Chapter 207658389

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter TitleIN DURANCE VILE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207658389
Full Date1879-12-24
Page Number3
Corrections7
Word Count2529
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-12-31
Newspaper TitleThe Express and Telegraph
Trove TitleGeorge Caulfield's Journey: A Christmas Story
article text

Chapter II.—In Durance Vile.

Instead of making any vain attempt at sleep, George Caulfield asked for pens, ink, and paper, and a lamp that would last him for the best part of the night; and on these luxuries being conceded, he sat down to write a long letter to his mother, relating all the circumstances of his miserable jour ney, and entreating her not to take alarm at his situation, whatever she might read about him in the newspapers. This letter, which would travel by the morning post, could be preceded by a telegram informing the old lady that her son was safe, and de tained at Milldale on business. Some

hours of anxiety the son could not spare that beloved mother; and it was more pain- ful to him to think of her trouble, when five o'clock came and brought no returning

traveller, than to contemplate his own position.

"Dear old lady! I can fancy her and all her neat and careful arrangements for my comfort," mused Mr. Caulfield, "I know how distrustful she will be of the maids, and how she will insist upon getting up at four o'clock in order to see about my break- fast. And then when the time comes, and no hansom drives up to the gate, what agonies she will suffer, for I have never accustomed her to disappointments. I have never broken my word to her in my life."

The curate fretted and fumed at the

thought of his mother's anxiety. He was an only and adoring son—at thirty-two years of age a confirmed bachelor, loving no one on earth as well as he loved the widowed mother whose cherished com- panion he had been from childhood up- wards. Had she not removed her dearly loved goods and chattels to Eton, and lived in a small house in the High-street all the time her hoy was at school there? Had she not followed him to Cambridge as faithfully as a sutler follows a camp? And now she had one of the prettiest houses in South Kensington, and her son was first curate at the most intensely Gothic church in that locality. George Caulfield's mother was the love of his life. He had been assisting at a choral festival at a small town

near Grandchester, where an old college friend of his father's was vicar, and had only been three days away from the dainty little nest of South Kensington, where blue china plates had just broken out like pimples on the sage-green wall, and where the Queen Anne mania showed itself modestly in divers inexpensive details.

"Poor mother!" sighed George; "a telegram can hardly reach her before nine

o'clock at the earliest."

He read his Tennyson; he dozed a little; he got rid of the night somehow, and at seven o'clock he had written and dispatched two telegrams.

The first was to his mother, the second was to the vicar, from whom he had parted at eleven o'clock the previous morning, and to whom he was inclined to look for succor, as one of the cleverest and most energetic

men he knew.

This latter message was brief

"From George Caulfield, Milldale Gaol, to Edward Leworthy, Freshmead Vicarage. —Come to me at once, for God's sake? I am in a great difficulty."

Mr. Caulfield's janitor brought him a comfortable breakfast by-and-by, and was inclined to sympathise. He knew a gentle- man when he saw one, he told the curate, though he had had to deal with a rough lot in this beastly hole. He had seen a good many murderers in his time, and the possi- bility of his prisoner's guilt made very little difference to his feelings. Guilty or not guilty, a man who was free-handed with half-crown pieces was entitled to respect. The difference between a half-crown and a florin was just the difference between your real gentleman and the spurious article. The actual amount was not much, but that odd sixpence marked the distinction.

The functionary informed Mr. Caulfield that the inquest was to take place at four

o'clock that afternoon.

"Which gives you time to communicate with your solicitor," he added, grandly.

"But 1 haven't any solicitor," answered

the prisoner, "I never had any law busi- ness in my life."

"So much the better for you, sir," re-

sponded the gaoler, sententiously; "but you must have a lawyer to watch this here case for you."

"I'll wait till my friend the vicar of Freshmead comes, and take his advice about it," said George. "I know he'll come as soon as the rail can bring him."

