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Treasury of Newfoundland Stories - Mildred Baxter - 2

28 - The Story of Mildred Baxter (Part 2)



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories, published by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

Here is what Langstone read:

"Dear Paul - My cousin - Stanley Sheppard whom you have never seen, is going out to Newfoundland and will, if he can, spend his vacation with you at Harbour Breton. I have given him a note of introduction to you. Make him happy while there for my sake. He is as rich as Croesus, and as good and charitable as he is rich. He will tell you all about me. Next to you, dear Paul, I love him. this confession will, I am sure, assure him hospitality, wherever you have influence. Yours unchanged, Mildred." "My God what a cur I am, and Sheppard knows it. He refused me his hand. How much he resembles Mildred. Will, the die is cast. Tomorrow I will write Mildred and tell all - everything. Oh, what a scoundrel I am."

Next morning Sheppard called again on Langstone, just a passing call, and the date of the second act of the drama was in view, for Sheppard was invited to Langstone's home that evening, and Sheppard accepted the invitation, for here he would meet the woman who was Langstone's wife.

That afternoon, sad and dejected to a degree noticeable to his wife, Langstone said to her:"Prepare for a visitor tonight, Alice. Mr. Sheppard, a countryman of mine. Be good and attentive to him, he is a stranger to everyone here. You will like him. He will be around about 8 o'clock. I may not be on hand precisely at that hour, but entertain him. I'll be sure to be along no later than nine."

Alice Langstone, as we see her now, was changed from the sunny and bright dispositioned girl we knew on her arrival from Jersey Harbour. She found, after a few short years of her wedded life, that everything which glitters is not gold. Her husband had become indifferent and cold towards her, nor did he seek to hide the feeling that he had married beneath him, and of late treated her as one would treat a subordinate, which rubbed the spirit out of her life as it did the roses out of her cheeks. She bore it up bravely, and without complaint, brooding over her wrongs in silence and alone. But 'tis the old, old story, and so it was when she, with a forced yet friendly smile, welcomed Sheppard to her husband's hearth on the night in question.

On his arrival she was at once struck by is youth and appearance, and the more so when she saw with surprise that Sheppard met her as if they were always friends, and on equal footing, and spoke in a most sympathizing manner, as if he had been cognizant of the whole routine of her married life. He even had to check himself sometimes in his discourse. His whole warm heart went out to this lonely woman. Even now he saw that his visit was expected, the absence of the husband. Where was he? Was the game he travelled so far to play not worth the candle?

Dwelling thus on the second act of his drama, Langstone arrived, and by the frightened appearance of the wife, and the ungentlemanly stagger of the man, he saw he had been drinking. Sheppard rose, and without even giving Langstone time to apologize for his lateness, said:"Say, Langstone, I have been charmingly entertained by your good lady here, and now as I have admission into such good society, I am going to make it my second home. Have I your permission?"

"Yes, always. Make it your first home. My doors will be always open to you, but sit down, I want to talk to you of home, of - of Mildred."

"No, no, not now, Langstone, tomorrow, anytime. I want to say goodnight now," and shaking hands with Mrs. Langstone, and not giving Langstone the chance to ask him a second time to stay, he hurried from the house.

After arriving at his own lodgings, although comparatively early, he immediately retired to his bedroom and there, after steadfastly locking and bolting the door, he burst into tears, and then in a low muffled voice, broken with sobs of pent-up sadness and misery, he cried, "Oh my God, can you further permit this. Show me the way to the immediate end. On contemptible fellow man, what hells are made by your vices and your passions. Have I undertaken more than my strength and determination can accomplish. Give me fortitude, O God, if 'tis your will, to the end in view, let not all that has been done be done in vain. I now see, and only now, that of the three figuring in this drama, I am the one who suffers most. Well, let this be my sacrifice for the step I have taken, and gone too far to turn back; and tomorrow - but let tomorrow tell its own tale; I'm too sad too faint to anticipate. Oh my God, my God."

