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" Surely no one suspects," said I.

" No, no," interrupted he ; " the death
of that wretched woman has absolved her
from human laws ; but something else is
wrong under this roof See here."

He produced from his pocket an official-
looking letter. It was from Mr. Sinclair,
the secretary of the Life Insurance Company,
in London, and set forth that, although Mr.
Alexander Kaeburn s quarterly payment had
been made the previous week, there had been
an informality in it, which he (Mr. Wilde) was
requested to set right. The medical certificate
of the invalid's inability to repair to London
in person ought to have been forwarded, as
in the first instance, notwithstanding that
Mr. Sinclair was himself acquainted with the
facts of the case. Under the distressing


circumstance that had. befallen the household,
the secretary had written to Mr. Wilde direct,
instead, of advising ]\Ir. Eaeburn of the

" Well, you had better see Mr. Alexander,
and send the certificate, had you not ? "
said I. " There will be no difficulty in that,
of course ? "

'' Perhaps not ; but observe, Mr. Sinclair
says, "as in the first instance.' Now I have
never sent any certificate to ]Mr. Sinclair at
all. Consequently the one he did receive,
if signed with my name, must have been a

This idea was overwhelmino- ; evervthino;
had been so mysterious in connection with
Brother Alec's illness of late months that
nothing seemed incredible ; at the same time,
the matter seemed capable of explanation.

''The first certificate," urged I, "may
have been sent from the doctor at the sea-
side, just before Mr. Alexander returned
from it."


" Then wliy should Mr. Sinclair write to
me ? I had no reason to suppose that he
even knew of my existence."

" Mr. Kaeburn, or John, may have men-
tioned you as the medical attendant of the
family. "

" It is just possible," answered the doctor,

" At all events," said I, " nothing can
be easier than to see one of them and get
the matter explained at once."

'' Not to-day," answered Mr. Wilde ; '' I
will wait till after the funeral. In the
meantime I will leave this note for Mr.
Eaeburn ; you will make sure he gets it.
He should have notice of the application at
once, I think ; and Mr. Sinclair must Avait
a post for my reply."

So, therefore, it was arranged. I gave
the letter to John that afternoon with my
own hands, and he took it up to his

In the evening John came down to keep


me company for awhile. He looked ill and
wretched, and said that he found his uncle's
room intolerable to sit alone in.

''But your father is there, is he not?"

" No ; I forgot to tell you, he has asked
]\Irs. Hopkins's permission to see Gertrude,
and he is now with her."

" I hope not to tell her about your poor
mother?" cried I, whom this news alarmed
on Gerty's account.

At present she believed that Mrs. Eaeburn
was suffering from severe indisposition, and
expressed her hope that she should soon be
permitted to tend her. She was quite un-
aware, also, of the Stanbrook project, which
was not to be revealed to her till the next

" No, no," said John, with the same absent
and abstracted air that I had noticed in him
for the last few days ; "he will be sure not
to speak of that to Gertrude. He has other
things to tell her."

I did not like that notion either, for


the " other things " would probably be busi-
ness matters, to which she was surely in no
condition to listen ; yet I was obliged to be

The topic was not resumed, nor did John
speak upon any other, except in mono-
syllables, throughout the evening. The
elastic nature of the poor young fellow
seemed unable to assert itself under its load,
whether of present grief or coming trouble.
I was of course present at the funeral, which
took place on the ensuing forenoon at the
Kirkdale cemetery, which stands without
the town, and near the railway station. It
was very fully attended, out of regard for
Mark of course, rather than for his dead
wife, who, in truth, did not leave a single
friend behind her. My uncle was one of
those present, and my aunt, he told me, had
accompanied him to Kirkdale in a roomy
carriage, in which it had been arranged by
Mr. Wilde that Gertrude should be taken
to the Eectory that very day. If it was


found necessary to tell her what had happened,
she would more easily recover from the shock
at Stanbrook, he thought, than at the Priory;
but, as a matter of fact, they did not tell
her till long; afterwards. Aunt Eleanor had
invented the fiction that Mrs. Eaeburn's
indisposition was infectious, though not dan-
gerous, and thereby persuaded Gerty to leave
the house ^vithout . an attempt to see her
hostess. Her removal had been effected before
I returned to the Priory. !Mr. Eaeburn and
his son had departed from the cemetery in
their mourning-coach as they had come, alone,
and had not yet come back when I arrived
on foot by a shorter wav. Anvthins; more
desolate and dismal than that death-stricken
house it was impossible to picture ; and when
I saw Mr. Wilde come up the drive I ran
out to meet him with a cry of joy. He
told me that Gertrude had been got into the
carriage without difficulty or objection. She
was the meekest of patients, he said, and
would, no doubt, prove the best of wives.


