Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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tapping his fingers upon the table.
"You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so
unprecedented a position."
"I will make no allowance. I am very angry indeed, and I have
been shamefully used."
"I think that I heard a ring," said Holmes. "Yes, there are steps
on the landing. If I cannot persuade you to take a lenient view
of the matter, Lord St. Simon, I have brought an advocate here
who may be more successful." He opened the door and ushered in a
lady and gentleman. "Lord St. Simon," said he "allow me to
introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton. The lady, I
think, you have already met."
At the sight of these newcomers our client had sprung from his
seat and stood very erect, with his eyes cast down and his hand
thrust into the breast of his frock-coat, a picture of offended
dignity. The lady had taken a quick step forward and had held out
her hand to him, but he still refused to raise his eyes. It was
as well for his resolution, perhaps, for her pleading face was
one which it was hard to resist.
"You're angry, Robert," said she. "Well, I guess you have every
cause to be."
"Pray make no apology to me," said Lord St. Simon bitterly.
"Oh, yes, I know that I have treated you real bad and that I
should have spoken to you before I went; but I was kind of
rattled, and from the time when I saw Frank here again I just
didn't know what I was doing or saying. I only wonder I didn't
fall down and do a faint right there before the altar."
"Perhaps, Mrs. Moulton, you would like my friend and me to leave
the room while you explain this matter?"
"If I may give an opinion," remarked the strange gentleman,
"we've had just a little too much secrecy over this business
already. For my part, I should like all Europe and America to
hear the rights of it." He was a small, wiry, sunburnt man,
clean-shaven, with a sharp face and alert manner.
"Then I'll tell our story right away," said the lady. "Frank here
and I met in '84, in McQuire's camp, near the Rockies, where pa
was working a claim. We were engaged to each other, Frank and I;
but then one day father struck a rich pocket and made a pile,
while poor Frank here had a claim that petered out and came to
nothing. The richer pa grew the poorer was Frank; so at last pa
wouldn't hear of our engagement lasting any longer, and he took
me away to 'Frisco. Frank wouldn't throw up his hand, though; so
he followed me there, and he saw me without pa knowing anything
about it. It would only have made him mad to know, so we just
fixed it all up for ourselves. Frank said that he would go and
make his pile, too, and never come back to claim me until he had
as much as pa. So then I promised to wait for him to the end of
time and pledged myself not to marry anyone else while he lived.
'Why shouldn't we be married right away, then,' said he, 'and
then I will feel sure of you; and I won't claim to be your
husband until I come back?' Well, we talked it over, and he had
fixed it all up so nicely, with a clergyman all ready in waiting,
that we just did it right there; and then Frank went off to seek
his fortune, and I went back to pa.
"The next I heard of Frank was that he was in Montana, and then
he went prospecting in Arizona, and then I heard of him from New
Mexico. After that came a long newspaper story about how a
miners' camp had been attacked by Apache Indians, and there was
my Frank's name among the killed. I fainted dead away, and I was
very sick for months after. Pa thought I had a decline and took
me to half the doctors in 'Frisco. Not a word of news came for a
year and more, so that I never doubted that Frank was really
dead. Then Lord St. Simon came to 'Frisco, and we came to London,
and a marriage was arranged, and pa was very pleased, but I felt
all the time that no man on this earth would ever take the place
in my heart that had been given to my poor Frank.
"Still, if I had married Lord St. Simon, of course I'd have done
my duty by him. We can't command our love, but we can our
actions. I went to the altar with him with the intention to make
him just as good a wife as it was in me to be. But you may
imagine what I felt when, just as I came to the altar rails, I
glanced back and saw Frank standing and looking at me out of the
first pew. I thought it was his ghost at first; but when I looked
again there he was still, with a kind of question in his eyes, as
if to ask me whether I were glad or sorry to see him. I wonder I
didn't drop. I know that everything was turning round, and the
words of the clergyman were just like the buzz of a bee in my
ear. I didn't know what to do. Should I stop the service and make
a scene in the church? I glanced at him again, and he seemed to
know what I was thinking, for he raised his finger to his lips to
tell me to be still. Then I saw him scribble on a piece of paper,
and I knew that he was writing me a note. As I passed his pew on
the way out I dropped my bouquet over to him, and he slipped the
note into my hand when he returned me the flowers. It was only a
line asking me to join him when he made the sign to me to do so.
