Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Lord Oakburn's daughters - Part 3

LORD OAKBURN’S DAUGHTERS.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "EAST LYNNE."

CHAPTER V.WAS THE HOUSE HAUNTED?

The moon shone brightly on the long street of South Wennock, as Mr. Carlton the surgeon stepped along it with a fleet foot. He was on his way to the house in Palace Street, number thirteen.

The widow herself came to the door in answer to his ring. She dropped a curtsey when she saw who stood there.

“Is this Mrs. Gould’s?”

“Yes, sir; if you please, sir. I am Mrs. Gould, sir.”

“I have just opened a note, on my return from London; one that was left at my house a day or two ago; requesting me to call here to see a patient,” said Mr. Carlton. “A Mrs.—Mrs.——

“Mrs. Crane, sir,” said the widow, supplying the name for which Mr. Carlton appeared at fault. “It’s all happily over, sir, and she is doing well.”

Mr. Carlton stared at her as if he were thunderstruck. “Over!” he repeated. “Happily over! Why she-I understood—if I read her note aright—did not expect it for two months to come!”

“No more she didn’t, sir, and it was all that omnibus’s doings. It pretty near shook the life out of her.”

“Omnibus!” he returned, seeming completely at sea. “What omnibus? what are talking of?”

“Perhaps you don’t know the circumstances yet, sir,” returned the widow. “The lady arrived here from London, sir, a stranger, and was recommended by Mrs. Fitch to my apartments. So young, she looked, quite a girl———"

“But about her illness?” interposed Mr. Carlton, whose time was being wasted.

“I was coming to it, sir. Afore she had well done her tea that same evening, she got ill: the omnibus had shook her frightfully, she said—and you know what that omnibus is yourself, sir. Instead of getting better she got worse, and early the next morning the baby was born. Such a mite of a baby, sir!” added Mrs. Gould in a confidential tone. “I have seen many a wax-doll bigger.”

A conviction came into the surgeon’s mind that the mite of a baby he had seen at Great Wennock Station, that evening, must be the one in question. “Who attended?” he inquired.

“Mr. Stephen Grey. But he only attended for you, sir, I believe, as the lady wished to have you. She had been recommended to you.”

“Recommended to me!”

“Well, yes, sir; we understood her to say so. She’ll explain to you herself, no doubt. Of course, we can’t but think the circumstances altogether are somewhat strange.”

“Is she doing well?”

“Couldn’t be doing better. Will you walk up, sir?”

The colloquy had taken place at the open door; the widow standing inside, Mr. Carlton out. He made a movement to enter, but stopped in hesitation.

“It is late to disturb her to-night. She may be asleep.”

“She is not asleep, sir. Leastways she wasn’t five minutes ago, when I went up to get Pepperfly down to her supper, which she’s now having with me in the kitchen. I daresay she’d like you to go up, sir, and to know that you are back again.”

Ho went in, leaving his hat on the stand that stood in the passage. Mrs. Gould ran briskly towards the kitchen.

“Just one moment, sir, while I get a light, for there’s none upstairs,” she said in a tone of apology for leaving him waiting. “When the nurse came down Mrs. Crane sent the candle away by her, saying she’d rather be without it.”

Passing the parlour door and the room behind it—which room was a bed-chamber, and Mrs. Gould took the opportunity of sleeping in it when her permanent lodger was absent—she tripped into the kitchen, a very small apartment built out at the back, seized the candle on the table, by which Mrs. Pepperfly was eating her supper, unceremoniously left that lady in the dark, and was back in an instant to marshal Mr. Carlton up the stairs. Arrived at the door of the sitting room, he took the light from her hand.

“That will do, thank you, Mrs. Gould,” he said, sinking his voice to a whisper. “I had better go in alone. She may have dropped asleep.”

Mrs. Gould was nothing loth to be dismissed. She had been disturbed at her supper and was glad to return to it. In consequence of her having gone to church that evening, the meal was being taken later than usual. She closed the door on Mr. Carlton, leaving him alone.

He passed through the sitting-room, softly opened the door of the bed-chamber and entered it, shading the light with his hand. The chamber was quite still, and he believed Mrs. Crane to be alone. In point of fact, however, Judith was sitting at the extreme end of it, behind the bed-curtains, drawn round that side of the bed, and at the foot. Quiet as his movements were, they awoke Mrs. Crane, who had fallen into a doze, and she looked round with a start, and raised her head—awe are all apt to do when suddenly awakened, especially in illness.

Mr. Carlton put down the light, approached the bed, and addressed her. But ere he had said many words or she had scarcely responded, a sound, as of a rustling movement on the other side of the bed, caught his ear.

