M. E. BRADDON
THIS STORY IS INSCRIBED TO
JOHN BALDWIN BUCKSTONE ESQ.
IN SINCERE ADMIRATION OF
HIS GENIUS AS A DRAMATIC AUTHOR
AND POPULAR ACTOR.
I. AFTER OFFICE HOURS IN THE HOUSE OF DUNBAR DUNBAR AND
II. MARGARET'S FATHER
III. THE MEETING AT THE RAILWAY STATION
IV. THE STROKE OF DEATH
V. SINKING THE PAST
VI. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S DIARY
VII. AFTER FIVE-AND-THIRTY YEARS
VIII. THE FIRST STAGE ON THE JOURNEY HOME
IX. HOW HENRY DUNBAR WAITED DINNER
X. LAURA DUNBAR
XI. THE INQUEST
XIII. THE PRISONER IS REMANDED
XIV. MARGARET'S JOURNEY
XVI. IS IT LOVE OR FEAR?
XVII. THE BROKEN PICTURE
XVIII. THREE WHO SUSPECT
XIX. LAURA DUNBAR'S DISAPPOINTMENT
XX. NEW HOPES MAY BLOOM
XXI. A NEW LIFE
XXII. THE STEEPLE-CHASE
XXIII. THE BRIDE THAT THE RAIN RAINS ON
XXIV. THE UNBIDDEN GUEST WHO CAME TO LAURA DUNBAR'S WEDDING
XXV. AFTER THE WEDDING
XXVI. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BACK PARLOUR OF THE BANKING-HOUSE
XXVII. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S WOOING
XXVIII. BUYING DIAMONDS
XXIX. GOING AWAY
XXX. STOPPED UPON THE WAY
XXXI. CLEMENT AUSTIN MAKES A SACRIFICE
XXXII. WHAT HAPPENED AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY
XXXIII. MARGARET'S RETURN
XXXV. A DISCOVERY AT THE LUXEMBOURG
XXXVI. LOOKING FOR THE PORTRAIT
XXXVII. MARGARET'S LETTER
XXXVIII. NOTES FROM A JOURNAL KEPT BY CLEMENT AUSTIN DURING HIS
JOURNEY TO WINCHESTER
XXXIX. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S JOURNAL CONTINUED
XLI. AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY
XLII. THE HOUSEMAID AT WOODBINE COTTAGE
XLIII. ON THE TRACK
XLIV. CHASING THE "CROW"
XLV. GIVING IT UP
XLVI. CLEMENT'S STORY--BEFORE THE DAWN
XLVII. THE DAWN
THE EPILOGUE: ADDED BY CLEMENT AUSTIN SEVEN YEARS AFTERWARDS
AFTER OFFICE HOURS IN THE HOUSE OF DUNBAR DUNBAR AND BALDERBY.
The house of Dunbar Dunbar and Balderby East India bankers was one
of the richest firms in the city of London--so rich that it would be
quite in vain to endeavour to describe the amount of its wealth. It was
something fabulous people said. The offices were situated in a dingy
and narrow thoroughfare leading out of King William Street and were
certainly no great things to look at; but the cellars below their
offices--wonderful cellars that stretched far away underneath the
church of St. Gundolph and were only separated by party-walls from the
vaults in which the dead lay buried--were popularly supposed to be
filled with hogsheads of sovereigns bars of bullion built up in stacks
like so much firewood and impregnable iron safes crammed to overflowing
with bank bills and railway shares government securities family
jewels and a hundred other trifles of that kind every one of which was
worth a poor man's fortune.
The firm of Dunbar had been established very soon after the English
first grew powerful in India. It was one of the oldest firms in the
City; and the names of Dunbar and Dunbar painted upon the door-posts
and engraved upon shining brass plates on the mahogany doors had never
been expunged or altered: though time and death had done their work of
change amongst the owners of that name.
The last heads of the firm had been two brothers Hugh and Percival
Dunbar; and Percival the younger of these brothers had lately died at
eighty years of age leaving his only son Henry Dunbar sole inheritor
of his enormous wealth.
