The Drift Of Fate by Stanley J.
On a certain morning in last June I was stooping to fasten a shoelace,
having taken advantage for the purpose of the step of a corner house
in St. James' Square, when a man passing behind me stopped.
"Well!" said he aloud, after a short pause during which I wondered--I
could not see him--what he was doing, "the meanness of these rich folk
is disgusting! Not a coat of paint for a twelvemonth! I should be
ashamed to own a house and leave it like that!"
The man was a stranger to me, and his words seemed as uncalled for as
they were ill-natured. But being thus challenged I looked at the
house. It was a great stone mansion with a balustrade atop, with many
windows and a long stretch of area railings. And, certainly it was
shabby. I turned from it to the critic. He was shabby, too--a little
red-nosed man, wearing a bad hat. "It is just possible," I suggested,
"that the owner may be a poor man and unable to keep it in order."
"Ugh! What has that to do with it?" my new friend answered
contemptuously. "He ought to think of the public."
"And your hat?" I asked, with wining politeness. "It strikes me, an
unprejudiced observer, as a bad hat. Why do you not get a new one?"
"Cannot afford it!" he snapped out, his dull eyes sparkling with rage.
"Cannot afford it? But, my good man, you ought to think of the
"You tom-cat! What have you to do with my hat? Smother you!" was his
kindly answer; and he went on his way muttering things uncomplimentary.
I was about to go mine, and was first falling back to gain a better
view of the house in question, when a chuckle close to me betrayed the
presence of a listener, a thin, gray-haired man, who, hidden by a
pillar of the porch, must have heard our discussion. His hands were
engaged with a white tablecloth, from which he had been shaking the
crumbs. He had the air of an upper servant of the best class. As our
eyes met he spoke.
"Neatly put, sir, if I may take the liberty of saying so," he observed
with a quiet dignity it was a pleasure to witness, "and we are very
much obliged to you. The man was a snob, sir."
"I am afraid he was," I answered; "and a fool too."
"And a fool, sir. Answer a fool after his folly. You did that, and he
was nowhere; nowhere at all, except in the swearing line. Now might I
ask," he continued, "if you are an American, sir?"
"No, I am not," I answered; "but I have spent some time in the
I could have fancied that he sighed.
"I thought--but never mind, sir," he began, "I was wrong, It is
curious how very much alike gentlemen, that are real gentlemen, speak.
Now, I dare swear, sir, that you have a taste for pictures."
I was inclined to humor the old fellow's mood. "I like a good picture,
I admit," I said.
"Then perhaps you would not be offended if I asked you to step inside
and look at one or two," he suggested timidly. "I would not take a
liberty, sir, but there are some Van Dycks and a Rubens in the dining
room that cost a mint of money in their day, I have heard; and there
is no one else in the house but my wife and myself."
It was a strange invitation, strangely brought about. But I saw no
reason for myself why I should not accept it, and I followed him into
the hall. It was spacious, but sparsely furnished. The matted floor
had a cold look, and so had the gaunt stand which seemed to be a
fixture, and boasted but one umbrella, one sunshade, and one dog-whip.
As I passed a half-open door I caught a glimpse of a small room
prettily furnished, with dainty prints and water-colors on the walls.
But these were of a common order. A dozen replicas of each and all
might be seen in a walk through Bond Street. Even this oasis of taste
and comfort told the same story as had the bare hall and dreary
exterior; and laid, as it were, a finger on one's heart. I trod softly
as I followed my guide along the strip of matting toward the rear of
He opened a door at the inner end of the hall, and led me into a large
and lofty room, built out from the back, as a state dining room or
ballroom. At present it rather resembled the latter, for it was
without furniture. "Now," said the old man, turning and respectfully
touching my sleeve to gain my attention, "now you will not consider
your labor lost in coming to see that, sir. It is a portrait of the
second Lord Wetherby by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, and is judged to be one
of the finest specimens of his style in existence."
