A REPORT came round that the asylum was open in the rear. A rush was made thither from the front: and this thinned the crowd considerably; so then Mrs. Dodd was got out by the help of some humane persons, and carried into the nearest house, more dead than alive. There she found Mrs. Archbold in a pitiable state. That lady had been looking on the fire, with the key in her pocket, by taking which she was like to be a murderess: her terror and remorse were distracting, and the revulsion had thrown her into violent hysterics. Mrs. Dodd plucked up a little strength, and characteristically enough tottered to her assistance, and called for the best remedies, and then took her hand and pressed it, and whispered soothingly that both were now safe, meaning David and Edward. Mrs. Archbold thought she meant Alfred and David: this new shock was as good for her as cold water: she became quieter, and presently gulped out, "You saw them? You knew them (ump) all that way off?"
"Knew them?" said Mrs. Dodd; "why one was my husband, and the other my son." Mrs. Archbold gave a sigh of relief. "Yes, madam," continued Mrs. Dodd, "the young fireman, who went and saved my husband, was my own son, my Edward; my hero; oh, I am a happy wife, a proud mother." She could say no more for tears of joy, and while she wept deliciously, Mrs. Archbold cried too, and so invigorated and refreshed her cunning, and presently she perked up and told Mrs. Dodd boldly that Edward had been seeking her, and was gone home; she had better follow him, or he would be anxious. "But my poor husband!" objected Mrs. Dodd.
"He is safe," said the other; "I saw him (ump) with an attendant."
"Ah," said Mrs. Dodd, with meaning, "that other my son rescued was an attendant, was he?"
She then promised to take David under her especial care, and Mrs. Dodd consented, though reluctantly, to go home.
To her surprise Edward had not yet arrived, and Julia was sitting up, very anxious; and flew at her with a gurgle, and kissed her eagerly, and then, drawing back her head, searched the maternal eyes for what was the matter. "Ah, you may well look," said Mrs. Dodd. "Oh, my child! what a night this has been;" and she sank into a chair, and held up her arms. Julia settled down in them directly, and in that position Mrs. Dodd told all the night's work, told it under a running accompaniment of sighs and kisses, and ejaculations, and "dear mammas and "poor mammas," and bursts of sympathy, astonishment, pity and wonder. Thus embellished and interrupted, the strange tale was hardly ended, when a manly step came up the stairs, and both ladies pinched each other, and were still as mice, and in walked a fireman with a wet livery, and a face smirched with smoke. Julia flew at him with a gurgle of the first degree, and threw her arms round his neck, and kissed both his blackened cheeks again and again, crying, "Oh my own, my precious, my sweet, brave darling, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, you are a hero, a Christian hero, that saves life, not takes it — " Mrs. Dodd checked her impetuous career by asking piteously if his mother was not to have him. On this, Julia drew him along by the hand, and sank with him at Mrs. Dodd's knees, and she held him at arm's length and gazed at him, and then drew him close and enfolded him, and thanked God for him; and then they both embraced him at once, and interwove him Heaven knows how, and poured the wealth of their womanly hearts out on him in a torrent, and nearly made him snivel. But presently something in his face struck Mrs. Dodd accustomed to read her children. "Is there anything the matter, love?" she inquired anxiously. He looked down and said, "I am dead sleepy, mamma, for one thing."
"Of course he is, poor child," said Julia, doing the submaternal; "wait till I see everything is comfortable," and she flew off, turned suddenly at the door with "Oh, you darling!" and up to his bedroom and put more coals on his fire, and took a swift housewifely look all round.
Mrs. Dodd seized the opportunity. "Edward, there is something amiss."
"And no mistake," said he drily. "But I thought if I told you before her you might scold me."
"Scold you, love? Never. Hush! I'll come to your room by-and-by."
Soon after this they all bade each other good night; and presently Mrs. Dodd came and tapped softly at her son's door, and found him with his vest and coat off, and his helmet standing on the table reflecting a red coal; he was seated by the fire in a brown study, smoking. He apologised, and offered to throw the weed away. "No, no," said she, suppressing a cough, "not if it does you good."
"Well, mother, when you are in a fix, smoke is a soother, you know, and I'm in a regular fix."
"A fix," sighed Mrs. Dodd resignedly, and waited patiently all ears.
"Mamma," said the fire-warrior, becoming speculative under the dreamy influence of the weed, "I wonder whether such a muddle ever was before. When a man is fighting with fire, what with the heat and what with the excitement, his pulse is at a hundred and sixty, and his brain all in a whirl, and he scarce knows what he is doing till after it is done. But I've been thinking of it all since. (Puff.) There was my poor little mamma in the mob; I double myself up for my spring, and I go at the window, and through it; now, on this side of it I hear my mother cry, 'Edward come down;' on the other side I fall on two men perishing in an oven; one is my own father, and the other is, who do you think? 'The Wretch.'"
Mrs. Dodd held up her hands in mute amazement.
