Read CHAPTER XX. - ISABEL’S REVENGE. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

When all was over, and the book signed, Isabel walked across to Mr. Rogers and held out her hand.

“You have been a good friend to me to-night.  God will surely bless you for what you have done.”  She paused, with heightened colour.

Mr. Rogers awkwardly stammered that he hoped she wouldn’t mention it.  But if the speech was inadequate, his action made up for it.  He took her hand and kissed it respectfully.

It seemed that she had more to say.  “I have still another favour to ask,” she went on ­I have heard since that a woman always keeps some tenderness for an honest man who has once wooed her, however decidedly she may have said “no.”  Isabel’s smile was at once tender and anxious; but it drew no response from Mr. Rogers, who had let drop her fingers and stood now with eyes uncomfortably averted.

“I want a wedding gift,” said she.

“Eh?” He turned a flushed face and perceived that she was pointing at Leicester.

“I want this man from you.  Will you give him to me?”

“For what?”

“You shall see.”  She knelt at the prisoner’s feet and began to unbuckle the strap about his ankles; shrinking a little at first at the touch of him, but resolutely conquering her disgust.

Mr. Rogers put down a hand to prevent her.

“You never mean to set him free?”

“That is what I ask,” she answered, with an upturned look of appeal.

“My dear Miss Brooks,” he said, inadvertently using her maiden name, “I am sorry ­no, that’s a lie ­I am jolly glad to say that it can’t be done.”

“Why?  Against whom else has he sinned, to injure them?”

“Against a good many, even if we put it on that ground only.  Besides, he’ll have to answer another charge altogether.”

“What charge?”

“Of having murdered the Jew Rodriguez.  Did I not tell you that we found marked money in his pocket?”

“But he never took that money from Mr. Rodriguez?”

Mr. Rogers shrugged his shoulders.  “That’s for him to prove.”

“But we know he did not,” Isabel insisted, and turned to me.  “He never took that money from Mr. Rodriguez?”

“No,” said I; “it was given him last night by Mr. Whitmore in Miss Belcher’s shrubbery.”

“He is not guilty of this murder?”

“No,” said I again, “I think not:  indeed, I am sure he is not.”  I glanced at Archibald Plinlimmon who had been standing with eyes downcast and gloomy, studying the dim pattern of the carpet at his feet.  He looked up now:  his face had grown resolute.

“No,” he echoed in a strained voice; “he had nothing to do with the murder.”

“Why, what on earth do you know?” cried Mr. Rogers, and Isabel, too, bent back on her knees and gazed on him amazedly.

“I was there.”

Where, in Heaven’s name?”

“On the roof outside the garret.  I looked in and saw the body lying.”

“You were on the roof ­you looked in and saw the body ­” Mr. Rogers repeated the words stupidly, automatically, searching for speech of his own.  “Man alive, how came you on the roof?  What were you doing there?”

“We were billeted three doors away,” said Archibald, and paused.  “I can tell you no more just now.”

“’We’?”

“That man and I.”  He pointed at Leicester.

“And you looked in.  What else did you see?” Mr. Rogers’s voice was sharp.

“That I cannot tell you.”

“The murderer?”

“No:  not the murderer,” he answered slowly.

“Then what?  Whom?”

“I have said that I cannot tell you.”

“But he can, sir!” I cried recklessly.  “He saw me!  I had just found the body and was standing beside it when he looked in.”  I stopped, panting.  It seemed as if all the breath in me had escaped for the moment with my confession.

Mr. Rogers turned from me to Archibald.  “I think I see.  You supposed the boy to be guilty, and helped him to get away.”

“No,” answered Archibald, “I did not think him guilty.  I did not know what to think.  And it was he who helped me to get away.”

“Why should he help you to get away?”

“I will tell that ­but not to you.  I will tell it to my wife.”

Isabel had risen from her knees.  She went to him and would have taken his hand.  “Not yet,” he said hoarsely, and turned from her.

Mr. Rogers eyed the Rector in despair.  But the Rector merely shook his head.

“But confound it all!  Where’s the murderer, in all this?”

“Sakes alive!  Isn’t that as clear as daylight?” interjected Miss Belcher.  “Didn’t I let him out of the window more than an hour ago?  And isn’t Hodgson foundering my mare at this moment in chase of him?  See here, Jack,” she went on judicially, “you’ve played one or two neat strokes to-night:  but one or two neat strokes don’t make a professional.  You’ll have to give up this justicing.  You’ve no head for it.”

