THE DEAD ALIVE
By Wilkie Collins
THE SICK MAN
THE NEW FACES
THE MOONLIGHT MEETING
THE BEECHEN STICK
THE NEWS FROM NARRABEE
THE MATERIALS IN THE DEFENSE
THE SHERIFF AND THE GOVERNOR
THE PEBBLE AND THE WINDOW
THE END OF IT
CHAPTER I. THE SICK MAN.
"HEART all right," said the doctor. "Lungs all right. No organic disease
that I can discover. Philip Lefrank, don't alarm yourself. You are not
going to die yet. The disease you are suffering from is—overwork.
The remedy in your case is—rest."
So the doctor spoke, in my chambers in the Temple (London); having been
sent for to see me about half an hour after I had alarmed my clerk by
fainting at my desk. I have no wish to intrude myself needlessly on the
reader's attention; but it may be necessary to add, in the way of
explanation, that I am a "junior" barrister in good practice. I come from
the channel Island of Jersey. The French spelling of my name (Lefranc) was
Anglicized generations since—in the days when the letter "k" was
still used in England at the end of words which now terminate in "c." We
hold our heads high, nevertheless, as a Jersey family. It is to this day a
trial to my father to hear his son described as a member of the English
"Rest!" I repeated, when my medical adviser had done. "My good friend, are
you aware that it is term-time? The courts are sitting. Look at the briefs
waiting for me on that table! Rest means ruin in my case."
"And work," added the doctor, quietly, "means death."
I started. He was not trying to frighten me: he was plainly in earnest.
"It is merely a question of time," he went on. "You have a fine
constitution; you are a young man; but you cannot deliberately overwork
your brain, and derange your nervous system, much longer. Go away at once.
If you are a good sailor, take a sea-voyage. The ocean air is the best of
all air to build you up again. No: I don't want to write a prescription. I
decline to physic you. I have no more to say."
With these words my medical friend left the room. I was obstinate: I went
into court the same day.
The senior counsel in the case on which I was engaged applied to me for
some information which it was my duty to give him. To my horror and
amazement, I was perfectly unable to collect my ideas; facts and dates all
mingled together confusedly in my mind. I was led out of court thoroughly
terrified about myself. The next day my briefs went back to the attorneys;
and I followed my doctor's advice by taking my passage for America in the
first steamer that sailed for New York.
I had chosen the voyage to America in preference to any other trip by sea,
with a special object in view. A relative of my mother's had emigrated to
the United States many years since, and had thriven there as a farmer. He
had given me a general invitation to visit him if I ever crossed the
Atlantic. The long period of inaction, under the name of rest, to
which the doctor's decision had condemned me, could hardly be more
pleasantly occupied, as I thought, than by paying a visit to my relation,
and seeing what I could of America in that way. After a brief sojourn at
New York, I started by railway for the residence of my host—Mr.
Isaac Meadowcroft, of Morwick Farm.
There are some of the grandest natural prospects on the face of creation
in America. There is also to be found in certain States of the Union, by
way of wholesome contrast, scenery as flat, as monotonous, and as
uninteresting to the traveler, as any that the earth can show. The part of
the country in which M. Meadowcroft's farm was situated fell within this
latter category. I looked round me when I stepped out of the
railway-carriage on the platform at Morwick Station; and I said to myself,
"If to be cured means, in my case, to be dull, I have accurately picked
out the very place for the purpose."
I look back at those words by the light of later events; and I pronounce
them, as you will soon pronounce them, to be the words of an essentially
rash man, whose hasty judgment never stopped to consider what surprises
time and chance together might have in store for him.
Mr. Meadowcroft's eldest son, Ambrose, was waiting at the station to drive
me to the farm.
There was no forewarning, in the appearance of Ambrose Meadowcroft, of the
strange and terrible events that were to follow my arrival at Morwick. A
healthy, handsome young fellow, one of thousands of other healthy,
handsome young fellows, said, "How d'ye do, Mr. Lefrank? Glad to see you,
sir. Jump into the buggy; the man will look after your portmanteau." With
equally conventional politeness I answered, "Thank you. How are you all at
home?" So we started on the way to the farm.
Our conversation on the drive began with the subjects of agriculture and
breeding. I displayed my total ignorance of crops and cattle before we had
traveled ten yards on our journey. Ambrose Meadowcroft cast about for
another topic, and failed to find it. Upon this I cast about on my side,
and asked, at a venture, if I had chosen a convenient time for my visit
The young farmer's stolid brown face instantly brightened. I had evidently
hit, hap-hazard, on an interesting subject.
"You couldn't have chosen a better time," he said. "Our house has never
been so cheerful as it is now."
"Have you any visitors staying with you?"
"It's not exactly a visitor. It's a new member of the family who has come
to live with us."
"A new member of the family! May I ask who it is?"
Ambrose Meadowcroft considered before he replied; touched his horse with
the whip; looked at me with a certain sheepish hesitation; and suddenly
burst out with the truth, in the plainest possible words:
"It's just the nicest girl, sir, you ever saw in your life."
"Ay, ay! A friend of your sister's, I suppose?"
"A friend? Bless your heart! it's our little American cousin, Naomi
I vaguely remembered that a younger sister of Mr. Meadowcroft's had
married an American merchant in the remote past, and had died many years
since, leaving an only child. I was now further informed that the father
also was dead. In his last moments he had committed his helpless daughter
to the compassionate care of his wife's relations at Morwick.
"He was always a speculating man," Ambrose went on. "Tried one thing after
another, and failed in all. Died, sir, leaving barely enough to bury him.
My father was a little doubtful, before she came here, how his American
niece would turn out. We are English, you know; and, though we do live in
the United States, we stick fast to our English ways and habits. We don't
much like American women in general, I can tell you; but when Naomi made
her appearance she conquered us all. Such a girl! Took her place as one of
the family directly. Learned to make herself useful in the dairy in a
week's time. I tell you this—she hasn't been with us quite two
months yet, and we wonder already how we ever got on without her!"
Once started on the subject of Naomi Colebrook, Ambrose held to that one
topic and talked on it without intermission. It required no great gift of
penetration to discover the impression which the American cousin had
produced in this case. The young fellow's enthusiasm communicated itself,
in a certain tepid degree, to me. I really felt a mild flutter of
anticipation at the prospect of seeing Naomi, when we drew up, toward the
close of evening, at the gates of Morwick Farm.
CHAPTER II. THE NEW FACES.
IMMEDIATELY on my arrival, I was presented to Mr. Meadowcroft, the father.
The old man had become a confirmed invalid, confined by chronic rheumatism
to his chair. He received me kindly, and a little wearily as well. His
only unmarried daughter (he had long since been left a widower) was in the
room, in attendance on her father. She was a melancholy, middle-aged
woman, without visible attractions of any sort—one of those persons
who appear to accept the obligation of living under protest, as a burden
which they would never have consented to bear if they had only been
consulted first. We three had a dreary little interview in a parlor of
bare walls; and then I was permitted to go upstairs, and unpack my
portmanteau in my own room.
"Supper will be at nine o'clock, sir," said Miss Meadowcroft.
She pronounced those words as if "supper" was a form of domestic offense,
habitually committed by the men, and endured by the women. I followed the
groom up to my room, not over-well pleased with my first experience of the
No Naomi and no romance, thus far!
My room was clean—oppressively clean. I quite longed to see a little
dust somewhere. My library was limited to the Bible and the Prayer-Book.
My view from the window showed me a dead flat in a partial state of
cultivation, fading sadly from view in the waning light. Above the head of
my spruce white bed hung a scroll, bearing a damnatory quotation from
Scripture in emblazoned letters of red and black. The dismal presence of
Miss Meadowcroft had passed over my bedroom, and had blighted it. My
spirits sank as I looked round me. Supper-time was still an event in the
future. I lighted the candles and took from my portmanteau what I firmly
believe to have been the first French novel ever produced at Morwick Farm.
It was one of the masterly and charming stories of Dumas the elder. In
five minutes I was in a new world, and my melancholy room was full of the
liveliest French company. The sound of an imperative and uncompromising
bell recalled me in due time to the regions of reality. I looked at my
watch. Nine o'clock.
Ambrose met me at the bottom of the stairs, and showed me the way to the
Mr. Meadowcroft's invalid chair had been wheeled to the head of the table.
On his right-hand side sat his sad and silent daughter. She signed to me,
with a ghostly solemnity, to take the vacant place on the left of her
father. Silas Meadowcroft came in at the same moment, and was presented to
me by his brother. There was a strong family likeness between them,
Ambrose being the taller and the handsomer man of the two. But there was
no marked character in either face. I set them down as men with
undeveloped qualities, waiting (the good and evil qualities alike) for
time and circumstances to bring them to their full growth.
The door opened again while I was still studying the two brothers,
without, I honestly confess, being very favorably impressed by either of
them. A new member of the family circle, who instantly attracted my
attention, entered the room.
He was short, spare, and wiry; singularly pale for a person whose life was
passed in the country. The face was in other respects, besides this, a
striking face to see. As to the lower part, it was covered with a thick
black beard and mustache, at a time when shaving was the rule, and beards
the rare exception, in America. As to the upper part of the face, it was
irradiated by a pair of wild, glittering brown eyes, the expression of
which suggested to me that there was something not quite right with the
man's mental balance. A perfectly sane person in all his sayings and
doings, so far as I could see, there was still something in those wild
brown eyes which suggested to me that, under exceptionally trying
circumstances, he might surprise his oldest friends by acting in some
exceptionally violent or foolish way. "A little cracked"—that in the
popular phrase was my impression of the stranger who now made his
appearance in the supper-room.
Mr. Meadowcroft the elder, having not spoken one word thus far, himself
introduced the newcomer to me, with a side-glance at his sons, which had
something like defiance in it—a glance which, as I was sorry to
notice, was returned with the defiance on their side by the two young men.
"Philip Lefrank, this is my overlooker, Mr. Jago," said the old man,
formally presenting us. "John Jago, this is my young relative by marriage,
Mr. Lefrank. He is not well; he has come over the ocean for rest, and
change of scene. Mr. Jago is an American, Philip. I hope you have no
prejudice against Americans. Make acquaintance with Mr. Jago. Sit
together." He cast another dark look at his sons; and the sons again
returned it. They pointedly drew back from John Jago as he approached the
empty chair next to me and moved round to the opposite side of the table.
It was plain that the man with the beard stood high in the father's favor,
and that he was cordially disliked for that or for some other reason by
The door opened once more. A young lady quietly joined the party at the
Was the young lady Naomi Colebrook? I looked at Ambrose, and saw the
answer in his face. Naomi Colebrook at last!
A pretty girl, and, so far as I could judge by appearances, a good girl
too. Describing her generally, I may say that she had a small head, well
carried, and well set on her shoulders; bright gray eyes, that looked at
you honestly, and meant what they looked; a trim, slight little figure—too
slight for our English notions of beauty; a strong American accent; and (a
rare thing in America) a pleasantly toned voice, which made the accent
agreeable to English ears. Our first impressions of people are, in nine
cases out of ten, the right impressions. I liked Naomi Colebrook at first
sight; liked her pleasant smile; liked her hearty shake of the hand when
we were presented to each other. "If I get on well with nobody else in
this house," I thought to myself, "I shall certainly get on well with you."
For once in a way, I proved a true prophet. In the atmosphere of
smoldering enmities at Morwick Farm, the pretty American girl and I
remained firm and true friends from first to last. Ambrose made room for
Naomi to sit between his brother and himself. She changed color for a
moment, and looked at him, with a pretty, reluctant tenderness, as she
took her chair. I strongly suspected the young farmer of squeezing her
hand privately, under cover of the tablecloth.
The supper was not a merry one. The only cheerful conversation was the
conversation across the table between Naomi and me.
For some incomprehensible reason, John Jago seemed to be ill at ease in
the presence of his young countrywoman. He looked up at Naomi doubtingly
from his plate, and looked down again slowly with a frown. When I
addressed him, he answered constrainedly. Even when he spoke to Mr.
Meadowcroft, he was still on his guard—on his guard against the two
young men, as I fancied by the direction which his eyes took on these
occasions. When we began our meal, I had noticed for the first time that
Silas Meadowcroft's left hand was strapped up with surgical plaster; and I
now further observed that John Jago's wandering brown eyes, furtively
looking at everybody round the table in turn, looked with a curious,
cynical scrutiny at the young man's injured hand.
By way of making my first evening at the farm all the more embarrassing to
me as a stranger, I discovered before long that the father and sons were
talking indirectly at each other, through Mr. Jago and through me.
