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The Mark Of Cain
by Andrew Lang
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"I might send her to Girton," he thought; and then, characteristically, he began to weigh in his mind the comparative educational merits of Girton and Somerville Hall. About one thing only was he certain: he must consult his college mentor, Bielby of St. Gatien's, as soon as might be. Too long had this Rasselas—occupied, like the famous Prince of Abyssinia, with the choice of life—neglected to resort to his academic Imlac. In the meantime he could only reflect that Margaret must remain as a pupil at Miss Marlett's. The moment would soon be arriving when some other home, and a chaperon instead of a school-mistress, must be found for this peculiar object of philanthropy and outdoor relief.

Maitland was sorry he had not left town by the nine o'clock train. The early dusk began to gather, gray and damp; the train was late, having made tardy progress through the half-melted snow. He had set out from Paddington by the half-past ten express, and a glance at the harsh and crabbed page of Bradshaw will prove to the most sceptical that Maitland could not reach Tiverton much before six. Half frozen, and in anything but a happy temper, he engaged a fly, and drove off, along heavy miserable roads, to the Dovecot.

Arriving at the closed and barred gates of that vestal establishment, Maitland's cabman "pulled, and pushed, and kicked, and knocked" for a considerable time, without manifest effect. Clearly the retainers of Miss Marlett had secured the position for the night, and expected no visitors, though Maitland knew that he ought to be expected. "The bandogs bayed and howled," as they did round the secret bower of the Lady of Brauksome; and lights flitted about the windows. When a lantern at last came flickering up to the gate, the bearer of it stopped to challenge an apparently unlooked-for and unwelcome stranger.

"Who are you? What do you want?" said a female voice, in a strong Devonian accent.

"I want Miss Marlett," answered Maitland.

There was some hesitation. Then the porter appeared to reflect that a burglar would not arrive in a cab, and that a surreptitious lover would not ask for the schoolmistress.

The portals were at length unbarred and lugged apart over the gravel, and Maitland followed the cook (for she was no one less) and the candle up to the front door. He gave his card, and was ushered into the chamber reserved for interviews with parents and guardians. The drawing-room had the air and faint smell of a room very seldom occupied. All the chairs were so elegantly and cunningly constructed that they tilted up at intervals, and threw out the unwary male who trusted himself to their hospitality. Their backs were decorated with antimacassars wrought with glass beads, and these, in the light of one dip, shone fitfully with a frosty lustre. On the round table in the middle were volumes of "The Mothers of England," "The Grandmothers of the Bible," Blair "On the Grave," and "The Epic of Hades," the latter copiously and appropriately illustrated. In addition to these cheerful volumes there were large tomes of lake and river scenery, with gilt edges and faded magenta bindings, shrouded from the garish light of day in drab paper covers.

The walls, of a very faint lilac tint, were hung with prize sketches, in water colors or in pencil, by young ladies who had left. In the former works of art, distant nature was represented as, on the whole, of a mauve hue, while the foreground was mainly composed of burnt-umber rocks, touched up with orange. The shadows in the pencil drawings had an agreeably brilliant polish, like that which, when conferred on fenders by Somebody's Patent Dome-Blacklead, "increases the attractions of the fireside," according to the advertisements. Maitland knew all the blacklead caves, broad-hatted brigands, and pea-green trees. They were old acquaintances, and as he fidgeted about the room he became very impatient.

At last the door opened, and Miss Marlett appeared, rustling in silks, very stiff, and with an air of extreme astonishment.

"Mr. Maitland?" she said, in an interrogative tone.

"Didn't you expect me? Didn't you get my telegram?" asked Maitland.

It occurred to him that the storm might have injured the wires, that his message might never have arrived, and that he might be obliged to explain everything, and break his bad news in person.

"Yes, certainly. I got both your telegrams. But why have you come here?"

"Why, to see Margaret Shields, of course, and consult you about her. But what do you mean by both my telegrams?"

Miss Marlett turned very pale, and sat down with unexpected suddenness.

"Oh, what will become of the poor girl?" she cried, "and what will become of me? It will get talked about. The parents will hear of it, and I am ruined."

The unfortunate lady passed her handkerchief over her eyes, to the extreme discomfiture of Maitland. He could not bear to see a woman cry; and that Miss Marlett should cry—Miss Marlett, the least melting, as he had fancied, of her sex—was a circumstance which entirely puzzled and greatly disconcerted him.

He remained silent, looking at a flower in the pattern of the carpet, for at least a minute.

"I came here to consult you, Miss Marlett, about what is to become of the poor girl; but I do not see how the parents of the other young ladies are concerned. Death is common to all; and Margaret's father, though his life was exposed to criticism, cannot be fairly censured because he has left it And what do you mean, please, by receiving both my telegrams? I only #sent one, to the effect that I would leave town by the 10.30 train, and come straight to you. There must be some mistake somewhere. Can I see Miss Shields?"

"See Miss Shields! Why, she's gone! She left this morning with your friend," said Miss Marlett, raising a face at once mournful and alarmed, and looking straight at her visitor.

"She's gone! She left this morning with my friend!" repeated Maitland. He felt like a man in a dream.

"You said in your first telegram that you would come for her yourself, and in your second that you were detained, and that your friend and her father's friend, Mr. Lithgow, would call for her by the early train; so she went with him."

"My friend, Mr. Lithgow! I have no friend, Mr. lithgow," cried Maitland; "and I sent no second telegram."

"Then who did send it, sir, if you please? For I will show you both telegrams," cried Miss Marlett, now on her defence; and rising, she left the room.

While Miss Marlett was absent, in search of the telegrams, Maitland had time to reflect on the unaccountable change in the situation. What had become of Margaret? Who had any conceivable interest in removing her from school at the very moment of her father's accidental death? And by what possible circumstances of accident or fraud could two messages from himself have arrived, when he was certain that he had only sent one? The records of somnambulism contain no story of a person who despatched telegrams while walking in his sleep. Then the notion occurred to Maitland that his original despatch, as he wrote it, might have been mislaid in the office, and that the imaginative clerk who lost it might have filled it up from memory, and, like the examinees in the poem, might

"Have wrote it all by rote, And never wrote it right."

But the fluttering approach of such an hypothesis was dispersed by the recollection that Margaret had actually departed, and (what was worse) had gone off with "his friend, Mr. Lithgow." Clearly, no amount of accident or mistake would account for the appearance of Mr. Lithgow, and the disappearance of Margaret.

It was characteristic of Maitland that within himself he did not greatly blame the schoolmistress. He had so little human nature—as he admitted, on the evidence of his old college tutor—that he was never able to see things absolutely and entirely from the point of view of his own interests. His own personality was not elevated enough to command the whole field of human conduct. He was always making allowances for people, and never felt able to believe himself absolutely in the right, and everyone else absolutely in the wrong. Had he owned a more full-blooded life, he would probably have lost his temper, and "spoken his mind," as the saying is, to poor Miss Marlett She certainly should never have let Margaret go with a stranger, on the authority even of a telegram from the girl's guardian.

It struck Maitland, finally, that Miss Marlett was very slow about finding the despatches. She had been absent quite a quarter of an hour. At last she returned, pale and trembling, with a telegraphic despatch in her hand, but not alone. She was accompanied by a blonde and agitated young lady, in whom Maitland, having seen her before, might have recognized Miss Janey Harman. But he had no memory for faces, and merely bowed vaguely.

"This is Miss Harman, whom I think you have seen on other occasions," said Miss Marlett, trying to be calm.

Maitland bowed again, and wondered more than ever. It did occur to him, that the fewer people knew of so delicate a business the better for Margaret's sake.

"I have brought Miss Harman here, Mr. Maitland, partly because she is Miss Shields' greatest friend" (here Janey sobbed), "but chiefly because she can prove, to a certain extent, the truth of what I have told you."

"I never for a moment doubted it, Miss Marlett; but will you kindly let me compare the two telegrams? This is a most extraordinary affair, and we ought to lose no time in investigating it, and discovering its meaning. You and I are responsible, you know, to ourselves, if unfortunately to no one else, for Margaret's safety."

"But I haven't got the two telegrams!" exclaimed poor Miss Marlett, who could not live up to the stately tone of Maitland. "I haven't got them, or rather, I only have one of them, and I have hunted everywhere, high and low, for the other."

Then she offered Maitland a single dispatch, and the flimsy pink paper fluttered in her shaking hand.

Maitland took it up and read aloud:

"Sent out at 7.45. Received 7.51. "From Robert Maitland to Miss Marlett. "The Dovecot, Conisbeare, "Tiverton. "I come to-morrow, leaving by 10.30 train. Do not let Margaret see the newspaper. Her father dead. Break news."

"Why, that is my own telegram!" cried Maitland; "but what have you done with the other you said you received?"

"That is the very one I cannot find, though I had both on the escritoire in my own room this morning. I cannot believe anyone would touch it. I did not lock them away, not expecting to have any use for them; but I am quite sure, the last time I saw them, they were lying there."

"This is very extraordinary," said Maitland. "You tell me, Miss Marlett, that you received two telegrams from me. On the strength of the later of the two you let your pupil go away with a person of whom you know nothing, and then you have not even the telegram to show me. How long an interval was there between the receipt of the two despatches?"

"I got them both at once," said poor, trembling Miss Marlett, who felt the weakness of her case. "They were both sent up with the letters this morning. Were they not, Miss Harman?"

