Chronicle for June.
9th. -- I returned yesterday with my information. Here it is, privately noted down for convenience of future reference:
Mr. Noel Vanstone has left Brighton, and has removed, for the purpose of transacting business in London, to one of his late father's empty houses in Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth. This singularly mean selection of a place of residence on the part of a gentleman of fortune looks as if Mr. N. V. and his money were not easily parted.
Mr. Noel Vanstone has stepped into his father's shoes under the following circumstances: Mr. Michael Vanstone appears to have died, curiously enough, as Mr. Andrew Vanstone died -- intestate. With this difference, however, in the two cases, that the younger brother left an informal will, and the elder brother left no will at all. The hardest men have their weaknesses; and Mr. Michael Vanstone's weakness seems to have been an insurmountable horror of contemplating the event of his own death. His son, his housekeeper, and his lawyer, had all three tried over and over again to get him to make a will; and had never shaken his obstinate resolution to put off performing the only business duty he was ever known to neglect. Two doctors attended him in his last illness; warned him that he was too old a man to hope to get over it; and warned him in vain. He announced his own positive determination not to die. His last words in this world (as I succeeded in discovering from the nurse who assisted Mrs. Lecount) were: "I'm getting better every minute; send for the fly directly and take me out for a drive." The same night Death proved to be the more obstinate of the two; and left his son (and only child) to take the property in due course of law. Nobody doubts that the result would have been the same if a will had been made. The father and son had every confidence in each other, and were known to have always lived together on the most friendly terms.
Mrs. Lecount remains with Mr. Noel Vanstone, in the same housekeeping capacity which she filled with his father, and has accompanied him to the new residence in Vauxhall Walk. She is acknowledged on all hands to have been a sufferer by the turn events have taken. If Mr. Michael Vanstone had made his will, there is no doubt she would have received a handsome legacy. She is now left dependent on Mr. Noel Vanstone's sense of gratitude; and she is not at all likely, I should imagine, to let that sense fall asleep for want of a little timely jogging. Whether my fair relative's future intentions in this quarter point toward Mischief or Money, is more than I can yet say. In either case, I venture to predict that she will find an awkward obstacle in Mrs. Lecount.
So much for my information to the present date. The manner in which it was received by Miss Vanstone showed the most ungrateful distrust of me. She confided nothing to my private ear but the expression of her best thanks. A sharp girl -- a devilish sharp girl. But there is such a thing as bowling a man out once too often; especially when the name of that man happens to be Wragge.
Not a word more about the Entertainment; not a word more about moving from our present quarters. Very good. My right hand lays my left hand a wager. Ten to one, on her opening communications with the son as she opened them with the father. Ten to one, on her writing to Noel Vanstone before the month is out.
21st. -- She has written by to-day's post. A long letter, apparently -- for she put two stamps on the envelope. (Private memorandum, addressed to myself. Wait for the answer.)
22d, 23d, 24th. -- (Private memorandum continued. Wait for the answer.)
25th. -- The answer has come. As an ex-military man, I have naturally employed stratagem to get at it. The success which rewards all genuine perseverance has rewarded me -- and I have got at it accordingly.
The letter is written, not by Mr. Noel Vanstone, but by Mrs. Lecount. She takes the highest moral ground, in a tone of spiteful politeness. Mr. Noel Vanstone's delicate health and recent bereavement prevent him from writing himself. Any more letters from Miss Vanstone will be returned unopened. Any personal application will produce an immediate appeal to the protection of the law. Mr. Noel Vanstone, having been expressly cautioned against Miss Magdalen Vanstone by his late lamented father, has not yet forgotten his father's advice. Considers it a reflection cast on the memory of the best of men, to suppose that his course of action toward the Misses Vanstone can be other than the course of action which his father pursued. This is what he has himself instructed Mrs. Lecount to say. She has endeavored to express herself in the most conciliatory language she could select; she had tried to avoid giving unnecessary pain, by addressing Miss Vanstone (as a matter of courtesy) by the family name; and she trusts these concessions, which speak for themselves, will not be thrown away. -- Such is the substance of the letter, and so it ends.
I draw two conclusions from this little document. First -- that it will lead to serious results. Secondly -- that Mrs. Lecount, with all her politeness, is a dangerous woman to deal with. I wish I saw my way safe before me. I don't see it yet.
