JULIANA HORATIA EWING.
SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, London: Northumberland Avenue, W.C. 43, Queen Victoria Street, E.C. Brighton: 129, North Street. New York: E. & J.B. YOUNG & CO.
[Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]
The contents of this volume are republished in order to make the Edition a complete collection of Mrs. Ewing's works, rather than because of their intrinsic worth. The fact that she did not republish the papers during her life shows that she did not estimate them very highly herself; but as each one has a special interest connected with it, I feel I am not violating her wishes in bringing the collection before the public.
One of Mrs. Ewing's strongest gifts was her power of mimicry; this made her an actor above the average of amateurs, and also enabled her to imitate any special style of writing that she wished. The first four stories in this volume are instances of this power. The Mystery of the Bloody Hand was an attempt to vie with some of the early sensational novels, such as Lady Audley's Secret and The Moonstone;—tales in which a glimpse of the supernatural is introduced amongst scenes of every-day life.
During my sister's girlhood we had a family MS. Magazine (as our Mother had done in her young days), and two of the stories in Mrs. Gatty's "Aunt Judy's Letters," The Flatlands Fun Gazette and The Black Bag, were founded on this custom, Mrs. Ewing being the typical "Aunt Judy" of the book. Mrs. Gatty described how the children were called upon each to contribute a tale for The Black Bag, and how No. 5 remonstrated by saying—"I've been sitting over the fire this evening trying to think, but what could come, with only the coals and the fire-place before one to look at? I dare say neither Hans Andersen nor Grimm nor any of those fellows would have written anything, if they had not gone about into caves and forests and those sort of places, or boated in the North Seas!" Aunt Judy replied that she also had been looking into the fire, and the longer she did so, the more she decided "that Hans Andersen was not beholden to caves or forests or any curious things or people for his story-telling inspirations"; but as it was difficult for the "little ones" to write she enclosed three tales as "jokes, imitations, in fact, of the Andersenian power of spinning gold threads out of old tow-ropes." So far this was Mrs. Gatty's own writing, but the three tales were the work of the real Aunt Judy, Mrs. Ewing herself. These three are (1) The Smut, (2) The Crick, (3) The Brothers. The last sentence in The Brothers recalls the last entry in Mrs. Ewing's commonplace book, which is quoted in her Life—"If we still love those we lose, can we altogether lose those we love?"
Cousin Peregrine's Wonder Stories and Traveller's Tales were written after Mrs. Ewing's marriage, with the help of her husband; he supplied the facts and descriptions from things which he had seen during his long residence abroad. Colonel Ewing also helped my sister in translating the Tales of the Khoja from the Turkish. The illustrations now reproduced were drawn by our brother, Alfred Scott-Gatty.
In Little Woods and May-Day Customs Mrs. Ewing showed her ready ability to take up any subject of interest that came under her notice—botany, horticulture, archaeology, folk-lore, or whatever it might be. The same readiness was shown in her adaptation of the various versions of the Mumming Play, or The Peace Egg.
In Memoriam was written under considerable restraint soon after our Mother's death. My sister knew that she did not wish her biography to be written, but still it was impossible to let the originator and editor of Aunt Judy's Magazine pass away without some little record being given to the many children who loved her writings. In Ecclesfield Church there is a tablet erected to Mrs. Gatty's memory by one thousand children, who each contributed sixpence.
The Snarling Princess and The Little Parsnip Man are adaptations of two fairy tales which appeared in a German magazine; and as both the tales and their illustrations took Mrs. Ewing's fancy, she made a free rendering of them for Aunt Judy's Magazine.
A Child's Wishes and War and the Dead are more accurate translations, but it may be said they have not suffered in their transmission from one language to another. My sister's selection of the last sketch for translation is noticeable, as giving a foretaste of her keen sympathy with military interests.
The Mystery of the Bloody Hand
Cousin Peregrine's Wonder Stories: 1. The Chinese Jugglers, and the Englishman's Hands
2. Waves of the Great South Seas
Cousin Peregrine's Traveller's Tales: Jack of Pera
The Princes of Vegetation
May-Day, Old Style and New Style
In Memoriam, Margaret Gatty
Tales of the Khoja (from the Turkish)
The Snarling Princess (adapted from the German)
The Little Parsnip-Man (adapted from the German)
A Child's Wishes (from the German of R. Reinick)
War and the Dead (from the French of Jean Mace)
THE MYSTERY OF THE BLOODY HAND.
A MEMORABLE NEW YEAR'S DAY.
Dorothy to Eleanor,
You have so often reminded me how rapidly the most startling facts pass from the memory of man, and I have so often thereupon promised to write down a full account of that mysterious affair in which I was providentially called upon to play so prominent a part, that it is with shame I reflect that the warning has been unheeded and the promise unfulfilled. Do not, dear friend, accuse my affection, but my engrossing duties and occupations, for this neglect, and believe that I now take advantage of my first quiet evening for many months to fulfil your wish.
Betty has just brought me a cup of tea, and I have told the girl to be within call; for once a heroine is not always a heroine, dear Nell. I am full of childish terrors, and I assure you it is with no small mental effort that I bring myself to recall the terrible events of the year 1813.
Oddly enough, it was on the first day of this year that I made the acquaintance of Mr. George Manners; and I think I can do no better than begin by giving you an extract from the first page of my journal at that time.
"Jan. 1, 1813.—It is mid-day, and very fine, but it was no easy matter to be at service this morning after all good Dr. Penn's injunctions, as last night's dancing, and the long drive home, made me sleepy, and Harriet is still in bed.
"Though I am not so handsome as Harriet, and boast of no conquests, and though the gentlemen do not say the wonderfully pretty things to me that they seem to do to her, I have much enjoyed several balls since my introduction into society. But for ever first and foremost on my list of dances must be Lady Lucy Topham's party on New Year's Eve. Let me say New Year's Day, for the latter part of the evening was the happy one to me. During the first part I danced a little and watched the others much. To sit still is mortifying, and yet I almost think the dancing was the greater penance, since I never had much to say to men of whom I know nothing: the dances seem interminable, and I am ever haunted by a vague feeling that my partner is looking out over my head for some one prettier and more lively, which is not inspiring. I must not forget a little incident, as we came up the stairs into the ball-room. With my customary awkwardness I dropped my fan, and was about to stoop for it, when some one who had been following us darted forward and presented it to me. I curtsied low, he bowed lower; our eyes met for a moment, and then he fell behind. It was by his eyes that I recognized him afterwards in the ball-room, for in the momentary glance on the stairs I had not had time to observe his prominent height and fine features. How strangely one's fancy is sometimes seized upon by a foolish wish! My modest desire last night was to dance with this Mr. George Manners, the handsomest man and best dancer of the room, to be whose partner even Harriet was proud. Though I had not a word for my second-rate partners, I fancied that I could talk to him. Oh, foolish heart! how I chid myself for my folly in watching his tall figure thread the dances, in fancying that I had met his eyes many times that evening, and, above all, for the throb of jealous disappointment that came with every dance when he did not do what I never soberly expected he would—ask me. A little before twelve I was sitting out among the turbans, when I saw him standing at some distance, and unmistakably looking at me. A sudden horror seized me that something was wrong—my hair coming down, my dress awry—and I was not comforted by Harriet passing at this moment with—
"'What! sitting out still? You should be more lively, child! Men don't like dancing with dummies.'
"When her dress had whisked past me I looked up and saw him again, but at that moment he sharply turned his back on me and walked into the card-room. I was sitting still when he came out again with Mr. Topham. The music had just struck up, the couples were gathering; he was going to dance then. I looked down at my bouquet with tears in my eyes, and was trying hard to subdue my folly and to count the petals of a white camellia, when Mr. Topham's voice close by me said—
"'Miss Dorothy Lascelles, may I introduce Mr. Manners to you?' and in two seconds more my hand was in his arm, and he was saying in a voice as commonplace as if the world had not turned upside down—
"'I think it is Sir Roger.'
"It is a minor satisfaction to me to reflect that, for once in my life, I was right. I did talk to Mr. George Manners. The first thing I said was—
"'I am very much obliged to you for picking up my fan.' To which he replied (if it can be called a reply)—
"'I wish I had known sooner that you were Miss Lascelles' sister.'
"I said, 'Did you not see her with me on the stairs?' and he answered—
"'I saw no one but you.'
"Which, as it is the nearest approach to a pretty speech that ever was made to me, I confide solemnly to this my fine new diary, which is to be my dearest friend and confidante this year. Why the music went so fast, and the dance was so short on this particular occasion, I never could fathom; both had just ceased, and we were still chatting, when midnight struck, deep-toned or shrill, from all the clocks in the house; and, in the involuntary impressive pause, we could hear through the open window the muffled echo from the village church. Then Mr. Topham ran in with a huge loving-cup, and, drinking all our good healths, it was passed through the company.
