Hide and Seek, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter VIII. Joanna Grice’s Narrative.

“I intend this letter to be read after my death, and I purpose calling it plainly a Justification of my conduct towards my Niece. Not because I think my conduct wants any excuse — but because others, ignorant of my true motives, may think that my actions want justifying, and may wickedly condemn me unless I make some such statement in my own defense as the present. There may still be living one member of my late brother’s family, whose voice would, I feel sure, be raised against me for what I have done. The relation to whom I refer has been — ”

(Here Mat, who had read carefully thus far, grew impatient, and growling out some angry words, guided himself hastily down the letter with his finger till he arrived at the second paragraph.)

“ — It was in the April month of 1827 that the villain who was the ruin of my niece, and the dishonor of the once respectable family to which she belonged, first came to Dibbledean. He took the little four room cottage called Jay’s Cottage, which was then to be let furnished, and which stands out of the town about a quarter of a mile down Church-lane. He called himself Mr. Carr, and the few letters that came to him were directed to ‘Arthur Carr, Esq.’

“He was quite a young man, — I should say not more than four or five and twenty — very quiet mannered and delicate — or rather effeminate looking, as I thought — for he wore his hair quite long over his shoulders, in the foreign way, and had a clear, soft complexion, almost like a woman’s. Though he appeared to be a gentleman, he always kept out of the way of making acquaintances among the respectable families about Dibbledean. He had no friends of his own to come and see him that I heard of, except an old gentleman who might have been his father, and who came once or twice. His own account of himself was, that he came to Jay’s Cottage for quiet, and retirement, and study; but he was very reserved, and would let nobody make up to him until the miserable day when he and my brother Joshua, and then my niece Mary, all got acquainted together.

“Before I go on to anything else, I must say first, that Mr. Carr was what they call a botanist. Whenever it was fine, he was always out of doors, gathering bits of leaves, which it seems he carried home in a tin case, and dried, and kept by him. He hired a gardener for the bit of ground round about Jay’s Cottage; and the man told me once, that his master knew more about flowers and how to grow them than anybody he ever met with. Mr. Carr used to make little pictures, too, of flowers and leaves set together in patterns. These things were thought very odd amusements for a young man to take up with; but he was as fond of them as others of his age might be hunting or shooting. He brought down many books with him, and read a great deal; but from all that I heard, he spent more time over his flowers and his botany than anything else.

“We had, at that time, the two best shops in Dibbledean. Joshua sold hosiery, and I carried on a good dress-making and general millinery business. Both our shops were under the same roof, with a partition wall between. One day Mr. Carr came in Joshua’s shop, and wanted something which my brother had not got as ready to hand as the common things that the townspeople generally bought. Joshua begged him to sit down for a few minutes; but Mr. Carr (the parlor door at the bottom of the shop being left open) happened to look into the garden, which he could see very well through the window, and said that he would like to wait there, and look at the flowers. Joshua was only too glad to have his garden taken such notice of, by a gentleman who was a botanist; so he showed his customer in there, and then went up into the warehouse to look for what was wanted.

“My niece, Mary, worked in my part of the house, along with the other young women. The room they used to be in looked into the garden; and from the window my niece must have seen Mr. Carr, and must have slipped down stairs (I not being in the way just then) to peep at the strange gentleman — or, more likely, to make believe she was accidentally walking in the garden, and so get noticed by him. All I know is, that when I came up into the workroom and found she was not there, and looked out of the window, I saw her, and Joshua, and Mr. Carr all standing together on the grass plot, the strange gentleman talking to her quite intimate, with a flower in his hand.

“I called out to her to come back to her work directly. She looked up at me, smiling in her bold impudent way, and said:— ‘Father has told me I may stop and learn what this gentleman is so kind as to teach me about my geraniums.’ After that, I could say nothing more before the stranger: and when he was gone, and she came back triumphing, and laughing, and singing about the room, more like a mad play-actress than a decent young woman, I kept quiet and bore with her provocation. But I went down to my brother Joshua the same day, and talked to him seriously, and warned him that she ought to be kept stricter, and never let to have her own way, and offered to keep a strict hand over her myself, if he would only support me properly. But he put me off with careless, jesting words, which he learned to repent of bitterly afterwards.

