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strongly and rapidly repeated. It was occasioned by a man cutting down a tree; and, upon looking closely, the curate at once recognised Mr. Whar ton, though his back was turned towards him as he approached. He was alone; the spades and pickaxes which lay round about, proved that labour ers had been there, and it was likely, on their return from the morning meal, that they would find one part of their work, at least, well advanced. His blows fell on the trunk of the devoted tree with as strong and trenchant an energy as though they had been dealt by the arm of a giant, and every starting muscle of his slight frame seemed to lend its aid to their crashing fierceness. The splinters flew round far and wide, and at every tremendous blow the tree itself quivered upwards to its highest branches. Mr. Hamilton stopped to see if he would pause and look round; but no-crash, crash went the axe, without the slightest appearance of flagging in its fearful action. The curate then approached, and Mr. Whar ton having turned to bear upon another part of the trunk, they stood face to face. The latter gazed fixedly for a moment at the cause of his interruption, then sunk the head of the hatchet to the ground, and extended his hand in silence. Though his exercise had been of so strong and heating a cha racter, there was no flush on his cheeks, which, on the contrary, seemed very pallid ; and indeed the only appearance of the exertion he had been using was the sweat on his forehead, which he wiped off with his hand, and then flung the axe away with a sudden and impetuous movement. He was the first to break the silence that still hung over the meeting, by saying
“ We are both early risers."
“So it would appear," rejoined the curate ; " but your morning has been more profitable than mine. I have done nothing entitling me to claim my breakfast," he added, with a slight smile.
“ You have come to breakfast with me, then," said Mr. Wharton, after a pause. « Well, I'm glad of it. I'm generally late, for they who have the care of invalids cannot chuse their own hours. Besides, we are somewhat in confusion at the house. The butler disappeared last night,, no one knows whither ; not that a trifle of that kind
flurries me at all, but I like a well-re. gulated household. However, come along."
Hamilton could not forbear remarking that these few sentences were ut. tered in a manner very unlike the speaker's usual calm and collected delivery-but perhaps there had been enough in his exciting exercise to account for his hurried words; and they walked on together.
“ Strange !" pursued Wharton ; " what could have become of the man? I was told more than once he was a person of bad character. He got out last night through a window; I suppose on some drunken frolic. But he shall smart for it."
There was nothing more spoken by either party, until they reached the hall-door of the house.
“Has that man made his appearance yet ?" was the question put, rather sternly, by his master, to the servant who opened it. The answer was in the negative. The other made no remark whatever, but a drop of blood actually started to his lips, as he courteously extended his hand towards the parlour doorway, as an invitation to his guest to enter. The room was empty.
“Ha! he has not come down yet," said Wharton. “I suspect remaining too long a-bed in the morning would be interdicted by your regimen.! must go and hurry him-or, stay, I'll send to do so." "He rang the bell, and desired the servant who answered it to tell his young master that breakfast waited. As he spoke the words, Hamilton looked at him, but his manner was as composed as that of any man could be while giving an unimportant order, which fortified his own supposition, that his nightly visitor had misconceived what he saw. Yet his heart throbbed more quickly when he heard the servant's returning steps sound rapidly on the stair; and its rushing circulation almost choked him, when he saw the horrid truth written on the quivering lip and staring eye of the frightened man, who pushed the door open, and held it in his hand, while his gaze was riveted on his master's face.
" What is the matter, fool ?" said the latter ; " speak out. Why do you stare at me as if I were a ghost? And at the same time he rose impa.
tiently from his seat, and approached the horror-stricken servant.
“He's dead-he's dead_he's dead!” shrieked the man.
“ My God! then the letter spoke truth after all,” said the uncle, and he rushed out. Mr. Hamilton did not pause a moment, but followed him, and together they reached the hapless boy's sleeping-room.
It was true enough-he was dead; but the parting of soul and body seemed to have been gentle in the extreme. His attitude was so still and natural, the long dark hair contrasting with the white pillow and whiter cheek. His eyes were closed s0 quietly, and the last faint smile of the departing spirit played so life-like about his lips, that one might well doubt, at first sight, whether it were death or trance that had sealed his placid eyelids. But the arms were cold and stiff, the heart was at rest, and there was no breath in the motionless nostrils. The curtain was up on the side of the bed next the wall, and there the curate saw at once a confirmation of his informant's story--a rent in the paper, by which the Almighty had directed the eye of a witness to the deed of darkness. Wharton saw it too--nay, bis gaze was fixed on it instead of his nephew's corpse ; and he went round to that side of the bed, so as to place himself between the rent and the view of his companion. He then raised his head, and from opposite sides of the death-bed, his eyes and the curate's encountered; and the latter declared that though his heart was as strong as innocence could make it, it actually quailed before the terrible expression of the other's face it was the glare of the savage tiger at bay, with the deep wound rankling in his side, and death and enemies around him.
