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Chapter XI Not a Vulgar Quarrel—An Album—Mischief in the Wind

IT seems that daft devotee, Homely O'Crone, had, before his departure, received and lent to Mrs. Scudamore a copy of Serjeant Talfourd's latest tragedy: Glencoe; or, The Fate of the Macdonalds, just produced by Mr. Macready at the Haymarket. All young Hobartia had been spouting the sonorous lines, and it had not been long before a clique had been meeting at Isnaleara, the mansion of the Hon. Mrs. McKevin, with the intention of producing it on its own account. Let it be said that the occasion of its playing—though semi-private—was such a success, the audience were so pleasantly elevated by the nobility of the tragedy (Ensign Tipton, as Henry, the traitor brother, being especially stormy and successful in a uniform of the Argyll Regiment designed by old Duterreau), that, at her Ladyship's request, and out of compliment to the intrepid lady, it was agreed to reproduce the first scene of Act 2, and the last, in “Mr. Daunt's room” at the fascinating old ruin in Macquarie Street.

It was so kind of Mr. Daunt to bend to triviality—a man so preoccupied with real things. The young ladies were full of admiring gratitude. Miss Gargrave, who though she was eighteen, still wore an iron collar covered with velvet to make her hold up her beautiful neck, said of him: “He is such a nice man—I think.” On the other hand old Miss Bullinger Lecale, who had watched him from the past with ‘an ill-boding eye,’ and for years had pounced with unerring instinct on any sign of horsiness in him, “could not think what Satan would be up to, leading the gells into those old damp places.” But then Miss Lecale, if once a war-heroine, had troubled her vogue somewhat. She was inclined to the outrageous after enforced silence. Was it not she who had remarked before a gentleman, “she would like to see the women with their tobacco-pipes”; and was it not Mr. Daunt who asked: “But would the ladies keep it up?” She was angelical, but she had no repose! It is a pity—perhaps an insuperable tragedy—that so many of the things which make for our peace depend upon the petty observances of life. Ah, we can all bear the smarts; the difficulty becomes dangerous when they are inflamed by the flunkey and

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the cad! “Even the gentlemen do not approve of her prononcé style,” said young Miss Gargrave, as she brushed her hair before a friend's toilette. “Men are such fools,” answered her insouciant companion, and straightway descended to the withdrawing-room, where she presented the young gentlemen with their image of a good woman.

When on Monday night the rumour got about that the Commandant of the foot police had said something derogatory to the reputation of a certain lady, and, at a luncheon on Tuesday, that comical Captain Shaxton had daringly confirmed it, and laughingly (and actually with his wife on his arm) said that he was going to make a serious thing of it and bring Mr. Impudence out in a new line—that of Mr. Pickwick in the challenge scene, “brandy and water—jolly old gentleman—lots of pluck,” though there was swiftly and magically a slump in Mr. Daunt, and his thoughtfulness for the young people, there were those who remembered meeting the man Heans both at Pitt's Villa and Flat Top Tier, and feeling for Mrs. Shaxton in being forced by their relationship, and common kindness, into intimacy with a person of such a notoriety. It was really very interesting to hear how the better nature of the man had prevailed and he had come forward in his humiliation to speak for one who had shown him so much kindness. “Common kindness! well, it had been more—it was exceedingly romantic; brave; indiscreet; and unpleasant; and all were glad—glad and happy—to feel the man's testimony was unnecessary. Captain Shaxton was right in showing it all up and forcing Mr. Daunt forward.”

She had fainted, it seems, when she heard her cousin was actually assigned in the house.

The reader will remember how, on the occasion of a certain dinner to the explorers at Hodgson's Hotel, Captain Shaxton took occasion to nudge Mr. Daunt. A nod is as good as a wink to some. After Sir William Heans' arrest at Spring Bay, concerning which there was so much sympathy for the Shaxtons, the prisoner having cleverly made use of their réunion at the Tier as a blind to his absconding (for that was how the story began), there could not help but be a little tension in the relations between the Shaxtons and Mr. Daunt: mere good taste—it was noticed—rendering their relations less intimate for a while, and indeed, bruising the pleasant ties of acquaintance, so that, though all parties met and conversed, it was evident the same degree of familiar intercourse, which had been known to exist, was never quite resumed. Not that any vulgar cold-shouldering or boding looks had been observed; nothing more than your good woman's inability to forgive a too open clamouring of Duty in the gentle house of Friendship. Nor had it ever been held against Mr. Daunt in society that he had given permission to a prisoner acquaintance to attend a friend's soirée, knowing him to be in leaguer for his escape. It was even whispered that Heans'

