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DEA EX MACHIN┬
As may be guessed, Captain Pendle, now that the course of true love ran smoother, was an assiduous visitor to the Jenny Wren house. He and Mab were all in all to one another, and in the egotism of their love did not trouble themselves about the doings of their neighbours. It is true that George was relieved and pleased to hear of Mosk's arrest and confession, because Gabriel was thereby exonerated from all suspicion of having committed a vile crime; but when reassured on this point, he ceased to interest himself in the matter. He was ignorant that his brother loved Bell Mosk, as neither Baltic nor the bishop had so far enlightened him, else he might not have been quite so indifferent to the impending trial of the wretched criminal. As it was, the hot excitement prevalent in Beorminster left him cold, and both he and Mab might have been dwellers in the moon for all the interest they displayed in the topic of the day. They lived, according to the selfish custom of lovers, in an Arcadia of their own creation, and were oblivious to the doings beyond its borders. Which disregard was natural enough in their then state of mind.
However, George, being in the world and of the world, occasionally brought to Mab such scraps of news as he thought might interest her. He told her of his mother's return, of her renewed health, of her pleasure in hearing that the engagement had been sanctioned by the bishop, and delivered a message to the effect that she wished to see and embrace her future daughter-in-law--all of which information gave Mab wondrous pleasure and Miss Whichello a considerable amount of satisfaction, since she saw that there would be no further question of her niece's unsuitability for George.
'You deserve some reward for your good news,' said Mab, and produced a silk knitted necktie of martial red, 'so here it is!'
'Dearest,' cried Captain Pendle, kissing the scarf, 'I shall wear it next to my heart;' then, thinking the kiss wasted on irresponsive silk, he transferred it to the cheek of his lady-love.
'Nonsense!' said Miss Whichello, smiling broadly; 'wear it round your neck like a sensible lover.'
'Are lovers ever sensible?' inquired the captain, with a twinkle.
'I know one who isn't,' cried Mab, playfully. 'No, sir,' removing an eager arm, 'you will shock aunty.'
'Aunty has become hardened to such shocks,' smiled Miss Whichello.
'Aunty has been as melancholy as an owl of late,' retorted Mab, caressing the old lady; 'ever since the arrest of that man Mosk she has been quite wretched.'
'Don't speak of him, Mab.'
'Halloo! said George, with sudden recollection, 'I knew there was something else to tell you. Mosk is dead.'
Miss Whichello gave a faint shriek, and tightly clasped the hand of her niece. 'Dead!' she gasped, pale-cheeked and low-toned. 'Mosk dead!'
'As a door nail,' rejoined George, admiring his present; 'he hanged himself last night with his braces, so the gallows have lost a victim and Beorminster society a sensation trial of--'
'George!' cried Mab, in alarm, 'don't talk so; you will make aunty faint.'
And indeed the little old lady looked as though she were on the point of swooning. Her face was white, her skin was cold, and leaning back her head she had closed her eyes. Captain Pendle's item of news had produced so unexpected a result that he and Mab stared at one another in surprise.
'You shouldn't tell these horrors, George.'
'My love, how was I to know your aunt took an interest in the man?'
'I don't take an interest in him,' protested Miss Whichello, faintly; 'but he killed Jentham, and now he kills himself; it's horrible.'
'Horrible, but necessary,' assented George, cheerfully; 'a man who murders another can't expect to get off scot-free. Mosk has only done for himself what the law would have done for him. I'm sorry for Baltic, however.'
'The missionary! Why, George?'
'Because this suicide will be such a disappointment to him. He has been trying to make the poor devil--beg pardon--poor wretch repent; but it would seem that he has not been successful.'
'Did he not confess to Mr Baltic?' asked Miss Whichello, anxiously.
'I believe so; he repented that far.'
'Do you know what he told him?'
'That he had killed Jentham, and had stolen his money.'
'Did he say if he had found any papers on Jentham's body?'
