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"That's all right," said Quigg, winking again at Matthew. "Let us go,
friends."

The proposition was accepted, as the best thing that could be done under
the circumstances, and all the creditors retired.

Mr. Whedell then locked the door, and proceeded to inform Mr. Maltboy of
the black-hearted treachery of which he and his daughter had been the
victims, in the Chiffield alliance. Clementina corroborated the paternal
statement with numerous particulars, delivered in a heart-broken voice,
showing what an abandoned wretch her husband was. Matthew listened,
nodded his head, and said, "The brute!" and the "The monster!" at
intervals, looking the while into the deep blue eyes of Mrs. Chiffield,
which sparkled with tears. "If he had but been the lucky man!" he
thought. But it suddenly occurred to Matthew that these thoughts were a
little irregular; and, besides, he had a fresh recollection of the
troubles from which Fayette Overtop had not yet emerged. He therefore
pulled out his watch, and informed Mr. Whedell that thirteen of the
fifteen minutes were consumed. The creditors were beginning to pace
heavily in the entry.

Mr. Whedell, taking the hint, came down to business. His affairs were of
a kind that were easily settled. He owned nothing except his personal
clothing, and a few small articles of furniture. Everything else had
been obtained on credit, and either not paid for, or only partly paid
for. This statement of affairs occupied one minute.

A minute remained, which Mr. Whedell put to good use. He looked
appealingly at Maltboy. So did Mrs. Chiffield.

"My dear friend," said Mr. Whedell, "I find myself, at an advanced
period of life, in this cold world, deserted, penniless. You are the
only person living that I can call by the sacred name of friend. I have
already experienced your noble bounty in a loan of two hundred
dollars." (Tramps of creditors becoming louder outside.) "In a word,
sir, can you lend me one hundred dollars more? It will at least save me
from the self-destruction which I had contemplated."

At the word "self-destruction," Mrs. Chiffield cried aloud, and threw
herself on her parent's breast, with a fresh flood of tears.

These tears swept away the last trace of Matthew's prudence. He whipped
out his pocket book, and delivered over five twenty-dollar gold pieces
to Mr. Whedell. The sight of those beautiful coins seemed to reconcile
the wretched man to life.

Mr. Whedell was about to thank his preserver most profusely, and Mrs.
Chiffield to burst into a new torrent, when Matthew, to avoid these
demonstrations, rose, opened the door, and let in the pack of hungry
creditors.

Now Matthew had, in these fleeting fifteen minutes, thought up no plan
of settlement. Being taken aback by the sudden reappearance of the
creditors, he did not know what to propose.

"Everything fixed, I s'pose?" said Rickarts, the shoemaker.

When Matthew was in strong doubt what to do in any case, it was his
invariable custom to postpone. "I think," he feebly suggested, "that we
had better postpone final action, say till three P.M. It would give
us time - "

"Can't come it!" "No go!" "Now, or never!" were some of the exclamations
which went up from the excited crowd.

Matthew was too good natured to quarrel with these insinuations. "My
friends," said he, "as you appear to have unlimited confidence in each
other, suppose you appoint a committee to dispose of this property,
which my client generously" (cries of "Oh! oh!") "turns over to you, and
divide the proceeds among yourselves _pro rata_"

The creditors looked at each other suspiciously. A want of that
childlike trust which, in a perfect state of society should exist
between man and man, was unhappily too apparent.

Just then, when Matthew was at his wits' end, the police man who guarded
the front door entered the room, and delivered a note to Mr. Whedell.
That gentleman perused it languidly, and passed it to Matthew.

"Good news," said he. "Mr. Abernuckle, the owner of these premises, who
was intending to move in to-day, writes that he will not be able to take
possession until noon to-morrow. Therefore, I say, let the creditors
employ an auctioneer, hang out the red flag, sell, and divide, before
that period arrives."

The large creditors were silent - Quigg veiling his dissatisfaction under
a look of complete misanthropy - but the small ones, headed by Rickarts,
the shoemaker, highly commended it.

"Besides," added a butter man, who had originally been in the
mock-auction line, "don't ye see, we can all stay at the auction, and
kind o' bid on the things. Hey?" The butter man nodded at the lesser
creditors.

The idea took; only a few of the larger creditors holding out against
it.

