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THE HONOUR OF GABRIEL
Great as had been the popular excitement over Jentham's death, it was almost mild compared with that which swept through Beorminster when his murderer was discovered and arrested. No one had ever thought of connecting Mosk with the crime; and even on his seizure by warrant many declined to believe in his guilt. Nevertheless, when the man was brought before the magistrates, the evidence adduced against him by Baltic was so strong and clear and irrefutable that, without a dissenting word from the Bench, the prisoner was committed to stand his trial at the ensuing assizes. Mosk made no defence; he did not even offer a remark; but, accepting his fate with sullen apathy, sunk into a lethargic, unobservant state, out of which nothing and no person could arouse him. His brain appeared to have been stunned by the suddenness of his calamity.
Many people expressed surprise that Bishop Pendle should have been present when the man was arrested, and some blamed him for having even gone to The Derby Winner. A disreputable pot-house, they whispered, was not the neighbourhood in which a spiritual lord should be found. But Mrs Pansey, for once on the side of right, soon put a stop to such talk by informing one and all that the bishop had visited the hotel at her request in order to satisfy himself that the reports and scandals about it were true. That Mosk should have been arrested while Dr Pendle was making his inquiries was a pure coincidence, and it was greatly to the bishop's credit that he had helped to secure the murderer. In fact, Mrs Pansey was not very sure but what he had taken the wretch in charge with his own august hands.
And the bishop himself? He was glad that Mrs Pansey, to foster her own vanity, had put this complexion on his visit to the hotel, as it did away with any need of a true but uncomfortable explanation. Also he had carried home with him the packet tossed on the table by Mosk, therefore, so far as actual proof was concerned, his secret was still his own. But the murderer knew it, for not only were the certificate and letters in the bundle, but there was also a sheet of memoranda set down by Krant, alias Jentham, which proved clearly that the so-called Mrs Pendle was really his wife.
'If I destroy these papers,' thought the bishop, 'all immediate evidence likely to reveal the truth will be done away with. But Mosk knows that Amy is not my wife; that my marriage is illegal, that my children are nameless; out of revenge for my share in his arrest, he may tell someone the story and reveal the name of the church wherein Amy was married to Krant. Then the register there will disclose my secret to anyone curious enough to search the books. What shall I do? What can I do? I dare not visit Mosk. I dare not ask Graham to see him. There is nothing to be done but to hope for the best. If this miserable man speaks out, I shall be ruined.'
Dr Pendle quite expected ruin, for he had no hope that a coarse and cruel criminal would be honourable enough to hold his tongue. But this belief, although natural enough, showed how the bishop misjudged the man. From the moment of his arrest, Mosk spoke no ill of Dr Pendle; he hinted at no secret, and to all appearances was quite determined to carry it with him to the scaffold. On the third day of his arrest, however, he roused himself from his sullen silence, and asked that young Mr Pendle might be sent for. The governor of the prison, anticipating a confession to be made in due form to a priest, hastily sent for Gabriel. The young man obeyed the summons at once, for, his father having informed him of Mosk's acquaintance with the secret, he was most anxious to learn from the man himself whether he intended to talk or keep silent. It was with a beating heart that Gabriel was ushered into the prison cell.
By special permission the interview was allowed to be private, for Mosk positively refused to speak in the presence of a third person. He was sitting on his bed when the parson entered, but looked up with a gleam of joy in his blood-shot eyes when he was left alone with the young man.
''Tis good of you to come and see a poor devil, Mr Pendle,' he said in a grateful voice. 'Y'll be no loser by yer kin'ness, I can tell y'.'
'To whom should a priest come, save to those who need him?'
'Oh, stow that!' growled Mosk, in a tone of disgust; 'if I want religion I can get more than enough from that Baltic cove. He's never done preachin' and prayin' as if I were a bloomin' 'eathen. No, Mr Pendle, it ain't as a priest as I asked y' t' see me, but as a man--as a gentleman!' His voice broke. 'It's about my poor gal,' he whispered.
'About Bell,' faltered Gabriel, nervously clasping his hands together.
'Yes! I s'pose, sir, you won't think of marryin' her now?'
'Mosk! Mosk! who am I that I should visit your sins on her innocent head?'
'Hold 'ard!' cried Mosk, his face lighting up; 'does that Bible speech mean as y' are goin' to behave honourable?'
