Wilkie Collins: The Dead Alive

CHAP­TER I. THE SICK MAN.

"H

EART all right," said the doc­tor. "Lungs all right. No or­gan­ic dis­ease that I can dis­cov­er. Philip Lefrank, don't alarm your­self. You are not going to die yet. The dis­ease you are suf­fer­ing from is — over­work. The rem­e­dy in your case is — rest."

So the doc­tor spoke, in my cham­bers in the Tem­ple (Lon­don); hav­ing been sent for to see me about half an hour after I had alarmed my clerk by faint­ing at my desk. I have no wish to in­trude my­self need­less­ly on the read­er's at­ten­tion; but it may be nec­es­sary to add, in the way of ex­pla­na­tion, that I am a "ju­nior" bar­ris­ter in good prac­tice. I come from the chan­nel Is­land of Jer­sey. The French spelling of my name (Lefranc) was An­gli­cized gen­er­a­tions since — in the days when the let­ter "k" was still used in Eng­land at the end of words which now ter­mi­nate in "c." We hold our heads high, nev­er­the­less, as a Jer­sey fam­i­ly. It is to this day a trial to my fa­ther to hear his son de­scribed as a mem­ber of the En­glish bar.

"Rest!" I re­peat­ed, when my med­i­cal ad­vis­er had done. "My good friend, are you aware that it is term-time? The courts are sit­ting. Look at the briefs wait­ing for me on that table! Rest means ruin in my case."

"And work," added the doc­tor, qui­et­ly, "means death."

I start­ed. He was not try­ing to fright­en me: he was plain­ly in earnest.

"It is mere­ly a ques­tion of time," he went on. "You have a fine con­sti­tu­tion; you are a young man; but you can­not de­lib­er­ate­ly over­work your brain, and de­range your ner­vous sys­tem, much longer. Go away at once. If you are a good sailor, take a sea-voy­age. The ocean air is the best of all air to build you up again. No: I don't want to write a pre­scrip­tion. I de­cline to physic you. I have no more to say."

With these words my med­i­cal friend left the room. I was ob­sti­nate: I went into court the same day.

The se­nior coun­sel in the case on which I was en­gaged ap­plied to me for some in­for­ma­tion which it was my duty to give him. To my hor­ror and amaze­ment, I was per­fect­ly un­able to col­lect my ideas; facts and dates all min­gled to­geth­er con­fus­ed­ly in my mind. I was led out of court thor­ough­ly ter­ri­fied about my­self. The next day my briefs went back to the at­tor­neys; and I fol­lowed my doc­tor's ad­vice by tak­ing my pas­sage for Amer­i­ca in the first steam­er that sailed for New York. I had cho­sen the voy­age to Amer­i­ca in pref­er­ence to any other trip by sea, with a spe­cial ob­ject in view. A rel­a­tive of my moth­er's had em­i­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States many years since, and had thriv­en there as a farmer. He had given me a gen­er­al in­vi­ta­tion to visit him if I ever crossed the At­lantic. The long pe­ri­od of in­ac­tion, under the name of rest, to which the doc­tor's de­ci­sion had con­demned me, could hard­ly be more pleas­ant­ly oc­cu­pied, as I thought, than by pay­ing a visit to my re­la­tion, and see­ing what I could of Amer­i­ca in that way. After a brief so­journ at New York, I start­ed by rail­way for the res­i­dence of my host — Mr. Isaac Mead­owcroft, of Mor­wick Farm.

There are some of the grand­est nat­u­ral prospects on the face of cre­ation in Amer­i­ca. There is also to be found in cer­tain States of the Union, by way of whole­some con­trast, scenery as flat, as monotonous, and as un­in­ter­est­ing to the trav­el­er, as any that the earth can show. The part of the coun­try in which M. Mead­owcroft's farm was sit­u­at­ed fell with­in this lat­ter cat­e­go­ry. I looked round me when I stepped out of the rail­way-car­riage on the plat­form at Mor­wick Sta­tion; and I said to my­self, "If to be cured means, in my case, to be dull, I have ac­cu­rate­ly picked out the very place for the pur­pose."

I look back at those words by the light of later events; and I pro­nounce them, as you will soon pro­nounce them, to be the words of an es­sen­tial­ly rash man, whose hasty judg­ment never stopped to con­sid­er what sur­pris­es time and chance to­geth­er might have in store for him.

Mr. Mead­owcroft's el­dest son, Am­brose, was wait­ing at the sta­tion to drive me to the farm.

There was no fore­warn­ing, in the ap­pear­ance of Am­brose Mead­owcroft, of the strange and ter­ri­ble events that were to fol­low my ar­rival at Mor­wick. A healthy, hand­some young fel­low, one of thou­sands of other healthy, hand­some young fel­lows, said, "How d'ye do, Mr. Lefrank? Glad to see you, sir. Jump into the buggy; the man will look after your port­man­teau." With equal­ly con­ven­tion­al po­lite­ness I an­swered, "Thank you. How are you all at home?" So we start­ed on the way to the farm.

Our con­ver­sa­tion on the drive began with the sub­jects of agri­cul­ture and breed­ing. I dis­played my total ig­no­rance of crops and cat­tle be­fore we had trav­eled ten yards on our jour­ney. Am­brose Mead­owcroft cast about for an­oth­er topic, and failed to find it. Upon this I cast about on my side, and asked, at a ven­ture, if I had cho­sen a con­ve­nient time for my visit The young farmer's stol­id brown face in­stant­ly bright­ened. I had ev­i­dent­ly hit, hap-haz­ard, on an in­ter­est­ing sub­ject.

"You couldn't have cho­sen a bet­ter time," he said. "Our house has never been so cheer­ful as it is now."

"Have you any vis­i­tors stay­ing with you?"

"It's not ex­act­ly a vis­i­tor. It's a new mem­ber of the fam­i­ly who has come to live with us."

"A new mem­ber of the fam­i­ly! May I ask who it is?"

Am­brose Mead­owcroft con­sid­ered be­fore he replied; touched his horse with the whip; looked at me with a cer­tain sheep­ish hes­i­ta­tion; and sud­den­ly burst out with the truth, in the plainest pos­si­ble words:

"It's just the nicest girl, sir, you ever saw in your life."

"Ay, ay! A friend of your sis­ter's, I sup­pose?"

"A friend? Bless your heart! it's our lit­tle Amer­i­can cousin, Naomi Cole­brook."

I vague­ly re­mem­bered that a younger sis­ter of Mr. Mead­owcroft's had mar­ried an Amer­i­can mer­chant in the re­mote past, and had died many years since, leav­ing an only child. I was now fur­ther in­formed that the fa­ther also was dead. In his last mo­ments he had com­mit­ted his help­less daugh­ter to the com­pas­sion­ate care of his wife's re­la­tions at Mor­wick.

"He was al­ways a spec­u­lat­ing man," Am­brose went on. "Tried one thing after an­oth­er, and failed in all. Died, sir, leav­ing bare­ly enough to bury him. My fa­ther was a lit­tle doubt­ful, be­fore she came here, how his Amer­i­can niece would turn out. We are En­glish, you know; and, though we do live in the Unit­ed States, we stick fast to our En­glish ways and habits. We don't much like Amer­i­can women in gen­er­al, I can tell you; but when Naomi made her ap­pear­ance she con­quered us all. Such a girl! Took her place as one of the fam­i­ly di­rect­ly. Learned to make her­self use­ful in the dairy in a week's time. I tell you this — she hasn't been with us quite two months yet, and we won­der al­ready how we ever got on with­out her!"

Once start­ed on the sub­ject of Naomi Cole­brook, Am­brose held to that one topic and talked on it with­out in­ter­mis­sion. It re­quired no great gift of pen­e­tra­tion to dis­cov­er the im­pres­sion which the Amer­i­can cousin had pro­duced in this case. The young fel­low's en­thu­si­asm com­mu­ni­cat­ed it­self, in a cer­tain tepid de­gree, to me. I re­al­ly felt a mild flut­ter of an­tic­i­pa­tion at the prospect of see­ing Naomi, when we drew up, to­ward the close of evening, at the gates of Mor­wick Farm.
 

CHAP­TER II. THE NEW FACES.

I

M­ME­DI­ATE­LY on my ar­rival, I was pre­sent­ed to Mr. Mead­owcroft, the fa­ther.

The old man had be­come a con­firmed in­valid, con­fined by chron­ic rheuma­tism to his chair. He re­ceived me kind­ly, and a lit­tle weari­ly as well. His only un­mar­ried daugh­ter (he had long since been left a wid­ow­er) was in the room, in at­ten­dance on her fa­ther. She was a melan­choly, mid­dle-aged woman, with­out vis­i­ble at­trac­tions of any sort — one of those per­sons who ap­pear to ac­cept the obli­ga­tion of liv­ing under protest, as a bur­den which they would never have con­sent­ed to bear if they had only been con­sult­ed first. We three had a drea­ry lit­tle in­ter­view in a par­lor of bare walls; and then I was per­mit­ted to go up­stairs, and un­pack my port­man­teau in my own room.

"Sup­per will be at nine o'clock, sir," said Miss Mead­owcroft.

She pro­nounced those words as if "sup­per" was a form of do­mes­tic of­fense, ha­bit­u­al­ly com­mit­ted by the men, and en­dured by the women. I fol­lowed the groom up to my room, not over-well pleased with my first ex­pe­ri­ence of the farm.

No Naomi and no ro­mance, thus far!

My room was clean — op­pres­sive­ly clean. I quite longed to see a lit­tle dust some­where. My li­brary was lim­it­ed to the Bible and the Prayer-Book. My view from the win­dow showed me a dead flat in a par­tial state of cul­ti­va­tion, fad­ing sadly from view in the wan­ing light. Above the head of my spruce white bed hung a scroll, bear­ing a damna­to­ry quo­ta­tion from Scrip­ture in em­bla­zoned let­ters of red and black. The dis­mal pres­ence of Miss Mead­owcroft had passed over my bed­room, and had blight­ed it. My spir­its sank as I looked round me. Sup­per-time was still an event in the fu­ture. I light­ed the can­dles and took from my port­man­teau what I firm­ly be­lieve to have been the first French novel ever pro­duced at Mor­wick Farm. It was one of the mas­ter­ly and charm­ing sto­ries of Dumas the elder. In five min­utes I was in a new world, and my melan­choly room was full of the liveli­est French com­pa­ny. The sound of an im­per­a­tive and un­com­pro­mis­ing bell re­called me in due time to the re­gions of re­al­i­ty. I looked at my watch. Nine o'clock.

Am­brose met me at the bot­tom of the stairs, and showed me the way to the sup­per-room.

Mr. Mead­owcroft's in­valid chair had been wheeled to the head of the table. On his right-hand side sat his sad and silent daugh­ter. She signed to me, with a ghost­ly solem­ni­ty, to take the va­cant place on the left of her fa­ther. Silas Mead­owcroft came in at the same mo­ment, and was pre­sent­ed to me by his broth­er. There was a strong fam­i­ly like­ness be­tween them, Am­brose being the taller and the hand­somer man of the two. But there was no marked char­ac­ter in ei­ther face. I set them down as men with un­de­vel­oped qual­i­ties, wait­ing (the good and evil qual­i­ties alike) for time and cir­cum­stances to bring them to their full growth.

The door opened again while I was still study­ing the two broth­ers, with­out, I hon­est­ly con­fess, being very fa­vor­ably im­pressed by ei­ther of them. A new mem­ber of the fam­i­ly cir­cle, who in­stant­ly at­tract­ed my at­ten­tion, en­tered the room.

He was short, spare, and wiry; sin­gu­lar­ly pale for a per­son whose life was passed in the coun­try. The face was in other re­spects, be­sides this, a strik­ing face to see. As to the lower part, it was cov­ered with a thick black beard and mus­tache, at a time when shav­ing was the rule, and beards the rare ex­cep­tion, in Amer­i­ca. As to the upper part of the face, it was ir­ra­di­at­ed by a pair of wild, glit­ter­ing brown eyes, the ex­pres­sion of which sug­gest­ed to me that there was some­thing not quite right with the man's men­tal bal­ance. A per­fect­ly sane per­son in all his say­ings and do­ings, so far as I could see, there was still some­thing in those wild brown eyes which sug­gest­ed to me that, under ex­cep­tion­al­ly try­ing cir­cum­stances, he might sur­prise his old­est friends by act­ing in some ex­cep­tion­al­ly vi­o­lent or fool­ish way. "A lit­tle cracked" — that in the pop­u­lar phrase was my im­pres­sion of the stranger who now made his ap­pear­ance in the sup­per-room.

Mr. Mead­owcroft the elder, hav­ing not spo­ken one word thus far, him­self in­tro­duced the new­com­er to me, with a side-glance at his sons, which had some­thing like de­fi­ance in it — a glance which, as I was sorry to no­tice, was re­turned with the de­fi­ance on their side by the two young men.

"Philip Lefrank, this is my over­look­er, Mr. Jago," said the old man, for­mal­ly pre­sent­ing us. "John Jago, this is my young rel­a­tive by mar­riage, Mr. Lefrank. He is not well; he has come over the ocean for rest, and change of scene. Mr. Jago is an Amer­i­can, Philip. I hope you have no prej­u­dice against Amer­i­cans. Make ac­quain­tance with Mr. Jago. Sit to­geth­er." He cast an­oth­er dark look at his sons; and the sons again re­turned it. They point­ed­ly drew back from John Jago as he ap­proached the empty chair next to me and moved round to the op­po­site side of the table. It was plain that the man with the beard stood high in the fa­ther's favor, and that he was cor­dial­ly dis­liked for that or for some other rea­son by the sons.

The door opened once more. A young lady qui­et­ly joined the party at the sup­per-table.

Was the young lady Naomi Cole­brook? I looked at Am­brose, and saw the an­swer in his face. Naomi Cole­brook at last!

A pret­ty girl, and, so far as I could judge by ap­pear­ances, a good girl too. De­scrib­ing her gen­er­al­ly, I may say that she had a small head, well car­ried, and well set on her shoul­ders; bright gray eyes, that looked at you hon­est­ly, and meant what they looked; a trim, slight lit­tle fig­ure — too slight for our En­glish no­tions of beau­ty; a strong Amer­i­can ac­cent; and (a rare thing in Amer­i­ca) a pleas­ant­ly toned voice, which made the ac­cent agree­able to En­glish ears. Our first im­pres­sions of peo­ple are, in nine cases out of ten, the right im­pres­sions. I liked Naomi Cole­brook at first sight; liked her pleas­ant smile; liked her hearty shake of the hand when we were pre­sent­ed to each other. "If I get on well with no­body else in this house," I thought to my­self, "I shall cer­tain­ly get on well with you."

For once in a way, I proved a true prophet. In the at­mo­sphere of smol­der­ing en­mi­ties at Mor­wick Farm, the pret­ty Amer­i­can girl and I re­mained firm and true friends from first to last. Am­brose made room for Naomi to sit be­tween his broth­er and him­self. She changed color for a mo­ment, and looked at him, with a pret­ty, re­luc­tant ten­der­ness, as she took her chair. I strong­ly sus­pect­ed the young farmer of squeez­ing her hand pri­vate­ly, under cover of the table­cloth.

The sup­per was not a merry one. The only cheer­ful con­ver­sa­tion was the con­ver­sa­tion across the table be­tween Naomi and me.

For some in­com­pre­hen­si­ble rea­son, John Jago seemed to be ill at ease in the pres­ence of his young coun­try­wom­an. He looked up at Naomi doubt­ing­ly from his plate, and looked down again slow­ly with a frown. When I ad­dressed him, he an­swered con­strained­ly. Even when he spoke to Mr. Mead­owcroft, he was still on his guard — on his guard against the two young men, as I fan­cied by the di­rec­tion which his eyes took on these oc­ca­sions. When we began our meal, I had no­ticed for the first time that Silas Mead­owcroft's left hand was strapped up with sur­gi­cal plas­ter; and I now fur­ther ob­served that John Jago's wan­der­ing brown eyes, furtive­ly look­ing at ev­ery­body round the table in turn, looked with a cu­ri­ous, cyn­i­cal scruti­ny at the young man's in­jured hand.

