Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Rhadamanthus reappeared without a visible garment that he had worn the day before. He came spurred and breeched from the saddle, with a horseshoe pin in his snowy tie, a more human collar, and a keener front for the proceedings withal. Carlton felt his eye upon him from the first, and returned the compliment by taking a new interest in the nameless youth; he had long read the minds of the other two; his fate was in this young fellow's keeping. He had no time, however, for idle speculation as to the result. Tom Ivey was back in the witness-box, and the accused was invited to cross-examine without delay.
Carlton soon showed that the interval had enabled him to profit by the experience of the previous day. His questions were cunningly prepared. He began with one not easy to put in an admissible form, yet he succeeded in so putting it.
"You have sworn," said he, "that your very first glimpse of me in the burning church was sufficient to create a certain suspicion in your mind. Did you mention this suspicion to anybody—that night?"
"Not that night."
"Nor yet that month, sir."
"I didn't suspect you any more, sir."
Carlton tried hard to suppress his satisfaction, as a sensation to which he was no longer entitled. He had come back to this in the night; but it was harder to abide by it during the day. He paused a little, in honest effort to rid his mind and tone of any taint of triumph; but his advantage had to be pursued.
"May I ask when this suspicion perished?"
"Before we had been five minutes together, trying to save the church!"
"You are getting upon dangerous ground," said the chairman. "What the witness thought, or when he ceased to think it, is not evidence."
"Another point, then," said Carlton: "do you remember the appearance of the lamps?"
"What was it?"
"They were crooked."
"Did you notice any paraffin spilt about?"
"Yes, when my attention was called to it."
"Where was this paraffin?"
"On the pews that were catching fire."
"And who called your attention to it?"
"You did yourself, sir."
"I did myself!" repeated Carlton, struggling with his tone. "That will do for that. I am going back for a moment to those suspicions of yours. Have you never mentioned them to a human being?"
"Yes, sir, I have."
"As things of the past?"
"As things of the past."
"When was it that you first spoke of them?"
"Last Friday—the eighteenth, sir."
"And did you then speak of your own accord, or were you questioned?"
"I was questioned."
"As the first man to reach the burning church?"
"Take care!" cried Wilders. "That was a leading question."
"It is the last," replied Carlton. "I have finished with the witness. I would take this opportunity, however, of apologising to your worships for the various errors and excesses which I have committed, and may still commit, in my ignorance and inexperience of the law, and my indignation at the charge. In this respect, and this alone, I crave the indulgence of the bench, and beg leave to rectify one of my mistakes. I spoke in haste when I said, yesterday, that I had no questions to ask the witness Fuller. I desire, with your worships' permission, to have that witness recalled."
The chairman was rather sharp: subsequent evidence might make the recall of witnesses a necessity, but the lost opportunities of counsel, or of accused persons conducting their own defence, were an altogether insufficient reason. However, the man was in court, and the application would be allowed.
"I appreciate the privilege," said Carlton, "and promise that it shall not detain us many moments."
He was becoming as fluent and adroit as a past practitioner; in the pauses of the fight he felt ashamed of his facility, a haunting sense that it was indecent in him to defend himself at all. Yet he was one against many; and, in this matter, an innocent man. Fight he must, and that with all the skill and spirit in his power. His liberty, his self-respect; his one remaining chance, object, and desire in life; nay, his very life itself was at stake with these. It was no time for dwelling upon the past. The sin that he had committed was one thing; the crime that he had not committed was another. It was his duty to be just to himself. Yet this was how he treated himself, whenever he had time to think! He resolved to give himself fairer play than he seemed likely to receive at the hands of others; and his resolve declared itself in the ringing voice that shocked not a few who heard it, having found him guilty already in their hearts.
"About that very story of the empty rectory and the light in the church," he began, with Fuller—"about that perfectly true story," he added, wilfully, "which you told us yesterday. Did you tell it to anybody at the time?"
"Only Tom Ivey."
