Within a week of the occurrence which is related in the last chapter, there came a telegram from Southampton to the parsonage at St. Diddulph's, saying that Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley had reached England. On the evening of that day they were to lodge at a small family hotel in Baker Street, and both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora were to be with them. The leave-taking at the parsonage was painful, as on both sides there existed a feeling that affection and sympathy were wanting. The uncle and aunt had done their duty, and both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora felt that they ought to have been demonstrative and cordial in their gratitude;—but they found it impossible to become so. And the rector could not pretend but that he was glad to be rid of his guests. There were, too, some last words about money to be spoken, which were grievous thorns in the poor man's flesh. Two bank notes, however, were put upon his table, and he knew that unless he took them he could not pay for the provisions which his unwelcome visitors had consumed. Surely there never was a man so cruelly ill-used as had been Mr. Outhouse in all this matter. "Another such winter as that would put me in my grave," he said, when his wife tried to comfort him after they were gone. "I know that they have both been very good to us," said Mrs. Trevelyan, as she and her sister, together with the child and the nurse, hurried away towards Baker Street in a cab, "but I have never for a moment felt that they were glad to have us." "But how could they have been glad to have us," she added afterwards, "when we brought such trouble with us?" But they to whom they were going now would receive her with joy;—would make her welcome with all her load of sorrows, would give to her a sympathy which it was impossible that she should receive from others. Though she might not be happy now,—for in truth how could she be ever really happy again,—there would be a joy to her in placing her child in her mother's arms, and in receiving her father's warm caresses. That her father would be very vehement in his anger against her husband she knew well,—for Sir Marmaduke was a vehement man. But there would be some support for her in the very violence of his wrath, and at this moment it was such support that she most needed. As they journeyed together in the cab, the married sister seemed to be in the higher spirits of the two. She was sure, at any rate, that those to whom she was going would place themselves on her side. Nora had her own story to tell about Hugh Stanbury, and was by no means so sure that her tale would be received with cordial agreement. "Let me tell them myself," she whispered to her sister. "Not to-night, because they will have so much to say to you; but I shall tell mamma to-morrow."
The train by which the Rowleys were to reach London was due at the station at 7.30 p.m., and the two sisters timed their despatch from St. Diddulph's so as to enable them to reach the hotel at eight. "We shall be there now before mamma," said Nora, "because they will have so much luggage, and so many things, and the trains are always late." When they started from the door of the parsonage, Mr. Outhouse gave the direction to the cabman, "Gregg's Hotel, Baker Street." Then at once he began to console himself in that they were gone.
It was a long drive from St. Diddulph's in the east, to Marylebone in the west, of London. None of the party in the cab knew anything of the region through which they passed. The cabman took the line by the back of the Bank, and Finsbury Square and the City Road, thinking it best, probably, to avoid the crush at Holborn Hill, though at the expense of something of a circuit. But of this Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora knew nothing. Had their way taken them along Piccadilly, or through Mayfair, or across Grosvenor Square, they would have known where they were; but at present they were not thinking of those once much-loved localities. The cab passed the Angel, and up and down the hill at Pentonville, and by the King's Cross stations, and through Euston Square,—and then it turned up Gower Street. Surely the man should have gone on along the New Road, now that he had come so far out of his way. But of this the two ladies knew nothing,—nor did the nurse. It was a dark, windy night, but the lamps in the streets had given them light, so that they had not noticed the night. Nor did they notice it now as the streets became narrower and darker. They were hardly thinking that their journey was yet at an end, and the mother was in the act of covering her boy's face as he lay asleep on the nurse's lap, when the cab was stopped. Nora looking out through the window, saw the word "Hotel" over a doorway, and was satisfied. "Shall I take the child, ma'am?" said a man in black, and the child was handed out. Nora was the first to follow, and she then perceived that the door of the hotel was not open. Mrs. Trevelyan followed; and then they looked round them,—and the child was gone. They heard the rattle of another cab as it was carried away at a gallop round a distant corner;—and then some inkling of what had happened came upon them. The father had succeeded in getting possession of his child.