“Joshua was as pious and respectable a man as ever lived: but it was his misfortune to be too easy-tempered, and too proud of his daughter. Having lost his wife, and his eldest boy and girl, he seemed so fond of Mary, that he could deny her nothing. There was, to be sure, another one left of his family of children, who — ”

(Here, again, Mat lost patience. He had been muttering to himself angrily for the last minute or two, while he read — and now once more he passed over several lines of the letter, and went on at once to a new paragraph.)

“I have said she was vain of her good looks, and bold, and flighty; and I must now add, that she was also hasty and passionate, and reckless. But she had wheedling ways with her, which nobody was sharp enough to see through but me. When I made complaints against her to her father, and proved that I was right in making them, she always managed to get him to forgive her. She behaved, from the outset, (though I stood in the place of a mother to her,) as perversely towards me as usual, in respect to Mr. Carr. It had flattered her pride to be noticed and bowed to just as if she was a born lady, by a gentleman, and a customer at the shop. And the very same evening, at tea time, she undid before my face the whole effect of the good advice I had been giving her father. What with jumping on his knee, kissing him, tying and untying his cravat, sticking flowers in his button-hole, and going on altogether more like a child than a grown-up young woman, she wheedled him into promising that he would take her next Sunday to see Mr. Carr’s garden; for it seems the gentleman had invited them to look at his flowers. I had tried my best, when I heard it, to persuade my brother not to accept the invitation and let her scrape acquaintance with a stranger under her father’s own nose; but all that I could say was useless now. She had got the better of me, and when I put in my word, she had her bold laugh and her light answer ready to insult me with directly. Her father said he wondered I was not amused at her high spirits. I shook my head, but said nothing in return. Poor man! he lived to see where her ‘high spirits’ led her to.

“On the Sunday, after church, they went to Mr. Carr’s. Though my advice was set at defiance in this way, I determined to persevere in keeping a stricter watch over my niece than ever. I felt that the maintaining the credit and reputation of the family rested with me, and I determined that I would try my best to uphold our good name. It is some little comfort to me, after all that has happened, to remember that I did my utmost to carry out this resolution. The blame of our dishonor lies not at my door. I disliked and distrusted Mr. Carr from the very first; and I tried hard to make others as suspicious of him as I was. But all I could say, and all I could do, availed nothing against the wicked cunning of my niece. Watch and restrain her as I might, she was sure — ”

(Once more Mat broke off abruptly in the middle of a sentence. This time, however, it was to strike a light. The brief day of winter was fast fading out — the coming darkness was deepening over the pages of Joanna Grice’s narrative. When he had lit his candle, and had sat down to read again, he lost his place, and, not having patience to look for it carefully, went on at once with the first lines that happened to strike his eye.)

“Things were now come, then, to this pass, that I felt certain she was in the habit of meeting him in secret; and yet I could not prove it to my brother’s satisfaction. I had no help that I could call in to assist me against the diabolical cunning that was used to deceive me. To set other people to watch them, when I could not, would only have been spreading through Dibbledean the very scandal that I was most anxious to avoid. As for Joshua, his infatuation made him deaf to all that I could urge. He would see nothing suspicious in the fondness Mary had suddenly taken for Botany, and drawing flowers. He let Mr. Carr lend her paintings to copy from, just as if they had known each other all their lives. Next to his blind trust in his daughter, because he was so fond of her, was his blind trust in this stranger, because the gentleman’s manners were so quiet and kind, and because he sent us presents of expensive flowers to plant in our garden. He would not authorize me to open Mary’s letters, or to forbid her ever to walk out alone; and he even told me once that I did not know how to make proper allowances for young people.

