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He turned on his heel, and went away.
As for Mr. Carden, he declined to admit that Little was dead, and said his conduct was unpardonable, and, indeed, so nearly resembled madness, that, considering the young man's father had committed suicide, he was determined never to admit him into his house again--at all events as a suitor to Grace.
Mr. Coventry had now taken s.p.a.cious apartments, and furnished them. He resumed his visits to the club. Mr. Carden met him there, and spoke more confidentially to him than he did to his daughter, and admitted he had grave doubts, but said he was a director of the Gosshawk, and would never, either in public or private, allow that Little was dead unless his body should be found and properly identified.
All this time there was a hot discussion in the journals, and the Saw-grinders' Union repudiated the outrage with horror, and offered a considerable reward.
Outsiders were taken in by this, but not a single manufacturer or workman.
Mr. Holdfast denounced it as a Trade outrage, and Ransome groped the town for evidence.
The latter, however, was rather puzzled one day by an anonymous letter telling him he was all on the wrong tack; it was not a Trade job, but contrived by a gentleman for his private ends. Advantage had been taken of Little being wrong with the Trade; "but," said the letter, "you should look to the head for the motive, not to the hands. One or two saw them together a good many times before the deed was done, and the swell was seen on the very bridge when the explosion took place."
This set Ransome thinking very seriously and comparing notes.
Week after week went by and left the mystery unsolved.
Mr. Coventry saw Mr. Carden nearly every day, and asked him was there no news of Little? The answer was always in the negative, and this surprised Coventry more and more.
When a whole month had elapsed, even he began to fancy strange things, and to nurse wild projects that had never entered his head before.
He studied books of medical jurisprudence, and made all manner of experiments. He resumed his intimacy with Cole, and they were often closeted together.
Five weeks had elapsed, and Grace Carden had lost all her feverish energy, and remained pa.s.sive, lethargic, fearing every thing, hoping nothing, but quivering all day with expectation of the next blow; for what had she left to expect now but sorrow in some form or other?
She often wished to visit Jael Dence again at the hospital; but for some time an invincible repugnance withheld her.
She asked Dr. Amboyne to go instead, and question the unhappy girl.
Dr. Amboyne did so; but Jael was now in a half-stupid condition, and her poor brain not clear enough to remember what she was wanted to remember.
Her memory was full of gaps, and, unluckily, one of these gaps embraced the whole period between her battle with Hill and the present time.
At last Grace was irritated, and blamed the doctor for his failure.
She reminded him she had herself magnetized Jael, and had almost made her speak. She resolved to go to the hospital herself. "I'll make her tell me one thing," said she, "though I tear her heart out, and my own too."
She dressed plainly, and walked rapidly down toward the hospital. There were two ways to it, but she chose the one that was sure to give her pain. She could not help it; her very feet dragged her to that fatal spot.
When she drew near the fatal bridge, she observed a number of persons collected on it, looking down in the river at some distance.
At the same time people began to hurry past her, making for the bridge.
She asked one of them what it was.
"Summut in the river," was the reply, but in a tone so full of meaning, that at these simple words she ran forward, though her knees almost gave way under her.
The bridge was not so crowded yet, but that she contrived to push in between two women, and look.
All the people were speaking in low murmurs. The hot weather had dried the river up to a stream in the middle, and, in midstream, about fifty yards from the foot of the bridge, was a pile of broken masonry, which had once been the upper part of Bolt and Little's chimney. It had fallen into water twelve feet deep; but now the water was not above five feet, and a portion of the broken bricks and tiles were visible, some just above, some just under the water.
At one side of this wreck jutted out the object on which all eyes were now fastened. At first sight it looked a crooked log of wood sticking out from among the bricks. Thousands, indeed, had pa.s.sed the bridge, and noticed nothing particular about it; but one, more observant or less hurried, had peered, and then pointed, and collected the crowd.
It needed but a second look to show that this was not a log of wood but the sleeve of a man's coat. A closer inspection revealed that the sleeve was not empty.
There was an arm inside that sleeve, and a little more under the water one could see distinctly a hand white and sodden by the water.
The dark stream just rippled over this hand, half veiling it at times, though never hiding it.
"The body will be jammed among the bricks," said a by-stander; and all a.s.sented with awe.
"Eh! to think of its sticking out an arm like that!" said a young girl.
"Dead folk have done more than that, sooner than want Christian burial,"
replied an old woman.
"I warrant ye they have. I can't look at it."
"Is it cloth, or what?" inquired another.
"It's a kind of tweed, I think."
"What's that glittering on its finger?"
"It's a ring--a gold ring."
At this last revelation there was a fearful scream, and Grace Carden fell senseless on the pavement.
A gentleman who had been hanging about and listening to the comments now darted forward, with a face almost as white as her own, and raised her up, and implored the people to get her a carriage.
It was Mr. Coventry. Little had he counted on this meeting.
Horror-stricken, he conveyed the insensible girl to her father's house.
He handed her over to the women, and fled, and the women brought her round; but she had scarcely recovered her senses, when she uttered another piercing scream, and swooned again.
Coventry pa.s.sed a night of agony and remorse. He got up broken and despondent, and went straight to Woodbine Villa to do a good action.
He inquired for Miss Carden. They told him she was very ill. He expressed an earnest wish to see her. The servants told him that was impossible. n.o.body was allowed to see her but Dr. Amboyne. He went next day to Dr. Amboyne, and the doctor told him that Miss Carden was dangerously ill. Brain fever appeared inevitable.
"But, sir," said Coventry, eagerly, "if one could prove to her that those were not the remains of Henry Little?"
"How could you prove that? Besides, it would be no use now. She is delirious. Even should she live, I should forbid the subject for many a day. Indeed, none but the man himself could make her believe those remains are not his; and even he could not save her now. If he stood by her bedside, she would not know him."
The doctor's lip trembled a little, and his words were so grave and solemn that they struck to the miserable man's marrow. He staggered away, like a drunken man, to his lodgings, and there flung himself on the floor, and groveled in an agony of terror and remorse.