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A Sequel to "The Channings"
Mrs. Henry Wood
CHAPTER I. IN THE MOONLIGHT.
CHAPTER II. UP TO THE MONDAY EVENING.
CHAPTER III. BEFORE THE CORONER.
CHAPTER IV. GOING HOME WITH THE NEWS.
CHAPTER V. MR. BUTTERBY IN PRIVATE LIFE.
CHAPTER VI. GODFREY PITMAN.
PART THE SECOND.
CHAPTER VII. IN THE OFFICE.
CHAPTER VIII. ARRIVAL FROM PORT NATAL.
CHAPTER IX. UNEXPECTED MEETINGS.
CHAPTER X. GOING INTO SOCIETY.
CHAPTER XI. DAY-DREAMS.
CHAPTER XII. COMMOTION IN THE OFFICE OF GREATOREX AND GREATOREX.
CHAPTER XIII. TAKING THE PLACE OF JELF.
CHAPTER XIV. GERALD YORKE IN A DILEMMA.
CHAPTER XV. VISITORS FOR MRS. JONES.
CHAPTER XVI. WINNY.
CHAPTER XVII. AT FAULT.
CHAPTER XVIII. MR. BROWN AT HOME.
CHAPTER XIX. A FOUNTAIN SHIVERED.
CHAPTER XX. GRAND REVIEWS.
CHAPTER XXI. ROLAND YORKE'S SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL.
CHAPTER XXII. A LITTLE MORE LIGHT.
CHAPTER XXIII. LAID WITH HIS FOREFATHERS.
CHAPTER XXIV. AS IRON INTO THE SOUL.
PART THE THIRD.
CHAPTER XXV. DURING THE AUTUMN.
CHAPTER XXVI. ARRIVING AT EUSTON SQUARE.
CHAPTER XXVII. A PRIVATE INTERVIEW.
CHAPTER XXVIII. DISAPPEARED.
CHAPTER XXIX. RESTLESS WANDERINGS.
CHAPTER XXX. A NEW IDEA FOR MR. OLLIVERA.
CHAPTER XXXI. MR. GALLOWAY INVADED.
CHAPTER XXXII. IN THE CATHEDRAL.
CHAPTER XXXIII. A STARTLING AVOWAL.
CHAPTER XXXIV. A TELEGRAM TO HELSTONLEIGH.
CHAPTER XXXV. LIFE'S SANDS RUNNING ON.
CHAPTER XXXVI. GERALD YORKE AT A SHOOTING PARTY.
CHAPTER XXXVII. IN CUSTODY.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. BETWEEN BEDE AND HIS CLERK.
CHAPTER XXXIX. NEARER AND NEARER.
CHAPTER XL. GODFREY PITMAN'S TALE.
CHAPTER XLI. A TELEGRAM FOR ROLAND YORKE.
CHAPTER XLII. A WIDE BLACK BAND ON ROLAND'S HAT.
CHAPTER XLIII. DREAMS REALIZED.
CHAPTER XLIV. CONCLUSION.
Shot in the Leg.
"And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,And among the dreams of the days that were
I find my lost youth again.And the strange and beautiful song,The groves are repeating it still:'A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'"
The scene of this Prologue to the story about to be written was a certain cathedral town, of which most of you have heard before, and the time close upon midnight.
It was a warm night at the beginning of March. The air was calm and still; the bright moon was shedding her pure light with unusual brilliancy on the city, lying directly underneath her beams. On the pinnacles of the time-honoured cathedral; on the church-spire, whose tapering height has made itself a name; on the clustering roofs of houses; on the trees of what people are pleased to call the Park; on the river, silently winding its course along beneath the city walls; and on the white pavement of its streets: all were steeped in the soft and beautiful light of the Queen of Night.
Surely at that late hour people ought to have been asleep in their beds, and the town hushed to silence! Not so. A vast number of men—and women too, for the matter of that—were awake and abroad. At least, it looked a good number, stealing quietly in one direction along the principal street. A few persons, comparatively speaking, assembled together by daylight, will look like a crowd at night. They went along for the most part in silence, one group glancing round at another, and being glanced at, back again: whether drawn out by curiosity, by sympathy, by example, all seemed very much as if they were half ashamed to be seen there.
Straight through the town, past the new law-courts, past the squares and the good houses built in more recent years, past the pavements and the worn highway, telling of a city's bustle, into the open country, to where a churchyard abuts upon a side-road. A rural, not much frequented churchyard, dotted with old graves, its small, grey church standing in the middle. People were not buried there now. On one side of the church yard, open to the side way, the boundary hedge had disappeared, partly through neglect. The entrance was on the other side, facing the city; and where was the use of raising up again the trodden-down hedge, destroyed gradually and in process of time by boys and girls at play? So, at least, argued the authorities—when they argued about it at all.
People were not buried there now: and yet a grave was being dug. At the remotest corner of this open side of the churchyard, so close to the consecrated ground that you could scarcely tell whether they were on it or off it, two men with torches were working at the nearly finished, shallow, hastily-made grave. A pathway, made perhaps more of custom than of plan, led right over it into the churchyard—if any careless person chose to enter it by so unorthodox a route—and the common side-road, wide enough to admit of carts and other vehicles, crossed it on the exact spot where the grave was being dug. So that a spectator might have said the grave's destined occupant was to lie in a cross-road.
Up to this spot came the groups, winding round the front hedge silently, save from the inevitable hum which attends a number, their footsteps grating and shuffling on the still air. That there was some kind of reverence attaching to the feeling in general, was proved by the absence of all jokes and light words; it may be almost said by the absence of conversation altogether, for what little they said was spoken in whispers. The open space beyond the grave was a kind of common, stretching out into the country, so that there was room and to spare for these people to congregate around, without pressing inconveniently on the sides of the shallow grave. Not but what every soul went close to give a look in, taking a longer or shorter time in the gaze as curiosity was slow or quick to satisfy itself.
