'Find him!' echoed the bishop, passionately. 'No one on earth could have found the man. He did not exist.'
'Then who wrote the letter?'
'Krant himself, as he told me in this very room, the wicked plotter!'
'But his handwriting; would not his wife have—'
'No!' cried Pendle, rising and pacing to and fro, greatly agitated, 'the man disguised his hand so that his wife should not recognise it. He did not wish to be bound to her, but to wander far and wide, and live his own sinful life. That was why he sent the forged letter to make Amy believe that he was dead. And she did believe, the more especially after I returned to tell how I had seen his grave. I thought also that he was dead. So did you, Graham.'
'Certainly,' assented Graham, 'there was no reason to doubt the fact. Who would have believed that Krant was such a scoundrel?'
'I called him that when he came to see me here,' said Dr Pendle, with a passionate gesture. 'Old man and priest as I am, I could have killed him as he sat in yonder chair, smiling at my misery, and taunting me with my position.'
'How did he find out that you had married Mrs Krant?'
'By going back to the Marylebone parish. He had been wandering all over the face of the earth, like the Cain he was; but meeting with no good fortune, he came back to England to find out Amy, and, I suppose, rob her of the little money he had permitted her to keep. He knew of her address in Marylebone, as she had told him where she was going before he deserted her.'
'But how did he learn about the marriage?' asked Graham, again.
'I cannot tell; but he knew that his wife, after his desertion, devoted herself to good works, so no doubt he went to the church and asked about her. The old verger who saw us married is still alive, so I suppose he told Krant that Amy was my wife, and that I was the Bishop of Beorminster. But, however he learned the truth, he found his way here, and when I came into this room during the reception I found him waiting for me.'
'How did you recognise a man you had not seen?'
'By a portrait Amy had shown me, and by the description she gave me of his gipsy looks and the scar on his cheek. He had not altered at all, and I beheld before me the same wicked face I had seen in the portrait. I was confused at first, as I knew the face but not the name. When he told me that he was Stephen Krant, that my wife was really his wife, that my children had no name, I—I—oh, God!' cried Pendle, covering his face with his hands, 'it was terrible! terrible!'
'My poor friend!'
The bishop threw himself into a chair. 'After close on thirty years,' he moaned, 'think of it, Graham—the shame, the horror! Oh, God!'
For some moments Graham did not speak, but looked with pity on the grief-shaken frame and bowed shoulders of his sorely-tried friend. Indeed, the position of the man was such that he did not see what comfort he could administer, and so, very wisely, held his peace. However, when the bishop, growing more composed, remained still silent, he could not forbear offering him a trifle of consolation.
'Don't grieve so, Pendle!' he said, laying his hand on the other's shoulder; 'it is not your fault that you are in this position.'
The bishop sighed, and murmured with a shake of his head, 'Omnis qui facit peccatum, servus est peccati!'
'But you have not done sin!' cried Graham, dissenting from the text. 'You! your wife! myself! everyone thought that Krant was dead and buried. The man fled, and lied, and forged, to gain his freedom—to shake off the marriage bonds which galled him. He was the sinner, not you, my poor innocent friend!'
'True enough, doctor, but I am the sufferer. Had God in His mercy not sustained me in my hour of trial, I do not know how I should have borne my misery, weak, erring mortal that I am.'
'That speech is one befitting your age and office,' said the doctor, gravely, 'and I quite approve of it. All the same, there is another religious saying—I don't know if it can be called a text—"God helps those who help themselves." You will do well, Pendle, to lay that to heart.'
'How can I help myself?' said the bishop, hopelessly. 'The man is dead now, without doubt; but he was alive when I married his supposed widow, therefore the ceremony is null and void. There is no getting behind that fact.'
'Have you consulted a lawyer on your position?'
'No. The law cannot sanction a union—at least in my eyes—which I know to be against the tenets of the Church. So far as I know, if a husband deserts his wife, and is not heard of for seven years, she can marry again after that period without being liable to prosecution as a bigamist, but in any case the second ceremony is not legal.'
'Mrs Krant became your wife before the expiration of seven years, I know,' said Graham, wrinkling his brow.
'Certainly. And therefore she is—in the eyes of the law—a bigamist'—the bishop shuddered—'although, God knows, she fully believed her husband to be dead. But the religious point of view is the one I take, doctor; as a Churchman, I cannot live with a woman whom I know is not my wife. It was for that reason that I sent her away!'
'But you cannot keep her away for ever, bishop!—at all events, unless you explain the position to her.'
'I dare not do that in her present state of health; the shock would kill her. No, Graham, I see that sooner or later she must know, but I wished for her absence that I might gain time to consider my terrible position. I have considered it in every way—but, God help me! I can see no hope—no escape. Alas! alas! I am sorely, sorely tried.'
Graham reflected. 'Are you perfectly certain that Jentham and Krant are one and the same man?' he asked doubtfully.
'I am certain of it,' replied Pendle, decisively. 'I could not be deceived in the dark gipsy face, in the peculiar cicatrice on the right cheek. And he knew all about my wife, Graham—about her family, her maiden name, the amount of her fortune, her taking up parish work in Marylebone. Above all, he showed me the certificate of his marriage, and a number of letters written to him by Amy, reproaching him with his cruel desertion. Oh, there can be no doubt that this Jentham is—or rather was—Stephen Krant.'
'It would seem so!' sighed Graham, heavily. 'Evidently there is no hope of proving him to be an impostor in the face of such evidence.'
'He came to extort money, I suppose?'
'Need you ask!' said the bishop, bitterly. 'Yes, his sole object was blackmail; he was content to let things remain as they are, provided his silence was purchased at his own price. He told me that if I paid him two hundred pounds he would hand over certificate and letters and disappear, never to trouble me again.'
'I doubt if such a blackguard would keep his word, Pendle. Moreover, although novelists and dramatists attach such a value to marriage certificates, they are really not worth the paper they are written on—save, perhaps, as immediate evidence. The register of the church in which the ceremony took place is the important document, and that can neither be handed over nor destroyed. Krant was giving you withered leaves for your good gold, Pendle. Still, Needs must when Sir Urian drives, so I suppose you agreed to the bribe.'
The bishop's grey head drooped on his breast, his eyes sought the carpet, and he looked like a man overwhelmed with shame. 'Yes,' he replied, in low tones of pain, 'I had not the courage to face the consequences. Indeed, what else could I do? I could not have the man denounce my marriage as a false one, force himself into the presence of my delicate wife, and tell my children that they are nameless. The shock would have killed Amy; it would have broken my children's hearts; it would have shamed me in my high position before the eyes of all England. I was innocent; I am innocent. Yes, but the fact remained, as it remains now, that I am not married to Amy, that my children are not entitled to bear my name. I ask you, Graham—I ask you, what else could I do than pay the money in the face of such shame and disgrace?'
'There is no need to excuse yourself to me, Pendle. I do not blame you in the least.'
'But I blame myself—in part,' replied the bishop, sadly. 'As an honest man I knew that my marriage was illegal; as a priest I was bound to put away the woman who was not—who is not my wife. But think of the shame to her, of the disgrace to my innocent children. I could not do it, Graham, I could not do it. Satan came to me in such a guise that I yielded to his tempting without a struggle. I agreed to buy Jentham's silence at his own price; and as I did not wish him to come here again, lest Amy should see him, I made an appointment to meet him on Southberry Heath on Sunday night, and there pay him his two hundred pounds blackmail.'
'Did you speak with him on the spot where his corpse was afterwards found?' asked Graham, in a low voice, not daring to look at his friend.
'No,' answered the bishop, simply, not suspecting that the doctor hinted at the murder; 'I met him at the Cross-Roads.'
'You had the money with you, I suppose?'
'I had the money in notes of tens. As I was unwilling to draw so large a sum from the Beorminster Bank, lest my doing so should provoke comment, I made a special journey to London and obtained the money there.'
'I think you were over-careful, bishop.'
'Graham, I tell you I was overcome with fear, not so much for myself as for those dear to me. You know how the most secret things become known in this city; and I dreaded lest my action should become public property, and should be connected in some way with Jentham. Why, I even tore the butt of the cheque I drew out of the book, lest any record should remain likely to excite suspicion. I took the most elaborate precautions to guard against discoveries.'
'And rather unnecessary ones,' rejoined Graham, dryly. 'Well, and you met the scamp?'
'I did, on Sunday night—that Sunday I was at Southberry holding a confirmation service, and as I rode back, shortly after eight in the evening, I met Jentham, by appointment, at the Cross-Roads. It was a stormy and wet night, Graham, and I half thought that he would not come to the rendezvous, but he was there, sure enough, and in no very good temper at his wetting, I did not get off my horse, but handed down the packet of notes, and asked him for the certificate and letters.'
'Which, no doubt, he declined to part with at the last moment.'
'You are right,' said the bishop, mournfully; 'he declared that he would keep the certificate until he received another hundred pounds.'
'The scoundrel! What did you say?' 'What could I say but "Yes"? I was in the man's power. At any cost, if I wanted to save myself and those dear to me, I had to secure the written evidence he possessed. I told him that I had not the extra money with me, but that if he met me in the same place a week later he should have it. I then rode away downcast and wretched. The next day,' concluded the bishop, quietly, 'I heard that my enemy was dead.'
'Murdered,' said Graham, explicitly.
'Murdered, as you say,' rejoined Pendle, tremulously; 'and oh, my friend, I fear that the Cain who slew him now has the certificate in his possession, and holds my secret. What I have suffered with that knowledge, God alone knows. Every day, every hour, I have been expecting a call from the assassin.'
'The deuce you have!' said the doctor, surprised into unbecoming language.
'Yes; he may come and blackmail me also, Graham!'
'Not when he runs the risk of being hanged, my friend.'
'But you forget,' said the bishop, with a sigh. 'He may trust to his knowledge of my secret to force me to conceal his sin.'
'Would you be coerced in that way?'
Dr Pendle threw back his noble head, and, looking intently at his friend, replied in a firm and unfaltering tone. 'No,' said he, gravely. 'Even at the cost of my secret becoming known, I should have the man arrested.'
'Well,' said Graham, with a shrug, 'you are more of a hero than I am, bishop. The cost of exposing the wretch seems too great.'
