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pre-occupied than myself. He was, however, the first to break silence.
"The emaciated corpse we have just left little resembles the gay,
beautiful girl, for whose smiles you and I were once disposed to shoot
each other!" The doctor's voice trembled with emotion, and his face, I
perceived, was pale as marble.

"Mary Rawdon," I remarked, "lives again in her daughter."

"Yes; her very image. Do you know," continued he, speaking with rapid
energy, "I suspect Mary Rawdon - Mrs. Armitage, I would say - has been
foully, treacherously dealt with!"

I started with amazement; and yet the announcement but embodied and gave
form and color to my own ill-defined and shadowy suspicions.

"Good heavens! How? By whom?"

"Unless I am greatly mistaken, she has been poisoned by an adept in the
use of such destructive agents."

"Mrs. Bourdon?"

"No; by her son. At least my suspicions point that way. She is probably
cognizant of the crime. But in order that you should understand the
grounds upon which my conjectures are principally founded, I must enter
into a short explanation. Mrs. Bourdon, a woman of Spanish extraction,
and who formerly occupied a much higher position than she does now, has
lived with Mrs. Armitage from the period of her husband's death, now
about sixteen years ago. Mrs. Bourdon has a son, a tall, good-looking
fellow enough, whom you may have seen."

"He was with his mother in the library as I entered it after
leaving you."

"Ah! well, hem! This boy, in his mother's opinion - but that perhaps is
somewhat excusable - exhibited early indications of having been born a
"genius." Mrs. Armitage, who had been first struck by the beauty of the
child, gradually acquired the same notion; and the result was, that he
was little by little invested - with at least her tacit approval - with the
privileges supposed to be the lawful inheritance of such gifted spirits;
namely, the right to be as idle as he pleased - geniuses, you know, can,
according to the popular notion, attain any conceivable amount of
knowledge _per saltum_ at a bound - and to exalt himself in the stilts of
his own conceit above the useful and honorable pursuits suited to the
station in life in which Providence had cast his lot. The fruit of such
training soon showed itself. Young Bourdon grew up a conceited and
essentially-ignorant puppy, capable of nothing but bad verses, and
thoroughly impressed with but one important fact, which was, that he,
Alfred Bourdon, was the most gifted and the most ill-used of all God's
creatures. To genius, in any intelligible sense of the term, he has in
truth no pretension. He is endowed, however, with a kind of reflective
talent, which is often mistaken by fools for _creative_ power. The morbid
fancies and melancholy scorn of a Byron, for instance, such gentry
reflect back from their foggy imaginations in exaggerated and distorted
feebleness of whining versicles, and so on with other lights celestial
or infernal. This, however, by the way. The only rational pursuit he ever
followed, and that only by fits and starts, and to gratify his faculty of
"wonder," I fancy, was chemistry. A small laboratory was fitted up for
him in the little summer-house you may have observed at the further
corner of the lawn. This study of his, if study such desultory snatches
at science may be called, led him, in his examination of vegetable
bodies, to a smattering acquaintance with botany, a science of which
Ellen Armitage is an enthusiastic student. They were foolishly permitted
to _botanize_ together, and the result was, that Alfred Bourdon, acting
upon the principle that genius - whether sham or real - levels all merely
mundane distinctions, had the impudence to aspire to the hand of Miss
Armitage. His passion, sincere or simulated, has never been, I have
reason to know, in the slightest degree reciprocated by its object; but
so blind is vanity, that when, about six weeks ago, an _éclaircissement_
took place, and the fellow's dream was somewhat rudely dissipated, the
untoward rejection of his preposterous suit was, there is every reason to
believe, attributed by both mother and son to the repugnance of Mrs.
Armitage alone; and to this idiotic hallucination she has, I fear, fallen
a sacrifice. Judging from the emaciated appearance of the body, and other
phenomena communicated to me by her ordinary medical attendant - a
blundering ignoramus, who ought to have called in assistance long
before - she has been poisoned with _iodine_, which, administered in
certain quantities, would produce precisely the same symptoms. Happily
there is no mode of destroying human life which so surely leads to the
detection of the murderer as the use of such agents; and of this truth
the post mortem examination of the body, which takes place to-morrow
morning, will, if I am not grossly mistaken, supply another vivid
illustration. Legal assistance will no doubt be necessary, and I am sure
I do not err in expecting that _you_ will aid me in bringing to justice
the murderer of Mary Rawdon?"

