IF Captain Wragge could have looked into Mrs. Lecount's room while he stood on the Parade watching the light in her window, he would have seen the housekeeper sitting absorbed in meditation over a worthless little morsel of brown stuff which lay on her toilet-table.
However exasperating to herself the conclusion might be, Mrs. Lecount could not fail to see that she had been thus far met and baffled successfully at every point. What was she to do next? If she sent for Mr. Pendril when he came to Aldborough (with only a few hours spared from his business at her disposal), what definite course would there be for him to follow? If she showed Noel Vanstone the original letter from which her note had been copied, he would apply instantly to the writer for an explanation: would expose the fabricated story by which Mrs. Lecount had succeeded in imposing on Miss Garth; and would, in any event, still declare, on the evidence of his own eyes, that the test by the marks on the neck had utterly failed. Miss Vanstone, the elder, whose unexpected presence at Aldborough might have done wonders -- whose voice in the hall at North Shingles, even if she had been admitted no further, might have reached her sister's ears and led to instant results -- Miss Vanstone, the elder, was out of the country, and was not likely to return for a month at least. Look as anxiously as Mrs. Lecount might along the course which she had hitherto followed, she failed to see her way through the accumulated obstacles which now barred her advance.
Other women in this position might have waited until circumstances altered, and helped them. Mrs. Lecount boldly retraced her steps, and determined to find her way to her end in a new direction. Resigning for the present all further attempt to prove that the false Miss Bygrave was the true Magdalen Vanstone, she resolved to narrow the range of her next efforts; to leave the actual question of Magdalen's identity untouched; and to rest satisfied with convincing her master of this simple fact -- that the young lady who was charming him at North Shingles, and the disguised woman who had terrified him in Vauxhall Walk, were one and the same person.
The means of effecting this new object were, to all appearance, far less easy of attainment than the means of effecting the object which Mrs. Lecount had just resigned. Here no help was to be expected from others, no ostensibly benevolent motives could be put forward as a blind -- no appeal could be made to Mr. Pendril or to Miss Garth. Here the housekeeper's only chance of success depended, in the first place, on her being able to effect a stolen entrance into Mr. Bygrave's house, and, in the second place, on her ability to discover whether that memorable alpaca dress from which she had secretly cut the fragment of stuff happened to form part of Miss Bygrave's wardrobe.
Taking the difficulties now before her in their order as they occurred, Mrs. Lecount first resolved to devote the next few days to watching the habits of the inmates of North Shingles, from early in the morning to late at night, and to testing the capacity of the one servant in the house to resist the temptation of a bribe. Assuming that results proved successful, and that, either by money or by stratagem, she gained admission to North Shingles (without the knowledge of Mr. Bygrave or his niece), she turned next to the second difficulty of the two -- the difficulty of obtaining access to Miss Bygrave's wardrobe.
If the servant proved corruptible, all obstacles in this direction might be considered as removed beforehand. But if the servant proved honest, the new problem was no easy one to solve.
Long and careful consideration of the question led the housekeeper at last to the bold resolution of obtaining an interview -- if the servant failed her -with Mrs. Bygrave herself. What was the true cause of this lady's mysterious seclusion? Was she a person of the strictest and the most inconvenient integrity? or a perso n who could not be depended on to preserve a secret? or a person who was as artful as Mr. Bygrav e himself, and who was kept in reserve to forward the object of some new deception which was yet to come? In the first two cases, Mrs. Lecount could trust in her own powers of dissimulation, and in the results which they might achieve. In the last case (if no other end was gained), it might be of vital importance to her to discover an enemy hidden in the dark. In any event, she determined to run the risk. Of the three chances in her favor on which she had reckoned at the outset of the struggle -- the chance of entrapping Magdalen by word of mouth, the chance of entrapping her by the help of her friends, and the chance of entrapping her by means of Mrs. Bygrave -- two had been tried, and two had failed. The third remained to be tested yet; and the third might succeed.
So, the captain's enemy plotted against him in the privacy of her own chamber, while the captain watched the light in her window from the beach outside.
