Joseph and His Friend
“ IT cannot be ! ” cried Joseph, looking at the doctor with an agonized face ; “ it is too dreadful ! ”
“ There is no room for doubt in relation to the cause. I suspect that her nervous system has been subjected to a steady and severe tension, probably for years past. This may have induced a condition, or at least a temporary paroxysm, during which she was — you understand me — not wholly responsible for her actions. You must have noticed whether such a condition preceded this catastrophe.”
Lucy looked from one to the other, and back to the livid face on the pillow, unable to ask a question, and not yet comprehending that the end had come. Joseph arose at the doctor’s words.
“ That is my guilt,” he said. “ I was excited and angry, for I had been bitterly deceived. I warned her that her life must henceforth conform to mine : my words were harsh and violent. I told her that we had at last ascertained each other’s true natures, and proposed a serious discussion for the purpose of arranging our common future, this afternoon. Can she have misunderstood my meaning? It was not separation, not divorce: I only meant to avoid the miserable strife of the last few weeks. Who could imagine that this would follow ? ”
Even as he spoke the words Joseph remembered the tempting fancy which had passed through his own mind, — and the fear of Philip, — as he stood on the brink of the rock, above the dark, sliding water. He covered his face with his hands and sat down. What right had he to condemn her, to pronounce her mad ? Grant that she had been blinded by her own unbalanced, excitable nature rather than consciously false ; grant that she had really loved him, that the love survived under all her vain and masterful ambition, —and how could he doubt it after the dying words and looks, — it was then easy to guess how sorely she had been wounded, bow despair should follow her fierce excitement! Pier words, “ Go away! you have killed me ! ” were now explained. He groaned in the bitterness of his self-accusation. What were all the trials he had endured to this ? How light seemed the burden from which he was now free ! how gladly would he bear it, if the day’s words and deeds could be unsaid and undone !
The doctor, meanwhile, had explained the manner of Julia’s death to Lucy Henderson. She, almost overcome with this last horror, could only agree with his conjecture, for her own evidence confirmed it. Joseph had forborne to mention her presence in the garden, and she saw no need of repeating his words to her ; but she described Julia’s convulsive excitement, and her refusal to admit her to her room, half an hour before the first attack of the poison. The case seemed entirely clear to both.
“ For the present,” said the doctor, “ let us say nothing about the suicide. There is no necessity for a post mortem examination: the symptoms, and the presence of arsenic in the glass, are quite sufficient to establish the cause of death. You know what a foolish idea of disgrace is attached to families here in the country when such a thing happens, and Mr. Asten is not now in a state to bear much more. At least, we must save him from painful questions until after the funeral is over. Say as little as possible to him : he is not in a condition to listen to reason : he believes himself guilty of her death.”
“ What shall I do ? ” cried Lucy : “ will you not stay until the man, Dennis, returns ? Mr. Asten’s aunt must be fetched immediately.”
It was not a quarter of an hour before Dennis arrived, followed by Philip and Madeline Held.
Lucy, who had already despatched Dennis, with a fresh horse, to Magnolia, took Philip and Madeline into the dining-room, and hurriedly communicated to them the intelligence of Julia’s death. Philip’s heart gave a single leap of joy; then he compelled himself to think of Joseph and the exigencies of the situation.
“ You cannot stay here alone,” he said. “ Madeline must keep you company. I will go up and take care of Joseph : we must think of both the living and the dead.”
No face could have been half so comforting in the chamber of death as Philip’s. The physician had, in the mean time, repeated to Joseph the words he had spoken to Lucy, and now Joseph said, pointing to Philip, “ Tell him everything ! ”
Philip, startled as he was, at once comprehended the situation. He begged Dr. Hartman to leave all further arrangements to him, and to summon Mrs. Bishop, the wife of one of Joseph’s near neighbors, on his way home. Then, taking Joseph by the arm, he said : —
“ Now come with me. We will leave this room awhile to Lucy and Madeline ; but neither must you be alone. If I am anything to you, Joseph, now is the time when my presence should be some slight comfort. We need not speak, but we will keep together.”
