Billeder på siden

said, "I feel sure I shall rest without them."

'And so she did not take any?'

'No, sir; but her ladyship said, "You can leave the bottle within reach, Winter, though I don't expect I shall require to take any.",

Just so; and how much was there in the bottle, do you suppose?'

'It was nearly full, sir.'
'Look at it now.'

Winter gave a little cry. Why, her ladyship has taken nearly all there was!'

Nothing can be more dangerous than sedatives in the hands of a person who either sleeps badly, or fancies she does,' said the doctor, while examining a glass which likewise stood on the table. Then he turned his attention to a carafe of water close beside.

It is plain enough, I think,' he said; 'plain enough. She has been gone for hours.'

He took a few steps with head bent, evidently considering deeply; then he asked Miss Aggles,

Who was it, did you say, saw her first?'

'The younger daughter.'

'I should like to speak to her for a minute. Is she in a state to be spoken to?

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

There must be an inquest,' went on Doctor Dilton abruptly. 'O, no! O, no!' cried Miss Aggles, putting out her hands as if to ward off a blow.

'It cannot be avoided,' he answered. She had no disease. There was no reason, so far as I know, why she might not have lived for fifty years. No; I could not give a certificate; you had better leave it to me. Sir John must be telegraphed for at once. Now, like a good dear soul, don't you give way,' he added, walking up to Miss Aggles, and laying both his hands on her shoulders; for she had at last broken down, thoroughly and completely; she had covered her face with her hands, her gray head was bowed in sorrow, her honest face was convulsed in shame; all her woman's delicacy, all her instinctive modesty, all her simple dignity

seemed humbled in a moment in the dust.

The idea of the beauty, of which she had been so proud, being looked on in death by strange men, the life which had been but one long course of selfish wickedness and sinful deceit exposed to view, shook her very soul.

O doctor!' she cried pitifully, 'I loved her I loved her-I loved her once! For many a long night she lay next my heart. For many a long day after her mother deserted her I nursed and tended and cared for her. If she

had been my one very own, I do not think she could have seemed nearer to me than she did; and now-and now-'

He let her grief have its way. He did not try to stem the torrent till its first violence was hausted; then he said, in a low voice full of pity,


This death is hard for you, but is it harder than her life? Think of all the worse which might have happened had her husband been a different man, and thank God-'

'I do I have; only-'

'He had not left me five minutes when I was summoned there,' went on the doctor. We talked the matter over exhaustively; and I tried every argument I could think of to induce him, at least, to delay a decision which seemed to me calculated to embar rass and shadow the whole of his future life. All in vain. I am glad to remember now it was all in vain; that he went away steadfastly purposed to sacrifice himself, and to spare the woman who had forsaken him, as he would have cherished her had she been true.'

'Poor fellow, poor fellow!' sobbed Miss Aggles.

[ocr errors]

Rich fellow I account him,' answered Doctor Dilton. Richer

than if he owned the wealth of Rothschild, and lacked his own nature. But,' he proceeded, 'there are many things to see to, and at once. You must remain here. I shall tell the butler sc. Do you suppose any one in the house knows where Sir John is to be found?'

We might ask-Rachel,' answered Miss Aggles, drying her eyes, and striving to compose herself now she found actual work at hand to do.

'I wish you would ask her, then. I am going down-stairs. I want to speak to the butler and lady's-maid;' and he hastened out of the room without casting a glance behind. Left alone, Miss Aggles threw herself down beside the bed, and prayed as she had, perhaps, never prayed before during the whole course of her honest honourable life.

'O my dear,' she whispered at length, kissing the clay-cold cheek, may God have mercy upon you! From the time you were a selfish beautiful child, I do not think you ever understood half the evil you were doing; but He will know, He knows.'

She went with a firm step into the rectangular hall, out of which, at Holyrood House, all the best bedchambers open, and immediately encountered Winter, who, addressing her with great respect, said, would she be pleased to walk up into Miss Moffat's room.