I was lost in astonishment; amazed, almost appalled! My companion
stood by my side, his face wearing a placid smile of satisfaction, his
hand pointing slightly upward to the blank wall before us. The blank
wall! Of any picture, there or elsewhere in the room, there was no
sign. I turned to him and then from him, and I felt very sick at
heart. The poor old fellow was--must be--mad. I gazed blankly at the
blank wall. "By Van Dyck?" I repeated mechanically.
"Yes, sir, by Van Dyck," he replied, in the most matter-of-fact
tone imaginable. "So, too, is this one;" he moved, as he spoke, a few
feet to his left. "The second peer's first wife in the costume of a
lady-in-waiting. This portrait and the last are in as good a state of
preservation as on the day they were painted."
Oh, certainly mad! And yet so graphic was his manner, so crisp and
realistic were his words, that I rubbed my eyes; and looked and looked
again, and almost fancied that Lord Walter and Anne, his wife, grew
into shape before me on the wall. Almost, but not quite; and it was
with a heart full of wondering pity that I accompanied the old man, in
whose manner there was no trace of wildness or excitement, round the
walls; visiting in turn the Cuyp which my lord bought in Holland, the
Rubens, the four Lawrences, and the Philips--a very Barmecide feast of
art. I could not doubt that the old man saw the pictures. But I saw
only bare walls.
"Now I think you have seen them, family portraits and all," he
concluded, as we came to the doorway again; stating the fact, which
was no fact, with complacent pride. "They are fine pictures, sir.
They, at least, are left, although the house is not what it was."
"Very fine pictures!" I remarked. I was minded to learn if he were
sane on other points. "Lord Wetherby," I said; "I should suppose that
he is not in London?"
"I do not know, sir, one way or the other," the servant answered with
a new air of reserve. "This is not his lordship's house. Mrs. Wigram,
my late lord's daughter-in-law, lives here."
"But this is the Wetherbys' town house," I persisted. I knew so much.
"It was my late lord's house. At his son's marriage it was settled
upon Mrs. Wigram; and little enough besides, God knows!" he exclaimed
querulously. "It was Mr. Alfred's wish that some land should be
settled upon his wife, but there was none out of the entail, and my
lord, who did not like the match, though he lived to be fond enough of
the mistress afterward, said, 'Settle the house in town!' in a bitter
kind of joke like. So the house was settled, and five hundred pounds a
year. Mr. Alfred died abroad, as you may know, sir, and my lord was
not long in following him."
He was closing the shutters of one window after another as he spoke.
The room had sunk into deep gloom. I could imagine now that the
pictures were really where he fancied them. "And Lord Wetherby, the
late peer?" I asked, after a pause, "did he leave his daughter-in-law
"My lord died suddenly, leaving no will," he replied sadly. "That
is how it all is. And the present peer, who was only a second
cousin--well, I say nothing about him." A reticence which was well
calculated to consign his lordship to the lowest deep.
"He did not help?" I asked.
"Devil a bit, begging your pardon, sir. But there--it is not my place
to talk of these things. I doubt I have wearied you with talk about
the family. It is not my way," he added, as if wondering at himself,
"only something in what you said seemed to touch a chord like."
By this time we were outside the room, standing at the inner end of
the hall, while he fumbled with the lock of the door. Short passages
ending in swing doors ran out right and left from this point, and
through one of these a tidy, middle-aged woman, wearing an apron,
suddenly emerged. At sight of me she looked greatly astonished. "I
have been showing the gentleman the pictures," said my guide, who was
still occupied with the door.
A quick flash of pain altered and hardened the woman's face. "I have
been very much interested, madam," I said softly.
Her gaze left me, to dwell upon the old man with infinite affection.
"John had no right to bring you in, sir," she said primly. "I have
never known him do such a thing before, and--Lord 'a' mercy! there is
the mistress's knock. Go, John, and let her in; and this gentleman,"
with an inquisitive look at me, "will not mind stepping a bit aside,
while her ladyship goes upstairs."
