THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE
CROUCH would have done
better for himself if he had obeyed his first impulse and stayed
where he was to tell what he knew and assist the others in their
attentions to the stricken man. But to have told the whole
truth would have been to seriously compromise himself, and his
story, however carefully related, would have suggested ugly
suspicions and no end of awkward questions. Moreover, there
had come upon him as he stood in the midst of that terrible scene an
overpowering impulse of protestation, which he realised would be
dangerously incriminating. As he looked at the fallen sufferer
and then at the amazed and wailing knot of servants, he could
scarcely refrain himself; and yet he realised that if once he opened
his mouth there was no telling what he might be impelled to say.
But he would probably have remained there in torturing indecision,
unable to decide either way, but for another circumstance.
Simpson had the soul of a coward and the terrifying consciousness of
evil thoughts; he knew the whole inwardness of the black impulse
that had prompted him to spring at Phineas; and he knew also that
though actual murder was outside the possibilities of such a nature
as his, he had had suggestions and desires which could only be
expressed in one word. He knew how often he had writhed before
the hindrances unconsciously put in his way by the ex-cooper; he
knew how the advantages to be gained by the removal of Phineas,
instead of being suppressed instantly, had been dwelt upon and
magnified before his heated imagination until every lust of his soul
was on fire with unholy desire.
"Conscience doth make cowards of us all," but the already
coward she makes a fright-ridden slave. In three reckless
jumps Simpson cleared the parlour and the lobby; but the moment he
was outside, the white, uncompromising daylight smote upon him like
a furnace. He reeled, staggered, uttered a despairing cry, and
was falling to the ground. But the terror behind was
even-greater than the terror about him; he made a spring that
collapsed into a helpless lurch, and then realised with new horror
that his legs were refusing their office. The faces of persons
at shop doors and house windows all seemed to be looking at him, the
people in the street were all hurrying towards him, the doctor cast
a hurried glance as he passed that chilled him to the bone, and the
very air seemed laden with muttered but vehement accusations.
With bowed head and hand over his eyes he dragged himself along,
every sound he heard being a new accusation.
There was a gate hanging helplessly on the pillar at the
entrance of the mill-yard, but it was so decrepit that it was never
closed. Simpson sprang at it with glaring eyes and feverish
hands, dragged it into its place, and gave vent to a bitter curse
when he found that the fastenings were gone. A delusive sense
that once inside his office he would be safe was moving him, and he
dashed forward; but catching sight of the red wing in Clara's hat,
he turned away with another terror added to his already frenzied
dreams. He glanced towards the wood-shed, but he heard voices
there; he thought of the mill-cellar, but he could not reach it
without passing through the workshop. There was an attic, but
that, like the cellar, was approached only from within, and was the
lightest room in the mill. Then his eyes fell on the old shed,
the coveting of which had been the original cause of his difference
with Dolly: that had rooms in it dark enough; but as the spectral
form of the dead Phineas rose before his mind, he realised that to
be there with that terror would be unendurable. Simpson wrung
his hands in abject misery and looked helplessly round. There
must be some solitude of protecting darkness somewhere. He
thought of the the hayloft, an adjoining plantation, whilst the fear
within him clamouring for concealment almost choked him. Ha!
Yes! That would do! And a moment later he was dragging
his struggling body through a flap of the cellar window.
The aperture through which he had come was the only channel
by which light came into the underground room, but even that seemed
too much. He slunk as deep as he could into the noisome hole,
and as far away as possible from that accusing streak of dimness.
The floor was sticky with slime, the walls slippery and fœtid, and
the air heavy with mouldy, rotting moisture, but he heeded not.
Every sound above and about him sent starts of terror through him,
and in sudden, helpless self-pity he burst into a choking sob and
dropped down upon a log of rotting timber. He tried to think.
If to have an endless succession of maddening visions, each more
terrible than its predecessor, marching like a vast army through his
brain, was thinking, Simpson never thought so much in his life, or
so clearly; but if ordered sequence and the subjection of topic to
will mean thinking, he was never further away from that exercise.
He had no more control of his thoughts than if they had been in
another brain; they pulled him here and drove him there, and rioted
in his brain and nerves without let or hindrance until he scarcely
knew what he was doing. Still as a statue he sat, until the
very rats came out of their holes, and, surveying him with
speculative interest, seemed divided in their minds as to whether he
was anything to be afraid of or not.