29th. -- Miss Vanstone has abandoned my protection; and the whole lucrative future of the dramatic entertainment has abandoned me with her. I am swindled -I, the last man under heaven who could possibly have expected to write in those disgraceful terms of myself -- I AM SWINDLED!
Let me chronicle the events. They exhibit me, for the time being, in a sadly helpless point of view. But the nature of the man prevails: I must have the events down in black and white.
The announcement of her approaching departure was intimated to me yesterday. After another civil speech about the information I had procured at Brighton, she hinted that there was a necessity for pushing our inquiries a little further. I immediately offered to undertake them, as before. "No," she said; "they are not in your way this time. They are inquiries relating to a woman; and I mean to make them myself!" Feeling privately convinced that this new resolution pointed s traight at Mrs. Lecount, I tried a few innocent questions on the subject. She quietly declined to answer them. I asked next when she proposed to leave. She would leave on the twenty-eighth. For what destination? London. For long? Probably not. By herself? No. With me? No. With whom then? With Mrs. Wragge, if I had no objection. Good heavens! for what possible purpose? For the purpose of getting a respectable lodging, which she could hardly expect to accomplish unless she was accompanied by an elderly female friend. And was I, in the capacity of elderly male friend, to be left out of the business altogether? Impossible to say at present. Was I not even to forward any letters which might come for her at our present address? No: she would make the arrangement herself at the post-office; and she would ask me, at the same time, for an address, at which I could receive a letter from her, in case of necessity for future communication. Further inquiries, after this last answer, could lead to nothing but waste of time. I saved time by putting no more questions.
It was clear to me that our present position toward each other was what our position had been previously to the event of Michael Vanstone's death. I returned, as before, to my choice of alternatives. Which way did my private interests point? Toward trusting the chance of her wanting me again? Toward threatening her with the interference of her relatives and friends? Or toward making the information which I possessed a marketable commodity between the wealthy branch of the family and myself? The last of the three was the alternative I had chosen in the case of the father. I chose it once more in the case of the son.
The train started for London nearly four hours since, and took her away in it, accompanied by Mrs. Wragge.
My wife is too great a fool, poor soul, to be actively valuable in the present emergency; but she will be passively useful in keeping up Miss Vanstone's connection with me -- and, in consideration of that circumstance, I consent to brush my own trousers, shave my own chin, and submit to the other inconveniences of waiting on myself for a limited period. Any faint glimmerings of sense which Mrs. Wragge may have formerly possessed appear to have now finally taken their leave of her. On receiving permission to go to London, she favored us immediately with two inquiries. Might she do some shopping? and might she leave the cookery-book behind her? Miss Vanstone said Yes to one question, and I said Yes to the other -- and from that moment, Mrs. Wragge has existed in a state of perpetual laughter. I am still hoarse with vainly repeated applications of vocal stimulant; and I left her in the railway carriage, to my inexpressible disgust, with both shoes down at heel.
Under ordinary circumstances these absurd particulars would not have dwelt on my memory. But, as matters actually stand, my unfortunate wife's imbecility may, in her present position, lead to consequences which we none of us foresee. She is nothing more or less than a grown-up child; and I can plainly detect that Miss Vanstone trusts her, as she would not have trusted a sharper woman, on that very account. I know children, little and big, rather better than my fair relative does; and I say -- beware of all forms of human innocence, when it happens to be your interest to keep a secret to yourself.
Let me return to business. Here I am, at two o'clock on a fine summer's afternoon, left entirely alone, to consider the safest means of approaching Mr. Noel Vanstone on my own account. My private suspicions of his miserly character produce no discouraging effect on me. I have extracted cheering pecuniary results in my time from people quite as fond of their money as he can be. The real difficulty to contend with is the obstacle of Mrs. Lecount. If I am not mistaken, this lady merits a little serious consideration on my part. I will close my chronicle for to-day, and give Mrs. Lecount her due.
Three o'clock. -- I open these pages again to record a discovery which has taken me entirely by surprise.
After completing the last entry, a circumstance revived in my memory which I had noticed on escorting the ladies this morning to the railway. I then remarked that Miss Vanstone had only taken one of her three boxes with her -- and it now occurred to me that a private investigation of the luggage she had left behind might possibly be attended with beneficial results. Having, at certain periods of my life been in the habit of cultivating friendly terms with strange locks, I found no difficulty in establishing myself on a familiar footing with Miss Vanstone's boxes. One of the two presented nothing to interest me. The other -devoted to the preservation of the costumes, articles of toilet, and other properties used in the dramatic Entertainment -- proved to be better worth examining: for it led me straight to the discovery of one of its owner's secrets.
