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Tears are not always fruitful; their hot drops
Sometimes but scorch the cheek and dim the eye;
Despairing murmurs over blackened hopes,
Not the meek spirit's calm and chastened cry.
Oh, better not to weep, than weep amiss!
For hard it is to learn to weep aright;
To weep wise tears, the tears that heal and bless,
The tears which their own bitterness requite.--H. BONAR
To one of the most tender-hearted of human beings had the office of conveying ill tidings been most often committed, and again Dr. May found himself compelled to precede Henry Ward into the sister's presence, and to break to her the result of the inquest.
He was no believer in the efficacy of broken news, but he could not refuse when Henry in his wretchedness entreated not to be the first in the infliction of such agony; so he left the carriage outside, and walked up to the door; and there stood Averil, with Ethel a few steps behind her. His presence was enough revelation. Had things gone well, he would not have been the forerunner; and Averil, meaning perhaps to speak, gave a hoarse hysterical shriek, so frightful as to drive away other anxieties, and summon Henry in from his watch outside.
All day the poor girl had kept up an unnatural strain on her powers, vehemently talking of other things, and, with burning cheeks and shining eyes, moving incessantly from one employment to another; now her needle, now her pencil--roaming round the garden gathering flowers, or playing rattling polkas that half stunned Ethel in her intense listening for tidings. Ethel, who had relieved guard and sent Mary home in the afternoon, had vainly striven to make Ave rest or take food; the attempt had brought on such choking, that she could only desist, and wait for the crisis. The attack was worse than any ordinary hysterics, almost amounting to convulsions; and all that could be done was to prevent her from hurting herself, and try to believe Dr. May's assurance that there was no real cause for alarm, and that the paroxysms would exhaust themselves.
In time they were spent, and Ave lay on her bed half torpid, feebly moaning, but with an instinctive dread of being disturbed. Henry anxiously watched over her, and Dr. May thought it best to leave the brother and sister to one another. Absolute quiet was best for her, and he had skill and tenderness enough to deal with her, and was evidently somewhat relieved by the necessity of waiting on her. It was the best means, perhaps, of uniting them, that they should be thus left together; and Dr. May would have taken home little pale frightened Minna, who had been very helpful all the time.
'Oh, please not, Dr. May,' she said, earnestly. 'Indeed I will not be troublesome, and I can give Henry his tea, and carry Ave's cup. Please, Henry, don't send me:' and she took hold of his hand, and laid it against her cheek. He bent down over her, and fondled her; and there were tears that he could not hide as he tried both to thank Dr. May, and tell her that she need not leave him.
'No,' said Dr. May; 'it would be cruel to both of you.--Good-bye, little Minna; I never wanted to carry away a little comforter.'
'I believe you are right, papa,' said Ethel, as she went out with him to the carriage; 'but I long to stay, it is like doing something for that boy.'
'The best you did for him, poor dear boy! was the saying you trusted his word. The moment I told him that, he took comfort and energy.'
Ethel's lips moved into a strange half smile, and she took Mab on her lap, and fondled her. 'Yes,' she said, 'I believe I stand for a good deal in his imagination. I was afraid he would have been wrecked upon that horrid place; but, after all, this may be the saving of him.'
'Ah! if that story of his would only be more vraisemblable.'
There was only time briefly to narrate it before coming home, where the first person they met was Aubrey, exceeding pale, and in great distress. 'Papa, I must tell you,' he said, drawing him into the study. 'I have done terrible harm, I am afraid.' And he explained, that in the morning, when Mrs. Pugh had come down full of inquiries and conjectures, and had spoken of the possibility of Leonard's having been drowned while bathing, he had unguardedly answered that it could be no such thing; Leonard had always meant to run away, and by that very window, if the Axworthys grew too bad.
Prudent Tom had silenced him at the time, but had since found that it had got abroad that the evasion had long been meditated with Aubrey's privity, and had been asked by one of the constabulary force if his brother would not be an important witness. Tom had replied that he knew nothing about it; but Aubrey was in great misery, furious with Mrs. Pugh, and only wanting his father to set off at once to assure them it was all nonsense.
'No, Aubrey, they neither would, nor ought to, take my word.'
'Just hear, papa, and you would know the chaff it was.'
