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Title: Lucretia — Volume 06
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron
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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CHAPTER XVIII.

RETROSPECT.

We have now arrived at that stage in this history when it is necessary to
look back on the interval in Lucretia's life,--between the death of
Dalibard, and her reintroduction in the second portion of our tale.

One day, without previous notice or warning, Lucretia arrived at William
Mainwaring's house; she was in the deep weeds of widowhood, and that garb
of mourning sufficed to add Susan's tenderest commiseration to the warmth
of her affectionate welcome.  Lucretia appeared to have forgiven the
past, and to have conquered its more painful recollections; she was
gentle to Susan, though she rather suffered than returned her caresses;
she was open and frank to William.  Both felt inexpressibly grateful for
her visit, the forgiveness it betokened, and the confidence it implied.
At this time no condition could be more promising and prosperous than
that of the young banker.  From the first the most active partner in the
bank, he had now virtually almost monopolized the business.  The senior
partner was old and infirm; the second had a bucolic turn, and was much
taken up by the care of a large farm he had recently purchased; so that
Mainwaring, more and more trusted and honoured, became the sole managing
administrator of the firm.  Business throve in his able hands; and with
patient and steady perseverance there was little doubt but that, before
middle age was attained, his competence would have swelled into a fortune
sufficient to justify him in realizing the secret dream of his heart,--
the parliamentary representation of the town, in which he had already
secured the affection and esteem of the inhabitants.

It was not long before Lucretia detected the ambition William's industry
but partially concealed; it was not long before, with the ascendency
natural to her will and her talents, she began to exercise considerable,
though unconscious, influence over a man in whom a thousand good
qualities and some great talents were unhappily accompanied by infirm
purpose and weak resolutions.  The ordinary conversation of Lucretia
unsettled his mind and inflamed his vanity,--a conversation able,
aspiring, full both of knowledge drawn from books and of that experience
of public men which her residence in Paris (whereon, with its new and
greater Charlemagne, the eyes of the world were turned) had added to her
acquisitions in the lore of human life.  Nothing more disturbs a mind
like William Mainwaring's than that species of eloquence which rebukes
its patience in the present by inflaming all its hopes in the future.
Lucretia had none of the charming babble of women, none of that tender
interest in household details, in the minutiae of domestic life, which
relaxes the intellect while softening the heart.  Hard and vigorous, her
sentences came forth in eternal appeal to the reason, or address to the
sterner passions in which love has no share.  Beside this strong thinker,
poor Susan's sweet talk seemed frivolous and inane.  Her soft hold upon
Mainwaring loosened.  He ceased to consult her upon business; he began to
repine that the partner of his lot could have little sympathy with his
dreams.  More often and more bitterly now did his discontented glance, in
his way homeward, rove to the rooftops of the rural member for the town;
more eagerly did he read the parliamentary debates; more heavily did he
sigh at the thought of eloquence denied a vent, and ambition delayed in
its career.

When arrived at this state of mind, Lucretia's conversation took a more
worldly, a more practical turn.  Her knowledge of the speculators of
Paris instructed her pictures of bold ingenuity creating sudden wealth;
she spoke of fortunes made in a day,--of parvenus bursting into
millionnaires; of wealth as the necessary instrument of ambition, as the
arch ruler of the civilized world.  Never once, be it observed, in these
temptations, did Lucretia address herself to the heart; the ordinary
channels of vulgar seduction were disdained by her.  She would not have
stooped so low as Mainwaring's love, could she have commanded or allured
it; she was willing to leave to Susan the husband reft from her own
passionate youth, but leave him with the brand on his brow and the worm
at his heart,--a scoff and a wreck.

At this time there was in that market-town one of those adventurous,
speculative men, who are the more dangerous impostors because imposed
upon by their own sanguine chimeras, who have a plausibility in their
calculations, an earnestness in their arguments, which account for the
dupes they daily make in our most sober and wary of civilized
communities.  Unscrupulous in their means, yet really honest in the
belief that their objects can be attained, they are at once the rogues
and fanatics of Mammon.  This person was held to have been fortunate in
some adroit speculations in the corn trade, and he was brought too
frequently into business with Mainwaring not to be a frequent visitor at
the house.  In him Lucretia saw the very instrument of her design.  She
led him on to talk of business as a game, of money as a realizer of cent
per cent; she drew him into details, she praised him, she admired.  In
his presence she seemed only to hear him; in his absence, musingly, she
started from silence to exclaim on the acuteness of his genius and the
accuracy of his figures.  Soon the tempter at Mainwaring's heart gave
signification to these praises, soon this adventurer became his most
intimate friend.  Scarcely knowing why, never ascribing the change to her
sister, poor Susan wept, amazed at Mainwaring's transformation.  No care
now for the new books from London, or the roses in the garden; the music
on the instrument was unheeded.  Books, roses, music,--what are those
trifles to a man thinking upon cent per cent?  Mainwaring's very
countenance altered; it lost its frank, affectionate beauty: sullen,
abstracted, morose, it showed that some great care was at the core.  Then
Lucretia herself began grievingly to notice the change to Susan;
gradually she altered her tone with regard to the speculator, and hinted
vague fears, and urged Susan's remonstrance and warning.  As she had
anticipated, warning and remonstrance came in vain to the man who,
comparing Lucretia's mental power to Susan's, had learned to despise the
unlearned, timid sense of the latter.

It is unnecessary to trace this change in Mainwaring step by step, or to
measure the time which sufficed to dazzle his reason and blind his
honour.  In the midst of schemes and hopes which the lust of gold now
pervaded came a thunderbolt.  An anonymous letter to the head partner of
the bank provoked suspicions that led to minute examination of the
accounts.  It seemed that sums had been irregularly advanced (upon bills
drawn by men of straw) to the speculator by Mainwaring; and the
destination of these sums could be traced to gambling operations in trade
in which Mainwaring had a private interest and partnership.  So great, as
we have said, had been the confidence placed in William's abilities and
honour that the facilities afforded him in the disposal of the joint
stock far exceeded those usually granted to the partner of a firm, and
the breach of trust appeared the more flagrant from the extent of the
confidence misplaced.  Meanwhile, William Mainwaring, though as yet
unconscious of the proceedings of his partners, was gnawed by anxiety and
remorse, not unmixed with hope.  He depended upon the result of a bold
speculation in the purchase of shares in a Canal Company, a bill for
which was then before parliament, with (as he was led to believe) a
certainty of success.  The sums he had, on his own responsibility,
abstracted from the joint account were devoted to this adventure.  But,
to do him justice, he never dreamed of appropriating the profits
anticipated to himself.  Though knowing that the bills on which the
moneys had been advanced were merely nominal deposits, he had confidently
calculated on the certainty of success for the speculations to which the
proceeds so obtained were devoted, and he looked forward to the moment
when he might avow what he had done, and justify it by doubling the
capital withdrawn.  But to his inconceivable horror, the bill of the
Canal Company was rejected in the Lords; the shares bought at a premium
went down to zero; and to add to his perplexity, the speculator abruptly
disappeared from the town.  In this crisis he was summoned to meet his
indignant associates.

The evidence against him was morally damning, if not legally conclusive.
The unhappy man heard all in the silence of despair.  Crushed and
bewildered, he attempted no defence.  He asked but an hour to sum up the
losses of the bank and his own; they amounted within a few hundreds to
the 10,000 pounds he had brought to the firm, and which, in the absence
of marriage-settlements, was entirely at his own disposal.  This sum he
at once resigned to his associates, on condition that they should defray
from it his personal liabilities.  The money thus repaid, his partners
naturally relinquished all further inquiry.  They were moved by pity for
one so gifted and so fallen,--they even offered him a subordinate but
lucrative situation in the firm in which he had been partner; but
Mainwaring wanted the patience and resolution to work back the redemption
of his name,--perhaps, ultimately, of his fortunes.  In the fatal anguish
of his shame and despair, he fled from the town; his flight confirmed
forever the rumours against him,--rumours worse than the reality.  It was
long before he even admitted Susan to the knowledge of the obscure refuge
he had sought; there, at length, she joined him.  Meanwhile, what did
Lucretia?  She sold nearly half of her own fortune, constituted
principally of the moiety of her portion which, at Dalibard's death, had
passed to herself as survivor, and partly of the share in her deceased
husband's effects which the French law awarded to her, and with the
proceeds of this sum she purchased an annuity for her victims.  Was this
strange generosity the act of mercy, the result of repentance?  No; it
was one of the not least subtle and delicious refinements of her revenge.
To know him who had rejected her, the rival who had supplanted, the
miserable pensioners of her bounty, was dear to her haughty and
disdainful hate.  The lust of power, ever stronger in her than avarice,
more than reconciled her to the sacrifice of gold.  Yes, here she, the
despised, the degraded, had power still; her wrath had ruined the
fortunes of her victim, blasted the repute, embittered and desolated
evermore the future,--now her contemptuous charity fed the wretched lives
that she spared in scorn.  She had no small difficulty, it is true, in
persuading Susan to accept this sacrifice, and she did so only by
sustaining her sister's belief that the past could yet be retrieved, that
Mainwaring's energies could yet rebuild their fortunes, and that as the
annuity was at any time redeemable, the aid therefore was only temporary.
With this understanding, Susan, overwhelmed with gratitude, weeping and
broken-hearted, departed to join the choice of her youth.  As the men
deputed by the auctioneer to arrange and ticket the furniture for sale
entered the desolate house, Lucretia then, with the step of a conqueror,
passed from the threshold.

"Ah!" she murmured, as she paused, and gazed on the walls, "ah, they were
happy when I first entered those doors,--happy in each other's tranquil
love; happier still when they deemed I had forgiven the wrong and abjured
the past!  How honoured was then their home!  How knew I then, for the
first time, what the home of love can be!  And who had destroyed for me,
upon all the earth, a home like theirs?  They on whom that home smiled
with its serene and taunting peace!  I--I, the guest!  I--I, the
abandoned, the betrayed,--what dark memories were on my soul, what a hell
boiled within my bosom!  Well might those memories take each a voice to
accuse them; well, from that hell, might rise the Alecto!  Their lives
were in my power, my fatal dowry at my command,--rapid death, or slow,
consuming torture; but to have seen each cheer the other to the grave,
lighting every downward step with the eyes of love,--vengeance so urged
would have fallen only on myself!  Ha! deceiver, didst thou plume
thyself, forsooth, on spotless reputation?  Didst thou stand, me by thy
side, amongst thy perjured household gods and talk of honour?  Thy home,
it is reft from thee; thy reputation, it is a, scoff; thine honour, it is
a ghost that shall haunt thee!  Thy love, can it linger yet?  Shall the
soft eyes of thy wife not burn into thy heart, and shame turn love into
loathing?  Wrecks of my vengeance, minions of my bounty, I did well to
let ye live; I shake the dust from my feet on your threshold.  Live on,
homeless, hopeless, and childless!  The curse is fulfilled!"

From that hour Lucretia never paused from her career to inquire further
of her victims; she never entered into communication with either.  They
knew not her address nor her fate, nor she theirs.  As she had reckoned,
Mainwaring made no effort to recover himself from his fall.  All the high
objects that had lured his ambition were gone from him evermore.  No
place in the State, no authority in the senate, awaits in England the man
with a blighted name.  For the lesser objects of life he had no heart and
no care.  They lived in obscurity in a small village in Cornwall till the
Peace allowed them to remove to France; the rest of their fate is known.

Meanwhile, Lucretia removed to one of those smaller Londons, resorts of
pleasure and idleness, with which rich England abounds, and in which
widows of limited income can make poverty seem less plebeian.  And now,
to all those passions that had hitherto raged within her, a dismal apathy
succeeded.  It was the great calm in her sea of life.  The winds fell,
and the sails drooped.  Her vengeance satisfied, that which she had made
so preternaturally the main object of existence, once fulfilled, left her
in youth objectless.

She strove at first to take pleasure in the society of the place; but its
frivolities and pettiness of purpose soon wearied that masculine and
grasping mind, already made insensible to the often healthful, often
innocent, excitement of trifles, by the terrible ordeal it had passed.
Can the touch of the hand, scorched by the burning iron, feel pleasure in
the softness of silk, or the light down of the cygnet's plume?  She next
sought such relief as study could afford; and her natural bent of
thought, and her desire to vindicate her deeds to herself, plunged her
into the fathomless abyss of metaphysical inquiry with the hope to
confirm into positive assurance her earlier scepticism,--with the
atheist's hope to annihilate the soul, and banish the presiding God.  But
no voice that could satisfy her reason came from those dreary deeps;
contradiction on contradiction met her in the maze.  Only when, wearied
with book-lore, she turned her eyes to the visible Nature, and beheld
everywhere harmony, order, system, contrivance, art, did she start with
the amaze and awe of instinctive conviction, and the natural religion
revolted from her cheerless ethics.  Then came one of those sudden
reactions common with strong passions and exploring minds, but more
common with women, however manlike, than with men.  Had she lived in
Italy then, she had become a nun; for in this woman, unlike Varney and
Dalibard, the conscience could never be utterly silenced.  In her choice
of evil, she found only torture to her spirit in all the respites
afforded to the occupations it indulged.  When employed upon ill, remorse
gave way to the zest of scheming; when the ill was done, remorse came
with the repose.

It was in this peculiar period of her life that Lucretia, turning
everywhere, and desperately, for escape from the past, became acquainted
with some members of one of the most rigid of the sects of Dissent.  At
first she permitted herself to know and commune with these persons from a
kind of contemptuous curiosity; she desired to encourage, in
contemplating them, her experience of the follies of human nature: but in
that crisis of her mind, in those struggles of her reason, whatever
showed that which she most yearned to discover,--namely, earnest faith,
rooted and genuine conviction, whether of annihilation or of immortality,
a philosophy that might reconcile her to crime by destroying the
providence of good, or a creed that could hold out the hope of redeeming
the past and exorcising sin by the mystery of a Divine sacrifice,--had
over her a power which she had not imagined or divined.  Gradually the
intense convictions of her new associates disturbed and infected her.
Their affirmations that as we are born in wrath, so sin is our second
nature, our mysterious heritage, seemed, to her understanding, willing to
be blinded, to imply excuses for her past misdeeds.  Their assurances
that the worst sinner may become the most earnest saint; that through but
one act of the will, resolute faith, all redemption is to be found,--
these affirmations and these assurances, which have so often restored the
guilty and remodelled the human heart, made a salutary, if brief,
impression upon her.  Nor were the lives of these Dissenters (for the
most part austerely moral), nor the peace and self-complacency which they
evidently found in the satisfaction of conscience and fulfilment of duty,
without an influence over her that for a while both chastened and
soothed.

Hopeful of such a convert, the good teachers strove hard to confirm the
seeds springing up from the granite and amidst the weeds; and amongst
them came one man more eloquent, more seductive, than the rest,--Alfred
Braddell.  This person, a trader at Liverpool, was one of those strange
living paradoxes that can rarely be found out of a commercial community.
He himself had been a convert to the sect, and like most converts, he
pushed his enthusiasm into the bigotry of the zealot; he saw no salvation
out of the pale into which he had entered.  But though his belief was
sincere, it did not genially operate on his practical life; with the most
scrupulous attention to forms, he had the worldliness and cunning of the
carnal.  He had abjured the vices of the softer senses, but not that
which so seldom wars on the decorums of outer life.  He was essentially a
money-maker,--close, acute, keen, overreaching.  Good works with him were
indeed as nothing,--faith the all in all.  He was one of the elect, and
could not fall.  Still, in this man there was all the intensity which
often characterizes a mind in proportion to the narrowness of its
compass; that intensity gave fire to his gloomy eloquence, and strength
to his obstinate will.  He saw Lucretia, and his zeal for her conversion
soon expanded into love for her person; yet that love was secondary to
his covetousness.  Though ostensibly in a flourishing business, he was
greatly distressed for money to carry on operations which swelled beyond
the reach of his capital; his fingers itched for the sum which Lucretia
had still at her disposal.  But the seeming sincerity of the man, the
persuasion of his goodness, his reputation for sanctity, deceived her;
she believed herself honestly and ardently beloved, and by one who could
guide her back, if not to happiness, at least to repose.  She herself
loved him not,--she could love no more.  But it seemed to her a luxury to
find some one she could trust, she could honour.  If you had probed into
the recesses of her mind at that time, you would have found that no
religious belief was there settled,--only the desperate wish to believe;
only the disturbance of all previous infidelity; only a restless, gnawing
desire to escape from memory, to emerge from the gulf.  In this troubled,
impatient disorder of mind and feeling, she hurried into a second
marriage as fatal as the first.

For a while she bore patiently all the privations of that ascetic
household, assisted in all those external formalities, centred all her
intellect within that iron range of existence.  But no grace descended on
her soul,--no warm ray unlocked the ice of the well.  Then, gradually
becoming aware of the niggardly meanness, of the harsh, uncharitable
judgments, of the decorous frauds that, with unconscious hypocrisy, her
husband concealed beneath the robes of sanctity, a weary disgust stole
over her,--it stole, it deepened, it increased; it became intolerable
when she discovered that Braddell had knowingly deceived her as to his
worldly substance.  In that mood in which she had rushed into these
ominous nuptials, she had had no thought for vulgar advantages; had
Braddell been a beggar, she had married him as rashly.  But he, with the
inability to comprehend a nature like hers,--dim not more to her terrible
vices than to the sinister grandeur which made their ordinary
atmosphere,--had descended cunningly to address the avarice he thought as
potent in others as himself, to enlarge on the worldly prosperity with
which Providence had blessed him; and now she saw that her dowry alone
had saved the crippled trader from the bankrupt list. With this revolting
discovery, with the scorn it produced, vanished all Lucretia's unstable
visions of reform.  She saw this man a saint amongst his tribe, and would
not believe in the virtues of his brethren, great and unquestionable as
they might have been proved to a more dispassionate and humbler inquirer.
The imposture she detected she deemed universal in the circle in which
she dwelt; and Satan once more smiled upon the subject he regained.
Lucretia became a mother; but their child formed no endearing tie between
the ill-assorted pair,--it rather embittered their discord.  Dimly even
then, as she bent over the cradle, that vision, which now, in the old
house at Brompton, haunted her dreams and beckoned her over seas of blood
into the fancied future, was foreshadowed in the face of her infant son.
To be born again in that birth, to live only in that life, to aspire as
man may aspire, in that future man whom she would train to knowledge and
lead to power,--these were the feelings with which that sombre mother
gazed upon her babe.  The idea that the low-born, grovelling father had
the sole right over that son's destiny, had the authority to cabin his
mind in the walls of form, bind him down to the sordid apprenticeship,
debased, not dignified, by the solemn mien, roused her indignant wrath;
she sickened when Braddell touched her child.  All her pride of
intellect, that had never slept, all her pride of birth, long dormant,
woke up to protect the heir of her ambition, the descendant of her race,
from the defilement of the father's nurture.  Not long after her
confinement, she formed a plan for escape; she disappeared from the house
with her child.  Taking refuge in a cottage, living on the sale of the
few jewels she possessed, she was for some weeks almost happy.  But
Braddell, less grieved by the loss than shocked by the scandal, was
indefatigable in his researches,--he discovered her retreat.  The scene
between them was terrible.  There was no resisting the power which all
civilized laws give to the rights of husband and father.  Before this
man, whom she scorned so unutterably, Lucretia was impotent.  Then all
the boiling passions long suppressed beneath that command of temper.
which she owed both to habitual simulation and intense disdain, rushed
forth.  Then she appalled the impostor with her indignant denunciations
of his hypocrisy, his meanness, and his guile.  Then, throwing off the
mask she had worn, she hurled her anathema on his sect, on his faith,
with the same breath that smote his conscience and left it wordless.  She
shocked all the notions he sincerely entertained, and he stood awed by
accusations from a blasphemer whom he dared not rebuke.  His rage broke
at length from his awe.  Stung, maddened by the scorn of himself, his
blood fired into juster indignation by her scoff at his creed, he lost
all self-possession and struck her to the ground.  In the midst of shame
and dread at disclosure of his violence, which succeeded the act so
provoked, he was not less relieved than amazed when Lucretia, rising
slowly, laid her hand gently on his arm and said, "Repent not, it is
passed; fear not, I will be silent!  Come, you are the stronger,--you
prevail.  I will follow my child to your home."

