The House Of Clocks
Miss Strange was not in a responsive mood. This her employer had
observed on first entering; yet he showed no hesitation in laying
on the table behind which she had ensconced herself in the
attitude of one besieged, an envelope thick with enclosed papers.
"There," said he. "Telephone me when you have read them."
"I shall not read them."
"No?" he smiled; and, repossessing himself of the envelope, he
tore off one end, extracted the sheets with which it was filled,
and laid them down still unfolded, in their former place on the
The suggestiveness of the action caused the corners of Miss
Srange's delicate lips to twitch wistfully, before settling into
an ironic smile.
Calmly the other watched her.
"I am on a vacation," she loftily explained, as she finally met
his studiously non-quizzical glance. "Oh, I know that I am in my
own home!" she petulantly acknowledged, as his gaze took in the
room; "and that the automobile is at the door; and that I'm
dressed for shopping. But for all that I'm on a vacation--a
mental one," she emphasized; "and business must wait. I haven't
got over the last affair," she protested, as he maintained a
discreet silence, "and the season is so gay just now--so many
balls, so many--But that isn't the worst. Father is beginning to
wake up--and if he ever suspects--" A significant gesture ended
The personage knew her father--everyone did--and the wonder had
always been that she dared run the risk of displeasing one so
implacable. Though she was his favourite child, Peter Strange was
known to be quite capable of cutting her off with a shilling,
once his close, prejudiced mind conceived it to be his duty. And
that he would so interpret the situation, if he ever came to
learn the secret of his daughter's fits of abstraction and the
sly bank account she was slowly accumulating, the personage
holding out this dangerous lure had no doubt at all. Yet he only
smiled at her words and remarked in casual suggestion:
"It's out of town this time--'way out. Your health certainly
demands a change of air."
"My health is good. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as one may
choose to look at it, it furnishes me with no excuse for an
outing," she steadily retorted, turning her back on the table.
"Ah, excuse me!" the insidious voice apologized, "your paleness
misled me. Surely a night or two's change might be beneficial."
She gave him a quick side look, and began to adjust her boa.
To this hint he paid no attention.
"The affair is quite out of the ordinary," he pursued in the tone
of one rehearsing a part. But there he stopped. For some reason,
not altogether apparent to the masculine mind, the pin of
flashing stones (real stones) which held her hat in place had to
be taken out and thrust back again, not once, but twice. It was
to watch this performance he had paused. When he was ready to
proceed, he took the musing tone of one marshalling facts for
"A woman of unknown instincts--"
"Pshaw!" The end of the pin would strike against the comb holding
Violet's chestnut-coloured locks.
"Living in a house as mysterious as the secret it contains. But--"
here he allowed his patience apparently to forsake him, "I will
bore you no longer. Go to your teas and balls; I will struggle
with my dark affairs alone."
His hand went to the packet of papers she affected so
ostentatiously to despise. He could be as nonchalant as she. But
he did not lift them; he let them lie. Yet the young heiress had
not made a movement or even turned the slightest glance his way.
"A woman difficult to understand! A mysterious house--possibly a
Thus Violet kept repeating in silent self-communion, as flushed
with dancing she sat that evening in a highly-scented
conservatory, dividing her attention between the compliments of
her partner and the splash of a fountain bubbling in the heart of
this mass of tropical foliage; and when some hours later she sat
down in her chintz-furnished bedroom for a few minutes' thought
before retiring, it was to draw from a little oak box at her
elbow the half-dozen or so folded sheets of closely written paper
which had been left for her perusal by her persistent employer.
Glancing first at the signature and finding it to be one already
favourably known at the bar, she read with avidity the statement
of events thus vouched for, finding them curious enough in all
conscience to keep her awake for another full hour.
We here subscribe it:
I am a lawyer with an office in the Times Square Building. My
business is mainly local, but sometimes I am called out of town,
as witness the following summons received by me on the fifth of
I wish to make my will. I am an invalid and cannot leave my room.
Will you come to me? The enclosed reference will answer for my
respectability. If it satisfies you and you decide to accommodate
me, please hasten your visit; I have not many days to live. A
carriage will meet you at Highland Station at any hour you
designate. Telegraph reply.
A. Postlethwaite, Gloom Cottage, -- N. J.
The reference given was a Mr. Weed of Eighty-sixth Street--a well-
known man of unimpeachable reputation.
Calling him up at his business office, I asked him what he could
tell me about Mr. Postlethwaite of Gloom Cottage, --, N. J.
The answer astonished me:
"There is no Mr. Postlethwaite to be found at that address. He
died years ago. There is a Mrs. Postlethwaite--a confirmed
paralytic. Do you mean her?"
I glanced at the letter still lying open at the side of the
"The signature reads A. Postlethwaite."
"Then it's she. Her name is Arabella. She hates the name, being a
woman of no sentiment. Uses her initials even on her cheques.
What does she want of you?"
"To draw her will."
"Oblige her. It'll be experience for you." And he slammed home
I decided to follow the suggestion so forcibly emphasized; and
the next day saw me at Highland Station. A superannuated horse
and a still more superannuated carriage awaited me--both too old
to serve a busy man in these days of swift conveyance. Could this
be a sample of the establishment I was about to enter? Then I
remembered that the woman who had sent for me was a helpless
invalid, and probably had no use for any sort of turnout.
The driver was in keeping with the vehicle, and as noncommittal
as the plodding beast he drove. If I ventured upon a remark, he
gave me a long and curious look; if I went so far as to attack
him with a direct question, he responded with a hitch of the
shoulder or a dubious smile which conveyed nothing. Was he deaf
or just unpleasant? I soon learned that he was not deaf; for
suddenly, after a jog-trot of a mile or so through a wooded road
which we had entered from the main highway, he drew in his horse,
and, without glancing my way, spoke his first word:
"This is where you get out. The house is back there in the
As no house was visible and the bushes rose in an unbroken
barrier along the road, I stared at him in some doubt of his
"But--" I began; a protest into which he at once broke, with the
"Take the path. It'll lead you straight to the front door."
"I don't see any path."
For this he had no answer; and confident from his expression that
it would be useless to expect anything further from him, I
dropped a coin into his hand, and jumped to the ground. He was
off before I could turn myself about.
"'Something is rotten in the State of Denmark,'" I quoted in
startled comment to myself; and not knowing what else to do,
stared down at the turf at my feet.
A bit of flagging met my eye, protruding from a layer of thick
moss. Farther on I espied another--the second, probably, of many.