"When the servant brought it to me, Mr. Manners took it from him, and held it for me himself by both handles, saying—
"'It is too heavy for your hands;' and I drank, he quoting in jest from Hamlet—
"'Nymph, in thine orisons be all my sins remembered.'
"Then he said, 'I shall wish in silence,' and paused a full minute before putting it to his lips. When the servant had taken it away, he heaved so profound a sigh that (we then being very friendly) I said—
"'What is the matter?'
"'Do you believe in presentiments, Miss Lascelles?' he said.
"'I don't think I ever had a presentiment,' I answered.
"'Don't think me a fool,' he said, 'but I have had the most intense dread of the coming of this year. I have a presentiment (for which there is no reason) that it will bring me a huge, overwhelming misfortune: and yet I have just wished for a blessing of which I am vastly unworthy, but which, if it does come, will probably come this year, and which would make it the brightest one that I have ever seen. Be a prophet, Miss Lascelles, and tell me—which will it be?—the joy or the sorrow?'
"He gazed so intently that I had some difficulty in answering with composure—
"'Perhaps both. We are taught to believe that life is chequered.'
"'See,' he went on. 'This is the beginning of the year. We are standing here safe and happy. Miss Lascelles, where shall we be when the year ends?'
"The question seemed to me faithless in a Christian, and puerile in a brave man: I did not say so; but my face may have expressed it, for he changed the subject suddenly, and could not be induced to return to it. I danced twice with him afterwards; and when we parted I said, emphatically—
"'A happy new year to you, Mr. Manners.'
"He forced a smile as he answered, 'Amen!'
"Mrs. Dallas (who kindly chaperoned us) slept all the way home; and Miss Dallas and Harriet chatted about their partners. Once only they appealed to me. What first drew my attention was Mr. Manners' name.
"'Poor Mr. Manners!' Harriet said; 'I am afraid I was very rude to him. He had to console himself with you, eh, Dolly?—on the principle of love me love my dog, I suppose?'
"Am I so conceited that this had never struck me? And yet—but here comes Harriet, and I must put you away, dear diary. I blush at my voluminousness. If every evening is to take up so many pages, my book will be full at Midsummer! But was not this a red-letter day?"
Well may I blush, dear Nell, to re-read this girlish nonsense. And yet it contains not the least strange part of this strange story—poor Mr. Manners' presentiment of evil. After this he called constantly, and we met him often in society; and, blinded by I know not what delusion, Harriet believed him to be devoted to herself, up to the period, as I fancy, when he asked me to be his wife. I was staying with the Tophams at the time. I believe that they had asked me there on purpose, being his friends. Ah, George! what a happy time that was! How, in the sweet days of the sweetest of summers, I laughed at your "presentiment"! How you told me that the joy had come, and, reminding me of my own sermon on the chequered nature of life, asked if the sorrow would yet tread it down. Too soon, my love! too soon!
Nelly! forgive me this outburst. I must write more calmly. It is sad to speak ill of a sister; but surely it was cruel, that she, who had so many lovers, should grudge me my happiness; should pursue George with such unreasonable malice; should rouse the senseless but immovable obstinacy of our poor brother against him. Oh, Eleanor! think of my position! Our father and mother dead; under the care of our only brother, who, as you know, dear Nell, was at one time feared to be a complete idiot, and had, poor boy! only so much sense as to make him sane in the eyes of the law. You know the fatal obstinacy with which he pursued an idea once instilled; the occasional fits of rage that were not less than insanity. Knowing all this, my dear, imagine what I must have suffered when angrily recalled home. I was forbidden to think of Mr. Manners again. In vain I asked for reasons. They had none, and yet a thousand to give me. When I think of the miserable stories that were raked up against him,—the misconstruction of everything he did, or said, or left undone,—my own impotent indignation, and my poor brother's senseless rage, and the insulting way in which I was watched, and taunted, and tortured,—oh, Nelly! it is agony to write. I did the only thing left to me—I gave him up, and prayed for peace. I do not say that I was right: I say that I did the best I could in a state of things that threatened to deprive me of reason.
My submission did not produce an amount of harmony in the house in any way proportionate to the price I paid for it. Harriet was obliged to keep the slanders of my lover constantly in view, to quiet the self-reproach which I think she must sometimes have experienced. As to Edmund, my obedience had somewhat satisfied him, and made way for another subject of interest which was then engrossing his mind.
A man on his estate, renting a farm close to us, who was a Quaker, and very "strict" in his religious profession, had been for a long time grossly cheating him, relying, no doubt, on my poor brother's deficient intellect. But minds that are intellectually and in reason deficient, are often endowed with a large share of cunning and caution, especially in monetary affairs. Edmund guessed, watched, and discovered; but when the proof was in his hands, his proceedings were characteristically peculiar. He did not discharge the man, and have done with it; he retained him in his place, but seemed to take a—let me say—insane delight in exposing him to the religious circle in which he had been a star, and from which he was ignominiously expelled; and in heaping every possible annoyance and disgrace upon him that the circumstances admitted. My dear, I think I should have preferred his wrath upon myself, to being the witness of my brother's miserable exultation over the wretched man, Parker. His chief gratification lay in the thought that, exquisite as were the vexations he heaped upon him, the man was obliged to express gratitude for his master's forbearance as regarded the law.
"He said he should never forget my consideration for him till death! Ha! ha!"
"My only puzzle," I said, "is, what can induce him to stay with you."
And then the storm turned upon me, Eleanor.
You will ask me, my dear, how, meanwhile, had Mr. Manners taken my letter of dismissal. I know now, Nell, and so will not revive the mystery that then added weight to my distress. He wrote me many letters,—but I never saw one!
* * * * *
And now, dear friend, let me pause and gather courage to relate the terrible events of that sultry, horrible—that accursed June.
THE TERRIBLE JUNE.
It was about the middle of the month. Harriet was spending some hours with a friend, Edmund was out, and I had been left alone all day for the first time since I came home. I remember everything that happened with the utmost distinctness. I spent the day chiefly in the garden, gathering roses for pot-pourri, being disinclined for any more reasonable occupation, partly by the thundery oppressiveness of the air, partly by a vague, dull feeling of dread that made me restless, and which was yet one of those phases of feeling in which, if life depended on an energetic movement, one must trifle. In this mood, when the foreclouded mind instinctively shrinks from its own great troubles, little things assume an extraordinary distinctness. I trode carefully in the patterns of the terrace pavement, counted the roses on the white bush by the dial (there were twenty-six), and seeing a beetle on the path, moved it to a bank at some distance. There it crept into a hole, and such a wild, weary desire seized on me to creep after it and hide from what was coming, that—I thought it wise to go in.
As I sat in the drawing-room there was a rose still whole in my lap. I had begun to pluck off the petals, when the door-bell rang. Though I heard the voice distinctly when the door was opened, I vow to you, dear Nell, that my chief desire was to get the rose pulled to pieces before I was disturbed. I had flung the last petal into my lap, when the door opened and Mr. Manners came into the room.
He did not speak; he opened his arms, and I ran straight into them, roses and all. The petals rained over us and over the floor. He talked very fast, and I did nothing but cling to him, and endure in silence the weight which his presence could not remove from my mind, while he pleaded passionately for our marriage. He said that it was the extreme of all that was unreasonable, that our lives' happiness should be sacrificed to the insane freak of a hardly responsible mind. He complained bitterly (though I could but confess justly!) of the insulting and intolerable treatment that he had received. He had come, he said, in the first place, to assure himself of my constancy—in the second, for a powerful and final remonstrance with my brother—and, if that failed, to remind me that I should be of age next month; and to convey the entreaty of the Tophams that, as a last resource, I would come to them and be married from their house. I made up my mind, and promised: then I implored him to be careful in his interview with my brother, for my sake—to calm his own natural anger, and to remember Edmund's infirmity. He promised, but I saw that he was slightly piqued by my dwelling so much on Edmund's feelings rather than on his. Ah! Nelly, he had never seen one of the poor boy's rages.
It may have been half-past six when Mr. Manners arrived; it had just struck a quarter to nine when Edmund came in and found us together. He paused for a minute, clicking his tongue in his mouth, in a way he had when excited; and then he turned upon me, and heaped abuse on insult, loading me with accusations and reproaches. George, white with suppressed rage, called incessantly upon me to go; and at last I dared disobey no longer; but as I went I touched his arm and whispered, "Remember! for my sake." His intense "I promise, my darling," comforted me then—and afterwards, Nelly. I went into a little room that opened into the hall and waited.
