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Doctor Graham was not the man to fail in carrying through successfully any scheme he undertook, and what he had promised the bishop he duly fulfilled. After a rather lengthy interview with Mrs Pendle and her daughter, he succeeded in arousing their interest in Nauheim and its baths: so much so, that before he left the palace they were as eager to go as formerly they had been to stay. This seeming miracle was accomplished mainly by a skilful appeal to Mrs Pendle's love for experimenting with new medical discoveries in connection with her health. She had never tried the Schott treatment for heart dilation, and indeed had heard very little about it; but when fully informed on the subject, her interest in it was soon awakened. She soon came to look on the carbolic spring of Nauheim as the true fountain of youth, and was sanguine that by bathing for a few weeks in its life-giving waters she would return to Beorminster hale and hearty, and full of vitality. If ever Hope told a flattering tale, she did to Mrs Pendle through the lips of cunning Dr Graham.
'I thought you knew nothing about new medicines or treatments,' she observed graciously; 'or, if you did, that you were too conservative to prescribe them. I see I was wrong.'
'You were decidedly wrong, Mrs Pendle. It is only a fool who ceases to acquire knowledge and benefit by it. I am not a cabbage although I do live in a vegetable garden.'
Lucy's consent was gained through the glowing description of the benefit her mother would receive from the Nauheim waters, and the opportune arrival of Sir Harry Brace contributed to the wished-for result. The ardent lover immediately declared his willingness to escort Lucy to the world's end. Wherever Lucy was, the Garden of Eden blossomed; and while Mrs Pendle was being pickled and massaged and put to bed for recuperative slumbers, he hoped to have his future wife all to himself. In her sweet company even the dull little German watering-place would prove a Paradise. Cupid is the sole miracle-worker in these days of scepticism.
'It is all right, bishop!' said the victorious doctor. 'The ladies will be off, with Brace in attendance, as soon as they can pack up a waggon load of feminine frippery.'
'I am sincerely glad to hear it,' said Dr Pendle, and heaved a sigh of relief which made Graham wag his head and put in a word of advice.
'You must take a trip yourself, my lord,' he said decisively; 'nothing like change for mental worry. Go to Bath, or Putney, or Jericho, bishop; travel is your anodyne.'
'I cannot leave Beorminster just now, Graham. When I can I shall take your advice.'
The doctor shrugged his shoulders and walked towards the door. There he paused and looked back at the unhappy face of the bishop. A thought struck him and he returned.
'Pendle,' he said gently, 'I am your oldest friend and one who honours and respects you above all men. Why not tell me your trouble and let me help you? I shall keep your secret, whatever it may be.'
'I have no fears on that score, Graham. If I could trust anyone I should trust you; but I cannot tell you what is in my mind. No useful result would come of such candour, for only the One above can help me out of my difficulties.'
'Is it money worries, bishop?'
'No, my worldly affairs are most prosperous.'
'It is not this murder that is troubling you, I suppose?'
The bishop became as pale as the paper on the desk before him, and convulsively clutched the arms of his chair. 'The--the murder!' he stammered, 'the murder, Graham. Why should that trouble me?'
'Cargrim told me that you were greatly upset that such a thing should have occurred in your diocese.'
'I am annoyed about it,' replied Pendle, in a low voice, 'but it is not the untimely death of that unhappy man which worries me.'
'Then I give it up,' said the doctor, with another shrug.
'Yes, what is it?'
'Do you think that there is any chance of the murderer of this man being discovered?'
'If the case had been handled by a London detective while the clues were fresh I daresay there might have been a chance,' replied the doctor. 'But that mutton-headed Tinkler has made such a muddle of the affair that I am certain the murderer will never be captured.'
'Has anything new been discovered since the inquest?'
'Nothing. So far as I know, Tinkler is satisfied and the matter is at an end. Whosoever killed Jentham has only his own conscience to fear.'
'And God!' said the bishop, softly.
'I always understood that what you Churchmen call conscience was the still small voice of the Deity,' replied Graham, drily; 'there is no use in being tautological, bishop. Well, good-day, my lord.'
'Good-day, doctor, and many, many thanks for your kindly help.'
'Not at all. I only wish that you would let me help you to some purpose by treating me as your friend and unburdening your mind. There is one great truth that you should become a convert to, bishop.'
'Ay, ay, what is that?' said Pendle, listlessly.
'That medical men are the father-confessors of Protestantism. Good-day!'
