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at first, and then all dropped except your Miss Banks as head-dish, and Mr. Woodham to match. My lady keeping her room half the time; and Sir John scarcely ever in the house so long as he could stay out of it. I am sure at one time I thought he was making a bolt of it, like Mr. Seaton. Now I believe there had been some terrible quarrel between him and my lady, and that that strange lady from the house higher up the Gardens had something to do with it.'
That is exactly what ought to be ventilated,' said Niel eagerly. "The way that inquest was hurried over cannot be considered other than a most disgraceful proceeding. It was a perfect hole-andcorner affair. Why, as a gentleman said to me no later than this morning, not a soul is a bit wiser on the subject of the Moffats than before Lady Moffat died.'
'They are a close lot,' agreed Mr. Simonds.
And perhaps there may be. Look here,' went on the speaker impressively, when money is to be made why do you hold back your hand? I know the old woman was bribed to hold her tongue. Young Lassils came to our house last night, and made it well worth her while to keep silence. why should not it be made worth our while to speak out? There was something queer about my lady, and the whole establishment had not the true ring. If we just work that up a little it may be found expedient to give us something handsome. What do you say?'
I can't say anything at the minute,' returned Simonds. 'You see there is the future to con
sider, and I must take time to think over the matter.'
'But while you are thinking time is slipping on and the chances are vanishing,' said Niel pathetically.
'What are your chances?' asked Simonds.
'O, if you choose to be cautious, I can be cautious too,' was the offended answer.
All right. It is one of the Sunday papers, I suppose?' Niel did not reply.
'You won't get much out of them,' suggested Simonds disparagingly.
'Never you mind how much, as you don't want to go shares,' said Niel, falling into the trap laid for him. I can only tell you that you are cutting yourself out of a nice thing-a very nice thing-by refusing to open your
'If I did open it I should find little to say,' returned Simonds, whose mind was now quite made up. Except that my lady's temper was bad at times-that Sir John's ways were not quite the ways of what I should call a gentleman-I have nothing to say against the people or the place. The great fault I ever had to find with it was your mistress being let to come in and out of the house as if she owned it.'
'Take care she does not come over and stay in it altogether,' said Niel, with a jeering laugh. 'Now she has lost nearly all she had, Holyrood House might not be a bad sort of refuge.'
I think the only person who had any liking for her cannot do much for her in the future,' answered Simonds. But what she tries or leaves untried does not signify much to me. I'll bid you good-evening now, as I may be
Having ascertained that he was
not wanted, or likely to be wanted for a couple of hours at all events, Simonds left Holyrood House, and walked direct to the residence of Mr. Lassils' mother. Arrived there, he found the gentleman of whom he was in search absent -dining, so said the trim parlourmaid, with Mr. Palthorpe in Palace Gardens. Thither Simonds repaired, and, stating where he came from, said he wished to speak to Mr. Lassils particularly. "Well, Simonds,' said the young man, entering the little side-room where the butler had been told to wait, what is the matter at your place now?'
'I thought I had better see you, sir,' began Simonds. Sir John is a very reserved gentleman, and might take what I think some one ought to know amiss. Since I first went into service I have always made it a rule to stand by the family whose bread I eat. I consider that nothing but honest; and hearing casually there is likely to be a stir made in some of the papers about her ladyship's death, I have taken the liberty of mentioning the matter to you.'
'What about her ladyship's death? and what more is there to be said about it than has been said asked Mr. Lassils sharply. 'Nothing, sir, that I know of; but it is wonderful what the newspaper gentlemen can spin out of the merest thread. So far as I understand, some remarks are going to be made about the inquest having been a hole-andcorner sort of affair.'
'But it was not,' interrupted Mr. Lassils.
'No, sir, of course not; and what I-who, of course, am acquainted with all the circumstances of the lamentable affair was going to remark was, that I think it would be well-you'll
excuse my freedom, sir-to take no notice whatever of any paragraph or article; and if any person wants any money either for giving or withholding information, to refuse to pay it. We in the house have nothing to tell, and when there is nothing to tell, it stands to reason remarks such as may appear will be forgotten after a very few days. If a statement appears headed "The Mystery in Palace Gardens," it may be unpleasant, but it can't be helped. I thought you might be asked to buy a certain person off; so I took the liberty of seeing you. He knows nothing, and he can tell nothing.'
There is nothing to know,' remarked Mr. Lassils.
