by L.T. Meade and Clifford Halifax, M.D.
IN the October of 1890 I went to pay a short visit to my friends, the
Brabazons, of Penporran, in Cornwall. I could only spare a week out of
town, and looked forward to my visit with the pleasure which a busy man
must feel when he can relax his labours for a short time. Brabazon was
an old college friend, and on the first evening of my stay we had many
memories to revive and many friends to talk over. We sat until the small
hours in his smoking-room, and it was early morning before we retired to
bed. Just as I was leaving the room, he said to me:--
"By the way, you will find some disturbing elements
at work here. I know you are fond of attributing everything to some psychological
cause. I wonder what you will say to the love affairs of Randall, Carleton,
and Miss Farnham."
I naturally asked what my host meant.
"Randall and Carleton are both desperately in love
with the same girl," he replied. "Did you not notice the state
of affairs this evening at dinner?"
"I naturally noticed Miss Farnham," I answered
at once. "It would be difficult not to be attracted by so striking
"Barbara Farnham is, without exception the most dangerous
girl of my acquaintance," replied Brabazon, with a slight laugh "Before
her advent on the scene, Randall and Carleton were the best possible friends.
Now they are at daggers drawn."
"I confess I did not particularly observe them,"
"Oh, they are just ordinary good young fellows,"
replied Brabazon. "I am sorry for Carleton, of course, for I don't
think he has the ghost of a chance with Miss Farnham. He is not particularly
good looking, and he has the misfortune to be poor. Randall is a handsome
lad, and has considerable expectations. His father is Lord Hartmore--but
the fact is, I don't think the girl means to marry either of them--she
is simply playing one against the other for her own ends. She is a handsome
witch, and a dangerous one. She plays as carelessly with edged tools--as
carelessly and unconcernedly as a baby would with its rattle."
I said nothing further. Brabazon conducted me to my room,
and wished me good-night. I sat down by the fire, and thought in an idle
manner over the events of the evening. There was a large house party at
Penporran. Shooting was going on vigorously, and cub-hunting had begun.
Some of the guests were acquaintances of mine. In short, I looked forward
to a pleasant week in this genial house. As I laid my head on my pillow
I thought again but without any specially keen interest, of Brabazon's
story about the disturbing elements which were now agitating the air of
this otherwise peaceful mansion.
Two young men were in love with the same girl. Surely the
situation was a very ordinary one. Such a complication happened daily.
I wondered why Brabazon should have troubled himself to
mention such an ordinary event, but as I was dropping off to sleep, I saw
rising up before me, in my mind's eye, the proud, beautiful face of Barbara
Farnham, and a kind of intuition told me that these commonplace incidents
might assume the form of tragedy in her cruel and careless hands.
I dreamt of Miss Farnham that night, and came down to breakfast
the next morning with my curiosity considerably aroused about her.
She was in the room when I entered, and was idly helping
herself to a cup of coffee, which she carried to a distant window where
a small table was also laid for breakfast. She sat down, and, sipping it
leisurely, looked around her with a careless glance. Her eyes fell on me--she
smiled and motioned to me to approach.
"Pray bring your breakfast to this table," she
said, in a light tone. "I was immensely interested in you when I heard
you were coming. I adore doctors, particularly if they are clever; Are
you going to ride this morning?"
I answered in the affirmative, and asked her if she was
fond of horses.
"Fond?" she replied, a flash of added warmth lighting
up her peculiar red-brown eyes. "I am going to whisper a secret to
you--I never could compare horses and human beings. I consider the horse
the infinitely nobler creature of the two."
I laughed, and we entered into an animated conversation.
While we were talking, Carleton came into the room. He was
a squarely built young man, with deeply set dark eyes, and a determined
chin and mouth. His figure was slightly above the middle height; he was
extremely spare, but had good shoulders and was well set up. As soon as
ever he appeared in sight, Miss Farnham, by an almost imperceptible movement,
slightly turned her back to him and her talk with me became even more animated
and full of wit than before. Her gay, light laugh must have reached Carleton,
who came straight across the room to her side.
"You are in your favourite seat," he said.
"Yes," she replied, "and Dr. Halifax is having
breakfast with me."
Then she turned to continue her conversation with me, while
Carleton stood perfectly erect and silent by her side.
"Why don't you eat something?" she said to him,
"There is time enough," he answered.
Finding he would not go away she tried to draw him into
conversation, but he was evidently not in the humour to make himself agreeable.
His answers were confined to monosyllables, and to some of Miss Farnham's
remarks he did not reply at all.
I confess that I began to think him an unmitigated bore.
A change was, however, quickly to take place in the situation--Randall,
the other lover, appeared on the scene, and his coming acted like a flash
of sunshine. He was a gay, handsome, debonair-looking young fellow. He
had good teeth, good eyes, a genial smile, a hearty manner. His voice was
musical, and he knew well how to use it. He nodded carelessly to one or
two acquaintances when he entered the room, and then came straight to Miss
She shook hands with him, and he nodded a cheerful good
morning to Carleton and me.
"That is right," he said, smiling brightly at
the handsome girl; "you promised to reserve a seat for me at this
table, and I see you have kept your word. Have you done breakfast, Carleton?"
"I had something an hour ago," replied Carleton.
Randall went to a sideboard to help himself to a generous
portion of a dish which was being kept hot with a spirit lamp. On his return
our conversation became gayer and more lively than ever.
I must confess that I saw nothing to object to in Miss Farnham's
manners. I could not imagine why Brabazon spoke of her as a dangerous witch.
She tried to be polite to both men--or rather, she was polite without effort,
but there was not a trace of the flippant in her manner or bearing. Her
beauty was undoubtedly of a remarkable order. Her eyes were her most striking
characteristic. There was a great deal of red in their brown, which was
further accentuated by the red-brown of her long eyelashes. The eyes were
capable of every shade of expression, and could be at times as eloquent
and as full of meaning as those of that bewitching creature, the collie.
Her eyebrows were dark and delicately pencilled. Her hair was tawny in
shade--she had quantities of it, and she wore it picturesquely round her
stately, statuesque head. In some lights that brilliantly coloured hair
looked as if a sunbeam had been imprisoned in it. Her complexion was of
a warm, creamy whiteness. Her figure was slight and graceful. But for her
eyes she might have been simply remarked as a handsome girl; but those
eyes made her beautiful, and lifted her completely out of the commonplace.
We had nearly finished breakfast, when I was startled by
seeing Randall suddenly press his hand to his eyes, and turn so white that
I thought he was going to lose consciousness. He recovered himself almost
immediately, however, and so completely, that no one else remarked the
circumstance. Miss Farnham rose from the breakfast-table.
"I am going to ride with you, Dr. Halifax," she
said, nodding brightly to me. "I shall come downstairs in my habit
in half an hour."