"I had promised to break every bone in his skin at our first meeting; and I kept my promise by saving his skin and bones, and life and all." (Puff.)
Mrs. Dodd groaned aloud. "I thought it was he," she said faintly. "That tall figure, that haughty grace! But Mrs. Archbold told me positively it was an attendant."
"Then she told you a cracker. It was not an attendant, but a madman, and that madman was Alfred Hardie, upon my soul! Our Julia's missing bridegroom."
He smoked on in profound silence waiting for her to speak. But she lay back in her chair mute and all relaxed, as if the news had knocked her down.
"Come, now," said Edward at last; "what is to be done? May I tell Julia? that is the question."
"Not for the world," said Mrs. Dodd, shocked into energy. "Would you blight her young life for ever, as mine is blighted?" She then assured him that, if Alfred's sad state came to Julia's ears, all her love for him would revive, and she would break with Mr. Hurd, and indeed never marry all her life. "I see no end to her misery," continued Mrs. Dodd, with a deep sigh; "for she is full of courage; she would not shrink from a madhouse (why she visits lazar-houses every day); she would be always going to see her Alfred, and so nurse her pity and her unhappy love. No, no; let me be a widow with a living husband, if it is God's will: I have had my happy days. But my child she shall not be so withered in the flower of her days for any man that ever breathed; she shall not, I say." The mother could utter no more for emotion.
"Well," said Edward, "you know best. I generally make a mess of it when I disobey you. But concealments are bad things too. We used to go with our bosoms open. Ah!" (Puff.)
"Edward," said Mrs. Dodd, after some consideration, "the best thing is to marry her to Mr. Hurd at once. He has spoken to me for her, and I sounded her."
"Has he? Well, and what did she say?"
"She said she would rather not marry at all, but live and die with me. Then I pressed her a little, you know. Then she did say she could never marry any but a clergyman, now she had lost her poor Alfred. And then I told her I thought Mr. Hurd could make her happy, and she would make me happy if she could esteem him; and marry him."
"Well, mamma, and what then?"
"Why then, my poor child gave me a look that haunts me still — a look of unutterable love, and reproach, and resignation, and despair, and burst out crying so piteously I could say no more. Oh! oh! oh! oh!"
"Don't you cry, mammy dear," said Edward. "Ah, I remember when a tear was a wonder in our house." And the fire-warrior sucked at his cigar, to stop a sigh.
"And n — now n — ot a d — day without them," sighed Mrs. Dodd "But you have cost me none, my precious boy."
"I'm waiting my time. (Puff.) Mamma, take my advice; don't you fidget so. Let things alone. Why hurry her into marrying Mr. Hurd or anybody? Look here; I'll keep dark to please you, if you'll keep quiet to please me."
At breakfast time came a messenger with a line from Mrs. Archbold, to say that David had escaped from Drayton House, in company with another dangerous maniac.
Mrs. Dodd received the blow with a kind of desperate resignation. She rose quietly from the table without a word, and went to put on her bonnet, leaving her breakfast and the note; for she did not at once see all that was implied in the communication. She took Edward with her to Drayton House. The firemen had saved one half of that building; the rest was a black shell. Mrs. Archbold came to them, looking haggard, and told them two keepers were already scouring the country, and an advertisement sent to all the journals.
"Oh, madam!" said Mrs. Dodd, "if the other should hurt him, or lead him somewhere to his death?"
Mrs. Archbold said she might dismiss this fear; the patient in question had but one illusion, and, though terribly dangerous when thwarted in that, was most intelligent in a general way, and much attached to Mr. Dodd; they were always together."
A strange expression shot into Mrs. Dodd's eye: she pinched Edward's arm to keep him quiet, and said with feigned indifference —
"Then it was the one who was in such danger with my husband last night?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Archbold off her guard. It had not occurred to her that this handsome, fashionably-dressed young gentleman, was the fireman of last night. She saw her mistake, though, the moment he said bluntly, "Why, you told my mother it was an attendant."
"Did I, madam?" asked Mrs. Archbold, mighty innocently: "I suppose I thought so. Well, I was mistaken, unfortunately."
Mrs. Dodd was silent a moment, then, somewhat hastily bade Mrs. Archbold good-bye. She told the cabman to drive to an old acquaintance of ours, Mr. Green. He had set up detective on his own account. He was not at his office, but expected. She sat patiently down till he came in. They put their heads together, and Green dashed down to the asylum with a myrmidon, while Mrs. Dodd went into the City to obtain leave of absence from Cross and Co. This was politely declined at first, but on Mrs. Dodd showing symptoms of leaving them altogether, it was conceded. She returned home with Edward, and there was Mr. Green: he had actually traced the fugitives by broken fences, and occasional footsteps in the side clay of ditches, so far as to leave no doubt they had got upon the great south-eastern road. Then Mrs. Dodd had a female inspiration. "The Dover road! Ah! my husband will make for the sea."