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conspiracy, which had been for some time preceding his escape under the eyes of the authorities, had been known in much higher quarters, and that this was but one more chance to persuade him to acquiesce in his position. No, it was a high feather in Mr. Daunt's cap, about which, be it said to his credit, he had never “spoken a word.” Let us say here, concerning this matter, not a breath of suspicion had been breathed against him—even of “a little natural jealousy”: a phrase not unfamiliar upon his lips. Among his faults he had the rather forgivable one in a police officer of being a little too easy with the small sins of character. “It always came as a relief to him,” he once said, in his brisk way, “and somewhat of a surprise, to see people content with the smaller crimes”; or, as poor Shaxton had added with a chuckle: “content with their pocket knives.”

In point of fact, would the thing have got out, but for Captain Shaxton himself? It seems Mr. Daunt had spoken under the rose; hadn't mentioned a single name. Was he really to blame? The subject had cropped up and the other gentlemen had given this and that tale. Mr. Daunt had kept his secret, merely relating what seemed to him a certain probability. Of course it was a scandalous thing to say, even of an unknown person, if you had not had the direct evidence. But then the Superintendent had given no date, and he had been in Hobart Town many years. (Fought his way up, it was said, in Davey's time, and had a scar or two.) It might have been any officer's wife from Governor Davey to Governor Franklin, and any escaping convict. Really nobody would have connected such a thing with the Mrs. Shaxton, who had the cousin, the prisoner. Yet—there had, after all, been a low ‘Captain’ in Sir William Heans' case; every one had laughed over the old Government schooner, the farce of her dilatory arrival at Spring Bay,note and bare escape out of the police boats. Everybody remembered the case in the Courier. Would you then have credited Mr. Daunt with recklessness? Had the guilty secret, which he had kept so strictly, and which he fancied true, made him cynical about women? He often said those bitter little things. But he must have known dear Mrs. Shaxton——

Here we must pause to confess that what happened to Heans at his capture at Spring Bay is unknown to us. He is reticent of his experience at that moment. Neither can we furnish a more definite reason for the ensuing coolness between Daunt and Matilda Shaxton than her account to a friend of an interview in which the Superintendent made some “grave mistake.” We give here, however, a “reflection” written by Sir William Heans, at the moment of his assignment to Charles Oughtryn, in the pages of his private album (September 6th, 1840): the latter a species

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of memorandum, begun but rudely broken into, from which we get some drops of confirmation of a narrative based too much on letters written with reserve. Is it a sober thought that this has an echo in it of the indignities of capture—and even throws a light on Mrs. Shaxton's words of reprobation? Perhaps a troublesome inference, yet, as will be seen, confirmed much in Sir William's portfolio of French despatches to his friend Charles Scarning:——

“Say, when the protagonist of gross ambition has you in his hold, when will he strike you, when will he use that power? When will come the irresistible moment? It will be in a moment of ennui—in an instant of impatience. Ah, how pitiless can be this being—with no uplifting ardour save ambition—and a heart resilient with released enmity, is known only to those who have survived revolution, mean stagnation, or any of those abnormal moments in which he finds his power! Of what use the chivalric sentiment that in the last extremity of human wrong a tyranny may be met by force! How bravely, for a while, shall the lonely penitent face the inquisitors! Such sad survivors know how strange the earth looks close against the eyes.”

Between the caligraphy of wounded pride, the flourish of ill-borne humiliation, can we detect a something pricking through law's spirit—a half-vindictive weapon come of self-guidance by the sound of right which can so easily become its echo?