"My friends," again observed Matthew, drawing on his stores of legal
knowledge, "you seem to forget that, if my client chose to resist your
claims, he could retain a large amount of furniture as household
articles under the law, which exempts certain necessary things. But,
with rare magnanimity, he gives up all."

The allusion to magnanimity produced some derisive laughs, which
slightly nettled Matthew.

"Auction it off," said he, "or we throw ourselves back on our reserved
rights."

At this hint, everybody gave in; and a committee, consisting of Quigg,
Rickarts, and the butter man, was appointed to make all the arrangements
for an immediate sale.

It is not pleasant to pursue this painful theme - the decline and fall
of the Whedell household - farther. Let the historian barely record, that
the sale attracted a large crowd, and that, by the ingenious side bids
of the creditors, the furniture was run up to twice its original value
(no uncommon thing at auctions); that the creditors, large and small,
were well satisfied with the results; that Mr. Whedell and daughter
moved to Boston, and became stipendiaries upon a younger brother, who
had made a fortune in the upholstery business, and whom Mr. Whedell had
always despised; that Mr. Chiffield took to drink tenaciously in
consequence of his misfortunes, and never saw or sought after his wife
from the day when he discovered that she was dowerless; that Mrs.
Chiffield obtained a divorce from the bonds of matrimony, but had not
married again at last accounts; and that Matthew Maltboy, Esq., on
looking over the whole episode of his acquaintance with the Whedells
thanked his stars that he had got out of their entanglements on the
reasonable terms of three hundred dollars.



BOOK ELEVENTH.

DISCOVERIES.



CHAPTER I.

THE OLD HOUSE REVISITED.

In the month that followed the acquittal of Marcus Wilkeson, three real
murders, a railway collision killing thirty persons, and a steamboat
explosion almost as tragical in its results, occurred. The Minford
affair was already getting old. Public curiosity, except in the
immediate neighborhood of the house, no longer exercised itself upon the
problem which all of Coroner Bullfast's powers of analysis had failed
to solve.

Marcus Wilkeson might have derived a selfish consolation from the fact
that other mysteries and calamities were causing his name, which last
month was on the tongue of the whole town, to be forgotten. But he had a
nobler and truer source of consolation in his dear books. In the
presence of the philosophers, and sages, and historians, and novelists,
and poets, and wits, the men of genius of the past, chroniclers of the
loss of empires, grave men who taught the vanity of life, and funny men
who taught the same lesson in a different way, Marcus felt his pack of
sorrows considerably lightening. His first, last, only disappointment in
love had subsided into a gentle and not disagreeable melancholy. His
trial, and the dreadful notoriety which his name had acquired, had
imparted to his mild nature a gentle tinge of cynicism, which
improved him.

Marcus was sitting, one morning, in the little back parlor, idly
turning over the leaves of an old folio, and looking with a half eye
through the closed window at the houses opposite, and thinking what a
deal of trouble it was possible to extract from a single block of
buildings, when a slight rap was heard at the door. Simultaneously, the
door was pushed open, and Wesley Tiffles shot in.

He had brought all his tonical properties with him. Good nature and
cheerfulness effervesced from his face. Through the trial, and since the
acquittal, Wesley Tiffles had stuck to Marcus. Twice, often three times
a day, he called, and was always welcomed by Marcus, and not
inhospitably received by Miss Philomela Wilkeson. The interviews between
that lady and the romantic speculator usually took place, quite by
accident, in the entry, on the arrival or the departure of Mr. Tiffles;
but, as it happened, not with the cognizance of Marcus.

On one occasion - at the edge of evening - Marcus went into the entry a
few minutes after Tiffles had left the room, and saw that gentleman and
Philomela standing in the doorway. Tiffles appeared to be in the act of
raising the lady's hand to kiss it; but, if that were his intention, he
abandoned it on seeing Marcus, and shook the attenuated fingers instead.
Then he coughed, and, saying "Good-night," went down the steps, as if he
had not seen Marcus in the gloom. Miss Wilkeson coughed also (why do
people always cough?), and, turning to her approaching brother, said it
was a cool night, which was not true, as the night was agreeably warm.
Marcus had never afterward seen them together, and had forgotten this
slightly mysterious circumstance. Wesley Tiffles had, as usual,
something enlivening to tell.

"Got the funniest piece of news for you, my dear fellow!" said he.

