The Fallen Leaves, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 3

On the conclusion of the proceedings, Mr. Melton, having no further need of Amelius or the lawyer, drove away by himself. But he was too inveterately polite to omit making his excuses for leaving them in a hurry; he expected, he said, to find a telegram from Paris waiting at his house. Amelius only delayed his departure to ask the landlady if the day of the funeral was settled. Hearing that it was arranged for the next morning, he thanked her, and returned at once to the cottage.

Sally was waiting his arrival to complete some purchases of mourning for her unhappy mother; Toff’s wife being in attendance to take care of her. She was curious to know how the inquest had ended. In answering her question, Amelius was careful to warn her, if her companion made any inquiries, only to say that she had lost her mother under very sad circumstances. The two having left the cottage, he instructed Toff to let in a stranger, who was to call by previous appointment, and to close the door to every one else. In a few minutes, the expected person, a young man, who gave the name of Morcross, made his appearance, and sorely puzzled the old Frenchman. He was well dressed; his manner was quiet and self-possessed — and yet he did not look like a gentleman. In fact, he was a policeman of the higher order, in plain clothes.

Being introduced to the library, he spread out on the table some sheets of manuscript, in the handwriting of Amelius, with notes in red ink on the margin, made by himself.

“I understand, sir,” he began, “that you have reasons for not bringing this case to trial in a court of law?”

“I am sorry to say,” Amelius answered, “that I dare not consent to the exposure of a public trial, for the sake of persons living and dead. For the same reason, I have written the account of the conspiracy with certain reserves. I hope I have not thrown any needless difficulties in your way?”

“Certainly not, sir. But I should wish to ask, what you propose to do, in case I discover the people concerned in the conspiracy?”

Amelius owned, very reluctantly, that he could do nothing with the old woman who had been the accomplice. “Unless,” he added, “I can induce her to assist me in bringing the man to justice for other crimes which I believe him to have committed.”

“Meaning the man named Jervy, sir, in this statement?”

“Yes. I have reason to believe that he has been obliged to leave the United States, after committing some serious offence —”

“I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir. Is it serious enough to charge him with, under the treaty between the two countries?”

“I don’t doubt it’s serious enough. I have telegraphed to the persons who formerly employed him, for the particulars. Mind this! I will stick at no sacrifice to make that scoundrel suffer for what he has done.”

In those plain words Amelius revealed, as frankly as usual, the purpose that was in him. The terrible remembrances associated with Mrs. Farnaby’s last moments had kindled, in his just and generous nature, a burning sense of the wrong inflicted on the poor heart-broken creature who had trusted and loved him. The unendurable thought that the wretch who had tortured her, robbed her, and driven her to her death had escaped with impunity, literally haunted him night and day. Eager to provide for Sally’s future, he had followed Mrs. Farnaby’s instructions, and had seen the lawyer privately, during the period that had elapsed between the death and the inquest. Hearing that there were formalities to be complied with, which would probably cause some delay, he had at once announced his determination to employ the interval in attempting the pursuit of Jervy. The lawyer — after vainly pointing out the serious objections to the course proposed — so far yielded to the irresistible earnestness and good faith of Amelius as to recommend him to a competent man, who could be trusted not to deceive him. The same day the man had received a written statement of the case; and he had now arrived to report the result of his first proceedings to his employer.

“One thing I want to know, before you tell me anything else,” Amelius resumed. “Is my written description of Jervy plain enough to help you to find him?”

“It’s so plain, sir, that some of the older men in our office have recognized him by it — under another name than the name you give him.”

“Does that add to the difficulty of tracing him?”

