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Title: Christmas at Thompson Hall
Author: Trollope, Anthony
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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                      CHRISTMAS AT THOMPSON HALL

                            [Illustration]



                         “Cosy Corner Series”

                               CHRISTMAS

                                  AT

                             THOMPSON HALL

                                A Tale

                                  BY

                           ANTHONY TROLLOPE

         AUTHOR OF “DOCTOR THORNE, “CAN YOU FORGIVE HER?” ETC.

                              ILLUSTRATED

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                                BOSTON
                         JOSEPH KNIGHT COMPANY
                                 1894

                            COPYRIGHT, 1893

                                  BY
                         JOSEPH KNIGHT COMPANY



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

                                                                    PAGE

  I. MRS. BROWN’S SUCCESS                                              1

 II. MRS. BROWN’S FAILURE                                             19

III. MRS. BROWN ATTEMPS TO ESCAPE.                                    31

 IV. MRS. BROWN DOES ESCAPE                                           46

  V. MRS. BROWN AT THOMPSON HALL                                      67



ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

Thompson Hall                                               Frontispiece

“An English Lady and Gentleman Arrived at
the Grand Hotel”                                                       2

“He was a Thin, Genteel-Looking Man”                                   8

“She was a Large Woman, ... thought by Some
to be Handsome”                                                       11

“She looked like Lady Macbeth”                                        16

“There was a Single Lighted Candle on the
Table, on Which He was Leaning with His
Two Elbows”                                                           31

“Then She Took out from Her Bag a Small
Pot and a Patent Lamp and Some Chocolate,
and prepared for Him a Warm Drink”                                    40

“With a Soiled Pocket Handkerchief in His
Hand”                                                                 47

“This has been a very Disagreeable Accident,
Mr. Jones”                                                            55

“Then Mr. Jones Walked in also”                                       69

“By This Time There had been Some Explanation
as to Past Events between the Two Sisters                             77



CHAPTER I.

MRS. BROWN’S SUCCESS.


Every one remembers the severity of the Christmas of 187-. I will not
designate the year more closely, lest I should enable those who are too
curious to investigate the circumstances of this story, and inquire into
details which I do not intend to make known. That winter, however, was
especially severe, and the cold of the last ten days of December was
more felt, I think, in Paris than in any part of England. It may,
indeed, be doubted whether there is any town in any country in which
thoroughly bad weather is more afflicting than in the French capital.
Snow and hail seem to be colder there, and fires certainly are less
warm, than in London. And then there is a feeling among visitors to
Paris that Paris ought to be gay; that gayety, prettiness, and
liveliness are its aims, as money, commerce, and general business are
the aims of London, which, with its outside sombre darkness, does often
seem to want an excuse for its ugliness. But on this occasion, at this
Christmas of 187-, Paris was neither gay, nor pretty, nor lively. You
could not walk the streets without being ankle-deep, not in snow, but in
snow that had just become slush; and there was falling throughout the
day and night of the 23d of December a succession of damp, half-frozen
abominations from

[Illustration]

the sky which made it almost impossible for men and women to go about
their business.

It was at ten o’clock on that evening that an English lady and gentleman
arrived at the Grand Hôtel on the Boulevard des Italiens. As I have
reasons for concealing the names of this married couple, I will call
them Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Now, I wish it to be understood that in all the
general affairs of life this gentleman and this lady lived happily
together, with all the amenities which should bind a husband and a wife.
Mrs. Brown was one of a wealthy family, and Mr. Brown, when he married
her, had been relieved from the necessity of earning his bread.
Nevertheless, she had at once yielded to him when he expressed a desire
to spend the winters of their life in the South of France; and he,
though he was by disposition somewhat idle, and but little prone to the
energetic occupations of life, would generally allow himself, at other
periods of the year, to be carried hither and thither by her, whose more
robust nature delighted in the excitement of travelling. But on this
occasion there had been a little difference between them.

Early in December an intimation had reached Mrs. Brown at Pau that on
the coming Christmas there was to be a great gathering of all the
Thompsons in the Thompson family hall at Stratford-le-Bow, and that she,
who had been a Thompson, was desired to join the party with her husband.
On this occasion her only sister was desirous of introducing to the
family generally a most excellent young man to whom she had recently
become engaged. The Thompsons--the real name, however, is in fact
concealed--were a numerous and a thriving people. There were uncles and
cousins and brothers who had all done well in the world, and who were
all likely to do better still. One had lately been returned to
Parliament for the Essex Flats, and was at the time of which I am
writing a conspicuous member of the gallant Conservative majority. It
was partly in triumph at this success that the great Christmas gathering
of the Thompsons was to be held, and an opinion had been expressed by
the legislator himself that, should Mrs. Brown, with her husband, fail
to join the family on this happy occasion, she and he would be regarded
as being but _fainéant_ Thompsons.

Since her marriage, which was an affair now nearly eight years old, Mrs.
Brown had never passed a Christmas in England. The desirability of doing
so had often been mooted by her. Her very soul craved the festivities of
holly and mince-pies. There had ever been meetings of the Thompsons at
Thompson Hall, though meetings not so significant, not so important to
the family, as this one which was now to be collected. More than once
had she expressed a wish to see old Christmas again in the old house
among the old faces. But her husband had always pleaded a certain
weakness about his throat and chest as a reason for remaining among the
delights of Pau. Year after year she had yielded, and now this loud
summons had come.

It was not without considerable trouble that she had induced Mr. Brown
to come as far as Paris. Most unwillingly had he left Pau; and then,
twice on his journey--both at Bordeaux and Tours--he had made an attempt
to return. From the first moment he had pleaded his throat, and when at
last he had consented to make the journey, he had stipulated for
sleeping at those two towns and at Paris. Mrs. Brown, who, with no
slightest feeling of fatigue, could have made the journey from Pau to
Stratford without stopping, had assented to everything, so that they
might be at Thompson Hall on Christmas-eve. When Mr. Brown uttered his
unavailing complaints at the first two towns at which they stayed, she
did not, perhaps, quite believe all that he said of his own condition.
We know how prone the strong are to suspect the weakness of the weak--as
the weak are to be disgusted by the strength of the strong. There were,
perhaps, a few words between them on the journey, but the result had
hitherto been in favor of the lady. She had succeeded in bringing Mr.
Brown as far as Paris.

Had the occasion been less important, no doubt she would have yielded.
The weather had been bad even when they left Pau, but as they had made
their way northward it had become worse and still worse. As they left
Tours, Mr. Brown, in a hoarse whisper, had declared his conviction that
the journey would kill him. Mrs. Brown, however, had unfortunately
noticed half an hour before that he had scolded the waiter on the score
of an over-charged franc or two with a loud and clear voice. Had she
really believed that there was danger, or even suffering, she would have
yielded; but no woman is satisfied in such a matter to be taken in by
false pretences. She observed that he ate a good dinner on his way to
Paris, and that he took a small glass of cognac with complete relish,
which a man really suffering from bronchitis surely would not do. So she
persevered, and brought him into Paris, late in the evening, in the
midst of all that slush and snow. Then, as they sat down to supper, she
thought he did speak hoarsely, and her loving feminine heart began to
misgive her.

But this now was, at any rate, clear to her,--that he could not be worse
off by going on to London than he would be should he remain in Paris. If
a man is to be ill, he had better be ill in the bosom of his family
than at a hotel. What comfort could he have, what relief, in that huge
barrack? As for the cruelty of the weather, London could not be worse
than Paris, and then she thought she had heard that sea air is good for
a sore throat. In that bedroom which had been allotted to them _au
quatrieme_ they could not even get a decent fire. It would in every way
be wrong now to forego the great Christmas gathering when nothing could
be gained by staying in Paris.

She had perceived that, as her husband became really ill, he became also
more tractable and less disputatious. Immediately after that little
glass of cognac he had declared that he would be ---- if he would go
beyond Paris, and she began to fear that, after all, everything would
have been done in vain. But as they went down to supper between ten and
eleven he was more subdued, and merely remarked that this journey would,
he was sure, be the death of him. It was half past eleven when they got
back to their bedroom, and then he seemed to speak with good sense, and
also with much real apprehension. “If I can’t get something to relieve
me, I know I shall never make my way on,” he said. It was intended that
they should leave the hotel at half past five the next morning, so as to
arrive at Stratford, travelling by the tidal train, at half past seven
on Christmas-eve. The early hour, the

[Illustration]

long journey, the infamous weather, the prospect of that horrid gulf
between Boulogne and Folkestone, would have been as nothing to Mrs.
Brown, had it not been for that settled look of anguish which had now
pervaded her husband’s face. “If you don’t find something to relieve me,
I shall never live through it,” he said again, sinking back into the
questionable comfort of a Parisian hotel arm-chair.

“But, my dear, what can I do?” she asked, almost in tears, standing over
him and caressing him. He was a thin, genteel-looking man, with a fine
long soft brown beard, a little bald at the top of the head, but
certainly a genteel-looking man. She loved him dearly, and in her softer
moods was apt to spoil him with her caresses. “What can I do, my dearie?
You know I would do anything if I could. Get into bed, my pet, and be
warm, and then to-morrow morning you will be all right.” At this moment
he was preparing himself for his bed, and she was assisting him. Then
she tied a piece of flannel round his throat, and kissed him, and put
him in beneath the bedclothes.

