The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Book VI.

Chapter 1

Uncle Joseph.

THE day and the night had passed, and the new morning had come, before the husband and wife could trust themselves to speak calmly of the Secret, and to face resignedly the duties and the sacrifices which the discovery of it imposed on them.

Leonard’s first question referred to those lines in the letter which Rosamond had informed him were in a handwriting that she knew. Finding that he was at a loss to understand what means she could have of forming an opinion on this point, she explained that, after Captain Treverton’s death, many letters had naturally fallen into her possession which had been written by Mrs. Treverton to her husband. They treated of ordinary domestic subjects, and she had read them often enough to become thoroughly acquainted with the peculiarities of Mrs. Treverton’s handwriting. It was remarkably large, firm, and masculine in character; and the address, the line under it, and the uppermost of the two signatures in the letter which had been found in the Myrtle Room, exactly resembled it in every particular.

The next question related to the body of the letter. The writing of this, of the second signature (“Sarah Leeson”), and of the additional lines on the third page, also signed by Sarah Leeson, proclaimed itself in each case to be the production of the same person. While stating that fact to her husband, Rosamond did not forget to explain to him that, while reading the letter on the previous day, her strength and courage had failed her before she got to the end of it. She added that the postscript which she had thus omitted to read was of importance, because it mentioned the circumstances under which the Secret had been hidden; and begged that he would listen while she made him acquainted with its contents without any further delay.

Sitting as close to his side, now, as if they were enjoying their first honeymoon days over again, she read these last lines — the lines which her mother had written sixteen years before, on the morning when she fled from Porthgenna Tower:

 

“If this paper should ever be found (which I pray with my whole heart it never may be), I wish to say that I have come to the resolution of hiding it, because I dare not show the writing that it contains to my master, to whom it is addressed. In doing what I now propose to do, though I am acting against my mistress’s last wishes, I am not breaking the solemn engagement which she obliged me to make before her on her death-bed. That engagement forbids me to destroy this letter, or to take it away with me if I leave the house. I shall do neither — my purpose is to conceal it in the place, of all others, where I think there is least chance of its ever being found again. Any hardship or misfortune which may follow as a consequence of this deceitful proceeding on my part, will fall on myself. Others, I believe, in my conscience, will be the happier for the hiding of the dreadful Secret which this letter contains.”

 

“There can be no doubt, now,” said Leonard, when his wife had read to the end; “Mrs. Jazeph, Sarah Leeson, and the servant who disappeared from Porthgenna Tower, are one and the same person.”

“Poor creature!” said Rosamond, sighing as she put down the letter. “We know now why she warned me so anxiously not to go into the Myrtle Room. Who can say what she must have suffered when she came as a stranger to my bedside? Oh, what would I not give if I had been less hasty with her! It is dreadful to remember that I spoke to her as a servant whom I expected to obey me; it is worse still to feel that I cannot, even now, think of her as a child should think of a mother. How can I ever tell her that I know the Secret? how — ” She paused, with a heart-sick consciousness of the slur that was cast on her birth; she paused, shrinking as she thought of the name that her husband had given to her, and of her own parentage, which the laws of society disdained to recognize.

“Why do you stop?” asked Leonard.

“I was afraid — ” she began, and paused again.

“Afraid,” he said, finishing the sentence for her, “that words of pity for that unhappy woman might wound my sensitive pride by reminding me of the circumstances of your birth? Rosamond! I should be unworthy of your matchless truthfulness toward me, if I, on my side, did not acknowledge that this discovery has wounded me as only a proud man can be wounded. My pride has been born and bred in me. My pride, even while I am now speaking to you, takes advantage of my first moments of composure, and deludes me into doubting, in face of all probability, whether the words you have read to me can, after all, be words of truth. But, strong as that inborn and inbred feeling is — hard as it may be for me to discipline and master it as I ought, and must and will — there is another feeling in my heart that is stronger yet.” He felt for her hand, and took it in his; then added — “From the hour when you first devoted your life to your blind husband — from the hour when you won all his gratitude, as you had already won all his love, you took a place in his heart, Rosamond, from which nothing, not even such a shock as has now assailed us, can move you! High as I have always held the worth of rank in my estimation, I have learned, even before the event of yesterday, to hold the worth of my wife, let her parentage be what it may, higher still.”

