"Put Out of the Way"
It was an ominously dull evening, even in Broadway. The rain beat on the top of Miss Hubbard’s hackney-coach, and drenched the windows, and shut her and old Mrs. McIntosh inside into a little jolting cell of gloom uneasy discomfort. Lotty wiped the foggy pane and peered out, her heart beginning to swell and throb under her neat, little, buttony jacket. New York to her was a jungle, full of corruption and wild beasts, through which, like another innocent Una, she had to make her way, without any especial lion to protect her.
“Do you think the driver knows the way, aunt Selina?” she said.
“The colonel’s own man is beside him, child. We’re safe enough.”
Mrs. McIntosh spoke tartly, folding her black shawl over her spare breast, and pinning it tight with the air of a woman prepared for action, and by no means to be taken at advantage. “It would have become Col. Leeds better to have met us himself, instead of sending his lackey to receive the orphan daughter of his old friend; that’s my opinion, Charlotte. Or his son—his son ought to be old enough now to know how to be civil. If Ned Leeds lives in the beggarly fashion he used to, from hand to mouth, a rich ward like you will be a godsend to him—he ought to be thankful for it. Why, when that fellow used to come down to your father’s, for a month’s gunning and fishing, with his diamond rings and flesh-colored gloves, his shirts were only fronts, Charlotte! shams, worn over flannel; and half the time there were no socks under his French boots. You see, I superintended the wash. Oh! I know what Ned Leeds’ sort is well!”
“My father always regarded Col. Leeds as a most exquisite gentleman,” said Miss Hubbard, stiffly. “He was very proud to call him his friend. You know, aunt Selina, father was but a poor farmer when the colonel boarded with him.”
“I know all about it, Lotty,” said Mrs. McIntosh; and then fell into silence, for the cool indifference of their reception bewildered as well as angered her.
Charlotte Hubbard, sole heiress to the great Hubbard lead-mine, was game that did not fall to Ned Leeds. To be sure, her property was out of his reach. But the sum set aside by her father to recompense her guardian, for his care of her until she was of age and was introduced into the New York world, was enough, in Mrs. McIntosh’s opinion, to crush that needy gentleman under a load of gratitude. She had received with grim satisfaction, the colonel’s courteous letter requesting her to accept the post of chaperon to Miss Hubbard. “A post,” he said, “rendered doubly necessary by the fact that my poor house and rough way of living has been so long unsoftened and unrefined by womanly presence.” She was quite willing to go in the train of the monied princess. It would be much pleasanter employment to inaugurate decent housekeeping in the rough house, and to oversee giddy Lotty, than to make up the winter dresses of the farmers’ and storekeepers’ wives about Coldsden. She had kept her own counsel as to her secret opinion of the colonel heretofore. But it was provoked from her now. “To send his lackey,” she said again and again. “Ned Leeds’ footman laughing at my hair-trunk! But so the wheel goes, up and down.”
Miss Hubbard was dryly silent. But she was disappointed. Secretly, she had regarded herself as worthy of some sort of royal reception. She had been such a hard-worked little girl when her father bought that plat of waste land in Illinois; she had milked, cooked, tied up the radishes for the hucksters, like all the rest of the farmers’ daughters. The lead-mine opened a sudden fairy-land of wealth to her. It was the old story of Cinderella over again. She had begun since then to look at her face in the glass through a glamour of romance; and she had supposed Col. Leeds and his associates would do the same.
Suddenly the carriage drew up in front of a house brilliantly lighted from attic to basement.
It was a mansion stately enough, in Lotty’s eyes, to make her draw a quicker breath of timid astonishment as she crossed the pavement, and entered the wide arch between the two rounded pillars. But even by gaslight Mrs. McIntosh’s eyes were wide open. She saw that the massive pile of stone, and not plastered, and that the inlaid floor was of genuine marble. She caught a glimpse of a dimly-shaded library and dining-room beyond, glittering with lights and silver, before they went up to the drawing-room floor. It was all very like a palace to poor Lotty.
“At least, they have prepared to receive us,” said Mrs. McIntosh, complacently.
A grave, elderly gentleman advanced to meet them at the foot of the stairs with outstretched hands.
“And this is Dan Hubbard’s daughter,” he said. “My daughter now.”
And he slowly scanned her from head to foot, and then kissed her hand solemnly.
Lotty felt herself, in some subtle way, appraised and taken into possession. She had never been less her own mistress than in that next moment, when the grave, middle-aged gentleman stood holding her fingers in his white, pulpy hand, and looking, with tears in his eyes, on the ground, said, “You are very like your father, child. But there!” with a forced smile. “This is no time for thoughts like these,” giving the other hand to Mrs. McIntosh, “you are both welcome to my poor home. It is old and worn, as you see: it betters suits the fortunes of a family gone with it into decay; but its roof was always ready to shelter the orphan. Do not stand any longer on the threshold.”
He turned now, and beckoned to a lady in the background.
“This is Mrs. Lusk, my housekeeper,” he said. “She will show you to your apartments. “Remember,” with an impressive glance that took them both in, “this is your home. You command in your apartments as I in mine. I never shall enter them without your permission. I will bid you good-night now. It will be kindest, I am sure, to leave you to repose.”
Lotty glanced back at the fatherly face, which watched her as she went up the stairs. She never had seen one more genial and benignant, she thought; and she was ready to cry from nervous joy. She followed aunt Selina in a sort of dream. Mrs. Lusk went before, polished, but austere, like most English servants here. She knew her duties, but she rated properly the plebian country to which necessity had driven her. She preceded the scared, yet delighted Lotty, through the luxurious dressing rooms, wide chambers, and boudoir, which occupied the whole left wing of the house.
“This is the suite of apartments set apart for you and Miss Hubbard, madam,” she said, stopping at last, and scrupulously addressing the elder lady. “Miss Hubbard’s maid is in waiting. Dinner will be served whenever you desire it.”
Now it was about the hour when aunt Selina usually drank her cup of tea, slaked her fire, and went to bed. She rose equal to the occasion, however.
“Is not Miss Hubbard to dine with Col. Leeds?” she said. “I observe that the house is still lighted.”
“Col. Leeds entertains a party of gentlemen, to-night,” said Mrs. Lusk. She hesitated, and then went on. “I understood, that, as the young lady had not yet made her debut, it was her guardian’s wish that her meals should be served in her own rooms when there were strangers in the house.”
“Ay, indeed! Very well. You may go!” said Mrs. McIntosh, nodding gruffly, by way of showing that she knew how to treat a servant.
As soon as the housekeeper had rustled out, Mrs. McIntosh drew up her skirts and put her feet on the fender. After this, she remained grimly silent until the dinner had been served and eaten. Slight as the repast was, it hinted at mysteries of cooking, to which her skill was but scullion-work. The silver glittered miraculously. The delicate damask was snowier than any ever bleached even in the pure air of Coldsden.
“And this is what Ned calls rough housekeeping, truly,” she growled, as the servant withdrew. “I’ve dreamed of houses kept like this; but I never thought to find one, and that one Ned Leeds’! The man looks as genuine as the house. He wears even his own gray hair. I doubt I’ll have to take back what I said of him. Though that’s sheer folly, wearing your hair gray when dye’s so cheap. It’s a parade of honesty, in my notion,” with an uneasy smoothing of her own oily black locks.
Lotty made no reply. She was stunned. Dropping so roughly out of her role of princess, into that of a country school-girl, received out of sheer kindness, and to be kept in the nursery until she was old enough not to disgrace her guardian, quite dazed her. She was suddenly miserably conscious of her ignorance and awkwardness, and quite sure that the low place was the rightful one. For Lotty was naturally a humble, simple-hearted girl; and in this new world of stately ceremony, of beauty, music, culture, and quiet ease, the lead-mine, which had so dazzled her, seemed such a wretched heap of poor and common metal!
Breakfast was over. Col. Leeds had lingered, sipping his glass of claret, and questioning his ward, as he was wont to do, about her yesterday’s lessons, before he retired to his study; but he was gone at last. Mrs. McIntosh was bearing a sick headache, up in her room, with the grim endurance of an Indian; but still Lotty lingered alone, looking vacantly out into the open square beyond. She turned hastily, as a small, fair-haired young man entered, and rose blushing, as he thought, like the milk-maid that she was.
“Do not go, cousin Lotty,” he said, putting out his delicate, ringed hand. “No one can make my tea like you. Besides,” as he sat down and daintily disposed his napkin, “you surely need not be always eager to escape to that nunnery of yours up stairs. How is it that you are so devoted to study? Were you actually born different from all of us weak, young people?”
Lotty’s hand shook, as she put the sugar in the cup; and the tears rushed to her eyes. “Indeed, cousin Fred, I am more tired than anybody knows,” she said. “I might as well be in a nunnery, as you say,” checking herself with a half sob.
Young Mr. Leeds shot a shrewd glance at her under his light eyelashes; then he looked her straight in the face tenderly, putting down his fork.
“Is it possible,” he said, “that my father has mistaken your wishes? From your letter, before you came, he thought your sole wish was to go on with your studies, and that you desired to avoid all gayety? Is it not so, Lotty?”
Miss Hubbard stammered. “I don’t know what I said in my letter,” she answered, pettishly. “One ought not to be called to account for every hasty word. I only know that in these two months I have been shut up like a prisoner, and treated like a child. I am tired of English, and French, and music-masters. I want some other amusement than a solemn pace about the square with Mrs. McIntosh.”
“Poor child! You miss the fresh air of the country,” he said, compassionately.
Lotty gained courage. “I miss more than that. There is no use in forcing me to study—there never was. I cannot understand books; I have the very dullest brains that ever were made, cousin Frederick.” She put her hands up to her forehead, as she spoke, looking into his face with a gravity and distress that would have provoked a smile from any one else. But young Mr. Leeds only sipped his tea thoughtfully, turning his lightish eyes by turns from Lotty to the omelet before him.
“There has been a sad misunderstanding here,” he said, gently, at last. “But, by the terms of your father’s will, you are only to remain with us until you are married. I do not see what is to be done. My father is a man of iron will, and he has but little patience with any change of mind.”
“Unless—unless you could help me?” impetuously said Lotty. He can be managed by you, cousin Frederick; he is so tender and devoted to you.”
Fred Leeds raised his cup suddenly to conceal his face. When he put it down, he said, “You have quick insight, Lotty. Perhaps you are right. At all events, he cannot object to your breathing fresh air. I will beg leave to drive you out this afternoon. With the dragon, McIntosh, to mount guard, of course.”
“Oh, cousin Fred! You are so good! So good!” and Lotty jumped up and went to stand beside him, her face flushing into prettiness. “You don’t know what it is to be a prisoner in the midst of such wonders as there are in New York.”
“A prisoner? What nonsense!” said the young man, contracting his eyes. The next few minutes he ate his breakfast in silence, while Lotty assiduously helped him to sugar, or cut his bread. Then he put down knife and fork, and slowly took her chubby brown hand in his own. He handled it so delicately, and spoke so slowly, looking away from her the while, that one might have fancied the effort cost him some uncomfortable qualms.
“Miss Hubbard, I—I hope,” he said, “that, whether I am able to serve you in this matter, or not, you will regard me as your friend? Your nearest friend, Lotty?”
“Oh, yes, cousin Frederick! You’ve been very kind to me—very kind. As soon as you made me call you cousin, I knew we were going to be allies.”
“Yes, allies,” languidly dropping her fingers and touching the bell. “A fresh omelet, Stephen. Perhaps you had better run up to your books, Lotty. Your Italian master will soon be here.”
Lotty nodded and vanished, and he gave a sigh of relief.
His father entered soon after the servant, and dismissing him, drew a chair close beside the table. Fred’s insignificant features hardened a little, but he took no further notice of him. One would hardly recognize the stern father of Lotty’s acquaintance, iron in virtue and will, with only one weakness, that one of tender devotion to this gentle son. They watched each other furtively, like two slow-moving leopards, about to wrangle over the prize of some dead carcass.
“What have you done, Frederick?” the older man said at last.
Fred pushed away his plate, wiped his fair mustache carefully, and rising, stood by the fire. “Very little, I confess. Try a segar, sir?”
“It seems to me you are cursedly deliberate!” rising also, angrily. “There is no time to lose.”
“There is plenty of time. There’s no need to shake an over-ripe pear. The girl would drop into my arms to-morrow.”
“I do not believe it. She has her father’s steady eyes. Both shrewdness and sense were behind them, I can tell you, in Dan Hubbard’s brain. A weightier brain than yours, Frederick.”
“Perhaps so,” replied the son, indifferently. “I would not be surprised if the girl added shrewdness to her other disagreeable qualities.”
“The girl is well enough,” gruffly retorted the father.
“She is utterly distasteful to me,” answered Fred, with almost energy. “She is homely, awkward, underbred, and, worst of all, affectionate. I hate a woman ready to lap your hand, like a spaniel, for a kind word.”
“If all the women with whom you associate, were as poor and frank as poor Hubbard’s daughter, you would be better able to understand her.”
Fred Leeds turned sharply on his father, as though he suspected some covert meaning in the angry retort. But the old man walked on up and down the room, without noticing that his son watched him breathlessly, the segar going out in his mouth.
“It is time to be done with this folly, Frederick,” Leeds said, stopping at last, and leaning heavily with both hands on the table before him. “It is too late for you to consult your whims and caprices as to your wife. I proposed the bargain to you fairly, five months ago. The money paid to me as guardian would have supported me for years in the way I then lived. With this house and retinue it will barely last a twelvemonth. I agreed to take the house, deceive the girl as to both my position and purposes, and to keep her for you out of the reach of any other suitor. The way is open for you to win and marry her. On the wedding-day, half of the stock of the lead-mine is handed over to me. It was a fair business contract. I have done my part. Now I look for you to do yours.”
“Unfortunately, I am a gentleman,” said the son, sulkily. “I have the feelings and tastes of one. I am willing to give them up, but I’ll not be bullied into it. I must have time.”
“No, you will not have time,” coolly said the colonel. “You do not deceive me, Fred. There is some reason for your repugnance, besides a mere captious dislike of the woman. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t ask. But this I do know, that if you shirk and dally longer in this matter, you may go back to the hells at Baden-Baden, and starve again there. I will marry the girl myself. I give you two months to decide.”
Frederick stared at his father’s face. But he did not laugh. “You will marry her yourself?” he said, turning suddenly and scanning both faces in the mirror as they stood side-by-side. “You could do it, Col. Leeds,” he drawled at last. “Upon my soul, I look as old as you do. I haven’t your constitution, you see. I must pull up—pull up.”
“It is time,” dryly said the father. “When you have made up your mind, let me know;” and he turned to leave the room.
“I need not deliberate about it,” said Fred, stopping him. “I know what it must come to. I’ll take her.”
Col. Leeds nodded, and went out.
The son sat down, gloomily, and looked into the fire.
An hour after, he was still sitting there motionless, his unlighted segar between his teeth.
The afternoon was warm and mellow. The colonel’s bays were in such high condition, that they left the teams of the other young fellows in the park far in the background. Mrs. McIntosh was grim, but silent. Everything combined to put Fred Leeds in good-humor with himself and the world.
Lotty, too, did not cause him any uneasy blushes. She was more presentable than he had hoped. There was none of that effusion or brusquerie, which annoyed him ordinarily. Her dress was quiet and well considered. Besides, there was a certain thoughtful self-poise about her, when in public, that surprised, while it puzzled and piqued him.
He brought out his most brilliant small-talk to amuse her. Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he stopped, with a sort of gasp, and unconsciously pulled the horses back on their haunches, forcing them to turn in the narrow path.
“Are we going back? Are you ill?” cried Lotty.
He rallied, and recovered his self-possession at her words.
“I am not well,” he said, compressing his bloodless lips.
“Hillo, Leeds!” cried a voice behind them at this moment.
Fred touched the off-horse with his whip, his eyes glittering, with an unspoken oath.
“Some one calls you, Frederick. It is that—that young man on the bridge,” said Lotty. “See, he is coming this way.”
Frederick drew up with a ghastly smile of welcome.
“Is that really you, Dick?” he said, affecting to be quite glad. “I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought you were in Europe. When did you come over?”
While he was speaking, Lotty glanced shyly at the stranger. He was altogether of a different type from Fred. Tall, finely-proportioned, singularly intelligent in the face, and with a manner that was as superior to Fred’s as possible, because it seemed to her even much higher-bred; he impressed her with a curiously strange feeling, part admiration, part fear. Turning suddenly to look at her, he found Lotty scrutinizing him. Her eyes dropped guiltily, and the blood rose over cheek and brow.
“We came on the Persia,” answered the stranger, replying calmly to Fred. “When I saw you first, I wasn’t sure it was you, either. But I recognized you by your way of holding the ribbons. I wish,” he said, laughingly, with his hand on the rein, “you were a horse for an hour, and I’d show you how you ought to be driven.”
“Many thanks,” laughed Leeds, feebly. “You always had a fellow feeling for the beasts, you know. I claim no kinship with them. Call round, Wortley. Or—stay—I’ll see you at the club, to-night.”
But Wortley did not move. He glanced significantly at Lotty.
“Surely you see why I stopped you?” he whispered. “She is my cousin, you remember.”
“Oh, true!” hastily. “I’ll bring you home from the club to-night,” jerking the reins.
But Wortley evidently divined Fred’s intention, and was not to be out-generaled. He turned to Lotty.
“I will not have you carried off from me in so cavalier fashion,” he said, taking off his cap. “You see,” with a laugh, “you are Dan Hubbard’s little girl, that I used to teaze until she cried; and I am Richard Wortley, your only living relative. Now we are presented in form. My mother told me that you were here this morning. We only came back from Paris last week.”
Lotty was cold and shy. She could call little, effeminate Fred Leeds cousin easily enough, and be familiar with him, though he was no blood relation at all. But this six-foot young fellow, with his hearty voice, yet polished, man-of-the-world address, was another matter.
“I am afraid I do not remember you, Mr. Wortley,” she said, hesitatingly.
“No, of course not. You were but a toddling mite of a thing. I used to be sent down to the farm to keep me out of mischief. I was a very ruffian of a boy.”
“But I have heard my father speak of Mrs. Wortley,” said Lotty, thinking she had been rude, and wishing to make amends. “Why did she not come to see me?”
“She could not,” his voice altering. “My mother has been an invalid for many years. It will be a great happiness for her to meet any of her own blood. She is a staunch adherent to kith and kin. When may I call on you?”
Lotty glanced anxiously at Mr. Leeds, but the latter kept his head obstinately turned away. “Come to-morrow,” she said, at last. “I don’t think there can be any difficulty——”
“No. How could there be. Fred here can vouch for me. We are friends—I am his bosom confidant, eh, Leeds?” touching him with a significant laugh.
“Yes, certainly, we are always friends,” answered Leeds, with an odd laugh, thus appealed to.
“And we are cousins, Miss Hubbard—and going to be friends in a different fashion from Fred’s and mine. I can prophecy; I have the second sight,” with a look which was steady, but not bold, yet which brought the blood into her face.
Leeds raised his reins as if to start, and then halted suddenly. “I must see you, Richard. Wait for me here. I will be back in half an hour,” he said.
Dick nodded, and replied, “I understand. You want news from Leipsic. Be happy! I have nothing but what is good to give you.”
He bowed again, and they drove on. But Lotty, looking back, saw him standing with his cap in his hand, watching them, the sun through the leaves overhead making a flickering shadow over his black hair and frank, brown face. The young ladies who rode by that way, turned and looked after him; they were all artists enough to appreciate what Lotty called a manly man.
Fred Leeds drove home in silence. It occurred to her, as they reached his father’s door, that he was playing his part but badly. “I have not made your holiday very happy for you, Lotty,” he said, tenderly. “My thoughts were very busy.”
“I know,” she said good-naturedly. “It was because you saw Mr. Wortley.”
“What could Richard Wortley matter to me?” he answered, quickly and angrily.
“I thought he brought you news,” archly. “I fancied some pretty fraulein at Leipsic.”
“There is no fraulein from whom I care out of my own home,” Leeds said, meaningly.
But as soon as Lotty was fairly in the house, he sprung into the phæton, and drove rapidly back to the Park.
Lotty, as she went up stairs, blushed at his compliment; but soon after she had quite forgot it. Leeds brooded over it to himself, however, as he drove on, as though it conveyed some import below its surface meaning.
“Curse it!” he said, at last. “Let it go! They have the grappling hooks on me on every side. It’s not my fault if they drag me into the pit.”
He found Wortley waiting for him. The latter sprung up in the phæton. Fred handed over the reins as a matter of course. The horses went off at once at once into a swinging trot.
“Look at that!” testily cried Fred. “They would not take that pace for me!”
“They know who holds the lines,” said Wortley; “they recognize the brotherhood, eh? If I could induce a woman to care for me as some horses have done, I’d marry to-morrow. How long has Miss Hubbard been with you, Fred? Your father is her guardian, they tell me.”
“I don’t know how long,” drawled young Leeds, listlessly. “She has a snug sum to guard. The old man’s investments in Western land turned out well—lead-mine.”
Wortley’s countenance fell.
“I did not know that,” he said, directly. “An heiress, eh? Well, it don’t matter to me. How she did hate me when she was a baby! She’s got a spice of temper yet, I fancy?”
“We did not come here to discuss Miss Hubbard’s temper,” said the other, peevishly.
“No, of course not. But it always goes with that colored hair. I wonder if she knows what a prize she has in it. Reddish gold, the true Titian color. And waved like the hair on a Greek statue. What our fellows at Rome would have given to copy it! But I forgot. You want to ask about Luisa?”
“Yes, Luisa,” with a groan.
“Well, she is as fleshy and fair as always, a regular Rubens. There’s no chance of your becoming a widower. I saw her at the gaming saloon at Baden, in the old, shabby velvet and sham pearls. She was raking in the gold with the greedy twinkle in her pretty face. Those German women never know how to get themselves up.” He hesitated a moment, looking down compassionately into Leed’s pale insignificant face, then added, “I know but of one thing about her to tell you.”
“She has made our marriage public?”
“No, no not so bad as that. No one would believe it in Baden-Baden, if she did.”
“No one knew of it but you and Fisher,” looking up keenly; “and Fisher is dead.”
“Yes, Fisher is dead. It was a bad piece of business, Fred. How did you come into it?”