"I shouldn't wonder, being a sailor," said Green. "It is a pleasure to work with a lady like you, that puts in a good hint. Know anything about the other one, ma'am?"
Mrs. Dodd almost started at this off-hand question. But it was a natural one for Green to ask.
She said gravely, "I do. To my cost."
Green's eye sparkled, and he took out his note-book. "Now where is he like to make for?"
Mrs. Dodd seemed to wince at the question, and then turned her eyes inward to divine. The result was she gave a downright shudder, and said evasively, "Being with David, I hope and pray he will go towards the coast."
"No, no," said Green, "it won't do to count on that altogether. How do we know which of the two will lead the other? You must please to put Mr. Dodd out of the question, ma'am, for a moment. Now we'll say No. 2 had escaped alone: where would he be like to run to?"
Mrs. Dodd thus pressed, turned her eyes more and more inward, and said at last in a very low voice, and with a sort of concentrated horror — "He will come to my house."
Mr. Green booked this eagerly. The lady's emotion was nothing to him; the hint was invaluable, the combination interesting. "Well, ma'am," said he, "I'll plant a good man in sight of your door: and I'll take the Dover road directly with my drag. My teeth weren't strong enough for the last nut you gave me to crack: let us try this one. Tom Green isn't often beat twice running."
"I will go with you, Mr. Green."
"Honoured and proud, ma'am. But a lady like you in my dog-cart along o' me and my mate!"
Mrs. Dodd waived this objection almost contemptuously; she was all wife now.
It was agreed that Green should drive round for her in an hour. He departed for the present, and Edward proposed to go in the dog-cart too, but she told him no; she wanted him at home to guard his sister against "the Wretch." Then seeing him look puzzled, "Consider, Edward," said she, "he is not like your poor father: he has not forgotten. That advertisement, Aileen Aroon, it was from him, you know. And then why does he attach himself so to poor papa? Do you not see it is because he is Julia's father? 'The Wretch' loves her still."
Edward from puzzled looked very grave. "What a head you have got, mamma!" he said. "I should never have seen all this: yet it's plain enough now, as you put it."
"Yes, it is plain. Our darling is betrothed to a maniac; that maniac loves her, and much I fear she loves him. Some new calamity is impending. Oh, my son, I feel it already heavy on my heart. What is it to be? Is your father to be led to destruction, or will that furious wretch burst in upon your sister, and kill her, or perhaps kill Mr. Hard, if he catches them together? What may not happen now? The very air seems to me swarming with calamities."
"Oh, I'll take care of all that," said Edward. And he comforted her a little by promising faithfully not to let Julia go out of his sight till her return.
She put on a plain travelling-dress. The dog-cart came. She slipped fifty sovereigns into Mr. Green's hands for expenses, and off they went at a slapping pace. The horse was a great bony hunter of rare speed and endurance, and his long stride and powerful action raised poor Mrs. Dodd's hopes, and the rushing air did her good. Green, to her surprise, made few inquiries for some miles on the Dover road; but he explained to her that the parties they were after had probably walked all night. "They don't tire, that sort," said Mr. Green.
At Dartford they got a doubtful intimation, on the strength of which he rattled on to Rochester. There he pulled up, deposited Mrs. Dodd at the principal inn till morning, and scoured the town for intelligence.
He inquired of all the policemen; described his men, and shrewdly added out of his intelligence, "Both splashed and dirty."
No, the Bobbies had not seen them.
Then he walked out to the side of the town nearest London, and examined all the dealers in food. At last he found a baker who, early that morning, had sold a quartern loaf to two tall men without hats, "and splashed fearful; " he added, "thought they had broken prison; but 'twas no business of mine: they paid for the bread right enough."
On hearing they had entered Rochester hatless, the shrewd Mr. Green made direct to the very nearest slop-shop; and his sagacity was rewarded: the shopkeeper was a chatterbox, and told him yes, two gents out on a frolic had bought a couple of hats of him, and a whole set of sailor's clothes. "I think they were respectable, too; but nothing else would satisfy him. So the young one he humoured him, and bought them. I took his old ones in exchange."
At that Green offered a sovereign for the old clothes blindfold. The trader instantly asked two pounds, and took thirty shillings.
Green now set the police to scour the town for a gentleman and a common sailor in company, offered a handsome reward, and went to bed in a small inn, with David's clothes by the kitchen fire. Early in the morning he went to Mrs. Dodd's hotel with David's clothes, nicely dried, and told her his tale. She knew the clothes directly, kissed them, and cried over them: then gave him her hand with a world of dignity and grace: "What an able man! Sir, you inspire me with great confidence."
"And you me with zeal, ma'am," said the delighted Green. "Why I'd go through fire and water for a lady like you, that pays well, and doesn't grudge a fellow a bit of praise. Now you must eat a bit, ma'am, if it's ever so little, and then we'll take the road; for the police think the parties have left the town, and by their night's work they must be good travellers."
The dog-cart took the road, and the ex-hunter stepped out thirteen miles an hour.
