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MR MOSK IS INDISCREET
While the bishop was conversing with Miss Whichello about the engagement of George and Mab, the young people themselves were discussing the self-same subject with much ardour. Captain Pendle had placed two chairs near a quick-set hedge, beyond the hearing of other guests, and on these he and Mab were seated as closely as was possible without attracting the eyes of onlookers. Their attitude and actions were guarded and indifferent for the misleading of the company, but their conversation, not being likely to be overheard, was confidential and lover-like enough. No spectator from casual observation could have guessed their secret.
'You must tell your father about our engagement at once,' said Mab, with decision. 'He should have known of it before I consented to wear this ring.'
'I'll tell him to-morrow, dearest, although I am sorry that Lucy and the mater are not here to support me.'
'But you don't think that he will object to me, George?'
'I--should--think--not!' replied Captain Pendle, smiling at the very idea; 'object to have the prettiest daughter-in-law in the county. You don't know what an eye for beauty the bishop has.'
'If you are so sure of his consent I wonder you did not tell him before,' pouted Mab. 'Aunty has been very angry at my keeping our engagement secret.'
'Darling, you know it isn't a secret. We told Cargrim, and when he is aware of it the whole town is. I didn't want to tell my father until I was sure you would marry me.'
'You have been sure of that for a long time.'
'In a sort of way,' asserted Captain Pendle; 'but I was not absolutely certain until I placed a ring on that pretty hand. Now I'll tell my father, get his episcopalian benediction, and wire the news to Lucy and the mater. We shall be married in spring. Miss Whichello will be the bridesmaid, and all will be hay and sunshine.'
'What nonsense you talk, George!'
'I'd do more than talk nonsense if the eyes of Europe were not on us. Mother Jael is telling fortunes in that tent, my fairy queen, so let us go in and question her about the future. Besides,' added George, with an insinuating smile, 'I don't suppose she would mind if I gave you one kiss.'
Mab laughed and shook her head. 'You will have to dispense with both kiss and fortune for the present,' said she, 'for your father has this moment gone into the tent.'
'What! is Saul also among the prophets?' cried George, with uplifted eyebrows. 'Won't there be a shine in the tents of Shem when it is published abroad that Bishop Pendle has patronised the Witch of Endor. I wonder what he wants to know. Surely the scroll of his fortune is made up.'
'George,' said Mab, gravely, 'your father has been much worried lately.'
'About what? By whom?'
'I don't know, but he looks worried.'
'Oh, he is fidgeting because my mother is away; he always fusses about her health like a hen with one chick.'
'Be more respectful, my dear,' corrected Mab, demurely.
'I'll be anything you like, sweet prude, if you'll only fly with me far from this madding crowd. Hang it! here is someone coming to disturb us.'
'It is your brother.'
'So it is. Hullo, Gabriel, why that solemn brow?'
'I have just heard bad news,' said Gabriel, pausing before them. 'Old Mr Leigh is dying.'
'What! the rector of Heathcroft? I don't call that bad news, old boy, seeing that his death gives you your step.'
'George!' cried Mab and Gabriel in a breath, 'how can you?'
'Well, Leigh is old and ripe enough to die, isn't he?' said the incorrigible George. 'Remember what the old Scotch sexton said to the weeping mourners, "What are ye greeting aboot? If ye dinna bring them at eighty, when wull ye bring them?" My Scotch accent is bad,' added Captain Pendle, 'but the story itself is a thing of beauty.'
'I want to tell my father the news,' said Gabriel, indignantly turning away from George's wink. 'Where is he?'
'With Moth--Oh, there he is,' cried Mab, as the bishop issued from the sibyl's tent. 'Oh, George, how ill he looks!'
'By Jove, yes! He is as pale as a ghost. Come and see what is wrong, Gabriel. Excuse me a moment, Mab.'
The two brothers walked forward, but before they could reach their father he was already taking his leave and shaking hands with Mrs Pansey. His face was white, his eyes were anxious, and it was only by sheer force of will that he could excuse himself to his hostess in his ordinary voice.
'I am afraid the sun has been too much for me, Mrs Pansey,' he said in his usual sauve tones, 'and the close atmosphere of that tent is rather trying. I regret being obliged to leave so charming a scene, but I feel sure you will excuse me.'
'Certainly, bishop,' said Mrs Pansey, graciously enough, 'but won't you have a glass of sherry or--'
'Nothing, thank you; nothing. Good-bye, Mrs Pansey; your fête has been most successful. Ah, Gabriel,' catching sight of his youngest son, 'will you be so good as to come with me?'
