Our Visit


Ellen Wood

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 22:58.

To the best of our knowledge, the text of this
work is in the “Public Domain” in Australia.
HOWEVER, copyright law varies in other countries, and the work may still be under copyright in the country from which you are accessing this website. It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work.

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Our Visit.

1.

We went down from Oxford together, I and Tod and William Whitney; accompanying Miss Deveen and Helen and Anna Whitney, who had been there for a few days. Miss Deveen’s carriage was waiting at the Paddington Station; they got into it with Tod, and William and I followed in a cab with the luggage. Miss Deveen had invited us all to stay with her.

Miss Cattledon, the companion, with her tall, thin figure, her pinched-in waist and her creaking stays, stood ready to receive us when we reached the house. Miss Deveen held out her hand.

“How have you been, Jemima? Taking care of yourself, I hope?”

“Quite well, thank you, Miss Deveen; and very glad to see you at home again,” returned Cattledon. “This is my niece, Janet Carey.”

A slight, small girl, with smooth brown hair and a quiet face that looked as if it had just come out of some wasting illness, was hiding herself behind Cattledon. Miss Deveen said a few pleasant words of welcome, and took her hand. The girl looked as shy and frightened as though we had all been a pack of gorillas.

“Thank you, ma’am; you are very kind,” she said in a tremble; and her voice, I noticed, was low and pleasant. I like nice voices, whether in man or woman.

“It wants but half-an-hour to dinner-time,” said Miss Deveen, untying the strings of her bonnet. “Miss Cattledon, will you show these young friends of ours the rooms you have appropriated to them.”

My room and Tod’s—two beds in it—was on the second floor; Helen and Anna had the best company room below, near Miss Deveen’s; Bill had a little one lower still, half-way up the first flight of stairs. Miss Cattledon’s room, we found out, was next to ours, and her niece slept with her.

Tod threw himself full length on his counterpane—tired out, he said. Certain matters had not gone very smoothly for him at Oxford, and the smart remained.

“You’ll be late, Tod,” I said when I was ready.

“Plenty of time, Johnny. I don’t suppose I shall keep dinner waiting.”

Miss Deveen stood at the door of the blue room when I went down: that pretty sitting-room, exclusively hers, that I remembered so well. She had on a purple silk gown, with studs of pale yellow topaz in its white lace front, studs every whit as beautiful as the emeralds made free with by Sophie Chalk.

“Come in here, Johnny.”

She was beginning to talk to me as we stood by the fire, when some one was heard to enter the inner room; Miss Deveen’s bed-chamber, which opened from this room as well as from the landing. She crossed over into it, and I heard Cattledon’s voice.

“It is so very kind of you, Miss Deveen, to have allowed me to bring my niece here! Under the circumstances—with such a cloud upon her——”

“She is quite welcome,” interrupted Miss Deveen’s voice.

“Yes, I know that; I know it: and I could not go down without thanking you. I have told Lettice to take some tea up to her while we dine. She can come to the drawing-room afterwards if you have no objection.”

“Why can’t she dine with us?” asked Miss Deveen.

“Better not,” said Cattledon. “She does not expect it; and with so many at table——”

“Nonsense!” came Miss Deveen’s quick, decisive interruption. “Many at table! There are sufficient servants to wait on us, and I suppose you have sufficient dinner. Go and bring her down.”

Miss Deveen came back, holding out her hand to me as she crossed the room. The gong sounded as we went down to the drawing-room. They all came crowding in, Tod last; and we went in to dinner.

Miss Deveen, with her fresh, handsome face and her snow-white hair, took the head of the table. Cattledon, at the foot, a green velvet ribbon round her genteel throat, helped the soup. William Whitney sat on Miss Deveen’s right, I on her left. Janet Carey sat next to him—and this brought her nearly opposite me.

She had an old black silk on, with a white frill at the throat—very poor and plain as contrasted with the light gleaming silks of Helen and Anna. But she had nice eyes; their colour a light hazel, their expression honest and sweet. It was a pity she could not get some colour into her wan face, and a little courage into her manner.

After coffee we sat down in the drawing-room to a round game at cards, and then had some music; Helen playing first. Janet Carey was at the table, looking at a view in an album. I went up to her.

Had I caught her staring at some native Indians tarred and feathered, she could not have given a worse jump. It might have been fancy, but I thought her face turned white.

“Did I startle you, Miss Carey? I am very sorry.”

“Oh, thank you—no. Every one is very kind. The truth is”—pausing a moment and looking at the view—“I knew the place in early life, and was lost in old memories. Past times and events connected with it came back to me. I recognized the place at once, though I was only ten years old when I left it.”

“Places do linger on the memory in a singularly vivid manner sometimes. Especially those we have known when young.”

“I can recognize every spot in this,” she said, gazing still at the album. “And I have not seen it for fifteen years.”

“Fifteen. I—I understood you to say you were ten years old when you left it.”

“So I was. I am twenty-five now.”

So much as that! So much older than any of us! I could hardly believe it.

“I should not have taken you for more than seventeen, Miss Carey.”

“At seventeen I went out to earn my own living,” she said, in a sad tone, but with a candour that I liked. “That is eight years ago.”

Helen’s music ceased with a crash. Miss Deveen came up to Janet Carey.

“My dear, I hear you can sing: your aunt tells me so. Will you sing a song, to please me?”

She was like a startled fawn: looking here, looking there, and turning white and red. But she rose at once.