The men threw out the last spadeful, patted the sides well, and ascended to the level of the earth. Not a minute too soon. As they stamped their feet, like men who have been in a cramped position, and put their tools away back, the clock of the old grey church struck twelve. It was a loud striker at all times; it sounded like a gong in the stillness of the night, and a movement ran through the startled spectators.
With the first stroke of the clock there came up a wayfarer. Some traveller who had missed his train at Bromsgrove, and had to walk the distance. He advanced with a jaunty though somewhat tired step along the highway, and did not discern the crowd until close upon them, for the road wound just there. To say that he was astonished would be saying little. He stood still, and stared, and rubbed his eyes, almost questioning whether the unusual scene could be real.
"What on earth's the matter?" demanded he of someone near him. "What does it all mean?"
The man addressed turned at the question, and recognized the speaker for Mr. Richard Jones, an inhabitant of the town.
At least he was nearly sure it was he, but he knew him by sight but slightly. If it was Mr. Jones, why this same crowd and commotion had to do with him, in one sense of the word. Its cause had a great deal to do with his home.
"Can't you answer a body?" continued Mr. Jones, finding he got no reply.
"Hush!" breathed the other man. "Look there."
Along the middle of the turnpike-road, on their way from the city, came eight men with measured and even tread, bearing a coffin on their shoulders. It was covered with what looked like a black cloth shawl, whose woollen fringe was clearly discernible in the moonlight. Mr. Jones had halted at the turning up to the churchyard, where he first saw the assembly of people; consequently the men bearing the coffin, whose heavy tread and otherwise silent presence seemed to exhale a kind of unpleasant thrill, passed round by Mr. Jones, nearly touching him.
"What is it?" he repeated in a few seconds, nearly wild to have his understanding enlightened.
"Don't you see what it is?—a coffin. It's going to be buried in that there cross grave up yonder."
"But who is in the coffin?"
"A gentleman who died by his own hand. The jury brought it in self-murder, and so he's got to be put away without burial service."
"Lawk a mercy!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, who though a light shallow, unstable man, given to make impromptu excursions from his home and wife, and to spend too much money in doing it, was not on the whole a bad-hearted one. "Poor gentleman! Who was it?"
"One of them law men in wigs that come in to the 'sizes."
Mr. Jones might have asked more but for two reasons. The first was, that his neighbour moved away in the wake of those who were beginning to press forward to see as much as they could get to see of the closing ceremony; the next was, that in a young woman who just then walked past him, he recognized his wife's sister. Again Mr. Jones rubbed his eyes, mentally questioning whether this second vision might be real. For she, Miss Rye, was a steady, good, superior young woman, not at all likely to come out of her home at midnight after a sight of any sort, whether it might be a burying or a wedding. Mr. Jones really doubted whether his sight and the moonlight had not played him false. The shortest way to solve this doubt would have been to accost the young woman, but while he had been wondering, she disappeared. In truth it was Miss Rye, and she had followed the coffin from whence it was brought, as a vast many more had followed it. Not mixing with them; walking apart and alone, close to the houses, in the deep shade cast by their walls. She was a comely young woman of about seven-and-twenty, tall and fair, with steady blue eyes, good features, and a sensible countenance. In deep mourning for her mother, she wore on this night a black merino dress, soft and fine, and a black shawl trimmed with crape, that she held closely round her. But she had disappeared; and amidst so many Mr. Jones thought it would be useless to go looking for her.
A certain official personage or two, perhaps deputies from the coroner, or from the parish, or from the undertaker furnishing the coffin and the two sets of bearers—who can tell?—whose mission it was to see the appointed proceedings carried out, cleared by their hands and gestures a space around the grave. The people fell back obediently. They pressed and elbowed each other no doubt, and grumbled at others crushing them; but they kept themselves back in their places. A small knot, gentlemen evidently, and probably friends of the deceased, were allowed to approach the grave. The grave-diggers stood near, holding the torches. But for those flaring torches, the crowd would have seen better: they saw well enough, however, in the bright moonlight.
In the churchyard, having taken up his station there behind an upright tombstone, where tombstones were thick, stood an officer connected with the police. He was in plain clothes—in fact, nobody remembered to have seen him in other ones—and had come out tonight not officially but to gratify himself personally. Ensconced behind the stone, away from everybody, he could look on at leisure through its upper fretwork and take his own observations, not only of the ceremony about to be performed, but of those who were attending it. He was a middle-sized, spare man, with a pale face, deeply sunk green eyes, that had a habit of looking steadily at people, and a small, sharp, turned-up nose. Silent by nature and by habit, he imparted the idea of possessing a vast amount of astute keenness as a detector of crime: in his own opinion he had not in that respect an equal. Nobody could discern him, and he did not intend they should.
Amidst a dead silence, save for the creaking of the cords, amidst a shiver of sympathy, of pity, of awful thoughts from a great many of the spectators, the black covering was thrown aside and the coffin was lowered. There was a general lifting off of hats; a pause; and then a rush. One in the front rank—a fat woman, who had fought for her place—stepped forward in her irrepressible curiosity to take a last look inside the grave; another followed her; the movement was contagious, and there was a commotion. Upon which the men holding the torches swept them round; it threw out the flame rather dangerously, and the rushers drew back again with half a cry. Not quite all. A few, more adventurous than the rest, slipped round to the safer side, and were in time to read the inscription on the lid:
"JOHN OLLIVERA.Aged 28."
Short enough, and simple enough, for the sad death. Only a moment after the cords were drawn away did it remain visible; for the grave-diggers, flinging their torches aside, threw in the earth, spadeful upon spadeful, and covered it up from sight.
The shallow grave was soon filled in; the grave-diggers flattened it down level with spades and feet: no ceremony accorded, you see, to such an end as this poor man had made. Before it was quite accomplished, those officially connected with the burial, or with the buried, left the ground and departed. Not so the mob of people: they stayed to see the last; and would have stayed had it been until morning light. And they talked freely now, one with another, but were orderly and subdued still.