A pressure of his hand was my only answer. "I shall call for you at ten
o'clock" said he, as he put me down at my own door. I bowed, and the
carriage drove off.

"Well!" said I, as Dr. Curteis and Mr. - - the eminent surgeon entered
the library at Mount Place the following morning after a long absence.

"As I anticipated," replied the doctor with a choking voice: "she has
been poisoned!"

I started to my feet. "And the murderer?"

"Our suspicions still point to young Bourdon; but the persons of both
mother and son have been secured."


"Yes; and I have despatched a servant to request the presence of a
neighbor - a county magistrate. I expect him momently."

After a brief consultation, we all three directed our steps to the
summer-house which contained young Bourdon's laboratory. In the room
itself nothing of importance was discovered; but in an enclosed recess,
which we broke open, we found a curiously-fashioned glass bottle half
full of iodine.

"This is it!" said Mr. - - ; "and in a powdered state too - just ready
for mixing with brandy or any other available dissolvent." The powder had
somewhat the appearance of fine black lead. Nothing further of any
consequence being observed, we returned to the house, where the
magistrate had already arrived.

Alfred Bourdon was first brought in; and he having been duly cautioned
that he was not obliged to answer any question, and that what he did say
would be taken down, and, if necessary, used against him, I proposed the
following questions: -

"Have you the key of your laboratory?"

"No; the door is always open."

"Well, then, of any door or cupboard in the room?"

At this question his face flushed purple: he stammered, "There is
no" - and abruptly paused.

"Do I understand you to say there is no cupboard or place of concealment
in the room?"

"No: here is the key."

"Has any one had access to the cupboard or recess of which this is the
key, except yourself?"

The young man shook as if smitten with ague: his lips chattered, but no
articulate sound escaped them.

"You need not answer the question," said the magistrate, "unless you
choose to do so. I again warn you that all you say will, if necessary,
be used against you."

"No one," he at length gasped, mastering his hesitation by a strong
exertion of the will - "no one can have had access to the place but
myself. I have never parted with the key."

Mrs. Bourdon was now called in. After interchanging a glance of intense
agony, and, as it seemed to me, of affectionate intelligence with her
son, she calmly answered the questions put to her. They were unimportant,
except the last, and that acted upon her like a galvanic shock. It was
this - "Did you ever struggle with your son on the landing leading to the
bedroom of the deceased for the possession of this bottle?" and I held up
that which we had found in the recess.

A slight scream escaped her lips; and then she stood rigid, erect,
motionless, glaring alternately at me and at the fatal bottle with eyes
that seemed starting from their sockets. I glanced towards the son; he
was also affected in a terrible manner. His knees smote each other, and a
clammy perspiration burst forth and settled upon his pallid forehead.

"Again I caution you," iterated the magistrate, "that you are not bound
to answer any of these questions."

The woman's lips moved. "No - never!" she almost inaudibly gasped, and
fell senseless on the floor.

As soon as she was removed, Jane Withers was called. She deposed that
three days previously, as she was, just before dusk, arranging some linen
in a room a few yards distant from the bedroom of her late mistress, she
was surprised at hearing a noise just outside the door, as of persons
struggling and speaking in low but earnest tones. She drew aside a corner
of the muslin curtain of the window which locked upon the passage or
corridor, and there saw Mrs. Bourdon striving to wrest something from her
son's hand. She heard Mrs. Bourdon say, "You shall not do it, or you
shall not have it" - she could not be sure which. A noise of some sort
seemed to alarm them: they ceased struggling, and listened attentively
for a few seconds: then Alfred Bourdon stole off on tip-toe, leaving the
object in dispute, which witness could not see distinctly, in his
mother's hand. Mrs. Bourdon continued to listen, and presently Miss
Armitage, opening the door of her mother's chamber, called her by name.
She immediately placed what was in her hand on the marble top of a
side-table standing in the corridor, and hastened to Miss Armitage.
Witness left the room she had been in a few minutes afterwards, and,
curious to know what Mrs. Bourdon and her son had been struggling for,
went to the table to look at it. It was an oddly-shaped glass bottle,
containing a good deal of a blackish-gray powder, which, as she held it
up to the light, looked like black-lead!

