The bench of justices did not fail to keep their appointment; at seven o’clock they arrived at Miss Carlyle’s, one following closely upon the heels of another. The reader may dissent from the expression “Miss Carlyle’s,” but it is the correct one, for the house was hers, not her brother’s; though it remained his home, as it had been in his father’s time, the house was among the property bequeathed to Miss Carlyle.
Miss Carlyle chose to be present in spite of the pipes and the smoke, and she was soon as deep in the discussion as the justices were. It was said in the town, that she was as good a lawyer as her father had been; she undoubtedly possessed sound judgment in legal matters, and quick penetration. At eight o’clock a servant entered the room and addressed his master.
“Mr. Dill is asking to see you, sir.”
Mr. Carlyle rose, and came back with an open note in his hand.
“I am sorry to find that I must leave you for half an hour; some important business has arisen, but I will be back as soon as I can.”
“Who has sent for you;” immediately demanded Miss Corny.
He gave her a quiet look which she interpreted into a warning not to question. “Mr. Dill is here, and will join you to talk the affair over,” he said to his guests. “He knows the law better than I do; but I will not be long.”
He quitted his house, and walked with a rapid step toward the Grove. The moon was bright as on the previous evening. After he had left the town behind him, and was passing the scattered villas already mentioned, he cast an involuntary glance at the wood, which rose behind them on his left hand. It was called Abbey Wood, from the circumstance that in old days an abbey had stood in its vicinity, all traces of which, save tradition, had passed away. There was one small house, or cottage, just within the wood, and in that cottage had occurred the murder for which Richard Hare’s life was in jeopardy. It was no longer occupied, for nobody would rent it or live in it.
Mr. Carlyle opened the gate of the Grove, and glanced at the trees on either side of him, but he neither saw nor heard any signs of Richard’s being concealed there. Barbara was at the window, looking out, and she came herself and opened the door to Mr. Carlyle.
“Mamma is in the most excited state,” she whispered to him as he entered. “I knew how it would be.”
“Has he come yet?”
“I have no doubt of it; but he has made no signal.”
Mrs. Hare, feverish and agitated, with a burning spot on her delicate cheeks, stood by the chair, not occupying it. Mr. Carlyle placed a pocket-book in her hands. “I have brought it chiefly in notes,” he said: “they will be easier for him to carry than gold.”
Mrs. Hare answered only by a look of gratitude, and clasped Mr. Carlyle’s hand in both hers. “Archibald, I must see my boy; how can it be managed? Must I go into the garden to him, or may he come in here?”
“I think he might come in; you know how bad the night air is for you. Are the servants astir this evening?”
“Things seem to have turned out quite kindly,” spoke up Barbara. “It happens to be Anne’s birthday, so mamma sent me just now into the kitchen with a cake and a bottle of wine, desiring them to drink her health. I shut the door and told them to make themselves comfortable; that if we wanted anything we would ring.”
“Then they are safe,” observed Mr. Carlyle, “and Richard may come in.”
“I will go and ascertain whether he is come,” said Barbara.
“Stay where you are, Barbara; I will go myself,” interposed Mr. Carlyle. “Have the door open when you see us coming up the path.”
Barbara gave a faint cry, and, trembling, clutched the arm of Mr. Carlyle. “There he is! See! Standing out from the trees, just opposite this window.”
Mr. Carlyle turned to Mrs. Hare. “I shall not bring him in immediately; for if I am to have an interview with him, it must be got over first, that I may go back home to the justices, and keep Mr. Hare all safe.”
He proceeded on his way, gained the trees, and plunged into them; and, leaning against one, stood Richard Hare. Apart from his disguise, and the false and fierce black whiskers, he was a blue-eyed, fair, pleasant-looking young man, slight, and of middle height, and quite as yielding and gentle as his mother. In her, this mild yieldingness of disposition was rather a graceful quality; in Richard it was regarded as a contemptible misfortune. In his boyhood he had been nicknamed Leafy Dick, and when a stranger inquired why, the answer was that, as a leaf was swayed by the wind, so he was swayed by everybody about him, never possessing a will of his own. In short, Richard Hare, though of an amiable and loving nature, was not over-burdened with what the world calls brains. Brains he certainly had, but they were not sharp ones.
“Is my mother coming out to me?” asked Richard, after a few interchanged sentences with Mr. Carlyle.
“No. You are to go indoors. Your father is away, and the servants are shut up in the kitchen and will not see you. Though if they did, they could never recognize you in that trim. A fine pair of whiskers, Richard.”
“Let us go in, then. I am all in a twitter till I get away. Am I to have the money?”