In any case, Captain Shaxton was afraid it would be traced to his wife, as the stableman's name was known, and he (himself) had shown interest in the slandered woman. Captain Kent, who was in the stable, said it was wonderful how he took everybody in, only showing decent feeling for ‘the poor woman,’ and how all along it had the making—what with Daunt's sternness and conviction—of an ugly affair. Of course Daunt had backed him up and behaved decently. What might not a man of less refinement have said of a lady in a stable! As for Heans, he was sharp as a needle, speaking of Mrs. Shaxton as “the fair incognita.” How impossible it was to imagine Mrs. Shaxton in an affaire du cœur, even with a man of so handsome a person as some remembered that of Sir William Heans when first transported! Nowadays, with that passe figure, with the port-wine face, and shred of pathetic ceremony, it was very unpleasing. True, the lady's very indiscretion proved her probity. Captain Kent said he protested he did not think anything would have come of it if Captain Shaxton had but held his tongue. But, indeed, how could he let it rest on the silence of a gentleman, who, if he had mistakenly spread a falsehood, had once been an intimate of his house—and the other man's generosity. As a man of honour—how could he bear it! Captain Shaxton was so important now that he was to be architect of the Port Arthur prison,

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and so, of course, was Commandant Daunt. All the world wondered why, having kept the secret so long, he made so strange a mistake.

There must have been some reason. Mrs. McKevin (who was quite one of his admirers) thought it was all Mrs. Shaxton's fault for never quite forgiving the Commandant for catching Heans. It was very unwise of her not to forgive a man so clever—but our Miss Lecale who, as we said, had pursued him with dislike from days out of mind, and watched for his real or fancied weaknesses with the unaltering perseverance of a cat upon a field-mouse, or as Shaxton said, “with a highly sisterly affection,” and in justice to Daunt, with very few wounds in return—Miss B. said: “Captain Shaxton will never get the man to fight, and if he doesn't look out, for all his chuckles, his pistols, and his perfume-pad, he will never quite clear his stainless wife of her silly play with the old beau garçon.

While Hobarton was hesitating whether to laugh with Captain Shaxton, or fear with some indefinable prompting that the moves of two such quiet players held some indeterminate danger, Mr. Daunt actually appeared the following morning at Pitt's Villa, rang, and was admitted to the presence of Mrs. Shaxton, who was lying on a sofa in her drawing-room; with her being Mrs. Meurice, her old neighbour, a Miss Towerson, and Ensign Tipton. The last named were in riding attire, and had, it seems, galloped up to rehearse with Mrs. Shaxton their respective parts in Glencoe in which tragedy Matilda still bravely held to her promise of prompting. The audacity of this interview caused unfavourable comment throughout the two cliques of Hobart Town, coming even to the ears of the Governor, who touched on his attempts to divert Heans from his downward course, and expressed a doubt “If Mr. Daunt (with whom he could not always agree) were wise in waiting on Mrs. Shaxton in view of the freshness of the wound.”

Tipton, when he caught the name and who it was, was inclined to resent the visit, and rose with a dark air, but Mrs. Shaxton, with a softened look, got up and received him; and in a sort of grey flurry pointed him to a chair. Mrs. Meurice herself sprang up, and made him a little congé, with tears in her very red face. The beautiful Miss Towerson, who was taking the part of ‘Helen,’ nodded forward from her chair, but did not take her chin from her hand. She held herself rather annoyed and aloof. A quite accomplished actress of tragedy, she was only barely acquainted with Mrs. Shaxton and not much more with Mr. Daunt. For her it was a vexatious moment. Who would wonder if she were a little frightened!

Daunt, who was attired in a tight black frock and cords, looked somewhat too saddled with grave issues for his company. For a time he said very little, leaning forward upon his hat and gloves, his grizzled face sunk in his collars, listening with intentness

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to all that was said, only now and then giving, by witticism or steely word, a hint of his alertness.

It was a doubtful situation, and though it was late in the morning, none of the three other visitors would leave Mrs. Shaxton—a club antagonism to Daunt alone rendering Tipton blind to the signals of Miss Towerson. All three sat on in their chairs, keeping up a flagging talk, which Mr. Daunt aided with terse anecdote or a bit of news. Even with such a deadly business under the surface, none could help but be interested in the surface reason for his visit. He wished to ask Mrs. Shaxton whether she were interested enough in human sadness to undertake a call upon the woman in the Cascades in whom poor O'Crone had been interested. She was as suddenly stricken as had been that person at the news that she was to go away. It was thought of asking Lady Franklin to visit her. It was believed that a visit from any one of her own status of refinement would revive her. “If he could prevail on Mrs. Shaxton,” he said, “and perhaps Mrs. Meurice, if that lady had pity to spare, he believed the woman would make an effort and they would get her away.”

