A Tale of a Lonely Parish
by F. Marion Crawford
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse

It was a new complication, though it had seemed possible enough. But the position was not pleasant. To feel that there was a detective in the house waiting to carry off Goddard, so soon as he should be well enough to be moved, was about as disagreeable as anything well could be. The longer the squire thought of it, the more impossible and at the same time unnecessary it seemed to be to inform Mrs. Goddard of Booley's arrival. He hastened down the park, feeling that no time must be lost in bringing her to her husband's bedside.

He found her waiting for him, and was struck by the calmness she displayed. To tell the truth the violence of her emotions had been wholly expended on the previous night and the reaction had brought an intense melancholy quiet, which almost frightened Mr. Juxon. The habit of bearing great anxiety had not been wholly forgotten, for the lesson had been well learned during those terrible days of her husband's trial, and it was as though his sudden return had revived in her the custom of silent suffering. She hardly spoke, but listened quietly to Mr. Juxon's account of what had happened.

"You are not hurt?" she asked, almost incredulously. Her eyes rested on her friend's face with a wistful look.

"No, I assure you, not in the least," he said. "But your poor husband is very ill—very ill indeed."

"Tell me," said she quietly, "is he dead? Are you trying to break it to me?"

"No—no indeed. He is alive—he may even recover. But that is very uncertain. It might be best to wait until the doctor has been again. I will come back and fetch you—"

"Oh, no, I will go at once. I would like to walk. It will do me good."

So the two set out without further words upon their errand. Mr. Juxon had purposely omitted to speak of Mr. Booley's arrival. It would be easy, he thought, to prevent them from meeting in the great house.

"Do you know," said Mary Goddard, as they walked together, "it is very hard to wish that he may recover—" she stopped short.

"Very hard," answered the squire. "His life must be one of misery, if he lives."

"Of course you would send him back?" she asked nervously.

"My dear friend, there is no other course open to me. Your own safety requires it."

"God knows—you would only be doing right," she said and was silent again. She knew, though the squire did not, what fate awaited Walter Goddard if he were given up to justice. She knew that he had taken life and must pay the penalty. Yet she was very calm; her senses were all dulled and yet her thoughts seemed to be consecutive and rational. She realised fully that the case of life and death was ill balanced; death had it which ever course events might take, and she could not save her husband. She thought of it calmly and calmly hoped that he might die now, in his bed, with her by his side. It was a better fate.

"You say that the doctor thinks he must have been ill some time?" she asked after a time.

"Yes—he was quite sure of it," answered the squire.

"Perhaps that was why he spoke so roughly to me," she said in a low voice, as though speaking to herself.

The tears came into the squire's eyes for sheer pity. Even in this utmost extremity the unhappy woman tried to account for her husband's rude and cruel speech. Mr. Juxon did not answer but looked away. They passed the spot where the scuffle had occurred on the previous night, but still he said nothing, fearing to disturb her by making his story seem too vividly real.

"Where is he?" she asked as they reached the Hall, looking up at the windows.

"On the other side."

They went in and mounted the stairs towards the sick man's chamber. Mr. Juxon went in, leaving Mrs. Goddard outside for a moment. She could hear that hideous rattling monotonous moan, and she trembled from head to foot. Presently Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose came out, looking very grave and passed by her with a look of sympathy.

"Will you come in?" said the squire in a low voice.

Mrs. Goddard entered the room quickly. On seeing her husband, she uttered a low cry and laid her hand upon Mr. Juxon's arm. For some seconds she stood thus, quite motionless, gazing with intense and sympathetic interest at the sick man's face. Then she went to his side and laid her hand upon his burning forehead and looked into his eyes.

"Walter! Walter!" she cried. "Don't you know me? Oh, why does he groan like that? Is he suffering?" she asked turning to Mr. Juxon.

"No—I do not think he suffers much. He is quite unconscious. He is talking all the time but cannot pronounce the words."

The squire stood at a distance looking on, noting the womanly thoughtfulness Mrs. Goddard displayed as she smoothed her husband's pillow and tried to settle his head more comfortably upon the bags of ice; and all the while she never took her eyes from Goddard's face, as though she were fascinated by her own sorrow and his suffering. She moved about the bed with that instinctive understanding of sickness which belongs to delicate women, but her glance never strayed to Mr. Juxon; she seemed forced by a mysterious magnetism to look at Walter and only at him.

"Has he been long like this?" she asked.

"Ever since last night. He called you once—he said, 'Mary Goddard, let me in!' And then he said something else—he said—I cannot remember what he said." Mr. Juxon checked himself, remembering the words John had heard, and of which he only half understood the import. But Mrs. Goddard hardly noticed his reply.

"Will you leave me alone with him?" she said presently. "There is a bell in the room—I could ring if anything—happened," she added with mournful hesitation.

"Certainly," answered the squire. "Only, I beg of you my dear friend—do not distress yourself needlessly—"

"Needlessly!" she repeated with a sorrowful smile. "It is all I can do for him—to watch by his side. He will not live—he will not live, I am sure."

The squire inwardly prayed that she might be right, and left her alone with the sick man. Who, he thought, was better fitted, who had a stronger right to be at his bedside at such a time? If only he might die! For if he lived, how much more terrible would the separation be, when Booley the detective came to conduct him back to his prison! In truth, it would be more terrible even than Mr. Juxon imagined.

Meanwhile he must go and see to the rest of the household. He must speak to John Short; he must see Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose, and he must take precautions against any of them seeing Mr. Booley. This was, he thought, very important, and he resolved to speak with the latter first. John was probably asleep, worn out with the watching of the night.

Mr. Booley sat in the squire's study where he had been left almost an hour earlier. He had installed himself in a comfortable corner by the fire and was reading the morning paper which he had found unopened upon the table. He seemed thoroughly at home as he sat there, a pair of glasses upon his nose and his feet stretched out towards the flame upon the hearth.

