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“ Dead! did you say?" demanded Fitzgerald in an anxious and hurried manner.
“ By this time he must be so, he has never opened his lips since he got a knock o' the head; nor do I think he'll ever speak again."
“ So much the better !" observed the Butler, " such rascals are best out of the way."
At this moment Mr. Thornton's bell rang, and Fitzgerald knowing it to be a signal for his attendance, left Goulding without saying whether or not he meant to inform his master that an audience was requested of him.
After receiving the directions Mr. Thornton had to give, Fitzgerald thus spoke,
“ There's a man below, Sir, a mighty suspicious looking old vagabond, that has got hold of a cock and a bull story about an attempt to break into the house at Bexley. I think, with your leave, I had better give him in charge, and go down myself to ascertain if there's a word of truth in what the fellow says." .
“Who is the person who has brought this informatiou ?”
“ He has on a Soldier's jacket, but such things are often worn as disguises. He's about as ill-looking an old rascal as ever I seen.”
“ Well, ascertain the rights of the matter, and do as you "
But just as Mr. Thornton was about to assent to his Butler's arrangements in the affair, a Footman entered presenting on a salver a Waterloo medal and riband, saying, with a smile on his face
“ If you please, Sir, the man below told me he had no card to send up, and hoped you'd be good enough to look at this, as it bears his name."
The Banker, amused at this Novelty in the rules of Etiquette, glanced at the rim, on which “ George GOULDING, —TH REGIMENT" was engraved, and desired the Footman to show the Soldier up stairs immediately
“Stay in the room, Fitzgerald, and then we shall both hear the particulars.”
Goulding was ushered in. The moment he appeared Mr. Thornton was struck with his fine, handsome, manly and weather beaten countenance, so widely different from the description of physiognomy afforded him by his servant.
Touching his cap with a military salute, and standing as upright as though on parade, our Soldier at once began,
" I beg pardon, your honour, for sending you my name after that fashion, but your man there," pointing to Fitzgerald, who again had become pale as death—" he refused to let me have speech with you, and my business was no triling matter.”
“ Sit down, my fine old fellow," said Mr. Thornton, in a voice of great kindness, “ and let me hear what you have to say. Fitzgerald, place a chair for — the “ill-looking vagabond,'" and these latter words were spoken so as not to reach the Soldier's ear, but they had the effect of bringing back the peony hue to the face of the person addressed.
Goulding in as few words as possible recounted the circumstances attending his admission to the Banker's country house : at this part of
his narrative Mr. Thornton frowned, and gave other evidence of his displeasure.
« But, your honour, if you will hear me out, I think instead of being angry with the poor girls, one of whom is my own sister's child"
-and he thought there was no harm in mentioning this fact, though his relationship was to this moment unknown to Hannah “ you'll have reason, Sir, to think that they acted under Providence to save your property."
He proceeded to state what had occurred up to the moment when he learnt that another beside the one he had knocked down was in the house.
" I snatched a pistol out of the fellow's hand and hurried down stairs : a tall man, hearing my step came out of the Plate closet, holding a crimson leather case. I called on him to “Surrender ;' he thrust what he had in his hand under his frock, and fled towards the back door. Hoping to bring him down, I let fly, but he was too nimble for me, and made his escape.”
“ Then you couldn't swear to the person, if you saw him again ?" interrupted the Butler.
“ Be silent !” said his master, angrily, “ let the Soldier proceed.”
“Why no, perhaps not, because the scoundrel had taken care to hide his face, and as to his figure-there are so many just the same size and height-” and he surveyed Fitzgerald from head to foot. “ But, Sir,” he continued, “ the worst part of the story is to come; the man I floored was young Henry Marsh, your footman. He has been dumb ever since, but I sent your Doctor to him, and perhaps he may recover enough to say who was his partner in iniquity. And now, your honour, I've a bit o' good news for you ; excepting the little case I saw the rascal carry off, I've reason to believe that all your plate is quite safe. I told Hannah not to move an article till you came."
