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THE BISHOP'S REQUEST
Whatever Dr Pendle may have thought of the Southberry murder, he kept his opinion very much to himself. It is true that he expressed himself horrified at the occurrence of so barbarous a crime in his diocese, that he spoke pityingly of the wretched victim, that he was interested in hearing the result of the inquest, but in each case he was guarded in his remarks. At first, on hearing of the crime, his face had betrayed--at all events, to Cargrim's jealous scrutiny--an expression of relief, but shortly afterwards--on second thoughts, as one might say--there came into his eyes a look of apprehension. That look which seemed to expect the drawing near of evil days never left them again, and daily his face grew thinner and whiter, his manner more restless and ill at ease. He seemed as uncomfortable as was Damocles under the hair-suspended sword.
Other people besides the chaplain noticed the change, but, unlike Cargrim, they did not ascribe it to a consciousness of guilt, but to ill health. Mrs Pendle, who was extremely fond of her husband, and was well informed with regard to the newest treatment and the latest fashionable medicine, insisted that the bishop suffered from nerves brought on by overwork, and plaintively suggested that he should take the cure for them at some German Bad. But the bishop, sturdy old Briton that he was, insisted that so long as he could keep on his feet there was no necessity for his women-folk to make a fuss over him, and declared that it was merely the change in the weather which caused him--as he phrased it--to feel a trifle out of sorts.
'It is hot one day and cold the next, my dear,' he said in answer to his wife remonstrances, 'as if the clerk of the weather didn't know his own mind. How can you expect the liver of a fat, lazy old man like me not to respond to these sudden changes of temperature?'
'Fat, bishop!' cried Mrs Pendle, in vexed tones. 'You are not fat; you have a fine figure for a man of your age. And as to lazy, there is no one in the Church who works harder than you do. No one can deny that.'
'You flatter me, my love!'
'You under-rate yourself, my dear. But if it is liver, why not try Woodhall Spa? I believe the treatment there is very drastic and beneficial. Why not go there, bishop? I'm sure a holiday would do you no harm.'
'I haven't time for a holiday, Amy. My liver must get well as best it can while I go about my daily duties--that is if it is my liver.'
'I don't believe it is,' remarked Mrs Pendle; 'it is nerves, my dear, nothing else. You hardly eat anything, you start at your own shadow, and at times you are too irritable for words. Go to Droitwich for those unruly nerves of yours, and try brine baths.'
'I rather think you should go to Nauheim for that weak heart of yours, my love,' replied Dr Pendle, arranging his wife's pillows; 'in fact, I want you and Lucy to go there next month.'
'Indeed, bishop, I shall do no such thing! You are not fit to look after yourself.'
'Then Graham shall look after me.'
'Dr Graham!' echoed Mrs Pendle, with contempt. 'He is old-fashioned, and quite ignorant of the new medicines. No, bishop, you must go to Droitwich.'
'And you, my dear, to Nauheim!'
At this point matters came to an issue between them, for Mrs Pendle, who like most people possessed a fund of what may be called nervous obstinacy, positively refused to leave England. On his side, the bishop insisted more eagerly than was his custom that Mrs Pendle should undergo the Schott treatment at Nauheim. For some time the argument was maintained with equal determination on both sides, until Mrs Pendle concluded it by bursting into tears and protesting that her husband did not understand her in the least. Whereupon, as the only way to soothe her, the bishop admitted that he was in the wrong and apologised.
All the same, he was determined that his wife should go abroad, and thinking she might yield to professional persuasions, he sent for Dr Graham. By Cargrim a message was brought that the doctor would be with the bishop next morning, so Pendle, not to provoke further argument, said nothing more on the subject to his wife. But here Lucy came on the scene, and seemed equally as averse as her mother to Continental travel. She immediately entered her protest against the proposed journey.
'Mamma is better now than ever she was,' said Lucy, 'and if she goes to Nauheim the treatment will only weaken her.'
'It will strengthen her in the long run, Lucy. I hear wonderful accounts of the Nauheim cures.'
'Oh, papa, every Bad says that it cures more patients than any other, just as every Bad advertises that its waters have so much per cent. more salt or sodium or iodine, or whatever they call it, than the rest. Besides, if you really think mamma should try this cure she can have it at Bath or in London. They say it is just as good in either place as at Nauheim.'
'I think not, Lucy; and I wish you and your mother to go abroad for a month or two. My mind is made up on the subject.'
'Why, papa,' cried Lucy, playfully, 'one would think you wanted to get rid of us.'
The bishop winced and turned a shade paler. 'You are talking at random, my dear,' he said gravely; 'if it were not for your mother's good I should not deprive myself of your society.'