That wealth consisted of a splendid estate in Warwickshire; another
estate scarcely less splendid in Yorkshire; a noble mansion in
Portland Place; and three-fourths of the bank. The junior partner Mr.
Balderby a good-tempered middle-aged man with a large family of
daughters and a handsome red-brick mansion on Clapham Common had never
possessed more than a fourth share in the business. The three other
shares had been divided between the two brothers and had lapsed
entirely into the hands of Percival upon the death of Hugh.
On the evening of the 15th of August 1850 three men sat together in
one of the shady offices at the back of the banking-house in St.
These three men were Mr. Balderby a confidential cashier called Clement
Austin and an old clerk a man of about sixty-five years of age who
had been a faithful servant of the firm ever since his boyhood.
This man's name was Sampson Wilmot.
He was old but he looked much older than he was. His hair was white
and hung in long thin locks upon the collar of his shabby bottle-green
great coat. He wore a great coat although it was the height of summer
and most people found the weather insupportably hot. His face was wizen
and wrinkled his faded blue eyes dim and weak-looking. He was feeble
and his hands were tremulous with a perpetual nervous motion. Already he
had been stricken twice with paralysis and he knew that whenever the
third stroke came it must be fatal.
He was not very much afraid of death however; for his life had been a
joyless one a monotonous existence of perpetual toil unrelieved by any
home joys or social pleasures. He was not a bad man for he was honest
conscientious industrious and persevering.
He lived in a humble lodging in a narrow court near the bank and went
twice every Sunday to the church of St. Gundolph.
When he died he hoped to be buried beneath the flagstones of that City
church and to lie cheek by jowl with the gold in the cellars of the
The three men were assembled in this gloomy private room after office
hours on a sultry August evening in order to consult together upon
rather an important subject namely the reception of Henry Dunbar the
new head of the firm.
This Henry Dunbar had been absent from England for five-and-thirty
years and no living creature now employed in the bank except Sampson
Wilmot had ever set eyes upon him.
He had sailed for Calcutta five-and-thirty years before and had ever
since been employed in the offices of the Indian branch of the bank;
first as clerk afterwards as chief and manager. He had been sent to
India because of a great error which he had committed in his early
He had been guilty of forgery. He or rather an accomplice employed by
him had forged the acceptance of a young nobleman a brother officer of
Henry Dunbar's and had circulated forged bills of accommodation to the
amount of three thousand pounds.
These bills were taken up and duly honoured by the heads of the firm.
Percival Dunbar gladly paid three thousand pounds as the price of his
son's honour. That which would have been called a crime in a poorer man
was only considered an error in the dashing young cornet of dragoons
who had lost money upon the turf and was fain to forge his friend's
signature rather than become a defaulter.
His accomplice the man who had actually manufactured the fictitious
signatures was the younger brother of Sampson Wilmot who had been a
few months prior to that time engaged as messenger in the
banking-house--a young fellow of nineteen little better than a lad; a
reckless boy easily influenced by the dashing soldier who had need of
The bill-broker who discounted the bills speedily discovered their
fraudulent nature; but he knew that the money was safe.
Lord Adolphus Vanlorme was a customer of the house of Dunbar and Dunbar;
the bill-brokers knew that _his_ acceptance was a forgery; but they knew
also that the signature of the drawer Henry Dunbar was genuine.
Messrs. Dunbar and Dunbar would not care to see the heir of their house
in a criminal dock.
There had been no hitch therefore no scandal no prosecution. The
bills were duly honoured; but the dashing young officer was compelled to
sell his commission and begin life afresh as a junior clerk in the
This was a terrible mortification to the high-spirited young man.
The three men assembled in the quiet room behind the bank on this
oppressive August evening were talking together of that old story.
"I never saw Henry Dunbar" Mr. Balderby said; "for as you know
Wilmot I didn't come into the firm till ten years after he sailed for
India; but I've heard the story hinted at amongst the clerks in the days
when I was only a clerk myself."
"I don't suppose you ever heard the rights of it sir" Sampson Wilmot
answered fumbling nervously with an old horn snuff-box and a red cotton
handkerchief "and I doubt if any one knows the rights of that story
except me and I can remember it as well as if it all happened
yesterday--ay that I can--better than I remember many things that
really did happen yesterday."
