"But, sir," said Helen, "there is no need for that. Mr. Hand sent me a note along with the extracts."
"The deuce he did. All the better. Any words in it that are in the forged note? Is Penfold in it, or Wardlaw?"
Helen reflected a moment, and then said she thought both those names were in it.
"Fetch me that note," said Undercliff, and his eyes sparkled. He was on a hot scent now.
"And let me study the genuine reports, and compare what they say with the forged ones," said Mrs. Undercliff.
"Oh, what friends I have found at last!" cried Helen.
She thanked them both warmly, and hurried home, for it was getting late.
Next day she brought Hand's letter to Mr. Undercliff, and devoured his countenance while he inspected it keenly and compared it with the forged note.
The comparison was long and careful, but unsatisfactory. Mr. Undercliff could not conscientiously say whether Hand had written the forged note or not. There were pros and cons.
"We are in deeper water than I thought," said he. "The comparison must be enlarged. You must write as I suggested, and get another note out of Mr. Hand."
"And leave the prayer-book with me," said Mrs. Undercliff.
Helen complied with these instructions, and in due course received a civil line from Mr. Hand, to say that the extracts had been sent him from the country by one of his fellow-clerks, and he had locked them up, lest Mr. Michael Penfold, who was much respected in the office, should see them. He could not say where they came from; perhaps from some provincial paper. If of any value to Miss Rolleston, she was quite at liberty to keep them. He added there was a coffee-house in the city where she could read all the London papers of that date. This letter, which contained a great many more words than the other, was submitted to Undercliff. It puzzled him so that he set to work, and dissected every curve the writer's pen had made; but he could come to no positive conclusion, and he refused to utter his conjectures.
"We are in a deep water," said he.
Finally, he told his mother he was at a stand-still for the present.
"But I am not," said Mrs. Undercliff. She added, after a while, "I think there's felony at the bottom of this."
"Smells like it to me," said the expert.
"Then I want you to do something very clever for me."
"What is that?"
"I want you to forge something."
"Come! I say."
"Quite innocent, I assure you."
"Well, but it is a bad habit to commence."
"All depends on the object. This is to take in a forger, that is all."
The expert's eyes sparkled. He had always been sadly discontented with the efforts of forgers, and thought he could do better.
"I'll do it," said he, gayly.
GENERAL ROLLESTON and his daughter sat at breakfast in the hotel. General Rolleston was reading the Times, and his eye lighted on something that made him start. He looked toward Helen, and his first impulse was to communicate it to her. But, on second thoughts, he preferred to put a question to her first.
"You have never told the Wardlaws what those sailors said?"
"No, papa. I still think they ought to have been told; but you know you positively forbade me."
"Of course I did. Why afflict the old gentleman with such a tale? A couple of common sailors, who chose to fancy the ship was destroyed."
"Who are better judges of such a thing than sailors?"
"Well, my child, if you think so, I can't help it. All I say is, spare the old gentleman such a report. As for Arthur, to tell you the truth, I have mentioned the matter to him."
"Ah, papa! Then why forbid me to tell him? What did he say?"
"He was very much distressed. 'Destroy the ship my Helen was in,' said he. 'If I thought Wylie had done that, I'd kill him with my own hand, though I was hanged for it next minute.' I never saw the young fellow fire up so before. But when he came to think calmly over it a little while, he said: "I hope this slander will never reach my father's ears; it would grieve him deeply. I only laugh at it.'"
"Laugh at it! and yet talk of killing?"
"Oh, people say they laugh at a thing when they are very angry all the time. However, as you are a good girl, and mind what you are told, I'll read you an advertisement that will make you stare. Here is Joseph Wylie, who, you say, wrecked the Proserpine, actually invited by Michael Penfold to call on him, and hear of something to his advantage."
"Dear me!" said Helen, "how strange! Surely Mr. Penfold cannot know the character of that man. Stop a minute! Advertise for him? Then nobody knows where he lives? There, papa. You see he is afraid to go near Arthur Wardlaw; he knows he destroyed the ship. What a mystery it all is! And so Mr. Penfold is at home, after all; and not to send me a single line. I never met with so much unkindness and discourtesy in all my life."
"Ah, my dear," said the general, "you never defied the world before, as you are doing now."
Helen sighed; but, presently recovering her spirit, said she had done without the world on her dear island, and she would not be its slave now.
As she was always as good as her word, she declined an invitation to play the lion, and, dressing herself in plain merino, went down that very evening to Michael Penfold's cottage.
We run thither a little before her, to relate briefly what had taken place there.
Nancy Rouse, as may well be imagined, was not the woman to burn two thousand pounds. She locked the notes up; and after that night became very reserved on that head, so much so that, at last, Mr. Penfold saw it was an interdicted topic, and dropped it in much wonder.
When Nancy came to think of it in daylight, she could not help suspecting Wylie had some hand in it; and it occurred to her that the old gentleman, who lodged next door, might be an agent of Wylie's and a spy on her. Wylie must have told him to push the 2,000 pounds into her room; but what a strange thing to do! To be sure, he was a sailor, and sailors had been known to make sandwiches of bank-notes and eat them. Still, her good sense revolted against this theory, and she was sore puzzled; for, after all, there was the money, and she had seen it come through the wall. One thing appeared certain, Joe had not forgotten her; he was thinking of her as much as ever, or more than ever; so her spirits rose, she began singing and whistling again, and waited cunningly till Joe should reappear and explain his conduct. Hostage for his reappearance she held the 2,000 pounds. She felt so strong and saucy she was half sorry she had allowed Mr. Penfold to advertise; but, after all, it did not much matter; she could always declare to Joe she had never missed him, for her part, and the advertising was a folly of poor Mr. Penfold's.
Matters were in this condition when the little servant came up one evening to Mr. Penfold and said there was a young lady to see him.
"A young lady for me?" said he.
"Which she won't eat you, while I am by," said the sharp little girl. "It is a lady, and the same what come before."
"Perhaps she will oblige me with her name," said Michael, timidly.
"I won't show her up till she do," said this mite of a servant, who had been scolded by Nancy for not extracting that information on Helen's last visit.
"Of course, I must receive her," said Michael, half consulting the mite; it belonged to a sex which promptly assumes the control of such gentle creatures as he was.
"Is Miss Rouse in the way?" said he.
The mite laughed, and said:
"She is only gone down the street. I'll send her in to take care on you."
With this she went off, and in due course led Helen up the stairs. She ran in, and whispered in Michael's ear—
"It is Miss Helen Rolleston."
Thus they announced a lady at No. 3.
Michael stared with wonder at so great a personage visiting him; and the next moment Helen glided into the room, blushing a little, and even panting inaudibly, but all on her guard. She saw before her a rather stately figure, and a face truly venerable, benignant and beautiful, though deficient in strength. She cast a devouring glance on him as she courtesied to him; and it instantly flashed across her, "But for you there would be no Robert Penfold." There was an unconscious tenderness in her voice as she spoke to him, for she had to open the interview.
"Mr. Penfold, I fear my visit may surprise you, as you did not write to me. But, when you hear what I am come about, I think you will not be displeased with me for coming."
"Displeased, madam! I am highly honored by your visit—a lady who, I understand, is to be married to my worthy employer, Mr. Arthur. Pray be seated, madam."
"Thank you, sir."
Helen began in a low, thrilling voice, to which, however, she gave firmness by a resolute effort of her will.
"I am come to speak to you of one who is very dear to you, and to all who really know him."
"Dear to me? It is my son. The rest are gone. It is Robert."
And he began to tremble.
"Yes, it is Robert," said she, very softly; then turning her eyes away from him, lest his emotion should overcome her, she said— "He has laid me and my father under deep obligations."
She dragged her father in; for it was essential not to show Mr. Penfold she was in love with Robert.
"Obligations to my Robert? Ah, madam, it is very kind of you to say that, and cheer a desolate father's heart with praise of his lost son! But how could a poor unfortunate man in his position serve a lady like you?"
"He defended me against robbers, single-handed."
"Ah," said the old man, glowing with pride, and looking more beautiful than ever, "he was always as brave as a lion."
"That is nothing; he saved my life again, and again, and again."
"God bless him for it! and God bless you for coming and telling me of it! Oh, madam, he was always brave, and gentle, and just, and good; so noble, so unfortunate."
And the old man began to cry.
Helen's bosom heaved, and it cost her a bitter struggle not to throw her arms around the dear old man's neck and cry with him. But she came prepared for a sore trial of her feelings, and she clinched her hands and teeth, and would not give way an inch.
"Tell me how he saved your life, madam."
"He was in the ship, and in the boat, with me."
"Ah, madam," said Michael, "that must have been some other Robert Penfold; not my son. He could not come home. His time was not up, you know."
"It was Robert Penfold, son of Michael Penfold."
"Excuse me a moment," said Michael; and he went to a drawer, and brought her a photograph of Robert. "Was it this Robert Penfold?"
The girl took the photograph, and eyed it, and lowered her head over it.
"Yes," she murmured.
"And he was coming home in the ship with you. Is he mad? More trouble! more trouble!"
"Do not alarm yourself," said Helen; "he will not land in England for years"—here she stifled a sob—"and long ere that we shall have restored him to society."
Michael stared at that, and shook his head.
"Never," said he; "that is impossible."
"They all say he is a felon."
"They all shall say that he is a martyr."
"And so he is; but how can that ever be proved?"
"I don't know. But I am sure the truth can always be proved, if people have patience and perseverance."
"My sweet young lady," said Michael sadly, "you don't know the world."
"I am learning it fast, though. It may take me a few years, perhaps, to make powerful friends, to grope my way among forgers, and spies, and wicked, dishonest people of all sorts, but so surely as you sit there I'll clear Robert Penfold before I die."
The good feeble old man gazed on her with admiration and astonishment.
She subdued her flashing eye, and said with a smile: "And you shall help me. Mr. Penfold, let me ask you a question. I called here before; but you were gone to Edinburgh. Then I wrote to you at the office, begging you to let me know the moment you returned. Now, do not think I am angry; but pray tell me why you would not answer my letter."
