The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 5

Forty Thousand Pounds.

No popular saying is more commonly accepted than the maxim which asserts that Time is the great consoler; and, probably, no popular saying more imperfectly expresses the truth. The work that we must do, the responsibilities that we must undertake, the example that we must set to others — these are the great consolers, for these apply the first remedies to the malady of grief. Time possesses nothing but the negative virtue of helping it to wear itself out. Who that has observed at all, has not perceived that those among us who soonest recover from the shock of a great grief for the dead are those who have the most duties to perform toward the living? When the shadow of calamity rests on our houses, the question with us is not how much time will suffice to bring back the sunshine to us again, but how much occupation have we got to force us forward into the place where the sunshine is waiting for us to come? Time may claim many victories, but not the victory over grief. The great consolation for the loss of the dead who are gone is to be found in the great necessity of thinking of the living who remain.

The history of Rosamond’s daily life, now that the darkness of a heavy affliction had fallen on it, was in itself the sufficient illustration of this truth. It was not the slow lapse of time that helped to raise her up again, but the necessity which would not wait for time — the necessity which made her remember what was due to the husband who sorrowed with her, to the child whose young life was linked to hers, and to the old man whose helpless grief found no support but in the comfort she could give, learned no lesson of resignation but from the example she could set.

From the first the responsibility of sustaining him had rested on her shoulders alone. Before the close of day had been counted out by the first hour of the night, she had been torn from the bedside by the necessity of meeting him at the door, and preparing him to know that he was entering the chamber of death. To guide the dreadful truth gradually and gently, till it stood face to face with him, to support him under the shock of recognizing it, to help his mind to recover after the inevitable blow had struck it at last — these were the sacred duties which claimed all the devotion that Rosamond had to give, and which forbade her heart, for his sake, to dwell selfishly on its own grief.

He looked like a man whose faculties had been stunned past recovery. He would sit for hours with the musical box by his side, patting it absently from time to time, and whispering to himself as he looked at it, but never attempting to set it playing. It was the one memorial left that reminded him of all the joys and sorrows, the simple family interests and affections of his past life. When Rosamond first sat by his side and took his hand to comfort him, he looked backward and forward with forlorn eyes from her compassionate face to the musical box, and vacantly repeated to himself the same words over and over again: “They are all gone — my brother Max, my wife, my little Joseph, my sister Agatha, and Sarah, my niece! I and my little bit of box are left alone together in the world. Mozart can sing no more. He has sung to the last of them now!”

The second day there was no change in him. On the third, Rosamond placed the book of Hymns reverently on her mother’s bosom, laid a lock of her own hair round it, and kissed the sad, peaceful face for the last time.

The old man was with her at that silent leave-taking, and followed her away when it was over. By the side of the coffin, and afterward when she took him back with her to her husband, he was still sunk in the same apathy of grief which had overwhelmed him from the first. But when they began to speak of the removal of the remains the next day to Porthgenna churchyard they noticed that his dim eyes brightened suddenly, and that his wandering attention followed every word they said. After a while he rose from his chair, approached Rosamond, and looked anxiously in her face. “I think I could bear it better if you would let me go with her,” he said. “We two should have gone back to Cornwall together, if she had lived. Will you let us still go back together now that she has died?”

Rosamond gently remonstrated, and tried to make him see that it was best to leave the remains to be removed under the charge of her husband’s servant, whose fidelity could be depended on, and whose position made him the fittest person to be charged with cares and responsibilities which near relations were not capable of undertaking with sufficient composure. She told him that her husband intended to stop in London, to give her one day of rest and quiet, which she absolutely needed, and that they then proposed to return to Cornwall in time to be at Porthgenna before the funeral took place; and she begged earnestly that he would not think of separating his lot from theirs at a time of trouble and trial, when they ought to be all three most closely united by the ties of mutual sympathy and mutual sorrow.

