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A village in Cornwall is thrown into turmoil after a young girl falls from a train to her death. Was this an accident? Or murder? The mystery deepens when clues link the girl to a double homicide committed ten years earlier. Braddon's sensational novel takes us to the estates of aristocrats, the haunts of tabloid writers, the homes of Bohemian artists, and the dark alleyways of Paris. Braddon, one of Victorian England's best-selling novelists, is at the height of her powers in Wyllard's Weird. The novel shakes the foundations of 19th-century social order as it questions the sanctity of marriage and exposes the vices hidden beneath masks of gentility. First published in 1885, Wyllard's Weird has been for too long either out of print or available only in expensive facsimile editions. The novel holds an important place in literary history as it forecasts the appearance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886 and Sherlock Holmes in 1887.
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CLASSIC MYSTERY PRESENTS
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Copyright © 2018 CLASSIC MYSTERY PRESENTS
CHAPTER I. IN A CORNISH VALLEY
CHAPTER II. AFTER THE INQUEST
CHAPTER III. JOSEPH DISTIN
CHAPTER IV. BOTHWELL DECLINES TO ANSWER
CHAPTER V. PEOPLE WILL TALK
CHAPTER VI. A CLERICAL WARNING
CHAPTER VII. A RAPID CONVERSION
CHAPTER VIII. A VALUABLE ALLY
CHAPTER IX. FEVER DREAMS
CHAPTER X. “TOUCH LIPS AND PART WITH TEARS”
CHAPTER XI. A FATAL LOVE
CHAPTER I. LÉONIE’S MISSION
CHAPTER II. A STUDENT OF MEN AND WOMEN
CHAPTER III. BOTHWELL BEGINS TO SEE HIS WAY
CHAPTER IV. THE HOME OF THE PAST
CHAPTER V. A FACE FROM THE GRAVE
CHAPTER VI. STRUCK DOWN
CHAPTER VII. THE GENERAL RECEIVES A SUMMONS
CHAPTER VIII. WIDOWED AND FREE
CHAPTER IX. TWO WOMEN
CHAPTER X. ROSES ON A GRAVE
CHAPTER I. WEDDING GARMENTS
CHAPTER II. LADY VALERIA FIGHTS HER OWN BATTLE
CHAPTER III. AN ELOPEMENT ON NEW LINES
CHAPTER IV. IN THE LAND OF BOHEMIA
CHAPTER V. REAPING THE WHIRLWIND
CHAPTER VI. HOW SUCH THINGS END
CHAPTER VII. ONE WHO MUST REMEMBER
CHAPTER VIII. THE LAST LINK
CHAPTER IX. WAITING FOR HIS DOOM
CHAPTER X. “ALIKE IS HELL, OR PARADISE, OR HEAVEN”
CHAPTER XI. “SWEET IS DEATH FOR EVERMORE”
CHAPTER XII. “WHO KNOWS NOT CIRCE?”
CHAPTER XIII. “HOW LIKE A WINTER HATH THY ABSENCE BEEN”
There are some travellers who think when they cross the Tamar, over that fairy bridge of Brunel’s, hung aloft between the blue of the river and the blue of the sky, that they have left England behind them on the eastern shore—that they have entered a new country, almost a new world. This land of quiet woods and lonely valleys, and bold brown hills, barren, solitary—these wild commons and large moorlands of Cornwall seem to stand apart, as they did in the days gone by, when this province was verily a kingdom, complete in itself, and owning no sovereignty but its own.
It is a beautiful region which the traveller sees, perchance for the first time, as the train skims athwart the quaint little waterside village of Saltash, and pierces the rich depths of the woodland, various, enchanting. Now the line seems strung like a thread of iron in mid-air above a deep gorge, now winds sinuous as a snake through a labyrinth of hills. A picturesque bit of road, this between Plymouth and Bodmin Road, at all times; but, perhaps, loveliest in the still evening hour, when the summer sunset steeps the land in golden light, while the summer wind scarcely stirs the woods.
In the mellow light of a July eventide the express from Paddington swept with slackened speed round the curve which marked the approach to a viaduct between Saltash and Bodmin Road—a heavy wooden structure, spanning a vale of Alpine beauty. An exquisite little bit of scenery, upon which the stranger is apt to look with some touch of fear mingled in the cup of his delight: but to the dweller in the district, familiar with every yard of the journey, the transit is as nothing. He is carried through the air serenely, as he smokes his cigar and reads his paper, and the notion of peril never occurs to him.
One man, sitting by the window of a third-class carriage near the end of the train, looked out at the familiar scene dreamily to-night. He was an elderly, gray-headed man, a parish doctor, hard-worked and poorly paid; but he had a keen eye for the beautiful in Nature, dead or living, and familiar as this spot was to his eye, it always impressed him. He sat with his face to the engine, puffing lazily at his black briarwood, and gazing at the landscape, in that not unpleasant condition of bodily and mental fatigue, when the mind seems half asleep, and the external world is little more than a dream-picture.
The train was not a long one, a good many of the London coaches having been left behind at Plymouth. Dr. Menheniot put out his head, and surveyed the line of carriages as they rounded the curve. There was a figure here and there by a window; but the train seemed sparsely occupied. They were nearing the viaduct. That narrow thread of water trickling over its rocky bed in the depth of the gorge was in winter a rushing torrent. The line at this point was under repair, and the wooden palisade had been removed in the progress of the work. The actual danger was in nowise increased by the absence of this barrier, which would have crumbled like matchwood before the weight of the train, had the engine run off the rails—but there was a seeming insecurity to the eye of the traveller as he looked into the gulf below; and Dr. Menheniot gave an involuntary shudder. Another moment and the engine came on the viaduct. Menheniot started up with a half-articulate exclamation, “What, in God’s name—” he began.
