CAPTAIN WRAGGE stopped nearly midway in the one little row of houses composing Rosemary Lane, and let himself and his guest in at the door of his lodgings with his own key. As they entered the passage, a care-worn woman in a widow's cap made her appearance with a candle. "My niece," said the captain, presenting Magdalen; "my niece on a visit to York. She has kindly consented to occupy your empty bedroom. Consider it let, if you please, to my niece -- and be very particular in airing the sheets? Is Mrs. Wragge upstairs? Very good. You may lend me your candle. My dear girl, Mrs. Wragge's boudoir is on the first floor; Mrs. Wragge is visible. Allow me to show you the way up."
As he ascended the stairs first, the care-worn widow whispered, piteously, to Magdalen, "I hope you'll pay me, miss. Your uncle doesn't."
The captain threw open the door of the front room on the first floor, and disclosed a female figure, arrayed in a gown of tarnished amber-colored satin, seated solitary on a small chair, with dingy old gloves on its hands, with a tattered old book on its knees, and with one little bedroom candle by its side. The figure terminated at its upper extremity in a large, smooth, white round face -- like a moon -- encircled by a cap and green ribbons, and dimly irradiated by eyes of mild and faded blue, which looked straightforward into vacancy, and took not the smallest notice of Magdalen's appearance, on the opening of the door.
"Mrs. Wragge!" cried the captain, shouting at her as if she was fast asleep. "Mrs. Wragge!"
The lady of the faded blue eyes slowly rose to an apparently interminable height. When she had at last attained an upright position, she towered to a stature of two or three inches over six feet. Giants of both sexes are, by a wise dispensation of Providence, created, for the most part, gentle. If Mrs. Wragge and a lamb had been placed side by side, comparison, under those circumstances, would have exposed the lamb as a rank impostor.
"Tea, captain?" inquired Mrs. Wragge, looking submissively down at her husband, whose head, when he stood on tiptoe, barely reached her shoulder.
"Miss Vanstone, the younger," said the captain, presenting Magdalen. "Our fair relative, whom I have met by fortunate accident. Our guest for the night. Our guest!" reiterated the captain, shouting once more as if the tall lady was still fast asleep, in spite of the plain testimony of her own eyes to the contrary.
A smile expressed itself (in faint outline) on the large vacant space of Mrs. Wragge's countenance. "Oh?" she said, interrogatively. "Oh, indeed? Please, miss, will you sit down? I'm sorry -- no, I don't mean I'm sorry; I mean I'm glad -- " she stopped, and consulted her husband by a helpless look.
"Glad, of course!" shouted the captain.
"Glad, of course," echoed the giantess of the amber satin, more meekly than ever.
"Mrs. Wragge is not deaf," explained the captain. "She's only a little slow. Constitutionally torpid -- if I may use the expression. I am merely loud with her (and I beg you will honor me by being loud, too) as a necessary stimulant to her ideas. Shout at her -- and her mind comes up to time. Speak to her -- and she drifts miles away from you directly. Mrs. Wragge!"
Mrs. Wragge instantly acknowledged the stimulant. "Tea, captain?" she inquired, for the second time.
"Put your cap straight!" shouted her husband. "I beg ten thousand pardons," he resumed, again addressing himself to Magdalen. "The sad truth is, I am a martyr to my own sense of order. All untidiness, all want of system and regularity, cause me the acutest irritation. My attention is distracted, my composure is upset; I can't rest till things are set straight again. Externally speaking, Mrs. Wragge is, to my infinite regret, the crookedest woman I ever met with. More to the right!" shouted the captain, as Mrs. Wragge, like a well-trained child, presented herself with her revised head-dress for her husband's inspection.
Mrs. Wragge immediately pulled the cap to the left. Magdalen rose, and set it right for her. The moon-face of the giantess brightened for the first time. She looked admiringly at Magdalen's cloak and bonnet. "Do you like dress, miss?" she asked, suddenly, in a confidential whisper. "I do."
