country town, she grew to be the light of his days and the subject of
his dreams. He worked hard, like Jacob, for a wife; he surpassed his
patron in sharp practice; he was made head clerk; and the same night,
encouraged by a hundred freedoms, depressed by the sense of his youth
and his infirmities, he offered marriage and was received with
laughter. Not a year had passed, before his master, conscious of growing
infirmities, took him for a partner; he proposed again; he was accepted;
led two years of troubled married life; and awoke one morning to find
his wife had run away with a dashing drummer, and had left him heavily
in debt. The debt, and not the drummer, was supposed to be the cause of
the hegira; she had concealed her liabilities, they were on the point of
bursting forth, she was weary of Bellairs; and she took the drummer as
she might have taken a cab. The blow disabled her husband, his partner
was dead; he was now alone in the business, for which he was no longer
fit; the debts hampered him; bankruptcy followed; and he fled from city
to city, falling daily into lower practice. It is to be considered that
he had been taught, and had learned as a delightful duty, a kind of
business whose highest merit is to escape the commentaries of the bench:
that of the usurious lawyer in a county town. With this training, he was
now shot, a penniless stranger, into the deeper gulfs of cities; and the
result is scarce a thing to be surprised at.
"Have you heard of your wife again?" I asked.
He displayed a pitiful agitation. "I am afraid you will think ill of
me," he said.
"Have you taken her back?" I asked.
"No, sir. I trust I have too much self-respect," he answered, "and, at
least, I was never tempted. She won't come, she dislikes, she seems to
have conceived a positive distaste for me, and yet I was considered an
"You are still in relations, then?" I asked.
"I place myself in your hands, Mr. Dodd," he replied. "The world is very
hard; I have found it bitter hard myself - bitter hard to live. How
much worse for a woman, and one who has placed herself (by her own
misconduct, I am far from denying that) in so unfortunate a position!"
"In short, you support her?" I suggested.
"I cannot deny it. I practically do," he admitted. "It has been a
mill-stone round my neck. But I think she is grateful. You can see for
He handed me a letter in a sprawling, ignorant hand, but written with
violet ink on fine, pink paper with a monogram. It was very foolishly
expressed, and I thought (except for a few obvious cajoleries) very
heartless and greedy in meaning. The writer said she had been sick,
which I disbelieved; declared the last remittance was all gone in
doctor's bills, for which I took the liberty of substituting dress,
drink, and monograms; and prayed for an increase, which I could only
hope had been denied her.
"I think she is really grateful?" he asked, with some eagerness, as I
"I daresay," said I. "Has she any claim on you?"
"O no, sir. I divorced her," he replied. "I have a very strong sense of
self-respect in such matters, and I divorced her immediately."
"What sort of life is she leading now?" I asked.
"I will not deceive you, Mr. Dodd. I do not know, I make a point of
not knowing; it appears more dignified. I have been very harshly
criticised," he added, sighing.
It will be seen that I had fallen into an ignominious intimacy with the
man I had gone out to thwart. My pity for the creature, his admiration
for myself, his pleasure in my society, which was clearly unassumed,
were the bonds with which I was fettered; perhaps I should add, in
honesty, my own ill-regulated interest in the phases of life and human
character. The fact is (at least) that we spent hours together daily,
and that I was nearly as much on the forward deck as in the saloon. Yet
all the while I could never forget he was a shabby trickster, embarked
that very moment in a dirty enterprise. I used to tell myself at first
that our acquaintance was a stroke of art, and that I was somehow
fortifying Carthew. I told myself, I say; but I was no such fool as to
believe it, even then. In these circumstances I displayed the two chief
qualities of my character on the largest scale - my helplessness and my
instinctive love of procrastination - and fell upon a course of action so
ridiculous that I blush when I recall it.