'Graham! Graham! I must do what is right at all hazards.'
'Fiat justitia ruat coelum!' muttered the doctor, 'there is a morsel of dictionary Latin for you. The heavens above your family will certainly fall if you speak out.'
The bishop winced and whitened. 'It is a heavy burden, Graham, a heavy, heavy burden, but God will give me strength to bear it. He will save me according to His mercy.'
The little doctor looked meditatively at his boots. He wished to tell Pendle that the chaplain suspected him of the murder, and that Baltic, the missionary, had been brought to Beorminster to prove such suspicions, but at the present moment he did not see how he could conveniently introduce the information. Moreover, the bishop seemed to be so utterly unconscious that anyone could accuse him of the crime, that Graham shrank from being the busybody to enlighten him. Yet it was necessary that he should be informed, if only that he might be placed on his guard against the machinations of Cargrim. Of course, the doctor never for one moment thought of his respected friend as the author of a deed of violence, and quite believed his account of the meeting with Jentham. The bishop's simple way of relating the episode would have convinced any liberal-minded man of his innocence and rectitude. His accents, and looks, and candour, all carried conviction.
Finally Graham hit upon a method of leading up to the subject of Cargrim's treachery, by referring to the old gipsy and her fortune-telling at Mrs Pansey's garden-party. 'What does Mother Jael know of your secret?' he asked with some hesitation.
'Nothing!' replied the bishop, promptly; 'it is impossible that she can know anything, unless'—here he paused—'unless she is aware of who killed Jentham, and has seen the certificate and letters!'
'Do you think she knows who murdered the man?'
'I—cannot—say. At that garden-party I went into the tent to humour some ladies who wished me to have my fortune told.'
'I saw you go in, bishop; and you came out looking disturbed.'
'No wonder, Graham; for Mother Jael, under the pretence of reading my hand, hinted at my secret. I fancied, from what she said, that she knew what it was; and I accused her of having gained the information from Jentham's assassin. However, she would not speak plainly, but warned me of coming trouble, and talked about blood and the grave, until I really believe she fancied I had killed the man. I could make nothing of her, so I left the tent considerably discomposed, as you may guess. I intended to see her on another occasion, but as yet I have not done so.'
'Is it your belief that the woman knows your secret?' asked Graham.
'No. On consideration, I concluded that she knew a little, but not much—at all events, not sufficient to hurt me in any way. Krant—that is Jentham—was of gipsy blood, and I fancied that he had seen Mother Jael, and perhaps, in his boastful way, had hinted at his power over me. Still, I am quite certain that, for his own sake, he did not reveal my secret. And after all, Graham, the allusions of Mother Jael were vague and unsatisfactory, although they disturbed me sufficiently to make me anxious for the moment.'
'Well, bishop, I agree with you. Mother Jael cannot know much or she would have spoken plainer. So far as she is concerned, I fancy your secret is pretty safe; but,' added Graham, with a glance at the door, 'what about Cargrim?'
'He knows nothing, Graham.'
'Perhaps not, but he suspects much.'
'Suspects!' echoed the bishop, in scared tones. 'What can he suspect?'
'That you killed Jentham,' said Graham, quietly.
Dr Pendle looked incredulously at his friend. 'I—I—murder—I kill—what—Cargrim—says,' he stammered; then asked him with a sharp rush of speech, 'Is the man mad?'
'No; but he is a scoundrel, as I told you. Listen, bishop,' and in his rapid way Graham reported to Dr Pendle all that Harry Brace had told him regarding Cargrim and his schemes.
The bishop listened in incredulous silence; but, almost against his will, he was obliged to believe in Graham's story. That a man whom he trusted, whom he had treated with such kindness, should have dug this pit for him to fall into, was almost beyond belief; and when the truth of the accusation was forced upon him, he hardly knew what to say about so great a traitor. But he made up his mind to one thing. 'I shall dismiss him at once!' he said determinedly.
'No, bishop. It is unwise to drive a rat into a corner; and Cargrim may prove himself dangerous if sharply treated. Better tolerate his presence until Baltic discovers the real criminal.'
'I don't like the position,' said the bishop, frowning.
'No man would. However, it is better to temporise than to risk all and lose all. Better let him remain, Pendle.'
'Very well, Graham, I shall take your advice.'
'Good!' Graham rose to depart. 'And Gabriel?' he asked, with his hand on the door.
'Send him to me, doctor. I must speak to him.'
'You won't scold him for seeing me first, I hope.'
'Scold him,' said the bishop, with a melancholy smile. 'Alas, my friend, the situation is too serious for scolding!'
MR BALTIC ON THE TRAIL
What took place at the interview between Gabriel and his father, Dr Graham never knew; and indeed never sought to know. He was a discreet man even for a doctor, and meddled with no one's business, unless—as in the present instance—forced to do so. But even then his discretion showed itself; for after advising the bishop to tolerate the presence of Cargrim until Baltic had solved the riddle he was set to guess, and after sending Gabriel to the palace, he abstained from further inquiries and discussions in connection with murder and secret. He had every faith in Baltic, and quite believed that in time the missionary would lay his hand on the actual murderer. When this was accomplished, and Cargrim's attempt to gain illegal power over Pendle was thwarted; then—all chance of a public scandal being at an end—would be the moment to consider how the bishop should act in reference to his false marriage. Certainly there was the possible danger that the criminal might learn the secret from the certificate and papers, and might reveal it when captured; but Graham thought it best to ignore this difficulty until it should actually arise. For, after all, such a contingency might not occur.
'The certificate of marriage between Krant and his wife will reveal nothing to a man unacquainted with Mrs Pendle's previous name; and without such knowledge he cannot know that she married the bishop while her first husband was alive. Certainly she might have mentioned Pendle's name in the letters, but she would not write of him as a lover or as a possible husband; therefore, unless the assassin knows something of the story, which is improbable, and unless he can connect the name of Mrs Krant with Mrs Pendle—which on the face of it is impossible—I do not see how he is to learn the truth. He may guess, or he may know for certain, that Jentham received the two hundred pounds from the bishop, but he cannot guess that the price was paid for certificate and letters, especially as he found them on the body, and knows that they were not handed over for the money. No; on the whole, I think Pendle is mistaken; in my opinion there is no danger to be feared from the assassin, whomsoever he may be.'
In this way Graham argued with himself, and shortly came to the comfortable conclusion that Dr Pendle's secret would never become a public scandal. Now that Jentham, alias Krant, was dead, the secret was known to three people only—namely, to the bishop, to himself, and to Gabriel. If none of the three betrayed it—and they had the strongest reason for silence—no one else would, or could. The question of the murder was the immediate matter for consideration; and once Dr Pendle's innocence was proved by the capture of the real assassin, Cargrim could be dismissed in well-merited disgrace. With all the will in the world he could not then harm the bishop, seeing that he was ignorant of the dead man's relation to Mrs Pendle. Other danger there was none; of that the little doctor was absolutely assured.
Perhaps the bishop argued in this way also; or it may be he found a certain amount of relief in sharing his troubles with Gabriel and Graham; but he certainly appeared more cheerful and less worried than formerly, and even tolerated the society of Cargrim with equanimity, although he detested playing a part so foreign to his frank and honourable nature. However, he saw the necessity of masking his dislike until the sting of this domestic viper could be rendered innocuous, and was sufficiently gracious on such occasions as he came into contact with him. Gabriel was less called upon to be courteous to the schemer, as, having come to a complete understanding with his father, he rarely visited the palace; but when he did so his demeanour towards Mr Cargrim was much the same as of yore. For the good of their domestic peace, both father and son concealed their real feelings, and succeeded as creditably as was possible with men of their honourable natures. But they were not cunning enough—or perhaps sufficiently guarded—to deceive the artful chaplain. Evil himself, he was always on the alert to see evil in others.
'I wonder what all this means,' he ruminated one day after vainly attempting to learn why Gabriel had returned so unexpectedly to Beorminster. 'The bishop seems unnecessarily polite, and young Pendle appears to be careful how he speaks. They surely can't suspect me of knowing about the murder. Perhaps Baltic has been talking; I'll just give him a word of warning.'
This he did, and was promptly told by the ex-sailor not to advise on points of which he was ignorant. 'I know my business, sir, none better,' observed Baltic, in his solemn way, 'and there are few men who are more aware of the value of a silent tongue.'
'You may be an admirable detective, as you say,' retorted Cargrim, nettled by the rebuke, 'but I have only your word for it; and you will permit me to observe that I have not yet seen a proof of your capabilities.'
'All in good time, Mr Cargrim. More haste less speed, sir. I fancy I am on the right track at last.'
'Can you guess who killed the man?' asked the chaplain, eagerly waiting for the bishop's name to be pronounced.
'I never guess, sir. I theorise from external evidence, and then try, with such brains as God has given me, to prove my theories.'
'You have gained some evidence, then?'
'If I have, Mr Cargrim, you'll hear it when I place the murderer in the dock. It is foolish to show half-finished work.'
'But if the mur—'
'Hold hard, sir!' interrupted Baltic, raising his head. 'I'll so far depart from my rule as to tell you one thing—whosoever killed Jentham, it was not Bishop Pendle.'
Cargrim grew red and angry. 'I tell you it was!' he almost shouted, although this conversation took place in a quiet corner near the cathedral, and thereby required prudent speech and demeanour. 'Didn't Dr Pendle meet Jentham on the common?'
'We presume so, sir, but as yet we have no proof of the meeting.'
'At least you know that he paid Jentham two hundred pounds.'
'Perhaps he did; maybe he didn't,' returned Baltic, quietly. 'He certainly drew out that amount from the Ophir Bank, but, not having traced the notes, I can't say if he paid it to the man.'
'But I am sure he did,' insisted Cargrim, still angry.
'In that case, sir, why ask me for my opinion?' replied the imperturbable Baltic.
If Mr Cargrim had not been a clergyman, he would have sworn at the complacent demeanour of the agent, and even as it was he felt inclined to risk a relieving oath or two. But knowing Baltic's religious temperament, he was wise enough not to lay himself open to further rebuke; so he turned the matter off with a laugh, and observed that no doubt Mr Baltic knew his own business best.
