A Death at Delaford
Waking long before Padgett's keys rattled in the iron lock, Brandon watched the square of blackness in the outside wall lighten to barred gray and then a pale, cheerless blue. His limbs and joints were stiff, the mattress having turned out to be, in fact, inferior to any he had ever slept upon while in the army; he stretched, and paced about as well as he could in the limited space, trying not to rub at the several bites on his face and neck and hands. He could not expect Tim for several hours, even if he had left Delaford at first light--several hours before he could hope to have news of Marianne, to see a letter in her own hand, to learn how she bore this emergency, and whether Joy continued to improve. From the trees and fields beyond the wall rose a merry chorus of bird song, and he thought how incongruous was the sound.
Padgett, when he arrived, displayed no more deference than he had the night before. "You can have first turn at the privy if you want it," said he; "there's an advantage to being a gentleman!" His coarse laughter echoed off the cold stone walls. The other prisoners hooted and spat obscenities as Brandon made his way past their cells to the crude offices upon the landing, several openly scoffing at Padgett's attempts to strike the fingers they had hooked through the bars.
"Mr. Henley said to tell you he'll send washing and shaving things if you want them," said Padgett in a grudging manner upon escorting him back to his cell, and as Brandon did not know when Tim would arrive with his own, he accepted. Through the open door he listened to the prison come awake--to the futile demands for more bread and beer; to the inmates being escorted to their work in the bakery or the hat factory amid threats from Padgett and his fellow turnkey; to the wagons lumbering through the gates laden with vegetables and fish from the market; to a sudden scuffle, more noisy than deadly, that nevertheless resulted in a summons to the surgeon to close a wound. Though he was free to move about the yards as he liked, he thought perhaps he would be wise to avoid the other prisoners to the extent that he could until they became accustomed to his presence among them. In any case, he preferred not to go abroad until he looked less like a bristle-cheeked lout who had slept in his clothing.
At length a maid appeared with a large basket containing pitcher, soap, towel, razor, comb, and clothes-brush, which she set carefully upon the bed. "Mr. Henley would be pleased if you would join him for breakfast, sir," she informed him in a shaking voice. She was very young, and clearly uneasy; possibly she did not have frequent cause to enter the cell blocks, and certainly she could have had little close contact with accused murderers of any rank. She did not refuse the sixpence he offered her, however, though she did seem to appreciate his promise to tell Mr. Henley that he must send his manservant with her should she come again.
By the time he had made his appearance less disreputable, the yards had emptied except for those prisoners sweating over huge cauldrons of boiling laundry, and he enjoyed a relatively quiet passage to the keeper's quarters, assaulted only by stares and muttering. He found, and reflected that he should not be surprised that it should be so, that the yards seemed to him smaller, gloomier, and altogether more oppressive than they had ever seemed before, now that he surveyed them from a very different perspective. Mr. Henley greeted with him with an offensively cheerful "Good-morning," and explained that since he and his wife never breakfasted together he would be honored if the colonel would join him daily at about nine o'clock. Brandon agreed with as much graciousness as he could summon, not from any desire for Henley's company, but from the practical consideration of its being the surest way to ingratiate himself with the man in whose power he might remain for the coming months.
Over an assortment of bread and cakes and honey and coffee that he might have consumed in his own breakfast room, he was subjected to Mr. Henley's ruminations as to how he should be treated. "You say your manservant will arrive later this morning? You must not wait so long for clean accommodation. After our meal we shall visit the women's yard; I think you will find several eager to work for you. I am glad you will have your servant with you; though the male prisoners would be happy to take your money they would be surly and lazy; the women will serve you better. I took the liberty of culling some fine vegetables and fruit for you from the market wagon this morning, as your man has missed the morning delivery. Oh, there is no need to thank me, sir--though you will share my table but in the morning, all your meals must be as palatable as my own--"
An hour of such vulgar sycophancy, from one who had not the knack of employing it without making himself look foolish, was almost enough to cause Brandon to rue his willingness to begin each day as Mr. Henley's guest. But he reminded himself of the possible benefits, not the least of which would be the occupation of one hour out of every twenty-four.
The cell block for female prisoners was identical to that for the men, but not as densely populated, and certainly not as perilous, these prisoners of the fairer sex having rarely committed any crime of violence. Of those who came forward in response to Henley's blunt announcement that here was a gentleman prisoner who wanted a maid, Brandon chose the two who seemed cleanest and least sullen, and they were sent to scrub out his cell and replace the mattress while he walked along the corridors on the upper level, where there was a little breeze. Aloft he was more easily visible to those prisoners who were inclined to scrutinize his activity, but the air was close and warm in the yard, and he wished especially to avoid the fellow with the cough, who was very thin and looked to be consumptive.
He had never before been within these walls alone; always he had been in the company of his fellow justices. The hostile eyes that followed him now reminded him somewhat of the first uncomfortable tenants' meeting he had addressed as the new master of Delaford. Those to whom he spoke had held longstanding grievances against his father and brother and feared that he would be equally neglectful or harsh, or at best indifferent, caring more for army matters than for the efficient and responsible management of an estate and the welfare of those who depended upon it. Those critics he had soon won over, but with these he would find no common concerns; they were two parties fundamentally opposed. Though he was confident that the prisoners would not dare to harm him, their resentment was plain even in their silence, and was expressed by two or three in bitter invective when he would not employ them as well; they were angered by his ease, but if he would be easy, they clearly felt that they should profit by it, that he should hire additional menservants rather than make use of one to whom he already paid a salary.
Tim and George arrived a little before noon, and though Brandon was pleased that they had made a swift and safe journey, the roads, they said, being dry and not very crowded, he paid little attention to the supplies and furnishings they began to unload with the help of Henley's manservant, so engrossed was he in the most treasured and welcome item they had brought.
"My dearest husband," Marianne had written, and he could picture her at her desk, a frown of concentration between her brows, "I will not dwell on the extreme indignation I felt when Tim brought word of this gross insult to your character and person, for you know my heart well and can guess what I feel. It is enough to say that I shall never speak to Lord Melgrove again, or to the abominable Mr. Humphries." Her hand was steady, the strokes of her pen bold, and he was greatly relieved to know that at present she was more angry than fearful. "You will want to hear of Joy--she is much better, and has eaten well and babbled to me with almost her usual energy. I enclose a little sketch of her by Elinor, made just now while she slept, and an impression of her palm only slightly smudged--" Here he paused to unfold the second paper, and beheld a sweet likeness of his sleeping child, with beside it a print of her tiny palm and fingers--and for a minute or two he was unable to read any further. "--only slightly smudged, which you know we never could have gotten had she not been asleep. Elinor and Edward send their love--in fact, you will see Edward himself later today, as he is very kindly coming over to see you. Yesterday--it is strange to say yesterday, for I have not slept and to me it is still today--yesterday Elinor and I acted the part of constable and inspected the box of buttons in your dressing room--none are missing, but we came to no conclusion as to what that might mean. Christopher, I beg you to ask Mr. Haydock to keep me informed, though I know he will be very busy. Remember that I can do nothing but wait powerlessly for news. It is agony to be unable to help you-- For the present I shall be the dutiful wife, and obey your wish that I not come to Dorchester, but please, my husband, do not think that I can remain at home for months, sheltered while you suffer. If this matter is not resolved very soon I shall in turn beg you to allow me to come. And if you should object, I shall then remind you that you have given me pin money quite sufficient to take lodgings--you see the hazards of generosity to a headstrong wife! Please, dearest Christopher, do take care. Do whatever is necessary to guard your safety, for Joy and I do need you. I shall write to you every day. Please, please write to me. Your devoted Marianne."
Brandon read this heartfelt communication again and again, and by the time the small table and chairs filled the center of the cell and his writing desk was situated beneath the window, he had very nearly memorized it. He sent George and Tim to an alehouse for a hearty meal while he wrote a reply, which he gave into the former's keeping when the two men returned. "You will have a solitary journey this time, George."
"I'll sing loud to keep myself awake," the coachman replied with a laugh. And then he became uncharacteristically somber, and shifted his feet a little. "We all do hope to see you home soon, sir."
"Thank you, George. Obey Mrs. Brandon as you would myself, and--take care of her and my daughter."
"That we will, sir--you may rest easy on that score. All best to you. So long, Tim!" And with an ungainly but courteous bow, he left them.
A silence descended upon the cell, and then Tim spoke hesitantly. "I don't quite know what to do, sir. Samuel, that is Mr. Henley's servant, told me you already hired the cell cleaned."
"Mr. Henley was very anxious that I be made as comfortable as possible. The fact that part of the women's wages will go to himself and even more to the prison, thus improving his accounts, probably had not the slightest influence on his solicitude. The women will also tend to our washing."
"That's a relief, sir, as I'm not a good hand at washing--or so my mum always does say."