This, no doubt, was the path I had been bidden to follow, and
without further thought on the subject, I plunged into the bushes
which with difficulty I made give way before me.
For a moment all further advance looked hopeless. A more tangled,
uninviting approach to a so-called home, I had never seen outside
of the tropics; and the complete neglect thus displayed should
have prepared me for the appearance of the house I unexpectedly
came upon, just as, the way seemed on the point of closing up
But nothing could well prepare one for a first view of Gloom
Cottage. Its location in a hollow which had gradually filled
itself up with trees and some kind of prickly brush, its deeply
stained walls, once picturesque enough in their grouping but too
deeply hidden now amid rotting boughs to produce any other effect
than that of shrouded desolation, the sough of these same boughs
as they rapped a devil's tattoo against each other, and the
absence of even the rising column of smoke which bespeaks
domestic life wherever seen--all gave to one who remembered the
cognomen Cottage and forgot the pre-cognomen of Gloom, a sense of
buried life as sepulchral as that which emanates from the mouth
of some freshly opened tomb.
But these impressions, natural enough to my youth, were
necessarily transient, and soon gave way to others more business-
like. Perceiving the curve of an arch rising above the
undergrowth still blocking my approach, I pushed my way
resolutely through, and presently found myself stumbling upon the
steps of an unexpectedly spacious domicile, built not of wood, as
its name of Cottage had led me to expect, but of carefully cut
stone which, while showing every mark of time, proclaimed itself
one of those early, carefully erected Colonial residences which
it takes more than a century to destroy, or even to wear to the
point of dilapidation.
Somewhat encouraged, though failing to detect any signs of active
life in the heavily shuttered windows frowning upon me from
either side, I ran up the steps and rang the bell which pulled as
hard as if no hand had touched it in years.
Then I waited.
But not to ring again; for just as my hand was approaching the
bell a second time, the door fell back and I beheld in the black
gap before me the oldest man I had ever come upon in my whole
life. He was so old I was astonished when his drawn lips opened
and he asked if I was the lawyer from New York. I would as soon
have expected a mummy to wag its tongue and utter English, he
looked so thin and dried and removed from this life and all
But when I had answered his question and he had turned to marshal
me down the hall towards a door I could dimly see standing open
in the twilight of an absolutely sunless interior, I noticed that
his step was not without some vigour, despite the feeble bend of
his withered body and the incessant swaying of his head, which
seemed to be continually saying No!
"I will prepare madam," he admonished me, after drawing a
ponderous curtain two inches or less aside from one of the
windows. "She is very ill, but she will see you."
The tone was senile, but it was the senility of an educated man,
and as the cultivated accents wavered forth, my mind changed in,
regard to the position he held in the house. Interested anew, I
sought to give him another look, but he had already vanished
through the doorway, and so noiselessly, it was more like a
shadow's flitting than a man's withdrawal.
The darkness in which I sat was absolute; but gradually, as I
continued to look about me, the spaces lightened and certain
details came out, which to my astonishment were of a character to
show that the plain if substantial exterior of this house with
its choked-up approaches and weedy gardens was no sample of what
was to be found inside. Though the walls surrounding me were
dismal because unlighted, they betrayed a splendour unusual in
any country house. The frescoes and paintings were of an ancient
order, dating from days when life and not death reigned in this
isolated dwelling; but in them high art reigned supreme, an art
so high and so finished that only great wealth, combined with the
most cultivated taste, could have produced such effects. I was
still absorbed in the wonder of it all, when the quiet voice of
the old gentleman who had let me in reached me again from the
doorway, and I heard:
"Madam is ready for you. May I trouble you to accompany me to her
I rose with alacrity. I was anxious to see madam, if only to
satisfy myself that she was as interesting as the house in which
she was self-immured.
I found her a great deal more so. But before I enter upon our
interview, let me mention a fact which had attracted my attention
in my passage to her room. During his absence my guide evidently
had pulled aside other curtains than those of the room in which
he had left me. The hall, no longer a tunnel of darkness, gave me
a glimpse as we went by, of various secluded corners, and it
seemed as if everywhere I looked I saw--a clock. I counted four
before I reached the staircase, all standing on the floor and all
of ancient make, though differing much in appearance and value. A
fifth one rose grim and tall at the stair foot, and under an
impulse I have never understood I stopped, when I reached it, to
note the time. But it had paused in its task, and faced me with
motionless hands and silent works--a fact which somehow startled
me; perhaps, because just then I encountered the old man's eye
watching me with an expression as challenging as it was
I had expected to see a woman in bed. I saw instead, a woman
sitting up. You felt her influence the moment you entered her
presence. She was not young; she was not beautiful;--never had
been I should judge,--she had not even the usual marks about her
of an ultra strong personality; but that her will was law, had
always been, and would continue to be law so long as she lived,
was patent to any eye at the first glance. She exacted obedience
consciously and unconsciously, and she exacted it with charm.
Some few people in the world possess this power. They frown, and
the opposing will weakens; they smile, and all hearts succumb. I
was hers from the moment I crossed the threshold till--But I will
relate the happenings of that instant when it comes.
She was alone, or so I thought, when I made my first bow to her
stern but not unpleasing presence. Seated in a great chair, with
a silver tray before her containing such little matters as she
stood in hourly need of, she confronted me with a piercing gaze
startling to behold in eyes so colourless. Then she smiled, and
in obedience to that smile I seated myself in a chair placed very
near her own. Was she too paralysed to express herself clearly? I
waited in some anxiety till she spoke, when this fear vanished.
Her voice betrayed the character her features failed to express.
It was firm, resonant, and instinct with command. Not loud, but
penetrating, and of a quality which made one listen with his
heart as well as with his ears. What she said is immaterial. I
was there for a certain purpose and we entered immediately upon
the business of that purpose. She talked and I listened, mostly
without comment. Only once did I interrupt her with a suggestion;
and as this led to definite results, I will proceed to relate the
occurrence in full.
In the few hours remaining to me before leaving New York, I had
learned (no matter how) some additional particulars concerning
herself and family; and when after some minor bequests, she
proceeded to name the parties to whom she desired to leave the
bulk of her fortune, I ventured, with some astonishment at my own
temerity, to remark:
"But you have a young relative! Is she not to be included in this
partition of your property?"
A hush. Then a smile came to life on her stiff lips, such as is
seldom seen, thank God, on the face of any woman, and I heard:
"The young relative of whom you speak, is in the room. She has
known for some time that I have no intention of leaving anything
to her. There is, in fact, small chance of her ever needing it."