Michael Penfold was not burdened with amour propre, but who has not got a little of it in some corner of his heart? "Miss Rolleston," said he, "I was born a gentleman, and was a man of fortune once, till false friends ruined me. I am in business now, but still a gentleman; and neither as a gentleman nor as a man of business could I leave a lady's letter unanswered. I never did such a thing in all my life. I never got your letter," he said, quite put out; and his wrath was so like a dove's that Helen smiled and said, "But I posted it myself. And my address was in it; yet it was not returned."
"Well, madam, it was not delivered, I assure you.
"It was intercepted, then."
He looked at her. She blushed, and said: "Yes, I am getting suspicious, ever since I found I was followed and watched. Excuse me a moment." She went to the window and peered through the curtains. She saw a man walking slowly by; he quickened his pace the moment she opened the curtain.
"Yes," said she, "it was intercepted, and I am watched wherever I go."
Before she could say any more a bustle was heard on the stairs, and in bounced Nancy Rouse, talking as she came. "Excuse me, Mr. Penfolds, but I can't wait no longer with my heart a bursting; it is! it is! Oh, my dear, sweet young lady; the Lord be praised! You really are here alive and well. Kiss you I must and shall; come back from the dead; there—there—there!"
"Nancy! my good, kind Nancy," cried Helen, and returned her embrace warmly.
Then followed a burst of broken explanations; and at last Helen made out that Nancy was the landlady, and had left Lambeth long ago.
"But, dear heart!" said she, "Mr. Penfolds, I'm properly jealous of you. To think of her coming here to see you, and not me!"
"But I didn't know you were here, Nancy." Then followed a stream of inquiries, and such warm-hearted sympathy with all her dangers and troubles, that Helen was led into revealing the cause of it all.
"Nancy," said she, solemnly, "the ship was willfully cast away; there was a villain on board that made holes in her on purpose, and sunk her."
Nancy lifted up her hands in astonishment. But Mr. Penfold was far more surprised and agitated.
"For Heaven's sake, don't say that!" he cried.
"Why not, sir?" said Helen; "it is the truth; and I have got the testimony of dying men to prove it."
"I am sorry for it. Pray don't let anybody know. Why, Wardlaws would lose the insurance of 160,000 pounds."
"Arthur Wardlaw knows it. My father told him."
"And he never told me," said Penfold, with growing surprise.
"Goodness me! what a world it is!" cried Nancy. "Why, that was murder, and no less. It is a wonder she wasn't drownded, and another friend into the bargain that I had in that very ship. Oh, I wish I had the villain here that done it, I'd tear his eyes out."
Here the mite of a servant bounded in, radiant and giggling, gave Nancy a triumphant glance, and popped out again, holding the door open, through which in slouched a seafaring man, drawn by Penfold's advertisement, and decoyed into Nancy's presence by the imp of a girl, who thought to please her mistress.
Nancy, who for some days had secretly expected this visit, merely gave a little squeak; but Helen uttered a violent scream; and, upon that, Wylie recognized her, and literally staggered back a step or two, and these words fell out of his mouth—
"The sick girl!"
Helen caught them.
"Ay!" cried she; "but she is alive in spite of you. Alive to denounce you and to punish you."
She darted forward, and her eyes flashed lightning.
"Look at this man, all of you," she cried. "Look at him well. THIS IS THE WRETCH THAT SCUTTLED THE Proserpine!"
"OH, Miss Helen, how can you say that?" cried Nancy, in utter dismay. "I'll lay my life poor Joe never did such wickedness."
But Helen waved her off without looking at her, and pointed at Wylie.
"Are you blind? Why does he cringe and cower at sight of me? I tell you he scuttled the Proserpine, and the great auger he did it with I have seen and handled. Yes, sir, you destroyed a ship, and the lives of many innocent persons, whose blood now cries to Heaven against you; and if I am alive to tell the cruel tale, it is no thanks to you; for you did your best to kill me, and, what is worse, to kill Robert Penfold, this gentleman's son; for he was on board the ship. You are no better than an assassin."
"I am a man that's down," said Wylie, in a low and broken voice, hanging his head. "Don't hit me any more. I didn't mean to take anybody's life. I took my chance with the rest, lady, as I'm a man. I have lain in my bed many's the night, crying like a child, with thinking you were dead. And now I am glad you are alive to be revenged on me. Well, you see, it is your turn now; you have lost me my sweetheart, there; she'll never speak to me again, after this. Ah, the poor man gets all the blame! You don't ask who tempted me; and, if I was to tell you, you'd hate me worse than ever; so I'll belay. If I'm a sinner, I'm a sufferer. England's too hot to hold me. I've only to go to sea, and get drowned the quickest way." And with this he vented a deep sigh, and slouched out of the room.
Nancy sank into a seat, and threw her apron over her head, and rocked and sobbed as if her heart would break.
As for Helen Rolleston, she still stood in the middle of the room, burning with excitement.
Then poor old Michael came to her, and said, almost in a whisper:
"It is a bad business; he is her sweetheart, and she had the highest opinion of him."
This softened Helen in a great measure. She turned and looked at Nancy, and said:
"Oh, dear, what a miserable thing! But I couldn't know that."
After a while, she drew a chair, and sat down by Nancy, and said:
"I won't punish him, Nancy."
Nancy burst out sobbing afresh.
"You have punished him," said she, bruskly, "and me, too, as never did you no harm. You have driven him out of the country, you have."
At this piece of feminine justice Helen's anger revived. "So, then," said she, "ships are to be destroyed, and ladies and gentlemen murdered, and nobody is to complain, or say an angry word, if the wretch happens to be paying his addresses to you. That makes up for all the crimes in the world. What! Can an honest woman like you lose all sense of right and wrong for a man? And such a man!"
"Why, he is as well-made a fellow as ever I saw," sobbed Nancy.
"Oh, is he?" said Helen, ironically—her views of manly beauty were different, and black eyes a sine qua non with her—"then it is a pity his soul is not made to correspond. I hope by my next visit you will have learned to despise him as you ought. Why, if I loved a man ever so, I'd tear him out of my heart if he committed a crime; ay, though I tore my soul out of my body to do it."
"No, you wouldn't," said Nancy, recovering some of her natural pugnacity; "for we are all tarred with the same stick, gentle or simple."
"But I assure you I would," cried Helen; "and so ought you."
"Well, miss, you begin," cried Nancy, suddenly firing up through her tears. "If the Proserpine was scuttled, which I've your word for it, Miss Helen, and I never knew you tell a lie, why, your sweetheart is more to blame for it than mine."
Helen rose with dignity.
"You are in grief," said she. "I leave you to consider whether you have done well to affront me in your own house." And she was moving to the door with great dignity, when Nancy ran and stopped her.
"Oh, don't leave me so, Miss Helen," she cried; "don't you go to quarrel with me for speaking the truth too plain and rude, as is a plain-spoken body at the best; and in such grief myself I scarce know what to say. But indeed, and in truth, you mustn't go and put it abroad that the ship was scuttled; if you do, you won't hurt Joe Wylie; he'll get a ship and fly the country. Who you'll hurt will be your own husband as is to be—Wardlaws."
"Shall I, Mr. Penfold?" asked Helen, disdainfully.
"Well, madam, certainly it might create some unworthy suspicion.
"Suspicion?" cried Nancy. "Don't you think to throw dust in my eyes. What had poor Joe to gain by destroying that there ship? you know very well he was bribed to do it; and risk his own life. And who bribed him? Who should bribe him, but the man as owned the ship?"
"Miss Rouse," said Mr. Penfold, "I sympathize with your grief, and make great allowance; but I will not sit here and hear my worthy employer blackened with such terrible insinuations. The great house of Wardlaw bribe a sailor to scuttle their own ship, with Miss Rolleston and one hundred and sixty thousand pounds' worth of gold on board! Monstrous! monstrous!"
"Then what did Joe Wylie mean?" replied Nancy. "Says he, 'The poor man gets all the blame. If I was to tell you who tempted me,' says he, 'you'd hate me worse.' Then I say, why should she hate him worse? Because it's her sweetheart tempted mine. I stands to that."
This inference, thus worded, struck Helen as so droll that she turned her head aside to giggle a little. But old Penfold replied loftily:
"Who cares what a Wylie says against a great old mercantile house of London City?"
"Very well, Mr. Penfolds," said Nancy, with one great final sob, and dried her eyes with her apron; and she did it with such an air, they both saw she was not going to shed another tear about the matter. "Very well; you are both against me; then I'll say no more. But I know what I know."
"And what do you know?" inquired Helen.
"Time will show," said Nancy, turning suddenly very dogged—"time will show."
Nothing more was to be got out of her after that; and Helen, soon after, made her a civil, though stiff, little speech; regretted the pain she had inadvertently caused her, and went away, leaving Mr. Penfold her address.
On her return home, she entered the whole adventure in her diary. She made a separate entry to this effect:
Mysterious.—My letter to Mr. Penfold at the office intercepted.
Wylie hints that he was bribed by Messrs. Wardlaw.
Nancy Rouse suspects that it was Arthur, and says time will show.
As for me, I can neither see why Wylie should scuttle the ship unless he was bribed by somebody, nor what Arthur or his father could gain by destroying that ship. This is all as dark as is that more cruel mystery which alone I care to solve.
NEXT morning, after a sleepless night, Nancy Rouse said to Mr. Penfold, "Haven't I heard you say as bank-notes could be traced to folk?"
"Certainly, madam," said Michael. "But it is necessary to take the numbers of them."
"Oh! And how do you do that?"
"Why, every note has its own number."
"La! ye don't say so; then them fifties are all numbered, belike."
"Certainly, and if you wish me to take down the numbers, I will do so."
"Well, sir, some other day you shall. I could not bear the sight of them just yet; for it is them as has been the ruin of poor Joe Wylie, I do think."
Michael could not follow this; but, the question having been raised, he advised her, on grounds of common prudence, not to keep them in the house without taking down their numbers.
