In one of the comfortable sitting-rooms of East Lynne sat Mr. Carlyle and his sister, one inclement January night. The contrast within and without was great. The warm, blazing fire, the handsome carpet on which it flickered, the exceedingly comfortable arrangement of the furniture, of the room altogether, and the light of the chandelier, which fell on all, presented a picture of home peace, though it may not have deserved the name of luxury. Without, heavy flakes of snow were falling thickly, flakes as large and nearly as heavy as a crown piece, rendering the atmosphere so dense and obscure that a man could not see a yard before him. Mr. Carlyle had driven home in the pony carriage, and the snow had so settled upon him that Lucy, who happened to see him as he entered the hall, screamed out laughingly that her papa had turned into a white man. It was now later in the evening; the children were in bed; the governess was in her own sitting room — it was not often that Miss Carlyle invited her to theirs of an evening — and the house was quite. Mr. Carlyle was deep in the pages of one of the monthly periodicals, and Miss Carlyle sat on the other side of the fire, grumbling, and grunting, and sniffling, and choking.
Miss Carlyle was one of your strong-minded ladies, who never condescended to be ill. Of course, had she been attacked with scarlet fever, or paralysis, or St. Vitus’ dance, she must have given in to the enemy; but trifling ailments, such as headache, influenza, sore throat, which other people get, passed her by. Imagine, therefore, her exasperation at finding her head stuffed up, her chest sore, and her voice going; in short, at having, for once in her life, caught a cold like ordinary mortals.
“What’s the time, I wonder?” she exclaimed.
Mr. Carlyle looked at his watch. “It is just nine, Cornelia.”
“Then I think I shall go to bed. I’ll have a basin of arrowroot or gruel, or some slop of that sort, after I’m in it. I’m sure I have been free enough all my life from requiring such sick dishes.”
“Do so,” said Mr. Carlyle. “It may do you good.”
“There’s one thing excellent for a cold in the head, I know. It’s to doubt your flannel petticoat crossways, or any other large piece of flannel you may conveniently have at hand, and put it on over your night-cap. I’ll try it.”
“I would,” said Mr. Carlyle, smothering an irreverent laugh.
She sat on five minutes longer, and then left, wishing Mr. Carlyle good-night. He resumed his reading; but another page or two concluded the article, upon which Mr. Carlyle threw the book on the table, rose and stretched himself, as if tired of sitting.
He stirred the fire into a brighter blaze, and stood on the hearthrug. “I wonder if it snows still?” he exclaimed to himself.
Proceeding to the window, one of those opening to the ground, he threw aside the half of the warm crimson curtain. It all looked dull and dark outside. Mr. Carlyle could see little what the weather was, and he opened the window and stepped half out.
The snow was falling faster and thicker than ever. Not at that did Mr. Carlyle start with surprise, if not with a more unpleasant sensation; but a feeling a man’s hand touch his, and at finding a man’s face nearly in contact with his own.
“Let me come in, Mr. Carlyle, for the love of life! I see you are alone. I’m dead beat, and I don’t know but I’m dodged also.”
The tones struck familiarly on Mr. Carlyle’s ear. He drew back mechanically, a thousand perplexing sensations overwhelming him, and the man followed him into the room — a white man, as Lucy called her father. Aye, for he had been hours and hours on foot in the snow; his hat, his clothes, his eyebrows, his large whiskers, all were white. “Lock the door, sir,” were his first words. Need you be told that it was Richard Hare?
Mr. Carlyle fastened the window, drew the heavy curtains across, and turned rapidly to lock the two doors — for there were two to the room, one of them leading into the adjoining one. Richard meanwhile took off his wet smock-frock of former memory — his hat, and his false black whiskers, wiping the snow from the latter with his hand.
“Richard,” uttered Mr. Carlyle, “I am thunderstruck! I fear you have done wrong to come here.”
“I cut off from London at a moment’s notice,” replied Richard, who was literally shivering with the cold. “I’m dodged, Mr. Carlyle, I am indeed. The police are after me, set on by that wretch Thorn.”
Mr. Carlyle turned to the sideboard and poured out a wineglass of brandy. “Drink it, Richard, it will warm you.”
“I’d rather have it in some hot water, sir.”