In about twenty minutes the drawing-room door opened, and they came out. I heard George's voice saying this or something equivalent (afterwards I could not accurately recall the words)—
"Good-night, Mr. Lascelles; I trust our next meeting may be a different one."
The next sentences on both sides I lost. Edmund seems to have refused to shake hands with Mr. Manners. The last words I heard were George's half-laughing—
"Next time, Lascelles, I shall not ask for your hand—I shall take it."
Then the door shut, and Edmund went into his study. An hour later he also went out, and I was left alone once more. I went back into the drawing-room; the rose-leaves were fading on the floor; and on the table lay George Manners' penknife. It was a new one, that he had been showing to me, and had left behind him. I kissed it and put it in my pocket: then I knelt down by the chair, Nell, and wept till I prayed; and then prayed till I wept again; and then I got up and tidied the room, and got some sewing; and, like other women, sat down with my trouble, waiting for the storm to break.
It broke at eleven o'clock that night, when two men carried the dead body of my brother into his own kitchen—foully murdered.
But when I knelt by the poor body, lying awfully still upon the table; when I kissed the face, which in death had curiously regained the appearance of reason as well as beauty; when I saw and knew that life had certainly gone till the Resurrection:—that was not all. The storm had not fully broken till I turned and saw, standing by the fire, George Manners, with his hands and coat dabbled with blood. I did not speak or scream; but a black horror seemed to settle down like mist upon me. Through it came Mr. Manners' voice (I had not looked again at him)—
"Miss Dorothy Lascelles, why do you not ask who did it?"
I gave a sharp cry, and one of the labourers who had helped to bring Edmund in said gravely—
"Eh, Master! the less you say the better. God forgive you this night's work!"
George's hoarse voice spoke again.
"Do you hear him?" and then it faltered a little—"Dorolice, do you think this?"
It was his pet name for me (he was an Italian scholar), and touched me inexpressibly, and a conviction seized upon me that if he had done it, he would not have dared to appeal to my affection. I tried to clear my mind that I might see the truth, and then I looked up at him. Our eyes met, and we looked at each other for a full minute, and I was content. Oh! there are times when the instinctive trust of one's heart is, so far more powerful than any proofs or reasons, that faith seems a higher knowledge. I would have pledged ten thousand lives, if I had had them, on the honesty of those eyes, that had led me like a will-o'-the-wisp in the ball-room half a year ago! The new-year's dance came back on me as I stood there—my ball-dress was in the drawer up-stairs—and now! oh dear! was I going mad?
THE TIME OF TRIAL.
Meanwhile he was waiting for my answer. I stepped forward, intending to take his hand, but the stains drove me back again. Where so much depends upon a right—or a mis-understanding, the only way is to speak the fair truth. I did so; by a sort of forced calm holding back the seething of my brain.
"George, I should like to touch you, but—I cannot! I beg you to forgive the selfishness of my grief—my mind is confused—I shall be better soon. God has sent us a great sorrow, in which I know you are as innocent as I am. I am very sorry—I think that is all." And I put my hand to my head, where a sharp pain was beginning to throb. Mr. Manners spoke, emphatically—
"God bless you, Dorolice! You know I promised. Thank you, for ever!"
"If you fancy you have any reason to thank me," I said, "do me this favour. Whatever happens, believe that I believe!"
I could bear no more, so I went out of the kitchen. As I went I heard a murmur of pity run through the room, and I knew that they were pitying—not the dead man, but me; and me—not for my dead brother, but for his murderer. When I got into the passage, the mist that had still been dark before my eyes suddenly became darker, and I remember no more.
When my senses returned, Harriet had come home. From the first she would never hear George's name except to accuse him with frantic bitterness of poor Edmund's death; and as nothing would induce me to credit his guilt, the subject was as much as possible avoided. I cannot dwell on those terrible days. I was very ill for some time, and after I had come down-stairs, one day I found a newspaper containing the following paragraph, which I copy here, as it is the shortest and least painful way of telling you the facts of poor Edmund's death.
"THE MURDER AT CROSSDALE HALL.
"Universal horror has been excited in the neighbourhood by the murder of Edmund Lascelles, Esq., of Crossdale Hall. Mr. Lascelles was last seen alive a little after ten o'clock on Friday night, at which time he left the house alone, and was not seen again living. At the inquest on Saturday, James Crosby, a farm labourer, gave the following evidence:—
"'I had been sent into the village for some medicine for a sick beast, and was returning to the farm by the park a little before eleven, when near the low gate I saw a man standing with his back to me. The moon was shining, and I recognized him at once for Mr. George Manners, of Beckfield. When Mr. Manners saw me he seemed much excited, and called out, "Quick! help! Mr. Lascelles has been murdered." I said, "Good God! who did it?" He said, "I don't know; I found him in the ditch; help me to carry him in." By this time I had come up and saw Mr. Lascelles on the ground, lying on his side. I said, "How do you know he's dead?" He said, "I fear there's very little hope; he has bled so profusely. I am covered with blood." I was examining the body, and as I turned it over I found that the right hand was gone. It had been cut off at the wrist. I said, "Look here! Did you know this?" He spoke very low, and only said, "How horrible!" I said, "Let us look for the hand; it may be in the ditch." He said, "No, no! we are wasting time. Bring him in, and let us send for the doctor." I ran to the ditch, however, but could see nothing but a pool of blood. Coming back, I found on the ground a thick hedge-stake covered with blood. The grass by the ditch was very much stamped and trodden. I said, "There has been a desperate struggle." He said, "Mr. Lascelles was a very strong man." I said, "Yes; as strong as you, Mr. Manners." He said, "Not quite; very nearly though." He said nothing more till we got to the hall; then he said, "Who can break it to his sister?" I said, "They will have to know. It's them that killed him has brought this misery upon them." The low gate is a quarter of a mile, or more, from the hall.'
"Death seems to have been inflicted by two instruments—a wounding and a cutting one. As yet, no other weapon but the stake has been discovered, and a strict search for the missing hand has also proved fruitless. No motive for this wanton outrage suggests itself, except that the unhappy gentleman was in the habit of wearing on his right hand a sapphire ring of great value." (An heirloom; it is on my finger as I write, dear Nell. Oh! my poor boy.) "All curiosity is astir to discover the perpetrator of this horrible deed; and it is with the deepest regret that we are obliged to state that every fresh link in the chain of evidence points with fatal accuracy to one whose position, character, and universal popularity would seem to place him above suspicion. We would not willingly intrude upon the privacy of domestic interests, but the following facts will too soon be matters of public notoriety.
"A younger sister of the deceased appears to have formed a matrimonial engagement with George Manners, Esq., of Beckfield. It was strongly opposed by Mr. Lascelles, and the objection (which at the time appeared unreasonable) may have been founded on a more intimate knowledge of the suitor's character than was then possessed by others. The match was broken off, and all intercourse was suspended till the night of the murder, when Mr. Manners gained admittance to the hall in the absence of Mr. Lascelles, and was for some hours alone in the young lady's company. They were found together a little before nine o'clock by Mr. Lascelles, and a violent scene ensued, in the course of which the young lady left the apartment. (Miss Lascelles has been ill ever since the unhappy event, and is so still. Her deposition was taken in writing at the hall.) From the young lady's evidence it appears, first, that the passions of both were strongly excited, and she admits having felt sufficient apprehension to induce her to twice warn Mr. Manners to self-control. Secondly, that Mr. Manners avowed himself prepared to defy Mr. Lascelles' authority in the matter of the marriage; and thirdly, the two sentences of their final conversation that she overheard (both Mr. Manners') were what can hardly be interpreted otherwise than as a threat, that 'their next meeting should be a different one,' and that then 'he would not ask for Mr. Lascelles' hand, but take it.' The diabolical character of determined and premeditated vindictiveness thus given to an otherwise unaccountable outrage upon his victim, goes far to take away the feeling of pity which we should otherwise have felt for the murderer, regarding him as under the maddening influences of disappointed love and temporary passion. Perhaps, however, the most fatally conclusive evidence against Mr. Manners lies in the time that elapsed between his leaving the hall and being found in the park by the murdered body. He left the house at a quarter past nine—he was found by the body of the deceased a little before eleven; so that either it must have taken him more than an hour and a half to walk a quarter of a mile—which is obviously absurd—or he must have been waiting for nearly two hours in the grounds. Why did he not return at once to the house of Mr. Topham? (where it appears that he was staying). For what—or for whom—was he waiting? If he were in the park at the time of the murder, how came it that he heard no cries, gave the unhappy gentleman no assistance, and offers no suggestion or clue to the mystery beyond the obstinate denial of his own guilt, though he confesses to having been in the grounds during the whole time of the deadly struggle, and though he was found alone with scratched hands and blood-stained clothes beside the corpse of his avowed enemy? We leave these questions to the consideration of our readers, as they will be for that of a conscientious and impartial jury, not, we trust, blinded by the wealth and position of the criminal to the hideous nature of the crime.
