THE LIVING LINK.
BY JAMES DE MILLE,
Author of "The Dodge Club," "Cord and Creese," "The Cryptogram," "The American Baron," &c, &c.
THE LIVING LINK.
* * * * *
A TERRIBLE SECRET.
On a pleasant evening in the month of May, 1840, a group of young ladies might have been seen on the portico of Plympton Terrace, a fashionable boarding-school near Derwentwater. They all moved about with those effusive demonstrations so characteristic of young girls; but on this occasion there was a general hush among them, which evidently arose from some unusual cause. As they walked up and down arm in arm, or with arms entwined, or with clasped hands, as young girls will, they talked in low earnest tones over some one engrossing subject, or occasionally gathered in little knots to debate some point, in which, while each offered a differing opinion, all were oppressed by one common sadness.
While they were thus engaged there arose in the distance the sound of a rapidly galloping horse. At once all the murmur of conversation died out, and the company stood in silence awaiting the new-comer. They did not have to wait long. Out from a place where the avenue wound amidst groves and thickets a young girl mounted on a spirited bay came at full speed toward the portico. Arriving there, she stopped abruptly; then leaping lightly down, she flung the reins over the horse's neck, who forthwith galloped away to his stall.
The rider who thus dismounted was young girl of about eighteen, and of very striking appearance. Her complexion was dark, her hair black, with its rich voluminous folds gathered in great glossy plaits behind. Her eyes were of a deep hazel color, radiant, and full of energetic life. In those eyes there was a certain earnestness of expression, however, deepening down into something that seemed like melancholy, which showed that even in her young life she had experienced sorrow. Her figure was slender and graceful, being well displayed by her close-fitting riding-habit, while a plumed hat completed her equipment, and served to heighten the effect of her beauty.
At her approach a sudden silence had fallen over the company, and they all stood motionless, looking at her as she dismounted.
"Why, what makes you all look at me so strangely?" she asked, in a tone of surprise, throwing a hasty glance over them. "Has any thing happened?"
To this question no answer was given, but each seemed waiting for the other to speak. At length a little thing of about twelve came up, and encircling the new-comer's waist with her arm, looked up with a sorrowful expression, and whispered,
"Edith dearest, Miss Plympton wants to see you."
The silence and ominous looks of the others, and the whispered words of the little girl, together with her mournful face, increased the surprise and anxiety of Edith. She looked with a strange air of apprehension over the company.
"What is it?" she asked, hurriedly. "Something has happened. Do any of you know? What is it?"
She spoke breathlessly, and her eyes once more wandered with anxious inquiry over all of them. But no one spoke, for, whatever it was, they felt the news to be serious—something, in fact, which could not well be communicated by themselves. Once more Edith repeated her question, and finding that no answer was forth-coming, her impatience allowed her to wait no longer; and so, gathering up her long skirts in one hand and holding her whip in the other, she hurried into the house to see Miss Plympton.
Miss Plympton's room was on the second floor, and that lady herself was seated by the window as Edith entered. In the young girl's face there was now a deeper anxiety, and seating herself near the centre-table, she looked inquiringly at Miss Plympton.
The latter regarded her for some moments in silence.
"Did you wish to see me, auntie dear?" said Edith.
Miss Plympton sighed.
"Yes," she said, slowly; "but, my poor darling Edie, I hardly know how to say to you what I have to say. I—I—do you think you can bear to hear it, dear?"
At this Edith looked more disturbed than ever; and placing her elbow on the centre-table, she leaned her cheek upon her hand, and fixed her melancholy eyes upon Miss Plympton. Her heart throbbed painfully, and the hand against which her head leaned trembled visibly. But these signs of agitation did not serve to lessen the emotion of the other; on the contrary, she seemed more distressed, and quite at a loss how to proceed.
"Edith," said she at last, "my child, you know how tenderly I love you. I have always tried to be a mother to you, and to save you from all sorrow; but now my love and care are all useless, for the sorrow has come, and I do not know any way by which I can break bad news to—to—a—a bereaved heart."
She spoke in a tremulous voice and with frequent pauses.
"Bereaved!" exclaimed Edith, with white lips. "Oh, auntie! Bereaved! Is it that? Oh, tell me all. Don't keep me in suspense. Let me know the worst."
Miss Plympton looked still more troubled. "I—I—don't know what to say," she faltered.
"You mean death!" cried Edith, in an excited voice; "and oh! I needn't ask who. There's only one—only one. I had only one—only one—and now—he is—gone!"
"Gone," repeated Miss Plympton, mechanically, and she said no more; for in the presence of Edith's grief, and of other facts which had yet to be disclosed—facts which would reveal to this innocent girl something worse than even bereavement—words were useless, and she could find nothing to say. Her hand wandered through the folds of her dress, and at length she drew forth a black-edged letter, at which she gazed in an abstracted way.
"Let me see it," cried Edith, hurriedly and eagerly; and before Miss Plympton could prevent her, or even imagine what she was about, she darted forward and snatched the letter from her hand. Then she tore it open and read it breathlessly. The letter was very short, and was written in a stiff, constrained hand. It was as follows:
"DALTON HALL, May 6, 1840.
"Madame,—It is my painful duty to communicate to you the death of Frederick Dalton, Esq., of Dalton Hall, who died at Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, on the 2d of December, 1839. I beg that you will impart this intelligence to Miss Dalton, for as she is now of age, she may wish to return to Dalton Hall.
"I remain, madame, "Your most obedient servant, "JOHN WIGGINS. "MISS PLYMPTON, Plympton Terrace."
Of this letter Edith took in the meaning of the first three lines only. Then it dropped from her trembling hands, and sinking into a chair, she burst into a torrent of tears. Miss Plympton regarded her with a face full of anxiety, and for some moments Edith wept without restraint; but at length, when the first outburst of grief was past, she picked up the letter once more and read it over and over.
Deep as Edith's grief evidently was, this bereavement was not, after all, so sore a blow as it might have been under other circumstances. For this father whom she had lost was virtually a stranger. Losing her mother at the age of eight, she had lived ever since with Miss Plympton, and during this time her father had never seen her, nor even written to her. Once or twice she had written to him a pretty childish letter, but he had never deigned any reply. If in that unknown nature there had been any thing of a father's love, no possible hint had ever been given of it. Of her strange isolation she was never forgetful, and she felt it most keenly during the summer holidays, when all her companions had gone to their homes. At such times she brooded much over her loneliness, and out of this feeling there arose a hope, which she never ceased to cherish, that the time would come when she might join her father, and live with him wherever he might be, and set herself to the task of winning his affections.
She had always understood that her father had been living in the East since her mother's death. The only communication which she had with him was indirect, and consisted of business letters which his English agent wrote to Miss Plympton. These were never any thing more than short, formal notes. Such neglect was keenly felt, and Edith, unwilling to blame her father altogether, tried to make some one else responsible for it. As she knew of no other human being who had any connection with her father except this agent, she brought herself gradually to look upon him as the cause of her father's coldness, and so at length came to regard him with a hatred that was unreasoning and intense. She considered him her father's evil genius, and believed him to be somehow at the bottom of the troubles of her life. Thus every year this man, John Wiggins, grew more hateful, and she accustomed herself to think of him as an evil fiend, a Mephistopheles, by whose crafty wiles her father's heart had been estranged from her. Such, then, was the nature of Edith's bereavement; and as she mourned over it she did not mourn so much over the reality as over her vanished hope. He was gone, and with him was gone the expectation of meeting him and winning his affection. She would never see him—never be able to tell how she loved him, and hear him say with a father's voice that he loved his child!
These thoughts and feelings overwhelmed Edith even as she held the letter in her hand for a new perusal, and she read it over and over without attaching any meaning to the words. At length her attention was arrested by one statement in that short letter which had hitherto escaped her notice. This was the name of the place where her father's death had occurred—Van Diemen's Land.
"I don't understand this," said she. "What is the meaning of this—Van Diemen's Land? I did not know that poor papa had ever left India."
Miss Plympton made no reply to this for some time, but looked more troubled than ever.
"What does it mean," asked Edith again—"this Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land? What does it mean?"
"Well, dear," said Miss Plympton, in strangely gentle and mournful voice, "you have never known much about your poor father, and you have never known exactly where he has been living. He did not live in India, dear; he never lived in India. He lived in—in—Van Diemen's Land."
Miss Plympton's tone and look affected Edith very unpleasantly. The mystery about her father seemed to grow darker, and to assume something of an ill-omened character. The name also—Van Diemen's Land—served to heighten her dark apprehensions; and this discovery that she had known even less than she supposed about her father made it seem as though the knowledge that had thus been hidden could not but be painful.
"What do you mean?" she asked again; and her voice died down to a whisper through the vague fears that had been awakened. "I thought that poor papa lived in India—that he held some office under government."
"I know that you believed so," said Miss Plympton, regarding Edith with a look that was full of pity and mournful sympathy. "That was what I gave out. None of the girls have ever suspected the truth. No one knows whose daughter you really are. They do not suspect that your father was Dalton of Dalton Hall. They think that he was an Indian resident in the Company's service. Yes, I have kept the secret well, dear—the secret that I promised your dear mother on her death-bed to keep from all the world, and from you, darling, till the time should come for you to know. And often and often, dear, have I thought of this moment, and tried to prepare for it; but now, since it has come, I am worse than unprepared. But preparations are of no use, for oh, my darling, my own Edith, I must speak, if I speak at all, from my heart."
These words were spoken by Miss Plympton in a broken, disconnected, and almost incoherent manner. She stopped abruptly, and seemed overcome by strong agitation. Edith, on her part, looked at her in equal agitation, wondering at her display of emotion, and terrified at the dark significance of her words. For from those words she learned this much already—that her father had been living in Van Diemen's Land, a penal colony; that around him had been a dark secret which had been kept from her most carefully; that her parentage had been concealed most scrupulously from the knowledge of her school-mates; and that this secret which had been so guarded was even now overwhelming Miss Plympton so that she shrunk from communicating it. All this served to fill the mind of Edith with terrible presentiments, and the mystery which had hitherto surrounded her father seemed now about to result in a revelation more terrible than the mystery itself.
