Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 14

Margaret’s Journey.

While these things were taking place at Winchester, Margaret waited for the coming of her father. She waited until her heart grew sick, but still she did not despair of his return. He had promised to come back to her by ten o’clock upon the evening of the 16th; but he was not a man who always kept his promises. He had often left her in the same manner, and had stayed away for days and weeks together.

There was nothing extraordinary, therefore, in his absence; and if the girl’s heart grew sick, it was not with the fear that her father would not return to her; but with the thought of what dishonest work he might be engaged in during his absence.

She knew now that he led a dishonest life. His own lips had told her the cruel truth. She would no longer be able to defend him when people spoke against him. Henceforth she must only plead for him.

The poor girl had been proud of her father, reprobate though he was; she had been proud of his gentlemanly bearing, his cleverness, his air of superiority over other men of his station; and the thought of his acknowledged guilt stung her to the heart. She pitied him, and she tried to make excuses for him in her own mind: and with every thought of the penniless reprobate there was intermingled the memory of the wrong that had been done him by Henry Dunbar.

“If my father has been guilty, that man is answerable for his guilt,” she thought perpetually.

Meanwhile she waited, Heaven only knows how anxiously, for her father’s coming. A week passed, and another week began, and still he did not come; but she was not alarmed for his personal safety, she was only anxious about him; and she expected his return every day, every hour. But he did not come.

And all this time, with her mind racked by anxious thoughts, the girl went about the weary duties of her daily life. Her thoughts might wander away into vague speculations about her father’s absence while she sat by her pupil’s side; but her eyes never wandered from the fingers it was her duty to watch. Her life had been a hard one, and she was better able to hide her sorrows and anxieties than any one to whom such a burden had been a novelty. So, very few people suspected that there was anything amiss with the grave young music-mistress.

One person did see the vague change in her manner; but that person was Clement Austin, who had already grown skilled in reading the varying expressions of her face, and who saw now that she was changed. She listened to him when he talked to her of the books or the music she loved; but her face never lighted up now with a bright look of pleasure; and he heard her sigh now and then as she gave her lesson.

He asked her once if there was anything in which his services, or his mother’s, could be of any assistance to her; but she thanked him for the kindness of his offer, and told him, “No, there was nothing in which he could help her.”

“But I am sure there is something on your mind. Pray do not think me intrusive or impertinent for saying so; but I am sure of it.”

Margaret only shook her head.

“I am mistaken, then?” said Clement, interrogatively.

“You are indeed. I have no special trouble. I am only a little uneasy about my father, who has been away from home for the last week or two. But there is nothing strange in that; he is often away. Only I am apt to be foolishly anxious about him. He will scold me when he comes home and hears that I have been so.”

Upon the evening of the 27th August, Margaret gave her accustomed lesson, and lingered a little as usual after the lesson, talking to Mrs. Austin, who had taken a wonderful fancy to her granddaughter’s music-mistress; and to Clement, who somehow or other had discontinued his summer evening walks of late, more especially on those occasions on which his niece took he music-lesson. They talked of all manner of things, and it was scarcely strange that amongst other topics they should come by and-by to the Winchester murder.

“By the bye, Miss Wentworth,” exclaimed Mrs. Austin, breaking in upon Clement’s disquisition on his favourite Carlyle’s “Hero–Worship,” “I suppose you’ve heard about this dreadful murder that is making such a sensation?”

“A dreadful murder — no, Mrs. Austin; I rarely hear anything of that kind; for the person with whom I lodge is old and deaf. She troubles herself very little about what is going on in the world, and I never read the newspapers myself.”

“Indeed,” said Mrs. Austin; “well, my dear, you really surprise me. I thought this dreadful business had made such a sensation, on account of the great Mr. Dunbar being mixed up in it.”

“Mr. Dunbar!” cried Margaret, looking at the speaker with dilated eyes.

“Yes, my dear, Mr. Dunbar, the rich banker. I have been very much interested in the matter, because my son is employed in Mr. Dunbar’s bank. It seems that an old servant, a confidential valet of Mr. Dunbar’s, has been murdered at Winchester; and at first Mr. Dunbar himself was suspected of the crime — though, of course, that was utterly ridiculous; for what motive could he possibly have had for murdering his old servant? However, he has been suspected, and some stupid country magistrate actually had him arrested. There was an examination about a week ago, which was adjourned until to-day. We shan’t know the result of it till to-morrow.”

Margaret sat listening to these words with a face that was as white as the face of the dead.

Clement Austin saw the sudden change that had come over her countenance.

“Mother,” he said, “you should not talk of these things before Miss Wentworth; you have made her look quite ill. Remember, she may not be so strong-minded as you are.”

