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(2) OUGHTRYN'S STANDARD AND MR. MAGRUDER'S

Charles Oughtryn shook the rain from his benjamin, and followed the butler into the low, square hall of the chief-district-magistrate. It was late and two lamps were lit. Mr. Magruder had not long begun dinner, and regretted that he must ask Mr. Oughtryn, if his business was any but the briefest, to return


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later. To this Oughtryn, whose eyes seemed very sly and primed, demurred, placing his coat upon the slates and his hat and whip upon that, beside a chair of former Grecian lines, on which he took a slight seat. To the butler's enquiry whether he intended to await the conclusion of dinner, he made the shrill but steady rejoinder, “manifestly, with the notable's permission.” He sat thus for an hour and a half, through the door on one side the quiet rain falling, and through the door at his left, the rattle of silver and harsh flow of voices. Whatever were his conjectures, as he glared round upon these chequered walls (the ornate frames, the tragic prints)—whether he was overburdened with a notion “money and sneers,” or awed with a sense of the “notable fitness of things”—whether he was merely repolishing a keenish weapon for the encounter that was before him—there he sat, a primed and tested ancient, leaning forward with hands folded over knees; somewhat daunted, somewhat removed, and somewhat chary; yet a person decided and determined.

When presently four ladies pressed out in a flutter of laughter, the swim of their severe dresses drowning the rain, they gazed about each other's shoulders at the seated figure (“Mr. Oughtryn, the owner of the famous room”), and smiled as they mistook for inflated consequence his concerned and cabined air. Even when they had passed across into a further door, he was not immediately summoned into the dining-room, but had leisure to listen to the tinkling of a piano, and the low voice of a young lady who sang a somewhat puzzling song of a “deserted castle,” and of Cupid being found unharmed among the ruins, to which Mr. Oughtryn, thinking of “fountains” and “effigies of the new-born young,” observed “it was a mercy it was not broken too.”

The ditty had just ceased, when two fiery young gentlemen crossed over arm in arm, whereon Oughtryn, being beckoned from the dining-room, detached himself from his chair, took up his small hat, his official whip for counsel, and groped, bowing somewhat blindly, out of the slated hall, into a pleasing aroma of sherry and flowers.

In the room, a tall, dark man with bold, weary eyes was leaning to the right of the mantel-piece, and throwing into the fire, piece by piece, some minute fragments of a document which he had evidently just torn in pieces. Magruder, who sat at the end of the table, seemed to endeavour to soften a determined expression to something more forbearing as Oughtryn entered. The latter advanced to the disarranged table, with fingers guarding lips, while the magistrate discussed the wherewithal of hides and casked mutton. Oughtryn gave his answers with an eye straining after the bland in secret concern, and, on his side, it was evident the magistrate was talking more haughtily than he wished. He cried “Ah, ah,” and tossed his weighty head, as if he had seen the other's respectful concealments and would fain forget his own:


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He now indicated some wine the butler had put on the bottom corner of the table, and a chair there against the wall beneath a pretty portrait of a young lady taken against the shrouds of a ship.

Strange beings, men! Here they stood or sat in their discontent in the warm room. Here strove to accomplish their large ends beside the noisy fire. Are we sometimes too forgetful of the pleasant fends we have erected and the second moral effort it is possible to make behind them? How much quicker would these men have surrendered their private determination, or resigned measures in another's behalf, had the roof been removed and the rain allowed to enter?

