Published in Charles Dicken's Household Words, March 19, 1859.THE LUCKY LEG
"What unaccountable things people do in the way of marrying!" I said to four or five of the ladies belonging to our chapel, who had met at the minister's house, to form a sort of supplementary Doreas meeting; and, as there were so few of us, we considered it unnecessary to attend to the rule for appointing a reader, and forbidding gossip; a rule which considerably lessened the interest and popularity of our meetings.
The only single lady among us looked up upon hearing my remark, and dropping her work, as if for a long speech, began:
"What you say is very true: I do think the conduct of people at other times really sensible, during their engagements, and in their choice of husbands or wives, to be the most incomprehensible and contradictory of all human actions. If a woman has a decided prejudice, she is certain to act in direct opposition to it. Last spring I was at the wedding of one of my cousins—you remember her, Mrs. Turner, she was over here two or three autumns ago—and, being a high Churchwoman, she would not so much as put her foot inside our chapel. She is a fine majestic-looking girl, and has taken lessons in Deportment, so that it is quite imposing to see her enter a room or sail down the street; she used to vow she would never marry a little man, a draper, or a dissenter; and now she has just married a very small abject looking draper, who is such a rabid Methodist, that he will preach, though he has to stand on two bosses to raise his head sufficiently above the panels of the pulpit."
"Marriages are quite beyond our own management and contrivance," said Mrs. Turner musingly: "my mother's was very romantic. In travelling from her father's house to her grandmother's, where she was going to live with the old lady, she had to stay a night in Hereford—it was in the time of coaches, you know—and her father wrote to a glover there, to meet her at the coach-office, and recommend her to an inn. He invited her to stay with his sister instead; and she was so smitten with his manners and appearance, that she said to herself, "If ever I marry, I hope it may be to Mr. Harper." She went on the next morning to her grandmother's, and lived with her fourteen years, never seeing or hearing anything of Mr. Harper of Hereford; and she actually refused several good offers during that time. At last her grandmother died; and Mr. Harper being connected with her family, he was invited to the funeral; and an acquaintance followed, which ended in their marriage."
"I am afraid," chimed in Mrs. Hyde, a lady who was a comparative stranger to all of us, "that if I confess the singular circumstances of my marriage, you will none of you think so well of me as I should wish you; but as we are talking of extraordinary matches, I am sure you will be amused at mine. When I was five-and-thirty, I had not had a single offer; partly, I fancy, because I had a twin sister so like me, that no one was sure which he was in love with. Well, I was one of the few women who give up the idea of being married after they have turned thirty, and I settled myself down into a comfortable old-maidism. One afternoon, I was out on some errand or other, when a tradesman, whom I had known all my life, a confirmed bachelor, over forty years of age, overtook me in the street. Before we reached the end of it, he had said, "Miss Mary, I've had you in my eye a long time: do you think you could be happy as my wife?" and I had answered, "Yes I really think I should." "Well, then," he added, "let us be married without any fuss: and if you want lots of clothes and things as women do, let them come out of my pocket, instead of your poor mother's," And we were married in three weeks, though, I assure you, I had not the remotest notion of such a thing before that afternoon."