“Allowances! I knew my niece better, and my duty as one of an honest family better, than to make allowances for such conduct as hers. I kept the tightest hand over her that I could. I advised her, argued with her, ordered her, portioned out her time for her, watched her, warned her, told her in the plainest terms, that she should not deceive me — she or her gentleman! I was honest and open, and said I disapproved so strongly of the terms she kept up with Mr. Carr, that if ever it lay in my power to cut short their acquaintance together, I would most assuredly do it. I even told her plainly that if she once got into mischief, it would then be too late to reclaim her; and she answered in her reckless, sluttish way, that if she ever did get into mischief it would be nothing but my aggravation that would drive her to it; and that she believed her father’s kindness would never find it too late to reclaim her again. This is only one specimen of the usual insolence and wickedness of all her replies to me.”

(As he finished this paragraph, Mat dashed the letter down angrily on his knee, and cursed the writer of it with some of those gold-digger’s imprecations which it had been his misfortune to hear but too often in the past days of his Californian wanderings. It was evidently only by placing considerable constraint upon himself, that he now refrained from crumpling up the letter and throwing it from him in disgust. However, he spread it out flat before him once more — looked first at one paragraph, then at another, but did not read them; hesitated — and then irritably turned over the leaf of paper before him, and began at a new page.)

“When I told Joshua generally what I had observed, and particularly what I myself had seen and heard on the evening in question, he seemed at last a little staggered, and sent for my niece, to insist on an explanation. On his repeating to her what I had mentioned to him, she flung her arms round his neck, looked first at me and then at him, burst out sobbing and crying, and so got from bad to worse, till she had a sort of fit. I was not at all sure that this might not be one of her tricks; but it frightened her father so that he forgot himself, and threw all the blame on me, and said my prudery and conspiring had tormented and frightened the poor girl out of her wits. After being insulted in this way, of course the only thing I could do was to leave the room, and let her have it all her own way with him.

“It was now the autumn, the middle of September; and I was at my wit’s end to know what I ought to think and do next — when Mr. Carr left Dibbledean. He had been away once or twice before, in the summer, but only for a day or two at a time. On this occasion, my niece received a letter from him. He had never written to her when he was away in the summer; so I thought this looked like a longer absence than usual, and I determined to take advantage of it to try if I could not break off the intimacy between them, in case it went the length of any more letter-writing.

“I most solemnly declare, and could affirm on oath if necessary, that in spite of all I had seen and all I suspected for these many months, I had not the most distant idea of the wickedness that had really been committed. I thank God I was not well enough versed in the ways of sin to be as sharp in coming to the right conclusion as other women might have been in my situation. I only believed that the course she was taking might be fatal to her at some future day; and, acting on that belief, I thought myself justified in using any means in my power to stop her in time. I therefore resolved with myself that if Mr. Carr wrote again, she should get none of his letters; and I knew her passionate and proud disposition well enough to know that if she could once be brought to think herself neglected by him, she would break off all intercourse with him, if ever he came back, immediately.

“I thought myself perfectly justified, standing towards her as I did in the place of a mother, and having only her good at heart, in taking these measures. On that head my conscience is still quite easy. I cannot mention what the plan was that I now adopted, without seriously compromising a living person. All I can say is, that every letter from Mr. Carr to our house, passed into my hands only, and was by me committed to the flames unread. These letters were at first all for my niece; but towards the end of the year two came, at different intervals, directed to my brother. I distrusted the cunning of the writer and the weakness of Joshua; and I put both those letters into the fire, unread like the rest. After that, no more came; and Mr. Carr never returned to Jay’s Cottage. In reference to this part of my narrative, therefore, I have only now to add, before proceeding to the miserable confession of our family dishonor, that I never afterwards saw, and only once heard of the man who tempted my niece to commit the deadly sin which was her ruin in this world, and will be her ruin in the next.

