Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

66

[ocr errors]

respect it. It would spoil the whole fun of the be sure,” said Mrs. Tomkins; "a man's thing to show them the letter, and perhaps always a man ; but the letter warns us against get the writer into trouble.”

people who live about us, and any such people “But,' ,” said Flora,

what shall we do? would know that you are not very young, nor The letter says we must trust no one. We strong." shall have our throats cut by somobudly we Well, then, let us examine our dangerous least suspect !”

ground ; let us take all the persons in and “ Who is thu chief ?” said Polly. “ The about this place, and try whether we can hit letter woums to tell us to look at home. Is it on any one subject. If we really can find no you, Mr. W. ?

way out of this perplexity except by aid of the This was to me.

police, you must not sacrifice your peace and · Polly, you silly child, be quiet,” said quiet to a vain scruple about a person unmamma, laughing, however, in spite of her known.” self ; "it really is no laughing matter, and I We proceeded to review the establishment. am seriously terrified.”

First, there was the man Robert, who used to We regarded one another with gravity come in to clean boots and knives ; he had been enough for the wise men of Gotham, but in the house but a short time, but he was so nothing very bright in the shape of an idea backed up with unexceptionable references, and seemed to be forthcoming. I pitied my poor besides, so well known to a personal friend, that friend, though I cannot say that I was seriously it was not possible to suspect him. The cook alarmed on her account; I think it was rather was an elderly person, who had entered their in the light of an annoyance that I regarded service as a girl; there was no mistake about the affair. The case seemed one of practical her. Then came Jane, the name was new to me. joking ; ill-timed, no doubt, and in bad taste, " Who was Jane?but hardly alarming. Still, occurring in the Oh, did I not know Jane ? That was absence of the husband, it was calculated to owing to her absence down at St. Leonards frighten the feminine community.

at the time of my last visit. She had been ill, I must be constitutionally w, for in all poor thing, and they had given her six weeks? cases of emergency I find others flying off to change of air at the sea-side. She was quite do something before I have made up my mind beyond suspicion, for if signs and tokens were as to what ought to be done. A French to be worth anything, there was not one of novelist has devised a character whose golden their household so attached to them as was rule is, in all such cases to do nothing, but to Jane.” let difficulties solve themselves. I think I It seemed that she was the housemaid, must be a cousin of that gentleman's, for such upper housemaid you might say, as there was line of action, There were

a younger girl under her, She had come with one or two bright ideas that did present them- high recommendations from a lady in Suffolk, selves to me on this occasion, and the wonder and from the first moment of her entering the is that I did not speak them out, but I suppose house had taken to them uncommonly. They, the girls were too quick for me. One doesn't too, had been much pleased with her, and cir. like to commit oneself in a hurry, and there cumstances had so turned out as to afford would have been no revoking such a step as them opportunity of being kind to her. Her appealing to the police, or sending to the health had failed, and they had nursed her, Wellington Barracks to request the loan of a and eventually sent her down to St. Leonards, file or two of soldiers.

where she had recovered strength. I think I first tried my hand (when at last I “But not her cheerfulness,” added Mrs. did speak) at a little general consolation. We Tomkins, “I never saw a girl more changed in were, thank goodness, not in a land of rib

this respect.

She has been wonderfully debandism and threatening letters; we had pressed for some time now, though I never policemen and bolts and bars, with all the was more struck by it than immediately after newest improvements. Moreover, they were her return from St. Leonards. I think you may no longer in the unhappy state of unprotected put her out of the question so far as this womanhood, for there was I to protect them, matter is concerned ; besides, I am sorry to say to share their dangers, and scare away evil- that she has given me warning, and what's doers.

more, she obstinately refuses to tell me why." The wicked little Polly was evidently laugh- I was interested in this account of the ing in her sleeve as I spoke. Was she think- housemaid, and asked a good many questions ing of iny silvery head and gouty foot ? Was about her. I saw that Mrs. Tomkins was she thinking non tali auxilio ?

seriously hurt at the girl's reticence, considerIt's a great thing having you with us, to ing it a symptom of ingratitude. Moreover,

is very

much my

[ocr errors]

your motives.

