The Ebony Box


Ellen Wood

First published in The Argosy, 1883.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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The Ebony Box.

1.

In one or two of the papers already written for you, I have spoken of “Lawyer Cockermuth,” as he was usually styled by his fellow-townspeople at Worcester. I am now going to tell of something that happened in his family; that actually did happen, and is no invention of mine.

Lawyer Cockermuth’s house stood in the Foregate Street. He had practised in it for a good many years; he had never married, and his sister lived with him. She had been christened Betty; it was a more common name in those days than it is in these. There was a younger brother named Charles. They were tall, wiry men with long arms and legs. John, the lawyer, had a smiling, homely face; Charles was handsome, but given to be choleric.

Charles had served in the militia once, and had been ever since called Captain Cockermuth. When only twenty-one he married a young lady with a good bit of money; he had also a small income of his own; so he abandoned the law, to which he had been bred, and lived as a gentleman in a pretty little house on the outskirts of Worcester. His wife died in the course of a few years, leaving him with one child, a son, named Philip. The interest of Mrs. Charles Cockermuth’s money would be enjoyed by her husband until his death, and then would go to Philip.

When Philip left school he was articled to his uncle, Lawyer Cockermuth, and took up his abode with him. Captain Cockermuth (who was of a restless disposition, and fond of roving), gave up his house then and went travelling about. Philip Cockermuth was a very nice steady young fellow, and his father was liberal to him in the way of pocket-money, allowing him a guinea a-week. Every Monday morning Lawyer Cockermuth handed (for his brother) to Philip a guinea in gold; the coin being in use then. Philip spent most of this in books, but he saved some of it; and by the time he was of age he had sixty golden guineas put aside in a small round black box of carved ebony. “What are you going to do with it, Philip?” asked Miss Cockermuth, as he brought it down from his room to show her. “I don’t know what yet, Aunt Betty,” said Philip, laughing. “I call it my nest-egg.”

He carried the little black box (the sixty guineas quite filled it), back to his chamber and put it back into one of the pigeon-holes of the old-fashioned bureau which stood in the room, where he always kept it, and left it there, the bureau locked as usual. After that time, Philip put his spare money, now increased by a salary, into the Old Bank; and it chanced that he did not again look at the ebony box of gold, never supposing but that it was safe in its hiding-place. On the occasion of his marriage some years later, he laughingly remarked to Aunt Betty that he must now take his box of guineas into use; and he went up to fetch it. The box was not there.

Consternation ensued. The family flocked upstairs; the lawyer, Miss Betty, and the captain—who had come to Worcester for the wedding, and was staying in the house—one and all put their hands into the deep, dark pigeon-holes, but failed to find the box. The captain, a hot-tempered man, flew into a passion and swore over it; Miss Betty shed tears; Lawyer Cockermuth, always cool and genial, shrugged his shoulders and absolutely joked. None of them could form the slightest notion as to how the box had gone or who was likely to have taken it, and it had to be given up as a bad job.

Philip was married the next day, and left his uncle’s house for good, having taken one out Barbourne way. Captain Cockermuth felt very sore about the loss of the box, he strode about Worcester talking of it, and swearing that he would send the thief to Botany Bay if he could find him.

A few years more yet, and poor Philip became ill. Ill of the disorder which had carried off his mother—decline. When Captain Cockermuth heard that his son was lying sick, he being (as usual) on his travels, he hastened to Worcester and took up his abode at his brother’s—always his home on these visits. The disease was making very quick progress indeed; it was what is called “rapid decline.” The captain called in all the famed doctors of the town—if they had not been called before: but there was no hope.

The day before Philip died, his father spoke to him about the box of guineas. It had always seemed to the captain that Philip must have, or ought to have, some notion of how it went. And he put the question to him again, solemnly, for the last time.

“Father,” said the dying man—who retained all his faculties and his speech to the very end—“I declare to you that I have none. I have never been able to set up any idea at all upon the loss, or attach suspicion to a soul, living or dead. The two maids were honest; they would not have touched it; the clerks had no opportunity of going upstairs. I had always kept the key safely, and you know that we found the lock of the bureau had not been tampered with.”

Poor Philip died. His widow and four children went to live at a pretty cottage on Malvern Link—upon a hundred pounds a-year, supplied to her by her father-in-law. Mr. Cockermuth added the best part of another hundred. These matters settled, Captain Cockermuth set off on his rovings again, considering himself hardly used by Fate at having his limited income docked of nearly half its value. And yet some more years passed on.

This much has been by way of introduction to what has to come. It was best to give it.

Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson, our neighbours at Dyke Manor, had a whole colony of nephews, what with brothers’ sons and sisters’ sons; of nieces also; batches of them would come over in relays to stay at Elm Farm, which had no children of its own. Samson Dene was the favourite nephew of all; his mother was sister to Mr. Jacobson, his father was dead. Samson Reginald Dene he was christened, but most people called him “Sam.” He had been articled to the gentleman who took to his father’s practice; a lawyer in a village in Oxfordshire. Later, he had gone to a firm in London for a year, had passed, and then came down to his uncle at Elm Farm, asking what he was to do next. For, upon his brother-in-law’s death, Mr. Jacobson had taken upon himself the expenses of Sam, the eldest son.

“Want to know what you are to do now, eh?” cried old Jacobson, who was smoking his evening pipe by the wide fire of the dark-wainscoted, handsome dining-parlour, one evening in February. He was a tall, portly man with a fresh-coloured, healthy face; and not, I dare say, far off sixty years old. “What would you like to do?—what is your own opinion upon it, Sam?”

“I should like to set up in practice for myself, uncle.”

“Oh, indeed! In what quarter of the globe, pray?”

“In Worcester. I have always wished to practise at Worcester. It is the assize town: I don’t care for pettifogging places: one can’t get on in them.”

“You’d like to emerge all at once into a full-blown lawyer there? That’s your notion, is it, Sam?”

Sam made no answer. He knew by the tone his notion was being laughed at.

“No, my lad. When you have been in some good office for another year or two maybe, then you might think about setting-up. The office can be in Worcester if you like.”

“I am hard upon twenty-three, Uncle Jacobson. I have as much knowledge of law as I need.”

“And as much steadiness also, perhaps?” said old Jacobson.

Sam turned as red as the table-cover. He was a frank-looking, slender young fellow of middle height, with fine wavy hair almost a gold colour and worn of a decent length. The present fashion—to be cropped as if you were a prison-bird and to pretend to like it so—was not favoured by gentlemen in those days.

“You may have been acquiring a knowledge of law in London, Sam; I hope you have; but you’ve been kicking up your heels over it. What about those sums of money you’ve more than once got out of your mother?”

Sam’s face was a deeper red than the cloth now. “Did she tell you of it, uncle?” he gasped.

“No, she didn’t; she cares too much for her graceless son to betray him. I chanced to hear of it, though.”

“One has to spend so much in London,” murmured Sam, in lame apology.

“I dare say! In my past days, sir, a young man had to cut his coat according to his cloth. We didn’t rush into all kinds of random games and then go to our fathers or mothers to help us out of them. Which is what you’ve been doing, my gentleman.”

“Does aunt know?” burst out Sam in a fright, as a step was heard on the stairs.

“I’ve not told her,” said Mr. Jacobson, listening—“she is gone on into the kitchen. How much is it that you’ve left owing in London, Sam?”

Sam nearly choked. He did not perceive this was just a random shot: he was wondering whether magic had been at work.

“Left owing in London?” stammered he.

“That’s what I asked. How much? And I mean to know. ‘Twon’t be of any use your fencing about the bush. Come! tell it in a lump.”

“Fifty pounds would cover it all, sir,” said Sam, driven by desperation into the avowal.

“I want the truth, Sam.”

“That is the truth, uncle, I put it all down in a list before leaving London; it comes to just under fifty pounds.”

“How could you be so wicked as to contract it?”

“There has not been much wickedness about it,” said Sam, miserably, “indeed there hasn’t. One gets drawn into expenses unconsciously in the most extraordinary manner up in London. Uncle Jacobson, you may believe me or not, when I say that until I added it up, I did not think it amounted to twenty pounds in all.”

“And then you found it to be fifty! How do you propose to pay this?”

“I intend to send it up by instalments, as I can.”

“Instead of doing which, you’ll get into deeper debt at Worcester. If it’s Worcester you go to.”

“I hope not, uncle. I shall do my best to keep out of debt. I mean to be steady.”

Mr. Jacobson filled a fresh pipe, and lighted it with a spill from the mantelpiece. He did not doubt the young fellow’s intentions; he only doubted his resolution.

“You shall go into some lawyer’s office in Worcester for two years, Sam, when we shall see how things turn out,” said he presently. “And, look here, I’ll pay these debts of yours myself, provided you promise me not to get into trouble again. There, no more”—interrupting Sam’s grateful looks—“your aunt’s coming in.”

Sam opened the door for Mrs. Jacobson. A little pleasant-faced woman in a white net cap, with small flat silver curls under it. She carried a small basket lined with blue silk, in which lay her knitting.

“I’ve been looking to your room, my dear, to see that all’s comfortable for you,” she said to Sam, as she sat down by the table and the candles. “That new housemaid of ours is not altogether to be trusted. I suppose you’ve been telling your uncle all about the wonders of London?”

“And something else, too,” put in old Jacobson gruffly. “He wanted to set up in practice for himself at Worcester: off-hand, red-hot!”

“Oh dear!” said Mrs. Jacobson.

“That’s what the boy wanted, nothing less. No. Another year or two’s work in some good house, to acquire stability and experience, and then he may talk about setting up. It will be all for the best, Sam; trust me.”

“Well, uncle, perhaps it will.” It was of no use for him to say perhaps it won’t: he could not help himself. But it was a disappointment.

Mr. Jacobson walked over to Dyke Manor the next day, to consult the Squire as to the best lawyer to place Sam with, himself suggesting their old friend Cockermuth. He described all Sam’s wild ways (it was how he put it) in that dreadful place, London, and the money he had got out of amidst its snares. The Squire took up the matter with his usual hearty sympathy, and quite agreed that no practitioner in the law could be so good for Sam as John Cockermuth.

John Cockermuth proved to be agreeable. He was getting to be an elderly man then, but was active as ever, saving when a fit of the gout took him. He received young Dene in his usual cheery manner, upon the day appointed for his entrance, and assigned him his place in the office next to Mr. Parslet. Parslet had been there more than twenty years; he was, so to say, at the top and tail of all the work that went on in it, but he was not a qualified solicitor. Samson Dene was qualified, and could therefore represent Mr. Cockermuth before the magistrates and what not: of which the old lawyer expected to find the benefit.

“Where are you going to live?” he questioned of Sam that first morning.

“I don’t know yet, sir. Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson are about the town now, I believe, looking for lodgings for me. Of course they couldn’t let me look; they’d think I should be taken in,” added Sam.

“Taken in and done for,” laughed the lawyer. “I should not wonder but Mr. Parslet could accommodate you. Can you, Parslet?”

Mr. Parslet looked up from his desk, his thin cheeks flushing. He was small and slight, with weak brown hair, and had a patient, sad sort of look in his face and in his meek, dark eyes.

James Parslet was one of those men who are said to spoil their own lives. Left alone early, he was looked after by a bachelor uncle, a minor canon of the cathedral, who perhaps tried to do his duty by him in a mild sort of manner. But young Parslet liked to go his own ways, and they were not very good ways. He did not stay at any calling he was put to, trying first one and then another; either the people got tired of him, or he of them. Money (when he got any) burnt a hole in his pocket, and his coats grew shabby and his boots dirty. “Poor Jamie Parslet! how he has spoilt his life” cried the town, shaking its pitying head at him: and thus things went on till he grew to be nearly thirty years of age. Then, to the public astonishment, Jamie pulled up. He got taken on by Lawyer Cockermuth as copying clerk at twenty shillings a-week, married, and became as steady as Old Time. He had been nothing but steady from that day to this, had forty shillings a-week now, instead of twenty, and was ever a meek, subdued man, as if he carried about with him a perpetual repentance for the past, regret for the life that might have been. He lived in Edgar Street, which is close to the cathedral, as every one knows, Edgar Tower being at the top of it. An old gentleman attached to the cathedral had now lodged in his house for ten years, occupying the drawing-room floor; he had recently died, and hence Lawyer Cockermuth’s suggestion.

Mr. Parslet looked up. “I should be happy to, sir,” he said; “if our rooms suited Mr. Dene. Perhaps he would like to look at them?”

“I will,” said Sam. “If my uncle and aunt do not fix on any for me.”