"Why only to him?"
"He asked me to keep that to myself."
"And did you?"
"I did my best, sir, but that slipped out one day when I was talking to——"
"Never mind his or her name. You did your best to keep the matter to yourself, but it slipped out one day in conversation. Now when did you last tell that true story, not counting yesterday, as fully and particularly as you told it here in court? Think. I want the exact date of the very last occasion."
"That was last Friday, sir—to-day's the 22nd—that would be the 18th of August."
"Last Friday, the 18th of August; a fatal day to me!" said Robert Carlton. "Thank you. That is all I want from you."
The justices put no question. The clerk did not re-examine. The witness was ordered to stand down. Then followed a short but heavy silence, pregnant with speculation as to the drift of all these questions and the object of so much unexplained insistence upon a date. It meant something. What could it mean? Carlton stood upright in the dock, calm, confident, inscrutable; it seemed a great many moments before the silence was broken by the formal tones of the clerk.
"Do you call any witness for the defence?" he asked.
Carlton dropped his eyes into the well of the court, and they fell upon a pair that were fastened upon his face with the glitter of fixed bayonets.
"Yes," said he. "I wish you to call Sir Wilton Gleed."
Quietly though distinctly spoken, the name clapped like thunder on the court. Amazement fell on all alike, for the issue between these two had been the common theme for days. Popular sympathy had rightly sided with morality, and its champion had lost nothing by his tactful magnanimity in refraining from sitting upon the bench; that he should be put in the box instead, and by his shameless adversary, was an audacity as hard to credit as to understand. There was a moment's hush, then a minute's buzz, to which the justices themselves contributed. Wilders muttered that the man was mad; his colleague on the right confessed himself nonplussed; his colleague on the left dropped his shaven chin upon his gold horseshoe, and his shoulders shook with joy. Meanwhile Sir Wilton had forced a grin and found his voice.
"You want me in the box, do you?"
"Very well; you shall have me."
And he was sworn, still grinning, with an odd mixture of malevolence and deprecation for those who ran to read. "I meant to keep out of this," the florid face said; "but now I'm in it—well, you'll see! It's the fellow's own fault; his blood" etc., etc. But this was not what Sir Wilton was saying in his heart.
Carlton began at the beginning.
"You are the patron of the living of Long Stow, are you not?"
"You know I am."
"I want the bench to have it from you; kindly answer my question."
"I am the patron of the living of Long Stow," said Sir Wilton, with mock resignation.
"In the year 1880 did you, of your own free will and accord, present that living to me?"
"Yes, and I've repented it ever since!"
There was a sympathetic murmur at the back of the court. It was immediately checked. Every face was thrust forward, every ear strained, every eye absorbed between the prisoner in the dock and the witness in the box. It was no longer the uphill fight of one against many; it was single combat between man and man, and the electricity of single combat charged the air.
"You have repented it more than ever of late?" asked Carlton in steady tones. The skin upon his forehead seemed stretched with pain; the veins showed blue and swollen; but the many judged him from his voice alone.
"Naturally," sneered Sir Wilton.
"So much so that you were resolved I should resign?"
"I hoped you would have the decency to do so."
"Did you come to the rectory on the fifth of this month, and tell me it was my first duty to resign the living?"
"I don't remember the date."
"Was it the Saturday before Bank Holiday?"
"I daresay. Yes, it must have been. I didn't expect to find you there. I went to see the wreck and ruin of your home and church, not you."
"But you did come, and you did see me, and you did tell me it was my first duty to resign my living?"
"Certainly I did."
"Do you remember your words?"
"Some of them."
Carlton looked at his pocket-book—at a note made overnight.
"Do you remember making use of the following expressions: 'Law or no law, I'll have you out of this! I'll hound you out of it! I'll have you torn in pieces if you stay'?"
"I may have said something of the kind," said the witness, with assumed indifference.