"Yes," said Janey; "I certainly saw two telegraphic envelopes lying among your letters at breakfast. I mentioned it to—to poor Margaret," she added, with a break in her voice.

"But why were the telegrams not delivered last night?" Maitland asked.

"I have left orders," Miss Marlett answered, "that only telegrams of instant importance are to be sent on at once. It costs twelve shillings, and parents and people are so tiresome, always telegraphing about nothing in particular, and costing a fortune. These telegrams were very important, of course; but nothing more could have been done about them if they had arrived last night, than if they came this morning. I have had a great deal of annoyance and expense," the schoolmistress added, "with telegrams that had to be paid for."

And here most people who live at a distance from telegraph offices, and are afflicted with careless friends whose touch on the wire is easy and light, will perhaps sympathize with Miss Marlett.

"You might at least have telegraphed back to ask me to confirm the instructions, when you read the second despatch," said Maitland.

He was beginning to take an argumentative interest in the strength of his own case. It was certainly very strong, and the excuse for the schoolmistress was weak in proportion.

"But that would have been of no use, as it happens," Janey put in—an unexpected and welcome ally to Miss Marlett—"because you must have left Paddington long before the question could have reached you."

This was unanswerable, as a matter of fact; and Miss Marlett could not repress a grateful glance in the direction of her wayward pupil.

"Well," said Maitland, "it is all very provoking, and very serious. Can you remember at all how the second message ran, Miss Marlett?"

"Indeed, I know it off by heart; it was directed exactly like that in your hand, and was dated half an hour later. It ran: 'Plans altered. Margaret required in town. My friend and her father's, Mr. Lithgow, will call for her soon after mid-day. I noticed there were just twenty words."

"And did you also notice the office from which the message was sent out?"

"No," said Miss Marlett, shaking her head with an effort at recollection. "I am afraid I did not notice."

"That is very unfortunate," said Maitland, walking vaguely up and down the room. "Do you think the telegram is absolutely lost?"

"I have looked everywhere, and asked all the maids."

"When did you see it last, for certain?"

"I laid both despatches on the desk in my room when I went out to make sure that Margaret had everything comfortable before she started."

"And where was this Mr. Lithgow then?"

"He was sitting over the fire in my room, trying to warm himself; he seemed very cold."

"Clearly, then, Mr. Lithgow is now in possession of the telegram, which he probably, or rather certainly, sent himself. But how he came to know anything about the girl, or what possible motive he can have had—" muttered Maitland to himself. "She has never been in any place, Miss Marlett, since she came to you, where she could have made the man's acquaintance?"

"It is impossible to say whom girls may meet, and how they may manage it, Mr. Maitland," said Miss Marlett sadly; when Janey broke in:

"I am sure Margaret never met him here. She was not a girl to have such a secret, and she could not have acted a part so as to have taken me in. I saw him first, out of the window. Margaret was very unhappy; she had been crying. I said, 'Here's a gentleman in furs, Margaret; he must have come for you.' Then she looked out and said, 'It is not my guardian; it is the gentleman whom I saw twice with my father.'"

"What kind of a man was he to look at?"

"He was tall, and dark, and rather good-looking, with a slight black mustache. He had a fur collar that went up to his eyes almost, and he was not a young man. He was a gentleman," said Janey, who flattered herself that she recognized such persons as bear without reproach that grand old name—when she saw them.

"Would you know him again if you met him?"

"Anywhere," said Janey; "and I would know his voice."

"He wore mourning," said Miss Marlett, "and he told me he had known Margaret's father. I heard him say a few words to her, in a very kind way, about him. That seemed more comfort to Margaret than anything. 'He did not suffer at all, my dear,' he said. He spoke to her in that way, as an older man might."

"Why, how on earth could he know?" cried Maitland. "No one was present when her poor father died. His body was found in a—," and Maitland paused rather awkwardly. There was, perhaps, no necessity for adding to the public information about the circumstances of Mr. Shields' decease. "He was overcome by the cold and snow, I mean, on the night of the great storm."

"I have always heard that the death of people made drowsy by snow and fatigue is as painless as sleep," said Miss Marlett with some tact.

"I suppose that is what the man must have meant," Maitland answered.

There was nothing more to be said on either side, and yet he lingered, trying to think over any circumstance which might lend a clew in the search for Margaret and of the mysterious Mr. Lithgow.

At last he said "Good-night," after making the superfluous remark that it would be as well to let everyone suppose that nothing unusual or unexpected had happened. In this view Miss Marlett entirely concurred, for excellent reasons of her own, and now she began to regret that she had taken Miss Harman into her counsels. But there was no help for it; and when Maitland rejoined his cabman (who had been refreshed by tea), a kind of informal treaty of peace was concluded between Janey and the schoolmistress. After all, it appeared to Miss Marlett (and correctly) that the epistle from the young officer whom Janey regarded as a brother was a natural and harmless communication. It chiefly contained accounts of contemporary regimental sports and pastimes, in which the writer had distinguished himself, and if it did end "Yours affectionately," there was nothing very terrible or inflammatory in that, all things considered. So the fair owner of the letter received it into her own keeping, only she was "never to do it again."

Miss Marlett did not ask Janey to say nothing about Margaret's inexplicable adventure. She believed that the girl would have sufficient sense and good feeling to hold her peace; and if she did not do so of her own accord, no vows would be likely to bind her. In this favorable estimate of her pupil's discretion Miss Marlett was not mistaken.

Janey did not even give herself airs of mystery among the girls, which was an act of creditable self-denial. The rest of the school never doubted that, on the death of Miss Shields' father, she had been removed by one of her friends. As for Maitland, he was compelled to pass the night at Tiverton, revolving many memories. He had now the gravest reason for anxiety about the girl, of whom he was the only friend and protector, and who was, undeniably, the victim of some plot or conspiracy. Nothing more practical than seeking the advice of Bielby of St. Gatien's occurred to his perplexed imagination.



CHAPTER VI.—At St. Gatien's.

The following day was spent by Maitland in travel, and in pushing such inquiries as suggested themselves to a mind not fertile in expedients. He was not wholly unacquainted with novels of adventure, and he based his conduct, as much as possible, on what he could remember in these "authorities." For example, he first went in search of the man who had driven the cab which brought the mysterious Mr. Lithgow to flutter the Dovecot. So far, there was no difficulty. One of the cabdrivers who plied at the station perfectly remembered the gentleman in furs whom he had driven to the school After waiting at the school till the young lady was ready, he had conveyed them back again to the station, and they took the up-train. That was all he knew. The gentleman, if his opinion were asked, was "a scaly varmint." On inquiry, Maitland found that this wide moral generalization was based on the limited pour-boire which Mr. Lithgow had presented to his charioteer. Had the gentleman any luggage? Yes, he had a portmanteau, which he left in the cloak-room, and took away with him on his return to town—not in the van, in the railway carriage. "What could he want with all that luggage?" Maitland wondered.

The next thing was, of course, to find the guard of the train which conveyed Margaret and her mysterious friend to Taunton. This official had seen the gentleman and the young lady get out at Taunton. They went on to London.

The unfortunate guardian of Margaret Shields was now obliged to start for Taunton, and thence pursue his way, and his inquiries, as far as Paddington. The position was extremely irksome to Maitland. Although, in novels, gentlemen often assume the role of the detective with apparent relish, Maitland was not cast by Nature for the part. He was too scrupulous and too shy. He detested asking guards, and porters, and station-masters, and people in refreshment-rooms if they remembered having seen, yesterday, a gentleman in a fur coat travelling with a young lady, of whom he felt that he had to offer only a too suggestive description. The philanthropist could not but see that everyone properly constructed, in imagination, a satisfactory little myth to account for all the circumstances—a myth in which Maitland played the unpopular part of the Avenging Brother or Injured Husband.

What other path, indeed, was open to conjecture? A gentleman in a fur coat, and a young lady of prepossessing appearance, are travelling alone together, one day, in a carriage marked "Engaged." Next day, another gentleman (not prepossessing, and very nervous) appears on the same route, asking anxious questions about the wayfarer in the notable coat (bearskin, it seemed to have been) and about the interesting young lady. Clearly, the pair were the fond fugitives of Love; while the pursuer represented the less engaging interests of Property, of Law, and of the Family. All the romance and all the popular interest were manifestly on the other side, not on Maitland's side. Even his tips were received without enthusiasm.

Maitland felt these disadvantages keenly; and yet he had neither the time nor the power to explain matters. Even if he had told everyone he met that he was really the young lady's guardian, and that the gentleman in the fur coat was (he had every reason to believe) a forger and a miscreant, he would not have been believed. His opinion would, not unjustly, have been looked on as distorted by what Mr. Herbert Spencer calls "the personal bias." He had therefore to put up with general distrust and brief discourteous replies.

There are many young ladies in the refreshment-bar at Swindon. There they gather, numerous and fair as the sea-nymphs—Doto, Proto, Doris, and Panope, and beautiful Galatea. Of them Maitland sought to be instructed. But the young ladies were arch and uncommunicative, pretending that their attention was engaged in their hospitable duties. Soup it was their business to minister to travellers, not private information. They had seen the gentleman and lady. Very attentive to her he seemed. Yes, they were on the best terms: "very sweet on each other," one young lady averred, and then secured her retreat and concealed her blushes by ministering to the wants of a hungry and hurried public. All this was horribly disagreeable to Maitland.