He opened the carriage-door, seemed as if he were going to clamber out, to try and make his way along the footboard to a distant carriage, outside which a girl was standing, holding on to the brass hand-rail at the side of the door. She had that instant stepped out, or been thrust out; Menheniot knew not which. He had seen nothing till he saw her standing there, a slender figure in a light-coloured gown, thin draperies fluttering in the wind—standing there, hanging between life and death, a creature to be rescued somehow, were it at the hazard of a man’s life.
Before he could put himself in peril the chance of rescue was over. A wild shriek rang through the wood—a fluttering form went whirling down the ravine, flashing white athwart the sunlit greenery, and lay half buried amidst a tangle of ferns and wild flowers at the bottom of the gorge.
Twenty or thirty heads were thrust out of the windows. The train, which to Dr. Menheniot’s eye just now had seemed almost empty, was now alive with people. The engine slackened speed, and stopped at about a hundred yards from the scene of the catastrophe. A dozen men of different ages and qualities leaped out of the train and clambered down the embankment; among others Julian Wyllard, the Lord of the Manor of Penmorval—a man of middle age, soberly attired, a tall stately figure, a man of mark in this part of the country—before whom all gave way; except little Dr. Menheniot, who hurried on ahead, intent upon affording professional help, if such help could avail.
Julian Wyllard had been an athlete in his boyhood and youth. He walked down the steep, rugged hillside more easily than many men walk down Regent Street. At the bottom of the embankment every one fell back involuntarily, as it were, and allowed Mr. Wyllard to head the procession. They went as fast as it was possible to go over that broken ground, trampling down the ferns and flowers, the tiny scarlet strawberries, and crimson and orange fungi, as they went, every lip breathless, every eye strained towards that one spot in the hollow yonder where the doctor was hastening.
“No use, I fear,” said Mr. Wyllard, as if answering the common thought. “The poor creature must be quite dead.”
“What, in mercy’s name, made her do it?” speculated a burly farmer; “was she frighted, do you think, by some ruffian in the train; or did she want to make away with herself?”
The little cluster of passengers looked at one another curiously, as if seeking among those rustic countenances for the face of a scoundrel capable of assailing unprotected innocence. But if guilt were present in that assembly, there was no outward indication of the diabolical element. Almost every one there was known to the rest: small farmers, a squire or two, the elderly lawyer from Camelford, the curate of Wadebridge, a magistrate of Bodmin, a cornchandler and respectable inhabitant of the same town. Assuredly not among these would one look for that debased and savage humanity which is viler in its instincts than the wild beasts of the jungle.
There might be other passengers lurking in the train, among those loquacious women up yonder, who were all putting their heads out of windows, straining their necks to get their share in the pity and the terror of the tragedy down below.
Mr. Wyllard and his companions found little Dr. Menheniot on his knees beside the piteous figure lying in a heap, like a limp rag, among ferns and ground-ivy.
He had lifted the poor bruised head upon his arm, and he was looking down at the dead face, the open eyes gazing in the set stare of a great horror. Horror at the wretch who flung her down, or at that awful gulf of death self-sought? Who could tell? Those blood-bedabbled lips were mute for evermore, unless the dead could be conjured into speech.
“Is she quite gone?” asked Julian Wyllard, his compassionate countenance calm amidst the agitation of the little crowd.
That spectacle of sudden violent death was no new thing to his eyes. He had lived in Paris during the siege and the Commune, had seen the corpses laid out in long rows in the cemeteries, and piled in bloody heaps in the streets.
“Quite dead, and a blessed thing too,” answered the doctor. “I don’t believe she has a whole bone in her body. She could only have lingered a little while to suffer agonies. Her neck is broken. Poor little thing! She is quite a young creature and must have been pretty.”
Yes, it was a pretty little face, even in the pallor of death. A small retroussé nose; large dark eyes, with long black lashes; pouting, childish lips; a delicately moulded figure, neatly dressed in light-gray alpaca, a linen collar cut low in the front and showing a good deal of the slim white throat, linen cuffs, long thread gloves, and little stuff boots.
“She looks like a furriner,” said Mr. Nicholls, the burly farmer who had speculated as to the cause of her death.
“Hadn’t somebody better examine her pockets for any papers which may identify her?” said a voice behind Wyllard.
It was the voice of a young man who had been the last to leave the train. He had followed the rest at a few paces’ distance, and had only just arrived to look at the dead girl over Wyllard’s shoulder.
“You here, Bothwell?” exclaimed Wyllard, turning quickly.
“Yes, I have been in Plymouth all day, and thought I’d get back by your train,” answered Bothwell Grahame easily. “Don’t you think they ought to examine her pockets?”
“Certainly; but it is a question as to whether it should be done now or later,” said Wyllard. “She was evidently travelling alone, poor creature, and she must have been in a compartment by herself, since nobody seems to know anything about her. The chief thing to be done is to get her carried on to Bodmin Road, where there must be an inquest.”
Everybody agreed that this was the voice of wisdom. Dr. Menheniot turned out the pocket of the neat alpaca gown. There was nothing but a handkerchief, a little bunch of keys, and a second-class railway ticket for Plymouth; no card-case or purse; not even an old letter to offer a clue to the dead girl’s personality. This done, the doctor arranged the poor dislocated form decently, and two sturdy men lifted it from the greenery, and carried it gently up the embankment to the train, where that unconscious clay was laid on the seat of an empty second-class compartment.
“It is the very carriage she was in,” said Bothwell, pointing to a torn strip of gray alpaca hanging on the metal handle. “Her gown must have caught on the handle as she fell, and this shred was left behind.”
Bothwell gave the bit of alpaca to Dr. Menheniot.
“You can show that to the Coroner,” he said; “of course, you will be a witness.”
“About the only one necessary, I should think,” said the doctor. “I saw her fall.”
“Did you?” exclaimed Wyllard. “That’s lucky! And what was your impression as to the manner of her fall—whether she deliberately threw herself out, or whether she was thrown out by a villain?”
This was asked in a lowered voice; since the murderer, if the deed were murder, might be within hearing.
