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ARTHUR WARDLAW was thunderstruck; and for some time sat stupidly staring at her. And to this blank gaze succeeded a look of abject terror, which seemed to her strange and beyond the occasion. But this was not all; for, after glaring at her with scared eyes and ashy cheeks a moment or two, he got up and literally staggered out of the room without a word.
He had been taken by surprise, and, for once, all his arts had failed him.
Helen, whose eyes had never left his face, and had followed his retiring figure, was frightened at the weight of the blow she had struck; and strange thoughts and conjectures filled her mind. Hitherto, she had felt sure Robert Penfold was under a delusion as to Arthur Wardlaw, and that his suspicions were as unjust as they certainly were vague. Yet now, at the name of Robert Penfold, Arthur turned pale, and fled like a guilty thing. This was a coincidence that confirmed her good opinion of Robert Penfold, and gave her ugly thoughts of Arthur. Still, she was one very slow to condemn a friend, and too generous and candid to condemn on suspicion; so she resolved as far as possible to suspend her unfavorable judgment of Arthur, until she should have asked him why this great emotion, and heard his reply.
Moreover, she was no female detective, but a pure creature bent on clearing innocence. The object of her life was, not to discover the faults of Arthur Wardlaw, or any other person, but to clear Robert Penfold of a crime. Yet Arthur's strange behavior was a great shock to her; for here, at the very outset, he had somehow made her feel she must hope for no assistance from him. She sighed at this check, and asked herself to whom she should apply first for aid. Robert had told her to see his counsel, his solicitor, his father, and Mr. Undercliff, an expert, and to sift the whole matter.
Not knowing exactly where to begin, she thought she would, after all, wait a day or two to give Arthur time to recover himself, and decide calmly whether he would co-operate with her or not.
In this trying interval, she set up a diary--for the first time in her life; for she was no egotist. And she noted down what we have just related, only in a very condensed form, and wrote at the margin: Mysterious.
Arthur never came near her for two whole days. This looked grave. On the third day she said to General Rolleston:
"Papa, you will help me in the good cause--will you not?"
He replied that he would do what he could, but feared that would be little.
"Will you take me down to Elmtrees, this morning?"
"With all my heart."
He took her down to Elmtrees. On the way she said: "Papa, you must let me get a word with Mr. Wardlaw alone."
"Oh, certainly. But, of course, you will not say a word to hurt his feelings."
"Excuse me. But, when a person of your age is absorbed with one idea, she sometimes forgets that other people have any feelings at all."
Helen kissed him meekly, and said that was too true; and she would be upon her guard.
To General Rolleston's surprise, his daughter no sooner saw old Wardlaw than she went--or seemed to go--into high spirits, and was infinitely agreeable.
But at last she got him all to herself, and then she turned suddenly grave, and said:
"Mr. Wardlaw, I want to ask you a question. It is something about Robert Penfold."
Wardlaw shook his head. "That is a painful subject, my dear. But what do you wish to know about that unhappy young man?"
"Can you tell me the name of the counsel who defended him at the trial?"
"No, indeed, I cannot."
"But perhaps you can tell me where I could learn that."
"His father is in our office still; no doubt he could tell you."
Now, for obvious reasons, Helen did not like to go to the office; so she asked faintly if there was nobody else who could tell her.
"I suppose the solicitor could."
"But I don't know who was the solicitor," said Helen, with a sigh.
"Hum!" said the merchant. "Try the bill-broker. I'll give you his address;" and he wrote it down for her.
Helen did not like to be too importunate, and she could not bear to let Wardlaw senior know she loved anybody better than his son; and yet some explanation was necessary. So she told him, as calmly as she could, that her father and herself were both well acquainted with Robert Penfold, and knew many things to his credit.
"I am glad to hear that," said Wardlaw; "and I can believe it. He bore an excellent character here, till, in an evil hour, a strong temptation came, and he fell."
"What! You think he was guilty?"