“It would be well to send for the surgeon at once," said the clergy. man.
“What for? What could he do? Is he not dead ?" asked Wharton; each question repeated in a tone of voice low and startling. At that mo. ment a double knock was heard at the hall- door, and Mr. Hamilton could not forbear glancing to see its effect on the bearing of the person opposite to him. His jaw drooped slightly for a moment; but then, the
gradually rising colour, the lips firmly closed, and the more collected eye, showed that the man's energies were throwing off their first spell of dread and suspicion, and were preparing themselves for the certain struggle that impended. Then there was a timid blow upon the chamber door, which was pushed half open, but the person seemed afraid to enter.
“ Come in, and give your message," said Wharton, in his usual calm, authoritative tone of voice. The servant at the door still hesitated, which lashed the other into sudden fury. He strode to the door, flung it open, and, with a wave of his hand, commanded the man to come in. He did so, and shrunk towards the window, cowering before the fierce eye and swelling frame of his master.
“Out with what you have to say, sir ; and then if your apish fears of a dead room make you unfit for your duty, you are liberty to leave my service.”
" Thank you, sir ; I will-I will," said the frightened man. " There are two gentlemen below, sir, wanting you, and people outside the door."
“ Very well; tell the gentlemen I will be down immediately." The servant vanished; when Wharton signified to Hamilton his wish that they should leave the room together-a wish that carried with it the force of a command; besides, the clergyman's desire to see the end of the mystery had now become very strong. Accordingly, in silence, he followed Mr. Wharton down stairs to the parlour, in which were two persons, with one of whom he was slightly acquainted, for he lived at no great distance, while with the other he had almost daily intercourse connected with parish duty. The first was one of the county coroners—the latter was the dispensary surgeon.
“I am sorry, sir," said the former, with a deep, grave bow, “ that unpleasant duty forces me to intrude on you at present."
“I am grateful for your sorrow," said the master of the house ; " and I suppose I must express my acknowledgments for the goodly train of mourners you have brought with you." For a glance out of the window showed him at least two dozen persons standing on the gravelled Hat before the house, while several others were arriving with faces eloquent of hurry and curiosity. Among those who were nearest to the hall-door, stood some constables, and the servant man, the curate's nightly visitor, was with them.
"I am the coroner of the county," said that functionary, coldly; "and my duty sends me here to inquire into the sudden death that has hap. pened in this house. You must be aware, sir, that strict privacy is out of the question in these matters. I cannot drive back the people who choose to follow me, especially as I shall want a jury from among them."
« And pray, sir, who told you that a sudden death had happened here at all ?" asked Wharton ; « and why are my poor nephew's remains to be sub. jected to insult ?"
“ I'm sorry, sir, I can't answer your questions," said the coroner; « but you shall know all when it is submitted to the jury, which, with your leave, I'll now proceed to call."
« In your position, might makes right, Mr. Coroner ; therefore, do as you please. However, recollect you may repent this hurry; you have not given me time to take the benefit of a legal adviser."
“ You shall have ample time, sir," said the coroner; “ I'll postpone the end of the inquiry to give you time to get a legal gentleman."
“Very well; come to-morrow morn ing, then, and swear in your jury."
“ That cannot be, sir ; there are some circumstances of the case which must be sifted to-day. It positively cannot be; I must proceed without more delay."
“ As you like-as you like," said Wharton. “I protest against your indecent hurry. However, since you will listen to me no more, you will at least grant me the favour of selecting the twelve cleanest from these motley gentlemen, and keep the remainder from wandering at large through my house."
The coroner immediately proceeded to his duty- the surgeon also; and the former, with his jury, having viewed the body, left the medical man to make his examination, and adjourned to the sitting-room, where Wharton and the curate had remained during his absence. The latter could per.
ceive, from the disposition of the police round the house, that all egress from it would be parrowly watched; but there was not the slightest appearance of any attempt at escape on the part of him upon whom suspicion rested. At first he had been standing near the window, until some children and women outside saluted him with a sudden yell of execration, when he quietly and silently withdrew.
