next result of my interview with Mrs. Catherick--otherwise he would
never have placed his spies there to wait for me. Smoothly and fairly
as appearances looked in the vestry, there was something wrong beneath
them--there was something in the register-book, for aught I knew, that
I had not discovered yet.
Once out of sight of the church, I pressed forward briskly on my way to
The road was, for the most part, straight and level. Whenever I looked
back over it I saw the two spies steadily following me. For the greater
part of the way they kept at a safe distance THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница behind. But once or twice
they quickened their pace, as if with the purpose of overtaking me,
then stopped, consulted together, and fell back again to their former
position. They had some special object evidently in view, and they
seemed to be hesitating or differing about the best means of
accomplishing it. I could not guess exactly what their design might
be, but I felt serious doubts of reaching Knowlesbury without some
mischance happening to me on the way. These doubts were realised.
I had just entered on a lonely part of the road, with a sharp turn at
some distance ahead, and had just concluded THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница (calculating by time) that
I must be getting near to the town, when I suddenly heard the steps of
the men close behind me.
Before I could look round, one of them (the man by whom I had been
followed in London) passed rapidly on my left side and hustled me with
his shoulder. I had been more irritated by the manner in which he and
his companion had dogged my steps all the way from Old Welmingham than
I was myself aware of, and I unfortunately pushed the fellow away
smartly with my open hand. He instantly shouted for help. His
companion, the tall man in the THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница gamekeeper's clothes, sprang to my right
side, and the next moment the two scoundrels held me pinioned between
them in the middle of the road.
The conviction that a trap had been laid for me, and the vexation of
knowing that I had fallen into it, fortunately restrained me from
making my position still worse by an unavailing struggle with two men,
one of whom would, in all probability, have been more than a match for
me single-handed. I repressed the first natural movement by which I
had attempted to shake them off, and looked about to see if there was
any person near to THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница whom I could appeal.
A labourer was at work in an adjoining field who must have witnessed
all that had passed. I called to him to follow us to the town. He
shook his head with stolid obstinacy, and walked away in the direction
of a cottage which stood back from the high-road. At the same time
the men who held me between them declared their intention of charging
me with an assault. I was cool enough and wise enough now to make no
opposition. "Drop your hold of my arms," I said, "and I will go with
you to the town." The man in THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the gamekeeper's dress roughly refused.
But the shorter man was sharp enough to look to consequences, and not
to let his companion commit himself by unnecessary violence. He made a
sign to the other, and I walked on between them with my arms free.
We reached the turning in the road, and there, close before us, were
the suburbs of Knowlesbury. One of the local policemen was walking
along the path by the roadside. The men at once appealed to him. He
replied that the magistrate was then sitting at the town-hall, and
recommended that we should appear before him immediately THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница.
We went on to the town-hall. The clerk made out a formal summons, and
the charge was preferred against me, with the customary exaggeration
and the customary perversion of the truth on such occasions. The
magistrate (an ill-tempered man, with a sour enjoyment in the exercise
of his own power) inquired if any one on or near the road had witnessed
the assault, and, greatly to my surprise, the complainant admitted the
presence of the labourer in the field. I was enlightened, however, as
to the object of the admission by the magistrate's next words. He
remanded me at once for the production of the witness THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница, expressing, at
the same time, his willingness to take bail for my reappearance if I
could produce one responsible surety to offer it. If I had been known
in the town he would have liberated me on my own recognisances, but as
I was a total stranger it was necessary that I should find responsible
The whole object of the stratagem was now disclosed to me. It had been
so managed as to make a remand necessary in a town where I was a
perfect stranger, and where I could not hope to get my liberty on bail.
The remand merely extended over THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница three days, until the next sitting of
the magistrate. But in that time, while I was in confinement, Sir
Percival might use any means he pleased to embarrass my future
proceedings--perhaps to screen himself from detection
altogether--without the slightest fear of any hindrance on my part. At
the end of the three days the charge would, no doubt, be withdrawn, and
the attendance of the witness would be perfectly useless.