“Drunk. I’d been playing in their bank all night. Her father was croupier. There was no end to my luck. I won, and drank, and made love to Luisa by turns. The next morning I found myself out at Diehlsdorf: with her, and married.”
“Well, Luisa’s an honest girl, as far as I know,” he said, at last. “Only—— However, she’s coming over.”
“Yes, it’s bad enough. She will wait until spring for you, and if you do not send for her, she will come and find you.”
“No one will believe her story here!” cried Fred, vehemently. “I will denounce her as an imposter.”
“Not so fast, Fred. You forget me. It’s a miserable affair, I know; but, after all, she is your wife: and you must treat her as one.”
“You mean to say that you’ll expose me?”
“I’ll tell the truth, if asked. It would be my duty. Right is right, Fred.”
Leeds shot a malignant glance at him, and remained silent, his head sunk low on his breast.
“It’s not so bad as it might be,” said Wortley, good-naturedly, after a pause. “You can insure her absence by paying for it; and there’s no feeling on either side. She don’t care a sou for you, Leeds.”
“I’m not sure of that,” with a conceited smirk.
“Well, I am,” he said. “No, it might be worse. If you were a marrying man, for instance?”
“But I am not,” hastily.
“No. How could you be? Shall I turn back to town? The sun is almost down.”
“I tell you, Lotty, your mother had no such friend as Sophy Wortley. They were the children of the same father,” said Mrs. McIntosh, positively.
“Yes, I understand.”
“And it is your duty to go to her, as she is an invalid. I mean to go. She was a bright pretty girl when I was an old maid, a bit slighted and set aside, and she was very kind to me. That was before I married McIntosh, and could hold up my head with any of the girls. But I never forgot it to Sophy. I’ll go to her to-morrow.”
“I wish you would wait, aunt Selina,” blushing uneasily. “He, Richard, promised to come to see us; and that is more than a month ago. I’ve no mind that you or I shall intrude on anybody.”
“I don’t see how my movements can depend on that young puppy,” said aunt Selina, indignantly. But she did not go.
Meanwhile Lotty watched, day by day, each time the door opened, for Richard or some late apology. In the dreary monotony of the daily routine of her life, the chance encounter with him had assumed the proportions of an adventure. Wortley was an artist, too, as she had learned from Fred; and poor. There was a glamour of romance about all artists, seen from Lotty’s country-bred vision. He had not, indeed, a pale face, nor tawny, Van Dyke beard, nor did he wear a belted velvet blouse. But day by day a square, firm, good-tempered countenance under a round, felt hat, and a tall figure in an English morning-suit of coarse gray, began to take their place in her mind, as the proper face and garb of a great genius.
“An artist must be a man of his times,” she used to say to herself, “to master them.” She found an occasional mention or two in the daily journals about the pictures brought home by Wortley, who promised to be among the first of our genre painters, and she cut them out and kept them in her pocket-book.
It was not until another month had passed, after the conversation with her aunt, that she summoned courage to speak of him.
“Your friend, Mr. Wortley,” she said, one day, to her cousin, “forgot us very speedily, cousin Fred.”
They were at the breakfast-table. Col. Leeds shot a keen glance at her over his newspaper; but Fred buttered his toast leisurely before replying.
“Oh, Dick!” he said. “I don’t suppose he remembered his promise for a day. The most fickle-minded fellow!”
“Young Wortley has gone South,” said the colonel, shortly. “He will not return until spring.”
Fred lifted his gray eyes to his father with a flash of surprise. “I believe I did hear something of the sort,” he said, languidly.
Lotty did not feel called upon to reply.
“You can give no objection to call on your aunt Sophy now,” said Mrs. McIntosh, when they were back in their own room. “You should not slight you mother’s sister because she has an unmannerly son.”
“No, I can have no objection now.”
Lotty began to sing. Her heart was strangely sore, without cause; and she fancied that every one could see it. So she sang instinctively to divert suspicion from herself.
“We’ll go there to-day, instead of to the square,” said aunt Selina, in a fever of excitement. “I will get the address from the Directory; and I would say nothing about it to the Leeds.”
“No. I’ll say nothing about it.”
They hurried through the by-streets, and were jolted along in omnibusses, that afternoon, silent and flushed, like two school-girls on a clandestine frolic. “There’s no reason why you should not go to your mother’s sister,” the old lady repeated again and again. “You are not a child, nor a felon, to be locked up. Neither am I.”
“No,” said Lotty.
But she never owned to aunt Selina how the young blood revolted in her against her enforced solitude. What would she not have given to claim, as a mere acquaintance, any of the thousand bright-faced girls who daily passed her window. But she could not go out and ask them to be her friends; and as for opera, or ball, to which Fred was driven night after night, how she did, day after day, long for them? She was not sure.
Every morning Col. Leeds praised her for the purity of her instincts, which had made his task as guardian so easy. “For my creed is that of the French school,” he was wont to say. “Only under the guardianship of a husband should a young woman face the world.”
Thus it happened that this visit to an elderly aunt became an exciting adventure.
They found the house at last.
“I did not think Sophy was so poor as—this,” said Mrs. McIntosh, and her wrinkled fingers shook as she pulled the bell.
“It is a very nice little row of houses, I am sure,” said Lotty, hastily; “and this is an artist’s home, as anybody could see,” nodding to some puny vines inside of the window.
The door opened as she spoke, and there was the artist himself, looking twice as big and hearty, and handsome, in the choking little door-way, as in the open air of the Park.
He colored a little, but the next moment held out his hands, cordially, to them both.
“You have come to see my mother? She thought you would. She has more faith in her sex than I have,” he said, opening an inner door.
It was a large room, occupying the whole lower floor. At the first glance, Lotty thought she had never seen anything so bright, or luxurious. Mrs. McIntosh, however, speedily detected how cheap was the soft gray paper, the mull curtains, which gave the effect of moonlight, the flowers, the rose-colored chintz. Drawn up before the wood-fire was a large chair, on which reclined a white-haired woman, with a rare, cheerful beauty in her faded face.
“You’ve come at last!” she cried, putting out her thin hands.
The voice, weak as it was, was curiously like her son’s. Lotty stood back, blushing, thinking how musical both voices were, and how unlike to all others. The looks and gestures of these two people, their house, the very air about them, were all like strange, rare music to poor Lotty. She found herself seated beside Richard’s mother presently, with the thin hand laid caressingly on her hair.
“You are like your mother, child,” said Mrs. Wortley, talking eagerly as one who is forced to be often silent. “Here is her wonderful hair. I’ve so often told Richard about that hair! I knew you would come to me, although you refused to see poor Dick day after day.”
Lotty looked her surprise.
“She never knew he was there!” broke in Mrs. McIntosh.
Mrs. Wortley glanced up quickly. Then a meaning smile broke over her gentle face. “No matter. It was a mistake,” she said. “You are here at last. Dick—where is Dick?” looking round. “Gone into the studio, I suppose. He thought we could talk better without a lumbering young fellow in the way.”
“And right enough! You have no daughters, Sophy?” said Mrs. McIntosh.
“None. Nobody but Richard.” Then, in a lower tone, “I do not want any one else.”
“He’s a good son, no doubt?”
“Yes, he’s a good son,” quietly. “He has been my sole nurse and companion for seven years.”
She shaded her eyes with her hand as she spoke; but Lotty saw the tears in them, nevertheless. They touched her strangely. She was glad Mrs. Wortley was silent and did not praise her son, fluently, to aunt Selina. Lotty thought the tie between them was too sacred to be boasted of to strangers. Yet it would have seemed quite natural to her if the mother had spoken of it to her.
“Are you altogether dependent on your son, Sophy?” asked aunt Selina, who always liked to get to the bottom of a matter.
“Altogether. He does not find me a burden, I think,” smiling. “His pictures command high prices now. I was with him abroad. We lived very cheaply, and he thought the water of the Kissinger Spa might help me.”
Lotty sat quiet on her low stool, while the two women went back to their girlish days. She was in that mood when a word would have brought a laugh, or tears. She did not know what ailed her. She did not know why this commonplace, little house, one of a long, unmeaning block, should seem like a new world to her; its air purer, and the sunshine, which threw the shadows of the window-vines on the floor, different from any she had ever known. She sat listening to the musical tones of Mrs. Wortley’s voice. The invalid’s hand yet rested on her head. Lotty was trying to find—— what was it she was trying to find in it? Her neck and face were dyed red with shame. What was Richard Wortley to her?
Lotty, who had grown sickly and morbid in mind and body from her unwonted confinement, heard the conversation without distinguishing a word. It was full of happy prophecy to her, to which she could give no meaning, even to herself.
She started and put herself unnecessarily on guard, when the door opened, and Richard came in, pallet in hand. Lotty noticed the quick, loving glance, that passed between him and his mother.
“Have you ever seen a painter’s work-shop, Miss Hubbard?” he said. “These two old friends are full of rememberings, I’ve no doubt, and you are tired of them, and they of you. Will you come?”
When Lotty remembered the painter’s work-shop, years afterward, she never could convince herself that it was but a little three-cornered room, littered with plaster, busts, canvases daubed with blues and grays, incipient skies and seas, broken easels, and a heap of greasy cloths in one corner. It was a wonderful dream of form and color to her, even to remember, when she was a middle-aged woman. Yet she was weighed down with a sense of her own dullness all the time. It was easy to chatter with Fred Leeds, to humor and flatter him, and to laugh secretly at his conceit. But Dick! To anybody else he would, perhaps, have seemed but a sturdy, generous fellow, full of energy and resolute good sense, with which to push his way through the world. But he towered in Lotty’s eyes, crowned with genius, inspired with chivalry. Did not the knights of old succor the weak and helpless? she said, to herself, remembering his care for his mother. There was a strange film over her usually keen eyes. She stammered and blushed with every effort to reply to Dick’s good-natured explanations.
When she was gone, Mrs. Wortley summoned him to her room, for their usual gossip before tea. The sunshine had given place to a gray sky, and there was a little flurry of snow outside. The wood-fire burned bright and cheerful. Mrs. Wortley held her boy’s big brown hand in her own.
“What did you think of Lotty, your cousin, Richard?” she said.
“She’s a dull little body,” he answered, indifferently, “and as shy as a deer just caught. It is much easier to entertain young ladies gifted with the customary amount of small-talk. I was rather glad to be rid of her. But she has one exquisite expression; otherwise the face is commonplace.”
“I think there is a great deal of beauty latent in her face—beauty that any one she loved could awaken.”
“Possibly,” he said carelessly. “Shall we have tea, mother?”
“I am sorry you feel no more interest in the poor little thing, Richard,” she replied, with a disappointed look. “She has her father’s honest features and her mother’s tender mouth. They were both very dear to me, and I fancied——”
“You always fancy,” said Dick, after waiting in vain for her to finish, “that I want some other helpmeet than you, you dear, foolish, mother; and you are incessantly on the watch to find me one. One sees easily through your cunning. But this little girl wears too much gilt armor for Dick Wortley. I’m no fortune-hunter, thank God! Leeds need not have taken the precaution to warn me off.”
“Edward Leeds designs to marry her to his son, I find, from what Selina tells me. They keep the girl in absolute solitude, that the young man may have no chance of rivals. She came even here by stealth.”
“Mrs. McIntosh is mistaken. Fred Leeds does not intend to marry her,” said Dick, indifferently, pulling off his boots, and thrusting his feet into slippers.
“But she is not mistaken, Richard. The Colonel announced his opinion of the suitability of the match to her; and his son is leaving no means unturned to win her.”
“With what success.”
“Selina thinks he has made himself very dear to the girl. She is more confidential with him than any one else. She trusts him entirely.”
Dick sat staring in the fire, his hands in his pockets, for some time. “It couldn’t be, mother,” he said, at last, quietly. “Fred Leeds is a tricky fellow, but he has not courage to be a villain. I’ll have my eye on him, however.”
Mrs. Wortley looked up curiously, but Richard offered no explanation.
“I do not understand you, my son,” she said, gently, at last. “But if you can be a friend to Lotty, I hope that you will.”
“I’ll see, at any rate, that the poor little thing comes to no harm among them,” he said. “Ah! here is Jessy with the tea.”
But Mrs. Wortley was not hungry. She sat dipping her spoon in her cup of tea, admiring the amber color in the firelight, and glancing furtively at Dick, the while she built wonderful castles in Spain for him.
A fortnight afterward, Richard met the lean figure and soured face of Mrs. McIntosh coming down the stairs. He went into his mother’s room and kissed her brightened face. “Ah! you have been taking another journey into lang syne, mother! I believe you find the fountain of youth there, and managed to get a sip of it every time. No young woman’s eyes are as tender or lips so soft as yours.”
“You are a silly boy. Selina is coming to tea to-morrow night, and Lotty—I asked them.”
“I’m glad of that, for I have an errand in Hoboken to-morrow night, and otherwise you’d be alone. I wish you would ascertain if there is any real danger of her marriage with Leeds. I have a reason. Find out the truth, even at the risk of seeming intrusive.”
Dick said no more. But he was quiet and thoughtful all day. He was arguing with himself. It was the wisest course for him to take himself off to Hoboken. But was it the manliest? There was no need of his falling in love with any girl against his will; and ought he not to give his personal attention to this matter? Was he not, in some sort, Lotty’s rightful guardian? She was a mere child—innocent, shy, an easy prey to Fred Leed’s villainy. Of course, the matter would never end in marriage. But was he right in suffering her heart to be won and corrupted by such a vile wretch? She was never suffered to see any man but this whey-faced scoundrel; if she had any interest or tie outside of the Leeds’ house, she would be safe. If she had even a friend, she would not then be so apt to fancy the world contained but the one human being.
Dick paced to and from his canvas all day, dashing on remarkable effects and blotting them out again.
In the evening he went to his mother, look, we must say, a little embarrassed.
“Have you ordered supper for to-morrow?” he said. “If not, never mind. I’ll call into Delmonico’s and attend to it.”
“You are going to be at home, then, Richard?”
“Yes. I find that errand to Hoboken can wait.”
“I am very glad, my dear,” she said placidly.
But when he was gone, she laughed softly to herself, with a satisfied little nod.
Never was there an evening which had less right to be dull, or a failure. The fresh, bright room was freshened and brightened again. First, Richard brought in more flowers. Then, he changed his pictures. Then, he dispatched a different order to Delmonico’s. He had a keen palate, and could have catered for the ghost of Lucullus  himself; though he was content, any day, with a baked potato for his own dinner.
Black Jessy waylaid him in the hall.
“I’ll make some pounded biscuits for supper. You’ll get no pounded biscuits from your French cooks, mas’r Richard,” she said, anxiously.
Dick nodded. What did the eternal fitness of things matter? Let old Jessy have her share in the grand fete-day, and invite her soul, while she whacked away with her rolling pin.
Fete-day? He blushed a little at his own fervor and heat, when he was before his easel again. What did the old Scotchwoman and the little country girl matter to him? But he was only anxious to please his mother. Then, satisfied with his motive, he dashed in a new line of breakers, and turned a cart in front into a capsizing ship.
“I’ve done a good day’s work,” he said, a few minutes later, looking at his mother’s door. “I’ve brought out a very fine effect. I’ll go clear my brain by a walk.”
As for poor Lotty, her head ached, and her heart was sore before the time arrived. One wishes, in Rome, to be a Roman. Lotty wished, in the enchanted house of an artist, at least not to be a—horror. One hour she determined to attire herself in some pronounced dress, which would at once startle and win the eye; the next, she would exhibit the severest simplicity. Then she decided she would follow the reigning mode, as though her French maid had clothed her. She was so long in making up her mind that it was late before she presented herself before her aunt’s door.
“A very proper dress, my dear. The servants will think we are going to church,” said Mrs. McIntosh.
“I am not going to steal out as a child or a felon,” said Lotty. “It is time this farce was ended,” and running down the stairs, she tapped on the library door.
Col. Leeds was alone, playing some game with dice against himself, pausing to make abstruse calculations between each throw.
“Ah! where away, little one?” he said, rising politely. “Is not the hour for your constitutional past?”
“Only to my aunt’s,” said Lotty, as innocently as little Red Riding-Hood, when the poor little child met the wolf. “We are going there for tea. You have no objections, I suppose?”
If any change had passed over the colonel’s ordinary expression, it was gone in the instant. “Surely not, dear child,” he said. “Mrs. Wortley is a most estimable woman. God bless you! I will send the carriage early—yes, early! Oh! by-the-way,” as Lotty was almost gone, “has young Wortley returned from New Orleans?”
“Yes, he has returned—from New Orleans.”
“Ah? A very clever fellow, I believe. Wants culture, but a rising artist. Good-by—good-by!” kissing his finger-tips, sitting down, and rattling his dice again.
“Now you have run your head into the trap!” jeered Mrs. McIntosh, angrily, when Lotty came out of the room.
“There is no trap,” replied Lotty, her cheeks glowing. “Col. Leeds has no prejudice against Mrs. Wortley, or her son. On the contrary, he was warm in his praise of them. You are unjust to him, aunt Selina—unjust!”
Aunt Selina deigned no reply. They walked on in silence. But Lotty’s heart was swelling with approval of her own virtue and frankness.
They found Mrs. Wortley alone in the softly tinted room, with its clear perfume of geraniums and violets.
It was nearly dusk when Richard lounged in from his walk. During the evening, he was witty, anecdotic, complimentary—everything but his natural, cordial self. Mrs. McIntosh was charmed. But Lotty drew within herself, and answered in monosyllables. He wondered what had transformed the shy, trembling creature, whom he had met a few day before, into this quiet, prim piece of precision, who held eye and lip under as firm control as though she had been brazoned by a dozen seasons of society.
“She is sure of her position. She is engaged to Fred Leeds,” he thought.
He was half angry. He had come to regard the orphan as under his protection. If she was in danger, he had meant to defend her. Something of the old, zealous chivalry of the knight, to whom she likened him, had actually fired Dick Wortley’s big heart. “But if she had accepted Fred Leeds,” he said, to himself, when he saw her changed manner, “she must be on a par with him, in both brain and spirit; and why should I trouble myself about her?”
So Dick Wortley, at supper, dissected his crabs in bitterness of soul. Yet, after all, he reflected, he could now do his duty to the girl without peril to himself. There was no danger now, that, in proving himself her friend, he might find himself her lover. It was those shy, innocent girls, who were so dangerous : and then, love as he might, he would never marry money. Never!
But, after supper, a trifling circumstance occurred, which altered Dick Wortley’s whole course through life; for men, with even the unconquerable strength and insight with which the young artist held himself endowed, are no better than the great ships that turn hither and thither against their own will, and against the ever-flowing tides, at the bidding of some paltry bits of steel which they do not see.
He had taken Lotty into the studio again, at his mother’s insistence, on pretence of examining his last picture. Dick was courteous and formal. Lotty icily civil. Suddenly she thawed.
“Here is the hayfield!” he said, stopping before a ten by twelve picture, thrust into the corner.
She looked at it as he spoke. Suddenly her cheeks burned, her eyes darkened angrily.
“I knew it was not true!” she cried, under her breath.
“What was not true?”
“That the background was flat, the color tame, and the design hackneyed and worn-out. Surely you remember!” She pulled out her little note-book as she spoke, taking one from a dozen slips of newspapers there.
Worley looked puzzled.
“Oh! the notice in the Post?” he said, at last, reddening. “I saw it.”
“I would not mind it,” she continued, excitedly. “All the world knows what you can do! It made me so angry—so angry, that I could not sleep that night!”
“Did it?” Dick’s voice had suddenly grown curiously deep and tender.
He looked keenly from her passionate little face to the fluttering slips of paper in her hand; they were all headed, “Art Column.”
“Will you let me look at the others?” he said.
Lotty recollected herself, with sudden shame and a rush of the prettiest blushes.
“They are nothing. Odd slips, mere scraps,” she stammered, pushing them into her book, and shutting it with a click.
“My mother was right,” thought Wortley. “There is a wonderful latent beauty in her face. But it was only to be called out by one who loved her.”
Some of Dick’s long dead forefathers were Irish. He kindled easily. His heart grew light and warm on the instant. His blood rushed through his veins like the vapor of some fiery spirit. His eyes rested on hers with a new meaning, which she shrunk from with a sweet pang. He came into sudden, swift accord with her, as though some magic had laid bare to him a subtle relationship between them. He understood now that her hard coldness was only another shield, behind which diffident girls hide themselves. So shy and so pure!
“But the woman she can be,” he went on thinking, “will never be revealed until some great crisis in life comes to her. The beauty, latent in her heart, is as singular in her face. I hope she may love worthily. Meantime, I will be her friend.” He prided himself, you see, on his cool judgment.
“I have a sketch or two here of Coldsden,” he said. “Let us try and fancy we are back in your old home.”
As he spoke, he seated her where the moonlight from the window fell aslant on her lovely little face, and placed himself beside her to look at the pictures, close enough for her soft drapery to fall upon his arm, and her sweet-scented breath now and then to touch his cheek.
“Did you warn Miss Hubbard against Fred Leeds, my son?” asked Mrs. Wortley, as soon as her guests were gone.
“Against Leeds?” waking as out of some dream. “Oh, I remember! I did not think of it; the truth is. But it is not needed. That vapid little wretch could never affect a woman of that order. I need not betray his secret. He can do no harm.”
The damp, warm air of an early spring day fluttered the curtains of Col. Leeds’ private room, and displaced the carefully-adjusted light curls of his son, as the latter lounged by the window. There was a faint similitude to a May blossom in the young man’s dress, in the delicate gray of coat and trousers, the primrose gloves, the faint odor that hung about him; by design, no doubt. Such fancies belonged to the natty, but languid, little man; the young girls with whom he danced were wont to call him a practical poet.
He held a bunch of lilies in his hand, which he leisurely smelled, now and then.
Col. Leeds, his newspaper on his knees, waited for an answer to a rather long declamation which he had just finished. Fred was tired. He yawned, elevated his whitish eye-brows, and after a pause, replied, “’Pon my soul, I don’t know what’s to be done. You say she sees this Wortley frequently?”
“No. But they do meet. The rarity of the meetings will give him a charm or romance in her eyes. He will not grow common. In three months she will be of age, and free to bestow her hand where she will. I gave you the chance, and you have thrown it away.” He lifted the paper before his face again.
“I hope the matter is not in so desperate a case as you think, sir,” answered the son, with indifference, either real or feigned, and he buried his sharp nose among the lilies-of-the-valley. “Now, these flowers have an earthy, underbred smell to me. I have a perfume on my handkerchief far more delicate and agreeable. Nature is a failure, after all. Contrast the two, colonel,” coming near him.