Now at this moment Alfred and David were bowling along ahead with a perfect sense of security. All that first night, the grandest of his life, Alfred walked on air, and drank the glorious exhilarating breath of Freedom. But, when the sun dawned on them, his intoxicating joy began to be dashed with apprehension: hatless and bemired, might they not be suspected and detained by some officious authority?
But the slop-shop set that all right. He took a double-bedded room in The Bear, locked the door, put the key under his pillow, and slept till eleven. At noon they were on the road again, and as they swung lustily along in the frosty but kindly air, Alfred's chest expanded, his spirits rose, and he felt a man all over. Exhilarated by freedom, youth, and motion, and a little inflated by reviving vanity, his heart, buoyant as his foot, now began to nurse aspiring projects: he would indict his own father, and the doctors, and immolate them on the altar of justice and publicly wipe off the stigma they had cast on him, and meantime he would cure David and restore him to his family.
He loved this harmless companion of his cell, his danger, and his flight; loved him for Julia's sake, loved him for his own. Youth and vanity whispered, "I know more about madness than the doctors; I have seen it closer." It struck him David's longing for blue water was one of those unerring instincts that sometimes guide the sick to their cure. And then as the law permits the forcible recapture of a patient — without a fresh order or certificates — within fourteen days of his escape from an asylum, he did not think it prudent to show himself in London till that time should have elapsed. So, all things considered, why not hide a few days with David in some insignificant seaport, and revel in liberty and blue water with him all day long, and so by associations touch the spring of memory, and begin the cure? As for David, he seemed driven seaward by some unseen spur; he fidgeted at all delay; even dinner fretted him; he panted so for his natural element. Alfred humoured him, and an hour after sunset they reached the town of Canterbury. Here Alfred took the same precautions as before, and slept till nine o'clock.
When he awoke, he found David walking to and fro impatiently. "All right, messmate," said Alfred, "we shall soon be in blue water." He made all haste, and they were on the road again by ten, walking at a gallant pace.
But the dog-cart was already rattling along about thirty miles behind them. Green inquired at all the turnpikes and vehicles; the scent was cold at first, but warmer by degrees, and hot at Canterbury. Green just baited his gallant horse, and came foaming on, and just as the pair entered the town of Folkestone, their pursuers came up to the cross-roads, not five miles behind them.
Alfred went to a good inn in Folkestone and ordered a steak, then strolled with David by the beach, and gloried in the water with him. "After dinner we will take a boat, and have a sail," said he. "See, there's a nice boat, riding at anchor there."
David snuffed the breeze and his eye sparkled, and he said, "Wind due east, messmate." And this remark, slight as it was was practical, and gave Alfred great delight: strengthened his growing conviction that not for nothing had this charge been thrown on him. He should be the one to cure his own father; for Julia's father was his: he had no father now. "All right," said he gaily, "we'll soon be on blue water: but first we'll have our dinner, old boy, for I am starving." David said nothing and went rather doggedly back to the inn with him.
The steak was on the table. Alfred told the waiter to uncover and David to fall to, while he just ran upstairs to wash his hands. He came down in less than two minutes; but David was gone, and the waiter standing there erect and apathetic like a wooden sentinel.
"Why, where is he?" said Alfred.
"Gent's gone out," was the reply.
"And you stood there and let him? you born idiot. Which way is he gone?"
"I don't know," said the waiter angrily, "I ain't a p'liceman. None but respectable gents comes here, as don't want watching." Alfred darted out and scoured the town; he asked everybody if they had seen a tall gentleman dressed like a common sailor. Nobody could tell him: there were so many sailors about the port; that which in an inland town would have betrayed the truant concealed him here. A cold perspiration began to gather on Alfred's brow, as he ran wildly all over the place.
He could not find him, nor any trace of him. At last it struck him that he had originally proposed to go to Dover, and had spoken of that town to David, though he had now glanced aside, making for the smaller ports on the south coast: he hired a horse directly, and galloped furiously to Dover. He rode down to the pier, gave his horse to a boy to hold, and ran about inquiring far David. He could not find him: but at last he found a policeman, who told him he thought there was another party on the same lay as himself: "No," said the man correcting himself, "it was two they were after, a gentleman and a sailor. Perhaps you are his mate."
Alfred's blood ran cold. Pursued! and so hotly: "No, no," he stammered; "I suspect I am on the same business." Then he said cunningly (for asylums teach the frankest natures cunning), "Come and have a glass of grog and tell me all about it." Bobby consented, and under its influence described Mrs. Dodd and her companions to him.