"Anything funny is always welcome, Tiffles," said he, closing his folio,
that he might not appear to obstruct his friend's jocosity.

"I've heard from that infernal old panorama - when I say infernal, of
course I don't mean to imply that it wasn't a splendid idea, if I had
had capital enough to see it through - and what do you s'pose the
landlord and the other creditor have done with it? You couldn't guess
in a month."

"Well, what?" asked Marcus Wilkeson, laughing in anticipation.

"Ha! ha! cut it up, and sold it for window curtains. A friend of mine,
who passed through there the other day, says there's a picture of a
lion, or a palm tree, or a slice of a desert - principally desert - hung
up in every other window. And the best of it is, that they made a good
thing of it. The curtains brought at least twice what I owed them. Great
heavens! why didn't I think of it myself?"

"Of what?"

"Why, to cut up the panorama into window curtains, when Patching had
finished it, and - ha! ha! - peddle them through the country. By Jupiter!
that speculation may be worth trying yet. But at present I have my new
patent process for - - "

Marcus coughed, and opened the book. Tiffles accepted the delicate hint
in a spirit of true friendship, and let his new patent process drop.

"Marcus," said he, "I don't wish to revive an unpleasant subject; but
have you no idea what the late Mr. Minford was trying to invent?"

"Not the least. I never trouble myself about inventions, as you well
know, who are full of them. Besides, poor Mr. Minford was not
communicative on that subject. He kept the secret even from his
daughter."

"You have a claim on the apparatus, whatever it is."

"Yes. Mr. Minford insisted on giving me a paper to that effect, as
security for two loans of five hundred dollars each. I took it to please
the old gentleman." Marcus felt like groaning, as he thought of the
sorrows that he had derived from his connection with the Minford family;
but he had just been reading of the consolations of philosophy, and he
stifled the rising weakness.

"I have thought, Marcus, that there might be something about that
unfinished machine that could be patented for the benefit of Miss
Minford. You know I am a good judge of patentable things."

"What do you propose, then?" asked Marcus, concealing, with an effort,
the emotions which the mention of Miss Minford always caused."

"That we go to the house together. The legal claim which you hold upon
the machine entitles you to see it, if only to ascertain that it has not
been stolen."

"The visit you propose is a disagreeable one; but if you think there is
a possibility of benefiting Miss Minford, I will go. Not that she is
likely to be in want, however, at present, for I understand that a
wealthy lady, Mrs. Crull, who befriended her at the inquest, you
remember, has taken her to her own house."

Without further words - for Marcus retained his old business habit of
forming his conclusions suddenly, and adhering to them - the friends
proceeded to the late residence of Mr. Minford.

Marcus had not yet philosophically conquered his dread of recognition in
the street as the man who had been suspected of a murder. He buttoned
his overcoat up to his chin, pulled his hat over his brow, and walked
fast. As he had purposely altered his style of dress since the inquest,
he was not readily identified. But he was sympathetically conscious that
several persons whom he passed, and who glanced at him, knew him, and
that he was pointed out to others when his back was turned.

Reaching the house, they hurried up stairs, hoping to run the gauntlet
of the three floors in safety. Luckily, there had been a general move
from the premises - the lodgings being less desirable since the supposed
murder. The faces which thrust themselves out of the doorways as the two
visitors passed, were strange ones.

Marcus felt his heart palpitating, and his face growing pale, as they
ascended the last flight of stairs, at the head of which were the room
and the mystery. The lodgings had not been taken. The rent had been paid
by Mr. Minford up to the 1st of May; and no person had been sufficiently
charmed with the apartments to hire them since that date.

Upon the door was a placard, announcing that the key could be obtained
by application to the floor below. Tiffles went for it, and returned
accompanied by an old woman, who looked as if she knew a great deal
which she did not care to tell. She had been requested by the landlord
to show the apartments to applicants, but not to whisper a word about
the murder; and she was almost bursting with her great secret. While the
old woman was wondering how much longer she would be able to hold in,
Marcus and Tiffles entered the front room, and quietly closed the door
in her face. The old woman grumbled at this discourtesy but, as she had
a superstitious objection to putting her foot in a room where a murder
had been committed, she leaned against the banisters of the stairs, and
waited for the visitors' reappearance.