He started back as the old man dropped the paper. His father’s face was colorless.
“This is enough,” cried Col. Leeds, in a voice hardly above a whisper. “I understand you. You give up the affair?”
“By no means.”
“We have failed. You alone are to blame.”
“I could not force the girl to marry me,” said the son, sulkily.
Col. Leeds waved his hand slightly, as if putting any plea that his son might make aside definitely. It was a dangerous symptom to Frederick, that his father, in his white heat of passion, neither swore nor moved, but sat steadily and silent. The spring wind blew in softly, and the curtains waved. The two men looked each other full in the eye for a moment. Then the younger one threw down the flowers, and coming forward a step, leaned both his dainty hands on the table, bringing his face on a level with his father’s.
The worst meaning of that face was bared, perhaps, for the first time in his life. Col. Leeds drew back. There was a look of age, a depth of sharpness and cunning in the face, that startled even him.
“Is there no way to get at this woman’s money, except by my marriage with her?” said the son.
“No. It is securely settled on herself. In three months she will be of age. But this is not all,” raising his hand, when Fred would have spoken. “In three months I will be literally a pauper. You asked less than a year to insure success. I risked all on this chance. Marry her, or go back to the old game, as I shall have to do.”
“It is too late for that. My face is known in every gambling-house in Europe. This is a good chance,” hesitating.
The ease and wealth in this “good chance” had never risen so real before to Fred. Never had he been tempted as in this moment. But this did not blind him to the other chance. “If I married her even secretly, there would be no guarding myself against this Wortley,” he thought. The fellow could send me to Sing-Sing by a word; and he would lose no time in speaking that word.”
The father caught his eye again, as he stood there, hesitating.
“I said to you before, that I knew some secret objection to this marriage existed. I know it now. Your manner betrays you, sir. Wouldn’t it be wiser to trust in me? I am an older and more skillful man than you. I may be able to remove it. I ask you because we are in the same danger; we are going down to ruin together.”
Fred stood quiet, while his father spoke, looking thoughtfully at him.
“I don’t ask you for a son’s confidence in a father,” continued Col. Leeds. “It is too late for that.” There was a curious change in the hard voice as he said this.
“Yes,” said Fred, slowly. “I trust you and I, sir, are too wise for any such sentimental folly.”
He stopped there. He had half a mind to unbosom himself of the whole matter. The old man, if not so crafty, was more resolute than he, and would have less scruple, perhaps, in disposing of this greasy wretch, Luisa. But after a minute’s reflection, he kept his secret. Col. Leeds, he knew, might forgive his son for any vice; but for a folly—never!
“I’d rather go to Sing-Sing than tell him that I was taken in by a Dutch dancing-girl, even when I was drunk,” he thought.
“I cannot confide in you, sir,” he said, aloud. “But this I will say, that the difficulty in the way is one which is conclusive, and the sole knowledge of it rests with Wortley. He has me in a yoke that I cannot break.”
“If Wortley was out of the way, then——”
“I believe I could marry Lotty at a month’s notice. Perhaps in a week’s. Women regard me with more complacence than you do, sir,” he said, simpering.
“Perhaps so,” said his father, dryly. “You can go now. But stop. Is there no other obstacle in your way than Wortley?”
He thought, as he said this, of a dozen ways in which the now loathsome, fat incubus, from Baden-Baden, could be got rid of forever, if only Wortley could be prevented from exposing him.
“Very well, then. We understand each other. But you should have told me sooner.”
“Perhaps I ought. But I did not know, till Wortley came back, you see, sir——”
“Never mind,” interrupted his father, angrily, with an impatient wave of the hand. “You’ve been making a fool of yourself, somehow, I see; and the thing now is to get you out of the scrape; not to listen to your excuses. I will think the matter over. I’m not a man to be foiled. If Wortley is the only obstacle,” and he stopped for a moment, looking his son meaningly in the face, “if Wortley is the only obstacle, why then,” with an oath, “he must be put out of the way.”
“I’m sure I’ve no objections,” answered the son, with a light laugh; and turning, he left the room, saying, as he went, “Yes! Let him be put out of the way.”
There were hours, during that day, when the dilemma before Fred Leeds almost drove him insane. Should he return to the old starving, ill-clothed, scoundrelly life in Bohemia, or should he follow up this chance of a wealthy marriage, no matter at what cost? At times, he would thrust the whole matter from him, and for a moment enjoy his segar, or his wine, or his own feeble joke at the club, as though the fat, German fiend had not his whole life in her flabby, unclean hands. But then the terrible dilemma would rise before him again, till his weak brain almost gave way before it.
He dined at home. The colonel requested Mrs. McIntosh’s presence in the library, and left the young people alone over their dessert. Then Fred proceeded to put a plot into execution, of which he had been thinking for the last few hours. He had never mentioned the Wortleys to Lotty, since the first day they met Dick in the Park. But he plunged boldly into the middle of the subject now. Lotty’s gentle voice, and pitying, brown eyes fixed on him, gave him courage. The pear was so very ripe, he thought, it would be a shame not to pluck it.
The truth was that Fred’s features were sharpened and haggard; and Lotty, who was fond of the “kind, little fellow” in a certain way, watched him as his mother might have done, longing to administer some of her darling homeopathic doses.
“You are intimate with Mrs. Wortley, they tell me, Lotty?” he began.
Lotty donned all her armor in an instant. She was clothed in steel, complete, before Fred had half cracked his almond.
“She is my aunt. I like her. Yes.”
“The old lady’s well enough,” carelessly. “It’s Dick that I’d guard you against.”
“Why, he is a friend of yours, Frederick.”
“Of course,” coolly. “A very proper acquaintance for me. But for a young girl tenderly reared—that’s another thing.”
There was one sharp glance from Lotty, and then she went back to the flowers beside her plate, and began to pull them to pieces, playing with the dog beside her, half humming a tune the while.
“You are not listening, I’m afraid,” Fred resumed.
“Oh! I beg pardon! Certainly. You were talking of Mr. Wortley. You said he was—was——”
“No fit companion for you. He is coarse and vulgar. None of the men in our set would have introduced him to their mothers or sisters. You noticed how I tried to avoid presenting him to you?”
“Yes, I noticed.” There was a quiet, amused smile on Lotty’s mouth. She kept her bright eyes on Fred’s face.
“There are some odd stories afloat about Wortley, which I would not mention to you, only that you may know how to estimate him. It was only last month he was up before the Police-Court on a criminal charge.”
Lotty half rose from her chair, her eyes glittering. “I do not believe it,” she said. Then quietly sinking down again, she added, calmly, “You are mistaken, Frederick.”
“No mistake, ’pon my honor. It was in the police report. Assault and battery. Charged on a couple of policemen, who were taking some woman off to the Tombs. A kind of woman of whom I cannot speak to you. One of his companions. There is the paper,” passing it over to her.
She took it and held it a moment.
Curiosity, strong in man or woman, was raging within her; but, being a woman, she was able to conquer it. She laid down the paper without a glance. “It does not matter. I know Richard Wortley,” she said, quietly.
A great load was taken off of Leeds’ mind by her manner.
“You believe it without reading? Well, it is true. The only excuse for him is that he was under the influence of liquor—Richard drinks, and drinks hard. I have known it for years, and it enables me to explain much of his discreditable conduct. I always accounted for his mad folly about the Warford will in that way.”
“The Warford will!”
“Did you never hear of that? But, of course, you did not. The Wortleys would be glad to smother it, no doubt; and we would be slow to tell you anything so shameful of a relative. Warford was a queer old party, a grand-uncle of Mrs. Wortley, or something of that sort; a miser, to tell the truth, with no heirs, except one son, whom he had disinherited years before. He took a fancy to Dick, who humored him, gave him first-class lunches at the restaurants, and nursed him when he fell sick. Played a bold game for the money, you see! In consequence, when the old man died, Dick was brought in sole legatee, the son cut off with the price of a suit of new mourning. Now, you know, the Wortleys are poor. They live from week to week on the sale of those daubs of his, and they never lay by a penny. Dick’s hand is happiest in his pocket, flinging out dollars like pebbles; and when all are gone, then to work again. So you may know what a godsend this fortune was to them. The old lady is a dead weight on his hands, too, and this money would have put her comfortably out of his way, and left him free to follow his own devices.”
“And that is your judgment of Richard Wortley!” Lotty’s brown eyes flashed fire, as she broke out thus. But the next moment she controlled herself. “Go on, Frederick,” she said, quietly. “I am listening.”
Fred watched her speculatively, a moment, with his light eyes half contracted. “You do not agree with me, I perceive,” he said, with studied courtesy. “You think him a devoted, self-sacrificing son, no doubt. Hear the sequel, then! This affectionate son, this sound, reasonable man of business, gets drunk one day, (my charity suggests that excuse,) and by a stroke of his pen leaves himself and his mother paupers.”
“I do not understand,” she said, with a bewildered look.
“Gives back the estate to Warford’s son—houses, land, and stocks; plays my Lord Marquis of Carabas; invites young Warford, if he wants to show his gratitude, to buy a couple of landscapes. ‘You’ll lose nothing by it,’ he said, with his sublime conceit. ‘Ten years hence there will be a demand in the market for all I can paint.’ Fact! I had the story from Ingoldsby, who saw the whole transaction. Then my man lights his segar, and saunters home to his mother, whom he had beggarded.”
“And Warford?” said Lotty, who had listened with bated breath and glistening eyes.
“Warford? He was struck dumb, Ingoldsby said. I suppose he thanked God for sending brandy into the world.”
“Richard was not drunk when he did that!”
Fred laughed contemptuously.
“That was about four years ago,” he said. “Wortley has been scraping his way in the beggarly fashion, you see, ever since.”
“Have you any more stories of him like these?”
“I’ll tell you some others another day, if they please you.”
“They do please me,” said Lotty, deliberately rising and looking at him steadily. “I thank you for them, Frederick. Whatever meaning you attach to them, they help me to understand Richard Wortley better.”
Her manner, even more than her words, made him begin to doubt the wisdom of his Machiavelian policy.
He also rose. For the first time the chance of mistake flashed upon him. What if the fruit was not ripe? What if this girl, who stood quietly waiting, apparently to reveal some undisclosed secret concerning herself, was, in truth, indifferent to him? What if, while he had delayed and doubted, Wortley had actually won her?
It had been easy enough to debate, while he thought the result depended on his decision. But when the fact that it was beyond his power suggested itself, the money in the lead-mine, now forever gone from him, assumed gigantic and maddening proportions.
But Fred Leeds never lost control of himself. He went toward Lotty, and took her soft hand in his. It was hot. She trembled, and her whole frame throbbed with fever and repressed excitement.
He stroked her fingers gently. “Lotty,” he said, soothingly, “I have tried to be your friend. I tried to take the place of a brother to you when you came among us a stranger.”
“I know that,” the tears in her eyes. “You were the only friend I had. But I have a nearer friend than you, and it is not wise to malign him to me.”
Fred drew a long breath, and in that moment faced the worst. He met it gallantly. “I understand it,” he said, in a tone of deep concern. “I had no idea that this was so serious a matter. I will not try to influence your attachment, Lotty,” pausing between the sentences, apparently overcome by some secret feeling. “But this warning it is my duty to give. Richard Wortley is a man who has loved many women. But he has been true to none. If ever the day comes when his love fails you, remember your—your brother, Lotty,” with a feeble smile.
It penetrated all her indignation and touched Lotty, for she was a soft-hearted woman, and could not bear to see even a dog, justly or not, in pain. “You wrong Richard,” she said, gently; “but it is because you do not understand him. I never doubted your friendship for me, Frederick.”
He raised her hand to his lips and held it there. At the same moment a servant opened the door, and announced “Mr. Richard Wortley.”
Fred went forward cordially, both hands out, to meet him. “My dear fellow! I am delighted to see you!” he cried.
Lotty drew back with a shy greeting, the happy blushes dyeing her very throat. Dick alone stood motionless, the purple blood in his face, looking sternly from one to the other. He put his hand on Leeds’ shoulder, with a contemptuous shake, as though he had laid hold of an unclean spaniel.
“Knowing your secret as I do, Leeds,” he said, under his breath, “it is hardly wise in you to touch, with your foul lips, the woman to whom I am betrothed.”
Fred had hardly time to draw himself away when his father entered. The colonel was grave, and moderate, and genuine beyond parallel to-night; his iron-gray hair, his slow, thoughtful smile, his steady and reasonable eyes, were calculated to inspire the world with the belief that one middle-aged man in it had absorbed more than his share of respectability and truthfulness.
He paused a moment, with Dick’s card in his hand. “Wortley? What, my old friend Sophy’s son?” holding out his hand, and surveying him from head to foot with a grave, pleased smile. “Why, here is a fine young fellow, that has taken his place in the world without my knowledge! A boy that ought to gladden his mother’s heart! Your visit was to me, I understand? Will you follow me to the library? You can return and make the acquaintance of these young people presently, if you will.”
Now Dick had come to the house, filled with utter contempt of the two miserable adventurers, father and son, who had Lotty in their clutches; feeling no especial obligation, either, to conceal this contempt. To be thus benevolently scanned and approved, as a school-boy would be by his teacher, was, therefore, in no-wise conducive to the soothing of his galled temper.
He followed the colonel, determined to make short work of it. It was not the first time he had broken into a nest of soft, slimy snakes. There was a very certain mode of treatment for them—trample them down without mercy. As for these weak, miserable tricksters, the game was in his own hands.
In short, Master Dick never had a better opinion of his own ability and astuteness, than when he followed the colonel.
In a very few moments the library-bell rang, and a message was sent for Frederick. As the latter crossed the hall, he encountered Mr. Westcott, one of the new friends of whom Col. Leeds’ dinners had brought to him that winter.
“A word with your father, Fred, my boy, about that pair of trotters, unless, as John says, he is engaged.”
Fred opened the library door, exposing Dick Wortley hot and with knitted brows, but seeming as an angry man always does, to fill the whole center of the stage; the colonel to the left, cool, grave, smiling.
The latter glanced at the intruders from under his shaggy brows.
“Ha! Mr. Westcott?” he said, cordially. “Come in, come. Come in, Fred. No intrusion, I assure you, Westcott. My business with Mr. Wortley is concluded, and as it is of the pleasantest nature, I see no reason why you should not share in it. An old friend of the family, you understand, Mr. Wortley?”
To which Dick returned an indifferent nod for answer, looking down from the height of his scorn on these pretty suavities, as but so much writhing of the reptiles on whom he had set his heel. Poor Dick! for whom every word and trivial gesture of that interview became afterward laden with life or death.
“Frederick, our young friend has come to inform me of a betrothal existing between himself and my ward, Miss Hubbard. I called you here to welcome him among us.”
Fred’s face glowed with pleasure. “Hillo, Worthley, old fellow!” he cried, clasping Wortley’s hand; and he was silent for a moment, apparently from emotion, but, in fact, because he must have breath to consider what game his father meant to play, and how he was to follow suit. “This is a strange surprise. You have come to ask my father’s consent, eh? And gained it, no doubt. He is the most indulgent of guardians.”
“Why, no, Fred,” interposed the colonel, in a gently grieved tone. “Strange enough, Mr. Wortley has not come for that purpose. I think I deserved the usual courtesy, for, as you say, I have not been a severe guardian. However, young people alter old customs,” with an indulgent smile to Westcott, who looked curiously from one to the other.
“I did not ask your consent to my marriage with Miss Hubbard,” said Dick, “because I know, if you had the power, you would refuse it. You have not the power, fortunately. I detest shams, and all tricks of ceremony. In three months Miss Hubbard will be of age, and at liberty to make her own choice.”
“She remains in my house after that by the terms of her father’s will,” said the colonel, quickly.
“Until she leaves it for that of her husband. My only wish, in seeking this interview with you to-night, was to inform you of our engagement, because I hoped, that, when it was made known to you, Miss Hubbard would be free from annoyances to which she is now subjected.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Now, my dear boy,” said the colonel, in a tone of friendliest remonstrance, “why do you persist in this unaccountably aggressive conduct? You had every opportunity to woo and win Lotty, in the usual way by which maidens are wooed and won. Your mother’s son would always have been welcome in this house. Instead of which, you meet her clandestinely. The first intimation I receive of your acquaintance with my ward, is an announcement of your intention to marry her in three months, and your resolve to place yourself in position as her chosen knight to defend her against some chimerical persecution, which you conjure up for her in this household. May I ask,” with a good-natured, bantering smile, “what is this persecution of which you complain?”
“Do you wish an answer now?” said Dick, glancing significantly at Westcott.
“Assuredly. I have no secrets in this matter from any one, least of all from an old friend. I am sincerely anxious to know what injustice you complain of.” And he feigned to listen with real curiosity.
“I complain of this,” said Richard, slowly. “That, from the day you took charge of Miss Hubbard, it has been your design to obtain possession of her fortune, and failing other means, you would have forced a marriage with your son.”
Col. Leeds turned to Westcott with a deprecating shake of the head, as if to crave his forbearance for the rude passion to which he was unwillingly a witness. Mr. Westcott felt it incumbent on him to take part with his friends.
“I think you are a little intemperate, Mr. Wortley,” he said. “It is not a misfortune to any young lady, surely, to be sought in marriage by my young friend, Mr. Leeds.”
“It is an insult for him to address, or touch her, as I saw him do, to-night,” said Richard, turning in his blazing wrath upon the cowering little wretch himself. “Frederick Leeds is a married man.”
There was a moment’s silence. The colonel had been shading his eyes from the fire. He now laid down the screen carefully. But he did not glance toward his son. There was not the movement of a muscle in his face, though he knew that he had, at last, his son’s secret.
Fred, as soon as he had breath, gave a contemptuous laugh.
“You know how true this is, father,” he said.
“I have no doubt that he knows,” continued Dick, calmly. “If I could, I would have removed Miss Hubbard from under your guardianship. As I could not, my only resource was to tell you, as I have done to-night, that she has a protector who understood your villainy to its depths. For the three months to come I will hold you in check.”
As he spoke, poor Dick turned and went off with the air of a conqueror, thinking it was so sweet to fight any enemy, however ignoble, for the sake of the woman he loved! His heavy, firm tread echoed down the hall, pausing a moment at the door of the drawing-room. But Lotty was not there. Missing her, he passed down the stairs, with a sudden, vague sense of having been foiled, after all.
He wished that he could have told her to-night that Leeds was a married man. Not that he was jealous of the cool friendship which she had for the other fellow. Still, it would have been better if she had this safeguard. He stopped, for a moment, in the hall, half intending to send for her; then his passion conquered him, and he stalked on, and out into the street. He could not breathe the same air, he said to himself, as these paltering scoundrels.
Dick Wortley had time enough, afterward, to recall every unhappy, mad act of that night, and to curse the day when he was born with the quick temper that led him to his ruin!
When the door closed behind Wortley, Col. Leeds looked up, with his ordinary easy courtesy.
“I regret so much, Westcott, that you have been annoyed in this manner,” he said. “Take this chair by the fire.”
“The young man has certainly been drinking!” said Westcott, who had stood aghast with astonishment, staring from one to the other. “I never heard of anything—anything like it in my life.”
“It is a rather unusual method of asking the consent of a guardian to his ward’s marriage,” answered the colonel, with a smile. “A ‘stand and deliver’ fashion, not common in our modern days.”
“Worse than that, sir! The reckless assertions about your son—about Frederick,” with a keen glance at young Leeds, which both men noted. “Do you think he was in liquor?”
“No. The trouble lies deeper than that,” in a grave voice. “I am loth to mention it, but——” and stooping over, the colonel whispered earnestly for a few moments, while Mr. Westcott listened with an occasional nod and a compassionate, “Tut! Tut!”
“I understand,” he said, at last. “Of course, you will take proper means to rid your ward of the annoyance!”
“Certainly. I thought best to humor him for the present. But about those horses now, Westcott?”
When Fred Leeds, an hour later, heard Mr. Westcott’s cab leave the door, he crept back to the library. His father was waiting for him, standing on the rug, with his back to the fire.
“This story is true, I suppose?” the colonel said, curtly. “You are really married?”
“Yes, it is true,” answered the son, doggedly. “The woman may be here any hour. If you will give me my passage-money, I will go back to Paris by the next steamer. The game is up here.”
The old man, stroking his grizzly whiskers, surveyed him with a cool contempt.
“Let me hear the whole of the affair. Keep nothing back,” he said, at last.
He listened without comment, while Fred told the story.
“Then I understand this Wortley is the only person who holds this power over you?” said the colonel, when his son had finished.
“The woman herself.”
The colonel made a slight, contemptuous gesture. “She can be easily silenced,” he said.
“I wish that he could be silenced, in the one effectual way,” muttered the young man, gritting his teeth as he rose. “I wish to God we lived in the days of Bastiles. I wish, as in Italy, in other times, such a man could be got rid of for a few scudi. I’d put a knife into his heart to-night,” he continued, his savage passion rising with his words, “if we were out of this cursed land of civilization. But every act of a gentleman’s life is dragged into daylight here for the mob to gloat over.”
“Not all,” said the colonel, dryly. “A man can be rid of for a few scudi, here, as readily as in Italy. Richard Wortley will not trouble you or me long.”
Fred leaned his elbow on the mantle-shelf a moment, and stared at his father.
“You mean to—to murder him?” he said, at last, under his breath.
“By no means,” laughing. “Don’t turn so white about the gills. I am no butcher. I won’t risk a hempen-collar about my throat. No. There are Bastiles in the United States, by the aid of which any inconvenient person can be put out of the way for life. It is a quiet, safe means, which a gentleman can use with no fear of punishment. There must be secrecy, and—the scudi,” with a laugh. “Only pay enough, and get up your case right, as the lawyers say, you have science and philanthropy both to assist you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ring for John to order a cab. What we do must be done before morning. To-morrow Wortley will make your marriage public. I will explain as we go.”
In a few minutes the cab was at the door, and the two men, closely cloaked, entered it, and were driven away.
The night was stormy. A blinding fog swept over the city. Even on the most crowded thoroughfares the fitful cries of the wind, and the fierce strength of the tempest, dwarfed into a ghastly littleness the lights and hurrying tumult beneath.
