Read CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE - Mrs Brade has Ideas of Witness to the Deed , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Thinking over the events of the past nights, and the overwrought state of his friend’s nerves, which had made him start in horror from his sleep at the noise made by the rats which infested the old house, Guest went on to muse over his position, and the prospects of the admiral accepting him as a husband for his niece, while Myra’s engagement stood as it did.

“Time cures all things,” he muttered.  “Wonder how the poor boy feels now.  By George, he startled me and spoiled my night.”

He had been having an early walk, Stratton seeming calm enough that morning, and he was now returning through the archway when there was a low cough, and he heard his name uttered.

Turning sharply, it was to see Mrs Brade at her doorway, beckoning to him.

“Good-morning.  You wish to speak to me?”

“Yes, sir, if you would not mind stepping inside, sir.  I’m all alone, except my husband, sir.”

Guest stepped into the little room, half parlour, half kitchen, of the porter’s lodge, and Mrs Brade carefully wiped a highly polished, well beeswaxed chair with her apron and set it by the fire.

“No, no, not there,” said Guest hastily.  “I’m hot enough already.”

“Of course, sir,” said the woman, changing the position; “and you’ve been walking, sir.  One oughtn’t to have a fire on a day like this; only you see, sir, one must cook and do everything here when one only has one room.”

“Of course, Mrs Brade; but it is quite a little palace of cleanliness.”

“Which it’s very good of you to say so, sir,” said Mrs Brade, with an ill-used air, “and it would be if it wasn’t for my husband.  He’s one of the best of men, sir, but that untidy in his habits.  What with one boot here, and another boot there, and tobacco ashes all over the place, he nearly worries my life out.”

A low, peculiar sound came from an ajar door, sounding like a remonstrant growl from the gentleman in question, whereupon Mrs Brade went and shut the door, and drew an old moreen curtain across the opening.

“He do breathe a little hard in his sleep, sir,” she said apologetically.

“And likes plenty of it, eh?”

“Oh, dear no, sir.  It’s only eleven yet,” replied Mrs Brade, glancing at a sallow-faced Dutch clock on the wall.  “He isn’t doo till twelve.  You forget, sir, as he’s up pretty well all night to let in gents at all hours.”

“Loose fish?”

“Some of ’em, sir ­if you means gents as don’t behave themselves and comes home smelling of spirits horrid.  But most of ’em’s from Fleet Street, sir, from the noosepapers, as keeps ’em till two and three and four o’clock, and sometimes later.”

“Of course, of course, Mrs Brade,” said Guest, rising.  “We must have our morning papers.”

“Yes, sir, and our bread and rolls; not that I wish you to think we’ve anyone in the inn as is a baker.”

“I did not think so, Mrs Brade; but I’m in a hurry.”

“And I won’t detain you, sir.  But, of course, you were going in to see poor Mr Stratton, sir.”

“Yes; what of that,” said Guest sharply.

“I wanted to speak to you, sir, about him very serious, sir.  Only yesterday, sir ­”

“Yes; go on, my good woman, go on.  Is there anything fresh?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” said the woman, putting her apron to her eyes.  “I know all about his love troubles from the first.”

“Yes, yes.”

“And how he was disappointed about having Miss Jerrold.”

“Well?”

“And then, sir, when at last it was to come off, you see it was too much for him.”

“And he has turned a little ill.  There, he will soon be better.”

“I hope so, sir,” said Mrs Brade, shaking her head, “but I’m afraid.”

“Look here, you have seen or heard something to account, perhaps, for his sudden illness.”

“Don’t call it illness, sir; the poor dear gentleman is mad.”

“Mrs Brade!”

“It’s a fact, sir, I assure you, and we may as well out with the truth.”

“Look here,” said Guest, speaking hoarsely, for he felt startled at the woman’s words, coinciding so exactly with horrible thoughts hidden in his own breast.  “This is a very serious thing to say.  What grounds have you for such an assertion?”

“Well, sir, if you’ll sit down I’ll tell you.”

Guest reseated himself, feeling that if he wished to hear, he must let the woman go on in her own way.

“I’ve always liked Mr Stratton, sir, since he’s been here, and his name always putting me in mind of Lady Burdett Coutts’ house at the corner of Strutton Street, where I have visited one of the servants.”

Guest made an impatient gesture.

“Yes, sir, I am coming to it as fast as I can.  You see doing for him so long and looking upon him like a son, and doing for Mr Brettison, too, as is always most aggravating about his dusting, and his room’s a disgrace, but I never thought of Mr Stratton turning like that.”

“Like what?”

“I’m telling you, sir.  Getting so that it’s a favour to be allowed to go into his room to tidy up, and him watching you and following you about with his eyes, and glaring at you all the time.”

“Of course, he does not like his specimens touched.”

“All which I know, sir, and I’ve studied him; but he never went on as he does now.”

“Oh, nonsense! he’s ill and doesn’t want to be worried.”

“He’s mad, sir, as Bedlam.”

“Mrs Brade!”

“He is, sir, and last night he tried to strangle me.”

“What?”

“He did, sir, as I’m a sinful soul, and when I got away from him down the stairs and back here into my room, it’s a mercy as I didn’t faint away.”

“He touched you?”

“Touched me, sir?  He seized me.  Oh, poor, dear gentleman, he’s gone.”

“Look here,” said Guest sharply, “have you told anybody about it?”

“No, sir; not yet.”

“Then for Heaven’s sake don’t, Mrs Brade,” said Guest, in a low, hurried tone.  “It was, perhaps, only a sudden paroxysm.  You say you like him.”

“Which indeed I do, sir.”

“Then pray be silent.  If such a report were spread it would be his ruin.”

“Yes, sir, I thought of all that, and doctors signing things, and keepers coming to take him to shut him up in cells, with chains, and darkness, and howlings, and gnashing his teeth.  Oh, my poor dear! my poor dear!  Such a bonnie, good, lovable gentleman as you were!”

Mrs Brade threw up her apron to her face and burst out into such a genuine passion of sobs and tears that Guest was touched, and he rose and placed his hand upon her arm.

“Hush, hush!” he whispered; “don’t take on like that.  Perhaps it is only due to excitement, and he’ll soon come round.”

“Do you think so, sir?” cried the woman, dropping her apron.

“I do, indeed, if he is kept quiet.  Why, if it was known ­”

“And the keepers came, sir?”

“Come, come, it’s not so bad as that.  You have curious ideas about the treatment of the insane.”

“Oh, no, sir; I’ve heard so much, sir.”

“Never mind:  we will not argue that.  One thing is certain ­any worry or excitement would be sure to make him worse.”

“Of course, sir.”

At that moment Mr Brade’s hard breathing was audible through the door and curtain, and Guest looked at it uneasily.

“Then you have not told your husband?”

“Indeed, no, sir.”

“Then do not.  Nor anyone else.  We must keep this as our secret, Mrs Brade.  My poor friend will come right I hope and feel, in time; so help me to guard him from all worry.”

“Indeed I will, sir.”

“No one must know.  It would be bad for him at the institution.”

“Yes, sir, and he’d have to give up his chambers, of course, if any of the neighbours ­I mean gentlemen in the other rooms ­made complaints.”

“All of which we can avoid.  It only wants time.  There, I’ll go up and see him now, and Mr Brettison, too.  Mind, I rely upon your being discreet.”

“Of course, sir, and thank you for coming in.  You don’t know how much good you’ve done me, sir.”

“I’m glad you spoke to me,” said Guest; and he went across the inn to Stratton’s chambers.