The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 2

Waiting and Hoping.

THE week of expectation passed, and no tidings from Uncle Joseph reached Porthgenna Tower.

On the eighth day Mr. Frankland sent a messenger to Truro, with orders to find out the cabinet-maker’s shop kept by Mr. Buschmann, and to inquire of the person left in charge there whether he had received any news from his master. The messenger returned in the afternoon, and brought word that Mr. Buschmann had written one short note to his shopman since his departure, announcing that he had arrived safely toward nightfall in London; that he had met with a hospitable welcome from his countryman, the German baker; and that he had discovered his niece’s address, but had been prevented from seeing her by an obstacle which he hoped would be removed at his next visit. Since the delivery of that note, no further communication had been received from him, and nothing therefore was known of the period at which he might be expected to return.

The one fragment of intelligence thus obtained was not of a nature to relieve the depression of spirits which the doubt and suspense of the past week had produced in Mrs. Frankland. Her husband endeavored to combat the oppression of mind from which she was suffering, by reminding her that the ominous silence of Uncle Joseph might be just as probably occasioned by his niece’s unwillingness as by her inability to return with him to Truro. Remembering the obstacle at which the old man’s letter hinted, and taking also into consideration her excessive sensitiveness and her unreasoning timidity, he declared it to be quite possible that Mrs. Frankland’s message, instead of reassuring her, might only inspire her with fresh apprehensions, and might consequently strengthen her resolution to keep herself out of reach of all communications from Porthgenna Tower.

Rosamond listened patiently while this view of the case was placed before her, and acknowledged that the reasonableness of it was beyond dispute; but her readiness in admitting that her husband might be right and that she might be wrong was accompanied by no change for the better in the condition of her spirits. The interpretation which the old man had placed upon the alteration for the worse in Mrs. Jazeph’s handwriting had produced a vivid impression on her mind, which had been strengthened by her own recollection of her mother’s pale, worn face when they met as strangers at West Winston. Reason, therefore, as convincingly as he might, Mr. Frankland was unable to shake his wife’s conviction that the obstacle mentioned in Uncle Joseph’s letter, and the silence which he had maintained since, were referable alike to the illness of his niece.

The return of the messenger from Truro suggested, besides this topic of discussion, another question of much greater importance. After having waited one day beyond the week that had been appointed, what was the proper course of action for Mr. and Mrs. Frankland now to adopt, in the absence of any information from London or from Truro to decide their future proceedings?

Leonard’s first idea was to write immediately to Uncle Joseph, at the address which he had given on the occasion of his visit to Porthgenna Tower. When this project was communicated to Rosamond, she opposed it, on the ground that the necessary delay before the answer to the letter could arrive would involve a serious waste of time, when it might, for aught they knew to the contrary, be of the last importance to them not to risk the loss of a single day. If illness prevented Mrs. Jazeph from traveling, it would be necessary to see her at once, because that illness might increase. If she were only suspicious of their motives, it was equally important to open personal communications with her before she could find an opportunity of raising some fresh obstacle, and of concealing herself again in some place of refuge which Uncle Joseph himself might not be able to trace.

The truth of these conclusions was obvious, but Leonard hesitated to adopt them, because they involved the necessity of a journey to London. If he went there without his wife, his blindness placed him at the mercy of strangers and servants, in conducting investigations of the most delicate and most private nature. If Rosamond accompanied him, it would be necessary to risk all kinds of delays and inconveniences by taking the child with them on a long and wearisome journey of more than two hundred and fifty miles.