“Was not her crime something very unpleasing?” Mrs. Meurice had asked.

“Very,” said Daunt, and then seemed to demur, dropping his chin in his hand. “Forgive me for putting it frankly. But there is no getting round the fact that, however merited it may have been, she pistolled her husband.”

The visitors found it difficult to hide their interest in the history of “O'Crone's convict,” though sharp old Mrs. Meurice, who had regained a scarlet composure, warned Matilda: “I am sure, with your bal paré, you could never go throngh with it!”

“Believe me,” said Daunt, “you are wrong. She is a proud, gentle-natured woman, given to reading and hand-painting. Her influence in the prison has been widely felt. She has made quite a name for herself—playing the lady bountiful: even refusing an assignment, preferring apparently her work among the sick and private studies. Her sickening has given the notion she has been informed of the departure of her impetuous admirer, though according to Leete she has never acted up to his eaprice. Yet with the women coming in to the factory and going out, it might have got about. She weeps. She will not eat. Tears—tears! She will unbend to no one. It is—we think—a pity. She has set her will against Port Arthur. If she could but be got to the Commandant's house there—a breezy place in its own grounds—she will be out of danger.”

“Is it so dreadful as that?” asked Matilda, unfurling her pale flag of help: “a matter of returned devotion?” (Of course, none present knew so early poor O'Crone had been the Earl of Daisley.)

“Call it a recluse's whim to remain in her den, madam,”

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said Daunt, “and you will be near the opinion of your obedient humble servant.”

“I protest—the poor soul expiring of a—a whim, sir!” objected Mrs. Meurice, who would have said anything in antagonism to Daunt; “people do not expire of such thing!”

“We are all dying of whims, madam,” said Mr. Daunt; “a few preferring that the whim should be a fine whim: the rest of us for a whim. Ah, Mrs. Shaxton, you who are expiring of a fine one, at least you will accompany me to the prison. You will come with me in a fly to-morrow—out of pure kindness. Between us can we not rescue the woman?”

“I don't think I can go with you,” said Matilda, very quiet.

“You don't do yourself justice, then,” said Daunt, leaning forward with a strange pallor. “There is something about this woman that will appeal to you. I beg of you to come with me on this peculiar occasion. You, with your cleverness and sensibility, will manage it. Won't you come to the rescue? Our man's wit is at a dead wall.”

Matilda raised her sick eye a little from her work. She seemed almost grave: “I could not stand grossness or harshness,” she said: “I can't think you would put me against grossness or harshness.”

Tipton was glowering. “Mrs. Shaxton,” he laughed, “'pon my soul you're too serious!”

“Indeed, madam,” said Daunt, grizzled, stern, and pleading, “the poor lady is neither gross nor hard. I would not dream of putting you in such a position. You may trust in me. I came up this morning relying on your pity. Your kindness— who should know it better than I, who have been a guest here for four years now? Have I been mistaken in again trading on it? We come again and again, madam, to the rare places where it refuses to die—steer our dark ships, madam, impudently into the haven. Weary men, dear lady, fighting our erring war—will you tell them it is not here?”

“I do not know,” said Matilda, sewing in a quiet flurry. “You are very complimentary—you are very complimentary to me. I don't think it can be fair to be stern—to be so full of duty—and come claiming your gentleness from the women. Why—why do you ask me? Are you sure I shall answer you gently?”

She looked up at him strainedly where he sat leaning forward on his cane. “Are your sails dark with storm, Mr. Daunt? are you come in your strength?” said she.

“You are jesting with us poor men, Mrs. Shaxton,” he said.

“No—no,” she corrected him. “Is the woman dying from the handling of that place? She must not die of that. Do you remember how a year ago you spoke to me standing at that mantel piece—you spoke against somebody to me, and I told you

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I thought it was so dangerous to be stern, especially with people whom one does not like or approve of?”