Maitland finally reached Paddington, still asking questions. He had telegraphed the night before to inquire whether two persons answering to the oft-repeated description had been noticed at the terminus. He had received a reply in the negative before leaving Tiverton. Here, then, was a check. If the ticket-collector was to be credited, the objects of his search had reached Westbourne Park, where their tickets had been taken. There, however, all the evidence proved that they had not descended. Nobody had seen them alight Yet, not a trace was to be found at Paddington of a gentleman in a fur coat, nor of any gentleman travelling alone with a young lady.

It was nearly nine o'clock when Maitland, puzzled, worn out, and disgusted, arrived in town. He did what he could in the way of interrogating the porters—all to no purpose. In the crowd and bustle of passengers, who skirmish for their luggage under inadequate lights, no one remembered having seen either of the persons whom Maitland described. There remained the chance of finding out and cross-examining all the cab-drivers who had taken up passengers by the late trains the night before. But that business could not be transacted at the moment, nor perhaps by an amateur.

Maitland's time was limited indeed. He had been obliged to get out at Westbourne Park and prosecute his inquisition there. Thence he drove to Paddington, and, with brief enough space for investigations that yielded nothing, he took his ticket by the 9.15 evening train for Oxford. His whole soul was set on consulting Bielby of St. Gatien's, whom, in his heart, Maitland could not but accuse of being at the bottom of all these unprecedented troubles. If Bielby had not driven him, as it were, out of Oxford, by urging him to acquire a wider knowledge of humanity, and to expand his character by intercourse with every variety of our fallen species, Maitland felt that he might now be vegetating in an existence peaceful, if not well satisfied. "Adventures are to the adventurous." It is a hard thing when they have to be achieved by a champion who is not adventurous at all. If he had not given up his own judgment to Bielby's, Maitland told himself he never would have plunged into philanthropic enterprise, he never would have taken the Hit or Miss he never would have been entangled in the fortunes of Margaret Shields, and he would not now be concerned with the death, in the snow, of a dissipated old wanderer, nor obliged to hunt down a runaway or kidnapped school-girl. Nor would he be suffering the keen and wearing anxiety of speculating on what had befallen Margaret.

His fancy suggested the most gloomy yet plausible solutions of the mystery of her disappearance. In spite of these reflections, Maitland's confidence in the sagacity of his old tutor was unshaken. Bielby had not been responsible for the details of the methods by which his pupil was trying to expand his character. Lastly, he reflected that if he had not taken Bielby's advice, and left Oxford, he never would have known Mrs. St. John Deloraine, the lady of his diffident desires.

So the time passed, the minutes flitting by, like the telegraph posts, in the dark, and Maitland reached the familiar Oxford Station. He jumped into a hansom, and said, "Gatien's." Past Worcester, up Carfax, down the High Street, they struggled through the snow; and at last Maitland got out and kicked at the College gate. The porter (it was nearly midnight) opened it with rather a scared face:

"Horful row on in quad, sir," he said. "The young gentlemen 'as a bonfire on, and they're a larking with the snow. Orful A they're a making, sir."

The agricultural operation thus indicated by the porter was being forwarded with great vigor. A number of young men, in every variety of garb (from ulsters to boating-coats), were energetically piling up a huge Alp of snow against the door of the Master's lodge. Meanwhile, another band had carried into the quad all the light tables and cane chairs from a lecture-room. Having arranged these in a graceful pyramidal form, they introduced some of the fire-lighters, called "devils" by the College servants, and set a match to the whole.

Maitland stood for a moment in doubt, looking, in the lurid glare, very like a magician who has raised an army of fiends, and cannot find work for them. He felt no disposition to interfere, though the venerable mass of St Ga-tien's seemed in momentary peril, and the noise was enough to waken the dead, let alone the Bursar of Oriel. But Maitland was a non-resident Fellow, known only to the undergraduates, where he was known at all, as a "Radical," with any number of decorative epithets, according to the taste and fancy of the speaker. He did not think he could identify any of the rioters, and he was not certain that they would not carry him to his room, and there screw him up, according to precedent. Maitland had too much sense of personal dignity to face the idea of owing his escape from his chambers to the resources of civilization at the command of the college blacksmith. He, therefore, after a moment of irresolution, stole off under a low-browed old door-way communicating with a queer black many-sided little quadrangle; for it is by no means necessary that a quadrangle should, in this least mathematical of universities, be quadrangular. Groping and stumbling his familiar way up the darkest of spiral staircases, Maitland missed his footing, and fell, with the whole weight of his body, against the door at which he had meant to knock.

"Come in," said a gruff voice, as if the knocking had been done in the most conventional manner.

Maitland had come in by this time, and found the distinguished Mr. Bielby, Fellow of St. Gatien's, sitting by his fireside, attired in a gray shooting-coat, and busy with a book and a pipe. This gentleman had, on taking his degree, gone to town, and practised with singular success at the Chancery Bar. But on some sudden disgust or disappointment, he threw up his practice, returned to College, and there lived a retired life among his "brown Greek manuscripts." He was a man of the world, turned hermit, and the first of the kind whom Maitland had ever known. He had "coached" Maitland, though he usually took no pupils, and remained his friend and counsellor.

"How are you, Maitland?" said the student, without rising. "I thought, from the way in which you knocked, that you were some of the young men, coming to 'draw me,' as I think they call it."

Mr. Bielby smiled as he spoke. He knew that the undergraduates were as likely to "draw" him as boys who hunt a hare are likely to draw a fierce old bear that "dwells among bones and blood."

Mr. Bielby's own environment, to be sure, was not of the grisly and mortuary character thus energetically described by the poet His pipe was in his hand. His broad, bald, red face, ending in an auburn spade-shaped beard, wore the air of content. Around him were old books that had belonged to famous students of old—Scaliger, Meursius, Muretus—and before him lay the proof-sheets of his long-deferred work, a new critical edition of "Demetrius of Scepsis."

Looking at his friend, Maitland envied the learned calm of a man who had not contrived, in the task of developing his own human nature, to become involved, like his pupil, in a singular and deplorable conjuncture of circumstances.

"The men are making a terrible riot in quad," he said, answering the other's remark.

"Yes, yes," replied Bielby, genially; "boys will be boys, and so will young men. I believe our Torpid has bumped Keble, and the event is being celebrated."

Here there came a terrific howl from without, and a crash of broken glass.

"There go some windows into their battels," said Mr. Bielby. "They will hear of this from the Provost But what brings you here, Maitland, so unexpectedly? Very glad to see you, whatever it is."

"Well, sir," said Maitland, "I rather want to ask your advice on an important matter. The fact is, to begin at the beginning of a long story, that some time ago I got, more or less, engaged to be married."

This was not a very ardent or lover-like announcement, but Bielby seemed gratified.

"Ah-ha," replied the tutor, with a humorous twinkle. "Happy to hear it Indeed, I had heard a rumor, a whisper! A little bird, as they say, brought a hint of it—I hope, Maitland, a happy omen! A pleasant woman of the world, one who can take her own part in society, and your part, too, a little—if you will let me say so—is exactly what you need. I congratulate you very heartily. And are we likely to see the young lady in Oxford? Where is she just now?"

Maitland saw that the learned Bielby had indeed heard something, and not the right thing. He flushed all over as he thought of the truth, and of Mrs. St John Deloraine.

"I'm sure I wish I knew," said Maitland at last, beginning to find this consulting of the oracle a little difficult. "The fact is, that's just what I wanted to consult you about. I—I'm afraid I've lost all traces of the young lady."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked the don, his face suddenly growing grave, while his voice had not yet lost its humorous tone. "She has not eloped? You don't mean to tell me she has run away from you?"

"I really don't know what to say," answered Maitland. "I'm afraid she has been run away with, that she is the victim of some plot or conspiracy."

"You surely can't mean what you say" (and now the voice was gruffer than ever). "People don't plot and conspire nowadays, if ever they did, which probably they didn't! And who are the young lady's people? Why don't they look after her? I had heard she was a widow, but she must have friends."

"She is not a widow—she is an orphan," said Maitland, blushing painfully. "I am her guardian in a kind of way."

"Why, the wrong stories have reached me altogether! I'm sure I beg your pardon, but did you tell me her name?"

"Her name is Shields—Margaret Shields"—("Not the name I was told," muttered Bielby)—"and her father was a man who had been rather unsuccessful in life."

"What was his profession, what did he do?"

"He had been a sailor, I think," said the academic philanthropist; "but when I knew him he had left the sea, and was, in fact, as far as he was anything, a professional tattooer."

"What's that?"

"He tattooed patterns on sailors and people of that class for a livelihood."

Bielby sat perfectly silent for a few minutes, and no one who saw him could doubt that his silence arose from a conscious want of words on a level with the situation.

"Has Miss—h'm, Spears—Shields? thank you; has she been an orphan long?" he asked, at length. He was clearly trying to hope that the most undesirable prospective father-in-law described by Maitland had long been removed from the opportunity of forming his daughter's character.

"I only heard of his death yesterday," said Maitland.

"Was it sudden?"

"Why, yes. The fact is, he was a man of rather irregular habits, and he was discovered dead in one of the carts belonging to the Vestry of St George's, Hanover Square."