He listened silently and submissively while Rosamond was speaking, but he only repeated his simple petition when she had done. The one idea in his mind now was the idea of going back to Cornwall with all that was left on earth of his sister’s child. Leonard and Rosamond both saw that it would be useless to oppose it, both felt that it would be cruelty to keep him with them, and kindness to let him go away. After privately charging the servant to spare him all trouble and difficulty, to humor him by acceding to any wishes that he might express, and to give him all possible protection and help without obtruding either officiously on his attention, they left him free to follow the one purpose of his heart which still connected him with the interests and events of the passing day. “I shall thank you better soon,” he said at leave-taking, “for letting me go away out of this din of London with all that is left to me of Sarah, my niece. I will dry up my tears as well as I can, and try to have more courage when we meet again.”

On the next day, when they were alone, Rosamond and her husband sought refuge from the oppression of the present in speaking together of the future, and of the influence which the change in their fortunes ought to be allowed to exercise on their plans and projects for the time to come. After exhausting this topic, the conversation turned next on the subject of their friends, and on the necessity of communicating to some of the oldest of their associates the events which had followed the discovery in the Myrtle Room.

The first name on their lips while they were considering this question was the name of Doctor Chennery; and Rosamond, dreading the effect on her spirits of allowing her mind to remain unoccupied, volunteered to write to the vicar at once, referring briefly to what had happened since they had last communicated with him, and asking him to fulfill that year an engagement of long standing, which he had made with her husband and herself, to spend his autumn holiday with them at Porthgenna Tower. Rosamond’s heart yearned for a sight of her old friend; and she knew him well enough to be assured that a hint at the affliction which had befallen her, and at the hard trial which she had undergone, would be more than enough to bring them together the moment Doctor Chennery could make his arrangements for leaving home.

The writing of this letter suggested recollections which called to mind another friend, whose intimacy with Leonard and Rosamond was of recent date, but whose connection with the earlier among the train of circumstances which had led to the discovery of the Secret entitled him to a certain share in their confidence. This friend was Mr. Orridge, the doctor at West Winston, who had accidentally been the means of bringing Rosamond’s mother to her bedside. To him she now wrote, acknowledging the promise which she had made on leaving West Winston to communicate the result of their search for the Myrtle Room; and informing him that it had terminated in the discovery of some very sad events, of a family nature, which were now numbered with the events of the past. More than this it was not necessary to say to a friend who occupied such a position toward them as that held by Mr. Orridge.

Rosamond had written the address of this second letter, and was absently drawing lines on the blotting-paper with her pen, when she was startled by hearing a contention of angry voices in the passage outside. Almost before she had time to wonder what the noise meant, the door was violently pushed open, and a tall, shabbily dressed, elderly man, with a peevish, haggard face, and a ragged gray beard, stalked in, followed indignantly by the head waiter of the hotel.

“I have three times told this person,” began the waiter, with a strong emphasis on the word “person,” “that Mr. and Mrs. Frankland — ”

“Were not at home,” broke in the shabbily dressed man, finishing the sentence for the waiter. “Yes, you told me that; and I told you that the gift of speech was only used by mankind for the purpose of telling lies, and that consequently I didn’t believe you. You have told a lie. Here are Mr. and Mrs. Frankland both at home. I come on business, and I mean to have five minutes’ talk with them. I sit down unasked, and I announce my own name — Andrew Treverton.”

With those words, he took his seat coolly on the nearest chair. Leonard’s cheeks reddened with anger while he was speaking, but Rosamond interposed before her husband could say a word.

“It is useless, love, to be angry with him,” she whispered. “The quiet way is the best way with a man like that.” She made a sign to the waiter, which gave him permission to leave the room — then turned to Mr. Treverton. “You have forced your presence on us, Sir,” she said quietly, “at a time when a very sad affliction makes us quite unfit for contentions of any kind. We are willing to show more consideration for your age than you have shown for our grief. If you have anything to say to my husband, he is ready to control himself and to hear you quietly, for my sake.”