“What is that?” he abruptly called out.

“What is what?” repeated the invalid, whose ears had not been so quick as his own.

Mr. Carlton stepped round the bed. “Is any one here?” he asked.

There appeared to he no one, for the question elicited neither sound not answer. Sufficient light came from the candle to enable him to discern a second door on that side. He drew it open: it was pushed to, but not latched, and the moonlight streamed full upon the lending from the staircaise window. But Mr. Carlton could neither see nor hear any one, and he came to the conclusion that he had been mistaken.

“I thought I heard some one in the room,” he said, in a tone of apology, as he returned to the chamber.

“Indeed there is no one here,” said the sick lady. “The nurse went down to her supper. It must have been in the next house: we hear the noises there nearly as plainly as though they were in this.”

“That was it, then,” said Mr. Carlton.

You will be at no loss, however, to understand that the noise had been caused by Judith. Finding it was Mr. Calton who had entered, and not deeming it right to make a third at an interview between a doctor and his patient, she had hastened to escape through the half-opened door, near to which she was sitting. Her slippers were entirely of list—for Judith Ford had been furnished with all the requisites for a sick-mom in her last place—and the stairs were carpeted, and she ran swiftly and silently down them, unconscious of the commotion she had so innocently caused. Mrs. Crane had not known she was there; in fact, it was but a minute or two previously that Judith had entered. She, Judith, made her way to the kitchen, where Mrs. Gould and the nurse were in the full enjoyment of cold boiled bacon and pickled onions, by the light of a fresh candle.

“Where on earth did you spring from?” exclaimed the widow.

“From upstairs,” replied Judith.

“I never heard you come in. I thought you were keeping house next door, while your sister had her Sunday evening out.”

“So I was, but Margaret has come home now, and I just stepped in to see if I could do anything. I saw you two were at supper as I passed the window, and didn’t disturb you. Mrs. Crane was asleep, however, when I got upstairs, and Mr. Carlton has come in now.”

“I say, Judith,” cried the widow eagerly, “did Mr. Carlton say anything to you about the accident?”

“Mr. Carlton did not say anything to me at all. He did not see me. As soon as I knew who had come in, I stole away quietly. What accident?”

“There has been a shocking accident tonight to him and his carriage. They were talking about it in the bar, at the Cross-Keys, when I went for our supper beer.”

“An accident to Mr. Carlton?”

Mrs. Gould nodded. She had just taken a large onion in her mouth, and could not make it convenient to speak immediately.

“It happened as he was coming from Great Wennock, where his servant had took his carriage to meet him at the train,” she presently resumed. “The carriage was overturned and smashed to pieces, and his horse and servant were both killed.”

'“How dreadful!” involuntarily spoke Judith.

“I was just telling Mrs. Pepperfly of it, when the ring came to the door, and I assure you, Judy, when I opened it and saw Mr. Carlton hisself standing there, it did give me a turn. Me and Mrs. Pepperfly had been wondering whether he wasn’t killed too—for nobody seemed to know how it was with him at the Cross-Keys—and there stood he! I couldn’t make bold to ask questions, for he has the character of being one of them proud men that won’t brook none. At any rate he’s not dead. I say, Mrs. Pepperfly, don’t you think you ought to go upstairs while he’s there?”

Mrs. Pepperfly, fond of her supper at least in equal degree with the widow, resented the suggestion, and held up her plate, in a defiant spirit, for some more bacon.

“If he wants me he can ring for me,” was her answer, curtly delivered. “How is your face to-night, Judith?”

“Well,it has been very painful all the evening. I think I shall go home and get to bed,” continued Judith. “It may become easier there.”

She did not linger, but bade them night and hastened away. She had suffered much from tooth-ache or face-ache the last day or two. Mrs. Pepperfly and the widow sat on at their supper, until disturbed by the departure of Mr. Carlton. He had not remained long.

Of course tales never lose by carrying, especially if they are bad ones; and that you all know. The current report of the accident in South Wennock that night was precisely the one mentioned by Mrs. Gould—that Mr. Carlton’s carriage was smashed to pieces and his horse and man were killed. On the following morning, however, things were found to be looking a little brighter: the groom, under his master’s treatment, was progressing quickly towards recovery, the horse’s sprain was going on well, and the carriage had gone to the coachmaker’s to be repaired.

Mr. Carlton had to make his visits on foot that day. Towards the middle of it, in passing through High Street, he encountered Mr. Stephen Grey. The two had never met professionally, but they knew each other sufficiently well to nod in passing. Mr. John Grey had more than once been in attendance in conjunction with Mr. Carlton, but it happened that Mr. Stephen had not. Each stopped simultaneously now.