"Thank you, I am doing very well, Mr. Juxon," he said as the squire entered.

"Oh—I am very glad," answered Mr. Juxon politely. The information was wholly voluntary as he had not asked any question concerning the detective's comfort.

"And how is the patient?" inquired Mr. Booley. "Do you think there is any chance of removing him this afternoon?"

"This afternoon?" repeated the squire, in some astonishment. "The man is very ill. It may be weeks before he can be removed."

"Oh!" ejaculated the other. "I was not aware of that. I cannot possibly stay so long. To-morrow, at the latest, he will have to go."

"But, my dear sir," argued Mr. Juxon, "the thing is quite impossible. The doctor can testify to that—"

"We are apt to be our own doctors in these cases," said Mr. Booley, calmly. "At all events he can be taken as far as the county gaol."

"Upon my word, it would be murder to think of it—a man in a brain fever, in a delirium, to be taken over jolting roads—dear me! It is not to be thought of!"

Mr. Booley smiled benignly, for the first time since the squire had made his acquaintance.

"You seem to forget, Mr. Juxon, that my time is very valuable," he observed.

"Yes—no doubt—but the man's life, Mr. Booley, is valuable too."

"Hardly, I should say," returned the detective coolly. "But since you are so very pressing, I will ask to see the man at once. I can soon tell you whether he will die on the road or not. I have had considerable experience in that line."

"You shall see him, as soon as the doctor comes," replied the squire, shocked at the man's indifference and hardness.

"It certainly cannot hurt him to see me, if he is still unconscious or raving," objected Mr. Booley.

"He might have a lucid moment just when you are there—the fright would very likely kill him."

"That would decide the question of moving him," answered Booley, taking his glasses from his nose, laying down the paper and rising to his feet. "There is clearly some reason why you object to my seeing him now. I would not like to insist, Mr. Juxon, but you must please remember that it may be my duty to do so."

The squire was beginning to be angry; even his calm temper was not proof against the annoyance caused by Mr. Booley's appearance at the Hall, but he wisely controlled himself and resorted to other means of persuasion.

"There is a reason, Mr. Booley; indeed there are several very good reasons. One of them is that it might be fatal to frighten the man; another is that at this moment his wife is by his bedside. She has entirely made up her mind that when he is recovered he must return to prison, but at present it would be most unkind to let her know that you are in the house. The shock to her nerves would be terrible."

"Oh," said Mr. Booley, "if there is a lady in the case we must make some allowances, I presume. Only, put yourself in my place, Mr. Juxon, put yourself in my place."

The squire doubted whether he would be willing to exchange his personality for that of Mr. Booley.

"Well—what then?" he said. "I think I would try to be merciful."

"Yes; but suppose that in being merciful, you just allowed that lady the time necessary to present her beloved husband with a convenient little pill, just to shorten his sufferings? And suppose that—"

"Really, Mr. Booley, I think you make very unwarrantable suppositions," said Mr. Juxon severely. "I cannot suppose any such thing."

"Many women—ladies too—have done that to save a man from hanging," returned Mr. Booley, fixing his grey eye on the squire.

"Hanging?" repeated the latter in surprise. "But Goddard is not to be hanged."

"Of course he is. What did you expect?" Mr. Booley looked surprised in his turn.

"But—what for?" asked the squire very anxiously. "He has not killed anybody—"

"Oh—then you don't know how he escaped?"

"No—I have not the least idea—pray tell me."

"I don't wonder you don't understand me, then," said Mr. Booley. "Well, it is a short tale but a lively one, as they say. Of course it stands to reason in the first place that he could not have got out of Portland. He was taken out for a purpose. You know that after his trial was over, all sorts of other things besides the forgery came out about him, proving that he was altogether a very bad lot. Now about three weeks ago there was a question of identifying a certain person—it was a very long story, with a bad murder case and all the rest of it—commonplace, you know the sort—never mind the story, it will all be in the papers before long when they have got it straight, which is more than I have, seeing that these affairs do get a little complicated occasionally, you know, as such things will." Mr. Booley paused. It was evident that his command of the English tongue was not equal to the strain of constructing a long sentence.

"This person, whom he was to identify, was the person murdered?" inquired Mr. Juxon.

"Exactly. It was not the person, but the person's body, so to say. Somebody who had been connected with the Goddard case was sure that if Goddard could be got out of prison he could do the identifying all straight. It did not matter about his being under sentence of hard labour—it was a private case, and the officer only wanted Goddard's opinion for his personal satisfaction. So he goes to the governor of Portland, and finds that Goddard had a very good character in that institution—he was a little bit of a gay deceiver, you see, and knew how to fetch the chaps in there and particularly the parson. So he had a good character. Very good. The governor consents to send him to town for this private job, under a strong force—that means three policemen—with irons on his hands. When they reached London they put him in a fourwheeler. Those things are done sometimes, and nobody is the wiser, because the governor does it on his own responsibility, for the good of the law, I suppose. I never approved of it. Do you follow me, Mr. Juxon?"

"Perfectly," answered the squire. "He was driven from the station with three policemen in a hackney-coach, you say."

