Third Narrative - IX
The doctor’s pretty housemaid stood waiting for me, with the street door open in her hand. Pouring brightly into the hall, the morning light fell full on the face of Mr. Candy’s assistant when I turned, and looked at him.
It was impossible to dispute Betteredge’s assertion that the appearance of Ezra Jennings, speaking from a popular point of view, was against him. His gipsy-complexion, his fleshless cheeks, his gaunt facial bones, his dreamy eyes, his extraordinary parti-coloured hair, the puzzling contradiction between his face and figure which made him look old and young both together—were all more or less calculated to produce an unfavourable impression of him on a stranger’s mind. And yet—feeling this as I certainly did—it is not to be denied that Ezra Jennings made some inscrutable appeal to my sympathies, which I found it impossible to resist. While my knowledge of the world warned me to answer the question which he had put, acknowledging that I did indeed find Mr. Candy sadly changed, and then to proceed on my way out of the house—my interest in Ezra Jennings held me rooted to the place, and gave him the opportunity of speaking to me in private about his employer, for which he had been evidently on the watch.
“Are you walking my way, Mr. Jennings?” I said, observing that he held his hat in his hand. “I am going to call on my aunt, Mrs. Ablewhite.”
Ezra Jennings replied that he had a patient to see, and that he was walking my way.
We left the house together. I observed that the pretty servant girl—who was all smiles and amiability, when I wished her good morning on my way out—received a modest little message from Ezra Jennings, relating to the time at which he might be expected to return, with pursed-up lips, and with eyes which ostentatiously looked anywhere rather than look in his face. The poor wretch was evidently no favourite in the house. Out of the house, I had Betteredge’s word for it that he was unpopular everywhere. “What a life!” I thought to myself, as we descended the doctor’s doorsteps.
Having already referred to Mr. Candy’s illness on his side, Ezra Jennings now appeared determined to leave it to me to resume the subject. His silence said significantly, “It’s your turn now.” I, too, had my reasons for referring to the doctor’s illness: and I readily accepted the responsibility of speaking first.
“Judging by the change I see in him,” I began, “Mr. Candy’s illness must have been far more serious that I had supposed?”
“It is almost a miracle,” said Ezra Jennings, “that he lived through it.”
“Is his memory never any better than I have found it to-day? He has been trying to speak to me——”
“Of something which happened before he was taken ill?” asked the assistant, observing that I hesitated.
“His memory of events, at that past time, is hopelessly enfeebled,” said Ezra Jennings. “It is almost to be deplored, poor fellow, that even the wreck of it remains. While he remembers dimly plans that he formed—things, here and there, that he had to say or do before his illness—he is perfectly incapable of recalling what the plans were, or what the thing was that he had to say or do. He is painfully conscious of his own deficiency, and painfully anxious, as you must have seen, to hide it from observation. If he could only have recovered in a complete state of oblivion as to the past, he would have been a happier man. Perhaps we should all be happier,” he added, with a sad smile, “if we could but completely forget!”
“There are some events surely in all men’s lives,” I replied, “the memory of which they would be unwilling entirely to lose?”
“That is, I hope, to be said of most men, Mr. Blake. I am afraid it cannot truly be said of ALL. Have you any reason to suppose that the lost remembrance which Mr. Candy tried to recover—while you were speaking to him just now—was a remembrance which it was important to YOU that he should recall?”
In saying those words, he had touched, of his own accord, on the very point upon which I was anxious to consult him. The interest I felt in this strange man had impelled me, in the first instance, to give him the opportunity of speaking to me; reserving what I might have to say, on my side, in relation to his employer, until I was first satisfied that he was a person in whose delicacy and discretion I could trust. The little that he had said, thus far, had been sufficient to convince me that I was speaking to a gentleman. He had what I may venture to describe as the UNSOUGHT SELF-POSSESSION, which is a sure sign of good breeding, not in England only, but everywhere else in the civilised world. Whatever the object which he had in view, in putting the question that he had just addressed to me, I felt no doubt that I was justified—so far—in answering him without reserve.
“I believe I have a strong interest,” I said, “in tracing the lost remembrance which Mr. Candy was unable to recall. May I ask whether you can suggest to me any method by which I might assist his memory?”
Ezra Jennings looked at me, with a sudden flash of interest in his dreamy brown eyes.
“Mr. Candy’s memory is beyond the reach of assistance,” he said. “I have tried to help it often enough since his recovery, to be able to speak positively on that point.”
This disappointed me; and I owned it.
“I confess you led me to hope for a less discouraging answer than that,” I said.
Ezra Jennings smiled. “It may not, perhaps, be a final answer, Mr. Blake. It may be possible to trace Mr. Candy’s lost recollection, without the necessity of appealing to Mr. Candy himself.”
“Indeed? Is it an indiscretion, on my part, to ask how?”
“By no means. My only difficulty in answering your question, is the difficulty of explaining myself. May I trust to your patience, if I refer once more to Mr. Candy’s illness: and if I speak of it this time without sparing you certain professional details?”
“Pray go on! You have interested me already in hearing the details.”
My eagerness seemed to amuse—perhaps, I might rather say, to please him. He smiled again. We had by this time left the last houses in the town behind us. Ezra Jennings stopped for a moment, and picked some wild flowers from the hedge by the roadside. “How beautiful they are!” he said, simply, showing his little nosegay to me. “And how few people in England seem to admire them as they deserve!”
“You have not always been in England?” I said.