She was crossing the room to speak to some of the other
guests when Carleton came up to her.
"I want to say something to you," he said--"can
we go to some room where we shall be quite undisturbed?"
His words were distinctly audible, not only to me, but to
several other people in the room.
Randall in particular heard them, and I could see that he
was waiting anxiously for the reply.
"I want to ride this morning--I have no time for private
confidences," replied Miss Farnham, in a distinctly vexed tone.
"I won't keep you long," replied Carleton--"what
I have to say is of great importance, at least to me."
"I will give you ten minutes after lunch; will that
"Five minutes now will do better. I am very much in
earnest when I make this request."
"Very well," said Miss Farnham, in a light tone;
"importunate people generally have their way. Come into the conservatory--there
is a rose there on which I have set my heart; it is too high for me to
She left the room as she spoke, and Carleton quickly followed
her. As they disappeared, I noticed more than one guest looking significantly
after them. Carleton's pluck was distinctly approved of--I could see that
by the expression on some of the ladies' faces--and one, as she passed
close to Randall's side, was heard to murmur, audibly:--
"Faint heart never won fair lady."
Randall came up to me and asked me to join him in a smoke
on the balcony. As we walked up and down, he talked cheerfully, and, whatever
anxiety he may inwardly have felt, was careful not to betray a trace of
In less than half an hour Miss Farnham joined us She was
in a dark brown riding-habit, which toned perfectly with her rich and peculiar
colouring. Her spirits were gay, not to say wild, and the warm, creamy
whiteness of her face seemed to glow now as if with hidden fire.
"Are you not ready for your ride?" she said, looking
at me with a certain reproach. "The horses will be round in less than
ten minutes. It is a splendid morning for a gallop. You are coming, too?"
she added, turning suddenly to Randall.
"I only waited for you to invite me," he said.
"Of course I shall come, with pleasure. But I thought," he added,
in a low tone, coming close to her side as he spoke, "that you arranged
to ride with Ronald Carleton this morning?"
"That is off," she replied, in a light tone. "Mr.
Carleton has, I believe, another engagement."
The balcony on which we were walking led round to one of
the entrances to the house; at this moment a groom was seen leading a smart
mare up to the door, and at the same instant Carleton ran down to steps,
and sprang lightly into the saddle.
"Where are you off to?" exclaimed Randall, bending
out of the balcony to speak to him. "Miss Farnham, Dr. Halifax, and
I are all going out immediately. Won't you join us?"
"Not this morning, I think," said Carleton, constraint
in his tone. He gathered up the reins, and the mare began to prance about.
"You are holding her too much on the curb," exclaimed
"Thanks, I think I know what I'm about," replied
Carleton, with evident temper. "Quiet, you brute, quiet," he
continued, vainly endeavouring to restrain the movements of the impatient
"I tell you, that mare won't stand the curb,"
shouted Randall. "Give her her head, and she'll do anything you ask
her. I know, for I've often ridden her."
"When I require a riding lesson from you, I'll inform
you of the fact," answered Carleton, in a sulky voice, which was rendered
almost ridiculous by the frantic movements of the mare, now thoroughly
Miss Farnham, who had been standing in the background, came
up at this juncture, and took her place conspicuously by Randall's side.
"Mr. Randall is right and you are wrong," she
exclaimed. "It is absolutely cruel to ride that mare on the curb."
Carleton looked up with a scowl, which anything but improved
him. He would not even glance at Miss Farnham, but his eyes flashed an
angry fire at his more fortunate rival.
"Of course, Randall is right," he exclaimed. "All
the odds are in his favour."
"Nonsense," retorted Randall, with heat.
"Come, come, gentlemen, pray don't quarrel on this
lovely morning," said Miss Farnham. "Mr. Carleton, I wish you
a pleasant ride."
She left the balcony as she spoke, and Randall and I immediately
followed her example.
We had a splendid ride over an extensive moorland country,
and returned to lunch in excellent spirits and in high good humour with
each other. Carleton had not yet come back, but his absence did not seem
to depress anyone, certainly not Miss Farnham, whose bright eyes and gay,
animated manner made her the life of the party. Randall was radiant in
the sunshine of her presence. She was confidential and almost affectionate
in her manner to him; and he undoubtedly looked, and was, at his best.
I could not help cordially liking him and thinking that
the pair were well matched. Notwithstanding Brabazon's words of the night
before, I had no doubt that Miss Farnham was sincerely attached to Randall,
and would tell him so presently.
I spent the greater part of the afternoon alone with my
host, and did not see the rest of the guests until we met at dinner. Carleton
had then returned. He sat between a red-haired girl and a very fat old
lady, and looked as distrait and bored as man well could. Randall,
on the other hand, was in his best form. His clothes sat well on him. He
was, undoubtedly, a handsome, striking-looking man.
I cannot describe Miss Farnham's dress. It was ethereal
in texture and suited her well. She was not seated in the neighbourhood
of either Randall or Carleton, but once or twice I noticed that her eyes
wandered down to their part of the table. For some reason, she was not
in such high spirits as she had been in the early part of the day. My neighbour,
a quiet, middle-aged spinster, began suddenly to talk to me about her.
"I see you are interested in Barbara Farnham,"
she began. "I am not the least surprised--you but follow the example
of all the other men who know her."
"Miss Farnham is a very beautiful girl," I replied.
Miss Derrick gave a short sigh.
"Yes," she replied, "Barbara has a beautiful
face. She is a fine creature too, although of course terribly spoilt."
"Have you known her long?" I asked.
"Yes; since she was a child. Of course you must notice,
Dr. Halifax, the state of matters. Barbara's conduct is more or less the
talk of the whole house. I presume from his manner that poor Mr. Carleton's
chances of success are quite over, and for my part I am sorry. He is not
rich, but he is a good fellow--he is devotedly attached to Barbara, and
his abilities are quite above the average. Yes, I am sorry for Mr. Carleton.
Barbara might have done worse than return his affection."
I did not feel inclined to pursue the subject any further
with this somewhat garrulous lady. After a pause, I remarked:--
"Miss Farnham looks tired, and does not seem in her
Miss Derrick shrugged her thin shoulders.
"What else can you expect?" she answered. "Barbara
is a creature of moods, She was quite exaltée all the morning;
now she will be correspondingly dull, until a fresh wave of excitement
raises her spirits."
At this moment the signal for the ladies to withdraw was
given. After their departure, Carleton and Randall found themselves sitting
close together. I noticed that neither man spoke to the other, and also
observed that after a time Carleton deliberately changed his seat for one
at a distant part of the table.
We did not sit long over wine, and when we came into the
drawing-room a lady was playing some classical music with precision and
sufficient brilliancy to attract several musical men to the vicinity of
the piano. Her place was quickly taken by the droll man of the party, who
entertained the company with comic songs. The evening dragged on in the
usual manner. For some unaccountable reason no one seemed quite in good
spirits. As for me, I found myself constantly looking in the direction
of the door. I heartily wished that either Carleton or Randall would come
in--I acknowledged to myself that the presence of one at least of these
gentlemen in the room would give me relief.