"We will talk about that in the evening," said Nancy.
Accordingly, at night, Nancy produced the notes, and Michael took down the numbers and descriptions in his pocket-book. They ran from 16,444 to 16,463. And he promised her to try and ascertain through what hands they had passed. He said he had a friend in the Bank of England, who might perhaps be able to discover to what private bank they had been issued in the first instance, and then those bankers, on a strong representation, might perhaps examine their books, and say to whom they had paid them. He told her the notes were quite new, and evidently had not been separated since their first issue.
Nancy caught a glimpse of his meaning, and set herself doggedly to watch until the person who had passed the notes through the chimney should come for them. "He will miss them," said she, "you mark my words."
Thus Helen, though reduced to a standstill herself, had set an inquiry on foot which was alive and ramifying.
In the course of a few days she received a visit from Mrs. Undercliff. That lady came in, and laid a prayer-book on the table, saying, "I have brought it you back, miss; and I want you to do something for my satisfaction."
"Oh, certainly," said Helen. "What is it?"
"Well, miss, first examine the book and the writing. Is it all right?"
Helen examined it, and said it was: "Indeed," said she, "the binding looks fresher, if anything."
"You have a good eye," said Mrs. Undercliff. "Well, what I want you to do is— Of course Mr. Wardlaw is a good deal about you?"
"Does he go to church with you ever?"
"But he would, if you were to ask him."
"I have no doubt he would; but why?"
"Manage matters so that he shall go to church with you, and then put the book down for him to see the writing, all in a moment. Watch his face and tell me."
Helen colored up and said: "No; I can't do that. Why, it would be turning God's temple into a trap! Besides—"
"The real reason first, if you please," said this horribly shrewd old woman.
"Well, Mr. Arthur Wardlaw is the gentleman I am going to marry."
"Good Heavens!" cried Mrs. Undercliff, taken utterly aback by this most unexpected turn. "Why, you never told me that!"
"No," said Helen, blushing. "I did not think it necessary to go into that. Well, of course, it is not in human nature that Mr. Wardlaw should be zealous in my good work, or put himself forward; but he has never refused to lend me any help that was in his power; and it is repugnant to my nature to suspect him of a harm, and to my feelings to lay a trap for him."
"Quite right," said Mrs. Undercliff; "of course I had no idea you were going to marry Mr. Wardlaw. I made sure Mr. Penfold was the man."
Helen blushed higher still, but made no reply.
Mrs. Undercliff turned the conversation directly. "My son has given many hours to Mr. Hand's two letters, and he told me to tell you he is beginning to doubt whether Mr. Hand is a real person, with a real handwriting, at all.
"Oh, Mrs. Undercliff! Why, he wrote me two letters! However, I will ask Mr. Penfold whether Mr. Hand exists or not. When shall I have the pleasure of seeing you again?"
"Whenever you like, my dear young lady; but not upon this business of Penfold and Wardlaw. I have done with it forever; and my advice to you, miss, is not to stir the mud any more." And with these mysterious words the old lady retired, leaving Helen deeply discouraged at her desertion.
However, she noted down the conversation in her diary, and made this comment: People find no pleasure in proving an accused person innocent; the charm is to detect guilt. This day a good, kind friend abandons me because I will not turn aside from my charitable mission to suspect another person as wrongfully as he I love has been suspected.
Mem.: To see, or make inquiries about Mr. Hand.
General Rolleston had taken a furnished house in Hanover Square. He now moved into it, and Helen was compelled to busy herself in household arrangements.
She made the house charming; but unfortunately stood in a draught while heated, and caught a chill, which a year ago would very likely have gone to her lungs and killed her, but now settled on her limbs in violent neuralgic pains, and confined her to her bed for a fortnight.
She suffered severely, but had the consolation of finding she was tenderly beloved. Arthur sent flowers every day and affectionate notes twice a day. And her father was constantly by her bedside.
At last she came down to the drawing-room, but lay on the sofa well wrapped up, and received only her most intimate friends.
The neuralgia had now settled on her right arm and hand, so that she could not write a letter; and she said to herself with a sigh, "Oh, how unfit a girl is to do anything great! We always fall ill just when health and strength are most needed."
Nevertheless, during this period of illness and inaction, circumstances occurred that gave her joy.
Old Wardlaw had long been exerting himself in influential channels to obtain what he called justice for his friend Rolleston, and had received some very encouraging promises; for the general's services were indisputable; and, while he was stirring the matter, Helen was unconsciously co-operating by her beauty, and the noise her adventure made in society. At last a gentleman whose wife was about the Queen, promised old Wardlaw one day that, if a fair opportunity should occur, that lady should tell Helen's adventure, and how the gallant old general, when everybody else despaired, had gone out to the Pacific, and found his daughter and brought her home. This lady was a courtier of ten years' standing, and waited her opportunity; but when it did come, she took it, and she soon found that no great tact or skill was necessary on such an occasion as this. She was listened to with ready sympathy, and the very next day some inquiries were made, the result of which was that the Horse Guards offered Lieutenant-General Rolleston the command of a crack regiment and a full generalship. At the same time, it was intimated to him from another official quarter that a baronetcy was at his service if he felt disposed to accept it. The tears came into the stout old warrior's eyes at this sudden sunshine of royal favor, and Helen kissed old Wardlaw of her own accord; and the star of the Wardlaws rose into the ascendant, and for a time Robert Penfold seemed to be quite forgotten.
The very day General Rolleston became Sir Edward, a man and a woman called at the Charing Cross Hotel, and asked for Miss Helen Rolleston.
The answer was, she had left the hotel about ten days.
"Where is she gone, if you please?"
"We don't know."
"Why, hasn't she left her new address?"
"No. The footman came for letters several times."
No information was to be got here, and Mr. Penfold and Nancy Rouse went home greatly disappointed, and puzzled what to do.
At first sight it might appear easy for Mr. Penfold to learn the new address of Miss Rolleston. He had only to ask Arthur Wardlaw. But, to tell the truth, during the last fortnight Nancy Rouse had impressed her views steadily and persistently on his mind, and he had also made a discovery that co-operated with her influence and arguments to undermine his confidence in his employer. What that discovery was we must leave him to relate.
Looking, then, at matters with a less unsuspicious eye than heretofore, he could not help observing that Arthur Wardlaw never put into the office letter-box a single letter for his sweetheart. "He must write to her," thought Michael; "but I am not to know her address. Suppose, after all, he did intercept that letter."
And now, like other simple, credulous men whose confidence has been shaken, he was literally brimful of suspicions, some of them reasonable, some of them rather absurd.
He had too little art to conceal his change of mind; and so, very soon after his vain attempt to see Helen Rolleston at the inn, he was bundled off to Scotland on business of the office.
Nancy missed him sorely. She felt quite alone in the world. She managed to get through the day—work helped her; but at night she sat disconsolate and bewildered, and she was now beginning to doubt her own theory. For certainly, if all that money had been Joe Wylie's, he would hardly have left the country without it.
Now, the second evening after Michael's departure, she was seated in his room, brooding, when suddenly she heard a peculiar knocking next door.
She listened a little while, and then stole softly downstairs to her own little room.
Her suspicions were correct. It was the same sort of knocking that had preceded the phenomenon of the hand and bank-notes. She peeped into the kitchen and whispered, "Jenny—Polly—come here."
A stout washerwoman and the mite of a servant came, wondering.
"Now you stand there," said Nancy, "and do as I bid you. Hold your tongues, now. I know all about it."
The myrmidons stood silent, but with panting bosoms; for the mysterious knocking now concluded, and a brick in the chimney began to move.
It came out, and immediately a hand with a ring on it came through the aperture, and felt about.
The mite stood firm, but the big washerwoman gave signs of agitation that promised to end in a scream.
Nancy put her hand roughly before the woman's mouth. "Hold your tongue, ye great soft—" And, without finishing her sentence, she darted to the chimney and seized the hand with both her own and pulled it with such violence that the wrist followed it through the masonry, and a roar was heard.
"Hold on to my waist, Polly," she cried. "Jenny, take the poker, and that string, and tie his hand to it while we hold on. Quick! quick! Are ye asleep?"
Thus adjured, the mite got the poker against the wall and tried to tie the wrist to it.
This, however, was not easy, the hand struggled so desperately.
However, pulling is a matter of weight rather than muscle. And the weight of the two women pulling downward overpowered the violent struggles of the man; and the mite contrived to tie the poker to the wrist, and repeat the ligatures a dozen times in a figure of eight.
Then the owner of the hand, who had hitherto shown violent strength, taken at a disadvantage, now showed intelligence. Convinced that skill as well as force were against him, he ceased to struggle and became quite quiet.
The women contemplated their feat with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.
When they had feasted a reasonable time on the imprisoned hand, and two of them, true to their sex, had scrutinized a green stone upon one of the fingers, to see whether it was real or false, Nancy took them by the shoulders, and bundled them good-humoredly out of the room.
She then lowered the gas and came out, and locked the room up, and put the key in her pocket.
"I'll have my supper with you," said she. "Come, Jenny, I'm cook; and you make the kitchen as a body could eat off it, for I expect vicitors."
"La, ma'am," said the mite; "he can't get out of the chimbly to visit hus through the street door."
"No, girl," said Nancy. "But he can send a hambassador; so Show her heyes and plague her art, as the play says, for of all the dirty kitchens give me hers. I never was there but once, and my slipper come off for the muck, a sticking to a body like bird-lime."
There was a knock at Nancy's street door; the little servant, full of curiosity, was for running to it on the instant. But Nancy checked her.
"Take your time," said she. "It is only a lodging-house keeper."
SIR EDWARD ROLLESTON could not but feel his obligations to the Wardlaws, and, when his daughter got better, he spoke warmly on the subject, and asked her to consider seriously whether she had not tried Arthur's affection sufficiently.
