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- David Poindexter's Disappearance and Other Tales - 1/21 -






Among the records of the English state trials are to be found many strange stories, which would, as the phrase is, make the fortune of a modern novelist. But there are also numerous cases, not less stimulating to imagination and curiosity, which never attained more than local notoriety, of which the law was able to take but comparatively small cognizance, although they became subjects of much unofficial discussion and mystification. Among these cases none, perhaps, is better worth recalling than that of David Poindexter. It will be my aim here to tell the tale as simply and briefly as possible --to repeat it, indeed, very much as it came to my ears while living, several years ago, near the scene in which its events took place. There is a temptation to amplify it, and to give it a more recent date and a different setting; but (other considerations aside) the story might lose in force and weight more than it would thereby gain in artistic balance and smoothness.

David Poindexter was a younger son of an old and respected family in Sussex, England. He was born in London in 1785. He was educated at Oxford, with a view to his entering the clerical profession, and in the year 1810 he obtained a living in the little town of Witton, near Twickenham, known historically as the home of Sir John Suckling. The Poindexters had been much impoverished by the excesses of David's father and grandfather, and David seems to have had few or no resources beyond the very modest stipend appertaining to his position. He was, at all events, poor, though possessed of capacities which bade fair to open to him some of the higher prizes of his calling; but, on the other hand, there is evidence that he chafed at his poverty, and reason to believe that he had inherited no small share of the ill-regulated temperament which had proved so detrimental to the elder generations of his family.

Personally he was a man of striking aspect, having long, dark hair, heavily-marked eyebrows, and blue eyes; his mouth and chin were graceful in contour, but wanting in resolution; his figure was tall, well knit, and slender. He was an eloquent preacher, and capable, when warmed by his subject, of powerfully affecting the emotions of his congregation. He was a great favorite with women--whom, however, he uniformly treated with coldness--and by no means unpopular with men, toward some of whom he manifested much less reserve. Nevertheless, before the close of the second year of his incumbency he was known to be paying his addresses to a young lady of the neighborhood, Miss Edith Saltine, the only child of an ex-army officer. The colonel was a widower, and in poor health, and since he was living mainly on his half-pay, and had very little to give his daughter, the affair was looked upon as a love match, the rather since Edith was a handsome young woman of charming character. The Reverend David Poindexter certainly had every appearance of being deeply in love; and it is often seen that the passions of reserved men, when once aroused, are stronger than those of persons more generally demonstrative.

Colonel Saltine did not at first receive his proposed son-in-law with favor. He was a valetudinarian, and accustomed to regard his daughter as his nurse by right, and he resented the idea of her leaving him forlorn for the sake of a good-looking parson. It is very likely that his objections might have had the effect of breaking off the match, for his daughter was devotedly attached to him, and hardly questioned his right to dispose of her as he saw fit; but after a while the worthy gentleman seems to have thought better of his contrariness. Poindexter had strong persuasive powers, and no doubt made himself personally agreeable to the colonel, and, moreover, it was arranged that the latter should occupy the same house with Mr. and Mrs. Poindexter after they were married. Nevertheless, the colonel was not a man to move rapidly, and the engagement had worn along for nearly a year without the wedding-day having been fixed. One winter evening in the early part of December, Poindexter dined with the colonel and Edith, and as the gentlemen were sitting over their wine the lover spoke on the topic that was uppermost in his thoughts, and asked his host whether there was any good reason why the marriage should not be consummated at once.

"Christmas is at hand," the young man remarked; "why should it not be rendered doubly memorable by granting this great boon?"

"For a parson, David, you are a deuced impatient man," the colonel said.

"Parsons are human," the other exclaimed with warmth.

"Humph! I suppose some of them are. In fact, David, if I didn't believe that there was something more in you than texts and litanies and the Athanasian creed, I'll be hanged if I'd ever have let you look twice at Edith. That girl has got blood in her veins, David; she's not to be thrown away on any lantern-jawed, white-livered doctor of souls, I can tell you."

