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   Chapter 27 THE POST BAG.

The Clever Woman of the Family By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 29114

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Thefts, like ivy on a ruin, make the rifts they seem to shade."-

C. G. DUFFY.

"August 3d, 7 A. M.

"My Dear Colonel Keith,-Papa is come, and I have got up so early in the morning that I have nothing to do but to write to you before we go in to Avoncester. Papa and Mr. Beechum came by the six o'clock train, and Lady Temple sent me in the waggonette to meet them. Aunt Ailie would not go, because she was afraid Aunt Ermine would get anxious whilst she was waiting. I saw papa directly, and yet I did not think it could be papa, because you were not there, and he looked quite past me, and I do not think he would have found me or the carriage at all if Mr. Beechum had not known me. And then, I am afraid I was very naughty, but I could not help crying just a little when I found you had not come; but perhaps Lady Keith may be better, and you may come before I go into court to-day, and then I shall tear up this letter. I am afraid papa thought I was unkind to cry when he was just come home, for he did not talk to me near so much as Mr. Beechum did, and his eyes kept looking out as if he did not see anything near, only quite far away. And I suppose Russian coats must be made of some sort of sheep that eats tobacco."

"August 3d, 10 A. M.

"Dearest Colin,-I have just lighted on poor little Rosie's before-breakfast composition, and I can't refrain from sending you her first impressions, poor child, though no doubt they will alter, as she sees more of her father. All are gone to Avoncester now, though with some doubts whether this be indeed the critical day; I hope it may be, the sooner this is over the better, but I am full of hope. I cannot believe but that the Providence that has done so much to discover Edward's innocence to the world, will finish the work! I have little expectation though of your coming down in time to see it, the copy of the telegraphic message, which you sent by Harry, looks as bad as possible, and even allowing something for inexperience and fright, things must be in a state in which you could hardly leave your brother, so unwell as he seems.

"2 p.m. I was interrupted by Lady Temple, who was soon followed by Mrs. Curtis, burning to know whether I had any more intelligence than had floated to them. Pray, if you can say anything to exonerate poor Rachel from mismanagement, say it strongly; her best friends are so engaged in wishing themselves there, and pitying poor Bessie for being in her charge, that I long to confute them, for I fully believe in her sense and spirit in any real emergency that she had not ridden out to encounter.

"And I have written so far without a word on the great subject of all, the joy untold for which our hearts had ached so long, and which we owe entirely to you, for Edward owns that nothing but your personal representations would have brought him, and, as I suppose you already know-he so much hated the whole subject of Maddox's treachery that he had flung aside, unread, all that he saw related to it. Dear Colin, whatever else you have done, you have filled a famished heart. Could you but have seen Ailie's face all last evening as she sat by his side, you would have felt your reward-it was as if the worn, anxious, almost stern mask had been taken away, and our Ailie's face was beaming out as of old when she was the family pet, before Julia took her away to be finished. She sees no change; she is in an ecstasy of glamour that makes her constantly repeat her rejoicings that Edward is so much himself, so unchanged, till I almost feel unsisterly for seeing in him the traces that these sad years have left, and that poor little Rose herself has detected. No, he is not so much changed as exaggerated. The living to himself, and with so cruel a past, has greatly increased the old dreaminess that we always tried to combat, and he seems less able than before to turn his mind into any channel but the one immediately before him. He is most loving when roused, but infinitely more inclined to fall off into a muse. I am afraid you must have had a troublesome charge in him, judging by the uproar Harry makes about the difficulty of getting him safe from Paddington. It is good to see him and Harry together-the old schoolboy ways are so renewed, all bitterness so entirely forgotten, only Harry rages a little that he is not more wrapped up in Rose. To say the truth, so do I; but if it were not for Harry's feeling the same, I should believe that you had taught me to be exacting about my rosebud. Partly, it is that he is disappointed that she is not like her mother; he had made up his mind to another Lucy, and her Williams face took him by surprise, and, partly, he is not a man to adapt himself to a child. She must be trained to help unobtrusively in his occupations; the unknowing little plaything her mother was, she never can be. I am afraid he will never adapt himself to English life again-his soul seems to be in his mines, and if as you say he is happy and valued there-though it is folly to look forward to the wrench again, instead of rejoicing in the present, gladness; but often as I had fashioned that arrival in my fancy, it was never that Harry's voice, not yours, should say the 'Here he is.'