We reached Liverpool one forenoon, the rain falling thickly and
insidiously on the filthy town. I had no plans, beyond a sensible
unwillingness to let my rascal escape; and I ended by going to the same
inn with him, dining with him, walking with him in the wet streets,
and hearing with him in a penny gaff that venerable piece, _The
Ticket-of-Leave Man_. It was one of his first visits to a theatre,
against which places of entertainment he had a strong prejudice; and his
innocent, pompous talk, innocent old quotations, and innocent reverence
for the character of Hawkshaw delighted me beyond relief. In charity to
myself, I dwell upon and perhaps exaggerate my pleasures. I have need of
all conceivable excuses, when I confess that I went to bed without one
word upon the matter of Carthew, but not without having covenanted with
my rascal for a visit to Chester the next day. At Chester we did the
Cathedral, walked on the walls, discussed Shakespeare and the musical
glasses - and made a fresh engagement for the morrow. I do not know, and
I am glad to have forgotten, how long these travels were continued. We
visited at least, by singular zigzags, Stratford, Warwick, Coventry,
Gloucester, Bristol, Bath, and Wells. At each stage we spoke dutifully
of the scene and its associations; I sketched, the Shyster spouted
poetry and copied epitaphs. Who could doubt we were the usual Americans,
travelling with a design of self-improvement? Who was to guess that one
was a blackmailer, trembling to approach the scene of action - the other
a helpless, amateur detective, waiting on events?
It is unnecessary to remark that none occurred, or none the least
suitable with my design of protecting Carthew. Two trifles, indeed,
completed though they scarcely changed my conception of the Shyster. The
first was observed in Gloucester, where we spent Sunday, and I proposed
we should hear service in the cathedral. To my surprise, the creature
had an ISM of his own, to which he was loyal; and he left me to go alone
to the cathedral - or perhaps not to go at all - and stole off down a
deserted alley to some Bethel or Ebenezer of the proper shade. When we
met again at lunch, I rallied him, and he grew restive.
"You need employ no circumlocutions with me, Mr. Dodd," he said
suddenly. "You regard my behaviour from an unfavourable point of view:
you regard me, I much fear, as hypocritical."
I was somewhat confused by the attack. "You know what I think of your
trade," I replied, lamely and coarsely.
"Excuse me, if I seem to press the subject," he continued, "but if you
think my life erroneous, would you have me neglect the means of grace?
Because you consider me in the wrong on one point, would you have me
place myself on the wrong in all? Surely, sir, the church is for the
"Did you ask a blessing on your present enterprise?" I sneered.
He had a bad attack of St. Vitus, his face was changed, and his eyes
flashed. "I will tell you what I did!" he cried. "I prayed for an
unfortunate man and a wretched woman whom he tries to support."
I cannot pretend that I found any repartee.
The second incident was at Bristol, where I lost sight of my gentleman
some hours. From this eclipse, he returned to me with thick speech,
wandering footsteps, and a back all whitened with plaster. I had half
expected, yet I could have wept to see it. All disabilities were piled
on that weak back - domestic misfortune, nervous disease, a displeasing
exterior, empty pockets, and the slavery of vice.
I will never deny that our prolonged conjunction was the result of
double cowardice. Each was afraid to leave the other, each was afraid
to speak, or knew not what to say. Save for my ill-judged allusion at
Gloucester, the subject uppermost in both our minds was buried. Carthew,
Stallbridge-le-Carthew, Stallbridge-Minster - which we had long since
(and severally) identified to be the nearest station - even the name of
Dorsetshire was studiously avoided. And yet we were making progress all
the time, tacking across broad England like an unweatherly vessel on a
wind; approaching our destination, not openly, but by a sort of flying
sap. And at length, I can scarce tell how, we were set down by
a dilatory butt-end of local train on the untenanted platform of
The town was ancient and compact: a domino of tiled houses and walled
gardens, dwarfed by the disproportionate bigness of the church. From
the midst of the thoroughfare which divided it in half, fields and trees
were visible at either end; and through the sally-port of every street,
there flowed in from the country a silent invasion of green grass. Bees
and birds appeared to make the majority of the inhabitants; every garden
had its row of hives, the eaves of every house were plastered with the
nests of swallows, and the pinnacles of the church were flickered about
all day long by a multitude of wings. The town was of Roman foundation;
and as I looked out that afternoon from the low windows of the inn,
I should scarce have been surprised to see a centurion coming up
the street with a fatigue draft of legionaries. In short,
Stallbridge-Minster was one of those towns which appear to be maintained
by England for the instruction and delight of the American rambler;
to which he seems guided by an instinct not less surprising than the
setter's; and which he visits and quits with equal enthusiasm.