'How else did you expect me to behave? Mosk!' said Gabriel, laying a slim hand on the man's knee, 'after your arrest I went to The Derby Winner. It is shut up, and I was unable to enter, as Bell refused to see me. The shock of your evil deed has made your wife so ill that her life is despaired of. Bell is by her bedside night and day, so this is no time for me to talk of marriage. But I give you my word of honour, that in spite of the disgrace you have brought upon her, Bell shall be my wife.'
Mosk burst out crying like a child. 'God bless you, Mr Pendle!' he sobbed, catching at Gabriel's hand. 'You have lifted a weight off my heart. I don't care if I do swing now; I daresay I deserve to swing, but as long as she's all right!--my poor gal! It's a sore disgrace to her. And Susan, too. Susan's dyin', y' say! Well, it's my fault; but if I've sinned I've got to pay a long price for it.'
'Alas! alas! the wages of sin is death.'
'I don't want religion, I tell 'ee,' said Mosk, drying his eyes; 'I've lived bad and I'll die bad.' 'Mosk! Mosk! even at the eleventh hour--'
'That's all right, Mr Pendle; I know all about th' 'leventh hour, and repentance and the rest of th' rot. Stow it, sir, and listen. You'll keep true to my gal?'
'On the honour of a gentleman. I love her; she is as dear to me now as she ever was.'
'That's wot I expected y' to say, sir. Y' allays wos a gentleman. Now you 'ark, Mr Pendle; I knows all about that mar--'
'Don't speak of it!' interrupted Gabriel, with a shudder.
'I ain't goin' to, sir. His lor'ship 'ave the papers I took from him as I did for; so no one but yerself an' yer father knows about 'em. I sha'n't breathe a word about that Krant marriage to a single, solitary soul, and when I dies the secret will die with me. You're actin' square by my poor gal, sir, so I'm agoin' to act square by you. It ain't for me to cover with shame the name as you're goin' to give my Bell.'
'Thank you!' gasped Gabriel, whose emotion at this promise was so great that he could hardly speak, 'thank you!'
'I don' need no thanks, sir; you're square, an' I'm square. So now as I've got that orf m' mind you'd better go. I ain't fit company for the likes of you.'
'Let me say a prayer, Mosk?'
'No, sir; it's too late to pray for me.'
Gabriel raised his hand solemnly. 'As Christ liveth, it is not too late. Though your sins be as--'
'Goo'bye,' interrupted Mosk, and throwing himself on his bed, he turned his face to the wall. Not another word of confession or repentance could Gabriel get him to speak. Nevertheless, the clergyman knelt down on the chill stones and implored God's pardon for this stubborn sinner, whose heart was hardened against the divine grace. Mosk gave no sign of hearing the supplication; but when Gabriel was passing out of the cell, he suddenly rushed forward and kissed his hand. 'God, in His mercy, pity and pardon you, Mosk,' said Gabriel, and left the wretched man with his frozen heart shivering under the black, black shadow of the gallows.
It was with a sense of relief that the curate found himself once more in the sunshine. As he walked swiftly along towards the palace, to carry the good news to his father, he thanked God in his heart that the shadow of impending disaster had passed away. The incriminating papers were in the right hands; their secret was known only to himself, to Graham, and to the bishop. When the truth was told to his mother, and her position had been rectified by a second marriage, Gabriel felt that all would be safe. Cargrim knew nothing of the truth, and therefore could do nothing. With the discovery of the actual criminal all his wicked plans had come to naught; and it only remained for the man he had wronged so deeply to take from him the position of trust which he had so dishonourably abused. As for Gabriel himself, he determined to marry Bell Mosk, as he had promised her miserable father, and to sail with his wife for the mission fields of the South Seas. There they could begin a new life, and, happy in one another's love, would forget the past in assiduous labours amongst the heathen. Baltic knew the South Seas; Baltic could advise and direct how they should begin to labour in that vineyard of the Lord; and Baltic could start them on a new career for the glory of God and the sowing of the good seed. With thoughts like these, Gabriel walked along, wrapped in almost apocalyptic visions, and saw with inspired gaze the past sorrows of himself and Bell fade and vanish in the glory of a God-guided, God-provided future. It was not the career he had shadowed forth for himself; but he resigned his ambitions for Bell's sake, and aided by love overcame his preference for civilised ease. Vincit, qui se vincit.