The time stole slowly by; the one little yellow streak of day
faded; black darkness settled on the noisome scene, and he still sat
there, the absolute slave of a tyrannical imagination.
It was a curious inconsistency, one of those revenges,
perhaps, of nature, that to his narrow, selfish nature the moral
aspects of the case were the ones that were most insistent.
The thoughts, natural enough some of them, if not exactly innocent,
which he had had about the desirability of Phineas's removal, now
put on the hideous forms of crime and glared at him with inexorable
grimness. These and these only could he see; and though the
kaleidoscopic phantasms changed every moment, they all proclaimed
the same damning fact. Hour after hour he fought with it.
No sound startled him now; the very rats nibbled unheeded at his
boot toes, and the drip, drip of ill-odoured moisture fell on deaf
A murderer! A very Cain, with the indelible mark of
blood upon him! And he bowed his head, hugged his knees, and
writhed his tortured body until great bursting veins stood out upon
his forehead. Then a flash of suggestion came, and "No!
No! I am not! I am not!" he cried piteously. "It
was a fit, a stroke"—but all at once the tricky phantasm which had
brought the relieving thought vanished, and the gaunt, awful form of
the black impulse that was upon him when he flung himself upon the
innkeeper, and all the dark desires that had lurked so long in his
secret soul, came trooping out like an army of hostile witnesses.
He lifted his head with another bitter cry. What! It was
growing light again; he could see the other end of the room, and a
pale dim beam streamed through the distant window. He sprang
to his feet with a shudder; Nature herself was against him, and the
very sun was coming back to mock his hope of concealment and join
the army of his accusers. He stumbled towards the window,
glanced helplessly around, dropped upon his knees, gathered up a
handful of the black slime on the floor, and hastily smeared it over
the thick glass. Again and again be repeated the operation,
and then, with only the faintest glimmer to guide him, he began to
pace about the room, here and there with wooden pillars and pieces
of rotting timber, until his shins were barked and his whole body
It was cold down there, but he did not feel it; moist and
foetid, but he did not realise it. Moment by moment he paced
about, now resolving on flight whilst there might yet be time, and
now deciding upon that most impossible of all impossibilities to
him—dispassionate thought. The tramp of feet above him,
followed by sounds of voices and the groaning of the old engine and
shafting, told him that day had come and that the workmen were
resuming their labours. But the close proximity of those who
knew him and must know also of the occurrences at the King's Arms
gave his thoughts another turn. All night the personal aspects
of the case had been with him, but now other elements of the case
came before him, and he was soon deep in reflections almost more
terrifying than the earlier ones. Guilty or not guilty, he was
seriously compromised. He was present, had his hand on the
dead man's throat at the fatal moment, and he had fled. Oh,
the madness, the blind, stupid insanity of the whole thing!
Why had he not stood it out? Why had he not told the truth?
It was the truth, he was not a murderer—but to have been present at
the fatal moment and to have fled! Snelsby at anyrate would
understand one thing, and one only.
That his guilty conscience should have played him this
traitorous trick and caused him thus recklessly and needlessly to
incriminate himself, added new tortures to his already frenzied
brain. This aspect of the case, appealing as it did to his
practical, prudential selfishness, gradually grew before his mind,
and for a time at least overshadowed the other. Of food or
sleep, the moist, mouldy air he breathed, and the flight of time, he
never thought; so absorbed was he with the scene at the inn and
everything it involved, that the question of what to do for himself
was long indeed in being reached. It came at last, however,
and in most unwelcome garb. Action, so often the relief of
crushed minds, is also just as often the refuge of the soul that
dare no longer think. But here, perversely enough, the
necessity of doing something only brought fresh terrors. To go
out in the eye of that staring daylight, to have to encounter the
gaze of his fellow-men and hear their voices seemed impossible, and
for the moment the dark, evil-smelling cellar seemed a very haven of
rest and security. Then he remembered that the key of the
basement was hanging in the office, and that if a search was
instituted for him his hiding-place would be explored and he would
be caught like a rat in a hole.
It was a sign of his condition that he felt they would think
of the cellar at once, though it was sometimes not invaded for
weeks. Any moment now he might be dragged out amid the
reproaches and curses of his outraged neighbours. He began to
listen now for the opening of the door on the top of the steps;
every foot he heard in the room above was the tramp of the
policeman, and every old barrel in the cellar seemed to be
concealing a spy. He dared not go out, he dared not stay; and
the more vehemently he asserted to himself his innocence, the more
black and overwhelming seemed the evidence against him.