The latter sentence was a muttered one, but that it was loud
enough to be heard in all parts of the room I was soon assured.
For a quick sigh, which was almost a gasp, followed from a corner
I had hitherto ignored, and upon glancing that way, I perceived,
peering upon us from the shadows, the white face of a young girl
in whose drawn features and wide, staring eyes I beheld such
evidences of terror, that in an instant, whatever predilection I
had hitherto felt for my client, vanished in distrust, if not
I was still under the sway of this new impression, when Mrs.
Postlethwaite's voice rose again, this time addressing the young
"You may go," she said, with such force in the command for all
its honeyed modulation, that I expected to see its object fly the
room in frightened obedience.
But though the startled girl had lost none of the terror which
had made her face like a mask, no power of movement remained to
her. A picture of hopeless misery, she stood for one breathless
moment, with her eyes fixed in unmistakable appeal on mine; then
she began to sway so helplessly that I leaped with bounding heart
to catch her. As she fell into my arms I heard her sigh as
before. No common anguish spoke in that sigh. I had stumbled
unwittingly upon a tragedy, to the meaning of which I held but a
"She seems very ill," I observed with some emphasis, as I turned
to lay my helpless burden on a near-by sofa.
The words were spoken with gloom and with an attempt at
commiseration which no longer rang true in my ears.
"She is as sick a woman as I am myself"; continued Mrs.
Postlethwaite. "That is why I made the remark I did, never
imagining she would hear me at that distance. Do not put her
down. My nurse will be here in a moment to relieve you of your
A tinkle accompanied these words. The resolute woman had
stretched out a finger, of whose use she was not quite deprived,
and touched a little bell standing on the tray before her, an
inch or two from her hand.
Pleased to obey her command, I paused at the sofa's edge, and
taking advantage of the momentary delay, studied the youthful
countenance pressed unconsciously to my breast.
It was one whose appeal lay less in its beauty, though that was
of a touching quality, than in the story it told,--a story, which
for some unaccountable reason--I did not pause to determine what
one--I felt it to be my immediate duty to know. But I asked no
questions then; I did not even venture a comment; and yielded her
up with seeming readiness when a strong but none too intelligent
woman came running in with arms outstretched to carry her off.
When the door had closed upon these two, the silence of my client
drew my attention back to herself.
"I am waiting," was her quiet observation, and without any
further reference to what had just taken place under our eyes,
she went on with the business previously occupying us.
I was able to do my part without any too great display of my own
disturbance. The clearness of my remarkable client's
instructions, the definiteness with which her mind was made up as
to the disposal of every dollar of her vast property, made it
easy for me to master each detail and make careful note of every
wish. But this did not prevent the ebb and flow within me of an
undercurrent of thought full of question and uneasiness. What had
been the real purport of the scene to which I had just been made
a surprised witness? The few, but certainly unusual, facts which
had been given me in regard to the extraordinary relations
existing between these two closely connected women will explain
the intensity of my interest. Those facts shall be yours.
Arabella Merwin, when young, was gifted with a peculiar
fascination which, as we have seen, had not altogether vanished
with age. Consequently she had many lovers, among them two
brothers, Frank and Andrew Postlethwaite. The latter was the
older, the handsomer, and the most prosperous (his name is
remembered yet in connection with South American schemes of large
importance), but it was Frank she married.
That real love, ardent if unreasonable, lay at the bottom of her
choice, is evident enough to those who followed the career of the
young couple. But it was a jealous love which brooked no rival,
and as Frank Postlethwaite was of an impulsive and erratic
nature, scenes soon occurred between them which, while revealing
the extraordinary force of the young wife's character, led to no
serious break till after her son was born, and this,
notwithstanding the fact that Frank had long given up making a
living, and that they were openly dependent on their wealthy
brother, now fast approaching the millionaire status.
This brother--the Peruvian King, as some called him--must have
been an extraordinary man. Though cherishing his affection for
the spirited Arabella to the point of remaining a bachelor for
her sake, he betrayed none of the usual signs of disappointed
love; but on the contrary made every effort to advance her
happiness, not only by assuring to herself and husband an
adequate income, but by doing all he could in other and less open
ways to lessen any sense she might entertain of her mistake in
preferring for her lifemate his self-centred and unstable
brother. She should have adored him; but though she evinced
gratitude enough, there is nothing to prove that she ever gave
Frank Postlethwaite the least cause to cherish any other
sentiment towards his brother than that of honest love and
unqualified respect. Perhaps he never did cherish any other.
Perhaps the change which everyone saw in the young couple
immediately after the birth of their only child was due to
another cause. Gossip is silent on this point. All that it
insists upon is that from this time evidences of a growing
estrangement between them became so obvious that even the
indulgent Andrew could not blind himself to it; showing his sense
of trouble, not by lessening their income, for that he doubled,
but by spending more time in Peru and less in New York where the
two were living.
However,--and here we enter upon those details which I have
ventured to characterize as uncommon, he was in this country and
in the actual company of his brother when the accident occurred
which terminated both their lives. It was the old story of a
skidding motor, and Mrs. Postlethwaite, having been sent for in
great haste to the small inn into which the two injured men had
been carried, arrived only in time to witness their last moments.
Frank died first and Andrew some few minutes later--an important
fact, as was afterwards shown when the latter's will came to be
This will was a peculiar one. By its provisions the bulk of the
King's great property was left to his brother Frank, but with
this especial stipulation that in case his brother failed to
survive him, the full legacy as bequeathed to him should be given
unconditionally to his widow. Frank's demise, as I have already
stated, preceded his brother's by several minutes and
consequently Arabella became the chief legatee; and that is how
she obtained her millions. But--and here a startling feature
comes in--when the will came to be administered, the secret
underlying the break between Frank and his wife was brought to
light by a revelation of the fact that he had practised a great
deception upon her at the time of his marriage. Instead of being
a bachelor as was currently believed, he was in reality a
widower, and the father of a child. This fact, so long held
secret, had become hers when her own child was born; and
constituted as she was, she not only never forgave the father,
but conceived such a hatred for the innocent object of their
quarrel that she refused to admit its claims or even to
acknowledge its existence.
But later--after his death, in fact--she showed some sense of
obligation towards one who under ordinary conditions would have
shared her wealth. When the whole story became heard, and she
discovered that this secret had been kept from his brother as
well as from herself, and that consequently no provision had been
made in any way for the child thus thrown directly upon her
mercy, she did the generous thing and took the forsaken girl into
her own home. But she never betrayed the least love for her, her
whole heart being bound up in her boy, who was, as all agree, a
prodigy of talent.