"I will tell you the most marvelous occurrence that ever came under my observation," said our minister's wife, who is a little, merry, talkative woman. "My husband and I were, next to the parties themselves, chief actors in it; so I know all the circumstances well. It was in the town where my husband first entered upon the ministry, and where we had what is called it very united people, which often means," she said, shrewdly, "that everybody knows and deplores everybody else's failings and inconsistencies. Some years after our call there, a young lady came with her mother to establish, if they could, a millinery business. They belonged to us, and before they arrived a sister of the elder lady called upon us, to announce their intention, and to prepare us for the reception of new members. She told us quite a melancholy story of losses and misfortunes: and, amongst other things, that of the amputation of Miss Wigley's leg. You know my husband is not an unfeeling man; but he had had a very fatiguing Sabbath the day before, and his spirits were in that state of reaction which made him inclined to laugh at anything, and he so completely puzzled poor Mrs. James with allusions to Miss Kilmansegg and the merchant of Rotterdam, that the worthy old lady began seriously to recapitulate their pedigree, to prove there was no connection between their families, unless it were on Mr. Wigley's side. For a long time we called Mary Wigley Miss Kilmansegg, when talking to each other. She was a pretty sweet-looking girl, and so long as she sat still she looked unusually attractive; but when she walked, and you saw her obvious limp, or heard the stump of her wooden leg, you no longer wondered that she was unmarried, for she was poor as well, and very far above her present station. She was altogether unsuited for the business they had commenced, for she had lived in a kind of elegant seclusion until her father's death: indeed he impoverished himself to surround her with recreations and luxuries, to prevent her feeling her deprivation. Excepting that she had quite an artistic appreciation of the harmonies and contrasts of colours, which enabled her to arrange the windows and showrooms with great skill, she had not a single qualification for her work. I have noticed her face flush painfully at the too openly expressed pity of their customers; and their whims and caprices in dress used to surprise and annoy her. Mrs. Wigley, however, was a thorough, clever business woman. She had been a tradesman's daughter, and the fluctuations and anxieties of business were like a game of chance to her. She soon established herself in the good graces of the ladies of our town; and, though my husband preached a very powerful sermon on dress (which I made him put off for some months, lest it should injure the strangers), it had no chance against Mrs. Wigley's taste, and the pews in our chapel looked like the gorgeous flower-beds in a summer garden.
"Mary Wigley soon became one of my dearest friends; she knew a great deal more than I did, and was very accomplished in music and painting, and it really was an incongruity to think of her sitting behind a counter all her life. I remember her coming to sit with me one evening after my little Mary was born, when my husband had an appointment at a missionary meeting. I suppose we were in an unusually happy frame of mind that evening, for my husband was glad to see me up again, and he paid me some of those quiet tender attentions which we who are married, understand so well, and being few and far between, prize so highly. We made no stranger of Mary, and she sat smiling at our affectionate expressions to one another. But when he was gone, and I returned to the study after seeing the children in bed, I found her burying her face in her hands, and crying. Of course I insisted on knowing the cause, and among other things she said, I distinctly remember this:
"If any human influence would make me great or good as a woman; it would be the guardianship of a child of my own—a woman's nature is only half developed till she is a mother."
"What a beautiful remark, and so true," interrupted Mrs. Turner, with tears in her eyes. (She was notorious for neglecting her children.)
" 'I said it was true,' resumed our minister's wife, "and I told her that all my powers of mind and body were doubled by it.' 'My husband's love,' I said, 'and my children's dependence make me precious to myself.'
" 'And you ask me why I cry,' she answered, 'when I feel how I could rejoice in these domestic ties, and know I shall never have them. Life is very monotonous and wearisome when one has no interest in the future.' "
"She should have had more independence and self-respect," murmured our spinster friend.
Without noticing her, the minister's wife continued:
"She looked dreamily into the fire, and with a pretty tremulous motion shook the tears from her dark eyelashes. I could not tell her I thought she would ever be married, because men marry to be helped, or to be amused, or to have some one to be proud of; and she was a cripple without money. Even my husband said a wooden leg would be a serious obstacle to any one falling is love.
"The morning after this conversation, Mary went with her mother to Manchester to purchase goods for the spring fashions: is was quite a painful ordeal to Mary, for she could not endure traversing warehouse after warehouse, and ascending and descending the innumerable flights of stairs, with the stump of her wooden leg upon the bare boards everywhere announcing her approach: it annoyed her to see people look round to see who was coming, and it really seemed as if she never could reconcile herself to the duties imposed upon her.
"The last day has passed, and she was walking wearily homewards, congratulating herself in having finished the business that brought them from their quiet country town; she lingered for a minute to look at an engraving which had caught her artistic eye, when a gentleman, standing behind her, placing a letter in her hand, said hurriedly, 'Let me beg of you to grant my request;' and, before she could recover her self-possession, was lost in the crowd, passing and re-passing in the thronged street.