"I am told I shall be fed from Mr. Henley's kitchen, though not at Mr. Henley's table, save at breakfast. In a little while you may ask his servants about the time his dinner is usually prepared, the use of a serving cart, and so forth. But just now you must rest--you have had rather an exhausting day and night. You see we have brought in a cot for you--though it has no canopy or feather pillows. Have you had any sleep at all?"
"Aye, sir--in the cart. I couldn't keep my eyes open. If I'd had to drive myself I might have got all the way to Dover before I woke up."
"I am glad the journey was not too arduous."
Tim's pleasant features made a grimace. "The worst of it was that last bit, from those great ugly doors."
"I regret very much that you are forced to share, to some degree, my incarceration."
Tim looked at the walls so close about him, and seemed to shrink a little with dismay. "I do confess I've never been in a gaol before, sir--not even for one night."
"Nor have I. But remember that those great ugly doors will allow you to pass through them. Every day you must walk about the town, in order to get some fresh air and exercise--indeed I shall employ you most frequently in taking correspondence to the post-office. And you are free to write to your family whenever you like--I will gladly prepay the postage."
"That's very good of you, sir--it will ease my mum's mind to hear from me."
"I dare say you hardly expected, when you came to my house, such an occurrence as this."
"No, sir. My dad did always say that if I didn't work I'd find myself in gaol, and now--"
"And now it is your work that has put you in gaol. I do hope your father appreciates the irony."
Tim looked impressed that he could smile, and Brandon tried not to appear as though he himself were surprised. "He does think it a great joke, sir--but meaning no disrespect to you, of course. He knows it's all a terrible mistake. He wanted me to ask you, sir--it is all going to turn out right, isn't it?" Tim's father, long a tenant of Delaford, was a lively, decent man whose concern, though genuine, was no doubt as much for his land as for his landlord.
"I certainly hope so. But I think we had better prepare ourselves for a long stay."
The remainder of the morning passed quietly, Brandon perusing his law books (after reading Marianne's letter several more times) and Tim, to his own abject mortification and his master's forgiving amusement, falling asleep upon his cot. Brandon was beginning to think of dinner when a very welcome individual rapped his knuckles upon the door frame.
"Ferrars!" He jumped up to clasp his brother's hand. "Marianne wrote that you would appear today--it is very good of you to come. Tim, will you locate some tea, and tell the cook that I shall have a guest for dinner?" He motioned Edward to a chair, and seated himself opposite. "I am sorry to be the cause of such a bothersome journey for you. I do seem to be apologizing to a number of people for having inconvenienced them."
"It is hardly your choice to be here. How are you, Colonel? Marianne will demand a full report."
"Have you seen Marianne today? Is she well?"
"She is as well as one could hope--by which I mean that naturally she is worried, as are we all, but she is bearing the strain in admirable fashion--I am directed especially by my wife to tell you so."
"Would you tell me if she were not?"
Edward smiled. "No--but I should probably become evasive, and then you would guess. But Marianne is not the primary sufferer here. How are you?"
"My circumstances could be very much worse than they are. I am not beaten every hour, or chained to a post in the sun. But I am glad to have been occupied this morning, and glad my books and writing materials have arrived. And I am very grateful to be granted civilized company."
"You might see Haydock as well if he can get here before evening. When I spoke to him earlier, he said he first intended to visit Marianne."
Brandon frowned. "I trust he will demonstrate a proper concern for her feelings."
"It seems to me that in this situation, such concern may be a luxury he cannot afford."
"All the same, I will not have her badgered."
"Yes, Haydock is very much a badgering sort of man--I myself have seen him shout at three women a day! Really, Colonel, there is no cause for worry. Haydock is a gentleman, and Marianne is determined that she will not be mastered by her fears."
"You are very reassuring--I thank you."
Edward gave a little nod. And then he said: "In crossing the yard I met a wayward member of my flock, young Michael Bell, serving six months for petty theft. He wanted reassurance about his family, which I was able to provide. In his case prison is a great success; he is filled with remorse and promises never to trespass again. Will you be so repentant, sir, when you come into the world again?"
Brandon's smile at first contained both startled mirth and gratitude for his brother's effort to cheer him, but very quickly turned bitter. "Repentant of mercy, perhaps. If I had killed Willoughby three years ago I would not be in this predicament now." Suddenly he leaned forward, his tone becoming earnest. "Ferrars--you do believe that in this instance at least, I have nothing of which to repent?"
Edward hastened to express his confidence. "Of course I do. You swore your innocence to Marianne--that is enough for me."
"I am very pleased to hear it. And what are Marianne's feelings with regard--has she spoken of--Willoughby?"
"Not to me. And very little, apparently, to Elinor. I would venture to say that her thoughts at present are of you alone."
"And mine are very much of her, not least because she has been cheated of the opportunity to grieve for him--should she choose to. That cannot be beneficial to her emotional state."
"But it is not in your power to alter that circumstance, and so you must not agitate yourself in contemplating it. Marianne will simply have to bear with that as well. She can grieve for Mr. Willoughby at a later time--should she choose to. Grief must often be delayed when there are responsibilities to be met."
Brandon sat back in his chair. "You are a wise man, Mr. Ferrars. And Joy--have you seen her?"
"Yes, I stopped before I came away. She is really much improved--I think you may stop worrying about her."
"And do you ever stop worrying about Rosalind?"
Again Edward smiled. "Not for a moment."
There was a silence, and then Brandon rose and began a slow circuit of the cell. "I cannot help thinking that--I might never see my daughter again."
"You must not talk in that way," Edward said very firmly. "You must not discourage yourself when the fight has hardly begun. All will be well in the end."
"And have you received direct assurance from a higher power?"
"No. I simply have faith that an innocent man will not be convicted of murder."
"It has happened before. You might have heard of the Cranton case--I was refreshing my memory of it just now. Cranton was convicted of murder and hanged, and two years later another man confessed to the crime. Juries and judges do err. They are men, and therefore fallible."
Edward could think of nothing to say in reply that would not sound banal or callous, but he would nevertheless have uttered something of the sort merely to keep the painful silence from lengthening, had not Tim appeared with a laden serving cart. Once the meal was readied upon the small table, Tim having gained some experience in serving during the larger of the Brandons' dinner parties and comporting himself quite well, Edward proceeded to make a great show of tasting each course and evaluating it as if he dined in the finest hotel in London. "You have a very competent cook, sir. In fact I am astonished to find such elegance here. You are a resourceful gentleman indeed!"
"I have a resourceful wife. I did not request rugs, or cushions, or prints for the walls--Marianne thought of those. Clearly she is determined to surround her husband with the finer things of life so that he will not return to her a barbarian." Brandon attacked his mutton with a new energy. "I hope you will forgive my indulgence in self-pity. We need a pleasant topic, or at least a more interesting one. Tell me about the vestry meeting today. What was decided about the new church roof?"
"We got so far as agreeing that one is necessary, and then--" Edward's tone here became rather wry. "--I must confess that we spent the remainder of the meeting talking about you."
"I see. Of course it is all over the village by now. Soon, no doubt, it will be all over the country. How are people greeting the news?"
"You will not be surprised to learn that you are fast becoming the primary subject discussed over dinner tables, store counters, office railings, and barnyard fences. Alehouse business, of course, has tripled. But do not sigh, sir!--" (for Brandon was doing just that) "--those who were not aware of your encounter with Mr. Willoughby are thrilled to hear of it, for though they have long known you to be a decent, respectable sort of gentleman, they now know you to be a noteworthy one as well, and they hope to be interviewed for the papers as your bosom friends. You did not realize that you can claim several dozen bosom friends, did you, sir? Yes, it is all very exciting."
"So exciting that you make me afraid ever to return!"
Edward laughed. "Do forgive my jesting, Colonel--though there is some truth to it, I fear. But I am all gravity when I say that no one with whom I spoke in the village this morning, and none of the friends with whom they had spoken, believes for one instant that you would ever commit willful murder. If the case goes so far--and we all pray that it does not--I think you can depend upon a determined petition to the home secretary for mercy or a pardon."
"That is very gratifying--but to beg official pardon for a crime I did not commit seems at the moment the ultimate indignity. Shall I sacrifice dignity for life, Mr. Ferrars?"
The remainder of the meal passed in this fashion, with attempts at levity brought up short by the unintentional but inevitable contemplation of looming peril. But the moments of levity, if brief, were genuine, and Edward felt that his efforts were not wholly in vain, that his coming had done a little to hearten his friend.
Just as he was preparing to take his leave, Mr. Haydock arrived, and so he remained for a while, in order that he might carry as full a report as possible to Marianne.
As Haydock had not yet dined, Tim was sent to bring him a tray, the serving cart having been removed a little while before; when he returned he was startled to find himself accosted by the lawyer. "I shall want to talk to you before I go, young man."