I found all the dresses in the box complete -- with one remarkable exception. That exception was the dress of the old north-country lady; the character which I have already mentioned as the best of all my pupil's disguises, and as modeled in voice and manner on her old governess, Miss Garth. The wig; the eyebrows; the bonnet and veil; the cloak, padded inside to disfigure her back and shoulders; the paints and cosmetics used to age her face and alter her complexion -- were all gone. Nothing but the gown remained; a gaudily-flowered silk, useful enough for dramatic purposes, but too extravagant in color and pattern to bear inspection by daylight. The other parts of the dress are sufficiently quiet to pass muster; the bonnet and veil are only old-fashioned, and the cloak is of a sober gray color. But one plain inference can be drawn from such a discovery as this. As certainly as I sit here, she is going to open the campaign against Noel Vanstone and Mrs. Lecount in a character which neither of those two persons can have any possible reason for suspecting at the outset -- the character of Miss Garth.
What course am I to take under these circumstances? Having got her secret, what am I to do with it? These are awkward considerations; I am rather puzzled how to deal with them.
It is something more than the mere fact of her choosing to disguise herself to forward her own private ends that causes my present perplexity. Hundreds of girls take fancies for disguising themselves; and hundreds of instances of it are related year after year in the public journals. But my ex-pupil is not to be confounded for one moment with the average adventuress of the newspapers. She is capable of going a long way beyond the limit of dressing herself like a man, and imitating a man's voice and manner. She has a natural gift for assuming characters which I have never seen equaled by a woman; and she has performed in public until she has felt her own power, and trained her talent for disguising herself to the highest pitch. A girl who takes the sharpest people unawares by using such a capacity as this to help her own objects in private life, and who sharpens that capacity by a determination to fight her way to her own purpose, which has beaten down everything before it, up to this time -- is a girl who tries an experiment in deception, new enough and dangerous enough to lead, one way or the other, to very serious results. This is my conviction, founded on a large experience in the art of imposing on my fellow-creatures. I say of my fair relative's enterprise what I never said or thought of it till I introduced myself to the inside of her box. The chances for and against her winning the fight for her lost fortune are now so evenly balanced that I cannot for the life of me see on which side the scale inclines. All I can discern is, that it will, to a dead certainty, turn one way or the other on the day when she passes Noel Vanstone's doors in disguise.
Which way do my interests point now? Upon my honor, I don't know.
Five o'clock. -- I have effected a masterly compromise; I have decided on turning myself into a Jack-o n-both-sides.
By to-day's post I have dispatched to London an anonymous letter for M r. Noel Vanstone. It will be forwarded to its destination by the same means which I successfully adopted to mystify Mr. Pendril; and it will reach Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth, by the afternoon of to-morrow at the latest.
The letter is short, and to the purpose. It warns Mr. Noel Vanstone, in the most alarming language, that he is destined to become the victim of a conspiracy; and that the prime mover of it is a young lady who has already held written communication with his father and himself. It offers him the information necessary to secure his own safety, on condition that he makes it worth the writer's while to run the serious personal risk which such a disclosure will entail on him. And it ends by stipulating that the answer shall be advertised in the Times; shall be addressed to "An Unknown Friend"; and shall state plainly what remuneration Mr. Noel Vanstone offers for the priceless service which it is proposed to render him.
Unless some unexpected complication occurs, this letter places me exactly in the position which it is my present interest to occupy. If the advertisement appears, and if the remuneration offered is large enough to justify me in going over to the camp of the enemy, over I go. If no advertisement appears, or if Mr. Noel Vanstone rates my invaluable assistance at too low a figure, here I remain, biding my time till my fair relative wants me, or till I make her want me, which comes to the same thing. If the anonymous letter falls by any accident into her hands, she will find disparaging allusions in it to myself, purposely introduced to suggest that the writer must be one of the persons whom I addressed while conducting her inquiries. If Mrs. Lecount takes the business in hand and lays a trap for me -- I decline her tempting invitation by becoming totally ignorant of the whole affair the instant any second person appears in it. Let the end come as it may, here I am ready to profit by it: here I am, facing both ways, with perfect ease and security -- a moral agriculturist, with his eye on two crops at once, and his swindler's sickle ready for any emergency.
For the next week to come, the newspaper will be more interesting to me than ever. I wonder which side I shall eventually belong to?Next