ON the third appearance of my mistress and myself before the justice, I noticed some faces in the room which I had not seen there before. Greatly to my astonishment--for the previous examinations had been conducted as privately as possible--I remarked the presence of two of the servants from the Hall, and of three or four of the tenants on the Darrock estate, who lived nearest to the house. They all sat together on one side of the justice-room. Opposite to them and close at the side of a door, stood my old acquaintance, Mr. Dark, with his big snuff-box, his jolly face, and his winking eye. He nodded to me, when I looked at him, as jauntily as if we were meeting at a party of pleasure. The quadroon woman, who had been summoned to the examination, had a chair placed opposite to the witness-box, and in a line with the seat occupied by my poor mistress, whose looks, as I was grieved to see, were not altered for the better. The lawyer from London was with her, and I stood behind her chair.
We were all quietly disposed in the room in this way, when the justice, Mr. Robert Nicholson, came in with his brother. It might have been only fancy, but I thought I could see in both their faces that something remarkable had happened since we had met at the last examination.
The deposition of Josephine Durand was read over by the clerk, and she was asked if she had anything to add to it. She replied in the negative. The justice then appealed to my mistress's relation, the lawyer, to know if he could produce any evidence relating to the charge against his clients.
"I have evidence," answered the lawyer, getting briskly on his legs, "which I believe, sir, will justify me in asking for their discharge."
"Where are your witnesses?" inquired the justice, looking hard at Josephine while he spoke.
"One of them is in waiting, your worship," said Mr. Dark, opening the door near which he was standing.
He went out of the room, remained away about a minute, and returned with his witness at his heels.
My heart gave a bound as if it would jump out of my body. There, with his long hair cut short, and his bushy whiskers shaved off--there, in his own proper person, safe and sound as ever, was Mr. James Smith!
The quadroon's iron nature resisted the shock of his unexpected presence on the scene with a steadiness that was nothing short of marvelous. Her thin lips closed together convulsively, and there was a slight movement in the muscles of her throat. But not a word, not a sign betrayed her. Even the yellow tinge of her complexion remained unchanged.
"It is not necessary, sir, that I should waste time and words in referring to the wicked and preposterous charge against my clients," said the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson. "The one sufficient justification for discharging them immediately is before you at this moment in the person of that gentleman. There, sir, stands the murdered Mr. James Smith, of Darrock Hall, alive and well, to answer for himself."
"That is not the man!" cried Josephine, her shrill voice just as high, clear, and steady as ever, "I denounce that man as an impostor. Of my own knowledge, I deny that he is Mr. James Smith."
"No doubt you do," said the lawyer; "but we will prove his identity for all that."
The first witness called was Mr. Philip Nicholson. He could swear that he had seen Mr. James Smith, and spoken to him at least a dozen times. The person now before h im was Mr. James Smith, altered as to personal appearance by having his hair cut short and his whiskers shaved off, but still unmistakably the man he assumed to be.
"Conspiracy!" interrupted the prisoner, hissing the word out viciously between her teeth.
"If you are not silent," said Mr. Robert Nicholson, "you will be removed from the room. It will sooner meet the ends of justice," he went on, addressing the lawyer, "if you prove the question of identity by witnesses who have been in habits of daily communication with Mr. James Smith."
Upon this, one of the servants from the Hall was placed in the box.
The alteration in his master's appearance evidently puzzled the man. Besides the perplexing change already adverted to, there was also a change in Mr. James Smith's expression and manner. Rascal as he was, I must do him the justice to say that he looked startled and ashamed when he first caught sight of his unfortunate wife. The servant, who was used to be eyed tyrannically by him, and ordered about roughly, seeing him now for the first time abashed and silent, stammered and hesitated on being asked to swear to his identity.
"I can hardly say for certain, sir," said the man, addressing the justice in a bewildered manner. "He is like my master, and yet he isn't. If he wore whiskers and had his hair long, and if he was, saying your presence, sir, a little more rough and ready in his way, I could swear to him anywhere with a safe conscience."