"To me, sir?" Tim replied in a tone of great alarm, the sudden shaking of his hand nearly upsetting Haydock's wine glass.
"Yes, so keep yourself nearby. I cannot search for you through every inn in Dorchester."
"Y-yes, sir," Tim mumbled, and escaped to the corridor as soon as he could.
"I presume that you are simply interviewing all of my servants," Brandon said with a frown. "I would not like to hear that you actively suspect Tim. He has been with me for several years and has always done his work well."
"No, sir--unless he gives me reason to. I talked to the others this morning with Mr. Parker. He's nearly the last--I shall have to catch up with your coachman when I return to Delaford."
"Mr. Parker was with you at my house?"
"Yes, sir. It was he, in fact, who suggested that he accompany me--though at first he might have regretted doing so in the face of Mrs. Brandon's very cold reception. I think she would cheerfully have flayed him, before he made it clear to her that he is not persuaded of your guilt." Haydock proceeded to describe for his client the particulars of his and the constable's visit to Delaford. "I must say that I did think Mr. Parker was rather too coarse in his information and questions, but Mrs. Brandon did not flinch; she is a woman of courage, if I may say so, sir."
"I have always thought so. She wishes to be kept informed of the progress of your investigations, to the extent that you have the time, and I ask that you honor her request."
"I shall, as I can--though I shall have little to tell her until I receive word from Parker, who set out at once from the manor. For myself, I have an appointment tomorrow morning to see the chief justice; he has agreed to hear my petition to grant bail over Lord Melgrove's decision--though as he is of a reformist, not to say almost egalitarian bent, and an intimate friend of his lordship's, I have little hope of success; but I must make the attempt. I place greater hope in the advertisements, which will appear in the Exeter and Dorchester papers beginning tomorrow. Mr. Willoughby was a fine-looking gentleman; it would be surprising if he did not catch the eye of someone who might tell us something of the company he kept that night. The promise of fifty pounds should stir the dullest memory. And Mr. Parker will be asking his questions as well, at every inn on the turnpike."
"Parker is tenacious, but he cannot search forever."
"No--and even if he could, a random attack by a highwayman would leave no prior indications for him to find."
"Mr. Haydock," Edward interjected with no little annoyance, "I have been occupied these last several hours in trying to stop Colonel Brandon from nursing his own gloomy tendencies. I beg you to conceal yours."
"Your pardon, Rector, but Colonel Brandon does have some reason to be gloomy. He faces one very solid piece of evidence against him, and can offer none in his favor. I presume, sir, that you have thought of no explanation for the button?"
"That cursed button! No--none."
"Surely," said Edward, "there is every reason to believe that a jury will not convict on such flimsy circumstantial evidence--especially not a gentleman of the colonel's character and reputation."
"Convictions on flimsier evidence occur at every Sessions and Assizes."
"Not of gentlemen, and not for murder."
"No--but it is a slenderer hope than you seem to think it, sir. Earl Milcomb1 went to the gallows for murdering his steward--his rank was no protection to him."
"That was forty years ago, and Earl Milcomb was guilty beyond doubt--all his servants were witnesses." Brandon rose abruptly and began to pace, and Edward added hastily, "Forgive me, Colonel--I cannot claim Mr. Haydock's professional justification for insensitivity."
Haydock refilled his wineglass and made circles in the air with the stem. "It is hardly insensitive to train a clear eye upon the implications of a case. We must do the same to the facts of the case. As we cannot yet discredit the one solid piece of evidence, we must do our best to discredit the charge of murder that it supports. We can convincingly argue that as Mr. Willoughby was following no plan of travel, he could not be presumed by someone wishing to do away with him to be in any particular place at any particular time; consequently we can argue that there existed no malice aforethought." Edward was nodding relieved approval of this lawyerly logic, but his relief was crushed by Haydock's next words. "Your previous encounter with Mr. Willoughby, however, will suggest to a jury an unpremeditated killing in the heat of passion. That Mr. Willoughby was not where he was expected to be, and that he had become separated from his wife, might--with Mr. Humphries's enthusiastic assistance--lead them to speculate that he was about something of which he wanted Mrs. Willoughby to have no knowledge, and that you discovered him in his attempt. Such speculation might, I believe, despite Mr. Humphries's most determined exertions, be turned to our advantage. If we ourselves were to emphasize such extreme provocation, we might persuade a jury, despite the duel, to bring in a conviction of manslaughter--"
Brandon turned upon him, venting the anger he felt toward his enemy upon the man who only tried to be his advocate. "Such a provocation would be a complete fabrication! I have said it many times: if Mr. Willoughby had designs upon my wife, I did not know it. He is the last man on earth whose honor I would wish to defend, but I know of no attempt on his part to harass Mrs. Brandon. I have told you repeatedly, Haydock, that I will not confess, by word or by silence, to a crime of which I am innocent."
Haydock looked suddenly older. "If we cannot explain that button, sir, you may have no other choice if you wish to save your life."
1Earl Milcomb is based on Laurence, Earl Ferrers, who was hanged at Tyburn on 5 May 1760. The case was still very much part of the public consciousness at the end of the century. I've changed the earl's name for obvious reasons *g*.
When Edward arrived at Delaford parsonage at about eight o'clock, he was not surprised to be told that Elinor was with her sister at the manor house. He first looked in upon Rosalind, whom her mother had already sung to sleep, and then proceeded up the lane through the quiet autumn dusk, considering what he would say to those who so anxiously awaited him. Marianne sprang from her chair in the drawing room as soon as she heard Mrs. Baynes greet him, and met him in the foyer with a barrage of questions about how her husband had looked, whether he were well or ill, rested or tired, confident or apprehensive, furious or calm. He was glad to be able to distract her with the note the colonel had sent, which she took into the library at once, glad that it would not be immediately necessary to find the words to tell her something of the afternoon's conversations without telling all. But his respite was short-lived, for others had appeared at the drawing room door--not only Elinor but also Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret, the three of them all urgent concern and curiosity.
"We were in Sir John's carriage an hour after receiving Marianne's letter--I could not do otherwise," said Mrs. Dashwood in response to his exclamation of surprise at the speed they must have managed; her eyes were quite as red and puffy as Marianne's. "We have not been here an hour. What a horror this is--I cannot yet believe it! Sir John is incensed, and said he would write to Lord Melgrove at once."
"Is Sir John acquainted with Lord Melgrove?" Edward asked eagerly.
But his quick hope was as quickly dashed. "No, they have never met; but as one magistrate to another he might have some influence. Do tell us how you found poor, dear Colonel Brandon. And you must be so tired from the long ride--here is a very nice tea laid out--"
"I shall be but a moment," he said, for Elinor's hand was upon his arm and he knew that she desired a more complete recitation than he would give to Marianne or her mother. When they were alone in the foyer he continued: "He is shaken and dispirited, as you may guess, but he is also determined. I do not like his resistance to Haydock's advice, however--" And he gave her a very brief summary of the debate over legal strategy.
"But he must follow Mr. Haydock's counsel. Who knows better than a lawyer what a jury will be inclined to believe?"
"Even if it should mean he must admit guilt where he is innocent? That reluctance I certainly understand. But it is much too soon to assume that will be necessary, and I hope he will spare himself constant meditation on the dilemma. How does Marianne?"
"Much as you describe the colonel. When George brought his letter, she took it upstairs to the nursery and did not emerge for an hour. Her eyes were very red, but she was able to read a few sentences aloud and smile at his teasing, and I was very much encouraged. I did fear for a little while that Mama's arrival would completely derange her--they fell into each other's arms, sobbing as if they had already lost all hope. For Marianne it was the surprise of seeing her, and of course she is nearly exhausted; and I believe Mama had wept for the entire journey--poor Margaret was in quite a state, having been shut up in a carriage with her for so long. I begged them all to be calm, and at last they could talk sensibly, but they have passed the last hour imagining the worst."
"They will not help the colonel by succumbing to despair. I can see, my love, that it is to be our task to be gay."
"I have hardly ever felt less gay in my life," Elinor replied.
Edward kissed her forehead. "Nor have I. But the advertisements and handbills will appear tomorrow; perhaps they will bring good news."
FIFTY POUNDS REWARD
A reward of fifty pounds shall be paid to the person or persons conveying information to Mr. James Haydock, Attorney, or Mr. Harold Parker, Constable, both of Delaford, Dorsetshire, leading to the conviction of a person or persons unknown for the cowardly murder of Mr. John Willoughby, gentleman, of Allenham in Devonshire and Combe Magna in Somersetshire, in the turnpike at Delaford at about midnight on Monday the 7th of September . . .