As Mr. Stephen Grey had remarked casually to Judith the previous Friday, there was plenty of room for Mr. Carlton in South Wennock as well as for themselves. Indeed, the death of their brother Robert, combined with the increasing size of the place, had caused the practice to be more than John and Stephen Grey and their assistant could manage, therefore they felt not a shade of jealousy of the new surgeon, who had come to set up amidst them. Honourable, fair-dealing, right-minded men were the brothers Grey, entirely above rankling spite and petty meanness.

Mr. Stephen Grey had halted to speak of Mrs. Crane. He had been happy to attend her, he said, and would now resign her into the hands of Mr. Carlton.

“She is doing quite well,” remarked Mr. Carlton.

“Quite so,” said Mr. Stephen Grey, who had taken the remark as a question. “I have not long come from her. If you will step down there with me know, I will explain matters, and———"

“Would you oblige me by not giving up charge until to-night or to-morrow morning?” interrupted Mr. Carlton. “What with the confusion caused by last night’s accident, and the patients who have grown impatient at my absence and are exacting double attention, I am so busy to-day that I don’t know which way to turn. Before I take Mrs.—Mrs. What’s the name?”

“Crane.”

“Mrs. Crane. It is not a difficult name to remember, and yet it seems to slip from me. Before I take her from your hands I should wish to meet you there, just for explanation, and I here really not time for it now. When I reached home last evening and read the note she had sent to me on Friday last, I went to call, but it was late, she seemed drowsy, and I did not undertake charge. Either to-night or tomorrow morning, Mr. Grey, I shall have the pleasure of meeting you.”

“Whichever may be convenient to you,” returned Mr. Stephen. “It’s quite the same to me.”

“To-night, then, at seven,” said Mr. Carlton. “If I find that I cannot by any possibility get there”—he paused in consideration—“why then, it must be left until to-morrow morning, at ten. But I hope I shall be there this evening. She seems young, this lady.”

“Quite young. She says she’s two-and-twenty, but I should not have thought her so much. How did you manage to meet with that unpleasant accident?”

“I don’t know any more than you know, who were not present. I fancied the horse shied; but it all happened so swiftly I could not be sure. If he did shy, it was very slightly, and I saw nothing that could have induced it; but why he should have fallen, or over what, is entirely unexplainable. It was on that smooth bit of road; the only smooth bit there is, midway between here and Great Wennock. Evan is doing well, and as to the home, he is very slightly injured.”

“The report in the town was, that you were all done for, all killed together; you, the groom, horse, phaeton, and all.”

Mr. Carlton laughed. It was difficult to resist the good-humour of Mr. Stephen Grey. And so they parted, each walking a different way.

At seven precisely that evening Stephen Grey was at Mrs. Crane’s, waiting for Mr. Carlton. Mrs. Crane was flushed, and appeared to be a little feverish.

“There has been too much chattering going on,” he observed to Judith, who was sitting in the front room.

“She will talk, sir,” answered Judith. “Feeling well, as she does, I suppose it’s natural.”

“But not expedient,” he returned. “Where’s the nurse?”

“She was here not two minutes before you came in, sir. Perhaps she’s gone down to get something.”

Mr. Stephen rang the bell, and the nurse was heard puffing up in answer. She was sure to puff when going upstairs, however slow her pace might be.

“Mrs. Pepperfly, how’s this? You have allowed your charge to talk too much.”

“Well, sir, and she will talk,” was Mrs. Pepperfly’s answer, nearly the same as the one given by Judith. “She’s all right, sir; a little hot maybe to-night; but it’s no harm: she’s too young and healthy for harm to come anigh her, through a bit of talking.”

“I’ll not have her talk until she is stronger,” said Mr. Stephen. “You must stop it. I must send her in a composing draught now, as I did last night.”

Mr. Stephen Grey gave Mr. Carlton more grace than most busy medical men would have given—waiting for him until a quarter past seven. After his departure, Judith went in home; her face was paining her very much; and Mrs. Pepperfly stopped on guard. Scarcely had she gone when Mrs. Crane called to her from the next room.

“Judith. Come here, Judith. I want you.”

“Now, mum, you are not to talk,” cried Mrs. Pepperfly, hastening in. “Mr. Stephen have been a blowing of me up like anything, for suffering it. He as good as said it was my fault.”

Mrs. Crane laughed; laughed out merrily, the nurse’s tone was so resentfully serious. “Oh, well, I’ll be good,” she said. “But I do want to speak to Judith for a minute. Is she not there?”