“Indeed?” retorted Mr. Rogers.  “Then since it seems you see deeper into this business than most of us, perhaps you’ll favour us with your advice.”

“With all the pleasure in life, my son,” said the lady.  “I can see holes in a ladder:  but I don’t look deep into a brick wall, for the reason that I don’t try.  There’s some secret between Mr. Plinlimmon and this boy.  What it is I don’t know, and you don’t know:  and I’ve yet to discover that ’tis any business of ours.  All I care to hear about it is that Mr. Plinlimmon means to tell his wife, for which I commend him.  Now you don’t propose to make out a warrant against him, I take it?  As for the boy, he’s done us more services to-night than we can count on our fingers.  He’s saved more than one, and more than two, of us here, let alone five couples married by Whitmore in the four months he was curate.  Reckon them in, please, and their children to come.  Ah, my dear,” she laid a hand on Isabel’s shoulder.  “I know what I’m speaking of!  He has ended a scandal for the Rector, and in time for the mischief to be repaired.  He has even saved that dirty scoundrel there, if it helps a man on Judgment Day that his villainies have miscarried.  Well then, what about the boy?  There’s a hue-and-cry after him; but you can’t give him up.  Let alone the manner of your meeting him ­that business of the bonfire ­and a pretty tale ’twould make against a Justice of the Peace ­”

“I never gave that a thought, Lydia,” Mr. Rogers protested.

“I know you didn’t, my lad:  that’s why I mentioned it.  Well, letting that alone, how are you to give the child up?  You can’t.  You know you can’t.  We’ve to hide him now, though it cost your commission.  Eh? to be sure we must.  Give him up?  Pretty gratitude indeed, and what next, I wonder!”

“I never thought of giving him up.”

“I know you didn’t, again:  but I’m combing out your brains for you, if you’ll only stand quiet and not interrupt.  Keep your mind fixed on Whitmore.  Whitmore’s your man.  If Hodgson catches him ­”

“If Hodgson catches him, he’ll be charged with the murder.  I’ve the warrant in my pocket.  Then how are we to hide the boy, or keep any silence on what has happened here to-night?”

“Ye dunderhead!” Miss Belcher stamped her foot.  “What in the name of fortune have we to do with the murder?  If Hodgson catches him, he’ll be charged with forging the Bishop of Exeter’s licence:  that’s to say with a crime he’s already confessed to you.  If you want to hang him, that’ll do it.  You don’t want to hang him twice over, do you?  And I don’t reckon he’ll be so anxious to be hanged twice that he’ll confess to a murder for the fun of the thing.  If you say nothing, he’ll say nothing.  Upon my word you seem to have that Jew on the brain!  Who made out the warrant?”

“I, of course.”

“Then keep it in your pocket:  and when you get home, burn it.  It beats me to think why you can’t let that murder alone.  Rodriguez was no friend of yours, was he?  You can’t bring him to life again, can you?  And what’s your evidence?  A couple of marked coins?  Barring us few here, who knows of them?  Nobody.  Barring us few here, who knows a whisper beside, to connect Whitmore with the murder?  Nobody again.  Very well, then:  you came here to-night to expose Whitmore as a false priest and a forger.  You took the villain on the hop, and he confessed:  so the boy’s evidence is not needed.  Having confessed, he made his escape.  You can say, if you will, that I helped him.  That’s all you need remember, and what more d’ye want?  It’s odds against Hodgson catching him.  It’s all Lombard Street to a china orange against his bothering you, if caught, with any plea but Guilty.”  She ceased, panting with her flow of words.

“Well, but about this Leicester?” Mr. Rogers objected.

“What about him?  Let him go.  Isabel was right in begging him off ­ though you did it, my dear, for other reasons than mine:  but when the heart’s right, God bless you, it usually speaks common sense.  Let him go.  D’ye want to hang him?  He’s ugly enough, but I don’t see how you’re to do it, unless first of all you catch Whitmore and then force him to turn cat-in-the-pan, at the risk of his talking too much and with the certainty of dragging Isabel into the exposure.  Even so, I doubt you’ll get evidence.  This man is a deal too shrewd to have done any of the forging himself.  If Whitmore had known enough to hang him, Whitmore wouldn’t have gone in awe of him.  And what Whitmore don’t know, Whitmore can’t tell.”