It was a narrow, dark street, very quiet, having about it a certain air of poor respectability,—an obscure, noiseless street, without even a sign of life. Some unfortunate one had endeavoured here to keep an hotel;—but there was no hotel kept there now. There had been much craft in selecting the place in which the child had been taken from them. As they looked around them, perceiving the terrible misfortune which had befallen them, there was not a human being near them save the cabman, who was occupied in unchaining, or pretending to unchain the heavy mass of luggage on the roof. The windows of the house before which they were stopping, were closed, and Nora perceived at once that the hotel was not inhabited. The cabman must have perceived it also. As for the man who had taken the child, the nurse could only say that he was dressed in black, like a waiter, that he had a napkin under his arm, and no hat on his head. He had taken the boy tenderly in his arms,—and then she had seen nothing further. The first thing that Nora had seen, as she stood on the pavement, was the other cab moving off rapidly.
Mrs. Trevelyan had staggered against the railings, and was soon screaming in her wretchedness. Before long there was a small crowd around them, comprising three or four women, a few boys, an old man or two,—and a policeman. To the policeman Nora had soon told the whole story, and the cabman was of course attacked. But the cabman played his part very well. He declared that he had done just what he had been told to do. Nora was indeed sure that she had heard her uncle desire him to drive to Gregg's Hotel in Baker Street. The cabman in answer to this, declared that he had not clearly heard the old gentleman's directions; but that a man whom he had conceived to be a servant, had very plainly told him to drive to Parker's Hotel, Mowbray Street, Gower Street. "I comed ever so far out of my way," said the cabman, "to avoid the rumpus with the homnibuses at the hill,—cause the ladies' things is so heavy we'd never got up if the 'orse had once jibbed." All which, though it had nothing to do with the matter, seemed to impress the policeman with the idea that the cabman, if not a true man, was going to be too clever for them on this occasion. And the crafty cabman went on to declare that his horse was so tired with the load that he could not go on to Baker Street. They must get another cab. Take his number! Of course they could take his number. There was his number. His fare was four and six,—that is if the ladies wouldn't pay him anything extra for the terrible load; and he meant to have it. It would be sixpence more if they kept him there many minutes longer. The number was taken, and another cab was got, and the luggage was transferred, and the money was paid, while the unhappy mother was still screaming in hysterics against the railings. What had been done was soon clear enough to all those around her. Nora had told the policeman, and had told one of the women, thinking to obtain their sympathy and assistance. "It's the kid's dada as has taken it," said one man, "and there ain't nothing to be done." There was nothing to be done;—nothing at any rate then and there.
Nora had been very eager that the cabman should be arrested; but the policeman assured her that such an arrest was out of the question, and would have been useless had it been possible. The man would be forthcoming if his presence should be again desired, but he had probably,—so said the policeman,—really been desired to drive to Mowbray Street. "They knows where to find me if they wants me,—only I must be paid my time," said the cabman confidently. And the policeman was of opinion that as the boy had been kidnapped on behalf of the father, no legal steps could be taken either for the recovery of the child or for the punishment of the perpetrators of the act. He got up, however, on the box of the cab, and accompanied the party to the hotel in Baker Street. They reached it almost exactly at the same time with Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley, and the reader must imagine the confusion, the anguish, and the disappointment of that meeting. Mrs. Trevelyan was hardly in possession of her senses when she reached her mother, and could not be induced to be tranquil even when she was assured by her father that her son would suffer no immediate evil by being transferred to his father's hands. She in her frenzy declared that she would never see her little one again, and seemed to think that the father might not improbably destroy the child. "He is mad, papa, and does not know what he does. Do you mean to say that a madman may do as he pleases?—that he may rob my child from me in the streets?—that he may take him out of my very arms in that way?" And she was almost angry with her father because no attempt was made that night to recover the boy.
Sir Marmaduke, who was not himself a good lawyer, had been closeted with the policeman for a quarter of an hour, and had learned the policeman's views. Of course, the father of the child was the person who had done the deed. Whether the cabman had been in the plot or not, was not matter of much consequence. There could be no doubt that some one had told the man to go to Parker's Hotel, as the cab was starting; and it would probably be impossible to punish him in the teeth of such instructions. Sir Marmaduke, however, could doubtless have the cabman summoned. And as for the absolute abduction of the child, the policeman was of opinion that a father could not be punished for obtaining possession of his son by such a stratagem, unless the custody of the child had been made over to the mother by some court of law. The policeman, indeed, seemed to think that nothing could be done, and Sir Marmaduke was inclined to agree with him. When this was explained to Mrs. Trevelyan by her mother, she again became hysterical in her agony, and could hardly be restrained from going forth herself to look for her lost treasure.