“And I shall be short with him and with you, for my own sake,” rejoined Mr. Treverton. “No woman has ever yet had the chance of sharpening her tongue long on me, or ever shall. I have come here to say three things. First, your lawyer has told me all about the discovery in the Myrtle Room, and how you made it. Secondly, I have got your money. Thirdly, I mean to keep it. What do you think of that?”

“I think you need not give yourself the trouble of remaining in the room any longer, if your only object in coming here is to tell us what we know already,” replied Leonard. “We know you have got the money; and we never doubted that you meant to keep it.”

“You are quite sure of that, I suppose?” said Mr. Treverton. “Quite sure you have no lingering hope that any future twists and turns of the law will take the money out of my pocket again and put it back into yours? It is only fair to tell you that there is not the shadow of a chance of any such thing ever happening, or of my ever turning generous and rewarding you of my own accord for the sacrifice you have made. I have been to Doctors’ Commons, I have taken out a grant of administration, I have got the money legally, I have lodged it safe at my bankers, and I have never had one kind feeling in my heart since I was born. That was my brother’s character of me, and he knew more of my disposition, of course, than anyone else. Once again, I tell you both, not a farthing of all that large fortune will ever return to either of you.”

“And once again I tell you,” said Leonard, “that we have no desire to hear what we know already. It is a relief to my conscience and to my wife’s to have resigned a fortune which we had no right to possess; and I speak for her as well as for myself when I tell you that your attempt to attach an interested motive to our renunciation of that money is an insult to us both which you ought to have been ashamed to offer.”

“That is your opinion, is it?” said Mr. Treverton. “You, who have lost the money, speak to me, who have got it, in that manner, do you? — Pray, do you approve of your husband’s treating a rich man who might make both your fortunes in that way?” he inquired, addressing himself sharply to Rosamond.

“Most assuredly I approve of it,” she answered. “I never agreed with him more heartily in my life than I agree with him now.”

“Oh!” said Mr. Treverton. “Then it seems you care no more for the loss of the money than he does?”

“He has told you already,” said Rosamond, “that it is as great a relief to my conscience as to his, to have given it up.”

Mr. Treverton carefully placed a thick stick which he carried with him upright between his knees, crossed his hands on the top of it, rested his chin on them, and, in that investigating position, stared steadily in Rosamond’s face.

“I rather wish I had brought Shrowl here with me,” he said to himself. “I should like him to have seen this. It staggers me, and I rather think it would have staggered him. Both these people,” continued Mr. Treverton, looking perplexedly from Rosamond to Leonard, and from Leonard back again to Rosamond, “are, to all outward appearance, human beings. They walk on their hind legs, they express ideas readily by uttering articulate sounds, they have the usual allowance of features, and in respect of weight, height, and size, they appear to me to be mere average human creatures of the regular civilized sort. And yet, there they sit, taking the loss of a fortune of forty thousand pounds as easily as Croesus, King of Lydia, might have taken the loss of a halfpenny!”

He rose, put on his hat, tucked the thick stick under his arm, and advanced a few steps toward Rosamond.

“I am going now,” he said. “Would you like to shake hands?”

Rosamond turned her back on him contemptuously.

Mr. Treverton chuckled with an air of supreme satisfaction.

Meanwhile Leonard, who sat near the fireplace, and whose color was rising angrily once more, had been feeling for the bell-rope, and had just succeeded in getting it into his hand as Mr. Treverton approached the door.

“Don’t ring, Lenny,” said Rosamond. “He is going of his own accord.”

Mr. Treverton stepped out into the passage — then glanced back into the room with an expression of puzzled curiosity on his face, as if he was looking into a cage which contained two animals of a species that he had never heard of before. “I have seen some strange sights in my time,” he said to himself. “I have had some queer experience of this trumpery little planet, and of the creatures who inhabit it — but I never was staggered yet by any human phenomenon as I am staggered now by those two.” He shut the door without saying another word and Rosamond heard him chuckle to himself again as he walked away along the passage.

