Read CHAPTER XXXVI - CRAMPTON REPORTS PROGRESS. of Of High Descent , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“Yes,” said Dr Knatchbull, confidently; “he will get over it, now.  Can’t say,” he said, rubbing his hands in his satisfaction, “whether it’s the doctor’s physic, or the patient’s physique, but one of them has worked wonders.  What do you say, Miss Van Heldre?”

“That we can never be sufficiently grateful to you.”

“Never,” cried Mrs Van Heldre, wringing his hand.

“Bah!” exclaimed the doctor, “that’s what you people say now that you have got to the turn; but by and by when I send in my bill ­and I mean to make this a pretty stiff one, Mrs Van Heldre ­you will all be as grumpy as possible, and think it a terrible overcharge.”

“Well, really, Dr Knatchbull,” began Mrs Van Heldre, ruffling up like an aggravated hen, “I am quite sure my clear husband will pay any ­”

“Mamma, mamma, dear!” cried Madelaine, smiling through her tears; “can you not see that Dr Knatchbull is laughing at us?”

“No, my dear,” said the little lady angrily; “but if he is, I must say that it is too serious a matter for a joke.”

“So it is, my dear madam,” said the doctor, taking her hand, “far too serious; but I felt in such high spirits to find that we have won the fight, that I was ready to talk any nonsense.  All the same though, with some people it’s as true as true.”

“Yes, but we are not some people,” said Mrs Van Heldre.  “But now tell us what we are to do.”

“Nothing, my dear madam, but let him have rest and peace.”

“But he has been asking for Mr Crampton this morning, and that means business.”

“Well, let him see him to-morrow, if he asks.  If he is not allowed, he will fidget, and that will do him more harm than seeing him, only I would not let him dwell on the attack.  Divert his attention all you can, and keep from him all you possibly can about the Vines.”

John Van Heldre did not ask for his confidential clerk for two days more, the greater part of which time he spent in sleep; but in the intervals he talked in a low voice to his wife or Madelaine, not even alluding once, to their great surprise, to the cause of his illness.

“He must know it, mamma,” said Madelaine, sadly; “and he is silent, so as to spare me.”

At last the demand for Crampton was made, and the old clerk heard it looking eager and pleased.

“At last, ma’am,” said Crampton, rubbing his hands.

“You’ll go up very quietly, Mr Crampton,” said Mrs Van Heldre.  “If you would not mind.”

She pointed to a pair of slippers she had laid ready.  The old clerk looked grim, muttered something about the points of his toes, and ended by untying his shoes, and putting on the slippers.

Madelaine was quite right, for no sooner had Van Heldre motioned the clerk to a chair by the bed’s head, learned that all was right in his office, and assured the old man that he was a-mending fast, than he opened upon him regarding the attack that night.

“Was that money taken?” he said quickly.

“Is it right for you to begin talking about that so soon?” replied Crampton.

“Unless you want me to go backwards, yes,” said his employer, sharply.  “There, answer my questions.  I have nothing the matter now; only weak, and I cannot ask any one else.”

“I’m your servant, Mr Van Heldre,” said Crampton, stiffly.  “Go, sir.”

“That money, then?”

“Gone, sir, every note.  Five hundred pounds.”

“Dead loss,” said Van Heldre; “but it must be repaid.”

“Humph! pretty opinion you seem to have of me, sir, as a confidential clerk.”

“What do you mean, Crampton?”

“Mean, sir?  Why, that I did my duty, and stopped every note at the bank of England of course.”

“You did that, Crampton?”

“Yes, sir; and those notes are of no use to anybody.”

“Capital.  Hah! that’s better.  Five hundred just coming on the other misfortune worried me.  Why, Crampton, that’s a white paper plaister for my sore head.”

“Glad you’re satisfied, sir.”

“More than satisfied.  Now tell me:  have the police any notion who committed the robbery?”

Crampton nodded.

“Do you know?”

Crampton looked at his employer curiously, and nodded again.

“Have they taken any one?”

“No, sir,” said the old man sadly.

“Hah!  That’s bad.  Who was it?”

“Well, sir, you know of course?”

“I?  No!”

“You don’t know, sir?”

“I have no idea, Crampton.  I heard a noise, and went in and surprised the scoundrel, but it was quite dark, and as I tried to seize him I was struck down.”

“And you mean to assure me, sir, that you don’t know who it was?”

“I have not the most remote idea.”

“Well then, sir, I must tell you it was him who had been robbing you ever since the first day he came to us.”

“Robbing me?”

“Well, not exactly of money in hard cash but of your time, which is just the same.  Time’s money.  Always an hour late.”

Van Heldre turned upon him fiercely.

“Crampton, can you let your prejudice go so far as to suspect that young man?”

“Yes, sir, I can...  Suspect?  No, I am sure.  I doubted him from the first.”

“It is monstrous.  You were unjust to him from the first.”

“I, sir?”

“Yes.  But then how can a man who has never had a child be just to the weaknesses of the young?”

“I can be just, sir, and I have been.  You don’t know the supercilious way in which that boy treated me from the day he entered our office.  Always late, and as soon as he was settled down to his work, in must come that scoundrel with the French name to ask for him, and get him away.  Why, Mr Van Heldre, sir, if I hadn’t been a law-abiding subject of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, I’d have knocked that man down.”

“Bah!” said Van Heldre impatiently, as he lay back frowning, and looking very thoughtful.  “I am sorry that you should have entertained such a suspicion about the son of my old friend.”