"Did you, or did you not?" cried Carlton, slapping his hand on the rail of the dock; the voice, the look, the gesture were familiar to many present who had heard him preach; and thrilled them for all their new knowledge of the preacher.
"Really I can't recall my exact words. I rather fancied they were stronger."
Some one laughed at this, and the witness managed to recapture his grin; but his demeanour was unconvincing.
"I am not talking about their strength," said Carlton. "Will you swear that you did not say, 'I'll have you out of this! I'll hound you out of it'?"
"No, I will not."
"I thank you," said Carlton; and his ringing voice fell at a word to the pitch of perfect courtesy. He ticked off the note in his pocket-book, and the court breathed again; but its worthy president did more: he had forgotten his position for several minutes, and he hastened to reassert it with the first observation that entered his head.
"I don't see the point of this examination," said Canon Wilders.
"You will presently."
"If I don't I shall put a stop to it!"
Carlton raised his eyes from his notes, but not to the bench; they were only for the witness now.
"Do you remember when and where we met again?"
"You had the insolence to call at my house."
"Was it on a Monday morning, the first after the Bank Holiday?"
"I suppose it was."
"I do not ask you to recall your exact words on that occasion. I simply ask you to inform the bench whether I did, or did not, offer to resign the living then and there—on a certain condition."
"Yes; you did," said Sir Wilton, doggedly. He was very red in the face.
Carlton could not resist a moment's enjoyment of his discomfiture: it heightened the pleasure of letting him off.
"And did you decline?" he said at length.
"Stop a moment," said the chairman. "What was this condition, Sir Wilton?"
"Am I obliged to give it?"
"Oh, if you think it inexpedient——"
"I think it unnecessary," said the witness, emphatically. "I think it has nothing whatever to do with the case."
"In that case, Sir Wilton, we shall be only too happy not to press the point."
Carlton had a great mind to press it himself. He had invited his enemy to build the church out of his own pocket. The invitation had been declined. Would it also be denied? Carlton was curious to see; but he overcame his curiosity. It would not strengthen his defence, and to mere revenge he must not stoop. So one temptation was resisted, and one advantage thrown away, even in the final phase of the long duel between these good fighters. But the other saw the struggle, and felt as he had done when Carlton had returned him his stick in the ruins of the church.
"And did you decline?" repeated Carlton, in identically the same voice as before.
"Did I then point out to you that I was not only entitled, but might be compelled, to keep my chancel, at any rate, 'in good and substantial repair, restoring and rebuilding when necessary'? I quote the Act, your worships, as I quoted it then. Do you remember, Sir Wilton?"
"I made the point as plain as I have made it now?"
"And what did you say to that?"
The sudden change in the style of the question was glossed over by the single artifice which Robert Carlton permitted himself during the conduct of his case: instead of ringing triumphant, his voice dropped as though he feared the answer. Sir Wilton fell into the trap.
"I said, 'If that's the law I'll see you keep it. Go and build your church! Where there's a law there will be a penalty; go build your church or I'll enforce it.'"
"Which did you expect to enforce—the penalty or the law?"
"I didn't mind which," declared the witness, after hesitation; and his indifference was less successfully assumed than before.
"Oh!" said Carlton; "so you didn't mind my building the church after all?"
Sir Wilton appealed wildly to the Bench.
"Am I to be browbeaten and insulted, by a convicted libertine and evil liver, without one word of protest or reproof?"
The chairman coloured with confusion and indecision.
"I am afraid that you must answer his question, Sir Wilton," said Mr. Preston, mildly.
"I share your opinion," said Rhadamanthus, in a tone that went further than the words.
The chairman threw up his chin with an air, and fixed the accused with his sternest glance.
"Pray what are you endeavouring to establish by this round-about and impertinent examination?"
"In plain language?" asked Robert Carlton.
"The plainer the better."