'Poor mother!' sighed Lucy, and 'poor Harry,' she added as an afterthought.
'There need be no "poor Harry" about the matter,' said Dr Pendle, rather sharply. 'If that is what is troubling you, I daresay Harry will be glad to escort you and your mother over to Germany.'
Lucy became a rosy red with pleasure. 'Do you really think Harry will like to come?' she asked in a fluttering voice.
'He is no true lover if he doesn't,' replied her father, with a wan smile. 'Now, run away, my love, I am busy. To-morrow we shall settle the question of your going.'
When to-morrow came, Cargrim, all on fire with curiosity, tried his hardest to stay in the library when Dr Graham came; but as the bishop wished his interview to be private, he intimated the fact pretty plainly to his obsequious chaplain. In fact, he spoke so sharply that Cargrim felt distinctly aggrieved; and but for the trained control he kept of his temper, might have said something to show Dr Pendle the suspicions he entertained. However, the time was not yet ripe for him to place all his cards on the table, for he had not yet conceived a plausible case against the bishop. He was on the point of pronouncing the name 'Amaru' to see if it would startle Dr Pendle, but remembering his former failures when he had introduced the name of 'Jentham' to the bishop's notice, he was wise enough to hold his tongue. It would not do to arouse Dr Pendle's suspicions until he could accuse him plainly of murdering the man, and could produce evidence to substantiate his accusation. The evidence Cargrim wished to obtain was that of the cheque butt and the pistol, but as yet he did not see his way how to become possessed of either. Pending doing so, he hid himself in the grass like the snake he was, ready to strike his unsuspecting benefactor when he could do so with safety and effect.
In accordance with his resolution on this point, Mr Cargrim was meek and truckling while he was with the bishop, and when Dr Graham was announced he sidled out of the library with a bland smile. Dr Graham gave him a curt nod in response to his gracious greeting, and closed the door himself before he advanced to meet the bishop. Nay, more, so violent was his dislike to good Mr Cargrim, that he made a few remarks about that apostle before coming to the object of his visit.
'If you were a student of Lavater, bishop,' said he, rubbing his hands, 'you would not tolerate that Jesuitical Rodin near you for one moment.'
'Jesuitical Rodin, doctor! I do not understand.'
'Ah, that comes of not reading French novels, my lord!'
'I do not approve of the moral tone of French fiction,' said the bishop, stiffly.
'Few of our English Pharisees do,' replied Graham, dryly; 'not that I rank you among the hypocrites, bishop, so do not take my remark in too literal a sense.'
'I am not so thin-skinned or self-conscious as to do so, Graham. But your meaning of a Jesuitical Rodin?'
'It is explained in The Wandering Jew of Eugene Sue, bishop. You should read that novel if only to arrive by analogy at the true character of your chaplain. Rodin is one of the personages in the book, and Rodin,' said the doctor decisively, 'is Cargrim!'
'You are severe, doctor. Michael is an estimable young man.'
'Michael and the Dragon!' said Graham, playing upon the name. 'Humph! he is more like the latter than the former. Mr Michael Cargrim is the young serpent as Satan is the old one.'
'I always understood that you considered Satan a myth, doctor!'
'So I do; so he is; a bogey of the Middle and Classical Ages constructed out of Pluto and Pan. But he serves excellently well for an illustration of your pet parson.'
'Cargrim is not a pet of mine,' rejoined the bishop, coldly, 'and I do not say that he is a perfect character. Still, he is not bad enough to be compared to Satan. You speak too hurriedly, doctor, and, if you will pardon my saying so, too irreligiously.'
'I beg your pardon, I forgot that I was addressing a bishop. But as to that young man, he is a bad and dangerous character.'
'Doctor, doctor,' protested the bishop, raising a deprecating hand.
'Yes, he is,' insisted Graham; 'his goodness and meekness are all on the surface! I am convinced that he is a kind of human mole who works underground, and makes mischief in secret ways. If you have a cupboard with a skeleton, bishop, take care Mr Cargrim doesn't steal the key.'
Graham spoke with some meaning, for since the illness of Dr Pendle after Jentham's visit, he had suspected that the bishop was worried in his mind, and that he possessed a secret which was wearing him out. Had he known that the strange visitor was one and the same with the murdered man, he might have spoken still more to the point; but the doctor was ignorant of this and consequently conceived the bishop's secret to be much more harmless than it really was. However, his words touched his host nearly, for Dr Pendle started and grew nervous, and looked so haggard and worried that Graham continued his speech without giving him time to make a remark.
