending to visit Lucerne, Berne, Interlaken,
Chamouni, and Geneva, then on to the Italian lakes, and I was studying
the plan I had mapped out, and making notes of bye-excursions from the
principal towns, when Barbara burst in upon me with the exclamation
that she was sick of Paris. This surprised me. We had intended to
remain for two weeks, only one of which had elapsed, and I had
supposed that the busy, brilliant life of the gay city would be so
much to Barbara's liking that I should have a difficulty in getting
her away from it. For my own part I was glad to leave, glad to travel
sooner than we intended to regions where we should be in closer
contact with nature. Barbara had never visited Switzerland or Italy,
and I hoped that association with the lakes and mountains of those
beautiful countries would be beneficial to her, would help her to
shake off the fatal habit which she had allowed to grow upon her.

"Very well, Barbara," I said, "we will leave for Lucerne to-morrow."

"How long does it take to get to Geneva?" she asked.

"From Lucerne?"

"No, from here."

"There is a morning train, which gets there in the evening."

"Then we will go to-morrow morning to Geneva."

"But that will make a muddle of the route I have mapped out, and
jumble up the dates."

"What does that matter? You can easily make out another; our time is
our own. I want to be in Geneva to-morrow night."

"For any particular reason?" I asked, rather annoyed, for I knew how
difficult it was to divert her from anything upon which she had set
her mind.

"For a very particular reason. Maxwell will be there."

"Did he tell you so before we left England?"

"No; he tells me in a letter, and says how nice it will be for us to
meet there."

I thought otherwise. I had no wish to see Maxwell, but I did not say
so.

"When did you hear from him?"

"This morning."

"His letter did not come to the hotel. They told me in the office that
there were none for us."

"He doesn't address me at the hotel."

"Where then, for goodness sake? The hotel is the proper place."

"Perhaps I don't care about always doing what is proper," she
retorted, lightly. "Besides, do I need your permission to carry on a
correspondence with my brother?"

"Not at all; you are putting a wrong construction upon my words."

"Oh, of course. I don't do anything right, do I? Never mind, you may
make yourself as unpleasant as you like, but you won't get me to join
in a wrangle. Do I pry into your letters? Well, then, don't pry into
mine."

"I have no desire to do so. Only, as I suppose this is not the first
letter you have received from Maxwell since we have been in Paris----"

She interrupted me with "I have had three letters from him."

"Well, I thought you might have mentioned it--that's all."

"I didn't wish to annoy you."

"Why should it annoy me?"

"Now, John," she said, in a more conciliatory tone, "haven't I eyes in
my head? Women, really, are not quite brainless. Do you think I didn't
find out long ago that there was no love lost between you and Maxwell?
Not on his side--oh, no; on yours."

I could have answered that, according to my observation of her, her
feelings towards Maxwell were similar to mine, but I was determined to
avoid, as far as was possible, anything in the shape of argument that
might lead to contention.

"I do hope you will get to like him better," she continued, "and you
will when you understand him. That is what we were talking about a few
days ago, isn't it?--about the advisability of people understanding
each other before they pronounce judgment. If they don't they are so
apt to do each other an injustice. Maxwell is as simple as a child;
the worst of it is, he takes a delight in placing himself at a
disadvantage when he is talking to you, saying the wrong thing, you
know, but never meaning the least harm by it--oh, no. He leaves you to
find it out--so boyish, isn't it? He is inconsistent; it is a serious
fault, but it is a serious misfortune, too, when one can't help it. It
is a shame to blame us for our imperfections; we didn't make them;
they are born with us."

"But, Barbara," I said, a feeling of bewildered helplessness stealing
over me at the contradictions to which she was everlastingly giving
utterance, "we are reasonable beings."

"Oh, yes, to a certain extent, but no farther. The question is to what
extent. Take the son of a thief, now; how can he help being a thief?
He was born one."

"You wouldn't punish him for stealing?"

"I don't think I would, for how can he help it? I would teach him--I
would lead him gently."

I brightened up. "That is what we are trying to do."

"Yes; for it is so wrong to take what doesn't belong to us--and to
take it on the sly, too! To go over boxes when one is ill and
unconscious. Fie, John! I hoped we were not going to speak of that
again."

"But it is you who brought it up."

"Oh, no, love, it was you. You shouldn't allow things to rankle in
your mind; it is hardly manly. What was I saying about Maxwell? Oh,
his inconsistency. I am glad I am not inconsistent, but I am not going
to boast of it. Only you might take a lesson from me. The weak
sometimes can help the strong. Remember the fable of the lion and the
mouse."

I changed the subject.

"We will start for Geneva to-morrow morning. It is a delightful
journey."

"Everything is delightful in your company, you dear boy. You are glad
that we shall soon see Maxwell, are you not?"

"Yes, I am glad if it will give you pleasure."

"Thank you, dear. Could any newly-married couple be happier than we
are? Give me a kiss and I will go and do my packing."

I recall these conversations with amazement. I was as a man who was
groping in the dark, vainly striving to thread his way through the
labyrinths in which he was environed. There was an element of masterly
cunning in Barbara's character by the exercise of which I found myself
continually placed in a wrong light; words I did not speak, motives I
did not entertain, sentiments which were foreign to my nature, were so
skillfully foisted upon me, that, communing afterwards with my
thoughts, I asked myself whether I was not the author of them and had
forgotten that they had proceeded from me. But Barbara's own
conflicting utterances were a sufficient answer to these doubts. One
day she informed me that Maxwell had a contempt for me, the next that
he had a high opinion of me. Now she despised him, now she was longing
for his society. One moment he was all that was bad, the next all that
was good.

I did not allow these contradictions to weigh with me. My aim was to
do my duty by my wife, and to save her from becoming a confirmed
drunkard; to that end all the power that was within me was directed.

In order not to put temptation in Barbara's way I became a teetotaler,
and from that day to this, except upon one occasion, have not touched
liquor of any kind.

"No wine, John?" Barbara said, as we were eating dinner.

"No, Barbara; I am better without it."

"Turned teetotaler?" She looked at me with a quizzical smile.

"Yes."

"About the most foolish thing you could do. Wine is good for a man.
Everything is good in moderation."

"I agree with you--in moderation."

"I said in moderation--the word is mine, not yours. You will alter
your mind soon."

"Never," I said.

"It would be common politeness to ask if I would have some."

"Will you, Barbara?"

"No," she replied vehemently, "you know I hate it."

The next morning we were comfortably seated in the train for Geneva.
Annette was knitting, I was looking through some English papers and
magazines I had obtained at Brentano's, and Barbara was reading a
French novel she had purchased at the railway stall. She appeared to
be so deeply interested in it that I asked her what it was. She handed
it to me. I started as I looked at the title. "L'Assoimmoir!" I handed
it back to her, thinking it strange she should have selected the work,
but drawing from it a happy augury, for there is no story in which the
revolting effects of drink are portrayed with greater coarseness and
power. It did not occur to me that I should have been sorry to see
such a work in the hands of a pure-minded woman, and that the absence
of the reflection was a wrong done to a woman who was but newly
married--and that woman my own wife! My thought was: What effect will
the story have upon Barbara? Will it show her in an impressive and
personal way the awful depths of degradation to which drink can bring
its victims, and will it be a warning to her?

"Have you read it?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "It is a terrible story; it teaches a terrible
lesson."

"I have heard so," she said, "and I was quite anxious to read it
myself. It opens brightly."

"Wait till you come to the end," I thought.

She went on with the reading, and was so engrossed in the development
of the sordid, wretched tragedy that she paid but little attention to
the scenery through which we were passing. I did not interrupt her.
"Let it sink into her soul," I thought. "God grant that it may appall
and terrify her!"

In the afternoon the book was finished. But she was loth to lay it
aside. She read the last few pages, and referred to others which
presumably had produced an impression upon her. Then she put the book
down. I looked at her inquiringly.

"You are right," she said. "It does indeed teach a terrible lesson."

I did not pursue the subject. If the effect I hoped for had not been
produced no words of mine would bring it about.

A fellow passenger engaged me in conversation, and we stood upon the
landing stage awhile. When I returned to the carriage I detected that
Barbara had been tippling; the signs were unmistakable. Later in the
day she made reference to the story and expressed sympathy for the
victims of the awful vice.

"Is that your only feeling respecting the story?" I asked.

"What other feeling can I have?" she replied, sorrowfully. "It was
born in them. Poor Gervaise! Poor Coupeau! I don't know which I pity
most."

"And the terrible lesson, Barbara?"

"Everything in moderation," she said, and after a little pause, added,
"Besides, it isn't true; it isn't possible. Novel writers are
compelled to draw upon their imaginations, and they invent unheard-of
things--as you will do, I suppose with your stories. Make them hot and
strong, John, and you will stand a greater chance of success. People
like to have their blood curdled. If I had the talent to write a novel
I should stick at nothing. Look at----," she mentioned the name of a
living English author whose stories were wonderfully successful--"he
deals in nothing but blood; in every novel he writes he kills hundreds
and hundreds of people, and slashes them up dreadfully. His pages
absolutely reek with gore. Now, you can't convince me that he is
describing real life; he is describing things that never occurred,
that never could have occurred. It is just the same with this story
that I have been reading. Very clever, of course, and very horrible,
but absolutely untrue."

That was her verdict, and I knew it was useless to argue with her.

We arrived at Geneva between eight and nine o'clock. In accordance
with Barbara's wish, we took the omnibus of the Hotel de la Paix,
where Maxwell was to meet us. She was disappointed that he was not at
the station; we looked out for him, but we did not see him.

It happened that the lady and gentleman of whom I have spoken took the
same omnibus and were seated when we entered. They drew into a corner
of the omnibus, and the gentleman shifted his place so that he sat
between his companion and Barbara. He seemed to be desirous that the
ladies should not sit next to each other.

A disappointment awaited Barbara at the hotel. Maxwell was not there.
When I gave my name to the proprietor and was speaking about the rooms
we were to occupy, he said, "There is a letter for madame," and handed
it to her. It was from Maxwell. She read it with a frown.

"It is a shame--a shame!" she cried.

"What does he say?" I asked.

"He will not be here till the end of the week," she replied,
fretfully. "He may not be here at all."

"I am sorry," I said.

"You are not," she retorted, fiercely. "You are glad."

And certainly it was she who spoke the truth.

We went up in the lift to look at our rooms, and then I came down
again to order dinner. Returning to inform Barbara that it would be
ready in twenty minutes, I found the door locked.

"Let me alone," Barbara cried from within. "I don't want any dinner.
You can have it without me. It won't spoil your appetite."

I turned to go downstairs and met Annette.

"Is my wife unwell?" I asked.

"Madame is disturbed that her brother has not arrived," the woman
answered. "She does not require me any longer to-night. I am to get
something to eat and go to bed. Good-night, monsieur."

"Good-night, Annette."

She had spoken sulkily, as though vexed at not being allowed to wait
upon her mistress.

I had my dinner alone, and afterwards strolled along the banks of the
beautiful lake, smoking a cigar. There was no moon, but the sky was
bright with stars. I was in no hurry, knowing that when Barbara was in
one of her passionate fits it was best to give her plenty of time to
get over it. My presence irritated her, and I did not care to be the
butt of her unreasonable anger.



                             CHAPTER XI.


There was still no news of Maxwell, and I was pleased to be spared his
presence.

Now, I cannot say whether the scene which took place later in the day
between me and Barbara was inspired by a communication which she had
just received from Annette, or whether she had been already
enlightened upon the subject, and had stored up the pretended
grievance for use against me when she was in the humor for it. It
matters little either way, and perhaps it would have been wiser of me
to treat the accusation with contempt; but there are limits to a man's
patience, and I could not always keep control of myself. It was
commenced by Barbara inquiring whether my lady friend had followed us
to Geneva, and by her answering the question herself.

"But of course she has. You have laid your plans artfully. Keep her
out of my way, or I'll strangle her."

"You are mad," I muttered, and indeed, I must either have believed so,
or that she was at her devil's tricks again.

"Not yet," she screamed, and then I knew that she had been drinking.
"Not yet. You may drive me to it in the end, but the end hasn't come
yet. No, not by many a long day, Johnnie, my dear! Only don't let me
get hold of her, or there'll be murder done."

"Tell me what you mean," I said, closing the doors and windows, for I
was anxious that the people in the hotel should not hear, "and I may
be able to answer you."

"Where is the lady's brooch you bought in Paris?" she asked. "Show it
to me, and I'll be satisfied. Well, where is it?"

Then I recollected that Annette had passed through the room of the
hotel in Paris when I emptied my pockets there; I was looking at the
brooch, debating what I should do with it.

"You are thinking what to say," Barbara continued. "I will save you
the trouble of inventing a lie. Say that you bought it for me."

"It would be the truth. I did buy it for you."

"Give it me, then; it belongs to me."

"I cannot give it to you; I have parted with it."

"I knew it without your telling me. You gave it to the other woman."

"There is no other woman in the case. Be reasonable, Barbara. Things
are bad enough, God knows, but I can honestly say you have no cause
for jealousy. The brooch was intended for you, but I changed my mind,
and returned it to the jeweler."

"Not thinking it suitable for me."

"Exactly. I did not think it suitable for you."

"The device was not appropriate, eh?"

"It was not appropriate."

"I wonder you are not ashamed to look me in the face. It was a device
of two hearts entwined--yours and another woman's--and it was not a
suitable device to offer to me, whom you had married but the day
before!" (I thought with dismay that Annette must have sharp eyes to
have seen it in that brief moment when she passed me, looking slyly on
the ground.) "You are a clumsy liar, John. If you want to know, it was
because I was maddened by your shameful conduct that I left you last
night. I was sorry for it afterwards. I reasoned with myself, saying,
He is my husband, and it is my duty to be by his side. That is why I
was not sorry when you found me this morning. You may break my heart,
but I will never leave you again, never, never! Now that I have found
you out don't presume to lecture me again upon any little faults I may
have--but keep your women out of my sight, my dear."

I argued no longer; my heart was filled with bitterness; the smallest
of my actions was turned against me with such ingenuity as to render
me powerless.

I will not dwell upon the incidents that enlivened the remaining weeks
of this mockery of a honeymoon. Again and again did I find Barbara
under the influence of drink, and again and again did I seek refuge in
silence, for every word I spoke was twisted into an accusation against
myself. We saw nothing of Maxwell, and after a month's tour Barbara
declared she was tired of foreign countries and foreign people, and
yearned to take her proper place in our dear little home in London.
"Where you will discover," she said (she was in one of her amiable
moods), "that I am a model wife, and a perfect treasure of a
housekeeper."

We were in London nearly two months before we settled in our new home,
which, as I have stated, was situated in West Kensington. Immediately
upon our return Barbara and I drove to the house, and took a tour of
inspection through the rooms. It seemed to me that a few days would
suffice for the necessary alterations and additions, but Barbara was
of a different opinion. This piece of furniture did not suit her, that
would not do, the other was altogether out of place. She did not like
the paper on the walls, the ceilings were frightful, the patterns of
the carpets horrible. Before our marriage we had come to London to see
the house, and then she was satisfied with everything, now she is
satisfied with nothing. If I ventured to make a remonstrance her reply
was:

"Do let me manage! What can you know about domestic affairs? Leave
them to me; I will soon put things to rights."

Seeing that her idea of putting things to rights would cost a large
sum of money, I said:

"Remember, Barbara, I am not a millionaire."

"Perhaps not," she answered, "but you have thousands and thousands of
pounds, you stingy fellow, and we must commence comfortably. Our whole
happiness depends upon it. I sha'n't ruin you, my dear. Besides, are
you not going to coin money out of your books?"

"They have to be written first."

"Of course. And to write striking stories you must have a cosy study.
Do you think it is my comfort I am looking after? My dear old boy, you
shall have the snuggest den in London."

"When they are written---if they ever are"--I was tortured by a doubt
whether my mind would be sufficiently at ease for literary work--"they
may not find favor with the publishers."

"I will manage them, John. Don't meet troubles half way. There is a
clever song--did you ever hear it?--' Never trouble trouble till
trouble troubles you.' That is what I call common sense."

The result was that she had her way. My one desire was for peace. Love
held no place in my heart The utmost I could hope for was that I
should not be plunged into disgrace.

I had very little to do with the new arrangements of the house.
Finding that every suggestion I made was received with opposition, I
became wearied with the whole affair, my share in which was limited to
paying the bills. This exactly suited Barbara, who now and then
rewarded me by declaring that she was having a delightful time. During
these few weeks we lived in a furnished flat in Bloomsbury, and having
nothing else to do, I spent the greater part of the day in the
reading-room of the British Museum, for which I had held a ticket
since I left my stepmother's house. Barbara and I would breakfast
together in the morning, and make arrangements for a late dinner. Then
we would separate; Barbara for West Kensington, accompanied by
Annette, I for the British Museum, or for a lonely walk or ride. Once
or twice a week, when the weather was fine, I would ride on the top of
an omnibus to its terminus, and return to my starting-point by the
same conveyance. My favorite ride was eastward, through Whitechapel,
and occasionally I would alight in the centre of that wonderful
thoroughfare--where a greater variety of the forms of human life can
be met than in any other part of the modern Babylon--and plunge into
the labyrinth of narrow streets and courts with which the district
abounds. What made the deepest impression upon me in my wanderings
thereabouts was the poverty of the residents and the immense number
and the magnificence of the gin palaces, in the immediate vicinity of
the most flourishing of which were usually congregated groups of
wretched men, women and children--chiefly the latter during the midday
hours of my visits--whose one idea of life and life's duties was
drink. The subject had a fascination for me, and my heart sank as I
noted the hideous degradation to which it brings its victims. The
soddened, bestial faces, the shameless lasciviousness, the frightful
language, the hags of forty who looked seventy, the young children
with preternatural cunning stamped on their features, and from whose
ready tongue familiar blasphemies proceeded; girl-mothers with exposed
breasts putting glasses of gin to their babies' lips--these were
horrible and common sights. I was standing watching such a scene in a
narrow, squalid street, flanked at each corner by a gorgeous, shining
palace of gin, when I noticed a policeman at my side. We entered into
conversation, and I learned that he had placed himself near me as a
protection.

"A famous thieves' quarter this, sir," he said; "I thought you
mightn't know."

"Thank you for the warning," I replied; "the people are very poor; all
the houses seem to be tumbling down."

"They belong to a big swell."

"Does he not come to inspect them?"

The policeman--an intelligent man, evidently with some
education--laughed. "He may have seen them once in his lifetime, and
that was enough for him. The property is managed by an agent, in the
employ of the steward of the estate, who walks through it perhaps once
a year."

"The rents must be very low."

"Not low enough for them that live here. There isn't a house in the
street with less than three or four families in it."

I pointed to two girls whose ages could not have been more than
fifteen or sixteen, each with a baby at her breast, "What becomes of
them when they grow old?"

"They never grow old," was his significant reply.

"Are you a reporter for a newspaper, sir?"

"No; I am here merely out of curiosity."

"Don't come at night--alone," he said, as he turned away.

His question had put an idea into my head which I thought might be
carried into effect for the benefit of that half of the world that
does not know how the other half lives.

I make no excuse for introducing this episode into my story; the
sights I saw had an indirect bearing upon my own life.

In the evening Barbara and I would meet in our Bloomsbury flat, and go
out to dinner, generally to a foreign restaurant, and sometimes
afterwards to a theatre or a music hall, the latter being always of
Barbara's choosing. I followed in her wake; the least resistance or
reluctance to carry out her wishes only brought fresh misery upon me.
She continued to tipple, but not in my presence; it seemed to be a
principle of her life to do everything in secret. On Sundays she went
to church, and professed to be much edified by the discourse. She
would pray at home, too. Once when I entered our sitting-room I
discovered her on her knees before a couch, her face buried in the
cushion. She remained there so long that I put my hand on her
shoulder. She did not move. Looking down I found she was asleep, with
a vacuous smile on her countenance. I moved to another part of the
room, and soon afterwards she staggered to her feet, and stood,
reeling to and fro. "Annette!" she called querulously. The woman
entered, and supported her to her bedroom. The next day she complained
of her heart.

"I was very ill yesterday," she said. "I fainted while I was praying.
My prayers were for you, John."

I did not answer her, and she asked me whether I ever thought of the
future world.

"It is our duty, my dear," she said. "Life in this is very sad."



                             CHAPTER XII.


While the house was being prepared for our reception, I heard nothing
of Maxwell. I thought of him often, and I sometimes fancied that
Barbara was not so ignorant as myself of his whereabouts and doings--a
supposition which proved to be true, but his name was not mentioned by
either of us. In looking back upon those days I can see that I was
acting a part as well as Barbara. I was miserably conscious of it at
the time, but it did not strike me as it strikes me now. Words of
affection had no meaning, and we knew it--and knowing it, nursed in
our hearts the belief that the other was a hypocrite. I have no desire
to show myself in a favorable light to Barbara's disadvantage. Her
judgment of me was warped by her passion for drink, and my judgment of
her was perhaps harsher than it should have been because of the bitter
disappointment under which I labored. I could not always be patient, I
could not always endure in silence; she stung me by her sly cunning,
by the artful entanglements she wove for me, by the detestable
assumption of religious fervor which she used to mask the degrading
vice which made my life a hell. I had to be continually on the alert
to avoid public exposure, and in this endeavor Annette was useful, for
she did what she could to shield her mistress. Self-interest was her
motive, for Barbara was continually making her presents of money and
articles of jewelry and dress. I was quite aware that she was my
enemy, that when she spoke of me she lied and traduced me, but I could
find no fault with her when she was in my presence. It may be that she
held me in contempt because I did not beat or kill my wife.

We gave up our flat, and took up our quarters in the home in which
before my marriage I had hoped to live an honorable and happy life.
That hope was dead, and in my contemplations of the future I could see
no ray of light. There was but one source of relief--work. Hard toil,
exhausting manual labor would have done me good; failing that, I had
my pen. My visits to the vice-haunted haunts of London had supplied me
with a theme.

"What does my dear boy think of it?" Barbara asked, on the morning we
entered the house.

"It looks very clean and new," I replied, as we walked through the
rooms.

"It is what I aimed at, dear. We are going to commence a new life. No
more wrangles or disagreements, no more misunderstandings, everything
that is unpleasant wiped off the slate. I am never going to worry you
again. Can I say more than that?"

"We shall be all the happier, Barbara, if you keep that in mind."

'"Of course I shall keep it in mind. And you, too, John--you will keep
it in mind, and not worry me. Fair play's a jewel. This is my morning
room. Isn't it sweet? And this," opening a communicating door, "is my
prayer room, my very, very own. I shall come here whenever I feel
naughty, and pray to be good. Oh, what a consolation there is in
prayer!"

The walls were lined with pictures of sacred subjects and moral
exordiums in Oxford frames. There was an altar with prayer books
ostentatiously arranged, and a cushion for her to kneel upon when at
her devotions. She looked at me for approval, and I said that prayer
chastened and purified.

"It is what it will do for me, dear John. However earnest and wishful
to do right one may be there are always little crosses. I intended
this room for your study, but I felt that you would rather I put it to
its present use."

"Then there is no study in the house for me?"

"No, dear. We can't have everything we wish. I thought you might take
a room elsewhere for your literary work. You can go and scribble there
whenever you feel inclined; it will be so much better for you. There
will be nothing to disturb you--no sweeping and scrubbing of floors
and difficulties with servants, which put men out so. You see how I
thought of you while I was arranging things. There are some nice quiet
streets off the Strand where you can take chambers and be comfortable
and cosy. If you had a business in the city you would have to go to it
every morning, so it is just as if you were a business man. We shall
dine at home at half-past six. I shall expect you to be very punctual,
or the cooking will be spoilt and the cook will give notice. Oh, the
worry of servants! But I take all that on myself."

I was not displeased at the arrangement. Had it been left to me I
should have chosen it, so I said I was quite satisfied, and she
clapped her hands and kissed me.

"I have an agreeable surprise for you," she then said. "Maxwell is in
London."

"You have seen him?"

"Oh, yes, every day almost. He has been of immense assistance to me in
choosing furniture and wall paper, and managing the people who did the
work. If it hadn't been for him I should have been dreadfully imposed
upon, and it would have been ever so much out of your pocket. You will
be glad to hear that he will dine with us this evening."

I said I should be glad to see him; and indeed it was a matter of
indifference to me, but I determined to be on my guard against him.

"I was angry with him," she continued, "for not meeting us in Geneva,
as he promised; but he couldn't, poor fellow. He met with an accident,
and had to lay up in a poky little village in Italy. It is such a
comfort to me that he is near us. There is no one like our own."

"Is he living in London?"

"For the present. He has been unfortunate and has lost a lot of
money--the stupid fellow is so trustful. He went security for a friend
and was taken in. Don't you go security for people, John, it's a
mistake. I have another surprise for you. 'Our first dinner in our
dear little home shall be an unexpected pleasure to John,' I said to
myself, when I was looking over my letters, and came across one from
your mother."

"My stepmother, Barbara."

"It's all the same. Such a pretty, friendly letter; so full of good
advice! Young wives need advice, and old wives can give it them."

"But when did you hear from her?" I asked.

"Don't you remember? It was when we were engaged."

"I remember that I wrote to her of our engagement, and that she did
not reply to me. She wrote to you instead. Is that the letter you
refer to?"

"Yes."

"You told me that you tore up the letter the moment you read it, and
that she must be an awful woman. I distinctly recollect your saying
that we could do without her and her beautiful son."

"What a memory you have, John! Or are you making it up?"

"I am not making it up. You did not tear up the letter?"

"No," she said with a beaming smile, "I kept it by me, and I am sure
you are mistaken in what you think I said. I did not show it to you
because I knew you had some feeling against her and Louis, and I
didn't want to annoy you. I am not the woman to make mischief between
such near relations. Little differences will arise, and it is our duty
to try and smooth them over. That is what I did, and you will be
delighted to hear that they are content to let byegones be byegones,
and are burning to see you."

"I will think over it."

"I have thought over it for you, dear. They are coming to dinner this
evening."

"Do you consider it right, Barbara, to invite them without consulting
me?"

"I do, my dear. I am a peacemaker. Our housewarming will be quite a
family party."

I submitted, wondering to what length Barbara would go in her
duplicity, and whether she or I was mistaken in our recollection of
the circumstances in connection with this particular letter. I did not
wonder long. I knew that I was right.

Maxwell made his appearance an hour before dinner, and--having made up
my mind--I received him with a cordiality which I did not feel.

"Well, here you are," he said, with a searching glance at me, "a
regular married man after your lovely holiday tour. Enjoyed yourself?"

"Barbara has given you a full account, no doubt," I replied, all the
evil that was in my nature aroused by his mocking voice; "judge from
that."

"You must be a model husband, then," he said, laughing quietly to
himself, "and she a model wife. I owe you an apology for not joining
you on the Continent. The fact is"--he looked to see that Barbara was
out of hearing--"I was not traveling alone, and upon considering the
matter I came to the conclusion that our company might not suit you. A
question of morals, you know."

"I am obliged to you."

"For keeping away? Good. One to you. Where are you going, Barbara?"

"Domestic affairs," she replied. "To do the cooking." And she left the
room.

"Was your accident very serious?" I asked.

"Accident!" he exclaimed. "What accident?"

"Then you did not meet with one?"

"Not that I am aware of. I had the jolliest time."

I dropped the subject, and we talked of other matters, with a lame
attempt at civility on both sides, until Barbara re-entered the room,
when he cried out:

"I say, Barbara, what is this about my meeting with an accident on the
Continent?"

"You did meet with an accident," she said, boldly.

"Did I? Well, then, I did." He looked me full in the face, and
laughed.

"I am disgusted with you, Maxwell," Barbara exclaimed. "Don't pay any
attention to him, John; you can't believe a word out of his mouth."

Thereupon he laughed still more boisterously, winding up with, "Don't
expect me to take a hand in your matrimonial squabbles; you must
settle them yourselves."

"We don't have any, do we, John?" said Barbara, in her sweetest tone.

Maxwell appeared to be immensely amused, and they had a bantering
bout, in which I took neither share nor interest. When they appealed
to me I replied in monosyllables, until Barbara said:

"There, you have offended him. Ask his pardon immediately. I won't
have my dear boy annoyed."

His eyes twinkled as he held out his hand, which I was compelled to
take to avoid an open rupture. "I ask your pardon, John."

"That's all right," said Barbara, gaily. "For goodness sake, don't let
us have any quarreling on our house-warming day."

I felt as if I were in a hornets' nest.

A few minutes afterwards my stepmother and Louis were announced, and
Barbara ran forward to welcome them.

"I am so glad you have come! There's no need of an introduction, is
there? I am John's wife, Barbara. You must call me Barbara--yes, I
insist upon it. This is my brother Maxwell. Maxwell, Mrs. Fordham--how
funny there should be two of us! And this is your son, Mr. Louis
Fordham, John's brother. I hate formality. You mustn't be shocked at
my saying that I am a bit of a Bohemian. So is Maxwell, but he goes
farther than I do, of course, as he is a man. I hope you are one, too,
Mr. Louis?"

"I will become one," said Louis, gallantly, "under your instructions.
How do you do, John? What a pretty house you've got!"

I shook hands with him and with my stepmother. Louis was cordial
enough in his manner; my stepmother was frigid. Years had passed since
I had seen her or Louis, but she had not forgotten, and never would
forget. Only with her death would the old animosity die out. She was
no older in appearance; Louis had grown into a well-built man, and she
doted on him, as she had done since his birth. A good-looking man,
too, but for the scar on his forehead. As I raised my eyes to it--with
no evil meaning, I am sure--the blood rushed into it, and it became
scarlet, while a dark look flashed into my stepmother's eyes.

"He will bear it with him to his grave," said my stepmother.

"What a pity!" said Barbara, who had observed this bye-play. "How did
it happen?"

"John gave it him," said my stepmother, coldly.

"But they were boys then," said Barbara, defending me maliciously,
"and boys are so cruel."

"The boy is father to the man," remarked my stepmother, with venomous
emphasis.

"Now, John," said Barbara, "what have you to say to it?"

My impulse was to reply that the story was false, but I checked myself
in time, and simply said:

"Nothing. Either my memory or yours"--to my stepmother--"is at fault."

"You have a shocking memory, John," said Barbara. "Not your fault, my
dear--you were born with it. We all forgive you, don't we, Mrs.
Fordham--and you, too, Louis? It would be dreadful if we nursed every
little grievance, and saved disagreeable things for future use against
one another. Let us talk of something pleasant."

"You have the temper of an angel, Barbara," ejaculated Maxwell.

"It runs in our family," returned Barbara, casting up her eyes, "and
we won't boast of it. Whether we are married or single, we don't lie
on beds of roses."

By the time the dinner came to an end the inuendoes, the sly thrusts,
the holding up of my wife as a martyr to my disparagement had become
unbearable. The ladies retired to the drawing-room, and I refused to
stop and drink with Louis and Maxwell. Strolling from the house I lit
a cigar, and upon my return the guests were preparing to take their
departure.

"Such a pleasant evening," said my stepmother. "I hope you will turn
over a new leaf, John, and be kind to your wife. You have a treasure
in her. You must come and dine with us, soon."

I stood at the street door while she and the men entered a cab
together. Barbara, standing by my side, waved her handkerchief to
them. The moment the cab was out of sight she turned upon me like a
fury.

"You beast!" she cried. "Is that the way you treat my friends?"

And she ran into the house.

Sadly enough I followed her, in doubt of the best course to pursue.
She solved the doubt by saying:

"I am going to my room. You will find the spare room ready for you."

"This is a bad commencement, Barbara," I ventured to say.

"Thank yourself for it," she retorted, and disappeared.

I possessed a small library of books, which I had sent to the house,
and I endeavored to while away the time by reading. But I could not
fix my attention; I turned over page after page without any
comprehension of the printed words. And so I passed the time in a
dull, lethargic state until eleven o'clock struck. I left my book and
set myself to the old task of reviewing the incidents of the day, with
the same old result. If the fault were mine there must be some defect
in my understanding of passing events in which I was concerned. My
melancholy musings were interrupted by the sound of Barbara's voice in
the room above. She was laughing and singing--a babble of unconnected
lines, the laughter of a woman under the influence of drink. The door
of her room was opened and shut, and I heard Annette descend the
stairs. I intercepted her.

"What is the matter with your mistress?"

"Madame is unwell."

"What is your errand now?"

"Madame has left her medicine in the dining-room; I am fetching it for
her."

I left her to fulfill her errand, but kept watch on the landing above.
Again I intercepted her. In her hands, as I suspected, was the
decanter of brandy.

"Is that the medicine you were sent for?"

"I could not find it, monsieur. I thought this would do her good; she
is depressed, and needs something strengthening."

There was no sign of confusion on the woman's face; she was calm and
composed.

"Go down again and search for the medicine you were sent for," I said,
taking the decanter from her.

"But, monsieur, I have already sought for it, and cannot find it."

"To search again, then, would be useless?"

"Quite useless, monsieur."

"You can go to bed, Annette. I will attend to your mistress."

"It is impossible, monsieur. Madame requires me. Madame engaged me; I
am her servant."

"You are my servant also."

"Oh, no, monsieur. It is madame who orders me."

"I am master here. Do as I bid you. Go to bed."

She did not move.

While this colloquy was proceeding there was silence in Barbara's
room. Suddenly the door was dashed open, and my wife appeared, her
dress disordered, her eyes inflamed, her face distorted by the
hysterical passion of the habitual drunkard. As in a flash, I saw the
inroads the bestial vice was making upon her beauty.

"Beast, beast, beast!" she shrieked, throwing herself upon me as I
recoiled from the horrible sight. By engaging in a disgraceful
struggle I might have retained the decanter of brandy, but I was not
equal to it. She wrested it from me, and clutching Annette's arm, she
dragged her into the room, the lock of which I heard turned a moment
afterwards. Then came to my ears her mad laughter at the triumph she
had achieved.



                            CHAPTER XIII.


If I have dwelt at greater length than I intended upon the incidents
which made their fatal mark upon the early months of my married life,
it is because I wish Barbara's character to be clearly understood, and
because they supply a pregnant index to what followed. The first night
I spent in our new home was a prelude to innumerable nights of the
same nature. Safe from observation and free to indulge in her besotted
habits, with a willing tool at her beck and call in the person of
Annette, with a helpless protector chained to her by bonds which he
could not break, she found herself absolute mistress of a drunkard's
hellish heaven. She reveled in it, and gave her passions free play.
Day after day, night after night, I had by my side a creature who had
reached the lowest depths of bestial degradation, and whose one aim in
life seemed to be to reach a lower still. She was a large-framed woman
with a magnificent constitution, or she would soon have succumbed and
become a driveling idiot. Throughout all, singular to say, she
preserved her cunning, and the expedients by which she hedged herself
in and kept her besetting vice from the knowledge of others except
myself and Annette, were nothing short of marvelous in their
ingenuity. The room she called her prayer room was her sanctuary, and
it was there, attended by Annette, that she freely indulged. She
acquired, indeed, a reputation for sanctity, and even our servants
were deceived by her clever devices. Annette became housekeeper and
the nominal mistress of the establishment, and from her they received
their orders. They saw their real mistress only when she was sober,
and then she spoke kindly and was liberal to them. When she secluded
herself they were given to understand that she was ill or at her
devotions. She was supposed to suffer from a mysterious disorder, and
her driveling screams in the middle of the nights were attributed to
pain. I subsequently learned that they were often attributed to my
beating her and knocking her about.

I recall the day when she sat at the table with a livid bruise on her
cheek, caused by her falling against the sharp corner of a piece of
furniture. The parlor-maid assisted Annette to apply hot fomentations
to the bruise, and when, later in the day, I noticed the frightened,
horrified looks the girl cast at me, I knew that she had been told the
lie that I had struck my wife. Against these calumnies I had no
defense. In the kitchen I was regarded as a monster of cruelty, and
the servants shrank aside as I passed them. Before the domestics
Barbara invariably addressed me in frightened, humble tones. She kept
her revilings for my private ear, the only witness of the scenes
between us being Annette.

The character foisted upon me was not confined to the house. Our
servants related shameful stories against me to their friends in the
neighborhood, who, in their turn, poured these stories into their
mistresses' ears. Wives and mothers looked darkly at me, and those
with whom I had become acquainted did not return my bow. I was
completely and effectually ostracised. Under these persecutions was it
any wonder that I felt myself becoming hardened? My nature was
changed. I grew habitually morose and savage, and by my manner defied
my traducers. This made matters worse for me, and gave color to the
stories of systematic cruelty laid to my charge. After awhile I slept
in the spare room alone, and offered up prayers of thankfulness that
we had no children. It was indeed a blessing for which I could not be
sufficiently grateful.

One evening when we were at dinner, and Barbara was toying with her
food and sighing in the presence of the maid who waited at table, I
suggested that she should call in a doctor.

"It is not a doctor I require," she said, gazing at me with mournful
significance. "Oh, John, if only you----" And then she checked
herself, as if she would not say anything to my discredit before the
servant.

"Finish the sentence," I said. "If I only what?"

"Do not force me to speak," she cried, in an imploring tone.

Bursting into tears she rose from the table and left the room.

What clearer evidence of my barbarity could be supplied? The maid
would have been bereft of sense not to have understood the
implication, and there is no doubt that she took the tale down to her
fellow servants in the kitchen. Before them, at meals, she never
drank, but it was a common practice with her when we and Annette were
together at dinner, to help herself to copious draughts of brandy. I
no longer remonstrated with her; she would have added to my distress
by drinking deeper.

In all these tricks she was assisted by Maxwell and my stepmother.
Louis, for the most part, was a passive spectator. Maxwell drank with
her and laughed. My stepmother said:

"See what you are driving her to. You are breaking her heart. I always
knew what would happen if you married."

"You are saying what is false, because you hate me," I replied.

"I am speaking the truth," she retorted, "and truly I have no cause to
love you. It is my opinion you have some wicked scheme in view. But
there will be a judgment upon you for all your cleverness. You robbed
me; you robbed Louis of his patrimony. What good is the money doing
you?"

It is well I had matters apart from my domestic affairs to occupy me,
or my mind would have lost its balance entirely. In accordance with
the plan Barbara had laid down for me, I took a small set of chambers
in one of the streets leading from the Strand to the river--the
locality she had herself proposed--consisting of three rooms, a
sitting-room, bedroom, and bathroom; and there I pursued my
literary labors. The chambers were at the top of the house, and the
sitting-room looked out upon the river. How happy could I have been
there, had it not been for the living weight which held me down!
Gladly every morning did I leave my home, sadly every evening did I
return to it.

At first I wrote a few short stories, which I sent to the magazines.
They were refused. Every fresh rejection brought disappointment with
it, but disheartened me only a short time. When my manuscripts came
back to me I read them carefully, found faults in them, re-wrote them,
and tried again, with the same result. Thus a year passed, and I had
not advanced a step. Two or three times in the course of this year
Barbara visited me.

"You are happy here," she said, and I did not gainsay her. "You like
it better than your own home."

"It was your own proposition," I replied. "Will nothing satisfy you?"

"It was not my proposition," she said. "You chose this yourself, and
you have assignations here with creatures you love better than me. Oh,
I know why you spend the day in these rooms. Do you think I am blind
to the life you are living."

She carried her venom to the length of tearing up manuscripts upon
which I was engaged; I submitted to this awhile, but eventually I
protected myself by locking up my papers when I heard her knock at the
door. She was furious at my refusal to give her duplicate keys to the
chambers.

"A clear proof," she cried.

On one of these occasions I proposed a separation, and offered to
settle upon her half the money I possessed, so long as we remained
apart.

"Will you give it me in a lump?" she asked.

"No," I answered, "there must be a guarantee that you will not violate
the conditions of the deed, which would be drawn up and signed by both
of us. You shall have the interest of the money. If I die before you
it will all be yours without restriction."

"Thank you, my dear," she said. "I prefer things as they are. You will
not get rid of me so easily. You would divorce me if it were in your
power. Of course you won't answer that. But you will never get the
chance, love. I am acquainted with the grounds upon which a divorce
can be obtained. You shall have no reason to say that I am not a true
and faithful wife to you."

And, indeed, upon the score of faithfulness--in its legal sense--I
entertained no doubts. She had but one love--brandy.

While I was endeavoring to obtain a footing in the literary field by
means of short stories, I was preparing a series of articles upon the
curse of the land--drink--drawing upon actual facts and real life for
my pen and ink pictures. By good fortune I obtained an introduction to
the editor of a paper, the columns of which were open to social
subjects, and I submitted a few of these articles to him. He approved
of them, and suggesting certain alterations, which I agreed to make,
consented to use them. His paper was one which did not admit of signed
contributions, and had it been otherwise I should not have put my name
to them, my domestic troubles on the same theme being a bar to such a
course. The editor did not inquire into the source from which I
obtained the facts for my descriptions of the effects of the awful
vice; he was content with my method of treatment and with my literary
style.

"Just one word of advice," he said, "don't shrink from speaking
broadly and plainly. It is a burning question, and you can't put it
too strongly. I am not so well up in the subject as yourself, but I
should say, even if a man drew entirely upon his imagination, he could
not paint more striking pictures than reality can supply. The
successful artist paints from life and nature."

"What I describe," I replied, "is what I have seen. Nothing more
horrible can be met in the Vision of Hell. This city of shame and sin
is full of little hells, and if there is any truth in pulpit sermons
and religious ministrations, in every little hell souls are daily
being damned."

He threw a searching glance upon me. "I like that. Don't forget the
metaphor; use it in one of the early articles. Some writers keep their
big plums till the last; it is a mistake. Fairy tales can be written
on a Swiss mountain or an Italian lake, but to do justice to such a
subject as yours you must dig into Babylon's crust; you need the
pest-houses of civilization, the hog-like natures of men and women
familiar with crime and poverty."

"The evil is not confined to hovels," I remarked, "nor to the criminal
classes. Mansions of the well-to-do supply fruitful material."

"Well, do your best," he said. "We shall create a sensation."

We did. My articles were quoted far and near. Writing under a burning
sense of wrong I was not sparing of epithet and denunciation. I worked
at fever heat, and was often appalled at what I wrote, but it went
into print with scarcely the alteration of a word. Had I written under
my own name I might have become a celebrity.

In one of my articles I touched upon the marriage tie in relation to
the evil. I described a home--a type of many--in which the wife was a
confirmed dipsomaniac; another, in which the husband was drunk every
day of his life. They were cases which came under my own eye in the
localities where I pursued my investigations. From the lips of the
sufferers themselves I received the terrible details of the gradual
sinking into the slough of despair. Here was the wretched husband,
once a bright mechanic earning a fair wage, whose wife's filthy habits
had brought ruin upon him--hopeless, irremediable ruin. Vainly had he
striven to reform her, vainly had he pointed out to her the sure
consequences of her dissipation. Coming home at night from his work he
found his rooms in darkness, his hungry children lying almost naked on
the bare boards, and his wife drunk in the nearest gin palace. It had
become a common occurrence. She pawned the beds, the furniture, the
children's clothes and his own, again and yet again, and when he
dragged her from the public-house she lay through the night, gibbering
at the awful sights her diseased imagination conjured up. He replaced
the furniture, he bought new beds and clothing, he gave his children
food, and when his wife was able to crawl out again, off she crept to
the pawnbroker to repeat her evil work. The children had grown stunted
and deformed, their rags hung loosely on their shrunken limbs, like
starving dogs they nosed the gutters for offal. "My God, my God!" he
cried, the tears streaming down his face. "What shall I do? How shall
I save my children? How shall I save myself?" His voice sank to a
whisper. "One night I shall kill her, and there will be murder on my
soul!"

In the other case it was the husband who drank, who would not work,
who starved his wife and children, and beat them till their flesh was
covered with livid bruises. It was the wife who told me the story. "If
it were not for my children," she moaned, "I would make a hole in the
water." It was not my habit to make more than a passing comment upon
my descriptions of real and suffering life as it is to be seen to-day
in the fester-spots of London. I had wished to do so, but was
requested by my editor to put some restriction upon myself in this
respect. "Leave that," he said, "to the editorial pen." At the end of
the article in which I narrated these two cases, I wrote: "And these
poor creatures are, by the Church and the so-called laws of God,
chained to a living curse which blights, destroys, and damns the
innocent." The words were allowed to stand.

On the following day a powerful leading article was written by the
editor, in which a change in the law of divorce was imperatively
demanded.

"Confirmed drunkenness," he said, "is a crime against the true laws of
God and man; it is far worse than adultery, and more than a sufficient
cause for separation. It is not alone that humanity demands it, but
could God make Himself heard in this sinful world there would be a
Divine mandate to enforce it." Other papers took up the subject. One
popular journal (the season being over, and the House not sitting)
made it a theme for the usual yearly correspondence, and columns
of letters were printed every day--from despairing husbands and
wives approving, from the clergy protesting, from politicians
shilly-shallying. Meanwhile my articles had come to an end.

There was no change in my home, except for the worse, and I grew to
hate it, to hate all who visited it, to hate myself. I had as little
authority in it as any chance guest. I breakfasted, dined, and slept
there--and, for variation, there were the scenes I had with Barbara.
The lies that were circulated as to my brutality towards her bore
fruit, and I was shunned by every soul in the neighborhood. Not a
person I met there had a smile or a cordial word for me, and not for
one sober hour did Barbara relax her cunning. In her mad fits she was
visible only to me and Annette; when she went about the house or was
seen in the streets her sad, listless ways (she was always sad when
sober) were apparent to all, and her conspicuous ill-health was
attributed to my conduct. It was the popular belief that I was
"killing her by inches." I heard the words uttered by one of our
servants to a servant in the adjoining house, and the indignant
comment upon them--"Brute!"