"Then I am endeavouring to establish—and I will establish, either here or at the assizes—the fact that that man there"—pointing to Sir Wilton Gleed—"has tried by fair means and by foul to rob me of a benefice which is still mine in more than name. And I will further establish, either here or at the higher court, if you like to send me there, the patent and the blatant fact that this very charge is the last and the foulest means by which that man has attempted to get rid of me!"
His clear voice thundered through the little court; his fine eye flashed with as fine a scorn. But it was neither look nor tone that made the silence when he ceased. It was the first unrestrained expression of a personality incomparably stronger than any other there present; it was the first just and unanimous—if unconscious—appreciation of that personality in that place. There was a round clock that ticked many times and noisily before the presiding magistrate broke the spell.
"A-bom-in-able language!" cried he in the separate syllables of his most important moments. "You deserve to answer for your words alone in the other court of which you speak!"
"I intend to prove them in this one," retorted Carlton, "if you give me fair play."
"Oh, by all means let him have fair play!" exclaimed the witness, in high tones that trembled. "I can take care of myself; don't study me. Let him say what he likes, and let those who know his character and mine judge between him and me."
Carlton looked at the quivering lip between the cropped whiskers, and his jaws snapped on a smile as he returned to his pocket-book. But the whole of his examination of Sir Wilton Gleed does not call for elaborate report: its weakness and its strength will be recognised with equal readiness. With a stronger spirit on the bench, or a weaker spirit in the dock, or even a capable solicitor to prosecute for the police, much of it had never been; as the play was cast it was the accused clergyman who presided over that country court for the longest hour in his enemy's life; nor, when he had won his ascendancy, did he use his power as unsparingly as in the winning of it. The witness was allowed to come out of the corner into which he had been driven before his appeal to the bench; he had contradicted himself, and the contradiction was left to tell its own tale without being pressed home. On the other hand, some startling admissions were obtained in regard to the responsibility with which the witness had finally sought to saddle the accused; he had bade him build the church because he believed Carlton would find it an impossible task; he recklessly admitted it, with a pale bravado that imposed upon few people in court, and on but one upon the bench.
"You were still determined to get rid of me," said Carlton, "one way or another?"
"And this struck you as another way?"
"It did—at the moment."
"Ah," murmured the chairman, "we are all subject to the impulse of the moment!"
Carlton put this point aside.
"And why did you think that I should find it an impossible task to rebuild the church?"
"I thought you would find a difficulty in getting local men to work for you."
"Your grounds for thinking that?"
"I considered your reputation in the district."
"Any other reason?"
"One or two builders and masons had spoken to me on the subject."
Carlton found a new place in his pocket-book, and read out a list of nine names.
"Were any of these local men among the number?"
"All of them?"
"What! You admit having discussed me, during the present month, and since I first spoke to you about rebuilding the church, with these nine local builders or stonemasons?"
"I don't deny it," said Sir Wilton, stoutly.
"And do you know of any builder or stonemason in the neighbourhood with whom you have not discussed me?"
"Can't say I do."
"That's quite enough," said Carlton. "I shall not ask you what you said. I do not purpose calling these men, at this court; time enough for that at the assizes." And without further comment he took the witness through one or two details of their last interview in the ruins; by no means all; indeed, the date was the point most insisted upon.
"And so the very next day was last Friday, the 18th of August?" concluded Carlton with apparent levity.
The witness refused to answer, appealed to the bench, and secured another reprimand for the accused.
"I harp upon that date," said Carlton, "because, as I have already remarked, it seems to have been a fatal date for me. It has arisen so many times in the course of this case! This, however, is not the precise moment for enumerating those occasions; let us first finish with each other. Did you, Sir Wilton Gleed, on the eighteenth day of this present month, have separate or collective conversation with the witnesses Busby, Fuller, and Ivey?"
"Yes, I did," said Gleed, hot, white, and glaring.
"Separate or collective? Did you speak to them one at a time or all together?"
"Both, if you like!" cried the witness, wildly. "I can't remember. Better say both!"
