The Evil Genius

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Author: Wilkie Collins

6.—The Brute.

To-morrow came—and Mrs. Westerfield’s faithful James justified her confidence in him.

"Oh, Jemmy, how glad I am to see you! You dear, dear fellow. I’m yours at last."

"That depends, my lady, on whether I want you. Let go of my neck."

The man who entered this protest against imprisonment in the arms of a fine woman, was one of the human beings who are grown to perfection on English soil He had the fat face, the pink complexion, the hard blue eyes, the scanty yellow hair, the smile with no meaning in it, the tremendous neck and shoulders, the mighty fists and feet, which are seen in complete combination in England only. Men of this breed possess a nervous system without being aware of it; suffer affliction without feeling it; exercise courage without a sense of danger; marry without love; eat and drink without limit; and sink (big as they are), when disease attacks them, without an effort to live.

Mrs. Westerfield released her guest’s bull-neck at the word of command. It was impossible not to submit to him—he was so brutal. Impossible not to admire him—he was so big.

"Have you no love left for me?" was all she ventured to say.

He took the reproof good-humoredly. "Love?" he repeated. "Come! I like that—after throwing me over for a man with a handle to his name. Which am I to call you: ’Mrs?’ or ’My Lady’?"

"Call me your own. What is there to laugh at, Jemmy? You used to be fond of me; you would never have gone to America, when I married Westerfield, if I hadn’t been dear to you. Oh, if I’m sure of anything, I’m sure of that! You wouldn’t bear malice, dear, if you only knew how cruelly I have been disappointed."

He suddenly showed an interest in what she was saying: the brute became cheery and confidential. "So he made you a bad husband, did he? Up with his fist and knocked you down, I daresay, if the truth was known?"

"You’re all in the wrong, dear. He would have been a good husband if I had cared about him. I never cared about anybody but you. It wasn’t Westerfield who tempted me to say Yes."

"That’s a lie."

"No, indeed it isn’t."

"Then why did you marry him?"

"When I married him, Jemmy, there was a prospect—oh, how could I resist it? Think of being one of the Le Basques! Held in honor, to the end of my life, by that noble family, whether my husband lived or died!"

To the barman’s ears, this sounded like sheer nonsense. His experience in the public-house suggested an explanation. "I say, my girl, have you been drinking?"

Mrs. Westerfield’s first impulse led her to rise and point indignantly to the door. He had only to look at her—and she sat down again a tamed woman. "You don’t understand how the chance tempted me," she answered, gently.

"What chance do you mean?"

"The chance, dear, of being a lord’s mother."

He was still puzzled, but he lowered his ton e. The true-born Briton bowed by instinct before the woman who had jilted him, when she presented herself in the character of a lord’s mother. "How do you make that out, Maria?" he asked politely.

She drew her chair nearer to him, when he called her by her Christian name for the first time.

"When Westerfield was courting me," she said, "his brother (my lord) was a bachelor. A lady—if one can call such a creature a lady!—was living under his protection. He told Westerfield he was very fond of her, and he hated the idea of getting married. ’If your wife’s first child turns out to be a son,’ he said, ’there is an heir to the title and estates, and I may go on as I am now.’ We were married a month afterward—and when my first child was born it was a girl. I leave you to judge what the disappointment was! My lord (persuaded, as I suspect, by the woman I mentioned just now) ran the risk of waiting another year, and a year afterward, rather than be married. Through all that time, I had no other child or prospect of a child. His lordship was fairly driven into taking a wife. Ah, how I hate her! first child was a boy—a big, bouncing, healthy brute of a boy! And six months afterward, my poor little fellow was born. Only think of it! And tell me, Jemmy, don’t I deserve to be a happy woman, after suffering such a dreadful disappointment as that? Is it true that you’re going back to America?"

"Quite true."

"Take me back with you."

"With a couple of children?"

"No. Only with one. I can dispose of the other in England. Wait a little before you say No. Do you want money?"

"You couldn’t help me, if I did."

"Marry me, and I can help you to a fortune."

He eyed her attentively and saw that she was in earnest. "What do you call a fortune?" he asked.