In this unexpected submission in one so imperious, Braddell's imperfect
comprehension of character saw but fear, and his stupidity exulted in his
triumph.  Lucretia returned with him.  A few days afterwards Braddell
became ill; the illness increased,--slow, gradual, wearying.  It broke
his spirit with his health; and then the steadfast imperiousness of
Lucretia's stern will ruled and subjugated him.  He cowered beneath her
haughty, searching gaze, he shivered at her sidelong, malignant glance;
but with this fear came necessarily hate, and this hate, sometimes
sufficing to vanquish the fear, spitefully evinced itself in thwarting
her legitimate control over her infant.  He would have it (though he had
little real love for children) constantly with him, and affected to
contradict all her own orders to the servants, in the sphere in which
mothers arrogate most the right.  Only on these occasions sometimes would
Lucretia lose her grim self-control, and threaten that her child yet
should be emancipated from his hands, should yet be taught the scorn for
hypocrites which he had taught herself.  These words sank deep, not only
in the resentment, but in the conscience, of the husband.  Meanwhile,
Lucretia scrupled not to evince her disdain of Braddell by markedly
abstaining from all the ceremonies she had before so rigidly observed.
The sect grew scandalized.  Braddell did not abstain from making known
his causes of complaint.  The haughty, imperious woman was condemned in
the community, and hated in the household.

It was at this time that Walter Ardworth, who was then striving to eke
out his means by political lectures (which in the earlier part of the
century found ready audience) in our great towns, came to Liverpool.
Braddell and Ardworth had been schoolfellows, and even at school embryo
politicians of congenial notions; and the conversion of the former to one
of the sects which had grown out of the old creeds, that, under Cromwell,
had broken the sceptre of the son of Belial and established the
Commonwealth of Saints, had only strengthened the republican tenets of
the sour fanatic.  Ardworth called on Braddell, and was startled to find
in his schoolfellow's wife the niece of his benefactor, Sir Miles St.
John.  Now, Lucretia had never divulged her true parentage to her
husband.  In a union so much beneath her birth, she had desired to
conceal from all her connections the fall of the once-honoured heiress.
She had descended, in search of peace, to obscurity; but her pride
revolted from the thought that her low-born husband might boast of her
connections and parade her descent to his level.  Fortunately, as she
thought, she received Ardworth before he was admitted to her husband, who
now, growing feebler and feebler, usually kept his room.  She stooped to
beseech Ardworth not to reveal her secret; and he, comprehending her
pride, as a man well-born himself, and pitying her pain, readily gave his
promise.  At the first interview, Braddell evinced no pleasure in the
sight of his old schoolfellow.  It was natural enough that one so precise
should be somewhat revolted by one so careless of all form.  But when
Lucretia imprudently evinced satisfaction at his surly remarks on his
visitor; when he perceived that it would please her that he should not
cultivate the acquaintance offered him,--he was moved, by the spirit of
contradiction, and the spiteful delight even in frivolous annoyance, to
conciliate and court the intimacy he had at first disdained: and then, by
degrees, sympathy in political matters and old recollections of sportive,
careless boyhood cemented the intimacy into a more familiar bond than the
sectarian had contracted really with any of his late associates.

Lucretia regarded this growing friendship with great uneasiness; the
uneasiness increased to alarm when one day, in the presence of Ardworth,
Braddell, writhing with a sudden spasm, said: "I cannot account for these
strange seizures; I think verily I am poisoned!" and his dull eye rested
on Lucretia's pallid brow.  She was unusually thoughtful for some days
after this remark; and one morning she informed her husband that she had
received the intelligence that a relation, from whom she had pecuniary
expectations, was dangerously ill, and requested his permission to visit
this sick kinsman, who dwelt in a distant county.  Braddell's eyes
brightened at the thought of her absence; with little further questioning
he consented; and Lucretia, sure perhaps that the barb was in the side of
her victim, and reckoning, it may be, on greater freedom from suspicion
if her husband died in her absence, left the house.  It was, indeed, to
the neighbourhood of her kindred that she went.  In a private
conversation with Ardworth, when questioning him of his news of the
present possessor of Laughton, he had informed her that he had heard
accidentally that Vernon's two sons (Percival was not then born) were
sickly; and she went into Hampshire secretly and unknown, to see what
were really the chances that her son might yet become the lord of her
lost inheritance.

During this absence, Braddell, now gloomily aware that his days were
numbered, resolved to put into practice the idea long contemplated, and
even less favoured by his spite than justified by the genuine convictions
of his conscience.  Whatever his faults, sincere at least in his
religious belief, he might well look with dread to the prospect of the
training and education his son would receive from the hands of a mother
who had blasphemed his sect and openly proclaimed her infidelity.  By
will, it is true, he might create a trust, and appoint guardians to his
child.  But to have lived under the same roof with his wife,--nay, to
have carried her back to that roof when she had left it,--afforded tacit
evidence that whatever the disagreement between them, her conduct could
hardly have merited her exclusion from the privileges of a mother.  The
guardianship might therefore avail little to frustrate Lucretia's
indirect contamination, if not her positive control.  Besides, where
guardians are appointed, money must be left; and Braddell knew that at
his death his assets would be found insufficient for his debts.  Who
would be guardian to a penniless infant?  He resolved, therefore, to send
his child from his roof to some place where, if reared humbly, it might
at least be brought up in the right faith,--some place which might defy
the search and be beyond the perversion of the unbelieving mother.  He
looked round, and discovered no instrument for his purpose that seemed so
ready as Walter Ardworth; for by this time he had thoroughly excited the
pity and touched the heart of that good-natured, easy man.  His
representations of the misconduct of Lucretia were the more implicitly
believed by one who had always been secretly prepossessed against her;
who, admitted to household intimacy, was an eye-witness to her hard
indifference to her husband's sufferings; who saw in her very request not
to betray her gentle birth, the shame she felt in her election; who
regarded with indignation her unfeeling desertion of Braddell in his last
moments, and who, besides all this, had some private misfortunes of his
own which made him the more ready listener to themes on the faults of
women; and had already, by mutual confidences, opened the hearts of the
two ancient schoolfellows to each other's complaints and wrongs.  The
only other confidant in the refuge selected for the child was a member of
the same community as Braddell, who kindly undertook to search for a
pious, godly woman, who, upon such pecuniary considerations as Braddell,
by robbing his creditors, could afford to bestow, would permanently offer
to the poor infant a mother's home and a mother's care.  When this woman
was found, Braddell confided his child to Ardworth, with such a sum as he
could scrape together for its future maintenance.  And to Ardworth,
rather than to his fellow-sectarian, this double trust was given, because
the latter feared scandal and misrepresentation if he should be
ostensibly mixed up in so equivocal a charge.  Poor and embarrassed as
Walter Ardworth was, Braddell did not for once misinterpret character
when he placed the money in his hands; and this because the characters we
have known in transparent boyhood we have known forever.  Ardworth was
reckless, and his whole life had been wrecked, his whole nature
materially degraded, by the want of common thrift and prudence.  His own
money slipped through his fingers and left him surrounded by creditors,
whom, rigidly speaking, he thus defrauded; but direct dishonesty was as
wholly out of the chapter of his vices as if he had been a man of the
strictest principles and the steadiest honour.

The child was gone, the father died, Lucretia returned, as we have seen
in Grabman's letter, to the house of death, to meet suspicion, and cold
looks, and menial accusations, and an inquest on the dead; but through
all this the reft tigress mourned her stolen whelp.  As soon as all
evidence against her was proved legally groundless, and she had leave to
depart, she searched blindly and frantically for her lost child; but in
vain.  The utter and penniless destitution in which she was left by her
husband's decease did not suffice to terminate her maddening chase.  On
foot she wandered from village to village, and begged her way wherever a
false clew misled her steps.

At last, in reluctant despair, she resigned the pursuit, and found
herself one day in the midst of the streets of London, half-famished and
in rags; and before her suddenly, now grown into vigorous youth,--
blooming, sleek, and seemingly prosperous,--stood Gabriel Varney.  By her
voice, as she approached and spoke, he recognized his stepmother; and
after a short pause of hesitation, he led her to his home.  It is not our
purpose (for it is not necessary to those passages of their lives from
which we have selected the thread of our tale) to follow these two, thus
united, through their general career of spoliation and crime.  Birds of
prey, they searched in human follies and human errors for their food:
sometimes severed, sometimes together, their interests remained one.
Varney profited by the mightier and subtler genius of evil to which he
had leashed himself; for, caring little for luxuries, and dead to the
softer senses, she abandoned to him readily the larger share of their
plunder.  Under a variety of names and disguises, through a succession of
frauds, some vast and some mean, but chiefly on the Continent, they had
pursued their course, eluding all danger and baffling all law.

Between three and four years before this period, Varney's uncle, the
painter, by one of those unexpected caprices of fortune which sometimes
find heirs to a millionnaire at the weaver's loom or the labourer's
plough, had suddenly, by the death of a very distant kinsman whom he had
never seen, come into possession of a small estate, which he sold for
6,000 pounds.  Retiring from all his profession, he lived as comfortably
as his shattered constitution permitted upon the interest of this sum;
and he wrote to his nephew, then at Paris, to communicate the good news
and offer the hospitality of his hearth.  Varney hastened to London.
Shortly afterwards a nurse, recommended as an experienced, useful person
in her profession, by Nicholas Grabman, who in many a tortuous scheme had
been Gabriel's confederate, was installed in the poor painter's house.
From that time his infirmities increased.  He died, as his doctor said,
"by abstaining from the stimulants to which his constitution had been so
long accustomed;" and Gabriel Varney was summoned to the reading of the
will.  To his inconceivable disappointment, instead of bequeathing to his
nephew the free disposal of his 6,000 pounds, that sum was assigned to
trustees for the benefit of Gabriel and his children yet unborn,--"An
inducement," said the poor testator, tenderly, "for the boy to marry and
reform!"  So that the nephew could only enjoy the interest, and had no
control over the capital.  The interest of 6,000 pounds invested in the
Bank of England was flocci nauci to the voluptuous spendthrift, Gabriel
Varney.

Now, these trustees were selected from the painter's earlier and more
respectable associates, who had dropped him, it is true, in his days of
beggary and disrepute, but whom the fortune that made him respectable had
again conciliated.  One of these trustees had lately retired to pass the
remainder of his days at Boulogne; the other was a hypochondriacal
valetudinarian,--neither of them, in short, a man of business.  Gabriel
was left to draw out the interest of the money as it became periodically
due at the Bank of England.  In a few months the trustee settled at
Boulogne died; the trust, of course, lapsed to Mr. Stubmore, the
valetudinarian survivor.  Soon pinched by extravagances, and emboldened
by the character and helpless state of the surviving trustee, Varney
forged Mr. Stubmore's signature to an order on the bank to sell out such
portion of the capital as his wants required.  The impunity of one
offence begot courage for others, till the whole was well-nigh expended.
Upon these sums Varney had lived very pleasantly, and he saw with a deep
sigh the approaching failure of so facile a resource.

In one of the melancholy moods engendered by this reflection, Varney
happened to be in the very town in France in which the Mainwarings, in
their later years, had taken refuge, and from which Helen had been
removed to the roof of Mr. Fielden.  By accident he heard the name, and,
his curiosity leading to further inquiries, learned that Helen was made
an heiress by the will of her grandfather.  With this knowledge came a
thought of the most treacherous, the most miscreant, and the vilest crime
that even he yet had perpetrated; so black was it that for a while he
absolutely struggled against it.  But in guilt there seems ever a
Necessity that urges on, step after step, to the last consummation.
Varney received a letter to inform him that the last surviving trustee
was no more, that the trust was therefore now centred in his son and
heir, that that gentleman was at present very busy in settling his own
affairs and examining into a very mismanaged property in Devonshire which
had devolved upon him, but that he hoped in a few months to discharge,
more efficiently than his father had done, the duties of trustee, and
that some more profitable investment than the Bank of England would
probably occur.

This new trustee was known personally to Varney,--a contemporary of his
own, and in earlier youth a pupil to his uncle.  But, since then, he had
made way in life, and retired from the profession of art.  This younger
Stubmore he knew to be a bustling, officious man of business, somewhat
greedy and covetous, but withal somewhat weak of purpose, good-natured in
the main, and with a little lukewarm kindness for Gabriel, as a quondam
fellow-pupil.  That Stubmore would discover the fraud was evident; that
he would declare it, for his own sake, was evident also; that the bank
would prosecute, that Varney would be convicted, was no less surely to be
apprehended.  There was only one chance left to the forger: if he could
get into his hands, and in time, before Stubmore's bustling interference,
a sum sufficient to replace what had been fraudulently taken, he might
easily manage, he thought, to prevent the forgery ever becoming known.
Nay, if Stubmore, roused into strict personal investigation by the new
power of attorney which a new investment in the bank would render
necessary, should ascertain what had occurred, his liabilities being now
indemnified, and the money replaced, Varney thought he could confidently
rely on his ci-devant fellow-pupil's assent to wink at the forgery and
hush up the matter.  But this was his only chance.  How was the money to
be gained?  He thought of Helen's fortune, and the last scruple gave way
to the imminence of his peril and the urgency of his fears.

With this decision, he repaired to Lucretia, whose concurrence was
necessary to his designs.  Long habits of crime had now deepened still
more the dark and stern colour of that dread woman's sombre nature.  But
through all that had ground the humanity from her soul, one human
sentiment, fearfully tainted and adulterated as it was, still struggled
for life,--the memory of the mother.  It was by this, her least criminal
emotion, that Varney led her to the worst of her crimes.  He offered to
sell out the remainder of the trust-money by a fresh act of forgery, to
devote such proceeds to the search for her lost Vincent; he revived the
hopes she had long since gloomily relinquished, till she began to
conceive the discovery easy and certain.  He then brought before her the
prospect of that son's succession to Laughton: but two lives now between
him and those broad lands,--those two lives associated with just cause of
revenge.  Two lives!  Lucretia till then did not know that Susan had left
a child, that a pledge of those nuptials, to which she imputed all her
infamy, existed to revive a jealousy never extinguished, appeal to the
hate that had grown out of her love.  More readily than Varney had
anticipated, and with fierce exultation, she fell into his horrible
schemes.

Thus had she returned to England and claimed the guardianship of her
niece.  Varney engaged a dull house in the suburb, and looking out for a
servant not likely to upset and betray, found the nurse who had watched
over his uncle's last illness; but Lucretia, according to her invariable
practice, rejected all menial accomplices, reposed no confidence in the
tools of her black deeds.  Feigning an infirmity that would mock all
suspicion of the hand that mixed the draught, and the step that stole to
the slumber, she defied the justice of earth, and stood alone under the
omniscience of Heaven.

Various considerations had delayed the execution of the atrocious deed so
coldly contemplated.  Lucretia herself drew back, perhaps more daunted by
conscience than she herself was distinctly aware, and disguising her
scruples in those yet fouler refinements of hoped revenge which her
conversations with Varney have betrayed to the reader.  The failure of
the earlier researches for the lost Vincent, the suspended activity of
Stubmore, left the more impatient murderer leisure to make the
acquaintance of St. John, steal into the confidence of Helen, and render
the insurances on the life of the latter less open to suspicion than if
effected immediately on her entrance into that shamble-house, and before
she could be supposed to form that affection for her aunt which made
probable so tender a forethought.  These causes of delay now vanished,
the Parcae closed the abrupt woof, and lifted the impending shears.

Lucretia had long since dropped the name of Braddell.  She shrank from
proclaiming those second spousals, sullied by the degradation to which
they had exposed her, and the suspicions implied in the inquest on her
husband, until the hour for acknowledging her son should arrive.  She
resumed, therefore, the name of Dalibard, and by that we will continue to
call her.  Nor was Varney uninfluential in dissuading her from
proclaiming her second marriage till occasion necessitated.  If the son
were discovered, and proofs of his birth in the keeping of himself and
his accomplice, his avarice naturally suggested the expediency of
wringing from that son some pledge of adequate reward on succession to an
inheritance which they alone could secure to him; out of this fancied
fund not only Grabman, but his employer, was to be paid.  The concealment
of the identity between Mrs. Braddell and Madame Dalibard might
facilitate such an arrangement.  This idea Varney locked as yet in his
own breast. He did not dare to speak to Lucretia of the bargain he
ultimately meditated with her son.



CHAPTER XIX.

MR. GRABMAN'S ADVENTURES.

The lackeys in their dress liveries stood at the porch of Laughton as the
postilions drove rapidly along the road, sweeping through venerable
groves, tinged with the hues of autumn, up to that stately pile.  From
the window of the large, cumbrous vehicle which Percival, mindful of
Madame Dalibard's infirmity, had hired for her special accommodation,
Lucretia looked keenly.  On the slope of the hill grouped the deer, and
below, where the lake gleamed, the swan rested on the wave.  Farther on
to the left, gaunt and stag-headed, rose, living still, from the depth of
the glen, Guy's memorable oak.  Coming now in sight, though at a
distance, the gray church-tower emerged from the surrounding masses of
solemn foliage.  Suddenly the road curves round, and straight before her
(the rooks cawing above the turrets, the sun reflected from the vanes)
Lucretia gazes on the halls of Laughton.  And didst thou not, O Guy's
oak, murmur warning from thine oracular hollows?  And thou who sleepest
below the church-tower, didst thou not turn, Miles St. John, in thy
grave, when, with such tender care, the young lord of Laughton bore that
silent guest across his threshold, and with credulous, moistened eyes,
welcomed Treason and Murder to his hearth?

There, at the porch, paused Helen, gazing with the rapt eye of the
poetess on the broad landscape, checkered by the vast shadows cast from
the setting sun.  There, too, by her side lingered Varney, with an
artist's eye for the stately scene, till a thought, not of art, changed
the face of the earth, and the view without mirrored back the Golgotha of
his soul.

Leave them thus; we must hurry on.

One day a traveller stopped his gig at a public-house in a village in
Lancashire.  He chucked the rein to the hostler, and in reply to a
question what oats should be given to the horse, said, "Hay and water;
the beast is on job."  Then sauntering to the bar, he called for a glass
of raw brandy for himself; and while the host drew the spirit forth from
the tap, he asked carelessly if some years ago a woman of the name of
Joplin had not resided in the village.

"It is strange," said the host, musingly.  "What is strange?"

"Why, we have just had a gent asking the same question.  I have only been
here nine year come December; but my old hostler was born in the village,
and never left it.  So the gent had in the hostler, and he is now gone
into the village to pick up what else he can learn."

This intelligence seemed to surprise and displease the traveller.