Marianne stared at the heavy black letters over an untouched and cooling cup of tea. Hundreds of people in Dorset and Devon might now be reading the quarter-page advertisement, or listening as it was read out by an innkeeper or a crier. Hundreds more might see the handbills that Mr. Haydock had caused to be printed, distributed in Delaford parish by none other than Jemmy Rivers, employing his boundless energy and compulsion to accost his neighbors more forgivingly than was usual by thrusting a bill into the faces of everyone he came across; and by George and two of the day laborers in parishes farther afield. Marianne wished that she had not so many helpers, for she would rather be abroad with them, working somehow on her husband's behalf, than waiting uselessly at the breakfast table, in a fever of hope that a horde of witnesses would surge up the drive within the hour and perhaps even present the murderer himself; in a chill of dread that the advertisements would bring no response at all.
She drew Christopher's letters from her pocket, the lengthy one delivered by George and the short note brought by Edward. She had read them at least a dozen times, and read them again now, scrutinizing his handwriting for hints of carefully hidden strain. The quill point had perhaps been pressed a little harder against the paper than was his habit; the initial letters after the inking of the pen were heavier than his neat penmanship generally allowed. The note had clearly been written in haste, but its tone was merely brisk, not alarmed: "Though I have written to you once today, I could not let Mr. Ferrars depart without sending a few more lines. The day has been more tolerable than I had expected; I cannot call myself very cruelly used when I am permitted so pleasant a dinner guest as he. Haydock is here now and will be with me, I should think, for the remainder of the evening, as we have a great deal to discuss. Both have commented upon my fine quarters, and I have told them that I owe it all to my very considerate wife. Ferrars is ready to go now and so I must close--I expect I shall usually write in the mornings henceforth, so that you will hear from me before dinner--"
In his long letter he had described for her in detail his "fine quarters" and how he was generally treated, and she was glad to hear from Edward that he had not been understating his difficulties in order to protect her feelings. Indeed he had done his best to make her laugh, but he could not disguise a certain bitterness, and she could not but wonder if he too had composed and then rejected a more candid draft.
"My dearest Marianne," he had written, and she could hear his voice, see his face as she read, "--for I will still call you 'dearest,' even though you threaten a shocking disregard of your husband's wishes--you do not sound at all dutiful to me--you sound exactly the horror of the independent-minded wife. Whatever could I have been thinking when I married you? (You know perfectly well what I was thinking, and feeling, and that I think and feel it still, and always will.) I am vastly relieved to be assured of our little Joy's continued recovery--I would give anything not to be separated from her just at this time. I know you will keep me informed of her progress, and I believe I need not tell you the effect of the sketch you sent--to gaze upon it is anguish and delight at once. Please express my deepest thanks to Elinor--it is exquisite. As to my predicament--though I am touched by your sincere indignation, I do hope you can find it within yourself to be civil to Lord Melgrove should you ever encounter him again, for in general he is an effective lord lieutenant--observe, for example, how swiftly he locks away suspected murderers. Humphries, however, you may cut at will with my blessing--I ask only that you make certain I am present."
"I should very much like it if Mr. Humprhies were to walk through the door this minute," Marianne muttered to herself through tears of anger and grief--and looked up from the letter in surprise when someone did come through the door--her mother, to tell her that there were callers.
"It is Mrs. Holcombe, dear, and that very odd Mrs. Laraby--"
Marianne so successfully repressed a groan that it emerged as merely a sigh. "I could have predicted that Mrs. Holcombe would be the first. Will you be so good as to occupy them for a few minutes, Mama, while I make myself presentable? Oh, and I did not want to cry when I knew I would have callers today--!"
She did not have callers solely that day, or the next, or the next. Mrs. Holcombe and Mrs. Laraby were only the earliest trickling of what became a ceaseless stream of visitors flowing in through the door, pooling for a while in the drawing room, and then flowing out of the door again only to be immediately replaced, all of them examining Marianne for telltale signs of hysterical fits of shock, and disappointed that they could discern no alteration in her countenance but a lack of color, a set jaw, and eyes a little dull within dark circles of sleeplessness; all of them uttering the same exclamations of dismay until she was instantly tearful at the very sight of another carriage in the sweep, and even Elinor, striving desperately to be gay, wished they would all go away.
Some, like Mrs. Holcombe and Mrs. Laraby, offered genuine sympathy, though it might be expressed a little too forcefully, as by Mrs. Holcombe, or too quietly, as by her friend, a timid widow who enjoyed the company of Mrs. Holcombe's circle while Mrs. Holcombe enjoyed the company of someone she could guide. "My dear Mrs. Brandon, you must be terrified, absolutely terrified," were the first words out of Mrs. Holcombe's mouth upon entering the drawing room. "I simply cannot believe it."
"Yes, terrified," murmured Mrs. Laraby, "--so sorry for you--such an injustice to your worthy husband--"
Of course Marianne was terrified, very much so, but she would have preferred her terror not be heightened by the effect of others telling her that she should feel it. Mrs. Holcombe directed Mrs. Laraby to a chair--a liberty that prompted an exchange of raised eyebrows between Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor, though Marianne seemed not to notice--and then proceeded: "I believe Lord Melgrove must be getting senile, though he is younger than I, and I shall write to him and scold him. He was a frequent dinner guest at our house when my husband was alive, and I never saw him act so stupidly. It is usually the case that one man's stupidity makes every body else suffer."
"Every body else," Mrs. Laraby affirmed rather quaveringly.
"Well, my dear, I have just spent an hour with Mr. Haydock, and I am satisfied that thus far he is doing everything that can be done. Mr. Holcombe was involved in many partnerships and trusts and so forth, and Mr. Haydock always advised him competently, but I do not believe he has ever been faced with a murder case before--"
"A murder case," came the shocked echo of Mrs. Laraby.
"--and so I wanted to determine whether he was quite capable. I approve of the action he has taken with regard to the advertisements and handbills--though the wording of those might have been more dramatic--and he also assured me that he has written to other members of his profession in town, where you know they must deal with such cases at least every month, London harboring such a foul collection of ruffians and scoundrels of every sort."
"Ruffians and scoundrels--" By this time Mrs. Laraby could not produce more than a whisper.
"As I had told him that I would be calling upon you this morning, he asked me to assure you that he will come to see you the moment there are any developments."
"He has heard nothing from the advertisements, then?" Marianne was unable to stop herself from asking, though she could guess the answer.
"No--though many people will not see them until they settle with the newspaper by the fire in the evening, or see the handbills when they go to an inn. And many others will not know of the case at all until they hear about it from their neighbors in the coming days."
"You are right, of course--I am quite unreasonable to hope for anything so soon."
"But waiting is always the hardest task--it is always easier to be doing something--it is no wonder that you are impatient. Perhaps tomorrow there will be some reply. I do wish I had managed to see Constable Parker before he went away--"
Mrs. Holcombe had departed before Marianne realized that she had quite forgotten to take note of her hat.
She could congratulate herself that she had taken note of Mrs. Holcombe's person--for very soon the faces and voices of her callers became a confused blur in her mind; she remembered only fragments of conversation, and could not recall who had uttered which comment. In so many of them sympathy was overshadowed by an unseemly appetite for gossip to be shared at a dinner table or throughout an assembly room. There was, in fact, an assembly that very evening at the George, a coincidence viewed with disgust by some and with ecstasy by many, and she had no doubt of the primary topic of conversation, in rooms that would be twice as full as they might have been expected to be two days before; nothing on earth could induce her to go. That her husband, whose conduct had always been above reproach, should be the subject of speculation and debate, caused her a strong, even hurtful resentment. Why must it so often be the undeserving and unwilling who were the subjects of gossip? Mrs. Thornton and Mrs. Bagglesham loved to be talked about, and in her more frantic moments Marianne wished that their husbands might shoot somebody, or commit some offense even more scandalous, to render her husband less interesting. But though she soon learned to recognize what was the dominant motivation of her callers, betrayed as they were by countenances too eager and curious, by voices too high and quivery with excitement, she was forced not only to keep her temper but even to say "thank you for coming."
"Will the colonel be transported for life, do you think? Oh, I should imagine it very exciting to go to Australia, except that one could never return except on pain of death--"
"If he were, would you accompany him, Mrs. Brandon? I believe I should be so ill on the voyage that I should die before I got there, and so should probably not go at all."
"Will you attend the colonel's trial, Mrs. Brandon? I never miss the Assizes, for every body is there with their carriages and livery. And it is so very satisfying when the judge chastises the criminals as he hands down the sentences; I always get a shiver when he puts the little black cap upon his wig. I have never before wanted the accused to go free--what a strange sensation that will be--"
"It is really too awful to think of poor Colonel Brandon locked up with common thieves and bastards and poachers. I really do not think I could sleep at night, Mrs. Brandon, if it were my husband--"
As the initial hours of this torment lengthened into days, Marianne complained more and more vociferously to her family so as to keep any hint of her irritation from darkening the tone of her letters to her husband. "Do they really think they are a comfort to me?" she demanded. "They do not consider at all the effect of their words. They have no compassion, no empathy."