Maxwell tried to borrow money from me, but I was sufficiently incensed
to refuse him. "Not another shilling while I live," I said, and he
replied that I would live to repent it. Scoundrel as he was, he spoke
the truth.

The cases of the two poor homes ruined by a drunken husband and a
drunken wife, which I have just narrated, drove my thoughts upon my
own--and indeed it may have been because of the position in which I
stood that I sifted them to the bottom. They had a peculiar
fascination for me.

But even if the law of divorce were so altered as to rescue those
who are driven to despair, sometimes to crime, by this frightful
vice--which I pray may soon be so--a man situated as I was would find
no relief in it. The shame would have to be proved, and the web which
had been spun around me was of so cunning a nature that proof was
impossible in my case. On the contrary, indeed; all the evidence,
except my bare statements, would be turned against myself.

As an instance of the base arts employed to still further entangle and
incriminate me I recount the following circumstances. Whose devilish
ingenuity first conceived the idea I never discovered.

The spare room in which I slept was at the back of the house, and its
window faced the window of another house, used also, I believe, as a
bedroom. I stood in front of this window, shaving, one morning; the
blind was up and the day was bright. While the razor was at my cheek
Barbara rushed into the room, crying at the top of her voice:

"John--John--John! For mercy's sake, don't!" And as she spoke she
threw herself upon me.

Fearful lest the razor should cut her I threw it away, but not before
I had gashed my cheek, causing blood to flow. Then, observing that she
was in her nightdress and that the bosom was open, I quickly drew down
the blind.

"What is the meaning of this?" I inquired, bitterly. "Do you fear that
I intend to kill myself?"

Her only answer was a series of hysterical shrieks which could be
heard a long distance off. For a few moments I thought she had gone
mad, and I stooped to raise her from the floor, upon which she had
fallen.

"For mercy's sake, for mercy's sake!" she screamed, and in the midst
of the confusion Annette entered the room and led her mistress away. I
followed her into the passage, the blood running down my face, and
there upon the stairs were the servants, who had naturally been
alarmed by Barbara's screams, and had run up to see what was the
matter.

"Go down," said Annette, speaking to them in a tone of command.
"Madame is ill--very, very ill. I will attend to her."

I did not see my wife again that day; the door of her room was locked
against me. To all my inquiries after her Annette replied:

"She is more composed; she will recover in a few days, perhaps."

"I wish to see her, Annette."

"Madame will not be seen by any one but me. She ordered me to say so
to you."

I had, perforce, to give up the attempt.

I thought of the scene during the day; it was of a different nature
from those to which I was accustomed, but there was something strange
in it which I could not unfathom. Finally I came to the conclusion
that Barbara's malady was developing itself in a new direction, and
the last thought in my mind was that anything more than generally
prejudicial to my character would come of it.



                             CHAPTER XIV.


Towards the end of that week I had invited my friend the editor to
take a mid-day chop with me. He had put my name down as a candidate
for admission into a literary club which I was anxious to join, and
there was a difficulty in regard to my qualification. Had the articles
I wrote for his paper been signed with my name, there would have been
no question as to my being properly qualified, but they had been
published anonymously, and I was personally unknown to the members. My
proposer had vouched for me and had passed his word, but it was not
deemed sufficient; they wanted proof positive, and this nettled him.
Certain members of this committee had spoken to him privately, and had
advised him to withdraw his candidate, but he had set his heart upon
the matter, and was determined to carry me through. He held an
influential position in the club, and it seemed to him that his
influence would be weakened if he beat a retreat. And now on this day
he came to tell me that the difficulty was at an end.

"Somehow or other," he said, "it has leaked out that you are the
writer of those articles, and your election is assured. The committee
meet in a fortnight, and the vote will be unanimous."

I was greatly disturbed. It had been my earnest desire to keep my name
from being associated with the exposures I had made. Had I been
unmarried and free, it would have been my pride that the world should
know and give me my meed of praise, but married to Barbara, and with
the curse of drink in my own home, I shrank from public gaze. A
foreboding of evil stole upon me.

"The fellows are wild to meet you," continued my friend, "and every
member of the committee has promised a white ball. This has set my
mind at ease about you, for it is a serious matter being pilled in
such a club. I know a case or two where a black ball has meant social
death. I should have felt it more than you. You see, I am your
sponsor. 'What do you say now to my candidate being qualified?' I said
to two members who were dead against you on the score of your being a
stranger. A man crept in once, and we discovered he was a blackleg. He
gave us a chance, and we expelled him. Since then a strict watch has
been kept upon candidates. Before it leaked out who you really were,
they wanted to know whether you were a gentleman, a man of honor and
good character, one it would be agreeable to mix with--what we call a
clubbable man. They have no doubts now. You will be cordially welcomed
by a band of as good fellows as can be met with in London, and you may
look upon yourself as one of the inner circle."

"I am sorry my anonymity as a writer is destroyed," I said, speaking
with reserve. "It lessens the value of one's work."

"Oh, I don't know," was his reply. "Up to a certain point it is all
very well, but when a man has won his spurs everybody is ready to
shake hands with him. What have you to be ashamed of, and why
shouldn't you reap your reward? You wrote those things devilishly
well; I was amazed at some of your word pictures. You must have had
rare opportunities of studying the subject. 'That man is a
vivisectionist,' said a very good judge."

It would have been better for me had I made a clean breast of it there
and then, had I confided to him the awful sorrow which lay like a
poisonous worm in my heart. But I let the opportunity slip.

He remained with me a couple of hours, and urged me to contribute a
second series of articles on the same subject.

"You have drawn your illustrations for the first series from the
poor," he said; "draw those for your second series from the rich."

"You forget," I rejoined, "that the skeletons of the rich are kept in
iron closets with patent locks. The skeletons of the lower classes
stand at open doors."

"Invent your instances," he suggested. "With such a rich store of
material as you have at command, you can't go wrong. That is an ugly
gash you have on your cheek. Cut yourself shaving, I suppose." I
nodded. "Ah, I knew a man who was frightened to take a razor in his
hand for fear he would cut his throat."

Inwardly resolving not to execute the commission, I promised to
consider the matter, and he took his departure. I walked with him to
his office, and then mounted an omnibus and rode a few miles, thinking
of the disclosure that had been made and dreading to see my name in
the papers. But I did not know how to prevent it. We live in an age of
personalism, and very little of the private life of public men can be
hidden from the Paul Prys of journalism. Almost to a certainty it
would come under the notice of Maxwell and my stepmother, who would be
ready to weave mischief out of it. Surely no man ever shrank from fame
as I did. The prospect chilled me to the heart.

It is anticipating events by a few hours to record that on the
following morning I received a letter from the editor informing me
that he was over-worked and was going to Germany for a rest. He had
designed to go earlier, but while there was a doubt of my election he
felt it to be a point of honor not to leave London. He intended now to
enjoy his holiday. I gathered from his letter that he would be absent
a week.

At five o'clock I returned to my chambers, and my heart sank when I
saw a huddled heap of clothes lying in front of my door--a woman in a
drunken sleep.

I had no need to stoop to ascertain who it was. By her side was an
empty brandy bottle, which she must have purchased on the road; the
satchel on the ground was large enough only for the spirit flask I
found in it--empty, as a matter of course.

I carried her into my sitting-room; her drunken stupor was of too
profound a nature for her to make any resistance. It was as much as I
could do to accomplish the task, for Barbara had grown very stout and
unwieldy. Her condition was most disgraceful; I had seen nothing more
degrading and shameful during my recent investigations. Probably to
obtain ease for her feet, which she had complained of lately as being
swollen, she had unlaced her boots, her clothes were torn and untidy,
her hands ungloved, her hair hung loose about her bloated face, her
lips and mouth were unsightly with the stains and dribble of liquor.

It was of the utmost importance that I should get her home without
attracting attention to myself. A large latitude is allowed to men who
occupy chambers, but in this particular house were old established
offices of respectable firms, and there was a special clause in my
lease as to doing anything which might cause annoyance to my
neighbors.

I rang for the housekeeper, and slipping half-a-sovereign into her
hand, begged her to assist me. She did not put any awkward questions
to me, but called up her servant. Between them they repaired as far as
they were able the disorder in my wife's dress and appearance, and,
the offices in the house being closed--it was now past six o'clock--we
managed to half carry, half support her to the street door, and into a
four-wheel cab. Thus, on this occasion at least, was open exposure
averted, but I thought, Where shall I find rest if this fresh form of
persecutions be added to the list? And indeed I had an assurance of it
in a subsequent scene with Barbara, during which she said, "You are
living an infamous life away from your home. I will follow and
disgrace you wherever you go."

A still bitterer blow was to fall upon me, a blow which drove me to
the brink of despair. At the end of a week, the limit of time fixed by
the editor for his holiday, I wrote him, and as no notice was taken of
my letter, I concluded that he had not returned from his tour. My
intention was to reveal my story, to acquaint him with Barbara's
resolve to follow and disgrace me, and to request him to withdraw my
name from candidature for his club. In his absence this course could
not be taken, and I was compelled to await the course of events.

On the day following that on which the committee meeting was held, I
received a letter from my proposer, which overwhelmed me. He informed
me that I had been balloted for by the committee, and had been
unanimously blackballed. He expressed his approval of this result. "I
had the power," he wrote, "to withdraw your name, but having been made
acquainted with the infamies you have practised, I considered it due
to the committee to disclose the matters to them, expressing at the
same time my sincere regret that I should have been so misled as to
place your name on the candidates' book. The unanimous blackball was
given as a warning to careless members to be exceedingly careful as to
the character of the persons they desired to introduce into a club of
gentlemen." He then proceeded with a minute narration of the charges
brought against me, and I learned the names of my accusers. First, my
wife; then her brother Maxwell; then my stepmother and her son Louis;
then Annette; then the servants in our house; then an independent
witness in the person of a gentleman who, with Maxwell and Louis, had
been stationed at the window of the house opposite to that of my
bedroom, and had witnessed the scene between Barbara and me when I was
shaving. This scene, which had been cunningly prepared for my benefit,
was construed into an attack I had made upon my wife with my razor;
her agonized shrieks were appeals for mercy; my rapid drawing down of
the blind was due to my fear that my barbarous behavior might be
witnessed from the opposite house. It was represented that I was a man
who habitually concealed his vices beneath a veil of gentle
melancholy, as of one who was himself oppressed, and that my
systematic cruelty had broken down my wife's health and made her a
confirmed invalid.

There was a still more horrible charge. With a morbid craving for
notoriety I had plied Barbara with brandy, and had made her an object
lesson in the various stages of intoxication, so that my descriptions
might be true to nature. She was my model, a living victim whom I was
deliberately driving to madness.

It appears that Maxwell having learnt through the public journals that
I was the author of the articles on Drink which had attracted general
attention, called upon the editor of the paper in which they were
published, and brought these accusations against me. At first the
editor refused to listen, characterizing the charges as too horrible
for belief and as being utterly inconsistent with the opinion he had
formed of me. Maxwell, however, persisted, and the editor, impressed
by his earnestness, consented to see the witnesses and hear what they
had to say. For the last week a private court of inquiry had been made
behind my back. The editor was convinced. Shocked at the revelations
he advised my wife to apply for redress in the divorce court, but she
said she would rather die than bring that shame upon me; she still
clung to me, still trusted that obedience and affection would win me
to a better comprehension of my duty towards her; and I was warned by
my correspondent to consider my position while there was yet time, and
not to lightly throw away the treasure of a good woman's love. He
required, he concluded, no further contributions from my pen, and
wherever his influence could be exerted it would be to prevail
upon other editors not to accept my writings. His last words
were--"Henceforth we are strangers."

I knew what this letter meant. The fiendish malice of the enemies in
my home had brought upon me social and moral death. I wandered forth
like Cain, accursed of men, and though, unlike him, there was no guilt
upon my soul, the reflection brought me no comfort. My life had come
to wreck. A gulf of black despair lay before me.

Men have been driven mad by physical torture, and under the pressure
of mental agony some have lost their reason. Upon no other grounds can
I account for my conduct after this last crushing blow fell upon me. I
offer no excuses. My wife's theory--put forward in palliation of her
own misconduct--that man is not responsible for his actions, is
entirely opposed to my view. For what I did during that dolorous time
I was and am accountable. I sinned, and have been punished; and little
did I deserve the heavenly consolation administered to me in the
darkest hour of my life.

I did not go home that day or night. Dazed and forlorn, I wandered, an
outcast, through the streets and over the bridges.



                             CHAPTER XV.


It was well on in the afternoon when I entered my house. I had been to
my chambers, and having transacted some business which the change in
my affairs seemed to me to render imperative, I gave up the keys, and
turned my back forever upon the brighter side of my existence. I had
also visited a clergyman and a barrister with whom I had a slight
acquaintance; it was waste power, time thrown away, and I must have
paid the visits without the least hope of deriving any good from them.

As I walked towards my home I was overcome with faintness, and I
reeled like a drunken man. Then I recollected that food had not passed
my lips since breakfast yesterday morning. I entered the nearest
restaurant--it happened to be a public-house--and standing at the
counter ate some sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. The barmaid asked
what I would take to drink and for a moment I thought of calling for
brandy, but it was not on that occasion I broke my vow never to touch
spirituous liquor. I drank a glass of lemonade, and pursued my
homeward way.

As I entered the house I heard Barbara moaning and gibbering upstairs.
The sounds were familiar to me, and it was with a sickening feeling
that I entered the sitting-room. Maxwell was there and my stepmother.
Maxwell was quite composed; my stepmother looked rather scared at my
sudden entrance and wild appearance. They did not welcome me with
effusion. Maxwell made the remark that they had been wondering what
had become of me, and he inquired why I had not come home last night.
I did not answer him. My stepmother volunteered the information that
poor Barbara was very ill.

"You had better not go up to her," she said. "The sight of you will
make her worse."

Neither did I reply to her. Their presence was so hateful to me that I
left the room unceremoniously. They followed me into the passage, and,
my foot on the stairs, some words of what passed between them reached
my ears.

"Mad, I think," said my stepmother.

"Looks remarkably like it," responded Maxwell, pulling at his
mustache. "Or, let us be charitable, and put it down to drink."

"Supposing," she said, and finished the sentence in a whisper.

I stepped back.

"Supposing you drove me mad between you," I said, "there would be an
end of me, and you and my wife would have control of my property. Is
that it, dear friends?"

They looked at each other, and my stepmother said, boldly: "Decidedly
mad. Not a doubt of it."

"No, dear stepmother," I said, my voice and manner expressing
detestation of her, "not yet mad. Sane as yourselves. You remind me of
an omission which I must repair. I have not made my will; it is a
thing that ought not to be neglected. Not one of you shall profit by
it, I promise you. Pray let me know what you are in my house for."

"We are here to protect my sister from your brutality," said Maxwell,
and it pleased me to see that I had disconcerted them.

"Indeed! From my brutality? Of which you have already given evidence
in your secret court of inquiry. And your sister, too. There was a
time when I fancied there was no great love on either side. You pair
of scheming devils! I will show you that I am master here. Out! the
pair of you! Out of my house!" And I advanced towards them with so
threatening an air that they began to retreat.

"We will see what the law says to this," blustered Maxwell. "We have
witnesses enough."

"False witnesses--false testimony. When you come to consider the
matter it may not suit your purpose to appeal to the law. Establish
that my wife lives in fear of me, and that I am systematically cruel
to her, and you will succeed in obtaining a judicial separation. I
shall not thwart you, for it is what I pray for. The Courts award her
maintenance, the income of a third of what I am worth. Then I am free,
and you and she can trouble me no more. Free! Can you understand what
that means to me? Fools! I have offered her more than a third, and she
has refused. Why, if I gave her cause for a complete divorce she would
not avail herself of it. She is too good a wife, too pure, too mindful
of her wifely duties to desert the husband she loves so well."

Had it not been that I was apprehensive of falling into deeper public
disgrace I should not have spoken so openly, for it was speaking
against my own interests; but, indeed, I might have spared myself this
small duplicity, for nothing was farther from their wishes than to
sever the bonds which bound me to Barbara. While those held firm they
had, through her, some power over my purse; loosen them, and the power
was gone. It was only through my enforced bondage that they could hope
to gain.

"When you were a child," said my stepmother, white to the lips, "I
foresaw what you would grow into."

"You did your best for me," I retorted. "You made my home a
paradise--not much worse than this home is to me--you showed me daily
how you loved me. I remember well your tender care of me. Truly there
are men and women who are baser than beasts."

"If I were a man I would thrash you," she hissed.

"Ask your son Louis, my loving half-brother, to do it for you. Ask
that reptile by your side to undertake the task. Cunning and malice
have had their day. Let us try brute force."

I laughed in their faces. In this encounter we were more like animals
snarling at one another than human beings. Meanwhile Barbara continued
her moaning and gibbering upstairs.

"That is my work, is it not?" I went on. "It is I who have made her
what she is, a living shame to decency. Before our marriage she never
touched strong drink--is that the way it goes? She was an innocent,
simple child of nature, and it is I who have debased and contaminated
her. That is what you have made my friends believe. If it is any
satisfaction to you, hear from my lips that your cowardly plot has
succeeded, and that the honorable career I had mapped out for myself
is at an end. Has my wife told you that on the first night of our
marriage she locked herself in her room in Paris and drank herself
into such a filthy state of intoxication that we were turned out of
our hotel? But doubtless she kept this delectable piece of information
to herself."

"Another of your abominable inventions," cried my stepmother, "as true
as all the rest."

"Exactly. As true as all the rest. Women such as she, and you, should
be whipped daily for the public good."

"Oh!" cried my stepmother, digging her nails into her palms. If she
could have killed me with a look she would have done it--and with
shame I admit that I should have deserved a greater punishment than
that for expressing myself as I did. But I was stung to utter
recklessness, to utter forgetfulness of what was due to one's own
sense of self-respect.

"Come, come, John," said Maxwell, trying another tack, "you are
over-excited. You will be sorry for this to-morrow."

"I am sorry for it to-day. It was not to be expected when I courted
your sister that you should warn me of the pit into which I was
falling--you were too anxious to be rid of her. I see now, but did not
see then, the meaning of your covert sneers when you spoke of our
married life. By the way, from time to time you borrowed money of me
in those days. Are you prepared to repay it?"

"What I owe you," he replied, with a dark look, "I will repay--with
interest. As for money, I never had one farthing from you." He turned
to my stepmother. "He is good at invention, this John of ours."

"He is good at anything low and vile," she said. "Mark my words--one
of these days he will commit murder."

"You nurse your hatred well," I responded. "And now, quit my house."

They retreated before me, and I drove them, as though they were
cattle, to the street door.

"John," said Maxwell, with a sudden show of amiability, "this is all
nonsense, you know. Let us be friends."

He held out his hand, and the impulse was upon me to strike it down,
but I merely gave him a contemptuous look, and threw open the street
door. As they stood on the threshold Louis came up, and I think for a
moment that Maxwell, with this reinforcement, had an idea of forcing
his way in again.

"Do you see what he is doing?" cried my stepmother to her son. "The
low wretch is turning us out of the house."

"What else can you expect?" asked Louis, the scar on his forehead
becoming blood-red in my frowning glance.

"We shall come back," said Maxwell, and I slammed the door in his
face.

My conduct was brutal; I admit it. It would have been manlier had I
behaved with dignity, but during that evil time all my impulses were
evil. There is an element of savagery in every human being, and it
leaped forth and mastered me, and robbed sorrow of its crown. It led
me into further excesses, and had not an angel appeared and rescued
me, I might have deserved all the obloquy that had been thrown upon
me, and have become utterly, irretrievably lost.

It was evening, and I lingered in the passage outside Barbara's door,
which was locked against me. Then I called aloud:

"Annette, are you there?"

At first no answer; then, the question repeated, the reply:

"Yes, monsieur."

"Open the door."

"But, monsieur, it is madame's orders," she began, but I did not allow
her to finish.

"Open the door."

"I dare not disobey madame."

"Open the door."

This time she did not answer. I put my shoulder to the door, and
exerted all my strength. It is not a thing to boast of that I am a man
of great muscular power, and that on this occasion I exulted in it.
The evil spirit within me urged me on. As I strained my muscles there
was silence in the room; for a little while Barbara's voice was not
heard. The door creaked, yielded, then burst open with a crash.

Annette stood upright, her cold, gray eyes fixed upon me. She was a
woman of indomitable firmness, and in my knowledge of her she never
showed the least trace of fear. My wife cowered on the floor, clad
only in her nightdress, and in a more disgraceful condition than when
I found her lying at the door of my chambers in the Strand. Her body
was trembling and convulsed, her features twitched, there was a
nameless terror in her eyes. The atmosphere of the apartment reeked
with the fumes of liquor.

"You are a faithful servant," I said to Annette, "to encourage your
mistress in these disgusting orgies. You have a human excuse, I
suppose. It pays you."

"I am paid with ingratitude," she answered, composedly. "To keep
this"--pointing to my wife--"from the other servants in the house--is
not that faithful service?"

"And to give false evidence against your master," I retorted, "that
also is faithful service, is it not? I know you for what you are,
Annette--a panderer to vice and infamy."

"That is defamation, monsieur, I can make you pay for it."

"Do so. It will rid me of you. I am willing to pay the price."

This bickering was stopped by a piercing scream from Barbara.

"See there--see there!" the wretched creature shrieked. "Those devils
are creeping in again! Keep them off--keep them off! Save me--save
me!"

She bit, she snarled, she tore at the phantoms.

I cannot describe the scene. My pen halts, my fingers refuse to trace
the words. I remember helping Annette to lift my wife to the bed; I
remember noting with morbid curiosity the singular phase in her
delirium that she clung to Annette for protection while she clawed at
me; I remember her falling from the bed, and creeping under it to hide
herself from the imaginary terrors which afflict the dipsomaniac; I
recall her delirious entreaties for more brandy, her shrieks for
mercy, her ribald utterances when, for a brief space, these terrors
ceased, her shuddering paroxysms, her tears, her hysterical sobs. Good
God! Can we call such beings human? Should there not be a law to put
them under restraint, to treat them as we treat the mad, to free the
innocent partners of their unspeakable degradation from the horrible
curse which weighs like a blight upon despairing hearts?

So the night passed, and I paced the passages, the rooms, the stairs,
in a frame of mind the memory of which even now, after a lapse of
years, sends a shudder through me. For the time being I lost faith in
human goodness. Purity and sweetness were delusions--they had no
existence. Charity, virtue, kindliness, our holiest sentiments, the
spiritual instinct which lifts our thoughts above sordid cares and
rewards, all were mockeries, and he who believed in them was a fool.
Nothing was real but corruption. Beneath the lying mask on the world's
face lurked treachery and foul desire, and over this mass of impurity
reigned the Spirit of Evil.


At the end of the succeeding week I broke the vow I had made never to
touch spirituous liquor. To my shame be it recorded.

I had eaten scarcely anything the previous two days, and was suffering
from terrible depression. It was while I was in this state, pacing the
dining-room, up and down, up and down, with nerves so sensitively
attuned that any sudden noise made me start, that my eyes fell upon a
bottle of brandy which had just been uncorked, and inadvertently left
upon the sideboard. It fascinated me. I turned from it, was drawn to
it again, and for several minutes gazed fixedly at it. Here was rest,
here was forgetfulness, here was at least a transient relief. An
enticing devil lurked in that bottle, inviting me, tempting me, luring
me on. I laid my hand upon it.

My conscience smote me, but my moral strength was sapped. Character,
reputation, happiness, all were lost. Let the last remnants of
self-respect go with them. In all the wide world there was not one man
or woman who cared what became of me, not one human being who
entertained for me a spark of affection. Whether I died the death of a
dog or a martyr would not affect the judgment which had been passed
upon me. My epitaph was already written, and nothing could alter it.
The fiend Insomnia held me in his grip. During the past week I had not
had two consecutive hours' sleep. To save myself from going mad I must
have a few hours' oblivion from the misery which encompassed me.

I poured the liquor into a tumbler, and drank it neat. It burnt my
throat, but almost immediately I was conscious of a riotous revulsion
of spirits. Again and again I drank, forcing the liquor down my throat
till the bottle was empty, when I must have fallen to the ground in a
drunken stupor. I recall that it was broad daylight when I yielded to
the temptation, and put the final touch to my sorrows by this act of
self-degradation.



                             CHAPTER XVI.


When I awoke all was dark. My throat was parched, there was a horrible
racking pain in my head, a nauseating faintness at my heart. But worse
than this was the torment of remorse which weighed me down. I had
placed myself on a level with my curse, had proved myself worthy of
it. There was no excuse for the shameful excess in which I had
indulged. A hypocrite, self-convicted, I had become a willing slave to
the vice I had condemned, and I could now take rank with the abandoned
creatures from whom I had shrank in horror.

With difficulty I rose from the floor, upsetting furniture in the
effort, and felt my way to my bedroom, where I plunged my head into a
basin of cold water, keeping it there for some time, and sucking in
the water like a dog. As I stood dripping, in the darkness, I heard a
kind of sing-song proceeding from Barbara's room. Stealing into the
passage, I listened to the drivel. "Beast John is drunk--dead, dead
drunk! He preaches, preaches, preaches--Oh, the good man! Maxwell
knows, his mother knows, Louis knows. Ha, ha, ha! How funny! Beast
John is drunk--dead, dead drunk! Now let him preach--now let him write
to the papers." There was no method in her singing, no rythmical
arrangement of the insane song. The words dropped from her lips in
disjointed fashion, and there was a taunting exultation in her
utterance of them.

A frightful temptation assailed me--to kill her and myself, and be
done with the world. "What matter?" I muttered. "There is no God! If
there were He would not permit such women to live." Even at this
distance of time--yes, even though I know that my days are numbered--I
am thankful that some mysterious force within me leaped up to fight
the demon that would have damned my soul. I was conscious of the
inward conflict, the conflict of the two spirits, the good and the
evil, which are said to be forever warring for supremacy in a man's
heart. I hope I may say now (though I did not believe so then) that my
suffering had not crushed all the good out of me, and that there was
still some vitality in the better impulses of my being. I did not
openly recant the impious words I had muttered; my mood was too sullen
for that. I was ready for sin, but not for crime. My life was mine,
and I could do with it as I pleased, but it was not within my right to
dispose of the life of another mortal. Brooding upon this I fled from
the house as from a pestilence.

Intent upon self-destruction, I bent my steps riverwards. It was a
wretched night. Rain was falling heavily, and there was no light in
the sky. The spirit of black death brooded over the city. It was as if
nature favored my sinful purpose--or so I chose to interpret the
signs.

There were but few persons about; I took no notice of them, nor they
of me. Small incidents became unduly magnified. I had walked some
three or four miles, and was in the immediate vicinity of Westminster
Abbey when the cathedral clock began to strike. I paused and listened
with extreme attention, standing quite motionless and counting the
strokes till the hour was fully announced. It appeared to me a
singular and unusual thing that it should be three o'clock; singular,
also, that the rain should have ceased, and that a fog was creeping
over the streets.

It was only when I was again in motion that the significance of time,
in relation to the purpose I had in view, impressed me. "Three
o'clock," I thought. "At four I shall be dead." Crossing the road at
the top of Parliament Street a man, passing hastily, stumbled against
me. In a spirit of fury I grappled and threw him to the ground--and
stood over him, ready to stamp on him if he showed resistance. All my
senses were alert for evil. The man did not stir, and I passed on. But
I had not proceeded far before I stopped to consider whether I had
killed him. I groped my way back to the spot upon which I had left
him. The man was gone. I was neither glad nor sorry.

A woman--one of the misery's children--accosted me; appealed to me,
for the love of God, to give her a penny for a cup of coffee. The
coffee stall, which I had not seen, was within a dozen yards of us;
its lights shone dim through the fog, and shadowy, ghost-like forms
hung about it. I gave the woman a shilling, and continued on my way. I
was now on Westminster Bridge. The fog was thickening. I could
scarcely see the water. The dull reflection of the lamps on the
Embankment added to the general despondency of the scene. I was
enwrapped in gloom and silence. I walked to the end of the bridge, and
stood on the steps leading down to the river.

Upon what a slight foundation rests a man's fate! A chance turning
this way or that, a moment's hesitation, may make or mar, may lead to
destruction or salvation. I heard the muffled tread of a policeman,
and fearing that I had been seen, and my purpose discovered, I did not
descend the steps, but crossing the road, walked slowly towards
Kennington, intending presently to return and carry out my sinful
design. The probability is that I had not been seen, and should not
have been interrupted, for the policeman did not follow me, and the
echo of his footsteps gradually died away. When I was assured of this
I should have turned again towards the river had not a simple incident
changed the whole current of my life. The sound of a woman's
suppressed sobs fell upon my ear.



                            CHAPTER XVII.


She was standing at the door of a chemist's shop, endeavoring to
arouse the proprietor by repeated pulling of the night bell, pausing
between each summons, and vainly endeavoring to choke back her tears.
I could not see her face, but so keen and poignant was her grief that
I should have been less than human had I passed by without a word. The
note of suffering in her voice touched a sympathetic chord in my
heart, and awoke the dormant sense of good within me.

"What are you crying for?" I inquired, stepping to her side.

My question seemed to terrify her, and she made a movement as if about
to fly. But the duty upon which she was bent gave her courage.

"Don't speak to me!" she implored. "For heaven's sake, leave me!"

I knew what she intended to convey by this appeal. She mistook me for
one of the human ghouls who prowl the streets in the belief that every
woman is frail.

"I will not harm you," I said, and I repeated my question. "What are
you crying for?"

My sad voice reassured her--so she subsequently informed me--and after
a pause she answered timidly. "I have been trying for a quarter of an
hour to make the chemist hear, but he will not come down. It is life
or death, and he will not come down!"

"Your life or death?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "not mine; my mother's--my dear mother's!"

"Let me see what I can do," I said, and I pulled the bell, and
listened, with my ear close to the door.

There was no response, and I pulled again, and failed to hear the
ring. I discovered then that the night bell was broken. There was
another bell on the other side of the door, and this I pulled
vigorously, and beat on the door with my fist.

"What is the matter with your mother?"

"She is very ill--she has been ill for months. Are you a doctor, sir?"

"No. What does the doctor who is attending her say?"

"We have none, sir."

"But why? Surely in a matter of life or death one is necessary." I
continued to ring and beat on the door.

"I know, I know," she murmured. "Oh, will he 'never come?"

I gathered from this mournful reply that they were poor and could not
afford a doctor, which was presently confirmed. My vigorous summons
was successful in arousing the chemist, who, with a sleepy and
unwilling air, opened the door and admitted us. Now, by the light in
the shop, I saw that the woman was young, hardly yet out of her teens,
and though grief was stamped too plainly upon her countenance, that
she was fair and prepossessing. So modest and gentle was she that I
was filled with pity for her. Her eyes were dim with tears, her hair
had become loosened and hung in lovely disorder upon her white neck,
her features bore traces of exhausting vigil. With a trembling hand
she held out a prescription, saying in a wistful tone:

"I am sorry to disturb you, but my mother is much worse to-night. I
will pay you to-morrow--I have some work to take back."

He grumbled a little and hesitated, and I, stepping back so that the
young woman could not see my action, nodded to him and held up my
purse. Understanding from this that I intended to pay him he made up
the medicine and gave her the bottle, with which, after expressing her
gratitude, she was about to depart, when I said to her:

"Will you wait for me a moment at the door? You may trust me."

The sincerity I felt must have made itself manifest in my voice, for
she bent her head slightly, and waited for me outside.

"What is the matter with her mother?" I asked.

"I cannot say," replied the chemist. "She has been ill a long time and
ought to have a doctor. This is an old prescription; I have made it up
several times."

"Am I right in supposing that they cannot afford 'a doctor?"

"That is evident. They are very poor. They owe me for three bottles
already."

"She appears to be respectable," I said, as I paid him what was due.

"No doubt of it. She works day and night, and I should say it is as
much as she can do to keep body and soul together."

At my request he wrote the address of a doctor in the neighborhood,
and instructed me how to find him. Then I joined the young woman.

"You must accept my escort," I said. "It is hardly safe for you to be
out on such a night. I am sincerely sorry for your trouble. I may be
able to lighten it."

She trembled so violently that I feared she would fall, but she did
not accept my arm. We walked side by side, in silence, till we reached
one of the poorest houses in one of the poorest streets. There she
stopped, and wished me good night, and thanked me for my services.

"I am going to fetch a doctor to your mother," I said. "How shall we
obtain admittance?"

"I am afraid I must refuse, sir," she said. "We are not in a position
to pay him."

"Leave that to me," I replied. "When one dear to you is in peril you
cannot refuse to accept assistance even from a stranger. I can
sympathize with honest pride, but surely this would be carrying it too
far. Your mother needs a doctor. She shall see one." I looked up at
the windows, and in one at the top of the house I could faintly
distinguish a glimmer of light. "Is that your room?"

"Yes, sir."

"Shall I knock or ring when I come back with the doctor?"

"If you will give a gentle knock, so as not to disturb the other
lodgers, I will come down." Then, after a momentary pause, "I did not
believe there was such goodness in the world."

"You overrate my services. If you knew what you have saved me
from----" I did not finish, but asked her to give me the name of the
street and the number of the house, which she did. "And your name?"

"Cameron, sir."

"Thank you. The trust you repose in me shall not be abused."

I waited till she had let herself in with a latch-key, and then I
departed on my errand.

By this time the fog was so thick that I doubt whether I should have
found the street to which I had been directed had it not been for the
assistance of a policeman, who accompanied me to the doctor's house.
The doctor himself answered my summons, an elderly gentleman, with a
careworn, benignant face, who, when he learned what was required of
him, said he would come with me at once. We conversed on the way, and
he informed me that he had some knowledge of the Camerons, who had
called him two or three months ago to prescribe for the mother. They
were respectable people, he told me, who had, like numbers of others
in the locality, a hard fight to keep the wolf from the door. They
belonged to the class who slaved and suffered patiently and silently;
everybody spoke well of them, and the daughter was specially modest
and gentle in her manners. Except that they appeared to be superior in
point of conduct and education, to their neighbors, he knew nothing
more of them. He was surprised, the mother being so ill, that the
daughter had not come to him; but yet, on second thoughts, he was not
surprised, their peculiar delicacy in money matters stopping the way.
It was often so with the poor, who were hyper-sensitive in their
pride.

I then explained what it was I wished him to do--to attend to the sick
woman regularly, and to prescribe what was necessary in the shape of
food and medicine. He was to relieve their minds in respect of his
fees, which, with all other expenses, I would pay. In token of my
sincerity and ability to carry out my desire I begged him to accept a
couple of sovereigns in advance, to which he very willingly consented.

"My patients are not quite regular in their payments," he said in a
gentle tone, "and it is not in my nature to press them. So far as
gratitude goes, I am richly repaid. You are, perhaps, a relative of
the Camerons."

"I am not in any way related to them," I replied.

"A friend of long standing, then."

"I have never seen the mother, and scarcely an hour ago I saw Miss
Cameron for the first time--by chance," I added.

"A singular hour," he observed, "and a strange night for a chance
meeting."

"Yes--but so it happened." And I related how it came about, saying
nothing of myself or of the circumstances which caused me to be
perambulating the streets at such a time.

He was silent for a little while, and I fancied I heard him sigh. Then
he said, "You are a gentleman."

"I hope I may lay claim to the title."

"In station, by which I mean worldly circumstances, far above the
Camerons--at least, so I judge."

"Well?"

"They are poor and lowly. Miss Cameron is young, and not
unattractive."

"I understand you. My motives are open to suspicion."

"Is it not natural?"

"Quite, and I do not blame you for doubting me, but you must not do
Miss Cameron an injustice. She is absolutely blameless. I have related
the simple truth, and were you acquainted with my story--which I do
not consider myself free to disclose--your doubts would vanish. Can
you not credit me with a sincere desire to serve two poor and
deserving persons without harboring a base thought towards them?"

As my sad voice had won Miss Cameron's confidence, so it now won the
confidence of the good doctor.

"It is a censorious world," he said, "and I spoke out of its mouth.
Forgive me."

Miss Cameron must have been keeping watch for us, for my soft tap on
the street door was almost immediately answered. Standing in the
passage, her hand shading the candle from the night air, she seemed to
hesitate whether to invite me in, and I, divining--which was the
case--that she and her mother occupied but one room, resolved the
difficulty by saying, "I will see you bye and bye, doctor," and
pulling the street door to.

Left alone in the dark street, I fell to musing upon the events of the
last twenty-four hours. I could scarcely see a dozen yards before me,
and even at that distance a moving form would have presented the
semblance of a shadow created by the spreading fog; not a sound but
that of my own footsteps disturbed the stillness of the dreary scene.
And yet, dismal as were my surroundings, I was conscious that my
spirits had assumed a more healthy tone. I was devoutly grateful for
the change that had come over me, and I did not stop to consider
whether it was due to chance or to a merciful interposition of
Providence at the most critical period in my life. A heavy weight was
lifted from my heart. I had been saved by a woman's face, a woman's
voice; she had set free the sealed springs of sympathy and pity--I
once was more human.

Do not misunderstand me. The brief interview with Miss Cameron,
the few words we had exchanged, had not inspired me with love for
her--that was in the future, and to be reared upon a more reasonable
foundation; but it had revealed to me that there was still some worthy
work for me to do, that having sinned through self-indulgence in a
vice I abhorred, and having contemplated a deed the thought of which
now sent a shudder through me, I might work out my redemption by
simple acts of kindness to beings even more forlorn than myself.

No, it was not love I felt, but deep gratitude that an example of
self-sacrifice and devotion should have crushed forever out of me the
impious doubt of the existence of a beneficent Creator. It was to this
I owed my salvation, and as I paced the foggy street I thought of the
daughter toiling for her sick mother. I saw her patient face of
suffering, heard her wistful voice saying: "I will pay you to-morrow;
I have some work to take back." Ah, what a story is here revealed! I
dwelt upon the modesty which caused her to shrink from the
compassionate advances of a stranger, and with tears in my eyes dwelt
also upon the child-like confidence she had reposed in me. She
became to me an incarnation of purity. There were good women in the
world--thank God for that. Through her spirit my faith in human
goodness was restored, and I saw my life in a clearer light, unstained
and unclouded by vice and degradation. Peace, if not happiness, might
yet be mine.

To one course I pledged myself, and vowed that nothing should turn me
from it. I would never live with my wife again; her revolting
duplicities, her shameful debasement, should no longer torture me. I
would be done with her, so far as personal association went, and with
those other relatives who had systematically persecuted me and
maligned me. The infamous law--wickedly and falsely called the law of
God--which bound me to a living curse, to a moral pest, could not
compel me to inhabit the house in which she indulged in her
depravities. Of so much of my fortune as was left she should have a
share, and should receive it through an agent. One visit only would I
pay to what was in mockery called my home, and that for the purpose of
removing my private papers. Then would I shake the dust of that
earthly hell from my feet, and turn my back upon it forever.

To this end I must efface myself, and must be known henceforth by
another name than Fordham. That was easy, and I was stung by no
reproach as to justification. If ever a man was justified in
practising such a deceit it was I.

My musings were interrupted by the unclosing of the street door. The
doctor was there, and Miss Cameron; he was bidding her take some
repose.

"We must not have you break down," he said. "Ah, here is our friend.
The fog has not swallowed him up."

"How can I thank you?" she said to me, holding out her hand. It
trembled as it lay for a moment in mine, and her eyes shone with
tears.

"By following the doctor's advice," I replied, "and by allowing me to
call when I have had some rest myself. Your mother is no worse, I
hope?"

The doctor--one of those sensible practitioners who help their
patients to get well by bright words--answered for her.

"No, not worse, not at all, not at all. With heaven's help we'll set
her up again. There, there, my dear, don't cry; and what are you
about, stopping here in the cold? Go and lie down. I will send the
medicine at nine o'clock."

As we walked away together he said: "It would be cruel to tell her the
truth."

"Then there is no hope?" I said.

It seemed to me as if in those few words he had pronounced a sentence
of death, and as if I were about to sustain a personal loss.

"Oh, yes, there is hope," he replied; "but for poor people the gates
are closed."

I begged him to explain, and he did so. Mrs. Cameron was suffering not
only from debility, brought on by want of nourishing food, but from a
chest and throat complaint which would certainly result fatally if she
remained in London. The pestilential air, the poisonous fog--they
spelt death. She could not possibly live through the coming winter.
She needed a purer air, wine, and better food, and these were out of
her reach. By slaving day and night at her needle the mother and
daughter earned eight or nine shillings a week. They had no rich
friends. What could they do?

"It is a question of money?" I said.

"Yes, it is a question of money, though even then I do not say she
will recover. The privations she has endured have made terrible
inroads upon her constitution."

"But there would be a chance of recovery."

"Undoubtedly a chance of recovery. In fact, the only chance. It is
painful to witness such cases, to stand by a bedside and see a life
passing away which money would probably save; but there is no help for
it. The poor girl will suffer terribly. I have seldom witnessed such
love, such devotion. It is surprising how she keeps up."

"There is help for it, doctor," I said, "and I should like to see you
to-morrow to speak about it."

"I am home for consultations till twelve. May I ask your name?"

"Fletcher," I replied.

Thus was the first stone in my self-banishment laid.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.


I passed the next few hours in a common lodging-house, and laid down
on a bed without undressing. I dozed, but did not sleep, my mind being
occupied in formulating a plan with regard to the Camerons. I rose at
nine o'clock, washed, and had breakfast, and then went in search of
apartments in a respectable house. I had little difficulty in finding
what I required--three furnished rooms in a street inhabited by a
decent class of people. The landlady murmured something about a
reference, but I satisfied her with a month's payment in advance. The
rent was moderate, and I arranged for breakfast, and the occasional
cooking of a dinner if I desired. I gave, of course, the same name,
Fletcher, retaining my Christian name. So I began my new life as John
Fletcher.

At twelve o'clock I presented myself to the worthy doctor, and
unfolded my plan. It was nothing less than the removal of Mrs. and
Miss Cameron to Swanage, the climate of which place the doctor said
would suit the invalid. I proposed that I should go down to Swanage to
arrange where they were to stay, and that they should get out of
London before the end of the week.

"All this will cost a great deal of money," said the doctor.

"Not so very much. They can live--perhaps in a farmhouse--for two or
three pounds a week. I can afford it."

"Do you know what it means to them? They will look upon it as a fairy
tale, and will be afraid of waking up and finding it a dream."

"As you see, it is no dream, and it is nonsense to talk of fairy
tales. It is plain common sense. They will need warm clothing. Give
them this--it will come better from you. I daresay there will be
sufficient left to pay their fares down."

"Do you intend to accompany them."

"No, I shall remain in London; but there must necessarily be some
correspondence between us."

"And still--pray don't be angry--I am puzzled and curious as to your
motive."

"Let me put it to you in this way, doctor. You see now and then in the
papers an acknowledgment from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a
parcel of bank notes from X. Y. Z., for unpaid income tax. It is
called conscience money. The difference is that I have wronged neither
man nor woman, yet what I am doing is an affair of the conscience.
Will not this content you."

"It must." Then after a pause, "You have seen trouble?"

"Few men have had harder trials, bitterer disappointments."

"I regret to hear it. And now, who is to acquaint the Camerons with
your scheme?"

"You."

"I decline. I will give them the money you have entrusted with me, and
I will make Miss Cameron understand that it is imperatively necessary
that her mother be removed without delay. The rest is in your hands."

"Very well--though I should prefer it otherwise."

"I am going now to see my patient, and I will prepare them for this
change in their fortunes. You will probably see Miss Cameron in the
course of the afternoon."

"Kindly tell her I will call at two o'clock. I shall leave for Swanage
by the five o'clock train."

I make but brief reference to my interview with Miss Cameron. She was
profoundly grateful for the services I was rendering them, but seemed,
indeed, as the doctor had said, to fear that it was a dream from which
she would presently awake, though the small sum of money I had sent
her by the doctor's hands should have convinced her. I did not see her
mother, our interview taking place in a lower room in the house, which
the landlady placed at her disposal. It was difficult for her to
understand why a stranger should step forward to befriend her, and my
lame attempts at an explanation did not assist her to a better
understanding of the matter.

Seeing her now in the daylight the impression I had formed of her was
confirmed. Her features, without being handsome, were full of
sensibility, and there was a pleasing refinement in her language and
manners. What most attracted me in her were her eyes. Truth and
resignation, and the strength which springs from a reliance upon the
goodness of God, dwelt in their clear depths, and now, illumined by
hope, they instilled in me a faith in her which from that hour has not
been shaken. The faith she had in me touched me deeply. In contrast
with the women it had been my ill-fortune to mix with she was an angel
from heaven.

"You will hear from me in a day or two," I said. "Will your mother be
strong enough to travel then?"

"The doctor says she will," she answered.

"Have you money enough to provide what is necessary for your journey?"

"More than enough," she said, bursting into tears.

I had to tear myself away.

The journey down to Swanage was one of the happiest I had ever taken;
I had an object in life, and there was seldom absent from my thoughts
the light of hope that shone in Miss Cameron's eyes. Suitable
accommodation for her and her mother was easily obtained in a
farmhouse near to the sea. The terms were exceedingly moderate, and in
a letter to Miss Cameron, I bade her get ready, and requested her to
meet me at the doctor's house on the following day. Then, for the
first time, I signed myself, "John Fletcher."