“Oh, Lenny, Lenny, I can’t hear you praise me, if you talk in the same breath as if I had made a sacrifice in marrying you! But for my blind husband I might never have deserved what you have just said of me. When I first read that fearful letter, I had one moment of vile, ungrateful doubt if your love for me would hold out against the discovery of the Secret. I had one moment of horrible temptation, that drew me away from you when I ought to have put the letter into your hand. It was the sight of you, waiting for me to speak again, so innocent of all knowledge of what had happened close by you, that brought me back to my senses, and told me what I ought to do. It was the sight of my blind husband that made me conquer the temptation to destroy that letter in the first hour of discovering it. Oh, if I had been the hardest-hearted of women, could I have ever taken your hand again — could I kiss you, could I lie down by your side, and hear you fall asleep, night after night, feeling that I had abused your blind dependence on me, to serve my own selfish interests? knowing that I had only succeeded in my deceit because your affliction made you incapable of suspecting deception? No, no; I can hardly believe that the basest of women could be guilty of such baseness as that; and I can claim nothing more for myself than the credit of having been true to my trust. You said yesterday, love, in the Myrtle Room, that the one faithful friend to you in your blindness, who never failed, was your wife. It is reward enough and consolation enough for me, now that the worst is over, to know that you can say so still.”

“Yes, Rosamond, the worst is over; but we must not forget that there may be hard trials still to meet.”

“Hard trials, love? To what trials do you refer?”

“Perhaps, Rosamond, I overrate the courage that the sacrifice demands; but, to me at least, it will be a hard sacrifice of my own feelings to make strangers partakers in the knowledge that we now possess.”

Rosamond looked at her husband in astonishment. “Why need we tell the Secret to anyone?” she asked.

“Assuming that we can satisfy ourselves of the genuineness of that letter,” he answered, “we shall have no choice but to tell it to strangers. You cannot forget the circumstances under which your father — under which Captain Treverton — ”

“Call him my father,” said Rosamond, sadly. “Remember how he loved me, and how I loved him, and say ‘my father’ still.”

“I am afraid I must say ‘Captain Treverton’ now,” returned Leonard, “or I shall hardly be able to explain simply and plainly what it is very necessary that you should know. Captain Treverton died without leaving a will. His only property was the purchase-money of this house and estate; and you inherited it, as his next of kin — ”

Rosamond started back in her chair and clasped her hands in dismay. “Oh, Lenny,” she said simply, “I have thought so much of you, since I found the letter, that I never remembered this!”

“It is time to remember it, my love. If you are not Captain Treverton’s daughter, you have no right to one farthing of the fortune that you possess; and it must be restored at once to the person who is Captain Treverton’s next of kin — or, in other words, to his brother.”

“To that man!” exclaimed Rosamond. “To that man who is a stranger to us, who holds our very name in contempt! Are we to be made poor that he may be made rich?”

“We are to do what is honorable and just, at any sacrifice of our own interests and ourselves,” said Leonard, firmly. “I believe, Rosamond, that my consent, as your husband, is necessary, according to the law, to effect this restitution. If Mr. Andrew Treverton was the bitterest enemy I had on earth, and if the restoring of this money utterly ruined us both in our worldly circumstances, I would give it back of my own accord to the last farthing — and so would you!”

The blood mantled in his cheeks as he spoke. Rosamond looked at him admiringly in silence. “Who would have him less proud,” she thought, fondly, “when his pride speaks in such words as those!”