'I think I can safely say so, sir,' rejoined Baltic, gravely. 'By the way, did you not tell me that Captain George Pendle was on the common when the murder took place?'
'Yes, George was there, and so was Gabriel. Mrs Pansey's page saw them both.'
'And where is Captain Pendle now, sir?'
'At Wincaster with his regiment; but the bishop has sent for him to come to Beorminster, so I expect he will be here within the week.'
'I am glad of that, Mr Cargrim, as I wish to ask Captain Pendle a few questions.'
'Do you suspect him?'
'I can't rightly say, sir,' answered Baltic, wiping his face with the red bandanna. 'Later on I may form an opinion. Mr Gabriel Pendle comes to The Derby Winner sometimes, I see.'
'Yes; he is in love with the barmaid there.'
Baltic looked up sharply. 'Mosk's daughter, sir?'
'The same. He wants to marry Bell Mosk.'
'Does—he—indeed?' drawled the agent, flicking his thumb nail against his teeth. 'Well, Mr Cargrim, he might do worse. There is a lot of good in that young woman, sir. Mr Gabriel Pendle has lately returned from abroad, I hear.'
'Yes, from Nauheim.' 'That is in Germany, I take it, sir. Did he travel on a Cook's ticket, do you know?'
'I believe he did.'
'Oh! humph! I'll say good-bye, then, Mr Cargrim, for the present. I shall see you when I return from London.'
'Are you going to ask about Gabriel's ticket at Cook's?'
'There's no telling, sir. I may look in.'
'Do you think that Gab—'
'I think nothing as yet, Mr Cargrim; when I do, I'll tell you my thoughts. Good-day, sir! God bless you!' And Baltic, with a satisfied expression on his face, rolled away in a nautical manner.
'God bless me indeed!' muttered Cargrim, in much displeasure, for neither the speech nor the manner of the man pleased him. 'Ugh! I wish Baltic would stick to either religion or business. At present he is a kind of moral hermaphrodite, good for neither one thing nor another. I wonder if he suspects the bishop or his two sons? I don't believe Dr Pendle is innocent; but if he is, either George or Gabriel is guilty. Well, if that is so, I'll still be able to make the bishop give me Heathcroft. He will rather do that than see one of his sons hanged and the name disgraced. Still, I hope Baltic will bring home the crime to his lordship.'
With this amiable wish, Mr Cargrim quickened his pace to catch up with Miss Whichello, whom he saw tripping across the square towards the Jenny Wren house. The little old lady looked rosy and complacent, at peace with herself and the whole of Beorminster. Nevertheless, her expression changed when she saw Mr Cargrim sliding gracefully towards her, and she received him with marked coldness. As yet she had not forgiven him for his unauthorised interference on behalf of Mrs Pansey. Cargrim was quick to observe her buckram civility, but diplomatically took no notice of its frigidity. On the contrary, he was more gushing and more expansive than ever.
'A happy meeting, my dear lady,' he said, with a beaming glance. 'Had I not met you, I should have called to see you as the bearer of good news.'
'Really!' replied Miss Whichello, drily. 'That will be a relief from hearing bad news, Mr Cargrim. I have had sufficient trouble of late.'
'Ah!' sighed the chaplain, falling into his professional drawl, 'how true is the saying of Job, "Man is born—"'
'I don't want to hear about Job,' interrupted Miss Whichello, crossly. 'He is the greatest bore of all the patriarchs.'
'Job, dear lady, was not a patriarch.'
'Nevertheless, he is a bore, Mr Cargrim. What is your good news?'
'Captain Pendle is coming to Beorminster this week, Miss Whichello.'
'Oh,' said the little old lady, with a satirical smile, 'you are a day after the fair, Mr Cargrim. I heard that news this morning.'
'Indeed! But the bishop only sent for Captain Pendle yesterday.'
'Quite so; and Miss Arden received a telegram from Captain Pendle this morning.'
'Ah! Miss Whichello, young love! young love!'
The little lady could have shaken Cargrim for the smirk with which he made this remark. However, she restrained her very natural impulse, and merely remarked—rather irrelevantly, it must be confessed—that if two young and handsome people in love with one another were not happy in their first blush of passion they never would be.
'No doubt, dear lady. I only trust that such happiness may last. But there is no sky without a cloud.'
'And there is no bee without a sting, and no rose without a thorn. I know all those consoling proverbs, Mr Cargrim, but they don't apply to my turtle-doves.'
Cargrim rubbed his hands softly together. 'Long may you continue to think so, my dear lady,' said he, with a sad look.
'What do you mean, sir?' asked Miss Whichello, sharply.
'I mean that it is as well to be prepared for the worst,' said Cargrim, in his blandest manner. 'The course of true love—but you are weary of such trite sayings. Good-day, Miss Whichello!' He raised his hat and turned away. 'One last proverb—Joy in the morning means grief at night.'
When Mr Cargrim walked away briskly after delivering this Parthian shaft, Miss Whichello stood looking after him with an expression of nervous worry on her rosy face. She had her own reasons to apprehend trouble in connection with the engagement, and although these were unknown to the chaplain, his chance arrow had hit the mark. The thoughts of the little old lady at once reverted to the conversation with the bishop at the garden-party.
'Mrs Pansey again,' thought Miss Whichello, resuming her walk at a slower pace. 'I shall have to call on her, and appeal either to her fears or her charity, otherwise she may cause trouble.'
In the meantime, Mr Baltic, proceeding in his grave way towards Eastgate, had fallen in with Gabriel coming from The Derby Winner. As yet the two had never met, and save the name, young Pendle knew nothing about the ex-sailor. Nevertheless, when face to face with him, he recognised the man at once as a private inquiry agent whom he had once spoken to in Whitechapel. The knowledge of his father's secret, of Jentham's murder and of this stranger's profession mingled confusedly in Gabriel's head, and his heart knocked at his ribs for very fear.
'I met you in London some years ago,' he said nervously.
'Yes, Mr Pendle; but then I did not know your name, nor did you know mine.'
'How did you recognise me?' asked Gabriel.
'I have a good memory for faces, sir,' returned Baltic, 'but, as a matter of fact, Sir Harry Brace pointed you out to me.'
'Sir Har—oh, then you are Baltic!'
'At your service, Mr Pendle. I am down here on business.'
'I know all about it,' replied Gabriel, recovering his nerve with the knowledge of the man's name and inclination to side with the bishop.
'Indeed, sir! And who told you about it?'
'Sir Harry told Dr Graham, who informed my father, who spoke to me.'
'Oh!' Baltic looked seriously at the curate's pale face. 'Then the bishop knows that I am an inquiry agent.'
'He does, Mr Baltic. And, to tell you the truth, he is not at all pleased that you presented yourself in our city as a missionary.'
'I am a missionary,' answered the ex-sailor, quietly. 'I explained as much to Sir Harry, but it would seem that he has told the worst and kept back the best.'
'I don't understand,' said the curate, much bewildered.
'Sir, it would take too long for me to explain why I call myself a missionary, but you can rest assured that I am not sailing under false colours. As it is, you know me as an agent; and you know also my purpose in coming here.'
'Yes! I know that you are investigating the mur—'
'We are in the street, sir,' interrupted Baltic, with a glance at passers-by; 'it is as well to be discreet. One moment.' He led Gabriel into a quiet alley, comparatively free from listeners. 'This is a rather rough sort of neighbourhood, sir.'
'Rough certainly, but not dangerous,' replied Gabriel, puzzled by the remark.
'Don't you carry a pistol, Mr Pendle?'
'No! Why should I?'
'Why indeed? If the Gospel is not a protection enough, no earthly arms will prevail. Your name is Gabriel, I think, sir.'
'Yes! Gabriel Pendle; but I don't see—'
'I'm coming to an explanation, sir. G. P.' mused Baltic—'same initials as those of your father and brother, eh, Mr Pendle?'
'Certainly. Both the bishop and my brother are named George.'
'G. P. all three,' said Baltic, with a nod, 'Do you travel abroad with a Cook's ticket, sir?'
'Usually! Why do you—'
'A through ticket to—say Nauheim—is about three pounds, I believe?'
'I paid that for mine, Mr Baltic. May I ask why you question me in this manner?' demanded Gabriel, irritably.
Baltic tapped Gabriel's chest three times with his forefinger. 'For your own safety, Mr Pendle. Good-day, sir!'
As has before been stated, Dr Graham had another conversation with his persecuted friend, in which he advised him to tolerate the presence of Cargrim until Baltic captured the actual criminal. It was also at this second interview that the bishop asked Graham if he should tell George the truth. This question the little doctor answered promptly in the negative.
'For what is the use of telling him?' said he, argumentatively; 'doing so will make you uncomfortable and George very unhappy.'
'But George must learn the truth sooner or later.'
'I don't see that it is necessary to inform him of it at all,' retorted Graham, obstinately, 'and at all events you need not explain until forced to do so. One thing at a time, bishop. At present your task is to baffle Cargrim and kick the scoundrel out of the house when the murderer is found. Then we can discuss the matter of the marriage with Mrs Pendle.'
'Graham!'—the bishop's utterance of the name was like a cry of pain—'I cannot—I dare not tell Amy!'
'You must, Pendle, since she is the principal person concerned in the matter. You know how Gabriel learned the truth from her casual description of her first husband. Well, when Mrs Pendle returns to Beorminster, she may—I don't say that she will, mind you—but she may speak of Krant again, since, so far as she is concerned, there is no need for her to keep the fact of her first marriage secret.'
'Except that she may not wish to recall unhappy days,' put in the bishop, softly. 'Indeed, I wonder that Amy could bring herself to speak of Krant to her son and mine.'
'Women, my friend, do and say things at which they wonder themselves,' said the misogynist, cynically; 'probably Mrs Pendle acted on the impulse of the moment and regretted it immediately the words were out of her mouth. Still, she may describe Krant again when she comes back, and her listener may be as clever as Gabriel was in putting two and two together, and connecting your wife's first husband with Krant. Should such a thing occur—and it might occur—your secret would become the common property of this scandalmongering place, and your last condition would be worse than your first. Also,' continued Graham, with the air of a person clinching an argument, 'if you and Mrs Pendle are to part, my poor friend, she must be told the reason for such separation.'