Is there any subtle mesmeric power, I wonder, that influences things unconsciously? Curious to say, at this very moment Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson were looking at these identical rooms. They had driven into Worcester with Sam very early indeed, so as to have a long day before them, and when breakfast was over at the inn, took the opportunity, which they very rarely got, of slipping into the cathedral to hear the beautiful ten-o’clock service. Coming out the cloister way when it was over, and so down Edgar Street, Mrs. Jacobson espied a card in a window with “Lodgings” on it. “I wonder if they would suit Sam?” she cried to her husband. “Edgar Street is a nice, wide, open street, and quiet. Suppose we look at them?”

A young servant-maid, called by her mistress “Sally,” answered the knock. Mrs. Parslet, a capable, bustling woman of ready speech and good manners, came out of the parlour, and took the visitors to the floor above. They liked the rooms and they liked Mrs. Parslet; they also liked the moderate rent asked, for respectable country people in those days did not live by shaving one another; and when it came out that the house’s master had been clerk to Lawyer Cockermuth for twenty years, they settled the matter off-hand, without the ceremony of consulting Sam. Mrs. Jacobson looked upon Sam as a boy still. Mr. Jacobson might have done the same but for the debts made in London.

And all this, you will say, has been yet more explanation; but I could not help it. The real thing begins now, with Sam Dene’s sojourn in Mr. Cockermuth’s office, and his residence in Edgar Street.

The first Sunday of his stay there, Sam went out to attend the morning service in the cathedral, congratulating himself that that grand edifice stood so conveniently near, and looking, it must be confessed, a bit of a dandy, for he had put a little bunch of spring violets into his coat, and “button-holes” were quite out of the common way then. The service began with the Litany, the earlier service of prayers being held at eight o’clock. Sam Dene has not yet forgotten that day, for it is no imaginary person I am telling you of, and never will forget it. The Reverend Allen Wheeler chanted, and the prebendary in residence (Somers Cocks) preached. While wondering when the sermon (a very good one) would be over, and thinking it rather prosy, after the custom of young men, Sam’s roving gaze was drawn to a young lady sitting in the long seat opposite to him on the other side of the choir, whose whole attention appeared to be given to the preacher, to whom her head was turned. It is a nice face, thought Sam; such a sweet expression in it. It really was a nice face, rather pretty, gentle and thoughtful, a patient look in the dark brown eyes. She had on a well-worn dark silk, and a straw bonnet; all very quiet and plain; but she looked very much of a lady. Wonder if she sits there always? thought Sam.

Service over, he went home, and was about to turn the handle of the door to enter (looking another way) when he found it turned for him by some one who was behind and had stretched out a hand to do it. Turning quickly, he saw the same young lady.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Sam, all at sea; “did you wish to come in here?”

“If you please,” she answered—and her voice was sweet and her manner modest.

“Oh,” repeated Sam, rather taken aback at the answer. “You did not want me, did you?”

“Thank you, it is my home,” she said.

“Your home?” stammered Sam, for he had not seen the ghost of any one in the house yet, saving his landlord and landlady and Sally. “Here?”

“Yes. I am Maria Parslet.”

He stood back to let her enter; a slender, gentle girl of middle height; she looked about eighteen, Sam thought (she was that and two years on to it), and he wondered where she had been hidden. He had to go out again, for he was invited to dine at Lawyer Cockermuth’s, so he saw no more of the young lady that day; but she kept dancing about in his memory. And somehow she so fixed herself in it, and as the time went on so grew in it, and at last so filled it, that Sam may well hold that day as a marked day—the one that introduced him to Maria Parslet. But that is anticipating.

On the Monday morning all his ears and eyes were alert, listening and looking for Maria. He did not see her; he did not hear a sound of her. By degrees he got to learn that the young lady was resident teacher in a lady’s school hard by; and that she was often allowed to spend the whole day at home on Sundays. One Sunday evening he ingeniously got himself invited to take tea in Mrs. Parslet’s parlour, and thus became acquainted with Maria; but his opportunities for meeting her were rare.

There’s not much to tell of the first twelvemonth. It passed in due course. Sam Dene was fairly steady. He made a few debts, as some young men, left to themselves, can’t help making—at least, they’d tell you they can’t. Sundry friends of Sam’s in Worcester knew of this, and somehow it reached Mr. Cockermuth’s ears, who gave Sam a word of advice privately.

This was just as the first year expired. According to agreement, Sam had another year to stay. He entered upon it with inward gloom. On adding up his scores, which he deemed it as well to do after his master’s lecture, he again found that they amounted to far more than he had thought for, and how he should contrive to pay them out of his own resources he knew no more than the man in the moon. In short, he could not do it; he was in a fix; and lived in perpetual dread of its coming to the ears of his uncle Jacobson.


The spring assize, taking place early in March, was just over; the judges had left the town for Stafford, and Worcester was settling down again to quietness. Miss Cockermuth gave herself and her two handmaidens a week’s rest—assize time being always a busy and bustling period at the lawyer’s, no end of chance company looking in-and then the house began its spring cleaning, a grand institution with our good grandmothers, often lasting a couple of weeks. This time, at the lawyer’s house, it was to be a double bustle; for visitors were being prepared for.

It had pleased Captain Cockermuth to write word that he should be at home for Easter; upon which, the lawyer and his sister decided to invite Philip’s widow and her children also to spend it with them; they knew Charles would be pleased. Easter–Day was very early indeed that year, falling at the end of March.

To make clearer what’s coming, the house had better have a word or two of description. You entered from the street into a wide passage; no steps. On the left was the parlour and general sitting-room, in which all meals were usually taken. It was a long, low room, its two rather narrow windows looking upon the street, the back of the room being a little dark. Opposite the door was the fireplace. On the other side the passage, facing the parlour-door, was the door that opened to the two rooms (one front, one back) used as the lawyer’s offices. The kitchens and staircase were at the back of the passage, a garden lying beyond; and there was a handsome drawing-room on the first floor, not much used.

The house, I say, was in a commotion with the spring cleaning, and the other preparations. To accommodate so many visitors required contrivance: a bedroom for the captain, a bedroom for his daughter-in-law, two bedrooms for the children. Mistress and maids held momentous consultations together.

“We have decided to put the three little girls in Philip’s old room, John,” said Miss Betty to her brother, as they sat in the parlour after dinner on the Monday evening of the week preceding Passion Week; “and little Philip can have the small room off mine. We shall have to get in a child’s bed, though; I can’t put the three little girls in one bed; they might get fighting. John, I do wish you’d sell that old bureau for what it will fetch.”

“Sell the old bureau!” exclaimed Mr. Cockermuth.

“I’m sure I should. What good does it do? Unless that bureau goes out of the room, we can’t put the extra bed in. I’ve been in there half the day with Susan and Ann, planning and contriving, and we find it can’t be done any way. Do let Ward take it away, John; there’s no place for it in the other chambers. He’d give you a fair price for it, I dare say.”

Miss Betty had never cared for this piece of furniture, thinking it more awkward than useful: she looked eagerly at her brother, awaiting his decision. She was the elder of the two; tall, like him; but whilst he maintained his thin, wiry form, just the shape of an upright gas-post with arms, she had grown stout with no shape at all. Miss Betty had dark, thick eyebrows and an amiable red face. She wore a “front” of brown curls with a high and dressy cap perched above it. This evening her gown was of soft twilled shot-green silk, a white net kerchief was crossed under its body, and she had on a white muslin apron.

“I don’t mind,” assented the lawyer, as easy in disposition as Miss Betty was; “it’s of no use keeping it that I know of. Send for Ward and ask him, if you like, Betty.”

Ward, a carpenter and cabinet-maker, who had a shop in the town and sometimes bought second-hand things, was sent for by Miss Betty on the following morning; and he agreed, after some chaffering, to buy the old bureau. It was the bureau from which Philip’s box of gold had disappeared—but I dare say you have understood that. In the midst of all this stir and clatter, just as Ward betook himself away after concluding the negotiation, and the maids were hard at work above stairs with mops and pails and scrubbing-brushes, the first advance-guard of the visitors unexpectedly walked in: Captain Cockermuth.

Miss Betty sat down in an access of consternation. She could do nothing but stare. He had not been expected for a week yet; there was nothing ready and nowhere to put him.

“I wish you’d take to behaving like a rational being, Charles!” she exclaimed. “We are all in a mess; the rooms upside down, and the bedside carpets hanging out at the windows.”

Captain Cockermuth said he did not care for bedside carpets, he could sleep anywhere—on the brewhouse-bench, if she liked. He quite approved of selling the old bureau, when told it was going to be done.

Ward had appointed five o’clock that evening to fetch it away. They were about to sit down to dinner when he came, five o’clock being the hour for late dinners then in ordinary life. Ward had brought a man with him and they went upstairs.

Miss Betty, as carver, sat at the top of the dining-table, her back to the windows, the lawyer in his place at the foot, Charles between them, facing the fire. Miss Betty was cutting off the first joint of a loin of veal when the bureau was heard coming down the staircase, with much bumping and noise.

Mr. Cockermuth stepped out of the dining-room to look on. The captain followed: being a sociable man with his fellow-townspeople, he went to ask Ward how he did.

The bureau came down safely, and was lodged at the foot of the stairs; the man wiped his hot face, while Ward spoke with Captain Cockermuth. It seemed quite a commotion in the usual quiet dwelling. Susan, a jug of ale in her hand, which she had been to the cellar to draw, stood looking on from the passage; Mr. Dene and a younger clerk, coming out of the office just then to leave for the evening, turned to look on also.

“I suppose there’s nothing in here, sir?” cried Ward, returning to business and the bureau.

“Nothing, I believe,” replied Mr. Cockermuth.

“Nothing at all,” called out Miss Betty through the open parlour-door. “I emptied the drawers this morning.”

Ward, a cautious man and honest, drew back the lid and put his hand in succession into the pigeon-holes; which had not been used since Philip’s time. There were twelve of them; three above, and three below on each side, and a little drawer that locked in the middle. “Halloa!” cried Ward, when his hand was in the depth of one of them: “here’s something.”

And he drew forth the lost box. The little ebony box with all the gold in it.

Well now, that was a strange thing. Worcester thinks so, those people who are still living to remember it, to this day. How it was that the box had appeared to be lost and was searched for in vain over and over again, by poor Philip and others; and how it was that it was now recovered in this easy and natural manner, was never explained or accounted for. Ward’s opinion was that the box must have been put in, side upwards, that it had in some way stuck to the back of the deep, narrow pigeon-hole, which just about held the box in width, that those who had searched took the box for the back of the hole when their fingers touched it and that the bumping of the bureau now in coming downstairs had dislodged the box and brought it forward. As a maker of bureaus, Ward’s opinion was listened to with deference. Any way, it was a sort of theory, serving passably well in the absence of any other. But who knew? All that was certain about it was the fact; the loss and the recovery after many years. It happened just as here described, as I have already said.

Sam Dene had never heard of the loss. Captain Cockermuth, perfectly beside himself with glee, explained it to him. Sam laughed as he touched with his forefinger the closely packed golden guineas, lying there so snug and safe, offered his congratulations, and walked home to tea.

It chanced that on that especial Tuesday evening, matters were at sixes and sevens in the Parslets’ house. Sally had misbehaved herself and was discharged in consequence; and the servant engaged in her place, who was to have entered that afternoon, had not made her appearance. When Sam entered, Maria came out of the parlour, a pretty blush upon her face. And to Sam the unexpected sight of her, it was not often he got a chance of it, and the blush and the sweet eyes came like a gleam of Eden, for he had grown to love her dearly. Not that he had owned it to himself yet.

Maria explained. Her school had broken up for the Easter holidays earlier than it ought, one of the girls showing symptoms of measles; and her mother had gone out to see what had become of the new servant, leaving a request that Mr. Dene would take his tea with them in the parlour that evening, as there was no one to wait on him.

Nothing loth, you may be sure, Mr. Dene accepted the invitation, running up to wash his hands, and give a look at his hair, and running down in a trice. The tea-tray stood in readiness on the parlour table, Maria sitting behind it. Perhaps she had given a look at her hair, for it was quite more lovely, Sam thought, more soft and silken than any hair he had ever seen. The little copper kettle sang away on the hob by the fire.

“Will papa be long, do you know?” began Maria demurely, feeling shy and conscious at being thus thrown alone into Sam’s company. “I had better not make the tea until he comes in.”

“I don’t know at all,” answered Sam. “He went out on some business for Mr. Cockermuth at half-past four, and was not back when I left. Such a curious thing has just happened up there, Miss Parslet!”

“Indeed! What is it?”

Sam entered on the narrative. Maria, who knew all about the strange loss of the box, grew quite excited as she listened. “Found!” she exclaimed. “Found in the same bureau! And all the golden guineas in it!”

