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The Curate Of Churnside
Walter Dene, deacon, in his faultless Oxford clerical coat ...
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Two Mules Drowned Together
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Between Two Stools
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The Obedient Wife
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The Right Moment
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The Curate Of Churnside
Walter Dene, deacon, in his faultless Oxford clerical coat and broad
felt hat, strolled along slowly, sunning himself as he went, after his
wont, down the pretty central lane of West Churnside. It was just the
idyllic village best suited to the taste of such an idyllic young curate
as Walter Dene. There were cottages with low-thatched roofs, thickly
overgrown with yellow stonecrop and pink house-leek; there were
trellis-work porches up which the scented dog-rose and the fainter
honeysuckle clambered together in sisterly rivalry; there were pargeted
gable-ends of Elizabethan farmhouses, quaintly varied with black oak
joists and moulded plaster panels. At the end of all, between an avenue
of ancient elm trees, the heavy square tower of the old church closed in
the little vista--a church with a round Norman doorway and dog-tooth
arches, melting into Early English lancets in the aisle, and finishing
up with a great Decorated east window by the broken cross and yew tree.
Not a trace of Perpendicularity about it anywhere, thank goodness: "for
if it were Perpendicular," said Walter Dene to himself often, "I really
think, in spite of my uncle, I should have to look out for another
Yes, it was a charming village, and a charming country; but, above all,
it was rendered habitable and pleasurable for a man of taste by the
informing presence of Christina Eliot. "I don't think I shall propose
to Christina this week after all," thought Walter Dene as he strolled
along lazily. "The most delightful part of love-making is certainly its
first beginning. The little tremor of hope and expectation; the
half-needless doubt you feel as to whether she really loves you; the
pains you take to pierce the thin veil of maidenly reserve; the triumph
of detecting her at a blush or a flutter when she sees you coming--all
these are delicate little morsels to be rolled daintily on the critical
palate, and not to be swallowed down coarsely at one vulgar gulp. Poor
child, she is on tenter-hooks of hesitation and expectancy all the time,
I know; for I'm sure she loves me now, I'm sure she loves me; but I must
wait a week yet: she will be grateful to me for it hereafter. We mustn't
kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; we mustn't eat up all our
capital at one extravagant feast, and then lament the want of our
interest ever afterward. Let us live another week in our first fool's
paradise before we enter on the safer but less tremulous pleasures of
sure possession. We can enjoy first love but once in a lifetime; let us
enjoy it now while we can, and not fling away the chance prematurely by
mere childish haste and girlish precipitancy." Thinking which thing,
Walter Dene halted a moment by the churchyard wall, picked a long spray
of scented wild thyme from a mossy cranny, and gazed into the blue sky
above at the graceful swifts who nested in the old tower, as they curved
and circled through the yielding air on their evenly poised and powerful
Just at that moment old Mary Long came out of her cottage to speak with
the young parson. "If ye plaze, Maister Dene," she said in her native
west-country dialect, "our Nully would like to zee 'ee. She's main ill
to-day, zur, and she be like to die a'most, I'm thinking."
"Poor child, poor child," said Walter Dene tenderly. "She's a dear
little thing, Mrs. Long, is your Nellie, and I hope she may yet be
spared to you. I'll come and see her at once, and try if I can do
anything to ease her."
He crossed the road compassionately with the tottering old grandmother,
giving her his helping hand over the kerbstone, and following her with
bated breath into the close little sick-room. Then he flung open the
tiny casement with its diamond-leaded panes, so as to let in the fresh
summer air, and picked a few sprigs of sweet-briar from the porch, which
he joined with the geranium from his own button-hole to make a tiny
nosegay for the bare bedside. After that, he sat and talked awhile
gently in an undertone to pale, pretty little Nellie herself, and went
away at last promising to send her some jelly and some soup immediately
from the vicarage kitchen.
"She's a sweet little child," he said to himself musingly, "though I'm
afraid she's not long for this world now; and the poor like these small
attentions dearly. They get them seldom, and value them for the sake of
the thoughtfulness they imply, rather than for the sake of the mere
things themselves. I can order a bottle of calf's-foot at the grocer's,
and Carter can set it in a mould without any trouble; while as for the
soup, some tinned mock-turtle and a little fresh stock makes a really
capital mixture for this sort of thing. It costs so little to give these
poor souls pleasure, and it is a great luxury to oneself undeniably.
But, after all, what a funny trade it is to set an educated man to do!
They send us up to Oxford or Cambridge, give us a distinct taste for
AEschylus and Catullus, Dante and Milton, Mendelssohn and Chopin, good
claret and olives farcies, and then bring us down to a country
village, to look after the bodily and spiritual ailments of rheumatic
old washerwomen! If it were not for poetry, flowers, and Christina, I
really think I should succumb entirely under the infliction."
"He's a dear, good man, that he is, is young passon," murmured old Miry
Long as Walter disappeared between the elm trees; "and he do love the
poor and the zick, the same as if he was their own brother. God bless
his zoul, the dear, good vulla, vor all his kindness to our Nully."
Halfway down the main lane Walter came across Christina Eliot. As she
saw him she smiled and coloured a little, and held out her small gloved
hand prettily. Walter took it with a certain courtly and graceful
chivalry. "An exquisite day, Miss Eliot," he said; "such a depth of
sapphire in the sky, such a faint undertone of green on the clouds by
the horizon, such a lovely humming of bees over the flickering hot
meadows! On days like this, one feels that Schopenhauer is wrong after
all, and that life is sometimes really worth living."
"It seems to me often worth living," Christina answered; "if not for
oneself, at least for others. But you pretend to be more of a pessimist
than you really are, I fancy, Mr. Dene. Any one who finds so much beauty
in the world as you do can hardly think life poor or meagre. You seem to
catch the loveliest points in everything you look at, and to throw a
little literary or artistic reflection over them which makes them even
lovelier than they are in themselves."
"Well, no doubt one can increase one's possibilities of enjoyment by
carefully cultivating one's own faculties of admiration and
appreciation," said the curate thoughtfully; "but, after all, life has
only a few chapters that are thoroughly interesting and enthralling in
all its history. We oughtn't to hurry over them too lightly, Miss Eliot;
we ought to linger on them lovingly, and make the most of their
potentialities; we ought to dwell upon them like "linked sweetness long
drawn out." It is the mistake of the world at large to hurry too rapidly
over the pleasantest episodes, just as children pick all the plums at
once out of the pudding. I often think that, from the purely selfish and
temporal point of view, the real value of a life to its subject may be
measured by the space of time over which he has managed to spread the
enjoyment of its greatest pleasures. Look, for example, at poetry, now."
