en-es  THE BISHOP'S SECRET by FERGUS HUME - Chapter 28
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CHAPTER XXVIII - THE RETURN OF GABRIEL.
'My dear Daisy, I am sorry you are going away, as it has been a great pleasure for me to have you in my house. I hope you will visit me again next year, and then you may be more fortunate.
Mrs Pansey made this amiable little speech—which nevertheless, like a scorpion, had a sting in its tail—to Miss Norsham on the platform of the Beorminster railway station. After a stay of two months, the town mouse was departing as she had come—a single young woman; and Mrs Pansey's last word was meant to remind her of failure. Daisy was quick enough to guess this, but, displeased at the taunt, chose to understand it in another and more gracious sense, so as to disconcert her spiteful friend.
'Fortunate! Oh, dear Mrs Pansey, I have been very fortunate this time. Really, you have been most kind; you have given me everything I wanted.
'Excepting a husband, my dear,' rejoined the archdeacon's widow, determined that there should be no misunderstanding this time.
'Ah! it was out of your power to give me a husband,' murmured Daisy, wincing.
'Quite true, my dear; just as it was out of your power to gain one for yourself. Still, I am sorry that Dr Alder did not propose.
'Indeed!' Daisy tossed her head. 'I should certainly have refused him had he done so. A woman may not marry her grandfather.
'A woman may not, but a woman would, rather than remain single,' snapped Mrs Pansey, with considerable spite.
Miss Norsham carefully inserted a corner of a foolish little handkerchief into one eye. 'Oh, dear, I do call it nasty of you to speak to me so,' said she, tearfully. 'You needn't think, like all men do, that every woman wants to be married. I'm sure I don't.
The old lady smiled grimly at this appalling lie, but thinking that she had been a little hard on her departing guest, hastened to apologise. 'I'm sure you don't, dear, and very sensible it is of you to say so. Judging from my own experience with the archdeacon, I should certainly advise no one to marry.
'You are wise after the event,' muttered Daisy, with some anger, 'but here is my train, Mrs Pansey, thank you!' and she slipped into a first-class carriage, looking decidedly cross and very defiant. To fail in husband-hunting was bad enough, but to be taunted with the failure was unbearable. Daisy no longer wondered that Mrs Pansey was hated in Beorminster; her own feelings at the moment urged her to thrust the good lady under the wheels of the engine.
'Well, dear, I'll say good-bye,' said Mrs Pansey, screwing her grim face into an amiable smile. 'Be sure you give my love to your mother, dear,' and the two kissed with that show of affection to be seen existing between ladies who do not love one another over much.
'Horrid old cat!' said Daisy to herself, as she waved her handkerchief from the now moving train.
'Dear me! how I dislike that girl,' soliloquised Mrs Pansey, shaking her reticule at the departing Daisy. 'Well! well! no one can say that I have not done my duty by her,' and much pleased with herself, the good lady stalked majestically out of the station, on the lookout to seize upon and worry any of her friends who might be in the vicinity. For his sins Providence sent Gabriel into her clutches, and Mrs Pansey was transfixed with astonishment at the sight of him issuing from the station.
'Mr Pendle!' she said, placing herself directly in his way, 'I thought you were at Nauheim. What is wrong? Is your mother ill? Is she coming back? Are you in trouble?
Gabriel could not answer all, or even one of these questions on the instant, for the sudden appearance and speech of the Beorminster busybody had taken him by surprise. He looked haggard and white, and there were dark circles under his eyes, as though he suffered from want of sleep. Still, the journey from Nauheim might account for his weary looks, and would have done so to anyone less suspicious than Mrs Pansey; but that good lady scented a mystery, and wanted an explanation. This, Gabriel, with less than his usual courtesy, declined to furnish. However, to give her some food for her mind, he answered her questions categorically.
'I have just returned from Nauheim, Mrs Pansey,' he said hurriedly. 'There is nothing wrong, so far as I am aware. My mother is much better, and is benefiting greatly by the baths. She is coming back within the month, and I am not in trouble. Is there anything else you wish to know?
'Yes, Mr Pendle, there is,' said Mrs Pansey, in no wise abashed. 'Why do you look so ill?
'I am not ill, but I have had a long sea-passage, a weary railway journey, and I feel hot, and dirty, and worn out. Naturally, under the circumstances, I don't look the picture of health.