The carriage, in which the two men were, left the open streets, after awhile, and turned into unfrequented lanes and alleys leading to the further disreputable limits of the town. Young Leeds looked out uneasily, shuffling nervously in his seat. The streets were narrow and dark; here and there a lamp made a dull, red circle of light in the thick, black vapor. At long intervals a footstep of some invisible passenger echoed with a heavy reverberating thud. Fred knew himself to be nearing that labyrinth of courts and secret hiding-places, where crime in New York holds high carnival. The very air grew thick and loathsome, as though from the smoke of some actual Tophet.
“Do you know the neighborhood, sir!” he ventured, anxiously, to say, at last. “This frontage of buildings is but a coating of respectability. Just behind them are the foulest pest-houses in New York.”
“I know the place,” was the calm reply. “Are you afraid?”
Fred writhed uneasily. “I have no wish to be entangled in any kind of crime,” he broke out. “It is too risky. If I cannot win the game without the aid of thieves and murderers, I’ll throw it up. Let us go back, sir.”
The colonel put out his hand quietly as Fred caught at the check-string.
“I am not going outside of the law,” he said. “It adapts itself to our necessities, fortunately, as completely as a glove to a hand. As for the thieves and murderers, and their companions in this street, I need the help of one or two of them; and the law, and science, and philanthropy, will receive them, in this case, as worthy coadjutors—for a consideration,” he added, with a sneer. “Here is our place.”
The cab stopped before a low, plain, two-storied house, with a red sign at the side of the door, on which was painted, “Doctor Molker.”
The door was so promptly opened, at the first touch of the bell, that one might has suspected the doctor’s patients usually came at night. The father and son found themselves in a small anteroom, and a stout, stoop-shouldered man came in, in his slippers and flowered dressing-gown, saying, in an unmistakable Jewish accent, “What can I do for you, gentlemans?”
“I have a young friend,” said the colonel, “whom it is needful to place under restraint for a time—for the safety of his friends—”
“Ah, yesh! For de safety of his friends?” gravely, rubbing his hands.
“It will require your certificate. I understand that you made cases of this kind a specialty?”
“Ah, yesh! Dat ish one of my specialties. I have oders. De human man ish subject to so many ailments, my gentlemans,” wagging his head sorrowfully. “Ish it necessary dat your young friend be confined immediately?” with one keen glance at Leeds.
“Before morning. He is violent.”
“Ah! dash ish sad! sad! I will get de certificate in one moments,” opening the table-drawer and selecting a blank-book, from which he tore a printed form. From the mantle he took down pen and ink. “I usually see de patients; but you so very respectable gentlemans dat your word is enough,” scrawling his name rapidly at the bottom of the certificate. “How did you call de patients?” pausing, with the pen suspended.
“Wortley. Richard Wortley.”
“Richard Wortley, it ish,” writing it, and throwing some sand over it.
“What is your fee, doctor?” said the colonel, as he drew out his pocket-book.
“I ashk fifty dollars in de case where I do not see de patients,” holding the paper under his hand. “You ish so respectable that I think dat ish not necessary.”
The colonel counted out the money, and the paper was handed to him, the Jew laying hold of his coat eagerly, the notes clutched in his other hand. “If your friend ish very violent, I would recommend——” lowering his voice to a whisper. “It ish a very quiet institution, and safe. But any of dem will do.”
The colonel blandly thanked him, hastily loosening his grasp from his coat, and motioning Fred to the door.
“What ish your own name, my good sir? You did not mention it.”
“I beg your pardon. Wetherall, John Wetherall.”
“Ah, yesh! Well, good-evening, Mr. Wetherall! I hope your young friend may recover speedily. I shall be glad to see you again. I have oder specialities, as you call dem. I have a lettle money, too, to lend, when my friends get into trouble—friends like dis young man here.”
He stood bowing, and rubbing his hands, and glancing up and down, until they were out of the room.
The colonel drew a long breath, as the carriage-door closed on them. He was heated and excited : he had lost his usual calm reticence. “The foul wretch!” he cried. “It was no pleasanter errand for me than for you, Frederick. But he serves our purpose. One cannot always choose their tools.”
“Of what value is that greasy slip of paper?” asked the son.
“Value?” tapping it triumphantly. “That printed slip, with our friend Molker’s name on it, has all the power of a letter-de-cachet in the worst days of the old regime. I have done my part in procuring it : the law will do the rest. I can call upon the police to assist me in imprisoning him for life if I choose. In a prison, too, from whence no tidings of him shall ever come.”
He was silent for awhile, and then broke out again, as though his success had intoxicated him.
“You were complaining of the meddlesome law in this land of civilization; complaining of the vulgar notoriety and daylight into which a man was obliged to drag all of his actions. Where else would we have had such facilities as these? If Wortley had committed a murder, he would have had the privilege of counsel and trial, before he could be punished; every particular of the case would have been aired and torn to pieces in the public press; but when you and I want to him out of our way, we find a Dr. Molker ready to sign this paper for a consideration : and this paper consigns him to confinement for life, without judge or jury, or a chance to escape.”
“And even Molker’s signature was not necessary,” he added, after a moment. “I could have written it myself, signed a fictitious name, and added M. D. There would have been no questions asked. But I will do nothing illegal. Could the law have done our work for us in old Italy? Bah! Remember her clumsy assassins and poison bowls?”
“You are playing a dangerous game,” said Fred, after awhile. “Nothing is so well guarded in America as personal liberty. I know nothing of so fatal a flaw in the law as this you talk of.”
“No one seems to know of it but those whose interest it is to use it,” coolly answered his father. “You will see whether I have mistaken its power.” He pulled the check-string and looked out. “To Police Station, No. 5,” he said to the driver.
It was near midnight, but Dick Wortley still lingered beside his mother’s fire. He had all his plans to talk over with her; and Dick, as usual, was vehemently in earnest about the least of them; and then there was the sweet, new refrain coming in at every close. The quiet, fair woman, who sat listening to him, had fancied that she knew every pulse of her son’s heart, since the day he lay a helpless baby on her breast. But to-night it seemed to her as though she never had gained insight into its depths before. She never had known how single-minded and credulous her boy was, under all his affectation of knowledge of the world; nor how full of delicate, tender fancies, with which to crown the woman of his love.
For Lotty was the first woman he had ever loved. Platonic friendships and flirtations had left a crust of indifference about his heart; but when Lotty had pierced through it, she found a nature as pure as, and finer than, her own, to welcome and cherish her; and to convert, by its own magic, the affectionate, hot-tempered little country-girl into a half-divine maiden, who, in her purity and beauty, bore yet about her marks of the moulding fingers of the gods.
Mrs. Wortley, who thought Lotty, as she was, would make a better wife for Dick than any such wingless Psyche, yet listened to her son with the tears in her eyes. His words wakened, strangely, some old music in her own life, long ago silent.
Dick roused himself to the fact, however, that the clock was on the stroke of twelve, and got up hurriedly.
“I don’t know why I have such a strange feeling of reluctance to leave you to-night,” he said. “I feel as if I had gone back to the old boyish days, days when I used to bring all my troubles to pour out to you. What a fire you always keep, mother,” he added, hastily, as if ashamed of words that bordered on sentiment. “Other people’s fires char black, or are choked with ashes; but yours is always quiet and clear, shining to the very heart. Like you, you dear little woman,” putting his big hand on the soft, gray hair.
His mother laughed.
“Your brain is on fire, my son,” she said. “You see even a faded old woman through a rosy heat. You had better go to bed.”
“Bed! I have half a day’s work before me. I had a dozen new canvases sent home to-day, a new stock of paints and oils, which I must arrange. I’m going to work to-morrow in earnest. Three months is a short time to prepare for marriage. I mean to make enough on those canvases to take us all back to Europe, as soon as Lotty is my wife. We can live at half cost there. I’m sure of work, and I will be growing in my profession. You see what a practical, level-headed fellow I am, in the prospect of being a family man!”
“You forget Lotty’s fortune.”
“No; I don’t forget it,” turning red. “I will never touch a dollar of her money. Fred Leeds shall not taunt me with that motive, please God!”
“Which shows how practical a man you are.”
“I’m afraid I’ve showed my lack of common sense in a worse way than that. I laid out every dollar I had in my pocket for the materials to-day. However, Hooper’s landscape is done, and he will pay promptly. It’s a wretched way to manage, this hand-to-mouth habit of mine; but it comes from my Irish blood, I suppose. But I mean to grow canny and saving, now. Hillo! who the deuce can that be, so late at night?” for the door-bell was rung violently at this moment.
Jessy, half awake, entered with a note. Dick read it aloud. “It’s from Sherman, mother,” he said. “We met him at Strasburgh last, you remember? I will read it to you.”
Dear Dick—Just in. On the Cambria. Leave in the five o’clock train for St. Louis. If you could spare me an hour, to-night—there is a great deal I have to tell you. I send a carriage to avoid delay. Present my regards to Mrs. Wortley. Yours, C. Sherman
“Go, by all means,” said his mother, as he looked at her dubiously. “I wish you could induce him, Richard, to stay for a day or two.”
“It’s not likely,” said Dick, pulling on his overcoat. “I’ll probably stay with Charley till he leaves for the West, though, mother. It wouldn’t be worth my while to go to bed for such a bit of the night. You’ll not be afraid? Make Jessy bring her bed into the next room, and double-lock the doors. I’ll be at home by daylight.”
“You’ll lose your night’s sleep, Richard,” said his mother, anxiously.
Dick laughed, as he stooped to kiss her; and then hurried off. But, at the door, glancing back and catching sight of the pale, sweet face watching him earnestly, he stopped, returned and kissed her again, holding her cheeks a minute between his hands.
In time to come, the memory of that boyish kiss would come to her and fill her with hope and trust.
“He will come back to me,” she would say. “He will come back as free from guilt as he went.”
The storm had increased in violence as the night wore on. The rain fell in torrents. Outside of the windows of the close carriage all was total darkness, except a dull glimmer now and then from the street lamps. Dick pulled up the collar of his coat, lay back in the corner, and abandoned himself to those sweet visions, which every lover will understand. He grew so absorbed in them that he did not observe that the carriage stopped, while a couple of men mounted beside the driver, or that it was closely followed by another coach through every turn of its winding course.
He roused himself finally, trying to look through the foggy pane. “A deuced long time reaching the Astor House!” he growled. “Hillo! here we are at last,” for they had stopped suddenly before a long, lighted building.
The door was flung open, and he sprang out on to the platform of a railroad depot. Two or three lamps were stationed along it at intervals. On one side of him the door of a waiting-room was open; behind it was a background of refreshment stalls. Twenty or thirty passengers, with valises or umbrellas, were hurrying out. On the other side, close by his elbow, was the last car of a train just starting. The bell was ringing. Conductors were calling out with even a duller sing-song than by daylight.
Another time, and Dick would have sworn, but to-night he was in a good-humor with all the world. “Driver, you’ve made a mistake,” he cried. “This is two miles from the Astor House. Where the deuce is the fellow?” he added, as looking around, he saw neither carriage nor coachman.
A group of three or four men stood near. All at once these men closed about Wortley.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, trying to pass between them. “I am afraid the driver will escape me, if I do not hurry.”
“This is your way, sir,” said one of the men, giving him a wrench by the shoulder, and pushed him toward the platform of the car.
Dick’s answer was a blow, which hurled the man back. Then supposing it was a conductor, and that his blow had been too hasty, he half apologized. “You’d better find a civiler way of dealing with your passengers,” he said. “But I’m not one of them.”
The man, recovering himself, made a sign to the others, who closed about Dick again. Then, opening his coat, he showed Wortley the star on his breast. Lowering his voice to a whisper, he said,
“I have you in charge,” with a significant nod.
“You mistake, sir,” cried Dick, angrily. “I am not your man.”
But the officer, who had a grave, kindly face enough, answered in the same considerately low tone: “There is a criminal charge against you. You had better come with me as quietly as possible.”
Dick, who after the first shock, began to find his senses and his usual self again, shook him off as a man might an eel that had wrapped itself about him.
“You have made some mistake, sir,” he reiterated. “You have no criminal charge against me.”
He was stalking off, when the others stopped his way.
“No doubt there is a mistake,” said the officer, respectfully. “Or you may be able to prove yourself innocent. But it was you whom I was directed to arrest. I beg of you, for your own sake, to come with me without noise. My men have their billies, as you see. If you resist, it will only lead to exposure, and the story will come to your mother’s ears. I deceived her so far by the note.”
“Do you mean that Sherman——” cried Dick. He stopped, dazed and bewildered.
“I mean that the train is starting, and you must go aboard it,” answered the officer, now speaking sternly. “If you don’t go quietly, my men will put you there. At the next station the affair will be settled,” he added, more respectfully. “No doubt you can prove the mistake by a word or two. But I advise you to go quietly.”
Dick paused a moment. There were six men to one. White-hot as he was with indignation, he yet had sense enough to see that the policemen were only tools in this mistake or insult. So he stepped into the car.
A few words would, doubtless, set it right, he thought, or reveal the principal in the affair. There was no use in brawling like a street ruffian, with half a dozen armed men against him. As he took his seat, two of the policemen strolled in and found places behind him.
The chief dropped back, and made a sign to two gentlemen, who were on the platform. They followed him to the smoking-car.
“All right,” he said, with a mysterious nod. “Less trouble than I thought.”
“What pretence did you use?”
“Very good, Miller, very good.” It was the elder man who answered. His manner was grave and authoritative. He spoke in an ordinary voice, with no attempt at concealment, for the conductor had paused to listen, and the other passengers in the smoking-car began to send furtive and curious glances toward the group.
“You have managed the affair with great consideration for our feelings, Mr. Miller,” continued the gentleman, with some emotion in his tone. “I have telegraphed in advance, and as soon as the officers from the institution can meet us, you will be relieved of your charge.”
“The sooner the better. I must be back before to-morrow night.”
“Prisoner, eh?” said the conductor, snapping a ticket.
A dozen neighboring heads were turned to catch the answer.
The elderly gentleman answered, after a short pause, in the same slow, grieved voice,
“No. A young friend—a relative, whom I am removing to an asylum—for the insane.”
“Tut! tut!” compassionately.
“Dangerous?” inquired a white-headed old gentleman, who sat smoking in the corner.
“No. The diseases assumes more the type of melancholia so far, though the physician warns me he may become violent at any moment. I am obliged to remain out of his sight. He has conceived a strong antipathy to his nearest friends.”
“Always the case sir: always the case,” said the old man, sympathetically; while all the other heads began to shake significantly. There was a little more conversation, and then the passengers dropped the subject.
As morning broke, and the men began to saunter from one car to another, Wortley noted the prolonged inspection with which each favored him as they passed, and the quickness with which their eyes were averted when they met his own. The old Connecticut man passed and repassed, each time with a lugubrious shake of the head when behind Dick.
“I fear he is growing violent, sir,” he said, in a half audible whisper to the conductor. “His face is very much flushed, and the eye is excited. You can always detect insanity by the eye, sir! I have had a great deal of experience.”
“There is no danger with so many men on the car.”
The conversation became general on the subject of maniacs, and much sympathy was expressed for the two gentlemen who had the unfortunate patient in charge.
“The elder is a man of great refinement and feeling, I soon saw that!” said the old gentleman. “I have no doubt that the poor young man is his son.”
Before the sun had been up an hour, there was not a passenger on the train who had not heard the story. The ladies quietly changed their seats, leaving Wortley alone at his end of the car with the two policemen behind him; the men kept a furtive watch on him, ready to anticipate his first movement of violence.
Now the train was an express-train; and Dick beckoned the chief up from his lounge by the stove, and began to question him in a low tone, but one which made the other passengers prepare to act on the defensive against an outbreak of fury. “I understood, from you,” he said, “we were to set down at the next station. This train runs through to——”
“You are to be brought before the court there.”
“What for?” said Dick.
“I do not know,” answered the policeman. “They will tell you in good time.”
“But I never was in —— in my life. How can I be arrested for an offense committed there? Besides, I have committed no offense, neither there, nor anywhere. Gentlemen,” said he, excitedly to the passengers, “I believe I am being kidnapped.”
The moment after, he was ashamed of the excitement he had shown, for no one interfered, and, on the contrary, he saw several shrug their shoulders. “I will wait,” he said, to himself, proudly folding his arms. “I shall see a lawyer at ——, and then all will be right.”
But as time wore on, his perplexity and shame grew maddening. For himself, it mattered nothing. But Lotty? The story of his arrest would, doubtless, be blazoned in the morning papers. And his mother? But she never saw the papers, she would not have even the miserable comfort that they could give.
He sat listening to the dull thud, thud of the engine underneath, picturing his mother’s terror as the day wore on, and he did not return, remembering his guilty carelessness in money matters, which had left her without a penny. But it would only be for a few hours longer. When he reached ——, a telegram would quiet her until he could return.
Suddenly Miller came near him, and paused, making a sign to the men behind him. The train had stopped, for a moment, at a way-station.
“I can send a message home?” said Dick, turning to him.
“Certainly.” The man had won Dick’s confidence. He was only a tool, and had done his work as inoffensively as was in his power.
“I wish counsel at once.”
“Of course. Counsel, of course. The law pertects every man.” But he hurried out of the car as he spoke.
The whistle sounded, and the train rushed on. Dick looked round. Miller had not returned. The policemen, too, had disappeared, and in their places were two short, brawny men, one Irish, and the other Dutch.
They were now in the suburbs of a large town. The bell rang, there was a long, grating sound, and the train stopped. Dick rose to his feet, breathless, with a sudden suspicion. The two men behind him rose as he did. He hurried out on the platform. They came, swift and noiselessly, and stood on either side of him. Miller was still nowhere to be seen.
A sharp-faced man, who stood near the door of a close carriage, at this moment came up. Speaking through Dick, as if to the men, not recognizing him any more than if he had been air, he said,
“Is this the patient?”
“This way,” jerking his head to the carriage.
But Wortley did not move.
“Where is Miller,” he said, sternly and angrily.
“This way,” sharply said the man, for the crowd was gathering about them.
There was one moment of bewilderment, and then Wortley faced them, bracing his broad back against the wall. A glimmer of the truth had broken on him. His face was white, and his eyes on fire with all the repressed fury of the night; but his voice was low enough.
“There is some damnable conspiracy here,” he said. “I am not a boy to be caught in it. Show me your warrant.”
The men made no answer, but moved up to him again.
“Gentlemen,” cried Dick, wheeling suddenly to the crowd, and speaking excitedly. “I was tricked out of my house at midnight, made a prisoner without the show of any legal authority, and am to be dealt with—God knows how! Is there no one here to help me?”
“My dear sir,” said the white-haired old gentleman, pulling Dick soothingly, with his valise in the other hand. “Do not be alarmed. You are an American citizen. Your liberty is secure. The law is your defence. Go with the gentlemen quietly.”
“The law is my defence. I will see their warrant, then, before I submit to arrest.”
“Here it is,” said the man, in front of him, making a feint of drawing something from his breast-pocket.
Dick stepped forward eagerly. Like a flash, one keeper clutched his throat from behind, strangling him, while the other slipped the handcuffs on his wrists. Then, with a heavy, dexterous blow on the head, as though he had been a bullock, they sent him staggering to the edge of the platform, where he fell. One or two of the brakesmen, lending their aid, he was dragged in on the floor of the carriage. It was all the work of a moment.
The door was quickly shut, the keepers mounted, and the carriage was driven rapidly away.
Dick lay, in a crushed heap, not even conscious of pain; he was senseless!
Meantime the train moved on again.
“Oh!” sighed a lady, who had watched the scene. “How thankful I am that he is secured!”
“A very dangerous case,” said the old man from Connecticut. “I don’t know that I ever saw worse symptoms in an eye. I should pronounce him incurable. But there is no knowing what science can accomplish now-a-days. Let us hope for the best.”
The close carriage, in which Wortley was driven, stopped before a frowning, stone gateway. A snuffy, old man came out from a lodge behind. There was a creaking of keys and drawing of ponderous bolts; then they rolled on into dreary, far-reaching slopes of half-thawed snow, set with grim cedars, a prospect terminated on all sides by a solid wall of stone.
There were fresh traces of wheels on the road before them, and a cab with smoking horses was standing in front of the massive building, to which all the paths led.
Within, in a high-ceiled, white-walled parlor, set with funereal haircloth-chairs, two gentlemen waited. They were Col. Leeds and his son.
An inner door opened, and a small man, with cold, gray eyes, entered, their cards in his hand.
“The Messrs. Wetherall?”
Leeds bowed. “Dr. Harte, I presume?” he said. “I have brought the patient, doctor. He is coming—just at the door.” His ordinary gravity had given way, as the crisis of his venture approached. He was nervous and excited, and rubbed his gloved hands incessantly together.
Dr. Harte, on the contrary, spoke as though his body were a machine wound up to talk, while the real man were asleep, or gone on a journey. That unutterable eye, and voice, and wooden manner, is too often common to men whose daily routine brings them into contact with suffering. One wonders whether the indifference, assumed at first for prudence, has not penetrated deeper and deeper, till the whole man is actually hardened into a wooden puppet, only to be set in motion by duty, or what he thinks duty. Whatever the explanation be, it is a sad fact, that almost the last place to look for genial temper, or quick sympathies, is in the actual manager of any charitable institution.
“Yonder comes the patient,” cried Leeds, pointing out of the window.
Dr. Harte scarcely glanced toward it. “He will be attended to,” he said, calmly. “You have brought the necessary documents?”
“The certificate? Yes. Here it is,” presenting it with illy-concealed trepidation. “Dr. Molker. You are acquainted with him?”
The Superintendent, glancing slightly at the scrawl, and folding it up, answered, “I have not that honor. There is another paper requisite, before a patient can be admitted, Mr. Wetherall, which the Institution has found it advisable to demand, in order to protect itself from fraud.”
Col. Leeds took out his cambric handkerchief, and wiped the corners of his mouth slowly.
“I thought the law required only the certificate,” he said, calmly, replaced the handkerchief in his breast.
But his face was deadly pale.
“The statutory law does not even require the certificate. Common law, or custom, calls for it. But the Institution has suffered so much from fraud of late years, that we have thought it prudent, for the security of justice, to demand previous to the detention of a patient—”
Col. Leeds gave an eager gesture of assent.
“A bond, furnished to the manager, for the payment of his board, and other expenses. This bond must secure such payment for the space of thirteen weeks, and must have the names of two responsible and known indorsers. We do this to protect ourselves.”