At the appointed hour I met Miss Cameron, and giving her written
particulars of the place I had taken for her, and instructions as to
trains, I bade her good-bye and God-speed. I had debated whether I
should accompany them to the railway station, and had decided not to
do so. They were accustomed to look after themselves, and my presence
would embarrass them, and add to their sense of obligation.

"Write to me as soon as you are settled," I said, "and let me know
whether you are comfortable. If you are not, we will soon find another
place for you. And mind, you are going down for your mother's health,
and you are not to worry. Leave everything to me."

I pressed an envelope into her hand, and to cut short her thanks,
hastily took my departure.

I had now plenty to occupy me. My first visit was to a solicitor, to
entrust him with the execution of the plan I had laid down with
respect to my wife--before doing which I had devoted some time to a
careful survey of my pecuniary position. There had been much waste and
extravagance on Barbara's part, and my little fortune had dwindled. I
decided to allow her £300 a year, quite sufficient for her to live
upon in comfort. That I should have to encroach upon my capital for
the payment of this sum and for my own expenses did not cause me
anxiety. I did not go beyond the next few years in my calculations;
meanwhile I might be able to earn money. Whatever was my income,
Barbara should have an equal share of it; she could not reasonably ask
for more, having only herself to support. If a court of law were
called upon to decide the matter she would probably have less. Upon
£300 a year the house in Kensington could not be kept up, and I
determined that it should be sold. All household debts contracted to
date were to be discharged, and so much of the furniture as Barbara
would not need in her new quarters was to be disposed of by auction.
The solicitor undertook the management of this troublesome business,
and I bound him down to absolute secrecy. Upon no consideration
whatever was the slightest clue to my movements, and to the name I had
assumed to be given to inquirers. I left him to prepare the necessary
documents, and proceeded to my house, armed with written discharges of
the servants in my employ. A cab I had engaged stood at the door, and
a porter accompanied me into the house.

All the evil crew were there--Maxwell, my stepmother, Louis and
Barbara. Her bloated face filled me with loathing. She gave me a
sullen look.

"The prodigal son has returned," said Maxwell. "Where's the veal?"

I rang the bell, and the parlor-maid entered the room.

"Send all the servants up," I said to the girl, "and tell that woman,
Annette, I wish to see her."

"What do you want the servants for?" demanded Barbara.

"You will see."

I heard them in the passage, and I opened the door for them, Annette
coming in last.

"You sent for me madame?" she said in her smooth voice, gliding with
catlike motion to Barbara's chair.

"I sent for you," I said.

"At your service, monsieur."

"It is like a scene in a drama," said Maxwell, with an attempt at
jocularity. "Get to the action, John."

I handed the women their written notices of discharge, and gave them
to understand that after the expiration of their month I would be no
longer responsible for their wages.

"Take no notice of him," said Barbara, flushing up. "He is out of his
senses."

With a nod she dismissed them, and they trooped out.

I turned to Annette and held out the discharge. She refused to take
it, and it fluttered to the ground.

"I am in madame's service, monsieur."

"That is her affair and yours. You are not in mine. I discharge you.
Your next month's wages will be paid, after which you will not receive
another shilling from me."

"Upon what grounds am I discharged, monsieur?"

"You are not discharged, Annette," exclaimed Barbara.

"I know, madame. I take it only from you. I asked monsieur a
question."

"Upon the grounds of treachery and unfaithfulness," I said, calmly.

"You hear," she said, appealing to the others. "It is slander. You are
witnesses. It is not the first time--no, it is not the first time."

"Our law courts are open to you," I said. "Try them, and see what an
English judge will say to you."

"Madame is perhaps right," she remarked, with a sly glance at the
decanter of brandy on the table. "Monsieur is not in his senses." Her
voice was as smooth as if she were paying me compliments, and her
manner was entirely unruffled.

At this point Barbara started up in a fit of passion. "You monster!"
she screamed, and would have thrown herself upon me had not Maxwell
held her back.

"Hold hard, Barbara," he said. "Let us see the end of it. Don't spoil
the drama. It is really a very good drama, John."

I went up to my bedroom, and rapidly packing my bag, called to the
porter to take it to the cab. Then I re-entered the parlor.

"One last word," I said to Barbara. "In the presence of your friends I
take my leave of you. This house will be sold soon, and you will have
to reside elsewhere. My solicitor will write to you presently, and
will make you acquainted with the arrangements I have decided upon. It
is my fervent hope that we shall never meet again."

"By God, he is in earnest!" cried Maxwell.

As I left the room I saw Barbara staring at me with parted lips, and
Maxwell, my stepmother, and Louis looking blankly at each other.
Annette was smiling quietly, and playing with her cap strings.



                             CHAPTER XIX.


On the following day I received a letter from Miss Cameron. They were
very comfortable, the place was beautiful, the air delightful, her
mother seemed to be better already. She signed herself Ellen Cameron,
and hereafter I thought of her only as Ellen. It was not such a letter
as an ordinary needlewoman would have written. The writing was that of
a lady, and the wording appropriate and well-chosen. The signs of fair
culture in it were very pleasing to me.

I did not reply to it immediately, thinking it unbecoming to show
haste. In a day or two I wrote, expressing satisfaction at the report,
and bidding her take advantage of every hour of fine weather. Acting
upon the doctor's suggestion, I dispatched a hamper of fruit, wine,
and jelly, and continued to do so at regular intervals. Ellen's thanks
for these gifts were extravagant, and rather humiliated me. If thanks
were due to either of us, it was she who should have been the
recipient.

The task I had entrusted to my solicitor was one of extreme
difficulty, but fortunately for me he was a man of inflexible
resolution and perfect self-possession, qualities which made him more
than a match for Maxwell, who undertook the management of Barbara's
affairs. Every resistance was made to the carrying out of my plans,
and a solicitor of doubtful reputation was employed by Maxwell to
threaten and bluster. My own solicitor made light of this.

"It will do them no good to go to law," he said to me. "The only
satisfaction they would get would be the bringing up of your name
before the public. The fact of their employing a lawyer of such a
character shows that they are aware of the weakness of their case. In
no event would they benefit to a greater extent than you propose."

It was a wearisome and distressing business, and it is needless to say
that I took no pleasure in it. I was animated by no sense of triumph,
and was only upheld by my stern determination not to be turned from my
purpose. Finally, Maxwell adopted other tactics. "The income you offer
my poor sister," he wrote, "is utterly inadequate for her support.
Through your misconduct she is now in such a deplorable state of
health that the utmost care is needed. Make it five hundred pounds a
year, and a public exposure of your brutality will be avoided. Within
a few days of your marriage Barbara discovered that you had a
mistress, and as a man of the world I know that there has been all
through another woman in the case. It will be worth your while to make
it five hundred pounds. I am not at the end of my resources, and if
you refuse to act in a sensible way I will make it warm for you. You
shall not have a moment's peace."

Finally, after the lapse of several weeks, the distressing affair was
brought to a conclusion. The house was sold, and Barbara removed from
it, taking with her the whole of the furniture, to which, for the sake
of peace, I offered no objection. The worry and anxiety had affected
my health. Living alone, with no friend to cheer me, I should have
felt myself a complete outcast from the world had in not been for the
regular correspondence I kept up with Ellen. Her letters were my only
comfort, and I may truly say that they preserved the balance of my
mind. Confident as I was in the justice of my cause it may have been
that, but for the consolation I drew from them, I should have again
given way to despair. The natural reserve which distinguished her
letters when she first began to write to me had melted away, and she
wrote now as to a friend of long standing.

It was at this period that I received a letter from her mother. She
said that her daughter did not know she was communicating with me, and
that her letter was posted by a servant in the farmhouse. There was
something on her mind which she wished to impart to me, and she had
also an earnest desire to see the friend to whom they were so deeply
indebted. If my engagements in London would permit of it she would
esteem it an honor to shake hands with their dearest friend and
confide to him a secret which was oppressing her.

The request came opportunely. The good doctor had spoken of my changed
appearance, and had advised me to go into the country for a rest.

"Would Swanage suit me?" I asked.

"I prescribe Swanage," he replied, smiling.

He knew me only as John Fletcher, and had no suspicion that I was a
married man.



                             CHAPTER XX.


I now approach a period in my life which, in comparison with what I
have already related, shines like a garden in an arid desert--a fair
garden blooming with the flowers of peace and happiness. It is not
easy to say when I began to love Ellen, and she has confessed that she
does not know when she began to love me. Chance, or fate, led us to
each other, and has led us to the end, which is very near. Much of the
past I would undo were it in my power, but, although a miracle would
be needed to free me from the peril in which I stand, I would not undo
that part of it which Ellen and I shared together despite the fact
that it may be said to have created the mystery in which I am
entangled. I have read somewhere how a withered rose may be restored
to freshness and sweetness. So was it with my life in the hour that
Ellen and I first met.

I did not go down to Swanage immediately. With the knowledge that my
enemies were at work, I waited a few days alert and on the watch, and
when I reached the delightful spot it was by devious ways and cunning
breaks in my journey which would have puzzled the smartest human
bloodhound that could have been set to track me. Meanwhile I wrote
both to Ellen and her mother, saying that I intended to visit them
shortly and that no further letters were to be sent to me in London.
That was all the notice I gave them, and when I presented myself it
was at an unexpected moment.

The day was bright and fine, the sea calm and benignant, the air
already fragrant with the promise of spring. I walked towards the
farmhouse as a man newly born to joy might have done. Friends true and
sincere awaited my coming, and those who have read these pages will
understand what that meant to me.

Ellen sprang from the house at my approach. She had seen my form in
the distance, and, as I came nearer, recognized and flew to welcome
me.

"My friend!" she murmured, holding out her two hands.

I dropped my bag and clasped them. "Ellen--I beg your pardon, Miss
Cameron!"

"No. Ellen, if you wish it."

We gazed at each other, she with a blush on her cheeks, but with no
false modesty or reserve, and I in a dream of happiness.

"I have taken you by surprise?"

"The pleasantest of surprises. Every day we have been hoping you would
come; every day we have been looking out for you."

"And your mother--how is she?"

"Better, she says, and brighter--Oh, so much brighter! What do we not
owe you?"

"I beg you never to say that again. You owe me nothing. One day I may
perhaps tell you what I owe you. Your mother is better. That is good
news. And you--but I need scarcely ask."

"I have never been so well."

"More good news. The day is propitious. You saw me coming?"

"Mother and I were sitting by the open window. We are not overrun by
company; that makes it all the more delightful."

"You are fond of the country?"

"I love it. We are closer to what is best in the world. There is my
mother at the window. She thinks it so strange that she has never seen
you."

"Well, she will see me now--and will be disappointed."

"No, no. That is not possible. You are her hero."

"Ah, that makes it all the more certain. We raise an ideal; best never
to see it in flesh and blood. Reality is a disenchanter. Far better to
continue to dream."

As I said this I gazed at Ellen, and there must have been a growing
earnestness in my gaze. I had raised an ideal of her--had it met with
disappointment? I was self-convicted.

"I recant," I added in a tone of satisfaction.

"I am glad," she said, and my heart beat more quickly at the thought
that she understood me.

We were within a dozen yards of the farmhouse.

"Does your mother recognize us?"

"Hardly. She is very short-sighted."

"Let us walk quickly."

Mrs. Cameron rose, her hand at her heart, in a state of agitation. I
observed that she rose with difficulty; before we reached her she sank
into her chair.

"It is Mr. Fletcher, mother."

I prevented her from rising again, perceiving that she was not strong,
and I did not interrupt the little speech in which she gratefully
welcomed me. There was a strong likeness between her and Ellen; though
worn with suffering, I noticed the same delicately cut features, the
same trustful eyes, in which the spirit of goodness shone. Sitting
there, talking to her, it seemed to me as if I had rejoined a family
knit to me by close ties of sympathy and kinship. Ellen had taken up
her work, and was busy with her needle.

"What is it you are making?" I asked.

"A dress for one of the landlady's children," she replied.

On a chair by Mrs. Cameron's side was another dress of a similar
character.

"We are not good dressmakers," said Mrs. Cameron; "but we manage these
little frocks very well. Our landlady has a large family."

"Are you working for money?" I inquired, gravely.

"Yes."

"But it is against the rules. You did not come here to work."

"We cannot be idle," said Mrs. Cameron. "It is not work; it is
pleasure. When night comes we lay the needle aside. It was not so in
London."

"So I have heard. Still, I repeat, you should not work."

"We should be unhappy without it. We do not tire ourselves. How long
do you intend to stay in Swanage, Mr. Fletcher?"

"Several weeks, I hope. I am here for a holiday, by the doctor's
orders."

Ellen raised her eyes.

"Then you are not well," said Mrs. Cameron, quickly.

"I have had a great deal of anxiety lately. Don't look troubled. It is
over now--happily over."

"Oh, I am glad. Ellen, we must take care of Mr. Fletcher." The young
girl nodded sympathetically. "There is a vacant room in the
farmhouse."

"No, I will find a bedroom elsewhere; but if you will allow me, I will
take my meals with you."

"It will be a great pleasure to us. There is another farmhouse half a
mile away, where you can get a room. Ellen will show you the way.
There is no hurry for a few minutes. We must go into accounts."

"Accounts?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Cameron, and at a sign from her, Ellen brought
forward a small account book. "You have sent us more money than we
need. We can't quite keep ourselves, but we can do something towards
it. You will find the figures correct, I think, though we are not very
clever at arithmetic."

It was useless for me to protest; they had their ideas of what was
just, and seeing that I was giving them pain by objecting, I waived
further objection, and looked through the book. Everything was neatly
set down. I had sent them so much money; they had earned so much;
their weekly account for board and lodging came to so much; and in the
result there was a balance of four or five pounds, which they insisted
belonged to me, and which I was forced to accept. If any proof were
needed to convince me that I had been thrown into the society of
ladies of scrupulous integrity and uprightness, it lay before me in
this little account book; it increased my respect and esteem for them,
and I thanked my good fortune for the association, and inwardly vowed
never to desert them. What the mother had to impart to me was
disclosed within twenty-four hours of my arrival. It was sufficiently
grave, and strengthened my resolve to remain with them.

"My days are numbered, Mr. Fletcher," she said in a tone of much
sweetness and resignation. "Ellen does not know the truth; I have kept
it from her. Dear child, she has had enough to bear. She has nursed me
for years, and does not see the signs which I feel are unmistakable
and irrevocable. When the blow comes, she will suffer terribly; it
would be cruel to destroy the peace we are now enjoying. It is peace,
blessed, blessed peace--peace and rest; and I wait with patience, and
with infinite confidence in the will of the Supreme. I think it will
come soon, and as the dear friend whom God sent to us in our darkest
hour, I wished you to know. Do not think it is an old woman speaking
to you out of her fears. I do not fear death. There is a hereafter,
and I shall see my dear child again when her time comes. I should
welcome the hour when I am summoned were it not for my darling and for
the grief in store for her."

"You are not old," I said in a low tone, "and there is still hope.
Ellen tells me you are only forty-five."

"Yes, I know, I know, but my sands are run, and there is no appeal."

And, indeed, as I looked at her I felt there was none; death was in
her face, which, in her daughter's presence, ordinarily wore a smile.

"There is no hope, Mr. Fletcher; the most skillful medical advice
would not avail me now. What mortal could do for me you have done; you
have prolonged my life, and I am inexpressibly grateful to you. Has
Ellen told you we have no relatives?"

"No."

"We have none. Ellen will be left alone, to battle with the world."

"Not while I have life, Mrs. Cameron." She stretched forth her
trembling hand, and the expression on her face was that of an angel in
the act of blessing.

"Oh, dear friend, dear friend!" she murmured, and the tears ran down
her cheeks. "God sent you to us--truly, truly!"

"It was for this assurance you sent for me."

"I hoped for it--prayed for it--and my prayers are answered. Sorrow is
our heritage, but the world is full of goodness. God never sleeps; His
watchful eye is eternally over us. You are young; never lose sight of
this, never forget it, never lose your faith in Him. Ellen is brave;
she knows no fear, and is prepared to fight the battle; faith and
prayer are her support. There is something I ought to tell you about
her, but I should like you not to mention it to her. Since we have
been here she has had an offer of marriage. A gentleman--no, not
exactly a gentleman in the ordinary sense--a man working for his
living, came to this place in the performance of a duty. He was
unknown to us, but, his duty performed, he came again--twice. He had
seen Ellen, and confessed his love for her. I need not mention his
name, for the affair is over, so far as we are concerned. She refused
him, and he appealed to me, and frankly explained his position to me.
His calling is not a high one, but he satisfied me that he could keep
a wife in fair comfort. Anxious for Ellen's future, I spoke to her,
and she listened patiently; she is never violent or unreasonable. Her
answer to me was the same she had given to him. She would never marry
a man she did not love. For one she loved she would make any
sacrifice, endure any hardship, but where her heart was not engaged
she could entertain no feeling but friendship--and that was not
enough. I did not argue with her; I made no attempt to persuade her.
The sentiments she uttered were my own, the lot she chose was the same
I had chosen for myself. I married a poor man, and though he died
early and my life has been a life of struggle, I never repented, never
thought I had acted unwisely. So Ellen's suitor went away, but I doubt
whether he will ever forget her. There was much that was good in him.
Before he left he said that if it was ever in his power to serve her
she had only to come to him and he would do his best for her. I am
sure he loved her, and I am sure that Ellen, not loving him, did what
was right. This is Ellen's secret, Mr. Fletcher."

"I will respect it," I said. "Unless she mentions it to me herself she
will never know that I am in possession of it."

There was much more than this said during our interview, but I have
given the gist of our conversation, and I left Mrs. Cameron with a sad
feeling that her forebodings would be realized.

As, indeed, they were before the end of the month. She suffered no
pain, but became so feeble that she could not take a step without
support. She did not keep her bed; by the doctor's permission, and at
her own wish, she sat at the window during the day in an easy chair
which I obtained for her. There she could watch the advance of spring
and breathe the balmy air; there she could see Ellen and me, whom she
sent frequently into the open, saying it would do us harm to keep
constantly in doors in such lovely weather. We never went far from
her; the slightest motion of her hand, or her gentle voice calling
"John" or "Ellen," brought us to her side, eager to do what she
required. There was always a smile upon her face, a smile of peace,
and content, and love, and I think her last days on earth were the
happiest she had ever spent. She said as much: "I am quite, quite
happy, dear children; do not grieve for me. In everything before me I
see the goodness of God; I seem to see His face." When she raised her
eyes to the bright clouds it was my firm belief that she beheld a
spiritual vision of His glory, and when she lowered them to earth she
saw a deeper meaning than we in the evidences of His wondrous power.
She drew keen delight from the flowers and birds, from the air which
floated from the sea, from the early budding of the trees. Not a
murmur passed her lips, not a word of complaining. "I shall see all
these things with a clearer eye presently," she said, "and bye and bye
you will see them with me. Bear your trials patiently; do your work in
the world, and let your mind dwell upon His love and goodness." She
relied greatly upon me. It was I who carried her from room to
room--Ellen not being strong enough for the task; it was I who sat by
her side when she insisted upon Ellen taking a little rest during the
day. Ellen needed this, for I knew, without being told, that she
watched by her mother's bedside night after night without closing her
eyes. Every evening I read aloud a chapter from the Bible; not in the
stateliest church was truer devotion felt than in the room in which
she lay dying. Once when we were alone, she said:

"Do you love Ellen?"

"With more than my heart, mother; with my soul."

It was her wish that I should call her "mother." On one occasion it
escaped me inadvertently, and she asked me always to address her so.

"Ellen loves you," she said. "You are a good man. I leave her in your
care."

She spoke constantly of Ellen, and related stories of her childhood,
drawing from love's memory instances of Ellen's sweetness and
unselfish affection.

"We have been very poor," she said, "but we had always one priceless
blessing--love."

As with her towards Ellen, so was it with Ellen towards her mother.
With tears in her eyes, the woman I loved related stories of the
mother's continual sacrifices for her child; how she had nursed her
through sickness, denied herself food for her, even begged for her.
There was no shame in these privations; the recalling of them brought
into play the tenderest feelings; all through, from mother to
daughter, from daughter to mother, it was a song of love, which it did
me good to hear. Unselfishness and self-sacrifice on either side, each
striving to give the other the merit; poverty patiently borne, work
which resembled slavery cheerfully undertaken, the hardest trials
encountered with a brave heart; heroic qualities not properly
recognized by mankind. Search behind the veil--there you will see the
human pulse throbbing to the touch of attributes which it is not
sacrilege to call divine.

I was lifted higher by this intercourse; the dust of self-complaining
fell from me; I felt myself purified. New views of life opened
themselves to me; I saw the poor in a different aspect. If saints are
necessary, seek for them in courts and alleys; you will find the true
ones clothed in rags.

Such were my thoughts then; such are my thoughts to-day.

I turn to the first pages of this Confession, and I recognize the
littleness of spirit in which I wrote. I was forgetful of the lessons
I learned from the lips of pure souls. I am reminded of them, and I
will meet my fate bravely, without repining. The last day arrived.
There was apparently no change in Mrs. Cameron. She sat at the window,
smiling towards us. The birds were singing; the fragrance of flowers
was in the air.

"Mother has fallen asleep," said Ellen.

Presently we want softly into the room, and stood by her side. We had
gathered flowers which Ellen placed in a vase, within reach of the
mother's hand. She liked simple flowers the best, modest stars, with
tender color, which grow by the wayside. I held my breath; the light
of love and pity shone in Ellen's eyes. Gazing intently at the white,
still face, a sudden fear shot through me. I stooped, and placed my
mouth close to hers.

"Mother!" cried Ellen, as I raised my head.

Never again on earth was that sacred word to receive an answer. Ellen
and I were alone.



                             CHAPTER XXI.


Twelve happy months passed by. We were still in Swanage, but had
removed farther inland. It was by Ellen's desire that we remained; she
wished to be near her mother's grave.

We lived in a small cottage, the walls of which were covered with
roses and flowering vines. The few acres of land which belonged to us
were rich in fruit-trees and bushes, which, with our flower and
kitchen gardens, kept us busy pretty well all the day. What
acquaintances we had--they were not many--were drawn from the ranks of
the poor, by whom Ellen was loved as few women are. A quiet, happy
life--if but the past could have been blotted out! I had not concealed
my story from Ellen's knowledge, but before it was told I knew that I
had won her love, and she knew that to live without her would be worse
than death to me. For me she sacrificed herself, and I, in the
selfishness of my heart, accepted the sacrifice only too gladly and
willingly. Questioning my conscience I did not reproach myself, though
sometimes I trembled for Ellen; and she, I am sure, never for one
moment reproached me, and did not tremble for herself. If a cloud was
on my brow she chased it away with tender words. Man's law prevented
me from giving her my name; God's law joined us and made us one. The
beauty of her character awoke all that was good within me; she was to
me like the sun and dew to the opening flower.

I was guilty of one act of duplicity, and I bitterly repented it. I
did not disclose to her my true name, but retained that by which I had
introduced myself to her. She knew me only as John Fletcher.

Twelve happy months, and I had almost taught myself to forget. One
morning Ellen whispered to me a secret which filled me with joy and
fear. Into her heart fear did not enter; it was pulsing with the joy
of motherhood; in a few months we should have a child.

I walked alone to the seashore deep in thought.

My sense of security was disturbed; I had now again to reckon with the
world. A father owes a duty to his child which the world will not
allow him to forget. And the mother!--yes, it was of Ellen I chiefly
thought, and it was to her, presently, that my thoughts were chiefly
directed. For, looking up, I saw within a dozen yards of me a man
whose mocking eyes were following my movements. Though there was a
change in his appearance I knew him immediately, and I caught my
breath in sudden alarm. The man was Maxwell.

The change I had observed was in his circumstances. His shabby clothes
and hat, his boots down at heel, his unshaven face, denoted that he
had not prospered lately. But there was a light in his face as our
eyes met resembling that of one upon whom had unexpectedly fallen a
stroke of good fortune.

"How are you, John?" he said, advancing with outstretched hand. "But
why ask? You look like a cherub--rosy, fat and sleek. I rejoice--and
you, too, eh? What is there so delightful as the renewal of old
affectionate ties, broken through a misconception? Do you see my hand
held out in friendship? Better take it, John. No? You are wrong,
brother-in-law, very wrong. You were always rash, always acting upon
impulse, always fond of romance, always being led away by false
notions of right and wrong. I frequently offered you advice which you
would not take. In effect I was constantly saying to you, 'Be worldly,
my boy; take the world as you find it, and make the best of it, not
the worst.' That is my way, though it has treated me scurvily since we
met. What do I do? Repine? Not a bit of it. 'Luck will turn,' said I
to myself, and here's the proof. Luck has turned."

During this speech, which was very heartily spoken, he walked close to
my side with a hateful affectation of cordiality. As I did not answer
him, he continued:

"Why so silent, my dear John? Are you overcome by your feelings? Ah,
yes, that must be it. Sudden joy confounds a man--makes it difficult
for him to express himself. Now, I am never at a loss for words, but
then I am older than you, more accustomed to ups and downs. I don't
mind confessing to you--with a proper knowledge of your sympathetic
nature--that I have had during the last twelve months any number of
'downs 'and no 'ups' worth mentioning. All my little ventures and
speculations have come to grief. Half-a-dozen times I have been on the
point of making my fortune and have been baulked by want of cash. You
don't play cards, I believe. I do. You don't care for racing. I do.
You don't tempt fortune by crying double or quits. I do. It's in my
blood. I give you my word I should have been as right as a trivet if
it hadn't been that just at the critical moment I found myself cursed
with an empty purse. Devilish hard, wasn't it, when a fellow has a
rich brother-in-law who would have said, 'Here's my purse, old boy; go
in and win.' The mischief of it was that this dear friend had run off
to lotus-land, to revel in the lap of beauty and virtue, the world
forgetting, but not by the world forgot. No, John, not by the world
forgot. We bore the absent one in mind; we talked of his excellencies;
we deplored his absence; we longed for his return to the fold."

He now went to the length of linking his arm with mine; I wrenched
myself free.

"What is it you want of me?" I demanded.

"The oracle speaks," he cried, gaily. "What do I want? What does every
one want?"

"Money?" I asked.

"Intelligence returns," he answered, "and we are getting into smooth
water. Yes, John; money."

"Did you track me here?"

"John, John," he said, reproachfully. "Do I look like a spy? Did you
ever know me to be guilty of a mean action?"

"Answer my question."

"Being in the witness box I use the customary formula. From
information received I was led to suppose that the lost one would be
found on this beautiful shore. I flew hither on the wings of love,
anxious to serve him, to show my interest in his welfare, to promote
his happiness."

"If I refuse to give you money?"

"It will be unwise, John, distinctly unwise, and will carry with it
certain consequences exceedingly disagreeable to--let us say to a lady
of spotless reputation. How pained I should be to set these
consequences in motion! Is it not man's privilege to protect the weak?
But, alas, John! alas! alas! necessity is a slave-driver, and compels
tender hearts to lay on the lash!"

With his old mocking smile upon his face, he went through the pretense
of drying his eyes.

"Speak plainly," I said. "If I disappoint your expectations, what will
you do?"

"I will deal honestly by you, brother-in-law, and speak, as you
desire, quite plainly. What will I do? Let me see. There is no place
on earth, be it ever so remote and secluded, in which character is not
at a premium. There are husbands who have wives, parents who have
daughters. A woman comes to live among them who poses as Madame
Virtue. She is good to the poor--it costs so little, John, to be good
to the poor; the clergyman's wife visits her; she goes to church; she
gives a basin of soup to an old woman. Cheap tricks, brother-in-law.
Madame Virtue leads a happy life; she is respected; people greet her
smilingly and affectionately, and say, 'There's an example for you!'
Suddenly a rumor is set afloat that Madame Virtue is no better than
she should be. Sad, very sad. The rumor is authenticated. A gentleman
comes from the city and verifies the rumor. Madame Virtue has, of
course, a reputed husband, who shares her popularity. The gentleman
says he knows the saintly couple very well indeed, and that they are
simply a pair of impostors. He offers to supply proof, and he does so
upon the invitation of the clergyman and the local gentry. He regrets
the necessity, but what can he do? He owes a duty to society. If there
is one thing, John, I pride myself upon more than another, it is that
I never shrink from the performance of a duty. What is the result in
this instance? The clergyman's wife turns her back upon Madame Virtue,
the local gentry likewise; the poor lose their respect for her, and
talk of her behind her back. In a word, the saint is turned into a
sinner. Judge the effect upon Madame Virtue, you, dear brother-in-law,
who know her so much better than I. Have I put the matter plainly?
There is even more to say which it might not be agreeable to you to
hear. Take a turn or two on these beautiful sands, and think it over.
I can wait."

I did not disguise from myself that for a time at least, I was in this
man's power, and that his malice would carry him even farther than he
had threatened. The effect upon Ellen would be serious. She valued the
respect in which she was held, and drew happiness from the affection
by which she was surrounded. Moreover, she was in a delicate state of
health, and I dreaded the consequences which would follow Maxwell's
malignity. At all risks, at all hazards, I must purchase his silence.

"You are in want of money," I said, "and you come to extort it from
me."

"I am in want of everything," he retorted, "but I am still a
gentleman. If you are not more particular in your language, I will set
my heel upon you and Madame Virtue."

"Name your price," I said.

"Ah, now we are getting sensible. My price? I must consider. For
to-day, fifty pounds--as an installment, John. This day week we will
have another chat, and come to terms."

I knew it was useless to argue or protest; he held me bound and would
show no mercy. I had not so much money about me, and I proposed to
bring it in a couple of days to any address he named.

"No, no," he said. "You can come with me to the private boarding-house
where I have engaged a bed, and can write me a cheque there. A man of
means always carries his cheque-book with him. Unless you prefer to
invite me to dinner at your lovers' nest."

"I will come with you," I said.

On our way he reproached me for not asking after Barbara, and I
replied that I received all the news I wished to hear through my
solicitor. He entertained me, however, with a long account of her,
which I knew to be false, and to which I listened in silence. She was
much better, he said, and was looking forward to the end of our
differences. She had become a convert to the Catholic Church, and was
held in the highest esteem by the priests and nuns; the children in
the schools doated on her; she deprived herself to provide them with
clothes and food; she prayed for me day and night, etcetera, etcetera.
And all the time he regaled me with this tissue of falsehoods he was
laughing at me in his sleeve. The truth about her was that her
excesses had become even more frightful than in my experiences of her;
she had not a sober hour, and was continually turned out of her
lodgings. Maxwell was curious to ascertain how much of the truth I
knew, but I did not satisfy him. At the boarding-house I wrote a
cheque for fifty pounds, and made an appointment to meet him that day
week, when we were to "come to terms."

I said nothing to Ellen of this meeting or of the misery into which I
was plunged. To have made her a sharer in my unhappiness would serve
me no good purpose. On the appointed day Maxwell and I met again, and
then he named a sum so large that I hesitated. It amounted, indeed, to
a third of what remained of my fortune.

"You refuse?" he said.

"I must," I replied. "I will not submit to be beggared by you."

"Sheer nonsense, John. I have made a calculation, and I know, within a
hundred or two, how much you are worth. Cast your eyes over these
figures."

To my surprise I discovered that his calculation was as nearly as
possible correct, and that by some means he was fairly well acquainted
with my pecuniary position.

"It is for you to decide," he said. "I have something to sell which
you are anxious to purchase. You can make either a friend or an enemy
of me, and you know whether it will be worth your while to buy. I
don't deny that I am hard up, and that in a certain sense you
represent my last chance. I am not fool enough to throw it away.
Understand clearly--I intend to make the best of it. You see, John, I
hold the reins, and I can tool you comfortably down a safe and
pleasant road, or I can send you headlong to the devil--and in your
company Madame Virtue. I have learned something since last week. You
are living here under an assumed name, and I have a suspicion that
Madame Virtue is not aware of it. Another trump card in my hand. It
rests with me whether I bring about an introduction between Barbara
and Madame Virtue, and whether I bring your excellent stepmother and
Louis down upon you. There's no escape for you, brother-in-law. Best
make a friend of me, my boy, and keep the game to ourselves."

In the end I consented, with some modification, to his terms, upon his
promise that he would never molest me again; and so we parted.

Months passed and I heard nothing more of him. Gradually I recovered
my peace of mind. We were living modestly within our means; peace had
been cheaply purchased.

Our child was born, a boy. The delight he brought in our home cannot
be described. He was a heavenly link in our love, and bound Ellen and
me closely together. I will not dwell upon that joyful time. This
confession is longer than I conceived it would be, and events of a
more exciting nature claim attention.

One evening upon my return home, after transacting some business in
Bournemouth in connection with my affairs, Ellen, speaking of what had
occurred during my absence, mentioned a gentlemanly beggar who had
solicited alms from her. He had told her a plausible tale of unmerited
misfortune, and of having been brought down in the world by trusting a
friend who had deceived and robbed him. She described the man, and my
heart was like lead; I recognized the villain.

"He was so nice to baby," said Ellen, "and spoke so beautifully of our
home. Poverty is much harder to gentlefolk who have been used to
comfort than it is to poor people. I pitied him from my heart."

"Beggars do not always say what is true," I observed.

She looked at me in surprise. "He could hardly be called a beggar,
John. Did I not do right in relieving him?"

"Quite right, dear," I said, with an inward prayer that I was mistaken
in the man.

"I am quite sure he spoke the truth," she said, and there, as between
us, the matter ended.

Before many hours had passed my fears were confirmed. I kept watch
from the cottage, and saw Maxwell in the distance, coming in our
direction. I went to meet him.

"This is friendly of you, John," he said. "Where shall we talk? In the
society of the charming Madame Virtue and her sweet babe, or alone?"

"Alone," I replied. "I forbid you to present yourself in my house
again."

"A tall word, John, forbid. It depends, my boy, upon you. Keep a civil
tongue in your head, and be amenable to reason, and you shall continue
to tread the path of righteousness and peace. Defy me, and up the
three of you go. A pretty piece of goods, Madame Virtue, mild-tempered
and long suffering, a different kind of character from my adorable
sister. I can imagine a scene between them--Madame Virtue soft,
pleading, reproachful; Barbara hot, flaming, revengeful. But perhaps I
mistake. When a woman discovers that she has been betrayed and
deceived she occasionally turns into a fury. I know something of the
sex."

"You promised not to molest me again."

"Am I molesting you? I come in brotherly love to lay my sorrows at
your feet. John, I am broke."

"That is not my business."

"Pardon me, it is. We are partners in goodness, mutually bound to
spare a charming lady and her sweet babe from a sorrow worse than
death. It is a mission I love; it appeals to my tenderest feelings. I
feel good all over."

"You are a devil!"

"In humility I bow my head. Revile me, John, pour burning coals upon
me; I shall enjoy it all the more. Here I stand prepared for the
martyr's stake."

My blood boiled; I gave him a dangerous look. "You are trying my
patience too far. Drive me to desperation, and I will not answer for
the consequences."

"Drive me to desperation," he said, pausing to light a cigarette, "and
I will hunt her into the gutter. I will make her life a living misery,
and when the end comes she shall curse you with her dying breath.
Nothing like frankness, dear John. Behold me, an epitome of it."

If I had not turned from him I should have committed some act of
violence. It was thought of Ellen alone that restrained me, that
enabled me to regain my self-command. He struck at her, not at me, and
well did he know his power. When I was living with Barbara, I believed
that suffering had reached its limit; I was to learn that I was
mistaken. Hitherto I had suffered for myself, a selfish feeling
affecting only my life and future, but now that another being had
wound herself into my heart, a sweet and loving woman whose happiness
was in my hands, my former misery seemed light indeed. And her
babe--my own dear child! To allow passion to master me would have been
unpardonable.

"Are you cooler, John?" asked Maxwell.

"In God's name," I cried, "tell me why you continue to persecute me."

"In God's name, I will. I regret to say, I am suffering from the old
complaint, John. Misfortune pursues me, and if I don't have a couple
of hundred pounds----"

I would hear no more. I went with him to a public-house, and wrote a
cheque for the amount.

"You are a trump," he said, pocketing the cheque. "Upon my soul, if
you had a better knowledge of me you would find I am not such a bad
fellow, after all; but when needs must, John, the devil drives."

That night I told Ellen that we must remove from Swanage.

"I shall be very sorry, John, dear," she said. "Is it really
necessary?"

"It is imperative, Ellen."

She sighed. "We have been so happy here."

"We can be happy elsewhere, dearest."

"Why, truly," she said, brightening up, "so long as we are together
what does it matter where we live?"

My idea was to escape from my enemy; to hide ourselves in some corner
in England, where we should be safe from his cruel persecution. After
much study and cogitation I fixed upon Cornwall, and thither we went,
and established ourselves in a cottage on the outskirts of Penzance. I
was in a fever of alarm during the removal, and kept unceasingly on
the watch, but observed nothing to cause me apprehension. When we were
settled I breathed more freely; here, surely, in this remote place, we
should be secure. Ellen was cheerful and bright, and she made me so.
Her time was fully occupied; she had not an idle moment; she did not
allow herself one. Our child, the garden, the home, kept her busy. Her
consideration for me, the loving attention she paid to my slightest
wish, even anticipated it, touched me deeply. Tenderness was expressed
in every word she spoke, in every movement she made. It would be
impossible for me to describe how dear she was to me. It is such as
she who have raised woman to the position she holds in the scale of
humanity.

What troubled me greatly was the state of my finances. The inroads
made upon my purse by Maxwell's exactions were so serious that I
foresaw the time when, if my wife's allowance was to be continued, I
should find myself penniless. We were living at a moderate rate, our
expenses being under three pounds a week. The money I had left, apart
from the allowance to Barbara, capitalized, would bring in a little
over fifty pounds a year, and I felt that I was daily jeopardizing
Ellen's future and the future of our child, as well as my own. I was
not a business man, and had no trade to which I could turn my hand; in
England my only weapon was my pen--a poor weapon to most who have to
live by it. The difficulty was solved presently by events of which I
was not the originator. Meanwhile I wrote a short story which I read
to Ellen, and was pleased with myself. Needless to say, she was
delighted with it, and elevated me immediately upon the pinnacle of
fame. Under a nom de plume, I sent it to a magazine; it was declined.
I sent it to another magazine, with the same result. This second
refusal came when we had been four weeks in Cornwall, and I went from
my house to post it to a third editor when, almost at the door, I saw
Maxwell.

"Again, John," he cried with brazen effrontery, "like a bad penny
returned. I can't afford to lose sight of you. What a sly dog you are!
but I am a slyer. It is an amusing game. Set a thief to catch a thief,
you know."

"It is you who are the thief," I said, all my fears returning, "but
you have had your journey for nothing this time. You can get nothing
more out of me for the best of reasons; you have robbed me of almost
my last penny."

"We shall see. So you thought to give me the slip. You may thank your
stars you did not succeed. I have come to see you not on my account,
but on Barbara's."

"You might have spared yourself the trouble," I said, coldly. "I have
nothing to say to her; she can have nothing to say to me."

"That is where you are mistaken. Passion blinds you, John. Mind, I
don't mean to say you have nothing to complain of. I see now that you
were not suited to one another, and I dare say I was to blame in not
opening your eyes before you married her. There were reasons. In the
first place--I admit it frankly--I wanted to get rid of her. I am no
saint, but she tired me out; honestly, I was sick of her. In the
second place, she bound me down. 'It is my last chance,' she said.
Why, she was engaged three times before you met her, and was found out
in time by her lovers, who were not slow in beating a retreat. You
were the unlucky one to fall into the trap, and though I've been hard
on you I am sorry for you. In running away from her and taking up with
another woman you did what I should have done if I had been in your
place. However, it is all at an end now."

"At an end!" I echoed, regarding him with amazement

"At an end," he repeated, gravely. "You will soon be free, and then I
suppose you will wash your hands of me. Well! Perhaps I shall have a
bit of luck in another quarter. I don't mind telling you that I had a
man watching you all the time you were in Swanage. I knew when you
left and where you ran to. I could have been here three weeks ago if I
wished, and I have only come to bring you the news. Barbara is dying."

God forgive me, the exclamation that escaped me was not one of horror,
but of relief; and the next moment I was shocked at myself.

"She has behaved abominably," he continued, "but after all, she is
your wife, and you can hardly refuse to see her, and whisper a word of
forgiveness--supposing we are in time. I left her this morning; the
doctor was with her, and said he doubted whether she would live over
to-morrow."

"It is so sudden," I said, and still my thoughts continued to dwell
upon Ellen and our child. "Has she been long ill?"

"She has not been ill at all in that sense," he replied. "It was an
accident. Yesterday morning, when she was in her usual state--you
understand, John--she slipped from the top of the stairs to the
bottom, and broke her spine. The moment the doctor saw her he said
there was no hope. Will you come?"

It was my duty; I should have been less than man had I hesitated.
"Yes," I said, "I will come. When is the train?"

"It starts in an hour if you can get ready by that time."

"I will meet you at the station," I said, and went at once to Ellen to
inform her of what had occurred. She approved of my going, and
hastened my departure. For Barbara she had only words of pity, and her
eyes overflowed in commiseration for the wasted life so near its end.
In this crisis it would have been contrary to nature had we not
thought of ourselves, and of what Barbara's death meant to us, but it
was a subject we avoided. I breathed a blessing over our sleeping
child, and promising to write to Ellen directly I got to London, I
bade her good-bye.

Maxwell was at the station.

"Plenty of time, John," he said, "the train doesn't start for half an
hour. You'll stand me a brandy and soda and a sandwich, I suppose. I
haven't had a bite or a drink since the morning. I'm shipwrecked
again. Serve me right, you'll say. So say I. I shall have to turn over
a new leaf. Would you believe I had to travel third-class, and didn't
have money enough to pay for a return ticket? Hard lines for a
gentleman; but such is life."

"You'll have to travel back third-class," I said. "I have no money to
waste."

He grumbled at this, but I paid no heed to him. After disposing of his
brandy and soda he asked for another, which I refused. He laughed, and
complimented me upon displaying a strength of character which he had
not given me credit for. If I had not hurried him we would have missed
the train.

Few people were traveling by it, and we had a compartment to
ourselves. Such conversation as we had on the journey was of his
seeking; meeting with no encouragement from me he leant back moodily
and closed his eyes. Quite two hours passed without a word being
exchanged, when suddenly he said:

"John, after Barbara's death you will marry Madame Virtue, of course.
How soon after? I shall expect an invitation, old fellow."

I did not answer him, and he made no further attempts at conversation.
At the end of our journey I asked him where Barbara lived.

"Islington way," he said, sulkily, and calling a cab, gave the driver
the address.

The cab pulled up at the door of a wretched house in a narrow street
between "The Angel" and the Agricultural Hall. I paid the man and
followed Maxwell to the second floor, where, opening a door, he fell
back, motioning me to enter first.

The room was in semi-darkness, the window-curtains being drawn down.

"Is that you, John?" a voice asked, and at the same moment the
curtains were drawn aside.

It was the voice of my stepmother. From an inner room came the sound
of driveling laughter.

As I turned and saw Maxwell standing with his back against the door,
and an insolent smile on his face, suspicion entered my mind. It was
to some extent confirmed when I observed the insolent smile reflected
on the face of my stepmother.

"Barbara is still alive, dear brother-in-law," said Maxwell, laughing
quietly to himself. "You are in time, you see. Oh, yes, you are in
time."

I threw open the door of the adjoining room. A strange woman was
there, standing by a chair in which Barbara was lolling. Except that
she had grown more unwieldy, that her eyes were bleared and dim, and
that her driveling mouth and hanging jaws gave her the appearance of a
besotted hag, she bore no traces of a mortal illness such as Maxwell
had described. The truth rushed upon me with convincing force. I had
been tricked.

"Neat, wasn't it?" exclaimed Maxwell, as I closed the door upon the
disgusting sight. "Would you believe," addressing my stepmother, "that
our dear John was actually calculating the time when he would be free
to marry the low woman for whom he deserted his lawful wife?"

"I would believe anything of him," said my stepmother.

"I warn you," I said. "Another such allusion, and I will thrash you
within an inch of your life."

"Oh! I'm not to be frightened by threats," he blustered, "and I'm not
going to quarrel with you."

"You will gain nothing by the trick you have played me," I said. "I am
already making your sister an allowance which my means do not warrant,
and which no court of law would compel me to pay."

"A pretense of poverty for which we are prepared. And we are prepared
also to make your affairs public property unless you listen to
reason."

"You are in the plot against me," I said to my stepmother.

"That is a lie," she replied, composedly. "I am not in any plot
against you, but I am ready to give evidence when called upon."

"We are here, John, in the presence of a witness," said Maxwell, "for
the purpose of coming to an understanding. You have had sufficient
experience of me to be aware by this time that you are no match for
me. If you wish to be left in peace, to lead any life you choose, you
will have to pay for it. Shall I name the price?"

"It will be quite useless. You will never obtain another shilling from
me."

"You shall have the opportunity to consider it, John. For one thousand
pounds--a sum you can well afford to pay--you shall be left forever at
peace, to go your own way to the devil. I will bind myself never to
molest you again by any legal document you may lay before me. Consider
it well, brother-in-law. What I offer is worth the price."

"It needs no consideration. You have my answer."

"I give you a week to think it over," he continued. "If then you
persist in your refusal, I will dog you like your shadow--and not only
you but the lady; observe how polite I am--in whom you take an
interest. I will hunt you down and make your life and hers a daily
misery. You may be able to stand it for a time. If I am any judge of
appearances she will not. You have a gift of imagination. Imagine the
worst I can do, and you will fall short of the reality. If not for
your own sake, John, for hers, think it over."