“But how am I to get the hot water brought in? Drink this for now. Why, how you tremble.”
“Ah, a few hours outside in the cold snow is enough to make the strongest man tremble, sir; and it lies so deep in places that you have to come along at a snail’s pace. But I’ll tell you about this business. A fortnight ago I was at a cabstand at the West End, talking to a cab-driver, when some drops of rain came down. A gentleman and lady were passing at the time, but I had not paid any attention to them. ‘By Jove!’ I heard him exclaim to her, ‘I think we’re going to have pepper. We had better take a cab, my dear.’ With that the man I was talking to swung open the door of his cab, and she got in-such a fair young lady, she was! I turned to look at him, and you might just have knocked me down with astonishment. Mr. Carlyle, it was the man, Thorn.”
“You thought I might be mistaken in him that moonlight night, but there was no mistaking him in broad daylight. I looked him full in the face, and he looked at me. He turned as white as cloth. Perhaps I did — I don’t know.”
“Was he well dressed?”
“Very. Oh, there’s no mistaking his position. That he moves in the higher classes there’s no doubt. The cab drove away, and I got up behind it. The driver thought boys were there, and turned his head and his whip, but I made him a sign. We didn’t go much more than the length of a street. I was on the pavement before Thorn was, and looked at him again, and again he went white. I marked the house, thinking it was where he lived, and —”
“Why did you not give him into custody, Richard?”
Richard Hare shook his head. “And my proofs of his guilt, Mr. Carlyle? I could bring none against him — no positive ones. No, I must wait till I can get proofs to do that. He would turn round upon me now and swear my life away to murder. Well, I thought I’d ascertain for certain what his name was, and that night I went to the house, and got into conversation with one of the servants, who was standing at the door. ‘Does Captain Thorn live here?’ I asked him.
“‘Mr. Westleby lives here,’ said he; ‘I don’t know any Captain Thorn.’
“Then that’s his name, thought I to myself. ‘A youngish man, isn’t he?’ said I, ‘very smart, with a pretty wife?’
“‘I don’t know what you call youngish,’ he laughed, ‘my master’s turned sixty, and his wife’s as old.’
“That checked me. ‘Perhaps he has sons?’ I asked.
“‘Not any,’ the man answered; ‘there’s nobody but their two selves.’
“So, with that, I told him what I wanted — that a lady and gentleman had alighted there in a cab that day, and I wished to know his name. Well, Mr. Carlyle, I could get at nothing satisfactory; the fellow said that a great many had called there that day, for his master was just up from a long illness, and people came to see him.”
“Is that all, Richard?”
“All! I wish it had been all. I kept looking about for him in all the best streets; I was half mad —”
“Do you not wonder, if he is in this position of life, and resides in London, that you have never dropped upon him previously?” interrupted Mr. Carlyle.
“No, sir; and I’ll tell you why. I have been afraid to show myself in those latter parts of the town, fearing I might meet with some one I used to know at home, who would recognize me, so I have kept mostly in obscure places — stables and such like. I had gone up to the West End this day on a matter of business.”
“Well, go on with your story.”
“In a week’s time I came upon him again. It was at night. He was coming out of one of the theatres, and I went up and stood before him.”
“‘What do you want, fellow?’ he asked. ‘I have seen you watching me before this.’
“‘I want to know your name,’ I said, ‘that’s enough for me at present.’
“He flew into a passion, and swore that if ever he caught sight of me near him again he would hand me over into custody. ‘And remember, men are not given into custody for watching others,’ he significantly added. ‘I know you, and if you have any regard for yourself, you’ll keep out of my way.’
“He had got into a private carriage as he spoke, and it drove away; I could see that it had a great coat-of-arms upon it.”
“When do you say this was?”