When old Mr. Meadowcroft spoke disparagingly to his overlooker of some
past mistake made in the cultivation of the arable land of the farm, old
Mr. Meadowcroft's eyes pointed the application of his hostile criticism
straight in the direction of his two sons. When the two sons seized a
stray remark of mine about animals in general, and applied it satirically
to the mismanagement of sheep and oxen in particular, they looked at John
Jago, while they talked to me. On occasions of this sort—and they
happened frequently—Naomi struck in resolutely at the right moment,
and turned the talk to some harmless topic. Every time she took a
prominent part in this way in keeping the peace, melancholy Miss
Meadowcroft looked slowly round at her in stern and silent disparagement
of her interference. A more dreary and more disunited family party I never
sat at the table with. Envy, hatred, malice and uncharitableness are never
so essentially detestable to my mind as when they are animated by a sense
of propriety, and work under the surface. But for my interest in Naomi,
and my other interest in the little love-looks which I now and then
surprised passing between her and Ambrose, I should never have sat through
that supper. I should certainly have taken refuge in my French novel and
my own room.
At last the unendurably long meal, served with ostentatious profusion, was
at an end. Miss Meadowcroft rose with her ghostly solemnity, and granted
me my dismissal in these words:
"We are early people at the farm, Mr. Lefrank. I wish you good-night."
She laid her bony hands on the back of Mr. Meadowcroft's invalid-chair,
cut him short in his farewell salutation to me, and wheeled him out to his
bed as if she were wheeling him out to his grave.
"Do you go to your room immediately, sir? If not, may I offer you a cigar—provided
the young gentlemen will permit it?"
So, picking his words with painful deliberation, and pointing his
reference to "the young gentlemen" with one sardonic side-look at them,
Mr. John Jago performed the duties of hospitality on his side. I excused
myself from accepting the cigar. With studied politeness, the man of the
glittering brown eyes wished me a good night's rest, and left the room.
Ambrose and Silas both approached me hospitably, with their open
cigar-cases in their hands.
"You were quite right to say 'No,'" Ambrose began. "Never smoke with John
Jago. His cigars will poison you."
"And never believe a word John Jago says to you," added Silas. "He is the
greatest liar in America, let the other be whom he may."
Naomi shook her forefinger reproachfully at them, as if the two sturdy
young farmers had been two children.
"What will Mr. Lefrank think," she said, "if you talk in that way of a
person whom your father respects and trusts? Go and smoke. I am ashamed of
both of you."
Silas slunk away without a word of protest. Ambrose stood his ground,
evidently bent on making his peace with Naomi before he left her.
Seeing that I was in the way, I walked aside toward a glass door at the
lower end of the room. The door opened on the trim little farm-garden,
bathed at that moment in lovely moonlight. I stepped out to enjoy the
scene, and found my way to a seat under an elm-tree. The grand repose of
nature had never looked so unutterably solemn and beautiful as it now
appeared, after what I had seen and heard inside the house. I understood,
or thought I understood, the sad despair of humanity which led men into
monasteries in the old times. The misanthropical side of my nature (where
is the sick man who is not conscious of that side of him?) was fast
getting the upper hand of me when I felt a light touch laid on my
shoulder, and found myself reconciled to my species once more by Naomi
CHAPTER III. THE MOONLIGHT MEETING.
"I WANT to speak to you," Naomi began "You don't think ill of me for
following you out here? We are not accustomed to stand much on ceremony in
"You are quite right in America. Pray sit down."
She seated herself by my side, looking at me frankly and fearlessly by the
light of the moon.
"You are related to the family here," she resumed, "and I am related too.
I guess I may say to you what I couldn't say to a stranger. I am right
glad you have come here, Mr. Lefrank; and for a reason, sir, which you
"Thank you for the compliment you pay me, Miss Colebrook, whatever the
reason may be."
She took no notice of my reply; she steadily pursued her own train of
"I guess you may do some good, sir, in this wretched house," the girl went
on, with her eyes still earnestly fixed on my face. "There is no love, no
trust, no peace, at Morwick Farm. They want somebody here, except Ambrose.
Don't think ill of Ambrose; he is only thoughtless. I say, the rest of
them want somebody here to make them ashamed of their hard hearts, and
their horrid, false, envious ways. You are a gentleman; you know more than
they know; they can't help themselves; they must look up to you.
Try, Mr. Lefrank, when you have the opportunity—pray try, sir, to
make peace among them. You heard what went on at supper-time; and you were
disgusted with it. Oh yes, you were! I saw you frown to yourself; and I
know what that means in you Englishmen."
There was no choice but to speak one's mind plainly to Naomi. I
acknowledged the impression which had been produced on me at supper-time
just as plainly as I have acknowledged it in these pages. Naomi nodded her
head in undisguised approval of my candor.
"That will do, that's speaking out," she said. "But—oh my! you put
it a deal too mildly, sir, when you say the men don't seem to be on
friendly terms together here. They hate each other. That's the word, Mr.
Lefrank—hate; bitter, bitter, bitter hate!" She clinched her little
fists; she shook them vehemently, by way of adding emphasis to her last
words; and then she suddenly remembered Ambrose. "Except Ambrose," she
added, opening her hand again, and laying it very earnestly on my arm.
"Don't go and misjudge Ambrose, sir. There is no harm in poor Ambrose."
The girl's innocent frankness was really irresistible.
"Should I be altogether wrong," I asked, "if I guessed that you were a
little partial to Ambrose?"
An Englishwoman would have felt, or would at least have assumed, some
little hesitation at replying to my question. Naomi did not hesitate for
"You are quite right, sir," she said with the most perfect composure. "If
things go well, I mean to marry Ambrose."
"If things go well," I repeated. "What does that mean? Money?"
She shook her head.
"It means a fear that I have in my own mind," she answered—"a fear,
Mr. Lefrank, of matters taking a bad turn among the men here—the
wicked, hard-hearted, unfeeling men. I don't mean Ambrose, sir; I mean his
brother Silas, and John Jago. Did you notice Silas's hand? John Jago did
that, sir, with a knife."
"By accident?" I asked.
"On purpose," she answered. "In return for a blow."
This plain revelation of the state of things at Morwick Farm rather
staggered me—blows and knives under the rich and respectable
roof-tree of old Mr. Meadowcroft—blows and knives, not among the
laborers, but among the masters! My first impression was like your
first impression, no doubt. I could hardly believe it.
"Are you sure of what you say?" I inquired.
"I have it from Ambrose. Ambrose would never deceive me. Ambrose knows all
My curiosity was powerfully excited. To what sort of household had I
rashly voyaged across the ocean in search of rest and quiet?
"May I know all about it too?" I said.
"Well, I will try and tell you what Ambrose told me. But you must promise
me one thing first, sir. Promise you won't go away and leave us when you
know the whole truth. Shake hands on it, Mr. Lefrank; come, shake hands on
There was no resisting her fearless frankness. I shook hands on it. Naomi
entered on her narrative the moment I had given her my pledge, without
wasting a word by way of preface.
"When you are shown over the farm here," she began, "you will see that it
is really two farms in one. On this side of it, as we look from under this
tree, they raise crops: on the other side—on much the larger half of
the land, mind—they raise cattle. When Mr. Meadowcroft got too old
and too sick to look after his farm himself, the boys (I mean Ambrose and
Silas) divided the work between them. Ambrose looked after the crops, and
Silas after the cattle. Things didn't go well, somehow, under their
management. I can't tell you why. I am only sure Ambrose was not in fault.
The old man got more and more dissatisfied, especially about his beasts.
His pride is in his beasts. Without saying a word to the boys, he looked
about privately (I think he was wrong in that, sir; don't you?)—he
looked about privately for help; and, in an evil hour, he heard of John
Jago. Do you like John Jago, Mr. Lefrank?"
"So far, no. I don't like him."
"Just my sentiments, sir. But I don't know: it's likely we may be wrong.
There's nothing against John Jago, except that he is so odd in his ways.
They do say he wears all that nasty hair on his face (I hate hair on a
man's face) on account of a vow he made when he lost his wife. Don't you
think, Mr. Lefrank, a man must be a little mad who shows his grief at
losing his wife by vowing that he will never shave himself again? Well,
that's what they do say John Jago vowed. Perhaps it's a lie. People are
such liars here! Anyway, it's truth (the boys themselves confess that),
when John came to the farm, he came with a first-rate character. The old
father here isn't easy to please; and he pleased the old father. Yes,
that's so. Mr. Meadowcroft don't like my countrymen in general. He's like
his sons—English, bitter English, to the marrow of his bones.
Somehow, in spite of that, John Jago got round him; maybe because John
does certainly know his business. Oh yes! Cattle and crops, John knows his
business. Since he's been overlooker, things have prospered as they didn't
prosper in the time of the boys. Ambrose owned as much to me himself.
Still, sir, it's hard to be set aside for a stranger; isn't it? John gives
the orders now. The boys do their work; but they have no voice in it when
John and the old man put their heads together over the business of the
farm. I have been long in telling you of it, sir, but now you know how the
envy and the hatred grew among the men before my time. Since I have been
here, things seem to get worse and worse. There's hardly a day goes by
that hard words don't pass between the boys and John, or the boys and
their father. The old man has an aggravating way, Mr. Lefrank—a
nasty way, as we do call it—of taking John Jago's part. Do speak to
him about it when you get the chance. The main blame of the quarrel
between Silas and John the other day lies at his door, as I think. I don't
want to excuse Silas, either. It was brutal of him—though he is
Ambrose's brother—to strike John, who is the smaller and weaker man
of the two. But it was worse than brutal in John, sir, to out with his
knife and try to stab Silas. Oh, he did it! If Silas had not caught the
knife in his hand (his hand's awfully cut, I can tell you; I dressed it
myself), it might have ended, for anything I know, in murder—"
She stopped as the word passed her lips, looked back over her shoulder,
and started violently.
I looked where my companion was looking. The dark figure of a man was
standing, watching us, in the shadow of the elm-tree. I rose directly to
approach him. Naomi recovered her self-possession, and checked me before I
"Who are you?" she asked, turning sharply toward the stranger. "What do
you want there?"
The man stepped out from the shadow into the moonlight, and stood revealed
to us as John Jago.
"I hope I am not intruding?" he said, looking hard at me.
"What do you want?" Naomi repeated.
"I don't wish to disturb you, or to disturb this gentleman," he proceeded.
"When you are quite at leisure, Miss Naomi, you would be doing me a favor
if you would permit me to say a few words to you in private."
He spoke with the most scrupulous politeness; trying, and trying vainly,
to conceal some strong agitation which was in possession of him. His wild
brown eyes—wilder than ever in the moonlight—rested
entreatingly, with a strange underlying expression of despair, on Naomi's
face. His hands, clasped lightly in front of him, trembled incessantly.
Little as I liked the man, he did really impress me as a pitiable object
at that moment.
"Do you mean that you want to speak to me to-night?" Naomi asked, in
"Yes, miss, if you please, at your leisure and at Mr. Lefrank's."
"Won't it keep till to-morrow?" she said.
"I shall be away on farm business to-morrow, miss, for the whole day.
Please to give me a few minutes this evening." He advanced a step toward
her; his voice faltered, and dropped timidly to a whisper. "I really have
something to say to you, Miss Naomi. It would be a kindness on your part—a
very, very great kindness—if you will let me say it before I rest
I rose again to resign my place to him. Once more Naomi checked me.
"No," she said. "Don't stir." She addressed John Jago very reluctantly:
"If you are so much in earnest about it, Mr. John, I suppose it must be. I
can't guess what you can possibly have to say to me which cannot be
said before a third person. However, it wouldn't be civil, I suppose, to
say 'No' in my place. You know it's my business to wind up the hall-clock
at ten every night. If you choose to come and help me, the chances are
that we shall have the hall to ourselves. Will that do?"
"Not in the hall, miss, if you will excuse me."
"Not in the hall!"
"And not in the house either, if I may make so bold."
"What do you mean?" She turned impatiently, and appealed to me. "Do you
John Jago signed to me imploringly to let him answer for himself.
"Bear with me, Miss Naomi," he said. "I think I can make you understand
me. There are eyes on the watch, and ears on the watch, in the house; and
there are some footsteps—I won't say whose—so soft, that no
person can hear them."
The last allusion evidently made itself understood. Naomi stopped him
before he could say more.
"Well, where is it to be?" she asked, resignedly. "Will the garden do, Mr.