'Part!' echoed the bishop, indignantly. 'My dear Amy and I shall never part, doctor. I wonder that you can suggest such a thing. Now that Krant is dead beyond all doubt, I shall marry his widow at once.'
'Quite so, and quite right,' assented Graham, emphatically; 'but in that case, as you can see for yourself, you must tell her that the first marriage is null and void, so as to account for the necessity of the second ceremony.' The doctor paused and reflected. 'Old scatterbrain that I am,' said he, with a shrug, 'I quite forgot that way out of the difficulty. A second marriage! Of course! and there is your riddle solved.'
'No doubt, so far as Amy and I are concerned,' said Pendle, gloomily, 'but so late a ceremony will not make my children legitimate. In England, marriage is not a retrospective act.'
'They manage these things better in France,' opined Graham, in the manner of Sterne; 'there a man can legitimise his children born out of wedlock if he so chooses. There was a talk of modifying the English Act in the same way; but, of course, the very nice people with nasty ideas shrieked out in their usual pig-headed style about legalised immorality. However,' pursued the doctor, in a more cheerful tone, 'I do not see that you need worry yourself on that point, bishop. You can depend upon Gabriel and me holding our tongues; you need not tell Lucy or George, and when you marry your wife for the second time, all things can go on as before. "What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve at," you know.'
'But my eye sees, and my heart grieves,' groaned the bishop.
'Pish! don't make an inquisition of your conscience, Pendle. You have done no wrong; like greatness, evil has been thrust upon you.'
'I am certainly an innocent sinner, Graham.'
'Of course you are; but now that we have found the remedy, that is all over and done with. Wait till Jentham's murderer is found, then turn Cargrim out of doors, marry Mrs Krant in some out-of-the-way parish, and make a fresh will in favour of your children. There you are, bishop! Don't worry any more about the matter.'
'You don't think that I should tell Brace that—?'
'I certainly don't think that you should disgrace your daughter in the eyes of her future husband,' retorted the doctor, hotly; 'marry your wife and hold your tongue. Even the Recording Angel can take no note of so obviously just a course.'
'I think you are right, Graham,' said the bishop, shaking his friend's hand with an expression of relief. 'In justice to my children, I must be silent. I shall act as you suggest.'
'Then that being so, you are a man again,' said Graham, jocularly, 'and now you can send for George to pay you a visit.'
'Do you think there is any necessity, Graham? The sight of him—'
'Will do you good, Pendle. Don't martyrise yourself and look on your children as so many visible evidences of sin. Bosh! I tell you, bosh!' cried the doctor, vigorously if ungallantly. 'Send for George, send for Mrs Pendle and Lucy, and throw all these morbid ideas to the wind. If you do not,' added Graham, raising a threatening finger, 'I shall write out a certificate for the transfer of the cleverest bishop in England to a lunatic asylum.'
'Well, well, I won't risk that,' said the bishop, smiling. 'George shall come back at once.'
'And all will be gas and gaiters, to quote the immortal Boz. Good-day, bishop! I have prescribed your medicine; see that you take it.'
'You are a tonic in yourself, Graham.'
'All men of sense are, Pendle. They are the salt of the earth, the oxygen in the moral atmosphere. If it wasn't for my common sense, bishop,' said the doctor, with a twinkle, 'I believe I should be weak enough to come and hear you preach.'
Dr Pendle laughed. 'I am afraid the age of miracles is past, my friend. As a bishop, I should reprove you, but—'
'But, as a good, sensible fellow, you'll take my advice. Well, well, bishop, I have had more obstinate patients than my college chum. Good-day, good-day,' and the little doctor skipped out of the library with a gay look and a merry nod, leaving the bishop relieved and smiling, and devoutly thankful for the solution of his life's riddle. At that moment the noble verse of the Psalmist was in his mind and upon his lips—'God is our refuge and our strength: a very present help in trouble.' Bishop Pendle was proving the truth of that text.
So the exiled lover was permitted to return to Beorminster, and very pleased he was to find himself once more in the vicinity of his beloved. After congratulating the bishop on his recovered cheerfulness and placidity, George brought forward the name of Mab, and was pleased to find that his father was by no means so opposed to the match as formerly. Dr Pendle admitted again that Mab was a singularly charming young lady, and that his son might do worse than marry her. Late events had humbled the bishop's pride considerably; and the knowledge that George was nameless, induced him to consider Miss Arden more favourably as a wife for the young man. She was at least a lady, and not a barmaid like Bell Mosk; so the painful fact of Gabriel setting his heart so low made George's superior choice quite a brilliant match in comparison. On these grounds, the bishop intimated to Captain Pendle that, on consideration, he was disposed to overlook the rumours about Miss Arden's disreputable father and accept her as a daughter-in-law. It was with this joyful news that George, glowing and eager, as a lover should be, made his appearance the next morning at the Jenny Wren house.
'Thank God the bishop is reasonable,' cried Miss Whichello, when George explained the new position. 'I knew that Mab would gain his heart in the end.'
'She gained mine in the beginning,' said Captain George, fondly, 'and that, after all, is the principal thing.'
'What! your own heart, egotist! Does mine then count for nothing?'
'Oh!' said George, slipping his arm round her waist, 'if we begin on that subject, my litany will be as long as the Athanasian Creed, and quite as devout.'
'Captain Pendle!' exclaimed Miss Whichello, scandalised both by embrace and speech—both rather trying to a religious spinster.
'Miss Whichello,' mimicked the gay lover, 'am I not to be received into the family under the name of George?'
'That depends on your behaviour, Captain Pendle. But I am both pleased and relieved that the bishop consents to the marriage.'
'Aunty!' cried Mab, reddening a trifle,'don't talk as though it were a favour. I do not look upon myself as worthless, by any means.'
'Worthless!' echoed George, gaily; 'then is gold mere dross, and diamonds but pebbles. You are the beauty of the universe, my darling, and I your lowest slave.' He threw himself at her feet. 'Set your pretty foot on my neck, my queen!'
'Captain Pendle,' said Miss Whichello, striving to stifle a laugh, 'if you don't get up and behave properly I shall leave the room.'
'If you do, aunty, he will get worse,' smiled Mab, ruffling what the barber had left of her lover's hair. 'Get up at once, you—you mad Romeo.'
George rose obediently, and dusted his knees. 'Juliet, I obey,' said he, tragically; 'but no, you are not Juliet of the garden; you are Cleopatra! Semiramis! the most imperious and queenly of women. Where did you get your rich eastern beauty from, Mab? What are you, an Arabian princess, doing in our cold grey West? You are like some dark-browed queen! A daughter of Bohemia! A Romany sorceress!'
Mab laughed, but Miss Whichello heaved a quick, impatient sigh, as though these eastern comparisons annoyed her. George was unconsciously making remarks which cut her to the heart; and almost unable to control her feelings, she muttered some excuse and glided hastily from the room. With the inherent selfishness of love, neither George nor Mab paid any attention to her emotion or departure, but whispered and smiled and caressed one another, well pleased at their sweet solitude. George spent one golden hour in paradise, then unwillingly tore himself away. Only Shakespeare could have done justice to the passion of their parting. Kisses and sighs, last looks, final handclasps, and then George in the sunshine of the square, with Mab waving her handkerchief from the open casement. But, alas! workaday prose always succeeds Arcadian rhyme, and with the sinking sun dies the glory of the day.
With his mind hanging betwixt a mental heaven and earth, after the similitude of Mahomet's coffin, George walked slowly down the street, until he was brought like a shot eagle to the ground by a touch on the shoulder. Now, as there is nothing more annoying than such a bailiff's salute, George wheeled round with some vigorous language on the tip of his tongue, but did not use it when he found himself facing Sir Harry Brace.
'Oh, it's you!' said Captain Pendle, lamely. 'Well, with your experience, you should know better than to pull up a fellow unawares.'
'You talk in riddles, my good George,' said Harry, staring, as well he might, at this not very coherent speech.
'I have just left Miss Arden,' explained George, quite unabashed, for he did not care if the whole world knew of his love.
'Oh, I beg your pardon, I understand,' replied Brace, with a broad smile; 'but you must excuse me, old chap. I am—I am out of practice lately, you see. "My love she is in Germanee," as the old song says. I wish to speak with you.'
'All right. Where shall we go?'
'To the club. I must see you privately.'
The Beorminster Club was just a short distance down the street, so George followed Harry into its hospitable portals and finally accepted a comfortable chair in the smoking-room, which, luckily for the purpose of Brace, was empty at that hour. The two young men each ordered a cool hock-and-soda and lighted two very excellent cigarettes which came out of the pocket of extravagant George. Then they began to talk, and Harry opened the conversation with a question.
'George,' he said, with a serious look on his usually merry face, 'were you on Southberry Heath on the night that poor devil was murdered?'
'Oh, yes,' replied Captain Pendle, with some wonder at the question. 'I rode over to the gipsy camp to buy a particular ring from Mother Jael.'
'For Miss Arden, I suppose?'
'Yes; I wished for a necromantic symbol of our engagement.'
'Did you hear or see anything of the murder?'
'Good Lord, no!' cried the startled George, sitting up straight. 'I should have been at the inquest had I seen the act, or even heard the shot.'
'Did you carry a pistol with you on that night?'
'As I wasn't riding through Central Africa, I did not. What is the meaning of these mysterious questions?'
Brace answered this query by slipping his hand into his breast-pocket and producing therefrom a neat little pistol, toy-like, but deadly enough in the hand of a good marksman. 'Is this yours?' he asked, holding it out for Captain Pendle's inspection.
'Certainly it is,' said George, handling the weapon; 'here are my initials on the butt. Where did you get this?'
'It was found by Mother Jael near the spot where Jentham was murdered.'
Captain Pendle clapped down the pistol on the table with an ejaculation of amazement. 'Was he shot with this, Harry?'
'Without doubt!' replied Brace, gravely. 'Therefore, as it is your property, I wish to know how it came to be used for that purpose.'
'Great Scott, Brace! you don't think that I killed the blackguard?'
'I think nothing so ridiculous,' protested Sir Harry, testily.