“A week ago. Well, I could not rest; I was half mad, I say, and went about, still trying if I could not discover his name and who he was. I did come upon him, but he was walking quickly, arm-inarm with — with another gentleman. Again I saw him, standing at the entrance to the betting rooms, talking to the same gentleman, and his face turned savage — I believe with fear as much as anger — when he discerned me. He seemed to hesitate, and then — as if he acted in a passion — suddenly beckoned to a policeman, pointed me out, and said something to him in a fast tone. That frightened me, and I slipped away. Two hours after, when I was in quite a different part of the town, in turning my head I saw the same policeman following me. I bolted under the horses of a passing vehicle, down some turnings and passages, out into another street, and up beside a cabman who was on his box, driving a fare past. I reached my lodgings in safety, as I thought, but happening to glance into the street, there I saw the man again, standing opposite, and reconnoitering the house. I had gone home hungry, but this took all my hunger away from me. I opened the box where I kept my disguise, put it on, and got out by a back way. I have been pretty nearly ever since on my feet reaching here; I only got a lift now and then.”
“But, Richard, do you know that West Lynne is the very worst place you could have flown to? It has come to light that you were here before, disguised as a farm laborer.”
“Who the deuce betrayed that?” interrupted Richard.
“I am unable to tell; I cannot even imagine. The rumor was rife in the place, and it reached your father’s ear. The rumor may make people’s wits sharper to know you in your disguise, than they otherwise might have been.”
“But what was I to do? I was forced to come here first and get a little money. I shall fix myself in some other big town, far away from London — Liverpool or Manchester, perhaps; and see what employment I can get into, but I must have something to live upon till I can get it. I don’t possess a penny piece,” he added, drawing out his trousers pockets for the inspection of Mr. Carlyle. “The last coppers, I had, three pence, I spent in bread and cheese and half a pint of beer at midday. I have been outside that window for more than an hour, sir.”
“And as I neared West Lynne I began to think what I should do. It was no use in me trying to catch Barbara’s attention such a night as this; I had no money to pay for a lodging; so I turned off here, hoping I might, by good luck, drop upon you. There was a little partition in the window curtain — it had not been drawn close — and through it I could see you and Miss Carlyle. I saw her leave the room; I saw you come to the window and open it, and then I spoke. Mr. Carlyle,” he added, after a pause, “is this life to go on with me forever?”
“I am deeply sorry for you, Richard,” was the sympathizing answer. “I wish I could remedy it.”
Before another word was spoken the room door was tried, and then gently knocked at. Mr. Carlyle placed his hand on Richard, who was looking scared out of his wits.
“Be still; be at ease, Richard; no one shall come in. It is only Peter.”
Not Peter’s voice, however, but Joyce’s was heard, in response to Mr. Carlyle’s demand of who was there.
“Miss Carlyle has left her handkerchief downstairs, sir, and has sent me for it.”
“You cannot come in-I am busy,” was the answer, delivered in a clear and most decisive tone.
“Who was it?” quivered Richard, as Joyce was heard going away.
“It was Joyce.”
“What! Is she here still? Has anything ever been heard of Afy, sir?”
“Afy was here herself two or three months ago.”
“Was she, though?” uttered Richard, beguiled for an instant from the thought of his own danger. “What is she doing?”
“She is in service as a lady’s maid. Richard, I questioned Afy about Thorn. She protested solemnly to me that it was not Thorn who committed the deed — that it could not have been he, for Thorn was with her at the moment of its being done.”
“It’s not true!” fired Richard. “It was Thorn.”
“Richard, you cannot tell; you did not see it done.”
“I know that no man could have rushed out in that frantic manner, with those signs of guilt and fear about him, unless he had been engaged in a bad deed,” was Richard Hare’s answer. “It could have been no one else.”
“Afy declared he was with her,” repeated Mr. Carlyle.
“Look here, sir, you are a sharp man, and folks say I am not, but I can see things and draw my reasoning as well as they can, perhaps. If Thorn were not Hallijohn’s murderer, why should he be persecuting me — what would he care about me? And why should his face turn livid, as it has done, each time he has seen my eyes upon him? Whether he did commit the murder, or whether he didn’t, he must know that I did not, because he came upon me, waiting, as he was tearing from the cottage.”
Dick’s reasoning was not bad.
“Another thing,” he resumed. “Afy swore at the inquest that she was alone when the deed was done; that she was alone at the back of the cottage, and knew nothing about it till afterwards. How could she have sworn she was alone, if Thorn was with her?”
The fact has entirely escaped Mr. Carlyle’s memory in his conversation with Afy, or he would not have failed to point out the discrepancy, and to inquire how she could reconcile it. Yet her assertion to him had been most positive and solemn. There were difficulties in the matter which he could not reconcile.