'I cannot hear, Aubrey. If we were to discuss it, we might give it an unconscious colouring. You must calm your mind, and exactly recall what passed; but do not talk about it to me or to any one else. You must do nothing to impair the power of perfect truth and accuracy, which is a thing to be prayed for. If any one--even the lawyer who may have to get up the case against him--asks you about it, you must refuse to answer till the trial; and then--why, the issue is in the hands of Him that judgeth righteously.'
'I shall never remember nor speak with his eyes on me, seeing me betray him!'
'You will be no worse off than I, my boy, for I see I am in for identifying Hector's rifle; the Mill people can't swear to it, and my doing it will save his brother something.'
'No, it is not like me. O! I wish I had stayed at Eton, even if I had died of it! Tom says it all comes of living with women that I can't keep my mouth shut; and Leonard will be so hurt that I--'
'Nay, any tolerable counsel will make a capital defence out of the mere fact of his rodomontading. What, is that no comfort to you?'
'What! to be the means of making a fool of him before all the court-- seeing him hear our talk by the river-side sifted by those horrid lawyers?'
The Doctor looked even graver, and his eye fixed as on a thought far away, as the boy's grief brought to his mind the Great Assize, when all that is spoken in the ear shall indeed be proclaimed on the house-tops.
There was something almost childish in this despair of Aubrey, for he had not become alarmed for the result of the trial. His misery was chiefly shame at his supposed treason to friendship, and failure in manly reserve; and he could not hold up his head all the evening, but silently devoted himself to Mab, endeavouring to make her at home, and meeting with tolerable success.
Tom was no less devoted to Ella Ward. It was he who had brought her home, and he considered her therefore as his charge. It was curious to see the difference that a year had made between her and Minna. They had the last summer been like one child, and had taken the stroke that had orphaned them in the same childish manner; but whether the year from eight to nine had been of especial growth to Minna, or whether there had been a stimulus in her constant association with Averil, the present sorrow fell on her as on one able to enter into it, think and feel, and assume her sweet mission of comfort; whilst Ella, though neither hard nor insensible, was still child enough to close her mind to what she dreaded, and flee willingly from the pain and tedium of affliction. She had willingly accepted 'Mr. Tom's' invitation, and as willingly responded to his attentions. Gertrude did not like people in the 'little girl' stage, and the elder sisters had their hands and hearts full, and could only care for her in essentials; but Tom undertook her amusement, treated her to an exhibition of his microscope, and played at French billiards with her the rest of the evening, till she was carried off to bed in Mary's room, when he pronounced her a very intelligent child.
'I think her a very unfeeling little thing,' said Gertrude. 'Very unbecoming behaviour under the circumstances.'
'What would you think becoming behaviour?' asked Tom.
'I won't encourage it,' returned Daisy, with dignified decision, that gave her father his first approach to a laugh on that day; but nobody was in spirits to desire Miss Daisy to define from what her important sanction was withdrawn.
Mary gave up her Sunday-school class to see how Averil was, and found Henry much perturbed. He had seen her fast asleep at night, and in the morning Minna had carried up her breakfast, and he was about to follow it, as soon as his own was finished, when he found that she had slipped out of the house, leaving a message that she was gone to practise on the harmonium.
He was of the mind that none of the family could or ought to be seen at church; and though Mary could not agree with him, she willingly consented to go to the chapel and try what she could do with his sister. She met Mrs. Ledwich on the way, coming to inquire and see whether she or dear Matilda could do anything for the 'sweet sufferer.' Even Mary could not help thinking that this was not the epithet most befitting poor Ave; and perhaps Mrs. Ledwich's companionship made her the less regret that Ave had locked herself in, so that there was no making her hear, though the solemn chants, played with great fervour, reached them as they waited in the porch. They had their own seats in the Minster, and therefore could not wait till the sexton should come to open the church.
There was no time for another visit till after the second service, and then Dr. May and Mary, going to Bankside, found that instead of returning home, Ave had again locked herself up between the services, and that Minna, who had ventured on a mission of recall, had come home crying heartily both at the dreary disappointment of knocking in vain, and at the grand mournful sounds of funeral marches that had fallen on her ear. Every one who had been at the chapel that day was speaking of the wonderful music, the force and the melody of the voluntary at the dismissal of the congregation; no one had believed that such power resided in the harmonium. Mr. Scudamour had spoken to Miss Ward most kindly both before and after evening service, but his attempt to take her home had been unavailing; she had answered that she was going presently, and he was obliged to leave her.