My indignation, I may almost say, my despair, at this mischievous check
to all further progress--so base and trifling in itself, and yet so
disheartening and so serious in its probable results--quite unfitted me
at THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница first to reflect on the best means of extricating myself from the
dilemma in which I now stood. I had the folly to call for writing
materials, and to think of privately communicating my real position to
the magistrate. The hopelessness and the imprudence of this proceeding
failed to strike me before I had actually written the opening lines of
the letter. It was not till I had pushed the paper away--not till, I
am ashamed to say, I had almost allowed the vexation of my helpless
position to conquer me--that a course of action suddenly occurred to my
mind, which Sir Percival had probably not THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница anticipated, and which might
set me free again in a few hours. I determined to communicate the
situation in which I was placed to Mr. Dawson, of Oak Lodge.
I had visited this gentleman's house, it may be remembered, at the time
of my first inquiries in the Blackwater Park neighbourhood, and I had
presented to him a letter of introduction from Miss Halcombe, in which
she recommended me to his friendly attention in the strongest terms. I
now wrote, referring to this letter, and to what I had previously told
Mr. Dawson of the delicate and dangerous nature of my inquiries. I had
not revealed THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница to him the truth about Laura, having merely described my
errand as being of the utmost importance to private family interests
with which Miss Halcombe was concerned. Using the same caution still,
I now accounted for my presence at Knowlesbury in the same manner, and
I put it to the doctor to say whether the trust reposed in me by a lady
whom he well knew, and the hospitality I had myself received in his
house, justified me or not in asking him to come to my assistance in a
place where I was quite friendless.
I obtained permission to hire a messenger to drive away THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница at once with my
letter in a conveyance which might be used to bring the doctor back
immediately. Oak Lodge was on the Knowlesbury side of Blackwater. The
man declared he could drive there in forty minutes, and could bring Mr.
Dawson back in forty more. I directed him to follow the doctor
wherever he might happen to be, if he was not at home, and then sat
down to wait for the result with all the patience and all the hope that
I could summon to help me.
It was not quite half-past one when the messenger departed. Before
half-past three THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница he returned, and brought the doctor with him. Mr.
Dawson's kindness, and the delicacy with which he treated his prompt
assistance quite as a matter of course, almost overpowered me. The
bail required was offered, and accepted immediately. Before four
o'clock, on that afternoon, I was shaking hands warmly with the good
old doctor--a free man again--in the streets of Knowlesbury.
Mr. Dawson hospitably invited me to go back with him to Oak Lodge, and
take up my quarters there for the night. I could only reply that my
time was not my own, and I could only ask him to THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница let me pay my visit in
a few days, when I might repeat my thanks, and offer to him all the
explanations which I felt to be only his due, but which I was not then
in a position to make. We parted with friendly assurances on both
sides, and I turned my steps at once to Mr. Wansborough's office in the
Time was now of the last importance.
The news of my being free on bail would reach Sir Percival, to an
absolute certainty, before night. If the next few hours did not put me
in a position to justify his worst fears THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница, and to hold him helpless at
my mercy, I might lose every inch of the ground I had gained, never to
recover it again. The unscrupulous nature of the man, the local
influence he possessed, the desperate peril of exposure with which my
blindfold inquiries threatened him--all warned me to press on to
positive discovery, without the useless waste of a single minute. I
had found time to think while I was waiting for Mr. Dawson's arrival,
and I had well employed it. Certain portions of the conversation of the
talkative old clerk, which had wearied me at the time, now recurred to
my memory THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница with a new significance, and a suspicion crossed my mind
darkly which had not occurred to me while I was in the vestry. On my
way to Knowlesbury, I had only proposed to apply to Mr. Wansborough for
information on the subject of Sir Percival's mother. My object now was
to examine the duplicate register of Old Welmingham Church.
Mr. Wansborough was in his office when I inquired for him.
He was a jovial, red-faced, easy-looking man--more like a country
squire than a lawyer--and he seemed to be both surprised and amused by
my application. He had heard of his father THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница's copy of the register, but
had not even seen it himself. It had never been inquired after, and it
was no doubt in the strong room among other papers that had not been
disturbed since his father's death. It was a pity (Mr. Wansborough
said) that the old gentleman was not alive to hear his precious copy
asked for at last. He would have ridden his favourite hobby harder than
ever now. How had I come to hear of the copy? was it through anybody
in the town?