“No, mum, she’s gone in home—and Mr. Stephen had better have blown her up instead of me; for I’m sure it’s to her you talk. Settle yourself just for a wink or two of sleep, there’s a dear lady.”

About eight o’clock the nurse was called down to supper. It was her usual hour for taking it, and she had been exceedingly wrathful the previous night at its having been delayed; the wrath, perhaps, causing the widow to get it ready punctually on this. Almost immediately afterwards Mr. Carlton arrived in a hot heat. He had walked from the Rise, he said to Mrs. Gould, who opened the door to him, and was sorry Mr. Stephen Grey had gone. The truth was, Mr. Carlton need not have missed the appointment, but he had lingered at Captain Chesney’s. In Laura’s society the time seemed to have wings. Mrs. Gould attended him upstairs, for he said he would see the patient, and then she went down again.

Mr. Carlton had not been talking with the invalid many minutes when a ring at the bell was heard, and somebody ascended the stairs. The surgeon went into the sitting room, possibly thinking it might be Mr. Stephen Grey. It was, however, Mrs. Pepperfly.

“It’s the draught, please, sir,” said she.

“Draught?” he repeated, taking a small bottle from her hand. “What draught? One that Mr. Stephen Grey has sent in?”

“Yes, sir, the sleeping draught. He said she was excited to-night through talking, and must take one.”

Mr. Carlton undid the paper, took out the cork, and smelt it. “How strongly it smells of oil of almonds!” he exclaimed.

“Do it, sir?”

“Do it! why, can’t you smell it yourself?” he returned. And once more taking out the cork, which he had replaced, he held the phial towards her.

“Yes, sir; but I have got a cold. And when I does have them colds upon me, my nose ain’t worth a rush.”

The surgeon was still occupied with the draught, smelling it. Then he tasted it, just putting his finger to the liquid and that to his tongue.

“Extraordinary!” he remarked, in an undertone. “Why should Grey be giving her this? Here, take possession of it, nurse,” he added. “It is to be given the last thing.”

He returned to the bed-room as he spoke, and Mrs. Pepperfly placed the phial on the cheffonier, where other medicine bottles were arrayed. Then she put her head inside the bed-chamber. Mr. Carlton was standing talking to the sick lady.

“Do you want anything, please, ma'am?”

“Nothing at present,” replied Mrs. Crane. “You can go down.”

The nurse did as she was bid, and not long afterwards Mr. Carlton said good-night to Mrs. Crane, and passed through the sitting room to take his departure. As he went out on the landing to descend the stairs he saw what he thought was a face, leaning against the wall by the bed-room door and staring at him; a man’s face, with thick black whiskers; a strange face, looking stern, white, and cold in the moonlight. Mr. Carlton was of remarkably strong nerve—a bold, fearless man; but the impression this made upon him was so great that for once in his life he was startled.

“Who and what are you?” he whispered, his voice insensibly assuming a tone of awe, of shuddering terror: for in good truth that face did not look like any earthly one that Mr. Carlton had ever in his life seen.

There was no reply; there was neither movement nor sound. Uncertain whether the moonlight was not playing him some fantastic trick, the surgeon strode back to the room, brought out the solitary candle and threw its rays around.

Not a soul was there; neither man nor woman, neither ghost nor spirit. And yet Mr. Carlton felt certain that a face had been there. An unaccountable feeling, vague superstition mixed with real fear, came over him and shook him as he stood; and yet I say he was by nature a fearless man, and perhaps this was the first time in his remembrance that such terror had assailed him. He threw the light around the landing; he threw it down the stairs; there was no upper story; but nothing was to be seen, and all was silent and still. Carrying the light still, he went into the bed-room by the door on the landing and threw its rays there. Mrs. Crane glanced up from the bed in surprise.

“Were you looking for anything?” she asked.

“Nothing particular. Good night.”

He went straight on to the sitting-room through the intervening door, glancing around him still into every nook and corner, and put the candle back on the mantel-piece whence he had taken it—for Mrs. Crane rather liked lying in the dark. Then he wiped his hot face and descended the stairs, willing to persuade himself that he had been mistaken.

“I think I must be a fool,” he muttered. “What has come over me to—night? Is the house haunted?”

Soon, all too soon, ere ten o’clock had struck, the house was haunted. Haunted by a presence that had no business there—Death.

CHAPTER VI.THE COMPOSING DRAUGHT.

It was Mrs. Gould who ran up to open the door for Mr. Carlton. He spoke with her a minute or two, and then departed, she returning to the kitchen and the society of Mrs. Pepperfly.

It may strike the reader that all these details have been given at some length; but, as was afterwards found, every little event of that ill-starred night bore its own significance.

