The big room at the “Blue Bell” was full. It was a room associated in the minds of most of the people present with occasions of festivity or entertainment. The Archery Club balls were held in it. It was used for the exhibitions of any travelling conjurer, lecturer, or musician, whose evil fate brought him to Whitford. Once a strolling company of players had performed there before some fifteen persons and several dozen cane-bottomed chairs. There were the tarnished candelabra stuck in the walls, the little gallery up aloft where the fiddlers sat 杭州桑拿按摩全套体验 on ball nights, and the big looking-glass at one end of the room, muffled with yellow muslin, and surmounted by a dusty garland of paper flowers. Now the wintry daylight coming through the uncurtained windows, made all these things look chill, ghastly, and forlorn. People who had thought the “Blue Bell” Assembly Room a cheerful place enough under the bright illumination of wax candles, now shivered, and whispered to each other how dreary it was.
The coroner’s jury had been out to Duckwell Farm to view the body, and to look at the exact spot on the bank where it had been landed from the boat, and to stare at the willow stump to which it had been found fastened by the clothes. And they had returned to the “Blue Bell” inn to complete the inquiry into the causes of the death of Castalia Errington. A great many witnesses had already 杭州丝袜批发市场 been examined. Their testimony went to show that the deceased lady’s behaviour of late had been very strange, capricious, and unreasonable. Almost every one of the witnesses, including the servants at Ivy Lodge, confessed that they had heard rumours of young Mrs. Errington being “not right in her mind.” They had observed an increasing depression of spirits in her of late. Obadiah Gibbs’s evidence was the strongest of all, and his revelations created a great sensation. He described his last interview with Castalia at the post-office, and left the impression on all his hearers which was honestly his own; namely, that on Castalia, and on her alone, rested the onus of the irregularities and robberies of money-letters at Whitford. He did his best to spare her memory. He sincerely thought her irresponsible for her actions. But the 杭州保健按摩电话 facts, as he saw and represented them, admitted of but one conclusion being come to.
Algernon Errington’s appearance in the room elicited a low murmur of sympathy from the spectators. His manner of giving his evidence was perfect, and nothing could have been better in keeping with the circumstances of his painful position, than the subdued, yet quiet tones of his voice, and the white, strained look of his face, which revealed rather the effect of a great shock to the nerves than a deep wound to the heart. Of course he could not be expected to grieve as a husband would grieve who had lost a dearly-loved and loving wife; but their having been on somewhat bad terms, and Castalia’s notorious jealousy and bad temper, made the manner of her death all the more terrible. Poor young man! He was dreadfully cut up, one could see that. But 杭州哪有丝袜会所 he made no pretences, put on no affectations of woe. He was so simple and quiet! In a word, he was credited with feeling precisely what he ought to have felt.
His statement added scarcely any new fact to those already known. He had not seen his wife alive since he parted from her when he started for London to visit Lord Seely, who was ill. He corroborated his servants’ testimony to the facts that Castalia had wandered out on to Whit Meadow about nine o’clock in the morning; that he had been made uneasy by her strange absence, and that he had gone himself to seek her, but without success. In reply to some questions by a juryman, as to whether he had gone to London solely because of Lord Seely’s illness, he answered, with a look of quiet sadness, that that had not been his sole reason. There were private matters to be spoken of between himself and his wife’s uncle—matters which admitted of no delay. Could he not have written them? No; he did not feel at liberty to write them. They concerned his wife. He had mentioned to Lord Seely his fears that her mind was giving way, as Lord Seely would be able to affirm. A letter found in the pocket of the deceased woman’s gown was produced and read. It had become partly illegible from immersion in the water, but the greater portion of it could be made out. It was from Lord Seely, and referred to a painful conversation he had had with his niece’s husband about herself. It was a kind letter, but written evidently in much agitation and pain of mind. The writer exhorted and even implored his niece to confide fully in him, for her own sake, as well as that of her family; and promised that he would help and support her under all circumstances, if she would but tell him the truth unreservedly.
Nothing could have been better for Algernon’s case than that letter. Instead of being the cause of his disgrace and exposure, it was obviously the means of confirming every one of his statements, implied as well as expressed. It showed clearly enough—first, that Algernon had given Lord Seely to understand that his wife laboured under grave suspicions of having stolen money-letters from the Whitford Post-office; secondly, that he (Algernon) believed those suspicions to be well founded; thirdly, that symptoms of mental aberration, which had recently manifested themselves in Castalia, were at once the explanation of, and the excuse for, her conduct. This letter, which, if Castalia were alive to speak for herself, would have been like a brand on her husband’s forehead for life, was now a most valuable testimony in his favour.