Next morning, when Sheppard appeared at breakfast, his hostess, though old, and not very perceptive, noticed the colour somewhat missing from the cheeks of her boarder, and remarked that she hoped Mr. Sheppard wasn't feeling unwell, and had he a good night, etc., etc. To which Sheppard replied that he had a slight headache, and a cup of good old tea which she knew so well how to prepare, would do the needful, and indeed it did, so that at ten o'clock, when Sheppard wended his way to Langstone's, he looked a bright and fresh as ever, and by the many 'good mornings' and familiar bows of those whom he met on the road, one would think he was an old inhabitant of the place whom all revered and respected.

After arriving at Langstone's home, he found, as he expected, that Paul had gone to his office, and Mrs. Langstone was alone. After the usual good morning greetings, Sheppard expressed a wish to be shown around the Harbour and be made acquainted with the fisher folk and others in the near neighbourhood; and as the morning was fine and still early, would Mrs. Langstone honour him with her company for a short stroll through the principal street, as he wished to become acquainted with the people and their made of living, and so forth.

Mrs. Langstone acquiesced right away with this proposition, and soon the two were sauntering slowly along, she pointing out the abodes and different stores of the premises to her companion; and he seemed deeply interested in all she was saying, and asked questions about the catching and curing of the fish, and the flakes, and stageheads, of which the whole waterfront seemed to be composed.

Passing near one particular boathouse, an old man was mending his sail, which looked dilapidated enough to be discarded altogether. Sheppard stopped and watched him for a few minutes and said:

"Why are you not fishing, a fine morning like this?"

"I am along in the boat, sir. I am too old to row to the grounds and my sail is bad. I am trying to repair it."

"How long will it take?"

"Well sir, as I have no one but myself, it will take me two or three days."

"Can you not get a new sail?"

"No, they would not trust me with that on the rooms."

"Whose rooms?"

"There is only one here, sir, the Merchants."

"Do you mean the Jersey Firm, Messrs. Newman & Co.?"

"Aye sir, there's no other."

"Have they sails which would suit at their store?"

"Yes, plenty of them."

"Here then", writing on a slip of paper, "bring this to Mr. Langstone, and with the sail, any other requisite you want he will give you. You understand? Good Morning." Smiling and happy, he again joined Mrs. Langstone, who had gone on a little in advance, not hearing the conversation which ensued between her companion and the old fisherman.

A little further on, a poor, forlorn-looking woman was sitting on a doorstep, while her two children were romping back and forth, barefooted and half naked, near a hovel of wretched appearance. Here Sheppard stopped again and accosted the woman in a sympathetic tone:"Good morning, are these your children?"

"They are, sir."

"Why are they not in school?"

"Indeed then, sir, look at them and you can guess why."

"Is it that they require clothing and boots?"

"It is, sir; other children don't care to sit with them naked; they have no father, and I can only provide the bit that goes in their stomachs, and even that is little."

"Do you know this lady's husband at the rooms?"

"Is it Mr. Langstone, sir? Indeed we all know him."

"Then go to him, here is my card. Get from him whatever you need for yourself and children, and tell him to send his bill to me this afternoon, and let the children go to school tomorrow. Will you do this?"

"Oh, sir, will I do it! May God in his goodness and mercy reward you, whoever you may be, and may the blessings ________."

But whatever other prayer the poor lady was evoking on the head of Sheppard he heard not because already he was gone some distance with his companion on the road, cognizant only of the fact that he had made two people happy. Nor did his benevolence end there. Many a dejected and unhappy home had reason to bless his name that night for comforts and requirements which they had not known for along time.

This sort of life went on for many days, Sheppard's only companion being Langstone's wife. He would call for her each morning, and sometimes in the afternoon, and at the end of this first week's sojourn on Newfoundland soil, Sheppard knew that is companion's life was a most unhappy one. His whole sympathy and pity went out to her, little dreaming that the man who was the cause of it all was gloating at that moment over the intimacy of the pair, and often purposely absenting himself from home to keep them closer together.

