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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER IX. 'OTHER SINS ONLY SPEAK; MURDER SHRIEKS OUT.'
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CHAPTER IX. 'OTHER SINS ONLY SPEAK; MURDER SHRIEKS OUT.'
Very radiant were Justina's dreams during the brief hours that remained to her for slumber after that Bohemian supper party—dreams of her sweet new life, in which all things were bright and strange. She was with her lover in a garden—the dream-garden which those sleepers know who have seen but little of earthly gardens—a garden where there were marble terraces and statues, and fountains, and a placid lake lying in a valley of bloom; a vision made up of faint memories of pictures she had seen, or poems she had read. They were together and happy in the noonday sunshine. And then the dream changed. They were together in the moonlight again—not outside the cathedral, but in the long solemn nave. She could see the141 distant altar gleaming faintly in the silver light, while a solemn strain of music, like the muffled chanting of a choir, rolled along the echoing arches overhead. Then the silvery light faded, the music changed to a harsh dirge-like cry, and she woke to hear the raindrops pattering against her little dormer window—Justina's room was the worst of the three bedchambers, and in the garret story,—and a shrill-voiced hawker bawling watercresses along the street.

She had the feeling of having overslept herself, and not being provided with a watch had no power to ascertain the fact, but was fain to dress as quickly as she could, trusting to the cathedral clock to inform her of the hour. To be late for rehearsal involved a good deal of snubbing from the higher powers, even in a commonwealth. The stage manager retained his authority, and knew how to make himself disagreeable.

Life seemed all reality again this morning as Justina plaited her hair before the shabby little mirror, and looked out at the dull grey sky, the wet sloppy streets, the general aspect of poverty and142 damp which pervaded the prospect. She had need to ask herself if yesterday and the night before had not been all dreaming. She the chosen bride of a rich young squire—she the mistress of Penwyn Manor! It was surely too fond a fancy. She, whose shabby weather-stained under garments—the green stuff gown of two winters ago converted into a petticoat last year, and worn threadbare—the corset which a nursemaid might have despised—lay yonder on the dilapidated rush-bottomed chair, like the dull reality of Cinderella's rags, after the fairy ball dress had melted into air.

She hurried on her clothes, more ashamed of their shabbiness than she had ever felt yet, and ran down to the sitting-room, which smelt of stale lobster and tobacco, the windows not having been opened on account of the rain. Breakfast was laid. A sloppy cup and saucer, the dorsal bone of a haddock on a greasy plate indicated that some one had breakfasted. The cathedral clock chimed eleven. Justina's rehearsal only began at half-past. She had time to take her breakfast comfortably, if she liked.

Her first act was to open the window, and let in143 the air, and the rain—anything was better than stale lobster. Then she looked into the teapot, and wondered who had breakfasted, and if her father were up. Then she poured out a cup of tea, and sipped it slowly, wondering if James Penwyn would come to the theatre while she was rehearsing. He had asked her the hour of the rehearsal. She thought she would see him there, most likely; and the dream would begin again.

A jug of wild flowers stood on the table by the window—the flowers she had gathered two days ago; before she had seen him.

They were a little faded—wild flowers droop so early—but in no wise dead; and yet a passion had been born and attained its majority since those field flowers were plucked.

Could she believe in it? could she trust in it? Her heart sank at the thought that her lover was trifling with her—that there was nothing but foolishness in this first love dream.

Her father had not yet left his room. Justina saw his one presentable pair of boots waiting for him outside his door, as she went by on her way downstairs.

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She found Mr. and Mrs. Dempson at rehearsal, both with a faded and washed-out appearance, as if the excitement of the previous day had taken all the colour out of them.

The rehearsal went forward in a straggling way. That good house of last night seemed to have demoralized the commonwealth, or perhaps the scene of dissipation going on out of doors, the races and holiday-makers, and bustle of the town, may have had a disturbing influence. The stage manager lost his temper, and said business was business, and he didn't want the burlesque to be a 'munge'—a word borrowed from some unknown tongue, which evidently made an impression upon the actors.

Justina had been in the theatre for a little more than an hour, when Mr. Elgood burst suddenly into the green-room, pale as a sheet of letter-paper, and wearing his hat anyhow.