Evening was coming on, and she had not come, so the other keys were fetched from the sexton's, and Dr. May and his daughter set off to storm her fortress. Like Minna, the Doctor was almost overpowered by the wonderful plaintive sweetness of the notes that were floating through the atmosphere, like a wailing voice of supplication. They had almost unnerved him, as he waited while Mary unlocked the door.
The sound of its opening hushed the music; Averil turned her head, and recognizing them, came to them, very pale, and with sunken eyes. 'You are coming home, dear Ave,' said Mary; and she made no resistance or objection, only saying, 'Yes. It has been so nice here!'
'You must come now, though,' said the Doctor. 'Your brother is very much grieved at your leaving him.'
'I did not mean to be unkind to him,' said Averil, in a low subdued voice; 'he was very good to me last night. Only--this is peace-- this,' pointing to her instrument, 'is such a soothing friend. And surely this is the place to wait in!'
'The place to wait in indeed, my poor child, if you are not increasing the distress of others by staying here. Besides, you must not exhaust yourself, or how are you to go and cheer Leonard!'
'Oh! there is no fear but that I shall go to-morrow,' said Averil; 'I mean to do it!' the last words being spoken in a resolute tone, unlike the weariness of her former replies.
And with this purpose before her, she consented to be taken back by Mary to rest on the sofa, and even to try to eat and drink. Her brother and sister hung over her, and waited on her with a tender assiduous attention that showed how they had missed her all day; and she received their kindness gratefully, as far as her broken wearied state permitted.
Several inquiries had come throughout the day from the neighbours; and while Mary was still with Ave, a message was brought in to ask whether Miss Ward would like to see Mrs. Pugh.
'Oh no, no, thank her, but indeed I cannot,' said Averil, shivering uncontrollably as she lay.
Mary felt herself blushing, in the wonder what would be kindest to do, and her dread of seeing Henry's face. She was sure that he too shrank, and she ventured to ask, 'Shall I go and speak to her?'
'Oh, do, do,' said Averil, shuddering with eagerness. 'Thank you, Miss Mary,' said Henry slowly. 'She is most kind--but--under the circumstances--'
Mary went, finding that he only hesitated. She had little opportunity for saying anything; Mrs. Pugh was full of interest and eagerness, and poured out her sympathy and perfect understanding of dear Averil's feelings; and in the midst Henry came out of the room, with a stronger version of their gratitude, but in terrible confusion. Mary would fain have retreated, but could not, and was witness to the lady's urgent entreaties to take Minna home, and Henry's thankfulness; but he feared--and retreated to ask the opinion of his sisters, while Mrs. Pugh told Mary that it was so very bad for the poor child to remain, and begged to have Ella if she were a moment's inconvenience to the May family.
Henry came back with repeated thanks, but Minna could not bear to leave home; and in fact, he owned, with a half smile that gave sweetness to his face, she was too great a comfort to be parted with. So Mrs. Pugh departed, with doubled and trebled offers of service, and entreaties to be sent for at any hour of the day or night when she could be of use to Averil.
Mary could not but be pleased with her, officious as she was. It looked as if she had more genuine feeling for Henry than had been suspected, and the kindness was certain, though some of it might be the busy activity of a not very delicate nature, eager for the importance conferred by intimacy with the subjects of a great calamity. Probably she would have been gratified by the eclat of being the beloved of the brother of the youth whose name was in every mouth, and her real goodness and benevolent heart would have committed her affections and interest beyond recall to the Ward family, had Averil leant upon her, or had Henry exerted himself to take advantage of her advances.
But Henry's attachment had probably not been love, for it seemed utterly crushed out of him by his shame and despair. Everything connected with his past life was hateful to him; he declared that he could never show his face at Stoneborough again, let the result be what it might--that he could never visit another patient, and that he should change his name and leave the country, beginning on that very Sunday afternoon to write a letter to his principal rival to negotiate the sale of his practice.
In fact, his first impression had returned on him, and though he never disclaimed belief in Leonard's statement, the entire failure of all confirmation convinced him that the blow had been struck by his brother in sudden anger, and that, defend him as he might and would, the stain was on his house, and the guilt would be brought home.
Resolved, however, to do his utmost, he went with Mr. Bramshaw for a consultation with Leonard on the Monday. Averil could not go. She rose and dressed, and remained resolute till nearly the last minute, when her feverish faint giddiness overpowered her, and she was forced to submit to lie on the sofa, under Minna's care; and there she lay, restless and wretched, till wise little Minna sent a message up to the High Street, which brought down Mary and Dr. Spencer. They found her in a state of nervous fever, that sentenced her to her bed, where Mary deposited her and watched over her, till her brother's return, more desponding than ever.