Rosamond met both these difficulties with her usual directness and decision. The idea of her husband traveling anywhere, under any circumstances, in his helpless, dependent state, without having her to attend on him, she dismissed at once as too preposterous for consideration. The second objection, of subjecting the child to the chances and fatigues of a long journey, she met by proposing that they should travel to Exeter at their own time and in their own conveyance, and that they should afterward insure plenty of comfort and plenty of room by taking a carriage to themselves when they reached the railroad at Exeter. After thus smoothing away the difficulties which seemed to set themselves in opposition to the journey, she again reverted to the absolute necessity of undertaking it. She reminded Leonard of the serious interest that they both had in immediately obtaining Mrs. Jazeph’s testimony to the genuineness of the letter which had been found in the Myrtle Room, as well as in ascertaining all the details of the extraordinary fraud which had been practiced by Mrs. Treverton on her husband. She pleaded also her own natural anxiety to make all the atonement in her power for the pain she must have unconsciously inflicted, in the bedroom at West Winston, on the person of all others whose failings and sorrows she was most bound to respect; and having thus stated the motives which urged her husband and herself to lose no time in communicating personally with Mrs. Jazeph, she again drew the inevitable conclusion that there was no alternative, in the position in which they were now placed, but to start forthwith on the journey to London.

A little further consideration satisfied Leonard that the emergency was of such a nature as to render all attempts to meet it by half-measures impossible. He felt that his own convictions agreed with his wife’s; and he resolved accordingly to act at once, without further indecision or further delay. Before the evening was over, the servants at Porthgenna were amazed by receiving directions to pack the trunks for traveling, and to order horses at the post-town for an early hour the next morning.

On the first day of the journey, the travelers started as soon as the carriage was ready, rested on the road toward noon, and remained for the night at Liskeard. On the second day they arrived at Exeter, and slept there. On the third day they reached London by the railway, between six and seven o’clock in the evening.

When they were comfortably settled for the night at their hotel, and when an hour’s rest and quiet had enabled them to recover a little after the fatigues of the journey, Rosamond wrote two notes under her husband’s direction. The first was addressed to Mr. Buschmann: it simply informed him of their arrival, and of their earnest desire to see him at the hotel as early as possible the next morning, and it concluded by cautioning him to wait until he had seen them before he announced their presence in London to his niece.

The second note was addressed to the family solicitor, Mr. Nixon — the same gentleman who, more than a year since, had written, at Mrs. Frankland’s request, the letter which informed Andrew Treverton of his brother’s decease, and of the circumstances under which the captain had died. All that Rosamond now wrote, in her husband’s name and her own, to ask of Mr. Nixon, was that he would endeavor to call at their hotel on his way to business the next morning, to give his opinion on a private matter of great importance, which had obliged them to undertake the journey from Porthgenna to London. This note, and the note to Uncle Joseph, were sent to their respective addresses by a messenger on the evening when they were written.

The first visitor who arrived the next morning was the solicitor — a clear-headed, fluent, polite old gentleman, who had known Captain Treverton and his father before him. He came to the hotel fully expecting to be consulted on some difficulties connected with the Porthgenna estate, which the local agent was perhaps unable to settle, and which might be of too confused and intricate a nature to be easily expressed in writing. When he heard what the emergency really was, and when the letter that had been found in the Myrtle Room was placed in his hands, it is not too much to say that, for the first time in the course of a long life and a varied practice among all sorts and conditions of clients, sheer astonishment utterly paralyzed Mr. Nixon’s faculties, and bereft him for some moments of the power of uttering a single word.

When, however, Mr. Frankland proceeded from making the disclosure to announcing his resolution to give up the purchase-money of Porthgenna Tower, if the genuineness of the letter could be proved to his own satisfaction, the old lawyer recovered the use of his tongue immediately, and protested against his client’s intention with the sincere warmth of a man who thoroughly understood the advantage of being rich, and who knew what it was to gain and to lose a fortune of forty thousand pounds.