All this while the prisoner had kept absolute silence; had stood motionless, except that his eyes turned from one speaker to another, and now and then seemed to seek Archibald Plinlimmon’s ­who, however, refused to return the look.  But now he twisted his battered mouth into something like an appreciative grin.

“Bravo, Madam!” said he.  “You’ve the wits of the company, if you’ll take my compliments.”

“I misdoubt they’re interested ones,” she answered drily, and so addressed herself again to Mr. Rogers.  “Let the man go:  you’ve drawn his sting.  If ever he opens his mouth on to-night’s work, we’ve a plum or two to pop into it.  If Mr. Plinlimmon chooses to take him at the door and horsewhip him, I say nothing against it.  Indeed he’s welcome to the loan of my hunting-crop.”

“But no,” put in Isabel quickly, and knelt again; “my husband will not hurt where I have pardoned!” Rapidly she unloosed the strap about Leicester’s ankles and stood up.  “Now hold out your hands,” she said.

He held them out.  She looked him in the face, and a sudden tide of shame forced her to cover her own.  In the silence her husband stepped to her side.  His eyes were steady upon Leicester now.

“How could you?  How could you?” she murmured.

Then, dragging ­as it were ­her hands down to the task, she unbuckled the strap around his wrist and pointed to the door.

Said Miss Belcher, “So two women have shown you mercy to-night, George Leicester!”

He went, without any swagger.  His face was white.  Miss Belcher and the Rector drew back as though he carried a disease, and let him pass.  At the door he turned and his eyes, with a kind of miserable raillery in them, challenged Archibald Plinlimmon.

“Yes, you are right.”  The young man took a step towards him.  “Between us two there is a word to be said.”  He turned on us abruptly.  “I have been afraid of that man ­yes, afraid.  To say this out, and before Isabel, costs me more courage than to thrash him.  Through fear of him I have been a villain.  Worse wrong than I did to my wife ­worse in its consequences ­I could not do:  you know it, all of you; and I must go now and tell it to her father.  I did it unknowingly, by this man’s contrivance; but not in any fear of him.  What I did in fear, and knowingly, was worse in another way ­worse in intention.  I tell you that but for an accident I might ­I might have ­” He stammered and came to a halt.  “No, I cannot tell it yet,” he muttered half defiantly, with a shy look at the Rector.  “But this I can tell” ­and his voice rose ­“that no fear of him stays me.  You?  I have your secret now.  You have none of mine I dare not meet.  You may go:  you have my wife’s pardon, it seems.  I do not understand it, but you have mine ­with this caution.  You are my superior officer.  If to-morrow, outside of the ranks, you dare to say a word to me, I promise to strike you on the mouth before the regiment, and afterwards to tell the whole truth of us both, and take what punishment may befall.”

So he too pointed towards the door.  Leicester bowed and went from us into the night.

“That’s all very well,” groaned Mr. Rogers, “but I’ll have to resign my commission of the peace.”

“If it’s retiring from active service you mean,” said Miss Belcher cheerfully, “that’s what I began by advising.  But stick to the title, Jack:  you adorn it ­indeed you do.  And for my part,” she wound up, “I think you’ve done mighty well to-night, considering.”

“I’ve let one villain escape, you mean, and t’other go scot free.”

“And the nuisance of it is,” said she with a broadening smile, “I shan’t be able to congratulate you in public.”

“Well” ­Mr. Rogers regained his cheerfulness as he eyed his knuckles ­“we’ve let a deal of villainy loose on the world:  but I got in once with the left, and that must be my consolation.  What are we to do with this boy?”

“Hide him.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Not a bit.”  Miss Belcher turned to me.  “Have you any friends, boy, who will be worrying if we keep you a few days?”

“None, ma’am,” said I, and thereby in my haste did much injustice to the excellent Mr. and Mrs. Trapp.

“Eh?  You have the world before you?  Then maybe you’re luckier than you think, my lad.  What would you like to be?  A sailor, now?  I can get you shipped across to Guernsey to-morrow, if you say the word.”

“That would do very well, ma’am:  but if you ask me to choose ­”

“I do.”

“Then I’ll choose to be a soldier,” said I stoutly.

“H’m!  You’ll have to grow to it.”

“I could start as a drummer, ma’am.”  The drum in Major Brooks’s summer-house had put that into my head.