“Upon my soul, I cannot tell,” protested Menheniot, with a troubled look. “The whole thing was so rapid. It passed like a flash. I was smoking, tired, in a dozy condition altogether, and this horrible thing seemed like a dream. I saw no other head at the carriage window. I saw nothing but that girl standing on the footboard as the train came on to the bridge; and then, all in a moment, I saw her whirling down into the gorge, like a feather blown out of a window. If it was suicide she certainly hesitated, for when I first saw her she was standing on the footboard, holding the hand-rail by the side of the door. She did not leap out of the train with one desperate deliberate spring. However determined she may have been to kill herself, she must have faltered in the act.”
“It would be only human to do so. Poor young thing—a mere child!” said Wyllard regretfully.
He talked apart with the guard, recommending that official to keep his eye upon the passengers who got out at Bodmin Road, and at all stations further down the line; to mark any man of ruffianly appearance or agitated demeanour; to give any such person in charge if he saw but the slightest reason for suspicion.
The passengers had resumed their seats by this time, and the train began to move slowly onward. The whole period of delay had not been twenty minutes, and the line between Plymouth and Penzance was tolerably clear at this hour. The train would be able to recover lost time before the end of the journey.
“You had better come into my carriage,” said Wyllard to the young man whom he had addressed as Bothwell.
“I have only a third-class ticket,” answered the other. “I’ve been smoking.”
“I never knew you doing anything else,” said Wyllard, with a touch of scorn. “Go back to your third-class carriage. No doubt you want another pipe.”
“I believe after that shock it will do me good,” replied the young man, producing his tobacco pouch on the instant, and beginning to fill his little clay pipe.
Mr. Wyllard went back to the compartment where he had been sitting at ease all day and alone. There is a mysterious power in the presence of such a man which, save in the stress of the tourist season, can generally secure solitude. The tourist season had not yet begun, and Mr. Wyllard was known to be good for half-a-crown, and never to offer less; so his particular compartment was sacred. Even bishops and notabilities of the land were hustled away from the door, beguiled by the promise of something better elsewhere.
He had strewed the carriage with newspapers and magazines, and now he began to collect all this literature and to strap it neatly together before arriving at his journey’s end. He was neat and methodical in all small matters, yet he was in nowise a prig or a pedant. His tall, powerful frame and strongly marked features were upon a large scale. He had a large brain and a large manner.
Look at him now as he sits in his corner of the luxurious carriage, against a background of light-drab cloth. A man in the prime of manhood, five-and-forty at most; a fine head well set off; light-brown hair, thick and silky, brushed aside from a broad square forehead, in which there are all the indications of intellectual power. Large, full blue eyes, whose normal expression is severe, but the expression softens when the man smiles, brightens and sparkles when the man laughs. He has a beautiful smile, a sonorous laugh, and a voice of power and compass rare among English voices. The features are firmly modelled, bold, massive; the mouth, when the lips are closely set, as they are just now, looks as if it were cut out of stone. A man likely to love profoundly, and not likely to hate lightly. A staunch friend, as everybody knows in this part of the country; but perchance a deadly foe were great provocation given; a man to keep a secret as closely as the grave. A man to give money as freely as if it were water.
The train stopped at Bodmin Road, in a picturesque valley, deep amidst pine-clothed hills, and adjoining a park of exceptional beauty. There was a quiet little roadside inn, about five minutes’ walk from the station, and to this strange hostelry the dead girl was conveyed, a shrouded form lying on a shutter, and carried by two railway-porters. She was laid in a darkened chamber at the back of the house, to await the advent of the Coroner, a gentleman of some importance, who lived ten miles off.
An open carriage was waiting for Julian Wyllard, and in the carriage sat a beautiful woman, smiling welcome upon him as he came out of the station. The dead girl had been carried out by another way. The lady in the carriage knew nothing of the tragedy.
“How late the train is this evening!” she said. “I was beginning to feel uneasy.”
“There has been an accident.”
“An accident! O, how dreadful! But you are not hurt?” she cried anxiously, looking at him from top to toe, suspicious of some deadly injury which he might be heroically concealing.
“No, it was not a railway accident. There is no one hurt except a poor girl who threw herself, or was thrown, out of the train.”
“How terrible!” exclaimed Mrs. Wyllard. “Is it any one we know—any one about here?”
“No, she is quite a stranger, poor child, and from her dress and general appearance I should take her to be a Frenchwoman. But we shall know more after the inquest.”
“How very sad! A stranger alone in a strange land, and to meet such a death! But do you really believe that any one threw her out of the train, Julian? That seems too horrible to be true.”
“My dear, I believe nothing. The poor creature’s fate is shrouded in mystery. Whether she killed herself or whether any one killed her is an open question. I told the guard and the station-master to be on the alert, and to stop any suspicious character. I shall call at the police-office as we drive through the town. Here is Bothwell,” added Wyllard, as the young man came sauntering lazily along. “Did you know that he had gone to Plymouth?”
“Not I,” replied Mrs. Wyllard. “He did not appear at luncheon, but as he is always erratic I did not even wonder about him. What took you to Plymouth this morning, Bothwell?” she asked, as her cousin came up to the carriage door.
They were first cousins, and it was his cousinship with Julian Wyllard’s beautiful wife which secured Bothwell Grahame free quarters at Penmorval. They were children of twin sisters who had loved each other with more than common love, who had seldom been parted till death parted them untimely. Bothwell’s mother was cut off in the flower of her youth and beauty, leaving her only child an infant, and her husband a broken-hearted man. Captain Grahame went to India with his regiment, less than a year after his wife’s death, to fight and fall in the Punjaub, and Bothwell, the orphan, was brought up by his mother’s sister, Mrs. Tregony Dalmaine, at a fine old manor-house near the Land’s End.
He was two years younger than Theodora Dalmaine, and he was to the child as a younger brother. They were brought up together, played together, and shared the same schoolroom and the same governess, till Bothwell was drafted off to Woolwich, having set his heart upon being a soldier, and in his father’s regiment. The bright, quick-witted girl was considerably in advance of the boy in all their mutual studies. She was industrious where he was idle, for it must be owned that even in the beginning of things Bothwell was somewhat scampish in his mind and habits.