After some time Miss Plympton rose, and drawing her chair nearer, sat down in front of Edith, and took both her hands.
"My poor darling Edith," said she, in pitying tones, "I am anxious for you. You are not strong enough for this. Your hands are damp and cold. You are trembling. I would not have brought up this subject now, but I have been thinking that the time has come for telling you all. But I'm afraid it will be too much for you. You have already enough to bear without having this in addition. You are too weak."
Edith shook her head.
"Can you bear it?" asked Miss Plympton, anxiously, "this that I wish to tell you? Perhaps I had better defer it."
"No," said Edith, in a forced voice. "No—now—now—tell me now. I can bear whatever it is better than any horrible suspense."
Miss Plympton sighed, and leaning forward, she kissed the pale forehead of the young girl. Then, after a little further delay, during which she seemed to be collecting her thoughts, she began:
"I was governess once, Edith dearest, in your dear mamma's family. She was quite a little thing then. All the rest were harsh, and treated me like a slave; but she was like an angel, and made me feel the only real happiness I knew in all those dreary days. I loved her dearly for her gentle and noble nature. I loved her always, and I still love her memory; and I love you as I loved her, and for her sake. And when she gave you to me, on her death-bed, I promised her that I would be a mother to you, dear. You have never known how much I love you—for I am not demonstrative—but I do love you, my own Edith, most dearly, and I would spare you this if I could. But, after all, it is a thing which you must know some time, and before very long—the sooner the better."
"I wish to know it now," said Edith, as Miss Plympton hesitated, speaking in a constrained voice, the result of the strong pressure which she was putting on her feelings—"now," she repeated. "I can not wait. I must know all to-day. What was it? Was it—crime?"
"The charge that was against him," said Miss Plympton, "involved crime. But, my darling, you must remember always that an accusation is not the same as a fact, even though men believe it; yes, even though the law may condemn the accused, and the innocent may suffer. Edith Dalton," she continued, with solemn earnestness, "I believe that your father was as innocent as you are. Remember that! Cling to that! Never give up that belief, no matter what you may hear. There was too much haste and blind passion and prejudice in that court where he was tried, and appearances were dark, and there was foul treachery somewhere; and so it was that Frederick Dalton was done to ruin and his wife done to death. And now, my darling, you have to make yourself acquainted not with a father's crimes, but with a father's sufferings. You are old enough now to hear that story, and you have sufficient independence of character to judge for yourself, dear. There is no reason why you should be overwhelmed when you hear it—unless, indeed, you are overcome by pity for the innocent and indignation against his judges. Even if society considers your father's name a stained and dishonored one, there is no reason why his daughter should feel shame, for you may take your stand on his own declaration of innocence, and hold up your head proudly before the world."
Miss Plympton spoke this with vehement emotion, and her words brought some consolation to Edith. The horrible thought that had at first come was that her father had been a convict in some penal settlement, but this solemn assurance of his innocence mitigated the horror of the thought, and changed it into pity. She said not a word, however, for her feelings were still too strong, nor could she find voice for any words. She sat, therefore, in silence, and waited for Miss Plympton to tell the whole story.
Miss Plympton surveyed Edith anxiously for a few moments, and then rising, went over to an escritoire. This she unlocked, and taking from it a parcel, she returned to her seat.
"I am not going to tell you the story," said she. "I can not bear to recall it. It is all here, and you may read it for yourself. It was all public ten years ago, and in this package are the reports of the trial. I have read them over so often that I almost know them by heart; and I know, too, the haste of that trial, and the looseness of that evidence. I have marked it in places—for your eyes only, dearest—for I prepared it for you, to be handed to you in case of my death. My life, however, has been preserved, and I now give this into your own hands. You must take it to your own room, and read it all over by yourself. You will learn there all that the world believes about your father, and will see in his own words what he says about himself. And for my part, even if the testimony were far stronger, I would still take the word of Frederick Dalton!"
Miss Plympton held out the parcel, and Edith took it, though she was scarce conscious of the act. An awful foreboding of calamity, the mysterious shadow of her father's fate, descended over her soul. She was unconscious of the kiss which Miss Plympton gave her; nor was she conscious of any thing till she found herself seated at a table in her own room, with the door locked, and the package lying on the table before her. She let it lie there for a few moments, for her agitation was excessive, and she dreaded to open it; but at length she mastered her feelings, and began to undo the strings.
The contents of the parcel consisted of sheets of paper, upon which were pasted columns of printed matter cut from some newspaper. It was the report of the trial of Frederick Dalton, upon charges which ten years before had filled the public mind with horror and curiosity. In these days the most cursory reader who took up the report came to the work with a mind full of vivid interest and breathless suspense; but that report now lay before the eyes of a far different reader—one who was animated by feelings far more intense, since it was the daughter of the accused herself. That daughter also was one who hitherto had lived in an atmosphere of innocence, purity, and love, one who shrank in abhorrence from all that was base or vile; and this was the one before whose eyes was now placed the horrible record that had been made up before the world against her father's name.
The printed columns were pasted in such a way that a wide margin was left, which was covered with notes in Miss Plympton's writing. To give any thing like a detailed account of this report, with the annotations, is out of the question, nor will any thing be necessary beyond a general summary of the facts therein stated.
* * * * *
THE CONTENTS OF THE MANUSCRIPT.
On the date indicated in the report, then, the city of Liverpool and the whole country were agitated by the news of a terrible murder. On the road-side near Everton the dead body of a Mr. Henderson, an eminent banker, had been found, not far from his own residence. The discovery had been made at about eleven o'clock in the evening by some passers-by. Upon examination a wound was found in the back of the head which had been caused by a bullet. His watch and purse were still in their places, but his pocket-book was gone. Clasped in one of the hands was a newspaper, on the blank margin of which were some red letters, rudely traced, and looking as though they had been written with blood. The letters were these:
"DALTON SHOT ME BEC—"
It was evident that the writer intended to write the word "because," and give the reason why he had been shot, but that his strength had failed in the middle of the word.
A closer search revealed some other things. One was a small stick, the point of which was reddened with a substance which microscopic examination afterward showed to be blood. The other was a scarf-pin made of gold, the head of which consisted of a Maltese cross, of very rich and elegant design. In the middle was black enamel inclosed by a richly chased gold border, and at the intersection of the bars was a small diamond of great splendor. If this cross belonged to the murderer it had doubtless become loosened, and fallen out while he was stooping over his victim, and the loss had not been noticed in the excitement of the occasion.
At the coroner's inquest various important circumstances were brought to light. The fact that his watch and purse remained made it plain that it was not a case of common highway robbery, and the loss of the pocket-book showed that the deed was prompted by a desire for something more than ordinary plunder. Proceeding from this, various circumstances arose which, in addition to the terrible accusation traced in blood, tended to throw suspicion upon Frederick Dalton.
It came out that on the morning of that very day Mr. Henderson had discovered a check for two thousand pounds that had been forged in his name. Being a very choleric man, he felt more than the anger which is natural under such circumstances, and vowed vengeance to the uttermost upon the forger. That same morning Mr. Frederick Dalton came to see him, and was shown into his private office. He had just arrived in the city, and had come on purpose to pay this visit. The interview was a protracted one, and the clerks outside heard the voice of Mr. Henderson in a very high key, and in a strain of what sounded like angry menace and denunciations of vengeance, though they could not make out any words. At last the office door opened, and Dalton came out. He was very pale, and much agitated. One of the clerks heard him say, in a low voice,
"Only one day—till this time to-morrow."
Whereupon Mr. Henderson roared out in a loud voice, which all the clerks heard,
"No, Sir! Not one day, not one hour, if I die for it!"
Upon this Dalton walked away, looking paler and more agitated than ever.
In the course of the day Mr. Henderson told his confidential clerk that the check had just been used by Dalton, who, however, denied that he was the forger; that the visit of Dalton professed to be on behalf of the guilty party, whom he wished to screen. Dalton had refused to give the culprit's name, and offered to pay the amount of the check, or any additional sum whatever, if no proceedings were taken. This, however, Mr. Henderson refused, and in his indignation charged Dalton himself with the crime. Under these circumstances the interview had terminated.
Thus the evidence against Dalton was the forged check, the clerks' reports concerning the exciting interview with Mr. Henderson, the awful accusation of the deceased himself, written in his own blood, together with the Maltese cross, which was believed to belong to Dalton. The arrest of Dalton had been made at the earliest possible moment; and at the trial these were the things which were made use of against him by the prosecution. By energetic efforts discovery was made of a jeweler who recognized the Maltese cross as his own work, and swore that he had made it for Frederick Dalton, in accordance with a special design furnished him by that gentleman. The design had been kept in his order-book ever since, and was produced by him in court. Thus the testimony of the jeweler and the order-book served to fix the ownership of the Maltese cross upon Dalton in such a way that it corroborated and confirmed all the other testimony.
On the other hand, the defense of Dalton took up all these points. In the first place, it was shown that in his case there was no conceivable temptation that could have led to the commission of such a crime. He was a man of great wealth, possessed of a fine estate, and free from all pecuniary embarrassments. He was not what was called a sporting man, and therefore could not have secretly accumulated debts while appearing rich. It was shown, also, that his character was stainless; that he was essentially a domestic man, living quietly at Dalton Hall with his wife and child, and therefore, from his worldly means as well as from his personal character and surroundings, it was morally impossible for him to have forged the check.
