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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 3 - Chapter 21. The Blood-Hound Traversed
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Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 3 - Chapter 21. The Blood-Hound Traversed Post by :wordsworth Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2007

Click below to download : Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 3 - Chapter 21. The Blood-Hound Traversed (Format : PDF)

Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 3 - Chapter 21. The Blood-Hound Traversed


Emmeline's mother had not gone far before she became aware that she was followed. It was a turning of the tables which she did not relish. As would not have been unnatural, even had she been at peace with all the world, a certain feeling of undefined terror came upon her and threatened to overmaster her. It was the more oppressive that she did not choose to turn and face her pursuer, feeling that to do so would be to confess consciousness of cause. The fate of her daughter, seldom absent from her thoughts, now rose before her in association with herself, and was gradually swelling uneasiness into terror: who could tell but this man pressing on her heels in the solitary meadow, and not the poor youth who lay dying there in the chair, and who might indeed be only another of his victims, was the murderer of Emmeline! Unconsciously she accelerated her pace until it was almost a run, but did not thereby widen by a single yard the distance between her and the curate.

When she came out on the high road, she gave a glance in each direction, and, avoiding the country, made for the houses. A short lane led her into Pine street. There she felt safe, the more that it was market-day and a good many people about, and slackened her pace, feeling confident that her pursuer, whoever he was, would now turn aside. But she was disappointed, for, casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw that he still kept the same distance behind her. She saw also, in that single look, that he was well-known, for several were saluting him at once. What could it mean? It must be the G. B. of the Temple! Should she stop and challenge his pursuit? The obstacle to this was a certain sinking at the heart accounted for by an old memory. She must elude him instead. But she did not know a single person in the place, or one house where she could seek refuge. There was an hotel before her! But, unattended, heated, disordered, to all appearance disreputable, what account could she give of herself? That she had been followed by some one everybody knew, and to whom everybody would listen! Feebly debating thus with herself, she hurried along the pavement of Pine Street, with the Abbey church before her.

The footsteps behind her grew louder and quicker: the man had made up his mind and was coming up with her! He might be mad, or ready to run all risks! Probably he knew his life at stake through her perseverance and determination!

On came the footsteps, for the curate had indeed made up his mind to speak to her, and either remove or certify his apprehensions. Nearer yet and nearer they came. Her courage and strength were giving way together, and she should be at his mercy. She darted into a shop, sank on a chair by the counter, and begged for a glass of water. A young woman ran to fetch it, while Mr. Drew went upstairs for a glass of wine. Returning with it he came from behind the counter, and approached the lady where she sat leaning her head upon it.

Meantime the curate also had entered the shop, and placed himself where he might, unseen by her, await her departure, for he could not speak to her there. He had her full in sight when Mr. Drew went up to her.

"Do me the favour, madam," he said--but said no more. For at the sound of his voice, the lady gave a violent start, and raising her head looked at him. The wine-glass dropped from his hand. She gave a half-choked cry, and sped from the shop.

The curate was on the spring after her when he was arrested by the look of the draper: he stood fixed where she had left him, white and trembling as if he had seen a ghost. He went up to him, and said in a whisper:

"Who is she?"

"Mrs. Drew," answered the draper, and the curate was after her like a greyhound.

A little crowd of the shop-people gathered in consternation about their master.

"Pick up those pieces of glass, and call Jacob to wipe the floor," he said--then walked to the door, and stood staring after the curate as he all but ran to overtake the swiftly gliding figure.

The woman, ignorant that her pursuer was again upon her track, and hardly any longer knowing what she did, hurried blindly towards the churchyard. Presently the curate relaxed his speed, hoping she would enter it, when he would have her in a fit place for the interview upon which he was, if possible, more determined than ever, now that he had gained, so unexpectedly, such an absolute hold of her. "She must be Emmeline's mother," he said to himself, "--fit mother for such a daughter." The moment he caught sight of the visage lifted from its regard of the sleeping youth, he had suspected the fact. He had not had time to analyze its expression, but there was something dreadful in it. A bold question would determine the suspicion.