He did pretty well at Woolwich—passed his examinations respectably, if not with éclat. His heart was set upon soldiering, and he did not object to work when his heart was in the labour. He was a good soldier, and one of the most popular men in his regiment. He saw a good deal of service in Afghanistan, as an officer of Engineers, not without distinction: but he came to grief, in spite of his many good qualities. He squandered every shilling of his small patrimony, got into debt, and finally left the army, and thus dropped out of that one career for which nature and education had especially fitted him, turned aside from the one path which might have led him to fame and honour. And now he was an idler, without place or station in the world, money, or repute, an encumbrance and a burden to his family, as he told himself every day. He had vague ideas of chalking out a career for himself; had visions of colonial paradises, where he might do wonders; was always devising some new plan, inclining to some new place; but his aspirations had not yet taken any tangible form. He was continually falling in with some new adviser, who wrenched all his ideas out of the soil in which they had taken root, and transplanted them to another locality.
“Spanish America!” said Smith; “don’t think of it. You would be dead in a week. Have you never heard of the vomito negro, the deadliest disease known to man? Otaheite is the place for you! A superb climate, a new area for an enterprising young Englishman! You would make your fortune in three years.”
Then came Jones, who laughed at the notion of the South Sea Islands, and advised Bothwell to get a tract of waste land, near the mouth of the Gironde, and grow fir-trees, and export their resin; that was the one certain road to fortune. You had first your resin, a large annual revenue, and then you had your timber for railway sleepers, returning cent per cent. Bothwell did not venture to ask how you got your resin after you had sold your timber.
Anon came Robinson, who recommended Canada and the lumber trade; and after him Brown, who declared that the only theatre for intelligent youth was the interior of Africa. In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom, says Scripture; but Bothwell found that in the multitude of counsellors there is bewilderment akin to madness. He had an honest desire to get his own living; but so far uncertainty as to the manner of getting it had barred the way to fortune.
“What took me to Plymouth?” he repeated. “Upon my word, I hardly know. It was so deadly quiet at Penmorval this morning. I wanted to hear the voices of my fellow-men. I went third class, you know, Dora. It wasn’t a very extravagant proceeding,” he murmured confidentially. “Shall I ride on the box?”
“You had better come inside,” said Wyllard; “there is plenty of room;” whereupon Bothwell took the back seat of the barouche, opposite his cousin and her husband.
Bodmin town was some miles from Bodmin Road, a lovely drive in the tranquil July eventide; but both those men were haunted by the vision of that dead face, those dislocated limbs, hanging loosely, like a dead stag hauled along by huntsman and whip, while the hounds cluster round their prey. An event so terrible was not to be dismissed lightly.
“I wonder who she was, and where she was going?” said Bothwell.
“Some little nursery governess, I daresay, going to her situation.”
“In that case we shall hear all about her at the inquest. She will have been expected, and her employers will come to the fore.”
“What a terrible thing for her parents, if they are living; most of all for her poor mother!” said Mrs. Wyllard.
She pronounced the last word with peculiar softness. She had an exalted idea of the sacredness of the relationship between mother and child. She had passionately loved her own mother; had passionately longed for a child in the earlier years of her wedded life. But she had been a wife seven years, and no child had lived to bless her. A son had been born within a year of her marriage—born only to die: and now she had left off hoping that she would ever be called upon this earth by the dear name of mother.
They drove past familiar woods and hills, ferny dells, and limpid brooks. They saw the great brown tors standing afar off against the amber sky: but that one haunting thought of a horrible death spoiled all the beauty of the scene. They had no eyes for the landscape, but sat in serious silence.
Mr. Wyllard alighted at the Bodmin police-station, and spent about ten minutes in conversation with the Inspector, who was at once shocked and elated on hearing of the strange death on the railway. He was shocked at the horror of the thing; he was elated at the idea of an inquiry and investigation which might result in honour and profit to himself.
Mrs. Wyllard sat in the carriage with Bothwell, while her husband and the official conversed gravely on the threshold of the station-house. Bothwell talked about the girl and her mysterious death. He described the poor little white face, the look of horror in that glassy stare of death.
“Did she look like a lady?” asked Dora, full of painful interest.
“Hardly, I think. She had that pretty, neat appearance which one sees in French girls of a class just a little above the grisette. Her frock, and her boots, and her cotton gloves must all have suited herself and her station to a nicety. There was no touch of that vulgar finery which makes a half-bred English girl odious. I daresay Wyllard is right, and that she was a poor little governess, going out into a strange land to earn her bread and learn a foreign language. There are thousands who go out every year, I have no doubt; only this one has contrived to jump into notoriety and an early grave at the same time. By Jove! here comes the Coroner. We shall be the first to tell him that he will be wanted to-morrow.”
Mrs. Wyllard blushed faintly as she turned to look at an approaching horseman. She had not, even to this day, left off blushing at any sudden mention of Edward Heathcote’s name; and yet it was seven years since she had jilted him in order to marry Julian Wyllard.
A sad story, all forgiven now, if not forgotten. A deep wrong done by a noble-hearted woman to a noble-hearted man. It was the one act of Theodora Wyllard’s life which she could not look back upon without remorse. In all other relations of life she had been perfect—devoted daughter, devoted wife. But in this one thing she had sinned. This man had loved her faithfully, fondly, from the dawn of her girlish beauty, from the beginning of her womanly grace. She had accepted his love, and had seemed to herself to return it, measure for measure. She had looked forward to the years when they two would be one. And then, in a fatal hour, another face flashed across the foreground of her life—a new voice thrilled her ear—an influence was exercised over her which she had never felt before, a power too potent for resistance—and, in a moment of passionate self-abandonment, she knelt at Edward Heathcote’s feet, and confessed her love for another. Julian Wyllard had broken down all barriers, had asked her to be his wife, knowing her to be engaged to another man. But there are those who think that a great irresistible love outweighs all scruples of honour or conscience.