With reference to the interview with Mr. Henderson, it was maintained that it arose, as he himself said, from a desire to shield the real culprit, whom he knew, and for whom he felt a strong and unusual regard. Who this culprit was the defense did not assert, nor could they imagine, though they tried every possible way of finding him out. Whoever he was, he appeared to be the only one who could have had a motive strong enough for the murder of Mr. Henderson. The unknown assassin had evidently done the deed so as to obtain possession of the forged check, and prevent its being used against him. In this he was unsuccessful, since the check had already been intrusted to the hands of others; but the aim of the assassin was sufficiently evident.
Again, as to the writing in blood, a vigorous effort was made to show that this was a conspiracy against an innocent man. It was argued that Mr. Henderson did not write it at all; and efforts were made to prove that the wound in his head must have caused instantaneous death. He himself, therefore, could not have written it, but it must have been the work of some one who was plotting against Dalton, or who was eager to divert suspicion from himself.
The testimony of the Maltese cross was met by counter-testimony to the effect that Dalton had never worn such an ornament. His servants all swore that they had never seen it before. Mr. Henderson's clerks also swore that Mr. Dalton wore no pin at all on that morning of the interview.
And, finally, an effort was made to prove an alibi. It was shown that Dalton's occupation of his time during that evening could be accounted for with the exception of one hour. Witnesses were produced from the hotel where he put up who swore that he had been there until eight o'clock in the evening, when he left, returning at nine. An hour, therefore, remained to be accounted for. As to this hour—on the one hand, it seemed hardly sufficient for the deed, but yet it was certainly possible for him to have done it within that time; and thus it remained for the defense to account for that hour. For this purpose a note was produced, which was scribbled in pencil and addressed to John Wiggins, Esq.
It was as follows:
"Dear Wiggins,—I have been here ever since eight, and am tired of waiting. Come to my room as soon as you get back. I'll be there.
Yours, F. DALTON."
Mr. John Wiggins testified that he had made an appointment to meet Dalton at the hour mentioned in the note, but had been detained on business until late. He had found this on his return thrust under the office door. On going to see him the following morning he had learned of his arrest.
This note and the testimony of Wiggins were felt to bear strongly in Dalton's favor. If the accused had really been waiting at the office, as the note stated, then clearly he could not have followed on Mr. Henderson's track to Everton. The force of this weighed more than any thing else with the court; the summing up of the judge also bore strongly toward an acquittal; and, consequently, Dalton was declared not guilty.
But the acquittal on this first charge did not at all secure the escape of Dalton from danger. Another charge, which had been interwoven with the first, still impended over him, and no sooner was he declared free of murder than he was arrested on the charge of forgery, and remanded to prison to await his trial on that accusation.
Now during the whole course of the trial the public mind had been intensely excited; all men were eager than vengeance should fall on some one, and at the outset had made up their minds that Dalton was guilty. The verdict of acquittal created deep and widespread dissatisfaction, for it seemed as though justice had been cheated of a victim. When, therefore, the trial for forgery came on, there weighed against Dalton all the infamy that had been accumulating against him during the trial for murder. Had this trial stood alone, the prisoner's counsel might have successfully pleaded his high character, as well as his wealth, against this charge, and shown that it was false because it was morally impossible. But this was no longer of avail, and in the public mind Frederick Dalton was deemed only a desperate murderer, whose good reputation was merely the result of life-long hypocrisy, and whose character was but an empty name.
And so in this trial it was shown that Dalton had first put forth the forged check, and afterward learning that it was discovered prematurely, had hurried to Liverpool so as to get it back from Mr. Henderson. His asserted wealth was not believed in. Efforts were made to show that he had been connected with men of desperate fortunes, and had himself been perhaps betting heavily; and all this arts which ate usually employed by unscrupulous or excited advocates to crush an accused man were freely put forth. Experts were brought from London to examine Dalton's handwriting, and compare it with that of the forged check; and these men yielding to the common prejudice, gave it as their opinion that he was, or might have been(!), the author of the forgery.
But all this was as nothing when compared with the injury which Dalton himself did to his own cause by the course which he chose to adopt. Contenting himself with the simple assertion of his innocence, he refused to give the name of the guilty man, or to say any thing that might lead to his discovery. Actuated by a lofty sense of honor, a chivalrous sentiment of loyalty and friendship, he kept the secret with obstinate fidelity; and the almost frantic appeals of his counsel, who saw in the discovery of the real offender the only chance for the escape of the accused, and who used every possible argument to shake his resolve, availed not in the slightest degree to shake his firmness. They employed detectives, and instituted inquiries in all directions in the endeavor to find out who might be this friend for whom Dalton was willing to risk honor and life; but their search was completely baffled. Dalton's silence was therefore taken as an evidence of guilt, and his refusal to confess on a friend was regarded as a silly attempt to excite public sympathy. When the counsel ventured to bring this forward to the jury, and tried to portray Dalton as a man who chose rather to suffer than to say that which might bring a friend to destruction, it was regarded as a wild, Quixotic, and maudlin piece of sentimentalism on the part of said counsel, and was treated by the prosecution with unspeakable scorn and ridicule. Under such circumstances the result was inevitable: Frederick Dalton was declared guilty, and sentenced to transportation for life.
Among the notes which had been written by Miss Plympton, Edith was very forcibly struck by some which referred to John Wiggins.
"Who is this J.W.?" was written in one place. "How did F.D. become acquainted with him?"
In another place, where Wiggins gave his testimony about the note, was written: "Where was J.W. during that hour? Had he gone to Everton himself?"
And again: "J.W. was the friend of F.D., and wished to save him. Might he not have done more?"
Again: "Mark well! J.W. is a Liverpool man. H. was a Liverpool man. Had F.D. ever heard of even the name of H. before the forgery? What was the nature of the dealings between F.D. and J.W.?"
Again, when Dalton's silence was so sharply commented on and urged as proof of his guilt, there occurred the following: "If F.D. was silent, why did not J.W. open his mouth? Must he not have known at least something? Could he not have set the authorities upon the track of the real criminal, and thus have saved F.D.?"
Again: "The Maltese cross did not belong to Dalton. He had ordered it to be made. For whom? Was it not for this same friend for whom he was now suffering? Was not this friend the murderer? Has he not thrown suspicion upon F.D. by that writing in blood? The same one who committed the murder wrote the false charge, and left the Maltese cross."
Other notes of similar character occurred in various places, but those which impressed Edith most were the following:
"F.D. was evidently betrayed by his false friend. Was not that false friend the real murderer? Did he not contrive to throw on F.D. the suspicion of the murder? Might not the forgery itself from the very beginning have been part of a plan to ruin F.D.? But why ruin him? Evidently to gain some benefit. Now who has been more benefited by the ruin of F.D.? Whoever he is, must he not he be the murderer and the false friend?"
Again, a little further on: "Has any one gained any thing from the ruin of F.D. but J.W.? Has not J.W. ever since had control of Dalton property? Is he not rich now? Has not the ruin of F.D. made the fortune of J.W.?"
Such was the substance of the papers which Edith perused. They were voluminous, and she continued at her task all through that night, her heart all the time filled with a thousand contending emotions.
Before her mind all the time there was the image of her father in the judgment-hall. There he stood, the innocent man, betrayed by his friend, and yet standing there in his simple faith and truth to save that friend, obstinate in his self-sacrificing fidelity, true to faith when the other had proved himself worthless, suffering what can only be suffered by a generous nature as the hours and the days passed and the end approached, and still the traitor allowed him to suffer. And there was the hate and scorn of man, the clamor for vengeance from society, the condemnation of the jury who had prejudged his case, the sneer of the paid advocate, the scoff of the gaping crowd, to whom the plea of noblesse oblige and stainless honor and perfect truth seemed only maudlin sentimentality and Quixotic extravagance.
All these thoughts were in Edith's mind as she read, and these feelings swelled within her indignant heart as all the facts in that dread tragedy were slowly revealed one by one. Coming to this task with a mind convinced at the outset of her father's innocence, she met with not one circumstance that could shake that conviction for a moment. In her own strong feeling she was incapable of understanding how any one could honestly think otherwise. The testimony of adverse witnesses seemed to her perjury, the arguments of the lawyers fiendish malignity, the last summing up of the judge bitter prejudice, and the verdict of the jury a mockery of justice.
* * * * *
THE MOMENTOUS RESOLVE.
Early on the following morning Miss Plympton called on Edith, and was shocked to see the changes that had been made in her by that one night. She did not regard so much the pallor of her face, the languor of her manner, and her unelastic step, but rather the new expression that appeared upon her countenance, the thoughtfulness of her brow, the deep and earnest abstraction of her gaze. In that one night she seemed to have stepped from girlhood to maturity. It was as though she had lived through the intervening experience. Years had been crowded into hours. She was no longer a school-girl—she was a woman.
Miss Plympton soon retired, with the promise to come again when Edith should feel stronger. Breakfast was sent up, and taken away untasted, and at noon Miss Plympton once more made her appearance.
"I have been thinking about many things," said Edith, after some preliminary remarks, "and have been trying to recall what I can of my own remembrance of papa. I was only eight years old, but I have a pretty distinct recollection of him, and it has been strengthened by his portrait, which I always have had. Of my mother I have a most vivid remembrance, and I have never forgotten one single circumstance connected with her last illness. I remember your arrival, and my departure from home after all was over. But there is one thing which I should like very much to ask you about. Did none of my mother's relatives come to see her during this time?"
"Your mother's relatives acted very badly indeed, dear. From the first they were carried away by the common belief in your dear father's guilt. Some of them came flying to your mother. She was very ill at the time, and these relatives brought her the first news which she received. It was a severe blow. They were hard-hearted or thoughtless enough to denounce your father to her, and she in her weak state tried to defend him. All this produced so deplorable an effect that she sank rapidly. Her relatives left her in this condition. She tried to be carried to your dear father in his prison, but could not bear the journey. They took her as far as the gates, but she fainted there, and had to be taken back to the house. So then she gave up. She knew that she was going to die, and wrote to me imploring me to come to her. She wished to intrust you to me. I took you from her arms—"
Miss Plympton paused, and Edith was silent for some time.
