Murder Miscarries

Excerpt from “The Bridal Eve” – serialized as “Rose Elmer” 1881

By E.D.E.N. Southworth

     Among the spectators in the courtroom, who had awaited in the greatest anxiety the result of the trial, was the poor little dark-eyed woman, whom we have known as the Widow Russel, but who was, as has been shown, the wife of the miscreant, Thugsen.

     She had remained closely veiled, and carefully concealed in an obscure corner of the courtroom, whence, unnoticed, she had watched the progress of the trail. When the verdict of the jury was rendered it was her half-smothered shriek that broke the breathless silence of the room.

     After the sentence of death was pronounced, and before the crowd began to disperse, she crept out, in a sort of horror of amazement, and bent her tottering steps toward Giltspur Street, murmuring as she went along:

     “Guilty! Death! Oh, Henven! To suspect what I suspect, nay, to know what I know, and to let him die! To let him die -- so young, so good, so guiltless! To let him die, when a word from me would save him! It would be murder! I should have his death and hers, too, for she would not survive him, on my soul! I, too, should be a murderer -- should become a murderer by merely living with a murderer. Should, I catch blood-guiltiness as one catches the plague, from contamination! It must not be! I cannot rest as the confidante of crime! The innocent life shall not-be sacrificed through me!”

     “But, then, the unnatural horror of having to give information against -- oh, my God -- against the husband of my youth -- the father of my children! But there is a law of righteousness above all the laws of nature, end that I must obey!”

     “This evening I will tell him all I know, and give him the opportunity of acting right! Then, if he does not, I must-deliver him up to justice! I must do it! It will kill me, but I must do it!”

     Those who saw her reeling along the street and muttering to herself thought her drunk or mad.

     At length, half conscious of the suspicious glances turned toward her, the distracted woman stopped an empty hackney coach that was passing by, and entered it, telling the driver to take her to Berwick Street. It was at some distance from Old Bailey, in the densest, poorest and most crowded portion of London.

     She pulled the check-string, and stopped the carriage at the entrance of a street.

     She alighted, paid the fare, dismissed the carriage and proceeded on foot up the narrow and over-crowded street, until she paused before a tall, three-stoned, red brick house, in rather better preservation than those in its immediate neighborhood. She entered this house with a pass-key, carefully locked the door, and turned to another door on the right of the front passage, that admitted her into a suite of three rooms, the front room being the bedchamber, the middle room the parlor and the back room the kitchen.

     She laid off her bonnet and shawl in the front chamber, and went into the parlor, and set the table for dinner, and then proceeded to the kitchen to prepare the meal, for there seemed to be neither servant nor child on those premises. This small, solitary woman appeared to be the only denizen of this great, lonely house. Yet this was really not so, for when an hour had passed there was the sound of a key turning in the lock of the street door, followed by the entrance of a man, who fastened the door after himself, and advanced along the passage into the parlor, where the little woman stood cutting breed at the table.

     “Well, Ruth, is dinner ready?” inquired the man, throwing his hat upon a side table and sinking into an armchair.

     “No, Robert, the soup will need to simmer half an hour longer.”

     “You’ve been out.”

     “Yes, Robert, I’ve been at the Old Bailey.”

     “And what the demon had you to do at the Old Bailey?” asked the man, losing somewhat of his habitual good temper and courtesy.

     “I have been seeing a guiltless man tried for willful murder, I have been hearing an innocent man condemned to die the death of a murderer!” said Ruth, solemnly.

     “The duce! The jury were quick about their work! Is he sentenced?”

     “He is sentenced to die for a crime of which he is perfectly innocent.”

     “Innocent! Innocent! What the foul fiend do you mean by harping upon that word? How the demon do you know that he is innocent?” inquired Thugsen, angrily.

     “By knowing who is guilty.” replied Ruth.

     “How! What the d----! Oh, the woman has lost her wits!”exclaimed Thugsen, with a light laugh.

     “No, Robert Thugsen, I have not lost my wits! Would to Heaven that I had! I know what I am saying! I know that Cassinove is innocent of the crime for which he is condemned to die, by knowing too well who is guilty.” said Ruth, solemnly.

     “Who the demon, then, is guilty? Speak, woman -- speak at once!” exclaimed Thugsen, desperately, starting up and confronting her.

     She arose from her seat, and stood before him as pale as death, firm as fate, and, placing her hand upon his chest, and looking him full in the face, she said:

     “Robert Thugsen, ‘thou art the man!”

     He started back, appalled as though the angel of destruction had suddenly risen before him.