"You have my answer," I repeated; and brushing him aside, I left the
house.



                            CHAPTER XXII.


Before the expiring of the month from the date of the deception
practiced upon me I had put into execution a plan I formed while
Maxwell was threatening me. To continue to live in England persecuted
by his malignant ingenuity would have been an act of folly; to
purchase intervals of peace at the cost of being reduced to beggary in
a year or two would have been no less. At all hazards I was determined
that some small sum should be secured to Ellen, to shield her and our
child from penury, and to this end I made over to her the balance of
my fortune, securely invested in Consols, the interest on which she
would receive monthly from my solicitor, the principal reverting to
her at my death. I take this opportunity of expressing my heartfelt
thanks to this gentleman for the faithful manner in which he has
carried out my instructions and executed the delicate business I
entrusted to him. For my own immediate necessities I took one hundred
pounds, which indeed was all that remained after the investment which
secured to Ellen one pound a week during my lifetime. It was my desire
at first, that she should accompany me to Australia, but my solicitor
argued against it; and his arguments were strengthened by a medical
opinion that neither the voyage nor the Australian climate would be
good for my dear Ellen's health.

In the winding up of this business and the preparations for my
departure, I exercised the greatest caution and secrecy, in order that
my enemies should have no suspicion of the locality in which it was
determined that Ellen should reside. We chose London as offering the
greatest security for her, and because she would be within hail of my
solicitor, to whom she was to apply for protection in the event of
molestation. The knowledge that I had baffled my pursuers was a
satisfaction to me, and more than once I put successfully into
practice the tactics I adopted when I first discovered I was being
watched and followed. With respect to our correspondence I arranged
that my letters to Ellen, and Ellen's to me, should be sent under
cover to my solicitor, who would forward them to their correct
address. It was probable that I should be shifting from place to place
in Australia, and Ellen might have occasion to remove. During the
month a number of communications from Maxwell reached me through my
solicitor. Some contained threats, some invited me to a meeting in
which a modification of his terms could be discussed. I did not
acknowledge one of these letters, and in the last I received Maxwell
wrote: "I have discovered that it is your intention to leave England
with Madame Virtue and your precious infant. If you think you will
escape me you are mistaken. Go where you will you will be shadowed and
not allowed to rest until you come to terms. Be wise in time, dear
John." This threat did not alarm me; the discovery he announced was
probably mere guesswork; even if it were not, my departure would
strengthen the chances of Ellen's safety. Before I left there was
still a neglected duty to perform--to inform Ellen that I had deceived
her as to my real name. She evinced no surprise, and did not reproach
me, nor did it shake her faith in me. From the hour we met my dear
Ellen has never uttered a word to cause me pain. Humbly do I ask
forgiveness for the sorrows I have brought upon her.

At length the day of our separation arrived. I had put off my
departure to the latest moment, and was to travel by the night train
to meet my ship.

We sat together in Ellen's humble room, her head on my shoulder, our
child in my arms. Though he could not yet speak an intelligible word
he had, thank God, learned to love me. What Ellen and I had to say was
but a repetition of the fond assurances we had exchanged that we would
be true to each other to the last hour of our lives. She was outwardly
more cheerful than I; such women as she have a strength of endurance
denied to man, whose courage often deserts him at the supreme moment
of a moral crisis.

Ellen rose to spread the cloth for our last meal together, and it
touched me to observe how she had consulted my tastes in what she had
placed upon the table. To please her I forced myself to eat, and
supper ended, she gave her babe the breast, her eyes shining with
tenderness and love.

"You must be brave, dear," she said. "You must never lose heart--never
for one single moment."

"And you, Ellen, you must also be brave."

"I am--I shall be; and cheerful, too. If I were to mope, dear, baby
would suffer--and that would never do, would it, darling?"

I see her now a picture of sweetest motherhood, as she sat crooning to
the little fellow, who was drawing life and goodness from nature's
fount. In the dark watches of my lonely life the picture rose before
me, and I saw the dear woman with her baby at her breast, her tender
eyes shining upon me. It taught me patience, and never failed to
comfort me. Across the seas a heart was throbbing with love for the
wanderer, a mother was whispering to her babe of the absent father; an
invisible link stretched from the quiet bush to the fevered city,
along which, in hours of unrest, sped the spiritual message: "I am
thinking of you. Dear love, dear love, do not lose heart; I am
thinking of you."

And so we parted. The last words were spoken, the last kiss given. I
turned and saw, through tears, Ellen standing at the door, a blessing
on her lips, her soul in her eyes. "Farewell, dear heart, farewell!"



                            CHAPTER XXIII.


It is not pertinent to my story to dwell at any length upon my
Australian experiences. As I am not writing for literary purposes,
brief allusion to them will suffice.

I went out steerage in a sailing vessel, and was brought into contact
with new phases of life and adventure. Had I been less anxious about
myself and those connected with me, I should have found ample scope
for contemplation and study in these novel pictures of human life and
struggle; and even as it was, they frequently afforded me a healthy
diversion from my own private cares. My time on board was chiefly
occupied upon a diary which I subsequently sent home to Ellen, and
being written for her I took pains to make it interesting. It
interested me too, and I was amused at the importance with which
trivial incidents were insensibly invested. I was, it is true, subject
to fits of depression, but the salt breezes, the rough life, the open
air, the alternations of storm and sunshine, invigorated me, and
helped to shake them off. I had with me, besides, an infallible charm
in the portraits of Ellen and our child, which I wore close to my
heart. Whenever I gazed upon these pictures Ellen's words recurred to
me: "Dear love, dear love, I am thinking of you," and hope bloomed
like a flower within me.

At home I had given little thought to the special groove in which I
should strive to obtain a livelihood in the Colonies. I was ready and
willing to undertake any kind of work, but I was certainly not
prepared for the difficulties I encountered. The market was crowded
with unemployed labor; on all sides I heard the cry of hard times, and
yet money seemed to be abundant. Surely, thought I, there must be some
place for me, a man of education, in this great city, but this very
quality of education seemed to stop the way. Gentlemen were at a
discount; bone and muscle were the staple, despite the fact that bone
and muscle were striking against capital. The wages rejected by rough
workingmen I should have been glad to accept, and had I been a
bricklayer, a carpenter, or a stonemason, I should soon have been in a
situation; having no special trade to back me, I went to the wall.
After weeks of vain endeavor, I determined to go up country and see
what I could do on the goldfields. I could wield a pick if I could do
nothing else.

I had lived very sparingly, but my little store of money was dwindling
fast, and would, even with extreme frugality, be exhausted in a month
or two. No time, therefore, to lose in idleness. To the goldfields I
set my face, tramping it alone through the bush, seeking employment on
the way, which I did not obtain. The golden days of the Colonies were
over, and the familiar and magic cry of "Rush, O!" was seldom heard.
Still, gold was being dug from the earth, and nuggets were as much my
property as any man's--if I could only get on the track of them. I did
not. For me Tom Tiddler's ground was nearly barren, the few
pennyweights of gold I managed to extract from alluvial soil being
scarcely sufficient to provide me with the commonest necessaries.
Strangely enough, certain qualities which should have served me in
good stead tended rather to retard me, and indeed made me unpopular
with the class I mixed with. For instance, my sobriety. I was
frequently invited to drink, and my steady refusal was regarded with
disfavor, occasionally with contempt. Lucky diggers celebrate their
good fortune by "going on the spree," and standing treat to one and
all. No inducement could prevail upon me to join them; I held aloof
from them, and they showed their feelings by refusing to associate
with me. I regretted this the more because as a rule they were a set
of free-hearted men, whose instincts were generous, if not exactly
prudent. The consequence was that I made no friends, which did not
help me in the battle I was waging. In this fight for fortune my
greatest consolation was derived from Ellen's letters. Every month I
received from my lawyer, through the Melbourne Post Office, a packet
containing Ellen's letters, and one from himself upon business
matters. His communications were brief. There was nothing of
importance to report concerning my wife; her allowance was drawn
regularly, and there was no improvement in her habits; Maxwell had
called several times, and on one occasion would not depart without an
interview, which was granted. He expressed anxiety about my welfare,
and made efforts to ascertain where I was; the information not being
supplied he retired, after indulging in mysterious threats--as to
which, my lawyer said, I need not be in the least degree alarmed.

Ellen's letters were longer, and I need hardly say I read them again
and again with delight. Not in one of them was to be found a
complaining word; instinctively she always took the bright and
cheerful view, and I knew that for my sake she would make light of
crosses. How did her letters run? She was happy and in good health;
she was comfortable in her lodgings, and the landlady was kindness
itself; our child was wonderfully well, and was growing "so big" that
I would hardly know him; his eyes were more beautiful than ever;
everybody noticed them, everybody fell in love with him; it made her
so proud to see people look admiringly at him, and "you would not
believe the notice he takes of things"; he had learned already to lisp
"mamma" and "papa;" and he sent his love to his dear papa, and a
thousand, thousand kisses; she had obtained some needlework by which
she was earning a few shillings a week, "not that through your great
kindness we have not enough to live upon, but I want to put something
by for a rainy day;" I was to be sure not to order her to give up the
work, because she had too much idle time on her hands, and the hours
flew by more quickly when she was fully employed; "when my needle is
in my hand my thoughts are always on baby's dear father, and I am
wondering what he is doing at that precise moment--but indeed, my
love, you are never out of my thoughts;" and so on, and so on. Not a
detail of her domestic life which she believed would afford me
pleasure was omitted, "and I hope I am not worrying you by speaking of
these small matters, but it is such a pleasure to me; I write every
night when baby is asleep and my work is done." The tender expressions
of concern for my welfare were inexpressibly comforting to me. In my
lonely tent I saw with my mind's eye the dear woman in her London
lodging sitting pen in hand at her labor of love, with baby asleep in
his little crib, and everything in the humble room clean and sweet and
orderly, and I thanked God she was happy and well.

Things went from bad to worse with me. Driven by necessity I wandered
from place to place, and there seemed to be no rest for the sole of my
foot. When I plied my pick on the goldfields I worked as "a hatter,"
by which is meant a man who works singlehanded. I spent weeks and
weeks prospecting for gold and finding none. Bad luck dogged me
wherever I went, whatever I undertook. I had a reasonable longing for
money--for the sake of my dear Ellen and my boy, and once I missed a
great fortune.

I had been compelled to part with all my belongings except a
short-handled pick. All my other tools were gone, and tent and
blankets as well; not a shilling in my pockets, but happily the best
part of a cake of cavendish and a cutty. No man knows the comfort that
lies in a pipe of tobacco as a bushman does; it has sustained the
courage of many a man in as desperate a plight as I was in on that
day. I had started in the early morning for a cattle station where I
had heard there was the chance of a job, and towards evening found
that I had missed my way. Had there been such twilight as we enjoy in
England there would have been time to get into the right track, but in
Australia night treads close upon the shadows of evening. It was not
the first time I had been "bushed," and I accepted the position as
cheerfully as my circumstances would permit. The night was fine, the
sky was filled with stars, the air was sweet and warm. I had camped
out under more favorable conditions, but I made the best of this,
comforting myself with the reflection that I had only a few hours to
wait before I obtained a meal at the cattle station I had missed.
Meanwhile I smoked my pipe, and soon afterwards fell asleep upon a bed
of dry leaves.

I was up with the sun, and was about to resume my search for the lost
track when my eyes fell upon a range of hills studded with quartz. I
thought of the stories I had heard of rich reefs being accidentally
discovered by men who had lost their way in the bush, and considered
that it was as likely to happen to me as to another. It is true I was
hungry, but I could hold on a bit longer, and I determined to spend an
hour or two in prospecting. So to it I went, selecting the most
likely-looking hill, on the uppermost ridge of which rested a huge
boulder of quartz, which a vivid imagination might have converted into
the fantastic image of a human monster. Detaching some pieces of stone
from the base of this boulder I saw fine specks of gold in them in
sufficient quantity to give promise of a paying reef. The specks were
so finely distributed that they could only be won by the aid of fire,
water, and quicksilver, and the pulverizing stamps of a crushing
machine. The discovery was therefore valueless to me in its power to
relieve my present necessities, but I marked the spot and determined
to return to it when my circumstances were more favorable to the
opening of a new reef.

I reached the cattle station in the evening, and to my disappointment
learned that there was no work for me. The kind-hearted people on the
station gave me a plentiful supper and a shake-down, and when I rose
the next morning to continue my wanderings I was not allowed to depart
empty-handed. The life I led in the Colonies was rough and hard, but
it was studded with stars of human kindness which I can never forget.

Six months afterwards I was in a position--having a few pounds in my
pocket--to visit the quartz ranges I had prospected, my intention
being to mark off a prospector's claim and set to work. Other men were
before me; every inch of ground north and south was marked off for
miles, and a thousand miners were at work. The huge boulder in which I
had found specks of gold had been blasted away, and I was informed
that a wonderful amount of gold had been taken from it. The claim upon
which it had stood was the richest on the line of reef, the stone
averaging five or six ounces to the ton. A quartz crushing machine had
been erected, and was merrily pounding away.

With a sigh I turned my back upon the el dorado I was the first to
discover. Hundreds of other men on the goldfields have missed fortune
in the same manner by a hair's breadth.

I will not prolong this record of my three years' sojourn in
Australia. At the expiration of this time a stroke of good fortune
really fell to my share, and then it was that I received news of an
event which changed the current of my life and led to the unconscious
committal of the crime for which I must answer to the law. On a
partially deserted goldfield, where there were still a few miners at
work on claims which were supposed to be worked out, I took possession
of a shaft, and in one of the pillars I found a "pocket" of gold which
in less than a fortnight yielded me between fifty and sixty ounces.

Mammon worship is an evil instinct, but gold can bring unalloyed joy
to suffering hearts. It brought joy to mine.

I was sorely tempted. Longing for home, for a sight of Ellen and my
boy, had for some time past assailed me; there had been hours when I
rebelled against my lot, when it needed all my moral strength to
overcome the anguish of my soul. I had now the means to gratify my
cherished desire--why should I not do so? Debating the risks of the
adventure, I was tossed this way and that, now held back by the fear
that my presence in London might be discovered by my enemies to the
disturbance of the life of peace which Ellen was enjoying, now
encouraged by my ardent wish to clasp my dear ones in my arms. The
question, however, was decided for me.

A mail from home was due, and I was expecting my monthly packet of
letters, which I had directed to be forwarded to a neighboring
township. So anxious was I that I set off for this township in the
middle of the night.

The mail had arrived and was being delivered. Scores of bearded men
were clustered about the wooden building in anxious expectation. Some
came away from the little window with joy on their faces, some fell
back with a sigh of disappointment. The strength of the human tie
which binds heart to heart is nowhere more strikingly displayed than
on these distant shores, where groups of rough, stalwart men hurry to
the post office in the hope of receiving letters from home.

My packet was handed to me, and I stood aside to open it. Ellen's
budget I put into my pocket; I could not read her loving words with
prying eyes around me. The lawyer's letter was bulkier than usual, and
I tore it open. I read but a few lines when I reeled.

"Hold up, mate," cried a man, catching me by the arm. "Bad news?"

"No, no," I muttered, and the denial struck me like a spiritual blow
the moment it was uttered.

To some men the news which caused this shock would have brought a
never-to-be-forgotten sorrow. To me it brought release from a chain
which had galled my soul. Barbara was dead!

It would be the worst kind of hypocrisy to say that I felt as
a man feels at the loss of one who is dear to him. It was
impossible--impossible. There are those who deem it fitting to assume
a grief which finds no place in their hearts; it is common to see
white handkerchiefs held before tearless eyes. Let it tell against me
that I neither felt nor assumed such sorrow. Equally wrong--and at the
same time unjust to myself--would it be to say that I rejoiced. But an
immense weight was lifted from my heart. Barbara was dead and I was
free!

Yes, free to marry Ellen, to commence a new and purer life, to have a
home which I could enter without fear; a home where love awaited my
coming, where I could look in my child's face without shame, where I
could show by my devotion how deeply I appreciated the sacrifices his
dear mother had made for me. To remove the stigma which in the eyes of
the world was attached to Ellen through her association with me--to
give her my name, to call her "wife"--was this nothing to be grateful
for? Was it for this that I should put on a mournful face and conjure
false tears into my eyes? No. Heaven had sent me relief, had
proclaimed that my long agony was over, had lifted the curse from me.
It was not for me to play the hypocrite.

My agitation somewhat subdued, I set myself to the perusal of the
lawyer's letter.

The details of Barbara's death were shocking and startling. Her
depraved habits had been the cause of a miserable tragedy. The letter
stated that the first intelligence the writer received of the event
was through the newspapers, cuttings from which he enclosed. My wife,
it seems, had not removed from her lodging in Islington where I last
saw her. In the middle of the night an alarm of fire was raised, and
the lodgers in the house had great difficulty in escaping. Barbara had
not been thought of. She did not make her appearance and no cries
proceeded from her room. When she was missed the firemen made their
way to her apartment, and brought out her charred body. The fire, it
was proved, had originated in her bedroom, and it was supposed that
she overturned a lighted candle, and so caused the catastrophe.

Among the newspaper cuttings was a report of the inquest, which my
solicitor had attended, and evidence was given of Barbara's depraved
habits, one witness stating that "she was drunk from night till
morning, and from morning till night," a statement which Maxwell
declared was a calumny.

His sister had dreadful troubles; her married life was most unhappy,
but she suffered in silence. His attempts to bring obloquy upon me
were frustrated by my solicitor, and by the evidence of the doctors.
The latter proved that she must have been a confirmed dipsomaniac for
years; the former produced receipts for the allowance I made her. The
verdict was in accordance with the evidence.

After the funeral, the arrangements for which were made by my
solicitor, Maxwell called upon him with a document purporting to be
Barbara's will, in which she left everything to him, including the
£300 a-year I had allowed her. Upon my solicitor suggesting that he
should take legal steps to obtain what he called "his rights," he
offered to compromise and to forego his claim for a stated sum. This
being scouted, he asked whether it would not be worth my while to give
him a smaller sum to get rid of him forever. My solicitor replied that
that was a matter for my consideration upon my return home, but that
he should advise me not to give him a shilling, and there the matter
ended. My solicitor said he gathered from my letters that I had not
prospered in the Colonies, that my presence at home was necessary for
the settlement of my financial affairs, and that he enclosed me a
draft for £200 to defray the expenses of my passage and outfit.

Ellen's letter was of the usual affectionate nature, somewhat steadier
in tone because of the tragedy which she had read in the papers. She
expressed herself most pitifully towards Barbara, whose errors were
expiated by her death.

"She is now at peace, and I am sure you will have none but tender
thoughts for her." Nobility of soul, in alliance with the tenderest
feeling and the purest sentiments shone forth in every line. It
softened my heart towards the dead; it made me solemnly grateful for
the living. She said not a word about her position and my intentions.
She trusted me and had faith in me. Conscious that I would do what it
was right to do, she made not the most remote reference to our future.

Our future! How brightly it spread before me! There was a new
sweetness in the air, a fairer color in the skies. How strangely, how
strangely are woe and joy commingled! Blessed with a good woman's
love, with no fear of poverty before me, I would not have changed
places with the highest in the world. The money I had capitalized to
secure Barbara's allowance was now without a charge upon it, and
reverted to me. The future was assured, the way was clear, the sun
shone upon a flower-strewn path. Alas! the reality!

There was nothing to detain me a day longer in the Colonies; the
richest claim on the goldfields would not have tempted me to delay my
journey home. I had money enough for content, and love made me rich. I
looked through the shipping advertisements in a Melbourne newspaper. A
mail steamer was advertised to leave for London this very day; I could
not catch it, and I should have to wait a fortnight for the next.
Another merchant steamer was to leave for Liverpool in two days. I
determined to take passage in it. I could get to Melbourne in time.

As I walked to the telegraph office, the man who had saved me from
falling when I opened my solicitor's letter passed by and looked me in
the face.

"Better, mate?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered.

"It was good news, then?" he said.

"Yes," I said, mechanically, and caught my breath.

What if I had told him that the good news was the death of my wife?

From the telegraph office I dispatched three messages. One to the
shipping agent in Melbourne to secure a cabin in the outgoing steamer;
the second to my solicitor in London, announcing my intended departure
from the colony; the third to Ellen--"I am coming home."

Wonderful was the contrast between this sea voyage and the last I had
undertaken. For the greater part of the time I think I must have been
the happiest man on board. On the first voyage I had schooled myself
into resignation and submission to my fate, and had taken but a fitful
interest in the novel aspects of life by which I was surrounded. Now
they appealed to me sympathetically, and I instinctively responded to
the appeal. I chatted and made friends. I found zest in the simple
amusements of ship life. I spent many happy hours in contemplation of
the future, and in arranging the details. Ellen and I would go to some
quiet country place, where we were not known, and there we would get
married. Deciding not to live in London, we would discuss together in
what part of England we would make our home. The sunniest months of my
life had been passed in Swanage, and I would have chosen that
delightful spot because of its memories, and because it would have
been Ellen's choice, had I not been restrained by the thought of
Maxwell. Although with Barbara's death his power over me had
practically disappeared, still in the circumstances of our life in
Swanage--Ellen a single woman and I a married man living apart from my
wife--Maxwell's malice might sow thorns in our path. As far as was
possible, this must be avoided. We would select some part of England
where we were strangers, where the people we mixed with had no
personal experience of our past. There, in a little cottage with a
garden we would pass our days, and there I would resume my literary
labors, and under a nom de plume strive to obtain a footing in the
field most congenial to me. My adventures on the goldfields would
supply me with attractive themes.

In this endeavor I had no personal vanity to serve; it was simply that
I recognized the mischief of living an idle life. I would have no more
wasted days. If I did not succeed with the pen I would bring my
muscles into play. I laughed as the idea occurred to me that I might
eventually become a market gardener, a cultivator of fruits.
Straightway my thoughts traveled gaily in that direction.

Towards the end of the voyage I became impatient. The nearer we got to
England the greater was my eagerness to see Ellen. I was on the
threshold of a new existence, and I was in a fever to cross it. This
uncontrollable desire burnt within me to the exclusion of every other
topic. I became restless and abstracted, and I withdrew from cordial
relationship with my fellow-passengers. This mood--for which I cannot
account except on the grounds of pure selfishness--lasted a week, and
then I took myself to task and endeavored to make myself
companionable; but I was not regarded with the same favor, and my
society was not courted. It taught me a lesson, and I inwardly
reproached myself with ingratitude.

It is perhaps necessary to mention that I still retained the name I
had adopted, and that I appeared on the passenger list as John
Fletcher. Time enough, I thought, to resume my own name when Ellen and
I were married. But my principal reason for retaining the name of
Fletcher was the fear that some of the passengers might have read the
account of the fire in which Barbara perished. Newspapers nowadays
deal largely in horrors, and accounts of the fire had been published
in the Melbourne journals. Naturally I shrank from identification.

The date of my arrival in Liverpool was the 30th of November, and I
landed late at night in the midst of a snowstorm. From a railway guide
on board ship I noted that a train for London started from Lime Street
at midnight, and by this train I had decided to travel to London.
Fatal decision! Had I been struck down dead in the streets, my fate
would have been the happier!



                            CHAPTER XXIV.


It is at this point of my story that I cannot entirely trust my
memory. I am, however, sufficiently clear-minded as to the course of
events up to the moment when, in a street, the name of which is
unknown to me, an attack was made upon my life. That a watch had been
kept upon my movements, and that the attack was premeditated, I have
no reason to doubt; but it is almost incredible that hatred could be
so far-seeing and vindictive.

As I have said, the snow was falling heavily. It was the first time I
had been in Liverpool, and I was therefore not familiar with its
thoroughfares. So inclement was the weather, and so thickly did the
snow lay upon the ground, that I could not obtain a vehicle to take me
to the railway station, the two or three cabs which were available
being snapped up before I could reach them. I had no alternative but
to walk to Lime Street. There was ample time to get to the station,
and I was proof against much more serious obstacles than a snowstorm
and a gale of wind.

I was in joyous spirits at the prospect of soon embracing Ellen and my
boy, and I walked along (after inquiring my way at the docks) with
buoyant steps and a song on my lips. It may have been that this
preoccupation of mind made me absent-minded, or that I had been
misdirected, for in the midst of my pleasant musings a doubt arose as
to whether I was on the right road. I remember stopping by a lamp-post
to look at my watch, which I had purchased before I left Melbourne; I
remember the time, five minutes to eleven, and my feeling of
satisfaction that I had nearly an hour to get to the station. But
which was the right way? There was not a person in sight of whom I
could make inquiries, and at hap-hazard I turned down the street to
which I have referred. It was a narrow, ill-lighted street, and I did
not notice whether the houses in it were places of business or private
residences.

Suddenly, either from one of the houses or from some dark courtway, a
man rushed out and attacked me with such violence that had I been less
powerful than I am his first onslaught would have accomplished his
purpose. As it was, I grappled with him at the moment of his attack,
and a furious struggle began--a struggle for life. Maddened by the
attempt to dash the cup of happiness from my lips I put forth all my
strength.

And here it is that memory fails me. The recollection of the salient
features of this desperate encounter may doubtless be depended upon as
correct, but I can go no further in my recountal of the issue of it.
One maddening thought, I know, was dominant throughout--the thought
that I was fighting for Ellen and love.

The struggle must have lasted a considerable time.

I could not see the face of my assailant, and it is my impression that
he strove to avoid recognition; nor did he speak. We struck at each
other savagely and in silence. From first to last, so far as I am
aware, not a word passed between us. We swayed this way and that, each
man's hand at the other's throat; then I felt myself lifted from my
feet--a wrestling trick--and flung into the air. But I was up like
lightning, and as I seized him again I was dimly conscious of the
sight of blood dropping on the snow--whether his blood or mine I
cannot say. It seemed to be his purpose to drag me into a house, the
door of which was open, and in this he succeeded.

Grappling and raining blows upon each other in the dark passage, we
fell upon the stairs, and struggling to our feet without losing our
hold, continued the contest. The only weapon I had about me was a
fossicking knife in its sheath, and this I must have drawn, as was
proved by the result, though I am unable to say whether I drew it in
the street or in the house. I cannot account for the fatal use I made
of this weapon except upon the supposition that a weapon of some kind
was being used against me, and that I was prompted by a savage
instinct of self-preservation. In such an emergency a man has no time
to reflect upon the consequences of his acts; reason is lost, instinct
rules. My aim was to escape into the street, his to drag me from
it--and he prevailed. At what period of the brutal conflict we gained
the landing of the first floor, at what period we stumbled into a
room, and when I dealt the fatal stroke which gave me a frightful
victory--all this is hidden from me.

Scores of times since that night have I said to myself, "Let me think,
let me think!" and vainly endeavored to follow the progress of the
awful struggle. In the moment of victory I must have received a blow
which might have proved deadly, for darkness fell upon me, and I sank
to the ground in a state of unconsciousness.

When I came to my senses I found myself in an apartment lighted up by
two lamps and half-a-dozen candles. The oil in the lamps was almost
exhausted. The candles were guttering down. The scattered furniture
denoted the savage nature of the struggle in which I had been engaged.
Chairs had been flung here and there, a large table was upset; had the
candles or lamps been upon it the house would have been set on fire.
Against the wall, in front of me, was a sideboard garnished with
bottles and glasses, among them a syphon of mineral water.

This was all I discerned in the first few moments of returning
consciousness.

I put my hand to my face, and drawing it away found blood upon it; my
other hand and my clothes were also stained with blood.

This caused me to think of my assailant, whose condition could have
been scarcely worse than my own. What had become of him? Why had he
left me here without finishing his work? Was he so badly wounded that
he had no strength to kill me?

All was silent in the house. Not a sound of its being inhabited
reached my ears. I must fly from it directly my own strength returned,
thankful that I had come with life out of the desperate encounter.

Gradually my sight grew clearer, and I rose to my feet. My throat was
parched. I went to the sideboard, and pouring out a glass of mineral
water, raised it to my lips. In the act of doing this, I turned
mechanically, and brought into view that part of the room which I had
not yet seen. The glass dropped from my trembling hand, the water
untasted.

On the floor, close to the opposite wall, lay the motionless form of a
man. This was he, then, who had sought my life, this still form,
struck down by my own hand. What I could distinguish of his clothing
proclaimed him to belong to the well-to-do classes; a silk hat and
gloves, which I had not previously observed, were on a small side
table. A nameless horror stole upon me. With slow, stealthy steps I
approached and knelt by his side, unconscious at the moment that I was
kneeling in a pool of blood. There, gazing with terrified eyes upon
him, I waited for a sign which did not come. Not a breath, not the
vibration of a pulse. His arm lay across his face. Tremblingly I
lifted it aside, and let it fall with a cry of terror on my lips. The
face I had uncovered was that of my half-brother Louis! He was dead,
and I had killed him! The scar on his forehead was blood-red, and
though I was guiltless of causing it, seemed to accuse me; blood was
on his face and clothes, there was a wound in his breast--his
death-blow--delivered by me whom he hated, by me, who had hated him in
life. Oh, cruel fate that made me his murderer!

The shock of the discovery overwhelmed me. I knew what his death meant
for me. It did not dawn upon my mind; it came in one sudden, blasting
flash. All that had gone before was light in comparison with this
mortal blow, which dealt by my own hand, destroyed beyond redemption
the newly-born hopes which had filled my heart with gladness. My dream
was over. Ellen and I were forever parted.

Oh, God!

I can hear again the echo of the cry of anguish to which I gave in
voluntary utterance.

Oh, God! Oh, God!

But of what use appeal to Him? Rather appeal to man, by whom I should
be judged; relate my story to the earthly judge before whom I should
be arraigned; hide nothing from first to last; expose the remorseless
persecution, the vile cunning, the unspeakable degradation which had
made my home a hell upon earth; state how I had only landed this
night; how, passing through the street I was suddenly attacked and had
simply defended myself, as any man would have done under similar
circumstances----

Pshaw! Who would believe such a tale? It would be scouted with
derision.

If an angel were to come down to testify to the truth of my story he
would not be believed. How, then, could I expect to be believed when
human witnesses would testify to the hate I bore the man whose spirit
was now before God's Judgment Seat? To hope that I could break the
chain of evidence that would be brought against me was the hope of a
madman.

One by one the candles had gone out; the room was now in
semi-darkness. I stood in thought.

Whoso sheddeth his brother's blood--yes, but I was innocent of
murderous design. Why, then, should I declare myself a murderer and
bring despair upon Ellen, bring ignominy and shame upon her and our
child? Life-long despair, life-long ignominy. Every man's finger would
be pointed at her. In my child's ears would ring the words, "Your
father is a murderer!" Better for him never to have been born.

I had not myself alone to think of, to act for, Ellen could never now
be my wife, the delights of home would never be mine. But for her, a
lesser evil, though she would never realize it, was to be found in my
concealment of my crime. It would be necessary for me to keep apart
from her, for in her presence I should be continually confronted by
the temptation to betray myself, to make confession, and to do this
would be to inflict upon her frightful suffering. Sweet and patient as
she was, and implicit as was her faith in me, the duplicities I should
be compelled to practice in order to prevent any meeting between us,
could not but injure me in her eyes. Setting love aside--an
inconceivable hypothesis, for I never loved her as I did in this
despairing hour--honor and honest dealings called upon me to give her
the name of wife. She would grieve that I did not make amends to her
for the sacrifices she had made for me; but far better that I should
sink in her esteem than inflict upon her the crushing horror of seeing
me condemned for murder. For her sake, then, silence and secrecy, if
they could be compassed.

There had been no witnesses of the tragic incidents of the night. I
was alone with the dead. The silence that reigned in the house favored
my design of secret flight. If any persons resided there they must
have heard the sounds of the struggle, the stumbling on the stairs,
the dashing into the room, the upsetting of the furniture. I would
make sure, however, that the house was uninhabited.

The oil in the lamps was nearly exhausted; but I had matches in a box
which Ellen had given me before my departure for Australia. I crept
into the passage and listened above, below. No sound. Striking matches
as I proceeded I went all over the house from basement to attic, and
saw no signs of habitation. The rooms on the ground floor had been
partially dismantled, and presented the appearance of having been used
for offices, while those on the upper floors had served for private
residence, the most completely furnished apartment being that in
which Louis lay dead. I made my investigations cautiously and quietly,
and kept myself prepared for a possible attack. Once, when I was
taking a match out of the box it slipped from my hand, and though I
groped for it in all directions I could not find it. There was no time
to waste; every moment that I remained in the house was charged with
danger, and I was so beset by terrors springing from the perturbed
state of my mind that the flapping of a door, the wind tearing through
the street, even the slightest sound which fell unexpectedly on my
ears, set all my nerves quivering.

The storm had increased in violence. Through an uncurtained window on
the top floor I saw the snow descending thick and fast, the wind
whirling it furiously onward and upward. A wild night, but I had
reason to be thankful for it. The conflict of the elements lessened my
chances of being caught red-handed.

Standing by the uncurtained window I felt for my watch; it had not
occurred to me before to ascertain the time. The watch was gone, the
chain hung loose; but the pocket-book in which I kept my money was
safe. The loss of my watch did not induce the suspicion that robbery
was the motive for the attack; it must have been jerked out of my
pocket in the course of the struggle. It was dangerous to leave it in
the house; it was more dangerous to remain. I consoled myself with the
thought that I might have lost it in the street, and that it would be
found by some person who would be satisfied to retain it without
making inquiries. In any circumstances there was no name engraved on
it to prove that I was the owner.

A faint scratching on the wainscot at this point of my reflections
drove my heart into my mouth. So harmless a creature as a mouse was
sufficient to inspire terror. I felt my way down to the fatal room,
having no means of obtaining a light. It was quite dark now, and my
footsteps were dogged by phantoms created by the fever of my blood. I
saw the forms of struggling men, watched by glaring eyes and haunted
by formless shadows; incidents of the struggle which remained in my
memory repeated themselves with monstrous exaggeration; my brain
teemed with startling images. I must get from this house of terror
quickly; in the white snow the phantoms would fade away.

These imaginings did not cause me to lose sight of my purpose to avoid
the consequences of my unpremeditated crime. A dual process of thought
was going on within me, one belonging to the real, the other to the
unreal world. Reason cautioned me to arm myself against the chances of
detection. Such as lay in the stains of blood on my hands and face.
The snow would serve me here. From my blood-bespattered clothes the
stains could not be removed so easily. I should not have returned to
the death-room had I not noticed an ulster coat thrown across a chair
which, in the open air, would render me reasonably safe from
observation. I groped for the chair, found it, thrust my arms into the
ulster, and buttoned it up.

All was still as death--and death itself, a muffled figure, my
father's son, lay outlined near the opposite wall. The deep darkness
did not shut it from my sight.

As I made my way to the street door my foot touched an object on the
stairs. I stooped and picked up a watch, which I put into my pocket
with a feeling of relief at a danger averted. I had a little
difficulty in opening the door, and when this was accomplished and I
closed it behind me, I did not linger a moment. Every step I took from
it added to my chance of safety. Turning into another street I bathed
my hands and face in snow, and removed all traces of the bloody
conflict. The storm was now a gale; the wind tore and shrieked through
the streets, the snow, whirling furiously into my face, almost blinded
me. Not a soul was about, and I walked on unobserved, with no idea in
which direction I was proceeding. Chance favored me, for my hap-hazard
wanderings led me to the Lime Street station. I looked up at the
clock--two minutes past four. I took a first-class single to Euston,
it being safer, I thought, to travel first-class than third. My
fingers were numbed, and I was rather slow in picking up my change.

"You had better hurry, sir," said the clerk, "if you want to catch the
4:5."

I hurried off, followed by a porter.

"Any luggage, sir?"

"No."

"What class, sir?"

"First."

"Not that way, sir," said the porter; "the train goes from this
platform."

He showed me to the carriage and thanked me for the tip. I had barely
time to take my seat before the train started.

Being the only passenger in the carriage I could, without fear of
interruption, deliver myself up wholly to my reflections. Needless to
say, they were of the most melancholy nature. The incidents in my life
which were in some way connected with my present position, rose to my
memory with fatal clearness, and formed a chain of events which might
have been forged by a spiritual agency bent upon my destruction. An
inexorable fatality had attended all my actions, and used them as
weapons against myself. In every instance the circumstantial evidence
was overwhelming; my own bare, valueless word was the only testimony
of my innocence. Additional support of this fatalistic theory was
supplied in the course of my reflections. Taking out the watch I
picked up on the stairs, I discovered that it was not my own. There
was an inscription on the case: "To Louis from his Loving Mother." In
the struggle Louis' watch had been torn from his pocket as well as my
own, and it was now in my possession.

I argued out my position to a possible and logical point. As thus: The
body of a murdered man having been found in the house an hour or so
after my departure, the attention of the police was immediately
directed to the early morning trains for London. At four o'clock, a
gentleman, looking flurried and anxious, had presented himself at the
ticket-office and paid a first-class fare to Euston. He was so
agitated that it was with difficulty he gathered his change. He wore a
long gray ulster coat and had no luggage--not even a bag, a most
unusual circumstance. He betrayed his ignorance of the platform from
which the London train started by proceeding in a wrong direction, and
was set right by the porter; presumably, therefore, he was a stranger
in Liverpool. Telegrams were at once dispatched to the stations en
route, and to Euston, to detain the passenger unless he could give a
satisfactory account of himself. His explanation affording grounds for
suspicion, he was searched, and there was found upon him a watch with
the inscription: "To Louis, from his Loving Mother." By his own
previous admission, his name was not Louis. Questioned as to how he
came into possession of the watch, he gave no answer. There was also
found upon his person a leather sheath, into which a gold-digger's
knife with which the fatal wound had been inflicted exactly fitted.

When this damning piece of evidence presented itself to my mind,' I
felt for the knife. I had left it behind me. The sheath was empty.

What now was left to me to do? Leave matters to chance, and in the
event of the worst not happening, protect myself by every possible
means, or give myself up to the authorities? The deed I had done was
beyond recall, and would ever stand as a black mark against me. If I
could have harbored a hope of proving that it was done in self-defense
I should not have hesitated, but this was impossible. For Ellen's sake
I would adhere, as far and as long as lay in my power, to my plan of
silence and secrecy.

Tortured as I was, I felt relieved when I came to this final decision,
and I began to consider how to provide for my safety. To attempt to
get rid of the watch and the ulster coat would be attended with
danger, inasmuch as there were at present no other means of ridding
myself of them than by flinging them out of the window or leaving them
in the carriage, and thus courting the attention I desired to avoid.
Until a safer course presented itself I must therefore retain them.

But brain and body were exhausted, and I could not continue my
deliberations. Lifting the dividing arms between the seats I sank upon
the cushions, and closed my eyes in sleep.



                             CHAPTER XXV.


The train arrived at Euston at half-past eight in the morning. It
marked an epoch in my fate. Though I showed in my manner neither haste
nor hesitation, it was with apprehension that I alighted from the
carriage, with relief that I walked through the gates, a free man!

The snow was falling in London as in Liverpool, but not so heavily,
and the wind was less fierce. The weather was dreary enough, and I was
in wretched spirits, uncertain what to do and where to go. But in
order that my movements should not attract observation it was
imperative that my uncertainty should not be apparent; I must act with
an appearance of decision.

Being now in a locality with which I was familiar, I made my way to a
thoroughfare where cheap clothes' shops abounded, and at one of these,
the shutters of which had just been taken down, I purchased a suit of
clothes, an overcoat, and a shirt, without trying them on, and a
Gladstone bag in which I directed them to be packed. Hailing a cab I
drove to a Turkish bath in Euston Road, and, bathing there, changed my
clothes, as is not infrequently done in such establishments. I then
drove to an hotel, where I engaged a room, informing the manager that
my stay would depend upon letters which I expected to receive. Then I
breakfasted, scarcely realizing until I sat down how sorely I was in
need of food. Refreshed by the meal I retired to my room, where,
locking the door, like a criminal engaged in a desperate endeavor to
escape justice, I bent my thoughts again upon the perilous situation
into which I had been plunged. Well did I know that it was a subject
which would never leave me.

The motive for Louis' attack upon my life. Let me first fix that
definitely. I could think of no other than that of obtaining
possession of the few thousands of pounds which, through Barbara's
death, reverted back to me. My own death proved--whether by natural
means or murder mattered not--and leaving (as was rightly presumed) no
will, my property would fall to my half-brother Louis and his mother,
as next-of-kin. Undoubtedly this was the motive; but in what way
information had been obtained of my arrival from Australia, and by
whom I had been tracked from the Liverpool dock to the deserted
street, it was not in my power to fathom.

Did Louis have an accomplice? If so, who more likely than Maxwell? The
conjecture was natural, but I soon dismissed it. Two men would have
made short work of me. Revenge and greed would have chained Maxwell to
Louis' side, and I should not now be alive and comparatively
uninjured. There had been blood on my face and hands, but it had not
come from me--a proof that I had not, as I supposed, been attacked
with a knife. The only weapon used in the struggle was used by me, and
it had only to be established as belonging to me to serve as fatal
evidence against me. And yet it was strange that in an attack
deliberately premeditated and thought out, my assailant should have
had no weapon at his command. There was, however, no certainty of
this. Knowing; that I was a powerful man he would hardly have trusted
to his own physical strength to overcome me. The reasonable
presumption was that he had a weapon, which he had either been unable
to draw or had dropped in the scuffle. I adopted these conclusions as
facts beyond dispute. He had no accomplices, he had a weapon. The
former fact added to my chances of safety, for having confided his
savage purpose to no one, the secret was confined to his own breast.
And he died without revealing it.

For the deed itself I did not, I could not, hold myself any more
responsible than if I had been attacked by a wild beast. Discovered, I
must bear the consequences, but I was justified in keeping it secret,
and in leaving to others the task of detection. And, indeed, it was
now too late for me to take the initiative. My flight and the property
in my possession were sufficient proofs of guilt. Innocent (it would
be argued), what had I to fear? Justice never errs--never! What
mockery! Being guilty, I had done what all guilty men do. What could
be clearer?

I was now afflicted with the doubt whether I had acted wisely in
adopting a policy of concealment. It is in the nature of such a
labyrinth of circumstance as that in which I was wandering never to be
sure of the road, to be ever in doubt whether the right track has not
been hopelessly missed. There are no sadder reflections than those
inspired by what is and what might have been. Lost moments--lost
opportunities--if I had done this, if I had done that! So do we
torture ourselves when the fatal issue is before us. But I had chosen
my course, and it was now too late to retrace my steps.

I deemed it fortunate that in my cable messages to Ellen and my
solicitor I had not stated the name of the vessel by which I had taken
passage home, my intention having been to give my dear one a
delightful surprise. I had time for further deliberation, to more
fully mature my plans. It would be necessary that my lawyer should be
made acquainted with the facts of my arrival, but I need not
communicate with him for a few day. My present concern was to learn
from the newspapers of the discovery of Louis' body, and what was said
about it. In the afternoon I went out and bought copies of the evening
papers, taking care to show myself only in those thoroughfares where I
deemed myself safe. The leading principle of all my movements at this
period was caution, and I did not lose sight of it even in so trifling
a matter as the purchase of a few newspapers. I evinced no anxiety to
read them, but put them into my pocket with assumed carelessness, as
though I were not interested in their contents. Two or three times I
fancied that I was being followed, and I put it to the test, and
satisfied myself that my fears had misled me. Returning to the hotel,
I looked through the papers in the solitude of my room, without
meeting with any reference to a Liverpool tragedy. Neither in the
papers of the following day was any allusion made to it.

I put the true construction upon this silence. The house in which I
had left Louis' body was practically untenanted, and no indication of
anything unusual had been found in the street. But it would have been
folly on my part to suppose that the murder could remain forever
undiscovered. The suspense was dreadful.

So several days passed by. I removed from the hotel, and took
apartments in the north of London. From that address I wrote to my
solicitor, requesting him to call upon me in the evening, and asking
him to say nothing of my return home. At the appointed hour we were
closeted together.

After the first few words of greeting he spoke of Barbara's death, and
said it was a happy release for her and for me. He then spoke of
Ellen, and I gathered that he had formed a high opinion of her; but he
made no inquiries as to my intentions with respect to her. He asked,
however, whether it was my wish that she should not be informed of my
return. I replied that I wished nobody to know, and he promised to
preserve absolute silence. If he felt surprise, he evinced none.

"Have you seen much of her?" I asked.

"Very little," he replied. "Altogether, I think, not more than four or
five times. I send her her allowance every month through the post, and
she sends me an acknowledgment by return. Am I to continue to send the
money?"

"Yes; it is hers for life, whatever becomes of me." He raised his
eyes. "Life is uncertain," I added. "And I shall feel obliged by your
forwarding any letters to her which I may address to your care, and by
your forwarding her letters to any address I may give you. My reasons
for concealment are such as I cannot confide to you."

"My dear sir," he returned, and I observed a coldness in his tone,
"this is purely a matter of business, and it is my practise never to
inquire into reasons or motives. All I have to do, as your solicitor,
is to carry out your instructions. When you ask for my advice I shall
be ready to give it."