One evening, as Sheppard was reading at home, a note was brought to him from Langstone, asking him to meet him on the road after closing hour that night. He suggested that they take a long walk together, as there were many confidential things he wished to speak of which couldn't be entered into in the presence of his wife, at home. Sheppard immediately replied that he would be glad to meet and talk to his cousin's friend at his (Sheppard's) boarding house, in his own room, at any hour Mr. Langstone cared to mention, at which time he would answer any reasonable questions put to him. This note he despatched right away, and within half an hour a reply came, that Langstone would call at the boarding house that evening at 9 o'clock, which was as early as he could conveniently manage.

After the receipt of this reply, Sheppard pondered over all that this meeting might mean. Here, in a few hours he was to meet a man of no principle, a man whom he had every reason t know was a scoundrel, a liar and a deceiver. A man who treated a simple, innocent good woman with derision and contempt. A man who every day of his life flaunted before his wife's face the fact that he erred in his marriage. A man who of all others under the canopy of heaven he should not meet.

O just heaven! Now that the hour was near, the hour he sought and ventured much for, was he frightened of it?Would it be the final act in the play now before his eyes? Ah, my dear Sheppard. Good and true and noble character that you are, would that your good angel could whisper to you the perfidy of him who seeks you. Could your penetration but descry the purport of his visit, much sorrow and tears would be saved you - you would hasten to where his presence could not taint you; but you sinned at the outset, and trouble awaits you.

Precisely at 9 o'clock Langstone was announced at the residence of Sheppard, and with horror he saw that although not actually drunk, Langstone had been drinking. Indeed, any other person would have discerned the pale, frightened face of Sheppard as Langstone entered. A chair was given him from the opposite side from where Sheppard sat. Langstone immediately spoke of the business which had brought him.

"You are a relative - a cousin, I believe - of Mildred Baxter? She tells me as much in her letter."

"I am."

"Did you know, before you left home, of the close intimacy between your cousin and myself?"

"I only knew that the letter handed you by me was written by Miss Baxter, to a gentleman I would meet at this place. I delivered it as she gave it to me."

"you are aware, then, that my present life to her is a living lie; that I am her affianced husband, and at a made moment married here in Newfoundland; I hadn't the courage or manhood to acknowledge it, though we have corresponded for years."

"I don't understand you. Do you mean to say that a correspondence exists between you and an engaged woman who believes that you are still an unmarried man?"

"That is what I mean. Mildred Baxter and I were truly and solemnly engaged while I was still at home. After I came to this country, I was true to my promise for years, but as I said, I became infatuated and was cajoled into marriage against my better nature. Mildred Baxter doesn't know it; she must never know it."

"Mildred Baxter must never know that you, whom she hopes some day will become her husband - you for whom she keeps aloof from all society, from all men - must never know that you are a married man? Surely, that is not what you mean."

"Yes, that is what I said, and by heaven 'tis what I mean."

"But Langstone, she will know - she will be told."

"Who will tell her?"

"I, her cousin."

"By G___ you never shall."

"Who will prevent me?"

"I - and this." (Producing a revolver which, however, he instantly returned to his pocket, as if at some future time he would use it to his own advantage.)

"Langstone, I am no coward, and your threat I don't take seriously. I shall pass it over, for the sake of your cousin, and your good wife, whom I respect."

"Ha! my wife - and how much do you respect her?"

"What do you mean?"

"This - and don't be deceived, let us have no beating about the bush in this matter, you and I. The whole harbour is aghast at the close companionship and daily and nightly meetings between you two. My neighbours, my friends, the very clerks sitting beside me in the office, stare and wink at each other as I approach them. I am their target, their dupe, and their butt. My reputation and standing her in this Harbour mustn't be assailed. My wife's infidelity - "

"STOP!" The commanding tone, the determination in which this one word was spoken, silenced Langstone as if a thunder-bolt had fallen through the roof. Sheppard quietly rose from his seat and, walking to the mantelpiece, touched a gong, and on the instant the lady of the house appeared. The modern word would be:"Please show Mr. so-and-so to the door, he is about to retire,etc."; but not so, the old way. Sheppard with a smile said to his landlady. "Mr. Langstone has a tale to tell. Would you be good enough to take a seat, as he desires it, and listen to his recital. I'm sure 'till be most interesting."