An hour and more passed away, however, and neither of them
appeared. I glanced towards Miss Farnham. She was standing near the piano,
idly playing with a large feather fan. I thought I read both solicitude
and expectation in her eyes.
The funny man was trolling out a sea-song to which a lively
chorus was attached. Brabazon came up and touched my arm.
"When that is over," he said, in a low voice,
"I will ask Barbara Farnham to sing."
"Can she sing?" I asked.
"Can she!" he reiterated. "Yes, she sings,"
he replied, emphatically. "Wait--you will hear her in a moment. Her
voice is the most absolutely sympathetic I have ever listened to."
Soon afterwards Miss Farnham went to the piano. She played
her own accompaniment. One grand sweep her hands seemed to take of the
instrument, as if they meant to embrace it, and then a voice, high, full,
sweet, magnificent in its volume of melody, rose on the air and seemed
to fill the room.
Brabazon was right. Barbara Farnham could sing. As the words
fell from her lips, there was no other sound in the listening room.
I jotted those words down afterwards from memory--they seemed
to me to be a fit prelude to the scene which was immediately to follow:--
** Thou hast filled me a golden cup With a drink
divine that glows, With the bloom that is flowing up From the
heart of the folded rose. The grapes in their amber glow, And
the strength of the blood-red wine All mingle and change and flow In
this golden cup of thine With the scent of the curling wine, With
the balm of the rose's breath--For the voice of love is thine And
thine is the Song of Death!
The voice of the singer sank low as she approached the end
of her song. The final words were in a minor key. I looked full at Miss
Farnham, and her dark eyes met mine. They were full of apprehension. A
kind of premonition of coming sorrow might well have filled her breast
from the look in their depths.
There was a noise and sense of confusion the outer drawing-room.
People stood back to make way for someone, and hurrying steps came quickly
towards the piano.
Miss Farnham sprang to her feet, the last notes of the song
arrested on her lips.
Carleton, an overcoat covering his evening dress, his hair
dishevelled, his eyes wild, had come hastily to her side.
"You will think that I have killed him, Barbara; but,
before God, it is not true!" he said in a hoarse whisper--then he
grasped my arm.
"Come, I want you," he said, and he dragged me,
as if he were a young fury, out of the room.
"What, in the name of Heaven, is the matter?"
I asked of him when we found ourselves in the hall.
"Randall has fallen over the cliff down by Porran's
field," he gasped. "I have found the--the body. Oh! no, no, what
am I saying? Not the body yet--not a body when I left it--it breathed--it
just breathed when I left. I tried to drag it up here, but it was too heavy.
Come at once,for the love of Heaven."
Other people had followed us out of the drawing-room. I
encountered a glance of fire from Miss Farnham's dark eyes--her face was
like death itself. Brabazon, in a tone full of authority, as befitted the
host, began to speak.
"Come!" he said. "Accident or no, there is
not a moment to be lost in trying to help the poor fellow. You will lead
us to the spot at once, Carleton. Come, Halifax; what a blessing that you
happen to be on the spot!"
"Get some brandy and something which we can improvise
into a litter or shutter," I exclaimed. "I am going to my room
to fetch my surgical case."
I ran upstairs. A moment or two later we were on our way
to the scene of the accident. Every man of the party accompanied us, and
several of the ladies. The foremost of the group was Miss Farnham herself.
She had hastily flung a shawl over her head, and the train of her rich
dinner dress was slung across her arm. She looked at Carleton, and with
a peremptory gesture seemed to invite him to come to her side. He did so,
and they rushed on--too quickly for many of the rest of the party to keep
up with them.
It was a bright, moonlight night, and we had scarcely any
need of the lantern which Brabazon was thoughtful enough to bring with
him. We had to go some distance to reach the spot where poor Randall was
lying, but by-and-by we found him stretched partly on his back, partly
rolled over on his left side, on a little strip of sand which gleamed cold
in the moonlight.
"Yes, it was here I left him," exclaimed Carleton.
He fell on his knees as he spoke and looked intently into the poor lad's
"Thank God!" he exclaimed, looking up at me, "he
can't be dead. I dragged him as far as this, and then left him lying on
his back. See, he has moved--he is partly on his side now!"
I motioned to Carleton to make way for me to approach. I
felt for the pulse in the limp and powerless wrist. I laid my hand on the
heart--then I gently raised the head, and felt along the region of the
"You will give him a little brandy," exclaimed
Brabazon; "here is the flask."
Miss Farnham took it out of Brabazon's hands, unscrewed
it, and began to pour some into the cup. As she did so, she knelt also
on the sand. I looked at her and felt that she would probably need the
stimulant which could avail nothing now to the dead.
"It is all over," I said; "he is dead, poor
As I spoke, I stretched out my hand and took the brandy
flask from Miss Farnham. She looked wildly round, glanced at Carleton,
gave a piercing cry, and fell forward over Randall's body. She had completely
lost consciousness. I laid her flat on the sand, and, applying some restoratives,
she quickly came to her senses.
The body of the dead man was lifted up and laid on some
boards which we had brought with us, and we returned slowly to the house.
Brabazon gave his arm to Miss Farnham, who truly needed it, for she staggered
as she walked. I looked round for Carleton. There was a wild expression
in his eyes, which made me anxious about him. I saw, too, that he wished
to linger behind the others.
"Come," I said, going up to him, "this has
given you a terrible shock; why, you are just as much overcome as Miss
I dragged his hand through my arm, and we followed in the
rear of the sad procession. All the way up to the house he did not speak,
nor did I trouble him with questions. I saw that his misery had made him
dumb for the time being--in short, he was in a stunned condition. I dreaded,
however, the return tide of strong emotion which must inevitably follow
this apparent calm. I guessed that Carleton was a man of strong sensibilities.
I could read character well---most men in my profession have much practice
in this art. The human eye tells a doctor a good deal. The lips may falter
out certain utterances, which the eyes will belie. I read truth and sincerity
in the honest eyes of this young man. He was intensely reserved--he was
jealous to a morbid degree--he in all probability possessed anything but
a good temper; nevertheless, his eyes were honest, and I felt certain that
he had nothing whatever to do with poor Randall's death. Nevertheless,
I knew well that appearances were strongly against him.
When we got to the house I turned to him and said, abruptly:--
"I should like to see you in Brabazon's smoking-room
in about half an hour."
He raised sullen eyes to my face.
"Come," I said, laying my hand on his shoulder,
"I tell you at once I do not believe that you killed that poor fellow,
but we must talk the matter over. I am anxious to be your friend. It is
absolutely necessary that you should confide in someone. I am as unbiased
in my views of the whole situation as man can be. Come and talk to me in
half an hour in the smoking-room."