"The funeral is to take place to-morrow; George Manners is fully committed to take his trial for wilful murder at the ensuing assizes."
The above condemning extract only too well represented the state of public feeling. All Middlesex—nay, all England—was roused to indignation, and poor Edmund's youth and infirmities made the crime appear the more cowardly and detestable.
DRIFTING TO THE END.
My misery between the time of the murder and the trial was terrible from many causes: my brother's death; George's position; the knowledge of his sufferings, and my inability to see or soothe them—and, worst of all, the firm conviction of his guilt in every one's mind, and Harriet's ceaseless reproaches. I do not think that I should have lived through it, but for Dr. Penn. That excellent and revered man's kindness will, I trust, ever be remembered by me with due gratitude. He went up to town constantly, at his own expense, and visited my dear George in Newgate, administering all the consolations of his high office and long experience, and being the bearer of our messages to each other. From him also I gleaned all the news of which otherwise I should have been kept in ignorance; how George's many friends were making every possible exertion on his behalf, and how an excellent counsel was retained for him. But far beyond all his great kindness, was to me the simple fact that he shared my belief in George's innocence; for there were times when the universal persuasion of his guilt almost shook, not my faith, but my reason.
There were early prayers in our little church in the morning; too early, Harriet said, for her to attend much, especially of late, when Dr. Penn's championship of George Manners had led her to discover more formalism in his piety, and northern broadness in his accent, than before. But these quiet services were my daily comfort in those troublous days; and in the sweet fresh walk home across the park, my more than father and I hatched endless conspiracies on George's behalf between the church porch and the rectory gate. Our chief difficulty, I confess, lay in the question that the world had by this time so terribly answered—who did it? If George were innocent, who was guilty? My poor brother had not been popular, and I do not say that one's mind could not have fixed on a man more likely to commit the crime than George, under not less provocation. But it was an awful deed, Nelly, to lay to any man's charge, even in thought; and no particle of evidence arose to fix the guilt on any one else, or even to suggest an accomplice. As the time wore on, suspense became sickening.
"Sir," I said to him one day, "I am breaking down. I have brought some plants to set in your garden. I wish you would give me something to do for you. Your shirts to make, your stockings to darn. If I were a poor woman I should work down my trouble. As it is—"
"Hush!" said the doctor; you are what God has made you. My dear madam, Janet tells me, what my poor eyes have hardly observed, that my ruffles are more worn than beseems a doctor in divinity. Now for myself—"
"Hush!" said I, mimicking him. "My dear sir, you have taught me to plot and conspire, and this very afternoon I shall hold a secret interview with Mistress Janet. But say something about my trouble. What will happen?—How will it end?—What shall we do?"
"My love," he said, "keep heart. I fully believe in his innocence. There is heavy evidence against him, but there are also some strong points in his favour; and you must believe that the jury have no object to do anything but justice, or believe anything but the truth, and that they will find accordingly. And God defend the right!"
Eleanor!—they found him Guilty.
* * * * *
I have asked Dr. Penn to permit me to make an extract from his journal in this place. It is less harrowing to copy than to recall. I omit the pious observations and reflections which grace the original. Comforting as they are to me, it seems a profanity to make them public; besides, it is his wish that I should withhold them, which is sufficient.
From the Diary of the Rev. Arthur Penn, D.D., Rector of Crossdale, Middlesex.
"When he came into the dock he looked (so it seemed to me) altered since I had last seen him; more anxious and worn, that is, but yet composed and dignified. Doubtless I am but a prejudiced witness; but his face to me lacks both the confusion and the effrontery of guilt. He looks like one pressed by a heavy affliction, but enduring it with fortitude. I think his appearance affected and astonished many in the court. Those who were prepared to see a hardened ruffian, or, at best, a cowering criminal, must have been startled by the intellectual and noble style of his beauty, the grace and dignity of his carriage, and the modest simplicity of his behaviour. I am but a doting old man; for I think on no evidence could I convict him in the face of those good eyes of his, to which sorrow has given a wistful look that at times is terrible; as if now and then the agony within showed its face at the windows of the soul. Once only every trace of composure vanished—it was when sweet Mistress Dorothy was called; then he looked simply mad. I wonder—but no! no!—he did not commit this great crime,—not even in a fit of insanity.
"Mr. A—— is a very able advocate, and, in his cross-examination of the man Crosby and of Mistress Dorothy, did his best to atone for the cruel law which keeps the prisoner's counsel at such disadvantage. The counsel for the prosecution had pressed hard on my dear lady, especially in reference to those farewell words overheard by her, which seem to give the only (though that, I say, an incredible) clue to what remains the standing mystery of the event—the missing hand. Then Mr. A—— rose to cross-examine. He said—
"'During that part of the quarrel when you were present, did the prisoner use any threats or suggestions of personal violence?'
"'In the fragment of conversation that you overheard at the last, did you at the time understand the prisoner to be conveying taunts or threats?'
"'How did you interpret the unaccountable anxiety on the prisoner's part to shake hands with a man by whom he believed himself to be injured, and with whom he was quarrelling!'
"'Mr. Manners' tone was such as one uses to a spoilt child. I believed that he was determined to avoid a quarrel at any price, in deference to my brother's infirmity and his own promise to me. He was very angry before Edmund came in; but I believe that afterwards he was shocked and sobered at the obviously irresponsible condition of my poor brother when enraged. He had never seen him so before.'
"'Is it true that Mr. Manners' pocket-knife was in your possession at the time of the murder?'
"'Does your window look upon the "Honeysuckle Walk," where the prisoner says that he spent the time between leaving your house and the finding of the body?'
"'Was the prisoner likely to have any attractive associations connected with it, in reference to yourself?'
"'We had often been there together before we were engaged. It was a favourite walk of mine.'
"'Do you suppose that any one in this walk could hear cries proceeding from the low gate?'
"The cross-examination of Crosby was as follows:—
"Mr. A.—— 'Were the prisoner's clothes much disordered, as if he had been struggling?'
"'No; he looked much as usual; but he was covered with blood.'
"'So we have heard you say. Do you think that a man, in perfectly clean clothes, could have lifted the body out of the ditch without being covered with blood?'
"'No: perhaps not.'
"'Was there any means by which so much blood could have been accumulated in the ditch, unless the body had been thrown there?'
"'I think not. The pool were too big.'
"'I have two more questions to ask, and I beg the special attention of the jury to the answers. Is the ditch, or is it not, very thickly overgrown with brambles and brushwood?'
"'Yes; there be a many brambles.'
"'Do you think that any single man could drag a heavy body from the bottom of the ditch on to the bank, without severely scratching his hands?'
"'No; I don't suppose he could.'
"'That is all I wish to ask.'
"Not being permitted to address the jury, it was all that he could do. Then the Recorder summed up. God forgive him the fatal accuracy with which he placed every link in a chain of evidence so condemning that I confess poor George seemed almost to have been taken in flagrante delicto. The jury withdrew; and my sweet Mistress Dorothy, who had remained in court against my wish, suddenly dropped like an apple-blossom, and I carried her out in my arms. When I had placed her in safety, I came back, and pressed through the crowd to hear the verdict.
"As I got in, the Recorder's voice fell on my ear, every word like a funeral knell,—'May the Lord have mercy on your soul!'
"I think for a few minutes I lost my senses. I have a confused remembrance of swaying hither and thither in a crowd; of execration, and pity, and gaping curiosity; and then I got out, and some one passed me, whose arm I grasped. It was Mr. A——.
"'Tell me,' I said, 'is there no hope? No recommendation to mercy? Nothing?'
"He dragged me into a room, and, seizing me by the button, exclaimed—
"'We don't want mercy; we want justice! I say, sir, curse the present condition of the law! It must be altered, and I shall live to see it. If I might have addressed the jury—there were a dozen points—we should have carried him through. Besides,' he added, in a tone that seemed to apologize for such a secondary consideration, 'I may say to you that I fully believe that he is innocent, and am as sorry on his account as on my own that we have lost the case.'
"And so the day is ended. Fiat voluntas Domini!"
* * * * *
Yes, Eleanor! Dr. Penn was right. The day did end—and the next—and the next; and drop by drop the cup of sorrow was drained. And when the draught is done, should we be the better, Nelly, if it had been nectar?