“I’ll tell you what you can do,” he said, very hoarsely. His voice was
so bad now that she could hardly hear him. So she crept close to him,
and bent over him. She would do anything if he would only say what. Then
he told her what was his plan. Down in the salon he had seen a large jar
of mustard standing on a sideboard. As he left the room he had observed
that this had not been withdrawn with the other appurtenances of the
meal. If she could manage to find her way down there, taking with her a
handkerchief folded for the purpose, and if she could then appropriate a
part of the contents of that jar, and, returning with her prize, apply
it to his throat, he thought that he could get some relief, so that he
might be able to leave his bed the next morning at five. “But I am
afraid it will be very disagreeable for you to go down all alone at this
time of night,” he croaked out in a piteous whisper.

“Of course I’ll go,” said she. “I don’t mind going in the least. Nobody
will bite me”; and she at once began to fold a clean handkerchief. “I
won’t be two minutes, my darling; and if there is a grain of mustard in
the house, I’ll have it on your chest almost immediately.” She was a
woman not easily cowed, and the journey down into the salon was nothing
to her. Before she went she tucked the clothes carefully up to his ears,
and then she started.

To run along the first corridor till she came to a flight of stairs was
easy enough, and easy enough to descend them. Then there was another
corridor and another flight, and a third corridor and a third flight,
and she began to think that she was wrong. She found herself in a part
of the hotel which she had not hitherto visited, and soon discovered by
looking through an open door or two that she had found her way among a
set of private sitting-rooms which she had not seen before. Then she
tried to make her way back, up the same stairs and through the same
passages, so that she might start again. She was beginning to think that
she had lost herself altogether, and that she would be able to find
neither the salon nor her bedroom, when she happily met the night
porter. She was dressed in a loose white dressing-gown, with a white
net over her loose hair, and with white worsted slippers. I ought,
perhaps, to have described her personal appearance sooner. She was a
large woman with a

[Illustration]

commanding bust, thought by some to be handsome, after the manner of
Juno. But with strangers there was a certain severity of manner about
her--a fortification, as it were, of her virtue against all possible
attacks--a declared determination to maintain, at all points, the
beautiful character of a British matron, which, much as it had been
appreciated at Thompson Hall, had met with some ill-natured criticism
among French men and women. At Pau she had been called La Fière
Anglaise. The name had reached her own ears and those of her husband. He
had been much annoyed, but she had taken it in good part--had, indeed,
been somewhat proud of the title--and had endeavored to live up to it.
With her husband she could, on occasion, be soft, but she was of opinion
that with other men a British matron should be stern. She was now
greatly in want of assistance; but, nevertheless, when she met the
porter she remembered her character. “I have lost my way wandering
through these horrid passages,” she said in her severest tone. This was
in answer to some question from him--some question to which her reply
was given very slowly. Then, when he asked where madame wished to go,
she paused, again thinking what destination she would announce. No doubt
the man could take her back to her bedroom, but if so, the mustard must
be renounced, and with the mustard, as she now feared, all hope of
reaching Thompson Hall on Christmas-eve. But she, though she was in many
respects a brave woman, did not dare to tell the man that she was
prowling about the hotel in order that she might make a midnight raid
upon the mustard pot. She paused, therefore, for a moment, that she
might collect her thoughts, erecting her head as she did so in her best
Juno fashion, till the porter was lost in admiration. Thus she gained
time to fabricate a tale. She had, she said, dropped her handkerchief
under the supper-table; would he show her the way to the salon, in order
that she might pick it up? But the porter did more than that, and
accompanied her to the room in which she had supped.

Here, of course, there was a prolonged and, it need hardly be said, a
vain search. The good-natured man insisted on emptying an enormous
receptacle of soiled table napkins, and on turning them over one by one,
in order that the lady’s property might be found. The lady stood by
unhappy, but still patient, and as the man was stooping to his work, her
eye was on the mustard pot. There it was, capable of containing enough
to blister the throats of a score of sufferers. She edged off a little
toward it while the man was busy, trying to persuade herself that he
would surely forgive her if she took the mustard and told him her whole
story. But the descent from her Juno bearing would have been so great!
She must have owned, not only to the quest for mustard, but also to a
fib--and she could not do it. The porter was at last of opinion that
madame must have made a mistake, and madame acknowledged that she was
afraid it was so.

With a longing, lingering eye, with an eye turned back, oh! so sadly to
the great jar, she left the room, the porter leading the way. She
assured him that she would find it by herself, but he would not leave
her till he had put her on to the proper passage. The journey seemed to
be longer now even than before; but as she ascended the many stairs she
swore to herself that she would not even yet be balked of her object.
Should her husband want comfort for his poor throat, and the comfort be
there within her reach, and he not have it? She counted every stair as
she went up, and marked every turn well. She was sure now that she would
know the way, and that she could return to the room without fault. She
would go back to the salon. Even though the man should encounter her
again, she would go boldly forward and seize the remedy which her poor
husband so grievously required.

“Ah, yes,” she said, when the porter told her that her room, No. 333,
was in the corridor which they had then reached, “I know it all now. I
am so much obliged. Do not come a step farther.” He was anxious to
accompany her up to the very door, but she stood in the passage, and
prevailed. He lingered awhile--naturally. Unluckily, she had brought no
money with her, and could not give him the two-franc piece which he had
earned. Nor could she fetch it from her room, feeling that, were she to
return to her husband without the mustard, no second attempt would be
possible. The disappointed man turned on his heel at last, and made his
way down the stairs and along the passage. It seemed to her to be almost
an eternity while she listened to his still audible footsteps. She had
gone on, creeping noiselessly up to the very door of her room, and there
she stood, shading the candle in her hand, till she thought that the man
must have wandered away into some farthest corner of that endless
building. Then she turned once more and retraced her steps.

There was no difficulty now as to the way. She knew it, every stair. At
the head of each flight she stood and listened, but not a sound was to
be heard, and then she went on again. Her heart beat high with anxious
desire to achieve her object, and at the same time with fear. What
might

[Illustration]

have been explained so easily at first would now be as difficult of
explanation, At last she was in the great public vestibule, which she
was now visiting for the third time, and of which, at her last visit,
she had taken the bearings accurately. The door was there--closed,
indeed, but it opened f to the hand, the hall and on e stairs and o n g
the passages there had been gas, but here there was no light beyond that
given by the little taper which she carried. When accompanied by the
porter she had not feared the darkness, but now there was something in
the obscurity which made her dread to walk the length of the room up to
the mustard jar. She paused, and listened, and trembled. Then she
thought of the glories of Thompson Hall, of the genial warmth of a
British Christmas, of that proud legislator who was her first cousin,
and with a rush she made good the distance, and laid her hand upon the
copious delf. She looked round, but there was no one there; no sound was
heard; not the distant creak of a shoe, not a rattle from one of those
thousand doors. As she paused with her fair hand upon the top of the
jar, while the other held the white cloth on which the medicinal
compound was to be placed, she looked like Lady Macbeth as she listened
at Duncan’s chamber door.

There was no doubt as to the sufficiency of the contents. The jar was
full nearly up to the lips. The mixture was, no doubt, very different
from that good, wholesome English mustard which your cook makes fresh
for you, with a little water, in two minutes. It was impregnated with a
sour odor, and was, to English eyes, unwholesome of color. But still it
was mustard. She seized the horn spoon, and without further delay
spread an ample sufficiency on the folded square of the handkerchief.
Then she commenced to hurry her return.

But still there was a difficulty, no thought of which had occurred to
her before. The candle occupied one hand, so that she had but the other
for the sustenance of her treasure. Had she brought a plate or saucer
from the salon, it would have been all well. As it was, she was obliged
to keep her eye intent on her right hand, and to proceed very slowly on
her return journey. She was surprised to find what an aptitude the thing
had to slip from her grasp. But still she progressed slowly, and was
careful not to miss a turning. At last she was safe at her chamber door.
There it was, No. 333.



CHAPTER II.

MRS. BROWN’S FAILURE.


With her eye still fixed upon her burden, she glanced up at the number
of the door--333. She had been determined all through not to forget
that. Then she turned the latch and crept in. The chamber also was dark
after the gaslight on the stairs, but that was so much the better. She
herself had put out the two candles on the dressing-table before she had
left her husband. As she was closing the door behind her she paused, and
could hear that he was sleeping. She was well aware that she had been
long absent--quite long enough for a man to fall into slumber who was
given that way. She must have been gone, she thought, fully an hour.
There had been no end to that turning over of napkins which she had so
well known to be altogether vain. She paused at the centre-table of the
room, still looking at the mustard, which she now delicately dried from
off her hand. She had had no idea that it would have been so difficult
to carry so light and so small an affair. But there it was, and nothing
had been lost. She took some small instrument from the washing-stand,
and with the handle collected the flowing fragments into the centre.
Then the question occurred to her whether, as her husband was sleeping
so sweetly, it would be well to disturb him. She listened again, and
felt that the slight murmur of a snore with which her ears were regaled
was altogether free from any real malady in the throat. Then it occurred
to her that, after all, fatigue perhaps had only made him cross. She
bethought herself how, during the whole journey, she had failed to
believe in his illness. What meals he had eaten! How thoroughly he had
been able to enjoy his full complement of cigars! And then that glass of
brandy, against which she had raised her voice slightly in feminine
opposition. And now he was sleeping there like an infant, with full,
round, perfected, almost sonorous workings of the throat. Who does not
know that sound, almost of two rusty bits of iron scratching against
each other, which comes from a suffering windpipe? There was no
semblance of that here. Why disturb him when he was so thoroughly
enjoying that rest which, more certainly than anything else, would fit
him for the fatigue of the morrow’s journey?