“I protest,” said Daunt, a little yellow, and nodding very vigorously, “it is often heart-breakingly difficult to disapprove.”

“What—of those you dislike, sir! Ah, how near is your ‘justice’ to persecution; even if you are a Crichton yourself— and who has always been that!” (Her face grew very pinched and strange.)

“You mean,” said Daunt, “a step too much—a frankly mistaken step—a misreading of character, and one is himself the wronger. How true—how very true! But is—was discretion mistaken in that case? No, we are so used to being in the right! Dear madam, we are weary of it, sure of it, laying our nets by our conviction—by our dislike, if you please, and only waiting for the end. Gracious God, Mrs. Shaxton, we police, in pursuing a conclusion to a finish, do not often need to turn in the worn track, and throw our all on the kindly effort of a lady!”

He looked in his efficient, urgent way at Mrs. Shaxton, and she stared back at him, half sad, half grave. It seems strange to us that she should have looked so bravely and so steadily at him after what he had done: this efficient, weighty, witty man. He who had given out in a male conclave the crime of her whom he had once professed to protect. That is the least she could have seen—granting to his mind whatever despair of cynicism: a motive the most frenzied and passionate. Was she meeting something in his talk that was not practice with something in her soul that failed at indignation? Did she—who if any there knew the grape on his tongue, whether it were sweet or tasteless—did she know why he had waited upon her any better than did Tipton, who “thought old Daunt was in a funk,” or Mrs. Meurice, who “thought his visit meant he was at Matilda's feet” (he had a difficulty about being polite to impotency), or Miss Towerson, who “thought the Superintendent spoke so impressive about the other woman”? Who knows what they knew of one another? What secrets he had not divulged of her, what secret she had kept of him? Here sat our stern Iago who had pushed a husband further on a jealous scent; our yellow Hamlet, who for some reason had not struck when he might—for some reason of three or four. Which had it been a year ago? Which was it now? After all, the young people, and some old ones, are so impressionable; it takes a genius to send them away satisfied as to his dignity!

Ensign Tipton had remarked: “'Pon my life, sir, I think we're all hanging too much on one lady's unselfishness! She has the thankless task of prompting a company of addle-pates—that's the men, ha-ha—the ladies never forget their parts!”

The beautiful Miss Towerson bowed and laughed rather sourly.

“It's quite angelic of you to continue,” she said, in a high uneasy voice. “Her la'yship was saying only yesterday—‘indeed

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you are too ready to exhaust yourself for a lot of thoughtless people.’ ”

Here Mrs. Meurice surprised the company with one of those masterly upcuts of your swordswoman, who, after hours of feinting, double-feinting, and retreating, has the miraculous power of exploiting, at her need, a blunt, brutal, candid question.

“Now really,” said she, “could not Mr. Daunt get his charity elsewhere?” Even for this Daunt was not unready, dropping out quietly and quickly, and with a sort of smiling surrender: “Could the good lady show him any one with the experience and genuine goodness?”

“Indeed, sir,” answered the lady, very red, the feather on her poke wildly quivering, “you have spoken truly, sir!”

But was Mr. Daunt very angry? He sat there with (according to Mrs. Meurice, who alone reported it) “a signally fearful pallor on his dapper face.” “I am speechless, ma'am,” said he, in a small breathless voice, unlike his own. “I know not with what more to urge my words—to rouse Mrs. Shaxton's interest and alarm.”

Something in this last troubled the breast of the cold, romantic Ensign, and whipping the floor with the tassel of his cane, he hurried out a banal nothing to the effect that their “Egeria” was leading them all with invisible strings. He could hardly wonder, he said, at Mr. Daunt's decoying the generous lady into his prison. If she can smooth old Shandler's temper (“he's murdering MacIan, you know”) and blind young Balsers to his own pathetic eagerness, she can manage the poor creature in the Cascades Factory. “I protest,” said he, “madam has us all urbanity and strict attention.”

Perhaps he was as surprised as any one at finding himself giving a sort of push to Daunt's wish. It was always difficult to say what was amiss with Daunt—he was always pretty pale— whether he was angry, ill, or what not. Now, he took up the conversation in a quick way. “Man, as a constable,” said he, “has little time for polite reading. Yet I have found time for the play. I shall look forward eagerly to the great night.” (He always was apt to name “great” occasions in which he had a part.) “An elegant tragedy—but, don't you think, Mrs. Shaxton, a little sad?”