"They all went this morning in the waggonette, and the two boys with Miss Curtis in the carriage. Lady Temple is very kind in coming in and out to enliven me. I am afraid I must close and send this before their return. What a day it is! And how are you passing it? I fear, even at the best, in much anxiety. Lady Temple asks to put in a line.-Yours ever, E. W."

"August 3d, 5 P. M.

"My Dear Colonel,-This is just to tell you that dear Ermine is very well, and bearing the excitement and suspense wonderfully. We were all dreadfully shocked to hear about poor dear Bessie; it is so sad her having no mother nor any one but Rachel to take care of her, though Rachel would do her best, I know. If she would like to have me, or if you think I could do any good, pray telegraph for me the instant you get this letter. I would have come this morning, only I thought, perhaps, she had her aunt. That stupid telegram never said whether her baby was alive, or what it was, I do hope it is all right. I should like to send nurse up at once-I always thought she saved little Cyril when he was so ill. Pray send for nurse or me, or anything I can send: anyway, I know nobody can be such a comfort as you; but the only thing there is to wish about you is, that you could be in two places at once.

"The two boys are gone in to the trial, they were very eager about it; and dear Grace promises to take care of Conrade's throat. Poor boys! they had got up a triumphal arch for your return, but I am afraid I am telling secrets. Dear Ermine is so good and resolutely composed-quite an example.-Yours affectionately,

"F. G. Temple."

"Avoncester,

August 3d, 2 P. M.

"My Dear Colonel Keith,-I am just come out of court, and I am to wait at the inn, for Aunt Ailie does not like for me to hear the trial, but she says I may write to you to pass away the time. I am sorry I left my letter out to go this morning, for Aunt Ailie says it is very undutiful to say anything about the sheep's wool in Russia smelling of tobacco. Conrade says it is all smoking, and that every one does it who has seen the world. Papa never stops smoking but when he is with Aunt Ermine, he sat on the box and did it all the way to Avoncester, and Mr. Beechum said it was to compose his mind. After we got to Avoncester we had a long, long time to wait, and first one was called, and then another, and then they wanted me. I was not nearly so frightened as I was that time when you sent for me, though there were so many more people; but it was daylight, and the judge looked so kind, and the lawyer spoke so gently to me, and Mr. Maddox did not look horrid like that first time. I think he must be sorry now he has seen how much he has hurt papa. The lawyer asked me all about the noises, and the lions, and the letters of light, just as Mr. Grey did; and they showed me papa's old seal ring, and asked if I knew it, and a seal that was made with the new one that he got when the other was lost! and I knew them because I used to make impressions on my arms with them when I was a little girl. There was another lawyer that asked how old I was, and why I had not told before; and I thought he was going to laugh at me for a silly little girl, but the judge would not let him, and said I was a clear-headed little maiden; and Mr. Beechum came with Aunt Ailie, and took me out of court, and told me to choose anything in the whole world he should give me, so I chose the little writing case I am writing with now, and 'The Heroes' besides, so I shall be able to read till the others come back, and we go home.-Your affectionate little friend,

"Rose Ermine Williams."

"The Homestead,

August 3d, 9 P. M.