Mrs. Gould and the nurse were in the full title of gossip: the former leaning back in her chair at her case before the supper-table, on which stood a suspicious-looking green bottle, its contents white, of which both ladies, if the truth may be told, had been partaking. The latter was bending over the fire, stirring something in a saucepan, when there came a loud, sharp rap at the kitchen window. Both started and screamed: the widow clapped her glass and teaspoon down on the table, and Mrs. Pepperfly nearly dropped the candle into the saucepan. Although they knew, had they taken a moment’s leisure to reflect, that the knock came from Judith, who frequently took that mode of making her visit known on coming in from the other house, it considerably startled them.

Judith it was. And she laughed at them as she stepped inside the passage from the yard, and entered the kitchen.

“What a simpleton you be, Judy, to come frightening folks in that fashion!” cried the widow, irascibly. “One would think you were a child. Can’t you come into the house quiet and decent?”

“It was as good as a play to see the start you two gave,” cried Judith. “My face is bad, and I am going to hell,” she added, changing her tone, “but I thought I’d step in first and see if I could do anything more for Mrs. Crane. I suppose she’s not asleep?”

“She’s not asleep yet, for Mr. Carlton’s but just gone. You can go up and ask her.”

It was nurse Pepperfly who spoke: the widow was resentful yet. Mrs. Pepperfly regarded Judith with complaisance, for she took a great deal of care and trouble off her hands, which must otherwise have fallen to the nurse’s exclusive share.

Judith proceeded up-stairs. She felt very tired, for she had been up all Friday and Saturday nights, and though she had gone to bed on Sunday night, she had slept but little, owing to the pain in her face. She was rather subject to this pain, feeling it whenever she took the slightest cold.

“Is that you, Judith?” cried. Mrs. Crane. “How is your face-ache now?”

“The pain’s getting easier, ma'am,” was Judith’s answer. “Mr. Stephen Grey said it would, now the swelling had come on. I stepped in to ask whether I can do anything more for you to-night?”

“No, thank you, there’s nothing more to be done. I suppose the nurse won’t be long before she brings up the gruel. You can tell her I am ready for it as you go down. You will be glad to get to bed, Judith.”

“Well, ma'am, I shall; and that’s the truth. To lie tossing about with pain, as I did last night, tires one more than sitting up.”

“And the two previous nights you were sitting up. I don’t forget it, Judith, if you do.”

“Oh, ma'am, that’s nothing. It’s a mercy that you have not required more sitting up than that. Many do require it.”

“I!” returned Mrs. Crane in a hearty tone. “I don’t believe I required it at all. I am as well as I possibly can be. Mr. Carlton has just said so. I should like to get up tomorrow, Judith.”

Judith shook her head, and said something about the danger of being “too venturesome.” “You’ll get about all the surer, ma'am, for being quiet for another day or two.”

At that moment, in came Mrs. Pepperfly; a flaring candle in one hand, and a tray with a basin of gruel on it in the other. Judith, generally suspicious of Mrs. Pepperfly, went close and glanced attentively into the basin, lest that lady should have seasoned it with a few drops of tallow in the ascent. The light shone full on Judith’s swollen face, and Mrs. Crane burst into a fit of laughter.

“I can’t help it,” she said, as they turned to her in amazement. “It is your face that I am laughing at, Judith. It looks like the moon at the full; the cheeks are so round.”

“Oh! ma'am, I don’t mind the look, so that I am easy. The swelling will soon go down again.”

Judith wished her good night and departed. Nurse Pepperfly arranged the basin of gruel conveniently on the bed, and stood by while it was eaten.

“And now for my composing draught,” I said Mrs. Crane.

“I can’t give you that yet, mum,” dissented the nurse. “The idea of your taking it right atop of the gruel!”

“I don’t suppose it would hurt. It came, didn’t it.”

“It came while Mr. Carlton was here, mum. It was that what I brought up, and Mr. Carlton he tasted of it. Just like them doctors! they are sure to put their tongues to each others’ medicines.”

“Mr. Carlton’s going to meet Mr. Stephen Grey here at ten to-marrow,” she observed. “And then I shall be under his charge exclusively.”

“I heered some'at on it, mum,” was Mrs. Pepperfly'e answer.

She had turned to busy herself about the room, making the night arrangements. By the aid of blankets, a bed had been extemporised for herself on the sofa in the sitting-room, and there she slept, the door between the two rooms being left open that the patient might be still under her supervision. Mrs. Pepperfly had really been on her good behaviour hitherto; afraid, perhaps, to run counter to the strict mandate of Mr. Stephen Grey, given to her on entering.