David held his head down, and seemed not to intend a reply; but he suddenly raised his eyes, and fixed them upon the colonel's. "You know what my father was," he said, in a low, distinct voice; "I am my father's son."

"That idea has occurred to me more than once, David, and to say the truth, I've liked you none the less for it. But, then, what the deuce should a fellow like you want to do in a pulpit? I respect the cloth as much as any man, I hope, but leaving theory aside, and coming down to practice, aren't there fools and knaves enough in the world to carry on that business, without a fellow of heart and spirit like you going into it?"

"Theory or no theory, there have been as great men in the pulpit as in any other position," said David, gloomily.

"I don't say to the contrary: ecclesiastical history, and all that: but what I do say is, if a man is great in the pulpit, it's a pity he isn't somewhere else, where he could use his greatness to more advantage."

"Well," remarked David, in the same somber tone, "I am not contented: so much I can admit to the father of the woman I love. But you know as well as I do that men nowadays are called to my profession not so much by the Divine summons as by the accident of birth. Were it not for the law of primogeniture, Colonel Saltine, the Church of England would be, for the most part, a congregation without a clergyman."

"Gad! I'm much of your opinion," returned the colonel, with a grin; "but there are two doors, you know, for a second son to enter the world by. If he doesn't fancy a cassock, he can put on His Majesty's uniform."

"Neither the discipline nor the activity of a soldier's life would suit me," David answered. "So far as I know my own nature, what it craves is freedom, and the enjoyment of its capacities. Only under such conditions could I show what I am capable of. In other words," he added, with a short laugh, "ten thousand a year is the profession I should choose."

"Ah," murmured the colonel, heaving a sigh, "I doubt that's a profession we'd all of us like to practice as well as preach. What! no more wine? Oh, ay, Edith, of course! Well, go to her, sir, if you must; but when you come to my age you'll have found out which wears the best --woman or the bottle. I'll join you presently, and maybe we'll see what can be done about this marrying business."

So David went to Edith, and they had a clear hour together before they heard the colonel's slippered tread hobbling through the hall. Just before he opened the door, David had said: "I sometimes doubt whether you wholly love me, after all." And she had answered:

"If I do not, it is because I sometimes feel as if you were not your real self."

The colonel heard nothing of this odd bit of dialogue; but when he had subsided, with his usual grunt, into his arm-chair beside the fire- place, and Edith had brought him his foot-stool and his pipe, and pat the velvet skull cap on his bald pate, he drew a long whiff of tobacco smoke, and said:

"If you young folks want to set up housekeeping a month from to-day, you can do it, for all I care."

Little did any one of the three suspect what that month was destined to bring forth.

David Poindexter's father had been married twice, his second wife dying within a year of her wedding-day, and two weeks after bringing David into the world. This lady, whose maiden name was Lambert, had a brother who was a gentleman farmer, and a tolerably successful one. His farm was situated in the parish of Witton, and he owned a handsome house on the outskirts of the town itself. He and David's father had been at one time great friends, insomuch that David was named after him, and Lambert, as his godfather as well as uncle, presented the child with the usual silver mug. Lambert was never known to have married, but there were rumors, dating as far as back David's earliest recollections, to the effect that he had entertained a secret and obscure passion for some foreign woman of great beauty, but of doubtful character and antecedents. Nobody could be found who had ever seen this woman, or would accept the responsibility of asserting that she actually existed; but she afforded a convenient means of accounting for many things that seemed mysterious in Mr. Lambert's conduct. At length, when David was about eight years old, his godfather left England abruptly, and without telling any one whither he was going or when he would return. As a matter of fact he never did return, nor had any certain news ever been heard of him since his departure. Neither his house nor his farm was ever sold, however, though they were rented to more than one tenant during a number of years. It was said, also, that

David Poindexter's Disappearance and Other Tales - 1/21

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