I had neither died nor gone mad when the day came—the last complete day that George was to see on earth. It was Sunday; and, after a sleepless night, I saw the red sun break through the grey morning. I always sleep with my window open; and, as I lay and watched the sunrise, I thought—
"He will see this sunrise, and to-morrow's sunrise; but no other! No, no!—never more!"
But then a stronger thought seemed to rise involuntarily against that one—
"Peace, fool! If this be the sorrow, it is one that must come to all men."
And then, Nelly (it is strange, but it was so), there broke out in the stone pine by my window a chorus of little birds whom the sunbeams had awakened; and they sang so sweet and so loud (like the white bird that sang to the monk Felix), that earthly cares seemed to fade away, and I fell asleep, and slept the first sound, dreamless sleep that had blessed me since our great trouble came.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS.
Dr. Penn was with George this day, and was to be with him to the last. His duty was taken by a curate.
I will not attempt to describe my feelings at this terrible time, but merely narrate circumstantially the wonderful events (or illusions, call them which you will) of the evening.
We sat up-stairs in the blue room, and Harriet fell asleep on the sofa.
It was about half-past ten o'clock when she awoke with a scream, and in such terror that I had much difficulty in soothing her. She seemed very unwilling to tell me the cause of her distress; but at last confessed that on the two preceding nights she had had a vivid and alarming dream, on each night the same. Poor Edmund's hand (she recognized it by the sapphire ring) seemed to float in the air before her; and even after she awoke, she still seemed to see it floating towards the door, and then coming back again, till it vanished altogether. She had seen it again now in her sleep. I sat silent, struggling with a feeling of indignation. Why had she not spoken of it before? I do not know how long it might have been before I should have broken the silence, but that my eyes turned to the partially-open window and the dark night that lay beyond. Then I shrieked, louder than she had done—
"Harriet! There it is!"
There it was—to my eyes—the detached hand, round which played a pale light—the splendid sapphire gleaming unearthlily, like the flame of a candle that is burning blue. But Harriet could see nothing. She said that I frightened her, and shook her nerves, and took pleasure in doing so; that I was the author of all our trouble, and she wished I would drop the dreadful subject. She would have said much more, but that I startled her by the vehemence of my interruption. I said that the day was past when I would sacrifice my peace or my duty to her whims; and she ventured no remonstrance when I announced that I intended to follow the hand so long as it moved, and discover the meaning of the apparition. I then flew downstairs and out into the garden, where it still gleamed, and commenced a slow movement towards the gate. But my flight had been observed, Nelly, by Robert, our old butler. I had always been his favourite in the family, and since my grief, his humble sympathy had only been second to that of Dr. Penn. I had noticed the anxious watch he had kept over me since the trial, with a sort of sad amusement. I afterwards learnt that all his fears had culminated to a point when he saw me rush wildly from the house that night. He had thought I was going to drown myself. He concealed his fears at the time, however, and only said—
"What be the matter, Miss Dorothy?"
"Is that you, Robert?" I said. "Come here. Look! Do you see?"
"See what?" he said.
"Don't you see anything?" I said. "No light? Nothing?"
"Nothin' whatever," said Robert, decidedly; "it be as dark as pitch."
I stood silent, gazing at the apparition, which, having reached the gate, was slowly re-advancing. If it were fancy, why did it not vanish? I rubbed my eyes, but it was there still. Robert interrupted me, solemnly—
"Miss Dorothy, do you see anything?"
"Robert," I said, "you are a faithful friend. Listen! I see before me the lost hand of your dead master. I know it by the sapphire ring. It is surrounded by a pale light, and moves slowly. My sister has seen it three times in her sleep; and I see it now with my waking eyes. You may laugh, Robert; but it is too true."
I was not prepared for the indignant reply:
"Laugh, Miss Dorothy! The Lord forbid! If so be you do see anything, and it should be the Lord's will to reveal anything about poor dear Master Edmund to you as loved him, and is his sister, who am I that I should laugh? My mother had a cousin (many a time has she told me the story) as married a sailor (he was mate on board a vessel bound for the West Indies), and one night, about three weeks after her husband had—"
"Robert!" I said, "you shall tell me that story another day with pleasure; but no time is to be lost now. I mean to follow the hand: will you come with me and take care of me?"
"Go in, ma'am," he said; "wrap up warm, and put on thick shoes, and come quietly down to this door. I'll just slip in and quiet the servants, and meet you."
"And bring a lantern," I said; "this light does not light you."
In five minutes we were there again; and the hand was vivid as ever.
"Do you see it now?" whispered the butler, anxiously.
"Yes," I said; "it is moving."
"Go on," he said; "I will keep close behind you."
It was pitch dark, and, except for the gleaming hand, and the erratic circles of light cast by the lantern, we could see nothing. The hand gradually moved faster, increasing to a good walking pace, passing over the garden-gate and leading us on till I completely lost knowledge of our position; but still we went steadily forward. At last we got into a road, and went along by a wall; and, after a few steps, the hand, which was before me, moved sharply aside.
"Robert," I said, "it has gone over a gate—we must go too! Where are we?"
He answered, in a tone of the deepest horror—
"Miss Dorothy! for the Lord's sake, think what you are doing, and let us turn back while we can! You've had sore affliction; but it's an awful thing to bring an innocent man to trouble."
"The innocent man is in trouble!" I said, passionately. "Is it nothing that he should die, if truth could save him? You may go back if you like; but I shall go on. Tell me, whose place is this?"
"Never mind, my dear young lady," he said, soothingly. "Go on, and the Lord be with you! But be careful. You're sure you see it now?"
"Certain," I said. "It is moving. Come on."
We went forward, and I heard a click behind me.
"What is that?" I said.
"Hush!" he whispered; "make no noise! It was my pistol. Go gently, my dear young lady. It is a farmyard, and you may stumble."
"It has stopped over a building!" I whispered.
"Not the house!" he returned, hoarsely.
"I am going on," I said. "Here we are. What is it? Whose is it?"
He came close to me, and whispered solemnly—
"Miss Dorothy! be brave, and make no noise! We are in Farmer Parker's yard; and this is a barn."
Then the terror came over me.
"Let us turn back," I said. "You are right. One may bear one's own troubles, but not drag in other people. Take me home!"
But Robert would not take me home; and my courage came back, and I held the lantern whilst he unfastened the door. Then the ghastly hand passed into the barn, and we followed it.
"It has stopped in the far corner," I said. "There seems to be wood or something."
"It's bundles of wood," he whispered. "I know the place. Sit down, and tell me if it moves."
I sat down, and waited long and wearily, while he moved heavy bundles of firewood, pausing now and then to ask, "Is it here still?" At last he asked no more; and in a quarter of an hour he only spoke once: then it was to say—
"This plank has been moved."
After a while he came away to look for a spade. He found one, and went back again. At last a smothered sound made me spring up and rush to him; but he met me, driving me back.
"I beg of you, dear Miss Dorothy, keep away. Have you a handkerchief with you?"
I had one, and gave it to him. His hands were covered with earth. He had only just gone back again when I gave a cry—
"Robert! It has gone!"
He came up to me, keeping one hand behind him.
"Miss Dorothy, if ever you were good and brave, hold out now!"
I beat my hands together—"It has gone! It has gone!"
"It has not gone!" he said. "Master Edmund's hand is in this handkerchief. It has been buried under a plank of the flooring!"
I gasped, "Let me see it!"
But he would not. "No, no! my dear lady, you must not—cannot. I only knew it by the ring!"
Then he made me sit down again, whilst he replaced the firewood; and then, with the utmost quietness, we set out to return, I holding the lantern in one hand, and with the other clinging to his arm (for the apparition that had been my guide before was gone), and he carrying the awful relic in his other hand. Once, as we were leaving the yard, he whispered—
"I see nothing," said I.
"Hold up your lantern," he whispered.
"There is nothing but the dog-kennel," I said.
"Miss Dorothy," he said, "the dog has not barked tonight!"
By the time we reached home, my mind had fully realized the importance of our discovery, and the terribly short time left us in which to profit by it, supposing, as I fully believed, that it was the first step to the vindication of George's innocence. As we turned into the gate, Robert, who had been silent for some time broke out—
"Miss Dorothy! Mr. George Manners is as innocent as I am; and God forgive us all for doubting him! What shall we do?"
"I am going up to town," I said, "and you are going with me. We will go to Dr. Penn. He has a lodging close by the prison: I have the address. At eight o'clock to-morrow the king himself could not undo this injustice. We have, let me see, how many hours?"
Robert pulled out his old silver watch and brought it to the lantern.
"It is twenty minutes to twelve."