"Would you be able to swear to the bottle if you saw it?"

"Certainly I should."

"By what mark or token?"

"The name of Valpy or Vulpy was cast into it - that is, the name was in
the glass itself."

"Is this it?"

"It is: I swear most positively."

A letter was also read which had been taken from Bourdon's pocket. It was
much creased, and was proved to be in the handwriting of Mrs. Armitage.
It consisted of a severe rebuke at the young man's presumption in seeking
to address himself to her daughter, which insolent ingratitude, the
writer said, she should never, whilst she lived, either forget or
forgive. This last sentence was strongly underlined in a different ink
from that used by the writer of the letter.

The surgeon deposed to the cause of death. It had been brought on by the
action of iodine, which, administered in certain quantities, produced
symptoms as of rapid atrophy, such as had appeared in Mrs. Armitage. The
glass bottle found in the recess contained iodine in a pulverized state.

I deposed that, on entering the library on the previous evening I
overheard young Mr. Bourdon, addressing his mother, say, "Now that it is
done past recall, I will not shrink from any consequences, be they what
they may!"

This was the substance of the evidence adduced; and the magistrate at
once committed Alfred Bourdon to Chelmsford jail, to take his trial at
the next assize for "wilful murder." A coroner's inquisition a few days
after also returned a verdict of "wilful murder" against him on the
same evidence.

About an hour after his committal, and just previous to the arrival of
the vehicle which was to convey him to the county prison, Alfred Bourdon
requested an interview with me. I very reluctantly consented; but steeled
as I was against him, I could not avoid feeling dreadfully shocked at the
change which so brief an interval had wrought upon him. It had done the
work of years. Despair - black, utter despair - was written in every
lineament of his expressive countenance.

"I have requested to see you," said the unhappy culprit, "rather than Dr.
Curteis, because he, I know, is bitterly prejudiced against me. But _you_
will not refuse, I think, the solemn request of a dying man - for a dying
man I feel myself to be - however long or short the interval which stands
between me and the scaffold. It is not with a childish hope that any
assertion of mine can avail before the tribunal of the law against the
evidence adduced this day, that I, with all the solemnity befitting a man
whose days are numbered, declare to you that I am wholly innocent of the
crime laid to my charge. I have no such expectation; I seek only that
you, in pity of my youth and untimely fate, should convey to her whom I
have madly presumed to worship this message: 'Alfred Bourdon was mad, but
not blood-guilty; and of the crime laid to his charge he is innocent as
an unborn child.'"

"The pure and holy passion, young man," said I, somewhat startled by his
impressive manner, "however presumptuous, as far as social considerations
are concerned, it might be, by which you affect to be inspired, is
utterly inconsistent with the cruel, dastardly crime of which such
damning evidence has an hour since been given" -

"Say no more, sir," interrupted Bourdon, sinking back in his seat, and
burying his face in his hands: "it were a bootless errand; she _could_
not, in the face of that evidence, believe my unsupported assertion! It
were as well perhaps she did not. And yet, sir, it is hard to be
trampled into a felon's grave, loaded with the maledictions of those
whom you would coin your heart to serve and bless! Ah, sir," he
continued, whilst tears of agony streamed through his firmly-closed
fingers, "you cannot conceive the unutterable bitterness of the pang
which rends the heart of him who feels that he is not only despised,
but loathed, hated, execrated, by her whom his soul idolizes! Mine was
no boyish, transient passion: it has grown with my growth, and
strengthened with my strength. My life has been but one long dream of
her. All that my soul had drunk in of beauty in the visible earth and
heavens - the light of setting suns - the radiance of the silver
stars - the breath of summer flowers, together with all which we imagine
of celestial purity and grace, seemed to me in her incarnated,
concentrated, and combined! And now lost - lost - forever lost!" The
violence of his emotions choked his utterance; and deeply and painfully
affected, I hastened from his presence.

Time sped as ever onwards, surely, silently; and justice, with her feet
of lead, but hands of iron, closed gradually upon her quarry. Alfred
Bourdon was arraigned before a jury of his countrymen, to answer finally
to the accusation of wilful murder preferred against him.