Before breakfast the next morning, Captain Wragge posted the forged letter to Zurich with his own hand. He went back to North Shingles with his mind not quite decided on the course to take with Mrs. Lecount during the all-important interval of the next ten days.
Greatly to his surprise, his doubts on this point were abruptly decided by Magdalen herself.
He found her waiting for him in the room where the breakfast was laid. She was walking restlessly to and fro, with her head drooping on her bosom and her hair hanging disordered over her shoulders. The moment she looked up on his entrance, the captain felt the fear which Mrs. Wragge had felt before him -- the fear that her mind would be struck prostrate again, as it had been struck once already, when Frank's letter reached her in Vauxhall Walk.
"Is he coming again to-day?" she asked, pushing away from her the chair which Captain Wragge offered, with such violence that she threw it on the floor.
"Yes," said the captain, wisely answering her in the fewest words. "He is coming at two o'clock."
"Take me away!" she exclaimed, tossing her hair back wildly from her face. "Take me away before he comes. I can't get over the horror of marrying him while I am in this hateful place; take me somewhere where I can forget it, or I shall go mad! Give me two days' rest -- two days out of sight of that horrible sea -- two days out of prison in this horrible house -- two days anywhere in the wide world away from Aldborough. I'll come back with you! I'll go through with it to the end! Only give me two days' escape from that man and everything belonging to him! Do you hear, you villain?" she cried, seizing his arm and shaking it in a frenzy of passion; "I have been tortured enough -- I can bear it no longer!"
There was but one way of quieting her, and the captain instantly took it.
"If you will try to control yourself," he said, "you shall leave Aldborough in an hour's time."
She dropped his arm, and leaned back heavily against the wall behind her.
"I'll try," she answered, struggling for breath, but looking at him less wildly. "You shan't complain of me, if I can help it." She attempted confusedly to take her handkerchief from her apron pocket, and failed to find it. The captain took it out for her. Her eyes softened, and she drew her breath more freely as she received the handkerchief from him. "You are a kinder man than I thought you were," she said; "I am sorry I spoke so passionately to you just now -- I am very, very sorry." The tears stole into her eyes, and she offered him her hand with the native grace and gentleness of happier days. "Be friends with me again," she said, pleadingly. "I'm only a girl, Captain Wragge -- I'm only a girl!"
He took her hand in silence, patted it for a moment, and then opened the door for her to go back to her own room again. There was genuine regret in his face as he showed her that trifling attention. He was a vagabond and a cheat; he had lived a mean, shuffling, degraded life, but he was human; and she had found her way to the lost sympathies in him which not even the self-profanation of a swindler's existence could wholly destroy. "Damn the breakfast!" he said, when the servant came in for her orders. "Go to the inn directly, and say I want a carriage and pair at the door in an hour's time." He went out into the passage, still chafing under a sense of mental disturbance which was new to him, and shouted to his wife more fiercely than ever -- "Pack up what we want for a week's absence, and be ready in half an hour!" Having issued those directions, he returned to the breakfast-room, and looked at the half-spread table with an impatient wonder at his disinclination to do justice to his own meal. "She has rubbed off the edge of my appetite," he said to himself, with a forced laugh. "I'll try a cigar, and a turn in the fresh air."
If he had been twenty years younger, those remedies might have failed him. But where is the man to be found whose internal policy succumbs to revolution when that man is on the wrong side of fifty? Exercise and change of place gave the captain back into the possession of himself. He recovered the lost sense of the flavor of his cigar, and recalled his wandering attention to the question of his approaching absence from Aldborough. A few minutes' consideration satisfied his mind that Magdalen's outbreak had forced him to take the course of all others which, on a fair review of existing emergencies, it was now most desirable to adopt.