This allusion to my daily strengthening hopes
was made, I have no doubt, to cheer me, and
in mitigation of some other news of a different
sort that he had brouo;ht with him.

" Mr. Eaeburn and his son have gone off
by train to London," said he abruptly.

"Gone to London !" cried L " Why they
never hinted a word of such intention. I have
been expecting them home every m^oment for
this half-hour."

"What I tell you is true, however,"
answered Mr. Wilde ; " and it is my impres-
sion you will never see either of them again."

" Then poor Mr. Eaeburn must have learnt
the facts about his wife and Gertrude ?" said
I, calling to mind the attorney's interview
with the latter the previous night.

" No, Sheddon, I think not. If I know
Mrs. Eaeburn's character, she was not one to
make a confidant in anything, far less in a
crime of her own compassing. She destroyed
my letter, too, you may be sure, before
she died."


The pause had such significance in it that
it could not escape my attention.

*^ Good heavens 1 " cried I, ^' do you mean
that she destroyed herself ?"

" I do not kno\y, Sheddon ; I do not wish
to know," replied Mr. Wilde, gravely ; '' but
such is my belief. When I sent Nurse Hop-
kins with that letter, indeed, I half suspected
that the next thing; I should hear of ]\Irs.
Kaeburn would be that she was dead ; and
hence it was that I warned you not to send
for me in case she needed medical aid. If
you had done so, I should have discovered
the truth, and must have told it. Dr. Dol-
drum," added my companion grimly, '^has
fortunately a great opinion of ' the heart ' as
a cause of mortality."

" Then you really think that this ^vretched
woman committed suicide ?" said I, aghast.

" I do," answered Mr. Wilde, decisively ;
"and I think I can guess the means em-
ployed. So sudden a death is suggestive of
a particular poison, and of that I happen to



know (for I wrote out the authorisation for
it to the chemist) she purchased some a few
months back, to put an end to a savage dog,
which she said was troubling the house."

" That was poor Mr. Alec's bull-dog,
Fury," said I, ''no doubt. It disappeared
quite suddenly."

" Very likely. She did not, however,
use it all, I think, for that purpose."

"But, suppose, getting impatient of her
slower method," suggested I in horror, "she
had given it to Gertrude ! "

" She was too wise for that, Sheddon.
She guessed that I had my suspicions about
her, and that I should not have attributed a
catastrophe such as hers, had it happened in

Gertrude's case, to natural causes Well,

you and I alone are the depositaries of that
secret, and it must go no farther. There is
another about to disclose itself within here,
unless I am mistaken, which will have to be
divulged to all the world."

We had been talking hitherto in the


carriage drive, but my companion now led
the way into the house.

"I am come here, you know, to see ]\Ir.
Mark Eaeburn about that certificate of his
brother's iUness. Since he has gone away,
I must needs apply to the patient himself.
Will you come with me upstairs to jVIr,
Alexander ?"



After the gloomy incident of tlie mornings
and tlie terrible revelation I had just heard
from my companion's lips, a mere visit to
a sick man was not an ordeal from which
I had any reason to shrink ; and yet the
thought of it oppressed me more than all
the rest. I had not yet got over the shock
of that silent interview with Brother Alec,
the circumstances of which, contrasted with
my uncle's experience of his condition, were
so inexplicable to me ; and his apartments,
perhaps from my long and mysterious ex-
clusion from them, had a sort of Bluebeard's
chamber "attraction of repulsion" for me,
which I was ashamed to confess even to my-

nviN. 37

self. It was with a beating heart, therefore,
that I followed Mr. Wilde upstairs, past the
chamber from which, though she had left
me so desolate, I felt thankful that my
darling had been removed, and the door of
which now stood open for the first time for
months ; past the room, too, from which its
lifeless tenant had been borne that morning,
and where my own eyes had made the search
the result of which had caused her to perish
miserably by her own hand.