“Yes, yes. But, Richard, your sister says you wish to disclose to me the true history of that lamentable night. You had better speak while we are here.”
“It was Barbara herself wanted you to hear it. I think it of little moment. If the whole place heard the truth from me, it would do no good, for I should get no belief — not even from you.”
“Try me, Richard, in as few words as possible.”
“Well, there was a row at home about my going so much to Hallijohn’s. The governor and my mother thought I went after Afy; perhaps I did, and perhaps I didn’t. Hallijohn had asked me to lend him my gun, and that evening, when I went to see Af — when I went to see some one — never mind —”
“Richard,” interrupted Mr. Carlyle, “there’s an old saying, and it is sound advice: ‘Tell the whole truth to your lawyer and your doctor.’ If I am to judge whether anything can be attempted for you, you must tell it to me; otherwise, I would rather hear nothing. It shall be sacred trust.”
“Then, if I must, I must,” returned the yielding Richard. “I did love the girl. I would have waited till I was my own master to make her my wife, though it had been for years and years. I could not do it, you know, in the face of my father’s opposition.”
“Your wife?” rejoined Mr. Carlyle, with some emphasis.
Richard looked surprised. “Why, you don’t suppose I meant anything else! I wouldn’t have been such a blackguard.”
“Well, go on, Richard. Did she return your love?”
“I can’t be certain. Sometimes I thought she did, sometimes not; she used to play and shuffle, and she liked too much to be with — him. I would think her capricious — telling me I must not come this evening, and I must not come the other; but I found out they were the evenings when she was expecting him. We were never there together.”
“You forget that you have not indicted ‘him’ by any name, Richard. I am at fault.”
Richard Hare bent forward till his black whiskers brushed Mr. Carlyle’s shoulder. “It was that cursed Thorn.”
Mr. Carlyle remembered the name Barbara had mentioned. “Who was Thorn? I never heard of him.”
“Neither had anybody else, I expect, in West Lynne. He took precious good care of that. He lives some miles away, and used to come over in secret.”
“Yes, he did come courting her,” returned Richard, in a savage tone. “Distance was no barrier. He would come galloping over at dusk, tie his horse to a tree in the wood, and pass an hour or two with Afy. In the house, when her father was not at home; roaming about the woods with her, when he was.”
“Come to the point, Richard — to the evening.”
“Hallijohn’s gun was out of order, and he requested the loan of mine. I had made an appointment with Afy to be at her house that evening, and I went down after dinner, carrying the gun with me. My father called after me to know where I was going; I said, out with young Beauchamp, not caring to meet his opposition; and the lie told against me at the inquest. When I reached Hallijohn’s, going the back way along the fields, and through the wood-path, as I generally did go, Afy came out, all reserve, as she could be at times, and said she was unable to receive me then, that I must go back home. We had a few words about it, and as we were speaking, Locksley passed, and saw me with the gun in my hand; but it ended in my giving way. She could do just what she liked with me, for I loved the very ground she trod on. I gave her the gun, telling her it was loaded, and she took it indoors, shutting me out. I did not go away; I had a suspicion that she had got Thorn there, though she denied it to me; and I hid myself in some trees near the house. Again Locksley came in view and saw me there, and called out to know why I was hiding. I shied further off, and did not answer him — what were my private movements to him? — and that also told against me at the inquest. Not long afterwards — twenty minutes, perhaps — I heard a shot, which seemed to be in the direction of the cottage. ‘Somebody having a late pop at the partridges,’ thought I; for the sun was then setting, and at the moment I saw Bethel emerge from the trees, and run in the direction of the cottage. That was the shot that killed Hallijohn.”
There was a pause. Mr. Carlyle looked keenly at Richard there in the moonlight.
“Very soon, almost in the same moment, as it seemed, some one came panting and tearing along the path leading from the cottage. It was Thorn. His appearance startled me: I had never seen a man show more utter terror. His face was livid, his eyes seemed starting, and his lips were drawn back from his teeth. Had I been a strong man I should surely have attacked him. I was mad with jealousy; for I then saw that Afy had sent me away that she might entertain him.”
“I thought you said this Thorn never came but at dusk,” observed Mr. Carlyle.
“I never knew him to do so until that evening. All I can say is, he was there then. He flew along swiftly, and I afterwards heard the sound of his horse’s hoofs galloping away. I wondered what was up that he should look so scared, and scutter away as though the deuce was after him; I wondered whether he had quarreled with Afy. I ran to the house, leaped up the two steps, and — Carlyle — I fell over the prostrate body of Hallijohn! He was lying just within, on the kitchen floor, dead. Blood was round about him, and my gun, just discharged, was thrown near. He had been shot in the side.”