"Not very many people do, you know," her sister replied. "I must congratulate you on your fortitude, Marianne--your behavior is an example to us all."
"You are kind to say so, but you will retract your praise when I lose my reason and begin to hurl teacups at them."
Elinor smiled to see her spirit. "If you were arrested for assault you might at least be confined with your husband. Perhaps you should attempt it."
"If I were actually going to assault someone, I would not waste the effort on my neighbors. I would aim my teacups straight at Lord Melgrove and Mr. Humphries!"
She kept up a steady exchange of letters with her husband, once and sometimes twice a day, sent always by express; her heart leapt to hear the swift beat of hooves in the sweep.
"Edward says you are really quite as comfortable as a rajah, and so I shall try to worry less; he says he will visit you again next week. I hope Tim is proving valuable to you; he is greatly missed here. Mama and Margaret have arrived; they came in such haste that they forgot half the items they intended to bring and have spent a great deal of time in the village shops--"
"I am so very glad your mother and sister are with you--I know Elinor is there, but her own duties require much of her energy and attention--you must have more constant company. I did not like to think of your dining alone; that is when I most felt my own solitude-- Tim is beyond price, coaxing regular meals from Mr. Henley's kitchen and overseeing the women who do the washing and cleaning. He is good enough to pretend that he is not bored to distraction, though he is so desperate for activity that he has even begun to make use of my small library in order to improve himself. He also performs an occasional errand for other prisoners who might be unable to support a servant but can find an extra penny or two now and then. I have told him that he will have a generous bonus for his devotion in the face of such inconvenience. I do suspect, however, that he is spending more time than he ought with Mr. Henley's maid--"
"Joy toddled a few steps this morning, holding tightly to my fingers as she has done with you. Of course she scoots along now so fast we can hardly catch her. Sometimes when I come into the nursery she frowns, especially if it is the early morning or the evening, when she is used to see you. I tell her that her papa will be home soon-- You have had a reply from Nurse Hiller in Bath about coming to live with Mrs. Tolbert. I sent her letter over to John Tolbert, and he agrees to the salary she names, but does not know what to do regarding her request for a guarantee of employment through the first year should his mother not live so long, and hopes you will advise him--"
"It is obvious that Joy will be a great walker when she is older, just like her mother, and I shall have two females to dry off in front of the fire after an expedition in the rain, and serve brandy and cocoa. How I miss meandering through the woods with you on one arm and Joy in the other. Perhaps I shall dream of it tonight-- Please tell John Tolbert that I shall guarantee Nurse Hiller's employment, and also pay her relocation expenses, for she is very highly recommended and I should like to be sure of her for Widow Tolbert before someone else in need of a nurse learns that she is available--"
"I could not send these few lines of estate business from Baynes without adding a greeting of my own (he was reluctant to disturb you, but I told him that you would never be more pleased to receive a communication regarding ailing cattle, as a means of occupying your thoughts)-- You would be shocked by the number of callers we have had, as word continues to spread throughout the neighborhood. We are serving so much cake that poor Mrs. Howell cannot keep apace, and has had to send to the bakery for more, and we have used every plate in the house-- When you are freed let us take a cottage in the Lakes for a month and tell ourselves that none of this ever happened--"
She could avoid one or two visitors each day by going out for a walk, but she did not dare resort to that tactic more often for fear it would be said that she was so beside herself with dread that she was incapable of receiving visitors at all. She did dread her first attendance at church since the disaster, and felt Sunday looming ever nearer, but that obligation she could not shirk.
One carriage only disgorged welcome visitors, that bringing Sarah and Claude. "Oh, my dear, how are you?" her sister exclaimed as they all walked into the house after embraces and tears in the sweep. "And how is Christopher? I cannot believe it, I simply cannot believe it! I tried for the whole of a day after we received your letter to write to both of you, but I could not think of what to say, and so finally decided we must come. We shall stay for a night or two, if you have the space, and then go on to Dorchester."
"We do have the space, as only Mama and Margaret are here, and I am so glad you have come. Christopher says he is well, and I pretend to believe him. But how can he truly be well, locked away from family and society? Not a moment of the day passes that I am not worried as I have never been worried in my life. But he tries to cheer me, and I let him believe he succeeds. I will show you his letters, and soon you will see him and judge for yourself, and let me know the truth. Oh, I am so glad to see you both! Come in and talk to me a little about something other than lawyers and prisons. How are the children? Have you finished the new garden wall? And I do hope Claude's grapes continue to thrive--"
As Sarah and Claude were some little acquainted with living in a constant state of fearfulness, Marianne felt that they could understand her own apprehensions when no others in her family really could. In the brief respites between visitors, she and Sarah sat together in the drawing room, Sarah with Joy on her lap mouthing the rag doll her aunt had brought her. "Claude never was actually accused of any particular offense, you know, so in that way your situation differs markedly from ours. But in England there is at least an orderly process for discovering the truth and the truth is deemed to be of some importance; and thus even though Christopher has in fact been charged, his fate is less uncertain than was Claude's when he was held for questioning. The English system might not be ideal or infallible, but it is rather better than chaos. Christopher will bear his ordeal, my dear; he will take strength from knowing that you and ma petite Joie are well and happy. At least Joy is happy, are you not, my sweet girl?" And to this Joy burbled incomprehensibly in reply.
The following morning their breakfast was interrupted by a very unwelcome visitor at a very impolite hour, a correspondent from The Times, who had seen the advertisement in the Exeter papers and wanted to interview Marianne, after having already conferred with Mr. Haydock and learned some of the particulars of the case.
"Interview Marianne!" Mrs. Dashwood exclaimed with indignation. "He cannot be serious."
"He surely did not expect success," Claude said. "Probably he thought to see the house and find a servant or two who for a few pennies would talk to him and tell him something of the family. Shall I throw him off, Marianne?"
"I would be grateful," she replied, "--unless-- Perhaps it would be wiser after all to speak with him. I would not want him to write any untruths out of ignorance or spite."
"Hmm--that is a danger. Perhaps I should at least tell him that the family believe unequivocally in the colonel's innocence. Otherwise he might well misinterpret our hostility."
"Yes, please--that is very good of you."
In a few moments Margaret, who had taken up a station at the window, reported, "He is writing down everything Mr. Marchbanks says. We must be sure to look in the paper every day for the account, and to write angry letters if he is disrespectful. He is very tall, isn't he?--and quite good-looking. I wonder if he will ever get all that ink off his fingers--"
"You are good to write to me so often, my love. I have greatly enjoyed the turnkey's rude comments about a prisoner's receiving so much express post; the Royal Mail must be benefitting enormously from my troubles-- Yes, you would smile at the alacrity with which I answered Baynes's query about the cattle-- I do hope all the visitors are not too trying for you. I remember how well you learned to tolerate callers during the endless wedding-visits--though the circumstances were rather happier then. And we shall visit the Lakes again, especially the sheltered ravines--"
"You are good to be concerned, but people are really very helpful and well-meaning, if perhaps too curious, and too obvious in their disappointment that I am not prostrate with grief and can still be coherent in a conversation-- Mr. Haydock came to see me today. He did not know whether he could visit you before you would receive this letter, and so asked me to tell you that he has heard from his colleagues in London, who only advise him at present to wait for word from Mr. Parker and to read his law books, which he has been doing assiduously all this week, he says. Are London attorneys of no more use than this? They did give the names of several successful thief-takers, though Mr. Haydock does not yet feel it necessary to contact any of them--"
"Haydock has told me that he thinks of calling in his town colleagues only in the event my case comes to trial, for they are more practiced in such cases than the typical country lawyer. I can only guess that he wanted to spare you any mention of a trial, though after his several interviews with you he should be well free of the notion that you are fragile--"
"Sarah and Claude arrived this morning, and I was glad to see them; they will stay for two nights and then take a room in Dorchester for at least a week. Claude has spent several hours with Mr. Haydock, and wishes to meet also with the chief justice. I am so very, very relieved that you will have friends there in the town-- You will perhaps find it diverting that Mr. Potter and Mr. Oakley have finally come to blows, having been careless enough to visit the same alehouse last night in the hope of hearing some chatter about you. No one saw which of them struck first, but they were both said to be in a choleric temper and eager to maul each other in the street. The constable's deputy took them before Mr. Wilverton, who fined both of them for disturbing the peace, and they went back to their farms together in a very amicable humor. The behavior of some of your sex is unfathomable to me. Perhaps you should have simply set up a boxing ring for them-- Your tenants have had a meeting, and have sent Jack and Nellie Abrams as representatives to inquire after your well-being. Nellie wishes to send you some of her lemon cakes that you like so much. I have told them that we have every confidence--"
"I shall be very glad to see Sarah and Claude, though at the same time I wish Sarah would remain with you. I do not like to think of her coming here any more than you. But it is useless to remonstrate with her; she will do as she pleases-- I shall have something to say to Potter and Oakley about their squandering so much of my time in painstaking mediation. At least I shall know what method to employ in their next disagreement-- And I shall look forward most keenly to Nellie Abrams's lemon cakes--"
"Here are the cakes, with letters from all of us inside." Marianne handed the parcel to Sarah, who set it carefully on the seat of the carriage. "I shall feel much lighter of heart knowing that Christopher will have company as I do, at least for a time. Do write and tell me how he fares. And tell him--that I miss him terribly."