“My father can manage it, I am sure!” cried Isabel.  “And meanwhile let him come back to the Cottage.  No one will think of searching for him there:  and to-night, when I have spoken to my father ­”

“You will speak to your father to-night?”

Isabel glanced at her bridegroom, who nodded.  “To-night,” said he firmly.  “We sail to-morrow.”

Miss Belcher wagged her head at him.  “I had my doubts of you, young man.  You’ve been a fool:  but I’ve a notion you’ll do, yet.”

“Good-night, then!” Isabel went to her and held up her cheek to be kissed.

“Eh?  Not a bit of it!  I’m coming with you.  Don’t stare at me now ­ I’ve a word to say, and I think maybe ’twill help.”

We left the Rector and Mr. Rogers to their task of overhauling the house while they sat up on the chance of Hodgson’s returning with Whitmore or with news of him:  and trooped up the lane and down across the park to Minden Cottage.

“Take the child to bed,” said Miss Belcher, as we reached the door:  and so to my room Isabel conducted me, the others waiting below.

She lit my candles and kissed me.  “You won’t forget your prayers to-night, Harry?  And say a prayer for me:  I shall need it, though I have more call to thank God for sending you.”

A minute later I heard her tap on her father’s door.  He was awake and dressed, apparently ­for it seemed at any rate but a moment later that her voice was guiding his blind footsteps by whispers down the stairs.  Had I guessed more of the ordeal before her, my eyes had closed less easily than they did.  As it was, I tumbled into bed and slept almost as soon as my head touched the pillow.

I had forgotten to blow out the candles, and they were but half burnt, yet extinguished, when I awoke from a dream that Isabel was kneeling beside me in their dim light to find her standing at the bed’s foot in a fresh print gown and the room filled again with sunshine.  Her eyes were red.  Poor soul! she had but an hour before said good-bye to Archibald; and Spain and its battlefields lay before him, and between their latest kiss and their next ­if another there might be.  Yet she smiled bravely, telling me that all was well, and that her father would be ready for me in the summer-house.

Major Brooks, when I found him there, made no allusion to the events of the night.  His face was mild and grave as at our first meeting.  At the sound of my footsteps he picked up his Virgil and motioned me to be seated.

“Let me see,” he began:  “liquidi fontes, was it not?” ­and forthwith began to dictate at his accustomed pace.

    “But seek a green-moss’d pool, with well-spring nigh,
     And through the grass a streamlet fleeting by. 
     The porch with palm or oleaster shade ­
     That when the regents from the hive parade
     Its gilded youth, in Spring ­their Spring! ­to prank,
     To woo their holiday heat a neighbouring bank
     May lean with branches hospitably cool. 
     And midway, be your water stream or pool,
     Cross willow-twigs, and massy boulders fling ­
     A line of stations for the halting wing
     To dry in summer sunshine, has it shipped
     A cupful aft, or deep in Neptune dipped. 
        Plant cassias green around, thyme redolent,
        Full-flowering succory with heavy scent,
     And violet-beds to drink the channel’d stream. 
     And let your hives (sewn concave, seam to seam,
     Of cork; or of the supple osier twined)
     Have narrow entrances; for frosts will bind
     Honey as hard as dog-days run it thin: 
      ­In bees’ abhorrence each extrême’s akin. 
     Not purposeless they vie with wax to paste
     Their narrow cells, and choke the crannies fast
     With pollen, or that gum specific which
     Out-binds or birdlime or Idxan pitch ­”

­And so on, and so on, until midday arrived, and Isabel with the claret and biscuits.  She lingered while he ate:  and when he had done he shut his Virgil, saying (in a tone which, though studiously kind, told me that she was not wholly forgiven): 

“Take the drum, Isabel, and give the lad his first lesson.  It will not disturb me.”

She choked down a sob, passed the drum to me, and put the drumsticks into my hands.  And so by signs rather than by words, she began to teach me; scarcely letting me tap the vellum, but instructing me rather how to hold the sticks and move my wrists.  So quiet were we that the old man by and by dropped asleep:  and then, as she taught, her tears flowed.

This was the first of many lessons; for I spent a full fortnight at Minden Cottage, free of its ample walled garden, but never showing my face in the high road or at the windows looking upon it.  I learned from Isabel that Whitmore had not been found, and that Archibald and his regiment had sailed for Lisbon.  Sometimes Miss Belcher or Mr. Rogers paid us a visit, and once the two together:  and always they held long talks with the Major in his summer-house.  But they never invited me to be present at these interviews.