"St. George's, Hanover Square, indeed!" said the don, and once more he relapsed, after a long whistle, into a significant silence. "Maitland," he said at last, "how did you come to be acquainted with these people? The father, as I understand, was a kind of artist; but you can't, surely, have met them in society?"

"He came a good deal to 'my public-house, the Hit or Miss. I think I told you about it, sir, and you rather seemed to approve of it. The tavern in Chelsea, if you remember, where I was trying to do something for the riverside population, and to mix with them for their good, you know."

"Good-night!" growled Bielby, very abruptly, and with considerable determination in his tone. "I am rather busy this evening. I think you had better think no more about the young lady, and say nothing whatever about the matter to anyone. Good-night!".

So speaking, the hermit lighted his pipe, which, in the astonishment caused by Maitland's avowals, he had allowed to go out, and he applied himself to a large old silver tankard. He was a scholar of the Cambridge school, and drank beer. Maitland knew his friend and mentor too well to try to prolong the conversation, and withdrew to his bleak college room, where a timid fire was smoking and crackling among the wet faggots, with a feeling that he must steer his own course in this affair. It was clearly quite out of the path of Bielby's experience.

"And yet," thought Maitland, "if I had not taken his advice about trying to become more human, and taken that infernal public-house too, I never would have been in this hole."

All day Maitland had scarcely tasted anything that might reasonably be called food. "He had eaten; he had not dined," to adopt the distinction of Brillat-Savarin. He had been dependent on the gritty and flaccid hospitalities of refreshment-rooms, on the sandwich and the bun. Now he felt faint as well as weary; but, rummaging amidst his cupboards, he could find no provisions more tempting and nutritious than a box of potted shrimps, from the college stores, and a bottle of some Hungarian vintage sent by an advertising firm to the involuntary bailees of St. Gatien's. Maitland did not feel equal to tackling these delicacies.

He did not forget that he had neglected to answer a note, on philanthropic business, from Mrs. St. John Deloraine.

Weary as he was, he took pleasure in replying at length, and left the letter out for his scout to post. Then, with a heavy headache, he tumbled into bed, where, for that matter, he went on tumbling and tossing during the greater part of the night. About five o'clock he fell into a sleep full of dreams, only to be awakened, at six, by the steam-whooper, or "devil," a sweet boon with which his philanthropy had helped to endow the reluctant and even recalcitrant University of Oxford.

"Instead of becoming human, I have only become humanitarian," Maitland seemed to hear his own thoughts whispering to himself in a night-mare. Through the slowly broadening winter dawn, in snatches of sleep that lasted, or seemed to last, five minutes at a time, Maitland felt the thought repeating itself, like some haunting refrain, with a feverish iteration.



CHAPTER VII.—After the Inquest.

To be ill in college rooms, how miserable it is! Mainland's scout called him at half-past seven with the invariable question, "Do you breakfast out, sir?" If a man were in the condemned cell, his scout (if in attendance) would probably arouse him on the morning of his execution with, "Do you breakfast out, sir?"

"No," said Maitland, in reply to the changeless inquiry; "in common room as usual. Pack my bag, I am going down by the nine o'clock train."

Then he rose and tried to dress; but his head ached more than ever, his legs seemed to belong to someone else, and to be no subject of just complacency to their owner. He reeled as he strove to cross the room, then he struggled back into bed, where, feeling alternately hot and cold, he covered himself with his ulster, in addition to his blankets. Anywhere but in college, Maitland would, of course, have rung the bell and called his servant; but in our conservative universities, and especially in so reverend a pile as St. Gatiens, there was, naturally, no bell to ring. Maitland began to try to huddle himself into his greatcoat, that he might crawl to the window and shout to Dakyns, his scout.

But at this moment there fell most gratefully on his ear the sound of a strenuous sniff, repeated at short intervals in his sitting-room. Often had Maitland regretted the chronic cold and handkerchiefless condition of his bedmaker; but now her sniff was welcome as music, much more so than that of two hunting horns which ambitious sportsmen were trying to blow in quad.

"Mrs. Trattles!" cried Maitland, and his own voice sounded faint in his ears. "Mrs. Trattles!"

The lady thus invoked answered with becoming modesty, punctuated by sniffs, from the other side of the door:

"Yes, sir; can I do anything for you, sir?"

"Call Dakyns, please," said Maitland, falling back on his pillow. "I don't feel very well."

Dakyns appeared in due course.

"Sorry to hear you're ill, sir; you do look a little flushed. Hadn't I better send for Mr. Whalley, sir?"

Now, Mr. Whalley was the doctor whom Oxford, especially the younger generation, delighted to honor.

"No; I don't think you need. Bring me breakfast here. I think I'll be able to start for town by the 11.58. And bring me my letters."

"Very well, sir," answered Dakyns.

Then with that fearless assumption of responsibility which always does an Englishman credit, he sent the college messenger in search of Mr. Whalley before he brought round Maitland's letters and his breakfast commons.

There were no letters bearing on the subject of Margaret's disappearance; if any such had been addressed to him, they would necessarily be, as Maitland remembered after his first feeling of disappointment, at his rooms in London. Neither Miss Marlett, if she had aught to communicate, nor anyone else, could be expected to know that Mait-land's first act would be to rush to Oxford and consult Bielby.

The guardian of Margaret turned with no success to his breakfast commons; even tea appeared unwelcome and impossible.

Maitland felt very drowsy, dull, indifferent, when a knock came to his door, and Mr. Whalley entered. He could not remember having sent for him; but he felt that, as an invalid once said, "there was a pain somewhere in the room," and he was feebly pleased to see his physician.

"A very bad feverish cold," was the verdict, and Mr. Whalley would call again next day, till which time Maitland was forbidden to leave his room.

He drowsed through the day, disturbed by occasional howls from the quadrangle, where the men were snowballing a little, and, later, by the scraping shovels of the navvies who had been sent in to remove the snow, and with it the efficient cause of nocturnal disorders in St. Gatien's.

So the time passed, Maitland not being quite conscious of its passage, and each hour putting Margaret Shields more and more beyond the reach of the very few people who were interested in her existence. Maitland's illness took a more severe form than Whalley had anticipated, and the lungs were affected. Bielby was informed of his state, and came to see him; but Maitland talked so wildly about the Hit or Miss, about the man in the bearskin coat, and other unintelligible matters, that the hermit soon withdrew to the more comprehensible fragments of "Demetrius of Scepsis." He visited his old pupil daily, and behaved with real kindness; but the old implicit trust never revived with Maitland's returning health.

At last the fever abated. Maitland felt weak, yet perfectly conscious of what had passed, and doubly anxious about what was to be done, if there was, indeed, a chance of doing anything.

Men of his own standing had by this time become aware that he was in Oxford, and sick, consequently there was always someone to look after him.

"Brown," said Maitland to a friend, on the fifth day after his illness began, "would you mind giving me my things? I'll try to dress."

The experiment was so far successful that Maitland left the queer bare slit of a place called his bedroom (formed, like many Oxford bedrooms, by a partition added to the large single room of old times), and moved into the weirdly aesthetic study, decorated in the Early William Morris manner.

"Now will you howl for Dakyns, and make him have this telegram sent to the post? Awfully sorry to trouble you, but I can't howl yet for myself," whispered Maitland, huskily, as he scribbled on a telegraph form.

"Delighted to howl for you," said Brown, and presently the wires were carrying a message to Barton in town. Maitland wanted to see him at once, on very pressing business. In a couple of hours there came a reply: Barton would be with Maitland by dinner-time.

The ghostly room, in the Early William Morris manner, looked cosey and even homelike when the lamp was lit, when the dusky blue curtains were drawn, and a monster of the deep—one of the famous Oxford soles, larger than you ever see them elsewhere—smoked between Maitland and Barton. Beside the latter stood a silver quart pot, full of "strong," a reminiscence of "the old coaching days," when Maitland had read with Barton for Greats. The invalid's toast and water wore an air of modest conviviality, and might have been mistaken for sherry by anyone who relied merely on such information as is furnished by the sense of sight The wing of a partridge (the remainder of the brace fell to Barton's lot) was disposed of by the patient; and then, over the wine, which he did not touch, and the walnuts, which he tried nervously to crack in his thin, white hands, Maitland made confession and sought advice.

It was certainly much easier talking to Barton than to Bielby, for Barton knew so much already, especially about the Hit or Miss; but when it came to the story of the guardianship of Margaret, and the kind of prospective engagement to that young lady, Barton rose and began to walk about the room. But the old beams creaked under him in the weak places; and Barton, seeing how much he discomposed Maitland, sat down again, and steadied his nerves with a glass of the famous St. Gatien's port.

Then, when Maitland, in the orderly course of his narrative, came to the finding of poor Dick Shields' body in the snow-cart, Barton cried, "Why, you don't mean to say that was the man, the girl's father? By George, I can tell you something about him! At the inquest my partner, old Munby, made out—"

"Has there been an inquest already? Oh, of course there must have been," said Maitland, whose mind had run so much on Margaret's disappearance that he had given little of his thoughts (weak and inconsecutive enough of late) to the death of her father.

"Of course there has been an inquest Have you not read the papers since you were ill?"

Now, Maitland had the common-room back numbers of the Times since the day of his return from Devonshire in his study at that very moment But his reading, so far, had been limited to the "Agony Column" of the advertisements (where he half hoped to find some message), and to all the paragraphs headed "Strange Occurrence" and "Mysterious Disappearance." None of these had cast any light on the fortunes of Margaret.