Oughtryn had conveyed the impression, as one who knew “next to nothing,” but who had listened steadily and blankly to Sir William's bedside narrative, that something careful might be done, and as far as his cautious notions went, had better be attempted. He was sly and forlorn by turns. On his earlymorning visit, he sat by the tent-bed, holding his small hat and whip across his knees, attired in the all-enveloping coat and jack-boots, accoutred to “remove the horses to pasture.” He made very few interruptions, once widely explaining himself as “having no liking for such proceedings,” and again putting it as “a dangerous thing to any one who was steady in his judgment.” When, however, the whole story had been told him, and when Heans had sent him across to the cave to examine the cracks, and the sack-chain, and afterwards, at Oughtryn's request, turned up the one piece of backing he had—the writing in the Plutarch—spelling out the manuscript through his eyeglass—Oughtryn, though he could not admit there was much to go on, “doubted he could stand constant under another night of such conduct.” Nor, when he was told of the afternoon's collision over Abelia's horse (and he had heard something of this), could he allow, without an attempt to stop it, “any fresh discommodiousness being worked upon yourself, honour.” There, at first, he sat, he and Sir William, hemmed in and surrounded by spare furniture early brought in by himself and the woman, squeaking occasionally in a sort of high protesting, and more than once observing, as if to reassure the patient, that he was taking the soldier with the horses, as had been suggested by his Honour, the Deputy-Commissioner. And upon Sir William enquiring if they would be long away, he explained (as if Heans' accident had disarmed a wonted closeness) it would depend whether Leeworthy could take them, as he seemed overfull. If not, he was due two miles on at Gastine's—a name, as it happened, familiar to his questioner. It appeared both Leeworthy and Skipwith of Glen Allen were absent during yesterday's visit, and he had trudged on to Mr. Gastine's, who himself was under-shedded. He considered there was less danger in “fearing too much than too little,” and he


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would be wary of opening the matter to any officer to whom he might appeal, in a way which “couldn't be stood for.” He added that to hearten himself, he would, before calling, find and question Conapanny, though he did not lean much on the backing of a native seen about at night. This last observation evidenced he was not far from crediting the terrible story Sir William had told him. As for his relations with Spafield, he had spoken with him early at the kitchen door, and his account of it had been “bad for yourself, honour, on account of impudent and petty tyrannising with him, and worse for the black that followed him—though I speaks to both being conspicuous held.”

Heans gave as clear an account of his discoveries, and the events of yesterday, as his fever would permit; having so much sadness of dismay, in his excitement, to determine that through no lack of warning should danger chance upon Abelia if to-morrow he departed. Oughtryn, who, when approached on this point, was standing by the bed, having returned from the cave, glared blindly at the bed-clothes, and was as if he could not be made alarmed about his daughter. It was as if he dismissed the women to their own comprehension and defences. After hearing, however, of the afternoon's struggle with Spafield, he admitted, with a twinkle of falsetto obstinacy, “his poor chit might be graver questioned.” It was plain he had already had some talk with her. He held his hat in his left hand, and the Plutarch open in the other, as if he had something given him to read he knew already by heart, and perceived, moreover, it was not pleasing to think upon. Indeed, as if, in his roughened fingers, he held a standard author of whom his sly and reverent mind, somewhat simply furnished (a mind not equipped for deciding), could find no excuse for approving. In a word, before him lay Sir William Heans, “his gentleman,” the worse for a nasty, persistent collisioning with wise privilege (that wall he so feared), and he, an old-hand yet, was feeling prudently his humbler weapon, and scheming a grey campaign by which he might cut a “quietness” about him against the cautious principle by which he lived.

Heans—was it because he was leaving Hobarton?—chose to be reticent about the quarrel between the two gentlemen in his room. He informed Oughtryn there had been some disagreement between Captain Shaxton and Mr. Daunt on coming from the eventful ride, and that he considered Mr. Daunt had taken an unfair part, but he did not touch on the peculiar relation of both gentlemen to himself, nor did he lay undue emphasis on the facts that he had found Mr. Daunt seated there, and that he had reserved him the room. Perhaps he saw by the man's face he had no need to be more particular. To his concluding remarks, Oughtryn, after a short silence, caught his breath in a peculiar, harsh sigh. Then with the neighing and


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somewhat cryptic observation that “crutches were cheap” (not including, it may be supposed, the remainder of the metaphor in deference to Sir William's presence), he snapped to the book, tapped a dark forehead with it, and presently put it in the pocket of his voluminous coat. Afterwards, with a short-sighted peep into the rainy yard, he drew from the same pocket a very crumpled handkerchief, and after carefully unfolding it, took from it his usual crumb of comfort in a small lump of tobacco, which he flipped somewhat forlornly into his mouth.