'Humph! trips abroad don't do you much good.
Gabriel bowed, and turned away to direct the porter to place his portmanteau in a fly. Offended by his silence, Mrs Pansey shook out her skirts and tossed her sable plumes. 'You have not brought back French politeness, young man,' said Mrs Pansey, acridly.
'I have been in Germany,' retorted Gabriel, as though that fact accounted for his lack of courtesy. 'Good-bye for the present, Mrs Pansey; I'll apologise for my shortcomings when I recover from my journey.
'Oh, you will, will you?' growled the archdeacon's widow, as Gabriel lifted his hat and drove off; 'you'll do more than apologise, young man, you'll explain. Hoity-toity! here's brazen assurance,' and Mrs Pansey, with her Roman beak in the air, marched off, wondering in her own curious mind what could be the reason of Gabriel's sudden return.
Her curiosity would have been gratified had she been present in Dr Graham's consulting-room an hour later; for after Gabriel had bathed and brushed up at his lodgings, he paid an immediate visit to the little doctor. Graham happened to be at home, as he had not yet set out on his round of professional visits, and he was as much astonished as Mrs Pansey when the curate made his appearance. Also, like Mrs Pansey, he was struck by the young man's worn looks.
'What! Gabriel,' he cried, when the curate entered, 'this is an unexpected pleasure. You look ill, lad!
'I am ill,' replied Gabriel, dropping into a chair with an air of fatigue. 'I feel very much worried, and I have come to ask for your advice.
'Very pleased to give it to you, my boy, but why not consult the bishop?
'My father is the last man in the world I would consult, doctor.
'That is a strange speech, Gabriel,' said Graham, with a keen look.
'It is the prelude to a stranger story! I have come to confide in you because you have known me all my life, doctor, and because you are the most intimate friend my father has.
'Have you been getting into trouble?
'No. My story concerns my father more than it does me.
'Concerns your father!' repeated the doctor, with a sudden recollection of the bishop's secret. 'Are you sure that I am the proper person to consult?
'I am certain of it. I know—I know—well, what I do know is something I have not the courage to speak to my father about. For God's sake, doctor, let me tell you my suspicions and hear your advice.
'Your suspicions!' said Graham, starting from his chair, with a chill in his blood. 'About—about—that—that murder?
'God forbid, doctor. No! not about the murder, but about the man who was murdered.
'Jentham?
'Yes, about the man who called himself Jentham. Are you sure we are quite private here, doctor?
Graham nodded, and walking to the door turned the key. Then he came back to his seat and fixed his eyes on the perturbed face of the young man. 'Does your father know that you are back?' he asked.
'No one knows that I am here save Mrs Pansey.
'Then it won't be a secret long,' said Graham, drily; 'that old magpie is as good as the town-crier. You left your mother well?
'Quite well; and Lucy also. I made an excuse to come back.
'Then your mother and sister do not know what you are about to tell me?
Gabriel made a gesture of horror. 'God forbid!' said he again, then clasped his hands over his white face and burst into half hysterical speech. 'Oh, the horror of it, the horror of it!' he wailed. 'If what I know is true, then all our lives are ruined.
'Is it so very terrible, my boy?
'So terrible that I dare not question my father! I must tell you, for only you can advise and help us all. Doctor! doctor! the very thought drives me mad—indeed, I feel half mad already.
'You are worn out, Gabriel. Wait one moment.
The doctor saw that his visitor's nerves were overstrained, and that, unless the tension were relaxed, he would probably end in having a fit of hysteria. The poor young fellow, born of a weakly mother, was neurotic in the extreme, and had in him a feminine strain, which made him unequal to facing trouble or anxiety. Even as he sat there, shaking and white-faced, the nerve-storm came on, and racked and knotted and tortured every fibre of his being, until a burst of tears came to his relief, and almost in a swoon he lay back limply in his chair. Graham mixed him a strong dose of valerian, felt his pulse, and made him lie down on the sofa. Also, he darkened the room, and placed a wet handkerchief on the curate's forehead. Gabriel closed his eyes, and lay on the couch as still as any corpse, while the doctor, who knew what he suffered, watched him with infinite pity.