“I will sing if you wish it, madam. But my singing is only plain singing: just a few old songs. I have never learnt to sing.”

“The old songs are the best,” said Miss Deveen. “Can you sing that sweet song of all songs—‘Blow, blow, thou wintry wind’?”

She went to the piano, struck the chords quietly, without any flourish or prelude, and began the first note.

Oh the soft, sweet, musical voice that broke upon us! Not a powerful voice, that astounds the nerves like an electric machine; but one of that intense, thrilling, plaintive harmony which brings a mist to the eye and a throb to the heart. Tod backed against the wall to look at her; Bill, who had taken up the cat, let it drop through his knees.

You might have heard a pin drop when the last words died away: “As friends remembering not.” Miss Deveen broke the silence: praising her and telling her to go on again. The girl did not seem to have the least notion of refusing: she appeared to have lived under submission. I think Miss Deveen would have liked her to go on for ever.

“The wonder to me is that you can remember the accompaniment to so many songs without your notes,” cried Helen Whitney.

“I do not know my notes. I cannot play.”

“Not know your notes!”

“I never learnt them. I never learnt music. I just play some few chords by ear that will harmonize with the songs. That is why my singing is so poor, so different from other people’s. Where I have been living they say it is not worth listening to.”

She spoke in a meek, deprecating manner. I had heard of self-depreciation: this was an instance of it. Janet Carey was one of the humble ones.

The next day was Good Friday. We went to church under lowering clouds, and came home again to luncheon. Cattledon’s face was all vinegar when we sat down to it.

“There’s that woman downstairs again!—that Ness!” she exclaimed with acrimony. “Making herself at home with the servants!”

“I’m glad to hear it,” smiled Miss Deveen. “She’ll get some dinner, poor thing.”

Cattledon sniffed. “It’s not a month since she was here before.”

“And I’m sure if she came every week she’d be welcome to a meal,” spoke Miss Deveen. “Ah now, young ladies,” she went on in a joking tone, “if you wanted your fortunes told, Mrs. Ness is the one to do it.”

“Does she tell truth?” asked Helen eagerly.

“Oh, very true, of course,” laughed Miss Deveen. “She’ll promise you a rich husband apiece. Dame Ness is a good woman, and has had many misfortunes. I have known her through all of them.”

“And helped her too,” resentfully put in Cattledon.

“But does she really tell fortunes?” pursued Helen.

“She thinks she does,” laughed Miss Deveen. “She told mine once—many a year ago.”

“And did it come true?”

“Well, as far as I remember, she candidly confessed that there was not much to tell—that my life would be prosperous but uneventful.”

“I don’t think, begging your pardon, Miss Deveen, that it is quite a proper subject for young people,” struck in Cattledon, drawing up her thin red neck.

“Dear me, no,” replied Miss Deveen, still laughing a little. And the subject dropped, and we finished luncheon.

The rain had come on, a regular downpour. We went into the breakfast-room: though why it was called that, I don’t know, since breakfast was never taken there. It was a fair-sized, square room, built out at the back, and gained by a few stairs down from the hall and a passage. Somehow people prefer plain rooms to grand ones for everyday use: perhaps that was why we all took a liking to this room, for it was plain enough. An old carpet on the floor, chairs covered with tumbled chintz, and always a good blazing fire in the grate. Miss Deveen would go in there to write her business letters—when she had any to write; or to cut out sewing with Cattledon for the housemaids. An old-fashioned secretary stood against the wall, in which receipts and other papers were kept. The French window opened to the garden.

“Pour, pour, pour! It’s going to be wet for the rest of the day,” said Tod gloomily.

Cattledon came in, equipped for church in a long brown cloak, a pair of clogs in her hand. Did none of us intend to go, she asked. Nobody answered. The weather outside was not tempting.

“You must come, Janet Carey,” she said very tartly, angry with us all, I expect. “Go and put on your things.”

“No,” interposed Miss Deveen. “It would not be prudent for your niece to venture out in this rain, Jemima.”

“The church is only over the way.”

“But consider the illness she has only just recovered from. Let her stay indoors.”

Cattledon went off without further opposition, Janet kneeling down unasked, to put on her clogs, and then opening her umbrella for her in the hall. Janet did not come in again. Miss Deveen went out to sit with a sick neighbour: so we were alone.

“What a cranky old thing that Cattledon is!” cried Bill, throwing down his newspaper. “She’d have walked that girl off in the wet, you see.”

“How old is Cattledon?” asked Tod. “Sixty?”

“Oh, you stupid fellow!” exclaimed Helen, looking up from the stool on the hearthrug, where she was sitting, nursing her knees. “Cattledon sixty! Why, she can’t be above forty-five.”

It was disrespectful no doubt, but we all called her plain “Cattledon” behind her back.

“That’s rather a queer girl, that niece,” said Tod. “She won’t speak to one: she’s like a frightened hare.”

“I like her,” said Anna. “I feel very sorry for her. She gives one the idea of having been always put upon: and she looks dreadfully ill.”

“I should say she has been kept in some Blue Beard’s cupboard, amongst a lot of hanging wives that have permanently scared her,” remarked Bill.

“It’s Cattledon,” said Tod; “it’s not the wives. She puts upon the girl and frightens her senses out of her. Cattledon’s a cross-grained, two-edged——”

He had to shut up: Janet Carey was coming in again. For about five minutes no one spoke. There seemed to be nothing to say. Bill played at ball with Miss Deveen’s red penwiper: Anna began turning over the periodicals: Helen gave the cat a box when it would have jumped on her knee.