“He has been a long time away from England, sir; and it’s by no means easy to trace him, on that account. I have been to the young woman, named Phoebe in your statement, to find out what she can tell me about him. She’s ready enough, in the intervals of crying, to help us to lay our hands on the man who has deserted her. It’s the old story of a fellow getting at a girl’s secrets and a girl’s money, under pretence of marrying her. At one time, she’s furious with him, and at another she’s ready to cry her eyes out. I got some information from her; it’s not much, but it may help us. The name of the old woman, who has been the go-between in the business, is Mrs. Sowler — known to the police as an inveterate drunkard, and worse. I don’t think there will be much difficulty in tracing Mrs. Sowler. As to Jervy, if the young woman is to be believed, and I think she is, there’s little doubt that he has got the money from the lady mentioned in my instructions here, and that he has bolted with the sum about him. Wait a bit, sir, I haven’t done with my discoveries yet. I asked the young woman, of course, if she had his photograph. He’s a sharp fellow; she had it, but he got it away from her, on pretence of giving her a better one, before he took himself off. Having missed this chance, I asked next if she knew where he lived last. She directed me to the place; and I have had a talk with the landlord. He tells me of a squint-eyed man, who was a good deal about the house, doing Jervy’s dirty work for him. If I am not misled by the description, I think I know the man. I have my own notion of what he’s capable of doing, if he gets the chance — and I propose to begin by finding our way to him, and using him as a means of tracing Jervy. It’s only right to tell you that it may take some time to do this — for which reason I have to propose, in the mean while, trying a shorter way to the end in view. Do you object, sir, to the expense of sending a copy of your description of Jervy to every police-station in London?”

“I object to nothing which may help to find him. Do you think the police have got him anywhere?”

“You forget, sir, that the police have no orders to take him. What I’m speculating on is the chance that he has got the money about him — say in small banknotes, for convenience of changing them, you know.”

“Well?”

“Well, sir, the people he lives among — the squint-eyed man, for instance! — don’t stick at trifles. If any of them have found out that Jervy’s purse is worth having —”

“You mean they would rob him?”

“And murder him too, sir, if he tried to resist.”

Amelius started to his feet. “Send round to the police-stations without losing another minute,” he said. “And let me hear what the answer is, the instant you receive it.”

“Suppose I get the answer late at night, sir?”

“I don’t care when you get it, night or day. Dead or living, I will undertake to identify him. Here’s a duplicate key of the garden gate. Come this way, and I’ll show you where my bedroom is. If we are all in bed, tap at the window — and I will be ready for you at a moment’s notice.”

On that understanding Morcross left the cottage.

The day when the mortal remains of Mrs. Farnaby were laid at rest was a day of heavy rain. Mr. Melton, and two or three other old friends, were the attendants at the funeral. When the coffin was borne into the damp and reeking burial ground, a young man and a woman were the only persons, beside the sexton and his assistants, who stood by the open grave. Mr. Melton, recognizing Amelius, was at a loss to understand who his companion could be. It was impossible to suppose that he would profane that solemn ceremony by bringing to it the lost woman at the cottage. The thick black veil of the person with him hid her face from view. No visible expressions of grief escaped her. When the last sublime words of the burial service had been read, those two mourners were left, after the others had all departed, still standing together by the grave. Mr. Melton decided on mentioning the circumstance confidentially when he wrote to his friend in Paris. Telegrams from Regina, in reply to his telegrams from London, had informed him that Mr. Farnaby had felt the benefit of the remedies employed, and was slowly on the way to recovery. It seemed likely that he would, in no long time, take the right course for the protection of his niece. For the enlightenment which might, or might not, come with that time, Mr. Melton was resigned to wait, with the disciplined patience to which he had been mainly indebted for his success in life.

“Always remember your mother tenderly, my child,” said Amelius, as they left the burial ground. “She was sorely tried, poor thing, in her life time, and she loved you very dearly.”

“Do you know anything of my father?” Sally asked timidly. “Is he still living?”

“My dear, you will never see your father. I must be all that the kindest father and mother could have been to you, now. Oh, my poor little girl!”

She pressed his arm to her as she held it. “Why should you pity me?” she said. “Haven’t I got You?”

They passed the day together quietly at the cottage. Amelius took down some of his books, and pleased Sally by giving her his first lessons. Soon after ten o’clock she withdrew, at the usual early hour, to her room. In her absence, he sent for Toff, intending to warn him not to be alarmed if he heard footsteps in the garden, after they had all gone to bed. The old servant had barely entered the library, when he was called away by the bell at the outer gate. Amelius, looking into the hall, discovered Morcross, and signed to him eagerly to come in. The police-officer closed the door cautiously behind him. He had arrived with news that Jervy was found.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30