The engine stopped for the dinner-hour, the men departed for
their food. But to escape he would have to force the cellar
door or depart as he had entered, and in either case those of his
workmen who brought their food with them to the mill would be sure
to hear him. What must he do? Where must he go?
Innocent! The thought added only a new terror.
And so the hours flew swiftly by, every fear of Simpson's
craven soul gradually coalescing together into one mad desire for
flight. More than once during the last few hours he had seen
amongst the other phantasmagoria of his heated brain the
lotus-eater's face of the demon of self-destruction, and he was, as
yet, healthy-minded enough to shudder at it. And now, as the
fretted hours passed away and the obscure ray from the dim and
smeared window grew fainter and fainter, the whole cellar began to
fill with floating faces and mocking sounds. The sharp red
eyes of Phineas Wenyon began to haunt him, and he heard his strident
tones above the rumbling of the mill-wheels. What other could
he do than flee?
Every attempt he made to justify himself, if he went amongst
his fellows, would only more seriously incriminate him, and his
explanation that Phineas had a fit would only expose him to the
keener ridicule. It gradually grew darker, then black as
midnight; the whole cellar was full of those horrible, haunting
faces. He dared not stay, he dared not go, he dared not touch
his own fingers, out of a frenzied fear that they might be smeared
with blood. Stiff and terrified, he presently felt that he
dared not move; he scarcely dared to think. All was still
above, distant sounds from the town sounded faint and far away, the
rats careered heedlessly about his feet, and the drop, drop, of the
slimy ooze from the walls ceased to be audible to him.
With crouching form and stealthy steps, as though even his
flight were an added crime, he groped his way to the window.
Catching his breath at every sound caused by his own clumsy
nervousness, he dragged himself up and insinuated his body, which
seemed to have a jumping heart in every limb, under the flap.
He pulled himself out of his dungeon and stood with a thousand new
terrors flooding in upon him. Every star in the crowded sky
was watching him; the very new moon seemed to have arrived for the
occasion and to be gleaming upon him in insolent triumph. The
dim town lamps seemed like great searchlights as he stood there,
heartily wishing himself back again in the darkness.
In spite of the time he had spent in that cellar, and all the
thinking he had done, he still had no definite plan; he would like
to have seen his sister, but even she, he realised, would draw the
line at work like this. With a courage feigned to beget
courage, he stole along the mill-side; and as he reached the corner
where he could see the office he pulled up with a smothered
exclamation, for there was a light in it. Of course!
Clara, in his absence, was attending to the business—her
business as well as his. Nothing very terrible had been
discovered, or she would not be there. A sudden pitiful
eagerness to hear even this human voice came over him, and he
started forward, but suddenly the light went out, and as he stood
there in confusion the door opened and out stepped his sister.
She started with a little nervous scream, and then, quickly
recovering herself, she remarked in slow, mocking tones—
"Oh, it's thee—at last!"
"She remarked in slow, mocking tones, 'Oh, it's thee—at last!'"
Simpson winced, but there was an insufferable burden on his
soul, and so he asked in abject, pleading tones no louder than a
"Is he dead?"
"Dead as a herrin', an' a good job, too."
"Isn't that what thou wanted, pigeon-heart? But where
has thou been?"
"But—but what are they doing—"
"Nothin'? No inquest?"
"Inquest? What do they want an inquest for?"
"Old Bolus Brampton said he'd died from natteral
causes—apoplectic fit—man, thou looks like a ghost wi' a bad liver!"
"Did they—will they—are they after me?"
"Ay, Phineas's lawyer is after thee."
Simpson sprang back with a suppressed scream, but his
sister's tone belied her words, and so he cried desperately—
"I didn't, Clara! I swear I didn't!"
"No, thou didn't: nobody as knew thee would ever think thou
did"; but the tone was a biting mock and not a reassurance, and
Simpson squirmed again.
"What — what does t' lawyer want wi' me?"
"He wants thee badly, he's sent here twice for thee."
"Will he—has he—is t' police after me?"
"Like enough; he wants thee badly, anyway."
"I—I—I—didn't, Clara, I didn't—what does he want me for?"
"Well, not for murder, as thou thinks."
"What? Say it again."