Joseph clung the closer to his friend’s arm, without speaking, and they passed out of the house. Philip led him, mechanically, towards the garden, but as they drew near the avenue of box-trees Joseph started back, crying out: —
“ Not there ! — O, not there ! ”
Philip turned in silence, conducted him past the barn into the grass-field, and mounted the hill towards the pinoak on its summit. From this point the house was scarcely visible, behind the fir-trees and the huge weeping-willow, but the fair hills around seemed happy under the tender sky, and the melting, vapory distance, seen through the southern opening of the valley, hinted of still happier landscapes beyond. As Joseph contemplated the scene, the long strain upon his nerves relaxed : he leaned upon Philip’s shoulder, as they sat side by side, and wept passionately.
“ If she had not died!” he murmured, at last.
Philip was hardly prepared for this exclamation, and he did not immediately answer.
“ Perhaps it is better for me to talk,” Joseph continued. “ You do not know the whole truth, Philip. You have heard of her madness, but not of my guilt. What was it I said when we last met ? I cannot recall it now ; but I know that I feared to call my punishment unjust. Since then I have deserved it all, and more. If I am a child, why should I dare to handle fire ? If I do not understand life, why should I dare to set death in motion ? ”
He began, and related everything that had passed since they parted on the banks of the stream. He repeated the words that had been spoken in the house and in the garden, and the last broken sentences that came from Julia’s lips. Philip listened with breathless surprise and attention. The greater part of the narrative made itself clear to his mind ; his instinctive knowledge of Julia’s nature enabled him to read much further than was then possible to Joseph ; but there was a mystery connected with the suicide which he could not fathom. Her rage he could easily understand ; her apparent submission to Joseph’s request, however, — her manifest desire to live, on overhearing the physician’s fears, — her last incomplete sentence, “ I—did — not — mean — ” indicated no such fatal intention, but the reverse. Moreover, she was too inherently selfish, even in the fiercest paroxysm of disappointment, to take her own life, he believed. All the evidence justified him in this view of her nature, yet at the same time rendered her death more inexplicable.
It was no time to mention these doubts to Joseph. His only duty was to console and encourage.
“ There is no guilt in accident,” he said. “ It was a crisis which must have come, and you took the only course possible to a man. If she felt that she was defeated, and her mad act was the consequence, think of your fate had she felt herself victorious ! ”
“ It could have been no worse than it was,” Joseph answered. “ And she might have changed: I did not give her time. I have accused my own mistaken education, but I had no charity, no pity for hers ! ”
When they descended the hill Mrs. Bishop had arrived, and the startled household was reduced to a kind of dreary order. Dennis, who had driven with speed, brought Rachel Miller at dusk, and Philip and Madeline then departed, taking Lucy Henderson with them. Rachel was tearful, but composed ; she said little to her nephew, but there was a quiet, considerate tenderness in her manner, which soothed him more than any words.
The reaction from so much fatigue and excitement almost prostrated him. When he went to bed in his own guest-room, feeling like a stranger in a strange house, he lay for a long time between sleep and waking, haunted by all the scenes and personages of his past life. His mother’s face, so faded in memory, came clear and fresh from the shadows ; a boy whom he had loved in his school-days floated with fair, pale features just before his closed eyes ; and around and between them there was woven a web of twilights and moonlights and sweet, sunny days, each linked to some grief or pleasure of the buried years. It was a keen, bitter joy, a fascinating torment, from which he could not escape. He was caught and helplessly ensnared by the phantoms, until, late in the night, the strong claim of nature drove them away and left him in a dead, motionless, dreamless slumber.
Philip returned in the morning, and devoted the day not less to the arrangements which must necessarily be made tor the funeral than to standing between Joseph and the awkward and inquisitive sympathy of the neighbors. Joseph’s continued weariness favored Philip’s exertions, while at the same time it blunted the edge of his own feelings, and helped him over that cold, bewildering, dismal period, during which a corpse is lord of the mansion and controls the life of its inmates.
Towards evening Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, who had been summoned by telegraph, made their appearance. Clementina did not accompany them. They were both dressed in mourning : Mrs. Blessing was grave and rigid, Mr. Blessing flushed and lachrymose. Philip conducted them first to the chamber of the dead and then to Joseph.