“Every one,” said Sam: “as I take it. They were packed right up to the top!”

“Oh, what a happy thing!” repeated Maria, in a fervent tone that rather struck Sam, and she clasped her fingers into one another, as one sometimes does in pleasure or in pain.

“Why do you say that, Miss Parslet?”

“Because papa—but I do not think I ought to tell you,” added Maria, breaking off abruptly.

“Oh yes, you may. I am quite safe, even if it’s a secret. Please do.”

“Well,” cried the easily persuaded girl, “papa has always had an uncomfortable feeling upon him ever since the loss. He feared that some people, knowing he was not well off, might think perhaps it was he who had stolen upstairs and taken it.”

Sam laughed at that.

“He has never said so, but somehow we have seen it, my mother and I. It was altogether so mysterious a loss, you see, affording no clue as to when it occurred, that people were ready to suspect anything, however improbable. Oh, I am thankful it is found!”

The kettle went on singing, the minutes went on flitting, and still nobody came. Six o’clock struck out from the cathedral as Mr. Parslet entered. Had the two been asked the time, they might have said it was about a quarter-past five. Golden hours fly quickly; fly on angels’ wings.

Now it chanced that whilst they were at tea, a creditor of Sam’s came to the door, one Jonas Badger. Sam went to him: and the colloquy that ensued might be heard in the parlour. Mr. Badger said (in quite a fatherly way) that he really could not be put off any longer with promises; if his money was not repaid to him before Easter he should be obliged to take steps about it, should write to Mr. Jacobson, of Elm Farm, to begin with. Sam returned to the tea-table with a wry face.

Soon after that, Mrs. Parslet came in, the delinquent servant in her rear. Next, a friend of Sam’s called, Austin Chance, whose father was a solicitor in good practice in the town. The two young men, who were very intimate and often together, went up to Sam’s room above.

“I say, my good young friend,” began Chance, in a tone that might be taken for jest or earnest, “don’t you go and get into any entanglement in that quarter.”

“What d’you mean now?” demanded Sam, turning the colour of the rising sun.

“I mean Maria Parslet,” said Austin Chance, laughing. “She’s a deuced nice girl; I know that; just the one a fellow might fall in love with unawares. But it wouldn’t do, Dene.”

“Why wouldn’t it do?”

“Oh, come now, Sam, you know it wouldn’t. Parslet is only a working clerk at Cockermuth’s.”

“I should like to know what has put the thought in your head?” contended Sam. “You had better put it out again. I’ve never told you I was falling in love with her; or told herself, either. Mrs. Parslet would be about me, I expect, if I did. She looks after her as one looks after gold.”

“Well, I found you in their room, having tea with them, and——”

“It was quite an accident; an exceptional thing,” interrupted Sam.

“Well,” repeated Austin, “you need not put your back up, old fellow; a friendly warning does no harm. Talking of gold, Dene, I’ve done my best to get up the twenty pounds you wanted to borrow of me, and I can’t do it. I’d let you have it with all my heart if I could; but I find I am harder up than I thought for.”

Which was all true. Chance was as good-natured a young man as ever lived, but at this early stage of his life he made more debts than he could pay.

“Badger has just been here, whining and covertly threatening,” said Sam. “I am to pay up in a week, or he’ll make me pay—and tell my uncle, he says, to begin with.”

“Hypocritical old skinflint!” ejaculated Chance, himself sometimes in the hands of Mr. Badger—a worthy gentleman who did a little benevolent usury in a small and quiet way, and took his delight in accommodating safe young men. A story was whispered that young M., desperately hard-up, borrowed two pounds from him one Saturday night, undertaking to repay it, with two pounds added on for interest, that day month; and when the day came and M. had not got the money, or was at all likely to get it, he carried off a lot of his mother’s plate under his coat to the pawnbroker’s.

“And there’s more besides Badger’s that is pressing,” went on Dene. “I must get money from somewhere, or it will play the very deuce with me. I wonder whether Charley Hill could lend me any?”

“Don’t much think so. You might ask him. Money seems scarce with Hill always. Has a good many ways for it, I fancy.”

“Talking of money, Chance, a lot has been found at Cockermuth’s today. A boxful of guineas that has been lost for years.”

Austin Chance stared. “You don’t mean that box of guineas that mysteriously disappeared in Philip’s time?”

“Well, they say so. It is a small, round box of carved ebony, and it is stuffed to the brim with old guineas. Sixty of them, I hear.”

“I can’t believe it’s true; that that’s found.”

“Not believe it’s true, Chance! Why, I saw it. Saw the box found, and touched the guineas with my fingers. It has been hidden in an old bureau all the time,” added Sam, and he related the particulars of the discovery.

“What an extraordinary thing!” exclaimed young Chance: “the queerest start I ever heard of.” And he fell to musing.

But the “queer start,” as Mr. Austin Chance was pleased to designate the resuscitation of the box, did not prove to be a lucky one.

2.

The sun shone brightly on Foregate Street, but did not yet touch the front-windows on Lawyer Cockermuth’s side of it. Miss Betty Cockermuth sat near one of them in the parlour, spectacles on nose, and hard at work unpicking the braid off some very old woollen curtains, green once, but now faded to a sort of dingy brown. It was Wednesday morning, the day following the wonderful event of finding the box, lost so long, full of its golden guineas. In truth nobody thought of it as anything less than marvellous.

The house-cleaning, in preparation for Easter and Easter’s visitors, was in full flow today, and would be for more than a week to come; the two maids were hard at it above. Ward, who did not disdain to labour with his own hands, was at the house, busy at some mysterious business in the brewhouse, coat off, shirt-sleeves stripped up to elbow, plunging at that moment something or other into the boiling water of the furnace.

“How I could have let them remain up so long in this state, I can’t think,” said Miss Betty to herself, arresting her employment, scissors in hand, to regard the dreary curtains. She had drawn the table towards her from the middle of the room, and the heavy work was upon it. Susan came in to impart some domestic news.

“Ward says there’s a rare talk in the town about the finding of that box, missis,” cried she, when she had concluded it. “My! how bad them curtains look, now they’re down!”

Servants were on more familiar terms with their mistresses in those days without meaning, or showing, any disrespect; identifying themselves, as it were, with the family and its interests. Susan, a plump, red-cheeked young woman turned thirty, had been housemaid in her present place for seven years. She had promised a baker’s head man to marry him, but never could be got to fix the day. In winter she’d say to him, “Wait till summer;” and when summer came, she’d say, “Wait till winter.” Miss Betty commended her prudence.

“Yes,” said she now, in answer to the girl, “I’ve been wondering how we could have kept them up so long; they are not fit for much, I’m afraid, save the ragbag. Chintz will make the room look much nicer.”

As Susan left the parlour, Captain Cockermuth entered it, a farmer with him who had come in from Hallow to the Wednesday’s market. The captain’s delighted excitement at the finding of the box had not at all subsided; he had dreamt of it, he talked of it, he pinned every acquaintance he could pick up this morning and brought him in to see the box of gold. Independently of its being a very great satisfaction to have had the old mysterious loss cleared up, the sixty guineas would be a huge boon to the captain’s pocket.

“But how was it that none of you ever found it, if it remained all this while in the pigeon-hole?” cried the wondering farmer, bending over the little round box of guineas, which the captain placed upon the table open, the lid by its side.

“Well, we didn’t find it, that’s all I know; or poor Philip, either,” said Captain Cockermuth.

The farmer took his departure. As the captain was showing him to the front-door, another gentleman came hustling in. It was Thomas Chance the lawyer, father of the young man who had been the previous night with Samson Dene. He and Lawyer Cockermuth were engaged together just then in some complicated, private, and very disagreeable business, each acting for a separate client, who were the defendants against a great wrong—or what they thought was one.

“Come in, Chance, and take a look at my box of guineas, resuscitated from the grave,” cried the captain, joyously. “You can go into the office to John afterwards.”

“Well, I’ve hardly time this morning,” answered Mr. Chance, turning, though, into the parlour and shaking hands with Miss Betty. “Austin told me it was found.”

Now it happened that Lawyer Cockermuth came then into the parlour himself, to get something from his private desk-table which stood there. When the box had been discussed, Mr. Chance took a letter from his pocket and placed it in his brother practitioner’s hands.

“What do you think of that?” he asked. “I got it by post this morning.”

“Think! why, that it is of vital importance,” said Mr. Cockermuth when he had read it.

“Yes; no doubt of that. But what is to be our next move in answer to it?” asked the other.

Seeing they were plunging into business, the captain strolled away to the front-door, which stood open all day, for the convenience of those coming to the office, and remained there whistling, his hands in his pockets, on the look out for somebody else to bring in. He had put the lid on the box of guineas, and left the box on the table.

“I should like to take a copy of this letter,” said Mr. Cockermuth to the other lawyer.

“Well, you can take it,” answered Chance. “Mind who does it, though—Parslet, or somebody else that’s confidential. Don’t let it go into the office.”

“You are wanted, sir,” said Mr. Dene, from the door.

“Who is it?” asked his master.

“Mr. Chamberlain. He says he is in a hurry.”

“I’m coming. Here, Dene!” he called out as the latter was turning away: and young Dene came back again.

“Sit down here, now, and take a copy of this letter,” cried the lawyer, rapidly drawing out and opening the little writing-desk table that stood against the wall at the back of the room. “Here’s pen, ink and paper, all ready: the letter is confidential, you perceive.”

He went out of the room as he spoke, Mr. Chance with him; and Sam Dene sat down to commence his task, after exchanging a few words with Miss Betty, with whom he was on good terms.

“Charles makes as much fuss over this little box as if it were filled with diamonds from Golconda, instead of guineas,” remarked she, pointing with her scissors to the box, which stood near her on the table, to direct the young man’s attention to it. “I don’t know how many folks he has not brought in already to have a look at it.”

“Well, it was a capital find, Miss Betty; one to be proud of,” answered Sam, settling to his work.

For some little time nothing was heard but the scratching of Mr. Dene’s pen and the clicking of Miss Betty’s scissors. Her task was nearing completion. A few minutes more, and the last click was given, the last bit of the braid was off. “And I’m glad of it,” cried she aloud, flinging the end of the curtain on the top of the rest.

“This braid will do again for something or other,” considered Miss Betty, as she began to wind it upon an old book. “It was put on fresh only three or four years ago. Well brushed, it will look almost like new.”

Again Susan opened the door. “Miss Betty, here’s the man come with the chintz: five or six rolls of it for you to choose from,” cried she. “Shall he come in here?”

Miss Betty was about to say Yes, but stopped and said No, instead. The commotion of holding up the chintzes to the light, to judge of their different merits, might disturb Mr. Dene; and she knew better than to interrupt business.

“Let him take them to the room where they are to hang, Susan; we can judge best there.”

Tossing the braid to Susan, who stood waiting at the door, Miss Betty hastily took up her curtains, and Susan held the door open for her mistress to pass through.

Choosing chintz for window-curtains takes some time; as everybody knows whose fancy is erratic. And how long Miss Betty and Susan and the young man from the chintz-mart had been doubting and deciding and doubting again, did not quite appear, when Captain Cockermuth’s voice was heard ascending from below.

“Betty! Are you upstairs, Betty?”

“Yes, I’m here,” she called back, crossing to the door to speak. “Do you want me, Charles?”

“Where have you put the box?”

“What box?”

“The box of guineas.”

“It is on the table.”

“It is not on the table. I can’t see it anywhere.”

“It was on the table when I left the parlour. I did not touch it. Ask Mr. Dene where it is: I left him there.”

“Mr. Dene’s not here. I wish you’d come down.”

“Very well; I’ll come in a minute or two,” concluded Miss Betty, going back to the chintzes.

“Why, I saw that box on the table as I shut the door after you had come out, ma’am,” observed Susan, who had listened to the colloquy.

“So did I,” said Miss Betty; “it was the very last thing my eyes fell on. If young Mr. Dene finished what he was about and left the parlour, I dare say he put the box up somewhere for safety. I think, Susan, we must fix upon this light pea-green with the rosebuds running up it. It matches the paper: and the light coming through it takes quite a nice shade.”

A little more indecision yet; and yet a little more, as to whether the curtains should be lined, or not, and then Miss Cockermuth went downstairs. The captain was pacing the passage to and fro impatiently.

“Now then, Betty, where’s my box?”

“But how am I to know where the box is, Charles, if it’s not on the table?” she remonstrated, turning into the parlour, where two friends of the captain’s waited to be regaled with the sight of the recovered treasure. “I had to go upstairs with the young man who brought the chintzes; and I left the box here”—indicating the exact spot on the table. “It was where you left it yourself. I did not touch it at all.”