"You interviewed these witnesses, separately and collectively, on the very day that the other witness, Frost, laid an information against me before yourself as Justice of the Peace?"
"I said it was that day. You ask the same question again and again!"
The man was fuming, trembling, near to tears or curses of mortification and blind rage.
"I have but two more questions to ask you, and I am done," rejoined Carlton. "Did the witness Fuller tell you of the light in the church, and the witness Ivey of what he saw later on, during these conversations of the fatal eighteenth?"
"And was this the first you had heard of those experiences?"
"That is my last question, Sir Wilton Gleed."
The justices put none. Gleed glared at them as he left the box.
"I think," said he, "that this is the most scandalous incident—most disgraceful thing I ever heard of in my life!"
"I quite agree with you," whispered Wilders.
"And I also," said Mr. Preston, in a different tone.
But no word fell from Rhadamanthus. His small eyes did not leave Carlton's face for above one second in the sixty. But their expression was inscrutable.
"May I now claim the indulgence of the court for a very few minutes?" asked the clergyman in the dock.
The clergymen on the bench looked at the clock and at each other. It was already past the hour for luncheon.
"Better go on," urged Preston, "and get it over."
"If you mean what you say," said Wilders to the accused, "we will hear you now; if you proceed to treat us to a mere display of words, I shall adjourn the court. Meanwhile it is my duty to remind you that whatever you say will be taken down in writing, and may be given in evidence against you upon your trial."
"In the event of my committal," returned Robert Carlton, "I am prepared to stand or fall by every word that I have uttered or may utter now; and I shall not detain you long. I am well aware how I have trespassed already upon the time of this court, but I will waste none upon vain or insincere apology. I came here to answer to a very terrible charge; it was and it is my duty to do so as fully and as emphatically as I possibly can. Yet I have little to add to the evidence before you; a comment or two, and I am done.
"It seems to me that the witnesses called by the police have between them produced but three points of any weight against me, or worthy of the serious consideration of this or any other court of law. I will take these three points in their proper order, and will give my answer to each in the fewest possible words in which I can express my meaning to your worships.
"Arthur Busby has sworn that on the morning before the fire I ordered him to fill the lamps with paraffin, though it was extremely unlikely that any artificial light would be required in church next evening. But on the man's own showing he was wearying and distressing me beyond measure at the time—a more terrible time than this!" cried Carlton from his heart; and was brought to pause, not for effect (though the effect was marked) but by the very suddenness of his emotion. "And on the man's own showing," he continued in a lower key, "he had once omitted this important duty of filling the lamps, and I was 'for ever at him' on the subject. What more natural than to tell him to go away and fill his lamps, as one had told him a dozen times before, but this time without thinking and simply to get rid of the man? On the other hand, if the paraffin had been wanted for the felonious purpose suggested, could anything be more incriminating and incredible than the suggested method of obtaining it? I submit these two questions, with the highly important point involved, to the consideration of the bench; and I do so with some confidence.
"The next point, I confess, is more difficult to dismiss. I shall not attempt to dismiss it from any mind in court. I shall simply leave it to the consideration of your worships as men of the world and students of the human heart. It is near midnight. I am not to be found at the rectory, and a light is seen in the church. I admit that I was in the church, and that I lighted one of the lamps.
"Here I am forced to allude to another matter: a matter in which, God knows, I have never denied my guilt, as I do deny my guilt of the crime of arson: a matter in which I have never sought to defend myself, as I have been compelled to do in this court for a very long day and a half.
"Consider my case on the night of the fire. I will not dwell upon it; it is surely within the knowledge or the imagination of most present. . . . There was my church. I had held my last service there. I felt that I could never hold another. And, whatever I had been, I loved my church! You upon the bench . . . you Members of Christ's Church . . . I ask not for your sympathy but for your insight. Can you think that I went into the church I loved, wilfully and deliberately to burn it to the ground? Can you not conceive my going there, in the dead of that dreadful night, to look my last upon it—to bid my church good-bye?"
