- part: A DEAD MAN'S STEP
- CHAPTER LVIII. A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD.
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A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD.
IT was written in the firm upright hand of Lawyer Ingram, and, beginning with the day and date, read as follows:—
"In the name of God, and as I hope to be forgiven, after much penance and an age of purgatory, I, Zelie Sarita Pinchon, native of Saint Auvertin in France, declare and vow, that all herein set down is true, so help me God!
"I am forty-nine years old, and I was very poor—wretchedly poor—with a little baby at my breast, and only my sister Marie, older than l, and very harsh to me because I could not work much, and because | | 378 of my baby, my little Pierre. We were alone, and Marie nursed the sick when she could. One day she came to me and told me that if I would leave my baby with her, I could go to America and live at ease, taking care of an American lady's little one—the lady being too ill to care for her child. The lady was so ill that we could not sail for weeks, and at last we went, instead, to the south of France from Paris, and then to other places; but the lady died abroad, and I came to America and cared for the babe.
"No one can say I did not do my duty by the child, and Mr. Deering never found a word of fault with me, never. But was it strange that I should love my own boy, and save my money for him, and want him near me? I think not.
"Ten years ago I sent for my—Pierre, and he came to see me at Beechwood. I called him my brother, and he would have stayed here, perhaps, and been good, but Mr. Deering was not pleased with him, and I had to give him more money and send him away.
"I can't tell how my boy lived when he was away from me, but he got into trouble, and I sent him money, and helped him all I could. I saw him, too, though they never knew when, nor how often; and it was natural that he should get to know about the bank and the family—many things. I am ill, and I cannot remember everything. The doctor says I must hasten.
"The last time I saw my boy, before that time, was months ago, six, or maybe seven, and when he went away he was in a reckless mood, and he said, when he came again he would make a `demand' for some of `those bank funds,' for him and for me.
"As God hears me, we never met again—after that night when we talked in the darkness of the park, months ago—until he came to me in the night, and told me I must hide him, for he had killed Joe Matchin in the bank, and had hidden a day and two nights in the church. He had written to me that he was coming, and when I heard of the Matchin murder, I was half dead with fear. That is why I kept the people from coming home, and lied to them about the telegraphic message. My son was lame and ill, and I could not let them come that night; I had sent the other servants away, and contrived to get Mr. Bruce to go to his rooms in town; and I offered to do Mrs. Merton's work, too, so that she might pay a visit; and all that I might have my son to myself for one little while.
"I hid him in the north attic, where no one ever went, and there kept him. Those were happy hours, after all; until they came home. Then, one dark and stormy night, he went away, and I have lived in a hell ever since!
"After all, what have I done that any mother would not do likewise? And there is nothing more that I need to tell. Of myself I would never have robbed Mrs. Deering. I robbed her hoping to benefit my son. I have told this because I see now that it would all be known in any case, and it might have been made to seem worse for my son and for me; when people are down in the world their sins are never made to seem less! Besides—the detective, whom, all along, I have thought to be one stupid. disagreeable, old man, has found out everything! He has watched us both and he says my son is now a | | 379 prisoner. He was never strong, and ought to have had an easy life, and plenty of money always. He was never meant to work with his white, slim hands! He is ill now, and if they keep him in prison he will die, I know! It is because they have promised to spare him, and to be good to him in his illness, that—I have consented to make this statement. And here I say, as my last word—Bruce Deering is not guilty! and all that he said about that night is true! As to the church, he had waited there, near the little rear door, early before it happened—and he knew the door was not locked. And now, I have said enough. Whatever else I may have done, I hate myself worst for this, for saying with my own lips, this, that I here have said. To me it is my greatest sin, to betray my boy. But it was already known, or death could not have opened my lips; not death by torture! And now that I have done this, to set Bruce Deering free, I say to him, and to all, unless he spares my boy, unless the promises made by his friends are kept, I will curse them all! and him most of all, from the Hades, where soon I will be. For myself I ask no grace! I am guilty with him, and to share his prison and his grave, is all the happiness I ask or wish."(Signed) ZELIE SARITA PINCHON."
Thus ran the strange confession, that struck court and jury dumb with amazement, and brought to a summary conclusion the long anticipated "trial for life of one of Pomfret's leading citizens."