Richard stopped for breath. Mr. Carlyle did not speak.
“I called to Afy. No one answered. No one was in the lower room; and it seemed that no one was in the upper. A sort of panic came over me, a fear. You know they always said at home I was a coward: I could not have remained another minute with that dead man, had it been to save my own life. I caught up the gun, and was making off, when —”
“Why did you catch up the gun?” interrupted Mr. Carlyle.
“Ideas pass through our minds quicker than we can speak them, especially in these sorts of moments,” was the reply of Richard Hare. “Some vague notion flashed on my brain that my gun ought not to be found near the murdered body of Hallijohn. I was flying from the door, I say, when Locksley emerged from the wood, full in view; and what possessed me I can’t tell, but I did the worst thing I could do — flung the gun indoors again, and got away, although Locksley called after me to stop.”
“Nothing told against you so much as that,” observed Mr. Carlyle. “Locksley deposed that he had seen you leave the cottage, gun in hand, apparently in great commotion; that the moment you saw him, you hesitated, as from fear, flung back the gun, and escaped.”
Richard stamped his foot. “Aye; and all owing to my cursed cowardice. They had better have made a woman of me, and brought me up in petticoats. But let me go on. I came upon Bethel. He was standing in that half-circle where the trees have been cut. Now I knew that Bethel, if he had gone straight in the direction of the cottage, must have met Thorn quitting it. ‘Did you encounter that hound?’ I asked him. ‘What hound?’ returned Bethel. ‘That fine fellow, that Thorn, who comes after Afy,’ I answered, for I did not mind mentioning her name in my passion. ‘I don’t know any Thorn,’ returned Bethel, ‘and I did not know anybody was after Afy but yourself.’ ‘Did you hear a shot?’ I went on. ‘Yes, I did,’ he replied; ‘I suppose it was Locksley, for he’s about this evening,’ ‘And I saw you,’ I continued, ‘just at the moment the shot was fired, turn round the corner in the direction of Hallijohn’s.’ ‘So I did,’ he said, ‘but only to strike into the wood, a few paces up. What’s your drift?’ ‘Did you not encounter Thorn, running from the cottage?’ I persisted. ‘I have encountered no one,’ he said, ‘and I don’t believe anybody’s about but ourselves and Locksley.’ I quitted him, and came off,” concluded Richard Hare. “He evidently had not seen Thorn, and knew nothing.”
“And you decamped the same night, Richard; it was a fatal step.”
“Yes, I was a fool. I thought I’d wait quiet, and see how things turned out; but you don’t know all. Three or four hours later, I went to the cottage again, and I managed to get a minute’s speech with Afy. I never shall forget it; before I could say one syllable she flew out at me, accusing me of being the murderer of her father, and she fell into hysterics out there on the grass. The noise brought people from the house — plenty were in it then — and I retreated. ‘If she can think me guilty, the world will think me guilty,’ was my argument; and that night I went right off, to stop in hiding for a day or two, till I saw my way clear. It never came clear; the coroner’s inquest sat, and the verdict floored me over. And Afy — but I won’t curse her — fanned the flame against me by denying that any one had been there that night. ‘She had been at home,’ she said, ‘and had strolled out at the back door, to the path that led from West Lynne, and was lingering there when she heard a shot. Five minutes afterward she returned to the house, and found Locksley standing over her dead father.’”
Mr. Carlyle remained silent, rapidly running over in his mind the chief points of Richard Hare’s communication. “Four of you, as I understand it, were in the vicinity of the cottage that night, and from one or the other the shot no doubt proceeded. You were at a distance, you say, Richard; Bethel, also, could not have been —”
“It was not Bethel who did it,” interrupted Richard; “it was an impossibility. I saw him, as I tell you, in the same moment that the gun was fired.”
“But now, where was Locksley?”
“It is equally impossible that it could have been Locksley. He was within my view at the same time, at right angles from me, deep in the wood, away from the paths altogether. It was Thorn did the deed, beyond all doubt, and the verdict ought to have been willful murder against him. Carlyle, I see you don’t believe my story.”
“What you say has startled me, and I must take time to consider whether I believe it or not,” said Mr. Carlyle, in his straightforward manner. “The most singular thing is, if you witnessed this, Thorn’s running from the cottage in the manner you describe, that you did not come forward and denounce him.”