By way of mak­ing my first evening at the farm all the more em­bar­rass­ing to me as a stranger, I dis­cov­ered be­fore long that the fa­ther and sons were talk­ing in­di­rect­ly at each other, through Mr. Jago and through me. When old Mr. Mead­owcroft spoke dis­parag­ing­ly to his over­look­er of some past mis­take made in the cul­ti­va­tion of the arable land of the farm, old Mr. Mead­owcroft's eyes point­ed the ap­pli­ca­tion of his hos­tile crit­i­cism straight in the di­rec­tion of his two sons. When the two sons seized a stray re­mark of mine about an­i­mals in gen­er­al, and ap­plied it satir­i­cal­ly to the mis­man­age­ment of sheep and oxen in par­tic­u­lar, they looked at John Jago, while they talked to me. On oc­ca­sions of this sort — and they hap­pened fre­quent­ly — Naomi struck in res­o­lute­ly at the right mo­ment, and turned the talk to some harm­less topic. Every time she took a promi­nent part in this way in keep­ing the peace, melan­choly Miss Mead­owcroft looked slow­ly round at her in stern and silent dis­par­age­ment of her in­ter­fer­ence. A more drea­ry and more dis­unit­ed fam­i­ly party I never sat at the table with. Envy, ha­tred, mal­ice and un­char­i­ta­ble­ness are never so es­sen­tial­ly de­testable to my mind as when they are an­i­mat­ed by a sense of pro­pri­ety, and work under the sur­face. But for my in­ter­est in Naomi, and my other in­ter­est in the lit­tle love-looks which I now and then sur­prised pass­ing be­tween her and Am­brose, I should never have sat through that sup­per. I should cer­tain­ly have taken refuge in my French novel and my own room.

At last the un­en­durably long meal, served with os­ten­ta­tious pro­fu­sion, was at an end. Miss Mead­owcroft rose with her ghost­ly solem­ni­ty, and grant­ed me my dis­missal in these words:

"We are early peo­ple at the farm, Mr. Lefrank. I wish you good-night."

She laid her bony hands on the back of Mr. Mead­owcroft's in­valid-chair, cut him short in his farewell salu­ta­tion to me, and wheeled him out to his bed as if she were wheel­ing him out to his grave.

"Do you go to your room im­me­di­ate­ly, sir? If not, may I offer you a cigar — pro­vid­ed the young gen­tle­men will per­mit it?"

So, pick­ing his words with painful de­lib­er­a­tion, and point­ing his ref­er­ence to "the young gen­tle­men" with one sar­don­ic side-look at them, Mr. John Jago per­formed the du­ties of hos­pi­tal­i­ty on his side. I ex­cused my­self from ac­cept­ing the cigar. With stud­ied po­lite­ness, the man of the glit­ter­ing brown eyes wished me a good night's rest, and left the room.

Am­brose and Silas both ap­proached me hos­pitably, with their open cigar-cas­es in their hands.

"You were quite right to say 'No,'" Am­brose began. "Never smoke with John Jago. His cigars will poi­son you."

"And never be­lieve a word John Jago says to you," added Silas. "He is the great­est liar in Amer­i­ca, let the other be whom he may."

Naomi shook her fore­fin­ger re­proach­ful­ly at them, as if the two stur­dy young farm­ers had been two chil­dren.

"What will Mr. Lefrank think," she said, "if you talk in that way of a per­son whom your fa­ther re­spects and trusts? Go and smoke. I am ashamed of both of you."

Silas slunk away with­out a word of protest. Am­brose stood his ground, ev­i­dent­ly bent on mak­ing his peace with Naomi be­fore he left her.

See­ing that I was in the way, I walked aside to­ward a glass door at the lower end of the room. The door opened on the trim lit­tle farm-gar­den, bathed at that mo­ment in love­ly moon­light. I stepped out to enjoy the scene, and found my way to a seat under an elm-tree. The grand re­pose of na­ture had never looked so un­ut­ter­ably solemn and beau­ti­ful as it now ap­peared, after what I had seen and heard in­side the house. I un­der­stood, or thought I un­der­stood, the sad de­spair of hu­man­i­ty which led men into monas­ter­ies in the old times. The mis­an­throp­i­cal side of my na­ture (where is the sick man who is not con­scious of that side of him?) was fast get­ting the upper hand of me when I felt a light touch laid on my shoul­der, and found my­self rec­on­ciled to my species once more by Naomi Cole­brook.
 

CHAP­TER III. THE MOON­LIGHT MEET­ING.

"I

WANT to speak to you," Naomi began "You don't think ill of me for fol­low­ing you out here? We are not ac­cus­tomed to stand much on cer­e­mo­ny in Amer­i­ca."

"You are quite right in Amer­i­ca. Pray sit down."

She seat­ed her­self by my side, look­ing at me frankly and fear­less­ly by the light of the moon.

"You are re­lat­ed to the fam­i­ly here," she re­sumed, "and I am re­lat­ed too. I guess I may say to you what I couldn't say to a stranger. I am right glad you have come here, Mr. Lefrank; and for a rea­son, sir, which you don't sus­pect."

"Thank you for the com­pli­ment you pay me, Miss Cole­brook, what­ev­er the rea­son may be."

She took no no­tice of my reply; she steadi­ly pur­sued her own train of thought.

"I guess you may do some good, sir, in this wretched house," the girl went on, with her eyes still earnest­ly fixed on my face. "There is no love, no trust, no peace, at Mor­wick Farm. They want some­body here, ex­cept Am­brose. Don't think ill of Am­brose; he is only thought­less. I say, the rest of them want some­body here to make them ashamed of their hard hearts, and their hor­rid, false, en­vi­ous ways. You are a gen­tle­man; you know more than they know; they can't help them­selves; they must look up to you. Try, Mr. Lefrank, when you have the op­por­tu­ni­ty — pray try, sir, to make peace among them. You heard what went on at sup­per-time; and you were dis­gust­ed with it. Oh yes, you were! I saw you frown to your­self; and I know what that means in you En­glish­men."

There was no choice but to speak one's mind plain­ly to Naomi. I ac­knowl­edged the im­pres­sion which had been pro­duced on me at sup­per-time just as plain­ly as I have ac­knowl­edged it in these pages. Naomi nod­ded her head in undis­guised ap­proval of my can­dor.

"That will do, that's speak­ing out," she said. "But — oh my! you put it a deal too mild­ly, sir, when you say the men don't seem to be on friend­ly terms to­geth­er here. They hate each other. That's the word, Mr. Lefrank — hate; bit­ter, bit­ter, bit­ter hate!" She clinched her lit­tle fists; she shook them ve­he­ment­ly, by way of adding em­pha­sis to her last words; and then she sud­den­ly re­mem­bered Am­brose. "Ex­cept Am­brose," she added, open­ing her hand again, and lay­ing it very earnest­ly on my arm. "Don't go and mis­judge Am­brose, sir. There is no harm in poor Am­brose."

The girl's in­no­cent frank­ness was re­al­ly ir­re­sistible.

"Should I be al­to­geth­er wrong," I asked, "if I guessed that you were a lit­tle par­tial to Am­brose?"

An En­glish­wom­an would have felt, or would at least have as­sumed, some lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion at re­ply­ing to my ques­tion. Naomi did not hes­i­tate for an in­stant.

"You are quite right, sir," she said with the most per­fect com­po­sure. "If things go well, I mean to marry Am­brose."

"If things go well," I re­peat­ed. "What does that mean? Money?"

She shook her head.

"It means a fear that I have in my own mind," she an­swered — "a fear, Mr. Lefrank, of mat­ters tak­ing a bad turn among the men here — the wicked, hard-heart­ed, un­feel­ing men. I don't mean Am­brose, sir; I mean his broth­er Silas, and John Jago. Did you no­tice Silas's hand? John Jago did that, sir, with a knife."

"By ac­ci­dent?" I asked.

"On pur­pose," she an­swered. "In re­turn for a blow."

This plain rev­e­la­tion of the state of things at Mor­wick Farm rather stag­gered me — blows and knives under the rich and re­spectable roof-tree of old Mr. Mead­owcroft — blows and knives, not among the la­bor­ers, but among the mas­ters! My first im­pres­sion was like your first im­pres­sion, no doubt. I could hard­ly be­lieve it.

"Are you sure of what you say?" I in­quired.

"I have it from Am­brose. Am­brose would never de­ceive me. Am­brose knows all about it."

My cu­rios­i­ty was pow­er­ful­ly ex­cit­ed. To what sort of house­hold had I rash­ly voy­aged across the ocean in search of rest and quiet?

"May I know all about it too?" I said.

"Well, I will try and tell you what Am­brose told me. But you must promise me one thing first, sir. Promise you won't go away and leave us when you know the whole truth. Shake hands on it, Mr. Lefrank; come, shake hands on it."

There was no re­sist­ing her fear­less frank­ness. I shook hands on it. Naomi en­tered on her nar­ra­tive the mo­ment I had given her my pledge, with­out wast­ing a word by way of pref­ace.

"When you are shown over the farm here," she began, "you will see that it is re­al­ly two farms in one. On this side of it, as we look from under this tree, they raise crops: on the other side — on much the larg­er half of the land, mind — they raise cat­tle. When Mr. Mead­owcroft got too old and too sick to look after his farm him­self, the boys (I mean Am­brose and Silas) di­vid­ed the work be­tween them. Am­brose looked after the crops, and Silas after the cat­tle. Things didn't go well, some­how, under their man­age­ment. I can't tell you why. I am only sure Am­brose was not in fault. The old man got more and more dis­sat­is­fied, es­pe­cial­ly about his beasts. His pride is in his beasts. With­out say­ing a word to the boys, he looked about pri­vate­ly (I think he was wrong in that, sir; don't you?) — he looked about pri­vate­ly for help; and, in an evil hour, he heard of John Jago. Do you like John Jago, Mr. Lefrank?"

"So far, no. I don't like him."

"Just my sen­ti­ments, sir. But I don't know: it's like­ly we may be wrong. There's noth­ing against John Jago, ex­cept that he is so odd in his ways. They do say he wears all that nasty hair on his face (I hate hair on a man's face) on ac­count of a vow he made when he lost his wife. Don't you think, Mr. Lefrank, a man must be a lit­tle mad who shows his grief at los­ing his wife by vow­ing that he will never shave him­self again? Well, that's what they do say John Jago vowed. Per­haps it's a lie. Peo­ple are such liars here! Any­way, it's truth (the boys them­selves con­fess that), when John came to the farm, he came with a first-rate char­ac­ter. The old fa­ther here isn't easy to please; and he pleased the old fa­ther. Yes, that's so. Mr. Mead­owcroft don't like my coun­try­men in gen­er­al. He's like his sons — En­glish, bit­ter En­glish, to the mar­row of his bones. Some­how, in spite of that, John Jago got round him; maybe be­cause John does cer­tain­ly know his busi­ness. Oh yes! Cat­tle and crops, John knows his busi­ness. Since he's been over­look­er, things have pros­pered as they didn't pros­per in the time of the boys. Am­brose owned as much to me him­self. Still, sir, it's hard to be set aside for a stranger; isn't it? John gives the or­ders now. The boys do their work; but they have no voice in it when John and the old man put their heads to­geth­er over the busi­ness of the farm. I have been long in telling you of it, sir, but now you know how the envy and the ha­tred grew among the men be­fore my time. Since I have been here, things seem to get worse and worse. There's hard­ly a day goes by that hard words don't pass be­tween the boys and John, or the boys and their fa­ther. The old man has an ag­gra­vat­ing way, Mr. Lefrank — a nasty way, as we do call it — of tak­ing John Jago's part. Do speak to him about it when you get the chance. The main blame of the quar­rel be­tween Silas and John the other day lies at his door, as I think. I don't want to ex­cuse Silas, ei­ther. It was bru­tal of him — though he is Am­brose's broth­er — to strike John, who is the small­er and weak­er man of the two. But it was worse than bru­tal in John, sir, to out with his knife and try to stab Silas. Oh, he did it! If Silas had not caught the knife in his hand (his hand's aw­ful­ly cut, I can tell you; I dressed it my­self), it might have ended, for any­thing I know, in mur­der — "

She stopped as the word passed her lips, looked back over her shoul­der, and start­ed vi­o­lent­ly.

I looked where my com­pan­ion was look­ing. The dark fig­ure of a man was stand­ing, watch­ing us, in the shad­ow of the elm-tree. I rose di­rect­ly to ap­proach him. Naomi re­cov­ered her self-pos­ses­sion, and checked me be­fore I could in­ter­fere.

"Who are you?" she asked, turn­ing sharply to­ward the stranger. "What do you want there?"

The man stepped out from the shad­ow into the moon­light, and stood re­vealed to us as John Jago.

"I hope I am not in­trud­ing?" he said, look­ing hard at me.

"What do you want?" Naomi re­peat­ed.

"I don't wish to dis­turb you, or to dis­turb this gen­tle­man," he pro­ceed­ed. "When you are quite at leisure, Miss Naomi, you would be doing me a favor if you would per­mit me to say a few words to you in pri­vate."

He spoke with the most scrupu­lous po­lite­ness; try­ing, and try­ing vain­ly, to con­ceal some strong ag­i­ta­tion which was in pos­ses­sion of him. His wild brown eyes — wilder than ever in the moon­light — rest­ed en­treat­ing­ly, with a strange un­der­ly­ing ex­pres­sion of de­spair, on Naomi's face. His hands, clasped light­ly in front of him, trem­bled in­ces­sant­ly. Lit­tle as I liked the man, he did re­al­ly im­press me as a pitiable ob­ject at that mo­ment.

"Do you mean that you want to speak to me to-night?" Naomi asked, in undis­guised sur­prise.

"Yes, miss, if you please, at your leisure and at Mr. Lefrank's."

Naomi hes­i­tat­ed.

"Won't it keep till to-mor­row?" she said.

"I shall be away on farm busi­ness to-mor­row, miss, for the whole day. Please to give me a few min­utes this evening." He ad­vanced a step to­ward her; his voice fal­tered, and dropped timid­ly to a whis­per. "I re­al­ly have some­thing to say to you, Miss Naomi. It would be a kind­ness on your part — a very, very great kind­ness — if you will let me say it be­fore I rest to-night."

I rose again to re­sign my place to him. Once more Naomi checked me.

"No," she said. "Don't stir." She ad­dressed John Jago very re­luc­tant­ly: "If you are so much in earnest about it, Mr. John, I sup­pose it must be. I can't guess what you can pos­si­bly have to say to me which can­not be said be­fore a third per­son. How­ev­er, it wouldn't be civil, I sup­pose, to say 'No' in my place. You know it's my busi­ness to wind up the hall-clock at ten every night. If you choose to come and help me, the chances are that we shall have the hall to our­selves. Will that do?"

"Not in the hall, miss, if you will ex­cuse me."

"Not in the hall!"

"And not in the house ei­ther, if I may make so bold."

"What do you mean?" She turned im­pa­tient­ly, and ap­pealed to me. "Do you un­der­stand him?"

John Jago signed to me im­plor­ing­ly to let him an­swer for him­self.

"Bear with me, Miss Naomi," he said. "I think I can make you un­der­stand me. There are eyes on the watch, and ears on the watch, in the house; and there are some foot­steps — I won't say whose — so soft, that no per­son can hear them."

The last al­lu­sion ev­i­dent­ly made it­self un­der­stood. Naomi stopped him be­fore he could say more.

"Well, where is it to be?" she asked, re­signed­ly. "Will the gar­den do, Mr. John?"

"Thank you kind­ly, miss; the gar­den will do." He point­ed to a grav­el-walk be­yond us, bathed in the full flood of the moon­light. "There," he said, "where we can see all round us, and be sure that no­body is lis­ten­ing. At ten o'clock." He paused, and ad­dressed him­self to me. "I beg to apol­o­gize, sir, for in­trud­ing my­self on your con­ver­sa­tion. Please to ex­cuse me."