Col. Leeds drew a long breath, a breath of relief.
“Oh! to protect yourselves?” with a smile, quickly hidden. “The bond shall be furnished in an hour. What are our rates of board?”
The Superintendent named the sum.
“If the patient’s friends dislike publicity,” he added, “he can have a room and attendant to himself, by the payment of a larger sum. If it is your request, in that case, he need never see the face of a human being, except his keepers.”
Leeds and Frederick glanced at each other anxiously.
“Place him apart, for the present, if you please, doctor,” said the colonel. “I will consult with my son, and notify you of our wishes when I return with the bond.”
“Where is Wortley?” said Fred, as they rose to go, and he walked to the window to look out.
“He has been removed to another room. I will send him to a ward as soon as our business is arranged.” said the doctor.
Col. Leeds hesitated, hat in hand; then hurriedly asked, with assumed indifference, “What tests, or examination, do you subject your patients to, on entering, to determine their insanity?”
“None. We rely on the certificate; that is prima facie evidence.”
“In case of the failure of payment—”
“The patient must be at once removed,” was the prompt answer. “Will you look through the Institution, gentlemen, before you go?” and he touched a bell. “You will find here all the evidences of the great advance which science has made in the curing of insanity in later years.”
Col. Leeds bowed. “I’ve no doubt of it, doctor—no doubt of it. We will be happy to inspect the building on our return. But I fear my unfortunate relative may see us now; and he is very violent, against us, his nearest friends—”
“It is too often the case, sir.”
“Your cells for violent patients are safe?”
“Quite safe. You need not fear his escaping;” and he ushered them to the door.
Dr. Harte met the man, who had brought Wortley from the depot, as he crossed the hall.
“Where is the patient?” he said.
“In the waiting-room. He’s very violent—almost broke from the keepers, handcuffs and all, just now; talks about conspiracy, as they mostly does.”
The doctor nodded and entered the waiting-room. He paused an instant, looking at Dick, who, now recovered from the blow that had stunned him, was pacing up and down like a caged tiger.
After measuring his height and muscles thus, the doctor went up and carelessly tapped him on the breast.
“Stop!” he said, fixing his eye on Dick’s.
The doctor was a firm believer in the power of one human eye over another. In this case, however, no effect was apparent.
“What house is this?” asked Dick.
“The House Beautiful, many of our friends call it,” answered the doctor, employing one of the stereotyped jests with which he “calmed” his patients. He did not smile, however, as he spoke; on the contrary, the narrow, gray eyes still stared inflexibly.
“I do not know who are, sir,” said Dick. “But you appear to be a man of sufficient intelligence to know that the treatment I have met would not be tolerated in the most absolute despotism. That a man should be kidnapped—taken by force through the streets of a crowded city by daylight— Pardon me, you are not listening to me, sir!”
The doctor finished his whispered directions to the little keeper.
“Ward six, No. 3, as soon as possible,” he said, turning to look idly out of the window, without regarding Wortley.
Now Dick had made an effort to hold himself and his grievance off at arm’s length, as it were, and to speak of it dispassionately, as though he were a cool spectator. This cool indifference made his blood boil. After a moment’s stifling pause, he resumed,
“I am innocent of any crime. I have been taken from my family, leaving them almost penniless. My business will be ruined by my absence. You must know that you are responsible for this.”
“Be calm, Mr. Wortley! be calm!” was all the answer the doctor vouchsafed.
“I will hold you to account,” said Dick, his anger rising. “No man can be imprisoned without warrant or hearing, without the chance of defending himself by the law.”
“I think you are mistaken,” with an amused smile. “I have a paper here,” touching Molkers’ dirty slip, “on the strength of which I could arrest the judge upon the bench, and hold him until I considered him fit to be set free. Ready, Minch? Will you follow this gentlemen, Mr. Wortley?” pointing to one of the under-keepers in the door-way.
Dick saw, with one quick glance, a crowd of other men in the hall, stout, brawny Irishmen. What could he do, handcuffed, against them? A cold thrill of actual fear, for the first time in his life, contracted his muscles.
“Are you going to murder me?” he said.
“Gently! gently! Your detention is perfectly legal. You may be assured of that,” said the doctor, unctuously.
“Then send for counsel for me. You can refuse that to no man, if he were the vilest felon that lives. Mr. Lloyd,” naming an eminent lawyer, “is a friend of my mother’s. Send for him.”
“Certainly. All in good time. Follow Mr. Minch in the meanwhile. He will remove the handcuffs. I do not wish to use force with you, Mr. Wortley,” significantly.
Dick looked back suspiciously. “Will your messenger go at once?”
“In coorse,” said Minch, urging him on with his hand on his collar. “Didn’t the docther say it. Wid ye doubt a jontleman’s word?”
How shall we describe Wortley’s feelings, when he found himself alone in his cell? His head still pained him, where he had been struck; but this was comparatively nothing. Before the horror of his situation, which he now, at last, fully understood, everything else was forgotten. He had heard of being people being imprisoned in lunatic asylums, who were perfectly sane; but he had never believed such stories. Not even when he had read in the newspapers, accounts of trials growing out of these false arrests, had he had more than a half skeptical belief in their truth. There was some mistake, he had been wont, in his charitable way, to say: at least, the parties incarcerated must have been guilty of eccentricities that had deceived their family, or others. But now he realized his error. Great heavens, what was to become of him? Hero he was, as sane as man could be, kidnapped by a fraud, and there was no redress! On the contrary, his very anger, the natural result of the deception and imprisonment, was, he now saw, interpreted against him. He had little faith in the doctor’s promise to let him communicate with a lawyer. He remembered now, that, in all the trials he had read of, it was put in evidence, that letters from the patients of insane asylums were generally suppressed.
“Buried alive! Buried alive!” he cried, at last, starting from the seat, where the keeper had left him, and beginning to pace to and fro, excitedly. “Oh! All-Mighty God!” he said, stretching his arms up to heaven, “look down, and help a miserable prisoner. Give me patience to bear with these men, and intelligence to frustrate them, or I am lost forever—lost, never to be heard of again!”
His supplication calmed him for awhile—when did it not soothe a bruised and breaking heart? But, after a time, his excitement returned. How else could it be? He could not avoid dwelling on his position. He could not help but rack his brains for some plan of escape. Very soon he was pacing his cell again, faster, faster, faster continually, till even the keeper might have been excused for thinking him really insane.
Late that evening, Minch thrust his face into the room where Dr. Harte sat smoking.
“That Wortley’s growin’ woyolent, sir,” he said. “I told him the messenger hadn’t gone fur his counsel,” with a furtive wink, “and, begorra! He demands paper and ink. Shall I give him something to quiet his narves? I doubt we’ll get small sleep in that ward the night.”
“No, give him the paper and ink. And, by-the-way, Minch, do not destroy the letters. Bring them to me.”
An hour or two after, Dr. Harte lit a fresh segar, and leisurely broke the seals of Dick’s letters to Mr. Lloyd and to his mother.
He read them slowly, shaking his head at them, and then said, “Poor fellow! he seems very mad, indeed!”
With that he threw them both into the fire.
We will not dwell on the days and weeks that followed. Dick tried to comfort himself, for awhile, with the hope that his letters had been forwarded. He could not, he said to himself, be in the charge of fiends! Surely, no man, no matter how callous, would be so cruel as to shut him out from this one chance. Even the murderer, caught red-handed in his crime, was allowed an opportunity to prove his innocence, if he could. The law mercifully said he was innocent, till the jury and judge pronounced him guilty. “If Dr. Harte has a heart in his bosom,” Dick said, to himself, as he paced to and fro, “he has sent my letters. To-morrow they will reach their destination. The day after aid will come, and I shall be free—free!”
But the morrow came, and the morrow after that, and still other morrows, and yet there was no sign of help. A week elapsed: then another; and now, at last, Dick gave up hope. “Oh! if I had but that villain by the throat,” he cried, clenching his hands, and thinking of the doctor. “But no! no! I shall go mad, really, if I look that way. God help me, a miserable sinner! I must keep cool, cool, or they’ll think me insane in earnest. I must temporize. Let me see, the keeper told me, that, once a month, Dr. Harte went the rounds personally. It is only two weeks off. I must wait for that—wait for that—wait for that.”
He was already, as you see, half crazed at times. He had got into a way, like really insane persons, of repeating his words. He would run his hand through his hair, would stop in his rapid pacing to and fro, would mutter to himself—any one, almost, seeing his wild gestures and wilder looks, would have pronounced him mad.
The month went by. Mr. Minch, the keeper, was sauntering through the fifth ward, jingling his keys, one day. He was fond of this sort of exercise. There were sixteen wards in the male department of this institution. Of these sixteen wards, two were open to visitors. Visitors came from all parts of the country, and were enraptured with the cleanliness, the beautiful grain of the flooring, the snugly carpeted little chambers, the white bed-speads, the parade of cheap books, the chapel, the laundry; they inquired how many barrels of flour were used in a week, peeped into the kitchen, wrote their names in a book, and found themselves civilly bowed out of the front door, delighted with the advance science had made in the treatment of the insane. If any, blessed with curiosity beyond the rest, asked about the fourteen wards that remained unseen, they were silenced by the reply that they were devoted to the patients whom Minch styled “woyolent.”
Now the other keepers, for obvious reasons, as far as possible, preferred to hang about the show part of the building. But Minch, who, six months ago, had been a drover in Tipperary, had no squeamish dislike to the foul smells, or fouler sights and sounds of the lower wards. He relished the walk up the long, bar halls, and the wistful, entreating faces turned to him in the square openings in the cell-doors. “I don’t foind so much differ in moi work, after all,” he was wont to say, speculatively. “Ye couldn’t in roison now call thim craturs, the loiko of uz. They’re loike cattle, the moinde bein’ gone, and they require to be trated in the same way.”
Two or three of the cell-doors were open, and the inmates paced up and down the plank-floor of the hall. At one end was a grated window, opening on a strip of grass, the prospect terminating by a blank, high wall: at the other, a heavily clamped door.
“Minch!” cried half a dozen nervous voices, as the door was slammed and locked. For Minch’s visit was the one event of the day to these poor gentlemen: his coarse jokes, when he was in a good-humor, the best mental food offered to them. But one young man, gaunt and haggard, with untrimmed, black whiskers growing heavily over his sunken jaws, was quicker than the others, and pulled him into his cell, and seated him on the one chair, and stood before him. It was Dick.
“Will he come to-day? Don’t deceive me again,” he said, huskily.
“Oi tell ye, Muster Wortley Dr. Harte ull make the rounds in an hour, and oi advise ye to kape a quiet tongue in yer head, or he’ll send ye to a place where ye’ll learn it, bagod!”
“There’s no worse hell than this.”
“Only troy the seventh ward, me man!” he chuckled, savagely, and went out.
Two or three pale-faced men were gathered at the door; they hurried in, and began to talk in eager whispers. Dick listened patiently, and answered them with a womanish gentleness. They dropped off, one by one, leaving only a white-whiskered old man, worn thin as a skeleton, whose torn coat was carefully brushed, and who showed through all his beggarly clothes the indefinable stamp of culture and high breeding.
“Minch tells the truth,” he said, drawing Richard anxiously aside.
“I will not think it,” was the indignant reply. “Since I was a boy, Mr. Inman, I have heard of this institution. It is the boast of the country! When they know that I am a sane man, they will not dare detain me.”
Poor old Inman shook his head sorrowfully. “I have been here for ten years,” he said.
“But you—” said Wortley, gently.
“I know. But that was only for a time. My son brought me. John! He did it for the best. It was my wife’s death, Mr. Wortley. We had married, a mere boy and girl, and were old people. Only John was left of eight children. They brought her into me on day dead—killed on the street. I missed her. We had buried all the others. I did not think she would have left me. I was troubled in my head, I missed her so much. Then John brought me here. But I was never violent. Harte called it mild melancholia. I was locked into that cell yonder. I had men like Minch for my companions, and these poor insane. Only these! Only these! I was used to a life of culture and society, was fond of music and pictures. I think if I had returned to my old life, if I could now and then have heard a kind word from some one who cared for me, of if I could have even seen John’s children sometimes at their play, I should have forgotten that old trouble, or learned to be patient and cheerful with it. There have been days when I have been so mad with hunger for a word from some intelligent, kindly human being, that I believe to have heard it would have cured me. It would have been something stable to grasp. But to be locked in these bare walls, day and night, like a felon: locked in, locked in: to know the next day, and the next, could bring only Minch, and the mad men; and for recreation, the half-dozen dissolving views, suited to children, which I had seen weekly for years.”
“But the physicians?”
“Dr. Harte is the assistant superintendent. You will find what insight he has, and what hope there is in him. Men, in his position, get blunted. Dr. Chase, the chief, lives yonder in a house detached from the building. He visits the male department with the directors only, and passes rapidly through the wards.”
“But why do you not go home?”
The old man did not answer for a moment. At last he said, brokenly,
“I wrote to John regularly for a year or two, but the letters never reached him. They told me one day that he was dead. He had written to me often, they said then; but Dr. Chase thought it was best to destroy the letters. I never heard from my boy after he left me here. He was the last—the last.”
“And now?” said Dick, after a pause.
“His son is a gay young fellow, quite willing to consider me incurable. He has taken out a commission of lunacy, Mitch tells me.”
“And has your property while you are incarcerated here! Please God, I’ll right other wrongs than my own, when I am free!” For Dick hoped great things from his expected interview. He was young, you see. The young despair, and then recover, fall, spring up, and hope again.
The old man’s face lighted for a moment, then sunk into its usual hopeless quiet. “It does not matter now,” he said, despairingly. “I am an old man—the time is so short. But you—”
“Oh! I am safe enough! As soon as I meet the physician, I am safe.” It helped him to hope, to talk in this sanguine way; he had, in fact, persuaded himself, within a day or two, that there was hope.
As he spoke, there was a confused noise at the upper end of the hall, followed by sudden quiet.
“He is coming!” whispered Mr. Inman, and made his escape to his own cell.
Dick tried to arrange his hair, and sat down his pallet. Every day, lately, he had gone over this interview, planning the argument by which he would enforce his freedom. But now every word was forgotten: his heart beat hard in his chest; he knew by his weakness how the confinement and intolerable anxiety had told on him. One idea only was clear to him, that to be composed was his only chance.
The door swung open.
“You wished to see me?” said Dr. Harte, pausing outside.
Wortley rose and brought the chair forward.
“A word or two, doctor.” His tones surprised himself; they were as quiet and courteous as though he has been in his mother’s room at home.
Harte nodded, and sat down. Minch stood in the door.
“I have a statement to make,” said Dick. “I will use as few words as possible; but I beg of you to weigh them well. This is a matter of life and death with me.”
Dr. Harte’s face was immovable.
“I am a sane man. I was brought here by a foul conspiracy. The Leeds, who placed me here, are the only enemies I have in the world.”
A slight look of ennui had crossed the doctor’s face at the beginning of these words. Unfortunately for Wortley, it was the invariable cry of all patients. At the name of Leeds, however, the doctor looked up.
“I know no such persons. You were brought here by your relative, John Wetherall.”
“There is no such man! There is fraud here, and I call on you to right it.” Wortley was standing. He spoke in a slow, controlled voice, holding his hand on his chest, with the one thought still clear to him, that, on his composure hung his only chance of escape. “You are a young man, Dr. Harte,” he continued, earnestly. “Put yourself in my stead. An innocent man, shut into this cell, without warrant---”
“I have the physician’s certificate.”
“Shut into this cell, the whole hope and business of life cut short for you in an hour, and this given you in its stead. I left my mother ill; she depends on me for her daily bread.”
“Your story differs so much from that of Mr. Wetherall, that you must pardon me if I prefer that of the sane man.”
“Test my sanity, then. Bring me before any court. I have here a letter to Judge Cathcart, of New York—he is my friend. He will bring me out on a writ of habeas corpus. Give me a chance to try my sanity.”
Dick placed the letter, as he spoke, in Harte’s hand. He was very pale, but his eyes, in spite of his efforts, blazed with excitement.
“I have another letter here, doctor, which I will be glad if you will post for me,” he added, drawing it from his bosom. “You are a gentleman, and I can ask you to do this for me. That man,” pointing to Minch, “has tampered with my letters, sir. Somebody has read them: it must be he.”
Dr. Harte nodded, with a slight change of color, and put the letters in his pocket-book.
A quick look of relief passed over Dick’s face.
“When Judge Cathcart receives that, I am safe,” he said. “I knew, when I had a gentleman to deal with, all would be right; though I hoped to have seen you sooner, doctor.”
It would have been well for Wortley if he had stopped there. But he thought his own case so sure now, that he might venture to speak a work in behalf of his fellow-prisoners. Dick had been noted, all his life, for his readiness to succor the miserable.
“About the management here, doctor,” he began, in a deprecating tone.
Dr. Harte gave a shrewd glance at the speaker, and dropped his eyes, bowing attentively.
“I do not blame you for admitting me here; that is the fault of the law, I suppose. But you should have tested my sanity. For four weeks I and the other inmates of this ward have been left to the scientific treatment of Mr. Minch. I am told that it is the case in all the wards. Even delicate women, whose mental derangement arises from physical causes, receive no medical attention, but are left to the sole care and companionship of such women as they would employ in their kitchens.”
“Your information is comprehensive,” dryly.
“It is correct,” said Dick, hotly. “I know the reputation of this asylum. But when science comes to us diluted, through Minch and his comrades, it is cursedly poor stuff. My God, sir! you would not let one of these ignorant keepers lay a finger on an instrument of music in your house lest they should injure its tone. And yet, when the minds of poor human beings are driven, by sorrow or religious error, into the very valley of the Shadow of Death, from which it would need wisdom and tenderness akin to that of God to deliver them, you give them up to these wretches to use as they will!”
“Have you done, Mr. Wortley?” said Harte, coldly rising.
“No; there is much more that I could say,” he stammered, fearing he had gone too far. “But I know it is only needful that I suggest the evil to you. Any rational man must see the absolute fact as point it to you.”
“Minch!” Dr. Harte tapped on the door, and the keeper appeared. “I regret to find that Mr. Wortley’s disease is much more aggravated than I supposed. Let him be removed to the lower ward. For your letters, sir,” tapping his breast, “as you are so accurate in your information, you should know that no communications are permitted to pass from the patients to either counsel or friend. I reserve the right of reading letters as means of judging the mental condition of their writers.”
Dick had no time for words. He thrust back the table that stood between them, with a clutch at the physician. Judging from his colorless face and gleaming eyes, it would have fared ill with the latter, if he had fallen into Wortley’s hands just then. But Harte was already on the other side of the door, which Minch lock in Wortley’s face.
There was a moment’s pause, while Dick stood in his baffled and impotent fury. Every word of the secret passion and tenderness which he had written in his long imprisonment in that letter to the woman who was to be his wife, rose before him. In another hour this man’s eyes would be prying into it, perhaps jeering at her and at his love.
Harte lifted the wooden flap, half a foot square, in the center of the door. Minch was behind him. “Ooh, give the man his letther. It’s loikely to a woman,” the latter muttered.
But the sandy little face of the physician had gathered a fresh air of authority. He looked speculatively at Wortley as a dangerous maniac: the more, because his paroxysm of rage was suddenly over, and he spoke with apparent coolness, although his lips were yet blue.
I will escape from this place,” said Wortley, sternly. “And I give you warning that for every word and act you will render reckoning.”
“You will escape, eh? You will never leave this asylum with my will,” answered the doctor, with a virulent gleam in his light-blue eyes. “Put him in the eighth ward, Minch. And I appoint Brady his special attendant.”
Minch shrugged his thick neck and grinned. The flap fell and shut them out of Dick’s sight.
Much to Wortley’s surprise, Minch did not return. The morning slid into noon, and broadened into the warm afternoon sunlight, but he was left unmolested in his cell. An hour after the doctor had disappeared, old Inman crept cautiously up and thrust his thin, gray face into the flap.
“What is it, Richard?”
“Brady and the eighth ward. I don’t know what that implies.”
“I do,” under his breath. “I have been there.”
“No matter,” in his usual sturdy, bass tones. “I’ll escape from here, and I’ll take you with me, if there’s a God of justice alive. Let them bar the dungeon as they will.”
The old man, for reply, got hold of one of Dick’s big, warm hands, and held it in his withered fingers, as thought it was his last hold on the real world. Perhaps it was more than we know. He had dwelt so long in the late evening, in the chill, and dark, and utter hopelessness, and this rough, passionate young fellow had brought back the old daylight of the outer world to him, brought his boy again, and his own long-lost youth.
Now he was going.
“You will never come back,” he said. “Never! Never! Men as sane and strong as you, with the world waiting full of love and promise for them, have gone down into that place before now.”
Wortley’s blood ran cold at these words; but only for a moment. All the old, fresh courage, which, before his imprisonment, would have led him to face any odds, had come back to him, as if by inspiration, in this hour. He felt, for the time, as if he could overreach even Dr. Harte and the doctor’s myrmidons: that, let them do what they might, he would triumph over them yet. It was, so to speak, a frenzy of courage. It left him only too soon. But while it lasted, it made him, as it were, more than human. There was nothing, he felt, he could not brave. His brain, too, worked marvelously. In a flash, a plan of escape came to him, which only required patience, or so it seemed, to carry out successfully.
“They did not murder them,” said Dick, impatiently. “There must be a limit to all tales of horror.”
“No, they did not murder them.”
“If you mean that they made madmen of them, I do not doubt it. Minch and Brady might make such a mistake when ministering to a mind diseased. But I am not the sort of man out of whom they can fashion one. There’s no imagination about me. Now, listen to me,” lowering his voice to a rapid whisper, “I will escape—with you. I may need your help. When the spring weather opens, you will be permitted to walk out on the grounds, won’t you?”
“With a keeper.”
“No matter. We must have some little difficulty. Discover which is my window. Pass under it, and be ready for a signal.”
“What is your plan?”
“I have none. It may need a month or a year to elaborate one. But I will succeed at last. Only be ready.”
“I will.” The color began to steal into his hollow jaw. “It is a great many years since I have had anything to think of, Richard,” rubbing his hands softly together.
“I may be only able to give you the faintest clue. You must be sharp and watchful.”
“I’ll be as sharp as a trap. I was what the Yankees call capable in my youth; though you’d not think it now,” with a sign.
