|Chapter Number||III - IV|
|Chapter Title||STAGE THE FIRST.|
|Newspaper Title||South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1868 - 1881)|
|Trove Title||George Caulfield's Journey: A Christmas Story|
GEORGE CAULFIELD'S JOURNEY. A CHRISTMAS STORY.
BY MISS BRADDON.
Chapter III. — Stage the First.
While George Caulfield was talking to his mother the vicar of Freshmead was plodding up and down the streets of Grand- chester, eager, hopeful, determined to un- ravel the tangled skein of the nameless woman's fate. Who was she? what was she? Had she actually been murdered, and if so for what reason? Who was the gainer
by her death, and in what way? Mr. Leworthy started at an advantage. Everybody in Grandchester knew him, and he knew everybody. The police were ready to confide in him freely. The local magis- trates would be glad to help him. But on this occasion he was inclined to rely on his own wits. The police were at work for Mr. Brockbank's client. If they succeeded, well and good. But the vicar was not going to work with them. His first visit was to the office of a daily paper, where he handed in the following advertisement: — "Missing, since the 30th November, a young lady; when last seen she wore a Rob Roy tartan shawl, a brown straw hat, and blue gauze veil. Any one affording information will be handsomely rewarded on applying to E. L., care of Mr. Erockbank, solicitor, Deansgate." This advertisement Mr. Leworthy took to the three local dailies. His next visit was to Mr. Elsden, of Briargate. "A man would hardly make use of an other man's card unless he had some busi- ness or social relation with that other man," reflected the vicar, as he tramped along, sturdy in bearing, determined in step. "A man does not pick up a visiting card in the street." He found Mr. Elsden elderly and ple- thoric, a man who rarely got through a business letter without stopping in the middle to mop his highly-polished cranium with a crimson silk handkerchief. This gentleman was amiable, but not brilliant. He had read the report of yesterday's in quest, and was therefore posted in the facts; but he had no ideas to offer. "How did that young man get hold of your card?" asked the vicar. "He must have picked it up in some illegitimate way, unless he is among the number of your per- sonal acquaintance." Mr. Elsden gave a supercilious laugh. "I hope my friendships do not lie among secret murderers," he said. "Of course, we all hope that, naturally, but one can never tell. My friend describes this young man as of gentlemanly appear- ance and good manners. Good-looking, too, quite an interesting countenance — pale, with dark eyes, silky brown moustache — what is generally called a poetic style of face." The Grandchester merchant seemed to retire within himself, and to be absorbed in profound thought. Presently he gave a sigh, and began to mop his polished brow and the barren arch above it, whereon no hair had grown for the last decade. "I don't want to mix myself up in this business," he said at last. "It is sure to entail trouble. As a Christian, as an honest man, you. are bound not to withhold any information that can tend to exculpate the innocent," urged the vicar, with some warmth. "But how do I know that I can give any such information?" demanded Mr. Elsden, testily. "If I give utterance to my ideas I may be only putting you on a false scent." "Better hazard that than withhold any thing." "I know absolutely nothing. But your description might apply to a young man called Foy, who was in my employment three years ago." "What character did he bear when you knew him?" "Excellent. He left me of his own ac- cord, in order to improve his position. He was a talented young man — first-rate ac- countant, good linguist — and I had no situation to give him worthy of his talents. He left me to go to Kibble & Umpleby's, packers, in Deansgate, as corresponding clerk. I was only able to give him £75 a- year. He was to have £200 at Kibble's. They do a great deal of business with Spanish America and the French colonies, and they wanted a clerk who could write good French and Spanish." "I see. Do you suppose that he is still at Kibble & Umpleby's?" "I have not heard to the contrary." "Was this Mr. Foy a native of Grand- chester? Had he family or friends here?" "No; he was quite alone. I believe he was of French extraction. He used to boast that he was descended from some famous family called De Foix." "I should be very grateful to you if you