“Well, this is lively!” cried Tod. “Nothing on earth to do; I wonder why the rain couldn’t have kept off till tomorrow?”

“I say,” whispered Helen, treason sparkling from her bright eyes, “let us have up that old fortune-teller! I’ll go and ask Lettice.”

She whirled out of the room, shutting the tail of her black silk dress in the door, and called Lettice. A few minutes, and Mrs. Ness came in, curtsying. A stout old lady in a cotton shawl and broad-bordered cap with a big red bow tied in front.

“I say, Mrs. Ness, can you tell our fortunes?” cried Bill.

“Bless you, young gentlefolks, I’ve told a many in my time. I’ll tell yours, if you like to bid me, sir.”

“Do the cards tell true?”

“I believe they does, sir. I’ve knowed ’em to tell over true now and again—more’s the pity!”

“Why do you say more’s the pity?” asked Anna.

“When they’ve fortelled bad things, my sweet, pretty young lady. Death, and what not.”

“But how it must frighten the people who are having them told!” cried Anna.

“Well, to speak the truth, young gentlefolks, when it’s very bad, I generally softens it over to ’em-say the cards is cloudy, or some’at o’ that,” was the old woman’s candid answer. “It don’t do to make folks uneasy.”

“Look here,” said Helen, who had been to find the cards, “I should not like to hear it if it’s anything bad.”

“Ah, my dear young lady, I don’t think you need fear any but a good fortune, with that handsome face and them bright eyes of yours,” returned the old dame—who really seemed to speak, not in flattery, but from the bottom of her heart. “I don’t know what the young lords ‘ud be about, to pass you by.”

Helen liked that; she was just as vain as a peacock, and thought no little of herself. “Who’ll begin?” asked she.

“Begin yourself, Helen,” said Tod. “It’s sure to be something good.”

So she shuffled and cut the cards as directed: and the old woman, sitting at the table, spread them out before her, talking a little bit to herself, and pointing with her finger here and there.

“You’ve been upon a journey lately,” she said, “and you’ll soon be going upon another.” I give only the substance of what the old lady said, but it was interspersed freely with her own remarks. “You’ll have a present before many days is gone; and you’ll—stay, there’s that black card—you’ll hear of somebody that’s sick. And—dear me! there’s an offer for you—an offer of marriage,—but it won’t come to anything. Well, now, shuffle and cut again, please.”

Helen did so. This was repeated three times in all. But, so far as we could understand it, her future seemed to be very uneventful—to have nothing in it—something like Miss Deveen’s.

“It’s a brave fortune, as I thought, young lady,” cried Mrs. Ness. “No trouble or care in store for you.”

“But there’s nothing,” said Helen, too intently earnest to mind any of us. “When am I to be married?”

“Well, my dear, the cards haven’t told so much this time. There’ll be an offer, as I said—and I think a bit of trouble over it; but——”

“But you said it would not come to anything,” interrupted Helen.

“Well, and no more it won’t: leastways, it seemed so by the cards; and it seemed to bring a bother with it—old folks pulling one way maybe, and young ‘uns the other. You’ll have to wait a bit for the right gentleman, my pretty miss.”

“What stupid cards they are!” cried Helen, in dudgeon. “I dare say it’s all rubbish.”

“Any ways, you’ve had nothing bad,” said the old woman. “And that’s a priceless consolation.”

“It’s your turn now, Anna.”

“I won’t have mine told,” said Anna. “I’m afraid.”

“Oh, you senseless donkey!” cried Bill. “Afraid of a pack of cards!” So Anna laughed, and began.

“Ah, there’s more here,” said the old woman as she laid them out. “You are going through some great ceremony not long first. See here—crowds of people—and show. Is it a great ball, I wonder?”

“It may be my presentation,” said Anna.

“And here’s the wedding-ring!—and there’s the gentleman! See! he’s turning towards you; a dark man it is; and he’ll be very fond of you, too!—and——”

“Oh, don’t go on,” cried Anna, in terrible confusion as she heard all this, and caught Tod’s eye, and saw Bill on the broad laugh. “Don’t, pray don’t; it must be all nonsense,” she went on, blushing redder than a rose.

“But it’s true,” steadily urged the old lady. “There the wedding is. I don’t say it’ll be soon; perhaps not for some years; but come it will in its proper time. And you’ll live in a fine big house; and—stay a bit—you’ll——”

Anna, half laughing, half crying, pushed the cards together. “I won’t be told any more,” she said; “it must be all a pack of nonsense.”

“Of course it is,” added Helen decisively. “And why couldn’t you have told me all that, Mrs. Ness?”

“Why, my dear, sweet young lady, it isn’t me that tells; it’s the cards.”

“I don’t believe it. But it does to while away a wet and wretched afternoon. Now, Miss Carey.”

Miss Carey looked up from her book with a start. “Oh, not me! Please, not me!”

“Not you!—the idea!” cried Helen. “Why, of course you must. I and my sister have had our turn, and you must take yours.”

As if further objection were out of the question, Miss Carey stood timidly up by the table and shuffled the cards that Dame Ness handed to her. When they were spread out, the old woman looked at the cards longer than she had looked for either Helen or Anna, then at the girl, then at the cards again.