"What the deuce!" he muttered; "does Jason mistrust me?  Has he set
another dog on the scent?  Humph!"  He drained off his brandy, and
sallied forth to confer with the hostler.

"Well, my friend," said Mr. Grabman,--for the traveller was no other than
that worthy,--"well, so you remember Mrs. Joplin more than twenty years
ago, eh?"

"Yees, I guess; more than twenty years since she left the pleck
[Lancashire and Yorkshire synonym for place]."

"Ah, she seems to have been a restless body.  She had a child with her?"

"Yees, I moind that."

"And I dare say you heard her say the child was not her own,--that she
was paid well for it, eh?"

"Noa; my missus did not loike me to chaffer much with neighbour Joplin,
for she was but a bad 'un,--pretty fease, too.  She lived agin the wogh
[Anglice, wall] yonder, where you see that gent coming out."

"Oho! that is the gent who was asking after Mrs. Joplin?"

"Yes; and he giv' me half-a-croon!" said the clever hostler, holding out
his hand.

Mr. Grabman, too thoughtful, too jealous of his rival, to take the hint
at that moment, darted off, as fast as his thin legs could carry him,
towards the unwelcome interferer in his own business.

Approaching the gentleman,--a tall, powerful-looking young man,--he
somewhat softened his tone, and mechanically touched his hat as he said,-
-

"What, sir, are you, too, in search of Mrs. Joplin?"

"Sir, I am," answered the young man, eying Grabman deliberately; "and
you, I suppose, are the person I have found before me on the same
search,--first at Liverpool; next at C----, about fifteen miles from that
town; thirdly, at I----; and now we meet here.  You have had the start of
me.  What have you learned?"

Mr. Grabman smiled.  "Softly, sir, softly.  May I first ask--since open
questioning seems the order of the day--whether I have the honour to
address a brother practitioner,--one of the law, sir, one of the law?"

"I am one of the law."

Mr. Grabman bowed and scowled.

"And may I make bold to ask the name of your client?"

"Certainly you may ask.  Every man has a right to ask what he pleases, in
a civil way."

"But you'll not answer?  Deep!  Oh, I understand!  Very good.  But I am
deep too, sir.  You know Mr. Varney, I suppose?"

The gentleman looked surprised.  His bushy brows met over his steady,
sagacious eyes; but after a moment's pause the expression of his face
cleared up.

"It is as I thought," he said, half to himself.  "Who else could have had
an interest in similar inquiries?--Sir," he added, with a quick and
decided tone, "you are doubtless employed by Mr. Varney on behalf of
Madame Dalibard and in search of evidence connected with the loss of an
unhappy infant.  I am on the same quest, and for the same end.  The
interests of your client are mine.  Two heads are better than one; let us
unite our ingenuity and endeavours."

"And share the pec, I suppose?" said Grabman, dryly, buttoning up his
pockets.

"Whatever fee you may expect you will have, anyhow, whether I assist you
or not.  I expect no fee, for mine is a personal interest, which I serve
gratuitously; but I can undertake to promise you, on my own part, more
than the ordinary professional reward for your co-operation."

"Well, sir," said Grabman, mollified, "you speak very much like a
gentleman.  My feelings were hurt at first, I own.  I am hasty, but I can
listen to reason.  Will you walk back with me to the house you have just
left?  And suppose we then turn in and have a chop together, and compare
notes."

"Willingly," answered the tall stranger, and the two inquisitors amicably
joined company.  The result of their inquiries was not, however, very
satisfactory.  No one knew whither Mrs. Joplin had gone, though all
agreed it was in company with a man of bad character and vagrant habits;
all agreed, too, in the vague recollection of the child, and some
remembered that it was dressed in clothes finer than would have been
natural to an infant legally and filially appertaining to Mrs. Joplin.
One old woman remembered that on her reproaching Mrs. Joplin for some act
of great cruelty to the poor babe, she replied that it was not her flesh
and blood, and that if she had not expected more than she had got, she
would never have undertaken the charge.  On comparing the information
gleaned at the previous places of their research, they found an entire
agreement as to the character personally borne by Mrs. Joplin.  At the
village to which their inquiry had been first directed, she was known as
a respectable, precise young woman, one of a small congregation of rigid
Dissenters.  She had married a member of the sect, and borne him a child,
which died two weeks after birth.  She was then seen nursing another
infant, though how she came by it none knew.  Shortly after this, her
husband, a journeyman carpenter of good repute, died; but to the surprise
of the neighbours, Mrs. Joplin continued to live as comfortably as
before, and seemed not to miss the wages of her husband,--nay, she rather
now, as if before kept back by the prudence of the deceased, launched
into a less thrifty mode of life, and a gayety of dress at variance both
with the mourning her recent loss should have imposed, and the austere
tenets of her sect.  This indecorum excited angry curiosity, and drew
down stern remonstrance.  Mrs. Joplin, in apparent disgust at this
intermeddling with her affairs, withdrew from the village to a small
town, about twenty miles distant, and there set up a shop.  But her moral
lapse became now confirmed; her life was notoriously abandoned, and her
house the resort of all the reprobates of the place.  Whether her means
began to be exhausted, or the scandal she provoked attracted the notice
of the magistrates and imposed a check on her course, was not very
certain, but she sold off her goods suddenly, and was next tracked to the
village in which Mr. Grabman met his new coadjutor; and there, though her
conduct was less flagrant, and her expenses less reckless, she made but a
very unfavourable impression, which was confirmed by her flight with an
itinerant hawker of the lowest possible character.  Seated over their
port wine, the two gentlemen compared their experiences, and consulted on
the best mode of remending the broken thread of their research; when Mr.
Grabman said coolly, "But, after all, I think it most likely that we are
not on the right scent.  This bantling may not be the one we search for."

"Be not misled by that doubt.  To arrive at the evidence we desire, we
must still track this wretched woman."

"You are certain of that?"

"Certain."

"Hem!  Did you ever hear of a Mr. Walter Ardworth?"

"Yes, what of him?"

"Why, he can best tell us where to look for the child."

"I am sure he would counsel as I do."

"You know him, then?"

"I do."

"What, he lives still?"

"I hope so."

"Can you bring me across him?"

"If necessary."

"And that young man, who goes by his name, brought up by Mr. Fielden?"

"Well, sir?"

"Is he not the son of Mr. Braddell?"

The stranger was silent, and, shading his face with his hand, seemed
buried in thought.  He then rose, took up his candle, and said quietly,--

"Sir, I wish you good-evening.  I have letters to write in my own room.
I will consider by to-morrow, if you stay till then, whether we can
really aid each other further, or whether we should pursue our researches
separately."  With these words he closed the door; and Mr. Grabman
remained baffled and bewildered.

However, he too had a letter to write; so, calling for pen, ink, and
paper, and a pint of brandy, he indited his complaints and his news to
Varney.

"Jason, (he began) are you playing me false?  Have you set another man on
the track with a view to bilk me of my promised fee?  Explain, or I throw
up the business."

Herewith, Mr. Grabman gave a minute description of the stranger, and
related pretty accurately what had passed between that gentleman and
himself.  He then added the progress of his own inquiries, and renewed,
as peremptorily as he dared, his demand for candour and plain dealing.
Now, it so happened that in stumbling upstairs to bed, Mr. Grabman passed
the room in which his mysterious fellow-seeker was lodged, and as is the
usage in hotels, a pair of boots stood outside the door, to be cleaned
betimes in the morning.  Though somewhat drunk, Grabman still preserved
the rays of his habitual astuteness.  A clever and a natural idea shot
across his brain, illuminating the fumes of the brandy; he stooped, and
while one hand on the wall steadied his footing, with the other he fished
up a boot, and peering within, saw legibly written: "John Ardworth, Esq.,
Gray's Inn."  At that sight he felt what a philosopher feels at the
sudden elucidation of a troublesome problem.  Downstairs again tottered
Grabman, re-opened his letter, and wrote,--

"P.S.--I have wronged you, Jason, by my suspicions; never mind,--
jubilate!  This interloper who made me so jealous, who think you it is?
Why, young Ardworth himself,--that is, the lad who goes by such name.
Now, is it not clear?  Of course no one else has such interest in
learning his birth as the lost child himself,--here he is!  If old
Ardworth lives (as he says), old Ardworth has set him to work on his own
business.  But then, that Fielden,--rather a puzzler that!  Yet--no.  Now
I understand,--old Ardworth gave the boy to Mrs. Joplin, and took it away
from her again when he went to the parson's.  Now, certainly, it may be
quite necessary to prove,--first, that the boy he took from Mr.
Braddell's he gave to Mrs. Joplin; secondly, that the boy he left with
Mr. Fielden was the same that he took again from that woman: therefore,
the necessity of finding out Mother Joplin, an essential witness.  Q. E.
D., Master Jason!"

It was not till the sun had been some hours risen that Mr. Grabman
imitated that luminary's example.  When he did so, he found, somewhat to
his chagrin, that John Ardworth had long been gone.  In fact, whatever
the motive that had led the latter on the search, he had succeeded in
gleaning from Grabman all that that person could communicate, and their
interview had inspired him with such disgust of the attorney, and so
small an opinion of the value of his co-operation (in which last belief,
perhaps, he was mistaken), that he had resolved to continue his inquiries
alone, and had already, in his early morning's walk through the village,
ascertained that the man with whom Mrs. Joplin had quitted the place had
some time after been sentenced to six months' imprisonment in the county
jail.  Possibly the prison authorities might know something to lead to
his discovery, and through him the news of his paramour might be gained.



CHAPTER XX.

MORE OF MRS. JOPLIN.

One day, at the hour of noon, the court boasting the tall residence of
Mr. Grabman was startled from the quiet usually reigning there at broad
daylight by the appearance of two men, evidently no inhabitants of the
place.  The squalid, ill-favoured denizens lounging before the doors
stared hard, and at the fuller view of one of the men, most of them
retreated hastily within.  Then, in those houses, you might have heard a
murmur of consternation and alarm.  The ferret was in the burrow,--a Bow-
Street officer in the court!  The two men paused, looked round, and
stopping before the dingy towerlike house, selected the bell which
appealed to the inmates of the ground-floor, to the left.  At that
summons Bill the cracksman imprudently presented a full view of his
countenance through his barred window; he drew it back with astonishing
celerity, but not in time to escape the eye of the Bow-Street runner.

"Open the door, Bill,--there's nothing to fear; I have no summons against
you, 'pon honour.  You know I never deceive.  Why should I?  Open the
door, I say."

No answer.

The officer tapped with his cane at the foul window.

"Bill, there's a gentleman who comes to you for information, and he will
pay for it handsomely."

Bill again appeared at the casement, and peeped forth very cautiously
through the bars.

"Bless my vitals, Mr. R----, and it is you, is it?  What were you saying
about paying handsomely?"

"That your evidence is wanted,--not against a pal, man.  It will hurt no
one, and put at least five guineas in your pocket."

"Ten guineas," said the Bow-Street officer's companion.  "You be's a man
of honour, Mr. R----!" said Bill, emphatically; "and I scorns to doubt
you, so here goes."

With that he withdrew from the window, and in another minute or so the
door was opened, and Bill, with a superb bow, asked his visitors into his
room.

In the interval, leisure had been given to the cracksman to remove all
trace of the wonted educational employment of his hopeful children.  The
urchins were seated on the floor playing at push-pin; and the Bow-Street
officer benignly patted a pair of curly heads as he passed them, drew a
chair to the table, and wiping his forehead, sat down, quite at home.
Bill then deliberately seated himself, and unbuttoning his waistcoat,
permitted the butt-ends of a brace of pistols to be seen by his guests.
Mr. R----'s companion seemed very unmoved by this significant action.  He
bent one inquiring, steady look on the cracksman, which, as Bill
afterwards said, went through him "like a gimlet through a penny," and
taking out a purse, through the network of which the sovereigns gleamed
pleasantly, placed it on the table and said,--

"This purse is yours if you will tell me what has become of a woman named
Joplin, with whom you left the village of ----, in Lancashire, in the
year 18--."

"And," put in Mr. R----, "the gentleman wants to know, with no view of
harming the woman.  It will be to her own advantage to inform us where
she is."

"'Pon honour again?" said Bill.

"'Pon honour!"

"Well, then, I has a heart in my buzzom, and if so be I can do a good
turn to the 'oman wot I has loved and kep' company with, why not?"

"Why not, indeed?" said Mr. R----.  "And as we want to learn, not only
what has become of Mrs. Joplin, but what she did with the child she
carried off from ----, begin at the beginning and tell us all you know."

Bill mused.  "How much is there in the pus?"

"Eighteen sovereigns."

"Make it twenty--you nod--twenty then?  A bargain!  Now I'll go on right
ahead.  You see as how, some months arter we--that is, Peggy Joplin and
self--left ----, I was put in quod in Lancaster jail; so I lost sight of
the blowen.  When I got out and came to Lunnun, it was a matter of seven
year afore, all of a sudding, I came bang up agin her,--at the corner of
Common Garden.  'Why, Bill!' says she.  'Why, Peggy!' says I; and we
bussed each other like winky.  'Shall us come together agin?' says she.
'Why, no,' says I; 'I has a wife wots a good 'un, and gets her bread by
setting up as a widder with seven small childern.  By the by, Peg, what's
a come of your brat?' for as you says, sir, Peg had a child put out to
her to nurse.  Lor', how she cuffed it!  'The brat!' says she, laughing
like mad, 'oh, I got rid o' that when you were in jail, Bill.'  'As how?'
says I.  'Why, there was a woman begging agin St. Poll's churchyard; so I
purtended to see a frind at a distance: "'Old the babby a moment," says
I, puffing and panting, "while I ketches my friend yonder."  So she 'olds
the brat, and I never sees it agin; and there's an ind of the bother!'
'But won't they ever ax for the child,--them as giv' it you?'  'Oh, no,'
says Peg, 'they left it too long for that, and all the tin was agone; and
one mouth is hard enough to feed in these days,--let by other folks'
bantlings.'  'Well,' says I, 'where do you hang out?  I'll pop in, in a
friendly way.'  So she tells me,--som'ere in Lambeth,--I forgets
hexactly; and many's the good piece of work we ha' done togither."

"And where is she now?" asked Mr. R----'s companion.

"I doesn't know purcisely, but I can com' at her.  You see, when my poor
wife died, four year com' Chris'mas, and left me with as fine a famuly,
though I says it, as h-old King Georgy himself walked afore, with his
gold-'eaded cane, on the terris at Vindsor,--all heights and all h-ages
to the babby in arms (for the little 'un there warn't above a year old,
and had been a brought up upon spoon-meat, with a dash o' blueruin to
make him slim and ginteel); as for the bigger 'uns wot you don't see,
they be doin' well in forin parts, Mr. R----!"

Mr. R. smiled significantly.

Bill resumed.  "Where was I?  Oh, when my wife died, I wanted sum 'un to
take care of the childern, so I takes Peg into the 'ous.  But Lor'! how
she larrupped 'em,--she has a cruel  heart, has n't she, Bob?  Bob is a
'cute child,  Mr. R----.  Just as I was a thinking of turning her out
neck an' crop, a gemman what lodges aloft, wot be a laryer, and wot had
just saved my nick, Mr. R----, by proving a h-alibi, said, 'That's a tidy
body, your Peg!' (for you see he was often a wisiting here, an' h-indeed,
sin' then, he has taken our third floor, No. 9); 'I've been a speakin' to
her, and I find she has been a nuss to the sick.  I has a frind wots a h-
uncle that's ill: can you spare her, Bill, to attind him?' That I can,'
says I; 'anything to obleedge.'  So Peg packs off, bag and baggidge."

"And what was the sick gentleman's name?" asked Mr. R----'s companion.

"It was one Mr. Warney,--a painter, wot lived at Clap'am.  Since thin
I've lost sight of Peg; for we had 'igh words about the childern, and she
was a spiteful 'oman.  But you can larn where she be at Mr. Warney's, if
so be he's still above ground."

"And did this woman still go by the name of Joplin?"

Bill grinned: "She warn't such a spooney as that,--that name was in your
black books too much, Mr. R----, for a 'spectable nuss for sick bodies;
no, she was then called Martha Skeggs, what was her own mother's name
afore marriage.  Anything more, gemman?"

"I am satisfied," said the younger visitor, rising; "there is the purse,
and Mr. R---- will bring you ten sovereigns in addition.  Good-day to
you."

Bill, with superabundant bows and flourishes, showed his visitors out,
and then, in high glee, he began to romp with his children; and the whole
family circle was in a state of uproarious enjoyment when the door flew
open, and in entered Grabman, his brief-bag in hand, dust-soiled and
unshaven.

"Aha, neighbour! your servant, your servant; just come back!  Always so
merry; for the life of me, I couldn't help looking in!  Dear me, Bill,
why, you're in luck!" and Mr. Grabman pointed to a pile of sovereigns
which Bill had emptied from the purse to count over and weigh on the tip
of his forefinger.

"Yes," said Bill, sweeping the gold into his corduroy pocket; "and who do
you think brought me these shiners?  Why, who but old Peggy, the 'oman
wot you put out at Clapham."

"Well, never mind Peggy, now, Bill; I want to ask you what you have done
with Margaret Joplin, whom, sly seducer that you are, you carried off
from--"

"Why, man, Peggy be Joplin, and Joplin be Peggy!  And it's for that piece
of noos that I got all them pretty new picters of his Majesty Bill,--my
namesake, God bliss 'im!"

"D--n," exclaimed Grabman, aghast; "the young chap's spoiling my game
again!" And seizing up his brief-bag, he darted out of the house, in the
hope to arrive at least at Clapham before his competitors.



CHAPTER XXI.

BECK'S DISCOVERY.

Under the cedar-trees at Laughton sat that accursed and abhorrent being
who sat there, young, impassioned, hopeful, as Lucretia Clavering,--under
the old cedar-trees, which, save that their vast branches cast an
imperceptibly broader shade over the mossy sward, the irrevocable winters
had left the same.  Where, through the nether boughs the autumn sunbeams
came aslant, the windows, enriched by many a haughty scutcheon, shone
brightly against the western rays.  From the flower-beds in the quaint
garden near at hand, the fresh yet tranquil air wafted faint perfumes
from the lingering heliotrope and fading rose.  The peacock perched
dozily on the heavy balustrade; the blithe robin hopped busily along the
sun-track on the lawn; in the distance the tinkling bells of the flock,
the plaining low of some wandering heifer, while breaking the silence,
seemed still to blend with the repose.  All images around lent themselves
to complete that picture of stately calm which is the character of those
old mansion-houses, which owner after owner has loved and heeded, leaving
to them the graces of antiquity, guarding them from the desolation of
decay.

Alone sat Lucretia under the cedar-trees, and her heart made dismal
contrast to the noble tranquillity that breathed around.  From whatever
softening or repentant emotions which the scene of her youth might first
have awakened; from whatever of less unholy anguish which memory might
have caused when she first, once more, sat under those remembered boughs,
and, as a voice from a former world, some faint whisper of youthful love
sighed across the waste and ashes of her devastated soul,--from all such
rekindled humanities in the past she had now, with gloomy power, wrenched
herself away.  Crime such as hers admits not long the sentiment that
softens remorse of gentler error.  If there wakes one moment from the
past the warning and melancholy ghost, soon from that abyss rises the
Fury with the lifted scourge, and hunts on the frantic footsteps towards
the future.  In the future, the haggard intellect of crime must live,
must involve itself mechanically in webs and meshes, and lose past and
present in the welcome atmosphere of darkness.