But this boy, for all his promise and seeming strength of
constitution, died when barely seven years old, and the desolate
mother was left with nothing to fill her heart but the
uncongenial daughter of her husband's first wife. The fact that
this child, slighted as it had hitherto been, would, in the event
of her uncle having passed away before her father, have been the
undisputed heiress of a large portion of the wealth now at the
disposal of her arrogant step-mother, led many to expect, now
that the boy was no more, that Mrs. Postlethwaite would proceed
to acknowledge the little Helena as her heir, and give her that
place in the household to which her natural claims entitled her.
But no such result followed. The passion of grief into which the
mother was thrown by the shipwreck of all her hopes left her hard
and implacable, and when, as very soon happened, she fell a
victim to the disease which tied her to her chair and made the
wealth which had come to her by such a peculiar ordering of
circumstances little else than a mockery even in her own eyes, it
was upon this child she expended the full fund of her secret
And the child? What of her? How did she bear her unhappy fate
when she grew old enough to realize it? With a resignation which
was the wonder of all who knew her. No murmurs escaped her lips,
nor was the devotion she invariably displayed to the exacting
invalid who ruled her as well as all the rest of her household
with a rod of iron ever disturbed by the least sign of reproach.
Though the riches, which in those early days poured into the home
in a measure far beyond the needs of its mistress, were expended
in making the house beautiful rather than in making the one young
life within it happy, she never was heard to utter so much as a
wish to leave the walls within which fate had immured her.
Content, or seemingly content, with the only home she knew, she
never asked for change or demanded friends or amusements.
Visitors ceased coming; desolation followed neglect. The garden,
once a glory, succumbed to a riot of weeds and undesirable brush,
till a towering wall seemed to be drawn about the house cutting
it off from the activities of the world as it cut it off from the
approach of sunshine by day, and the comfort of a star-lit heaven
by night. And yet the young girl continued to smile, though with
a pitifulness of late, which some thought betokened secret terror
and others the wasting of a body too sensitive for such
These were the facts, known if not consciously specialized, which
gave to the latter part of my interview with Mrs. Postlethwaite a
poignancy of interest which had never attended any of my former
experiences. The peculiar attitude of Miss Postlethwaite towards
her indurate tormentor awakened in my agitated mind something
much deeper than curiosity, but when I strove to speak her name
with the intent of inquiring more particularly into her
condition, such a look confronted me from the steady eye
immovably fixed upon my own, that my courage--or was it my
natural precaution--bade me subdue the impulse and risk no
attempt which might betray the depth of my interest in one so
completely outside the scope of the present moment's business.
Perhaps Mrs. Postlethwaite appreciated my struggle; perhaps she
was wholly blind to it. There was no reading the mind of this
woman of sentimental name but inflexible nature, and realizing
the fact more fully with every word she uttered I left her at
last with no further betrayal of my feelings than might be
evinced by the earnestness with which I promised to return for
her signature at the earliest possible moment.
This she had herself requested, saying as I rose:
"I can still write my name if the paper is pushed carefully along
under my hand. See to it that you come while the power remains to
I had hoped that in my passage downstairs I might run upon
someone who would give me news of Miss Postlethwaite, but the
woman who approached to conduct me downstairs was not of an
appearance to invite confidence, and I felt forced to leave the
house with my doubts unsatisfied.
Two memories, equally distinct, followed me. One was a picture of
Mrs. Postlethwaite's fingers groping among her belongings on the
little tray perched upon her lap, and another of the intent and
strangely bent figure of the old man who had acted as my usher,
listening to the ticking of one of the great clocks. So absorbed
was he in this occupation that he not only failed to notice me
when I went by, but he did not even lift his head at my cheery
greeting. Such mysteries were too much for me, and led me to
postpone my departure from town till I had sought out Mrs.
Postlethwaite's doctor and propounded to him one or two leading
questions. First, would Mrs. Postlethwaite's present condition be
likely to hold good till Monday; and secondly, was the young lady
living with her as ill as her step-mother said.
He was a mild old man of the easy-going type, and the answers I
got from him were far from satisfactory. Yet he showed some
surprise when I mentioned the extent of Mrs. Postlethwaite's
anxiety about her step-daughter, and paused, in the dubious
shaking of his head, to give me a short stare in which I read as
much determination as perplexity.
"I will look into Miss Postlethwaite's case more particularly,"
were his parting words. And with this one gleam of comfort I had
to be content.
Monday's interview was a brief one and contained nothing worth
repeating. Mrs. Postlethwaite listened with stoical satisfaction
to the reading of the will I had drawn up, and upon its
completion rang her bell for the two witnesses awaiting her
summons, in an adjoining room. They were not of her household,
but to all appearance honest villagers with but one noticeable
characteristic, an overweening idea of Mrs. Postlethwaite's
importance. Perhaps the spell she had so liberally woven for
others in other and happier days was felt by them at this hour.
It would not be strange; I had almost fallen under it myself, so
great was the fascination of her manner even in this wreck of her
bodily powers, when triumph assured, she faced us all in a state
of complete satisfaction.
But before I was again quit of the place, all my doubts returned
and in fuller force than ever. I had lingered in my going as much
as decency would permit, hoping to hear a step on the stair or
see a face in some doorway which would contradict Mrs.
Postlethwaite's cold assurance that Miss Postlethwaite was no
better. But no such step did I hear, and no face did I see save
the old, old one of the ancient friend or relative, whose bent
frame seemed continually to haunt the halls. As before, he stood
listening to the monotonous ticking of one of the clocks,
muttering to himself and quite oblivious of my presence.
However, this time I decided not to pass him without a more
persistent attempt to gain his notice. Pausing at his side, I
asked him in the friendly tone I thought best calculated to
attract his attention, how Miss Postlethwaite was to-day. He was
so intent upon his task, whatever that was, that while he turned
my way, it was with a glance as blank as that of a stone image.
"Listen!" he admonished me. "It still says No! No! I don't think
it will ever say anything else."
I stared at him in some consternation, then at the clock itself
which was the tall one I had found run down at my first visit.
There was nothing unusual in its quiet tick, so far as I could
hear, and with a compassionate glance at the old man who had
turned breathlessly again to listen, proceeded on my way without
The old fellow was daft. A century old, and daft.
I had worked my way out through the vines which still encumbered
the porch, and was taking my first steps down the walk, when some
impulse made me turn and glance up at one of the windows.