"Exactly so. It was a queer place where the body was—away down in the Minories. Ever been there, Mr. Juxon? Queer place it is, and no mistake. I would like to show you some little bits of London. Well, as I was saying, the fourwheeler went along, with two policemen inside with Goddard and one on the box. Safe, you would say. Not a bit of it. Just the beggar's luck, too. It was dusk. That is always darker than when the lamps are well going. The fourwheeler ran into a dray-cart, round a corner where they were repairing the street. The horse went down with a smash, shafts, lamp, everything broken to smithereens, as they say. The policeman jumps off the box with the cabby to see what is the matter. One of the bobbies—the policemen I would say—it's a technical term, Mr. Juxon—gets out of the cab to see what's up, leaving Goddard in charge of the other. Then there is a terrific row; more carts come up, more fourwheelers—everybody swearing at once. Presently the policeman who had got out comes back and looks in to see if everything is straight. Not a bit of it again. Other door of the cab was open and—no Goddard. But the policeman was lying back in the corner and when they struck a light and looked, they found he was stone dead. Goddard had brained him with the irons on his wrists. No one ever saw him from that day to this. He must have known London well—they say he did, and he was a noted quick runner. Being nightfall and rather foggy as it generally is in those parts he got clear off. But he killed the man who had him in charge and if he lives he will have to swing for it. May be Mrs. Goddard does not know that—-may be she does. That is the reason I don't want her to be left alone with him. No doubt she is very good and all that, but she might just take it into her head to save the government twenty feet of rope."

"I am very much surprised, and very much shocked," said the squire gravely. "I had no idea of this. But I will answer for Mrs. Goddard. Why was all this never In the papers—or was there an account of it, Mr. Booley?"

"Oh no—it was never mentioned. We felt sure that we should catch him and until we did we—I mean the profession—thought it just as well to say nothing. The governor remembered to have read a letter from Goddard's wife, just telling him where she was living, about two years ago. Being harmless, he passed it and never copied the address; then he could not remember it. At last they found it in his cell, hidden away somehow. The beggar had kept it."

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Mr. Juxon. In the silence which followed, the sound of wheels was heard outside. Doctor Longstreet had arrived.


While Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose were together in the library downstairs, while John Short was waking from the short sleep he had enjoyed, and while the squire was listening in the study to Mr. Booley's graphic account of the convict's escape, Mrs. Goddard was alone with her husband, watching every movement and listening intently to every moaning breath he drew.

In the desperate anxiety for his fate, she forgot herself and seemed no longer to feel fatigue or exhaustion from all she herself had suffered. She stood long by his bedside, hoping that he might recognise her and yet fearing the moment when he should recover his senses. Then she noticed that the morning sun was pouring in through the window and she drew a curtain across, to shade his eyes from the glare. Whether the sudden changing of the light affected Goddard, as it does sometimes affect persons in the delirium of a brain fever, or whether it was only a natural turn in his condition, she never knew. His expression changed and acquired that same look of strange intelligence which John Short had noticed in the night; the flush sank from his forehead and gave place to a luminous, transparent colour, his eyelids once more moved naturally, and he looked at his wife as she stood beside him, and recognised her. He was weaker now than when he had spoken with John Short six hours earlier, but he was more fully in possession of his faculties for a brief moment. Mary Goddard trembled and felt her hands turn cold with excitement.

"Walter, do you know me now?" she asked very softly.

"Yes," he said faintly, and closed his eyes. She laid her hand upon his forehead; the coldness of it seemed pleasant to him, for a slight smile flickered over his face.

"You are better, I think," she said again, gazing intently at him.

"Mary—it is Mary?" he murmured, slowly opening his eyes and looking up to her. "Yes—I know you—I have been dreaming a long time. I'm so tired—"

"You must not talk," said she. "It will tire you more." Then she gave him some drink. "Try and sleep," she said in a soothing tone.

"I cannot—oh, Mary, I am very ill."

"But you will get well again—"

Goddard started suddenly, and laid his hand upon her arm with more force than she suspected he possessed.

"Where am I?" he asked, staring about the room. "Is this your house, Mary? What became of Juxon?"

"He is not hurt. He brought you home in his arms, Walter, to his own house, and is taking care of you."

"Good heavens! He will give me up. No, no, don't hold me—I must be off"

He made a sudden effort to rise, but he was very weak. He fell back exhausted upon his pillow; his fingers gripped the sheet convulsively, and his face grew paler.

"Caught—like a rat!" he muttered. Mary Goddard sighed.

Was she to give him hope of escape? Or should she try to calm him now, and when he was better, break the truth to him? Was she to make him believe that he was safe for the present, and hold out a prospect of escape when he should be better, or should she tell him now, once for all, while he was in his senses, that he was lost? It was a terrible position. Love she had none left for him, but there was infinite pity still in her heart and there would be while he breathed. She hesitated one moment only, and it may be that she decided for the wrong; but it was her pity that moved her, and not any remnant of love.

"Hush, Walter," she said. "You may yet escape, when you are strong enough. You are quite safe here, for the present. Mr. Juxon would not think of giving you up now. By and by—the window is not high, Walter, and I shall often be alone with you. I will manage it."

"Is that true? Are you cheating me?" cried the wretched man in broken tones. "No—you are speaking the truth—I know it—God bless you, Mary!" Again he closed his eyes and drew one or two long deep breaths.

Strange to say, the blessing the miserable convict called down upon her was sweet to Mary Goddard, sweeter than anything she remembered for a long time. She had perhaps done wrong in giving him hopes of escaping, but at least he was grateful to her. It was more than she expected, for she remembered her last meeting with him, and the horrible ingratitude he had then shown her. It seemed to her that his heart had been softened a little; anything was better than that rough indifference he had affected before. Presently he spoke again.

"Not that it makes much difference now, Mary," he said. "I don't think there is much left of me."

"Do not say that, Walter," she answered gently. "Rest now. The more you rest the sooner you will be well again. Try and sleep."

"Sleep—no—I cannot sleep. I have murdered sleep—like Macbeth, Mary, like Macbeth—Do you remember Macbeth?"

"Hush," said Mary Goddard, endeavouring to calm him, though she turned pale at his strange quotation. "Hush—"

"That is to say," said the sick man, heedless of her exhortation and soothing touch, "that is to say, I did not. He was very wide awake, and if I had not been quick, I should never have got off. Ugh! How damp that cellar was, that first night. That is where I got my fever. It is fever, I suppose?" he asked, unable to keep his mind for long in one groove. "What does the doctor say? Has he been here?"