"Mary hastened on her way to the lodgings where she expected to find her mother; and briefly recounting her adventure, opened the letter with curiosity. It contained the following lines:
" 'If the young, lady who receives this note will kindly send her address in the enclosed envelope, that which may have appeared an obstacle to her settling in life, may eventually prove to be an advantage.'
"The astonishment of both Mrs. Wigley and Mary were indescribable; Mrs. Wigley poured forth a torrent of questions which Mary was unable to answer; she had not seen the stranger, and all she knew was, that he had a pleasant voice. Of course, with the becoming bashfulness and sense of propriety of a young, lady, she wished the matter to be passed over in silent contempt; but to this her mother, who was a widow, would by no means consent.
" 'You do not know what it may lead to,' she, said: 'however, hoax or no hoax, I shall follow it up; I hate a thing dropping through and hearing no more of it'
"Accordingly soon after they returned home, Mrs. Wigley sent her address and her daughter's name in the directed envelope, and the next post brought a letter written to the mother. It was not long, and I remember the substance of it.
"Dear Madam,—Let me apologize for my presumption in seeking to form your acquaintance and that of your daughter, whose appearance arrested my attention the first moment I saw her. If she would honour me by a correspondence, under your sanction, we should learn something of each other's character. Do not imagine me to be trifling; I desire to be a sincere friend to her; and farther acquaintance may greatly conduce to our mutual happiness. Believe me to be, with the most profound respect, dear Madam,
" 'Yours very truly,
"Of course, Mrs. Wigley persisted in making Mary write; and, though it was no easy matter to compose a fitting answer to such a letter, she wrote with a charming measure of good sense and reserve. Mr. Williams prosecuted the correspondence with great earnestness, and his letters manifested a well- educated and intellectual mind.
"So long as Mary was acting against her own inclination and judgment, she did not choose to mention the matter to me; but as her interest in her unknown correspondent increased, she could not conceal from me her frequent pre-occupation of mind, and in the course of a month she fully confided in me. My husband regarded it in a very different light to what we did, and he urged Mary not to be entangled in any affair so indefinite and uncertain.
" 'Let me write to Mr. Williams,' he said, 'and he will, see you have a friend able and willing to protect you. I will tell him I shall advise you not to continue a correspondence, so calculated to unsettle you.'
" 'Do you think this stranger is trying to impose upon Mary?' I asked, when she was gone; and my husband was writing his letter.
" 'I think he may have been misled by her appearance,' he answered. 'In those days there is no judging a person's position by her dress; and Mary might be a countess. It is an unaccountable affair altogether; but this letter will effect something, for I have made it very strong.'
"Mr. Williams promptly answered my husband's letter, and requested some information respecting Miss Wigley's family position and character. My husband replied something to this effect:
" 'Miss Wigley is the daughter of a surgeon, who left her and her mother in very reduced circumstances; they have maintained themselves by a respectable millinery business. Her education was that of a lady, and her character is such as to make her the chosen and intimate friend of my wife. So strong is the interest I feel in her welfare, that I should carefully investigate the principles and circumstances of any one paying his addresses to her. You may not be aware that the limp, observable in her gait, is owing to the total loss of a limb; this circumstance has materially militated against her settlement in life.
"The next Sunday Mary and I had scarcely taken our usual seats (she sat with me, as our pew was near the door, and she avoided attracting the notice of the congregation), when the chapel-keeper showed a stranger into our pew. He was a tall military-looking man, with dark hair and moustache, which marked him of a different stamp to the usual frequenters of a chapel, for who can associate the ideas of unworldliness and moustaches! A beard is more patriarchal and even Scriptural. The stranger bowed to us, and then composed himself into an attitude of profound attention. He presented himself again at the evening service, and my husband remarked to me, as we walked home: 'I imagine he is a Polish or Hungarian refugee, and tomorrow he will call with a petition.'
"But the next morning early there came a note, inviting my husband to dine with Mr. Williams at six that evening, at the principal hotel in our town. He threw the note to me with a comical mixture of consideration and fun.