I was not at all in the humour of the tourist. I had wasted weeks of
time and accomplished nothing; we were on the eve of the engagement, and
I had neither plans nor allies. I had thrust myself into the trade of
private providence and amateur detective; I was spending money and I
was reaping disgrace. All the time, I kept telling myself that I must at
least speak; that this ignominious silence should have been broken
long ago, and must be broken now. I should have broken it when he first
proposed to come to Stallbridge-Minster; I should have broken it in the
train; I should break it there and then, on the inn doorstep, as the
omnibus rolled off. I turned toward him at the thought; he seemed to
wince, the words died on my lips, and I proposed instead that we should
visit the Minster.
While we were engaged upon this duty, it came on to rain in a manner
worthy of the tropics. The vault reverberated; every gargoyle instantly
poured its full discharge; we waded back to the inn, ankle-deep in
impromptu brooks; and the rest of the afternoon sat weatherbound,
hearkening to the sonorous deluge. For two hours I talked of indifferent
matters, laboriously feeding the conversation; for two hours my mind was
quite made up to do my duty instantly - and at each particular instant I
postponed it till the next. To screw up my faltering courage, I
called at dinner for some sparkling wine. It proved when it came to be
detestable; I could not put it to my lips; and Bellairs, who had as much
palate as a weevil, was left to finish it himself. Doubtless the wine
flushed him; doubtless he may have observed my embarrassment of the
afternoon; doubtless he was conscious that we were approaching a crisis,
and that that evening, if I did not join with him, I must declare myself
an open enemy. At least he fled. Dinner was done; this was the time
when I had bound myself to break my silence; no more delays were to be
allowed, no more excuses received. I went upstairs after some tobacco;
which I felt to be a mere necessity in the circumstances; and when I
returned, the man was gone. The waiter told me he had left the house.
The rain still plumped, like a vast shower-bath, over the deserted town.
The night was dark and windless: the street lit glimmeringly from end
to end, lamps, house windows, and the reflections in the rain-pools all
contributing. From a public-house on the other side of the way, I heard
a harp twang and a doleful voice upraised in the "Larboard Watch,"
"The Anchor's Weighed," and other naval ditties. Where had my Shyster
wandered? In all likelihood to that lyrical tavern; there was no choice
of diversion; in comparison with Stallbridge-Minster on a rainy night, a
sheepfold would seem gay.
Again I passed in review the points of my interview, on which I was
always constantly resolved so long as my adversary was absent from the
scene: and again they struck me as inadequate. From this dispiriting
exercise I turned to the native amusements of the inn coffee-room, and
studied for some time the mezzotints that frowned upon the wall. The
railway guide, after showing me how soon I could leave Stallbridge
and how quickly I could reach Paris, failed to hold my attention. An
illustrated advertisement book of hotels brought me very low indeed;
and when it came to the local paper, I could have wept. At this point, I
found a passing solace in a copy of Whittaker's Almanac, and obtained in
fifty minutes more information than I have yet been able to use.
Then a fresh apprehension assailed me. Suppose Bellairs had given me the
slip? suppose he was now rolling on the road to Stallbridge-le-Carthew?
or perhaps there already and laying before a very white-faced auditor
his threats and propositions? A hasty person might have instantly
pursued. Whatever I am, I am not hasty, and I was aware of three grave
objections. In the first place, I could not be certain that Bellairs was
gone. In the second, I had no taste whatever for a long drive at that
hour of the night and in so merciless a rain. In the third, I had no
idea how I was to get admitted if I went, and no idea what I should say
if I got admitted. "In short," I concluded, "the whole situation is the
merest farce. You have thrust yourself in where you had no business
and have no power. You would be quite as useful in San Francisco;
far happier in Paris; and being (by the wrath of God) at
Stallbridge-Minster, the wisest thing is to go quietly to bed." On the
way to my room, I saw (in a flash) that which I ought to have done long
ago, and which it was now too late to think of - written to Carthew, I
mean, detailing the facts and describing Bellairs, letting him defend
himself if he were able, and giving him time to flee if he were not.
It was the last blow to my self-respect; and I flung myself into my bed
I have no guess what hour it was, when I was wakened by the entrance of
Bellairs carrying a candle. He had been drunk, for he was bedaubed with
mire from head to foot; but he was now sober and under the empire of
some violent emotion which he controlled with difficulty. He trembled
visibly; and more than once, during the interview which followed, tears
suddenly and silently overflowed his cheeks.