She shook hands with the visitors. Captain Cockermuth looked gloomy—as if he were at sea and had lost his reckoning.

“If you had to leave the room, why didn’t you put the box up?” asked he. “A boxful of guineas shouldn’t be left alone in an empty room.”

“But Mr. Dene was in the room; he sat at the desk there, copying a letter for John. As to why didn’t I put the box up, it was not my place to do so that I know of. You were about yourself, Charles—only at the front-door, I suppose.”

Captain Cockermuth was aware that he had not been entirely at the front-door. Two or three times he had crossed over to hold a chat with acquaintances on the other side the way; had strolled with one of them nearly up to Salt Lane and back. Upon catching hold of these two gentlemen, now brought in, he had found the parlour empty of occupants and the box not to be seen.

“Well, this is a nice thing—that a man can’t put his hand upon his own property when he wants to, or hear where it is!” grumbled he. “And what business on earth had Dene to meddle with the box?”

“To put it in safety—if he did meddle with it, and a sensible thing to do,” retorted Miss Betty, who did not like to be scolded unjustly. “Just like you, Charles, making a fuss over nothing! Why don’t you go and ask young Dene where it is?”

“Young Dene is not in. And John’s not in. Nobody is in but Parslet; and he does not know anything about it. I must say, Betty, you manage the house nicely!” concluded the captain ironically, giving way to his temper.

This was, perhaps the reader may think, commotion enough “over nothing,” as Miss Betty put it. But it was not much as compared with the commotion which set in later. When Mr. Cockermuth came in, he denied all knowledge of it, and Sam Dene was impatiently waited for.

It was past two o’clock when he returned, for he had been home to dinner. The good-looking young fellow turned in at the front-door with a fleet step, and encountered Captain Cockermuth, who attacked him hotly, demanding what he had done with the box.

“Ah,” said Sam, lightly and coolly, “Parslet said you were looking for it.” Mr. Parslet had in fact mentioned it at home over his dinner.

“Well, where is it?” said the captain. “Where did you put it?”

“I?” cried young Dene. “Not anywhere. Should I be likely to touch the box, sir? I saw the box on that table while I was copying a letter for Mr. Cockermuth; that’s all I know of it.”

The captain turned red, and pale, and red again. “Do you mean to tell me to my face, Mr. Dene, that the box is gone?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Sam in the easiest of all easy tones. “It seems to be gone.”

The box was gone. Gone once more with all its golden guineas. It could not be found anywhere; in the house or out of the house, upstairs or down. The captain searched frantically, the others helped him, but no trace of it could be found.

At first it was impossible to believe it. That this self-same box should mysteriously have vanished a second time, seemed to be too marvellous for fact. But it was true.

Nobody would admit a share in the responsibility. The captain left the box safe amidst (as he put it) a roomful of people: Miss Betty considered that she left it equally safe, with Mr. Dene seated at the writing-table, and the captain dodging (as she put it) in and out. Mr. Cockermuth had not entered the parlour since he left it, when called to Mr. Chamberlain, with whom he had gone out. Sam Dene reiterated that he had not meddled with the box; no, nor thought about it.

Sam’s account, briefly given, was this. After finishing copying the letter, he closed the little table-desk and pushed it back to its place against the wall, and had carried the letter and the copy into the office. Finding Mr. Cockermuth was not there, he locked them up in his own desk, having to go to the Guildhall upon some business. The business there took up some time, in fact until past one o’clock, and he then went home to dinner.

“And did you consider it right, Sam Dene, to leave a valuable box like that on the table, unguarded?” demanded Captain Cockermuth, as they all stood together in the parlour, after questioning Sam; and the captain had been looking so fierce and speaking so sharply that it might be thought he was taking Sam for the thief, off-hand.

“To tell the truth, captain, I never thought of the box,” answered Sam. “I might not have noticed that the box was in the room at all but for Miss Betty’s drawing my attention to it. After that, I grew so much interested in the letter I was copying (for I know all about the cause, as Mr. Cockermuth is aware, and it was curious news) that I forgot everything else.”

Lawyer Cockermuth nodded to confirm this. The captain went on.

“Betty drew your attention to it, did she? Why did she draw it? In what way?”

“Well, she remarked that you made as much fuss over that box as if it were filled with diamonds,” replied the young man, glad to pay out the captain for his angry and dictatorial tone. But the captain was in truth beginning to entertain a very ominous suspicion.

“Do you wish to deny, Samson Dene, that my sister Betty left that box on the table when she quitted the room?”

“Why, who does?” cried Sam. “When Miss Betty says she left the box on the table, of course she did leave it. She must know. Susan, it seems, also saw that it was left there.”

“And you could see that box of guineas standing stark staring on the table, and come out of the room and leave it to its fate!” foamed the captain. “Instead of giving me a call to say nobody was on guard here!”

“I didn’t see it,” returned Sam. “There’s no doubt it was there, but I did not see it. I never looked towards the table as I came out, that I know of. The table, as I dare say you remember, was not in its usual place; it was up there by the window. The box had gone clean out of my thoughts.”

“Well, Mr. Dene, my impression is that you have got the box,” cried the angry captain.

“Oh, is it!” returned Sam, with supreme good humour, and just the least suspicion of a laugh. “A box like that would be uncommonly useful to me.”

“I expect, young man, the guineas would!”

“Right you are, captain.”

But Captain Cockermuth regarded this mocking pleasantry as particularly ill-timed. He believed the young man was putting it on to divert suspicion from himself.

“Who did take the box?” questioned he. “Tell me that.”

“I wish I could, sir.”

“How could the box vanish off the table unless it was taken, I ask you?”

“That’s a puzzling question,” coolly rejoined Sam. “It was too heavy for the rats, I expect.”

“Oh dear, but we have no rats in the house,” cried Miss Betty. “I wish we had, I’m sure—and could find the box in their holes.” She was feeling tolerably uncomfortable. Placid and easy in a general way, serious worry always upset her considerably.

Captain Cockermuth’s suspicions were becoming certainties. The previous night, when his brother had been telling him various items of news of the old town, as they sat confidentially over the fire after Miss Betty had gone up to bed, Mr. Cockermuth chanced to mention the fact that young Dene had been making a few debts. Not speaking in any ill-natured spirit, quite the contrary, for he liked the young man amazingly. Only a few, he continued; thoughtless young men would do so; and he had given him a lecture. And then he laughingly added the information that Mr. Jacobson had imparted to him twelve months ago, in their mutual friendship—of the debts Sam had made in London.

No sensible person can be surprised that Charles Cockermuth recalled this now. It rankled in his mind. Had Sam Dene taken the box of guineas to satisfy these debts contracted during the past year at Worcester? It looked like it. And the longer the captain dwelt on it, the more and more likely it grew to look.

All the afternoon the search was kept up by the captain. Not an individual article in the parlour but was turned inside out; he wanted to have the carpet up. His brother and Sam Dene had returned to their work in the office as usual. The captain was getting to feel like a raging bear; three times Miss Betty had to stop him in a dreadful fit of swearing; and when dinner-time came he could not eat. It was a beautiful slice of Severn salmon, which had its price, I can tell you, in Worcester then, and minced veal, and a jam tart, all of which dishes Charles Cockermuth especially favoured. But the loss of the sixty guineas did away with his appetite. Mr. Cockermuth, who took the loss very coolly, laughed at him.

The laughing did not mend the captain’s temper: neither did the hearing that Sam Dene had departed for home as usual at five o’clock. Had Sam been innocent, he would at least have come to the parlour and inquired whether the box was found, instead of sneaking off home to tea.

Fretting and fuming, raging and stamping, disturbing the parlour’s peace and his own, strode Charles Cockermuth. His good-humoured brother John bore it for an hour or two, and then told him he might as well go outside and stamp on the pavement for a bit.

“I will,” said Charles. Catching up his hat, saying nothing to anybody, he strode off to see the sergeant of police—Dutton—and laid the case concisely before him: The box of guineas was on the table where his sister sat at work; her work being at one end, the box at the other. Sam Dene was also in the room, copying a letter at the writing-table. Miss Betty was called upstairs; she went, leaving the box on the table. It was the last thing she saw as she left the room; the servant, who had come to call her, also saw it standing there. Presently young Dene also left the room and the house; and from that moment the box was never seen.

“What do you make of that, Mr. Dutton?” summed up Captain Cockermuth.

“Am I to understand that no other person entered the room after Mr. Dene quitted it?” inquired the sergeant.

“Not a soul. I can testify to that myself.”

“Then it looks as though Mr. Dene must have taken the box.”

“Just so,” assented the complainant, triumphantly. “And I shall give him into custody for stealing it.”

Mr. Dutton considered. His judgment was cool; the captain’s hot. He thought there might be ins and outs in this affair that had not yet come to the surface. Besides that, he knew young Dene, and did not much fancy him the sort of individual likely to do a thing of this kind.

“Captain Cockermuth,” said he, “I think it might be best for me to come up to the house and see a bit into the matter personally, before proceeding to extreme measures. We experienced officers have a way of turning up scraps of evidence that other people would never look at. Perhaps, after all, the box is only mislaid.”

“But I tell you it’s lost,” said the captain. “Clean gone. Can’t be found high or low.”

“Well, if that same black box is lost again, I can only say it is the oddest case I ever heard of. One would think the box had a demon inside it.”

“No, sergeant, you are wrong there. The demon’s inside him that took it. Listen while I whisper something in your ear—that young Dene is over head and ears in debt: he has debts here, debts there, debts everywhere. For some little time now, as I chance to know, he has been at his very wits’ end to think where or how he could pick up some money to satisfy the most pressing; fit to die of fear, lest they should travel to the knowledge of his uncle at Elm Farm.”

Is it so?” exclaimed Mr. Dutton, severely. And his face changed, and his opinion also. “Are you sure of this, sir?”

“Well, my informant was my brother; so you may judge whether it is likely to be correct or not,” said the captain. “But, if you think it best to make some inquiries at the house, come with me now and do so.”

They walked to Foregate together. The sergeant looked a little at the features of the parlour, where the loss had taken place, and heard what Miss Betty had to say, and questioned Susan. This did not help the suspicion thrown on Sam Dene, saving in one point—their joint testimony that he and the box were left alone in the room together.

Mr. Cockermuth had gone out, so the sergeant did not see him: but, as he was not within doors when the loss occurred, he could not have aided the investigation in any way.

“Well, Dutton, what do you think now?” asked Captain Cockermuth, strolling down the street with the sergeant when he departed.

“I confess my visit has not helped me much,” said Dutton, a slow-speaking man, given to be cautious. “If nobody entered the room between the time when Miss Cockermuth left it and you entered it, why then, sir, there’s only young Dene to fall back upon.”

“I tell you nobody did enter it,” cried the choleric captain; “or could, without my seeing them. I stood at the front-door. Ward was busy at the house that morning, dodging perpetually across the top of the passage, between the kitchen and brewhouse: he, too, is sure no stranger could have come in without being seen by him.”

“Did you see young Dene leave the room, sir?”

“I did. Hearing somebody come out of the parlour, I looked round and saw it was young Dene with some papers in his hand. He went into the office for a minute or two, and then passed me, remarking, with all the impudence in life, that he was going to the town hall. He must have had my box in his pocket then.”

“A pity but you had gone into the parlour at once, captain,” remarked the sergeant. “If only to put the box in safety—provided it was there.”

“But I thought it was safe. I thought my sister was there. I did go in almost directly.”

“And you never stirred from the door—from first to last?”

“I don’t say that. When I first stood there I strolled about a little, talking with one person and another. But I did not stir from the door after I saw Sam Dene leave the parlour. And I do not think five minutes elapsed before I went in. Not more than five, I am quite certain. What are you thinking about, Dutton?—you don’t seem to take me.”

“I take you well enough, sir, and all you say. But what is puzzling me in the matter is this; strikes me as strange, in fact: that Mr. Dene should do the thing (allowing that he has done it) in so open and barefaced a manner, laying himself open to immediate suspicion. Left alone in the room with the box by Miss Betty, he must know that if, when he left it, the box vanished with him, only one inference would be drawn. Most thieves exercise some caution.”

“Not when they are as hard up as Dene is. Impudence with them is the order of the day, and often carries luck with it. Nothing risk, nothing win, they cry, and they do risk—and win. Dene has got my box, sergeant.”

“Well, sir, it looks dark against him; almost too dark; and if you decide to give him into custody, of course we have only to—— Good-evening, Badger!”

They had strolled as far as the Cross, and were standing on the wide pavement in front of St. Nicholas’ Church, about to part, when that respectable gentleman, Jonas Badger, passed by. A thought struck the captain. He knew the man was a money-lender in a private way.