His eyes rest­ed with a last anx­ious, plead­ing look on Naomi's face. He bowed to us, and melt­ed away into the shad­ow of the tree. The dis­tant sound of a door closed soft­ly came to us through the still­ness of the night. John Jago had re-en­tered the house.

Now that he was out of hear­ing, Naomi spoke to me very earnest­ly:

"Don't sup­pose, sir, I have any se­crets with him," she said. "I know no more than you do what he wants with me. I have half a mind not to keep the ap­point­ment when ten o'clock comes. What would you do in my place?"

"Hav­ing made the ap­point­ment," I an­swered, "it seems to be due to your­self to keep it. If you feel the slight­est alarm, I will wait in an­oth­er part of the gar­den, so that I can hear if you call me."

She re­ceived my pro­pos­al with a saucy toss of the head, and a smile of pity for my ig­no­rance.

"You are a stranger, Mr. Lefrank, or you would never talk to me in that way. In Amer­i­ca, we don't do the men the honor of let­ting them alarm us. In Amer­i­ca, the women take care of them­selves. He has got my promise to meet him, as you say; and I must keep my promise. Only think," she added, speak­ing more to her­self than to me, "of John Jago find­ing out Miss Mead­owcroft's nasty, sly, un­der­hand ways in the house! Most men would never have no­ticed her."

I was com­plete­ly taken by sur­prise. Sad and se­vere Miss Mead­owcroft a lis­ten­er and a spy! What next at Mor­wick Farm?

"Was that hint at the watch­ful eyes and ears, and the soft foot­steps, re­al­ly an al­lu­sion to Mr. Mead­owcroft's daugh­ter?" I asked.

"Of course it was. Ah! she has im­posed on you as she im­pos­es on ev­ery­body else. The false wretch! She is se­cret­ly at the bot­tom of half the bad feel­ing among the men. I am cer­tain of it — she keeps Mr. Mead­owcroft's mind bit­ter to­ward the boys. Old as she is, Mr. Lefrank, and ugly as she is, she wouldn't ob­ject (if she could only make him ask her) to be John Jago's sec­ond wife. No, sir; and she wouldn't break her heart if the boys were not left a stick or a stone on the farm when the fa­ther dies. I have watched her, and I know it. Ah! I could tell you such things! But there's no time now — it's close on ten o'clock; we must say good-night. I am right glad I have spo­ken to you, sir. I say again, at part­ing, what I have said al­ready: Use your in­flu­ence, pray use your in­flu­ence, to soft­en them, and to make them ashamed of them­selves, in this wicked house. We will have more talk about what you can do to-mor­row, when you are shown over the farm. Say good-by now. Hark! there is ten strik­ing! And look! here is John Jago steal­ing out again in the shad­ow of the tree! Good-night, friend Lefrank; and pleas­ant dreams."

With one hand she took mine, and pressed it cor­dial­ly; with the other she pushed me away with­out cer­e­mo­ny in the di­rec­tion of the house. A charm­ing girl — an ir­re­sistible girl! I was near­ly as bad as the boys. I de­clare, I al­most hated John Jago, too, as we crossed each other in the shad­ow of the tree.

Ar­rived at the glass door, I stopped and looked back at the grav­el-walk.

They had met. I saw the two shad­owy fig­ures slow­ly pac­ing back­ward and for­ward in the moon­light, the woman a lit­tle in ad­vance of the man. What was he say­ing to her? Why was he so anx­ious that not a word of it should be heard? Our pre­sen­ti­ments are some­times, in cer­tain rare cases, the faith­ful prophe­cy of the fu­ture. A vague dis­trust of that moon­light meet­ing stealthi­ly took a hold on my mind. "Will mis­chief come of it?" I asked my­self as I closed the door and en­tered the house.

Mis­chief did come of it. You shall hear how.
 

CHAP­TER IV. THE BEECHEN STICK.

P

ER­SONS of sen­si­tive, ner­vous tem­per­a­ment, sleep­ing for the first time in a strange house, and in a bed that is new to them, must make up their minds to pass a wake­ful night. My first night at Mor­wick Farm was no ex­cep­tion to this rule. The lit­tle sleep I had was bro­ken and dis­turbed by dreams. To­ward six o'clock in the morn­ing, my bed be­came un­en­durable to me. The sun was shin­ing in bright­ly at the win­dow. I de­ter­mined to try the re­viv­ing in­flu­ence of a stroll in the fresh morn­ing air.

Just as I got out of bed, I heard foot­steps and voic­es under my win­dow.

The foot­steps stopped, and the voic­es be­came rec­og­niz­able. I had passed the night with my win­dow open; I was able, with­out ex­cit­ing no­tice from below, to look out.

The per­sons be­neath me were Silas Mead­owcroft, John Jago, and three strangers, whose dress and ap­pear­ance in­di­cat­ed plain­ly enough that they were la­bor­ers on the farm. Silas was swing­ing a stout beechen stick in his hand, and was speak­ing to Jago, coarse­ly and in­so­lent­ly enough, of his moon­light meet­ing with Naomi on the pre­vi­ous night.

"Next time you go court­ing a young lady in se­cret," said Silas, "make sure that the moon goes down first, or wait for a cloudy sky. You were seen in the gar­den, Mas­ter Jago; and you may as well tell us the truth for once in a way. Did you find her open to per­sua­sion, sir? Did she say 'Yes?'"

John Jago kept his tem­per.

"If you must have your joke, Mr. Silas," he said, qui­et­ly and firm­ly, "be pleased to joke on some other sub­ject. You are quite wrong, sir, in what you sup­pose to have passed be­tween the young lady and me."

Silas turned about, and ad­dressed him­self iron­i­cal­ly to the three la­bor­ers.

"You hear him, boys? He can't tell the truth, try him as you may. He wasn't mak­ing love to Naomi in the gar­den last night — oh dear, no! He has had one wife al­ready; and he knows bet­ter than to take the yoke on his shoul­ders for the sec­ond time!"

Great­ly to my sur­prise, John Jago met this clum­sy jest­ing with a for­mal and se­ri­ous reply.

"You are quite right, sir," he said. "I have no in­ten­tion of mar­ry­ing for the sec­ond time. What I was say­ing to Miss Naomi doesn't mat­ter to you. It was not at all what you choose to sup­pose; it was some­thing of quite an­oth­er kind, with which you have no con­cern. Be pleased to un­der­stand once for all, Mr. Silas, that not so much as the thought of mak­ing love to the young lady has ever en­tered my head. I re­spect her; I ad­mire her good qual­i­ties; but if she was the only woman left in the world, and if I was a much younger man than I am, I should never think of ask­ing her to be my wife." He burst out sud­den­ly into a harsh, un­easy laugh. "No, no! not my style, Mr. Silas — not my style!"

Some­thing in those words, or in his man­ner of speak­ing them, ap­peared to ex­as­per­ate Silas. He dropped his clum­sy irony, and ad­dressed him­self di­rect­ly to John Jago in a tone of sav­age con­tempt.

"Not your style?" he re­peat­ed. "Upon my soul, that's a cool way of putting it, for a man in your place! What do you mean by call­ing her 'not your style?' You im­pu­dent beg­gar! Naomi Cole­brook is meat for your mas­ter!"

John Jago's tem­per began to give way at last. He ap­proached de­fi­ant­ly a step or two near­er to Silas Mead­owcroft.

"Who is my mas­ter?" he asked.

"Am­brose will show you, if you go to him," an­swered the other. "Naomi is his sweet­heart, not mine. Keep out of his way, if you want to keep a whole skin on your bones."

John Jago cast one of his sar­don­ic side-looks at the farmer's wound­ed left hand. "Don't for­get your own skin, Mr. Silas, when you threat­en mine! I have set my mark on you once, sir. Let me by on my busi­ness, or I may mark you for a sec­ond time."

Silas lift­ed his beechen stick. The la­bor­ers, roused to some rude sense of the se­ri­ous turn which the quar­rel was tak­ing, got be­tween the two men, and part­ed them. I had been hur­ried­ly dress­ing my­self while the al­ter­ca­tion was pro­ceed­ing; and I now ran down­stairs to try what my in­flu­ence could do to­ward keep­ing the peace at Mor­wick Farm.

The war of angry words was still going on when I joined the men out­side.

"Be off with you on your busi­ness, you cow­ard­ly hound!" I heard Silas say. "Be off with you to the town! and take care you don't meet Am­brose on the way!"

"Take you care you don't feel my knife again be­fore I go!" cried the other man.

Silas made a des­per­ate ef­fort to break away from the la­bor­ers who were hold­ing him.

"Last time you only felt my fist!" he shout­ed "Next time you shall feel this!"

He lift­ed the stick as he spoke. I stepped up and snatched it out of his hand.

"Mr. Silas," I said, "I am an in­valid, and I am going out for a walk. Your stick will be use­ful to me. I beg leave to bor­row it."

The la­bor­ers burst out laugh­ing. Silas fixed his eyes on me with a stare of angry sur­prise. John Jago, im­me­di­ate­ly re­cov­er­ing his self-pos­ses­sion, took off his hat, and made me a def­er­en­tial bow.

"I had no idea, Mr. Lefrank, that we were dis­turb­ing you," he said. "I am very much ashamed of my­self, sir. I beg to apol­o­gize."

"I ac­cept your apol­o­gy, Mr. Jago," I an­swered, "on the un­der­stand­ing that you, as the older man, will set the ex­am­ple of for­bear­ance if your tem­per is tried on any fu­ture oc­ca­sion as it has been tried today. And I have fur­ther to re­quest," I added, ad­dress­ing my­self to Silas, "that you will do me a favor, as your fa­ther's guest. The next time your good spir­its lead you into mak­ing jokes at Mr. Jago's ex­pense, don't carry them quite so far. I am sure you meant no harm, Mr. Silas. Will you grat­i­fy me by say­ing so your­self? I want to see you and Mr. Jago shake hands."

John Jago in­stant­ly held out his hand, with an as­sump­tion of good feel­ing which was a lit­tle over­act­ed, to my think­ing. Silas Mead­owcroft made no ad­vance of the same friend­ly sort on his side.

"Let him go about his busi­ness," said Silas. "I won't waste any more words on him, Mr. Lefrank, to please you. But (sav­ing your pres­ence) I'm d — d if I take his hand!"

Fur­ther per­sua­sion was plain­ly use­less, ad­dressed to such a man as this. Silas gave me no fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ty of re­mon­strat­ing with him, even if I had been in­clined to do so. He turned about in sulky si­lence, and, re­trac­ing his steps along the path, dis­ap­peared round the cor­ner of the house. The la­bor­ers with­drew next, in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, to begin the day's work. John Jago and I were alone.

I left it to the man of the wild brown eyes to speak first.

"In half an hour's time, sir," he said, "I shall be going on busi­ness to Narrabee, our mar­ket-town here. Can I take any let­ters to the post for you? or is there any­thing else that I can do in the town?"

I thanked him, and de­clined both pro­pos­als. He made me an­oth­er def­er­en­tial bow, and with­drew into the house. I me­chan­i­cal­ly fol­lowed the path in the di­rec­tion which Silas had taken be­fore me.

Turn­ing the cor­ner of the house, and walk­ing on for a lit­tle way, I found my­self at the en­trance to the sta­bles, and face to face with Silas Mead­owcroft once more. He had his el­bows on the gate of the yard, swing­ing it slow­ly back­ward and for­ward, and turn­ing and twist­ing a straw be­tween his teeth. When he saw me ap­proach­ing him, he ad­vanced a step from the gate, and made an ef­fort to ex­cuse him­self, with a very ill grace.

"No of­fense, mis­ter. Ask me what you will be­sides, and I'll do it for you. But don't ask me to shake hands with John Jago; I hate him too badly for that. If I touched him with one hand, sir, I tell you this, I should throt­tle him with the other."

"That's your feel­ing to­ward the man, Mr. Silas, is it?"

"That's my feel­ing, Mr. Lefrank; and I'm not ashamed of it ei­ther."

"Is there any such place as a church in your neigh­bor­hood, Mr. Silas?"

"Of course there is."

"And do you ever go to it?"

"Of course I do."

"At long in­ter­vals, Mr. Silas?"

"Every Sun­day, sir, with­out fail."

Some third per­son be­hind me burst out laugh­ing; some third per­son had been lis­ten­ing to our talk. I turned round, and dis­cov­ered Am­brose Mead­owcroft.

"I un­der­stand the drift of your cat­e­chism, sir, though my broth­er doesn't," he said. "Don't be hard on Silas, sir. He isn't the only Chris­tian who leaves his Chris­tian­i­ty in the pew when he goes out of church. You will never make us friends with John Jago, try as you may. Why, what have you got there, Mr. Lefrank? May I die if it isn't my stick! I have been look­ing for it ev­ery­where!"

The thick beechen stick had been feel­ing un­com­fort­ably heavy in my in­valid hand for some time past. There was no sort of need for my keep­ing it any longer. John Jago was going away to Narrabee, and Silas Mead­owcroft's sav­age tem­per was sub­dued to a sulky re­pose. I hand­ed the stick back to Am­brose. He laughed as he took it from me.

"You can't think how strange it feels, Mr. Lefrank, to be out with­out one's stick," he said. "A man gets used to his stick, sir; doesn't he? Are you ready for your break­fast?"

"Not just yet. I thought of tak­ing a lit­tle walk first."

"All right, sir. I wish I could go with you; but I have got my work to do this morn­ing, and Silas has his work too. If you go back by the way you came, you will find your­self in the gar­den. If you want to go fur­ther, the wick­et-gate at the end will lead you into the lane."

Through sheer thought­less­ness, I did a very fool­ish thing. I turned back as I was told, and left the broth­ers to­geth­er at the gate of the sta­ble-yard.
 

CHAP­TER V. THE NEWS FROM NARRABEE.

A

R­RIVED at the gar­den, a thought struck me. The cheer­ful speech and easy man­ner of Am­brose plain­ly in­di­cat­ed that he was ig­no­rant thus far of the quar­rel which had taken place under my win­dow. Silas might con­fess to hav­ing taken his broth­er's stick, and might men­tion whose head he had threat­ened with it. It was not only use­less, but un­de­sir­able, that Am­brose should know of the quar­rel. I re­traced my steps to the sta­ble-yard. No­body was at the gate. I called al­ter­nate­ly to Silas and to Am­brose. No­body an­swered. The broth­ers had gone away to their work.

Re­turn­ing to the gar­den, I heard a pleas­ant voice wish­ing me "Good-morn­ing." I looked round. Naomi Cole­brook was stand­ing at one of the lower win­dows of the farm. She had her work­ing apron on, and she was in­dus­tri­ous­ly bright­en­ing the knives for the break­fast-table on an old-fash­ioned board. A sleek black cat bal­anced him­self on her shoul­der, watch­ing the flash­ing mo­tion of the knife as she passed it rapid­ly to and fro on the leather-cov­ered sur­face of the board.

"Come here," she said; "I want to speak to you."

I no­ticed, as I ap­proached, that her pret­ty face was cloud­ed and anx­ious. She pushed the cat ir­ri­ta­bly off her shoul­der; she wel­comed me with only the faint re­flec­tion of her bright cus­tom­ary smile.

"I have seen John Jago," she said. "He has been hint­ing at some­thing which he says hap­pened under your bed­room win­dow this morn­ing. When I begged him to ex­plain him­self, he only an­swered, 'Ask Mr. Lefrank; I must be off to Narrabee.' What does it mean? Tell me right away, sir! I'm out of tem­per, and I can't wait!"

Ex­cept that I made the best in­stead of the worst of it, I told her what had hap­pened under my win­dow as plain­ly as I have told it here. She put down the knife that she was clean­ing, and fold­ed her hands be­fore her, think­ing.

"I wish I had never given John Jago that meet­ing," she said. "When a man asks any­thing of a woman, the woman, I find, most­ly re­pents it if she says 'Yes.'"

She made that quaint re­flec­tion with a very trou­bled brow. The moon­light meet­ing had left some un­wel­come re­mem­brances in her mind. I saw that as plain­ly as I saw Naomi her­self.