"Thank you kindly, miss; the garden will do." He pointed to a gravel-walk
beyond us, bathed in the full flood of the moonlight. "There," he said,
"where we can see all round us, and be sure that nobody is listening. At
ten o'clock." He paused, and addressed himself to me. "I beg to apologize,
sir, for intruding myself on your conversation. Please to excuse me."
His eyes rested with a last anxious, pleading look on Naomi's face. He
bowed to us, and melted away into the shadow of the tree. The distant
sound of a door closed softly came to us through the stillness of the
night. John Jago had re-entered the house.
Now that he was out of hearing, Naomi spoke to me very earnestly:
"Don't suppose, sir, I have any secrets with him," she said. "I
know no more than you do what he wants with me. I have half a mind not to
keep the appointment when ten o'clock comes. What would you do in my
"Having made the appointment," I answered, "it seems to be due to yourself
to keep it. If you feel the slightest alarm, I will wait in another part
of the garden, so that I can hear if you call me."
She received my proposal with a saucy toss of the head, and a smile of
pity for my ignorance.
"You are a stranger, Mr. Lefrank, or you would never talk to me in that
way. In America, we don't do the men the honor of letting them alarm us.
In America, the women take care of themselves. He has got my promise to
meet him, as you say; and I must keep my promise. Only think," she added,
speaking more to herself than to me, "of John Jago finding out Miss
Meadowcroft's nasty, sly, underhand ways in the house! Most men would
never have noticed her."
I was completely taken by surprise. Sad and severe Miss Meadowcroft a
listener and a spy! What next at Morwick Farm?
"Was that hint at the watchful eyes and ears, and the soft footsteps,
really an allusion to Mr. Meadowcroft's daughter?" I asked.
"Of course it was. Ah! she has imposed on you as she imposes on everybody
else. The false wretch! She is secretly at the bottom of half the bad
feeling among the men. I am certain of it—she keeps Mr.
Meadowcroft's mind bitter toward the boys. Old as she is, Mr. Lefrank, and
ugly as she is, she wouldn't object (if she could only make him ask her)
to be John Jago's second wife. No, sir; and she wouldn't break her heart
if the boys were not left a stick or a stone on the farm when the father
dies. I have watched her, and I know it. Ah! I could tell you such things!
But there's no time now—it's close on ten o'clock; we must say
good-night. I am right glad I have spoken to you, sir. I say again, at
parting, what I have said already: Use your influence, pray use your
influence, to soften them, and to make them ashamed of themselves, in this
wicked house. We will have more talk about what you can do to-morrow, when
you are shown over the farm. Say good-by now. Hark! there is ten striking!
And look! here is John Jago stealing out again in the shadow of the tree!
Good-night, friend Lefrank; and pleasant dreams."
With one hand she took mine, and pressed it cordially; with the other she
pushed me away without ceremony in the direction of the house. A charming
girl—an irresistible girl! I was nearly as bad as the boys. I
declare, I almost hated John Jago, too, as we crossed each other in
the shadow of the tree.
Arrived at the glass door, I stopped and looked back at the gravel-walk.
They had met. I saw the two shadowy figures slowly pacing backward and
forward in the moonlight, the woman a little in advance of the man. What
was he saying to her? Why was he so anxious that not a word of it should
be heard? Our presentiments are sometimes, in certain rare cases, the
faithful prophecy of the future. A vague distrust of that moonlight
meeting stealthily took a hold on my mind. "Will mischief come of it?" I
asked myself as I closed the door and entered the house.
Mischief did come of it. You shall hear how.
CHAPTER IV. THE BEECHEN STICK.
PERSONS of sensitive, nervous temperament, sleeping for the first time in
a strange house, and in a bed that is new to them, must make up their
minds to pass a wakeful night. My first night at Morwick Farm was no
exception to this rule. The little sleep I had was broken and disturbed by
dreams. Toward six o'clock in the morning, my bed became unendurable to
me. The sun was shining in brightly at the window. I determined to try the
reviving influence of a stroll in the fresh morning air.
Just as I got out of bed, I heard footsteps and voices under my window.
The footsteps stopped, and the voices became recognizable. I had passed
the night with my window open; I was able, without exciting notice from
below, to look out.
The persons beneath me were Silas Meadowcroft, John Jago, and three
strangers, whose dress and appearance indicated plainly enough that they
were laborers on the farm. Silas was swinging a stout beechen stick in his
hand, and was speaking to Jago, coarsely and insolently enough, of his
moonlight meeting with Naomi on the previous night.
"Next time you go courting a young lady in secret," said Silas, "make sure
that the moon goes down first, or wait for a cloudy sky. You were seen in
the garden, Master Jago; and you may as well tell us the truth for once in
a way. Did you find her open to persuasion, sir? Did she say 'Yes?'"
John Jago kept his temper.
"If you must have your joke, Mr. Silas," he said, quietly and firmly, "be
pleased to joke on some other subject. You are quite wrong, sir, in what
you suppose to have passed between the young lady and me."
Silas turned about, and addressed himself ironically to the three
"You hear him, boys? He can't tell the truth, try him as you may. He
wasn't making love to Naomi in the garden last night—oh dear, no! He
has had one wife already; and he knows better than to take the yoke on his
shoulders for the second time!"
Greatly to my surprise, John Jago met this clumsy jesting with a formal
and serious reply.
"You are quite right, sir," he said. "I have no intention of marrying for
the second time. What I was saying to Miss Naomi doesn't matter to you. It
was not at all what you choose to suppose; it was something of quite
another kind, with which you have no concern. Be pleased to understand
once for all, Mr. Silas, that not so much as the thought of making love to
the young lady has ever entered my head. I respect her; I admire her good
qualities; but if she was the only woman left in the world, and if I was a
much younger man than I am, I should never think of asking her to be my
wife." He burst out suddenly into a harsh, uneasy laugh. "No, no! not my
style, Mr. Silas—not my style!"
Something in those words, or in his manner of speaking them, appeared to
exasperate Silas. He dropped his clumsy irony, and addressed himself
directly to John Jago in a tone of savage contempt.
"Not your style?" he repeated. "Upon my soul, that's a cool way of putting
it, for a man in your place! What do you mean by calling her 'not your
style?' You impudent beggar! Naomi Colebrook is meat for your master!"
John Jago's temper began to give way at last. He approached defiantly a
step or two nearer to Silas Meadowcroft.
"Who is my master?" he asked.
"Ambrose will show you, if you go to him," answered the other. "Naomi is
his sweetheart, not mine. Keep out of his way, if you want to keep
a whole skin on your bones."
John Jago cast one of his sardonic side-looks at the farmer's wounded left
hand. "Don't forget your own skin, Mr. Silas, when you threaten mine! I
have set my mark on you once, sir. Let me by on my business, or I may mark
you for a second time."
Silas lifted his beechen stick. The laborers, roused to some rude sense of
the serious turn which the quarrel was taking, got between the two men,
and parted them. I had been hurriedly dressing myself while the
altercation was proceeding; and I now ran downstairs to try what my
influence could do toward keeping the peace at Morwick Farm.
The war of angry words was still going on when I joined the men outside.
"Be off with you on your business, you cowardly hound!" I heard Silas say.
"Be off with you to the town! and take care you don't meet Ambrose on the
"Take you care you don't feel my knife again before I go!" cried
the other man.
Silas made a desperate effort to break away from the laborers who were
"Last time you only felt my fist!" he shouted "Next time you shall feel this!"
He lifted the stick as he spoke. I stepped up and snatched it out of his
"Mr. Silas," I said, "I am an invalid, and I am going out for a walk. Your
stick will be useful to me. I beg leave to borrow it."
The laborers burst out laughing. Silas fixed his eyes on me with a stare
of angry surprise. John Jago, immediately recovering his self-possession,
took off his hat, and made me a deferential bow.
"I had no idea, Mr. Lefrank, that we were disturbing you," he said. "I am
very much ashamed of myself, sir. I beg to apologize."
"I accept your apology, Mr. Jago," I answered, "on the understanding that
you, as the older man, will set the example of forbearance if your temper
is tried on any future occasion as it has been tried today. And I have
further to request," I added, addressing myself to Silas, "that you will
do me a favor, as your father's guest. The next time your good spirits
lead you into making jokes at Mr. Jago's expense, don't carry them quite
so far. I am sure you meant no harm, Mr. Silas. Will you gratify me by
saying so yourself? I want to see you and Mr. Jago shake hands."
John Jago instantly held out his hand, with an assumption of good feeling
which was a little overacted, to my thinking. Silas Meadowcroft made no
advance of the same friendly sort on his side.
"Let him go about his business," said Silas. "I won't waste any more words
on him, Mr. Lefrank, to please you. But (saving your presence) I'm
d—d if I take his hand!"
Further persuasion was plainly useless, addressed to such a man as this.
Silas gave me no further opportunity of remonstrating with him, even if I
had been inclined to do so. He turned about in sulky silence, and,
retracing his steps along the path, disappeared round the corner of the
house. The laborers withdrew next, in different directions, to begin the
day's work. John Jago and I were alone.
I left it to the man of the wild brown eyes to speak first.
"In half an hour's time, sir," he said, "I shall be going on business to
Narrabee, our market-town here. Can I take any letters to the post for
you? or is there anything else that I can do in the town?"
I thanked him, and declined both proposals. He made me another deferential
bow, and withdrew into the house. I mechanically followed the path in the
direction which Silas had taken before me.
Turning the corner of the house, and walking on for a little way, I found
myself at the entrance to the stables, and face to face with Silas
Meadowcroft once more. He had his elbows on the gate of the yard, swinging
it slowly backward and forward, and turning and twisting a straw between
his teeth. When he saw me approaching him, he advanced a step from the
gate, and made an effort to excuse himself, with a very ill grace.
"No offense, mister. Ask me what you will besides, and I'll do it for you.
But don't ask me to shake hands with John Jago; I hate him too badly for
that. If I touched him with one hand, sir, I tell you this, I should
throttle him with the other."
"That's your feeling toward the man, Mr. Silas, is it?"
"That's my feeling, Mr. Lefrank; and I'm not ashamed of it either."
"Is there any such place as a church in your neighborhood, Mr. Silas?"
"Of course there is."
"And do you ever go to it?"
"Of course I do."
"At long intervals, Mr. Silas?"
"Every Sunday, sir, without fail."
Some third person behind me burst out laughing; some third person had been
listening to our talk. I turned round, and discovered Ambrose Meadowcroft.
"I understand the drift of your catechism, sir, though my brother
doesn't," he said. "Don't be hard on Silas, sir. He isn't the only
Christian who leaves his Christianity in the pew when he goes out of
church. You will never make us friends with John Jago, try as you may.
Why, what have you got there, Mr. Lefrank? May I die if it isn't my stick!
I have been looking for it everywhere!"
The thick beechen stick had been feeling uncomfortably heavy in my invalid
hand for some time past. There was no sort of need for my keeping it any
longer. John Jago was going away to Narrabee, and Silas Meadowcroft's
savage temper was subdued to a sulky repose. I handed the stick back to
Ambrose. He laughed as he took it from me.
"You can't think how strange it feels, Mr. Lefrank, to be out without
one's stick," he said. "A man gets used to his stick, sir; doesn't he? Are
you ready for your breakfast?"
"Not just yet. I thought of taking a little walk first."
"All right, sir. I wish I could go with you; but I have got my work to do
this morning, and Silas has his work too. If you go back by the way you
came, you will find yourself in the garden. If you want to go further, the
wicket-gate at the end will lead you into the lane."
Through sheer thoughtlessness, I did a very foolish thing. I turned back
as I was told, and left the brothers together at the gate of the
CHAPTER V. THE NEWS FROM NARRABEE.
ARRIVED at the garden, a thought struck me. The cheerful speech and easy
manner of Ambrose plainly indicated that he was ignorant thus far of the
quarrel which had taken place under my window. Silas might confess to
having taken his brother's stick, and might mention whose head he had
threatened with it. It was not only useless, but undesirable, that Ambrose
should know of the quarrel. I retraced my steps to the stable-yard. Nobody
was at the gate. I called alternately to Silas and to Ambrose. Nobody
answered. The brothers had gone away to their work.
Returning to the garden, I heard a pleasant voice wishing me
"Good-morning." I looked round. Naomi Colebrook was standing at one of the
lower windows of the farm. She had her working apron on, and she was
industriously brightening the knives for the breakfast-table on an
old-fashioned board. A sleek black cat balanced himself on her shoulder,
watching the flashing motion of the knife as she passed it rapidly to and
fro on the leather-covered surface of the board.
"Come here," she said; "I want to speak to you."
I noticed, as I approached, that her pretty face was clouded and anxious.
