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THE STRANGER WHO DISCOVERED THE CORPSE.
PERHAPS there is no other cry in the world, save that of
"fire!" more calculated to spread terror and dismay, when falling
suddenly and unexpectedly upon the ears of a party of revellers, than that of
"A corpse! a corpse!"
Before a single question can be put, or a word of
explanation be given, each one who hears that ominous announcement revolves a
thousand dread conjectures in his mind: for although that cry might in reality
herald nothing more appalling than a case of sudden death from natural causes,
yet the imagination instinctively associates it with the foulest deed of
treachery and murder.
Such was the case in the present instance.
The entire party started from their seats; and the
smiles that were a moment before upon their countenances gave place to looks of
profound horror and intense curiosity.
The feelings thus denoted did not experience any
mitigation from the inquiring glances that were cast towards the gardener; for
the entire appearance of the old man was far more calculated to augment than
diminish the alarm which his strange cry had originated. His eyes rolled wildly
in their sockets — his quivering lips were livid — his
frame seemed to be influenced by one continuous shudder, and his breath came
In fact, the mysterious sounds of footsteps in the
passage had worked up his feelings, already greatly moved by the discovery and
exhumation of the rotting carcass of a female, to a degree of excitement doubly
painful to behold in one so bowed with the weight of years as he; and he sank
into a seat, as we have before said, in a state of almost complete exhaustion.
The wine that Egerton compelled him to swallow partially
restored him; and in the course of a few minutes he was enabled to relate the
particulars which we have succinctly placed before the reader.
The ladies were cruelly shocked by the narrative that
thus met their eyes; and they one and all declared that nothing should ever
again induce them to visit a place into possession of which their relative
seemed to have entered under the most inauspicious circumstances. They also
requested to be taken back to London with the least possible delay; and Sir
Rupert Harborough, with his friend Chichester, hastened to give the servants
orders to get the vehicles ready.
Mrs. Bustard and her daughters retired into an ante-room
to put on their bonnets and shawls: Egerton, Dunstable, Cholmondeley, and
Tedworth Jones remained standing round the chair on which the old gardener was
"This is a most extraordinary thing,' said
Dunstable, after a pause, during which he had reflected profoundly: then,
addressing himself to his friend the Colonel, he asked in a serious tone,
"Does not the strange discovery just made remind you of something that I
mentioned to you nearly two years ago?"
I recollect!" cried the Colonel: "you allude
to the mysterious disappearance of Lydia Hutchinson.
"I do," answered the nobleman. "That
event occurred while I was lying wounded in this house."
"Ah! I heerd of it, to be sure!" said the
gardener. "But I was down in the country when all them things took
place — I was there for some months. Do you think — "
"No — it could not be!"
interrupted Dunstable. "for it was well known at the time that Lydia
decamped with Lady Ravensworth's jewel-box."
Colonel Cholmondeley turned away, and said nothing: he
remembered the evidences of desperate enmity between Adeline and Lydia, which
had come within his own cognisance; and a vague — a very vague,
distant, and undefined suspicion that the corpse just discovered might indeed be
that of Lydia Hutchinson, entered his mind. But he speedily banished it: for the
idea that Lady Ravensworth could have had any thing to do with the murder of
Lydia did not seem tenable for a moment.
"As your lordship says," observed the old
gardener, after a long pause, and now addressing himself to Dunstable, "it
can't have any thing to do with that young o'oman [-sic-]
who was here a few weeks as my lady's maid — 'cos it's well knowed
that she bolted off with the jewel-casket, as your lordship says."
Here Cholmondeley advanced towards Dunstable, took him
by the arm, and, leading him aside, Said in a hasty whisper, "Let us leave
this matter where it is. Should the body just discovered be really that of Lydia
Hutchinson, who disappeared so strangely, it would be very annoying for us to
have to explain to a Coroner's jury all we know about her and Lady Ravensworth."
"Truly so," answered Dunstable. "And,
after all, it is no affair of ours."
This understanding being arrived at, the nobleman and
his friend returned to the table, where they helped themselves to some champagne
to allay, as they said, the disagreeable sensations produced by the sudden
interruption which their mirth had experienced.