AUG. 27, 1864.)

261 it was an unfortunate juncture for a change in I went through no end of suggestive questhe household, and for replacing by a stranger

tions. “ Was she affronted at anything ?one whom they regarded as a faithful and “ Was the place too hard for her ?”

6. Had even affectionate servant. The girl was not anything or anybody gone wrong ?even disposed to wait for the customary period My ingenuity was baffled at every point. of warning, but wanted to go at once.

Not one word of explanation could I elicit. “And refuses to say why or wherefore,” According to her version nothing had gone said my friend. “I've almost gone down on wrong, and nobody had given her offence ; my knees to her, but nothing that I can say or everybody had been most kind to her, and she do seems to have any effect."

would do anything to serve them. This she “Does she know that you have received a asserted with suffused eyes. threatening letter ?

“ And yet, my good girl, you throw them “I've never told her, but perhaps she may all into tantrums by taking yourself off in this have heard us talking. I've sometimes fancied mysterious way, without a word explanatory of it must be so, and that she is afraid of remain

Do you think, Jane, this is a ing."

proper return for their kindness ? " It seemed a pity that a poor girl should She winced a little at this, and the tears lose a comfortable place for such a silly reason, began to flow, and she was still more moved and inconvenience everybody about her need- as I proceeded to dwell on the fact that the lessly ; to say nothing of the misery to herself family were in trouble, and in loneliness. of yielding up herself to nervous terror. I I then asked her whether she was afraid of volunteered to talk to her, and in Tomkins's anything, or had any idea of impending risk absence, as an old family friend, bring her to which she might avoid by quitting her present reason if I could. It was just possible, too, habitation. The supposition appeared to excite that she might know something about the her indignation. She muttered words from threatened danger, and have better grounds for which I collected that she only wished she her apprehension than we supposed. So this could avert their dangers by sharing them, but was the point of our investigation at which we she said nothing distinctly, and maintained her cried our first halt. Jane was to be sent up stubborn demeanour. to me, and in order that I might have a fair I told her, advancing thus step by step, field for my inquisitorial functions, the rest that danger actually was, or at least appeared were to get out of the way.

to be, impending over the family, and that, Up she came, a good-looking girl as you

under the circumstances, for her to go away would wish to see, neatly dressed, clean and would be to withdraw a comfort from them. proper in her person, staid in her demeanour. But all was useless. She must go, and she As I looked carefully into her face, I perceived would go, and “ a happy thing” she muttered marks of the nervous agitation for which I had it would be for them when she was gone. been disposed to give her credit. Not being a

She insisted on being allowed to go at once, physiognomist or a physiologist, I could not and turned a deaf ear to all my representations exactly define what the symptoms were, but by of the unkindness of leaving the family in disthe instinct of human sympathy I felt that. tress for immediate attendance. Her resolution she was a soul in trouble.

was evidently fixed, but at the same time I “ Come in, Jane,” I begin, “and shut the could see about her indications of such sorrow door.” She obeyed, and advancing some and distress, that I felt quite certain that some couple of steps, stood looking at me.

deep motive was at the bottom of her resolve. “ Jane," I said, you know that I am a Of course the girl could go if so she willed very old friend of the family, and can talk it, and certainly she had a right to keep her about their concerns almost as if it were your secret, if such were her determination.

But master himself. I have come unexpectedly to I had begun to feel a deep interest in the case, pay them a visit, and find them in some and somehow had worked myself into the trouble; among other matters I find that you conviction that it was of importance that I have determined to leave them, and at once. should succeed in making her unfold her Is it so ?

mystery. She was, besides, worth saving for It was so.

her own sake. But what more could I do? “ Now then, you must tell me why you What force of suasion remained in reserve ? want to go in such a hurry.