But not everybody can describe minutely. In the bare outlines, which were all this artist could furnish him, Alfred recognised at once, whom do you think? Mrs. Archbold, Dr. Wolf, and his arch enemy Rooke, the keeper. Doubtless his own mind, seizing on so vague a description, adapted it rather hastily to what seemed probable. Mrs. Dodd never occurred to him, nor that David was the sole, or even the main object of the pursuit. He was thoroughly puzzled what to do. However, as his pursuers had clearly scoured Dover, and would have found David if there, he made use of their labours and galloped back towards Folkestone. But he took the precaution to inquire at the first turnpike, and there he learned a lady and two men had passed through about an hour before in a dog-cart; it was a wonder he had missed them. Alfred gnashed his teeth; "Curse you," he muttered. "Well, do my work in Folkestone, I'll find him yet, and baffle you." He turned his horse's head westward and rode after David. Convinced that his lost friend would not go inland, he took care to keep near the cliffs, and had ever an eye on the beach when the road came near enough.
About eight miles west of Folkestone he saw a dog-cart going down a hill before him: but there was only a single person in it. However, he increased his pace and got close behind it as it mounted the succeeding hill which was a high one. Walking leisurely behind it his quick eye caught sight of a lady's veil wrapped round the iron of the seat.
That made him instantly suspect this might be the dog-cart after all. But, if so, how came a stranger in it? He despised a single foe, and resolved to pump this one and learn where the others were.
While he was thinking how he should begin, the dog-cart stopped at the top of the hill, and the driver looked seaward at some object that appeared to interest him.
It was a glorious scene. Viewed from so great a height the sea expanded like ocean, and its light-blue waters sparkled and laughed innumerable in the breeze. "A beautiful sight, sir," said the escaped prisoner, "you may well stop to look at it." The man touched his hat and chuckled. "I don't think you know what I am looking at, sir," he said politely.
"I thought it was the lovely sea view; so bright, so broad, so free.
"No, sir; not but what I can enjoy that a bit, too: but what I'm looking at is an 'unt. Do you see that little boat? Sailing right down the coast about eight miles off. Well, sir, what do you think there is in that boat? But you'll never guess. A madman."
"Curious, sir, isn't it: a respectable gentleman too he is, and sails well; only stark staring mad. There was two of 'em in company: but it seems they can't keep together long. Our one steals a fisherman's boat, and there he goes down channel. And now look here, sir; see this steam-tug smoking along right in front of us: she's after him, and see there's my governor aboard standing by the wheel with a Bobby and a lady: and if ever there was a lady she's one;" here he lowered his voice. "She's that mad gentleman's wife, sir, as I am a living sinner."
They both looked down on the strange chase in silence. "Will they catch her?" asked Alfred at last, under his breath.
"How can we be off it? steam against sails. And if he runs ashore, I shall be there to nab him." Alfred looked, and looked: the water came into his eyes. "It's the best thing that can befall him now," he murmured. He gave the man half-a-crown, and then turned his horse's head and walked him down the hill towards Folkestone. On his arrival there he paid for his horse, and his untasted dinner, and took the first train to London, a little dispirited; and a good deal mortified; for he hated to be beat. But David was in good hands, that was one comfort; and he had glorious work on hand, love and justice. He went to an out of the way inn in the suburbs, and, when he had bought a carpet-bag and some linen and other necessaries, he had but one sovereign left.
His heart urged him vehemently to go at once and find his Julia: but alas! he did not even know where she lived; and he dared not at present make public inquiries: that would draw attention to himself, and be his destruction; for Wolf stood well with the police, and nearly always recaptured his truant patients by their aid before the fourteen days had elapsed. He determined to go first to a solicitor: and launch him against his enemies, while compelled to shirk them in his own person. Curious position! Now, amongst his father's creditors was Mr. Compton, a solicitor, known for an eccentric, but honourable man, and for success in litigation. Mr. Compton used to do his own business in Barkington, and employ an agent in London: but Alfred remembered to have heard just before his incarceration that he had reversed the parts, and now lived in London. Alfred found him out by the Directory, and called at his chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He had to wait some time in the outer office listening to a fluent earnest client preaching within: but presently a sharp voice broke in upon the drone, and, after a few sentences, Mr. Compton ushered out a client with these remarkable words: "And as for your invention, it has been invented four times before you invented it, and never was worth inventing at all. And you have borrowed two hundred pounds of me in ninety loans, each of which cost me an hour's invaluable time: I hold ninety acknowledgments in your handwriting; and I'll put them all in force for my protection;" with this he turned to his head clerk: "Mr. Colls, take out a writ against this client; what is your Christian name, sir? I forget."
"Simon," said the gaping client, off his guard.
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Compton with sudden politeness: then resuming hostilities — "A writ in the Common Pleas against Simon Macfarlane: keep it in your drawer, Colls, and if ever the said Macfarlane does me the honour to call on me again serve him with it on the spot; and, if not, not; good morning, sir." And with this he bolted into his own room and slammed its door. 'The clerks opened the outer door to Mr. Macfarlane with significant grins, and he went out bewildered sorely, yea even like one that walketh abroad in his sleep. "Now, sir," said Mr. Colls cheerfully to Alfred. But the new client naturally hesitated now: he put on his most fascinating smile, and said: "Well, Mr. Colls, what do you advise? Is this a moment to beard the lion in his den?"