"Yes. He said you would soon be well; but he said you must be kept very quiet. So you must not talk, or I will go away."

"Oh Mary, don't go—don't go! It's like—ha! ha! it's quite like old times, Mary!" He laughed harshly, a hideous, half-delirious laugh.

Mary Goddard shuddered but made a great effort to control herself.

"Yes," she said gently, "it is like old times. Try and think that it is the old house at Putney, Walter. Do you hear the sparrows chirping, just as they used to do? The curtains are the same colour, too. You used to sleep so quietly at the old house. Try and sleep now. Then you will soon get well. Now, I will sit beside you, but I will not talk any more—there—are you quite comfortable? A little higher? Yes—so. Go to sleep."

Her quiet voice soothed him, and her gentle hands made his rest more easy. She sat down beside him, thinking from his silence that he would really go to sleep; hoping and yet not hoping, revolving in her mind the chances of his escape, so soon as he should be strong enough to attempt it, shuddering at the thought of what his fate must be if he again fell into the hands of the police. She did not know that a detective was at that moment in the house, determined to carry her husband away so soon as the doctor pronounced it possible. Nothing indeed, not even that knowledge could have added much to the burden of her sorrows as she sat there, a small and graceful figure with a sad pathetic face, leaning forward as she sat and gazing drearily at the carpet, where the sunlight crept in beneath the curtains from the bright world without. It seemed to her that the turning point in her existence had come, and that this day must decide all; yet she could not see how it was to be decided, think of it as she might. One thing stood prominent in her thoughts, and she delighted to think of it—the generosity of Charles Juxon. From first to last, from the day when she had frankly told him her story and he had accepted it and refused to let it bring any difference to his friendship for her, down to this present time, when after being basely attacked by her own husband, he had nobly brought the wretch home and was caring for him as for one of his own blood—through all and in spite of all, the squire had shown the same unassuming but unfailing generosity. She asked herself, as she sat beside the sick man, whether there were many like Charles Juxon in the world. There was the vicar, but the case was very different. He too had been kind and generous from the first; but he had not asked her to marry him—she blushed at the thought—he had not loved her. If Charles Juxon loved her, his generosity to Goddard was all the greater.

She could not tell whether she loved him, because her ideas were what the world calls simple, and what, in heaven, would be called good. Her husband was alive; none the less so because he had been taken away and separated from her by the law—he was alive, and now was brought face to face with her again. While he was living, she did not suppose it possible to love another, for she was very simple. She said to herself truly that she had a very high esteem for the squire and that he was the best friend she had in the world; that to lose him would be the most terrible of imaginable losses; that she was deeply indebted to him, and she even half unconsciously allowed that if she were free she might marry him. There was no harm in that, she knew very well. She owed her own husband no longer either respect or affection, even while she still felt pity for him. Her esteem at least, she might give to another; nay, she owed it, and if she had refused Charles Juxon her friendship, she would have called herself the most ungrateful of women. If ever man deserved respect, esteem and friendship, it was the squire.

Even in the present anxiety she thought of him, for his conduct seemed the only bright spot in the gloom of her thoughts; and she sincerely rejoiced that he had escaped unhurt. Had any harm come to him, she would have been, if it were possible, more miserable than she now was. But he was safe and sound, and doing his best to help her—doing more than she knew, in fact, at that very moment. There was at least something to be thankful for.

Goddard stirred again, and opened his eyes.

"Mary," he said faintly, "they won't catch me after all."

"No, Walter," said she, humouring him. "Sleep quietly, for no one will disturb you."

"I am going where nobody can catch me. I am dying—"

"Oh, Walter!" cried Mary Goddard, "you must not speak like that. You will be better soon. The doctor is expected every moment."

"He had better make haste," said the sick man with something of the roughness he had shown at their first meetings. "It is no use, Mary. I have been thinking about it. I have been mad for—for very long, I am sure. I want to die, Mary. Nobody can catch me if I die—I shall be safe then. You will be safe too—that is a great thing."

His voice had a strange and meditative tone in it, which frightened his wife, as she stood close beside him. She could not speak, for her excitement and fear had the mastery of her tongue.

"I have been thinking about it—I am not good for much, now—Mary—I never was. It will do some good if I die—just because I shall be out of the way. It will be the only good thing I ever did for you."

"Oh Walter," cried his wife in genuine distress, "don't—don't! Think—you must not die so—think of—of the other world, Walter—you must not die so!"

Goddard smiled faintly—scornfully, his wife thought.

"I daresay I shall not die till to-morrow, or next day—but I will not live," he said with sudden energy. "Do you understand me, I will not live! Bah!" he cried, falling back upon his pillow, "the grapes are sour—I can't live if I would. Oh yes, I know all about that—my sins. Well, I am sorry for them. I am sorry, Mary. But it is very little good—people always laugh at—deathbed repentance—"

He stopped and his thoughts seemed wandering. Mary Goddard gave him something to drink and tried to calm him. But he moved restlessly, though feebly.

"Softly, softly," he murmured again. "He is coming—close to me. Get ready—now—no not yet, yes—now. Ugh!" yelled Goddard, suddenly springing up, his eyes starting from his head. "Ugh! the dog—oh!"

"Hush, Walter," cried his wife, pushing him back. "Hush—no one will hurt you."

"What—is that you, Mary?" asked the sick man, trembling violently. Then he laughed harshly. "I was off again. Pshaw! I did not really mean to hurt him—he need not have set that beast at me. He did not catch me though—Mary, I am going to die—will you pray for me? You are a good woman—somebody will hear your prayers, I daresay. Do, Mary—I shall feel better somehow, though I daresay it is very foolish of me."

"No, Walter—not foolish, not foolish. Would you like me to call Mr. Ambrose? he is a clergyman—he is in the house."