"Show Miss Vanstone her room," said the captain, looking as if the whole house belonged to him. "The spare-room, the landlady's spare-room, on the third floor front. Offer Miss Vanstone all articles connected with the toilet of which she may stand in need. She has no luggage with her. Supply the deficiency, and then come back and make tea."
Mrs. Wragge acknowledged the receipt of these lofty directions by a look of placid bewilderment, and led the way out of the room; Magdalen following her, with a candle presented by the attentive captain. As soon as they were alone on the landing outside, Mrs. Wragge raised the tattered old book which she had been reading when Magdalen was first presented to her, and which she had never let out of her hand since, and slowly tapped herself on the forehead with it. "Oh, my poor head!" said the tall lady, in meek soliloquy; "it's Buzzing again worse than ever!"
"Buzzing?" repeated Magdalen, in the utmost astonishment.
Mrs. Wragge ascended the stairs, without offering any explanation, stopped at one of the rooms on the second floor, and led the way in.
"This is not the third floor," said Magdalen. "This is not my room, surely?"
"Wait a bit," pleaded Mrs. Wragge. "Wait a bit, miss, before we go up any higher. I've got the Buzzing in my head worse than ever. Please wait for me till I'm a little better again."
"Shall I ask for help?" inquired Magdalen. "Shall I call the landlady?"
"Help?" echoed Mrs. Wragge. "Bless you, I don't want help! I'm used to it. I've had the Buzzing in my head, off and on -- how many years?" She stopped, reflected, lost herself, and suddenly tried a question in despair. "Have you ever been at Darch's Dining-rooms in London?" she asked, with an appearance of the deepest interest.
"No," replied Magdalen, wondering at the strange inquiry.
"That's where the Buzzing in my head first began," said Mrs. Wragge, following the new clew with the deepest attention and anxiety. "I was employed to wait on the gentlemen at Darch's Dining-rooms -- I was. The gentlemen all came together; the gentlemen were all hungry together; the gentlemen all gave their orders together -- " She stopped, and tapped her head again, despondently, with the tattered old book.
"And you had to keep all their orders in your memory, separate one from the other?" suggested Magdalen, helping her out. "And th e trying to do that confused you?"
"Tha t's it!" said Mrs. Wragge, becoming violently excited in a moment. "Boiled pork and greens and pease-pudding, for Number One. Stewed beef and carrots and gooseberry tart, for Number Two. Cut of mutton, and quick about it, well done, and plenty of fat, for Number Three. Codfish and parsnips, two chops to follow, hot-and-hot, or I'll be the death of you, for Number Four. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Carrots and gooseberry tart -- pease-pudding and plenty of fat -- pork and beef and mutton, and cut 'em all, and quick about it -- stout for one, and ale for t'other -- and stale bread here, and new bread there -- and this gentleman likes cheese, and that gentleman doesn't -- Matilda, Tilda, Tilda, Tilda, fifty times over, till I didn't know my own name again -- oh lord! oh lord!! oh lord!!! all together, all at the same time, all out of temper, all buzzing in my poor head like forty thousand million bees -- don't tell the captain! don't tell the captain!" The unfortunate creature dropped the tattered old book, and beat both her hands on her head, with a look of blank terror fixed on the door.
"Hush! hush!" said Magdalen. "The captain hasn't heard you. I know what is the matter with your head now. Let me cool it."
She dipped a towel in water, and pressed it on the hot and helpless head which Mrs. Wragge submitted to her with the docility of a sick child.
"What a pretty hand you've got!" said the poor creature, feeling the relief of the coolness and taking Magdalen's hand, admiringly, in her own. "How soft and white it is! I try to be a lady; I always keep my gloves on -- but I can't get my hands like yours. I'm nicely dressed, though, ain't I? I like dress; it's a comfort to me. I'm always happy when I'm looking at my things. I say -- you won't be angry with me? -- I should so like to try your bonnet on."