"Rather more than eight hours. Heaven help us! You will get something to eat, Robert, and put the horses at once into the chariot. I will be ready."
I went straight up-stairs, and met Harriet at the door. I pushed her back into the room and took her hands.
"Harriet! Robert has found poor Edmund's hand, with the ring, buried under some wood in Thomas Parker's barn. I am going up to town with him at once, to put the matter into Dr. Penn's hands, and save George Manners' life, if it be not too late."
She wrenched her hands away, and flung herself at my feet. I never saw such a change come over any face. She had had time in the (what must have been) anxious interval of our absence, for some painful enough reflection, and my announcement had broken through the blindness of a selfish mind, and found its way where she seldom let anything come—to her feelings.
"Oh, Dolly! Dolly! will you ever forgive me? Why did I not tell you before? But I thought it was only a dream. And indeed, indeed I thought Mr. Manners had done it. But that man Parker! If it had not been for Mr. Manners being found there, I should have sworn that Parker had done it. Dolly! I saw him that night. He came in and helped. And once I saw him look at Mr. Manners with such a strange expression, and he seemed so anxious to make him say that it was a quarrel, and that he had done it in self-defence. But you know I thought it must be Mr. Manners—and I did so love poor Edmund!"
And she lay sobbing in agony on the ground. I said—
"My love, I pray that it is not too late: but we must not waste time. Help me now, Harriet!"
She sprang up at once.
"Yes! you must have food. You shall go. I shall not go with you. I am not worthy, but I will pray till you come back again."
I said, "There is one most important thing for you to do. Let no soul go out or come into the house till I return, or some gossip will bring it to Parker's ears that we have gone to London."
Harriet promised, and rushed off to get me food and wine. With her own hands she filled a hot-water bottle for my feet in the chariot, supplied my purse with gold, and sewed some notes up in my stays; and (as if anxious to crowd into this one occasion all the long-withheld offices of sisterly kindness) came in with her arms full of a beautiful set of sables that belonged to her—cloak, cuffs, muff, etc.—and in these she dressed me. And then we fell into each others arms, and I wept upon her neck the first tears I had shed that day. As I stood on the doorstep, she held up the candle and looked at me.
"My dear!" she said, "how pretty your sweet face does look out of those great furs! You shall keep them always."
Dear Harriet! Her one idea—beauty. I suppose the "ruling passion," whatever it may be, is strong with all of us, even in the face of death. Moreover, hers was one of those shallow minds that seem instinctively to escape by any avenue from a painful subject; and by the time that I was in the chariot, she had got over the first shock, and there was an almost infectious cheerfulness in her farewell.
"It must be all right, Dolly!"
Then I fell back, and we started. The warm light of the open door became a speck, and then nothing; and in the long dark drive, when every footfall of the horses seemed to consume an age, the sickening agony of suspense was almost intolerable. Oh, my dear! never, never shall I forget that night. The black trees and hedges whirling past us in the darkness, always the same, like an enchanted drive; then the endless suburbs, and at last the streets where people lounged in corners and stopped the way, as if every second of time were not worth a king's ransom; and sedan-chairs trotted lightly home from gay parties as if life were not one long tragedy. Once the way was stopped, once we lost it. That mistake nearly killed me. At last a watchman helped us to the little by-street where Dr. Penn was lodging, near which a loud sound of carpenters' work and hurrying groups of people puzzled me exceedingly. After much knocking, an upper window was opened and a head put out, and my dear friend's dear voice called to us. I sprang out on to the pavement and cried—
"Dr. Penn, this is Dorothy."
He came down and took us in, and then (my voice failing) Robert explained to him the nature of our errand, and showed him the ghastly proof. Dr. Penn came back to me.
"My love," he said, "you must come up-stairs and rest."
"Rest!" I shrieked, "never! Get your hat, doctor, and come quickly. Let us go to the king. Let us do something. We have very little time, and he must be saved."
I believe I was very unreasonable; I fear that I delayed them some minutes before good Dr. Penn could persuade me that I should only be a hindrance, that he would do everything that was possible, and could do so much better with no one but Robert.
"My love," he said, "trust me. To obey is better than sacrifice!"
I went up-stairs into the dingy little sitting-room, and he went to call his landlady—"a good woman," he said: "I have known her long." Then he went away, and Robert with him, to the house of the Home Secretary.
It was three o'clock. Five hours still!
I sat staring at the sprawling paper on the walls, and at the long snuff of the candle that Dr. Penn had lighted, and at a framed piece of embroidery, representing Abraham sacrificing Isaac, that hung upon the wall. Were there no succouring angels now?
The door opened, and I looked wearily round. A motherly woman, with black eyes, fat cheeks, and a fat wedding-ring, stood curtseying at the door. I said, "I think you are Dr. Penn's landlady? He says you are very good. Pray come in."
Then I dropped my head on my hand again, and stared vacantly as before. Exhaustion had almost become stupor, and it was in a sort of dream that I watched the stout figure moving softly to and fro, lighting the fire, and bringing an air of comfort over the dreary little parlour. Then she was gone for a little bit, and I felt a little more lonely and weary; and then I heard that cheerful clatter, commonly so grateful to feminine exhaustion, and the good woman entered with a toasted glow upon her face, bearing a tray with tea, and such hospitable accompaniments as she could command. She set them down and came up to me with an air of determination.
"My dear, you must be a good young lady and take some tea. We all have our troubles, but a good heart goes a long way."
Her pitying face broke me down. How sadly without feminine sympathy I had been through all my troubles I had never felt as I felt it now that it had come. I fairly dropped my head upon her shoulder and sobbed out the apparently irrelevant remark—
"Dear madam, I have no mother!"
She understood me, and flinging her arms round me sobbed louder than I. It would have been wicked to offer further resistance. She brought down pillows, covered them with a red shawl, and propped me up till the horsehair sofa became an easy couch, and with mixed tears and smiles I contrived to swallow a few mouthfuls, a feat which she exalted to an act of sublime virtue.
"And now, my dear," she said, "you will have some warm water and wash your hands and face and smooth your hair, and go to sleep for a bit."
"I cannot sleep," I said.
But Mrs. Smith was not to be baffled.
"I shall give you something to make you," said she.
And so, when the warm water had done its work, I had to swallow a sleeping-draught and be laid easily upon the sofa. Her last words as she "tucked me up" were, oddly enough—
"The tea's brought back a bit of colour to your cheeks, miss, and I will say you do look pretty in them beautiful sables!"
A very different thought was working in my head as the sleeping-draught tingled through my veins.
"Will the birds sing at sunrise?"
Nelly, I slept twelve long hours without a dream. It was four o'clock in the afternoon of Monday when I awoke, and only then, I believe, from the mesmeric influence of being gazed at. Eleanor! there is only one such pair of eyes in all the world! George Manners was kneeling by my side.
Abraham was still sacrificing his son upon the wall, but my Isaac was restored to me. I sat up and flung myself into his arms. It was long, long before either of us could speak, and, oddly enough, one of the first things he said was (twitching my cloak with the quaint curiosity of a man very ignorant about feminine belongings), "My darling, you seem sadly ill, but yet, Doralice, your sweet face does look so pretty in these great furs."
* * * * *
My story is ended, Nelly, and my promise fulfilled. The rest you know. How the detective, who left London before four o'clock that morning, found the rusty knife that had been buried with the hand, and apprehended Parker, who confessed his guilt. The wretched man said, that being out on the fatal night about some sick cattle, he had met poor Edmund by the low gate; that Edmund had begun, as usual, to taunt him; that the opportunity of revenge was too strong, and he had murdered him. His first idea had been flight, and being unable to drag the ring from Edmund's hand, which was swollen, he had cut it off, and thrown the body into the ditch. On hearing of the finding of the body, and of poor George's position, he determined to brave it out, with what almost fatal success we have seen. He dared not then sell the ring, and so buried it in his barn. Two things respecting his end were singular: First, at the last he sent for Dr. Penn, imploring him to stay with him till he died. That good man, as ever, obeyed the call of duty and kindness, but he was not fated to see the execution of my brother's murderer. The night before, Thomas Parker died in prison; not by his own hand, Nelly. A fit of apoplexy, the result of intense mental excitement, forestalled the vengeance of the law.
Need I tell you, dear friend, who know it so well, that I am happy?
Not, my love, that such tragedies can be forgotten—these deep wounds leave a scar. This one brought my husband's first white hairs, and took away my girlhood for ever. But if the first blush of careless gaiety has gone from life, if we are a little "old before our time," it may be that this state of things has its advantages. Perhaps, having known together such real affliction, we cannot now afford to be disturbed by the petty vexations and worthless misunderstandings that form the troubles of smoother lives. Perhaps, having been all but so awfully parted, we can never afford, in this short life, to be otherwise than of one heart and one soul. Perhaps, my dear, in short, the love that kept faith through shame, and was cemented by fellow-suffering, can hardly do otherwise than flourish to our heart's best content in the sunshine of prosperity with which God has now blessed us.