Of course I never doubted for a moment that my first duty was now
to him, and I determined to do just whatever he might direct.
"When I got back I told my maid, who had known him in California,
and had always been his friend. I ordered her to say nothing, but
to get a few things packed and my ulster ready. I know I ought to
have spoken to Lord St. Simon, but it was dreadful hard before
his mother and all those great people. I just made up my mind to
run away and explain afterwards. I hadn't been at the table ten
minutes before I saw Frank out of the window at the other side of
the road. He beckoned to me and then began walking into the Park.
I slipped out, put on my things, and followed him. Some woman
came talking something or other about Lord St. Simon to
me--seemed to me from the little I heard as if he had a little
secret of his own before marriage also--but I managed to get away
from her and soon overtook Frank. We got into a cab together, and
away we drove to some lodgings he had taken in Gordon Square, and
that was my true wedding after all those years of waiting. Frank
had been a prisoner among the Apaches, had escaped, came on to
'Frisco, found that I had given him up for dead and had gone to
England, followed me there, and had come upon me at last on the
very morning of my second wedding."
"I saw it in a paper," explained the American. "It gave the name
and the church but not where the lady lived."
"Then we had a talk as to what we should do, and Frank was all
for openness, but I was so ashamed of it all that I felt as if I
should like to vanish away and never see any of them again--just
sending a line to pa, perhaps, to show him that I was alive. It
was awful to me to think of all those lords and ladies sitting
round that breakfast-table and waiting for me to come back. So
Frank took my wedding-clothes and things and made a bundle of
them, so that I should not be traced, and dropped them away
somewhere where no one could find them. It is likely that we
should have gone on to Paris to-morrow, only that this good
gentleman, Mr. Holmes, came round to us this evening, though how
he found us is more than I can think, and he showed us very
clearly and kindly that I was wrong and that Frank was right, and
that we should be putting ourselves in the wrong if we were so
secret. Then he offered to give us a chance of talking to Lord
St. Simon alone, and so we came right away round to his rooms at
once. Now, Robert, you have heard it all, and I am very sorry if
I have given you pain, and I hope that you do not think very
meanly of me."
Lord St. Simon had by no means relaxed his rigid attitude, but
had listened with a frowning brow and a compressed lip to this
"Excuse me," he said, "but it is not my custom to discuss my most
intimate personal affairs in this public manner."
"Then you won't forgive me? You won't shake hands before I go?"
"Oh, certainly, if it would give you any pleasure." He put out
his hand and coldly grasped that which she extended to him.
"I had hoped," suggested Holmes, "that you would have joined us
in a friendly supper."
"I think that there you ask a little too much," responded his
Lordship. "I may be forced to acquiesce in these recent
developments, but I can hardly be expected to make merry over
them. I think that with your permission I will now wish you all a
very good-night." He included us all in a sweeping bow and
stalked out of the room.
"Then I trust that you at least will honor me with your
company," said Sherlock Holmes. "It is always a joy to meet an
American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the
folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone
years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens
of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a
quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes."
"The case has been an interesting one," remarked Holmes when our
visitors had left us, "because it serves to show very clearly how
simple the explanation may be of an affair which at first sight
seems to be almost inexplicable. Nothing could be more natural
than the sequence of events as narrated by this lady, and nothing
stranger than the result when viewed, for instance by Mr.
Lestrade, of Scotland Yard."
"You were not yourself at fault at all, then?"
"From the first, two facts were very obvious to me, the one that
the lady had been quite willing to undergo the wedding ceremony,
the other that she had repented of it within a few minutes of
returning home. Obviously something had occurred during the
morning, then, to cause her to change her mind. What could that
something be? She could not have spoken to anyone when she was
out, for she had been in the company of the bridegroom. Had she
seen someone, then? If she had, it must be someone from America
because she had spent so short a time in this country that she
could hardly have allowed anyone to acquire so deep an influence
over her that the mere sight of him would induce her to change
her plans so completely. You see we have already arrived, by a
process of exclusion, at the idea that she might have seen an
American. Then who could this American be, and why should he
possess so much influence over her? It might be a lover; it might
be a husband. Her young womanhood had, I knew, been spent in