Magdalen humored her, with the ready compassion of the young. She stood smiling and nodding at herself in the glass, with the bonnet perched on the top of her head. "I had one as pretty as this, once," she said -- "only it was white, not black. I wore it when the captain married me."
"Where did you meet with him?" asked Magdalen, putting the question as a chance means of increasing her scanty stock of information on the subject of Captain Wragge.
"At the Dining-rooms," said Mrs. Wragge. "He was the hungriest and the loudest to wait upon of the lot of 'em. I made more mistakes with him than I did with all the rest of them put together. He used to swear -- oh, didn't he use to swear! When he left off swearing at me he married me. There was others wanted me besides him. Bless you, I had my pick. Why not? When you have a trifle of money left you that you didn't expect, if that don't make a lady of you, what does? Isn't a lady to have her pick? I had my trifle of money, and I had my pick, and I picked the captain -- I did. He was the smartest and the shortest of them all. He took care of me and my money. I'm here, the money's gone. Don't you put that towel down on the table -- he won't have that! Don't move his razors -- don't, please, or I shall forget which is which. I've got to remember which is which to-morrow morning. Bless you, the captain don't shave himself! He had me taught. I shave him. I do his hair, and cut his nails -- he's awfully particular about his nails. So he is about his trousers. And his shoes. And his newspaper in the morning. And his breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners, and teas -- " She stopped, struck by a sudden recollection, looked about her, observed the tattered old book on the floor, and clasped her hands in despair. "I've lost the place!" she exclaimed helplessly. "Oh, mercy, what will become of me! I've lost the place."
"Never mind," said Magdalen; "I'll soon find the place for you again."
She picked up the book, looked into the pages, and found that the object of Mrs. Wragge's anxiety was nothing more important than an old-fashioned Treatise on the Art of Cookery, reduced under the usual heads of Fish, Flesh, and Fowl, and containing the customary series of recipes. Turning over the leaves, Magdalen came to one particular page, thickly studded with little drops of moisture half dry. "Curious!" she said. "If this was anything but a cookery-book, I should say somebody had been crying over it."
"Somebody?" echoed Mrs. Wragge, with a stare of amazement. "It isn't somebody -it's Me. Thank you kindly, that's the place, sure enough. Bless you, I'm used to crying over it. You'd cry, too, if you had to get the captain's dinners out of it. As sure as ever I sit down to this book the Buzzing in my head begins again. Who's to make it out? Sometimes I think I've got it, and it all goes away from me. Sometimes I think I haven't got it, and it all comes back in a heap. Look here! Here's what he's ordered for his breakfast to-morrow: 'Omelette with Herbs. Beat up two eggs with a little water or milk, salt, pepper, chives, and parsley. Mince small.' -- There! mince small! How am I to mince small when it's all mixed up and running? 'Put a piece of butter the size of your thumb into the frying-pan.' -- Look at my thumb, and look at yours! whose size does she mean? 'Boil, but not brown.' -- If it mustn't be brown, what color must it be? She won't tell me; she expects me to know, and I don't. 'Pour in the omelette.' -There! I can do that. 'Allow it to set, raise it round the edge; when done, turn it over to double it.' -- Oh, the number of times I turned it over and doubled it in my head, before you came in to-night! 'Keep it soft; put the dish on the frying-pan, and turn it over.' Which am I to turn over -- oh, mercy, try the cold towel again, and tell me which -- the dish or the frying-pan?"
"Put the dish on the frying-pan," said Magdalen; "and then turn the frying-pan over. That is what it means, I think."
"Thank you kindly," said Mrs. Wragge, "I want to get it into my head; please say it again."
Magdalen said it again.
"And then turn the frying-pan over," repeated Mrs. Wragge, with a sudden burst of energy. "I've got it now! Oh, the lots of omelettes all frying together in my head; and all frying wrong! Much obliged, I'm sure. You've put me all right again: I'm only a little tired with talking. And then turn the frying-pan, then turn the frying-pan, then turn the frying-pan over. It sounds like poetry, don't it?"