Mr. Jones stayed. He had not mixed with the people, but stood apart in the churchyard, under the shade of the great yew-tree. Soon he began to move away, and came unexpectedly upon the detective officer standing yet behind the gravestone. Mr. Jones halted in surprise.
"Halloo!" cried he. "Mr. Butterby!"
"Just look at them idiots!" rejoined Mr. Butterby, with marked composure, as if he had seen Richard Jones from the first, and expected the address. "So you are back!" he added, turning his head sharply on the traveller.
"I come in from Bromsgrove on my legs; missed the last train there," said Mr. Jones, rather addicted to a free-and-easy kind of grammar in private life: as indeed was the renowned gentleman he spoke to. "When I got past the last turning and see these here folks, I thought the world must be gone mad."
"Did you come back on account of it?" asked Mr. Butterby. "Did they write for you?"
"On account of what? As to writing for me, they'd be clever to do that, seeing I left 'em no address to write to. I have been going about from place to place; today there, tomorrow yonder."
"On account of that," answered the detective, nodding his head in the direction of the grave, to which the men were then giving the last finishing strokes and treads of flattening.
To Mr. Jones's ear there was something so obscure in the words that he only stared at their speaker, almost wondering whether the grave officer had condescended to a joke.
"I don't understand you, sir."
Mr. Butterby saw at once how the matter stood: that Dicky Jones—the familiar title mostly accorded him in the city—was ignorant of recent events.
"The poor unfortunate man just put in there, Jones,"—with another nod to the grave—"was Mr. Ollivera, the counsel."
"Mr. Ollivera!" exclaimed the startled Jones.
"And he took his life away at your house."
"Lawk a mercy!" cried Mr. Jones, repeating his favourite expression, one he was addicted to when overwhelmed with surprise. "Whatever did he do it for?"
"Ah, that's just what we can't tell. Perhaps he didn't know himself what."
"How was it, sir? Poison?"
"Shot himself with his own pistol," briefly responded the officer.
"And did it knowingly?—intentional?"
"Intentional for sure, or he'd not have been put in here tonight. They couldn't have buried a dog with much less ceremony."
"Well, I never knew such a thing as this," cried Mr. Jones, scarcely taking in the news yet. "When I went away Mr. Ollivera, hadn't come; he was expected; and my wife——Halloa!"
The cause of the concluding exclamation was a new surprise, great as any the speaker had met with yet. Mr. Butterby, his keen eyes strained forward from their enclosed depths, touched him on the arm with authority to enjoin silence.
The young woman—it would be no offence against taste to call her a lady, with her good looks, her good manners, her usually calm demeanour—whom Mr. Jones had recognized as his wife's sister, had come forward to the grave. Kneeling down, she bent her face in her hands, perhaps praying; then lifted it, rose, and seemed about to address the crowd. Her hands were clasped and raised before her; her bonnet had fallen back from her face and her bright flaxen hair.
"It is Alletha Rye, isn't it, sir?" he dubiously cried.
"Hold your noise!" said Mr. Butterby.
"I think it would be a wicked thing to let you disperse this night with a false belief on your minds," began Miss Rye, her clear voice sounding quite loud and distinct in the hushed silence. "Wicked in the sight of God; unkind and unjust to the dead. Listen to my words, please, all you who hear me. I believe that a dreadful injury has been thrown upon Mr. Ollivera's memory; I solemnly believe that he did not die by his own hand. Heaven hears me assert it."
The solemn tone, the strange words, the fair appearance of the young woman, with her good and refined face deathly pale now, and the moonlight playing on her light hair, awed the listeners into something like statues. The silence continued unbroken until Miss Rye moved away, which she did at once and with a rather quick step in the direction of the road, pulling her bonnet on her head as she went, drawing her shawl round her. Even Mr. Jones made neither sound nor movement until she had disappeared, so entire was his astonishment.
"Was there ever heard the like of that?" he exclaimed, when he at length drew breath. "Do you think she's off her head, sir?"
He received no answer, and turned to look at Mr. Butterby. That gentleman had his note-book out, and was pencilling something down in it by moonlight.
"I never see such a start as this—take it for all in all," continued Mr. Jones to himself and the air, thus thrown upon his own companionship.
"And I'd not swear that you've seen the last of it," remarked Mr. Butterby, closing his note-case with a click.
"Well, sir, goodnight to you," concluded Mr. Jones. "I must make my way home afore the house is locked up, or I shall get a wigging from my wife. Sure to get that in any case, now this has happened," he continued, ruefully. "She'll say I'm always away when I'm wanted at home in particular."
He went lightly enough over the graves to the opposite and more frequented side of the churchyard, thus avoiding the assemblage; and took his departure. There being nothing more to see, the people began to take theirs. Having gazed their fill at the grave—just as if the silent, undemonstrative earth could give them back a response—they slowly made their way down the side-path to the high-road, and turned towards the city, one group after another.
By one o'clock the last straggler had gone, and Mr. Butterby came forth from his post behind the sheltering gravestone. He had his reasons, perhaps, for remaining behind the rest, and for wishing to walk home alone.
However that might be, he gave their progress a good margin of space, for it was ten minutes past one when he turned out of the churchyard. He had just gained the houses, when he saw before him a small knot of people emerge from a side-turning, as if they had not taken the direct route in coming from the heart of the city. Mr. Butterby recognized one or two of them, and whisked into a friendly doorway until they had passed by.
Letting them get on well ahead, he turned back and followed in their wake. That they were on their way to the grave, appeared evident: and the acute officer wondered why. A thought crossed him that possibly they might be about to take up what had been laid there.
