Shall He Wed Her? by Anna Katharine Green
hen I met Taylor at the Club the other night, he looked so cheerful I
scarcely knew him.
"What is it?" cried I, advancing with outstretched hand.
"I am going to be married," was his gay reply. "This is my last night
at the Club."
I was glad, and showed it. Taylor is a man for whom domestic life is a
necessity. He has never been at home with us, though we all liked him,
and he in his way liked us.
"And who is the fortunate lady?" I inquired; for I had been out of
town for some time, and had not as yet been made acquainted with the
latest society news.
"My intended bride is Mrs. Walworth, the young widow—"
He must have seen a change take place in my expression, for he
"You know her, of course?" he added, after a careful study of my face.
I had by this time regained my self-possession.
"Of course," I repeated, "and I have always thought her one of the
most attractive women in the city. Another shake upon it, old man."
But my heart was heavy and my mind perplexed notwithstanding the
forced cordiality of my tones, and I took an early opportunity to
withdraw by myself and think over the situation.
Mrs. Walworth? She is a pretty woman, and what is more, she is to all
appearance a woman whose winning manners bespeak a kindly heart. "Just
the person," I contemplated, "whom I would pick out for the helpmate
of my somewhat exacting friend, if—" I paused on that if. It was a
formidable one and grew none the smaller or less important under my
broodings. Indeed, it seemed to dilate until it assumed gigantic
proportions, worrying me and weighing so heavily upon my conscience
that I at last rose from the newspaper at which I had been hopelessly
staring, and looking up Taylor again asked him how soon he expected to
become a benedict.
His answer startled me. "In a week," he replied, "and if I have not
asked you to the ceremony it is because Helen is not in a position
I suppose he finished the sentence, but I did not hear him. If the
marriage was so near, of course it would be folly on my part to
attempt to hinder it. I drew off for the second time.
But I could not remain easy. Taylor is a good fellow, and it would be
a shame to allow him to marry a woman with whom he could never be
happy. He would feel any such disappointment so keenly, so much more
keenly than most men. A lack of principle or even of sensibility on
her part would make him miserable. Anticipating heaven, he would not
need a hell to make him wretched; a purgatory would do it. Was I right
then in letting him proceed in his intentions regarding Mrs. Walworth,
when she possibly was the woman who—I paused and tried to call up
her countenance before me. It was a sweet one and possibly a true
one. I might have trusted her for myself, but I do not look for
perfection, and Taylor does, and will certainly go to the bad if he is
deceived in his expectations. But in a week! It is too late for
interference—only it is never too late till the knot is tied. As I
thought of this, I decided impulsively, and perhaps you may say
unwisely, to give him a hint of his danger, and I did it in this wise:
"Taylor," said I, when I had him safely in my own rooms, "I am going
to tell you a bit of personal history, curious enough, I think, to
interest you even upon the eve of your marriage. I do not know when I
shall see you again, and I should like you to know how a lawyer and
man of the world can sometimes be taken in."
He nodded, accepting the situation good-humoredly, though I saw by the
abstraction with which he gazed into the fire that I should have to be
very interesting to lure him from the thoughts that engrossed him. As
I meant to be very interesting, this did not greatly concern me.
"One morning last spring," I began, "I received in my morning mail a
letter, the delicate penmanship of which at once attracted my
attention and awakened my curiosity. Turning to the signature, I read
the name of a young lady friend of mine, and somewhat startled at the
thought that this was the first time I had ever seen the handwriting
of one I knew so well, I perused the letter with an interest that
presently became painful as I realized the tenor of its contents. I
will not quote the letter, though I could, but confine myself to
saying that after a modest recognition of my friendship for her—quite
a fatherly friendship, I assure you, as she is only eighteen, and I,
as you know, am well on towards fifty—she proceeded to ask in a
humble and confiding spirit for the loan—do not start—of fifty
dollars. Such a request coming from a young girl well connected and
with every visible sign of being generously provided for by her
father, was certainly startling to an old bachelor of settled ways and
strict notions, but remembering her youth and the childish innocence
of her manner, I turned over the page and read as her reason for
proffering such a request, that her heart was set upon aiding a
certain poor family that stood in immediate need of food, clothes, and
medicines, but that she could not do what she wished, because she had
already spent all the money allowed her by her father for such
purposes and dared not go to him for more, as she had once before
offended him by doing this, and feared if she repeated her fault he
would carry out the threat he had then made of stopping her allowance
altogether. But the family was a deserving one and she could not see
any member of it starve, so she came to me, of whose goodness she was
assured, convinced I would understand her perplexity and excuse her,
and so forth and so forth, in language quite child-like and
entreating, which, if it did not satisfy my ideas of propriety, at
least touched my heart and made any action which I could take in the
matter extremely difficult.