A faint shade of disappointment passed across Christina's face as he
turned from what seemed another groove into that indifferent subject;
but she answered at once, "Yes, of course one feels that with the higher
pleasures at least; but there are others in which the interest of plot
is greater, and then one looks naturally rather to the end. When you
begin a good novel, you can't help hurrying through it in order to find
out what becomes of everybody at last."
"Ah, but the highest artistic interest goes beyond mere plot interest. I
like rather to read for the pleasure of reading, and to loiter over the
passages that please me, quite irrespective of what goes before or what
comes after; just as you, for your part, like to sketch a beautiful
scene for its own worth to you, irrespective of what may happen to the
leaves in autumn, or to the cottage roof in twenty years from this. By
the way, have you finished that little water-colour of the mill yet?
It's the prettiest thing of yours I've ever seen, and I want to look how
you've managed the light on your foreground."
"Come in and see it," said Christina. "It's finished now, and, to tell
you the truth, I'm very well pleased with it myself."
"Then I know it must be good," the curate answered; "for you are always
your own harshest critic." And he turned in at the little gate with her,
and entered the village doctor's tiny drawing-room.
Christina placed the sketch on an easel near the window--a low window
opening to the ground, with long lithe festoons of faint-scented jasmine
encroaching on it from outside--and let the light fall on it aslant in
the right direction. It was a pretty and a clever sketch certainly, with
more than a mere amateur's sense of form and colour; and Walter Dene,
who had a true eye for pictures, could conscientiously praise it for its
artistic depth and fulness. Indeed, on that head at least, Walter Dene's
veracity was unimpeachable, however lax in other matters; nothing on
earth would have induced him to praise as good a picture or a sculpture
in which he saw no real merit. He sat a little while criticizing and
discussing it, suggesting an improvement here or an alteration there,
and then he rose hurriedly, remembering all at once his forgotten
promise to little Nellie. "Dear me," he said, "your daughter's picture
has almost made me overlook my proper duties, Mrs. Eliot. I promised to
send some jelly and things at once to poor little Nellie Long at her
grandmother's. How very wrong of me to let my natural inclinations keep
me loitering here, when I ought to have been thinking of the poor of my
parish!" And he went out with just a gentle pressure on Christina's
hand, and a look from his eyes that her heart knew how to read aright at
the first glance of it.
"Do you know, Christie," said her father, "I sometimes fancy when I hear
that new parson fellow talk about his artistic feelings, and so on, that
he's just a trifle selfish, or at least self-centred. He always dwells
so much on his own enjoyment of things, you know."
"Oh no, papa," cried Christina warmly. "He's anything but selfish, I'm
sure. Look how kind he is to all the poor in the village, and how much
he thinks about their comfort and welfare. And whenever he's talking
with one, he seems so anxious to make you feel happy and contented with
yourself. He has a sort of little subtle flattery of manner about him
that's all pure kindliness; and he's always thinking what he can say or
do to please you, and to help you onward. What you say about his
dwelling on enjoyment so much is really only his artistic sensibility.
He feels things so keenly, and enjoys beauty so deeply, that he can't
help talking enthusiastically about it even a little out of season. He
has more feelings to display than most men, and I'm sure that's the
reason why he displays them so much. A ploughboy could only talk
enthusiastically about roast beef and dumplings; Mr. Dene can talk about
everything that's beautiful and sublime on earth or in heaven."
Meanwhile, Walter Dene was walking quickly with his measured tread--the
even, regular tread of a cultivated gentleman--down the lane toward the
village grocer's, saying to himself as he went, "There was never such a
girl in all the world as my Christina. She may be only a country
surgeon's daughter--a rosebud on a hedgerow bush--but she has the soul
and the eye of a queen among women for all that. Every lover has
deceived himself with the same sweet dream, to be sure--how
over-analytic we have become nowadays, when I must needs half argue
myself out of the sweets of first love!--but then they hadn't so much to
go upon as I have. She has a wonderful touch in music, she has an
exquisite eye in painting, she has an Italian charm in manner and
conversation. I'm something of a connoisseur, after all, and no more
likely to be deceived in a woman than I am in a wine or a picture. And
next week I shall really propose formally to Christina, though I know by
this time it will be nothing more than the merest formality. Her eyes
are too eloquent not to have told me that long ago. It will be a
delightful pleasure to live for her, and in order to make her happy. I
frankly recognize that I am naturally a little selfish--not coarsely and
vulgarly selfish; from that disgusting and piggish vice I may
conscientiously congratulate myself that I'm fairly free; but still
selfish in a refined and cultivated manner. Now, living with Christina
and for Christina will correct this defect in my nature, will tend to
bring me nearer to a true standard of perfection. When I am by her side,
and then only, I feel that I am thinking entirely of her, and not at all
of myself. To her I show my best side; with her, that best side would
be always uppermost. The companionship of such a woman makes life
something purer, and higher, and better worth having. The one thing that
stands in our way is this horrid practical question of what to live
upon. I don't suppose Uncle Arthur will be inclined to allow me
anything, and I can't marry on my own paltry income and my curacy only.
Yet I can't bear to keep Christina waiting indefinitely till some
thick-headed squire or other chooses to take it into his opaque brain to
give me a decent living."
From the grocer's the curate walked on, carrying the two tins in his
hand, as far as the vicarage. He went into the library, sat down by his
own desk, and rang the bell. "Will you be kind enough to give those
things to Carter, John?" he said in his bland voice; "and tell her to
put the jelly in a mould, and let it set. The soup must be warmed with a
little fresh stock, and seasoned. Then take them both, with my
compliments, to old Mary Long the washerwoman, for her grandchild. Is my
"No, Master Walter," answered the man--he was always "Master Walter" to
the old servants at his uncle's--"the vicar have gone over by train to
Churminster. He told me to tell you he wouldn't be back till evening,
"Did you see him off, John?"
"Yes, Master Walter. I took his portmantew to the station."
"This will be a good chance, then," thought Walter Dene to himself.
"Very well, John," he went on aloud: "I shall write my sermon now. Don't
let anybody come to disturb me."
John nodded and withdrew. Walter Dene locked the door after him
carefully, as he often did when writing sermons, and then lit a cigar,
which was also a not infrequent concomitant of his exegetical labours.
After that he walked once or twice up and down the room, paused a
moment to look at his parchment-covered Rabelais and Villon on the
bookshelf, peered out of the dulled glass windows with the crest in
their centre, and finally drew a curious bent iron instrument out of his
waistcoat pocket. With it in his hands, he went up quietly to his
uncle's desk, and began fumbling at the lock in an experienced manner.
As a matter of fact, it was not his first trial of skill in
lock-picking; for Walter Dene was a painstaking and methodical man, and
having made up his mind that he would get at and read his uncle's will,
he took good care to begin by fastening all the drawers in his own
bedroom, and trying his prentice hand at unfastening them again in the
solitude of his chamber.