He went into the churchyard by the front gate, and made his way cautiously across it, keeping under the shadow of the grey church walls. Thence, stooping as he crossed the open ground, and dodging behind first one grave then another, he took up his former position against the high stone. They were at the grave now, and he began to deliberate whether, if his thought should prove correct, he should or should not officially interrupt proceedings. Getting his eyes to the open fretwork of the stone, Mr. Butterby looked out. And what he saw struck him with a surprise equal to any recently exhibited by Mr. Jones: he, the experienced police official, who knew the world so thoroughly as to be surprised at little or nothing.
Standing at the head of the grave was a clergyman in his surplice and hood. Four men were grouped around him, one of whom held a lantern so that its light fell upon the clergyman's book. He was beginning to read the burial service. They stood with bowed heads, their hats off. The night had grown cold, but Mr. Butterby took off his.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
The solemn words doubly solemn at that time and place, came distinctly to the official ears. Perhaps in all the times he had heard them during his whole life—many and many that it had been—they had never so impressed him. But habit is strong; and Mr. Butterby found himself taking observations ere the psalm had well commenced, even while he was noticing how heartily the alternate verses were given by the spectators.
Three of them around the grave he recognized; the other one and the clergyman he did not. Of those three, one was a tall, fine man of forty years, Kene, the barrister; the next was a cousin of the deceased, Frank Greatorex, whom Mr. Butterby only knew by seeing him in the inquest-room, where he tendered some slight evidence; the third was a gentleman of the city. Neither the clergyman nor the one who held the light did Mr. Butterby remember to have seen before. The elder and other cousin of the deceased was not present, though Mr. Butterby looked for him; he had been the principal witness on the inquest—Mr. Bede Greatorex.
The officer could but notice also how singularly solemn, slow, and impressive was the clergyman's voice as he read those portions of the service that relate more particularly to the deceased and the faith in which he has died. "In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life." He almost made a pause between each word, as if he would impress on his hearers that it was his own belief the deceased had so died. And again, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." And towards the end, in the collect, in the beseeching prayer that when we depart this life we may rest in Christ, "as our hope is this our brother doth." It was not to be mistaken that the clergyman, at least, held firm faith in the absence of guilt of the deceased in regard to his own death. As indeed the reading of the service over him proved.
With the Amen of the concluding benediction, there ensued a silence; every head was bowed in prayer. The clergyman was the first to look up. He waited until the rest did.
"Allow me to say a word ere we depart," he began then, in a low tone; which nevertheless quick-eared Mr. Butterby distinctly caught. "From the bottom of my heart, I believe a foul deed of murder to have been committed on my good and dear brother. It shall be the business of my life to endeavour to bring it to light, to clear his name from the cruel stain pronounced upon it; and my whole time apart from what must be spent in my appointed duties, shall be devoted to this end. So help me, Heaven!"
"Amen!" responded the young man who stood by Mr. Kene.
"So! he's the deceased man's brother" was Mr. Butterby's comment on the clergyman, as he saw him take off his surplice and roll it up.
Blowing out the light in the lantern, they silently took their departure. Mr. Butterby watched them away, and then finally took his, his mind in full work.
"Just the same thing that the girl, Alletha Rye, said! It's odd. I didn't see any doubt about the business: in spite of what Kene said at the inquest; neither did the coroner; and I'm sure the jury didn't. Dicky Jones was right, though. Take it for all in all, it's the queerest start we've had in this town for many a day."
On the Saturday previous to the events recorded in the last chapter, the cathedral city had been the scene of unusual bustle. The judges came in from Oxford to hold the Spring Assize, bringing in their wake the customary multiplicity of followers: attendants, officers, barristers, and others. Some of the witnesses in the different cases to be tried, civil and criminal also came in that day, to remain until they should be wanted the following week: so that the town was full.
Amidst the barristers who arrived was Mr. Ollivera. He was a young man; and it was only the second time he had come on circuit. After leaving college he had travelled a good deal, and also sojourned in different foreign countries, acquiring legal experience, and did not take up his profession at home as early as some do. A fresh-coloured, pleasing, bright looking man was he, his curly hair of a light auburn, his eyes blue, his figure elastic and of middle height. All the world liked John Ollivera. He was essentially of a practical nature, of sound sense, of pure mind and habits, holding a reverence for all things holy; and in every respect just the last man who could have been suspected of a tendency to lay violent hands on himself.
He had written to secure his former lodgings at Mr. Jones's in High Street, and proceeded to them at once on arriving at the station. It was the third time he had lodged there. At the previous assizes in July he had gone there first; and the whole of the month of October, during the long vacation, he had been there again, having, as people supposed, taken a liking to the town. So that this was the third time.
He got in between six and seven on the Saturday evening. Ordered tea and two mutton chops, which were got for him at once, and then went out to pay a visit to a lady who lived within the precincts of the cathedral. She was a widow; her husband, Colonel Joliffe, having died about a year before, leaving her with a slender income and three expensive daughters. During the colonel's lifetime they had lived in good style, about two miles from the town; but a great part of his means died with him, and Mrs. Joliffe then took a small house in the city and had to retrench in all her ways. Which was a terrible mortification to the young ladies.
To this lady's house Mr. Ollivera took his way when his frugal dinner was over. He spent a couple of hours with them, and then returned to his rooms and got out his law papers, over which he remained until twelve o'clock, when he went to bed. He occupied the drawing-room, which was on the first floor over the shop, and looked to the street; and the bedroom behind it. On the following day, Sunday, he attended early prayers in the cathedral at eight o'clock, staying to partake of the Sacrament, and also the later service at eleven, when the judges and corporation were present. In the afternoon he attended the cathedral again, going to it with the Miss Joliffes; dined at home at five, which was also Mrs. Joliffe's dinner hour, and spent the rest of the evening at her house. Mrs. Jones, his landlady, who had a vast amount of shrewd observation—and a shrewd tongue too on occasions, as well as a sharp one—gave it as her opinion that he must be courting one of the Miss Joliffes. He had been with them a little in his few days' sojourn at the July assizes, and a great deal with them during his stay in October.