'However, I did not come here to discuss Cargrim,' he said cheerfully, 'but because you sent for me. It is about time,' said Graham, grimly, surveying the bishop's wasted face and embarrassed manner. 'You are looking about as ill as a man can look. What is the matter with you?'
'Nothing is the matter with me. I am in my usual health.'
'You look it,' said the doctor, ironically. 'Good Lord, man!' with sudden wrath, 'why in the name of the Thirty-Nine Articles can't you tell me the truth?'
'The truth?' echoed the bishop, faintly.
'Yes, my lord, I said the truth, and I mean the truth. If you are not wrong in body you are in mind. A man doesn't lose flesh, and colour, and appetite, and self-control for nothing. You want me to cure you. Well, I can't, unless you show me the root of your trouble.'
'I am worried over a private affair,' confessed Pendle, driven into a corner.
'Something wrong?' asked Graham, raising his eyebrows.
'Yes, something is very wrong.'
'Can't it be put right?'
'I fear not,' said the bishop, in hopeless tones. 'It is one of those things beyond the power of mortal man to put right.'
'Your trouble must be serious,' said Graham, with a grave face.
'It is very serious. You can't help me. I can't help myself. I must endure my sorrow as best I may. After all, God strengthens the back for the burden.'
'Oh, Lord!' groaned Graham to himself, 'that make-the-best-of-it-view seems to be the gist of Christianity. What the deuce is the good of laying a too weighty burden on any back, when you've got to strengthen it to bear it? Well, bishop,' he added aloud, 'I have no right to ask for a glimpse of your skeleton. But can I help you in any way?'
'Yes,' cried the bishop, eagerly. 'I sent for you to request your aid. You can help me, Graham, and very materially.'
'I'm willing to do so. What shall I do?'
'Send my wife and daughter over to Nauheim on the pretext that Mrs Pendle requires the baths, and keep them there for two months.'
Dr Graham looked puzzled, for he could by no means conceive the meaning of so odd a request. In common with other people, he was accustomed to consider Bishop and Mrs Pendle a model couple, who would be as miserable as two separated love-birds if parted. Yet here was the husband asking his aid to send away the wife on what he admitted was a transparent pretext. For the moment he was nonplussed.
'Pardon me, bishop,' he said delicately, 'but have you had words with your wife?'
'No! no! God forbid, Graham. She is as good and tender as she always is: as dear to me as she ever was. But I wish her to go away for a time, and I desire Lucy to accompany her. Yesterday I suggested that they should take a trip to Nauheim, but both of them seemed unwilling to go. Yet they must go!' cried the bishop, vehemently; 'and you must help me in my trouble by insisting upon their immediate departure.'
Graham was more perplexed than ever. 'Has your secret trouble anything to do with Mrs Pendle?' he demanded, hardly knowing what to say.
'It has everything to do with her!'
'Does she know that it has?'
'No, she knows nothing--not even that I am keeping a secret from her; doctor,' said Pendle, rising, 'if I could tell you my trouble I would, but I cannot; I dare not! If you help me, you must do so with implicit confidence in me, knowing that I am acting for the best.'
'Well, bishop, you place me rather in a cleft stick,' said the doctor, looking at the agitated face of the man with his shrewd little eyes. 'I don't like acting in the dark. One should always look before he leaps, you know.'
'But, good heavens, man! I am not asking you to do anything wrong. My request is a perfectly reasonable one. I want my wife and daughter to leave England for a time, and you can induce them to take the journey.'
'Well,' said Graham, calmly, 'I shall do so.'
'Thank you, Graham. It is good of you to accede to my request.'
'I wouldn't do it for everyone,' said Graham, sharply. 'And although I do not like being shut out from your confidence, I know you well enough to trust you thoroughly. A couple of months at Nauheim may do your wife good, and--as you tell me--will relieve your mind.'
'It will certainly relieve my mind,' said the bishop, very emphatically.
'Very good, my lord. I'll do my very best to persuade Mrs Pendle and your daughter to undertake the journey.'
'Of course,' said Pendle, anxiously, 'you won't tell them all I have told you! I do not wish to explain myself too minutely to them.'
'I am not quite so indiscreet as you think, my lord,' replied Graham, with some dryness. 'Your wife shall leave Beorminster for Nauheim thinking that your desire for her departure is entirely on account of her health.'
'Thank you again, doctor!' and the bishop held out his hand.
'Come,' said Graham to himself as he took it, 'this secret can't be anything very dreadful if he gives me his hand. My lord!' he added aloud, 'I shall see Mrs Pendle at once. But before closing this conversation I would give you a warning.'
'A warning!' stammered the bishop, starting back.
'A very necessary warning,' said the doctor, solemnly. 'If you have a secret, beware of Cargrim.'
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