'You talk as if you did, though,' retorted George, smartly.
'I thrashed that Jentham beast for insulting Mab, but I didn't shoot him.'
'But the pistol is yours.'
'I admit that, but—Good Lord!' cried Captain Pendle, starting to his feet.
'What now?' asked Brace, turning pale and cold on the instant.
'Gabriel! Gabriel! I—I gave this pistol to him.'
'You gave this pistol to Gabriel? When? Where?'
'In London,' explained George, rapidly. 'When he was in Whitechapel I knew that he went among a lot of roughs and thieves, so I insisted that he should carry this pistol for his protection. He was unwilling to do so at first, but in the end I persuaded him to slip it into his pocket. I have not seen it from that day to this.'
'And it was found near Jentham's corpse,' said Brace, with a groan.
The two young men looked at one another in horrified silence, the same thoughts in the mind of each. The pistol had been in the possession of Gabriel; and Gabriel on the night of the murder had been in the vicinity of the crime.
'It—it is impossible,' whispered George, almost inaudibly, 'Gabriel can explain.'
'Gabriel must explain,' said Brace, firmly; 'it is a matter of life and death!'
MR BALTIC EXPLAINS HIMSELF
It was Miss Whichello, who, on the statement of Mrs Pansey as reported by Mr Cargrim, had told George of his brother's presence on Southberry Heath at the time of Jentham's murder. She had casually mentioned the fact during an idle conversation; but never for one moment had she dreamed of connecting Gabriel with so atrocious a crime. Nor indeed did Captain Pendle, until the fact was rudely and unexpectedly brought home to him by the production of the pistol. Nevertheless, despite this material evidence, he vehemently refused to credit that so gentle a being as Gabriel had slain a fellow-creature deliberately and in cold blood, particularly as on the face of it no reason could be assigned for so hazardous an act. The curate, in his loyal brother's opinion, was neither a vindictive fool nor an aimless murderer.
With this latter opinion Sir Harry very heartily agreed. He had the highest respect for Gabriel as a man and a priest, and could not believe that he had wantonly committed a brutal crime, so repulsive to his benign nature, so contrary to the purity and teachings of his life. He was quite satisfied that the young man both could, and would, explain how the pistol had passed out of his possession; but he did not seek the explanation himself. Baltic, previous to his departure for London, had made Brace promise to question Captain Pendle about the pistol, and report to him the result of such conversation. Now that the pistol was proved to have been in the keeping of Gabriel, the baronet knew very well that Baltic would prefer to question so important a witness himself. Therefore, while waiting for the agent's return, he not only himself refrained from seeing Gabriel, but persuaded George not to do so.
'Your questions will only do more harm than good!' expostulated Brace, 'as you have neither the trained capacity nor the experience to examine into the matter. Baltic returns to-morrow, and as I have every faith in his judgment and discretion, it will be much better to let him handle it.'
'Who is this Baltic you talk of so much?' asked the captain, impatiently.
'He is a private inquiry agent who is trying to discover the man who killed Jentham.'
'On behalf of Tinkler, I suppose?'
'He is working with Tinkler in the matter,' replied Brace, evasively, for he did not want to inform George, the rash and fiery, of his father's peril and Cargrim's treachery.
'Baltic is a London detective, no doubt?'
'Yes, his brains are more equal than Tinkler's to the task of solving the riddle.'
'He won't arrest Gabriel, I hope,' said George, anxiously.
'Not unless he is absolutely certain that Gabriel committed the crime; and I am satisfied that he will never arrive at that certainty.'
'I—should—think—not,' cried Captain Pendle, with disdain. 'Gabriel, poor boy, would not kill a fly, let alone a man. Still, these legal bloodhounds are coarse and unscrupulous.'
'Baltic is not, George. He is quite a new type of detective, and works rather from a religious than a judicial point of view.'
'I never heard of a religious detective before,' remarked George, scornfully.
'Nor I; it is a new departure, and I am not sure but that it is a good one, incongruous as it may seem.'
'Is the man a hypocrite?'
'By no means. He is thoroughly in earnest. Here, in public, he calls himself a missionary.'
'Oh! oh! the wolf in the skin of a sheep!'
'Not at all. The man is—well, it is no use my explaining, as you will see him shortly, and then can judge for yourself. But if you will take my advice, George, you will let Baltic figure the matter out on his own slate, as the Americans say. Don't mention his name or actual business to anyone. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.'
'Very well,' grumbled George, convinced by Harry's earnestness, but by no means pleased to be condemned to an interval of ignorance and inactivity. 'I shall hold my tongue and close my eyes. But you agree with me that Gabriel did not kill the brute?'
'Of course! From the first I never had any doubts on that score.'
Here for the time being the conversation ended, and George went his way to play the part of a careless onlooker. But for his promise, he would have warned Gabriel of the danger which threatened him, and probably have complicated matters by premature anger. Luckily for all things, his faith in Brace's good sense was strong enough to deter him from so rash and headlong a course; therefore, at home and abroad, he assumed a gaiety he did not feel. So here in the episcopalian palace of Beorminster were three people, each one masking his real feelings in intercourse with the others. The bishop, his son and his scheming chaplain were actors in a comedy of life which—in the opinion of the last—might easily end up as a tragedy. No wonder their behaviour was constrained, no wonder they avoided one another. They were as men living over a powder magazine which the least spark would explode with thunderous noise and damaging effect.
Baltic was the deus ex machina to strike the spark for ignition, but he seemed in no hurry to do so. Punctual to his promise he returned to Beorminster, and heard Sir Harry's report about the pistol with grave attention. Without venturing an opinion for or against the curate, he asked Sir Harry to preserve a strict silence until such time as he gave him leave to speak, and afterwards took his way to Gabriel's lodgings in the lower part of the town. There he was fortunate enough to find young Pendle within doors, and after a lengthy interview with him on matters connected with the crime, he again sought the baronet. A detailed explanation to that gentleman resulted in a visit of both to Sir Harry's bank, and an interesting conversation with its manager. When Brace and Baltic finally found themselves on the pavement, the face of the first wore an expression of exultation, while the latter, in his reticent way, looked soberly satisfied. Both had every reason for these signs of triumph, for they had touched the highest pinnacle of success.
'I suppose there can be no doubt about it, Baltic?'
'None whatever, Sir Harry. Every link in the chain of evidence is complete.'
'You are a wonderful man, Baltic; you have scored off that fool of a Tinkler in a very neat way.'
'The inspector is no fool in his own sphere, sir,' reproved the serious ex-sailor, 'but this case happened to be beyond it.'
'And beyond him also,' chuckled the baronet.
'There is no denying that, Sir Harry. However, the man is useful in his own place, and having done my part, I shall now ask him to do his.'
'What is his task, eh?'
'To procure a warrant on my evidence. The man must be arrested this afternoon.'
'And then, Baltic?'
'Then, sir,' said the man, solemnly, 'I shall be no longer an agent, but a missionary; and in my own poor way I shall strive to bring him to repentance.'
'After bringing him to the gallows. A queer way of inducing good, Baltic.'
'Whoso loseth all gaineth all,' quoted Baltic, in all earnestness; 'my mission is not to destroy souls but to save them.'
'Humph! you destroy the material part for the salvation of the spiritual. A man called Torquemada conducted his religious crusade in the same way some hundreds of years ago, and has been cursed for his system by humanity ever since. Your morality—or rather I should say your religiosity—is beyond me, Baltic.'
'Magnas veritas et praevalebit!' misquoted Baltic, solemnly, and, touching his hat roughly, turned away to finish the work he felt himself called upon by his religious convictions to execute.
Harry looked after him with a satirical smile. 'You filched that morsel of dog Latin out of the end of the English dictionary, my friend,' he thought, 'and your untutored mind does not apply it with particular relevancy. But I see that, like all fanatics, you distort texts and sayings into fitting your own peculiar views. Well, well, the ends you aim at are right enough, no doubt, but your method of reaching them is as queer a one as ever came under my notice. Go your ways, Torquemada Baltic, there are the germs of a mighty intolerant sect in your kind of teaching, I fear,' and in his turn Sir Harry went about his own affairs.
Inspector Tinkler, more purple-faced and important than ever, sat in his private office, twirling his thumbs and nodding his head for lack of business on which to employ his mighty mind. The afternoon, by some freak of the sun which had to do with his solar majesty's unusual spotty complexion, was exceptionally hot for a late September day, and the heat made Mr Inspector drowsy and indolent. He might have fallen into the condition of an official sleeping beauty, but that a sharp knock at the door roused him sufficiently to bid the knocker enter, whereupon a well-fed policeman presented himself with the information—delivered in a sleepy, beefy voice—that Mr Baltic wished to see Mr Tinkler. The name acted like a douche of iced water on the inspector, and he sharply ordered the visitor to be admitted at once. In another minute Baltic was in the office, saluting the head of the Beorminster police in his usual grave style.
'Ha, Mr Baltic, sir!' rasped out Tinkler, in his parade voice, 'I am glad to see you. There is a seat, and here am I; both at your service.'
'Thank you, Mr Inspector,' said Baltic, and, taking a seat, carefully covered his knees with the red bandanna, and adjusted his straw hat on top of it according to custom.
'Well, sir, well,' grunted Mr Inspector, pompously, 'and how does your little affair get on?'
'It has got on so far, sir, that I have come to ask you for a warrant of arrest.'
'By George! eh! what! Have you found him?' roared Tinkler, starting back with an incredulous look.
'I have discovered the man who murdered Jentham! Yes.'
'Good!' snapped Tinkler, trying to conceal his amazement by a reversion to his abrupt military manner. 'His name?'
'I'll tell you that when I have related my evidence incriminating him. It is as well to be orderly, Mr Inspector.'
'Certainly, Mr Baltic, sir. Order is at the base of all discipline.'
'I should rather say that discipline is the basis of order,' returned Baltic, with a dry smile; 'however, we can discuss that question later. At present I shall detail my evidence against'—Mr Inspector leaned eagerly forward—'against the man who killed Jentham.' Mr Inspector threw himself back with a disappointed snort.
''Tention!' threw out Tinkler, and arranged pen and ink and paper to take notes. 'Now, Mr Baltic, sir!'