Did I bless the impulse? I thought I had every reason for doing
so, when through a network of interlacing branches I beheld the
young girl with whom my mind was wholly occupied, standing with
her head thrust forward, watching the descent of something small
and white which she had just released from her hand.
A note! A note written by her and meant for me! With a grateful
look in her direction (which was probably lost upon her as she
had already drawn back out of sight), I sprang for it only to
meet with disappointment. For it was no billet-doux I received
from amid the clustering brush where it had fallen; but a small
square of white cloth showing a line of fantastic embroidery.
Annoyed beyond measure, I was about to fling it down again, when
the thought that it had come from her hand deterred me, and I
thrust it into my vest pocket. When I took it out again--which
was soon after I had taken my seat in the car--I discovered what
a mistake I should have made if I had followed my first impulse.
For, upon examining the stitches more carefully, I perceived that
what I had considered a mere decorative pattern was in fact a
string of letters, and that these letters made words, and that
these words were:
Or, in plain writing:
"I do not want to die, but I surely will if--"
Finish the sentence for me. That is the problem I offer you. It
is not a case for the police but one well worth your attention,
if you succeed in reaching the heart of this mystery and saving
this young girl.
Only, let no delay occur. The doom, if doom it is, is immanent.
Remember that the will is signed.
"She is too small; I did not ask you to send me a midget."
Thus spoke Mrs. Postlethwaite to her doctor, as he introduced
into her presence a little figure in nurse's cap and apron. "You
said I needed care,--more care than I was receiving. I answered
that my old nurse could give it, and you objected that she or
someone else must look after Miss Postlethwaite. I did not see
the necessity, but I never contradict a doctor. So I yielded to
your wishes, but not without the proviso (you remember that I
made a proviso) that whatever sort of young woman you chose to
introduce into this room, she should not be fresh from the
training schools, and that she should be strong, silent, and
capable. And you bring me this mite of a woman--is she a woman?
she looks more like a child, of pleasing countenance enough, but
who can no more lift me--"
"Pardon me!" Little Miss Strange had advanced. "I think, if you
will allow me the privilege, madam, that I can shift you into a
much more comfortable position." And with a deftness and ease
certainly not to be expected from one of her slight physique,
Violet raised the helpless invalid a trifle more upon her pillow.
The act, its manner, and the smile accompanying it, could not
fail to please, and undoubtedly did, though no word rewarded her
from lips not much given to speech save when the occasion was
imperative. But Mrs. Postlethwaite made no further objection to
her presence, and, seeing this, the doctor's countenance relaxed
and he left the room with a much lighter step than that with
which he had entered it.
And thus it was that Violet Strange--an adept in more ways than
one--became installed at the bedside of this mysterious woman,
whose days, if numbered, still held possibilities of action which
those interested in young Helena Postlethwaite's fate would do
well to recognize.
Miss Strange had been at her post for two days, and had gathered
up the following:
That Mrs. Postlethwaite must be obeyed.
That her step-daughter (who did not wish to die) would die if she
knew it to be the wish of this domineering but apparently
That the old man of the clocks, while senile in some regards, was
very alert and quite youthful in others. If a century old--which
she began greatly to doubt--he had the language and manner of one
in his prime, when unaffected by the neighbourhood of the clocks,
which seemed in some non-understandable way to exercise an occult
influence over him. At table he was an entertaining host; but
neither there nor elsewhere would he discuss the family, or
dilate in any way upon the peculiarities of a household of which
he manifestly regarded himself as the least important member. Yet
no one knew them better, and when Violet became quite assured of
this, as well as of the futility of looking for explanation of
any kind from either of her two patients, she resolved upon an
effort to surprise one from him.
She went about it in this way. Noting his custom of making a
complete round of the clocks each night after dinner, she took
advantage of Mrs. Postlethwaite's inclination to sleep at this
hour, to follow him from clock to clock in the hope of
overhearing some portion of the monologue with which he bent his
head to the swinging pendulum, or put his ear to the hidden
works. Soft-footed and discreet, she tripped along at his back,
and at each pause he made, paused herself and turned her ear his
way. The extreme darkness of the halls, which were more sombre by
night than by day, favoured this attempt, and she was able, after
a failure or two, to catch the No! no! no! no! which fell from
his lips in seeming repetition of what he heard the most of them
The satisfaction in his tone proved that the denial to which he
listened, chimed in with his hopes and gave ease to his mind. But
he looked his oldest when, after pausing at another of the many
time-pieces, he echoed in answer to its special refrain, Yes!
yes! yes! yes! and fled the spot with shaking body and a
The same fear and the same shrinking were observable in him as he
returned from listening to the least conspicuous one, standing in
a short corridor, where Violet could not follow him. But when,
after a hesitation which enabled her to slip behind the curtain
hiding the drawing-room door, he approached and laid his ear
against the great one standing, as if on guard, at the foot of
the stairs, she saw by the renewed vigour he displayed that there
was comfort for him in its message, even before she caught the
whisper with which he left it and proceeded to mount the stairs:
"It says No! It always says No! I will heed it as the voice of
But one conclusion could be the result of such an experiment to a
mind like Violet's. This partly touched old man not only held the
key to the secret of this house, but was in a mood to divulge it
if once he could be induced to hear command instead of dissuasion
in the tick of this one large clock. But how could he be induced?
Violet returned to Mrs. Postlethwaite's bedside in a mood of
Another day passed, and she had not yet seen Miss Postlethwaite.
She was hoping each hour to be sent on some errand to that young
lady's room, but no such opportunity was granted her. Once she
ventured to ask the doctor, whose visits were now very frequent,
what he thought of the young lady's condition. But as this
question was necessarily put in Mrs. Postlethwaite's presence,
the answer was naturally guarded, and possibly not altogether
"Our young lady is weaker," he acknowledged. "Much weaker," he
added with marked emphasis and his most professional air, "or she
would be here instead of in her own room. It grieves her not to
be able to wait upon her generous benefactress."
The word fell heavily. Had it been used as a test? Violet gave
him a look, though she had much rather have turned her
discriminating eye upon the face staring up at them from the
pillow. Had the alarm expressed by others communicated itself at
last to the physician? Was the charm which had held him
subservient to the mother, dissolving under the pitiable state of
the child, and was he trying to aid the little detective-nurse
in her effort to sound the mystery of her condition?
His look expressed benevolence, but he took care not to meet the
gaze of the woman he had just lauded, possibly because that gaze
was fixed upon him in a way to tax his moral courage. The silence
which ensued was broken by Mrs. Postlethwaite:
"She will live--this poor Helena--how long?" she asked, with no
break in her voice's wonted music.