"To refuse her request would be at once to mortify and aggrieve her;
to accede to it and give her the fifty dollars she asked—a sum by the
way I could not well spare—would be to encourage an action easily
pardoned once, but which if repeated would lead to unpleasant
complications, to say the least. The third course, of informing her
father of what she needed, I did not even consider, for I knew him
well enough to be sure that nothing but pain to her would be the
result. I therefore compromised the affair by inclosing the money in a
letter, in which I told her that I comprehended her difficulty and
sent with pleasure the amount she needed, but that as a friend I must
add that while in the present instance she had run no risk of being
misunderstood or unkindly censured, that such a request made to
another man and under other circumstances might provoke a surprise
capable of leading to the most unpleasant consequences, and advised
her if she ever again found herself in such a strait to appeal
directly to her father, or else to deny herself a charity which she
was in no position to bestow.
"This letter I undertook to deliver myself, for one of the curious
points of her communication had been the entreaty that I would not
delay the help she needed by trusting the money to any hand but my
own, but would bring it to a certain hotel down-town and place it at
the beginning of the book of Isaiah in the large Bible I would find
lying on a side table in the small parlor off the main one. She would
seek it there before the morning was over, and so, without the
intervention of a third party, acquire the means she desired for
helping a poor and deserving family.
"I knew the hotel she mentioned, and I remembered the room, but I did
not remember the Bible. However, it was sure to be in the place she
indicated; and though I was not in much sympathy with my errand, I
respected her whim and carried the letter down-town. I had reached
Main Street and was in sight of the hotel designated, when suddenly on
the opposite corner of the street I saw the young girl herself. She
looked as fresh as the morning, and smiled so gayly I felt somewhat
repaid for the annoyance she had caused me, and gratified that I could
cut matters short by putting the letter directly in her hand, I
crossed the street to her side. As soon as we were face to face, I
"'How fortunate I am to meet you. Here is the amount you need sealed
up in this letter. You see I had it all ready.'
"The face she lifted to mine wore so blank a look that I paused,
"'What do you mean?' she asked, her eyes looking straight into mine
with such innocence in their clear blue depths, I was at once
convinced she knew nothing of the matter with which my thoughts were
busy. 'I am very glad to see you, but I do not in the least understand
what you mean by the amount I need.' And she glanced at the letter I
held out, with an air of distrust mingled with curiosity.
"'You cut me short in my efforts to do a charitable action. I heard,
no matter how, that you were interested just now in a destitute
family, and took this way of assisting you in their behalf.'
"Her blue eyes opened wider. 'The poor are always with us,' she
replied, 'but I know of no especial family just now that requires any
such help as you intimate. If I did, papa would give me what
assistance I needed.'
"I was greatly pleased to hear her say this, for I am very fond of my
young friend, but I was deeply indignant also against the unknown
person who had taken advantage of my regard for this young girl to
force money from me. I therefore did not linger at her side, but after
due apologies hastened immediately here where there is a man employed
who to my knowledge had once been a trusted member of the police.
"Telling him no more of the story than was necessary to ensure his
co-operation in the plan I had formed to discover the author of this
fraud, I extracted the bank-notes from the letter I had written, and
put in their place stiff pieces of manila paper. Taking the envelope
so filled to the hotel already referred to, I placed it at the opening
chapters of Isaiah in the Bible, as described. There was no one in any
of the rooms when I went in, and I encountered only a bell-boy as I
came out, but at the door I ran against a young man whom I strictly
forbore to recognize, but whom I knew to be my improvised detective
coming to take his stand in some place where he could watch the parlor
and note who went into it.