She pushed the cat irritably off her shoulder; she welcomed me with only
the faint reflection of her bright customary smile.
"I have seen John Jago," she said. "He has been hinting at something which
he says happened under your bedroom window this morning. When I begged him
to explain himself, he only answered, 'Ask Mr. Lefrank; I must be off to
Narrabee.' What does it mean? Tell me right away, sir! I'm out of temper,
and I can't wait!"
Except that I made the best instead of the worst of it, I told her what
had happened under my window as plainly as I have told it here. She put
down the knife that she was cleaning, and folded her hands before her,
"I wish I had never given John Jago that meeting," she said. "When a man
asks anything of a woman, the woman, I find, mostly repents it if she says
She made that quaint reflection with a very troubled brow. The moonlight
meeting had left some unwelcome remembrances in her mind. I saw that as
plainly as I saw Naomi herself.
What had John Jago said to her? I put the question with all needful
delicacy, making my apologies beforehand.
"I should like to tell you," she began, with a strong emphasis on
the last word.
There she stopped. She turned pale; then suddenly flushed again to the
deepest red. She took up the knife once more, and went on cleaning it as
industriously as ever.
"I mustn't tell you," she resumed, with her head down over the knife. "I
have promised not to tell anybody. That's the truth. Forget all about it,
sir, as soon as you can. Hush! here's the spy who saw us last night on the
walk and who told Silas!"
Dreary Miss Meadowcroft opened the kitchen door. She carried an
ostentatiously large Prayer-Book; and she looked at Naomi as only a
jealous woman of middle age can look at a younger and prettier
woman than herself.
"Prayers, Miss Colebrook," she said in her sourest manner. She paused, and
noticed me standing under the window. "Prayers, Mr. Lefrank," she added,
with a look of devout pity, directed exclusively to my address.
"We will follow you directly, Miss Meadowcroft," said Naomi.
"I have no desire to intrude on your secrets, Miss Colebrook."
With that acrid answer, our priestess took herself and her Prayer-Book out
of the kitchen. I joined Naomi, entering the room by the garden door. She
met me eagerly. "I am not quite easy about something," she said. "Did you
tell me that you left Ambrose and Silas together?"
"Suppose Silas tells Ambrose of what happened this morning?"
The same idea, as I have already mentioned, had occurred to my mind. I did
my best to reassure Naomi.
"Mr. Jago is out of the way," I replied. "You and I can easily put things
right in his absence."
She took my arm.
"Come in to prayers," she said. "Ambrose will be there, and I shall find
an opportunity of speaking to him."
Neither Ambrose nor Silas was in the breakfast-room when we entered it.
After waiting vainly for ten minutes, Mr. Meadowcroft told his daughter to
read the prayers. Miss Meadowcroft read, thereupon, in the tone of an
injured woman taking the throne of mercy by storm, and insisting on her
rights. Breakfast followed; and still the brothers were absent. Miss
Meadowcroft looked at her father, and said, "From bad to worse, sir. What
did I tell you?" Naomi instantly applied the antidote: "The boys are no
doubt detained over their work, uncle." She turned to me. "You want to see
the farm, Mr. Lefrank. Come and help me to find the boys."
For more than an hour we visited one part of the farm after another,
without discovering the missing men. We found them at last near the
outskirts of a small wood, sitting, talking together, on the trunk of a
Silas rose as we approached, and walked away, without a word of greeting
or apology, into the wood. As he got on his feet, I noticed that his
brother whispered something in his ear; and I heard him answer, "All
"Ambrose, does that mean you have something to keep a secret from us?"
asked Naomi, approaching her lover with a smile. "Is Silas ordered to hold
Ambrose kicked sulkily at the loose stones lying about him. I noticed,
with a certain surprise that his favorite stick was not in his hand, and
was not lying near him.
"Business," he said in answer to Naomi, not very graciously—"business
between Silas and me. That's what it means, if you must know."
Naomi went on, woman-like, with her questioning, heedless of the reception
which they might meet with from an irritated man.
"Why were you both away at prayers and breakfast-time?" she asked next.
"We had too much to do," Ambrose gruffly replied, "and we were too far
from the house."
"Very odd," said Naomi. "This has never happened before since I have been
at the farm."
"Well, live and learn. It has happened now."
The tone in which he spoke would have warned any man to let him alone. But
warnings which speak by implication only are thrown away on women. The
woman, having still something in her mind to say, said it.
"Have you seen anything of John Jago this morning?"
The smoldering ill-temper of Ambrose burst suddenly—why, it was
impossible to guess—into a flame. "How many more questions am I to
answer?" he broke out violently. "Are you the parson putting me through my
catechism? I have seen nothing of John Jago, and I have got my work to go
on with. Will that do for you?"
He turned with an oath, and followed his brother into the wood. Naomi's
bright eyes looked up at me, flashing with indignation.
"What does he mean, Mr. Lefrank, by speaking to me in that way? Rude
brute! How dare he do it?" She paused; her voice, look and manner suddenly
changed. "This has never happened before, sir. Has anything gone wrong? I
declare, I shouldn't know Ambrose again, he is so changed. Say, how does
it strike you?"
I still made the best of a bad case.
"Something has upset his temper," I said. "The merest trifle, Miss
Colebrook, upsets a man's temper sometimes. I speak as a man, and I know
it. Give him time, and he will make his excuses, and all will be well
My presentation of the case entirely failed to re-assure my pretty
companion. We went back to the house. Dinner-time came, and the brothers
appeared. Their father spoke to them of their absence from morning prayers
with needless severity, as I thought. They resented the reproof with
needless indignation on their side, and left the room. A sour smile of
satisfaction showed itself on Miss Meadowcroft's thin lips. She looked at
her father; then raised her eyes sadly to the ceiling, and said, "We can
only pray for them, sir."
Naomi disappeared after dinner. When I saw her again, she had some news
"I have been with Ambrose," she said, "and he has begged my pardon. We
have made it up, Mr. Lefrank. Still—still—"
"Still—what, Miss Naomi?"
"He is not like himself, sir. He denies it; but I can't help thinking he
is hiding something from me."
The day wore on; the evening came. I returned to my French novel. But not
even Dumas himself could keep my attention to the story. What else I was
thinking of I cannot say. Why I was out of spirits I am unable to explain.
I wished myself back in England: I took a blind, unreasoning hatred to
Nine o'clock struck; and we all assembled again at supper, with the
exception of John Jago. He was expected back to supper; and we waited for
him a quarter of an hour, by Mr. Meadowcroft's own directions. John Jago
The night wore on, and still the absent man failed to return. Miss
Meadowcroft volunteered to sit up for him. Naomi eyed her, a little
maliciously I must own, as the two women parted for the night. I withdrew
to my room; and again I was unable to sleep. When sunrise came, I went
out, as before, to breathe the morning air.
On the staircase I met Miss Meadowcroft ascending to her own room. Not a
curl of her stiff gray hair was disarranged; nothing about the
impenetrable woman betrayed that she had been watching through the night.
"Has Mr. Jago not returned?" I asked.
Miss Meadowcroft slowly shook her head, and frowned at me.
"We are in the hands of Providence, Mr. Lefrank. Mr. Jago must have been
detained for the night at Narrabee."
The daily routine of the meals resumed its unalterable course.
Breakfast-time came, and dinner-time came, and no John Jago darkened the
doors of Morwick Farm. Mr. Meadowcroft and his daughter consulted
together, and determined to send in search of the missing man. One of the
more intelligent of the laborers was dispatched to Narrabee to make
The man returned late in the evening, bringing startling news to the farm.
He had visited all the inns, and all the places of business resort in
Narrabee; he had made endless inquiries in every direction, with this
result—no one had set eyes on John Jago. Everybody declared that
John Jago had not entered the town.
We all looked at each other, excepting the two brothers, who were seated
together in a dark corner of the room. The conclusion appeared to be
inevitable. John Jago was a lost man.
CHAPTER VI. THE LIME-KILN.
MR. MEADOWCROFT was the first to speak. "Somebody must find John," he
"Without losing a moment," added his daughter.
Ambrose suddenly stepped out of the dark corner of the room.
"I will inquire," he said.
Silas followed him.
"I will go with you," he added.
Mr. Meadowcroft interposed his authority.
"One of you will be enough; for the present, at least. Go you, Ambrose.
Your brother may be wanted later. If any accident has happened (which God
forbid!) we may have to inquire in more than one direction. Silas, you
will stay at the farm."
The brothers withdrew together; Ambrose to prepare for his journey, Silas
to saddle one of the horses for him. Naomi slipped out after them. Left in
company with Mr. Meadowcroft and his daughter (both devoured by anxiety
about the missing man, and both trying to conceal it under an assumption
of devout resignation to circumstances), I need hardly add that I, too,
retired, as soon as it was politely possible for me to leave the room.
Ascending the stairs on my way to my own quarters, I discovered Naomi half
hidden by the recess formed by an old-fashioned window-seat on the first
landing. My bright little friend was in sore trouble. Her apron was over
her face, and she was crying bitterly. Ambrose had not taken his leave as
tenderly as usual. She was more firmly persuaded than ever that "Ambrose
was hiding something from her." We all waited anxiously for the next day.
The next day made the mystery deeper than ever.
The horse which had taken Ambrose to Narrabee was ridden back to the farm
by a groom from the hotel. He delivered a written message from Ambrose
which startled us. Further inquiries had positively proved that the
missing man had never been near Narrabee. The only attainable tidings of
his whereabouts were tidings derived from vague report. It was said that a
man like John Jago had been seen the previous day in a railway car,
traveling on the line to New York. Acting on this imperfect information,
Ambrose had decided on verifying the truth of the report by extending his
inquiries to New York.
This extraordinary proceeding forced the suspicion on me that something
had really gone wrong. I kept my doubts to myself; but I was prepared,
from that moment, to see the disappearance of John Jago followed by very
The same day the results declared themselves.
Time enough had now elapsed for report to spread through the district the
news of what had happened at the farm. Already aware of the bad feeling
existing between the men, the neighbors had been now informed (no doubt by
the laborers present) of the deplorable scene that had taken place under
my bedroom window. Public opinion declares itself in America without the
slightest reserve, or the slightest care for consequences. Public opinion
declared on this occasion that the lost man was the victim of foul play,
and held one or both of the brothers Meadowcroft responsible for his
disappearance. Later in the day, the reasonableness of this serious view
of the case was confirmed in the popular mind by a startling discovery. It
was announced that a Methodist preacher lately settled at Morwick, and
greatly respected throughout the district, had dreamed of John Jago in the
character of a murdered man, whose bones were hidden at Morwick Farm.
Before night the cry was general for a verification of the preacher's
dream. Not only in the immediate district, but in the town of Narrabee
itself, the public voice insisted on the necessity of a search for the
mortal remains of John Jago at Morwick Farm.
In the terrible turn which matters had now taken, Mr. Meadowcroft the
elder displayed a spirit and an energy for which I was not prepared.
"My sons have their faults," he said, "serious faults; and nobody knows it
better than I do. My sons have behaved badly and ungratefully toward John
Jago; I don't deny that, either. But Ambrose and Silas are not murderers.
Make your search! I ask for it; no, I insist on it, after what has been
said, in justice to my family and my name!"
The neighbors took him at his word. The Morwick section of the American
nation organized itself on the spot. The sovereign people met in
committee, made speeches, elected competent persons to represent the
public interests, and began the search the next day. The whole proceeding,
ridiculously informal from a legal point of view, was carried on by these
extraordinary people with as stern and strict a sense of duty as if it had
been sanctioned by the highest tribunal in the land.
Naomi met the calamity that had fallen on the household as resolutely as
her uncle himself. The girl's courage rose with the call which was made on
it. Her one anxiety was for Ambrose.
"He ought to be here," she said to me. "The wretches in this neighborhood
are wicked enough to say that his absence is a confession of his guilt."
She was right. In the present temper of the popular mind, the absence of
Ambrose was a suspicious circumstance in itself.
"We might telegraph to New York," I suggested, "if you only knew where a
message would be likely to find him."
"I know the hotel which the Meadowcrofts use at New York," she replied. "I
was sent there, after my father's death, to wait till Miss Meadowcroft
could take me to Morwick."
We decided on telegraphing to the hotel. I was writing the message, and
Naomi was looking over my shoulder, when we were startled by a strange
voice speaking close behind us.
"Oh! that's his address, is it?" said the voice. "We wanted his address
The speaker was a stranger to me. Naomi recognized him as one of the
"What do you want his address for?" she asked, sharply.