Dr. May, with all Henry's patients on his hands as well as his own, had been forced to devote this entire day to his profession; but on the next, leaving Henry to watch over Averil, who continued very feeble and feverish, he went to Whitford, almost infected by Henry's forebodings and Mr. Bramshaw's misgivings. 'It is a bad case,' the attorney had said to him, confidentially. 'But that there is always a great reluctance to convict upon circumstantial evidence, I should have very little hope, that story of his is so utterly impracticable; and yet he looks so innocent and earnest all the time, and sticks to it so consistently, that I don't know what to make of it. I can't do anything with him, nor can his brother either; but perhaps you might make him understand that we could bring him clear off for manslaughter--youth, and character and all. I should not doubt of a verdict for a moment! It is awkward about the money, but the alarm would be considered in the sentence.'
'You don't attend to his account of the person he saw in the court- yard?'
'The less said about that the better,' returned Mr. Bramshaw. 'It would only go for an awkward attempt to shift off the suspicion, unless he would give any description; and that he can't, or won't do. Or even if he did, the case would be all the stronger against his story--setting off, and leaving a stranger to maraud about the place. No, Dr. May; the only thing for it is to persuade the lad to own to having struck the old man in a passion; every one knows old Axworthy could be intolerably abusive, and the boy always was passionate. Don't you remember his flying out at Mr. Rivers's, the night of the party, and that affair which was the means of his going to the mill at all? I don't mind saying so to you in confidence, because I know you won't repeat it, and I see his brother thinks so too; but nothing is likely to turn out so well for him as that line of defence; as things stand now, the present one is good for nothing.'
Dr. May was almost as much grieved at the notion of the youth's persistence in denying such a crime, as at the danger in which it involved him, and felt that if he were to be brought to confession, it should be from repentance, not expediency.
In this mood he drove to Whitford Gaol, made application at the gates, and was conducted up the stairs to the cell.
The three days of nearly entire solitude and of awful expectation had told like double the number of years; and there was a stamp of grave earnest collectedness on the young brow, and a calm resolution of aspect and movement, free from all excitement or embarrassment, as Leonard Ward stood up with a warm grateful greeting, so full of ingenuous reliance, that every doubt vanished at the same moment.
His first question was for Averil; and Dr. May made the best of her state. 'She slept a little more last night, and her pulse is lower this morning; but we keep her in bed, half to hinder her from trying to come here before she is fit. I believe this ailment is the best thing for her and Henry both,' added the Doctor, seeing how much pain his words were giving. 'Henry is a very good nurse; it occupies him, and it is good for her to feel his kindness! Then Minna has come out in the prettiest way: she never fails in some sweet little tender word or caress just when it is wanted.'
Leonard tried to smile, but only succeeded in keeping back a sob; and the Doctor discharged his memory of the messages of love of which he had been the depositary. Leonard recovered his composure during these, and was able to return a smile on hearing of Ella's conquest of Tom, of their Bible prints on Sunday, and their unwearied French billiards in the week. Then he asked after little Mab.
'She is all a dog should be,' said Dr. May. 'Aubrey is her chief friend, except when she is lying at her ease on Ethel's dress.'
The old test of dog-love perhaps occurred to Leonard, for his lips trembled, and his eyes were dewy, even while they beamed with gladness.
'She is a great comfort to Aubrey,' the Doctor added. 'I must beg you to send that poor fellow your forgiveness, for he is exceedingly unhappy about something he repeated in the first unguarded moment.'
'Mr. Bramshaw told me,' said Leonard, with brow contracted.
'I cannot believe,' said Dr. May, 'that it can do you any real harm. I do not think the prosecution ought to take notice of it; but if they do, it will be easy to sift it, and make it tell rather in your favour.'
'Maybe so,' said Leonard, still coldly.
'Then you will cheer him with some kind message?'
'To be sure. It is the time for me to be forgiving every one,' he answered, with a long tightly-drawn breath.
Much distressed, the Doctor paused, in uncertainty whether Leonard were actuated by dread of the disclosure or resentment at the breach of confidence; but ere he spoke, the struggle had been fought out, and a sweet sad face was turned round to him, with the words, 'Poor old Aubrey! Tell him not to mind. There will be worse to be told out than our romancings together, and he will feel it more than I shall! Don't let him vex himself.'