'Not that I know of,' replied George, staring. 'Why! had Jentham any particular papers in his possession?'
'Oh, I don't know; I really can't say,' answered Miss Whichello, confusedly, and rose unsteadily to her feet. 'Mab, my dear, you will excuse me, I am not very well; I shall go to my bedroom.'
'Let me come too, aunty.'
'No! no!' Miss Whichello waved her niece back. 'I wish to be alone,' and she left the room abruptly, without a look at either of the young people. They could not understand this strange behaviour. Mab, woman-like, turned on Captain Pendle.
'It is all your fault, George, talking of murders and suicides.'
'I'm awf'ly sorry,' said the captain, penitently, 'but I thought you would like to hear the news.'
'Not the police news, thank you,' said Mab, with dignity.
'Why not? Something to talk about, you know.'
'You have me to talk about, Captain Pendle.'
'Oh!' George sprang forward. 'Let us discuss that subject at once. You deserve some punishment for calling me out of my name. There, wicked one!'
'George,' very faintly, 'I--I shall not allow it! You--you should ask permission.'
'Waste of time,' said the practical George, and slipped his arm round her waist.
'Oh, indeed!'--indignantly--'well, I--' Here Captain Pendle punished her again, after which Mab said that he was like all men, that he ought to be ashamed of himself, etc., etc., etc. Then she frowned, then she smiled, and finally became a meek and patient Grissel to the unfeigned delight of the superior mind. So the pair forgot Mosk and his wretched death, forgot Miss Whichello and her strange conduct, and retreated from the world into their Arcadia--Paradise--Elysium, in which it is best that all sensible people should leave this pair of foolish lovers.
Miss Whichello had other things to think of than this billing and cooing. She went to her bedroom, and lay down for ten minutes or so; then she got up again and began pacing restlessly to and fro. Her thoughts were busy with Mosk, with his victim, with Baltic; she wondered if Jentham had been in possession of certain papers, if these had been stolen by Mosk, if they were now in the pocket of Baltic. This last idea made her blood turn cold and her heart drum a loud tattoo. She covered her face with her hands; she sat down, she rose up, and in a nervous fever of apprehension leaned against the wall. Then, after the manner of those over-wrought, she began to talk aloud.
'I must tell someone; I must have advice,' she muttered, clenching her hands. 'It is of no use seeing Mr Baltic; he is a stranger; he may refuse to help me. Dr Graham? No! he is too cynical. The bishop?' She paused and struck her hands lightly together. 'The bishop! I shall see him and tell him all. For his son's sake, he will help my poor darling.'
Having made up her mind to this course, Miss Whichello put on her old-fashioned silk cloak and poke bonnet. Then she fished a bundle of papers, yellow with age, out of a tin box, and slipped them into her capacious pocket. Biting her lips and rubbing her cheeks to bring back the colour, she glided downstairs, stole past the drawing-room door like a guilty creature, and in another minute was in the square. Here she took a passing fly, and ordered the man to drive her to the palace as speedily as possible.
'I trust I am acting for the best,' murmured the little old lady, with a sigh. 'I think I am; for if Bishop Pendle cannot help me, no one else can. After thirty years, oh God! my poor, poor darling!'
In the Greek drama, when the affairs of the dramatis personŠ became so entangled by circumstance, or fate, or sheer folly as to be beyond their capability of reducing them to order, those involved in such disorder were accustomed to summon a deity to accomplish what was impossible for mortals to achieve. Then stepped the god out of a machine to redress the wrong and reward the right, to separate the sheep from the goats and to deliver a moral speech to the audience, commanding them to note how impossible it was for man to dispense with the guidance and judgment and powerful aid of the Olympian Hierarchy. Miss Whichello's mission was something similar; and although both she and Bishop Pendle were ignorant that she represented the 'goddess out of a machine' who was to settle all things in a way conducive to the happiness of all persons, yet such was the case. Impelled by Fate, she sought out the very man to whom her mission was most acceptable; and seated face to face with Bishop Pendle in that library which had been the scene of so many famous interviews, she unconsciously gave him a piece of information which put an end to all his troubles. She had certainly arrived at the eleventh hour, and might just as well have presented herself earlier; but Destiny, the playwright of the Universe, always decrees that her dramas should play their appointed time and never permits her arbitrator to appear until immediately before the fall of the green curtain. So far as the Beorminster drama was concerned, the crucial moment was at hand, the actor--or rather actress--who was to remedy all things was on the scene, and shortly the curtain would fall on a situation of the rough made smooth. Then red fire, marriage bells, triumphant virtue and cowering guilt, with a rhyming tag, delivered by the prettiest actress, of 'All's well that ends well!'