We then went into accounts, and he said that on his next visit he
would bring papers for my signature, which would place me in
possession of the money which had been set aside to secure my
allowance to Barbara. It was in the afternoon of the day on which this
visit was to be paid that I carried into execution my cherished design
of seeing my dear Ellen. An effectual disguise was imperative, and for
this purpose I had purchased in another neighborhood a false beard
which I had no difficulty in slipping on, unobserved, in a quiet
street. Thus protected, with my overcoat drawn up to my ears, and my
hat shading my eyes, I proceeded to the house in which she resided.

I had to wait some time before she appeared. She came out alone, and
as she crossed the road she raised her eyes to an upper window,
disclosing in that mother's glance the room in which she had left her
darling boy. She entered a provision shop a few doors off to make a
purchase, and was absent from him not longer than five minutes. Her
eye was bright, her step elastic, her face wore an expression of
content. How sweet, how beautiful she was! Oh, cruel fate, that kept
me from the shelter of her love, that held me bound in bonds I dared
not break! I groaned in agony of spirit. But she was happy--yes, happy
with her boy, and through her faith in the man to whom she had given
her heart. I should have been grateful for that; and I was; but none
the less did I suffer, and sigh for the happiness which I had hoped
would be mine.

She left the shop, and returned quickly to the house. Is there no way,
I thought, is there no way? Could we not live together in some distant
country where there would be no fear of detection? There had not been
a word in the papers of the Liverpool tragedy; perhaps the danger was
already over. I had but to keep the secret safely locked in my breast,
to keep a seal upon my lips. Surely that could be done.

So ran my musings as I walked back to my lodgings, where presently I
was joined by my solicitor, between whom and myself the final accounts
were soon adjusted. Our business finished, he bade me good evening
with a noticeable lack of cordiality.

What cared I for that, for him, for any one in the world but my dear
Ellen and my boy? As I took up the thread of my musings my heart cried
out for them. Why should I, guiltless in intent of crime, be condemned
to lifelong misery and despair? It was intolerable--more than
intolerable--more than man could bear. I would not bear it--I would
not--would not----

Hush! What was that? The newsboys were calling out the special
editions of the evening papers. "Horrible discovery in Liverpool!
Horrible murder! Extra special! Horrible discovery--horrible murder!"

I flew into the street, all my nerves on fire, and purchasing a paper,
was about to re-enter the house, when a hand was laid on my shoulder.

"My dear old John, how are you?"

I turned with a cry of terror, and saw Maxwell smiling in my face.



                            CHAPTER XXVI.


In sight of this new danger I was speechless. I had no power to define
its nature or to examine it with a clear mind, but I could not resist
the foreboding that a grievous burden was added to my pack of woe.
There was an airy insolence, a light-hearted mockery in Maxwell's
voice which betokened that he had reached a haven for which he had
been searching; and I knew from old experience that this was a sign of
evil.

"You don't appear to recognize me, dear John. Am I so changed, or is
it that you have not recovered from the shock of the loss we have
sustained? Our poor Barbara! Lost to us forever. She had her faults,
but she has atoned for them, and is now in a better world. Let that be
our consolation. Find your voice, old man, and bid me welcome."

"You are not welcome," I said, endeavoring to keep command of myself.
"You have brought misery enough upon me. No living link gives you now
a place in my life."

"True; but dead links are stronger and more binding. How they drop
away, those who are dear to us! One burnt to death, another murdered
in cold blood!"

Everything swam before me. The paper rustled in my trembling hand; the
shouts of the newsboy: "Horrible discovery in Liverpool! Horrible
murder!" fell upon my ears with a muffled sound, though he was but a
few yards away, charged with dread import. I knew that Maxwell
continued to speak, but I did not hear what he was saying till he
shook me by the shoulder.

"You are inattentive, dear John. The latest murder the newsboy is
calling out fascinates you. I see you have bought a newspaper
off him; they are selling like wildfire. All over London they are
screaming--'Murder, murder; horrible murder!' But you are shaking with
cold. It will be better--and safer--to converse in your room, where we
can read the news you have waited for so long. How true is the old
adage, 'Murder will out!' After you, brother-in-law. The host takes
the lead, you know. Tread softly, softly!"

He spoke with the air of one who holds the man he is addressing in the
hollow of his hand, but he was always a braggart. In the midst of my
terror and despair that thought came--this man Maxwell was always a
braggart. I would hear what he had to say, and speak myself as little
as possible till he was done. Thus much made itself intelligible to my
dazed senses. So I led the way into the house, and up the stairs to my
room, Maxwell following at my heels. Safe within, he turned the key
gently in the lock.

"We can't be too careful, John, when life and liberty are at stake.
And you would have sent me away--me, your only friend, the one man in
the world who can save you from the gallows!"

"You speak in enigmas," I managed to say.

"Nonsense, brother-in-law--nonsense. Drop the mask; you are not in the
criminal court; the police are not yet on your track. Your voice is
husky. Are you still a teetotaller? Yes? Astonishing. Drink this glass
of water--it will clear your throat. But, as my host, you will allow
me something stronger. If I ring the bell the slavey will come, I
suppose. I must trouble you for a few shillings, John. I am in my
chronic state, dead broke, as usual. Bad luck sticks to me, but I
would not change places with you for all that. My pockets are empty,
but my neck is safe. What does the paper say about it?"

He took it from my hand, and took also the purse I had thrown on the
table. The servant had answered the bell, and was waiting in the
passage. He opened the door, and giving her money sent her for a
bottle of brandy.

"Any other lodgers on this floor, John? No? That's fortunate. The less
risk of our being overheard. What name do you go by here? Your own?
No? What then? Tush! You can't conceal it from me; I have but to ask
the slavey or the landlady. There is no need even for that, except by
way of confirmation. Shall we say Fletcher--John Fletcher? A great
mistake. Will tell fatally against you if they run you down, or if you
make me your enemy. You should have kept to Fordham; it would have
been a point in your favor. Poor Louis! He wasn't half a bad sort of
fellow; but you never loved him. You almost killed him when you were
boys together, and you only waited your opportunity to finish him.
Well it's done, and badly done. I don't set myself up as a
particularly moral or virtuous party, but my hands are free from
blood. Ah, there's the slavey with the liquor, and I'm perishing for a
drink."

I kept my eyes from him while he helped himself and drank; my fear was
lest some look in my eyes should betray me; my cue was to ascertain
from his own lips the extent of his knowledge, and how he came by it.
His thirst assuaged he re-locked the door, and drew a chair close to
that in which I was sitting at the table. Then he spread the newspaper
upon the table, so that the revelation I dreaded could be read by both
at the same time.

"Shall I read it aloud, John?"

"No."

"As you please."

We bent our heads over the paper, and this is what I read. I copy it
from the cutting I have kept by me since that night:

                  "HORRIBLE DISCOVERY IN LIVERPOOL."

"A horrible discovery was made last night in an empty house in Rye
Street, Liverpool. A couple of years ago the house was taken on lease
by a corn merchant, who used the lower floors for storage, and let the
upper floors for residence. Five or six months afterwards the tenants
left, the reason being that they considered the building unsafe. Then
the merchant furnished the first floor, and occasionally slept there.
At the end of the year he had no further occasion for it, and he gave
the keys to a house agent, with instructions to let the whole or part
of the house to the best advantage, in order that he might be relieved
of some portion of the rent, for which he was responsible. For eleven
months it remained uninhabited, and then a gentleman giving the name
of Mollison offered to take it for a month to see if it would suit him
to become a permanent tenant. The agent closed with the offer; a
month's rent was paid in advance, and the keys delivered over. It may
be mentioned that Mr. Mollison was a stranger to the agent, who saw
him only once, the arrangement being made at the first interview
between them. A London reference was given, and the agent received a
reply in due course which he considered satisfactory. Meanwhile,
although the month's rent had been paid, the house seemed to remain
uninhabited, no persons being seen to enter or issue from it, but
there is some kind of circumstantial evidence that on one or more
occasions the new tenant was there, either alone or with companions,
there being a back entrance in a blind alley which after sunset was
practically deserted. Candles and lamps have certainly been burnt in
the room on the first floor facing the front entrance, but these were
not seen from the street, for the reason that well-fitting shutters
masked the windows, and that over the shutters hung heavy tapestry
curtains.

"For some time past the Liverpool police have been seeking a clue
towards the discovery of a gang of coiners who were supposed to be
carrying on their unlawful occupation in that city, and two or three
days ago their attention was directed to this house, which, from its
situation and circumstances, offered facilities for these breakers of
the law. A close watch was set upon the front and back entrances, but
no one was observed to enter the premises. There being a likelihood
that coiners' implements, if not the coiners themselves, might be
found in the house, it was decided to break into it last night. This
was done at midnight, but no implements of any kind were found. The
efforts of the police, however, were not unrewarded, and a horrible
discovery was made. In the passage from the street door to the first
flight of stairs traces were seen of some frightful struggle having
taken place there. Proceeding upstairs were further traces of the
struggle, and upon the floor of the first floor front room--the
shutters of which were closed and the curtains drawn across--was
discovered the body of a man who had been ruthlessly murdered. It was
not a quite recent murder; at least a fortnight must have passed
between its perpetration and discovery. The room was in great
disorder. The furniture was thrown in all directions, and proved the
desperate nature of the struggle. Upon the face of the victim a heavy
table had fallen or been dashed, with the evident intention of
rendering the features unrecognizable.

"That this object was accomplished will not, perhaps, increase the
mystery which surrounds the affair, for the clothes of the murdered
man should provide means of identification. No cards or documents of
any kind were found upon the body. In one of the pockets was an empty
purse. A watch chain was found on the floor, but no watch. The chain
appeared to have been torn away, and the absence of watch, money, and
jewelry points to robbery. Death was caused by a stab in the heart,
but a careful search through the house failed in the discovery of the
weapon. The house agent states that the deceased is not the man to
whom the place was let, of whom he has furnished a description to the
police, but he seems not to be confident as to its correctness. From
the stale remains of food and the lees of liquor at the bottom of
glasses and bottles in the apartment it is presumed that the murder
was committed thirteen or fourteen days ago, probably on the night of
the snowstorm which did so much damage in the city. The police are
busy investigating the horrible affair, which is at present enveloped
in mystery. A subsequent additional statement has been made by the
house agent, who says, though still speaking with uncertainty, that
there are points of resemblance in the body to the man to whom the
house was let."

Maxwell finished the reading of this, to me, fatal news, before I had,
and when I looked up from the paper he was smoking one of my cigars,
to which he had helped himself from my cigar case. What now remained
was to hear from him how he had learned of my connection with the
murder. He was sitting with folded arms, a glass of liquor before him,
puffing at the cigar, and with his eyes fixed on my face.

"Rather startling, John," were his first words.

I returned his gaze without answering, and so we sat for several
minutes, staring at each other. At length he spoke again.

"I am waiting, John."

"For what?" I asked.

My voice was strange to me; it was as if another man had spoken.

"Well, I thought you would like to make some comment on this newspaper
report of the discovery of the crime. I do not wish you to incriminate
yourself. No need for that. Any fool looking at you now, would jump at
the right conclusion. We know who the murdered man is; the police
don't, and may never discover. It depends upon me."

"Upon you?"

"Upon me. I hold the threads, and the evidence upon which you would be
convicted. I make a shrewd guess that there is other evidence in your
possession which would bring the guilt home to you." He rose and went
into my bedroom; I followed his movements with my eyes, and made no
effort to arrest them. Presently he returned. "I have taken the
liberty to look over your clothing. There is no mistake about one
article--Louis' ulster. Why do you keep it by you? Man alive, it is
fatal--fatal!"

"How do you know it is his ulster?"

"Well, it may not be, but the last time I saw the poor fellow--let me
see, it was about five weeks ago, here in London--he wore one
suspiciously like it. Of course, it is easy of proof. Do you deny it
was his?"

"I deny nothing; I admit nothing."

"Politic, but weak and useless. I will make another shrewd guess. The
missing watch--Louis's watch. A search warrant would probably find it
on your person or in these rooms. It may be difficult to identify
unmarked clothing--I beg your pardon, you were about to speak."

I drank a second glass of water to clear my throat.

"It does not state here," I said, pointing to the newspaper, "that the
clothing is unmarked."

"No, it does not, but I assume it, for if his handkerchief, or shirt,
or any of his underclothing, bore his initials, the fact would be at
once made public to expedite discovery. The reasonable conclusion,
therefore, is that there are no initials on his clothing to assist the
police. A fortunate thing for you. L. F. It would be all over the
country. Some woman with whom he is connected--not his mother--would
say to herself, 'L. F., Louis Fordham.' For the best of all reasons
the man she is interested in does not make his appearance. Away she
goes to the police, examines the clothes, examines the body, and
declares the name of the murdered man."

"Why would not his mother do this?"

"Again, for the best of all reasons. She is dead."

"My stepmother dead!"

"As a doornail. You are in luck. Alive, and the body proved to be
that of her son, she would argue it out. 'Who was my son's bitterest
enemy--who has always been his bitterest enemy? Who but John Fordham?'
She would swear to bring the murderer to justice; she would leave no
stone unturned; she would hunt you down, John; she would tell the
story of your life, with embellishments, in the public court, and make
your very name infamous. Lucky for you, therefore, that she is dead.
As I was saying, it may be difficult to identify unmarked clothing,
but not so with a watch. It is almost a living witness, and found in
your possession would send you to the gallows without a tittle of
other evidence. What on earth made you run off with it, and what on
earth made you leave your own behind? Your health, John. Talking is
dry work. Wouldn't you like to ask me a few questions?"

"Tell me what you know, and how you know it. I cannot ask questions."

"Anything to oblige, and in any way you please. I will a round,
unvarnished tale deliver. These are capital cigars of yours; you were
always a good judge of tobacco. Well, then, to begin, with the
prefatory remark that one part of it might be called a chapter of
accidents. I won't dwell much on the past; it isn't by any means an
agreeable subject, and I am quite aware that there was no love lost
between us. But one thing I will say--I think we were all unjust to
one another, all a little too hard on one another, making the worst of
everything instead of endeavoring to smooth it over. You had
provocation; Barbara had hers. She got the idea of another woman in
her head, and it drove her to excesses. You can't deny that she was
mistaken in her idea; another woman there was, another woman there
is--and then, there's the child. That sort of thing is enough to drive
a wife mad, so you can't call yourself blameless for poor Barbara's
death, because you see, John, one thing leads to another. By a process
of reasoning you might be proved to be the direct cause of your wife's
death, and therefore her murderer. No doubt you can justify yourself
to your own satisfaction, and I am not going to argue with you, but as
Barbara's brother it is due to her memory that I should say a few
words on her behalf. Of course you know, through your solicitor, that
when you disappeared I tried to discover your whereabouts. You were
too clever for me, and for some time I was at fault; at length I found
out--never mind how--that you had gone to Australia. Then came the
question, had you taken the other woman with you? I found an answer to
it. You had not."

I pause here to say all the time Maxwell was speaking he was watching
my face, as if for confirmation of certain of his statements. I did
not observe it during the interview; it occurred to me afterwards
when, in a calmer mood, I thought of what had taken place between us.
He continued:

"Of your life in Australia I know little or nothing. It is more
than likely you made a fortune there; you were always a lucky devil,
with a handful of trumps in your hand that ensured a winning game.
Even now--with me for a partner--the game is not lost. Now let us see
what brought you back to England. It was not, perhaps, because you
were tired of Australian life and longed for London pleasures, though
that motive is sufficiently strong. But there was Barbara to reckon
with. What an encumbrance! Too bad altogether. (Your way of thinking,
John; it is your point of view.) By a fortunate fatality--your view
again, John--the encumbrance is removed. Barbara is dead; the road is
cleared for you. The winning game is in your hand. You lose no time;
home you come--to marry the other woman. Am I right? Silence gives
consent."

He threw away the stump of his cigar and lit another.

"Now begins the chapter of accidents. On the 30th of November I
happened to be in Liverpool; business called me there for just one
day, and of all days in the year just that day. In the night my
business finished, and not to my satisfaction (all my life I have been
robbed right and left, but that's a detail which will not arouse your
sympathy), I walked back to my hotel in no very agreeable frame of
mind. What a night it was! You remember it, John--you will remember it
all your life. It was the most awful snowstorm in my recollection--a
record. My way to my hotel lay through Rye Street. The wind cut me in
pieces, the snow blinded me; I give you my word I could not get along.
I was literally blown back every step I took, actually and literally
blown into a house the street door of which was open when I was trying
to pass it. I stood in the passage to recover my breath, and then
going to the door saw the madness of endeavoring to reach my hotel
through such a frightful storm. I did the sensible thing.

"'Here is a house,' thought I, 'the street door of which has been
accidentally left or blown open; the inmates will surely accord me
shelter for the night; if not a bed, at least a seat by the fire."

"I was so nipped and frozen with cold, that after closing the door, it
took me some time to get my matchbox from my pocket and strike a
light, for the passage was in intense darkness. Then the fear came
over me that I might be mistaken for a burglar. So I called out at the
top of my voice without receiving a reply. Thinking it very strange I
made my way upstairs to the first floor, and entered a room in which
there was no light. I called out again, and still received no reply. I
must make the people hear, thought I, and I left the room and ascended
the second flight of stairs. To cut a long story short, I went all
over the house, and came to the conclusion that it was uninhabited.
But I had observed in the room on the first floor signs of some person
having been there, but whether recently or not I could not judge
without further examination. So I groped back to that room, and by
good luck happened to put my hand on a small piece of candle on a
sideboard. This I lighted, and you will understand how startled I was
at what I saw.

"The furniture seemed to have been violently hurled in all directions,
a table at the further end of the room was upset, and an object which
I did not immediately distinguish lay beneath it. My first impulse was
to fly from the house; there had evidently been a desperate fight in
the room, and I might be implicated in what had taken place. Upon
second thoughts I became reassured. I could account for every minute
of my time during the day and night, up to the moment I had entered
this strange house; and my curiosity led me to ascertain the nature of
the proceeding which had brought about such confusion. That done I
could proceed to the police station and report what I had seen. I will
not attempt to describe my horror when I saw the body of a dead man
beneath the table, and when, examining the mutilated features, I
discovered that the murdered man was Louis Fordham. It makes me sick
to think of it. I must have another drink."

He tossed off a full glass of brandy and water, and rose and paced the
room. I sat in silent agony, waiting for what was to come.

"Let me make an end of it as quickly as possible," he said. "Louis lay
there before me, stone dead. Who was the murderer? At whose cowardly
hand had he met his death? The newspaper report says that his features
were unrecognizable, but though his face, when I saw it, was
dreadfully disfigured, I could not mistake it. Then, the fortnight
that has elapsed may have made some change in him; then again, there
may be some exaggeration in the report. Such sensations are always
made the worst of; newspaper writers like to pile up the agony. I
searched for some evidence that would help to bring the guilt home to
the murderer. It is curious, John, that they generally leave something
behind that proves fatal. You did. The first thing I found was the
knife with which the deadly stab had been inflicted. There was blood
upon it. Now, why should the discovery of that knife have directed my
thoughts in your direction? A kind of lame explanation can be given,
but it doesn't quite account for it. Perhaps it was what we call
Providence, perhaps it was because the knife was not one which a man
living in England ordinarily carries about with him. It was such a
knife as gold-diggers use, and carry in a sheath. Do you see the
connection? A gold-digger's knife. You have been in Australia, and
most likely on the goldfields. A steamer from Australia had that very
day arrived at Liverpool. That formed a sequence, which I accepted all
the more readily because I had no cause to love you. I am frank, you
see; I am always frank. I detest duplicity.

"Continuing my search I found a watch. It was like a watch you used to
wear in happier days, but of this I could not be sure. However, as I
have said, the history of a watch can be traced. It was not such a
watch as Louis was in the habit of wearing. Still continuing my
search, I found a matchbox, and on the lid the initials, J. F. They
stand for John Fordham. They stand also for John Fletcher. Did it
strike you when you assumed that name that the initials were the same?
Your having been in Australia, the arrival of an Australian vessel,
the gold-digger's knife, the watch, the matchbox with the initials, J.
F., formed a complete chain. I said to myself, 'My brother-in-law,
John, is the murderer.'"

He had spoken all through with zest, and as he went on his enjoyment
of the story he was relating seemed to increase. Having now reached a
dramatic point he paused again to give it greater weight.

"What now remained to me to do?" he continued. "To denounce you--to
put the rope round your own neck? Undoubtedly that would have been the
right course, and had I acted upon the impulse of the moment the whole
country would be howling at you for a cold-blooded monster, who had
since boyhood nursed his vindictive hatred of his brother, and only
waited a favorable opportunity to barbarously murder him. For it was a
murder of the most savage kind, John; poor Louis' body was frightfully
battered and bruised. But second thoughts deterred me. You were
related to me by marriage; disgrace to you meant, in some small
measure, disgrace to me; I might, after all, be mistaken in the
conclusions I had drawn; it would only be fair, before proceeding to
extremities, to give you a chance of saying a word in your own
defense; and, though it may be hard to believe, I have really a
sneaking regard for you. Upon the top of this came the reflection that
you might invent some sort of story, upon the strength of which you
would give yourself up and take the chances of the law. A voluntary
surrender would go far in your favor, and you might issue from the
trial a free man, or if not free, with a nominal punishment for
manslaughter. It was perhaps foolish of me to allow these
considerations to prevail, but it was the course I adopted. So,
bearing away with me the articles which prove your guilt, I stole from
the house unobserved. The next day I was in London. A week passed by,
and no news relating to the murder appeared in the papers, nor was
there any notice of your giving yourself up. This deepened my
conviction that you were the murderer. Innocence proclaims itself,
guilt hides its head. And every hour that was passed fixed the rope
more firmly round your neck in case of discovery. Then I set myself to
the task of finding you, and here you behold me with my round,
unvarnished tale delivered. I think I am entitled to ask a question.
Innocent or guilty, John?"

"Both," I answered.

"Ah. You have heard my story. Let me hear yours."

I related it to him without distortion or exaggeration. As I related
the events of that fatal night I was filled with dismay at the
weakness of the only defense I could make. Conscious of my innocence,
I recognized that my silence and concealment had made the web in which
I was entangled so strong that there was no human hope of escape. At
the conclusion of my tale Maxwell shook his head and smiled.

"It won't do, John. You will have to invent something more plausible
than that."

"You don't believe me?"

"Ask yourself whether a jury would. The clumsiest lawyer would sweep
away such a cobweb. 'Your story true,' he would say, 'why did you not
come forward immediately and relate it?' Your answer,' I was afraid it
would not be believed.' 'Exactly,' he would say, 'it would not be
believed.' I see the jury putting their heads together; I hear the
judge pronouncing sentence, 'to be hanged by the neck till you are
dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!' No, no, John, it will
not hold water. Capital cigars, these of yours; wish I could afford to
buy a box or two. Well, it may be. I am a very worldly man, John; I
sigh for the fleshpots of Egypt. You would like to know, perhaps, how
I found you out. It wasn't easy. I may thank your lawyer for the
information."

"Did he give you my address?"

"Oh, no. I have held no communication with him. He hasn't a high
opinion of me, I am afraid. Believing that you were in London, and
that you had business to transact with him in connection with
Barbara's money, which ought to have been settled absolutely upon
her, and which, by her will, would have fallen to me--we were very
short-sighted not to have insisted upon the settlement--I kept watch
upon him, and followed him, among other places, to this house. He paid
his second visit to you this evening, but I was not sure you were here
till you made your appearance at the door to purchase a newspaper. The
rest you know."

"Is it the first time you have seen me?"

"The first time since you left England."

It was a great relief to hear this, and to be convinced--as I
was--that he spoke the truth. I was afraid he might have followed me,
earlier in the day, to Ellen's lodgings. He would not spare her;
whether he intended to spare me I had yet to learn. It was to this end
I now spoke.

"Having tracked me down," I said, "what do you intend to do?"

"It depends upon you, John," he answered. "I am disposed to stand your
friend."

"In what way?"

"By keeping silence. It is just on the cards that the body may not be
identified, in which case the secret is yours and mine. If I don't
appear against you, if I destroy the evidence in my possession, you
are safe."

I did not stop to consider. My one, my only thought, was how to secure
Ellen's peace of mind. The means were at my disposal, the opportunity
was offered to me, and I availed myself of it. It was cowardly, the
confession I have made now might as well have been made then, but I
did not foresee the use which Maxwell made of the power he held over
me. He needed money; I gave it to him. He needed more money; I gave it
to him; more, and I still gave it to him. At first I submitted to his
exactions without remonstrance, but as they became more oppressive I
offered resistance. Then he threatened, and I became a coward again.
The honest course was before me and I stepped aside. At all hazards I
should have taken it, and submitted to the ordeal. Too late I see my
error.

Alas, those fatal words--too late! How often have they wrecked life
and honor and happiness; how often have they brought misery and shame
not only upon the cowardly doer of wrong, but upon those who trusted
and believed in him! And yet it was to save Ellen and my son from the
misery and shame which my punishment would have brought to them that I
did as I have done. I have no other excuse to offer.

Again and again has Maxwell pointed out that the arguments he used
were not fallacious, and in this he was right. Up to the present
moment the body of Louis has not been identified. For a few weeks
after the discovery of the murder the newspapers continued to give
their readers such information as was supplied by the police--meagre
and unsatisfactory enough, and leading to no solution of the
mystery--until another tragic sensation thrust it from the public
mind. All this time I have been in hiding, with Maxwell ever dogging
and robbing me; all this time I have been sending letters to Ellen in
the care of my solicitor, making false excuses for my detention in
Australia; all this time I have been receiving letters from her, every
line in which proved the faith and trust she had in me, and her
confidence that what I did was right. The sweetest, the dearest
letters! With eyes over-brimming I have read and re-read them--read
them with shame, with terror, with remorse, with the distracting
thought eternally in my mind, "If she but knew--if she but knew!"

Would it have been better for me had Louis' mother been alive? This
reflection has frequently occurred to me. She loved him and hated me,
and this love and hate linked us together in her mind. His
disappearance would have brought into play the full power of her
malignity and love. She would have moved heaven and earth to unravel
the mystery, and I do not doubt that she would have dragged me from
the frightful haven of unrest in which I have been lurking. Would it
have been better for me? Perhaps.

Not much that Maxwell says deserves to be remembered, but certain
words he spoke have burnt themselves into my heart. "Innocence
proclaims itself; guilt hides its head." It is not always true.
Proclaiming myself guilty I protest my innocence of evil intent.

And now I am ruined and a beggar. Maxwell's exactions have brought me
to this pass; all that remains is Ellen's pitiful allowance. Maxwell,
by some means, has discovered this, and has repeatedly threatened to
denounce me if I do not hand it over to him. If I were weak enough to
yield he would devise some new form of torture when that small sum was
squandered.

It shall not be. Hope is dead; my life is desolate. Despairing days,
sleepless nights--I live in purgatory. The end has come, my confession
is made. Solemnly I declare that every word I have written is true.
Dear Ellen, forgive me, comfort me, console me!



                               PART II.



                            CHAPTER XXVII.

             RELATED BY PAUL GODFREY, PRIVATE DETECTIVE.


It is not often that a private detective--that is my occupation, and I
am not ashamed of it--takes up a case for love, but that is what I did
when I took up the great Rye Street murder. I don't deny that
professional pride had something to do with it, for any man would have
been proud to be employed in putting together the pieces of so
celebrated a mystery. It was love that gave me the command, and that
is not the least curious part of an affair which filled the newspapers
for weeks, and puzzled the cleverest heads in Scotland Yard. The way
of it was this. A few years ago business took me to Swanage, where I
met Miss Cameron, her Christian name, Ellen. She and her mother (since
dead) had gone there for Mrs. Cameron's health. I was, and still am, a
bachelor, and I fell in love with Miss Cameron. I proposed and was not
accepted, and I left Swanage a sadder, but I can't say a wiser man.
Proverbs and popular sayings don't always apply.

In such circumstances some men are angry; others pretend not to care,
and say there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it.
Others are sorry for a week or so, and then see another girl who takes
their fancy. It was not the case with me. I knew I had lost a prize,
and that it would be a long time before I got over it. Between you and
me I don't think I have got over it to this day, and that, perhaps, is
a thing I ought not to say. It is down, however, and there it shall
remain.

Before I bade Miss Cameron good-bye in Swanage I couldn't help saying
that if it was ever in my power to serve her I would do so willingly.
I hadn't the least idea that I should ever be called upon, and I
should have called the man a fool who said, "One of these days you
will find yourself engaged in a murder case that has set all the
country ringing, and in which the happiness of the woman you love is
at stake." Clever writers say it is the unexpected that always
happens. It happened to me.

On the morning of my introduction into the case I was sitting in my
office, idling away my time. I had nothing particular to do, and was
waiting for something to turn up in the way of business. It seemed as
if I should not have long to wait, for my clerk came in and said that
a lady wished to see me. I brisked up. Ladies don't come to a private
detective for nothing. "Divorce case," thought I.

"What name?" I asked.

"Name of Cameron," my clerk answered. "Lady didn't have a card."

I jumped up, all my nerves tingling, and told the lad to show the lady
in. I didn't wait for him to do it, though; I pushed past him, and
there stood Ellen Cameron, the woman I loved and had never forgotten.
I held out my hand with a smile, and she took it with a sigh. Her sad
face showed that she was in trouble; her lips quivered as she asked
whether I could give her a few minutes of my time, and her hand was
cold as ice.

"If any one calls," I said to my clerk, "I am busy." And I led Miss
Cameron to my private room.

"You want my advice," I said, drawing a chair up to the table; "sit
down and tell me all about it. How did you find me out?"

"I saw your advertisement in the paper," she answered; "and I thought
you would be willing to assist me."

The newspaper in which I advertise twice a week was on the table.

"You thought right," I said, and would have said more if I had not
observed that her eyes were fixed with fear upon the newspaper. I
looked over her shoulder, and saw that she was gazing upon a paragraph
headed, "The Rye Street Murder."

It will clear the ground if I give the substance of this paragraph,
which I had already read with great interest.

On the previous evening John Fordham presented himself at the
Marylebone Police Court, and had charged himself with the murder,
stating that the murdered man was his half-brother, that the name (up
till then unknown) was Louis Fordham, and that he had acted in
self-defense. According to his tale this John Fordham landed in
Liverpool from an Australian vessel on the night of a great snowstorm,
and being anxious to get to London without delay, was walking to the
Lime Street station to catch a train. Passing through Rye Street, a
man rushed out of a house and attacked him. A desperate struggle
ensued, in the course of which he was dragged into a house and up the
stairs into a room on the first floor, where he fell down in a state
of unconsciousness. When he came to his senses he saw the body of the
man by whom he had been attacked, and was horrified by the discovery
that it was his half-brother, Louis Fordham. Distracted, and scarcely
knowing what he was about, he left the house and took a morning train
to London, where, living under an assumed name, he had been in hiding
ever since. He made no disclosure of the motive which had induced him
to give himself up after this lapse of time. His statement was taken
down by the inspector; who, of course, asked him no questions.

This was the bare story, and I attached no credence to it, having made
up my mind at once that John Fordham was guilty, and that he had been
driven by remorse to take the last step.

"What will be done to him?" asked Miss Cameron, in a trembling voice,
pointing to the paragraph.

Surprised at the question I drew the newspaper away, saying it was of
no importance what became of this John Fordham, and that she had
better proceed to the business she had called upon.

"But what will become of him?" she asked again.

I shrugged my shoulders, and to satisfy her said he would be brought
up at the police court, and would be remanded.

"And then?"

"He will be remanded two or three times to enable the police to make
inquiries, after which he will be committed for trial."

"And acquitted?" she exclaimed, clasping her hands, and with such an
appealing look in her eyes--as though I were the judge who was trying
the man--that I held my breath and made no reply. The suspicion that
flashed upon me--that she had come to ask my assistance in this very
murder--staggered me; but I steadied myself, and inquired if it really
was the case.

"Yes," she answered. "You believe him guilty?"

"From what is stated here I can come to no other conclusion."

At this she fairly broke down, and I sat staring open-mouthed at her
tears and misery. Dropping her veil over her face she tottered to the
door, and was about to leave when I stopped her.

"No, Miss Cameron," I said; "you must not go away like that. You have
come to ask my assistance, and I will give it you. There may be some
mystery here which needs unraveling. I place myself honestly and
unreservedly at your service. But you must be absolutely frank with
me; to enable me to serve you nothing must be concealed--understand,
nothing."

Let me confess, though the stronger reason for this offer was to be
found in the interest I took in Miss Cameron, in my sympathy for her,
that I was urged thereto by a less powerful motive. My professional
pride was aroused by the suggestion of a mystery which I might be the
means of bringing to light. To a man like myself, nothing more
attractive could present itself.

She turned to me with a gasp of thankfulness.

"I will conceal nothing," she said. "You will condemn me, perhaps, but
I must not allow that to stand in the way. There is no other man I can
trust, there is no other man that can serve me, there is no other man
who can prove John Fordham to be innocent of the crime of which he
accuses himself."

"You believe him to be innocent."

"To believe him otherwise would be to lose my faith in the goodness of
God. This will explain all. When you have read it you will know what
John Fordham is to me, and whether there is any chance of proving his
innocence. You have used the word 'mystery.' There is a mystery here
which only a man in your profession can solve, which only a true
friend would take the trouble to solve. How thankful, how thankful I
am that I came to you!"

She took a large packet from beneath her mantle, and placed it in my
hands; then, giving me her address, and saying she would always be at
home, or would call upon me at any time I might appoint, she left me
to the perusal of the manuscript. But I did not apply myself to it
immediately, beyond glancing at the opening words. Thinking I might be
in time to see John Fordham brought up at the police court, I posted
off to Marylebone, and there I found the case proceeding. Fordham was
in the dock, a pale, worn man, with an expression on his face of one
who had undergone much suffering. He looked like a gentleman, but I
did not allow that to influence me, for I put no trust in appearances.
There are men standing high in public esteem whose faces would condemn
them if they were charged with a criminal offense; and guilt itself
too often wears the aspect of innocence. Asked if he had anything to
say, Fordham replied that he hoped to be able on his trial to make a
statement, which would be accepted in extenuation of his crime; until
that time arrived he would be silent, but if he could assist the
police in any way, he was ready to do so. This unusual reply awoke
within me a stronger interest in him, and I studied his features
carefully; there was stamped upon them the expression of a man who had
prepared himself for the worst. The police asked for a remand, which
was granted, and he was taken back to the cells. As I issued from the
court a cab drove up, and Miss Cameron alighted; she had taken a
four-wheeler, and was too late for this preliminary examination. I
hastened to her, and told her what had taken place.

"Shall I be allowed to see him?" she asked.

I said there would be no difficulty, but that it would be best to
consult a solicitor. She mentioned the name of one who had acted for
Fordham for several years, and I advised her to go to him. She thanked
me and drove off, and I returned to my office to read John Fordham's
Confession.

If I were to attempt to describe at any length the impression it
produced upon me I should fail. I am very fond of fiction, and I have
read most of the leading novels of my time, but I doubt if I have ever
read anything in which a man's trials and sorrows were more powerfully
portrayed. I do not speak in a literary sense, for in that respect I
am a poor judge, but the effect of this Confession upon me was
startling. I seemed to see the man's heart and soul, and sometimes I
lost sight of the fact that I was perusing a story of real life. The
kind allusion to myself and the thoughtful suppression of my name
affected me strongly, and John Fordham's description of the character
of Ellen Cameron showed me what a treasure I had lost. But I should
have been a despicable fellow to bear him any animosity for having won
the love I sought, and I thought none the worse of him or Ellen
Cameron for having thrown their lots together.

So much for my private feelings and for the small part I had played in
Miss Cameron's life. I set them aside entirely, and threw myself heart
and soul into the mystery which surrounded the murder.

It was plain enough to me that the Confession was worthless as
evidence; a clever writer might have invented and written it for the
purpose of exculpating himself, and by Fordham's own admission he was
a writer of great power. I had read the articles he wrote on
drunkenness, and I knew that the pictures he presented were drawn from
life. But if they were cited at his trial they would tell against
instead of for him, and would serve to discount the speech he might
make in his defense. The mystery must be grappled with in a more
practical manner, and I was the more determined to grapple with it
sensibly and with as little sentiment as possible, because, when I
finished the Confession I was convinced that Fordham was quite
truthful in all he had set down. It would be hoping too much to hope
that the judge and jury would think so, but I might succeed in
discovering something that would lead to a verdict of manslaughter,
and the passing of a light sentence; and it was not altogether
impossible that a verdict of complete acquittal might be compassed. In
which case what becomes of the censure passed by Fordham's solicitor
upon the class to which I belong? I cast the word "vermin" in his
teeth. He and others are glad enough to avail themselves of our
services when they need them.

Fordham says that to establish his innocence (or bring about his
acquittal, which I suppose means the same thing) a miracle is needed.
Not at all. If it is done, common sense will do it. So, to work.

How many persons in the drama? Leaving out Ellen Cameron, who is not
connected with the mystery, six.

Mrs. Fordham, John Fordham's stepmother. Dead.

Louis Fordham. Dead.

Barbara, wife of John Fordham. Dead.

Annette, the French maid. Disappeared. No mention of her.

Maxwell. Alive. Where was he?

John Fordham. In prison.

There remained, therefore, only one person upon whom there was a
likelihood of laying hands. Maxwell. I must see him. John Fordham
would be able to give me his address. I decided to seek an interview
with John Fordham early in the morning.

But would it be easy to find Maxwell? He was accessory after the
fact. John Fordham seems not to have thought of that. Maxwell, with
better knowledge of the law, undoubtedly thought of it. Natural
conclusion--Maxwell would keep out of the way. No reason why he should
not be tracked. It was something in my line.

About the house in Rye street, in which Louis Fordham met his death,
and the circumstances of the fatal struggle. Was it likely that Louis
alone knew of the house and had no confederates? Not at all likely.
Who were his confederates? I put the name of one on paper--Maxwell.
Good! A ray of light. Like looking through a chink in the floor. I saw
possibilities.

Who took the house, and for what purpose was it taken? Certainly not
for the purpose of killing John Fordham. I dismissed the idea
instantly. The confederates, even if they knew the name of the vessel
in which John Fordham was traveling, could not have known that it
would arrive at such and such an hour on such and such a day; could
not have known that he would walk through Rye Street on his way to the
railway station; could not have known that a great snowstorm would
arise to cloak their proceedings; could not have timed the moment that
he would pass the house. Natural conclusion that the meeting between
him and Louis was accidental, and that during the struggle, Louis was
as little aware as John of the identity of his assailant.

And here I was confronted with those elements of the affair which
added to John Fordham's danger. His taking Louis' ulster to hide the
stains of blood on his clothes, his accidental picking up of Louis'
watch, believing it to be his own, his assumed name, and his remaining
in hiding for so long a time. To all these I had satisfactory answers,
but no jury in the world would entertain them. My hopes fell almost to
zero.

I was setting these details down in the order of their occurrence. Of
the strange discoveries I subsequently made I will make no mention
till the proper time arrives. Before I went to bed I posted a
comforting letter to Miss Cameron, in which I said much of my hopes
and nothing of my fears.

On the following day I paid a visit to John Fordham. He looked at me
suspiciously, and was not satisfied with my friendly professions until
I related the manner of my introduction into the business. When I
mentioned Miss Cameron's name his eyes became suffused with tears.

"What do you expect to do for me," he asked, "when my own evidence
proves my guilt?"

"Do you believe yourself to be guilty of murder?" I asked in return.

"No," he answered.

"Would it not be a good thing to convince others of that?"

"Indeed it would," he said, but shaking his head at the same time, as
though it were not possible.

"At all events," I continued, "it is your clear duty to do all you can
to remove the stigma from those you love. There is a mystery to be
solved; at Miss Cameron's request I have undertaken the task--with
what success remains to be seen. If you will have confidence in me it
will make the task all the easier. Surely it is not for you to throw
difficulties in the way of your friends."

"Forgive me," he said. "I am ungrateful. I will tell you anything you
wish to know."

"First, as to Maxwell. Had he any suspicion of your intention to give
yourself up?"

"I do not think so."

"It will come upon him as a blow. Can you give me his address?"

"I do not know it."

"Since your arrival in England have you never visited him?"

"Never."

"Nor written to him?"

"No."

"He visited you frequently?"

"Two or three times a week for the purpose of obtaining money from
me."

"He wrote to you?"

"Occasionally."

"Was there no address on his letters?"

"None."

"Did it not strike you as somewhat singular?"

"I never gave it a thought."

"And of course you did not examine the postmarks on the envelopes?"

"I did not."

"Did you destroy his letters?"

"Not all. There may be one or two in a desk in my lodgings."

I scribbled an order which he signed. It gave me authority to enter
his rooms and look through the desk, the lock of which he informed me
was broken. He then furnished me with a precise description of the
personal appearance of Maxwell.

"Your wife's maid, Annette, had another name?"

"Her full name was Annette Lourbet."

"Have you any idea what has become of her?"

"No."

"I want you now to take your mind back to the night of the struggle. It
appears very strange to me that in the course of the fight you should
both have ascended a flight of stairs. Much more likely to have
stumbled down than up. Can you account for it?"

"No."

"When you finally left the house, Louis Fordham's body was lying at
the end of the room opposite the door. Can you be sure of that?"

"I am quite sure."

"The table was in the middle of the room?"

"Yes."

"Some significant details have escaped your notice. Do you not
recollect that in the newspaper reports it was stated that Louis' body
was beneath the table?"

He started at this, and I perceived that he was becoming more
interested.

"I recollect it, but it did not strike me at the time, my mind being
occupied by but one thought. Louis was dead. I had killed him."

"It appears strange to you now?"

"Very strange," he answered, thoughtfully.

"In order to argue this out," I continued, "I will suppose that when
you left the house, you were mistaken in your belief that Louis was
dead. Shortly afterwards he came to his senses. Getting upon his feet
he staggered about the room in the dark till his hands touched the
table. In his endeavors to reach the door the table was upset."

"Yes, that explains it."

I smiled at his readiness and simplicity. "But the fairer assumption
is that he would have fallen upon the table, not under it."

He stared at me; a light seemed to be breaking upon him. In an
unsteady voice he asked, "What deduction do you draw from that?"

"That another person entered the house after your departure; that
another person hurled the table--a massive oak table, according to the
newspaper reports--upon the body in such a way as to purposely
mutilate the features."

"Another person did enter," said John Fordham.

"I know. Maxwell."

"Yes, Maxwell. He happened, as he said, to be passing through the
street on the night of the snowstorm, and found the street door open."

"I have read the particulars in the document you sent to Miss Cameron.
Do you believe his statement?"

"What reason is there for disbelief?" he asked, "when he was
acquainted with so many things which I thought no one knew but
myself?"

"Which you thought. It would, perhaps, be more correct to say that you
accepted his statement without thinking. Mr. Fordham, it is not my
habit to throw discredit upon coincidences; at the same time I do not
accept them blindly, and I decline to accept this. In an inquiry such
as this upon which I am engaged my mind is open not only to
probabilities but to possibilities; everything humanly possible must
be taken into account. Let one of the reins slip through your fingers,
and you upset the coach. Maxwell says he found the street door open;
you state that when you left the house you closed it behind you. I
range myself on your side. The street door was shut."

"Then to enter the house Maxwell must have had a key?"

"Exactly. He had a key, and he and your half-brother were accomplices.
From your experience of them, probable or possible?"

"Probable. But this will not exculpate me."

"I do not know where it will lead, but I intend to follow it up if I
can. By the way, where was your wife buried?"

"In the Highgate Cemetery," he answered, with a look of surprise,
"where my father lies. We have a family grave there."

"Your stepmother must have been buried in that grave."

"Very likely--but these are idle questions."

"Not so idle as they seem, perhaps. Another question, more to the
point. Maxwell states that he found three articles belonging to you in
the Rye Street house--your watch, your gold-digger's knife, and your
matchbox. Did he return them to you?"

"No. He retained them as evidence against me."

"I shall be astonished if they are ever brought against you. My
impression is that he will keep out of the way. I may not have time to
see you again this week. If you have anything to communicate--if
anything occurs to you that may assist me--write to my office."

I proceeded immediately to John Fordham's lodgings, where he was known
as John Fletcher, and had a chat with the landlady. She spoke in the
highest terms of her lodger; he was polite and civil, "a perfect
gentleman," and gave no trouble; but she knew "all along that there
was something on his mind." He always paid in advance, and there was a
fortnight of his last payment still to run. In his desk I found only
one letter from Maxwell; the envelope had been destroyed. It was
friendly, and contained nothing incriminating. There was a reference
in it to "low spirits" from which "dear John" was suffering, and the
writer, who signed himself "M.," could not understand why John Fordham
should be so melancholy. "Cheer up, old fellow," said "M.," "I shall
come and see you tomorrow, and shall try to put some life into you." I
understood why the letter was so carefully worded; Maxwell was
guarding himself against the chance of his correspondence falling into
other hands. Before I left the house, with the letter in my pocket, I
inquired of the landlady whether she had seen Maxwell and had spoken
to him.

"Oh, yes," she answered. "Mr. Maxwell is a very pleasant gentleman,
and often asked me if I knew what made Mr. Fletcher so low-spirited,
but of course I couldn't tell him."

Maxwell had evidently acted with great caution.

A few hours afterwards I got out at the Liverpool station. My business
in that city did not take me long, but it led to something of the
greatest importance.

