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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V3 - 2/31 -
BASCOMBE AND THE MAGISTRATE.
After dinner, the cousins went to the summer-house, and there George gave Helen his report, revealing his plan and hope for Leopold.
"Such fancies must be humoured, you know, Helen. There is nothing to be gained by opposing them," he said.
Helen looked at him with keen eyes, and he returned the gaze. The confidence betwixt them was not perfect: each was doubtful as to the thought of the other, and neither asked what it was.
"A fine old cock is Mr. Hooker!" said Greorge; "a jolly, good-natured, brick-faced squire; a tory of course, and a sound church-man; as simple as a baby, and took everything I told him without a hint of doubt or objection;--just the sort of man I expected to find him! When I mentioned my name, &c., he found he had known my father, and that gave me a good start. Then I lauded his avenue, and apologized for troubling him so early and on Sunday too, but said it was a pure work of mercy in which I begged his assistance--as a magistrate, I added, lest he should fancy I had come after a subscription. It was a very delicate case, I said, in which were concerned the children of a man of whom he had, I believed, at one time known something--General Lingard. 'To be sure!' he cried; 'knew him very well; a fine fellow--but hasty, sir--hasty in his temper!' I said I had never known him myself, but one of his children was my cousin; the other was the child of his second wife, a Hindoo lady unfortunately, and it was about him I presumed to trouble him. Then I plunged into the matter at once, telling him that Leopold had had violent brain-fever, brought on by a horrible drug, the use of which, if use I dare call it, he had learnt in India; and that, although he had recovered from the fever, it was very doubtful if ever he would recover from the consequences of it, for that he had become the prey of a fixed idea, the hard deposit from a heated imagination. 'And pray what is the idea?'he asked. 'Neither more nor less,' I answered, 'than that he is a murderer!'--'God bless me!' he cried, somewhat to my alarm, for I had been making all this preamble to prejudice the old gentleman in the right direction, lest afterwards Leopold's plausibility might be too much for him. So I echoed the spirit of his exclamation, declaring it was one of the saddest things I had ever known, that a fellow of such sweet and gentle nature, one utterly incapable of unkindness, not to say violence, should be so possessed by misery and remorse for a phantom-deed, no more his than if he had dreamed it, a thing he not only did not do, but never could have done. I had not yet however told him, I said, what was perhaps the saddest point in the whole sad story--namely, that the attack had been brought on by the news of the actual murder of a lady to whom he had been passionately attached; the horror of it had unhinged his reason, then turned and fastened upon his imagination; so that he was now convinced beyond the reach of argument or even the clearest proof, that it was his own hand that drove the knife to her heart. Then I recalled to his memory the case as reported, adding that the fact of the murderer's prolonged evasion of justice, appeared, by some curious legerdemain of his excited fancy, if not to have suggested-- of that I was doubtful--yet to have ripened his conviction of guilt. Now nothing would serve him but he must give himself up, confess--no, that was not a true word in his case!--accuse himself of the crime, and meet his fate on the gallows,--'in the hope, observe, my dear sir,' I said, 'of finding her in the other world, and there making it up with her!'--'God bless me!' he cried again, in a tone of absolute horror. And every now and then, while I spoke, he would ejaculate something; and still as he listened his eyes grew more and more bloodshot with interest and compassion. 'Ah, I see!' he said then; 'you want to send him to a madhouse?--Don't do it,' he continued, in a tone of expostulation, almost entreaty. 'Poor boy! He may get over it. Let his friends look to him. He has a sister, you say?' I quickly reassured him, telling him such was no one's desire, and saying I would come to the point in a moment, only there was one thing more which had interested me greatly, as revealing how a brain in such a condition will befool itself, all but generating two individualities.--There I am afraid I put my foot in it, but he was far too simple to see it was cloven--ha! ha! and I hastened to remark that, as a magistrate, he must have numberless opportunities of noting similar phenomena. He waved his hand in deprecation, and I hastened to remark that, up to a certain point, whatever hint the newspapers had given, Leopold had expanded and connected with every other, but that at one part of the story I had found him entirely at fault: he could not tell what he did, where he went, or how he had felt, first after the deed was done. He confessed all after that was a blank until he found himself in bed. But when I told him something he had not seen--which his worship might remember--the testimony namely of the coast-guardsmen--about the fishing-boat with the two men in it--I had here to refresh his memory as to the whole of that circumstance--and did so by handing him the newspaper containing it--that was what I made you give me the paper for--I have lost the thread of my sentence, but never mind. I told him then something I have not told you yet, Helen, namely, that when I happened to allude to that portion of the story, Leopold started up with flashing eyes, and exclaimed, 'Now I remember! It all comes back to me as clear as day. I remember running down the hill, and jumping into the boat just as they shoved off. I was exhausted, and fell down in the stern. When I came to myself, the two men were forward: I saw their legs beneath the sails. I thought they would be sure to give me up, and at once I slipped overboard. The water revived me, but when I reached the shore, I fell down again, and lay there I don't know how long. Indeed I don't remember anything more except very confusedly.' That is what Leopold said, and what I now told Mr. Hooker. Then at last I opened my mind to him as to wherein I ventured to ask his assistance; and my petition was, that he would allow me to bring Leopold, and would let him go through the form of giving himself up to justice. Especially I begged that he would listen to all he had to say, and give no sign that he doubted his story. 'And then, sir,' I concluded, 'I would leave it to you to do what we cannot--reconcile him to going home instead of to prison.'