What had John Jago said to her? I put the ques­tion with all need­ful del­i­ca­cy, mak­ing my apolo­gies be­fore­hand.

"I should like to tell you," she began, with a strong em­pha­sis on the last word.

There she stopped. She turned pale; then sud­den­ly flushed again to the deep­est red. She took up the knife once more, and went on clean­ing it as in­dus­tri­ous­ly as ever.

"I mustn't tell you," she re­sumed, with her head down over the knife. "I have promised not to tell any­body. That's the truth. For­get all about it, sir, as soon as you can. Hush! here's the spy who saw us last night on the walk and who told Silas!"

Drea­ry Miss Mead­owcroft opened the kitchen door. She car­ried an os­ten­ta­tious­ly large Prayer-Book; and she looked at Naomi as only a jeal­ous woman of mid­dle age can look at a younger and pret­ti­er woman than her­self.

"Prayers, Miss Cole­brook," she said in her sourest man­ner. She paused, and no­ticed me stand­ing under the win­dow. "Prayers, Mr. Lefrank," she added, with a look of de­vout pity, di­rect­ed ex­clu­sive­ly to my ad­dress.

"We will fol­low you di­rect­ly, Miss Mead­owcroft," said Naomi.

"I have no de­sire to in­trude on your se­crets, Miss Cole­brook."

With that acrid an­swer, our priest­ess took her­self and her Prayer-Book out of the kitchen. I joined Naomi, en­ter­ing the room by the gar­den door. She met me ea­ger­ly. "I am not quite easy about some­thing," she said. "Did you tell me that you left Am­brose and Silas to­geth­er?"

"Yes."

"Sup­pose Silas tells Am­brose of what hap­pened this morn­ing?"

The same idea, as I have al­ready men­tioned, had oc­curred to my mind. I did my best to re­as­sure Naomi.

"Mr. Jago is out of the way," I replied. "You and I can eas­i­ly put things right in his ab­sence."

She took my arm.

"Come in to prayers," she said. "Am­brose will be there, and I shall find an op­por­tu­ni­ty of speak­ing to him."

Nei­ther Am­brose nor Silas was in the break­fast-room when we en­tered it. After wait­ing vain­ly for ten min­utes, Mr. Mead­owcroft told his daugh­ter to read the prayers. Miss Mead­owcroft read, there­upon, in the tone of an in­jured woman tak­ing the throne of mercy by storm, and in­sist­ing on her rights. Break­fast fol­lowed; and still the broth­ers were ab­sent. Miss Mead­owcroft looked at her fa­ther, and said, "From bad to worse, sir. What did I tell you?" Naomi in­stant­ly ap­plied the an­ti­dote: "The boys are no doubt de­tained over their work, uncle." She turned to me. "You want to see the farm, Mr. Lefrank. Come and help me to find the boys."

For more than an hour we vis­it­ed one part of the farm after an­oth­er, with­out dis­cov­er­ing the miss­ing men. We found them at last near the out­skirts of a small wood, sit­ting, talk­ing to­geth­er, on the trunk of a felled tree.

Silas rose as we ap­proached, and walked away, with­out a word of greet­ing or apol­o­gy, into the wood. As he got on his feet, I no­ticed that his broth­er whis­pered some­thing in his ear; and I heard him an­swer, "All right."

"Am­brose, does that mean you have some­thing to keep a se­cret from us?" asked Naomi, ap­proach­ing her lover with a smile. "Is Silas or­dered to hold his tongue?"

Am­brose kicked sulk­i­ly at the loose stones lying about him. I no­ticed, with a cer­tain sur­prise that his fa­vorite stick was not in his hand, and was not lying near him.

"Busi­ness," he said in an­swer to Naomi, not very gra­cious­ly — "busi­ness be­tween Silas and me. That's what it means, if you must know."

Naomi went on, wom­an-like, with her ques­tion­ing, heed­less of the re­cep­tion which they might meet with from an ir­ri­tat­ed man.

"Why were you both away at prayers and break­fast-time?" she asked next.

"We had too much to do," Am­brose gruffly replied, "and we were too far from the house."

"Very odd," said Naomi. "This has never hap­pened be­fore since I have been at the farm."

"Well, live and learn. It has hap­pened now."

The tone in which he spoke would have warned any man to let him alone. But warn­ings which speak by im­pli­ca­tion only are thrown away on women. The woman, hav­ing still some­thing in her mind to say, said it.

"Have you seen any­thing of John Jago this morn­ing?"

The smol­der­ing ill-tem­per of Am­brose burst sud­den­ly — why, it was im­pos­si­ble to guess — into a flame. "How many more ques­tions am I to an­swer?" he broke out vi­o­lent­ly. "Are you the par­son putting me through my cat­e­chism? I have seen noth­ing of John Jago, and I have got my work to go on with. Will that do for you?"

He turned with an oath, and fol­lowed his broth­er into the wood. Naomi's bright eyes looked up at me, flash­ing with in­dig­na­tion.

"What does he mean, Mr. Lefrank, by speak­ing to me in that way? Rude brute! How dare he do it?" She paused; her voice, look and man­ner sud­den­ly changed. "This has never hap­pened be­fore, sir. Has any­thing gone wrong? I de­clare, I shouldn't know Am­brose again, he is so changed. Say, how does it strike you?"

I still made the best of a bad case.

"Some­thing has upset his tem­per," I said. "The mer­est tri­fle, Miss Cole­brook, up­sets a man's tem­per some­times. I speak as a man, and I know it. Give him time, and he will make his ex­cus­es, and all will be well again."

My pre­sen­ta­tion of the case en­tire­ly failed to re-as­sure my pret­ty com­pan­ion. We went back to the house. Din­ner-time came, and the broth­ers ap­peared. Their fa­ther spoke to them of their ab­sence from morn­ing prayers with need­less sever­i­ty, as I thought. They re­sent­ed the re­proof with need­less in­dig­na­tion on their side, and left the room. A sour smile of sat­is­fac­tion showed it­self on Miss Mead­owcroft's thin lips. She looked at her fa­ther; then raised her eyes sadly to the ceil­ing, and said, "We can only pray for them, sir."

Naomi dis­ap­peared after din­ner. When I saw her again, she had some news for me.

"I have been with Am­brose," she said, "and he has begged my par­don. We have made it up, Mr. Lefrank. Still — still — "

"Still — what, Miss Naomi?"

"He is not like him­self, sir. He de­nies it; but I can't help think­ing he is hid­ing some­thing from me."

The day wore on; the evening came. I re­turned to my French novel. But not even Dumas him­self could keep my at­ten­tion to the story. What else I was think­ing of I can­not say. Why I was out of spir­its I am un­able to ex­plain. I wished my­self back in Eng­land: I took a blind, un­rea­son­ing ha­tred to Mor­wick Farm.

Nine o'clock struck; and we all as­sem­bled again at sup­per, with the ex­cep­tion of John Jago. He was ex­pect­ed back to sup­per; and we wait­ed for him a quar­ter of an hour, by Mr. Mead­owcroft's own di­rec­tions. John Jago never ap­peared.

The night wore on, and still the ab­sent man failed to re­turn. Miss Mead­owcroft vol­un­teered to sit up for him. Naomi eyed her, a lit­tle ma­li­cious­ly I must own, as the two women part­ed for the night. I with­drew to my room; and again I was un­able to sleep. When sun­rise came, I went out, as be­fore, to breathe the morn­ing air.

On the stair­case I met Miss Mead­owcroft as­cend­ing to her own room. Not a curl of her stiff gray hair was dis­ar­ranged; noth­ing about the im­pen­e­tra­ble woman be­trayed that she had been watch­ing through the night.

"Has Mr. Jago not re­turned?" I asked.

Miss Mead­owcroft slow­ly shook her head, and frowned at me.

"We are in the hands of Prov­i­dence, Mr. Lefrank. Mr. Jago must have been de­tained for the night at Narrabee."

The daily rou­tine of the meals re­sumed its un­al­ter­able course. Break­fast-time came, and din­ner-time came, and no John Jago dark­ened the doors of Mor­wick Farm. Mr. Mead­owcroft and his daugh­ter con­sult­ed to­geth­er, and de­ter­mined to send in search of the miss­ing man. One of the more in­tel­li­gent of the la­bor­ers was dis­patched to Narrabee to make in­quiries.

The man re­turned late in the evening, bring­ing startling news to the farm. He had vis­it­ed all the inns, and all the places of busi­ness re­sort in Narrabee; he had made end­less in­quiries in every di­rec­tion, with this re­sult — no one had set eyes on John Jago. Ev­ery­body de­clared that John Jago had not en­tered the town.

We all looked at each other, ex­cept­ing the two broth­ers, who were seat­ed to­geth­er in a dark cor­ner of the room. The con­clu­sion ap­peared to be in­evitable. John Jago was a lost man.

CHAP­TER VI. THE LIME-KILN.

M

R. MEAD­OWCROFT was the first to speak. "Some­body must find John," he said.

"With­out los­ing a mo­ment," added his daugh­ter.

Am­brose sud­den­ly stepped out of the dark cor­ner of the room.

"I will in­quire," he said.

Silas fol­lowed him.

"I will go with you," he added.

Mr. Mead­owcroft in­ter­posed his au­thor­i­ty.

"One of you will be enough; for the pre­sent, at least. Go you, Am­brose. Your broth­er may be want­ed later. If any ac­ci­dent has hap­pened (which God for­bid!) we may have to in­quire in more than one di­rec­tion. Silas, you will stay at the farm."

The broth­ers with­drew to­geth­er; Am­brose to pre­pare for his jour­ney, Silas to sad­dle one of the hors­es for him. Naomi slipped out after them. Left in com­pa­ny with Mr. Mead­owcroft and his daugh­ter (both de­voured by anx­i­ety about the miss­ing man, and both try­ing to con­ceal it under an as­sump­tion of de­vout res­ig­na­tion to cir­cum­stances), I need hard­ly add that I, too, re­tired, as soon as it was po­lite­ly pos­si­ble for me to leave the room. As­cend­ing the stairs on my way to my own quar­ters, I dis­cov­ered Naomi half hid­den by the re­cess formed by an old-fash­ioned win­dow-seat on the first land­ing. My bright lit­tle friend was in sore trou­ble. Her apron was over her face, and she was cry­ing bit­ter­ly. Am­brose had not taken his leave as ten­der­ly as usual. She was more firm­ly per­suad­ed than ever that "Am­brose was hid­ing some­thing from her." We all wait­ed anx­ious­ly for the next day. The next day made the mys­tery deep­er than ever.

The horse which had taken Am­brose to Narrabee was rid­den back to the farm by a groom from the hotel. He de­liv­ered a writ­ten mes­sage from Am­brose which star­tled us. Fur­ther in­quiries had pos­i­tive­ly proved that the miss­ing man had never been near Narrabee. The only at­tain­able tid­ings of his where­abouts were tid­ings de­rived from vague re­port. It was said that a man like John Jago had been seen the pre­vi­ous day in a rail­way car, trav­el­ing on the line to New York. Act­ing on this im­per­fect in­for­ma­tion, Am­brose had de­cid­ed on ver­i­fy­ing the truth of the re­port by ex­tend­ing his in­quiries to New York.

This ex­traor­di­nary pro­ceed­ing forced the sus­pi­cion on me that some­thing had re­al­ly gone wrong. I kept my doubts to my­self; but I was pre­pared, from that mo­ment, to see the dis­ap­pear­ance of John Jago fol­lowed by very grave re­sults.

The same day the re­sults de­clared them­selves.

Time enough had now elapsed for re­port to spread through the dis­trict the news of what had hap­pened at the farm. Al­ready aware of the bad feel­ing ex­ist­ing be­tween the men, the neigh­bors had been now in­formed (no doubt by the la­bor­ers pre­sent) of the de­plorable scene that had taken place under my bed­room win­dow. Pub­lic opin­ion de­clares it­self in Amer­i­ca with­out the slight­est re­serve, or the slight­est care for con­se­quences. Pub­lic opin­ion de­clared on this oc­ca­sion that the lost man was the vic­tim of foul play, and held one or both of the broth­ers Mead­owcroft re­spon­si­ble for his dis­ap­pear­ance. Later in the day, the rea­son­able­ness of this se­ri­ous view of the case was con­firmed in the pop­u­lar mind by a startling dis­cov­ery. It was an­nounced that a Methodist preach­er late­ly set­tled at Mor­wick, and great­ly re­spect­ed through­out the dis­trict, had dreamed of John Jago in the char­ac­ter of a mur­dered man, whose bones were hid­den at Mor­wick Farm. Be­fore night the cry was gen­er­al for a ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the preach­er's dream. Not only in the im­me­di­ate dis­trict, but in the town of Narrabee it­self, the pub­lic voice in­sist­ed on the ne­ces­si­ty of a search for the mor­tal re­mains of John Jago at Mor­wick Farm.

In the ter­ri­ble turn which mat­ters had now taken, Mr. Mead­owcroft the elder dis­played a spir­it and an en­er­gy for which I was not pre­pared.

"My sons have their faults," he said, "se­ri­ous faults; and no­body knows it bet­ter than I do. My sons have be­haved badly and un­grate­ful­ly to­ward John Jago; I don't deny that, ei­ther. But Am­brose and Silas are not mur­der­ers. Make your search! I ask for it; no, I in­sist on it, after what has been said, in jus­tice to my fam­i­ly and my name!"

The neigh­bors took him at his word. The Mor­wick sec­tion of the Amer­i­can na­tion or­ga­nized it­self on the spot. The sovereign peo­ple met in com­mit­tee, made speech­es, elect­ed com­pe­tent per­sons to rep­re­sent the pub­lic in­ter­ests, and began the search the next day. The whole pro­ceed­ing, ridicu­lous­ly in­for­mal from a legal point of view, was car­ried on by these ex­traor­di­nary peo­ple with as stern and strict a sense of duty as if it had been sanc­tioned by the high­est tri­bunal in the land.

Naomi met the calami­ty that had fall­en on the house­hold as res­o­lute­ly as her uncle him­self. The girl's courage rose with the call which was made on it. Her one anx­i­ety was for Am­brose.

"He ought to be here," she said to me. "The wretch­es in this neigh­bor­hood are wicked enough to say that his ab­sence is a con­fes­sion of his guilt."

She was right. In the pre­sent tem­per of the pop­u­lar mind, the ab­sence of Am­brose was a sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stance in it­self.

"We might tele­graph to New York," I sug­gest­ed, "if you only knew where a mes­sage would be like­ly to find him."

"I know the hotel which the Mead­owcrofts use at New York," she replied. "I was sent there, after my fa­ther's death, to wait till Miss Mead­owcroft could take me to Mor­wick."

We de­cid­ed on tele­graph­ing to the hotel. I was writ­ing the mes­sage, and Naomi was look­ing over my shoul­der, when we were star­tled by a strange voice speak­ing close be­hind us.

"Oh! that's his ad­dress, is it?" said the voice. "We want­ed his ad­dress rather badly."

The speak­er was a stranger to me. Naomi rec­og­nized him as one of the neigh­bors.

"What do you want his ad­dress for?" she asked, sharply.

"I guess we've found the mor­tal re­mains of John Jago, miss," the man replied. "We have got Silas al­ready, and we want Am­brose too, on sus­pi­cion of mur­der."

"It's a lie!" cried Naomi, fu­ri­ous­ly — "a wicked lie!"

The man turned to me.

"Take her into the next room, mis­ter," he said, "and let her see for her­self."

We went to­geth­er into the next room.

In one cor­ner, sit­ting by her fa­ther, and hold­ing his hand, we saw stern and stony Miss Mead­owcroft weep­ing silent­ly. Op­po­site to them, crouched on the win­dow-seat, his eyes wan­der­ing, his hands hang­ing help­less, we next dis­cov­ered Silas Mead­owcroft, plain­ly self-be­trayed as a pan­ic-strick­en man. A few of the per­sons who had been en­gaged in the search were seat­ed near, watch­ing him. The mass of the strangers pre­sent stood con­gre­gat­ed round a table in the mid­dle of the room They drew aside as I ap­proached with Naomi and al­lowed us to have a clear view of cer­tain ob­jects placed on the table.