Fortunately for us, at this moment Mr. James Smith's feeling of uneasiness at the situation in which he was placed changed to a feeling of irritation at being coolly surveyed and then stupidly doubted in the matter of his identity by one of his own servants.
"Can't you say in plain words, you idiot, whether you know me or whether you don't?" he called out, angrily.
"That's his voice!" cried the servant, starting in the box. "Whiskers or no whiskers, that's him!"
"If there's any difficulty, your worship, about the gentleman's hair," said Mr. Dark, coming forward with a grin, "here's a small parcel which, I may make so bold as to say, will remove it." Saying that, he opened the parcel, took some locks of hair out of it, and held them up close to Mr. James Smith's head. "A pretty good match, your worship," continued Mr. Dark. "I have no doubt the gentleman's head feels cooler now it's off. We can't put the whiskers on, I'm afraid, but they match the hair; and they are in the paper (if one may say such a thing of whiskers) to speak for themselves."
"Lies! lies! lies!" screamed Josephine, losing her wicked self-control at this stage of the proceedings.
The justice made a sign to two of the constables present as she burst out with those exclamations, and the men removed her to an adjoining room.
The second servant from the Hall was then put in the box, and was followed by one of the tenants. After what they had heard and seen, neither of these men had any hesitation in swearing positively to their master's identity.
"It is quite unnecessary," said the justice, as soon as the box was empty again, "to examine any more witnesses as to the question of identity. All the legal formalities are accomplished, and the charge against the prisoners falls to the ground. I have great pleasure in ordering the immediate discharge of both the accused persons, and in declaring from this place that they leave the court without the slightest stain on their characters."
He bowed low to my mistress as he said that, paused a moment, and then looked inquiringly at Mr. James Smith.
"I have hitherto abstained from making any remark unconnected with the immediate matter in hand," he went on. "But, now that my duty is done, I cannot leave this chair without expressing my strong sense of disapprobation of the conduct of Mr. James Smith--conduct which, whatever may be the motives that occasioned it, has given a false color of probability to a most horrible charge against a lady of unspotted reputation, and against a person in a lower rank of life whose good character ought not to have been imperiled even for a moment. Mr. Smith may or may not choose to explain his mysterious disappearance from Darrock Hall, and the equally unaccountable change which he has chosen to make in his personal appearance. There is no legal charge against him; but, speaking morally, I should be unworthy of the place I hold if I hesitated to declare my present conviction that his conduct has been deceitful, inconsiderate, and unfeeling in the highest degree."
To this sharp reprimand Mr. James Smith (evidently tutored beforehand as to what he was to say) replied that, in attending before the justice, he wished to perform a plain duty and to keep himself strictly within the letter of the law. He apprehended that the only legal obligation laid on him was to attend in that court to declare himself, and to enable competent witnesses to prove his identity. This duty accomplished, he had merely to add that he preferred submitting to a reprimand from the bench to entering into explanations which would involve the disclosure of domestic circumstances of a very unhappy nature. After that brief reply he had nothing further to say, and he would respectfully request the justice's permission to withdraw.
The permission was accorded. As he crossed the room he stopped near his wife, and said, confusedly, in a very low tone:
"I have done you many injuries, but I never intended this. I am sorry for it. Have you anything to say to me before I go?"
My mistress shuddered and hid her face. He waited a moment, and, finding that she did not answer him, bowed his head politely and went out. I did not know it then, but I had seen him for the last time.
After he had gone, the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson, said that he had an application to make in reference to the woman Josephine Durand.
At the mention of that name my mistress hurriedly whispered a few words into her relation's ear. He looked toward Mr. Philip Nicholson, who immediately advanced, offered his arm to my mistress, and led her out. I was about to follow, when Mr. Dark stopped me, and begged that I would wait a few minutes longer, in order to give myself the pleasure of seeing "the end of the case."
In the meantime, the justice had pronounced the necessary order to have the quadroon brought back. She came in, as bold and confident as ever. Mr. Robert Nicholson looked away from her in disgust and said to the lawyer:
"Your application is to have her committed for perjury, of course?"