'Thank you,' said the father, warmly. 'I call that pardon.'
'Not that there is anything to forgive,' said Leonard, 'only it is odd that one cares for it more than--No, no, don't tell him that, but that I know it does not signify. It must not come between us, if this is to be the end; and it will make no difference. Nothing can do that but the finding my receipt. I see that book night and day before my eyes, with the very blot that I made in the top of my L.'
'You know they are searching the garden and fields, and advertising a reward, in case of its having been thrown away when rifled, or found to contain no valuables.'
'Yes!' and he rested on the word as though much lay behind.
'Do you think it contained anything worth keeping?'
'Only by one person.'
'Ha!' said the Doctor, with a start.
Instead of answering, Leonard leant down on the narrow bed on which he was seated, and shut in his face between his hands.
The Doctor waited, guessed, and grew impatient. 'You don't mean that fellow, Sam? Do you think he has it? I should like to throttle him, as sure as my name's Dick May!' (this in soliloquy between his teeth). 'Speak up, Leonard, if you have any suspicion.'
The lad lifted himself with grave resolution that gave him dignity. 'Dr. May,' he said, 'I know that what I say is safe with you, and it seems disrespectful to ask your word and honour beforehand, but I think it will be better for us both if you will give them not to make use of what I tell you. It weighs on me so, that I shall be saying it to the wrong person, unless I have it out with you. You promise me?'
'To make no use of it without your consent,' repeated the Doctor, with rising hope, 'but this is no case for scruples--too much is at stake.'
'You need not tell me that,' Leonard replied, with a shudder; 'but I have no proof. I have thought again and again and again, but can find no possible witness. He was always cautious, and drink made him savage, but not noisy.'
'Then you believe--' The silence told the rest.
'If I did not see how easy people find it to believe the same of me on the mere evidence of circumstances, I should have no doubt,' said Leonard, deliberately.
'Then it was he that you saw in the yard?'
'Remember, all I saw was that a man was there. I concluded it was Andrews, waiting to take the horse; and as he is a great hanger-on of Sam, I wished to avoid him, and not keep my candle alight to attract his attention. That was the whole reason of my getting out of window, and starting so soon; as unlucky a thing as I could have done.'
'You are sure it was not Andrews?'
'Now I am. You see, Sam had sent home his horse from the station, though I did not know it; and, if you remember, Andrews was shown to have been at his father's long before. If he had been the man, he could speak to the time my light was put out.'
'The putting out of your light must have been the signal for the deed to be done.'
'My poor uncle! Well might he stare round as if he thought the walls would betray him, and start at every chinking of that unhappy gold in his helpless hands! If we had only known who was near--perhaps behind the blinds--' and Leonard gasped.
'But this secrecy, Leonard, I cannot understand it. Do you mean that the poor old man durst not do what he would with his own?'
'Just so. Whenever Sam knew that he had a sum of money, he laid hands on it. Nothing was safe from him that Mr. Axworthy had in the Whitford Bank.'
'That can be proved from the accounts?'
'You recollect the little parlour between the office and my uncle's sitting-room? There I used to sit in the evening, and to feel, rather than hear, the way Sam used to bully the poor old man. Once-- a fortnight ago, just after that talk with Aubrey--I knew he had been drinking, and watched, and came in upon them when there was no bearing it any longer. I was sworn at for my pains, and almost kicked out again; but after that Mr. Axworthy made me sit in the room, as if I were a protection; and I made up my mind to bear it as long as he lived.'
'Surely the servants would bear witness to this state of things?'
'I think not. Their rooms are too far off for overhearing, and my uncle saw as little of them as possible. Mrs. Giles was Sam's nurse, and cares for him more than any other creature; she would not say a word against him even if she knew anything; and my uncle would never have complained. He was fond of Sam to the last, proud of his steeple-chases and his cleverness, and desperately afraid of him; in a sort of bondage, entirely past daring to speak.'
'I know,' said Dr. May, remembering how his own Tom had been fettered and tongue-tied by that same tyrant in boyhood. 'But he spoke to you?'