“You understand now,” continued Leonard, “that we have duties to perform which will oblige us to seek help from others, and which will therefore render it impossible to keep the Secret to ourselves? If we search all England for her, Sarah Leeson must be found. Our future actions depend upon her answers to our inquiries, upon her testimony to the genuineness of that letter. Although I am resolved beforehand to shield myself behind no technical quibbles and delays — although I want nothing but evidence that is morally conclusive, however legally imperfect it may be — it is still impossible to proceed without seeking advice immediately. The lawyer who always managed Captain Treverton’s affairs, and who now manages ours, is the proper person to direct us in instituting a search, and to assist us, if necessary, in the restitution.”

“How quietly and firmly you speak of it, Lenny! Will the abandoning of my fortune be a dreadful loss to us?”

“We must think of it as a gain to our consciences, Rosamond, and must alter our way of life resignedly to suit our altered means. But we need speak no more of that until we are assured of the necessity of restoring the money. My immediate anxiety, and your immediate anxiety, must turn now on the discovery of Sarah Leeson — no! on the discovery of your mother; I must learn to call her by that name, or I shall not learn to pity and forgive her.”

Rosamond nestled closer to her husband’s side. “Every word you say, love, does my heart good,” she whispered, laying her head on his shoulder. “You will help me and strengthen me, when the time comes, to meet my mother as I ought? Oh, how pale and worn and weary she was when she stood by my bedside, and looked at me and my child! Will it be long before we find her? Is she far away from us, I wonder? or nearer, much nearer than we think?”

Before Leonard could answer, he was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Rosamond was surprised by the appearance of the maid-servant. Betsey was flushed, excited, and out of breath; but she contrived to deliver intelligibly a brief message from Mr. Munder, the steward, requesting permission to speak to Mr. Frankland, or to Mrs. Frankland, on business of importance.

“What is it? What does he want?” asked Rosamond.

“I think, ma’am, he wants to know whether he had better send for the constable or not,” answered Betsey.

“Send for the constable!” repeated Rosamond. “Are there thieves in the house in broad daylight?”

“Mr. Munder says he don’t know but what it may be worse than thieves,” replied Betsey. “It’s the foreigner again, if you please, ma’am. He come up and rung at the door as bold as brass, and asked if he could see Mrs. Frankland.”

“The foreigner!” exclaimed Rosamond, laying her hand eagerly on her husband’s arm.

“Yes, ma’am” said Betsey. “Him as come here to go over the house along with the lady — ”

Rosamond, with characteristic impulsiveness started to her feet. “Let me go down!” she began.

“Wait,” interposed Leonard, catching her by the hand. “There is not the least need for you to go downstairs. Show the foreigner up here,” he continued, addressing himself to Betsey, “and tell Mr. Munder that we will take the management of this business into our own hands.”

Rosamond sat down again by her husband’s side. “This is a very strange accident,” she said, in a low, serious tone. “It must be something more than mere chance that puts the clue into our hands, at the moment when we least expected to find it.”

The door opened for the second time, and there appeared, modestly, on the threshold, a little old man, with rosy cheeks and long white hair. A small leather case was slung by a strap at his side, and the stem of a pipe peeped out of the breast pocket of his coat. He advanced one step into the room, stopped, raised both his hands, with his felt hat crumpled up in them, to his heart, and made five fantastic bows in quick succession — two to Mrs. Frankland, two to her husband, and one to Mrs. Frankland again, as an act of separate and special homage to the lady. Never had Rosamond seen a more complete embodiment in human form of perfect innocence and perfect harmlessness than the foreigner who was described in the housekeepers letter as an audacious vagabond, and who was dreaded by Mr. Munder as something worse than a thief!

“Madam and good Sir,” said the old man, advancing a little nearer at Mrs. Frankland’s invitation, “I ask your pardon for intruding myself. My name is Joseph Buschmann. I live in the town of Truro, where I work in cabinets and tea-caddies, and other shining woods. I am also, if you please, the same little foreign man who was scolded by the big major-domo when I came to see the house. All that I ask of your kindness is, that you will let me say for my errand here and for myself, and for another person who is very near to my love — one little word. I will be but few minutes, Madam and good Sir, and then I will go my ways again, with my best wishes and my best thanks.”

