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Jasper Musk remained some minutes at the grave, alone, and more than ever a mark for curious eyes; his own were raised, and his lips moved with a significance difficult to mistake, but in him yet more difficult to accept. The infidelity of the man was notorious, and, indeed, the raised face was not the face of prayer. It was flint bathed in gall, too bitter for faith, too savage for sorrow; it was a frozen sea of wrinkles without a single ripple of agitation. Yet the lips moved, and were still moving when Jasper Musk passed through the crowd now assembled about the gate, erect though halt, a glitter in his eyes, but that was all.
As the folk had waited and made way for him in the church, so they waited and made way outside. Thus, as he limped down into the road, Musk had the village almost to himself. He turned to the right, and the west wind blew in his face, strong and warm, with cloud upon cloud of yellow dust; overhead the other clouds flew high and white and broken, a flotilla of small sail upon the blue. But Musk was done gazing at the sky, neither did he look right or left as he trudged in the middle of the road. So the saddler's place, and then the woody opening of the road to Linkworth, with the white bridge gleaming through the trees, and the ripe leaves purling in the wind like summer surf, all fell behind on the left; as, on the right, did the rectory gate, terminating that same flint wall which had been the children's grand stand. Rectory, church, and glebe stood all together, an indivisible trinity, with open uplands east and north. Westward began the cottages, buff-coloured, thatched; and it was cottages for half a mile, but healthy cottages, with plenty of space between, here a wheatfield, there a meadow; for every householder of Long Stow has also his holding of land, and there is no more independent parish in East Anglia. Of private houses that are not cottages, however, the village has only three: the rectory at one end, the hall near the other, and the Flint House between the two.
The Flint House now belonged to Jasper Musk. Report said that he had bought it outright for nine hundred pounds, with the meadow he was now passing on his left, and the wild garden reaching to the river. Originally part and parcel of the Long Stow estate, the place had been let for years, with a good slice of land, to London sportsmen who spent just two months of the twelve there. Musk had been the lessee's bailiff, and had feathered his nest so well that when the whole estate changed hands, and the part went with the whole, the ex-bailiff was in a position to buy a house and grounds for which the new squire had no use. None knew how he could have come honestly by so much profit; yet he was a man of tried integrity, but a hard man, and the last to get fair treatment behind his back. A more genuine marvel was the way in which he had spent his money, on a house that could scarcely fail to be a white elephant to such a man, and a hideous house into the bargain. It abutted directly on the road, grim and rambling, with false windows like wall-eyes, and facets of flint so sharp that to brush against the wall was to rip a sleeve to ribbons. There were many rooms, musty and mice-ridden, and now only two old people to inhabit them. Musk had driven all his sons from home, thus doing his country an unwitting service, for there was the stuff that knits an empire in the blood. But only one daughter had been born to him, and now he had left her in the ground, and would wash his mind of her for ever.
The resolution was easier than its accomplishment: on his very threshold a shrill small cry assailed and insulted Jasper Musk. And in the parlour walked his wife, meek-spirited, flat-chested, leaden-eyed; too weary for much grief, as he was too bitter; in her thin arms an infant not four days old.
Musk put himself in her path.
"That'll set him off again," sighed Mrs. Musk, though not before she had obeyed.
"I don't care," said Jasper. "That can cry till that die," he added brutally, as the fit returned; "and the sooner the better. Hold it up a bit. There, now! I want to have a look at the brat. I want to see who that's like!"
"It's like poor Molly," whimpered the grandmother, shedding tears that she could neither check nor hide.
Musk thumped his stick on the floor.
"Molly? Molly? You let me hear that name again! Haven't I told you once and for all never to lay your tongue to that name, in my hearing or behind my back, as long as you live? Then don't you forget it; and none o' your lies. That's no more like her than that's like you. But a look of somebody it have, though I can't for the life of me think who. Wait a bit. Give me time. That'll come—that'll come!"
But the thin shrill screaming continued till the little red face grew livid and wrinkled almost beyond resemblance to its kind; then Musk relinquished his futile scrutiny, and signed to his wife to resume the walking, but himself remained in the room. And he leant on his stick as he had leant on it at the funeral; but here in his house he wore his hat; and from under its broad brim he followed them, backward and forward, to and fro, with smouldering eyes.
"Do you know what I've vowed?" he presently went on. "Do you know the oath I took, there at that open grave, when all the tomfoolery was over, and that Jesuit jerry-builder had taken his hook?"
"I'm sure I don't," sighed Mrs. Musk, as the child lay once more still against her withered bosom.
"I stood there," said Jasper, "and I swore I'd find the man. And I swore I'd tear his heart out when I've found him. And I'll do both!"
His voice rose so swiftly to so fierce a pitch that the woman started violently, and the infant wailed again. Instantly the room shook, and with one stride, paid for by a spasm of pain, the husband towered above the wife; and this time it was a heavy hand upon her shrunk and shrinking shoulder that put a stop to the walk.
"Do you know who it is?" he cried. "My God, I believe you do!"
"I don't, indeed!"
"She never told you?"
"God knows she did not."
"Or anybody else?"
"I don't know."
"But you think—you think! I see it in your face. Who is it you think she may have told? I'll soon find out from him or her; trust me to wring that out!"
For answer, the woman subsided in sobs upon the horsehair sofa, rocking herself and the baby in her grief and terror. "You'll be that angry with me," she moaned; "you'll be right mad!"
"Oh, no, I sha'n't," said Musk, in a kindlier voice. "I'm not so bad as all that, though this do fare to make a man crazy. Tell away, old woman, and don't you be afraid."
"Oh, Jasper, it was when you were gone to Lakenhall for the doctor—that last time!"
"She knew the end was near. Poor thing! Poor thing!"
"What did she say?"
"That she'd die more happier if only she could speak—if only I would send——"
"Not for Carlton?"
The wife could only nod in her fear and desperation.
"You sent for that man the moment my back was turned?"
"Oh, I knew that'd make you right wild—I knew—I knew!"
Musk controlled himself by an effort.
"That don't. That sha'n't. I'll have it out of him, that's all; he's not the Church o' Rome yet! Go on. Go on."
"I went myself. No one knew. I left her alone time I was gone."
"And you brought him back with you?"
"Well, he got here first. He ran all the way."
"He knew better than to let me catch him. Jesuit! How long was he with her?"
"Not long, Jasper, not long indeed!"
"And you heard nothing?"
"Not a word. I stayed downstairs. I had to promise her that before I went. She had something to say to Mr. Carlton that nobody else must know."
"But somebody else shall!" said Jasper grimly. "That was it, you may depend; you should have listened at the door. But that make no matter. Somebody else is going to know before he's many minutes older!"
And an ugly smile broadened on the thick-set face; but the woman gasped. Quick as thought the child was on the sofa, the grandmother on her feet. Trembling and terrified, she stood in her husband's path.
"Jasper! You're never going up to the rectory?"
"I am, though—this minute!"
"Do you let me by."
"But I promised you should never know! You've made me break my solemn word! He'll know I've broken it!"
"Yes, I'm going to learn him a thing or two. Will you let me by?"
"She'll know—too—wherever she has gone to!"
"You'd better not keep me no more."
"Jasper! Jasper! On her death-bed I promised her——"
"Out of my light!"
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