At these plain proofs of Alfred's infidelity, Julia's sweet throat began to swell hysterically, and then her bosom to heave and pant: and, after a piteous struggle, came a passion of sobs and tears so wild, so heart-broken, that Edward blamed himself bitterly for telling her.
But Mrs. Dodd sobbed "No, no, I would rather have her so; only leave her with me now: bless you, darling: leave us quickly."
She rocked and nursed her deserted child hours and hours: and so the miserable day crawled to its close.
Downstairs the house looked strange and gloomy: she, who had brightened it all, was darkened herself. The wedding breakfast and flowers remained in bitter mockery. Sarah cleared half the table, and Sampson and Edward dined in moody silence.
Presently Sampson's eye fell upon the Deed: it lay on a small table with a pen beside it, to sign on their return from church.
Sampson got hold of it and dived in the verbiage. He came up again with a discovery. In spite of its feebleness, verbosity, obscurity, and idiotic way of expressing itself, the Deed managed to convey to David and Mrs. Dodd a life interest in nine thousand five hundred pounds, with reversion to Julia and the children of the projected marriage. Sampson and Edward put their heads over this, and it puzzled them, "Why, man," said Sampson, "if the puppy had signed this last night, he would be a beggar now."
"Ay," said Edward, "but after all he did not sign it."
"Nay, but that was your fault, not his: the lad was keen to sign."
"That is true; and perhaps if we had pinned him to this, last night, he would not have dared insult my sister to-day."
Sampson changed the subject by inquiring suddenly which way he was gone.
"Curse him, I don't know; and don't care. Go where he will I shall meet him again some day; and then--Edward spoke almost in a whisper, but a certain grind of his white teeth and flashing of his lion eyes made the incomplete sentence very expressive.
"What ninnies you young men are," said the Doctor; "even you, that I dub 'my fathom o' good sense:' just finish your denner and come with me."
"No, Doctor; I'm off my feed for once: if you had been upstairs and seen my poor sister! Hang the grub; it turns my stomach." And he shoved his plate away, and leaned over the back of his chair.
Sampson made him drink a glass of wine, and then they got up from the half-finished meal and went hurriedly to Alfred's lodgings, the Doctor, though sixty, rushing along with all the fire and buoyancy of early youth. They found the landlady surrounded by gossips curious as themselves, and longing to chatter, but no materials. The one new fact they elicited was that the vehicle was a White Lion fly, for she knew the young man by the cast in his eye. "Come away," shouted the Doctor unceremoniously, and in two minutes they were in the yard of the White Lion.
Sampson called the ostler: out came a hard-featured man, with a strong squint. Sampson concluded this was his man, and said roughly: "Where did you drive young Hardie this morning?"
He seemed rather taken aback by this abrupt question; but reflected and slapped his thigh: "Why, that is the party from Mill Street."
"Druv him to Silverton station, sir: and wasn't long about it, either--gent was in a hurry."
"What train did he go by?"
"Well, I don't know, sir; I left him at the station."
"Well, then, where did he take his ticket for? Where did he tell the porter he was going? Think now, and I'll give y' a sovereign."
The ostler scratched his head, and seemed at first inclined to guess for the sovereign, but at last said: "I should only be robbing you gents. Ye see, he paid the fly then and there, and gave me a crown: and I druv away directly."
On this they gave him a shilling and left him. But on leaving the yard Edward said: "Doctor, I don't like that fellow's looks: let us try the landlord." They went into the bar and made similar inquiries. The landlord was out, the mistress knew nothing about it, but took a book out of a drawer, and turned over the leaves. She read out an entry to this effect--
"Pair horse fly to Silverton: take up in Mill Street at eight o'clock. Is that it, sir?" Sampson assented; but Edward told her the ostler said it was Silverton station.
"No: it is Silverton in the book, sir. Well, you see it is all one to us; the station is further than the town, but we charge seven miles whichever 'tis."
Bradshaw, inspected then and there, sought in vain to conceal that four trains reach Silverton from different points between 8.50 and 9.25 A. M.
The friends retired with this scanty information. Alfred could hardly have gone to London; for there was a train up from Barkington itself at 8.30. But he might have gone to almost any other part of the island, or out of it for that matter. Sampson fell into a brown study.
After a long silence, which Edward was too sad to break, he said thoughtfully: "Bring sceince to bear on this hotch-potch. Facks are never really opposed to facks; they onnly seem to be: and the true solution is the one which riconciles all the facks: for instance, the chronothairmal Therey riconciles all th' undisputed facks in midicine. So now sairch for a solution to riconcile the Deed with the puppy levanting."
