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CHAPTER XI.

The drink! the drink! I am poisoned.

Hamlet.

"I WOULD not alarm our patient," said the apothecary, on entering the parlour, "especially as I believe the remedies applied will prevent any serious consequences; but, from certain symptoms that I have observed, I strongly suspect him to have swallowed corrosive poison."

How

"Poison!" ejaculated Middleton, "impossible! can you imagine that so simple and inoffensive a creature, guileless and happy as a child, would ever dream of committing suicide, or that if he had made the attempt, he could prepare himself for death with the calmness and complacency we have just been witnessing? He believes himself to be on the brink of the next world, yet his dying thoughts are of the flowers he leaves behind him, and of those which he hopes to cultivate in another state of existence. Is this lamentable or enviable? Surely it comes within the latter category, if there be any truth in the averment that 'where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.'

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"He may have taken poison inadvertently, without any suicidal intention; or it may have been administered with an evil intent against his life by some enemy."

"He cannot have an enemy in the world, for I am confident that he never wronged a fellow-creature."

"Is it impossible, then, for an innocent man to be the object of secret and malignant villany? Can he always secure himself against the attacks of assassins?"

"Alas! my own sad experience compels me to answerno! But honest Robin, equally obscure and blameless in

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his life, hath borne his faculties so meekly, that verily angels, trumpet-tongued, might plead against the deep damnation of his taking off.""

The apothecary, who piqued himself upon his insight into human nature, though this imagined penetration only amounted to the vulgar error of assigning the worst possible motives to every action, and presuming the whole world to be fools or scoundrels, drew back his lips with a sardonic grin, and said, “Our lives would not be worth much if we had no better police than these angels with their trumpets; and as to its being impossible that honest Robin should have an enemy in the world, it is 'a bold averment to make of any man that is married.””

"I do not understand you, sir," said Middleton, gravely. "As to this case, supposing the man to have been maliciously poisoned, which is at present uncertain, I affirm nothing: but in the course of my practice I have been more than once called in to a husband, whose wife has administered to him a composing draught, from which it was not intended he should ever awake.'

"If you are in earnest, sir, you must allow me to tell you that your insinuations are most cruel and unwarrantable. If your remark be intended as a pleasantry, I can only say that it is grievously misplaced."

"Nay, Mr. Middleton, I have as yet advanced no charge and attempted no pleasantry. I have declared nothing, indeed, but my suspicion that the poor fellow has somehow been poisoned, a fact which I should like to ascertain, before I leave the house, by personal investigation and inquiry. If I mistake not, I hear the wife on the stairs. Have your permission to call her in and question her."

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Immediate assent being given to this proposition, Madge was summoned to the parlour, when, in answer to the interrogatories of the apothecary, who cross-questioned her with the suspicious subtlety of an Old Bailey counsel, she stated that her husband, having made a hearty meal of the tea and cake intended for her master, had retired to bed shortly af terwards.

"And how long had you made this cake?" asked the questioner, assuming the fact that it had been manufactured by Madge.

"I made it and baked it yesterday."

"And where have you put what was left?"

"There was none left: it was but a small one, and Robin ate it all."

"No doubt; had there been any left it might have told tales. But did you not taste any of it yourself?"

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'No, I am not fond of they cakes."

"You are quite right, no more should I be. Do you mark, Mr. Middleton, do you mark?-pray attend to her replies. But as you told us your husband drank so copiously of the tea, you joined him, of course, in that part of the meal?"

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No, I didn't: I found the water smoky, so I didn't drink more than a drop."

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Ha! ha! right again, very right. Do you mark, sir, do you mark? And so your husband never found out that the water was smoky: very extraordinary! And pray what became of the tea-things? I should like to see them."

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"I washed them up, as soon as he had done, and put them away."

"No doubt, no doubt. On such occasions, if upon no other, the tea-things are sure to be instantly washed up and put away. Do you mark, sir. And the tea-kettle in which the water was boiled: what became of that? did you wash that out, also?"

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No, I left it on the hob, just as it was.

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"Ah! then there's nothing in that, I dare be sworn. And you have had no visiters to the kitchen this afternoon, you say, not a soul has been in it but yourself and your husband?"

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'Nobody, sir.”

"So I suppose: you may go up stairs again to Robin, and we will speak farther with you by and by." Madge courtesied and withdrew, when her interrogator, turning to Middleton, demanded with a look of triumph, " Well, sir, what say you now? If we can establish the presence of poison, of which I have little doubt, will you not admit that we have already discovered strong grounds of suspicion against the wife?"