could give me any farther information about this young man." "What kind of information? My ac- quaintance with him never extended be- yond my office. I know that he was clever. He was regular in his business habits, and I had every reason to suppose he was well behaved. He brought me a letter of recom- mendation from a firm at Lyons with which I do business. I engaged him on the strength of that letter," "I see; then he was a stranger in Grandchester. Something you can tell me, however — the house in which he lodged while he was in your employment. You must have known his address then." "Certainly," replied Mr. Elsden; and then he put his lips to an ivory mouthpiece, and murmured some order down a gutta- percha tube. Five minutes afterwards a clerk ap- peared with a slip of paper, which he laid before his employer. "That is the address, sir." Mr. Elsden handed the paper to the vicar. "There it is, sir. You see there is only one address, and the young man was with me nearly two years -- an indication of steady habits, I think." "No doubt; I dare say Mr. Foy is a most estimable person, but I must find the dark-eyed, pale-faced young man who gave your card to my friend, and whether I find him in Mr. Foy's shoes or in anybody else's I'll make it rather hot for him." An with this unchristian speech the vicar took leave of Mr. Elston. Chapter IV. — The Mystery of Rose Cottage Mr. Leworthy's next call was at Kibble and Umpleby's. Here he acted with greatest subtlety. He asked to see the head clerk, and informed that gentleman that he had been recommended to apply there for a small service which he had been unable to get done any where else. He wanted a letter written to a correspondent at Cadiz, and he had not found anybody in Grand- chester who knew enough Spanish to write such a letter for him. He had particular reasons for not writing in French or English, as his communication was of a strictly private character, and the gentleman to whom he had the occasion to write under- stood no language but his own. "I am told you have a clerk who is a first-rate Spanish scholar," Mr. Leworthy said, in conclusion. "Quite true, sir. Our foreign clerk, Mr. Foy, knows Spanish as well as he knows French, and can write you as good a letter in Italian or Portuguese as in either. It's rather lucky you looked in this morning, though. To-morrow would have been too late." "Why? Is he leaving you?" The clerk grinned. "Only for a fortnight's holiday — rather an important event in his life. He's going to be married to-morrow morning — to the daughter of our junior partner, the youngest Miss Umpleby." "Oh, he is going to be married to-morrow morning! I congratulate him — and the young lady. Has it been a long engage- ment?' "A year and a half. The old gentleman was very much against it at the first — thought his daughter might have looked higher — as of course she might, though she's one of a large family. But the firm had been pleased with the young man, and the young man had got a footing in the firm's houses, which is more than the common ruck of us can do— unless it's a bit of a kick-up at Christmas-time, in a condescend- ing way, which we may appreciate or may not, according to the bent of our minds. But this young Foy is musical, and he's half a foreigner, and those two things have stood him in good stead with the firm's families; and the upshot of it all is that he's going to be married to the youngest Miss Umpleby the day after to-morrow." "Could I see him for a few minutes? I shan't detain him long." "Certainly, sir. I'm sure he'll be happy to oblige you," said the clerk, who knew all about the Vicar of Freshmead, one of the most popular men within 20 miles of Grand- chester. The clerk went to fetch Mr. Foy, and re- turned presently with that accomplished young man. The vicar was a student of character. He had not spent all his days amidst the green pastures of Freshmead. Seven years of his life had been devoted to preaching and teaching, and doing all manner of good works, in one of the vilest and most populous districts of East London. He had had plenty to do with scoundrelism in his time; he knew a scoundrel when he saw one, and his first glance at Gaston Foy convinced him that this young favorite of fortune was as dark a villain as ever wore a smooth face to gull the world. Yes; despite his polished manners, his gentle and insinuating smile, and the oily blandness of his legato tones, the vicar made up his mind that this was the villain he wanted. This was the man who had brought his dying victim to the railway station and transferred the burden of his crime to a stranger. George