About half-past nine or a quarter to ten, when Mrs. Crane had been made comfortable for the night, the nurse pronounced it time for the composing draught.

“Just light me to get it, will you?” she asked of Mrs. Gould, who had been in the chamber helping to straighten the bed, and who happened to have the candle in her hand.

The bottle was on the cheffonier where the nurse herself had placed it. She took it to the side of the bed.

“Ready, mum?”

“Quite,” said Mrs. Crane.

She, the nurse, poured the contents into a large wine-glass, and Mrs. Crane drank them down, but not before she had made some remark about cherry pie.

“How it do smell!” cried Mrs. Gould, who stood by with the candle, whispering the words to the nurse.

“Mr. Carlton said it did,” was the answering whisper. “Them doctors’ noses be quick.”

“It don’t want much quickness to smell this,” sniffed the landlady.

“It was just at the moment as I’d took my drop short, and you know———”

An awful cry; bringing the nurse’s confession to a stand-still; an awful cry of alarm and agony. But whether it came from Mrs. Crane on the bed, or Mrs. Gould by her side, or from both, Nurse Pepperfly was too much startled to know.

Oh, then was commotion in the chamber! What was amiss with their patient? Was it a fainting fit?—was it a convulsion?—or was it death? Was it the decree of God that was taking her from the world? or had some fatal drug been given to her in error?

There is no mistaking death by those accustomed to the sight; and Mrs. Pepperfly, more thoroughly sobered in brain than she often was, wrung her hands wildly.

“It’s death!” she exclaimed to the landlady. “As sure as you and me’s standing upright here, it’s death, and she is gone! That physic must have been poisoned; and perhaps they’ll try us both for giving it to her, and hang us after it.”

With a hullabaloo that might have been heard over the way, Mrs. Gould tore down the stairs. She was nearly out of her senses just then, scared out of them with consternation and terror. Partly at the event just happened, partly at the nurse’s remark as to possible consequences to themselves, was she terrified. She burst out at the front door, left it open, and ran panting up the street, some confused notion in her mind of fetching Mr. Grey. Before she gained his house, however, she encountered Mr. Carlton.

Without a word of explanation, for she was too breathless and bewildered to give it, she seized his arm, turned to run back again, and to pull him with her. Mr. Carlton did not relish so summary a mode of proceeding.

“Stop!” he exclaimed, “stop! What means this? What’s the matter?”

“She’s dead!” shriekod Mrs. Gould. “She is lying dead and stark upon her bed.”

“Who is dead?” repeated Mr. Carlton.

“Our lodger. The lady you came to see this evening—Mrs. Crane. The blessed breath have just gone out of her.”

Almost with the first word of explanation Mr. Carlton shook her arm away and darted off towards the house, she following in his wake. He disappeared within it; and just at the moment the Reverend William Lycett passed, the curate of St. Mark’s church. Mrs. Gould seized upon his arm as she had previously seized on Mr. Carlton’s, sobbed forth some confused words, and took him up the stairs.

The nurse was standing at the foot of the bed, her eyes round with alarm; and Mr. Carlton had thrown down the bed-clothes and placed his ear close to the heart that lay there. He felt the damp forehead, he touched one of the hands.

“This is awful!” he exclaimed, turning round his pale face. “I left her well little more than an hour ago.”

“Is she dead?” asked Mr. Lycett.

“She is dead,” replied the surgeon. “What had you been giving her?” he demanded of Mrs. Pepperfly, his tone becoming stern and sharp.

It was the first indication of the consequences to them, and Mrs. Pepperfly replied meekly, her apron held to her lips.

“Sir, I give her her gruel, and after that I give her her draught. It’s of no good denying of it.”

“That draught!” repeated Mr. Carlton to himself in a low tone of reproach. Not so low, however, but Mr. Lycctt caught the words. “I was wrong not to take it away with me.”

“Has she died from poison?” whispered Mr. Lycett.

“From poison—as I believe. What else can she have died from?”

Mr. Carlton, as he spoke, had his head bent over the mouth of the dead, inhaling the breath; or, rather, the odour where the breath had once been.

“You are not acquainted with the properties of drugs as may be gathered from their smell, I presume, Mr. Lycett, or else——

“Pardon me,” was the interruption, “I am quite well acquainted with them. My father is a surgeon, and half my boyhood was spent in his surgery.”

“Then just put your nose here and tell me what you find.”

The clergyman did as desired; but he drew back his face instantly.

“Prussic acid,” he said in a whisper; and Mr. Carlton gave a grave nod of assent. He turned to Mrs. Pepperfly.