'My knowledge of the man Jentham,' droned Baltic, in his monotonous voice, 'begins at the moment I was informed by Mr Cargrim that he called at the palace to see Bishop Pendle a few days before he met with his violent end. It would appear—although of this I am not absolutely certain—that the bishop knew Jentham when he occupied a more respectable position and answered to another name!'
'Memorandum,' wrote down Tinkler, 'to inquire if his lordship can supply information regarding the past of the so-called Jentham.'
'The bishop,' continued the narrator, with a covert smile at Tinkler's unnecessary scribbling, 'was apparently sorry to see an old friend in a homeless and penniless condition, for to help him on in the world he gave him the sum of two hundred pounds.'
'That,' declared Tinkler, throwing down his pen, 'is charity gone mad—if'—he emphasised the word—'if, mark me, it is true.'
'If it were not true I should not state it,' rejoined Baltic, gravely. 'As a Christian I have a great regard for the truth. Bishop Pendle drew that sum out of his London account in twenty ten-pound notes. I have the numbers of those notes, and I traced several to the possession of the assassin, who must have taken them from the corpse. On these grounds, Mr Inspector, I assert that Dr Pendle gave Jentham two hundred pounds.' Tinkler again took up his pen. 'Memo,' he set down, 'to ask his lordship if he helped the so-called Jentham with money. If so, how much?'
'As you know,' resumed Baltic, with deliberation, 'Jentham was shot through the heart, but the pistol could not be found. It is now in my possession, and I obtained it from Mother Jael!'
'What! did she kill the poor devil?'
'I have already said that the murderer is a man, Mr Inspector. Mother Jael knows nothing about the crime, save that she heard the shot and afterwards picked up the pistol near the corpse. I obtained it from her with considerable ease!'
'By threatening her with the warrant I gave you, no doubt.'
Baltic shook his head. 'I made no mention of the warrant, nor did I produce it,' he replied, 'but I happen to know something of the Romany tongue, and be what the Spaniards call "affeciado" to the gipsies. When Mother Jael was convinced that I was a brother of tent and road, she gave me the pistol without ado. It is best to work by kindness, Mr Inspector.'
'We can't all be gipsies, Mr Baltic, sir. Proceed! What about the pistol?'
'The pistol,' continued Baltic, passing over the envious sneer, 'had a silver plate on the butt, inscribed with the letters "G.P." I did not know if the weapon belonged to Bishop George Pendle, Captain George Pendle, or to Mr Gabriel Pendle.'
Inspector Tinkler looked up aghast. 'By Jupiter! sir, you don't mean to tell me that you suspected the bishop? Damme, Mr Baltic, how dare you?'
Now the missionary was not going to confide in this official thick-head regarding Cargrim's suspicions of the bishop, which had led him to connect the pistol with the prelate; so he evaded the difficulty by explaining that as the lent money was a link between the bishop and Jentham, and the initials on the pistol were those of his lordship, he naturally fancied that the weapon belonged to Dr Pendle, 'although I will not go so far as to say that I suspected him,' finished Baltic, smoothly.
'I should think not!' growled Tinkler, wrathfully. 'Bishops don't murder tramps in England, whatever they may do in the South Seas!' and he made a third note, 'Memo.—To ask his lordship if he lost a pistol.'
'As Captain George Pendle is a soldier, Mr Inspector, I fancied—on the testimony of the initials—that the pistol might belong to him. On putting the question to him, it appeared that the weapon was his property—'
'But that he had lent it to Mr Gabriel Pendle to protect himself from roughs when that young gentleman was a curate in Whitechapel, London.'
'Well, I'm—d—blessed!' ejaculated Tinkler, with staring eyes; 'so Mr Gabriel killed Jentham!'
'Don't jump to conclusions, Mr Inspector. Gabriel Pendle is innocent. I never thought that he was guilty, but I fancied that he might supply links in the chain of evidence to trace the real murderer. Of course, you know that Mr Gabriel lately went to Germany?'
'Yes, I know that.'
'Very good! As the initials "G. P." also stood for Gabriel Pendle, I was not at all sure but what the pistol might be his. For the moment I assumed that it was, that he had shot Jentham, and that the stolen money had been used by him.'
'But you hadn't the shadow of a proof, Mr Baltic.'
'I had the pistol with the initials,' retorted the missionary, 'but, as I said, I never suspected Mr Gabriel. I only assumed his guilt for the moment to enable me to trace the actual criminal. To make a long story short, Mr Inspector, I went up to London and called at Cook's office. There I discovered that Mr Gabriel had paid for his ticket with a ten-pound note. That note,' added Baltic, impressively, 'was one of those given by the bishop to Jentham and stolen by the assassin from the body of his victim. I knew it by the number.'
Tinkler thumped the desk with his hand in a state of uncontrolled excitement. 'Then Mr Gabriel must be guilty,' he declared in his most stentorian voice.
'Hush, if you please,' said Baltic, with a glance at the door. 'There is no need to let your subordinates know what is not true.'
'What is not true, sir?'
'Precisely. I questioned Mr Gabriel on my return, and learned that he had changed a twenty-pound note at The Derby Winner prior to his departure for Germany. Mosk, the landlord, gave him the ten I traced to Cook's and two fives. Hush, please! Mr Gabriel also told me that he had lent the pistol to Mosk to protect himself from tramps when riding to and from Southberry, so—'
'I see! I see!' roared Tinkler, purple with excitement. 'Mosk is the guilty man!'
'Quite so,' rejoined Baltic, unmoved. 'You have hit upon the right man at last.'
'So Bill Mosk shot Jentham. Oh, Lord! Damme! Why?'
'Don't swear, Mr Inspector, and I'll tell you. Mosk committed the murder to get the two hundred pounds. I suspected Mosk almost from the beginning. The man was almost always drunk and frequently in tears. I found out while at The Derby Winner that he could not pay his rent shortly before Jentham's murder. After the crime I learned from Sir Harry Brace, the landlord, that Mosk had paid his rent. When Mr Gabriel told me about the lending of the pistol and the changing of the note, I went to Sir Harry's bank, and there, Mr Inspector, I discovered that the bank-notes with which he paid his rent were those given by the bishop to Jentham. On that evidence, on the evidence of the pistol, on the evidence that Mosk was absent at Southberry on the night of the murder, I ask you to obtain a warrant and arrest the man this afternoon.'
'I shall see a magistrate about it at once,' fussed Tinkler, tearing up his now useless memoranda. 'Bill Mosk! Damme! Bill Mosk! I never should have thought a drunken hound like him would have the pluck to do it. Hang me if I did!'
'I don't call it pluck to shoot an unarmed man, Mr Inspector. It is rather the act of a coward.'
'Coward or not, he must swing for it,' growled Tinkler. 'Mr Baltic, sir, I am proud of you. You have done what I could not do myself. Take my hand and my thanks, sir. Become a detective, sir, and learn our trade. When you know our business you will do wonders, sir, wonders!'
In the same patronising way a rush-light might have congratulated the sun on his illuminating powers and have advised him to become—a penny candle.
THE WAGES OF SIN
While the wickedness and fate of Mosk were being discussed and settled in Inspector Tinkler's office, Bishop Pendle was meditating on a very important subject, important both to his domestic circle and to the wider claims of his exalted position. This was none other than a consideration of Gabriel's engagement to the hotelkeeper's daughter, and an argument with himself as to whether or no he should consent to so obvious a mesalliance. The bishop was essentially a fair dealer, and not the man to do things by halves, therefore it occurred to him that, as he had consented to George's marriage with Mab, he was bound in all honour to deliberate on the position of his youngest son with regard to Miss Mosk. To use a homely but forcible proverb, it was scarcely just to make beef of one and mutton of the other, the more especially as Gabriel had behaved extremely well in relation to his knowledge of his parents' painful position and his own nameless condition. Some sons so placed would have regarded themselves as absolved from all filial ties, but Gabriel, with true honour and true affection, never dreamed of acting in so heartless a manner; on the contrary, he clung the closer to his unhappy father, and gave him, as formerly, both obedience and filial love. Such honourable conduct, such tender kindness, deserved to be rewarded, and, as the bishop determined, rewarded it should be in the only way left to him.
Having arrived at this liberal conclusion, Dr Pendle decided to make himself personally known to Bell and see with his own eyes the reported beauty which had captivated Gabriel. Also, he wished to judge for himself as to the girl's clever mind and modesty and common sense, all of which natural gifts Gabriel had represented her as possessing in no ordinary degree. Therefore, on the very afternoon when trouble was brewing against Mosk in the Beorminster Police Office, the bishop of the See took his way to The Derby Winner. The sight of Dr Pendle in the narrow streets of the old town fluttered the slatternly dwellers therein not a little, and the majority of the women whisked indoors in mortal terror, lest they should be reproved ex cathedra for their untidy looks and unswept doorsteps. It was like the descent of an Olympian god, and awestruck mortals fled swift-footed from the glory of his presence. To use a vigorous American phrase, they made themselves scarce.
The good bishop was amused and rather amazed by this universal scattering, for it was his wish to be loved rather than feared. He was in a decidedly benign frame of mind, as on that very morning he had received a letter from his wife stating that she was coming home within a few days, much benefited by the Nauheim baths. This latter piece of intelligence particularly pleased the bishop, as he judged thereby that his wife would be better able to endure the news of her first husband's untimely re-appearance. Dr Pendle was anxious that she should know all at once, so that he could marry her again as speedily as possible, and thereby put an end to an uncomfortable and dangerous state of things. Thus reflecting and thus deciding, the bishop descended the stony street in his usual stately manner, and even patted the heads of one or two stray urchins, who smiled in his face with all the confidence of childhood. Afterwards, the mothers of those especial children were offensively proud at this episcopal blessing, and had 'words' with less fortunate mothers in consequence. Out of such slight events can dissensions arise.