"For perjury?" said Josephine, with her wicked smile. "Very good. I shall explain some little matters that I have not explained before. You think I am quite at your mercy now? Bah! I shall make myself a thorn in your sides yet."
"She has got scent of the second marriage," whispered Mr. Dark to me.
There could be no doubt of it. She had evidently been listening at the door on the night when my master came back longer than I had supposed. She must have heard those words about "the new wife"--she might even have seen the effect of them on Mr. James Smith.
"We do not at present propose to charge Josephine Durand with perjury," said the lawyer, "but with another offense, for which it is important to try her immediately, in order to effect the restoration of property that has been stolen. I charge her with stealing from her mistress, while in her service at Darrock Hall, a pair of bracelets, three rings, and a dozen and a half of lace pocket-handkerchiefs. The articles in question were taken this morning from between the mattresses of her bed; and a letter was found in the same place which clearly proves that she had represented the property as belonging to herself, and that she had tried to dispose of it to a purchaser in London." While he was speaking, Mr. Dark produced the jewelry, the handkerchiefs and the letter, and laid them before the justice.
Even Josephine's extraordinary powers of self-control now gave way at last. At the first words of the unexpected charge against her she struck her hands together violently, gnashed her sharp white teeth, and burst out with a torrent of fierce-sounding words in some foreig n language, the meaning of which I did not understand then and cannot explain now.
"I think that's checkmate for marmzelle," whispered Mr. Dark, with his invariable wink. "Suppose you go back to the Hall, now, William, and draw a jug of that very remarkable old ale of yours? I'll be after you in five minutes, as soon as the charge is made out."
I could hardly realize it when I found myself walking back to Darrock a free man again.
In a quarter of an hour's time Mr. Dark joined me, and drank to my health, happiness and prosperity in three separate tumblers. After performing this ceremony, he wagged his head and chuckled with an appearance of such excessive enjoyment that I could not avoid remarking on his high spirits.
"It's the case, William--it's the beautiful neatness of the case that quite intoxicates me. Oh, Lord, what a happiness it is to be concerned in such a job as this!" cries Mr. Dark, slapping his stumpy hands on his fat knees in a sort of ecstasy.
I had a very different opinion of the case for my own part, but I did not venture on expressing it. I was too anxious to know how Mr. James Smith had been discovered and produced at the examination to enter into any arguments. Mr. Dark guessed what was passing in my mind, and, telling me to sit down and make myself comfortable, volunteered of his own accord to inform me of all that I wanted to know.
"When I got my instructions and my statement of particulars," he began, "I was not at all surprised to hear that Mr. James Smith had come back. (I prophesied that, if you remember, William, the last time we met?) But I was a good deal astonished, nevertheless, at the turn things had taken, and I can't say I felt very hopeful about finding our man. However, I followed my master's directions, and put the advertisement in the papers. It addressed Mr. James Smith by name, but it was very carefully worded as to what was wanted of him. Two days after it appeared, a letter came to our office in a woman's handwriting. It was my business to open the letters, and I opened that. The writer was short and mysterious. She requested that somebody would call from our office at a certain address, between the hours of two and four that afternoon, in reference to the advertisement which we had inserted in the newspapers. Of course, I was the somebody who went. I kept myself from building up hopes by the way, knowing what a lot of Mr. James Smiths there were in London. On getting to the house, I was shown into the drawing-room, and there, dressed in a wrapper and lying on a sofa, was an uncommonly pretty woman, who looked as if she was just recovering from an illness. She had a newspaper by her side, and came to the point at once: 'My husband's name is James Smith,' she says, 'and I have my reasons for wanting to know if he is the person you are in search of.' I described our man as Mr. James Smith, of Darrock Hall, Cumberland. 'I know no such person,' says she--"
"What! was it not the second wife, after all?" I broke out.