     He gazed upon the accusing spirit, faltering for the words:

     “How? What? How the demon could you know that?” Then, suddenly recovering his self-possession, and with it his consummate hypocrisy he burst into a loud laugh. He threw himself into a chair, exclaiming:

     “Oh, you are mad! Mad as a March hare! You shall have a strait-jacket and a shower bath.”

     “Do not mock my words, or your own position.” she said, sinking again into her seat. But as he continued laughing and rubbing his hands as in the highest enjoyment of an excellent jest, she resumed, gravely:

     “Yes, I feel that you have a right to laugh me to scorn, a reason to despise me thoroughly, for you know that wherever you have been concerned I have been culpably weak, so weak, indeed, as to suffer myself to be drawn-into a labyrinth of deepest guilt, not, indeed, as an active agent, for that never could have been but as an accessory.”

     “What can the fool mean?” interrupted Thugsen.

     “I mean this. After the unnatural and nameless crime that shocked the whole civilized world from its propriety, that made you the outlaw of nature as well as of society, from the charge of which you fled the world for years, giving yourself out as dead, after all this I had the folly to receive you back again, yes, though at first I fled from you, as you had fled from your kind, though I hid my children from you, as I would have hid then from a lion or leper, though fear, and horror, and loathing struggled desperately with the old affection, yet when you sought me I received you back again, and in doing so plunged my soul in the deepest guilt, by loading it with all your subsequent crimes.”

     “Crimes, woman!" exclaimed Thugsen, sternly.

     “Yes, crimes! You need not glare at me with that ferocious glance. I am not frightened, I am too far gone in wretchedness for that. The-stings of conscience that goad me to speak as I do, and to act as I must, hurt me more than all you could say or do.“ said Ruth, with the firmness of despair.

     “What crimes are there that you dare to impute to me?” demanded Thugsen, in the low, deep, stern tones of concentrated and suppressed passion.

     “The assassination of Sir Vincent Lester, the cruel deception of the young Duchess of Beresleigh, the deadly peril of the guiltless Ferdinand Gassinove, about to die for your deed, and the awful sorrow of his innocent young wife. Heavily, heavily press this guilt upon my soul, and, Robert Thugsen, I must cast it off. Justice must be done! The innocent shall be cleared!” said Ruth, solemnly.

     While she spoke, his aspect gradually changed. With much effort he restrained his emotions, and assumed a calmness he was far from feeling. When she ceased to speak, he said:

     “You have charged me with these crimes. What reason or authority have you for doing so?”

     “Your own words.”

     “My own words?”

     “Your own words.”

     “What the fiend do you mean by that?”

     “Robert Thugsen, the conscience that sleeps throughout the day, awakes at night. When all your other senses are wrapped in forgetfulness, that sense of guilt remembers and raves.”

     “In other words, after a heavy supper, I have had bed dreams, and mutter incoherent words in my sleep.”

     “Yes, you talk in your sleep.”

     “And upon the ramblings of an uneasy dream you would found a charge of guilt. Have you never dreamed of doing things that you really never could do -- flying for instance?” he inquired, disdainfully.

     “Robert, your midnight ravings are not like the innocent fantasies of other dreamers. Now is it only a vague shadow of guilt and scent of blood that shrouds your nightly slumbers. No, each night you rehearse, again and again, all the horrors of that midnight murder!” cried Ruth, shuddering.

     Thugsen could control the tones of his voice -- but not the current of his blood, but the deepening twilight of that sombre room concealed the unearthly pallor of his face, or the demonic glare of his eyes, as he inquired, in a tone of assumed calmness:

     “So I dream every night that it was I who murdered Sir Vincent Lester? And my dreams seem to be quite dramatic, worthy even of your accurate remembrance. Now I always forget my dreams, so that I should like to hear you relate this very remarkable one.”

     “It is too horrible!”

     “What, the dream?”

     “To hear you trifle so with such tremendous guilt!”

     “It was but a dream, you know!”

     “Ah!” she exclaimed, shuddering.

     “You don’t believe me?”


     “Tut! Come, draw up the curtain! Let us see what this very dramatic dream is.“ he said disdainfully.

     “Oh! Do not thus play with your crimes and their consequences. You pretend not to credit me, and you treat my words lightly! But you shall soon know better. You shall hear from my lips the dream in which each night you re-enact the tragedy at Lester Hausa, revealing not only your acts, but your passions and emotions -- your hatreds, fears, hopes, and purpose -- speaking out what then you only thought and felt!”

     “Come, this is the prologue! Let us have the play.” said Thugsen ironically.

