Chronicle for April and May.
We have visited seven more large towns, and are now at Birmingham. Consulting my books, I find that Miss Vanstone has realized by the Entertainment, up to this time, the enormous sum of nearly four hundred pounds. It is quite possible that my own profits may reach one or two miserable hundred more. But I was the architect of her fortunes -- the publisher, so to speak, of her book -- and, if anything, I am underpaid.
I made the above discovery on the twenty-ninth of the month -- anniversary of the Restoration of my royal predecessor in the field of human sympathies, Charles the Second. I had barely finished locking up my dispatch-box, when the ungrateful girl, whose reputation I have made, came into the room and told me in so many words that the business connection between us was for the present at an end.
I attempt no description of my own sensations: I merely record facts. She informed me, with an appearance of perfect composure, that she needed rest, and that she had "new objects in view." She might possibly want me to assist those objects; and she might possibly return to the Entertainment. In either case it would be enough if we exchanged addresses, at which we could write to each other in case of need. Having no desire to leave me too abruptly, she would remain the next day (which was Sunday); and would take her departure on Monday morning. Such was her explanation, in so many words.
Remonstrance, as I knew by experience, would be thrown away. Authority I had none to exert. My one sensible course to take in this emergency was to find out which way my own interests pointed, and to go that way without a moment's unnecessary hesitation.
A very little reflection has since convinced me that she has a deep-laid scheme against Michael Vanstone in view. She is young, handsome, clever, and unscrupulous; she has made money to live on, and has time at her disposal to find out the weak side of an old man; and she is going to attack Mr. Michael Vanstone unawares with the legitimate weapons of her sex. Is she likely to want me for such a purpose as this? Doubtful. Is she merely anxious to get rid of me on easy terms? Probable. Am I the sort of man to be treated in this way by my own pupil? Decidedly not: I am the man to see my way through a neat succession of alternatives; and here they are:
First alternative: To announce my compliance with her proposal; to exchange addresses with her; and then to keep my eye privately on all her future movements. Second alternative: to express fond anxiety in a paternal capacity; and to threaten giving the alarm to her sister and the lawyer, if she persists in her design. Third alternative: to turn the information I already possess to the best account, by making it a marketable commodity between Mr. Michael Vanstone and myself. At present I incline toward the last of these three courses. But my decision is far too important to be hurried. To-day is only the twenty-ninth. I will suspend my Chronicle of Events until Monday.
May 31st. -- My alternatives and her plans are both overthrown together.
The newspaper came in, as usual, after breakfast. I looked it over, and discovered this memorable entry among the obituary announcements of the day:
"On the 29th inst., at Brighton, Michael Vanstone, Esq., formerly of Zurich, aged 77."
Miss Vanstone was present in the room when I read those two startling lines. Her bonnet was on; her boxes were packed; she was waiting impatiently until it was time to go to the train. I handed the paper to her, without a word on my side. Without a word on hers, she looked where I pointed, and read the news of Michael Vanstone's death.
The paper dropped out of her hand, and she suddenly pulled down her veil. I caught one glance at her face before she hid it from me. The effect on my mind was startling in the extreme. To put it with my customary dash of humor -- her face informed me that the most sensible action which Michael Vanstone, Esq., formerly of Zurich, had ever achieved in his life was the action he performed at Brighton on the 29th instant.
Finding the dead silence in the room singularly unpleasant under existing circumstances, I thought I would make a remar k. My regard for my own interests supplied me with a subject. I mentioned the Entertainment.
"After what has happened," I said, "I presume we go on with our performances as usual?"
"No," she answered, behind the veil. "We go on with my inquiries."
"Inquiries after a dead man?"
"Inquiries after the dead man's son."
"Mr. Noel Vanstone?"
"Yes; Mr. Noel Vanstone."
Not having a veil to put down over my own face, I stooped and picked up the newspaper. Her devilish determination quite upset me for the moment. I actually had to steady myself before I could speak to her again.
"Are the new inquiries as harmless as the old ones?" I asked.
"Quite as harmless."
"What am I expected to find out?"
"I wish to know whether Mr. Noel Vanstone remains at Brighton after the funeral."
"And if not?"
"If not, I shall want to know his new address wherever it may be."
"Yes. And what next?"
"I wish you to find out next if all the father's money goes to the son."
I began to see her drift. The word money relieved me; I felt quite on my own ground again.
"Anything more?" I asked.
"Only one thing more," she answered. "Make sure, if you please, whether Mrs. Lecount, the housekeeper, remains or not in Mr. Noel Vanstone's service."
Her voice altered a little as she mentioned Mrs. Lecount's name; she is evidently sharp enough to distrust the housekeeper already.
"My expenses are to be paid as usual?" I said.
"When am I expected to leave for Brighton?"
"As soon as you can."
She rose, and left the room. After a momentary doubt, I decided on executing the new commission. The more private inquiries I conduct for my fair relative the harder she will find it to get rid of hers truly, Horatio Wragge.
There is nothing to prevent my starting for Brighton to-morrow. So to-morrow I go. If Mr. Noel Vanstone succeeds to his father's property, he is the only human being possessed of pecuniary blessings who fails to inspire me with a feeling of unmitigated envy.Next