As Dr Pendle neared The Derby Winner he was unlucky enough to encounter Mrs Pansey, who was that afternoon harassing the neighbourhood with one of her parochial visitations. She carried a black bag stuffed with bundles of badly-printed, badly-written tracts, and was distributing this dry fodder as food for Christian souls, along with a quantity of advice and reproof. The men swore, the women wept, the children scrambled out of the way when Mrs Pansey swooped down like a black vulture; and when the bishop chanced upon her he looked round as though he wished to follow the grateful example of the vanishing population. But Mrs Pansey gave him no chance. She blocked the way, spread out her hands to signify pleasure, and, without greeting the bishop, bellowed out in pretty loud tones, 'At last! at last! and not before you are needed, Dr Pendle.'
'Am I needed?' asked the mystified bishop, mildly.
'The Derby Winner!' was all that Mrs Pansey vouchsafed in the way of an explanation, and cast a glance over her shoulder at the public-house.
'The Derby Winner,' repeated Dr Pendle, reddening, as he wondered if this busybody guessed his errand. 'I am now on my way there.'
'I am glad to hear it, bishop!' said Mrs Pansey, with a toss of her plumed bonnet. 'How often have I asked you to personally examine into the drinking and gambling and loose pleasures which make it a Jericho of sin?'
'Yes, yes, I remember you said something about it when you were at the palace.'
'Said something about it, my lord; I said everything about it, but now that you will see it for yourself, I trust you will ask Sir Harry Brace to shut it up.'
'Dear, dear!' said the bishop, nervously, 'that is an extreme measure.'
'An extreme necessity, rather,' retorted Mrs Pansey, wagging an admonitory finger; 'do not compound with shameless sin, bishop. The house is a regular upas tree. It makes the men drunkards'—Mrs Pansey raised her voice so that the whole neighbourhood might hear—'the women sluts'—there was an angry murmur from the houses at this term—'and the children—the children—' Mrs Pansey seized a passing brat. 'Look at this—this image of the Creator,' and she offered the now weeping child as an illustration.
Before Dr Pendle could say a word, the door of a near house was flung violently open, and a blowzy, red-faced young woman pounced out, all on fire for a fight. She tore the small sinner from the grasp of Mrs Pansey, and began to scold vigorously. 'Ho indeed, mum! ho indeed! and would you be pleased to repeat what you're a-talkin' of behind ladies' backs.'
'Mrs Trumbly! the bishop, woman!'
'No more a woman than yourself, mum; and beggin' his lordship's parding, I 'opes as he'll tell widders as ain't bin mothers not to poke their stuck-up noses into what they knows nothing of.'
By this time a crowd was collecting, and evinced lively signs of pleasure at the prospect of seeing the Bishop of Beorminster as umpire in a street row. But the bishop had heard quite enough of the affray, and without mincing matters fled as quickly as his dignity would permit towards the friendly shelter of The Derby Winner, leaving Mesdames Pansey and Trumbly in the thick of a wordy war. The first-named lady held her own for some considerable time, until routed by her antagonist's superior knowledge of Billingsgate. Then it appeared very plainly that for once she had met with her match, and she hastily abandoned the field, pursued by a storm of highly-coloured abuse from the irate Mrs Trumbly. It was many a long day before Mrs Pansey ventured into that neighbourhood again; and she ever afterwards referred to it in terms which a rigid Calvinist usually applies to Papal Rome. As for Mrs Trumbly herself, the archdeacon's widow said the whole Commination Service over her with heartfelt and prayerful earnestness.
Bell flushed and whitened, and stammered and trembled, when she beheld the imposing figure of the bishop standing in the dark, narrow passage. To her he was a far-removed deity throned upon inaccessible heights, awesome and powerful, to be propitiated with humbleness and prayer; and the mere sight of him in her immediate neighbourhood brought her heart into her mouth. For once she lost her nonchalant demeanour, her free and easy speech, and stood nervously silent before him with hanging head and reddened cheeks. Fortunately for her she was dressed that day in a quiet and well-fitting frock of blue serge, and wore less than her usual number of jingling brassy ornaments. The bishop, who had an eye for a comely figure and a pretty face, approved of her looks; but he was clever enough to see that, however painted and shaped, she was made of very common clay, and would never be able to take her place amongst the porcelain maidens to whom Gabriel was accustomed. Still she seemed modest and shy as a maid should be, and Dr Pendle looked on her kindly and encouragingly.
'You are Miss Mosk, are you not?' he asked, raising his hat.
'Yes, my—my lord,' faltered Bell, not daring to raise her eyes above the bishop's gaiters. 'I am Bell Mosk.'
'In that case I should like some conversation with you. Can you take me to a more private place?'
'The little parlour, my lord; this way, please,' and Bell, reassured by her visitor's kindly manner, conducted him into her father's private snuggery at the back of the bar. Here she placed a chair for the bishop, and waited anxiously to hear if he came to scold or praise. Dr Pendle came to the point at once.
'I presume you know who I am, Miss Mosk?' he said quietly.
'Oh, yes, sir; the Bishop of Beorminster.'
'Quite so; but I am here less as the bishop than as Gabriel's father.'
'Yes,' whispered Bell, and stole a frightened look at the speaker's face.
'There is no need to be alarmed,' said Dr Pendle, encouragingly. 'I do not come here to scold you.'
'I hope not, my lord!' said Miss Mosk, recovering herself a trifle, 'as I have done nothing to be scolded for. If I am in love with Gabriel, and he with me, 'tis only human nature, and as such can't be run down.'
'That entirely depends upon the point of view which is taken,' observed the bishop, mildly. 'For instance, I have a right to be annoyed that my son should engage himself to you without consulting me.'
Bell produced a foolish little lace handkerchief. 'Of course, I know I ain't a lady, sir,' said she, tearfully. 'But I do love Gabriel, and I'm sure I'll do my best to make him happy.'
'I do not doubt that, Miss Mosk; but are you sure that you are wise in marrying out of your sphere?'
'King Cophetua loved a beggar maid, my lord; and the Lord of Burleigh married a village girl,' said Bell, who knew her Tennyson, 'and I'm sure I'm as good as both lots.'
'Certainly,' assented the bishop, dryly; 'but if I remember rightly, the Lord of Burleigh's bride sank under her burden of honours.'
Bell tossed her head in spite of the bishop's presence. 'Oh, she had no backbone, not a bit. I've got heaps more sense than she had. But you mustn't think I want to run after gentlemen, sir. I have had plenty of offers; and I can get more if I want to. Gabriel has only to say the word and the engagement is off.'
'Indeed, I think that would be the wiser course,' replied the bishop, who wondered more and more what Gabriel could see in this commonplace beauty attractive to his refined nature, 'but I know that my son loves you dearly, and I wish to see him happy.'
'I hope you don't think I want to make him miserable, sir,' cried Bell, her colour and temper rising.
'No! no! Miss Mosk. But a matter like this requires reflection and consideration.'
'We have reflected, my lord. Gabriel and me's going to marry.'
'Indeed! will you not ask my consent?'
'I ask it now, sir! I'm sure,' said Bell, again becoming tearful, 'this ain't my idea of love-making, to be badgered into saying I'm not good enough for him. If he's a man let him marry me, if he's a worm he needn't. I've no call to go begging. No, indeed!'
The bishop began to feel somewhat embarrassed, for Miss Mosk applied every word to herself in so personal a way, that whatever he said constituted a ground of offence, and he scarcely knew upon what lines to conduct so delicate a conversation. Also the girl was crying, and her tears made Dr Pendle fear that he was exercising his superiority in a brutal manner. Fortunately the conversation was brought abruptly to an end, for while the bishop was casting about how to resume it, the door opened softly and Mr Mosk presented himself.
'Father!' cried Bell, in anything but pleased tones.
'My gal!' replied Mosk, with husky tenderness—'and in tears. What 'ave you bin sayin' to her, sir?' he added, with a ferocious glance at Pendle.
'Hush, father! 'tis his lordship, the bishop.' 'I know'd the bishop's looks afore you was born, my gal,' said Mosk, playfully, 'and it's proud I am to see 'im under m' umble roof. Lor'! 'ere's a 'appy family meeting.'
'I think,' said the bishop, with a glance at Mosk to assure himself that the man was sober—'I think, Miss Mosk, that it is advisable your father and myself should have a few words in private.'
'I don't want father to interfere—' began Bell, when her parent gripped her arm, and cutting her short with a scowl conducted her to the door.
'Don't you git m' back up,' he whispered savagely, 'or you'll be cussedly sorry for yerself an' everyone else. Go to yer mother.'
'But, father, I—'
'Go to yer mother, I tell y',' growled the man, whereupon Bell, seeing that her father was in a soberly brutal state, which was much more dangerous than his usual drunken condition, hastily left the room, and closed the door after her. 'An' now, m' lord,' continued Mosk, returning to the bishop, 'jus' look at me.'
Dr Pendle did so, but it was not a pretty object he contemplated, for the man was untidy, unwashed and frowsy in looks. He was red-eyed and white-faced, but perfectly sober, although there was every appearance about him of having only lately recovered from a prolonged debauch. Consequently his temper was morose and uncertain, and the bishop, having a respect for the dignity of his position and cloth, felt uneasy at the prospect of a quarrel with this degraded creature. But Dr Pendle's spirit was not one to fail him in such an emergency, and he surveyed Mr Caliban in a cool and leisurely manner.
'I'm a father, I am!' continued Mosk, defiantly, 'an' as good a father as you. My gal's goin' to marry your son. Now, m' lord, what have you to say to that?'
'Moderate your tone, my man,' said the bishop, imperiously; 'a conversation conducted in this manner can hardly be productive of good results either to yourself or to your daughter.'
'I don' mean any 'arm!' replied Mosk, rather cowed, 'but I mean to 'ave m' rights, I do.'
'Your rights? What do you mean?'
'M' rights as a father,' explained the man, sulkily. 'Your son's bin runnin' arter m' gal, and lowerin' of her good name.'
'Hold your tongue, sir. Mr Pendle's intentions with regard to Miss Mosk are most honourable.'
'They'd better be,' threatened the other, 'or I'll know how to make 'em so. Ah, that I shall.'
'You talk idly, man,' said the bishop, coldly.
'I talk wot'll do, m' lord. Who's yer son, anyhow? My gal's as good as he, an' a sight better. She's born on the right side of the blanket, she is. There now!'
A qualm as of deadly sickness seized Dr Pendle, and he started from his chair with a pale face and a startled eye.