None that I could call into requisition, but No answer was forthcoming to this chal- | it appeared that there was a more powerful lenge, and her mouth was resolutely screwed agent than myself. Little Minnie, who had up to the expression that no answer should be been sent off to play in the school-room, burst forthcoming.

in upon our tête-à-tête.

a

as

poor little

I am

With a hop, skip, and a jump she was about I should say the one and only talent, with the girl's neck, nearly upsetting her in her which I am endowed ; but this one power I do vehemence. Jane," she cried, “ dear Jane, possess in an unusual degree. I saw in a mo. you shall not go.”

ment that it was Jane herself who had given the The child was crying abundantly, and spoke anonymous warning.

Certain it is that my with all the inconsiderate vehemence of child- colour rose, or that I started, or did something hood. Somebody had told her that their else to prove that I was not a mere statue. favourite was going, and hither on the moment Jane's quick eye caught the sign in a she had rushed. Children are generally pretty moment, and putting down the child she made eager, and have but slight consideration for for the door, as though to escape. Her look obstacles, but I think I never saw such a had suddenly become that of detected guilt. desperado for the moment

I stood between her and the door, and Minnie.

peremptorily motioned her back.

As though “Jane, you

shall not go,” sobbed she out; in defect of moral force she obeyed, and stood “promise me this minute, promise."

waiting the next act of the drama. It was evident that the child's pleading was “ Minnie," I said, we are busy now, and far from ineffective. I thought at the moment you must go back to the school-room. I will that it would not have moved me much under take care of this address, so off with you." the circumstances, except to anger.

And I lifted her out, and shut the door. afraid that I should have pushed her off- I turned to Jane, but before I could speak gently, I hope, but still I think I should have one single word to her, she had cowered pushed her off.

beneath the altered expression of my face. Jane, however, felt differently. Like all Lower and lower sank her head, and more and kindly-hearted women, she retained, under all more violently trembled her knees, till at last difficulties, her sympathy with childhood. she fairly was kneeling on the floor, and this She returned the child's caress, and began her- before I had spoken one single word. self to sob; anon tears trickled down her After all, what did I know? Might not the cheeks, and gave hopes that her obstinacy was letter have been written without guilty combeing shaken.

plicity ? Perhaps the whole affair was merely But it was not much she said when she did the working of some morbid sensibility on the speak; a soothing word or two to the child was mind of the sick girl, a residuary symptom of all that was forthcoming. She stuck to her her St. Leonards illness. text, and all that poor Minnie could get out of This was beyond my power to answer. One her was a promise that she would come and see thing I did know, that with good or evil intent them.

the two documents had been written by the “Eoo ! hoo! oo !” sobbed Minnie, “but I same person, and that she was there in that want to go and see you too.”

room before me. “No, miss, you cannot do that; it is too As I knew, so I spoke.

“Jane, you wrote that letter." “ Then I must write to you : tell me where “ What letter ?” she murmured with a poor I must write."

attempt at non-comprehension. Jane seemed to ponder a moment, and “ That letter which has thrown the family then assented to the proposal. She would put into trouble. You know you did, and you down the address if Miss Minnie would bring feel that I know you did, and that no attempt her a pen and paper.

at evasion can succeed." “ Write to this direction, Miss Minnie, and And evidently she did feel it. She writhed I shall get the letter."

in anguish on the floor, and bitterly wrung her The child brought the paper to me. She hands, but did not reiterate denial.

Her pale was spelling it over, and stuck at one of the lips, parting voiceless, moved me to compaswords.

sion, and I advanced to ring the bell. " What's this ?” she said, I or a d?" "No," she gasped, “call no one. You

I took it in my hand to solve her difficulty. have discovered my secret, though I cannot Goodness gracious! What a light flashed on me understand how. Let it be confined to you, in a moment. I saw, with a force of convic- at least for the present, till I get out of the tion amounting to absolute certainty, that the way-away from those faces that I love so writing was the same as that of the anonymous dearly, and that kill me with self-reproach.” document.