He did not say a word, but I knew by the way in which he
suddenly grasped my hand that he would come.
The dead man was carried into the library, where he was
laid reverently on a table. Brabazon then had a consultation with me as
to the best means of breaking the news to Lord and Lady Hartmore. Poor
Randall was their only son; it was a terrible business altogether, and
Brabazon was naturally greatly distressed.
I asked after Miss Farnham. He told me that she had gone
straight to her room. His tone was scarcely sympathetic, and I looked at
him in wonder.
"I have no patience with her," he exclaimed. "She
has behaved very badly--this awful thing would not have occurred but for
her. She has driven poor Carleton----"
I put up my hand to arrest the words.
"Hush!" I exclaimed. "You surely don't?----"
He laughed aloud in his agitation.
"I surely do," he began. "There, Halifax,
we won't give the thing a name to-night. Of course, there must be a coroner's
"Yes," I replied.
"It is a terrible thing altogether," continued
Brabazon; "and to think of its happening here. And to Randall, of
all people--a man with his expectations. Well, it is a lesson which Miss
Farnham may well lay to heart."
We were standing together in the library--the hour was now
nearly midnight. The body of the dead man lay on the centre table covered
with a white sheet. There came a knock at the door, and to my dismay and
astonishment I saw Carleton enter the room.
"I heard voices, and guessed you would be here,"
he exclaimed. "I have recovered my nerves to a certain extent, and
wish to tell you, sir," looking at his host, "and you also, Dr.
Halifax, exactly what has occurred."
"Come into the smoking-room," said Brabazon, not
"No," answered the poor lad. "If you will
allow me, I will tell my story here. There is not much to tell, but what
there is had best be told in the presence of----" his lip trembled--he
could not get further words out. He sank suddenly into a chair, and covered
his white face with his shaking hands.
"We must humour him," I said, turning and I speaking
in a whisper to Brabazon--"and before God," I continued, impulsively,
"I believe he is as innocent as I am."
I drew forward a chair for myself as I spoke, but Brabazon
stood by the hearth.
Carleton began to speak almost directly--two emotion was
"I have loved Barbara Farnham for two years. At intervals
she has given me great encouragement, and I had fair hopes of winning her
until she met Randall in this house a fortnight ago. This morning I felt
desperate, and resolved to put my fortunes to the test. I asked her to
give me an interview after breakfast, as you doubtless noticed." He
paused, and looked at me--I nodded my head, and he continued: "We
went into the conservatory, and I--I spoke to her. I told her the naked
truth, perhaps a little too bluntly. I asked her if she really meant to--no,
I must not say what I did ask her. It is unfair--unfair to her. From her
manner and her words I plainly gathered that she preferred Randall to me,
and that I had no chance whatever of winning her. Perhaps I lost my temper--anyhow,
it was unmanly of me to say what I did. I accused her of valuing Randall's
position. I told her plainly that if Randall and I could change places,
I should be the favoured one. We had a disagreement; our interview was
full of pain, at least to me. When I left Miss Farnham the Evil One seemed
to enter into me, and I hated Randall as I never knew before that I could
hate anyone. I would not ride with the others, but went away by myself,
and the whole day has been a long agony to me.
"My hatred to Randall grew worse and worse, until its
vehemence half frightened me. We used to be good friends, too. After dinner
I felt that I could not bear a couple of conventional hours in the drawing-room,
and went out to nurse my misery in the open air. I had no idea that Randall
was also out. I went along by the shore, but mounted to the higher cliffs
on my way back. I intended to leave Penporran early to-morrow, and felt
impatient for the hour when I could get away from the loathsome sight of
my successful rival.
"As I was walking along by the edge of the cliffs,
and had just entered Porran's field, I felt my heart jump into my mouth,
for Randall was coming to meet me. He was about a hundred yards away when
I first saw him. He is a taller man than I, and he seemed to stand out
sharply between me and the sky. I knew by his attitude that he was smoking
a cigar. I stood still for a moment. I did not want to pass him. My heart
was full of torment, and I hated to meet him out there, with not a soul
to stand between us. You know that part of the cliff, Mr. Brabazon? Randall
had just come to that portion of it which is railed in to keep the cattle
from tumbling over. I don't know what possessed him to take the outside
path, which is very narrow and slippery. He did so, however; and now, for
the first time, he must have noticed me. I was within fifty yards of him,
coming also along the edge of the cliff. He stood stock still, as if something
or somebody had shot him. I thought he was about to shout to me, but instead
of doing so, he threw up one hand and clutched his brow. The next instant
he began to sway from side to side, and before I could approach him, he
had fallen over the cliff, sheer down that awful height!
"My absolute surprise stunned me for a moment--then
I ran up to the spot where he had fallen, and throwing myself on my face
and hands, looked over the cliff, in the hopes that he might have clung
on to something. The moon was bright, but I could not see him. Looking
down from that height made me dizzy, and I saw there was nothing for it
but to retrace my steps as fast as possible to the shore. I ran quickly,
and was breathless when I got up to him. He was lying on his back, with
his arms stretched out--some blood was oozing from his mouth. I wiped it
away and called to him, and putting my arms under his head, tried to lift
him. He moaned and moved faintly. I felt his limbs--they seemed all right.
I had a wild hope that he was only stunned, and tried to drag him along
the shore. He was too heavy for me, however, and I feared that I was only
injuring him in my attempt to get him back to the house. I laid him as
easily as I could on a piece of sand above high-water mark, and then ran
back to Penporran. It was on my way back that the awful idea first occurred
to me that Barbara would think I had killed him. I seemed to see all the
circumstances of his terrible death with preternatural clearness, and I
felt sure that the gravest suspicion would attach to me. I have come to
this room now to tell you both, before Heaven, and in the presence of the
dead man, the solemn truth. Of course, I cannot compel you to believe me."
Carleton stood up as he uttered these last words. His attitude
was very manly, and the look on his face was at once straightforward and
quiet. I liked him better than I thought I ever could have liked him. I
felt deep sympathy for him, and looked at Brabazon, expecting him to share
my sentiments. To my surprise, however, I saw by the expression round his
lips that he was not favourably impressed by Carleton, and that his feelings
towards him were the reverse of sympathetic.
Carleton looked full at him, expecting him to speak. When
he did not, the poor fellow repeated his last remark, a faint quaver perceptible
in his voice:--
"Of course, I cannot compel you to believe me."
"Thank you for coming to see us," said Brabazon
then; "you have been the first to give name to a suspicion which will,
doubtless, be harboured by more than one person who has known all the circumstances
of this unhappy case. I sincerely pity you, Carleton, but I prefer to keep
my judgment in abeyance for the time being. Halifax will tell you that
a coroner's inquest will be necessary. At the inquest the whole matter
will be gone carefully into. You may be certain that all possible justice
will be done you."