At Alfred's smile and address Colls fell in love with him directly, and assured him sotto voce, and with friendly familiarity, that now was his time. "Why, he'll be as sweet as honey now he has got rid of a client." With this he took Alfred's name, and ushered him into a room piled with japanned tin boxes, where Mr. Compton sat, looking all complacency, at a large desk table, on which briefs, and drafts, and letters lay in seeming confusion. He rose, and with a benignant courtesy invited Alfred to sit down and explain his business.
The reader is aware our Oxonian could make a close and luminous statement. He began at the beginning, but soon disposed of preliminaries and came to his capture at Silverton. Then Mr. Compton quietly rang the bell, and with a slight apology to Alfred requested Colls to search for the draft of Mrs. Holloway's will. Alfred continued. Mr. Compton listened keenly, noted the salient points on a sheet of brief-paper, and demanded the exact dates of every important event related.
The story finished, the attorney turned to Colls, and said mighty coolly, "You may go. The will is in my pocket: but I made sure he was a madman. They generally are, these ill-used clients." (Exit Colls) "Got a copy of the settlement, sir, under which you take this ten thousand pounds?"
"Any lawyer seen it?"
"Oh yes; Mr. Crauford, down at Barkington."
"Good. Friend of mine. I'll write to him. Names and addresses of your trustees?"
Alfred gave them.
"You have brought the order on which you were confined, and the two certificates?"
"Not I," said Alfred. "I have begged and prayed for a sight of them, and never could get one. That is one of the galling iniquities of the system; I call it 'THE DOUBLE SHUFFLE.' Just bring your mind to bear on this, sir: The prisoner whose wits and liberty have been signed away behind his back is not allowed to see the order and certificate on which he is confined — until after his release: that release he is to obtain by combating the statements in the order and certificates. So to get out he must first see and contradict the lies that put him in; but to see the lies that put him in, he must first get out. So runs the circle of Iniquity. Now, is that the injustice of Earth, or the injustice of Hell?"
Mr. Compton asked a moment to consider: "Well, I think is of the earth, earthy. There's a mixture of idiocy in it the Devil might fairly repudiate. Young gentleman, the English Statutes of Lunacy are famous monuments of legislatorial incapacity: and indeed, as a general rule, if you want justice and wisdom, don't you go to Acts of Parliament, but to the Common Law of England."
Alfred did not appreciate this observation: he made no reply to it, but inquired, with some heat, "what he could do to punish the whole gang; his father, the certifying doctors, and the madhouse keepers?"
"Humph! You might indict them all for a conspiracy," said Mr. Compton; "but you would be defeated. As a rule, avoid criminal proceedings where you have a civil remedy. A jury will give a verdict and damages where they would not convict on the same evidence. Yours is just one of those cases where Temper says, 'indict!' but Prudence says, 'sue!' and Law, through John Compton, its oracle in this square, says, sue the defendant and no other. Now, who is the true defendant here, or party liable in law?"
"The keeper of the asylum, for one."
"No. If I remember right, all proceedings against him are expressly barred by a provision in the last statute. Let us see."
He took down the statutes of the realm, and showed Alfred the clause which raises the proprietor of a madhouse above the civic level of Prince Royal. "Curse the law," said Alfred bitterly.
"No, don't curse the Law. Curse the Act if you like; but we can't get on without the Law, neither of us. Try again."
"The certifying doctor, sir?"
"Humph!" said Mr. Compton, knitting his brows: "a jury might give you a verdict. But it would probably be set aside by the full court, or else by a court of error. For, unless you could prove informality, barefaced negligence, or mala fides, what does it come to? A professional man, bound to give medical opinions to all comers, is consulted about you, and says he thinks you are insane: you turn out sane. Well, then, he was mistaken: but not more than he is in most of his professional opinions. We lawyers know what guesswork Medicine is: we see it in the witness-box. I hate suing opinions: it is like firing bullets at snipes in a wind. Try again."
Alfred groaned. "Why there is nobody left but the rogue who signed the order."
"And if you were a lawyer, that alone would tell you he is the defendant. Where a legal wrong has been committed by A. B. and C., and there is no remedy against A. or B., there must either be one against C., or none at all: but this Law abhors as Nature does a vacuum. Besides, this defendant has done the wrong complained of. In his person you sue an act, not an opinion. But of course you are not cool enough to see all this just at first."
"Cool, sir," said Alfred despairingly; "I am frozen with your remorseless law. What, of all these villains, may I only attack one, and can't I imprison even him, as he has me? Such narrow law encourages men to violence, who burn under wrongs like mine."
Mr. Compton looked keenly at his agitated, mortified client, but made no concession. He gave him a minute to digest the law's first bitter pill: and then said, "If I am to act for you, you had better write a line to the Commissioners of Lunacy requesting them to hand me copies of the order and certificates." Alfred wrote it.