" 'This is really getting a serious affair,' he said, 'I will go out and see if I can meet this stranger somewhere, and take my measure of him.'
"I remained at home on thorns of curiosity and suspense till my husband returned; he was already delighted with Mr. William's intelligence, information, etc., and said so much about them, that I thought they had forgotten Mary.
" 'By no means,' he said, 'have invited Mr. Williams to meet her here tomorrow evening, and we must invite a few friends, who are not in the secret, to take off the awkwardness.'
"With the first dawn of morning I was up, and before Mary had left her bedroom, I was there announcing to her and her mother the actual impending interview with their unknown correspondent. Mary's agitation was extreme, quite hysterical in fact, but Mrs. Wigley most judiciously entered into a discussion upon her dress, and I left her tolerably composed.
"It was a busy and anxious morning to us all; my husband passed it with his new friend, and, at the appointed hour, when I had engaged to be ready to receive him, and wonderful to say not before, he brought him, and introduced him to me. Nothing could surpass the suavity and easy politeness of his manner, and in a few minutes I felt as if I had known him all my life. I watched him when we heard Mary's step in the passage, and his eyes lighted up with a pleasant smile; she looked really beautiful after the first; awkwardness of meeting him; her dress was the most elegant and becoming her mother's taste could advise, while her heightened colour, and eyes cast down till the long lashes rested on her glowing cheeks, sufficiently betrayed her agitation. The evening passed pleasantly in social unconstrained conversation, in which the stranger took an animated part, and when we separated he asked permission to escort Mary and her mother home. I ran upstairs and watched them with intense interest till they turned the corner of the street.
"Not to lengthen my story, I will tell you at once that he soon proposed and was accepted. After having satisfied my husband that he was neither an impostor nor a papist; indeed, notwithstanding his worldly appearance, he had really very proper sentiments.
"Mary and Mr. Williams were very happy for a few lovely summer days, and then it became necessary for him to return to Manchester; when this necessity was forced upon him he came to us to beg that I would aid him in persuading Mary to accompany her mother and me on a visit to his house, where, he said, we might find some alterations to propose; he had waited to obtain our sanction and acceptance of his invitation before he had named it to Mary. My husband was highly pleased with the plan, and we had little difficulty in inducing Mary to acquiesce in it.
Mr. Williams preceded us by a few days, and then he met us at the Bank Top station. To our astonishment our humble luggage—and how humble it did look I cannot describe—was consigned to the care of two livery servants, while he conducted us, with great empressement to an elegant carriage which was waiting in the station-yard. In silence and astonishment we were conveyed rapidly through the thronged streets to one of the pleasant suburbs about four miles from town, where we alighted at a magnificent residence surrounded with pleasure-grounds and numerous tokens of wealth. Within everything was on a fitting scale, and I who had noticed Mary's increasing paleness as she had leaned back in the carriage silent and wondering, was not surprised to see her burst into a flood of tears when Mr. Williams welcomed her to her future home. How he soothed her and manifested lover-like concern and attention, of course I need not describe; but, at of last, she grew calm enough to bear with equanimity the sight of a charming little room fitted up expressly for herself.
"One soon accustoms one's self to pleasant things; in a few hours the elegancies surrounding us, instead of oppressing, elevated our spirits. Mrs. Wigley and I enjoyed them thoroughly; the stately housekeeper, the obsequious servants, the conservatories, the elegant equipages belonged to us, and were part of our pomp and state; while Mary was engrossed with Mr. Williams as to be almost oblivious of her grandeur. I like to see lovers, and those two were lover-like enough to satisfy me.
"We had been three or four days in Manchester, when Mr. Williams proposed to drive us to Dunham Park: Mrs. Wigley cared little for rural pleasures, and preferred the enjoyment of the consequence about her; so Mary and I went alone with Mr. Williams. If ever mortal enjoyed perfect worldly happiness, it was Mrs. Wigley when she watched her daughter driving out in the carriage of the man she was going to marry. She re-entered the house with a full blown delight. In great benignity of spirit she entered into conversation with the stately housekeeper, and naturally introduced Mr. Williams name.