His emotion was piteous, but never pitiful. It shook nothing but his voice. It neither bowed his head nor dimmed the brilliance of an eye turned full upon his fellows. And so he stood silent for a space, and none other spoke; then through Tom Ivey's evidence with a lighter touch. It was evidence in his favour: he scorned to enlarge upon it. The one adverse point was lightly—perhaps too lightly—dismissed. He had been seen to throw something into the flames. Did the prosecution suggest that he had thrown fresh fuel? Other points, already made in cross-examination, were left to take care of themselves: the paraffin on the pews, to which he himself had called Ivey's attention, was one. Indeed, in the whole course of the prisoner's speech, it was never admitted that the church had been purposely set fire to at all; the suggestion had been made in the heat of cross-examination, but it was not made again. It even seemed as though Robert Carlton had grown either certain, or careless, of the result of the inquiry—and the impression was not removed by the close of his remarks.
"And now," he said, "I have to deal with the evidence of Sir Wilton Gleed. I shall endeavour to deal with that evidence as dispassionately as I can, and as summarily as it deserves. Sir Wilton Gleed is a man with a genuine grievance, which you all know and I have never denied. But I do not propose to enter into the matter at issue between Sir Wilton Gleed and myself, or to suggest for an instant that he was anything but right in determining to rid his village of one who had brought himself to bitter but merited sorrow and disgrace. I am not here to defend my sins; nor have I defended them elsewhere; nor have I shrunk from suffering from anything I have done. But here have I been brought to book for something I never did—taken prisoner and brought to you on a criminal charge and no other. And I tell you that this criminal charge is as false as another was true, but for which this one would never have been made. But enough of mere assertion; let me crystallise some of the evidence that has come before you.
"The witnesses swear to three or four suspicious circumstances between them. Yet they seem scarcely to have opened their lips—nobody seems to have heard of those circumstances—until Friday of last week. On Friday last—my fatal date—these witnesses open their mouths with one accord. And, curiously enough, it is in Sir Wilton Gleed that they are one and all led to confide!
"But there is a still more curious and informing coincidence. Sir Wilton Gleed and I have several very stormy interviews, in which he tries, first by one artifice, then by another—all frankly admitted in his evidence—to drive me from a position which I have finally refused to resign. My refusal may be just as obdurate and indefensible as you are pleased to think it; that is not the point at all. The point is this contest of tenacity on his part and on mine, culminating in a final interview between us on the eve of the day upon which all these witnesses break their more or less complete silence concerning my movements on the night of the fire, and break it in the ear of Sir Wilton Gleed!
"I invite you to consider the obvious inference. My enemy has tried every other means of dislodging me. He has threatened and insulted me. He has set every builder and mason in the neighbourhood against me. He has deprived me—as he thinks—of the means of building my church, and then he turns round and tells me to build it or take the consequences! I make a beginning in spite of him; he has to think of some new method of expulsion; so, with infinite ingenuity, he trumps up this present charge against me."
Wilders opened his lips, but the prisoner's hand flew upward in arresting gesture.
"With infinite ingenuity, your worship, but not necessarily in bad faith. I have never yet questioned the bona fides of Sir Wilton Gleed; nor do I now. On the contrary, I am convinced that he honestly and sincerely believes me capable of any crime in the calendar; but my capability, again, is not the point; and belief and proof are very different things. If your worships hold that this horrible charge has been proved against me—proved sufficiently for this court—then send me to a higher one as your duty dictates. But if you think that hatred and prejudice, however deserved, have played the part of genuine and spontaneous suspicion; that facts have been distorted to fit a preconception, and the wish, however unconsciously, allowed to father the thought; that, in short, an honest man has been quite honestly blinded and misled by very loathing of me and all my doings; then I implore your worships to dismiss this charge against me—and let me get back to the work I left to meet it!"