"He does not complain to you, I know," said he; "but he feels it very hard that you should punish him for an act of injustice that has already so deeply afflicted him. He says he believes some fool or villain heard him say that two thousand pounds was to be borrowed between them, and went and imposed on Robert Penfold's credulity; meaning, perhaps, to call again after the note had been cashed, and get Arthur's share of the money."
"But why did he not come forward?"
"He declares he did not know when the trial was till a month after. And his father bears him out; says he was actually delirious, and his life in danger. I myself can testify that he was cut down just in this way when he heard the Proserpine was lost, and you on board her. Why not give him credit for the same genuine distress at young Penfold's misfortune? Come, Helen, is it fair to afflict and punish this gentleman for the misfortune of another, whom he never speaks of but with affection and pity? He says that if you would marry him at once, he thinks he should feel strong enough to throw himself into the case with you, and would spare neither money nor labor to clear Robert Penfold; but, as it is, he says he feels so wretched, and so tortured with jealousy, that he can't co-operate warmly with you, though his conscience reproaches him every day. Poor young man! His is really a very hard case. For you promised him your hand before you ever saw Robert Penfold."
"I did," said Helen; "but I did not say when. Let me have one year to my good work, before I devote my whole life to Arthur."
"Well, it will be a year wasted. Why postpone your marriage for that?"
"Yes, but he chose to fancy young Wardlaw is his enemy. You might relax that, now he tells you he will co-operate with you as your husband. Now, Helen, tell the truth—is it a woman's work? Have you found it so? Will not Arthur do it better than you?"
Helen, weakened already by days of suffering, began to cry, and say, "What shall I do? what shall I do?"
"If you have any doubt, my dear," said Sir Edward, "then think of what I owe to these Wardlaws."
And with that he kissed her, and left her in tears; and, soon after, sent Arthur himself up to plead his own cause.
It was a fine summer afternoon; the long French casements, looking on the garden of the Square, were open, and the balmy air came in and wooed the beautiful girl's cheek, and just stirred her hair at times.
Arthur Wardlaw came softly in, and gazed at her as she lay; her loveliness filled his heart and soul; he came and knelt by her sofa, and took her hand, and kissed it, and his own eyes glistened with tenderness.
He had one thing in his favor. He loved her.
Her knowledge of this had more than once befriended him, and made her refuse to suspect him of any great ill; it befriended him now. She turned a look of angelic pity on him.
"Poor Arthur," she said. "You and I are both unhappy."
"But we shall be happy, ere long, I hope," said Arthur.
Helen shook her head.
Then he patted her, and coaxed her, and said he would be her servant, as well as a husband, and no wish of her heart should go ungratified.
"None?" said she, fixing her eyes on him.
"Not one," said he; "upon my honor." Then he was so soft and persuasive, and alluded so delicately to her plighted faith, that she felt like a poor bird caught in a silken net.
"Sir Edward is very good," said he; "he feels for me."
At that moment, a note was sent up.
"Mr. Wardlaw is here, and has asked me when the marriage is to be. I can't tell him; I look like a fool."
Helen sighed deeply and had begun to gather those tears that weaken a woman. She glanced despairingly to and fro, and saw no escape. Then, Heaven knows why or wherefore—probably with no clear design at all but a woman's weak desire to cause a momentary diversion, to put off the inevitable for five minutes—she said to Arthur: "Please give me that prayer-book. Thank you. It is right you should know this." And she put Cooper's deposition, and Welch's, into his hands.
He devoured them, and started up in great indignation. "It is an abominable slander," said he. "We have lost ten thousand pounds by the wreck of that ship, and Wylie's life was saved by a miracle as well as your own. It is a foul slander. I hurl it from me."
And he made his words good by whirling the prayer-book out of window.
Helen uttered a scream. "My mother's prayer-book!" she cried.
"Oh! I beg pardon," said he.
"As well you may," said she. "Run and send George after it."
"No, I'll go myself," said he. "Pray forgive me. You don't know what a terrible slander they have desecrated your prayerbook with."
He ran out and was a long time gone. He came back at last, looking terrified.
"I can't find it," said he. "Somebody has carried it off. Oh, how unfortunate I am!"
"Not find it!" said Helen. "But it must be found."
"Of course it must be found," said Arthur. "A pretty scandal to go into the hands of Heaven knows who. I shall offer twenty guineas reward for it at once. I'll go down to the Times this moment. Was ever anything so unlucky?"
"Yes, go at once," said Helen; "and I'll send the servants into the Square. I don't want to say anything unkind, Arthur, but you ought not to have thrown my prayer-book into the public street."
"I know I ought not. I am ashamed of it myself."
"Well, let me see the advertisement."
"You shall. I have no doubt we shall recover it."
Next morning the Times contained an advertisement offering twenty guineas for a prayer-book lost in Hanover Square, and valuable, not in itself, but as a relic of a deceased parent.
In the afternoon Arthur called to know if anybody had brought the prayer-book back.
Helen shook her head sadly, and said, "No."
He seemed very sorry and so penitent, that Helen said:
"Do not despair. And if it is gone, why, I must remember you have forgiven me something, and I must forgive you."
The footman came in.
"If you please, miss, here is a woman wishes to speak to you; says she has brought a prayer-book."
"Oh, show her up at once," cried Helen.
Arthur turned away his head to hide a cynical smile. He had good reasons for thinking it was not the one he had flung out of the window yesterday.
A tall woman came in, wearing a thick veil, that concealed her features.
She entered on her business at once.
"You lost a prayer-book in this Square yesterday, madam."
"You offer twenty guineas reward for it."
"Please to look at this one."
Helen examined it, and said with joy it was hers.
Arthur was thunderstruck. He could not believe his senses.
"Let me look at it," said he.
His eyes went at once to the writing.
He turned as pale as death and stood petrified.
The woman took the prayer-book out of his unresisting hand, and said:
"You'll excuse me, sir; but it is a large reward, and gentlefolks sometimes go from their word when the article is found."
Helen, who was delighted at getting back her book, and rather tickled at Arthur having to pay twenty guineas for losing it, burst out laughing, and said:
"Give her the reward, Arthur; I am not going to pay for your misdeeds."
"With all my heart," said Arthur, struggling for composure.
He sat down to draw a check.
"What name shall I put?"
"Hum! Edith Hesket."
"No, only one."
"Thank you, sir."
She put the check into her purse, and brought the prayer-book to Helen.
"Lock it up at once," said she, in a voice so low that Arthur heard her murmur, but not the words. And she retired, leaving Helen staring with amazement, and Arthur in a cold perspiration.
WHEN the Springbok weighed anchor and left the island, a solitary form was seen on Telegraph Hill.
When she passed eastward, out of sight of that point, a solitary figure was seen on the cliffs.
When her course brought the island dead astern of her, a solitary figure stood on the east bluff of the island, and was the last object seen from the boat as she left those waters forever.
What words can tell the sickening sorrow and utter desolation that possessed that yearning bosom!
When the boat that had carried Helen away was out of sight, he came back with uneven steps to the cave, and looked at all the familiar objects with stony eyes, and scarce recognized them, for the sunshine of her presence was there no more. He wandered to and fro in a heavy stupor, broken every now and then by sharp pangs of agony that almost made him scream. And so the poor bereaved creature wandered about all day. He could not eat, he could not sleep, his misery was more than he could bear. One day of desolation succeeded another. And what men say so hastily was true for once. "His life was a burden." He dragged it about with him he scarce knew how.
He began to hate all the things he had loved while she was there. The beautiful cave, all glorious with pearl, that he had made for her, he could not enter it, the sight killed him, and she not there.
He left Paradise Bay altogether at last and anchored his boat in a nook of Seal Bay. And there he slept in general. But sometimes he would lie down, wherever he happened to be, and sleep as long as he could.
To him to wake was a calamity. And when he did wake, it was always with a dire sense of reviving misery, and a deep sigh at the dark day he knew awaited him.
His flesh wasted on his bones, and his clothes hung loosely about him. The sorrow of the mind reduced him almost to that miserable condition in which he had landed on the island.
The dog and the seal were faithful to him; used to lie beside him, and often whimpered; their minds, accustomed to communicate without the aid of speech, found out, Heaven knows how! that he was in grief or in sickness.
These two creatures, perhaps, saved his life or his reason. They came between his bereaved heart and utter solitude.
Thus passed a month of wretchedness unspeakable.
Then his grief took a less sullen form.
He came back to Paradise Bay, and at sight of it burst into a passion of weeping.
These were his first tears, and inaugurated a grief more tender than ever, but less akin to madness and despair.
Now he used to go about and cry her name aloud, passionately, by night and day.
"Oh, Helen! Helen!"
And next his mind changed in one respect, and he clung to every reminiscence of her. Every morning he went round her haunts, and kissed every place where he had seen her put her hand.
Only the cave he could not yet face.
He tried, too. He went to the mouth of it again and again, and looked in; but go into it and face it, empty of her—he could not.
He prayed often.
One night he saw her in a dream.
She bent a look of angelic pity on him, and said but these words, "Live in my cave," then vanished.
Alone on an island in the vast Pacific, who can escape superstition? It fills the air. He took this communication as a command, and the next night he slept in the cave.
But he entered it in the dark, and left it before dawn.
By degrees, however, he plucked up courage and faced it in daylight. But it was a sad trial. He came out crying bitterly after a few minutes.
Still he persevered, because her image had bade him; and at last, one evening, he even lighted the lamp, and sat there looking at the glorious walls and roof his hapless love had made.
Getting stronger by degrees, he searched about, and found little relics of her—a glove, a needle, a great hat she had made out of some large leaves. All these he wept over and cherished.
But one day he found at the very back of the cave a relic that made him start as if a viper had stung his loving heart. It was a letter.
He knew it in a moment. It had already caused him many a pang; but now it almost drove him mad. Arthur Wardlaw's letter.
He recoiled from it, and let it lie. He went out of the cave, and cursed his hard fate. But he came back. It was one of those horrible things a man abhors, yet cannot keep away from. He took it up and dashed it down with rage many times; but it all ended in his lighting the lamp at night, and torturing himself with every word of that loving letter.
