The Fortune Teller
Sir Henry Marquis continued to read; he made no comment; his
voice clear and even.
It was a big sunny room. The long windows looked out on a formal
garden, great beech trees and the bow of the river. Within it
was a sort of library. There were bookcases built into the wall,
to the height of a man's head, and at intervals between them,
rising from the floor to the cornice of the shelves, were rows of
mahogany drawers with glass knobs. There was also a flat writing
It was the room of a traveler, a man of letters, a dreamer. On
the table were an inkpot of carved jade, a paperknife of ivory
with gold butterflies set in; three bronze storks, with their
backs together, held an exquisite Japanese crystal.
The room was in disorder - the drawers pulled out and the
My father stood leaning against the casement of the window,
looking out. The lawyer, Mr. Lewis, sat in a chair beside the
table, his eyes on the violated room.
"Pendleton," he said, "I don't like this English man Gosford."
The words seemed to arouse my father out of the depths of some
reflection, and he turned to the lawyer, Mr. Lewis.
"Gosford!" he echoed.
"He is behind this business, Pendleton," the lawyer, Mr. Lewis,
went on. "Mark my word! He comes here when Marshall is dying;
he forces his way to the man's bed; he puts the servants out; he
locks the door. Now, what business had this Englishman with
Marshall on his deathbed? What business of a secrecy so close
that Marshall's son is barred out by a locked door?"
He paused and twisted the seal ring on his finger.
"When you and I came to visit the sick man, Gosford was always
here, as though he kept a watch upon us, and when we left, he
went always to this room to write his letters, as he said.
"And more than this, Pendleton; Marshall is hardly in his grave
before Gosford writes me to inquire by what legal process the
dead man's papers may be examined for a will. And it is Gosford
who sends a negro riding, as if the devil were on the crupper, to
summon me in the name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, - to
appear and examine into the circumstances of this burglary.
"I mistrust the man. He used to hang about Marshall in his life,
upon some enterprise of secrecy; and now he takes possession and
leadership in his affairs, and sets the man's son aside. In what
right, Pendleton, does this adventurous Englishman feel himself
My father did not reply to Lewis's discourse. His comment was in
"Here is young Marshall and Gaeki," he said.
The lawyer rose and came over to the window.
Two persons were advancing from the direction of the stables - a
tall, delicate boy, and a strange old man. The old man walked
with a quick, jerky, stride. It was the old country doctor
Gaeki. And, unlike any other man of his profession, he would
work as long and as carefully on the body of a horse as he would
on the body of a man, snapping out his quaint oaths, and in a
stress of effort, as though he struggled with some invisible
creature for its prey. The negroes used to say that the devil
was afraid of Gaeki, and he might have been, if to disable a man
or his horse were the devil's will. But I think, rather, the
negroes imagined the devil to fear what they feared themselves.
"Now, what could bring Gaeki here?" said Lewes.
"It was the horse that Gosford overheated in his race to you,"
replied my father. "I saw him stop in the road where the negro
boy was leading the horse about, and then call young Marshall."
"It was no fault of young Marshall, Pendleton," said the lawyer.
"But, also, he is no match for Gosford. He is a dilettante. He
paints little pictures after the fashion he learned in Paris, and
he has no force or vigor in him. His father was a dreamer, a
wanderer, one who loved the world and its frivolities, and the
son takes that temperament, softened by his mother. He ought to
have a guardian."
"He has one," replied my father.
"A guardian!" repeated Lewis. "What court has appointed a
guardian for young Marshall?"
"A court," replied my father, "that does not sit under the
authority of Virginia. The helpless, Lewis, in their youth and
inexperience, are not wholly given over to the spoiler."
The boy they talked about was very young - under twenty, one
would say. He was blue-eyed and fair-haired, with thin, delicate
features, which showed good blood long inbred to the loss of
vigor. He had the fine, open, generous face of one who takes the
world as in a fairy story. But now there was care and anxiety in
it, and a furtive shadow, as though the lad's dream of life had
got some rude awakening.
At this moment the door behind my father and Lewis was thrown
violently open, and a man entered. He was a person with the
manner of a barrister, precise and dapper; he had a long, pink
face, pale eyes, and a close-cropped beard that brought out the
hard lines of his mouth. He bustled to the table, put down a
sort of portfolio that held an inkpot, a writing-pad and pens,
and drew up a chair like one about to take the minutes of a
meeting. And all the while he apologized for his delay. He had
important letters to get off in the post, and to make sure, had
carried them to the tavern himself.