While Gabriel was thus battling, and thus overcoming, Baltic was seated beside Mosk, striving to bring him to a due sense of his wickedness and weakness, and need of God's forgiveness. He had prayed, and reproved, and persuaded, and besought, many times before; but had hitherto been baffled by the cynicism and stubborn nature of the man. One less enthusiastic than Baltic would have been discouraged, but, braced by fanaticism, the man was resolved to conquer this adversary of Christ and win back an erring soul from the ranks of Satan's evil host. With his well-worn Bible on his knee, he expounded text after text, amplified the message of redemption and pardon, and, with all the eloquence religion had taught his tongue, urged Mosk to plead for mercy from the God he had so deeply offended. But all in vain.
'Wot's th' use of livin' bad all these years, and then turnin' good for five minutes?' growled Mosk, contemptuously. 'There ain't no sense in it.'
'Think of the penitent thief, my brother. He was in the same position as you now are, yet he was promised paradise by God's own Son!'
Mosk shrugged his shoulders. 'It's easy enough promisin', I daresay; but 'ow do I know, or do you know as the promise 'ull be kept?'
'Believe and you shall be saved.'
'I can't believe what you say.'
'Not what I say, poor sinner, but what Christ says.'
There was no possible answer to this last remark, so Mosk launched out on another topic. 'I like yer cheek, I do,' he growled; 'it's you that have got me into this mess, and now you wants me to take up with your preaching.'
'I want to save your soul, man!'
'You'd much better have saved my life. If you'd left me alone I wouldn't have bin caught.'
'Then you would have gone on living in a state of sin. So long as you were safe from the punishment of man you would not have turned to God. Now you must. He is your only friend.'
'It's more nor you are. I don't call it friendship to bring a man to the gallows!'
'I do--when he has committed a crime,' said Baltic, gravely. 'You must suffer and repent, or God will not forgive you. You are Cain, for you have slain your brother.'
'You've got to prove that,' growled Mosk, cunningly; 'look, Mr Baltic, jus' drop religion for a bit, and tell me 'ow you know as I killed that cove.'
Baltic closed his Bible, and looked mildly at the prisoner. 'The evidence against you is perfectly clear, Mosk,' said he, deliberately. 'I traced the notes stolen from the dead man to your possession. You paid your rent to Sir Harry Brace with the fruits of your sin.' 'Yes, I did!' said Mosk, sullenly. 'I know it ain't no good sayin' as I didn't kill Jentham, for you're one too many for me. But wot business had he to go talkin' of hundreds of pounds to a poor chap like me as 'adn't one copper to rub agin the other? If he'd held his tongue I'd 'ave known nothin', and he'd 'ave bin alive now for you to try your 'and on in the religious way. Jentham was a bad 'un, if you like.'
'We are all sinners, Mosk.'
'Some of us are wuss than others. With the 'ception of murderin' Jentham and priggin' his cash, I ain't done nothin' to no one as I knows of. Look here, Mr Baltic, I've done one bit of business to-day with the parson, and now I'm goin' to do another bit with you. 'Ave you pen and paper?'
'Yes!' Baltic produced his pocket-book and a stylographic pen. 'Are you going to confess?'
'I'spose I may as well,' said Mosk, scowling. 'You'll be blaming young Mr Pendle, or the bishop, if I don't; an' as the fust of 'em's goin' to marry my Bell, I don't want trouble there.'
'Won't you confess from a sense of your sin?'
'No, I won't. It's my gal and not repentance as makes me tell the truth. I want to put her an' young Mr Pendle fair and square.'
'Well,' said Baltic, getting ready to write, 'confession is a sign that your heart is softening.'
'It ain't your religion as is doing it, then,' sneered Mosk. 'Now then, fire away, old cove.'