With a great effort she obtained the mastery In fact, I ought to have mentioned that in over her muscles, and knelt upright. In spite respect of handwriting I was almost a profos- of my endeavours and even entreaties she kept sional expert. It is a particular talent, perhaps that posture, and with clasped hands and

far."

an

a

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

may not be.

piteous eyes, and deep distress of soul, she number of pots, or otherwise in manner more poured forth her confession.

conformable to modern civilisation ? Was it a “What can be coming ?” thought I to myself hoax ? Alas! Could I look on that agitated in the brief moment that left room for expec- form, crouching on the ground before me, and tancy. Who could divine what the poor girl believe her to be otherwise than earnest ? was about to unfold ? Yet strange as it may Still, the notion was too monstrous ; the police appear, I beg to say that such a confession would never stand such a thing, they would was actually made, and it is much to be feared soon find out and counteract any such combithat all the premises on which it proceeded are nations. In short, it was

nonsense, and yet existing in full force. Her revelation impossible, and not to be accepted under any brought to light a condition of things which circumstances. It was easier to believe poor we should hardly think to be within the limits Jane the victim of some mental delusion ; sle of possibility in this our generation.

had been ill, she might be beside herself. In substance this is what she said : She bad I thought I would test her tale by a little been, in consequence of sin in early youth, cross-questioning ; so, with as soothing an thrown on the world without a character. expression as I could throw into my voice, I They who had first tempted her to evil stepped said that it was a strange story, but that after in as helpers in her hour of need: they were able all, she need not be so dreadfully agitated. and willing to find her all that she wanted. Even supposing all this to be true, I did not She had forfeited genuine recommendations, see that actual harm need accrue to anybody but they proffered her spurious substitutes, so in consequence of her proceedings. She had cunningly contrived as to defy detection, and fallen into bad company, but now desired to so laudatory in kind as to carry by storm the stand free, she had not aided and abetted the best places.

They abundantly supplied her doings of the gang, and might stop quietly with money and dress, and all those things where she was for the future. which foolish servant-girls love. In return “No," she cried, in bitter anguish ; "that they required from her coadjutorship in a

I would gladly give my life if it grand scheme of evil - doing. They were might be. I have received the summons to neither more nor less than a cleverly organised action, which, so far as I am aware, has never association of thieves, having ramifications all yet been disobeyed, and which could be so over the country, and working systematically. only with certain destruction of all that makes To them were to be attributed most of the life worth having, if not of life itself. plate-robberies and housebreakings that took “The summons to action !” place throughout the country ; as, in fact, they “ Yes. I have been ordered to get things were as powerful for action in Cornwall as in ready, and to leave the pantry window open, London, and this in consequence of their and to give those I now love more than all the affiliations throughout the length and breadth world put together, to the mercies of ruffians.” of the land. Their plan was to send emissaries 6. Then just tell them,” said I, trying a of their own into families, or to win over little good-humoured banter, " tell them with actual servants, and through their means my compliments that you'd rather be excused, obtain access to houses. Of course their infor- and that you beg them to keep their messages mation kept them posted as to the most to themselves for the future. In sober earnest, promising speculations and the most likely remember that you are under the protection of time of operation. Their system of realising society, and that any attempt to prevent your the value of their spoil was such as to divest freedom must be defeated.” the proceeding of almost all risk of detection, But bitter tears and passionate exclamations and the general result of their policy was that were all the response that my encouragement they plundered and prospered.

uld elicit, and then came the revelation that Now, all this has been put in the past tense proved poor Jane's fears to be well-founded, because I have been speaking historically of and which inay serve to show how an unfortuwhat took place at a given time. But that nate delinquent is apt to become hopelessly time was very lately, and so far as the fact entangled in the toils of evil-doing. I think goes, I might have spoken in the present tense. it enabled me to appreciate as I never before Such things are, I am sorry to say, at the had appreciated the misery of many of our propresent speaking.

fessed thieves. In the light of such explanaYou may imagine how I opened eyes and tion one can understand how it comes to pass ears at this story. Could I believe it ? Was that so many persons persevere in a course Ali Baba really redivivus, and was this a new that they know must be infallibly leading Morgiana risen somehow to thwart their plans them on to a miserable catastrophe. Headand smother the whole gang in an appropriate strong or foolish vice may givo the original