“There has been sickness and trouble;—and distress,” she said at length, “And—and—‘tain’t over yet. I see a dark lady and a fair man: they’ve been in it, somehow. Seems to ha’ been a great trouble”—putting the tips of her forefingers upon two cards. “Here you are, you see, right among it,”—pointing to the Queen of Hearts. “I don’t like the look of it. And there’s money mixed up in the sorrow——”

A low, shuddering cry. I happened to be looking from the window at the moment, and turned to see Janet Carey with hands uplifted and a face of imploring terror. The cry came from her.

“Oh don’t, don’t! don’t tell any more!” she implored. “I—was—not—guilty.”

Down went her voice by little and little, down fell her hands; and down dropped she on the chair behind her. The next moment she was crying and sobbing. We stood round like so many helpless simpletons, quite put down by this unexpected interlude. Old Dame Ness stared, slowly shuffling the cards from hand to hand, and could not make it out.

“Here, I’ll have my fortune told next, Mother Ness,” said Bill Whitney, really out of good nature to the girl, that she might be left unobserved to recover herself. “Mind you promise me a good one.”

“And so I will then, young gentleman, if the cards’ll let me,” was the hearty answer. “Please shuffle ’em well, sir, and then cut ’em into three.”

Bill was shuffling with all his might when we heard the front-door open, and Cattledon’s voice in the hall. “Oh, by George, I say, what’s to be done?” cried he. “She’ll be fit to smother us. That old parson can’t have given them a sermon.”

Fortunately she stayed on the door-mat to take off her clogs. Dame Ness was smuggled down the kitchen stairs, and Bill hid the cards away in his pocket.

And until then it had not occurred to us that it might not be quite the right thing to go in for fortune-telling on Good Friday.

2.

On Easter Tuesday William Whitney and Tod went off to Whitney Hall for a few days: Sir John wrote for them. In the afternoon Miss Deveen took Helen in the carriage to make calls; and the rest of us went to the Colosseum, in the Regent’s Park. Cattledon rather fought against the expedition, but Miss Deveen did not listen to her. None of us—except herself—had seen it before: and I know that I, for one, was delighted with it.

The last scene of the performance was over. If I remember rightly, at this distance of time, it was the representation of the falling of an avalanche on a Swiss village, to bury it for ever in the snow; and we saw the little lighted church to which the terrified inhabitants were flying for succour, and heard the tinkling of its alarm bell. As we pushed out with the crowd, a policeman appeared in our way, facing us, a tall, big, fierce-looking man; not to impede the advance of the throng, but to direct its movements. Janet Carey seized my arm, and I turned to look at her. She stood something like a block of stone; her face white with terror, her eyes fixed on the policeman. I could not get her on, and we were stopping those behind. Naturally the man’s eyes fell on her; and with evident recognition.

“Oh, it’s you here, is it, Miss Carey!”

The tone was not exactly insolent: but it was cool and significant, wanting in respect. When I would have asked him how he dared so to address a young lady, the words were arrested by Janet. I thought she had gone mad.

“Oh, get me away, Mr. Ludlow, for Heaven’s sake! Don’t let him take me! Oh what shall I do? what shall I do?”

“What you’ve got to do is to get for’ard out o’ this here passage and not block up the way,” struck in the policeman. “I bain’t after you now; so you’ve no call to be afeared this time. Pass on that way, sir.”

I drew her onwards, and in half-a-minute we were in the open air, clear of the throng. Cattledon, who seemed to have understood nothing, except that we had stopped the way, shook Janet by the arm in anger, and asked what had come to her.

“It was the same man, aunt, that Mrs. Knox called in,” she gasped. “I thought he had come to London to look for me.”

Miss Cattledon’s answer was to keep hold of her arm, and whirl her along towards the outer gates. Anna and I followed in wonder.

“What is it all, Johnny?” she whispered.

“Goodness knows, Anna. I——”

Cattledon turned her head, asking me to go on and secure a cab. Janet was helped into it and sat back with her eyes closed, a shiver taking her every now and then.

Janet appeared at dinner, and seemed as well as usual. In the evening Helen tore the skirt of her thin dress: and before she was aware, the girl was kneeling by the side of her chair with a needle and thread, beginning to mend it.

“You are very kind,” said Helen heartily, when she saw what Janet was doing.

“Oh no,” answered Janet, with an upward, humble glance from her nice eyes.

But soon after that, when we were describing to Helen and Miss Deveen the sights at the Colosseum, and the silence of the buried village after the avalanche had fallen, Janet was taken with an ague fit. The very chair shook; it seemed that she must fall out of it. Anna ran to hold her. Miss Deveen got up in consternation.

“That Colosseum has been too much for her: there’s nothing so fatiguing as sightseeing. I did wrong in letting Janet go, as she is still weak from her illness. Perhaps she has taken cold.”

Ringing the bell, Miss Deveen told George to make some hot wine and water. When it was brought in, she made Janet drink it, and sent her upstairs to bed, marshalled by Cattledon.

The next morning, Wednesday, I was dressing in the sunshine that streamed in at the bedroom windows, when a loud hulla-balloo was set up below, enough to startle the king and all his men.

“Thieves! robbers! murder!”

Dashing to the door, I looked over the balustrades. The shrieks and calls came from Lettice Lane, who was stumbling up the stairs from the hall. Cattledon opened her door in her night-cap, saw me, and shut it again with a bang.

“Murder! robbers! thieves!” shrieked Lettice.

“But what is it, Lettice?” I cried, leaping down.

“Oh, Mr. Johnny, the house is robbed!—and we might just as well all have been murdered in our beds!”