And she was going home to the writer of that letter, and he was left prisoner on the island. He cursed his generous folly, and writhed in agony at the thought. He raged with jealousy, so that his very grief was blunted for a time.
He felt as if he must go mad.
Then he prayed—prayed fervently. And at last, worn out with such fierce and contending emotions, he fell into a deep sleep, and did not wake till the sun was high in heaven.
He woke; and the first thing he saw was the fatal letter lying at his feet in a narrow stream of sunshine that came peering in.
He eyed it with horror. This, then, was then to haunt him by night and day.
He eyed it and eyed it. Then turned his face from it; but could not help eying it again.
And at last certain words in this letter seemed to him to bear an affinity to another piece of writing that had also caused him a great woe. Memory by its subtle links connected these two enemies of his together. He eyed it still more keenly, and that impression became strengthened. He took the letter and looked at it close, and held it at arm's length and devoured it; and the effect of this keen examination was very remarkable. It seemed to restore the man to energy and to something like hope. His eyes sparkled, and a triumphant "Ah!" burst from his bosom.
He became once more a man of action. He rose, and bathed, and walked rapidly to and fro upon the sands, working himself up to a daring enterprise. He took his saw into the jungle, and cut down a tree of a kind common enough there. It was wonderfully soft, and almost as light as cork. The wood of this was literally useless for any other purpose than that to which Penfold destined it. He cut a great many blocks of this wood, and drilled holes in them, and, having hundreds of yard of good line, attached these quasi corks to the gunwale, so as to make a life-boat. This work took him several days, during which time an event occurred that encouraged him.
One morning he saw about a million birds very busy in the bay, and it proved to be a spermaceti whale come ashore.
He went out to her directly with all his tools, for he wanted oil for his enterprise, and the seal oil was exhausted.
When he got near the whale in his boat, he observed a harpoon sticking in the animal's back. He cut steps with his ax in the slippery carcass, and got up to it as well as he could, extracted it by cutting and pulling, and threw it down into his boat, but not till he had taken the precaution to stick a great piece of blubber on the barbed point. He then sawed and hacked under difficulties, being buffeted and bothered with thousands of birds, so eager for slices that it was as much as he could do to avoid the making of minced fowl; but, true to his gentle creed, he contrived to get three hundred-weight of blubber without downright killing any of these greedy competitors, though he buffeted some of them, and nearly knocked out what little sense they had.
He came ashore with his blubber and harpoon, and when he came to examine the latter, he found that the name of the owner was cut deeply in the steel— Josh. Fullalove, J. Fernandez. This inscription had a great effect on Robert Penfold's mind. It seemed to bring the island of Juan Fernandez, and humanity in general, nearer to him.
He boiled down the blubber, and put a barrel of oil on board his life-boat. He had a ship's lantern to burn it in. He also pitched her bottom as far as he could get at it, and provisioned her for a long voyage: taking care to lash the water-cask and beef-cask to the fore-thwart and foremast, in case of rough weather.
When he had done all this, it occurred to him suddenly that, should he ever escape the winds and waves, and get to England, he would then have to encounter difficulties and dangers of another class, and lose the battle by his poverty.
"I play my stake now," said he. "I will throw no chance away."
He reflected, with great bitterness, on the misery that want of money had already brought on him; and he vowed to reach England rich, or go to the bottom of the Pacific.
This may seem a strange vow for a man to make on an unknown island; but Robert Penfold had a powerful understanding, sharpened by adversity, and his judgment told him truly that he possessed wealth on this island, both directly and indirectly. In the first place, knowledge is sometimes wealth, and the knowledge of this island was a thing he could sell to the American merchants on the coast of Chili; and, with this view, he put on board his boat specimens of the cassia and other woods, fruit, spices, pitch, guano, pink and red coral, pearl oysters, shells, cochineal, quartz, cotton, etc., etc.
Then he took his chisel, and struck all the larger pearls off the shells that lined Helen's cave. The walls and roof yielded nine enormous pearls, thirty large ones, and a great many of the usual size.
He made a pocket inside his waistcoat to hold the pearls safe.
Then he took his spade and dug into the Spanish ship for treasure. But this was terrible work. The sand returned upon the spade and trebled his labor.
The condition to which time and long submersion had reduced this ship and cargo was truly remarkable. Nothing to be seen of the deck but a thin brown streak that mingled with the sand in patches; of the timbers nothing but the uprights, and of those the larger half eaten and dissolved.
He dug five days, and found nothing solid.
On the sixth, being now at the bottom the ship, he struck his spade against something hard and heavy.
On inspection it looked like ore, but of what metal he could not tell; it was as black as a coal. He threw this on one side, and found nothing more; but the next day he turned up a smaller fragment, which he took home and cleaned with lime juice. It came out bright in places like silver.
This discovery threw light on the other. The piece of black ore, weighing about seven pounds, was in reality silver coin, that a century of submersion had reduced to the very appearance it wore before it ever went into the furnace.
He dug with fresh energy on this discovery, but found nothing more in the ship that day.
Then it occurred to him to carry off a few hundred-weight of pink coral.
He got some fine specimens; and, while he was at that work, he fell in with a piece that looked very solid at the root and unnaturally heavy. On a nearer examination this proved to be a foreign substance incrusted with coral. It had twined and twisted and curled over the thing in a most unheard-of way. Robert took it home, and, by rubbing here and there with lemon juice, at last satisfied himself that this object was a silver box about the size of an octavo volume.
It had no keyhole, had evidently been soldered up for greater security, and Robert was left to conjecture how it had come there.
He connected it at once with the ship, and felt assured that some attempt had been made to save it. There it had lain by the side of the vessel all these years, but, falling clear of the sand, had been embraced by the growing coral, and was now a curiosity, if not a treasure.
He would not break the coral, but put it on board his life-boat just as it was.
And now he dug no more. He thought he could sell the galleon as well as the island, by sample, and he was impatient to be gone.
He reproached himself, a little unjustly, for allowing a woman to undertake the task of clearing him.
"To what annoyances, and perhaps affronts, have I exposed her!" said he. "No, it is a man's business to defend, not to be defended."
To conclude: At high tide one fine afternoon he went on board with Ponto, and, hoisting his foresail only, crossed the bay, ranging along the island till he reached the bluff. He got under this, and, by means of his compass and previous observations, set the boat's head exactly on the line the ducks used to take. Then he set his mainsail too, and stretched boldly out across the great Pacific Ocean.
Time seems to wear out everything, even bad luck. It ran strong against Robert Penfold for years. But, when it had struck its worst blow, and parted him and Helen Rolleston, it relaxed, and a tide of good luck set in, which, unfortunately, the broken-hearted man could not appreciate at the time. However, so it was. He wanted oil; and a whale came ashore. He wanted treasure, and the sea gave him a little back of all it had swallowed; and now he wanted fine weather; and the ocean for days and nights was like peach-colored glass, dimpled here and there; and soft westerly airs fanned him along by night and day.
To be sure, he was on the true Pacific Ocean, at a period when it is really free from storms. Still, even for that latitude, he had wonderful weather for six days; and on the seventh he fell in with a schooner, the skipper and crew of which looked over the bulwarks at him with wonder and cordiality, and, casting out a rope astern, took him in tow.
The skipper had been eying him with amazement for some hours through his telescope; but he was a man that had seen a great many strange things, and it was also a point of honor with him never to allow that he was astonished, or taken by surprise, or greatly moved.
"Wal, stranger," said he, "what craft is that?"
"Where d'ye hail from? not that I am curious."
"From an unknown island."
"Do tell. What, another! Is it anyways nigh?"
"Not within seven hundred miles."
"Je—rusalem! Have you sailed all that in a cockle-shell?"
"Why, what are ye? the Wandering Jew afloat, or the Ancient Mariner? or only a kinder nautilus?"
"I'm a landsman."
"A landsman! then so is Neptune. What is your name when you are ashore?"
"Robert Penfold. The Reverend Robert Penfold."
"The Reverend— Je—rusalem!"
"May I ask what is your name, sir?"
"Wal, I reckon you may, stranger. I'm Joshua Fullalove from the States, at present located on the island of Juan Fernandez!"
"Joshua Fullalove! That is lucky. I've got something that belongs to you."
He looked about and found the harpoon, and handed it up in a mighty straightforward, simple way.
Joshua stared at him incredulously at first, but afterward with amazement. He handled the harpoon, and inquired where Robert had fallen in with it. Robert told him.
"You're an honest man," said Fullalove, "you air. Come aboard." He was then pleased to congratulate himself on his strange luck in having drifted across an honest man in the middle of the ocean. "I've heerd," said he, "of an old chap as groped about all his life with a lantern, and couldn't find one. Let's liquor."
He had some celestial mixture or other made, including rum, mint, and snow from the Andes, and then began his interrogatories, again disclaiming curiosity at set intervals.
"Whither bound, honest man?"
"The coast of Chili."
"D'ye buy or sell? Not that it is my business."
"I wish to sell."
"What's the merchandise?"
"Knowledge, and treasure."
Fullalove scratched his head. "Hain't ye got a few conundrums to swap for gold dust as well?"
Robert smiled faintly. The first time this six weeks.
"I have to sell the knowledge of an island with rich products; and I have to sell the contents of a Spanish treasure-ship that I found buried in the sand of that island."
The Yankee's eyes glistened.
"Wal," said he, "I do business in islands myself. I've leased this Juan Fernandez. But one of them is enough at a time. I'm monarch of all I survey. But then what I survey is a mixallaneous bilin' of Irish and Otaheitans, that it's pizen to be monarch of. And now them darned Irish has taken to converting the heathens to superstition and the worship of images, and breaks their heads if they won't. And the heathens are all smiles and sweetness and immorality. No, islands is no bait to me."
"I never asked you," said Robert. "What I do ask you is to land me at Valparaiso. There I'll find a purchaser, and will pay you handsomely for your kindness."
"That is fair," said Fullalove, dryly. "What will you pay me?"