Not for a moment was the strange tale doubted. Mr. Ingram, when the detective had ceased speaking, had risen in his place, and, holding the paper in his hand, had said to the jury:
"Gentlemen, all that this witness has said is true. He has accomplished that for which every lover of justice should thank him! But I will say no more upon that subject; it is too prolific! It is now my turn to occupy the witness-stand. Mr. Redding, will you take my place?"
In his character of witness, Mr. Ingram told how he had been watching, step by step, the workings of this strange case, and how, at last, he had been called upon to take down the deposition or confession which he held up to the view of all, and which, he affirmed, had not left his possession for an instant since.
"It is," said he, "a verbatim statement written just as the words came from the woman's lips—the only omissions being explanations in her own tongue and repeated sentences or words. I have known this woman during a residence here of twenty years and more; and I know that this paper contains the terrible truth, and might have been written in her heart's blood. It was sworn to by herself, and was witnessed by Mrs. Merton, Doctor Ware, and Thomas Wells. Gentlemen,"—he bent forward and put the confession into Redding's extended hand—" Mr Redding will now receive this confession, to be used in evidence."
And then John Redding broke the seal, and read Sarita's confession—to which judge, jury, and audience listened in utter, awe-struck silence.
It was not done at once; the law must abate none of her routine | | 380 or dignity. There were questions without number bubbling up now in the minds of the jury, although afterwards it was remembered by a few, that the lawyers took no part in this catechism unless, perhaps, it was to turn and parry a delicate point; for there was in this strange case much interesting evidence which must not be brought forward for the public benefit, seeing that justice could get on very well without it.
Doctors Ware and Liscom both testified to Sarita's sanity, also to her illness. Mrs. Merton added her evidence as regards the illness and the sleep-walking; and Redding deftly drew from her reminiscences of the visit of that "Pierre Pinchon," who "called himself Sarita's brother," and who had gone away from Beechwood, as Mrs. Merton very well remembered, "scowling and angry, because Mr. Deering would not employ him or let him stay about the place."
Murtagh and his helpers were making a grand effort to acquit Bruce Deering, and fix the guilt upon an unknown, without letting the name of Brook Deering be so much as uttered in court, and in this they succeeded by much diplomacy, finesse, and clever "tacking," in which they were greatly aided by the discreet silence of Mr. Cole, who, once convinced that Bruce Deering was an innocent man, willingly refrained, at Mr. Ingram's request, from going too deeply into detail, which would "avail nothing," and would "greatly distress innocent persons here present."
It was a strange ending of a criminal prosecution. The jury did not leave their seats in order to pronounce a verdict of not guilty.
For the last hour or more order had been preserved with much difficulty; and when the verdict was announced the building rang again and again with the hurrahs of the men who had come to hear Bruce Deering condemned for murder.
As for Bruce himself, he was too thoroughly dazed by the strangeness of the story to which he had just listened to realise in full how much this freedom meant to him; and he knew, too—none better—that, for him at least, the mystery was not at an end. "There was something behind this half-told tale, and he could not believe himself a free man, or take advantage of his liberty, until he understood the enigma which was being so strangely manipulated by this puzzling detective and his aids.
They had pronounced him a free man; but where was the other? the one who should be in his place?
In reply to a question, Murtagh had said, "No; we do not hope to learn more from the mother of Pierre Pinchon; but I am not alone in this case; others are, and have been, working faithfully, and I am informed that this man, who has been watched for and traced in many places, is now in custody and ill, even as his mother has said. I shall go to him at once, and if he is identified and can be removed, I shall be only too happy, on my part, to wash my hands of him and hand him over to Sheriff Carton."
It will be observed that our detective worded his remarks discreetly, and that be bound himself by no promises.| | 381
But if Bruce Deering was amazed, and in doubt, he was not—alone. Brenda, Valentine, and Ora Wardell, all went out from that hall of justice wondering and anxious, ready almost to doubt the evidence of their own senses; and they, too, saw clearly, one thing at least, this case was not ended. There was more suspense, more anxiety, more misery, perhaps, behind this most singular closing of "The Matchin Murder Trial."
As they arose to leave the hall, Brenda was met by Mr. Baird.
"I have a carriage in waiting," he said courteously; "and it is necessary that you and Miss Rodney meet the lawyers and Mr. Murtagh at my house. It is business of an important and private nature."