The last words came as an after-thought, but they came from the heart, and as no anti-climax to those who knew the nature of the work named. In absolute silence Carlton availed himself of the chair in the dock, dropping all but out of sight, and bending double, his heart throbbing, his head singing, his hot hands pressed across his eyes. It was the sudden hum of talk which told him that the justices had retired; days passed in his brain before a hush as sudden announced their return. Meanwhile there were the scraps of conversation that found their way to his ears. Hearing all, he could distinguish little; but now and then a familiar phrase leapt home, as familiar faces declare themselves afar. "The gift of the gab" was one, and "He'd argue black was white" another. But some one said, "Give the devil his due"; and with that single crumb of justice Robert Carlton had to crouch content until his present fate was sealed.
But the hush came at last, and sank to profound silence as the magistrates took their seats—Rhadamanthus keen and grim—the clergymen plainly angry with each other. Preston's honest face hid no more of his feelings than heretofore, but the chairman cloaked annoyance with the fraction of a smile, and only his voice betrayed him as he addressed the prisoner.
"After a long and patient hearing," said Wilders, "the bench find this a case of ve-ry con-sid-er-able doubt in-deed. But, upon the whole, and taking all the cir-cum-stances into care-ful con-sid-er-ation, they are of o-pin-i-on that there is not enough ev-i-dence to justify them in sending the case to the assizes. The charge is therefore dis-missed. I should like, however, to add one word in respect to a witness, who might, had he been a less chiv-al-rous opponent—a less mag-nan-i-mous man—have sat here upon the bench instead of entering the witness-box to suffer the remorseless cross-questioning of a personal enemy. I could wish, indeed"—with covert meaning—"that Sir Wilton Gleed had seen fit to take his proper place in this court! I need hardly say that he quits it without stain or slur, of any sort or kind, upon his character; and that he does so with the heartfelt sympathy of one, at all events, of his colleagues upon the bench."
Rhadamanthus turned his back to hide his face, but James Preston did not rise till he had finished as he begun. He caught Carlton's eye, and nodded once more to him, but this time unblushingly and with much vigour. There was a little hissing as the prisoner vanished, a free man; and some hooting in the street, in which he reappeared, contrary to expectation, within a minute. It was like his brazen face, so they told him as he strode through the little crowd as one who neither heard nor saw a man of them. But no hand was lifted, no missile thrown, for the deaf ear is no earnest of physical passivity, and it was notorious that this man could take care of himself with his hands as well as with his tongue. Such a very deaf ear did he turn, however, that a flyman had to follow him to the outskirts of the town, and shout till he was hoarse, before Robert Carlton paid more heed to him than to his revilers. And all the time it was a decent man from Linkworth, only begging him to jump in, as the clergyman at last discovered with instant suspicions of the truth.
"Who sent you after me?"
"Mr. Preston, sir; leastways, he told me to be here all day, in case you wanted me."
"God bless Jim Preston!" muttered Carlton, and jumped into the fly forthwith.
But presently they were at some cross-roads. And the driver drew rein with a troubled face. He wanted to go a long way round, but his reasons were wild and unintelligible. Carlton, however, divined the real reason, and whose it was, and he himself pulled the other rein.
"No, no," said he; "drive me through my own village! They drove me through it on Saturday; take me back as they took me away. But it was like Mr. Preston to think of it. Tell him I said so, and that I'll never forget his kindness as long as I live!"
It was the red-gold heart of the August afternoon, and the shrill little choir of the ruined church sang a welcome to the friend who had never sinned against them; and Glen came bounding and barking defiance at the outside world; and the unfinished stone, the first stone that Robert Carlton was to dress and to lay with his own hands, it was just as they had made him leave it on the Saturday evening. But the story of his return was still being bandied from door to door, when a new sound came with the song of birds from the ruin in the trees, and a new ending was given to the story.
The sound was the swish, swish, swish of the mason's axe, with the stiletto's point, through sandstone as soft as cheese.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.