“Now that I have got over my passion for Afy, I can see her faults, Mr. Carlyle. She’d no more tell an untruth than I should stick —”
A most awful thundering at the room door — loud enough to bring the very house down. No officers of justice, searching for a fugitive, ever made a louder. Richard Hare, his face turned to chalk, his eyes starting, and his own light hair bristling up with horror, struggled into his wet smock-frock after a fashion, the tails up about his ears and the sleeves hanging, forced on his hat and his false whiskers, looked round in a bewildered manner for some cupboard or mouse-hole into which he might creep, and, seeing none, rushed to the fireplace and placed his foot on the fender. That he purposed an attempt at chimney-climbing was evident, though how the fire would have agreed with his pantaloons, not to speak of what they contained, poor Dick appeared completely to ignore. Mr. Carlyle drew him back, keeping his calm, powerful hand upon his shoulder, while certain sounds in an angry voice were jerked through the keyhole.
“Richard, be a man, put aside this weakness, this fear. Have I not told you that harm shall not come near you in my house?”
“It may be that officer from London; he may have brought half a dozen more with him!” gasped the unhappy Richard. “I said they might have dodged me all the way here.”
“Nonsense. Sit you down, and be at rest, it is only Cornelia; and she will be as anxious to shield you from danger as I can be.”
“Is it?” cried the relieved Richard. “Can’t you make her keep out?” he continued, his teeth still chattering.
“No, that I can’t, if she has a mind to come in,” was the candid answer. “You remember what she was, Richard; she is not altered.”
Knowing that to speak on this side the door to his sister, when she was in one of her resolute moods, would be of no use, Mr. Carlyle opened the door, dexterously swung himself through it, and shut it after him. There she stood; in a towering passion, too.
It had struck Miss Carlyle, while undressing, that certain sounds, as of talking, proceeded from the room underneath, which she had just quitted. She possessed a remarkably keen sense of hearing, did Miss Carlyle; though, indeed, none of her faculties lacked the quality of keenness. The servants, Joyce and Peter excepted, would not be convinced but that she must “listen;” but, in that, they did her injustice. First of all, she believed her brother must be reading aloud to himself; but she soon decided otherwise. “Who on earth has he got in there with him?” quoth Miss Carlyle.
She rang her bell; Joyce answered it.
“Who is it that is with your master?”
“But I say there is. I can hear him talking.”
“I don’t think anybody can be with him,” persisted Joyce. “And the walls of this house are too well built, ma’am, for sounds from the down stairs rooms to penetrate here.”
“That’s all you know about it,” cried Miss Carlyle. “When talking goes on in that room, there’s a certain sound given out which does penetrate here, and which my ears have grown accustomed to. Go and see who it is. I believe I left my handkerchief on the table; you can bring it up.”
Joyce departed, and Miss Carlyle proceeded to take off her things; her dress first, her silk petticoat next. She had arrived as far as the flannel petticoat when Joyce returned.
“Yes, ma’am, some one is talking with master. I could not go in, for the door was bolted, and master called out that he was busy.”
Food for Miss Carlyle. She, feeling sure that no visitor had come to the house, ran her thoughts rapidly over the members of the household, and came to the conclusion that it must be the governess, Miss Manning, who had dared to closet herself with Mr. Carlyle. This unlucky governess was pretty, and Miss Carlyle had been cautious to keep her and her prettiness very much out of her brother’s sight; she knew the attraction he would present to her visions, or to those of any other unprovided-for governess. Oh, yes; it was Miss Manning; she had stolen in; believing she, Miss Carlyle, was safe for the night; but she’d just unearth my lady. And what in the world could possess Archibald — to lock the door!
Looking round for something warm to throw over her shoulders, and catching up an article that looked as much like a green baize table-cover as anything else, and throwing it on, down stalked Miss Carlyle. And in this trim Mr. Carlyle beheld her when he came out.
The figure presented by Miss Carlyle to her brother’s eyes was certainly ridiculous enough. She gave him no time to comment upon it, however, but instantly and curtly asked —
“Who have you got in that room?”
“It is some one on business,” was his prompt reply. “Cornelia, you cannot go in.”