"Yes, I shall, my dear. Do take care of yourself, and try to get more sleep. You know that Christopher will ask me how you truly fare--"
As the carriage rolled away, Marianne was conscious only of a feeling of envy that Sarah would soon see her brother, hear his voice, embrace him. It felt weeks, months, since she herself had looked upon his face, felt his arms about her, tasted his kisses. She did not go immediately back into the house, but went around to the garden to walk a while before the inevitable carriage full of visitors crunched up the drive and she was once again trapped in the drawing room uttering assurances in which she could not wholly believe. As she walked she was acutely conscious that he could not do the same, could not meander along garden or woodland paths, or even city streets; that he no longer enjoyed the freedom of movement to which he was accustomed. The gravel directed her steps toward the house, but a sudden feeling of oppression made her sit for several minutes upon a bench before she continued inside. He had told her many times that her presence at Delaford had made the house seem a home to him, and at last she understood. She had very often been in this house without him for hours at a time, and had been separated from him several times overnight when he had been away on business; but always she had known he would return to her. Never had it felt so wrong to be parted from him; never had his absence made the house feel no longer a home. Though she risked his disapproval, she knew she must see him soon, before many more days had passed, if only for a few moments through a barred window. It was almost a need, almost as fundamental as eating or drinking or sleeping. Regardless of his protests, she must see him soon.
Brandon could only wish that he enjoyed the same incessant activity as his wife, no matter how distasteful it might seem while it was endured. Never in his adult life had he been so idle; the hours felt interminable, the hands of his watch seemed hardly to move. The first day or two of his incarceration had required the arranging of his cell and the discovery of his new routine, and there was also the dubious pleasure of his breakfasts with Mr. Henley to occupy an hour or two; but soon he had learned to wish for the blessing of employment. He had always favored assigning prisoners to some useful task, but primarily to forestall their causing disturbances with which the keeper and turnkeys should have to contend; he had not heretofore considered the benefit to the prisoners themselves, that the hours and days and weeks of their sentences would pass more quickly for being filled--for the men usually found in a gaol were not the sort to spend their time in the stimulating perusal of a book. Alone with his own thoughts, he understood--if his fellow inmates did not as they observed him go about as he pleased--that they were happier for being obliged to work. He himself turned to his books on the law, but despite the necessity of it found it difficult to concentrate on the tangled threads of legal argument; and he could not seem to accustom himself to the reading of literature in solitude, always looking up in the expectation of seeing Marianne in her usual chair, turning the pages of her own book or magazine. His letters to her absorbed him, for he wrote at length and unhurriedly; but their production did not require very many hours, nor could reading hers, even again and again. If Baynes could know how grateful was his employer for the bit or two of estate business with which the steward was obliged to trouble him, he would be touched indeed.
He had letters from Haydock as well, daily reports of the complete absence of any sort of advance in the case. The meeting in Dorchester with the chief justice had been an abject failure, serving only to waste Haydock's time and raise his ire at "pig-headed magistrates who care more for political connection than for the law." Parker's untiring efforts had so far yielded nothing but many slaked throats along the turnpike. The advertisements and handbills had at last prompted considerable response, however, from people attempting to claim the reward by virtue of having said "good evening" to, or seen the horse of, or spilt ale on the greatcoat of, or shined the boots of, a gentleman who "might have summat to do with yer case," even though said gentleman, if there had in fact been such a person, had not claimed to be or to know John Willoughby, had been too young or too old, had been travelling in the wrong direction, had said nothing of Devon or Somerset, or, in short, given any reason whatsoever for thinking that he was in any way connected with the matter. Mr. Haydock was nevertheless obliged to instruct his clerk to send out inquiry after inquiry, in the remote possibility that one of these snippets of information might actually be of some worth. Haydock also very faithfully kept his client informed of the mounting expenses of this constant and wide-ranging investigation, and Brandon reflected wryly that there ought in justice to be a means of laying claim to some equivalent portion of Willoughby's estate.
He was grateful for Sarah's company, if concerned for her health during every moment she spent within the prison walls. She had of course ignored his pleas that she not come to see him, but for the sake of not adding to his burdens she was willing to limit her visits to one hour twice each day. In the meanwhile, she explored the shops of Dorchester, and always brought a new book or magazine or print, especially the caricatures of which he had once been so fond, which now, however, so far from making him laugh, could hardly soften the frown that had engraved itself on his face. Her pronouncement upon first seeing him in his new surroundings had been: "Well, I knew you could not be as robust as you have been pretending. You are getting pale from being so much indoors, and you are not sleeping as you should--that is obvious."
He was immediately alarmed by the implications of her deduction regarding Marianne's own health. "Is Marianne practicing a similar deception, then?" Sarah could not stop herself from glancing at her husband; Claude's lips pressed together, and he did not quite meet his brother's eyes. "Please, Sal--do not hide the truth from me."
"A fine position you place your sister in. I shall never be able to return to Delaford, for Marianne will demand the same candor-- Well, she can hardly speak your name without a tremor in her voice, and she asks me to tell you that she misses you terribly. Her eyes are constantly red and her face is wan; she lacks her usual energy and did not play the pianoforte once while we were there--but in spite of all, her appearance is less shocking than yours." She was able to feign sisterly exasperation in her tone, but her hands clasped his very tightly. "Kit, you must find a way to sleep--those nights you were so worried about Joy, and now this--"
"I shall order a finer mattress from the proprietor."
"Do not jest. Shall I bring you some laudanum?"
"My dear Sarah, I did 'come through the hard' (as the Scots say) of service in India without resorting to the numbing of my brain with opiates, and so I shall come through this ordeal as well. It is only a matter of learning to bear hardship again after quite a few years of luxury. --Now," (displaying a little eager interest) "what is in that parcel--is it my lemon cakes?"
They let him have his way. "It is," said Claude, "and here is some wine made by a neighbor--it is pleasant, but not as fine as what I shall produce in a few years' time."
"If you are willing to consume it with so little censure, I am sure I shall think it delicious. Tim!" (calling to where Tim, perched on a stool in the walkway, was acquainting himself with Mr. Cowper's poems) "--will you set a table?"
Sarah had also brought him some money, but he had no need to spend it in the days immediately following, for she kept him supplied with paper and ink and soap, and any other item he might mention as perhaps being of use to him. Though Claude's time was frequently taken up in wearying, unproductive meetings with judges and lawyers and well-connected merchants to whom he had contrived to be introduced, he accompanied his wife when he could, and together they diverted him and made him feel a part of the world again.
He had also found employment of sorts--or rather, employment had found him. During the first several days of his joining their number, the prisoners had remained aloof, from continued resentment and even from some apprehension: he was, after all, accused of committing murder, and should he be guilty he might prove a danger to them should they provoke him. But Tim was among them frequently, and though he might have persuaded very few of his master's innocence, he did persuade them that as a magistrate Brandon regarded very seriously the oath he had sworn to apply the law equally; and some being less skeptical than others, and having taken note of his fair treatment of his servants and his lack of pride beyond that to which his station entitled him, had asked if they might speak with him about their cases, in the hope of obtaining his assistance. To this he agreed, and thereby came to see that those who agitated for legal reform perhaps were more justified in their indignation than he had previously allowed.
Some prisoners were serving sentences that he felt were too harsh; others had been imprisoned for offenses for which he would never have bound them over for trial; still others, though they might have deserved their sentences, had been visited with such other sufferings that to insist that they serve out their time seemed utterly heartless. One Josiah Hatch, a laborer, had stolen a few potatoes and cabbages from a neighboring farm to add to the parish ration of bread for his hungry children during a brief period in which he could find no work. Brandon, having discussed the man's case with Henley, as he did the cases of all those who applied to him, wrote a letter to the bench on Hatch's behalf describing the man's remorse and consistently good behavior while imprisoned, as well as pointing out the short-sighted inefficiency of locking away an able-bodied man who was willing to work and thus charging his entire family to the parish for the two years of his sentence.
Another laborer, by the name of Lucas Johnson, was awaiting transportation for fourteen years for receiving stolen goods, and hoped that a recommendation from an officer would improve his chances of having his sentence remitted to service in His Majesty's army. Upon Johnson's entering the cell, Brandon frowned at the sight of the livid bruise just above his temple and the large bloodstain on his jacket--its being several more days until the weekly distribution of clean clothing. "How did you acquire your decoration?" he asked, but was not surprised when Johnson did not answer. "Such a blow might have killed you. Was it an application of Mr. Padgett's stick?"