A moment later, Murtagh came close behind Ora Wardell, where she stood waiting for the crowd to open a way for her, and said "Miss Wardell, are you strong enough to endure more? Will you trust me when I say that I honestly want to spare you pain, and to help you? Will you come with us to Mr. Baird's house at once and hear all the truth? I know that you believe this to have been a farce; but, as God hears me, Bruce Deering is innocent!"
"I will go," said Ora, with icy haughtiness, and turning at a touch, she saw John Redding beside her.
"Will you take my arm?" he said.
In Mr. Baird's long library they soon come together again, the host and Bruce's three lawyers, Murtagh, Ware, and Bruce himself. They are gathered in a semi-circle around the long library table, and, at one end, a little apart, sits Brenda Deering, Val Rodney, and Ora Wardell.
Mr. Baird holds a place at the end of the table opposite the ladies, and Bruce sits beside Valentine. They have entered silently and taken the places indicated; and now, to the surprise of at least four, Mr. Baird rises.
"We have just passed through a strange experience," he begins, addressing himself to the group of four at the further end of the table, "and, to some of us, it has seemed a hateful puzzle; perhaps a farce. Ladies, all, and you, Deering, it is my duty to tell you that, except for your four selves, we all know the meaning of what has just passed; and you are here to hear it from us. This gentleman," pointing to Murtagh on his right, "has just carsied to a successful issue one of the most difficult cases upon the whole record of detective triumphs. He has cleared the name of an innocent man, without revealing to the public the identity of the guilty one; not to screen the guilty, understand! but to save an honourable and always stainless name from dishonour! That name is Deering! Wait," as Bruce seemed about to speak, "hear me out, I beg! All that was said in yonder court-room, said, and sworn to, was true; absolutely true! but not all of the truth. That which it could not benefit a curious public to hear must be told now. Bruce! Mrs. Deering! Is it possible that you are not, in part, prepared for what I am about to say? Can you associate guilt with no name save that of Pierre Pinchon? If Pierre Pinchon is guilty of Joseph Matchin's death, so is—Brook Deering!"| | 382
"Brook!"gasped Brenda; and she dropped her face upon two trembling hands.
"NEVER!" came from Ora Wardell's lips, and her eyes flashed fire. But Val Rodney only dropped her eyes, and Bruce sat immovable as iron.
"I beg of you—" Mr. Baird intercepted the words about to burst from Ora Wardell's lips—"I beg that you will not interrupt me! When I have done, all may speak who will, and nothing shall go unexplained."
He turned his gaze upon Mrs. Deering.
"Not long ago, madam, you were consulted about a certain paper given you by your husband, shortly before his death; not to be opened save under certain circumstances, and when opened, its contents to remain a secret, or not, according as certain persons proved them selves worthy, or unworthy.
"After close study of the crime, of the two crimes, which he been seeking to trace to their source, our detective became convinced that this paper, which in the meantime had been stolen from you, held, perhaps, the clue, or the key, to the whole miserable business. Mr. Ingram had hinted to you that there might be a duplicate, and when we had convinced ourselves that this was the case, Mr. Murtagh consulted with you and found that you refused to commit what you, in your womanly honesty, considered a breach of faith with the dead, and for a time it seemed that the wheels of our progress were clogged; for, while we honoured your resolute clinging to what you believed right, we could not, of course, ask Mr. Ingram to grant what you had denied us! Nor would he have consented if we had. But it was written that the truth should come to light at last; and, after watching the woman Sarita, as you have heard, Mr. Murtagh and Doctor Ware surprised her in the act of removing, or destroying, the stolen document."
Brenda's hands had fallen from her face, and she seemed about to rise and interrupt him, but Mr. Baird hurried on.
"Mrs. Deering, the stolen article referred to in Sarita's confession, or rather by Mr. Murtagh, consisted of the paper left in your charge by your husband, and a copy of a will, made nearly ten years ago—the duplicate of which Brook Deering produced at the reading of Mr. Deering's last words and wishes—not knowing that a later will was in existence—he having searched his father's desks for such a document without success. There were, also, three or four letters, from Brook Deering to Sarita. These papers Mr. Murtagh and his friend brought at once to myself and Mr. Redding, and we all, with Mr. Ingram, took counsel concerning this paper from your husband's hand. The seal was broken, and after much hesitation, and believing Brook guilty, we decided that Mr. Ingram, as your husband's oldest friend and adviser, should examine the paper—at least so far as to ascertain if it would aid us in any manner—and that he should judge whether we might be made aware of its contents or not; whether, in fact, it would help us.