Every one was appearing on the scene. Miss Deveen came fully dressed—she was often up before other people; Cattledon arrived in a white petticoat and shawl. The servants were running up from the kitchen.

Thieves had broken in during the night. The (so-called) breakfast-room at the back presented a scene of indescribable confusion. Everything in it was turned topsy-turvy, the secretary had been ransacked; the glass-doors stood open to the garden.

It seemed that Lettice, in pursuance of her morning’s duties, had gone to the room, and found it in this state. Lettice was of the excitable order, and went into shrieks. She stood now, sobbing and shaking, as she gave her explanation.

“When I opened the door and saw the room in this pickle, the window standing open, my very blood seemed to curdle within me. For all I knew the thieves might have done murder. Just look at the place, ma’am!—look at your secretary!”

It’s what we were all looking at. The sight was as good as moving house. Chairs and footstools lay upside down, their chintz covers untied and flung off; the hearthrug was under the table; books were open, periodicals scattered about; two pictures had been taken from the wall and lay face downwards; every ornament was moved from the mantelpiece. The secretary stood open; all its papers had been taken out, opened, and lay in a heap on the floor; and Janet Carey’s well-stocked work-box was turned bottom upwards, its contents having rolled anywhere.

“This must be your work, George,” said Miss Cattledon, turning on the servant-man with a grim frown.

“Mine, ma’am!” he answered, amazed at the charge.

“Yes, yours,” repeated Cattledon. “You could not have fastened the shutters last night; and that is how the thieves have got in.”

“But I did, ma’am. I fastened them just as usual.”

“Couldn’t be,” said Cattledon decisively, who had been making her way over the débris to examine the shutters. “They have not been forced in any way: they have simply been opened. The window also.”

“And neither window nor shutters could be opened from the outside without force,” remarked Miss Deveen. “I fear, George, you must have forgotten this room when you shut up last night.”

“Indeed, ma’am, I did not forget it,” was the respectful answer. “I assure you I bolted the window and barred the shutters as I always do.”

Janet Carey, standing in mute wonder like the rest of us, testified to this. “When I came in here last night to get a needle and thread to mend Miss Whitney’s dress, I am sure the shutters were shut: I noticed that they were.”

Cattledon would not listen. She had taken up her own opinion of George’s neglect, and sharply told Janet not to be so positive. Janet looked frightfully white and wan this morning, worse than a ghost.

“Oh, goodness!” cried Helen Whitney, appearing on the scene. “If ever I saw such a thing!”

“I never did—in all my life,” cried Cattledon.

“Have you lost any valuables from the secretary, Miss Deveen?”

“My dear Helen, there were no valuables in the secretary to lose,” was Miss Deveen’s answer. “Sometimes I keep money in it—a little: but last night there happened to be none. Of course the thieves could not know that, and must have been greatly disappointed. If they did not come in through the window—why, they must have got in elsewhere.”

Miss Deveen spoke in a dubious tone, that too plainly showed her own doubts on the point. George felt himself and his word reflected upon.

“If I had indeed forgotten this window last night, ma’am-though for me to do such a thing seems next door to impossible—I would confess to it at once. I can be upon my oath, ma’am, if put to it, that I made all secure here at dusk.”

“Then, George, you had better look to your other doors and windows,” was the reply of his mistress.

The other doors and windows were looked to: but no trace could be found of how the thieves got in. After breakfast, we succeeded in putting the room tolerably straight. The letters and bills took most time, for every one was lying open. And after it was all done, Miss Deveen came to the conclusion that nothing had been taken.

“Their object must have been money,” she observed. “It is a good thing I happened to carry my cash-box upstairs yesterday. Sometimes I leave it here in the secretary.”

“And was much in it?” one of us asked.

“Not very much. More, though, than one cares to lose: a little gold and a bank-note.”

“A bank-note!” echoed Janet, repeating the words quickly. “Is it safe?—are you sure, ma’am, the note is safe?”

“Well, I conclude it is,” answered Miss Deveen with composure. “I saw the cash-box before I came down this morning. I did not look inside it.”

“Oh, but you had better look,” urged Janet, betraying some excitement. “Suppose it should be gone! Can I look, ma’am?”

“What nonsense!” exclaimed Helen. “If the cash-box is safe, the money must be safe inside it. The thieves did not go into Miss Deveen’s room, Janet Carey.”

The servants wanted the police called in; but their mistress saw no necessity for it. Nothing had been carried off, she said, and therefore she should take no further trouble. Her private opinion was that George, in spite of his assertions, must have forgotten the window.

It seemed a curious thing that the thieves had not visited other rooms. Unless, indeed, the door of this one had been locked on the outside, and they were afraid to risk the noise of forcing it: and no one could tell whether the key had been turned, or not. George had the plate-basket in his bed-chamber; but on the sideboard in the dining-room stood a silver tea-caddy and a small silver waiter: how was it they had not walked off with these two articles? Or, as the cook said, why didn’t they rifle her larder? She had various tempting things in it, including a fresh-boiled ham.

“Janet Carey has been ill all the afternoon,” observed Anna, when I and Helen got home before dinner, for we had been out with Miss Deveen. “I think she feels frightened about the thieves, for one thing.”

“Ill for nothing!” returned Helen slightingly. “Why should she be frightened any more than we are? The thieves did not hurt her. I might just as well say I am ill.”