'What do you—you—you mean, man?' he asked again.
Mosk laughed scornfully, and lugging a packet of papers out of his pocket flung it on the table. 'That's what I mean,' said he; 'certif'cate! letters! story! Yer wife ain't yer wife; Gabriel's only Gabriel an' not Pendle at all!'
'Certificate! letters!' gasped the bishop, snatching them up. 'You got these from Jentham.'
'That I did; he left them with me afore he went out to meet you.'
'Murderer! Halloa!' cried Mosk, recoiling, pale and startled.
'Murderer!' repeated Dr Pendle. 'Jentham showed these to me on the common; you must have taken them from his dead body. You are the man who shot him.'
'It's a lie,' whispered Mosk, with pale lips, shrinking back, 'an' if I did, you daren't tell. I know your secret.'
'Secret or not, you shall suffer for your crime,' cried the bishop, with a stride towards the door.
'Stand back! It's a lie! I'm desperate. I didn't kill—Hark!'
There was a noise outside which terrified the guilty conscience of the murderer. He did not know that the officers of justice were at the door, not did the bishop, but the unexpected sound turned their blood to water, and made their hearts, the innocent and the guilty, knock at their ribs. A sharp knock came at the door.
'Help!' cried the bishop. 'The murderer!' and he sprang forward to throw himself on the shaking, shambling wretch. Mosk eluded him, but uttered a squeaking cry like the shriek of a hunted hare in the jaws of the greyhound. The next instant the room seemed to swarm with men, and the bishop as in a dream heard the merciless formula of the law pronounced by Tinkler,—
'In the name of the Queen I arrest you, William Mosk, on a charge of murder.'
THE HONOUR OF GABRIEL
Great as had been the popular excitement over Jentham's death, it was almost mild compared with that which swept through Beorminster when his murderer was discovered and arrested. No one had ever thought of connecting Mosk with the crime; and even on his seizure by warrant many declined to believe in his guilt. Nevertheless, when the man was brought before the magistrates, the evidence adduced against him by Baltic was so strong and clear and irrefutable that, without a dissenting word from the Bench, the prisoner was committed to stand his trial at the ensuing assizes. Mosk made no defence; he did not even offer a remark; but, accepting his fate with sullen apathy, sunk into a lethargic, unobservant state, out of which nothing and no person could arouse him. His brain appeared to have been stunned by the suddenness of his calamity.
Many people expressed surprise that Bishop Pendle should have been present when the man was arrested, and some blamed him for having even gone to The Derby Winner. A disreputable pot-house, they whispered, was not the neighbourhood in which a spiritual lord should be found. But Mrs Pansey, for once on the side of right, soon put a stop to such talk by informing one and all that the bishop had visited the hotel at her request in order to satisfy himself that the reports and scandals about it were true. That Mosk should have been arrested while Dr Pendle was making his inquiries was a pure coincidence, and it was greatly to the bishop's credit that he had helped to secure the murderer. In fact, Mrs Pansey was not very sure but what he had taken the wretch in charge with his own august hands.
And the bishop himself? He was glad that Mrs Pansey, to foster her own vanity, had put this complexion on his visit to the hotel, as it did away with any need of a true but uncomfortable explanation. Also he had carried home with him the packet tossed on the table by Mosk, therefore, so far as actual proof was concerned, his secret was still his own. But the murderer knew it, for not only were the certificate and letters in the bundle, but there was also a sheet of memoranda set down by Krant, alias Jentham, which proved clearly that the so-called Mrs Pendle was really his wife.
'If I destroy these papers,' thought the bishop, 'all immediate evidence likely to reveal the truth will be done away with. But Mosk knows that Amy is not my wife; that my marriage is illegal, that my children are nameless; out of revenge for my share in his arrest, he may tell someone the story and reveal the name of the church wherein Amy was married to Krant. Then the register there will disclose my secret to anyone curious enough to search the books. What shall I do? What can I do? I dare not visit Mosk. I dare not ask Graham to see him. There is nothing to be done but to hope for the best. If this miserable man speaks out, I shall be ruined.'
Dr Pendle quite expected ruin, for he had no hope that a coarse and cruel criminal would be honourable enough to hold his tongue. But this belief, although natural enough, showed how the bishop misjudged the man. From the moment of his arrest, Mosk spoke no ill of Dr Pendle; he hinted at no secret, and to all appearances was quite determined to carry it with him to the scaffold. On the third day of his arrest, however, he roused himself from his sullen silence, and asked that young Mr Pendle might be sent for. The governor of the prison, anticipating a confession to be made in due form to a priest, hastily sent for Gabriel. The young man obeyed the summons at once, for, his father having informed him of Mosk's acquaintance with the secret, he was most anxious to learn from the man himself whether he intended to talk or keep silent. It was with a beating heart that Gabriel was ushered into the prison cell.
By special permission the interview was allowed to be private, for Mosk positively refused to speak in the presence of a third person. He was sitting on his bed when the parson entered, but looked up with a gleam of joy in his blood-shot eyes when he was left alone with the young man.
''Tis good of you to come and see a poor devil, Mr Pendle,' he said in a grateful voice. 'Y'll be no loser by yer kin'ness, I can tell y'.'
'To whom should a priest come, save to those who need him?'
'Oh, stow that!' growled Mosk, in a tone of disgust; 'if I want religion I can get more than enough from that Baltic cove. He's never done preachin' and prayin' as if I were a bloomin' 'eathen. No, Mr Pendle, it ain't as a priest as I asked y' t' see me, but as a man—as a gentleman!' His voice broke. 'It's about my poor gal,' he whispered.
'About Bell,' faltered Gabriel, nervously clasping his hands together.
'Yes! I s'pose, sir, you won't think of marryin' her now?'
'Mosk! Mosk! who am I that I should visit your sins on her innocent head?'
'Hold 'ard!' cried Mosk, his face lighting up; 'does that Bible speech mean as y' are goin' to behave honourable?'
'How else did you expect me to behave? Mosk!' said Gabriel, laying a slim hand on the man's knee, 'after your arrest I went to The Derby Winner. It is shut up, and I was unable to enter, as Bell refused to see me. The shock of your evil deed has made your wife so ill that her life is despaired of. Bell is by her bedside night and day, so this is no time for me to talk of marriage. But I give you my word of honour, that in spite of the disgrace you have brought upon her, Bell shall be my wife.'
Mosk burst out crying like a child. 'God bless you, Mr Pendle!' he sobbed, catching at Gabriel's hand. 'You have lifted a weight off my heart. I don't care if I do swing now; I daresay I deserve to swing, but as long as she's all right!—my poor gal! It's a sore disgrace to her. And Susan, too. Susan's dyin', y' say! Well, it's my fault; but if I've sinned I've got to pay a long price for it.'
'Alas! alas! the wages of sin is death.'
'I don't want religion, I tell 'ee,' said Mosk, drying his eyes; 'I've lived bad and I'll die bad.' 'Mosk! Mosk! even at the eleventh hour—'
'That's all right, Mr Pendle; I know all about th' 'leventh hour, and repentance and the rest of th' rot. Stow it, sir, and listen. You'll keep true to my gal?'
'On the honour of a gentleman. I love her; she is as dear to me now as she ever was.'
'That's wot I expected y' to say, sir. Y' allays wos a gentleman. Now you 'ark, Mr Pendle; I knows all about that mar—'
'Don't speak of it!' interrupted Gabriel, with a shudder.
'I ain't goin' to, sir. His lor'ship 'ave the papers I took from him as I did for; so no one but yerself an' yer father knows about 'em. I sha'n't breathe a word about that Krant marriage to a single, solitary soul, and when I dies the secret will die with me. You're actin' square by my poor gal, sir, so I'm agoin' to act square by you. It ain't for me to cover with shame the name as you're goin' to give my Bell.'
'Thank you!' gasped Gabriel, whose emotion at this promise was so great that he could hardly speak, 'thank you!'
'I don' need no thanks, sir; you're square, an' I'm square. So now as I've got that orf m' mind you'd better go. I ain't fit company for the likes of you.'
'Let me say a prayer, Mosk?'
'No, sir; it's too late to pray for me.'
Gabriel raised his hand solemnly. 'As Christ liveth, it is not too late. Though your sins be as—'
'Goo'bye,' interrupted Mosk, and throwing himself on his bed, he turned his face to the wall. Not another word of confession or repentance could Gabriel get him to speak. Nevertheless, the clergyman knelt down on the chill stones and implored God's pardon for this stubborn sinner, whose heart was hardened against the divine grace. Mosk gave no sign of hearing the supplication; but when Gabriel was passing out of the cell, he suddenly rushed forward and kissed his hand. 'God, in His mercy, pity and pardon you, Mosk,' said Gabriel, and left the wretched man with his frozen heart shivering under the black, black shadow of the gallows.
It was with a sense of relief that the curate found himself once more in the sunshine. As he walked swiftly along towards the palace, to carry the good news to his father, he thanked God in his heart that the shadow of impending disaster had passed away. The incriminating papers were in the right hands; their secret was known only to himself, to Graham, and to the bishop. When the truth was told to his mother, and her position had been rectified by a second marriage, Gabriel felt that all would be safe. Cargrim knew nothing of the truth, and therefore could do nothing. With the discovery of the actual criminal all his wicked plans had come to naught; and it only remained for the man he had wronged so deeply to take from him the position of trust which he had so dishonourably abused. As for Gabriel himself, he determined to marry Bell Mosk, as he had promised her miserable father, and to sail with his wife for the mission fields of the South Seas. There they could begin a new life, and, happy in one another's love, would forget the past in assiduous labours amongst the heathen. Baltic knew the South Seas; Baltic could advise and direct how they should begin to labour in that vineyard of the Lord; and Baltic could start them on a new career for the glory of God and the sowing of the good seed. With thoughts like these, Gabriel walked along, wrapped in almost apocalyptic visions, and saw with inspired gaze the past sorrows of himself and Bell fade and vanish in the glory of a God-guided, God-provided future. It was not the career he had shadowed forth for himself; but he resigned his ambitions for Bell's sake, and aided by love overcame his preference for civilised ease. Vincit, qui se vincit.