"I'll show you," said Robert. He took out of his, pocket the smaller conglomeration of Spanish coin, and put it into Fullalove's hand. "That," said he, "is silver coin I dug out of the galleon."
Fullalove inspected it keenly, and trembled slightly. Robert then went lightly over the taffrail, and slid down the low rope into his boat. He held up the black mass we have described.
"This is solid silver. I will give it you, and my best thanks, to land me at Valparaiso."
"Heave it aboard," said the Yankee.
Robert steadied himself and hove it on board. The Yankee caught it, heavy as it was, and subjected it to some chemical test directly.
"Wal," said he, "that is a bargain. I'll land ye at Valparaiso for this. Jack, lay her head S.S.E. and by E."
Having given this order, he leaned over the taffrail and asked for more samples. Robert showed him the fruits, woods, and shells, and the pink coral, and bade him observe that the boat was ballasted with pearl oysters. He threw him up one, and a bunch of pink coral. He then shinned up the rope again, and the interrogatories recommenced. But this time he was questioned closely as to who he was, and how he came on the island? and the questions were so shrewd and penetrating that his fortitude gave way, and he cried out in anguish, "Man, man! do not torture me so. Oh, do not make me talk of my grief and my wrongs! they are more than I can bear."
Fullalove forbore directly, and offered him a cigar. He took it, and it soothed him a little; it was long since he had smoked one. His agitation subsided, and a quiet tear or two rolled down his haggard cheek.
The Yankee saw, and kept silence.
But, when the cigar was nearly smoked out, he said he was afraid Robert would not find a customer for his island, and what a pity Joshua Fullalove was cool on islands just now.
"Oh!" said Robert, "I know there are enterprising Americans on the coast who will give me money for what I have to sell."
Fullalove was silent a minute, then he got a piece of wood and a knife, and said with an air of resignation, "I reckon we'll have to deal."
Need we say that to deal had been his eager desire from the first?
He now began to whittle a peg, and awaited the attack.
"What will you give me, sir?"
"What, money down? And you got nothing to sell but chances. Why, there's an old cuss about that knows where the island is as well as you do."
"Then of course you will treat with him," said Robert, sadly.
"Darned if I do," said the Yankee. "You are in trouble, and he is not, nor never will be till he dies, and then he'll get it hot, I calc'late. He is a thief and stole my harpoon: you are an honest man and brought it back. I reckon I'll deal with you and not with that old cuss; not by a jugful! But it must be on a percentage. You tell me the bearings of that there island, and I'll work it and pay five per cent on the gross."
"Would you mind throwing that piece of wood into the sea, Mr. Fullalove?" said Robert.
"Caen't be done, nohow. I caen't deal without whittlin'."
"You mean you can't take an unfair advantage without it. Come, Mr. Fullalove, let us cut this short. I am, as you say, an honest and most unfortunate man. Sir, I was falsely accused of a crime and banished my country. I can prove my innocence now if I can but get home with a great deal of money. So much for me. You are a member of the vainest and most generous nation in the world."
"Wal, now that's kinder honey and vinegar mixed," said Fullalove; "pretty good for a Britisher, though."
"You are a man of that nation which in all the agonies and unparalleled expenses of civil war, smarting, too, under anonymous taunts from England, did yet send over a large sum to relieve the distresses of certain poor Englishmen who were indirect victims of that same calamity. The act, the time, the misery relieved, the taunts overlooked, prove your nation superior to all others in generosity. At least my reading, which is very large, affords no parallel to it, either in ancient or modern history. Mr. Fullalove, please to recollect that you are a member of that nation, and that I am very unhappy and helpless, and want money to undo cruel wrongs, but have no heart to chaffer much. Take the island and the treasures, and give me half the profits you make. Is not that fair?"
Fullalove wore a rueful countenance.
"Darn the critter," said he, "he'll take skin off my bones if I don't mind. Fust Britisher ever I met as had the sense to see that. 'Twas rather handsome, warn't it? Wal, human nature is deep; every man you tackle in business larns ye something. What with picking ye out o' the sea, and you giving me back the harpoon the cuss stole, and your face like a young calf, when you are the 'cutest fox out, and you giving the great United States their due, I'm no more fit to deal than mashed potatoes. Now I cave; it is only for once. Next time don't you try to palaver me. Draw me a map of our island, Britisher, and mark where the Spaniard lies. I tell you I know her name, and the year she was lost in; learned that at Lima one day. Kinder startled me, you did, when you showed me the coin out of her. Wal, there's my hand on haelf profits, and, if I'm keen, I'm squar'."
Soon after this he led Robert to his cabin, and Robert drew a large map from his models; and Fullalove, being himself an excellent draughtsman, and provided with proper instruments, aided him to finish it.
Next day they sighted Valparaiso, and hove to outside the port.
All the specimens of insular wealth were put on board the schooner and secreted; for Fullalove's first move was to get a lease of the island from the Chilian government, and it was no part of his plan to trumpet the article he was going to buy.
After a moment's hesitation, he declined to take the seven pounds of silver. He gave as a reason that, having made a bargain which compelled him to go to Valparaiso at once, he did not feel like charging his partner a fancy price for towing his boat thither. At the same time he hinted that, after all this, the next customer would find him a very difficult Yankee to get the better of.
With this understanding, he gave Robert a draft for eighty pounds on account of profits; and this enabled him to take a passage for England with all his belongings.
He arrived at Southampton very soon after the events last related, and thence went to London, fully alive to the danger of his position.
He had a friend in his long beard, but he dared not rely on that alone. Like a mole, he worked at night.
HELEN asked Arthur Wardlaw why he was so surprised at the prayer-book being brought back. Was it worth twenty pounds to any one except herself?
Arthur looked keenly at her to see whether she intended more than met the ear, and then said he was surprised at the rapid effect of his advertisement, that was all.
"Now you have got the book," said he, "I do hope you will erase that cruel slander on one whom you mean to honor with your hand."
This proposal made Helen blush and feel very miserable. Of the obnoxious lines some were written by Robert Penfold, and she had so little of his dear handwriting. "I feel you are right, Arthur," said she; "but you must give me time. Then, they shall meet no eye but mine; and on our wedding-day—of course—all memorials of one—" Tears completed the sentence.
Arthur Wardlaw, raging with jealousy at the absent Penfold, as heretofore Penfold had raged at him, heaved a deep sigh and hurried away, while Helen was locking up the prayer-book in her desk. By this means he retained Helen's pity.
He went home directly, mounted to his bedroom, unlocked a safe, and plunged his hand into it. His hand encountered a book; he drew it out with a shiver and gazed at it with terror and amazement.
It was the prayer-book he had picked up in the Square and locked up in that safe. Yet that very prayer-book had been restored to Helen before his eyes, and was now locked up in her desk. He sat down with the book in his hand, and a great dread came over him.
Hitherto Candor and Credulity only had been opposed to him, but now Cunning had entered the field against him; a master hand was co-operating with Helen.
Yet, strange to say, she seemed unconscious of that co-operation. Had Robert Penfold found his way home by some strange means? Was he watching over her in secret?
He had the woman he loved watched night and day, but no Robert Penfold was detected.
He puzzled his brain night and day, and at last he conceived a plan of deceit which is common enough in the East, where lying is one of the fine arts, but was new in this country, we believe, and we hope to Heaven we shall not be the means of importing it.
An old clerk of his father's, now superannuated and pensioned off, had a son upon the stage, in a very mean position. Once a year, however, and of course in the dogdays, he had a kind of benefit at his suburban theater; that is to say, the manager allowed him to sell tickets, and take half the price of them. He persuaded Arthur to take some, and even to go to the theater for an hour. The man played a little part, of a pompous sneak, with some approach to Nature. He seemed at home.
Arthur found this man out; visited him at his own place. He was very poor, and mingled pomposity with obsequiousness, so that Arthur felt convinced he was to be bought, body and soul, what there was of him.
He sounded him accordingly, and the result was that the man agreed to perform a part for him.
Arthur wrote it, and they rehearsed it together. As to the dialogue, that was so constructed that it could be varied considerably according to the cues, which could be foreseen to a certain extent; but not precisely, since they were to be given by Helen Rolleston, who was not in the secret.
But while this plot was fermenting, other events happened, with rather a contrary tendency; and these will be more intelligible if we go back to Nancy Rouse's cottage, where indeed we have kept Joseph Wylie in an uncomfortable position a very long time.
Mrs. James, from next door, was at last admitted into Nancy's kitchen, and her first word was, "I suppose you know what I'm come about, ma'am."
"Which it is to return me the sasspan you borrowed, no doubt," was Nancy's ingenuous reply.
"No, ma'am. But I'll send my girl in with it, as soon as she have cleaned it, you may depend."
"Thank ye, I shall be glad to see it again."
"You're not afeard I shall steal it, I hope?"
'"La, bless the woman! don't fly out at a body like that. I can't afford to give away my sasspan."
"Sasspans is not in my head."
"Nor in your hand neither."
"I'm come about my lodger; a most respectable gentleman, which he have met with an accident. He did but go to put something away in the chimbley, which he is a curious gent, and has traveled a good deal, and learned the foreign customs, when his hand was caught in the brick-work, somehows, and there he is hard and fast."
"Do you know anything about this?" said Nancy to the mite, severely.
"No," said the mite, with a countenance of polished granite.
"La bless me" said Nancy, with a sudden start. "Why, is she talking about the thief as you and I catched putting his hand through the wall into my room, and made him fast again the policeman comes round?"
"Thief!" cried Mrs. James. "No more a thief than I am. Why, sure you wouldn't ever be so cruel! Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Spite goes a far length. There, take an' kill me, do, and then you'll be easy in your mind. Ah, little my poor father thought as ever I should come down to letting lodgings, and being maltreated this way! I am—"
"Who is a maltreating of ye? Why, you're dreaming. Have a drop o' gin?"
"With them as takes the police to my lodger? It would choke me."
"Well, have a drop, and we'll see about it."