     “Listen, then, Robert Thugsen,“ continued Ruth, in the tone and manner of one speaking under a powerful inward impulse, “each night, in dreams, again you lurk around Lester House, hiding in the deepest shadows and from your lair, like some wild beast crouching to spring upon its prey, you watch the watch until it has passed, then swiftly and silently you dart down the basement stairs, you examine all the doors and windows, and find one window carelessly left unfastened, you raise it and creep into the kitchen, closing it after you, you pause, watching and listening for the slightest sound or movement in that dark, still house, but hearing nothing, and believing all the household to be buried in repose, you draw from your pocket a bunch of well-filed skeleton keys, and creep up the stairs and along the passages, a single bolt or bar shot into its place would have arrested your progress, and saved you from crime and him from death, and you wonder as you steal along on your fatal errand that neither bolt nor bar obstructs your way, you do not know that the butler, whose last duty it is to secure the house, has not yet retired to bed, but is shut up in his office, casting up his accounts, oh, fatal carelessness! And so silently and breathlessly you glide like a serpent from landing to landing, until you reach the fatal chamber door.”

     “You pause again, and standing breathless, there you watch and listen, all is dark and still without and within. You insert the key, silently turn the lock, and enter.”

     “How still the room -- the only sound the ticking of the ormolu clock upon the mantelpiece. By the dim light of the taper burning on the hearth, you see the closely drawn curtains of your victim’s bed. You creep toward it, and standing beside it, bend your head and listen, by the regular breathing of the sleeper you know that he is sound asleep, you push aside the curtain and look upon his face, it is a face full of care and sorrow even in its repose, he is lying upon his right side, fronting you, his left arm is thrown up over his head, his motion has slightly disordered the bedclothes, so that his left side is entirely exposed, there is nothing to shield his heart from your dagger’s point, if the fiend had prepared his victim for the sacrifice, he could not have been readier for your hand.”

     “One blow and all will be over! But one or all will be lost! You clutch your dagger with a firmer grasp, and bend until you can hear the monotonous beating of that heart you mean to stop forever! You direct your dagger’s point -- one firm plunge, and the deed of death is done!”

     “But the blow that kills first awakens! The wounded man bounds up! Glares upon you with his dying and affrighted eyes -- shrieks forth that alarm of ‘murder’, that arouses the household! You fly! With the swift silentness of the serpent you slip through the halls, glide down the stairs and so effect your escape. Satan favors you, for as you emerge again from the kitchen window, the watch has just passed, they have not heard that smothered cry of murder, nor through the thick walls and closed shutters can they hear the hurrying footsteps of the roused household as it pours on toward the chamber of murder!”

     “You escape, you think your deed of darkness hid forever from the world, but, Robert Thugsen, I repeat, each night, when sleep has closed your eyes and sealed your senses, conscience awakes and re-enacts every minute scene of that tragedy, speaking out, what then you only thought and felt, as well as what you saw and did!” concluded Ruth, shuddering.

     Could she have seen his face as she finished her narrative she had not trusted her own life in his hands for another hour, but the gathering shadows of night concealed it from her, but his tones were light and bantering, as he said:

     “A singular psychological phenomenon! What else? That cannot be all upon which you found your opinion of my guilt?”

     “It is enough, yet it is not all.”

     “What more?”

     “The dagger!”

     “The dagger?”

     “Yes, Robert Thugsen, the dagger that was found in Mr. Cassinove’s hand, but with which you had done the murder!”

     “What the fiend are you driving at now? What about the dagger? Come, what about it?”

     “It was produced today in court, I recognized it, it was yours!”

     “Upon my word, you are trying to get up quite a case against me. Anything more?”

     “Alas, yes!”

     “Out with it, then! Let us have the whole at once. ‘Never make two bites at a cherry.’ You, I think, have made ten at this, and have not finished it yet. Come, what more?”

     “The sheath.”

     “Oh, ha, ha, ha! this woman will certainly be the death of me! Ha, ha, ha. First it was the dagger, now it is the sheath! Ha, ha, ha! Well, what about the sheath?”

     “The night upon which you came to me at the cottage in Chelsea you threw off your coat upon the bedroom floor, I took it to hang it --”

     “As you would like to hang its owner.” interposed Thugsen with a sardonic laugh.

     “As I raised it up, something fell from the pocket, I stooped to see what it was, and picked up the empty sheath of your antique Toledo poniard, it was crusted thickly with dried blood---”

     “Why the demon did you not speak of it at the time, then?” interrupted Thugsen.

     “Horror transfixed me. When I recovered the use of my faculties, fear for you sealed my lips.”

     “Fear for me?”