'Poor lad!' he murmured, holding Gabriel's hand in his firm, warm clasp. 'Nature is indeed a harsh stepmother to you. With your nerves, the pin-prickles of life are so many dagger-thrusts. Do you feel better now?' he asked, as Gabriel opened his eyes with a languid sigh. 'Much better and more composed,' replied the wan curate, sitting up. 'You have given me a magical drug.
'You may well call it that. This particular preparation of valerian is nepenthe for the nerves. But you are not quite recovered yet; the swell remains after the storm, you know. Why not postpone your story?
'I cannot! I dare not!' said Gabriel, earnestly. 'I must ease my mind by telling it to you. Doctor, do you know that the visitor who made my father ill on the night of the reception was Jentham?
'No, my boy, I did not know that. Who told you?
'John, our old servant, who admitted him. He told me about Jentham just before I went to Nauheim.
'Did Jentham give his name?
'No, but John, like many other people, saw the body in the dead-house. He there recognised Jentham by his gipsy looks and the scar on his face. Well, doctor, I wondered what the man could have said to so upset the bishop, but of course I did not dare to ask him. By the time I got to Germany the episode passed out of my mind.
'And what recalled it?
'Something my mother said. We were in the Kurgarten listening to the band when a Hiedelberg student, with his face all seamed and slashed, walked past us.
'I know; students in Germany are proud of those duelling scars. Well, Gabriel, and what then?
The curate quivered all over, and instead of replying directly, asked what seemed to be an irrelevant question. 'Did you know that my mother was a widow when my father married her?' he demanded in low tones.
'Of course I did,' replied Graham, cheerily. 'I was practising in Marylebone then, and your father was vicar of St Benedict's. Why, I was at his wedding, Gabriel, and very pretty your mother looked. She was a Mrs Krant, whose husband had been killed while serving as a volunteer in the Franco-Prussian War!
'Did you ever see her husband?
'No; she did not come to Marylebone until he had left her. The rascal deserted the poor young thing and went abroad to fight. But why do you ask all these questions? They cannot but be painful.
'Because the sight of that student's face recalled her first husband to my mother. She said that Krant had a long scar on the right cheek. I immediately thought of Jentham.
'Good God!' cried Graham, pushing back his chair. 'What do you mean, lad?
'Wait! wait!' said Gabriel, feverishly. 'I asked my mother to describe the features of her first husband. Not suspecting my reason for asking, she did so. Krant, she said, was tall, lean, swart and black-eyed, with a scar on the right cheek running from the ear to the mouth. Doctor!' cried Gabriel, clutching Graham's hand, 'that is the very portrait of the man Jentham.
'Gabriel!' whispered the little doctor, hoarsely, 'do you mean to say—.
'I mean to say that Krant did not die, that Jentham was Krant, and that when he called on my father he appeared as one from the dead. He is dead now, but he was alive when my mother became my father's wife.
'Impossible! Impossible!' repeated Graham, who was ashy pale, and shaken out of his ordinary self. 'Krant died—died at Sedan. Your father went over and saw his grave!
'He did not see the corpse, though. I tell you I am right, doctor. Krant did not die. My mother is not my father's wife, and we—we—George, Lucy and myself are in the eyes of the law—nobody's children.' The curate uttered these last words almost in a shriek, and fell back on the couch, covering his face with two trembling hands.
Graham sat staring straight before him with an expression of absolute horror on his withered brown face. He recalled Pendle's sudden illness after Jentham had paid that fatal visit; his refusal to confess the real cause of his attack; his admission that he had a secret which he did not dare to reveal even to his oldest friend, and his strange act in sending away his wife and daughter to Nauheim. All these things gave colour to Gabriel's supposition that Jentham was Krant returned from the dead; but after all it was a supposition merely, and quite unsupported by fact.
'There is no proof of it,' said Graham, hoarsely; 'no proof.
'Ask my father for the proof,' murmured Gabriel. 'I dare not!
The doctor could understand that speech very well, and now saw the reason why Gabriel had chosen to speak to him rather than to the bishop. It might be true, after all, this frightful fact, he thought, and as in a flash he saw ruin, disaster, shame, terror following in the train of its becoming known. This, then, was the bishop's secret, and Graham in his quick way decided that at all costs it must be preserved, if only for the sake of Mrs Pendle and her children. The first step towards attaining this end was to see the bishop and hear confirmation or denial from his own lips. Once Graham knew all the facts he fancied that he might in some way—at present he knew not how—help his wretched friend. With characteristic promptitude he decided on the spot how to act.