I parried the question as well as I could. It was impossible at this
stage of THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the investigation to be too cautious, and it was just as well
not to let Mr. Wansborough know prematurely that I had already examined
the original register. I described myself, therefore, as pursuing a
family inquiry, to the object of which every possible saving of time
was of great importance. I was anxious to send certain particulars to
London by that day's post, and one look at the duplicate register
(paying, of course, the necessary fees) might supply what I required,
and save me a further journey to Old Welmingham. I added that, in the
event of my subsequently requiring a copy of the original THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница register, I
should make application to Mr. Wansborough's office to furnish me with
After this explanation no objection was made to producing the copy. A
clerk was sent to the strong room, and after some delay returned with
the volume. It was of exactly the same size as the volume in the
vestry, the only difference being that the copy was more smartly bound.
I took it with me to an unoccupied desk. My hands were trembling--my
head was burning hot--I felt the necessity of concealing my agitation
as well as I could from the persons about me in THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the room, before I
ventured on opening the book.
On the blank page at the beginning, to which I first turned, were
traced some lines in faded ink. They contained these words--
"Copy of the Marriage Register of Welmingham Parish Church. Executed
under my orders, and afterwards compared, entry by entry, with the
original, by myself. (Signed) Robert Wansborough, vestry-clerk."
Below this note there was a line added, in another handwriting, as
follows: "Extending from the first of January, 1800, to the thirtieth
of June, 1815."
I turned to the month of September, eighteen hundred and three. I
found the marriage of the man whose Christian name was THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the same as my
own. I found the double register of the marriages of the two brothers.
And between these entries, at the bottom of the page?
Nothing! Not a vestige of the entry which recorded the marriage of Sir
Felix Glyde and Cecilia Jane Elster in the register of the church!
My heart gave a great bound, and throbbed as if it would stifle me. I
looked again--I was afraid to believe the evidence of my own eyes. No!
not a doubt. The marriage was not there. The entries on the copy
occupied exactly the same places on the page as the THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница entries in the
original. The last entry on one page recorded the marriage of the man
with my Christian name. Below it there was a blank space--a space
evidently left because it was too narrow to contain the entry of the
marriages of the two brothers, which in the copy, as in the original,
occupied the top of the next page. That space told the whole story!
There it must have remained in the church register from eighteen
hundred and three (when the marriages had been solemnised and the copy
had been made) to eighteen hundred and twenty-seven, when Sir Percival
appeared at Old Welmingham THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница. Here, at Knowlesbury, was the chance of
committing the forgery shown to me in the copy, and there, at Old
Welmingham, was the forgery committed in the register of the church.
My head turned giddy--I held by the desk to keep myself from falling.
Of all the suspicions which had struck me in relation to that desperate
man, not one had been near the truth.
The idea that he was not Sir Percival Glyde at all, that he had no more
claim to the baronetcy and to Blackwater Park than the poorest labourer
who worked on the estate, had never once occurred to THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница my mind. At one
time I had thought he might be Anne Catherick's father--at another time
I had thought he might have been Anne Catherick's husband--the offence
of which he was really guilty had been, from first to last, beyond the
widest reach of my imagination.
The paltry means by which the fraud had been effected, the magnitude
and daring of the crime that it represented, the horror of the
consequences involved in its discovery, overwhelmed me. Who could
wonder now at the brute-restlessness of the wretch's life--at his
desperate alternations between abject duplicity and reckless
violence--at THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the madness of guilty distrust which had made him imprison
Anne Catherick in the Asylum, and had given him over to the vile
conspiracy against his wife, on the bare suspicion that the one and the
other knew his terrible secret? The disclosure of that secret might, in
past years, have hanged him--might now transport him for life. The
disclosure of that secret, even if the sufferers by his deception
spared him the penalties of the law, would deprive him at one blow of
the name, the rank, the estate, the whole social existence that he had
usurped. This was the Secret, and it was mine THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница! A word from me, and
house, lands, baronetcy, were gone from him for ever--a word from me,
and he was driven out into the world, a nameless, penniless, friendless
outcast! The man's whole future hung on my lips--and he knew it by this
time as certainly as I did!
That last thought steadied me. Interests far more precious than my own
depended on the caution which must now guide my slightest actions.
