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“I beg you will proceed," objected the Squire ; "and be assured, if you have any charge to make against him, I shall gladly hear it; for I have taken him into my confidence. And if I am deceived—”
Sir," said the Doctor, gravely, " I fear you are. You know who he is, of course?”
“ Why, sir, who is he?" demanded Mr. Lupton.
“Who is he, sir ! I'll tell you, sir, who he is. That young man, sir,he, sir,-he is neither more nor less, sir, than the son of a little huckster woman in your own village, sir.”
“ And what then, doctor? ”
“Besides that, Mr. Lupton, he is an incipient housebreaker. I charge him with having made a burglarious attempt on my premises at Nabbfield, for which he was obliged to fly the country; and you, sir, will see the propriety of putting his person in a position of security.”
“You feel convinced his intention was to rob you ?" asked the Squire.
“Sir," replied the Doctor, “the thing speaks for itself. A young man forms a plan to enter my premises: comes at ten o'clock at night, -a burglarious hour; climbs my outer wall by a rope-ladder—"
“ It seems more like a love affair," interrupted the Squire.
“So I thought," answered Rowel," at first; because I found some fragments of a letter ; but I could make nothing of them.”
"Have you those fragments by you?”
“Certainly,” replied he; and drawing from his pocket-book a paper containing some scattered portions of the letter which Colin Clink had addressed to James Woodruff, the torn fragments of which Rowel had detected after James had buried them, he handed it to the Squire :“ The young woman
-- in your yard until ten o'clock at night.
If you should -
in the corner. Colin Clink ---- will do his best to get - - Fanny will be able --- ang night
at ten o'clock.” No sooner had Mr. Lupton perused this fragment than he pronounced the whole to have been unequivocally a love affair. There could be no doubt about the matter.
Rowel objected to this interpretation, and persisted in expressing his opinion that the young man harboured no good motives.
"Perhaps," said he, addressing Mr. Clink, you will so far oblige Mr. Lupton as to explain what really were your motives ?
“He need not be at that trouble," observed Mr. Lupton, “ until I have asked you, Doctor, a few questions which, I dare say, you can readily answer.”
“Oh, certainly, sir. Ask anything. I shall have great pleasure in affording you every information. And allow me to add, how deeply I feel the honour you have done me in demanding my attendance, while you are surrounded by so much of the first talent and experience that the profession can boast of. I trust the case is not a serious one. Allow me, sir."
The Doctor drew his chair near that of Mr. Lupton, and extended his fingers to feel his pulse. The last-named gentleman pretended not to observe this invitation, as he remarked.
“I am afraid, Mr. Rowel, the case is a very serious one indeed.”
“Indeed! Let us hope the best. Explain the symptoms, if you please."
“The first,” replied the Squire, “is this : — that youth with whom you have been talking appears to have reasons for believing, that for many years you have kept imprisoned as a lunatic a man of sound mind."
The Doctor's countenance underwent a sudden change.
“ Then am I to believe it possible,” rejoined the Doctor, “that you, sir, can have descended so far as to listen to the idle tales which such a boy may have picked up amongst the gossips of a village? It surely, sir, cannot be needful for me to disabuse your mind of prejudices of this kind, — to inform you how the suspicions of the vulgar are apt to attach to any professional man, associated, as I am, with a very unfortunate class of patients.”
“I anticipate all you would say," observed the Squire, “and appreciate the force of your remarks. At the same time I should be glad to know whether you have not a patient named Woodruff ?”
“ Emphatically, then, sir,” replied the Doctor, “I HAVE NOT.”
“I think, Mr. Lupton,” replied the Doctor, smoothly, “ you will allow that, without offence, I may decline, after what has been said, to give farther explanation of a purely professional affair, for which I do not hold myself responsible, save as a matter of courtesy, to any man.”
“Sir,” replied the Squire, seriously, "where reason exists for even the slightest suspicion—I do not say that wrong has been done,-the responsibility you disclaim cannot be set aside ; and that some suspicion I do entertain, it is needless to scruple avowing."
“Did I not feel assured,” answered Rowel, “from the many years I have enjoyed Mr. Lupton's acquaintance, that he can scarcely intend to offer me insult, the course I ought to adopt—"
“Whatever course you may adopt,” interrupted the Squire, “will not alter mine. A remarkable disclosure has been made to me respecting a patient in your keeping, as well as regarding the death of the ate lawyer of Bramleigh.