“Pray consider, Mr. Buschmann, that our time is your time,” said Leonard. “We have no engagement whatever which need oblige you to shorten your visit. I must tell you beforehand, in order to prevent any embarrassment on either side, that I have the misfortune to be blind. I can promise you, however, my best attention as far as listening goes. Rosamond, is Mr. Buschmann seated?”

Mr. Buschmann was still standing near the door, and was expressing sympathy by bowing to Mr. Frankland again, and crumpling his felt hat once more over his heart.

“Pray come nearer, and sit down,” said Rosamond. “And don’t imagine for one moment that any opinion of the steward’s has the least influence on us, or that we feel it at all necessary for you to apologize for what took place the last time you came to this house. We have an interest — a very great interest,” she added, with her usual hearty frankness, “in hearing anything that you have to tell us. You are the person of all others whom we are, just at this time — ” She stopped, feeling her foot touched by her husband’s, and rightly interpreting the action as a warning not to speak too unrestrainedly to the visitor before he had explained his object in coming to the house.

Looking very much pleased, and a little surprised also, when he heard Rosamond’s last words, Uncle Joseph drew a chair near to the table by which Mr. and Mrs. Frankland were sitting, crumpled his felt hat up smaller than ever, and put it in one of his side pockets, drew from the other a little packet of letters, placed them on his knees as he sat down, patted them gently with both hands, and entered on his explanation in these terms:

“Madam and good Sir,” he began, “before I can say comfortably my little word, I must, with your leave, travel backward to the last time when I came to this house in company with my niece.”

“Your niece!” exclaimed Rosamond and Leonard, both speaking together.

“My niece, Sarah,” said Uncle Joseph, “the only child of my sister Agatha. It is for the love of Sarah, if you please, that I am here now. She is the one last morsel of my flesh and blood that is left to me in the world. The rest, they are all gone! My wife, my little Joseph, my brother Max, my sister Agatha and the husband she married, the good and noble Englishman, Leeson — they are all, all gone!”

“Leeson,” said Rosamond pressing her husband’s hand significantly under the table.

“Your niece’s name is Sarah Leeson?”

Uncle Joseph sighed and shook his head. “One day,” he said, “of all the days in the year the evilmost for Sarah, she changed that name. Of the man she married — who is dead now, Madam — it is little or nothing that I know but this: His name was Jazeph, and he used her ill, for which I think him the First Scoundrel! Yes,” exclaimed Uncle Joseph, with the nearest approach to anger and bitterness which his nature was capable of making, and with an idea that he was using one of the strongest superlatives in the language — “Yes! if he was to come to life again at this very moment of time, I would say it of him to his face — Englishman Jazeph, you are the First Scoundrel!”

Rosamond pressed her husband’s hand for the second time. If their own convictions had not already identified Mrs. Jazeph with Sarah Leeson, the old man’s last words must have amply sufficed to assure them that both names had been borne by the same person.

“Well, then, I shall now travel backward to the time when I was here with Sarah, my niece,” resumed Uncle Joseph. “I must, if you please, speak the truth in this business, or, now that I am already backward where I want to be, I shall stick fast in my place, and get on no more for the rest of my life. Sir and good Madam, will you have the great kindness to forgive me and Sarah, my niece, if I confess that it was not to see the house that we came here and rang at the bell, and gave deal of trouble, and wasted much breath of the big major-domo’s with the scolding that we got. It was only to do one curious little thing that we came together to this place — or, no, it was all about a secret of Sarah’s, which is still as black and dark to me as the middle of the blackest and darkest night that ever was in the world — and as I nothing knew about it, except that there was no harm in it to anybody or anything, and that Sarah was determined to go, and that I could not let her go by herself; as also for the good reason that she told me she had the best right of anybody to take the letter and to hide it again, seeing that she was afraid of its being found if longer in that room she left it, which was the room where she had hidden it before — why, so it happened that I— no, that she — no, no, that I— Ach Gott!” cried Uncle Joseph, striking his forehead in despair, and relieving himself by an invocation in his own language. “I am lost in my own muddlement; and whereabouts the right place is, and how I am to get myself back to it, as I am a living sinner, is more than I know!”