She entered the churchyard, saw the Abbey door open, and hastened to it. She was in a state of bewilderment and terror that would have crazed a weaker woman. In the porch she cast a glance behind her: there again was her pursuer! She sprang into the church. A woman was dusting a pew not far from the door.

"Who is that coming?" she asked, in a tone and with a mien that appalled Mrs. Jenkins. She had but to stretch her neck a little to see through the porch.

"Why, it be only the parson, ma'am!" she answered.

"Then I shall hide myself, over there, and you must tell him I went out by that other door. Here's a sovereign for you."

"I thank you, ma'am," said Mrs. Jenkins, looking wistfully at the sovereign, which was a great sum of money to a sexton's wife with children, then instantly going on with her dusting; "but it ain't no use tryin' of tricks with our parson. HE ain't one of your Mollies. A man as don't play no tricks with hisself, as I heerd a gentleman say, it ain't no use tryin' no tricks with HIM."

Almost while she spoke, the curate entered. The suppliant drew herself up, and endeavoured to look both dignified and injured.

"Would you oblige me by walking this way for a moment?" he said, coming straight to her.

Without a word she followed him, a long way up the church, to the stone screen which divided the chancel from the nave. There, in sight of Mrs. Jenkins, but so far off that she could not hear a word said, he asked her to take a seat on the steps that led up to the door in the centre of the screen. Again she obeyed, and Wingfold sat down near her.

"Are you Emmeline's mother?" he said.

The gasp, the expression of eye and cheek, the whole startled response of the woman, revealed that he had struck the truth. But she made no answer.

"You had better be open with me," he said, "for I mean to be very open with you."

She stared at him, but either could not, or would not speak. Probably it was caution: she must hear more.

The curate was already excited, and I fear now got a little angry, for the woman was not pleasant to his eyes.

"I want to tell you," he said, "that the poor youth whom your daughter's behaviour made a murderer of,--"

She gave a cry, and turned like ashes. The curate was ashamed of himself.

"It seems cruel," he said, "but it is the truth. I say he is now dying--will be gone after her in a few weeks. The same blow killed both, only one has taken longer to die. No end can be served by bringing him to justice. Indeed if he were arrested, he would but die on the way to prison. I have followed you to persuade you, if I can, to leave him to his fate and not urge it on. If ever man was sorry, or suffered for his crime,--"

"And pray what is that to me, sir?" cried the avenging mother, who, finding herself entreated, straightway became arrogant. "Will it give me back my child? The villain took her precious life without giving her a moment to prepare for eternity, and you ask me--her mother--to let him go free! I will not. I have vowed vengeance, and I will have it."

"Allow me to say that if you die in that spirit, you will be far worse prepared for eternity than I trust your poor daughter was."

"What is that to you? If I choose to run the risk, it is my business. I tell you it shall not be my fault if the wretch is not brought to the gallows."

"But he cannot live to reach it. The necessary preliminaries would waste all that is left of his life. I only ask of you to let him die in what peace is possible to him. We must forgive our enemies, you know. But indeed he is no enemy of yours."

"No enemy of mine! The man who murdered my child no enemy of mine! I am his enemy then, and that he shall find. If I cannot bring him to the gallows, I can at least make every man and woman in the country point the finger of scorn and hatred at him. I can bring him and all his to disgrace and ruin. Their pride indeed! They were far too grand to visit me, but not to send a murderer into my family. I am in my rights, and I will have justice. We shall see if they are too grand to have a nephew hung! My poor lovely innocent! I will have justice on the foul villain. Cringing shall not turn me."

Her lips were white, and her teeth set. She rose with the slow movement of one whose intent, if it had blossomed in passion, was yet rooted in determination, and turned to leave the church.

"It might hamper your proceedings a little," said Wingfold, "if in the meantime a charge of bigamy were brought against yourself, MRS. DREW!"

Her back was towards the curate, and for a moment she stood like another pillar of salt. Then she began to tremble, and laid hold of the carved top of a bench. But her strength failed her completely; she sank on her knees and fell on the floor with a deep moan.