"I have not seen anything about the inquest," he said. "What verdict did they bring in? The usual one, I suppose—'Visitation,' and all that kind of thing, or 'Death from exposure while under the influence of alcoholic stimulants.'"

"That's exactly what they made it," said Barton; "and I don't blame them; for the medical evidence my worthy partner gave left them no other choice. You can see what he said for yourself in the papers."

Barton had been turning over the file of the Times, and showed Maitland the brief record of the inquest and the verdict; matters so common that their chronicle might be, and perhaps is, kept stereotyped, with blanks for names and dates.

"A miserable end," said Maitland, when he had perused the paragraph. "And now I had better go on with my story? But what did you mean by saying you didn't 'blame' the coroner's jury?"

"Have you any more story? Is it not enough? I don't know that I should tell you; it is too horrid!"

"Don't keep anything from me, please," said Maitland, moving nervously. "I must know everything."

"Well," answered Barton, his voice sinking to a tone of reluctant horror—"well, your poor friend was murdered! That's what I meant when I said I did not blame the jury; they could have given no other verdict than they did on the evidence of my partner."

Murder! The very word has power to startle, as if the crime were a new thing, not as old (so all religions tell us) as the first brothers. As a meteoric stone falls on our planet, strange and unexplained, a waif of the universe, from a nameless system, so the horror of murder descends on us, when we meet it, with an alien dread, as of an intrusion from some lost star, some wandering world that is Hell.

"Murdered!" cried Maitland. "Why, Barton, you must be dreaming! Who on earth could have murdered poor Shields? If ever there was a man who was no one's enemy but his own, that man was Shields! And he literally had nothing that anyone could have wanted to steal. I allowed him so much—a small sum—paid weekly, on Thursdays; and it was a Wednesday when he was—when he died. He could not have had a shilling at that moment in the world!"

"I am very sorry to have to repeat it, but murdered he was, all the same, and that by a very cunning and cautious villain—a man, I should say, of some education.

"But how could it possibly have been done? There's the evidence before you in the paper. There was not a trace of violence on him, and the circumstances, which were so characteristic of his ways, were more than enough to account for his death. The exposure, the cold, the mere sleeping in the snow—it's well known to be fatal Why," said Maitland, eagerly, "in a long walk home from shooting in winter, I have had to send back a beater for one of the keepers; and we found him quite asleep, in a snowdrift, under a hedge. He never would have wakened."

He was naturally anxious to refute the horrible conclusion which Barton had arrived at.

The young doctor only shook his head. His opinion was manifestly fixed.

"But how can you possibly know better than the jury," urged Maitland peevishly, "and the coroner, and the medical officer for the district, who were all convinced that his death was perfectly natural—that he got drunk, lost his way, laid down in the cart, and perished of exposure? Why, you did not even hear the evidence. I can't make out," he went on, with the querulousness of an invalid, "why you should have come up just to talk such nonsense. The coroner and the jury are sure to have been right."

"Well, you see, it was not the coroner's business nor the jury's business, to know better than the medical officer for the district, on whose evidence they relied. But it is my business; for the said officer is my partner, and, but for me, our business would be worth very little. He is about as ignorant and easy-going an excellent old fellow as ever let a life slip out of his hands."

"Then, if you knew so much, why didn't you keep him straight?"

"Well, as it happened, I was down in Surrey with my people, at a wedding, when the death occurred, and they made a rather superficial examination of the deceased."

"Still, I see less than ever how you got a chance to form such an extraordinary and horrible opinion if you were not there, and had only this printed evidence," said Maitland, waving a sheet of the Times, "to go by; and this is dead against you. You're too clever."

"But I made a proper and most careful examination myself, on my return to town, the day after the inquest," said Barton, "and I found evidence enough for me—never mind where—to put the matter beyond the reach of doubt. The man was murdered, and murdered, as I said, very deliberately, by some one who was not an ordinary ignorant scoundrel."

"Still, I don't see how you got a chance to make your examination," said Maitland; "the man would be buried as usual—"

"Excuse me. The unclaimed bodies of paupers—and there was no one to claim his—are reserved, if needed—"

"I see—don't go on," said Maitland, turning rather pale, and falling back on his sofa, where he lay for a little with his eyes shut "It is all the fault of this most unlucky illness of mine," he said, presently. "In my absence, and as nobody knew where I was, there was naturally no one to claim the body. The kind of people who knew about him will take no trouble or risk in a case like that." He was silent again for a few moments; then, "What do you make out to have been tbe cause of death?" he asked.

"Well," said Barton slowly, "I don't much care to go into details which you may say I can hardly prove, and I don't want to distress you in your present state of health."

"Why don't you speak out! Was he poisoned? Did you detect arsenic or anything? He had been drinking with some one!"

"No; if, in a sense, he had been poisoned, there was literally nothing that could be detected by the most skilled analysis. But, my dear fellow, there are venoms that leave no internal trace. If I am right—and I think I am—he was destroyed by one of these. He had been a great traveller, had he not?"

"Yes," answered Maitland.

"Well, it is strange; the murderer must have been a great traveller also. He must have been among the Macoushi Indians of Guiana, and well acquainted with their arts. I know them too. I went there botanizing."

"You won't be more explicit?"

"No," he said; "you must take it on my word, after all."

Maitland, if not convinced, was silent He had knowledge enough of Barton, and of his healthy and joyous nature, to be certain that his theory was no morbid delusion; that he had good grounds for an opinion which, as he said, he could no longer, prove—which was, indeed, now incapable of any proof. No one had seen the commission of tbe crime, and the crime was of such a nature, and so cunningly planned, that it could not possibly be otherwise brought home to the murderer.

Now Maitland, knowing the Hit or Miss, and the private room up-stairs with the dormer windows, where the deed must have been done, if done at all, was certain that there could not possibly have been any eye-witness of the crime.

"What shall you do?" he asked, "or have you done anything in consequence of your discovery? Have you been to the police?"

"No," said Barton; "where was the use? How can I prove anything now? It is not as if poison had been used, that could be detected by analysis. Besides, I reflected that if I was right, the less fuss made, the more likely was the murderer to show his hand. Supposing he had a secret motive—and he must have had—he will act on that motive sooner or later. The quieter everything is kept, the more he feels certain he is safe, the sooner he will move in some way or other. Then, perhaps, there may be a chance of detecting him; but it's an outside chance. Do you know anything of the dead man's past history?"

"Nothing, except that he was from the North, and had lived a wandering life."

"Well, we must wait and see. But there is his daughter, left under your care. What do you mean to do about her?"

The question brought Maitland back to his old perplexities, which were now so terribly increased and confused by what he had just been told.

"I was going to tell you, when you broke in with this dreadful business. Things were bad before; now they are awful," said Maitland. "His daughter has disappeared! That was what I was coming to: that was the rest of my story. It was difficult and distressing enough before I knew what you tell me; now—great Heavens! what am I to do?"

He turned on the sofa, quite overcome. Barton put his hand encouragingly on his shoulder, and sat so for some minutes.

"Tell me all about it, old boy?" asked Barton, at length.

He was very much interested, and most anxious to aid his unfortunate friend. His presence, somehow, was full of help and comfort. Maitland no longer felt alone and friendless, as he had done after his consultation of Bielby. Thus encouraged, he told, as clearly and fully as possible, the tale of the disappearance of Margaret, and of his entire failure even to come upon her traces or those of her companion.

"And you have heard nothing since your illness?"

"Nothing to any purpose. What do you advise me to do?"

"There is only one thing certain, to my mind," said Barton. "The seafaring man with whom Shields was drinking on the last night of his life, and the gentleman in the fur travelling-coat who sent the telegram in your name and took away Margaret from Miss Marlett's, are in the same employment, or, by George, are probably the same person. Now, have you any kind of suspicion who they or he may be? or can you suggest any way of tracking him or them?"

"No," said Maitland; "my mind is a perfect blank on the subject. I never heard of the sailor till the woman at the Hit or Miss mentioned him, the night the body was found. And I never heard of a friend of Shields', a friend who was a gentleman, till I went down to the school."

"Then all we can do at present is, not to set the police at work—they would only prevent the man from showing—but to find out whether anyone answering to the description is 'wanted' or is on their books, at Scotland Yard. Why are we not in Paris, where a man, whatever his social position might be, who was capable of that unusual form of crime, would certainly have his dossier? They order these things better in France."

"There is just one thing about him, at least about the man who was drinking with poor Shields on the night of his death. He was almost certainly tattooed with some marks or other. Indeed, I remember Mrs. Gullick—that's the landlady of the Hit or Miss—saying that Shields had been occupied in tattooing him. He did a good deal in that way for sailors."

"By Jove," said Barton, "if any fellow understands tattooing, and the class of jail-birds who practise it, I do. It is a clew after a fashion; but, after all, many of them that go down to the sea in ships are tattooed, even when they are decent fellows; and besides, we seldom, in our stage of society, get a view of a fellow-creature with nothing on but these early decorative designs."

This was only too obvious, and rather damping to Maitland, who for a moment had been inclined to congratulate himself on his flair as a detective.



CHAPTER VIII.—The Jaffa Oranges.

"Letting I dare not wait upon I would."