“There is not the least need to go back on our account,” said Rosamond, forgetting all caution and self-restraint in her anxiety to restore the old man’s confidence and composure. “Pray don’t try to repeat your explanations. We know already — ”

“We will suppose,” said Leonard, interposing abruptly before his wife could add another word, “that we know already everything you can desire to tell us in relation to your niece’s secret, and to your motives for desiring to see the house.”

“You will suppose that!” exclaimed Uncle Joseph, looking greatly relieved. “Ah! thank you, Sir, and you, good Madam, a thousand times for helping me out of my own muddlement with a ‘Suppose.’ I am all over confusion from my tops to my toes; but I can go on now, I think, and lose myself no more. So! Let us say it in this way: I and Sarah, my niece, are in the house — that is the first ‘Suppose.’ I and Sarah, my niece, are out of the house — that is the second ‘Suppose.’ Good! now we go on once more. On my way back to my own home at Truro, I am frightened for Sarah, because of the faint she fell into on your stairs here, and because of a look in her face that it makes me heavy at my heart to see. Also, I am sorry for her sake, because she has not done that one curious little thing which she came into the house to do. I fret about these same matters, but I console myself too; and my comfort is that Sarah will stop with me in my house at Truro, and that I shall make her happy and well again, as soon as we are settled in our life together. Judge, then, Sir, what a blow falls on me when I hear that she will not make her home where I make mine. Judge you, also, good Madam, what my surprise must he, when I ask for her reason, and she tells me she must leave Uncle Joseph, because she is afraid of being found out by you.” He stopped, and looking anxiously at Rosamond’s face, saw it sadden and turn away from him after he had spoken his last words.

“Are you sorry, Madam, for Sarah, my niece? do you pity her?” he asked, with a little hesitation and trembling in his voice.

“I pity her with my whole heart,” said Rosamond, warmly.

“And with my whole heart, for that pity I thank you!” rejoined Uncle Joseph. “Ah, Madam, your kindness gives me the courage to go on, and to tell you that we parted from each other on the day of our getting back to Truro! When she came to see me this time, it was years and years, long and lonely and very many, since we two had met. I was afraid that many more would pass again, and I tried to make her stop with me to the very last. But she had still the same fear to drive her away — the fear of being found and put to the question by you. So, with the tears in her eyes (and in mine), and the grief at her heart (and at mine), she went away to hide herself in the empty bigness of the great city, London, which swallows up all people and all things that pour into it, and which has now swallowed up Sarah, my niece, with the rest. ‘My child, you will write sometimes to Uncle Joseph,’ I said, and she answered me, ‘I will write often.’ It is three weeks now since that time, and here, on my knee, are four letters she has written to me. I shall ask your leave to put them down open before you, because they will help me to get on further yet with what I must say, and because I see in your face, Madam, that you are indeed sorry for Sarah, my niece, from your heart.”

He untied the packet of letters, opened them, kissed them one by one, and put them down in a row on the table, smoothing them out carefully with his hand, and taking great pains to arrange them all in a perfectly straight line. A glance at the first of the little series showed Rosamond that the handwriting in it was the same as the handwriting in the body of the letter which had been found in the Myrtle Room.

“There is not much to read,” said Uncle Joseph. “But if you will look through them first, Madam, I can tell you after all the reason for showing them that I have.”