“But she has been really ill, Helen. She has a shivering-fit one minute and is sick the next. Cattledon says she must have caught cold yesterday, and is cross with her for catching it.”

“Listen,” said Helen, lowering her voice. “I can’t get it out of my head that that old fortune-teller must have had to do with it. She must have seen the secretary and may have taken note of the window fastenings. I am in a state over it: as you both know, it was I who had her up.”

Janet did not come down until after dinner. She was pale and quiet, but not less ready than ever to do what she could for every one. Helen had brought home some ferns to—transfer, I think she called it. Janet at once offered to help her. The process involved a large hand-basin full of water, and Miss Deveen sent the two girls into the breakfast-parlour, not to make a mess in the drawing-room.

“Well, my dears,” said Miss Deveen, when she had read the chapter before bed-time, “I hope you will all sleep well to-night, and that we shall be undisturbed by thieves. Not that they disturbed us last night,” she added, laughing. “Considering all things, I’m sure they were as polite and considerate thieves as we could wish to have to do with.”

Whether the others slept well I cannot say: I know I did. So well that I never woke at all until the same cries from Lettice disturbed the house as on the previous morning. The thieves had been in again.

Downstairs we went, as quickly as some degree of dressing allowed, and found the breakfast-room all confusion, the servants all consternation: the window open as before; the furniture turned about, the ornaments and pictures moved from their places, the books scattered, the papers of the secretary lying unfolded in a heap on the carpet, and a pair of embroidered slippers of Helen Whitney’s lying in the basin of water.

“What an extraordinary thing!” exclaimed Miss Deveen, while the rest of us stood in silent amazement.

Lettice’s tale was the same as the previous one. Upon proceeding to the room to put it to rights, she found it thus, and its shutters and glass-doors wide open. There was no trace, except here, of the possible entrance or exit of thieves: all other fastenings were secure as they had been left over-night; other rooms had not been disturbed; and, more singular than all, nothing appeared to have been taken. What could the thieves be seeking?

“Shall you call in the police now, ma’am?” asked Cattledon, her tone implying that they ought to have been called in before.

“Yes, I shall,” emphatically replied Miss Deveen.

“Oh!” shrieked Helen, darting in, after making a hasty and impromptu toilet, “look at my new slippers!”

After finishing the ferns last night they had neglected to send the basin away. The slippers were rose-coloured, worked with white flowers in floss silk; and the bits of loose green from the ferns floated over them like green weeds on a pond. Helen had bought them when we were out yesterday.

“My beautiful slippers!” lamented Helen. “I wish to goodness I had not forgotten to take them upstairs. What wicked thieves they must be! They ought to be hung.”

“It’s to know, mum, whether it was thieves,” spoke the cook.

“Why, what else can it have been, cook?” asked Miss Deveen.

“Mum, I don’t pretend to say. I’ve knowed cats do queer things. We’ve two on ’em-the old cat and her kitten.”

“Did you ever know cats unlock a secretary and take out the papers, cook?” returned Miss Deveen.

“Well, no, mum. But, on the other hand, I never knowed thieves break into a house two nights running, and both times go away empty-handed.”

The argument was unanswerable. Unless the thieves had been disturbed on each night, how was it they had taken nothing?

Miss Deveen locked the door upon the room just as it was; and after breakfast sent George to the nearest police-station. Whilst he was gone I was alone in the dining-room, stooping down to hunt for a book in the lowest shelf of the book-case, when Janet Carey came in followed by Cattledon. I suppose the table-cover hid me from them, for Cattledon began to blow her up.

“One would think you were a troubled ghost, shaking and shivering in that way, first upstairs and then down! The police coming!—what if they are? They are not coming after you this time. There’s no money missing now.”

Janet burst into tears. “Oh, aunt, why do you speak so to me? It is as though you believe me guilty!”

“Don’t be a simpleton, Janet,” rebuked Cattledon, in softer tones. “If I did not know you were not, and could not, be guilty, should I have brought you here under Miss Deveen’s roof? What vexes me so much is to see you look as though you were guilty—with your white face, and your hysterics, and your trembling hands and lips. Get a little spirit into yourself, child: the police won’t harm you.”

Catching up the keys from the table, she went out again, leaving Janet sobbing. I stood forward. She started when she saw me, and tried to dry her eyes.

“I am sorry, Miss Carey, that all this bother is affecting you. Why are you so sad?”

“I—have gone through a great deal of trouble lately;—and been ill,” she answered, with hesitation, arresting her tears.

“Can I do anything for you?—help you in any way?”

“You are very kind, Mr. Ludlow; you have been kind to me all along. There’s nothing any one can do. Sometimes I wish I could die.”

“Die!”

“There is so much unhappiness in the world!”

George’s voice was heard in the hall with the policeman. Janet vanished. But whether it was through the floor or out at the door, I declare I did not see then, and don’t quite know to this day.

I and Cattledon were allowed to assist at the conference between Miss Deveen and the policeman: a dark man with a double chin and stripes on his coat-sleeve. After hearing particulars, and examining the room and the mess it was in, he inquired how many servants were kept, and whether Miss Deveen had confidence in them. She told him the number, and said she had confidence in all.

He went into the kitchen, put what questions he pleased to the servants, looked at the fastenings of the doors generally, examined the outside of the window and walked about the garden. George called him Mr. Stone—which appeared to be his name. Mr. Stone had nothing of a report to bring Miss Deveen.