The evidence, as given before the committing magistrate, and the
coroner's inquisition, was repeated with some addition of passionate
expressions used by the prisoner indicative of a desire to be avenged on
the deceased. The cross-examination by the counsel for the defense was
able, but failed to shake the case for the prosecution. His own
admission, that no one but himself had access to the recess where the
poison was found, told fatally against him. When called upon to address
the jury, he delivered himself of a speech rather than a defense; of an
oratorical effusion, instead of a vigorous, and, if possible, damaging
commentary upon the evidence arrayed against him. It was a labored, and
in part eloquent, exposition of the necessary fallibility of human
judgment, illustrated by numerous examples of erroneous verdicts. His
peroration I jotted down at the time: - "Thus, my lord and gentlemen of
the jury, is it abundantly manifest, not only by these examples, but by
the testimony which every man bears in his own breast, that God could not
have willed, could not have commanded, his creatures to perform a
pretended duty, which he vouchsafed them no power to perform righteously.
Oh, be sure that if he had intended, if he had commanded you to pronounce
irreversible decrees upon your fellow-man, quenching that life which is
his highest gift, he would have endowed you with gifts to perform that
duty rightly. Has he done so? Ask not alone the pages dripping with
innocent blood which I have quoted, but your own hearts! Are you,
according to the promise of the serpent-tempter, 'gods, knowing good from
evil?' of such clear omniscience, that you can hurl an unprepared soul
before the tribunal of its Maker, in the full assurance that you have
rightly loosed the silver cord which he had measured, have justly broken
the golden bowl which he had fashioned! Oh, my lord," he concluded, his
dark eyes flashing with excitement, "it is possible that the first
announcement of my innocence of this crime, to which you will give
credence, may be proclaimed from the awful tribunal of him who alone
cannot err! How if he, whose eye is even now upon us, should then
proclaim, '_I_ too, sat in judgment on the day when you presumed to doom
your fellow-worm; and _I_ saw that the murderer was not in the dock, but
on the bench!' Oh, my lord, think well of what you do - pause ere you
incur such fearful hazard; for be assured, that for all these things God
will also bring _you_ to judgment!"

He ceased, and sank back exhausted. His fervid declamation produced a
considerable impression upon the auditory; but it soon disappeared before
the calm, impressive charge of the judge, who re-assured the startled
jury, by reminding them that their duty was to honestly execute the law,
not to dispute about its justice. For himself, he said, sustained by a
pure conscience, he was quite willing to incur the hazard hinted at by
the prisoner. After a careful and luminous summing up, the jury, with
very slight deliberation, returned a verdict of "Guilty."

As the word passed the lips of the foreman of the jury, a piercing shriek
rang through the court. It proceeded from a tall figure in black, who,
with closely-drawn veil, had sat motionless during the trial, just before
the dock. It was the prisoner's mother. The next instant she rose, and
throwing back her veil wildly exclaimed, "He is innocent - innocent, I
tell ye! I alone" -

"Mother! mother! for the love of Heaven be silent!" shouted the prisoner
with frantic vehemence, and stretching himself over the front of the
dock, as if to grasp and restrain her.

"Innocent, I tell you!" continued the woman. "I - I alone am the guilty
person! It was I alone that perpetrated the deed! He knew it not,
suspected it not, till it was too late. Here," she added, drawing a sheet
of paper from her bosom - "here is my confession, with each circumstance

As she waved it over her head, it was snatched by her son, and, swift as
lightning, torn to shreds. "She is mad! Heed her not - believe her not!"
He at the same time shouted at the top of his powerful voice, "She is
distracted - mad! Now, my lord, your sentence! Come!"

The tumult and excitement in the court no language which I can employ
would convey an adequate impression of. As soon as calm was partially
restored, Mrs. Bourdon was taken into custody: the prisoner was removed;
and the court adjourned, of course without passing sentence.

It was even as his mother said! Subsequent investigation, aided by her
confessions, amply proved that the fearful crime was conceived and
perpetrated by her alone, in the frantic hope of securing for her
idolized son the hand and fortune of Miss Armitage. She had often been
present with him in his laboratory, and had thus become acquainted with
the uses to which certain agents could be put. She had purloined the key
of the recess; and he, unfortunately too late to prevent the perpetration
of the crime, had by mere accident discovered the abstraction of the
poison. His subsequent declarations had been made for the determined
purpose of saving his mother's life by the sacrifice of his own!