Thus while Lucretia sat, and her eyes rested upon the halls of her youth,
her mind overleaped the gulf that yet yawned between her and the object
on which she was bent.  Already, in fancy, that home was hers again, its
present possessor swept away, the interloping race of Vernon ending in
one of those abrupt lines familiar to genealogists, which branch out
busily from the main tree, as if all pith and sap were monopolized by
them, continue for a single generation, and then shrink into a printer's
bracket with the formal laconism, "Died without issue."  Back, then, in
the pedigree would turn the eye of some curious descendant, and see the
race continue in the posterity of Lucretia Clavering.

With all her ineffable vices, mere cupidity had not, as we have often
seen, been a main characteristic of this fearful woman; and in her design
to endow, by the most determined guilt, her son with the heritage of her
ancestors, she had hitherto looked but little to mere mercenary
advantages for herself: but now, in the sight of that venerable and broad
domain, a covetousness, absolute in itself, broke forth.  Could she have
gained it for her own use rather than her son's, she would have felt a
greater zest in her ruthless purpose.  She looked upon the scene as a
deposed monarch upon his usurped realm,--it was her right.  The early
sense of possession in that inheritance returned to her.

Reluctantly would she even yield her claims to her child.  Here, too, in
this atmosphere she tasted once more what had long been lost to her,--the
luxury of that dignified respect which surrounds the well-born.  Here she
ceased to be the suspected adventuress, the friendless outcast, the needy
wrestler with hostile fortune, the skulking enemy of the law.  She rose
at once, and without effort, to her original state,--the honoured
daughter of an illustrious house.  The homeliest welcome that greeted her
from some aged but unforgotten villager, the salutation of homage, the
bated breath of humble reverence,--even trifles like these were dear to
her, and made her the more resolute to retain them.  In her calm,
relentless onward vision she saw herself enshrined in those halls, ruling
in the delegated authority of her son, safe evermore from prying
suspicion and degrading need and miserable guilt for miserable objects.
Here, but one great crime, and she resumed the majesty of her youth!
While thus dwelling on the future, her eye did not even turn from those
sunlit towers to the forms below, and more immediately inviting its
survey.  On the very spot where, at the opening of this tale, sat Sir
Miles St. John sharing his attention between his dogs and his guest, sat
now Helen Mainwaring; against the balustrade where had lounged Charles
Vernon, leaned Percival St. John; and in the same place where he had
stationed himself that eventful evening, to distort, in his malignant
sketch, the features of his father, Gabriel Varney, with almost the same
smile of irony upon his lips, was engaged in transferring to his canvas a
more faithful likeness of the heir's intended bride.  Helen's
countenance, indeed, exhibited comparatively but little of the ravages
which the pernicious aliment, administered so noiselessly, made upon the
frame.  The girl's eye, it is true, had sunk, and there was a languid
heaviness in its look; but the contour of the cheek was so naturally
rounded, and the features so delicately fine, that the fall of the
muscles was less evident; and the bright, warm hue of the complexion, and
the pearly sparkle of the teeth, still gave a fallacious freshness to the
aspect.  But as yet the poisoners had forborne those ingredients which
invade the springs of life, resorting only to such as undermine the
health and prepare the way to unsuspected graves.  Out of the infernal
variety of the materials at their command, they had selected a mixture
which works by sustaining perpetual fever; which gives little pain,
little suffering, beyond that of lassitude and thirst; which wastes like
consumption, and yet puzzles the physician, by betraying few or none of
its ordinary symptoms.  But the disorder as yet was not incurable,--its
progress would gradually cease with the discontinuance of the venom.

Although October was far advanced, the day was as mild and warm as
August.  But Percival, who had been watching Helen's countenance with the
anxiety of love and fear, now proposed that the sitting should be
adjourned.  The sun was declining, and it was certainly no longer safe
for Helen to be exposed to the air without exercise.  He proposed that
they should walk through the garden, and Helen, rising cheerfully, placed
her hand on his arm.  But she had scarcely descended the steps of the
terrace when she stopped short and breathed hard and painfully.  The
spasm was soon over, and walking slowly on, they passed Lucretia with a
brief word or two, and were soon out of sight amongst the cedars.

"Lean more on my arm, Helen," said Percival.  "How strange it is that the
change of air has done so little for you, and our country doctor still
less!  I should feel miserable indeed if Simmons, whom my mother always
considered very clever, did not assure me that there was no ground for
alarm,--that these symptoms were only nervous.  Cheer up, Helen; sweet
love, cheer up!"

Helen raised her face and strove to smile; but the tears stood in her
eyes.  "It would be hard to die now, Percival!" she said falteringly.

"To die--oh, Helen!  No; we must not stay here longer,--the air is
certainly too keen for you.  Perhaps your aunt will go to Italy.  Why not
all go there, and seek my mother?  And she will nurse you, Helen, and-
and--"  He could not trust his voice farther.

Helen pressed his arm tenderly.  "Forgive me, dear Percival, it is but at
moments that I feel so despondent; now, again, it is past.  Ah, I so long
to see your mother!  When shall you hear from her?  Are you not too
sanguine?  Do you really feel sure she will consent to so lowly a
choice?"

"Never doubt her affection, her appreciation of you," answered Percival,
gladly, and hoping that Helen's natural anxiety might be the latent cause
of her dejected spirits; "often, when talking of the future, under these
very cedars, my mother has said: 'You have no cause to marry for
ambition,--marry only for your happiness.'  She never had a daughter: in
return for all her love, I shall give her that blessing."

Thus talking, the lovers rambled on till the sun set, and then, returning
to the house, they found that Varney and Madame Dalibard had preceded
them.  That evening Helen's spirits rose to their natural buoyancy, and
Percival's heart was once more set at ease by her silvery laugh.

When, at their usual early hour, the rest of the family retired to sleep,
Percival remained in the drawing-room to write again, and at length, to
Lady Mary and Captain Greville.  While thus engaged, his valet entered to
say that Beck, who had been out since the early morning, in search of a
horse that had strayed from one of the pastures, had just returned with
the animal, who had wandered nearly as far as Southampton.

"I am glad to hear it," said Percival, abstractedly, and continuing his
letter.

The valet still lingered.  Percival looked up in surprise.  "If you
please, sir, you said you particularly wished to see Beck when he came
back."

"I--oh, true!  Tell him to wait; I will speak to him by and by.  You need
not sit up for me; let Beck attend to the bell."

The valet withdrew.  Percival continued his letter, and filled page after
page and sheet after sheet; and when at length the letters, not
containing a tithe of what he wished to convey, were brought to a close,
he fell into a revery that lasted till the candles burned low, and the
clock from the turret tolled one.  Starting up in surprise at the lapse
of time, Percival then, for the first time, remembered Beck, and rang the
bell.

The ci-devant sweeper, in his smart livery, appeared at the door.

"Beck, my poor fellow, I am ashamed to have kept you waiting so long; but
I received a letter this morning which relates to you.  Let me see,--I
left it in my study upstairs.  Ah, you'll never find the way; follow me,-
-I have some questions to put to you."

"Nothin' agin my carakter, I hopes, your honour," said Beck, timidly.

"Oh, no!"

"Noos of the mattris, then?" exclaimed Beck, joyfully.

"Nor that either," answered Percival, laughing, as he lighted the chamber
candlestick, and, followed by Beck, ascended the grand staircase to a
small room which, as it adjoined his sleeping apartment, he had
habitually used as his morning writing-room and study.

Percival had, indeed, received that day a letter which had occasioned him
much surprise; it was from John Ardworth, and ran thus:--

MY DEAR PERCIVAL,--It seems that you have taken into your service a young
man known only by the name of Beck.  Is he now with you at Laughton?  If
so, pray retain him, and suffer him to be in readiness to come to me at a
day's notice if wanted, though it is probable enough that I may rather
come to you.  At present, strange as it may seem to you, I am detained in
London by business connected with that important personage.  Will you ask
him carelessly, as it were, in the mean while; the following questions:--

First, how did he become possessed of a certain child's coral which he
left at the house of one Becky Carruthers, in Cole's Building?

Secondly, is he aware of any mark on his arm,--if so, will he describe
it?

Thirdly, how long has he known the said Becky Carruthers?

Fourthly, does he believe her to be honest and truthful?

Take a memorandum of his answers, and send it to me.  I am pretty well
aware of what they are likely to be; but I desire you to put the
questions, that I may judge if there be any discrepancy between his
statement and that of Mrs. Carruthers.  I have much to tell you, and am
eager to receive your kind congratulations upon an event that has given
me more happiness than the fugitive success of my little book.  Tenderest
regards to Helen; and hoping soon to see you,           Ever
affectionately yours.

P.S.--Say not a word of the contents of this letter to Madame Dalibard,
Helen, or to any one except Beck.  Caution him to the same discretion.
If you can't trust to his silence, send him to town.

When the post brought this letter, Beck was already gone on his errand,
and after puzzling himself with vague conjectures, Percival's mind had
been naturally too absorbed with his anxieties for Helen to recur much to
the subject.

Now, refreshing his memory with the contents of the letter, he drew pen
and ink before him, put the questions seriatim, noted down the answers as
desired, and smiling at Beck's frightened curiosity to know who could
possibly care about such matters, and feeling confident (from that very
fright) of his discretion, dismissed the groom to his repose.

Beck had never been in that part of the house before; and when he got
into the corridor he became bewildered, and knew not which turn to take,
the right or the left.  He had no candle with him; but the moon came
clear through a high and wide skylight: the light, however, gave him no
guide.  While pausing, much perplexed, and not sure that he should even
know again the door of the room he had just quitted, if venturing to
apply to his young master for a clew through such a labyrinth, he was
inexpressibly startled and appalled by a sudden apparition.  A door at
one end of the corridor opened noiselessly, and a figure, at first
scarcely distinguishable, for it was robed from head to foot in a black,
shapeless garb, scarcely giving even the outline of the human form, stole
forth.  Beck rubbed his eyes and crept mechanically close within the
recess of one of the doors that communicated with the passage.  The
figure advanced a few steps towards him; and what words can describe his
astonishment when he beheld thus erect, and in full possession of
physical power and motion, the palsied cripple whose chair he had often
seen wheeled into the garden, and whose unhappy state was the common
topic of comment in the servants' hall!  Yes, the moon from above shone
full upon that face which never, once seen, could be forgotten.  And it
seemed more than mortally stern and pale, contrasted with the sable of
the strange garb, and beheld by that mournful light.  Had a ghost,
indeed, risen from the dead, it could scarcely have appalled him more.
Madame Dalibard did not see the involuntary spy; for the recess in which
he had crept was on that side of the wall on which the moon's shadow was
cast. With a quick step she turned into another room, opposite that which
she had quitted, the door of which stood ajar, and vanished noiselessly
as she had appeared.

Taught suspicion by his earlier acquaintance with the "night-side" of
human nature, Beck had good cause for it here.  This detection of an
imposture most familiar to his experience,--that of a pretended cripple;
the hour of the night; the evil expression on the face of the deceitful
guest; Madame Dalibard's familiar intimacy and near connection with
Varney,--Varney, the visitor to Grabman, who received no visitors but
those who desire, not to go to law, but to escape from its penalties;
Varney, who had dared to brave the resurrection man in his den, and who
seemed so fearlessly at home in abodes where nought but poverty could
protect the honest; Varney now, with that strange woman, an inmate of a
house in which the master was so young, so inexperienced, so liable to be
duped by his own generous nature,--all these ideas, vaguely combined,
inspired Beck with as vague a terror.  Surely something, he knew not
what, was about to be perpetrated against his benefactor,--some scheme of
villany which it was his duty to detect.  He breathed hard, formed his
resolves, and stealing on tiptoe, followed the shadowy form of the
poisoner through the half-opened doorway.  The shutters of the room of
which he thus crossed the threshold were not closed,--the moon shone in
bright and still.  He kept his body behind the door, peeping in with
straining, fearful stare.  He saw Madame Dalibard standing beside a bed
round which the curtains were closed,--standing for a moment or so
motionless, and as if in the act of listening, with one hand on a table
beside the bed.  He then saw her take from the folds of her dress
something white and glittering, and pour from it what appeared to him but
a drop or two, cautiously, slowly, into a phial on the table, from which
she withdrew the stopper; that done, she left the phial where she had
found it, again paused a moment, and turned towards the door.  Beck
retreated hastily to his former hiding-place, and gained it in time.
Again the shadowy form passed him, and again the white face in the white
moonlight froze his blood with its fell and horrible expression.  He
remained cowering and shrinking against the wall for some time, striving
to collect his wits, and considering what he should do.  His first
thought was to go at once and inform St. John of what he had witnessed.
But the poor have a proverbial dread of deposing aught against a
superior.  Madame Dalibard would deny his tale, the guest would be
believed against the menial,--he would be but dismissed with ignominy.
At that idea, he left his hiding-place, and crept along the corridor, in
the hope of finding some passage at the end which might lead to the
offices.  But when he arrived at the other extremity, he was only met by
great folding-doors, which evidently communicated with the state
apartments; he must retrace his steps.  He did so; and when he came to
the door which Madame Dalibard had entered, and which still stood ajar,
he had recovered some courage, and with courage, curiosity seized him.
For what purpose could the strange woman seek that room at night thus
feloniously?  What could she have poured, and with such stealthy caution,
into the phial?  Naturally and suddenly the idea of poison flashed across
him.  Tales of such crime (as, indeed, of all crime) had necessarily
often thrilled the ear of the vagrant fellow-lodger with burglars and
outlaws.  But poison to whom?  Could it be meant for his benefactor?
Could St. John sleep in that room?  Why not?  The woman had sought the
chamber before her young host had retired to rest, and mingled her potion
with some medicinal draught.  All fear vanished before the notion of
danger to his employer.  He stole at once through the doorway, and
noiselessly approached the table on which yet lay the phial.  His hand
closed on it firmly.  He resolved to carry it away, and consider next
morning what next to do.  At all events, it might contain some proof to
back his tale and justify his suspicions.  When he came once more into
the corridor, he made a quick rush onwards, and luckily arrived at the
staircase.  There the blood-red stains reflected on the stone floors from
the blazoned casements daunted him little less than the sight at which
his hair still bristled.  He scarcely drew breath till he had got into
his own little crib, in the wing set apart for the stable-men, when, at
length, he fell into broken and agitated sleep,--the visions of all that
had successively disturbed him waking, united confusedly, as in one
picture of gloom and terror.  He thought that he was in his old loft in
St. Giles's, that the Gravestealer was wrestling with Varney for his
body, while he himself, lying powerless on his pallet, fancied he should
be safe as long as he could retain, as a talisman, his child's coral,
which he clasped to his heart.  Suddenly, in that black, shapeless garb,
in which he had beheld her, Madame Dalibard bent over him with her stern,
colourless face, and wrenched from him his charm.  Then, ceasing his
struggle with his horrible antagonist, Varney laughed aloud, and the
Gravestealer seized him in his deadly arms.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE TAPESTRY CHAMBER.

When Beck woke the next morning, and gradually recalled all that had so
startled and appalled him the previous night, the grateful creature felt,
less by the process of reason than by a brute instinct, that in the
mysterious resuscitation and nocturnal wanderings of the pretended
paralytic, some danger menaced his master; he became anxious to learn
whether it was really St. John's room Madame Dalibard stealthily visited.
A bright idea struck him; and in the course of the day, at an hour when
the family were out of doors, he contrived to coax the good-natured
valet, who had taken him under his special protection, to show him over
the house.  He had heard the other servants say there was such a power of
fine things that a peep into the rooms was as good as a show, and the
valet felt pride in being cicerone even to Beck.  After having stared
sufficiently at the banquet-hall and the drawing-room, the armour, the
busts, and the pictures, and listened, open-mouthed, to his guide's
critical observations, Beck was led up the great stairs into the old
family picture-gallery, and into Sir Miles's ancient room at the end,
which had been left undisturbed, with the bed still in the angle; on
returning thence, Beck found himself in the corridor which communicated
with the principal bedrooms, in which he had lost himself the night
before.

"And vot room be that vith the littul vite 'ead h-over the door?" asked
Beck, pointing to the chamber from which Madame Dalibard had emerged.

"That white head, Master Beck, is Floorer the goddess; but a heathen like
you knows nothing about goddesses.  Floorer has a half-moon in her hair,
you see, which shows that the idolatrous Turks worship her; for the
Turkish flag is a half-moon, as I have seen at Constantinople.  I have
travelled, Beck."

"And vot room be it?  Is it the master's?" persisted Beck.

"No, the pretty young lady, Miss Mainwaring, has it at present.  There is
nothing to see in it.  But that one opposite," and the valet advanced to
the door through which Madame Dalibard had disappeared,--"that is
curious; and as Madame is out, we may just take a peep."  He opened the
door gently, and Beck looked in.  "This, which is called the turret-
chamber, was Madame's when she was a girl, I have heard old Bessy say; so
Master pops her there now.  For my part, I'd rather sleep in your little
crib than have those great gruff-looking figures staring at me by the
firelight, and shaking their heads with every wind on a winter's night."
And the valet took a pinch of snuff as he drew Beck's attention to the
faded tapestry on the walls.  As they spoke, the draught between the door
and the window caused the gloomy arras to wave with a life-like motion;
and to those more superstitious than romantic, the chamber had certainly
no inviting aspect.

"I never sees these old tapestry rooms," said the valet, "without
thinking of the story of the lady who, coming from a ball and taking off
her jewels, happened to look up, and saw an eye in one of the figures
which she felt sure was no peeper in worsted."

"Vot vos it, then?" asked Beck, timidly lifting up the hangings, and
noticing that there was a considerable space between them and the wall,
which was filled up in part by closets and wardrobes set into the walls,
with intervals more than deep enough for the hiding-place of a man.

"Why," answered the valet, "it was a thief.  He had come for the jewels;
but the lady had the presence of mind to say aloud, as if to herself,
that she had forgotten something, slipped out of the room, locked the
door, called up the servants, and the thief--who was no less a person
than the under-butler--was nabbed."

"And the French 'oman sleeps 'ere?" said Beck, musingly.

"French 'oman!  Master Beck, nothing's so vulgar as these nicknames in a
first-rate sitivation.  It is all very well when one lives with
skinflints, but with such a master as our'n, respect's the go.  Besides,
Madame is not a French 'oman; she is one of the family,--and as old a
family it is, too, as e'er a lord's in the three kingdoms.  But come,
your curiosity is satisfied now, and you must trot back to your horses."

As Beck returned to the stables, his mind yet more misgave him as to the
criminal designs of his master's visitor.  It was from Helen's room that
the false cripple had walked, and the ill health of the poor young lady
was a general subject of compassionate comment.  But Madame Dalibard was
Helen's relation: from what motive could she harbour an evil thought
against her own niece?  But still, if those drops were poured into the
healing draught for good, why so secretly?  Once more he revolved the
idea of speaking to St. John: an accident dissuaded him from this
intention,--the only proof to back his tale was the mysterious phial he
had carried away; but unluckily, forgetting that it was in his pocket, at
a time when he flung off his coat to groom one of the horses, the bottle
struck against the corn-bin and broke; all the contents were spilt.  This
incident made him suspend his intention, and wait till he could obtain
some fresh evidence of evil intentions.  The day passed without any other
noticeable occurrence.  The doctor called, found Helen somewhat better,
and ascribed it to his medicines, especially to the effect of his tonic
draught the first thing in the morning.  Helen smiled.  "Nay, Doctor,"
said she, "this morning, at least, it was forgotten.  I did not find it
by my bedside.  Don't tell my aunt; she would be so angry."  The doctor
looked rather discomposed.