"And now, sirs, let us get about this business," he finished,
like one who calls his assistants to a labor:
My father turned about and looked at the man.
"Is your name Gosford?" he said in his cold, level voice.
"It is, sir," replied the Englishman, " - Anthony Gosford."
"Well, Mr. Anthony Gosford," replied my father, "kindly close the
door that you have opened."
Lewis plucked out his snuffbox and trumpeted in his many-colored
handkerchief to hide his laughter.
The Englishman, thrown off his patronizing manner, hesitated,
closed the door as he was bidden - and could not regain his fine
"Now, Mr. Gosford," my father went on, "why was this room
violated as we see it?"
"It was searched for Peyton Marshall's will, sir," replied the
"How did you know that Marshall had a will?" said my father.
"I saw him write it," returned the Englishman, "here in this very
room, on the eighteenth day of October, 1854."
"That was two years ago," said my father. "Was the will here at
"It was. He told me on his deathbed."
"And it is gone now?"
"It is," replied the Englishman.
"And now, Mr. Gosford," said my father, "how do you know this
will is gone unless you also know precisely where it was?"
"I do know precisely where it was, sir," returned the man. "It
was in the row of drawers on the right of the window where you
stand - the second drawer from the top. Mr. Marshall put it
there when he wrote it, and he told me on his deathbed that it
remained there. You can see, sir, that the drawer has been
My father looked casually at the row of mahogany drawers rising
along the end of the bookcase. The second one and the one above
were open; the others below were closed.
"Mr. Gosford," he said, "you would have some interest in this
will, to know about it so precisely."
"And so I have," replied the man, "it left me a sum of money."
"A large sum?"
"A very large sum, sir."
"Mr. Anthony Gosford," said my father, "for what purpose did
Peyton Marshall bequeath you a large sum of money? You are no
kin; nor was he in your debt."
The Englishman sat down and put his fingers together with a
"Sir," he began, "I am not advised that the purpose of a bequest
is relevant, when the bequest is direct and unencumbered by the
testator with any indicatory words of trust or uses. This will
bequeathes me a sum of money. I am not required by any provision
of the law to show the reasons moving the testator. Doubtless,
Mr. Peyton Marshall had reasons which he deemed excellent for
this course, but they are, sir, entombed in the grave with him."
My father looked steadily at the man, but he did not seem to
consider his explanation, nor to go any further on that line.
"Is there another who would know about this will?" he said.
"This effeminate son would know," replied Gosford, a sneer in the
epithet, "but no other. Marshall wrote the testament in his own
hand, without witnesses, as he had the legal right to do under
the laws of Virginia. The lawyer," he added, "Mr. Lewis, will
confirm me in the legality of that."
"It is the law," said Lewis. "One may draw up a holograph will
if he likes, in his own hand, and it is valid without a witness
in this State, although the law does not so run in every
"And now, sir," continued the Englishman, turning to my father,
"we will inquire into the theft of this testament."
But my father did not appear to notice Mr. Gosford. He seemed
perplexed and in some concern.
"Lewis," he said, "what is your definition of a crime?"
"It is a violation of the law," replied the lawyer.
"I do not accept your definition," said my father. "It is,
rather, I think, a violation of justice - a violation of
something behind the law that makes an act a crime. I think," he
went on, "that God must take a broader view than Mr. Blackstone
and Lord Coke. I have seen a murder in the law that was, in
fact, only a kind of awful accident, and I have seen your
catalogue of crimes gone about by feeble men with no intent
except an adjustment of their rights. Their crimes, Lewis, were
merely errors of their impractical judgment."
Then he seemed to remember that the Englishman was present.
"And now, Mr. Gosford," he said, "will you kindly ask young
Marshall to come in here?"
The man would have refused, with some rejoinder, but my father
was looking at him, and he could not find the courage to resist
my father's will. He got up and went out, and presently returned
followed by the lad and Gaeki. The old country doctor sat down
by the door, his leather case of bottles by the chair, his cloak
still fastened under his chin. Gosford went back to the table
and sat down with his writing materials to keep notes. The boy
My father looked a long time at the lad. His face was grave, but
when he spoke, his voice was gentle.