"My Dear Alexander,-You made me promise to send you the full account of this day's proceedings, or I do not think I should attempt it, when you may be so sadly engaged. Indeed, I should hardly have gone to Avoncester had the sad intelligence reached me before I had set out, when I thought my sudden return would be a greater alarm to my mother, and I knew that dear Fanny would do all she could for her. Still she has had a very nervous day, thinking constantly of your dear sister, and of Rachel's alarm and inexperience; but her unlimited confidence in your care of Rachel is some comfort, and I am hoping that the alarm may have subsided, and you may be all rejoicing. I have always thought that, with dear Rachel, some new event or sensation would most efface the terrible memories of last spring. My mother is now taking her evening nap, and I am using the time for telling you of the day's doings. I took with me Fanny's two eldest, who were very good and manageable, and we met Mr. Grey, who put us in very good places, and told us the case was just coming on. You will see the report in detail in the paper, so I will only try to give you what you would not find there. I should tell you that Maddox has entirely dropped his alias. Mr. Grey is convinced that was only a bold stroke to gain time and prevent the committal, so as to be able to escape, and that he 'reckoned upon bullying a dense old country magistrate;' but that he knew it was quite untenable before a body of unexceptionable witnesses. Altogether the man looked greatly altered and crest-fallen, and there was a meanness and vulgarity in his appearance that made me wonder at our ever having credited his account of himself. He had an abject look, very unlike his confident manner at the sessions, nor did he attempt his own defence. Mr. Grey kept on saying he must know that he had not a leg to stand upon.

"The counsel for the prosecution told the whole story, and it was very touching. I had never known the whole before; the sisters are so resolute and uncomplaining: but how they must have suffered when every one thought them ruined by their brother's fraud! I grieve to think how we neglected them, and only noticed them when it suited our convenience. Then he called Mr. Beechum, and you will understand better than I can all about the concern in which they were embarked, and Maddox coming to him for an advance of £300, giving him a note from Mr. Williams, asking for it to carry out an invention. The order for the sum was put into Maddox's hands, and the banker proved the paying it to him by an order on a German bank.

"Then came Mr. Williams. I had seen him for a moment in setting out, and was struck with his strange, lost, dreamy look. There is something very haggard and mournful in his countenance; and, though he has naturally the same fine features as his eldest sister, his cheeks are hollow, his eyes almost glassy, and his beard, which is longer than the Colonel's, very grey. He gave me the notion of the wreck of a man, stunned and crushed, and never thoroughly alive again; but when he stood in the witness-box, face to face with the traitor, he was very different; he lifted up his head, his eyes brightened, his voice became clear, and his language terse and concentrated, so that I could believe in his having been the very able man he was described to be. I am sure Maddox must have quailed under his glance, there was something so loftily innocent in it, yet so wistful, as much as to say, 'how could you abuse my perfect confidence?' Mr. Williams denied having received the money, written the letter, or even thought of making the request. They showed him the impression of two seals. He said one was made with a seal-ring given him by Colonel Keith, and lost some time before he went abroad; the other, with one with which he had replaced it, and which he produced,-he had always worn it on his finger. They matched exactly with the impressions; and there was a little difference in the hair of the head upon the seal that was evident to every one. It amused the boys extremely to see some of the old jurymen peering at them with their glasses. He was asked where he was on the 7th of September (the date of the letter), and he referred to some notes of his own, which enabled him to state that on the 6th he had come back to Prague from a village with a horrible Bohemian name-all cs and zs-which I will not attempt to write, though much depended on the number of the said letters.

"The rest of the examination must have been very distressing, for Maddox's counsel pushed him hard about his reasons for not returning to defend himself, and he was obliged to tell how ill his wife was, and how terrified; and they endeavoured to make that into an admission that he thought himself liable. They tried him with bits of the handwriting, and he could not always tell which were his own;-but I think every one must have been struck with his honourable scrupulosity in explaining every doubt he had.