“Why do you ask me for your freedom, as if it were so great a favour?” Heathcote said bitterly, as he lifted her up from her knees. “Do you think I would have you—this mere beautiful clay—now that your heart has gone from me? Do you think I, who love you a hundred times better than I love myself, would stand between you and happiness? You are free, Dora. I have seen this misery coming upon me ever since this stranger came into your mother’s house.”
“And you will forgive me?” she pleaded, with clasped hands, looking at him with streaming eyes, sorry for him, deeply ashamed of her infidelity.
“Can I be angry with you, loving you as I do? God forgive you, Dora, for all your sins, large or small, as freely as I forgive your sin against me.”
He kissed her unresisting lips for the last time, and so left her, as nearly broken-hearted as a man can be and yet recover.
He did recover, or was, at any rate, supposed to be cured, since, two years after Theodora Dalmaine’s wedding, he married a fair young girl, penniless, friendless, and an orphan; a wife who loved him as he deserved to be loved, and who, after less than two years of wedded life, died, leaving two children, twin daughters. It was three years since the grave had closed upon her, and Edward Heathcote was still a widower, and was believed to have no thought of marriage.
He came riding slowly along the street in the fading light, a man of striking appearance, mounted on a fine horse, a man of about three-and-thirty, tall, broad-shouldered. He had a dark complexion, and dark-brown hair, deep-set gray eyes, which looked almost black under dark heavy brows, an aquiline nose, a heavy moustache and beard.
He had begun life as a younger son, and had practised for some years as a solicitor in the town of Plymouth—had been town clerk and a man of public importance in that place—when his elder brother died a bachelor, and Edward Heathcote inherited a snug little estate near Bodmin, with a curious old country house called The Spaniards. The place had been so named on account of the Spanish chestnuts which flourished there in exceeding beauty. On becoming owner of The Spaniards, and the estate that went with it, Edward Heathcote retired from the law, and went to live at the place of his birth, where he looked after the well-being of his baby girls and his young sister, and let his days glide by in the quiet monotony of a country squire’s life, hunting and shooting, sitting in judgment upon poachers and small defaulters at petty sessions, and acting as coroner for his division of the county. He had been leading this life of rural respectability for a year.
He rode up to the carriage and shook hands with Mrs. Wyllard. He was her neighbour, and had visited Penmorval during the last year. There had never been the faintest indication in his manner or his speech that Julian Wyllard’s wife was any more to him than a friend. He was pleased to visit her, anxious that she should be interested in his motherless children, pleased to confide his plans and his thoughts to her. Time had sobered his enthusiasm about all things, and had softened all bitter memories. He took life now as a gentle legato movement. He had lived and suffered, and done his duty, and that which was left to him was rest. He sat down among his fields and his vineyards to take his ease just a little earlier than other men, that was all. A great sorrow suffered in the morning of life ages a man by at least a decade.
“Why are you waiting outside the station-house?” he asked; “have you had an alarm of burglars at Penmorval?”
“It is something much worse than that,” answered Mrs. Wyllard gravely; and then Bothwell related the catastrophe on the railway.
Julian Wyllard came back to the carriage just as the story was finished.
“This will be a job for you, Heathcote,” he said.
“A very sad one. The story has a brutal sound to me, remembering past stories of the same kind,” answered Heathcote. “It shall not be my fault if the ruffian escapes.”
“You think there is a ruffian, then? You don’t take it for a case of suicide?”
“Decidedly not,” replied the other promptly. “Why should a girl choose such a death as that?”
“Why should a girl throw herself off the Monument?” asked Wyllard. “Yet we know girls had a rage for doing that, fifty years ago. However, you will have a good opportunity for the display of your legal acumen in a really mysterious case. I did all I could in my small way to put the officials on the alert along the line; and if any scoundrel had a hand in that poor child’s death, I don’t believe he will get off easily. Where are you riding?”
“Only for an evening stroll over the downs.”
“You had better come home and have supper with us. It will be too late to call it dinner.”
“You are very good, but I dined at seven. Besides, I shall have to arrange about this inquest for to-morrow. I’ll talk to Morris, and then ride on to the Vital Spark, and settle matters with the people there.”
The Vital Spark was the small roadside inn where the dead girl was lying. The Penmorval barouche drove off, while Edward Heathcote stopped to talk to Morris, the Inspector. The jury would have to get notice early next morning. The inquest was to be held at five in the afternoon. This would give time for the tradesmen to get away from their shops. The chief business of the day in Bodmin town would be over.
“It will give time for any one in this neighbourhood, who knows anything about the girl, to come forward,” added Mr. Heathcote. “If she was going to a situation in this part of the world, as Mr. Wyllard suggests, some one must know all about her.”
“What a man he is, Mr. Heathcote!” said the Inspector admiringly. “Such clearness, such decision; always to the point.”
“Yes, he is a very superior man,” answered Heathcote heartily.
He had schooled himself long ago to generous thoughts about his rival. It pleased him to know that Dora had been lucky in her choice, that she had not taken a scorpion into her bosom when she preferred another man to himself. He had wondered sometimes—in a mere idle wonder, when he saw her in her beautiful home at Penmorval—whether it would have been possible for him to make her life happier than Julian Wyllard had made it; whether in his uttermost adoration he could ever have been a better husband to her than Julian Wyllard had been. He had looked searchingly for any flaw in the perfection of that union, and he had perceived none. He was generous-minded enough to be glad that it was so.