I think that, after all her labor, she would have left the pungent
cataplasm on the table and have crept gently into bed beside him, had
not a thought suddenly struck her of the great injury he had been doing
her if he were not really ill. To send her down there, in a strange
hotel, wandering among the passages, in the middle of the night, subject
to the contumely of any one who might meet her, on a commission which,
if it were not sanctified by absolute necessity, would be so thoroughly
objectionable! At this moment she hardly did believe that he had ever
really been ill. Let him have the cataplasm; if not as a remedy, then as
a punishment. It could, at any rate, do him no harm. It was with an idea
of avenging rather than of justifying the past labors of the night that
she proceeded at once to quick action.

Leaving the candle on the table, so that she might steady her right hand
with the left, she hurried stealthily to the bedside. Even though he was
behaving badly to her, she would not cause him discomfort by waking him
roughly. She would do a wife’s duty to him as a British matron should.
She would not only put the warm mixture on his neck, but would sit
carefully by him for twenty minutes, so that she might relieve him from
it when the proper period should have come for removing the
counter-irritation from his throat. There would doubtless be some little
difficulty in this--in collecting the mustard after it had served her
purpose. Had she been at home, surrounded by her own comforts, the
application would have been made with some delicate linen bag, through
which the pungency of the spice would have penetrated with strength
sufficient for the purpose. But the circumstance of the occasion had not
admitted this. She had, she felt, done wonders in achieving so much
success as this which she had obtained. If there should be anything
disagreeable in the operation, he must submit to it. He had asked for
mustard for his throat, and mustard he should have.

As these thoughts passed quickly through her mind, leaning over him in
the dark, with her eye fixed on the mixture lest it should slip, she
gently raised his flowing beard with her left hand, and with her other
inverted rapidly, steadily but very softly fixed the handkerchief on his
throat. From the bottom of his chin to the spot at which the
collar-bones meeting together form the orifice of the chest, it covered
the whole noble expanse. There was barely time for a glance, but never
had she been more conscious of the grand proportions of that manly
throat. A sweet feeling of pity came upon her, causing her to determine
to relieve his sufferings in the shorter space of fifteen minutes. He
had been lying on his back, with his lips apart, and as she held back
his beard, that and her hand nearly covered the features of his face.
But he made no violent effort to free himself from the encounter. He did
not even move an arm or a leg. He simply emitted a snore louder than any
that had come before. She was aware that it was not his wont to be so
loud--that there was generally something more delicate and perhaps more
querulous in his nocturnal voice, but then the present circumstances
were exceptional. She dropped the beard very softly--and there on the
pillow before her lay the face of a stranger. She had put the mustard
plaster on the wrong man.

Not Priam wakened in the dead of night, not Dido when first she learned
that Æneas had fled, not Othello when he learned that Desdmona had been
chaste, not Medea when she became conscious of her slaughtered children,
could have been more struck with horror than was this British matron as
she stood for a moment gazing with awe on that stranger’s bed. One vain,
half-completed, snatching grasp she made at the handkerchief, and then
drew back her hand. If she were to touch him, would he not wake at once,
and find her standing there in his bedroom? And then how could she
explain it? By what words could she so quickly make him know the
circumstances of that strange occurrence that he should accept it all
before he had said a word that might offend her? For a moment she stood
all but paralyzed after that faint ineffectual movement of her arm. Then
he stirred his head uneasily on the pillow, opened wider his lips, and
twice in rapid succession snored louder than before. She started back a
couple of paces, and with her body placed between him and the candle,
with her face averted, but with her hand still resting on the foot of
the bed, she endeavored to think what duty required of her.

She had injured the man. Though she had done it most unwittingly, there
could be no doubt but that she had injured him. If for a moment she
could be brave, the injury might in truth be little; but how disastrous
might be the consequences if she were now in her cowardice to leave
him, who could tell? Applied for fifteen or twenty minutes, a mustard
plaster may be the salvation of a throat ill at ease; but if left there
throughout the night, upon the neck of a strong man, ailing nothing,
only too prone in his strength to slumber soundly, how sad, how painful,
for aught she knew how dangerous, might be the effects! And surely it
was an error which any man with a heart in his bosom might pardon!
Judging from what little she had seen of him, she thought that he must
have a heart in his bosom. Was it not her duty to wake him, and then
quietly to extricate him from the embarrassment which she had brought
upon him?

But in doing this what words should she use? How should she wake him?
How should she make him understand her goodness, her beneficence, her
sense of duty, before he should have jumped from the bed and rushed to
the bell, and have summoned all above, and all below, to the rescue?
“Sir, sir, do not move, do not stir, do not scream. I have put a mustard
plaster on your throat, thinking that you were my husband. As yet no
harm has been done. Let me take it off, and then hold your peace
forever.” Where is the man of such native constancy and grace of spirit
that, at the first moment of waking with a shock, he could hear these
words from the mouth of an unknown woman by his bedside, and at once
obey them to the letter? Would he not surely jump from his bed, with
that horrid compound falling about him--from which there could be no
complete relief unless he would keep his present attitude without a
motion. The picture which presented itself to her mind as to his
probable conduct was so terrible that she found herself unable to incur
the risk.

Then an idea presented itself to her mind. We all know how in a moment
quick thoughts will course through the subtle brain. She would find that
porter and send him to explain it all. There should be no concealment
now. She would tell the story and would bid him to find the necessary
aid. Alas! as she told herself that she would do so, she knew well that
she was only running from the danger which it was her duty to encounter.
Once again she put out her hand as though to return along the bed. Then
thrice he snorted louder than before, and moved up his knee uneasily
beneath the clothes as though the sharpness of the mustard were already
working upon his skin. She watched him for a moment longer, and then,
with the candle in her hand, she fled.

Poor human nature! Had he been an old man, even a middle-aged man, she
would not have left him to his unmerited sufferings. As it was, though
she completely recognized her duty, and knew what justice and goodness
demanded of her, she could not do it. But there was still left to her
that plan of sending the night porter to him. It was not till she was
out of the room and had gently closed the door behind her that she began
to bethink herself how she had made the mistake. With a glance of her
eye she looked up, and then saw the number on the door--353. Remarking
to herself, with a Briton’s natural criticism on things French, that
those horrid foreigners do not know how to make their figures, she
scudded rather than ran along the corridor, and then down some stairs
and along another passage--so that she might not be found in the
neighborhood should the poor man in his agony rush rapidly from his bed.

In the confusion of her first escape she hardly ventured to look for her
own passage--nor did she in the least know how she had lost her way
when she came up-stairs with the mustard in her hand. But at the present
moment her chief object was the night porter. She went on descending
till she came again to that vestibule, and looking up at the clock saw
that it was now past one. It was not yet midnight when she left her
husband, but she was not at all astonished at the lapse of time. It
seemed to her as though she had passed a night among these miseries.
And, oh, what a night! But there was yet much to be done. She must find
that porter, and then return to her own suffering husband. Ah! what now
should she say to him? If he should really be ill, how should she
assauge him? And yet how more than ever necessary was it that they
should leave that hotel early in the morning--that they should leave
Paris by the very earliest and quickest train that would take them as
fugitives from their present dangers! The door of the salon was open,
but she had no courage to go in search of a second supply. She would
have lacked strength to carry it up the stairs. Where, now, oh! where
was that man? From the vestibule she made her way into the hall, but
everything seemed to be deserted. Through the glass she could see a
light in the court beyond, but she could not bring herself to endeavor
even to open the hall doors.

And now she was very cold--chilled to her very bones. All this had been
done at Christmas, and during such severity of weather as had never
before been experienced by living Parisians. A feeling of great pity for
herself gradually came upon her. What wrong had she done, that she
should be so grievously punished? Why should she be driven to wander
about in this way till her limbs were failing her? And then so
absolutely important as it was that her strength should support her in
the morning! The man would not die even though he were left there
without aid, to rid himself of the cataplasm as best he might. Was it
absolutely necessary that she should disgrace herself?

But she could not even procure the means of disgracing herself, if that
telling her story to the night porter would have been a disgrace. She
did not find him, and at last resolved to make her way back to her own
room without further quest. She began to think that she had done all
that she could do. No man was ever killed by a mustard plaster on his
throat. His discomfort at the worst would not be worse than hers had
been--or, too probably, than that of her poor husband. So she went back
up the stairs and along the passages, and made her way on this occasion
to the door of her room without any difficulty. The way was so well
known to her that she could not but wonder that she had failed before.
But now her hands had been empty, and her eyes had been at her full
command. She looked up, and there was the number, very manifest on this
occasion--333. She opened the door most gently, thinking that her
husband might be sleeping as soundly as that other man had slept, and
she crept into the room.