"I guess we've found the mortal remains of John Jago, miss," the man
replied. "We have got Silas already, and we want Ambrose too, on suspicion
"It's a lie!" cried Naomi, furiously—"a wicked lie!"
The man turned to me.
"Take her into the next room, mister," he said, "and let her see for
We went together into the next room.
In one corner, sitting by her father, and holding his hand, we saw stern
and stony Miss Meadowcroft weeping silently. Opposite to them, crouched on
the window-seat, his eyes wandering, his hands hanging helpless, we next
discovered Silas Meadowcroft, plainly self-betrayed as a panic-stricken
man. A few of the persons who had been engaged in the search were seated
near, watching him. The mass of the strangers present stood congregated
round a table in the middle of the room They drew aside as I approached
with Naomi and allowed us to have a clear view of certain objects placed
on the table.
The center object of the collection was a little heap of charred bones.
Round this were ranged a knife, two metal buttons, and a stick partially
burned. The knife was recognized by the laborers as the weapon John Jago
habitually carried about with him—the weapon with which he had
wounded Silas Meadowcroft's hand. The buttons Naomi herself declared to
have a peculiar pattern on them, which had formerly attracted her
attention to John Jago's coat. As for the stick, burned as it was, I had
no difficulty in identifying the quaintly-carved knob at the top. It was
the heavy beechen stick which I had snatched out of Silas's hand, and
which I had restored to Ambrose on his claiming it as his own. In reply to
my inquiries, I was informed that the bones, the knife, the buttons and
the stick had all been found together in a lime-kiln then in use on the
"Is it serious?" Naomi whispered to me as we drew back from the table.
It would have been sheer cruelty to deceive her now.
"Yes," I whispered back; "it is serious."
The search committee conducted its proceedings with the strictest
regularity. The proper applications were made forthwith to a justice of
the peace, and the justice issued his warrant. That night Silas was
committed to prison; and an officer was dispatched to arrest Ambrose in
For my part, I did the little I could to make myself useful. With the
silent sanction of Mr. Meadowcroft and his daughter, I went to Narrabee,
and secured the best legal assistance for the defense which the town could
place at my disposal. This done, there was no choice but to wait for news
of Ambrose, and for the examination before the magistrate which was to
follow. I shall pass over the misery in the house during the interval of
expectation; no useful purpose could be served by describing it now. Let
me only say that Naomi's conduct strengthened me in the conviction that
she possessed a noble nature. I was unconscious of the state of my own
feelings at the time; but I am now disposed to think that this was the
epoch at which I began to envy Ambrose the wife whom he had won.
The telegraph brought us our first news of Ambrose. He had been arrested
at the hotel, and he was on his way to Morwick. The next day he arrived,
and followed his brother to prison. The two were confined in separate
cells, and were forbidden all communication with each other.
Two days later, the preliminary examination took place. Ambrose and Silas
Meadowcroft were charged before the magistrate with the willful murder of
John Jago. I was cited to appear as one of the witnesses; and, at Naomi's
own request, I took the poor girl into court, and sat by her during the
proceedings. My host also was present in his invalid-chair, with his
daughter by his side.
Such was the result of my voyage across the ocean in search of rest and
quiet; and thus did time and chance fulfill my first hasty foreboding of
the dull life I was to lead at Morwick Farm!
CHAPTER VII. THE MATERIALS IN THE DEFENSE.
ON our way to the chairs allotted to us in the magistrate's court, we
passed the platform on which the prisoners were standing together.
Silas took no notice of us. Ambrose made a friendly sign of recognition,
and then rested his hand on the "bar" in front of him. As she passed
beneath him, Naomi was just tall enough to reach his hand on tiptoe. She
took it. "I know you are innocent," she whispered, and gave him one look
of loving encouragement as she followed me to her place. Ambrose never
lost his self-control. I may have been wrong; but I thought this a bad
The case, as stated for the prosecution, told strongly against the
Ambrose and Silas Meadowcroft were charged with the murder of John Jago
(by means of the stick or by use of some other weapon), and with the
deliberate destruction of the body by throwing it into the quicklime. In
proof of this latter assertion, the knife which the deceased habitually
carried about him, and the metal buttons which were known to belong to his
coat, were produced. It was argued that these indestructible substances,
and some fragments of the larger bones had alone escaped the action of the
burning lime. Having produced medical witnesses to support this theory by
declaring the bones to be human, and having thus circumstantially asserted
the discovery of the remains in the kiln, the prosecution next proceeded
to prove that the missing man had been murdered by the two brothers, and
had been by them thrown into the quicklime as a means of concealing their
Witness after witness deposed to the inveterate enmity against the
deceased displayed by Ambrose and Silas. The threatening language they
habitually used toward him; their violent quarrels with him, which had
become a public scandal throughout the neighborhood, and which had ended
(on one occasion at least) in a blow; the disgraceful scene which had
taken place under my window; and the restoration to Ambrose, on the
morning of the fatal quarrel, of the very stick which had been found among
the remains of the dead man—these facts and events, and a host of
minor circumstances besides, sworn to by witnesses whose credit was
unimpeachable, pointed with terrible directness to the conclusion at which
the prosecution had arrived.
I looked at the brothers as the weight of the evidence pressed more and
more heavily against them. To outward view at least, Ambrose still
maintained his self-possession. It was far otherwise with Silas. Abject
terror showed itself in his ghastly face; in his great knotty hands,
clinging convulsively to the bar at which he stood; in his staring eyes,
fixed in vacant horror on each witness who appeared. Public feeling judged
him on the spot. There he stood, self-betrayed already, in the popular
opinion, as a guilty man!
The one point gained in cross-examination by the defense related to the
Pressed on this point, a majority of the medical witnesses admitted that
their examination had been a hurried one; and that it was just possible
that the bones might yet prove to be the remains of an animal, and not of
a man. The presiding magistrate decided upon this that a second
examination should be made, and that the member of the medical experts
should be increased.
Here the preliminary proceedings ended. The prisoners were remanded for
The prostration of Silas, at the close of the inquiry, was so complete,
that it was found necessary to have two men to support him on his leaving
the court. Ambrose leaned over the bar to speak to Naomi before he
followed the jailer out. "Wait," he whispered, confidently, "till they
hear what I have to say!" Naomi kissed her hand to him affectionately, and
turned to me with the bright tears in her eyes.
"Why don't they hear what he has to say at once?" she asked. "Anybody can
see that Ambrose is innocent. It's a crying shame, sir, to send him back
to prison. Don't you think so yourself?"
If I had confessed what I really thought, I should have said that Ambrose
had proved nothing to my mind, except that he possessed rare powers of
self-control. It was impossible to acknowledge this to my little friend. I
diverted her mind from the question of her lover's innocence by proposing
that we should get the necessary order, and visit him in his prison on the
next day. Naomi dried her tears, and gave me a little grateful squeeze of
"Oh my! what a good fellow you are!" cried the outspoken American girl.
"When your time comes to be married, sir, I guess the woman won't repent
saying yes to you!"
Mr. Meadowcroft preserved unbroken silence as we walked back to the farm
on either side of his invalid-chair. His last reserves of resolution
seemed to have given way under the overwhelming strain laid on them by the
proceedings in court. His daughter, in stern indulgence to Naomi,
mercifully permitted her opinion to glimmer on us only through the medium
of quotation from Scripture texts. If the texts meant anything, they meant
that she had foreseen all that had happened; and that the one sad aspect
of the case, to her mind, was the death of John Jago, unprepared to meet
I obtained the order of admission to the prison the next morning.
We found Ambrose still confident of the favorable result, for his brother
and for himself, of the inquiry before the magistrate. He seemed to be
almost as eager to tell, as Naomi was to hear, the true story of what had
happened at the lime-kiln. The authorities of the prison—present, of
course, at the interview—warned him to remember that what he said
might be taken down in writing, and produced against him in court.
"Take it down, gentlemen, and welcome," Ambrose replied. "I have nothing
to fear; I am only telling the truth."
With that he turned to Naomi, and began his narrative, as nearly as I can
remember, in these words:
"I may as well make a clean breast of it at starting, my girl. After Mr.
Lefrank left us that morning, I asked Silas how he came by my stick. In
telling me how, Silas also told me of the words that had passed between
him and John Jago under Mr. Lefrank's window. I was angry and jealous; and
I own it freely, Naomi, I thought the worst that could be thought about
you and John."
Here Naomi stopped him without ceremony.
"Was that what made you speak to me as you spoke when we found you at the
wood?" she asked.
"And was that what made you leave me, when you went away to Narrabee,
without giving me a kiss at parting?"
"Beg my pardon for it before you say a word more."
"I beg your pardon."
"Say you are ashamed of yourself."
"I am ashamed of myself," Ambrose answered penitently.
"Now you may go on," said Naomi. "Now I'm satisfied."
Ambrose went on.
"We were on our way to the clearing at the other side of the wood while
Silas was talking to me; and, as ill luck would have it, we took the path
that led by the lime-kiln. Turning the corner, we met John Jago on his way
to Narrabee. I was too angry, I tell you, to let him pass quietly. I gave
him a bit of my mind. His blood was up too, I suppose; and he spoke out,
on his side, as freely as I did. I own I threatened him with the stick;
but I'll swear to it I meant him no harm. You know—after dressing
Silas's hand—that John Jago is ready with his knife. He comes from
out West, where they are always ready with one weapon or another handy in
their pockets. It's likely enough he didn't mean to harm me, either; but
how could I be sure of that? When he stepped up to me, and showed his
weapon, I dropped the stick, and closed with him. With one hand I wrenched
the knife away from him; and with the other I caught him by the collar of
his rotten old coat, and gave him a shaking that made his bones rattle in
his skin. A big piece of the cloth came away in my hand. I shied it into
the quicklime close by us, and I pitched the knife after the cloth; and,
if Silas hadn't stopped me, I think it's likely I might have shied John
Jago himself into the lime next. As it was, Silas kept hold of me. Silas
shouted out to him, 'Be off with you! and don't come back again, if you
don't want to be burned in the kiln!' He stood looking at us for a minute,
fetching his breath, and holding his torn coat round him. Then he spoke
with a deadly-quiet voice and a deadly-quiet look: 'Many a true word, Mr.
Silas,' he says, 'is spoken in jest. I shall not come back again.'
He turned about, and left us. We stood staring at each other like a couple
of fools. 'You don't think he means it?' I says. 'Bosh!' says Silas. 'He's
too sweet on Naomi not to come back.' What's the matter now, Naomi?"
I had noticed it too. She started and turned pale, when Ambrose repeated
to her what Silas had said to him.
"Nothing is the matter," Naomi answered. "Your brother has no right to
take liberties with my name. Go on. Did Silas say any more while he was
"Yes; he looked into the kiln; and he says, 'What made you throw away the
knife, Ambrose?'—'How does a man know why he does anything,' I says,
'when he does it in a passion?'—'It's a ripping good knife,' says
Silas; 'in your place, I should have kept it.' I picked up the stick off
the ground. 'Who says I've lost it yet?' I answered him; and with that I
got up on the side of the kiln, and began sounding for the knife, to bring
it, you know, by means of the stick, within easy reach of a shovel, or
some such thing. 'Give us your hand,' I says to Silas. 'Let me stretch out
a bit and I'll have it in no time.' Instead of finding the knife, I came
nigh to falling myself into the burning lime. The vapor overpowered me, I
suppose. All I know is, I turned giddy, and dropped the stick in the kiln.
I should have followed the stick to a dead certainty, but for Silas
pulling me back by the hand. 'Let it be,' says Silas. 'If I hadn't had
hold of you, John Jago's knife would have been the death of you, after
all!' He led me away by the arm, and we went on together on the road to
the wood. We stopped where you found us, and sat down on the felled tree.
We had a little more talk about John Jago. It ended in our agreeing to
wait and see what happened, and to keep our own counsel in the meantime.
You and Mr. Lefrank came upon us, Naomi, while we were still talking; and
you guessed right when you guessed that we had a secret from you. You know
the secret now."
There he stopped. I put a question to him—the first that I had asked
"Had you or your brother any fear at that time of the charge which has
since been brought against you?" I said.
"No such thought entered our heads, sir," Ambrose answered. "How could we
foresee that the neighbors would search the kiln, and say what they have
said of us? All we feared was, that the old man might hear of the quarrel,
and be bitterer against us than ever. I was the more anxious of the two to
keep things secret, because I had Naomi to consider as well as the old
man. Put yourself in my place, and you will own, sir, that the prospect at
home was not a pleasant one for me, if John Jago really kept away
from the farm, and if it came out that it was all my doing."