“What do you say she had been taking? Gruel? and the draught? The gruel first, of course?”

“In course, sir. She took that soon after you left. There’s the basin, by token, never took down again.”

Mr. Carlton laid hold of the basin pointed out to him. A little gruel remained in it still, which he smelt and tasted.

“There’s nothing wrong here,” he observed.

“And her draught, sir, we gave her some time after, three-q1mrters of an hour, maybe. Not a minute had she took it when—I shan’t overget the fright for a year to come—she was gone.”

“A year!” echoed Mrs. Gould from the door, where she had stood trembling and sobbing, her head just pushed into the chamber. “I shan’t overget it for my whole life.”

“Where is the bottle?” inquired Mr. Carlton.

“The bottle!” repeated the nurse. “Where now did I put it? Oh, it’s behind you, sir. There, on the little table by the bed’s head.”

The bottle which ha contained the draught lay there, the cork in. Mr. Carlton took out the cork, smelt it, recorked it, and laid it on the table, an angry scowl on his face.

“Do you smell anything wrong?” asked Mr. Lycett.

For answer the surgeon handed him the phial, and Mr. Lycett removed the cork for one moment, and put it in again. It was quite sufficient.

“Where did the draught come from?” inquired the curate. But the next moment his eyes full on the label, and he saw it had come from the surgery of the Messrs. Grey.

Mr. Carlton replaced the phial from whence he had taken it, and looked at the landlady. “Mrs. Gould, I think you had better go up and ask Mr. Stephen Grey to step here.”

Glad to be away from the death chamber, yet afraid to stay by herself alone, the woman was not sorry to be sent upon the errand. The streets under the bright moon were as light as day, and she discerned Mr. John Grey standing at his own door long before she reached him. The sight seemed to give an impetus to her speed and her excitement, and she broke into sobs again as she made a dash at him.

“Oh, sir! this will kill some of us”

Mr. Grey, a man of strong mind, decisive in speech—sometimes, if put out, a little stern in manner,—looked calmly at the widow. Like Judith Ford, he had no patience with nervous nonsense. He was a tall man, with aquiline features and keen dark eyes.

“What will kill some of us, Mrs. Gould? Our nerves?”

“Where’s Mr. Stephen, sir? Oh, sir, she’s dead! And it is that draught which Mr. Stephen sent down to-night that has killed her.”

“Who is dead?” returned Mr. Grey in wonderment “What draught? What are you talking of?”

“The lady Mr. Stephen is attending at my house, sir. He sent her a sleeping draught tonight, and there must have been poison in it, for she died the minute she had swallowed it. I mean the young lady, Mrs. Crane, sir,” she added, perceiving that Mr. Grey appeared not to understand her.

“Dead?” he uttered.

“Stone dead, sir. Mr. Carlton said I had better come up for Mr. Stephen Grey. He’s there with Mr. Lycett.”

Mr. Grey closed his own door and entered his brother’s house. Frederick Grey was coming across the hall.

“Is your father in, Frederick?”.

“No. I don’t suppose he’ll be long. I don’t know where he’s gone, though. Uncle John, we had a letter from mamma this evening.”

“Did he make up a draught to-night for Mrs. Crane, do you know?” continued Mr. Grey, passing unnoticed his nephew’s gratuitous information.

“Yes, I know he did, for I was in the surgery at the time. A composing draught. Why? It was sent.”

“Why, it have just killed her, Master Frederick,” put in Mrs. Gould. “It were prussic acid, they say, and no composing draught at all.”

“What thundering nonsense!” echoed the boy, who appeared to have caught only the latter words.

“Nonsense, is it, sir?” sobbed the Widow. “She’s dead.”

Frederick Grey glanced quickly at his uncle, as if for confirmation or the contrary.

“I am going down there, Frederick. Mrs. Gould says she is dead. As soon as your father comes in, ask him to follow me.”

The lad stood looking after them as they went down the street, his brain busy. At that moment he saw their assistant, Mr. Whittaker, approaching from the opposite side of the street. Frederick Grey took his cap from the hall where it was hanging, and went out to meet him.

“Mr. Whittaker, they are saying the new patient, Mrs. Crane, is dead. Do you believe it?”

“Rubbish,” retorted Mr. Whittaker. “Mr. Stephen told me to-night she was as good as well. Who says it?”

“Mother Gould. She has been up here to fetch Uncle John, and he has left word that papa is to follow soon. Tell him, will you?”

He vaulted off ere he had well finished speaking, caught up Mrs. Gould at her own door, and ran up-stairs after his uncle. Mr. Grey had already entered the chamber of Mrs. Crane. He first satisfied himself that she was really dead, and then set to search out the particulars. Mr. Carlton directed his attention to the bottle.