“Here, Badger, stop a minute,” he hastily cried. “I want to ask you a question about young Dene—my brother’s clerk, you know. Does he owe you money?—Much?”

Mr. Badger, wary by nature and by habit, glanced first at the questioner and then at the police-sergeant, and did not answer. Whereupon Captain Cockermuth, as an excuse for his curiosity, plunged into the history of what had occurred: the finding of the box of guineas yesterday and the losing it again today, and the doubt of Sam.

Mr. Badger listened with interest; for the news of that marvellous find had not yet reached his ears. He had been shut up in his office all the morning, very busy over his account-books; and in the afternoon had walked over to Kempsey, where he had a client or two, getting back only in time for tea.

“That long-lost box of guineas come to light at last!” he exclaimed. “What an extraordinary thing! And Mr. Dene is suspected of—— Why, good gracious!” he broke off in fresh astonishment, “I have just seen him with a guinea in his pocket!”

“Seen a guinea in Sam Dene’s pocket!” cried Captain Cockermuth, turning yellow as the gas-flame under which they were standing.

“Why yes, I have. It was——”

But there Mr. Badger came to a full stop. It had suddenly struck him that he might be doing harm to Sam Dene; and the rule of his life was not to harm any one, or to make an enemy, if his own interest allowed him to avoid it.

“I won’t say any more, Captain Cockermuth. It is no business of mine.”

But here Mr. Sergeant Dutton came to the fore. “You must, Badger. You must say all you know that bears upon the affair; the law demands it of you. What about the guinea?”

“Well, if you force me to do so—putting it in that way,” returned the man, driven into a corner.

Mr. Badger had just been down to Edgar Street to pay another visit to Sam. Not to torment him; he did not do that more than he could help; but simply to say he would accept smaller instalments for the liquidation of his debt—which of course meant giving to Sam a longer time to pay the whole in. This evening he was admitted to Sam’s sitting-room. During their short conversation, Sam, searching impatiently for a pencil in his waistcoat-pocket, drew out with it a few coins in silver money, and one coin in gold. Mr. Badger’s hungry eyes saw that it was an old guinea. These particulars he now imparted.

“What did he say about the guinea?” cried Captain Cockermuth, his own eyes glaring.

“Not a word,” said Badger; “neither did I. He slipped it back into his pocket.”

“I hope you think there’s some proof to go upon now,” were Charles Cockermuth’s last words to the police-officer as he wished him good-night.

On the following morning, Sam Dene was apprehended, and taken before the magistrates. Beyond being formally charged, very little was done; Miss Betty was in bed with a sick headache, brought on by the worry, and could not appear to give evidence; so he was remanded on bail until Saturday.

3.

I’m sure you might have thought all his rick-yards were on fire by the way old Jacobson came bursting in. It was Saturday morning, and we were at breakfast at Dyke Manor. He had run every step of the way from Elm Farm, two miles nearly, not having patience to wait for his gig, and came in all excitement, the Worcester Herald in his hand. The Squire started from his chair; Mrs. Todhetley, then in the act of pouring out a cup of coffee, let it flow over on to the tablecloth.

“What on earth’s amiss, Jacobson?” cried the Squire.

“Ay, what’s amiss,” stuttered Jacobson in answer; “this is amiss,” holding out the newspaper. “I’ll prosecute the editor as sure as I’m a living man. It is a conspiracy got up to sell it; a concocted lie. It can’t be anything else, you know, Todhetley. And I want you to go off with me to Worcester. The gig’s following me.”

When we had somewhat collected our senses, and could look at the newspaper, there was the account as large as life. Samson Reginald Dene had been had up before the magistrates on Thursday morning on a charge of stealing a small box of carved ebony, containing sixty guineas in gold, from the dwelling house of Lawyer Cockermuth; and he was to be brought up again that day, Saturday, for examination.

“A pretty thing this is to see, when a man opens his weekly newspaper at his breakfast-table!” gasped Jacobson, flicking the report with his angry finger. “I’ll have the law of them—accusing my nephew of such a thing as that! You’ll go with me, Squire!”

“Go! of course I’ll go!” returned the Squire, in his hot partisanship. “We were going to Worcester, any way; I’ve things to do there. Poor Sam! Hanging would be too good for the printers of that newspaper, Jacobson.”

Mr. Jacobson’s gig was heard driving up to the gate at railroad speed; and soon our own carriage was ready. Old Jacobson sat with the Squire, I behind with Giles; the other groom, Blossom, drove Tod in the gig; and away we went in the blustering March wind. Many people, farmers and others, were on the road, riding or driving to Worcester market.

Well, we found it was true. And not the mistake of the newspapers: they had but reported what passed before the magistrates at the town hall.

The first person we saw was Miss Cockermuth. She was in a fine way, not knowing what to think or believe, and sat in the parlour in that soft green gown of twilled silk (that might have been a relic of the silk made in the time of the Queen of Sheba), her cap and front all awry. Rumour said old Jacobson had been a sweetheart of hers in their young days; but I’m sure I don’t know. Any way they were very friendly with one another, and she sometimes called him “Frederick.” He sat down by her on the horse-hair sofa, and we took chairs.

She recounted the circumstances (ramblingly) from beginning to end. Not that the end had come yet by a long way. And—there it was, she wound up, when the narrative was over: the box had disappeared, just for all the world as mysteriously as it disappeared in the days gone by.

Mr. Jacobson had listened patiently. He was a fine, upright man, with a healthy colour and bright dark eyes. He wore a blue frock-coat today with metal buttons, and top-boots. As yet he did not see how they had got up grounds for accusing Sam, and he said so.

“To be sure,” cried the Squire. “How’s that, Miss Betty?”

“Why, it’s this way,” said Miss Betty—“that nobody was here in the parlour but Sam when the box vanished. It is my brother Charles who has done it all; he is so passionate, you know. John has properly quarrelled with him for it.”

“It is not possible, you know, Miss Betty, that Sam Dene could have done it,” struck in Tod, who was boiling over with rage at the whole thing. “Some thief must have stolen in at the street-door when Sam had left the room.”

“Well, no, that could hardly have been, seeing that Charles never left the street-door after that,” returned Miss Betty, mildly. “It appears to be a certain fact that not a soul entered the room after the young man left it. And there lies the puzzle of it.”

Putting it to be as Miss Betty put it—and I may as well say here that nothing turned up, then or later, to change the opinion—it looked rather suspicious for Sam Dene. I think the Squire saw it.

“I suppose you are sure the box was on the table when you left the room, Miss Betty?” said he.

“Why, of course I am sure, Squire,” she answered. “It was the last thing my eyes fell on; for, as I went through the door, I glanced back to see that I had left the table tidy. Susan can bear witness to that. Dutton, the police-sergeant, thinks some demon of mischief must be in that box—meaning the deuce, you know. Upon my word it looks like it.”

Susan came in with some glasses and ale as Miss Betty spoke, and confirmed the testimony—which did not need confirmation. As she closed the parlour-door, she said, after her mistress had passed out, she noticed the box standing on the table.

“Is Sam here today—in the office?” asked Mr. Jacobson.

“Oh, my goodness, no,” cried Miss Betty in a fluster. “Why, Frederick, he has not been here since Thursday, when they had him up at the Guildhall. He couldn’t well come while the charge is hanging over him.”

“Then I think we had better go out to find Sam, and hear what he has to say,” observed Mr. Jacobson, drinking up his glass of ale.

“Yes, do,” said Miss Betty. “Tell poor Sam I’m as sorry as I can be-pestered almost out of my mind over it. And as to their having found one of the guineas in his pocket, please just mention to him that I say it might have slipped in accidentally.”

“One of the guineas found in Sam’s pocket!” exclaimed Mr. Jacobson, taken aback.

“Well, I hear so,” responded Miss Betty. “The police searched him, you see.”

As the Squire and Mr. Jacobson went out, Mr. Cockermuth was coming in. They all turned into the office together, while we made a rush to Sam Dene’s lodgings in Edgar Street: as much of a rush, at least, as the Saturday’s streets would let us make. Sam was out, the young servant said when we got there, and while parleying with her Mrs. Parslet opened her sitting-room door.

“I do not suppose Mr. Dene will be long,” she said. “He has to appear at the town hall this morning, and I think it likely he will come home first. Will you walk in and wait?”

She handed us into her parlour, where she had been busy, marking sheets and pillow-cases and towels with “prepared” ink; the table was covered with them. Tod began telling her that Mr. Jacobson was at Worcester, and went on to say what a shame it was that Sam Dene should be accused of this thing.

“We consider it so,” said Mrs. Parslet; who was a capable, pleasant-speaking woman, tall and slender. “My husband says it has upset Mr. Cockermuth more than anything that has occurred for years past. He tells his brother that he should have had it investigated privately, not have given Mr. Dene into custody.”

“Then why did he let him do it, Mrs. Parslet?”

She looked at Tod, as if surprised at the question. “Mr. Cockermuth knew nothing of it; you may be sure of that. Captain Cockermuth had the young man at the Guildhall and was preferring the charge, before Mr. Cockermuth heard a word of what was agate. Certainly that is a most mysterious box! It seems fated to give trouble.”

At this moment the door opened, and a young lady came into the parlour. It was Maria. What a nice face she had!—what sweet thoughtful eyes!—what gentle manners! Sam’s friends in the town were accusing him of being in love with her—and small blame to him.

But Sam did not appear to be coming home, and time was getting on. Tod decided not to wait longer, and said good-morning.

Flying back along High Street, we caught sight of the tray of Dublin buns, just put fresh on the counter in Rousse’s shop, and made as good a feast as time allowed. Some people called them Doubling buns (from their shape, I take it), and I don’t know to this day which was right.

Away with fleet foot again, past the bustle round the town hall, and market house, till we came to the next confectioner’s and saw the apple-tarts. Perhaps somebody remembers yet how delicious those apple-tarts were. Bounding in, we began upon them.

While the feast was in progress, Sam Dene went by, walking very fast. We dashed out to catch him. Good Mrs. Mountford chanced to be in the shop and knew us, or they might have thought we were decamping without payment.

Sam Dene, in answer to Tod’s hasty questions, went into a passion; swearing at the world in general, and Captain Cockermuth in particular, as freely as though the justices, then taking their places in the Guildhall, were not as good as within earshot.

“It is a fearful shame, Todhetley!—to bring such a charge against me, and to lug me up to the criminal bar like a felon. Worse than all, to let it go forth to the town and county in today’s glaring newspapers that I, Sam Dene, am a common thief!”

“Of course it is a fearful shame, Sam—it’s infamous, and all your friends know it is,” cried Tod, with eager sympathy. “My father wishes he could hang the printers. I say, what do you think has become of the box?”

“Become of it!—why, that blundering Charles Cockermuth has got it. He was off his head with excitement at its being found. He must have come into the room and put it somewhere and forgotten it: or else he put it into his pocket and got robbed of it in the street. That’s what I think. Quite off his head, I give you my word.”

“And what fable is it the wretches have got up about finding one of the guineas in your pocket, Sam?”

“Oh, bother that! It was my own guinea. I swear it—there! I can’t stay now,” went on Sam, striding off down High Street. “I am due at the town hall this minute; only out on bail. You’ll come with me.”

“You go in and pay for the tarts, Johnny,” called back Tod, as he put his arm within Sam Dene’s. I looked in, pitched a shilling on the counter, said I didn’t know how many we had eaten; perhaps ten; and that I couldn’t wait for change.

Crushing my way amidst the market women and their baskets in the Guildhall yard, I came upon Austin Chance. His father held some post connected with the law, as administered there, and Austin said he would get me in.

“Can it be true that the police found one of the guineas about him?” I asked.

Chance pulled a long face. “It’s true they found one when they searched him——”

“What right had they to search him?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Austin, laughing a little; “they did it. To see perhaps whether all the guineas were about him. And I am afraid, Johnny Ludlow, that the finding of that guinea will make it rather hard for Sam. It is said that Maria Parslet can prove the guinea was Sam’s own, and that my father has had a summons served on her to appear here today. He has taken Sam’s case in hand; but he is closer than wax, and tells me nothing.”

“You don’t think he can have stolen the box, Chance?”

“I don’t. I shouldn’t think him capable of anything so mean; let alone the danger of it. Not but that there are circumstances in the case that tell uncommonly strong against him. And where the deuce the box can have got to, otherwise, is more than mortal man can guess at. Come along.”

4.

Not for a long while had Worcester been stirred as it was over this affair of Samson Dene’s. What with the curious discovery of the box of guineas after its mysterious disappearance of years, and then its second no less mysterious loss, with the suspicion that Sam Dene stole it, the Faithful City was so excited as hardly to know whether it stood on its head or its heels.