"Well," said he, soon recovering his good humour, "since you are
certainly better to-day without the draught, discontinue it also to-
morrow.  I will make an alteration for the day after."  So that night
Madame Dalibard visited in vain her niece's chamber: Helen had a
reprieve.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE SHADES ON THE DIAL.

The following morning was indeed eventful to the family at Laughton; and
as if conscious of what it brought forth, it rose dreary and sunless.
One heavy mist covered all the landscape, and a raw, drizzling rain fell
pattering through the yellow leaves.

Madame Dalibard, pleading her infirmities, rarely left her room before
noon, and Varney professed himself very irregular in his hours of rising;
the breakfast, therefore, afforded no social assembly to the family, but
each took that meal in the solitude of his or her own chamber.  Percival,
in whom all habits partook of the healthfulness and simplicity of his
character, rose habitually early, and that day, in spite of the weather,
walked forth betimes to meet the person charged with the letters from the
post. He had done so for the last three or four days, impatient to hear
from his mother, and calculating that it was full time to receive the
expected answer to his confession and his prayer.  He met the messenger
at the bottom of the park, not far from Guy's Oak.  This day he was not
disappointed.  The letter-bag contained three letters for himself,--two
with the foreign postmark, the third in Ardworth's hand.  It contained
also a letter for Madame Dalibard, and two for Varney.

Leaving the messenger to take these last to the Hall, Percival, with his
own prizes, plunged into the hollow of the glen before him, and, seating
himself at the foot of Guy's Oak, through the vast branches of which the
rain scarcely came, and only in single, mournful drops, he opened first
the letter in his mother's hand, and read as follows:--

MY DEAR, DEAR SON,--How can I express to you the alarm your letter has
given to me!  So these, then, are the new relations you have discovered!
I fondly imagined that you were alluding to some of my own family, and
conjecturing who, amongst my many cousins, could have so captivated your
attention.  These the new relations,--Lucretia Dalibard, Helen
Mainwaring!  Percival, do you not know ----  No, you cannot know that
Helen Mainwaring is the daughter of a disgraced man, of one who (more
than suspected of fraud in the bank in which he was a partner) left his
country, condemned even by his own father.  If you doubt this, you have
but to inquire at ----, not ten miles from Laughton, where the elder
Mainwaring resided.  Ask there what became of William Mainwaring.  And
Lucretia, you do not know that the dying prayer of her uncle, Sir Miles
St. John, was that she might never enter the house he bequeathed to your
father.  Not till after my poor Charles's death did I know the exact
cause for Sir Miles's displeasure, though confident it was just; but then
amongst his papers I found the ungrateful letter which betrayed thoughts
so dark and passions so unwomanly that I blushed for my sex to read it.
Could it be possible that that poor old man's prayers were unheeded, that
that treacherous step could ever cross your threshold, that that cruel
eye, which read with such barbarous joy the ravages of death on a
benefactor's face, could rest on the hearth by which your frank, truthful
countenance has so often smiled away my tears, I should feel indeed as if
a thunder-cloud hung over the roof.  No, if you marry the niece, the aunt
must be banished from your house.  Good heavens! and it is the daughter
of William Mainwaring, the niece and ward of Lucretia Dalibard, to whom
you have given your faithful affection, whom you single from the world as
your wife!  Oh, my son,--my beloved, my sole surviving child,--do not
think that I blame you, that my heart does not bleed while I write thus;
but I implore you on my knees to pause at least, to suspend this
intercourse till I myself can reach England.  And what then?  Why, then,
Percival, I promise, on my part, that I will see your Helen with
unprejudiced eyes, that I will put away from me, as far as possible, all
visions of disappointed pride,--the remembrance of faults not her own,--
and if she be as you say and think, I will take her to my heart and call
her 'Daughter.' Are you satisfied?  If so, come to me,--come at once, and
take comfort from your mother's lip.  How I long to be with you while you
read this; how I tremble at the pain I so rudely give you!  But my poor
sister still chains me here, I dare not leave her, lest I should lose her
last sigh.  Come then, come; we will console each other.           Your
fond (how fond!) and sorrowing mother,                              MARY
ST. JOHN. SORRENTO, October 3, 1831.

P.S.--You see by this address that we have left Pisa for this place,
recommended by our physician; hence an unhappy delay of some days in my
reply.  Ah, Percival, how sleepless will be my pillow till I hear from
you!

Long, very long, was it before St. John, mute and overwhelmed with the
sudden shock of his anguish, opened his other letters.  The first was
from Captain Greville.

What trap have you fallen into, foolish boy?  That you would get into
some silly scrape or another, was natural enough.  But a scrape for life,
sir,--that is serious!  But--God bless you for your candour, my Percival;
you have written to us in time--you are old-fashioned enough to think
that a mother's consent is necessary to a young man's union; and you have
left it in our power to save you yet.  It is not every boyish fancy that
proves to be true love.  But enough of this preaching; I shall do better
than write scolding letters,--I shall come and scold you in person.  My
servant is at this very moment packing my portmanteau, the laquais-de-
place is gone to Naples for my passport.  Almost as soon as you receive
this I shall be with you; and if I am a day or two later than the mail,
be patient: do not commit yourself further.  Break your heart if you
please, but don't implicate your honour.  I shall come at once to Curzon
Street.  Adieu!                               H. GREVILLE.

Ardworth's letter was shorter than the others,--fortunately so, for
otherwise it had been unread:--

If I do not come to you myself the day after you receive this, dear
Percival,--which, indeed, is most probable,--I shall send you my proxy,
in one whom, for my sake, I know that you will kindly welcome.  He will
undertake my task, and clear up all the mysteries with which, I trust, my
correspondence has thoroughly bewildered your lively imagination.
                   Yours ever,                                 JOHN
ARDWORTH. GRAY'S INN.

Little indeed did Percival's imagination busy itself with the mysteries
of Ardworth's correspondence.  His mind scarcely took in the sense of the
words over which his eye mechanically wandered.

And the letter which narrated the visit of Madame Dalibard to the house
thus solemnly interdicted to her step was on its way to his mother,--nay,
by this time would almost have reached her!  Greville was on the road,--
nay, as his tutor's letter had been forwarded from London, might perhaps
be in Curzon Street that day.  How desirable to see him before he could
reach Laughton, to prepare him for Madame Dalibard's visit, for Helen's
illness, explain the position in which he was involved, and conciliate
the old soldier's rough, kind heart to his love and his distress.

He did not dread the meeting with Greville,--he yearned for it.  He
needed an adviser, a confidant, a friend.  To dismiss abruptly his guests
from his house,--impossible; to abandon Helen because of her father's
crime or her aunt's fault (whatever that last might be, and no clear
detail of it was given),--that never entered his thoughts!  Pure and
unsullied, the starry face of Helen shone the holier for the cloud around
it.  An inexpressible and chivalrous compassion mingled with his love and
confirmed his faith.  She, poor child, to suffer for the deeds of
others,--no.  What availed his power as man, and dignity as gentleman, if
they could not wrap in their own shelter the one by whom such shelter was
now doubly needed?  Thus, amidst all his emotions, firm and resolved at
least on one point, and beginning already to recover the hope of his
sanguine nature, from his reliance on his mother's love, on the promises
that softened her disclosures and warnings, and on his conviction that
Helen had only to be seen for every scruple to give way, Percival
wandered back towards the house, and coming abruptly on the terrace, he
encountered Varney, who was leaning motionless against the balustrades,
with an open letter in his hand.  Varney was deadly pale, and there was
the trace of some recent and gloomy agitation in the relaxed muscles of
his cheeks, usually so firmly rounded.  But Percival did not heed his
appearance as he took him gravely by the arm, and leading him into the
garden, said, after a painful pause,--

"Varney, I am about to ask you two questions, which your close connection
with Madame Dalibard may enable you to answer, but in which, from obvious
motives, I must demand the strictest confidence.  You will not hint to
her or to Helen what I am about to say?"

Varney stared uneasily on Percival's serious countenance, and gave the
promise required.

"First, then, for what offence was Madame Dalibard expelled her uncle's
house,--this house of Laughton?

"Secondly, what is the crime with which Mr. Mainwaring, Helen's father,
is charged?"

"With regard to the first," said Varney, recovering his composure, "I
thought I had already told you that Sir Miles was a proud man, and that
in consequence of discovering a girlish flirtation between his niece
Lucretia (now Madame Dalibard) and Mainwaring, who afterwards jilted her
for Helen's mother, he altered his will; 'expelled her his house' is too
harsh a phrase.  This is all I know.  With regard to the second question,
no crime was ever brought home to William Mainwaring; he was suspected of
dealing improperly with the funds of the bank, and he repaid the alleged
deficit by the sacrifice of all he possessed."

"This is the truth?" exclaimed Percival, joyfully.

"The plain truth, I believe; but why these questions at this moment?  Ah,
you too, I see, have had letters,--I understand.  Lady Mary gives these
reasons for withholding her consent."

"Her consent is not withheld," answered Percival; "but shall I own it?
Remember, I have your promise not to wound and offend Madame Dalibard by
the disclosure: my mother does refer to the subjects I have alluded to,
and Captain Greville, my old friend and tutor, is on his way to England;
perhaps to-morrow he may arrive at Laughton."

"Ha!" said Varney, startled, "to-morrow!  And what sort of a man is this
Captain Greville?"

"The best man possible for such a case as mine,--kind-hearted, yet cool,
sagacious; the finest observer, the quickest judge of character,--nothing
escapes him.  Oh, one interview will suffice to show him all Helen's
innocent and matchless excellence."

"To-morrow! this man comes to-morrow!"

"All that I fear is,--for he is rather rough and blunt in his manner,--
all that I fear is his first surprise, and, dare I say displeasure, at
seeing this poor Madame Dalibard, whose faults, I fear, were graver than
you suppose, at the house from which her uncle--to whom, indeed, I owe
this inheritance--"

"I see, I see!" interrupted Varney, quickly.  "And Madame Dalibard is the
most susceptible of women,--so well-born and so poor, so gifted and so
helpless; it is natural.  Can you not write, and put off this Captain
Greville for a few days,--until, indeed, I can find some excuse for
terminating our visit?"

"But my letter may be hardly in time to reach him; he may be in town to-
day."

"Go then to town at once; you can be back late at night, or at least to-
morrow.  Anything better than wounding the pride of a woman on whom,
after all, you must depend for free and open intercourse with Helen."

"That is exactly what I thought of; but what excuse--"

"Excuse,--a thousand!  Every man coming of age into such a property has
business with his lawyers.  Or why not say simply that you want to meet a
friend of yours who has just left your mother in Italy?  In short, any
excuse suffices, and none can be offensive."

"I will order my carriage instantly."

"Right!" exclaimed Varney; and his eye followed the receding form of
Percival with a mixture of fierce exultation and anxious fear.  Then,
turning towards the window of the turret-chamber in which Madame Dalibard
reposed, and seeing it still closed, he muttered an impatient oath; but
even while he did so, the shutters were slowly opened, and a footman,
stepping from the porch, approached Varney with a message that Madame
Dalibard would see him in five minutes, if he would then have the
goodness to ascend to her room.

Before that time was well expired, Varney was in the chamber.  Madame
Dalibard was up and in her chair; and the unwonted joy which her
countenance evinced was in strong contrast with the sombre shade upon her
son-in-law's brow, and the nervous quiver of his lip.

"Gabriel," she said, as he drew near to her, "my son is found!"

"I know it," he answered petulantly.  "You!  From whom?"

"From Grabman."

"And I from a still better authority,--from Walter Ardworth himself.  He
lives; he will restore my child!"  She extended a letter while she spoke.
He, in return, gave her, not that still crumpled in his hand, but one
which he drew from his breast. These letters severally occupied both,
begun and finished almost in the same moment.

That from Grabman ran thus:--

DEAR JASON,--Toss up your hat and cry 'hip, hip!'  At last, from person
to person, I have tracked the lost Vincent Braddell.  He lives still!  We
can maintain his identity in any court of law.  Scarce in time for the
post, I have not a moment for further particulars.  I shall employ the
next two days in reducing all the evidence to a regular digest, which I
will despatch to you.  Meanwhile, prepare, as soon as may be, to put me
in possession of my fee,--5000 pounds; and my expedition merits something
more.                               Yours,
                                             NICHOLAS GRABMAN.

The letter from Ardworth was no less positive:--

MADAM,--In obedience to the commands of a dying friend, I took charge of
his infant and concealed its existence from his mother,--yourself.  On
returning to England, I need not say that I was not unmindful of my
trust. Your son lives; and after mature reflection I have resolved to
restore him to your arms.  In this I have been decided by what I have
heard, from one whom I can trust, of your altered habits, your decorous
life, your melancholy infirmities, and the generous protection you have
given to the orphan of my poor cousin Susan, my old friend Mainwaring.
Alfred Braddell himself, if it be permitted to him to look down and read
my motives, will pardon me, I venture to feel assured, this departure
from his injunctions.  Whatever the faults which displeased him, they
have been amply chastised.  And your son, grown to man, can no longer be
endangered by example, in tending the couch, or soothing the repentance
of his mother.

These words are severe; but you will pardon them in him who gives you
back your child.  I shall venture to wait on you in person, with such
proofs as may satisfy you as to the identity of your son.  I count on
arriving at Laughton to-morrow.  Meanwhile, I simply sign myself by a
name in which you will recognize the kinsman to one branch of your
family, and the friend of your dead husband.
                                            J. WALTER ARDWORTH.

CRAVEN HOTEL, October, 1831.


"Well, and are you not rejoiced?" said Lucretia, gazing surprised on
Varney's sullen and unsympathizing face.

"No! because time presses; because, even while discovering your son, you
may fail in securing his heritage; because, in the midst of your triumph,
I see Newgate opening to myself.  Look you, I too have had my news,--less
pleasing than yours.  This Stubmore (curse him!) writes me word that he
shall certainly be in town next month at farthest, and that he meditates,
immediately on his arrival, transferring the legacy from the Bank of
England to an excellent mortgage of which he has heard.  Were it not for
this scheme of ours, nothing would be left for me but flight and exile."

"A month,--that is a long time.  Do you think, now that my son is found,
and that son like John Ardworth (for there can be no doubt that my
surmise was right), with genius to make station the pedestal to the power
I dreamed of in my youth, but which my sex forbade me to attain,--do you
think I will keep him a month from his inheritance?  Before the month is
out, you shall replace what you have taken, and buy your trustee's
silence, if need be, either from the sums you have insured, or from the
rents of Laughton."

"Lucretia," said Varney, whose fresh colours had grown livid, "what is to
be done must be done at once.  Percival St. John has heard from his
mother.  Attend."  And Varney rapidly related the questions St. John had
put to him, the dreaded arrival of Captain Greville, the danger of so
keen an observer, the necessity, at all events, of abridging their visit,
the urgency of hastening the catastrophe to its close.

Lucretia listened in ominous and steadfast silence.

"But," she said at last, "you have persuaded St. John to give this man
the meeting in London,--to put off his visit for the time.  St. John will
return to us to-morrow.  Well, and if he finds his Helen is no more!  Two
nights ago I, for the first time, mingled in the morning draught that
which has no antidote and no cure.  This night two drops more, and St.
John will return to find that Death is in the house before him.  And then
for himself,--the sole remaining barrier between my son and this
inheritance,--for himself, why, grief sometimes kills suddenly; and there
be drugs whose effect simulates the death-stroke of grief."

"Yet, yet, this rapidity, if necessary, is perilous.  Nothing in Helen's
state forbodes sudden death by natural means.  The strangeness of two
deaths, both so young; Greville in England, if not here,--hastening down
to examine, to inquire.  With such prepossessions against you, there must
be an inquest."

"Well, and what can be discovered?  It was I who shrank before,--it is I
who now urge despatch.  I feel as in my proper home in these halls.  I
would not leave them again but to my grave.  I stand on the hearth of my
youth; I fight for my rights and my son's!  Perish those who oppose me!"

A fell energy and power were in the aspect of the murderess as she thus
spoke; and while her determination awed the inferior villany of Varney,
it served somewhat to mitigate his fears.

As in more detail they began to arrange their execrable plans, Percival,
while the horses were being harnessed to take him to the nearest post-
town, sought Helen, and found her in the little chamber which he had
described and appropriated as her own, when his fond fancy had sketched
the fair outline of the future.

This room had been originally fitted up for the private devotions of the
Roman Catholic wife of an ancestor in the reign of Charles II; and in a
recess, half veiled by a curtain, there still stood that holy symbol
which, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, no one sincerely penetrated
with the solemn pathos of sacred history can behold unmoved,--the Cross
of the Divine Agony.  Before this holy symbol Helen stood in earnest
reverence.  She did not kneel (for the forms of the religion in which she
had been reared were opposed to that posture of worship before the graven
image), but you could see in that countenance, eloquent at once with the
enthusiasm and the meekness of piety, that the soul was filled with the
memories and the hopes which, age after age, have consoled the sufferer
and inspired the martyr.  The soul knelt to the idea, if the knee bowed
not to the image, embracing the tender grandeur of the sacrifice and the
vast inheritance opened to faith in the redemption.

The young man held his breath while he gazed.  He was moved, and he was
awed.  Slowly Helen turned towards him, and, smiling sweetly, held out to
him her hand.  They seated themselves in silence in the depth of the
overhanging casement; and the mournful character of the scene without,
where dimly, through the misty rains, gloomed the dark foliage of the
cedars, made them insensibly draw closer to each other in the instinct of
love when the world frowns around it.  Percival wanted the courage to say
that he had come to take farewell, though but for a day, and Helen spoke
first.

"I cannot guess why it is, Percival, but I am startled at the change I
feel in myself--no, not in health, dear Percival; I mean in mind--during
the last few months,--since, indeed, we have known each other.  I
remember so well the morning in which my aunt's letter arrived at the
dear vicarage.  We were returning from the village fair, and my good
guardian was smiling at my notions of the world.  I was then so giddy and
light and thoughtless, everything presented itself to me in such gay
colours, I scarcely believed in sorrow.  And now I feel as if I were
awakened to a truer sense of nature,--of the ends of our being here; I
seem to know that life is a grave and solemn thing.  Yet I am not less
happy, Percival.  No, I think rather that I knew not true happiness till
I knew you.  I have read somewhere that the slave is gay in his holiday
from toil; if you free him, if you educate him, the gayety vanishes, and
he cares no more for the dance under the palm-tree.  But is he less
happy?  So it is with me!"

"My sweet Helen, I would rather have one gay smile of old, the arch,
careless laugh which came so naturally from those rosy lips, than hear
you talk of happiness with that quiver in your voice,--those tears in
your eyes."

"Yet gayety," said Helen, thoughtfully, and in the strain of her pure,
truthful poetry of soul, "is only the light impression of the present
moment,--the play of the mere spirits; and happiness seems a forethought
of the future, spreading on, far and broad, over all time and space."

"And you live, then, in the future at last; you have no misgivings now,
my Helen?  Well, that comforts me.  Say it, Helen,--say the future will
be ours!"

"It will, it will,--forever and forever," said Helen, earnestly; and her
eyes involuntarily rested on the Cross.