“ It is so sudden, so shocking ! ” Mrs. Blessing sobbed; “ and Julia always seemed so healthy ! What have you done to her, Mr. Asten, that she should be cut off in the bloom of her youth ? ”
“ Eliza ! ” exclaimed her husband, with his handkerchief to his eyes ; “ do not say anything which might sound like a reproach to our heart-broken son ! There are many foes in the citadel of life : they may be undermining our — our foundations, at this very moment ! ”
“ No,” said Joseph; “ you, her father and mother, must hear the truth. I would give all I have in the world if I were not obliged to tell it.”
It was, at the best, a painful task ; but it was made doubly so by exclamations, questions, intimations, which he was forced to hear. Finally Mrs. Blessing asked, in a tone of alarm ; —
“ How many persons know of this ? ”
“ Only the physician and three of my friends,” Joseph answered.
“ They must be silent ! It might ruin Clementina’s prospects if it were generally known. To lose one daughter and to have the life of another blasted would be too much.”
“ Eliza,” said her husband, “ we must try to accept whatever is inevitable. It seems to me that I no more recognize Julia’s usually admirable intellect in her — yes, I must steel myself to say the word! — her suicide, than I recognized her features just now ; unless Decay’s effacing fingers have already swept the lines where beauty lingers. I warned her of the experiment, for such I felt it to be ; yet in this last trying experience I do not complain of Joseph’s disappointment, and his temporary— I trust it is only temporary — suspicion. We must not forget that he has lost more than we have.”
“Where is — ” Joseph began, endeavoring to turn the conversation from this point.
“ Clementina ? I knew you would find her absence unaccountable. We instantly forwarded a telegram to Long Branch : the answer said, ‘ My grief is great, but it is quite impossible to come.’ Why impossible she did not particularize, and we can only conjecture. When I consider her age and lost opportunities, and the importance which a single day, even a fortunate situation, may possess for her at present, it seems to remove some of the sharpness of the serpent’s tooth. Neither she nor we are responsible for Julia’s rash taking off; yet it is always felt as a cloud which lowers upon the family. There was a similar case among the De Belsains, during the Huguenot times, but we never mention it. For your sake silence is rigidly imposed upon us ; since the preliminary — what shall I call it ? — dis-harmony of views ? — would probably become a part of the narrative.”
“ Pray do not speak of that now ! ” Joseph groaned.
“ Pardon me ; I will not do so again. Our minds naturally become discursive under the pressure of grief. It is easier for me to talk at such times than to be silent and think. My power of recuperation seems to be spiritual as well as physical; it is congenital, and therefore exposes me to misconceptions. But we can close over the great abyss of our sorrow, and hide it from view in the depth of our natures, without dancing on the platform which covers it.”
Philip turned away to hide a smile, and even Mrs. Blessing exclaimed: “ Really, Benjamin, you are talking heartlessly ! ”
“ I do not mean it so,” he said, melting into tears, “ but so much has come upon me all at once! If I lose my buoyancy, I shall go to the bottom like a foundered ship ! I was never cut out for the tragic parts of life ; but there are characters who smile on the stage and weep behind the scenes. And, you know, the Lord loveth a cheerful giver.”
He was so touched by the last words he spoke, that he leaned his head upon his arms and wept bitterly.
Then Mrs. Blessing, weeping also, exclaimed; “ O, don’t take on so, Benjamin ! ”
Philip put an end to the scene, which was fast becoming a torment to Joseph. But, later in the evening, Mr. Blessing again sought the latter, softly apologizing for the intrusion, but declaring that he was compelled, then and there, to make a slight explanation.
“ When you called, the other evening,” he said, “ I was worn out, and not competent to grapple with such an unexpected revelation of villany. I had been as ignorant of Kanuck’s real character as you were. All our experience of the world is sometimes at fault; but where the Reverend Dr. Lellifant was first deceived, my own case does not seem so flagrant. Your early information, however, enabled me (through third parties) to secure a partial sale of the stock held by yourself and me, — at something of a sacrifice, it is true ; but I prefer not to dissociate myself entirely from the enterprise. I do not pretend to be more than the merest tyro in geology ; nevertheless, as I lay awake last night, — being, of course, unable to sleep after the shock of the telegram, — I sought relief in random scientific fancies. It occurred to me that since the main Chowder wells are ‘ spouting,’ their source or reservoir must be considerably higher than the surface. Why might not that source be found under the hills of the Amaranth ? If so, the Chowder would be tapped at the fountain-head and the flow of Pactolean grease would be ours ! When I return to the city I shall need instantly — after the fearful revelations of to-day — some violently absorbing occupation ; and what could be more appropriate ? If anything could give repose to Julia’s unhappy shade, it would be the knowledge that her faith in the Amaranth was at last justified ! I do not presume to awaken your confidence : it has been too deeply shaken; all I ask is, that I may have the charge of your shares, in order — without calling upon you for the expenditure of another cent, you understand — to rig a jury-mast on the wreck, and, D. V., float safely into port! ”
“ Why should I refuse to trust you with what is already worthless ? ” said Joseph.