"Certainly not," I answered. I hastened to draw back into one of the
side passages, into the darkest corner of it, and there stood leaning
against the cool panels, my hat in my hand.
In the short pause which ensued before John opened the door she
whispered to me, "You have not told him, sir?"
"About the pictures?"
"Yes, sir. He is blind, you see."
"Blind?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir, this year and more; and when the pictures were taken
away--by the present earl--that he had known all his life, and
been so proud to show to people just the same as if they had been his
own--why, it seemed a shame to tell him. I have never had the heart to
do it, and he thinks they are there to this day."
Blind! I had never thought of that; and while I was grasping the idea
now, and fitting it to the facts, a light footstep sounded in the hall
and a woman's voice on the stairs; such a voice and such a footstep,
that, as it seemed to me, a man, if nothing else were left to him,
might find home in them alone. "Your mistress," I said presently, when
the sounds had died away upon the floor above, "has a sweet voice; but
has not something annoyed her?"
"Well, I never should have thought that you would have noticed that!"
exclaimed the housekeeper, who was, I dare say, many other things
besides housekeeper. "You have a sharp ear, sir; that I will say. Yes,
there is a something has gone wrong; but to think that an American
gentleman should have noticed it!"
"I am not American," I said, perhaps testily.
"Oh, indeed, sir. I beg your pardon, I am sure. It was just your way
of speaking made me think it," she replied; and then there came a
second louder rap at the door, as John, who had gone upstairs with his
mistress, came down in a leisurely fashion.
"That is Lord Wetherby, drat him!" he said, on his wife calling to him
in a low voice; he was ignorant, I think, of my presence. "He is to be
shown into the library, and the mistress will see him there in five
minutes; and you are to go to her room. Oh, rap away!" he added,
turning toward the door, and shaking his fist at it. "There is many a
better man than you has waited longer at that door."
"Hush, John! Do you not see the gentleman?" interposed his wife, with
the simplicity of habit. "He will show you out," she added rapidly to
me, "as soon as his lordship has gone in, if you do not mind waiting
"Not at all," I said, drawing back into the corner as they went on
their errands; but though I said, "Not at all," mine was an odd
position. The way in which I had come into the house, and my present
situation in a kind of hiding, would have made most men only anxious
to extricate themselves. But I, while listening to John parleying with
someone at the door, conceived a strange desire, or a desire which
would have been strange in any other man, to see this thing to the
end; conceived it and acted upon it.
The library? That was the room on the right of the hall, opposite to
Mrs. Wigram's sitting room. Probably, nay I was certain, it had
another door opening on the passage in which I stood. It would cost me
but a step or two to confirm my opinion. When John ushered in the
visitor by one door I had already, by way of the other, ensconced
myself behind a screen, that I seemed to know would face it. I was
going to listen. Perhaps I had my reasons. Perhaps--but there, what
matter? I, as a fact, listened.
The room was spacious but somber, wainscoted and vaulted with oak. Its
only visible occupant was a thin, dark man of middle size, with a
narrow face, and a stubborn feather of black hair rising above his
forehead; a man of Welsh type. He was standing with his back to the
light, a roll of papers in one hand. The fingers of the other,
drumming upon the table, betrayed that he was both out of temper and
ill at ease. While I was still scanning him stealthily--I had never
seen him before--the door was opened, and Mrs. Wigram came in. I sank
back behind the screen. I think some words passed, some greeting of
the most formal, but though the room was still, I failed to hear it,
and when I recovered myself he was speaking.
"I am here at your wish, Mrs. Wigram, and your service, too," he was
saying, with an effort at gallantry which sat very ill upon him,
"although I think it would have been better if we had left the matter
to our solicitors."
"Yes. I fancied you were aware of my opinion."