"Other people were called in about the writing, but Alison Williams was the clearest of all. She was never puzzled by any scrap they showed her, and, moreover, she told of Maddox having sent for her brother's address, and her having copied it from a letter of Mrs. Williams's, which she produced, with the wrong spelling, just as it was in the forgery. The next day had come a letter from the brother, which she showed, saying that they were going to leave the place sooner than they had intended, and spelling it right. She gave the same account of the seals, and nothing ever seemed to disconcert her. My boys were so mu

ch excited about their 'own Miss Williams,' that I was quite afraid they would explode into a cheer.

"That poor woman whom we used to call Mrs. Rawlins told her sad story next. She is much worn and subdued, and Mr. Grey was struck with the change from the fierce excitement she showed when she was first confronted with Maddox, after her own trial; but she held fast to the same evidence, giving it not resentfully, but sadly and firmly, as if she felt it to be her duty. She, as you know, explained how Maddox had obtained access to Mr. Williams's private papers, and how she had, afterwards, found in his possession the seal ring, and the scraps of paper in his patron's writing. A policeman produced them, and the seal perfectly filled the wax upon the forged letter. The bits of paper showed that Maddox had been practising imitating Mr. Williams's writing. It all seemed most distinct, but still there was some sharp cross-examination of her on her own part in the matter, and Mr. Grey said it was well that little Rose could so exactly confirm the facts she mentioned.

"Poor, dear little Rose looked very sweet and innocent, and not so much frightened as at her first examination. She told her story of the savage way in which she had been frightened into silence. Half the people in the court were crying, and I am sure it was a mercy that she was not driven out of her senses, or even murdered that night. It seems that she was sent to bed early, but the wretches knowing that she always woke and talked while her mother was going to bed, the phosphoric letters were prepared to frighten her, and detain her in her room, and then Maddox growled at her when she tried to pass the door. She was asked how she knew the growl to be Maddox's, and she answered that she heard him cough. Rachel will, I am sure, remember the sound of that little dry cough. Nothing could make it clearer than that the woman had spoken the truth. The child identified the two seals with great readiness, and then was sent back to the inn that she might not be perplexed with hearing the defence. This, of course, was very trying to us all, since the best the counsel could do for his client was to try to pick holes in the evidence, and make the most of the general acquiescence in Mr. Williams's guilt for all these years. He brought forward letters that showed that Mr. Williams had been very sanguine about the project, and had written about the possibility that an advance might be needed. Some of the letters, which both Mr. Williams and his sister owned to be in his own writing, spoke in most flourishing terms of his plans; and it was proved by documents and witnesses that the affairs were in such a state that bankruptcy was inevitable, so that there was every motive for securing a sum to live upon. It was very miserable all the time this was going on, the whole interpretation, of Mr. Williams's conduct seemed to be so cruelly twisted aside, and it was what every one had all along believed, his absence was made so much of, and all these little circumstances that had seemed so important were held so cheap-one knew it was only the counsel's representation, and yet Alison grew whiter and whiter under it. I wish you could have heard the reply: drawing the picture of the student's absorption and generous confidence, and his agent's treachery, creeping into his household, and brutally playing on the terrors of his child.

"Well, I cannot tell you all, but the judge summed up strongly for a conviction, though he said a good deal about culpable negligence almost inviting fraud, and I fear it must have been very distressing to the Williamses, but the end was that Maddox was found guilty, and sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude, though I am afraid they will not follow Conrade's suggestion, and chain up a lion by his bed every night of his life.

"We were very happy when we met at the inn, and all shook hands. Dr. Long was, I think, the least at ease. He had come in case this indictment had in any way failed, to bring his own matter forward, so that Maddox should not get off. I do not like him very much, he seemed unable to be really hearty, and I think he must have once been harsh and now ashamed of it. Then he was displeased at Colonel Keith's absence, and could hardly conceal how much he was put out by the cause, as if he thought the Colonel had imposed himself on the family as next heir. I hardly know how to send all this in the present state of things, but I believe you will wish to have it, and will judge how much Rachel will bear to hear. Good night.-Your affectionate Sister,

"Grace Curtis."

"Gowanbrae,

Avonmouth,

August 3d, 11 P. M.