The cen­ter ob­ject of the col­lec­tion was a lit­tle heap of charred bones. Round this were ranged a knife, two metal but­tons, and a stick par­tial­ly burned. The knife was rec­og­nized by the la­bor­ers as the weapon John Jago ha­bit­u­al­ly car­ried about with him — the weapon with which he had wound­ed Silas Mead­owcroft's hand. The but­tons Naomi her­self de­clared to have a pe­cu­liar pat­tern on them, which had for­mer­ly at­tract­ed her at­ten­tion to John Jago's coat. As for the stick, burned as it was, I had no dif­fi­cul­ty in iden­ti­fy­ing the quaint­ly-carved knob at the top. It was the heavy beechen stick which I had snatched out of Silas's hand, and which I had re­stored to Am­brose on his claim­ing it as his own. In reply to my in­quiries, I was in­formed that the bones, the knife, the but­tons and the stick had all been found to­geth­er in a lime-kiln then in use on the farm.

"Is it se­ri­ous?" Naomi whis­pered to me as we drew back from the table.

It would have been sheer cru­el­ty to de­ceive her now.

"Yes," I whis­pered back; "it is se­ri­ous."

The search com­mit­tee con­duct­ed its pro­ceed­ings with the strictest reg­u­lar­i­ty. The prop­er ap­pli­ca­tions were made forth­with to a jus­tice of the peace, and the jus­tice is­sued his war­rant. That night Silas was com­mit­ted to prison; and an of­fi­cer was dis­patched to ar­rest Am­brose in New York.

For my part, I did the lit­tle I could to make my­self use­ful. With the silent sanc­tion of Mr. Mead­owcroft and his daugh­ter, I went to Narrabee, and se­cured the best legal as­sis­tance for the de­fense which the town could place at my dis­pos­al. This done, there was no choice but to wait for news of Am­brose, and for the ex­am­i­na­tion be­fore the mag­is­trate which was to fol­low. I shall pass over the mis­ery in the house dur­ing the in­ter­val of ex­pec­ta­tion; no use­ful pur­pose could be served by de­scrib­ing it now. Let me only say that Naomi's con­duct strength­ened me in the con­vic­tion that she pos­sessed a noble na­ture. I was un­con­scious of the state of my own feel­ings at the time; but I am now dis­posed to think that this was the epoch at which I began to envy Am­brose the wife whom he had won.

The tele­graph brought us our first news of Am­brose. He had been ar­rest­ed at the hotel, and he was on his way to Mor­wick. The next day he ar­rived, and fol­lowed his broth­er to prison. The two were con­fined in sep­a­rate cells, and were for­bid­den all com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each other.

Two days later, the pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion took place. Am­brose and Silas Mead­owcroft were charged be­fore the mag­is­trate with the will­ful mur­der of John Jago. I was cited to ap­pear as one of the wit­ness­es; and, at Naomi's own re­quest, I took the poor girl into court, and sat by her dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings. My host also was pre­sent in his in­valid-chair, with his daugh­ter by his side.

Such was the re­sult of my voy­age across the ocean in search of rest and quiet; and thus did time and chance ful­fill my first hasty fore­bod­ing of the dull life I was to lead at Mor­wick Farm!
 

CHAP­TER VII. THE MA­TE­RI­ALS IN THE DE­FENSE.

O

N our way to the chairs al­lot­ted to us in the mag­is­trate's court, we passed the plat­form on which the pris­on­ers were stand­ing to­geth­er.

Silas took no no­tice of us. Am­brose made a friend­ly sign of recog­ni­tion, and then rest­ed his hand on the "bar" in front of him. As she passed be­neath him, Naomi was just tall enough to reach his hand on tip­toe. She took it. "I know you are in­no­cent," she whis­pered, and gave him one look of lov­ing en­cour­age­ment as she fol­lowed me to her place. Am­brose never lost his self-con­trol. I may have been wrong; but I thought this a bad sign.

The case, as stat­ed for the pros­e­cu­tion, told strong­ly against the sus­pect­ed men.

Am­brose and Silas Mead­owcroft were charged with the mur­der of John Jago (by means of the stick or by use of some other weapon), and with the de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion of the body by throw­ing it into the quick­lime. In proof of this lat­ter as­ser­tion, the knife which the de­ceased ha­bit­u­al­ly car­ried about him, and the metal but­tons which were known to be­long to his coat, were pro­duced. It was ar­gued that these in­de­struc­tible sub­stances, and some frag­ments of the larg­er bones had alone es­caped the ac­tion of the burn­ing lime. Hav­ing pro­duced med­i­cal wit­ness­es to sup­port this the­o­ry by declar­ing the bones to be human, and hav­ing thus cir­cum­stan­tial­ly as­sert­ed the dis­cov­ery of the re­mains in the kiln, the pros­e­cu­tion next pro­ceed­ed to prove that the miss­ing man had been mur­dered by the two broth­ers, and had been by them thrown into the quick­lime as a means of con­ceal­ing their guilt.

Wit­ness after wit­ness de­posed to the in­vet­er­ate en­mi­ty against the de­ceased dis­played by Am­brose and Silas. The threat­en­ing lan­guage they ha­bit­u­al­ly used to­ward him; their vi­o­lent quar­rels with him, which had be­come a pub­lic scan­dal through­out the neigh­bor­hood, and which had ended (on one oc­ca­sion at least) in a blow; the dis­grace­ful scene which had taken place under my win­dow; and the restora­tion to Am­brose, on the morn­ing of the fatal quar­rel, of the very stick which had been found among the re­mains of the dead man — these facts and events, and a host of minor cir­cum­stances be­sides, sworn to by wit­ness­es whose cred­it was unim­peach­able, point­ed with ter­ri­ble di­rect­ness to the con­clu­sion at which the pros­e­cu­tion had ar­rived.

I looked at the broth­ers as the weight of the ev­i­dence pressed more and more heav­i­ly against them. To out­ward view at least, Am­brose still main­tained his self-pos­ses­sion. It was far oth­er­wise with Silas. Ab­ject ter­ror showed it­self in his ghast­ly face; in his great knot­ty hands, cling­ing con­vul­sive­ly to the bar at which he stood; in his star­ing eyes, fixed in va­cant hor­ror on each wit­ness who ap­peared. Pub­lic feel­ing judged him on the spot. There he stood, self-be­trayed al­ready, in the pop­u­lar opin­ion, as a guilty man!

The one point gained in cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by the de­fense re­lat­ed to the charred bones.

Pressed on this point, a ma­jor­i­ty of the med­i­cal wit­ness­es ad­mit­ted that their ex­am­i­na­tion had been a hur­ried one; and that it was just pos­si­ble that the bones might yet prove to be the re­mains of an an­i­mal, and not of a man. The pre­sid­ing mag­is­trate de­cid­ed upon this that a sec­ond ex­am­i­na­tion should be made, and that the mem­ber of the med­i­cal ex­perts should be in­creased.

Here the pre­lim­i­nary pro­ceed­ings ended. The pris­on­ers were re­mand­ed for three days.

The pros­tra­tion of Silas, at the close of the in­quiry, was so com­plete, that it was found nec­es­sary to have two men to sup­port him on his leav­ing the court. Am­brose leaned over the bar to speak to Naomi be­fore he fol­lowed the jail­er out. "Wait," he whis­pered, con­fi­dent­ly, "till they hear what I have to say!" Naomi kissed her hand to him af­fec­tion­ate­ly, and turned to me with the bright tears in her eyes.

"Why don't they hear what he has to say at once?" she asked. "Any­body can see that Am­brose is in­no­cent. It's a cry­ing shame, sir, to send him back to prison. Don't you think so your­self?"

If I had con­fessed what I re­al­ly thought, I should have said that Am­brose had proved noth­ing to my mind, ex­cept that he pos­sessed rare pow­ers of self-con­trol. It was im­pos­si­ble to ac­knowl­edge this to my lit­tle friend. I di­vert­ed her mind from the ques­tion of her lover's in­no­cence by propos­ing that we should get the nec­es­sary order, and visit him in his prison on the next day. Naomi dried her tears, and gave me a lit­tle grate­ful squeeze of the hand.

"Oh my! what a good fel­low you are!" cried the out­spo­ken Amer­i­can girl. "When your time comes to be mar­ried, sir, I guess the woman won't re­pent say­ing yes to you!"

Mr. Mead­owcroft pre­served un­bro­ken si­lence as we walked back to the farm on ei­ther side of his in­valid-chair. His last re­serves of res­o­lu­tion seemed to have given way under the over­whelm­ing strain laid on them by the pro­ceed­ings in court. His daugh­ter, in stern in­dul­gence to Naomi, mer­ci­ful­ly per­mit­ted her opin­ion to glim­mer on us only through the medi­um of quo­ta­tion from Scrip­ture texts. If the texts meant any­thing, they meant that she had fore­seen all that had hap­pened; and that the one sad as­pect of the case, to her mind, was the death of John Jago, un­pre­pared to meet his end.

I ob­tained the order of ad­mis­sion to the prison the next morn­ing.

We found Am­brose still con­fi­dent of the fa­vor­able re­sult, for his broth­er and for him­self, of the in­quiry be­fore the mag­is­trate. He seemed to be al­most as eager to tell, as Naomi was to hear, the true story of what had hap­pened at the lime-kiln. The au­thor­i­ties of the prison — pre­sent, of course, at the in­ter­view — warned him to re­mem­ber that what he said might be taken down in writ­ing, and pro­duced against him in court.

"Take it down, gen­tle­men, and wel­come," Am­brose replied. "I have noth­ing to fear; I am only telling the truth."

With that he turned to Naomi, and began his nar­ra­tive, as near­ly as I can re­mem­ber, in these words:

"I may as well make a clean breast of it at start­ing, my girl. After Mr. Lefrank left us that morn­ing, I asked Silas how he came by my stick. In telling me how, Silas also told me of the words that had passed be­tween him and John Jago under Mr. Lefrank's win­dow. I was angry and jeal­ous; and I own it freely, Naomi, I thought the worst that could be thought about you and John."

Here Naomi stopped him with­out cer­e­mo­ny.

"Was that what made you speak to me as you spoke when we found you at the wood?" she asked.

"Yes."

"And was that what made you leave me, when you went away to Narrabee, with­out giv­ing me a kiss at part­ing?"

"It was."

"Beg my par­don for it be­fore you say a word more."

"I beg your par­don."

"Say you are ashamed of your­self."

"I am ashamed of my­self," Am­brose an­swered pen­i­tent­ly.

"Now you may go on," said Naomi. "Now I'm sat­is­fied."

Am­brose went on.

"We were on our way to the clear­ing at the other side of the wood while Silas was talk­ing to me; and, as ill luck would have it, we took the path that led by the lime-kiln. Turn­ing the cor­ner, we met John Jago on his way to Narrabee. I was too angry, I tell you, to let him pass qui­et­ly. I gave him a bit of my mind. His blood was up too, I sup­pose; and he spoke out, on his side, as freely as I did. I own I threat­ened him with the stick; but I'll swear to it I meant him no harm. You know — after dress­ing Silas's hand — that John Jago is ready with his knife. He comes from out West, where they are al­ways ready with one weapon or an­oth­er handy in their pock­ets. It's like­ly enough he didn't mean to harm me, ei­ther; but how could I be sure of that? When he stepped up to me, and showed his weapon, I dropped the stick, and closed with him. With one hand I wrenched the knife away from him; and with the other I caught him by the col­lar of his rot­ten old coat, and gave him a shak­ing that made his bones rat­tle in his skin. A big piece of the cloth came away in my hand. I shied it into the quick­lime close by us, and I pitched the knife after the cloth; and, if Silas hadn't stopped me, I think it's like­ly I might have shied John Jago him­self into the lime next. As it was, Silas kept hold of me. Silas shout­ed out to him, 'Be off with you! and don't come back again, if you don't want to be burned in the kiln!' He stood look­ing at us for a minute, fetch­ing his breath, and hold­ing his torn coat round him. Then he spoke with a dead­ly-qui­et voice and a dead­ly-qui­et look: 'Many a true word, Mr. Silas,' he says, 'is spo­ken in jest. I shall not come back again.' He turned about, and left us. We stood star­ing at each other like a cou­ple of fools. 'You don't think he means it?' I says. 'Bosh!' says Silas. 'He's too sweet on Naomi not to come back.' What's the mat­ter now, Naomi?"

I had no­ticed it too. She start­ed and turned pale, when Am­brose re­peat­ed to her what Silas had said to him.

"Noth­ing is the mat­ter," Naomi an­swered. "Your broth­er has no right to take lib­er­ties with my name. Go on. Did Silas say any more while he was about it?"

"Yes; he looked into the kiln; and he says, 'What made you throw away the knife, Am­brose?' — 'How does a man know why he does any­thing,' I says, 'when he does it in a pas­sion?' — 'It's a rip­ping good knife,' says Silas; 'in your place, I should have kept it.' I picked up the stick off the ground. 'Who says I've lost it yet?' I an­swered him; and with that I got up on the side of the kiln, and began sound­ing for the knife, to bring it, you know, by means of the stick, with­in easy reach of a shov­el, or some such thing. 'Give us your hand,' I says to Silas. 'Let me stretch out a bit and I'll have it in no time.' In­stead of find­ing the knife, I came nigh to falling my­self into the burn­ing lime. The vapor over­pow­ered me, I sup­pose. All I know is, I turned giddy, and dropped the stick in the kiln. I should have fol­lowed the stick to a dead cer­tain­ty, but for Silas pulling me back by the hand. 'Let it be,' says Silas. 'If I hadn't had hold of you, John Jago's knife would have been the death of you, after all!' He led me away by the arm, and we went on to­geth­er on the road to the wood. We stopped where you found us, and sat down on the felled tree. We had a lit­tle more talk about John Jago. It ended in our agree­ing to wait and see what hap­pened, and to keep our own coun­sel in the mean­time. You and Mr. Lefrank came upon us, Naomi, while we were still talk­ing; and you guessed right when you guessed that we had a se­cret from you. You know the se­cret now."

There he stopped. I put a ques­tion to him — the first that I had asked yet.

"Had you or your broth­er any fear at that time of the charge which has since been brought against you?" I said.

"No such thought en­tered our heads, sir," Am­brose an­swered. "How could we fore­see that the neigh­bors would search the kiln, and say what they have said of us? All we feared was, that the old man might hear of the quar­rel, and be bit­ter­er against us than ever. I was the more anx­ious of the two to keep things se­cret, be­cause I had Naomi to con­sid­er as well as the old man. Put your­self in my place, and you will own, sir, that the prospect at home was not a pleas­ant one for me, if John Jago re­al­ly kept away from the farm, and if it came out that it was all my doing."

(This was cer­tain­ly an ex­pla­na­tion of his con­duct; but it was not sat­is­fac­to­ry to my mind.)

"As you be­lieve, then," I went on, "John Jago has car­ried out his threat of not re­turn­ing to the farm? Ac­cord­ing to you, he is now alive, and in hid­ing some­where?"

"Cer­tain­ly!" said Am­brose.

"Cer­tain­ly!" re­peat­ed Naomi.

"Do you be­lieve the re­port that he was seen trav­el­ing on the rail­way to New York?"

"I be­lieve it firm­ly, sir; and, what is more, I be­lieve I was on his track. I was only too anx­ious to find him; and I say I could have found him if they would have let me stay in New York."

I looked at Naomi.

"I be­lieve it too," she said. "John Jago is keep­ing away."

"Do you sup­pose he is afraid of Am­brose and Silas?"

She hes­i­tat­ed.

"He may be afraid of them," she replied, with a strong em­pha­sis on the word "may."

"But you don't think it like­ly?"

She hes­i­tat­ed again. I pressed her again.

"Do you think there is any other mo­tive for his ab­sence?"