The doctor hesitated, then with a candour hardly to be expected
from him, answered:
"I do not understand Miss Postlethwaite's case. I should like,
with your permission, to consult some New York physician."
A single word, but as it left this woman's thin lips Violet
recoiled, and, perhaps, the doctor did. Rage can speak in one
word as well as in a dozen, and the rage which spoke in this one
was of no common order, though it was quickly suppressed, as was
all other show of feeling when she added, with a touch of her old
"Of course you will do what you think best, as you know I never
interfere with a doctor's decisions. But" and here her natural
ascendancy of tone and manner returned in all its potency, "it
would kill me to know that a stranger was approaching Helena's
bedside. It would kill her. She's too sensitive to survive such a
Violet recalled the words worked with so much care by this young
girl on a minute piece of linen, I do not want to die, and
watched the doctor's face for some sign of resolution. But
embarrassment was all she saw there, and all she heard him say
was the conventional reply:
"I am doing all I can for her. We will wait another day and note
the effect of my latest prescription."
The deathly calm which overspread Mrs. Postlethwaite's features
as this word left the physician's lips warned Violet not to let
another day go by without some action. But she made no remark,
and, indeed, betrayed but little interest in anything beyond her
own patient's condition. That seemed to occupy her wholly. With
consummate art she gave the appearance of being under Mrs.
Postlethwaite's complete thrall, and watched with fascinated eyes
every movement of the one unstricken finger which could do so
This little detective of ours could be an excellent actor when
To make the old man speak! To force this conscience-stricken but
rebellious soul to reveal what the clock forbade! How could it be
This continued to be Violet's great problem. She pondered it so
deeply during all the remainder of the day that a little pucker
settled on her brow, which someone (I will not mention who) would
have been pained to see. Mrs. Postlethwaite, if she noticed it at
all, probably ascribed it to her anxieties as nurse, for never
had Violet been more assiduous in her attentions. But Mrs.
Postlethwaite was no longer the woman she had been, and possibly
never noted it at all.
At five o'clock Violet suddenly left the room. Slipping down into
the lower hall, she went the round of the clocks herself,
listening to every one. There was no perceptible difference in
their tick. Satisfied of this and that it was simply the old
man's imagination which had supplied them each with separate
speech, she paused before the huge one at the foot of the stairs,
--the one whose dictate he had promised himself to follow,--and
with an eye upon its broad, staring dial, muttered wistfully:
"Oh! for an idea! For an idea!"
Did this cumbrous relic of old-time precision turn traitor at
this ingenuous plea? The dial continued to stare, the works to
sing, but Violet's face suddenly lost its perplexity. With a wary
look about her and a listening ear turned towards the stair top,
she stretched out her hand and pulled open the door guarding the
pendulum, and peered in at the works, smiling slyly to herself as
she pushed it back into place and retreated upstairs to the sick
When the doctor came that night she had a quiet word with him
outside Mrs. Postlethwaite's door. Was that why he was on hand
when old Mr. Dunbar stole from his room to make his nightly
circuit of the halls below? Something quite beyond the ordinary
was in the good physician's mind, for the look he cast at the old
man was quite unlike any he had ever bestowed upon him before,
and when he spoke it was to say with marked urgency:
"Our beautiful young lady will not live a week unless I get at
the seat of her malady. Pray that I may be enabled to do so, Mr.
A blow to the aged man's heart which called forth a feeble "Yes,
yes," followed by a wild stare which imprinted itself upon the
doctor's memory as the look of one hopelessly old, who hears for
the first time a distinct call from the grave which has long been
A solitary lamp stood in the lower hall. As the old man picked
his slow way down, its small, hesitating flame flared up as in a
sudden gust, then sank down flickering and faint as if it, too,
had heard a call which summoned it to extinction.
No other sign of life was visible anywhere. Sunk in twilight
shadows, the corridors branched away on either side to no place
in particular and serving, to all appearance (as many must have
thought in days gone by), as a mere hiding-place for clocks.
To listen to their united hum, the old man paused, looking at
first a little distraught, but settling at last into his usual
self as he started forward upon his course. Did some whisper,
hitherto unheard, warn him that it was the last time he would
tread that weary round? Who can tell? He was trembling very much
when with his task nearly completed, he stepped out again into
the main hall and crept rather than walked back to the one great
clock to whose dictum he made it a practice to listen last.
Chattering the accustomed words, "They say Yes! They are all
saying Yes! now; but this one will say No!" he bent his stiff old
back and laid his ear to the unresponsive wood. But the time for
no had passed. It was Yes! yes! yes! yes! now, and as his
straining ears took in the word, he appeared to shrink where he
stood and after a moment of anguished silence, broke forth into a
low wail, amid whose lamentations one could hear:
"The time has come! Even the clock she loves best bids me speak.
Oh! Arabella, Arabella!"
In his despair he had not noticed that the pendulum hung
motionless, or that the hands stood at rest on the dial. If he
had, he might have waited long enough to have seen the careful
opening of the great clock's tall door and the stepping forth of
the little lady who had played so deftly upon his superstition.
He was wandering the corridors like a helpless child, when a
gentle hand fell on his arm and a soft voice whispered in his
"You have a story to tell. Will you tell it to me? It may save
Miss Postlethwaite's life."
Did he understand? Would he respond if he did; or would the shock
of her appeal restore him to a sense of the danger attending
disloyalty? For a moment she doubted the wisdom of this startling
measure, then she saw that he had passed the point of surprise
and that, stranger as she was, she had but to lead the way for
him to follow, tell his story, and die.
There was no light in the drawing-room when they entered. But old
Mr. Dunbar did not seem to mind that. Indeed, he seemed to have
lost all consciousness of present surroundings; he was even
oblivious of her. This became quite evident when the lamp, in
flaring up again in the hall, gave a momentary glimpse, of his
crouching, half-kneeling figure. In the pleading gesture of his
trembling, outreaching arms, Violet beheld an appeal, not to
herself, but to some phantom of his imagination; and when he
spoke, as he presently did, it was with the freedom of one to
whom speech is life's last boon, and the ear of the listener
quite forgotten in the passion of confession long suppressed.
"She has never loved me," he began, "but I have always loved her.