Leonard listened with patient attention while Mr. Nixon argued from his professional point of view against regarding the letter, taken by itself, as a genuine document, and against accepting Mrs. Jazeph’s evidence, taken with it, as decisive on the subject of Mrs. Frankland’s real parentage. He expatiated on the improbability of Mrs. Treverton’s alleged fraud upon her husband having been committed without other persons besides her maid and herself being in the secret. He declared it to be in accordance with all received experience of human nature that one or more of those other persons must have spoken of the secret either from malice or from want of caution, and that the consequent exposure of the truth must, in the course of so long a period as twenty-two years, have come to the knowledge of some among the many people in the West of England, as well as in London, who knew the Treverton family personally or by reputation From this objection he passed to another, which admitted the possible genuineness of the letter as a written document; but which pleaded the probability of its having been produced under the influence of some mental delusion on Mrs. Treverton’s part, which her maid might have had an interest in humoring at the time, though she might have hesitated, after her mistress’s death, at risking the possible consequences of attempting to profit by the imposture. Having stated this theory, as one which not only explained the writing of the letter, but the hiding of it also, Mr. Nixon further observed, in reference to Mrs. Jazeph, that any evidence she might give was of little or no value in a legal point of view, from the difficulty — or, he might say, the impossibility — of satisfactorily identifying the infant mentioned in the letter with the lady whom he had now the honor of addressing as Mrs. Frankland, and whom no unsubstantiated document in existence should induce him to believe to be any other than the daughter of his old friend and client, Captain Treverton.

Having heard the lawyer’s objections to the end, Leonard admitted their ingenuity, but acknowledged at the same time that they had produced no alteration in his impression on the subject of the letter, or in his convictions as to the course of duty which he felt bound to follow. He would wait he said, for Mrs. Jazeph’s testimony before he acted decisively; but if that testimony were of such a nature, and were given in such a manner, as to satisfy him that his wife had no moral right to the fortune that she possessed, he would restore it at once to the person who had — Mr. Andrew Treverton.

Finding that no fresh arguments or suggestions could shake Mr. Frankland’s resolution, and that no separate appeal to Rosamond had the slightest effect in stimulating her to use her influence for the purpose of inducing her husband to alter his determination; and feeling convinced, moreover, from all that he heard, that Mr. Frankland would, if he was opposed by many more objections, either employ another professional adviser or risk committing some fatal legal error by acting for himself in the matter of restoring the money, Mr. Nixon at last consented, under protest, to give his client what help he needed in case it became necessary to hold communication with Andrew Treverton. He listened with polite resignation to Leonard’s brief statement of the questions that he intended to put to Mrs. Jazeph; and said, with the slightest possible dash of sarcasm, when it came to his turn to speak, that they were excellent questions in a moral point of view, and would doubtless produce answers which would be full of interest of the most romantic kind. “But,” he added, “as you have one child already, Mr. Frankland, and as you may, perhaps, if I may venture on suggesting such a thing, have more in the course of years; and as those children, when they grow up, may hear of the loss of their mother’s fortune, and may wish to know why it was sacrificed, I should recommend — resting the matter on family grounds alone, and not going further to make a legal point of it also — that you procure from Mrs. Jazeph, besides the vivâ voce evidence you propose to extract (against the admissibility of which, in this case, I again protest), a written declaration, which you may leave behind you at your death, and which may justify you in the eyes of your children, in case the necessity for such justification should arise at some future period.”

This advice was too plainly valuable to be neglected. At Leonard’s request, Mr. Nixon drew out at once a form of declaration, affirming the genuineness of the letter addressed by the late Mrs. Treverton on her death-bed to her husband, since also deceased, and bearing witness to the truth of the statements therein contained, both as regarded the fraud practiced on Captain Treverton and the asserted parentage of the child. Telling Mr. Frankland that he would do well to have Mrs. Jazeph’s signature to this document attested by the names of two competent witnesses, Mr. Nixon handed the declaration to Rosamond to read aloud to her husband, and, finding that no objection was made to any part of it, and that he could be of no further use in the present early stage of the proceedings, rose to take his leave. Leonard engaged to communicate with him again in the course of the day, if necessary; and he retired, reiterating his protest to the last, and declaring that he had never met with such an extraordinary case and such a self-willed client before in the whole course of his practice.

Nearly an hour elapsed after the departure of the lawyer before any second visitor was announced. At the expiration of that time, the welcome sound of footsteps was heard approaching the door, and Uncle Joseph entered the room.