CHAPTER III.

MRS. BROWN ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE.


BUT her husband was not sleeping. He was not even in bed, as she had
left him. She found

[Illustration]

him sitting there before the fireplace, on which one half-burned log
still retained a spark of what had once pretended to be a fire. Nothing
more wretched than his appearance could be imagined. There was a single
lighted candle on the table, on which he was leaning with his two
elbows, while his head rested between his hands. He had on a
dressing-gown over his nightshirt, but otherwise was not clothed. He
shivered audibly, or rather shook himself with the cold, and made the
table to chatter, as she entered the room. Then he groaned, and let his
head fall from his hands on to the table. It occurred to her at the
moment, as she recognized the tone of his querulous voice, and as she
saw the form of his neck, that she must have been deaf and blind when
she had mistaken that stalwart stranger for her husband. “O my dear,”
she said, “why are you not in bed?” He answered nothing in words, but
only groaned again. “Why did you get up? I left you warm and
comfortable.”

“Where have you been all night?” he half whispered, half croaked, with
an agonizing effort. “I have been looking for the mustard.” “Have been
looking all night, and haven’t found it? Where have you been?”

She refused to speak a word to him till she had got him into bed, and
then she told her story. But, alas! that which she told was not the true
story. As she was persuading him to go back to his rest, and while she
arranged the clothes again around him, she with difficulty made up her
mind as to what she would do and what she would say. Living or dying, he
must be made to start for Thompson Hall at half past five on the next
morning. It was no longer a question of the amenities of Christmas, no
longer a mere desire to satisfy the family ambition of her own people,
no longer an anxiety to see her new brother-in-law. She was conscious
that there was in that house one whom she had deeply injured, and from
whose vengeance--even from whose aspect--she must fly. How could she
endure to see that face which she was so well sure that she would
recognize, or to hear the slightest sound of that voice which would be
quite familiar to her ears, though it had never spoken a word in her
hearing? She must certainly fly on the wings of the earliest train which
would carry her toward the old house; but in order that she might do so,
she must propitiate her husband.

So she told her story. She had gone forth, as he had bade her, in
search of the mustard, and then had suddenly lost her way. Up and down
the house she had wandered, perhaps nearly a dozen times. “Had she met
no one?” he asked, in that raspy, husky whisper. “Surely there must have
been some one about the hotel! Nor was it possible that she could have
been roaming about all those hours.” “Only one hour, my dear,” she said.
Then there was a question about the duration of time, in which both of
them waxed angry; and as she became angry, her husband waxed stronger,
and as he became violent beneath the clothes, the comfortable idea
returned to her that he was not perhaps so ill as he would seem to be.
She found herself driven to tell him something about the porter, having
to account for that lapse of time by explaining how she had driven the
poor man to search for the handkerchief which she had never lost.

“Why did you not tell him you wanted the mustard?”

“My dear!”

“Why not? There is nothing to be ashamed of in wanting mustard.”

“At one o’clock in the morning! I couldn’t do it. To tell you the truth,
he wasn’t very civil, and I thought that he was--perhaps a little
tipsy. Now, my dear, do go to sleep.”

“Why didn’t you get the mustard?”

“There was none there--nowhere at all about the room. I went down again
and searched everywhere. That’s what took me so long. They always lock
up those kind of things at these French hotels. They are too
close-fisted to leave anything out. When you first spoke of it I knew
that it would be gone when I got there. Now, my dear, do go to sleep,
because we positively must start in the morning.”

“That is impossible,” said he, jumping up in the bed.

“We must go, my dear. I say that we must go. After all that has passed,
I wouldn’t not be with Uncle John and my cousin Robert to-morrow evening
for more--more--more than I would venture to say.”

“Bother!” he exclaimed.

“It’s all very well for you to say that, Charles, but you don’t know. I
say that we must go to-morrow, and we will.”

“I do believe you want to kill me, Mary.”

“That is very cruel, Charles, and most false, and most unjust. As for
making you ill, nothing could be so bad for you as this wretched place,
where nobody can get warm either day or night. If anything will cure
your throat for you at once, it will be the sea air. And only think how
much more comfortable they can make you at Thompson Hall than anywhere
in this country. I have so set my heart upon it, Charles, that I will do
it. If we are not there to-morrow night, Uncle John won’t consider us as
belonging to the family.”

“I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Jane told me so in her letter. I wouldn’t let you know before because I
thought it so unjust. But that has been the reason why I’ve been so
earnest about it all through.”

It was a thousand pities that so good a woman should have been driven by
the sad stress of circumstances to tell so many fibs. One after another
she was compelled to invent them, that there might be a way open to her
of escaping the horrors of a prolonged sojourn in that hotel. At length,
after much grumbling, he became silent, and she trusted that he was
sleeping. He had not as yet said that he would start at the required
hour in the morning, but she was perfectly determined in her own mind
that he should be made to do so. As he lay there motionless, and as she
wandered about the room pretending to pack her things, she more than
once almost resolved that she would tell him everything. Surely then he
would be ready to make any effort. But there came upon her an idea that
he might perhaps fail to see all the circumstances, and that, so
failing, he would insist on remaining that he might tender some apology
to the injured gentleman. An apology might have been very well had she
not left him there in his misery; but what apology would be possible
now? She would have to see him and speak to him, and every one in the
hotel would know every detail of the story. Every one in France would
know that it was she who had gone to the strange man’s bedside and put
the mustard plaster on the strange man’s throat in the dead of night!
She could not tell the story even to her husband, lest even her husband
should betray her.

Her own sufferings at the present moment were not light. In her
perturbation of mind she had foolishly resolved that she would not
herself go to bed. The tragedy of the night had seemed to her too deep
for personal comfort. And then, how would it be were she to sleep, and
have no one to call her? It was imperative that she should have all her
powers ready for thoroughly arousing him. It occurred to her that the
servant of the hotel would certainly run her too short of time. She had
to work for herself and for him too, and therefore she would not sleep.
But she was very cold, and she put on first a shawl over her
dressing-gown and then a cloak. She could not consume all the remaining
hours of the night in packing one bag and one portmanteau; so that at
last she sat down on the narrow red cotton velvet sofa, and, looking at
her watch, perceived that as yet it was not much past two o’clock. How
was she to get through those other three long, tedious, chilly hours?

Then there came a voice from the bed,--“Ain’t you coming?”

“I hoped you were asleep, my dear.”

“I haven’t been asleep at all. You’d better come, if you don’t mean to
make yourself as ill as I am.”

“You are not so very bad, are you, darling?”

“I don’t know what you call bad. I never felt my throat so choked in my
life before.” Still as she listened she thought that she remembered his
throat to have been more choked. If the husband of her bosom could play
with her feelings and deceive her on such an occasion as
this--then--then--then she thought that she would rather not have any
husband of her bosom at all. But she did creep into bed, and lay down
beside him without saying another word.

Of course she slept, but her sleep was not the sleep of the blest. At
every striking of the clock in the quadrangle she would start up in
alarm, fearing that she had let the time go by. Though the night was so
short, it was very long to her. But he slept like an infant. She could
hear from his breathing that he was not quite so well as she could wish
him to be, but still he was resting in beautiful tranquillity. Not once
did he move when she started up, as she did so frequently. Orders had
been given and repeated over and over again that they should be called
at five. The man in the office had almost been angry as he assured Mrs.
Brown for the fourth time that monsieur and madame would most assuredly
be wakened at the appointed time. But still she would trust to no one,
and was up and about the room before the clock had struck half past
four.

In her heart of hearts she was very tender toward her husband. Now, in
order that he might feel a gleam of warmth while he was dressing
himself, she collected together the fragments of half-burned wood, and
endeavored to make a little fire. Then she took out from her bag a small
pot and a patent lamp and some chocolate, and prepared for him a warm
drink, so that he might have it instantly as he was awakened. She would
do anything for him in the way of ministering to his comfort--only he
must go! Yes, he certainly must go!

[Illustration]

And then she wondered how that strange man was bearing himself at the
present moment. She would fain have ministered to him too had it been
possible; but, ah! it was so impossible! Probably before this he would
have been aroused from his troubled slumbers. But then--how aroused? At
what time in the night would the burning heat upon his chest have
awakened him to a sense of torture which must have been so altogether
incomprehensible to him? Her strong imagination showed to her a clear
picture of the scene--clear, though it must have been done in the dark.
How he must have tossed and hurled himself under the clothes! how those
strong knees must have worked themselves up and down before the potent
god of sleep would allow him to return to perfect consciousness! how his
fingers, restrained by no reason, would have trampled over his feverish
throat, scattering everywhere that unhappy poultice! Then when he should
have sat up wide awake, but still in the dark--with her mind’s eye she
saw it all--feeling that some fire as from the infernal regions had
fallen upon him, but whence he would know not, how fiercely wild would
be the working of his spirit! Ah, now she knew, now she felt, now she
acknowledged, how bound she had been to awaken him at the moment,
whatever might have been the personal inconvenience to herself! In such
a position what would he do--or rather what had he done? She could
follow much of it in her own thoughts: how he would scramble madly from
his bed, and, with one hand still on his throat, would snatch hurriedly
at the matches with the other. How the light would come, and how then
he would rush to the mirror. Ah, what a sight he would behold! She could
see it all, to the last wide-spread daub.