The room looked just as it did on the day of the inquest. The faded and
worn furniture was all there; the yellow curtains still covered the
windows; the clock still hung against the wall, tickless. Marcus's eyes
glanced restlessly about the room for a moment, not daring to look at
the spot where the old man had received his death blow. But an
inevitable magnetism soon brought his eyes to it, and his heart was
lightened as he saw that the blood stains had been carefully wiped out.

The door of the adjoining room - the maiden's bedchamber - was ajar.
Marcus pushed it open with that slow motion which is a token of delicacy
and respect. The general appearance of the room was unchanged, as well
as Marcus could recollect from the occasional glimpses of it which he
had formerly stolen. The little row of dresses which hung on pegs in a
corner, and a few simple ornaments, might have been removed, but nothing
more. Marcus felt that he was intruding here, and he closed the door.

In the mean time, Wesley Tiffles had been examining the mysterious
machine, which stood undisturbed in its corner, with the protecting
screen still standing before it. Tiffles had first wiped off the dust,
and then looked into it, and through it, and over it, and under it, with
an eye that was predetermined to pry out a secret. Then he felt of every
wheel, lever, cam, ratchet, drum, and other portion within reach of his
fingers. Everything was immovable. Then he stood aloof from the machine,
folded his arms, pursed up his lips, and cocked an eye at it, as if, by
the mere force of intellect, he would compel the dumb thing to give up
its mystery.

As Tiffles was applying this species of exorcism in vain, Marcus came to
his assistance.

"What on earth can it be?" exclaimed Tiffles. "Not a new kind of steam
engine; or an electrical apparatus; or a clock; or a sewing machine; or
anything for spinning, carding, or weaving - nothing that is adapted to
any useful labor. These heavy weights, that have fallen on the floor,
would give the works a kind of jerky motion for a few seconds, while the
weights were descending. Nothing more. But the ultimate purpose of the
machine is a puzzler."

"Mr. Minford always said that it was something that would revolutionize
the world of industry - that it was a new mechanical principle of
universal application."

Tiffles laughed a little. "Excuse my levity," said he, "but
inventors - and I am one of them, you know - always claim that they are
about to revolutionize the world of industry. I never knew one of them
to claim less than that for a patent flytrap or an improved sausage
stuffer. Mr. Minford was a man of genius, I dare say, but he probably
overestimated the importance of his invention. Have you any objection to
my prying the thing apart at this opening? I want to inspect some of the
works that are partly concealed. I pledge myself to put it together
again as good as new."



CHAPTER II.

A POSTHUMOUS SECRET.

"Go ahead," said Marcus; and Tiffles, inserting his walking stick in a
wide gap between two cog wheels, forced the strange machine apart. A
large brass drum upon which a small chain was loosely coiled, fell to
the floor. The other portions were not disturbed. Marcus picked up the
drum; and Tiffles cast his unerring eye in among the new jumble of
wheels and connecting levers that was brought to view.

"Can't make head or tail of it," said he, at length. "Let me see that
drum."

Marcus handed it to him. Tiffles took it, like an expert, between a
thumb and finger, and tapped it with his stick. It answered back with a
muffled clink.

"It is hollow, and contains some soft non-metallic substance. Ah! here
we have it." And Tiffles, unscrewing a nicely fitting cap from the drum,
drew out a close roll of paper. He unfolded it with trembling fingers.

The upper portion of the paper was covered with neatly drawn diagrams,
which bore some semblance to the machine. Beneath, in the fine
copperplate hand of the inventor, were these memorable words:

"_Eliphalet Minford's original plan of_ PERPETUAL MOTION, _to which he
has devoted his fortune, and twenty years of labor. Perseverantia
vincit omnia_."

"_Christmas Day_, 185-."

Then followed a careful technical description of the plan, and a mention
of the fact that on two occasions the machine had moved. One occasion
was the night of April 10, 184-, when the mass of wheels started with a
sudden click, but stopped in three seconds by the clock. The other
occasion was daybreak, December 30, 185-, when the works began to move
of their own accord, and did not stop for six seconds. This record had
evidently been made by the inventor for his private reference, and
concealed in the brass drum for safe keeping.

Tiffles read with bated breath; and Marcus listened in astonishment.

"What do you think of it?" asked Marcus.