"Your ruse won't avail. 'Tis only a further assurance of your knack of deception in bringing this lady here, as I neither asked nor desired it. All the proofs that I require to substantiate my claim I have at hand. Your posing throughout this Harbour as a philanthropist and Simon Pure will be unmasked when its people will learn the cost to me - to me, Mr. Sheppard, whose position of place and trust not a few look up to and are depending on for their labour."

"To substantiate your claims - what claims?"

"The claims of divorce from an unfaithful wife."

It was like a bolt from the blue and the landlady instantly turned and walked from the room. Sheppard, in a pitying and derisive stare, gazed at langstone for a moment, then burst into a long and loud peel of laughter, which he really could not suppress.

"Well, after divorce, what then, Mr. Langstone?"

"Then I am free. Mildred Baxter will pity me, as she was the direct cause of my wrongs and misfortune by sending you to this country; our promises will be renewed, my mistakes forgiven, and she will become my wife."

"Is this the idea you have formed of the character of my cousin, Mildred Baxter who, though once she trusted you and believed you worthy of that trust, is as much above you as the angels are above man. Is this the estimate you form of her, who, when she knows that you have disgraced and broken one woman's heart - and that woman a good and most faithful wife - would despise and loathe you a thousand times more than she ever did love you, if indeed she ever loved you?" And here Sheppard gave way to another long peal of laughter. "But how do you propose, sir, to gain that divorce?"

"Through the law of this country - through British law, British justice."

"But I am British."

"And so am I."

"Than 'tis diamond cut diamond."

"Very well Langstone, perhaps 'tis the best way to the tableau which will end the drama. But did I not see that in the end the purity, the good name, and fidelity of your wife will be sustained, upheld and acknowledged by every individual in this community, I would produce proof which would exonerate your wife and myself and keep you from this fatal step you are about to take, 'ere you leave here this night; British law, as you say , is British justice. Therefore from its edict good can only come to the weak one. Your wife will be proved faithful, you yourself a scoundrel, and I, your victim, triumphant. Good night."

All Harbour Breton, and indeed the near adjacent places in Fortune Bay, were aroused next day, after hearing the scandal afloat. Langstone had applied to the magistrate of the place for divorce, on the plea of infidelity, alleging that ample proof would be produced to justify the granting of at least separation from a woman whose actions and familiarity of late with the defendant impaired his reputation and social standing in society, and demanded a rigid redress at the hands of British justice.

The day of trial arrived and everyone - or nearly everyone - pitied Sheppard, and feared Langstone.

Of course, 'twas "the day" in Harbour Breton. Work stopped, and numerous curious visitors flocked to the Harbour.

The spacious room of the Court House was full to a suffocating degree. The magistrate, a small salaried man, with his running account on the books of the firm, was in his post, and his mind made up. No lawyers, no jury, were needed.

"A stranger who has come among you, a stranger who made advances to become known to the majority of the people, has, by his pretended charities, and flaunting money and means, sought and won over by those commodities, the wife of one of your most respected and influential citizens, thereby ruining and jeopardizing in a is graceful manner the name and reputation of that gentleman, whose only protection is the law of his country, on which he this day calls, in all fair play and justice for redress. Mr. Langstone deposes and swears that for the whole time since the arrival of Mr. Sheppard in this Harbour, that he (Langstone) has purposely absented himself from home until nine, and sometimes after that hour, and unawares entered, and on each occasion found his wife and defendant in very close proximity, and both very much abashed and surprised by the sudden arrival. This evidence has been sworn to and sustained by the domestic in the house and corroborated and testified to my many and various persons in connection with the firm which the Complainant has the honour to belong to. this Court has seen and commented on the intimacy and familiarity of the accused and defendant on the streets of this harbour. While I very much regret that my position here as Judge compels me to mar forever the name and reputation of a woman, a woman who was secure in the love and confidence of a good, devoted and worthy husband, I would be recreant in my duty,after hearing as I did the criminal evidence sworn to by the Complainant - but which modesty forbids me to repeat from this judicial seat - would I do otherwise but grant to the Complainant in this case, a full and free - "