His confidence was not ill-placed. Soon after noon Mr. Leworthy was ushered into his room. He was between fifty and sixty

— a man with a countenance full of vivid

intelligence, bright brown eyes, and grey hair, worn longer than the fashion. It was altogether a poetic head; but the man's temperament fitted him for action and effort as thoroughly as his intellect gave him mastery in brain-work.

Such a friend as this was verily a friend

in need. The two men clasped hands, and for the first minute George Caulfield was speechless.

"Tell me all about it," said the Vicar, sitting down by his friend's side with as cheerful an air as if it were a common thing for him to find a friend in prison.

George Caulfield related his dreadful ad- venture of the previous night, the vicar listening intently with knitted brows.

"It looks very like murder," he said at last. "The poor creature was carried to the station in a dying state, and that sterto- rous breathing you noticed when the train started was the last struggle. Don't be, afraid, my dear boy; there's not the slightest reason for uneasiness. Our busi- ness is to find out all about this poor lady, and the man who placed her in the train. She must have been brought to the station in some kind of vehicle—cab, bath-chair— something. The first thing to be done is to have enquiries made among the cabmen and cab proprietors. The police will do all that

but I shall have to watch your interests in the matter. You must have a clever lawyer, too, to watch the case. Brockbank, of Grandchester, will be the man—always about the criminal court there, up to every move. I'll telegraph for him instantly. The inquest is to be at four, you say. I must get it put off till five."

"How good you are!" exclaimed George, "and how clever!"

"I'm a man of the world, that's all. Some pious people think that a parson has no right to be a man of the world, forget- ting who it was that told us to be wise as serpents. I'm not the popular ideal of a parson, you know, by any means; but I can serve a friend as well as your strait-laced specimen of the breed."

He was a man of abounding cheerfulness and infinite capacity for work, as prone to

embellish his conversation with occasional

flowers of modern slang now as he had been forty years ago at Eton. He was just the man George Caulfield wanted in this crisis

of his life.

He telegraphed to the Grandchester at- torney, and got the inquest postponed from four to five. He saw the medical man; he talked to the police. A police-officer had started for Grandchester by an early train to hunt up the owner of the card, and ob- tain as much information as could be got in

a few hours.

The inquest was held in the chief hotel in Milldale, in a large dining-room, which was only used on civic and particular occa- sions. Here, under a blaze of gas, the curate of St. Philemon's, South Kensing- ton, found himself for the first time in his life face to face with a British jury and a

British coroner.

Mr. Hargrave, M.R.C.S., general practi- tioner at Milidale, declared that the de- ceased, name unknown, had died from the effects of a large dose of laudanum. There had been no post-mortem, and he saw no necessity for one. The color of the face, the color of the lips, the abnormal coldness of the corpse, were sufficient evidence as to the nature of the poison. The bottle found in the prisoner's possession contained

laudanum.

Sensation!

The railway guard and stationmaster stated all they knew about the arrival of

the deceased at Milidale Junction. Both

described the prisoner as violently agitated.

The constable who had been sent to Grandchester was next examined.

He had found Mr. Elsden, of Briargate— a man of sixty, stout, grey, bald, in every attribute unlike the man described so graphically by Mr. Caulfield. Mr. Elsden had been able to offer no suggestion as to the stranger who had made such a shame-

ful use of his card.

The constable had afterwards gone to no less than four cab yards, where he had made all enquiries possible in a limited time. He had been unable to find any cab- man who had driven an invalid lady to the station on the previous evening. He had next hunted out the only bath chair pro- prietor to be found in Grandchester, with the same result. Time had not allowed

him to visit the numerous chemists' shops in that thriving city, and that remained to

be done.

There was no evidence on Mr. Caulfield's behalf except the vicar of Freshmead's evidence as to his character and antece- dents, and to the fact that he only parted with him at eleven o'clock on the previous morning at the Freshmead-road station. Freshmead was seven miles from Grand- Chester.

"What was Mr. Caulfield going to do when he left you?" asked the coroner.

"He was going to spend the day in

Grandchester."

"Has he friends or acquaintances in that city?"