The day seemed to be marked out by destiny as one on
which various adventures were to occur in respect to the excursion party to
It will be remembered that Sir Rupert Harborough and
Chichester had left the drawing-room for the purpose of seeing the vehicles got
ready with the least possible delay.
The two friends — whom the associated
roguery of many years had rendered as intimate as even brothers could be — proceeded
down stairs, and, after some little trouble, found their way to the servants'
offices. Guided by a sound of voices, they threaded a passage, and at length
found themselves on the threshold of the room where the gardener's wife, the
stranger who had first discovered the body, the seedy coachman, the lacquey, and
the groom, were still discussing the incident that had so recently occurred.
But the moment that thus two gentlemen appeared [-383-]
at the door, the stranger started from his seat, exclaiming in a loud tone,
"Well met, I declare! You're the very identical men I've long been wanting
And, putting his arms akimbo, he advanced towards them
in a manner which appeared extremely free and independent in the eyes of the
"Ah! my good friend Talbot!" cried the
baronet, for a moment thrown off his guard, but speedily recovering himself:
"upon my honour I am delighted to see you!"
"So am I — quite charmed to find you
looking so well!" exclaimed Chichester.
"No thanks to either of you, howsomever," said
the individual thus addressed, and without appearing to notice the hands that
were extended to him. — "But you know as well as I do that my
name isn't Talbot at all; it's Bill Pocock — and, I may add, too,
without telling a lie, that it's now honest Bill Pocock."
"Well, my dear Pocock," exclaimed Chichester,
with a glance that implored his forbearance, "I am really quite happy to
see you. But we will step out into the garden, and just talk over a few little
matters — "
"Oh! gentlemen," said the gardener's wife,
coming forward, "you're quite welcome to step into our little parlour
t'other side of the passage — if so be you have any thing private to
"Thank you — that will exactly suit
us," returned Chichester, hastily: and, taking Pocock's arm, he drew him
into the room thus offered for their privacy.
The baronet remained behind for a few moments, to give
the necessary instructions to the servants relative to preparing the vehicle;
and, this being done, he rejoined Chichester and Pocock.
When the trio were thus assembled in the gardener's
little parlour, Pocock said, "So I find you two chaps still pursuing the
old game. Got in with a young cit named Egerton — and all his
relations — eh? Pretty goings on, I've no doubt."
"Only just in a friendly way, my dear fellow,"
exclaimed Chichester. "But you stated that you had been looking for me and
Harborough for a long time?"
"Yes — I was anxious enough to see you
both," returned Pocock: "and I'll tell you the reason why. You
remember that night — some few years ago-when you two got such a
precious wolloping at the Dark House in Brick Lane, Spitalfields?"
"Well — well," said the baronet:
"Oh! I see you haven't forgot it! You also know
that on that same night the very young man whom we all ruined, was present — I
mean Richard Markham."
"Yes — to be sure. But what of
that?" demanded Chichester.
"Why — I gave him a paper, drawed up
and signed by myself — plain William Pocock, and none of your
"And that paper?" said the baronet, anxiously.
"Contained a complete confession of the whole
business that brought him into trouble," continued Pocock. "But he
pledged himself not to use it to my prejudice; and that's the reason why you
never heard of it in a legal way. On that same occasion he put a fifty-pound
note into my hand, saying, 'Accept this as a token of my gratitude and a
proof of my forgiveness; and endeavour to enter an honest path. Should you ever
require a friend, do not hesitate to apply to me. — Those was
his words; and they made a deep impression on me. Yes — gentlemen,
and I did enter an honest path," continued Pocock, proudly:
"and that money prospered me. I returned to my old business as an
engraver — I left off going to public-houses — I worked
hard, and redeemed my character with my old employers. Since that night at the Dark
House all has gone well with me. I have never applied to my benefactor — because
I have never required a friend, But I have prayed for him morning and
evening — yes, gentlemen, prayed! I know that this may sound strange
in your ears: it is nevertheless true — and I am not ashamed to own
it And while that faultless young man was pursuing his glorious career in a
foreign land, there was an obscure but grateful individual in London who wept
over his first reverses, but who laughed, and sang, and danced for joy when the
newspapers brought the tidings of his great battles. And that individual was
myself: for he was my saviour — my guardian angel — my
benefactor! Instead of heaping curses upon me, he had spoken kind words of
forgiveness and encouragement: instead of spurning me from his presence, he had
given me money, and told me to look upon him as my friend! My God! such a man as
that can save more souls and redeem more sinners than all the Bishops that ever
wore lawn sleeves! I adore his very name — I worship him — I
am as proud of his greatness as if he was my own son; and all Prince though he
now is, did it depend upon me, he should wear a crown."
