Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

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The next day he was much too exhausted and weak to talk about anything. He took what his sister brought him, smiled his thanks, and once put up his hand and stroked her cheek. But her heart was not gladdened by these signs of comparative composure, for what gave him quiet but the same that filled her with unspeakable horror?

The day after that was Saturday, and George Bascombe came as usual. The sound of his step in the hall made her dying hope once more flutter its wings: having lost the poor stay of the parson, from whom she had never expected much, she turned in her fresh despair to the cousin from whom she had never looked for anything. But what was she to say to him?--Nothing yet, she resolved; but she would take him to see Leopold--for was he not sure to hear that the parson had been admitted? She did not feel at all certain that she was doing right, but she would do it; and if she left them together, possibly George might drop some good PRACTICAL advice, which, though spoken in ignorance, might yet tell. George was such a healthy nature and such a sound thinker! Was it not as ridiculous as horrible for any man to think he had a right to throw away his very existence, and bring disgrace upon his family as well, for a mere point of honour--no, not honour, mere fastidiousness!

Leopold was better, and willing enough to see George, saying only,

"I would rather it were Mr. Wingfold. But he can't come to-day, I suppose, to-morrow being Sunday."

George's entrance brought with it a waft of breezy health, and a show of bodily vigour pleasant and refreshing to the heart of the invalid. Kindness shone in his eyes, and his large, handsome hand was out as usual while he was yet yards away. It swallowed up that of poor Leopold, and held it fast.

"Come, come, old fellow! What's the meaning of this?" he said right cheerily. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself--lying in bed like this in such weather! Why ain't you riding in the park with Helen, instead of moping in this dark room? You'll be as blind as the fish in the cave of Kentucky if you don't get out of this directly! We must see what we can do to get you up!"

He glanced round the room, saw that Helen had left it, and changed his tone to a lower and serious one:

"I say, my boy, you must have been playing old Harry with your constitution to bring yourself to such a pass! By Jove! this will never do! You must turn over a new leaf, you know. That sort of thing never pays. The game's not worth the candle. Why, you've been at death's door, and life's not so long that you can afford to play ducks and drakes with it."

Thus he talked, in expostulatory rattle, the very high-priest of social morality, for some, time before Leopold could get a word in. But when he did, it turned the current into quite another channel.

An hour passed, and George reappeared in the drawing-room, where Helen was waiting for him. He looked very grave.

"I fear matters are worse with poor Leopold than I had imagined," he said.

Helen gave a sad nod of acquiescence.

"He's quite off his head," continued George, "--telling me such an awful cock-and-bull story with the greatest gravity! He WILL have it that he is a murderer--the murderer of that very girl I was telling you about, you remember,--"

"Yes, yes! I know," said Helen, as a faint gleam of reviving hope shot up from below her horizon. George took the whole thing for a sick fancy, and who was likely to know better than he--a lawyer, and skilled in evidence? Not a word would she say to interfere with such an opinion!

"I hope you gave him a good talking-to," she said.

"Of course I did," he answered; "but it was of no use. I see exactly how it is. He gave me a full and circumstantial account of the affair, filling up all the gaps, it is true, but going only just as far as the newspapers supplied the skeleton. How he got away, for instance, he could not tell me. And now nothing will serve him but confess it! He don't care who knows it! He's as mad as a hatter!--I beg your pardon, Helen--on that one point, I mean. The moment I saw him I read madness in his eye!--What's to be done now?"

"George, I look to you," said Helen. "Poor aunt is of no use. Think what will become of her, if the unhappy boy should attempt to give himself up! We should be the talk of the county--of the whole country!"

"Why didn't you tell me of this before, Helen? It must have been coming on for some time."

"George, I didn't know what to do. And I had heard you say such terrible things about the duty of punishing crime."

"Good gracious, Helen! where is your logic? What has crime to do with it! Is down-right stark-staring madness a crime? Anyone with half an eye can see the boy is mad!"

Helen saw she had made a slip, and held her peace. George went on:--

"He ought to be shut up."

"No! no! no!" Helen almost screamed, and covered her face with her hands.

"I've done my best to persuade him. But I will have another try. That a fellow is out of his mind is no reason why he should be unassailable by good logic--that is, if you take him on his own admissions."

"I fear you will make nothing of him, George. He is set upon it, and I don't know what IS to be done."

George got up, went back to Leopold, and plied him with the very best of arguments. But they were of no avail. There was for him but one door out of hell, and that was the door of confession--let what might lie on the other side of it.

"Who knows," he said, "but the law of a life for a life may have come of compassion for the murderer?"

"Nonsense!" said George. "It comes of the care of society over its own constituent parts."

"Whatever it came from, I know this," returned Leopold, "that, since I made up my mind to confess, I am a man again."

George was silent. He found himself in that rare condition for him--perplexity. It would be most awkward if the thing came to be talked of! Some would even be fools enough to believe the story! Entire proof of madness would only make such set it down as the consequence--or, if pity prevailed, then as the cause of the deed. They might be compelled to shut him up, to avoid no end of the most frightful annoyances. But Helen, he feared, would not consent to that. And then his story was so circumstantial--and therefore so far plausible--that there was no doubt most magistrates would be ready at once to commit him for trial--and then where would there be an end of the most offensive embarrassments!

Thus George reflected uneasily. But at length an idea struck him.

"Well," he said lightly, "if you will, you will. We must try to make it as easy for you as we can. I will manage it, and go with you. I know all about such things, you know. But it won't do just to-day. If you were to go before a magistrate, looking as you do now, he would not listen to a word you uttered. He would only fancy you in a fever and send you to bed. If you are quiet to-day--let me see-- to-morrow is Sunday--and if you are in the same mind on Monday, I will take you to Mr. Hooker--he's one of the county magistrates, and you shall make your statement to him."

"Thank you.--I should like Mr. Wingfold to go too."

"Soh!" said George to himself.

"By all means," he answered. "We can take him with us."

He went again to Helen.

"This is a most awkward business," he said. "Poor girl! what you must have gone through with him! I had no idea! But I see my way out of it. Keep your mind easy, Helen. I do see what I can do. Only what's the meaning of his wanting that fellow Wingfold to go with him? I shouldn't a bit wonder now if it all came of some of his nonsense! At least, it may be that ass of a curate that has put confession in his head--to save his soul, of course! How did he come to see him?"

"The poor boy would see him."

"What made him want to see him?"

Helen held her peace. She saw George suspected the truth.

"Well, no matter," said George. "But one never knows what may come of things. We ought always to look well ahead.--You had better go and lie down awhile, Helen; you don't seem quite yourself."

"I am afraid to leave Leopold," she answered. "He will be telling aunt and everybody now."

"That I will take care he does not," said George. "You go and lie down a while."

Helen's strength had been sorely tried: she had borne up bravely to the last; but now that she could do no more, and her brother had taken himself out of her hands, her strength had begun to give way, and, almost for the first time in her life, in daylight, she longed to go to bed. Let George, or Wingfold, or who would, see to the wilful boy! She had done what she could.

She gladly yielded to George's suggestion, sought an unoccupied room, bolted the door, and threw herself upon the bed.

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