     “Yes, fear for you! Laura Elmer, as I told you, was my-guest that night. Her suspicions were already aroused against you, she might have overheard any words that passed between us. So I hid away the tell-tale sheath, and should never have spoken of it again, had not young Cassinove been convicted. Oh, Robert! The guiltless must not die for the guilty!”

     “Hush!” exclaimed Thugsen, with difficulty controlling his emotions. “From the accident of the empty dagger’s sheath and a disturbed dream, you think that you have made out a very strong case against me, it is nonsense, but let that pass for the present. You have also charged me with the deception of the young Duchess of Beresleigh, now, what have I to do with the Duchess of Beresleigh, or the Duchess of Beresleigh to do with me?”

     “You should have nothing to do with her, more than a spirit of darkness has to do with an angel of light, and yet you have twice cruelly deceived her.”

     “Explain yourself, Ruth, by my soul I do not understand you.”

     “Thugsen, you have buried me here, in the obscurest part of London. I am as completely isolated in this crowded quarter of the town as though I were in the midst of the deserts of Asia, or the forests of America. I speak to no person -- I see no paper -- and you think that I am, therefore, ignorant of what goes on in the great world, and so I am, to a great extent. But this morning a piece of an old newspaper fell into my hands. It came around a parcel that I had brought from the draper’s. Your name attracted me to a paragraph, and there I read a short account of the charge brought against the young Duchess of Beresleigh.”

   She paused, and held her hand to her side, as though in pain.

     “Go on.” said Thugsen.

     “I discovered by that account that you had cruelly deceived her twice. First when she was a young girl, and you were hiding in her foster-mother’s house, you passed yourself off for a single man, and attempted to consummate a marriage with her, a crime, the completion of which was prevented by the timely arrival of a constable in search, of you. And now, when years have passed, and she is the lawful wife of one of England’s proudest peers, you, knowing that you have not the smallest shadow of a claim upon her notice, dare to demand her as your wife, and threaten her with criminal prosecution if she repulses you. Of course you are aware that the high-born lady can know nothing of the poor obscure woman, who owns the position into which you would-force her, nor could you suppose that any accident would reveal the wrongs of the Duchess of Beresleigh to me.”

     Thugsen started, and walked once or twice up and down the floor, then passing before her, and speaking with as much calmness as he could assume, he said:

     “To whom have you gossiped of these matters?”

     “To no one on earth.”

     “So help you heaven?”

     “So help me heaven, in my dying hour.”

     “It is Well, I believe you,” said Thugsen, taking his seat near her, and continuing “you seem to have taken the demon into your council else I do not see how you ever contrived to amass such an amount of evidence against an innocent man, and that man your husband and now what do you mean to do with it?”

     “Nothing, Robert, until you have fled the country.”

     “And if I do not choose to fly from a false charge?”

     “It will not be a false charge.”

     “But if I do not choose to fly?”

     “Then your blood be upon your own head, for whether you fly or not, Robert Thugsen, I must do my duty, It will break my heart, but I must do it.”

     “What duty? How will you do it?” inquired the man, in a low stifled voice.

     “Listen. This is Thursday. Cassinove is ordered for execution on Monday, On Monday, also, the trial of the Duchess of Beresleigh comes on. I will give you until tomorrow evening to make your escape. You will have plenty of time to reach Dover, and take the boat for Calais. Tomorrow evening I will place all the facts with which I am acquainted in the hands of the police.”

     “Ha, ha, ha! Why, even if the evidence were worth anything, it could not be taken from you. You are my wife.”

     “I know, and my evidence against you could not be received in court, but I could give what information I possess to the police, and let them follow it up as they please. I must do this, it will kill or craze me, but I must.”

     “And this is your final resolution?”

     “It is, oh, Robert, fly and save yourself! I have still a little money left, you can take it all.”

     “Come, I have had no dinner to-day, light the lamps and see to the soup.”

     With a deep sigh at his apparent insensibility, Ruth lighted a lamp and sat it upon the table, and then went out to attend to the dinner.

     Thugsen made a turn or two around the room, muttering to himself:

     “She knows too much, she knows too much, her own lips have spoken her doom, it can be delayed no longer. Yet, poor Ruth! But she is so very wretched, that it would be a mercy to put her out of her misery, by some quick and easy process, especially as it must be done if I am to have Rose restored to me, yet I would have spared her as -- long as possible, spared her forever, if I could have smuggled her off somewhere. Allons, a willful woman must have her way it is her fault, and not mine.”