"I do. Arthur, I believe, has his doubts still. But he is naturally prejudiced in his friend's favor. And, besides, he was not at the trial; I was."
"Thank you, Mr. Wardlaw," said Helen, coldly; and within five minutes she was on her way home.
"Arthur prejudiced in Robert Penfold's favor!" That puzzled her extremely.
She put down the whole conversation while her memory was fresh. She added this comment: "What darkness I am groping in!"
Next day she went to the bill-broker, and told him Mr. Wardlaw senior had referred her to him for certain information.
Wardlaw's name was evidently a passport. Mr. Adams said obsequiously, "Anything in the world I can do, madam."
"It is about Mr. Robert Penfold. I wish to know the name of the counsel he had at his trial."
"Robert Penfold! What, the forger?"
"He was accused of that crime," said Helen, turning red.
"Accused, madam! He was convicted. I ought to know; for it was my partner he tried the game on. But I was too sharp for him. I had him arrested before he had time to melt the notes; indicted him, and sent him across the herring pond, in spite of his parson's coat, the rascal!"
Helen drew back as if a serpent had stung her.
"It was you who had him transported!" cried she, turning her eyes on him with horror.
"Of course it was me," said Mr. Adams, firing up; "and I did the country good service. I look upon a forger as worse than a murderer. What is the matter? You are ill."
The poor girl was half fainting at the sight of the man who had destroyed her Robert, and owned it.
"No, no," she cried, hastily; "let me get away--let me get away from here-you cruel, cruel man!"
She tottered to the door, and got to her carriage, she scarcely knew how, without the information she went for.
The bill-broker was no fool; he saw now how the land lay; he followed her down the stairs, and tried to stammer excuses.
"Charing Cross Hotel," said she faintly, and laid her face against the cushion to avoid the sight of him.
When she got home, she cried bitterly at her feminine weakness and her incapacity; and she entered this pitiable failure in her journal with a severity our male readers will hardly, we think, be disposed to imitate; and she added, by way of comment: "Is this how I carry out my poor Robert's precept: Be obstinate as a man; be supple as a woman?"
That night she consulted her father on this difficulty, so slight to any but an inexperienced girl. He told her there must be a report of the trial in the newspapers, and the report would probably mention the counsel; she had better consult a file.
Then the thing was where to find a file. After one or two failures, the British Museum was suggested. She went thither, and could not get in to read without certain formalities. While these were being complied with, she was at a stand-still.
That same evening came a line from Arthur Wardlaw:
I hear from Mr. Adams that you desire to know the name of the counsel who defended Robert Penfold. It was Mr. Tollemache. He has chambers in Lincoln's Inn.
"Ever devotedly yours,
Helen was touched with this letter, and put it away indorsed with a few words of gratitude and esteem; and copied it into her diary, and remarked: "This is one more warning not to judge hastily. Arthur's agitation was probably only great emotion at the sudden mention of one whose innocence he believes, and whose sad fate distresses him." She wrote back and thanked him sweetly, and in terms that encouraged a visit. Next day she went to Mr. Tollemache. A seedy man followed her at a distance. Mr. Tollemache was not at his chambers, nor expected till four o'clock. He was in court. She left her card, and wrote on it in pencil that she would call at four.
She went at ten minutes after four. Mr. Tollemache declined, through his clerk, to see her if she was a client; he could only be approached by her solicitor. She felt inclined to go away and cry; but this time she remembered she was to be obstinate as a man and supple as a woman. She wrote on a card: "I am not a client of Mr. Tollemache, but a lady deeply interested in obtaining some information, which Mr. Tollemache can with perfect propriety give me. I trust to his courtesy as a gentleman not to refuse me a short interview."
"Admit the lady," said a sharp little voice.
She was ushered in, and found Mr. Tollemache standing before the fire.
"Now, madam, what can I do for you?"
"Some years ago you defended Mr. Robert Penfold; he was accused of forgery."