“Come now, sir,” said Magruder, when Oughtryn, having taken his wine, doubtfully smelt it, and drunk it at a draught, replaced the glass on the table, “what you have to say may be said before our friend Dr. Wardshaw. He and I cannot, I fear, yet part. Let me try to satisfy you better than I am satisfying him. Now, now, Mr. Oughtryn, I thought all was sugar and ale with you?”

“Mr. Oughtryn,” said the dark man, glinting a dark look over the table and smiling too, “you must put up with me. Mr. Magruder has his teeth in my wrist and I can't get away till he lets go.” He pitched a pellet of paper on the fire still smiling, and when Oughtryn had somewhat blankly dropped his eyes, and traced the patterns in the carpet with the tip of his whip, he admitted huskily that “presences of persons like Dr. Wardshaw was a convenience even in private,” and to Mr. Magruder's request to “Come, now,” lifted a blenched face, and shrilly told what he had found the night before on returning to his yard, his pass-man's explanation of the affray, also of the writing in the book which had led the prisoner to watch the soldier, and of the soldier's “supernatious conduct” of which his daughter and servant had been witnesses.

To this Mr. Magruder, flipping the nutshells in his plate as though they were so many human nuts whose tone he was testing, replied with the question: “I know you, Oughtryn, have not come carrying to me the assertions of the one party. What had the file, himself, to say?”

Oughtryn opened his many buttoned coat, and rising, drew from it Sir William's green-leather book, which conducting along the table, he lengthily and laboriously opened at a candle, and lowered gropingly towards the magistrate's chin. Magruder now put on a pair of immense spectacles, and arresting the book, lent back and examined it by the candelabra. He was occupied thus a considerable time, Oughtryn, whip in hand, staring at him, with a sort of grave hope. At length he put it down, and after musing a while at the empty table, “begged his friend, Dr. Wardshaw, to do them the favour to examine the writing.” This the doctor did, clutching up the book and retiring with it to the chimney. Magruder then asked Oughtryn to return to his chair, and when he had again seated himself, primed, obstinate, and


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somewhat fearful, repeated his question. Oughtryn told him word for word what he had told Sir William Heans.

The doctor made a sudden irreconcilable noise like the echo of a sardonic laugh, and Magruder, painstakingly removing his glasses and frowning up, enquired if Oughtryn could say “if the young girl seemed to encourage the attentions of the soldier?”

“For a female so obscure-minded,” said Oughtryn, brushing his hat across his cautious eyes as if he would brush away some puzzle, “she had spoken with him unusual steady. The man is treated obedient by us all.” He did not know what her reason was, if it was more than chit's goodness. She was good, if of a domestic leaning. It was his notion she was hiding fright, and he had not interfered with her because he knew she thought the man the same that had spoken bad over the wall. It was singular for her to be so easy.

“You don't mean she was froward?” asked the magistrate.

“There is nothing showy about my female,” said Oughtryn in explanation: “the child is frightful by nature and obscure by disposition.”

Said Magruder, tapping stern glasses and staring over them at Oughtryn: “And what does the old native say? Could she be made to speak? What enlightenment is there in her account of her movements?”

Oughtryn hung his head. “Putting aside hasty speaking,” he said, “we have not yet found the woman. She seems to have gone off. Conapanny has her runs in the bush. She has not yet been come on.”

Magruder turned to the doctor, remarking acidly: “I hardly expect you to agree, sir; but I cherished a respect for the old native.”

“Ho,” said the doctor, “you drop there, do you?”

The magistrate raised his hand, waving it ironically. He sat for a while with head down. “And did you yourself mention,” he said at last, addressing Oughtryn, “did you mention to the prisoner yourself the superstition against the house, and that Governor Collins had died there?”