She very nearly laughed. “Not go in?”
“Indeed it is much better that you should not. Pray go back. You will make your cold worse, standing here.
“Now, I want to know whether you are not ashamed of yourself?” she deliberately pursued. “You! A married man, with children in your house! I’d rather have believed anything downright wicked of myself, than of you, Archibald.”
Mr. Carlyle stared considerably.
“Come; I’ll have her out. And out of this house she tramps tomorrow morning. A couple of audacious ones, to be in there with the door locked, the moment you thought you had got rid of me! Stand aside, I say, Archibald, I will enter.”
Mr. Carlyle never felt more inclined to laugh. And, to Miss Carlyle’s exceeding discomposure she, at this juncture, saw the governess emerge from the gray parlor, glance at the hall clock, and retire again.
“Why! She’s there,” she uttered. “I thought she was with you.”
“Miss Manning, locked in with me! Is that the mare’s nest, Cornelia? I think your cold must have obscured your reason.”
“Well, I shall go in, all the same. I tell you, Archibald, that I will see who is there.”
“If you persist in going in, you must go. But allow me to warn you that you will find tragedy in that room, not comedy. There is no woman in it, but there is a man; a man who came in through the window, like a hunted stag; a man upon whom a ban is set, who fears the police are upon his track. Can you guess his name?”
It was Miss Carlyle’s turn to stare now. She opened her dry lips to speak, but they closed again.
“It is Richard Hare, your kinsman. There’s not a roof in the wide world open to him this bitter night.”
She said nothing. A long pause of dismay, and then she motioned to have the door opened.
“You will not show yourself — in-in that guise?”
“Not show myself in this guise to Richard Hare — whom I have whipped — when he was a child — ten times a day! Stand on ceremony with him! I dare say he looks no better than I do. But it’s nothing short of madness, Archibald, for him to come here.”
He left her to enter, telling her to lock the door as soon as she was inside, and went himself into the adjoining room, the one which, by another door, opened to the one Richard was in. Then he rang the bell. It was answered by a footman.
“Send Peter to me.”
“Lay supper here, Peter, for two,” began Mr. Carlyle, when the old servant appeared. “A person is with me on business. What have you in the house?”
“There’s the spiced beef, sir; and there are some home-made raised pork pies.”
“That will do,” said Mr. Carlyle. “Put a quart of ale on the table, and everything likely to be wanted. And then the household can go to bed; we may be late, and the things can be removed in the morning. Oh — and Peter — none of you must come near the room, this or the next, under any pretence whatever, unless I ring, for I shall be too busy to be disturbed.”
“Very well, sir. Shall I serve the ham also?”
“I beg pardon, sir; I guessed it might be Mr. Dill, and he is so fond of our hams.”
“Ah, you were always a shrewd guesser, Peter,” smiled his master. “He is fond of ham I know; yes, you may put it on the table. Don’t forget the small kettle.”
The consequence of which little finesse on Mr. Carlyle’s part was, that Peter announced in the kitchen that Mr. Dill had arrived, and supper was to be served for two. “But what a night for the old gentleman to have trudged through on foot!” exclaimed he.
“And what a trudge he’ll have of it back again, for it’ll be worse then!” chimed in one of the maids.
When Mr. Carlyle got back in the other room, his sister and Richard Hare had scarcely finished staring at each other.
“Please lock the door, Miss Cornelia,” began poor shivering Dick.
“The door’s locked,” snapped she. “But what on earth brought you here, Richard? You must be worse than mad.”
“The Bow-street officers were after me in London,” he meekly responded, unconsciously using a term which had been familiar to his boyish years. “I had to cut away without a thing belonging to me, without so much as a clean shirt.”
“They must be polite officers, not to have been after you before,” was the consolatory remark of Miss Carlyle. “Are you going to dance a hornpipe through the streets of West Lynne tomorrow, and show yourself openly?”
“Not if I can help it,” replied Richard.
“You might just as well do that, if you come to West Lynne at all; for you can’t be here now without being found out. There was a bother about your having been here the last time: I should like to know how it got abroad.”
“The life I lead is dreadful!” cried Richard. “I might make up my mind to toil, though that’s hard, after being reared a gentleman; but to be an exile, banned, disgraced, afraid to show my face in broad daylight amidst my fellowmen, in dread every hour that the sword may fall! I would almost as soon be dead as continue to live it.”