“ I will admit even that, if you desire. ‘ Exitus acta probat,’ was Washington’s motto ; but I don’t consider that we have yet reached the exitus! Thank you, Joseph ! Your question has hardly the air of returning confidence, but I will force myself to consider it as such, and my labor will be to deserve it.”
He wrung Joseph’s hand, shed a few more tears, and betook himself to his wife’s chamber. “ Eliza, let us be calm: we never know our strength until it has been tried,” he said to her, as he opened his portmanteau and took from it the wicker-covered flask.
Then came the weariest and dreariest day of all, — when the house must be thrown open to the world ; when in one room the corpse must be displayed for solemn stares and whispered comments, while in another the preparation of the funeral meats absorbs all the interest of half a dozen busy women ; when the nearest relatives of the dead sit together in a room up stairs, hungering only for the consolations of loneliness and silence ; when all talk under their voices, and uncomfortably fulfil what they believe to be their solemn duty; and when even Nature is changed to all eyes, and the mysterious gloom of an eclipse seems to fall from the most unclouded sun.
There was a general gathering of the neighbors from far and near. The impression seemed to be — and Philip was ready to substantiate it — that Julia had died in consequence of a violent convulsive spasm, which some attributed to one cause and some to another.
The Rev. Mr. Chaffinch made his way, as by right, to the chamber of the mourners. Rachel Miller was comforted in seeing him, Mr. and Mrs. Blessing sadly courteous, and Joseph strengthened himself to endure with patience what might follow. After a few introductory words, and a long prayer, the clergyman addressed himself to each, in turn, with questions or remarks which indicated a fierce necessity of resignation.
“ I feel for you, brother,” he said, as he reached Joseph and bent over his chair. “ It is an inscrutable visitation, but I trust you submit, in all obedience ? ”
Joseph bowed silently.
“ He has many ways of searching the heart,” Mr. Chaffinch continued. “ Your one precious comfort must be that she believed, and that she is now in glory. O, if you would but resolve to follow in her footsteps ! He shows His love, in that he chastens you : it is a stretching out of His hand, a visible offer of acceptance, this on one side, and the lesson of our perishing mortality on the other ! Do you not feel your heart awfully and tenderly moved to approach Him ?”
Joseph sat, with bowed head, listening to the smooth, unctuous, dismal voice at his ear, until the tension of his nerves became a positive physical pain. He longed to cry aloud, to spring up and rush away ; his heart was moved, but not awfully and tenderly. It had been yearning towards the pure Divine Light in which all confusions of the soul are disentangled ; but now some opaque foreign substance intervened, and drove him back upon himself. How long the torture lasted he did not know. He spake no word, and made no further sign.
Then Philip took him and Rachel Miller down, for the last conventional look at the stony, sunken face. He was seated here and led there ; he was dimly conscious of a crowd, of murmurs and steadfast faces ; he heard some one whisper, “ How dreadfully pale he looks ! ” and wondered whether the words could possibly refer to him. Then there was the welcome air and the sunshine, and Dennis driving them slowly down the lane, following a gloomy vehicle, in which something — not surely the Julia whom he knew — was carried.
He recalled but one other such stupor of the senses : it was during the performance of the marriage ceremony.
But the longest day wears out at last ; and when night came only Philip was beside him. The Blessings had been sent to Oakland Station for the evening train to the city, and Joseph’s shares in the Amaranth Company were in their portmanteau.