"He wants thee to execute a will—old Phineas's will."
"Ay, the old rascal made it fifteen months sin' on a sixpenny
form, and he left his wife and Simpson Crouch, his son-in-law as was
to be, executors."
There was mockery and scorn, but a strong under-current of
veracity, in Clara's voice; but her last words were scarcely out of
her mouth when she sprang forward with a half-distressful,
half-resentful cry: for Simpson had dropped at her feet in a dead
SNELSBY SPEAKS ITS MIND
death of Phineas Wenyon made a most profound impression upon
Snelsby. This was not the only event of its kind in the
history of the easy-going old town, of course; neither had Phineas
held any such exceptional position in the town as that his death
should receive such extraordinary attention.
Nevertheless, after meditating upon it for twenty-four hours
and sullenly wondering why there was no inquest and duly weighing
all the circumstances of the case, heavy, sluggish Snelsby spoke its
mind. From the parson at the vicarage to Tommy Brick the
caretaker of Jeff Twigg's little Frog-lane chapel, from Mr Willup
the "retired gentleman" who occupied what was once "The Hall," down
to Puggins the cockle-hawker, who walked all the way to Benderton
and back to borrow his brother-in-law's black trousers for the
occasion,—Snelsby made up its mind. The town had never taken
the cooper very seriously; everybody liked him because of his
ingenuous earnestness, his sprightly conversational powers, and his
amusing freaks of conduct and opinion, and his foibles, whatever
they were, were harmless and amusing; and so Snelsby, in its slow,
drowsy way, had liked its old townsman.
But it was not this feeling that moved them now. Those
at all intimate with English rural life are perfectly well aware
that society in our small market towns is often honey-combed through
and through with private drinking, and Snelsby was no exception.
Phineas had never spared his neighbours; some people said he had not
always been as discreet as he might, and complained that he was
personal and made his total abstinence offensive; but all this was
forgotten now, and men remembered only that he had in his own way
sought their welfare. For some time now the cooper and his
movements had been the most prominent topics of Snelsby
conversation, and his fellow-townsmen had discussed every move of
the game as they saw it; but this staggeringly sudden death took
their breath away, and it was only when they got time to think that
there arose in their slow-moving, matter-of-fact minds the great
idea that did justice to the crisis. Without interchange of
thought, without preachment, without committees, or discussions, or
pre-arrangements, there arose in their dull brain the tremendous
fact that Phineas Wenyon was a martyr. He had suffered
for conscience' sake; old Joshua Wenyon and Simpson Crouch between
them had killed him.
Not much was said; everybody seemed to understand what his
neighbour was feeling; a quiet, pensive self-restraint seemed to sit
upon everybody during the few days that elapsed between the
startling death and the funeral. But when the modest hearse
and its couple of simple mourning-coaches drew up outside the
cooperage, Snelsby began to move—softly, decorously, but in most
serious earnestness; and when the lowly cortege passed along the
street there dropped into rank behind it the largest, longest, most
influential, and most inclusive procession Snelsby had ever seen.
Rich and poor, church and chapel, teetotaler and publican, saint and
sinner, were all there, and there was but one conspicuous absentee:
Simpson Crouch knew better than show himself that day in public.
Snelsby, coroner's inquest or no coroner's inquest, had made up its
mind about Simpson; and so the landlord of the Red Lion, of all
persons, had stalked into the bobbin-mill office and warned him that
it would not be safe for him to be seen in the street whilst Phineas
Wenyon was being buried.
"But I'm his executor," protested Simpson.
"Oh?"—and the purple-faced landlord looked astonished.
"Now, look thee here! I'm not a full-fledged cherubim, not
quite; but I know a man—Phineas Wenyon wur a man, totaller or no
totaller he wur a man; and if thou shows thy foxey face i' them
streets to-morrow there'll be trubble."
Only dimly conscious of the great crowd behind, Dolly and her
mother, accompanied by the Twiggs and one or two distant relatives,
made their sad way to the church. Mrs Wenyon's hair had
suddenly turned white, she scarcely seemed to have command of
herself, and spent most of her time in moaning out snatches of
hymns, texts of Scripture, and ancient local proverbs. The
lawyer, secretly much disgusted at having, through the defection of
Simpson, to attend, changed his mind when he saw all Snelsby in the
street, and, riding in the second coach, spent his time in
alternately peeping out of the window at the crowds of bystanders
and then turning to his neighbour and remarking with solemn shakes
of the head, "Remarkable man—most remarkable man!"