And as he spoke, the grateful man's voice became
tremulous with emotions; and the big tears rolled down his cheeks.
There was at that moment something so commanding — something
so superior about even this vulgar individual, that Chichester and Harborough
found themselves unable to reply to him i that strain of levity with which they
would have gladly sought to sneer away his eulogies of one whom they hated and
"Yes," continued Pocock: "all I possess i
the world I owe to the Prince of Montoni. I am now at my ease- live i my own
house, bought with my own hard-earned money-I can even afford to take a little
pleasure, or an occasional ramble, as I was doing just now when accident brought
me here. And, what is more, I always have a five-pound note to assist a friend.
You cannot wonder, then, if I worship the very name of that man who from a
comparatively humble rank has raised himself to such a proud height by his
valour and his virtues."
"But what has all this to do with your anxiety to
see the baronet and me?" inquired Chichester, in a tone displaying little
of its wonted assurance.
"A great deal," answered Pocock. "I only
want an opportunity to show the Prince how grateful I am to him; and for that
reason have I looked out for you. Great, powerful, and rich as he now is, the
memory of the past cannot oppress him; but still it would be satisfactory to his
noble mind to receive from both of you the same confession of his innocence that
he has had from me."
"What?" cried the baronet and Chichester
together, as they exchanged troubled glances.
"Yes-you know what I mean," said Pocock;
"and you dare not refuse me. Although it is my duty, perhaps, to step up
stairs and quietly explain [-382-] to the people there what kind of
acquaintances they have got in you, yet the honour of the Prince is uppermost
with me; and I will not expose you if you at once write out and sign a paper
saying that he was innocent and you was the guilty cause of his
"Impossible!" cried Harborough.
"He would transport us!" ejaculated Chichester,
turning deadly pale.
"And no great harm if he did," said the
engraver, drily. "But consideration for me will prevent his
punishing you. So if you value the friendship of your chums up
stairs — "
"It would never do to be shown up before them/"
whispered the baronet with desperate emphasis to Chichester, whom he drew
partially aside for a moment.
"You will pledge yourself not to show to any one,
save the Prince, the paper you require of us?" asked Chichester of the
"When once you've given me that paper, I want to
know nothing more of you or your pursuits," replied Pocock.
The two gentlemen exchanged a few hurried whispers, and
then signified their assent to the arrangement proposed; for they found
Egerton's purse too useful a means to have recourse to at pleasure, to allow
them to risk the loss of their influence over him.
There were writing-materials in the room where the above
conversation took place; and the document was speedily drawn up. Chichester
wrote it under the supervision of Pocock, who would not allow him to abate one
single tittle of all the infamy which characterised the proceedings that had
engendered the misfortunes of Richard Markham.
The paper was then duly signed, and delivered into the
hands of the engraver.
"Now that this little business is settled,"
said he, "perhaps you two gentlemen will just allow me to observe that I
have found an honest way of life much happier than a dishonest one, and quite as
easy to pursue, if you only have the will; but whether you'll profit by this
advice or not, is more than I can say — and certainly much more than
I should like to answer for."
With these words Pocock took his departure, the dog
following close at his heels.
Chichester and Harborough exchanged looks expressive of
mingled vexation and contempt, and then returned to the drawing-room.
The vehicles were almost immediately afterwards driven
round to the principal entrance; and the company were on the point of leaving
the apartment where the festivities had been so unpleasantly interrupted, when
an ejaculation which escaped the lips of Colonel Cholmondeley, who was gazing
from the window, caused them all to hasten to the casements.
A travelling barouche was rapidly approaching the
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