“Mr. Grey,” he began, “you know how chary we medical fraternity are of bringing an accusation or casting blame on one another; but I do fear some most unfortunate error has been committed. The phial has most undoubtedly contained prussic acid in some state, and it appears only too certain that it is prussic acid she has died from.”

“The phial has certainly had prussic acid in it,” returned Mr. Grey; “but it is impossible that it can have been sent by my brother.”

“He may not have made it up himself,” returned. Mr. Carlton. “Is the writing his? ‘Composing draught to be taken the last thing. Mrs. Crane.’”

“That is his, and I believe he made up the draught himself. But as to his having put prussic acid in it, I feel sure he did not.”

“I was here when it came, and I detected the smell at once,” said Mr. Carlton. “At the first moment I thought it was oil of almonds; the next felt sure it was prussic acid. Not that I suspected for an instant there was sufficient to destroy life, the slightest modicum of a drop, perhaps; though why Mr. Stephen Grey should have put it in I did not understand. Now I cannot tell you why it was, but I could not get that smell out of my head. I think it may have been from reading that case of fatal error in the Lancet last week. You know what I mean?”

Mr. Grey nodded.

“And before I left I told Mrs. Crane not to take the draught unless she heard from Mr. Stephen Grey again. As I went home I called at your house; but Mr. Stephen was not at home. I intended just to mention the smell to him. Had he said it was all right, there was an end of apprehension; but mistakes have been so frequent of late as to put medical men on their guard.”

“True,” assented Mr. Grey.

“I have but a word to finish,” continued Mr. Carlton. “When I found I could not see Mr. Stephen Grey, I went home, made up a composing draught, and was coming out with it when an urgent message came for me to see a patient. It lay in my way here, and I was as quick as could be, but—as you see—not sufficiently so.”

Mr. Carlton slightly pointed to the bed as he concluded. Frederick Grey, who had stood by, listening eagerly, suddenly stepped up to him.

“Have you that draught with you, sir?”

“Of course I have,” replied Mr. Carlton. But he did not seem pleased with the lad’s tones, so unaccountably abrupt and haughty. “Here it is,” he added, taking it from his pocket. “You will find no prussic acid in that.”

Frederick Grey received the small bottle in his hand, uncorked it, smelt it, and tasted it, just as Mr. Carlton had done by the fatal one. Doctors, as Mrs. Pepperfly remarked, like to put their tongues to physic; and Frederick had possibly caught the habit, for he was ale ready being initiated into the mysteries of the profession, under his uncle and father.

“No, there’s no prussic acid in that,” said he. “Neither was there in the draught made up by my father. I stood by him the whole of the time and watched him mix it.”

They were interrupted by Mr. Stephen Grey. To describe his grief and consternation when he saw the dead, would be impossible. Mr. Whittaker had given him the message, had told him Mrs. Gould had been to them with a tale that the lady was dead; but Mr. Stephen, who knew of old Mrs. Gould and her fears, had set it down in his own mind that the lady had only fainted. Mr. Stephen heard the details with astonishment. They were unaccountable; but he warmly repudiated the suspicion as to the error having been made by himself.

“The thing appears to be perfectly unexplainable,” exclaimed Mr. Lycett.

Stephen Grey laid his hand lightly on the brow of the corpse. “I declare,” said he, in an earnest, solemn tone, “in the presence of what remains of this poor young lady; nay, I declare it in a more solemn presence—that of God, who now hears me—that there was no prussic acid, or any other poison whatever, in the sleeping draught I sent here this night. Some foul play has been at work; or else some most grievous and unaccountable mischance has been unwittingly committed. Mr. Carlton, we must do our best in striving to unfathom this. You will aid me in it?”

Mr. Carlton did not hear the words. He had fallen into a reverie. Perhaps he was trying to account for the events of that night. His thoughts at that moment were not so much given to the unhappy dead, as to the face he had seen, or thought he had seen, upon the staircase landing earlier in the evening. That the face was none of his own fancy’s conjuring up; that it was not an appearance from the world of spirits, but one belonging to a living, breathing person, he felt in his judgment convinced. Did he connect that face with the dark deed which had followed? Did he suspect that that stealthy visitor, whoever it might be, was the serpent standing and waiting to deal the deadly blow? It cannot at present be told; but it is certain that Mr. Carlton did attach a dread fear, not the less strong for its being vague and undefined, to that shadowy face.

Vague indeed! More than once he caught himself fancying—nay, almost wishing—that it was but a supernatural appearance from the other world.