Johnson looked at the floor and shifted his feet. "He said I were insolent."
"Were you?" The man was large, and coarse in his speech, but Brandon had never observed him be disobedient. Again Johnson did not reply. "I will grant that magistrates are not always as responsive as they might be, but they cannot address abuses if they do not know of their existence." Padgett had thus far been careful not to overstep his authority within Brandon's sight.
Johnson looked up and seemed to study him, and at last ventured to speak. "If I should think of any after I'm out, I will write to you, sir, if I have yer leave."
"You do," Brandon said, though privately he reflected that if Lucas Johnson's sentence were not commuted within the next six months, he might never receive a reply to any letter he should send.
He heard the appeal of Annie Ragg, who had assaulted her husband after at last growing weary of his drunken and increasingly violent attentions and coming to fear for the safety of her children. The husband had prosecuted his wife and then, having rid himself of her for a period of five years, had disappeared with the children, and she did not know where he had gone. She had petitioned the home secretary for mercy so that she might search for her children, as had many of her friends on her behalf; but none of her friends were of the gentry, and she hoped that "such a fine name as his" might prejudice the authorities in her favor. Upon his querying why she had not freed herself from the villain years before, she replied,
"Where was I to go, sir? My friends are all good people, but they have scarce enough to support their own families, let alone myself and five more children--and my husband made good wages when he didn't drink them up. But if I had known what was to come, I'd have done the disappearing, and taken my children to town. Three are old enough to do a little work--we'd have managed somehow." Her pride was something to admire, and though Brandon entertained not the slightest hope that her proposed search would be successful, he agreed without hesitation to add his name to those others who had spoken in her favor.
He did not need to hear the details of the case of Elias Baker, at age nine serving one year for stealing a handful of nails. He disagreed on principle with the incarceration of children, for such close association with practiced criminals only taught them dubious skills and a hardened disrespect for the law. In his petition to the home secretary on Elias's behalf he used as an example Jemmy Rivers, whose character was much improved for his continuing employment at Delaford under George's watchful and demanding eye. It had been weeks since Jemmy had so much as set loose a chicken or pilfered a tempting, juicy apple; nearly a twelvemonth since he had felt the stocks fastened about his wrists and ankles. Of what use would the boy be now, to his family or his neighbors, had he spent his most energetic years in prison for stealing a few shillings at the fair?
Brandon wrote letters for Ben Warwick, sentenced to two years for stealing a hammer; for Michael Davies, who had recently learned that his mother had been put into an almshouse; for Jane Owen, serving one year for deserting her apprenticeship; and even for John Barnes, the consumptive man he had thus far avoided, who was too ill to climb the stairs and to whom Brandon was brought in the yard by two or three of his friends--his plea for mercy was very simple: he wanted only to die in his daughter's home by the sea. He wrote one or two letters a day, conscious all the while of the irony that he was able to use his rank in society and position as a magistrate in aid of others when they had done so little to aid himself.
He also met those who had earned every minute of their punishment, and some whose misery had in his judgment been insufficient. One man insisted that in his case the Riot Act had been misapplied, that he and his minions had merely been attempting to "encourage" a farmer or two to distribute grain "as they ought"--but when Brandon, having ascertained the facts of the case from Mr. Henley, asked the bold fellow what appellation he would give to a group of twenty shouting men threatening unarmed farmers with hoes, axes, and pitchforks, he had no answer, but only stalked out of the cell muttering oaths under his breath.
Another, a young man convicted of stealing six pounds from the shoemaker for whom he had worked and sentenced to seven years' hard labor, thought to engage Brandon's sympathies with an assertion of his being very ill-used by his employer. But upon the conclusion of his tale of fits of temper, of meanness in wages, of too low a fire in the winter and too close a workshop in the summer, Brandon said severely, "You then admit to the crime. The witnesses against you were truthful in their statements."
"Yes, sir," was the answer. "But I am very sorry for it, sir."
"You fully comprehended at the time you committed the offense the possible penalty for the theft of so large a sum."
At first the fellow hesitated, but then the realization came into his face that anything but an affirmative would not be at all credible. In a tone less steady, from an increasing conviction of how his arbiter would decide, he replied: "Yes, sir." Having already experienced the admonishment of one judge, he now prepared himself (with a rolling of his eyes) to endure the same from another.
"Stealing from a man who entrusts you with his business and from whom you voluntarily accepted employment is disloyal, even treasonous behavior with no possible justification, certainly not the unremarkable circumstance that you disliked him. You were not starving or injured; you have no dependents. You were merely vexed; and your regret, if you really feel it, arises solely from your having been apprehended. You are already fortunate in the judge's remittance of the death sentence he initially pronounced, on the grounds of your youth. But twenty years of age is not sufficiently young that you should be absolved of all punishment. I will not write a letter on your behalf, and I shall hope that any future attempt to persuade an influential person to assist you will be similarly unsuccessful."
It was only with reluctance that he agreed to hear the plea of a woman accused of killing her bastard child, the particular subject being very painful to him. When she was brought to him he did not like her shifty eyes or her grating voice, and he had learned from Henley that she was well known to the justices of her parish for having been delivered of several bastards who had all sickened and died soon after their birth. When he thought of the persecution Eliza had borne for the sake of her child and her determination never to give him up, or of the maternal longings of Annie Ragg, he could tolerate the woman's self-pitying moans for but a few minutes before he banished her from his sight.
From talking among themselves, the prisoners soon were all informed of the conduct and behavior he required in those he would help, and there were attempts to persuade him that contrition was present when it was not, or that extenuating circumstances existed where they did not. His eight years as a magistrate, however, had taught him to detect a liar, and those who would attempt to deceive him soon learned the futility of it, and ceased to waste his time and their own.
One morning a short while after he had returned from breakfast, as he was studying the accounts of some cases not dissimilar to his own and making some notes to discuss with Haydock in his next correspondence, he received a different sort of visitor, a party of ladies and gentlemen being given a tour of the prison by Mr. Henley. So engrossed was he in his work that he had paid no attention to the voices and footsteps that had signaled their approach, and so he was startled to hear Mr. Henley announce: "And here is Colonel Brandon, whose case so interests you. Yes, Colonel, they have read all about you in the papers. Is not he a fine gentleman? I do not know how he keeps himself so clean here; it is a constant marvel to me. I have received many letters already about his case, and now that the story has appeared not only in the country papers but The Times itself, I expect to receive many more."
"Do the correspondents champion or condemn him?" asked one of the gentlemen. His clothing and that of his companions was of good fabric but indifferent cut, and Brandon guessed that they were merchants or high up in some sort of trade.
"The sentiment is about evenly divided, sir. Those who claim to be acquainted with him assert his integrity; others need no more than his status in society to make them distrust his protestations of innocence." Mr. Henley here emitted a weak laugh, like an inept player uncertain how to please two very disparate audiences; he glanced repeatedly into the cell at Brandon, who had risen from his desk but had not spoken.
"Has he been troublesome since he was brought to you, Mr. Henley?" The youngest of the three ladies clutched her husband's arm in a fever of nervous excitement. "I mean to say--has he been violent at all?"
"Oh no, madam, he is a very calm, rational man, not in the least rebellious. I would fill my prison with gentlemen if I could--"
Brandon was not a man whose sensibilities were easily offended; but he did feel that it was a gross insult to be discussed among these onlookers as if he could neither see their avid stares nor hear their impertinent queries as to his eating and sleeping habits, the number and status of his visitors, and the amount of money he spent to provide himself a degree of comfort in these dismal surroundings. He was thrown back to his first night in this cell, to the internal battle between anger and mortification; anger triumphed more easily now, from having fought many such battles in the ensuing week, and consequently was the more difficult to restrain. But he must restrain it, though his jaw and hands clenched with the effort; must not be provoked into foolish retaliation.
Finally one of the men addressed him directly. "Well, sir, and did you perpetrate the foul deed?" His smile solicited his companions' praise for his witticism.
Brandon did not break his silence until their smiles had quivered and then faded away before his even gaze. "If you are in fact acquainted with my case, you know my answer, sir." His quiet indignation and refusal to be openly perturbed made them laugh--perhaps from a sudden consciousness of unexpected shame. When they had recovered their composure, seeming surprised that they had ever lost it, he added in a very dry tone, "While I am gratified that my misery has afforded you some diversion, I shall point out that as I am only accused--not convicted--you have not the right to ridicule me."
The ladies gasped at being the recipients of such a cold rebuke, while the gentlemen, though feeling themselves also the victims of an affront, were flustered by their own middling status: too low to issue challenge but too high to brawl--and prevented by the setting from doing either--they did not know how they should respond. Here Mr. Henley proved that in his administrative position he had gained some expertise in the cooling of heated tempers, by hastening to say, "You will forgive the colonel's discourtesy, of course, understanding as you certainly must that it is not easy for a gentleman to bear confinement. I assure you he is very polite, very civil indeed, when he takes breakfast with me every morning--" With look and gesture he urged them along the walkway, and they were sufficiently tractable or confused to comply without protest; but several times he looked back over his shoulder as if harboring a certain doubt as to the level of politeness or civility his guest would display the following morning.