“ I'll soon see if it's all right, Sir, when I get there, and hope to bring you back word that it is so," remarked the Butler,
“ I shall go myself, and without loss of time,” observed Mr. Thornton; touching the bell-handle he desired the servant who entered to order four posters to be put to the travelling carriage immediately. He next dispatched a note to the Mansion House, and in the course of a few minutes Meyrick, an intelligent Police Officer, waited on him. Mr. Thornton requested him to step into an ante-room with the Soldier, and learn as many particulars as possible. Then turning to the Butler added,
" Fitzgerald, you must get ready to go with me. I shall start immediately. Wrap yourself up well, for you appear as though suffering from cold or fever, your cheek has an unnatural flush upon it, I don't like to see."
The carriage drove to the door. Meyrick observed to the Banker, “ We shall soon make it all right, Sir; if there's life left in Mr. Marsh when I get to his side, I'll pump the truth out of him you may depend. But this old boy says he must be at Chelsea to-morrow morning early. We can't do well without him, Sir, down yonder."
“ I will take care that you are in London in good time this evening,"
said Mr, Thornton, “you shall have a bed bere, and your breakfast before starting to-morrow."
“Well, that's settled,” observed Meyrick, “so as I should wish to have a little more confabulation with him, if you please he and I'll sit together on the Dickey."
“ You'll be warmer on the hind seat, Fitzgerald, so let it be so." ;
Mr. Thornton stepped into his post chariot, the civil Officer and the Military private in front of him, whilst the Butler, in occupying the rear, consoled himself with the idea that his personal dignity was not insulted by being brought into contact with beings so far below him in his own estimation.
On reaching the first turnpike, Meyrick got down, and, as soon as Fitzgerald had paid the toll, took the man on one side, saying,
“Queer weather last night! any thing particular happened in the Fog? You may speak out, it won't hurt any friends of yours.”
“ Nothink wery purtickler, wery little traffick,-about haf arter von a chay cart vent through, down the road, vith two chaps in smock frocks-Doctors, I raather think, goin'arter a Otomy; for 'tween three and four the same chay com'd back vith honly von on 'em in it; he vas in black, and the brown 'os was nearly vite, all covered over vith lather like, as though they'd been arter the bone stealer, and he vas 'bliged to vip his hanimal into a gallop to get out o' the vay of his purshuhers.”
“ Thank ye,” said Meyrick; “ All right!”
And away they went. He descended at every gate, and the information obtained was of the same character, only differing as to hours. Between Deptford and the scene of the last night's depredation, no turnpike existed, which he was vexed at perceiving, having, as he imagined, a clue likely to unravel the mystery.
They had proceeded between Welling and the Heath, when Fitzgerald called out to those in front to stop the carriage. The postboys pulled up.
« What's the matter?” demanded Meyrick.
“I am so ill, I can go no further; just say so to Mr. Thornton, and beg him to give me leave to get some assistance here."
Meyrick was speedily at the window of the carriage; what he said to its occupant, or the reply, did not reach those outside, but on regaining his seat, he said to the Butler,
“ You're to go on with us, 'tis not much more than a mile farther, and then you can take something to do you good.”
“ I'm a dead man !” exclaimed the Butler, and sank back in his seat.
Mr. Thornton's next neighbour was a gentleman in the Commission of the Peace, accordingly the carriage was driven first to his door. Mr. Rochfort was at home, and most willingly acceded to the request that he would assist in the investigation about to take place, he accordingly accompanied the Banker to his residence.
Fitzgerald got down from the carriage with great apparent difficulty, and begged his master's permission to retire to his own room directly, his indisposition having increased.
“ No, no," said Meyrick, “ you'll be wanted;" and he laid a strong emphasis upon the last word. “You mustn't think of going any where out of my sight, 'cause we shall have to make the search together.”