"No, no. You Mary, you—nobody will hear anybody else's prayers—for me—for poor me—"

"Try and pray with me, Walter," said Mary Goddard, very quietly. She seemed to have an unnatural strength given to her in that hour of distress and horror. She knelt down by the bedside and took his wounded hand in hers, tenderly, and she prayed aloud in such words as she could find.

Below, in the study, the detective had just finished telling his tale to the squire, and the wheels of Doctor Longstreet's dog-cart ground upon the gravel outside. The two men looked at each other for a moment, and Mr. Juxon spoke first.

"That is the doctor," said he. "I will ask you to have patience for five minutes, Mr. Booley. He will give you his opinion. I am still very much shocked at what you have told me—I had no idea what had happened."

"No—I suppose not," answered Mr. Booley calmly. "If you will ask the medical man to step in here for one moment, I will explain matters to him. I don't think he will differ much from me."

"Very well," returned the squire, leaving the room. He went to meet Doctor Longstreet, intending to warn him of the presence of Mr. Booley, and meaning to entreat his support for the purpose of keeping Goddard in the house until he should be recovered. He passed through the library and exchanged a few words with Mr. Ambrose, explaining that the doctor had come. Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose were sitting on opposite sides of the fireplace in huge chairs, with a mournful air of resigned expectation upon their worthy faces. The detective remained alone in the study.

Meanwhile John Short had refreshed himself from his fatigues, and came down stairs in search of some breakfast. He had recovered from his excitement and was probably the only one who thought of eating, as he was also the one least closely concerned in what was occurring. Instead of going to the library he went to the dining-room, and, seeing no one about, entered the study from the door which on that side connected the two rooms. To his surprise he saw Mr. Booley standing before the fireplace, his hands in his pockets and his feet wide apart. He had not the least idea who he was.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, staring hard at him.

"Yes," said Mr. Booley, who took him for the physician whom he expected. "I am George Booley of the detective service. I was expecting you, sir. There is very little to be said. My time, as I told Mr. Juxon, is very valuable. I must have Goddard out of the house by to-morrow afternoon at the latest. Now, doctor, it is of no use your talking to me about fever and all that—"

John had stood with his mouth open, staring in blank astonishment at the detective, unable to find words in which to question the man. At last he got his breath.

"What in the world are you talking about?" he asked slowly. "Are you a raving lunatic—or what are you?"

"Come, come, doctor," said Mr. Booley in persuasive accents, "none of that with me, you know. If the man must be moved—why he must, that is all, and you must make it possible, somehow."

"You are crazy!" exclaimed John. "I am not the doctor, to begin with—"

"Not the doctor!" cried Mr. Booley. "Then who are you? I beg your pardon, I am sure—"

"I am John Short," said John, quickly, heedless of the fact that his name conveyed no idea whatever to the mind of the detective. He cared little, for he began to comprehend the situation, and he fled precipitately into the library, leaving Mr. Booley alone to wait for the coming of the real physician. But in the library a fresh surprise awaited him; there he found Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose seated in solemn silence opposite to each other. He had not suspected their presence in the house, but he was relieved to see them—anything was a relief at that moment.

"Mr. Ambrose," he said hurriedly, "there is a detective in the next room who means to carry off that poor man at once—as he is—sick—dying perhaps—it must be prevented!"

"A detective!" cried the vicar and his wife in the same breath.

"My dear John," said the vicar immediately afterwards, "where is he? I will reason with him."

"Augustin," said Mrs. Ambrose with extreme severity, "it is barbarous. I will go upstairs. If he enters the room it shall be across my body."

"Do, my dear," replied the vicar in great excitement, and not precisely appreciating the proposition to which he gave so willing an assent.

"Of course I will," said his wife, who had already reached the door. From which it appears that Mrs. Ambrose was a brave woman. She passed rapidly up the staircase to Goddard's room, but she paused as she laid her hand upon the latch. From within she could hear Mary Goddard's voice, praying aloud, as she had never heard any one pray before. She paused and listened, hesitating to interrupt the unhappy lady in such a moment. Moreover, though her goodwill was boundless, she had not any precise idea how to manage the defence. But as she stood there, the thought that the detective might at any moment follow her was predominant. The voice within the room paused for an instant and Mrs. Ambrose entered, raising one finger to her lips as though expecting that Mary Goddard would speak to her. But Mary was not looking, and at first did not notice the intrusion. She knelt by the bedside, her face buried in the coverlet, her hands clasped and clasping the sick man's wounded hand.

Goddard's face was pale but not deathlike, and his breathing seemed regular and gentle; but his eyes were almost closed and he seemed not aware that any one had entered. Mrs. Ambrose was struck by his appearance which was greatly changed since she had left him half an hour earlier, his face purple and his harsh moaning continuing unceasingly. She said to herself that he was probably better. There was all the more reason for warning Mary Goddard of the new danger that awaited him. She shut the door and locked it and withdrew the key. At the sound Mary looked up—then rose to her feet with a sad look of reproach, as though not wishing to be disturbed. But Mrs. Ambrose came quickly to her side, and glancing once at Goddard, to see whether he was unconscious, she led her away from the bed.

"My dear," she said very kindly, but in a voice trembling with excitement, "I had to come. There are detectives in the house, clamouring to take him away—but I will protect you—they shall not do it."

Mary Goddard started and her eyes stared wildly at her friend. But presently the look of resigned sadness returned, and a faint and mournful smile flickered on her lips.

"I think it is all over," she said. "He is still alive—but he will not live till they come."

Then she bit her lip tightly, and all the features of her face trembled a little. The tears would rise spasmodically, though they were only tears of pity, not of love. Mrs. Ambrose, the severe, the stern, the eternally vigilant Mrs. Ambrose, sat down by the window; she put her arm about Mary Goddard's waist and took her upon her knee as though she had been a little child and laid her head upon her breast, comforting her as best she could. And their tears flowed down and mingled together, for many minutes.

But once more the sick man's voice was heard; both women started to their feet and went to his side.