"I was; and I perfectly understand, Lord Wetherby, your preference for
that course," she replied, with sarcastic coldness, which did not hide
her dislike for him. "You naturally shrink from telling me your terms
face to face."
"Now, Mrs. Wigram! Now, Mrs. Wigram! Is not this a tone to be
deprecated?" he answered, lifting his hands. "I come to you as a man
of business upon business."
"Business! Does that mean wringing advantage from my weakness?" she
He shrugged his shoulders. "I do deprecate this tone," he repeated. "I
come in plain English to make you an offer; one which you can accept
or refuse as you please. I offer you five hundred a year for this
house. It is immensely too large for your needs, and too expensive for
your income, and yet you have in strictness no power to let it. Very
well, I, who can release you from that restriction, offer you five
hundred a year for the house. What can be more fair?"
"Fair? In plain English, Lord Wetherby, you are the only possible
purchaser, and you fix the price. Is that fair? The house would let
easily for twelve hundred."
"Possibly," he retorted, "if it were in the open market. But it is
"No," she answered rapidly. "And you, having the forty thousand a year
which, had my husband lived, would have been his and mine; you who, a
poor man, have stepped into this inheritance--you offer me five
hundred for the family house! For shame, my lord! for shame!"
"We are not acting a play," he said doggedly, showing that her words
had stung him in some degree. "The law is the law. I ask for nothing
but my rights, and one of those I am willing to waive in your favor.
You have my offer."
"And if I refuse it? If I let the house? You will not dare to enforce
"Try me," he rejoined, again drumming with his fingers upon the table.
"Try me, and you will see."
"If my husband had lived----"
"But he did not live," he broke in, losing patience, "and that makes
all the difference. Now, for Heaven's sake, Mrs. Wigram, do not make a
scene! Do you accept my offer?"
For a moment she had seemed about to break down, but her pride coming
to the rescue, she recovered herself with wonderful quickness.
"I have no choice," she said, with dignity.
"I am glad you accept," he answered, so much relieved that he gave way
to an absurd burst of generosity. "Come!" he cried, "we will say
guineas instead of pounds, and have done with it!"
She looked at him in wonder. "No, Lord Wetherby," she said, "I
accepted your terms. I prefer to keep to them. You said that you would
bring the necessary papers with you. If you have done so I will sign
them now, and my servants can witness them."
"I have the draft, and the lawyer's clerk is no doubt in the house,"
he answered. "I left directions for him to be here at eleven."
"I do not think he is in the house," the lady answered. "I should know
if he were here."
"Not here!" he cried angrily. "Why not, I wonder! But I have the
skeleton lease. It is very short, and to save delay I will fill in the
particulars, names, and so forth myself, if you will permit me to do
so. It will not take me twenty minutes."
"As you please. You will find a pen and ink on the table. If you will
kindly ring the bell when you are ready, I will come and bring the
"Thank you; you are very good," he said smoothly; adding, when she had
left the room. "And the devil take your impudence, madam! As for your
cursed pride--well, it has saved me twenty-five pounds a year, and so
you are welcome to it. I was a fool to make the offer." And with that,
now grumbling at the absence of the lawyer's clerk and now
congratulating himself on the saving of a lawyer's fee, my lord sat
down to his task.
A hansom cab on its way to the East India Club rattled through the
square, and under cover of the noise I stole out from behind the
screen, and stood in the middle of the room, looking down at the
unconscious worker. If for a minute I felt strongly the desire to
raise my hand and give his lordship such a surprise as he had never in
his life experienced, any other man might have felt the same; and, as
it was, I put it away and only looked quietly about me. Some rays of
sunshine, piercing the corner pane of a dulled window, fell on and
glorified the Wetherby coat of arms blazoned over the wide fireplace,
and so created the one bright spot in the bare, dismantled room, which
had once, unless the tiers of empty shelves and the yet lingering odor
of Russia lied, been lined from floor to ceiling with books. My lord
had taken the furniture; my lord had taken the books; my lord had
taken--nothing but his rights.
