Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Lord Oakburn's daughters - Part 6



The whole inquest-room, speaking metaphorically, was on its legs—coroner, jury, spectators—as the rushing tide of eager faces surged into it. What were the tidings they had brought?—what new evidence had come to light? Nothing very great, after all.

It was only a part of a letter. In the pocket of the dress which the unhappy lady had worn on the Friday, the day of her arrival at South Wennock, had just been found a half sheet of note paper, with some lines of writing on it and a great blot. “It was a somewhat remarkable fact that this dress, hanging up the whole of the time behind the bed-room door, had been overlooked both by the police and by Mr. Carlton, and was not searched by either. The coroner smoothed the crumpled sheet of writing, read it aloud for the information of the jury, and then passed it round for their inspection. It ran as follows:—

“13, Palace Street, South Wennock,

Friday Evening, March 10, 1848.

“My dearest Husband,—You will be surprised to hear of my journey, and that I am safe at South Wennock. I know you will be angry, but I cannot help it, and we will talk over things when we meet. I have asked the people here about a medical man, and they strongly recommend one of the Messrs. Grey, but I tell them I would prefer Mr. Carlton. What do you say? I must ask him to come and see me this evening, for the railway omnibus shook me dreadfully, and I feel anything but———”

In that abrupt manner ended the writing. There was nothing more, except the great blot referred to. Whether she had been suddenly interrupted, or whether the accident of the blot caused her to begin a fresh letter, could not be told; and perhaps would now never be known.

But with all the excitement, the noise, and the expectation, it positively threw no light whatever upon the mystery—of the mystery of who she was, of her arrival, or the worse mystery of her death. The coroner sat, after the letter had been passed back to him, mechanically smoothing the creased sheet with his fingers, while he thought.

“Call Mr. Carlton,” he suddenly said.

Mr. Carlton was found in the yard of the inn, talking to some of the many outside idlers whom the proceedings had gathered together there. After the rebuff administered to him by the coroner, as to his having gone away before, he was determined not so to offend a second time, but waited within call.

“Wanted again!” he exclaimed, when the officer come to him. “I hope the jury will have enough of me.”

“There’s something fresh turned up, sir. You might have heard here the noise they made, bringing it up the street.”

“Something fresh!” the surgeon eagerly repeated. “What is it? Not about the face?” he added, a strange dread mingling with his whispered tones.

“I don’t rightly know what it is, sir. The crowd jammed into the room so that I couldn’t hear.”

“Mr. Carlton, look at this, will you,” said the coroner, handing him the torn note, when he appeared. “Can you tell me if it is in the handwriting of the deceased?”

Mr. Carlton took the sheet, glanced at it, clutched it in his hand and strode to a distant window. There he stood reading it, with his back to the room. He read it twice; he turned it over and looked at the other side; ho turned it back and read it again. Then he returned to the table where sat the coroner and jury, who had followed his movements in eager expectation.

“How can I tell, Mr. Coroner, whether it is in her handwriting or not?”

“You received a note from her. Can you not remember what the writing was like?”

Mr. Carlton paused a moment and then slowly shook his head. “I did not take particular notice of the handwriting. If we had the two together we might compare them. By the way,” he added, “I may perhaps mention that I searched for the note in question when I went home just now, and could not find it. There’s no doubt I threw it into the fire at the time.”

Perfectly true. As soon as Mr. Carlton had got home from his examination-in-chief, he had set himself to search for the note. His conviction at the time was that he must have burnt it with the loose letters and envelopes lying on the table, those which he had thrown on the fire in a heap; it had been his conviction ever since; nevertheless he did institute a search on going home from the inquest. He Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/500 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/501 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/502 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/503 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/504 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/505 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/506 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/507 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/508