'I come to consult you confidentially,' said Miss Whichello, when she and the bishop were alone in the library. 'I wish to ask for your advice.'
'My advice and my friendship are both at your service, my dear lady,' replied the courteous bishop.
'It is about Mab's parents,' blurted out the little old lady.
'Oh!' The bishop looked grave. 'You are about to tell me the truth of those rumours which were prevalent in Beorminster when you brought Miss Arden home to your house?'
'Yes. I daresay Mrs Pansey said all sorts of wicked things about me, bishop?'
'Well, no!'--Dr Pendle wriggled uneasily--'she spoke rather of your sister than of you. I do not wish to repeat scandal, Miss Whichello, so let us say no more about the matter. Your niece shall marry my son; be assured of that. It is foolish to rake up the past,' added the bishop, with a sigh.
'I must rake up the past; I must tell you the truth,' said Miss Whichello, in firm tones, 'if only to put a stop to Mrs Pansey's evil tongue. What did she say, bishop?'
'Really, really, my dear lady, I--'
'Bishop, tell me what she said about my sister. I will know.'
Reluctantly the bishop spoke out at this direct request. 'She said that your sister had eloped in London with a man who afterwards refused to marry her, that she had a child, and that such child is your niece, Miss Arden, whom you brought to Beorminster after the death of your unhappy sister.'
'A fine mixture of truth and fiction indeed,' said the old lady, in a haughty voice. 'I am obliged to Mrs Pansey for the way in which she has distorted facts.'
'I fear, indeed, that Mrs Pansey exaggerates,' said Dr Pendle, shaking his head.
'With all due respect, bishop, she is a wicked old Sapphira!' cried Miss Whichello, and forthwith produced a bundle of papers out of her pocket. 'My unfortunate sister Annie did run away, but she was married to her lover on the very day she left our house in London, and my darling Mab is as legitimate as your son George, Dr Pendle.'
The bishop winced at this unlucky illustration. 'Have you a proof of this marriage, Miss Whichello?' he asked, with a glance at the papers.
'Of course I have,' she replied, untying the red tape with trembling fingers. 'Here is the certificate of marriage which my poor Annie gave me on her dying bed. I would have shown it before to all Beorminster had I known of Mrs Pansey's false reports. Look at it, bishop.' She thrust it into his hand. 'Ann Whichello, spinster; Pharaoh Bosvile, bachelor. They were married in St Chad's Church, Hampstead, in the month of December 1869. Here is Mab's certificate of birth; she was christened in the same church, and born in 1870, the year of the Franco-German war, so as this is ninety-seven, she is now twenty-seven years of age, just two years older than your son, Captain Pendle.'
With much interest the bishop examined the two certificates of birth and marriage which Miss Whichello placed before him. They were both legally perfect, and he saw plainly that however badly Bosvile might have behaved afterwards to Ann Bosvile she was undoubtedly his wife.