"You're very kind, ma'am, I'm sure. Heaven knows I need it! Here's wishing you a good husband; and toward burying all unkindness."
"Which you means drounding of it."
"Ah, you're never at a loss for a word, ma'am, and always in good spirits. But your troubles is to come. I'm a widdy. You will let me see what is the matter with my lodger, ma'am?"
"Why not? We'll go and have a look at him."
Accordingly, the three women and the mite proceeded to the little room; Nancy turned the gas on, and then they inspected the imprisoned hand. Mrs. James screamed with dismay, and Nancy asked her dryly whether she was to blame for seizing a hand which had committed a manifest trespass.
"You have got the rest of his body," said she, "but this here hand belongs to me."
"Lord, ma'am, what could he take out of your chimbley, without 'twas a handful of soot? Do, pray, let me loose him."
"Not till I have said two words to him."
"But how can you? He isn't here to speak to—only a morsel of him."
"I can go into your house and speak to him."
Mrs. James demurred to that; but Nancy stood firm; Mrs. James yielded. Nancy whispered her myrmidons, and, in a few minutes, was standing by the prisoner, a reverend person in dark spectacles, and a gray beard, that created commiseration, or would have done so, but that this stroke of ill-fortune had apparently fallen upon a great philosopher. He had contrived to get a seat under him, and was smoking a pipe with admirable sang-froid.
At sight of Nancy, however, he made a slight motion, as if he would not object to follow his imprisoned hand through the party-wall. It was only for a moment; the next, he smoked imperturbably.
"Well, sir," said Nancy, "I hopes you are comfortable?"
"Thank ye, miss; yes. I'm at a double sheet-anchor."
"Why do you call me miss?"
"I don't know. Because you are so young and pretty."
"That will do. I only wanted to hear the sound of your voice, Joe Wylie." And with the word she snatched his wig off with one hand, and his beard with the other, and revealed his true features to his astonished landlady.
"There, mum," said she, "I wish you joy of your lodger." She tapped the chimney three times with the poker, and, telling Mr. Wylie she had a few words to say to him in private, retired for the present. Mrs. James sat down and mourned the wickedness of mankind, the loss of her lodger (who would now go bodily next door instead of sending his hand), and the better days she had by iteration brought herself to believe she had seen.
Wylie soon entered Nancy's house, and her first question was, "The 2,000 pounds, how did you get them?"
"No matter how I got them," said Wylie, sulkily. "What have you done with them?"
"Put them away."
"That is all right. I'm blest if I didn't think they were gone forever."
"I wish they had never come. Ill-gotten money is a curse." Then she taxed him with scuttling the Proserpine, and asked him whether that money had not been the bribe. But Joe was obdurate. "I never split on a friend," said he. "And you have nobody to blame but yourself, you wouldn't splice without 2,000 pounds. I loved you, and I got it how I could. D'ye think a poor fellow like me can make 2,000 pounds in a voyage by hauling in ropes, and tying true-lovers' knots in the foretop?"
Nancy had her answer ready, but this remembrance pricked her own conscience and paved the way to a reconciliation. Nancy had no high-flown notions. She loved money, but it must be got without palpable dishonesty; per contra, she was not going to denounce her sweetheart, but then again she would not marry him so long as he differed with her about the meaning of the eighth commandment.
This led to many arguments, some of them warm, some affectionate; and so we leave Mr. Wylie under the slow but salutary influence of love and unpretending probity. He continued to lodge next door. Nancy would only receive him as a visitor.
HELEN had complained to Arthur, of all people, that she was watched and followed; she even asked him whether that was not the act of some enemy. Arthur smiled, and said: "Take my word for it, it is only some foolish admirer of your beauty; he wants to know your habits, in hopes of falling in with you; you had better let me go out with you for the next month or so; that sort of thing will soon die away."
As a necessary consequence of this injudicious revelation, Helen was watched with greater skill and subtlety, and upon a plan well calculated to disarm suspicion; a spy watched the door, and by a signal unintelligible to any but his confederate, whom Helen could not possibly see, set the latter on her track. They kept this game up unobserved for several days, but learned nothing, for Helen was at a standstill. At last they got caught, and by a truly feminine stroke of observation. A showily dressed man peeped into a shop where Helen was buying gloves.
With one glance of her woman's eye she recognized a large breast-pin in the worst possible taste; thence her eye went up and recognized the features of her seedy follower, though he was now dressed up to the nine. She withdrew her eye directly, completed her purchase, and went home, brooding defense and vengeance.
That evening she dined with a lady who had a large acquaintance with lawyers, and it so happened that Mr. Tollemache and Mr. Hennessy were both of the party. Now, when these gentlemen saw Helen in full costume, a queen in form as well as face, coroneted with her island pearls, environed with a halo of romance, and courted by women as well as men, they looked up to her with astonishment, and made up to her in a very different style from that in which they had received her visit. Tollemache she received coldly; he had defended Robert Penfold feebly, and she hated him for it. Hennessy she received graciously, and, remembering Robert's precept to be supple as a woman, bewitched him. He was good-natured, able and vain. By eleven o'clock she had enlisted him in her service. When she had conquered him, she said, slyly, "But I ought not to speak of these things to you except through a solicitor."
"That is the general rule," said the learned counsel; "but in this case no dark body must come between me and the sun."
In short he entered into Penfold's case with such well-feigned warmth, to please the beauteous girl, that at last she took him by the horns and consulted.
"I am followed," said she.
"I have no doubt you are; and on a large scale; if there is room for another, I should be glad to join the train."
"Ha! ha! I'll save you the trouble. I'll meet you half way. But, to be serious, I am watched, spied and followed by some enemy to that good friend whose sacred cause we have undertaken. Forgive me for saying 'we.'"
"I am too proud of the companionship to let you off. 'We' is the word."
"Then advise me what to do. I want to retaliate. I want to discover who is watching me, and why. Can you advise me? Will you?"
The counsel reflected a moment, and Helen, who watched him, remarked the power that suddenly came into his countenance and brow.
"You must watch the spies. I have influence in Scotland Yard, and will get it done for you. If you went there yourself they would cross-examine you and decline to interfere. I'll go myself for you and put it in a certain light. An able detective will call on you. Give him ten guineas, and let him into your views in confidence; then he will work the public machinery for you."
"Oh, Mr. Hennessy, how can I thank you?"
"By succeeding. I hate to fail. And now your cause is mine."
Next day a man with a hooked nose, a keen black eye, and a solitary foible (Mosaic), called on Helen Rolleston, and told her he was to take her instructions. She told him she was watched, and thought it was done to baffle a mission she had undertaken; but, having got so far, she blushed and hesitated.
"The more you tell me, miss, the more use I can be," said Mr. Burt.
Thus encouraged, and also remembering Mr. Hennessy's advice, she gave Mr. Burt, as coldly as she could, an outline of Robert Penfold's case, and of the exertions she had made, and the small result.
Burt listened keenly, and took a note or two; and, when she had done, he told her something in return.
"Miss Rolleston," said he, "I am the officer that arrested Robert Penfold. It cost me a grinder that he knocked out."
"Oh, dear!" said Helen, "how unfortunate! Then I fear I cannot reckon on your services."
"Why not, miss? What, do you think I hold spite against a poor fellow for defending himself? Besides, Mr. Penfold wrote me a very proper note. Certainly for a parson the gent is a very quick hitter; but he wrote very square; said he hoped I would allow for the surprise and the agitation of an innocent man; sent me two guineas, too, and said he would make it twenty but he was poor as well as unfortunate; that letter has stuck in my gizzard ever since; can't see the color of felony in it. Your felon is never in a fault; and, if he wears a good coat, he isn't given to show fight."
"It was very improper of him to strike you," said Helen, "and very noble of you to forgive it. Make him still more ashamed of it; lay him under a deep obligation."
"If he is innocent, I'll try and prove it," said the detective. He then asked her if she had taken notes. She said she had a diary. He begged to see it. She felt inclined to withhold it, because of the comments; but, remembering that this was womanish, and that Robert's orders to her were to be manly on such occasions, she produced her diary. Mr. Burt read it very carefully, and told her it was a very promising case. "You have done a great deal more than you thought," he said. "You have netted the fish."
"I NETTED the fish! what fish?"
"The man who forged the promissory note."
"Oh, Mr. Burt!"
"The same man that forged the newspaper extracts to deceive you forged the promissory note years ago, and the man who is setting spies on you is the man who forged those extracts; so we are sure to nail him. He is in the net; and very much to your credit. Leave the rest to me. I'll tell you more about it to-morrow. You must order your carriage at one o'clock tomorrow and drive down to Scotland Yard; go into the Yard, and you will see me; follow me without a word. When you go back, the other spies will be so frightened they will go off to their employer, and so we shall nail him."
Helen complied with these instructions strictly, and then returned home, leaving Mr. Burt to work. She had been home about half an hour, when the servant brought her up a message saying that a man wanted to speak to her. "Admit him," said Helen.
"He is dressed very poor, miss."
"Never mind; send him to me."
She was afraid to reject anybody now, lest she might turn her back on information.
A man presented himself in well-worn clothes, with a wash-leather face and close-shaven chin; a little of his forehead was also shaven.
"Madam, my name is Hand." Helen started. "I have already had the honor of writing to you."
"Yes, sir," said Helen, eying him with fear and aversion.