Her voice sank, and she drowsily closed her eyes. At the same moment the door of the room below opened, and the captain's mellifluous bass notes floated upstairs, charged with the customary stimulant to his wife's faculties.
"Mrs. Wragge!" cried the captain. "Mrs. Wragge!"
She started to her feet at that terrible summons. "Oh, what did he tell me to do?" she asked, distractedly. "Lots of things, and I've forgotten them all!"
"Say you have done them when he asks you," suggested Magdalen. "They were things for me -- things I don't want. I remember all that is necessary. My room is the front room on the third floor. Go downstairs and say I am coming directly."
She took up the candle and pushed Mrs. Wragge out on the landing. "Say I am coming directly," she whispered again -- and went upstairs by herself to the third story.
The room was small, close, and very poorly furnished. In former days Miss Garth would have hesitated to offer such a room to one of the servants at Combe-Raven. But it was quiet; it gave her a few minutes alone; and it was endurable, even welcome, on that account. She locked herself in and walked mechanically, with a woman's first impulse in a strange bedroom, to the rickety little table and the dingy little looking-glass. She waited there for a moment, and then turned away with weary contempt. "What does it matter how pale I am?" she thought to herself. "Frank can't see me -- what does it matter now!"
She laid aside her cloak and bonnet, and sat down to collect herself. But the events of the day had worn her out. The past, when she tried to remember it, only made her heart ache. The future, when she tried to penetrate it, was a black void. She rose again, and stood by the uncurtained window -- stood looking out, as if there was some hi dden sympathy for her own desolation in the desolate night.
"Norah!" she said to herself, tenderly; "I wonder if Norah is thinking of me? Oh, if I could be as patient as she is! If I could only forget the debt we owe to Michael Vanstone!"
Her face darkened with a vindictive despair, and she paced the little cage of a room backward and forward, softly. "No: never till the debt is paid!" Her thoughts veered back again to Frank. "Still at sea, poor fellow; further and further away from me; sailing through the day, sailing through the night. Oh, Frank, love me!"
Her eyes filled with tears. She dashed them away, made for the door, and laughed with a desperate levity, as she unlocked it again.
"Any company is better than my own thoughts," she burst out, recklessly, as she left the room. "I'm forgetting my ready-made relations -- my half-witted aunt, and my uncle the rogue." She descended the stairs to the landing on the first floor, and paused there in momentary hesitation. "How will it end?" she asked herself. "Where is my blindfolded journey taking me to now? Who knows, and who cares?"
She entered the room.
Captain Wragge was presiding at the tea-tray with the air of a prince in his own banqueting-hall. At one side of the table sat Mrs. Wragge, watching her husband's eye like an animal waiting to be fed. At the other side was an empty chair, toward which the captain waved his persuasive hand when Magdalen came in. "How do you like your room?" he inquired; "I trust Mrs. Wragge has made herself useful? You take milk and sugar? Try the local bread, honor the York butter, test the freshness of a new and neighboring egg. I offer my little all. A pauper's meal, my dear girl -- seasoned with a gentleman's welcome."
"Seasoned with salt, pepper, chives and parsley," murmured Mrs. Wragge, catching instantly at a word in connection with cookery, and harnessing her head to the omelette for the rest of the evening.
"Sit straight at the table!" shouted the captain. "More to the left, more still -- that will do. During your absence upstairs," he continued, addressing himself to Magdalen, "my mind has not been unemployed. I have been considering your position with a view exclusively to your own benefit. If you decide on being guided to-morrow by the light of my experience, that light is unreservedly at your service. You may naturally say: 'I know but little of you, captain, and that little is unfavorable.' Granted, on one condition -- that you permit me to make myself and my character quite familiar to you when tea is over. False shame is foreign to my nature. You see my wife, my house, my bread, my butter, and my eggs, all exactly as they are. See me, too, my dear girl, while you are about it."