“Well, you have got nobody to grumble at; you brought it upon yourself,” philosophically returned Miss Carlyle, as she opened the door to admit her brother. “You would go hunting after that brazen hussy, Afy, you know, in defiance of all that could be said to you.”
“That would not have brought it upon me,” said Richard. “It was through that fiend’s having killed Hallijohn; that was what brought the ban upon me.”
“It’s a most extraordinary thing, if anybody else did kill him, that the facts can’t be brought to light,” retorted Miss Carlyle. “Here you tell a cock-and-bull story of some man’s having done it, some Thorn; but nobody ever saw or heard of him, at the time or since. It looks like a made-up story, Mr. Dick, to whiten yourself.”
“Made up!” panted Richard, in agitation, for it seemed cruel to him, especially in his present frame of mind, to have a doubt cast upon his tale. “It is Thorn who is setting the officers upon me. I have seen him three or four times within the last fortnight.”
“And why did you not turn the tables, and set the officers upon him?” demanded Miss Carlyle.
“Because it would lead to no good. Where’s the proof, save my bare word, that he committed the murder?”
Miss Carlyle rubbed her nose. “Dick Hare,” said she.
“You know you always were the greatest natural idiot that ever was let loose out of leading strings.”
“I know I always was told so.”
“And it’s what you always will be. If I were accused of committing a crime, which I knew another had committed and not myself, should I be such an idiot as not to give that other into custody if I got the chance? If you were not in such a cold, shivery, shaky state, I would treat you to a bit of my mind, you may rely upon that.”
“He was in league with Afy, at that period,” pursued Richard; “a deceitful, bad man; and he carries it in his countenance. And he must be in league with her still, if she asserts that he was in her company at the moment the murder was committed. Mr. Carlyle says she does; that she told him so the other day, when she was here. He never was; and it was he, and no other, who did the murder.”
“Yes,” burst forth Miss Carlyle, for the topic was sure to agitate her, “that Jezebel of brass did presume to come here! She chose her time well, and may thank her lucky stars I was not at home. Archibald, he’s a fool too, quite as bad a you are, Dick Hare, in some things — actually suffered her to lodge here for two days! A vain, ill-conducted hussy, given to nothing but finery and folly!”
“Afy said that she knew nothing of Thorn’s movements now, Richard, and had not for some time,” interposed Mr. Carlyle, allowing his sister’s compliments to pass in silence. “She heard a rumor, she thought, that he had gone abroad with his regiment.”
“So much the better for her, if she does know nothing of him, sir,” was Richard’s comment. “I can answer for it that he is not abroad, but in England.”
“And where are you going to lodge to-night?” abruptly spoke Miss Carlyle, confronting Richard.
“I don’t know,” was the broken-spirited answer, sighed forth. “If I lay myself down in a snowdrift, and am found frozen in the morning, it won’t be of much moment.”
“Was that what you thought of doing?” returned Miss Carlyle.
“No,” he mildly said. “What I thought of doing was to ask Mr. Carlyle for the loan of a few shillings, and then I can get a bed. I know a place where I shall be in safety, two or three miles from here.”
“Richard, I would not turn a dog out to go two or three miles on such a night as this,” impulsively uttered Mr. Carlyle. “You must stop here.”
“Indeed I don’t see how he is to get up to a bedroom, or how a room is to be made ready for him, for the matter of that, without betraying his presence to the servants,” snapped Miss Carlyle. And poor Richard laid his aching head upon his hands.
But now Miss Carlyle’s manner was more in fault than her heart. Will it be believed that, before speaking the above ungracious words, before Mr. Carlyle had touched upon the subject, she had been casting about in her busy mind for the best plan of keeping Richard — how it could be accomplished.
“One thing is certain,” she resumed, “that it will be impossible for you to sleep here without its being known to Joyce. And I suppose you and Joyce are upon the friendly terms of drawing daggers, for she believes you were the murderer of her father.”
“Let me disabuse her,” interrupted Richard, his pale lips working as he started up. “Allow me to see her and convince her, Mr. Carlyle. Why did you not tell Joyce better?”