Algernon’s hard and unrelenting mood towards his dead wife grew still harder and more unrelenting as he listened to this letter, and remembered that Castalia had threatened him with exposure, and had resolved not to spare him. Nothing in the world but her death could have saved him from ruin. Even supposing that she could have been cajoled into promising to comply with his directions, she would not have been able to do so. She was so stupidly literal in her statements. A direct lie would have embarrassed her. And then, at the first jealous fit which might have seized her, he would have been at her mercy. Lord Seely’s letter showed a strong feeling of irritation—almost of hostility—against Algernon. It might not be recognisable by the audience at the inquest, but Algernon recognised it completely, and felt a distinct sense of triumph in the impotence of Lord Seely to harm him, or to wriggle away from under his heel. Algernon was master of the position. He appeared before the world in the light of a victim to his alliance with the Seelys. There could be no further talk on their part of condescension, or honour conferred. He and his mother had lived their lives as persons of gentle blood and unblemished reputation until the Honourable Castalia Kilfinane brought disgrace and misery into their home. In making these reflections Algernon was not, of course, considering the inward truth of facts, but their outward semblances. It made no difference to his indignation against the “pompous little ass” who had treated him with hauteur, nor to his satisfaction in humbling the “pompous little ass,” that if all the secret circumstances hidden and silenced for ever under the cold white shroud that covered his dead wife could be revealed before the eyes of all men, Lord Seely would have the right to detest and despise him. Lord Seely had not treated him as he ought. He was firmly persuaded of that. And as he measured Lord Seely’s duty towards him accurately by the extent of all he desired and expected of Lord Seely, it will be seen how far short the latter had fallen of Algernon’s standard.
The Seth Maxfields gave their testimony as to how the deceased body had been carried into their house; how they had tried all means to revive her; and how every effort had been in vain, and she had never moved nor breathed again. The two men who had rescued
the body from the water, and the carpenter who had brought the news to Ivy Lodge, repeated their story, and corroborated all that the Maxfields had said. There only remained to be heard the important testimony of David Powell. He had been so ill that it was feared at one time that the inquest must be adjourned until he should be able to give his evidence. But he declared that he would come and speak before the jury; that he should be strengthened to do so when the moment arrived; and had opposed a fixed silence to all the representations and remonstrances of the doctor. On the morning of the inquest he arose and dressed himself before Mrs. Thimbleby was up, albeit she was no sluggard in the morning. He had gone out, while it was still dark, into the raw foggy atmosphere of Whit Meadow, and had wandered there for a long time.
On returning to the widow Thimbleby’s house, he had seated himself opposite to the blazing fire in the kitchen, staring at it, and muttering to himself like a man in a feverish dream.
Nevertheless, when the due time arrived, he entered the room at the “Blue Bell” to give his evidence with a quiet steady gait. His appearance there produced a profound impression.
A stranger contrast than he presented to the Whitford burghers by whom he was surrounded could scarcely be imagined. Not only were his bodily shape and colouring different from theirs, but the expression of his face was almost unearthly. There was some subtle contradiction between the expression of David Powell’s sorrow-laden eyes and brow, and that of the mouth, with its tightly-closed lips drawn back at the corners with what on ordinary faces would have been a smile. But on his face, being coupled with a singular pinched look of the nostrils and a strained tightness of the upper lip, it became something which troubled the beholder with a sense of inexplicable pain—almost terror.
As he advanced along the room, there was a hush of attentive expectation, during which Dr. Evans, the coroner, curiously examined the Methodist preacher with grave professional eyes. After a few preliminary questions, to which Powell gave brief, clear answers, he said, “I have been brought hither to testify in this matter. I am an instrument in the hands of the great and terrible God. He works not as men work. In His hand all tools are alike.”
“What can you tell us of the death of this unfortunate lady, Mr. Powell?” asked the coroner, quietly. “You were the first to see her struggling in the water, were you not? And you made a gallant effort to save her.”
“She struggled but little. She went to her death as a lamb to the slaughter; nay, as a victim who desires to die.”
Powell spoke in a low but distinct voice; broken and harsh, indeed, compared with what it once was, but still with a soft tremulous note in it now and then, that seemed to stir deep fibres of feeling in the hearts of those who heard him. In such a tone it was that he uttered the words, “as a victim who desires to die.” And tears sprang into the eyes of many from sheer emotional sympathy with the sound of his voice.
“You are of opinion, then, Mr. Powell,” said the coroner, “that the deceased wilfully put an end to her own life.”
“You think that she was not in a state of mind to be responsible for her actions?”
There was a momentary rustling, as if every person present had moved slightly, and then a deep hush. The silence seemed to last a long time; but, in fact, only a second or two elapsed before Powell, drawing up his tall, lean figure to its utmost height, and pointing with outstretched hand full at Algernon, exclaimed with a kind of cry, “There is her murderer! Woe to the cruel, woe to the unrighteous man! Ye have ploughed wickedness; ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies!”
There arose a murmur, a movement, a confused sound of ejaculations. Algernon started up, and some one laid a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. “Ask what he means,” said Algernon; but his voice was so weak and faint that the words were not heard beyond the few persons who immediately surrounded him. He could scarcely grow paler than he had been from the beginning of the inquest, but a ghastly ashen-grey hue showed itself round his mouth. His lips were quite colourless. Terror, agonising terror, was in his heart. What did this preacher know? What had he seen? Had Castalia spoken and accused him before her death?
Anguish for anguish; perhaps he suffered at that moment as much as his victim had suffered when she felt the hand she loved send her to her death.