'No,' said Leonard. 'After that scene much was implied between us, but nothing mentioned. I cannot even tell whether he trusted me, or only made me serve as a protector. I believe that row was about this money, which he had got together in secret, and that Sam suspected, and wanted to extort; but it was exactly as I said at the inquest, he gave no reason for sending me up to town with it. He knew that I knew why, and so said no more than that it was to be private. It was pitiful to see that man, so fierce and bold as they say he once was, trembling as if doing something by stealth, and the great hard knotty hands so crumpled and shaky, that he had to leave all to me. And that they should fancy I could go and hurt him!' said Leonard, stretching his broad chest and shoulders in conscious strength.
'Yes, considering who it was, I do not wonder that you feel the passion-theory as insulting as the accusation.'
'I ought not,' said Leonard, reddening. 'Every one knows what my temper can do. I do not think that a poor old feeble man like that could have provoked me to be so cowardly, but I see it is no wonder they think so. Only they might suppose I would not have been a robber, and go on lying now, when they take good care to tell me that it is ruinous!'
'It is an intolerable shame that they can look you in the face and imagine it for a moment,' said the Doctor, with all his native warmth.
'After all,' said Leonard, recalled by his sympathy, 'it is my own fault from beginning to end that I am in this case. I see now that it was only God's mercy that prevented my brother's blood being on me, and it was my unrepenting obstinacy that brought me to the mill; so there will be no real injustice in my dying, and I expect nothing else.'
'Hush, Leonard, depend upon it, while there is Justice in Heaven, the true criminal cannot go free,' cried the Doctor, much agitated.
Leonard shook his head.
'Boyish hastiness is not murder,' added the Doctor.
'So I thought. But it might have been, and I never repented. I brought all this on myself; and while I cannot feel guiltless in God's sight, I cannot expect it to turn out well.'
'Turn out well,' repeated the Doctor. 'We want Ethel to tell us that this very repentance and owning of the sin, is turning out well-- better than going on in it.'
'I can see that,' said Leonard. 'I do hope that if--if I can take this patiently, it may show I am sorry for the real thing--and I may be forgiven. Oh! I am glad prisoners are not cut off from church.'
Dr. May pressed his hand in much emotion: and there was a silence before another question--whether there were nothing that could be of service.
'One chance there is, that Sam might relent enough to put that receipt where it could be found without implicating him. He must know what it would do for me.'
'You are convinced that he has it?'
'There must be papers in the book valuable to him; perhaps some that he had rather were not seen. Most likely he secured it in the morning. You remember he was there before the police.'
'Ay! ay! ay! the scoundrel! But, Leonard, what possessed you not to speak out at the inquest, when we might have searched every soul on the premises?'
'I did not see it then. I was stunned by the horror of the thing-- the room where I had been so lately, and that blood on my own rifle too. It was all I could do at one time not to faint, and I had no notion they would not take my explanation; then, when I found it rejected, and everything closing in on me, I was in a complete maze. It was not till yesterday, when I was alone again, after having gone over my defence with Mr. Bramshaw, and shown what I could prove, that I saw exactly how it must have been, as clear as a somnambulist. I sometimes could fancy I had seen Sam listening at the window, and have to struggle not to think I knew him under the stable wall.'
'And you are not such a--such a--so absurd as to sacrifice yourself to any scruple, and let the earth be cumbered with a rascal who, if he be withholding the receipt, is committing a second murder! It is not generosity, it is suicide.'
'It is not generosity,' said the boy, 'for if there were any hope, that would not stop me; but no one heard nor saw but myself, and I neither recognized him--no, I did not--nor heard anything definite from my uncle. Even if I had, no one--no one but you, believes a word I speak; nay, even my own case shows what probabilities are worth, and that I may be doing him the same wrong that I am suffering. I should only bring on myself the shame and disgrace of accusing another.'
The steady low voice and unboyish language showed him to be speaking from reflection, not impulse. The only tremulous moment was when he spoke of the one friend who trusted him, and whom his words were filling with a tumult of hope and alarm, admiration, indignation, and perplexity.
'Well, well,' the Doctor said, almost stammering, 'I am glad you have been open with me. It may be a clue. Can there be any excuse for overhauling his papers? Or can't we pick a hole in that alibi of his? Now I recollect, he had it very pat, and unnecessarily prominent. I'll find some way of going to work without compromising you. Yes, you may trust me! I'll watch, but say not a word without your leave.'
'Thank you,' said Leonard. 'I am glad it is you--you who would never think a vague hope of saving me better than disgrace and dishonour.'