When tea was over, Mrs. Wragge, at a signal from her husband, retired to a corner of the room, with the eternal cookery-book still in her hand. "Mince small," she whispered, confidentially, as she passed Magdalen. "That's a teaser, isn't it?"
"Down at heel again!" shouted the captain, pointing to his wife's heavy flat feet as they shuffled across the room. "The right shoe. Pull it up at heel, Mrs. Wragge -- pull it up at heel! Pray allow me," he continued, offering his arm to Magdalen, and escorting her to a dirty little horse-hair sofa. "You want repose -- after your long journey, you really want repose." He drew his chair to the sofa, and surveyed her with a bland look of investigation -- as if he had been her medical attendant, with a diagnosis on his mind.
"Very pleasant! very pleasant!" said the captain, when he had seen his guest comfortable on the sofa. "I feel quite in the bosom of my family. Shall we return to our subject -- the subject of my rascally self? No! no! No apologies, no protestations, pray. Don't mince the matter on your side -- and depend on me not to mince it on mine. Now come to facts; pray come to facts. Who, and what am I? Carry your mind back to our conversation on the Walls of this interesting City, and let us start once more from your point of view. I am a Rogue; and, in that capacity (as I have already pointed out), the most useful man you possibly could have met with. Now observe! There are many varieties of Rogue; let me tell you my variety, to begin with. I am a Swindler."
His entire shamelessness was really super-human. Not the vestige of a blush varied the sallow monotony of his complexion; the smile wreathed his curly lips as pleasantly as ever his party-colored eyes twinkled at Magdalen with the self-enjoying frankness of a naturally harmless man. Had his wife heard him? Magdalen looked over his shoulder to the corner of the room in which she was sitting behind him. No the self-taught student of cookery was absorbed in her subject. She had advanced her imaginary omelette to the critical stage at which the butter was to be thrown in -- that vaguely-measured morsel of butter, the size of your thumb. Mrs. Wragge sat lost in contemplation of one of her own thumbs, and shook her head over it, as if it failed to satisfy her.
"Don't be shocked," proceeded the captain; "don't be astonished. Swindler is nothing but a word of two syllables. S, W, I, N, D -- swind; L, E, R -- ler; Swindler. Definition: A moral agriculturist; a man who cultivates the field of human sympathy. I am that moral agriculturist, that cultivating man. Narrow-minded mediocrity, envious of my success in my profession, calls me a Swindler. What of that? The same low tone of mind assails men in other professions in a similar manner -- calls great writers scribblers -- great generals, butchers -- and so on. It entirely depends on the point of view. Adopting your point, I announce myself intelligibly as a Swindler. Now return the obligation, and adopt mine. Hear what I have to say for myself, in the exercise of my profession. -- Shall I continue to put it frankly?"
"Yes," said Magdalen; "and I'll tell you frankly afterward what I think of it."
The captain cleared his throat; mentally assembled his entire army of words -horse, foot, artillery, and reserves; put himself at the head; and dashed into action, to carry the moral intrenchments of Society by a general charge.