The service at the church was made impressive by sheer weight
of numbers, and the vicar scandalised his high-church curate and
immensely gratified everybody else by asking the dissenting minister
to take some part in the simple ceremony. The curate was
pained—it was humiliating to see a man of the vicar's standing
carried away by mere excitement; but when the prayer at the
grave-side was over and the clerk's "Amen" was drowned in a chorus
of similar responses from little Bethelites and others led by
Jeffrey Twigg, the curate glared round with a horrified, helpless
sigh. The last word had been said, a wave of soft, long-drawn
sighs broke over the company, there was an expressive pause, the
young cleric was trying to catch the eye of the bill-sticker to make
him aware of the enormity of his conduct, when suddenly—was he in
his senses? was it not some horrible dream?—he heard the sharp click
of a pitchfork, and an instant later there was Jeff staring him in
the very face and leading his fellow-mourners in one of the oldest
of Snelsby Sunday-school hymns—
"Though often here we're weary,
There is sweet rest above," etc.
The curate shot out a hand and cried in sternest whisper,
"H-u-s-h!" The clerk and the grave-diggers echoed "Hush!" but
all in vain. The music spread, the roll grew deeper; every man
there knew that old Sunday-school tune, though most of them had not
heard it for forty years. The startled look faded out of
propriety-shocked faces, and the owners of them fell softly into the
tune. The dissenters sang it; men who had not been inside a
place of worship for years sang it; the old doctor, choleric and
profane as he was, felt himself dropping into its hum; the vicar
began to sing; and there, at the back of the crowd, the
apoplectic-faced landlord of the Red Lion burst, in spite of
himself, into a snatch or two, and then dodged behind a tree to
choke back his unwonted emotion.
That scene has never been forgotten by any who took part in
it: even the high-church curate tells of it to this day as an
example of irresistible impromptu effect. There was much
blowing of noses and wiping of eyes as the two mourning women made
their way back to their coach; and tongues being now released, there
was more expression of strong opinion about Phineas Wenyon and his
singular ways than Snelsby would have allowed itself to be betrayed
into in a month of ordinary conversation. One thing, however,
soon became apparent: Phineas Wenyon's stalwart self-sacrifice for
principle's sake, now thrown into such startling distinctness by his
tragic death, did more for the cause of sobriety and temperance in
Snelsby than all his labours had done.
The only thing that seemed to have disappointed the
demonstrating voluntary mourners was the fact that the procession
had not started from the King's Arms; this, it was felt, would have
made the thing complete; and many stopped as they returned from
church, and stood in little knots outside the now famous hostelry
discussing the various incidents of the funeral and provoking each
other in vague speculation as to the next act in this exciting local
drama. And certainly there was room enough for much and
various guessing, for the situation was singular enough. As
soon as the terrible fact of her husband's death had been made clear
to Mrs Wenyon, she had fallen into a series of long faints with
intervals of acutest mental agony, and at length had declared, with
another burst of hysterical weeping, that there was a curse upon the
King's Arms, that all the great troubles of her life had come since
she had anything to do with it, that there would be no peace or
safety until they were out of it, and she would not stay a single
hour. Nothing that could be said made any impression; she
insisted then and there upon going back to the old home and taking
her daughter and the dear clay of her beloved husband with her.
The fact that she would thus be leaving her interesting charge,
Billy Stiff, to the tender mercies of the world, gave her pause for
a moment or two; but having disposed of that difficulty by putting
old Jeff in charge of the establishment, and handing her patient
over to Thomasina, she dragged her sobbing daughter away, and
literally shook the dust of the King's Arms off her feet.
The bill-sticker, to whose ungainly height this appointment
seemed to add several inches, at once assumed the office, and with
his face of portentous gravity stalked about the passages of the
inn, alternately dropping down upon some intruder or negligent
servant or joining some kindred spirit in piteous lamentations about
the recent shocking occurrence. The excitement caused the inn
to be very busy and full, and Jeff was correspondingly important;
but when the funeral was over and he got out of the second
mourning-coach and strode into the hostel as manager, with the eyes
of half Snelsby upon him, Jeff felt that at last some little was
being done to recognise his value and to make amends for the past.