On Monday morning the trials commenced, and Mr. Ollivera, though he had no cause on, was in court a great portion of the day. He left it in the afternoon, telling Mr. Kene that he had an appointment for half-past three, a disagreeable commission that had been entrusted to him, he added, and must go and keep it. About half-past four he appeared at his rooms; Mrs. Jones met him in the hall, and spoke to him as he went upstairs. When his dinner was sent up at five, the maid found him buried in a heap of law papers. Hastily clearing a space at one end of the table, he told her to put the dinner there. In less than half an hour the bell was rung for the things to be taken away, and Mr. Ollivera was then bending over his papers again.
The papers no doubt related to a cause in which he was to appear the following day. It was a civil action, touching some property in which Mrs. Joliffe was remotely though not actively interested. The London solicitors were the good old firm of Greatorex and Greatorex; Mr. Ollivera was a relative of the house; nephew of old Mr. Greatorex, in fact; and to him had been confided the advocacy of the cause. The name of the local solicitor it does not signify to mention. It was not a very important cause: but a new barrister thinks all his causes important, and Mr. Ollivera was an earnest, painstaking man, sparing himself no trouble that could conduce to success. He had declined a proffered dinner engagement for that evening, but accepted an invitation for the next. So much was known of his movements up to the Monday evening.
On that same evening, Mr. Bede Greatorex arrived at the station by the six o'clock train from London; took a fly, and was driven to the Star and Garter Hotel. He was the son of old Mr. Greatorex, and the second partner in the firm. His journey down had reference to the next day's action: something new had unexpectedly arisen; some slight information been gained of a favourable nature, and Mr. Greatorex, senior, had despatched his son to confer with Mr. Ollivera in preference to writing or telegraphing. Bede Greatorex was nothing loth, and entered on his flying journey with high good-humour, intending to be back in London by the following midday. He was a tall, fine-looking man, in face not unlike Mr. Ollivera, except that his hair and eyes were dark, and his complexion a clear, pale olive; his age about thirty-four. The cousins were cordial friends.
On arriving at the Star and Garter he declined refreshment then, having taken an early dinner before leaving town and asked to be directed to Mr. Ollivera's lodgings in High Street: which was readily done, High Street being in a direct line with the hotel. Mr. Bede Greatorex gained the house, and found it to be one of commodious proportions, the lower part occupied as a hosier's shop, whose windows were of plate-glass. Over the door in the middle was inscribed "Richard Jones, hosier and patent shirt-front maker." There was a side entrance, wide and rather handsome; the house altogether being a good one. Ringing at the side bell, he inquired of the answering servant for Mr. Ollivera, and was at once shown up to him.
Mr. Ollivera was seated at the table, his back to the door. The papers he had been engaged upon were neatly stacked now, as if done with; he appeared to be writing a note; and a pistol lay at his elbow. All this was shown both to Mr. Bede Greatorex and the maid, by the bright flame of the moderator lamp; then lighted.
"Well, John!" cried the visitor, in a gay, laughing tone, before the girl could speak. "Don't be surprised at seeing me."
Mr. Ollivera turned round at the voice and evidently was surprised: surprised and pleased.
"Why, Bede!" he cried, starting up. "I'd as soon have expected to see a ghost."
They shook hands heartily, and Mr. Bede Greatorex sat down. The maid, to save coming up again to ask, took the opportunity of inquiring when Mr. Ollivera would like tea; and was answered that he might not want any; if he did, he'd ring: he might be going out. As the servant shut the door she heard the visitor begin to explain his errand, and that his father had sent him in preference to writing. Her ears were always full of curiosity.
In about an hour's time, Mr. Bede Greatorex departed. A young man belonging to the house, Alfred Jones, who happened to be passing up the stairs when Mr. Greatorex was quitting the drawing-room, heard that gentleman make an appointment with Mr. Ollivera for the morning.
Mr. Bede Greatorex walked back to the hotel, ordered a fire made in his bedroom against night, took a glass of brandy-and-water, for he felt cold, washed the travelling dust off his face and hands, which he had not done before, had his coat brushed, and went out again. It was nine o'clock then, and he bent his steps quickly towards the cathedral to call on Mrs. Joliffe, having to inquire the way. It took him through High Street again, and as he passed his cousin's lodgings, the same servant who had shown him in was standing at the front-door, recognized him and dropped a curtsey.
In the drawing-room with Mrs. Joliffe were her three daughters, Louisa, Clare, and Mary; some three or four friends were also assembled. They were astonished to see Mr. Bede Greatorex: none of them knew him well, except Louisa, who had paid a long visit to his father's house the previous year. She changed colour when he was announced: and it may have been that his voice took a tenderer tone as it addressed her; his hand lingered longer in clasping hers than it need have done. She was an excessively fashionable young lady: not very young, perhaps six or seven-and-twenty: and if Bede Greatorex coveted her for a wife it was to be hoped his pockets were well lined. He spoke just a word to Mrs. Joliffe of having come down on a mission to Mr. Ollivera; not stating explicitly what it was; and said he was going back home in the morning.
"We are expecting Mr. Ollivera here tonight," observed Mrs. Joliffe. "He is late."
"Are you?" was the reply of Mr. Greatorex. "John said he might be going out, I remember, but I did not know it was to your house. Don't make too sure of him, Mrs. Joliffe, he seemed idle, and complained of headache."
"I suppose he is busy," remarked Mrs. Joliffe. "All you law people are busy at assize time."
"Louisa, is it as it should be between us?" whispered Bede Greatorex, in an opportunity that occurred when they were alone near the piano.
"Don't be silly, Mr. Greatorex," was the answer.
She bent her bead, not speaking.
"What do you mean, Louisa? Our engagement was entered upon deliberately: you gave me every hope. You cannot play with me now. Speak, Louisa."