The old man was right. There was very little to read in the letters, and they grew progressively shorter as they became more recent in date. All four were written in the formal, conventionally correct style of a person taking up the pen with a fear of making mistakes in spelling and grammar, and were equally destitute of any personal particulars relative to the writer; all four anxiously entreated that Uncle Joseph would not be uneasy, inquired after his health, and expressed gratitude and love for him as warmly as their timid restraints of style would permit; all four contained these two questions relating to Rosamond — First, had Mrs. Frankland arrived yet at Porthgenna Tower? Second, if she had arrived, what had Uncle Joseph heard about her? And, finally, all four gave the same instructions for addressing an answer — “Please direct to me, ‘S. J., Post Office, Smith Street, London’" — followed by the same apology, “Excuse my not giving my address, in case of accidents; for even in London I am still afraid of being followed and found out. I send every morning for letters; so I am sure to get your answer.”

“I told you, Madam,” said the old man, when Rosamond raised her head from the letters, “that I was frightened and sorry for Sarah when she left me. Now see, if you please, why I got more frightened and more sorry yet, when I have all the four letters that she writes to me. They begin here, with the first, at my left hand; and they grow shorter, and shorter, and shorter, as they get nearer to my right, till the last is but eight little lines. Again, see, if you please. The writing of the first letter, here, at my left hand, is very fine — I mean it is very fine to me, because I love Sarah, and because I write very badly myself; but it is not so good in the second letter — it shakes a little, it blots a little, it crooks itself a little in the last lines. In the third it is worse — more shake, more blot, more crook. In the fourth, where there is least to do, there is still more shake, still more blot, still more crook, than in all the other three put together. I see this; I remember that she was weak and worn and weary when she left me, and I say to myself, ‘She is ill, though she will not tell it, for the writing betrays her!’”

Rosamond looked down again at the letters, and followed the significant changes for the worse in the handwriting, line by line, as the old man pointed them out.

“I say to myself that,” he continued, “I wait, and think a little; and I hear my own heart whisper to me, ‘Go you, Uncle Joseph, to London, and, while there is yet time, bring her back to be cured and comforted and made happy in your own home!’ After that I wait, and think a little again — not about leaving my business; I would leave it forever sooner than Sarah should come to harm — but about what I am to do to get her to come back. That thought makes me look at the letters again; the letters show me always the same questions about Mistress Frankland; I see it plainly as my own hand before me that I shall never get Sarah, my niece, back, unless I can make easy her mind about those questions of Mistress Frankland’s that she dreads as if there was death to her in every one of them. I see it! it makes my pipe go out; it drives me up from my chair; it puts my hat on my head; it brings me here, where I have once intruded myself already, and where I have no right, I know, to intrude myself again; it makes me beg and pray now, of your compassion for my niece and of your goodness for me, that you will not deny me the means of bringing Sarah back. If I may only say to her, I have seen Mistress Frankland, and she has told me with her own lips that she will ask none of those questions that you fear so much — if I may only say that, Sarah will come back with me, and I shall thank you every day of my life for making me a happy man!”

The simple eloquence of his words, the innocent earnestness of his manner, touched Rosamond to the heart. “I will do anything, I will promise anything,” she answered eagerly, “to help you to bring her back! If she will only let me see her, I promise not to say one word that she would not wish me to say; I promise not to ask one question — no, not one — that it will pain her to answer. Oh, what comforting message can I send besides? what can I say —?” She stopped confusedly, feeling her husband’s foot touching hers again.

“Ah, say no more! say no more!” cried Uncle Joseph, tying up his little packet of letters, with his eyes sparkling and his ruddy face all in a glow. “Enough said to bring Sarah back! enough said to make me grateful for all my life! Oh, I am so happy, so happy, so happy — my skin is too small to hold me!” He tossed up the packet of letters into the air, caught it, kissed it, and put it back again in his pocket, all in an instant.

“You are not going?” said Rosamond. “Surely you are not going yet?”