"My boy," he said, "I have had a good deal of experience in the
examination of the devil's work." He paused and indicated the
violated room. "It is often excellently done. His disciples are
extremely clever. One's ingenuity is often taxed to trace out
the evil design in it, and to stamp it as a false piece set into
the natural sequence of events."
He paused again, and his big shoulders blotted out the window.
"Every natural event," he continued, "is intimately connected
with innumerable events that precede and follow. It has so many
serrated points of contact with other events that the human mind
is not able to fit a false event so that no trace of the joinder
will appear. The most skilled workmen in the devil's shop are
only able to give their false piece a blurred joinder."
He stopped and turned to the row of mahogany drawers beside him.
"Now, my boy," he said, "can you tell me why the one who
ransacked this room, in opening and tumbling the contents of all
the drawers, about, did not open the two at the bottom of the row
where I stand?"
"Because there was nothing in them of value, sir," replied the
"What is in them?" said my father.
"Only old letters, sir, written to my father, when I was in Paris
- nothing else."
"And who would know that?" said my father.
The boy went suddenly white.
"Precisely!" said my father. "You alone knew it, and when you
undertook to give this library the appearance of a pillaged room,
you unconsciously endowed your imaginary robber with the thing
you knew yourself. Why search for loot in drawers that contained
only old letters? So your imaginary robber reasoned, knowing
what you knew. But a real robber, having no such knowledge,
would have ransacked them lest he miss the things of value that
he searched for."
He paused, his eyes on the lad, his voice deep and gentle.
"Where is the will?" he said.
The white in the boy's face changed to scarlet. He looked a
moment about him in a sort of terror; then he lifted his head and
put back his shoulders. He crossed the room to a bookcase, took
down a volume, opened it and brought out a sheet of folded
foolscap. He stood up and faced my father and the men about the
"This man," he said, indicating Gosford, "has no right to take
all my father had. He persuaded my father and was trusted by
him. But I did not trust him. My father saw this plan in a
light that I did not see it, but I did not oppose him. If he
wished to use his fortune to help our country in the thing which
he thought he foresaw, I was willing for him to do it.
"But," he cried, "somebody deceived me, and I will not believe
that it was my father. He told me all about this thing. I had
not the health to fight for our country, when the time came, he
said, and as he had no other son, our fortune must go to that
purpose in our stead. But my father was just. He said that a
portion would be set aside for me, and the remainder turned over
to Mr. Gosford. But this will gives all to Mr. Gosford and
leaves me nothing!"
Then he came forward and put the paper in my father's hand.
There was silence except for the sharp voice of Mr. Gosford.
"I think there will be a criminal proceeding here!"
My father handed the paper to Lewis, who unfolded it and read it
aloud. It directed the estate of Peyton Marshall to be sold, the
sum of fifty thousand dollars paid to Anthony Gosford and the
remainder to the son.
"But there will be no remainder," cried young Marshall. "My
father's estate is worth precisely that sum. He valued it very
carefully, item by item, and that is exactly the amount it came
"Nevertheless," said Lewis, "the will reads that way. It is in
legal form, written in Marshall's hand, and signed with his
signature, and sealed. Will you examine it, gentlemen? There
can be no question of the writing or the signature."
My father took the paper and read it slowly, and old Gaeki nosed
it over my father's arm, his eyes searching the structure of each
word, while Mr. Gosford sat back comfortably in his chair like
one elevated to a victory.
"It is in Marshall's hand and signature," said my father, and old
Gaeki, nodded, wrinkling his face under his shaggy eyebrows. He
went away still wagging his grizzled head, wrote a memorandum on
an envelope from his pocket, and sat down in, his chair.
My father turned now to young Marshall.
"My boy," he said, "why do you say that some one has deceived
"Because, sir," replied the lad, "my father was to leave me
twenty thousand dollars. That was his plan. Thirty thousand
dollars should be set aside for Mr. Gosford, and the remainder
turned over to me."
"That would be thirty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, instead of
fifty," said my father.
"Yes, sir," replied the boy; "that is the way my father said he
would write his will. But it was not written that way. It is
fifty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, and the remainder to me.
If it were thirty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, as my father,
said his will would be, that would have left me twenty thousand
dollars from the estate; but giving Mr. Gosford fifty thousand
dollars leaves me nothing."
"And so you adventured on a little larceny," sneered the
The boy stood very straight and white.