     Here he drew from his pocket a very small vial filled with a grayish white powder, and muttering:

     “I have had this quietus about me for the last ten days, without having the courage to administer it to the only one on earth who loves me. But now that very one, besides being the greatest obstacle to my worldly advancement in life, is, also, the most dangerous enemy to my safety. Her life or mine must fall. Hell, self-preservation is the first law of nature. It will soon be over, she will not suffer much, and then-why, then I shall be at peace--.” He suddenly ceased muttering, and closed his hand upon the little vial as he heard the approaching footsteps of his doomed wife.

     Ruth came in, bearing in each hand a basin of soup. She sat one down beside her own plate at the head of the table and the other beside his, at the foot. Then she returned to the kitchen for something else.

     As soon as she had left the room, Thugsen went to the table and poured the contents of the little vial into her basin of soup, saw the powder dissolve, and then immediately went into the adjoining bedroom to destroy the vial. He looked around, and seeing a hole in the plastering, dropped it through, where it fell into some inaccessible depth in the wall.

     Meanwhile, he heard Ruth moving about the dining room and arranging the dishes upon the table. He paused a moment to compose himself, and then returned.

     “Your dinner is quite ready, Robert.” said Ruth, sitting down at the table.

     He took his seat and commenced eating his soup. Presently he looked up at Ruth.

     Ruth was looking down upon hers, and delicately skimming it, and dropping the scum into a waste plate.

     “What is it?” he inquired, uneasily.

     “Only a little soot-fallen upon my soup.” she replied, beginning to eat.

     He was reassured. Soot was black, the powder he had poured into the soup was white, and besides, he had seen it dissolve. He watched her eating. Poor creature! notwithstanding her troubles, she ate rather eagerly, for she was faint and hungry from long fasting.

     “She enjoys her last meal without a thought that she partakes of it in her last hours. Well, after all, how much easier her death will be than if she should live to die what is called a natural death -- a long, painful illness, slowly wearing out her life. It will soon be over, I hope, even in that little time, she will not suffer much.” thought Thugsen, as he watched her.

     “You do not eat your soup, there is no soot fallen into yours?” inquired Ruth.

     “No, there is none in mine.” replied Thugsen, with a hidden significance, as he feel to and rapidly finished his soup.

     Ruth removed the empty basins, and began to carve the roasted fowl that formed the next course. Thugsen watched her for some signs of approaching illness.

     There was none as yet. Ruth finished carving, and set his favorite pieces before him.

     “Are you not going to take any?” inquired Thugsen.

     “No, the soup was quite enough for me, I felt faint and hungry when I set down, but my appetite has gone off with the soup.”

     “You are not well?” said Thugsen.

     “I am as well as I can be, with the anxiety that oppresses my mind, Robert.”

     “Ah! You are still resolved to inform the police of what you suspect to-morrow?”

     “Alas! Yes, Robert! But not until you escape.”

     “I think you will not.” said Thugsen, laughing defiantly, but in the midst of that laugh, his face turned pale, and a shiver passed over his frame.

     “What is the matter?” asked Ruth.

     “A sudden qualm, you upset me with your diabolical nonsense, it is over now -- bring in the pudding.”

     Ruth cleared the table, and went out into the kitchen to fetch the pudding.

     When she returned she found Thugsen white and convulsed in his chair. She sat down the dish, and ran to him, exclaiming:

     “Robert! Robert! What is the matter?”

     “Ill, ill, ill to death!" gasped the sufferer, while a cold sweat bathed his palid forehead.

     Ruth poured out a glass of brandy, and held it to his lips.

     “No! Water! Water! My throat is burning up!” whispered Thugsen, hoarsely.

     Ruth hastily poured out a glass of water, and held it to him.

     He drank it eagerly, swallowing with difficulty. It seemed to revive him for an instant, he sat up, wiped his brow, stared at Ruth with that confusion of mind that extreme pain and exhaustion produces and exclaimed:

     “Woman! What is the meaning of this? You are not ill!”

     “No, Robert, only anxious.”

     “But I am: How is that?”

     “I do not know, Robert. You talk, and act, and look so strangely come into your room and lie down, and perhaps you will be better.” said Ruth, gently taking his arm to assist him.

     But a third, and more violent fit of pain and shivering seized the man, his features were blackened and distorted, his limbs drawn up and convulsed.

     Ruth was dreadfully frightened, she supported his heed, and wiped away the icy sweet from his brow. As soon as the fit passed, and he regained the power of utterance, he glared at Ruth, and shrieked:

     “You have poisoned me! You have poisoned me! Murderess, you shall swing for it.”

     “I--I--Robert? I poison you? But you don’t know what you are saying -- you are so ill. Come, let me help you to bed, and I will run for the apothecary over the way.” exclaimed the terrified wife.

     “Traitress! Murderess! You have poisoned me and you know it!”

     “Oh, Robert!”