At the door of Brother Alec's sitting-
room Mr. Wilde made a moment's pause,
then entered abruptly and without knocking,
and I followed close upon his heels. It was,
as I expected to find it, vacant ; then he
passed swiftly through into the other room,
from which, as usual, the light was almost
excluded by curtains and shutters. In the
bed I could just discern the form of the
sick man, with his face turned towards the
darkened window. Mr. Wilde approached
it, but it did not move.


"Mr. Kaeburn, Mr. Eaeburn ! " cried I
loudly, for the silence, as before, was
getting intolerable to me. *'Mr. Wilde has
come to see you ; will you not speak to
him ? "

There was a moment's pause, and then'
the monotonous cry that I knew so well
broke forth at my elbow : " Dead, dead,
dead ! Only think of that ! "

" The parrot is right," observed Mr. Wilde,,

"Great Heaven !" cried I in horror, "you
don't mean to say that Mr. Alexander is
lying there a corpse.''

"There is no Mr. Alexander here at all,
Sheddon," answered my companion, and at
the same time he threw open the shutters
and let a flood of light into the room. Then
I saw that the thing I had taken for the
invalid was but a bundle of clothes cunningly
disposed so as to represent a human form.
Everything in the apartment was in accord-
ance with its character of sick room : the

Bum. 39

phials on the mantelpiece, the watcher's chair
by the bedside, spoke of ministrations and
tendance ; but of the man for whom these
tokens of solicitude existed there was no

' " What on earth has become of him ?
Dead or alive, where is he hidden ? " asked
I, in amazement.

" I cannot answer that question, Sheddon,"
replied Mr. Wilde ; "though that he is dead
— -and buried — I have no doubt. What you
saw a week ago was this same Eidolon —
this counterfeit presentment — which we see
now, and in my opinion there has been
nothing else here for months. Mr. Alex-
ander Raeburn never returned from Sandi-

" But I have seen him, certainly once
since then, for I conversed with him ; and
my uncle has had two interviews with him —
one in Mr. Sinclair's presence, and the other
alone, not a week ago ! "

"You have all been deceived, Sheddon,


though by what means I cannot guess.
Mr. Alexander was never here ; of that I
am confident. The forged certificate ; tlie
seclusion in which his family shrouded
him ; and, above all, this pretence of his
presence here, convince me of the fact. Some
one has played his part on the few occasions
when it was necessary, and played it success-

A sudden revelation, in the likeness of
John Eaeburn to his uncle, here broke in
upon me.

" It must have been John Eaeburn ! "
cried I. "I remember now that he was
said to be away from home on both dates
of my uncle's coming. It must have been
he who lay in that bed and fooled us all."

" And to some purpose, too," observed
Mr. Wilde, grimly, " since he thereby ob-
tained two payments of an annuity for a
man who was dead and buried. He must
have forged the medical certificate, too, in
the first instance, which brought the secre-

BUIN. 41

tary down from town, and if lie had but
known that a second was necessary, this
game might have gone on for years. It is
not an original idea, Sheddon. There was
a bishop once, who, thanks to an intelligent
housekeeper, received his episcopal revenues
for several quarters after his demise ; but
it was a very clever contrivance, for all

The cynical tone of my companion jarred
u2Jon my feelings. The ingenuity of this
nefarious scheme excited in me no admira-
tion. I only thought of the shame of its
discovery, which must not only overwhelm
the perpetrators of the fraud, but affect others
wholly innocent of it. I now perceived why
my Uncle Hastings had been fixed upon to
certify to the fact of Alexander Eaeburn's
existence ; the guilelessness of his nature,
and the carelessness with which all business
matters, whether of his own or others, was
transacted by him, had pointed him out as
a fit instrument for the attorney's designs.


Moreover, he was a personal acquaintance of
Mr. Sinclair's, which had, of course, assisted
in putting that gentleman off his guard. I
called to mind the agitation which Mark
Eaeburn had exhibited on the occasion of
the secretary's coming, and his exhilaration
of spirits when the ordeal above-stairs had
been successfully concluded, and recognised
their cause.