"Mary Goddard! Mary Goddard! Let me in!" he moaned faintly.

"It is I—here I am, Walter, dear Walter—I am with you," answered Mary, raising him and putting her arm about his neck, while Mrs. Ambrose arranged the pillows behind him. He opened his eyes as though with a great effort.

Some one knocked softly at the door. Mrs. Ambrose left the bedside quickly and put the key in the lock.

"Who is there?" she asked, before she opened.

"I—John. Please let me in."

Mrs. Ambrose opened and John entered, very pale; she locked the door again after him. He stood still looking with astonishment at Mrs. Goddard who still propped the sick man in her arms and hardly noticed him.

"Why—?" he ejaculated and then checked himself, or rather was checked by Mrs. Ambrose's look. Then he spoke to her in a whisper.

"There is an awful row going on between the doctor and the detective," he said hurriedly under his breath. "They are coming upstairs and the vicar and Mr. Juxon are trying to part them—I don't know what they are not saying to each other—"

"Hush," replied Mrs. Ambrose, "do not disturb him—he was conscious again just now. This may be the crisis—he may recover. The door is locked—try and prevent anybody—that is, the detective, from coming in. They will not dare to break open the door in Mr. Juxon's house."

"But why is Mrs. Goddard here?" asked John unable to control his curiosity any longer. He did not mean that she should hear, but as she laid Goddard's head gently upon the pillows, trying to soothe him to rest again, if rest it were, she looked up and met John's eyes.

"Because he is my husband," said she very quietly.

John laid his hand on Mrs. Ambrose's arm in utmost bewilderment and looked at her as though to ask if it were true. She nodded gravely. Before John had time to recover himself from the shock of the news, footsteps were heard outside, and the loud altercation of angry voices. John Short leaned his shoulder against the door and put his foot against it below, expecting an attack.


When Mr. Ambrose undertook to reason with the detective he went directly towards the study where John said the man was waiting. But Mr. Booley was beginning to suspect that the doctor was not coming to speak with him as the squire had promised, and after hesitating for a few moments followed John into the library, determining to manage matters himself. As he opened the door he met Mr. Ambrose coming towards him, and at the same moment Mr. Juxon and Doctor Longstreet entered from the opposite end of the long room. The cheerful and active physician was talking in a rather excited tone.

"My dear sir," said he, "I cannot pretend to say that the man will or will not recover. I must see him again. Things look quite differently by daylight, and six or seven hours may make all the change in the world. To say that he can be moved to-day or even to-morrow, is absurd. I will stake my reputation as a practitioner—Hulloa!"

The exclamation was elicited by Mr. Booley, who had pushed past Mr. Ambrose and stood confronting the doctor with a look which was intended to express a combination of sarcasm, superior cunning and authority.

"This is Mr. Booley," explained the squire. "Doctor Longstreet will tell you what he has been telling me," he added turning to the detective.

"I must see this man instantly," said the latter somewhat roughly. "I believe I am being trifled with, and I will not submit to it. No, sir, I will not be trifled with, I assure you! I must see this man at once. It is absolutely necessary to identify him."

"And I say," said Doctor Longstreet with equal firmness, "that I must see him first, in order to judge whether you can see him or not—"

"It is for me to judge of that," returned Mr. Booley, with more haste than logic.

"After you have seen him, you cannot judge whether you ought to see him or not," retorted Doctor Longstreet growing red in the face. The detective attempted to push past him. At this moment John Short hastily left the room and fled upstairs to warn Mrs. Ambrose of what was happening.

"Really," said Mr. Ambrose, making a vain attempt to stop the course of events, "this is very unwarrantable."

"Unwarrantable!" cried Mr. Booley. "Unwarrantable, indeed! I have the warrant in my pocket. Mr. Juxon, sir, I fear I must insist."

"Permit me," said Mr. Juxon, planting his square and sturdy form between the door and the detective. "You may certainly insist, but you must begin by listening to reason."

Charles Juxon had been accustomed to command others for the greater part of his life, and though he was generally the most unobtrusive and gentle of men, when he raised his voice in a tone of authority his words carried weight. His blue eyes stared hard at Mr. Booley, and there was something imposing in his square head—even in the unruffled smoothness of his brown hair. Mr. Booley paused and discontentedly thrust his hands into his pockets.

"Well?" he said.

"Simply this," answered the squire. "You may accompany us to the door of the room; you may wait with me, while Doctor Longstreet goes in to look at the patient. If the man is unconscious you may go in and see him. If he chances to be in a lucid interval, you must wait until he is unconscious again. It will not be long. That is perfectly reasonable."

"Perfectly," echoed Mr. Ambrose, biting his long upper lip and glaring as fiercely at Mr. Booley as though he had said it all himself.

"Absolutely reasonable," added Doctor Longstreet.

"Well, we will try it," said the detective moodily. "But I warn you I will not be trifled with."

"Nobody is trifling with you," answered the squire coldly. "This way if you please." And he forthwith led the way upstairs, followed by Mr. Booley, the physician and the vicar.

Before they reached the door, however, the discussion broke out again. Mr. Booley had been held in check for a few moments by Mr. Juxon's determined manner, but as he followed the squire he began to regret that he had yielded so far and he made a fresh assertion of his rights.

"I cannot see why you want to keep me outside," he said. "What difference can it make, I should like to know?"

"You will have to take my word for it that it does make a difference," said the doctor, testily. "If you frighten the man, he will die. Now then, here we are."

"I don't like your tone, sir," said Booley angrily, again trying to push past the physician. "I think I must insist, after all. I will go in with you—I tell you I will, sir—don't stop me."

Doctor Longstreet, who was fifteen or twenty years older than the detective but still strong and active, gripped his arm quickly, and held him back.

"If you go into that room without my permission, and if the man dies of fright, I will have an action brought against you for manslaughter," he said in a loud voice.