After half a minute's twisting and turning, the wards gave way gently to
his dexterous pressure, and the lid of the desk lay open before him.
Walter Dene took out the different papers one by one--there was no need
for hurry, and he was not a nervous person--till he came to a roll of
parchment, which he recognized at once as the expected will. He unrolled
it carefully and quietly, without any womanish trembling or
excitement--"thank Heaven," he said to himself, "I'm above such nonsense
as that"--and sat down leisurely to read it in the big, low,
velvet-covered study chair. As he did so, he did not forget to lay a
notched foot-rest for his feet, and to put the little Japanese dish on
the tiny table by his side to hold his cigar ash. "And now," he said,
"for the important question whether Uncle Arthur has left his money to
me, or to Arthur, or to both of us equally. He ought, of course, to
leave at least half to me, seeing I have become a curate on purpose to
please him, instead of following my natural vocation to the Bar; but I
shouldn't be a bit surprised if he had left it all to Arthur. He's a
pig-headed and illogical old man, the vicar; and he can never forgive
me, I believe, because, being the eldest son, I wasn't called after him
by my father and mother. As if that was my fault! Some people's ideas
of personal responsibility are so ridiculously muddled."
He composed himself quietly in the arm-chair, and glanced rapidly at the
will through the meaningless preliminaries till he came to the
significant clauses. These he read more carefully. "All my estate in the
county of Dorset, and the messuage or tenement known as Redlands, in the
parish of Lode, in the county of Devon, to my dear nephew, Arthur Dene,"
he said to himself slowly: "Oh, this will never do." "And I give and
bequeath to my said nephew, Arthur Dene, the sum of ten thousand pounds,
three per cent. consolidated annuities, now standing in my name."--"Oh
this is atrocious, quite atrocious! What's this?" "And I give and
bequeath to my dear nephew, Walter Dene, the residue of my personal
estate"--"and so forth. Oh no. That's quite sufficient. This must be
rectified. The residuary legatee would only come in for a few hundreds
or so. It's quite preposterous. The vicar was always an ill-tempered,
cantankerous, unaccountable person, but I wonder he has the face to sit
opposite me at dinner after that."
He hummed an air from Schubert, and sat a moment looking thoughtfully at
the will. Then he said to himself quietly, "The simplest thing to do
would be merely to scrape out or take out with chemicals the name
Arthur, substituting the name Walter, and vice versa. That's a very
small matter; a man who draws as well as I do ought to be able easily to
imitate a copying clerk's engrossing hand. But it would be madness to
attempt it now and here; I want a little practice first. At the same
time, I mustn't keep the will out a moment longer than is necessary; my
uncle may return by some accident before I expect him; and the true
philosophy of life consists in invariably minimizing the adverse
chances. This will was evidently drawn up by Watson and Blenkiron, of
Chancery Lane. I'll write to-morrow and get them to draw up a will for
me, leaving all I possess to Arthur. The same clerk is pretty sure to
engross it, and that'll give me a model for the two names on which I can
do a little preliminary practice. Besides, I can try the stuff Wharton
told me about, for making ink fade on the same parchment. That will be
killing two birds with one stone, certainly. And now if I don't make
haste I shan't have time to write my sermon."
He replaced the will calmly in the desk, fastened the lock again with a
delicate twirl of the pick, and sat down in his arm-chair to compose his
discourse for to-morrow's evensong. "It's not a bad bit of rhetoric," he
said to himself as he read it over for correction, "but I'm not sure
that I haven't plagiarized a little too freely from Montaigne and dear
old Burton. What a pity it must be thrown away upon a Churnside
congregation! Not a soul in the whole place will appreciate a word of
it, except Christina. Well, well, that alone is enough reward for any
man." And he knocked off his ash pensively into the Japanese ash-pan.
During the course of the next week Walter practised diligently the art
of imitating handwriting. He got his will drawn up and engrossed at
Watson and Blenkiron's (without signing it, bien entendu); and he
spent many solitary hours in writing the two names "Walter" and "Arthur"
on the spare end of parchment, after the manner of the engrossing clerk.
He also tested the stuff for making the ink fade to his own perfect
satisfaction. And on the next occasion when his uncle was safely off the
premises for three hours, he took the will once more deliberately from
the desk, removed the obnoxious letters with scrupulous care, and wrote
in his own name in place of Arthur's, so that even the engrossing clerk
himself would hardly have known the difference. "There," he said to
himself approvingly, as he took down quiet old George Herbert from the
shelf and sat down to enjoy an hour's smoke after the business was over,
"that's one good deed well done, anyhow. I have the calm satisfaction of
a clear conscience. The vicar's proposed arrangement was really most
unfair; I have substituted for it what Aristotle would have rightly
called true distributive justice. For though I've left all the property
to myself, by the unfortunate necessity of the case, of course I won't
take it all. I'll be juster than the vicar. Arthur shall have his fair
share, which is more, I believe, than he'd have done for me; but I hate
squalid money-grubbing. If brothers can't be generous and brotherly to
one another, what a wretched, sordid little life this of ours would
Next Sunday morning the vicar preached, and Walter sat looking up at him
reflectively from his place in the chancel. A beautiful clear-cut face,
the curate's, and seen to great advantage from the doctor's pew, set off
by the white surplice, and upturned in quiet meditation towards the
elder priest in the pulpit. Walter was revolving many things in his
mind, and most of all one adverse chance which he could not just then
see his way to minimize. Any day his uncle might take it into his head
to read over the will and discover the--ah, well, the rectification.
Walter was a man of too much delicacy of feeling even to think of it to
himself as a fraud or a forgery. Then, again, the vicar was not a very
old man after all; he might live for an indefinite period, and Christina
and himself might lose all the best years of their life waiting for a
useless person's natural removal. What a pity that threescore was not
the utmost limit of human life! For his own part, like the Psalmist,
Walter had no desire to outlive his own highest tastes and powers of
enjoyment. Ah, well, well, man's prerogative is to better and improve
upon nature. If people do not die when they ought, then it becomes
clearly necessary for philosophically minded juniors to help them on
their way artificially.
It was an ugly necessity, certainly; Walter frankly recognized that fact
from the very beginning, and he shrank even from contemplating it; but
there was no other way out of the difficulty. The old man had always
been a selfish bachelor, with no love for anybody or anything on earth
except his books, his coins, his garden, and his dinner; he was growing
tired of all except the last; would it not be better for the world at
large, on strict utilitarian principles, that he should go at once?