(This was certainly an explanation of his conduct; but it was not
satisfactory to my mind.)
"As you believe, then," I went on, "John Jago has carried out his
threat of not returning to the farm? According to you, he is now alive,
and in hiding somewhere?"
"Certainly!" said Ambrose.
"Certainly!" repeated Naomi.
"Do you believe the report that he was seen traveling on the railway to
"I believe it firmly, sir; and, what is more, I believe I was on his
track. I was only too anxious to find him; and I say I could have found
him if they would have let me stay in New York."
I looked at Naomi.
"I believe it too," she said. "John Jago is keeping away."
"Do you suppose he is afraid of Ambrose and Silas?"
"He may be afraid of them," she replied, with a strong emphasis on
the word "may."
"But you don't think it likely?"
She hesitated again. I pressed her again.
"Do you think there is any other motive for his absence?"
Her eyes dropped to the floor. She answered obstinately, almost doggedly,
"I can't say."
I addressed myself to Ambrose.
"Have you anything more to tell us?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I have told you all I know about it."
I rose to speak to the lawyer whose services I had retained. He had helped
us to get the order of admission, and he had accompanied us to the prison.
Seated apart he had kept silence throughout, attentively watching the
effect of Ambrose Meadowcroft's narrative on the officers of the prison
and on me.
"Is this the defense?" I inquired, in a whisper.
"This is the defense, Mr. Lefrank. What do you think, between ourselves?"
"Between ourselves, I think the magistrate will commit them for trial."
"On the charge of murder?"
"Yes, on the charge of murder."
CHAPTER VIII. THE CONFESSION.
MY replies to the lawyer accurately expressed the conviction in my mind.
The narrative related by Ambrose had all the appearance, in my eyes, of a
fabricated story, got up, and clumsily got up, to pervert the plain
meaning of the circumstantial evidence produced by the prosecution. I
reached this conclusion reluctantly and regretfully, for Naomi's sake. I
said all I could say to shake the absolute confidence which she felt in
the discharge of the prisoners at the next examination.
The day of the adjourned inquiry arrived.
Naomi and I again attended the court together. Mr. Meadowcroft was unable,
on this occasion, to leave the house. His daughter was present, walking to
the court by herself, and occupying a seat by herself.
On his second appearance at the "bar," Silas was more composed, and more
like his brother. No new witnesses were called by the prosecution. We
began the battle over the medical evidence relating to the charred bones;
and, to some extent, we won the victory. In other words, we forced the
doctors to acknowledge that they differed widely in their opinions. Three
confessed that they were not certain. Two went still further, and declared
that the bones were the bones of an animal, not of a man. We made the most
of this; and then we entered upon the defense, founded on Ambrose
Necessarily, no witnesses could be called on our side. Whether this
circumstance discouraged him, or whether he privately shared my opinion of
his client's statement, I cannot say. It is only certain that the lawyer
spoke mechanically, doing his best, no doubt, but doing it without genuine
conviction or earnestness on his own part. Naomi cast an anxious glance at
me as he sat down. The girl's hand, as I took it, turned cold in mine. She
saw plain signs of the failure of the defense in the look and manner of
the counsel for the prosecution; but she waited resolutely until the
presiding magistrate announced his decision. I had only too clearly
foreseen what he would feel it to be his duty to do. Naomi's head dropped
on my shoulder as he said the terrible words which committed Ambrose and
Silas Meadowcroft to take their trial on the charge of murder.
I led her out of the court into the air. As I passed the "bar," I saw
Ambrose, deadly pale, looking after us as we left him: the magistrate's
decision had evidently daunted him. His brother Silas had dropped in
abject terror on the jailer's chair; the miserable wretch shook and
shuddered dumbly, like a cowed dog.
Miss Meadowcroft returned with us to the farm, preserving unbroken silence
on the way back. I could detect nothing in her bearing which suggested any
compassionate feeling for the prisoners in her stern and secret nature. On
Naomi's withdrawal to her own room, we were left together for a few
minutes; and then, to my astonishment, the outwardly merciless woman
showed me that she, too, was one of Eve's daughters, and could feel and
suffer, in her own hard way, like the rest of us. She suddenly stepped
close up to me, and laid her hand on my arm.
"You are a lawyer, ain't you?" she asked.
"Have you had any experience in your profession?"
"Ten years' experience."
"Do you think—" She stopped abruptly; her hard face softened;
her eyes dropped to the ground. "Never mind," she said, confusedly. "I'm
upset by all this misery, though I may not look like it. Don't notice me."
She turned away. I waited, in the firm persuasion that the unspoken
question in her mind would sooner or later force its way to utterance by
her lips. I was right. She came back to me unwillingly, like a woman
acting under some influence which the utmost exertion of her will was
powerless to resist.
"Do you believe John Jago is still a living man?"
She put the question vehemently, desperately, as if the words rushed out
of her mouth in spite of her.
"I do not believe it," I answered.
"Remember what John Jago has suffered at the hands of my brothers," she
persisted. "Is it not in your experience that he should take a sudden
resolution to leave the farm?"
I replied, as plainly as before,
"It is not in my experience."
She stood looking at me for a moment with a face of blank despair; then
bowed her gray head in silence, and left me. As she crossed the room to
the door, I saw her look upward; and I heard her say to herself softly,
between her teeth, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."
It was the requiem of John Jago, pronounced by the woman who loved him.
When I next saw her, her mask was on once more. Miss Meadowcroft was
herself again. Miss Meadowcroft could sit by, impenetrably calm, while the
lawyers discussed the terrible position of her brothers, with the scaffold
in view as one of the possibilities of the "case."
Left by myself, I began to feel uneasy about Naomi. I went upstairs, and,
knocking softly at her door, made my inquiries from outside. The clear
young voice answered me sadly, "I am trying to bear it: I won't distress
you when we meet again." I descended the stairs, feeling my first
suspicion of the true nature of my interest in the American girl. Why had
her answer brought the tears into my eyes? I went out, walking alone, to
think undisturbedly. Why did the tones of her voice dwell on my ear all
the way? Why did my hand still feel the last cold, faint pressure of her
fingers when I led her out of court?
I took a sudden resolution to go back to England.
When I returned to the farm, it was evening. The lamp was not yet lighted
in the hall. Pausing to accustom my eyes to the obscurity indoors, I heard
the voice of the lawyer whom we had employed for the defense speaking to
some one very earnestly.
"I'm not to blame," said the voice. "She snatched the paper out of my hand
before I was aware of her."
"Do you want it back?" asked the voice of Miss Meadowcroft.
"No; it's only a copy. If keeping it will help to quiet her, let her keep
it by all means. Good evening."
Saying these last words, the lawyer approached me on his way out of the
house. I stopped him without ceremony; I felt an ungovernable curiosity to
"Who snatched the paper out of your hand?" I asked, bluntly.
The lawyer started. I had taken him by surprise. The instinct of
professional reticence made him pause before he answered me.
In the brief interval of silence, Miss Meadowcroft replied to my question
from the other end of the hall.
"Naomi Colebrook snatched the paper out of his hand."
A door opened softly behind me. Naomi herself appeared on the threshold;
Naomi herself answered my question.
"I will tell you," she whispered. "Come in here."
One candle only was burning in the room. I looked at her by the dim light.
My resolution to return to England instantly became one of the lost ideas
of my life.
"Good God!" I exclaimed, "what has happened now?"
She handed me the paper which she had taken from the lawyer's hand.
The "copy" to which he had referred was a copy of the written confession
of Silas Meadowcroft on his return to prison. He accused his brother
Ambrose of the murder of John Jago. He declared on his oath that he had
seen his brother Ambrose commit the crime.
In the popular phrase, I could "hardly believe my own eyes." I read the
last sentences of the confession for the second time:
"...I heard their voices at the lime-kiln. They were having words about
Cousin Naomi. I ran to the place to part them. I was not in time. I saw
Ambrose strike the deceased a terrible blow on the head with his
(Ambrose's) heavy stick. The deceased dropped without a cry. I put my hand
on his heart. He was dead. I was horribly frightened. Ambrose threatened
to kill me next if I said a word to any living soul. He took up the
body and cast it into the quicklime, and threw the stick in after it. We
went on together to the wood. We sat down on a felled tree outside the
wood. Ambrose made up the story that we were to tell if what he had done
was found out. He made me repeat it after him, like a lesson. We were
still at it when Cousin Naomi and Mr. Lefrank came up to us. They know the
rest. This, on my oath, is a true confession. I make it of my own
free-will, repenting me sincerely that I did not make it before."
I laid down the paper, and looked at Naomi once more. She spoke to me with
a strange composure. Immovable determination was in her eye; immovable
determination was in her voice.
"Silas has lied away his brother's life to save himself," she said. "I see
cowardly falsehood and cowardly cruelty in every line on that paper.
Ambrose is innocent, and the time has come to prove it."
"You forget," I said, "that we have just failed to prove it."
"John Jago is alive, in hiding from us and from all who know him," she
went on. "Help me, friend Lefrank, to advertise for him in the
I drew back from her in speechless distress. I own I believed that the new
misery which had fallen on her had affected her brain.
"You don't believe it," she said. "Shut the door."
I obeyed her. She seated herself, and pointed to a chair near her.
"Sit down," she proceeded. "I am going to do a wrong thing; but there is
no help for it. I am going to break a sacred promise. You remember that
moonlight night when I met him on the garden walk?"
"Yes. Now listen. I am going to tell you what passed between John Jago and
CHAPTER IX. THE ADVERTISEMENT.
I WAITED in silence for the disclosure that was now to come. Naomi began
by asking me a question.
"You remember when we went to see Ambrose in the prison?" she said.
"Ambrose told us of something which his villain of a brother said of John
Jago and me. Do you remember what it was?"
I remembered perfectly. Silas had said, "John Jago is too sweet on Naomi
not to come back."
"That's so," Naomi remarked when I had repeated the words. "I couldn't
help starting when I heard what Silas had said; and I thought you noticed
"I did notice you."
"Did you wonder what it meant?"
"I'll tell you. It meant this: What Silas Meadowcroft said to his brother
of John Jago was what I myself was thinking of John Jago at that very
moment. It startled me to find my own thought in a man's mind spoken for
me by a man. I am the person, sir, who has driven John Jago away from
Morwick Farm; and I am the person who can and will bring him back again."
There was something in her manner, more than in her words, which let the
light in suddenly on my mind.
"You have told me the secret," I said. "John Jago is in love with you."
"Mad about me!" she rejoined, dropping her voice to a whisper. "Stark,
staring mad!—that's the only word for him. After we had taken a few
turns on the gravel-walk, he suddenly broke out like a man beside himself.
He fell down on his knees; he kissed my gown, he kissed my feet; he sobbed
and cried for love of me. I'm not badly off for courage, sir, considering
I'm a woman. No man, that I can call to mind, ever really scared me
before. But I own John Jago frightened me; oh my! he did frighten me! My
heart was in my mouth, and my knees shook under me. I begged and prayed of
him to get up and go away. No; there he knelt, and held by the skirt of my
gown. The words poured out from him like—well, like nothing I can
think of but water from a pump. His happiness and his life, and his hopes
in earth and heaven, and Lord only knows what besides, all depended, he
said, on a word from me. I plucked up spirit enough at that to remind him
that I was promised to Ambrose. 'I think you ought to be ashamed of
yourself,' I said, 'to own that you're wicked enough to love me when you
know I am promised to another man!' When I spoke to him he took a new
turn; he began abusing Ambrose. That straightened me up. I snatched
my gown out of his hand, and I gave him my whole mind. 'I hate you!' I
said. 'Even if I wasn't promised to Ambrose, I wouldn't marry you—no!
not if there wasn't another man left in the world to ask me. I hate you,
Mr. Jago! I hate you!' He saw I was in earnest at last. He got up from my
feet, and he settled down quiet again, all on a sudden. 'You have said
enough' (that was how he answered me). 'You have broken my life. I have no
hopes and no prospects now. I had a pride in the farm, miss, and a pride
in my work; I bore with your brutish cousins' hatred of me; I was faithful
to Mr. Meadowcroft's interests; all for your sake, Naomi Colebrook—all
for your sake! I have done with it now; I have done with my life at the
farm. You will never be troubled with me again. I am going away, as the
dumb creatures go when they are sick, to hide myself in a corner, and die.
Do me one last favor. Don't make me the laughing-stock of the whole
neighborhood. I can't bear that; it maddens me only to think of it. Give
me your promise never to tell any living soul what I have said to you
to-night—your sacred promise to the man whose life you have broken!'