It was some time, however, before he could settle down to his
duties; his new black clothes had to be changed, the wonderful story
of the funeral detailed to his wife and the silent but intensely
interested patient; then he was called to partake of food; and so by
the time he was at liberty to look round, the inn was buzzing from
end to end with chattering but good-humoured customers. Jeff
somehow felt that it would be a degradation of his temporary office
to condescend to talk with the customers, but neither his wife nor
Billy could stand any more of his stories just then; and still he
longed to talk, and began to move about the place, seeking means of
getting the desired relief. Passing the end of the bar,
however, he felt himself plucked on the sleeve, and, turning his
head, caught a series of mysterious signals from Miriam, the senior
maid-servant. There were so many signs of secrecy about the
communications that Jeff became very much on the alert, put on his
easiest manner, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and lounged
up alongside Miriam, who was already busy again in the service of
the customers. In a moment or two she turned, waited to catch
his eye, jerked her finger behind her in the direction of the little
inner office, and hastily hurried away with a tray of tea and
biscuits. The apartment she had indicated was very small—if
two persons occupied it together, it was full; since his appointment
as caretaker, Jeff had mostly kept the room closed. As he
approached the door he heard the clink of money, and as he entered
he beheld the bag in which he had put yesterday's takings tilted up
and half empty on the table, and Simpson Crouch bending over the
coins and counting them.
Simpson half unconsciously spread his hands over the coins
and stared defiantly up into Jeff's indignant face.
"What are you up to here?" demanded the suspicious
"Minding my own business. What are you doing?"
"Business? It's not your business, it's mine."
"I tell you it's mine."
"But Mrs Wenyon put me in herself."
"The law put me in, I'm the executor."
Jeff stared helplessly at the money-bag, then at Simpson, and
then back at the cash; and catching at that moment an ill-concealed
gleam of triumph in the bobbin-maker's eye, he took a stride
forward, glared down fiercely into Simpson's face, and commanded
"Take thy greedy paws off that brass."
Simpson seemed inclined to defiance, but a second glance at
his big opponent restrained him, and he sat back from the table-desk
and slowly rose to his feet.
"Lawyer Setchell gave me instructions, and the law itself
makes me master."
"Then the law makes a thunderin' mistake, and so does the
lawyer; you'll never be master here while your heart's warm, so just
"But, Jeff"—Simpson perceived that he must change his
tactics—"it's Phineas Wenyon's own doings; he left it in his will
that I was to be executor."
"Seein's believin'; where's t' will?"
"Lawyer Setchell has it; he's explaining all about it to Mrs
Wenyon this very minute, and I'm responsible for everything that
goes on here"—and Simpson turned towards the money-table again.
"Mrs Wenyon put me in herself," retorted Jeff doggedly, "and
nobody but Mrs Wenyon 'ull turn me out."
Simpson coaxed and threatened and bullied and argued, but
Jeff stuck to his text in spite of all that could be urged against
him, and finally, but with the utmost possible reluctance, he
withdrew and left the bill-sticker in victorious possession.
In a few minutes, however, he was back with the lawyer. Jeff
was tying up the moneybags, and when the man of parchment saw the
kind of simpleton he had to deal with, he put on a brusque,
peremptory air and bade the billposter be careful what he was about.
Jeff went on tying the bag-string.
"Do you know you'll have to give an account to this gentleman
for every penny?"
"If he'll come i' th' back yard and you'll hold our coats
I'll do that now"—and Jeff was getting very red.
"Tut, man! Don't be coarse! Mr Crouch is executor
along with Mrs Wenyon, and has as much authority as she."
"Just as much, and no more?"
"Exactly, equal authority—only you—"
"That's it! She's as much power as him and he as
her—well, I'll take my orders from her."
Simpson broke in here with a not too vague hint about the
police; but the lawyer, checking him, advised him to wait until Mrs
Wenyon was ready to be spoken to on matters of business. Two
days later Jeff, in surliest manner, gave up the keys of the office
to the bobbin-maker, and he and his wife retired to that part of the
big house to which the patient had been removed. Mrs Wenyon
and Dolly were too much overwhelmed with their sorrow to take much
interest in anything; Dolly, indeed, keeping her bed for some days
through severe nervous shock.
At last, some ten days after the funeral, the two women made
their first visit to the King's Arms, and found to their
astonishment that Simpson Crouch and his sister were in full
possession; two of the old servants had already gone and a third was
going, a smell suspiciously like intoxicants pervaded the lower
rooms, and Jeff and his wife were preparing to have the invalid
removed to the tollhouse.