In his younger spirit and less imaginative nature Percival did not
comprehend the depth of sadness implied in Helen's answer; taking it
literally, he felt as if a load were lifted from his heart, and kissing
with rapture the hand he held, he exclaimed: "Yes, this shall soon, oh,
soon be mine!  I fear nothing while you hope.  You cannot guess how those
words have cheered me; for I am leaving you, though but for a few hours,
and I shall repeat those words, for they will ring in my ear, in my
heart, till we meet again."

"Leaving me!" said Helen, turning pale, and her clasp on his hand
tightening.  Poor child, she felt mysteriously a sentiment of protection
in his presence.

"But at most for a day.  My old tutor, of whom we have so often
conversed, is on his way to England,--perhaps even now in London.  He has
some wrong impressions against your aunt; his manner is blunt and rough.
It is necessary that I should see him before he comes hither,--you know
how susceptible is your aunt's pride,--just to prepare him for meeting
her.  You understand?"

"What impressions against my aunt?  Does he even know her?" asked Helen.
And if such a sentiment as suspicion could cross that candid innocence of
mind, that sentiment towards this stern relation whose arms had never
embraced her, whose lips had never spoken of the past, whose history was
as a sealed volume, disturbed and disquieted her.

"It is because he has never known her that he does her wrong.  Some old
story of her indiscretion as a girl, of her uncle's displeasure,--what
matters now?" said Percival, shrinking sensitively from one disclosure
that might wound Helen in her kinswoman.  "Meanwhile, dearest, you will
be prudent,--you will avoid this damp air, and keep quietly at home, and
amuse yourself, sweet fancier of the future, in planning how to improve
these old halls when they and their unworthy master are your own.  God
bless you, God guard you, Helen!"

He rose, and with that loyal chivalry of love which felt respect the more
for the careless guardianship to which his Helen was intrusted, he
refrained from that parting kiss which their pure courtship warranted,
for which his lip yearned.  But as he lingered, an irresistible impulse
moved Helen's heart.  Mechanically she opened her arms, and her head sank
upon his shoulder.  In that embrace they remained some moments silent,
and an angel might unreprovingly have heard their hearts beat through the
stillness.

At length Percival tore himself from those arms which relaxed their
imploring hold reluctantly; she heard his hurried step descend the
stairs, and in a moment more the roll of the wheels in the court without;
a dreary sense, as of some utter desertion, some everlasting bereavement,
chilled and appalled her.  She stood motionless, as if turned to stone,
on the floor; suddenly the touch of something warm on her hand, a
plaining whine, awoke her attention; Percival's favourite dog missed his
master, and had slunk for refuge to her.  The dread sentiment of
loneliness vanished in that humble companionship; and seating herself on
the ground, she took the dog in her arms, and bending over it, wept in
silence.



CHAPTER XXIV.

MURDER, TOWARDS HIS DESIGN, MOVES LIKE A GHOST.

The reader will doubtless have observed the consummate art with which the
poisoner had hitherto advanced upon her prey.  The design conceived from
afar, and executed with elaborate stealth, defied every chance of
detection against which the ingenuity of practised villany could guard.
Grant even that the deadly drugs should betray the nature of the death
they inflicted, that by some unconjectured secret in the science of
chemistry the presence of those vegetable compounds which had hitherto
baffled every known and positive test in the posthumous examination of
the most experienced surgeons, should be clearly ascertained, not one
suspicion seemed likely to fall upon the ministrant of death.  The
medicines were never brought to Madame Dalibard, were never given by her
hand; nothing ever tasted by the victim could be tracked to her aunt.
The helpless condition of the cripple, which Lucretia had assumed,
forbade all notion even of her power of movement.  Only in the dead of
night when, as she believed, every human eye that could watch her was
sealed in sleep, and then in those dark habiliments which (even as might
sometimes happen, if the victim herself were awake) a chance ray of light
struggling through chink or shutter could scarcely distinguish from the
general gloom, did she steal to the chamber and infuse the colourless and
tasteless liquid [The celebrated acqua di Tufania (Tufania water) was
wholly without taste or colour] in the morning draught, meant to bring
strength and healing.  Grant that the draught was untouched, that it was
examined by the surgeon, that the fell admixture could be detected,
suspicion would wander anywhere rather than to that crippled and helpless
kinswoman who could not rise from her bed without aid.

But now this patience was to be abandoned, the folds of the serpent were
to coil in one fell clasp upon its prey.

Fiend as Lucretia had become, and hardened as were all her resolves by
the discovery of her son, and her impatience to endow him with her
forfeited inheritance, she yet shrank from the face of Helen that day; on
the excuse of illness, she kept her room, and admitted only Varney, who
stole in from time to time, with creeping step and haggard countenance,
to sustain her courage or his own.  And every time he entered, he found
Lucretia sitting with Walter Ardworth's open letter in her hand, and
turning with a preternatural excitement that seemed almost like
aberration of mind, from the grim and horrid topic which he invited, to
thoughts of wealth and power and triumph and exulting prophecies of the
fame her son should achieve.  He looked but on the blackness of the gulf,
and shuddered; her vision overleaped it, and smiled on the misty palaces
her fancy built beyond.

Late in the evening, before she retired to rest, Helen knocked gently at
her aunt's door.  A voice, quick and startled, bade her enter; she came
in, with her sweet, caressing look, and took Lucretia's hand, which
struggled from the clasp.  Bending over that haggard brow, she said
simply, yet to Lucretia's ear the voice seemed that of command, "Let me
kiss you this night!" and her lips pressed that brow.  The murderess
shuddered, and closed her eyes; when she opened them, the angel visitor
was gone.

Night deepened and deepened into those hours from the first of which we
number the morn, though night still is at her full.  Moonbeam and
starbeam came through the casements shyly and fairylike as on that night
when the murderess was young and crimeless, in deed, if not in thought,--
that night when, in the book of Leechcraft, she meted out the hours in
which the life of her benefactor might still interpose between her
passion and its end.  Along the stairs, through the hall, marched the
armies of light, noiseless and still and clear as the judgments of God
amidst the darkness and shadow of mortal destinies.  In one chamber
alone, the folds, curtained close, forbade all but a single ray; that ray
came direct as the stream from a lantern; as the beam reflected back from
an eye,--as an eye it seemed watchful and steadfast through the dark; it
shot along the floor,--it fell at the foot of the bed.

Suddenly, in the exceeding hush, there was a strange and ghastly sound,--
it was the howl of a dog!  Helen started from her sleep.  Percival's dog
had followed her into her room; it had coiled itself, grateful for the
kindness, at the foot of the bed.  Now it was on the pillow, she felt its
heart beat against her hand,--it was trembling; its hairs bristled up,
and the howl changed into a shrill bark of terror and wrath.  Alarmed,
she looked round; quickly between her and that ray from the crevice a
shapeless darkness passed, and was gone, so undistinguishable, so without
outline, that it had no likeness of any living form; like a cloud, like a
thought, like an omen, it came in gloom, and it vanished.

Helen was seized with a superstitious terror; the dog continued to
tremble and growl low.  All once more was still; the dog sighed itself to
rest. The stillness, the solitude, the glimmer of the moon,--all
contributed yet more to appall the enfeebled nerves of the listening,
shrinking girl.  At length she buried her face under the clothes, and
towards daybreak fell into a broken, feverish sleep, haunted with
threatening dreams.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE MESSENGER SPEEDS.

Towards the afternoon of the following day, an elderly gentleman was
seated in the coffee-room of an hotel at Southampton, engaged in writing
a letter, while the waiter in attendance was employed on the wires that
fettered the petulant spirit contained in a bottle of Schweppe's soda-
water.  There was something in the aspect of the old gentleman, and in
the very tone of his voice, that inspired respect, and the waiter had
cleared the other tables of their latest newspapers to place before him.
He had only just arrived by the packet from Havre, and even the
newspapers had not been to him that primary attraction they generally
constitute to the Englishman returning to his bustling native land,
which, somewhat to his surprise, has contrived to go on tolerably well
during his absence.

We use our privilege of looking over his shoulder while he writes:--

Here I am, then, dear Lady Mary, at Southampton, and within an easy drive
of the old Hall.  A file of Galignani's journals, which I found on the
road between Marseilles and Paris, informed me, under the head of
"fashionable movements," that Percival St. John, Esquire, was gone to his
seat at Laughton.  According to my customary tactics of marching at once
to the seat of action, I therefore made direct for Havre, instead of
crossing from Calais, and I suppose I shall find our young gentleman
engaged in the slaughter of hares and partridges.  You see it is a good
sign that he can leave London.  Keep up your spirits, my dear friend.  If
Perce has been really duped and taken in,--as all you mothers are so apt
to fancy,--rely upon an old soldier to defeat the enemy and expose the
ruse.  But if, after all, the girl is such as he describes and believes,-
-innocent, artless, and worthy his affection,--oh, then I range myself,
with your own good heart, upon his side.  Never will I run the risk of
unsettling a man's whole character for life by wantonly interfering with
his affections.  But there we are agreed.

In a few hours I shall be with our dear boy, and his whole heart will
come out clear and candid as when it beat under his midshipman's true-
blue.  In a day or two I shall make him take me to town, to introduce me
to the whole nest of them.  Then I shall report progress.  Adieu, till
then!  Kind regards to your poor sister.  I think we shall have a mild
winter.  Not one warning twinge as yet of the old rheumatism.  Ever your
devoted old friend and preux chevalier,
                                        H. GREVILLE.

The captain had completed his letter, sipped his soda-water, and was
affixing to his communication his seal, when he heard the rattle of a
post-chaise without.  Fancying it was the one he had ordered, he went to
the open window which looked on the street; but the chaise contained
travellers, only halting to change horses.  Somewhat to his surprise, and
a little to his chagrin,--for the captain did not count on finding
company at the Hall,--he heard one of the travellers in the chaise ask
the distance to Laughton.  The countenance of the questioner was not
familiar to him.  But leaving the worthy captain to question the
landlord, without any satisfactory information, and to hasten the chaise
for himself, we accompany the travellers on their way to Laughton.  There
were but two,--the proper complement of a post-chaise,--and they were
both of the ruder sex.  The elder of the two was a man of middle age, but
whom the wear and tear of active life had evidently advanced towards the
state called elderly.  But there was still abundant life in his quick,
dark eye; and that mercurial youthfulness of character which in some
happy constitutions seems to defy years and sorrow, evinced itself in a
rapid play of countenance and as much gesticulation as the narrow
confines of the vehicle and the position of a traveller will permit.  The
younger man, far more grave in aspect and quiet in manner, leaned back in
the corner with folded arms, and listened with respectful attention to
his companion.

"Certainly, Dr. Johnson is right,--great happiness in an English post-
chaise properly driven; more exhilarating than a palanquin.  'Post
equitem sedet atra cura,'--true only of such scrubby hacks as old Horace
could have known.  Black Care does not sit behind English posters, eh, my
boy?"  As he spoke this, the gentleman had twice let down the glass of
the vehicle, and twice put it up again.

"Yet," he resumed, without noticing the brief, good-humoured reply of his
companion,--"yet this is an anxious business enough that we are about.  I
don't feel quite easy in my conscience.  Poor Braddell's injunctions were
very strict, and I disobey them.  It is on your responsibility, John!"

"I take it without hesitation.  All the motives for so stern a severance
must have ceased, and is it not a sufficient punishment to find in that
hoped-for son a--"

"Poor woman!" interrupted the elder gentleman, in whom we begin to
recognize the soi-disant Mr. Tomkins; "true, indeed, too true.  How well
I remember the impression Lucretia Clavering first produced on me; and to
think of her now as a miserable cripple!  By Jove, you are right, sir!
Drive on, post-boy, quick, quick!"

There was a short silence.

The elder gentleman abruptly put his hand upon his companion's arm.

"What consummate acuteness; what patient research you have shown!  What
could I have done in this business without you?  How often had that
garrulous Mrs. Mivers bored me with Becky Carruthers, and the coral, and
St. Paul's, and not a suspicion came across me,--a word was sufficient
for you.  And then to track this unfeeling old Joplin from place to place
till you find her absolutely a servant under the very roof of Mrs.
Braddell herself!  Wonderful!  Ah, boy, you will be an honour to the law
and to your country.  And what a hard-hearted rascal you must think me to
have deserted you so long."

"My dear father," said John Ardworth, tenderly, "your love now
recompenses me for all.  And ought I not rather to rejoice not to have
known the tale of a mother's shame until I could half forget it on a
father's breast?"

"John," said the elder Ardworth, with a choking voice, "I ought to wear
sackcloth all my life for having given you such a mother.  When I think
what I have suffered from the habit of carelessness in those confounded
money-matters ('irritamenta malorum,' indeed!), I have only one
consolation,--that my patient, noble son is free from my vice.  You would
not believe what a well-principled, honourable fellow I was at your age;
and yet, how truly I said to my poor friend William Mainwaring one day at
Laughton (I remember it now) 'Trust me with anything else but half-a-
guinea!' Why, sir, it was that fault that threw me into low company,--
that brought me in contact with my innkeeper's daughter at Limerick.  I
fell in love, and I married (for, with all my faults, I was never a
seducer, John).  I did not own my marriage; why should I?--my relatives
had cut me already.  You were born, and, hunted poor devil as I was, I
forgot all by your cradle.  Then, in the midst of my troubles, that
ungrateful woman deserted me; then I was led to believe that it was not
my own son whom I had kissed and blessed.  Ah, but for that thought
should I have left you as I did?  And even in infancy, you had the
features only of your mother.  Then, when the death of the adulteress set
me free, and years afterwards, in India, I married again and had new
ties, my heart grew still harder to you.  I excused myself by knowing
that at least you were cared for, and trained to good by a better guide
than I.  But when, by so strange a hazard, the very priest who had
confessed your mother on her deathbed (she was a Catholic) came to India,
and (for he had known me at Limerick) recognized my altered person, and
obeying his penitent's last injunctions, assured me that you were my
son,--oh, John, then, believe me, I hastened back to England on the wings
of remorse!  Love you, boy!  I have left at Madras three children, young
and fair, by a woman now in heaven, who never wronged me, and, by my
soul, John Ardworth, you are dearer to me than all!"

The father's head drooped on his son's breast as he spoke; then, dashing
away his tears, he resumed,--

"Ah, why would not Braddell permit me, as I proposed, to find for his son
the same guardianship as that to which I intrusted my own?  But his
bigotry besotted him; a clergyman of the High Church,--that was worse
than an atheist. I had no choice left to me but the roof of that she-
hypocrite.  Yet I ought to have come to England when I heard of the
child's loss, braved duns and all; but I was money-making, money-making,-
-retribution for money-wasting; and--well, it's no use repenting!  And--
and there is the lodge, the park, the old trees!  Poor Sir Miles!"



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE SPY FLIES.

Meanwhile at Laughton there was confusion and alarm.  Helen had found
herself more than usually unwell in the morning; towards noon, the maid
who attended her informed Madame Dalibard that she was afraid the poor
young lady had much fever, and inquired if the doctor should be sent for.
Madame Dalibard seemed surprised at the intelligence, and directed her
chair to be wheeled into her niece's room, in order herself to judge of
Helen's state.  The maid, sure that the doctor would be summoned,
hastened to the stables, and seeing Beck, instructed him to saddle one of
the horses and to await further orders.  Beck kept her a few moments
talking while he saddled his horse, and then followed her into the house,
observing that it would save time if he were close at hand.

"That is quite true," said the maid, "and you may as well wait in the
corridor.  Madame may wish to speak to you herself, and give you her own
message or note to the doctor."

Beck, full of gloomy suspicions, gladly obeyed, and while the maid
entered the sick-chamber, stood anxiously without.  Presently Varney
passed him, and knocked at Helen's door; the maid half-opened it.

"How is Miss Mainwaring?" said he, eagerly.

"I fear she is worse, sir; but Madame Dalibard does not think there is
any danger."

"No danger!  I am glad; but pray ask Madame Dalibard to let me see her
for a few moments in her own room.  If she come out, I will wheel her
chair to it.  Whether there is danger or not, we had better send for
other advice than this country doctor, who has perhaps mistaken the case;
tell her I am very uneasy, and beg her to join me immediately."

"I think you are quite right, sir," said the maid, closing the door.

Varney then, turning round for the first time, noticed Beck, and said
roughly,--

"What do you do here?  Wait below till you are sent for."

Beck pulled his forelock, and retreated back, not in the direction of the
principal staircase, but towards that used by the servants, and which his
researches into the topography of the mansion had now made known to him.
To gain these back stairs he had to pass Lucretia's room; the door stood
ajar; Varney's face was turned from him.  Beck breathed hard, looked
round, then crept within, and in a moment was behind the folds of the
tapestry.

Soon the chair in which sat Madame Dalibard was drawn by Varney himself
into the room.

Shutting the door with care, and turning the key, Gabriel said, with low,
suppressed passion,--

"Well; your mind seems wandering,--speak!"

"It is strange," said Lucretia, in hollow tones, "can Nature turn
accomplice, and befriend us here?"

"Nature! did you not last night administer the--"

"No," interrupted Lucretia.  "No; she came into the room, she kissed me
here,--on the brow that even then was meditating murder.  The kiss
burned; it burns still,--it eats into the brain like remorse.  But I did
not yield; I read again her false father's protestation of love; I read
again the letter announcing the discovery of my son, and remorse lay
still.  I went forth as before, I stole into her chamber, I had the fatal
crystal in my hand--"

"Well, well!"

"And suddenly there came the fearful howl of a dog, and the dog's fierce
eyes glared on me.  I paused, I trembled; Helen started, woke, called
aloud.  I turned and fled.  The poison was not given."

Varney ground his teeth.  "But this illness!  Ha! the effect, perhaps, of
the drops administered two nights ago."

"No; this illness has no symptoms like those the poison should bequeath,-
-it is but natural fever, a shock on the nerves; she told me she had been
wakened by the dog's howl, and seen a dark form, like a thing from the
grave, creeping along the floor.  But she is really ill; send for the
physician; there is nothing in her illness to betray the hand of man.  Be
it as it may,--that kiss still burns; I will stir in this no more.  Do
what you will yourself!"

"Fool, fool!" exclaimed Varney, almost rudely grasping her arm.
"Remember how much we have yet to prepare for, how much to do,--and the
time so short!  Percival's return,--perhaps this Greville's arrival.
Give me the drugs; I will mix them for her in the potion the physician
sends.  And when Percival returns,--his Helen dead or dying,--I will
attend on him!  Silent still?  Recall your son!  Soon you will clasp him
in your arms as a beggar, or as the lord of Laughton!"

Lucretia shuddered, but did not rise; she drew forth a ring of keys from
her bosom, and pointed towards a secretary.  Varney snatched the keys,
unlocked the secretary, seized the fatal casket, and sat down quietly
before it.

When the dire selections were made, and secreted about his person, Varney
rose, approached the fire, and blew the wood embers to a blaze.

"And now," he said, with his icy irony of smile, "we may dismiss these
useful instruments,--perhaps forever.  Though Walter Ardworth, in
restoring your son, leaves us dependent on that son's filial affection,
and I may have, therefore, little to hope for from the succession, to
secure which I have risked and am again to risk my life, I yet trust to
that influence which you never fail to obtain over others.  I take it for
granted that when these halls are Vincent Braddell's, we shall have no
need of gold, nor of these pale alchemies.  Perish, then, the mute
witnesses of our acts, the elements we have bowed to our will!  No poison
shall be found in our hoards!  Fire, consume your consuming children!"

As he spoke, he threw upon the hearth the contents of the casket, and set
his heel upon the logs.  A bluish flame shot up, breaking into countless
sparks, and then died.