Of all fairy gifts, surely the most desirable in prospect, and the most embarrassing in practice, would be the magical telescope of Prince Ali, in the "Arabian Nights." With his glass, it will be remembered, he could see whatever was happening on whatever part of the earth he chose, and, though absent, was always able to behold the face of his beloved. How often would one give Aladdin's Lamp, and Fortunatus' Purse, and the invisible Cap which was made of "a darkness that might be felt" to possess for one hour the Telescope of Fairyland!

Could Maitland and Barton have taken a peep through the tube, while they were pondering over the means of finding Margaret, their quest would have been aided, indeed, but they would scarcely have been reassured. Yet there was nothing very awful, nor squalid, nor alarming, as they might have expected, anticipated, and dreaded, in what the vision would have shown. Margaret was not in some foreign den of iniquity, nor, indeed, in a den at all.

The tube enchanted would have revealed to them Margaret, not very far off, not in Siberia nor Teheran, but simply in Victoria Square, Pimlico, S.W. There, in a bedroom, not more than commonly dingy, on the drawing-room floor, with the rattling old green Venetian blinds drawn down, Margaret would have been displayed. The testimony of a cloud of witnesses, in the form of phials and medical vessels, proved that she had for some time been an invalid. The pretty dusky red of health would have been seen to have faded from her cheeks, and the fun and daring had died out of her eyes. The cheeks were white and thin, the eyes were half-closed from sickness and fatigue, and Margaret, a while ago so ready of speech, did not even bestir herself to answer the question which a gentleman, who stood almost like a doctor, in an attitude of respectful inquiry, was putting as to her health.

He was a tall gentleman, dark, with a ripe kind of face, and full, red, sensitive, sensual lips, not without a trace of humor. Near the door, in a protesting kind of attitude, as if there against her will, was a remarkably handsome young person, attired plainly as a housekeeper, or upper-servant, The faces of some women appear to have been furnished by Nature, or informed by habit, with an aspect that seems to say (in fair members of the less educated classes), "I won't put up with none of them goings on." Such an expression this woman wears.

"I hope you feel better, my dear?" the dark gentleman asks again.

"She's going on well enough," interrupted the woman with the beautiful dissatisfied face. "What with peaches and grapes from Covent Garden, and tonics as you might bathe in—"

"Heaven forbid!"

"She ought to get well," the dissatisfied woman continued, as if the invalid were obstinately bent on remaining ill.

"I was not speaking, at the moment, to you, Mrs. Darling," said the dark gentleman, with mockery in his politeness, "but to the young lady whom I have entrusted to your charge."

"A pretty trust!" the woman replied, with a sniff

"Yes, as you kindly say, an extremely pretty trust. And now, Margaret, my dear—'—"

The fair woman walked to the window, and stared out of it with a trembling lip, and eyes that saw nothing.

"Now, Margaret, my dear, tell me for yourself, how do you feel?"

"You are very kind," answered the girl at last. "I am sure I am better. I am not very strong yet. I hope I shall get up soon."

"Is there anything you would like? Perhaps you are tired of peaches and grapes; may I send you some oranges?"

"Oh, thank you; you are very good. I am often thirsty when I waken, or rather when I leave off dreaming. I seem to dream, rather than sleep, just now."

"Poor girl!" said the dark gentleman, in a pitying voice. "And what do you dream?"

"There seems to be a dreadful quiet, smooth, white place," said the girl, slowly, "where I am; and something I feel—something, I don't know what—drives me out of it. I cannot rest in it; and then I find myself on a dark plain, and a great black horror, a kind of blackness falling in drifts, like black snow in a wind, sweeps softly over me, till I feel mixed in the blackness; and there is always some one watching me, and chasing me in the dark—some one I can't see. Then I slide into the smooth, white, horrible place again, and feel I must get away from it. Oh, I don't know which is worst! And they go and come all the while I'm asleep, I suppose."

"I am waiting for the doctor to look in again; but all I can do is to get you some Jaffa oranges, nice large ones, myself. You will oblige me, Mrs. Darling" (he turned to the housekeeper), "by placing them in Miss Burnside's room, and then, perhaps, she will find them refreshing when she wakes. Good-by for the moment, Margaret."

The fair woman said nothing, and the dark gentleman walked into the street, where a hansom cab waited for him. "Covent Garden," he cried to the cabman.

We have not for some time seen, or rather we have for some time made believe not to recognize, the Hon. Thomas Cranley, whose acquaintance (a very compromising one) we achieved early in this narrative.

Mr. Cranley, "with his own substantial private purpose sun-clear before him" (as Mr. Carlyle would have said, in apologizing for some more celebrated villain), had enticed Margaret from school. Nor had this been, to a person of his experience and resources, a feat of very great difficulty. When he had once learned, by the simplest and readiest means, the nature of Maitland's telegram to Miss Marlett, his course had been dear. The telegram which followed Maitland's, and in which Cranley used Maitland's name, had entirely deceived Miss Marlett, as we have seen. By the most obvious ruses he had prevented Maitland from following his track to London. His housekeeper had entered the "engaged" carriage at Westbourne Park, and shared, as far as the terminus, the compartment previously occupied by himself and Margaret alone. Between Westbourne Park and Paddington he had packed the notable bearskin coat in his portmanteau. The consequence was, that at Paddington no one noticed a gentleman in a bearskin coat, travelling alone with a young lady. A gentleman in a light ulster, travelling with two ladies, by no means answered to the description Maitland gave in his examination of the porters. They, moreover, had paid but a divided attention to Maitland's inquiries.

The success of Cranley's device was secured by its elementary simplicity. A gentleman who, for any reason, wishes to obliterate his trail, does wisely to wear some very notable, conspicuous, unmistakable garb at one point of his progress. He then becomes, in the minds of most who see him, "the man in the bearskin coat," or "the man in the jack-boots," or "the man with the white hat." His identity is practically merged in that of the coat, or the boots, or the hat; and when he slips out of them, he seems to leave his personality behind, or to pack it up in his portmanteau, or with his rugs. By acting on this principle (which only requires to be stated to win the assent of pure reason), Mr. Cranley had successfully lost himself and Margaret in London.

With Margaret his task had been less difficult than it looked. She recognized him as an acquaintance of her father's, and he represented to her that he had been an officer of the man-of-war in which her father had served; that he had lately encountered her father, and pitied his poverty—in poor Shields, an irremediable condition. The father, so he declared, had spoken to him often and anxiously about Margaret, and with dislike and distrust about Maitland. According to Mr. Cranley, Shield's chief desire in life had been to see Margaret entirely free from Maitland's guardianship. But he had been conscious that to take the girl away from school would be harmful to her prospects. Finally, with his latest breath, so Mr. Cranley declared, he had commended Margaret to his old officer, and had implored him to abstract her from the charge of the Fellow of St Gatien's.

Margaret, as we know, did not entertain a very lively kindness for Maitland, nor had she ever heard her father speak of that unlucky young man with the respect which his kindness, his academic rank, and his position in society deserved. It must be remembered that, concerning the manner of her father's death, she had shrunk from asking questions. She knew it had been sudden; she inferred that it had not been reputable. Often had she dreaded for him one of the accidents against which Providence does not invariably protect the drunkard. Now the accident had arrived, she was fain to be ignorant of the manner of it. Her new guardian, again, was obviously a gentleman; he treated her with perfect politeness and respect, and, from the evening of the day when she left school, she had been in the charge of that apparently correct chaperon, the handsome housekeeper with the disapproving countenance. Mr. Cranley had even given up to her his own rooms in Victoria Square, and had lodged elsewhere; his exact address Margaret did not know. The only really delicate point—Cranley's assumption of the name of "Mr. Lithgow"—he frankly confessed to her as soon as they were well out of the Dovecot. He represented that, for the fulfilment of her father's last wish, the ruse of the telegram and the assumed name had been necessary, though highly repugnant to the feelings of an officer and a gentleman. Poor Margaret had seen nothing of gentlemen, except as philanthropists, and (as we know) philanthropists permit themselves a license and discretion not customary in common society.

Finally, even had the girl's suspicions been awakened, her illness prevented her from too closely reviewing the situation. She was with her father's friend, an older man by far, and therefore a more acceptable guardian than Maitland. She was fulfilling her father's wish, and hoped soon to be put in the way of independence, and of earning her own livelihood; and independence was Margaret's ideal.

Her father's friend, her own protector—in that light she regarded Cranley, when she was well enough to think consecutively. There could be no more complete hallucination. Cranley was one of those egotists who do undoubtedly exist, but whose existence, when they are discovered, is a perpetual surprise even to the selfish race of men. In him the instinct of self-preservation (without which the race could not have endured for a week) had remained absolutely unmodified, as it is modified in the rest of us, by thousands of years of inherited social experience. Cran-ley's temper, in every juncture, was precisely that of the first human being who ever found himself and other human beings struggling in a flood for a floating log that will only support one of them. Everything must give way to his desire; he had literally never denied himself anything that he dared taka As certainly as the stone, once tossed up, obeys the only law it knows, and falls back to earth, so surely Cranley would obtain what he desired (if it seemed safe), though a human life, or a human soul, stood between him and his purpose.