'' Is there no possible way, think you,
Mr. Wilde ? '' inquired I, " whereby this
matter may be hushed up and restitution
made ? "

"It is quite out of the question," answered
my companion ; " for my part, I have done
enough already to save the tenants of this
house from public shame. It is impossible
for us to explain Mr. Alexander Eaeburn's
absence ; and it is necessary on all accounts
that his death should be proved. Come —
you had better come home with me for the
present, since this house will be in the hands
of the police before nightfall. I should not

BUIN. 43

be doing my duty if I did not communicate
with them, and with the Assurance Society,
at once."

I was about to turn away to accompany
my companion from the room, when the
voice of the parrot once more was heard in
imploring tones : '' Dead, dead ! think of
that ! Poor Poll, poor Poll !"

Chico's once ample vocabulary had
dwindled do^n to those few pitiful words.
Their eloquence, however, was not lost upon
me, and taking up his cage I carried the
bird from the deserted room, determined
that henceforth, for Brother Alec's sake, it
should form a part of my own goods and
chattels — a resolve on which I had, after-
wards, good cause for self-congratulation. It
was impossible for me to proceed at once
to Stanbrook, since my presence would
almost certainly be required in Kirkdale by
the authorities, so I gladly accepted Mr.
Wilde's offer of hospitality, and while stay-
ing under his roof I became acquainted.


through the investigations that followed,
with various particulars respecting the at-
torney and his son, who both, to my great
contentment, contrived to leave England
before the law could be brought to bear
upon them.

Mark Eaeburn's love of speculation
had ruined him long before I had made
his acquaintance, and when his name and
credit in the district still stood high.
After losing his own money, he lost that
of his wife, who had had a considerable
dower of her own, besides that West
India estate, her involuntary disconnection
with which had made the Emancipation
question such a tender topic with her.
The knowledge that he had done her this
wrong no doubt assisted to give her that
supremacy over him which had ended in
an unmitigated despotism. After these
mischances, the attorney strove to right
matters by speculating with the fortune of
his cousin Gertrude, w^hich he also lost.

BUIK. 4^

I heard this part of his sad story from her
own lips, as she had heard it from his, on
that hist interview he had with her before
his flio^ht. He made a clean breast of all
his iniquities so far as she was concerned,
and I need not say that she forgave him.
Why he did so, I am not certain ; but I
think it was to exonerate his son from any
share in them. Up to the time that that
bubble of expectations from Brother Alec
had burst, I believe John to have been wholly
innocent of his father's schemes, as Mark in
his turn was of his wife's attempted crime.
In other respects the attorney and his wife
worked together, I have little doubt, and had
no secrets from one another. Havino- once


stooped to defraud his cousin, he had no
scruples as to his other clients, and almost
all my uncle's little property had gone the
way of Gertrude's. Mark had disposed of
the securities, which were not, and never had
been, in Kirkdale bank ; and the duj)licates
I had found were merely imitations of them,


far too clumsy to have been concocted by the
deft fingers of Jolm Eaeburn. Had he been
entrusted with the task, my suspicions would
probably never have been aroused, and indeed
his innocence was established by the fact of
his having procured me a sight of the papers
in his father's absence. On the latter 's return
from the seaside, he had been compelled to
make his son his confidant, and henceforth the
partner in his frauds. It was John who had
written in his uncle's name from Sandibeach,
where the old man was dying, or perhaps
already dead ; he had been buried there under
the name of Prescott (as was afterwards dis-
covered), and John, under pretence, as usual,
of a business journey elsewhere, had gone
thither, and been brought back from thence
in his uncle's stead, to play the role of the
sick man at the Priory.

He did so to perfection, including the
forging of the receipts of his quarterly pay-
ments from the Assurance Office ; but I will
do him the justice to assert that his dishonesty

nuix. 47

went wholly against the grain with him.
He was not, of course, a well-principled lad
in any sense, but his nature was neither
cruel nor unkind, and I believe revolted
against the very scheme which his ingenuity
for a time rendered so successful. If poverty
be any excuse for crime, it was 'so in his
€ase (not to mention that he was spurred on
by his own parents to commit it), for it
turned out that the Eaeburns had had little
else to maintain them, at the time of my
coming to live with them, beyond my pre-
mium and the annual sum paid for my
board and lodging; while, afterwards, they
lived on the credit accorded to them by
reason of their expectations from Brother
Alec, which they were well aware would
never . be realised. It was, doubtless, in
the embarrassment produced by this state
of affairs in its earlier stasfe, and in
the knowledge that his defalcations must
needs be brought to light, in case Ger-
trude should become engaged out of the