"Justice!" exclaimed Carleton, a faint smile playing
for an instant round his lips. "Justice, when there were no witnesses!
Oh, that the dead could speak!" He turned abruptly and prepared to
leave the room.
Brabazon called after him.
"You must give me your word of honour that you will
not attempt to leave Penporran before the inquest."
"You may rest assured on that point," said Carleton.
He left the room. The restraint he was putting upon himself
gave a dignity to his whole bearing which impressed me much.
"I fully believe in that poor fellow's innocence,"
I said, as soon as the door had closed behind him. Brabazon gave me a keen
"You are a good judge of character," he said,
after a pause; "still, I prefer to keep my judgment in abeyance."
Shortly afterwards he bade me good-night, and I retired
to my own room. I closed the door and stood by the hearth, where the ashes
of the fire, which had been lit some hours previous and had long ago burnt
itself out, were to be seen.
I felt too restless to go to bed, and wished the morning
would come. I was standing so, thinking over all the circumstances which
had turned our gay party into one of mourning, when I heard a footfall
outside my door. I thought it might possibly be Carleton, and going across
the room, I opened the door and went out into the corridor. To my astonishment,
Miss Farnham, still wearing her gay evening dress, stood before me.
"I was thinking of knocking at your door," she
said, "but had scarcely courage to do so. I want to speak to you."
"I will see you in the morning," I said.
"It is morning already," she replied. "This
is no time for conventionality, Dr. Halifax; I wish to speak to you now.
You cannot sleep, and no more can I. Please follow me to Mrs. Brabazon's
sitting-room, where a fire and a lamp are still burning."
She led the way, and I obeyed her without a word.
"Now tell me the truth," she said, the moment
we found ourselves in the room. "Will Mr. Carleton be accused of having
murdered poor Arthur Randall?"
"There is no doubt that grave suspicion will attach
to him," I answered, without hesitation.
"But you think him innocent?" she queried.
"I think him innocent. As innocent as you or I."
"Oh, don't speak of me," she said, sinking suddenly
on the sofa. "Pray don't mention my innocence. But for me this tragedy
would never have happened."
I looked long at her before I replied.
"In one sense you may be right," I answered; "it
is quite possible that but for you Carleton would not have witnessed Randall's
death. Still, you must not be unfair to yourself--you are not accountable
for the sudden brain seizure which must have caused Randall to reel and
fall over the cliff."
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Carleton has just described the accident to Brabazon
and me," I answered. "He saw Randall sway and fall over the cliff.
I believe his story, although I fear few people will agree with me."
"I don't know the story," she said, faintly. "Pray
tell it to me."
I did so in a few words.
"You believe all this?" she said, with intense
eagerness, when I had done speaking.
"How do you account for Mr. Randall's death?"
I could not help sighing deeply.
"You allude now to the difficulty of the position,"
I said. "At the present moment I cannot account for Randall's death.
A man in perfect health is not often attacked with such violent vertigo
as to cause him to lose the power of keeping himself upright." Then
I paused--I was thinking deeply. "Undoubtedly there have been such
cases," I said, "but they are rare."
I remembered, as I spoke, Randall's change of colour and
the sudden pressure of his hand to his head that morning at breakfast.
"You have seen a good deal of the poor fellow,"
I said. "Did he ever at any time complain of peculiar symptoms to
you? Did you ever notice anything about him which would lead you not to
suppose him in perfect health?"
"Never," she said at once, emphatically. "He
always seemed to me to be the perfect embodiment of the rudest health and
"The death is very mysterious," I said; "and
while I personally believe poor Carleton's story, I fear matters will go
hard with him."
I was about to leave the room, as I did not imagine Miss
Farnham could have anything further to say to me, when she exclaimed, impulsively,
her eyes filled with the most terrible anguish, her face turning white
as death: "If, indeed, this thing is true, and if Ronald Carleton
has to suffer in consequence of Mr. Randall's death, I shall put an end
to my own life."
"Nonsense!" I said, sharply. "You must not
speak in that wild way. You know you don't mean a word that you say."
"You mistake me," she replied. "I exaggerate
nothing. I state a simple fact when I tell you that if Ronald Carleton
suffers for this, my remorse will be greater than I can bear. I have behaved
badly to him."
"Yes, God knows you have!" I interrupted. I felt
angry with her, and did not want to spare her at that moment. "You
have behaved badly to as honest and true-hearted a man as ever breathed.
When will beautiful women like you learn that men's hearts are not mere
balls to be kicked here and there?"
"Oh, yes, you are right to abuse me," she said.
"Go on, go on. I am so unhappy that nothing you can say will add to
my pain. My cup of misery is full. I have ruined the man I love."
"The man you love?" I queried, looking at her
in astonishment. "Nay, you must not be too hard on yourself. You surely
are not accountable for Randall's tragic end. If Carleton's story is true,
he died from sudden vertigo. You were kind to him while he lived--you have
nothing to reproach yourself with on that score."
"Yes, I have," she answered, with sudden passion.
"I deceived him. I made him think that I loved him; in reality, he
was nothing to me. It is Ronald Carleton whom I love."
"Then, in the name of the Evil One----" I began.
"Yes, you may well quote the Evil One," she retorted.
"I think he has been about the house all day. I think he entered into
me this morning when poor Ronald spoke to me. The Evil One held me back
then from telling him what I really thought. I gave him to understand that
I--I hated him, and all the time I loved him--I loved him then--I love
him now--I shall love him for ever! The dead man is nothing to me: less
She began to walk up and down the room fever spots burnt
on her cheeks; her eyes looked wild; she clenched her right hand.
"What can I do for you?" I asked, after a pause.
"You have been good enough to confide in me: you must have done so
for a reason."
She stopped her restless walk and came close to me.
"I have heard of you before, Dr. Halifax," she
said. "This is not the first time you have been asked to help people
in trouble. I want you to help me--will you help me?"
"With all my power, if I can."
"You can. Find out what killed Mr. Randall. Save Ronald
"I wish I could," I said, reflectively.
"Oh, it won't be difficult," she replied.
I looked at her in surprise.
"What can you mean?" I asked.
To my amazement, she flung herself on her knees at my feet.
"You can invent something," she said, clasping
my hand and pressing it frantically between both her own. "Oh, it
would not be a crime--and it would save a life--two lives. Say you saw
symptoms of apoplexy. Say--oh, you will know what to say--and you are a
great doctor, and you will be believed."
"Get up," I said, sternly; "I will forgive
your wild words, for circumstances have excited you so much that you do
not quite know what you are saying. Believe me that nothing would give
me more sincere satisfaction than to be able to discover the real cause
of poor Randall's death. But you mistake your man utterly when you make
the suggestion you do. Now I must leave you. It is almost morning, and
I have promised to meet Brabazon downstairs at an early hour."