So the days slipped away and I almost forgot my fears, nor speculated how or when the end would come.  My elders were planning this for me, and meanwhile life, if a trifle dull, was pleasant enough.  What vexed me was the old man’s obdurate politeness towards Isabel, and her evident distress.  It angered me the more that, when she was not by he gave never a sign that he brooded on what had befallen, but went on placidly polishing his petty and (to me) quite uninteresting verses.

But there came an evening when we finished the Fourth Georgic together.

    “Of tillage, timber, herds, and hives, thus far
     My trivial lay ­while Cæsar thunders war
     To deep Euphrates, conquers, pacifies,
     Twice wins the world and now attempts the skies. 
        Pardon thy Virgil that Parthenope
     Sufficed a poor tame scholar, who on thee
     Whilom his boyish pastoral pipe essayed,
      ­Thee, Tityrus, beneath the beechen shade.”

He closed the book.

“Lord Wellington is not a Cæsar,” he said and paused, musing:  then, in a low voice, “Parthenope ­Parthenope ­and to-morrow ’Arms and the man.’  Boy,” said he sharply, “we do not translate the Aeneid.”

“No, sir?”

“Mr. Rogers calls for you to-night.  A draft of the 52nd Regiment sails from Plymouth to-morrow.  You will find, when you join it in Spain, that ­that my son-in-law” ­he hesitated and spoke the word with a certain prim deliberateness ­“has been gazetted to an ensigncy in that gallant regiment.  I may tell you that he owes this to no intervention of mine, but solely to the generosity of Miss Belcher.  Before departing ­I will do him so much justice ­he spoke to me very frankly of his past, and for my daughter’s sake and his father’s I trust that, as under Providence you were an instrument in averting its consequences, so you may sound him yet to some action which, whether he lives or falls, may redeem it.  Mr. Rogers will sup with us to-night.  If I mistake not, I hear his wheels on the road.”  He drew himself up to his full height and bowed.  “You have done a service, boy, to the honour of two families.  I thank you for it, and shall not omit to remember you daily when I thank God.  Shall we go in?”

I had, as I said just now, almost forgotten my fears of the Law:  but that the Law had not relaxed its interest in me was evident from my friends’ precautions.  Night had fallen before Mr. Rogers rose from table and gave the word for departure, and after exchanging some formal farewells with Major Brooks, and some very tender ones with Isabel, I was packed in the tilbury and driven off into darkness in which the world seemed uncomfortably large and vague and my prospects disconcertingly ill lit.

“D’ye know what that is?” asked Mr. Rogers at the end of five minutes, pulling up his mare and jerking his whip towards a splash of white beside the road.

“No, sir.”

He pulled a rein, and brought the light of the offside lamp to bear on a milestone with a bill pasted upon it.

“A full, particular, and none too flattering description of you, my lad, with an offer of twenty pounds.  And I’m a Justice of the Peace!  Cl’k, lass!”

On went the mare; and I, who had been feeling like a needle in a bundle of hay, now shrank down within my wraps as though the night had a thousand eyes.

We reached the village of Anthony:  and here, instead of holding on for Torpoint and the ferry, Mr. Rogers struck aside into a lane on our right, so steep and narrow that he alighted and led the mare down, holding one of the lamps to guide her as she picked her steps.

The lane ended beside a sheet of water, pitch-black under the shadow of a wooded shore, and glimmering beyond it with the reflections of a few stars.  Mr. Rogers gave a whistle; and a soft whistle answered him.  I heard a boat’s nose grate on the shingle and take ground.

“All right, Sergeant?”

“Right, sir.  Got the boy?”

“Climb down, Harry,” whispered Mr. Rogers.  “Shake hands and good luck to you!”

I was given a hand over the bows by a man whose face I could not see.  The boat was full of men, and one dark figure handed me to another till I reached the stern-sheets.

“Give way, lads!” called a voice beside me, as the bow-man pushed us off.  We were travelling fast when at a bend of the creek a line of lights shot into view ­innumerable small sparks clustered low on the water ahead and shining steadily across it.  I knew them at once.  They were the lights of Plymouth Dock.

“Where are you taking me?” I cried.

“That’s no question for a soldier,” said a voice which I recognised as the sergeant’s.  And one or two of the crew laughed.