family, that inspired the attorney with
the idea of persuading me that her hand
was already promised to John. Very likely
the notion of having her for their daughter-
in-law had at one time occurred to the old
couple, but before my coming to the Priory
I am sure that Mrs. Raeburn at least had
given up the plan as impracticable. She
read Gertrude's character too thoroughly to
deceive herself in that respect. It was not
till matters grew desperate, that this wretched
woman conceived the crime which she had
been within such a little of having accom-
plished ; and I again assert my confident
belief that neither her husband nor her son
were privy to her design. There were de-
grees and grades of guilt in these three
persons, each strongly marked. John's trans-
gression, though he took such an active
part in the plot, was in fact of a negative
character ; the attorney, by long misdoing,
had become reckless and fraudulent to the
core ; while Mrs. Eaeburn was ruthless from

r^uix. 49

the beoinnino;, and stuck at nothiuo;. Of
lier I shall presently have a word or two
more to say in proof of that harsh judg-

These facts or convictions did not pre-
sent themselves to me at once, nor within a
brief space ; it was weeks before my presence
at Kirkdale could be dispensed with by the
authorities, and my mind was compelled to
concern itself with these sad matters, from the
consideration of which it would gladly have
escaped. Otherwise, I had sufficiently bitter
food for reflection in the j)osition of my own
afiairs. Not only was G-ertrude's fortune lost,
but my own little property, which had been
confided by Mr. Hastings, along with his own,
to the attorney's keeping, was also gone. Not
only, therefore, had I no expectations for
the future, but no means, however anxious
I might be to make up for previous idle-
ness by application to iny legal studies,
of continuing them. The question was no
longer, When should we marry ? but. How



should we each subsist apart ? From the ruins
of her property, indeed, the attorney had
pointed out how a small income might be
derived for Gertrude's maintenance, but the
sum was so slender as scarcely to afford her
the necessaries of life. She wrote to me
hopefully, but I had not the courage to reply
to her in a similar strain. I was a beggar ;
and though the thought seemed to pull my
heart up by the roots, I felt that it would
be my duty to release her from an engage-
ment which it might never be in my power
to redeem.

If I had had anywhere else whither to
betake myself, I should have avoided the
temptation of going to the Eectory while
Gertrude remained under its roof; but there
was no alternative for me in the matter,
and so soon as I was permitted to leave
Kirkdale I bade good-bye to my kind host,
and, sick at heart, departed for my old home.



I HAD seen my uncle more tlian once since
the breaking up of the Raeburn household,
the business connected with the fraud on
the Insurance Company having necessitated
his presence, as it had my own, at Kirkdale ;
but I had found him so distressed and an-
noyed by his involuntary connection with
the attorney's misdeeds, and by the insult
which had been put upon him in making
him play the part of catspaw, that I had
scarcely opened my lips to him upon my
own affairs. Now, however, I determined

to do this at once ; I desired that there

E 2




should not be an hour's unnecessary delay in
understanding my position, and asking liis
advice as to my future. I wished my stay
at Stanbrook to be as short as possible, in
case any plan should be devised between
us for my setting to work in earnest to gain
my own livelihood, and I was resolved that,
while I did remain there, there should be no
misunderstanding of my position as respected
Gertrude. Since matters were altogether
hopeless, it would be cruel indeed in me, I
argued, not to release her from her promise ;
if the hope to which I secretly clung was
that she would cleave to me still, and prefer
to wait long years for my unworthy self,
even till youth had fled from her, I was
ashamed of it, but I deceived myself all

* Selfish as I was. Heaven knows I
loved her better than myself; and if I lost
her, I knew that life would for me have

nothing worth striving for; fortune with-


out her, I should have despised ; and
fame —

If I e'er took deliglit in its praises,
'Twere not for the sake of its high-sounding phrases,
But to see the bright eyes of my dear one discover
She thought that I was not unworthy to love her.

I had never loved Gertrude so dearly as
no^', when hard necessity was about to part
us for ever. In the interval of our separa-
tion she had almost entirely recovered her

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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 2 of 10)