"Five thousand pounds," she answered.

His eyes opened; his mouth opened; he scratched his head. Even his impenetrable nature proved to be capable of receiving a shock. Five thousand pounds! He asked faintly for "a drop of brandy."

She had a bottle of brandy ready for him.

"You look quite overcome," she said.

He was too deeply interested in the restorative influence of the brandy to take any notice of this remark. When he had recovered himself he was not disposed to believe in the five thousand pounds.

"Where’s the proof of it?" he said, sternly.

She produced her husband’s letter. "Did you read the Trial of Westerfield for casting away his ship?" she asked.

"I heard of it."

"Will you look at this letter?"

"Is it long?"

"Yes."

"Then suppose you read it to me."

He listened with the closest attention while she read. The question of stealing the diamonds (if they could only be found) did not trouble either of them. It was a settled question, by tacit consent on both sides. But the value in money of the precious stones suggested a doubt that still weighed on his mind.

"How do you know they’re worth five thousand pounds?" he inquired.

"You dear old stupid! Doesn’t Westerfield himself say so in his letter?"

"Read that bit again."

She read it again: "After the two calamities of the loss of the ship, and the disappearance of the diamonds—these last being valued at five thousand pounds—I returned to England."

Satisfied so far, he wanted to look at the cipher next. She handed it to him with a stipulation: "Yours, Jemmy, on the day when you marry me."

He put the slip of paper into his pocket. "Now I’ve got it," he said, "suppose I keep it?"

A woman who has been barmaid at a public-house is a woman not easily found at the end of her resources.

"In that case," she curtly remarked, "I should first call in the police, and then telegraph to my husband’s employers in Liverpool."

He handed the cipher back. "I was joking," he said.

"So was I," she answered.

They looked at each other. They were made for each other—and they both felt it. At the same time, James kept his own interests steadily in view. He stated the obvious objection to the cipher. Experts had already tried to interpret the signs, and had failed.

"Quite true," she added, "but other people may succeed."

"How are you to find them?"

"Leave me to try. Will you give me a fortnight from to-day?"

"All right. Anything else?"

"One thing more. Get the marriage license at once."

"Why?"

"To show that you are in earnest."

He burst out laughing. "It mightn’t be much amiss," he said, "if I took you back with me to America; you’re the sort of woman we want in our new saloon. I’ll get the license. Good-night."

As he rose to go, there was a soft knock at the door. A little girl, in a shabby frock, ventured to show herself in the room.

"What do you want here?" her mother asked sharply.

Syd held out a small thin hand, with a letter in it, which represented her only excuse. Mrs. Westerfield read the letter, and crumpled it up in her pocket. "One of your secrets?" James asked. "Anything about the diamonds, for instance?

"Wait till you are my husband," she said, and then you may be as inquisitive as you please." Her amiable sweetheart’s guess had actually hit the mark. During the year that had passed, she too had tried her luck among the Experts, and had failed. Having recently heard of a foreign interpreter of ciphers, she had written to ask his terms. The reply (just received) not only estimated his services at an extravagantly high rate, but asked cautious questions which it was not convenient to answer. Another attempt had been made to discover the mystery of the cipher, and made in vain.

James Bellbridge had his moments of good-humor, and was on those rare occasions easily amused. He eyed the child with condescending curiosity. "Looks half starved," he said—as if he were considering the case of a stray cat. "Hollo, there! Buy a bit of bread." He tossed a penny to Syd as she left the room; and took the opportunity of binding his bargain with Syd’s mother. "Mind! if I take you to New York, I’m not going to be burdened with both your children. Is that girl the one you leave behind you?"

Mrs. Westerfield smiled sweetly, and answered: "Yes, dear."

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Chicago: Wilkie Collins, "6.— The Brute.," The Evil Genius, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Evil Genius Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8NZ2EK17J3II4V.

MLA: Collins, Wilkie. "6.— The Brute." The Evil Genius, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Evil Genius, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8NZ2EK17J3II4V.

Harvard: Collins, W, '6.— The Brute.' in The Evil Genius, trans. . cited in , The Evil Genius. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8NZ2EK17J3II4V.