“There’s that small room at the back of mine,” said Miss Carlyle, returning to the practical part of the subject. “He might sleep there. But Joyce must be taken in confidence.”
“Joyce had better come in,” said Mr. Carlyle. “I will say a word to her first.”
He unlocked the door and quitted the room. Miss Carlyle as jealously locked it again; called to Joyce and beckoned her into the adjoining apartment. He knew that Joyce’s belief in the guilt of Richard Hare was confirmed and strong, but he must uproot that belief if Richard was to be lodged in his house that night.
“Joyce,” he began, “you remember how thoroughly imbued with the persuasion you were, that Afy went off with Richard Hare, and was living with him. I several times expressed my doubts upon the point. The fact was, I had positive information that she was not with him, and never had been, though I considered it expedient to keep my information to myself. You are convinced now that she was not with him?”
“Of course I am, sir.”
“Well, you see, Joyce, that my opinion would have been worth listening to. Now I am going to shake your belief upon another point, and if I assure you that I have equally good grounds for doing so, you will believe me?”
“I am quite certain, sir, that you would state nothing but what was true, and I know that your judgment is sound,” was Joyce’s answer.
“Then I must tell you that I do not believe it was Richard Hare who murdered your father.”
“Sir!” uttered Joyce, amazed out of her senses.
“I believe Richard Hare to be as innocent of the murder as you or I,” he deliberately repeated. “I have held grounds for this opinion, Joyce, for many years.”
“Then, sir, who did it?”
“Afy’s other lover. That dandy fellow, Thorn, as I truly believe.”
“And you say you have grounds, sir?” Joyce asked, after a pause.
“Good grounds; and I tell you I have been in possession of them for years. I should be glad for you to think as I do.”
“But, sir, if Richard Hare was innocent, why did he run away?”
“Ah, why, indeed! It is that which has done the mischief. His own weak cowardice was in fault. He feared to come back, and he felt that he could not remove the odium of circumstances. Joyce I should like you to see him and hear his story.”
“There is not much chance of that, sir. I dare say he will never venture here again.”
“He is here now.”
Joyce looked up, considerably startled.
“Here, in this house,” repeated Mr. Carlyle. “He has taken shelter in it, and for the few hours that he will remain, we must extend our hospitality and protection to him, concealing him in the best manner we can. I thought it well that this confidence should be reposed in you, Joyce. Come now and see him.”
Considering that it was a subdued interview — the voices subdued, I mean — it was a confused one. Richard talking vehemently, Joyce asking question after question, Miss Carlyle’s tongue going as fast as theirs. The only silent one was Mr. Carlyle. Joyce could not refuse to believe protestations so solemn, and her suspicions veered round upon Captain Thorn.
“And now about the bed,” interjected Miss Carlyle, impatiently. “Where’s he to sleep, Joyce? The only safe room that I know of will be the one through mine.”
“He can’t sleep there, ma’am. Don’t you know that the key of the door was lost last week, and we cannot open it?”
“So much the better. He’ll be all the safer.”
“But how is he to get in?”
“To get in? Why, through my room, of course. Doesn’t mine open to it, stupid?”
“Oh, well, ma’am, if you would like him to go through yours, that’s different.”
“Why shouldn’t he go through? Do you suppose I mind young Dick Hare? Not I, indeed,” she irascibly continued. “I only wish he was young enough for me to flog him as I used to, that’s all. He deserves it as much as anybody ever did, playing the fool, as he has done, in all ways. I shall be in bed, with the curtains drawn, and his passing through won’t harm me, and my lying there won’t harm him. Stand on ceremony with Dick Hare! What next, I wonder?”
Joyce made no reply to this energetic speech, but at once retired to prepare the room for Richard. Miss Carlyle soon followed. Having made everything ready, Joyce returned.
“The room is ready, sir,” she whispered, “and all the household are in bed.”
“Then now’s your time, Richard. Good-night.”
He stole upstairs after Joyce, who piloted him through the room of Miss Carlyle. Nothing could be seen of that lady, though something might be heard, one given to truth more than politeness might have called it snoring. Joyce showed Richard his chamber, gave him the candle, and closed the door upon him.
Poor hunted Richard, good-night to you.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14