True, such steps are usually to be deprecated; but the wise man is a law
unto himself, and instead of laying down the wooden, hard-and-fast lines
that make conventional morality so much a rule of thumb, he judges every
individual case on its own particular merits. Here was Christina's
happiness and his own on the one hand, with many collateral advantages
to other people, set in the scale against the feeble remnant of a
selfish old man's days on the other. Walter Dene had a constitutional
horror of taking life in any form, and especially of shedding blood; but
he flattered himself that if anything of the sort became clearly
necessary, he was not the man to shrink from taking the needful measures
to ensure it, at any sacrifice of personal comfort.
All through the next week Walter turned over the subject in his own
mind; and the more he thought about it, the more the plan gained in
definiteness and consistency as detail after detail suggested itself to
him. First he thought of poison. That was the cleanest and neatest way
of managing the thing, he considered; and it involved the least
unpleasant consequences. To stick a knife or shoot a bullet into any
sentient creature was a horrid and revolting act; to put a little
tasteless powder into a cup of coffee and let a man sleep off his life
quietly was really nothing more than helping him involuntarily to a
delightful euthanasia. "I wish any one would do as much for me at his
age, without telling me about it," Walter said to himself seriously. But
then the chances of detection would be much increased by using poison,
and Walter felt it an imperative duty to do nothing which would expose
Christina to the shock of a discovery. She would not see the matter in
the same practical light as he did; women never do; their morality is
purely conventional and a wise man will do nothing on earth to shake it.
You cannot buy poison without the risk of exciting question. There
remained, then, only shooting or stabbing. But shooting makes an awkward
noise, and attracts attention at the moment; so the one thing possible
was a knife, unpleasant as that conclusion seemed to all his more
Having thus decided, Walter Dene proceeded to lay his plans with
deliberate caution. He had no intention whatsoever of being detected,
though his method of action was simplicity itself. It was only bunglers
and clumsy fools who got caught; he knew that a man of his intelligence
and ability would not make such an idiot of himself as--well, as common
ruffians always do. He took his old American bowie-knife, bought years
ago as a curiosity, out of the drawer where it had lain so long. It was
very rusty, but it would be safer to sharpen it privately on his own
hone and strop than to go asking for a new knife at a shop for the
express purpose of enabling the shopman afterwards to identify him. He
sharpened it for safety's sake during sermon-hour in the library, with
the door locked as usual. It took a long time to get off all the rust,
and his arm got quickly tired. One morning as he was polishing away at
it, he was stopped for a moment by a butterfly which flapped and
fluttered against the dulled window-panes. "Poor thing," he said to
himself, "it will beat its feathery wings to pieces in its struggles;"
and he put a vase of Venetian glass on top of it, lifted the sash
carefully, and let the creature fly away outside in the broad sunshine.
At the same moment the vicar, who was strolling with his King Charlie on
the lawn, came up and looked in at the window. He could not have seen in
before, because of the dulled and painted diamonds.
"That's a murderous-looking weapon, Wally," he said, with a smile, as
his glance fell upon the bowie and hone. "What do you use it for?"
"Oh, it's an American bowie," Walter answered carelessly. "I bought it
long ago for a curiosity, and now I'm sharpening it up to help me in
carving that block of walnut wood." And he ran his finger lightly along
the edge of the blade to test its keenness. What a lucky thing that it
was the vicar himself, and not the gardener! If he had been caught by
anybody else the fact would have been fatal evidence after all was over.
"Mefiez-vous des papillons," he hummed to himself, after Beranger, as he
shut down the window. "One more butterfly, and I must give up the game
Meanwhile, as Walter meant to make a clean job of it--hacking and hewing
clumsily was repulsive to all his finer feelings--he began also to study
carefully the anatomy of the human back. He took down all the books on
the subject in the library, and by their aid discovered exactly under
which ribs the heart lay. A little observation of the vicar, compared
with the plates in Quain's "Anatomy," showed him precisely at what point
in his clerical coat the most vulnerable interstice was situated. "It's
a horrid thing to have to do," he thought over and over again as he
planned it, "but it's the only way to secure Christina's happiness." And
so, by a certain bright Friday evening in August, Walter Dene had fully
completed all his preparations.
That afternoon, as on all bright afternoons in summer, the vicar went
for a walk in the grounds, attended only by little King Charlie. He was
squire and parson at once in Churnside, and he loved to make the round
of his own estate. At a certain gate by Selbury Copse the vicar always
halted to rest awhile, leaning on the bar and looking at the view across
the valley. It was a safe and lonely spot. Walter remained at home (he
was to take the regular Friday evensong) and went into the study by
himself. After a while he took his hat, not without trembling, strolled
across the garden, and then made the short cut through the copse, so as
to meet the vicar by the gate. On his way he heard the noise of the
Dennings in the farm opposite, out rabbit-shooting with their guns and
ferrets in the warren. His very soul shrank within him at the sound of
that brutal sport. "Great heavens!" he said to himself, with a shudder;
"to think how I loathe and shrink from the necessity of almost
painlessly killing this one selfish old man for an obviously good
reason, and those creatures there will go out massacring innocent
animals with the aid of a hideous beast of prey, not only without
remorse, but actually by way of amusement! I thank Heaven I am not even
as they are." Near the gate he came upon his uncle quietly and
naturally, though it would be absurd to deny that at that supreme moment
even Walter Dene's equable heart throbbed hard, and his breath went and
came tremulously. "Alone," he thought to himself, "and nobody near; this
is quite providential," using even then, in thought, the familiar
phraseology of his profession.
"A lovely afternoon, Uncle Arthur," he said as composedly as he could,
accurately measuring the spot on the vicar's coat with his eye
meanwhile. "The valley looks beautiful in this light."
"Yes, a lovely afternoon, Wally, my boy, and an exquisite glimpse down
yonder into the churchyard."
As he spoke, Walter half leaned upon the gate beside him, and adjusted
the knife behind the vicar's back scientifically. Then, without a word
more, in spite of a natural shrinking, he drove it home up to the haft,
with a terrible effort of will, at the exact spot on the back that the
books had pointed out to him. It was a painful thing to do, but he did
it carefully and well. The effect of Walter Dene's scientific prevision
was even more instantaneous than he had anticipated. Without a single
cry, without a sob or a contortion, the vicar's lifeless body fell over
heavily by the side of the gate. It rolled down like a log into the dry
ditch beneath. Walter knelt trembling on the ground close by, felt the
pulse for a moment to assure himself that his uncle was really dead, and
having fully satisfied himself on this all-important point, proceeded to
draw the knife neatly out of the wound. He had let it fall in the body,
in order to extricate it more easily afterward, and not risk pulling it
out carelessly so as to get himself covered needlessly by tell-tale
drops of blood, like ordinary clumsy assassins. But he had forgotten to
reckon with little King Charlie. The dog jumped piteously upon the body
of his master, licked the wound with his tongue, and refused to allow
Walter to withdraw the knife. It would be unsafe to leave it there, for
it might be recognized. "Minimize the adverse chances," he muttered
still; but there was no inducing King Charlie to move. A struggle might
result in getting drops of blood upon his coat, and then, great heavens,
what a terrible awakening for Christina! "Oh, Christina, Christina,
Christina," he said to himself piteously, "it is for you only that I
could ever have ventured to do this hideous thing." The blood was still
oozing out of the narrow slit, and saturating the black coat, and Walter
Dene with his delicate nerves could hardly bear to look upon it.
