Read CHAPTER XXV of The Devil's Garden, free online book, by W. B. Maxwell, on ReadCentral.com.

It was perhaps a month after this when Dale heard news which plainly indicated that the wicked son had completed his horrible task. He had eaten up all that there was to eat.

Mr. Osborn said that old Bates had given his landlord notice, and he was leaving his cottage almost immediately. The matter had been brought to the pastor’s knowledge because one of the Baptist congregation thought of taking the cottage, and had asked Mr. Osborn’s advice.

Other people, who professed to know more than Mr. Osborn, said it was true that Bates had given notice, but it was also true that he owed two quarters’ rent and that the landlord was determined to have his money. To this end everything the cottage contained would be seized and sold. And what would happen to Mr. Bates when not only his house was gone, but all his sticks of furniture too?

“It do seem a pity he ben’t a young orphan female instead of a wore-out old man, for then he cud move on into Barradine Home and be fed on the best for naught.”

The cottage and other cottages about Otterford Mill, although close to the Abbey estate, did not belong to it. They were the property of various small owners, and Bates’ landlord, as Dale knew, was a tradesman at Old Manninglea.

Dale, having heard the news on a Sunday evening, put his check-book in his pocket very early next morning and rode over the heath to the market town. There he saw Bates’ landlord, readily obtained leave to withdraw the notice, cleared off the arrears, and paid rent for a year in advance. Then he rode straight to Otterford Mill.

“Good morning, William. Pray come in. But will your horse stand quiet there?”

“Oh, yes, sir. He’ll stand quiet enough. Only too glad of the chance to stand. I keep him moving, you know.”

“Don’t he ever get jerking at the rein, and break his bridle?”

“If he did he wouldn’t run away. He’d be too ashamed of himself for what he’d done.”

“Then step inside, William,” said Mr. Bates once more.

He ushered Dale into a bare, sad-looking room; and the whole cottage smelled of nakedness, famine, misery.

“Now, my dear old friend,” said Dale cheerily, “what’s all this whispering that reaches my ears in re you thinking of changing your quarters and leaving us?”

“It’s the truth, William. I can’t afford these premises any longer.”

“Oh, come, we can’t have that. We haven’t so many friends that we can put up with losing the one we value most of all.”

Then he told Mr. Bates what he had done at Manninglea.

The old man frowned, flushed, and began to tremble.

“You shouldn’t ‘a’ done that, William. It was a liberty. I must write and say my notice holds good.”

Then there was a brief but most painful conversation, Dale nearly shedding tears while he pleaded to be allowed on this one occasion to act as banker, and Bates resolutely refusing help, refusing even to admit how much help was needed.

“William,” he said obdurately, “I recognize your kind intention but you’ve made a mistake. You shouldn’t have done it, without a word to me. I can only repeat, it was a liberty.”

Dale of course apologized, but went on pleading. It was all no use. Obviously Mr. Bates’ pride had been wounded to the quick. He was white, shaky, so old, so feeble, and yet firm as a rock. Never till now had he spoken to Dale in such tones of stiff reproof.

“William, we’ll say no more. I have paid my way all my days, and at my present age it’s a bit too late to start differently.”

His last words were: “I shall write next post to confirm the notice.”

And he did so.

Then the tale ran round that Mr. Bates was going to the workhouse. People declared that he had ceded all his furniture to the landlord, who could now sell it quietly and advantageously, in a manner which would yield more than enough to wipe out the debt. Perhaps there might even be a trifling balance in the debtor’s favor eventually; but meanwhile the homeless and stickless old gentleman would fall as another burden on the rates to which he had so long subscribed.

It was curious, perhaps, but the humble folk spoke of him as the old gentleman, and not as the old man, all at once giving him the title which they only now began to think he had fairly earned as a master and employer, an important personage who used to drive about in gigs, wear a black coat at church, and always have a kind word for you when you touched your cap to him.

“’Tis all a pity but so ‘tis, and can’t be gainsaid. Th’ old gentleman hev come down so low, that ’tis the Union and nought else.”

“Is that for sure?”

“Oh, yes, for certain sure. He is a-goin’ into workhouse to-morrow maarning.”

But he did not go there.

In the morning some one came running into Dale’s yard, and shouted what had happened since dark last night.

“Th’ old gentleman hev a done fer hisself.”

He had been found hanging from the biggest of the apple trees behind his cottage. He had set a ladder against the tree, gone up it, fixed the rope firmly, put the noose round his neck, and stepped off into the air. That was the way they did for themselves in this part of Hampshire.