“No, no!” gasped Margaret, in a choking voice. “I— I— wish to hear of this. Tell me, Mrs. Austin, what was the name of the murdered man?”

“Joseph Wilmot.”

“Joseph Wilmot!” repeated Margaret, slowly. She had always known her father by the name of James Wentworth; but what more likely than that Wilmot was his real name! She had good reason to suspect that Wentworth was a false one.

“I’ll lend you a newspaper,” Mrs. Austin said, good-naturedly, “if you really want to learn the particulars of this murder.”

“I do, if you please.”

Mrs. Austin took a weekly paper from amongst some others that were scattered upon a side-table. She folded up this paper and handed it to Margaret.

“Give Miss Wentworth a glass of wine, mother,” exclaimed Clement Austin; “I’m sure all this talk about the murder has upset her.”

“No, no, indeed!” Margaret answered, “I would rather not take anything. I want to get home quickly. Good evening, Mrs. Austin.”

She tried to say something more, but her voice failed her. She had been in the habit of shaking hands with Mrs. Austin and Clement when she left them; and the cashier had always accompanied her to the gate, and had sometimes lingered with her there in the dusk, prolonging some conversation that had been begun in the drawing-room; but to-night she hurried from the room before the widow could remonstrate with her. Clement followed her into the hall.

“Miss Wentworth,” he said, “I know that something has agitated you. Pray return to the drawing-room, and stop with us until you are more composed.”

“No — no — no!”

“Let me see you home, then?”

“Oh! no! no!” she cried, as the young man barred her passage, to the door; “for pity’s sake don’t detain me, Mr. Austin; don’t detain me, or follow me!”

She passed by him, and hurried out of the house. He followed her to the gate, and watched her disappear in the twilight; and then went back to the drawing-room, sighing heavily as he went.

“I have no right to follow her against her own wish,” he said to himself. “She has given me no right to interfere with her; or to think of her, for the matter of that.”

He threw himself into a chair, and took up a newspaper; but he did not read half-a-dozen lines. He sat with his eyes fixed upon the page before him, thinking of Margaret Wentworth.

“Poor girl!” he said to himself, presently; “poor lonely girl! She is too pure and beautiful for the hard struggles of this world.”

Margaret Wentworth walked rapidly along the road that led her back to Wandsworth. She held the folded newspaper clutched tightly against her breast. It was her death-warrant, perhaps. She never paused or slackened her pace until she reached the lane leading down to the water.

She, opened the gate of the simple cottage-garden — there was no need of bolts or locks for the fortification of Godolphin Cottages — and went up to her own little sitting-room — the room in which her father had told her the secret of his life — the room in which she had sworn to remember the Henry Dunbar. All was dark and quiet in the house, for the mistress of it was elderly-and old-fashioned in her ways; and Margaret was accustomed to wait upon herself when she came home after nightfall.

She struck a lucifer, lighted her candle, and sat down with the newspaper in her hand. She unfolded it, and examined the pages. She was not long finding what she wanted.

The Winchester Murder. Latest Particulars.”

Margaret Wentworth read that horrible story. She read the newspaper record of the cruel deed that had been done — twice — slowly and deliberately. Her eyes were tearless, and there was a desperate courage at her heart; that miserable, agonized heart, which seemed like a block of ice in her breast.

“I swore to remember the name of Henry Dunbar,” she said in, a low, sombre voice; “I have good reason to remember it now.”

From the first she had no doubt in her mind — from the very first she had but one idea: and that idea was a conviction. Her father had been murdered by his old master. The man Joseph Wilmot was her father: the murderer was Henry Dunbar. The newspaper record told how the murdered man had, according to his own account, met his brother at the Waterloo station upon the afternoon of the 16th of August. That was the very afternoon upon which James Wentworth had left his daughter to go to London by rail.

He had met his old master, the man who had so bitterly injured him; the cold-hearted scoundrel who had so cruelly betrayed him. He had been violent, perhaps, and had threatened Henry Dunbar: and then — then the rich man, treacherous and cold-hearted in his age as in his youth, had beguiled his old valet by a pretended friendship, had lured him into a lonely place, and had there murdered him; in order that all the wicked secrets of the past might be buried with his victim.

As to the robbery of the clothes — the rifling of the pocketbook — that, of course, was only a part of Henry Dunbar’s deep laid scheme.

The girl folded the paper and put it in her breast. It was a strange document to lie against that virginal bosom: and the breast beneath it ached with a sick, cold pain, that was like the pain of death.

Margaret took up her candle, and went into a neatly-kept little room at the back of the house — the room in which her father had always slept when he stayed in that house.