'We will save you,' said the Doctor, becoming eager to escape to that favourite counsellor, the lining of his brougham, which had inspired him with the right theory of many a perplexing symptom, and he trusted would show him how to defend without betraying Leonard. 'I must go and see about it. Is there anything I can do for you--books, or anything?'
No, thank you--except--I suppose there would be no objection to my having a few finer steel pens. 'And to explain his wants, he took up his Prayer-Book, which his sister had decorated with several small devotional prints. Copying these minutely line by line in pen and ink, was the solace of his prison hours; and though the work was hardly after drawing-masters' rules, the hand was not untaught, and there was talent and soul enough in the work to strike the Doctor.
'It suits me best,' said Leonard. 'I should go distracted with nothing to do; and I can't read much--at least, not common books. And my sisters may like to have them. Will you let me do one for you?'
The speaking expression of those hazel eyes almost overcame the Doctor, and his answer was by bending head and grasping hand. Leonard turned to the Collects, and mutely opened at the print of the Son of Consolation, which he had already outlined, looked up at his friend, and turned away, only saying, 'Two or three of the sort with elastic nibs; they have them at the post-office.'
'Yes, I'll take care,' said Dr. May, afraid to trust his self-command any longer. 'Good-bye, Leonard. Tom says I adopt every one who gets through a bad enough fever, so what will you be to me after this second attack?'
The result of the Doctor's consultation with his brougham was his stopping it at Mr. Bramshaw's door, to ascertain whether the search for the receipt had extended to young Axworthy's papers; but he found that they had been thoroughly examined, every facility having been given by their owner, who was his uncle's executor, and residuary legatee, by a will dated five years back, leaving a thousand pounds to the late Mrs. Ward, and a few other legacies, but the mass of the property to the nephew.
Sam's 'facilities' not satisfying the Doctor, it was further explained that every endeavour was being made to discover what other documents were likely to have been kept in the missing memorandum- book, so as to lead to the detection of any person who might present any such at a bank; and it was made evident that everything was being done, short of the impracticability of searching an unaccused man, but he could not but perceive that Mr. Bramshaw's 'ifs' indicated great doubt of the existence of receipt and of pocket-book. Throwing out a hint that the time of Sam's return should be investigated, he learnt that this had been Edward Anderson's first measure, and that it was clear, from the independent testimony of the ostler at Whitford, the friend who had driven Sam, and the landlord of the Three Goblets, that there was not more than time for the return exactly as described at the inquest; and though the horse was swift and powerful, and might probably have been driven at drunken speed, this was too entirely conjectural for anything to be founded on it. Nor had the cheque by Bilson on the Whitford Bank come in.
'Something must assuredly happen to exonerate the guiltless, it would be profane to doubt,' said Dr. May continually to himself and to the Wards; but Leonard's secret was a painful burthen that he could scarcely have borne without sharing it with that daughter who was his other self, and well proved to be a safe repository.
'That's my Leonard,' said Ethel. 'I know him much better now than any time since the elf-bolt affair! They have not managed to ruin him among them.'
'What do you call this?' said Dr. May, understanding her, indeed, but willing to hear her thought expressed.
'Thankworthy,' she answered, with a twitching of the corners of her mouth.
'You will suffer for this exaltation,' he said, sadly; 'you know you have a tender heart, for all your flights.'
'And you know you have a soul as well as a heart,' said Ethel, as well as the swelling in her throat would allow.
'To be sure, this world would be a poor place to live in, if admiration did not make pity bearable,' said the Doctor; 'but--but don't ask me, Ethel: you have not had that fine fellow in his manly patience before your eyes. Talk of your knowing him! You knew a boy! I tell you, this has made him a man, and one of a thousand--so high-minded and so simple, so clearheaded and well-balanced, so entirely resigned and free from bitterness! What could he not be? It would be grievous to see him cut off by a direct dispensation-- sickness, accident, battle; but for him to come to such an end, for the sake of a double murderer--Ethel--it would almost stagger one's faith!'
'Almost!' repeated Ethel, with the smile of a conqueror.
'I know, I know,' said the Doctor. 'If it be so, it will be right; one will try to believe it good for him. Nay, there's proof enough in what it has done for him already. If you could only see him!'
'I mean to see him, if it should go against him,' said Ethel, 'if you will let me. I would go to him as I would if he were in a decline, and with more reverence.'
'Don't talk of it,' cried her father. 'For truth's sake, for justice's sake, for the country's sake, I can not, will not, believe it will go wrong. There is a Providence, after all, Ethel!'