Lucretia watched him without speaking.

In coming back towards the table, Varney felt something hard beneath his
tread; he stooped, and picked up the ring which has before been described
as amongst the ghastly treasures of the casket, and which had rolled on
the floor almost to Lucretia's feet, as he had emptied the contents on
the hearth.

"This, at least, need tell no tales," said he; "a pity to destroy so rare
a piece of workmanship,--one, too, which we never can replace!"

"Ay," said Lucretia, abstractedly; "and if detection comes, it may secure
a refuge from the gibbet.  Give me the ring."

"A refuge more terrible than the detection," said Varney,--"beware of
such a thought," as Lucretia, taking it from his hand, placed the ring on
her finger.

"And now I leave you for a while to recollect yourself,--to compose your
countenance and your thoughts.  I will send for the physician."

Lucretia, with her eyes fixed on the floor, did not heed him, and he
withdrew.

So motionless was her attitude, so still her very breathing, that the
unseen witness behind the tapestry, who, while struck with horror at what
he had overheard (the general purport of which it was impossible that he
could misunderstand), was parched with impatience to escape to rescue his
beloved master from his impending fate, and warn him of the fate hovering
nearer still over Helen, ventured to creep along the wall to the
threshold, to peer forth from the arras, and seeing her eyes still
downcast, to emerge, and place his hand on the door.  At that very moment
Lucretia looked up, and saw him gliding from the tapestry; their eyes
met: his were fascinated as the bird's by the snake's.  At the sight, all
her craft, her intellect, returned.  With a glance, she comprehended the
terrible danger that awaited her.  Before he was aware of her movement,
she was at his side; her hand on his own, her voice in his ear.

"Stir not a step, utter not a sound, or you are--"

Beck did not suffer her to proceed.  With the violence rather of fear
than of courage, he struck her to the ground; but she clung to him still,
and though rendered for the moment speechless by the suddenness of the
blow, her eyes took an expression of unspeakable cruelty and fierceness.
He struggled with all his might to shake her off; as he did so, she
placed feebly her other hand upon the wrist of the lifted arm that had
smitten her, and he felt a sharp pain, as if the nails had fastened into
the flesh.  This but exasperated him to new efforts.  He extricated
himself from her grasp, which relaxed as her lips writhed into a smile of
scorn and triumph, and, spurning her while she lay before the threshold,
he opened the door, sprang forward, and escaped.  No thought had he of
tarrying in that House of Pelops, those human shambles, of denouncing
Murder in its lair; to fly to reach his master, warn, and shield him,--
that was the sole thought which crossed his confused, bewildered brain.

It might be from four to five minutes that Lucretia, half-stunned, half-
senseless, lay upon those floors,--for besides the violence of her fall,
the shock of the struggle upon nerves weakened by the agony of
apprehension, occasioned by the imminent and unforeseen chance of
detection, paralyzed her wondrous vigour of mind and frame,--when Varney
entered.

"They tell me she sleeps," he said, in hoarse, muttered accents, before
he saw the prostrate form at his very feet.  But Varney's step, Varney's
voice, had awakened Lucretia's reason to consciousness and the sense of
peril.  Rising, though with effort, she related hurriedly what had
passed.

"Fly, fly!" she gasped, as she concluded.  "Fly, to detain, to secrete,
this man somewhere for the next few hours.  Silence him but till then; I
have done the rest!" and her finger pointed to the fatal ring.  Varney
waited for no further words; he hurried out, and made at once to the
stables: his shrewdness conjectured that Beck would carry his tale
elsewhere.  The groom was already gone (his fellows said) without a word,
but towards the lodge that led to the Southampton road.  Varney ordered
the swiftest horse the stables held to be saddled, and said, as he sprang
on his back,--

"I, too, must go towards Southampton.  The poor young lady!  I must
prepare your master,--he is on his road back to us;" and the last word
was scarce out of his lips as the sparks flew from the flints under the
horse's hoofs, and he spurred from the yard.

As he rode at full speed through the park, the villain's mind sped more
rapidly than the animal he bestrode,--sped from fear to hope, hope to
assurance.  Grant that the spy lived to tell his tale,--incoherent,
improbable as the tale would be,--who would believe it?  How easy to meet
tale by tale!  The man must own that he was secreted behind the
tapestry,--wherefore but to rob?  Detected by Madame Dalibard, he had
coined this wretched fable.  And the spy, too, could not live through the
day; he bore Death with him as he rode, he fed its force by his speed,
and the effects of the venom itself would be those of frenzy.  Tush! his
tale, at best, would seem but the ravings of delirium.  Still, it was
well to track him where he went,--delay him, if possible; and Varney's
spurs plunged deep and deeper into the bleeding flanks: on desperately
scoured the horse.  He passed the lodge; he was on the road; a chaise and
pair dashed by him; he heard not a voice exclaim "Varney!" he saw not the
wondering face of John Ardworth; bending over the tossing mane, he was
deaf, he was blind, to all without and around.  A milestone glides by,
another, and a third.  Ha! his eyes can see now.  The object of his chase
is before him,--he views distinctly, on the brow of yon hill, the horse
and the rider, spurring fast, like himself.  They descend the hill, horse
and horseman, and are snatched from his sight.  Up the steep strains the
pursuer.  He is at the summit.  He sees the fugitive before him, almost
within hearing.  Beck has slackened his steed; he seems swaying to and
fro in the saddle.  Ho, ho! the barbed ring begins to work in his veins.
Varney looks round,--not another soul is in sight; a deep wood skirts the
road.  Place and time seem to favour; Beck has reined in his horse,--he
bends low over the saddle, as if about to fall.  Varney utters a half-
suppressed cry of triumph, shakes his reins, and spurs on, when suddenly-
-by the curve of the road, hid before--another chaise comes in sight,
close where Beck had wearily halted.

The chaise stops; Varney pulls in, and draws aside to the hedgerow.  Some
one within the vehicle is speaking to the fugitive!  May it not be St.
John himself?  To his rage and his terror, he sees Beck painfully
dismount from his horse, sees him totter to the door of the chaise, sees
a servant leap from the box and help him up the step, sees him enter.  It
must be Percival on his return,--Percival, to whom he tells that story of
horror!  Varney's brute-like courage forsook him; his heart was appalled.
In one of those panics so common with that boldness which is but animal,
his sole thought became that of escape.  He turned his horse's head to
the fence, forced his way desperately through the barrier, made into the
wood, and sat there, cowering and listening, till in another minute he
heard the wheels rattle on, and the horses gallop hard down the hill
towards the park.

The autumn wind swept through the trees, it shook the branches of the
lofty ash that overhung the Accursed One.  What observer of Nature knows
not that peculiar sound which the ash gives forth in the blast?  Not the
solemn groan of the oak, not the hollow murmur of the beech, but a shrill
wail, a shriek as of a human voice in sharp anguish.  Varney shuddered,
as if he had heard the death-cry of his intended victim.  Through briers
and thickets, torn by the thorns, bruised by the boughs, he plunged
deeper and deeper into the wood, gained at length the main path cut
through it, found himself in a lane, and rode on, careless whither, till
he had reached a small town, about ten miles from Laughton, where he
resolved to wait till his nerves had recovered their tone, and he could
more calmly calculate the chances of safety.



CHAPTER XXVII.

LUCRETIA REGAINS HER SON.

It seemed as if now, when danger became most imminent and present, that
that very danger served to restore to Lucretia Dalibard her faculties,
which during the earlier day had been steeped in a kind of dreary stupor.
The absolute necessity of playing out her execrable part with all
suitable and consistent hypocrisy, braced her into iron.  But the
disguise she assumed was a supernatural effort, it stretched to cracking
every fibre of the brain; it seemed almost to herself as if, her object
once gained, either life or consciousness could hold out no more.

A chaise stopped at the porch; two gentlemen descended.  The elder paused
irresolutely, and at length, taking out a card, inscribed "Mr. Walter
Ardworth," said, "If Madame Dalibard can be spoken to for a moment, will
you give her this card?"

The footman hesitatingly stared at the card, and then invited the
gentleman into the hall while he took up the message.  Not long had the
visitor to wait, pacing the dark oak floors and gazing on the faded
banners, before the servant reappeared: Madame Dalibard would see him.
He followed his guide up the stairs, while his young companion turned
from the hall, and seated himself musingly on one of the benches on the
deserted terrace.

Grasping the arms of her chair with both hands, her eyes fixed eagerly on
his face, Lucretia Dalibard awaited the welcome visitor.

Prepared as he had been for change, Walter was startled by the ghastly
alteration in Lucretia's features, increased as it was at that moment by
all the emotions which raged within.  He sank into the chair placed for
him opposite Lucretia, and clearing his throat, said falteringly,--

"I grieve indeed, Madame, that my visit, intended to bring but joy,
should chance thus inopportunely.  The servant informed me as we came up
the stairs that your niece was ill; and I sympathize with your natural
anxiety,--Susan's only child, too; poor Susan!"

"Sir," said Lucretia, impatiently, "these moments are precious.  Sir,
sir, my son,--my son!" and her eyes glanced to the door.  "You have
brought with you a companion,--does he wait without?  My son!"

"Madame, give me a moment's patience.  I will be brief, and compress what
in other moments might be a long narrative into a few sentences."

Rapidly then Walter Ardworth passed over the details, unnecessary now to
repeat to the reader,--the injunctions of Braddell, the delivery of the
child to the woman selected by his fellow-sectarian (who, it seemed, by
John Ardworth's recent inquiries, was afterwards expelled the community,
and who, there was reason to believe, had been the first seducer of the
woman thus recommended).  No clew to the child's parentage had been given
to the woman with the sum intrusted for his maintenance, which sum had
perhaps been the main cause of her reckless progress to infamy and ruin.
The narrator passed lightly over the neglect and cruelty of the nurse, to
her abandonment of the child when the money was exhausted.  Fortunately
she had overlooked the coral round its neck.  By that coral, and by the
initials V. B., which Ardworth had had the precaution to have burned into
the child's wrist, the lost son had been discovered; the nurse herself
(found in the person of Martha Skeggs, Lucretia's own servant) had been
confronted with the woman to whom she gave the child, and recognized at
once.  Nor had it been difficult to obtain from her the confession which
completed the evidence.

"In this discovery," concluded Ardworth, "the person I employed met your
own agent, and the last links in the chain they traced together.  But to
that person--to his zeal and intelligence--you owe the happiness I trust
to give you.  He sympathized with me the more that he knew you
personally, felt for your sorrows, and had a lingering belief that you
supposed him to be the child you yearned for.  Madame, thank my son for
the restoration of your own!"

Without sound, Lucretia had listened to these details, though her
countenance changed fearfully as the narrator proceeded.  But now she
groaned aloud and in agony.

"Nay, Madame," said Ardworth, feelingly, and in some surprise, "surely
the discovery of your son should create gladder emotions!  Though,
indeed, you will be prepared to find that the poor youth so reared wants
education and refinement, I have heard enough to convince me that his
dispositions are good and his heart grateful.  Judge of this yourself; he
is in these walls, he is--"

"Abandoned by a harlot,--reared by a beggar!  My son!" interrupted
Lucretia, in broken sentences.  "Well, sir, have you discharged your
task!  Well have you replaced a mother!"  Before Ardworth could reply,
loud and rapid steps were heard in the corridor, and a voice, cracked,
indistinct, but vehement.  The door was thrown open, and, half-supported
by Captain Greville, half dragging him along, his features convulsed,
whether by pain or passion, the spy upon Lucretia's secrets, the
denouncer of her crime, tottered to the threshold.  Pointing to where she
sat with his long, lean arm, Beck exclaimed, "Seize her!  I 'cuse her,
face to face, of the murder of her niece,--of--of I told you, sir--I told
you--"

"Madame," said Captain Greville, "you stand charged by this witness with
the most terrible of human crimes.  I judge you not.  Your niece, I
rejoice to bear, yet lives.  Pray God that her death be not traced to
those kindred hands!"  Turning her eyes from one to the other with a
wandering stare, Lucretia Dalibard remained silent.  But there was still
scorn on her lip, and defiance on her brow.  At last she said slowly, and
to Ardworth,--

"Where is my son?  You say he is within these walls.  Call him forth to
protect his mother!  Give me at least my son,--my son!"

Her last words were drowned by a fresh burst of fury from her denouncer.
In all the coarsest invective his education could supply, in all the
hideous vulgarities of his untutored dialect, in that uncurbed
licentiousness of tone, look, and manner which passion, once aroused,
gives to the dregs and scum of the populace, Beck poured forth his
frightful charges, his frantic execrations.  In vain Captain Greville
strove to check him; in vain Walter Ardworth sought to draw him from the
room.  But while the poor wretch--maddening not more with the
consciousness of the crime than with the excitement of the poison in his
blood--thus raved and stormed, a terrible suspicion crossed Walter
Ardworth; mechanically,--as his grasp was on the accuser's arm,--he bared
the sleeve, and on the wrist were the dark-blue letters burned into the
skin and bearing witness to his identity with the lost Vincent Braddell.

"Hold, hold!" he exclaimed then; "hold, unhappy man!--it is your mother
whom you denounce!"

Lucretia sprang up erect; her eyes seemed starting from her head.  She
caught at the arm pointed towards her in wrath and menace, and there,
amidst those letters that proclaimed her son, was the small puncture,
surrounded by a livid circle, that announced her victim.  In the same
instant she discovered her child in the man who was calling down upon her
head the hatred of Earth and the justice of Heaven, and knew herself his
murderess!

She dropped the arm, and sank back on the chair; and whether the poison
had now reached to the vitals, or whether so unwonted a passion in so
frail a frame sufficed for the death-stroke, Beck himself, with a low,
suffocated cry, slid from the hand of Ardworth, and tottering a step or
so, the blood gushed from his mouth over Lucretia's robe; his head
drooped an instant, and, falling, rested first upon her lap, then struck
heavily upon the floor.  The two men bent over him and raised him in
their arms; his eyes opened and closed, his throat rattled, and as he
fell back into their arms a corpse, a laugh rose close at hand,--it rang
through the walls, it was heard near and afar, above and below; not an
ear in that house that heard it not.  In that laugh fled forever, till
the Judgment-day, from the blackened ruins of her lost soul, the reason
of the murderess-mother.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE LOTS VANISH WITHIN THE URN.

Varney's self-commune restored to him his constitutional audacity.  He
returned to Laughton towards the evening, and held a long conference with
Greville.  Fortunately for him, perhaps, and happily for all, Helen had
lost all more dangerous symptoms; and the physician, who was in the
house, saw in her state nothing not easily to be accounted for by natural
causes.  Percival had arrived, had seen Helen,--no wonder she was better!
Both from him and from Helen, Madame Dalibard's fearful condition was for
the present concealed.  Ardworth's story, and the fact of Beck's identity
with Vincent Braddell, were also reserved for a later occasion.  The tale
which Beck had poured into the ear of Greville (when, recognizing the St.
John livery, the captain stopped his chaise to inquire if Percival were
at the Hall, and when thrilled by the hideous import of his broken reply,
that gentleman had caused him to enter the vehicle to explain himself
further), Varney, with his wonted art and address, contrived to strip of
all probable semblance.  Evidently the poor lad had been already
delirious; his story must be deemed the nightmare of his disordered
reason.  Varney insisted upon surgical examination as to the cause of his
death.  The membranes of the brain were found surcharged with blood, as
in cases of great mental excitement; the slight puncture in the wrist,
ascribed to the prick of a rusty nail, provoked no suspicion.  If some
doubts remained still in Greville's acute mind, he was not eager to
express, still less to act upon them.  Helen was declared to be out of
danger; Percival was safe,--why affix by minute inquiry into the alleged
guilt of Madame Dalibard (already so awfully affected by the death of her
son and by the loss of her reason) so foul a stain on the honoured family
of St. John?  But Greville was naturally anxious to free the house as
soon as possible both of Varney and that ominous Lucretia, whose sojourn
under its roof seemed accursed.  He therefore readily assented when
Varney proposed, as his obvious and personal duty, to take charge of his
mother-in-law, and remove her to London for immediate advice.

At the dead of the black-clouded night, no moon and no stars, the son of
Olivier Dalibard bore away the form of the once-formidable Lucretia,--the
form, for the mind was gone; that teeming, restless, and fertile
intellect, which had carried along the projects with the preterhuman
energies of the fiend, was hurled into night and chaos.  Manacled and
bound, for at times her paroxysms were terrible, and all partook of the
destructive and murderous character which her faculties, when present,
had betrayed, she was placed in the vehicle by the shrinking side of her
accomplice.

Long before he arrived in London, Varney had got rid of his fearful
companion.  His chaise had stopped at the iron gates of a large building
somewhat out of the main road, and the doors of the madhouse closed on
Lucretia Dalibard.

Varney then hastened to Dover, with intention of flight into France; he
was just about to step into the vessel, when he was tapped rudely on the
shoulder, and a determined voice said, "Mr. Gabriel Varney, you are my
prisoner!"

"For what?  Some paltry debt?" said Varney, haughtily.

"For forgery on the Bank of England!"

Varney's hand plunged into his vest. The officer seized it in time, and
wrested the blade from his grasp.  Once arrested for an offence it was
impossible to disprove, although the very smallest of which his
conscience might charge him, Varney sank into the blackest despair.
Though he had often boasted, not only to others, but to his own vain
breast, of the easy courage with which, when life ceased to yield
enjoyment, he could dismiss it by the act of his own will; though he had
possessed himself of Lucretia's murderous ring, and death, if fearful,
was therefore at his command,--self-destruction was the last thought that
occurred to him; that morbid excitability of fancy which, whether in his
art or in his deeds, had led him to strange delight in horror, now served
but to haunt him with the images of death in those ghastliest shapes
familiar to them who look only into the bottom of the charnel, and see
but the rat and the worm and the loathsome agencies of corruption.  It
was not the despair of conscience that seized him, it was the abject
clinging to life; not the remorse of the soul,--that still slept within
him, too noble an agency for one so debased,--but the gross physical
terror.  As the fear of the tiger, once aroused, is more paralyzing than
that of the deer, proportioned to the savageness of a disposition to
which fear is a novelty, so the very boldness of Varney, coming only from
the perfection of the nervous organization, and unsupported by one moral
sentiment, once struck down, was corrupted into the vilest cowardice.
With his audacity, his shrewdness forsook him.  Advised by his lawyer to
plead guilty, he obeyed, and the sentence of transportation for life gave
him at first a feeling of reprieve; but when his imagination began to
picture, in the darkness of his cell, all the true tortures of that
penalty,--not so much, perhaps, to the uneducated peasant-felon, inured
to toil, and familiarized with coarse companionship, as to one pampered
like himself by all soft and half-womanly indulgences,--the shaven hair,
the convict's dress, the rigorous privation, the drudging toil, the
exile, seemed as grim as the grave.  In the dotage of faculties smitten
into drivelling, he wrote to the Home Office, offering to disclose
secrets connected with crimes that had hitherto escaped or baffled
justice, on condition that his sentence might be repealed, or mitigated
into the gentler forms of ordinary transportation.  No answer was
returned to him, but his letter provoked research.  Circumstances
connected with his uncle's death, and with various other dark passages in
his life, sealed against him all hope of a more merciful sentence; and
when some acquaintances, whom his art had made for him, and who, while
grieving for his crime, saw in it some excuses (ignorant of his feller
deeds), sought to intercede in his behalf, the reply of the Home Office
was obvious: "He is a fortunate man to have been tried and condemned for
his least offence."  Not one indulgence that could distinguish him from
the most execrable ruffian condemned to the same sentence was conceded.