FOR a few days it almost seemed to Joseph that the old order of his existence had been suddenly restored, and the year of his betrothal and marriage had somehow been intercalated into his life simply as a test and trial. Rachel Miller was back again, in her old capacity, and he did not yet see — what would have been plain to any other eyes — that her manner towards him was far more respectful and considerate than formerly. But, in fact, she made a wide distinction between the “ boy ” that he had been and the man and widower which he had come to be. At first, she had refused to see the dividing line: having crossed it, her new course soon became as natural and fixed as the old. She was the very type of a mechanically developed old maid, — inflexibly stern towards male youth, devotedly obedient to male maturity.
Joseph had been too profoundly moved to lose at once the sense of horror which the manner of Julia’s death had left in his heart. He could not forgive himself for having, though never so ignorantly, driven her to madness. He was troubled, restless, unhappy ; and the mention of his loss was so painful that he made every effort to avoid hearing it. Some of his neighbors, he imagined, were improperly curious in their inquiries. He felt bound, since the doctor had suggested it, since Philip and Lucy had acquiesced, and Mrs. Blessing had expressed so much alarm lest it might become known, to keep the suicide a secret; but he was driven so closely by questions and remarks that his task became more and more difficult.
Had the people taken offence at his reticence ? It seemed so; for their manner towards him was certainly changed. Something in the look and voice; an indefinable uneasiness at meeting him ; an awkward haste and lame excuses for it, — all these things forced themselves upon his mind. Elwood Withers, alone, met him as of old, with even a tenderer though a more delicately veiled affection ; yet in Elwood’s face he detected the signs of a grave trouble. It could not be possible, he thought, that Elwood had heard some surmise, or distorted echo, of his words to Lucy in the garden, — that there had been another listener besides Julia !
There were times, again, when he doubted all these signs, when he ascribed them to his own disturbed mind, and decided to banish them from his memory. He would stay quietly at home, he resolved, and grow into a healthier mood : he would avoid the society of men, until he should cease to wrong them by his suspicions.
First, however, he would see Philip ; but on reaching the Forge he found Philip absent. Madeline received him with a subdued kindness in which he felt her sympathy; but it was also deeper, he acknowledged to himself, than he had any right to claim.
“ You do not see much of your neighbors, I think, Mr. Asten ? ” she asked. The tone of her voice indicated a slight embarrassment.
“ No,” he answered ; “ I have no wish to see any but my friends.”
“ Lucy Henderson has just left us, Philip took her to her father’s, and was intending to call at your place on his way home. I hope you will not miss him. That is,” she added, while a sudden flush of color spread over her face, “ I want you to see him to-day. I beg you won’t take my words as intended for a dismissal.”
“ Not now, certainly,” said Joseph. But he rose from his seat as he spoke.
Madeline looked both confused and pained. “ I know that I spoke awkwardly,” she said, “ but indeed I was very anxious. It was also Lucy’s wish. We have been talking about you this morning.”
“ You are very kind. And yet — I ought to wish you a more cheerful subject.”
What was it in Madeline’s face that haunted Joseph on his way home ? The lightsome spirit was gone from her eyes, and they were troubled as if by the pressure of tears, held back by a strong effort. Her assumed calmness at parting seemed to cover a secret anxiety ; he had never before seen her bright, free nature so clouded.
Philip, meanwhile, had reached the farm, where he was received by Rachel Miller.
“ I am glad to find that Joseph is not at home,” he said ; “ there are some things which I need to discuss with you, before I see him. Can you guess what they are ? Have you heard nothing, — no stories ? ”
Rachel’s face grew pale, yet there was a strong fire of indignation in her eyes. “ Dennis told me an outrageous report he had heard in the village,” she said; “ if you mean the same thing, you did well to see me first. You can help me to keep this insult from Joseph’s knowledge.”
“ If I could I would, Miss Rachel. I share your feeling about it; but suppose the report were now so extended — and of course in a more exaggerated form the further it goes — that we cannot avoid its probable consequences ? This is not like a mere slander, which can be suffered to die of itself. It is equivalent to a criminal charge, and must be faced.”
She clasped her hands, and stared at him in terror.
“ But why,” she faltered, — “ why does any one dare to make such a charge ? And against the best, the most innocent — ”
“ The fact of the poisoning cannot be concealed,” said Philip. “ It appears, moreover, that one of the women who was in the house on the day of Julia’s death heard her cry out to Joseph : ‘Go away, — you have killed me!’ I need not take up the reports any further ; there is enough in these two circumstances to excite the suspicions of those who do not know Joseph as we do. It is better, therefore, to meet those suspicions before they come to us in a legal form.”