"He sat with his head on his hand for a while, as if pondering some weighty question of law. Then he said suddenly: 'It is now almost church-time. I will think the matter over. You may rely upon me. Will you take a seat in my pew and dine with us after?' I excused myself on the ground that I must return at once to poor Leopold, who was anxiously looking for me. And you must forgive me, Helen, and not fancy me misusing Fanny, if I did yield to the temptation of a little longer ride. I have scarcely more than walked her, with a canter now and then when we had the chance of a bit of turf."
Helen assured him with grateful eyes that she knew Fanny was as safe with him as with herself; and she felt such a gush of gratitude follow the revival of hope, that she was nearer being in love with her cousin to ever before. Her gratitude inwardly delighted George, and he thought the light in her blue eyes lovelier than ever; but although strougly tempted, he judged it better to delay a formal confession until circumstances should be more comfortable.
All that and the following day Leopold was in spirits for him wonderful. On Monday night there came a considerable reaction; he was dejected, worn, and weary. Twelve o'clock the next day was the hour appointed for their visit to Mr. Hooker, and at eleven he was dressed and ready--restless, agitated, and very pale, but not a whit less determined than at first. A drive was the pretext for borrowing Mrs. Ramshorn's carriage.
"Why is Mr. Wingfold not coming?" asked Lingard, anxiously, when it began to move.
"I fancy we shall be quite as comfortable without him, Poldie," said Helen. "Did you expect him?"
"He promised to go with me. But he hasn't called since the time was fixed."--Here Helen looked out of the window.--"I can't think why it is. I can do my duty without him though," continued Leopold, "and perhaps it is just as well.--Do you know, George, since I made up my mind, I have seen her but once, and that was last night, and only in a dream."
"A state of irresolution is one peculiarly open to unhealthy impressions," said George, good-naturedly disposing of his long legs so that they should be out of the way.
Leopold turned from him to his sister.
"The strange thing, Helen," he said, "was that I did not feel the least afraid of her, or even abashed before her. 'I see you,' I said. 'Be at peace. I am coming; and you shall do to me what you will.' And then--what do you think?--O my God! she smiled one of her own old smiles, only sad too, very sad, and vanished. I woke, and she seemed only to have just left the room, for there was a stir in the darkness.--Do you believe in ghosts, George?"
Leopold was not one of George's initiated, I need hardly say.
"No," answered Bascombe.
"I don't wonder. I can't blame you, for neither did I once. But just wait till you have made one, George!"
"God forbid!" exclaimed Bascombe, a second time forgetting himself.
"Amen!" said Leopold: "for after that there's no help but be one yourself, you know."
"If he would only talk like that to old Hooker!" thought George. "It would go a long way to forestall any possible misconception of the case."
"I can't think why Mr. Wingfold did not come yesterday," resumed Leopold. "I made sure he would."
"Now, Poldie, you mustn't talk," said Helen, "or you'll be exhausted before we get to Mr. Hooker's."
"She did not wish the non-appearance of the curate on Monday to be
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