"I do not understand this thing," he said, "but I do not believe
that my father would deceive me. He never did deceive me in his
life. I may have been a disappointment to him, but my father
was a gentle man." His voice went up strong and clear. "And I
refuse to believe that he would tell me one thing and do
One could not fail to be impressed, or to believe that the boy
spoke the truth.
"We are sorry," said Lewis, "but the will is valid and we cannot
go behind it."
My father walked about the room, his face in reflection. Gosford
sat at his ease, transcribing a note on his portfolio. Old Gaeki
had gone back to his chair and to his little case of bottles; he
got them up on his knees, as though he would be diverted by
fingering the tools of his profession. Lewis was in plain
distress, for he held the law and its disposition to be
inviolable; the boy stood with a find defiance, ennobled by the
trust in his father's honor. One could not take his stratagem
for a criminal act; he was only a child, for all his twenty years
of life. And yet Lewis saw the elements of crime, and he knew
that Gosford was writing down the evidence.
It was my father who broke the silence.
"Gosford," he said, "what scheme were you and Marshall about?"
"You may wonder, sir," replied the Englishman, continuing to
write at his notes; "I shall not tell you."
"But I will tell you," said the boy. "My father thought that the
states in this republic could not hold together very much longer.
He believed that the country would divide, and the South set up a
separate government. He hoped this might come about without a
war. He was in horror of a war. He had traveled; he had seen
nations and read their history, and he knew what civil wars were.
I have heard him say that men did not realize what they were
talking when they urged war."
He paused and looked at Gosford.
"My father was convinced that the South would finally set up an
independent government, but he hoped a war might not follow. He
believed that if this new government were immediately recognized
by Great Britain, the North would accept the inevitable and there
would be no bloodshed. My father went to England with this
scheme. He met Mr. Gosford somewhere - on the ship, I think.
And Mr. Gosford succeeded in convincing my father that if he had
a sum of money he could win over certain powerful persons in the
English Government, and so pave the way to an immediate
recognition of the Southern Republic by Great Britain. He
followed my father home and hung about him, and so finally got
his will. My father was careful; he wrote nothing; Mr. Gosford
wrote nothing; there is no evidence of this plan; but my father
told me, and it is true."
My father stopped by the table and lifted his great shoulders.
"And so," he said, "Peyton Marshall imagined a plan like that,
and left its execution to a Mr. Gosford!"
The Englishman put down his pen and addressed my father.
"I would advise you, sir, to require a little proof for your
conclusions. This is a very pretty story, but it is prefaced by
an admission of no evidence, and it comes as a special pleading
for a criminal act. Now, sir, if I chose, if the bequest
required it, I could give a further explanation, with more
substance; of moneys borrowed by the decedent in his travels and
to be returned to me. But the will, sir, stands for itself, as
Mr. Lewis will assure you."
Young Marshall looked anxiously at the lawyer.
"Is that the law, sir?"
"It is the law of Virginia," said Lewis, "that a will by a
competent testator, drawn in form, requires no collateral
explanation to support it."
My father seemed brought up in a cul-de-sac. His face was tense
and disturbed. He stood by the table; and now, as by accident,
he put out his hand and took up the Japanese crystal supported by
the necks of the three bronze storks. He appeared unconscious of
the act, for he was in deep reflection. Then, as though the
weight in his hand drew his attention, he glanced at the thing.
Something about it struck him, for his manner changed. He spread
the will out on the table and began to move the crystal over it,
his face close to the glass. Presently his hand stopped, and he
stood stooped over, staring into the Oriental crystal, like those
practicers of black art who predict events from what they pretend
to see in these spheres of glass.
Mr. Gosford, sitting at his ease, in victory, regarded my father
with a supercilious, ironical smile.
"Sir," he said, "are you, by chance, a fortuneteller?"
"A misfortune-teller," replied my father, his face still held
above the crystal. "I see here a misfortune to Mr. Anthony
Gosford. I predict, from what I see, that he will release this
bequest of moneys to Peyton Marshall's son."
"Your prediction, sir," said Gosford, in a harder note, "is not
likely to come true."
"Why, yes," replied my father, "it is certain to come true. I
see it very clearly. Mr. Gosford will write out a release, under
his hand and seal, and go quietly out of Virginia, and Peyton
Marshall's son will take his entire estate."
"Sir," said the Englishman, now provoked into a temper, "do you
enjoy this foolery?"