I went back to my own room, where I sat in anxious thought
until the time which Brabazon had appointed for us to meet arrived. I then
went down to the smoking-room, where I found him.
He looked harassed and ill--no wonder. The subject we had
met to discuss was how best the news of their only son's death was to be
broken to Lord and Lady Hartmore. The Hartmores' place was situated about
a hundred miles away. Brabazon said that there was nothing whatever for
it but to telegraph the unhappy circumstance to them.
"And I fear doing so very much," he added, "for
Hartmore is not strong: he has a rather dangerous heart affection."
"Don't telegraph," I said, impulsively; "I
will go and see them."
"You!" exclaimed Brabazon. "That would be
an immense relief. You will know how to break the news in the least startling
way. I should recommend you to see Lady Hartmore if possible first--she
is a strong-minded woman, and has a fine character. But, at best, the shock
will be terrible--it is good of you, Halifax, to undertake so fearful a
"Not at all," I replied. "Will you come with
"I fear I cannot. My wife is very much shaken, and
I ought not to leave her with a house full of people."
"I suppose most of your guests will leave to-day?"
"Probably; still, for the time being, they are here.
Then there is the inquest, which will most likely take place to-day."
"I was going to propose," I said, "that a
post-mortem examination should precede the inquest."
Brabazon raised his brows--he looked annoyed.
"Is that necessary?" he asked--"a post-mortem
examination will only add needlessly to the sufferings of the unfortunate
parents. In this case, surely, the cause of death is clearly defined--fracture
of the skull?"
"The cause of death is clearly defined,"
I answered, "but not the cause of the sudden vertigo."
"The sudden vertigo, according to Carleton's account,"
corrected Brabazon. He did not say anything further for a moment--nor did
I. After a pause, he continued: "As you are good enough to say you
will go to Trigonal, I will ask you to take poor Randall's last letter
with you. I went into his room yesterday evening, and found one directed
to his mother on the writing-table. She will prize it, of course. Now I
had better look up your train."
He did so, and half an hour afterwards I was driving as
fast as a pair of horses could take me to-the nearest railway station.
I caught an early train to Trigonal, and arrived there between nine and
ten that morning. A cab conveyed me to the castle, which stood on a little
eminence above the sleepy-looking town.
My errand was, in truth, a gloomy one. During the journey
I had made up my mind for every reason to see Lady Hartmore first. When
the servant opened the door, I asked for her, and giving the man my card,
told him that I wished to see his mistress alone on a matter of urgent
importance. I was shown into a morning-room, and in a very short time Lady
Hartmore came in. She was a tall, fine-looking woman, with a likeness to
her dead son about her kindly, well-opened eyes and pleasant mouth.
My name and the message I had sent to her by the servant
naturally startled her. She gave me a keen glance when she entered the
room, which I returned with interest. I saw at once that her heart was
strong enough, her nature brave enough, to stand the full weight of the
terrible calamity without breaking down.
"I have come to see you on a most painful matter,"
I began at once. "I am just now visiting the Brabazons at Penporran."
"Then it is something about my son," she exclaimed,
instantly. Her face grew very pale; she pressed her hand to her left side,
and looked hurriedly towards the door.
"Lord Hartmore may come in, if you are not quick,"
she said. "He was in the breakfast-room when the servant brought me
your card and message. Please tell what you have got to say at once--I
can bear a shock, but he cannot."
Poor wife! poor mother! Her eyes looked at me with dumb
entreaty, while her lips uttered the words of courage.
"Women like you, Lady Hartmore," I could not help
uttering, impulsively, "are always brave. It is my terrible mission
to inflict a great blow upon you--your son has met with an accident."
"Is he dead?" she asked. She came close to me
as she spoke, her voice had sunk to a hoarse whisper.
" He is dead," I replied, instantly; "sit
I motioned her to a chair--she obeyed me.
"Lock the door," she said; "Lord Hartmore
must not--must not know of this--quite yet."
I did what she asked me, and then went and stood with my
back to her in one of the windows.
As I did so I felt in my pocket for the letter which Brabazon
was to have given me. It was not there. I then remembered that in the excitement
of my getting off in time to catch the train we must both have forgotten
After a time Lady Hartmore's voice, sounding hollow and
low, reached my ears.
"Tell me the particulars," she said.
I did so. I sat down near her and told them as briefly as
possible. She listened attentively. When I had finished she said in a puzzled
"I cannot account for the sudden giddiness. Arthur
always had excellent health." Then she looked me full in the face.
"Do you believe the story, Dr. Halifax?"
I thought for a moment, then I said, emphatically:--
"Yes, I believe it."
She did not speak at all for the best part of a moment.
Then she gave a heavy sigh.
"After all," she said, "the thing that affects
us is the death. He is dead. The inevitable has overtaken him. It scarcely
matters how it happened--at least not now--not to me."
"Pardon me," I interrupted, "it matters a
great deal how it happened. The cause of your son's death will be a question
of anxious investigation--of the gravest and most searching inquiries.
I fully believe the story which Carleton told us last night, but there
are others who will--who must--suspect him of foul play. Is it possible,
Lady Hartmore--is it in any way within the province of woman, so completely
to forget herself in that moment of terrible anguish as to live for another?
You can do nothing now for the dead, but you can do much, very much, for
"You mean for my husband?" she inquired.
"Not alone for your husband--not even can do much for
the man who will be accused of the crime of having murdered your son. I
can only repeat my firm conviction of his innocence, but the grounds for
my belief, at present, go for nothing; circumstances prove a grave case
against him. Your son, to all appearance, was much attached to the girl
whom Carleton loved and loves. Yesterday morning Carleton received what
he considered a final rejection from Miss Farnham. She spent the day with
your son; she gave him every encouragement. Carleton was morose, gloomy,
jealous. His jealousy and gloom were noticed by every member of our party.
Carleton and your son both absented themselves from the drawing-room after
dinner. It was during that time that the accident, which deprived your
son of his life, took place. There will, of course, be a coroner's inquest.
At the inquest the circumstances which I have just alluded to will come
out, and there is no question but that Carleton will be arrested on suspicion
and sent to trial--unless, indeed, you will help me."
"How can I help you?" she asked. "What am
I to do? You ask me to share your belief, which seems to me to be based
on nothing. Suppose I cannot share it?"
I was silent for a moment.
"I will tell you what I want you to do," I said
then. "I want you to join me in insisting on having a post-mortem
She gave me a glance of horror.
"Why?" she asked. "Why must the sleep of
the dead be disturbed?"
Before I could answer her, Lord Hartmore's voice was heard
at the door.
She was a brave woman, but at the sound of her husband's
voice her courage for a moment deserted her.
"How--how can I break it to him?" she gasped.
"Oh, please, don't leave me."