"No. He was going to look at the cathedral and law courts, and to spend an hour or two in the Oldbury Library."

"He was to dine somewhere, I sup- pose?"

"He meant to dine at a restaurant. There are a good many dining-places in Grandchester; he could take his choice among them."

After this witness had been examined, the enquiry was adjourned for a week.

At the close of the proceedings Mr. Brockbank, the lawyer, asked if his client might be released on bail, the vicar of Freshmead being prepared to offer him- self as security to any amount, but the coroner replied that the case was of too

serious a nature to admit of bail.

So Mr. Caulfield went back to the stony place whence he had come, where the utmost privilege that could be accorded him was the liberty to see his friends at stated hours, and to have his meals supplied from an adjacent hotel.

His spirits would have assuredly gone down to the point of utter despondency on that gloomy winter evening, when the mouldy fly that had conveyed him to the George Hotel carried him back to the gaol, had he not been supported and sustained by the indomitable cheerfulness of his friend the vicar.

"What do you think of the case now?"

he asked.

"Think!" cried Mr. Leworthy, "Why, that I shall have so much to do in Grand- chester ferreting out this mystery of yours during the next six days that I don't know how the deuce my parish work is to get

done."

"Won't you employ the police?"

"Of course I shall; but I shall employ myself too. Don't you be down-hearted, George. I mean to see you safely through this business, and I shall do it right away, as they say on the other side of the

Atlantic."

George Caulfield's confidence in his father's old friend was unbounded. He had seen in the past how the vicar of Fresh- mead could conquer difficulties which the

ruck of men would have found insurmount- able. Mr. Leworthy dined with him as cheerfully as if they had been eating white bait at Greenwich or turtle in Aldersgate- street under the most exhilarating circum- stances, and, stimulated by the force of example, George, who had scarcely broken his fast since he left Grandchester, found himself enjoying the tavern steak and the tavern claret.

His friend left him soon after dinner to go back to Grandchester by the nine o'clock train; and then came a dreary interval until ten, when the prisoner lay down on his pallet bed and slept soundly, exhausted by the bewildering emotions of the last twenty- four hours. He was very down-hearted now that he had before him the prospect of a week's solitude in that miserable cell, for Mr. Leworthy told him that he should not return to Milldale until the day fixed for the adjourned enquiry, by which time he hoped to have unearthed the man who had

used Mr. Elsden's card.

An agitating surprise awaited Mr. Caul- field next morning. While he was break- fasting dismally upon tea and dry toast the

guardian of his solitude came to tell him that a lady wished to see him.

"A lady!" cried the curate. "There must be some mistake. I don't know a creature in the town. Pray don't let me be made a show of, to gratify any one's morbid curiosity."

"Lord love you, sir; as if we should do such a thing! It's all right; the lady's got an order. She's a relative, no doubt."

The man withdrew into the stony pas- sage outside; then came a rustling sound George Caulfield knew well—a sweeping, stately step, and an elderly lady, grey, and tall and thin, came quickly in and threw

her arms round his neck.

"Mother," cried the curate, "how could you do such a thing?"

"How could I do anything else?" said

his mother, striving heroically, to be cheer- ful. "Do you suppose I was going to stay in London after I received your letter? The postman brought the letter at seven, Sophie had my trunk packed by half-past, and Jane had a cab at the door—such good girls, and so anxious about you! I was at Euston by ten minutes past eight, and caught the train that leaves at eight

fifteen. I was at Milldale half an hour

after midnight—too late to come here, of course, so I went to the nearest hotel. The chambermaid told me they were sending you your meals. I felt quite interested in them, and at home with them directly."

She was a wonderful old lady, carried herself so bravely, spoke so brightly, looked at her son with eyes so full of confidence and hope. He would have been unworthy of such a mother had he not faced his posi- tion unfalteringly. They sat down side by side on the prison bench, and he told her all that had happened since he wrote his letter to her, and spoke as if nothing were more certain than his speedy justification.

(To be continued.)