'Gabriel,' he said, bending over the unhappy young man, 'I shall see your father about this at once. I cannot, I dare not believe it to be true, unless with his own lips he confirms the identity of Krant with Jentham. You wait here until I return, and sleep if you can.
'Sleep!' groaned Gabriel. 'Oh, God! shall I ever sleep again?
'My friend,' said the little doctor, solemnly, 'you have no right to doubt your father's honour until you hear what he has to say. Jentham may not be Krant as you suspect. It may be a chance likeness—a—.
Gabriel shook his head. 'You can't argue away what I know to be true,' he muttered, looking at the floor with dry, wild eyes. 'See my father and tell him what I have told you. He will not be able to deny his shame and the disgrace of his children.
'That we shall see,' said Graham, with a cheerfulness he was far from feeling. 'I shall see him at once. Gabriel, my boy, hope for the best!
Again the curate shook his head, and with a groan flung himself down on the couch with his face to the wall. Seeing that words were vain, the doctor threw one glance of pity on his prostrate form, and with a sigh passed out of the room.
unit 2
CHAPTER XXVIII - THE RETURN OF GABRIEL.
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'Fortunate!
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Oh, dear Mrs Pansey, I have been very fortunate this time.
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Really, you have been most kind; you have given me everything I wanted.
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'Ah!
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it was out of your power to give me a husband,' murmured Daisy, wincing.
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Still, I am sorry that Dr Alder did not propose.
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'Indeed!'
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Daisy tossed her head.
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'I should certainly have refused him had he done so.
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A woman may not marry her grandfather.
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I'm sure I don't.
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'I'm sure you don't, dear, and very sensible it is of you to say so.
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'Horrid old cat!'
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'Dear me!
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'Well!
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well!
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'Mr Pendle!'
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What is wrong?
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Is your mother ill?
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Is she coming back?
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Are you in trouble?
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This, Gabriel, with less than his usual courtesy, declined to furnish.
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'I have just returned from Nauheim, Mrs Pansey,' he said hurriedly.
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'There is nothing wrong, so far as I am aware.
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My mother is much better, and is benefiting greatly by the baths.
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She is coming back within the month, and I am not in trouble.
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Is there anything else you wish to know?
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'Yes, Mr Pendle, there is,' said Mrs Pansey, in no wise abashed.
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'Why do you look so ill?
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Naturally, under the circumstances, I don't look the picture of health.
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'Humph!
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trips abroad don't do you much good.
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'Oh, you will, will you?'
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Hoity-toity!
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Also, like Mrs Pansey, he was struck by the young man's worn looks.
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'What!
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You look ill, lad!
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'I feel very much worried, and I have come to ask for your advice.
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'Very pleased to give it to you, my boy, but why not consult the bishop?
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'My father is the last man in the world I would consult, doctor.
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'That is a strange speech, Gabriel,' said Graham, with a keen look.
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'It is the prelude to a stranger story!
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'Have you been getting into trouble?
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'No.
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My story concerns my father more than it does me.
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'Concerns your father!'
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repeated the doctor, with a sudden recollection of the bishop's secret.
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'Are you sure that I am the proper person to consult?
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'I am certain of it.
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'Your suspicions!'
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said Graham, starting from his chair, with a chill in his blood.
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'About—about—that—that murder?
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'God forbid, doctor.
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No!
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not about the murder, but about the man who was murdered.
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'Jentham?
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'Yes, about the man who called himself Jentham.
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Are you sure we are quite private here, doctor?
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Graham nodded, and walking to the door turned the key.
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'Does your father know that you are back?'
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he asked.
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'No one knows that I am here save Mrs Pansey.
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You left your mother well?
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'Quite well; and Lucy also.
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I made an excuse to come back.
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'Then your mother and sister do not know what you are about to tell me?
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Gabriel made a gesture of horror.
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'God forbid!'
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'Oh, the horror of it, the horror of it!'
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he wailed.
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'If what I know is true, then all our lives are ruined.
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'Is it so very terrible, my boy?
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'So terrible that I dare not question my father!
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I must tell you, for only you can advise and help us all.
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Doctor!