The curate called Mrs. Jenkins and sent her for water. With some difficulty they brought her to herself.

She rose, shuddered, drew her shawl about her, and said to the woman,

"I am sorry to give so much trouble. When does the next train start for London?"

"Within an hour," answered the curate. "I will see you safe to it."

"Excuse me; I prefer going alone."

"That I cannot permit."

"I must go to my lodgings first."

"I will go with you."

She cast on him a look of questioning hate, yielded, and laid two fingers on his offered arm.

They walked out of the church together and to the cottage where, for privacy, she had lodged. There he left her for half an hour, and, yielding to her own necessities and not his entreaties, she took some refreshment. In the glowing sullenness of foiled revenge, the smoke of which was crossed every now and then by a flash of hate, she sat until he returned.

"Before I go with you to the train," said the curate, re-entering, "you must give me your word to leave young Lingard unmolested. I know my friend Mr. Drew has no desire to trouble you, but I am equally confident that he will do whatever I ask him. If you will not promise me, from the moment you get into the train you shall be watched.--Do you promise?"

She was silent, with cold gleaming eyes, for a time, then said,

"How am I to know that this is not a trick to save his life?"

"You saw him; you could see he is dying. I tell you I do not think he can live a month. His disease is making rapid progress. He must go with the first of the cold weather."

She could not help believing him.

"I promise," she said. "But you are cruel to compel a mother to forgive the villain that stabbed her daughter to the heart."

"If the poor lad were not dying, I should see that he gave himself up, as indeed he set out to do some weeks ago, but was frustrated by his friends. He is dying for love of her. I believe I say so with truth. Pity and love and remorse and horror of his deed have brought him to the state you saw him in. To be honest with you, he might have got better enough to be tortured for a while in a madhouse, for no jury would have brought him in anything but insane at the time, with the evidence that would have been adduced; but in his anxiety to see me one day--for his friends at that time did not favour my visits, because I encouraged him to surrender--he got out of the house alone to come to me, but fainted in the churchyard, and lay on the damp earth for the better part of an hour, I fancy, before we found him. Still, had it not been for the state of his mind, he might have got over that too.--As you hope to be forgiven, you must forgive him."

He held out his hand to her. She was a little softened, and gave him hers.

"Allow me one word more," said the curate, "and then we shall go: Our crimes are friends that will hunt us either to the bosom of God, or the pit of hell."

She looked down, but her look was still sullen and proud.

The curate rose, took up her bag, went with her to the station, got her ticket, and saw her off.

Then he hastened back to Drew, and told him the whole story.

"Poor woman!" said her husband. "--But God only knows how much _I am to blame for all this. If I had behaved better to her she might never have left me, and your poor young friend would now be well and happy."

"Perhaps consuming his soul to a cinder with that odious drug," said Wingfold. "'Tis true, as Edgar in King Lear says:

The gods are just,
and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us;

but he takes our sins on himself, and while he drives them out of us with a whip of scorpions he will yet make them work his ends. He defeats our sins, makes them prisoners, forces them into the service of good, chains them like galley-slaves to the rowing-benches of the gospel-ship, or sets them like ugly gurgoyles or corbels or brackets in the walls of his temples.--No, that last figure I retract. I don't like it. It implies their continuance."

"Poor woman!" said Mr. Drew again, who for once had been inattentive to the curate. "Well! she is sorely punished too."

"She will be worse punished yet," said the curate, "if I can read the signs of character. SHE is not repentant yet--though I did spy in her just once a touch of softening."

"It is an awful retribution," said the draper, "and I may yet have to bear my share--God help me!"

"I suspect it is the weight of her own crime that makes her so fierce to avenge her daughter. I doubt if anything makes one so unforgiving as guilt unrepented of."

"Well, I must try to find out where she is, and keep an eye upon her."

"That will be easy enough. But why?"

"Because, if, as you think, there is more evil in store for her, I may yet have it in my power to do her some service.--I wonder if Mr. Polwarth would call that DIVINE SERVICE," he added, with one of his sunny smiles.

"Indeed he would," answered the curate.

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