The distant door grated, and the old man slunk across the hall like a dog before his master.
Wortley’s meals were brought to him regularly that day. At night he turned into bed, thinking that Harte had changed his mind. An hour or two after, however, he as conscious of a blast of cold air on his face, contending with an oppressive, irresistible drowsiness; then he dimly saw the long, dark corridor and Inman’s face, as the keeper’s light flashed on it in the square opening of the door. It was a curiously tragic face in the darkness, with its thin, white hair blown back, and full of horror and pity.
Through the thick shadows of Wortley’s sleep it touched him with a dull pain, a remembrance of Lear, forsaken by his daughters. “Poor Tom’s a cold!” he muttered. Then a sweet, sickening odor filled the air, and his head fell flat on the pallet.
When he woke, in the morning, he was in the eighth ward. He raised his head, which felt stunned, and was weighted like lead. A gigantic Irishman, in a filthy shirt, sat near him on the floor, lighting his pipe.
A moment’s reflection showed Dick what means had been used to bring him there. He determined to begin by letting this new keeper see that he knew the truth.
“Ah! chloroform,” he said, quietly.
His companion made no answer.
Wortley never had been so coolly master of himself as since the moment when Dr. Harte showed him his true position. He determined to lay by his rage to keep until he should be free. For the present his business was to find that freedom. It was a task that would need the power of every nerve and muscle in his body; and more than this, it would need foresight and caution such as the headlong fellow had never shown before.
He would succeed; and once free, his vengeance would be as certain as his success.
He looked about him to survey the “vantage of the ground.” It had one merit, it was close under his eye. It was lighted by a slit in the wall, placed about two feet higher than his head. This slit was only wide enough to admit his hand.
“I must go out under the door,” said Dick, to himself.
There were two openings into the cell—the door leading into the hall, and an open arch at one side, wide enough for a man to pass through, cut in order to throw the two adjacent cells into one.
The cell itself was, with this exception, precisely the same as those set apart for convicts, sentenced to death, in the New York prison.
“Except that here,” muttered Dick, “Dr. Harte is judge, and executioner, and public. The law gives its discipline before the eyes of the whole nation; but Harte works his will on us undisturbed, as though we were rats in a hole.”
He got up, at last, conquering the intense pain through his eyeballs and temples. He had been lying on a foul straw mattress, laid on an iron cot, which was clamped to the wall; two or three stone vessels stood on the floor. Other furniture there was none; in this cell he was to perform all the offices of life, with such fresh air as reached him through the slit in the wall. The cell looked as if it had not been cleaned since its last occupant left it. Damps, and moulds, and smells too foul to name, hung about the walls.
The keeper, established comfortably on a low stool, meantime puffed away at his rank pipe.
Dick went over and looked through the arch into the next cell. The cell was the same, but a shade cleaner.
“You sleep here?” he said, turning to the keeper.
“You are Brady, eh?”
Silence. The small, yellow eye giving one furtive glance at Dick. Wortley put his hands on his knees, and stooping down, studied the man. He had heard of Mike Brady as a foul hitter in the prize-ring, years ago. Then he had disappeared. Dick, to be honest, did not think the worse of him for prize-fighting. But to hit foul! The only human characteristic he could detect in the mass of muscle and beastliness before him, was obstinacy.
“If I do not talk to him,” said Dick, “he will chatter like a magpie.”
For three days, accordingly, Dick Wortley never opened his lips.
This was the routine of his life. He made what toilet he could with the water given him, Brady staring on during the whole time. Then he ate the meal, which had been shoved through the flap of the door. After that—nothing.
Nothing to read, to write; no human being to speak to; the same thoughts to go over, day after day. And they seemed—what wonder—to grow fewer every day. Another meal to eat, and then the filthy bed was ready for sleep, as it had been for a seat all day.
Dick spent the time in planning. He had a tolerably clear idea of the geography of the asylum. It was built in long, one-storied wings, jutting out from the main building, connected at the center. The eighth ward Dick had known from the other, in his old cell, by the dead, blank walls on each side, broken only by the slits of windows. It, like the other wards, however, was painted a soft, pearly gray, on the outside, and had a fine effect in summer among the groves of cedars.
Now this was the problem which hung before Dick, as he sat, day in and out, swinging his legs from his pallet: “To make my way through these stone walls without any tools but my fingers, and with Brady, P.R. looking on.”
It was not an easy problem. In spite of his cool resolves, Dick Wortley found himself going back from it to Lotty, to his mother, who was now in want—perhaps starving. When he came back to his plan, his mind would not settle on it. It swung loose from his control as never before. There was a sharp sense of coldness in one spot of his brain. That, or the foul air, made him drowsy. He slept at noonday, day after day.
At night Brady usually drew his mattress into the cell with Wortley. Now, at night, Dick was wakeful.
Wasn’t there the glimmer of a chance here? Brady was but a great dumb clod of matter, after all, easily overreached. Dick forgot that Brady had held his tongue for more than two weeks, which hinted at some unusual power.
Dick watched for a night or two; then finding the keeper unusually heavy in his sleep, he got up, stepped over him, and crept into the other cell. He had no definite idea of what he wanted to do. But to be alone, for an instant, he thought himself free. He stooped down to finger the lock.
His throat was gripped from behind as in a vice, and he was dragged back on the floor.
Dick fought. He was a strongly-built man, and this fight had been rusting and cankering in him for months. It was, as well, perhaps, that he should do what he could. But it was like a hand of flesh crushed in an iron machine. All of Dick’s strength went into his frenzied assaults and blows, and was wasted; but Brady’s great carcass of muscle was cool and slow. When the time seemed to him to be ripe, he gave a sniff, and leveled Dick with a foul blow, jumping on his chest with his knees. Dick remained quite quiet there. It did not need any blows, the weight was enough.
Dick Wortley’s head dropped to one side, grew sickly and livid as when he was a jaundiced baby; then the blood slowly rose to his mouth, and dripped, dripped on the floor.
The keeper picked him up and slung him on the pallet. The next morning he brought Minch in to look at him. While they were stooping over him, Dick opened his eyes. He struggled up on one hand and struck at them with the other—struck at them both. There was no more reason in his eyes than in a dog’s.
Dr. Harte, hearing of this, prescribed “the hose.” The hose was a wooden machine, on which Dick was tightly strapped on his back—head, legs, and arms, hanging down. He remained there as long as Messrs. Minch and Brady judged best, for the blood to be driven to his brain. Then they took him out, and finding that his head was heated, they fastened him under the shower-bath, suffering the slow drop of the water to fall upon one spot in the brain, until from the frenzied eyes, and unconscious moans of agony, it seemed as though the tortured soul within was seeking, at eyes and mouth, some means of escape.
That night Dr. Harte was sent for, and reported Wortley to be laboring under an aggravated attack of brain fever.
“I thought it probable that it would follow; his mania has been unusually violent, lately,” he said.
Dick, being a profitable patient, was nursed with tolerable care. He was removed to the dormitory. It was late in June before he was himself enough to know that the claw-like fingers, picking at the sheet, were his own. He had brought back but a shattered body with him from the gates of death. But he had learned reticence; he asked no questions, made no comments. He saw that he was kept scrupulously apart, as a dangerous, disaffected patient and laughed quietly to himself. Escape from the dormitory, he thought, would be comparatively easy.
He sent for Harte one day. So unusual a step caused a flutter among the attendants.
“My clothes are in rags,” said Dick, stretching out his shirt-sleeves. “What provisions do you make for clothing your prisoners?”
The little man was all alive with politeness.
“You can purchase any article you wish from us, Mr. Wortley.”
“I have no money. I will trade this ring. I know its value.”
In this way he got clean shirts.
“Wortley,” said the doctor to Minch, outside, “is preparing to escape. I see the cunning in his eye. He is stronger in body and mind than he appears. To-morrow, let him go back to Brady and the eighth ward.”
That evening, Minch came in to bring his supper. “I was in the chapel, tother week, when one of yer people called on Docther Harte,” he said.
A cold shivering shook poor Dick’s weak body at the word. But he did not open his lips. He knew the first sign of interest would shut Minch’s mouth.
“I heerd some news of yer kin.”
Dick sat up. He looked ghastly and gaunt enough, wrapped in the blanket.
The regulation frown came over Minch’s stolid face.
“Now don’t ye excite yerself; yer eyes is woild.”
“Oh, God!” muttered Dick, and lay down, covering his face.
“Well, she’s alive,” said Minch, at last. “They’ve took her in to a sort of private almshouse. It’s overcrowded, but it’s better than the hospitals.”
The covering was drawn closer over Wortley’s face. Minch talked on for some time, but Dick did not hear him.
At last Minch said, raising his voice,
“There was a woman they said that you meant to marry, name of Hubbard. When you disappeared, she hung on faithful till the last. Then she heerd it wasn’t a criminal charge that drawed you off. But a woman. That was more than she could forgive. She’s goin’ now to marry a man named—named—”
A very shrewd eye was watching Minch from under the blanket. “Named Leeds?”
“Begorra, that’s it!”
“That is all you have to tell?” coolly.
“Yes,” with a crest-fallen air.
“Very well,” turning to the wall. But inwardly Dick laughed with triumph. “You put your sign manual on that too plainly, Fred,” he said. “She might forget me. But marry you? Never!”
To-morrow he would make the attempt.
But to-morrow he was back in his cell, with Brady as companion.
Brady redoubled the vigor of his watch. During the day he never left the cell, or if obliged to do so for a moment, his guard was relieved by Minch. Twice a week he led Wortley out for exercise, going twice around the beaten path around the ward. At night, distrusting his own heavy sleep, he went into the other cell, barricaded the arch with a great box, and drew his pallet across that for additional security.
Dick was not slow to perceive his advantage in this. During the night he was alone: whatever he did must be done then. On his own physical strength he could no longer count: looking with almost loathing at this trembling hands and legs. Skill and patience must do all. The first night the moon shone in through the grated slit high overhead, as Dick began to reckon his chances. The window was impossible; the walls were of stone; on the other side of the arch lay the fiend Brady, and a cell just like this. The door remained—the door was of wood, stanchioned with iron. The key Brady carried. “I can’t steal it. I will have one made like it,” thought Dick.
But to do this he must have tools. He looked for one minute, with a miserable laugh, over the bare walls and floor, and then suddenly pulled off his waistcoat, and examined the buckles of his braces.
Steel! the bands wide and thick, and, as it proved, good metal. Why, he almost felt his feet on the high-road at last! He considered their capabilities. One band for a file, and one for a knife. He could work them on each other, and on the iron hinges of his bed. He began, that moment, and worked most of the night. He could not detect that he had made the change of a hair’s mark in them, especially as he worked toward morning in the dark.
The next day Dick slept heavily; there was nothing else he could do. About noon he was roused by a sound of filing in the room. A carpenter was at work at the door, looking at him over his shoulder, now and then curiously.
“What are you about, my man?” Dick called out pleasantly.
“Making cages for Dr. Harte. One of his birds wants to get out, eh?”
Dick whistled and strolled up, looking on. The lock had opened on both sides of the door heretofore. The man had inserted a solid wooden panel on the inside, removing that penetrated by the keyhole.
“Give me a key,” laughed Dick, aloud, “I’ll soon cut a hole for it through the wood.”
“Through this, too?” opening the door, just as Dick meant he should, to show him that an iron plate had been slid in the panel, covering the back of the lock. It was held in place, at the edge of the door, by two screws, which could only be seen, of course, when it, the door, was open.
“You’ll have to make a key in there out of your fingers, and cut through this iron plate with them before you get out,” said the unsuspicious carpenter, with a half amused, half pitying look, at the “madman.”
“You are too much for me now,” answered Dick, aloud. “I must manage to get a screwdriver out of the buckles, “ he added, to himself.
He began to save bits of his bread that day, moulding it at night into a sort of paste. He worked again all night upon his tools. It was on the next day that Minch removed his clothes. They were frequently in the habit of leaving the patients in a state of nudity, on pretense of violence. But to the fact that it was Minch, and not Brady, who executed the order, Wortley owed the privilege of retaining his under-shirt and drawers.
The days and nights were now growing intolerably hot in the coolest parts of the city. What they were in these cells, infested by vermin and mosquitoes, under the broiling July and August suns, no words can tell. Thank heaven, you and I, reader, will never know.
In the dark and heat, surrounded with creeping, nauseous things, whose shapes he could guess at, with the air about him filled with fiendish yells and forlorn sobbings from the maniacs in the near cells, Dick worked on through that summer. There were but few events in it, but they were hopeful ones. It was the last of July when he finished his file. It was a month later before he completed his knife and screw-driver.
Three months spent for two or three paltry tools.
But Dick’s courage had the true immortal quality in it. It was roused now, and it would never give up.
September came. Accident now gave Dick a helping hand. Brady, deceived by his inaction and perpetual sleeping, had grown lax. Seeing Dick stretched, as usual, like a log on his pallet, he ventured, one day, out of his cell-door, for a chat with one of the women. He left his keys on the box. When he came back, he fancied, for a moment, he heard a jingle when he entered; but looking for the keys, he saw they were lying untouched, just where he left them, while Wortley was asleep, the sun glaring on his face.
Under the sheet, meantime, Dick clutched his bread model of the key, his heart pounding against his chest, and his veins throbbing in his temples to bursting. This little trivial success seemed to him already like an absolute victory.
After that he ceased sleeping by daylight and took to whistling. It was regarded with mild amazement by Brady, as another of the inexplicable changes of his disease. Hour after hour he sat on his pallet, his head down, whistling shrilly the same air. Brady little knew that he was listening as he whistled.
But Dick fancied, at times, that his hearing, through confinement and illness, had grown as keen as an Indian’s. Not a hum of the bee, through the dark cedars outside, escaped him; not a chirp of the grasshopper in the scorched grass; still less the footfalls of the patients, were led out by turns for their daily walk.
Sometimes however, even the stout heart of Wortley gave way. Inman might be dead, or gone to another ward, he reflected. Between him and success, there must lie, not only his own effort, but a thousand such chances, over which he had no control. Besides this, his foul surroundings, the companionship of Brady, the sense of imprisonment, and, more than all, the consciousness that he was in the midst of human life, as it were, all gone mad through pain and trouble, had shaken his reason unknown to himself. In an insane world, where there was nothing reliable or tangible to grasp by, he began to reason insanely. If this was the effect on his practical, steady intellect, what was it on more delicate imaginative men, with brains already trembling to their fall?
One day, however, Dick was attracted by a slow, feeble step in the grass without, accompanied by one heavier. The feebler one, he fancied, paused and lingered before his window.
The next day, at the same hour, the same step was heard, the same hesitation, and the next, and the next.
He was assured now. It was Inman. At the first unobserved moment, his fellow prisoner, he knew, would give him a signal.
He prepared a long cord, that night, from ravelings of his shirt, soiling it till it was as nearly the color of the outer wall as possible. To the end he attached the bread model, now baked hard in the sun.
But how could Inman, even if he got the mould, have a key made in iron? God knows! But Inman, at least, could communicate with the outer world, through the servants, though he had no means of bribing any. It was the merest chance of a chance. Yet on such chances as this hung his success.
On a scrap of paper, Dick had been able, meantime, to write a few words of direction. He had noticed, in his walks with Brady, a mossy boulder under a great cedar. Under that stone, the iron key was to be placed. Tying the paper and bread together, he contrived to throw them in the window-slit, lodging on the edge, so that at a signal from Inman, a touch would send it down the outside.
Then he waited day after day.
The feeble step still halted; but so signal came.
One day, however, the step approached more rapidly, and a queer quaver of a voice echoed a bar of Dick’s whistle. Wortley looked anxiously at his keeper. The man, fortunately, was stooping, sheltering in his hand a match, which he was blowing at, in order to light his pipe. His back was to his prisoner. He was quite absorbed in his work.
Noiselessly Dick sauntered to the window, and, as he passed, loosened the string with a quick jerk. The mould swung down outside and Dick pursued his way.
Returning, and whistling, as if unconsciously, he reached the window again. A rapid glance showed him Brady still occupied in lighting his refractory pipe. In an instant, Dick had drawn the cord back, and seen that the model was gone.
Ah! how peacefully he slept that night. But it was not only the hope of success, which made his slumbers light and happy as those of an infant: it was that, as he drew back the cord, he had felt a little twitch given to it, a sign that a friendly human hand and human heart was at the other end!
He had almost forgotten that there were such things in the world.
And now there came days and days of hope deferred, of waiting, that finally settled into dull inaction, I had almost said stupor.
One hot day, and sweltering night crept slowly after each other, during which Wortley had but a single thought, which was to keep off the maddening consciousness of the foul cell, and fouler human life closing him in.
Everything hung on the chance that Inman would be able to get the key made and yet there was a hundred chances to one almost that he would not succeed in it. And if he did not, imprisonment would be for life.
Brady, who was at last goaded to chatter by Wortley’s obstinate silence, beguiled the time, meanwhile, with anecdotes of some of the State asylums and alms-houses in which he had been employed; of gray-headed old paupers, who had been kept there for forty, fifty years, whose histories, whose very names, were long ago forgotten.
Out in the fresh air and every-day world, these true, revolting facts would have passed Dick by as hideous nightmares; here they had an awful fascination for his weakened brain. The damp walls, the unclean stench, gave them a present verity, and beyond these, the cries of the maniacs that night and day filled the air.
The autumn went slowly by. Weeks crept into months, but there was no signal or tidings from Inman.
Wortley settled down, at last, into a dull and heavy stupor, but conscious that his brain was giving way at last.
“If relief does not come soon, it will be too late,” he said, monotonously, day by day, again and again to himself.
Twice a week, Brady took out to walk. On pretence of weakness, Dick accustomed the keeper to see him sit down at one or two points to rest, one of which was the boulder under the cedar. At first, so sanguine with hope, he would push his fingers in the damp moss beneath, trembling with the certainty of finding the key. But after awhile he gave up this expectation. He still felt, slily for the key, but he had no hope of finding it.
Autumn crept into winter. The moss dried and burned away, and gave place at last to yellow clay and snow. All hope, even the last feeble spark, now died out of Dick’s heart. From habit, he brushed off the snow, and sat down on the stone; but he often forgot to put his hand underneath, and sat moodily looking at the ground between his feet, his thoughts creeping heavily out beyond the limits of Brady and his cell.
His stupor served him well. Brady, growing almost as tired of imprisonment as his captive, fell in the habit of opening the door into the corridor, an hour or two in the morning, and placing his camp-stool outside to chat with the other keepers in the hall. This inadvertence acted on Dick like a sharp spur on a sluggish horse. For a day or two he was quiet: then he crept after Brady: then he stood in the door-way, stupidly regarding him. The keeper drove him back, the first day, with a blow that would have felled a bullock. “He’s nigh on an ijjit,” he explained to his chum outside. “Thar’s some on ‘em ther brains goes to water.”
Dick overheard, and acted on the hint. The next day he came out with a more stupid leer, and the next, and the next, till finally Brady grew tired of driving him back and suffered him to stand in the door, listening, with a silly smirk, to his stories to the other keepers.
When Brady had grown used to see Dick standing beside him, the latter prepared to go to work. Taking the inch-long screw-driver in one hand, he put both hands behind him, as he stood leaning with his back against the edge of the door, swaying it carelessly to and fro a few inches, attempting thus to remove the two screws which held the iron plate. But the screws had grown rusty and were stiff, and the force he could apply in this position was feeble. While he worked, too, he had to guard the imbecile look upon his face, listening to Brady’s droning talk, who flashed keen looks of suspicion on him now and then.
For five days he worked without effect. The sixth the first screw moved. He left it, and began at the other. When both were loosened, he came to the work with a bit of soft fat, saved from his dinner, and hidden in the palm of his hand. Brady, that day, was engrossed in a long-ago combat between the McGuires and Furlongs, at Drogheda, and while he illustrated the fall of shillelas and cracking of skulls, con amore, Dick Wortley listened and laughed inanely, removed the screws behind his back, greased them, and reinserted them.
He had gained one point, and he drew a long breath.
The next day, he took the screws out with ease. Next, he drew out the iron plate, and replaced the screws. Then he went in and lay down on his bed, the plate in his hand. Between him and the keyhole was only the wooden panel.
When the key came, what might he not do!
He was certain it would come now. Success had fired him as with new wine. He was his old self again.
He watched Brady, that night, as the latter locked the door. The plate was not missed. The narrow, black line, which alone had marked its presence on the edge of the door, had been too slight to be noticed.
The next day, Brady did not open the cell, not even for his usual gossip. There as a noise, from dawn, of scrubbing, and hurrying to and fro, outside. A white spread was brought in and laid over the bed. The cell was thoroughly cleaned and aired. Dick watched, with his heart throbbing, so as to shake his feeble frame. He could not tell, at first, what it meant. At last he overheard the keepers, outside, talking. No need now to wait for key, or stolen flight. The Inspectors were coming, and had asked to be shown through the “violent wards,” so they were saying to each other. At ten o’clock they would be in this corridor. Soon after, Brady appeared, washed and combed, and attired in a decent gray suit.
Wortley, who had ben scrubbing at his own haggard face, in his basin, waited patiently. A new hope had sprung up in his heart. If he could see the Inspectors, he need not wait for the key. The Inspectors would discover, at once, he was not insane.
“How soon can I be shaved, and have my clothes?” he asked, when Brady sat down at last.
The keeper scanned him from head to foot, and shook his head, grinning to himself.
Dick stood up, trembling; gave one look at his half-clothed body, at the matted black beard, and the hair of a month’s growth. He saw what the man meant. No one, looking at him, would believe him sane. He forgot, in that moment, to whom he spoke.
“For God’s sake, give me a chance!” he cried.
Brady raised his fist, and then, remembering that the Directors were already in the building, sunk back in his seat, bringing his bull-dong features into the proper amiable leer.
Dick Wortley stood by the pallet, breathing hard. He looked down at his tattered and soiled shirt and drawers. Suddenly he gathered courage. He was a gentleman, he remembered, and these men, who were coming, were gentlemen. There was hope in that, for they would recognize him, in spite of his dress.
The great clock of the asylum struck nine, ten! The heavy doors, at the end of the corridor, swung open. In the cells, a dead silence; in the hall, the sound of two or three pleasant voices, chief among which was Dr. Chase, bland and authoritative.
The halt made by the party at each door was but momentary. When the Inspectors neared his cell, Wortley rose, and stood close by the door. Brady made no effort to stop him, but surveyed his white face and shaking body with a half laugh.