"So," said she, in a scarce audible voice, "darling mamma died of a broken heart?"
Miss Plympton, said nothing. A long silence followed.
"Had my father no friends," asked Edith, "or no relatives?"
"He had no relatives," said Miss Plympton, "but an only sister. She married a Captain Dudleigh, now Sir Lionel Dudleigh. But it was a very unhappy marriage, for they separated. I never knew the cause; and Captain Dudleigh took it so much to heart that he went abroad. He could not have heard of your father's misfortunes till all was over and it was too late. But in any case I do not see what he could have done, unless he had contrived to shake your father's resolve. As to his wife, I have never heard of her movements, and I think she must have died long ago. Neither she nor her husband is mentioned at the trial. If they had been in England, it seems to me that they would have come forward as witnesses in some way; so I think they were both out of the country. Sir Lionel is alive yet, I think, but he has always lived out of the world. I believe his family troubles destroyed his happiness, and made him somewhat misanthropical. I have sometimes thought in former years that he might make inquiries about you, but he has never done so to my knowledge, though perhaps he has tried without being able to hear where you were. After all, he would scarcely know where to look. On the whole, I consider Sir Lionel the only friend you have, Edith darling, besides myself, and if any trouble should ever arise, he would be the one to whom I should apply for assistance, or at least advice."
Edith listened to this, and made no comment, but after another thoughtful pause she said,
"About this Wiggins—have you ever heard any thing of him since the—the trial?"
Miss Plympton shook her head.
"No," said she, "except from those formal business notes. You have seen them all, and know what they are."
"Have you ever formed any opinion of him more favorable than what you wrote in those notes?"
"I do not think that I wrote any thing more than suspicions or surmises," said Miss Plympton; "and as far as suspicions are concerned, I certainly have not changed my mind. The position which he occupied during the trial, and ever since, excites my suspicions against him. All others suffered; he alone was benefited. And now, too, when all is over, he seems still in his old position—perhaps a better one than ever—the agent of the estates, and assuming to some extent a guardianship over you. At least he gives directions about you, for he says you are to go back to Dalton Hall. But in that he shall find himself mistaken, for I will never allow you to put yourself in his power."
"Have you ever seen him?" asked Edith.
She bent down her head, and leaned her forehead on her hand.
"Well," said she, in a low voice, half to herself, "it don't matter; I shall see him soon myself."
"See him yourself!" said Miss Plympton, anxiously. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, I shall see him soon—when I get to Dalton Hall."
"Yes," said Edith, simply, raising her head and looking calmly at Miss Plympton.
"But you are not going to Dalton Hall."
"There is no other place for me," said Edith, sadly. "I am going—I am going as soon as possible."
"Oh no—oh no, darling; you are going to do nothing of the kind," said Miss Plympton. "I can not let you go. We all love you too dearly. This is your home, and I now stand in the place of those whom you have lost. You are never to leave me, Edith dearest."
Edith sighed heavily, and shook her head.
"No," she said, speaking in a low, melancholy voice—"no, I can not stay. I can not meet my friends here again. I am not what I was yesterday. I am changed. It seems as though some heavy weight has come upon me. I must go away, and I have only one place to go to, and that is my father's home."
"My darling," said Miss Plympton, drawing her chair close to Edith, and twining her arms about her, "you must not talk so; you can not imagine how you distress me. I can not let you go. Do not think of these things. We all love you. Do not imagine that your secret will be discovered. No one shall ever know it. In a few days you yourself will feel different. The consciousness of your father's innocence will make you feel more patient, and the love of all your friends will make your life as happy as ever."
"No," said Edith, "I can not—I can not. You can not imagine how I dread to see the face of any one of them. I shall imagine that they know all; and I can not tell them. They will tease me to tell them my troubles, and it will only worry me. No, for me to stay here is impossible. I would go any where first."
She spoke so firmly and decisively that Miss Plympton forbore to press her further just then.
"At any rate, my darling," said she, "you need not think of Dalton Hall. I can find you other places which will be far more suitable to you in every way. If it distresses you to stay here, I can find a happy home for you, where you can stay till you feel able to return to us again."
"There is no place," said Edith, "where I can stay. I do not want to go among strangers, or to strange places. I have a home, and that is the only place that I can go to now. That home is familiar to me. I remember it well. It is where I was born. Dear mamma's room is there, where I used to sit with her and hear her voice. My dear papa and mamma were happy there; and she died there. It has its own associations; and now since this great sorrow has come, I long to go there. It seems the fittest place for me."
"But, my child," said Miss Plympton, anxiously, "there is one thing that you do not consider. Far be it from me to stand in the way of any of your wishes, especially at a time like this, but is seems to me that a return to Dalton Hall just now is hardly safe."
Edith spoke in a tone of surprise, and looked inquiringly at Miss Plympton.
"I don't like this John Wiggins," said Miss Plympton, uneasily; I am afraid of him."
"But what possible cause can there be of fear?" asked Edith.
"Oh, I don't know," said Miss Plympton, with a sigh; "no one can tell. If my suspicions are at all correct, he is a man who might be very dangerous. He has control of all the estates, and—"
"But for that very reason I would go home," said Edith, "if there were no stronger inducement, to do what I can to put an end to his management."
"How could you do any thing with him?" asked Miss Plympton; "you so young and inexperienced."
"I don't know," said Edith, simply; "but the estates are mine, and not his; and Dalton Hall is mine; and if I am the owner, surely I ought to have some power. There are other agents in the world, and other lawyers. They can help me, if I wish help. We are not living in the Middle Ages when some one could seize one's property by the strong hand and keep it. There is law in the country, and Wiggins is subject to it."
"Oh, my child," said Miss Plympton, anxiously, "I am terrified at the very thought of your being in that man's power. You can not tell what things are possible; and though there is law, as you say, yet it does not always happen that one can get justice."
"That I know, or ought to know," said Edith, in a mournful voice; "I have learned that this past night only too well."
"It seems to me," said Miss Plympton, with the same anxiety in her voice, "that to return to Dalton Hall will be to put yourself in some way into his power. If he is really the unscrupulous, crafty, and scheming man that I have suspected him to be, he will not find it difficult to weave some plot around you which may endanger your whole life. There is no safety in being bear that man. Be mistress of Dalton Hall, but do not go there till you have driven him away. It seems by his last letters as though he is living there now, and if you go there you will find yourself in some sense under his control."
"Well," said Edith, "I do not doubt his willingness to injure me if he can, or to weave a plot which shall ruin me; but, after all, such a thing takes time. He can not ruin me in one day, or in one week, and so I think I can return to Dalton Hall in safety, and be secure for a few days at least."
Miss Plympton made some further objections, but the vague fears to which she gave expression met with no response from Edith, who looked upon her journey home in a very sober and commonplace light, and refused to let her imagination terrify her. Her argument that Wiggins would require some time to injure her was not easy to answer, and gradually Miss Plympton found herself forced to yield to Edith's determination. In fact, there was much in that resolve which was highly natural. Edith, in the first place, could not bear to resume her intimacy with her school-mates, for reasons which she had stated already; and, in addition to this, she had a strong and irresistible longing to go to the only place that was now her home. There she hoped to find peace, and gain consolation in the midst of the scenes of her childhood and the memories of her parents. These were her chief motives for action now; but in addition to these she had others. The chief was a strong desire to dismiss Wiggins from his post of agent.
The detestation which she had already conceived for this man has been noticed in a previous chapter. It had grown during past years out of a habit of her mind to associate with him the apparent alienation of her father. But now, since her father's past life was explained, this John Wiggins appeared in a new light. The dark suggestions of Miss Plympton, her suspicions as to his character and motives, had sunk deep into the soul of Edith, and taken root there. She had not yet been able to bring herself to think that this John Wiggins was himself the treacherous friend, but she was on the high-road to that belief, and already had advanced far enough to feel convinced that Wiggins could have at least saved her father if he had chosen. One thing, however, was evident to all the world, and that was what Miss Plympton laid so much stress on, the fact that he had profited by her father's ruin, and had won gold and influence and position out of her father's tears and agonies and death. And so, while she longed to go home for her own consolation, there also arose within her another motive to draw her there—the desire to see this Wiggins, to confront him, to talk to him face to face, to drive him out from the Dalton estates, and if she could not vindicate her father's memory, at least put an end to the triumph of one of his false friends.
The result of this interview was, then, that Edith should return to Dalton Hall; and as she was unwilling to wait, she decided to leave in two days. Miss Plympton was to go with her.
"And now," said Miss Plympton, "we must write at once and give notice of your coming."
"Write?" said Edith, coldly, "to whom?"
"Why, to—to Wiggins, I suppose," said Miss Plympton, with some hesitation.
"I refuse to recognize Wiggins," said Edith. "I will not communicate with him in any way. My first act shall be to dismiss him."
"But you must send some notice to some one; you must have some preparations made."
"Oh, I shall not need any elaborate preparations; a room will be sufficient. I should not wish to encounter the greetings of this man, or see him complacently take credit to himself for his attentions to me—and his preparations. No; I shall go and take things as I find them, and I should prefer to go without notice."
At this Miss Plympton seemed a little more uneasy than before, and made further efforts to change Edith's decision, but in vain. She was, in fact, more perplexed at Edith herself than at any other thing; for this one who but a day before had been a gentle, tractable, docile, gay, light-hearted girl had suddenly started up into a stern, self-willed woman, with a dauntless spirit and inflexible resolve.
"There is only one more thing that I have to mention," said Edith, as Miss Plympton rose to go. "It is a favor that I have to ask of you. It is this;" and she laid her hand on the papers of the report, which were lying rolled up in a parcel on the table. "Have you any further use for this? Will you let me keep it?"
"The need that I had for it," said Miss Plympton, "was over when I gave it to you. I prepared it for you, and preserved it for you, and now that you have it, its work is accomplished. It is yours, dearest, for you to do as you choose with it."