“It’s one of two things, ma’am,” he said. “Either this has been done by somebody in your own house; or else the neighbours are playing tricks upon you. I can’t come to any other conclusion. The case is peculiar, you see, inso-far as that nothing has been stolen.”

“It is very peculiar indeed,” returned Miss Deveen.

“I should have said—I should feel inclined to say—that the culprit is some one in the house——”

“It’s the most unlikely thing in the world, that it should have been any one in the house,” struck in Miss Deveen, not allowing him to go on. “To suspect any of the young people who are visiting me, would be simply an insult. And my servants would no more play the trick than I or Miss Cattledon would play it.”

“Failing indoors then, we must look out,” said Mr. Stone, after listening patiently. “And that brings up more difficulty, ma’am. For I confess I don’t see how they could get the windows and shutters open from the outside, and leave no marks of damage.”

“The fact of the window and shutters being wide open each morning, shows how they got out.”

“Just so,” said Mr. Stone; “but it does not show how they got in. Of course there’s the possibility that they managed to secrete themselves in the house beforehand.”

“Yesterday I thought that might have been the case,” remarked Miss Deveen; “today I do not think so. It seems that, after what occurred, my servants were especially cautious to keep their doors and windows not only closed, but bolted all day yesterday, quite barring the possibility of any one’s stealing in. Except, of course, down the chimneys.”

Mr. Stone laughed. “They’d bring a lot of soot with ’em that way.”

“And spoil my hearthrugs. No; that was not the way of entrance.”

“Then we come to the question—did one of the servants get up and admit ’em?”

“But that would be doubting my servants still, you see. It really seems, Mr. Stone, as though you could not help me.”

“Before saying whether I can or I can’t, I should be glad, ma’am, to have a conversation with you alone,” was the unexpected answer.

So we left him with Miss Deveen. Cattledon’s stays appeared to resent it, for they creaked alarmingly in the hall, and her voice was tart.

“Perhaps the man wants to accuse you or me, Mr. Johnny!”

We knew later, after the upshot came, what it was he did want; and I may as well state it at once. Stone had made up his mind to watch that night in the garden; but he wished it kept secret from every one, except Miss Deveen herself, and he charged her strictly not to mention it. “How will it serve you, if, as you say, they do not come in that way?” she had asked. “But the probability is they come out that way,” he answered. “At any rate, they fling the doors open, and I shall be there to drop upon them.”

Janet Carey grew very ill as the day went on. Lettice offered to sit up with her, in case she wanted anything in the night. Janet had just the appearance of somebody worn out.

We went to bed at the usual time, quite unconscious that Mr. Stone had taken up his night watch in the summer-house at the end of the garden. The nights were very bright just then; the moon at about the full. Nothing came of it: neither the room nor the window was disturbed.

“They scented my watch,” remarked the officer in private next morning to Miss Deveen. “However, ma’am, I don’t think it likely you will be troubled again. Seeing you’ve put it into our hands, they’ll not dare to risk further annoyance.”

“I suppose not—if they know it,” dubiously spoke Miss Deveen.

He shook his head. “They know as much as that, ma’am. Depend upon it their little game is over.”

Mr. Stone was mistaken. On the following morning, the breakfast-room was found by Lettice in exactly the same state of confusion. The furniture dragged about, the ornaments moved from the mantelpiece, the bills and papers opened, as before. Miss Deveen was very silent over it, and said in the hearing of the servants that she should have to carry the grievance to Scotland Yard.

And I’m sure I thought she set out to do it. The carriage came to the door in the course of the morning. Miss Deveen, who was ready dressed, passed over the others, and asked me to go with her.

“Do you know what I’m going to do, Johnny?” she questioned, as George took his place on the box and the fat old coachman gave the word to his horses.

“I think I do, Miss Deveen. We are going to Scotland Yard.”

“Not a bit of it, Johnny,” she said. “My opinion has come round to Mr. Policeman Stone’s—that we must look indoors for the disturber. I have brought you out with me to talk about it. It is a great mystery—for I thought I could have trusted the servants and all the rest of you with my life.”

It was a mystery—and no mistake.

“A great mystery,” repeated Miss Deveen; “a puzzle; and I want you to help me to unravel it, Johnny. I intend to sit up to-night in the breakfast-room. But not being assured of my nerves while watching in solitude for thieves, or ghosts, or what not, I wish you to sit up with me.”

“Oh, I shall like it, Miss Deveen.”

“I have heard of houses being disturbed before in a similar manner,” she continued. “There was a story in the old days of the Cock–Lane ghost: I think that was something of the same kind, but my memory is rather cloudy on the point. Other cases I know have been traced to the sudden mania, solely mischievous or otherwise, of some female inmate. I hope it will not turn out to have been Lettice herself.”

“Shall I watch without you, Miss Deveen?”

“No, no; you will bear me company. We will make our arrangements now, Johnny—for I do not intend that any soul shall know of this; not even Miss Cattledon. You will keep counsel, mind, like the true and loyal knight you are.”

* * * * *

The house had gone to rest. In the dark breakfast-room sat Miss Deveen and I, side by side. The fire was dying away, and it gave scarcely any light. We sat back against the wall between the fireplace and the door, she in one armchair, I in another. The secretary was opposite the fire, the key in the lock as usual; the window, closed and barred, lay to the left, the door to the right, a table in the middle. An outline of the objects was just discernible in the fading light.

“Do you leave the key in the secretary as a rule, Miss Deveen?” I asked in a whisper.