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doctor!
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the very thought drives me mad—indeed, I feel half mad already.
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'You are worn out, Gabriel.
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Wait one moment.
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'Poor lad!'
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he murmured, holding Gabriel's hand in his firm, warm clasp.
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'Nature is indeed a harsh stepmother to you.
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With your nerves, the pin-prickles of life are so many dagger-thrusts.
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Do you feel better now?'
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he asked, as Gabriel opened his eyes with a languid sigh.
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'Much better and more composed,' replied the wan curate, sitting up.
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'You have given me a magical drug.
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'You may well call it that.
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This particular preparation of valerian is nepenthe for the nerves.
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Why not postpone your story?
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'I cannot!
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I dare not!'
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said Gabriel, earnestly.
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'I must ease my mind by telling it to you.
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'No, my boy, I did not know that.
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Who told you?
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'John, our old servant, who admitted him.
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He told me about Jentham just before I went to Nauheim.
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'Did Jentham give his name?
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'No, but John, like many other people, saw the body in the dead-house.
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He there recognised Jentham by his gipsy looks and the scar on his face.
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By the time I got to Germany the episode passed out of my mind.
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'And what recalled it?
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'Something my mother said.
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'I know; students in Germany are proud of those duelling scars.
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Well, Gabriel, and what then?
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'Did you know that my mother was a widow when my father married her?'
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he demanded in low tones.
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'Of course I did,' replied Graham, cheerily.
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Why, I was at his wedding, Gabriel, and very pretty your mother looked.
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'Did you ever see her husband?
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'No; she did not come to Marylebone until he had left her.
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The rascal deserted the poor young thing and went abroad to fight.
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But why do you ask all these questions?
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They cannot but be painful.
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She said that Krant had a long scar on the right cheek.
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I immediately thought of Jentham.
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'Good God!'
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cried Graham, pushing back his chair.
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'What do you mean, lad?
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'Wait!
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wait!'
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said Gabriel, feverishly.
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'I asked my mother to describe the features of her first husband.
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Not suspecting my reason for asking, she did so.
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Doctor!'
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'Gabriel!'
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whispered the little doctor, hoarsely, 'do you mean to say—.
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He is dead now, but he was alive when my mother became my father's wife.
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'Impossible!
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Impossible!'
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repeated Graham, who was ashy pale, and shaken out of his ordinary self.
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'Krant died—died at Sedan.
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Your father went over and saw his grave!
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'He did not see the corpse, though.
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I tell you I am right, doctor.
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Krant did not die.
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'There is no proof of it,' said Graham, hoarsely; 'no proof.
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'Ask my father for the proof,' murmured Gabriel.
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'I dare not!
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With characteristic promptitude he decided on the spot how to act.
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You wait here until I return, and sleep if you can.
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'Sleep!'
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groaned Gabriel.
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'Oh, God!
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shall I ever sleep again?
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Jentham may not be Krant as you suspect.
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It may be a chance likeness—a—.
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Gabriel shook his head.
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'See my father and tell him what I have told you.
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He will not be able to deny his shame and the disgrace of his children.
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'I shall see him at once.
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Gabriel, my boy, hope for the best!
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CHAPTER XXVIII - THE RETURN OF GABRIEL.
'My dear Daisy, I am sorry you are going away, as it has been a great pleasure for me to have you in my house. I hope you will visit me again next year, and then you may be more fortunate.
Mrs Pansey made this amiable little speech—which nevertheless, like a scorpion, had a sting in its tail—to Miss Norsham on the platform of the Beorminster railway station. After a stay of two months, the town mouse was departing as she had come—a single young woman; and Mrs Pansey's last word was meant to remind her of failure. Daisy was quick enough to guess this, but, displeased at the taunt, chose to understand it in another and more gracious sense, so as to disconcert her spiteful friend.
'Fortunate! Oh, dear Mrs Pansey, I have been very fortunate this time. Really, you have been most kind; you have given me everything I wanted.
'Excepting a husband, my dear,' rejoined the archdeacon's widow, determined that there should be no misunderstanding this time.
'Ah! it was out of your power to give me a husband,' murmured Daisy, wincing.
'Quite true, my dear; just as it was out of your power to gain one for yourself. Still, I am sorry that Dr Alder did not propose.