“Ah!” sighed Crampton.  “Poor Mr Vine!  It’s heart-breaking work, sir.  It is, indeed.”

“Heart-breaking!” said Van Heldre.  “It is atrocious.  There, I will not speak angrily, Crampton.”

“No, sir.  You must not; and now I’m going, sir.  You’ve talked twice as much as is good for you.”

“Sit down,” said Van Heldre sternly.

Crampton, who had moved towards the door, slowly resumed his place.

“I am not too weak to talk about this terrible accusation.  I am not going to say much now, only to ask you to throw aside all this prejudice and to look upon the mishap as an unfortunate occurrence.  Come, Crampton, be a little broader.  Don’t be so ready to suspect the first person you dislike, and then to keep obstinately to your opinion.”

“Better not talk any more,” said Crampton shortly.

“I must talk,” said Van Heldre, more sternly.  “Mind this, Crampton, you are wrong.”

The care, want of rest, and anxiety had produced a state of acidity in the old clerk’s organisation which had made him exceptionally irritable.

“Wrong, eh?” he said sharply.

“Yes; and I must call upon you to be careful to keep these fancies to yourself.”

“Fancies, sir?”

“Yes, fancies, man.  I would not on any consideration have Mr Vine know that such a suspicion had existed in my office, and ­”

He paused for a few moments, and then held out his hand to the old clerk, who took it, and felt his own gripped warmly.

“Come, Crampton,” continued Van Heldre, smiling; “after all these years together, I trust we are something more than master and man.  You have always proved yourself a friend in the way in which you have looked after my interests.”

“I’ve always tried to do my duty, Mr Van Heldre.”

“And you always have done your duty ­more than your duty.  Now just go quietly down, and ask Henry Vine to step up-stairs with you.  I must have this put straight at once.  Crampton, you and my old friend’s son must make a fresh start.”

Crampton’s fresh countenance grew dingy-looking, and Van Heldre felt his hand twitch.

“Come, I tell you that your suspicious are absurd, and I must have you two work well together.  The young man only wants a little humouring to make him all that we could wish.  Go and fetch him up.”

“He ­he is not here this morning, sir,” gasped Crampton, at last.

“Not here?”

“No, sir,” said the old man hastily; and he passed the hand at liberty across his face.

“I am sorry.  I should have liked to settle this now it is on my mind.”

Crampton looked wildly towards the door, in the hope that the coming of wife or daughter would bring about a diversion.

“Of course,” said Van Heldre suddenly, “you have not shown the young man that you have had this idea in your head?”

Crampton was silent, and as Van Heldre looked at him he saw that the great beads of perspiration were standing upon his face.

“Why, good heavens, Crampton,” he cried, “you have not breathed a word of all this to a soul?”

The old clerk looked at him wildly.

“Ah! you are keeping something back,” said Van Heldre.

“Hush, sir, hush!” cried the old clerk in alarm; “for goodness’ sake don’t be excited.  Think of how weak you are.”

“Then answer,” said Van Heldre, in a low whisper.  “Tell me what you have done?”

“I ­I did everything for the best, sir.”

“Henry Vine!  You did not accuse him of this terrible affair?”

Crampton’s face grew gradually hard and stern.  His tremulous state passed off, and he turned as if at bay.

“Crampton!  Good heavens, man!  What have you done?”

“I had to think of you sir, lying here.  Of Mrs Van Heldre, sir, and of Miss Madelaine.”

“Yes, yes; but speak, man.  What have you done?”

“My duty, sir.”

“And accused him of this ­this crime?”

Crampton was silent.

“Are you mad?  Oh, man, man, you must have been mad.”

Crampton drew a long breath.

“Do my wife and daughter know?”

“Yes, sir,” said Crampton slowly.

“And ­and they have spoken as I speak?  They told you it was prejudice.”

Crampton drew a long breath once more.

“Don’t, pray don’t say any more, sir ­not now,” he said at last pleadingly.

“They ­surely they don’t ­there, quick!  Ring that bell.”

“Mr Van Heldre, sir.  Pray ­pray don’t take it like that; I only did my duty by you all.”

“Duty!  In a fit of madness to make such a charge as this and prejudice others!” cried Van Heldre angrily.  “Ring that bell, man.  I cannot rest till this is set right.”

“Think, sir, how I was situated,” pleaded the old clerk.  “You were robbed; I saw you lying, as I thought, dying, and I saw the scoundrel who had done all this escape.  What could I do but call in the police?”

“The police!  Then it is known by every one in the place?”

Crampton looked pityingly down at the anguished countenance before him.

“And Henry Vine?  He refuted your charge?  Speak, man, or you will drive me mad.”

“Henry Vine did not deny the charge, sir.  He was manly enough for that.”

“Crampton, is this all true?”

“It was my duty, sir.”

“He does not deny it?  Oh! it seems monstrous.  But you said the police; you gave information.  Crampton ­his father ­his sister ­my poor child!”

“Is saved from a villain, Mr Van Heldre!” cried the old clerk fiercely.  “Better she should have died than have married such a man as he.”

“And I ­I lying here helpless as a child,” said the sick man feebly.  “But this must all be stopped.  Crampton, you should not have done all this.  Now go at once, fetch George Vine here, and ­Henry ­the young man.  Where is he?”

“Gone, sir, to answer for his crime,” said the old man solemnly.  “Henry Vine is dead.”