"Mrs. Deering, that document gives us the key to the whole horrible riddle! It furnishes the motive for both crimes, and it gives us the only | | 383 ray of light, the only scant comfort possible in the case. The name and the blood of Deering are still unspotted; blameless! The man we have called Brook Deering is the son—the illegitimate son of Sarita Pinchon! adopted, abroad, to fill the place of a dead babe, and so save its mother from insanity. We are all friends here—will you take the advice of Mr. Ingram, of all of us, and allow this paper to be read, first to yourself, and then, with your permission, to all here?"
For a moment it seemed doubtful if she had so much as heard his last words, so dazed and strange she looked. Then, as she made a movement as if to rise, Doctor Ware sprang up and reached her side in time to proffer an arm. She rose, trembling in every limb, and Mr. Baird drew aside the curtain, before the door of the little alcove room where he sometimes sat to write, in private, and to smoke at will. Mr. Ingram followed, and when Ware had placed her in an easy-chair, and she had assured him that she was quite strong again, he returned with Mr. Baird to the library.
It seemed a long time that they sat waiting, for no one felt inclined to talk, in the midst of so much uncertainty, and Valentine was on the point of rising, and her anxious face was turned toward the alcove—from whence, now and then, came a sound, as of sobbing that could not be suppressed—when the curtain was drawn back, and Mr. Ingram came out alone.
He carried in his hand the envelope with the broken seal; and he resumed his seat, and drew from its cover a folded sheet, before he opened his lips—then:
"Mrs. Deering has requested me to read this paper to you at once," he said. "She begs that you will excuse her absence, during the reading; and, especially, that she may be left to herself. She is quite calm now, but she has received a great shock; and I quite comprehend her wish to be left to rest, and recover herself alone. There is no need for further explanation, this," holding up the now open paper, "is the document—written by my friend, Lysander Deering, stolen from Mrs. Deering, and recovered from Santa Pinchon so recently. It will explain itself; and Mrs. Deering now quite agrees with me, that the time for making known its contents has come, and that it was anticipated, by the writer, long since."
And then, slowly and gravely, he read this strange letter from the hand of the dead:—
When these lines are read by you, and I pray it may not be for long years, if ever,—but when the time comes for you to peruse this, I shall be in the beyond, which, I believe and trust, is, after all, not far from any of us. I shall then, if it is permitted to the translated to know and be near their loved ones, be very near to you; for you will read as I now write, sadly, with a troubled heart.
"In my own life, my wife, my personal deeds, yes, and thoughts also, are all known to you—an open book whose pages you have ever turned at will. Only one secret of my life have I withheld from you; and that because it concerned another, quite as much, yes, more, than myself. This other is Brook Deering.| | 384
"You know of the unhappy malady that shadowed all the later years of the life of my first wife; a short life at best; and you know that, after all that human care and skill could do, she died insane. But not—thank God—the maniac, violent—and horrible to herself and all others, that she might have become, but for the deceit of which I am about to tell you, which, to save her reason, was practised upon her.
"We were in Paris, when my child,—my only son, was born; and, upon our arrival, I had secured a nurse, Marie Pinchon by name, to care for my wife. She had been very delicate for months, and, at times, slight indications that the dreaded malady was lurking in her blood, had alarmed us, and made us, myself and her maid, that is, very watchful. I had consulted a skilled physician, and was warned that there might be a crisis soon. 'If her child is born living, and in health,' he said, 'if the mother makes a good recovery, and the little one thrives, I believe that all will go well, and that your wife will be much stronger, mentally and physically—perhaps quite cured. But, if the child should not live, and I must tell you, frankly, that its chances are only as one to twenty, she will be a hopeless lunatic.'
"Brenda, can you not imagine what followed? I begged the physician to help me, and to save my wife's life and reason; and then he made me see the one only way.