'Indeed!' Daisy tossed her head. 'I should certainly have refused him had he done so. A woman may not marry her grandfather.
'A woman may not, but a woman would, rather than remain single,' snapped Mrs Pansey, with considerable spite.
Miss Norsham carefully inserted a corner of a foolish little handkerchief into one eye. 'Oh, dear, I do call it nasty of you to speak to me so,' said she, tearfully. 'You needn't think, like all men do, that every woman wants to be married. I'm sure I don't.
The old lady smiled grimly at this appalling lie, but thinking that she had been a little hard on her departing guest, hastened to apologise. 'I'm sure you don't, dear, and very sensible it is of you to say so. Judging from my own experience with the archdeacon, I should certainly advise no one to marry.
'You are wise after the event,' muttered Daisy, with some anger, 'but here is my train, Mrs Pansey, thank you!' and she slipped into a first-class carriage, looking decidedly cross and very defiant. To fail in husband-hunting was bad enough, but to be taunted with the failure was unbearable. Daisy no longer wondered that Mrs Pansey was hated in Beorminster; her own feelings at the moment urged her to thrust the good lady under the wheels of the engine.
'Well, dear, I'll say good-bye,' said Mrs Pansey, screwing her grim face into an amiable smile. 'Be sure you give my love to your mother, dear,' and the two kissed with that show of affection to be seen existing between ladies who do not love one another over much.
'Horrid old cat!' said Daisy to herself, as she waved her handkerchief from the now moving train.
'Dear me! how I dislike that girl,' soliloquised Mrs Pansey, shaking her reticule at the departing Daisy. 'Well! well! no one can say that I have not done my duty by her,' and much pleased with herself, the good lady stalked majestically out of the station, on the lookout to seize upon and worry any of her friends who might be in the vicinity. For his sins Providence sent Gabriel into her clutches, and Mrs Pansey was transfixed with astonishment at the sight of him issuing from the station.
'Mr Pendle!' she said, placing herself directly in his way, 'I thought you were at Nauheim. What is wrong? Is your mother ill? Is she coming back? Are you in trouble?
Gabriel could not answer all, or even one of these questions on the instant, for the sudden appearance and speech of the Beorminster busybody had taken him by surprise. He looked haggard and white, and there were dark circles under his eyes, as though he suffered from want of sleep. Still, the journey from Nauheim might account for his weary looks, and would have done so to anyone less suspicious than Mrs Pansey; but that good lady scented a mystery, and wanted an explanation. This, Gabriel, with less than his usual courtesy, declined to furnish. However, to give her some food for her mind, he answered her questions categorically.
'I have just returned from Nauheim, Mrs Pansey,' he said hurriedly. 'There is nothing wrong, so far as I am aware. My mother is much better, and is benefiting greatly by the baths. She is coming back within the month, and I am not in trouble. Is there anything else you wish to know?
'Yes, Mr Pendle, there is,' said Mrs Pansey, in no wise abashed. 'Why do you look so ill?
'I am not ill, but I have had a long sea-passage, a weary railway journey, and I feel hot, and dirty, and worn out. Naturally, under the circumstances, I don't look the picture of health.
'Humph! trips abroad don't do you much good.
Gabriel bowed, and turned away to direct the porter to place his portmanteau in a fly. Offended by his silence, Mrs Pansey shook out her skirts and tossed her sable plumes. 'You have not brought back French politeness, young man,' said Mrs Pansey, acridly.
'I have been in Germany,' retorted Gabriel, as though that fact accounted for his lack of courtesy. 'Good-bye for the present, Mrs Pansey; I'll apologise for my shortcomings when I recover from my journey.
'Oh, you will, will you?' growled the archdeacon's widow, as Gabriel lifted his hat and drove off; 'you'll do more than apologise, young man, you'll explain. Hoity-toity! here's brazen assurance,' and Mrs Pansey, with her Roman beak in the air, marched off, wondering in her own curious mind what could be the reason of Gabriel's sudden return.
Her curiosity would have been gratified had she been present in Dr Graham's consulting-room an hour later; for after Gabriel had bathed and brushed up at his lodgings, he paid an immediate visit to the little doctor. Graham happened to be at home, as he had not yet set out on his round of professional visits, and he was as much astonished as Mrs Pansey when the curate made his appearance. Also, like Mrs Pansey, he was struck by the young man's worn looks.