Captain Wragge's inquiries on the evening when he and Magdalen had drunk tea at Sea View had certainly informed him that the housekeeper's brother possessed a modest competence; that his sister was his nearest living relative; and that there were some unscrupulous cousins on the spot who were anxious to usurp the place in his will which properly belonged to Mrs. Lecount. Here were strong motives to take the housekeeper to Zurich when the false report of her brother's relapse reached England. But if any idea of Noel Vanstone's true position dawned on her in the meantime, who could say whether she might not, at the eleventh hour, prefer asserting her large pecuniary interest in her master, to defending her small pecuniary interest at her brother's bedside? While that question remained undecided, the plain necessity of checking the growth of Noel Vanstone's intimacy with the family at North Shingles did not admit of a doubt; and of all means of effecting that object, none could be less open to suspicion than the temporary removal of the household from their residence at Aldborough. Thoroughly satisfied with the soundness of this conclusion, Captain Wragge made straight for Sea-view Cottage, to apologize and explain before the carriage came and the departure took place.
Noel Vanstone was easily accessible to visitors; he was walking in the garden before breakfast. His disappointment and vexation were freely expressed when he heard the news which his friend had to communicate. The captain's fluent tongue, however, soon impressed on him the necessity of resignation to present circumstances. The bare hint that the "pious fraud" might fail after all, if anything happened in the ten days' interval to enlighten Mrs. Lecount, had an instant effect in making Noel Vanstone as patient and as submissive as could be wished.
"I won't tell you where we are going, for two good reasons," said Captain Wragge, when his preliminary explanations were completed. "In the first place, I haven't made up my mind yet; and, in the second place, if you don't know where our destination is, Mrs. Lecount can't worm it out of you. I have not the least doubt she is watching us at this moment from behind her window-curtain. When she asks what I wanted with you this morning, tell her I came to say good-by for a few days, finding my niece not so well again, and wishing to take her on a short visit to some friends to try change of air. If you could produce an impression on Mrs. Lecount's mind (without overdoing it), that you are a little disappointed in me, and that you are rather inclined to doubt my heartiness in cultivating your acq uaintance, you will greatly help our present object. You may depend on our return to North Shin gles in four or five days at furthest. If anything strikes me in the meanwhile, the post is always at our service, and I won't fail to write to you."
"Won't Miss Bygrave write to me?" inquired Noel Vanstone, piteously. "Did she know you were coming here? Did she send me no message?"
"Unpardonable on my part to have forgotten it!" cried the captain. "She sent you her love."
Noel Vanstone closed his eyes in silent ecstasy.
When he opened them again Captain Wragge had passed through the garden gate and was on his way back to North Shingles. As soon as his own door had closed on him, Mrs. Lecount descended from the post of observation which the captain had rightly suspected her of occupying, and addressed the inquiry to her master which the captain had rightly foreseen would follow his departure. The reply she received produced but one impression on her mind. She at once set it down as a falsehood, and returned to her own window to keep watch over North Shingles more vigilantly than ever.
To her utter astonishment, after a lapse of less than half an hour she saw an empty carriage draw up at Mr. Bygrave's door. Luggage was brought out and packed on the vehicle. Miss Bygrave appeared, and took her seat in it. She was followed into the carriage by a lady of great size and stature, whom the housekeeper conjectured to be Mrs. Bygrave. The servant came next, and stood waiting on the path. The last person to appear was Mr. Bygrave. He locked the house door, and took the key away with him to a cottage near at hand, which was the residence of the landlord of North Shingles. On his return, he nodded to the servant, who walked away by herself toward the humbler quarter of the little town, and joined the ladies in the carriage. The coachman mounted the box, and the vehicle disappeared.
Mrs. Lecount laid down the opera-glass, through which she had been closely investigating these proceedings, with a feeling of helpless perplexity which she was almost ashamed to acknowledge to herself. The secret of Mr. Bygrave's object in suddenly emptying his house at Aldborough of every living creature in it was an impenetrable mystery to her.
Submitting herself to circumstances with a ready resignation which Captain Wragge had not shown, on his side, in a similar situation, Mrs. Lecount wasted neither time nor temper in unprofitable guess-work. She left the mystery to thicken or to clear, as the future might decide, and looked exclusively at the uses to which she might put the morning's event in her own interests. Whatever might have become of the family at North Shingles, the servant was left behind, and the servant was exactly the person whose assistance might now be of vital importance to the housekeeper's projects. Mrs. Lecount put on her bonnet, inspected the collection of loose silver in her purse, and set forth on the spot to make the servant's acquaintance.