"Wait a bit," says Mr. Dark. "I mentioned the name of the yacht next, and she started up on the sofa as if she had been shot. 'I think you were married in Scotland, ma'am,' says I. She turns as pale as ashes, and drops back on the sofa, and says, faintly: 'It is my husband. Oh, sir, what has happened? What do you want with him? Is he in debt?' I took a minute to think, and then made up my mind to tell her everything, feeling that she would keep her husband (as she called him) out of the way if I frightened her by any mysteries. A nice job I had, William, as you may suppose, when she knew about the bigamy business. What with screaming, fainting, crying, and blowing me up (as if I was to blame!), she kept me by that sofa of hers the best part of an hour--kept me there, in short, till Mr. James Smith himself came back. I leave you to judge if that mended matters. He found me mopping the poor woman's temples with scent and water; and he would have pitched me out of the window, as sure as I sit here, if I had not met him and staggered him at once with the charge of murder against his wife. That stopped him when he was in full cry, I can promise you. 'Go and wait in the next room,' says he, 'and I'll come in and speak to you directly.' "
"And did you go?" I asked.
"Of course I did," said Mr. Dark. "I knew he couldn't get out by the drawing-room windows, and I knew I could watch the door; so away I went, leaving him alone with the lady, who didn't spare him by any manner of means, as I could easily hear in the next room. However, all rows in this world come to an end sooner or later, and a man with any brains in his head may do what he pleases with a woman who is fond of him. Before long I heard her crying and kissing him. 'I can't go home,' she says, after this. 'You have behaved like a villain and a monster to me--but oh, Jemmy, I can't give you up to anybody! Don't go back to your wife! Oh, don't, don't go back to your wife!' 'No fear of that,' says he. 'My wife wouldn't have me if I did go back to her.' After that I heard the door open, and went out to meet him on the landing. He began swearing the moment he saw me, as if that was any good. 'Business first, if you please, sir,' says I, 'and any pleasure you like, in the way of swearing, afterward.' With that beginning, I mentioned our terms to him, and asked the pleasure of his company to Cumberland in return, he was uncommonly suspicious at first, but I promised to draw out a legal document (mere waste paper, of no earthly use except to pacify him), engaging to hold him harmless throughout the proceedings; and what with that, and telling him of the frightful danger his wife was in, I managed, at last, to carry my point."
"But did the second wife make no objection to his going away with you?" I inquired.
"Not she," said Mr. Dark. "I stated the case to her just as it stood, and soon satisfied her that there was no danger of Mr. James Smith's first wife laying any claim to him. After hearing that, she joined me in persuading him to do his duty, and said she pitied your mistress from the bottom of her heart. With her influence to back me, I had no great fear of our man changing his mind. I had the door watched that night, however, so as to make quite sure of him. The next morning he was ready to time when I called, and a quarter of an hour after that we were off together for the north road. We made the journey with post-horses, being afraid of chance passengers, you know, in public conveyances. On the way down, Mr. James Smith and I got on as comfortably together as if we had been a pair of old friends. I told the story of our tracing him to the north of Scotland, and he gave me the particulars, in return, of his bolting from Darrock Hall. They are rather amusing, William; would you like to hear them?"
I told Mr. Dark that he had anticipated the very question I was about to ask him.
"Well," he said, "this is how it was: To begin at the beginning, our man really took Mrs. Smith, Number Two, to the Mediterranean, as we heard. He sailed up the Spanish coast, and, after short trips ashore, stopped at a seaside place in France called Cannes. There he saw a house and grounds to be sold which took his fancy as a nice retired place to keep Number Two in. Nothing particular was wanted but the money to buy it; and, not having the little amount in his own possession, Mr. James Smith makes a virtue of necessity, and goes back overland to his wife with private designs on her purse-strings. Number Two, who objects to be left behind, goes with him as far as London. There he trumps up the first story that comes into his head about rents in the country, and a house in Lincolnshire that is too damp for her to trust herself in; and so, leaving her for a few days in London, starts boldly for Darrock Hall. His notion was to wheedle your mistress out of the money by good behavior; but it seems he started badly by quarreling with her about a fiddle-playing parson--"
"Yes, yes, I know all about that part of the story," I broke in, seeing by Mr. Dark's manner that he was likely to speak both ignorantly and impertinently of my mistress's unlucky friend ship for Mr. Meeke. "Go on to the time when I left my master alone in the Red Room, and tell me what he did between midnight and nine the next morning."