Outside the library Cargrim was idling about, in the hope of picking up some crumbs of information, when Graham took his departure. But the little doctor, who was not in the best of tempers for another conversation, shot past the chaplain like a bolt from the bow; and by the time Cargrim recovered from such brusque treatment was half-way down the avenue, fuming and fretting at his inability to understand the attitude of Bishop Pendle. Dr Graham loved a secret as a magpie does a piece of stolen money, and he was simply frantic to find out what vexed his friend; the more so as he believed that he could help him to bear his trouble by sympathy, and perhaps by advice do away with it altogether. He could not even make a guess at the bishop's hidden trouble, and ran over all known crimes in his mind, from murder to arson, without coming to any conclusion. Yet something extraordinary must be the matter to move so easy-going, healthy a man as Dr Pendle.
'I know more of his life than most people,' thought Graham, as he trotted briskly along, 'and there is nothing in it that I can see to upset him so. He hasn't forged, or coined, or murdered, or sold himself to Pluto-Pan Satan so far as I know; and he is too clear-headed and sane to have a monomania about a non-existent trouble. Dear, dear,' the doctor shook his head sadly, 'I shall never understand human nature; there is always an abyss below an abyss, and the firmest seeming ground is usually quagmire when you come to step on it. George Pendle is a riddle which would puzzle the Sphinx. Hum! hum! another fabulous beast. Well, well, I can only wait and watch until I discover the truth, and then--well, what then?--why, nothing!' And Graham, having talked himself into a cul-de-sac of thought, shook his head furiously and strove to dismiss the matter from his too inquisitive mind. But not all his philosophy and will could accomplish the impossible. 'We are a finite lot of fools,' said he, 'and when we think we know most we know least. How that nameless Unseen Power must smile at our attempts to scale the stars,' by which remark it will be seen that Dr Graham was not the atheist Beorminster believed him to be. And here may end his speculations for the present.
Shortly, Mrs Pendle and Lucy began to pack a vast number of boxes with garments needful and ornamental, and sufficient in quantity to last them for at least twelve months. It is true that they intended to remain away only eight weeks, but the preparations for departure were worthy of the starting out of a crusade. They must take this; they could certainly not leave that; warm dresses were needed for possible cold weather; cool frocks were requisite for probable hot days; they must have smart dresses as they would no doubt go out a great deal; and three or four tea-gowns each, as they might stay indoors altogether. In short, their stock of millinery would have clothed at least half-a-dozen women, although both ladies protested plaintively that they had absolutely nothing to wear, and that it would be necessary to go shopping in London for a few days, if only to make themselves look presentable. Harry Brace, the thoughtless bachelor, was struck dumb when he saw the immense quantity of luggage which went off in and on a bus to the railway station in the charge of a nurse and a lady's-maid.
'Oh, Lord!' said he, aghast, 'are we starting out on an African expedition, Lucy?'
'Well, I'm sure, Harry, mamma and I are only taking what is absolutely necessary. Other women would take twice as much.'
'Wait until you and Lucy leave for your honeymoon, Brace,' said the bishop, with a smile at his prospective son-in-law's long face. 'She will be one of the other women then.'
'In that case,' said Harry, a trifle grimly, 'Lucy will have to decide if I am to go as a bridegroom or a luggage agent.'
Of course all Beorminster knew that Mrs Pendle was going to Nauheim for the treatment; and of course all Beorminster--that is, the feminine portion of it--came to take tender farewells of the travellers. Every day up to the moment of departure Mrs Pendle's drawing-room was crowded with ladies all relating their experiences of English and Continental travelling. Lucy took leave of at least a dozen dear friends; and from the way in which Mrs Pendle was lamented over, and blessed, and warned, and advised by the wives of the inferior clergy, one would have thought that her destination was the moon, and that she would never get back again. Altogether the palace was no home for a quiet prelate in those days.
At the last moment Mrs Pendle found that she would be wretched if her bishop did not accompany her some way on the journey; so Dr Pendle went with the travellers to London, and spent a pleasant day or so, being hurried about from shop to shop. If he had not been the most angelic bishop in England he would have revolted; but as he was anxious that his wife should have no cause of complaint, he exhausted himself with the utmost amiability. But the longest lane has a turning, and the day came when Mrs Pendle and Lucy, attended by the dazed Harry, left for Nauheim viā Queenborough, Flushing and Cologne. Mrs Pendle declared, as the train moved away, that she was thoroughly exhausted, which statement the bishop quite believed. His wonder was that she and Lucy were not dead and buried.
On returning to the empty palace, Bishop Pendle settled himself down for a long rest. Remembering Graham's hint, he saw as little of Cargrim as was compatible with the relationship of business. The chaplain noted that he was being avoided, and guessing that someone had placed Dr Pendle on his guard against him, became more secretive and watchful than ever. But in spite of all his spying he met with little success, for although the bishop still continued weary-eyed and worried-looking, he went about his work with more zest than usual. Indeed, he attended so closely to the duties of his position that Cargrim fancied he was trying to forget his wickedness by distracting his mind. But, as usual, the chaplain had no tangible reason for this belief.