“I must return first, however, to what happened from my burning of the letters. When my niece found that week after week passed, and she never heard from Mr. Carr, she fretted about it much more than I had fancied she would. And Joshua unthinkingly made her worse by wondering, in her presence, at the long absence of the gentleman of Jay’s Cottage. My brother was a man who could not abide his habits being broken in on. He had been in the habit of going on certain evenings to Mr. Carr’s (and, I grieve to say, often taking his daughter with him) to fetch the London paper, to take back drawings of flowers, and to let my niece bring away new ones to copy. And now, he fidgeted, and was restless, and discontented (as much as so easy-tempered a man could be) at not taking his usual walks to Jay’s Cottage. This, as I have said, made his daughter worse. She fretted and fretted, and cried in secret, as I could tell by her eyes, till she grew to be quite altered. Now and then, the angry fit that I had expected to see, came upon her; but it always went away again in a manner not at all natural to one of her passionate disposition. All this time, she led me as miserable a life as she could; provoking and thwarting and insulting me at every opportunity. I believe she suspected me, in the matter of the letters. But I had taken my measures so as to make discovery impossible; and I determined to wait, and be patient and persevering, and get the better of her and her wicked fancy for Mr. Carr, just as I had made up my mind to do.

“At last, as the winter drew on, she altered so much, and got such a strange look in her face, which never seemed to leave it, that Joshua became alarmed, and said he must send for the doctor. She seemed to be frightened out of her wits at the mere thought of it; and declared, quite passionately, all of a sudden, that she had no want of a doctor, and would see none and answer the questions of none — no! not even if her father himself insisted on it.

“This astonished me as well as Joshua; and when he asked me privately what I thought was the matter with her, I was obliged of course to tell him the truth, and say I believed that she was almost out of her mind with love for Mr. Carr. For the first time in his life, my brother flew into a violent rage with me. I suspect he was furious with his own conscience for reminding him, as it must have done then, how foolishly overindulgent he had been towards her, and how carelessly he had allowed her as well as himself, to get acquainted with a person out of her own station, whom it was not proper for either of them to know. I said nothing of this to him at the time: he was not fit to listen to it — and still less fit, even had I been willing to confide it to him, to hear what the plan was which I had adopted for working her cure.

“As the weeks went on, and she still fretted in secret, and still looked unlike herself, I began to doubt whether this very plan, from which I had hoped so much, would after all succeed. I was sorely distressed in my mind, at times, as to what I ought to do next; and began indeed to feel the difficulty getting too much for me, just when it was drawing on fast to its shocking and shameful end. We were then close upon Christmas time. Joshua had got his shop-bills well forward for sending out, and was gone to London on business, as was customary with him at this season of the year. I expected him back, as usual, a day or two before Christmas Day.

“For a little while past, I had noticed some change in my niece. Ever since my brother had talked about sending for the doctor, she had altered a little, in the way of going on more regularly with her work, and pretending (though she made but a bad pretense of it) that there was nothing ailed her; her object being, of course, to make her father easier about her in his mind. The change, however, to which I now refer, was of another sort, and only affected her manner towards me, and her manner of dressing herself. When we were alone together, now, I found her conduct quite altered. She spoke soft to me, and looked humble, and did what work I set her without idleness or murmuring; and once, even made as if she wanted to kiss me. But I was on my guard — suspecting that she wanted to entrap me, with her wheedling ways, into letting out something about Mr. Carr’s having written, and my having burned his letters. It was at this time also, and a little before it, that I noticed the alteration in her dress. She fell into wearing her things in a slovenly way, and sitting at home in her shawl, on account of feeling cold, she said, when I reprimanded her for such untidyness.

“I don’t know how long things might have lasted like this, or what the end might have been, if events had gone on in their own way. But the dreadful truth made itself known at last suddenly, by a sort of accident. She had a quarrel with one of the other young women in the dressmaking-room, named Ellen Gough, about a certain disreputable friend of hers, one Jane Holdsworth, whom I had once employed, and had dismissed for impertinence and slatternly conduct. Ellen Gough having, it seems, been provoked past all bearing by something my niece said to her, came away to me in a passion, and in so many words told me the awful truth, that my brother’s only daughter had disgraced herself and her family for ever. The horror and misery of that moment is present to me now, at this distance of time. The shock I then received struck me down at once; I never have recovered from it, and I never shall.