"At noon I returned to the hotel, passed immediately to the small
parlor and looked into the Bible. The letter was gone. Coming out of
the room, I was at once joined by my detective.
"'Has the letter been taken?' he eagerly inquired.
"His brows wrinkled and he looked both troubled and perplexed.
"'I don't understand it,' he remarked. 'I've seen every one who has
gone into that room since you left it, but I do not know any more than
before who took the letter. You see,' he continued, as I looked at him
sharply, 'I had to remain out here. If I had gone even into the large
room, the Bible would not have been disturbed, nor the letter either.
So, in the hope of knowing the rogue at sight, I strolled about this
hall, and kept my eye constantly on that door, but—'
"He looked embarrassed, and stopped. 'You say the letter is gone,' he
suggested, after a moment.
"'Yes,' I returned.
"He shook his head. 'Nobody went into that room or came out of it,' he
went on, 'whom you would have wished me to follow. I should have
thought myself losing time if I had taken one step after any one of
"'But who did go into that room?' I urged, impatient at his
"'Only three persons this morning,' he returned. 'You know them all.'
And he mentioned first Mrs. Couldock."
Taylor, who was lending me the superficial attention of a preoccupied
man, smiled frankly at the utterance of this name. "Of course, she had
nothing to do with such a debasing piece of business," he observed.
"Of course not," I repeated. "Nor does it seem likely that Miss Dawes
could have been concerned in it. Yet my detective told me that she was
the next person who went into the parlor."
"I do not know Miss Dawes so well," remarked Taylor, carelessly.
"But I do," said I; "and I would as soon suspect my sister of a
dishonorable act as this noble, self-sacrificing woman."
"The third person?" suggested Taylor.
I got up and crossed the floor. When my back was to him, I said,
quietly—"was Mrs. Walworth."
The silence that followed was very painful. I did not care to break
it, and he, doubtless, found himself unable to do so. It must have
been five minutes before either of us spoke; then he suddenly cried:
"Where is that detective, as you call him? I want to see him."
"Let me see him for you," said I. "I should hardly wish Sudley,
discreet as I consider him, to know you had any interest in this
Taylor rose and came to where I stood.
"You believe," said he, "that she, the woman I am about to marry, is
the one who wrote you that infamous letter?"
I faced him quite frankly. "I do not feel ready to acknowledge that,"
I replied. "One of those three women took my letter out from the
Bible, where I placed it; which of them wrote the lines that provoked
it I do not dare conjecture. You say it was not Mrs. Couldock, I say
it was not Miss Dawes, but—"
He broke in upon me impetuously.
"Have you the letter?" he asked.
I had, and showed it to him.
"It is not Helen's handwriting," he said.
"Nor is it that of Mrs. Couldock or Miss Dawes."
He looked at me for a moment in a wild sort of way.
"You think she got some one to write it for her?" he cried. "Helen! my
Helen! But it is not so; it cannot be so. Why, Huntley, to have sent
such a letter as that over the name of an innocent young girl, who,
but for the happy chance of meeting you as she did might never have
had the opportunity of righting herself in your estimation, argues a
cold and calculating selfishness closely allied to depravity. And my
Helen is an angel—or so I have always thought her."
The depth to which his voice sank in the last sentence showed that for
all his seeming confidence he was not without his doubts.
I began to feel very uncomfortable, and not knowing what consolation
to offer, I ventured upon the suggestion that he should see Mrs.
Walworth and frankly ask her whether she had been to the hotel on Main
Street on such a day, and if so, if she had seen a letter addressed
to Miss N—— lying on the table of the small parlor. His answer
showed how much his confidence in her had been shaken.
"A woman who, for the sake of paying some unworthy debt or of
gratifying some whim of feminine vanity, could make use of a young
girl's signature to obtain money, would not hesitate at any denial.
She would not even blench at my questions."
He was right.
"I must be convinced in some other way," he went on. "Mrs. Couldock or
Miss Dawes do not either of them possess any more truthful or
ingenuous countenance than she does, and though it seems madness to
suspect such women—"
"Wait," I broke in. "Let us be sure of all the facts before we go on.
You lie down here and close your eyes; now pull the rug up so. I will
have Sudley in and question him. If you do not turn towards the light
he will not know who you are."