To this Edith murmured some words of thanks, and taking up the parcel, proceeded to tie it up more carefully.
* * * * *
THE WELCOME HOME.
Dalton Hall was one of the most magnificent country-seats in Somersetshire. The village of Dalton, which bears the same name as the old family seat, is situated on the banks of a little river which winds through a pleasant plain on its course to the Bristol Channel, and at this place is crossed by a fine old rustic bridge with two arches. The village church, a heavy edifice, with an enormous ivy-grown tower, stands on the further side; and beyond that the gables and chimneys of Dalton Hall may be seen rising, about a mile away, out of the midst of a sea of foliage. The porter's lodge is about half a mile distant from the church, and the massive wall which incloses Dalton Park runs along the road for some miles.
There was a railway station about four miles away from the village, and it was at this station that Edith arrived on her way home. Miss Plympton had come with her, with the intention of remaining long enough to see Edith comfortably installed in her new abode, and with the hope of persuading her to go back if circumstances did not seem favorable. A footman and a maid also accompanied them.
On reaching the station they found themselves at first at a loss how to proceed, for there were no carriages in waiting. Of course, as no notice had been sent of her journey, Edith could not expect to find any carriage from Dalton Hall; nor did she think much about this circumstance. Dressed in deep mourning, with her pale face and dark, thoughtful eyes, she seemed to be given up to her own mournful reflections; and on finding that they would have to wait, she seated herself on a bench, and looked with an abstracted gaze upon the surrounding scene. Miss Plympton gave some directions to the footman, who at once went off to seek a carriage; after which she seated herself near Edith, while the maid sat on a trunk at a little distance. They had traveled all day long, and felt very much fatigued; so that nothing was said by any of them as they sat there waiting for the footman's return. At length, after about half an hour, a hackney-coach drove up, which the footman had procured from an inn not far away, and in this undignified manner they prepared to complete their journey. A long drive of four or five miles now remained; and when at length they reached the park gate none of them had much strength left. Here the coach stopped, and the footman rang the bell loudly and impatiently.
There was no immediate answer to this summons, and the footman rang again and again; and finally, as the delay still continued, he gave the bell a dozen tremendous pulls in quick succession. This brought an answer, at any rate; for a man appeared, emerging from a neighboring grove, who walked toward the gate with a rapid pace. He was a short, bull-necked, thickset, broad-shouldered man, with coarse black hair and heavy, matted beard. His nose was flat on his face, his chin was square, and he looked exactly like a prize-fighter. He had a red shirt, with a yellow spotted handkerchief flung about his neck, and his corduroy trowsers were tucked into a pair of muddy boots.
The moment he reached the gate he roared out a volley of the most fearful oaths: Who were they? What did they mean, dash them? What the dash dash did they mean by making such a dash dash noise?
"You'll get your ugly head broken, you scoundrel!" roared the footman, who was beside himself with rage at this insult to his mistress, coming as it did at the close of so long and irritating a delay. "Hold your infernal tongue, and open the gate at once. Is this the way you dare to talk before your mistress?"
"Mistress! You dashed fool," was the response, "what the dash do I know about mistresses? I'll make a beginning with you, you sleek, fat powder-monkey, with your shiny beaver and stuffed calves!"
Edith heard all this, and her amazement was so great that it drove away all fatigue. Her heart beat high and her spirit rose at this insult. Opening the carriage door, she sprang out, and, walking up to the gate, she confronted the porter as a goddess might confront a satyr. The calm, cold gaze which she gave his was one which the brute could not encounter. He could face any one of his own order; but the eye that now rested on him gave him pain, and his glance fell sulkily before that of his mistress.
"I am your mistress—Miss Dalton," said Edith. "Open that gate immediately."
"I don't know any thing about mistresses," said the fellow. "My orders are not to open them gates to nobody."
At this rebuff Edith was for a moment perplexed, but soon rallied. She reflected that this man was a servant under orders, and that it would be useless to talk to him. She must see the principal.
"Who gave those orders?" she asked.
"Mr. Wiggins," said the man, gruffly.
"Is that man here now?" asked Edith.
The man looked up suspiciously and in evident surprise, but his eyes fell again.
"Mr. Wiggins? He is here; he lives here."
"Then do you go at once," said Edith, loftily, "and say to that man that Miss Dalton is here."
The fellow glanced furtively at the carriage, where he saw the pale face of Miss Plympton and the paler face of the maid, and then with a grunt he turned and walked up the avenue. Edith went back to the carriage and resumed her seat.
This scene had produced a profound effect upon her two companions. Miss Plympton's worst apprehensions seemed justified by this rude repulse at the gates, and the moment that Edith came back she began to entreat her to return.
"Come back," she said, "to the inn. Do, darling, at least for the night, till we can send word to Wiggins."
"No," said Edith, firmly; "I will not recognize Wiggins at all. I am going to dismiss him the moment that I enter the Hall. I can wait patiently just now."
"But at least come back for this night. You may be sure that they will not be ready for you. You will have to come back after all."
"Well," said Edith, "I shall at least take formal possession of Dalton Hall first, and let Wiggins see that I am mistress there."
Miss Plympton sighed. Every hour only showed in a stronger manner how hopeless was any attempt of hers to move Edith from any resolve that she might make. Already she recognized in that slender young girl the stubborn spirit of her father—a spirit which would meet death and destruction rather than swerve from its set purpose.
Nothing more was said, but they all waited patiently for the porter's return. It seemed a very long time. The footman fussed and fumed, and at length beguiled the time by smoking and chatting with the coachman, whom he questioned about Mr. Wiggins. The coachman, however, could give him no information on the subject. "I only know," said he, "as how that this yer Wiggins is a Liverpool gent, an' latterly he seems inclined to live here. But he don't never see no company, an' keeps hisself shut up close."
At length, after waiting for more than half an hour, the noise of carriage wheels was heard, and a brougham appeared driven by the porter. He turned the brougham inside the gate, and then getting down, he unlocked the small gate and advanced to the carriage. The fellow seemed now to try to be more respectful, for he had a hat on his head which he took off, and made a clumsy attempt at a bow.
"Beg pardon, miss," said he, "for keepin' you waitin'; but I had to put the hosses in. Mr. Wiggins says as how you're to come up in the brougham, an' your trunks an' things 'll be took up afterward.
"But I want to drive up in this coach. I can't remove the luggage," said Edith.
"I don't know about that, miss," said the porter. "I've got to do as I'm told."
At this Edith was silent; but her flashing eyes and a flush that swept over her pale face showed her indignation.
"So this is the way he dares to treat me," said she, after some silence. "Well," she continued, "for the present I must yield and submit to this insolence. But it only shows more clearly the character of the man. I suppose we must go," she continued, looking at Miss Plympton, and once more opening the coach door herself.
Miss Plympton had been more agitated than ever at this last message, and as Edith opened the door she asked her, breathlessly,
"What do you mean? What are you going to do, dear?
"I am going to Dalton Hall," said Edith, quietly. "We must go in the brougham, and we must quit this."
Miss Plympton hesitated, and the maid, who was still more terrified, clasped her hands in silent despair. But the porter, who had heard all, now spoke.
"Beg pardon, miss," said he, "but that lady needn't trouble about it. It's Mr. Wiggins's orders, miss, that on'y you are to go to the Hall."
"What insufferable insolence!" exclaimed Miss Plympton. "What shocking and abominable arrogance!"
"I do not regard it in the slightest," said Edith, serenely. "It is only assumption on his part. You are to come with me. If I pass through that gate you are to come also. Come."
"Oh, my dearest, my own dearest Edith, do not!—wait!—come back and let us talk over what we ought to do. Let us see a lawyer. Let us wait till to-morrow, and see if a stranger like Wiggins can refuse admission to the mistress of Dalton Hall."
"Beg pardon, mum," said the porter, "but Mr. Wiggins ain't refusin' admission to Miss Dalton—it's others that he don't want, that's all. The lawyers can't do any thin' agin that."
"My child," said Miss Plympton, "do you hear that? You shall not go. This man knows well what he can do. He understands all the worst injustice that can be done in the name of law. His whole life has been lived in the practice of all those iniquities that the law winks at. You see now at the outset what his purpose is. He will admit you, but not your friends. He wishes to get you alone in his power. And why does he not come himself? Why does he use such an agent as this?"
Miss Plympton spoke rapidly, and in excited tones, but her excitement did not affect Edith in the slightest degree.
"I think you are altogether too imaginative," said she. "His orders are absurd. If I go through that gate, you shall go too. Come."
"Edith! Edith! I implore you, my darling," cried Miss Plympton, "do not go. Come back. It will not be long to wait. Come to the village till to-morrow. Let us at least get the advice of a lawyer. The law can surely give an entrance to the rightful owner."
"But he doesn't deny an entrance to me," said Edith, "and if I go, you shall come also. Come."
Miss Plympton hesitated. She saw that Edith was fully determined to go to Dalton Hall, and she could not bear to part with her. But at the same time she was so terrified at the thought of forcing a way in spite of the opposition of so formidable a villain as Wiggins that she shrank from it. Love at length triumphed over fear, and she followed Edith out of the coach, together with the maid.
Meanwhile the porter had stood in deep perplexity watching this scene, but at length when Miss Plympton had reached the ground and prepared to follow Edith he put himself in front of them.
"Beg pardon, miss," said he, "but its agin orders for them others to go. It's on'y you that Mr. Wiggins 'll let in."
"Mr. Wiggins has nothing to say about the matter," said Edith, coldly.
"But I've got to obey orders," said the man.
"Will you please stand aside and let me pass?" said Edith.
"I can't let them others in," said the porter, doggedly. "You may go."
"John," said Edith, quietly, "I'm sorry to trouble you, but you must watch this man; and, driver, do you stand at the gate and keep it open."