Rosamond’s observation, stimulated by anxiety, detected a change in his look and manner the moment he appeared. His face was harassed and fatigued, and his gait, as he advanced into the room, had lost the briskness and activity which so quaintly distinguished it when she saw him, for the first time, at Porthgenna Tower. He tried to add to his first words of greeting an apology for being late; but Rosamond interrupted him, in her eagerness to ask the first important question.

“We know that you have discovered her address,” she said, anxiously, “but we know nothing more. Is she as you feared to find her? Is she ill?”

The old man shook his head sadly. “When I showed you her letter,” he said, “what did I tell you? She is so ill, Madam, that not even the message your kindness gave to me will do her any good.”

Those few simple words struck Rosamond’s heart with a strange fear, which silenced her against her own will when she tried to speak again. Uncle Joseph understood the anxious look she fixed on him, and the quick sign she made toward the chair standing nearest to the sofa on which she and her husband were sitting. There he took his place, and there he confided to them all that he had to tell.

He had followed, he said, the advice which Rosamond had given to him at Porthgenna, by taking a letter addressed to “S. J.” to the post-office the morning after his arrival in London. The messenger — a maid-servant-had called to inquire, as was anticipated, and had left the post-office with his letter in her hand. He had followed her to a lodging-house in a street near, had seen her let herself in at the door, and had then knocked and inquired for Mrs. Jazeph. The door was answered by an old woman, who looked like the landlady; and the reply was that no one of that name lived there. He had then explained that he wished to see the person for whom letters were sent to the neighboring post-office, addressed to “S. J.;” but the old woman had answered, in the surliest way, that they had nothing to do with anonymous people or their friends in that house, and had closed the door in his face. Upon this he had gone back to his friend, the German baker, to get advice; and had been recommended to return, after allowing some little time to elapse, to ask if he could see the servant who waited on the lodgers, to describe his niece’s appearance, and to put half a crown into the girl’s hand to help her to understand what he wanted. He had followed these directions, and had discovered that his niece was lying ill in the house, under the assumed name of “Mrs. James.” A little persuasion (after the present of the half-crown) had induced the girl to go upstairs and announce his name. After that there were no more obstacles to be overcome, and he was conducted immediately to the room occupied by his niece.

He was inexpressibly shocked and startled when he saw her by the violent nervous agitation which she manifested as he approached her bedside. But he did not lose heart and hope until he had communicated Mrs. Frankland’s message, and had found that it failed altogether in producing the re-assuring effect on her spirits which he had trusted and believed that it would exercise. Instead of soothing, it seemed to excite and alarm her afresh. Among a host of minute inquiries about Mrs. Frankland’s looks, about her manner toward him, about the exact words she had spoken, all of which he was able to answer more or less to her satisfaction, she had addressed two questions to him, to which he was utterly unable to reply. The first of the questions was, Whether Mrs. Frankland had said anything about the Secret? The second was, Whether she had spoken any chance word to lead to the suspicion that she had found out the situation of the Myrtle Room?

The doctor in attendance had come in, the old man added, while he was still sitting by his niece’s bedside, and still trying ineffectually to induce her to accept the friendly and reassuring language of Mrs. Frankland’s message. After making some inquiries and talking a little while on indifferent matters, the doctor had privately taken him aside; had informed him that the pain over the region of the heart and the difficulty in breathing, which were the symptoms of which his niece complained, were more serious in their nature than persons uninstructed in medical matters might be disposed to think; and had begged him to give her no more messages from anyone, unless he felt perfectly sure beforehand that they would have the effect of clearing her mind, at once and forever, from the secret anxieties that now harassed it — anxieties which he might rest assured were aggravating her malady day by day, and rendering all the medical help that could be given of little or no avail.