The man then went on to state that he was desperately hard up when Jentham came to stay at The Derby Winner, and, as he was unable to pay his rent, he feared lest Sir Harry should turn him and his sick wife and much-loved daughter into the streets. Jentham, in his cups, several times boasted that he was about to receive a large sum of money from an unknown friend on Southberry Heath, and on one occasion went so far as to inform Mosk of the time and place when he would receive it. He was thus confidential when very drunk, on Mosk reproaching him with not paying for his board and lodging. As the landlord was in much need of money, his avarice was roused by the largeness of the sum hinted at by Jentham; and thinking that the man was a tramp, who would not be missed, he determined to murder and rob him. Gabriel Pendle had given--or rather, had lent--Mosk a pistol to protect himself from gipsies, and vagrants, and harvesters on his frequent night journeys across the lonely heath between Beorminster and Southberry. On the Sunday when the money was to be paid at the Cross-Roads, Mosk rode over to Southberry; and late at night, about the time of the appointment, he went on horseback to the Cross Roads. A storm came on and detained him, so it was after the bishop had given the money to Jentham that Mosk arrived. He saw the bishop departing, and recognised his face in the searching glare of the lightning flashes. When Dr Pendle had disappeared, Mosk rode up to Jentham, who, with the money in his hand, stood in the drenching rain under the sign-post. He looked up as the horse approached, but did not run away, being rendered pot-valiant by the liquor he had drunk earlier in the evening. Before the man could recognise him, Mosk had jumped off his horse; and, at close quarters, had shot Jentham through the heart. 'He fell in the mud like a 'eap of clothes,' said Mosk, 'so I jus' tied up the 'oss to the sign-post, an' went through his pockets. I got the cash--a bundle of notes, they wos--and some other papers as I found. Then I dragged his corp into a ditch by the road, and galloped orf on m' oss as quick as I cud go back to Southberry. There I stayed all night, sayin' as I'd bin turned back by the storm from riding over to Beorminster. Nex' day I come back to m' hotel, and a week arter I paid m' rent to Sir 'Arry with the notes I'd stole. I guv a ten of 'em to young Mr Pendle, and two fives of m' own, as he wanted to change a twenty. If I'd know'd as it was dangerous I'd hev gone up to London and got other notes; but I never thought I'd be found out by the numbers. No one thought as I did it; but I did. 'Ow did you think 'twas me, guv'nor?'
'You were always drunk,' answered Baltic, who had written all this down, 'and I sometimes heard you talking to yourself. Then Sir Harry said that you had paid your rent, and he did not know where you got the money from. Afterwards I found out about the pistol and the notes you had paid Sir Harry. I had no proof of your guilt, although I suspected you for a long time; but it was the pistol which Mother Jael picked up that put me on the right track.'
'Ah, wos it now?' said Mosk, with regret. 'Th' 'oss knocked that out of m' 'and when I wos tyin' him up, and I 'adn't no time to look for it in the mud an' dark. Y' wouldn't hev caught me, I s'pose, if it hadn't bin for that bloomin' pistol?'
'Oh, yes, I would,' rejoined Baltic, coolly; 'the notes would have hanged you in any case, and I would have got at them somehow. I suspected you all along.'
'Wish y' 'adn't come to m' house,' muttered Mosk, discontentedly.
'I was guided there by God to punish your sin.'
'Yah! Stuff! Gimme that confession and I'll sign it.'
But Baltic, wary old fellow as he was, would not permit this without due formality. He had the governor of the gaol brought to the cell, and Mosk with a laugh signed the confession which condemned him in the presence of two witnesses. The governor took it away with him, and again left Baltic and the murderer alone. They eyed one another.
'Now that I know all--' began Baltic.
'Y' don't know all,' interrupted Mosk, with a taunting laugh; 'there's sumthin' I ain't told y', an' I ain't agoin' to tell.'
'You have confessed your sin, that is enough for me. God is softening your hard heart. Grace is coming to your soul. My brother! my brother! let us pray.'
'Sha'n't! Leave me alone, can't y'?'
Baltic fell on his knees. 'Oh, merciful God, have pity upon this most unhappy man sunk in the pit of sin. Let the Redeemer, Thy only begotten Son, stretch out His saving--'
Mosk began to sing a comic song in a harsh voice.
'His saving hand, oh God, to drag this poor soul from perdition. Let him call upon Thy most Holy Name out of the low dungeon. Cut him not off in the--'
'Stop! stop!' shrieked the unhappy man, with his fingers in his ears, 'oh, stop!'
'His sins are as scarlet, but the precious blood of the Lamb will bleach them whiter than fine wool. Have mercy, Heavenly Father--'
Mosk, over-wrought and worn out, began to sob hysterically. At the sound of that grief Baltic sprang to his feet and laid a heavy hand on the shoulder of the sinner.
'On your knees! on your knees, my brother,' he cried in trumpet tones, with flashing eyes, 'implore mercy before the Great White Throne. Now is the time for repentance. God pity you! Christ save you! Satan loose you!' And he forced the man on to his knees. 'Down in Christ's name.'
A choking, strangled cry escaped from the murderer, and his body pitched forward heavily on the cold stones. Baltic continued to pray.
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