She went first to the cottage at which Mr. Bygrave had left the key of North Shingles, to discover the servant's present address from the landlord. So far as this object was concerned, her errand proved successful. The landlord knew that the girl had been allowed to go home for a few days to her friends, and knew in what part of Aldborough her friends lived. But here his sources of information suddenly dried up. He knew nothing of the destination to which Mr. Bygrave and his family had betaken themselves, and he was perfectly ignorant of the number of days over which their absence might be expected to extend. All he could say was, that he had not received a notice to quit from his tenant, and that he had been requested to keep the key of the house in his possession until Mr. Bygrave returned to claim it in his own person.
Baffled, but not discouraged, Mrs. Lecount turned her steps next toward the back street of Aldborough, and astonished the servant's relatives by conferring on them the honor of a morning call.
Easily imposed on at starting by Mrs. Lecount's pretense of calling to engage her, under the impression that she had left Mr. Bygrave's service, the servant did her best to answer the questions put to her. But she knew as little as the landlord of her master's plans. All she could say about them was, that she had not been dismissed, and that she was to await the receipt of a note recalling her when necessary to her situation at North Shingles. Not having expected to find her better informed on this part of the subject, Mrs. Lecount smoothly shifted her ground, and led the woman into talking generally of the advantages and defects of her situation in Mr. Bygrave's family.
Profiting by the knowledge gained, in this indirect manner, of the little secrets of the household, Mrs. Lecount made two discoveries. She found out, in the first place, that the servant
(having enough to do in attending to the coarser part of the domestic work) was in no position to disclose the secrets of Miss Bygrave's wardrobe, which were known only to the young lady herself and to her aunt. In the second place, the housekeeper ascertained that the true reason of Mrs. Bygrave's rigid seclusion was to be found in the simple fact that she was little better than an idiot, and that her husband was probably ashamed of allowing her to be seen in public. These apparently trivial discoveries enlightened Mrs. Lecount on a very important point which had been previously involved in doubt. She was now satisfied that the likeliest way to obtaining a private investigation of Magdalen's wardrobe lay through deluding the imbecile lady, and not through bribing the ignorant servant.
Having reached that conclusion -- pregnant with coming assaults on the weakly-fortified discretion of poor Mrs. Wragge -- the housekeeper cautiously abstained from exhibiting herself any longer under an inquisitive aspect. She changed the conversation to local topics, waited until she was sure of leaving an excellent impression behind her, and then took her leave.
Three days passed; and Mrs. Lecount and her master -- each with their widely-different ends in view -- watched with equal anxiety for the first signs of returning life in the direction of North Shingles. In that interval, no letter either from the uncle or the niece arrived for Noel Vanstone. His sincere feeling of irritation under this neglectful treatment greatly assisted the effect of those feigned doubts on the subject of his absent friends which the captain had recommended him to express in the housekeeper's presence. He confessed his apprehensions of having been mistaken, not in Mr. Bygrave only, but even in his niece as well, with such a genuine air of annoyance that he actually contributed a new element of confusion to the existing perplexities of Mrs. Lecount.
On the morning of the fourth day Noel Vanstone met the postman in the garden; and, to his great relief, discovered among the letters delivered to him a note from Mr. Bygrave.
The date of the note was "Woodbridge," and it contained a few lines only. Mr. Bygrave mentioned that his niece was better, and that she sent her love as before. He proposed returning to Aldborough on the next day, when he would have some new considerations of a strictly private nature to present to Mr. Noel Vanstone's mind. In the meantime he would beg Mr. Vanstone not to call at North Shingles until he received a special invitation to do so -- which invitation should certainly be given on the day when the family returned. The motive of this apparently strange request should be explained to Mr. Vanstone's perfect satisfaction when he was once more united to his friends. Until that period arrived, the strictest caution was enjoined on him in all his communications with Mrs. Lecount; and the instant destruction of Mr. Bygrave's letter, after due perusal of it, was
(if the classical phrase might be pardoned) a sine qua non.