Now, Margaret stood, at this moment, between him and the aims on which his greed was desperately bent. It was, therefore, necessary that she should vanish; and to that end he had got her into his power. Cranley's original idea had been the obvious one of transporting the girl to the Continent, where, under the pretence that a suitable situation of some kind had been found for her, he would so arrange that England should never see her more, and that her place among honest women should be lost forever. But there were difficulties in the way of this tempting plan. For instance, the girl knew some French, and was no tame, unresisting fool; and then Margaret's illness had occurred, and had caused delay, and given time for reflection.

"After all," he thought, as he lit his cigar and examined his mustache in the mirror (kindly provided for that purpose in well-appointed hansoms)—"after all it is only, the dead who tell no tales, and make no inconvenient claims."

For after turning over in his brain the various safe and easy ways of "removing" an inconvenient person, one devilish scheme had flashed across a not uninstructed intellect—a scheme which appeared open to the smallest number of objections.

"She shall take a turn for the worse," he thought; "and the doctor will be an uncommonly clever man, and particularly well read in criminal jurisprudence, if he sees anything suspicious in it."

Thus pondering, this astute miscreant stopped at Covent Garden, dismissed his cab, and purchased a basket of very fine Jaffa oranges. He then hailed another cab, and drove with his parcel to the shop of an eminent firm of chemists, again dismissing his cab. In the shop he asked for a certain substance, which it may be as well not to name, and got what he wanted in a small phial, marked poison. Mr. Cranley then called a third cab, gave the direction of a surgical-instrument maker's (also eminent), and amused his leisure during the drive in removing the label from the bottle. At the surgical-instrument maker's he complained of neuralgia, and purchased a hypodermic syringe for injecting morphine or some such anodyne into his arm. A fourth cab took him back to the house in Victoria Square, where he let himself in with a key, entered the dining-room, and locked the door.

Nor was he satisfied with this precaution. After aimlessly moving chairs about for a few minutes, and prowling up and down the room, he paused and listened. What he heard induced him to stuff his pocket-handkerchief into the keyhole, and to lay the hearth-rug across the considerable chink which, as is usual, admitted a healthy draught under the bottom of the door. Then the Honorable Mr. Cranley drew down the blinds, and unpacked his various purchases. He set them out on the table in order—the oranges, the phial, and the hypodermic syringe.

Then he carefully examined the oranges, chose half a dozen of the best, and laid the others on a large dessert plate in the dining-room cupboard. One orange he ate, and left the skin on a plate on the table, in company with a biscuit or two.

When all this had been arranged to his mind, Mr. Cranley chose another orange, filled a wineglass with the liquid in the phial, and then drew off a quantity in the little syringe. Then he very delicately and carefully punctured the skin of one of the oranges, and injected into the fruit the contents of the syringe. This operation he elaborately completed in the case of each of the six chosen oranges, and then tenderly polished their coats with a portion of the skin of the fruit he had eaten. That portion of the skin he consumed to dust in the fire; and, observing that a strong odor remained in the room, he deliberately turned on the unlighted gas for a few minutes. After this he opened the window, sealed his own seal in red wax on paper a great many times, finally burning the collection, and lit a large cigar, which he smoked through with every appearance of enjoyment. While engaged on this portion of his task, he helped himself frequently to sherry from the glass, first carefully rinsed, into which he had poured the liquid from the now unlabelled phial. Lastly he put the phial in his pocket with the little syringe, stored the six oranges, wrapped in delicate paper, within the basket, and closed the window.

Next he unlocked the door, and, without opening it, remarked in a sweet voice:

"Now, Alice, you may come in!"

The handle turned, and the housekeeper entered.

"How is Miss Burnside?" he asked, in the same silvery accents. (He had told Margaret that she had better be known by that name, for the present at least.)

"She is asleep. I hope she may never waken. What do you want with her? Why are you keeping her in this house? What devil's brew have you been making that smells of gas and sherry and sealing-wax?"

"My dear girl," replied Mr. Cranley, "you put too many questions at once. As to your first pair of queries, my reasons for taking care of Miss Burnside are my own business, and do not concern you, as my housekeeper. As to the 'devil's brew' which you indicate in a style worthy rather of the ages of Faith and of Alchemy, than of an epoch of positive science, did you never taste sherry and sealing-wax? If you did not, that is one of the very few alcoholic combinations in which you have never, to my knowledge, attempted experiments. Is there any other matter on which I can enlighten an intelligent and respectful curiosity?"

The fair woman's blue eyes and white face seemed to glitter with anger, like a baleful lightning.

"I don't understand your chaff," she said, with a few ornamental epithets, which, in moments when she was deeply stirred, were apt to decorate her conversation.

"I grieve to be obscure," he answered; "brevis esse laboro, the old story. But, as you say Miss Burnside is sleeping, and as, when she wakens, she may be feverish, will you kindly carry these oranges and leave them on a plate by her bedside? They are Jaffa oranges, and finer fruit, Alice, my dear, I have seldom tasted! After that, go to Cavendish Square, and leave this note at the doctor's."

"Oh, nothing's too good for her!" growled the jealous woman, thinking of the fruit; to which he replied by offering her several of the oranges not used in his experiment.

Bearing these, she withdrew, throwing a spiteful glance and leaving the door unshut, so that her master distinctly heard her open Margaret's door, come out again, and finally leave the house.

"Now, I'll give her a quarter of an hour to waken," said Mr. Cranley, and he took from his pocket a fresh copy of the Times. He glanced rather anxiously at the second column of the outer sheet "Still advertising for him," he said to himself; and he then turned to the sporting news. His calmness was extraordinary, but natural in him; for the reaction of terror at the possible detection of his villainy had not yet come on. When he had read all that interested him in the Times, he looked hastily at his watch.

"Just twenty minutes gone," he said. "Time she wakened—and tried those Jaffa oranges."

Then he rose, went up stairs stealthily, paused a moment opposite Margaret's door, and entered the drawing-room. Apparently he did not find any of the chairs in the dining-room comfortable enough; for he chose a large and heavy fauteuil, took it up in his arms, and began to carry it out In the passage, just opposite Margaret's chamber, he stumbled so heavily that he fell, and the weighty piece of furniture was dashed against the door of the sick-room, making a terrible noise. He picked it up, and retired silently to the dining-room.

"That would have wakened the dead," he whispered to himself, "and she is not dead—yet. She is certain to see the oranges, and take one of them, and then—"

The reflection did not seem to relieve him, as he sat, gnawing his mustache, in the chair he had brought down with him. Now the deed was being accomplished, even his craven heart awoke to a kind of criminal remorse. Now anxiety for the issue made him wish the act undone, or frustrated; now he asked himself if there were no more certain and less perilous way. So intent was his eagerness that a strange kind of lucidity possessed him. He felt as if he beheld and heard what was passing in the chamber of sickness, which he had made a chamber of Death.

She has wakened—she has looked round—she has seen the poisoned fruit—she has blessed him for his kindness in bringing it—she has tasted the oranges—she has turned to sleep again—and the unrelenting venom is at its work!

Oh, strange forces that are about us, all inevitably acting, each in his hour and his place, each fulfilling his law without turning aside to the right hand or to the left! The rain-drop running down the pane, the star revolving round the sun of the furthest undiscoverable system, the grains of sand sliding from the grasp, the poison gnawing and burning the tissues—each seems to move in his inevitable path, obedient to an unrelenting will. Innocence, youth, beauty—that will spares them not. The rock falls at its hour, whoever is under it. The deadly drug slays, though it be blended with the holy elements. It is a will that moves all things—mens agitat molem; and yet we can make that will a slave of our own, and turn this way and that the blind steadfast forces, to the accomplishment of our desires.

It was not, naturally, with these transcendental reflections that the intellect of Mr. Cranley was at this moment engaged. If he seemed actually to be present in Margaret's chamber, watching every movement and hearing every heart-beat of the girl he had doomed, his blue lips and livid face, from which he kept wiping the cold drops, did not therefore speak of late ruth, or the beginning of remorse.

It was entirely on his own security and chances of escaping detection that he was musing.

"Now it's done, it can't be undone," he said. "But is it so very safe, after all? The stuff is not beyond analysis, unluckily; but it's much more hard to detect this way, mixed with the orange-juice, than any other way. And then there's all the horrid fuss afterward. Even if there is not an inquest—as, of course, there won't be—they'll ask who the girl is, what the devil she was doing here. Perhaps they'll, some of them, recognize Alice: she has been too much before the public, confound her. It may not be very hard to lie through all these inquiries, perhaps."

And then he looked mechanically at his cold fingers, and bit his thumb-nail, and yawned.

"By gad! I wish I had not risked it," he said to himself; and his complexion was now of a curious faint blue, and his heart began to flutter painfully in a manner not strange in his experience. He sunk back in his chair, with his hands all thrilling and pricking to the finger-tips. He took a large silver flask from his pocket, but he could scarcely unscrew the stopper, and had to manage it with his teeth. A long pull at the liquor restored him, and he began his round of reflections again.

"That French fellow who tried it this way in Scotland was found out," he said; "and—" He did not like, even in his mind, to add that the "French fellow, consequently, suffered the extreme penalty of the law. But then he was a fool, and boasted beforehand, and bungled it infernally. Still, it's not absolutely safe: the other plan I thought of first was better. By gad! I wish I could be sure she had not taken the stuff. Perhaps she hasn't. Anyway, she must be asleep again now; and, besides, there are the other oranges to be substituted for those left in the room, if she has taken it. I must go and see. I don't like the job."