'Are you ill, sir?' asked George, with solicitude.
'No, no! a little out of sorts, perhaps. The sun, merely the sun;' and waving his hand in a hurried manner, Dr Pendle withdrew as quickly as his dignity permitted, leaning on Gabriel's arm. The curate's face was as colourless as that of his father, and he seemed equally as nervous in manner. Captain Pendle returned to Mab in a state of bewilderment, for which there was surely sufficient cause.
'I never saw the bishop so put out before,' said he with a puzzled look. 'Old Mother Jael must have prophesied blue ruin and murder.'
Murder! The ominous word struck on the ears of Cargrim, who was passing at the moment, and he smiled cruelly as he heard the half-joking tone in which it was spoken. Captain George Pendle little thought that the chaplain took his jesting speech in earnest, and was more convinced than ever that the bishop had killed Jentham, and had just been warned by Mother Jael that she knew the truth. This then, as Cargrim considered, was her reason for haunting the bishop in his incomings and outgoings.
Of course it was impossible that the bishop's agitation could have escaped the attention of the assembled guests, and many remarks were made as to its probable cause. His sudden illness at his own reception was recalled, and, taken in conjunction with this seizure, it was observed that Dr Pendle was working too hard, that his constitution was breaking up and that he sadly needed a rest. The opinion on this last point was unanimous.
'For I will say,' remarked Mrs Pansey, who was an adept at damning with faint praise, 'that the bishop works as hard as his capacity of brain will let him.'
'And that is a great deal,' said Dr Graham, tartly. 'Bishop Pendle is one of the cleverest men in England.'
'That is right, doctor,' replied the undaunted Mrs Pansey. 'Always speak well of your patients.'
Altogether, so high stood the bishop's reputation as a transparently honest man that no one suspected anything was wrong save Graham and Mr Cargrim. The former remembered Dr Pendle's unacknowledged secret, and wondered if the gipsy was in possession of it, while the latter was satisfied that the bishop had been driven away by the fears roused by Mother Jael's communication, whatever that might be. But the general opinion was that too much work and too much sun had occasioned the bishop's illness, and it was spoken of very lightly as a mere temporary ailment soon to be set right by complete change and complete rest. Thus Dr Pendle's reputation of the past stood him in good stead, and saved his character thoroughly in the present.
'Now,' said Cargrim to himself, 'I know for certain that Mother Jael is aware of the truth, also that the truth implicates the bishop in Jentham's death. I shall just go in and question her at once. She can't escape from that tent so easily as she vanished the other day.'
But Cargrim quite underrated Mother Jael's power of making herself scarce, for when he entered the tent he found it tenanted only by Daisy Norsham, who was looking in some bewilderment at an empty chair. The cunning old gipsy had once more melted into thin air.
'Where is she?' demanded Cargrim, regretting that his clerical garb prevented him from using appropriate language.
'Oh, really, dear Mr Cargrim, I don't know. After the dear bishop came out so upset with the heat, we all ran to look after him, so I suppose Mother Jael felt the heat also, and left while our backs were turned. It is really very vexing,' sighed Daisy, 'for lots of girls are simply dying to have their fortunes told. And, oh!' making a sudden discovery, 'how very, very dreadful!'
'What is it?' asked the chaplain, staring at her tragic face.
'That wicked old woman has taken all the money. Oh, poor Mrs Pansey's home!'
'She has no doubt run off with the money,' said Cargrim, in what was for him a savage tone. 'I must question the servants about her departure. Miss Norsham, I am afraid that your beautiful nature has been imposed upon by this deceitful vagrant.'
Whether this was so or not, one thing was clear that Mother Jael had gone off with a considerable amount of loose silver in her pocket. The servants knew nothing of her departure, so there was no doubt that the old crone, used to dodging and hiding, had slipped out of the garden by some back way, while the guests had been commiserating the bishop's slight illness. As Cargrim wanted to see the gipsy at once, and hoped to force her into confessing the truth by threatening to have her arrested with the stolen money in her pocket, he followed on her trail while it was yet fresh. Certainly Mother Jael had left no particular track by which she could be traced, but Cargrim, knowing something of her habits, judged that she would either strike across Southberry Heath to the tents of her tribe or take refuge for the time being at The Derby Winner. It was more probable that she would go to the hotel than run the risk of being arrested in the gipsy camp, so Cargrim, adopting this argument, took his way down to Eastgate. He hoped to run Mother Jael to earth in the tap-room of the hotel.