But she could not see, she could not tell herself, what in such a
position a man would do; at any rate, not what that man would do. Her
husband, she thought, would tell his wife, and then the two of them,
between them, would--put up with it.

There are misfortunes which, if they be published, are simply aggravated
by ridicule. But she remembered the features of the stranger as she had
seen them at that instant in which she had dropped his beard, and she
thought that there was a ferocity in them, a certain tenacity of
self-importance, which would not permit their owner to endure such
treatment in silence. Would he not storm and rage, and ring the bell,
and call all Paris to witness his revenge?

But the storming and the raging had not reached her yet, and now it
wanted but a quarter to five. In three-quarters of an hour they would be
in that demi-omnibus which they had ordered for themselves, and in half
an hour after that they would be flying toward Thompson Hall. Then she
allowed herself to think of those coming comforts--of those comforts so
sweet, if only they would come! That very day now present to her was the
24th December, and on that very evening she would be sitting in
Christmas joy among all her uncles and cousins, holding her new
brother-in-law affectionately by the hand. Oh, what a change from
Pandemonium to Paradise! from that wretched room, from that miserable
house in which there was such ample cause for fear, to all the domestic
Christmas bliss of the home of the Thompsons! She resolved that she
would not, at any rate, be deterred by any light opposition on the part
of her husband. “It wants just a quarter to five,” she said, putting her
hand steadily upon his shoulder, “and I’ll get a cup of chocolate for
you, so that you may get up comfortably.”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the back
of his hands. “It will be so much better to go over by the mail-train
to-night. We should be in time for Christmas just the same.”

“That will not do at all,” she answered, energetically. “Come, Charles,
after all the trouble, do not disappoint me.”

“It is such a horrid grind.”

“Think what I have gone through--what I have done for you! In twelve
hours we shall be there, among them all. You won’t be so little like a
man as not to go on now.” He threw himself back upon the bed, and tried
to re-adjust the clothes around his neck. “No, Charles, no,” she
continued; “not if I know it. Take your chocolate and get up. There is
not a moment to be lost.” With that she laid her hand upon his shoulder,
and made him clearly understand that he would not be allowed to take
further rest in that bed.

Grumbling, sulky, coughing continually, and declaring that life under
such circumstances was not worth having, he did at last get up and dress
himself. When once she knew that he was obeying her, she became again
tender to him, and certainly took much more than her own share of the
trouble of the proceedings. Long before the time was up she was ready,
and the porter had been summoned to take the luggage down-stairs. When
the man came, she was rejoiced to see that it was not he whom she had
met among the passages during her nocturnal rambles. He shouldered the
box, and told them that they would find coffee and bread and butter in
the small _salle à manger_ below.

“I told you that it would be so, when you would boil that stuff,” said
the ungrateful man, who had nevertheless swallowed the hot chocolate
when it was given to him.

They followed their luggage down into the hall; but as she went, at
every step, the lady looked around her. She dreaded the sight of that
porter of the night; she feared lest some potential authority of the
hotel should come to her and ask her some horrid question; but of all
her fears her greatest fear was that there should arise before her an
apparition of that face which she had seen recumbent on its pillow.

As they passed the door of the great salon, Mr. Brown looked in. “Why,
there it is still!” said he.

“What?” said she, trembling in every limb.

“The mustard pot.”

“They have put it in there since,” she exclaimed, energetically, in her
despair. “But never mind. The omnibus is here. Come away.” And she
absolutely took him by the arm.

But at that moment a door behind them opened, and Mrs. Brown heard
herself called by her name. And there was the night porter--with a
handkerchief in his hand. But the further doings of that morning must be
told in a farther chapter.



CHAPTER IV.

MRS. BROWN DOES ESCAPE.


It had been visible to Mrs. Brown from the first moment of her arrival
on the ground floor that “something was the matter,” if we may be
allowed to use such a phrase; and she felt all but convinced that this
something had reference to her. She fancied that the people of the hotel
were looking at her as she swallowed, or tried to swallow, her coffee.
When her husband was paying the bill there was something disagreeable in
the eye of the man who was taking the money. Her sufferings were very
great, and no one sympathized with her. Her husband was quite at his
ease, except that he was complaining of the cold. When she was anxious
to get him out into the carriage, he still stood there, leisurely
arranging shawl after shawl around his throat. “You can do that quite as
well in the omnibus,” she had just said to him, very crossly, when there
appeared upon the scene through a side door that very night porter whom
she dreaded with a soiled pocket-handkerchief in his hand.

[Illustration]

Even before the sound of her own name met her ears, Mrs. Brown knew it
all. She understood the full horror of her position from that man’s
hostile face, and from the little article which he held in his hand. If
during the watches of the night she had had money in her pocket, if she
had made a friend of this greedy fellow by well-timed liberality, all
might have been so different! But she reflected that she had allowed him
to go unfee’d after all his trouble, and she knew that he was her enemy.
It was the handkerchief that she feared. She thought that she might have
brazened out anything but that. No one had seen her enter or leave that
strange man’s room. No one had seen her dip her hands in that jar. She
had, no doubt, been found wandering about the house while the slumberer
had been made to suffer so strangely, and there might have been
suspicion, and perhaps accusation. But she would have been ready with
frequent protestations to deny all charges made against her, and though
no one might have believed her, no one could have convicted her. Here,
however, was evidence against which she would be unable to stand for a
moment. At the first glance she acknowledged the potency of that damning
morsel of linen.

During all the horrors of the night she had never given a thought to the
handkerchief, and yet she ought to have known that the evidence it would
bring against her was palpable and certain. Her name, “M. Brown,” was
plainly written on the corner. What a fool she had been not to have
thought of this! Had she but remembered the plain marking which she, as
a careful, well-conducted British matron, had put upon all her clothes,
she would at any hazard have recovered the article. Oh that she had
waked the man, or bribed the porter, or even told her husband! But now
she was, as it were, friendless, without support, without a word that
she could say in her own defence, convicted of having committed this
assault upon a strange man as he slept in his own bedroom, and then of
having left him! The thing must be explained by the truth; but how to
explain such truth, how to tell such story in a way to satisfy injured
folk, and she with only barely time sufficient to catch the train! Then
it occurred to her that they could have no legal right to stop her
because the pocket-handkerchief had been found in a strange gentleman’s
bedroom. “Yes, it is mine,” she said, turning to her husband, as the
porter, with a loud voice, asked if she were not Madame Brown. “Take it,
Charles, and come on.” Mr. Brown naturally stood still in astonishment.
He did put out his hand, but the porter would not allow the evidence to
pass so readily out of his custody.

“What does it all mean?” asked Mr. Brown.

“A gentleman has been--eh--eh--Something has been done to a gentleman in
his bedroom,” said the clerk.

“Something done to a gentleman!” repeated Mr. Brown.

“Something very bad indeed,” said the porter. “Look here”; and he showed
the condition of the handkerchief.

“Charles, we shall lose the train,” said the affrighted wife.

“What the mischief does it all mean?” demanded the husband.

“Did madame go into the gentleman’s room?” asked the clerk. Then there
was an awful silence, and all eyes were fixed upon the lady.

“What does it all mean?” demanded the husband. “Did you go into
anybody’s room?”

“I did,” said Mrs. Brown with much dignity, looking round upon her
enemies as a stag at bay will look upon the hounds which are attacking
him. “Give me the handkerchief.” But the night porter quickly put it
behind his back. “Charles, we cannot allow ourselves to be delayed. You
shall write a letter to the keeper of the hotel explaining it all.” Then
she essayed to swim out through the front door into the courtyard, in
which the vehicle was waiting for them. But three or four men and women
interposed themselves, and even her husband did not seem quite ready to
continue his journey. “To-night is Christmas-eve,” said Mrs. Brown, “and
we shall not be at Thompson Hall. Think of my sister!”

“Why did you go into the man’s bedroom, my dear?” whispered Mr. Brown in
English.

But the porter heard the whisper, and understood the language--the
porter who had not been “tipped.” “Ye’es--vy?” asked the porter.

“It was a mistake, Charles; there is not a moment to lose. I can explain
it all to you in the carriage.” Then the clerk suggested that madame had
better postpone her journey a little. The gentleman up-stairs had
certainly been very badly treated, and had demanded to know why so great
an outrage had been perpetrated. The clerk said that he did not wish to
send for the police (here Mrs. Brown gasped terribly, and threw herself
on her husband’s shoulder), but he did not think he could allow the
party to go till the gentleman up-stairs had received some satisfaction.
It had now become clearly impossible that the journey could be made by
the early train. Even Mrs. Brown gave it up herself, and demanded of her
husband that she should be taken back to her bedroom.

“But what is to be said to the gentleman?” asked the porter.