Leaving the outside passengers in the library, Mr. Thornton and the Magistrate proceeded up stairs; he found the Surgeon with the wounded man, occupied in applying strong stimulants to his nostrils.
"Ah! my dear Sir," observed the Doctor, “ you have arrived just in time, this wretched boy is going fast; he has spoken but very little, and that to the effect that to you he would make ample confession. See his eyes open."
The Banker sat down on the bedside of his dying servant, who evinced a consciousness of his master's presence by a faint but ghastly smile. With much effort, he at last said
“Will you-can you, Sir-forgive a wretch like me, the dupe and victim of a-base—ungrateful "
And Mr. Thornton took the cold and clammy hand of Henry, and by a gentle pressure indicated his forgiveness
"Oh God! why did I listen to such wicked counsel-I never should have thought of wronging so good a master- but for the evil --"
And he fell back exhausted with the exertion. Another moment, and he might have proclaimed the name of his tempter, but it seemed as though further speech was denied the penitent. · The Surgeon again had recourse to the powerful stimulant. To their surprise Henry, with fearful and convulsive energy, roused himself, so as nearly to sit upright in the bed, and with a voice choking with the Death struggle, exclaimed
“It was-Fitzgerald !” · He fell back, and expired. The Justice immediately took notes of the dying man's declaration, and with Mr. Thornton descended to the small room behind the library.
“My good Sir," observed Mr. Rochfort, “this is a very puzzling business. Fitzgerald, you say, is a confidential servant of yours. Now, although the affirmation of the dying man goes far to criminate him, as the adviser of the late burglarious attempt, I should hesitate in committing him, as a principal, without more conclusive evidence. An action for false imprisonment is an awkward affair, as I can relate to you a striking example—".
A tap at the study door interrupted the speaker.
“Ah, Drewry!" exclaimed Mr. Thornton, seeing his head clerk, “what brings you here?”
"I came as fast as my horse could lay legs to ground, Sir. When the Housemaid went to make the beds, she found this case under the
Butler's pillow, it has your crest upon it, and thinking it had no busi· ness in his possession, I've brought it here at once, as the Porter said
that a Robbery had been committed." . “Ah this is evidence,” remarked the Justice, “ that is if you are , ready to make affidavit that the casket is your property, and has been surreptitiously abducted.”
The Banker bowed assent.
" I shall make out the committal immediately; what are the names of the accused person ?”
He was informed.
“ Then I shall direct Meyrick to take charge of the body of Samuel Fitzgerald, and deliver it into the safe custody of the keeper of His Majesty's Jail at Maidstone."
The Officer, before he conveyed his Prisoner away, took a professional survey of the various doors that had been forced, and declared that none but a person well versed in the use of a Jemmy could have done the job in such workmanlike manner.
This spoke ill for the Butler's past life, however he was now fortunately overtaken in his guilty career.
Goulding, as soon as he had seen the Prisoner depart, hastened to the kitchen, and overwhelmed Hannah with joy at the news of their relationship. He learnt with much regret that Jane, in spite all the precautions taken by his niece, had ascertained the dreadful fate of Henry, and was now in a state bordering on distraction.
Mr. Rochfort undertook to attend to all the necessary forms relating to the Inquest which would be held, and took his leave.
Mr. Thornton requested the Doctor to pay all possible attention to Jane, and with Goulding returned to town.
We have but a few words to add, the old Soldier received his discharge, and was granted a pension. The Banker, in proof of his sense of the good and faithful services rendered by the veteran to his country, as well as to prove how much he valued his conduct under very peculiar circumstances, placed him, for the remainder of his life, in his establishment at Bexley, well convinced that he could not have selected a more trustworthy Guardian.
The scoundrel Fitzgerald was tried at the Assizes, and paid the forfeit of his life upon Penenden Heath-a striking example of MISPLACED CONFIDENCE.
BY ANDREW WINTER.