Here a loud and prolonged peal of laughter from Sheppard startled and surprised the whole Court. The Judge jumped to his feet and ordered that the defendant be put from the room, and that later he would be dealt with for contempt of Court.

"Let no man dare lay hands on me, I am a British subject, who has read and understood its laws and constitution. I demand a hearing from this Court, sir, whose action and apparent judgment in this case are slanderous and astonishing. The innocently accused and much injured lady, on whom you were about to pronounce a stigma which would forever brand her and hers with infamy of the blackest type, is as pure and as true and as free from guilt in the pending enquiry - if enquiry you can call it - as the very angels in Heaven, and I will prove it."

The determination and pathos and firm tone in which Sheppard spoke, for a moment took even the Judge off his balance.

"Your Complainant, a few evenings ago, boasted that he was British and would get British justice. Well, he will bet British justice - the justice that all perjurers and mean scandal mongers are doomed to receive under British law. I accuse you, Paul Langstone, the Complainant in this case, of false and malicious testimony given and sworn to in this Court of Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, for purposes so degrading and damnable that all men hereafter must shun and denounce you and society debar you forever from entering its folds."

Here a commotion took place in the Court Room. Langstone walked directly up to Sheppard and said: "What do you mean/"

"I mean you are a liar, a perjurer and a villain, and here is the proof, my lord."

"I am an English girl, and your wife knows it."

"Great God! Mildred Baxter!"

"Yes, you contemptible coward, you deceiver. Mildred Baxter, your affianced Mildred Baxter, who for two years and a half believed in you and prayed for you, and received your written deceptive lies with affection and love. Yes, I am indeed Mildred Baxter."

"By accident I heard of your marriage, not even then believing that I could love anything so despicable and contemptible. Thinking that I could find you as my love painted you, in spite of all reports, I had recourse to the plan of meeting you in gentleman's attire. What did I find? I found reports were true, and that you were a married man. I then resolved to meet, not you, but your wife, the one who took my place. Through you I did meet her. After twenty-four hours I revealed my sex to her and learned of the coward and villain that I had escaped from. I brand you now before this court as a perjurer of the deepest dye. My lord, this is proof of the innocence and goodness of the woman who stands there accused. He would divorce her, who is a million times his superior, for what? To fly back to my arms, to my love, as if I would even breathe the very atmosphere he exhaled. I would have departed from this harbour, from this court, and only be known as Sheppard, could anything else but my unveiling secure the innocence of his good wife. And now, my Lord, if I have erred against the law of you land in masquerading here is man's attire, inflict upon me the full price of my chastisement and I will pay it. Pronounce in the most public manner the possibility of anything criminal between the accused and myself, and if at any cost, the perjurer can have his release and freedom, for his wife's sake, I will pay it to the last farthing, and now, my Lord, I have done."

The drama was finished, and although the price paid had been heavy, Mildred realized that she had taken the only course possible. She saw him who had deceived her crestfallen and humiliated. She saw as she foretold, her acquittal with dignity and honour. She saw and heard the whispers of satisfaction and contentment from the people around, and she knew what that meant. With a dignified bow, not now as that given by a gentleman, but with the grace and ease of the accomplished and true bred English lady, she turned from the room and left the department, and from that moment, eighty-four years ago, up to the present day, Harbour Breton never saw her again

In her old age she was beloved and admired by the thousands in a great English city who were depending on her great house for their honourable support.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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