Of course it was impossible that Mrs. Brown should be made to tell her
story there in the presence of them all. The clerk, when he found he had
succeeded in preventing her from leaving the house, was satisfied with a
promise from Mr. Brown that he would inquire from his wife what were
these mysterious circumstances, and would then come down to the office
and give some explanation. If it were necessary, he would see the
strange gentleman--whom he now ascertained to be a certain Mr. Jones,
returning from the east of Europe. He learned also that this Mr. Jones
had been most anxious to travel by that very morning train which he and
his wife had intended to use; that Mr. Jones had been most particular in
giving his orders accordingly; but that at the last moment he had
declared himself to be unable even to dress himself, because of the
injury which had been done him during the night. When Mr. Brown heard
this from the clerk just before he was allowed to take his wife
up-stairs, while she was sitting on a sofa in a corner with her face
hidden, a look of awful gloom came over his own countenance. What could
it be that his wife had done to the man, of so terrible a nature? “You
had better come up with me,” he said to her, with marital severity; and
the poor cowed woman went with him tamely as might have done some
patient Grizel. Not a word was spoken till they were in the room and the
door was locked. “Now,” said he, “what does it all mean?”

It was not till nearly two hours had passed that Mr. Brown came down the
stairs very slowly, turning it all over in his mind. He had now
gradually heard the absolute and exact truth, and had very gradually
learned to believe it. It was first necessary that he should understand
that his wife had told him many fibs during the night; but, as she
constantly alleged to him when he complained of her conduct in this
respect, they had all been told on his behalf. Had she not struggled to
get the mustard for his comfort, and when she had secured the prize had
she not hurried to put it on--as she had fondly thought--his throat? And
though she had fibbed to him afterward, had she not done so in order
that he might not be troubled? “You are not angry with me because I was
in that man’s room?” she asked, looking full into his eyes, but not
quite without a sob. He paused a moment, and then declared, with
something of a true husband’s confidence in his tone, that he was not in
the least angry with her on that account. Then she kissed him, and bade
him remember that, after all, no one could really injure them. “What
harm has been done, Charles? The gentleman won’t die because he has had
a mustard plaster on his throat. The worst is about Uncle John and dear
Jane. They do think so much of Christmas-eve at Thompson Hall!”

Mr. Brown, when he again found himself in the clerk’s office, requested
that his card might be taken up to Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones had sent down
his own card, which was handed to Mr. Brown: “Mr. Barnaby Jones.” “And
how was it all, sir?” asked the clerk, in a whisper--a whisper which had
at the same time something of authoritative demand and something also of
submissive respect. The clerk, of course, was anxious to know the
mystery. It is hardly too much to say that every one in that vast hotel
was by this time anxious to have the mystery unravelled. But Mr. Brown
would tell nothing to any one. “It is merely a matter to be explained
between me and Mr. Jones,” he said. The card was taken up-stairs, and
after a while he was ushered into Mr. Jones’s room. It was, of course,
that very 353 with which the reader is already acquainted. There was a
fire burning, and the remains of Mr. Jones’s breakfast were on the
table. He was sitting in his dressing-gown and slippers, with his shirt
open in the front, and a silk handkerchief very loosely covering his
throat. Mr. Brown, as he entered the room, of course looked with
considerable anxiety at the gentleman of whose condition he had heard so
sad an account; but he could only observe some considerable stiffness
of movement and demeanor as Mr. Jones turned his head round to greet
him.

“This has been a very disagreeable accident, Mr. Jones,” said the
husband of the lady.

[Illustration]

“Accident! I don’t know how it could have been an accident. It has been
a most--most-most--a most monstrous--er--er--I must say, interference
with a gentleman’s privacy and personal comfort.”

“Quite so, Mr. Jones, but--on the part of the lady, who is my wife--”

“So I understand. I myself am about to become a married man, and I can
understand what your feelings must be. I wish to say as little as
possible to harrow them.” Here Mr. Brown bowed. “But--there’s the fact.
She did do it.”

“She thought it was--me!”

“What!”

“I give you my word as a gentleman, Mr. Jones. When she was putting that
mess upon you, she thought it was me! She did indeed.”

Mr. Jones looked at his new acquaintance and shook his head. He did not
think it possible that any woman would make such a mistake as that.

“I had a very bad sore throat,” continued Mr. Brown, “and indeed you may
perceive it still”--in saying this he perhaps aggravated a little the
sign of his distemper--“and I asked Mrs. Brown to go down and get
one--just what she put on you.”

“I wish you’d had it,” said Mr. Jones, putting his hand up to his neck.

“I wish I had, for your sake as well as mine, and for hers, poor woman.
I don’t know when she will get over the shock.”

“I don’t know when I shall. And it has stopped me on my journey. I was
to have been to-night, this very night, this Christmas-eve, with the
young lady I am engaged to marry. Of course I couldn’t travel. The
extent of the injury done nobody can imagine at present.”

“It has been just as bad to me, sir. We were to have been with our
family this Christmas-eve. There were particular reasons--most
particular. We were only hindered from going by hearing of your
condition.”

“Why did she come into my room at all? I can’t understand that. A lady
always knows her own room at a hotel.”

“353--that’s yours; 333--that’s ours. Don’t you see how easy it was? She
had lost her way, and she was a little afraid lest the thing should fall
down.”

“I wish it had with all my heart.”

“That’s how it was. Now I’m sure, Mr. Jones, you’ll take a lady’s
apology. It was a most unfortunate mistake--most unfortunate; but what
more can be said?”

Mr. Jones gave himself up to reflection for a few moments before he
replied to this. He supposed that he was bound to believe the story as
far as it went. At any rate, he did not know how he could say that he
did not believe it. It seemed to him to be almost incredible, especially
incredible in regard to that personal mistake, for, except that they
both had long beards and brown beards, Mr. Jones thought that there was
no point of resemblance between himself and Mr. Brown. But still, even
that, he felt, must be accepted. But then why had he been left,
deserted, to undergo all those torments? “She found out her mistake at
last, I suppose?” he said.

“Oh, yes.”

“Why didn’t she wake a fellow and take it off again?”

“Ah!”

“She can’t have cared very much for a man’s comfort, when she went away
and left him like that.”

“Ah! there was the difficulty, Mr. Jones.”

“Difficulty! Who was it that had done it? To come to me in my bedroom in
the middle of the night and put that thing on me, and then leave it
there and say nothing about it! It seems to me deuced like a practical
joke.”

“No, Mr. Jones.”

“That’s the way I look at it,” said Mr. Jones, plucking up his courage.

“There isn’t a woman in all England or in all France less likely to do
such a thing than my wife. She’s as steady as a rock, Mr. Jones, and
would no more go into another gentleman’s bedroom in joke than--Oh dear
no! You’re going to be a married man yourself.”

“Unless all this makes a difference,” said Mr. Jones, almost in tears.
“I had sworn that I would be with her this Christmas-eve.”

“O Mr. Jones, I cannot believe that will interfere with your happiness.
How could you think that your wife, as is to be, would do such a thing
as that in joke?”

“She wouldn’t do it at all, joke or any way.”

“How can you tell what accident might happen to any one?”

“She’d have wakened the man, then, afterward. I’m sure she would. She
would never have left him to suffer in that way. Her heart is too soft.
Why didn’t she send you to wake me and explain it all? That’s what my
Jane would have done; and I should have gone and wakened him. But the
whole thing is impossible,” he said, shaking his head as he remembered
that he and his Jane were not in a condition as yet to undergo any such
mutual trouble. At last Mr. Jones was brought to acknowledge that
nothing more could be done. The lady had sent her apology and told her
story, and he must bear the trouble and inconvenience to which she had
subjected him. He still, however, had his own opinion about her conduct
generally, and could not be brought to give any sign of amity. He simply
bowed when Mr. Brown was hoping to induce him to shake hands, and sent
no word of pardon to the great offender.

The matter, however, was so far concluded that there was no further
question of police interference, nor any doubt but that the lady, with
her husband, was to be allowed to leave Paris by the night train. The
nature of the accident probably became known to all. Mr. Brown was
interrogated by many, and though he professed to declare that he would
answer no question, nevertheless he found it better to tell the clerk
something of the truth than to allow the matter to be shrouded in
mystery. It is to be feared that Mr. Jones, who did not once show
himself through the day, but who employed the hours in endeavoring to
assuage the injury done him, still lived in the conviction that the
lady had played a practical joke on him. But the subject of such a joke
never talks about it, and Mr. Jones could not be induced to speak even
by the friendly adherence of the night porter.

Mrs. Brown also clung to the seclusion of her own bedroom, never once
stirring from it till the time came in which she was to be taken down to
the omnibus. Up-stairs she ate her meals, and up-stairs she passed her
time in packing and unpacking, and in requesting that telegrams might be
sent repeatedly to Thompson Hall. In the course of the day two such
telegrams were sent, in the latter of which the Thompson family were
assured that the Browns would arrive probably in time for breakfast on
Christmas-day, certainly in time for church. She asked more than once
tenderly after Mr. Jones’s welfare, but could obtain no information. “He
was very cross, and that’s all I know about it,” said Mr. Brown. Then
she made a remark as to the gentleman’s Christian name, which appeared
on the card as “Barnaby.” “My sister’s husband’s name will be Burnaby,”
she said. “And this man’s Christian name is Barnaby; that’s all the
difference,” said her husband, with ill-timed jocularity.