"And I will support it," said the squire. "I am justice of the peace here, and what is more, I am in my own house. Do not think your position will protect you."

Again Mr. Juxon's authoritative tone checked the detective, who drew back, making some angry retort which no one heard. The squire tried the door and finding it locked, knocked softly, not realising that every word of the altercation had been heard within.

"Who is there?" asked John, who though he had heard all that had been said was uncertain of the issue.

"Let in Doctor Longstreet," said the squire's voice.

But meanwhile Mrs. Ambrose and Mary Goddard were standing on each side of the sick man. He must have heard the noises outside, and they conveyed some impression to his brain.

"Mary, Mary!" he groaned indistinctly. "Save me—they are coming—I cannot get away—softly, he is coming—now—I shall just catch him as he goes by—Ugh! that dog—oh! oh!—"

With a wild shriek, the wretched man sprang up, upon his knees, his eyes starting out, his face transfigured with horror. For one instant he remained thus, half-supported by the two terror-struck women; then with a groan his head drooped forward upon his breast and he fell back heavily upon the pillows, breathing still but quite unconscious.

Doctor Longstreet entered at that moment and ran to his side. But when he saw him he paused. Even Mrs. Ambrose was white with horror, and Mary Goddard stood motionless, staring down at her husband, her hands gripping the disordered coverlet convulsively.

Mr. Juxon had entered, too, while Mr. Ambrose remained outside with the detective, who had been frightened into submission by the physician's last threat. The squire saw what was happening and paced the room in the greatest agitation, wringing his hands together and biting his lips. John had closed the door and came to the foot of the bed and looked at Goddard's face. After a pause, Doctor Longstreet spoke.

"We might possibly restore him to consciousness for a moment—"

"Don't!" cried Mary Goddard, starting as though some one had struck her. "That is—" she added quickly, in broken tones, "unless he can live!"

"No," answered the physician, gravely, but looking hard at the unhappy woman. "He is dying."

Goddard's staring eyes were glazed and white. Twice and three times he gasped for breath, and then lay quite still. It was all over. Mary gazed at his dead face for one instant, then a faint smile parted her lips: she raised one hand to her forehead as though dazed.

"He is safe now," she murmured very faintly. Her limbs relaxed suddenly, and she fell straight backwards. Charles Juxon, who was watching her, sprang forward and caught her in his arms. Then he bore her from the room, swiftly, while John Short who was as white and speechless as the rest opened the door.

"You may go in now," said Juxon as he passed Booley and Mr. Ambrose in the passage, with his burden in his arms. A few steps farther on he met Holmes the butler, who carried a telegram on a salver.

"For Mr. Short, sir," said the impassive servant, not appearing to notice anything strange in the fact that his master was carrying the inanimate body of Mary Goddard.

"He is in there—go in," said Juxon hurriedly as he went on his way.

The detective and the vicar had already entered the room where the dead convict was lying. All stood around the bed, gazing at his pale face as he lay.

"A telegram for Mr. Short," said Holmes from the door. John started and took the despatch from the butler's hands. He hastily tore it open, glanced at the contents and thrust it into his pocket. Every one looked round.

"What is it, John?" whispered the vicar, who was nearest to him.

"Oh—nothing. I am first in the Tripos, that is all," answered John very simply, as though it were not a matter of the least consequence.

Through all those months of untiring labour, through privation and anxiety, through days of weariness and nights of study, he had looked forward to the triumph, often doubting but never despairing. But he had little guessed that the news of victory would reach him at such a moment. It was nothing, he said; and indeed as he stood with the group of pale and awe-struck spectators by the dead man's bed, he felt that the greatest thing which had ever happened to him was as nothing compared with the tragedy of which he had witnessed the last act.

It was all over. There was nothing more to be said; the convict had escaped the law in the end, at the very moment when the hand of the law was upon him. Thomas Reid, the conservative sexton, buried him "four by six by two," grumbling at the parish depth as of yore, and a simple stone cross marked his nameless grave. There it stands to this day in the churchyard of Billingsfield, Essex, in the shadow of the ancient abbey.

All these things happened a long time ago, according to Billingsfield reckoning, but the story of the tramp who attacked Squire Juxon and was pulled down by the bloodhound is still told by the villagers, and Mr. Gall, being once in good cheer, vaguely hinted that he knew who the tramp was; but from the singular reticence he has always shown in the matter, and from the prosperity which has attended his constabulary career, it may well be believed that he has a life interest in keeping his counsel. Indeed as it is nearly ten years since Mr. Reid buried the poor tramp, it is possible that Mr. Gall's memory may be already failing in regard to events which occurred at so remote a date.

It was but an incident, though it was perhaps the only incident of any interest which ever occurred in Billingsfield; but until it reached its termination it agitated the lives of the quiet people at the vicarage, at the cottage and at the Hall as violently as human nature can be moved. It was long, too, before those who had witnessed the scene of Goddard's death could shake off the impression of those awful last moments. Yet time does all things wonderful and in the course of not many months there remained of Goddard's memory only a great sense of relief that he was no longer alive. Mary Goddard, indeed, was very ill for a long time; and but for Mrs. Ambrose's tender care of her, might have followed her husband within a few weeks of his death. But the good lady never left her, until she was herself again—absolutely herself, saving that as time passed and her deep wounds healed her sorrows were forgotten, and she seemed to bloom out into a second youth.

So it came to pass that within two years Charles Juxon once more asked her to be his wife. She hesitated long—fully half an hour, the squire thought; but in the end she put out her small hand and laid it in his, and thanked God that a man so generous and true, and whom she so honestly loved, was to be her husband as well as her friend and protector. Charles James Juxon smoothed his hair with his other hand, and his blue eyes were a little moistened.

"God bless you, Mary," he said; and that was all.