     “Answer me, woman! What did you do to the soup while I was in the bedroom?”

     “Nothing, on my soul and honor.”

     “Nothing? Think -- answer, on your life, as you would answer on the last day! What did you do to the soup?”

     “Nothing, as I hope for salvation. I changed the basins, but I never did anything to the soup.”

     “You changed the basins!” cried Thugsen, in horror.

     “Yes, when I came in I noticed, for the first time, that a little soot felled into yours, and knowing you to be very dainty with your eating, I changed the basins -- giving you mine, and taking yours. You saw me afterward, at dinner, taking the soot off.”

     While she spoke he sat listening, with a face blanched by bodily pain, horror and despair.

     Ruth gazed at him in consternation exclaiming:

     “There was no ill in what I did, Robert, was there? I did it for your sake. Oh, Robert, what is the meaning of all this?”

     “You have poisoned me! This is it—poi----”

     His words, arrested by a spasm, were followed by convulsions so violent that he fell from the chair, and writhed upon the floor.

     Ruth dared delay no longer. She rushed from the house, and ran across the way, into the apothecary’s shop, exclaiming:

     “Oh, Mr. Jones, for heaven’s sake, come immediately! I do fear my husband is dying in a fit!“

     “Your husband? Who is he? Has he been drinking?” inquired the druggest.

     “No, no, he fears it is poison! But it cannot be that, and I do not know what it is! Oh, do, pray sir, be quick! It is just over the way.” cried Ruth distractedly.

     Mr. Jones took his hat, and immediately attended Ruth.

     They found Thugsen extended on the floor, bathed in a cold sweat and nearly speechless through exhaustion.

     Mr. Jones knelt down by his side, and began to examine his condition, while Ruth, in an agitated manner, recounted the first symptoms of his attack.

     “It seems a case of poisoning by strychnine madam.” said the chemist, rising.

     “Yes, yes, it was in the soup, she prepared it.” gasped Thugsen with difficulty.

     “I will return again immediately.” said the chemist leaving the room and hurrying over to his shop, whence he dispatched his shop boy to fetch a policeman. Then, calling his assistant to attend him, he returned to the house, bringing with him the most powerful known antidote to strychnine.

     With the help of his young man, he undressed Thugsen and put him to bed, when the convulsions returned with accelerated violence. As soon as these had left, and he was able to swallow, the druggist administered the antidotes, which procured the patient a short respite from acute suffering.

     Meanwhile, the shop boy arrived with the policeman.

     “Take that woman in charge, and see that she does not make her escape. I suspect her of having poisoned her husband!” said Mr. Jones to the officer.

     “Me! Me!” cried Ruth, in dismay.

     He charges you, with much apparent reason, madam! You alone prepared the dinner he was taken ill after eating it, and before leaving the table. His illness is the effect of strychnine. You will, therefore see the propriety of your being kept in restraint until the affair can be investigated.” said Jones.

     “But I am innocent, indeed, I am, sir. If he has taken strychnine, I cannot imagine how it could have got into the soup, unless -- oh! my Lord!” exclaimed Ruth, sinking into her chair and covering her face with her hands, as a suspicion of the truth, for the first time, glanced into her mind.

     “Officer, do your duty.” said the chemist, coldly.

     The policemen advanced toward Ruth.

     She held up her hands deprecatingly, saying:

     “Oh, do not remove me from this room! I am innocent. He is my husband let me stay to watch him. I will not run away, indeed I will not.”

     “If you please, sir, I can take the woman into custody and keep her in this room all the same.” urged the policeman.

     “Very well, see that she does not elude you and make her escape.” said Jones.

     And the policeman told Ruth that she was his prisoner, and must not leave the room, and then he took up his position at the door.

     “He seems easier. Don’t you think he may get over it, sir?" said Ruth, wringing her hands.

     “Impossible to tell, ma’am. It will be a severe struggle between the powers of life and death. The very antidotes I am obliged to administer are terribly exhausting.” said the cautious chemist.

     As if to prove his words true, Thugsen was again seized with frightful convulsions. His face was black, and his frame horribly distorted.

     “Oh, Heaven, how dreadful! Had you better not send for more advice?” Pleaded Ruth, weeping and wringing her hands.

     “I shall, if this continues, to save myself from the burden of a sole responsibility, but it is just as well to tell you that no one can do more for him than I am doing now.” said Mr. Jones, preparing another dose. It was administered, and the patient again sunk into the quietude of exhaustion.