Caulfield had minutely described the man's appearance, and this man, in every feature, corresponded with that de- scription. That he seemed perfectly happy and at ease did not surprise Mr. Leworthy. To a creature of this kind dissimulation was second nature. The vicar stated his business, and sat down at the clerk's desk to write a rough draught of the letter to be translated, but after writing a sentence he stopped ab- ruptly. "It's a business that requires some thought," he said. "If you'll look in at my hotel this evening, and let me dictate the letter quietly, I shall esteem it a favor. I won't keep you half an hour, and you'll be doing me an inestimable service." Mr. Foy looked at him rather suspi- ciously. "My time is not my own just now," he said. "If you'll send me your letter I'll put it into Spanish for you, but I have no time to call at your hotel." This was said with a decided tone that settled the question. "I see," thought the vicar. "He is not the man to walk into any little trap that I may set for him." "I'll send the letter to your private address this evening," he said. "You had better send it here. I live a little way out of Grandchester." The vicar assented, wished Mr. Foy "good morning," and went away. Ten minutes afterwards he went back to Kibble and Umpleby's, saw the clerk he had seen first, and said—
"I may as well have Mr. Foy's address, in case I shouldn't be able to get my letter written before he leaves business." "Certainly, sir. Mr. Foy lives at Par- minter — Rose Cottage, Lawson-lane." "Thanks. I may not want to send to him there, but it's as well to be on the safe side. Good morning." "Good morning, sir," said the clerk aloud. "Fidgetty old gentleman," he ejacu- lated inwardly. Parminter was a rustic village seven miles from Grandchester. It did not lie in the direction affected by Grandchester mer- chants or Grandchester tradespeople. Here were no Gothic mansions, no fair Italian villas, springing like mushrooms from the soil — one year a confusion of lime and mortar-tubs, stacked flooring-boards, and rough-hewn stone, and the next all smiling amongst geranium beds and ribbon bor- dering, velvet lawns and newly-planted shrubberies. None of the commercial wealth of Grandchester had found its way to Parminter. The village was still a village — a mere cluster of laborers' cottages, two or three old homesteads, and half a dozen small dwellings of a shabby-genteel type. Amongst these last was Rose Cottage, a small, square house, with plaster walls, bright with greenery and scarlet berries, even in this wintry season. A bow window below, rustic lattices above. Just such a house as a man with considerable taste and and an inconsiderable income would choose for himself. The small garden in front of the bow window was in admirable order, yet the place had a deserted look somehow, Mr. Leworthy thought, as he rang the bell. He rang once, twice, three times, with no more effect than if Rose Cottage had been a toy house inhabited by Dutch dolls. This was aggravating. There was a meadow on one side of the cottage, where half a dozen sheep were browsing contentedly. The vicar climbed the hurdle which divided this pasture from Lawson-lane, and went round to the back of the cottage. Here there was a small garden, neatly and tastefully laid out, but there was no more appearance of human life at the back of the house than at the front. "I suppose my gentleman comes home at night and lets himself in with a latch key." the vicar said to himself, much pro- voked at having travelled seven miles with- out result. He was climbing the hurdle on his return to the land when a small girl, in a very short skirt, a girl of timid aspect, carrying a beer jug, dropped him a curtsey, and said— "Please, sir, was it you a-ringing of that bell just now?" "Was it me?" ejaculated the vicar, im- patiently. "Yes, it were." And then, smiling on the small girl, for he had a heart large enough for ever so many parishes of children, he said — "I am not vexed with you, my dear; I am angry with Fate. Tell me all you know about that cottage, and I'll give you half-a-crown." The girl gasped. She had never pos- sessed a half-crown, but she had an idea it meant abundance. Her father counted his wages by half-crowns, and there were not many in a week's wages. "Please, sir, Mr. Foy lived there with his sister, but they've left." "Oh, they've left, have they? When did they leave?" "Last Monday, sir, and the lady she was very ill, sir, and he took her away in a cab." "And Mr. Foy has not been back