"Now observe," he began. "Here am I, a needy object. Very good. Without complicating the question by asking how I come to be in that condition, I will merely inquire whether it is, or is not, the duty of a Christian community to help the needy. If you say No, you simply shock me; and there is an end of it; if you say Yes, then I beg to ask, Why am I to blame for making a Christian community do its duty? You may say, Is a careful man who has saved money bound to spend it again on a careless stranger who has saved none? Why of course he is! And on what ground, pray? Good heavens! on the ground that he has got the money, to be sure. All the world over, the man who has not got the thing, obtains it, on one pretense or another, of the man who has -- and, in nine cases out of ten, the pretense is a false one. What! your pockets are full, and my pockets are empty; and you refuse to help me? Sordid wretch! do you think I will allow you to violate the sacred obligations of charity in my person? I won't allow you -- I say, distinctly, I won't allow you. Those are my principles as a moral agriculturist. Principles which admit of trickery? Certainly. Am I to blame if the field of human sympathy can't be cultivated in any other way? Consult my brother agriculturists in the mere farming line -- do they get their crops for the asking? No! they must circumvent arid Nature exactly as I circumvent sordid Man. They must plow, and sow, and top-dress, and bottom-dress, and deep-drain, and surface-drain, and all the rest of it. Why am I to be checked in the vast occupation of deep-draining mankind? Why am I to be persecuted for habitually exciting the noblest feelings of our common nature? Infamous! -- I can characterize it by no other word -- infamous! If I hadn't confidence in the future, I should despair of humanity -- but I have confidence in the future. Yes! one of these days (when I am dead and gone), as ideas enlarge and enlightenment progresses, the abstract merits of the profession now called swindl ing will be recognized. When that day comes, don't drag me out of my grave and give me a public funeral; don't take advantage of my having no voice to raise in my own defense, and insult me by a national statue. No! do me justice on my tombstone; dash me off, in one masterly sentence, on my epitaph. Here lies Wragge, embalmed in the tardy recognition of his species: he plowed, sowed, and reaped his fellow-creatures; and enlightened posterity congratulates him on the uniform excellence of his crops."
He stopped; not from want of confidence, not from want of words -- purely from want of breath. "I put it frankly, with a dash of humor," he said, pleasantly. "I don't shock you -- do I?" Weary and heart-sick as she was -- suspicious of others, doubtful of herself -- the extravagant impudence of Captain Wragge's defense of swindling touched Magdalen's natural sense of humor, and forced a smile to her lips. "Is the Yorkshire crop a particularly rich one just at present?" she inquired, meeting him, in her neatly feminine way, with his own weapons.
"A hit -- a palpable hit," said the captain, jocosely exhibiting the tails of his threadbare shooting jacket, as a practical commentary on Magdalen's remark. "My dear girl, here or elsewhere, the crop never fails -- but one man can't always gather it in. The assistance of intelligent co-operation is, I regret to say, denied me. I have nothing in common with the clumsy rank and file of my profession, who convict themselves, before recorders and magistrates, of the worst of all offenses -- incurable stupidity in the exercise of their own vocation. Such as you see me, I stand entirely alone. After years of successful self-dependence, the penalties of celebrity are beginning to attach to me. On my way from the North, I pause at this interesting city for the third time; I consult my Books for the customary references to past local experience; I find under the heading, 'Personal position in York,' the initials, T. W. K., signifying Too Well Known. I refer to my Index, and turn to the surrounding neighborhood. The same brief marks meet my eye.
'Leeds. T. W. K. -- Scarborough. T. W. K. -- Harrowgate. T. W. K.' -- and so on. What is the inevitable consequence? I suspend my proceedings; my resources evaporate; and my fair relative finds me the pauper gentleman whom she now sees before her."
"Your books?" said Magdalen. "What books do you mean?"
"You shall see," replied the captain. "Trust me, or not, as you like -- I trust you implicitly. You shall see."
With those words he retired into the back room. While he was gone, Magdalen stole another look at Mrs. Wragge. Was she still self-isolated from her husband's deluge of words? Perfectly self-isolated. She had advanced the imaginary omelette to the last stage of culinary progress; and she was now rehearsing the final operation of turning it over -- with the palm of her hand to represent the dish, and the cookery-book to impersonate the frying-pan. "I've got it," said Mrs. Wragge, nodding across the room at Magdalen. "First put the frying-pan on the dish, and then tumble both of them over."
Captain Wragge returned, carrying a neat black dispatch-box, adorned with a bright brass lock. He produced from the box five or six plump little books, bound in commercial calf and vellum, and each fitted comfortably with its own little lock.