     The night was now far advanced. By the orders of Mr. Jones, who took upon himself the direction of affairs, the house was closed up. The chemist’s assistant and the shop boy sat nodding in the adjoining parlor to be ready in case they were wanted. The policeman leaned against the frame of the communicating door, and dozed upon his watch. Mr. Jones and poor Ruth sat the one on the right and the other on the left of the bed.

     The quiet of the house was presently interrupted by the wild tossing and groaning of the patient, who presently fell into the most frightful convulsions, turning black in the face, foaming at the mouth, throwing his body into the most horrible contortions, sometimes in his fierce agony nearly throwing himself from the bed, and ever, as the momentary relaxation of the nervous tension permitted him to speak, breaking into the fiercest accusations against Ruth, or the most abject entreaties for mercy or for life.

     “Oh, Jones, for the love of Heaven, do what you can to save me. I am not fit to die. Ah, murderess, you shall pay for this! Oh, Heaven, what tortures! Ah, wretch, this is your doing, and you shall not escape!”

     Thus he revealed the agony of his body, and the anguish and terror of his soul, until the returning stricture of his throat for a time strangled out both speech and breath.

     The poor wife and the apothecary both did all they could to relieve and soothe the suffering man. But these last convulsions were so much more violent and long-continued than any which had preceded them and were followed by a fit of such deep prostration, that Mr. Jones could no longer hesitate to call in additional advice. He went into the adjoining parlor, and woke up his assistant, saying:

     “You must go immediately and bring a physician -- Dr. Clark, if possible. And you must also bring a magistrate. I fear very much that we shall have to get the dying deposition of this unfortunate man.”

     Young Benson quickly aroused himself and deported on his errand.

     Day was dawning as he left the house.

     Poor Ruth, forgetting that she was a prisoner got up to open the windows and kindle the kitchen fire to prepare breakfast but the policeman stopped her at the door. And when she explained the nature of her errand, the chemist told her that he would send his shop boy to the next pastry cook’s and have breakfast brought for the watchers.

     And Ruth returned to her seat on the right of the bed, where she quietly remained for perhaps an hour, at the end of which time the whole party was disturbed by a loud knocking at the street door.

     Mr. Jones answered the knock, and admitted a magistrate, who said he had come in answer to a message left for him an hour ago.

     Mr. Jones conducted Mr. Humphreys, the magistrate, into the parlor, and having seen him seated, related the facts of this poisoning as far as they had come to his knowledge.

     “The suffering man is now reposing, and I think he had better not be disturbed just now. The suspected woman is also in his room, but in charge of a policeman.”

     “Send the woman in here. I would like to question her.” said the magistrate.

     Ruth came in at the summons, and gave exactly the same account of her husband’s attack of illness that she had given to the apothecary.

     “How long has she been in your custody?” inquired the magistrate of the policeman.

     “Since last night, sir.”

     “Then, if there is a secure room in this house, she had better be confined in it.”

     Mr. Jones undertook a survey of the upper stories of the house, and reported a comfortable and secure bedroom on the second floor front.

     And to this room poor Ruth was conducted and there confined.

     Meanwhile the Physician, Dr. Scott, arrived, and was shown into the chamber of death.

     The patient was lying extended, in a state of deep prostration, with the cold sweat beaded upon his brow.

     Dr. Scott looked into his face, felt his pulse, sighed, and, in answer to the eager, low-toned questions of the bystanders, said:

     “He seems to be sinking fast.”

     Then the doctor wrote a prescription, and dispatched the young chemist’s assistant over to the shop to make it up. Then this was brought and administered the suffered seemed to be temporarily revived.

     “How are you, sir?" said the magistrute, approaching the bed.

     “I do not know! Oh, doctor! Doctor! Am I dying?” exclaimed Thugsen, turning his eyes, wild with excitement, upon the physician.

     “Oh, No! Certainly not, far from it.” replied Dr. Scott, telling the professional white lie.

     “Do you feel equal to giving an account of this attack of illness?” inquired the magistrate.

     “Doctor, am I in any danger of death?” said Thugsen, turning again to the physician.

     “By no means, my good friend.” said the doctor.

     “Can you give us any account of your illness?” persisted the magistrate.

     “Yes, my wife and I had a quarrel. She prepared the soup, I ate of it, and immediately sickened. She, poor, erring creature, where is she now?”

     “Confined in a room upstairs.”

     “Keep her there, lest she do more mischief.” said Thugsen, who hoping for his own life, felt anxious that Ruth should be kept in confinement, lest she should put in execution her resolve to inform against himself.

     “Are you willing to make oath to all you have said?” inquired the magistrate.

     “Yes, for it is the truth.” answered Thugsen, who soon after fell into horrible convulsions that lasted fifteen minutes, and left him lying extended without sense or motion.