When the police searched the prisoner on Thursday morning, after taking him into custody, and found the guinea upon him (having been told that he had one about him), his guilt was thought to be as good as proved. Sam said the guinea was his own, an heirloom, and stood to this so indignantly resolute that the police let him have it back. But now, what did Sam go and do? When released upon bail by the magistrates—to come up again on the Saturday—he went straight off to a silversmith’s, had a hole stamped in the guinea and hung it to his watch-chain across his waistcoat, that the public might feast their eyes upon it. It was in this spirit of defiance—or, as the town called it, bravado—that he met the charge. His lodgings had been searched for the rest of the guineas, but they were not found.

The hour for the Saturday’s examination—twelve o’clock—was striking, as I struggled my way with Austin Chance through the crush round the Guildhall. But that Austin’s father was a man of consequence with the door-keepers, we should not have got in at all.

The accused, arraigned by his full name, Samson Reginald Dene, stood in the place allotted to prisoners, cold defiance on his handsome face. As near to him as might be permitted, stood Tod, just as defiant as he. Captain Charles Cockermuth, a third in defiance, stood opposite to prosecute; while Lawyer Cockermuth, who came in with Sam’s uncle, Mr. Jacobson, openly wished his brother at Hanover. Squire Todhetley, being a county magistrate, sat on the bench with the City magnates, but not to interfere.

The proceedings began. Captain Cockermuth related how the little box, his property, containing sixty golden guineas, was left on the table in a sitting-room in his brother’s house, the accused being the only person in the room at the time, and that the box disappeared. He, himself (standing at the front-door), saw the accused quit the room; he went into it almost immediately, but the box was gone. He swore that no person entered the room after the prisoner left it.

Miss Betty Cockermuth, flustered and red, appeared next. She testified that she was in the room nearly all the morning, the little box being upon the table; when she left the room, Mr. Dene remained in it alone, copying a letter for her brother; the box was still on the table. Susan Edwards, housemaid at Lawyer Cockermuth’s, spoke to the same fact. It was she who had fetched her mistress out, and she saw the box standing upon the table.

The accused was asked by one of the magistrates what he had to say to this. He answered, speaking freely, that he had nothing to say in contradiction, except that he did not know what became of the box.

“Did you see the box on the table?” asked the lawyer on the opposite side, Mr. Standup.

“I saw it there when I first went into the room. Miss Betty made a remark about the box, which drew my attention to it. I was sitting at the far end of the room, at Mr. Cockermuth’s little desk-table. I did not notice the box afterwards.”

“Did you not see it there after Miss Cockermuth left the room?”

“No, I did not; not that I remember,” answered Sam. “Truth to say, I never thought about it. My attention was confined to the letter I was copying, to the exclusion of everything else.”

“Did any one come into the room after Miss Cockermuth left it?”

“No one came into it. Somebody opened the door and looked in.”

This was fresh news. The town hall pricked up its ears.

“I do not know who it was,” added Sam. “My head was bent over my writing, when the door opened quickly, and as quickly shut again. I supposed somebody had looked in to see if Mr. or Miss Cockermuth was there, and had retreated on finding they were not.”

“Could that person, whomsoever it might be, have advanced to the table and taken the box?” asked the chief of the magistrates.

“No, sir. For certain, no!”—and Sam’s tone here, he best knew why, was aggravatingly defiant. “The person might have put his head in-and no doubt did—but he did not set a foot inside the room.”

Captain Cockermuth was asked about this: whether he observed any one go to the parlour and look in. He protested till he was nearly blue with rage (for he regarded it as Sam’s invention), that such a thing never took place, that no one whatever went near the parlour-door.

Next came up the question of the guinea, which was hanging from his watch-guard, shining and bold as if it had been brass. Sam had been questioned about this by the justices on Thursday, and his statement in answer to them was just as bold as the coin.

The guinea had been given him by his late father’s uncle, old Thomas Dene, who had jokingly enjoined him never to change it, always to keep it by him, and then he would never be without money. Sam had kept it; kept it from that time to this. He kept it in the pocket of an old-fashioned leather case, which contained some letters from his father, and two or three other things he valued. No, he was not in the habit of getting the guinea out to look at, he had retorted to a little badgering; had not looked at it (or at the case either, which lay in the bottom of his trunk) for months and months—yes, it might be years, for all he recollected. But on the Tuesday evening, when talking with Miss Parslet about guineas, he fetched it to show to her; and slipped it into his pocket afterwards, where, the police found it on the Thursday. This was the substance of his first answer, and he repeated it now.

“Do you know who is said to be the father of lies, young man?” asked Justice Whitewicker in a solemn tone, suspecting that the prisoner was telling an out-and-out fable.

“I have heard,” answered Sam. “Have never seen him myself. Perhaps you have, sir.” At which a titter went round the court, and it put his worship’s back up. Sam went on to say that he had often thought of taking his guinea into wear, and had now done it. And he gave the guinea a flick in the face of us all.

Evidently little good could come of a hardened criminal like this; and Justice Whitewicker, who thought nothing on earth so grand as the sound of his own voice from the bench, gave Sam a piece of his mind. In the midst of this a stir arose at the appearance of Maria Parslet. Mr. Chance led her in; her father, sad and shrinking as usual, walked behind them. Lawyer Cockermuth—and I liked him for it—made a place for his clerk next to himself. Maria looked modest, gentle and pretty. She wore black silk, being in slight mourning, and a dainty white bonnet.

Mr. Dene was asked to take tea with them in the parlour on the Tuesday evening, as a matter of convenience, Maria’s evidence ran, in answer to questions, and she briefly alluded to the reason why. Whilst waiting together, he and she, for her father to come in, Mr. Dene told her of the finding of the ebony box of guineas at Mr. Cockermuth’s. She laughingly remarked that a guinea was an out-of-date coin now, and she was not sure that she had ever seen one. In reply to that, Mr. Dene said he had one by him, given him by an old uncle some years before; and he went upstairs and brought it down to show to her. There could be no mistake, Maria added to Mr. Whitewicker, who wanted to insinuate a word of doubt, and her sweet brown eyes were honest and true as she said it; she had touched the guinea and held it in her hand for some moments.

“Held it and touched it, did you, Miss Parslet?” retorted Lawyer Standup. “Pray what appearance had it?”

“It was a thin, worn coin, sir,” replied Maria; “thinner, I think, than a sovereign, but somewhat larger; it seemed to be worn thin at the edge.”

“Whose image was on it?—what king’s?”

“George the Third’s. I noticed that.”

“Now don’t you think, young lady, that the accused took this marvellous coin from his pocket, instead of from some receptacle above stairs?” went on Mr. Standup.

“I am quite sure he did not take it from his pocket when before me,” answered Maria. “He ran upstairs quickly, saying he would fetch the guinea: he had nothing in his hands then.”

Upon this Lawyer Chance inquired of his learned brother why he need waste time in useless questions; begging to remind him that it was not until Wednesday morning the box disappeared, so the prisoner could not well have had any of its contents about him on Tuesday.

“Just let my questions alone, will you,” retorted Mr. Standup, with a nod. “I know what I am about. Now, Miss Parslet, please attend to me. Was the guinea you profess to have seen a perfect coin, or was there a hole in it?”

“It was a perfect coin, sir.”

“And what became of it?”

“I think Mr. Dene put it in his waistcoat-pocket: I did not particularly notice. Quite close upon that, my father came home, and we sat down to tea. No, sir, nothing was said to my father about the guinea; if it was, I did not hear it. But he and Mr. Dene talked of the box of guineas that had been found.”

“Who was it that called while you were at tea?”

“Young Mr. Chance called. We had finished tea then, and Mr. Dene took him upstairs to his own sitting-room.”

“I am not asking you about young Mr. Chance; we shall come to him presently,” was the rough-toned, but not ill-natured retort. “Somebody else called: who was it?”

Maria, blushing and paling ever since she stood up to the ordeal, grew white now. Mr. Badger had called at the door, she answered, and Mr. Dene went out to speak to him. Worried by Lawyer Standup as to whether he did not come to ask for money, she said she believed so, but she did not hear all they said.

Quiet Mr. Parslet was the next witness. He had to acknowledge that he did hear it. Mr. Badger appeared to be pressing for some money owing to him; could not tell the amount, knew nothing about that. When questioned whether the accused owed him money, Parslet said not a shilling; Mr. Dene had never sought to borrow of him, and had paid his monthly accounts regularly.

Upon that, Mr. Badger was produced; a thin man with a neck as stiff as a poker; who gave his reluctant testimony in a sweet tone of benevolence. Mr. Dene had been borrowing money from him for some time; somewhere about twenty pounds, he thought, was owing now, including interest. He had repeatedly asked for its repayment, but only got put off with (as he believed) lame excuses. Had certainly gone to ask for it on the Tuesday evening; was neither loud nor angry, oh dear, no; but did tell the accused he thought he could give him some if he would, and did say that he must have a portion of it within a week, or he should apply to Mr. Jacobson, of Elm Farm. Did not really mean to apply to Mr. Jacobson, had no wish to do any one an injury, but felt vexed at the young man’s off-handedness, which looked like indifference. Knew besides that Mr. Dene had other debts.

Now I’ll leave you to judge how this evidence struck on the ears of old Jacobson. He leaped to the conclusion that Sam had been going all sorts of ways, as he supposed he went when in London, and might be owing, the mischief only knew how much money; and he shook his fist at Sam across the justice-room.

Mr. Standup next called young Chance, quite to young Chance’s surprise; perhaps also to his father’s. He was questioned upon no end of things—whether he did not know that the accused was owing a great deal of money, and whether the accused had shown any guinea to him when he was in Edgar Street on the Tuesday night. Austin answered that he believed Mr. Dene owed a little money, not a great deal, so far as he knew; and that he had not seen the guinea or heard of it. And in saying all this, Austin’s tone was just as resentfully insolent to Mr. Standup as he dared to make it.

Well, it is of no use to go on categorically with the day’s proceedings. When they came to an end, the magistrates conferred pretty hotly in a low tone amongst themselves, some apparently taking up one opinion, as to Sam’s guilt, or innocence, and some the other. At length they announced their decision, and it was as follows.

“Although the case undoubtedly presents grave grounds of suspicion against the accused, Samson Reginald Dene—‘Very grave indeed,’ interjected Mr. Whitewicker, solemnly—we do not consider them to be sufficient to commit him for trial upon; therefore, we give him the benefit of the doubt, and discharge him. Should any further evidence transpire, he can be brought up again.”

“It was Maria Parslet’s testimony about the guinea that cleared him,” whispered the crowd, as they filed out.

And I think it must have been. It was just impossible to doubt her truth, or the earnestness with which she gave it.

Mr. Jacobson “interviewed” Sam, as the Americans say, and the interview was not a loving one. Being in the mood, he said anything that came uppermost. He forbade Sam to appear at Elm Farm ever again, as “long as oak and ash grew;” and he added that as Sam was bent on going to the deuce head foremost, he might do it upon his own means, but that he’d never get any more help from him.

The way the Squire lashed up Bob and Blister when driving home—for, liking Sam hitherto, he was just as much put out as old Jacobson—and the duet they kept together in abuse of his misdeeds, was edifying to hear. Tod laughed; I did not. The gig was given over this return journey to the two grooms.

“I do not believe Sam took the box, sir,” I said to old Jacobson, interrupting a fiery oration.

He turned round to stare at me. “What do you say, Johnny Ludlow? You do not believe he took the box?

“Well, to me it seems quite plain that he did not take it. I’ve hardly ever felt more sure of anything.”

“Plain!” struck in the Squire. “How is it plain, Johnny? What grounds do you go upon?”

“I judge by his looks and his tones, sir, when denying it. They are to be trusted.”

They did not know whether to laugh or scoff at me. It was Johnny’s way, said the Squire; always fancying he could read the riddles in a man’s face and voice. But they’d have thrown up their two best market-going hats with glee to be able to think it true.

5.

Samson Reginald Dene was relieved of the charge, as it was declared “not proven;” all the same, Samson Reginald Dene was ruined. Worcester said so. During the following week, which was Passion Week, its citizens talked more of him than of their prayers.

Granted that Maria Parslet’s testimony had been honestly genuine, a theory cropped up to counteract it. Lawyer Standup had been bold enough to start it at the Saturday’s examination: a hundred tongues were repeating it now. Sam Dene, as may be remembered, was present at the finding of the box on Tuesday; he had come up the passage and touched the golden guineas in it with the tips of his fingers; those fingers might have deftly extracted one of the coins. No wonder he could show it to Maria when he went home to tea! Captain Cockermuth admitted that in counting the guineas subsequently he had thought he counted sixty; but, as he knew there were (or ought to be) that number in the box, probably the assumption misled him, causing him to reckon them as sixty when in fact there were only fifty-nine. Which was a bit of logic.