There was an old box, a battered and dilapidated hair-trunk, with a worn rope knotted about it. The girl knelt down before the box, and put her candle on a chair beside it. Then with her slender fingers she tried to unfasten the knots that secured the cord. This task was not an easy one, and her fingers ached before she had done. But she succeeded at last, and lifted the lid of the trunk.

There were worn and shabby garments, tumbled and dusty, that had been thrown pell-mell into the box: there were broken meerschaum-pipes; old newspapers, pale with age, and with passages here and there marked by thick strokes in faded ink. A faint effluvium that arose from the mass of dilapidated rubbish — the weeds which the great ocean Time casts up upon the shore of the present — testified to the neighbourhood of mice: and scattered about the bottom of the box, amongst loose shreds of tobacco — broken lumps of petrified cavendish — and scraps of paper, there were a few letters.

Margaret gathered together these letters, and examined them. Three of them — very old, faded, and flabby — were directed to “Joseph Wilmot, care of the Governor of Norfolk Island,” in a prim, clerk-like hand.

It was an ominous address. Margaret Wentworth bowed her head upon her knees and sobbed aloud.

“He had been very wicked, and had need of a long life of penitence,” she thought; “but he has been murdered by Henry Dunbar.”

There was no shadow of doubt now in her mind. She had in her own hand the conclusive proof of the identity between Joseph Wilmot and her father; and to her this seemed quite enough to prove that Henry Dunbar was the murderer of his old servant. He had injured the man, and it was in the man’s power to do him injury. He had resolved, therefore, to get rid of this old accomplice, this dangerous witness of the past.

This was how Margaret reasoned. That the crime committed in the quiet grove, near St. Cross, was an every-day deed, done for the most pitiful and sordid motives that can tempt a man to shed his brother’s blood, never for a moment entered into her thoughts. Other people might think this in their ignorance of the story of the past.

At daybreak the next morning she left the house, after giving a very brief explanation of her departure to the old woman with whom she lodged. She took the first train to Winchester, and reached the station two hours before noon. She had her whole stock of money with her, but nothing else. Her own wants, her own necessities, had no place in her thoughts. Her errand was a fearful one, for she went to tell so much as she knew of the story of the past, and to bear witness against Henry Dunbar.

The railway official to whom she addressed herself at the Winchester station treated her with civility and good-nature. The pale beauty of her pensive face won her friends wherever she went. It is very hard upon pug-nosed merit and red-haired virtue, that a Grecian profile, or raven tresses, should be such an excellent letter of introduction; but, unhappily, human nature is weak; and while beauty appeals straight to the eye of the frivolous, merit requires to be appreciated by the wise.

“If there is anything I can do for you, miss,” the railway official said, politely, “I shall be very happy, I’m sure.”

“I want to know about the murder,” the girl answered, in a low, tremulous voice, “the murder that was committed ——”

“Yes, miss, to be sure. Everybody in Winchester is talking about it; a most mysterious event! But,” cried the official, brightening suddenly, “you ain’t a witness, miss, are you? You don’t know anything about —— eh?”

He was quite excited at the bare idea that this pretty girl had something to say about the murder, and that he might have the privilege of introducing her to his fellow-citizens. To know anybody who knew anything about Joseph Wilmot’s murder was to occupy a post of some distinction in Winchester just now.

“Yes,” Margaret said; “I want to give evidence against Henry Dunbar.”

The railway official started, and stared aghast.

“Evidence against Mr. Dunbar, miss?” he said; “why, Mr. Henry Dunbar was dismissed from custody only yesterday afternoon, and is going up to town by the express this night, and everybody in Winchester is full of the shameful way in which he has been treated. Why, as far as that goes, there was no more ground for suspecting Mr. Dunbar — not that has come out yet, at any rate — than there is for suspecting me!” And the porter snapped his fingers contemptuously. “But if you know anything against Mr. Dunbar, why, of course, that alters the case; and it’s yer bounden dooty, miss, to go before the magistrate directly-minute and make yer statement.”

The porter could hardly refrain, from smacking his lips with an air of relish as he said this. Distinction had come to him unsought.

“Wait a minute, miss,” he said; “I’ll go and ask lief to take you round to the magistrate’s. You’ll never find your way by yourself. The next up isn’t till 12.7 — I can be spared.”

The porter ran away, presented himself to a higher official, told his story, and obtained a brief leave of absence. Then he returned to Margaret.

“Now, miss,” he said, “if you’ll come along with me I’ll take you to Sir Arden Westhorpe’s house. Sir Arden is the gentleman that has taken so much trouble with this case.”

On the way through the back-streets of the quiet city the porter would fain have extracted from Margaret all that she had to tell. But the girl would reveal nothing; she only said that she wanted to bear witness against Henry Dunbar.