'No, sir; that is what I observed a little while ago, if you remember. They were gentry as always kept their affairs to themselves. I never lived in a place before where the servants knew so little of what was going on.'
And having with solemn severity delivered himself of thiswhich might, indeed, be called a blow straight from the shoulderMr. Simonds coughed modestly and stood at ease.
Mr. Lassils looked at him; he looked at Mr. Lassils; and without another word being spoken they understood each other.
'It is very good indeed of you to give us this hint,' said Mr. Lassils, after that short pause.
'It was only my duty, sir,' answered Simonds, without changing a muscle.
'Sir John is the sort of person who would feel any gossip of that kind keenly,' remarked Miss Edwina's admirer.
It is to be hoped it will never reach his ears, sir,' said Simonds, with imperturbable gravity.
The family are not likely to see any of the Sunday papers, I
suppose? questioned Mr. Lassils.
'O, no, sir; always most correct in their reading,' was the
'I hear,' went on Mr. Lassils, 'that, after everything is over and settled, Sir John has some intention of leaving Holyrood House, which must now, of course, be full of painful memories to him. If the establishment should be broken up, do you think of taking another situation?'
'Hardly, sir, I should say,' replied Simonds. My mother has a shop; and it was always my intention some day to abandon service, and try to work up a good business. I was only waiting till I had saved enough for the purpose.'
And have you saved enough now?' asked Mr. Lassils.
'Pretty nearly, sir, I hope.' 'Well, if it should be in my power to give you a helping hand at any time, you may count upon my doing so.'
like to know I had nothing whatever to tell.'
'Most considerate,' murmured Mr. Lassils. Then, when the door closed behind Simonds, he thought, 'O, these domestic spies-at bed and at board, at birth, bridal, and burial! What is the secret of that house? What mystery was the dead woman guarding all her life? I wonder if Woodham knows. I should like to understand a puzzle which certainly exists, and which as certainly baffled the penetration even of
Meantime Sir John, utterly ignorant of the world's curiosity and the world's dissatisfaction, remained shut up in his library. How he passed the hours and the days no one knew; through what dreary labyrinths he wandered in imagination who could tell?
In the dead of night he had once looked on the face of the woman who was the ruin of his life; but how the sight of that marble visage affected him, of that countenance, in death no colder than her heart had been during
'I am sure you are very kind, sir.' 'Sir John is a liberal master, I life, there was none to know. suppose?'
'Pretty fair, sir. But sometimes I imagine it would be better for him and other people if he was acquainted with any one who could venture to tell him what was usual. Sir John is apt to treat his servants as he might his clerks; and I need not tell you, sir, the position is quite different.'
'Quite different. The members of a household are, after a fashion, members of a man's family.'
'That is exactly what I meant, sir. Only I could not have dared to put the idea into such plain words. Then that is all, I believe, sir, and I won't take the liberty of seeing you again, unless something very unexpected occurs. I thought Sir John's friends might
first Miss Aggles made an effort to approach him; but his repugnance to her well-meant words of comfort, his evident desire to be left to fight his battle in solitude, were so evident, she shrank out of his sight, and contented herself with striving to console the two lonely girls.
With Edwina her attempts were successful, but on Rachel she was able to produce no impression whatever. On the two words, 'papa,' 'mamma,' she rang the changes till Miss Aggles felt almost broken-hearted.
If I could only be with papa,' she said; if he would let me talk to him!'
Knowing what she knew, Miss Aggles could scarcely bear to hear
her. It seemed less hard to see the girl weeping beside her mother, or sitting, with hands clasped and eyes which were full of tears, looking over Kensington Park and the yews, that seemed gloomier and darker than ever.
If I might only give her a hint thought Miss Aggles; but Sir John had sternly forbade any inkling of the truth being given to Rachel.
'That which has to be told I shall tell her myself,' he said.
And so the days wore on, and all that remained of the woman who had wrought such sorrow was laid in a large cemetery at some distance from London.
The funeral was strictly private. Sir John and his sons, Doctor Dilton and Mr. Lassils, only accompanied her in that last journey. Then the man, who could not be called a widower, as he had never been a husband, addressed himself to setting his house in order. For Edwina and his sons he accepted an eager invitation sent by his youngest sister. Now his children might become intimate with his relatives. Now the bar he had so long placed between them might in silence and security be removed.