"Dear Keith,-Before this day has ended you must have a few lines from the man whom your exertions have relieved from a stigma, the full misery of which I only know by the comfort of its removal. I told you there was much that could never be restored. I feel this all the more in the presence of all that now remains to me, but I did not know how much could still be given back. The oppression of the load of suspicion under which I laboured now seems to me to have been intolerable since I have been freed from it. I cannot describe how changed a man I have felt, since Beechum shook hands with me. The full blackness of Maddox's treachery I had not known, far less his cruelty to my child. Had I been aware of all I could not have refrained from trying to bring him to justice; but there is no need to enter into the past. It is enough that I owe to you a freed spirit, and new life, and that my gratitude is not lessened by the knowledge that something besides friendship urged you. Ermine is indeed as attractive as ever, and has improved in health far more than I durst expect. I suppose it is your all-powerful influence. You are first with all here, as you well deserve, even my child, who is as lovely and intelligent as you told me, has every thought pervaded with 'the Colonel.' She is a sweet creature; but there was one who will never be retraced, and forgive me, Keith, without her, even triumph must be bitterness.-Still ever most gratefully yours,

"Edward Williams."

"August 3d, 11 P. M.

"Dearest Colin,-The one sound in my ears, the one song in my heart is, 'Let them give thanks.' It is as if we had passed from a dungeon into sunshine. I suppose it would be too much if you were here to share it. They sent Rose in first to tell me, but I knew in the sound of their wheels that all was well. What an evening we have had, but I must not write more. Ailie is watching me like a dragon, and will not rest till I am in bed; but I can't tell how to lose one minute of gladness in sleep. Oh, Colin, Colin, truest of all true knights, what an achievement yours has been!"

"August 4th.

"That was a crazy bit that I wrote last night, but I will not make away with it. I don't care how crazy you think me. It would have been a pity not to have slept to wake to the knowledge that all was not a dream, but then came the contrast with the sorrow you are watching. And I have just had your letter. What a sudden close to that joyous life! She was one of the most winning beings, as you truly say, that ever flashed across one's course, and if she had faults, they were those of her day and her training. I suppose, by what you say, that she was too girlish to be all the companion your brother required, and that this may account for his being more shocked than sorrow-stricken, and his child, since he can dwell on the thought, is such a new beginning of hope, that I wonder less than you do at his bearing up so well. Besides, pain dulls the feelings, and is a great occupation. I wish you could have seen that dear Bessie, but I gather that the end came on much more rapidly than had been expected. It seemed as if she were one of those to whom even suffering was strangely lightened and shortened, as if she had met only the flowers of life, and even the thorns and stings were almost lost in their bright blossoms. And she could hardly have lived on without much either of temptation or sorrow. I am glad of your testimony to Rachel's effectiveness, I wrote it out and sent it up to the Homestead. There was a note this morning requesting Edward to come in to see Maddox, and Ailie is gone with him, thinking she may get leave to see poor Maria. Think of writing 'Edward and Ailie again! Dr. Long and Harry are gone with them. The broken thread is better pieced by Harry than by the Doctor; but he wants Ailie and me to go and stay at Belfast. Now I must hear Rose read, in order to bring both her and myself to our reasonable senses."

"5 P. M.