" 'I do not know any Mr. Williams,' said the housekeeper.
" 'Goodness gracious!' cried Mrs. Wigley, "who then is the owner of these domains—of this mansion, these carriages, this grandeur? Who is the gentleman who is driving out my daughter and friend?'
" 'That is Mr., Gordon,' replied the housekeeper, 'the servants have noticed, ma'am, that you all called him by another name, and some said it was Mr. Williams, but I did not think so; his name is Frederic William Gordon, and if he is deceiving you, ma'am, I think it is only just to put you on your guard. To be sure he is the owner of this property, but there is never any good in hiding one's proper name.'
"In this Mrs. Wigley so heartily agreed, that she immediately wrote to my husband in much perplexity and tribulation: and after a long deliberation, she decided upon not disturbing us with the discovery till she received his answer.
"We had a delightful day at Dunham. I do not make a bad third, and so often found objects of interest to engage my attention, that the others really grew unconscious of my presence. We returned late in the afternoon and found Mrs. Wigley moody and taciturn. Mr. Williams and Mary sat apart and conversed in low tones throughout the evening, while I lounged luxuriously in an easy-chair, and mentally reviewed the events which had domiciled us amidst so much magnificence.
"The next morning Mr. Williams met us with a grave and pre-occupied air, and addressed Mary with a kind of tender melancholy; Mrs. Wigley was constrained and rather fretful, and we others falling into their mood, the breakfast was a dull and brief meal. Then, with the unconscious ceremony that one uses when ill at ease, Mr. Williams invited us into the library, and opening a drawer, took out numerous bunches of keys.
" 'Ladies,' he said, 'you have done me the honour of visiting me with the intention—at least on my part—of having such alterations made in my house and establishment as may seem desirable to you. These keys will open every lock in the house, and you will oblige me by devoting this day to making such inspection as you please. There is no key you may not use, and no papers which you, Mary, may not read; but you will made discoveries that will surprise you, and perhaps influence you against me. I shall leave home for the day, to give you an opportunity for an investigation, but I shall most impatiently wait your decision on my return.'
"He was gone before any of us could answer, and we were left gazing at one another in profound astonishment. The atmosphere of mystery in which we had been living was thickening to a dense fog, and we were half afraid to grope to the light that was offered to us. Mary positively refused to avail herself of Mr. William's absence.
" 'Let us do nothing,' she said, 'and leave it to him to explain himself when he comes home. It is so noble and honourable in him to act so, that I could not bear to abuse his generosity.'
"But an intense curiosity was devouring Mrs. Wigley and me, and human nature could not endure such a disappointment.
" 'It is your duty to yourself, my child,' said the mother, 'to take every justifiable means for learning Mr. William's character and circumstances; he has put the means in your power, and it is unjust to your own common sense and to mine, not to use them'
" 'My dear Mary,' I urged, 'you certainly should reflect that little more than a month since none of us knew this gentleman; and it is evidently his wish that you should discover for yourself some secret, and spare him the pain of a verbal explanation.'
" 'Do as you please,' replied Mary, weeping, 'but let me at least trust to his honour and affection. There can be nothing to conceal where there is such open frankness.'
" 'We certainly shall do nothing against your wish,' said Mrs. Wigley, crossly, 'but I must say you are very foolish, Mary, you quite forgot you have no father to act for you in these affairs. It will be a very long tiresome day with nothing in the world to do. You are too scrupulous, or sentimental.'
" 'O mother!' Mary answered, 'I know you ought to be allowed to do what your judgment dictates; so pray take the keys and use them on my account; only do not ask me to join you.'
"Mrs. Wigley and I rose with alacrity, and proceeded to get the aid of the housekeeper; how we tried keys and wearied over refractory locks; how we turned over drawers and long-unopened boxes which were filled with dresses and articles of feminine adornment; how we ransacked the china-closets and plate-chest, and rummaged though the stores of linen; how we went back to the library from time to time to report progress. All the fatigues, and labour, and excitement of that I cannot describe to you. At luncheon refreshed and strengthened, my spirits rose to my circumstances.
" 'This is quite a Blue Beard affair, Mary,' I remarked to my languid friend. 'Mr. Williams has always had something of a suspicious and ferocious aspect. I shall not be surprised if we come upon a closet of skeletons, or bodies of deceased wives preserved in large bottles of spirits of wine.'
" 'Horrible,' she interrupted; 'you forget, too, that he has left us all his keys, and not forbidden us the use of any.'
" 'There is something to be concealed, however,' said her mother. 'He has paid his addresses to you under an assumed name, and that has a suspicious look.'
" 'Are you sure of it, mother?' exclaimed Mary, her face colouring with excitement. 'How did you find it out?'
"Mrs. Wigley then recounted to us the discovery of the preceding day, which she had intended to keep secret till she heard from my husband; instead of the weeping and hysterics I expected, Mary displayed great energy of character.
" 'Nay then, mother,' she cried, 'it is time for me to open my eyes; I will work with you now.'
"So the search re-commenced with ardour, it was no longer in linen-chests and china closets. We rifled desks and cabinets, and curiously constructed drawers, of their contents, and poured bundles upon bundles of letters and papers into Mary's lap; we found banking accounts and cheque-books, and other indications of wealth; deeds and wills, and rolls of yellow parchment tied up with red tape; but still nothing to satisfy our curiosity. Our labor continued unintermitting, for the evening was drawing on, and we began to regret the wasted minutes of the morning. The mystery, like an ignus fatuus, appeared to fly before us.
"At last all seemed to have been passed under our scrutiny, and nothing was discovered. Then Mrs. Wigley and I left Mary to replace the documents strewn about the library, and proceeded once again on our explorations, with the housekeeper for a pioneer.
"In a few minutes we stood before a mysterious-looking little door in Mr. Gordon's dressing-room:
" 'I have never seen that open' said the housekeeper; 'it is two years since I was engaged by Mr. Gordon to officiate as the superintendent of his household, but no one has ever passed through that door except himself. I do not think you will find any key for it, ladies.'
"We tried every key on the bunch, but the door yielded to none. I flew down stairs to Mary.
" 'We have found Blue Beard's closet,' I cried, 'and there is no key for it:—come, come, we must not waste a moment.'
"Every nerve I had quivered with impatience while Mary slowly ascended the stairs. How slowly and sluggish all the movements were. But, in time, she stood with us before the low, narrow door, and with hands trembling from eagerness, she shook it till the handle rattled noisily, but yielded nothing to her grasp.
" 'Here, then,' she said, turning and facing us with a ghastly smile; 'here is the secret we seek.'
"At this moment we heard the loud ringing of a bell, and the sound of a man's step and voice in the entrance-hall.
" 'Blue Beard is come back!' I cried, with a vague feeling of apprehension, mingled with a keen sense of the absurdity of our position. I stole quietly into the gallery, and with jealous caution peered into the lobby below. There stood my husband. With an exclamation of relief, I again flew down stairs and threw my arms around him, crying, 'O, I am glad you are come!' His face was stern and grave, and he looked prepared for storms. I drew him into the library and hastily explained our position. As I spoke his eye rested upon a heap of papers on the sofa, and instantly detected a ring containing three keys. I seized them joyfully, and ran up-stairs, closely followed by my husband. Mary was leaning against the locked door in the quietness of sheer exhaustion, and large tears were falling slowly from her eyes upon the floor. With irrepressible eagerness she snatched the keys from me, and at once fitted the largest into the lock; but, before she could turn it, my husband's restraining hand was laid upon her arm.
" 'Mary,' he said, 'I advise you as your friend not to open this closet, but wait and ask Mr. Gordon for an explanation of his very mysterious conduct. What there may be to affect your future happiness we can none of us conjecture, but at present it is his secret. Let it remain so.'
" 'It is too late to wait now,' answered Mrs. Wigley impatiently, 'they have roused our curiosity, and it shall be satisfied at any cost. I wish to know the worst.'
"To own the truth, I was heartily glad of the old lady's decision, though it was opposed to my husband's judgment. I, too, was consumed by an inextinguishable curiosity to fathom our enigma. Behind the door lay the mysteries that had been all day arranging themselves into numberless forms within our busy brains, and now to wait for Mr. Gordon's return, and then perhaps to be denied an explanation, was a moral impossibility. Mary slowly but resolutely opened the door, and we all, even my husband, looked into the unlighted closet with an intense gaze; but there was manifested no scene of horror or mechanism for future purposes. In the darkness there was shaped out only two small mahogany boxes, something like violin-cases; here, then, lay the very core and kernel of our haunting mystery—the solving of the problem on which Mary's future life depended.
"Nothing could have stayed us now. Mary rapidly detached one of the keys for me, and we knelt down to fit them into the minute locks of the mahogany cases. We raised the lids simultaneously, and our eager, earnest eyes fell upon two wooden legs.
"I scarcely know what we felt the first few minutes. It was not relief; for, though our suspense was over, our astonishment was not lessened. We had not the dignity of being horror-stricken, nor the indignation of being hoaxed: we were passively astonished. Mary silently relocked the cases and the closet, and we adjourned quietly to the library. A spirit of deep musing had fallen upon us all. Out of the profound abyss of contemplation, suggestion after suggestion was summoned; but none could satisfy us, or explain all the circumstances of the case.
"We felt great excitement when the return of the master of the house was heard. Mary threw herself back into her chair, and my husband and Mrs. Wigley rose to meet him as he entered the room. Glancing keenly round on our attitudes of expectation, and on the littered room, he advanced and placed himself behind Mary's chair.
" 'Permit me,' he said, 'to give you an intelligible explanation of my conduct before you reproach me for my secrecy. My father made a match for me when I was very young with a relative who possessed much wealth, but who had suffered an amputation. She died about two years after our marriage, and bequeathed her property to me, on condition that if I married again it should be to a woman similarly afflicted. A few years after, I met with a lady possessing the necessary qualification, and gifted with so much sweetness and amiability of temper, that I loved her truly. It suited me to watch over and protect her, and we were very happy, but for a few months only. Thus it happened that, while quite a young man, I was a widower for the second time. My last wife, with a caprice at variance with her usual character, had made a similar will to my first wife's and though I would have given up their united fortunes had I found any one whom I could love, these circumstances tended to invent a cripple with peculiar interest in my eyes, and I have made it a rule to seek the acquaintance of those I met. As my position and presumed object became known, I was made the victim of several unworthy artifices, so that I determined to make all future advances under an assumed name—as I did to you, Mary. At first I was pleased with the notion that you loved me for myself; but when I came to know your excellencies, your cultivated intellect, your delicate sense of honour, and your modest reserve, I did not dare to confess I had deceived you, until I had called to my aid the adventitious influences of position and fortune, and by them won over your friends to my side. Yet when you were here, I had not courage to tell you personally, and I suffered you to find it out for yourself.'
" 'Sir,' interrupted Mary, rising, 'I am ashamed to say that I have been guilty of contemptible curiosity this day; but I have not read your papers. Forgive me; this is the last time I shall ever doubt you.'
" 'But what caused your very belligerent aspect?' said Mr. Gordon to my husband, after he and Mary had quite settled the question of forgiveness. 'I thought you and Mrs. Wigley were both going to attack me; and if you did not know I had been twice a widower, what occasioned your solemn manner of reception?'
" 'The two wooden legs!' I replied.
"In four months after their first meeting, we had the grandest wedding that was ever seen in our chapel; which was registered for the celebration of marriages. Mary and Mr. Gordon left the town in great glory.
"Since then we have often visited them; and my own little Mary is now being educated with their children.
"I believe the two wooden legs still remain in the dark little closet; but there is no apparent probability of a third defunct limb at present."
"We ought to be more patient under deprivations," added our minister's wife; "for who knows all the advantages of disadvantages?"