"I think," replied Tiffles, "with every respect for the memory of the
inventor, that he was insane. Perpetual motion, without an exhaustive
power - or, in other words, the eternal motion of a thing by its own
inherent properties - is a simple impossibility. To cite familiar
illustrations of its absurdity, you might as well try to lift yourself
by the straps of your boots, or pour a quart into a pint pot. I wasted
six months on perpetual motion when I was a boy, and gave it up. Every
inventive genius bothers his head with this nonsensical problem, till he
learns that he is a fool. Of course, I say this with every possible
regard for your deceased friend. He was insane on this point - _quoad
hoc_, as the lawyers have it - without question, or he would not have
thrown away twenty years on it; - or twenty-three years, I should say,
since the paper is dated, you observe, three years ago."

"But Mr. Minford says, in that document, that the machine moved twice.
He could have no object in deceiving himself."

"You are wrong there, my friend. Inventors are continually deceiving
themselves. Their judgment, their very eyesight becomes worthless in
respect to subjects upon which they have labored long and hoped
ardently. This machine has evidently been greatly altered from the
original plan in the progress of its construction. You observe that
these weights do not appear on the diagrams. They were an
afterthought - recently put on, I should judge, from the appearance of
the cords which hold them. Anybody can see, as I said before, that the
weights would move the works spasmodically, so to speak. But this motion
cannot be what he alludes to as having taken place on two occasions. Of
course, I can't explain what caused the motion on those occasions - if it
were a real motion, and not a fantasy of the inventor's brain - but I'll
bet my life that any intelligent mechanic could have fully explained it
to Mr. Minford at the time. But, mark you, Mr. Minford would never have
accepted the explanation. Inventors never take advice."

"So then you are satisfied that this machine is of no value - to Miss
Minford - except for old brass?"

"Oh! I don't say that. Mr. Minford, aside from this absurd crotchet, may
have possessed real mechanical genius. Let me see if some part of it may
not be good for something besides perpetual motion."

Wesley Tiffles peered down among the brazen and steel complexities
again. "Sure enough, here it is," said he; "a splendid window fastener."

"I don't see any window fastener," exclaimed Marcus, looking in the
direction of his friend's forefinger.

"There - that cam with a small spring and lever attached. Strength and
simplicity combined. I have studied the subject of window fasteners - in
fact, have invented three or four, which possessed the extraordinary
property of never letting the window up or down when you wanted to move
it. I recognize, in this window fastener, my ideal. Marcus, you must
patent it for Miss Minford. It will be a sure fortune to her. I'll make
the drawings and specifications."

Marcus, sadly happy in the thought of rendering any service to that
young lady, readily chimed in with Tiffles's views, and said that the
patent should be obtained as soon as might be.

It was then agreed that Tiffles should call on Mrs. Crull, on the
following day, and inform Miss Minford of the important discoveries
which had been made by him - not mentioning the name of Marcus
Wilkeson - and should also offer to remove and dispose of the neglected
furniture, as the young lady might think best.

As this conclusion was arrived at, the door opened suddenly. The old
lady, being apprehensive, from the long stay of the two visitors, that
they were ransacking the rooms and hiding portable articles about their
persons, had overcome her superstitious antipathy, and opened the door
quickly, so that she might catch them in the act. But they were only
standing in the middle of the room, earnestly talking to each other.

The old lady muttered an inaudible apology; and the two friends hastened
to take their departure.



CHAPTER III.

OVERTOP FINDS A SENSIBLE WOMAN.

Next morning, Mr. Wesley Tiffles, after an inexpensive breakfast at a
cheap restaurant in Chatham street, set out on his mission of goodness.
He was reduced to his last dollar, but felt opulent in the possession of
his diamond breastpin - that tower of moral strength to the borrower. He
whistled as he walked, and thought what would be the best name for the
new patent window fastener of the future. "Union," "American,"
"Columbian," "Peoples'," "Washington," "Ne Plus Ultra," and a score
more, were turned over and rejected. Finally he settled upon the
"Cosmopolitan Window Fastener," meaning that its destined field of
usefulness was the whole civilized globe. Patents for it could be and
should be obtained in England, France, Germany, Russia, and Spain.

While Wesley Tiffles was taking this rosy view of the "Cosmopolitan
Window Fastener," he stumbled upon Fayette Overtop, Esq., who was
walking briskly toward his office, and thinking over a hard case in



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