Retreating softly to the door by which I had entered, and rattling the
handle, I advanced afresh into the room. "Will your lordship allow
me?" I said, after I had in vain coughed twice to gain his attention.
He turned hastily and looked at me with a face full of suspicion. Some
surprise on finding another person in the room and close to him was
natural; but possibly, also, there was something in the atmosphere of
that house which threw his nerves off their balance. "Who are you?" he
cried, in a tone which matched his face.
"You left orders, my lord," I explained, "with Messrs. Duggan & Poole
that a clerk should attend here at eleven. I very much regret that
some delay has unavoidably been caused."
"Oh, you are the clerk!" he replied ungraciously. "You do not look
much like a lawyer's clerk."
Involuntarily I glanced aside and saw in a mirror the reflection of a
tall man with a thick beard and mustaches, gray eyes, and an ugly scar
seaming the face from ear to ear. "Yet I hope to give you full
satisfaction, my lord," I murmured, dropping my eyes. "It was
understood that you needed a confidential clerk."
"Well, well, sir, to your work!" he replied irritably. "Better late
than never. And after all it may be preferable for you to be here and
see it duly executed. Only you will not forget," he continued hastily,
with a glance at the papers, "that I have myself copied four--well,
three--three full folios, sir, for which an allowance must be made.
But there! Get on with your work. The handwriting will speak for
I obeyed, and wrote on steadily, while the earl walked up and down the
room, or stood at a window. Upstairs sat Mrs. Wigram, schooling
herself, I dare swear, to take this one favor that was no favor from
the man who had dealt out to her such hard measure. Outside a casual
passer through the square glanced up at the great house, and seeing
the bent head of the secretary and the figure of his companion moving
to and fro, saw, as he thought, nothing unusual; nor had any
presentiment--how should he?--of the strange scene which the room with
the dingy windows was about to witness.
I had been writing for perhaps five minutes when Lord Wetherby stopped
in his passage behind me and looked over my shoulder. With a jerk his
eye-glasses fell, touching my shoulder.
"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed, "I have seen your handwriting
somewhere; and lately too. Where could it have been?"
"Probably among the family papers, my lord," I answered. "I have
several times been engaged in the family business in the time of the
late Lord Wetherby."
"Indeed!" There were both curiosity and suspicion in his utterance of
the word. "You knew him?"
"Yes, my lord. I have written for him in this very room, and he has
walked up and down, and dictated to me, as you might be doing now," I
His lordship stopped his pacing to and fro, and retreated to the
window on the instant. But I could see that he was interested, and I
was not surprised when he continued, with transparent carelessness, "A
strange coincidence! And may I ask what it was upon which you were
"At that time?" I answered, looking him in the face. "It was a will,
He started and frowned, and abruptly resumed his walk up and down. But
I saw that he had a better conscience than I had given him the credit
of possessing. My shot had not struck fairly where I had looked to
place it; and finding this was so, I turned the thing over afresh,
while I pursued my copying. When I had finished, I asked him--I think
he was busy at the time cursing the absence of tact in the lower
orders--if he would go through the instrument; and he took my seat.
Where I stood behind him, I was not far from the fireplace. While he
muttered to himself the legal jargon in which he was as well versed as
a lawyer bred in an office, I moved to it; and, neither missed nor
suspected, stood looking from his bent figure to the blazoned shield
which formed part of the mantelpiece. If I wavered, my hesitation
lasted but a few seconds. Then, raising my voice, I called sharply,
"My lord, there used to be here----"
He turned swiftly, and saw where I was.
"What the deuce are you doing there, sir?" he cried, in boundless
astonishment, rising to his feet and coming toward me, the pen in his
hand and his face aflame with anger. "You forget----"
"A safe--a concealed safe for papers," I continued, cutting him short
in my turn. "I have seen the late Lord Wetherby place papers in it
more than once. The spring worked from here. You touch this knob----"
"Leave it alone, sir!" cried the peer furiously.