Edward searched, but could find none; and said so.
"Can't you?" said Sampson; "then I'll give you a couple. Say he is touched in the upper story for one."
"What do you mean? Mad?"
"Oh: there are degrees of Phrinzy. Here is th' inconsistency of conduct that marks a disturbance of the reason: and, to tell the truth, I once knew a young fellow that played this very prank at a wedding, and the nixt thing we hard, my lorrd was in Bedlam."
Edward shook his head: "It is the villain's heart, not his brain."
Sampson then offered another solution, in which he owned he had more confidence--
"He has been courting some other wumman first: she declined, or made believe; but, when she found he had the spirit to go and marry an innocent girl, then the jade wrote to him and yielded. It's a married one, likely. I've known women go further for hatred of a wumman than they would for love of a man and here was a temptation! to snap a lover off th' altar, and insult a rival, all at one blow. He meant to marry: he meant to sign that deed: ay and at his age, even if he had signed it, he would have gone off at passion's call, and beggared himself. What enrages me is that we didn't let him sign it, and so nail the young rascal's money."
"Curse his money," said Edward, "and him too. Wait till I can lay my hand on him: I'll break every bone in his skin."
"And I'll help you."
In the morning, Mrs. Dodd left Julia for a few minutes expressly to ask Sampson's advice. After Alfred's conduct she was free, and fully determined, to defend herself and family against spoliation by any means in her power: so she now showed the doctor David's letter about the £14,000; and the empty pocket-book; and put together the disjointed evidence of Julia, Alfred, and circumstances, in one neat and luminous statement. Sampson was greatly struck with the revelation: he jumped off his chair and marched about excited: said truth was stranger than fiction, and this was a manifest swindle: then he surprised Mrs. Dodd in her turn by assuming that old Hardie was at the bottom of yesterday's business. Neither Edward nor his mother could see that, and said so: his reply was characteristic: "Of course you can't; you are Anglosaxins; th' Anglosaxins are good at drawing distinctions: but they can't gineralise. I'm a Celt, and gineralise--as a duck swims. I discovered th' unity of all disease: it would be odd if I could not trace the maniform iniquities you suffer to their one source."
"But what is the connecting link?" asked Mrs. Dodd, still incredulous.
"Why, Richard Hardie's interest."
"Well, but the letter?" objected Edward.
"There goes th' Anglosaxin again," remonstrated Sampson: "puzzling his head over petty details; and they are perhaps mere blinds thrown out by the enemy. Put this and that together: Hardie senior always averse to this marriage; Hardie senior wanting to keep £14,000 of yours: if his son, who knows of the fraud, became your mother's son, the swinidle would be hourly in danger (no connection? y' unhappy Anglosaxins; why the two things are interwoven). And so young Hardie is got out of the way: old Hardie's doing, or I'm a Dutchman."
This reasoning still appeared forced and fanciful to Edward but it began to make some little impression on Mrs. Dodd, and encouraged her to own that her poor daughter suspected foul play.
"Well, that is possible, too: whativer tempted man has done, tempted man will do: but more likely he has bribed Jezebel to write and catch the goose by the heart. Gintlennen, I'm a bit of a physiognomist: look at old Hardie's lines; his cords, I might say: and deeper every time I see him. Sirs, there's an awful weight on that man's mind. Looksee! I'll just send a small trifle of a detective down to watch his game, and pump his people: and, as soon as it is safe, we'll seize the old bird, and, once he is trapped the young one will reappear like magic: th' old one will disgorge; we'll just compound the felony--been an old friend--and recover the cash."
A fine sketch; but Edward thought it desperately wild, and Mrs. Dodd preferred employing a respectable attorney to try and obtain justice in the regular way. Sampson laughed at her; what was the use of attacking in the regular way an irregular genius like old Hardie? "Attorneys are too humdrum for such a job," said he; "they start with a civil letter putting a rogue on his guard; they proceed t' a writ and then he digs a hole in another county and buries the booty; or sails t' Australia with it. N'list'me; I'm an old friend, and an insane lover of justice--I say insane, because my passion is not returned, or the jade wouldn't keep out of my way so all these years--you leave all this to me."
"Stop a minute," said Edward; "you must not go compromising us: and we have no money to pay for luxuries like detectives."
"I won't compromise any one of you: and my detective shan't cost y' a penny."
