ALTHOUGH the events that I am now relating happened many years ago, I shall still, for caution's sake, avoid mentioning by name the various places visited by Mr. Dark and myself for the purpose of making inquiries. It will be enough if I describe generally what we did, and if I mention in substance only the result at which we ultimately arrived.
On reaching Glasgow, Mr. Dark turned the whole case over in his mind once more. The result was that he altered his original intention of going straight to the north of Scotland, considering it safer to make sure, if possible, of the course the yacht had taken in her cruise along the western coast.
The carrying out of this new resolution involved the necessity of delaying our onward journey by perpetually diverging from the direct road. Three times we were sent uselessly to wild places in the Hebrides by false reports. Twice we wandered away inland, following gentlemen who answered generally to the description of Mr. James Smith, but who turned out to be the wrong men as soon as we set eyes on them. These vain excursions--especially the three to the western islands--consumed time terribly. It was more than two months from the day when we had left Darrock Hall before we found ourselves up at the very top of Scotland at last, driving into a considerable sea-side town, with a harbor attached to it. Thus far our journey had led to no results, and I began to despair of success. As for Mr. Dark, he never got to the end of his sweet temper and his wonderful patience.
"You don't know how to wait, William," was his constant remark whenever he heard me complaining. "I do."
We drove into the town toward evening in a modest little gig, and put up, according to our usual custom, at one of the inferior inns.
"We must begin at the bottom," Mr. Dark used to say. "High company in a coffee-room won't be familiar with us; low company in a tap-room will." And he certainly proved the truth of his own words. The like of him for making intimate friends of total strangers at the shortest notice I have never met with before or since. Cautious as the Scotch are, Mr. Dark seemed to have the knack of twisting them round his finger as he pleased. He varied his way artfully with different men, but there were three standing opinions of his which he made a point of expressing in all varieties of company while we were in Scotland. In the first place, he thought the view of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat the finest in the world. In the second place, he considered whisky to be the most wholesome spirit in the world. In the third place, he believed his late beloved mother to be the best woman in the world. It may be worthy of note that, whenever he expressed this last opinion in Scotland, he invariably added that her maiden name was Macleod.
Well, we put up at a modest little inn near the harbor. I was dead tired with the journey, and lay down on my bed to get some rest. Mr. Dark, whom nothing ever fatigued, left me to take his toddy and pipe among the company in the taproom.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was roused by a shake on my shoulder. The room was pitch dark, and I felt a hand suddenly clapped over my mouth. Then a strong smell of whisky and tobacco saluted my nostrils, and a whisper stole into my ear--
"William, we have got to the end of our journey."
"Mr. Dark," I stammered out, "is that you? What, in Heaven's name, do you mean?"
"The yacht put in here," was the answer, still in a whisper, "and your blackguard of a master came ashore--"
"Oh, Mr. Dark," I broke in, "don't tell me that the letter is true!"
"Every word of it," says he. "He was married here, and was off again to the Mediterranean with Number Two a good three weeks before we left your mistress's house. Hush! don't say a word, Go to sleep again, or strike a light, if you like it better. Do anything but come downstairs with me. I'm going to find out all the particulars without seeming to want to know one of them. Yours is a very good-looking face, William, but it's so infernally honest that I can't trust it in the tap-room. I'm making friends with the Scotchmen already. They know my opinion of Arthur's Seat; they see what I think of whisky; and I rather think it won't be long before they hear that my mother's maiden name was Macleod."
With those words he slipped out of the room, and left me, as he had found me, in the dark.
I was far too much agitated by what I had heard to think of going to sleep again, so I struck a light, and tried to amuse myself as well as I could with an old newspaper that had been stuffed into my carpet bag. It was then nearly ten o'clock. Two hours later, when the house shut up, Mr. Dark came back to me again in high spirits.
"I have got the whole case here," says he, tapping his forehead--"the whole case, as neat and clean as if it was drawn in a brief. That master of yours doesn't stick at a trifle, William. It's my opinion that your mistress and you have not seen the last of him yet."
We were sleeping that night in a double-bedded room. As soon as Mr. Dark had secured the door and disposed himself comfortably in his bed, he entered on a detailed narrative of the particulars communicated to him in the tap-room. The substance of what he told me may be related as follows:
The yacht had had a wonderful run all the way to Cape Wrath. On rounding that headland she had met the wind nearly dead against her, and had beaten every inch of the way to the sea-port town, where she had put in to get a supply of provisions, and to wait for a change in the wind.