He spoke too late. The shield had swung gently outward on a hinge,
door-fashion, and where it had been gaped a small open safe, lined
with cement. The rays of sunshine, that a few minutes before had
picked out so brightly the gaudy quarterings, now fell on a large
envelope which lay apart on a shelf. It was as clean as if it had been
put there that morning. No doubt the safe was airtight. I laid my hand
upon it. "My lord!" I cried, turning to look at him with ill-concealed
exultation, "here is a paper--I think, a will!"
A moment before the veins of his forehead had been swollen, his face
dark with the rush of blood. His anger died down, at sight of the
packet, with strange abruptness. He regained his self-control, and a
moment saw him pale and calm, all show of resentment confined to a
wicked gleam in his eye. "A will!" he repeated, with a certain kind of
dignity, though the hand he stretched out to take the envelope shook.
"Indeed! Then it is my place to examine it. I am the heir-at-law, and
I am within my rights, sir."
I feared that he was going to put the parcel into his pocket and
dismiss me, and I was considering what course I should take in that
event, when instead he carried the envelope to the table by the
window, and tore off the cover without ceremony. "It is not in your
handwriting?" were his first words, and he looked at me with a
distrust that was almost superstitious. No doubt my sudden entrance,
my ominous talk, and my discovery seemed to him to savor of the devil.
"No," I replied, unmoved. "I told your lordship that I had written a
will at the late Lord Wetherby's dictation. I did not say--for how
could I know?--that it was this one."
"Ah!" He hastily smoothed the sheets, and ran his eyes over their
contents. When he reached the last page there was a dark scowl on his
face, and he stood a while staring at the signatures; not now reading,
I think, but collecting his thoughts. "You know the provisions of
this?" he presently burst forth with violence, dashing the back of his
hand against the paper. "I say, sir, you know the provisions of this?"
"I do not, my lord," I answered. Nor did I.
"The unjust provisions of this will!" he repeated, passing over my
negative as if it had not been uttered. "Fifty thousand pounds to a
woman who had not a penny when she married his son! Ay, and the
interest on another hundred thousand for her life! Why, it is a
prodigious income, an abnormal income, for a woman! And out of whose
pocket is it to come? Out of mine, every stiver of it! It is
monstrous! I say it is! How am I to keep up the title on the income
left to me, I should like to know?"
I marveled. I remembered how rich he was. I could not refrain from
suggesting that he had still remaining all the real property. "And," I
added, "I understood, my lord, that the testator's personalty was
sworn under four hundred thousand pounds."
"You talk nonsense!" he snarled. "Look at the legacies! Five thousand
here, and a thousand there, and hundreds like berries on a bush! It is
a fortune, a decent fortune, clean frittered away! A barren title is
all that will be left to me!"
What was he going to do? His face was gloomy, his hands were
twitching. "Who are the witnesses, my lord?" I asked, in a low voice.
So low--for, under certain conditions, a tone conveys much, very
much--that he shot a stealthy glance toward the door before he
answered, "John Williams."
"Blind," I replied, in the same low tone.
"He is dead. He was Mr. Alfred's valet. I remember reading in the
newspaper that he was with his master, and was killed by the Indians
at the same time."
"True. I remember that that was the case," he answered huskily. "And
the handwriting is Lord Wetherby's." I assented. Then for fully a
minute we were silent, while he bent over the will, and I stood behind
him looking down at him, with thoughts in my mind which he could as
little fathom as could the senseless wood upon which I leaned. Yet I,
too, mistook him. I thought him, to be plain, a scoundrel; and--well,
so he was, but a mean one. "What is to be done?" he muttered at
length, speaking rather to himself than to me.
I answered softly, "I am a poor man, my lord," while inwardly I was
quoting, "Quem Deus vult perdere."