In Fordham's written story of his life which he had sent to Miss
Cameron he says he is uncertain whether the man who attacked him
rushed out of a courtway or a house. There is no court near the house
in which the struggle took place, therefore that point is settled. The
house is still uninhabited, and I had no difficulty in obtaining
admission. Mentally following the course of the fatal struggle between
John and Louis Fordham from the street door to the room on the first
floor in which Louis' body was found, I was struck by the peculiar
formation of the staircase. There were two sharp turns in it, one of
them being nearly an acute angle. That two men striking blindly at
each other, and fighting for life or death in dense darkness, should
have ascended this staircase, seemed to me exceedingly improbable, and
the doubt presented itself whether John Fordham's account of the
conflict was to be depended upon. When a man's sober senses are at
fault, he is apt to be misled by his imagination. Was it so in this
instance?

I examined the oak table in the room. It is of unusual size, six feet
square, exceedingly heavy, and set on four massive legs. All the
pressure I could bring to bear upon it was ineffective in tilting it,
and I came to the positive conclusion that it could only have been
overturned by a powerful effort from beneath. This proved that neither
John nor Louis was responsible for the position in which the table was
found by the police. I was convinced that a third person was
implicated in the tragic affair; but though it was inevitable that my
suspicions should point to Maxwell, I did not pledge myself to it.
There might have been a fourth.

My interview with the agent who had let the house to a "Mr. Mollison"
for a month upon trial opened up the field of conjecture, and was the
means of leading to a direct clue--in fact, to two. He had seen Mr.
Mollison on one occasion only, and he gave me such a confused and
bungling description of that person that I felt it would be foolish to
place any dependence upon it. In relation to this description I put
but one question to him.

"Did you observe a scar upon Mr. Mollison's forehead?"

"No," he answered, after a little hesitation: "I do not think there was
any scar."

We then spoke of the London reference which Mr. Mollison had given
him, and he produced the letter he had received in reply to his own.
It was signed "R. Lambert," and addressed, 214 Adelaide Road, N. W.
From subsequent inquiries I learned that this house had been inhabited
for only a few weeks during the last six or seven years, and then not
by a person of the name of Lambert.

Now, I do not profess to be an expert in handwriting, but placing F.
Lambert's letter by the side of Maxwell's, which I had taken from John
Fordham's desk, a certain resemblance (by no means perfect) forced
itself upon my attention. Accompanied by the agent, I went to the
office of an expert, who partially confirmed my suspicion, but
declined to pledge himself to it without a more minute examination. I
left the letters with him, and directed him to forward them to London
with his report. This was one of the clues I obtained during my brief
stay in Liverpool. The more important one (which led to a startling
result) was obtained in the following manner:

On our way from the office of the expert in handwriting to that of the
agent, the latter mentioned that, although he had seen Mr. Mollison
only once, a clerk in his employ had met him in the street after the
house was taken. Without delay I interviewed this clerk, who admitted
that he had seen Mr. Mollison a fortnight after the agreement was
signed. Having taken no particular notice of that gentleman, he could
furnish me with no better description of him than his master had
supplied, except that he looked like a gentleman.

"Which was more than the man who was with him did," he added.

"Oh," I said, "he was not alone?"

"No," was the reply, "he was walking with a friend."

"With a friend?" I said. "Though one was a gentleman and the other was
not?"

"Well, I suppose they were friends, because they were laughing at
something."

"What did the other man look like?"

"A common sort of man; but he was dressed well enough. I can't say he
seemed easy in his clothes."

"What made you notice him particularly?"

"As I came up to them Mr. Mollison said, 'You did it cleverly, Jack.'
'Oh, I can show 'em a trick or two,' said the man he called Jack; and
then they burst out laughing. That made me turn round and look at the
clever one."

"What did you notice in him?"

"That his face was pock-marked, and that he had a club foot."

"Was he tall or short?"

"Short."

"Did they see you looking at them?"

"I think so, because just then they turned the other way."

"And did you not follow them?"

"What should I follow them for?"

I pressed him hard, but he could tell me nothing more.

All the way back to London my thoughts ran chiefly on this
club-footed, pock-marked Jack. Such a business as mine brings a man
into queer company, and, without boasting, I may say that I am
acquainted with half the bad characters in London. Some years ago I
was a detective in the police force, but thinking I could do better, I
said good-bye to Scotland Yard, and started a private office of my
own. I like a free hand, and I got it and have done well with it.

Jack. With a club foot. A short man, who did not seem easy in good
clothes. His face pock-marked. What better marks of identification
could a detective desire? I was on the threshold of discovery, and yet
some perverse streak kept me from seeing it. Not till the train was a
mile from St. Pancras did I suddenly cry aloud--for all the world as
though the name flashed itself out on one of the advertisements in the
carriage--"Jack Skinner!"

Yes, Jack Skinner. He answered the description perfectly. He was
short, he was pock-marked, he had a club foot, he was accustomed to
wear fustian. I was really annoyed with myself that I had not thought
of him at once. But it happens so sometimes.

Jack was his proper name. I dare say. Skinner was a nickname, bestowed
upon him for certain peculiarities by which he was distinguished. The
house-agent's clerk heard him say, "I can show 'em a trick or two." I
should think he could. No man better. But for all that, he hadn't done
any good for himself. Jack and I were old friends. I nicked him once
as clean as a whistle, and got him three months. "You're too much for
me, guv'nor," he said with a grin. He had a wholesome fear of me, but
it was a long time since I had set eyes on him.

The board was before me, with a lot of pieces on it. My next move was
to hunt Jack down. I will not waste time by relating how I did it. A
fortnight it took me before I had him under my thumb. I don't mind
confessing (I didn't tell him as much) that I was not prepared for the
disclosures he made. They took me fairly by surprise, and let a lot of
light upon the Rye Street Mystery.

I shall let Jack speak for himself. The story he related shall be told
in his own words.



                              PART III.



                           CHAPTER XXVIII.

                   JACK SKINNER MAKES A STATEMENT.


Look 'ere. It ain't a plant, is it? I'm a bad lot, I know, about as
bad as they make 'em, but when it comes to committin' a murder, it
ain't in me to do it. If I 'ad the 'eart to kill a man, I ain't got
the pluck--Wot's that yer say? I 'ad a 'and in it? I'll take my oath
on my mother's Bible I 'adn't. I don't remember my mother--I wos
chucked on the world wery young, guv'nor--and I don't know as she ever
'ad a Bible, but that don't make no difference, do it? If she did 'ave
a Bible, and it was afore me now, I'd take my oath on it. I can't
speak fairer nor that, can I? I wos there--I don't deny I wos there
when it wos done but I 'adn't no more to do with it than the babby
unborn. If it wos the last word I 'ad to speak with my dyin' breath,
I'd swear I didn't 'ave no 'and in it, and I couldn't prevent it no
more nor you could, guv'nor, bein', as I dessay you wos, a 'undered
mile away at the time. Why, it come upon me like a clap of thunder,
and upon Mr. Louis, too, pore chap, and there 'e wos--good Lord! I can
'ardly bring my tongue to say it--there 'e wos, layin' on the flore,
stone dead, and the blood porein' out of 'im.

'Ere, I can't stand it no longer, I can't. From that night to this
I've never 'ad a easy minute. 'Underds and 'underds of times since
then I've seed 'im layin' afore me as 'e laid that night. It wos only
yesterday, while I wos playin' a game o' pyramids, and the red balls
wos scattered all over the table, that all of a suddent there wos the
pore chap layin' on the green cloth in the middle of a dozen large,
round clots o' blood. It was only a wision, I know, like any number of
others I've 'ad, but it turned me sick, and put me off my play so that
I couldn't pot a ball all through the game. Never a green field I see
but there 'e is, layin' in the middle of it, with the grass all red
about 'im. It ain't a pleasant sight, guv'nor, is it? It sets me all
of a tremble, and over and over again I've sed to myself, "Make a
clean breast of it, Jack, and bring it 'ome to the man wot done the
deed. You can't be 'ung for it, you can't, Jack," ses I to myself,
"cos your 'and wos never raised agin 'im. Make a clean breast of it,
wunst and for all, and get rid of the wisions that's a 'aunting of yer
day and night." And now, on the top o' that, you come to me, guv'nor,
and ses, "Yer've got to tell me everythink, Jack, about that there
murder. Prove to me yer didn't do it, and not a 'air of your 'ead
shall be touched. Scot free yer shall go, and for wunst in your life
yer'll 'ave the satisfaction of bein' on the right side o' justice."
Ses you to me, "Keep yer mouth shut, and yer'll find yerself in a
'ole. Queen's evidence is your game, Jack, if yer know wot's good for
yerself."

Well, guv'nor, when I put alongside o' that wot I've read in the
papers about somebody givin' of 'isself up for the murder, it makes me
think I'd best accept yer orfer. Guv'nor, I do accept it. 'Ere's my
'and. But there's somethink you've got to do fust. You've got to take
yer Gospel oath that yer'll be as good as yer word, and that I sha'n't
be 'urt for wot I didn't do. You're willing? Well, take it.

That's bindin', mind yer, and don't forgit yer'll be burnt in 'ell
fire if yer've swored false. 'Ave yer got anythink else to say afore I
start? I don't want to be meddled with once I begin, 'cause it'd be
bound to muddle me, and I should git off the track. I must tell
everythink I know about myself and my pals and Mr. Louis? It's a large
order, but all right. A clean breast I've promised to make, and a
clean breast it shall be. 'Ere goes.

There wos three of us, outside of 'im that's gone. Maxwell (that's the
only name I knowed 'im by), and Morgan (that's the only name I knowed
'im by), and me. They called me Jack, and if yer don't mind I'll call
the other Louis. It saves a lot of time to drop the misters.

There ain't much to tell about myself up to the time I fust set eyes
on Maxwell and Morgan. I never learnt a honest trade, and in course I
'ad to do somethink for a livin'. I've been a billiard marker, a
race-course runner, a ticker snatcher, a crossin' sweeper (not longer
at that nor I could 'elp, it wos playin' it so low), a tout for
sharps, a decoy for mugs, a thimble-rigger, a tipster, a nigger
minstrel, and I don't know what else. Wunst I wos that 'ard up that I
carried a Punch and Judy for a showman mean enough to skin a flint; 'e
wouldn't pay me wot wos doo, so me and Toby took our 'ook together.
There wos a week I run arter cabs from the railway stations on the
chance of a job to carry the luggage in. Yer can't play it much lower
nor that, can yer, guv'nor? The things I could tell 'd fill a book if
I 'ad the gift to set 'em down. If I'd been eddycated up to it I might
'ave done well among the swells, I'm that neat with the pasteboards. I
can shuffle 'em in any way I want, kings at top, aces at bottom, in
the middle, anywhere you like. My fingers wos made for it. Set down at
all-fours with me, and I'll tell yer every card in yer 'and. With
three peas and a thimble I've earnt many a thick 'un. And now yer've
got my pickcher. If open confession's good for the soul, I ought to
feel comfortable about mine.

It wos billiards as fust brought me and Maxwell and Morgan together. I
wos marker at the Jolly Ploughboy under a false name, and when they
come in I wos practising the spot stroke, no one else bein' in the
room. I'd made thirteen spots, and wos well set for a run, but the
minute I set eyes on 'em I began to kid, and missed a lot of winnin'
'azards. I wosn't born yesterday, yer know. They stood watchin' me a
little till I laid down my cue and arst 'em if they wanted a game.
They looked at each other, and larfed. "O-ho," sed I to myself,
"'untin' for mugs."

"If he ain't 'ere at four o'clock," sed Maxwell to Morgan, "we needn't
egspect 'im till five."

"That's so," sed Morgan.

They waited till five minutes past four, but the party they wos
egspectin' didn't turn up.

"We'll secure the table," sed Maxwell, and arst me 'ow many I'd give
'im in a 'undered.

"'Ow many 'll yer give me?" wos the question I put to 'im.

"That's cool," sed 'e, "a billiard marker wantin' points."

"I ain't been long at the game," sed I, by way of apology.

"We want the table till seven," sed Maxwell, "to play with a friend
wot's comin' to see us, so you and me 'll 'ave a game even."

"I'll try my luck," sed I, and we set to work, Morgan bein' so
obligin' as to mark for us.

"Let's 'ave a bet on it," sed Maxwell.

"I'm agreeable, as fur as a shillin' goes," sed I; "it's as much as I
can afford to lose."

It wos a funny game. 'E 'adn't taken 'arf-a-dozen shots afore I sor 'e
wos kiddin', missin' easy shots, and makin' difficult ones, and
pretendin' they wos flukes. But I could kid as well as 'im, and I
don't think 'e suspected my play 'arf as much as I suspected 'is. We
passed each other over and over agin; now 'e wos a'ead, now me. Morgan
seemed to be amused at the game, and wos wery free with 'is remarks.
At 'arf-past four Maxwell wos eighty-two, and I was twelve behind.

"Let's make it two 'undered," 'e sed, "and double the stakes."

"All right," sed I, "we ain't dabs either of us."

We went on with the game, scorin' wery slow. At ten minutes to five we
wos "140 all," neck and neck. Maxwell looked up at the clock.

"Our friend 'll be 'ere in ten minutes," sed 'e; and I'm blest if 'e
didn't set to work and score fifty-eight off the balls, within two of
the game.

"Ten to one in shillin's you lose, marker," sed Morgan, when 'is pal
commenced 'is big break.

"Done with you, sir," sed I, but I didn't like the bet a bit when I
sor wot Maxwell could do with the balls. Luckily for me 'e missed 'is
last shot, a loser off the white, and I knew it wos all up with me if
I give 'im another chance. So I pulled myself together, and played up
in real earnest. I wanted sixty to win, and I run 'em out jest as the
clock struck five. They looked staggered a minute, and then they bust
out larfin', and threw me my winnin's. As I wos pocketin' the twelve
bob with a innercent look (the money come wery 'andy jest then,
guv'nor) the friend they wos waitin' for pops 'is 'ead in. It was pore
Louis. I can't say I ever took to 'im, 'e wos that stuck up, but when
a cove comes to sech a end as 'e come to it sorftens the 'eart.

The minute I sor 'im I spotted wot they wos up to. Maxwell and 'im wos
old friends accordin' to their talk, but Morgan wos a new pal, and it
wos 'im as tackled Louis at billiards. Louis had plenty of money to
sport; e'd been backin' winners, and 'ad pulled off a double event,
two thousan' to twenty. It made my mouth water to 'ear 'em talk about
it. Maxwell 'ad been nicked the other way through backin' losers.

"Wot does it matter?" 'e cried. "Every dawg 'as 'is day. It'll be our
turn next."

"You think yerself clever, you do," sneered Louis. "You've only got to
touch a thing to make a mess of it."

"You're the clever one," sed Maxwell, but I sor 'e didn't like the
slap.

"Wot do you think?" said Louis, rattlin' the money in 'is pocket.

Morgan and 'im played pyramids at fust, a dollar a ball. Louis fancied
'isself a bit, and they kep' praising 'is good shots, but 'e wos as
much a match for the man 'e wos playin' with as a mouse is for a cat.
It didn't take me long to see that Morgan could give Louis four balls
out of fifteen, and beat 'is 'ead off. But the way 'e kidded! I never
sor anythink like it. 'E let Louis win three games right off, and then
they played a match at billiards, five 'undered up. Maxwell backed
Louis, and they 'ad any amount of larfin' and charfin' over the game.
It wosn't my place to say anythink; it's a marker's business to 'old
'is tongue if e' wants to keep 'is place. Besides, wosn't I as bad as
they wos, and wouldn't I 'ave won money of Louis if 'e'd give me 'arf
a chance? Not that Morgan took any of 'is tin that afternoon. 'E won
five pound, and so did Maxwell, and 'e chuckled over it as if 'e'd won
a 'atful. They went away when the game wos over, and didn't come into
that billiard room agin while I wos marker there.

"I didn't stop long, it's true. There was a devil of a row one night,
and a man who knew me rounded on me and called me a thief. While the
row wos goin' on in come the landlord with 'is fightin' potman, and I
was bundled out neck and crop. It ain't easy to get a honest living,
guv'nor. I wasn't flush of tin, when I lost my situation; 'arf a quid
was all I 'ad, and that was soon blooed. Then I 'ad sech a spell o'
bad luck that it drove me fairly wild. Windsor races wos on, and I
thought I'd try my luck there, so I borrowed a old pack o' cards, a
deal board, and a couple of tressels, and tramped it to the course,
startin' in the night to get there in time. I give yer my word I wos
'most starved, and as for my togs--well, I 'ad to tie the soles of my
boots to the uppers with bits of string. Between the races I set up my
table, and begun to show my card tricks. Unfortunately I ain't wery
good at patter, and you know, guv'nor, no one better, wot a long way
that goes with a crowd. I tried to make clever speeches, but couldn't,
and the consekence wos that the day wos nearly over, and eightpence
was all I managed to screw out o' the mangy lot. A tanner o' that went
in 'ard-biled eggs, and bread, and a go o' stooed eels, and there wos
I with tuppence left to take me back to London. It wos Saturday, and
there wos no chance of gittin' anythink to-morrer. A tight 'ole,
wasn't it? A life like mine ain't all beer and skittles, I can tell
yer.

"Down-'earted as I wos, I went on with my tricks, and never did 'em
better in all my life. But it wos no go; them as gathered round
wouldn't part. I wos beggin' of 'em to chuck in their coppers when who
should I see among 'em but Maxwell. 'E didn't speak to me jest then
and 'e didn't give me nothink; presently 'e went away, and come back
with Morgan, and they stood watchin' me shuffle the pasteboards. Then
they looked at each other, and sed somethink I didn't 'ear. Morgan
walked off, leavin' Maxwell be'ind. 'E took me aside.

"Yer down on yer luck," said 'e.

"Never 'ad sech a cussed run in all my born days," sed I, showin' my
rags.

"You're clever with the pasteboards," sed 'e.

"Wish I could git my livin' out of 'em," sed I.

"Per'aps yer can," sed 'e. "If I orfer yer a job will yer take it?"

"Will a duck swim?" I answered.

'E scanned me all over, jest as if 'e was measurin' me for somethink,
and sed, "You ain't over-partickler, I suppose?"

"Me over-partickler!" I cried. "That's a good 'un. Wot sort of a job?"

"Pickin' feathers," he said, as serious as a judge.

"Wot sort of bird?" I arst.

"Pigeon," he answered. "A fine fat 'un."

"I'm yer man," sed I, and then 'e took a card from 'is pocket, and
told me to call at the address to-morrer at one o'clock. 'Is rooms wos
on the fust flore, 'e said, and I was to march straight into the 'ouse
and up the stairs, and say nothink to nobody. As 'e wos tellin' me
this Morgan came runnin' up to 'im and whispered somethink about a
'orse that wos goin' to run in the next race, and they made off
together.

"Mean cuss!" thought I, for the least 'e could 'ave done wos to give
me a bob or two on account, seein' the state I wos in. 'Owsomever, the
chance of a job cheered me up a bit.

When the races wos over I looked about for Maxwell or Morgan, but they
wosn't in sight, and there wos nothink for it but to shoulder my traps
and tramp it to London. Not a pleasant journey, guv'nor, with the rain
comin' down in torrents. Past five in the mornin' when I got back, and
I wos that 'ungry I could have eat a brick if I could 'ave got my
teeth in it. I ain't tellin' yer this to egscuse myself for wot I did
afterwards, only I want yer to know that I wos never in my life so
desperately 'ard up as I was that night when I footed it from Windsor
to London through the peltin' rain. I wouldn't like a dawg belongin'
to me to go through wot I did, and if it 'adn't been for a woman
givin' me the best part of 'er mug of corfey at a night stall at two
in the mornin' it's my opinion I should 'ave 'ad to throw up the
sponge.

The address on the card was Newman Street, Soho, and I wos there to
the minute. Up I limped--I'd run a nail into my foot--to the fust
flore, as Maxwell told me to do, the street dore bein' on the swing.
If anybody 'ad opened it to me they'd 'ave slammed it in my face, and
small blame to 'em, I wos sech a scarecrow. The landin' was so dark
that I could 'ardly see, but my 'and touched a knocker, and I used it
free. Maxwell 'imself answered it, and I follered 'im to 'is room.

"By gum," said 'e, "you've got yerself up for egshibition! 'Ave yer
spent that twelve bob yer won of us at billiards?"

"Give me somethink to eat," sed I. "I'm 'arf starved."

He took a pie of some sort out of a cupboard, and I made short work of
it.

"Beer or whisky?" 'e sed, when I wos arf way through.

"Both," I answered, and 'e laughed as 'e put a bottle o' beer and 'arf
a tumbler of whisky afore me. I finished the beer and put the whisky
atop of it. It warmed me, I can tell yer.

"Now for business," he sed; "but fust go into that bath room, and wash
the dirt off your 'ands." I got 'em as clean as I could, and then 'e
sed, "There's a pack o' cards on the mantelshelf. Let's 'ave a game o'
piquet."

I stared at 'im, and sed I didn't know the game.

"I'll learn it yer," he sed. "You beat me at billiards; I want to see
if yer can beat me at piquet."

"I ain't got no money to lose," sed I.

"We'll play for nuts," sed 'e with a wink.

'E told me all the pints of the game, and in 'arf-a-hour I 'ad it at
my fingers' ends, and knew as much about it as 'e did 'isself.

"D'yer want me to play on the square?" I arst.

"I want to see 'ow yer can palm the cards," he answered. "I told yer
at Windsor yesterday that the job I 'ad to orfer yer wos to pick
feathers. A fat pigeon, with feathers of gold. Do yer twig?"

"Yes," I sed.

"I can palm the pasteboards pritty well myself," he went on, "but I
ain't allus to be depended on. Morgan's a muff, 'is fingers are all
thumbs. 'Old up yer 'ands. Good--as steady as a rock. Come on; it's
your deal."

We played, and I 'ardly ever dealt myself a 'and without four aces, or
four kings, or a point of sixteen or seventeen from the ace. In less
than a hour I won nigh upon a thousand points of 'im. 'E watched me
close, but 'e couldn't find out 'ow it wos done, and 'e said with a
sour grin that I wos the prince o' sharps, and that 'e wouldn't like
to play me for money.

Then 'e let me into the secret. There wos a young feller 'im and
Morgan wos wery intimate with; 'e 'ad money of 'is own, and 'ad won
more at the races, where the three of 'em went together. They'd won a
little off 'im at cards, but they 'ad a notion e' wos gettin'
suspicious of 'em, though they wosn't sure. Per'aps 'e wos, per'aps 'e
wosn't. Their scheme was to introduce a fourth gentleman who'd jine
the game.

"You're the fourth gentleman," sed Maxwell.

"Me!" I cried. "Why, I've only got to open my mouth to show wot I am."

They 'ad considered that. I wos a common, ignorant man, with a good
'eart--I wos to be sure to 'ave a good 'eart--as 'd made a fortune on
the goldfields. I wos to lose money as well as the pigeon, and that'd
make 'im less suspicious. The difference atween me and 'im wos that he
paid in good money and I paid in flash notes.

"One night," sed Maxwell, "arter yer've lost double as much as 'im
yer'll set down with me while 'e's in the room, and in an hour or
two yer'll win back double as much as yer've lost. That'll egg 'im
on, and 'e'll try to do the same with me or you--it don't matter
which--and then we'll clean 'im out. We'll 'ave every shillin' 'e's
got. We play for ready money--no infernal cheques--and when we've done
with 'im 'e can go to the devil. See?"

I did see. It wos a artful plot, and like enough to turn out jest as
'e calkylated.

"Wot am I to gain by it?" I arst.

"A reg'lar swell rig-out," 'e answered, "fine togs, a gold watch and
chain, and a ring, and two pound a week to keep yerself. When the
job's finished yer'll get a fourth of the winnin's."

I didn't throw away the chance--not me! Fine togs, a gold watch and
chain, a ring, and two pound a week--why, it wos a reg'lar slice o'
luck, with me starving, and not knowing where to git my next meal
from!

"I'll jine yer," said I. "'Ere's my 'and on it. Who's the pigeon?"

"D'yer remember that friend of our'n as Morgan played billiards with
at the Jolly Ploughboy?" arst Maxwell.

"Send I may live!" I cried. "If that's 'im we're done! 'E'll know me
agin as sure as guns."

"I'll eat my 'ead if 'e does," sed Maxwell. "You 'ad a mustarsh and a
pair o' whiskers, and you've got 'em now. Shave 'em off, and slip into
yer new togs, and yer own mother wouldn't know yer."

He wos right. Yer wouldn't believe the difference it made in me. When
I looked in the glass I thought I wos some one else.

Louis never suspected, and Maxwell sed I played my part tip-top. 'E
acted square as fur as 'is fust promises went. The watch and chain wos
only silver gilt, and the ring was Abyssinian gold and sham stones,
but the togs wos all right, and so wos the two quid a week. I told 'im
if 'e did me in the end when the job was finished, I'd make it warm
for 'im.

I've come across some bad 'uns in my time, but I never come across
sech a scoundrel as that Maxwell. 'E'd 'ave skinned 'is own mother if
'e could 'ave made anythink out of it and if 'e could 'ave put the
skinnin' on a pal. For that's where 'e beat us--'e knew 'ow to make
'isself safe if we wos blown on. Louis wos mad on 'orse-racin', and so
wos all of us, for the matter of that, but 'e took the cake. We went
all over the country, whenever there wos any sport on, and yer may bet
yer life we never give our own names nowhere. I think that Louis stuck
to us because 'e wos mad to git back the money 'e'd lost to Maxwell
and Morgan; 'e wos regularly pricked, and sometimes went for Maxwell
like a mad bull. But Maxwell kep' cool; 'e only lost 'isself once, and
you'll 'ear of it presently. 'E couldn't keep wot 'e won; 'e dashed it
down on the race-course, and wos more orfen stone broke than not. 'E
wos allus goin' to win a pot on the next race, and it never come
off--never once. 'E knowed sech a lot, yer see. That's wot's the
matter with most of us. We're so clever.

There wos 'ardly a night as we didn't end up with a gamble. Louis kep'
on droppin' 'is money, and the more 'e dropped the closer 'e stuck to
us. I dropped twice as much as 'e did, but then it made no difference
to me, one way or the other. When 'im and me wos pardners agin Maxwell
and Morgan, we lost four times out of five. It wos allus settled
before'and if 'e wos to win or lose, and the cards wos dealt
accordin'. If they'd been dealt fair 'e'd 'ave lost, but not as much.
'E reckoned 'isself the best player in the crowd, and it 'appened 'e
wos the wust. A barn-door fowl wosn't in it with 'im for crowin'.

"Never say die," I sed, when we wos reckonin' up our losses. "Luck
must turn. Maxwell don't play a bit better nor you or me. I'll git all
my money back, and a bit over, afore I've done with 'im."

It turned out that way 'cause it wos part of the plot.

We'd jest come to Liverpool, and it wos bitter weather. It was snowin'
all day and freezin' all night, and the racin' 'ad to be postponed.

"We'll finish the job 'ere," sed Maxwell.

So as to keep ourselves to ourselves a 'ouse 'ad been taken near the
docks; it wos only 'arf furnished, but that didn't matter. Morgan took
it for a month on trial, and give the name o' Mollison. The agent arst
for a reference, and one wos sent 'im from London, I don't know by
who. We took possession without anybody noticin' us. There wos a room
on the fust flore pritty well stocked with chairs, tables, sideboard,
lamps, lookin' glass over the mantelpiece, and all that. We smuggled
in grog, and wine, and cigars, and when we built up a big fire the
room looked cosy and comfortable. We used to go there after dinner,
and smoke, and drink, and play. One night I told Louis that I meant to
have a dash at Maxwell single-'anded.

"We ain't lucky as pardners," I sed, "I'm goin' to tackle 'im alone."

By that time Louis 'ad dropped a matter of three thousand quid,
accordin' to 'is reckonin', and 'e wos mad to git it back. I never
found out where the money went to; Maxwell wos always swearin' 'e
'adn't a shillin'. I'll do 'im the justice to say that 'e threw it
away right and left at the races, but 'e never showed us any account
of 'ow 'e got rid of it.

"Yer'll give me my revenge, yer'll give me my revenge!" That wos allus
Louis's cry when 'e settled up.

"Give yer yer revenge!" said Maxwell. "In course we will. We don't
want yer tin."

And perhaps the next time Louis 'ud win two or three pound. That wos
the way 'e wos led on. Maxwell knew 'ow to play 'is fish.

Well, Maxwell took up my challenge to play single-'anded, and we set
down to our match. Louis and Morgan wos playin' the same game--piquet
it wos--in another part of the room, but 'earin' the big talk atween
me and Maxwell they left off and come to our table.

"D'yer mind my lookin' over yer 'and?" sed Louis to me.

"Not a bit," I answered. "I'm winnin', and I ain't sooperstitious."

In course I palmed the cards, but it'd 'ave took a cleverer chap nor
Louis to ketch me. I ought to be rollin' in money.

"Rubicon'd agin!" cried Maxwell with a oath, dashin' 'is fist on the
table.

"Keep yer 'air on," I said with a larf as I picked up the cards. "I'll
give yer a chance. What d'yer say to two-pound points?"

"Done with you," sed Maxwell, wery eager.

"'Ow much 'ave yer won?" arst Louis.

"Count it up for me," sed I, givin' 'im the paper where the score was
marked down.

"It's over a thousand," 'e cried with blazin' eyes.

"It's my night," I sed. "Didn't I tell yer? I've got 'im on toast."

"'Oller when yer out o' the wood," growled Maxwell.

We went on playin', and I kep' on winnin'. Over two thousand wos now
the figger. Louis could 'ardly keep still. There was no mistake about
'is bein' in dead earnest, but as for us--well, we wos all larfin' in
our sleeves at 'im. It didn't turn out a larfin' matter in the end.

It was gittin' late, and I orfered to leave off.

"Wot d'yer mean?" cried Maxwell. "Do I ever orfer to leave off when
I'm winnin'? Let's 'ave six games at five-pound points. It'll take a
denced sight more nor that to break me."

"Would yer?" sed I, lookin' up at Louis.

"Let me take yer place," sed 'e; "I'll play 'im for any points 'e
likes."

"No," I answered, "I'll see it out with 'im."

So we resoomed the game, and at the end I'd won a matter of five
thousand pound. Didn't I wish it was real instead o' gammon?

"Now I'm on welwet," sed I, grinnin' and rubbin' my 'ands.

"Fortune o' war," sed Maxwell, takin' out a pocketbook stuffed with
flash notes. "Who cares? My turn yesterday, yourn to-day."

"Plenty more where that comes from, I 'ope," sed I.

"Don't you be afeerd," sed Maxwell, "if yer won ten times as much off
me yer'd git every farthin' of it."

"That's a comfort," sed I, countin' out the money as 'e passed it over
to me.

The wonder wos that Louis took it all in, but I never did see sech a
migsture as 'e wos. One minute 'e could be as cunnin' as a fox, and
the next as soft as butter. There was somethink atwixt 'im and Maxwell
I never got to the bottom of, a sort o' relationship through a sister
as wos dead, and they talked sometimes of some one abroad, and sed if
they got 'old of 'im they'd make it warm for 'im. But all that wos
nothink to me.
eg
If Louis 'ad 'ad a chance of 'andlin' the flash notes as I counted 'em
out it'd been all up the orchard with us, but we took care that 'e
never at any time 'ad one in 'is fingers. 'E wos short-sighted, and at
a little distance the flimseys looked all right. The notes of some o'
the country banks, yer know, ain't as spick and span as Bank of
England paper, but there' a lot o' that sort knockin' about in the
ring, and the bookeys pay 'em out free to them as 'll take 'em. The
biggest part of the wonder wos that Louis should 'ave believed we
carried sech large sums o' money about us. 'E wos jest the sort o'
chap that's took in with the confidence trick, and you read of 'em
pritty orfen in the papers. There's more o' that goin' on nor people
think of. For one case as comes afore the beak there's twenty that's
never 'eard of. If ain't a bad payin' trade, I can tell yer.

As I pocketed the notes Maxwell arst if I'd play 'im another match
to-morrer.

"No, no," cried Louis, all of a tremble; "it's my turn now. Yer've got
to give me my revenge!"

The fish wos 'ooked.

"That's only fair," sed I. "You 'ave a shy at 'im, Louis."

"I will--I will!" 'e cried. "If 'e's game."

"Game!" sed Maxwell. "We've seed a lot of each other, and when did yer
see me show the white feather? But I'm too tired now to go on playin',
I want to git to bed."

"To-morrer night, then," sed Louis. "It shall be make or break."

"All right," sed Maxwell.

"We'll begin at nine."

"Agreed. At nine o'clock."

So it wos settled, and wot we'd been workin' for so long wos comin'
off at last.



                            CHAPTER XXIX.


At nine o'clock we all met together in that room, and if any one 'ad
seed our faces 'e'd 'ave guessed there wos serious business on 'and.
It comes over me now to say as there wos a green carpet on the flore,
and I dare say that's the reason why I sor the wision of Louis
yesterday on the billiard table, and why it comes so orfen when I'm
crossin' a green field. I never noticed the color o' the carpet afore
that night.

We settled it atween us--that is, me and Maxwell and Morgan did--that
when the night's work wos over we'd clear out o' Liverpool immediate,
and make tracks separately for London, where we wos to meet at
Maxwell's rooms.

And wot a night it wos! The snow wos comin' down enough to blind yer,
and it wos as much as a man could do to stand agin the wind.

"All the better for the job we've got to do," sed Maxwell; "nobody'll
notice us goin' in or out."

Morgan and me set down at one table, and Louis and Maxwell at another.
Our chairs wos placed so as we could see the others without turnin'
round. We didn't pay much attention to the game we wos playin', though
we pretended to be in earnest over it. But we couldn't keep our eyes
off the other two. We wosn't as careful as we might 'ave been, for all
of a sudden the man as wos bein' rooked cried savagely:

"Wot are you fellers watchin' me for?"

"We ain't watchin' yer," growled Morgan.

"You are, and yer know you are," sed Louis. "Keep your eyes off me, or
I'll wash my 'ands of the 'ole crew."

"'Ow am I to take that, Louis?" arst Maxwell, speakin' very quiet.

When 'e spoke like that, with the look on 'is face 'e 'ad then, 'e wos
a dangerous man to tackle.

"Take it as yer please," Louis answered. "You and me 'ave knowed each
other a goodish long time now, and I've been thinkin' it ain't been
much in my pocket. From fust to last it's been a case o' shell out,
shell out."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" sed Maxwell, getting white about the gills.

"Yes, that's it," sed Louis. "Let's see. Wot am I winnin'?" He counted
up. "Six 'undered. Shall we leave off?"

"It ain't wot we arranged," sed Maxwell, pullin' in 'is 'orns. "I say,
you fellers--Louis is right. We don't want none o' your interference,
so keep yerselves to yerselves."

"And I'll 'ave no lookin' over our 'ands," said Louis. "Some people
don't mind it. I do. Stick to yer own table, and show us yer backs."

"Wot are yer makin' a row about?" arst Morgan. "We don't want ter 'ave
nothink to do with yer."

Upon that we turned our chairs so as we couldn't ketch sight of the
other table, and it wos only when Louis and Maxwell spoke out that we
could 'ear what wos goin' on.

"I sha'n't be sorry when it's over," whispered Morgan to me.

"More shall I," sed I.

If Louis'd carried out 'is threat of washin' his 'ands of us then and
there, it'd been better for 'im. But 'e couldn't guess wot wos going
to 'appen no more nor we could.

We all went on playin', and sometimes the room wos so quiet that you
could 'ave 'eard a mouse walk across the flore. We wosn't surprised
when Louis sed 'e'd won six 'undered; it wos part of the plot to let
'im win at fust. It's an old trick, yer know. From chance words we
caught now and then, we knew the luck 'ad turned, and that it wos
Maxwell now as wos winnin'.

"That makes five 'undered. Eight fifty. Double the stake if you like.
Thirteen 'undered. Another rubicon. Twenty-four 'undered. Luck wos
agin me last night; looks as if it wos turning. Your deal. I've got
six from the king! Good! And sixteen's twenty-two. And four queens,
ninety-six."

It wos Maxwell as spoke from time to time, and we knew that things wos
goin' on the way they'd been planned to. Later on, from wot we could
make out, Louis got tired of piquet. 'E cussed the cards, and cussed
'is luck, and cussed the company 'e wos in; and then proposed to play
cribbage, the best two games out of three, and go double or quits.
Maxwell, arter objectin' to sech a 'eavy stake, give in, and they got
out the cribbage board.

"It'll soon be over," whispered Morgan.

I nodded, and he looked at my watch. I can't be sure o' the time, but
I think it wos about eleven o'clock.

"Fust game to me," sed Maxwell.

They went on with the second, when all of a sudden Louis cried,
"Stop!" so loud that we 'eld our breaths, wonderin' wot was comin'.

"Wot's the matter now?" arst Maxwell, as gentle as a lamb.

"Wot's the matter now!" screamed Louis. "You're an infernal scoundrel,
that's wot's the matter. I've done with yer--and my mother shall be
done with yer. I sor yer palm them two fives. And look 'ere--and 'ere!
The cards are marked. That's 'ow you've been swindlin' me all along!"

Morgan put one of 'is 'ands on mine, and the other on 'is lips, as
much as to say, "Let 'em alone. We shall make it wuss if we put our
spoke in."

"You're out of yer senses," sed Maxwell, without raisin' 'is woice.
"I've won the money fair."

"You're a common cheat," cried Louis, "and you lie!"

"Don't say that agin," sed Maxwell.

"You lie--you lie--you lie!" screamed Louis.

Morgan and me both started to our feet, but we wos afraid to turn
round. I wos so scared that I wished myself well out of it, and from
Morgan's face I guessed he wished the same. No one spoke for a little
while, and then it wos Maxwell wot led the way.

"Yer'll 'ave to apolergize to me for this," 'e sed; "I'll wait till
yer cool."

"Yer'll wait till yer in yer grave, then," sed Louis, "and I'll see
yer in ---- fust."

"Are yer goin' to pay wot yer owe me?" arst Maxwell.

"Not one brass farden," Louis answered, "and I'll see if I can't git
back wot yer've robbed me of already. I'll have my revenge on yer
some'ow; I'll make a public egshibition of yer. You're a blackleg and
a swindler, and I'll take these marked cards to prove wot I say."

"Drop 'em," sed Maxwell, "or it'll be wuss for yer."

"Try and make me, yer blackleg!" cried Louis. "You low-bred thief, you
shall die in the 'ulks!"

"You fool," sed Maxwell, "take that for yer pains!"

And then there come a scream that curdled my blood. Morgan and me
turned and rushed towards 'em, and at that moment Louis dropped to the
flore with a knife in 'is 'eart.

"Good Gawd!" cried Morgan. "Wot 'ave yer done?"

Them was the last words I 'eerd, for I run like a madman to the door,
and flew downstairs quick as lightnin'. Wot I wanted wos to git out of
the 'ouse and 'ide myself somewhere. I'd never been mixed up with
anythink like that afore, and I wos frightened out of my life.

We usen't to 'ave a light in the passage, so it wos quite dark; but I
made my way to the street door, threw it open, and rushed out. I
'adn't time to take a step afore I found myself in the arms of a man
who was just outside, and there I wos, strugglin' and fightin' with
'im for dear life. Wot flashed through me wos that Louis' scream 'd
been 'eard, and that I should be taken up for murder. The man I wos
fightin' with sed somethink under 'is breath, but I didn't ketch the
words. I struck into 'im, and 'e struck into me, and the snow seemed
to be the color o' blood. Then 'e dragged me back into the passage,
and we went on fightin' like wild cats. 'Ow long it lasted I can't
say. My 'and was on 'is throat, and 'is 'and on mine, and there we
kep' on tearing at each other in the dark passage till I 'eerd 'im
give a groan. Then I flung 'im off, and 'e fell agin the stairs, I
think, and laid there quiet.

I didn't stop, yer may bet yer life. The minute I wos free I run out
of the 'ouse and through the snow, as if a 'undered devils wos at my
'eels. The next thing that I remember wos that I wos at the railway
station, taking a third class for London.

That's all I know about it, guv'nor. Wot I've sed I'll swear to. It's
the truth, the 'ole truth, and nothink but the truth, so 'elp me Gawd!



                                 PART IV.



                             CHAPTER XXX.

            PAUL GODFREY, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, CONTINUES HIS
                              NARRATIVE.


I did not doubt it. I believed every word that dropped from Jack's
lips, and it set me thinking. The extraordinary turn which his
disclosure had given to the Mystery opened up so many channels of
conjecture, some of which would assuredly be misleading and likely to
throw a man off the track, that I recognized the imperative necessity
of proceeding with the utmost care. To avoid falling into a pit of
confusion, system was no less necessary; the threads must be
disentangled; Jack's statement and John Fordham's Confession must be
studied and compared and discrepancies accounted for, not by the light
of any extraordinary agency, but by that of common sense; and when all
this was done the principal difficulties had yet to be encountered.
There were many doors in the Mystery, two or three of which were now
either quite or partially open; the others were locked, and it was for
me to find the keys.

Partly for John Fordham's sake, and chiefly for the sake of Miss
Cameron, I was elated by the discovery that it was not he who had
killed his half-brother Louis. It gave me the greatest pleasure to
think of the exquisite feeling of relief she would experience when I
supplied her with proof of his innocence--sufficient for her and for
me, but not sufficient, perhaps, in a legal sense. Considering the
feelings I entertained for Ellen Cameron, it may appear strange that I
should have become so zealous in the cause of the man who had
supplanted me, but there is nothing in the world so enthralling as the
gradual unfolding of a mystery such as this; there is no task so
absorbing as that of following it up step by step, and of at length
piercing the darkness which at first seemed impenetrable. There are
higher callings than mine, but I doubt if there are any more
interesting; and if you think it is one which does not demand fine
powers of reasoning, as well as the exercise of physical courage, you
are greatly mistaken. As for the hold it has upon the public, there is
no question about that. It is easily to be accounted for. If a simple
puzzle which is sold in the streets for a penny will interest
thousands of 'people, how much more so will a puzzle so intricate and
mysterious upon the unraveling of which the lives and happiness of
human beings depend? You may run us down as much as you like (I have
just been reading something of the kind), but you can't do without us,
and will never be able to; and without us, many and many a wrong would
never be righted. And after all, what are your finest lawyers, and
judges, and Lord Chief Justices but a superior kind of detective?
There are black sheep among us, and there are black sheep among them.
There are black sheep everywhere. So, having had my say, I will go on
with my story.

To my mind, nothing was more natural than the encounter between John
Fordham and Jack, nothing more natural than the instantaneous
conclusions drawn by the combatants--Jack believing his antagonist to
be an officer of the law, and Fordham believing his to be a ruffian,
bent upon robbery or murder. In many respects Jack's disclosures
corroborated the account written by Fordham, but there were important
gaps that required to be filled in. Jack did not admit any lapses of
memory; he went straight on from beginning to end without hesitation.
Fordham was less confident, and his admission of a failure of memory
at a vital point of his story would lead to the presumption that his
memory was not to be depended upon in other points. Whether judge and
jury would accept Jack's evidence with as much faith as I did remained
to be seen. He was a tainted witness, and an accessory to the fact of
the murder. Then, again, I had pledged myself that he should not be
harmed. If he were brought forward in the present position of the case
he would certainly come to grief. For a time, therefore, he must be
kept in the background. Only through the principal being charged with
the crime could he be accepted as Queen's evidence, and even then his
statements would require corroboration. Morgan could corroborate them,
but would he, being himself in danger? And before Morgan could be
produced, he had to be found. Maxwell, also. It was not likely that
either of them would present himself of his own accord. Well, they
must be hunted down.

Before I left Jack I questioned him upon various matters, testing him,
as it were, and putting him in the witness-box. There was one
statement especially which emphatically needed confirmation or
refutation, and this I did not introduce till the end. There was no
prevarication in his answers; his description of Louis' personal
appearance, with the scar on his forehead which flushed and reddened
when he was excited, tallied with that given by Fordham, and he
adhered unflinchingly to his account of the last scene of the tragedy.
A few of my questions were such as would be put to him in the
witness-box under the fire of cross-examination.

"You say your back was turned during the altercation between Louis and
Maxwell?"

"Yes."

"And Morgan's also?"

"Yes."

"You heard them threaten each other!"

"Yes."

"Then you heard a scream?"

"Yes."

"And turning, saw Louis fall to the ground with a knife sticking in
him?"

"Yes."

"But you did not see the blow struck?"

"No."

"It might have been done by himself?"

"Now, look 'ere, guv'nor," said Jack, slipping out of the imaginary
witness-box, "is that likely?"

"Why not, Jack? I will put it in this way. They quarrel and threaten
each other. 'You low-bred thief,' cries Louis, 'you shall die in the
hulks!' 'You fool,' cries Maxwell, 'take that for your pains!' And he
lets drive with his fist at Louis' face. At that precise moment Louis,
with a knife in his hand, makes a drive at Maxwell. The collision
diverts his aim, and the knife is jammed into his own breast instead
of Maxwell's. How does that strike you?"

"It won't wash," answered Jack, "'cause I say it wos the other way."

"Because you say! You're a creditable kind of witness, you are--such a
respectable character--you can show such a clean record, you can--and
as for telling a dozen or two lies, who would believe you capable of
such a thing, Jack?"

"All very true, guv'nor, wuss luck--but it don't make black white,
'cause I'm a wrong 'un."

"Doesn't it? There's no telling what a smart lawyer can do with a
witness like you in the box. You'd twist and squirm like a skinned
eel. But we'll pass that for the present, and come to something more
important. You say that at the commencement of the quarrel Louis
cried, 'I've done with you, and my mother shall be done with you.' Are
you positive he said just those words? Be very careful about this,
Jack."