"'The child,' he said, 'must not die! In Paris all things are possible; and children are born every day; we must find a child—at the right time—and of the same age, or very near it; and, if your babe dies, she must never know it!' At first it seemed horrible to me; and then, gradually, I began to look upon the thought as a very salvation. Better, far better, I thought, to take and rear as my own, a stranger, an alien child, than to leave in some foreign prison asylum, perhaps, an insane wife; and then I began to fear that this plan might fail, for, of course, the child to be substituted, if the worst came, must be found, and soon. Marie Pinchon was a trained nurse; she had been sent me by the physician, and he called her into our counsels; she had lately been in a woman's hospital, she told us; and, after some consideration, she thought she could do what we wished.
"She would visit this hospital, and was sure she could find us a child there; there were only too many waifs, she said.
"I made but one stipulation, if possible, the waif, if it came to that, must be a boy, and in perfect health.
"I have told you enough of this wretched episode. My son never breathed; and a boy, tiny, it is true, but sound and pretty, was brought by the nurse, Marie, and put into my wife's arms as soon as she was strong enough to realise or ask for her babe. Then, when we looked for a nurse, Marie again came to our aid. After some difficulty and delay, she told us of a cousin widow, who had lately lost a babe, and whose husband had been killed by an explosion at Marby, and so it came about that we found Sarita, who proved a perfect nurse, and with whom my wife was delighted. The babe was christened Holbrook Deering, and he grew and thrived, and was a dainty and beautiful child; blonde, like my wife, for which I was very glad; she fairly worshipped him, and was very happy until he was six months old and we were thinking of setting sail for home—she had grown so much stronger in | | 385 the warm air of Southern France, for we had left Paris, by the doctor's orders, as soon as possible—and just then the boy was taken ill; it was only the croup, and not a severe case; but it so frightened my poor wife that she went into convulsions, and by the time the boy was well, she was hopelessly insane, not constantly so; there were lucid intervals of very short duration; but the doctor said they would not last, and that there was no chance for recovery.
"It was a mild form of mania, and I learned to thank Heaven for that before she died.
"In one of her last moments of sanity she talked with me about the child, and asked me to bring Sarita with me to America if she would come. She called Sarita, and, herself, proposed this to her. At first Sarita demurred, and did not want to leave 'La belle France,' but after a time she yielded. I did not at first feel drawn toward the woman, quite the contrary, in fact. Though my wife declared that she really loved little Brook, I felt that the large sum I offered her was the real bait. However, she came, and I have had no reason to regret it. She has been a very faithful nurse to Brook, as infant, child, and youth, and seems to have grown deeply attached to him.
"And now comes the most unpleasant part of this task; all of the above I have meant that you should know in any case, for to be quite candid, Brenda, while I have meant to do my full duty by Brook, and never meant him to be undeceived, or to know that I was not, in truth, his father, I could not help loving my brother's noble boy, who has the Deering face and voice—his father's face and voice, and the Deering heart. I could not help loving him BEST. I have meant, since Bruce first came to me, to give them equal shares of my estate at my death, that is to say, my wife, to you, first of all in my love and care, two-thirds of everything; to the boys, the remainder equally divided. Whether this intent is carried out, will rest first with Brook, and then with you; yes, so far as he is concerned, it shall rest with you to give or withhold under certain conditions.
"Brook has disappointed me sadly! I have seen his extravagance from the first, since his earliest school days; abroad he has always lived ahead of his means. Of late I have had to remonstrate with him, and he has promised, in that soft, amiable way of his, promised and failed again and again. But that is not all, nor is it the worst!
"I have long had my doubts and suspicions; but, one day not long before Brook went abroad, old Joe Matchin came to me and told me a shameful tale. Rose Matchin had then been missing for months, and Brook was in New York. Matchin told me that he had found certain letters, addressed to Rose, that had been hidden under the old flooring of the room which had been hers. He had taken up the boards, intending to replace them with new, and said that the toilet table, of 'bureau,' as he called it, used by the girl, had stood over this spot, and that the letters, doubtless, had fallen out at the back of the rickety old affair, and so found their lodgment beneath the flooring. There had been no carpet in the poor room, only a strip of a rug before the 'bureau,' and the girl, doubtless, was quite unaware of her loss; for she had not left another scrap of writing behind her.