Her eyes dropped to the floor. She an­swered ob­sti­nate­ly, al­most dogged­ly,

"I can't say."

I ad­dressed my­self to Am­brose.

"Have you any­thing more to tell us?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I have told you all I know about it."

I rose to speak to the lawyer whose ser­vices I had re­tained. He had helped us to get the order of ad­mis­sion, and he had ac­com­pa­nied us to the prison. Seat­ed apart he had kept si­lence through­out, at­ten­tive­ly watch­ing the ef­fect of Am­brose Mead­owcroft's nar­ra­tive on the of­fi­cers of the prison and on me.

"Is this the de­fense?" I in­quired, in a whis­per.

"This is the de­fense, Mr. Lefrank. What do you think, be­tween our­selves?"

"Be­tween our­selves, I think the mag­is­trate will com­mit them for trial."

"On the charge of mur­der?"

"Yes, on the charge of mur­der."
 

CHAP­TER VIII. THE CON­FES­SION.

M

Y replies to the lawyer ac­cu­rate­ly ex­pressed the con­vic­tion in my mind. The nar­ra­tive re­lat­ed by Am­brose had all the ap­pear­ance, in my eyes, of a fab­ri­cat­ed story, got up, and clum­si­ly got up, to per­vert the plain mean­ing of the cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence pro­duced by the pros­e­cu­tion. I reached this con­clu­sion re­luc­tant­ly and re­gret­ful­ly, for Naomi's sake. I said all I could say to shake the ab­so­lute con­fi­dence which she felt in the dis­charge of the pris­on­ers at the next ex­am­i­na­tion.

The day of the ad­journed in­quiry ar­rived.

Naomi and I again at­tend­ed the court to­geth­er. Mr. Mead­owcroft was un­able, on this oc­ca­sion, to leave the house. His daugh­ter was pre­sent, walk­ing to the court by her­self, and oc­cu­py­ing a seat by her­self.

On his sec­ond ap­pear­ance at the "bar," Silas was more com­posed, and more like his broth­er. No new wit­ness­es were called by the pros­e­cu­tion. We began the bat­tle over the med­i­cal ev­i­dence re­lat­ing to the charred bones; and, to some ex­tent, we won the vic­to­ry. In other words, we forced the doc­tors to ac­knowl­edge that they dif­fered wide­ly in their opin­ions. Three con­fessed that they were not cer­tain. Two went still fur­ther, and de­clared that the bones were the bones of an an­i­mal, not of a man. We made the most of this; and then we en­tered upon the de­fense, found­ed on Am­brose Mead­owcroft's story.

Nec­es­sar­i­ly, no wit­ness­es could be called on our side. Whether this cir­cum­stance dis­cour­aged him, or whether he pri­vate­ly shared my opin­ion of his client's state­ment, I can­not say. It is only cer­tain that the lawyer spoke me­chan­i­cal­ly, doing his best, no doubt, but doing it with­out gen­uine con­vic­tion or earnest­ness on his own part. Naomi cast an anx­ious glance at me as he sat down. The girl's hand, as I took it, turned cold in mine. She saw plain signs of the fail­ure of the de­fense in the look and man­ner of the coun­sel for the pros­e­cu­tion; but she wait­ed res­o­lute­ly until the pre­sid­ing mag­is­trate an­nounced his de­ci­sion. I had only too clear­ly fore­seen what he would feel it to be his duty to do. Naomi's head dropped on my shoul­der as he said the ter­ri­ble words which com­mit­ted Am­brose and Silas Mead­owcroft to take their trial on the charge of mur­der.

I led her out of the court into the air. As I passed the "bar," I saw Am­brose, dead­ly pale, look­ing after us as we left him: the mag­is­trate's de­ci­sion had ev­i­dent­ly daunt­ed him. His broth­er Silas had dropped in ab­ject ter­ror on the jail­er's chair; the mis­er­able wretch shook and shud­dered dumb­ly, like a cowed dog.

Miss Mead­owcroft re­turned with us to the farm, pre­serv­ing un­bro­ken si­lence on the way back. I could de­tect noth­ing in her bear­ing which sug­gest­ed any com­pas­sion­ate feel­ing for the pris­on­ers in her stern and se­cret na­ture. On Naomi's with­draw­al to her own room, we were left to­geth­er for a few min­utes; and then, to my as­ton­ish­ment, the out­ward­ly mer­ci­less woman showed me that she, too, was one of Eve's daugh­ters, and could feel and suf­fer, in her own hard way, like the rest of us. She sud­den­ly stepped close up to me, and laid her hand on my arm.

"You are a lawyer, ain't you?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Have you had any ex­pe­ri­ence in your pro­fes­sion?"

"Ten years' ex­pe­ri­ence."

"Do you think — " She stopped abrupt­ly; her hard face soft­ened; her eyes dropped to the ground. "Never mind," she said, con­fus­ed­ly. "I'm upset by all this mis­ery, though I may not look like it. Don't no­tice me."

She turned away. I wait­ed, in the firm per­sua­sion that the un­spo­ken ques­tion in her mind would soon­er or later force its way to ut­ter­ance by her lips. I was right. She came back to me un­will­ing­ly, like a woman act­ing under some in­flu­ence which the ut­most ex­er­tion of her will was pow­er­less to re­sist.

"Do you be­lieve John Jago is still a liv­ing man?"

She put the ques­tion ve­he­ment­ly, des­per­ate­ly, as if the words rushed out of her mouth in spite of her.

"I do not be­lieve it," I an­swered.

"Re­mem­ber what John Jago has suf­fered at the hands of my broth­ers," she per­sist­ed. "Is it not in your ex­pe­ri­ence that he should take a sud­den res­o­lu­tion to leave the farm?"

I replied, as plain­ly as be­fore,

"It is not in my ex­pe­ri­ence."

She stood look­ing at me for a mo­ment with a face of blank de­spair; then bowed her gray head in si­lence, and left me. As she crossed the room to the door, I saw her look up­ward; and I heard her say to her­self soft­ly, be­tween her teeth, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."

It was the re­quiem of John Jago, pro­nounced by the woman who loved him.

When I next saw her, her mask was on once more. Miss Mead­owcroft was her­self again. Miss Mead­owcroft could sit by, im­pen­e­tra­bly calm, while the lawyers dis­cussed the ter­ri­ble po­si­tion of her broth­ers, with the scaf­fold in view as one of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the "case."

Left by my­self, I began to feel un­easy about Naomi. I went up­stairs, and, knock­ing soft­ly at her door, made my in­quiries from out­side. The clear young voice an­swered me sadly, "I am try­ing to bear it: I won't dis­tress you when we meet again." I de­scend­ed the stairs, feel­ing my first sus­pi­cion of the true na­ture of my in­ter­est in the Amer­i­can girl. Why had her an­swer brought the tears into my eyes? I went out, walk­ing alone, to think undis­turbed­ly. Why did the tones of her voice dwell on my ear all the way? Why did my hand still feel the last cold, faint pres­sure of her fin­gers when I led her out of court?

I took a sud­den res­o­lu­tion to go back to Eng­land.

When I re­turned to the farm, it was evening. The lamp was not yet light­ed in the hall. Paus­ing to ac­cus­tom my eyes to the ob­scu­ri­ty in­doors, I heard the voice of the lawyer whom we had em­ployed for the de­fense speak­ing to some one very earnest­ly.

"I'm not to blame," said the voice. "She snatched the paper out of my hand be­fore I was aware of her."

"Do you want it back?" asked the voice of Miss Mead­owcroft.

"No; it's only a copy. If keep­ing it will help to quiet her, let her keep it by all means. Good evening."

Say­ing these last words, the lawyer ap­proached me on his way out of the house. I stopped him with­out cer­e­mo­ny; I felt an un­govern­able cu­rios­i­ty to know more.

"Who snatched the paper out of your hand?" I asked, blunt­ly.

The lawyer start­ed. I had taken him by sur­prise. The in­stinct of pro­fes­sion­al ret­i­cence made him pause be­fore he an­swered me.

In the brief in­ter­val of si­lence, Miss Mead­owcroft replied to my ques­tion from the other end of the hall.

"Naomi Cole­brook snatched the paper out of his hand."

"What paper?"

A door opened soft­ly be­hind me. Naomi her­self ap­peared on the thresh­old; Naomi her­self an­swered my ques­tion.

"I will tell you," she whis­pered. "Come in here."

One can­dle only was burn­ing in the room. I looked at her by the dim light. My res­o­lu­tion to re­turn to Eng­land in­stant­ly be­came one of the lost ideas of my life.

"Good God!" I ex­claimed, "what has hap­pened now?"

She hand­ed me the paper which she had taken from the lawyer's hand.

The "copy" to which he had re­ferred was a copy of the writ­ten con­fes­sion of Silas Mead­owcroft on his re­turn to prison. He ac­cused his broth­er Am­brose of the mur­der of John Jago. He de­clared on his oath that he had seen his broth­er Am­brose com­mit the crime.

In the pop­u­lar phrase, I could "hard­ly be­lieve my own eyes." I read the last sen­tences of the con­fes­sion for the sec­ond time:

"...I heard their voic­es at the lime-kiln. They were hav­ing words about Cousin Naomi. I ran to the place to part them. I was not in time. I saw Am­brose strike the de­ceased a ter­ri­ble blow on the head with his (Am­brose's) heavy stick. The de­ceased dropped with­out a cry. I put my hand on his heart. He was dead. I was hor­ri­bly fright­ened. Am­brose threat­ened to kill me next if I said a word to any liv­ing soul. He took up the body and cast it into the quick­lime, and threw the stick in after it. We went on to­geth­er to the wood. We sat down on a felled tree out­side the wood. Am­brose made up the story that we were to tell if what he had done was found out. He made me re­peat it after him, like a les­son. We were still at it when Cousin Naomi and Mr. Lefrank came up to us. They know the rest. This, on my oath, is a true con­fes­sion. I make it of my own free-will, re­pent­ing me sin­cere­ly that I did not make it be­fore."

(Signed) "SILAS MEAD­OWCROFT."

I laid down the paper, and looked at Naomi once more. She spoke to me with a strange com­po­sure. Im­mov­able de­ter­mi­na­tion was in her eye; im­mov­able de­ter­mi­na­tion was in her voice.

"Silas has lied away his broth­er's life to save him­self," she said. "I see cow­ard­ly false­hood and cow­ard­ly cru­el­ty in every line on that paper. Am­brose is in­no­cent, and the time has come to prove it."

"You for­get," I said, "that we have just failed to prove it."

"John Jago is alive, in hid­ing from us and from all who know him," she went on. "Help me, friend Lefrank, to ad­ver­tise for him in the news­pa­pers."

I drew back from her in speech­less dis­tress. I own I be­lieved that the new mis­ery which had fall­en on her had af­fect­ed her brain.

"You don't be­lieve it," she said. "Shut the door."

I obeyed her. She seat­ed her­self, and point­ed to a chair near her.

"Sit down," she pro­ceed­ed. "I am going to do a wrong thing; but there is no help for it. I am going to break a sa­cred promise. You re­mem­ber that moon­light night when I met him on the gar­den walk?"

"John Jago?"

"Yes. Now lis­ten. I am going to tell you what passed be­tween John Jago and me."
 

CHAP­TER IX. THE AD­VER­TISE­MENT.

I

WAIT­ED in si­lence for the dis­clo­sure that was now to come. Naomi began by ask­ing me a ques­tion.

"You re­mem­ber when we went to see Am­brose in the prison?" she said.

"Per­fect­ly."

"Am­brose told us of some­thing which his vil­lain of a broth­er said of John Jago and me. Do you re­mem­ber what it was?"

I re­mem­bered per­fect­ly. Silas had said, "John Jago is too sweet on Naomi not to come back."

"That's so," Naomi re­marked when I had re­peat­ed the words. "I couldn't help start­ing when I heard what Silas had said; and I thought you no­ticed me."

"I did no­tice you."

"Did you won­der what it meant?"

"Yes."

"I'll tell you. It meant this: What Silas Mead­owcroft said to his broth­er of John Jago was what I my­self was think­ing of John Jago at that very mo­ment. It star­tled me to find my own thought in a man's mind spo­ken for me by a man. I am the per­son, sir, who has driv­en John Jago away from Mor­wick Farm; and I am the per­son who can and will bring him back again."

There was some­thing in her man­ner, more than in her words, which let the light in sud­den­ly on my mind.

"You have told me the se­cret," I said. "John Jago is in love with you."

"Mad about me!" she re­joined, drop­ping her voice to a whis­per. "Stark, star­ing mad! — that's the only word for him. After we had taken a few turns on the grav­el-walk, he sud­den­ly broke out like a man be­side him­self. He fell down on his knees; he kissed my gown, he kissed my feet; he sobbed and cried for love of me. I'm not badly off for courage, sir, con­sid­er­ing I'm a woman. No man, that I can call to mind, ever re­al­ly scared me be­fore. But I own John Jago fright­ened me; oh my! he did fright­en me! My heart was in my mouth, and my knees shook under me. I begged and prayed of him to get up and go away. No; there he knelt, and held by the skirt of my gown. The words poured out from him like — well, like noth­ing I can think of but water from a pump. His hap­pi­ness and his life, and his hopes in earth and heav­en, and Lord only knows what be­sides, all de­pend­ed, he said, on a word from me. I plucked up spir­it enough at that to re­mind him that I was promised to Am­brose. 'I think you ought to be ashamed of your­self,' I said, 'to own that you're wicked enough to love me when you know I am promised to an­oth­er man!' When I spoke to him he took a new turn; he began abus­ing Am­brose. That straight­ened me up. I snatched my gown out of his hand, and I gave him my whole mind. 'I hate you!' I said. 'Even if I wasn't promised to Am­brose, I wouldn't marry you — no! not if there wasn't an­oth­er man left in the world to ask me. I hate you, Mr. Jago! I hate you!' He saw I was in earnest at last. He got up from my feet, and he set­tled down quiet again, all on a sud­den. 'You have said enough' (that was how he an­swered me). 'You have bro­ken my life. I have no hopes and no prospects now. I had a pride in the farm, miss, and a pride in my work; I bore with your brutish cousins' ha­tred of me; I was faith­ful to Mr. Mead­owcroft's in­ter­ests; all for your sake, Naomi Cole­brook — all for your sake! I have done with it now; I have done with my life at the farm. You will never be trou­bled with me again. I am going away, as the dumb crea­tures go when they are sick, to hide my­self in a cor­ner, and die. Do me one last favor. Don't make me the laugh­ing-stock of the whole neigh­bor­hood. I can't bear that; it mad­dens me only to think of it. Give me your promise never to tell any liv­ing soul what I have said to you to-night — your sa­cred promise to the man whose life you have bro­ken!' I did as he bade me; I gave him my sa­cred promise with the tears in my eyes. Yes, that is so. After telling him I hated him (and I did hate him), I cried over his mis­ery; I did! Mercy, what fools women are! What is the hor­rid per­ver­si­ty, sir, which makes us al­ways ready to pity the men? He held out his hand to me; and he said, 'Good-by for­ev­er!' and I pitied him. I said, 'I'll shake hands with you if you will give me your promise in ex­change for mine. I beg of you not to leave the farm. What will my uncle do if you go away? Stay here, and be friends with me, and for­get and for­give, Mr. John.' He gave me his promise (he can refuse me noth­ing); and he gave it again when I saw him again the next morn­ing. Yes. I'll do him jus­tice, though I do hate him! I be­lieve he hon­est­ly meant to keep his word as long as my eye was on him. It was only when he was left to him­self that the Devil tempt­ed him to break his promise and leave the farm. I was brought up to be­lieve in the Devil, Mr. Lefrank; and I find it ex­plains many things. It ex­plains John Jago. Only let me find out where he has gone, and I'll en­gage he shall come back and clear Am­brose of the sus­pi­cion which his vile broth­er has cast on him. Here is the pen all ready for you. Ad­ver­tise for him, friend Lefrank; and do it right away, for my sake!"