He had taken possession of her hand, and was keeping her before him; his dark eyes, gleaming with their doubt and love, looked straight into hers.
"What?" she faintly asked. "Why do you question it?"
"Because your manner is strange: you have avoided me ever since I came in."
"The surprise was so great."
"Surely a pleasant surprise. I intended it as such. Do you suppose I should have cared to come down on this business to Mr. Ollivera, when writing would have answered every purpose? No: I came to see you. And to learn why——"
"Not now. Don't you see mamma is looking at me?"
"And what though she is? I should have liked to speak to your mother tonight, but for——"
"Not tonight. I pray you not tonight. Take another opportunity."
The words reassured him.
"Then, Louisa, it is all right between us."
"Yes, yes, of course it is. You offended me, Bede, last January, and I—I have been vexed. I'll write to you as soon as you get back home, and explain everything."
He pressed her hand with a lingering touch, and then released it. There was nothing in the wide world so coveted by Bede Greatorex as that false hand of hers: as many things, fair outside, false within, are coveted by us poor mortals, blind at the best. But Miss Joliffe looked half scared as she left him for a safer part of the room; her eyes and manner were alike restless. Bede followed her, and they were talking together at intervals in an undertone during the rest of the evening. Louisa being evidently ill at ease, but striving to conceal it.
At a quarter to eleven Mr. Bede Greatorex took his departure. In passing up High Street, his cousin's lodgings were on the opposite side of the way. He momentarily halted and stepped off the pavement as if he would have crossed to go in, and then hesitated, for the sitting-room was in darkness.
"The light's out: he's gone to bed, I dare say," said Mr. Greatorex, speaking aloud. "No good to disturb him." And a tradesman, who happened to be fastening his side-door and had got it about an inch open, overheard the words Mr. Greatorex having doubtless been quite unaware that he spoke to an auditor.
Towards the top of High Street he met Mr. Kene, the barrister. The latter, after expressing some surprise at seeing him, and assuming he had come direct from Mr. Ollivera's, asked whether the latter was in.
"In and in bed," replied Mr. Greatorex.
"Indeed! Why it's not eleven o'clock."
"At any rate, there's no light in his room, or I should have gone up. He complained of headache: perhaps he has gone to bed early to sleep it off."
"I want to see him particularly," said the barrister. "Are you sure he is in bed?"
"You can go and ascertain, Kene. Ring the people of the house up, should they have gone to bed too. I could see no light anywhere."
Mr. Kene did not care to ring people up, and decided to leave his business with Mr. Ollivera until the morning. He had been dining with some fellows he said, and had no idea how the time was running on. Linking his arm within that of Bede Greatorex, they walked together to the Star, and there parted. Mr. Greatorex went up at once to his chamber, stirred the fire into a blaze, rang for the waiter, and ordered another glass of hot brandy-and-water.
"I think I must have taken cold," he observed to the man when it was brought to him. "There has been a chill upon me ever since I came here."
"Nothing more likely, sir," returned the waiter. "Them trains are such draughty things."
However Mr. Greatorex hoped he should be all right in the morning. He gave directions to be called at a quarter before eight, and the night wore on.
Some time before that hour chimed out from the cathedral clock, when the morning had come, he found himself aroused by a knocking at his door. A waiter, speaking from the outside, said that something had happened to Mr. Ollivera. Mr. Bede Greatorex, thinking the words odd, and not best pleased to be thus summarily disturbed, possibly from dreams of Louisa Joliffe, called out from the downy pillow (in rather a cross tone, it must be confessed) to know what had happened to Mr. Ollivera: and was answered that he was dead.
Springing out of bed, and dressing himself quickly, Bede Greatorex went downstairs, and found that Kene, who had brought the news, was gone again, leaving word that he had gone back to High Street. Mr. Greatorex hastened to follow.
The tale to be told was very singular, very sad, and Bede Greatorex could not help shivering as he heard it. His cold was upon him still. It appeared that nothing more had been seen or heard of Mr. Ollivera after Mr. Greatorex left him the previous evening. Mrs. Jones, the mistress of the house, had gone out at seven, when the shop closed, to sit by the bed-side of a dying relative; her sister, Miss Rye, was also out: the maid left in charge, the only servant the house kept, had taken the opportunity to spend her time in the street; standing now at her own door, now at other doors half a score yards off, as she could get neighbours' servants to gossip with. About half-past ten it occurred to the maid that she might as well go up and inquire if Mr. Ollivera wanted anything: perhaps the fact of his not having rung at all struck her as singular. She knew he had not gone out, or she must have seen him, for she had contrived to keep a tolerably steady lookout on the street door, however far she had wandered from it. Up she went, knocked at the door, got no answer, opened it, saw that the room was in darkness, and regarded it as a sure proof that Mr. Ollivera had left the room for the night, for he never put the lamp out in any other case.
"He's gone to bed early tonight," thought the girl, shutting the door again. "I hope to goodness he didn't ring, and me not hear it. Wouldn't missis fly out at me!"
And when Mrs. Jones came in, as she did soon after the girl got downstairs again, and inquired after Mr. Ollivera, she was told he had gone to bed.
Now it appeared that Miss Rye sat over the sitting-room fire (a parlour behind the shop, underneath Mr. Ollivera's bedroom) for some time after the rest of the house had retired to rest. When at length she went to bed, she was unable to sleep. Towards morning she dropped into a doze and was awakened (according to her own account) by a dream. A very vivid dream, that startled and unnerved her. She dreamt she saw Mr. Ollivera in his sitting-room—dead. And, as she seemed to look at him, a terrible amount of self-reproach, far greater than any she could ever experience in life, rushed over her mind, for not having gone in earlier to discover him. It was this feeling that awoke her: it had seemed that he cast it on her, that it came out direct to her from his dead presence, cold and lifeless though he was. So real did it all appear, that for some minutes after Miss Rye awoke, she could not believe it to be only a dream. Turning to look at her watch she saw it was half-past six, and the sun had risen. An early riser always, for she had to get her living by dressmaking, Miss Rye got up and dressed herself: but she could not throw off the impression made upon her; and a little before seven she went down and opened the door of Mr. Ollivera's sitting-room. Not so much to see whether it might be true or not, as to show to herself by ocular demonstration that it was not true: she might forget the impression then.