"Madam, I am come"—(he hesitated)—"I am an unfortunate man. Weighed down by remorse for a thoughtless act that has ruined an innocent man, and nearly cost my worthy employer his life, I come to expiate as far as in me lies. But let me be brief and hurry over the tale of shame. I was a clerk at Wardlaw's office. A bill-broker called Adams was talking to me and my fellow-clerks, and boasting that nobody could take him in with a feigned signature. Bets were laid; our vanity was irritated by his pretension. It was my fortune to overhear my young master and his friend Robert Penfold speak about a loan of two thousand pounds. In an evil hour I listened to the tempter and wrote a forged note for that amount. I took it to Mr. Penfold; he presented it to Adams, and it was cashed. I intended, of course, to call next day, and tell Mr. Penfold, and take him to Adams, and restore the money and get back the note. It was not due for three months. Alas! that very day it fell under suspicion. Mr. Penfold was arrested. My young master was struck down with illness at his friend's guilt, though he never could be quite got to believe it; and I—miserable coward!—dared not tell the truth. Ever since that day I have been a miserable man. The other day I came into money, and left Wardlaw's service. But I carry my remorse with me. Madam, I am come to tell the truth. I dare not tell it to Mr. Wardlaw; I think he would kill me. But I will tell it to you, and you can tell it to him; ay, tell it to all the world. Let my shame be as public as his whom I have injured so deeply, but, Heaven knows, unintentionally. I—I—I—"
Mr. Hand sank all in a heap where he sat, and could say no more.
Helen's flesh crawled at this confession, and at the sight of this reptile who owned that he had destroyed Robert Penfold in fear and cowardice. For a long time her wrath so overpowered all sense of pity that she sat trembling; and, if eyes could kill, Mr. Hand would not have outlived his confession.
At last she contrived to speak. She turned her head away not to see the wretch and said, sternly:
"Are you prepared to make this statement on paper, if called on?"
Mr. Hand hesitated, but said, "Yes."
"Then write down that Robert Penfold was innocent, and you are ready to prove it whenever you may be called upon."
"Write that down?" said Hand.
"Unless your penitence is feigned, you will."
"Sooner than that should be added to my crime I will avow all." He wrote the few lines she required.
"Now your address, that I may know where to find you at a moment's notice." He wrote, "J. Hand, 11 Warwick Street, Pimlico."
Helen then dismissed him, and wept bitterly. In that condition she was found by Arthur Wardlaw, who comforted her, and, on hearing her report of Hand's confession, burst out into triumph, and reminded her he had always said Robert Penfold was innocent. "My father," said he, "must yield to this evidence, and we will lay it before the Secretary of State and get his pardon."
"His pardon! when he is innocent!"
"Oh, that is the form—the only form. The rest must be done by the warm reception of his friends. I, for one, who all these years have maintained his innocence, will be the first to welcome him to my house an honored guest. What am I saying? Can I? dare I? ought I? when my wife— Ah! I am more to be pitied than my poor friend is; my friend, my rival. Well, I leave it to you whether he can come into your husband's house."
"But, at least, I can send the Springbok out, and bring him home; and that I will do without one day's delay."
"Oh, Arthur!" cried Helen, "you set me an example of unselfishness."
"I do what I can," said Arthur. "I am no saint. I hope for a reward."
Helen sighed. "What shall I do?"
"Have pity on me! your faithful lover, and to whom your faith was plighted before ever you saw or knew my unhappy friend. What can I do or suffer more than I have done and suffered for you? My sweet Helen, have pity on me, and be my wife."
"I will, some day."
"Bless you. Bless you. One effort more. What day?"
"I can't. I can't. My heart is dead."
"This day fortnight. Let me speak to your father. Let him name the day."
As she made no reply, he kissed her hand devotedly, and did speak to her father. Sir Edward, meaning all for the best, said, "This day fortnight."
THE next morning came the first wedding presents from the jubilant bridegroom, who was determined to advance step by step, and give no breathing time. When Helen saw them laid out by her maid, she trembled at the consequences of not giving a plump negative to so brisk a wooer.
The second post brought two letters; one of them from Mrs. Undercliff. The other contained no words, but only a pearl of uncommon size, and pear-shaped. Helen received this at first as another wedding present, and an attempt on Arthur's part to give her a pearl as large as those she had gathered on her dear island. But, looking narrowly at the address, she saw it was not written by Arthur; and, presently, she was struck by the likeness of this pearl in shape to some of her own. She got out her pearls, laid them side by side, and began to be moved exceedingly. She had one of her instincts, and it set every fiber quivering with excitement. It was some time before she could take her eyes off the pearls, and it was with a trembling hand she opened Mrs. Undercliff's letter. That missive was not calculated to calm her. It ran thus:
"MY DEAR YOUNG LADY—A person called here last night and supplied the clew. If you have the courage to know the truth, you have only to come here, and to bring your diary, and all the letters you have received from any person or persons since you landed in England. I am yours obediently,
The courage to know the truth!
This mysterious sentence affected Helen considerably. But her faith in Robert was too great to be shaken. She would not wait for the canonical hour at which young ladies go out, but put on her bonnet directly after breakfast. Early as she was, a visitor came before she could start—Mr. Burt, the detective. She received him in the library.
Mr. Burt looked at her dress and her little bag, and said, "I'm very glad I made bold to call so early."
"You have got information of importance to communicate to me?"
"I think so, miss;" and he took out his note-book. "The person you are watched by is Mr. Arthur Wardlaw." The girl stared at him. "Both spies report to him twice a day at his house in Russell Square."
"Be careful, Mr. Burt; this is a serious thing to say, and may have serious consequences."
"Well, miss, you told me you wanted to know the truth."
"Of course I want to know the truth."
"Then the truth is that you are watched by order of Mr. Wardlaw."
Burt continued his report.
"A shabby-like man called on you yesterday."
"Yes; it was Mr. Hand, Mr. Wardlaw's clerk. And, oh, Mr. Burt, that wretched creature came and confessed the truth. It was he who forged the note, out of sport, and for a bet, and then was too cowardly to own it." She then detailed Hand's confession.
"His penitence comes too late," said she, with a deep sigh.
"It hasn't come yet," said Burt, dryly. "Of course my lambs followed the man. He went first to his employer, and then he went home. His name is not Hand. He is not a clerk at all, but a little actor at the Corinthian Saloon. Hand is in America; went three months ago. I ascertained that from another quarter."
"Oh, goodness!" cried Helen, "what a wretched world! I can't see my way a yard for stories."
"How should you, miss? It is clear enough, for all that. Mr. Wardlaw hired this actor to pass for Hand, and tell you a lie that he thought would please you."
Helen put her hand to her brow, and thought; but her candid soul got sadly in the way of her brain. "Mr. Burt," said she, "will you go with me to Mr. Undercliff, the expert?"
"With pleasure, ma'am; but let me finish my report. Last night there was something new. Your house was watched by six persons. Two were Wardlaw's, three were Burt's; but the odd man was there on his own hook; and my men could not make him out at all; but they think one of Wardlaw's men knew him; for he went off to Russell Square like the wind and brought Mr. Wardlaw here in disguise. Now, miss, that is all; and shall I call a cab, and we'll hear Undercliff's tale?"
The cab was called, and they went to Undercliff. On the way Helen brooded; but the detective eyed every man and everything on the road with the utmost keenness.
Edward Undercliff was at work at lithographing. He received Helen cordially, nodded to Burt, and said she could not have a better assistant.
He then laid his fac-simile of the forged note on the table, with John Wardlaw's genuine writing and Penfold's indorsement. "Look at that, Mr. Burt."
Burt inspected the papers keenly.
"You know, Burt, I swore at Robert Penfold's trial that he never wrote that forged note."
"I remember," said Burt.
"The other day this lady instructed me to discover, if I could, who did write the forged note. But, unfortunately, the materials she gave me were not sufficient. But, last night, a young man dropped from the clouds, that I made sure was an agent of yours, Miss Rolleston. Under that impression I was rather unguarded, and I let him know how far we had got, and could get no further. 'I think I can help you,' says this young man, and puts a letter on the table. Well, Mr. Burt, a glance at that letter was enough for me. It was written by the man who forged the note."
"A letter!" said Helen.
"Yes. I'll put the letter by the side of the forged note; and, if you have any eye for writing at all, you'll see at once that one hand wrote the forged note and this letter. I am also prepared to swear that the letters signed Hand are forgeries by the same person." He then coolly put upon the table the letter from Arthur Wardlaw that Helen had received on board the Proserpine, and was proceeding to point out the many points of resemblance between the letter and the document, when he was interrupted by a scream from Helen.
"Ah!" she cried, "he is here. Only one man in the world could have brought that letter. I left it on the island. Robert is here. He gave you that letter."
"You are right," said the expert, "and what a fool I must be! I have no eye except for handwriting. He had a beard; and such a beard!"
"It is Robert!" cried Helen, in raptures. "He is come just in time."
"In time to be arrested," said Burt. "Why, his time is not out. He'll get into trouble again."
"Oh, Heaven forbid!" cried Helen, and turned so faint she had to be laid back on a chair, and salts applied to her nostrils.
She soon came to, and cried and trembled, but prepared to defend her Robert with all a woman's wit. Burt and Undercliff were conversing in a low voice, and Burt was saying he felt sure Wardlaw's spies had detected Robert Penfold, and that Robert would be arrested and put into prison as a runaway convict. "Go to Scotland Yard this minute, Mr. Burt," said Helen, eagerly.
"Why, you must take the commission to arrest him. You are our friend."
Burt slapped his thigh with delight.
"That is first-rate, miss," said he. "I'll take the real felon, first, you may depend. Now, Mr. Undercliff, write your report, and hand it to Miss Helen with fac-similes. It will do no harm if you make a declaration to the same effect before a magistrate. You, Miss Rolleston, keep yourself disengaged, and please don't go out. You will very likely hear from me again to-day."
He drove off, and Helen, though still greatly agitated by Robert's danger and the sense of his presence, now sat down, trembling a little, and compared Arthur's letter with the forged document. The effect of this comparison was irresistible. The expert, however, asked her for some letter of Arthur's that had never passed through Robert Penfold's hands. She gave him the short note in which he used the very words, Robert Penfold. He said he would make that note the basis of his report.
While he was writing it, Mrs. Undercliff came in, and Helen told her all. She said, "I came to the same conclusion long ago; but when you said he was to be your husband—"
"Ah," said Helen, "we women are poor creatures; we can always find some reason for running away from the truth. Now explain about the prayer-book."
"Well, miss, I felt sure he would steal it, so I made Ned produce a fac-simile. And he did steal it. What you got back was your mother's prayer-book. Of course I took care of that."