We all know how people under a cloud are apt to fail in asserting their
personal dignity. On the former day a separate vehicle had been ordered
by Mr. Brown to take himself and his wife to the station, but now, after
his misfortunes, he contented himself with such provision as the people
at the hotel might make for him. At the appointed hour he brought his
wife down, thickly veiled. There were many strangers, as she passed
through the hall, ready to look at the lady who had done that wonderful
thing in the dead of night, but none could see a feature of her face as
she stepped across the hall and was hurried into the omnibus. And there
were many eyes also on Mr. Jones, who followed her very quickly, for he
also, in spite of his sufferings, was leaving Paris on the evening in
order that he might be with his English friends on Christmas-day. He, as
he went through the crowd, assumed an air of great dignity, to which,
perhaps, something was added by his endeavors as he walked to save his
poor throat from irritation. He, too, got into the same omnibus,
stumbling over the feet of his enemy in the dark. At the station they
got their tickets, one close after the other, and then were brought
into each other’s presence in the waiting-room. I think it must be
acknowledged that here Mr. Jones was conscious not only of her presence,
but of her consciousness of his presence, and that he assumed an
attitude as though he should have said, “Now do you think it possible
for me to believe that you mistook me for your husband?” She was
perfectly quiet, but sat through that quarter of an hour with her face
continually veiled. Mr. Brown made some little overture of conversation
to Mr. Jones, but Mr. Jones, though he did mutter some reply, showed
plainly enough that he had no desire for further intercourse. Then came
the accustomed stampede, the awful rush, the internecine struggle in
which seats had to be found. Seats, I fancy, are regularly found, even
by the most tardy, but it always appears that every British father and
every British husband is actuated at these stormy moments by a
conviction that unless he proves himself a very Hercules he and his
daughters and his wife will be left desolate in Paris. Mr. Brown was
quite Herculean, carrying two bags and a hatbox in his own hands,
besides the cloaks, the coats, the rugs, the sticks, and the umbrellas.
But when he had got himself and his wife well seated, with their faces
to the engine, with a corner seat for her--there was Mr. Jones
immediately opposite to her. Mr. Jones, as soon as he perceived the
inconvenience of his position, made a scramble for another place, but he
was too late. In that contiguity the journey as far as Calais had to be
made. She, poor woman, never once took up her veil. There he sat,
without closing an eye, stiff as a ramrod, sometimes showing by little
uneasy gestures that the trouble at his neck was still there, but never
speaking a word, and hardly moving a limb.

Crossing from Calais to Dover the lady was, of course, separated from
her victim. The passage was very bad, and she more than once reminded
her husband how well it would have been with them now had they pursued
their journey as she had intended--as though they had been detained in
Paris by his fault! Mr. Jones, as he laid himself down on his back, gave
himself up to wondering whether any man before him had ever been made
subject to such absolute injustice. Now and again he put his hand up to
his own beard, and began to doubt whether it could have been moved, as
it must have been moved, without waking him. What if chloroform had
been used? Many such suspicions crossed his mind during the misery of
that passage.

They were again together in the same railway carriage from Dover to
London. They had now got used to the close neighborhood, and knew how to
endure each the presence of the other. But as yet Mr. Jones had never
seen the lady’s face. He longed to know what were the features of the
woman who had been so blind--if indeed that story were true. Or if it
were not true, of what like was the woman who would dare in the middle
of the night to play such a trick as that? But still she kept her veil
close over her face.

From Cannon Street the Browns took their departure in a cab for the
Liverpool Street Station, whence they would be conveyed by the Eastern
Counties Railway to Stratford. Now, at any rate, their troubles were
over. They would be in ample time not only for Christmas-day church, but
for Christmas-day breakfast. “It will be just the same as getting in
there last night,” said Mr. Brown, as he walked across the platform to
place his wife in the carriage for Stratford. She entered it the first,
and as she did so, there she saw Mr. Jones seated in the corner!
Hitherto she had borne his presence well, but now she could not restrain
herself from a little start and a little scream. He bowed his head very
slightly, as though acknowledging the compliment, and then down she
dropped her veil. When they arrived at Stratford, the journey being over
in a quarter of an hour, Jones was out of the carriage even before the
Browns.

“There is Uncle John’s carriage,” said Mrs. Brown, thinking that now, at
any rate, she would be able to free herself from the presence of this
terrible stranger. No doubt he was a handsome man to look at, but on no
face so sternly hostile had she ever before fixed her eyes. She did not,
perhaps, reflect that the owner of no other face had ever been so deeply
injured by herself.



CHAPTER V.

MRS. BROWN AT THOMPSON HALL.


“PLEASE, sir, we were to ask for Mr. Jones,” said the servant, putting
his head into the carriage after both Mr. and Mrs. Brown had seated
themselves.

“Mr. Jones!” exclaimed the husband.

“Why ask for Mr. Jones?” demanded the wife. The servant was about to
tender some explanation, when Mr. Jones stepped up and said that he was
Mr. Jones. “We are going to Thompson Hall,” said the lady, with great
vigor.

“So am I,” said Mr. Jones, with much dignity. It was, however, arranged
that he should sit with the coachman, as there was a rumble behind for
the other servant. The luggage was put into a cart, and away all went
for Thompson Hall.

“What do you think about it, Mary?” whispered Mr. Brown, after a pause.
He was evidently awe-struck by the horror of the occasion.

“I cannot make it out at all. What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think. Jones going to Thompson Hall!”

“He’s a very good-looking young man,” said Mrs. Brown.

“Well--that’s as people think. A stiff, stuck-up fellow, I should say.
Up to this moment he has never forgiven you for what you did to him.”

“Would you have forgiven his wife, Charles, if she’d done it to you?”

“He hasn’t got a wife--yet.”

“How do you know?”

“He is coming home now to be married,” said Mr. Brown. “He expects to
meet the young lady this very Christmas-day. He told me so. That was one
of the reasons why he was so angry at being stopped by what you did last
night.”

“I suppose he knows Uncle John, or he wouldn’t be going to the Hall,”
said Mrs. Brown.

“I can’t make it out,” said Mr. Brown, shaking his head.

“He looks quite like a gentleman,” said Mrs. Brown, “though he has been
so stiff. Jones! Barnaby Jones! You’re sure it was Barnaby?”

“That was the name on the card.”

“Not Burnaby?” asked Mrs. Brown.

“It was Barnaby Jones on the card--just the same as ‘Barnaby Rudge’; and
as for looking like a gentleman, I’m by no means quite so sure. A
gentleman takes an apology when it’s offered.”

[Illustration]

“Perhaps, my dear, that depends on the condition of his throat. If you
had had a mustard plaster on all night, you might not have liked it. But
here we are at Thompson Hall at last.”

Thompson Hall was an old brick mansion, standing within a huge iron
gate, with a gravel sweep before it. It had stood there before Stratford
was a town, or even a suburb, and had then been known by the name of Bow
Place. But it had been in the hands of the present family for the last
thirty years, and was now known far and wide as Thompson Hall--a
comfortable, roomy, old-fashioned place, perhaps a little dark and dull
to look at, but much more substantially built than most of our modern
villas. Mrs. Brown jumped with alacrity from the carriage, and with a
quick step entered the home of her forefathers. Her husband followed her
more leisurely; but he too felt that he was at home at Thompson Hall.
Then Mr. Jones walked in also; but he looked as though he were not at
all at home. It was still very early, and no one of the family was as
yet down. In these circumstances it was almost necessary that something
should be said to Mr. Jones.

“Do you know Mr. Thompson?” asked Mr. Brown.

“I never had the pleasure of seeing him--as yet,” answered Mr. Jones,
very stiffly.

“Oh--I didn’t know. Because you said you were coming here.”

“And I have come here. Are you friends of Mr. Thompson?”

“Oh dear yes,” said Mrs. Brown. “I was a Thompson myself before I
married.”

“Oh--indeed!” said Mr. Jones. “How very odd!--very odd indeed.”

During this time the luggage was being brought into the house, and two
old family servants were offering them assistance. Would the new-comers
like to go up to their bed-rooms? Then the housekeeper, Mrs. Green,
intimated with a wink that Miss Jane would, she was sure, be down quite
immediately. The present moment, however, was still very unpleasant. The
lady probably had made her guess as to the mystery, but the two
gentlemen were still altogether in the dark. Mrs. Brown had no doubt
declared her parentage, but Mr. Jones, with such a multitude of strange
facts crowding on his mind, had been slow to understand her. Being
somewhat suspicious by nature, he was beginning to think whether
possibly the mustard had been put by this lady on his throat with some
reference to his connection with Thompson Hall. Could it be that she,
for some reason of her own, had wished to prevent his coming, and had
contrived this untoward stratagem out of her brain? or had she wished to
make him ridiculous to the Thompson family, to whom, as a family, he was
at present unknown? It was becoming more and more improbable to him that
the whole thing should have been an accident. When, after the first
horrid torments of that morning in which he had in his agony invoked the
assistance of the night porter, he had begun to reflect on his
situation, he had determined that it would be better that nothing
further should be said about it. What would life be worth to him if he
were to be known wherever he went as the man who had been
mustard-plastered in the middle of the night by a strange lady? The
worst of a practical joke is that the remembrance of the absurd
condition sticks so long to the sufferer. At the hotel that night
porter, who had possessed himself of the handkerchief, and had read the
name, and had connected that name with the occupant of 333, whom he had
found wandering about the house with some strange purpose, had not
permitted the thing to sleep. The porter had pressed the matter home
against the Browns, and had produced the interview which has been
recorded. But during the whole of that day Mr. Jones had been resolving
that he would never again either think of the Browns or speak of them. A
great injury had been done to him--a most outrageous injustice; but it
was a thing which had to be endured. A horrid woman had come across him
like a nightmare. All he could do was to endeavor to forget the terrible
visitation. Such had been his resolve, in making which he had passed
that long day in Paris. And now the Browns had stuck to him from the
moment of his leaving his room! He had been forced to travel with them,
but had travelled with them as a stranger. He had tried to comfort
himself with the reflection that at every fresh stage he would shake
them off. In one railway after another the vicinity had been bad--but
still they were strangers. Now he found himself in the same house with
them, where of course the story would be told. Had not the thing been
done on purpose that the story might be told there at Thompson Hall?