Those words startled the Doctor in an extreme degree. They seemed to strike him as might a sudden sickness that turns the brain giddy; starting from his chair, with his eyes fixed fiercely on Colin, he advanced towards him, exclaiming,
“What other falsehoods, villain, have you dared to utter? If there be law in the land for such infamous defamation, I'll punish you for it, though it cost me my life! Have you dared to say that I had anything to do with Skinwell's death, sir?”
I have said to Mr. Lupton, what I believe to be true," replied Colin, “ that you helped to kill him."
" It's a lie !-a lie !-a d-d lie! you slanderous vagabond !”
The Doctor would inevitably have committed a personal assault upon Mr. Clink, bad he not in the midst of his rage been restrained by certain reasons, arising from the evident capability of the young man to turn again, and convert the chastiser into the chastised. He therefore
contented himself with fretting about the room as might some irritated cur, haunted with the spectre of a tin-pan appended to his tail. In the midst of the “very whirlwind of his passion,” he snatched up his hat, as though unexpectedly seized with an idea of the propriety of taking leave; but Mr. Lupton kept an eye upon
him. “Not yet, sir, if you please," observed the Squire, interposing: “I must perform an unpleasant office; but nevertheless, Mr. Rowel, it is my duty to tell you that, for the present, you are my prisoner."
“I deny it!" exclaimed the Doctor. “ I am no prisoner!
“ 'That we will ascertain,” replied Mr. Lupton, as he rapped on the table, while the Doctor used his endeavours to force his way out.
Before he could effect this object, the door was thrown back, and two servants of the law entered. A warrant, which Mr. Lupton had prepared beforehand, was produced, and in a very comfortable space of time the Doctor was placed in a coach, and driven to certain appropriate lodgings, which the country has provided for gentlemen who have been so unlucky as to be inveigled into the commission of criminal offences.
The removal of Woodruff from the doctor's establishment has been before alluded to; while the declaration made by that worthy to Mr. Lupton that he had no such person on his premises, has borne evidence to the fact.
It was quite true. For, after the attempt which Colin had so unsuccessfully made to effect Mr. Woodruff's escape, Rowel became convinced — as the secret was out—that his charge would no longer be safe within the asylum at Bramleigh. He therefore seized the earliest opportunity to convey him by night to the residence of the Doctor's own brother, - an old-fashioned brick mansion upon the borders of a heathy waste, which formerly constituted one of the finest portions of the old forest of Sherwood.
It was even now studded with the remains of ancient oaks, which had sheltered many a bold archer in times gone by, but now sufficed only to give additional dreariness to the solitary landscape.
The removal, however, of James Woodruff to this place had not been effected without Fanny's knowledge : and, for the possession of this fact, it is believed, she was indebted to Mrs. Rowel. Not knowing what step to take, Fanny was no sooner made acquainted with the removal which Rowel contemplated, than she communicated it to her master, the young man who had succeeded the deceased Mr. Skinwell, one Sylvester by name; and a man who, though but a crest-fallenlooking affair outside, had, when occasion needed, considerable pluck within. No sooner was he informed of the affair than he volunteered his assistance. In accordance with the plan he proposed, himself and Fanny were prepared on the intended night of Woodruff's removal, quietly to follow the vehicle that contained him until it should arrive at its destination ; having ascertained which, they would take the most prompt steps within their power to insure his restoration to his friends. In accordance with this arrangement they acted, and at a convenient distance followed in a gig, as they thought, unobserved. On Sylvester's subsequently making application at the house described, and to which he had seen Woodruff driven, he found Doctor Rowel, who expressed surprise at seeing him, and on being informed of the nature of his mission, declared that Mr. Sylvester was mistaken. In proof whereof, he conducted him into a chamber where lay a gentle
man sick in bed, who, the doctor averred, was the person he had brought in the night before, for the benefit of the purer air of the forest. Beyond this Sylvester saw nothing to warrant Fanny's suspicions; while the girl herself declared that that man certainly was not the father of whom they were in search. In fact, so admirably had the doctor managed, that Fanny began to think herself that she was labouring under mistake; more especially when the sick man concurred in the statement made by the doctor, and averred that he had been brought from Nabbfield the preceding night. And he spoke the truth; for, in fact, the sick man was no other than Robson, the doctor's assistant, fitted with a very consumptive-looking nightcap, a bedgown over his shirt, and a bottle of hot water at his heels to make him look like an invalid; while Woodruff himself, shortly after his arrival, had been again removed in consequence of the doctor's suspicions that he was followed, — to a more secret place in the heart of the waste, where, it was trusted, he might be safely kept the remainder of his days, or even put to death, if such a step should be deemed advisable.