“Honour, my gentleman had heard the guard himself speak of it.”

“You petition to have the appointment altered on this?”

“I—I fetches a warning-like to you, gentlemen, and asks you to quarter us less troublesome and threatening.”

“You make no accusation?”

“No, I can't, honour.” (Did Mr. Oughtryn sharply breathe?) “But I fetches the danger.” He rose suddenly, with whip and hat clutched to him, and hand outstretched, his eyes blind in the candles. “And I asks help.”

“What danger? Be specific.”

“The danger that's attacked my gentleman.”




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“Nothing more serious than the fracas?” The magistrate looked heavily, narrowly, and enquiring into his eyes.

“Well, honour, I put in a word for my young person having her name let be.”

Magruder fumbled at his white cravat and put a yet more remarkable question.

“Sit down, sir. Calm yourself. Your prisoner is a gentleman, is he? Come—come, I should like to know what in your opinion a gentleman is, Oughtryn?”

“I can't rightly put it, sir,” said Oughtryn, sinking slowly to his chair again, “unless—putting aside notableness—it's him that cheats less than he could—including of his mortal life?”

Both the gentlemen gazed at him whimsically.

“Why, sir, you have so much faith in man!” marvelled the magistrate, showing his fine teeth a little over his corporation. “I expect less and demand more myself. It is my business. Well, well” (growing colder), “so Sir William Heans has left you so much! He has, however, a singular twist for investigating other people's crimes! I am in somewhat of a quandary. I hardly wish to grant him the credit for an invention so grim, nor do I willingly give it him for a blackguard attempt to revenge himself for a blow, or get the man, with whose familiarity with your daughter he was chagrined, into trouble. … I repeat, with a caution” (as Oughtryn rose and sat down again), “I hardly care to entertain these thoughts. … I declare to you privately, if your pass-servant were to bring to me that document he says he found in the cave, and which has disappeared so fortuitously, I would get him his conditional pardon.”

Magruder here stooped forward in his chair, and emphasized what he had to say with a knife, on which he kept his eyes. He seemed to wait upon Oughtryn, but Oughtryn added nothing. He then pushed back his chair and sat for a while with his hand over his forehead. His stern mouth alone showed beneath. Dr. Wardshaw tossed the green book, turning once to examine his be-satined chin in the glass, on the results of which examination he seemed profoundly ironic. Over the table, behind the steady candles, Oughtryn held a stiff forefinger across his lips and peered sly and sharp about the walls, as though amid a heavy oppression of “money and sneers” he were clinging unvanquished among the “notable fitnesses” of his belief.

“Is the red coat of large build?” asked Magruder, sweeping his hand suddenly from his forehead, and crossing his comfortable white trousers.

“A tall man, honour,” answered Oughtryn, “tough by nature, and given to frisky speaking. A deep hand.”

“I suppose,” said the magistrate, sharply, “Sir William Heans has come to consider your daughter to some extent under his protection?”




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“My prisoner was pleased to show me he was anxious about my young person—being of a withdrawing nature.”

“Is it not an old story,” said the other, patting his knee, “and the fault with the young girls? They are rather fickle sometimes: some one or other assuming a proprietorship over the young woman which both she and her new gallant resent?”

“The young person being shrinkable?” questioned Oughtryn, staring up past the other, as if he sought some blank and uncomfortable solution in the portrait on the wall behind.

The doctor made his peculiar noise, and spoke. “The young girl is nearly blind, Mr. Magistrate,” cried he. “I take another side. I suppose Heans was trying to protect her against the man and her own innocence.”

“You make the file out to be bad, sir—an intruder on the peace of this family?”

“I have attended this girl,” said Wardshaw, indifferent enough—and holding tenaciously as a watch-dog to his private tragedy. “She is a gentle, shrinking creature. That sort of philandering on her part—and with such a brutish lout—is exceedingly improbable.”