“In the first distraction of the moment, I must have done or said something down stairs, where I was, which must have warned the wretch in the room above that I had discovered her infamy. I remember going to her bed-chamber, and finding the door locked, and hearing her refuse to open it. After that, I must have fainted, for I found myself, I did not know how, in the work-room, and Ellen Gough giving me a bottle to smell to. With her help, I got into my own room; and there I fainted away dead again.

“When I came to, I went once more to my niece’s bed-chamber. The door was now open; and there was a bit of paper on the looking-glass directed to my brother Joshua. She was gone from the honest house that her sin had defiled — gone from it for ever. She had written only a few scrawled wild lines to her father, but in them there was full acknowledgment of her crime and a confession that it was the villain Carr who had caused her to commit it. She said she was gone to take her shame from our doors. She entreated that no attempt might be made to trace her, for she would die rather than return to disgrace her family, and her father in his old age. After this came some lines, which seemed to have been added, on second thoughts, to what went before. I do not remember the exact words; but the sense referred, shamelessly enough as I thought, to the child that was afterwards born, and to her resolution, if it came into the world alive, to suffer all things for its sake.

“It was at first some relief to know that she was gone. The dreadful exposure and degradation that threatened us, seemed to be delayed at least by her absence. On questioning Ellen Gough, I found that the other two young women who worked under me, and who were most providentially absent on a Christmas visit to their friends, were not acquainted with my niece’s infamous secret. Ellen had accidentally discovered it; and she had, therefore, been obliged to confess to Ellen, and put trust in her. Everybody else in the house had been as successfully deceived as I had been myself. When I heard this, I began to have some hope that our family disgrace might remain unknown in the town.

“I wrote to my brother, not telling him what had happened, but only begging him to come back instantly. It was the bitterest part of all the bitter misery I then suffered, to think of what I had now to tell Joshua, and of what dreadful extremities his daughter’s ruin might drive him to. I strove hard to prepare myself for the time of coming trial; but what really took place was worse than my worst forebodings.

“When my brother heard the shocking news I had to tell, and saw the scrawled paper she had left for him, he spoke and acted as if he was out of his mind. It was only charitable, only fair to his previous character, to believe, as I then believed, that distress had actually driven him, for the time, out of his senses. He declared that he would go away instantly and search for her, and set others seeking for her too. He said, he even swore, that he would bring her back home the moment he found her; that he would succor her in her misery, and accept her penitence, and shelter her under his roof the same as ever, without so much as giving a thought to the scandal and disgrace that her infamous situation would inflict on her family. He even wrested Scripture from its true meaning to support him in what he said, and in what he was determined to do. And, worst of all, the moment he heard how it was that I had discovered his daughter’s crime, he insisted that Ellen Gough should be turned out of the house: he declared, in such awful language as I had never believed it possible he could utter, that she should not sleep under his roof that night. It was hopeless to attempt to appease him. He put her out at the door with his own hand that very day. She was an excellent and a regular workwoman, but sullen and revengeful when her temper was once roused. By the next morning our disgrace was known all over Dibbledean.

“There was only one more degradation now to be dreaded; and that it sickened me to think of. I knew Joshua well enough to know that if he found the lost wretch he was going in search of, he would absolutely and certainly bring her home again. I had been born in our house at Dibbledean; my mother before me had been born there; our family had lived in the old place, honestly and reputably, without so much as a breath of ill report ever breathing over them, for generations and generations back. When I thought of this, and then thought of the bare possibility that an abandoned woman might soon be admitted, and a bastard child born, in the house where so many of my relations had lived virtuously and died righteously, I resolved that the day when she set her foot on our threshold, should be the day when I left my home and my birth place for ever.