Then the Reverend Augustin Ambrose married them in the church of Saint Mary's, between Christmas and New Year's Day; and the wedding-party consisted of Mrs. Ambrose and Eleanor Goddard and John Short, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. And again years passed by, and Nellie grew in beauty as John grew in reputation; and Nellie had both brothers and sisters, as she had longed to have, and to her, their father was as her own; so that there was much harmony and peace and goodwill towards men in Billingsfield Hall. John came often and stayed long, and was ever welcome; for though Mary Goddard's youth returned with the daffodils and the roses of the first spring after Walter's death, John's fleeting passion returned not, and perhaps its place was better taken. Year by year, as he came to refresh himself from hard work with a breath of the country air, he saw the little girl grow to the young maiden of sixteen, and he saw her beauty ripen again to the fulness of womanhood; and at last, when she was one and twenty years of age he in his turn put out his hand and asked her to take him—which she did, for better or worse, but to all appearances for better. For John Short had prospered mightily in the world, and had come to think his first great success as very small and insignificant as compared with what he had done since. But his old simplicity was in him yet, and was the cause of much of his prosperity, as it generally is when it is found together with plenty of brains. It was doubtless because he was so very simple that when he found that he loved Eleanor Goddard he did not hesitate to ask the convict's daughter to be his wife. His interview with Mr. Juxon was characteristic.

"You know what you are doing, John?" asked the squire. He always called him John, now.

"Perfectly," replied the scholar, "I am doing precisely what my betters have done before me with such admirable result."


"You. You knew about it all and you married her mother. I know all about it, and I wish to marry herself."

"You know that she never heard the story?"

"Yes. She never shall."

"No, John—she never must. Well, all good go with you."

So Charles Juxon gave his consent. And Mary Juxon consented too; but for the first time in many years the tears rose again to her eyes, and she laid her hand on John's arm, as they walked together in the park.

"Oh, John," she said, "do you think it is right—for you yourself?"

"Of course I think so," quoth John stoutly.

"You John—with your reputation, your success, with the whole world at your feet—you ought not to marry the daughter of—of such a man."

"My dear Mrs. Juxon," said John Short, "is she not your daughter as well as his? Pray, pray do not mention that objection. I assure you I have thought it all over. There is really nothing more to be said, which I have not said to myself. Dear Mrs. Juxon—do say Yes!"

"You are very generous, John, as well as great," she answered looking up to his face. "Well—I have nothing to say. You must do as you think best. I am sure you will be kind to Nellie, for I have known you for ten years—you may tell her I am very glad—" she stopped, her eyes brimming over with tears.

"Do you remember how angry I was once, when you told me to go and talk to Nellie?" said John. "It was just here, too—"

Mary Juxon laughed happily and brushed the tears from her eyes. So it was all settled.

Once more the Reverend Augustin Ambrose united two loving hearts before the altar of Saint Mary's. He was well stricken in years, and his hair and beard were very white. Mrs. Ambrose also grew more imposing with each succeeding season, but her face was softer than of old, and her voice more gentle. For the sorrow and suffering of a few days had drawn together the hearts of all those good people with strong bands, and a deep affection had sprung up between them all. The good old lady felt as though Mary Juxon were her daughter—Mary Juxon, by whom she had stood in the moment of direst trial and terror, whom she had tended in illness and cheered in recovery. And the younger woman's heart had gone out towards her, feeling how good a thing it is to find a friend in need, and learning to value in her happiness the wealth of human kindness she had found in her adversity.

They are like one family, now, having a common past, a common present, and a common future, and there is no dissension among them. Honest and loyal men and women may meet day after day, and join hands and exchange greetings, without becoming firm friends, for the very reason that they have no need of each other. But if the storm of a great sorrow breaks among them and they call out to each other for help, and bear the brunt of the weather hand in hand, the seed of a deeper affection is brought into their midst; and when the tempest is past the sweet flower of friendship springs up in the moistened furrows of their lives.

So those good people in the lonely parish of Billingsfield gathered round Mary Goddard, as they called her then, and round poor little Nellie, and did their best to protect the mother and the child from harm and undeserved suffering; and afterwards, when it was all over, and there was nothing more to be feared in the future, they looked into each other's faces and felt that they were become as brothers and sisters, and that so long as they should live—may it be long indeed!—there was a bond between them which could never be broken. So it was that Mrs. Ambrose's face softened and her voice was less severe than it had been.

Mary Juxon is the happiest of women; happy in her husband, in her eldest daughter, in John Short and in the little children with bright faces and ringing voices who nestle at her knee or climb over the sturdy sailor-squire, and pull his great beard and make him laugh. They will never know, any more than Nellie knew, all that their mother suffered; and as she looks upon them and strokes their long fair hair and listens to their laughter, she says to herself that it was perhaps almost worth while to have been dragged down towards the depths of shame for the sake of at last enjoying such pride and glory of happy motherhood.



I. Mr. Isaacs II. Doctor Claudius III. To Leeward IV. A Roman Singer V. An American Politician VI. Marzio's Crucifix Zoroaster VII. A Tale of a Lonely Parish VIII. Paul Patoff IX. Love in Idleness: A Tale of Bar Harbor Marion Darche X. Saracinesca XI. Sant' Ilario XII. Don Orsino XIII. Corleone: A Sicilian Story XIV. With the Immortals XV. Greifenstein XVI. A Cigarette-Maker's Romance Khaled XVII. The Witch of Prague XVIII. The Three Fates XIX. Taquisara XX. The Children of the King XXI. Pietro Ghisleri XXII. Katharine Lauderdale XXIII. The Ralstons XXIV. Casa Braccio (Part I) XXV. Casa Braccio (Part II) XXVI. Adam Johnstone's Son A Rose of Yesterday XXVII. Via Crucia XXVIII. In the Palace of the King XXIX. Marietta: A Maid of Venice XXX. Cecilia: A Story of Modern Rome XXXI. The Heart of Rome XXXII. Whosoever Shall Offend


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse