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Tom's room at Sniggs's two nights before he went into it, and the cupboard had been open, my opinion is, that Tom would have been alive now—for certain is it, that the searching eye and sensitive nose of the convivial dame, would have discovered the potion which killed him, but would only have comforted her.
Sniggs informed me that I was to hear again to-morrow, so that he had made good his footing at Montpelier; and then he tells me of the wonderful improvement in Kate's appearance even in that short time; that Mrs. Brandyball thought Ashmead unwholesome; that Jane was looking more rosy; and that, although dreadfully upset by the melancholy intelligence he had received, Cuthbert himself was marvellously better, as far as health went.
When I read the letter to Harriet she perfectly coincided with me—Sniggs was now joined in the conspiracy against us, and the influence of the Gorgon had been successfully exerted to link him to the faction by which we were to be sacrificed. Still we were left in suspense: not one line from Cuthbert to me—not a syllable in the way of invitation thither—not a mention of when or where the funeral was to be performed; all things seemed to be at a stand-still, waiting, I supposed, until my unfortunate brother could be shaken out of his reverie to come to a resolution.
I confess Sniggs's letter was something more than I expected—it was a new grievance, a new affront. I had sent him in my own carriage, a messenger from myself, and to receive his answer and not a word from the nearest relation I had in the world—no, not even Mrs. Brandyball had condescended to put pen to paper. I felt myself now really fallen, and I am not ashamed to own that I sobbed with grief at the loss of a brother to whom I, and those who belonged to me, had devoted every effort and energy to make him happy and comfortable, and who was happy and comfortable before this fiend in scarcely human shape had inveigled him away from us.
There was something in Sniggs's letter which sounded reproachful, evidently dictated, or rather occasioned by other people; and, when I began to calculate and consider all the circumstances, I could not help beginning to fancy that there really was something in my conduct which might be construed into a want of feeling, not only by Cuthbert, but even by the neighbours. The poor boy had died in a strange house; he had been removed from the comforts of Ashmead— comforts how secured?—to the apothecary's residence, without a relation near him, and there he had died, and there his body lay: but, then, the infection—true, but then the man who had been constantly in attendance upon him, came to me. How can I describe the ten thousand feelings by which I was assailed! And yet I do declare that the loss of the mere favour of Cuthbert in a worldly sense, perilous and destructive as it might be, was but a mole-hill in comparison with the mountainrlike load of grief I experienced at the deprivation of his affection.
Well, the next day came; no letter by the post. Mrs. Sniggs sent up her compliments to beg to know whether we had heard from Mr. S.— Answer, not a word.—This was very strange; the funeral ought to take place as speedily as convenient; she wondered she had not got a letter, and so on. To me the silence was still more curious. However, as reason comes to one's aid even under the most trying circumstances, it at last struck me, and in that opinion Harriet agreed, that Sniggs would himself return in the course of the day, and so supersede the necessity of writing. We were not wrong; but we were not entirely right: we guessed the truth to a certain extent, but not the whole truth. At about six o'clock, just as I was sitting down in my wife's room to enjoy a tite-ii-tite whiting and boiled chicken, a violent ringing at the gate announced an arrival; dogs barked as usual, servants scuffled, and, leaning over the balustrade, I heard Sniggs's voice directing his pale-faced flunky to take care of his bag and box and carry them home. I heard other voices, I thought, and a rustling of petticoats crossing the hall to the dinner-room, which was dark and unoccupied,
for I was settled in for a snug consolatory evening up-stairs. The rustling noise came forth again, and I heard my man say, "My master is up-stairs, Miss." I held my breath and listened; it was all true. Sniggs waited in the hall, as a gentleman not of the family ought to do, but in less than two minutes I felt myself embraced and my cheeks wetted with the tears of Miss Kitty Falwasser and her sister Jane.
"This," said I, gently repelling Kate's excessive warmth of manner, "is a surprise."
"Yes," said Kate, sobbing so that you might have heard her to the wine-cellar door; "we could—not—let—poor dear Tom go to the grave without—some one—who loved him being with —him; and dear Pappy is not well enough to come—and dear governess could not leave him —so—so—so we have come to go to his funeral."
Jane, less violent in her grief, but more sincere, pressed my hand and wept silently. I saw