For me no other woman has ever existed, though I was sixty-five
years of age when I first saw her, and had long given up the idea
that there lived a woman who could sway me from my even life and
fixed lines of duty. Sixty-five! and she a youthful bride! Was
there ever such folly! Happily I realized it from the first, and
piled ashes on my hidden flame. Perhaps that is why I adore her
to this day and only give her over to reprobation because Fate is
stronger than my age--stronger even than my love.
"She is not a good woman, but I might have been a good man if I
had never known the sin which drew a line of isolation about her,
and within which I, and only I, have stood with her in silent
companionship. What was this sin, and in what did it have its
beginning? I think its beginning was in the passion she had for
her husband. It was not the every-day passion of her sex in this
land of equable affections, but one of foreign fierceness,
jealousy, and insatiable demand. Yet he was a very ordinary man.
I was once his tutor and I know. She came to know it too, when--
but I am rushing on too fast, I have much to tell before I reach
"From the first, I was in their confidence. Not that either he or
she put me there, but that I lived with them and was always
around, and could not help seeing and hearing what went on
between them. Why he continued to want me in the house and at his
table, when I could no longer be of service to him, I have never
known. Possibly habit explains all. He was accustomed to my
presence and so was she; so accustomed they hardly noticed it, as
happened one night, when after a little attempt at conversation,
he threw down the book he had caught up and, addressing her by
name, said without a glance my way, and quite as if he were alone
"'Arabella, there is something I ought to tell you. I have tried
to find the courage to do so many times before now but have
always failed. Tonight I must.' And then he made his great
disclosure,--how, unknown to, his friends and the world, he was a
widower when he married her, and the father of a living child.
"With some women this might have passed with a measure of regret,
and some possible contempt for his silence, but not so with her.
She rose to her feet--I can see her yet--and for a moment stood
facing him in the still, overpowering manner of one who feels the
icy pang of hate enter where love has been. Never was moment more
charged. I could not breathe while it lasted; and when at last
she spoke, it was with an impetuosity of concentrated passion,
hardly less dreadful than her silence had been.
"'You a father! A father already!' she cried, all her sweetness
swallowed up in ungovernable wrath. 'You whom I expected to make
so happy with a child? I curse you and your brat. I--'
"He strove to placate her, to explain. But rage has no ears, and
before I realized my own position, the scene became openly
tempestuous. That her child should be second to another woman's
seemed to awaken demon instincts within her. When he ventured to
hint that his little girl needed a mother's care, her irony bit
like corroding acid. He became speechless before it and had not a
protest to raise when she declared that the secret he had kept so
long and so successfully he must continue to keep to his dying
day. That the child he had failed to own in his first wife's
lifetime should remain disowned in hers, and if possible be
forgotten. She should never give the girl a thought nor
acknowledge her in any way.
"She was Fury embodied; but the fury was of that grand order
which allures rather than repels. As I felt myself succumbing to
its fascination and beheld how he was weakening under it even
more perceptibly than myself, I started from my chair, and sought
to glide away before I should hear him utter a fatal
"But the movement I made unfortunately drew their attention to
me, and after an instant of silent contemplation of my distracted
countenance, Frank said, as though he were the elder by the forty
years which separated us:
"'You have listened to Mrs. Postlethwaite's wishes. You will
respect them of course.'"
That was all. He knew and she knew that I was to be trusted; but
neither of them has ever known why.
A month later her child came, and was welcomed as though it were
the first to bear his name. It was a boy, and their satisfaction
was so great that I looked to see their old affection revive. But
it had been cleft at the root, and nothing could restore it to
life. They loved the child; I have never seen evidence of greater
parental passion than they both displayed, but there their
feelings stopped. Towards each other they were cold. They did not
even unite in worship of their treasure. They gloated over him
and planned for him, but always apart. He was a child in a
thousand, and as he developed, the mother especially, nursed all
her energies for the purpose of ensuring for him a future
commensurate with his talents. Never a very conscientious woman,
and alive to the advantages of wealth as demonstrated by the
power wielded by her rich brother-in-law, she associated all the
boy's prospects with money, great money, such money as Andrew had
accumulated, and now had at his disposal for his natural heirs.
"Hence came her great temptation,--a temptation to which she
yielded, to the lasting trouble of us all. Of this I must now
make confession though it kills me to do so, and will soon kill
her. The deeds of the past do not remain buried, however deep we
dig their graves, but rise in an awful resurrection when we are
Silence. Then a tremulous renewal of his painful speech.
Violet held her breath to listen. Possibly the doctor, hidden in
the darkest corner of the room, did so also.
"I never knew how she became acquainted with the terms of her
brother-in-law's will. He certainly never confided them to her,
and as certainly the lawyer who drew up the document never did.
But that she was well aware of its tenor is as positive a fact as
that I am the most wretched man alive tonight. Otherwise, why the
darksome deed into which she was betrayed when both the brothers
lay dying among strangers, of a dreadful accident?"
"I was witness to that deed. I had accompanied her on her hurried
ride and was at her side when she entered the inn where the two
Postlethwaites lay. I was always at her side in great joy or in
great trouble, though she professed no affection for me and gave
me but scanty thanks."
"During our ride she had been silent and I had not disturbed that
silence. I had much to think of. Should we find him living, or
should we find him dead? If dead, would it sever the relations
between us two? Would I ever ride with her again?"
"When I was not dwelling on this theme, I was thinking of the
parting look she gave her boy; a look which had some strange
promise in it. What had that look meant and why did my flesh
creep and my mind hover between dread and a fearsome curiosity
when I recalled it? Alas! There was reason for all these
sensations as I was soon to learn.
"We found the inn seething with terror and the facts worse than
had been represented in the telegram. Her husband was dying. She
had come just in time to witness the end. This they told her
before she had taken off her veil. If they had waited--if I had
been given a full glimpse of her face--But it was hidden, and I
could only judge of the nature of her emotions by the stern way
in which she held herself.
"'Take me to him,' was the quiet command, with which she met this
disclosure. Then, before any of them could move:
"'And his brother, Mr. Andrew Postlethwaite? Is he fatally
"The reply was unequivocal. The doctors were uncertain which of
the two would pass away first.
"You must remember that at this time I was ignorant of the rich
man's will, and consequently of how the fate of a poor child of
whom I had heard only one mention, hung in the balance at that
awful moment. But in the breathlessness which seized Mrs.
Postlethwaite at this sentence of double death, I realized from
my knowledge of her that something more than grief was at prey
upon her impenetrable heart, and shuddered to the core of my
being when she repeated in that voice which was so terrible
because so expressionless:
"'Take me to them.'"