"You are not interested in crystal-gazing, Mr. Gosford," replied
my father in a tranquil voice. "Well, I find it most diverting.
Permit me to piece out your fortune, or rather your misfortune,
Mr. Gosford! By chance you fell in with this dreamer Marshall,
wormed into his confidence, pretended a relation to great men in
England; followed and persuaded him until, in his ill-health, you
got this will. You saw it written two years ago. When Marshall
fell ill, you hurried here, learned from the dying man that the
will remained and where it was. You made sure by pretending to
write letters in this room, bringing your portfolio with ink and
pen and a pad of paper. Then, at Marshall's death, you inquired
of Lewis for legal measures to discover the dead man's will. And
when you find the room ransacked, you run after the law."
My father paused.
"That is your past, Mr. Gosford. Now let me tell your future. I
see you in joy at the recovered will. I see you pleased at your
foresight in getting a direct bequest, and at the care you urged
on Marshall to leave no evidence of his plan, lest the
authorities discover it. For I see, Mr. Gosford, that it was
your intention all along to keep this sum of money for your own
use and pleasure. But alas, Mr. Gosford, it was not to be! I
see you writing this release; and Mr. Gosford" - my father's
voice went up full and strong, - "I see you writing it in
terror - sweat on your face!"
"The Devil take your nonsense!" cried the Englishman.
My father stood up with a twisted, ironical smile.
"If you doubt my skill, Mr. Gosford, as a fortune, or rather a
misfortune-teller I will ask Mr. Lewis and Herman Gaeki to tell
me what they see."
The two men crossed the room and stooped over the paper, while my
father held the crystal. The manner and the bearing of the men
changed. They grew on the instant tense and fired with interest.
"I see it!" said the old doctor, with a queer foreign expletive.
"And I," cried Lewis, "see something more than Pendleton's
vision. I see the penitentiary in the distance."
The Englishman sprang up with an oath and leaned across the
table. Then he saw the thing.
"My father's hand held the crystal above the figures of the
bequest written in the body of the will. The focused lens of
glass magnified to a great diameter, and under the vast
enlargement a thing that would escape the eye stood out. The top
curl of a figure 3 had been erased, and the bar of a 5 added.
One could see the broken fibers of the paper on the outline of
the curl, and the bar of the five lay across the top of the three
and the top of the o behind it like a black lath tacked across
The figure 3 had been changed to 5 so cunningly is to deceive the
eye, but not to deceive the vast magnification of the crystal.
The thing stood out big and crude like a carpenter's patch.
Gosford's face became expressionless like wood, his body rigid;
then he stood up and faced the three men across the table.
"Quite so!" he said in his vacuous English voice. "Marshall
wrote a 3 by inadvertence and changed it. He borrowed my
penknife to erase the figure."
My father and Lewis gaped like men who see a penned-in beast slip
out through an unimagined passage. There was silence. Then
suddenly, in the strained stillness of the room, old Doctor Gaeki
Gosford lifted his long pink face, with its cropped beard
bringing out the ugly mouth.
"Why do you laugh, my good man?" he said.
"I laugh," replied Gaeki, "because a figure 5 can have so many
And now my father and Lewis were no less astonished than Mr.
"Colors!" they said, for the changed figure in the will was
"Why, yes," replied the old man, "it is very pretty."
He reached across the table and drew over Mr. Gosford's
memorandum beside the will.
"You are progressive, sir," he went on; "you write in
iron-nutgall ink, just made, commercially, in this year of
fifty-six by Mr. Stephens. But we write here as Marshall wrote
in 'fifty-four, with logwood."
He turned and fumbled in his little case of bottles.
"I carry a bit of acid for my people's indigestions. It has
other uses." He whipped out the stopper of his vial and dabbed
Gosford's notes and Marshall's signature.
"See!" he cried. "Your writing is blue, Mr. Gosford, and
With an oath the trapped man struck at Gaeki's hand. The vial
fell and cracked on the table. The hydrochloric acid spread out
over Marshall's will. And under the chemical reagent the figure
in the bequest of fifty thousand dollars changed beautifully; the
bar of the 5 turned blue, and the remainder of it a deep
purple-red like the body of the will.
"Gaeki," cried my father, "you have trapped a rogue!"
"And I have lost a measure of good acid," replied the old man.
And he began to gather up the bits of his broken bottle from the
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