At last he summoned up resolution to draw out the knife from the ugly
wound, in spite of King Charlie, and as he did so, oh, horror! the
little dog jumped at it, and cut his left fore-leg against the sharp
edge deep to the bone. Here was a pretty accident indeed! If Walter Dene
had been a common heartless murderer he would have snatched up the
knife immediately, left the poor lame dog to watch and bleed beside his
dead master, and skulked off hurriedly from the mute witness to his
accomplished crime. But Walter was made of very different mould from
that; he could not find it in his heart to leave a poor dumb animal
wounded and bleeding for hours together, alone and untended. Just at
first, indeed, he tried sophistically to persuade himself his duty to
Christina demanded that he should go away at once, and never mind the
sufferings of a mere spaniel; but his better nature told him the next
moment that such sophisms were indefensible, and his humane instincts
overcame even the profound instinct of self-preservation. He sat down
quietly beside the warm corpse. "Thank goodness," he said, with a slight
shiver of disgust, "I'm not one of those weak-minded people who are
troubled by remorse. They would be so overcome by terror at what they
had done that they would want to run away from the body immediately, at
any price. But I don't think I could feel remorse. It is an incident
of lower natures--natures that are capable of doing actions under one
set of impulses, which they regret when another set comes uppermost in
turn. That implies a want of balance, an imperfect co-ordination of
parts and passions. The perfect character is consistent with itself;
shame and repentance are confessions of weakness. For my part, I never
do anything without having first deliberately decided that it is the
best or the only thing to do; and having so done it, I do not draw back
like a girl from the necessary consequences of my own act. No fluttering
or running away for me. Still, I must admit that all that blood does
look very ghastly. Poor old gentleman! I believe he really died almost
without knowing it, and that is certainly a great comfort to one under
He took King Charlie tenderly in his hands, without touching the wounded
leg, and drew his pocket handkerchief softly from his pocket. "Poor
beastie," he said aloud, holding out the cut limb before him, "you are
badly hurt, I'm afraid; but it wasn't my fault. We must see what we can
do for you." Then he wrapped the handkerchief deftly around it, without
letting any blood show through, pressed the dog close against his
breast, and picked up the knife gingerly by the reeking handle. "A fool
of a fellow would throw it into the river," he thought, with a curl of
his graceful lip. "They always dredge the river after these incidents. I
shall just stick it down a hole in the hedge a hundred yards off. The
police have no invention, dull donkeys; they never dredge the hedges."
And he thrust it well down a disused rabbit burrow, filling in the top
neatly with loose mould.
Walter Dene meant to have gone home quietly and said evensong, leaving
the discovery of the body to be made at haphazard by others, but this
unfortunate accident to King Charlie compelled him against his will to
give the first alarm. It was absolutely necessary to take the dog to the
veterinary at once, or the poor little fellow might bleed to death
incontinently. "One's best efforts," he thought, "are always liable to
these unfortunate contretemps. I meant merely to remove a superfluous
person from an uncongenial environment; yet I can't manage it without at
the same time seriously injuring a harmless little creature that I
really love." And with one last glance at the lifeless thing behind him,
he took his way regretfully along the ordinary path back towards the
peaceful village of Churnside.
Halfway down the lane, at the entrance to the village, he met one of his
parishioners. "Tom," he said boldly, "have you seen anything of the
vicar? I'm afraid he's got hurt somehow. Here's poor little King Charlie
come limping back with his leg cut."
"He went down the road, zur, 'arf an hour zince, and I arn't zeen him
"Tell the servants at the vicarage to look around the grounds, then; I'm
afraid he has fallen and hurt himself. I must take the dog at once to
Perkins's, or else I shall be late for evensong."
The man went off straight toward the vicarage, and Walter Dene turned
immediately with the dog in his arms into the village veterinary's.
The servants from the vicarage were not the first persons to hit upon
the dead body of the vicar. Joe Harley, the poacher, was out
reconnoitring that afternoon in the vicar's preserves; and five minutes
after Walter Dene had passed down the far side of the hedge, Joe Harley
skulked noiselessly from the orchard up to the cover of the gate by
Selbury Copse. He crept through the open end by the post (for it was
against Joe's principles under any circumstances to climb over an
obstacle of any sort, and so needlessly expose himself), and he was just
going to slink off along the other hedge, having wires and traps in his
pocket, when his boot struck violently against a soft object in the
ditch underfoot. It struck so violently that it crushed in the object
with the force of the impact; and when Joe came to look at what the
object might be, he found to his horror that it was the bruised and
livid face of the old parson. Joe had had a brush with keepers more than
once, and had spent several months of seclusion in Dorchester Gaol; but,
in spite of his familiarity with minor forms of lawlessness, he was
moved enough in all conscience by this awful and unexpected discovery.
He turned the body over clumsily with his hands, and saw that it had
been stabbed in the back once only. In doing so he trod in a little
blood, and got a drop or two on his sleeve and trousers; for the pool
was bigger now, and Joe was not so handy or dainty with his fingers as
the idyllic curate.
It was an awful dilemma, indeed, for a confirmed and convicted poacher.
Should he give the alarm then and there, boldly, trusting to his
innocence for vindication, and helping the police to discover the
murderer? Why, that would be sheer suicide, no doubt; "for who but would
believe," he thought, "'twas me as done it?" Or should he slink away
quietly and say nothing, leaving others to find the body as best they
might? That was dangerous enough in its way if anybody saw him, but not
so dangerous as the other course. In an evil hour for his own chances
Joe Harley chose that worse counsel, and slank off in his familiar
crouching fashion towards the opposite corner of the copse.
On the way he heard John's voice holloaing for his master, and kept
close to the hedge till he had quite turned the corner. But John had
caught a glimpse of him too, and John did not forget it when, a few
minutes later, he came upon the horrid sight beside the gate of Selbury
Meanwhile Walter had taken King Charlie to the veterinary's, and had his
leg bound and bandaged securely. He had also gone down to the church,
got out his surplice, and begun to put it on in the vestry for evensong,
when a messenger came at hot haste from the vicarage, with news that
Master Walter must come up at once, for the vicar was murdered.
"Murdered!" Walter Dene said to himself slowly half aloud; "murdered!
how horrible! Murdered!" It was an ugly word, and he turned it over with
a genuine thrill of horror. That was what they would say of him if ever
the thing came to be discovered! What an inappropriate classification!