The councillor's chimney smoked. It always did smoke when the wind was in the north. A Smut came down and settled on a brass knob of the fender, which the councillor's housekeeper had polished that very morning. The shining surface reflected the Smut, and he seemed to himself to be two.
"How large I am!" said he, with complacency. "I am quite a double Smut. I am bigger than any other. If I were a little harder, I should be a cinder, not to say a coal. Decidedly my present position is too low for so important an individual. Will no one recognize my merit and elevate me?"
But no one did. So the Smut determined to raise himself, and taking advantage of a draught under the door, he rose upwards and alighted on the nose of the councillor, who was reading the newspaper.
"This is a throne, a crimson one," said the Smut, "made on purpose for me. But somehow I do not seem so large as I was."
The truth is that the councillor (though a great man) was, in respect of his nose, but mortal. It was not made of brass; it would not (as the cabinet-makers say) take a polish. It did not reflect the object seated on it.
"It is unfortunate," said the Smut. "But it is not fit that an individual of my position (almost, as I may say, a coal) should have a throne that does not shine. I must certainly go higher."
But unhappily for the Smut, at this moment the councillor became aware of something on his nose. He put up his hand and rubbed the place. In an instant the poor Smut was destroyed. But it died on the throne, which was some consolation.
More chimneys smoke than the councillor's chimney, and there are many Smuts in the world. Let those who have found a brass knob be satisfied.
It was a Crick in the wall, a very small Crick too. But it is not always the biggest people who have the strongest affections.
When the wind was in the east, it blew the Dust into the Crick, and when it set the other way, the Dust was blown out of it. The Crick was of a warm and passionate temperament, and was devotedly attached to the Dust.
"I love you," he whispered. "I am your husband. I protect, surround, defend, cherish you, and house you, you poor fragile Dust. You are my wife. You fill all the vacant space of my heart. I adore you. I am all heart!"
And if vacant space is heart, this last assertion was quite true.
"Remain with me always," said the Crick.
"Ever with thee," said the Dust, who spoke like a valentine.
But the most loving couples cannot control destiny. The wind went round to the west, and the Crick was emptied in a moment. In the first thrill of agony he stretched himself and became much wider.
"I am empty," he cried; "I shall never be filled again. This is the greatest misfortune that could possibly have happened."
The Crick was wrong. He was not to remain empty; and a still greater misfortune was in store. The owner of the wall was a careful man, and came round his premises with a trowel of mortar.
"What a crack!" said he; "it must be the frost. A stitch in time saves nine, however." And so saying he slapped a lump of mortar into the Crick with the dexterity of a mason.
In due time the wind went back to the east, and with it came the Dust.
"Cruel Crick!" she wept. "You have taken another wife to your heart!"
And the Crick could not answer, for he had ceased to exist.
This is a tragedy of real life, and cannot fail to excite sympathy.
They were brothers—twin brothers, and the most intense fraternal affection subsisted between them. They were Peas—Sweet-peas, born together in the largest end of the same Pod. When they were little, flat, skinny, green things, they regarded the Pod in which they were born with the same awful dread which the greatest of men have at one time felt for nursery authority. They believed that the Pod ruled the world.
It was impossible to conceive a limit to the power of a thing that could hold so tight. But in due time the Peas became large and round and black, and the Pod got yellow and shrunken, and was thoroughly despised.
"It is time we left the nursery," said the brothers. "Where shall we go to, when we enter the world?" they inquired of the mother plant.
"You will fall on the ground," said she, "in the south border, where we now are. The soil is good, and the situation favourable. You will then lie quiet for the winter, and in the spring you will come up and flower, and bear pods as I have done. That will be your fate. Not eventful perhaps, but prosperous; and it comforts me to think that you are so well provided for."
But the best of parents cannot foresee everything in the future career of their children, and the mother plant was wrong.
The Peas burst from the Pod, it is true; but they fell, not into the south border, but into the hand of the seedsman to whom the garden belonged.
"This is an adventure," said the brothers.
They were put with a lot of other Sweet-peas, and a brown paper bag was ready to receive them.
"Any way we are together," said they.
But at that moment one of the brothers rolled from the bag on the floor. The seedsman picked him up, and he found himself tossed into a bag of peas.
"It is all right," said he; "I shall find my brother in time."
But though he rolled about as much as he could, he could not find him; for the truth is, that he had been put by mistake into a paper of eating peas; but he did not know this.
"Patience!" cried he; "we shall be sown shortly, and when we come up we shall find each other, if not before."
The other Pea thought that his brother was in the bag with him, and when he could not find him he consoled himself in the same manner.
"When we come up we shall find each other, if not before."
They were both sold in company with others, and they were both sown. No. 1 was sown in a cosy little garden near a cosy little cottage in the country. No. 2 was sown in a field, being intended for the market.
They both came up and made leaves, and budded and blossomed, and the first thing each did when he opened his petals was to look round for his brother.
No. 1 found himself among other Sweet-peas, but his brother was not there; and soon a beautiful girl, who came into a garden to gather a nosegay, plucked him from his stalk.
No. 2 found himself also among Peas—a field full—but they were all white ones, and had no scent whatever. He had been sown near the wall, and he leant against it and wept.
Just then a young sailor came whistling down the road. He was sunburnt but handsome, and he was picking flowers from the roadside. When he saw the Sweet-pea he shouted.
"That's the best of the bunch," said he, and put it with the others. Then he went whistling down the road into the village, past the old grey church, and up to a cosy little cottage in a cosy little garden. He opened the door and went into a room where a beautiful girl was arranging some flowers that lay on the table. When she saw him they gave a cry and embraced each other. After a while he said, "I have brought you some wild flowers; but this is the best," and he held up the Sweet-pea.
"This is not a wild flower," said she; "it is a garden flower, and must have been sown by accident. It shall be put with the other garden flowers."
And she laid the Sweet-pea among the rest on the table, and so the brothers met at last.
The young couple sat hand in hand in the sunshine, and talked of the past.
"Time seemed to go slowly while we were parted," said the young man; "and now, to look back upon, all our misery seems but a dream."
"That is just what we feel," said the Sweet-peas.
"I was very sad," said the young girl softly, "very sad indeed; for, I thought you might be dead, or have married some one else, and that we might never meet again. But in spite of everything I couldn't quite despair. It seemed impossible that those who really loved each other should be separated for ever."
Meanwhile the Sweet-peas lay on the table. They were very happy, but just a little anxious, for the lovers had forgotten to put them in water, and they were fading fast.
"We are very happy," they murmured, "very happy. This moment alone is worth all that we have endured. It is true we are fading before we have ever fully bloomed, and after this we do not know what will happen to us. But the young girl is right. One cannot quite despair. It seems impossible that those who really love each other should be separated for ever."
COUSIN PEREGRINE'S WONDER STORIES.
THE CHINESE JUGGLERS, AND THE ENGLISHMAN'S HANDS.
(Founded on Fact.)
Cousin Peregrine had never been away quite so long before. He had been in the East, and the latter part of his absence from home had been spent not only in a foreign country, but in parts of it where Englishmen had seldom been before, and amid the miserable scenes of war.
However, he was at home at last, very much to the satisfaction of his young cousins, and also to his own. They had been assured by him, in a highly illustrated letter, that his arms were safe and sound in his coat-sleeves, that he had no wooden legs, and that they might feel him all over for wounds as hard as they liked. Only Maggie, the eldest, could even fancy she remembered Cousin Peregrine, but they all seemed to know him by his letters, even before he arrived. At last he came.
Cousin Peregrine was dressed like other people, much to the disappointment of his young relatives, who when they burst (with more or less attention to etiquette) into the dining-room with the dessert, were in full expectation of seeing him in his uniform, or at least with his latest medal pinned to his dress-coat.
Perhaps it was because Cousin Peregrine was so very seldom troubled by chubby English children with a claim on his good nature that he was particularly indulgent to his young cousins. However this may be, they soon stood in no awe of him, and a chorus cried around him—
"Where's your new medal, Cousin? What's it about? What's on it?"
"Taku Forts," said Cousin Peregrine, smiling grimly.
"What's Tar—Koo?" inquired the young people.
"Taku is the name of a place in China, and you know I've just come from China," said Cousin Peregrine.
On which six voices cried—
"Did you drink nothing but tea?"
"Did you buy lots of old China dragons?"