The steps came closer outside. They were at hand—they halted. The door was not opened, only the flap raised, and a benevolent-looking old Quaker peered in.
“You will perceive,” said Dr. Chase, “that we have continued the railroad down this corridor, by which the meals of the patients can be brought to each door. It is thoroughly made.”
The members of the Committee were instantly intent on the railroad. One of them said, “Your arrangements are always thorough.” Only the Quaker did not seem to be so much absorbed in the railroad as the others.
Dick bowed and pressed close, catching the old man’s sleeve to detain him. He knew he had but a minute.
“I wish to state my case to you, sir,” he said. “I want a hearing—justice—”
“Surely, surely!” said the Quaker, interrupting him. “Thee shall have justice. What is the cause of this poor fellow’s ailment, doctor?” he said, turning to the physician. “It is a face that interests me.”
Dr. Chase’s reply was in tones too low for Dick to hear. One or two others of the Committee peered over the Friend’s shoulder.
“I beg of you to examine me, and judge for yourselves,” said Dick. “I assert that I am a sane man, unjustly imprisoned. There was a conspiracy, by which I was brought here. I have never been permitted intercourse with my friends, or my counsel. There has never been any effort made by Dr. Chase, or his subordinates, to test my sanity.”
“You must not try to discredit Dr. Chase, my poor fellow. That is but a madman’s policy,” said one of the men, outside, smiling to the doctor.
“I throw discredit on no one. I simply demand my liberty,” he said, hurriedly. “If there is any law to defend me, I appeal to it as an American citizen.”
Wortley’s eyes, as he spoke, turned incessantly from one to the other. They were sunken deep; they were fierce. The old Quaker tried, uneasily, to loose his sleeve from the grasp of this excited speaker. He evidently was a little in fear.
But he said calmly, nevertheless, turning to Dr. Chase, “The man was brought here with the proper vouchers, of course?”
“Certainly. He came with a certificate, as the other patients do. You may judge of his mental condition,” he continued, lowering his voice, “by the ward in which you find him. Brady, his keeper, gentlemen; a very estimable man. I refer you to him.”
“Ah, Brady! We know him. How do you do, Brady?” said one of the Committee.
“Do, sir? Wishin’ my ‘count of patient? Wiolent, gentlemen. Don’t know as ever I nussed one with a bigger devil in him, when it gets loose. Lately, he’s been shammin’ stooped. That’s wore off, to-day, suddint,” with a virulent glance at Wortley. “Nobody but a keeper kin know the depths of their cunnin’.”
“No; I suppose not. Shall we pass on gentlemen? Good-morning, Brady!” said the same Committee-man.
But Wortley held the Quaker’s sleeve tight. He knew it was his last chance.
“For God’s sake, send me a lawyer!” he cried. “I will not rot here unheard. The vilest murderer, in an American jail, has a chance for counsel, and a public hearing!”
“What does thee talk of?” said the Quaker. “Thee can be taken out any day on a writ of habeas corpus. Here,” producing a note-book, and opening it, “here is a sheet of paper and a pencil, and there’s an envelope. Write thy letter to any man of law thee chooses, and Friend Chase will see that it is delivered for thee. Thee can ask nothing further than that,” and he drew his arm away hurriedly, and was gone before Wortley could stop him.
The next instant the flap of the door fell, and Dick was left to his despair.
The Committee passed down the corridor slowly. An awkward constraint had fallen on them. Dr. Chase was gravely silent; and this tacit rebuke affected even the Quaker.
“Did I promise too much for thee?” asked the Friend, at last.
“You promised more than I shall perform,” was the calm reply. “It has long been a rule in this, as in all similar institutions, that the correspondence of patients should be strictly under surveillance. If the rule appears faulty to you, I am ready to hear your suggestions, provided they are founded on scientific grounds. But so long as it exists, I will carry it out.”
“Thee is quite right,” answered the Quaker, after a moment’s reflection. “The young man deceived me with his calm manner. I acted too hastily, as thee says. But no doubt it requires an expert to detect insanity.”
Dr. Chase observed a dignified silence. The other members of the Committee, however, declared that they had never seen a wilder glare in any eyes, than in Wortley’s. It needed no expert to decide on his condition!
“And he thinks he was put in by an enemy?” pursued the Quaker. “Poor fellow!”
“There is not one of them who will not tell you the same tale,” said the doctor. Then, in order to turn the conversation, he said, “I wish you to observe the boilers in the laundry, gentlemen. The heating arrangements are now perfect, I flatter myself.”
Dick heard the steps echoing down the corridor. He sat on his cot, his head buried in his hands, every feeling gone, except that of utter, utter hopelessness and despair. If he could not persuade so kind, so good a man as the old Quaker had seemed to be, how could he expect, he said to himself, to influence others? In the reaction, he forgot for a time, all about the key. He regarded himself as immured forever, without a possibility of escape.
“Or if I should escape,” he thought, “they will follow me. Am I, indeed insane?” he cried, in his heart. “Has reason gone from me? Do my very looks reveal to others that I am mad? Mad! Mad!” he said, with his fingers wildly tearing at his hair. “Good God, mad! and I knew it not!”
A burst of tears came to his relief. When a man weeps, it is terrible; but those tears saved Dick’s intellect, perhaps his life. Dick, for the moment, had been insane. If he had gone on, dwelling on his hopeless condition, speculating as to his own insanity, he would like others, have gone made before morning. As it was, he had a respite. But for how long?
Yes! those tears saved Dick’s brain, if not his life. Exhausted by the emotions of the day, (for he was weak from want of fresh air, you know,) he fell into a deep sleep, from which he woke, toward morning, comparatively fresh and clear-headed.
He lay, a long while, silent, in his bed. In imagination, he saw the dawn breaking, as he knew it must be breaking about this time; the great masses of color that followed; and then the sun, shooting up, all at once, above the horizon, and flooding hill and valley, forest and stream, city and village, with effulgence. What a joy there would be on everything! How the birds would be singing!
But Dick suddenly remember it was too late in the year for birds; that he could not see the sky, or the sun; that he had not seen the sun rise for months, not, indeed, since he had been in this foul hole. It was nearly a year! A year, and deliverance seemed further off than ever! A year!
But, as we have said, his sleep had refreshed him; nay! had cleared and strengthened his brain also; and these gloomy thoughts soon left him. As he lay there, he recurred, once more, to his schemes for escaping, and he remembered the old Quaker’s sheet of paper, his pencil, and the envelope.
“I will try it,” he said to himself. “It may succeed. Could I but get the letter written, and once outside, it might bring succor. How shall I manage it? Dr. Chase must not know of it any more than Dr. Harte. How shall I manage it?”
So, when he rose, he wrote the letter. He wrote it carefully, compressing into the small sheet of commercial note-paper, the facts of his arrest and imprisonment, and asking that a writ might, at once, be taken out for himself and Inman. The letter written, it was folded, placed in the envelope, and directed legibly to Judge Cathcart, No.—west Fifteenth street, New York.
“I’ll kerry it for you,” grinned Brady, holding out his hand, for the letter had been written in his presence, there being no privacy for Dick.
But Wortley nodding, feigning the craftiness of the insane, hid it in his bosom; and the keeper yawned lazily, and lighted his pipe. He was tired of Dick’s stupor and tricks, in which there was now no relish of malice.
The next day, Wortley’s outer clothes were thrown to him, the usual sign for his walk. As he followed Brady out of the corridor, they passed Minch.
“One day more to drag ‘em round outside,” said that worthy. “After to-morrow they’ll hev to grow fat on the air in-doors till spring. Them’s Harte orders to-day.”
One day more! Only one day more to search for the key! If he missed it now he must wait for months!
One day more! Before spring he would be insane in earnest, felt: he could not for another six months stand this strain on his mind.
He sat down on the gray boulder as he thought of all this, his fingers sinking into the empty groove they had worn underneath, in a bewildered sort of way. One day more, and all chance was over!
Suddenly, his thumb struck against something cold, colder than the lumps of clay. A hot and cold shiver shot through him as though he had been a woman. He glanced around. Brady was looking at something down the walk. He grasped the object he had touched, drew it out, saw it was the key.
The next instant the key was safe in his pocket, and Brady was turning to speak to him. It was the narrowest of narrow escapes.
Back in his cell, Wortley lay down on the pallet, pretending to sleep, while he tried to coolly survey his chances, and the difficulties in his way. He resolved to defer his attempted escape no later than that night. Hurriedly he went over all the chances. The wooden panel of the door must be cut before the key could enter the lock, and this would detain him till near morning. Once in the corridor, the doubt remained whether the same key would open the iron door at the end. If it did, but two hall-doors yet remained to pass before he reached the grounds. Outside, there was the watchman, who made the entire circuit of the building in his patrol. If Wortley eluded him, there remained the stone wall, some twelve feet in height, which inclosed the whole of the grounds. The gates were locked, night and day; outside of that was the high road, leading into the city.
The day was stormy; snow two or three days old lay deep on the ground; heavy gray clouds were impending overhead, while the wind was filled with fierce gusts of cutting sleet.
Dick scarcely remembered his scant clothing or bare feet. To-night he would touch the high road a free man!
He had no doubt, for awhile, of his success.
The hours crept slowly on. Evening approached. Dick could not eat the supper which Brady brought him; a stricture about his chest choked his breath, and gave him a strange, deathly nausea.
“I am as weak as a hysteric girl!” he thought. Yet his brain, he felt, had never been so clear; his nerves were laid bare as never before to every fresh fear or hope. He thought of a crab that he had one seen crawl out, in the naked flesh, from its shell, shivering in the biting air. “They’ve sealed my manhood from me pretty thoroughly,” he thought.
While Brady munched his supper, Wortley contrived to make a few preparations. He fastened the letter to Judge Cathcart inside of his shirt. He took the knife and file from the straw of his pallet, where he had hidden them. Through the window-grating, overhead, he could catch a glimpse of the dark clouds scudding over the sky. He heard the savage sough of the wind. He looked down at his bare feet. He thought of his thin clothes.
“I wish I had some good brandy,” he said, involuntarily.
Brady looked up from his half doze in amaze.
“‘Pon me sowl! it’s the first sane words I ever heerd from ye!” he said. “Brandy, begorra!”
He smoked reflectively in silence, for some time, and then laid down his pipe. Dick had touched the human chord in his bosom at last. “Likely yere cowld?” he said.
“Brandy’s out o’ the question. But if Mononghela ad serve yer turn—Minch has a good tap.” He rose and left the cell as he spoke.
Dick made use of Brady’s absence to measure the distance from the keyhole in the back cell to the floor. When the whisky came, he could not drink. A few drops threw him into a violent heat: more, in the highly strained condition of his nerves, would have maddened him. He put down the glass by his pallet, and stretched himself, as if to sleep.
Brady, seeing this, bade him, for the first time, a civil good-night. The whisky had touched a kindred chord between them.
The keeper, nevertheless, sat later than usual that night, sipping his own jorum, for company. The great clock of the asylum had struck eleven before he barricaded the arch with the heavy box, arranged his mattress on the other side, and stretched himself to sleep.
Half an hour passed. At last his snores warned Dick that the time had arrived.
Wortley rose softly. He was obliged, of course, to work, comparatively, in the dark. But there was a faint glimmer of light, which the moon threw on the upper wall of the cell. So accurate, however, had been his measurement of the door, that, after laying his soul to it, he began to cut, or scrape rather, with his little knife, confidently. Chance favored him. The wood was soft, and gave way readily.
Wortley had been no more devout, in habit, than other young fellows of his age. But, to-night, he prayed incessantly. The old faith of his childhood had come back: there seemed to him to be a real Presence helping him in this last fight against bitter wrong. One long-forgotten verse rung dully through his brain. “Where the spirit of God is, there is liberty.”
Soft as the wood was, however, the hole widened but slowly. Meantime, remember, he was working while his keeper slept close by. Once or twice Brady stirred, and Wortley stood breathless, afraid to work again for half an hour. It was nearly one o’clock before a hole was made large enough for the key to enter.
Then softly wrapping the dark blanket from the bed about him, he strapped it about this waist, and put the key in the lock.
It did not fit. The shaft was too thick.
How much too think he could not tell.
He sat down, and began to file at the key. He filed, and filed, careful to conceal the sound.
Yet time was everything. Oh! if it was not for waking Brady, how he could have worked. But the least noise in filing would have been fatal. Yet, if he did not bring it to the proper size within an hour, the last chance was over. Brady would detect the cut-door by dawn.
The dull rasp, rasp of the file seemed to pass through his brain; cold drops of sweat came slowly out over his body, and stood there; he heard his own breath, as though it were that of another man in the cell.
At last the key seemed right. He put it again into the lock. It caught the ward—it turned slowly. The bolt shot noiselessly back.
The door stood open before him!
Far off, through the silent building, there came a reverberating noise like thunder; a sudden glare of light flashed upon the corridor. It was Minch, with his bull’s-eye, making the last rounds, the heavy doors closing behind him.
Wortley drew sharply back, closing the cell-door. Everything was lost, he thought.
Yet, instinctively, in the moment of waiting, while the keeper’s step rang down the corridor, he emptied the glass of liquor over his stiffened legs and arms. Then he felt the letter, to be sure that is was secure in his breast.
The ray of light, shot from the lantern under the door, inspired him with a sudden idea. Why not follow Minch in the shadows, and so pass through the next door, which he had no certainty his key would open? It was the keeper’s habit to leave open that door, the great corridor-door it was, while he passed through a small side-ward.
The experiment was desperate, but it was the only hope. Waiting while Minch passed half-way down the hall, Dick scrawled with a bit of chalk, which he had secreted for months, a few words on the wall of his cell; and then opening the door, stole out into the hall, creeping, as noiseless and black as a shadow of death, after the keeper.
The bull’s-eye threw a level ray of light directly in front on Minch; the long, arched vault, with its row of black doors at either side, were filled with gloomy, flickering shadows.
As Wortley crept, crouching, along the side, a shrill cry startled him. A man’s ghastly face, peering through one of the square flaps of the cell-doors confronted him. “Ay, ay, Minch!” yelled the voice, “you’re followed, you’re followed!”
Minch wheeled about and came back quickly. Dick shrank into the shadow against the wall. For a moment he thought all was over. But, fortunately, Minch was so intent on the madman that he glanced neither to the right nor left, or if he did, did not detect the heap of darker shadow on the floor.
“‘And the name of him that sat thereon was death, and hell followed him!” shrieked the man, ending in a sudden whine. “Oh! Mr. Minch, God bless you! is it you?”
“Stevens!” said Minch, angrily, tapping at the cell-door, and calling the keeper. The face of a sleepy watchman appeared. “Look to Wright, curse you,” said Minch.
There was a gurgling cry as the madman was choked and dragged back. Then Minch turned back. But discomposed, or forgetting his true course, he retraced his steps and opened the door through which he first came: he held it irresolutely in his hand, for a moment, and then returned to Wright’s cell, calling, “Stevens” loudly again.
As he did this, the black heap of shadow uncoiled itself, and darted through the open door, crouching on the wider hall without.
It was Wortley.
Minch soon reappeared, locked the door and passed rapidly through the wide hall, going out of a side door, which he locked behind him. All this was the work of a minute.
Wortley waited ten minutes, then he tried his key. It opened the door. He shut it violently after him, knowing that the creaking hinges would have been heard, and that the loud noise would be attributed at once to one of the keepers.
The way now grew easier comparatively. Wortley’s organ of locality was good. Although he had only once passed through the labyrinth of passages leading to the front entrance, he threaded them now rapidly and without a mistake. But when he reached the great hall, the door was locked, and his key had no effect upon it.
Through the transom light he saw a gray gleam in the sky. Dawn was coming. He had no time to lose.
He went back, up the stairs, to a high, narrow window, about twenty feet from the ground, forced down the sash, climbed upon the iron-grating over the lower half, and let himself fall outside.
He dropped, as he hoped to do, upon a solid drift of snow. Yet, for a moment, the fall stunned him.
But the fresh air blew upon his face. The fresh air! He was free man, he told himself, as he limped off across the white slopes of snow.
Suddenly the great wall rose before him. He had forgotten the wall.
It was a sheer height of twelve feet, and was now coated with rime and ice.
What was to be done? He stole alongside of it, until he had nearly made the circuit of the ground, without finding foothold anywhere to climb. Good God! Was he to be baffled in this last moment?
Once he thought he heard low voices, whispering on his track; again, a twig broke in the bushes, as though under a heavy foot. But when he paused to listen, all was still as death.
He reached the porter’s lodge at last, that stood beside the great iron gates. It was a stone building, whose architecture was always pointed out to visitors as peculiarly happy, its massive air, as Dr. Chase said, suiting the ponderous character of the Asylum. It seemed, now, to bar all egress. Grim and dark it shut out hope.
But Birch, the porter, had erected a covered sty for his pigs. Dick saw this, and it thrilled him with a joy, which no thing of beauty had ever done before, artist though he was. From its roof he could easily scale the wall.
He crept to the back of the pig-sty, and began to climb slowly up. But what was that? Was it not a line of red light shooting athwart the cedars?
No, it could not be. His eye had deceived him. He had stopped, but now he began to climb again. He was already sure of success, when, half-way up, a mass of snow, dislodged by his knee, fell crunching to the ground.
Dick crouched, instantly flat upon the roof. There was a noise in the house, the step of a bare foot on the floor, then Birch threw up the window and looked out, pistol in hand.
“Come in and shut the window, Joe,” cried a shrill female voice. “It’s the horse tramping in the stable.”
“I’d better go out and look around a bit,” he said. “Faix, but it’s cold,” he added, hesitatingly.
A moment he stood, uncertain, then shut down the window with a bang, and all was still.
Wortley drew a deep breath. Waiting for an instant, to be sure Birch had gone to bed again, he dragged himself from the shed to the top of the wall.
The moon shone out now and then upon the white beaten road. Far in the distance Dick could dimly see the houses of the city. Under the wall the snow lay in deep, hard drifts.
With one long breath, which was a half prayer, before this last effort, Dick lowered himself carefully on the outer side. He clung an instant, looking down, and then fell.
In a moment he stood upright, his feet, at last, on the high-road.
But what was this again? A blaze of light, no longer concealed, burst across the path; the gate jarred back; and Minch, with two other keepers, were on Dick.
“You thought you’d cross the grounds unseen, curse you!” one of the men cried, twisting his snaky fingers about Wortley’s throat. “But we saw you, bedad.”
Dick met them like a tiger at bay. They had their clubs, and were three to one. They were brawny, full-blooded men. But he pressed them hard. He was fighting for his life! They fought only for pay. At last, Birch, roused again, and coming behind, gave Dick a foul trip, that brought him down.
In a minute they had him tied, feet and hands, and had carried him in helpless as a log.
Minch did not follow them, however, but went out into the road with his lantern.
Birch waited awhile, and then said angrily, chilled with cold,
“What the deuce are you doing? Are we to hev the gate open all night?”
“I thought I saw something white flutter out on the road,” answered the keeper, hesitatingly, his teeth chattering.
“You saw the snow fly from your cursed scrimmage. In with you, or I’ll lock you out,” said Birch, savagely.
“I believe that devil, Wortley, threw out a package. Mind that you look for it in the morning, Birch.”
Birch replied by an inaudible grunt, and the gats were swung heavily together.
Dick Wortley had received a blow on the head, which stunned him. When he recovered his senses, he was laying on his pallet. The cell was filled with keepers, a half-dozen lights blazing around him. Dr. Harte, with a lantern in his hand, was reading an inscription on the wall.
“Patient skill against mercenary stupidity.”
Poor Dick’s boast was made an hour too soon.
The sandy-haired little physician turned to him.
“We cannot part with you yet, Mr. Wortley.” His voice was calm as usual, as he spoke, but he bit the ends of his mustache, and the muscles of his face twitched convulsively. It curiously reminded Dick of a rat gnawing the bars of his trap.
“You know how to control refractory patients, Brady,” added the doctor, with a discordant laugh, and then motioned the other keepers out, paused a moment, as if to speak, but nodded abruptly to Brady, and went out also.
“I know how to manage refractory patients, shure,” said Brady, under his breath.
Then he shut the door, and locked it, and came back to the bed.
The morning sun glittered brightly on the snow-covered, farm-house roofs, and on the fields of dazzling white that lined the road leading past the Asylum. The stately cedars, in the park under that massive building, were covered with rime, and shone as though a mist from fairy-land had fallen over them.
The road was an unfrequented one. Only a few carters had trundled along it on their way to town before eight o’clock. Then some crisp, girlish voices rang out beyond the hill, and presently a group on foot came in sight, a middle-aged, stout built business man, and two school-girls in their trig plaid suits, one of whom walked slightly in advance, her gray plumed hat set jauntily above her rosy cheeks and bright eyes.
Suddenly they both stopped, stooped, whispered, fluttered, cried out after the manner of school-girls, as each thrilling secret, with which the day is studded, breaks upon them.
“Well, Hetty, what is it?” said their father, with an impatient halt.
“A letter, sir,” said one of the girls, her weaker tones ringing curiously clear and hard, like his own. “Directed in pencil to ‘Judge Cathcart, west Fifteenth street, New York.’”
“No. It is very wet, sir. It has lain here all night.”
“Destroy it at once, Hester. It has been thrown over the wall by some wretched lunatic. I have found them often here.”
The other young girl gave a startled “Oh!” and held out her hand for it.
“Let me have it, Hetty,” she said. “Why not send it father? Some poor prisoner has written it.”
She was a delicate, pale girl, but she flushed red, and her gray eyes were dim.
Her father walked forward impatiently.
“Tut, tut!” he said. “Throw the letter down, Hester. How do you know who has handled it? I wish you would cure Jessy of her absurd sentimentality.”
Hester promptly twisted the letter up and flung it into the snow-drift. She was vigorous in even the movement of her fingers. But Jessy dropped behind. She picked up the paper and slily thrust it into her pocket. There was a certain softness and stealth in all that Jessy did. She would make no bruit in this world, with her long-lashed, gray eyes, ready tears, and low voice. But she would generally have her own way.
When they reached school that morning, Hetty made quite a little adventure to the other girls of the finding of the letter. Her piquant manner gave spice to a mere nothing.
“And what did you do with it, Hetty?” they all cried.