“ What can we do ? ” cried Rachel ; “ it is terrible ! ”
“ One course is clear, if it is possible. We must try to discover not only the cause of Julia’s suicide, but the place where she procured the poison, and her design in procuring it. She must have had it already in the house.”
“ I never thought of that. And her ways were so quiet and sly ! How shall we ever find it out? O, to think that, dead and gone as she is, she can yet bring all this upon Joseph ! ”
“ Try to be calm, Miss Rachel,” said Philip. “ I want your help, and you must have all your wits about you. First, you must make a very careful examination of her clothing and effects, even to the merest scrap of paper. A man’s good name — a man’s life, sometimes — hangs upon a thread, in the most literal sense. There is no doubt that Julia meant to keep a secret, and she must have had a strong reason ; but we have a stronger one, now, to discover it. First, as to the poison ; was there any arsenic in the house when Julia came ?”
“ Not a speck ! I never kept it, even for rats.”
“ Then we shall begin with ascertaining where she bought it. Let us make our investigations secretly, and as speedily as possible. Joseph need not know, at present, what we have undertaken, but be must know the charge that hangs over him. Unless I tell him, he may learn it in a more violent way. I sent Elwood Withers to Magnolia yesterday, and his report leaves me no choice of action.”
Rachel Miller felt, from the stern gravity of Philip’s manner, that he had not exaggerated Joseph’s danger. She consented to be guided by him in all things; and, this point being settled, they arranged a plan of action and communication, which was tolerably complete by the time Joseph returned.
As gently as possible Philip broke the unwelcome news ; but, lightly as he pretended to consider it, Joseph’s instinct saw at once what might be the consequences. The circumstances were all burned upon his consciousness, and it needed no reflection to show him how completely he was entangled in them.
“ There is no alternative,” he said, at last. “ It was a mistake to conceal the cause of her death from the public : it is easy to misunderstand her exclamation, and make my crime out of her madness. I see the whole connection ! This suspicion will not stop where it is. It will go further ; and therefore I must anticipate it. I must demand a legal inquiry, before the law forces one upon me. If it is not my only method of defence, it is certainly my best! ”
“ You are right! ” Philip exclaimed. “ I knew this would be your decision ; I said so to Madeline this morning.”
Now Madeline’s confused manner became intelligible to Joseph. Yet a doubt still lingered in his mind. “ Did she, did Madeline question it ? ” he asked.
“ Neither she, nor Lucy Henderson. If you do this, I cannot see how it will terminate without a trial. Lucy may then happen to be an important witness.”
Joseph started. “ Must that be!” he cried. “ Has not Lucy been already forced to endure enough, for my sake ? Advise me, Philip ! Is there any other way than I have proposed ? ”
“ I see no other. But your necessity is far greater than that for Lucy’s endurance. She is a friend, and there can be no sacrifice in so serving you. What are we all good for, if not to serve you in such a strait ? ”
“ I would like to spare her, nevertheless, ” said Joseph, gloomily. “ I meant so well towards all my friends, and my friendship seems to bring only disgrace and sorrow.”
“ Joseph!” Philip exclaimed, “ you have saved one friend from more than disgrace and sorrow ! I do not know what might have come, but you called me back from the brink of an awful, doubtful eternity ! You have given me an infinite loss and an infinite gain ! I only ask you, in return, to obey your first true, proud instinct of innocence, and let me, and Lucy, and Elwood be glad to take its consequences, for your sake ! ”
“ I cannot help myself,” Joseph answered. “ My rash impatience and injustice will come to light, and that may be the atonement I owe. If Lucy will spare herself, and report me truly, as I must have appeared to her, she will serve me best.”
“ Leave that, now I The first step is what most concerns us. When will you be ready to demand a legal investigation ? ”
“ At once ! — to-morrow ! ”
“ Then we will go together to Magnolia. I fear we cannot change the ordinary forms of procedure, and there must be bail for your appearance at the proper time.”
“ Already on the footing of a criminal ? ” Joseph murmured, with a sinking of the heart. He had hardly comprehended, up to this moment, what his position would be.