Upon this, after sitting longer with his niece, and after holding counsel with himself, he had resolved to write privately to Mrs. Frankland that evening, after getting back to his friend’s house. The letter had taken him longer to compose than anyone accustomed to writing would believe. At last, after delays in making a fair copy from many rough drafts, and delays in leaving his task to attend to his niece, he had completed a letter narrating what had happened since his arrival in London, in language which he hoped might be understood. Judging by comparison of dates, this letter must have crossed Mr. and Mrs. Frankland on the road. It contained nothing more than he had just been relating with his own lips — except that it also communicated, as a proof that distance had not diminished the fear which tormented his niece’s mind, the explanation she had given to him of her concealment of her name, and of her choice of an abode among strangers, when she had friends in London to whom she might have gone. That explanation it was perhaps needless to have lengthened the letter by repeating, for it only involved his saying over again, in substance, what he had already said in speaking of the motive which had forced Sarah to part from him at Truro.

With last words such as those, the sad and simple story of the old man came to an end. After waiting a little to recover her self-possession and to steady her voice, Rosamond touched her husband to draw his attention to herself, and whispered to him —

“I may say all, now, that I wished to say at Porthgenna?”

“All,” he answered. “If you can trust yourself, Rosamond, it is fittest that he should hear it from your lips.”

After the first natural burst of astonishment was over, the effect of the disclosure of the Secret on Uncle Joseph exhibited the most striking contrast that can be imagined to the effect of it on Mr. Nixon. No shadow of doubt darkened the old man’s face, not a word of objection dropped from his lips The one emotion excited in him was simple, unreflecting, unalloyed delight. He sprang to his feet with all his natural activity, his eyes sparkled again with all their natural brightness; one moment he clapped his hands like a child; the next he caught up his hat, and entreated Rosamond to let him lead her at once to his niece’s bedside “If you will only tell Sarah what you have just told me,” he cried, hurrying across the room to open the door, “you will give her back her courage, you will raise her up from her bed, you will cure her before the day is out!”

A warning word from Mr. Frankland stopped him on a sudden, and brought him back, silent and attentive, to the chair that he had left the moment before.

“Think a little of what the doctor told you,” said Leonard. “The sudden surprise which has made you so happy might do fatal mischief to your niece. Before we take the responsibility of speaking to her on a subject which is sure to agitate her violently, however careful we may be in introducing it, we ought first, I think, for safety’s sake, to apply to the doctor for advice.”

Rosamond warmly seconded her husband’s suggestion, and, with her characteristic impatience of delay, proposed that they should find out the medical man immediately. Uncle Joseph announced — a little unwillingly, as it seemed — in answer to her inquiries, that he knew the place of the doctor’s residence, and that he was generally to be found at home before one o’clock in the afternoon. It was then just half-past twelve; and Rosamond, with her husband’s approval, rang the bell at once to send for a cab.

She was about to leave the room to put on her bonnet, after giving the necessary order, when the old man stopped her by asking, with some appearance of hesitation and confusion, if it was considered necessary that he should go to the doctor with Mr. and Mrs. Frankland; adding, before the question could be answered, that he would greatly prefer, if there was no objection to it on their parts, being left to wait at the hotel to receive any instructions they might wish to give him on their return. Leonard immediately complied with his request, without inquiring into his reasons for making it; but Rosamond’s curiosity was aroused, and she asked why he preferred remaining by himself at the hotel to going with them to the doctor.

“I like him not,” said the old man “When he speaks about Sarah, he looks and talks as if he thought she would never get up from her bed again.” Answering in those brief words, he walked away uneasily to the window, as if he desired to say no more.

The residence of the doctor was at some little distance, but Mr. and Mrs. Frankland arrived there before one o’clock, and found him at home. He was a young man, with a mild, grave face, and a quiet, subdued manner. Daily contact with suffering and sorrow had perhaps prematurely steadied and saddened his character. Merely introducing her husband and herself to him, as persons who were deeply interested in his patient at the lodging-house, Rosamond left it to Leonard to ask the first questions relating to the condition of her mother’s health.