"Mind!" said the moral agriculturist, "I take no credit to myself for this: it is my nature to be orderly, and orderly I am. I must have everything down in black and white, or I should go mad! Here is my commercial library: Daybook, Ledger, Book of Districts, Book of Letters, Book of Remarks, and so on. Kindly throw your eye over any one of them. I flatter myself there is no such thing as a blot, or a careless entry in it, from the first page to the last. Look at this room -- is there a chair out of place? Not if I know it! Look at me. Am I dusty? am I dirty? am I half shaved? Am I, in brief, a speckless pauper, or am I not? Mind! I take no credit to myself; the nature of the man, my dear girl --the nature of the man!"
He opened one of the books. Magdalen was no judge of the admirable correctness with which the accounts inside were all kept; but she could estimate the neatness of the handwriting, the regularity in the rows of figures, the mathematical exactness of the ruled lines in red and black ink, the cleanly absence of blots, stains, or erasures. Although Captain Wragge's inborn sense of order was in him -- as it is in others -- a sense too inveterately mechanical to exercise any elevating moral influence over his actions, it had produced its legitimate effect on his habits, and had reduced his rogueries as strictly to method and system as if they had been the commercial transactions of an honest man.
"In appearance, my system looks complicated?" pursued the captain. "In reality, it is simplicity itself. I merely avoid the errors of inferior practitioners. That is to say, I never plead for myself; and I never apply to rich people -both fatal mistakes which the inferior practitioner perpetually commits. People with small means sometimes have generous impulses in connection with money -rich people, never. My lord, with forty thousand a year; Sir John, with property in half a dozen counties -- those are the men who never forgive the genteel beggar for swindling them out of a sovereign; those are the men who send for the mendicity officers; those are the men who take care of their money. Who are the people who lose shillings and sixpences by sheer thoughtlessness? Servants and small clerks, to whom shillings and sixpences are of consequence. Did you ever hear of Rothschild or Baring dropping a fourpenny-piece down a gutter-hole? Fourpence in Rothschild's pocket is safer than fourpence in the pocket of that woman who is crying stale shrimps in Skeldergate at this moment. Fortified by these sound principles, enlightened by the stores of written information in my commercial library, I have ranged through the population for years past, and have raised my charitable crops with the most cheering success. Here, in book Number One, are all my Districts mapped out, with the prevalent public feeling to appeal to in each: Military District, Clerical District, Agricultural District; et cetera, et cetera. Here, in Number Two, are my cases that I plead: Family of an officer who fell at Waterloo; Wife of a poor curate stricken down by nervous debility; Widow of a grazier in difficulties gored to death by a mad bull; et cetera, et cetera. Here, in Number Three, are the people who have heard of the officer's family, the curate's wife, the grazier's widow, and the people who haven't; the people who have said Yes, and the people who have said No; the people to try again, the people who want a fresh case to stir them up, the people who are doubtful, the people to beware of; et cetera, et cetera. Here, in Number Four, are my Adopted Handwritings of public characters; my testimonials to my own worth and integrity; my Heartrending Statements of the officer's family, the curate's wife, and the grazier's widow, stained with tears, blotted with emotion; et cetera, et cetera. Here, in Numbers Five and Six, are my own personal subscriptions to local charities, actually paid in remunerative neighborhoods, on the principle of throwing a sprat to catch a herring; also, my diary of each day's proceedings, my personal reflections and remarks, my statement of existing difficulties (such as the difficulty of finding myself T. W. K. in this interesting city); my outgivings and incomings; wind and weather; politics and public events; fluctuations in my own health; fluctuations in Mrs. Wragge's head; fluctuations in our means and meals, our payments, prospects, and principles; et cetera, et cetera. So, my dear girl, the Swindler's Mill goes. So you see me exactly as I am. You knew, before I met you, that I lived on my wits. Well! have I, or have I not, shown you that I have wits to live on?"
"I have no doubt you have done yourself full justice," said Magdalen, quietly.