It need hardly be further explained that Trevelyan had planned the stratagem in concert with Mr. Bozzle. Bozzle, though strongly cautioned by his wife to keep himself out of danger in the matter, was sorely tempted by his employer's offer of a hundred pounds. He positively refused to be a party to any attempt at violence at St. Diddulph's; but when he learned, as he did learn, that Mrs. Trevelyan, with her sister and baby, were to be transferred from St. Diddulph's in a cab to Baker Street, and that the journey was luckily to be made during the shades of evening, his active mind went to work, and he arranged the plan. There were many difficulties, and even some pecuniary difficulty. He bargained that he should have his hundred pounds clear of all deduction for expenses, and then the attendant expenses were not insignificant. It was necessary that there should be four men in the service, all good and true; and men require to be well paid for such goodness and truth. There was the man, himself an ex-policeman, who gave the instructions to the first cabman, as he was starting. The cabman would not undertake the job at all unless he were so instructed on the spot, asserting that in this way he would be able to prove that the orders he obeyed came from the lady's husband. And there was the crafty pseudo-waiter, with the napkin and no hat, who had carried the boy to the cab in which his father was sitting. And there were the two cabmen. Bozzle planned it all, and with some difficulty arranged the preliminaries. How successful was the scheme, we have seen; and Bozzle, for a month, was able to assume a superiority over his wife, which that honest woman found to be very disagreeable. "There ain't no fraudulent abduction in it at all," Bozzle exclaimed, "because a wife ain't got no rights again her husband,—not in such a matter as that." Mrs. Bozzle implied that if her husband were to take her child away from her without her leave, she'd let him know something about it. But as the husband had in his possession the note for a hundred pounds, realized, Mrs. Bozzle had not much to say in support of her view of the case.
On the morning after the occurrence, while Sir Marmaduke was waiting
with his solicitor upon a magistrate to find whether anything could
be done, the following letter was brought to Mrs. Trevelyan at
Our child is safe with me, and will remain so. If you care to obtain legal advice you will find that I as his father have a right to keep him under my protection. I shall do so; but will allow you to see him as soon as I shall have received a full guarantee that you have no idea of withdrawing him from my charge.
A home for yourself with me is still open to you,—on condition that you will give me the promise that I have demanded from you; and as long as I shall not hear that you again see or communicate with the person to whose acquaintance I object. While you remain away from me I will cause you to be paid £50 a month, as I do not wish that you should be a burden on others. But this payment will depend also on your not seeing or holding any communication with the person to whom I have alluded.
Your affectionate and offended husband,
A letter addressed to the Acrobats' Club will reach me.
Sir Rowley came home dispirited and unhappy, and could not give much comfort to his daughter. The magistrate had told him that though the cabman might probably be punished for taking the ladies otherwise than as directed,—if the direction to Baker Street could be proved,—nothing could be done to punish the father. The magistrate explained that under a certain Act of Parliament the mother might apply to the Court of Chancery for the custody of any children under seven years of age, and that the court would probably grant such custody,—unless it were shewn that the wife had left her husband without sufficient cause. The magistrate could not undertake to say whether or no sufficient cause had here been given;—or whether the husband was in fault or the wife. It was, however, clear that nothing could be done without application to the Court of Chancery. It appeared,—so said the magistrate,—that the husband had offered a home to his wife, and that in offering it he had attempted to impose no conditions which could be shown to be cruel before a judge. The magistrate thought that Mr. Trevelyan had done nothing illegal in taking the child from the cab. Sir Marmaduke, on hearing this, was of opinion that nothing could be gained by legal interference. His private desire was to get hold of Trevelyan and pull him limb from limb. Lady Rowley thought that her daughter had better go back to her husband, let the future consequences be what they might. And the poor desolate mother herself had almost brought herself to offer to do so, having in her brain some idea that she would after a while be able to escape with her boy. As for love for her husband, certainly there was none now left in her bosom. Nor could she teach herself to think it possible that she should ever live with him again on friendly terms. But she would submit to anything with the object of getting back her boy. Three or four letters were written to Mr. Trevelyan in as many days from his wife, from Lady Rowley, and from Nora; in which various overtures were made. Trevelyan wrote once again to his wife. She knew, he said, already the terms on which she might come back. These terms were still open to her. As for the boy, he certainly should not leave his father. A meeting might be planned on condition that he, Trevelyan, were provided with a written assurance from his wife that she would not endeavour to remove the boy, and that he himself should be present at the meeting.
Thus the first week was passed after Sir Marmaduke's return,—and a most wretched time it was for all the party at Gregg's Hotel.