"And now," said Mr. Compton thoughtfully, " I don't think they will venture to recapture you during the fourteen days. But still they might; and we attorneys are wary animals. So please give me at once a full authority to act under advice of counsel for your protection."
Alfred wrote as requested, and Mr. Compton put the paper in his drawer, remarking, "With this I can proceed by law or equity, even should you get into the asylum again." He then dismissed Alfred somewhat abruptly, but with an invitation to call again after three clear days. Like most ardent suitors after their first interview with passionless law, he went away sadly chilled, and so home to his cheerless lodging, to count the hours till he could see Julia, and learn his fate from her lips.
This very morning a hasty note came to Edward from Folkestone, worded thus:
"Oh, Edward: my worst misgivings! The two have parted. Poor papa has taken a man's boat and is in sight. We shall follow directly in a steamboat. But the other! You know my fears; you must be father and mother to that poor child till I come home — Your sad mother,
Julia held out her hand for the note. Edward put it in his pocket.
"What is that for?" said the young lady.
"Why surely I may put my own property in my pocket."
"Oh, certainly. I only want to look at it first."
"Are you in earnest, Edward? Not let me see dear mamma's letter?" and the vivid face looked piteously surprised.
"Oh, I'll tell you the contents. Papa had got to Folkestone and taken a boat, and gone to sea: then mamma took a steamboat and after him: so she will soon catch him, and is not that a comfort?"
"Oh, yes," cried Julia, and was for some time too interested and excited to think of anything else. But presently she returned to the charge. "Anything else, dear?"
"Humph? Well, not of equal importance."
"Oh, if it is of no importance, there can be no reason for not telling me. What was it?"
Edward coloured but said nothing. He thought however, and thus ran his thoughts: "She's my intellectual superior and I've got to deceive her; and a nice mess I shall make of it."
It is of importance," said Julia, eyeing him. "You have told a story: and you don't love your sister." This fulminated, she drew herself up proudly and was silent. A minute afterwards, stealing a look at her, he saw her eyes suddenly fill with tears, apropos of nothing tangible.
"Now this is nice," said he to himself
At noon she put on her bonnet to visit her district. He put on his hat directly, and accompanied her. Great was her innocent pleasure at that: it was the first time he had done her the honour. She took him to her poor people, and showed him off with innocent pride.
"Hannah, this is my brother." Then in a whisper, "Isn't he beautiful?" Presently she saw him looking pale; unheard of phenomenon! "There now, you are ill," said she. "Come home directly, and be nursed."
"No, no," said he. "I only want a little fresh air. What horrid places what horrid sights and smells! I say, you must have no end of pluck to face them."
"No, no, no. Dearest, I pray for strength: that is how I manage. And oh, Edward, you used to think the poor were not to be pitied. But now you see."
"Yes, I see, and smell and all. You are a brave, good girl. Got any salts about you?"
"Yes, of course. There. But fancy a young lion smelling salts."
"A young duffer, you mean; that has passed for game through the thing not being looked into close."
"Oh, you can he close enough, where I want you to be open."
The next day he accompanied her again, but remained at the stairfoot while she went in to her patients; and, when she came down, asked her, Could no good Christian be found to knock that poor woman on the head who lived in a plate.
"No good Heathen, you mean," said Julia.
"Why, yes," said he; "the savages manage these things better."
He also accompanied her shopping, and smoked phlegmatically outside the shops; nor could she exhaust his patience. Then the quick girl put this and that together. When they were at home again and her bonnet off, she looked him in the face and said sweetly, "I have got a watch-dog." He smiled, and said nothing. "Why don't you answer?" cried Julia impetuously.
"Because least said is soonest mended. Besides, I'm down upon you: you decoy me into a friendly conversation, and then you say biting things directly."
"If I bite you, you sting me. Such want of confidence! Oh how cruel! how cruel! Why can you not trust me? Am I a child? No one is young who has suffered what I have suffered. Secrets disunite a family: and we were so united. And then you are so stupid; you keep a secret? Yes, like a dog in a chain; you can't hide it one bit. You have undertaken a task you are not fit for, sir; to hide a secret you must be able to tell fibs: and you can't: not for want of badness, but cleverness to tell them smoothly; you know it, you know it; and so out of your abominable slyness you won't say a word. There, it is no use my trying to provoke him. I wish you were not so good-tempered; so apathetic I mean, of course." Then, with one of her old rapid transitions, she began to caress him and fawn on him: she seated him in an arm-chair and herself on a footstool, and suddenly curling round his neck, murmured, "Dear, dear brother, have pity on a poor girl, and tell her is there any news that I have a right to hear, only mamma has given you your orders not to tell me; tell me, love!" This last in an exquisite whisper.
"Let me alone, you little fascinating demon," said he angrily. "Ask mamma. I won't tell you a word."
"Thank you!" she cried, bounding to her feet; "you have told me. He is alive. He loves me still. He was bewitched, seduced, deluded. He has come to himself. Mamma has seen him. He wants to come and beg my pardon. But you are all afraid I shall forgive him. But I will not, for at the first word I'll stop his mouth, and say, 'If you were happy away from me, I suppose you would not have come back.'"