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

3

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

impulse, but we may depend upon it that longed to leave violence and wickedness, and nothing but relentless force can retain in such to return into the way of peace. But the mansubjection. We sometimes hear of the mode date had been received by her which she dared and degree in which the ticket-of-leave man is not disobey, and which it would be worse than dogged by the police, and how on his death to obey. For this reason it was, and attempting to return to honesty he finds an for this reason alone, that she sought to withever ready finger in his way pointing him out draw herself from her present place. She had as untrustworthy. This would seem to be as not dared to make a full disclosure to her nothing to the surveillance exercised by the mistress, but had written her such a letter as secret associations of thieves.

she thought likely to put her on her guard, Their method of proceeding is apparently and perhaps prevent the evil issue. this: Through the instrumentality of individual “But why not cnt the matter short," I members they discover and tamper with likely cried, “why not let me go at once to the subjects, at first proceeding without direct station and give such information as would persuasion to dishonesty. They open their lead to the apprehension of the whole gang, trenches against such points as frivolity and and stop their trade for good and all ?” vanity ; they entangle in some fault, and then, Jane turned pale, even through her former in the consequent distress and destitution, pallor. “You do not understand, sir, how these come forward in the character of friends. A things are managed, and how impossible it new place, we will say, is obtained by false seems for me to stir hand or foot. What recommendations supplied by them. As to this credit would be yielded to the statement of a there is no difficulty, for they have correspon- girl who could be proved to have been condents all over the country, ready to answer any cerned in at least one case of housebreaking ? inquiries, and so are enabled to furnish the most All I should gain would be the prison for unexceptionable recommendations. This preli- myself ; nay, so thoroughly are we beset that minary over, there remains no more difficulty in I have a misgiving that somehow this, my their dealing with their victim, nor any con- confession to you is, or very soon will be, cealment as to the real nature of their doings. known to those who will take no expiation but The person is simply told that she (or he) my life.” must now act as directed, under pain of This seemed really like bringing back the denouncement for the offence already past. old vehme gericht of the troubled days of the The object then is to get them committed to Empire, with this notable difference, that some grave offence against the law, which whereas the old tribunal enforced the rule of under the circumstances is seldom difficult. right, these desperadoes pursued the enforceFrom that point there remains for the law- ment of the wrong. I do not know whether breaker nothing but a life of continual trans- many of the present generation have read gression under most hateful constraint, till the Fielding's “ Jonathan Wild,” or any other convict hulks or the gallows close the scene. particular account of the thief-taking associa

All this I gathered from Jane, and such was tions of the last century. I have read them, the reason why she refused to be comforted ; and so was better prepared to take in this why kind and earnest friends, friends who situation. I understood that we, in our day would go through great difficulties to serve of advanced civilisation, and preventive and her, were of no avail in her extremity. They detective proficiency, have in our midst crimimight save her from external assaults, but nal associations scarcely less malignant than they could not save her from herself, they those of which Jonathan Wild was the domicould not annul her own doings. She had nant spirit. been, under that dreadful influence, led into A pretty story it was altogether, enforced an abyss from which there seemed to be no by the aspect of that poor girl cowering before refuge. Sobbingly she told me of the first girlish me in despair, averting her face and refusing indiscretion which had led to her loss of place to be comforted. Little had I suspected that and character, and how she had accepted of anything like this would be the result of my evil aid to reinstate herself. Thenceforward first attempt to play the detective. the descent had been rapid, and at that time earth I was to do I could not think. of speaking to me, she stood implicated in the It was necessary, at all events, to call in guilt of a robbery that was enough to trans- Mrs. Tomkins, and let her know the result of port her for life. Since coming to my friend our tête-à-tête. We must also telegraph to the Tomkins's, a change had been brought over husband, and amongst us all contrive some her spirit ; she had learned to love the family, plan of safety for Jane. She was evidently in and the wondrous transmutation that love the wildest terror, and felt that her life was no will work had been wrought in her. She longer safe. Mixed up with this sort of per

What on

« AnteriorContinuar »