In consequence of the doctor's stratagem, Fanny and Mr. Sylvester returned disappointed to their home.
Such, in substance, was the story related by Fanny to Colin on her visit to town : and which he again had communicated to Mr. Lupton.
Whether the arrest of Doctor Rowel, when it became known to the brother, of whom we have spoken, might not have precipitated some tragical conclusion of Woodruff's life, — is doubtful, had not a singular communication concerning him been subsequently made to Colin.
CHAPTER XXVI. London Bridge, and an unexpected scene upon it. It was about four o'clock-sometime before daylight-one morning, nearly a month after the events described, that Mr.
Lupton and Colin might have been seen wending their way along the chilly streets, in the direction of London-Bridge. Saving the footfalls of the watch, the rattle of some early carriage over the pavement, or now and then the asthmatical cough of some poor old creature turned out thus early, in cloak and covered chair, to sit with charcoal fire and coffee in the streets, there were no audible signs that any soul existed there besides themselves. London was asleep. This Goliah of cities had lain down wearied, and for a time lost itself in forgetfulness.
“Five,” said Colin, “is, I think, the time, and the city side.” As he said this he drew from his pocket the communication to which allusion was made in the last chapter, and again perused it.
The reader must here be informed that the letter now in Colin's hand had been addressed to him in the first instance at Mr. Veriquear's, and thence had been forwarded to his present residence. It came from some anonymous correspondent, evidently residing not far from the place to which Woodruff had been carried: but its contents will best explain themselves.
“Sir,—I understand that you feel some interest in the fate of a Mr. James Woodruff. That man is now in my power, either to liberate or to detain for life, according as you may answer this. You HAVE AN
OBJECT TO CARRY OUT, 80 HAVE I. If you are prepared to serve me I will put this Woodruff into your hands : if not, neither you nor his daughter may ever see him more. Meet me alone at the north end of London Bridge, at five on the morning of the th, and I will explain particulars. At that time it will be as secret there as in a desert, and you will feel more secure. You will know the writer of this when you see a man make a cross with his finger in the air.”
This strange communication Colin had laid before Mr. Lupton ; and the only conjecture they could form was, that it had been written by Rowel's brother, who having heard of the imprisonment of that gentleman, had resorted to this expedient in the hope of compromising the matter by, as it were, exchanging prisoners, and perhaps stipulating for farther proceedings being stayed. There were objections to this interpretation, but it seemed the only plausible one they could
However, as Mr. Lupton suspected that possibly some treachery might be concealed, and that it was a plot to be revenged on Colin, he determined to accompany him; but, on their arrival near the place appointed, to fall back, though still keeping sufficiently near to distinguish a signal which Colin was to give in case of need.
The bridge was at hand. Over the parapet to the left, and considerably below them, long rows of lights, illuminating the walls of life-deserted warehouses, pointed out the site of that noisy gully, Thames Street. Before them, farther on, lost in mist, and yet lingering smoke, rose beyond the water one solitary tower, looming darker than all around it, but relieved still farther back by a flush of dull, mysterious light, which, though it showed nothing distinctly, emphatically marked the existence beyond of many an unseen mass of building like that by which they were immediately surrounded. And now they are on the bridge alone. It is not yet five. The sight is magnificent. Behold these two sides of a mighty city, separated by a scarcely-seen gulf, on which streams of light, reflected from night-lamps afar off, ripple as though so many of the pillars of fire that lighted the Israelites of old were on the waves. Up the great stream, or down it, the uprearing of men's hands, — house, church, and palace, appear alike illimitable. All those mean and minor details, which confound the
eye and distract the attention during daylight, are now swallowed up and resolved into one broad whole. The dense and unmeasured mass of building which meets the sight every way, seems resolved into a solid. Line on line and height on height extending away till lost utterly in the far obscurity of the void horizon. Without any great strain of the imagination this scene might be mistaken for a splendid dream of Tyre, Palmyra, or Babylon, - cities whose giant memories loom in the mind as images that cannot be fully compassed from their very vastness. While under our feet flows the dull, deceptive stream, that has borne on its bosom the wealth of kingdoms; that has found in its bed a thousand last resting-places for human misery; and that in its stormy wrath has swallowed happiness, when jollity forgot in temporary delirium that boats are frail, and that but a slender plank stood between itself and a deep grave.
As Colin cast a scrutinizing eye around, in the hope of meeting his correspondent, the clocks far and near chimed five. Almost with the last stroke of the bell footsteps were heard on the city side of the