“While I was in this mind, Joshua came to me — as determined in his way as I secretly was in mine — to ask if I had any suspicions about what direction she had taken. All the first inquiries after her that he had made in Dibbledean, had, it seems, given him no information whatever. I said I had no positive knowledge (which was strictly true), but told him I suspected she was gone to London. He asked why? I answered, because I believed she was gone to look after Mr. Carr; and said that I remembered his letter to her (the first and only one she received) had a London post-mark upon it. We could not find this letter at the time: the hiding-place she had for it, and for all the others she left behind her, was not discovered till years after, when the house was repaired for the people who bought our business. Joshua, however, having nothing better to guide himself by, and being resolved to begin seeking her at once, said my suspicion was a likely one; and went away to London by that night’s coach, to see what he could do, and to get advice from his lawyers about how to trace her.

“This, which I have been just relating, is the only part of my conduct, in the time of our calamity, which I now think of with an uneasy conscience. When I told Joshua I suspected she was gone to London I was not telling him the truth. I knew nothing certainly about where she was gone; but I did assuredly suspect that she had turned her steps exactly in the contrary direction to London — that is to say, far out Bangbury way. She had been constantly asking all sorts of questions of Ellen Gough, who told me of it, about roads, and towns, and people in that distant part of the country: and this was my only reason for thinking she had taken herself away in that direction. Though it was but a matter of bare suspicion at the best, still I deceived my brother as to my real opinion when he asked it of me: and this was a sin which I now humbly and truly repent of. But the thought of helping him, by so little even as a likely guess, to bring our infamy home to our own doors, by actually bringing his degraded daughter back with him into my presence, in the face of the whole town — this thought, I say, was too much for me. I believed that the day when she crossed our threshold again would be the day of my death, as well as the day of my farewell to home; and under that conviction I concealed from Joshua what my real opinion was.

“I deserved to suffer for this; and I did suffer for it.

“Two or three days after the lonely Christmas Day that I passed in utter solitude at our house in Dibbledean, I received a letter from Joshua’s lawyer in London, telling me to come up and see my brother immediately, for he was taken dangerously ill. In the course of his inquiries (which he would pursue himself, although the lawyers, who knew better what ought to be done, were doing their utmost to help him), he had been misled by some false information, and had been robbed and ill-used in some place near the river, and then turned out at night in a storm of snow and sleet. It is useless now to write about what I suffered from this fresh blow, or to speak of the awful time I passed by his bed-side in London. Let it be enough to say, that he escaped out of the very jaws of death; and that it was the end of February before he was well enough to be taken home to Dibbledean.

“He soon got better in his own air — better as to his body, but his mind was in a sad way. Every morning he used to ask if any news of Mary had come? and when he heard there was none, he used to sigh, and then hardly say another word, or so much as hold up his head, for the rest of the day. At one time, he showed a little anxiety now and then about a letter reaching its destination, and being duly received; peevishly refusing to mention to me even so much as the address on it. But I guessed who it had been sent to easily enough, when his lawyers told me that he had written it in London, and had mentioned to them that it was going to some place beyond the seas. He soon seemed to forget this though, and to forget everything, except his regular question about Mary, which he sometimes repeated in his dazed condition, even after I had broken it to him that she was dead.

“The news of her death came in the March month of the new year, 1828.

“All inquiries in London had failed up to that time in discovering the remotest trace of her. In Dibbledean we knew she could not be; and elsewhere Joshua was now in no state to search for her himself; or to have any clear notions of instructing others in what direction to make inquiries for him. But in this month of March, I saw in the Bangbury paper (which circulates in our county besides its own) an advertisement calling on the friends of a young woman who had just died and left behind her an infant, to come forward and identify the body, and take some steps in respect to the child. The description was very full and particular, and did not admit of a doubt, to any one that knew her as well as I did, that the young woman referred to was my guilty and miserable niece. My brother was in no condition to be spoken to in this difficulty; so I determined to act for myself. I sent by a person I could depend upon, money enough to bury her decently in Bangbury churchyard, putting no name or date to my letter. There was no law to oblige me to do more, and more I was determined not to do. As to the child, that was the offspring of her sin; it was the infamous father’s business to support and own it, and not mine.