I did as he bade me; I gave him my sacred promise with the tears in my
eyes. Yes, that is so. After telling him I hated him (and I did hate him),
I cried over his misery; I did! Mercy, what fools women are! What is the
horrid perversity, sir, which makes us always ready to pity the men? He
held out his hand to me; and he said, 'Good-by forever!' and I pitied him.
I said, 'I'll shake hands with you if you will give me your promise in
exchange for mine. I beg of you not to leave the farm. What will my uncle
do if you go away? Stay here, and be friends with me, and forget and
forgive, Mr. John.' He gave me his promise (he can refuse me nothing); and
he gave it again when I saw him again the next morning. Yes. I'll do him
justice, though I do hate him! I believe he honestly meant to keep his
word as long as my eye was on him. It was only when he was left to himself
that the Devil tempted him to break his promise and leave the farm. I was
brought up to believe in the Devil, Mr. Lefrank; and I find it explains
many things. It explains John Jago. Only let me find out where he has
gone, and I'll engage he shall come back and clear Ambrose of the
suspicion which his vile brother has cast on him. Here is the pen all
ready for you. Advertise for him, friend Lefrank; and do it right away,
for my sake!"
I let her run on, without attempting to dispute her conclusions, until she
could say no more. When she put the pen into my hand, I began the
composition of the advertisement as obediently as if I, too, believed that
John Jago was a living man.
In the case of any one else, I should have openly acknowledged that my own
convictions remained unshaken. If no quarrel had taken place at the
lime-kiln, I should have been quite ready, as I viewed the case, to
believe that John Jago's disappearance was referable to the terrible
disappointment which Naomi had inflicted on him. The same morbid dread of
ridicule which had led him to assert that he cared nothing for Naomi, when
he and Silas had quarreled under my bedroom window, might also have
impelled him to withdraw himself secretly and suddenly from the scene of
his discomfiture. But to ask me to believe, after what had happened at the
lime-kiln, that he was still living, was to ask me to take Ambrose
Meadowcroft's statement for granted as a true statement of facts.
I had refused to do this from the first; and I still persisted in taking
that course. If I had been called upon to decide the balance of
probability between the narrative related by Ambrose in his defense and
the narrative related by Silas in his confession, I must have owned, no
matter how unwillingly, that the confession was, to my mind, the least
incredible story of the two.
Could I say this to Naomi? I would have written fifty advertisements
inquiring for John Jago rather than say it; and you would have done the
same, if you had been as fond of her as I was. I drew out the
advertisement, for insertion in the Morwick Mercury, in these
MURDER.—Printers of newspapers throughout the United States are
desired to publish that Ambrose Meadowcroft and Silas Meadowcroft, of
Morwick Farm, Morwick County, are committed for trial on the charge of
murdering John Jago, now missing from the farm and from the neighborhood.
Any person who can give information of the existence of said Jago may save
the lives of two wrongly-accused men by making immediate communication.
Jago is about five feet four inches high. He is spare and wiry; his
complexion is extremely pale, his eyes are dark, and very bright and
restless. The lower part of his face is concealed by a thick black beard
and mustache. The whole appearance of the man is wild and flighty.
I added the date and the address. That evening a servant was sent on
horseback to Narrabee to procure the insertion of the advertisement in the
next issue of the newspaper.
When we parted that night, Naomi looked almost like her brighter and
happier self. Now that the advertisement was on its way to the
printing-office, she was more than sanguine: she was certain of the
"You don't know how you have comforted me," she said, in her frank,
warm-hearted way, when we parted for the night. "All the newspapers will
copy it, and we shall hear of John Jago before the week is out." She
turned to go, and came back again to me. "I will never forgive Silas for
writing that confession!" she whispered in my ear. "If he ever lives under
the same roof with Ambrose again, I—well, I believe I wouldn't marry
Ambrose if he did! There!"
She left me. Through the wakeful hours of the night my mind dwelt on her
last words. That she should contemplate, under any circumstances, even the
bare possibility of not marrying Ambrose, was, I am ashamed to say, a
direct encouragement to certain hopes which I had already begun to form in
secret. The next day's mail brought me a letter on business. My clerk
wrote to inquire if there was any chance of my returning to England in
time to appear in court at the opening of next law term. I answered,
without hesitation, "It is still impossible for me to fix the date of my
return." Naomi was in the room while I was writing. How would she have
answered, I wonder, if I had told her the truth, and said, "You are
responsible for this letter?"
CHAPTER X. THE SHERIFF AND THE GOVERNOR.
THE question of time was now a serious question at Morwick Farm. In six
weeks the court for the trial of criminal cases was to be opened at
During this interval no new event of any importance occurred.
Many idle letters reached us relating to the advertisement for John Jago;
but no positive information was received. Not the slightest trace of the
lost man turned up; not the shadow of a doubt was cast on the assertion of
the prosecution, that his body had been destroyed in the kiln. Silas
Meadowcroft held firmly to the horrible confession that he had made. His
brother Ambrose, with equal resolution, asserted his innocence, and
reiterated the statement which he had already advanced. At regular periods
I accompanied Naomi to visit him in the prison. As the day appointed for
the opening of the court approached, he seemed to falter a little in his
resolution; his manner became restless; and he grew irritably suspicious
about the merest trifles. This change did not necessarily imply the
consciousness of guilt: it might merely have indicated natural nervous
agitation as the time for the trial drew near. Naomi noticed the
alteration in her lover. It greatly increased her anxiety, though it never
shook her confidence in Ambrose. Except at meal-times, I was left, during
the period of which I am now writing, almost constantly alone with the
charming American girl. Miss Meadowcroft searched the newspapers for
tidings of the living John Jago in the privacy of her own room. Mr.
Meadowcroft would see nobody but his daughter and his doctor, and
occasionally one or two old friends. I have since had reason to believe
that Naomi, in these days of our intimate association, discovered the true
nature of the feeling with which she had inspired me. But she kept her
secret. Her manner toward me steadily remained the manner of a sister; she
never overstepped by a hair-breadth the safe limits of the character that
she had assumed.
The sittings of the court began. After hearing the evidence, and examining
the confession of Silas Meadowcroft, the grand jury found a true bill
against both the prisoners. The day appointed for their trial was the
first day in the new week.
I had carefully prepared Naomi's mind for the decision of the grand jury.
She bore the new blow bravely.
"If you are not tired of it," she said, "come with me to the prison
tomorrow. Ambrose will need a little comfort by that time." She paused,
and looked at the day's letters lying on the table. "Still not a word
about John Jago," she said. "And all the papers have copied the
advertisement. I felt so sure we should hear of him long before this!"
"Do you still feel sure that he is living?" I ventured to ask.
"I am as certain of it as ever," she replied, firmly. "He is somewhere in
hiding; perhaps he is in disguise. Suppose we know no more of him than we
know now when the trial begins? Suppose the jury—" She stopped,
shuddering. Death—shameful death on the scaffold—might be the
terrible result of the consultation of the jury. "We have waited for news
to come to us long enough," Naomi resumed. "We must find the tracks of
John Jago for ourselves. There is a week yet before the trial begins. Who
will help me to make inquiries? Will you be the man, friend Lefrank?"
It is needless to add (though I knew nothing would come of it) that I
consented to be the man.
We arranged to apply that day for the order of admission to the prison,
and, having seen Ambrose, to devote ourselves immediately to the
contemplated search. How that search was to be conducted was more than I
could tell, and more than Naomi could tell. We were to begin by applying
to the police to help us to find John Jago, and we were then to be guided
by circumstances. Was there ever a more hopeless programme than this?
"Circumstances" declared themselves against us at starting. I applied, as
usual, for the order of admission to the prison, and the order was for the
first time refused; no reason being assigned by the persons in authority
for taking this course. Inquire as I might, the only answer given was,
At Naomi's suggestion, we went to the prison to seek the explanation which
was refused to us at the office. The jailer on duty at the outer gate was
one of Naomi's many admirers. He solved the mystery cautiously in a
whisper. The sheriff and the governor of the prison were then speaking
privately with Ambrose Meadowcroft in his cell; they had expressly
directed that no persons should be admitted to see the prisoner that day
What did it mean? We returned, wondering, to the farm. There Naomi,
speaking by chance to one of the female servants, made certain
Early that morning the sheriff had been brought to Morwick by an old
friend of the Meadowcrofts. A long interview had been held between Mr.
Meadowcroft and his daughter and the official personage introduced by the
friend. Leaving the farm, the sheriff had gone straight to the prison, and
had proceeded with the governor to visit Ambrose in his cell. Was some
potent influence being brought privately to bear on Ambrose? Appearances
certainly suggested that inquiry. Supposing the influence to have been
really exerted, the next question followed, What was the object in view?
We could only wait and see.
Our patience was not severely tried. The event of the next day enlightened
us in a very unexpected manner. Before noon, the neighbors brought
startling news from the prison to the farm.
Ambrose Meadowcroft had confessed himself to be the murderer of John Jago!
He had signed the confession in the presence of the sheriff and the
governor on that very day.
I saw the document. It is needless to reproduce it here. In substance,
Ambrose confessed what Silas had confessed; claiming, however, to have
only struck Jago under intolerable provocation, so as to reduce the nature
of his offense against the law from murder to manslaughter. Was the
confession really the true statement of what had taken place? or had the
sheriff and the governor, acting in the interests of the family name,
persuaded Ambrose to try this desperate means of escaping the ignominy of
death on the scaffold? The sheriff and the governor preserved impenetrable
silence until the pressure put on them judicially at the trial obliged
them to speak.
Who was to tell Naomi of this last and saddest of all the calamities which
had fallen on her? Knowing how I loved her in secret, I felt an invincible
reluctance to be the person who revealed Ambrose Meadowcroft's degradation
to his betrothed wife. Had any other member of the family told her what
had happened? The lawyer was able to answer me; Miss Meadowcroft had told
I was shocked when I heard it. Miss Meadowcroft was the last person in the
house to spare the poor girl; Miss Meadowcroft would make the hard tidings
doubly terrible to bear in the telling. I tried to find Naomi, without
success. She had been always accessible at other times. Was she hiding
herself from me now? The idea occurred to me as I was descending the
stairs after vainly knocking at the door of her room. I was determined to
see her. I waited a few minutes, and then ascended the stairs again
suddenly. On the landing I met her, just leaving her room.
She tried to run back. I caught her by the arm, and detained her. With her
free hand she held her handkerchief over her face so as to hide it from
"You once told me I had comforted you," I said to her, gently. "Won't you
let me comfort you now?"
She still struggled to get away, and still kept her head turned from me.
"Don't you see that I am ashamed to look you in the face?" she said, in
low, broken tones. "Let me go."
I still persisted in trying to soothe her. I drew her to the window-seat.
I said I would wait until she was able to speak to me.
She dropped on the seat, and wrung her hands on her lap. Her downcast eyes
still obstinately avoided meeting mine.
"Oh!" she said to herself, "what madness possessed me? Is it possible that
I ever disgraced myself by loving Ambrose Meadowcroft?" She shuddered as
the idea found its way to expression on her lips. The tears rolled slowly
over her cheeks. "Don't despise me, Mr. Lefrank!" she said, faintly.
I tried, honestly tried, to put the confession before her in its least
"His resolution has given way," I said. "He has done this, despairing of
proving his innocence, in terror of the scaffold."
She rose, with an angry stamp of her foot. She turned her face on me with
the deep-red flush of shame in it, and the big tears glistening in her
"No more of him!" she said, sternly. "If he is not a murderer, what else
is he? A liar and a coward! In which of his characters does he disgrace me
most? I have done with him forever! I will never speak to him again!" She
pushed me furiously away from her; advanced a few steps toward her own
door; stopped, and came back to me. The generous nature of the girl spoke
in her next words. "I am not ungrateful to you, friend Lefrank. A
woman in my place is only a woman; and, when she is shamed as I am, she
feels it very bitterly. Give me your hand! God bless you!"
She put my hand to her lips before I was aware of her, and kissed it, and
ran back into her room.
I sat down on the place which she had occupied. She had looked at me for
one moment when she kissed my hand. I forgot Ambrose and his confession; I
forgot the coming trial; I forgot my professional duties and my English
friends. There I sat, in a fool's elysium of my own making, with
absolutely nothing in my mind but the picture of Naomi's face at the
moment when she had last looked at me!
I have already mentioned that I was in love with her. I merely add this to
satisfy you that I tell the truth.
CHAPTER XI. THE PEBBLE AND THE WINDOW.