The idea of the gibbet lost all its horror.  Here was a gibbet for every
hour.  No hope,--no escape.  Already that Future Doom which comprehends
the "Forever" opened upon him black and fathomless.  The hour-glass was
broken up, the hand of the timepiece was arrested.  The Beyond stretched
before him without limit, without goal,--on into Annihilation or into
Hell.



EPILOGUE TO PART THE SECOND.

Stand, O Man! upon the hill-top in the stillness of the evening hour, and
gaze, not with joyous, but with contented eyes, upon the beautiful world
around thee.  See where the mists, soft and dim, rise over the green
meadows, through which the rivulet steals its way.  See where, broadest
and stillest, the wave expands to the full smile of the setting sun, and
the willow that trembles on the breeze, and the oak that stands firm in
the storm, are reflected back, peaceful both, from the clear glass of the
tides.  See where, begirt by the gold of the harvests, and backed by the
pomp of a thousand groves, the roofs of the town bask, noiseless, in the
calm glow of the sky.  Not a sound from those abodes floats in discord to
thine ear; only from the church-tower, soaring high above the rest,
perhaps faintly heard through the stillness, swells the note of the holy
bell.  Along the mead low skims the swallow,--on the wave the silver
circlet, breaking into spray, shows the sport of the fish.  See the
Earth, how serene, though all eloquent of activity and life!  See the
Heavens, how benign, though dark clouds, by yon mountain, blend the
purple with the gold!  Gaze contented, for Good is around thee,--not
joyous, for Evil is the shadow of Good!  Let thy soul pierce through the
veil of the senses, and thy sight plunge deeper than the surface which
gives delight to thine eye.  Below the glass of that river, the pike
darts on his prey; the circle in the wave, the soft plash amongst the
reeds, are but signs of Destroyer and Victim.  In the ivy round the oak
by the margin, the owl hungers for the night, which shall give its beak
and its talons living food for its young; and the spray of the willow
trembles with the wing of the redbreast, whose bright eye sees the worm
on the sod.  Canst thou count too, O Man! all the cares, all the sins,
that those noiseless rooftops conceal?  With every curl of that smoke to
the sky, a human thought soars as dark, a human hope melts as briefly.
And the bell from the church-tower, that to thy ear gives but music,
perhaps knolls for the dead.  The swallow but chases the moth, and the
cloud, that deepens the glory of the heaven and the sweet shadows on the
earth, nurses but the thunder that shall rend the grove, and the storm
that shall devastate the harvests.  Not with fear, not with doubt,
recognize, O Mortal, the presence of Evil in the world.  [Not, indeed,
that the evil here narrated is the ordinary evil of the world,--the
lesson it inculcates would be lost if so construed,--but that the mystery
of evil, whatever its degree, only increases the necessity of faith in
the vindication of the contrivance which requires infinity for its range,
and eternity for its consummation.  It is in the existence of evil that
man finds his duties, and his soul its progress.]  Hush thy heart in the
humbleness of awe, that its mirror may reflect as serenely the shadow as
the light.  Vainly, for its moral, dost thou gaze on the landscape, if
thy soul puts no check on the dull delight of the senses.  Two wings only
raise thee to the summit of Truth, where the Cherub shall comfort the
sorrow, where the Seraph shall enlighten the joy.  Dark as ebon spreads
the one wing, white as snow gleams the other,--mournful as thy reason
when it descends into the deep; exulting as thy faith when it springs to
the day-star.

Beck sleeps in the churchyard of Laughton.  He had lived to frustrate the
monstrous design intended to benefit himself, and to become the
instrument, while the victim, of the dread Eumenides.  That done, his
life passed with the crimes that had gathered around, out of the sight of
mortals.  Helen slowly regained her health in the atmosphere of love and
happiness; and Lady Mary soon learned to forget the fault of the father
in the virtues of the child.  Married to Percival, Helen fulfilled the
destinies of woman's genius, in calling forth into action man's earnest
duties.  She breathed into Percival's warm, beneficent heart her own more
steadfast and divine intelligence.  Like him she grew ambitious, by her
he became distinguished.  While I write, fair children play under the
cedars of Laughton.  And the husband tells the daughters to resemble
their mother; and the wife's highest praise to the boys is: "You have
spoken truth, or done good, like your father."

John Ardworth has not paused in his career, nor belied the promise of his
youth.  Though the elder Ardworth, partly by his own exertions, partly by
his second marriage with the daughter of the French merchant (through
whose agency he had corresponded with Fielden), had realized a moderate
fortune, it but sufficed for his own wants and for the children of his
later nuptials, upon whom the bulk of it was settled.  Hence, happily
perhaps for himself and others, the easy circumstances of his father
allowed to John Ardworth no exemption from labour.  His success in the
single episode from active life to literature did not intoxicate or
mislead him.  He knew that his real element was not in the field of
letters, but in the world of men.  Not undervaluing the noble destinies
of the author, he felt that those destinies, if realized to the utmost,
demanded powers other than his own, and that man is only true to his
genius when the genius is at home in his career.  He would not renounce
for a brief celebrity distant and solid fame.  He continued for a few
years in patience and privation and confident self-reliance to drudge on,
till the occupation for the intellect fed by restraint, and the learning
accumulated by study, came and found the whole man developed and
prepared.  Then he rose rapidly from step to step; then, still retaining
his high enthusiasm, he enlarged his sphere of action from the cold
practice of law into those vast social improvements which law, rightly
regarded, should lead and vivify and create.  Then, and long before the
twenty years he had imposed on his probation had expired, he gazed again
upon the senate and the abbey, and saw the doors of the one open to his
resolute tread, and anticipated the glorious sepulchre which heart and
brain should win him in the other.  John Ardworth has never married.
When Percival rebukes him for his celibacy, his lip quivers slightly, and
he applies himself with more dogged earnestness to his studies or his
career.  But he never complains that his lot is lonely or his affections
void.  For him who aspires, and for him who loves, life may lead through
the thorns, but it never stops in the desert.

On the minor personages involved in this history, there is little need to
dwell.  Mr. Fielden, thanks to St. John, has obtained a much better
living in the rectory of Laughton, but has found new sources of pleasant
trouble for himself in seeking to drill into the mind of Percival's
eldest son the elements of Euclid, and the principles of Latin syntax.

We may feel satisfied that the Miverses will go on much the same while
trade enriches without refining, and while, nevertheless, right feelings
in the common paths of duty may unite charitable emotions with graceless
language.

We may rest assured that the poor widow who had reared the lost son of
Lucretia received from the bounty of Percival all that could comfort her
for his death.

We have no need to track the dull crimes of Martha, or the quick, cunning
vices of Grabman, to their inevitable goals, in the hospital or the
prison, the dunghill or the gibbet.

Of the elder Ardworth our parting notice may be less brief.  We first saw
him in sanguine and generous youth, with higher principles and clearer
insight into honour than William Mainwaring.  We have seen him next a
spendthrift and a fugitive, his principles debased and his honour dimmed.
He presents to us no uncommon example of the corruption engendered by
that vulgar self-indulgence which mortgages the morrow for the pleasures
of to-day.  No Deity presides where Prudence is absent.  Man, a world in
himself, requires for the development of his faculties patience, and for
the balance of his actions, order.  Even where he had deemed himself most
oppressively made the martyr,--namely, in the profession of mere
political opinions,--Walter Ardworth had but followed out into theory the
restless, uncalculating impatience which had brought adversity on his
manhood, and, despite his constitutional cheerfulness, shadowed his age
with remorse.  The death of the child committed to his charge long
(perhaps to the last) embittered his pride in the son whom, without merit
of his own, Providence had spared to a brighter fate.  But for the faults
which had banished him his country, and the habits which had seared his
sense of duty, could that child have been so abandoned, and have so
perished?

It remains only to cast our glance over the punishments which befell the
sensual villany of Varney, the intellectual corruption of his fell
stepmother.

These two persons had made a very trade of those crimes to which man's
law awards death.  They had said in their hearts that they would dare the
crime, but elude the penalty.  By wonderful subtlety, craft, and
dexterity, which reduced guilt to a science, Providence seemed, as in
disdain of the vulgar instruments of common retribution, to concede to
them that which they had schemed for,--escape from the rope and gibbet.
Varney, saved from detection of his darker and more inexpiable crimes,
punished only for the least one, retained what had seemed to him the
master boon,--life.  Safer still from the law, no mortal eye had plumbed
the profound night of Lucretia's awful guilt.  Murderess of husband and
son, the blinded law bade her go unscathed, unsuspected.  Direct, as from
heaven, without a cloud, fell the thunderbolt.  Is the life they have
saved worth the prizing?  Doth the chalice, unspilt on the ground, not
return to the hand?  Is the sudden pang of the hangman more fearful than
the doom which they breathe and bear?  Look, and judge.

Behold that dark ship on the waters!  Its burdens are not of Ormus and
Tyre.  No goodly merchandise doth it waft over the wave, no blessing
cleaves to its sails; freighted with terror and with guilt, with remorse
and despair, or, more ghastly than either, the sullen apathy of souls
hardened into stone, it carries the dregs and offal of the old world to
populate the new.  On a bench in that ship sit side by side two men,
companions assigned to each other.  Pale, abject, cowering, all the
bravery rent from his garb, all the gay insolence vanished from his
brow,--can that hollow-eyed, haggard wretch be the same man whose senses
opened on every joy, whose nerves mocked at every peril?  But beside him,
with a grin of vile glee on his features, all muscle and brawn in the
form, all malice, at once spiteful and dull, in the heavy eye, sits his
fit comrade, the Gravestealer!  At the first glance each had recognized
each, and the prophecy and the vision rushed back upon the daintier
convict.  If he seek to escape from him, the Gravestealer claims him as a
prey; he threatens him with his eye as a slave; he kicks him with his
hoof as they sit, and laughs at the writhings of the pain.  Carry on your
gaze from the ship, hear the cry from the masthead, see the land arise
from the waste,--a land without hope.  At first, despite the rigour of
the Home Office, the education and intelligence of Varney have their
price,--the sole crime for which he is convicted is not of the darkest.
He escapes from that hideous comrade; he can teach as a schoolmaster,--
let his brain work, not his hands.  But the most irredeemable of convicts
are ever those of nurture and birth and culture better than the ruffian
rest. You may enlighten the clod, but the meteor still must feed on the
marsh; and the pride and the vanity work where the crime itself seems to
lose its occasion.  Ever avid, ever grasping, he falls, step by step, in
the foul sink, and the colony sees in Gabriel Varney its most pestilent
rogue.  Arch-convict amidst convicts, doubly lost amongst the damned,
they banish him to the sternest of the penal settlements; they send him
forth with the vilest to break stones upon the roads.  Shrivelled and
bowed and old prematurely, see that sharp face peering forth amongst that
gang, scarcely human, see him cringe to the lash of the scornful
overseer, see the pairs chained together, night and day!  Ho, ho! his
comrade hath found him again,--the Artist and the Gravestealer leashed
together!  Conceive that fancy so nurtured by habit, those tastes, so
womanized by indulgence,--the one suggesting the very horrors that are
not; the other revolting at all toil as a torture.

But intellect, not all gone, though hourly dying heavily down to the
level of the brute, yet schemes for delivery and escape.  Let the plot
ripen, and the heart bound; break his chain, set him free, send him forth
to the wilderness.  Hark, the whoop of the wild men!  See those things
that ape our species dance and gibber round the famishing, hunted wretch.
Hark, how he shrieks at the torture!  How they tear and they pinch and
they burn and they rend him!  They, too, spare his life,--it is charmed.
A Caliban amidst Calibans, they heap him with their burdens, and feed him
on their offal.  Let him live; he loved life for himself; he has cheated
the gibbet,--LET HIM LIVE!  Let him watch, let him once more escape; all
naked and mangled, let him wander back to the huts of his gang.  Lo,
where he kneels, the foul tears streaming down, and cries aloud: "I have
broken all your laws, I will tell you all my crimes; I ask but one
sentence,--hang me up; let me die!"  And from the gang groan many voices:
"Hang us up; let us die!" The overseer turns on his heel, and Gabriel
Varney again is chained to the laughing Gravestealer.

You enter those gates so jealously guarded, you pass, with a quick beat
of the heart, by those groups on the lawn, though they are harmless; you
follow your guide through those passages; where the open doors will
permit, you see the emperor brandish his sceptre of straw, hear the
speculator counting his millions, sigh where the maiden sits smiling the
return of her shipwrecked lover, or gravely shake the head and hurry on
where the fanatic raves his Apocalypse, and reigns in judgment on the
world; you pass by strong gates into corridors gloomier and more remote.
Nearer and nearer you hear the yell and the oath and blaspheming curse;
you are in the heart of the madhouse, where they chain those at once
cureless and dangerous,--who have but sense enough left them to smite and
to throttle and to murder.  Your guide opens that door, massive as a
wall; you see (as we, who narrate, have seen her) Lucretia Dalibard,--a
grisly, squalid, ferocious mockery of a human being, more appalling and
more fallen than Dante ever fabled in his spectres, than Swift ever
scoffed in his Yahoos!  Only, where all other feature seems to have lost
its stamp of humanity, still burns with unquenchable fever the red,
devouring eye.  That eye never seems to sleep, or in sleep, the lid never
closes over it.  As you shrink from its light, it seems to you as if the
mind, that had lost coherence and harmony, still retained latent and
incommunicable consciousness as its curse.  For days, for weeks, that
awful maniac will preserve obstinate, unbroken silence; but as the eye
never closes, so the hands never rest,--they open and grasp, as if at
some palpable object on which they close, vicelike, as a bird's talons on
its prey; sometimes they wander over that brow, where the furrows seem
torn as the thunder scars, as if to wipe from it a stain, or charm from
it a pang; sometimes they gather up the hem of that sordid robe, and
seem, for hours together, striving to rub from it a soil.  Then, out from
prolonged silence, without cause or warning, will ring, peal after peal
(till the frame, exhausted with the effort sinks senseless into stupor),
the frightful laugh.  But speech, intelligible and coherent, those lips
rarely yield.  There are times, indeed, when the attendants are persuaded
that her mind in part returns to her; and those times experience has
taught them to watch with peculiar caution.  The crisis evinces itself by
a change in the manner,--by a quick apprehension of all that is said; by
a straining, anxious look at the dismal walls; by a soft, fawning
docility; by murmured complaints of the chains that fetter; and (though,
as we have said, but very rarely) by prayers, that seem rational, for
greater ease and freedom.

In the earlier time of her dread captivity, perhaps when it was believed
at the asylum that she was a patient of condition, with friends who cared
for her state, and would liberally reward her cure, they in those moments
relaxed her confinement, and sought the gentler remedies their art
employs; but then invariably, and, it was said, with a cunning that
surpassed all the proverbial astuteness of the mad, she turned this
indulgence to the most deadly uses,--she crept to the pallet of some
adjacent sufferer weaker than herself, and the shrieks that brought the
attendants into the cell scarcely saved the intended victim from her
hands.  It seemed, in those imperfectly lucid intervals, as if the reason
only returned to guide her to destroy,--only to animate the broken
mechanism into the beast of prey.

Years have now passed since her entrance within those walls.  He who
placed her there never had returned.  He had given a false name,--no clew
to him was obtained; the gold he had left was but the quarter's pay.
When Varney had been first apprehended, Percival requested the younger
Ardworth to seek the forger in prison, and to question him as to Madame
Dalibard; but Varney was then so apprehensive that, even if still insane,
her very ravings might betray his share in her crimes, or still more, if
she recovered, that the remembrance of her son's murder would awaken the
repentance and the confession of crushed despair, that the wretch had
judged it wiser to say that his accomplice was no more,--that her
insanity had already terminated in death.  The place of her confinement
thus continued a secret locked in his own breast. Egotist to the last,
she was henceforth dead to him,--why not to the world?  Thus the partner
of her crimes had cut off her sole resource, in the compassion of her
unconscious kindred; thus the gates of the living world were shut to her
evermore.  Still, in a kind of compassion, or as an object of
experiment,--as a subject to be dealt with unscrupulously in that living
dissection-hall,--her grim jailers did not grudge her an asylum.  But,
year after year, the attendance was more slovenly, the treatment more
harsh; and strange to say, while the features were scarcely recognizable,
while the form underwent all the change which the shape suffers when mind
deserts it, that prodigious vitality which belonged to the temperament
still survived.  No signs of decay are yet visible.  Death, as if
spurning the carcass, stands inexorably afar off.  Baffler of man's law,
thou, too, hast escaped with life!  Not for thee is the sentence, "Blood
for blood!" Thou livest, thou mayst pass the extremest boundaries of age.
Live on, to wipe the blood from thy robe,--LIVE ON!

Not for the coarse object of creating an idle terror, not for the shock
upon the nerves and the thrill of the grosser interest which the
narrative of crime creates, has this book been compiled from the facts
and materials afforded to the author.  When the great German poet
describes, in not the least noble of his lyrics, the sudden apparition of
some "Monster Fate" in the circles of careless Joy, he assigns to him who
teaches the world, through parable or song, the right to invoke the
spectre.  It is well to be awakened at times from the easy commonplace
that surrounds our habitual life; to cast broad and steady and patient
light on the darker secrets of the heart,--on the vaults and caverns of
the social state over which we build the market-place and the palace.  We
recover from the dread and the awe and the half-incredulous wonder, to
set closer watch upon our inner and hidden selves.  In him who cultivates
only the reason, and suffers the heart and the spirit to lie waste and
dead, who schemes and constructs, and revolves round the axle of self,
unwarmed by the affections, unpoised by the attraction of right, lies the
germ Fate might ripen into the guilt of Olivier Dalibard.  Let him who
but lives through the senses, spreads the wings of the fancy in the gaudy
glare of enjoyment corrupted, avid to seize, and impatient to toil, whose
faculties are curbed but to the range of physical perception, whose very
courage is but the strength of the nerves, who develops but the animal as
he stifles the man,--let him gaze on the villany of Varney, and startle
to see some magnified shadow of himself thrown dimly on the glass!  Let
those who, with powers to command and passions to wing the powers, would
sweep without scruple from the aim to the end, who, trampling beneath
their footprint of iron the humanities that bloom up in their path, would
march to success with the proud stride of the destroyer, hear, in the
laugh of yon maniac murderess, the glee of the fiend they have wooed to
their own souls!  Guard well, O Heir of Eternity, the portal of sin,--the
thought!  From the thought to the deed, the subtler thy brain and the
bolder thy courage, the briefer and straighter is the way.  Read these
pages in disdain of self-commune,--they shall revolt thee, not instruct;
read them, looking steadfastly within,--and how humble soever the art of
the narrator, the facts he narrates, like all history, shall teach by
example.  Every human act, good or ill, is an angel to guide or to warn;
and the deeds of the worst have messages from Heaven to the listening
hearts of the best. Amidst the glens in the Apennine, in the lone wastes
of Calabria, the sign of the cross marks the spot where a deed of
violence has been done; on all that pass by the road, the symbol has
varying effect: sometimes it startles the conscience, sometimes it
invokes the devotion; the robber drops the blade, the priest counts the
rosary.  So is it with the record of crime; and in the witness of Guilt,
Man is thrilled with the whisper of Religion.

           Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
           The fatal shadows that walk by us still.
                            FLETCHER.





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