"Did you see any ladies with half their feet cut off?"
"Did you live in a house with bells hanging from the roof?"
"Are the Chinese like the people on Mamma's fan?"
"Did you wear a pigtail?"
Cousin Peregrine's hair was so very short that the last question raised a roar of laughter, after which the chorus spoke with one voice—
"Do tell us all about China!"
At which he put on a serio-comic countenance, and answered with much gravity—
"Oh, certainly, with all my heart. It will be rather a long story, but never mind. By the way, I am afraid I can hardly begin much before the birth of Confucius, but as that happened in or about the year 550 B.C., you will still have to hear about two thousand four hundred years of its history or so, which will keep us going for a few months".
"Confucius—whose real name was Kwang-Foo-Tsz (and if you can pronounce that last word properly you can do more than many eminent Chinese scholars can)—was born in the province of Kan Tang ——.
"Oh, not about Confuse-us!" pleaded a little maid on Cousin Peregrine's knee. "Tell us what you did."
"But tell us wonderful things," stipulated a young gentleman, fresh from The Boy Hunters and kindred works.
If young bachelors have a weak point when they are kind to children, it is that they are apt to puzzle them with paradoxes. Even Cousin Peregrine did "sometimes tease," so his cousins said.
On this occasion he began a long rambling speech, in which he pretended not to know what things are and what are not wonderful. The Boy Hunters young gentleman fell headlong into the quagmire of definitions, but the oldest sister, who had her own ideas about things, said firmly—
"Wonderful things are things which surprise you very much, and which you never saw before, and which you don't understand. Like as if you saw a lot of giants coming out of a hole in the road. At least that's what we mean by wonderful."
"Upon my word, Maggie," said Cousin Peregrine, "your definition is most admirable. I cannot say that I have met with giants in China, even in the north, where the men are taller than in the south. But I can tell you of something I saw in China which surprised me very much, which I had never seen before, and which, I give you my word, I don't understand to this hour, but which I have no doubt was not in the least wonderful to the poor half-naked Chinaman who did it in my courtyard. And then, if you like, I will tell you something else which surprised some Chinese country-folk very much, which they never saw before, and which they certainly did not understand when they did see it. Will that do?"
"Oh yes, yes! Thank you, yes!" cried the chorus, and Maggie said—
"First all about the thing you thought wonderful, you know."
"Well, the thing I thought wonderful was a conjuring trick done by a Chinese juggler."
"Did he only do one trick?" said the little maid on Cousin Peregrine's knee.
"Oh, he did lots of tricks," said Cousin Peregrine, "many of them common Eastern ones, which are now familiar in England, but which he certainly performed in a wonderful way: because, you see, he had not the advantage of doing his tricks on a stage fitted up by himself, he did them in the street, or in my courtyard, with very little apparatus, and naked to the waist. For instance, the common trick of bringing a glass bowl full of water and fish out of a seemingly empty shawl is not so marvellous if the conjurer has a well-draped table near him from behind which he can get such things, or even good wide sleeves to hide them in. But my poor conjurer was almost naked, and the bit of carpet, about the size of this hearthrug, which he carried with him, did not seem capable of holding glass bowls of water, most certainly. Besides which he shook it, and spread it on the ground close by me, after which he threw himself down and rolled on it. And yet from underneath this he drew out a glass bowl of water with gold-fish swimming in it. But that trick and many others one can see very well done in London now, though not so utterly without apparatus. The trick which he did so particularly well, and which puzzled me so much, I have never seen in Europe. This is the one I am going to describe to you."
"Describe the conjurer a bit more first, Cousin Peregrine."
"There is nothing more to describe. He was not at all a grand conjurer, he was only a poor common juggler, exhibiting his tricks in the public streets many times in the day for the few small coins which the bystanders chose to give him. He was a very merry fellow, and all the time he was about his performance he kept making fun and jokes; and these amused the audience so much that you may believe that I was sorry my ignorance of his language hindered me from understanding them.
"All sorts of people used to stop and look at the juggler: brawny porters, with loads of merchandise, or boxes of tea, or bars of silver, which they carried in boxes or baskets slung on bamboo poles over their shoulders."
"Like the pictures on the tea-boxes," whispered little Bessy.
"There's a figure of it in the grocer's window," said her brother, who had seen more of the world than Bessy; "not a picture, a figure dressed in silk; and they're square boxes, not baskets, that he's got—wooden panniers I call them."
"Who else used to stop, Cousin Peregrine?" asked Maggie.
"Street confectioners, Maggie, with small movable sweetmeat stalls, which they carry on their backs. Men with portable stoves too, who always have a cup of tea ready for you for a small coin worth about the twentieth part of a penny. Tiny-footed women toddling awkwardly along, with children—also cramp-footed—toddling awkwardly after them, dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, and with their poor little arms stuck out at right angles with their bodies, to help them to keep their balance. Even the blind beggars, who go along striking on a bell to let people know that they are blind, as otherwise they might be knocked over, even they used to stop and listen to my juggler's jokes, though they could not see his tricks.
"All this was in the street; but sometimes I got him to come into my own courtyard to do his tricks there, that I might watch him more carefully. But watch as I might, I could never see how he did this particular feat. He used to do it with no clothes on except a pair of short trousers, for in the hot season, you must know, the lower classes of Chinese go about naked to the waist. Indeed, hot as it is, they don't wear hats. The juggler possessed both a hat and a jacket, as it happened, but he took them off when he did his trick."
"And what was the trick?" asked several impatient voices. "What did he do?"
"He used to swallow ten or twelve needles one after the other, and 'wash them down' with a ball of thread, which he swallowed next, and by and by he used to draw the thread slowly out of his mouth, yard after yard, and it had all the needles threaded on it."
"Oh, Cousin Peregrine!"
"He used to come quite close to me, Maggie, as close as I am to you now, and take each needle—one after the other—between the finger and thumb of his right hand—keeping all the other fingers away from it, stick the point of it for a moment into his other palm, to show that it was sharp, and then to all appearance swallow it bodily before your eyes. In this way he seemed to swallow successively all the twelve needles. Then he opened his mouth, that you might ascertain that they were not there, and you certainly could not see them. He next swallowed a little ball of thread, not much bigger than a pea. This being done, he seemed to be very uneasy (as well he might be!), and he made fearful faces and violent gestures, and stamped on the ground, and muttered incantations, and threw up his hands and eyes to the sky; and presently the end of a thread was to be seen coming out between his teeth, upon which he took hold of this end, and carefully drew out the thread with all the needles threaded on it. Then there was always much applause, and the small coins used to be put pretty liberally into the hat which he handed round to receive them."
"Was that all?" asked the young gentleman of the adventure books.
"All what, Fred?"
"All that you thought wonderful."
"Yes," said Cousin Peregrine. "Don't you think it curious?"
"Oh, very, Cousin, and I like it very much indeed, only if that's all you thought wonderful, now I want you to tell us what you did that the Chinese thought wonderful."
"It's not very easy to surprise a town-bred Chinaman," said Cousin Peregrine. "What I am going to tell you about now happened in the country. It was up in the north, and in a part where Europeans had very rarely been seen."
"How came you to be there, Cousin Peregrine?"
"I was not on duty. I had got leave for a few days to go up and see Pekin. Therefore I was not in uniform, remember, but in plain clothes.
"On this particular occasion I was on the river Peiho, in one of the clumsy Chinese river-boats. If the wind were favourable, we sailed; if we went with the stream—well and good. If neither stream nor wind were in our favour, the boat was towed."
"Like a barge—with a horse—Cousin Peregrine?"
"Like a barge, Maggie, but not with a horse. One or two of the Chinamen put the rope round them and pulled us along. It was not a quick way of travelling, as you may believe, and when the Peiho was slow and winding, I got out and walked by the paths among the fields."
"Paths and fields—like ours?"
"Yes. Very like some bits of the agricultural parts of England. But no pretty meadows. Every scrap of land seemed to be cultivated for crops. You know the population of China is enormous, and the Chinese are very economical in using their land to produce food, and as they are not great meat-eaters—as we are—their fields are mostly ploughed and sown, so I walked along among rice-fields and cotton-fields, and with little villages here and there, where the cottages are built of mud or stone with tile roofs."
"Did you see any of the villagers?"
"Most certainly I did. You must know that the inhospitable way in which the Chinese and Japanese have for many long years received strangers has come from misunderstandings, and ignorance, and suspicion, and perhaps from some other reasons; but the Chinese and Japanese villagers who see strangers for the first time, and have lived quiet country lives out of the way of politics, are often very hospitable and friendly. I am bound, however, to except the women; not because they wished us ill, but they are afraid of strangers, and they kept well out of our way."