My words startled him. He answered hurriedly: "Just so! just so! So
shall I be when this cursed paper takes effect. A very poor man! A
hundred and fifty thousand gone at a blow! But there, she shall have
it! She shall have every penny of it; only," he continued slowly, "I
do not see what difference one more day will make."
I followed his downcast eyes, which moved from the will before him to
the agreement for the lease of the house; and I did see what
difference a day would make. I saw and understood and wondered. He had
not the courage to suppress the will; but if he could gain a slight
advantage by withholding it for a few hours, he had the mind to do
that. Mrs. Wigram, a rich woman, would no longer let the house; she
would be under no compulsion to do so; and my lord would lose a cheap
residence as well as his hundred and fifty thousand pounds. To the
latter loss he could resign himself with a sigh; but he could not bear
to forego the petty gain for which he had schemed. "I think I
understand, my lord," I replied.
"Of course," he resumed nervously, "you must be rewarded for making
this discovery. I will see that it is so. You may depend upon me. I
will mention the case to Mrs. Wigram, and--and, in fact, my friend,
you may depend upon me."
"That will not do," I said firmly. "If that be all, I had better go to
Mrs. Wigram at once, and claim my reward a day earlier."
He grew very red in the face at receiving this check. "You will not,
in that event, get my good word," he said.
"Which has no weight with the lady," I answered politely but plainly.
"How dare you speak so to me?" his lordship cried. "You are an
impertinent fellow! But there! How much do you want?"
"A hundred pounds."
"A hundred pounds for a mere day's delay, which will do no one any
"Except Mrs. Wigram," I retorted dryly. "Come, Lord Wetherby, this
lease is worth a thousand a year to you. Mrs. Wigram, as you well
know, will not voluntarily let the house to you. If you would have
Wetherby House you must pay me. That is the long and the short of it."
"You are an impertinent fellow!" he repeated.
"So you have said before, my lord."
I expected him to burst into a furious passion, but I suppose there
was a something of power in my tone, beyond the mere defiance which
the words expressed; for, instead of doing so, he eyed me with a
thoughtful, malevolent gaze, and paused to consider. "You are at
Duggan & Poole's," he said slowly. "How was it that they did not
search this cupboard, with which you were acquainted?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I have not been in the house since Lord
Wetherby died," I said. "My employers did not consult me when the
papers he left were examined."
"You are not a member of the firm?"
"No, I am not," I answered. I was thinking that, so far as I knew
those respectable gentlemen, no one of them would have helped my lord
in this for ten times a hundred pounds. My lord! Faugh!
He seemed satisfied, and taking out a notecase laid on the table a
little pile of notes. "There is your money," he said, counting them
over with reluctant fingers. "Be good enough to put the will and
envelope back into the cupboard. Tomorrow you will oblige me by
rediscovering it--you can manage that, no doubt--and giving
information at once to Messrs. Duggan & Poole, or Mrs. Wigram, as you
please. Now," he continued, when I had obeyed him, "will you be good
enough to ask the servants to tell Mrs. Wigram that I am waiting?"
There was a slight noise behind us. "I am here," said someone. I am
sure that we both jumped at the sound, for though I did not look that
way, I knew that the voice was Mrs. Wigram's, and that she was in the
room. "I have come to tell you, Lord Wetherby," she went on, "that I
have an engagement from home at twelve. Do I understand, however, that
you are ready? If so, I will call in Mrs. Williams."
"The papers are ready for signature," the peer answered, betraying
some confusion, "and I am ready to sign. I shall be glad to have the
matter settled as agreed." Then he turned to me, where I had fallen
back, as seemed becoming, to the end of the room, and said, "Be good
enough to ring the bell, if Mrs. Wigram permit it."