They were lying in one room, her husband nearest the door, the
other in a small alcove some ten feet away. Both were
unconscious; both were surrounded by groups of frightened
attendants who fell back as she approached. A doctor stood at the
bed-head of her husband, but as her eye met his he stepped aside
with a shake of the head and left the place empty for her.
"The action was significant. I saw that she understood what it
meant, and with constricted heart watched her as she bent over
the dying man and gazed into his wide-open eyes, already
sightless and staring. Calculation was in her look and
calculation only; and calculation, or something equally
unintelligible, sent her next glance in the direction of his
brother. What was in her mind? I could understand her
indifference to Frank even at the crisis of his fate, but not the
interest she showed in Andrew. It was an absorbing one, altering
her whole expression. I no longer knew her for my dear young
madam, and the jealousy I had never felt towards Frank rose to
frantic resentment in my breast as I beheld what very likely
might be a tardy recognition of the other's well-known passion,
forced into disclosure by the exigencies of the moment.
"Alarmed by the strength of my feelings, and fearing an equal
disclosure on my own part, I sought for a refuge from all eyes
and found it in a little balcony opening out at my right. On to
this balcony I stepped and found myself face to face with a star-
lit heaven. Had I only been content with my isolation and the
splendour of the spectacle spread out before me! But no, I must
look back upon that bed and the solitary woman standing beside
it! I must watch the settling of her body into rigidity as a
voice rose from beside the other Postlethwaite saying, 'It is a
matter of minutes now,' and then--and then--the slow creeping of
her hand to her husband's mouth, the outspreading of her palm
across the livid lips--its steady clinging there, smothering the
feeble gasps of one already moribund, till the quivering form
grew still, and Frank Postlethwaite lay dead before my eyes!
"I saw, and made no outcry, but she did, bringing the doctor back
to her side with the startled exclamation:
"'Dead? I thought he had an hour's life left in him, and he has
passed before his brother.'
"I thought it hate--the murderous impulse of a woman who sees her
enemy at her mercy and can no longer restrain the passion of her
long-cherished antagonism; and while something within me rebelled
at the act, I could not betray her, though silence made a
murderer of me too. I could not. Her spell was upon me as in
another instant it was upon everyone else in the room. No
suspicion of one so self-repressed in her sadness disturbed the
universal sympathy; and encouraged by this blindness of the
crowd, I vowed within myself never to reveal her secret. The man
was dead, or as good as dead, when she touched him; and now that
her hate was expended she would grow gentle and good.
"But I knew the worthlessness of this hope as well as my
misconception of her motive, when Frank's child by another wife
returned to my memory, and Bella's sin stood exposed."
"But only to myself. I alone knew that the fortune now wholly
hers, and in consequence her boy's, had been won by a crime. That
if her hand had fallen in comfort on her husband's forehead
instead of in pressure on his mouth, he would have outlived his
brother long enough to have become owner of his millions; in
which case a rightful portion would have been insured to his
daughter, now left a penniless waif. The thought made my hair
rise, as the proceedings over, I faced her and made my first and
last effort to rid my conscience of its new and intolerable
"But the woman I had known and loved was no longer before me. The
crown had touched her brows, and her charm which had been mainly
sexual up to this hour had merged into an intellectual force,
with which few men's mentality could cope. Mine yielded at once
to it. From the first instant, I knew that a slavery of spirit,
as well as of heart, was henceforth to be mine.
"She did not wait for me to speak; she had assumed the dictator's
attitude at once.
"'I know of what you are thinking,"' said she, 'and it is a
subject you may dismiss at once from your mind. Mr.
Postlethwaite's child by his first wife is coming to live with
us. I have expressed my wishes in this regard to my lawyer, and
there is nothing left to be said. You, with your close mouth and
dependable nature, are to remain here as before, and occupy the
same position towards my boy that you did towards his father. We
shall move soon into a larger house, and the nature of our duties
will be changed and their scope greatly increased; but I know
that you can be trusted to enlarge with them and meet every
requirement I shall see fit to make. Do not try to express your
thanks. I see them in your face.'
"Did she, or just the last feeble struggle my conscience was
making to break the bonds in which she held me, and win back my
own respect? I shall never know, for she left me on completion of
this speech, not to resume the subject, then or ever.
"But though I succumbed outwardly to her demands, I had not
passed the point where inner conflict ends and peace begins. Her
recognition of Helena and her reception into the family calmed me
for a while, and gave me hope that all would yet be well. But I
had never sounded the full bitterness of madam's morbid heart,
well as I thought I knew it. The hatred she had felt from the
first for her husband's child ripened into frenzied dislike when
she found her a living image of the mother whose picture she had
come across among Frank's personal effects. To win a tear from
those meek eyes instead of a smile to the sensitive lips was her
daily play. She seemed to exult in the joy of impressing upon the
girl by how little she had missed a great fortune, and I have
often thought, much as I tried to keep my mind free from all
extravagant and unnecessary fancies, that half of the money she
spent in beautifying this house and maintaining art industries
and even great charitable institutions was spent with the base
purpose of demonstrating to this child the power of immense
wealth, and in what ways she might expect to see her little
brother expend the millions in which she had been denied all
"I was so sure of this that one night while I was winding up the
clocks with which Mrs. Postlethwaite in her fondness for old
timepieces has filled the house, I stopped to look at the little
figure toiling so wearily upstairs, to bed, without a mother's
kiss. There was an appeal in the small wistful face which smote
my hard old heart, and possibly a tear welled up in my own eye
when I turned back to my duty."
"Was that why I felt the hand of Providence upon me, when in my
halt before the one clock to which any superstitious interest was
attached--the great one at the foot of the stairs--I saw that it
had stopped and at the one minute of all minutes in our wretched
lives: Four minutes past two? The hour, the minute in which Frank
Postlethwaite had gasped his last under the pressure of his
wife's hand! I knew it--the exact minute I mean--because
Providence meant that I should know it. There had been a clock on
the mantelpiece of the hotel room where he and his brother had
died and I had seen her glance steal towards it at the instant
she withdrew her palm from her husband's lips. The stare of that
dial and the position of its hands had lived still in my mind as
I believed it did in hers.
"Four minutes past two! How came our old timepiece here to stop
at that exact moment on a day when Duty was making its last
demand upon me to remember Frank's unhappy child? There was no
one to answer; but as I looked and looked, I felt the impulse of
the moment strengthen into purpose to leave those hands
undisturbed in their silent accusation. She might see, and, moved
by the coincidence, tremble at her treatment of Helena.
"But if this happened--if she
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