There was no possible treachery which Sir Percival might not attempt
against me. In the danger and desperation of his position he would be
staggered by no risks, he would recoil at no THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница crime--he would literally
hesitate at nothing to save himself.
I considered for a minute. My first necessity was to secure positive
evidence in writing of the discovery that I had just made, and in the
event of any personal misadventure happening to me, to place that
evidence beyond Sir Percival's reach. The copy of the register was
sure to be safe in Mr. Wansborough's strong room. But the position of
the original in the vestry was, as I had seen with my own eyes,
anything but secure.
In this emergency I resolved to return to the church, to apply again THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница to
the clerk, and to take the necessary extract from the register before I
slept that night. I was not then aware that a legally-certified copy
was necessary, and that no document merely drawn out by myself could
claim the proper importance as a proof. I was not aware of this, and my
determination to keep my present proceedings a secret prevented me from
asking any questions which might have procured the necessary
information. My one anxiety was the anxiety to get back to Old
Welmingham. I made the best excuses I could for the discomposure in my
face and manner which Mr. Wansborough had already noticed, laid the
necessary THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница fee on his table, arranged that I should write to him in a
day or two, and left the office, with my head in a whirl and my blood
throbbing through my veins at fever heat.
It was just getting dark. The idea occurred to me that I might be
followed again and attacked on the high-road.
My walking-stick was a light one, of little or no use for purposes of
defence. I stopped before leaving Knowlesbury and bought a stout
country cudgel, short, and heavy at the head. With this homely weapon,
if any one man tried to stop me I THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница was a match for him. If more than
one attacked me I could trust to my heels. In my school-days I had
been a noted runner, and I had not wanted for practice since in the
later time of my experience in Central America.
I started from the town at a brisk pace, and kept the middle of the
A small misty rain was falling, and it was impossible for the first
half of the way to make sure whether I was followed or not. But at the
last half of my journey, when I supposed myself to be about two miles
from the THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница church, I saw a man run by me in the rain, and then heard the
gate of a field by the roadside shut to sharply. I kept straight on,
with my cudgel ready in my hand, my ears on the alert, and my eyes
straining to see through the mist and the darkness. Before I had
advanced a hundred yards there was a rustling in the hedge on my right,
and three men sprang out into the road.
I drew aside on the instant to the footpath. The two foremost men were
carried beyond me before they could check themselves THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница. The third was as
quick as lightning. He stopped, half turned, and struck at me with his
stick. The blow was aimed at hazard, and was not a severe one. It
fell on my left shoulder. I returned it heavily on his head. He
staggered back and jostled his two companions just as they were both
rushing at me. This circumstance gave me a moment's start. I slipped
by them, and took to the middle of the road again at the top of my
The two unhurt men pursued me. They were both good runners--the road
was smooth and level, and for the first five minutes THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница or more I was
conscious that I did not gain on them. It was perilous work to run for
long in the darkness. I could barely see the dim black line of the
hedges on either side, and any chance obstacle in the road would have
thrown me down to a certainty. Ere long I felt the ground changing--it
descended from the level at a turn, and then rose again beyond.
Downhill the men rather gained on me, but uphill I began to distance
them. The rapid, regular thump of their feet grew fainter on my ear,
and I calculated by the THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница sound that I was far enough in advance to take
to the fields with a good chance of their passing me in the darkness.
Diverging to the footpath, I made for the first break that I could
guess at, rather than see, in the hedge. It proved to be a closed
gate. I vaulted over, and finding myself in a field, kept across it
steadily with my back to the road. I heard the men pass the gate,
still running, then in a minute more heard one of them call to the
other to come back. It was no matter what they did now, I THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница was out of
their sight and out of their hearing. I kept straight across the
field, and when I had reached the farther extremity of it, waited there
for a minute to recover my breath.
It was impossible to venture back to the road, but I was determined
nevertheless to get to Old Welmingham that evening.
Neither moon nor stars appeared to guide me. I only knew that I had
kept the wind and rain at my back on leaving Knowlesbury, and if I now
kept them at my back still, I might at least be certain of not
advancing altogether in the wrong direction THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница.