“I didn’t do it, because I was a fool, a weak coward, as I have been all my life,” rejoined Richard. “I can’t help it; it was born with me, and will go with me to my grave. What would my word have availed that it was Thorn, when there was nobody to corroborate it? And the discharged gun, mine, was a damnatory proof against me.”
“Another thing strikes me as curious,” cried Mr. Carlyle. “If this man, Thorn, was in the habit of coming to West Lynne, evening after evening, how was it that he never was observed? This is the first time I have heard any stranger’s name mentioned in connection with the affair, or with Afy.”
“Thorn chose by-roads, and he never came, save that once, but at dusk and dark. It was evident to me at the time that he was striving to do it on the secret. I told Afy so, and that it augured no good for her. You are not attaching credit to what I say, and it is only as I expected; nevertheless, I swear that I have related the facts. As surely as that we — I, Thorn, Afy and Hallijohn, must one day meet together before our Maker, I have told you the truth.”
The words were solemn, their tone earnest, and Mr. Carlyle remained silent, his thoughts full.
“To what end, else, should I say this?” went on Richard. “It can do me no service; all the assertion I could put forth would not go a jot toward clearing me.”
“No, it would not,” assented Mr. Carlyle. “If ever you are cleared, it must be by proofs. But — I will keep my thought on the matter, and should anything arise —— What sort of a man was this Thorn?”
“In age he might be three or four and twenty, tall and slender; an out-and-out aristocrat.”
“And his connections? Where did he live?”
“I never knew. Afy, in her boasting way, would say he had come from Swainson, a ten mile ride.”
“From Swainson?” quickly interrupted Mr. Carlyle.
“Could it be one of the Thorns of Swainson?”
“None of the Thorns that I know. He was a totally different sort of man, with his perfumed hands, and his rings, and his dainty gloves. That he was an aristocrat I believe, but of bad taste and style, displaying a profusion of jewellery.”
A half smile flitted over Carlyle’s face.
“Was it real, Richard?”
“It was. He would wear diamond shirt-studs, diamond rings, diamond pins; brilliants, all of the first water. My impression was, that he put them on to dazzle Afy. She told me once that she could be a grander lady, if she chose, than I could ever make her. ‘A lady on the cross,’ I answered, ‘but never on the square.’ Thorn was not a man to entertain honest intentions to one in the station of Afy Hallijohn; but girls are simple as geese.”
“By your description, it could not have been one of the Thorns of Swainson. Wealthy tradesmen, fathers of young families, short, stout, and heavy as Dutchmen, staid and most respectable. Very unlikely men are they, to run into an expedition of that sort.”
“What expedition?” questioned Richard. “The murder?”
“The riding after Afy. Richard, where is Afy?”
Richard Hare lifted his eyes in surprise. “How should I know? I was just going to ask you.”
Mr. Carlyle paused. He thought Richard’s answer an evasive one. “She disappeared immediately after the funeral; and it was thought — in short, Richard, the neighborhood gave her credit for having gone after and joined you.”
“No! did they? What a pack of idiots! I have never seen or heard of her, Carlyle, since that unfortunate night. If she went after anybody, it was after Thorn.”
“Was the man good-looking?”
“I suppose the world would call him so. Afy thought such an Adonis had never been coined, out of fable. He had shiny black hair and whiskers, dark eyes and handsome features. But his vain dandyism spoilt him; would you believe that his handkerchiefs were soaked in scent? They were of the finest cambric, silky as a hair, as fine as the one Barbara bought at Lynneborough and gave a guinea for; only hers had a wreath of embroidery around it.”
Mr. Carlyle could ascertain no more particulars, and it was time Richard went indoors. They proceeded up the path. “What a blessing it is the servants’ windows don’t look this way,” shivered Richard, treading on Mr. Carlyle’s heels. “If they should be looking out upstairs!”
His apprehensions were groundless, and he entered unseen.
Mr. Carlyle’s part was over; he left the poor banned exile to his short interview with his hysterical and tearful mother, Richard nearly as hysterical as she, and made the best of his way home again, pondering over what he had heard.
The magistrates made a good evening of it. Mr. Carlyle entertained them to supper — mutton chops and bread and cheese. They took up their pipes for another whiff when the meal was over, but Miss Carlyle retired to bed; the smoke, to which she had not been accustomed since her father’s death, had made her head ache and her eyes smart. About eleven they wished Mr. Carlyle good-night, and departed, but Mr. Dill, in obedience to a nod from his superior, remained.
“Sit down a moment, Dill; I want to ask you a question. You are intimate with the Thorns, of Swainson; do they happen to have any relative, a nephew or cousin, perhaps, a dandy young fellow?”