He filled his pockets with five unpoisoned oranges, and the skin of a sixth, and so crept upstairs. His situation was, perhaps, rather novel. With murder in his remorseless heart, he yet hoped against hope, out of his very poltroonery, that murder had not been done. At the girl's door he waited and listened, his face horribly agitated and shining wet. All was silent. His heart was sounding hoarsely within him, like a dry pump: he heard it, so noisy and so distinct that he almost feared it might wake the sleeper. If only, after all, she had not touched the fruit!

Then he took the door-handle in his clammy grasp; he had to cover it with a handkerchief to get a firm hold. He turned discreetly, and the door was pushed open in perfect stillness, except for that dreadful husky thumping of his own heart. At this moment the postman's hard knock at the door nearly made him cry out aloud. Then he entered; a dreadful visitor, had anyone seen him. She did not see him; she was asleep, sound asleep; in the dirty brown twilight of a London winter day, he could make out that much. He did not dare draw close enough to observe her face minutely, or bend down and listen for her breath. And the oranges! Eagerly he looked at them. There were only five of them. Surely—no! a sixth had fallen on the floor, where it was lying. With a great sigh of relief he picked up all the six oranges, put them in his pockets, and, as shrinkingly as he had come-yet shaking his hand at the girl, and cursing his own cowardice under his breath—he stole down stairs, opened the dining-room door, and advanced into the blind, empty dusk.

"Now I'll settle with you!" came a voice out of the dimness; and the start wrought so wildly on his nerves, excited to the utmost degree as they were, that he gave an inarticulate cry of alarm and despair. Was he trapped, and by whom?

In a moment he saw whence the voice came. It was only Alice Darling, in bonnet and cloak, and with a face flushed with something more than anger, that stood before him.

Not much used to shame, he was yet ashamed of his own alarm, and tried to dissemble it. He sat down at a writing-table facing her, and merely observed:

"Now that you have returned, Alice, will you kindly bring lights? I want to read."

"What were you doing up-stairs just now?" she snarled. "Why did you send me off to the doctor's, out of the way?"

"My good girl, I have again and again advised you to turn that invaluable curiosity of yours—curiosity, a quality which Mr. Matthew Arnold so justly views with high esteem—into wider and nobler channels. Disdain the merely personal; accept the calm facts of domestic life as you find them; approach the broader and less irritating problems of Sociology (pardon the term) or Metaphysics."

It was cruel to see the enjoyment he got out of teasing this woman by an ironical jargon which mystified her into madness. This time he went too far. With an inarticulate snarl of passion she lifted a knife that lay on the dining-room table and made for him. But this time, being prepared, he was not alarmed; nay, he seemed to take leasure in the success of his plan of tormenting. The heavy escritoire at which he sat was a breastwork between him and the angry woman. He coolly opened a drawer; produced a revolver, and remarked:

"No; I did not ask for the carving-knife, Alice. I asked for lights; and you will be good enough to bring them. I am your master, you know, in every sense of the word; and you are aware that you had better both hold your tongue and keep your hands off me—and off drink. Fetch the lamp!"

She left the room cowed, like a beaten dog. She returned, set the lamp silently on the table, and was gone. Then he noticed a letter, which lay on the escritoire, and was addressed to him. It was a rather peculiar letter to look at, or rather the envelope was peculiar; for, though bordered with heavy black, it was stamped, where the seal should have been, with a strange device in gold and colors—a brown bun, in a glory of gilt rays.

"Mrs. St John Deloraine," he said, taking it up. "How in the world did she find me out? Well, she is indeed a friend that sticketh closer than a brother—a deal closer than Surbiton, anyhow."

Lord Surbiton was the elder brother of Mr. Cranley, and bore the second title of the family.

"I don't suppose there is another woman in London," he thought to himself, "that has not heard all about the row at the Cockpit, and that would write to me."

Then he tore the chromatic splendors of the device on the envelope, and read the following epistle:

"Early English Bunhouse,

"Chelsea, Friday. "My dear Mr. Cranley,

"Where are you hiding, or yachting, you wandering man? I can hear nothing of you from anyone—nothing good, and you know I never believe anything else. Do come and see me, at the old Bunhouse here, and tell me about yourself"

—("She has heard," he muttered)

—"and help me in a little difficulty. Our housekeeper (you know we are strictly blue ribbon—a cordon bleu, I call her) has become engaged to a plumber, and she is leaving us. Can you recommend me another? I know how interested you are (in spite of your wicked jokes) in our little enterprise. And we also want a girl, to be under the housekeeper, and keep the accounts. Surely you will come to see me, whether you can advise me or not.

"Yours very truly,

"Mary St. John Deloraine"

"Idiot!" murmured Mr. Cranley, as he finished reading this document; and then he added, "By Jove! it's lucky, too. I'll put these two infernal women off on her, and Alice will soon do for the girl, if she once gets at the drink. She's dangerous, by Jove, when she has been drinking. Then the Law will do for Alice, and all will be plain sailing in smooth waters."



CHAPTER IX.—Mrs. St. John Deloraine

Mrs. St. John Deloraine, whose letter to Mr. Cranley we have been privileged to read, was no ordinary widow. As parts of her character and aspects of her conduct were not devoid of the kind of absurdity which is caused by virtues out of place, let it be said that a better, or kinder, or gentler, or merrier soul than that of Mrs. St. John Deloraine has seldom inhabited a very pleasing and pretty tenement of clay, and a house in Cheyne Walk.

The maiden name of this lady was by no means so euphonious as that which she had attained by marriage. Miss Widdicombe, of Chipping Carby, in the county of Somerset, was a very lively, good-hearted and agreeable young woman; but she was by no means favorably looked on by the ladies of the County Families. Now, in the district around Chipping Carby, the County Families are very County indeed, few more so. There is in their demeanor a kind of morgue so funereal and mournful, that it inevitably reminds the observer (who is not County) of an edifice in Paris, designed by Meryon, and celebrated by Mr. Robert Browning. The County Families near Chipping Carby are far, far from gay, and what pleasure they do take, they take entirely in the society of their equals. So determined are they to drink delight of tennis with their peers, and with nobody else, that even the Clergy are excluded, ex officio, and in their degrading capacity of ministers of Religion, from the County Lawn Tennis Club. As we all know how essential young curates fresh from college are to the very being of rural lawn-tennis, no finer proof can be given of the inaccessibility of the County people around Chipping Carby, and of the sacrifices which they are prepared to make to their position.

Now, born in the very purple, and indubitably (despite his profession) one of the gentlest born of men, was, some seven years ago, a certain Mr. St. John Deloraine. He held the sacrosanct position of a squarson, being at once Squire and Parson of the parish of Little Wentley. At the head of the quaint old village street stands, mirrored in a moat, girdled by beautiful gardens, and shadowy with trees, the Manor House and Parsonage (for it is both in one) of Wentley Deloraine.

To this desirable home and opulent share of earth's good things did Mr. St. John Deloraine succeed in boyhood. He went to Oxford, he travelled a good deal, he was held in great favor and affection by the County matrons and the long-nosed young ladies of the County. Another, dwelling on such heights as he, might have become haughty; but there was in this young man a cheery naturalness and love of mirth which often drove him from the society of his equals, and took him into that of attorneys' daughters. Fate drew him one day to an archery meeting at Chipping Carby, and there he beheld Miss Widdicombe. With her he paced the level turf, her "points" he counted, and he found that she, at least, could appreciate his somewhat apt quotation from Chastelard:

"Pray heaven, we make good Ends."

Miss Widdicombe did make good "Ends." She vanquished Mrs. Struggles, the veteran lady champion of the shaft and bow, a sportswoman who was now on the verge of sixty. Why are ladies, who, almost professionally, "rejoice in arrows," like the Homeric Artemis—why are they nearly always so well stricken in years? Was Maid Marion forty at least before her performances obtained for her a place in the well-known band of Hood, Tuck, Little John, and Co.?

This, however, is a digression. For our purpose it is enough that the contrast between Miss Widdicombe's vivacity and the deadly stolidity of the County families, between her youth and the maturity of her vanquished competitors, entirely won the heart of Mr. St John Deloraine. He saw—he loved her—he was laughed at—he proposed—he was accepted—and, oh, shame! the County had to accept, more or less, Miss Widdicombe, the attorney's daughter, as chatelaine (delightful word, and dear to the author of Guy Livingstone) of Wentley Deloraine.

When the early death of her husband threw Mrs. St John Deloraine almost alone on the world (for her family had, naturally, been offended by her good fortune), she left the gray old squarsonage, and went to town. In London, Mrs. St John Deloraine did not find people stiff, With a good name, an impulsive manner, a kind heart, a gentle tongue, and plenty of money, she was welcome almost everywhere, except at the big County dinners which the County people of her district give to each other when they come to town.

This lady, like many of us, had turned to charity and philanthropy in the earlier days of her bereavement; but, unlike most of us, her benevolence had not died out with the sharpest pangs of her sorrow. Never, surely, was there such a festive philanthropist as Mrs. St. John Deloraine.

She would go from a garden-party to a mothers' meeting; she was great at taking children for a day in the country, and had the art of keeping them amused. She was on a dozen charitable committees, belonged to at least three clubs, at which gentlemen as well as ladies of fashion were eligible, and where music and minstrelsy enlivened the after-dinner hours.

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