"It is for you to decide whether poor Robin has or has not swallowed any deleterious substance; but as to Madge, I will stake my existence, were appearances ten times more strongly against her, that she is innocent. It is quite monstrous to imagine her capable of such an enormity. She never quarrelled with him-she had no motives for such an atrocious attempt."

"Into motives we cannot penetrate; but we can judge of facts. If you have no objection, I should like to look about me a little in the kitchen."

"I will accompany you," said Middleton; "for, on the poor woman's account, not less than my own, I am anxious that the affair should be thoroughly sifted."

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Ay, ay," cried the apothecary, as he ferreted into every hole and corner of the kitchen, with the alacrity and suspicious instinct of a thief-taker, for which office nature seemed to have intended him. 'Ay, ay-here are the tea-things all washed and put away sure enough, and not a scrap of the cake left in the larder or the cupboard; a cunning jade! a cunning jade! but we shall have her yet, and bring the fact home to her, by discovering where she bought the poison."

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"You will first, I hope, ascertain whether any has been administered, which I confess myself strongly inclined to doubt."

"Well, sir, we shall see, we shall see," cried the apothe cary, who, as he continued his perquisitions, had now taken off the lid of the kettle, and was examining the inside with the aid of a candle, when he exclaimed, triumphantly,"Eureka! it is found! it is found! I thought I could not be mistaken in the symptoms. The wife was quite right to find the water smoky. Look here, sir, look here! See you this white sediment at the bottom of the kettle, and these concretions at the side?"

"I do, but I am not aware that they are of a deleterious nature."

"That we will determine presently;" so saying, he took up a minute portion with a spoon, applied it to his tongue, and instantly spitting it out again, exclaimed, "Arsenic! arsenic! I suspected as much from certain appearances up stairs, and now stake my professional reputation upon the fact. I can swear to it by the taste, but we have plenty of other tests. Have you a crucible ready? You are aware, sir, of course, that the crystalline arsenic gives a whiteness to metals in fusion, and that a single grain will turn a pound of copper into a seeming silver that is not malleable. It combines with oxygen in two proportions, and the compounds are denominated oxides, because

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"You are forgetting to notice one thing," interposed Middleton," which is much more germane to the matter than the qualities of arsenic; that Madge stands acquitted, for the tea-kettle is the only thing she has not cleaned out, which she would naturally have done, had she inserted any poisonous contents.'

“There may be a motive for assuming this appearance of innocence."

"You said just now that we could not penetrate into motives, though we could judge of facts."

"I say so still-and how stand the facts? Here is a man poisoned, for whose life I will not even now be answerable, though the sudden and violent sickness produced by the tea, and the alexipharmic remedies I have since applied, may, perhaps, save him: here is a kettle incrusted in several places with arsenic; and here is a wife who declines tasting any of this fatal beverage, under pretext that the water is smoky, while she confesses that no person has entered the kitchen during the whole afternoon, but herself and her husband, alias, her intended victim. For her own sake, if she is innocent-for yours whether she be so or not, she ought to be taken into immediate custody; but we have no magistrate's warrant, and at this time of night it will not be easy to procure one. Ah! what a pity that your friend and neighbour, Mr. Hargrave, should have declined the honour, when he was lately requested to become a magistrate."

"I do not agree with you, for in my opinion nothing can be more incompatible than the clerical and the magisterial functions, the Bible and the sword. If the divine be fitted for his holy duty, he must be eminently disqualified for that of executing the laws and inflicting punishments. What can be more unseemly and inconsistent than to hear a minister of the religion of love, preaching on the Sabbath the forgiveness of injuries, not until seven times, but until seventy times seven, and to behold him on the following morning, with stern looks, perchance, and angry words, condemning some petty delinquent to the mitigated penalty of six months' imprisonment and two public whippings, because it is his first offence?"

"Well, sir, well, you have strange notions, very strange; but this is not the question. Quid agendum? What is to be done? We must lock up this kettle, of course, to prevent all access to it; and we must next consider how to secure the woman, the culprit, the criminal."

"I cannot allow these terms to be applied to my servant upon such inconclusive evidence. You shall see me lock up this kettle; when I retire to bed I will take with me the key of the porch-door, so that no inmate can escape; in the morning we will examine Robin, who is not now in a state to be interrogated, and we will then decide what farther measures should be adopted."

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