"If 'e didn't say jest them words," Jack replied, "'e sed somethink so
near to 'em that yer couldn't tell the difference. But I don't see
wot's that got to do with it."

"It isn't for you to see. Make up your mind to one thing--that I know
a good deal more about the affair than you do. You are positive he
said, 'My mother shall be done with you?'"

"I'll swear to it, guv'nor. Wot should I 'ave knowed about 'is mother
if 'e 'adn't spoke about 'er, 'isself? 'Ow wos I to guess 'e 'ad a
mother when I didn't know who 'e wos or where 'e come from?"

"That seems conclusive," I said. "By the way, did you happen to hear
Maxwell or Louis mention the name of Annette?"

"Not as I remember."

"Annette Lourbet," I said, to jog his memory. "A Frenchwoman."

"No, guv'nor, I never 'eerd the name."

"Thank you. What are you doing for a living just now?"

"I can't say I'm doin' anythink pertic'lar. Pickin' it up any'ow."

"Well, look here, I can put something in your way. I want you to keep
your eyes open and to go about London--especially about the suburbs."

"Wot's the little game, guv'nor?"

"Don't be a dull boy, Jack. You might come across Maxwell or Morgan.
I'd like particularly to have a little chat with Maxwell."

"I shouldn't mind it myself," said Jack, with a kind of growl.

"Do I understand you have seen either of them since you left
Liverpool?"

"Never set eyes on 'em."

"As to the best chance of coming across them now? Can you suggest
anything?"

"To keep on the trot, in course," he said, reflectively. "But it ain't
to be done by a man like me without a object. If I went about without
a object the coppers 'd say, 'Allo! Wot's 'e up to?'"

"Naturally. But if you kept on the trot with an object, they wouldn't
think of following you. Eh?"

"No, they'd let me alone. There's one way it's to be done, guv'nor."

"Name it."

"A barrer, with or without a moke."

"And on the barrow?"

"Flowers in pots, all a'blowin' and a'growin'."

"Capital," I said, admiringly. "How much would the stock-in-trade
cost?"

"The barrer and moke could be 'ired by the day. Yer'd go as fur as a
moke, guv'nor, wouldn't yer? It's killin' work draggin' a barrer full
o' flower pots up and down 'ill. There's 'Ampstead way, now. Think o'
wot it means, from Coven' Garden to 'Ampstead 'Eath."

"I'd go as far as a moke, Jack." His face brightened. "And the flowers
would cost?"

"A thick 'un 'd do it, guv'nor, and I don't know but wot it wouldn't
pay."

"Let us hope it will. Here's twenty-five shillings to set you up."

I gave him the money and my address, and telling him to call upon me
at the end of the week, or earlier if he had anything to communicate,
I bade him good day--with an impression that he was really pleased at
the prospect of earning an honest livelihood. As he himself had
pathetically said, such a life as his wasn't all beer and skittles.

Let me state here why I was so anxious with respect to his allusion to
his mother which, according to Jack, was made by Louis during his
quarrel with Maxwell. The apparently unimportant words, "My mother
shall be done with you," assumed intense significance when placed side
by side with the information volunteered by Maxwell a fortnight
afterwards, that John Fordham's stepmother was dead. Jack, being
unacquainted with Louis' family connections, could not have invented
Louis' mother--therefore the words were certainly spoken by Louis,
establishing without a shadow of a doubt that at that time his mother
was living. Only a fortnight intervened before Maxwell declared that
she was dead. I dismiss the hypothesis that the woman--I will not call
her a lady--died during the interval. Setting that aside, I come face
to face with the question, "For what reason did Maxwell wish John
Fordham to believe that his stepmother was dead?"

I was fairly puzzled; I could find no answer to the question.

Next, I turned my attention to a consideration of the state and
progress of affairs when Jack, in a frenzy of fear, rushed from the
house in which the murder was committed. The fight between him and
Fordham is going on in the street; the street door is dashed open and
the combatants stumble into the passage, where the savage conflict is
continued. In the room above Louis lies dead, and Morgan and Maxwell
stand in terror, listening to the sounds of the struggle below. What
does it portend--what, except that they are in deadly peril? They are
too terrified to move. If they open the door, they will be pounced
upon and arrested for the crime, for they do not doubt that the police
have been watching their movements, and have obtained entrance to the
house. Suddenly the sounds cease. Fordham lies senseless on the
stairs, and Jack is speeding to the railway station. All is quiet
without and within, for the partners in crime are too frightened to
move. At length they venture to speak, but in a whisper, for they
still fear that officers are lurking outside to secure them. After a
long interval of time they pluck up sufficient courage to open the
door. No one molests them. They creep out into the passage, and down
the stairs, and are stopped by the body of Fordham. Maxwell recognizes
him, and a devilish plot suggests itself. John Fordham and Louis are
old enemies--how easy to fasten the murder upon John! He and Morgan
carry the body of the unconscious man into the room, and place it near
the dead body of Louis. They find a knife upon him--they dip it in
Louis' blood. Maxwell takes Fordham's watch, and finds his matchbox on
the stairs. He has an idea that they may come in useful to fix the
murder upon Fordham. He leaves the knife. Then he and Morgan steal
from the house.

Thus far did I trace the probable course of action. If it were
anywhere near the truth, it established a binding link between Maxwell
and Morgan, each of whom, from that night, held the other in his
power. I asked myself whether Maxwell confided to Morgan the existence
of the family connection which existed between him and John Fordham.
To this question I found an answer. No. It was not in Maxwell's nature
to impart to any one a confidence which might result to his
disadvantage. Without having met the man, I seemed to see him, so
graphically was he portrayed by Fordham and Jack. He was one who kept
his own secrets.

What followed on their departure is related by Fordham up to the
moment of his own departure, when he fled from the house, leaving the
dead body of Louis as its only occupant. Possibly he was watched and
seen by his enemies, who re-entered the house after he was gone. They
feel in Louis' pocket for his watch. "He has stolen it," they say.
They look round for Louis' overcoat. "He has run off with it," they
say. And then their eyes fall upon Fordham's blood-stained knife,
which he foolishly left behind him. I can imagine their fiendish glee
at these discoveries. "He has convicted himself," they say. But there
is still a possible danger. Louis might have been seen in their
company. If his features were mutilated so that it would be difficult
to establish his identity, it would afford them an additional element
of safety. The heavy oak table is dashed upon his face, and their work
is complete. Once more the house of death is left in possession of its
ghastly occupant.

While I was following out these conjectures (for of course they were
nothing more, and it will be seen in time whether they were correct) I
received a report from the Liverpool expert to whom I had entrusted
the two letters. It confirmed my suspicions, and furnished me with
another link to the chain I was weaving. Although an attempt had been
made to disguise the writing of the letter sent by "Mr. Lambert" to
the house agent, the expert stated that both letters were written by
the same hand. Scoundrel as Maxwell was, he would have been more
careful had he imagined that the plot to fleece Louis would have ended
so tragically.

Now, of what legal value was all this evidence? A skillful lawyer
might do something with it, but I doubted whether, unsupported and
uncorroborated, it would establish John Fordham's innocence. In this
view Fordham himself concurred; indeed, it was he who first laid
emphasis upon it. I have seldom seen a man more agitated when he
learned from me that there was no guilt of blood upon his soul. For
several minutes he could not speak. He sat with his face buried in his
hands, and when he raised his head the tears were still running down
his cheeks.

"I can bear the worst now," he said; and I knew from the remarks he
made, that he was more grateful for Ellen's sake than for his own. I
shall call her Ellen; surely I have the right, working as I was for
her and for the man who had, in a sort of way, supplanted me. Had she
seen me first--but of what use is it to speculate upon what might have
been?

As I have said, it was Fordham who laid stress upon the evidence
against himself, evidence of his own supplying. His silence, his long
concealment in London under an assumed name, the incriminating
articles in his possession, which he had given up to the police, were
strong points against him.

"If my innocence is not clearly proved," he said, "I shall not care to
be released."

"You can't compel a jury to declare you guilty," I urged, and I
confess to being angry with him.

"No," he replied, "but the doubt would remain and would darken my
days."

"Well," I said, "anyway, the police are not likely to let you go
without a searching inquiry. For the present we must be silent, and
bend all our energies to the discovery of Maxwell and Morgan."

It was a hard matter to convince Ellen of the wisdom of this course,
and indeed we did not succeed in convincing her; but she was compelled
to yield in the end, though she protested against the injustice of
Fordham being kept in prison. There is a reason of the heart and a
reason of the head, and when we are dealing with stern facts, we know
which is likely to come out the winner.

The position, you see, was one of great difficulty. I was pledged to
Jack, and to break my word would be to bring him immediately into
danger. This I determined not do until every other chance failed me.
It was a prudent as well as a just resolve. If Jack found himself
betrayed and brought to bay, it was as likely as not that he would
deny everything, or that he would commit himself to statements which
would place Fordham in jeopardy.

I met my card-sharping friend before the end of the week, when it had
been decided that he was to pay me a visit. I was on my way to
Highgate Cemetery, and I came across him in the N. W. district. He had
hired a donkey, and there was a gay show of flowers on his barrow.
Seeing me approach, he gave me a wink and an almost imperceptible
shake of the head. I inferred from the wink that business was
prospering, and from the nod that he did not wish to be spoken to. I
returned his wink and passed on.

My object in going to Highgate Cemetery was to ascertain if a lady of
the name of Fordham was buried there, as would certainly have been the
case if, as had been stated by Maxwell, Louis' mother was dead. As I
have already said, I did not believe he had spoken the truth, but if I
was mistaken I should be able to learn the address from which the
coffin was taken.

I was not mistaken. There was a family grave in the cemetery purchased
by John Fordham's father, but since his death no one had been buried
there. Undoubtedly Maxwell had lied, and Louis' mother was alive.



                            CHAPTER XXXI.

          PAUL GODFREY, DETECTIVE, CONTINUES HIS NARRATIVE.


The motive--the motive. This was the subject of my thoughts as I
walked from the Cemetery. What possible motive could Maxwell have in
making John Fordham believe that his stepmother was dead? If she were
living, Fordham could have nothing to hope from her; if she were dead,
it was an obstacle removed from his path, a witness the less against
him. It was not likely that Maxwell was anxious to afford him this
satisfaction; there was a cunning motive for the deceit, but though I
twisted the question a dozen different ways, I could not make head or
tail of it.

Puzzling my head over the matter, I found myself in the neighborhood
of Soho.

It was not chance that directed me there. I had not forgotten the
woman, Annette Lourbet, who plays so important a part in John
Fordham's confession, and though she seemed to have passed out of the
story at about the time he left England for Australia, I had an idea,
if I succeeded in discovering her, that I might obtain some useful
information. I hardly knew in what shape, but in such a task as mine
the slightest clue frequently leads to a momentous result.

Up to this day my search for. Annette had been unsuccessful. Of
course, I had looked through the London Directory for the name of
Lourbet, but curiously enough, it did not appear there, and I
concluded either that the woman had married or had returned to her
native country. If she had married and was still in London, Soho was
the most likely neighborhood in which to find her, and I had already
spent several fruitless hours in those narrow thoroughfares. My
patience, however, was not exhausted, and I was now treading them
again in the hope of a better reward.

I think I may say that hitherto chance had not befriended me, but on
this day it did me a turn, and in a singular way. About to pass a
continental provision shop, of which there are a great many in Soho,
and in the windows of which was the usual display of German sausages,
pickles, potted meats, French mustard, pretzels, Dutch herrings,
cucumbers, etc., I was obstructed by a ladder, and had to cross the
road. A sign-painter was at work on the ladder, and glancing at the
board over the window, I saw that a name had been erased and was being
replaced by another, the first letter, L, having just been painted in
bright blue. I walked on, attaching no importance to the incident; but
when, half an hour afterwards, I passed the shop again, and saw that
the painter had got as far as L O U, something like an electric shock
darted through me.

L O U, the first three letters in the name of Lourbet.

I did not linger; the next minute I was in an adjoining street. The
shop would not run away, and the proprietor would not run away. I
could afford to wait.

I did wait for an hour and more before I sauntered again through that
particular street. The sign was finished, and stared me in the face. I
could have hugged myself when I saw the full name of Lourbet on the
signboard.

Now, was the name that of a woman, and was her Christian name Annette?
Half a dozen persons were looking up at it in admiration of the
painter's skill. One, however, a little man who appeared to have been
drinking was regarding it with wrath and dissatisfaction; he even went
so far as to shake his fist at it. He was a most disreputable looking
character, and evidently a confirmed toper. As he held up his fist a
woman darted from the shop, and standing at the door fired one word at
him.

"Pig!"

In response to which he directed his fist towards her face. This so
inflamed her that she flew at him, and, seizing him by the collar,
shook him with such violence that he fell to the ground the moment he
was released. By this time a crowd had gathered, whose sympathies were
entirely on her side. They jeered and laughed at the man, with whom
they appeared to be acquainted, and who lay in a state of collapse.
Not that he was hurt, except, as a matter of course, in his feelings,
but he was afraid to rise and risk a second shaking at the hands of
the woman, who seemed to be smarting under a sense of injury. To my
surprise she became suddenly quite calm and composed, and stood
looking down upon him with a disdainful smile on her thin, white lips.

"It is well done, Madame Lourbet," cried a Frenchwoman in the crowd.
"It is as he deserves. I would wring his neck if he had served me so."

"Thank you, madame," replied Madame Lourbet, "for the name. It is my
own. Behold it, pig!" Addressing her discomfited foe, and pointing to
the newly-painted sign. "I r-r-renounce you. Come to me no more.
Begone!"

There was a melodramatic touch in her words, but not in her utterance
of them. Had I not witnessed it I could hardly have believed that they
were spoken by the woman who had behaved with so much violence. The
cold, passionless voice was, in my judgment, the result of long
training, and I detected in her so many little resemblances to the
Annette portrayed by John Fordham in his confession that I did not
doubt I had found her at last. I was careful to keep out of her sight,
having determined to seek enlightenment first from the man, for I was
curious to learn the meaning of this singular scene.

The approach of a policeman put an end to it. The crowd dissolved,
Madame Lourbet returned to her shop, and the man, whose furtive looks
had followed her movements, slowly picked himself up. If he had been
inclined to appeal against the judgment which had been pronounced he
was manifestly not in a condition to do so just now; seemingly
recognizing this, he slunk off with the air of a whipped cur.

The policeman took no notice of him, and was soon out of sight; I kept
in his track till he halted at the door of a public-house and fumbled
in his pockets. Finding nothing there he relapsed into a state of
maudlin despair. This was my opportunity, and I took advantage of it.
Over a friendly glass or two, he drinking my share and his own with
cheerful alacrity, he ventilated his grievances.

Annette was his wife, so ne declared; they had lived together three
years; she had worshiped the ground he trod on, and his name had been
painted over the shop window. And now, after he had ruined himself for
her (he did not specify in what way) she turned upon him and cast him
adrift. He would not stand it--no, he was an Englishman, and he would
not stand it. She was tired of him, was she? She had another lover,
had she? He would have his blood. And so on, and so on.

The real fact was that there had been a trifling informality in the
marriage, the man I was pumping being married already when he went
through the ceremony with Annette. It was true that his first wife
died shortly after he married his second, but Annette had only lately
discovered that her own marriage was illegal, and being tired of the
rascal was glad to be quit of him. She had been prudent enough to
protect her savings; the business was hers, the stock was hers, and
she had turned him out with never a penny in his pockets.

"Not a penny, not one single penny," he whined. I sympathized with
him, of course, and I left him at his lodgings--a garret in the same
street as the shop--with a promise to call upon him the next night and
see if anything could be done to soften Annette's heart.

The information I had extracted from him was not of much present use
to me, but I saw the possibility of the acquaintanceship being of
service, and I was by no means dissatisfied with my day's work; but
the day was not yet over. I have good reason to remember it, and so
has every person associated with the mystery, so many strange things
occurred--the strangest of all (which at first seemed to have not the
slightest connection with the affair) leading to a most surprising and
unexpected discovery.

It was my intention to pay Madame Lourbet a visit, and I thought that
evening would be the best time. I had business to transact at my
office, for this Liverpool murder, though it occupied so much of my
time, was not the only thing I had to attend to. So to my office I
went and spent a useful hour in straightening my affairs and giving
instructions to my clerk. Then I sat down to catch up arrears of
correspondence, and by four o'clock I had everything in order. I had
put away my papers and stamped the last of my letters when my clerk
announced a lady--Mrs. Barlow, who was most anxious to see me. She was
shown in, an elderly lady, with a careworn face and ladylike manners.
She had been recommended to me, as a likely person to discover her
son, whom she had not seen for five or six years.

"Nor heard from him?" I asked.

"Not a line," she answered in a sad voice.

"Is he in England?"

"I do not know."

"Well, tell me all about it," I said, "and bear in mind that your time
and money will be thrown away if you keep anything in the background."

I condense what she related. She was a widow, with one child, this son
who had deserted her. He had always given her trouble. Not that he was
bad at heart, but so easily led away, believing in everybody, trusting
everybody. (Mother's love, here; I knew its value in a practical
sense.) Unfortunately he had fallen into bad company, and her belief
was that he was ashamed to return to her. Years ago they had been
fairly well off, but little by little he had got from her all she was
worth, and then he left her. She managed to rub along, however, being
assisted by Philip's uncle, her deceased husband's brother. This uncle
had lately died and left her a small legacy, which she had received. A
legacy of three thousand pounds was left to Philip; in case of his
death at the time of the testator's decease the money would go to a
charitable institution. Philip had not presented himself to claim the
legacy, and she was naturally anxious to discover him, so she had come
to me to assist her.

A simple story, before the end of which I had made up my mind about
the man. A thoroughly bad lot--an opinion I kept to myself, however.

I put a few questions to Mrs. Barlow.

"Can you think of any reason why your son should not come forward to
claim this fortune?"

"No."

She was afraid to express what must have been in her mind--that he was
dead.

"He fell into bad company, you say. What kind of bad company? I must
press for an answer."

"Unfortunately he was fond of cards."

"Blacklegs got hold of him, then?" She sighed. "Did he bet on horses?"

"Yes."

"That explains a great deal. He went to races and lost his money?"

"Everybody took advantage of him."

"I see. Now, Mrs. Barlow, if I take this matter up I must have a free
hand. Among other things I shall do I may have to advertise. If you
have any objection, you had best say so at once."

"You may do anything you like--only discover my son for me."

"Very well. Have you a portrait of your son?"

"Yes--a cabinet in a frame. I did not bring it with me."

"Send it immediately to my private address. I should like it soon."

"You shall have it to-night. I will bring it myself."

I gave her my private card, and took five pounds from her for
preliminary expenses.

She was about to leave, when she turned and said:

"Perhaps I ought to tell you that a friend mentioned that he thought
he saw Philip."

"Certainly you ought to tell me. The mischief of these cases is that
there is always something kept back. Where did he see him?"

"In Liverpool, but he is not certain it was Philip."

"Very stupid of him. How long ago was it?"

"Over a year ago."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, that is all," she said, and bade me good-day.

Before I left my office I wrote an advertisement for the personal
columns of the daily papers, to the effect that if Philip Barlow
called upon or communicated with me, he would hear of something very
much to his advantage. Instructing my clerk to insert the
advertisement in three of the principal newspapers, I went to my
lodgings and made a change in my appearance, which I deemed prudent,
in view of my visit to Madame Lourbet.

That lady was not in her shop when I entered it. In response to a rap
on the counter, she issued from an inner room, and asked what I
required. There was a glass panel in the door of this room, across
which a green curtain was drawn. I have a faculty of observation which
enables me to see a great deal at a glance.

While I was making a few small purchases, I entered 'into conversation
with her. I said that I had been recommended to her shop, but had some
difficulty in finding it, in consequence of the name over the window
being altered. She admitted the alteration, and said that the business
would in future be conducted under the new name.

"Your own name, I presume, madame?" I said.

"My own name," she answered. "It makes no difference in what I sell."

"None at all," I said, briskly. "You were spoken of, I remember, as
Madame Annette."

"That, also, is my name. May I ask, monsieur, by whom you were
recommended?"

I watched her face keenly as I replied, "Madame, or rather, Mrs.
Fordham."

As I uttered the name I observed a slight disturbance of the green
curtain.

"Pardon me, monsieur," she said, and went into the private room, the
door of which she carefully opened and shut.

"Now," thought I, "what is the meaning of this, and will it make any
difference in Madame Lourbet's behavior?"

It made a perceptible difference. Something had passed between her and
the person in the inner room which had put her on her guard, and she
was watching me now as keenly as I was watching her.

"Madame Fordham," she remarked, with assumed indifference, continuing
our conversation. "Who is Madame Fordham?"

"I supposed she was a customer of yours," I answered.

"It may be," she said. "Oh, yes, it may be; but does one know all
one's customers?"

"That would be difficult," I said, laughing, "with such a connection
as you have, madame."

"You are right, monsieur, it would be difficult. Do you require
anything more?"

"Nothing more, thank you, madame."

She let an arrow fly. "I will send the articles home and the bill, if
monsieur will kindly give me his address."

"Much obliged, madame," was my reply: "I will pay for them, and take
them with me."

So the little passage at arms ended, and I walked away just a trifle
wiser than I came, for I had learned that Madame Lourbet did not
desire to talk about John Fordham's stepmother, and that there was
some person behind the green curtain who also had an interest in the
matter. Had I deemed it safe I would have kept watch for that person
outside Madame Lourbet's shop, but I felt that I was dealing with a
woman as clever as myself, and I recognized the necessity of caution.
It was annoying, but there was no help for it.

The day had been one of the busiest in my recollection, and I was glad
to sit down to a cup of tea in my own private apartment. During the
meal I was debating how the incidents I have recorded could be turned
to advantage, when the landlady came in and informed me that a man was
down-stairs who insisted on seeing me. She did not like to let him up,
she said, he was such a common-looking man; besides, he was the worse
for liquor. But he would not go away.

"I did all I could, sir," said my landlady, "but go he wouldn't. 'Tell
him it's Jack,' he said."

"Jack!" I cried, interrupting her. "Show him in at once, and don't let
us be interrupted; I have business with him."

Much astonished, she departed on her errand, and the next minute Jack
stood before me.

My first impression was that the landlady was right, and that Jack had
been drinking. His face was as white as a sheet, his eyes glared, and
his limbs shook like a man in a palsy.

"You're a pretty object," I said, sternly; but he did not seem to hear
what I said.

"Guv'nor," he gasped, in a horse voice, "is that tea? Will yer give me
a cup? My throat's on fire."

"Well it might be," I answered, filling a cup, "but I should have
thought brandy was more in your way. You'll come to a bad end, my
lad."

Still he did not seem to understand me, but took the cup with his
shaking hands, holding it in both lest it should slip to the ground.
As it was he spilled half of it before it reached his mouth. I took
the cup from him, and placing it on the table said:

"Now, what is the meaning of this? How dare you come here in such a
state?"

"Give me time, guv'nor, give me time," he croaked. "I shall be better
in a minute. Yer think I've been drinkin'. Yer wos never more mistook.
I 'ad a pint o' mild this mornin', but I 'ope I may drop down dead if
another drop 'as passed my lips the 'ole of this blessed day. I've 'ad
a scare, guv'nor--I've 'ad a scare." He dropped his voice, and bending
forward, said: "Did yer ever see a ghost?"

"Not that I'm aware of, Jack. You look as if you'd seen one."

"I 'ave, guv'nor."

"Ah," said I, becoming interested, in spite of my suspicion that he
was drunk, his manner was so earnest, "whose ghost?"

"The ghost of 'im as wos murdered. The ghost of Louis Fordham."

"You are dreaming, Jack," I said, staring at him.

"Not me, guv'nor. I'm wide awake, I am. Oh!" He gave a sudden start,
and turned his head over his shoulder, as though a spirit was standing
behind him.

"You see one now, perhaps," I said.

"No, guv'nor, but I don't know as 'e mightn't appear in this wery
room. Is there such things, or am I goin' mad?"

"Not unlikely, Jack, when you come to me with such a cock and bull
story. I recollect your saying that you'd seen the murdered man lying
on a green field and on a billiard table. This is something of the
same sort, I suppose."

"No, guv'nor, that was a wision, and I knew it wosn't real. But this
wos. I touched it as it passed."

"Oh, it passed you, did it? Come, my man, let us have the whole of it;
I may understand it better then. Where were you, what time of day was
it, and in what shape did it appear to you?"

"The shape wos 'is own, and the time o' day was four this arternoon,
and the place wos Finchley Road."

"Go on, Jack," I said, seeing that he believed in it.

"I was out with the barrer," he continued, "and was bargainin' with a
lady for some daisies. There they wos on the pavement, and she and me
lookin' at 'em. As I stooped to pick up a pot, somethink brushed by
me. We touched each other. Lookin' up I sor Louis, and the pot dropped
from my hand."

"Did you go after him?"

"Me go arter 'im. I'd 'ave run a 'undered miles the other way."

"Did he vanish in blue flames, Jack?"

"No, guv'nor. 'E turned a corner."

"But, consider, my lad. The man is dead."

"Don't I know it?" cried Jack, as if my remark exasperated him. "Is it
likely I should 'ave come to you if 'e'd been alive?"

"You looked up at him, you say. Did he look down at you?"

"No, guv'nor, not that I noticed. D'yer think I've been makin' up the
story?"

"No, I don't think that, because there's nothing to gain by it. What I
do think is that you've been scared by seeing some one who bears a
resemblance to Louis. It isn't at all an uncommon thing. Innocent men
have been hanged upon such evidence."

"Guv'nor," said Jack, impressively, "it wos 'im, I tell yer. There wos
'is 'eight, there was 'is build, and there wos the scar on 'is
fore'ead. I'll take my Bible oath it wos Louis' ghost."

"Even the scar may be on the other man's forehead," I persisted.
"There have been much closer resemblances. A dozen witnesses have
sworn to the identity of a man who was being tried for a crime of
which he was as innocent as I am, have sworn to his voice, to the
color of his eyes and hair, to secret marks upon his person, to a
missing tooth, to the peculiar shape of his fingers, and he has been
condemned upon their evidence. Only after his death has it been
discovered that the wrong man had been hanged. Wives themselves have
been taken in, and have lived for years with men they believed to be
their husbands. Go home, Jack, and think of these cases, much more
wonderful than your accidental resemblance, and don't make a fool of
yourself."

I might as well have spoken to a stone. Jack was not to be argued out
of his fright, and that it was genuine was proved by the startled
looks he cast behind him from time to time. A gentle tap at the door
sent his heart into his mouth. It was my landlady, who came with a
parcel that had been left for me by a lady, who wished to hand it to
me herself, but was told I was engaged and could not be disturbed. As
I had exhausted all my arguments upon Jack, and as he did not seem in
a hurry to go, I opened the parcel in his presence, and drew out the
cabinet portrait of Mrs. Barlow's missing son which she had promised
to bring to my lodgings.

"Send I may live, guv'nor!" cried Jack, peering at it over my
shoulder, his eyes almost starting out of his head, "where did you get
that from?"

"It's the picture of a missing man, Jack," I replied, "who has had a
lump of money left to him. I want to lay my hands on him." It was then
that I noticed the strange expression on Jack's face, and I added,
jokingly, "It isn't a ghost."

"No, it ain't a ghost," he said, "it's Morgan."

"Morgan!" I exclaimed. "Your card-sharping Liverpool friend?"

"That's 'im, guv'nor. A lump o' money left 'im! Why don't 'e come and
collar it?"

"Are you sure you are not mistaken?" I asked.

"'Ow could I be mistook?" he demanded. "Wosn't 'im and me together day
and night for weeks and weeks? I'd swear to 'im among a 'undered."

Reluctant as I was to take Jack's word for Louis' ghost, I could not
dispute with him as to Morgan's portrait. It was long before I could
get rid of him, and he went away as firmly convinced of one as he was
of the other. In such positive terms did he express his conviction on
the former subject that if I were not a hard-headed, practical man,
with very little sentiment in my nature, it is quite on the cards that
he would have shaken my belief that he was laboring under some
monstrous delusion in respect of the murdered man. At the same time I
confess to being curious about Louis' "double," and to having a desire
to see him with my own eyes. It was for this reason, on the chance of
being gratified, that I made an appointment to accompany Jack the next
day in his peregrinations through the N. W. district, in the disguise
of a brother coster. The hour of appointment was noon.

Meanwhile there was much to think of, much to do. Fortunately I am a
healthy man and can do with three or four hours' sleep, or I should
never have got through with it.

There was in my mind the design, not yet thoroughly planned out, of
having Louis' body exhumed, in order that its identity might be
established beyond the possibility of doubt. This would effectually
dispose of Jack's fancies, which, after further reflection, I set down
to the stings of conscience, and as properly belonging to that form of
imaginative creation which had conjured up the vision of Louis' body
lying on a billiard cloth and on green fields. To establish this
identity witnesses would be required. I could give evidence as to the
scar upon the forehead, but only from what I had been told; it would
be secondary evidence, and therefore not admissible. I mentally ran
through the names of the witnesses whose evidence, from personal
knowledge, would be of value.

John Fordham, for one. Though it might tell against himself, he would
be ready and willing to testify. I needed nothing to convince me that
he was a truthful and honorable man who would not palter with his
conscience even though it added to the peril in which he stood.

Then, Jack. But it would bring him into danger. A far different
character he from Fordham. He would be dragged forward against his
will, and in these circumstances his word could not be depended upon.
In the present aspect of the affair his was the only evidence upon
which Fordham's innocence could be to some extent proved. Believing
himself to be in danger such a man as Jack would be capable of
anything; he might deny all that he had admitted, he might even
concoct a story which would throw the entire guilt upon the man I was
trying to save. Therefore, Jack's evidence upon this question of
identity could not be reckoned with just now. For a time at least it
must be set aside.

Then, Louis' mother. But her son's name had appeared in the papers as
that of the man whom, by Fordham's confession, he had murdered. It
must not be forgotten that I was convinced she was living. That being
so, why was she silent? Why did she remain in hiding? That was one of
the unanswered questions in the Mystery.

Then, Maxwell. Also in hiding. He, of all who were associated in the
mystery, was the least likely to come forward of his own free will.
Then, Morgan----

At his name my reflections were diverted into another channel. Three
thousand pounds was a handsome sum--a Godsend to such a man. Why had
he not claimed it? There was more than one answer to the question. He
might not be aware of his uncle's death; as his own mother did not
know his address the solicitors to the will could not communicate with
him. He might be dead; he might have left the country. If he were
living would my advertisement in the personal columns of the
newspapers be successful in unearthing him? It occurred to me that it
would increase my chances of success if I advertised for him in his
assumed name, and I drew out the following advertisement:--

"A Large Sum of Money has been Bequeathed to ---- Morgan, who is
supposed to have been residing in Liverpool, where he was last seen
about a year ago. Full particulars will be given to him upon
application to Paul Godfrey, 719 Buckingham Palace Road."

To reduce the chances of receiving letters from every Morgan in the
kingdom, I wrote to Mrs. Barlow, requesting her to give me the date of
her son's birth, his age, and whether he had any marks on his person
by which he could be identified. Though it is running ahead of my
narrative, I may state here that Mrs. Barlow supplied me with the date
of her son's birth and his age (which particulars I inserted in the
advertisement), and informed me that there were two marks on him which
would render identification easy--a large mole on his left side, a
little above the hip, and a peculiar formation in the toe next to the
big toe on his right foot. It was bent completely under, she said, and
presented the appearance of having been cut clean off at the joint.

I went out at eleven o'clock that night to post my letters to Mrs.
Barlow, and was returning home, deep in thought, when a hand was laid
on my shoulder.

"Good evening, Godfrey."

The voice was Wheeler's, like myself a private detective, with whom I
had worked on two or three cases. There was a talk of our going into
partnership, but it had not yet come to a head. There are few smarter
men than Wheeler.

"Good evening," I said, and immediately began to consider whether he
could be of use to me. "Anything stirring?"

"Well," he answered, "I was coming to see you."

"What about?"

Instead of giving me a direct answer, he began to laugh, and said,
"You were in Soho this evening."

"Hallo," said I, interested immediately, "there's something in the
wind. Did you see me there?"

"No, but I saw you coming into Leicester Square."

"How did you find me out?" I asked, rather nettled. "I thought my
disguise a good one."

"So it was. There isn't one in a thousand who would have recognized
you. I happen to be that one. You see, Godfrey, when you are thinking
of something very particular, you have a nasty habit of stroking your
chin with the middle finger of your right hand."

"Good," said I, "you will never catch me doing that again when I'm
somebody else. Well?"

"Seeing that, I took special notice of you, and followed you home to
make sure. When you stopped at 719 Buckingham Palace Road, and let
yourself in, I was satisfied it was you."

"There's nothing very smart in that."

"I don't say there is. I kept myself out of sight, for a reason you'll
appreciate."

"Out with it."

"I wasn't the only one who was following you."

"You don't mean to say I was being shadowed?" I cried, excitedly.

"That is exactly what I do mean. 'I'll see this out,' said I to
myself."

"Man or woman?"

"Man."

"Did you catch sight of his face?"

"Yes. Tall, dark, beard and whiskers. Might have been false. When you
were in the house he passed the door, looked at the number and walked
away."

"And you let him go?" I said reproachfully. "I didn't think that of
you."

"You needn't. I followed him on your account."

"Bravo!"

"Had to be very careful. His eyes were in all directions."

"Did he go back to Soho?"

"No. He took a 'bus to Piccadilly Circus. I took the same 'bus. He got
down there, with a lot of others, and I slipped out among them. Then
he took an Atlas 'bus to the Eyre Arms. So did I. He walked towards
the Swiss Cottage, and my difficulties commenced. Not much foot
traffic between the Eyre Arms and the Swiss Cottage, you know. He went
on to Fitzjohn's Parade. More traffic there. The job got easier.
Beyond Fitzjohn's Parade, very little traffic indeed. I had to be more
careful than ever, so few people about. That was the end of it."

"You know the house he went into?" I cried.

"I don't," he answered. "I am ashamed to say he gave me the slip. I
don't know whether he suspected he was being followed, but the fact
remains that he gave me the slip. How he managed it beats me. I am
fairly ashamed of myself."

"You ought to be. Wheeler, you were on the track of a great mystery,"
and just at the very point---- I was so annoyed that I couldn't
finish the sentence.

"I remained in the neighborhood a couple of hours," he continued, "but
saw nothing more of the gentleman. If I had suspected there was
anything important hanging to it he would have had to be a great deal
smarter than he is to throw me off the track. However, it's no use
crying over spilt milk. I've nothing to do this week. Can I be of any
help to you?"

"I think so," I replied. "Come and see me at eight o'clock in the
morning, and I'll tell you all about it. I must have time to think
this out. Though you were not entirely successful you have done me a
great service, and I am obliged to you. Oh, Wheeler, if you had only
seen the house he went into!"

He shook his head mournfully, and left me, promising to call in the
morning.

I had, indeed, plenty to think about. It was in Finchley Road that
Jack fancied he saw the ghost of Louis. This man, following me from
Madame Lourbet's shop, where he had been hidden from my gaze by a
green curtain, had made his way to Finchley, where, presumably, he
lived. I might now almost call the case upon which I was engaged The
Mystery of the Green Curtain.



                            CHAPTER XXXII.


Punctually at eight o'clock the following morning Wheeler presented
himself, and under the seal of secrecy I gave him a fair insight into
the Mystery. He was greatly excited, and said if I succeeded in
bringing the truth to light I was a made man. I was beginning to think
so myself, but I did not underrate the difficulties with which I had
to contend. I seemed to be pulled in so many ways at once, and to have
so many things to look after, that I saw the danger of wasting my time
upon matters of no importance and allowing the leading strings to slip
away from me. I was glad, therefore, to obtain the services of a man
upon whom I could rely, and as I deemed it imperatively necessary that
I should remain in London, I explained to Wheeler my desire that
Louis' body should be exhumed and identified, and asked him if he
thought he could manage it. He was confident he could; he had friends
among the Liverpool police who would do all in their power for him; he
laughed at the suggestion of the difficulties that might present
themselves, and declared he would carry out his mission even if he had
to dig up the body himself in the dead of night. Knowing Wheeler to be
a bit of a bulldog, and daring as well as tenacious, I was more than
satisfied with his assurances.

"You will have a surgeon with you," I said, "whose evidence will be
conclusive as to the scar on the forehead. I understand the bone was
penetrated. Everything must be done quickly, and above all the affair
must be kept out of the newspapers."

I laid special emphasis upon this, because I did not intend that the
game should be taken out of my hands. We settled upon an address in
Liverpool to which I could write or wire any further instructions that
might be necessary, and he went off in high spirits to catch the ten
o'clock train.

Before proceeding to my office I paid a visit to my dram-drinking
friend who had been cast off by Madame Lourbet. His name, which she
had renounced, was Whybrow. I passed her shop on the way, having no
fear that I would be recognized, and taking particular care not to rub
my chin with the middle finger of my right hand. I saw Madame Lourbet
behind the counter, and caught a glimpse of that confounded green
curtain. It is curious how one thing suggests another. The moment my
eyes fell upon the curtain an idea suggested itself which set me
laughing, and which proved to be perhaps the most important step in
the elucidation of the Mystery. I will not mention it in this place,
but I determined to act upon it later on if I considered it advisable.
Clever as Madame Lourbet was I hoped to show that I was one too many
for her.

Mr. Whybrow was in bed, pining for liquor. I sent out for a quartern
of gin--that being the cheapest tipple--and under its influence, and
fortified by my saying that I thought I should be able to bring Madame
Lourbet to book in his interests, he became communicative. I learned
that she had two friends who visited her from time to time, and with
whom he was not allowed to strike up an acquaintance. One of these was
a man, the other a woman. I paid close attention to his description of
the man, whom he suspected had supplanted him in her affections. This
man was tall and dark; but he had no beard or whiskers. I thought of
Wheeler's words, "they might have been false," and I left Mr. Whybrow
with the conviction that it was the man who had followed me from Soho.
If that were so I had alarmed him by my reference to Louis' mother,
and he had signaled to Madame Lourbet to give her a warning that I
might be a spy; his beard and whiskers being false was another point
in my favor. I had sufficient confidence to introduce myself in my own
proper person to that lady and make a trifling purchase. She served me
politely, but there was trouble in her face, which rather pleased me
than otherwise. I was pleased, too, that she betrayed no recognition
of me, and did not connect me with the man who had paid her a visit
the night before.

Leaving her, I went on to John Fordham, who was still under remand,
and likely to remain so for some time yet, for the police had not
progressed in their inquiries, and Fordham had made no recantation of
the accusation he had brought against himself. Cheering him with the
news that I was gathering valuable information (of which I did not
give him the particulars) I obtained from him a description of
Maxwell's personal appearance. Tall and dark, wearing neither beard
nor whiskers. That settled it. Maxwell was the man who was stationed
behind the green curtain, who had shadowed me to my lodgings, and who
was so frightened by Fordham's public confession of the murder that,
for his own safety's sake, he went about now in a disguise. Good.

Then on to my office, where Mrs. Barlow was waiting to supply me with
a description of the birth marks of her missing son by which he could
be identified. These have already been recorded and need no further
mention here. Needless to say, I did not inform Mrs. Barlow that I had
already obtained a clue to the career of her son since she last saw or
heard from him.

I made short work of the business in my office which required
attention. So absorbed was I in this mysterious Murder Mystery that I
could not think seriously of any other subject. My advertisement for
Philip Barlow had thus early unearthed three men of that name, whom I
found in my office upon my arrival there. I confronted them with Mrs.
Barlow, and they were immediately dismissed, much to their
dissatisfaction. My second advertisement inquiring for Morgan, was
dispatched to the newspaper offices, and I left with my clerk a
memorandum of the age and birthday of Mrs. Barlow's son, which were to
be the first questions put to all applicants of either name who
presented themselves. Their answers not tallying with my memorandum,
they were to be sent to the right-about. By these means a great deal
of unnecessary trouble was avoided.

At a quarter to twelve I sallied forth to keep my appointment with
Jack, having first effected the requisite alteration in my appearance.
My own clerk was startled when I emerged from my private room in the
character of a costermonger, and was driven to say it was "the best
thing I had ever done in the way of disguise." He was not far from the
truth; I am always most successful when I depict the manners of the
lower class. Jack himself was taken in when I slouched up to him and
engaged him in conversation, and it was not till I spoke in my proper
voice that he recognized me.

"Well, I'm darned!" was his admiring exclamation. "Guv'nor, you ought
to go on the stage."

It was a genuine compliment, and I felt that I had achieved something
great. If I don't make a fortune as a private inquiry agent I will go
to the music halls and sing coster songs.

"Well, Jack," said I, "do you still believe in your ghost?"

"I'll take my oath on it," he replied.

Then we went boldly forth, on the road to Finchley. First, however, in
pursuance of the idea which set me laughing earlier that morning when
I passed Madame Lourbet's shop, I turned the donkey's head in the
direction of Soho, which was not much out of our way. I had the
temerity to enter her shop with a couple of fine ferns, which I
offered at so low a price that she was tempted to purchase them, but
not before she had baited me down twopence a pot. The price she paid
was eightpence. A shrewd woman at a bargain, this Madame Lourbet.

Laughing in my sleeve I rejoined Jack, and we pursued our journey in
search of Louis' ghost. It did not appear, and though I kept a sharp
lookout I saw nothing of Maxwell. The only satisfaction I obtained was
that the route taken by Jack was the same by which Wheeler had tracked
the tall, dark man who had been concealed behind the green curtain in
Madame Lourbet's shop. I returned home late at night, and completely
tired out. A costermonger's life is not an easy one; he truly earns
his livelihood by the sweat of his brow.

A telegram from Wheeler lay on my table: "All goes well. The body will
be exhumed to-night." My opinion of him was justified; he was not the
man to let the grass grow under his feet. Nothing more could be done
till I received his report. On the following morning I received
another telegram from him: "Will be with you at four this afternoon."
Not a word as to the result of the examination; but he certainly had
lost no time.

So impatient was I as the hour approached that I could not keep
indoors, but walked up and down the street, to hail him the moment he
appeared. A few minutes past four o'clock his cab rattled up to the
door, and out he jumped.

"I am a little behind time," he said as he paid the cabman, and I
could see that he was excited.

"Those confounded trains--they are always late."

"You have news," I said.

"Rather queer news," he replied. "Let us go in and talk."

He followed me to my room, the door of which he locked.

"Give me a bite first," he said, "and a drink; and then you shall hear
something startling."

I curbed my impatience while he ate and drank.

"That has done me good," he said; "I was almost famished. Before I
commence, Godfrey, I want to ask whether you deceived me."

"In what way?"

"In this. You told me that a man of the name of Louis Fordham was
murdered, and you described a certain mark by which his body could be
identified."

"Yes."

"The mark was a scar on his forehead, caused by a wound inflicted upon
him by a gardening tool. It penetrated to the bone, you said, and he
would carry the scar to his grave. If I misunderstood you, let me
know."

"You did not misunderstand me. The scar is as I described. I have
evidence that it turned blood-red whenever he was excited. I have not
misled you in the slightest particular."

"I am glad to hear it. His half-brother, John Fordham, who gave
himself up for the murder----"

"Of which we know him to be innocent," I interrupted.

"That is not the point I'm coming to," said Wheeler. "He gave himself
up for the murder, and he is positive that he left the dead body of
Louis in the Rye Street house when he left it on the morning of that
terrific snow-storm."

"He is quite positive."

"He recognized the body as that of Louis by the scar on the forehead?"

"Quite correct."

"Then all I can say is that there is another mystery to be unraveled.
Now, for what I did. I went down to Liverpool, determined to see this
matter through, and not to waste a moment over it. I may fairly claim
that not a moment has been wasted."

"Undoubtedly. I could not have done it more expeditiously myself."

"I 'pass over," he continued, "the preliminary steps I took to effect
my object. The police assisted me, and an order from a magistrate
armed me with the necessary authority. Accompanied by two of the force
and by a surgeon who knew what he was about, the grave was dug up at
eleven o'clock last night, and the coffin taken to the surgeon's
house. There an examination of the body was made. The upper portion of
the skull was perfect. Neither during the man's lifetime, nor after
his death, had the slightest injury been inflicted on a single bone in
it."

"Impossible!" I cried.

"Here is the surgeon's report. It leads to but one conclusion. If such
an injury as you described to me was inflicted upon Louis Fordham, the
body that was buried is not his, but another man's."

I gazed at Wheeler, open-mouthed. Here was another mystery, indeed, if
what he stated was true.

"You must have dug up the wrong grave," I said, when I recovered from
my astonishment.

"It occurred to me that it might be so," he said, "and I had it looked
into. No mistake has been made. The body the surgeon examined was that
of the man who had been murdered in Rye Street. Make up your mind to
that, or you will be thrown straight off the scent. The man we dug up
was murdered; his face had been smashed in, but as I have said, the
upper part of the skull was uninjured. What do you make of it?"

What could I make of it except that both John Fordham and Jack were
laboring under some monstrous delusion? But to establish that
hypothesis the conclusion must be drawn that these two men were in
collusion, and that an impossible story had been invented for some
hidden purpose. Now, except during the struggle on the night of the
murder, when Jack had dashed out of the house into the arms of John
Fordham, who was under the impression that a murderous attack was made
upon him, the men had never met, and each declared that he had not
seen the face of the other. How, then, could they have invented such a
story? I dismissed the idea as impossible. While I pondered over this
fresh mystery, Wheeler sat quietly looking at me and fingering the
surgeon's report, which I had not taken from him. Presently I found my
voice.