Already Doctor Dilton had put matters straight for her. Though the disorganised household resented the advent of any strange mistress, the members composing it felt it might be wise to bow to circumstances, and, at all events, remain neutral till they found what changes were likely to be inaugurated on Sir John's return.

So far as they could judge on such slight acquaintance, Miss

Aggles was not a person who would interfere with their privileges, and turn everything in the house upside down.

After she had been with Rachel for a few minutes, she came downstairs and spoke some words to Doctor Dilton; then she shut herself up in the library, and remained so quiet, Mr. Simonds, to use his own words, 'grew quite uneasy about her,' and 'made so bold,' after a couple of hours, as to go in and ask what she would like to have for luncheon.

It is quite unnecessary, perhaps, to say the servants had, in the interim, dined heartily, and partaken of wine with a good deal of feeling.

Mrs. Larrup remarked, after a sigh of repletion, 'We are here to-day and there to-morrow.' Miss Winter, who, though hard and acid-looking, professed a fondness for poetry, and was even supposed to be given to coquetting with the Muses herself, murmured something concerning 'flowers of the field,' while combating her regret with sherry, which the company generally drank out of tumblers, not being,' as the upperhousemaid said, 'fashionable folks, thank Heaven, or even rich.'

Which was the point where Sir John's servants drew the line in Holyrood House; it is the point where more servants than are supposed draw the line.

They believed Sir John was rich, but they knew he was not fashionable; and one of them said she always felt her ladyship was very little better than themselves.

'Speak for yourself, please,' entreated Miss Winter, who, having partaken of a considerable amount of wine, felt herself a person of very great consequence indeed.

'We all know, I suppose, who our fathers were; at any rate, I

He kept a

know who mine was. livery-stable at the back of the Edgware-road, and little thought his daughter would ever have to eat the bread of servitude. But it would puzzle any of you to say who my lady's father was, or whether she ever had one.'

'Come, come,' said Mr. Simonds, 'let's have no more of this; and to emphasise that he, for one, did not approve of such talk, he poured the wine which remained into his own tumbler, and saying he thought the strange lady must want something, hurried up-stairs, walked across the hall, and opened the library-door.

Miss Aggles was sitting at the table where Sir John had sat, with a Bible spread open before her, poring over the text she could hardly see, so dim were her eyes with tears.

'I could not eat anything, thank you,' she said mildly, in answer to Mr. Simonds' inquiry; 'and I do not take wine. Presently, if not inconvenient, I should like a cup of tea.'

During the course of the afternoon, Doctor Dilton returned to tell her he had made every arrangement it was possible to make before the return of Sir John.

While he stayed talking, and just as the dusk of evening was settling down over the great lonely room Lady Moffat could never survey with satisfaction, or pace restlessly again, Simonds entered to say Mr. Lassils was in the boudoir; for though he, Simonds, had told him of the misfortune about her ladyship, indeed, he earnestly requested permission to speak to Miss Aggles for a mo


[ocr errors]

'Will you go to him, or shall I see what he wants?' asked Doctor Dilton, looking at the card, and twisting it about in his fingers.

'No, thank you, I will go,' she answered; and rising, she proceeded, after adjusting her orderly curls, and shaking out the folds of her dress a little, to the room her niece could never find pride nor pleasure in more.

Under the gaslights, which Mr. Simonds had, in recognition of the deep distress in which the household was supposed to be plunged, turned down as low as possible, stood Mr. Lassils, hat in hand, his thoughts occupied about the first occasion when he entered the house, not a year previously.

'I beg your pardon for intruding,' he said, starting a little as Miss Aggles, coming quietly forward, addressed him. I am sure

I am awfully sorry to hear about what has happened and all that, and I should not have come in, only I wanted to give you one hint. You know best, of course, but if I were in your place, I would square Miss Bunks.'