MISS MEADOWCROFT and I were the only representatives of the family at the
farm who attended the trial. We went separately to Narrabee. Excepting the
ordinary greetings at morning and night, Miss Meadowcroft had not said one
word to me since the time when I had told her that I did not
believe John Jago to be a living man.
I have purposely abstained from encumbering my narrative with legal
details. I now propose to state the nature of the defense in the briefest
We insisted on making both the prisoners plead not guilty. This done, we
took an objection to the legality of the proceedings at starting. We
appealed to the old English law, that there should be no conviction for
murder until the body of the murdered person was found, or proof of its
destruction obtained beyond a doubt. We denied that sufficient proof had
been obtained in the case now before the court.
The judges consulted, and decided that the trial should go on.
We took our next objection when the confessions were produced in evidence.
We declared that they had been extorted by terror, or by undue influence;
and we pointed out certain minor particulars in which the two confessions
failed to corroborate each other. For the rest, our defense on this
occasion was, as to essentials, what our defense had been at the inquiry
before the magistrate. Once more the judges consulted, and once more they
overruled our objection. The confessions were admitted in evidence. On
their side, the prosecution produced one new witness in support of their
case. It is needless to waste time in recapitulating his evidence. He
contradicted himself gravely on cross-examination. We showed plainly, and
after investigation proved, that he was not to be believed on his oath.
The chief-justice summed up.
He charged, in relation to the confessions, that no weight should be
attached to a confession incited by hope or fear; and he left it to the
jury to determine whether the confessions in this case had been so
influenced. In the course of the trial, it had been shown for the defense
that the sheriff and the governor of the prison had told Ambrose, with his
father's knowledge and sanction, that the case was clearly against him;
that the only chance of sparing his family the disgrace of his death by
public execution lay in making a confession; and that they would do their
best, if he did confess, to have his sentence commuted to imprisonment for
life. As for Silas, he was proved to have been beside himself with terror
when he made his abominable charge against his brother. We had vainly
trusted to the evidence on these two points to induce the court to reject
the confessions: and we were destined to be once more disappointed in
anticipating that the same evidence would influence the verdict of the
jury on the side of mercy. After an absence of an hour, they returned into
court with a verdict of "Guilty" against both the prisoners.
Being asked in due form if they had anything to say in mitigation of their
sentence, Ambrose and Silas solemnly declared their innocence, and
publicly acknowledged that their respective confessions had been wrung
from them by the hope of escaping the hangman's hands. This statement was
not noticed by the bench. The prisoners were both sentenced to death.
On my return to the farm, I did not see Naomi. Miss Meadowcroft informed
her of the result of the trial. Half an hour later, one of the
women-servants handed to me an envelope bearing my name on it in Naomi's
The envelope inclosed a letter, and with it a slip of paper on which Naomi
had hurriedly written these words: "For God's sake, read the letter I send
to you, and do something about it immediately!"
I looked at the letter. It assumed to be written by a gentleman in New
York. Only the day before, he had, by the merest accident, seen the
advertisement for John Jago cut out of a newspaper and pasted into a book
of "curiosities" kept by a friend. Upon this he wrote to Morwick Farm to
say that he had seen a man exactly answering to the description of John
Jago, but bearing another name, working as a clerk in a merchant's office
in Jersey City. Having time to spare before the mail went out, he had
returned to the office to take another look at the man before he posted
his letter. To his surprise, he was informed that the clerk had not
appeared at his desk that day. His employer had sent to his lodgings, and
had been informed that he had suddenly packed up his hand-bag after
reading the newspaper at breakfast; had paid his rent honestly, and had
gone away, nobody knew where!
It was late in the evening when I read these lines. I had time for
reflection before it would be necessary for me to act.
Assuming the letter to be genuine, and adopting Naomi's explanation of the
motive which had led John Jago to absent himself secretly from the farm, I
reached the conclusion that the search for him might be usefully limited
to Narrabee and to the surrounding neighborhood.
The newspaper at his breakfast had no doubt given him his first
information of the "finding" of the grand jury, and of the trial to
follow. It was in my experience of human nature that he should venture
back to Narrabee under these circumstances, and under the influence of his
infatuation for Naomi. More than this, it was again in my experience, I am
sorry to say, that he should attempt to make the critical position of
Ambrose a means of extorting Naomi's consent to listen favorably to his
suit. Cruel indifference to the injury and the suffering which his sudden
absence might inflict on others was plainly implied in his secret
withdrawal from the farm. The same cruel indifference, pushed to a further
extreme, might well lead him to press his proposals privately on Naomi,
and to fix her acceptance of them as the price to be paid for saving her
To these conclusions I arrived after much thinking. I had determined, on
Naomi's account, to clear the matter up; but it is only candid to add that
my doubts of John Jago's existence remained unshaken by the letter. I
believed it to be nothing more nor less than a heartless and stupid
The striking of the hall-clock roused me from my meditations. I counted
I rose to go up to my room. Everybody else in the farm had retired to bed,
as usual, more than an hour since. The stillness in the house was
breathless. I walked softly, by instinct, as I crossed the room to look
out at the night. A lovely moonlight met my view; it was like the
moonlight on the fatal evening when Naomi had met John Jago on the garden
My bedroom candle was on the side-table; I had just lighted it. I was just
leaving the room, when the door suddenly opened, and Naomi herself stood
Recovering the first shook of her sudden appearance, I saw instantly in
her eager eyes, in her deadly-pale cheeks, that something serious had
happened. A large cloak was thrown over her; a white handkerchief was tied
over her head. Her hair was in disorder; she had evidently just risen in
fear and in haste from her bed.
"What is it?" I asked, advancing to meet her.
She clung, trembling with agitation, to my arm.
"John Jago!" she whispered.
You will think my obstinacy invincible. I could hardly believe it, even
"Where?" I asked.
"In the back-yard," she replied, "under my bedroom window!"
The emergency was far too serious to allow of any consideration for the
small proprieties of every-day life.
"Let me see him!" I said.
"I am here to fetch you," she answered, in her frank and fearless way.
"Come upstairs with me."
Her room was on the first floor of the house, and was the only bedroom
which looked out on the back-yard. On our way up the stairs she told me
what had happened.
"I was in bed," she said, "but not asleep, when I heard a pebble strike
against the window-pane. I waited, wondering what it meant. Another pebble
was thrown against the glass. So far, I was surprised, but not frightened.
I got up, and ran to the window to look out. There was John Jago looking
up at me in the moonlight!"
"Did he see you?"
"Yes. He said, 'Come down and speak to me! I have something serious to say
"Did you answer him?"
"As soon as I could catch my breath, I said, 'Wait a little,' and ran
downstairs to you. What shall I do?"
"Let me see him, and I will tell you."
We entered her room. Keeping cautiously behind the window-curtain, I
There he was! His beard and mustache were shaved off; his hair was close
cut. But there was no disguising his wild, brown eyes, or the peculiar
movement of his spare, wiry figure, as he walked slowly to and fro in the
moonlight waiting for Naomi. For the moment, my own agitation almost
overpowered me; I had so firmly disbelieved that John Jago was a living
"What shall I do?" Naomi repeated.
"Is the door of the dairy open?" I asked.
"No; but the door of the tool-house, round the corner, is not locked."
"Very good. Show yourself at the window, and say to him, 'I am coming
The brave girl obeyed me without a moment's hesitation.
There had been no doubt about his eyes and his gait; there was no doubt
now about his voice, as he answered softly from below—"All right!"
"Keep him talking to you where he is now," I said to Naomi, "until I have
time to get round by the other way to the tool-house. Then pretend to be
fearful of discovery at the dairy, and bring him round the corner, so that
I can hear him behind the door."
We left the house together, and separated silently. Naomi followed my
instructions with a woman's quick intelligence where stratagems are
concerned. I had hardly been a minute in the tool-house before I heard him
speaking to Naomi on the other side of the door.
The first words which I caught distinctly related to his motive for
secretly leaving the farm. Mortified pride—doubly mortified by
Naomi's contemptuous refusal and by the personal indignity offered to him
by Ambrose—was at the bottom of his conduct in absenting himself
from Morwick. He owned that he had seen the advertisement, and that it had
actually encouraged him to keep in hiding!
"After being laughed at and insulted and denied, I was glad," said the
miserable wretch, "to see that some of you had serious reason to wish me
back again. It rests with you, Miss Naomi, to keep me here, and to
persuade me to save Ambrose by showing myself and owning to my name."
"What do you mean?" I heard Naomi ask, sternly.
He lowered his voice; but I could still hear him.
"Promise you will marry me," he said, "and I will go before the magistrate
to-morrow, and show him that I am a living man."
"Suppose I refuse?"
"In that case you will lose me again, and none of you will find me till
Ambrose is hanged."
"Are you villain enough, John Jago, to mean what you say?" asked the girl,
raising her voice.
"If you attempt to give the alarm," he answered, "as true as God's above
us, you will feel my hand on your throat! It's my turn now, miss; and I am
not to be trifled with. Will you have me for your husband—yes or
"No!" she answered, loudly and firmly.
I burst open the door, and seized him as he lifted his hand on her. He had
not suffered from the nervous derangement which had weakened me, and he
was the stronger man of the two. Naomi saved my life. She struck up his
pistol as he pulled it out of his pocket with his free hand and presented
it at my head. The bullet was fired into the air. I tripped up his heels
at the same moment. The report of the pistol had alarmed the house. We two
together kept him on the ground until help arrived.
CHAPTER XII. THE END OF IT.
JOHN JAGO was brought before the magistrate, and John Jago was identified
the next day.
The lives of Ambrose and Silas were, of course, no longer in peril, so far
as human justice was concerned. But there were legal delays to be
encountered, and legal formalities to be observed, before the brothers
could be released from prison in the characters of innocent men.
During the interval which thus elapsed, certain events happened which may
be briefly mentioned here before I close my narrative.
Mr. Meadowcroft the elder, broken by the suffering which he had gone
through, died suddenly of a rheumatic affection of the heart. A codicil
attached to his will abundantly justified what Naomi had told me of Miss
Meadowcroft's influence over her father, and of the end she had in view in
exercising it. A life income only was left to Mr. Meadowcroft's sons. The
freehold of the farm was bequeathed to his daughter, with the testator's
recommendation added, that she should marry his "best and dearest friend,
Mr. John Jago."
Armed with the power of the will, the heiress of Morwick sent an insolent
message to Naomi, requesting her no longer to consider herself one of the
inmates at the farm. Miss Meadowcroft, it should be here added, positively
refused to believe that John Jago had ever asked Naomi to be his wife, or
had ever threatened her, as I had heard him threaten her, if she refused.
She accused me, as she accused Naomi, of trying meanly to injure John Jago
in her estimation, out of hatred toward "that much-injured man;" and she
sent to me, as she had sent to Naomi, a formal notice to leave the house.
We two banished ones met the same day in the hall, with our traveling-bags
in our hands.
"We are turned out together, friend Lefrank," said Naomi, with her
quaintly-comical smile. "You will go back to England, I guess; and I must
make my own living in my own country. Women can get employment in the
States if they have a friend to speak for them. Where shall I find
somebody who can give me a place?"
I saw my way to saying the right word at the right moment.
"I have got a place to offer you," I replied.
She suspected nothing, so far.
"That's lucky, sir," was all she said. "Is it in a telegraph-office or in
a dry-goods store?"
I astonished my little American friend by taking her then and there in my
arms, and giving her my first kiss.
"The office is by my fireside," I said; "the salary is anything in reason
you like to ask me for; and the place, Naomi, if you have no objection to
it, is the place of my wife."
I have no more to say, except that years have passed since I spoke those
words and that I am as fond of Naomi as ever.
Some months after our marriage, Mrs. Lefrank wrote to a friend at Narrabee
for news of what was going on at the farm. The answer informed us that
Ambrose and Silas had emigrated to New Zealand, and that Miss Meadowcroft
was alone at Morwick Farm. John Jago had refused to marry her. John Jago
had disappeared again, nobody knew where.
NOTE IN CONCLUSION.—The first idea of this little story was
suggested to the author by a printed account of a trial which actually
took place, early in the present century, in the United States. The
published narrative of this strange case is entitled "The Trial,
Confessions, and Conviction of Jesse and Stephen Boorn for the Murder of
Russell Colvin, and the Return of the Man supposed to have been murdered.
By Hon. Leonard Sargeant, Ex-Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. (Manchester,
Vermont, Journal Book and Job Office, 1873.)" It may not be amiss
to add, for the benefit of incredulous readers, that all the "improbable
events" in the story are matters of fact, taken from the printed
narrative. Anything which "looks like truth" is, in nine cases out of ten,
the invention of the author.—W. C.