On arriving at The Derby Winner, he walked straight into the bar, and found it presided over by a grinning pot-boy. A noise of singing and shouting came from the little parlour at the back, and when the chaplain asked for Mr Mosk, he was informed by the smiling Ganymede that 'th' guv'nor was injiyin' of hisself, and goin' on like one o'clock.'
'Dear! dear!' said the scandalised chaplain, 'am I to understand that your master has taken more than is good for him?'
'Yuss; he's jist drunk up to jollyness, sir.'
'And Miss Mosk?'
'She's a-tryin' to git 'im t' bed, is young missus, an' old missus is cryin' upstairs.'
'I shall certainly speak about this to the authorities,' said Cargrim, in an angry tone. 'You are sober enough to answer my questions, I hope?'
'Yuss, sir; I'm strite,' growled the pot-boy, pulling his forelock.
'Then tell me if that gipsy woman, Mother Jael, is here?'
'No, sir, sh' ain't. I ain't set eyes on 'er for I do'no how long.'
The man spoke earnestly enough, and was evidently telling the truth. Much disappointed to find that the old crone was not in the neighbourhood, the chaplain was about to depart when he heard Mosk begin to sing in a husky voice, and also became aware that Bell, as he judged from the raised tones of her voice, was scolding her father thoroughly. His sense of duty got the better of his anxiety to find Mother Jael, and feeling that his presence was required, he passed swiftly to the back of the house, and threw open the door of the parlour with fine clerical indignation.
'What is all this noise, Mosk?' he cried sharply. 'Do you wish to lose your license?'
Mosk, who was seated in an arm-chair, smiling and singing, with a very red face, was struck dumb by the chaplain's sudden entrance and sharp rebuke. Bell, flushed and angered, was also astonished to see Mr Cargrim, but hailed his arrival with joy as likely to have some moral influence on her riotous father. Personally she detested Cargrim, but she respected his cloth, and was glad to see him wield the thunders of his clerical position.
'That is right, Mr Cargrim!' she cried with flashing eyes. 'Tell him he ought to be ashamed of drinking and singing with mother so ill upstairs.'
'I don't mean t'do any 'arm,' said Mosk, rising sheepishly, for the shock of Cargrim's appearance sobered him a good deal. 'I wos jus' havin' a glass to celebrate a joyful day.'
'Cannot you take your glass without becoming intoxicated?' said Cargrim, in disgust. 'I tell you what, Mosk, if you go on in this way, I shall make it my business to warn Sir Harry Brace against you.'
'I told you how t'would be, father,' put in Bell, reproachfully.
'You onnatural child, goin' agin your parent,' growled Mr Mosk. 'Wasn't I drinking to your health, 'cause the old 'un at Heathcroft wos passin' to his long 'ome? Tell me that!'
'What do you mean, Mosk?' asked the chaplain, starting.
'Nothing, sir,' interposed Bell, hurriedly. 'Father don't know what he is sayin'.'
'Yes, I do,' contradicted her father, sulkily. 'Old Mr Leigh, th' pass'n of Heathcroft, is dying, and when he dies you'll live at Heathcroft with--'
'Father! father! hold your tongue!'
'With my son-in-law Gabriel!'
'Your--son-in-law,' gasped Cargrim, recoiling. 'Is--is your daughter the wife of young Mr Pendle?'
'No, I am not, Mr Cargrim,' cried Bell, nervously. 'It's father's nonsense.'
'It's Bible truth, savin' your presence,' said Mosk, striking the table. 'Young Mr Pendle is engaged to marry you, ain't he? and he's goin' to hev the livin' of Heathcroft, ain't he? and old Leigh's a-dyin' fast, ain't he?'
'Go on, father, you've done it now,' said Bell, resignedly, and sat down.
Cargrim was almost too surprised to speak. The rector of Heathcroft--dying; Gabriel engaged to marry this common woman. He looked from one to the other in amazement; at the triumphant Mosk, and the blushing girl.
'Is this true, Miss Mosk?' he asked doubtfully.
'Yes! I am engaged to marry Gabriel Pendle,' cried Bell, with a toss of her head. 'You can tell the whole town so if you like. Neither he nor I will contradict you.'
'It's as true as true!' growled Mosk. 'My daughter's going to be a lady.'
'I congratulate you both,' said Cargrim, gravely. 'This will be a surprise to the bishop,' and feeling himself unequal to the situation, he made his escape.
'Well, father,' said Bell, 'this is a pretty kettle of fish, this is!'
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