Still, popular opinion was divided. If part of the town judged Sam to be guilty, part believed him to be innocent. A good deal might be said on both sides. To a young man who does not know how to pay his debts from lack of means, and debts that he is afraid of, too, sixty golden guineas may be a great temptation; and people did not shut their eyes to that. It transpired also that Mr. Jacobson, his own uncle, his best friend, had altogether cast Sam off and told him he might now go to the dogs his own way.

Sam resented it all bitterly, and defied the world. Far from giving in or showing any sense of shame, he walked about with an air, his head up, and that brazen guinea dangling in front of him. He actually had the face to appear at college on Good Friday (the congregation looking askance at him), and sat out the cold service of the day: no singing, no organ, and the little chorister-boys in black surplices instead of white ones.

But the crowning act of boldness was to come. Before Easter week had lapsed into the past, Sam Dene had taken two rooms in a conspicuous part of the town and set-up in practice. A big brass plate on the outer door displayed his name: “Mr. Dene, Attorney-at-law.” Sam’s friends extolled his courage; Sam’s enemies were amazed at his impudence. Captain Cockermuth prophesied that the ceiling of that office would come tumbling down on its crafty occupant’s head: it was his gold that was paying for it.

The Cockermuths, like the town, were divided in opinion. Mr. Cockermuth could not believe Sam guilty, although the mystery as to where the box could be puzzled him as few things had ever puzzled him in this life. He would fain have taken Sam back again, had it been a right thing to do. What the captain thought need not be enlarged upon. While Miss Betty felt uncertain; veering now to this belief, now to that, and much distressed either way.

There is one friend in this world that hardly ever deserts us—and that is a mother. Mrs. Dene, a pretty little woman yet, had come flying to Worcester, ready to fight everybody in it on her son’s behalf. Sam of course made his own tale good to her; whether it was a true one or not he alone knew, but not an angel from heaven could have stirred her faith in it. She declared that, to her positive knowledge, the old uncle had given Sam the guinea.

It was understood to be Mrs. Dene who advanced the money to Sam to set up with; it was certainly Mrs. Dene who bought a shutting-up bed (at old Ward’s), and a gridiron, and a tea-pot, and a three-legged table, and a chair or two, all for the back-room of the little office, that Sam might go into housekeeping on his own account, and live upon sixpence a-day, so to say, until business came in. To look at Sam’s hopeful face, he meant to do it, and to live down the scandal.

Looking at the thing impartially, one might perhaps see that Sam was not swayed by impudence in setting-up, so much as by obligation. For what else lay open to him?—no firm would engage him as clerk with that doubt sticking to his coat-tails. He paid some of his debts, and undertook to pay the rest before the year was out. A whisper arose that it was Mrs. Dene who managed this. Sam’s adversaries knew better; the funds came out of the ebony box: that, as Charles Cockermuth demonstrated, was as sure as heaven.

But now there occurred one thing that I, Johnny Ludlow, could not understand, and never shall: why Worcester should have turned its back, like an angry drake, upon Maria Parslet. The school, where she was resident teacher, wrote her a cool, polite note, to say she need not trouble herself to return after the Easter recess. That example was followed. Pious individuals looked upon her as a possible story-teller, in danger of going to the bad in Sam’s defence, nearly as much as Sam had gone.

It was just a craze. Even Charles Cockermuth said there was no sense in blaming Maria: of course Sam had deceived her (when pretending to show the guinea as his own), just as he deceived other people. Next the town called her “bold” for standing up in the face and eyes of the Guildhall to give her evidence. But how could Maria help that? It was not her own choice: she’d rather have locked herself up in the cellar. Lawyer Chance had burst in upon her that Saturday morning (not ten minutes after we left the house), giving nobody warning, and carried her off imperatively, never saying “Will you, or Won’t you.” It was not his way.

Placid Miss Betty was indignant when the injustice came to her ears. What did people mean by it? she wanted to know. She sent for Maria to spend the next Sunday in Foregate Street, and marched with her arm-inarm to church (St. Nicholas’), morning and evening.

As the days and the weeks passed, commotion gave place to a calm; Sam and his delinquencies were let alone. One cannot be on the grumble for ever. Sam’s lines were pretty hard; practice held itself aloof from him; and if he did not live upon the sixpence a-day, he looked at every halfpenny that he had to spend beyond it. His face grew thin, his blue eyes wistful, but he smiled hopefully.


“You keep up young Dene’s acquaintance, I perceive,” remarked Lawyer Chance to his son one evening as they were finishing dinner, for he had met the two young men together that day.

“Yes: why shouldn’t I?” returned Austin.

“Think that charge was a mistaken one, I suppose?”

“Well I do, father. He has affirmed it to me in terms so unmistakable that I can but believe him. Besides, I don’t think Dene, as I have always said, is the sort of fellow to turn rogue: I don’t, indeed.”

“Does he get any practice?”

“Very little, I’m afraid.”

Mr. Chance was a man with a conscience. On the whole, he felt inclined to think Sam had not helped himself to the guineas, but he was by no means sure of it: like Miss Betty Cockermuth, his opinion veered, now on this side, now on that, like a haunted weathercock. If Sam was not guilty, why, then, Fate had dealt hardly with the young fellow—and what would the end be? These thoughts were running through the lawyer’s mind as he talked to his son and sat playing with his bunch of seals, which hung down by a short, thick gold chain, in the old-fashioned manner.

“I should like to say a word to him if he’d come to me,” he suddenly cried. “You might go and bring him, Austin.”

“What—this evening?” exclaimed Austin.

“Ay; why not? One time’s as good as another.”

Austin Chance started off promptly for the new office, and found his friend presiding over his own tea-tray in the little back-room; the loaf and butter on the table, and a red herring on the gridiron.

“Hadn’t time to get any dinner today; too busy,” was Sam’s apology, given briefly with a flush of the face. “Mr. Chance wants me? Well, I’ll come. What is it for?”

“Don’t know,” replied Austin. And away they went.

The lawyer was standing at the window, his hands in the pockets of his pepper-and-salt trousers, tinkling the shillings and sixpences there. Austin supposed he was not wanted, and shut them in.

“I have been thinking of your case a good bit lately, Sam Dene,” began Mr. Chance, giving Sam a seat and sitting down himself; “and I should like to feel, if I can, more at a certainty about it, one way or the other.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Sam. And you must please to note that manners in those days had not degenerated to what they are in these. Young men, whether gentle or simple, addressed their elders with respect; young women also. “Yes, sir,” replied Sam. “But what do you mean about wishing to feel more at a certainty?”

“When I defended you before the magistrates, I did my best to convince them that you were not guilty: you had assured me you were not: and they discharged you. I believe my arguments and my pleadings went some way with them.”

“I have no doubt of it, sir, and I thanked you at the time with all my heart,” said Sam warmly. “Some of my enemies were bitter enough against me.”

“But you should not speak in that way—calling people your enemies!” reproved the lawyer. “People were only at enmity with you on the score of the offence. Look here, Sam Dene—did you commit it, or did you not?”

Sam stared. Mr. Chance had dropped his voice to a solemn key, his head was pushed forward, gravity sat on his face.

“No, sir. No.”

The short answer did not satisfy the lawyer. “Did you filch that box of guineas out of Cockermuth’s room; or were you, and are you, as you assert, wholly innocent?” he resumed. “Tell me the truth as before Heaven. Whatever it be, I will shield you still.”

Sam rose. “On my sacred word, sir, and before Heaven, I have told nothing but the truth. I did not take or touch the box of guineas. I do not know what became of it.”

Mr. Chance regarded Sam in silence. He had known young men, when under a cloud, prevaricate in a most extraordinary and unblushing manner: to look at them and listen to them, one might have said they were fit to be canonized. But he thought truth lay with Sam now.

“Sit down, sit down, Dene,” he said. “I am glad to believe you. Where the deuce could the box have got to? It could not take flight through the ceiling up to the clouds, or down to the earth through the floor. Whose hands took it?

“The box went in one of two ways,” returned Sam. “If the captain did not fetch it out unconsciously, and lose it in the street, why, somebody must have entered the parlour after I left it and carried off the box. Perhaps the individual who looked into the room when I was sitting there.”

“A pity but you had noticed who that was.”

“Yes, it is. Look here, Mr. Chance; a thought has more than once struck me—if that person did not come back and take the box, why has he not come forward openly and honestly to avow it was himself who looked in?”

The lawyer gave his head a dissenting shake. “It is a ticklish thing to be mixed up in, he may think, one that he had best keep out of—though he may be innocent as the day. How are you getting on?” he asked, passing abruptly from the subject.

“Oh, middling,” replied Sam. “As well, perhaps, as I could expect to get on at first, with all the prejudice abroad against me.”

“Earning bread-and-cheese?”

“Not quite—yet.”

“Well, see here, Dene—and this is what I chiefly sent for you to say, if you could assure me on your conscience you deserved it—I may be able to put some little business in your hands. Petty matters are brought to us that we hardly care to waste time upon: I’ll send them to you in future. I dare say you’ll be able to rub on by dint of patience. Rome was not built in a day, you know.”

“Thank you, sir; I thank you very truly,” breathed Sam. “Mr. Cockermuth sent me a small matter the other day. If I can make a bare living of it at present, that’s all I ask. Fame and fortune are not rained down upon black sheep.”

Which was so true a remark as to need no contradiction.

May was nearing its close then, and the summer evenings were long and lovely. As Sam went forth from the interview, he thought he would take a walk by the river, instead of turning in to his solitary rooms. Since entering upon them he had been as steady as old Time: the accusation and its attendant shame seemed to have converted him from a heedless, youthful man into a wise old sage of age and care. Passing down Broad Street towards the bridge, he turned to the left and sauntered along beside the Severn. The water glittered in the light of the setting sun; barges, some of them bearing men and women and children, passed smoothly up and down on it; the opposite fields, towards St. John’s, were green as an emerald: all things seemed to wear an aspect of brightness.

All on a sudden things grew brighter—and Sam’s pulses gave a leap. He had passed the grand old red-stoned wall that enclosed the Bishop’s palace, and was close upon the gates leading up to the Green, when a young lady turned out of them and came towards him with a light, quick step. It was Maria Parslet, in a pretty summer muslin, a straw hat shading her blushing face. For it did blush furiously at sight of Sam.

“Mr. Dene!”

“Maria!”

She began to say, hurriedly, that her mother had sent her with a message to the dressmaker on the Parade, and she had taken that way, as being the shortest—as if in apology for having met Sam.

He turned with her, and they paced slowly along side by side, the colour on Maria’s cheeks coming and going with every word he spoke and every look he gave her—which seemed altogether senseless and unreasonable. Sam told her of his conversation with Austin Chance’s father, and his promise to put a few things in his way.

“Once let me be making two hundred a-year, Maria, and then——”

“Then what?” questioned Maria innocently.

“Then I should ask you to come to me, and we’d risk it together.”

“Risk what?” stammered Maria, turning her head right round to watch a barge that was being towed by.

“Risk our luck. Two hundred a-year is not so bad to begin upon. I should take the floor above as well as the ground-floor I rent now, and we should get along. Any way, I hope to try it.”

“Oh, Mr. Dene!”

“Now don’t ‘Mr. Dene’ me, young lady, if you please. Why, Maria, what else can we do? A mean, malicious set of dogs and cats have turned their backs upon us both; the least we should do is to see if we can’t do without them. I know you’d rather come to me than stay in Edgar Street.”

Maria held her tongue, as to whether she would or not. “Mamma is negotiating to get me a situation at Cheltenham,” she said.

“You will not go to Cheltenham, or anywhere else, if I get any luck,” he replied dictatorially. “Life would look very blue to me now without you, Maria. And many a man and wife, rolling in riches at the end, have rubbed on with less than two hundred a-year at the beginning. I wouldn’t say, mind, but we might risk it on a hundred and fifty. My rent is low, you see.”

“Ye—es,” stammered Maria “But—I wish that mystery of the guineas could be cleared up!”

Sam stood still, turned, and faced her. “Why do you say that? You are not suspecting that I took them?”

“Oh dear, NO,” returned Maria, losing her breath. “I know you did not take them: could not. I was only thinking of your practice: so much more would come in.”

“Cockermuth has sent me a small matter or two. I think I shall get on,” repeated Sam.

They were at their journey’s end by that time, at the dressmaker’s door. “Good-evening,” said Maria, timidly holding out her hand.