Mr. James Smith had gone ashore to look about him, and to see whether the principal hotel was the sort of house at which he would like to stop for a few days. In the course of his wandering about the town, his attention had been attracted to a decent house, where lodgings were to be let, by the sight of a very pretty girl sitting at work at the parlor window. He was so struck by her face that he came back twice to look at it, determining, the second time, to try if he could not make acquaintance with her by asking to see the lodgings. He was shown the rooms by the girl's mother, a very respectable woman, whom he discovered to be the wife of the master and part owner of a small coasting ves sel, then away at sea. With a little maneuvering he managed to get into the parlor where the daughter was at work, and to exchange a few words with her. Her voice and manner completed the attraction of her face. Mr. James Smith decided, in his headlong way, that he was violently in love with her, and, without hesitating another instant, he took the lodgings on the spot for a month certain.
It is unnecessary to say that his designs on the girl were of the most disgraceful kind, and that he represented himself to the mother and daughter as a single man. Helped by his advantages of money, position, and personal appearance, he had made sure that the ruin of the girl might be effected with very little difficulty; but he soon found that he had undertaken no easy conquest.
The mother's watchfulness never slept, and the daughter's presence of mind never failed her. She admired Mr. James Smith's tall figure and splendid whiskers; she showed the most encouraging partiality for his society; she smiled at his compliments, and blushed whenever he looked at her; but, whether it was cunning or whether it was innocence, she seemed incapable of understanding that his advances toward her were of any other than an honorable kind. At the slightest approach to undue familiarity, she drew back with a kind of contemptuous surprise in her face, which utterly perplexed Mr. James Smith. He had not calculated on that sort of resistance, and he could not see his way to overcoming it. The weeks passed; the month for which he had taken the lodgings expired. Time had strengthened the girl's hold on him till his admiration for her amounted to downright infatuation, and he had not advanced one step yet toward the fulfillment of the vicious purpose with which he had entered the house.
At this time he must have made some fresh attempt on the girl's virtue, which produced: a coolness between them; for, instead of taking the lodgings for another term, he removed to his yacht, in the harbor, and slept on board for two nights.
The wind was now fair, and the stores were on board, but he gave no orders to the sailing-master to weigh anchor. On the third day, the cause of the coolness, whatever it was, appears to have been removed, and he returned to his lodgings on shore. Some of the more inquisitive among the townspeople observed soon afterward, when they met him in the street, that he looked rather anxious and uneasy. The conclusion had probably forced itself upon his mind, by this time, that he must decide on pursuing one of two courses: either he must resolve to make the sacrifice of leaving the girl altogether, or he must commit the villainy of marrying her.
Scoundrel as he was, he hesitated at encountering the risk--perhaps, also, at being guilty of the crime--involved in this last alternative. While he was still in doubt, the father's coasting vessel sailed into the harbor, and the father's presence on the scene decided him at last. How this new influence acted it was impossible to find out from the imperfect evidence of persons who were not admitted to the family councils. The fact, however, was certain that the date of the father's return and the date of Mr. James Smith's first wicked resolution to marry the girl might both be fixed, as nearly as possible, at one and the same time.
Having once made up his mind to the commission of the crime, he proceeded with all possible coolness and cunning to provide against the chances of detection.
Returning on board his yacht he announced that he had given up his intention of cruising to Sweden and that he intended to amuse himself by a long fishing tour in Scotland. After this explanation, he ordered the vessel to be laid up in the harbor, gave the sailing-master leave of absence to return to his family at Cowes, and paid off the whole of the crew from the mate to the cabin-boy. By these means he cleared the scene, at one blow, of the only people in the town who knew of the existence of his unhappy wife. After that the news of his approaching marriage might be made public without risk of discovery, his own common name being of itself a sufficient protection in case the event was mentioned in the Scotch newspapers. All his friends, even his wife herself, might read a report of the marriage of Mr. James Smith without having the slightest suspicion of who the bridegroom really was.
A fortnight after the paying off of the crew he was married to the merchant-captain's daughter. The father of the girl was well known among his fellow-townsmen as a selfish, grasping man, who was too anxious to secure a rich son-in-law to object to any proposals for hastening the marriage. He and his wife, and a few intimate relations had been present at the ceremony; and after it had been performed the newly-married couple left the town at once for a honeymoon trip to the Highland lakes.