"I have to ask your pardon, sir, for this untimely visit," he said.
"I make no defence, I have no excuse, I have disgraced myself, I am
properly punished; I appear before you to appeal to you in mercy for the
most trifling aid or, God help me! I fear I may go mad."
"What on earth is wrong?" I asked.
"I have been robbed," he said. "I have no defence to offer; it was of my
own fault, I am properly punished."
"But, gracious goodness me!" I cried, "who is there to rob you in a
place like this?"
"I can form no opinion," he replied. "I have no idea. I was lying in a
ditch inanimate. This is a degrading confession, sir; I can only say in
self-defence that perhaps (in your good nature) you have made yourself
partly responsible for my shame. I am not used to these rich wines."
"In what form was your money? Perhaps it may be traced," I suggested.
"It was in English sovereigns. I changed it in New York; I got very good
exchange," he said, and then, with a momentary outbreak, "God in heaven,
how I toiled for it!" he cried.
"That doesn't sound encouraging," said I. "It may be worth while to
apply to the police, but it doesn't sound a hopeful case."
"And I have no hope in that direction," said Bellairs. "My hopes, Mr.
Dodd, are all fixed upon yourself. I could easily convince you that
a small, a very small advance, would be in the nature of an excellent
investment; but I prefer to rely on your humanity. Our acquaintance
began on an unusual footing; but you have now known me for some time,
we have been some time - I was going to say we had been almost intimate.
Under the impulse of instinctive sympathy, I have bared my heart to you,
Mr. Dodd, as I have done to few; and I believe - I trust - I may say that
I feel sure - you heard me with a kindly sentiment. This is what brings
me to your side at this most inexcusable hour. But put yourself in
my place - how could I sleep - how could I dream of sleeping, in this
blackness of remorse and despair? There was a friend at hand - so I
ventured to think of you; it was instinctive; I fled to your side,
as the drowning man clutches at a straw. These expressions are not
exaggerated, they scarcely serve to express the agitation of my mind.
And think, sir, how easily you can restore me to hope and, I may say,
to reason. A small loan, which shall be faithfully repaid. Five hundred
dollars would be ample." He watched me with burning eyes. "Four hundred
would do. I believe, Mr. Dodd, that I could manage with economy on two."
"And then you will repay me out of Carthew's pocket?" I said. "I am much
obliged. But I will tell you what I will do: I will see you on board a
steamer, pay your fare through to San Francisco, and place fifty dollars
in the purser's hands, to be given you in New York."
He drank in my words; his face represented an ecstasy of cunning
thought. I could read there, plain as print, that he but thought to
"And what am I to do in 'Frisco?" he asked. "I am disbarred, I have no
trade, I cannot dig, to beg - - " he paused in the citation. "And you
know that I am not alone," he added, "others depend upon me."
"I will write to Pinkerton," I returned. "I feel sure he can help you
to some employment, and in the meantime, and for three months after
your arrival, he shall pay to yourself personally, on the first and the
fifteenth, twenty-five dollars."
"Mr. Dodd, I scarce believe you can be serious in this offer," he
replied. "Have you forgotten the circumstances of the case? Do you
know these people are the magnates of the section? They were spoken of
to-night in the saloon; their wealth must amount to many millions of
dollars in real estate alone; their house is one of the sights of the
locality, and you offer me a bribe of a few hundred!"
"I offer you no bribe, Mr. Bellairs, I give you alms," I returned. "I
will do nothing to forward you in your hateful business; yet I would not
willingly have you starve."
"Give me a hundred dollars then, and be done with it," he cried.
"I will do what I have said, and neither more nor less," said I.
"Take care," he cried. "You are playing a fool's game; you are making an
enemy for nothing; you will gain nothing by this, I warn you of it!" And
then with one of his changes, "Seventy dollars - only seventy - in mercy,
Mr. Dodd, in common charity. Don't dash the bowl from my lips! You have
a kindly heart. Think of my position, remember my unhappy wife."
"You should have thought of her before," said I. "I have made my offer,
and I wish to sleep."
"Is that your last word, sir? Pray consider; pray weigh both sides:
my misery, your own danger. I warn you - I beseech you; measure it well
before you answer," so he half pleaded, half threatened me, with clasped
"My first word, and my last," said I.