“ You see, Mr. Hamilton," he said, turning to the curate, “I cannot boast many friends here. Will you remain with me to-day? It is a part of your duty to listen to unreasonable requests. Perhaps you will pardon and grant this among the rest."
“ I'll remain with pleasure," said Hamilton. " But had you not better send for Chartres, our attorney; he is an able man, and will be more useful than I.”
“ Pooh, pooh !-sure you don't think my anxiety for delay was on my own account. Surely you don't think me a murderer? No; I wished to keep his poor remains from their judi. cial pollution before they were well cold. They can't say I am hampering their proceedings. If I feared for myself, I should be with them now, watching every look, and dogging every movement.” He paused a moment, took three or four turns in silence through the room, and then continued—“I can see it all; the rent in the paper-work—the tipsy curiosity of the credible witness they have got outside, and the early read. ing of the gentlemen of the jurythat is, provided they can read of which · The Babes in the Wood' probably formed a staple commodity ;all these things will dispose people to think that an uncle and nephew cannot live together without murder and poison, setting up house along with them. Be it so; their thoughts are things I neither fear or envy. Here they come."
No sooner had the coroner and his jury entered the room, than the eyes of the twelve men were immediately fixed on the master of the mansion, for, independent of his present circumstances, his reserved manner and mode of life had excited some curiosity through the neighbourhood ; but, with unflinching brow and folded arms, he took his stand near the head of the table, and not one present but must bare acknowledged the force of his collected and baughty bearing. The servant was first called in, and, on examination, detailed what he had seen, in exactly the same manner that he had done before to Mr. Hamilton.
“ You had a friend or two last even ing in the servants' hall, Harkan, I believe ?" said Mr. Wharton, while the coolness of his tone and manner con trasted strongly with the shivering and eager demeanour of the person who accused him.
“We had, sir_two; but one of them went away at ten o'clock-only one stayed all night."
« Well, and as you usually do, you indulged yourself pretty liberally, I suppose ?"
"I can't deny, sir, I drank some thing," said the servant, as his colour rose, and he looked hard at the coro. Der. “ Not much-very little. But God knows whether it was great or small; the sight of you, sir, last night, was enough to sober any man."
Wharton turned away with a slight smile, and in silence; he did not weaken the triumph of mind and man. ner by saying another word. The curate was then briefly examined, and after him several of the servants more at length; when the medical man made his appearance, and declared he would require more time and further assistance, before he could pronounce any opinion as to the cause of death. Accordingly, the coroner suspended the proceedings until the following day; but, before his departure, signified to Mr. Wharton that he was to consider himself under arrest.
" That is,” said the other, “ I am to have the pleasure of a policeman's company at my dinner-table; and he is to sleep in the same room with me, too, as well as acting major-domo in my kitchen and drawing-room. Mr. Hamilton, I throw myself on your generosity. Will you sum up your kind. ness by remaining with me the rest of this day and night. I know you will I shall have a bed put up for you in my owo room, and you, Mr. Coroner, may place your guards outside, as you wish. You are satisfied, I presume ? You know Mr. Hamilton's character, and he is one of your own witnesses, too."