since ?'' "No, sir. He left for good, and he give the key of the cottage to my mother, and the agent is to put up a board next week, and the house is to be let. It was took furnished, and it's to be let furnished again." "Did they live quite alone? Had they no servant?" "No, sir; never no reg'Iar servant. Mother used to do the cleaning twice a week. Mother's very sorry they be gone. They was good to mother.'' "How long had they lived there ?" "Nigh upon a year." "And the lady was Mr. Foy's sister ?" "Yes, sir." "And now take me to your mother." The girl looked wistfully at the jug. "If you please I was to fetch father's beer, sir." "I see. And if you don't father will be angry?" "Yes, sir." "Then you shall go — but first tell me where your mother lives." The child pointed down Lawson-lane. "It's the last cottage, sir." "All right." Just where the lane straggled off into ploughed fields and open country, there was a row of laborers' cottages, and in the last of these Mr. Leworthy found a plaintive woman with a child in her arms, who owned to being the mother of the small girl with the jug. The vicar wasted no time in preliminaries. He seated himself on an almost bottomless chair, and, with his stout umbrella planted between his knees, interrogated the matron thus: "You used to work for Mr. Foy and his sister. What do you know about them ?" "Only that they paid me honorable for what I did,sir. I'm bound to up and say that whoever asks me." "Good. Did they live happily together as — brother and sister?" Here the matron began to hesitate. She shifted her baby from one arm to the other. She gave a deprecating cough. "I see — they quarrelled sometimes." "I never see 'em, sir, for I scarce ever see Mr. Foy. He was off to Grandchester before I went of a morning, and he didn't come back till after I left. I used to go for the half-day, you see, sir, not the whole day. But I don't think the young lady was quite happy in her mind. I've seen her fretting, and people will talk, you see, sir ; neighbors next door to Rose Cottage have heard them at high words, in summer-time, when the winders was all open, or when they was in the garden." "I see. Had the sister been long ill ?" "No, sir, not above a month." "What was the matter with her ?" "Well, sir, I can't say azackly. It was a sort of wasting sickness like. She couldn't keep nothing on her stomach of late, poor dear; and she had pains that racked her, and used to complain of a burning feel in her throat; out of sorts, altogether, as you may say. I believe it all came from fretting." "Why did she fret so much ? Was her brother very unkind to her?"
"No, sir. I don't think it was his un- kindness that worrited her. But he used to keep very late hours — hardly ever coming home till the last train, and that worried her. Not that he was ever the worse for drink. He was the soberest young man as ever was, but she was of a jealous disposi- tion, and the thought that he was out en- joying himself with other people used to prey on her mind." "That was hardly fair, if he treated her kindly when he was at home. A sister has no right to be jealous of a brother." "Perhaps not, sir, but jealous she was, and fret she did. 'I've nobody but him in the world, Mrs. Moff,' she said— my name being Moff — 'and I can't bear him to be always away. There was a time when he spent all his evenings at home.' And then the tears would roll down her poor holler cheeks, and it went to my 'eart to see her so miserable. I had a feller-feeling, you see, sir, for I know how it worrits me when my master stops late at the 'Coach and Horses' on a Saturday night." "Ah, but it's different with a husband. A wife has a right to be exacting — not a sister. Now, tell me how they left the place and all about it. I'm interested in this poor girl, and perhaps I may be able to befriend her. Where did they go ?" "He was going to take her to some place near the sea, on the other side of Grand- chester, and a good way off. The name has gone clean out of my nead. He was very kind to her from the time she fell ill. She told me so with her own lips. 