The fifth day came. Noel Vanstone (after submitting himself to the sine qua non, and destroying the letter) waited anxiously for results; while Mrs. Lecount, on her side, watched patiently for events. Toward three o'clock in the afternoon th e carriage appeared again at the gate of North Shingles. Mr. Bygrave got out and tripped away briskly to the landlord's cottage for the key. He returned with the servant at his heels. Miss Bygrave left the carriage; her giant relative followed her example; the house door was opened; the trunks were taken off; the carriage disappeared, and the Bygraves were at home again!
Four o'clock struck, five o'clock, six o'clock, and nothing happened. In half an hour more, Mr. Bygrave -- spruce, speckless, and respectable as ever -- appeared on the Parade, sauntering composedly in the direction of Sea View.
Instead of at once entering the house, he passed it; stopped, as if struck by a sudden recollection; and, retracing his steps, asked for Mr. Vanstone at the door. Mr. Vanstone came out hospitably into the passage. Pitching his voice to a tone which could be easily heard by any listening individual through any open door in the bedroom regions, Mr. Bygrave announced the object of his visit on the door-mat in the fewest possible words. He had been staying with a distant relative. The distant relative possessed two pictures -- Gems by the Old Masters -- which he was willing to dispose of, and which he had intrusted for that purpose to Mr. Bygrave's care. If Mr. Noel Vanstone, as an amateur in such matters, wished to see the Gems, they would be visible in half an hour's time, when Mr. Bygrave would have returned to North Shingles.
Having delivered himself of this incomprehensible announcement, the arch-conspirator laid his significant forefinger along the side of his short Roman nose, said, "Fine weather, isn't it? Good-afternoon!" and sauntered out inscrutably to continue his walk on the Parade.
On the expiration of the half-hour Noel Vanstone presented himself at North Shingles, with the ardor of a lover burning inextinguishably in his bosom, through the superincumbent mental fog of a thoroughly bewildered man. To his inexpressible happiness, he found Magdalen alone in the parlor. Never yet had she looked so beautiful in his eyes. The rest and relief of her four days' absence from Aldborough had not failed to produce their results; she had more than recovered her composure. Vibrating perpetually from one violent extreme to another, she had now passed from the passionate despair of five days since to a feverish exaltation of spirits which defied all remorse and confronted all consequences. Her eyes sparkled; her cheeks were bright with color; she talked incessantly, with a forlorn mockery of the girlish gayety of past days; she laughed with a deplorable persistency in laughing; she imitated Mrs. Lecount's smooth voice, and Mrs. Lecount's insinuating graces of manner with an overcharged resemblance to the original, which was but the coarse reflection of the delicately-accurate mimicry of former times. Noel Vanstone, who had never yet seen her as he saw her now, was enchanted; his weak head whirled with an intoxication of enjoyment; his wizen cheeks flushed as if they had caught the infection from hers. The half-hour during which he was alone with her passed like five minutes to him. When that time had elapsed, and when she suddenly left him -- to obey a previously-arranged summons to her aunt's presence -- miser as he was, he would have paid at that moment five golden sovereigns out of his pocket for five golden minutes more passed in her society.
The door had hardly closed on Magdalen before it opened again, and the captain walked in. He entered on the explanations which his visitor naturally expected from him with the unceremonious abruptness of a man hard pressed for time, and determined to make the most of every moment at his disposal.
"Since we last saw each other," he began, "I have been reckoning up the chances for and against us as we stand at present. The result on my own mind is this: If you are still at Aldborough when that letter from Zurich reaches Mrs. Lecount, all the pains we have taken will have been pains thrown away. If your housekeeper had fifty brothers all dying together, she would throw the whole fifty over sooner than leave you alone at Sea View while we are your neighbors at North Shingles."
Noel Vanstone's flushed cheek turned pale with dismay. His own knowledge of Mrs. Lecount told him that this view of the case was the right one.