“When people in the town, who knew of our calamity, and had seen the advertisement, talked to me of it, I admitted nothing, and denied nothing — I simply refused to speak with them on the subject of what had happened in our family.

“Having endeavored to provide in this way for the protection of my brother and myself against the meddling and impertinence of idle people, I believed that I had now suffered the last of the many bitter trials which had assailed me as the consequences of my niece’s guilt: I was mistaken: the cup of my affliction was not yet full. One day, hardly a fortnight after I had sent the burial money anonymously to Bangbury, our servant came to me and said there was a stranger at the door who wished to see my brother, and was so bent on it that he would take no denial. I went down, and found waiting on the door-steps a very respectable-looking, middle-aged man, whom I had certainly never set eyes on before in my life.

“I told him that I was Joshua’s sister, and that I managed my brother’s affairs for him in the present state of his health. The stranger only answered, that he was very anxious to see Joshua himself. I did not choose to expose the helpless condition into which my brother’s intellects had fallen, to a person of whom I knew nothing; so I merely said, the interview he wanted was out of the question, but that if he had any business with Mr. Grice, he might, for the reasons I had already given, mention it to me. He hesitated, and smiled, and said he was very much obliged to me; and then, making as if he was going to step in, added that I should probably be able to appreciate the friendly nature of the business on which he came, when he informed me that he was confidentially employed by Mr. Arthur Carr.

“The instant he spoke it, I felt the name go to my heart like a knife — then my indignation got the better of me. I told him to tell Mr. Carr that the miserable creature whom his villainy had destroyed, had fled away from her home, had died away from her home, and was buried away from her home; and, with that, I shut the door in his face. My agitation, and a sort of terror that I could not account for, so overpowered me that I was obliged to lean against the wall of the passage, and was unable, for some minutes, to stir a step towards going up stairs. As soon as I got a little better, and began to think about what had taken place, a doubt came across me as to whether I might not have acted wrong. I remembered that Joshua’s lawyers in London had made it a great point that this Mr. Carr should be traced; and, though, since then, our situation had been altered by my niece’s death, still I felt uncertain and uneasy — I could hardly tell why — at what I had done. It was as if I had taken some responsibility on myself which ought not to have been mine. In short, I ran back to the door and opened it, and looked up and down the street. It was too late: the strange man was out of sight, and I never set eyes on him again.

“This was in March, 1828, the same month in which the advertisement appeared. I am particular in repeating the date because it marks the time of the last information I have to give, in connection with the disgraceful circumstances which I have here forced myself to relate. Of the child mentioned in the advertisement, I never heard anything, from that time to this. I do not even know when it was born. I only know that its guilty mother left her home in the December of 1827. Whether it lived after the date of the advertisement, or whether it died, I never discovered, and never wished to discover. I have kept myself retired since the days of my humiliation, hiding my sorrow in my own heart, and neither asking questions nor answering them.”

At this place Mat once more suspended the perusal of the letter. He had now read on for an unusually long time with unflagging attention, and with the same stern sadness always in his face, except when the name of Arthur Carr occurred in the course of the narrative. Almost on every occasion, when the finger by which he guided himself along the close lines of the letter, came to those words, it trembled a little, and the dangerous look grew ever brighter and brighter in his eyes. It was in them now, as he dropped the letter on his knee, and, turning round, took from the wall behind him, against which it leaned, a certain leather bag, already alluded to, as part of the personal property that he brought with him on installing himself in Kirk Street. He opened it, took out a feather fan, and an Indian tobacco-pouch of scarlet cloth; and then began to search in the bottom of the bag, from which, at length, he drew forth a letter. It was torn in several places, the ink of the writing in it was faded, and the paper was disfigured by stains of grease, tobacco, and dirt generally. The direction was in such a condition, that the word “Brazils,” at the end, was alone legible. Inside, it was not in a much better state. The date at the top, however, still remained tolerably easy to distinguish: it was “December 20th, 1827.”