'What! Gabriel,' he cried, when the curate entered, 'this is an unexpected pleasure. You look ill, lad!
'I am ill,' replied Gabriel, dropping into a chair with an air of fatigue. 'I feel very much worried, and I have come to ask for your advice.
'Very pleased to give it to you, my boy, but why not consult the bishop?
'My father is the last man in the world I would consult, doctor.
'That is a strange speech, Gabriel,' said Graham, with a keen look.
'It is the prelude to a stranger story! I have come to confide in you because you have known me all my life, doctor, and because you are the most intimate friend my father has.
'Have you been getting into trouble?
'No. My story concerns my father more than it does me.
'Concerns your father!' repeated the doctor, with a sudden recollection of the bishop's secret. 'Are you sure that I am the proper person to consult?
'I am certain of it. I know—I know—well, what I do know is something I have not the courage to speak to my father about. For God's sake, doctor, let me tell you my suspicions and hear your advice.
'Your suspicions!' said Graham, starting from his chair, with a chill in his blood. 'About—about—that—that murder?
'God forbid, doctor. No! not about the murder, but about the man who was murdered.
'Jentham?
'Yes, about the man who called himself Jentham. Are you sure we are quite private here, doctor?
Graham nodded, and walking to the door turned the key. Then he came back to his seat and fixed his eyes on the perturbed face of the young man. 'Does your father know that you are back?' he asked.
'No one knows that I am here save Mrs Pansey.
'Then it won't be a secret long,' said Graham, drily; 'that old magpie is as good as the town-crier. You left your mother well?
'Quite well; and Lucy also. I made an excuse to come back.
'Then your mother and sister do not know what you are about to tell me?
Gabriel made a gesture of horror. 'God forbid!' said he again, then clasped his hands over his white face and burst into half hysterical speech. 'Oh, the horror of it, the horror of it!' he wailed. 'If what I know is true, then all our lives are ruined.
'Is it so very terrible, my boy?
'So terrible that I dare not question my father! I must tell you, for only you can advise and help us all. Doctor! doctor! the very thought drives me mad—indeed, I feel half mad already.
'You are worn out, Gabriel. Wait one moment.
The doctor saw that his visitor's nerves were overstrained, and that, unless the tension were relaxed, he would probably end in having a fit of hysteria. The poor young fellow, born of a weakly mother, was neurotic in the extreme, and had in him a feminine strain, which made him unequal to facing trouble or anxiety. Even as he sat there, shaking and white-faced, the nerve-storm came on, and racked and knotted and tortured every fibre of his being, until a burst of tears came to his relief, and almost in a swoon he lay back limply in his chair. Graham mixed him a strong dose of valerian, felt his pulse, and made him lie down on the sofa. Also, he darkened the room, and placed a wet handkerchief on the curate's forehead. Gabriel closed his eyes, and lay on the couch as still as any corpse, while the doctor, who knew what he suffered, watched him with infinite pity.
'Poor lad!' he murmured, holding Gabriel's hand in his firm, warm clasp. 'Nature is indeed a harsh stepmother to you. With your nerves, the pin-prickles of life are so many dagger-thrusts. Do you feel better now?' he asked, as Gabriel opened his eyes with a languid sigh. 'Much better and more composed,' replied the wan curate, sitting up. 'You have given me a magical drug.
'You may well call it that. This particular preparation of valerian is nepenthe for the nerves. But you are not quite recovered yet; the swell remains after the storm, you know. Why not postpone your story?
'I cannot! I dare not!' said Gabriel, earnestly. 'I must ease my mind by telling it to you. Doctor, do you know that the visitor who made my father ill on the night of the reception was Jentham?
'No, my boy, I did not know that. Who told you?
'John, our old servant, who admitted him. He told me about Jentham just before I went to Nauheim.
'Did Jentham give his name?
'No, but John, like many other people, saw the body in the dead-house. He there recognised Jentham by his gipsy looks and the scar on his face. Well, doctor, I wondered what the man could have said to so upset the bishop, but of course I did not dare to ask him. By the time I got to Germany the episode passed out of my mind.
'And what recalled it?
'Something my mother said. We were in the Kurgarten listening to the band when a Hiedelberg student, with his face all seamed and slashed, walked past us.