“I went over last Sunday fortnight to spend the day with young Jacob,” was the answer of Mr. Dill, one wider from the point than he generally gave. Mr. Carlyle smiled.
“Young Jacob! He must be forty, I suppose.”
“About that. But you and I estimate age differently, Mr. Archibald. They have no nephew; the old man never had but those two children, Jacob and Edward. Neither have they any cousin. Rich men they are growing now. Jacob has set up his carriage.”
Mr. Carlyle mused, but he expected the answer, for neither had he heard of the brothers Thorn, tanners, curriers, and leather-dressers, possessing a relative of the name. “Dill,” said he, “something has arisen which, in my mind, casts a doubt upon Richard Hare’s guilt. I question whether he had anything to do with the murder.”
Mr. Dill opened his eyes. “But his flight, Mr. Archibald, And his stopping away?”
“Suspicious circumstances, I grant. Still, I have good cause to doubt. At the time it happened, some dandy fellow used to come courting Afy Hallijohn in secret; a tall, slender man, as he is described to me, bearing the name of Thorn, and living at Swainson. Could it have been one of the Thorn family?”
“Mr. Archibald!” remonstrated the old clerk; “as if those two respected gentlemen, with their wives and babies, would come sneaking after that flyaway Afy!”
“No reflection on them,” returned Mr. Carlyle. “This was a young man, three or four and twenty, a head taller than either. I thought it might be a relative.”
“I have repeatedly heard them say that they are alone in the world; that they are the two last of the name. Depend upon it, it was nobody connected with them;” and wishing Mr. Carlyle good-night, he departed.
The servant came in to remove the glasses and the obnoxious pipes. Mr. Carlyle sat in a brown study; presently he looked round at the man.
“Is Joyce gone to bed?”
“No, sir. She is just going.”
“Send her here when you have taken away those things.”
Joyce came in-the upper servant at Miss Carlyle’s. She was of middle height, and would never see five and thirty again; her forehead was broad, her gray eyes were deeply set, and her face was pale. Altogether she was plain, but sensible-looking. She was the half-sister of Afy Hallijohn.
“Shut the door, Joyce.”
Joyce did as she was bid, came forward, and stood by the table.
“Have you ever heard from your sister, Joyce?” began Mr. Carlyle, somewhat abruptly.
“No, sir,” was the reply; “I think it would be a wonder if I did hear.”
“If she would go off after Richard Hare, who had sent her father into his grave, she would be more likely to hide herself and her doings than to proclaim them to me, sir.”
“Who was that other, that fine gentleman, who came after her?”
The color mantled in Joyce’s cheeks, and she dropped her voice.
“Sir! Did you hear of him?”
“Not at that time. Since. He came from Swainson, did he not?”
“I believe so, sir. Afy never would say much about him. We did not agree upon the point. I said a person of his rank would do her no good; and Afy flew out when I spoke against him.”
Mr. Carlyle caught her up. “His rank. What was his rank?”
“Afy bragged of his being next door to a lord; and he looked like it. I only saw him once; I had gone home early, and there sat him and Afy. His white hands were all glittering with rings, and his shirt was finished off with shining stones where the buttons ought to be.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“Never since, never but once; and I don’t think I should know him if I did see him. He got up, sir, as soon as I went into the parlor, shook hands with Afy, and left. A fine, upright man he was, nearly as tall as you, sir, but very slim. Those soldiers always carry themselves well.”
“How do you know he was a soldier?” quickly rejoined Mr. Carlyle.
“Afy told me so. ‘The Captain’ she used to call him; but she said he was not a captain yet awhile — the next grade to it, a — a ——”
“Lieutenant?” suggested Mr. Carlyle.
“Yes, sir, that was it — Lieutenant Thorn.”
“Joyce,” said Mr. Carlyle, “has it never struck you that Afy is more likely to have followed Lieutenant Thorn than Richard Hare?”
“No, sir,” answered Joyce; “I have felt certain always that she is with Richard Hare, and nothing can turn me from the belief. All West Lynne is convinced of it.”
Mr. Carlyle did not attempt to “turn her from her belief.” He dismissed her, and sat on still, revolving the case in all its bearings.
Richard Hare’s short interview with his mother had soon terminated. It lasted but a quarter of an hour, both dreading interruptions from the servants; and with a hundred pounds in his pocket, and desolation in his heart, the ill-fated young man once more quitted his childhood’s home. Mrs. Hare and Barbara watched him steal down the path in the telltale moonlight, and gain the road, both feeling that those farewell kisses they had pressed upon his lips would not be renewed for years, and might not be forever.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14