The carriage drove slowly up a long hill, and across a wide expanse of heathy ground, before it entered the gate of Penmorval, which was two miles from the town. It was a beautiful old place, standing on high ground, yet so richly wooded as to be shut in from the outer world. Only the Cornish giants, Roughtor and Brown Willie, showed their dark crests above the broad belt of timber which surrounded the good old Tudor mansion. A double avenue of elms and yews led to the old stone porch. The long stone façade facing northward looked out upon a level lawn divided from the park by a haw haw. The southern front was curtained with roses and myrtle, and looked upon one of the loveliest gardens in Cornwall—a garden which had been the pride and delight of many generations—a garden for which the wives and dowagers of three centuries of Cornish squires had laboured and thought. Nowhere could be found more glorious roses, or such a treasury of out-of-the-way flowers, from the finest to the simplest that grows. Nowhere did April sunlight shine upon such tulips and hyacinths, nowhere did June crown herself with fairer lilies, or autumn flaunt in greater splendour of dahlias, hollyhocks, and chrysanthemums. The soil teemed with flowers. There was no room left for a weed.
For a childless wife like Dora Wyllard a garden such as this is a kind of spurious family. She has her hopes, her fears, her raptures and anxieties about her roses and chrysanthemums, just as mothers have about their girls and boys. She counts the blossoms on a particular Gloire de Dijon. She remembers the cruel winter when that superb John Hopper succumbed to the frost. She has her nostrums and remedies for green-fly, as mothers have for measles. That glorious old garden helped to fill the cup of Mrs. Wyllard’s happiness, for it gave her inexhaustible employment. Having such a garden she could never say, with the languid yawn of the idle and the prosperous, “What can I do with myself to-day?” But Dora was not dependent on her garden for occupation. Exacting as the roses and lilies were, manifold as were the cares of the hothouses and ferneries and wildernesses, Mrs. Wyllard’s husband was more exacting still. When Julian was at home she could give but little time to her garden. He could hardly bear his wife to be out of his sight for half an hour. She had to be interested in all his schemes, all his letters, even to the driest business details. She rode and drove with him, and, as he had no taste for field sports, neither his guns nor his hunters took him away from her. He was a studious man, a man of artistic temperament, a lover of curious books and fine bindings, a lover of pictures and statues, and porcelain and enamels—a worshipper of the beautiful in every form. His tastes were such as a woman could easily and naturally share with him. This made their union all the more complete. Other wives wondered at beholding such domestic sympathy. There were some whose husbands could not sit by the domestic hearth ten minutes without dismal yawnings, men who depended upon newspapers for all their delight, men whose minds were always in the stable. Julian Wyllard was an ideal husband, who never yawned in a tête-à-tête with his wife, who shared every joy and every thought with the woman of his choice.
To-night, when they two sat down to the half-past, nine o’clock meal, with Bothwell, who was not much worse than a Newfoundland dog, for their sole companion, the wife’s first question showed her familiarity with the business that had taken her husband to London.
“Well, Julian, did you get the Raffaelle?” she asked.
“No, dear. The picture went for just three times the value I had put upon it.”
“And you did not care to give such a price?”
“Well, no. There are limits, even for a monomaniac like me. I had allowed myself a margin. I was prepared to give a hundred or two over the thousand which I had put down as the price of the picture; but when it went up to fifteen hundred I retired from the contest, and it was finally knocked down to Lamb, the dealer, for two thousand guineas. A single figure—a half-length figure of Christ bearing the cross, against a background of vivid blue sky. But such divinity in the countenance, such pathetic eyes! I saw women turn away with tears after they had looked at that picture.”
“You ought to have bought it,” said Dora, who knew that her husband had a great deal more money than he could spend, and who thought that he had a right to indulge his own caprices.
“My dearest, as I said before, there are limits,” he answered, smiling at her enthusiasm.
“Then you had your journey, and I had to endure the loss of your society for three dreary days, all for nothing?” said Dora.
“Not quite for nothing. There was the pleasure of seeing a very fine collection of pictures, and some magnificent Limoges enamels. I succeeded in buying you a little Greuze. I am told by French art-critics that it is a low thing to admire Greuze, the sign of a vulgar mind. He is the painter of the bourgeois, the épicier. But, for all that, you and I have agreed to like Greuze; so I bought this little picture for your morning-room. I got it for five hundred and fifty, and I believe it is a genuine bit in the painter’s best manner.”
“How good you are to me!” exclaimed Dora, getting up and going over to her husband.
She bent down to kiss him as he sat at the table. They had dismissed the servants from this informal meal, so Mrs. Wyllard was not afraid of being considered eccentric, if she showed that she was grateful. She did not mind Bothwell. Five hundred and fifty! How freely this rich man talked of his hundreds, as it seemed to Bothwell, pinched by the consciousness of debts which the cost of that picture would have covered—little seedlings of debts, scattered long ago by the wayside, and putting forth perennial flowers in the shape of unpleasant letters from creditors, which made him hate the sight of the postman.
Neither Wyllard nor Grahame ate a hearty meal. That picture of the dead face was too vividly present in the minds of both. Meat and drink and pleasant talk were out of harmony with that horror which both had looked upon three hours ago. They took more wine than usual, and hardly ate anything.
“Will you come for a stroll in the garden, Julian?” asked Dora, as they rose from the table.
It was half-past ten o’clock, a lovely summer night. A great golden moon was shining low down in the purple sky, just above the bank of foliage: not that far-off moon which belongs to all the world, but a big yellow lamp lighting one’s own garden.
“Do come,” she said, “it is such a delicious night.”
“I dare not indulge myself, dear; I have my letters to open before I go to bed. I was just going to order a fire in the library.”
“A fire, on such a night as this! I’m afraid you have caught cold.”
“I think it not unlikely,” answered her husband, as he rang the bell.
“Don’t you think your letters might keep till to-morrow morning, Julian?” pleaded Dora. “We could have a fire in the morning-room, and sit and talk.”
“That would be delightful, but I must not allow myself to be tempted. I should not rest to-night with the idea of a pile of unopened letters.”
He gave his orders to the servant. His letters and papers were all on the library table. A fire was to be lighted there immediately.
“You will be late, I am afraid,” said Dora.
“I may be a little late. Don’t wait up for me on any account, dearest. Goodnight!”