'Gaston was never so kind to me in his life,' she says. He fancied it was the air here that didn't agree with her, she told me, and it is rather a relaxin' air, sir. I feel it so sometimes myself, and if it wasn't for my drop of beer I should go right off into a dead faint." "What kind of a young woman was Miss Foy ? Was she like her brother ?" "No, sir, she were not. I never laid eyes on a brother or sister more unsimilar. She had been very pretty, there's no denying that, but her nervous worriting ways had that worn and preyed upon her that she was old and 'aggard before her time. She had light brown hair and a fair skin and blue eyes, and I dessay she had been a pretty figure before she wasted away like, but her 'ealth were never good from the time I knew her." "Did you see her the day she went away ?" asked the vicar. "It wasn't a day, sir. She went late at night by the last train to Grandchester. She was to sleep in Grandchester, and go on to the seaside the next morning ; and I do say that it wasn't the right thing for a young person in her state of 'ealth to travel late on a winter's night. But there, poor young feller, it wasn't his fault, for he had to be at the office all day." "She was wrapped up warmly, I sup- pose." "Yes, she wore a thick Scotch plaid shawl that he bought here the winter before." "Black and red?" said the vicar. "Black and red," assented the woman, with some astonishment."One would think you'd seen it, sir." "I told you I was interested in the young lady," answered the vicar, vaguely. He took out his memorandum-book, and wrote down the date and the hour of the young woman's removal from Rose-cottage. She had left in the one cab that plied between Parminter village and the Par- minter-road Station. The cabman could be forthcoming if he were wanted, Mrs Moff protested. Mr. Leworthy rewarded this worthy woman with a crown piece, half of which he stipulated was to be given to the little girl when she came home from her errand, and then he walked briskly back to the station, which was a good half-mile from Lawson-lane. He was lucky enough to get a train in less than half-an-hour, and he was back in Grandchester at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Here he took a cab, and drove straight to Mr. Brockbank's office, to whom he im- parted all he had done. "Upon my soul, you're a clever fellow, vicar!" cried the lawyer; "you ought to have been something better than a parson." "You mean I ought to have been some thing that pays better. Now, look here, Brockbank, you must start off to Milldale by the first train, and get the coroner to order a post mortem. No post mortem necessary, forsooth, said that fool of a local surgeon, because the immediate cause of death was obviously laudanum. Why, it's clear to my mind, from what I've heard to day, that this poor creature was slowly done to death by arsenic, and that the dose of laudanum was only given at the last to accelerate the end." Mr. Brockbank saw the force of this argu- ment, and looked at once to his railway time-table. "There's a train at 4.30," he said. "I can go by that. And now what are you going to do?" "I shall call on Mr. Umpleby and try and stop to-morrow's wedding." "What motive can this Foy have had for getting rid of his sister?" speculated the lawyer. "Very little motive, I should imagine, for getting rid of a sister. But what if the young woman was something more difficult to dispose of than a sister ? What if she was his wife ? These two young people lived quite alone in a country lane. It was easy for them to live as man and wife, yet pass for brother and sister. The char- woman's account shows that the poor girl was jealous and unhappy. She fretted on account of Foy's late hours. They were overheard quarrelling. Take my word for it, Brockbank, that unfortu- nate young woman was a wife — a wife of whom Mr. Foy grew mortally tired when he found that it was on the cards for him to marry Miss Umpleby, with a handsome dowry, and the prospect of rapid advance- ment in the house. Now, I want you to set one of your clerks at work without an hour's delay to hunt up the evidence of such a marriage, either in a church or at a registry office. "It shall be done," said Brockbank. "Anything more ?" "Only this much. I have written an advertisement which will appear to-morrow in the three local dailies." He read the draft of his advertisement. "This may bring us information as to the next stage in that poor young woman's journey after she left Parminter," he said. "Possibly. You really are a genius in the art of hunting a criminal." "No, sir, I am only thorough. I would do a good deal more than this to help any one I love. Now I'm off. I dare say
you've some business to get through before you start for Milldale.' "Only half-a-dozen letters to dictate," answered the lawyer, lightly, and then he put his lips to a speaking-tube and gave an order. "Send up the shorthand clerk, and have a cab at the door at a quarter-past four." (To be continued.)