"Did?" said Mr. Dark. "Why, he went to bed with the unpleasant conviction on his mind that your mistress had found him out, and with no comfort to speak of except what he could get out of the brandy bottle. He couldn't sleep; and the more he tossed and tumbled, the more certain he felt that his wife intended to have him tried for bigamy. At last, toward the gray of the morning, he could stand it no longer, and he made up his mind to give the law the slip while he had the chance. As soon as he was dressed, it struck him that there might be a reward offered for catching him, and he determined to make that slight change in his personal appearance which puzzled the witnesses so much before the magistrate to-day. So he opens his dressing-case and crops his hair in no time, and takes off his whiskers next. The fire was out, and he had to shave in cold water. What with that, and what with the flurry of his mind, naturally enough he cut himself--"
"And dried the blood with his nightgown?" says I.
"With his nightgown," repeated Mr. Dark. "It was the first thing that lay handy, and he snatched it up. Wait a bit, though; the cream of the thing is to come. When he had done being his own barber, he couldn't for the life of him hit on a way of getting rid of the loose hair. The fire was out, and he had no matches; so he couldn't burn it. As for throwing it away, he didn't dare do that in the house or about the house, for fear of its being found, and betraying what he had done. So he wraps it all up in paper, crams it into his pocket to be disposed of when he is at a safe distance from the Hall, takes his bag, gets out at the window, shuts it softly after him, and makes for the road as fast as his long legs will carry him. There he walks on till a coach overtakes him, and so travels back to London to find himself in a fresh scrape as soon as be gets there. An interesting situation, William, and hard traveling from one end of France to the other, had not agreed together in the case of Number Two. Mr. James Smith found her in bed, with doctor's orders that she was not to be moved. There was nothing for it after that but to lie by in London till the lady got better. Luckily for us, she didn't hurry herself; so that, after all, your mistress has to thank the very woman who supplanted her for clearing her character by helping us to find Mr. James Smith."
"And, pray, how did you come by that loose hair of his which you showed before the justice to-day?" I asked.
"Thank Number Two again," says Mr. Dark. "I was put up to asking after it by what she told me. While we were talking about the advertisement, I made so bold as to inquire what first set her thinking that her husband and the Mr. James Smith whom we wanted might be one and the same man. 'Nothing,' says she, 'but seeing him come home with his hair cut short and his whiskers shaved off, and finding that he could not give me any good reason for disfiguring himself in that way. I had my suspicions that something was wrong, and the sight of your advertisement strengthened them directly.' The hearing her say that suggested to my mind that there might be a difficulty in identifying him after the change in his looks, and I asked him what he had done with the loose hair before we left London. It was found in the pocket of his traveling coat just as he had huddled it up there on leaving the Hall, worry, and fright, and vexation, having caused him to forget all about it. Of course I took charge of the parcel, and you know what good it did as well as I do. So to speak, William, it just completed this beautifully neat case. Looking at the matter in a professional point of view, I don't hesitate to say that we have managed our business with Mr. James Smith to perfection. We have produced him at the right time, and we are going to get rid of him at the right time. By to-night he will be on his way to foreign parts with Number Two, and he won't show his nose in England again if he lives to the age of Methuselah."
It was a relief to hear that and it was almost as great a comfort to find, from what Mr. Dark said next, that my mistress need fear nothing that Josephine could do for the future.
The charge of theft, on which she was about to be tried, did not afford the shadow of an excuse in law any more than in logic for alluding to the crime which her master had committed. If she meant to talk about it she might do so in her place of transportation, but she would not have the slightest chance of being listened to previously in a court of law.