"They have been returned about an hour, and I must try to give you Edward's account of his interview. Maddox has quite dropped his mask, and seems to have been really touched by being brought into contact with Edward again, and, now it is all up with him, seemed to take a kind of pleasure in explaining the whole web, almost, Edward said, with vanity at his own ingenuity. His earlier history was as he used to represent it to Edward. He was a respectable ironmonger's son, with a taste for art; he was not allowed to indulge it, and then came rebellion, and breaking away from home. He studied at the Academy for a few years, but wanted application, and fancied he had begun too late, tried many things and spent a shifty life, but never was consciously dishonest till after he had fallen in with Edward; and the large sums left uninquired for in his hands became a temptation to one already inclined to gambling. His own difficulties drove him on, and before he ventured on the grand stroke, he had been in a course of using the sums in his hands for his own purposes. The finding poor Maria open to the admiration he gave her beauty, put it into his head to make a tool of her; and this was not the first time he had used Edward's seal, or imitated his writing. No wonder there was such a confusion in the accounts as told so much against Edward. He told the particulars, Edward says, with the strangest mixture of remorse and exultation. At last came the journey to Bohemia, and his frauds became the more easy, until he saw there must be a bankruptcy, and made the last bold stroke, investing the money abroad in his own name, so that he would have been ready to escape if Edward had come home again. He never expected but that Edward would have returned, and finding the affairs hopeless, did this deed in order to have a resource. As to regret, he seemed to feel some when he said the effects had gone farther than he anticipated; but 'I could not let him get into that subject,' Edward said, and he soon came back to his amused complacency in his complete hoodwinking of all concerned at home, almost thanking Edward for the facilities his absence had given him. After this, he went abroad, taking Maria lest she should betray him on being cast off; and they lived in such style at German gambling places that destitution brought them back again to England, where he could better play the lecturer, and the artist in search of subscriptions. Edward could not help smiling over some of his good stories, rather as 'the lord' may have 'commended the wisdom of his unjust steward.' Well, here he came, and, as he said, he really could hardly have helped himself; he had only to stand still and let poor Rachel deceive herself, and the whole concern was in a manner thrust upon him. He was always expecting to be able to get the main sum into his hands, as he obtained more confidence from Rachel, and the woodcuts were an over-bold stroke for the purpose; he had not intended her to keep or show them, but her ready credulity tempted him too far; and I cannot help laughing now at poor Edward's reproofs to us for having been all so easily cheated, now that he has been admitted behind the scenes. Maddox never suspected our neighbourhood, he had imagined us to be still in London, and though he heard Alison's name, he did not connect it with us. After all, what you thought would have been fatal to your hopes of tracing him, was really what gave him into our hands-Lady Temple's sudden descent upon their F. U. E. E. If he had not been so hurried and distressed as to be forced to leave Maria and the poor child to her fate, Maria would have held by him to the last and without her testimony where should we have been? But with a summons out against him, and hearing that Maria had been recognised, he could only fly to the place at Bristol that he thought unknown to Maria. Even when seized by the police, he did not know it was she who directed them, and had not expected her evidence till he actually saw and heard her on the night of the sessions. It was all Colonel Keith's doing, he said, every other adversary he would have despised, but your array of forces met him at every corner where he hoped to escape, and the dear little Rosie gave him check-mate, like a gallant little knight's pawn as she is. 'Who could have guessed that child would have such a confounded memory?' he said, for Edward had listened with a sort of interest that had made him quite forget that he was Rose's father, and that this wicked cunning Colonel was working in his cause. So off he goes to penal servitude, and Edward is so much impressed and touched with his sharpness as to predict that he will be the model prisoner before long, if he do not make his escape. As to poor Maria, that was a much more sad meeting, though perhaps less really melancholy, for there can be no doubt that she repents entirely, she speaks of every one as being very good to her, and indeed the old influences only needed revival, they had never quite died out. Even that poor child's name was given for love of Ailie, and the perception of having been used to bring about her master's ruin had always preyed upon her, and further embittered her temper. The barbarity seemed like a dream in connexion with her, but, as she told Ailie, when she once began something came over her, and she could not help striking harder. It reminded me of horrible stories of the Hathertons' usage of animals. Enough of this. I believe the Sisterhood will find a safe shelter for her when her imprisonment is over, and that temptation will not again be put in her way. We should never have trusted her in poor dear Lucy's household. Rose calls for the letters. Good bye, dearest Colin and conqueror. I know all this will cheer you, for it is your own doing. I can't stop saying so, it is such a pleasant sound-Your own,

"E. W."

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