"No," I said, "I will stay with you."
I unlocked the door myself, and a white-headed, feeble-looking
man came querulously into the room.
His wife rose to meet him. She put her arms round him and
some way, somehow, conveyed the terrible tidings to his mind. I need scarcely
linger over the hour that followed. At the end of that time I was accompanying
the Hartmores back to Penporran. During the journey my companions were
almost completely silent. Lady Hartmore kept her veil down, and, I felt
sure, wished to avoid speaking to me. The old lord was completely prostrated
with grief. Not by word or hint had either parent given me the slightest
clue by which I could insist on a post-mortem examination. Their son had
evidently enjoyed perfect health during his brief life. I saw that circumstances
were very black against Carleton.
It was evening when we reached Penporran. Lord and Lady
Hartmore went at once to a private suite of rooms which had been got ready
for their reception. As soon as I could I sought an interview with Brabazon.
"Most of our visitors have left us," he said.
"But Miss Farnham and, of course, Carleton, remain. The inquest is
to take place in the library at an early hour to-morrow."
I was silent for a moment, then I said, abruptly:--
"Even at the risk of annoying you, Brabazon, I must
repeat my strong desire that a post-mortem should precede the coroner's
"Have you spoken to the Hartmores on the subject?"
I told him that I had mentioned my wish to Lady Hartmore.
"And what did she say?" he asked.
"She shrank from the idea with horror," I was
obliged to confess.
"You can scarcely blame her," said Brabazon. "Why
should the poor fellow's body be unnecessarily disturbed? The fact is,
I have the greatest faith in your judgment, Halifax, but I think in the
present instance you carry your sympathy for Ronald Carleton too far. The
cause of death in the case of poor Randall was so absolutely apparent,
that I do not think you will get the coroner to consent to a post-mortem."
"There is one thing that occurred to me," I said:
"if Randall met his death by violence, there would be some traces
of a struggle at the spot where he fell over. Randall would not tamely
submit to murder--he was a big man and muscular. Has the path along the
cliff been carefully searched?"
"Yes," replied Brabazon, "and there is no
trace anywhere of a struggle. A little blood has been discovered on a sharp
point of rock just where Carleton described the fall to have taken place.
The marks of a heavy body being dragged along the sands above high-water
mark have also been seen. All these evidences are, of course, I am bound
to say, quite consistent with Carleton's story. The blood on the rock indicates
also the exact spot of the accident."
"That was where the vault of the skull was broken,"
I said. "By the way, you forgot to give me poor Randall's letter to
his mother. Doubtless Lady Hartmore would like to have it without a moment's
Brabazon started, and put his hand in his pocket.
"I put the letter here," he said, "intending
to give it to you as you were starting; of course, I forgot it. Here it
is: no, though, there is nothing in my pocket. Surely I can't have dropped
it anywhere. I know I put it here this morning. I rushed up to the poor
fellow's room to fetch it just when the brougham was coming round."
"You did not give it to me," I said; "that
letter ought to be found: it may be of the utmost importance. Was that
the coat you wore this morning?"
"Yes, I have not been out of it all day; you don't
know what a rush and confusion the whole place has been in."
"You will look for the letter, won't you, Brabazon?
I cannot quite tell you why, but it will give me a sense of relief to know
that it has been found before the inquest takes place to-morrow morning"
Soon afterwards we parted. I went into one of the morning-rooms,
where I found Mrs. Brabazon. I made inquiries with regard to Carleton and
"I have not seen either of them," replied my hostess.
"I believe Mr. Carleton has spent the day in his room, and a servant
told me that Barbara Farnham was not well. I hear she has not risen at
"Poor girl!" I ejaculated.
Mrs. Brabazon looked at me with languid interest--she was
a very lethargic person.
"Yes," she ejaculated,after a pause--"this
tragedy will be a sad blow to Barbara. She is as ambitious as she is handsome.
She would have made a regal-looking Lady Hartmore."
I said nothing further--I could not betray the poor girl's
secret, nor let Mrs. Brabazon know what a small place high position and
greatness occupied just now in Miss Farnham's thoughts.
Just before the inquest the next morning, I asked Brabazon
if the missing letter had been found.
"No," he said---"I cannot tell you how vexed
I am about it. Every conceivable hole and corner both in the house and
out has been searched, but no trace of the letter has been discovered.
What I fear is that when I was down on the shore yesterday making investigations,
it may have dropped out of my pocket and been washed away with the incoming
tide. I cannot think of any other cause for its absolute disappearance.
I beg of you, Halifax, not to say anything to Lady Hartmore about it for
"Of course not," I answered, in some surprise
at the request.
I then ran upstairs. I must, of course, be present at the
inquest, but I had still a moment at my disposal. I went boldly to Miss
Farnham's door and knocked. After a very brief pause she opened it herself
and stood before me. She was fully dressed. Her face was of a dead white--all
the beautiful warmth of colour had fled.
"I am told I must be present at the inquest,"
she said. "Is it time for me to go downstairs? Have you come to fetch
me?" She shuddered visibly as she spoke.
"I have come to ask you to help me," I said, eagerly.
"I will manage to account for your absence in the library. Put on
your hat; I want you to go out at once."
"What do you mean?" she asked, in astonishment.
"I will tell you," I said. "On the day of
his death Randall wrote a letter to his mother. That letter has been lost.
Brabazon had it in his pocket and has dropped it--no one knows where. There
is no saying, Miss Farnham, what important evidence that letter may contain.
I am sure it is not in the house. Brabazon believes that he dropped it
when exploring the coast yesterday. Will you go at once and look for it?
The moment you discover it, bring it to the library. Now, be as quick as
ever you can."
"Yes," she replied,the soul in her eyes leaping
up with a sudden renewed joy. She turned, pinned a hat on her head, wrapped
a shawl round her, and ran downstairs. Her woman's wit grasped the whole
situation at a glance. I went to the library, feeling assured that if poor
Randall's letter were still in existence, Miss Farnham would find it.
There were present at the inquest Lady Hartmore, Brabazon
and his wife, Carleton, and two gentlemen who had not yet left the house.
Also, of course, the coroner and the jury. The moment I entered the room
I glanced at the coroner; I had not seen him before. He was a little old
gentleman, with a somewhat irascible expression of face, and a testy manner.
I looked from him to poor Carleton, whom I had not seen since the time
when he told his story in this room. The body of the dead man had been
placed in a shell, and still occupied the central table of the library.
Lady Hartmore sat near it. A sheet covered the face of the dead. Once I
saw her raise her hand and touch the sheet reverently. She had the attitude
of one who was protecting the body from intended violence. Her position
and the look on her face reminded me of Rispah.
I looked again from her to Carleton. It was necessary for
me to glance at the poor fellow, and to notice the despair on his face,
to enable me to go up to the coroner, and urge upon him the necessity of
a post-mortem preceding the inquest. He did not take my suggestion kindly.