"Oh, was he? I think I remember something about it. A banker's clerk--wasn't he?"
"Oh, no, sir. A clergyman."
"A clergyman? I remember it perfectly. He was convicted."
"Do you think he was guilty, sir?"
"There was a strong case against him."
"I wish to sift that case."
"Indeed. And you want to go through the papers."
"What papers, sir?"
"The brief for the defense."
"Yes," said Helen, boldly, "would you trust me with that, sir? Oh, if you knew how deeply I am interested!" The tears were in her lovely eyes.
"The brief has gone back to the solicitor, of course. I dare say he will let you read it upon a proper representation."
"Thank you, sir. Will you tell me who is the solicitor, and where he lives?"
"Oh, I can't remember who was the solicitor. That is the very first thing you ought to have ascertained. It was no use coming to me."
"Forgive me for troubling you, sir," said Helen, with a deep sigh.
"Not at all, madam; I am only sorry I cannot be of more service. But do let me advise you to employ your solicitor to make these preliminary inquiries. Happy to consult with him, and re-open the matter should he discover any fresh evidence." He bowed her out, and sat down to a brief while she was yet in sight.
She turned away heart-sick. The advice she had received was good; but she shrank from baring her heart to her father's solicitor.
She sat disconsolate awhile, then ordered another cab, and drove to Wardlaw's office. It was late, and Arthur was gone home; so, indeed, was everybody, except one young subordinate, who was putting up the shutters. "Sir," said she, "can you tell me where old Mr. Penfold lives?"
"Somewhere in the subbubs, miss."
"Yes, sir; but where?"
"I think it is out Pimlico way."
"Could you not give me the street? I would beg you to accept a present if you could."
This sharpened the young gentleman's wits; he went in and groped here and there till he found the address, and gave it her: No. 3, Fairfield Cottages, Primrose Lane, Pimlico. She gave him a sovereign, to his infinite surprise and delight, and told the cabman to drive to the hotel.
The next moment the man who had followed her was chatting familiarly with the subordinate, and helping him to put up the shutters.
"I say, Dick," said the youngster, "Penfolds is up in the market; a duchess was here just now, and gave me a soy, to tell her where he lived. Wait a moment till I spit on it for luck."
The agent, however, did not wait to witness that interesting ceremony. He went back to his hansom round the corner, and drove at once to Arthur Wardlaw's house with the information.
Helen noted down Michael Penfold's address in her diary, and would have gone to him that evening, but she was to dine tête-à-tête with her father.
Next day she went down to 3 Fairfield Cottages at half past four. On the way her heart palpitated, for this was a very important interview. Here at least she might hope to find some clew, by following out which she would sooner or later establish Robert's innocence. But then came a fearful thought: "Why had not his father done this already, if it was possible to do it? His father must love him. His father must have heard his own story, and tested it in every way. Yet his father remained the servant of a firm, the senior partner of which had told her to her face Robert was guilty."
It was a strange and terrible enigma. Yet she clung to the belief that some new light would come to her from Michael Penfold. Then came. bashful fears. "How should she account to Mr. Penfold for the interest she took in his own son, she who was affianced to Mr. Penfold's employer." She arrived at 3 Fairfield Cottages with her cheeks burning, and repeating to herself: "Now is the time to be supple as a woman but obstinate as a man."
She sent the cabman in to inquire for Mr. Penfold; a sharp girl of about thirteen came out to her, and told her Mr. Penfold was not at home.
"Can you tell me when he will be at home?"
"No, miss. He have gone to Scotland. A telegraphum came from Wardlaws' last night, as he was to go to Scotland first thing this morning; and he went at six o'clock."
"Oh, dear! How unfortunate!"
"Who shall I say called, miss?"
"Thank you, I will write. What time did the telegram come?"
"Between five and six last evening, miss."
She returned to the hotel. Fate seemed to be against her. Baffled at the very threshold! At the hotel she found Arthur Wardlaw's card and a beautiful bouquet.