"Were there any other marks on the body by which it might be
identified?"

"Oh, yes," Wheeler replied, "two. On the left side, just above the
hip, is a small growth of bone, which in lifetime might have been
mistaken for a mole; and the bones of the toe next to the big toe on
the right foot are completely bent under."

I listened in silent amazement. These were the marks upon the
body of Philip Barlow, alias Morgan. Here, then, was the key to the
Mystery--here, to a certain extent, was an explanation of the ghost of
Louis that Jack saw in Finchley. For if only one body was found in Rye
Street, and only one body was buried (of which there was proof
positive), it was that of Maxwell's associate and confederate, Morgan,
and Louis Fordham must be alive. It was not Louis' ghost that Jack
saw, it was Louis himself, and the reason why Philip Barlow had not
come forward to claim the legacy left to him by his uncle was
satisfactorily explained. I declare, my breath was almost taken away.

But how had this substitution of bodies been effected? Everything
seemed to hang upon an answer to this question. It must be answered,
and answered soon, and now without delay must I put into execution the
idea that crossed my mind when I caught sight of the green curtain on
the morning of this very day. If any person could assist me that
person was Madame Lourbet.

In as few words as possible I explained to Wheeler the position of
affairs and my plan of action, in the carrying out of which his
assistance was necessary. He followed me with lively interest, and in
a few minutes we were on our way to Soho.

I entered the shop alone, Wheeler keeping watch in the street. I stood
at the counter while Madame Lourbet served a customer, and then she
turned to me.

"What do you require, monsieur?"

"A little information, madame."

"Well, monsieur?"

"In private, madame," I said, "unless you wish all the world to know."

She gathered from my tone that I had not come as a friend, and she was
instantly on her guard.

"What is it, monsieur, that I should not wish all the world to know?"

"I advise that we speak in private," I replied.

"If I r-refuse, monsieur?"

"You will take the consequences, and we will converse before your
customers."

"Ah," she said, playing a devil's tattoo on the counter with her
fingers, "if I mistake not, you were one of my customers this morning,
monsieur. I had the pleasure of serving you."

"I had also the pleasure of serving you this morning, madame."

"So!"

I assumed the voice of a costermonger, and inquired if she wished to
buy any more ferns. She caught her breath, and cried, "It was you!"

"It was I, madame. It was also I, madame, who purchased of you last
night and gave you a reference."

"A reference, monsieur?"

"A reference, madame--to Mrs. Fordham, Louis' mother, and stepmother
to John Fordham, now in prison for murder."

"You are clever, monsieur--very clever." I smiled. "What is your John
Fordham to me? And what are you?"

"I have the honor to be a detective. In that capacity behold me here."
I thought this rather dramatic and Frenchified, and I had the pleasure
of seeing her turn white to the lips. "A comrade is on watch outside,"
I continued. She slipped from the counter to the door, and peering
cautiously about, saw Wheeler, who, I being by her side, gave me a nod
of recognition. "Are you satisfied, madame?" I asked, when she had
taken her place again behind the counter.

"There is protection for women in this country," she said. "Are you
employed by the Government?"

"Fortunately for you I am not. You will, perhaps, understand when I
say I am a private detective. If a Government official were in my
place it would be with a warrant."

"A warrant, monsieur?"

"A warrant, madame--for your arrest. Shall we converse here or in your
private room?" She moved towards the green curtain. "A moment," I
said. "Last night, when I had the pleasure of purchasing some of your
very excellent provisions, and happened to mention that I was
recommended by Mrs. Fordham, you had a visitor in that room, who gave
you a signal. Is the gentleman there now?"

"There is no gentleman in the room," she said, throwing open the door.
"How know you there was one?"

"I shall surprise you, madame, with the extent of my knowledge. In
order that we may not be interrupted we will turn the key in the shop
door."

"You are not afraid?" she asked, and there was a look in her eyes
resembling that of a cat who is about to spring.

"Oh, no, madame," I replied, following her to the inner room, "the
English are not afraid of the French."

"Nor the French of the English," she hissed.

"You are a brave nation," I said, with a polite bow, "so are we. I
propose, in your interests, an alliance."

"Not in your own, monsieur?"

"Not in my own, madame. I am merely an agent, and am not in any
danger. You are a principal."

"A principal! What is that?"

"Your knowledge of our language, Madame Lourbet, is almost perfect;
one might take you for a native, you speak English so fluently. But at
your wish I will explain what I mean by my use of the word. It is that
of a man or a woman who, without actually committing a crime, aids in
its perpetration.

"I defy you to prove that I knew of it," she cried.

"I have not finished--though your denial, being in the past tense (a
point of grammar, madame), is partial proof that it does not apply to
the present. By the term 'principal' I mean also a man or a woman who,
not being a witness of the crime, assists afterwards in keeping those
who are guilty out of the hands of justice, and who, at the same time,
assists in fixing that crime upon the innocent. That affects you,
madame, and if you persist in shielding the guilty, you will see the
inside of a prison door. I am going to be quite plain with you. Some
years ago you, being then in Paris, entered the service of a gentlemen
who is now in prison on a charge of murder."

"I did not. I entered the service of a lady."

"John Fordham's wife. In English law it is the same. You were John
Fordham's servant. You came to England with him and his wife and
exercised authority in his house. I am acquainted with every
particular of your conduct during the years you remained with them.
You hated your master, and conspired against him. Your mistress was a
drunkard, and you secretly supplied her with liquor."

"She gave me orders, and I obeyed them."

"You went much further than that, madame. You invented lying stories
against your master, you gave secret evidence against him. I could
entertain you for an hour with the details of your treachery and that
of other enemies of his with whom you were in collusion. It succeeded
too well. It drove him from his home, it drove him from his country.
Confess, madame, that I am well informed."

"I confess nothing. I wait."

"Do not wait too long, madame. I pass over the intervening years, and
come straight to the peril in which you stand--a peril which, if you
do not avert it by your own action, your own immediate action, madame,
will make a convict of you. You know what that means, do you not? A
convict--so many years' imprisonment--hard labor--no more red wine, no
more nice French dishes. Somewhat over a year ago a brutal murder was
committed in Liverpool, and quite lately your former master, Mr. John
Fordham, laboring under a singular hallucination, accuses himself of
the murder of his half-brother Louis."

I kept my eyes on her face as I mentioned the name, but not a muscle
moved.

"It is his own business," she said, "not mine."

"I shall prove to you that it is yours in an indirect manner. You know
of this murder, you know that John Fordham is in prison on the charge
of committing it. It is my turn to wait now, madame."

"Say that I know of it. What then?"

"This. You are aware that Louis Fordham was not murdered, you are
aware that he is this day alive, and that John Fordham is innocent of
the crime of which he accused himself, and for which you would like to
see him hanged. You are intimately acquainted with Louis, you know
where he lives. Last night, when I was in your shop, a man was
concealed behind this green curtain."

"It was not Monsieur Louis," she cried, and then she bit her lip, as
though she had said too much.

"No, madame," I said, smiling, "it was not Monsieur Louis. The man was
your dead mistress' brother, Maxwell. You see, madame, we have been
keeping watch on you. We have even the evidence of the rascal you
married under a deplorable misrepresentation. I refer to Monsieur
Whybrow."

"Ah!" she exclaimed. "The ingr-rate!"

"He is a scoundrel, madame, but evidence is evidence, and we shall
take advantage of his if it be necessary. You can punish him--why do
you not? Is it that you fear he might blurt out something about your
present intimacy with Monsieur Louis' mother and with Maxwell, who
visits you disguised with false beard and whiskers? Is it that you
fear that this might lead the police to inquire into the reasons for
your association with the villain who murdered Monsieur Morgan?" And
now I had the satisfaction of seeing her blanch and of knowing that I
had hit the nail on the head. "It would make you in some sense an
accomplice in the crime. Do you perceive the danger that hangs over
you, madame? Do you perceive that your hatred of John Fordham may be
carried too far? Intensely disagreeable as it will be to you to assist
in proving his innocence, it is your only chance of safety. Decide for
yourself; I use no persuasion."

"No, you use threats," she said, and I think, if a look from a woman's
eyes could kill, I should not be here now to tell my tale.

"Hardly that. I have been very frank with you; if I have hurt your
feelings permit me to offer you my apologies."

"What do you require of me?" she asked.

"The address of Monsieur Maxwell, and of Louis Fordham and his
mother," I replied.

"Nothing more?"

"Nothing more."

"And then you and your spies will trouble me no more?"

"No more than is necessary to protect ourselves from treachery."

"I will not be dragged into your witness box," she cried. "I will
not--I will not!"

I considered a moment. If success continued to attend me--and I
believed that it would--we could dispense with her evidence. To be
able to lay hands upon John Fordham's enemies this very night was the
all-important move in the game. To-morrow they might be out of our
reach, and I should be confronted with difficulties that might be
unsurmountable.

"Every effort shall be made," I said, "not to bring you forward as a
witness." And, indeed, as I spoke these words, I was penetrated by a
conviction that such evidence as she could give would be of little
value; but I kept this to myself. It is not wise to show your weak
cards.

"You promise it," she said, "on your honor as a gentleman?"

"On my honor as a gentleman, madame," I replied, with my hand on my
heart, and repressing a smile, "I promise it."

To my surprise she sprang to her feet; the devil within her obtained
the mastery, and I never heard the human voice express hatred so
vindictively and forcibly. The stories I had heard of the female fiend
in the French Commune came vividly to my mind; a representative stood
before me in the person of Madame Lourbet, as she hissed:

"No, I will not help him! I would go in my holiday clothes to see him
hanged!"

"You shall not have that pleasure, madame," I said. "I wish you good
evening."

Her fears returned. There is no weapon so effective as calmness in
dealing with hysterical natures. If you shriek, they shriek the
louder; if you stand firm, they quail.

"What to do?" she asked, showing in her face the conflicting emotions
by which she was torn.

"To obtain a warrant for your arrest," I answered boldly. "My spies
will take care that you do not escape."

I was half out of the room when she cried, "Stop! I will do it--I will
do it!"

"I do not know, madame," I said, appearing to hesitate. "We can manage
without your aid. You shall stand in the dock by the side of your
friend Maxwell."

And now she was thoroughly terrified; she wept, she implored, she fell
upon her knees. It was a great victory, but though I knew I could not
do without her I did not yield easily. When I had worked her up to a
proper pitch I said:

"Rise, madame, and write the address in Finchley where I shall find
your friends."

"They are not my friends," she cried, tottering to the table on which
lay writing materials. "They would ruin, they would destroy me! And
you, monsieur--you will save me? You have promised, on the honor of a
gentleman. You will save me--you will save me!"

"I will keep my promise, madame. Write--it is your only chance. You
allowed your hatred of John Fordham to carry you too far. Be thankful
that I came here as your friend."

"If I had never met these Fordhams," she said, her hands trembling as
she took up a pen, "it would have been better for me."

"It would have been better for you if you had been faithful to your
master, and not entered into a conspiracy against him. We English have
a proverb--honesty is the best policy. Take it to heart, and for the
future be content with making money out of us." I looked at the
address she had written, 23 Lethbridge Road, N. W. "Do they all live
together, madame?"

"I think so, monsieur," she replied, and even now she made a motion,
as though she would have liked to pluck the paper from me.

There was no fear of my forgetting the address, and I held it out to
her.

"Do you wish for it back?"

"No, no!" she said with a shudder.

"Very good. Just another word of sensible advice, madame. Keep in your
shop, and preserve silence until I bring this affair to a satisfactory
conclusion. If you stir you will be followed; if you write a letter of
warning it will fall into the hands of the police. You understand?"

"Yes, I understand.''

"It only remains to me to thank you for this very pleasant interview."
So I left her, saying to myself as I rejoined Wheeler. "Checkmate to
Madame Lourbet."

"Well?" said Wheeler.

"Success, my boy, success!" I replied. "The game is in our hands, but
not a moment must be lost. I am going in for desperate measures. Will
you back me up?"

"In anything."

"Do you carry a pistol?" I asked, grasping his hand.

"Colt's double action revolver, six chambers," he answered, tapping
the back of his waistband. "Took it to Liverpool with me."

"Good. I have mine on me. I want two more men. Jack for one. Can you
recommend another?"

"A capital man. Pick him up in five minutes. Sure to be at home. Just
married, and in want of a job. Name, Bob Garlick."

"He's the man for us." I hailed a growler, and Wheeler told the driver
where to go. "I have screwed Maxwell's address out of Madame Lourbet,"
I said, as we rattled along. "You would have laughed if you had heard
us argue--I fairly frightened her. I shouldn't be surprised if he and
Louis, and perhaps Louis' mother, are preparing for flight, and I hope
to catch the lot to-night. There's nothing in the last two that would
warrant us in arresting them, but it is on the cards that I shall
arrest Maxwell for the murder of Morgan, whose real name is Philip
Barlow."

"How do you know he murdered him? Best be sure of your ground,
Godfrey."

"I will make sure. The plan I have in my head will not fail. I never
in my life felt more confident, but everything, of course, depends
upon our coming face to face with the scoundrelly crew. We are going
straight to their house, you, I, Bob Garlick, and Jack, and then we
shall see what we shall see."

What my plan was will presently be made clear. Sufficient now to say
that we found our new recruit at home, and that he took it as a
compliment to be invited to work with me. Jack also joined us. He was
overjoyed to hear that it was not a ghost he had seen in Finchley
Road, but Louis himself in the flesh.

"You've lifted a ton weight off me, guv'nor," he said. "That clears
me, don't it?"

"You will come out of it with flying colors, my lad," I answered,
clapping him on the shoulder.

"But 'ow did it happen?" he asked, in wonder.

"We shall know soon," I said. "Only keep cool."

"Poor Morgan!" he sighed, with genuine feeling. "'E was worth a
'undered of sech stuck-up cads as Louis."

Over a hasty and ample meal, for a full stomach puts courage into a
man, I gave my recruits their instructions, and then the four of us
rattled on to Lethbridge Road. Night had fallen before we reached our
destination. A dark night, too, for which I was not sorry. Directing
the cab where to wait for us, we proceeded to the house.

"How are we to get in?" whispered Wheeler.

I did not answer him, but rang the bell, and gave the double rat-tat
of a messenger from the telegraph office.



                           CHAPTER XXXIII.


Whenever a summons of this kind is answered quickly it betokens either
that the inmates are in a nervous state or are in dread or expectation
of important news. A peaceful household takes things more calmly, and
is content to let the telegraph messenger cool his heels on the
doorstep. I did not expect this household to be at peace with itself,
nor did I wish it, for such a state of things would have augured ill
for the success of my expedition. I was therefore pleased to hear a
rush of footsteps in the passage, followed by the swift opening of the
street door.

The woman who answered the summons held a candle in her hand, and
there was nothing particularly clever in my jumping at the conclusion
that Louis' mother stood before me. Until this night I had never seen
her or her son, nor, so far as I am aware, had they seen me. I had
counted upon this as of importance in the move I was about to take. We
being in the dark, and Mrs. Fordham in the light, we had the advantage
of her.

As she peered forward and held out her hand for the telegram, three of
us darted into the passage, Wheeler, Bob Garlick, and myself. Jack was
on the watch outside, to be called in by a whistle when he was
required. Mrs. Fordham fell back with a shriek of alarm, and a man ran
out of the nearest room, crying:

"What's the matter?"

This man had a scar on his forehead.

"Mr. Louis Fordham, I believe," I said, advancing, while Mrs. Fordham
continued to retreat.

"Yes." "No." The two answers came simultaneously from the man and the
woman, the man acknowledging his name, the woman denying it.

We were moving slowly towards the room from which Louis had emerged,
and now reached the door. Mrs. Fordham flung herself against it, and
crying, "You can't come in here--this is a private house," actually
had the boldness to blow out the candle. I could not but admire her
for it, for she must have seen that there were three of us, and pluck,
especially in a woman, always commands my admiration. But she reckoned
without her host, for two bull's eye lanterns instantly flashed their
light upon her face.

"Have you come to rob us?" she demanded. "I will call the police."

"Save yourself the trouble," I replied. "We are officers, and I warn
you not to resist. Here is a police whistle, if you would like to use
it."

She did not take it, and driving her and Louis before us we entered
the room. The gas was lighted there, and it was clear to see what was
going on. Trunks and bags were open, and the floor was littered with
clothing and traveling requirements, on the point of being packed
away.

"Preparing for a journey?" I remarked.

"That doesn't concern you," Mrs. Fordham retorted.

"No, it concerns you more than us," I said. "I am afraid your journey
will have to be postponed." I motioned to Wheeler, and pointed to an
inner door which communicated with another apartment. "See who is in
there."

"It is my bedroom," screamed Mrs. Fordham. "You ruffians--how dare
you?"

"See who is in there," I repeated.

"There is nobody there," she said.

We did not take her word for it. Wheeler examined the apartment, and
returning, said it was empty.

"Whom did you expect to find?' demanded Mrs. Fordham.

"Shall I give him a name?"

"You can do as you please about that."

"Oh, I thought you wanted to know."

"You shall suffer for this," she said, but curiosity was too much for
her. "Give him a name, then."

"What do you say to a party of the name of Maxwell?"

She made no answer, but I observed that her face grew suddenly white,
as had been the case with Madame Lourbet when I made a good shot. In
dealing with self-willed women this is always a satisfactory sign. My
observation of the tender sex leads me to another conclusion--the most
obstinate of them when the barriers are broken down show the most
fear, and are the most subservient and submissive, though I am bound
to say this was not exactly the case with Mrs. Fordham. But then she
was an exceptional woman, and she hated John Fordham as only a woman
can hate.

"Who is in the house besides yourselves?" I asked.

"You wouldn't have dared to molest us," she answered, "if we had
protectors."

"Answer the question," I said sternly.

"You know that we are alone in the house."

"Go and see," I said to my two assistants. "I can take care of these."

They departed on their errand, and until their return, when they
informed me that the house was empty except for those who were in this
room, not a word was exchanged between me and Mrs. Fordham. As for
Louis, he had taken no part in the conversation. He was evidently
ruled by his mother, for he kept his eyes upon her, and took his cue
for silence from her.

"Now," said I, "we are here upon very serious business, and I don't
want you to incriminate yourselves. I have had an interview with one
lady to-day--a friend of yours, Madame Lourbet, provision dealer,
Soho--. and after some stupid reluctance on her part, I put it to her
whether she would treat me as a friend or an enemy. If it had been as
an enemy she would have been in prison by this time. I should have had
her arrested. But she acted like a sensible woman, and accepted me as
her friend, recognizing that it was her only chance of being kept out
of the criminal dock. The consequence is, she is free--and safe." I
repeated the last two words. "And safe. I offer you the same chance.
If, without incriminating yourselves, you can do as she did, I advise
you to follow her lead. If it is to be the other way, blame yourselves
for the course I shall take."

Louis made a motion, as though about to speak, but his mother
restrained him.

"Be silent," she said. "Pray what course do you propose to take?"

"I shall arrest you, Mrs. Fordham, and you, Louis Fordham, on the
charge of complicity in the murder of a man known as Morgan, over a
year ago in Liverpool."

Louis staggered, and caught at the mantelpiece for support, and Mrs.
Fordham rushed to his side. I remembered what John Fordham wrote in
his Confession about the love she bore her son, and I now had evidence
of it.

"You are not very strong," I said, stating a palpable fact. "Probably
you still feel the effects of the wound you received on the night
Morgan was murdered."

And now Louis was not to be restrained. "What do you know of it?" he
screamed. "What do you know of it?"

"Up to a certain point," I replied, "I know everything. Of the company
you kept in Liverpool and elsewhere, of the way you spent your days
and nights, of the gambling that was going on, of your accusing
Maxwell that he cheated you at cards, of your being stabbed by him"--I
stopped here. I had given them an inkling of what I did know, but had
no intention of telling them what I did not know; so I branched off on
another tack. "You are both aware that John Fordham is in prison for a
murder he did not commit. Your presence alone in a criminal court will
prove him to be innocent. But we do not need that to set him free; it
can be accomplished without your aid. And for the rest--well, it is in
your hands. I shall not give you long to decide."

"My son was a victim," said Mrs. Fordham. "He is no murderer."

"You can prove that to a judge and jury instead of to me, if you
prefer it. I have a conveyance waiting for you. Be advised. Don't
trifle with me."

"You mentioned an alternative, but have not explained it."

"Ah, you are growing sensible. I must have plain answers to plain
questions, and a plain statement of facts."

"May I speak privately to my son?"

"I have no objection, but it must be in this room. We shall not let
you out of our sight. You can talk in the corner there, and we will
remain here by the door. If you speak low we shall not overhear you."

She dragged Louis into the corner, and there they held a whispered
conference. I did not seek to overhear them, but I saw that Louis,
overcome by fear, was ready, even eager, to unbosom himself. Such
opposition as was apparent to me came from her. She was the kind of
woman that hates to give in--she and Madame Lourbet would have made a
pretty pair--but in the end she allowed herself to be persuaded.

"We will answer your questions, such as we think fit to be answered,"
she said, "under compulsion. Understand that--under compulsion."

I shook my head and smiled. "That will not do. You will answer all my
questions of your own free will, or you will answer none; and your
desire is to assist the course of justice."

She shut her mouth with a snap, and I think she would have liked to
bite me.

"If you don't answer," cried Louis, "I will."

"Put your questions," she said, frowning at him and us.

"You wish me to do so?" I asked, knowing I had her in my power, and
she was forced to answer, "Yes." She did not exactly love me at that
moment.

I pointed to the litter of clothing and open trunks.

"You are packing up to go away?"

"Yes--we have a right to go where we please."

"To Paris?"

"Yes."

"And from there?"

"It is not decided."

"It was your intention to travel by the night train?"

"Yes."

"Who was to go with you?"

"A friend."

"He is not a friend," Louis exclaimed, "I don't care for your dark
looks, mother; I will speak! He has never been my friend. Didn't he
rob me--didn't he nearly murder me? And you stand up for him
because--because----"

"Hold your tongue!" she cried.

But though he did not finish the sentence I did, in my mind. She stood
up for Maxwell because there was a tie between them; he had obtained a
hold upon her through her affections--for even such women as she can
love. Conjectures, of course, but I afterwards learned that they went
straight to the bull's eye.

I continued. "Maxwell was to be your companion?"

"Yes."

"He is coming for you? You expect him here tonight?"

It needed but the slightest hesitation on her part to cause me to turn
to Louis, and when he answered, "Yes, he is coming for us," I thought
she would have struck him.

"Quarrel away," thought I, "it all makes for us."

It made for us also, that she was torn two ways at once--by her
undoubted love for Louis, and by what had taken place between her and
Maxwell.

"At what time do you expect him?"

"At ten."

I looked at my watch; there was nearly an hour to spare.

"When was it arranged that the three of you were to go together to the
continent?"

"Yesterday."

"Last night, you mean."

"Well, last night. That is yesterday."

"It was Maxwell who suggested it?"

"Yes."

"After he had followed a certain person home from Madame Lourbet's
shop?"

"You are well informed," said Mrs. Fordham, bitterly.

"There is very little in this rascally affair," I responded, "upon
which I am not well informed, but it is always satisfactory to receive
confirmation. I have no further questions to ask at present. What I
require now is a plain statement of facts. Relate what occurred after
Maxwell stabbed you."

I do not propose to set it down in Louis' own words. Mrs. Fordham
wished to give me the information, but I would not receive it from
her, although it was to her eagerness to prove Louis' innocence that I
was indebted for some part of the disclosure. For the filling in of
the narrative I am also indebted to the natural intelligence of a man
who knows his business, that man, without any affectation of false
modesty, being myself. The importance of this disclosure cannot be
exaggerated. It filled up the gaps of the mystery, and made the whole
thing clear.

I give the incidents in the consecutive order in which they occurred.

When Louis fell to the ground in the house in Rye Street, Maxwell and
Morgan, believing him to be dead, stood transfixed with fear, appalled
by the tragic termination to their plan of robbery. Jack had rushed
from the room in terror, but this they scarcely noticed, so engrossed
were they in fears for their own safety. What aroused them were the
sounds of a desperate fight in the passage below--the fight that was
going on between John Fordham and Jack. Their impression was that they
had been watched, and that the police were upon them. If that were
indeed the case, their peril could not have been greater, for, with
the body of their victim on the ground, they would be caught
red-handed. The conflict in the passage continued for several minutes,
and it seemed as if one or more of the combatants were endeavoring to
force their way upstairs. Suddenly there was a lull--they heard the
thud of a fallen body, and then the violent slamming of the street
door. Following that, a dead silence.

It was long before they could muster sufficient courage to go from the
room to ascertain what had taken place. They took a light with them,
and coming upon the body of a man, they stooped to see who it was.

"By God!" cried Maxwell. "It is my brother-in-law, John Fordham! How
did he come here?" and then, "What a slice of luck!"

I can almost hear him utter these words as I write them down--and if
he did not utter them he thought them, which I take it amounts to the
same thing.

Quick as lightning he saw the opportunity of diverting suspicion from
himself, and fixing the guilt upon an innocent man. Assisted by
Morgan, to whom probably he disclosed his plan, he carried Fordham's
body into the room, took the knife with which he had stabbed Louis,
and put in its place the gold-digger's knife he found in Fordham's
sheath, smearing it first with blood. Then he and Morgan removed every
article which would draw suspicion upon themselves, and stole from the
house to await the issue of events. Whether they kept watch upon the
house to see what John Fordham would do--for they had ascertained that
he had only been stunned by the fall, and was certain to soon recover
his senses--or went away and returned after an interval, is not
material. Sufficient that they did return--to find John Fordham flown,
and Louis still lying on the ground in a state of insensibility, and
apparently dead. But the wound he had received was not mortal, as we
know. He became conscious while Maxwell and Morgan were quarreling.
Morgan, it appears, was under the impression that Maxwell intended to
cheat him of his share of the spoil, and he was insisting upon a fair
division then and there. Maxwell refused, and a stormy scene ensued,
of which Louis was a witness, though he did not dare to stir lest they
should really make an end of him. From words, the two men came to
blows, and Maxwell was heard to threaten to serve Morgan as he had
served Louis. But Morgan, thoroughly enraged, was not to be
intimidated, and a savage struggle ensued--ending in Maxwell dealing
Morgan a death stroke with the knife with which he had stabbed Louis.
In a paroxysm of fury he battered the face of the dead man and stamped
upon it; and finally overturned the heavy table upon the body, and
fled. Then Louis, fearful lest the murder would be fastened upon him,
managed to rise and stumble from the house unobserved.

The violence of the storm, which was raging furiously without, favored
him, and he succeeded in making his way to a common lodging-house,
frequented by thieves and men of the worst character, to whom the
sight of a man who had been engaged in a desperate fight was familiar.
There he remained in hiding for a couple of days, by which time he was
strong enough to leave Liverpool and take train to London, where he
joined his mother and was nursed by her. Meanwhile Maxwell had also
returned to London, devoured by anxiety, and by curiosity to ascertain
what had become of John Fordham. After keeping quiet for a week he
paid a visit to Louis' mother, and was astonished to see Louis in her
house. As may be imagined he was not cordially received, for Louis had
given his mother a true account of what had occurred.

At this juncture Maxwell's natural cunning--of which there are so many
instances in John Fordham's Confession--came to his aid. He professed
the greatest delight at Louis' escape, and the deepest regret that he
had allowed his temper to master him in their dispute over cards.
Concerning Morgan's death he pointed out that Louis' peril was no less
than his own, and that, if the worst should happen, it was not he
alone who would be accused of the murder. Naturally, he argued, Louis
would throw the crime upon him, and naturally he would throw it upon
Louis. It was a fair assumption that his story would be believed
before Louis' because of the wound which the latter had received,
which people would say was inflicted by Morgan while defending himself
against the attack made upon him. These arguments were strong enough
to show the dangerous position in which Louis stood in relation to the
crime. Maxwell then went on to say that their safety lay in fixing the
guilt upon John Fordham, and he related to them how that unfortunate
man came to be entangled in the affair. The hatred they bore to John
Fordham induced them to listen with avidity to the villainous
proposal, and they hailed with pleasure the opportunity of being
revenged upon him.

"He believes you to be dead," said Maxwell to Louis. "Let him rest in
that belief. All you have to do is to keep quiet. If, as I suspect, he
is in London, I will track him down. By Barbara's death a large sum of
money has reverted to him. Let me but succeed in finding him, and I
will bleed him of every shilling. You need not be seen; I will do the
dirty work, and you shall share the plunder." The temptation was
irresistible, and a peace was patched up between them. By what means
Maxwell discovered John Fordham in hiding in London under an assumed
name, and how he worked upon the unhappy man's feelings till the poor
fellow was beggared, is fully explained by Fordham himself in his
Confession.

Thus, step by step, was the whole mystery revealed. I had good reason
to be satisfied with my work, though something still remained to be
done.

When his story was finished Louis looked anxiously at me, but I was
silent, having a mind to play with him a bit.

"It proves my innocence, doesn't it?" he asked at length.

"I believe it does," I answered. "The question is, will others believe
it? You see, Maxwell will stick to his story as you will stick to
yours. He is not likely to have any feeling of tenderness towards his
betrayers."

"Do you see what you have done, you fool!" cried Mrs. Fordham. "You
have set that beast John free, and you have put a halter round your
neck! We have been tricked--tricked!"

She looked about her wildly, and Louis trembled in every limb.

I smiled amiably at her. "In that nice Liverpool party of yours there
were four men--you, Maxwell, Morgan, and another."

"Jack!" he cried. "He can prove my innocence. He saw Maxwell stab me!"

"Yes," I said, "he is the only man who can back up your story and save
you from Maxwell. If he could be found now, and be induced to speak
the truth?"

"He must be found," screamed Louis; "he must be! For God's sake give
me something to drink, or I shall go into a fit!"

His mother flew to the sideboard, and poured brandy into a glass,
which she held up to his chattering teeth.

I enjoyed the sight--I don't deny it--and had it not been that the
time was drawing near for the appearance of Maxwell upon the scene, I
have no hesitation in admitting that I should have prolonged the
agony. My blood fairly boiled within me as I gazed upon the
terror-stricken wretches, and thought of the sufferings they had
inflicted upon John Fordham. I controlled my feelings, however, and
applied myself steadily to the business I had in hand.

"Talking is dry work," I said. "Being in a manner of speaking your
guests, it would be politeness on your part to pass the bottle round."

"I second that," said Bob Garlick, passing his tongue over his lips.

The woman took no notice of the hint, but Louis stumbled eagerly
forward and held out the bottle to me. If I had not taken instant hold
of it a lot of good liquor would have been wasted, his hand was so
shaky. We helped ourselves, and felt the better for it, and then I
said:

"I don't drink at any one's expense--except in the way of
friendship--without paying for it. I am going to pay for the drinks,
and to prove to you that you have acted wisely in trusting us. You
have called your son a fool, Mrs. Fordham, and it would be rude to
contradict a lady. Perhaps he is something worse than that, but at all
events he has not been a fool tonight. Had he followed your advice the
pair of you would have seen the inside of prison walls. As it is, he
has saved you and himself. Do you think we left Jack out of the
reckoning? Not a bit of it. At this present moment he is within twenty
yards of us, waiting for orders, and it is a good job that his account
of the stabbing tallies with that we have just heard. I shouldn't like
to have such a record as yours, Mr. Louis, to my score, but there will
be no charge of murder brought against you. That is all you care for,
I expect, never mind what happens to any one else."

His eyes literally flashed with joy when he heard this, and Mrs.
Fordham drew a long, deep breath of relief. She would have made almost
any sacrifice to save both men, but Louis came first. That is the way
with mothers, even when they are the worst of women.

"Is the liquor paid for?" I asked.

"Yes, yes," Louis replied. "Take some more."

I put the bottle aside, and held up my hand, for just then we heard
three single raps at the street door, a short interval between each.
Then, after a longer interval, three rapid knocks.

"Is that Maxwell's signal?" I whispered. "Speak low."

"Yes."

"Do you have to say anything? Must he hear your voice?"

"Yes. And I must hear his."

"Go and say it, and open the door, and leave the rest to us. We shall
be behind you."

I did not trust her even then, you see.

We stepped softly out of the room, Mrs. Fordham first, and we at her
heels. The passage was dark; I would not allow her to carry a light.

"Who is there?" she asked.

The answer came. "All right, M."

She was in such a state of agitation that she fumbled at the lock. I
put my hand warningly on her shoulder, and the door was opened.

"What did you keep me so long for?" cried Maxwell, as he entered. "Is
that you, Louis? Everything's ready. What the----"

Before he could get out another word he was seized and handcuffed. I
blew my whistle, and Jack came up. Directing him in an undertone to
remain in the passage till I called for him, I followed Wheeler and
Bob Garlick into the room where they had conveyed their prisoner, Mrs.
Fordham having run in first. She was panting as though she had lost
her breath. Maxwell had said nothing more in the dark passage, his
impression being, of course, that the police were upon him, and that
silence would best serve him. When I entered he was safe in the grasp
of my assistants, and was glaring at Mrs. Fordham and Louis, neither
of whom had the courage to meet his eye.

"Have you searched him?" I asked of my assistants. They shook their
heads. "Well, let us see what he has in his pockets."

We turned them out, the slight resistance he was able to make being of
no avail. There was a loaded pistol, money, keys, and other oddments,
and a pocketbook, containing letters and memoranda. Some of the
letters were old and some recently written. Among the old letters were
two signed by Morgan before the Liverpool affair, the contents of
which proved the association of the two men for the purpose of robbing
Louis. The recent letters were from Mrs. Fordham, and my hurried
perusal of them left no doubt as to the nature of the intimacy between
her and Maxwell. It was a ticklish position for a woman--on one side a
lover, on the other a son whom she worshiped; but she had made her
choice, and there was no retreat for her.

While I was examining the letters there was no sound in the room
except the rustling of the papers. The truth dawned slowly upon
Maxwell, and his face grew darker and darker as he gazed upon the
forms of his confederates. He could no longer control himself.

"----you all!" he cried. "What is the meaning of this?"

"You are charged with the murder of a man you knew by the name of
Morgan in Liverpool," I replied.

"It's an infernal lie!" he shouted. "And you--what have you to say to
it?" He addressed this question to Louis and Mrs. Fordham, but neither
of the two answered him. "So," he said, between his teeth, while a
deadly pallor spread over his features, "you have laid a trap for me,
after all I have done to save you. There stands the murderer"--with a
nod of his head towards Louis--"and I am ready to give evidence
against him."

"What kind of evidence?" I asked.

"The evidence of an eye witness," he said. "I saw him do it--saw him
strike Morgan down!"

"Ah," said I, and I stepped to the door, and beckoned Jack in. "What
do you think of your ghost now, Jack?" His face beamed, and then his
eyes wandered from Louis to Maxwell. "Don't you know an old pal when
you see him? But I forgot. He has something on him which does not
properly belong to him."

And as I spoke I plucked the false beard and whiskers from Maxwell's
face.

"Maxwell!" cried Jack.

Then the murderer knew that the game was lost.


                        *   *   *   *   *   *


That very night, after lodging Maxwell in prison, and laying the
information against him, I paid a visit to Ellen Cameron. It was past
midnight when I reached her lodgings, but I knew she wouldn't mind
that when she heard the news I brought. Luckily the landlady of the
house was up, or I should have had some trouble in obtaining
admittance; she had a birthday party, and they were merrymaking. I
explained to her that I had some wonderfully good news to communicate
to her lodger, and she allowed me to go to her rooms. Ellen's voice
trembled as she answered my summons at her door, and trembled more
when she heard who her visitor was. I called to her not to be
frightened, but to dress herself quickly.

"Good news!" I cried. "The best of good news!"

I was soon admitted. What a picture of neatness that room was, and how
sweet and pretty Ellen looked, despite the trouble she had gone
through! I declare a lump rose in my throat as I looked at her--but
there! another man had got her, and he was worthy of her, and she of
him.

We spoke low because her boy was asleep in the next room, and as she
listened to the story I had to relate, tears of joy ran down her
beautiful face.

I finished, and rose to go.

"John is to be brought up to-morrow," I said, "and to-morrow he will
be free. Come to my office at half-past nine in the morning, and we
will go to the court together. I know you would like to be there to
welcome him. That is one of my reasons for coming here at such an
hour. Another reason is, that I thought it would be a sin if I lost a
single minute in giving you the good news."

She fell upon her knees and buried her face in her hands. Tears were
in my eyes, too, as I was stealing out of the room. But she sprang to
her feet and caught my hand, and kissed it.

"How can we repay you--how can we repay you!" she sobbed.

"I am repaid already," I said, and I pressed her hand and left her.


                        *   *   *   *   *   *


And indeed in one way I was more than repaid. You know the stir the
case made in the papers, and the flattering things that were said of
my skill--which I am too modest to set down here. My proceedings were
not perhaps exactly regular, and it is quite likely that Scotland Yard
would rather have had the credit of bringing the Mystery to light. I
doubt if they would have succeeded had it been left to them. And as
for what I did, and the way I did it--well, nothing succeeds like
success.

I became famous--really. And the business that flocked upon me! I am
in a fair way of making my fortune. No need to go on the stage.


                        *   *   *   *   *   *


All this happened twelve months ago. John and Ellen are in Australia
doing well, and as happy as birds in summer time. We write to each
other regularly, and they are continually sending me little presents.
Pleasant, isn't it, to feel that, though many thousands of miles are
between us, we shall hold one another in affectionate remembrance to
the last days of our lives?

And then, would you believe it, a week or two ago I was introduced to
a young lady so like Ellen that they might be sisters. The moment I
set eyes on her my heart went twenty to the dozen, and---- But that
has nothing to do with the story.



                               THE END.



                        *   *   *   *   *   *


A Few Press Opinions on

                           A Little Wizard

                         By STANLEY J. WEYMAN

                        16mo, Cloth, 50 Cents


New York Times

"Mr. Weyman now builds his romance on English soil. The time is the
beginning of the Puritan uprising, before the firm establishment of
the Commonwealth, and the personages are Roundheads and Cavaliers.
That is to say, the small boy and his fugitive brother, who are the
most sympathetic characters in the story, represent the Royalist
class, and they are set among crack-brained fanatics, sniveling
hypocrites, and sturdy, well-meaning dissenters. There is a strong and
convincing sketch of Cromwell before he had reached the zenith of his
power, which is quite in Mr. Weyman's best vein.

"The little story, which seems to have been intended as a boys' book,
is well devised and the interest is maintained to an abrupt and
startling denouement. There are no battles, but there is an admirable
description of a march of Cromwell's troops across the wet moors, and
Mr. Weyman's strong feeling for landscape effects, which so greatly
helps the interest of all his romances, pervades this little story."


Christian Advocate

"A new historical tale by Stanley J. Weyman is set in the time of
Cromwell, just after the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby, and
before the surrender by the Scots' army of Charles I. It is called 'A
Little Wizard,' and recites incidents in the careers of two youthful
sons of a Cavalier gentleman who has sacrificed his life to the
Royalist cause, and one of whom--the Little Wizard--figures
pathetically in the story, under the care of a faithless family
servitor who has sinister connections with the Puritan Roundheads. The
story has much of the literary and historic charm which marks all of
Mr. Weyman's works, and it will find many interested readers. It is
illustrated, and has a portrait of the author."


Brooklyn Eagle

. . . . "'A little Wizard,' in a small volume, which will be found
just big enough for an evening's reading. The author has come back to
England in this narrative, which is of the time of Cromwell. It is a
fragment only, but it is like a remnant of some rich piece of tapestry
on which is found embroidered the story of some brave deed of an older
time, and so rich is it, so full of art, so vigorous with life, that
the finder mourns that the whole history is not before him. . . . It
is to be hoped that he will work this vein somewhat further. His
picture of Cromwell in the 'Little Wizard' is very lifelike. One
cannot help wishing that he would attempt the same drawing on a larger
canvas. It is time we had once more a story of romance and adventure
with English ground as its foothold. It would be a blessed relief
from some of the pictures of passion, pure and impure--chiefly the
latter--which of late has given rise to the question as to whether or
not English reserve and modesty has become a forgotten virtue in
literature."


The Outlook

"The artist is often revealed as strongly in small things as in great.
Mr. S. J. Weyman's 'The Little Wizard' is short and slight, but,
within its chosen limits, is a thoroughly artistic bit of fiction. Its
hero is a little Royalist lad of the times of Charles I., who falls
among rustic fanatics and, by an odd train of events, becomes
suspected of being endowed with witch powers and of bringing a storm
to hinder the march of Cromwell's army. The brief glimpse of Cromwell
himself is admirably given. The close is dramatically managed and
effective."



Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In 'A little Wizard,' Stanley J. Weyman leaves his familiar French
ground and locates his story in England during the war between the
Royalists and Roundheads, the tale reciting incidents in the careers
of two sons of a Cavalier gentleman who had fallen in the Royalist
cause. It is an interesting novelette that does not take long in the
reading and has no pages to be skipped on account of dullness."


                        *   *   *   *   *   *

                        R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
                    112 FIFTH AVENUE      NEW YORK



A Few Press Opinions on

                              A New Note


World

"The latest book of which people are talking; this new book is very
much up to date."


Daily Telegraph

"The book is really a remarkable one, of high literary quality,
replete with strong human interest and displaying masterly ability.
Widespread popularity awaits 'A New Note.' Ere long everybody who is
anybody will read it."


St. James's Gazette

"Eminently readable, and we should say will be read. The writing is
brisk and clever, and the character-drawing very good."


Manchester Guardian

"Its merits are far above the average, the characters are admirably
drawn, they are living people and stand out in solid relief amid the
shadowy unsubstantial hosts that people the pages of most modern
fiction. The authoress has knowledge of the human heart. There is much
cleverness and power in the book."


Saturday Review

"A promising story; the verdict on this must be decidedly favorable."


Guardian

"It is of an uncommon power and breadth, rare and vivacious humor. Its
incidents and _mise-en-scene_ are decidedly fresh, and the
conversations brisk and to the point."


St. Paul's

"Shows much knowledge of character and skill in portraiture. There is
scarcely a character that we might not single out for praise; the
dialogue, too, is excellent--smart without being flippant, and witty
without being labored."


Athenæum

"This cleverly written novel. . . . The book is written with
considerable alertness of style, and the sketches of the old maiden
aunt and half a dozen other minor characters are touched off with no
little skill and humor."


Post

"Its crisply rounded phrases, bright dialogues, and general knowledge
of the world, might be envied by many a practised writer. The book is
a novelty in the best sense of the term, vivacious and refined."


Academy

"The note in the book is struck well, and with a purpose--delicate
insight into shades of feeling and certain hold of human nature. The
characters the author has made her own she has made a distinct
success."


Post

"Combines adequate knowledge of the world with a high degree of
literary skill. The character of the heroine is admirably conceived
and managed. The situations are powerful without effort, and the
dialogue is often as brilliant as the reflections are shrewd. This is
one of the novels of the season."


Times

"It introduces to the novel reading public a writer of no mean powers.
A story of human interest, thoroughly bright and wholesome. The
heroine is a new conception. Every reader of the book will readily
recognise the genuine gifts of the author."


Speaker

"There is undoubted ability in 'A New Note.' The author is clever and
can write well; she can also draw accurate sketches of the better side
of social life."


Globe

"The author displays a feeling for character, skill in dealing with
the crises and events, and a pleasant style."


Mail

"A clever bit of literary work, well conceived and admirably
developed. The heroine is that extraordinary latter-day creation, 'a
new woman.'"



A Few Press Opinions on


                      The Professor's Experiment

                   By MRS. HUNGERFORD (The Duchess)

              12mo, Cloth, $1.25; Paper Covers, 50 Cents


The Watchman

"The 'experiment,' which gives name to the story, is a weird one and
picturesquely presented, reminding one faintly of the old French story
of the 'Broken Ear.' It turns the red light briskly on the hero and
heroine, who, having been thus vividly introduced to us and to each
other, proceed to the business of the occasion by falling in love with
each other and entangling themselves in divers nets of embarrassing
circumstances, settling away from the storm to a peaceful horizon of
marriage at last. It has become necessary, in these days, to indicate
the exceptional and welcome fact that this is a pure story; painting
cheery pictures of normal domestic life, and opening no side doors to
encourage the stealthy adventures of a prurient fancy. It is a novel,
strictly speaking, involving neither sermon nor stump speech. It
offers entertainment only, but it gives what it offers; resting the
tired brain and leaving no poison in the blood."


Evening Bulletin

"It is a capital story of an Irish savant, who, like the magicians of
mediæval days, passed his years in concocting a draught to put his
subjects to sleep. Fortunately a beautiful girl of eighteen is found
insensible on the professor's doorstep. She becomes his patient,
enters upon a long sleep, and, in the 'large awakening,' learns
that she is heiress to an immense fortune and the professor's
grand-daughter."


Indianapolis Journal

"'The Professor's Experiment' is the title of a new book by Mrs.
Hungerford (The Duchess). It is of a somewhat more elaborate and
ambitious character than this writer's recent stories, and shows
a return to her earlier manner. The heroine is the impulsive,
warm-hearted young Irish girl with whom all Mrs. Hungerford's readers
are well acquainted, but of whom, in her various phases and
reappearances they do not tire."


                              *   *   *
          R. F. FENNO & COMPANY, 112 Fifth Avenue, New York





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