Proceeding on this plan, I crossed the country--meeting with no worse
obstacles than hedges, ditches, and thickets, which every now and then
obliged me to alter my course for a little while--until I found myself
on a hill-side, with the ground sloping away steeply before me. I
descended to the bottom of the hollow, squeezed my way through a hedge,
and got out into a lane. Having turned to the right on leaving the
road, I now turned to the left, on the chance of regaining the line
from which I had wandered. After following the muddy windings of the
lane for ten minutes THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница or more, I saw a cottage with a light in one of
the windows. The garden gate was open to the lane, and I went in at
once to inquire my way.
Before I could knock at the door it was suddenly opened, and a man came
running out with a lighted lantern in his hand. He stopped and held it
up at the sight of me. We both started as we saw each other. My
wanderings had led me round the outskirts of the village, and had
brought me out at the lower end of it. I was back at Old Welmingham,
and the man THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница with the lantern was no other than my acquaintance of the
morning, the parish clerk.
His manner appeared to have altered strangely in the interval since I
had last seen him. He looked suspicious and confused--his ruddy cheeks
were deeply flushed--and his first words, when he spoke, were quite
unintelligible to me.
"Where are the keys?" he asked. "Have you taken them?"
"What keys?" I repeated. "I have this moment come from Knowlesbury.
What keys do you mean?"
"The keys of the vestry. Lord save us and help us! what shall I do?
The keys are gone! Do you hear?" cried the THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница old man, shaking the lantern
at me in his agitation, "the keys are gone!"
"How? When? Who can have taken them?"
"I don't know," said the clerk, staring about him wildly in the
darkness. "I've only just got back. I told you I had a long day's
work this morning--I locked the door and shut the window down--it's
open now, the window's open. Look! somebody has got in there and taken
He turned to the casement window to show me that it was wide open. The
door of the lantern came loose from THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница its fastening as he swayed it
round, and the wind blew the candle out instantly.
"Get another light," I said, "and let us both go to the vestry
together. Quick! quick!"
I hurried him into the house. The treachery that I had every reason to
expect, the treachery that might deprive me of every advantage I had
gained, was at that moment, perhaps, in process of accomplishment. My
impatience to reach the church was so great that I could not remain
inactive in the cottage while the clerk lit the lantern again. I
walked out, down the garden path, into the lane.
Before I had advanced ten paces a THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница man approached me from the direction
leading to the church. He spoke respectfully as we met. I could not
see his face, but judging by his voice only, he was a perfect stranger
"I beg your pardon, Sir Percival----" he began.
I stopped him before he could say more.
"The darkness misleads you," I said. "I am not Sir Percival."
The man drew back directly.
"I thought it was my master," he muttered, in a confused, doubtful way.
"You expected to meet your master here?"
"I was told to wait in the lane."
With that answer he THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница retraced his steps. I looked back at the cottage
and saw the clerk coming out, with the lantern lighted once more. I
took the old man's arm to help him on the more quickly. We hastened
along the lane, and passed the person who had accosted me. As well as
I could see by the light of the lantern, he was a servant out of livery.
"Who's that?" whispered the clerk. "Does he know anything about the
"We won't wait to ask him," I replied. "We will go on to the vestry
The church was not visible, even by daytime, until the end THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница of the lane
was reached. As we mounted the rising ground which led to the building
from that point, one of the village children--a boy--came close up to
us, attracted by the light we carried, and recognised the clerk.
"I say, measter," said the boy, pulling officiously at the clerk's
coat, "there be summun up yander in the church. I heerd un lock the
door on hisself--I heerd un strike a loight wi' a match."
The clerk trembled and leaned against me heavily.
"Come! come!" I said encouragingly. "We are not too late. We will
catch the man, whoever he THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница is. Keep the lantern, and follow me as fast
as you can."
I mounted the hill rapidly. The dark mass of the church-tower was the
first object I discerned dimly against the night sky. As I turned
aside to get round to the vestry, I heard heavy footsteps close to me.
The servant had ascended to the church after us. "I don't mean any
harm," he said, when I turned round on him, "I'm only looking for my
master." The tones in which he spoke betrayed unmistakable fear. I
took no notice of him and went on.
The instant I turned THE STORY BEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT 44 страница the corner and came in view of the vestry, I saw
the lantern-skylight on the roof brilliantly lit up from within. It
shone out with dazzling brightness against the murky, starless sky.
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