"When Matchin asked me to give him a few words in private after | | 386 banking hours, and began his story, he had, as I at once perceived, been drinking, a thing quite unusual for him, and he launched at once into invectives against my nephew Bruce, coupling his name with that of his runaway niece; and ending by flinging down the letters before me. Never for one moment doubting Bruce, and thinking the old man half wild with drink, I took up the letters. There were three of them, shameful love-letters, written to Rose Matchin, signed Bruce, and all in Brook Deering's handwriting.
"I calmed Matchin as well as I could; you know I always have had a strong influence over him—have always, in fact, been his friend—and finally, I extracted from him a promise not to speak of this matter, and to leave it with me to arrange as best I could. I asked him if he had already made a confidant of anyone, and he answered no, but added that he might have made 'some sort of mention' of Bruce's name at the saloon where he drank his beer. I telegraphed Brook to come home, and then I went home to think.
"You may perhaps remember, dear, the night when I told you that I had been detained at the bank by a matter no one but myself could have handled, and that you gave me one of your pretty 'scoldings,' because I had missed the call of Mrs. Arden and the doctor, and made dinner late. It happened that night.
"When Brook came, there was quite a scene, of which you, of course, knew nothing. At first, the scamp tried to lay the matter upon Bruce's shoulders; but when I confronted him with the letters, he threw himself upon my mercy. Owning that Rose, having by some mistake got his name and his cousin's confounded, he had allowed her to call him Bruce, 'thinking it would do no harm.' He declared that he loved the girl, whom I recall as very pretty; and that—he had been 'tempted beyond his strength.' The girl 'was so unhappy, living with that sour old man;' besides, he declared he was entangled,"—here the reader paused, hesitated, and, with a swift glance in the direction of Ora Wardell, resumed—" or had committed himself, long before he knew Rose. In fact, he was engaged, and so dared not see Rose openly. He was willing, yes, anxious, to marry the girl, he declared; only, for all our sakes, he wanted her to be better educated; and if I would permit him to send her to school, etc., etc. In short, it was a wretched, shameful scene. It ended in a compromise; and here, perhaps, I showed myself weak; I told him that I would pay the girl's schooling for two years, if, in the meantime, he would promise me not to see her. They might correspond if they would; and, to insure their separation, I would send him abroad for one year.
"At the end of that year, he was to come back, establish himself somewhere at a distance from Pomfret, where neither his antecedents nor those of Rose Matchin were known; and when Rose had left her school, he should marry her if she still desired him for a husband.
"It seemed to me, then, the best thing to do, in justice to the girl and to her honest old uncle, who, in his way, was as proud as I; and it was the—only way to keep the disagreeable affair from becoming a public scandal.
"Brook seemed so willing, and so penitent, that I gave him a letter to an acquaintance who was in charge of a girls' school not far from | | 387 New York, and who would, I knew, oblige me without question; and I let him go and arrange to have the girl established. I had, in my letter, asked my friend, the professor, to meet, or send someone to meet, Miss Matchin, whom I described as the orphaned grandchild of a friend, and who, having no near relative to look to her, would be put in his charge by a member of my own family. I also insisted upon Brook's setting out for Europe very soon.
"Of course I had told old Joe Matchin what I had done, but he did not seem in the least gratified to know that his niece was in a good school, or soon would be; and when I told him that he would do well to say to his neighbours that Rose was at school, he only sniffed and said, 'Let sleeping dogs lie! Nobody asks me after the gal anymore, and they hadn't better! An' I ain't goin' to offer no one no news, you may be sartin'!' And then he added, 'Only—I does want to have one square out-an'-out talk—with that boy of your'n—not meanin' no disrespect to you, Mr. Deerin'—that I does!' So I left him, and we never mentioned the subject again.
"Rose did not write to the old man. He did not want 'none of her silly book-larned letters,' he declared at the outset; and I did not hear from the school, except to receive a receipt for her quarter's tuition and other expenses.
"So matters went on until not long ago, when Mr. Lenville went to Europe, I asked him to look up Brook—he was then at Nice, where Lenville expected to meet his brother's family—and to give me a candid account of the way he was passing his time, and how he was managing to spend so much money.