She sat down directly, and wrote to him affectionately, and asked him in the postscript if he could send her a report of the trial. She received a reply directly, that he had inquired in the office, for one of the clerks had reports of it; but this clerk was unfortunately out, and had locked up his desk.
Helen sighed. Her feet seemed to be clogged at every step in this inquiry.
Next morning, however, a large envelope came for her, and a Mr. Hand wrote to her thus:
Having been requested by Mr. Arthur Wardlaw to send you my extracts of a trial, the Queen v. Penfold, I herewith forward the same, and would feel obliged by your returning them at your convenience.
"Your obedient servant,
Helen took the inclosed extracts to her bedroom, and there read them both over many times.
In both these reports the case for the Crown was neat, clear, cogent, straight-forward, and supported by evidence. The defense was chiefly argument of counsel to prove the improbability of a clergyman and a man of good character passing a forged note. One of the reports stated that Mr. Arthur Wardlaw, a son of the principal witness, had taken the accusation so much to heart that he was now dangerously ill at Oxford. The other report did not contain this, but, on the other hand, it stated that the prisoner, after conviction, had endeavored to lay the blame on Mr. Arthur Wardlaw, but that the judge had stopped him, and said he could only aggravate his offense by endeavoring to cast a slur upon the Wardlaws, who had both shown a manifest desire to shield him, but were powerless for want of evidence.
In both reports the summing up of the judge was moderate in expression, but leaned against the prisoner on every point, and corrected the sophistical reasoning of his counsel very sensibly. Both reports said an expert was called for the prisoner, whose ingenuity made the court smile, but did not counterbalance the evidence. Helen sat cold as ice with the extracts in her hand.
Not that her sublime faith was shaken, but that poor Robert appeared to have been so calmly and fairly dealt with by everybody. Even Mr. Hennessy, the counsel for the Crown, had opened the case with humane regret, and confined himself to facts, and said nobody would be more pleased than he would, if this evidence could be contradicted, or explained in a manner consistent with the prisoner's innocence.
What a stone she had undertaken to roll--up what a hill!
What was to be her next step? Go to the Museum, which was now open to her, and read more reports? She shrank from that.
"The newspapers are all against him," said she; "and I don't want to be told he is guilty, when I know he is innocent."
She now re-examined the extracts with a view to names, and found the only names mentioned were those of the counsel. The expert's name was not given in either. However, she knew that from Robert. She resolved to speak to Mr. Hennessy first, and try and get at the defendant's solicitor through him.
She found him out by the Law Directory, and called at a few minutes past four.
Hennessy was almost the opposite to Tollemache. He was about the size of a gentleman's wardrobe; and, like most enormous men, good-natured. He received her, saw with his practiced eye that she was no common person, and, after a slight hesitation on professional grounds, heard her request. He sent for his note-book, found the case in one moment, remastered it in another, and told her the solicitor for the Crown in that case was Freshfleld.
"Now," said he, "you want to know who was the defendant's solicitor? Jenkins, a stamped envelope. Write your name and address on that."
While she was doing it, he scratched a line to Mr. Freshfield, asking him to send the required information to the inclosed address.
She thanked Mr. Hennessy with the tears in her eyes.
"I dare not ask you whether you think him guilty," she said.
Hennessy shook his head with an air of good-natured rebuke.
"You must not cross-examine counsel," said he. "But, if it will be any comfort to you, I'll say this much, there was just a shadow of doubt, and Tollemache certainly let a chance slip. If I had defended your friend, I would have insisted on a postponement of the trial until this Arthur Wardlaw" (looking at his note-book) "could be examined, either in court or otherwise, if he was really dying. Is he dead, do you know?"
"I thought not. Sick witnesses are often at death's door; but I never knew one pass the threshold. Ha! ha! The trial ought to have been postponed till he got well. If a judge refused me a postponement in such a case, I would make him so odious to the jury that the prisoner would get a verdict in spite of his teeth."