The change upon the man was shocking. In the storm of anger that now
shook him, the lees of his intoxication rose again to the surface; his
face was deformed, his words insane with fury; his pantomime excessive
in itself, was distorted by an access of St. Vitus.
"You will perhaps allow me to inform you of my cold opinion," he began,
apparently self-possessed, truly bursting with rage: "when I am a
glorified saint, I shall see you howling for a drop of water and exult
to see you. That your last word! Take it in your face, you spy, you
false friend, you fat hypocrite! I defy, I defy and despise and spit
upon you! I'm on the trail, his trail or yours, I smell blood, I'll
follow it on my hands and knees, I'll starve to follow it! I'll hunt you
down, hunt you, hunt you down! If I were strong, I'd tear your vitals
out, here in this room - tear them out - I'd tear them out! Damn, damn,
damn! You think me weak! I can bite, bite to the blood, bite you, hurt
you, disgrace you ..."
He was thus incoherently raging, when the scene was interrupted by
the arrival of the landlord and inn servants in various degrees of
deshabille, and to them I gave my temporary lunatic in charge.
"Take him to his room," I said, "he's only drunk."
These were my words; but I knew better. After all my study of Mr.
Bellairs, one discovery had been reserved for the last moment: that of
his latent and essential madness.
CHAPTER XX. STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW.
Long before I was awake, the shyster had disappeared, leaving his bill
unpaid. I did not need to inquire where he was gone, I knew too well,
I knew there was nothing left me but to follow; and about ten in the
morning, set forth in a gig for Stallbridge-le-Carthew.
The road, for the first quarter of the way, deserts the valley of the
river, and crosses the summit of a chalk-down, grazed over by flocks of
sheep and haunted by innumerable larks. It was a pleasant but a vacant
scene, arousing but not holding the attention; and my mind returned to
the violent passage of the night before. My thought of the man I was
pursuing had been greatly changed. I conceived of him, somewhere in
front of me, upon his dangerous errand, not to be turned aside, not
to be stopped, by either fear or reason. I had called him a ferret;
I conceived him now as a mad dog. Methought he would run, not walk;
methought, as he ran, that he would bark and froth at the lips;
methought, if the great wall of China were to rise across his path, he
would attack it with his nails.
Presently the road left the down, returned by a precipitous descent into
the valley of the Stall, and ran thenceforward among enclosed fields and
under the continuous shade of trees. I was told we had now entered on
the Carthew property. By and by, a battlemented wall appeared on the
left hand, and a little after I had my first glimpse of the mansion. It
stood in a hollow of a bosky park, crowded to a degree that surprised
and even displeased me, with huge timber and dense shrubberies of
laurel and rhododendron. Even from this low station and the thronging
neighbourhood of the trees, the pile rose conspicuous like a cathedral.
Behind, as we continued to skirt the park wall, I began to make out a
straggling town of offices which became conjoined to the rear with those
of the home farm. On the left was an ornamental water sailed in by many
swans. On the right extended a flower garden, laid in the old manner,
and at this season of the year, as brilliant as stained glass. The front
of the house presented a facade of more than sixty windows, surmounted
by a formal pediment and raised upon a terrace. A wide avenue, part in
gravel, part in turf, and bordered by triple alleys, ran to the great
double gateways. It was impossible to look without surprise on a place
that had been prepared through so many generations, had cost so many
tons of minted gold, and was maintained in order by so great a company
of emulous servants. And yet of these there was no sign but the
perfection of their work. The whole domain was drawn to the line and
weeded like the front plot of some suburban amateur; and I looked in
vain for any belated gardener, and listened in vain for any sounds of
labour. Some lowing of cattle and much calling of birds alone disturbed
the stillness, and even the little hamlet, which clustered at the gates,
appeared to hold its breath in awe of its great neighbour, like a troop
of children who should have strayed into a king's anteroom.
The Carthew Arms, the small but very comfortable inn, was a mere
appendage and outpost of the family whose name it bore. Engraved
portraits of by-gone Carthews adorned the walls; Fielding Carthew,
Recorder of the city of London; Major-General John Carthew in uniform,
commanding some military operations; the Right Honourable Bailley