"I have but recently heard from Lenville. He tells me that Brook is gambling at Nice and elsewhere—gambling wildly! That he is leading a very dissipated life; and that he has attached himself to Miss—Wardell, in spite of his fiancée at school. For her father's sake and for her own, I am sorry to hear this last; I fear the boy has renewed the old affair, because he foresees that I shall refuse to continue furnishing him funds to squander; and he cannot do this honourably. Ora Wardell is not the girl to permit such fickleness as he has been guilty of, once it is known to her; and how he can contrive to deceive her long, I cannot imagine. Certainly he must intend some form of treachery; and if he thinks to trifle with Rose Matchin it will not be safe for him to come back to Pomfret and confront old Joe Matchin. Neither would I Permit such perfidy.
"Brenda, I find that Brook has drawn upon my bankers in New York, without my knowledge, for a large amount, using my name; and that he has also borrowed from Lenville. I have written to him, bidding him come home, and shall try to cover up and condone his misdemeanours upon these terms. He must withdraw from his present position relating to Miss Wardell, even if he is obliged to throw himself upon her mercy, and confess the truth to her. Ora Wardell would soon find him out, and would learn to despise a man so weak. She is too good for him! And Rose Matchin, I am convinced, with all her folly, is good enough. You see, my, wife, it has come to this, that I now thank Heaven that he is not my son!| | 388
"In all this, first and last, I see how I have made two great mistakes. First, I did not—as I should have done—learn something of the boy's parentage; find out what blood was in him; what possibly inherited evil tendencies; and, last, it would have been wiser to have let the truth be known—the truth of his adoption. But my poor wife had bound me by so many promises for his future, and the news had gone out to all our friends, that we had a son and heir; and then—I never dreamed—how should I?—that my only brother's orphan child would ever become as my own.
"And now for my object in telling you all this—and in this manner. There are times when I doubt the outcome of Brook's misdeeds, and fear the worst is not yet; and so I have written this, and shall leave it in your hands, to be kept, unopened, as you receive it, until after my death.
"In the meantime, Brook will have had time to prove himself, for better or for worse; and this paper will be in your hinds, to be opened as I have verbally directed—should it be for worse; which God forbid!—or, to remain under seal—should the need to open it and, perhaps, protect yourself or another,—never occur,—until the day comes for the reading of my will. You will then read this also, and hold it as a family secret, to be guarded; or a weapon for your own defence at need.
"Should this time come—rather, when it comes—if Brook Deering has fulfilled his obligations, and is living the life of an honest, industrious gentleman; having kept his pledge to the girl who is fitting herself to be his wife, then these facts concerning his parentage, and his misdemeanours, may be consigned to oblivion. But—if he has not kept his word, if any further act, any darker stain touches, through him, the name of Deering, then that name must be no longer his! The truth must be made known! No alien shall bring a stain upon the name that has always been honoured, and still keep it! As for himself, I have decided. The letter which calls him home, also tells him the truth concerning his parentage, and makes known to him the only terms upon which he may continue to call me father.
"I have assured him, to save his pride and make his reform easier, that so long as he keeps his word, and does his duty, the truth concerning him will be kept between himself and me. And this is why I have written this letter, and hedged it round with conditions. So long as he continues to honour the name he bears, you will bury all this in your own memory, as if it had never been, I know; and he need never know that this document exists.
"And now for myself; while I long to believe in the lad I have called my son for twenty-four years, and while I hope and pray that the worst is over, and that good may come out of evil,—yet—these lines would never have been penned, it I did not fear and dread—I know not what! I want to guard you against misfortune, against ingratitude; and—I know the weak points in the character of him with whom we have to deal.
"I have made a duplicate of this, and leave it in the hands of Mr Ingram. He will know when to put it into your hands, without knowing its contents."
Mr. Ingram paused here, and put down the paper.
"The remainder of this writing," he said, "is of a purely private nature, and concerns only Mrs. Deering—the last advice, instructions, and farewell words of the dead—in which Brook Deering has no part. And now, if Mrs. Deering is quite ready to rejoin us, we will finish, as soon as possible, our work of explanation."
As he spoke, Valentine and Doctor Ware arose quickly, and then, both hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, John Redding leaned forward, and, catching Valentine's eye, made a slight gesture, accompanied by a meaning glance, toward the place where Ora Wardell sat, her proud head bowed upon her hands.
Instantly Valentine turned back, nodded to Ware, and took the vacant chair nearest to Ora, a look of sweet compassion in her eyes, and Doctor Ware crossed the room atone, and knocked softly at the door of the smoking-room.
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