     “I warn you, Dr. Scott, that if you think this man is in extremis, you should inform him of his condition, that he may know it when called upon to make his deposition.” said the magistrate.

     “Sir, when the patient is in extremis, I will tell him so, until then, and while there is the slightest possibility of saving life it is my duty to encourage him to the utmost.” replied the physician, who was now taxing all his medical skill for the help of the sufferer.

     Breakfast for the watchers now arrived from the pastry cook’s, and interrupted further conversation. A cup of coffee a muffin and an egg were sent up to Ruth. The policeman took them.

     “How is Captain Thugsen now?” inquired Ruth, as he entered the room.

     “I am forbidden to hold any conversation with you, mum.” replied the policeman, setting down the tray and leaving the room.

     And Ruth was abandoned to solitude and intolerable suspense. Troubles seemed gathering thicker and thicker over her head. Her sorrows seemed more than any human creature could bear. She fully understood now how it was that her husband had taken the poison, which he must have prepared for herself, and awful gratitude to God for her almost miraculous deliverance from the snare struggled in her heart, with grief for the man that she still loved, despite his crimes and cold-blooded villainy, and fear for the consequence to herself and the children, should Thugsen die persisting in his charge against her. And these sorrows and anxieties for herself and her loved ones were mingled with others, no less acute, for Ferdinand Gassinove and his unhappy wife. The hours there were to lead him to the scaffold were swiftly passing away, and she who, possessing the guilty secret, might save him, must not breath it because it would send her dying husband from his death-bed to a jail, and indeed, could not divulge it because she was confined under lock and key, and prevented from holding conversation with anyone.

     “Surely no sorrows were ever equal to my sorrows.” cried Ruth, dropping on her knees beside the bed, burying her face in the coverlet, and praying and sobbing by turns.

     Meanwhile, as the day waned, the shadows of death gathered thickly around the wretched Thugsen. Medical aid had been unavailing except to ameliorate his acute suffering. Every succeeding fit of convulsion had been more violent, and followed by deeper prostration. The powerful organization that had held out so long against the action of the poison was beginning to show signs of speedy dissolution. The gray hue of death overspread his countenance, the damp, of death condensed thickly upon his icy brow, yet his brain, like that of one dying under the effects of strychnine, was singularly clear.

     From time to time he spoke as follows:

     “Where is my guilty wife? Keep her closely confined. Let her talk with none.”

     He was always reassured and soothed.

     At sunset all hope of his life was abandoned even by the physician, who had “Hoped against hope." He could no longer, in conscience, withhold from the wretched patient, the knowledge of his true condition. He bent over him, and whispered gently:

     “Captain Thugsen --.”

     The sufferer flared open his eyes, and glared wildly at the speaker.

     “Try to compose yourself, and if you have any worldly affairs to settle --.”

     “You think I am dying!” shrieked the unhappy man, starting up and falling back exhausted.

     “Life and death are in the hands of God.” said the doctor, gently.

     “You said I would not die.”

     “Nor would you, if the utmost human skill could avail to save you.”

     “Oh, it must -- it must save me! I am not fit to die. Save me, doctor, save me!”

     And here followed pleadings of the most abject terror and anguish of a guilty and cowardly soul on the brink of-eternity.

     The doctor administered a composing draught, and then said gravely and sweetly:

     “Captain Thugsen, the world has reported you, with what justice I know not, a great sinner, but this I would say to you that there is mercy for the greatest. Use the short space that is left you in making restitution, so far as you can, for any wrong you may have committed, and then turn for mercy to Him with whom time and space is as nothing, and sincere repentance the one condition of pardon.”

     “I cannot! Oh, I cannot!” exclaimed the wretched man, falling into the most frightful ravings of remorse and despair.

     It was long before the united efforts of the physician and the magistrate could soothe his anguish.

     “How many hours have I to live?” was then the question of the fast-sinking man.

     “You may survive until morning, yet I would advise you to attend at once to any worldly business that you may have at heart, so that your last moments may be entirely given to the care of your soul.“ said the physician, solemnly.

     “Then let everyone leave the room except the magistrate, who will hear my statement, and the doctor, who will reduce it to writing.” said Thugsen, in a feeble voice.

     The chamber was cleared as he desired, a small table was drawn up beside the bed, a lighted lamp, a copy of the Holy Scriptures and writing materials were placed upon it, and the physician and the magistrate seated themselves beside it.

     The magistrate duly administered the oath, the doctor prepared his paper and pens, and Roberth Thugsen, in a feeble voice, often sinking into utter faintness, commenced his statement.


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights -
Donated by - Estate of Andre Norton

 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.