"Ah, my dear friend," said Mrs. Dodd, "the fact is, you do not know all the difficulties that beset us. Tell him, Edward. Well, then, let me. The poor boy is attached to this gentleman's daughter, whom you propose to treat like a felon: and he is too good a son and too good a friend for me to--what, what, shall I do?"
Edward coloured up to the eyes. "Who told you that, mother?" said he. "Well, yes, I do love her, and I'm not ashamed of it. Doctor," said the poor fellow after a while, "I see now I am not quite the person to advise my mother in this matter. I consent to leave it in your hands."
And in pursuance of this resolution, he retired to his study.
"There's a damnable combination," said Sampson drily. "Truth is sairtainly more wonderful than feckshin. Here's my fathom o' good sense in love with a wax doll, and her brother jilting his sister, and her father pillaging his mother. It beats hotch-potch."
Mrs. Dodd denied the wax doll: but owned Miss Hardie was open to vast objections: "An inestimable young lady; but so odd; she is one of these uneasy-minded Christians that have sprung up: a religious egotist, and malade imaginaire, eternally feeling her own spiritual pulse----"
"I know the disorrder," cried Sampson eagerly: "the pashints have a hot fit (and then they are saints): followed in due course by the cold fit (and then they are the worst of sinners): and so on in endless rotation: and, if they could only realise my great discovery, the perriodicity of all disease, and time their sintiments, they would find the hot fit and the cold return chronometrically, at intervals as rigular as the tide's ebb and flow; and the soul has nothing to do with either febrile symptom. Why Religion, apart from intermittent Fever of the Brain, is just the caumest, peaceablest, sedatest thing in all the world."
"Ah, you are too deep for me, my good friend. All I know is that she is one of this new school, whom I take the liberty to call 'THE FIDGETY CHRISTIANS.' They cannot let their poor souls alone a minute; and they pester one day and night with the millennium; as if we shall not all be dead long before that. But the worst is, they apply the language of earthly passion to the Saviour of mankind, and make one's flesh creep at their blasphemies; so coarse, so familiar: like that rude multitude which thronged and pressed Him when on earth. But, after all, she came to the church, and took my Julia's part; so that shows she has principle; and do pray spare me her feelings in any step you take against that dishonourable person her father. I must go back to his victim, my poor, poor child--I dare not leave her long. Oh, Doctor, such a night! and, if she dozes for a minute, it is to wake with a scream and tell me she sees him dead: sometimes he is drowned; sometimes stained with blood, but always dead."
This evening Mr. Hardie came along in a fly with his luggage on the box, returning to Musgrove Cottage as from Yorkshire: in passing Albion Villa he cast it a look of vindictive triumph. He got home and nodded by the fire in his character of a man wearied by a long journey. Jane made him some tea, and told him how Alfred had disappeared on his wedding-day.
"The young scamp," said he; he added, coolly, "It is no business of mine. I had no hand in making the match, thank Heaven." In the conversation that ensued, he said he had always been averse to the marriage; but not so irreconcilably as to approve this open breach of faith with a respectable young lady. "This will recoil upon our name, you know, at this critical time," said he.
Then Jane mustered courage to confess that she had gone to the wedding herself: "Dear papa," said she, "it was made clear to me that the Dodds are acting in what they consider a most friendly way to you. They think--I cannot tell you what they think. But, if mistaken, they are sincere: and so, after prayer, and you not being here for me to consult, I did go to the church. Forgive me, papa: I have but one brother; and she is my dear friend."
Mr. Hardie's countenance fell at this announcement, and he looked almost diabolical. But on second thoughts he cleared up wonderfully: "I will be frank with you, Jenny: if the wedding had come off; I should have been deeply hurt at your supporting that little monster of ingratitude. He not only marries against his father's will (that is done every day), but slanders and maligns him publicy in his hour of poverty and distress. But now that he has broken faith and insulted Miss Dodd as well as me, I declare I am glad you were there, Jenny. It will separate us from his abominable conduct. But what does he say for himself? What reason does he give?"
"Oh, it is all mystery as yet."
"Well, but he must have sent some explanation to the Dodds."
"He may have: I don't know. I have not ventured to intrude on my poor insulted friend. Papa, I hear her distress is fearful; they fear for her reason. Oh, if harm comes to her, God will assuredly punish him whose heartlessness and treachery has brought her to it. Mark my words," she continued with great emotion, "this cruel act will not go unpunished even in this world."
"There, there, change the subject," said Mr. Hardie peevishly. "What have I to do with his pranks? He has disowned me for his father, and I disown him for my son."