Sam Dene took it and clasped it. “Good-bye, my darling. I am going home to my bread-and-cheese supper, and I wish you were there to eat it with me!”

Maria sighed. She wondered whether that wonderful state of things would ever come to pass. Perhaps no; perhaps yes. Meanwhile no living soul knew aught of these treasonable aspirations; they were a secret between her and Sam. Mr. and Mrs. Parslet suspected nothing.

Time went on. Lawyer Chance was as good as his word, and put a few small matters of business into the hands of Sam Dene. Mr. Cockermuth did the same. The town came down upon him for it; though it let Chance alone, who was not the sort of man to be dictated to. “Well,” said Cockermuth in answer, “I don’t believe the lad is guilty; never have believed it. Had he been of a dishonest turn, he could have helped himself before, for a good deal of my cash passed at times through his hands. And, given that he was innocent, he has been hardly dealt by.”

Sam Dene was grateful for these stray windfalls, and returned his best thanks to the lawyers for them. But they did not amount to much in the aggregate; and a gloomy vision began to present itself to his apprehension of being forced to give up the struggle, and wandering out in the world to seek a better fortune. The summer assizes drew near. Sam had no grand cause to come on at them, or small one either; but it was impossible not to give a thought now and again to what his fate might have been, had he stood committed to take his trial at them. The popular voice said that was only what he merited.

6.

The assizes were held, and passed. One hot day, when July was nearing its meridian, word was brought to Miss Cockermuth—who was charitable—that a poor sick woman whom she befriended, was worse than usual, so she put on her bonnet and cloak to pay her a visit. The bonnet was a huge Leghorn, which shaded her face well from the sun, its trimming of straw colour; and the cloak was of thin black “taffeta,” edged with narrow lace. It was a long walk on a hot afternoon, for the sick woman lived but just on this side Henwick. Miss Betty had got as far as the bridge, and was about to cross it when Sam Dene, coming over it at a strapping pace, ran against her.

“Miss Betty!” he cried. “I beg your pardon.”

Miss Betty brought her bonnet from under the shade of her large grass-green parasol. “Dear me, is it you, Sam Dene?” she said. “Were you walking for a wager?”

Sam laughed a little. “I was hastening back to my office, Miss Betty. I have no clerk, you know, and a client might come in.”

Miss Betty gave her head a twist, something between a nod and a shake; she noticed the doubtful tone in the “might.” “Very hot, isn’t it?” said she. “I’m going up to see that poor Hester Knowles; she’s uncommon bad, I hear.”

“You’ll have a warm walk.”

“Ay. Are you pretty well, Sam? You look thin.”

“Do I? Oh, that’s nothing but the heat of the weather. I am quite well, thank you. Good-afternoon, Miss Betty.”

She shook his hand heartily. One of Sam’s worst enemies, who might have run in a curricle with Charles Cockermuth, as to an out-and-out belief in his guilt, was passing at the moment, and saw it.

Miss Betty crossed the bridge, turned off into Turkey, for it was through those classical regions that her nearest and coolest way lay, and so onwards to the sick woman’s room. There she found the blazing July sun streaming in at the wide window, which had no blind, no shelter whatever from it. Miss Betty had had enough of the sun out-of-doors, without having it in. Done up with the walk and the heat, she sat down on the first chair, and felt ready to swoon right off.

“Dear me, Hester, this is bad for you!” she gasped.

“Did you mean the sun, ma’am?” asked the sick woman, who was sitting full in it, wrapped in a blanket or two. “It is a little hot just now, but I don’t grumble at it; I’m so cold mostly. As soon as the sun goes off the window, I shall begin to shiver.”

“Well-a-day!” responded Miss Betty, wishing she could be cool enough to shiver. “But if you feel it cold now, Hester, what will you do when the autumn winds come on?”

“Ah, ma’am, please do not talk of it! I just can’t tell what I shall do. That window don’t fit tight, and the way the wind pours in through it upon me as I sit here at evening, or lie in my little bed there, passes belief. I’m coughing always then.”

“You should have some good thick curtains put up,” said Miss Betty, gazing at the bare window, which had a pot of musk on its sill. “Woollen ones.”

The sick woman smiled sadly. She was very poor now, though it had not always been so; she might as well have hoped to buy the sun itself as woollen curtains—or cotton curtains either. Miss Betty knew that.

“I’ll think about it, Hester, and see if I’ve any old ones that I could let you have. I’m not sure; but I’ll look,” repeated she—and began to empty her capacious dimity pockets of a few items of good things she had brought.

By-and-by, when she was a little cooler, and had talked with Hester, Miss Betty set off home again, her mind running upon the half-promised curtains. “They are properly shabby,” thought she, as she went along, “but they’ll serve to keep the sun and the wind off her.”

She was thinking of those warm green curtains that she had picked the braid from that past disastrous morning—as the reader heard of, and all the town as well. Nothing had been done with them since.

Getting home, Miss Betty turned into the parlour. Susan—who had not yet found leisure to fix any time for her wedding—found her mistress fanning her hot face, her bonnet untied and tilted back.

“I’ve been to see that poor Hester Knowles, Susan,” began Miss Betty.

“Law, ma’am!” interposed Susan. “What a walk for you this scorching afternoon! All up that wide New Road!”

“You may well say that, girl: but I went Turkey away. She’s very ill, poor thing; and that’s a frightfully staring window of hers, the sun on it like a blazing fire, and not as much as a rag for a blind; and the window don’t fit, she says, and in cold weather the biting wind comes in and shivers her up. I think I might give her those shabby old curtains, Susan—that were up in Mr. Philip’s room, you know, before we got the new chintz ones in.”

“So you might, ma’am,” said Susan, who was not a bad-hearted girl, excepting to the baker’s man. “They can’t go up at any of our windows as they be; and if you had ’em dyed, I don’t know as they’d answer much, being so shabby.”

“I put them—let me see—into the spare ottoman, didn’t I? Yes, that was it. And there I suppose they must be lying still.”

“Sure enough, Miss Betty,” said Susan. “I’ve not touched ’em.”

“Nor I,” said Miss Betty. “With all the trouble that got into our house at that time, I couldn’t give my mind to seeing after the old things, and I’ve not thought about them since. Come upstairs with me now, Susan; we’ll see what sort of a state they are in.”

They went up; and Miss Betty took off her bonnet and cloak and put her cap on. The spare ottoman, soft, and red, and ancient, used as a receptacle for odds and ends that were not wanted, stood in a spacious linen-closet on the first-floor landing. It was built out over the back-door, and had a skylight above. Susan threw back the lid of the ottoman, and Miss Betty stood by. The faded old brown curtains, green once, lay in a heap at one end, just as Miss Betty had hastily flung them in that past day in March, when on her way to look at the chintzes.

“They’re in a fine rabble, seemingly,” observed Susan, pausing to regard the curtains.

“Dear me!” cried Miss Betty, conscience-stricken, for she was a careful housewife, “I let them drop in any way, I remember. I did mean to have them well shaken out-of-doors and properly folded, but that bother drove it all out of my head. Take them out, girl.”

Susan put her strong arms underneath the heap and lifted it out with a fling. Something heavy flew out of the curtains, and dropped on the boarded floor with a crash. Letting fall the curtains, Susan gave a wild shriek of terror and Miss Betty gave a wilder, for the floor was suddenly covered with shining gold coins. Mr. Cockermuth, passing across the passage below at the moment, heard the cries, wondered whether the house was on fire, and came hastening up.

“Oh,” said he coolly, taking in the aspect of affairs. “So the thief was you, Betty, after all!”

He picked up the ebony box, and bent his head to look at the guineas. Miss Betty sank down on a three-legged stool—brought in for Philip’s children—and grew as white as death.

Yes, it was the missing box of guineas, come to light in the same extraordinary and unexpected manner that it had come before, without having been (as may be said) truly lost. When Miss Betty gathered her curtains off the dining-room table that March morning, a cumbersome and weighty heap, she had unwittingly gathered up the box with them. No wonder Sam Dene had not seen the box on the table after Miss Betty’s departure! It was a grievous misfortune, though, that he failed to take notice it was not there.

She had no idea she was not speaking truth in saying she saw the box on the table as she left the room. Having seen the box there all the morning she thought it was there still, and that she saw it, being quite unconscious that it was in her arms. Susan, too, had noticed the box on the table when she opened the door to call her mistress, and believed she was correct in saying she saw it there to the last: the real fact being that she had not observed it was gone. So there the box with its golden freight had lain undisturbed, hidden in the folds of the curtains. But for Hester Knowles’s defective window, it might have stayed there still, who can say how long?

Susan, no less scared than her mistress, stood back against the closet wall for safety, out of reach of those diabolical coins; Miss Betty, groaning and half-fainting on the three-legged stool, sat pushing back her cap and her front. The lawyer picked up the guineas and counted them as he laid them flat in the box. Sixty of them: not one missing. So Sam’s guinea was his own! He had not, as Worcester whispered, trumped up the story with Maria Parslet.

“John,” gasped poor Miss Betty, beside herself with remorse and terror, “John, what will become of me now? Will anything be done?”

“How ‘done’?” asked he.

“Will they bring me to trial—or anything of that—in poor Sam’s place?”

“Well, I don’t know,” answered her brother grimly; “perhaps not this time. But I’d have you take more care in future, Betty, than to hide away gold in old curtains.”

Locking the box securely within his iron safe, Mr. Cockermuth put on his hat and went down to the town hall, where the magistrates, after dispensing their wisdom, were about to disperse for the day. He told them of the wonderful recovery of the box of guineas, of how it had been lost, and that Sam Dene was wholly innocent. Their worships were of course charmed to hear it, Mr. Whitewicker observing that they had only judged Sam by appearances, and that appearances had been sufficient (in theory) to hang him.

From the town hall, Mr. Cockermuth turned off to Sam’s office. Sam was making a great show of business, surrounded by a tableful of imposing parchments, but with never a client to the fore. His old master grasped his hand.

“Well, Sam, my boy,” he said, “the tables have turned for you. That box of guineas is found.”

Sam never spoke an answering word. His lips parted with expectation: his breath seemed to be a little short.

“Betty had got it all the time. She managed somehow to pick it up off the table with those wretched old curtains she had there, all unconsciously, of course, and it has lain hidden with the curtains upstairs in a lumber-box ever since. Betty will never forgive herself. She’ll have a fit of the jaundice over this.”

Sam drew a long breath. “You will let the public know, sir?”

“Ay, Sam, without loss of an hour. I’ve begun with the magistrates—and a fine sensation the news made amidst ’em, I can tell you; and now I’m going round to the newspapers; and I shall go over to Elm Farm the first thing tomorrow. The town took up the cause against you, Sam: take care it does not eat you now in its repentance. Look here, you’ll have to come round to Betty, or she’ll moan her heart out: you won’t bear malice, Sam?”

“No, that I won’t,” said Sam warmly. “Miss Betty did not bear it to me. She has been as kind as can be all along.”

The town did want to eat Sam. It is the custom of the true Briton to go to extremes. Being unable to shake Sam’s hands quite off, the city would fain have chaired him round the streets with honours, as it used to chair its newly returned members.

Captain Cockermuth, sent for post haste, came to Worcester all contrition, beseeching Sam to forgive him fifty times a-day, and wanting to press the box of guineas upon him as a peace-offering. Sam would not take it: he laughingly told the captain that the box did not seem to carry luck with it.

And then Sam’s troubles were over. And no objection was made by his people (as it otherwise might have been) to his marrying Maria Parslet, by way of recompense. “God never fails to bring good out of evil, my dear,” said old Mrs. Jacobson to Maria, the first time they had her on a visit at Elm Farm. As to Sam, he had short time for Elm Farm, or anything else in the shape of recreation. Practice was flowing in quickly: litigants arguing, one with another, that a young man, lying for months under an imputation of theft, and then coming out of it with flying colours, must needs be a clever lawyer.

“But, Johnny,” Sam said to me, when talking of the past, “there’s one thing I would alter if I made the laws. No person, so long as he is only suspected of crime, should have his name proclaimed publicly. I am not speaking of murder, you understand, or charges of that grave nature; but of such a case as mine. My name appeared in full, in all the local newspapers, Samson Reginald Dene, coupled with theft, and of course it got a mark upon it. It is an awful blight upon a man when he is innocent, one that he may never quite live down. Suspicions must arise, I know that, of the innocent as well as the guilty, and they must undergo preliminary examinations in public and submit to legal inquiries: but time enough to proclaim who the man is when evidence strengthens against him, and he is committed for trial; until then let his name be suppressed. At least that is my opinion.”

And it is mine as well as Sam’s.

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