I let her run on, with­out at­tempt­ing to dis­pute her con­clu­sions, until she could say no more. When she put the pen into my hand, I began the com­po­si­tion of the ad­ver­tise­ment as obe­di­ent­ly as if I, too, be­lieved that John Jago was a liv­ing man.

In the case of any one else, I should have open­ly ac­knowl­edged that my own con­vic­tions re­mained un­shak­en. If no quar­rel had taken place at the lime-kiln, I should have been quite ready, as I viewed the case, to be­lieve that John Jago's dis­ap­pear­ance was refer­able to the ter­ri­ble dis­ap­point­ment which Naomi had in­flict­ed on him. The same mor­bid dread of ridicule which had led him to as­sert that he cared noth­ing for Naomi, when he and Silas had quar­reled under my bed­room win­dow, might also have im­pelled him to with­draw him­self se­cret­ly and sud­den­ly from the scene of his dis­com­fi­ture. But to ask me to be­lieve, after what had hap­pened at the lime-kiln, that he was still liv­ing, was to ask me to take Am­brose Mead­owcroft's state­ment for grant­ed as a true state­ment of facts.

I had re­fused to do this from the first; and I still per­sist­ed in tak­ing that course. If I had been called upon to de­cide the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ty be­tween the nar­ra­tive re­lat­ed by Am­brose in his de­fense and the nar­ra­tive re­lat­ed by Silas in his con­fes­sion, I must have owned, no mat­ter how un­will­ing­ly, that the con­fes­sion was, to my mind, the least in­cred­i­ble story of the two.

Could I say this to Naomi? I would have writ­ten fifty ad­ver­tise­ments in­quir­ing for John Jago rather than say it; and you would have done the same, if you had been as fond of her as I was. I drew out the ad­ver­tise­ment, for in­ser­tion in the Mor­wick Mer­cury, in these terms:

MUR­DER. — Print­ers of news­pa­pers through­out the Unit­ed States are de­sired to pub­lish that Am­brose Mead­owcroft and Silas Mead­owcroft, of Mor­wick Farm, Mor­wick Coun­ty, are com­mit­ted for trial on the charge of mur­der­ing John Jago, now miss­ing from the farm and from the neigh­bor­hood. Any per­son who can give in­for­ma­tion of the ex­is­tence of said Jago may save the lives of two wrong­ly-ac­cused men by mak­ing im­me­di­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Jago is about five feet four inch­es high. He is spare and wiry; his com­plex­ion is ex­treme­ly pale, his eyes are dark, and very bright and rest­less. The lower part of his face is con­cealed by a thick black beard and mus­tache. The whole ap­pear­ance of the man is wild and flighty.

I added the date and the ad­dress. That evening a ser­vant was sent on horse­back to Narrabee to pro­cure the in­ser­tion of the ad­ver­tise­ment in the next issue of the news­pa­per.

When we part­ed that night, Naomi looked al­most like her brighter and hap­pi­er self. Now that the ad­ver­tise­ment was on its way to the print­ing-of­fice, she was more than san­guine: she was cer­tain of the re­sult.

"You don't know how you have com­fort­ed me," she said, in her frank, warm-heart­ed way, when we part­ed for the night. "All the news­pa­pers will copy it, and we shall hear of John Jago be­fore the week is out." She turned to go, and came back again to me. "I will never for­give Silas for writ­ing that con­fes­sion!" she whis­pered in my ear. "If he ever lives under the same roof with Am­brose again, I — well, I be­lieve I wouldn't marry Am­brose if he did! There!"

She left me. Through the wake­ful hours of the night my mind dwelt on her last words. That she should con­tem­plate, under any cir­cum­stances, even the bare pos­si­bil­i­ty of not mar­ry­ing Am­brose, was, I am ashamed to say, a di­rect en­cour­age­ment to cer­tain hopes which I had al­ready begun to form in se­cret. The next day's mail brought me a let­ter on busi­ness. My clerk wrote to in­quire if there was any chance of my re­turn­ing to Eng­land in time to ap­pear in court at the open­ing of next law term. I an­swered, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, "It is still im­pos­si­ble for me to fix the date of my re­turn." Naomi was in the room while I was writ­ing. How would she have an­swered, I won­der, if I had told her the truth, and said, "You are re­spon­si­ble for this let­ter?"
 

CHAP­TER X. THE SHER­IFF AND THE GOV­ER­NOR.

T

HE ques­tion of time was now a se­ri­ous ques­tion at Mor­wick Farm. In six weeks the court for the trial of crim­i­nal cases was to be opened at Narrabee.

Dur­ing this in­ter­val no new event of any im­por­tance oc­curred.

Many idle let­ters reached us re­lat­ing to the ad­ver­tise­ment for John Jago; but no pos­i­tive in­for­ma­tion was re­ceived. Not the slight­est trace of the lost man turned up; not the shad­ow of a doubt was cast on the as­ser­tion of the pros­e­cu­tion, that his body had been de­stroyed in the kiln. Silas Mead­owcroft held firm­ly to the hor­ri­ble con­fes­sion that he had made. His broth­er Am­brose, with equal res­o­lu­tion, as­sert­ed his in­no­cence, and re­it­er­at­ed the state­ment which he had al­ready ad­vanced. At reg­u­lar pe­ri­ods I ac­com­pa­nied Naomi to visit him in the prison. As the day ap­point­ed for the open­ing of the court ap­proached, he seemed to fal­ter a lit­tle in his res­o­lu­tion; his man­ner be­came rest­less; and he grew ir­ri­ta­bly sus­pi­cious about the mer­est tri­fles. This change did not nec­es­sar­i­ly imply the con­scious­ness of guilt: it might mere­ly have in­di­cat­ed nat­u­ral ner­vous ag­i­ta­tion as the time for the trial drew near. Naomi no­ticed the al­ter­ation in her lover. It great­ly in­creased her anx­i­ety, though it never shook her con­fi­dence in Am­brose. Ex­cept at meal-times, I was left, dur­ing the pe­ri­od of which I am now writ­ing, al­most con­stant­ly alone with the charm­ing Amer­i­can girl. Miss Mead­owcroft searched the news­pa­pers for tid­ings of the liv­ing John Jago in the pri­va­cy of her own room. Mr. Mead­owcroft would see no­body but his daugh­ter and his doc­tor, and oc­ca­sion­al­ly one or two old friends. I have since had rea­son to be­lieve that Naomi, in these days of our in­ti­mate as­so­ci­a­tion, dis­cov­ered the true na­ture of the feel­ing with which she had in­spired me. But she kept her se­cret. Her man­ner to­ward me steadi­ly re­mained the man­ner of a sis­ter; she never over­stepped by a hair-breadth the safe lim­its of the char­ac­ter that she had as­sumed.

The sit­tings of the court began. After hear­ing the ev­i­dence, and ex­am­in­ing the con­fes­sion of Silas Mead­owcroft, the grand jury found a true bill against both the pris­on­ers. The day ap­point­ed for their trial was the first day in the new week. I had care­ful­ly pre­pared Naomi's mind for the de­ci­sion of the grand jury. She bore the new blow brave­ly.

"If you are not tired of it," she said, "come with me to the prison to­mor­row. Am­brose will need a lit­tle com­fort by that time." She paused, and looked at the day's let­ters lying on the table. "Still not a word about John Jago," she said. "And all the pa­pers have copied the ad­ver­tise­ment. I felt so sure we should hear of him long be­fore this!"

"Do you still feel sure that he is liv­ing?" I ven­tured to ask.

"I am as cer­tain of it as ever," she replied, firm­ly. "He is some­where in hid­ing; per­haps he is in dis­guise. Sup­pose we know no more of him than we know now when the trial be­gins? Sup­pose the jury — " She stopped, shud­der­ing. Death — shame­ful death on the scaf­fold — might be the ter­ri­ble re­sult of the con­sul­ta­tion of the jury. "We have wait­ed for news to come to us long enough," Naomi re­sumed. "We must find the tracks of John Jago for our­selves. There is a week yet be­fore the trial be­gins. Who will help me to make in­quiries? Will you be the man, friend Lefrank?"

It is need­less to add (though I knew noth­ing would come of it) that I con­sent­ed to be the man.

We ar­ranged to apply that day for the order of ad­mis­sion to the prison, and, hav­ing seen Am­brose, to de­vote our­selves im­me­di­ate­ly to the con­tem­plat­ed search. How that search was to be con­duct­ed was more than I could tell, and more than Naomi could tell. We were to begin by ap­ply­ing to the po­lice to help us to find John Jago, and we were then to be guid­ed by cir­cum­stances. Was there ever a more hope­less pro­gramme than this?

"Cir­cum­stances" de­clared them­selves against us at start­ing. I ap­plied, as usual, for the order of ad­mis­sion to the prison, and the order was for the first time re­fused; no rea­son being as­signed by the per­sons in au­thor­i­ty for tak­ing this course. In­quire as I might, the only an­swer given was, "not to-day."

At Naomi's sug­ges­tion, we went to the prison to seek the ex­pla­na­tion which was re­fused to us at the of­fice. The jail­er on duty at the outer gate was one of Naomi's many ad­mir­ers. He solved the mys­tery cau­tious­ly in a whis­per. The sher­iff and the gov­er­nor of the prison were then speak­ing pri­vate­ly with Am­brose Mead­owcroft in his cell; they had ex­press­ly di­rect­ed that no per­sons should be ad­mit­ted to see the pris­on­er that day but them­selves.

What did it mean? We re­turned, won­der­ing, to the farm. There Naomi, speak­ing by chance to one of the fe­male ser­vants, made cer­tain dis­cov­er­ies.

Early that morn­ing the sher­iff had been brought to Mor­wick by an old friend of the Mead­owcrofts. A long in­ter­view had been held be­tween Mr. Mead­owcroft and his daugh­ter and the of­fi­cial per­son­age in­tro­duced by the friend. Leav­ing the farm, the sher­iff had gone straight to the prison, and had pro­ceed­ed with the gov­er­nor to visit Am­brose in his cell. Was some po­tent in­flu­ence being brought pri­vate­ly to bear on Am­brose? Ap­pear­ances cer­tain­ly sug­gest­ed that in­quiry. Sup­pos­ing the in­flu­ence to have been re­al­ly ex­ert­ed, the next ques­tion fol­lowed, What was the ob­ject in view? We could only wait and see.

Our pa­tience was not severe­ly tried. The event of the next day en­light­ened us in a very un­ex­pect­ed man­ner. Be­fore noon, the neigh­bors brought startling news from the prison to the farm.

Am­brose Mead­owcroft had con­fessed him­self to be the mur­der­er of John Jago! He had signed the con­fes­sion in the pres­ence of the sher­iff and the gov­er­nor on that very day.

I saw the doc­u­ment. It is need­less to re­pro­duce it here. In sub­stance, Am­brose con­fessed what Silas had con­fessed; claim­ing, how­ev­er, to have only struck Jago under in­tol­er­a­ble provo­ca­tion, so as to re­duce the na­ture of his of­fense against the law from mur­der to manslaugh­ter. Was the con­fes­sion re­al­ly the true state­ment of what had taken place? or had the sher­iff and the gov­er­nor, act­ing in the in­ter­ests of the fam­i­ly name, per­suad­ed Am­brose to try this des­per­ate means of es­cap­ing the ig­nominy of death on the scaf­fold? The sher­iff and the gov­er­nor pre­served im­pen­e­tra­ble si­lence until the pres­sure put on them ju­di­cial­ly at the trial obliged them to speak.

Who was to tell Naomi of this last and sad­dest of all the calami­ties which had fall­en on her? Know­ing how I loved her in se­cret, I felt an in­vin­ci­ble re­luc­tance to be the per­son who re­vealed Am­brose Mead­owcroft's degra­da­tion to his be­trothed wife. Had any other mem­ber of the fam­i­ly told her what had hap­pened? The lawyer was able to an­swer me; Miss Mead­owcroft had told her.

I was shocked when I heard it. Miss Mead­owcroft was the last per­son in the house to spare the poor girl; Miss Mead­owcroft would make the hard tid­ings dou­bly ter­ri­ble to bear in the telling. I tried to find Naomi, with­out suc­cess. She had been al­ways ac­ces­si­ble at other times. Was she hid­ing her­self from me now? The idea oc­curred to me as I was de­scend­ing the stairs after vain­ly knock­ing at the door of her room. I was de­ter­mined to see her. I wait­ed a few min­utes, and then as­cend­ed the stairs again sud­den­ly. On the land­ing I met her, just leav­ing her room.

She tried to run back. I caught her by the arm, and de­tained her. With her free hand she held her hand­ker­chief over her face so as to hide it from me.

"You once told me I had com­fort­ed you," I said to her, gen­tly. "Won't you let me com­fort you now?"

She still strug­gled to get away, and still kept her head turned from me.

"Don't you see that I am ashamed to look you in the face?" she said, in low, bro­ken tones. "Let me go."

I still per­sist­ed in try­ing to soothe her. I drew her to the win­dow-seat. I said I would wait until she was able to speak to me.

She dropped on the seat, and wrung her hands on her lap. Her down­cast eyes still ob­sti­nate­ly avoid­ed meet­ing mine.

"Oh!" she said to her­self, "what mad­ness pos­sessed me? Is it pos­si­ble that I ever dis­graced my­self by lov­ing Am­brose Mead­owcroft?" She shud­dered as the idea found its way to ex­pres­sion on her lips. The tears rolled slow­ly over her cheeks. "Don't de­spise me, Mr. Lefrank!" she said, faint­ly.

I tried, hon­est­ly tried, to put the con­fes­sion be­fore her in its least un­fa­vor­able light.

"His res­o­lu­tion has given way," I said. "He has done this, de­spair­ing of prov­ing his in­no­cence, in ter­ror of the scaf­fold."

She rose, with an angry stamp of her foot. She turned her face on me with the deep-red flush of shame in it, and the big tears glis­ten­ing in her eyes.

"No more of him!" she said, stern­ly. "If he is not a mur­der­er, what else is he? A liar and a cow­ard! In which of his char­ac­ters does he dis­grace me most? I have done with him for­ev­er! I will never speak to him again!" She pushed me fu­ri­ous­ly away from her; ad­vanced a few steps to­ward her own door; stopped, and came back to me. The gen­er­ous na­ture of the girl spoke in her next words. "I am not un­grate­ful to you, friend Lefrank. A woman in my place is only a woman; and, when she is shamed as I am, she feels it very bit­ter­ly. Give me your hand! God bless you!"

She put my hand to her lips be­fore I was aware of her, and kissed it, and ran back into her room.

I sat down on the place which she had oc­cu­pied. She had looked at me for one mo­ment when she kissed my hand. I for­got Am­brose and his con­fes­sion; I for­got the com­ing trial; I for­got my pro­fes­sion­al du­ties and my En­glish friends. There I sat, in a fool's ely­si­um of my own mak­ing, with ab­so­lute­ly noth­ing in my mind but the pic­ture of Naomi's face at the mo­ment when she had last looked at me!

I have al­ready men­tioned that I was in love with her. I mere­ly add this to sat­is­fy you that I tell the truth.
 

CHAP­TER XI. THE PEB­BLE AND THE WIN­DOW.

M

ISS MEAD­OWCROFT and I were the only rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the fam­i­ly at the farm who at­tend­ed the trial. We went sep­a­rate­ly to Narrabee. Ex­cept­ing the or­di­nary greet­ings at morn­ing and night, Miss Mead­owcroft had not said one word to me since the time when I had told her that I did not be­lieve John Jago to be a liv­ing man.

I have pur­pose­ly ab­stained from en­cum­ber­ing my nar­ra­tive with legal de­tails. I now pro­pose to state the na­ture of the de­fense in the briefest out­line only.

We in­sist­ed on mak­ing both the pris­on­ers plead not guilty. This done, we took an ob­jec­tion to the le­gal­i­ty of the pro­ceed­ings at start­ing. We ap­pealed to the old En­glish law, that there should be no con­vic­tion for mur­der until the body of the mur­dered per­son was found, or proof of its de­struc­tion ob­tained be­yond a doubt. We de­nied that suf­fi­cient proof had been ob­tained in the case now be­fore the court.