And the Doctor went away, afraid alike of hope and despondency, and Ethel thought of the bright young face, of De Wilton, of Job, and of the martyrs; and when she was not encouraging Aubrey, or soothing Averil, her heart would sink, and the tears that would not come would have been very comfortable.
It was well for all that the assizes were so near that the suspense was not long protracted; for it told upon all concerned. Leonard, when the Doctor saw him again, was of the same way of thinking, but his manner was more agitated; he could not sleep, or if he slept, the anticipations chased away in the day-time revenged themselves in his dreams; and he was very unhappy, also, about his sister, whose illness continued day after day. She was not acutely ill, but in a constant state of low fever, every faculty in the most painful state of tension, convinced that she was quite able to get up and go to Leonard, and that her detention was mere cruelty; and then, on trying to rise, refused by fainting. Her searching questions and ardent eyes made it impossible to keep any feature in the case from her knowledge. Sleep was impossible to her; and once when Henry tried the effect of an anodyne, it produced a semi-delirium, which made him heartily repent of his independent measure. At all times she was talking--nothing but the being left with a very stolid maid-servant ever closed her lips, and she so greatly resented being thus treated, that the measure was seldom possible. Henry seldom left her. He was convinced that Leonard's sentence would be hers likewise, and he watched over her with the utmost tenderness and patience with her fretfulness and waywardness, never quitting her except on their brother's behalf, when Ethel or Mary would take his place. Little Minna was always to be found on her small chair by the bed-side, or moving about like a mouse, sometimes whispering her one note, 'They can't hurt him, if he has not done it,' and still quietly working at the pair of slippers that had been begun for his birthday present. Mary used to bring Ella, and take them out walking in the least- frequented path; but though the little sisters kissed eagerly, and went fondly hand in hand, they never were sorry to part: Ella's spirits oppressed Minna, and Minna's depression vexed the more volatile sister; moreover, Minna always dreaded Mary's desire to carry her away--as, poor child, she looked paler, and her eyes heavier and darker, every day.
No one else, except, of course, Dr. May, was admitted. Henry would not let his sister see Mr. Scudamour or Mr. Wilmot, lest she should be excited; and Averil's 'No one' was vehement as a defence against Mrs. Pugh or Mrs. Ledwich, whom she suspected of wanting to see her, though she never heard of more than their daily inquiries.
Mrs. Pugh was, in spite of her exclusion, the great authority with the neighbourhood for all the tidings of 'the poor Wards,' of whom she talked with the warmest commiseration, relating every touching detail of their previous and present history, and continually enduring the great shock of meeting people in shops or in the streets, whom she knew to be reporters or photographers. In fact, the catastrophe had taken a strong hold on the public mind; and 'Murder of an Uncle by his Nephew,' 'The Blewer Tragedy,' figured everywhere in the largest type; newsboys on the railway shouted, 'To- day's paper-account of inquest;' and the illustrated press sent down artists, whose three-legged cameras stared in all directions, from the Vintry Mill to Bankside, and who aimed at the school, the Minster, the volunteers, and Dr. Hoxton himself. Tom advised Ethel to guard Mab carefully from appearing stuffed in the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussaud's; and the furniture at the mill would have commanded any price. Nay, Mrs. Pugh was almost certain she had seen one of the 'horrid men' bargaining with the local photographer for her own portrait, in her weeds, and was resolved the interesting injury should never be forgiven!
She really had the 'trying scenes' of two interviews with both Mr. Bramshaw and the attorney from Whitford who was getting up the prosecution, each having been told that she was in possession of important intelligence. Mr. Bramshaw was not sanguine as to what he might obtain from her, but flattered her with the attempt, and ended by assuring her, like his opponent, that there was no need to expose her to the unpleasantness of appearing in court.
Aubrey was not to have the same relief, but was, like his father, subpoenaed as a witness for the prosecution. He had followed his father's advice, and took care not to disclose his evidence to the enemy, as he regarded the Whitford lawyer. He was very miserable, and it was as much for his sake as that of the immediate family, that Ethel rejoiced that the suspense was to be short. Counsel of high reputation had been retained; but as the day came nearer, without bringing any of the disclosures on which the Doctor had so securely reckoned, more and more stress was laid on the dislike to convict on circumstantial evidence, and on the saying that the English law had rather acquit ten criminals than condemn one innocent man.
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