The wretched woman was not reserved to fall before the justice of her
country. The hand of God smote her ere the scaffold was prepared for
her. She was smitten with frenzy, and died raving in the Metropolitan
Lunatic Asylum. Alfred Bourdon, after a lengthened imprisonment, was
liberated. He called on me, by appointment, a few days previous to
leaving this country forever; and I placed in his hands a small
pocket-Bible, on the fly-leaf of which was written one word - "Ellen!"
His dim eye lighted up with something of its old fire as he glanced at
the characters; he then closed the book, placed it in his bosom, and
waving me a mute farewell - I saw he durst not trust himself to
speak - hastily departed. I never saw him more!


In the month of February of the year following that which witnessed the
successful establishment of the claim of Sir Harry Compton's infant son
to his magnificent patrimony, Mr. Samuel Ferret was traveling post with
all the speed he could command towards Lancashire, in compliance with a
summons from Lady Compton, requesting, in urgent terms, his immediate
presence at the castle. It was wild and bitter weather, and the roads
were in many places rendered dangerous, and almost impassable, by the
drifting snow. Mr. Ferret, however, pressed onwards with his habitual
energy and perseverance; and, spite of all elemental and postboy
opposition, succeeded in accomplishing his journey in much less time
than, under the circumstances, could have been reasonably expected. But
swiftly as, for those slow times, he pushed on, it is necessary I should
anticipate, by a brief period, his arrival at his destination, in order
to put the reader in possession of the circumstances which had occasioned
the hurried and pressing message he had received.

Two days before, as Lady Compton and her sister, who had been paying a
visit to Mrs. Arlington at the Grange, were returning home towards nine
o'clock in the evening, they observed, as the carriage turned a sharp
angle of the road leading through Compton Park, a considerable number of
lighted lanterns borne hurriedly to and fro in various directions, by
persons apparently in eager but bewildered pursuit of some missing
object. The carriage was stopped, and in answer to the servants'
inquiries, it was replied that Major Brandon's crazy niece had escaped
from her uncle's house; and although traced by the snow-tracks as far as
the entrance to the park, had not yet been recovered. Mrs. Brandon had
offered a reward of ten pounds to whoever should secure and reconduct her
home; hence the hot pursuit of the fugitive, who, it was now supposed,
must be concealed in the shrubberies. Rumors regarding this unfortunate
young lady, by no means favorable to the character of her relatives as
persons of humanity, had previously reached Lady Compton's ears; and she
determined to avail herself, if possible, of the present opportunity to
obtain a personal interview with the real or supposed lunatic. The men
who had been questioned were informed that only the castle servants could
be allowed to search for the missing person, either in the park or
shrubberies; and that if there, she would be taken care of, and restored
to her friends in the morning. The coachman was then ordered to drive on;
but the wheels had not made half-a-dozen revolutions, when a loud shout
at some distance, in the direction of the park, followed by a succession
of piercing screams, announced the discovery and capture of the object of
the chase. The horses were urged rapidly forward; and ere more than a
minute had elapsed, the carriage drew up within a few yards of the hunted
girl and her captors. The instant it stopped, Clara Brandon, liberating
herself by a frenzied effort from the rude grasp in which she was held by
an athletic young man, sprang wildly towards it, and with passionate
intreaty implored mercy and protection. The young man, a son of Mrs.
Brandon's by a former husband, immediately re-seized her; and with fierce
violence endeavored to wrench her hand from the handle of the carriage
door, which she clutched with desperate tenacity. The door flew open,
the sudden jerk disengaged her hold, and she struggled vainly in her
captor's powerful grasp. "Save me! save me!" she frantically exclaimed,
as she felt herself borne off. "You who are, they say, as kind and good
as you are beautiful and happy, save me from this cruel man!"

Lady Compton, inexpressibly shocked by the piteous spectacle presented by
the unhappy girl - her scanty clothing soiled, disarrayed, and torn by the
violence of her struggles; her long flaxen tresses flowing disorderly
over her face and neck in tangled dishevelment; and the pale, haggard,
wild expression of her countenance - was for a few moments incapable of

Online LibrarySamuel WarrenThe Experiences of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney → online text (page 5 of 26)