Brandon stepped through the doorway in order to observe whether they found any other prisoner as fascinating as himself, but found his way blocked by Padgett, who straightened from the wall and said, "Now don't you follow them and cause any trouble." There was an eagerness to his mien, however, that belied his words; he wanted nothing more than to be disobeyed. "It an't abuse, you know, to use my stick on a man who causes trouble, even if he be a high and mighty magistrate."
Clearly Padgett had gained some knowledge of Lucas Johnson's unintentional complaint. Brandon said sharply, "Do you threaten me, Mr. Padgett?", and was gratified to see the turnkey's heavy throat move in a nervous swallow. He stepped a little forward. "Enjoy your supremacy, for you will not have it long."
Padgett's hands worked on his stick; Brandon was quite certain that he would have felt its savage caress against his own skull by now were it not for the protection of his class. And then a canny gleam came into Padgett's eye. "If you don't like to look at me I can fix it so you pass a week or two in a solitary cell. The only human face you'll see in there is Mr. Henley's, and that but once a day. Sometimes rats come in, but of course you can't see them in the dark--and if you should lose your reason you might well see the eyes of rats even if there aren't none there. I've known men go mad inside a day."
Clearly Padgett thought himself very frightening, and just as clearly enjoyed thinking himself so. Brandon was not frightened, but he did consider this a warning worth heeding, for though he believed he could survive such torment with his reason intact, he would really prefer not to be put to that particular test. Reflecting that the laudanum Sarah had offered would be useful during such a trial, he said at last, "I shall keep your proposal in mind." His tone was no less cutting but his attitude was less defiant, and Padgett smiled again to see him thus submit.
Mr. Henley just then summoning Padgett to rejoin the party, with something like alarm in his voice as if even across the space above the yards he could discern the tension in their exchange, Padgett fondled his stick once more and then, seeing his opponent effectively silenced, turned with renewed confidence and walked away.
Brandon was still in the identical spot, his hands working at the iron railing as Padgett's had worked at his stick, when Sarah arrived, escorted by Tim from the gate. As she approached she said, "Claude begs to be excused--he is meeting with the publisher of the Dorchester Journal, in an attempt to enlist his aid--but he will come before dinner." Only then did she note his dark, fixed glare, the tension of repressed fury in his shoulders. He had hardly taken note of her presence. "Christopher--what on earth has happened?"
He nodded toward the party descending a stair near the keeper's quarters. "I have been on display. I am notorious, it seems, and well worth humiliating."
Her indignation was instant and perhaps even more bitter than his own; but as indignation was futile she did not give it voice, instead observing the group with a judgmental air. "Their carriage is outside; it is very vulgar." Only the flashing of her eye and the brittleness of her voice betrayed her emotion.
"I have never approved of this sort of visitation," Brandon said, "this gaping at powerless men as if at animals in a menagerie. Though many convicts, perhaps most, might merit humiliation, I object because the practice generally encourages more cruelty in the observers than embarrassment in the observed." At last he forced himself away from the railing. "I ought, I suppose, to be grateful that they did not spread a blanket and commence a picnic, as they would, no doubt, at a hanging. And I do regret that I allowed them to provoke me into reckless conduct toward Padgett."
She had flinched at his mention of a hanging--but looked now even more shaken. "Beware of him, Kit. Tim tells me he is really dangerous, that only yesterday he beat a man about the head. Do not risk injury when you need all your strength."
"Tim is overly sensitive around figures of authority unless he is well acquainted with them. When he was a boy he was whipped by a constable for a silly prank that should have got him only a scolding, and he has never forgotten it." Tim had emerged unscathed, however, from his encounter with the Law in the person of Mr. Haydock, though he had been the color of curdled milk at the end of it and professed not to remember much of what had been said. "He avoids Padgett whenever he can."
"He is a very sensible young man, to be wary of an ill-tempered bully who likes too much to wield a heavy stick. You should let his behavior be your example."
"Padgett is certainly a bully, but he is also a stupid man incapable of looking ahead to the consequences of his brutality. When I am freed he will find himself seeking other employment." His gaze fell upon the roof of the entrance lodge, where the gallows was erected once or twice a year. "And if I am not freed, perhaps I shall indulge my fond wish to bloody Mr. Padgett's nose."
Disconcerted by his queer humor, Sarah was not certain whether to be amused by the thought of Padgett's discomfiture or appalled by the speculation that had led to it. But he left her no time for confusion, continuing almost without pause: "So it is the Dorchester newspapers today. Your husband is persistent."
"Yes," she said, with a desperate brightness to her eye and speech, "it is how he won my hand, after all. Here, I have brought you a new satirical essay--by Anonymous, so I hope it is very naughty. Read it aloud so that we may both smile."
It required no little concentration on the wit and style of the sentences he pronounced, but by the end of the piece Brandon had actually smiled once or twice; and a little more exertion allowed him to act almost creditably the part of the genial host. At length he was forced to say, however, when she made no motion to depart, "I do wish you would remove yourself from this unhealthy air."
"But my allotted hour has not yet elapsed."
"Then I believe your watch is keeping poor time. Sarah, please--it is for your own good--"
"And is it for my good that you deprive me of the chance to support you in your sufferings?" Her sudden outpouring of feeling astonished him; but before he could think what he should reply, she had, with visible effort, regained her poise. "You had better accustom yourself to recalcitrance among your female connections, dear brother, for if this is not resolved very soon Marianne will come as well. You will not keep her away for six whole months, and you will not exile her from this cell for twenty-two hours out of the twenty-four."
"That is what I most fear," he said softly, "but also what I most desire. Words cannot express how I miss her--"
He was silent then, and she was in her turn struck by this glimpse of emotions that she knew existed but rarely witnessed. Unable to comfort her brother's heart, she did what she could to ease his mind, by gathering up her reticule and pelisse and taking her leave with no further protest. Though she first drew him into a close embrace, she made her voice lively as she passed through the door and summoned Tim to act as escort once again: "We will certainly have a legitimate response to the advertisements soon. I am sure I should turn in a confederate for the promise of fifty pounds--"
The cell always seemed quieter after his sister had left it, for she tended to talk a great deal, to tell him every amusing anecdote she had heard in the shops, or received in letters forwarded from Whitwell, striving always to hearten him in the face of constant failure on every front. He knew that he did not show his appreciation as he should. Too often he was in a bitter humor, as he had been during the hour just past, though usually with less immediate cause. He must try to savor her company, by reminding himself how precious she was to him, how fortunate he was that she had escaped the perils of France and become after long separation a regular fixture in his life. He must try not to be always glancing at the clock while she visited, must try not to reject her attentions.
And Marianne--did his beloved Marianne feel that he rejected her? He took out her letters, already heavily creased from frequent rereading. He did not like to think of her sleepless and pale, but seeing him daily would not remove the fears that caused such afflictions, might, in fact, even exacerbate them, for she would have little to do in Dorchester but wait and worry without distraction from the usual tasks that filled her hours. Apart from the risk to her health, he had believed it unconscionably selfish even to think of asking her to join him in his degradation; but was it, on the contrary, selfish to spare himself added anxiety by asking her to stay away? Was it even cruel? He had never hurt her knowingly, and did not want to be guilty of it now.
He stepped to the window and looked out upon a shining autumn day. It was not actually necessary that she come within the prison walls. If she stood just there, beneath that great oak on the rise--he could picture her there, with the dappled sunlight upon her hair and face-- Yes, he could picture her, and if she were really there, if she were really to wave to him and speak to him, how could he not want to breathe in the scent of her hair, her skin, to feel her soft, vital form in his embrace? Could he bear to look at her through these bars, across that vast distance? He had never been separated from her as long as this, had never passed more than a day or two without talking with her, gazing upon her, delighting in the many proofs of her affection-- Perhaps he was after all too stern; perhaps he could--
The sketch of Joy fell into his hand, and all his self-indulgent day-dreams vanished before this tangible reminder of an obligation greater even than his toward Marianne, or hers toward himself. How had his daughter altered since the sketch was taken? Probably he would notice a slight difference even now, so quickly did infants change and grow. Each time he saw John Brandon, at intervals of only a few weeks, he seemed almost a different child. His fingers traced the delicate renderings of Joy's features, the smudged palm-print that brought tears to his eyes whenever he looked at it. No, he could not send for Marianne, no matter how he ached for her. He must keep her safe for their child as long as he could, as long as she would permit his concern to guide her actions--and as long as his own will could hold fast.
Continued in Part 3