"I am not at all exhausted," continued the captain. "I can go on, if necessary, for t he rest of the evening. -- However, if I have do ne myself full justice, perhaps I may leave the remaining points in my character to develop themselves at future opportunities. For the present, I withdraw myself from notice. Exit Wragge. And now to business! Permit me to inquire what effect I have produced on your own mind? Do you still believe that the Rogue who has trusted you with all his secrets is a Rogue who is bent on taking a mean advantage of a fair relative?"
"I will wait a little," Magdalen rejoined, "before I answer that question. When I came down to tea, you told me you had been employing your mind for my benefit. May I ask how?"
"By all means," said Captain Wragge. "You shall have the net result of the whole mental process. Said process ranges over the present and future proceedings of your disconsolate friends, and of the lawyers who are helping them to find you. Their present proceedings are, in all probability, assuming the following form: the lawyer's clerk has given you up at Mr. Huxtable's, and has also, by this time, given you up, after careful inquiry, at all the hotels. His last chance is that you may send for your box to the cloak-room -- you don't send for it -- and there the clerk is to-night (thanks to Captain Wragge and Rosemary Lane) at the end of his resources. He will forthwith communicate that fact to his employers in London; and those employers (don't be alarmed!) will apply for help to the detective police. Allowing for inevitable delays, a professional spy, with all his wits about him, and with those handbills to help him privately in identifying you, will be here certainly not later than the day after tomorrow -possibly earlier. If you remain in York, if you attempt to communicate with Mr. Huxtable, that spy will find you out. If, on the other hand, you leave the city before he comes (taking your departure by other means than the railway, of course) you put him in the same predicament as the clerk -- you defy him to find a fresh trace of you. There is my brief abstract of your present position. What do you think of it?"
"I think it has one defect," said Magdalen. "It ends in nothing."
"Pardon me," retorted the captain. "It ends in an arrangement for your safe departure, and in a plan for the entire gratification of your wishes in the direction of the stage. Both drawn from the resources of my own experience, and both waiting a word from you, to be poured forth immediately in the fullest detail."
"I think I know what that word is," replied Magdalen, looking at him attentively.
"Charmed to hear it, I am sure. You have only to say, 'Captain Wragge, take charge of me' -- and my plans are yours from that moment."
"I will take to-night to consider your proposal," she said, after an instant's reflection. "You shall have my answer to-morrow morning."
Captain Wragge looked a little disappointed. He had not expected the reservation on his side to be met so composedly by a reservation on hers.
"Why not decide at once?" he remonstrated, in his most persuasive tones. "You have only to consider -- "
"I have more to consider than you think for," she answered. "I have another object in view besides the object you know of."
"May I ask -- ?"
"Excuse me, Captain Wragge -- you may not ask. Allow me to thank you for your hospitality, and to wish you good-night. I am worn out. I want rest."
Once more the captain wisely adapted himself to her humor with the ready self-control of an experienced man.
"Worn out, of course!" he said, sympathetically. "Unpardonable on my part not to have thought of it before. We will resume our conversation to-morrow. Permit me to give you a candle. Mrs. Wragge!"
Prostrated by mental exertion, Mrs. Wragge was pursuing the course of the omelette in dreams. Her head was twisted one way, and her body the other. She snored meekly. At intervals one of her hands raised itself in the air, shook an imaginary frying-pan, and dropped again with a faint thump on the cookery-book in her lap. At the sound of her husband's voice, she started to her feet, and confronted him with her mind fast asleep, and her eyes wide open.
"Assist Miss Vanstone," said the captain. "And the next time you forget yourself in your chair, fall asleep straight -- don't annoy me by falling asleep crooked."
Mrs. Wragge opened her eyes a little wider, and looked at Magdalen in helpless amazement.
"Is the captain breakfasting by candle-light?" she inquired, meekly. "And haven't I done the omelette?"
Before her husband's corrective voice could apply a fresh stimulant, Magdalen took her compassionately by the arm and led her out of the room.
"Another object besides the object I know of?" repeated Captain Wragge, when he was left by himself. "Is there a gentleman in the background, after all? Is there mischief brewing in the dark that I don't bargain for?"Next