The porter, upon the other hand, was very communicative. He told his companion what had happened at the adjourned examination.

“There was a deal of applause in the court when Mr. Dunbar was told he might consider himself free,” said the porter; “but Sir Arden checked it; there was no need for clapping of hands, he says, or for anything but sorrow that such a wicked deed had been done, and that the cruel wretch as did it should escape. A young man as was in the court told me that them was Sir Arden’s exack words.”

They had reached Sir Arden’s house by this time. It was a very handsome house, though it stood in a back sweet; and a grave man-servant, in a linen jacket, admitted Margaret into the oak-panelled hall.

She might have had some difficulty perhaps in seeing Sir Arden, had not the railway porter immediately declared her business. But the name of the murdered man was a passport, and she was ushered at once into a low room, which was lined with book-shelves, and opened into an old-fashioned garden.

Here Sir Arden Westhorpe, the magistrate, sat at a table writing. He was an elderly man, with grey hair and whiskers, and with rather a stern expression of countenance. Rut he was a good and a just man; and though Henry Dunbar had been the emperor of half Europe instead of an Anglo–Indian banker, Sir Arden would have committed him for trial had he seen just cause for so doing.

Margaret was in nowise abashed by the presence of the magistrate. She had but one thought in her mind, the thought of her father’s wrongs; and she could have spoken freely in the presence of a king.

“I hope I am not too late, sir,” she said; “I hear that Mr. Dunbar has been discharged from custody. I hope I am not too late to bear witness against him.”

The magistrate looked up with an expression of surprise. “That will depend upon circumstances,” he said; “that is to say, upon the nature of the statement which you may have to make.”

The magistrate summoned his clerk from an adjoining room, and then took down the girl’s information.

But he shook his head doubtfully when Margaret had told him all she had to tell. That which to the impulsive girl seemed proof positive of Henry Dunbar’s guilt was very little when written down in a business-like manner by Sir Arden Westhorpe’s clerk.

“You know your unhappy father to have been injured by Mr. Dunbar, and you think he may have been in the possession of secrets of a damaging nature to that gentleman; but you do not know what those secrets were. My poor girl, I cannot possibly move in this business upon such evidence as this. The police are at work. This matter will not be allowed to pass off without the closest investigation, believe me. I shall take care to have your statement placed in the hands of the detective officer who is entrusted with the conduct of this affair. We must wait — we must wait. I cannot bring myself to believe that Henry Dunbar has been guilty of this fearful crime. He is rich enough to have bribed your father to keep silence, if he had any reason to fear what he might say. Money is a very powerful agent, and can buy almost anything. It is rarely that a man, with almost unlimited wealth at his command, finds himself compelled to commit an act of violence.”

The magistrate read aloud Margaret Wilmot’s deposition, and the girl signed it in the presence of the clerk; she signed it with her father’s real name, the name that she had never written before that day.

Then, having given the magistrate the address of her Wandsworth lodging, she bade him good morning, and went out into the unfamiliar street.

Nothing that Sir Arden Westhorpe had said had in any way weakened her rooted conviction of Henry Dunbar’s guilt. She still believed that he was the murderer of her father.

She walked for some distance without knowing where she went, then suddenly she stopped; her face flushed, her eyes grew bright, and an ominous smile lit up her countenance.

“I will go to Henry Dunbar,” she said to herself, “since the law will not help me; I will go to my father’s murderer. Surely he will tremble when he knows that his victim left a daughter who will rest neither night nor day until she sees justice done.”

Sir Arden had mentioned the hotel at which Henry Dunbar was staying; so Margaret asked the first passer-by to direct her to the George.

She found a waiter lounging in the doorway of the hotel.

“I want to see Mr. Dunbar,” she said.

The man looked at her with considerable surprise.

“I don’t think it’s likely Mr. Dunbar will see you, miss,” he said; “but I’ll take your name up if you wish it.”

“I shall be much obliged if you will do so.”

“Certainly, miss. If you’ll please to sit down in the hall I’ll go to Mr. Dunbar immediately. Your name is ——”

“My name is Margaret Wilmot.”

The waiter started as if he had been shot.

“Wilmot!” he exclaimed; “any relation to ——”

“I am the daughter of Joseph Wilmot,” answered Margaret, quietly. “You can tell Mr. Dunbar so if you please.”

“Yes, miss; I will, miss. Bless my soul! you really might knock me down with a feather, miss. Mr. Dunbar can’t possibly refuse to see you, I should think, miss.”

The waiter went up-stairs, looking back at Margaret as he went. He seemed to think that the daughter of the murdered man ought to be, in some way or other, different from other young women.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50