+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error



THE Inquest was hurried for certain local
reasons which weighed with the coroner and
the town authorities. It was held on the afternoon
of the next day. I was, necessarily, one
among the witnesses.

My first proceeding, in the morning, was
to go to the post-office, and inquire for the letter
which I expected from Marian. No change of
circumstances, however extraordinary, could
affect the one great anxiety which weighed on
my mind while I was away from London. The
morning's letter, which was my only assurance
that no misfortune had happened, was still the
absorbing interest with which my day began.

To my relief, the letter from Marian was at
the office waiting for me. Nothing had happened
they were both as safe and as well as when I
had left them. Laura sent her love, and begged
that I would let her know of my return, a day
beforehand. Her sister added, in explanation
of this message, that she had saved "nearly
a sovereign" out of her own private purse, and
that she had claimed the privilege of ordering
the dinner and giving the dinner which was to
celebrate the day of my return. I read these
little domestic confidences, in the bright morning,
with the terrible recollection of what had
happened the evening before, vivid in my
memory. The necessity of sparing Laura any
sudden knowledge of the truth was the first
consideration which the letter suggested to me. I
wrote at once to Marian, to tell her what I have
told in these pages; presenting the tidings as
gradually and gently as I could, and warning
her not to let any such thing as a newspaper
fall in Laura's way while I was absent. In the
case of any other woman, less courageous and
less reliable, I might have hesitated before I
ventured on unreservedly disclosing the whole
truth. But I owed it to Marian to be faithful
to my past experience of her, and to trust her
as I trusted myself.

My letter was necessarily long. It occupied
me until the time for going to the Inquest.

The objects of the legal inquiry were
necessarily beset by peculiar complications and
difficulties. Besides the investigation into the
manner in which the deceased had met his death,
there were serious questions to be settled relating
to the cause of the fire, to the abstraction
of the keys, and to the presence of a stranger
in the vestry at the time when the flames
broke out.  Even the identification of the dead
man had not yet been accomplished. The
helpless condition of the servant had made the
police distrustful of his asserted recognition
of his master. They had sent to Knowlesbury
over-night to secure the attendance of
witnesses who were well acquainted with the
person of Sir Percival Glyde, and they had
communicated, the first thing in the morning, with
Blackwater Park. These precautions enabled
the coroner and jury to settle the question of
identity, and to confirm the correctness of the
servant's assertion; the evidence offered by
competent witnesses, and by the discovery of certain
facts, being strengthened by the dead man's
watch. The crest and the name of Sir Percival
Glyde were engraved inside it.

The next inquiries related to the fire.

The servant and I, and the boy who had heard
the light struck in the vestry, were the first
witnesses called. The boy gave his evidence
clearly enough; but the servant's mind had not
yet recovered the shock inflicted on ithe was
plainly incapable of assisting the objects of the
inquiry, and he was desired to stand down. To
my own relief, my examination was not a long
one. I had not known the deceased; I had
never seen him; I was not aware of his presence
at Old Welmingham; and I had not been in the
vestry at the finding of the body. All I could
prove was that I had stopped at the clerk's
cottage to ask my way; that I had heard from him
of the loss of the keys; that I had accompanied
him to the church to render what help I could;
that I had seen the fire; that I had heard some
person unknown, inside the vestry, trying vainly
to unlock the door; and that I had done what I
could, from motives of humanity, to save the
man. Other witnesses, who had been acquainted
with the deceased, were asked if they could
explain the mystery of his presumed abstraction of
the keys, and his presence in the burning room.
But the coroner seemed to take it for granted,
naturally enough, that I, as a total stranger in
the neighbourhood, and a total stranger to Sir
Percival Glyde, could not be in a position to
offer any evidence on these two points.

The course that I was myself bound to take,
when my formal examination had closed, seemed