Taylor followed my suggestion, and in a few moments Sudley stood
before me. I opened upon him quite carelessly.
"Sudley," said I, throwing down the newspaper I had been ostensibly
reading, "you remember that little business you did for me in Main
Street last month? Something I've been reading made me think of it
"Have you never had a conviction yourself as to which of the three
ladies you saw go into the parlor took the letter I left hid in the
"No, sir. You see I could not. All of them are well known in society
here and all of them belong to the most respectable families. I
wouldn't dare to choose between them, sir."
"Certainly not," I rejoined, "unless you have some good reason for
doing so, such as having been able to account for the visits of two of
the ladies to the hotel, and not of the third."
"They all had a good pretext for being there. Mrs. Couldock gave her
card to the boy before going into the parlor, and left as soon as he
returned with word that the lady she called to see was not in. Miss
Dawes gave no card, but asked for a Miss Terhune, I think, and did
not remain a moment after she was informed that that lady had left the
"And Mrs. Walworth?"
"She came in from the street adjusting her veil, and upon looking
around for a mirror was directed to the parlor, into which she at once
stepped. She remained there but a moment, and when she came out passed
directly into the street."
These words disconcerted me; the mirror was just over the table in the
small room, but I managed to remark nonchalantly:
"Could you not tell whether any of these three ladies opened the
"Not without seeming intrusive."
I sighed and dismissed the man. When he was gone I approached Taylor.
"He can give us no assistance," I cried.
My friend was already on his feet, looking very miserable.
"I know of only one thing to do," he remarked. "To-morrow I shall call
upon Mrs. Couldock and Miss Dawes, and entreat them to tell me if, for
any reason, they undertook to deliver a letter mysteriously left in
the Bible of the —— Hotel one day last month. They may have been
deputed to do so, and be quite willing to acknowledge it."
"And Mrs. Walworth? Will you not ask her the same question?"
He shook his head and turned away.
"Very well," said I to myself, "then I will."
Accordingly the next day I called upon Mrs. Walworth.
Taking her by the hand, I gently forced her to stand for a moment
where the light from the one window fell full upon her face. I said:
"You must pardon my intrusion upon you at a time when you are
naturally so busy, but there is something you can do for me that will
rid me of a great anxiety. You remember being in —— Hotel one
morning last month?"
She was looking quietly up at me, her lips parted, her eyes smiling
and expectant, but at the mention of that hotel I thought—and yet I
may have been mistaken—that a slight change took place in her
expression, if it was only that the glance grew more gentle and the
smile more marked.
But her voice when she answered was the same as that with which she
had uttered her greeting.
"I do not remember," she replied, "yet I may have been there; I go to
so many places. Why do you ask?" she inquired.
"Because if you were there on that morning—and I have been told you
were—you may be able to solve a question that is greatly perplexing
Still the same gentle, inquiring look on her face; only now there was
a little furrow of wonder or interest between the eyes.
"I had business in that hotel on that morning," I continued. "I had
left a letter for a young friend of mine in the Bible that lies on the
small table of the inner parlor, and as she never received it I have
been driven into making all kinds of inquiries in the hope of finding
some explanation of the fact. As you were there at the time you may
have seen something that would aid me. Is it not possible, Mrs.
Her smile, which had faded, reappeared. On the lips which Taylor so
much admired a little pout became visible, and she looked quite
"I do not even remember being at that hotel at all," she protested.
"Did Mr. Taylor say I was there?" she inquired, with just that added
look of exquisite näivete which the utterance of a lover's name should
call up on the face of a prospective bride.
"No," I answered gravely; "Mr. Taylor, unhappily, was not with you
that morning." She looked startled.
"Unhappily," she repeated. "What do you mean by that word?" And she
drew back looking very much displeased.
I had expected this, and so was not thrown off my guard.
"I mean," I proceeded calmly, "that if you had had such a companion
with you on that morning I should now be able to put my questions to
him, instead of taking your time and interrupting your affairs by my
"You will tell me just what you mean," said she, earnestly.