"You see, Dolly," explained Clara as she hurried them past
the public room and upstairs where they could be quiet, "it would
never do to let a parcel of servants run riot in a place like this,
and Simpson felt that he was responsible, and so we thought we had
better come and look after things ourselves until matters are
settled and you are ready."
But Dolly was scarcely listening; her thoughts were going out after
another occupant of the house. Mrs Wenyon, who had declared
twenty times that day she would never come again, looked round with
a fearful interest, and at Clara's suggestion of their return, broke
"Never, never, never! The place 'ud fall down and bury
us both if we came back."
"Ay, woman, I don't wonder; but there's no need to fret,
there's no call for you to do what you don't like to do—Simpson and
me 'ull help you out."
Dolly, usually the most unsuspicious of souls, turned and
looked curiously at Clara, whilst Mrs Wenyon sighingly shook her
head and murmured—
"You're very good, very—"
"Hay, that's nothin'! Simpson is that anxious about you, he
says mill or no mill this must be looked after."
Dolly had another calculating side-look at the speaker, and
they all three began to move towards Billy Stiff's bedroom, Clara
leading the way.
A moment or two later Mrs Wenyon was fussing about the
sufferer and his nurse, putting fifty things to rights which no one
else could take exception to, Thomasina Twig, watching her with
surly jealousy. Dolly, standing shyly by, was trying to find a
corner of the room where her eyes might rest without encountering
those of Stiff; but those great hungry grey orbs of his seemed to be
everywhere and to look her through and through. The sufferer's
leg was reported to be doing " nicely," and his looks, gaunt and wan
though they still were, seemed to justify hope. It was
difficult to get "mother" away from the bedside, and even when she
did allow herself to be led away she felt it necessary to return two
or three times to give instructions to the still taciturn Thomasina,
who took everything so very glumly that Dolly, who had been studying
Clara, was compelled to notice her.
As they were going down the stairs Clara exhorted in her most
"Now don't you bother, Dolly, and don't let your poor, dear
mother bother; Simpson 'ull look after things, and everything will
Dolly, who seemed somewhat absent-minded, nodded a little
vaguely, and Clara, as she watched them go up the high street, had
misgivings about the younger woman's manner which she could scarcely
put into words, but which somehow clouded her face and cast a chill
over her spirits.
No sooner, however, had the stricken widow got back to her
old home than she became most unwontedly restless, sat looking out
of the window without speaking, did not even answer when she was
spoken to, had little outbursts of objectless activity in which she
arranged and re-arranged things that required no attention.
Two or three times she started to go upstairs, forgot herself on the
way, stood staring vaguely at the staircase for a moment, and then
returned helplessly to her chair. Dolly, absorbed in her own
anxious thoughts, noticed little of these things, and it was only
when her mother, bursting into pathetic protests and copious tears,
rushed bareheaded out of the house, that the daughter realised that
something unusual was happening. Dolly rushed after her
parent, but her calls only stimulated the elder woman's paces, and
when she saw that Mrs Wenyon was returning to the King's Arms she
relinquished her pursuit, guessing easily what was the matter, and
began to cast about in her mind for some modification of their
household arrangements which would enable them to entertain the sick
man, whom she now confidently expected. Half an hour, forty
minutes passed, and just as the suspense became unbearable an
extemporised ambulance appeared at the cooperage door, and Mrs
Wenyon, red but triumphant, stood at its side. The two Twiggs
were the bearers, neither of them looking very contented; but in a
very short time they managed to get the sick man's bed comfortably
arranged in a convenient place, 'Siná and Jeff being placated by the
appointment of the former as chief nurse.
Then the little party dropped into general conversation, and
before long Jeff was giving Dolly a highly coloured account of his
altercations with Simpson Crouch, whilst she, an odd silence upon
her in these days, listened with keen but mute interest.
Simpson called next night to see his co-executor on business;
but Mrs Wenyon broke into pathetic protests, and declared that she
never wanted to hear anything of the King's Arms as long as she
lived; and as for Simpson, he could do as he liked, so long as he
did not trouble her.