And about this time, when most industrious, the bishop began to be haunted, not by a ghost, which would have been bearable as ghosts appear usually only in the nighttime, but by a queer little old woman in a red cloak, who supported herself with a crutch and looked like a wicked fairy. This, as the bishop ascertained by a casual question, was Mother Jael, the gipsy friend of Jentham, and the knowledge of her identity did not make him the easier in his mind. He could not conceive what she meant by her constant attendance on him; and but that he believed in the wisdom of letting sleeping dogs lie, he would have resented her pertinacity. The sight of her became almost insupportable.
Whether Mother Jael intended to terrify the bishop or not it is hard to say, but the way in which she followed him tormented him beyond measure. When he left the palace she was there on the road; when he preached in the cathedral she lurked among the congregation; when he strolled about Beorminster she watched him round corners, but she never approached him, she never spoke to him, and frequently vanished as mysteriously and unexpectedly as she appeared. Wherever he went, wherever he looked, that crimson cloak was sure to meet his eye. Mother Jael was old and bent and witch-like, with elf locks of white hair and a yellow, wrinkled face; but her eyes burned like two fiery stars under her frosted brows, and with these she stared hard at Bishop Pendle, until he felt almost mesmerised by the intensity of her gaze. She became a perfect nightmare to the man, much the same as the little old woman of the coffer was to Abudah, the merchant in the fantastic eastern tale; but, unlike that pertinacious beldam, she apparently had no message to deliver. She only stared and stared with her glittering, evil eyes, until the bishop--his nerves not being under control with this constant persecution--almost fancied that the powers of darkness had leagued themselves against him, and had sent this hell-hag to haunt and torment him.
Several times he strove to speak to her, for he thought that even the proverb of sleeping dogs might be acted upon too literally; but Mother Jael always managed to shuffle out of the way. She appeared to have the power of disintegrating her body, for where she disappeared to on these occasions the bishop never could find out. One minute he would see her in her red cloak, leaning on her crutch and staring at him steadily, but let him take one step in her direction and she would vanish like a ghost. No wonder the bishop's nerves began to give way; the constant sight of that silent figure with its menacing gaze would have driven many a man out of his mind, but Dr Pendle resisted the panic which seized him at times, and strove to face the apparition--for Mother Jael's flittings deserved such a name--with control and calmness. But the effort was beyond his strength at times.
As the weeks went by, Cargrim also began to notice the persecution of Mother Jael, and connecting her with Jentham and Jentham with the bishop, he began to wonder if she knew the truth about the murder. It was not improbable, he thought, that she might be possessed of more important knowledge than she had imparted to the police, and a single word from her might bring home the crime to the bishop. If he was innocent, why did she haunt him? But again, if he was guilty, why did she avoid him? To gain an answer to this riddle, Cargrim attempted when possible to seize the elusive phantom of Mother Jael, but three or four times she managed to vanish in her witch-like way. At length one day when she was watching the bishop talking to the dean at the northern door of the cathedral, Cargrim came softly behind her and seized her arm. Mother Jael turned with a squeak like a trapped rabbit.
'Why do you watch the bishop?' asked Cargrim, sharply.
'Bless ye, lovey, I don't watch 'im,' whined Mother Jael, cringing.
'Nonsense, I've seen you look at him several times.'
'There ain't no harm in that, my lamb. They do say as a cat kin look at a queen; and why not a pore gipsy at a noble bishop? I say, dearie,' she added, in a hoarse whisper, 'what's his first name?'
'The bishop's first name? George. Why do you want to know?'
'George!' pondered Mother Jael, taking no notice of the question, 'I allays though' the sojir was George!'
'He is George too, called after his father. Answer me! Why do you want to know the bishop's name? and why do you watch him?'
'Ah, my noble Gorgio, that's tellings!'
'No doubt, so just tell it to me.'
'Lord, lovey! the likes of you don't want to know what the likes of me thinks.'
Cargrim lost his temper at these evasions. 'You are a bad character, Mother Jael. I shall warn the police about you.'
'Oh, tiny Jesius, hear him! I ain't done nothing wrong. I'm a pore old gipsy; strike me dead if I ain't.'
'If you tell me something,' said Cargrim, changing his tactics, 'you shall have this,' and he produced a coin.
Mother Jael eyed the bright half-sovereign he held between finger and thumb, and her old eyes glistened. 'Yes, dearie, yes! What is it?'
'Tell me the truth about the murder,' whispered Cargrim, with a glance in the direction of the bishop.
Mother Jael gave a shrill screech, grabbed the half-sovereign, and shuffled away so rapidly that she was round the corner before Cargrim could recover from his surprise. At once he followed, but in spite of all his search he could not find the old hag. Yet she had her eye on him.
'George! and George!' said Mother Jael, who was watching him from an odd angle of the wall into which she had squeezed herself, 'I wonder which of 'em did it?'
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