'Has anybody heard of it?' he asked, looking round at the assembly. Mrs. Dempson was sitting in a corner covering a satin shoe. Justina stood by the window studying her part in the burlesque.145 Mr. Dempson, with three or four kindred spirits, was smoking on some stone steps just outside the green-room. Everybody looked round at this sudden appeal, wondering at the actor's scared expression of countenance.

'Why, what's up, mate?' asked Mr. Dempson. 'Is the cathedral on fire? Bear up under the affliction; I dare say it's insured.'

'Nobody has heard, then?'

'Heard what?'

'Of the murder.'

'What murder? Who's murdered?' cried every one at once, except Justina. Her thoughts were slower than the rest, perhaps. She stood looking at her father, fixed as marble.

'That poor young fellow, that good-hearted young fellow who stood treat yesterday. Did you ever know such a blackguard thing, Demps? Shot from behind a hedge, on the road between Lowgate and the "Waterfowl." Only found this morning between five and six, by some labourers going to their work. Dead and cold; shot through the heart. He's lying at the "Lowgate Arms," just inside the archway, and146 there's to be a coroner's inquest at two o'clock this afternoon.'

'Great Heaven, how awful!' cried Dempson. 'What was the motive? Robbery, I suppose.'

'So it was thought at first, for his pockets were empty, turned inside out. But the police searched the ditch for the weapon, which they didn't find, but found his watch and purse and pocket-book, half an hour ago, buried in the mud, as if they had been rammed down with a stick. So there must have been revenge at the bottom of the business, unless it was that the fellows who did it—I dare say there was more than one—took the alarm, and hid the plunder, with the intention of fishing it up again on the quiet afterwards.'

'It looks more like that,' said Mr. Dempson. 'The haymakers are beginning to be about—a bad lot. Any scoundrel can use a scythe. Don't cry, old woman;' this to his wife, who was sobbing hysterically over the satin shoe. 'He was a nice young fellow, and we're all very sorry for him; but crying won't bring him back.'

'Such a happy day as we had with him!'147 sobbed the leading lady. 'I never enjoyed myself so much, and to think that he should be m—m—murdered. It's too dreadful.'

Nobody noticed Justina, till the thin straight figure suddenly swayed, like a slender sapling in a high wind, when Matthew Elgood darted forward and caught her in his arms, just as she was falling. Her face lay on his shoulder white and set.

'I'm blessed if she hasn't fainted!' cried her father. 'Poor Judy! I forgot that he was rather sweet upon her.'

'You didn't ought to have blurted it out like that,' exclaimed Mrs. Dempson, more sympathetic than grammatical. 'Run and get a glass of water, Dempson. Don't you fuss with her,' to the father. 'I'll bring her to, and take her home, and get her to lie down a bit. She shan't go on with the rehearsal, whatever Pyecroft says.' Pyecroft was the stage manager. 'She'll be all right at night.'

Justina, after having water splashed over her poor pale face, recovered consciousness, stared with a blank awful look at her father and the rest, and then went home to her lodgings meekly, leaning on148 Mrs. Dempson's arm. A bleak awakening from her dream.

Yes, it was all true. The gay, light-hearted lad, the prosperous lord of Penwyn Manor, had been taken away from the fair fresh world, from the life which for his unsated spirit meant happiness. Slain by a secret assassin's hand he lay in the darkened club-room of the 'Lowgate Arms,' awaiting the inquest.

The Eborsham police were hard at work, but not alone. The case was felt to be an important one. A gentleman of property was not to be murdered with impunity. Had the victim been some agricultural labourer, slain in a drunken fray, some turnpike-man murdered for plunder, the Eborsham constabulary would have felt itself able to cope with the difficulties of the case. But this was a darker business, a crime which was likely to be heard of throughout the length and breadth of the land, and the Eborsham constable felt that the eyes of Europe were upon him. He knew that his own men were slow and blundering, and, doubtful of their power to get at the bottom of the mystery, telegraphed149 to Spinnersbury for a couple of skilled detectives, who came swift as an express train could carry them.

'Business is business!' said the Eborsham constable. 'Whatever reward may be offered by and by—there's a hundred already, by our own magistrates—we work together, as between man and man, and share it honourably.'