'I know; students in Germany are proud of those duelling scars. Well, Gabriel, and what then?
The curate quivered all over, and instead of replying directly, asked what seemed to be an irrelevant question. 'Did you know that my mother was a widow when my father married her?' he demanded in low tones.
'Of course I did,' replied Graham, cheerily. 'I was practising in Marylebone then, and your father was vicar of St Benedict's. Why, I was at his wedding, Gabriel, and very pretty your mother looked. She was a Mrs Krant, whose husband had been killed while serving as a volunteer in the Franco-Prussian War!
'Did you ever see her husband?
'No; she did not come to Marylebone until he had left her. The rascal deserted the poor young thing and went abroad to fight. But why do you ask all these questions? They cannot but be painful.
'Because the sight of that student's face recalled her first husband to my mother. She said that Krant had a long scar on the right cheek. I immediately thought of Jentham.
'Good God!' cried Graham, pushing back his chair. 'What do you mean, lad?
'Wait! wait!' said Gabriel, feverishly. 'I asked my mother to describe the features of her first husband. Not suspecting my reason for asking, she did so. Krant, she said, was tall, lean, swart and black-eyed, with a scar on the right cheek running from the ear to the mouth. Doctor!' cried Gabriel, clutching Graham's hand, 'that is the very portrait of the man Jentham.
'Gabriel!' whispered the little doctor, hoarsely, 'do you mean to say—.
'I mean to say that Krant did not die, that Jentham was Krant, and that when he called on my father he appeared as one from the dead. He is dead now, but he was alive when my mother became my father's wife.
'Impossible! Impossible!' repeated Graham, who was ashy pale, and shaken out of his ordinary self. 'Krant died—died at Sedan. Your father went over and saw his grave!
'He did not see the corpse, though. I tell you I am right, doctor. Krant did not die. My mother is not my father's wife, and we—we—George, Lucy and myself are in the eyes of the law—nobody's children.' The curate uttered these last words almost in a shriek, and fell back on the couch, covering his face with two trembling hands.
Graham sat staring straight before him with an expression of absolute horror on his withered brown face. He recalled Pendle's sudden illness after Jentham had paid that fatal visit; his refusal to confess the real cause of his attack; his admission that he had a secret which he did not dare to reveal even to his oldest friend, and his strange act in sending away his wife and daughter to Nauheim. All these things gave colour to Gabriel's supposition that Jentham was Krant returned from the dead; but after all it was a supposition merely, and quite unsupported by fact.
'There is no proof of it,' said Graham, hoarsely; 'no proof.
'Ask my father for the proof,' murmured Gabriel. 'I dare not!
The doctor could understand that speech very well, and now saw the reason why Gabriel had chosen to speak to him rather than to the bishop. It might be true, after all, this frightful fact, he thought, and as in a flash he saw ruin, disaster, shame, terror following in the train of its becoming known. This, then, was the bishop's secret, and Graham in his quick way decided that at all costs it must be preserved, if only for the sake of Mrs Pendle and her children. The first step towards attaining this end was to see the bishop and hear confirmation or denial from his own lips. Once Graham knew all the facts he fancied that he might in some way—at present he knew not how—help his wretched friend. With characteristic promptitude he decided on the spot how to act.
'Gabriel,' he said, bending over the unhappy young man, 'I shall see your father about this at once. I cannot, I dare not believe it to be true, unless with his own lips he confirms the identity of Krant with Jentham. You wait here until I return, and sleep if you can.
'Sleep!' groaned Gabriel. 'Oh, God! shall I ever sleep again?
'My friend,' said the little doctor, solemnly, 'you have no right to doubt your father's honour until you hear what he has to say. Jentham may not be Krant as you suspect. It may be a chance likeness—a—.
Gabriel shook his head. 'You can't argue away what I know to be true,' he muttered, looking at the floor with dry, wild eyes. 'See my father and tell him what I have told you. He will not be able to deny his shame and the disgrace of his children.
'That we shall see,' said Graham, with a cheerfulness he was far from feeling. 'I shall see him at once. Gabriel, my boy, hope for the best!
Again the curate shook his head, and with a groan flung himself down on the couch with his face to the wall. Seeing that words were vain, the doctor threw one glance of pity on his prostrate form, and with a sigh passed out of the room.