He kissed her; and she said good-night, but reserved her liberty to sit up for him all the same. There is no use in a husband saying to a wife of Mrs. Wyllard’s temperament, “Don’t sit up for me, and don’t worry yourself!” Sleep was impossible to Dora until she knew that her husband was at rest; just as happiness was impossible to her when parted from him. She had made herself a part of his being, had merged her very existence in his; she had no value, hardly any individuality, apart from him.
“Julian looks tired and anxious,” she said to her cousin, who stood smoking a cigarette just outside the window.
“You can’t be surprised at that,” answered Bothwell. “That business on the railway was enough to make any man feel queer. I shall not forget it for a long time.”
“It must have been an awful shock. And men with strong features and powerful frames are sometimes more sensitive than your fragile beings with nervous temperaments,” said Dora. “I have often been struck with Julian’s morbid feeling about things which a strong man might be supposed to regard with indifference.”
“He is a deuced good fellow,” said Bothwell, who had been more generously treated by his cousin’s husband than by any of his own clan. “Won’t you come for a turn in the garden? I won’t start another cigarette, if you object.”
“You know I don’t mind smoke,” she answered, joining him. “Why, how your hand shakes, Bothwell! You can hardly light your cigarette.”
“Didn’t I say that I was upset by that business? I don’t suppose I shall sleep a wink to-night.”
They walked in the rose-garden for more than an hour. Garden and night were both alike ideal. An Italian garden, with formal terraces, and beds of roses, and a fountain in the centre, a bold and plenteous jet that rose from a massive marble basin. Roses, magnolia, jasmine, and Mary-lilies filled the air with perfume. The moon had changed from gold to silver, and was high up in heaven.
It was everybody’s moon now, silvering the humble roofs of Bodmin, shining over the church, the gaol, the lunatic asylum, and shining on that humble village inn five or six miles away, beneath whose rustic roof the stranger was lying, with no one to pray beside her bed.
Bothwell sauntered silently by his cousin’s side. She, too, was silent, and felt no inclination to talk or to listen. She was glad to be out in the garden while her husband opened his letters. She knew there was a pile of correspondence waiting for him—such letters as devour the leisure of a country gentleman of wealth and high standing, letters for the most part uninteresting, and very often troublesome. It would take Julian Wyllard a long time to wade through them all. But when the stable clock struck twelve, Dora thought she might fairly hope to find the task finished.
“Good-night, Bothwell,” she said. “I’ll go and look for Julian.”
The servants had all gone to bed, and the lamps had been extinguished, except in the hall and corridors. A half-glass door opened from the garden into the hall, and this was always left unbolted for the accommodation of Bothwell, who was fond of late saunterings in the grounds. The library was at the further end of the house, a superb room, filled with a choice collection of books, the growth of the last seven years; for Julian Wyllard was a new man in the county, and had only owned Penmorval during that period.
There was a good fire burning in the artistic tiled grate—a modern improvement upon the old arrangement in wrought iron. Mr. Wyllard had opened all his letters, and had evidently burned some of them, for an odour of calcined paper and sealing-wax pervaded the room.
He was sitting in a low chair beside the hearth, in a stooping attitude, deeply meditative, looking down at some object in his hands. He was so profoundly absorbed as to be unconscious of Dora’s presence till she was standing close beside him.
The object which so engrossed his attention, which had led his thoughts backward to the faraway past, was a long tress of chestnut hair. He had wound it round his fingers—a smooth, silken tress, which flashed with gleams of gold in the cheery light of the fire.
“What beautiful hair!” said Dora gently, as she looked downward from behind his shoulder. “Whose is it, Julian?”
“It was my sister’s,” he answered.
“The sister who died so many years ago. Poor Julian! You have been sitting here alone, giving yourself up to sad memories.”
“I came upon this auburn tress among some old papers just now, while I was looking for Martin’s lease.”
He rolled the hair up quickly, and flung it into the flaming coals.
“O Julian, why did you do that?” asked his wife reproachfully.
“What is the use of keeping such things, only to perpetuate sorrowful memories? God knows we have enough of our dead. They haunt us and plague us at every stage of life. We cannot get rid of them.”
The bitterness of his tone jarred upon his wife’s ear.
“My dearest, you are wearied and out of spirits,” she said. “You have worked too long. Were your letters troublesome?”
“Not more so than usual, dear. Yes, I am very tired.”
“And that dreadful event on the line has troubled you. Poor Bothwell is quite upset by it. I am so sorry for you, Julian,” said his wife soothingly, leaning upon his shoulder, smoothing back the thick hair from the broad, full brow.
“My dear child, there is no reason to be sorry for me. Dreadful events are happening every day, all over the world. We hear of them, and feel how feeble a thing life is under such conditions as those on which we all hold our existence. This evening I happened to be brought face to face with a terrible death. That is all the difference.”
There was great excitement in Bodmin on the afternoon of the inquest; a delicious summer afternoon, which seemed made for quiet arcadian joys; an afternoon to be spent in day-dreams under forest boughs, or drifting lazily adown a placid stream; rather than for gathering together in a stifling tavern-parlour, listening to the droning accents of a police-constable, or the confused statements and innocent prevarications of a railway-porter. But it may be that the inhabitants of Bodmin had drunk their fill of the cup of pastoral joys, that they had had more than enough of heathery moorland and foxglove-bordered lane, dog-rose and honeysuckle, waving boughs and winding streams, and that this satiety made them flock to the little inn beyond Bodmin Road station, where they elbowed and hustled one another in the endeavour to get a good view of the Coroner and the witnesses.
An inquest was not in itself such a thrilling event. There had been inquests held in Bodmin which inspired neither curiosity nor excitement in the mind of the town. But this inquiry of to-day interested everybody. Who could tell what mystery—what story of falsehood and wrong—had gone before that sad, strange death? The report had gone about that the victim was a foreigner, and this gave a deeper note to the mystery. Why had she come to that spot to kill herself? or who had lured her there to murder her? These were the questions which were discussed in Bodmin freely that fair July morning; questions which gave birth to various wise and abstruse theories, every one of which seemed to the inventor thereof a most plausible explanation of this dark problem in human history.