But it was true. What was Miss Rye's horror and astonishment at seeing him, Mr. Ollivera, there! At the first moment of opening the door, she observed nothing unusual. The white blinds were down before the windows; the tables, chairs, and other furniture were as customary; but as she stood looking in, she saw in an easy-chair near the table, whose back was towards her, the head of Mr. Ollivera. With a strange bounding-on of all her pulses; with a dread fear at her heart, that caused it to cease beating, Miss Rye went in and looked at him, and then flew out of the room, uttering startled cries.
The cries arose the house. Mrs. Jones, the young man Alfred Jones, and the servant-maid came flocking forth: the two former were nearly dressed; the maid had been about her work downstairs. Mr. Ollivera lay back in the easy-chair, dead and cold. The right arm hung down over the side, and immediately underneath it on the carpet, looking as if it had dropped from the hand, lay the discharged pistol.
The servant and Alfred Jones ran two ways: the one for a doctor, the other to Mr. Kene the barrister, who had been intimate with Mr. Ollivera; Mrs. Jones, a shrewd, clever woman, locking the room up exactly as it was, until they should arrive.
But now, by a singular coincidence, it happened that Mr. Butterby, abroad betimes, was the first to meet the running servant-maid, and consequently, he was first on the scene. The doctor and Mr. Kene came next, and then Bede Greatorex. Such was the story as it greeted Bede's ears.
On the table, just as both he and the servant had seen them the night before, were the neatly-stacked law papers. Also a folded legal document that had been brought from town by himself, Bede Greatorex. There were also pens, ink, and a sheet of note-paper, on which some lines were written. They were as follows:—
"My Dear Friend,—It is of no use. Nothing more can be done. Should I never see you again, I beg you once for all to believe me when I say that I have made efforts, though they have been ineffectual. And when
"The pistol is ready to my hand. Goodbye."
The first portion of this letter, up to the point of the abrupt breaking off, was written in Mr. Ollivera's usual steady hand. The latter portion was scrawling, trembling, and blotted; the writing bearing but a faint resemblance to the rest. Acute Mr. Butterby remarked that it was just the kind of writing an agitated man might pen, who was about to commit an evil deed. There was no clue as to whom the note had been intended for, but it appeared to point too evidently to the intention of self-destruction. Nevertheless, there was one at least who doubted.
"Is it so, think you?" asked Mr. Kene, in a low tone, as he stood by the side of Bede Greatorex, who was mechanically turning over the papers on the table one by one.
"Is it what?" asked Bede, looking up, his tone sharp with pain.
"Self-destruction. There never lived a man less likely to commit it than your cousin, John Ollivera."
"As I should have thought," returned Mr. Greatorex. "But if it is not that, what else can it be?"
"There is one other possible solution, at least: putting any idea of accident aside."
The supposition of accident had not occurred to Bede Greatorex. A gleam of surprised cheerfulness crossed his face.
"Do you indeed think it could have been an accident, Kene? Then——"
"No; I think it could not have been," interrupted the barrister. "I said, putting the idea of that aside: it is the most improbable of any. I alluded to the other alternative."
Mr. Greatorex understood his meaning, and shrunk from its unpleasantness. "Who would harm Ollivera, Kene? He had not an enemy in the world."
"So far as we know. But I declare to you, Greatorex, I think it the more likely thing of the two."
Bede Greatorex shook his head. The facts, so far as they were yet disclosed, seemed decisive and unmistakable.
They passed into the bedroom. It was all just as the servant had left it the past evening, ready for the occupation of Mr. Ollivera. On a small table lay his Prayer-book, and the pocket Bible he was wont to carry with him in travelling. Bede Greatorex felt a sudden faintness steal over him as he looked, and leaned for a few moments against the wall.
But he had no time for indulging grief. He went out, inquiring for the telegraph office, and sent a message with the news to his father in town, softening it as well as circumstances allowed: as we all like to do at first when ill news has to be told. He simply stated that John (the familiar name Mr. Ollivera was known by at home) had died suddenly. The message brought down his brother, Frank Greatorex, some hours later.
To say that the town was thrown into a commotion almost equal to that of Mrs. Jones's house, would be superfluous. A young barrister, known to many of the inhabitants, who had come in with the judges only on Saturday; who was to have led in a cause in the Nisi Prius Court on that very morning, Tuesday, and to be junior in another cause set down for Wednesday, in which Mr. Kene, the experienced and renowned Queen's Counsel, led, had been found dead! And by such a death! It took the public by storm. Mrs. Jones's shop was besieged to an extent that she had to put up her shutters; High Street was impassable: and all those in the remotest degree connected with the deceased or with the circumstances, were followed about and stared at as though they were wild animals. Five hundred conjectures were hazarded and spoken: five hundred tales told that had no foundation. Perhaps the better way to collect the various items of fact together for the reader, will be to transcribe some of the evidence given before the coroner. The inquest was fixed to take place on the Wednesday morning, in the club-room of an inn lying conveniently near.
The coroner and jury assembled at an unusually early hour, for the convenience of Mr. Kene, who wished to be present. It had been thought that the only brother of the deceased, a clergyman, would have come down; but he had not arrived. After viewing the body, which lay still at Mrs. Jones's, the proceedings commenced. Medical testimony was given as to the cause of death—a pistol-shot that had penetrated the heart. The surgeon, Mr. Hurst, who had been called in at the first discovery on Tuesday morning, stated that to the best of his belief, death (which must have been instantaneous) had taken place early the previous evening, he should say about seven or eight o'clock. And this view was confirmed in rather a singular manner. Upon examining the quantity of oil in the lamp, which Mrs. Jones had herself filled, it was seen that it could not have burnt very much more than an hour: thus leaving it to be inferred that the deceased had put it out before committing the rash deed, and that it must have been done shortly after Mr. Bede Greatorex left him.