“Yes. There’s nothing in it that any one would care to look at,” she replied in the same cautious tone. “My cash-box is generally there, but that is always locked. But I think we had better not talk, Johnny.”

So we sat on in silence. The faint light of the fire died away, giving place to total darkness. It was weary watching there, hour after hour, each hour seeming an age. Twelve o’clock struck; one; two! I’d have given something to be able to fall asleep. Just to speak a word to Miss Deveen would be a relief, and I forgot her injunctions.

“Are you thinking of ghosts, Miss Deveen?”

“Just then I was thinking of God, Johnny. How good it is to know that He is with us in the dark as in the light.”

Almost with the last word, my ears, younger and quicker than Miss Deveen’s, caught the sound of a faint movement outside—as though steps were descending the stairs. I touched Miss Deveen’s arm and breathed a caution.

“I hear something. I think it is coming now.”

The door softly opened. Some white figure was standing there—as might be seen by the glimmer of light that came in through the passage window. Who or what it was, we could not gather. It closed the door behind it, and came slowly gliding along the room on the other side the table, evidently feeling its way as it went, and making for the window. We sat in breathless silence. Miss Deveen had caught my hand and was holding it in hers.

Next, the shutters were unfastened and slowly folded back; then the window was unbolted and its doors were flung wide. This let in a flood of moonlight: after the darkness the room seemed bright as day. And the white figure doing all this was—Janet Carey in her nightgown, her feet bare.

Whether Miss Deveen held my hand the tighter, or I hers, I dare say neither of us could tell. Janet’s eyes turned on us, as we sat: and I fully expected her to go into a succession of shrieks.

But no. She took no manner of notice. It was just as though she did not see us. Steadily, methodically as it seemed, she proceeded to search the room, apparently looking for something. First, she took the chintz cover off the nearest chair, and shook it out; turned over the chair and felt it all over; a small round stand was served the same; a blotting-case that happened to lie on the table she carried to the window, knelt down, and examined it on the floor by the moonlight, passing her fingers over its few pages, unfolding a letter that was inside and shaking it out to the air. Then all that was left on the floor, and she turned over another chair, and so went on.

I felt as cold as charity. Was it her ghost that was doing this? How was it she did not see us sitting there? Her eyes were open enough to see anything!

Coming to the secretary, she turned the key, and began her search in it. Pulling out one drawer first, she opened every paper it contained, shook them one by one, and let them drop on the floor. As she was commencing at the next drawer, her back towards us, Miss Deveen whispered to me.

“We will get away, Johnny. You go on first. No noise, mind.”

We got out without being seen or heard. At least, there was no outcry; no sign to tell we had been. Miss Deveen drew me into the dining-room; her face, as it caught the glimmer, entering by the fan-light over the hall-door, looked deadly pale.

“I understand it all, Johnny. She is doing it in her sleep.”

“In her sleep?”

“Yes. She is unconscious. It was better to come away. As she came round to search our part of the room, she might have found us, and awoke. That would have been dangerous.”

“But, Miss Deveen, what is she searching for?”

“I know. I see it all perfectly. It is for a bank-note.”

“But—if she is really asleep, how can she go about the search in that systematic way? Her eyes are wide open: she seems to examine things as though she saw them.”

“I cannot tell you how it is, Johnny. They do seem to see things, though they are asleep. What’s more, when they awake there remains no consciousness of what they have done. This is not the first case of somnambulism I have been an eye-witness to. She throws the window and shutters open to admit the light.”

“How can she have sense to know in her sleep that opening them will admit it?”

“Johnny, though these things are, I cannot explain them. Go up to your bed now and get to sleep. As I shall go to mine. You shall know about Janet in the morning. She will take no harm if left alone: she has taken none hitherto. Say nothing to any one.”

It was the solution of the great puzzle. Janet Carey had done it all in her sleep. And what she had been searching for was a bank-note.

In the situation where Janet had been living as nursery-governess, a bank-note had disappeared. Janet was suspected and accused of taking it. Constitutionally timid and nervous, her spirits long depressed by circumstances, the accusation had a grave effect upon her. She searched the house for it incessantly, almost night and day, just as we had seen her searching the parlour at Miss Deveen’s in her sleep, and then fell into a fever—which was only saved by great care from settling on the brain. When well enough, Miss Cattledon had her removed to London to Miss Deveen’s; but the stigma still clung to her, and the incipient fever seemed still to hover about her. The day William Whitney left, she moved from Miss Cattledon’s chamber to the one he had occupied: and that night, being unrestrained, she went down in her sleep to search. The situation of the room in which the note had been lost was precisely similar to this breakfast-room at Miss Deveen’s—in her troubled sleep, poor girl, she must have taken it for the same room, and crept down, still asleep, to renew the endless search she had formerly made when awake. The night the policeman was watching in the summer-house, Lettice sat up with Janet; so that night nothing occurred. Lettice said afterwards that Miss Carey twice got out of bed in her sleep and seemed to be making for the door, but Lettice guided her back to bed again. And so there was the elucidation: and Janet was just as unconscious of what she had done as the bed-post.

Miss Deveen’s medical man was called in, for brain-fever, escaped, appeared to be fastening on Janet in earnest now. He gave it as his opinion that she was no natural sleep-walker, but that the mind’s disturbance had so acted on the brain and system, coupled with her fright at meeting the policeman at the Colosseum, as to have induced the result. At any rate, whatever may have caused it, and strange though it was, I have only given facts. And in the next paper we shall hear more about the bank-note.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005