“Threw it in a snow-puddle, to be sure,” said the eminently sensible young woman. “I would do nothing to give Dr. Chase annoyance. Papa says his Institution is one of the noblest charities of the age.”
Meantime, Jessy, under cover of her desk-lid, smoothed the crumpled paper and sealed it in a clean envelope, directed in her own clear hand, and then strolling out at noon, she dropped it in the post-office box, at the lamp-post, at the corner of the street.
So Jessy Lawrence crossed our hero’s path, for a moment, and disappeared from it forever: for, in this world, they never heard each other’s name.
Three days later, a close carriage drove hurriedly up to the door of the Asylum. It was late in the evening. Two gentlemen were ushered into the parlors, and sent in their names as Wetherall.
Dr. Harte entered, impregnable as ever. The marked haste and agitation of his visitors, if it had any palpable effect upon him, cooled and stiffened him still more.
Col. Leeds entered on his business at once.
“We called relative to the young man, Wortley,” he said.
“A very refractory patient,” answered Harte, at last, perceiving that some reply was waited for.
“Doubtless. You will not then, probably, doctor, regret to be relieved of the charge of him?”
The doctor gave his little mechanical bow.
“We propose to remove him at once to another asylum, more private, and, therefore, more safe. The mere chance of his communicating with friends produces unpleasant entanglements in family relations. Most unpleasant.”
“Undoubtedly. It is our policy to retain the insane person in perfect seclusion until his cure.”
“In Wortley’s case you have not succeeded,” dryly. “We have policemen outside. Will your keepers bring him down? We prefer that he should not see us. His animosities towards his relatives--”
Col. Leeds, as he spoke, glanced uneasily over his shoulder, forgetting, in his anxious haste, to complete his sentence.
“You wish to remove Mr. Wortley, tonight?”
“Immediately. Within the hour.”
“I regret that it will be impossible, Mr. Wetherall. Dr. Chase was served, this morning, with a writ of habeas corpus, in reference to this very man.”
“Good God! Then we are too late.”
Dr. Harte balanced himself, heel and toe, on his neat little boots, and surveyed them calmly.
“The publicity of a trial is more distasteful to us than to you, gentlemen,” he said. “Vulgar clamor is easily raised against us. This patient has already injured us greatly.”
Leeds was too engrossed to note how bitter was the venom and rage under the moderate tone. He drew Fred aside, and they consulted together in low, hurried whispers. The doctor overheard the old man reiterate again and again his intention “to fight it out to the end,” but there was a quaver through his fierceness. Fred came boldly to the front.
“Has any return been made to the writ?” he asked.
“When is the latest time allowed you?”
“To-morrow morning, at ten o’clock.”
“You refuse to allow him to be removed?”
“It is impossible, as you see. If you had come for him yesterday, it would have relieved us of great embarrassment. Anything is preferable to a public trial.”
“Yes; anything is better than that.”
The men drew apart again, and consulted with increased heat and eagerness.
“It is the only course left to us,” said the colonel, aloud, at least. “A word with you, Dr. Harte.”
An hour later, Minch, sitting on the floor of Wortley’s cell, saw the door move on its hinges, and Dr. Harte’s yellow-tinted face appear through the fumes of tobacco-smoke. He staggered to his feet. His “prime tap of Monongahela” was apt to prove too much for him about this time.
“How is your patient, Mr. Minch?”
“Oi just releaved Brady, zur. The man’s been woyolent, as usual. Brady’s been olbeeged to be stringent on him to-day and yesterday, zur.”
He turned to Dick, lying in a stupor on the pallet, and slightly turned down the sheet to disclose certain marks upon him.
“The saddle, eh? And shower-bath? He does not look as if he were capable of much resistance,” said the doctor, taking up the hand, which fell cold and flaccid again.
“Well, zur, he’s not been woyolent in action; but in his mind—zo Brady judged. A patient as refractory as to cut his dure as that dure is cut ought to be treated stringent. That’s my feelins, an’ Brady’s, too.”
A flask appeared with miraculous swiftness from the next cell. Dr. Harte filled a glass, and forced some of it down Wortley’s mouth, his fingers on the patient’s pulse meantime.
“He’s refused to eat for two days. He’s bent on makin’ an end of himself,” said Minch.
Dr. Harte absolutely changed color.
“There has been too much of that,” he said. “The newspapers have got hold of three of the cases in the last year. It will ruin the Asylum.”
“Brady droives ‘em hard, zur. I doant blame ‘em,” with a sort of whine.
“There must be no more suicides, remember, Mr. Wortley.”
Dick, under the stimulant, began to revive. He looked about him dully.
Harte held the liquor again to his lips. It had effect in a few moments. The heat tingled to Dick’s sunken cheeks, the intelligence came back to his eye.
“Bring his clothes,” said the doctor.
Minch stood bewildered.
“For—” He broke off abruptly.
“Whatever he wore when exercising. Help him to put them on, and lose no time.”
The doctor, his hands in his pockets, sauntered into the next cell, until Minch summoned him by an inquiring, “Now, yer honor?” his hand on the collar of the man, whose head leaned against the wall, the raw-boned figure and sunken, yellow face thrown into stronger relief by the dark bagging clothes and broad-rimmed black hat.
“Take him to the enter gate. You are discharged, Mr. Wortley.”
Dick looked up at him, laughed incredulously, and dropped his head upon his breast. Minch pulled him up and led out into the corridor. Then he hesitated, and came back.
“There’s a heavy rain fallin’,” he said. “He hasn’t a penny to pay his way to town, an’—an’—he’s nigh done to death, doctor.”
“The man is discharged. We have nothing further to do with him,” answered Harte, sternly.
Minch led the patient to the gate, opened it, felt in one pocket and then another.
“It’s a damned shame,” he said. “I haven’t your car-fare, zur, or—”
The cold dash of the rain on his face roused Wortley to himself.
“I don’t understand-—” he muttered.
“Yon’s the town. It’s a good five miles—but you’re free to find it, if ye can.”
Dick Wortley stared at him, stretched out his hands blindly before him, and then began slowly to realize it all. He felt nothing of the storm breaking on him. “Free! free!” he cried.
The next moment he vanished from Minch’s sight, staggering away into the darkness.
A few paces further on, two men, in the shadow of a corner of the wall, drew back as Wortley passed, his clothes almost brushing against them.
The smaller of them leaned forward to watch him. “He staggers from sheer weakness,” said this man to his companion. “If he lives to reach town, it is all up with us. Here!” pulling a knife from his breast. “There’s not a human being in sight; one thrust ends all trouble for us.”
The older man laid his hand on the other’s arm.
“No, Fred!” he said. “I’ve lived longer than you; and I know that a man who breaks the law is worsted at last. So far we’ve had the law on our side. Put the knife up.”
The next morning, Dr. Chase, by his attorney, returned that “he, the said Dr. Chase, could not produce the body of the said Richard Wortley before the Honorable Court, the said Richard Wortley having been discharged from medical custody, cured,” etc.
What a farce.
But, meantime, where was Wortley?
The shock of his long-deferred freedom had roused Dick to full consciousness. The very fierceness of the storm made it real to him. Before he had gone a mile, his step quickened and grew firm, his eye was assured and steady. He reasoned clearly. There was but one means by which his discharge could have been gained. Cathcart had received his letter and threatened his jailers. He would not have done this without coming to the city. Wortley went, therefore, direct to the principal hotel on reaching town.
Judge Cathcart had just finished a game of billiards, and with one or tow other friends sat by the stove, smoking a final segar, before going to bed. Suddenly, the door of the billiard-room opened, and a tall, gaunt man, his clothes drenched with the rain, and the shaggy black hair dripping about his sallow face, stood on the threshold.
Cathcart gazed a moment irresolutely. Then he caught the stranger by the shoulders, and dragged him in with a terrific oath.
“Dick! Dick Wortley!” he cried. “Don’t crowd, gentlemen! Don’t you see the lad is not fit to stand. What is it, boy? What have they done to you?”
“Let me hear from home first, judge, for God’s sake! My mother?”
“Is well. All the news is good news. Now, what shall I do for you?”
“Good news, eh? Give me dry clothes, then, and some oysters, and I’m a man again,” and Dick laughed as the men crowded about him, shaking hands with them eagerly right and left.
But there was a queer quaver in the laugh.
“I must go home—go home,” he repented. “When is the first train to New York?”
“Not before morning. Get to my room, boy, and I’ll doctor you to-night. He’s terribly shaken,” said the judge, in an anxious whisper to the others, as he followed Dick out.
Comforted by the judge’s supper, and wrapped in his blankets, Dick slept a sleep, that night, as heavy as death and almost as renewing.
It was late in the forenoon when he awoke. The old gentleman sat beside him, as he ate his breakfast, silent from some concealed chagrin.
“There’s no hurry, Dick,” he said. “The train does not start for two hours. I may as well tell you. These infernal scoundrels, the Leeds, have escaped us. Poole tells me a steamer sails for Liverpool to-day, and they have gone to take passage on her.”
“Telegraph. Let them be arrested!” cried Dick, starting up. “I’ll follow them to the ends of the world.”
“All right, my dear boy, if you mean to take your revenge out in broken bones. But you have no legal hold on them. They had the law with them.”
It was a full minute before Dick answered.
“My time will come at last,” he said, paler than before. “There was a question I wished to ask you, judge,” his voice failing. “Leeds—the son—he is not married?”
Dick remained silent, and the judge continued.
“He was one of the most zealous in the search for you: one of the last, apparently, to yield credence to the report that you had eloped to California to escape a criminal charge. I tell you, Dick, a deeper-dyed scoundrel don’t draw breath!”
But Dick listened with singular placidity.
“Poor fool! He has not harmed me,” he said, complacently. “You have not told me your good news.”
“No.” The judge recovered himself from the bewilderment into which Dick’s inexplicable good-humor had thrown him. “Joe Warford’s dead. Died just in the neck of time, too—heaven forgive me for saying it! just after you disappeared. He had the decency to remember that he owed his fortune to you, Dick, and left you an annuity. It was enough to make your mother comfortable.”
“I applied it in that way. I knew such would be your wish.”
“She is in the old house?”
Wortley was silent for a few moments, his head leaning on his hand; then he rose and walked to the window, turning his back to the judge.
“There was a ward of Col. Leeds,” he said, “a Miss Hubbard. Do you happen to know what has become of her?”
“Yes. I think I have seen her in society somewhere. When she was of age, she left Col. Leeds’ house; her aunt, a canny old Scotch woman, going back to the country; and Miss Hubbard is residing with a family in New York, into which she is soon to marry.”
Dick did not answer.
“It is a very suitable match, I believe,” said the judge, lighting his segar. “The fortune is large on both sides.”
Wortley stood motionless by the window, for a long time, without looking around.
“How long must we wait?” he said, at last. “I want to see my mother. I wonder if she believed me a felon! Or forgot me, as is the way of the world, soon as I was out of sight!”
He tried to laugh bitterly, but failed.
The judge was too indignant to reply. When they were on the train, however, he beguiled the journey with detailing to Dick the search that had been made for him, and in which they were baffled by the feigned name which had been given him to the policemen who arrested him. The detectives were set upon his track, and a dead body was found floating near Hell’s Gate, which was sworn to as his. He told of the murdered man, found buried in a cellar in Houston street, who had on the clothes Dick wore when missing; the testimony of John Simons, a traveling salesman, who met him in half Indian rig, buying furs at Marquette. “And with it all, boy, hope one day, and despair the next,” the old man added, solemnly, “your mother walked hand-in-hand with Death for many a day.”
“I never doubted my mother’s love,” cried Dick Wortley, savagely, and wrapped himself in his cloak, and was silent for the rest of the way.
It was near the close of the cold winter’s day, when they drove past the block of little houses, and stopped at the one where the puny vines were struggling to grow in the window.
The light curtains were drawn; the ruddy glow of the wood-fire flashed within.
They stood at the door. The judge was puffing and feverish with excitement. But Dick was pale and cold.
“I’ll go in, boy, and prepare her,” said the judge. “I telegraphed her this morning, ‘he is alive.’ That was all I said. Stand here in the hall. I’ll go in and prepare her. God bless us!” rubbing his hot forehead, “I wish it was over.”
But while his hand was on the lock, the door opened, and a bowed, white-haired figure stood before them, with outstretched hands.
“It was my boy’s step! Richard! Richard!” cried the feeble voice.
A few minutes later, Dick Wortley had his old seat at his mother’s feet. This great joy, coming to her so late in life, was like a draught of the wine of youth; a soft pink warmed her cheek, which had not been there for many years, her blue eyes trembled, luminous as a child’s, and there was an arch gayety in the feeble voice more pathetic than tears.
Dick spoke but little. He was content to hold the withered hand in his and stroke it gently. He noted, with his quick eyes, that the room was changed. If possible, it was warmer, more softly tinted, than before. Many of his old fancies, which he had never been able to gratify, were made real at last. Pictures, that he had coveted, hung on the walls. His favorite flowers filled the recesses.
His mother grew silent, watching his wandering eyes. She touched his arm at last.
“You do not ask,” she said, “who cared for me, with my boy’s heart, and even my boy’s silly fancies, when you were gone.”
He turned, startled, to look at her.
“Some one, Richard,” her voice trembling, “who had a right to act for you. Because she seems nearer to you than I. I’m weak and old,” her voice was breaking into tears now. “There were days when I despaired. I thought you were dead. But she, she—never faltered.”
“Yes. It was my daughter—my other child.”
The door opened. Dick Wortley rose, half blindly. A woman entered. “Lotty?” he said.
He rushed forward and took the cold hands she put out. He held her from him, while looking from her to the judge, and back to her again. “Is this the house to which you have come?” he said, his voice shaking. “Is this the house you told me of, judge?”
“When you were gone, Richard, I came to take your place,” she said, under her breath. “It was my right.”
Three weeks afterward, Judge Cathcart wrote a letter to Mrs. Wortley.
“I have advised Richard,” it said, “to give up all idea of a suit for false imprisonment. If the matter is pressed, Leeds’ counsel is prepared, with a defence, which it would hardly be wise to attack. Westcott, who saw him the evening of his arrest, is ready to testify that his conduct was that of an insane man. The physicians and keepers of the Asylum are positive as to his madness. They give as proof the case with which he was entrapped by the forged note from Sherman, his resistance at the Asylum, and his persistence in the idea that he was the victim of conspiracy. In four other cases, they have brought forward, similar proofs of insanity in court, and succeeded.
“In Inman’s case, the public trial closed to-day. You must remember, that, in this case, as in Richard’s, the imprisonment was strictly legal. All that is required is the unsworn certificate of a physician, known or unknown, to justify incarceration. If the patient can force the matter before a court, the onus of proof is thrown on himself. Inman must prove his sanity, not his keepers his madness. Yet their evidence is thrown into the weight against him. I’m as hardened an old limb of the law as lives, yet my heart ached at the scene in the courtroom to-day. On one side was the feeble, gray-haired old man, bewildered and terrified by the crowd. On the other was the massive respectability of the Asylum, with all its social power and prestige. Judge, lawyers, and jury, were ready to detect signs of insanity in every nervous glance or motion. The Superintendent was there, resolute, at all hazards, to defend his Institution from reproach. His counsel were mocking, jeering, and browbeating the old man, worrying him as a mastiff would a hare. Against Inman also is brought the former finding of the commission of lunacy, the verdict of men, who, remember, pronounce upon the sanity of the patient without seeing him. Add to this, the argument enforced upon the jury, that the mere fact that had a man been admitted to an insane asylum is prima facie evidence of his insanity, and you see what the peril is. I did what I could. Dick has worked night and day—but to no purpose. The verdict went against us. Messrs. Minch and Brady were waiting, and carried off the old man, who turned at the door, and looked a good-by to Dick, with white lips and shaking head. Dick is maddened with chagrin and disappointment. But there is nothing to be done. The law faces us like a dead wall. We can go no further. Stacy Inman, his grandson, by-the-way, is expected on the next steamer in New York. Dick and I will be at him in a couple of days.
The two women read the letter with flushed cheeks and angry eyes.
“And this is man’s justice!” said Lotty. “Ah! here is a postscript.”
“To show you the confidence of these people, I must tell you of a boast of Chase’s yesterday, in which he forgot his usual reserve. ‘With this slip of paper,’ he said, tapping a physician’s certificate, ‘I can arrest any man here fore me—the judge upon the bench. I can call upon the police to aid me, use what secrecy I choose, and hold him imprisoned for what time I think proper.’”
“To-morrow is the day for the Cunard steamer!” cried Lotty.
“Well, my dear?”
“I will see this Stacy Inman.”
A few days later, Judge Cathcart received the following letter:
“Dear Judge,” it began. “The dead wall has a break in it. I went to call on Mr. Stacy Inman, who, with his wife and suite, have taken rooms at the St. Nicholas. He was effusively courteous, but secretly astonished at me and my little story. ‘He had no idea,’ he said, ‘that the old gentlemen was not as happy as Rasselas. But if he was sane, and they detained him against his will,’ with an oath, ‘that altered the case. This was not Russia, thank God! where a man can be swallowed up and never heard from again. Out? Of course. He should not remain there a day longer, against his will. What should he do?’
“I suggested, ‘Stop the supplies.’ Indeed, I dictated a letter to Dr. Chase, which Mr. Inman wrote.
“The answer came by return mail. I inclose it.”
Dr. Chase’s letter was a follows:
“Stacy Inman, Esq.
“In consequence of the notification, received from you, I have warned George Inman of his discharge from this Asylum.
“John Chase, Superintendent.”
Dick Wortley did not go abroad again, as he purposed. On one of the heights above the sleepy villages on the Hudson, there is an old farm-house, which seems to have nestled higher up the hill only for the sake of warmer sunshine to sleep in. A quiet, old-fashioned homestead, with a curious meaning of home and rest in its warm, wood-scented air. If there were every any ghostly legends hanging about it, the voices of two or three chubby children have scared them away, in the last few years.
The owners of that house are kings and masters of all they survey. Not content with routing the century-old echoes out of the gloomy gorges, by their rollicking songs, or turning the camping-ground of Hendrick Hudson and his crew into coasting hills. They have taken up the human lives about them, and moulded them as they will. Silver-haired Mrs. Wortley no longer makes so exquisite a picture of a fair, aged saint, as she was wont do in her white robes, with the halo of the fire-glow about her. She is apt to be seen, with a pair of muddy feet cuddled up on her lap, and a frowsy, hot little head asleep on her breast. She has come out of saintship into the most everyday, loveable of grandmothers, with a healthy color in her cheek, a perpetual stocking beside her, waiting to be darned, and a package of comfits in her pocket.
They have taken old Inman, with his pallid, morbid life, and converted him into “uncle George,” a jolly, simple hearted, hearty feeder, a hearty laugher, the most famous fisher of the valley, wakening his old boyhood in him with so keen a zest that he has long ago forgotten that they are not in blood as in name own kindred. The farm, Richard, Lotty, and the boys, are a world large enough for him, after his long captivity. Politics, peace or war, all outside matters, are no more to him than the winds on the other side of the mountains. How the barley will grow in the south field, how long will Tom’s cough last after his measles, how will the trout-fishing be in July? These are the great events of his life.
When Richard Wortley and his wife come to the outer porch, in the cool of the evening, looking down, not so much at the great landscape unrolled before them, as at the noisy group coming from their nutting up the hill, one can see how the moulding hands of these rough, unconscious magicians have been at work upon them also. How, in their great, still love for their children, and for each other, the crude sharpness of youth has worn out of voices, faces, and lives!
Not that trials and storms may not come, in all probability will come to them, as fierce as those of their earlier days. But over all the surface-changes, which time can bring, there is coming that mellowed splendor for them which belongs to the Indian Summer of our lives; to the season when the sap of the most shaded tree has had time to know its chance to leaf and blossom; when, however stormy the weather, there has been summer enough to teach us, that, behind the clouds, the sun is warm, and God is good.
 Character that personifies truth in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1596).↩
 In the original the sentence incorrectly ends with a closing quotation mark.↩
 Lucius Licinius Lucullus (118-57/56 BC) was one of the great military and political leaders of the Roman empire.↩
 A reference to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."↩
 Opening quotation mark is missing in original.↩
 A spa town in southwestern Germany.↩
 A fictional nobleman in the fairy tale "Puss in Boots."↩
 The Bastille was a fortress in Paris used as a prison for political offenders.↩
 A coin, typically made of silver, formerly used in various Italian states.↩
 Allusion to a hangman's noose.↩
 Ancient location in Jerusalem where children were burned alive as sacrifices to the gods Moloch and Baal.↩
 Places for people with communicable diseases.↩
 Letters signed by the King of France in the eighteenth century that were used to imprison someone without benefit of trial. RHD and her husband, L. Clarke Davis, equated the ability of elite individuals and physicians in their own time to institutionalize a person in a mental asylum with the French penal practice. For Clarke's writing on the subject, see "A Modern Lettre de Cachet."↩
 Reference to a priest who was hired to kill Cardinal Guilio de Medici in sixteenth-century Rome by poisoning his food.↩
 In Greek mythology, a mortal woman renowned for her beauty and married to Eros(Cupid), the god of love. She is often depicted with butterfly wings.↩
 Slang term for a close male friend or companion. ↩
 Based on the first impression; accepted as correct until proven otherwise.↩
 An animal driver in Ireland. ↩
 Also known as Magic Lanterns, Dissolving Views were an early form of motion pictures that used multiple lanterns and painted glass slides to simulate moving images by superimposing one image on another.↩
 A court order issued to investigate whether or not an individual is a lunatic.↩
 A court order that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. The principle of habeas corpus ensures that a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention, or any detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence.↩
 A hired ruffian or unquestioning follower. ↩
 Reference to Shakespeare's King Lear.↩
 Quote from Act 3, Scene 4 of King Lear.↩
 Poorhouse. ↩
 Large town in northeastern Ireland.↩
 A shillelagh is a club or walking stick that often appears in Irish folklore. ↩
 With love or zest.↩
 Large bowl or jug used for serving drinks.↩
 2 Corinthians 3:17↩
 A small window that is above a door or larger window. ↩
 Frost formed on objects when fog freezes.↩
 Duty or responsibility.↩
 Reference to The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) by Samuel Johnson, a tale of a young prince's search for happiness.↩
 An English sea explorer and navigator in the early seventeenth century.↩
 A confectionary of dried fruit, nuts, seeds or spices coated with sugar candy.↩