He threw aside the surplice, and rushed up hurriedly to the vicarage.
Already the servants had brought in the body, and laid it out in the
clothes it wore, on the vicar's own bed. Waltor Dene went in,
shuddering, to look at it. To his utter amazement, the face was battered
in horribly and almost unrecognizably by a blow or kick! What could that
hideous mutilation mean? He could not imagine. It was an awful mystery.
Great heavens! just fancy if any one were to take it into his head that
he, Walter Dene, had done that--had kicked a defenceless old gentleman
brutally about the face like a common London ruffian! The idea was too
horrible to be borne for a moment. It unmanned him utterly, and he hid
his face between his two hands and sobbed aloud like one broken-hearted.
"This day's work has been too much for my nerves," he thought to himself
between the sobs; "but perhaps it is just as well I should give way now
That night was mainly taken up with the formalities of all such cases;
and when at last Walter Dene went off, tired and nerve-worn, to bed,
about midnight, he could not sleep much for thinking of the mystery. The
murder itself didn't trouble him greatly; that was over and past now,
and he felt sure his precautions had been amply sufficient to protect
him even from the barest suspicion; but he couldn't fathom the mystery
of that battered and mutilated face! Somebody must have seen the corpse
between the time of the murder and the discovery! Who could that
somebody have been? and what possible motive could he have had for such
a horrible piece of purposeless brutality?
As for the servants, in solemn conclave in the hall, they had
unanimously but one theory to account for all the facts: some poacher or
other, for choice Joe Harley, had come across the vicar in the copse,
with gun and traps in hand. The wretch had seen he was discovered, had
felled the poor old vicar by a blow in the face with the butt-end of
his rifle, and after he fell, fainting, had stabbed him for greater
security in the back. That was such an obvious solution of the
difficulty, that nobody in the servants' hall had a moment's hesitation
in accepting it.
When Walter heard next morning early that Joe Harley had been arrested
overnight, on John's information, his horror and surprise at the news
were wholly unaffected. Here was another new difficulty, indeed. "When I
did the thing," he said to himself, "I never thought of that
possibility. I took it for granted it would be a mystery, a problem for
the local police (who, of course, could no more solve it than they could
solve the pons-asinorum), but it never struck me they would arrest an
innocent person on the charge instead of me. This is horrible. It's so
easy to make out a case against a poacher, and hang him for it, on
suspicion. One's whole sense of justice revolts against the thing. After
all, there's a great deal to be said in favour of the ordinary
commonplace morality: it prevents complications. A man of delicate
sensibilities oughtn't to kill anybody; he lets himself in for all kinds
of unexpected contingencies, without knowing it."
At the coroner's inquest things looked very black indeed for Joe Harley.
Walter gave his evidence first, showing how he had found King Charlie
wounded in the lane; and then the others gave theirs, as to the search
for and finding of the body. John in particular swore to having seen a
man's back and head slinking away by the hedge while they were looking
for the vicar; and that back and head he felt sure were Joe Harley's. To
Walter's infinite horror and disgust, the coroner's jury returned a
verdict of wilful murder against the poor poacher. What other verdict
could they possibly have given in accordance with such evidence?
The trial of Joe Harley for the wilful murder of the Reverend Arthur
Dene was fixed for the next Dorchester Assizes. In the interval, Walter
Dene, for the first time in his placid life, knew what it was to undergo
a mental struggle. Whatever happened, he could not let Joe Harley be
hanged for this murder. His whole soul rose up within him in loathing
for such an act of hideous injustice. For though Walter Dene's code of
morality was certainly not the conventional one, as he so often boasted
to himself, he was not by any means without any code of morals of any
sort. He could commit a murder where he thought it necessary, but he
could not let an innocent man suffer in his stead. His ethical judgment
on that point was just as clear and categorical as the judgment which
told him he was in duty bound to murder his uncle. For Walter did not
argue with himself on moral questions: he perceived the right and
necessary thing intuitively; he was a law to himself, and he obeyed his
own law implicitly, for good or for evil. Such men are capable of
horrible and diabolically deliberate crimes; but they are capable of
great and genuine self-sacrifices also.
Walter made no secret in the village of his disinclination to believe in
Joe Harley's guilt. Joe was a rough fellow, he said, certainly, and he
had no objection to taking a pheasant or two, and even to having a free
fight with the keepers; but, after all, our game laws were an outrageous
piece of class legislation, and he could easily understand how the poor,
whose sense of justice they outraged, should be so set against them. He
could not think Joe Harley was capable of a detestable crime. Besides,
he had seen him himself within a few minutes before and after the
murder. Everybody thought it such a proof of the young parson's generous
and kindly disposition; he had certainly the charity which thinketh no
evil. Even though his own uncle had been brutally murdered on his own
estate, he checked his natural feelings of resentment, and refused to
believe that one of his own parishioners could have been guilty of the
crime. Nay, more, so anxious was he that substantial justice should be
done the accused, and so confident was he of his innocence, that he
promised to provide counsel for him at his own expense; and he provided
two of the ablest barristers on the Western circuit.
Before the trial, Walter Dene had come, after a terrible internal
struggle, to an awful resolution. He would do everything he could for
Joe Harley; but if the verdict went against him, he was resolved, then
and there, in open court, to confess, before judge and jury, the whole
truth. It would be a horrible thing for Christina; he knew that; but he
could not love Christina so much, "loved he not honour more;" and
honour, after his own fashion, he certainly loved dearly. Though he
might be false to all that all the world thought right, it was ingrained
in the very fibre of his soul to be true to his own inner nature at
least. Night after night he lay awake, tossing on his bed, and picturing
to his mind's eye every detail of that terrible disclosure. The jury
would bring in a verdict of guilty: then, before the judge put on his
black cap, he, Walter, would stand up, and tell them that he could not
let another man hang for his crime; he would have the whole truth out
before them; and then he would die, for he would have taken a little
bottle of poison at the first sound of the verdict. As for
Christina--oh, Christina!--Walter Dene could not dare to let himself
think upon that. It was horrible; it was unendurable; it was torture a
thousand times worse than dying: but still, he must and would face it.
For in certain phases, Walter Dene, forger and murderer as he was, could
be positively heroic.
The day of the trial came, and Walter Dene, pale and haggard with much
vigil, walked in a dream and faintly from his hotel to the court-house.