Two days later, however, they unexpectedly returned, announcing a complete change in their plans. The bridegroom (thinking, probably, that he would be safer out of England than in it) had been pleasing the bride's fancy by his descriptions of the climate and the scenery of southern parts. The new Mrs. James Smith was all curosity to see Spain and Italy; and, having often proved herself an excellent sailor on board her father's vessel, was anxious to go to the Mediterranean in the easiest way by sea. Her affectionate husband, having now no other object in life than to gratify her wishes, had given up the Highland excursion, and had returned to have his yacht got ready for sea immediately. In this explanation there was nothing to awaken the suspicions of the lady's parents. The mother thought Mr. James Smith a model among bridegrooms. The father lent his assistance to man the yacht at the shortest notice with as smart a crew as could be picked up about the town. Principally through his exertions, the vessel was got ready for sea with extraordinary dispatch. The sails were bent, the provisions were put on board, and Mr. James Smith sailed for the Mediterranean with the unfortunate woman who believed herself to be his wife, before Mr. Dark and myself set forth to look after him from Darrock Hall.
Such was the true account of my master's infamous conduct in Scotland as it was related to me. On concluding, Mr. Dark hinted that he had something still left to tell me, but declared that he was too sleepy to talk any more that night. As soon as we were awake the next morning he returned to the subject.
"I didn't finish all I had to say last night, did I?" he began.
You unfortunately told me enough, and more than enough, to prove the truth of the statement in the anonymous letter," I answered.
"Yes," says Mr. Dark, "but did I tell you who wrote the anonymous letter?"
"You don't mean to say that you have found that out!" says I.
"I think I have," was the cool answer. "When I heard about your precious master paying off the regular crew of the yacht I put the circumstance by in my mind, to be brought out again and sifted a little as soon as the opportunity offered. It offered in about half an hour. Says I to the gauger, who was the principal talker in the room: 'How about those men that Mr. Smith paid off? Did they all go as soon as they got their money, or did they stop here till they had spent every farthing of it in the public-houses?' The gauger laughs. 'No such luck,' says he, in the broadest possible Scotch (which I translate into English, William, for your benefit); 'no such luck; they all went south, to spend their money among finer people than us--all, that is to say, with one exception. It was thought the steward of the yacht had gone along with the rest, when, the very day Mr. Smith sailed for the Mediterranean, who should turn up unexpectedly but the steward himself! Where he had been hiding, and why he had been hiding, nobody could tell.' 'Perhaps he had been imitating his master, and looking out for a wife,' says I. 'Likely enough,' says the gauger; 'he gave a very confused account of himself, and he cut all questions short by going away south in a violent hurry.' That was enough for me: I let the subject drop. Clear as daylight, isn't it, William? The steward suspected something wrong--the steward waited and watched--the steward wrote that anonymous letter to your mistress. We can find him, if we want him, by inquiring at Cowes; and we can send to the church for legal evidence of the marriage as soon as we are instructed to do so. All that we have got to do now is to go back to your mistress, and see what course she means to take under the circumstances. It's a pretty case, William, so far--an uncommonly pretty case, as it stands at present."
We returned to Darrock Hall as fast as coaches and post-horses could carry us.
Having from the first believed that the statement in the anonymous letter was true, my mistress received the bad news we brought calmly and resignedly--so far, at least, as outward appearances went. She astonished and disappointed Mr. Dark by declining to act in any way on the information that he had collected for her, and by insisting that the whole affair should still be buried in the profoundest secrecy. For the first time since I had known my traveling companion, he became depressed in spirits on hearing that nothing more was to be done, and, although he left the Hall with a handsome present, he left it discontentedly.
"Such a pretty case, William," says he, quite sorrowfully, as we shook hands--"such an uncommonly pretty case--it's a thousand pities to stop it, in this way, before it's half over!"
"You don't know what a proud lady and what a delicate lady my mistress is," I answered. "She would die rather than expose her forlorn situation in a public court for the sake of punishing her husband."
"Bless your simple heart!" says Mr. Dark, "do you really think, now, that such a case as this can be hushed up?"
"Why not," I asked, "if we all keep the secret?"
"That for the secret!" cries Mr. Dark, snapping his fingers. "Your master will let the cat out of the bag, if nobody else does."
"My master!" I repeated, in amazement.
"Yes, your master!" says Mr. Dark. "I have had some experience in my time, and I say you have not seen the last of him yet. Mark my words, William, Mr. James Smith will come back."
With that prophecy, Mr. Dark fretfully treated himself to a last pinch of snuff, and departed in dudgeon on his journey back to his master in London. His last words hung heavily on my mind for days after he had gone. It was some weeks before I got over a habit of starting whenever the bell was rung at the front door.
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