"The cause of death is abundantly evident," he
said, with irritation. "I cannot counsel a post-mortem examination."
"And I will not hear of it," said Lady Hartmore,
looking at me with eyes full of reproach.
"Pray say nothing more about it," exclaimed Carleton.
I bowed, and sat down.
The inquest was conducted with extreme care, but soon Miss
Farnham's presence was found necessary, and her absence commented upon.
I saw Carleton start when her name was mentioned, and a look of extreme
distress filled his eyes.
"I will go and find her," said Mrs. Brabazon,
leaving the room.
She returned in a moment to say that Miss Farnham was not
in her room, and that no one seemed to know anything about her.
"I have sent several servants into the grounds to look
for her," she said.
As Miss Farnham was an important witness, having spent almost
the entire day previous to his death with poor Randall, proceedings were
delayed during her absence.
The case, however, seemed as black as could be against Carleton,
and I had not the least doubt that the coroner would order a warrant to
be issued for his arrest on suspicion.
My one last hope now hung on Miss Farnham's being able to
find the missing letter, and then on the letter containing evidence which
would give a medical cause for poor Randall's extraordinary death.
I seldom found myself in a more torturing position than
during the time of this inquest. Relief, however, was at hand. I heard
the sound of light and quickly moving feet in the hall. The door of the
library was opened, not softly and with reverent hush, but with the eager,
impetuous movement of someone in hot haste. Miss Farnham came into the
room with a wild colour in her cheeks and a wild, bright light in her eyes.
Her skirts were draggled and wet, her hair was loosened and fell over her
shoulders--she had cast away both hat and shawl.
"There," she said, going straight up to Lady Hartmore;
"there's your letter--the last letter your son ever wrote to you.
It was lost, or supposed to be lost, but I found it. I walked along the
cliff, close to the edge--very close. There is a part where the cliff is
undermined. I lay on my face and hands and looked over. I saw, far below
me, a tiny ledge of rock: there was a bush growing there, and, sticking
in the bush, something white---it might be a useless rag or a piece of
torn paper, or it might be a letter of importance. The tide was coming
in fast; still, I thought that I had time. I put wings to my feet and rushed
down a narrow path which led to the beach below. The tide had already come
up and was wetting the base of the rock above which the bush which contained
the white paper stood.
"I waded through the water and climbed the cliff and
got the paper. I scrambled down again. When I came back the water was up
to my knees. I crossed it safely, and mounted to the higher cliff again.
Then, for the first time, I examined my prize. Yes, it was a letter--it
was open. I don't know what had become of its covering. I sat on the grass
and I read it--yes, I read every word. Here it is now, and you can read
it. Read it aloud, please, for it is important--it explains--it saves!
Ronald, it saves you!" Here the excited girl paused in her eager narrative,
and turned her full gaze upon Carleton, who was bending forward to listen
to her. "It saves you," she repeated; "it exonerates you
The commotion and interest which Miss Farnham's words and
manner excited can be better felt than described. Lady Hartmore stood up
and confronted the breathless girl. She held out her hand and clutched
the letter, which was torn and dirty from its long exposure to wind and
weather. She held it close and looked at it. It was in the beloved writing
of the dead. The dead man was her only son--the letter was addressed to
her, his mother. It contained a last message from the brain now silent--from
the heart now still.
Tears filled her eyes.
"I must read this letter in private," she faltered.
"This last letter of my boy's is too sacred for anyone but his mother
to hear--I must read it alone."
"No," interrupted Miss Farnham, "it contains
important information. I will call upon the coroner to insist on its being
read aloud. I risked my life to get it. Another life hangs upon the information
it contains. Dr. Halifax, you are a medical man--will you insist on this
letter being read aloud?"
I went up to Lady Hartmore and said something to her in
a low voice. She listened attentively--she considered my words. After a
pause she put the letter into my hands.
"If it must be, it must," she said. "This
is the last drop in the bitterness of my cup."
She sat down, and flinging out her two arms, stretched them
over the body of the dead man. Once more her attitude and manner reminded
me of Rispah.
Miss Farnham stood close to Lady Hartmore. She forgot her
dishevelled hair, her disordered appearance. All her soul filled the eyes
which she raised expectantly to my face.
I glanced hurriedly through the letter--then I spoke.
"There is a good deal in this sheet of paper which
is strictly private," I said, "and need not be read for the benefit
of the coroner and the jury; but there are some sentences referring to
the state of Mr. Randall's health which are, as Miss Farnham remarked,
of the utmost importance. I will now proceed to read that portion of the
I did so in a loud, clear voice.
These were poor Randall's words:--
"As far as I can tell, I am in perfect health, but
for the last week or so, I have been suffering at intervals from a strange
form of giddiness. I feel as though I were made to turn round and round,
or against my will impelled to go forwards, or backwards, or to one side.
Sometimes the giddiness takes another form--I fancy that objects are revolving
round me. I am perfectly conscious all the time, but the giddiness is generally
accompanied by a distinct sensation of nausea. Very often the act of closing
my eyes removes the vertigo completely for the time being. When the attack
goes off I feel perfectly well, only I fancy I am suffering from continued
deafness in my right ear. I don't know why I am impelled to tell you this--it
is not worth making a fuss over. If I were to consult a medical man, he
would probably set it down to a form of indigestion. I had a slight attack
this morning at breakfast. If it continues or gets worse, I will take the
opportunity of consulting a London doctor who happens to be in the house."
I did not read any more, but folding up the letter returned
it to Lady Hartmore. Both Carleton and Miss Farnham had approached each
other in their excitement.
I looked beyond them to the coroner.
"I am sure," I said, "that I now express
Lady Hartmore's sentiments as well as my own, when I demand that this inquest
be adjourned until a post-mortem examination has been made on the body
of the dead man. The symptoms which he describes in the letter which I
have just read aloud distinctly point to a disease of the inner ear, well
known to the medical faculty, although not of common occurrence. I will
ask the coroner to take immediate steps to get the services of two independent
doctors to conduct the post-mortem, at which I should wish to be present."
My words were followed by a slight pause--the coroner then
agreed to my wishes, and the inquest was adjourned.
The post-mortem took place on the afternoon of that same
day, and the results amply accounted for the strange symptoms which poor
Randall had so faithfully described in his last letter to his mother. On
the right side of that portion of the base of the skull which contains
the delicate organs of hearing, we found a small, bony excrescence growing
down into the labyrinth or inner ear. This, though small, was undoubtedly
the cause of the terrible attacks of vertigo which the poor fellow complained
of, and in one of which he met with his tragic death.
The coroner's inquest was resumed on the following day,
and, of course, Carleton was abundantly exonerated.
It was two years afterwards, however, before I accidentally
saw in the Times the announcement of his marriage with Miss Farnham.