"In short," said Mr. Dark, rising to take his leave, "as I have told you already, William, it's checkmate for marmzelle. She didn't manage the business of the robbery half as sharply as I should have expected. She certainly began well enough by staying modestly at a lodging in the village to give her attendance at the examinations, as it might be required; nothing could look more innocent and respectable so far; but her hiding the property between the mattresses of her bed--the very first place that any experienced man would think of looking in--was such an amazingly stupid thing to do, that I really can't account for it, unless her mind had more weighing on it than it was able to bear, which, considering the heavy stakes she played for, is likely enough. Anyhow, her hands are tied now, and her tongue too, for the matter of that. Give my respects to your mistress, and tell her that her runaway husband and her lying maid will never either of them harm her again as long as they live. She has nothing to do now but to pluck up her spirits and live happy. Here's long life to her and to you, William, in the last glass of ale; and here's the same toast to myself in the bottom of the jug."
With those words Mr. Dark pocketed his large snuff-box, gave a last wink with his bright eye, and walked rapidly away, whistling, to catch the London coach. From that time to this he and I have never met again.
A few last words relating to my mistress and to the other persons chiefly concerned in this narrative will conclude all that it is now necessary for me to say.
For some months the relatives and friends, and I myself, felt sad misgivings on my poor mistress's account. We doubted if it was possible, with such a quick, sensitive nature as hers, that she could support the shock which had been inflicted on her. But our powers of endurance are, as I have learned to believe, more often equal to the burdens laid upon us than we are apt to imagine. I have seen many surprising recoveries from illness after all hope had been lost, and I have lived to see my mistress recover from the grief and terror which we once thought would prove fatal to her. It was long before she began to hold up her head again; but care and kindness, and time and change wrought their effect on her at last. She is not now, and never will be again, the woman she was once; her manner is altered, and she looks older by many a year than she really is. But her health causes us no anxiety now; her spirits are calm and equal, and I have good hope that many quiet years of service in her house are left for me still. I myself have married during the long interval of time which I am now passing over in a few words. This change in my life is, perhaps, not worth mentioning, but I am reminded of my two little children when I speak of my mistress in her present position. I really think they make the great happiness, and interest, and amusement of her life, and prevent her from feeling lonely and dried up at heart. It is a pleasant reflection to me to remember this, and perhaps it may be the same to you, for which reason only I speak of it.
As for the other persons connected with the troubles at Darrock Hall, I may mention the vile woman Josephine first, so as to have the sooner done with her. Mr. Dark's guess, when he tried to account for her want of cunning in hiding the stolen property, by saying that her mind might have had more weighing on it than she was able to bear, turned out to b e nothing less than the plain and awful truth. After she had been found guilty of the robbery, and had been condemned to seven years' transportation, a worse sentence fell upon her from a higher tribunal than any in this world. While she was still in the county jail, previous to her removal, her mind gave way, the madness breaking out in an attempt to set fire to the prison. Her case was pronounced to be hopeless from the first. The lawful asylum received her, and the lawful asylum will keep her to the end of her days.
Mr. James Smith, who, in my humble opinion, deserved hanging by law, or drowning by accident at least, lived quietly abroad with his Scotch wife (or no wife) for two years, and then died in the most quiet and customary manner, in his bed, after a short illness. His end was described to me as a "highly edifying one." But as he was also reported to have sent his forgiveness to his wife--which was as much as to say that he was the injured person of the two--I take leave to consider that he was the same impudent vagabond in his last moments that he had been all his life. His Scotch widow has married again, and is now settled in London. I hope her husband is all her own property this time.
Mr. Meeke must not be forgotten, although he has dropped out of the latter part of my story because he had nothing to do with the serious events which followed Josephine's perjury. In the confusion and wretchedness of that time, he was treated with very little ceremony, and was quite passed over when we left the neighborhood. After pining and fretting some time, as we afterward heard, in his lonely parsonage, he resigned his living at the first chance he got, and took a sort of under-chaplain's place in an English chapel abroad. He writes to my mistress once or twice a year to ask after her health and well-being, and she writes back to him. That is all the communication they are ever likely to have with each other. The music they once played together will never sound again. Its last notes have long since faded away and the last words of this story, trembling on the lips of the teller, may now fade with them.
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