For the next few days the Wenyons heard little of the King's
Arms, but even preoccupied "mother" could not help noticing that
Dolly and old Jeff seemed to have much secret business together, and
some of the information which the bill-sticker imparted seemed to
give the young lady considerable distress. Then Simpson and
Clara called on a visit of condolence, but the sympathetic part of
the visit was soon disposed of, and in a short time Clara, in her
very blandest tones, was assuring Mrs Wenyon on that she need not
trouble herself, for if she really could not overcome her feeling
about the inn—well, there were several things that might be done.
Mrs Wenyon only sighed, and Dolly maintained her new coldness, and
answered in monosyllables. A little chapfallen, the visitors
felt they could not prolong the visit, and so, as she embraced the
elder woman, Clara begged her not to worry for a moment, as Simpson
had the thing in hand, and would see it through.
"Who does the property belong to now, Simpson?"
Dolly had found her tongue at last, and the simple unexpected
question seemed to rather embarrass the bobbin-maker.
"Well, of course," interjected the cool Clara, "it's in the
hands of executors—trustees, you know."
"Who are they trustees for?"
"Oh, well, of course for you."
And a sudden dropping of the eyes, and an enigmatic "Oh," was
all they could get from the heiress.
Lawyer Setchell called next day. He was first
respectfully sympathetic, then mournful, then profoundly
confidential. He was quite badgered with offers for the King's
Arms, especially as the time for the renewal of the licence was
close at hand. The property seemed a little gold-mine, and he
supposed the prices offered were inflated by competition—well, so
much the better for the fortunate heiress.
Dolly, grave and still, had no answer.
The most respectable to do with and those who had made the
best offer were Ling and Medway, the county brewers. Perhaps
Miss Wenyon would like to see the letter. No?—of course not;
ladies knew little of these things, and in times of sorrow—but if
she cared to leave the matter with him and Mr Crouch—
"But the property is mine."
"Yes, oh, yes, certainly."
"Well, I don't intend to sell."
"No? Oh, indeed,"—this with dubious
side-glances—"manager, eh? Well, on the whole, you are right,
"I understand the property is mine free from any of the
restrictions that bound poor father."
"Yes, of course, you can sell, lease, or do just as you like;
it is a nice little fortune if it is nicely managed. Your
father was—er—did not leave you very much, I fear?"
"Yes, he did—he left me his example, his principles, his pity
for poor drunkards, and his hatred for drink; and what he would have
done, I shall do to the very letter."
The next consultation between Simpson and the man of law was
not a pleasant one, but both of them were surprised and piqued to
receive invitations to meet the heiress at the King's Arms on the
following day. She came accompanied by the bill-sticker; and
as the appointment was of her making, they waited for her to
introduce the business.
"Gentlemen," she said, after a pathetic little effort at
self-command, "you tell me that this place is mine. I am, my
father's daughter, and, knowing his wishes, I will neither sell the
place that others may make a drink-shop of it, nor will I allow
anything of the nature of intoxicants to be sold on the premises.
Already my father's arrangements have been tampered with, and drink
has been given away, if not sold here. This cannot continue.
Phineas Wenyon's teetotalism is not dead whilst his daughter lives;
and to make sure that the King's Arms shall never be a
drinking-place drinking-place again, I have selected a new manager";
and here, with a confiding little gesture, she laid confiding her
hand on Jeff's arm, and looked them both in the face.
THE REAL BILLY
"BUT what does it
all mean, Mr Setchell?"
"It's there, miss, in plain figures, and you don't need
anybody to teach you, you know," and the lawyer sat back with a long
sniff and stared hard through the window.
"Well, but, what is the point? Why are you so very
"It means that the expenses of the King's Arms as it was
conducted by your father so seriously exceeded the income that the
estate is—well, to put it bluntly—insolvent."
"But we've the cooperage."
"Your father's foreman, supported by your father's chief
customers, the brewers, has already set up business for himself."
Dolly thought rapidly, but with a sinking heart.
"But we cannot be insolvent. We have the King's Arms."
"Precisely! And if sold now to the highest bidder it
would pay all your father's liabilities, save his name, and still
leave you enough to live upon."
"Couldn't we get a mortgage or loan or something?"
"Yes, I could arrange that if you would make the security all
right by renewing the licence."
"Is that the only way? And if I don't agree?"
Setchell shrugged his shoulders. "If you don't agree,
and I tell the creditors—the bank, for instance—that you will do
nothing, they will take legal proceedings at once. Principle
is all very well, but common honesty wears better."