“If anybody can throw light upon the business, Squire Heathcote is the man to do it,” said Mr. Bate, grocer, general-dealer, and churchwarden.
Edward Heathcote was one of the most popular men within ten miles of Bodmin. He was a native of the soil, had been known to the neighbourhood from his childhood. He came of a race that was held in high honour, which had produced men famous with sword and gown in the days that were gone. Honour, courage, and all generous feelings were supposed to run in the blood of the Heathcotes. He had succeeded to a small estate and a fine old Grange, in which his forefathers had lived from generation to generation. In the deepest night of past ages there had been Heathcotes in the land. Thus, albeit he was by no means a rich man as compared with Julian Wyllard, he stood higher than the wealthy financier in the esteem of those good old conservatives who held that money is not everything. Mr. Wyllard was a new-comer, had bought Penmorval just before his marriage—choosing this part of the world for his residence because Theodora Dalmaine loved it, rather than for any leaning of his own. He was known to have made the greater part of his money himself—a low thing for a man to have done. Even commercial fortunes become hallowed after they have filtered from father to son for three or four generations. Thus, although he was altogether the most important personage in the neighbourhood, and belonged to the landed gentry by right of recent purchase, there were people who looked upon Julian Wyllard as a parvenu, and who were somewhat disposed to resent the weight which his wealth gave him in local affairs.
Squire Heathcote was said to be the best coroner who had filled that office at Bodmin within the memory of the oldest inhabitant. His legal experiences had been of a wider range than those of the average provincial solicitor. He had served his articles to a well-known London firm; he had travelled a good deal, and had seen men and cities. He had been brought into close relations with his fellow-men under manifold conditions; and he was said to be a marvellous reader of character, an impartial and clear-headed judge. On more than one occasion he had shown an acumen rarely met with at a rural inquest; and he had disentangled more than one knotted skein. It was argued, therefore, that if any one could unravel the mystery of the dead girl’s fate, Squire Heathcote was the man to do it.
Nothing could be quieter or less pretentious than his manner as he took his seat at the head of the long table in the parlour of the Vital Spark; but there were signs of anxiety or emotion in the sombre fire of the deep-set gray eyes, and the nervous movement of the sun-burnt hand, which played with his dark chestnut-beard. He sat for some minutes looking down at his notes, and then slowly raised his eyes and surveyed the room, which was quite full.
Julian Wyllard was sitting near the opposite end of the table, with little Dr. Menheniot by his side. Bothwell Grahame was seated apart from them and nearer the jury. He had a haggard look, Mr. Heathcote thought, as of a man who had passed a troubled night.
There were three or four railway officials present, and these were the principal witnesses. First came the guard on the down train from Paddington, whose evidence was meagre, since it appeared that he had only seen the dead girl standing on the footboard a moment before she fell. She was standing on the footboard and clinging to the hand-rail, with her face to the coach; she seemed to be talking to some one inside. It had not seemed to him that she threw herself off the footboard. It had seemed rather as if she had dropped off.
“Was it your impression that she was thrown off?” asked Heathcote.
“No, sir. I can’t say that was my impression. But the whole thing was too quick for me to have a very clear idea either way. My first thought was how I could save her. I had only just stepped out upon the footboard when she gave a shriek and fell. She was at the farther end of the train. Before I could get to the carriage from which she had fallen, the engine had slackened and the passengers were getting out.”
“Did you find the carriage out of which she fell?”
“Yes, sir. There was an empty second-class next but one to the engine. I believe that was the compartment. There was a little basket with some refreshments, and a newspaper, which I believe belonged to the deceased.”
The basket was on the table. It had a foreign look; a poor little basket, containing a few cherries in a cabbage-leaf, and a little bag of biscuits. The newspaper was the French Figaro. The Coroner handed the basket to the jury, who examined the contents curiously. There was no scrap of writing, no card or old letter; nothing to identify the dead girl, or to indicate the place from which she had come.
“Her clothes and the contents of her pocket have been examined,” said Mr. Heathcote, in reply to a question from one of the jury, “but no mark or clue has been found. Nor has any luggage belonging to her been discovered, which is curious, since it is not often that any one travels from London to Cornwall without luggage. I have communicated with the London police; and I have sent an advertisement to the Times, and to a Parisian newspaper. Perhaps, by this means we shall discover the girl’s identity. In the mean time the question is, how did she come by her death?”
The next witness was a porter from the Plymouth station, who had taken notice of the girl there while the train waited. He had seen her on the platform, alone. He was sure that he had not seen her speak to anybody. She walked up and down the platform two or three times, and he thought she looked puzzled and anxious, as if she expected to meet somebody who had not come. He was too busy looking after people’s luggage to watch her closely, but he had noticed her because she looked like a foreigner. He saw her get into a second-class compartment near the engine just as the train was starting. She got in hurriedly, and it seemed to him that some one inside the compartment had opened the door for her and helped her in; but he could not be positive about this, as he was a long way off at the time. He had seen the deceased, and he recognised her as the young person he had observed at Plymouth.
Dr. Menheniot was the next witness. He gave technical evidence as to the cause of the girl’s death; but as to the circumstances that preceded her fall, he could say no more than the guard. Yes, a little more, for he had seen the carriage door opened and the girl stepping out on the footboard. Yes, in answer to the Coroner’s question, it had seemed to him that some one thrust her out, yet he could not swear that it was so. The door had opened suddenly; and he had seen her standing on the footboard, clinging to the open door. If she had meant to commit suicide, it appeared to him that she would have leapt at once from the carriage over the embankment. The act of standing on the footboard and clinging to the carriage would imply resistance.
“It might mean only hesitation,” said Heathcote. “How long do you suppose she remained standing on the footboard?”
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