The next day they drove to the county town. The step had not been taken a moment too soon, for such representations had been made that a warrant for Joseph’s arrest was in the hands of the constable, and would have been served in a few hours. Philip and Mr. Hopeton, who also happened to be in the town by a fortunate chance (though Philip knew how the chance came), offered to accept whatever amount of bail might be demanded. The matter was arranged as privately as possible, but it leaked out in some way, and Philip was seriously concerned lest the curiosity — perhaps, even, the ill-will — of a few persons might be manifested towards Joseph. He visited the offices of the county papers, and took care that the voluntary act should be stated in such a manner as to set its character properly before the people. Everything, he felt, depended on securing a fair and unprejudiced judgment of the case.
This, indeed, was far more important than even he suspected. In a country where the press is so entirely free, and where, owing to the lazy, indifferent habit of thought — or, rather, habit of no thought — of the people, the editorial views are accepted without scrutiny, a man’s good name or life may depend on the coloring given to his acts by a few individual minds, it is especially necessary to keep the balance even, to offset one statement by another, and prevent a partial presentation of the case from turning the scales in advance. The same phenomena were as likely to present themselves here, before a small public, as in the large cities, where the whole population of the country become a more or less interested public. The result might hinge, not upon Joseph’s personal character as his friends knew it, but upon the political party with which he was affiliated, the church to which he belonged, — nay, even upon the accordance of his personal sentiments with the public sentiment of the community in which he lived. If he had dared to defy the latter, asserting the sacred right of his own mind to the largest liberty, he was already a marked man. Philip did not understand the extent and power of the external influences which control what we complacently call “ justice,” but he knew something of the world, and acted in reality more prudently than he supposed.
He was calm and cheerful for Joseph’s sake ; yet, now that the matter was irrevocably committed to the decision of a new, uninterested tribunal, he began to feel the gravity of his friend’s position.
“ I almost wish,” Joseph said, as they drove homewards, “ that no bail had been granted. Since the court meets in October, a few weeks of seclusion would do me no harm ; whereas now I am a suspected person to nearly all whom I may meet.”
“ It is not agreeable,” Philip answered, “ but the discipline may be useful. The bail terminates when the trial commences, you understand, and you will have a few nights alone, as it is,—quite enough, I imagine, to make you satisfied with liberty under suspicion. However, I have one demand to make, Joseph ! I have thought over all possible lines of defence ; I have secured legal assistance for you, and we are agreed as to the course to be adopted. I do not think you can help us at all. If we find that you can, we will call upon you ; in the mean time, wait and hope ! ”
“ Why should I not ? ” Joseph asked. “ I have nothing to fear, Philip.”
“No!” But Philip’s emphatic answer was intended to deceive. He was purposely false, knew himself to be so, and yet his conscience never troubled him less !
When they reached the farm, Philip saw by Rachel Miller’s face that she had a communication to make. It required a little management to secure an interview with her without Joseph’s knowledge ; but some necessity for his presence at the barn favored his friend. No sooner were they alone than Rachel approached Philip hastily and said, in a hurried whisper : —
“ Here ! I have found something, at last! It took a mighty search : I thought I never should come upon the least bit that we could make anything of: but this was in the upper part of a box where she kept her rings and chains, and such likes ! Take it, — it makes me uncomfortable to hold it in my fingers ! ”
She thrust a small paper into his hand.
It was folded very neatly, and there was an apothecary’s label on the back. Philip read : “ Ziba Linthicum’s Drug store, No. 77 Main St., Magnolia.” Under this printed address was written in large letters the word “ Arsenic.” On unfolding the paper he saw that a little white dust remained in the creases ; quite enough to identify the character of the drug.
“ I shall go back to-morrow ! ” he said. “ Thank Heaven, we have got one clew to the mystery ! Joseph must know nothing of this until all is explained ; but while I am gone make another and more thorough search ! Leave no corner unexplored : I am sure we shall find something more.”
“ I ’d rip up her dresses ! ” was Rachel’s emphatic reply. “ That is, if it would do any good. But perhaps feeling of the lining and the hems might be enough. I ’ll take every drawer out, and move the furniture ! But I must wait for daylight: I’m not generally afeared, but there is some things, you know, which a body would as lief not do by night, with cracks and creaks all around you, which you don't seem to hear at other times.”