"If we go away again," proceeded the captain, "nothing will be gained, for nothing would persuade your housekeeper, in that case, that we have not left you the means of following us. You must leave Aldborough this time; and, what is more, you must go without leaving a single visible trace behind you for us to follow. If we accomplish this object in the course of the next five days, Mrs. Lecount will take the journey to Zurich. If we fail, she will be a fixture at Sea View, to a dead certainty. Don't ask questions! I have got your instructions ready for you, and I want your closest attention to them. Your marriage with my niece depends on your not forgetting a word of what I am now going to tell you. -- One question first. Have you followed my advice? Have you told Mrs. Lecount you are beginning to think yourself mistaken in me?"
"I did worse than that," replied Noel Vanstone penitently. "I committed an outrage on my own feelings. I disgraced myself by saying that I doubted Miss Bygrave!"
"Go on disgracing yourself, my dear sir! Doubt us both with all your might, and I'll help you. One question more. Did I speak loud enough this afternoon? Did Mrs. Lecount hear me?"
"Yes. Lecount opened her door; Lecount heard you. What made you give me that message? I see no pictures here. Is this another pious fraud, Mr. Bygrave?"
"Admirably guessed, Mr. Vanstone! You will see the object of my imaginary picture-dealing in the very next words which I am now about to address to you. When you get back to Sea View, this is what you are to say to Mrs. Lecount. Tell her that my relative's works of Art are two worthless pictures -- copies from the Old Masters, which I have tried to sell you as originals at an exorbitant price. Say you suspect me of being little better than a plausible impostor, and pity my unfortunate niece for being associated with such a rascal as I am. There is your text to speak from. Say in many words what I have just said in a few. You can do that, can't you?"
"Of course I can do it," said Noel Vanstone. "But I can tell you one thing -Lecount won't believe me."
"Wait a little, Mr. Vanstone; I have not done with my instructions yet. You understand what I have just told you? Very good. We may get on from to-day to to-morrow. Go out to-morrow with Mrs. Lecount at your usual time. I will meet you on the Parade, and bow to you. Instead of returning my bow, look the other way. In plain English, cut me! That is easy enough to do, isn't it?"
"She won't believe me, Mr. Bygrave -- she won't believe me!"
"Wait a little again, Mr. Vanstone. There are more instructions to come. You have got your directions for to-day, and you have got your directions for to-morrow. Now for the day after. The day after is the seventh day since we sent the letter to Zurich. On the seventh day decline to go out walking as before, from dread of the annoyance of meeting me again. Grumble about the smallness of the place; complain of your health; wish you had never come to Aldborough, and never made acquaintances with the Bygraves; and when you have well worried Mrs. Lecount with your discontent, ask her on a sudden if she can't suggest a change for the better. If you put that question to her naturally, do you think she can be depended on to answer it?"
"She won't want to be questioned at all," replied Noel Vanstone, irritably. "I have only got to say I am tired of Aldborough; and, if she believes me -- which she won't; I'm quite positive, Mr. Bygrave, she won't! -- she will have her suggestion ready before I can ask for it."
"Ay! ay!" said the captain eagerly. "There is some place, then, that Mrs. Lecount wants to go to this autumn?"
"She wants to go there (hang her!) every autumn."
"To go where?"
"To Admiral Bartram's -- you don't know him, do you? -- at St. Crux-in-the-Marsh."
"Don't lose your patience , Mr. Vanstone! What you are now telling me is of the most vital importance to the object we ha ve in view. Who is Admiral Bartram?"
"An old friend of my father's. My father laid him under obligations -- my father lent him money when they were both young men. I am like one of the family at St. Crux; my room is always kept ready for me. Not that there's any family at the admiral's except his nephew, George Bartram. George is my cousin; I'm as intimate with George as my father was with the admiral; and I've been sharper than my father, for I haven't lent my friend any money. Lecount always makes a show of liking George -- I believe to annoy me. She likes the admiral, too; he flatters her vanity. He always invites her to come with me to St. Crux. He lets her have one of the best bedrooms, and treats her as if she was a lady. She is as proud as Lucifer -- she likes being treated like a lady -- and she pesters me every autumn to go to St. Crux. What's the matter? What are you taking out your pocketbook for?"