'That's understood,' replied the gentlemen from Spinnersbury, the chief centre of that northern district. And affairs being thus established on an agreeable footing, the skilled detectives went to work.

The watch and purse had been found by the local police before the arrival of these Spinnersbury men. The purse was empty, so it still remained an open question whether plunder had not been the motive. The man who took the money might have been afraid to take the watch, as a compromising bit of property likely to bring him into trouble. Higlett, one of the Spinnersbury men, went straight to the 'Waterfowl,' to hunt up the surroundings of the dead man. Smelt, his companion, remained in150 Eborsham, where he made a round of the low-class public-houses, with a view of discovering what doubtful characters had been hanging about the town during the last day or two. A race meeting is an occasion when doubtful characters are apt to be abundant; yet it seemed a curious thing that Mr. Penwyn, whom nobody supposed to be a winner of money, should have been waylaid on his return from the town—rather than one of those numerous gentlemen who had gone home from the Rooms that night with full pockets and wine-bemused heads.

Mr. Higlett found the 'Waterfowl' people as communicative as he could desire. They had done nothing but talk about the murder all the morning with a ghoulish gusto, and could talk of nothing else. From them Mr. Higlett heard a good deal that set his sapient mind working in what he considered a happy direction.

'Smelt may do all he can in the town,' he thought, 'I'm not sorry I came here.'

The landlady, who was dolefully loquacious, took Mr. Higlett aside, having ascertained that he151 was a detective officer from Spinnersbury, and informed him that there were circumstances about the case she didn't like—not that she wished to throw out anything against anybody, and it would weigh heavy on her mind if she suspected them that were innocent, still, thought was free, and she had her thoughts.

Pressed home by the detective, she went a little further, and said she didn't like the look of things about Mr. Clissold.

'Who is Mr. Clissold?' asked Higlett.

'Mr. Penwyn's friend. They came here together three days ago, and seemed as comfortable as possible together, like brothers, and they went out fishing together the day before yesterday, and then in the evening they brought home some of the play-actors to supper, the best of everything; and going up to bed they had high words. Me and my good man heard them, for the loud talking wakened us, and it was all along of some girl. And they were both very much excited, and Mr. Penwyn banged his door that violent as to shake the house, being an old house, as you may see.'

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'A girl!' said Mr. Higlett, 'that sometimes means mischief. But there's not much in a few high words between two young gentlemen after supper, even if it's about a girl. They were all right and friendly again next morning, I suppose?'

'I dare say they would have been,' replied the hostess, 'only Mr. Clissold went out early next morning with his fishing-rod, leaving a bit of a note for Mr. Penwyn, and didn't come back till twelve o'clock to-day.'

'Curious,' said Mr. Higlett.

'That's what struck me. Mr. Penwyn expected him back yesterday evening, and left word to say where he'd gone, if his friend came in. Of course, Mr. Clissold was awfully shocked when he came in to-day and heard of the murder. I don't think I ever saw a man turn so white. But it did strike me as strange that he should be out all night, just that very night.'

'Did he tell you where he had been?'

'No. He went out of the house again directly with the police. He was going to telegraph to153 Mr. Penwyn's lawyer, and some of his relations, I think.'

'Ready to make himself useful,' muttered Mr. Higlett. 'I should like to have a look round these gentlemen's rooms.'

Being duly armed with authority, this privilege was allowed Mr. Higlett. He examined bedchambers and sitting-room, looked at the few and simple belongings of the travellers, who were naturally not encumbered with much luggage. Finding little to employ him here, Mr. Higlett took a snack of lunch in the public parlour, heard the gossip of the loungers at the bar through the half-open door, meditated, smoked a pipe, and went out into the high road.

He met Smelt, who seemed dispirited.

'Nothing turned up?' asked Higlett.

'Less than half nothing. How's yourself?'

'Well, I think I'm on the right lay. But it's rather dark at present.'

They went back to the inn together, conferring in half-whispers. A quarter of an hour later, Maurice Clissold returned from his mission. He looked pale and wearied, and hardly saw the two men whom he154 passed in the porch. He had scarcely entered the house when these two men came close up to him, one on each side.

'I arrest you on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of James Penwyn,' said Higlett.

'And bear in mind that anything you say now will be used against you by and by,' remarked Smelt.


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