“Dear me,” said the magistrate, somewhat fallen of face, “this is very curious. You believe, then, it might be a sincere state of fright in Heans?”

“I take that point of view,” said Wardshaw. “I add an idle suggestion that the old gambler speaks the truth—that is, so far as the file has made a set at him about the girl. The other thing may be his frantic style—sheer panic in a moment of danger with the lout at him. As for the soldier—it is as Oughtryn says—he has a bad way or a bad mouth.”

“What is this you say about the rest of it?”

“I said fright,” said the doctor, with irritable decision, lifting the book and staring indifferently at its old square back and gilded traceries; “but I leave it to the Court and his wider experience of human character.”

“Oh you do, do you!” said Magruder, shruggingly. “In the end many do, Wardshaw! Indeed they do! And you, Mr. Oughtryn—is it fair to beg of you your private opinion of Sir William Heans' discoveries and losses?”

Oughtryn dropped his eyes over that cautious finger, and seemed to trace a troubled sketch with his whip upon the white carpet. His cheek twice moved as though he was chewing unconsciously on a figurative crumb of comfort. Eventually he said: “It's fell out very foul for my servant. I do not like it, honour;” and glared up again at the portrait above the magistrate, as one might look out, watchful and humble armed, across a battlement.

“Well, now, listen to me,” said old Magruder, with a fell and final air; “you guarantee your story of the file's knowledge of the house and superstition. I think, with that in hand, and


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the book, you and your prisoner would strain a very weak chain. That is all. What more is there in evidence beside the ingenuity of the idea, and perhaps a peep of daylight seen at the top of a crack in your stable? A bad exaggeration—such as that about the hat—might get the prisoner into trouble—if it was such. What is to be done? I cannot take it on this. At the worst the quarter is only in authority over you for a few hours—three days, you say. If there is any danger for your daughter—anything in Sir William Heans' fears but mere jealous or super-annuated interference—can she not avoid the man? The same with the prisoner. Let him behave carefully Sunday, and should the man go out of his way to approach your daughter, come to me (with clear evidence) and I will try and free her of her indiscretion. I remind you, Heans' reputation in connection with the ladies is not successful. Should the prisoner, after a few days' reflection—with indignation cooled—stick to his extraordinary story of the ancient hat and writing, still make a body-hunt out of a night's ratting, still wish his evidence tested of the connection between Spafield and the “Spars” of this scrawl, I will listen to him—I will look into it. I repeat—if he still wish it. If not, I will not pursue it. I remark, I don't know who has appointed this file. You remember your prisoner has not been a contented man. The police know more about him than I, or perhaps you do. Who is to say the officers responsible have not put a truculent fellow in a shaking mire—where a mild man would not serve two purposes! You request me to exert my authority to have the man removed. I say to you, Put up with the quarter for three days, or come to me with a piece of rough behaviour unprovoked. Meanwhile the pass-man has been once hurt. I know the prisoner's physique; it is not a heavy one. You may tell the guard, if there is any more rough-handling of the prisoner, I shall not interpret it favourably to him or those to whose carelessness his appointment is due.”

Magruder had not quite finished what he had to say.

“Now mind, sir,” he added, “do not be too loose with your signature while the file is about. Keep Heans in at night. You can be too free with your pass-man!”

He then bowed and wished Mr. Oughtryn and His Excellency better weather for the morrow. Oughtryn rose. Sardonic Dr. Wardshaw swung from the mantel-piece, and with Magruder's consent, carried the Plutarch and put it in the old fellow's hand. As he did so, he said half-comfortably, “Commend me to little Miss; you have all got what you want, haven't you?” Oughtryn, while putting the book away in his coat, seemed to reply that, “it was a kittle fit,” and when he had buttoned up, and gone to the door, he turned and thanked “honours, for steady standing to it.” He then groped his way out, his face, if passive, rather staid than free.

So he left the motionless gentlemen, and emerged into the


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hall, where the piano was playing to an accompaniment of warm spring rain.

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