“Indeed,” said Matilda, dropping her rather dismayed eyes on the window, “it is enlivening to sit and listen to Helen and Henry Macdonald disputing over the treatment of their lovepassages. Even when they agree, I am not fatigued; they do their lines so nobly. As for old Captain Shandlers” (she bent over her work again), “he is the gentlest of men so long as he is permitted to be what he calls ‘his frank and untrammelled self’ ” (there was some laughter), “while Mr. Balsers—indeed I try not to be fatigued with things like ardour.”

“I protest—a capricious heroine!” said Daunt, with a glittering

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little laugh. “She will not accept her young gallant's addresses except they be offered according to the book. Pray tell me—I am still in the dark concerning Helen Campbell.” (He suddenly addressed himself to Miss Towerson) “Is she, dear madam, as good as she pretends? Has she not two strings to her bow? Which—can you honestly tell me—which of the two men really has the lady's heart?”

“I am afraid the bad one, sir,” said Miss Towerson, and then went a deep orange colour, and munched her beautiful lip.

Of course, those in the room, and during the afternoon, more than one other Hobarton drawing-room, were inwardly discussing if Mr. Daunt were interested as much as his appeal implied—and how much—in the sickening of the Cascades artist; whether he were not hinting at something as threatening, more weighty, and more personal to Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton and himself, in that rapid, weighty voice. We know it is easy to imagine these things in the conversation of a lady and a gentleman, and more than one laughed at Tipton and Miss Towerson as a pair of “impressionable young people.” There are those who will glean a tragedy from every company. In point of fact, it was too disturbing to the composure to allow of making certain. That the very gentleman who had spread the “thing” should be paying his duty to her—sitting there in Mrs. Shaxton's room—even if he had not had that reputation—would have set older people (from fear alone) watching for “indirect intimations.” For poor Miss Towerson it was “particularly distressing,” since her friendship with Captain Shaxton's wife was “purely a theatrical one,” and she had but a bowing acquaintance with Mr. Daunt as a bitter prison big-wig, with an interest in polite entertainment. She had heard of the mock-knightly doings in the stable (knew of the absconder's cousinship with the lady), had been herself on Monday at the old house. She had taken part with Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton and Mr. Daunt in consultation that evening. She had admired with them the “French cornice.” She had expressed herself enchanté with the size and acoustics of the pretty room. She had been one of those to go to the assistance of Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton in her fainting fit. But only kindness to the invalid had taken her to the rehearsal that morning, and quite naturally she did not wish to figure in anything serious.

Really frightened, “inwardly disturbed,” she was kept in her chair by a feeling that Mrs. Shaxton ought not to be deserted until they were certain she was able for it, and was aided in her intention by Mr. Tipton's composure. Though the conversation took a surprising turn, both young people maintained there was more tragedy beneath it than the artist's, and Miss Towerson imagined a note almost of threatening in Mr. Daunt's conversation. How nonplussed he looked at Mrs. Meurice's remark! Mrs. Meurice, herself, went so far as to say he was frightened of the talk he had brought on himself, and was playing

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on Mrs. Shaxton's soft-heartedness to countenance him in it. Apart from Miss Towerson's embarassing position, Hobarton was inclined to laugh at the young people, and consider they were taking things too seriously; and Mrs. Shaxton seemed to think so too, for before they left Mr. Daunt had almost persuaded her to drive down with him to see “poor Daisley's convict.” (So rumour said.)

Here, let us add, it was reported by a gentleman of repute late on Tuesday night, as beyond question, that the prisoner's old landlady—Mrs. Quaid—had been approached, and contrary to Hyde-Shaxton's statement, had denied all cognizance or claim in the famous pad, hinting that she remembered distinctly giving it into the possession of Sir William Heans himself; and also that Commandant Daunt, being interviewed by old Chedsey, said sternly that he at least had never seen it, and he was afraid he was not optimistic of its being found among the fly-away tags and tatters of Sir William Heans.