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THE CURIOSITY OF MR CARGRIM
Like that famous banquet, when Macbeth entertained unawares the ghost of gracious Duncan, the bishop's reception broke up in the most admired disorder. It was not Dr Pendle's wish that the entertainment should be cut short on his account, but the rumour--magnified greatly--of his sudden illness so dispirited his guests that they made haste to depart; and within an hour the palace was emptied of all save its usual inhabitants. Dr Graham in attendance on the bishop was the only stranger who remained, for Lucy sent away even Sir Harry, although he begged hard to stay in the hope of making himself useful. And the most unpleasant part of the whole incident was, that no one seemed to know the reason of Bishop Pendle's unexpected indisposition.
'He was quite well when I saw him last,' repeated poor Mrs Pendle over and over again. 'And I never knew him to be ill before. What does it all mean?'
'Perhaps papa's visitor brought him bad news,' suggested Lucy, who was hovering round her mother with smelling-salts and a fan.
Mrs Pendle shook her head in much distress. 'Your father has no secrets from me,' she said decisively, 'and, from all I know, it is impossible that any news can have upset him so much.'
'Dr Graham may be able to explain,' said Gabriel.
'I don't want Dr Graham's explanation,' whimpered Mrs Pendle, tearfully. 'I dislike of all things to hear from a stranger what should be told to myself. As your father's wife, he has no right to shut me out of his confidence--and the library,' finished Mrs Pendle, with an aggrieved afterthought.
Certainly the bishop's conduct was very strange, and would have upset even a less nervous woman than Mrs Pendle. Neither of her children could comfort her in any way, for, ignorant themselves of what had occurred, they could make no suggestions. Fortunately, at this moment, Dr Graham, with a reassuring smile on his face, made his appearance, and proceeded to set their minds at ease.
'Tut! tut! my dear lady!' he said briskly, advancing on Mrs Pendle, 'what is all this?'
'The bishop is suffering from a slight indisposition brought on by too much exertion in entertaining. He will be all right to-morrow.'
'This visitor has had nothing to do with papa's illness, then?'
'No, Miss Lucy. The visitor was only a decayed clergyman in search of help.'
'Cannot I see my husband?' was the anxious question of the bishop's wife.
Graham shrugged his shoulders, and looked doubtfully at the poor lady. 'Better not, Mrs Pendle,' he said judiciously. 'I have given him a soothing draught, and now he is about to lie down. There is no occasion for you to worry in the least. To-morrow morning you will be laughing over this needless alarm. I suggest that you should go to bed and take a stiff dose of valerian to sooth those shaky nerves of yours. Miss Lucy will see to that.'
'I should like to see the bishop,' persisted Mrs Pendle, whose instinct told her that the doctor was deceiving her.
'Well! well!' said he, good-humouredly, 'a wilful woman will have her own way. I know you won't sleep a wink unless your mind is set at rest, so you shall see the bishop. Take my arm, please.'
'I can walk by myself, thank you!' replied Mrs Pendle, testily; and nerved to unusual exertion by anxiety, she walked towards the library, followed by the bishop's family and his chaplain, which latter watched this scene with close attention.
'She'll collapse after this,' said Dr Graham, in an undertone to Lucy; 'you'll have a wakeful night, I fear.'
'I don't mind that, doctor, so long as there is no real cause for alarm.'
'I give you my word of honour, Miss Lucy, that this is a case of much ado about nothing.'
'Let us hope that such is the case,' said Cargrim, the Jesuit, in his softest tones, whereupon Graham looked at him with a pronounced expression of dislike.
'As a man, I don't tell lies; as a doctor, I never make false reports,' said he, coldly; 'there is no need for your pious hopes, Mr Cargrim.'
The bishop was seated at his desk scribbling idly on his blotting-pad, and rose to his feet with a look of alarm when his wife and family entered. His usually ruddy colour had disappeared, and he was white-faced and haggard in appearance; looking like a man who had received a severe shock, and who had not yet recovered from it. On seeing his wife, he smiled reassuringly, but with an obvious effort, and hastened to conduct her to the chair he had vacated.
'Now, my dear,' he said, when she was seated, 'this will never do.'
'I am so anxious, George!'
'There is no need to be anxious,' retorted the bishop, in reproving tones. 'I have been doing too much work of late, and unexpectedly I was seized with a faintness. Graham's medicine and a night's rest will restore me to my usual strength.'
'It's not your heart, I trust, George?'
'His heart!' jested the doctor. 'His lordship's heart is as sound as his digestion.'
'We thought you might have been upset by bad news, papa.'
'I have had no bad news, Lucy. I am only a trifle overcome by late hours and fatigue. Take your mother to bed; and you, my dear,' added the bishop, kissing his wife, 'don't worry yourself unnecessarily. Good-night, and good sleep.'
'Some valerian for your nerves, bishop--'
'I have taken something for my nerves, Amy. Rest is all I need just now.'