The next day Peggy Black called, and asked to see master. Old Betty, after the first surprise, looked at her from head to foot, and foot to head, as if measuring her for a suit of disdain; and told her she might carry her own message; then flounced into the kitchen, and left her to shut the street door, which she did. She went and dropped her curtsey at the parlour door, and in a miminy piminy voice said she was come to make her submission, and would he forgive her, and give her another trial? Her penitence, after one or two convulsive efforts, ended in a very fair flow of tears.
Mr. Hardie shrugged his shoulders, and asked Jane if the girl had ever been saucy to her.
"Oh no, papa: indeed I have no fault to find with poor Peggy."
"Well, then, go to your work, and try and not offend Betty; remember she is older than you."
Peggy went for her box and bandbox, and reinstated herself quietly, and all old Betty's endeavours to irritate her only elicited a calm cunning smile, with a depression of her downy eyelashes.
Next morning Edward Dodd was woke out of a sound sleep at about four o'clock, by a hand upon his shoulder: he looked up, and rubbed his eyes; it was Julia standing by his bedside, dressed, and in her bonnet. "Edward," she said in a hurried whisper, "there is foul play: I cannot sleep, I cannot be idle. He has been decoyed away, and perhaps murdered. Oh, pray get up and go to the police office or somewhere with me."
"Very well; but wait till morning."
"No; now; now--now--now. I shall never go out of doors in the daytime again. Wait? I'm going crazy with wait, wait, wait, wait, waiting."
Her hand was like fire on him, and her eyes supernaturally bright.
"There," said Edward with a groan, "go downstairs, and I will be with you directly."
He came down: they went out together: her little burning hand pinched his tight, and her swift foot seemed scarcely to touch the ground; she kept him at his full stride till they got to the central police station. There, at the very thought of facing men, the fiery innocent suddenly shrank together, and covered her blushing face with her hot hands. She sent him in alone. He found an intelligent superintendent, who entered into the case with all the coolness of an old official hand.
Edward came out to his sister, and as he hurried her home, told her what had passed: "The superintendent asked to see the letter; I told him he had taken it with him: that was a pity, he said. Then he made me describe Alfred to a nicety: and the description will go up to London this morning, and all over Barkington, and the neighbourhood, and the county."
She stopped to kiss him, then went on again with her head down, and neither spoke till they were nearly home: then Edward told her "the superintendent felt quite sure that the villain was not dead; nor in danger of it."
"Oh, bless him! bless him! for saying so."
"And that he will turn up in London before very long; not in this neighbourhood. He says he must have known the writer of the letter, and his taking his luggage with him shows he has gone off deliberately. My poor little Ju, now do try and look at it as he does, and everybody else does; try and see it as you would if you were a bystander."
She laid her soft hand on his shoulder as if to support herself floating in her sea of doubt: "I do see I am a poor credulous girl; but how can my Alfred be false to me? Am I to doubt the Bible? Am I to doubt the sun? Is nothing true in heaven or earth? Oh, if I could only have died as I was dressing for church--died while he seemed true! He is true; the wicked creature has cast some spell on him: he has gone in a moment of delirium; he will regret what he has done, perhaps regrets it now. I am ungrateful to you, Edward, and to the good policeman, for saying he is not dead. What more do I require? He is dead to me. Edward, let us leave this place. We were going: let us go to-day; this very day; oh, take me, and hide me where no one that knows me can ever see me again." A flood of tears came to her relief: and she went along sobbing and kissing her brother's hand every now and then.
But, as they drew near the gate of Albion Villa, twilight began to usher in the dawn. Julia shuddered at even that faint light, and fled like a guilty thing, and hid herself sobbing in her own bedroom.
Mr. Richard Hardie slept better now than he had done for some time past, and therefore woke more refreshed and in better spirits. He knew an honest family was miserable a few doors off; but he did not care. He got up and shaved with a mind at ease. One morning, when he had removed the lather from one half his face, he happened to look out of window, and saw on the wall opposite--a placard: a large placard to this effect:
"ONE HUNDRED GUINEAS REWARD!
Whereas, on the 11th instant Mr. Alfred Hardie disappeared mysteriously from his lodgings in 15 Mill Street, under circumstances suggesting a suspicion of foul play, know all men that the above reward will be paid to any person or persons who shall first inform the undersigned where the said Alfred Hardie is to be found, and what person or persons, if any, have been concerned in his disappearance.
ALEXANDER SAMPSON, 39 Pope Street, Napoleon Square London."
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