Everybody present noticed what a deep effect the shock of his uncle's
death had had upon him. He was thinner and more bloodless than usual,
and his dulled eyes looked black and sunken in their sockets. Indeed, he
seemed to have suffered far more intensely than the prisoner himself,
who walked in firmer and more erect, and took his seat doggedly in the
familiar dock. He had been there more than once before, to say the
truth, though never before on such an errand. Yet mere habit, when he
got there, made him at once assume the hang-dog look of the consciously
Walter sat and watched and listened, still in a dream, but without once
betraying in his face the real depth of his innermost feelings. In the
body of the court he saw Joe's wife, weeping profusely and
ostentatiously, after the fashion considered to be correct by her class;
and though he pitied her from the bottom of his heart, he could only
think by contrast of Christina. What were that good woman's fears and
sorrows by the side of the grief and shame and unspeakable horror he
might have to bring upon his Christina? Pray Heaven the shock, if it
came, might kill her outright; that would at least be better than that
she should live long years to remember. More than judge, or jury, or
prisoner, Walter Dene saw everywhere, behind the visible shadows that
thronged the court, that one persistent prospective picture of
The evidence for the prosecution told with damning force against the
prisoner. He was a notorious poacher; the vicar was a game-preserver. He
had poached more than once on the ground of the vicarage. He was shown
by numerous witnesses to have had an animus against the vicar. He had
been seen, not in the face, to be sure, but still seen and recognized,
slinking away, immediately after the fact, from the scene of the murder.
And the prosecution had found stains of blood, believed by scientific
experts to be human, on the clothing he had worn when he was arrested.
Walter Dene listened now with terrible, unabated earnestness, for he
knew that in reality it was he himself who was upon his trial. He
himself, and Christina's happiness; for if the poacher were found
guilty, he was firmly resolved, beyond hope of respite, to tell all, and
face the unspeakable.
The defence seemed indeed a weak and feeble theory. Somebody unknown had
committed the murder, and this somebody, seen from behind, had been
mistaken by John for Joe Harley. The blood-stains need not be human, as
the cross-examination went to show, but were only known by
counter-experts to be mammalian--perhaps a rabbit's. Every poacher--and
it was admitted that Joe was a poacher--was liable to get his clothes
blood-stained. Grant they were human, Joe, it appeared, had himself once
shot off his little finger. All these points came out from the
examination of the earlier witnesses. At last, counsel put the curate
himself into the box, and proceeded to examine him briefly as a witness
for the defence.
Walter Dene stepped, pale and haggard still, into the witness-box. He
had made up his mind to make one final effort "for Christina's
happiness." He fumbled nervously all the time at a small glass phial in
his pocket, but he answered all questions without a moment's hesitation,
and he kept down his emotions with a wonderful composure which excited
the admiration of everybody present. There was a general hush to hear
him. Did he see the prisoner, Joseph Harley, on the day of the murder?
Yes, three times. When was the first occasion? From the library window,
just before the vicar left the house. What was Joseph Harley then doing?
Walking in the opposite direction from the copse. Did Joseph Harley
recognize him? Yes, he touched his hat to him. When was the second
occasion? About ten minutes later, when he, Walter, was leaving the
vicarage for a stroll. Did Joseph Harley then recognize him? Yes, he
touched his hat again, and the curate said, "Good morning, Joe; a fine
day for walking." When was the third time? Ten minutes later again, when
he was returning from the lane, carrying wounded little King Charlie.
Would it have been physically possible for the prisoner to go from the
vicarage to the spot where the murder was committed, and back again, in
the interval between the first two occasions? It would not. Would it
have been physically possible for the prisoner to do so in the interval
between the second and third occasions? It would not.
"Then in your opinion, Mr. Dene, it is physically impossible that Joseph
Harley can have committed this murder?"
"In my opinion, it is physically impossible."
While Walter Dene solemnly swore amid dead silence to this treble lie,
he did not dare to look Joe Harley once in the face; and while Joe
Harley listened in amazement to this unexpected assistance to his
case--for counsel, suspecting a mistaken identity, had not questioned
him too closely on the subject--he had presence of mind enough not to
let his astonishment show upon his stolid features. But when Walter had
finished his evidence in chief, he stole a glance at Joe; and for a
moment their eyes met. Then Walter's fell in utter self-humiliation; and
he said to himself fiercely, "I would not so have debased and degraded
myself before any man to save my own life--what is my life worth me,
after all?--but to save Christina, to save Christina, to save Christina!
I have brought all this upon myself for Christina's sake."
Meanwhile, Joe Harley was asking himself curiously what could be the
meaning of this new move on parson's part. It was deliberate perjury,
Joe felt sure, for parson could not have mistaken another person for him
three times over; but what good end for himself could parson hope to
gain by it? If it was he who had murdered the vicar (as Joe strongly
suspected), why did he not try to press the charge home against the
first person who happened to be accused, instead of committing a
distinct perjury on purpose to compass his acquittal? Joe Harley, with
his simple everyday criminal mind, could not be expected to unravel the
intricacies of so complex a personality as Walter Dene's. But even
there, on trial for his life, he could not help wondering what on earth
young parson could he driving at in this business.
The judge summed up with the usual luminously obvious alternate
platitudes. If the jury thought that John had really seen Joe Harley,
and that the curate was mistaken in the person whom he thrice saw, or
was mistaken once only out of the thrice, or had miscalculated the time
between each occurrence, or the time necessary to cover the ground to
the gate, then they would find the prisoner guilty of wilful murder. If,
on the other hand, they believed John had judged hastily, and that the
curate had really seen the prisoner three separate times, and that he
had rightly calculated all the intervals, then they would find the
prisoner not guilty. The prisoner's case rested entirely upon the
alibi. Supposing they thought there was a doubt in the matter, they
should give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt. Walter noticed that
the judge said in every other case, "If you believe the witness
So-and-so," but that in his case he made no such discourteous
reservation. As a matter of fact, the one person whose conduct nobody
for a moment dreamt of calling in question was the real murderer.
The jury retired for more than an hour. During all that time two men
stood there in mortal suspense, intent and haggard, both upon their
trial, but not both equally. The prisoner in the dock fixed his arms in
a dogged and sullen attitude, the colour half gone from his brown cheek,
and his eyes straining with excitement, but showing no outward sign of
any emotion except the craven fear of death. Walter Dene stood almost
fainting in the body of the court, his bloodless fingers still fumbling
nervously at the little phial, and his face deadly pale with the awful
pallor of a devouring horror. His heart scarcely beat at all, but at
each long slow pulsation he could feel it throb distinctly within his
bosom. He saw or heard nothing before him, but kept his aching eyes
fixed steadily on the door by which the jury were to enter. Junior
counsel nudged one another to notice his agitation, and whispered that
that poor young curate had evidently never seen a man tried for his life
At last the jury entered. Joe and Walter waited, each in his own manner,
breathless for the verdict. "Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty
or not guilty of wilful murder?" Walter took the little phial from his
pocket, and held it carefully between his finger and thumb. The awful
moment had come; the next word would decide the fate of himself and
Christina. The foreman of the jury looked up solemnly, and answered with
slow distinctness, "Not guilty." The prisoner leaned back vacantly, and
wiped his forehead; but there was an awful cry of relief from one mouth
in the body of the court, and Walter Dene sank back into the arms of the
bystanders, exhausted with suspense and overcome by the reaction. The
crowd remarked among themselves that young Parson Dene was too
tender-hearted a man to come into court at a criminal trial. He would
break his heart to see even a dog hanged, let alone his
fellow-Christians. As for Joe Harley, it was universally admitted that
he had had a narrow squeak of it, and that he had got off better than he
deserved. The jury gave him the benefit of the doubt.