'Not that he would have married her if he could have helped it,' went on Miss Whichello, while the bishop looked at the documents, 'but Annie had a little money--not much--which she was to receive on her wedding day, so the wretch married her and wrote to my dear father for the money, which, of course, under grandfather's will, had to be paid. Father never would see Annie again, but when the poor darling wrote to me a year afterwards that she was dying with a little child by her side, what could I do but go and comfort her? Ah, poor darling Annie!' sobbed the little old lady, 'she was sadly changed from the bright, beautiful girl I remembered. Her husband turned out a brute and a ruffian and a spendthrift. He wasted all her money, and left her within six months of the marriage--the wretch! Annie tried to support herself by needlework, but she took cold in her starving condition and broke down. Then Mab was born, and she wrote to me. I went at once, bishop, but arrived just in time to get those papers and close my dear Annie's eyes. Afterwards I brought Mab back with me to Beorminster, but I kept her for some time in London on account of my father. When I did bring her here, and I showed him the marriage certificate, he got quite fond of the little pet. So all these years Mab has lived with me quite like my own sweet child, and your son is a lucky man to win her love,' added the old maid, rather incoherently. 'It is not everyone that I would give my dear Annie's child to, I can tell you, bishop. So that's the whole story, and a sadly common one it is.'
'It does you great credit, Miss Whichello,' said Dr Pendle, patting her hand; 'and I have the highest respect both for you and your niece. I am proud, my dear lady, that she should become my daughter. But tell me how your unhappy sister became acquainted with this man?'
'He was a violinist,' replied Miss Whichello, 'a public violinist, and played most beautifully. Annie heard him and saw him, and lost her head over his looks and genius. He called himself Amaru, but his real name was Pharaoh Bosvile.'
'A strange name, Miss Whichello.'
'It is a gipsy name, bishop. Bosvile was a gipsy. He learned the violin in Hungary or Spain, I don't know which, and played wonderfully. Afterwards he had an accident which hurt his hand, and he could not play; that was the reason he married Annie--just for her money, the wretch!'
'A gipsy,' murmured the bishop, who had turned pale.
'Yes; an English gipsy, but like all those people he wandered far and near. The accident which hurt his hand also marked his cheek with a scar.'
'The right cheek?' gasped Dr Pendle, leaning forward.
'Why, yes,' said Miss Whichello, rather astonished at the bishop's emotion; 'that was how I recognised him here when he called himself Jentham. He--'
With a cry the bishop sprang to his feet in a state of uncontrollable agitation, shaking and white. 'W--was Jentham--Bos--Bosvile?' he stammered. 'Are--are you sure?'
'I am certain,' replied Miss Whichello, with a scared look. 'I have seen him dozens of times. Bishop!' Her voice rose in a scream, for Dr Pendle had fallen forward on his desk.
'Oh, my God!' cried the bishop. 'Oh, God most merciful!'
The little old lady was trembling violently. She thought that the bishop had suddenly gone out of his mind. Nor was she reassured when he stood up and looked at her with a face, down which the tears were streaming. Never had Miss Whichello seen a man weeping before, and the sight terrified her much more than an outburst of anger would have done. She looked at the bishop, he looked at her, and they were both ashy white, both overcome with nervous emotion.
After a moment the bishop opened a drawer and took out a bundle of papers. Out of these he selected the marriage certificate of his wife and Krant, and compared it with the certificate of Pharaoh Bosvile and Ann Whichello.
'Thank God!' he said again, in a tremulous voice. 'This man as Bosvile married your sister in 1869, as Krant he married Mrs Pendle in 1870.'
'Married Mrs Pendle!' shrieked Miss Whichello, darting forward.
'Yes. She was a Mrs Krant when I married her, and as her husband was reported dead, I believed her to be his widow.'
'But she was not his widow!'
'No, for Krant was Jentham, and Jentham was alive after my marriage.'
'I don't mean that,' cried Miss Whichello, laying a finger on her sister's certificate, 'but Jentham as Bosvile married Annie in 1869.'
'He married my wife in October 1870,' said the bishop, breathlessly.
'Then his second marriage was a false one,' said Miss Whichello, 'for in that year, in that month, my sister was still alive. Mrs Pendle was never his wife.'
'No, thank God!' said the bishop, clasping his hands, 'she is my own true wife after all.'
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