The doctor’s answer was ominously prefaced by a few polite words, which were evidently intended to prepare his hearers for a less hopeful report than they might have come there expecting to receive. Carefully divesting the subject of all professional technicalities, he told them that his patient was undoubtedly affected with serious disease of the heart. The exact nature of this disease he candidly acknowledged to be a matter of doubt, which various medical men might decide in various ways. According to the opinion which he had himself formed from the symptoms, he believed that the patient’s malady was connected with the artery which conveys blood directly from the heart through the system. Having found her singularly unwilling to answer questions relating to the nature of her past life, he could only guess that the disease was of long standing; that it was originally produced by some great mental shock, followed by long-wearing anxiety (of which her face showed palpable traces); and that it had been seriously aggravated by the fatigue of a journey to London, which she acknowledged she had undertaken at a time when great nervous exhaustion rendered her totally unfit to travel. Speaking according to this view of the case, it was his painful duty to tell her friends that any violent emotion would unquestionably put her life in danger. At the same time, if the mental uneasiness from which she was now suffering could be removed, and if she could be placed in a quiet, comfortable country home, among people who would be unremittingly careful in keeping her composed, and in suffering her to want for nothing, there was reason to hope that the progress of the disease might be arrested, and that her life might be spared for some years to come.

Rosamond’s heart bounded at the picture of the future which her fancy drew from the suggestions that lay hidden in the doctor’s last words. “She can command every advantage you have mentioned and more, if more is required!” she interposed eagerly, before her husband could speak again. “Oh, Sir, if rest among kind friends is all that her poor weary heart wants, thank God we can give it!”

“We can give it,” said Leonard, continuing the sentence for his wife, “if the doctor will sanction our making a communication to his patient, which is of a nature to relieve her of all anxiety, but which, it is necessary to add, she is at present quite unprepared to receive.”

“May I ask,” said the doctor, “who is to be intrusted with the responsibility of making the communication you mention?”

“There are two persons who could be intrusted with it,” answered Leonard. “One is the old man whom you have seen by your patient’s bedside. The other is my wife.”

“In that case,” rejoined the doctor, looking at Rosamond, “there can be no doubt that this lady is the fittest person to undertake the duty.” He paused, and reflected for a moment; then added — “May I inquire, however, before I venture on guiding your decision one way or the other, whether the lady is as familiarly known to my patient, and is on the same intimate terms with her, as the old man?”

“I am afraid I must answer No to both those questions,” replied Leonard “And I ought, perhaps, to tell you, at the same time, that your patient believes my wife to be now in Cornwall. Her first appearance in the sick-room would, I fear, cause great surprise to the sufferer, and possibly some little alarm as well.”

“Under those circumstances,” said the doctor, “the risk of trusting the old man, simple as he is, seems to be infinitely the least risk of the two — for the plain reason that his presence can cause her no surprise However unskillfully he may break the news, he will have the great advantage over this lady of not appearing unexpectedly at the bedside. If the hazardous experiment must be tried — and I assume that it must, from what you have said — you have no choice, I think, but to trust it, with proper cautions and instructions, to the old man to carry out.”

After arriving at that conclusion, there was no more to be said on either side The interview terminated, and Rosamond and her husband hastened back to give Uncle Joseph his instructions at the hotel.

As they approached the door of their sitting-room they were surprised by hearing the sound of music inside. On entering, they found the old man crouched upon a stool, listening to a shabby little musical box which was placed on a table close by him, and which was playing an air that Rosamond recognized immediately as the “Batti, Batti” of Mozart.

“I hope you will pardon me for making music to keep myself company while you were away,” said Uncle Joseph, starting up in some little confusion, and touching the stop of the box. “This is, if you please, of all my friends and companions, the oldest that is left. The divine Mozart, the king of all the composers that ever lived, gave it with his own hand, Madam, to my brother, when Max was a boy in the music school at Vienna. Since my niece left me in Cornwall, I have not had the heart to make Mozart sing to me out of this little bit of box until to-day. Now that you have made me happy about Sarah again, my ears ache once more for the tiny ting-ting that has always the same friendly sound to my heart, travel where I may. But enough so!” said the old man, placing the box in the leather case by his side, which Rosamond had noticed there when she first saw him at Porthgenna. “I shall put back my singing-bird into his cage, and shall ask, when that is done, if you will be pleased to tell me what it is that the doctor has said?”