At this John flung down his hat upon the road, tore off his coat and tossed it after the hat, and, with a chuckle of something like exultation, prepared to obey his mistress by putting himself in a "scientific" attitude. He saw well enough that the porter was a formidable foe, and his face was a diploma in itself that fully testified to the skill and science of that foe; but John was plucky, and in his prime, and very confident in his own powers. So John stood off and prepared for the fray. On the other hand, the porter was by no means at a loss. As John prepared he backed slowly toward the gate, glaring like a wild beast at his assailant. But John was suddenly interrupted in his movements by the driver.
"See here, young man," said the latter, who had sprung from the box at Edith's order, "do you stand by the gate, an' I'll tickle that feller with this whip, an' see how he likes it."
The driver was a stout, solid, muscular fellow, with broad shoulders and bull-dog aspect. In his hand he flourished a heavy whip, and as he spoke his eyes sought out some part of the porter's person at which he might take aim. As he spoke the porter became aware of this second assailant, and a dark and malignant frown lowered over his evil face. He slowly drew from his breast a large clasp-knife which was as formidable as a dagger, and opening this, he held it significantly before him.
But now a new turn was given to the progress of affairs. Had the porter said nothing, Miss Plympton might have overcome her fears far enough to accompany Edith; but his menacing looks and words, and these preparations for a struggle, were too much.
"Edith, my child, my dearest, do not! do not! I can not go; I will not. See these men; they will kill one another. John, come away. Driver, go back to the box. Come away at once. Do you hear, John?"
John did hear, and after some hesitation concluded to obey. He stepped back from the gate, and stood awaiting the progress of events. The driver also stood, waiting further orders.
"Edith dearest," said Miss Plympton, "nothing would induce me to go through those gates. You must not go."
"I'm sure," said Edith, "I shall be very sorry if you will not come; but, for my own part, I am quite resolved to go. Don't be afraid. Come."
Miss Plympton shuddered and shook her head.
"Well," said Edith, "perhaps it will be as well for you to wait, since you are so agitated; and if you really will not come, you can drive back to the village. At any rate, I can see you to-morrow, and I will drive down for you the first thing."
Miss Plympton looked mournfully at Edith.
"And you, Richards," said Edith, looking at her maid, "I suppose it is no use for me to ask you. I see how it is. Well, never mind. I dare say she needs you more than I do; and to-morrow will make all right. I see it only distresses you for me to press you so I will say no more. Good-by for the present."
Edith held out her hand. Miss Plympton took it, let it go, and folding Edith in her arms, she burst into tears.
"I'm afraid—I'm afraid," said she.
"What of?" said Edith.
"About you," moaned Miss Plympton.
"Nonsense," said Edith. "I shall call on you to-morrow as soon as you are up."
Miss Plympton sighed.
Edith held out her hand to her maid, Richards, and kindly bade her good-by. The girl wept bitterly, and could not speak. It was an unusual thing for Edith to do, and was rather too solemn a proceeding in view of a short separation for one night, and this struck Edith herself. But who knows what one night may bring forth?
Edith now left them, and, passing through the gate, she stood and waved her hand at them. The porter followed and shut the gate. Miss Plympton, the maid, the driver, and John all stood looking after Edith with uneasy faces. Seeing that, she forced a smile, and finding that they would not go till she had gone, she waved a last adieu and entered the brougham. As she did so she heard the bolt turn in the lock as the porter fastened the gate, and an ominous dread arose within her. Was this a presentiment? Did she have a dim foreshadowing of the future? Did she conjecture how long it would be before she passed through that gate again, and how and wherefore? It matters not. Other thoughts soon came, and the porter jumping into the seat, drove rapidly off.
Edith found herself carried along through lordly avenues, with giant trees, the growth of centuries; rising grandly on either side and overarching above, and between which long vistas opened, where the eye could take in wide glades and sloping meadows. Sometimes she caught sight of eminences rising in the distance covered with groves, and along the slopes herds of deer sometimes came bounding. Finally there came to view a broad lawn, with a pond in the centre, beyond which arose a stately edifice which Edith recognized as the home of her childhood.
It needed only one glance, however, to show Edith that a great change had taken place since those well-remembered days of childhood. Every where the old order and neatness had disappeared, and now in all directions there were the signs of carelessness and neglect. The once smooth lawn was now overgrown with tall grass; the margin of the pond was filled with rushes, and its surface with slime; some of the windows of the Hall were out, and some of the chimney-pots were broken; while over the road grass had been allowed to grow in many places. Edith recognized all this, and an involuntary sigh escaped her. The carriage at length stopped, and she got out and ascended the steps to the door of the house.
The door was open, and an ungainly-looking negro servant was standing in the hall.
"Who has charge of this house?" asked Edith. "Is there a housekeeper?"
The servant grinned.
"Housekeepa, miss? Yes, miss, dar's Missa Dunbar."
"Call the housekeeper, then," said Edith, "and tell her that I am waiting for her in the drawing-room."
The servant went off, and Edith then entered the drawing-room.
* * * * *
THE STRANGE INMATES OF DALTON HALL.
In that well-remembered drawing-room there was much that renewed the long past grief of childhood, and nothing whatever to soothe the sorrow of the present. Looking around, Edith found many things the same as she once remembered them; but still there were great changes—changes, too, which were of the same nature as those which she had noticed outside. Every thing showed traces of carelessness and long neglect. The seats of many of the handsome, richly carved chairs were ruined. Costly vases had disappeared. Dust covered every thing. Books and ornaments which lay around were soiled and spoiled. In that apparently deserted house there seemed to have been no one for years who cared to preserve the original grace and elegance of its decorations. But Edith did not have a very long time to give to her survey of this room, for in a few minutes she heard the rustle of a dress, and, turning, she saw a woman approaching who was evidently the housekeeper.
Edith was prepared to see some woman who might be in keeping with these desolate surroundings and with the ruffian porter at the gate—some coarse, insolent female; and she had also prepared herself to encounter any rudeness with fortitude. But the first sight of Mrs. Dunbar was enough to show her that her anticipations were completely unfounded.
She was a woman might have been about fifty, and even older. The outline of her features showed marks of former beauty and the general air of her face was altogether above the rank of a household domestic. The expression was one of calm, strong self-control, of dignity, and of resolution; at the same time there was in her dark, earnest eyes a certain vigilant outlook, as of one who is on guard at all times; and her gaze as she fixed it upon Edith was one of searching, eager, yet most cautious and wary examination. On the whole, this woman excited some surprise in Edith; and while she was gratified at finding in her one who was not out of the reach of respect, she yet was perplexed at the calm and searching scrutiny of which she was the object. But she did not now take any time to think about this. A vague idea occurred to her that Mrs. Dunbar, like many other housekeepers, was one of that numerous class who "have seen better days;" so, after the first look, she felt sufficiently satisfied, and advancing a step or two to meet her, she frankly held out her hand.
The housekeeper took it, and said, simply, "Welcome to Dalton Hall."
"Thank you," said Edith. "If I had met you before, I might have been spared some humiliation. But I need not talk of that. I am very tired and very faint. I have traveled all day and have met with gross insult at my own gate. I want food and rest. Will you have the kindness, then, to take me to my own room at once, and then, get me a cup of tea?"
Mrs. Dunbar had not removed her earnest eyes from Edith; and even after she had ceased speaking she still looked at her for a few moments in the same way without answering.
"We did not know that you were coming so soon," said she at length; "and I can not tell you how I regret what has happened. It was too hard for you. But we were taken by surprise. I entreat you not to suppose that any thing but kindness was intended."
Edith looked now at Mrs. Dunbar with an earnest scrutiny that was fully equal to the searching gaze of the former. Mrs. Dunbar's tone was cordial and lady-like, but Edith felt repugnance at her use of the word "we." By that little word she at once identified herself with Wiggins, and made herself in part responsible for the scene at the gate.
"Kindness," said she, "is a strange word to use in connection with that scene, when I found myself forced to part with the only mother that I have known since my own mamma died."
Mrs. Dunbar looked at her in silence, and there came over her face a strange, patient expression that at any other time would have excited Edith's sympathy and pity. Some reply seemed to rise to her lips, but if it was so, it was instantly checked; and after a moment's hesitation she said, in a low voice.
"It is cheerless in this room. If you will come with me I will take you where you can he more comfortable."
Saying this, she led the way out, and Edith followed, feeling a little perplexed at Mrs. Dunbar's manner, and trying to understand how it was that she was so identified with Wiggins. She thought she could see an evident kindliness toward herself, but how that could coexist with the treatment which she had received at the gates was rather a puzzle.
Mrs. Dunbar led the way up to the second story, and along a corridor toward the right wing. Here she came to a room in the front of the house which looked out upon the park, and commanded an extensive view. There was a well-furnished bedroom off this room, to which Mrs. Dunbar at once led her.
"If we had only received notice that you were coming," said she, "you would have met with a better reception."
Edith said nothing, for once more the word "we" jarred unpleasantly upon her.
"Shall you have any objection to occupy this room for to-night?" asked Mrs. Dunbar.
"Thank you," said Edith, "none whatever; but I should like very much to have my luggage. It was taken back to Dalton."
"Yes. Miss Plympton was not admitted, and my luggage was on the coach."
Mrs. Dunbar made no reply for some moments.
"I should feel much obliged if you would send one of the servants to fetch it," said Edith.
"I don't see why not," said Mrs. Dunbar, in a hesitating voice.
"And have you any writing materials?" asked Edith. "I should like to send a few lines to Miss Plympton."
Mrs. Dunbar looked at her with one of those strange, searching glances peculiar to her, and after some hesitation said, "I will look."