Over the papers of the woman I who had called herself his wife he forced himself to look, finding amongst them, however, nothing the whole world might not have seen, save sundry bank-notes she had evidently lately begun to hoard. It seems a strange thing to say, but this discovery touched him keenly.
'She was afraid,' he said to Miss Aggles; 'poor soul, she was afraid, and thought I might leave her to want. Ah, she need not have feared that!
robe, and my fellow-servants the remainder. Not a single thing was reserved, except her jewelry; they gave every article away; and that elderly lady was to the full as eager as Sir John. Talk of mysteries, indeed; there was not much mystery about them. No family in Palace Gardens ever behaved handsomer to their servants; no family in any gardens or places or squares or terraces, for that matter; and it is a scandal and a shame for the papers to insinuate my lady did not come by her death fairly, when I know to the contrary, and could swear in a hundred courts Sir John bore all her airs and tempers like a very angel. Why, after her jewelry was put away we came on a plain gold brooch of my lady's she was in the habit of wearing, and took it to Sir John. He would not touch it. "Keep it, Winter," he said, speaking mournful like. "You may be pleased to have something which belonged to your poor mistress." "After that, don't come to me with any of your nasty underhanded suspicions," I turned round on that vile old Niel. "If any of your evil-minded newspaper men come here, trying to undermine the peace of respectable families, I'll give them a piece of my mind. There was some mystery, you say? Not a bit of it. Nothing in the whole wide world mysterious, except my lady's temper, which, after all, was perhaps just as good as Miss Banks'."'
It is a scandal how those Radical papers are down upon gentlefolks,' said Simonds, who, always a Conservative, had developed a finer and keener spirit of Toryism since his connection with Mr. Lassils. Why, they wouldn't let a gentleman bury his wife in peace if they could help it.'
Even Miss Banks was talking,
with tears in her eyes, to me the other day about the dreadful things they had said,' remarked Winter.
I daresay, the old crocodile,' commented Simonds.
For all we know, crocodiles are sorry sometimes,' expostulated Winter.
'Very likely you are quite right, and that she is,' answered Simonds, who felt he had done a good thing in declining Niel's overtures.
A BITTER TRIAL.
THE hour had come. It was theevening of the last day Sir John Moffat ever meant to spend in Palace Gardens. Even to himself the paths of his future earthly pilgrimage seemed vague and uncertain; but he felt determined they should lead no longer round and about that ancient Court suburb. Next morning he intended to leave Holyrood House, and he did not purpose to return to it. If it could be sold just as it stood, well; if an offer were made for the place furnished, his agent had orders not to haggle about terms; supposing it could only be dealt with unfurnished, on lease or even a yearly tenancy, an auction of the various articles in which the dead woman had taken such pride was to solve the knot of any difficulty which might ensue.
Such folly!' said Miss Banks, criticising the knight's proceedings freely, now she found there was nothing more to be got out of him; for he had firmly declined all her proffers of friendship and assistance. 'Now he has got rid of her he might have a chance; and it is not as if he ever cared twopence about her; for nobody could -one of the most hateful women in private life that ever existed!'
It is quite a mistake trying to lure people of that rank from their shops and counting-houses,' said Lady Griffiths, whose father had kept the Dancing Bear in the old coaching days, and made a mint of money by fleecing perished and starving travellers. Of course, you meant it all for the best, my dear; but you really are sometimes too credulous and impulsive.'
'I am afraid I am,' answered Miss Banks, thinking of the way Sir John received her overtures, and how he had even negatived the idea she could be of the slightest use to him.
You see also,' pursued Lady Griffiths placidly, 'there was something most inexplicable about Lady Moffat's death. If they were living on good terms why should she have taken the chloral-why should it have been left in her way?'
If the law had been as stupid as society, as full of suspicion, as hard to convince, there cannot be the slightest question there must have been a second inquest, on the occasion of which, no doubt, something would have been dragged out concerning Lady Moffat's antecedents.
Well, suppose it had come to that, Sir John was prepared. In his life he had touched the point at which a man says, 'Better any exposure than the prolonged effort to conceal.'
To Mr. Lassils he in fact said that, while appreciating his kindness, he doubted its wisdom, and that beyond the amount for which that gentleman had made himself liable he should decline to advance another sixpence.
'Let people or the papers say what they please,' he remarked; 'it cannot signify to me. I would rather face the exposure of any domestic trouble than the consequences of a bribed silence.'