Thus reassured, Mrs Pendle submitted to be led from the library by Lucy. She was followed by Gabriel, who was now quite easy in his mind about his father. Cargrim and Graham remained, but the bishop, taking no notice of their presence, looked at the door through which his wife and children had vanished, and uttered a sound something between a sigh and a groan.
Dr Graham looked anxiously at him, and the look was intercepted by Cargrim, who at once made up his mind that there was something seriously wrong, which both Graham and the bishop desired to conceal. The doctor noted the curious expression in the chaplain's eyes, and with bluff good-humour--which was assumed, as he disliked the man--proceeded to turn him out of the library. Cargrim--bent on discovering the truth--protested, in his usual cat-like way, against this sudden dismissal.
'I should be happy to sit up all night with his lordship,' he declared.
'Sit up with your grandmother!' cried Graham, gruffly. 'Go to bed, sir, and don't make mountains out of mole-hills.'
'Good-night, my lord,' said Cargrim, softly. 'I trust you will find yourself fully restored in the morning.'
'Thank you, Mr Cargrim; good-night!'
When the chaplain sidled out of the room, Dr Graham rubbed his hands and turned briskly towards his patient, who was standing as still as any stone, staring in a hypnotised sort of way at the reading lamp on the desk.
'Come, my lord,' said he, touching the bishop on the shoulder, 'you must take your composing draught and get to bed. You'll be all right in the morning.'
'I trust so!' replied Pendle, with a groan.
'Of course, bishop, if you won't tell me what is the matter with you, I can't cure you.'
'I am upset, doctor, that is all.'
'You have had a severe nervous shock,' said Graham, sharply, 'and it will take some time for you to recover from it. This visitor brought you bad news, I suppose?'
'No!' said the bishop, wincing, 'he did not.'
'Well! well! keep your own secrets. I can do no more, so I'll say good-night,' and he held out his hand.
Dr Pendle took it and retained it within his own for a moment. 'Your allusion to the ring of Polycrates, Graham!'
'What of it?'
'I should throw my ring into the sea also. That is all.'
'Ha! ha! You'll have to travel a considerable distance to reach the sea, bishop. Good-night; good-night,' and Graham, smiling in his dry way, took himself out of the room. As he glanced back at the door he saw that the bishop was again staring dully at the reading lamp. Graham shook his head at the sight, and closed the door.
'It is mind, not matter,' he thought, as he put on hat and coat in the hall; 'the cupboard's open and the skeleton is out. My premonition was true--true. ∆sculapius forgive me that I should be so superstitious. The bishop has had a shock. What is it? what is it? That visitor brought bad news! Hum! Hum! Better to throw physic to the dogs in his case. Mind diseased: secret trouble: my punishment is greater than I can bear. Put this and that together; there is something serious the matter. Well! well! I'm no Paul Pry.'
'Is his lordship better?' said the soft voice of Cargrim at his elbow.
Graham wheeled round. 'Much better; good-night,' he replied curtly, and was off in a moment.
Michael Cargrim, the chaplain, was a dangerous man. He was thin and pale, with light blue eyes and sleek fair hair; and as weak physically as he was strong mentally. In his neat clerical garb, with a slight stoop and meek smile, he looked a harmless, commonplace young curate of the tabby cat kind. No one could be more tactful and ingratiating than Mr Cargrim, and he was greatly admired by the old ladies and young girls of Beorminster; but the men, one and all--even his clerical brethren--disliked and distrusted him, although there was no apparent reason for their doing so. Perhaps his too deferential manners and pronounced effeminacy, which made him shun manly sports, had something to do with his masculine unpopularity; but, from the bishop downward, he was certainly no favourite, and in every male breast he constantly inspired a desire to kick him. The clergy of the diocese maintained towards him a kind of 'Dr Fell' attitude, and none of them had more to do with him than they could help. With all the will in the world, with all the desire to interpret brotherly love in its most liberal sense, the Beorminster Levites found it impossible to like Mr Cargrim. Hence he was a kind of clerical Ishmael, and as dangerous within as he looked harmless without.
How such a viper came to warm itself on the bishop's hearth no one could say. Mrs Pansey herself did not know in what particular way Mr Cargrim had wriggled himself--so she expressed it--into his present snug position. But, to speak frankly, there was no wriggling in the matter, and had the bishop felt himself called upon to explain his business to anyone, he could have given a very reasonable account of the election of Cargrim to the post of chaplain. The young man was the son of an old schoolfellow, to whom Pendle had been much attached, and from whom, in the earlier part of his career, he had received many kindnesses. This schoolfellow--he was a banker--had become a bankrupt, a beggar, finally a suicide, through no fault of his own, and when dying, had commended his wife and son to the bishop's care. Cargrim was then fifteen years of age, and being clever and calculating, even as a youth, had determined to utilise the bishop's affection for his father to its fullest extent. He was clever, as has been stated; he was also ambitious and unscrupulous; therefore he resolved to enter the profession in which Dr Pendle's influence would be of most value. For this reason, and not because he felt a call to the work, he entered holy orders. The result of his wisdom was soon apparent, for after a short career as a curate in London, he was appointed chaplain to the Bishop of Beorminster.