Mrs. Brown had acceded to the proposition of the housekeeper, and was
about to be taken to her room, when there was heard a sound of footsteps
along the passage above and on the stairs, and a young lady came
bounding on to the scene. “You have all of you come a quarter of an hour
earlier than we thought possible,” said the young lady. “I did so mean
to be up to receive you!” With that she passed her sister on the
stairs--for the young lady was Miss Jane Thompson, sister to our Mrs.
Brown--and hurried down into the hall. Here Mr. Brown, who had ever been
on affectionate terms with his sister-in-law, put himself forward to
receive her embraces; but she, apparently not noticing him in her ardor,
rushed on and threw herself on to the breast of the other gentleman.
“This is my Charles,” she said. “O Charles, I thought you never would be
here!”

Mr. Charles Burnaby Jones--for such was his name since he had inherited
the Jones property in Pembrokeshire--received into his arms the ardent
girl of his heart with all that love and devotion to which she was
entitled, but could not do so without some external shrinking from her
embrace. “O Charles, what is it?” she said.

“Nothing, dearest--only--only--” Then he looked piteously up into Mrs.
Brown’s face, as though imploring her not to tell the story.

“Perhaps, Jane, you had better introduce us,” said Mrs. Brown.

“Introduce you! I thought you had been travelling together, and staying
at the same hotel, and all that.”

“So we have; but people may be in the same hotel without knowing each
other. And we have travelled all the way home with Mr. Jones without in
the least knowing who he was.”

“How very odd! Do you mean you have never spoken?”

“Not a word,” said Mrs. Brown.

“I do so hope you’ll love each other,” said Jane.

“It sha’n’t be my fault if we don’t,” said Mrs. Brown.

“I’m sure it sha’n’t be mine,” said Mr. Brown, tendering his hand to the
other gentleman. The various feelings of the moment were too much for
Mr. Jones, and he could not respond quite as he should have done. But as
he was taken up-stairs to his room, he determined that he would make the
best of it.

The owner of the house was old Uncle John. He was a bachelor, and with
him lived various members of the family. There was the great Thompson of
them all, Cousin Robert, who was now member of Parliament for the Essex
Flats; and young John, as a certain enterprising Thompson of the age of
forty was usually called; and then there was old Aunt Bess; and among
other young branches there was Miss Jane Thompson, who was now engaged
to marry Mr. Charles Burnaby Jones. As it happened, no other member of
the family had as yet seen Mr. Burnaby Jones, and he, being by nature of
a retiring disposition, felt himself to be ill at ease when he came
into the breakfast parlor among all the Thompsons. He was known to be a
gentleman of good family and ample means, and all the Thompsons had
approved of the match; but during that first Christmas breakfast he did
not seem to accept his condition jovially. His own Jane sat beside him,
but then on the other side sat Mrs. Brown. She assumed an immediate
intimacy--as women know how to do on such occasions--being determined
from the very first to regard her sister’s husband as a brother; but he
still feared her. She was still to him the woman who had come to him in
the dead of night with that horrid mixture--and had then left him.

“It was so odd that both of you should have been detained on the very
same day,” said Jane.

“Yes, it was odd,” said Mrs. Brown, with a smile, looking round upon her
neighbor.

“It was abominably bad weather, you know,” said Brown.

“But you were both so determined to come,” said the old gentleman. “When
we got the two telegrams at the same moment, we were sure that there had
been some agreement between you.”

“Not exactly an agreement,” said Mrs. Brown; whereupon Mr. Jones looked
as grim as death.

“I’m sure there is something more than we understand yet,” said the
member of Parliament.

[Illustration]

Then they all went to church, as a united family ought to do on
Christmas-day, and came home to a fine old English early dinner at three
o’clock,-a sirloin of beef a foot and a half broad, a turkey as big as
an ostrich, a plum-pudding bigger than the turkey, and two or three
dozen mince-pies. “That’s a very large bit of beef,” said Mr. Jones, who
had not lived much in England latterly.

“It won’t look so large,” said the old gentleman, “when all our friends
down-stairs have had their say to it.” “A plum pudding on Christmas-day
can’t be too big,” he said again, “if the cook will but take time enough
over it. I never knew a bit to go to waste yet.”

By this time there had been some explanation as to past events between
the two sisters. Mrs. Brown had, indeed, told Jane all about it,--how
ill her husband had been, how she had been forced to go down and look
for the mustard, and then what she had done with the mustard.

“I don’t think they are a bit alike, you know, Mary, if you mean that,”
said Jane.

“Well, no; perhaps not quite alike. I only saw his beard, you know. No
doubt it was stupid, but I did it.”

“Why didn’t you take it off again?” asked the sister.

“O Jane, if you’d only think of it! Could you?” Then, of course, all
that occurred was explained,--how they had been stopped on their
journey, how Brown had made the best apology in his power, and how Jones
had travelled with them and had never spoken a word. The gentleman had
only taken his new name a week since, but of course had had his new card
printed immediately, “I’m sure I should have thought of it, if they
hadn’t made a mistake of the first name. Charles said it was like
Barnaby Rudge.”

“Not at all like Barnaby Rudge,” said Jane: “Charles Burnaby Jones is a
very good name.”

“Very good indeed--and I’m sure that after a little bit he won’t be at
all the worse for the accident.”

Before dinner the secret had been told no further, but still there had
crept about among the Thompsons, and, indeed, down-stairs also among the
retainers, a feeling that there was a secret. The old housekeeper was
sure that Miss Mary, as she still called Mrs. Brown, had something to
tell, if she could only be induced to tell it, and that this something
had reference to Mr. Jones’s personal comfort. The head of the family,
who was a sharp old gentleman, felt this also, and the member of
Parliament, who had an idea that he especially should never be kept in
the dark, was almost angry. Mr. Jones, suffering from some kindred
feeling throughout the dinner, remained silent and unhappy. When two or
three toasts had been drunk--the Queen’s health, the old gentleman’s
health, the young couple’s health, Brown’s health, and the general
health of all the Thompsons--then tongues were loosened and a question
was asked. “I know that there has been something doing in Paris between
these young people that we haven’t heard as yet,” said the uncle. Then
Mrs. Brown laughed, and Jane, laughing too, gave Mr. Jones to
understand that she, at any rate, knew all about it.

“If there is a mystery, I hope it will be told at once,” said the member
of Parliament angrily.

“Come, Brown, what is it?” asked another male cousin.

“Well, there was an accident. I’d rather Jones should tell,” said he.

Jones’s brow became blacker than thunder, but he did not say a word.
“You mustn’t be angry with Mary,” Jane whispered into her lover’s ear.

“Come, Mary, you never were slow at talking,” said the uncle.

“I do hate this kind of thing,” said the member of Parliament.

“I will tell it all,” said Mrs. Brown, very nearly in tears, or else
pretending to be very nearly in tears. “I know I was very wrong, and I
do beg his pardon; and if he won’t say that he forgives me, I never
shall be happy again.” Then she clasped her hands, and, turning round,
looked him piteously in the face.

“Oh, yes; I do forgive you,” said Mr. Jones.

“My brother,” said she, throwing her arms round him and kissing him. He
recoiled from the embrace, but I think that he attempted to return the
kiss. “And now I will tell the whole story,” said Mrs. Brown. And she
told it, acknowledging her fault with true contrition, and swearing that
she would atone for it by life-long sisterly devotion.

“And you mustard-plastered the wrong man!” said the old gentleman,
almost rolling off his chair with delight.

“I did,” said Mrs. Brown, sobbing; “and I think that no woman ever
suffered as I suffered.”

“And Jones wouldn’t let you leave the hotel?”

“It was the handkerchief stopped us,” said Brown.

“If it had turned out to be anybody else,” said the member of
Parliament, “the results might have been most serious--not to say
discreditable.”

“That’s nonsense, Robert,” said Mrs. Brown, who was disposed to resent
the use of so severe a word, even from the legislator cousin.

“In a strange gentleman’s bedroom!” he continued. “It only shows that
what I have always said is quite true. You should never go to bed in a
strange house without locking your door.”

Nevertheless it was a very jovial meeting, and before the evening was
over Mr. Jones was happy, and had been brought to acknowledge that the
mustard plaster would probably not do him any permanent injury.





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