Ten minutes afterward the waiter brought up a sealed letter addressed to Mrs. Frankland. It had been written, he said, in the coffee-room of the hotel by the “person” who had intruded himself into Mr. and Mrs. Frankland’s presence. After giving it to the waiter to deliver, he had gone away in a hurry, swinging his thick stick complacently, and laughing to himself.

Rosamond opened the letter.

On one side of it was a crossed check, drawn in her name, for Forty Thousand pounds.

On the other side were these lines of explanation:

 

“Take your money back again. First, because you and your husband are the only two people I have ever met with who are not likely to be made rascals by being made rich. Secondly, because you have told the truth, when letting it out meant losing money, and keeping it in, saving a fortune. Thirdly, because you are not the child of the player-woman. Fourthly, because you can’t help yourself — for I shall leave it to you at my death, if you won’t have it now. Good-by. Don’t come and see me, don’t write grateful letters to me, don’t invite me into the country, don’t praise my generosity, and, above all things, don’t have anything more to do with Shrowl.

ANDREW TREVERTON.”

 

The first thing Rosamond did, when she and her husband had a little recovered from their astonishment, was to disobey the injunction which forbade her to address any grateful letters to Mr. Treverton. The messenger, who was sent with her note to Bayswater, returned without an answer, and reported that he had received directions from an invisible man, with a gruff voice, to throw it over the garden wall, and to go away immediately after, unless he wanted to have his head broken.

Mr. Nixon, to whom Leonard immediately sent word of what had happened, volunteered to go to Bayswater the same evening, and make an attempt to see Mr. Treverton on Mr. and Mrs. Frankland’s behalf. He found Timon of London more approachable than he had anticipated. The misanthrope was, for once in his life, in a good humor. This extraordinary change in him had been produced by the sense of satisfaction which he experienced in having just turned Shrowl out of his situation, on the ground that his master was not fit company for him after having committed such an act of folly as giving Mrs. Frankland back her forty thousand pounds.

“I told him,” said Mr. Treverton, chuckling over his recollection of the parting scene between his servant and himself — “I told him that I could not possibly expect to merit his continued approval after what I had done, and that I could not think of detaining him in his place under the circumstances. I begged him to view my conduct as leniently as he could, because the first cause that led to it was, after all, his copying the plan of Porthgenna, which guided Mrs. Frankland to the discovery in the Myrtle Room. I congratulated him on having got a reward of five pounds for being the means of restoring a fortune of forty thousand; and I bowed him out with a polite humility that half drove him mad. Shrowl and I have had a good many tussles in our time; he was always even with me till to-day, and now I’ve thrown him on his back at last!”

Although Mr. Treverton was willing to talk of the defeat and dismissal of Shrowl as long as the lawyer would listen to him, he was perfectly unmanageable on the subject of Mrs. Frankland, when Mr. Nixon tried to turn the conversation to that topic. He would hear no messages — he would give no promise of any sort for the future. All that he could be prevailed on to say about himself and his own projects was that he intended to give up the house at Bayswater, and to travel again for the purpose of studying human nature, in different countries, on a plan that he had not tried yet — the plan of endeavoring to find out the good that there might be in people as well as the bad. He said the idea had been suggested to his mind by his anxiety to ascertain whether Mr. and Mrs. Frankland were perfectly exceptional human beings or not. At present, he was disposed to think that they were, and that his travels were not likely to lead to anything at all remarkable in the shape of a satisfactory result. Mr. Nixon pleaded hard for something in the shape of a friendly message to take back, along with the news of his intended departure. The request produced nothing but a sardonic chuckle, followed by this parting speech, delivered to the lawyer at the garden gate.

“Tell those two superhuman people,” said Timon of London, “that I may give up my travels in disgust when they least expect it; and that I may possibly come back to look at them again — I don’t personally care about either of them — but I should like to get one satisfactory sensation more out of the lamentable spectacle of humanity before I die.”

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