"I want the admiral's address, Mr. Vanstone, for a purpose which I will explain immediately."
With those words, Captain Wragge opened his pocketbook and wrote down the address from Noel Vanstone's dictation, as follows: "Admiral Bartram, St. Crux-in-the-Marsh, near Ossory, Essex."
"Good!" cried the captain, closing his pocketbook again. "The only difficulty that stood in our way is now cleared out of it. Patience, Mr. Vanstone -patience! Let us take up my instructions again at the point where we dropped them. Give me five minutes' more attention, and you will see your way to your marriage as plainly as I see it. On the day after to-morrow you declare you are tired of Aldborough, and Mrs. Lecount suggests St. Crux. You don't say yes or no on the spot; you take the next day to consider it, and you make up your mind the last thing at night to go to St. Crux the first thing in the morning. Are you in the habit of superintending your own packing up, or do you usually shift all the trouble of it on Mrs. Lecount's shoulders?"
"Lecount has all the trouble, of course; Lecount is paid for it! But I don't really go, do I?"
"You go as fast as horses can take you to the railway without having held any previous communication with this house, either personally or by letter. You leave Mrs. Lecount behind to pack up your curiosities, to settle with the tradespeople, and to follow you to St. Crux the next morning. The next morning is the tenth morning. On the tenth morning she receives the letter from Zurich; and if you only carry out my instructions, Mr. Vanstone, as sure as you sit there, to Zurich she goes."
Noel Vanstone's color began to rise again, as the captain's stratagem dawned on him at last in its true light.
"And what am I to do at St. Crux?" he inquired.
"Wait there till I call for you," replied the captain. "As soon as Mrs. Lecount's back is turned, I will go to the church here and give the necessary notice of the marriage. The same day or the next, I will travel to the address written down in my pocketbook, pick you up at the admiral's, and take you on to London with me to get the license. With that document in our possession, we shall be on our way back to Aldborough while Mrs. Lecount is on her way out to Zurich; and before she starts on her return journey, you and my niece will be man and wife! There are your future prospects for you. What do you think of them?"
"What a head you have got!" cried Noel Vanstone, in a sudden outburst of enthusiasm. "You're the most extraordinary man I ever met with. One would think you had done nothing all your life but take people in."
Captain Wragge received that unconscious tribute to his native genius with the complacency of a man who felt that he thoroughly deserved it.
"I have told you already, my dear sir," he said, modestly, "that I never do things by halves. Pardon me for reminding you that we have no time for exchanging mutual civilities. Are you quite sure about your instructions? I dare not write them down for fear of accidents. Try the system of artificial memory; count your instructions off after me, on your thumb and your four fingers. To-day you tell Mrs. Lecount I have tried to take you in with my relative's works of Art. To-morrow you cut me on the Parade. The day after you refuse to go out, you get tired of Aldborough, and you allow Mrs. Lecount to make her suggestion. The next day you accept the suggestion. And the next day to that you go to St. Crux. Once more, my dear sir! Thumb -- works of Art. Forefinger -- cut me on the Parade. Middle finger -- tired of Aldborough. Third finger -- take Lecount's advice. Little finger -- off to St. Crux. Nothing can be clearer -nothing can be easier to do. Is there anything you don't understand? Anything that I can explain over again before you go?"
"Only one thing," said Noel Vanstone. "Is it settled that I am not to come here again before I go to St. Crux?"
"Most decidedly!" answered the captain. "The whole success of the enterprise depends on your keeping away. Mrs. Lecount will try the credibility of everything you say to her by one test -- the test of your communicating, or not, with this house. She will watch you night and day! Don't call here, don't send messages, don't write letters; don't even go out by yourself. Let her see you start for St. Crux on her suggestion, with the absolute certainty in her own mind that you have followed her advice without communicating it in any form whatever to me or to my niece. Do that, and she must believe you, on the best of all evidence for our interests, and the worst for hers -- the evidence of her own senses."
With those last words of caution, he shook the little man warmly by the hand and sent him home on the spot.Next