“It is my loss to go away from here, which I must put up with, because it is also my gain to get sooner to Sarah,” replied Uncle Joseph. “For that reason only, I shall ask your pardon if I take my leave with my heart full of thanks, and go my ways home again.”

“When do you propose to start for London, Mr. Buschmann?” inquired Leonard.

“To-morrow, in the morning early, Sir,” replied Uncle Joseph. “I shall finish the work that I must do to-night, and shall leave the rest to Samuel (who is my very good friend, and my shopman too), and shall then go to Sarah by the first coach.”

“May I ask for your niece’s address in London, in case we wish to write to you?”

“She gives me no address, Sir, but the post-office; for even at the great distance of London, the same fear that she had all the way from this house still sticks to her. But here is the place where I shall get my own bed,” continued the old man, producing a small shop card. “It is the house of a countryman of my own, a fine baker of buns, Sir, and a very good man indeed.”

“Have you thought of any plan for finding out your niece’s address?” inquired Rosamond, copying the direction on the card while she spoke.

“Ah, yes — for I am always quick at making my plans,” said Uncle Joseph. “I shall present myself to the master of the post, and to him I shall say just this and no more — ‘Good-morning, Sir. I am the man who writes the letters to S. J. She is my niece, if you please; and all that I want to know is — Where does she live?’ There is something like a plan, I think? Aha!” He spread out both his hands interrogatively, and looked at Mrs. Frankland with a self-satisfied smile.

“I am afraid,” said Rosamond, partly amused, partly touched by his simplicity, “that the people at the post-office are not at all likely to be trusted with the address. I think you would do better to take a letter with you, directed to ‘S. J.;’ to deliver it in the morning when letters are received from the country; to wait near the door, and then to follow the person who is sent by your niece (as she tells you herself) to ask for letters for S. J.”

“You think that is better?” said Uncle Joseph, secretly convinced that his own idea was unquestionably the most ingenious of the two. “Good! The least little word that you say to me, Madam, is a command that I follow with all my heart.” He took the crumpled felt hat out of his pocket, and advanced to say farewell, when Mr. Frankland spoke to him again.

“If you find your niece well, and willing to travel,” said Leonard, “you will bring her back to Truro at once? And you will let us know when you are both at home again?”

“At once, Sir,” said Uncle Joseph. “To both these questions, I say, At once.”

“If a week from this time passes,” continued Leonard, “and we hear nothing from you, we must conclude, then, either that some unforeseen obstacle stands in the way of your return, or that your fears on your niece’s account have been but too well-founded, and that she is not able to travel?”

“Yes, Sir; so let it be. But I hope you will hear from me before the week is out.”

“Oh, so do I! most earnestly, most anxiously!” said Rosamond. “You remember my message?”

“I have got it here, every word of it,” said Uncle Joseph, touching his heart. He raised the hand which Rosamond held out to him to his lips. “I shall try to thank you better when I have come back,” he said. “For all your kindness to me and to my niece, God bless you both, and keep you happy, till we meet again.” With these words, he hastened to the door, waved his hand gayly, with the old crumpled hat in it, and went out.

“Dear, simple, warm-hearted old man!” said Rosamond, as the door closed. “I wanted to tell him everything, Lenny. Why did you stop me?”

“My love, it is that very simplicity which you admire, and which I admire, too, that makes me cautious. At the first sound of his voice I felt as warmly toward him as you do; but the more I heard him talk the more convinced I became that it would be rash to trust him, at first, for fear of his disclosing too abruptly to your mother that we know her secret. Our chance of winning her confidence and obtaining an interview with her depends, I can see, upon our own tact in dealing with her exaggerated suspicions and her nervous fears. That good old man, with the best and kindest intentions in the world, might ruin everything. He will have done all that we can hope for, and all that we can wish, if he only succeeds in bringing her back to Truro.”

“But if he fails? — if anything happens? — if she is really ill?”

“Let us wait till the week is over, Rosamond. It will be time enough then to decide what we shall do next.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29