"Thank you," said Edith, and turned away. Mrs. Dunbar then left her, and did not return for some time. At length she made her appearance, followed by the black servant, who carried a tray. A table was laid in the outer room, and a bountiful repast spread there. Edith did not eat much, however. She sat sipping a cup of tea, and thinking profoundly, while Mrs. Dunbar took a seat a little on one side, so as to be unobserved, from which position she watched Edith most closely. It was as though she was studying the character of this young girl so as to see what its promise might be. And if Mrs. Dunbar had any knowledge of the world, one thing must have been plainly manifest to her in that examination, and that was that this young girl was not to be managed or controlled after the fashion of most of her kind, but would require very difficult and very peculiar treatment if she were to be bent to the will of others. Mrs. Dunbar seemed to recognize this, and the discovery seemed to create distress, for a heavy sigh escaped her.
The sigh roused Edith. She at once rose from her seat and turned round.
"And now, Mrs. Dunbar," said she, "if you will let me have the writing materials I will send a few lines to poor Miss Plympton."
Mrs. Dunbar at once arose, and going out of the room, returned in a few minutes with a desk, which she laid upon another table. Edith at once seated herself to write, and while the black servant was removing the things she hurriedly wrote the following:
"My darling Auntie,—I write at once because I know you will be devoured with anxiety, and will not sleep to-night unless you hear from me. You will be delighted to learn, then, that I am safe and unharmed. The man Wiggins has not yet made his appearance, but I hope to see him this evening. The Hall looks familiar, but desolate, except in the room where I now am writing, where I find sufficient comfort to satisfy me. I am too much fatigued to write any more, nor is it necessary, as I intend to call on you as early as possible to-morrow morning. Until then good-by, and don't be foolishly anxious about your own.
This note Edith folded and directed to "Miss Plympton, Dalton." After which she handed it to Mrs. Dunbar, who took it in silence and left the room.
For some time Edith sat involved in thought. She had written cheerfully enough to Miss Plympton, but that was from a kindly desire to reassure her. In reality, she was overwhelmed with loneliness and melancholy. The aspect of the grounds below and of the drawing-room had struck a chill to her heart. This great drear house oppressed her, and the melancholy with which she had left Plympton Terrace now became intensified. The gloom that had overwhelmed her father seemed to rest upon her father's house, and descended thence upon her own spirit, strong and brave though it was.
In the midst of her melancholy thoughts she was startled at the sound of a low sigh immediately behind her. She turned hastily, and saw a man standing there, who had entered the room so silently that, in her abstraction, she had not heard him. He was now standing about half-way between her and the door, and his eyes were fixed upon her with something of that same earnest scrutiny which she had already observed in the gaze of Mrs. Dunbar. One glance at this man was sufficient to show her that it was no servant, and that it could be no other than Wiggins himself. He was not a man, however, who could be dismissed with a glance. There was something in him which compelled a further survey, and Edith found herself filled with a certain indefinable wonder as she looked at him. His eyes were fixed on her; her eyes were fixed on him; and they both looked upon each other in silence.
He was a man who might once have been tall, but now was stooping so that his original height was concealed. He was plainly dressed, and his coat of some thin black stuff hung loosely about him. He wore slippers, which served to account for his noiseless entrance. Yet it was not things like these that Edith noticed at that time, but rather the face that now appeared before her.
It was a face which is only met with once in a lifetime?—a face which had such an expression that the beholder could only feel baffled. It was the face of one who might be the oldest of men, so snow-white was the hair, so deep were the lines that were graven upon it. His cheek-bones were prominent, his mouth was concealed by a huge gray mustache, and his cheeks were sunken, while his forehead projected, and was fringed with heavy eyebrows, from behind which his dark eyes glowed with a sort of gloomy lustre from cavernous depths. Over his whole face there was one pervading expression that was more than despondency, and near akin to despair. It was the expression of a man whose life had been a series of disheartening failures, or of one who had sinned deeply, or of one who had suffered unusual and protracted anguish of soul, or of one who has been long a prey to that form of madness which takes the form of melancholy. So this might mean a ruined life, or it might mean madness, or it might be the stamp of sorrow, or it might be the handwriting of remorse. Whatever it was could certainly not be gathered from one survey, or from many, nor, indeed, could it be known for certain at all without this man's confession.
For in addition to this mysterious expression there was another, which was combined with it so closely that it seemed to throw conjecture still further off the track and bewilder the gazer. This was a certain air of patient and incessant vigilance, a look-out upon the world as from behind an outpost of danger, the hunted look of the criminal who fears detection, or the never-ending watchfulness of the uneasy conscience.
All this Edith could not help seeing, and she gathered this general result from her survey of that face, though at that time she could not put her conclusion in words. It seemed to her to be remorse which she saw there, and the manifestations of a stricken conscience. It was the criminal who feared detection, the wrong-doer on the constant look-out for discovery—a criminal most venerable, a wrong-doer who must have suffered; but if a criminal, one of dark and bitter memories, and one whose thoughts, reaching over the years, must have been as gloomy as death.
And this was Wiggins!
Not the Mephistopheles which she had imagined; not the evil mocking fiend; but one rather who originally had not been without good instincts, and who might have become a virtuous man had fate not prevented. It was not the leering, sneering tempter that she saw, but rather some representation of that archangel ruined, for it was as though "his brow deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care sat on his faded cheek."
At first the woman's heart of Edith made itself felt, and she pitied him; but quickly the daughter's heart spoke, and it denounced him. If this man felt remorse, it could only be for one great crime, and what crime was so great as that of the betrayal of Frederick Dalton? Was it this that had crushed the traitor? Thoughts like these flashed through her mind, and her glance, which at first had softened from commiseration, now grew stern and cold and hard; and the fixed, eager look which came to her from those gloomy and mournful eyes was returned by one which was hard and pitiless and repellent. Back to her heart came that feeling which for a moment had faltered: the old hate, nourished through her lifetime, and magnified during the last few days to all-absorbing proportions: the strongest feeling of her nature, the hate of the enemy of herself and the destroyer of her father.
Wiggins, on his part, with his quick, vigilant eyes, did not fail to mark at once the change that had come over Edith. He saw the first glance of pity, and then the transition to coldness deepening into hate. Until then there had seemed a spell upon him which fixed his gaze on Edith, but now the spell was suddenly broken. He removed his gaze, and then, taking a chair, he sat upon it, and for a few moments remained with his eyes fixed on the floor.
At last he raised his head, and, looking fixedly at Edith, began to speak, and spoke in a strange, low, measured tone, with frequent hesitations; in a way also that gave the idea of one who, for some cause or other, was putting a strong constraint upon himself, and only speaking by an effort.
"I regret, very deeply," said he, "that you were treated with rudeness. Had I known that you would come so soon, I should have notified the—the porter. But he—he meant no harm. He is very faithful—to orders."
"I am sorry to say," said Edith, "that it was not the rudeness of the porter that was offensive, but rather the rudeness of yourself."
"Of myself?" he repeated.
"Certainly," said Edith; "in refusing to admit one who is my dearest friend on earth."
Wiggins drew a long breath, and looked troubled.
"It was distressing to me," said he at length; "but it could not be."
At this, Edith felt inexpressibly galled, but for the time restrained herself.
"Perhaps you would have been pleased," said she, "if I had gone away with her."
"Oh no," said Wiggins, dreamily—"oh no."
"I thought for a time of doing so," said Edith; "and in that case I should have come to-morrow, or as soon as possible, with the officers of the law, to reply to your orders."
At this Wiggins looked at her with a strange and solemn glance, which puzzled Edith.
"You would have regretted it," said he, "eventually."
"Few would have done as I did," said Edith, "in coming here alone."
"You did right," said Wiggins.
"At the same time," said Edith, firmly, "if I have forborne once, I assure you I shall not do so again. You are in a wrong course altogether. I shall put an end to this at once. And I tell you now that this place must be made ready for Miss Plympton tomorrow. I will have that brutal porter dismissed at once. As to yourself and the housekeeper, I need say nothing just now."
If it had been possible for that gray face to have turned grayer or paler, it would have done so as Edith uttered these words. Wiggins fixed his solemn eyes on her, and their glance had something in it which was almost awful. After a moment he slowly passed his thin hand over his brow, frowned, and looked away. Then he murmured, in a low voice, as if to himself,
"The girl's mad!"
Edith heard these words, and for a moment thought Wiggins himself must be mad; but his calmness and cold constraint looked too much like sober sense. She herself had her own dark and gloomy feelings, and these glowed in her heart with a fervid fire—too fervid, indeed, to admit of utterance. She too had to put upon herself a constraint to keep back the words, glowing with hot wrath and fervid indignation, which she could have flung upon her father's betrayer. But because words were weak, and because such deeds as his had to be repaid by act and in kind, she forbore.
"It is necessary," said Wiggins at length, "to live here in seclusion for a time. You will gradually become accustomed to it, and it will be all for the best. It may not be for so very long, after all—perhaps not more than one year. Perhaps you may eventually be admitted to—to our purposes."
"This," said Edith, "is childish. What you mean I do not know, nor do I care to. You seem to hint at seclusion. I do not feel inclined for society, but a seclusion of your making is not to my taste. You must yourself go elsewhere to seek this seclusion. This is mine, and here I intend to bring the friends whom I wish to have with me. I can only regard your present course as the act of a thoroughly infatuated man. You have had things all your own way thus far, and seem to have come to regard this place as yours, and never to have counted upon any thing but acquiescence on my part in your plans."
Wiggins fastened his solemn eyes upon her, and murmured,
"It is useless, therefore," said Edith, loftily, "for you to make any opposition. It will only be foolish, and you will ultimately be ruined by it."
Wiggins rose to his feet.
"It is only a waste of time," said he. "I confess you are different from what I anticipated. You do not know. You can not understand. You are too rash and self-confident. I can not tell you what my plans are; I can only tell you my wishes."
Edith rose to her feet, and stood opposite, with her large eyes flaming from her white face.
"This insolence," said she, "has lasted too long. It is you who must obey me—not I you. You speak as though there were no such thing as law."