"Let's hear the story from you then Sampson" Mr. Balderby said. "As
Henry Dunbar is coming home in a few days we may as well know the real
truth. We shall better understand what sort of a man our new chief is."
"To be sure sir to be sure" returned the old clerk. "It's
five-and-thirty years ago--five-and-thirty years ago this month since
it all happened. If I hadn't good cause to remember the date because of
my own troubles I should remember it for another reason for it was the
Waterloo year and city people had been losing and making money like
wildfire. It was in the year '15 sir and our house had done wonders on
'Change. Mr. Henry Dunbar was a very handsome young man in those
days--very handsome very aristocratic-looking rather haughty in his
manners to strangers but affable and free-spoken to those who happened
to take his fancy. He was very extravagant in all his ways; generous and
open-handed with money; but passionate and self-willed. It's scarcely
strange he should have been so for he was an only child; he had neither
brother nor sister to interfere with him; and his uncle Hugh who was
then close upon fifty was a confirmed bachelor--so Henry considered
himself heir to an enormous fortune."
"And he began his career by squandering every farthing he could get I
suppose?" said Mr. Balderby.
"He did sir. His father was very liberal to him; but give him what he
would Mr. Percival Dunbar could never give his son enough to keep him
free of gambling debts and losses on the turf. Mr. Henry's regiment was
quartered at Knightsbridge and the young man was very often at this
office in and out in and out sometimes twice and three times a week;
and I expect that every time he came he came to get money or to ask
for it. It was in coming here he met my brother who was a handsome
lad--ay as handsome and as gentlemanly a lad as the young cornet
himself; for poor Joseph--that's my brother gentlemen--had been
educated a bit above his station being my mother's favourite son and
fifteen years younger than me. Mr. Henry took a great deal of notice of
Joseph and used to talk to him while he was waiting about to see his
father or his uncle. At last he asked the lad one day if he'd like to
leave the bank and go and live with him as a sort of confidential
servant and amanuensis to write his letters and all that sort of
thing. 'I shan't treat you altogether as a servant you know Joseph'
he said 'but I shall make quite a companion of you and you'll go about
with me wherever I go. You'll find my quarters a great deal pleasanter
than this musty old banking-house I can tell you.' Joseph accepted this
offer in spite of everything my poor mother and I could say to him. He
went to live with the cornet in the January of the year in which the
fabricated bills were presented at our counter."
"And when were the bills presented?"
"Not till the following August sir. It seems that Mr. Henry had lost
five or six thousand pounds on the Derby. He got what he could out of
his father towards paying his losses but he could not get more than
three thousand pounds; so then he went to Joseph in an awful state of
mind declaring that he should be able to get the money in a month or so
from his father and that if he could do anything just to preserve his
credit for the time and meet the claims of the vulgar City betting
fellows who were pressing him he should be able to make all square
afterwards. Then little by little it came out that he wanted my
brother who had a wonderful knack of imitating any body's handwriting
to forge the acceptance of Lord Vanlorme. 'I shall get the bills back
into my own hands before they fall due Joe' he said; 'it's only a
little dodge to keep matters sweet for the time being.' Well gentlemen
the poor foolish boy was very fond of his master and he consented to do
this wicked thing."
"Do you believe this to be the first time your brother ever Committed
"I do Mr. Balderby. Remember he was only a lad and I dare say he
thought it a fine thing to oblige his generous-hearted young master.
I've seen him many a time imitate the signature of this firm and other
signatures upon a half-sheet of letter-paper for the mere fun of the
thing: but I don't believe my brother Joseph ever did a dishonest action
in his life until he forged those bills. He hadn't need have done so
for he was only eighteen at the time."
"Young enough young enough!" murmured Mr. Balderby compassionately.
"Ay sir very young to be ruined for life. That one error that one
wicked act was his ruin; for though no steps were taken against him he
lost his character and never held his head up in an honest situation
again. He went from bad to worse and three years after Mr. Henry sailed
for India my brother Joseph Wilmot was convicted with two or three
others upon a charge of manufacturing forged Bank of England notes and
was transported for life."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Balderby; "a sad story--a very sad story. I
have heard something of it before but never the whole truth. Your
brother is dead I suppose."