"Then you think he was badly defended?"
"No; that is saying a great deal more than I could justify. But there are counsel who trust too much to their powers of reasoning, and underrate a chink in the evidence pro or con. Practice, and a few back-falls, cure them of that."
Mr. Hennessy uttered this general observation with a certain change of tone, which showed he thought he had said as much or more than his visitor had any right to expect from him; and she therefore left him, repeating her thanks. She went home, pondering on every word he had said, and entered it all in her journal, with the remark: "How strange! the first doubt of Robert's guilt comes to me from the lawyer who caused him to be found guilty. He calls it the shadow of a doubt."
That very evening, Mr. Freshfield had the courtesy to send her by messenger the name and address of the solicitor who had defended Robert Penfold, Lovejoy & James, Lincoln's Inn Fields. She called on them, and sent in her card. She was kept waiting a long time in the outer office, and felt ashamed, and sick at heart, seated among young clerks. At last she was admitted, and told Mr. Lovejoy she and her father, General Rolleston, were much interested in a late client of his, Mr. Robert Penfold; and would he be kind enough to let her see the brief for the defense?
"Are you a relation of the Penfolds, madam?"
"No, sir," said Helen blushing.
"Humph!" said Lovejoy. He touched a hand-bell. A clerk appeared.
"Ask Mr. Upton to come to me." Mr. Upton, the managing clerk, came in due course, and Mr. Lovejoy asked him:
"Who instructed us in the Queen v. Penfold?"
"It was Mr. Michael Penfold, sir." Mr. Lovejoy then told Helen that she must just get a line from Mr. Michael Penfold, and then the papers should be submitted to her.
"Yes; but, sir," said Helen, "Mr. Penfold is in Scotland."
"Well, but you can write to him."
"No; I don't know in what part of Scotland he is."
"Then you are not very intimate with him."
"No, sir; my acquaintance is with Mr. Robert Penfold."
"Have you a line from him?"
"I have no written authority from him; but will you not take my word that I act by his desire?"
"My dear madam," said the lawyer, "we go by rule. There are certain forms to be observed in these things. I am sure your own good sense will tell you it would be cruel and improper of me to submit those papers without an order from Robert or Michael Penfold. Pray consider this as a delay, not a refusal."
"Yes, sir," said Helen; "but I meet with nothing but delays, and my heart is breaking under them."
The solicitor looked sorry, but would not act irregularly. She went home sighing, and condemned to wait the return of Michael Penfold.
The cab door was opened for her by a seedy man she fancied she had seen before.
Baffled thus, and crippled in every movement she made, however slight, in favor of Robert Penfold, she was seduced on the other hand into all the innocent pleasures of the town. Her adventure had transpired somehow or other, and all General Rolleston's acquaintances hunted him up; and both father and daughter were courted by people of ton as lions. A shipwrecked beauty is not offered to society every day. Even her own sex raved about her, and about the chain of beautiful pearls she had picked up somehow on her desolate island. She always wore them; they linked her to that sacred purpose she seemed to be forgetting. Her father drew her with him into the vortex, hiding from her that he embarked in it principally for her sake, and she went down the current with him out of filial duty. Thus unfathomable difficulties thrust her back from her up-hill task. And the world, with soft but powerful hand, drew her away to it. Arthur brought her a choice bouquet, or sent her a choice bouquet, every evening, but otherwise did not intrude much upon her; and though she was sure he would assist her, if she asked him, gratitude and delicacy forbade her to call him again to her assistance. She preferred to await the return of Michael Penfold. She had written to him at the office to tell him she had news of his son, and begged him to give her instant notice of his return from Scotland.
Day after day passed, and he did not write to her. She began to chafe, and then to pine. Her father saw, and came to a conclusion that her marriage with Arthur ought to be hastened. He resolved to act quietly but firmly toward that end.
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