As I moved to the fireplace to do so, I was conscious that the lady
was regarding me with some faint surprise. But when I had regained my
position and looked toward her, she was standing near the window,
gazing steadily out into the square, an expression of disdain rendered
by face and figure. Shall I confess that it was a joy to me to see her
fair head so high, and to read, even in the outline of her girlish
form, a contempt which I, and I only, knew to be so justly based? For
myself, I leaned against the edge of the screen by the door, and
perhaps my hundred pounds lay heavily on my heart. As for him, he
fidgeted with his papers, although they were all in order, and was
visibly impatient to get his bit of knavery accomplished. Oh, he was a
worthy man! And Welshman!
"Perhaps," he presently suggested, for the sake of saying something,
"while your servant is coming, you will read the agreement, Mrs.
Wigram. It is very short, and, as you know, your solicitors have
already seen it in the draft."
She bowed, and took the paper negligently. She read some way down the
first sheet with a smile, half careless, half contemptuous. Then
I saw her stop--she had turned her back to the window to obtain more
light--and dwell on a particular sentence. I saw--God! I had forgotten
the handwriting!--I saw her gray eyes grow large, and fear leap into
them, as she grasped the paper with her other hand, and stepped nearer
to the peer's side. "Who?" she cried. "Who wrote this? Tell me! Do you
hear? Tell me quickly!"
He was nervous on his own account, wrapped in his own piece of
scheming, and obtuse.
"I wrote it," he said, with maddening complacency. He put up his
glasses and glanced at the top of the page she held out to him. "I
wrote it myself, and I can assure you that it is quite right, and a
faithful copy. You do not think----"
"Think! think! No! no. This, I mean! Who wrote this?" she cried, awe
in her face, and a suppliant tone, strange as addressed to that man,
in her voice.
He was confounded by her vehemence, as well as hampered by his own
"The clerk, Mrs. Wigram, the clerk," he said petulantly, still in his
fog of selfishness. "The clerk from Messrs. Duggan & Poole's."
"Where is he?" she cried out breathlessly. I think she did not believe
"Where is he?" he repeated, in querulous surprise. "Why here, of
course. Where should he be, madam? He will witness my signature."
Would he? Signatures! It was little of signatures I recked at that
moment. I was praying to Heaven that my folly might be forgiven me;
and that my lightly planned vengeance might not fall on my own head.
"Joy does not kill," I was saying to myself, repeating it over and
over again, and clinging to it desperately. "Joy does not kill!" But
oh! was it true? in face of that white-lipped woman!
"Here!" She did not say more, but gazing at me with great dazed eyes,
she raised her hand and beckoned to me. And I had no choice but to
obey; to go nearer to her, out into the light.
"Mrs. Wigram," I said hoarsely, my voice sounding to me only as a
whisper, "I have news of your late--of your husband. It is good news."
"Good news?" Did she faintly echo my words? or, as her face, from
which all color had passed, peered into mine, and searched it in
infinite hope and infinite fear, did our two minds speak without need
of physical lips? "Good news?"
"Yes," I whispered. "He is alive. The Indians did not----"
"Alfred!" Her cry rang through the room, and with it I caught her in
my arms as she fell. Beard and long hair, and scar and sunburn, and
strange dress--these which had deceived others were no disguise to
her--my wife. I bore her gently to the couch, and hung over her in a
new paroxysm of fear. "A doctor! Quick! A doctor!" I cried to Mrs.
Williams, who was already kneeling beside her. "Do not tell me," I
added piteously, "that I have killed her!"
"No! no! no!" the good woman answered, the tears running down her
face. "Joy does not kill!"
An hour later this fear had been lifted from me, and I was walking up
and down the library alone with my thankfulness; glad to be alone, yet
more glad, more thankful still, when John came in with a beaming face.
"You have come to tell me," I cried eagerly, pleased that the tidings
had come by his lips, "to go to her? That she will see me?"
"Her ladyship is sitting up," he replied.
"And Lord Wetherby?" I asked, pausing at the door to put the question.
"He left the house at once?"
"Yes, my lord, Mr. Wigram has been gone some time."