As soon as all the persons concerned had returned to Churnside, Walter
sent at once for Joe Harley. The poacher came to see him in the vicarage
library. He was elated and coarsely exultant with his victory, as a
relief from the strain he had suffered, after the manner of all vulgar
"Joe," said the clergyman slowly, motioning him into a chair at the
other side of the desk, "I know that after this trial Churnside will not
be a pleasant place to hold you. All your neighbours believe, in spite
of the verdict, that you killed the vicar. I feel sure, however, that
you did not commit this murder. Therefore, as some compensation for the
suffering of mind to which you have been put, I think it well to send
you and your wife and family to Australia or Canada, whichever you like
best. I propose also to make you a present of a hundred pounds, to set
you up in your new home."
"Make it five hundred, passon," Joe said, looking at him significantly.
Walter smiled quietly, and did not flinch in any way. "I said a
hundred," he continued calmly, "and I will make it only a hundred. I
should have had no objection to making it five, except for the manner in
which you ask it. But you evidently mistake the motive of my gift. I
give it out of pure compassion for you, and not out of any other feeling
"Very well, passon," said Joe sullenly, "I accept it."
"You mistake again," Walter went on blandly, for he was himself again
now. "You are not to accept it as terms; you are to thank me for it as a
pure present. I see we two partially understand each other; but it is
important you should understand me exactly as I mean it. Joe Harley,
listen to me seriously. I have saved your life. If I had been a man of a
coarse and vulgar nature, if I had been like you in a similar
predicament, I would have pressed the case against you for obvious
personal reasons, and you would have been hanged for it. But I did not
press it, because I felt convinced of your innocence, and my sense of
justice rose irresistibly against it. I did the best I could to save
you; I risked my own reputation to save you; and I have no hesitation
now in telling you that to the best of my belief, if the verdict had
gone against you, the person who really killed the vicar, accidentally
or intentionally, meant to have given himself up to the police, rather
than let an innocent man suffer."
"Passon," said Joe Harley, looking at him intently, "I believe as
you're tellin' me the truth. I zeen as much in that person's face afore
There was a solemn pause for a moment; and then Walter Dene said slowly,
"Now that you have withdrawn your claim as a claim, I will stretch a
point and make it five hundred. It is little enough for what you have
suffered. But I, too, have suffered terribly, terribly."
"Thank you, passon," Joe answered. "I zeen as you were turble anxious."
There was again a moment's pause. Then Walter Done asked quietly, "How
did the vicar's face come to be so bruised and battered?"
"I stumbled up agin 'im accidental like, and didn't know I'd kicked 'un
till I'd done it. Must 'a been just a few minutes after you'd 'a left
"Joe," said the curate in his calmest tone, "you had better go; the
money will be sent to you shortly. But if you ever see my face again, or
speak or write a word of this to me, you shall not have a penny of it,
but shall be prosecuted for intimidation. A hundred before you leave,
four hundred in Australia. Now go."
"Very well, passon," Joe answered; and he went.
"Pah!" said the curate with a face of disgust, shutting the door after
him, and lighting a perfumed pastille in his little Chinese porcelain
incense-burner, as if to fumigate the room from the poacher's offensive
presence. "Pah! to think that these affairs should compel one to
humiliate and abase one's self before a vulgar clod like that! To think
that all his life long that fellow will virtually know--and
misinterpret--my secret. He is incapable of understanding that I did it
as a duty to Christina. Well, he will never dare to tell it, that's
certain, for nobody would believe him if he did; and he may congratulate
himself heartily that he's got well out of this difficulty. It will be
the luckiest thing in the end that ever happened to him. And now I hope
this little episode is finally over."
When the Churnside public learned that Walter Dene meant to carry his
belief in Joe Harley's innocence so far as to send him and his family at
his own expense out to Australia, they held that the young parson's
charity and guilelessness was really, as the doctor said, almost
Quixotic. And when, in his anxiety to detect and punish the real
murderer, he offered a reward of five hundred pounds from his own pocket
for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the
criminal, the Churnside people laughed quietly at his extraordinary
childlike simplicity of heart. The real murderer had been caught and
tried at Dorchester Assizes, they said, and had only got off by the skin
of his teeth because Walter himself had come forward and sworn to a
quite improbable and inconclusive alibi. There was plenty of time for
Joe to have got to the gate by the short cut, and that he did so
everybody at Churnside felt morally certain. Indeed, a few years later a
blood-stained bowie-knife was found in the hedge not far from the scene
of the murder, and the gamekeeper "could almost 'a took his Bible oath
he'd zeen just such a knife along o' Joe Harley."
That was not the end of Walter Dene's Quixotisms, however. When the will
was read, it turned out that almost everything was left to the young
parson; and who could deserve it better, or spend it more charitably?
But Walter, though he would not for the world seem to cast any slight or
disrespect upon his dear uncle's memory, did not approve of customs of
primogeniture, and felt bound to share the estate equally with his
brother Arthur. "Strange," said the head of the firm of Watson and
Blenkiron to himself, when he read the little paragraph about this
generous conduct in the paper; "I thought the instructions were to leave
it to his nephew Arthur, not to his nephew Walter; but there, one
forgets and confuses names of people that one does not know so easily."
"Gracious goodness!" thought the engrossing clerk; "surely it was the
other way on. I wonder if I can have gone and copied the wrong names in
the wrong places?" But in a big London business, nobody notes these
things as they would have been noted in Churnside; the vicar was always
a changeable, pernickety, huffy old fellow, and very likely he had had a
reverse will drawn up afterwards by his country lawyer. All the world
only thought that Walter Dene's generosity was really almost ridiculous,
even in a parson. When he was married to Christina, six months
afterwards, everybody said so charming a girl was well mated with so
excellent and admirable a husband.
And he really did make a very tender and loving husband and father.
Christina believed in him always, for he did his best to foster and keep
alive her faith. He would have given up active clerical duty if he
could, never having liked it (for he was above hypocrisy), but Christina
was against the project, and his bishop would not hear of it. The Church
could ill afford to lose such a man as Mr. Dene, the bishop said, in
these troubled times; and he begged him as a personal favour to accept
the living of Churnside, which was in his gift. But
Next: An Episode In High Life
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