'I scarcely understand,' said Miss Aggles, bewildered.

'Doctor Dilton is here, is he not? he will know what I mean. Don't neglect the warning. Square Miss Banks. She can make matters very unpleasant if she likes.'



By the time Sir John Moffat reached home, which he did on the evening of the next day, the inquest was over, the undertaker's men were in charge, paragraphs had appeared in the daily papers, headed, Lamentable Occurrence,' 'Sad Accident from the Use of Chloral,' 'Terrible Tragedy,' and suchlike.

Holyrood House had all day been besieged by persons who

came to make inquiries and express their sympathy. There were as many cards on the marble slab as there had been when Lady Moffat first came to view the desirable residence. People shook their heads gravely about the matter. There was quite a hum of curiosity and confusion. All Kensington, as though possessed of one mind, busied itself about the Moffats: wondered, pitied, gossiped.

There seemed but a single exception, and that, under most circumstances, might have been accounted remarkable. It was not so, however, as affairs stood in the narrow house out of which Miss Banks had made much capital. She was not flitting about the parish, emptying her little basket of news for the benefit of this dear friend and that delightful acquaintance, for a very sufficient reason -she had her dead too, and was mourning most sincerely. The dreadful object,' 'the frightful affliction,' her 'cross,' her 'trial,' herburden so nobly borne,' was gone where he could not be of use to her in any way for evermore. He had departed, and his income had departed also; and what was worse than both, at the same moment an insurance office, in which Miss Banks had with the savings of years purchased an Miss annuity, collapsed also. Banks was not a religious woman, or given to much biblical reference, whether verbal or otherwise. Nevertheless, as she sat gloomily in her little parlour pondering upon what had occurred, she did think about Job, and how first one messenger and then another rushed in the bearer of evil tidings.

Only one ray of comfort had pierced the darkness of her future, and that came from an unexpected source. As she remembered it

she recollected the Moffatsthought of the headstrong passionate nature for ever quiet, of the beauty and the obstinacy and the selfishness which should incense her no more—and began to wonder, at first in a vague intangible sort of way, but afterwards with sufficient clearness of mind and purpose, what Sir John would

do now.

'The girls must have some one to chaperon them,' she considered; and, after all, might she still not be able to keep on the narrow house, and live almost constantly at Palace Gardens also?

There would be an indefiniteness-an absence of formal engagement-about such a plan which might commend itself to Sir John.

She had not thought of such a possibility before. Now it did enter her mind, Miss Banks was not one to go to sleep over it.

'I must send round Niel to inquire how they are,' she considered; or would it be better for me to step across to see Rachel? In the dark no one would know me. And yet perhaps I might meet some person who would be surprised to see me out. No, I will write a note.'

Having arrived at which determination, she rang the bell, and desired that Niel might be sent to her.

'He is out, ma'am,' answered the cook.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

If she had known what Niel the invaluable was doing at that very moment she might with justice have considered him a greater trial than the 'object' had ever been. He was standing near the tradesmen's entrance to Holyrood House, in close conversation with Mr. Simonds. Screened by sheltering evergreens, and perfectly secure from eavesdroppers by reason of knowing where every individual member of the household was bestowed, the pair talked about the late tragedy and the events which had preceded it.

'And what I say,' observed Miss Banks' right-hand man, 'is this there is money to be made out of it, and I don't see why we should not make it as well as anybody else. What is wanted is to get up a controversy in the papers about this death. No one believes she came to her end fairly.'

'I'm sure she did not come to it unfairly,' retorted Simonds. 'You'll be saying presently I gave her the stuff, I suppose?'

'No; but as you remarked yourself a while ago, there have been queer goings-on in this establishment.'

'If you like to call it an establishment,' answered the butler, with a fine sneer. 'I never saw such ways of getting on before. Money spent like water, and nothing to show for it worth having. No great perquisites to speak of. A wonderful set out of company

« ForrigeFortsæt »