So far, so good. The position, for a young man of twenty-eight, was by no means a bad one; the more so as it gave him a capital opportunity of gaining a better one by watching for the vacancy of a rich preferment and getting it from his patron by asking directly and immediately for it. Cargrim had in his eye the rectorship of a wealthy, easy-going parish, not far from Beorminster, which was in the gift of the bishop. The present holder was aged and infirm, and given so much to indulgence in port wine, that the chances were he might expire within a few months, and then, as the chaplain hoped, the next rector would be the Reverend Michael Cargrim. Once that firm position was obtained, he could bend his energies to developing into an archdeacon, a dean, even into a bishop, should his craft and fortune serve him as he intended they should. But in all these ambitious dreams there was nothing of religion, or of conscience, or of self-denial. If ever there was a square peg which tried to adapt itself to a round hole, Michael Cargrim, allegorically speaking, was that article.
With all his love for the father, Dr Pendle could never bring himself to like the son, and determined in his own mind to confer a benefice on him when possible, if only to get rid of him; but not the rich one of Heathcroft, which was the delectable land of Cargrim's desire. The bishop intended to bestow that on Gabriel; and Cargrim, in his sneaky way, had gained some inkling of this intention. Afraid of losing his wished-for prize, he was bent upon forcing Dr Pendle into presenting him with the living of Heathcroft; and to accomplish this amiable purpose with the more certainty he had conceived the plan of somehow getting the bishop into his power. Hitherto--so open and stainless was Dr Pendle's life--he had not succeeded in his aims; but now matters looked more promising, for the bishop appeared to possess a secret which he guarded even from the knowledge of his wife. What this secret might be, Cargrim could not guess, in spite of his anxiety to do so, but he intended in one way or another to discover it and utilise it for the furtherance and attainment of his own selfish ends. By gaining such forbidden knowledge he hoped to get Dr Pendle well under his thumb; and once there the prelate could be kept in that uncomfortable position until he gratified Mr Cargrim's ambition. For a humble chaplain to have the whip-hand of a powerful ecclesiastic was a glorious and easy way for a meritorious young man to succeed in his profession. Having come to this conclusion, which did more credit to his head than to his heart, Cargrim sought out the servant who had summoned the bishop to see the stranger. A full acquaintance with the circumstances of the visit was necessary to the development of the Reverend Michael's ingenious little plot.
'This is a sad thing about his lordship's indisposition, said he to the man in the most casual way, for it would not do to let the servant know that he was being questioned for a doubtful purpose.
'Yes, sir,' replied the man. ''Tis mos' extraordinary. I never knowed his lordship took ill before. I suppose that gentleman brought bad news, sir.'
'Possibly, John, possibly. Was this gentleman a short man with light hair? I fancy I saw him.'
'Lor', no, Mr Cargrim. He was tall and lean as a rake; looked like a military gentleman, sir; and I don't know as I'd call him gentry either,' added John, half to himself. 'He wasn't what he thought he was.'
'A decayed clergyman, John?' inquired Cargrim, remembering Graham's description.
'There was lots of decay but no clergy about him, sir. I fancy I knows a parson when I sees one. Clergymen don't have scars on their cheekses as I knows of.'
'Oh, indeed!' said Cargrim, mentally noting that the doctor had spoken falsely. 'So he had a scar?'
'A red scar, sir, on the right cheek, from his temple to the corner of his mouth. He was as dark as pitch in looks, with a military moustache, and two black eyes like gimblets. His clothes was shabby, and his looks was horrid. Bad-tempered too, sir, I should say, for when he was with his lordship I 'eard his voice quite angry like. It ain't no clergy as 'ud speak like that to our bishop, Mr Cargrim.'
'And his lordship was taken ill when this visitor departed, John?'
'Right off, sir. When I got back to the library after showing him out I found his lordship gas'ly pale.'
'And his paleness was caused by the noisy conduct of this man?'
'Couldn't have bin caused by anything else, sir.'
'Dear me! dear me! this is much to be deplored,' sighed Cargrim, in his softest manner. 'And a clergyman too.'
'Beggin' your pardon, sir, he weren't no clergyman,' cried John, who was an old servant and took liberties; 'he was more like a tramp or a gipsy. I wouldn't have left him near the plate, I know.'
'We must not judge too harshly, John. Perhaps this poor man was in trouble.'
'He didn't look like it, Mr Cargrim. He went in and came out quite cocky like. I wonder his lordship didn't send for the police.'
'His lordship is too kind-hearted, John. This stranger had a scar, you say?'
'Yes, sir; a red scar on the right cheek.'
'Dear me! no doubt he has been in the wars. Good-night, John. Let us hope that his lordship will be better after a night's rest.'
The chaplain walked away with a satisfied smile on his meek face.
'I must find the man with the scar,' he thought, 'and then--who knows.'
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