The judges con­sult­ed, and de­cid­ed that the trial should go on.

We took our next ob­jec­tion when the con­fes­sions were pro­duced in ev­i­dence. We de­clared that they had been ex­tort­ed by ter­ror, or by undue in­flu­ence; and we point­ed out cer­tain minor par­tic­u­lars in which the two con­fes­sions failed to cor­rob­o­rate each other. For the rest, our de­fense on this oc­ca­sion was, as to es­sen­tials, what our de­fense had been at the in­quiry be­fore the mag­is­trate. Once more the judges con­sult­ed, and once more they over­ruled our ob­jec­tion. The con­fes­sions were ad­mit­ted in ev­i­dence. On their side, the pros­e­cu­tion pro­duced one new wit­ness in sup­port of their case. It is need­less to waste time in re­ca­pit­u­lat­ing his ev­i­dence. He con­tra­dict­ed him­self grave­ly on cross-ex­am­i­na­tion. We showed plain­ly, and after in­ves­ti­ga­tion proved, that he was not to be be­lieved on his oath.

The chief-jus­tice summed up.

He charged, in re­la­tion to the con­fes­sions, that no weight should be at­tached to a con­fes­sion in­cit­ed by hope or fear; and he left it to the jury to de­ter­mine whether the con­fes­sions in this case had been so in­flu­enced. In the course of the trial, it had been shown for the de­fense that the sher­iff and the gov­er­nor of the prison had told Am­brose, with his fa­ther's knowl­edge and sanc­tion, that the case was clear­ly against him; that the only chance of spar­ing his fam­i­ly the dis­grace of his death by pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion lay in mak­ing a con­fes­sion; and that they would do their best, if he did con­fess, to have his sen­tence com­mut­ed to im­pris­on­ment for life. As for Silas, he was proved to have been be­side him­self with ter­ror when he made his abom­inable charge against his broth­er. We had vain­ly trust­ed to the ev­i­dence on these two points to in­duce the court to re­ject the con­fes­sions: and we were des­tined to be once more dis­ap­point­ed in an­tic­i­pat­ing that the same ev­i­dence would in­flu­ence the ver­dict of the jury on the side of mercy. After an ab­sence of an hour, they re­turned into court with a ver­dict of "Guilty" against both the pris­on­ers.

Being asked in due form if they had any­thing to say in mit­i­ga­tion of their sen­tence, Am­brose and Silas solemn­ly de­clared their in­no­cence, and pub­licly ac­knowl­edged that their re­spec­tive con­fes­sions had been wrung from them by the hope of es­cap­ing the hang­man's hands. This state­ment was not no­ticed by the bench. The pris­on­ers were both sen­tenced to death.

On my re­turn to the farm, I did not see Naomi. Miss Mead­owcroft in­formed her of the re­sult of the trial. Half an hour later, one of the wom­en-ser­vants hand­ed to me an en­ve­lope bear­ing my name on it in Naomi's hand­writ­ing.

The en­ve­lope in­closed a let­ter, and with it a slip of paper on which Naomi had hur­ried­ly writ­ten these words: "For God's sake, read the let­ter I send to you, and do some­thing about it im­me­di­ate­ly!"

I looked at the let­ter. It as­sumed to be writ­ten by a gen­tle­man in New York. Only the day be­fore, he had, by the mer­est ac­ci­dent, seen the ad­ver­tise­ment for John Jago cut out of a news­pa­per and past­ed into a book of "cu­riosi­ties" kept by a friend. Upon this he wrote to Mor­wick Farm to say that he had seen a man ex­act­ly an­swer­ing to the de­scrip­tion of John Jago, but bear­ing an­oth­er name, work­ing as a clerk in a mer­chant's of­fice in Jer­sey City. Hav­ing time to spare be­fore the mail went out, he had re­turned to the of­fice to take an­oth­er look at the man be­fore he post­ed his let­ter. To his sur­prise, he was in­formed that the clerk had not ap­peared at his desk that day. His em­ploy­er had sent to his lodg­ings, and had been in­formed that he had sud­den­ly packed up his hand-bag after read­ing the news­pa­per at break­fast; had paid his rent hon­est­ly, and had gone away, no­body knew where!

It was late in the evening when I read these lines. I had time for re­flec­tion be­fore it would be nec­es­sary for me to act.

As­sum­ing the let­ter to be gen­uine, and adopt­ing Naomi's ex­pla­na­tion of the mo­tive which had led John Jago to ab­sent him­self se­cret­ly from the farm, I reached the con­clu­sion that the search for him might be use­ful­ly lim­it­ed to Narrabee and to the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood.

The news­pa­per at his break­fast had no doubt given him his first in­for­ma­tion of the "find­ing" of the grand jury, and of the trial to fol­low. It was in my ex­pe­ri­ence of human na­ture that he should ven­ture back to Narrabee under these cir­cum­stances, and under the in­flu­ence of his in­fat­u­a­tion for Naomi. More than this, it was again in my ex­pe­ri­ence, I am sorry to say, that he should at­tempt to make the crit­i­cal po­si­tion of Am­brose a means of ex­tort­ing Naomi's con­sent to lis­ten fa­vor­ably to his suit. Cruel in­dif­fer­ence to the in­jury and the suf­fer­ing which his sud­den ab­sence might in­flict on oth­ers was plain­ly im­plied in his se­cret with­draw­al from the farm. The same cruel in­dif­fer­ence, pushed to a fur­ther ex­treme, might well lead him to press his pro­pos­als pri­vate­ly on Naomi, and to fix her ac­cep­tance of them as the price to be paid for sav­ing her cousin's life.

To these con­clu­sions I ar­rived after much think­ing. I had de­ter­mined, on Naomi's ac­count, to clear the mat­ter up; but it is only can­did to add that my doubts of John Jago's ex­is­tence re­mained un­shak­en by the let­ter. I be­lieved it to be noth­ing more nor less than a heart­less and stupid "hoax."

The strik­ing of the hall-clock roused me from my med­i­ta­tions. I count­ed the strokes — mid­night!

I rose to go up to my room. Ev­ery­body else in the farm had re­tired to bed, as usual, more than an hour since. The still­ness in the house was breath­less. I walked soft­ly, by in­stinct, as I crossed the room to look out at the night. A love­ly moon­light met my view; it was like the moon­light on the fatal evening when Naomi had met John Jago on the gar­den walk.

My bed­room can­dle was on the side-table; I had just light­ed it. I was just leav­ing the room, when the door sud­den­ly opened, and Naomi her­self stood be­fore me!

Re­cov­er­ing the first shook of her sud­den ap­pear­ance, I saw in­stant­ly in her eager eyes, in her dead­ly-pale cheeks, that some­thing se­ri­ous had hap­pened. A large cloak was thrown over her; a white hand­ker­chief was tied over her head. Her hair was in dis­or­der; she had ev­i­dent­ly just risen in fear and in haste from her bed.

"What is it?" I asked, ad­vanc­ing to meet her.

She clung, trem­bling with ag­i­ta­tion, to my arm.

"John Jago!" she whis­pered.

You will think my ob­sti­na­cy in­vin­ci­ble. I could hard­ly be­lieve it, even then!

"Where?" I asked.

"In the back-yard," she replied, "under my bed­room win­dow!"

The emer­gen­cy was far too se­ri­ous to allow of any con­sid­er­a­tion for the small pro­pri­eties of ev­ery-day life.

"Let me see him!" I said.

"I am here to fetch you," she an­swered, in her frank and fear­less way. "Come up­stairs with me."

Her room was on the first floor of the house, and was the only bed­room which looked out on the back-yard. On our way up the stairs she told me what had hap­pened.

"I was in bed," she said, "but not asleep, when I heard a peb­ble strike against the win­dow-pane. I wait­ed, won­der­ing what it meant. An­oth­er peb­ble was thrown against the glass. So far, I was sur­prised, but not fright­ened. I got up, and ran to the win­dow to look out. There was John Jago look­ing up at me in the moon­light!"

"Did he see you?"

"Yes. He said, 'Come down and speak to me! I have some­thing se­ri­ous to say to you!'"

"Did you an­swer him?"

"As soon as I could catch my breath, I said, 'Wait a lit­tle,' and ran down­stairs to you. What shall I do?"

"Let me see him, and I will tell you."

We en­tered her room. Keep­ing cau­tious­ly be­hind the win­dow-cur­tain, I looked out.

There he was! His beard and mus­tache were shaved off; his hair was close cut. But there was no dis­guis­ing his wild, brown eyes, or the pe­cu­liar move­ment of his spare, wiry fig­ure, as he walked slow­ly to and fro in the moon­light wait­ing for Naomi. For the mo­ment, my own ag­i­ta­tion al­most over­pow­ered me; I had so firm­ly dis­be­lieved that John Jago was a liv­ing man!

"What shall I do?" Naomi re­peat­ed.

"Is the door of the dairy open?" I asked.

"No; but the door of the tool-house, round the cor­ner, is not locked."

"Very good. Show your­self at the win­dow, and say to him, 'I am com­ing di­rect­ly.'"

The brave girl obeyed me with­out a mo­ment's hes­i­ta­tion.

There had been no doubt about his eyes and his gait; there was no doubt now about his voice, as he an­swered soft­ly from below — "All right!"

"Keep him talk­ing to you where he is now," I said to Naomi, "until I have time to get round by the other way to the tool-house. Then pre­tend to be fear­ful of dis­cov­ery at the dairy, and bring him round the cor­ner, so that I can hear him be­hind the door."

We left the house to­geth­er, and sep­a­rat­ed silent­ly. Naomi fol­lowed my in­struc­tions with a woman's quick in­tel­li­gence where stratagems are con­cerned. I had hard­ly been a minute in the tool-house be­fore I heard him speak­ing to Naomi on the other side of the door.

The first words which I caught dis­tinct­ly re­lat­ed to his mo­tive for se­cret­ly leav­ing the farm. Mor­ti­fied pride — dou­bly mor­ti­fied by Naomi's con­temp­tu­ous re­fusal and by the per­son­al in­dig­ni­ty of­fered to him by Am­brose — was at the bot­tom of his con­duct in ab­sent­ing him­self from Mor­wick. He owned that he had seen the ad­ver­tise­ment, and that it had ac­tu­al­ly en­cour­aged him to keep in hid­ing!

"After being laughed at and in­sult­ed and de­nied, I was glad," said the mis­er­able wretch, "to see that some of you had se­ri­ous rea­son to wish me back again. It rests with you, Miss Naomi, to keep me here, and to per­suade me to save Am­brose by show­ing my­self and own­ing to my name."

"What do you mean?" I heard Naomi ask, stern­ly.

He low­ered his voice; but I could still hear him.

"Promise you will marry me," he said, "and I will go be­fore the mag­is­trate to-mor­row, and show him that I am a liv­ing man."

"Sup­pose I refuse?"

"In that case you will lose me again, and none of you will find me till Am­brose is hanged."

"Are you vil­lain enough, John Jago, to mean what you say?" asked the girl, rais­ing her voice.

"If you at­tempt to give the alarm," he an­swered, "as true as God's above us, you will feel my hand on your throat! It's my turn now, miss; and I am not to be tri­fled with. Will you have me for your hus­band — yes or no?"

"No!" she an­swered, loud­ly and firm­ly.

I burst open the door, and seized him as he lift­ed his hand on her. He had not suf­fered from the ner­vous de­range­ment which had weak­ened me, and he was the stronger man of the two. Naomi saved my life. She struck up his pis­tol as he pulled it out of his pock­et with his free hand and pre­sent­ed it at my head. The bul­let was fired into the air. I tripped up his heels at the same mo­ment. The re­port of the pis­tol had alarmed the house. We two to­geth­er kept him on the ground until help ar­rived.
 

CHAP­TER XII. THE END OF IT.

J

OHN JAGO was brought be­fore the mag­is­trate, and John Jago was iden­ti­fied the next day.

The lives of Am­brose and Silas were, of course, no longer in peril, so far as human jus­tice was con­cerned. But there were legal de­lays to be en­coun­tered, and legal for­mal­i­ties to be ob­served, be­fore the broth­ers could be re­leased from prison in the char­ac­ters of in­no­cent men.

Dur­ing the in­ter­val which thus elapsed, cer­tain events hap­pened which may be briefly men­tioned here be­fore I close my nar­ra­tive.

Mr. Mead­owcroft the elder, bro­ken by the suf­fer­ing which he had gone through, died sud­den­ly of a rheumat­ic af­fec­tion of the heart. A cod­i­cil at­tached to his will abun­dant­ly jus­ti­fied what Naomi had told me of Miss Mead­owcroft's in­flu­ence over her fa­ther, and of the end she had in view in ex­er­cis­ing it. A life in­come only was left to Mr. Mead­owcroft's sons. The free­hold of the farm was be­queathed to his daugh­ter, with the tes­ta­tor's rec­om­men­da­tion added, that she should marry his "best and dear­est friend, Mr. John Jago."

Armed with the power of the will, the heiress of Mor­wick sent an in­so­lent mes­sage to Naomi, re­quest­ing her no longer to con­sid­er her­self one of the in­mates at the farm. Miss Mead­owcroft, it should be here added, pos­i­tive­ly re­fused to be­lieve that John Jago had ever asked Naomi to be his wife, or had ever threat­ened her, as I had heard him threat­en her, if she re­fused. She ac­cused me, as she ac­cused Naomi, of try­ing mean­ly to in­jure John Jago in her es­ti­ma­tion, out of ha­tred to­ward "that much-in­jured man;" and she sent to me, as she had sent to Naomi, a for­mal no­tice to leave the house.

We two ban­ished ones met the same day in the hall, with our trav­el­ing-bags in our hands.

"We are turned out to­geth­er, friend Lefrank," said Naomi, with her quaint­ly-com­i­cal smile. "You will go back to Eng­land, I guess; and I must make my own liv­ing in my own coun­try. Women can get em­ploy­ment in the States if they have a friend to speak for them. Where shall I find some­body who can give me a place?"

I saw my way to say­ing the right word at the right mo­ment.

"I have got a place to offer you," I replied.

She sus­pect­ed noth­ing, so far.

"That's lucky, sir," was all she said. "Is it in a tele­graph-of­fice or in a dry-goods store?"

I as­ton­ished my lit­tle Amer­i­can friend by tak­ing her then and there in my arms, and giv­ing her my first kiss.

"The of­fice is by my fire­side," I said; "the salary is any­thing in rea­son you like to ask me for; and the place, Naomi, if you have no ob­jec­tion to it, is the place of my wife."

I have no more to say, ex­cept that years have passed since I spoke those words and that I am as fond of Naomi as ever.

Some months after our mar­riage, Mrs. Lefrank wrote to a friend at Narrabee for news of what was going on at the farm. The an­swer in­formed us that Am­brose and Silas had em­i­grat­ed to New Zealand, and that Miss Mead­owcroft was alone at Mor­wick Farm. John Jago had re­fused to marry her. John Jago had dis­ap­peared again, no­body knew where.

• • • • • •

NOTE IN CON­CLU­SION. — The first idea of this lit­tle story was sug­gest­ed to the au­thor by a print­ed ac­count of a trial which ac­tu­al­ly took place, early in the pre­sent cen­tu­ry, in the Unit­ed States. The pub­lished nar­ra­tive of this strange case is en­ti­tled "The Trial, Con­fes­sions, and Con­vic­tion of Jesse and Stephen Boorn for the Mur­der of Rus­sell Colvin, and the Re­turn of the Man sup­posed to have been mur­dered. By Hon. Leonard Sargeant, Ex-Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor of Ver­mont. (Manch­ester, Ver­mont, Jour­nal Book and Job Of­fice, 1873.)" It may not be amiss to add, for the ben­e­fit of in­cred­u­lous read­ers, that all the "im­prob­a­ble events" in the story are mat­ters of fact, taken from the print­ed nar­ra­tive. Any­thing which "looks like truth" is, in nine cases out of ten, the in­ven­tion of the au­thor. — W. C.