I was equally emphatic in my reply. "That is only just. You ought to
know why I trouble you with this matter. It is because this letter of
which I speak was taken from its hiding-place by some one who went
into the hotel parlor between the hours of 10:30 and 12 o'clock, and
as to my certain knowledge only three persons crossed its threshold on
that especial morning at that especial time, I naturally appeal to
each of them in turn for an answer to the problem that is troubling
me. You know Miss N——. Seeing by accident a letter addressed to her
lying in a Bible in a strange hotel, you might have thought it your
duty to take it out and carry it to her. If you did and if you lost
"But I didn't," she interrupted, warmly. "I know nothing about any
such letter, and if you had not declared so positively that I was in
that hotel on that especial day I should be tempted to deny that too,
for I have no recollection of going there last month."
"Not for the purpose of rearranging a veil that had been blown off?"
"Oh!" she said, but as one who recalls a forgotten fact, not as one
who is tripped up in an evasion.I began to think her innocent, and lost some of the gloom which had
been oppressing me.
"You remember now?" said I.
"Oh, yes, I remember that."
Her manner so completely declared that her acknowledgments stopped
there, I saw it would be useless to venture further. If she were
innocent she could not tell more, if she were guilty she would not;
so, feeling that the inclination of my belief was in favor of the
former hypothesis, I again took her hand, and said:
"I see that you can give me no help. I am sorry, for the whole
happiness of a man, and perhaps that of a woman also, depends upon the
discovery as to who took the letter from out the Bible where I had
hidden it on that unfortunate morning." And, making her another low
bow, I was about to take my departure, when she grasped me impulsively
by the arm.
"What man?" she whispered; and in a lower tone still, "What woman?"
I turned and looked at her. "Great heaven!" thought I, "can such a
face hide a selfish and intriguing heart?" and in a flash I summoned
up in comparison before me the plain, honest, and reliable countenance
of Mrs. Couldock and that of the comely and unpretending Miss Dawes,
and knew not what to think.
"You do not mean yourself?" she continued, as she met my look of
"No," I returned; "happily for me my welfare is not bound up in the
honor of any woman." And leaving that shaft to work its way into her
heart, if that heart were vulnerable, I took my leave, more troubled
and less decided than when I entered.
For her manner had been absolutely that of a woman surprised by
insinuations she was too innocent to rate at their real importance.
And yet, if she did not take away that letter, who did? Mrs. Couldock?
Impossible. Miss Dawes? The thought was untenable, even for an
instant. I waited in great depression of spirits for the call I knew
Taylor would not fail to make that evening.
When he came I saw what the result of my revelations was likely to be
as plainly as I see it now. He had conversed frankly with Mrs.
Couldock and with Miss Dawes, and was perfectly convinced as to the
utter ignorance of them both in regard to the whole affair. In
consequence, Mrs. Walworth was guilty in his estimation, and being
held guilty could be no wife for him, much as he had loved her, and
urgent as may have been the cause for her act.
"But," said I, in some horror of the consequences of an interference
for which I was almost ready to blame myself now, "Mrs. Couldock and
Miss Dawes could have done no more than deny all knowledge of this
letter. Now Mrs. Walworth does that, and—"
"You have seen her? You have asked her—"
"Yes, I have seen her, and I have asked her, and not an eyelash
drooped as she affirmed a complete ignorance of the whole affair."
Taylor's head fell.
"I told you how that would be," he murmured at last. "I cannot feel
that it is any proof of her innocence. Or rather," he added, "I should
always have my doubts."
"And Mrs. Couldock and Miss Dawes?"
"Ah!" he cried, rising and turning away; "there is no question of
marriage between either of them and myself."
I was therefore not astonished when the week went by and no
announcement of his wedding appeared. But I was troubled and am
troubled still, for if mistakes are made in criminal courts, and the
innocent sometimes, through the sheer force of circumstantial
evidence, are made to suffer for the guilty, might it not be that in
this little question of morals Mrs. Walworth has been wronged, and
that when I played the part of arbitrator in her fate, I only
succeeded in separating two hearts whose right it was to be made
It is impossible to tell, nor is time likely to solve the riddle. Must
I then forever blame myself, or did I only do in this matter what any
honest man would have done in my place? Answer me, some one, for I do
not find my lonely bachelor life in any wise brightened by the doubt,
and would be grateful to any one who would relieve me of it.