Mat looked first at this, and then at the paragraph he had just been reading, in Joanna Grice’s narrative. After that, he began to count on his fingers, clumsily enough — beginning with the year 1828 as Number One, and ending with the current year, 1851, as Number Twenty-three. “Twenty-three,” he repeated aloud to himself, “twenty-three years: I shall remember that.”

He looked down a little vacantly, the next moment, at the old torn letter again. Some of the lines, here and there, had escaped stains and dirt sufficiently to be still easily legible; and it was over these that his eyes now wandered. The first words that caught his attention ran thus:— “I am now, therefore, in this bitter affliction, more than ever desirous that all past differences between us should be forgotten, and” — here the beginning of another line was hidden by a stain, beyond which, on the cleaner part of the letter, the writing proceeded:— “In this spirit, then, I counsel you, if you can get continued employment anywhere abroad, to accept it, instead of coming back” — (a rent in the paper made the next words too fragmentary to be easily legible). * * * “any good news be sure of hearing from me again. In the mean time, I say it once more, keep away, if you can. Your presence could do no good; and it is better for you, at your age, to be spared the sight of such sorrow as that we are now suffering.” (After this, dirt and the fading of the ink made several sentences near the end of the page almost totally illegible — the last three or four lines at the bottom of the letter alone remaining clear enough to be read with any ease.) * * * “the poor, lost, unhappy creature! But I shall find her, I know I shall find her; and then, let Joanna say or do what she may, I will forgive my own Mary, for I know she will deserve her pardon. As for him, I feel confident that he may be traced yet; and that I can shame him into making the atonement of marrying her. If he should refuse, then the black-hearted villain shall — ”

At this point, Mat abruptly stopped in his reading; and, hastily folding up the letter, put it back in the bag again, along the feather fan and the Indian pouch. “I can’t go on that part of the story now, but the time may come — ” He pursued the thought which thus expressed itself in him no further, but sat still for a few minutes, with his head on his hand and his heavy eyebrows contracted by an angry frown, staring sullenly at the flame of the candle. Joanna Grice’s letter still remained to be finished. He took it up, and looked back to the paragraph that he had last read.

“As for the child mentioned in the advertisement” — those were the words to which he was now referring. “The child?“ — There was no mention of its sex. “I should like to know if it was a boy or a girl,” thought Mat.

Though he was now close to the end of the letter, he roused himself with difficulty to attend to the last few sentences which remained to be read. They began thus:—

“Before I say anything in conclusion, of the sale of our business, of my brother’s death, and of the life which I have been leading since that time, I should wish to refer, once for all, and very briefly, to the few things which my niece left behind her, when she abandoned her home. Circumstances may, one day, render this necessary. I desire then to state, that everything belonging to her is preserved in one of her boxes (now in my possession), just as she left it. When the letters signed ‘A. C.’ were discovered, as I have mentioned, on the occasion of repairs being made in the house, I threw them into the box with my own hand. They will all be found, more or less, to prove the justice of those first suspicions of mine, which my late brother so unhappily disregarded. In reference to money or valuables, I have only to mention that my niece took all her savings with her in her flight. I knew in what box she kept them, and I saw that box open and empty on her table, when I first discovered that she was gone. As for the only three articles of jewelry that she had, her brooch I myself saw her give to Ellen Gough — her earrings she always wore — and I can only presume (never having found it anywhere) that she took with her, in her flight, her Hair Bracelet.”

“There it is again!” cried Mat, dropping the letter in astonishment, the instant those two significant words, “Hair Bracelet,” caught his eye.

He had hardly uttered the exclamation, before he heard the door of the house flung open, then shut to again with a bang. Zack had just let himself in with his latch-key.

“I’m glad he’s come,” muttered Mat, snatching up the letter from the floor, and crumpling it into his pocket. “There’s another thing or two I want to find out, before I go any further — and Zack’s the lad to help me.”

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