Alletha Rye was called. She spoke to the fact of finding Mr. Ollivera, dead; and electrified the court, when questioned as to why she had gone to the sitting-room, seeing that it was an entirely unusual thing for her to do, by saying that she went in to see whether Mr. Ollivera was there dead, or not. In the quietest, most composed manner possible, she related her singular dream, saying it had sent her to the room.
"Surely," said the coroner, "you did not expect to see Mr. Ollivera dead?"
"I cannot say I did! I went rather to convince myself that he was not there dead," was the witness's answer. "But the dream had been so vivid that I could not shake it from my mind; it made me uneasy, although my better reason did not put any faith in it whatever that it could be true. That is why I went to the room. And Mr. Ollivera lay dead in his chair, exactly as I had seen him in my dream."
The coroner, a practical man, did not know what to make of this statement: such evidence had never been tendered him before, and he eyed the witness keenly. To see her stand there in her black robes, tall, upright, of really dignified demeanour, with her fair features and good looks—but there were dark circles round her eyes today, and the soft colour had left her cheeks—to hear her tell of this in her sensible, calm accents, was something marvellous.
"Were you at home on Monday night?" asked the coroner. And it may as well be remarked that some of the questions put by him during the inquest, miscellaneous queries that did not appear to be quite in order, or have much to do with the point in question, had very probably their origin in the various rumours that had reached him, and in the doubt breathed into his ears by Mr. Kene. The coroner did not in the least agree with Mr. Kene; rather pitied the barrister as a visionary, for allowing himself to glance at such a doubt; but he was fond of diving to the bottom of things. Living in the same town, knowing all the jury personally, in the habit of exchanging a word of news with Mrs. Jones whenever he met her, the coroner may have been excused if the proceedings were slightly irregular, involving some gossip as well as law.
"No," replied the witness. "Except that I ran in for a few minutes. I had been at work that afternoon at a neighbour's, helping her to make a gown. I went in home to get a pattern."
"What time was that?"
"I cannot be particular as to the exact time. It must have been nearly eight."
"Did you see the deceased then?"
"No. I did not see any one except the servant. She was standing at the open street door. When I had been upstairs to get what I wanted I went out again."
"Did you hear any noise as you passed Mr. Ollivera's rooms?"
"Not any. I do not know anything more of the details, sir, than I have told you."
The next witness called was Mr. Bede Greatorex. He gave his evidence clearly, but at portions of it was evidently under the influence of some natural emotion, which he contrived to suppress. A man does not like to show such.
"My name is Bede Greatorex. I am the son of Mr. Greatorex, the well-known London solicitor, and second partner in the firm Greatorex and Greatorex. The deceased, John Ollivera, was my cousin, his father and my mother having been brother and sister. A matter of business arose connected with a cause to be tried in the Nisi Prius Court, in which Mr. Ollivera was to be the leading counsel, and my father despatched me down on Monday to communicate with him. I arrived by the six o'clock evening train, and was with him before half-past six. We held a business conference together; I stayed about an hour with him, and then went back to my hotel. I never afterwards saw him alive."
"I must put a few questions to you with your permission, Mr. Greatorex, for the satisfaction of the jury," observed the coroner.
"Put as many as you like, sir; I will answer them to the best of my ability," was the reply.
"First of all—what was the exact hour at which you reached Mr. Ollivera's rooms?"
"I should think it must have been about twenty minute after six. The train got in to time, six o'clock; I took a fly to the Star and Garter, and from thence walked at once to Mr. Ollivera's lodgings, the people at the hotel directing me. The whole could not have taken above twenty minutes."
"And how long did you remain with him?"
"An hour: perhaps rather more. I should think I left him about half-past seven. I was back at the hotel by quarter to eight, having walked slowly, looking at the different features of the streets as I passed. I had never been in the town before."
"Well, now, Mr. Greatorex, what was the manner of the deceased while you were with him? Did you perceive anything unusual?"
"Nothing at all. He was just as he always was, and very glad to see me. We"—the witness paused to swallow his emotion—"we had ever been the best of friends and companions. I thought him a little quiet, dull. As he sat, he bent his forehead on his hand and complained of headache, saying it had been close in court that day."
("True enough," murmured Mr. Kene.)
"The news you brought down to him was not bad news?" questioned the coroner.
"Quite the contrary. It was good: favourable to our cause."
"Did you see him write the note found on his table, or any portion of it?"
"When the servant showed me into the room, he appeared to be writing a note. As he sat down after shaking hands with me, he put the blotting paper over what he had written. He did not take it off again, or write at all while I remained."
"Was it the same note, think you, that was afterwards found?"
"I should think it likely. I noticed that some few lines only were written. About"—the witness paused a moment—"about the same quantity as in the first portion of the note."
"Did he put the blotting paper over it to prevent you seeing it, do you suppose, Mr. Greatorex?"
"I do not know. I thought he was only afraid it might get blotted. The ink was wet."
"Did any one come in while you were with him?"
"No. I wished him goodnight, intending to see him in the morning, and was shown out by some young man."
"Do you know to whom that note was written?"
"I have not the slightest idea. Neither do I know to what it alludes."
"Then—your theory, I presume, is—that he added that blotted concluding line after your departure? In fact, just when he was on the point of committing the rash act?"
"I do not see what else can be believed. The pen lay across the words when found, as if thrown there after writing them, and appeared to have caused the blots."
"Did he say anything to you about any appointment he had kept that afternoon?"
"And now about the pistol, Mr. Greatorex. Did you see one on the table!"
"Did it not strike you as singular that it should be there?"