The coroner made po objection to
this arrangement; and thus, almost without his own consent, the curate found himself placed, half guard, half companion, with a suspected mur. derer. However, he did not refuse the post, for his mind yielded to the strong fascination of doubt and mystery which hung over the bearing and conduct of the man before him-at one moment exhibiting all the bold attributes of conscious innocence-at another, the deportment of shrinking guilt. If the child had been poisoned, was it likely that his murderer would remain so quietly as he did in a distant room, while the surgeon was proceeding with his researches, on the result of which would most probably depend a fearful issue of life or death. Such is not generally the conduct of a conscious poisoner, reasoned the clergyman. But then, in the morning, when the rent in the paper wall first met his eye, the still and sudden horror with which he viewed it, the silent and conscious movement to try and screen it, the suspicious and constant harping on the servant's absence, and the evident disinclination to send at once for medical assistance-all, in. dependent of other evidence, contri. buted to excite in the curate's mind a terrible misgiving, which he could not shake off. And it gradually increased, though his companion talked with all his brilliant fluency and pointed illustration; and when the lamps were burning down, and the night drew on apace, Hamilton could see little in the kindling eye of the excited speaker, but the fiendish look of the murderer
-could hear nothing in his voice of music but the hollow tone of the as. sassin. The other could not but perceive his companion's evident feeling, and as he rose from his seat, he said
“I shall not detain you longer from your rest-if indeed you can rest." He caught hold of Hamilton's hand, and continued—“ I feel a strange whispering at my heart, as if the kindness or enmity of any one would not long be much to me. It weakens me a little; but that is nothing. I am urging a disagreeable office on you, which I should not have done, only they tell me I am given to speak in my sleep, and to walk, too, if I am not belied. For the sake of all you hold dear on earth or in heaven, rouse me at once, should I stir, or even whisper. The
scoundrels about me would never un- forbear asking himself-Is it possible derstand it, and would subject me to the guilt of murder is weighing down insult in the exercise of their petty the soul of a man who can sleep in authority. If I am unreasonable, for apparent peace, while a simply excited give me. If a condemned criminal feeling is enough to keep sluinber from were to ask you to spend the last my eyelids ? The truth of his suspi. earthly night in his cell, would you cions was more shaken than ever. He say no to him ?"
threw aside the curtains noiselessly, 'If the curate had any rising disin- and looked out into the room. A clination to share Wharton's sleeping bright fire was blazing in the large, room, it was overcome by the resist. old-fashioned grate, and its reflection less earnestness of this speech, and he showed, with great distinctness, the followed his host in silence up the face and figure of the sleeping man. stairs. It is a large, oblong apart. It soon became apparent that, if the ment, lined throughout with old, dark, outward semblance slumbered, it was carved oak, the sombre appearance of only to allow the fierce spirit to show which is little altered from what it its strong and real workings in terrible presented on that night of terror. sincerity. The arm and clenched There was a bed in each extremity of hand were thrown suddenly into the the room. In the front wall, that air above him, and the flame's light looked towards the lawn, were three gleamed on the starting sinews in all high and deep windows, which were their spasmodic energy. closed by shutters, and concealed still “I defy you to find my secret," he further by the heavy drapery of the muttered, in a deep and hollow tone. dark-red curtains hanging over them. “If you were twelve devils, instead of Immediately behind this room is the men, I defy you. Not guilty, of apartment wherein lay the remains of course--not guilty. Oh! how I could the dead boy; and in the corner, next laugh at you all, if it wasn't for the the side-wall, there is a door of com- pale face I see over that man's shoulder. munication between the two chambers, Give me some wine, or something which door was kept either nailed-up stronger if you have it, and then I'll or left open, according as the occu. try another poison on the white lipspants of the house thought fit. Again, perhaps that will drive him off !" in the rear of this room, is the closet He ceased, flung down the bed. partitioned off by some former owner, clothes, rose and stood on the floor, and from which the servant stated he with the red light of the fire reflecthad witnessed the scene which he deed on his white, ghost-like figure. He scribed. It was through the narrow was sound asleep. His motionless eyedoor of communication, not through lids were but partly closed, and the that on the landing-place, that he balls beneath them showed only half swore he saw the uncle approach the their glassy surface to the curate's nephew's bedside, and when the curate, spell-bound gaze. Had his life delooked at it, he could not forbear a pended on it, the latter could not stir slight shudder.
—could not shout-a mountain-load The curtains of his bed were down, rested on his tranced limbs and rooted and, retiring between it and the wall, tongue. The sleep-walker stood still he prayed to his Father who is in sem for a moment, in a listening attitude; cret; then undressed himself and went then he approached the wall on the to bed-calmer and more composed right-side of the fire, passed his hand after the heavenly communion. Nei. over the wainscoting, rested his finger ther party spoke a single word, and it on one particular spot, when, to the was only from his occasional move. curate's increased surprise, a small, ments that the curate was made aware square compartment flew back like a of his companion's presence. At last, door when its spring is touched. In the latter extinguished the lamp, and speechless and motionless amazement, went to bed. Mr. Hamilton could Hamilton saw the sleeping man take a not sleep; he even restrained his own bottle and cup from the concealed breathing to listen to the other's, crypt, and pour the contents of the which at last became so deep and re. former into the cup. He then said gular as to make it evident that he something in a low, muttering tone, slept. Then the curate could not that was inaudible to the breathless