And instantly she burst out singing, with inspired eloquence and defiance —
"Castles are sacked in war, Chieftains are scattered far, Truth is a fixed star — Aileen aroon."
But, unable to sustain it, the poor Impetuosity dropped as quickly as she had mounted, and out went her arm on the table, and her forehead sank on her arm, and the tears began to run silently down the sweet face, so brave for a moment.
"W — will y — you allow me to light a cigar?" said Edward. "I'm wretched and miserable; you Tempest in petticoats, you!"
She made him a sign of assent with the hand that was dangling languidly, but she did not speak; nor did she appeal to him any more. Alienation was commencing. But what was worse than speaking her mind, she was for ever at the window now, looking up and down the street; and walking with her he felt her arm often tremble, and sometimes jerk. The secret was agitating her nerves, and destroying her tranquillity as much, or perhaps more, than if she had known all.
Mrs. Dodd wrote from Portsmouth: whereof anon.
Mr. Peterson called, and soon after him Mr. Hurd. Edward was glad to see them, especially the latter, whose visits seemed always to do Julia good.
Moreover, as Peterson and Hurd were rivals, it afforded Edward an innocent amusement to see their ill-concealed aversion to one another, and the admirable address and delicacy with which his sister conducted herself between them.
However, this pastime was cut short by Sarah coming in and saying, "There's a young man wants to see you, sir."
Julia looked up and changed colour.
"I think he is a fireman," said Sarah. She knew very well he was a fireman, and also one of her followers. Edward went out and found one of his late brethren, who told him a young gentleman had just been inquiring for him at the station.
"What was he like?"
"Why, I was a good ways off, but I saw he was a tall one."
"Give you his name?'
"No: I didn't speak to him: it was Andrew. Andrew says he asked if there was a fireman called Dodd: so Andrew said you had left; then the swell asked where you lived, and Andrew couldn't tell him any more than it was in Pembroke Street. So I told him, says I, 'Why couldn't you call me? It is number sixty-six,' says I. 'Oh, he is coming back,' says Andrew. However, I thought I'd come and tell you." (And so get a word with Sarah, you sly dog.)
Edward thanked him, and put on his hat directly, for he could not disguise from himself that this visitor might be Alfred Hardie. Indeed, what more likely?
Messrs. Hurd and Peterson always tried to stay one another out whenever they met at 66, Pembroke Street. However, to make sure of not leaving Julia alone, Edward went in and asked them both to luncheon, at which time he said he should be back.
As he walked rapidly to the station he grew more and more convinced that it was Alfred Hardie. And his reflections ran like this. "What a headpiece mamma has! But it did not strike her he would come to me first. Yet how plain that looks now: for of course I'm the duffer's only clue to Julia. These madmen are no fools, though. And how quiet he was that night! And he made papa go down the ladder first: that was the old Alfred Hardie; he was always generous: vain, overhearing, saucy, but noble with it all. I liked him: he was a man that showed you his worst, and let you find his best out by degrees. He hated to be beat: but that's no crime. He was a beautiful oar, and handled his mawleys uncommon; he sparred with all the prizefighters that came to Oxford, and took punishment better than you would think; and a wonderful quick hitter; Alec Reed owned that. Poor Taff Hardie! And when I think that God has overthrown his powerful mind, and left me mine, such as it is! But the worst is my having gone on calling him 'the Wretch' all this time: and nothing too bad for him. I ought to be ashamed of myself. It grieves me very much. 'When found make a note on;' never judge a fellow behind his back again.
Arrived at the station, he inquired whether his friend had called again, and was answered in the negative. He waited a few minutes, and then, with the superintendent's permission, wrote a note to Alfred, inviting him to dine at Simpson's at six, and left it with the fireman. This done, he was about to return home, when another thought struck him. He got a messenger, and sent off a single line to Dr. Wolf, to tell him Alfred Hardie would be at Simpson's at seven o clock.
But, when the messenger was gone, he regretted what he had done. He had done it for Alfred's good; but still it was treason. He felt unhappy, and wended his way homeward disconsolately, realising more and more that he had not brains for the difficulties imposed upon him.
On entering Pembroke Street he heard a buzz. He looked up, and saw a considerable crowd collected in a semicircle. "Why that is near our house," he said, and quickened his steps.
When he got near he saw that all the people's eyes were bent on No. 66.
He dashed into the crowd. "What on earth is the matter?" he cried.
"The matter? Plenty's the matter, young man," cried one.
"Murder's the matter," said another.
At that he turned pale as death. An intelligent man saw his violent agitation, and asked him hurriedly if he belonged to the house.
"Yes. For mercy's sake, what is it?"
"Make way there!" shouted the man. "He belongs. Sir, a madman has broke loose and got into your house. And I'm sorry to say he has just killed two men."
"With a pistol," cried several voices, speaking together.