"I have every reason to believe so sir" answered the old clerk
producing a red cotton handkerchief and wiping away a couple of tears
that were slowly trickling down his poor faded cheeks. "For the first
few years of his time he wrote now and then complaining bitterly of
his fate; but for five-and-twenty years I've never had a line from him.
I can't doubt that he's dead. Poor Joseph!--poor boy!--poor boy! The
misery of all this killed my mother. Mr. Henry Dunbar committed a great
sin when he tempted that lad to wrong; and many a cruel sorrow arose out
of that sin perhaps to lie heavy at his door some day or other sooner
or later sooner or later. I'm an old man and I've seen a good deal of
the ways of this world and I've found that retribution seldom fails to
overtake those who do wrong."
Mr. Balderby shrugged his shoulders.
"I should doubt the force of your philosophy in this case my good
Sampson" he said; "Mr. Dunbar has had a long immunity from his sins. I
should scarcely think it likely he would ever be called upon to atone
"I don't know sir" the old clerk answered; "I don't know that. I've
seen retribution come very late very late; when the man who committed
the sin had well nigh forgotten it. Evil trees bear evil fruit Mr.
Balderby: the Scriptures tell us that; and take my word for it evil
consequences are sure to come from evil deeds."
"But to return to the story of the forged bills" said Mr. Austin the
cashier looking at his watch as he spoke.
He was evidently growing rather impatient of the old clerk's rambling
"To be sure sir to be sure" answered Sampson Wilmot. "Well you see
sir one of the bills was brought to our counter and the cashier didn't
much like the look of my lord's signature and he took the bill to the
inspector and the inspector said' Pay the money but don't debit it
against his lordship.' About an hour afterwards the inspector carried
the bill to Mr. Percival Dunbar and directly he set eyes upon it he
knew that Lord Vanlorme's acceptance was a forgery. He sent for me to
his room; and when I went in he was as white as a sheet poor
gentleman. He handed me the bill without speaking and when I had looked
at it he said--
"'Your brother is at the bottom of this business Sampson. Do you
remember the half-sheet of paper I found on a blotting-pad in the
counting-house one day; half a sheet of paper scrawled over with the
imitation of two or three signatures? I asked who had copied those
signatures and your brother came forward and owned to having done it
laughing at his own cleverness. I told him then that it was a fatal
facility a fatal facility and now he has proved the truth of my words
by helping my son to turn forger and thief. That signature must be
honoured though I should have to sacrifice half my fortune to meet the
demands upon us. Heaven knows to what amount such paper as that may be
in circulation. There are some forged bills that are as good as genuine
documents; and the Jew who discounted these knew that. If my son comes
into the bank this morning send him to me.'"
"And did the young man come?" asked the junior partner.
"Yes Mr. Balderby sir; in less than half an hour after I left Mr.
Percival Dunbar's room in comes Mr. Henry dashing and swaggering into
the place as if it was his own.
"'Will you please step into your father's room sir?' I said; 'he wants
to see you very particular.'
"The cornet's jaw dropped and his face turned ghastly white as I said
this; but he tried to carry it off with a swagger and followed me into
Mr. Percival Dunbar's room.
"'You needn't leave us Sampson' said Mr. Hugh who was sitting
opposite his brother at the writing-table. 'You may as well hear what I
have to say. I wish somebody whom I can rely upon to know the truth of
this business and I think we may rely upon you.'
"'Yes gentlemen' I answered 'you may trust me.'
"'What's the meaning of all this?' Mr. Henry Dunbar asked pretending to
look innocent and surprised; but it wouldn't do for his lips trembled
so that it was painful to watch him. 'What's the matter?' he asked.
"Mr. Hugh Dunbar handed him the forged bill.
"'This is what's the matter' he said.
"The young man stammered out something in the endeavour to deny any
knowledge of the bill in his hand; but his uncle checked him. 'Do not
add perjury to the crime you have already committed' he said. 'How many
of these are in circulation?'
"'How many!' Mr. Henry repeated in a faltering voice. 'Yes' his uncle