Rosamond answered his request by relating the substance of the conversation which had passed between her husband and the doctor. She then, with many preparatory cautions, proceeded to instruct the old man how to disclose the discovery of the Secret to his niece. She told him that the circumstances in connection with it must be first stated, not as events that had really happened, but as events that might be supposed to have happened. She put the words that he would have to speak into his mouth, choosing the fewest and the plainest that would answer the purpose; she showed him how he might glide almost imperceptibly from referring to the discovery as a thing that might be supposed, to referring to it as a thing that had really happened; and she impressed upon him, as most important of all, to keep perpetually before his niece’s mind the fact that the discovery of the Secret had not awakened one bitter feeling or one resentful thought toward her, in the minds of either of the persons who had been so deeply interested in finding it out.

Uncle Joseph listened with unwavering attention until Rosamond had done; then rose from his seat, fixed his eyes intently on her face, and detected an expression of anxiety and doubt in it which he rightly interpreted as referring to himself.

“May I make you sure, before I go away, that I shall forget nothing?” he asked, very earnestly. “I have no head to invent, it is true; but I have something in me that can remember, and the more especially when it is for Sarah’s sake. If you please, listen now, and hear if I can say to you over again all that you have said to me?”

Standing before Rosamond, with something in his look and manner strangely and touchingly suggestive of the long-past days of his childhood, and of the time when he had said his earliest lessons at his mother’s knee, he now repeated, from first to last, the instructions that had been given to him, with a verbal exactness, with an easy readiness of memory, which, in a man of his age, was nothing less than astonishing “Have I kept it all as I should?” he asked, simply, when he had come to an end. “And may I go my ways now, and take my good news to Sarah’s bedside?”

It was still necessary to detain him, while Rosamond and her husband consulted together on the best and safest means of following up the avowal that the Secret was discovered, by the announcement of their own presence in London.

After some consideration, Leonard asked his wife to produce the document which the lawyer had drawn out that morning, and to write a few lines, from his dictation, on the blank side of the paper, requesting Mrs. Jazeph to read the form of declaration, and to affix her signature to it, if she felt that it required her, in every particular, to affirm nothing that was not the exact truth. When this had been done, and when the leaf on which Mrs. Frankland had written had been folded outward, so that it might be the first page to catch the eye, Leonard directed that the paper should be given to the old man, and explained to him what he was to do with it, in these words:

“When you have broken the news about the Secret to your niece,” he said, “and when you have allowed her full time to compose herself, if she asks questions about my wife and myself (as I believe she will), hand that paper to her for answer, and beg her to read it. Whether she is willing to sign it or not, she is sure to inquire how you came by it. Tell her in return that you have received it from Mrs. Frankland — using the word ‘received,’ so that she may believe at first that it was sent to you from Porthgenna by post. If you find that she signs the declaration, and that she is not much agitated after doing so, then tell her in the same gradual way in which you tell the truth about the discovery of the Secret, that my wife gave the paper to you with her own hands, and that she is now in London — ”

“Waiting and longing to see her,” added Rosamond “You, who forget nothing, will not, I am sure, forget to say that.”

The little compliment to his powers of memory made Uncle Joseph color with pleasure, as if he was a boy again. Promising to prove worthy of the trust reposed in him, and engaging to come back and relieve Mrs. Frankland of all suspense before the day was out, he took his leave, and went forth hopefully on his momentous errand.

Rosamond watched him from the window, threading his way in and out among the throng of passengers on the pavement, until he was lost to view. How nimbly the light little figure sped away out of sight! How gayly the unclouded sunlight poured down on the cheerful bustle in the street! The whole being of the great city basked in the summer glory of the day; all its mighty pulses beat high, and all its myriad voices whispered of hope!

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