"I said nothing about obedience," said Wiggins, in a mournful voice, which, in spite of herself, affected Edith very strangely. "I spoke of plans which could not be communicated to you yet, and of my wishes."
"But I," said Edith, mildly, "wish you to understand that I have my own wishes. You make use of a tone which I can not tolerate for a moment. I have only one thing more to say, and that is to repeat my former direction. I must have Miss Plympton here tomorrow, and preparations for her must be made. Once for all, you must understand that between you and me there is absolutely nothing in common; and I tell you now that it is my intention to dispense with your services at the earliest possible date. I will not detain you any longer."
Saying this, she waved her hand toward the door, and then resumed her seat.
As for Wiggins, he looked at her with his usual solemn gaze during these remarks. His bowed form seemed to be bent more as he listened to her words. When she ceased and sat down he stood listening still, as though he heard some echo to her words. Edith did not look up, but turned her eyes in another direction, and so did not see the face that was still turned toward her. But if she had looked there she would have seen a face which bore a deeper impress than ever of utter woe.
In a few moments he turned and left the room, as silently as he came.
Before retiring that night Edith called Mrs. Dunbar, and gave her some directions about preparing another bedroom and the drawing-room. To her orders, which were somewhat positive, Mrs. Dunbar listened in silence, and merely bowed in reply.
After which Edith retired, weary and worn out, and troubled in many ways.
* * * * *
Very early on the following day Edith arose, and found Mrs. Dunbar already moving about. She remarked that she had heard Edith dressing herself, and had prepared a breakfast for her. This little mark of attention was very grateful to Edith, who thanked Mrs. Dunbar quite earnestly, and found the repast a refreshing one. After this, as it was yet too early to think of calling on Miss Plympton, she wandered about the house. The old nooks and corners dear to memory were visited once more. Familiar scenes came back before her. Here was the nursery, there her mother's room, in another place the library. There, too, was the great hall up stairs, with pictures on each side of ancestors who went back to the days of the Plantagenets. There were effigies in armor of knights who had fought in the Crusades and in the Wars of the Roses; of cavaliers who had fought for King Charles; of gallant gentlemen who had followed their country's flag under the burning sun of India, over the sierras of Spain, and in the wilderness of America. And of all these she was the last, and all that ancestral glory was bound up in her, a weak and fragile girl. Deeply she regretted at that moment that she was not a man, so that she might confer new lustre upon so exalted a lineage.
As she wandered through the rooms and galleries all her childhood came back before her. She recalled her mother, her fond love, and her early death. That mother's picture hung in the great hall, and she gazed at it long and pensively, recalling that noble face, which in her remembrance was always softened by the sweet expression of tenderest love. But it was here that something met her eyes which in a moment chased away every regretful thought and softer feeling, and brought back in fresh vehemence the strong glow of her grief and indignation. Turning away from her mother's portrait by a natural impulse to look for that of her father, she was at first unable to find it. At length, at the end of the line of Dalton portraits, she noticed what at first she had supposed to be part of the wall out of repair. Another glance, however, showed that it was the back of a picture. In a moment she understood it. It was her father's portrait, and the face had been turned to the wall.
Stung by a sense of intolerable insult, her face flushed crimson, and she remained for a few moments rooted to the spot glaring at the picture. Who had dared to do this—to heap insult upon that innocent and suffering head, to wrong so foully the memory of the dead? Her first impulse was to tear it down with her own hands, and replace it in its proper position; her next to seek out Wiggins at once and denounce him to his face for all his perfidy, of which this was the fitting climax. But a more sober thought followed—the thought of her own weakness. What could her words avail against a man like that? Better far would it be for her to wait until she could expel the usurper, and take her own place as acknowledged mistress in Dalton Hall. This thought made her calmer, and she reflected that she need not wait very long. This day would decide it all, and this very night her father's portrait should be placed in its right position.
This incident destroyed all relish for further wandering about the house, and though it was yet early, she determined to set out at once for the village and find Miss Plympton. With this design she descended to the lower hall, and saw there the same black servant whom she had seen the day before.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Hugo," said the black, with his usual grin.
"Well, Hugo," said she, "I want the brougham. Go to the stables, have the horses put in, and come back as soon as you can. And here is something for your trouble."
Saying this, she proffered him a sovereign.
But the black did not appear to see it. He simply said, "Yes, miss," and turned away. Edith was surprised; but thinking that it was merely his stupidity, she went up stairs and waited patiently for a long time. But, in spite of her waiting, there were no signs of any carriage; and at length, growing impatient, she determined to go to the stables herself. She knew the way there perfectly well, and soon reached the place. To her surprise and vexation the doors were locked, and there were no signs whatever of Hugo.
"The stupid black must have misunderstood me," thought she.
She now returned to the house, and wandered all about in search of some servants. But she saw none. She began to think that Hugo was the only servant in the place; and if so, as he had disappeared, her chance of getting the brougham was small indeed. As for Wiggins, she did not think of asking him, and Mrs. Dunbar was too much under the influence of Wiggins for her to apply there. She was therefore left to herself.
Time passed thus, and Edith's impatience grew intolerable. At length, as she could not obtain a carriage, she determined to set out on foot and walk to Dalton. She began now to think that Wiggins had seen Hugo, found out what she wanted, and had forbidden the servant to obey. This seemed the only way in which she could account for it all. If this were so, it showed that there was some unpleasant meaning in the language which Wiggins had used to her on the previous evening about a secluded life, and in that case any delay made her situation more unpleasant. She had already lost too much time, and therefore could wait no longer. On the instant, therefore, she set out, and walked down the great avenue toward the gates. It was a longer distance than she had supposed: so long, indeed, did it seem that once or twice she feared that she had taken the wrong road; but at last her fears were driven away by the sight of the porter's lodge.
On reaching the gates she found them locked. For this she had not been prepared; but a moment's reflection showed her that this need not excite surprise. She looked up at them with a faint idea of climbing over. One glance, however, showed that to be impossible; they were high, and spiked at the top, and over them was a stone arch which left no room for any one to climb over. She looked at the wall, but that also was beyond her powers. Only one thing now remained, and that was to apply to the porter. After this fellow's rudeness on the previous day, she felt an excessive repugnance toward making any application to him now; but her necessity was urgent, and time pressed. So she quieted her scruples, and going to the door of the porter's house, knocked impatiently.
The porter came at once to the door, and bowed as respectfully as possible. His demeanor, in fact, was totally different from what it had been on the previous day, and evinced every desire to show respect, though perhaps he might manifest it rather awkwardly. Edith noticed this, and was encouraged by it.
"I want you to let me out," said Edith. "I'm going to Dalton."
The man looked at her, and then at the ground, and then fumbled his fingers together; after which he plunged his hands in his pockets.
"Do you hear what I say?" said Edith, sharply. "I want you to unlock the gate."
"Well, miss, as to that—I humbly beg your pardon, miss, but I've got my orders not to."
"Nonsense," said Edith. "No one here gives orders but me. I am mistress here."
"Beg pardon, miss, but I don't know any master but Master Wiggins."
"Wiggins!" said Edith.
"Yes, miss, an' hopin' it's no offense. I have to obey orders."
"But he couldn't have given you orders about me," said Edith, haughtily.
"He said all persons, miss, comin' or goin', all the same. No offense bein' intended, miss, an' beggin' your pardon."
"But this is absurd," said Edith. "He knows that I am going to Dalton. You have misunderstood him."
"I'm sorry, miss. I'd do any thin' to oblige, miss; but I've got to do as I'm bid."
"Who employs you?"
"Master, miss—Master Wiggins."
"Do you want to keep this situation?"
"Keep this situation?"
"Yes. You don't want to be turned out, do you?"
"Oh, no miss."
"Well, obey me now, and you shall remain. I am the mistress of Dalton Hall, and the owner of these estates. Wiggins is the agent, and seems disinclined to do what I wish. He will have to leave. If you don't want to leave also, obey me now."
All this seemed to puzzle the porter, but certainly made no impression upon his resolve. He looked at Edith, then at the ground, then at the trees, and finally, as Edith concluded, he said:
"Beg pardon, miss, but orders is orders, an' I've got to obey mine."
Edith now began to feel discouraged. Yet there was one resource left, and this she now tried. Drawing forth her purse, she took out some pieces of gold.
"Come," said she, "you do very well to obey orders in ordinary cases; but in my case you are violating the law, and exposing yourself to punishment. Now I will pay you well if you do me this little service, and will give you this now, and much more afterward. Here, take this, and let me out quick."
The porter kept his eyes fixed on the ground, and did not even look at the gold. "See!" said Edith, excitedly and hurriedly—"see!"
The porter would not look. But at last he spoke, and then came the old monotonous sentence,
"Beggin' your pardon, miss, an' hopin' there's no offense, I can't do it. I've got to obey orders, miss."
At this Edith gave up the effort, and turning away, walked slowly and sadly from the gates.
This was certainly more than she had anticipated. By this she saw plainly that Wiggins was determined to play a bold game. The possibility of such restraint as this had never entered into her mind. Now she recalled Miss Plympton's fears, and regretted when too late that she had trusted herself within these gates. And now what the porter had told her showed her in one instant the full depth of his design. He evidently intended to keep her away from all communication with the outside world. And she—what could she do? How could she let Miss Plympton know? How could she get out? No doubt Wiggins would contrive to keep all avenues of escape closed to her as this one was. Even the walls would be watched, so that she should not clamber over.
Among the most disheartening of her discoveries was the incorruptible fidelity of the servants of Wiggins. Twice already had she tried to bribe them, but on each occasion she had failed utterly. The black servant and the porter were each alike beyond the reach of her gold.
Her mind was now agitated and distressed. In her excitement she could not yet return to the Hall, but still hoped that she might escape, though the hope was growing faint indeed. She felt humiliated by the defeat of her attempts upon the honesty of the servants. She was troubled by the thought of her isolation, and did not know what might be best to do.