“No. I was born, and partly brought up, in one of our colonies. My father was an Englishman; but my mother—We are straying away from our subject, Mr. Blake; and it is my fault. The truth is, I have associations with these modest little hedgeside flowers—It doesn’t matter; we were speaking of Mr. Candy. To Mr. Candy let us return.”
Connecting the few words about himself which thus reluctantly escaped him, with the melancholy view of life which led him to place the conditions of human happiness in complete oblivion of the past, I felt satisfied that the story which I had read in his face was, in two particulars at least, the story that it really told. He had suffered as few men suffer; and there was the mixture of some foreign race in his English blood.
“You have heard, I dare say, of the original cause of Mr. Candy’s illness?” he resumed. “The night of Lady Verinder’s dinner-party was a night of heavy rain. My employer drove home through it in his gig, and reached the house wetted to the skin. He found an urgent message from a patient, waiting for him; and he most unfortunately went at once to visit the sick person, without stopping to change his clothes. I was myself professionally detained, that night, by a case at some distance from Frizinghall. When I got back the next morning, I found Mr. Candy’s groom waiting in great alarm to take me to his master’s room. By that time the mischief was done; the illness had set in.”
“The illness has only been described to me, in general terms, as a fever,” I said.
“I can add nothing which will make the description more accurate,” answered Ezra Jennings. “From first to last the fever assumed no specific form. I sent at once to two of Mr. Candy’s medical friends in the town, both physicians, to come and give me their opinion of the case. They agreed with me that it looked serious; but they both strongly dissented from the view I took of the treatment. We differed entirely in the conclusions which we drew from the patient’s pulse. The two doctors, arguing from the rapidity of the beat, declared that a lowering treatment was the only treatment to be adopted. On my side, I admitted the rapidity of the pulse, but I also pointed to its alarming feebleness as indicating an exhausted condition of the system, and as showing a plain necessity for the administration of stimulants. The two doctors were for keeping him on gruel, lemonade, barley-water, and so on. I was for giving him champagne, or brandy, ammonia, and quinine. A serious difference of opinion, as you see! A difference between two physicians of established local repute, and a stranger who was only an assistant in the house. For the first few days, I had no choice but to give way to my elders and betters; the patient steadily sinking all the time. I made a second attempt to appeal to the plain, undeniably plain, evidence of the pulse. Its rapidity was unchecked, and its feebleness had increased. The two doctors took offence at my obstinacy. They said, ‘Mr. Jennings, either we manage this case, or you manage it. Which is it to be?’ I said, ‘Gentlemen, give me five minutes to consider, and that plain question shall have a plain reply.’ When the time expired, I was ready with my answer. I said, ‘You positively refuse to try the stimulant treatment?’ They refused in so many words. ‘I mean to try it at once, gentlemen.’—‘Try it, Mr. Jennings, and we withdraw from the case.’ I sent down to the cellar for a bottle of champagne; and I administered half a tumbler-full of it to the patient with my own hand. The two physicians took up their hats in silence, and left the house.”
“You had assumed a serious responsibility,” I said. “In your place, I am afraid I should have shrunk from it.”
“In my place, Mr. Blake, you would have remembered that Mr. Candy had taken you into his employment, under circumstances which made you his debtor for life. In my place, you would have seen him sinking, hour by hour; and you would have risked anything, rather than let the one man on earth who had befriended you, die before your eyes. Don’t suppose that I had no sense of the terrible position in which I had placed myself! There were moments when I felt all the misery of my friendlessness, all the peril of my dreadful responsibility. If I had been a happy man, if I had led a prosperous life, I believe I should have sunk under the task I had imposed on myself. But I had no happy time to look back at, no past peace of mind to force itself into contrast with my present anxiety and suspense—and I held firm to my resolution through it all. I took an interval in the middle of the day, when my patient’s condition was at its best, for the repose I needed. For the rest of the four-and-twenty hours, as long as his life was in danger, I never left his bedside. Towards sunset, as usual in such cases, the delirium incidental to the fever came on. It lasted more or less through the night; and then intermitted, at that terrible time in the early morning—from two o’clock to five—when the vital energies even of the healthiest of us are at their lowest. It is then that Death gathers in his human harvest most abundantly. It was then that Death and I fought our fight over the bed, which should have the man who lay on it. I never hesitated in pursuing the treatment on which I had staked everything. When wine failed, I tried brandy. When the other stimulants lost their influence, I doubled the dose. After an interval of suspense—the like of which I hope to God I shall never feel again—there came a day when the rapidity of the pulse slightly, but appreciably, diminished; and, better still, there came also a change in the beat—an unmistakable change to steadiness and strength. THEN, I knew that I had saved him; and then I own I broke down. I laid the poor fellow’s wasted hand back on the bed, and burst out crying. An hysterical relief, Mr. Blake—nothing more! Physiology says, and says truly, that some men are born with female constitutions—and I am one of them!”
He made that bitterly professional apology for his tears, speaking quietly and unaffectedly, as he had spoken throughout. His tone and manner, from beginning to end, showed him to be especially, almost morbidly, anxious not to set himself up as an object of interest to me.
“You may well ask, why I have wearied you with all these details?” he went on. “It is the only way I can see, Mr. Blake, of properly introducing to you what I have to say next. Now you know exactly what my position was, at the time of Mr. Candy’s illness, you will the more readily understand the sore need I had of lightening the burden on my mind by giving it, at intervals, some sort of relief. I have had the presumption to occupy my leisure, for some years past, in writing a book, addressed to the members of my profession—a book on the intricate and delicate subject of the brain and the nervous system. My work will probably never be finished; and it will certainly never be published. It has none the less been the friend of many lonely hours; and it helped me to while away the anxious time—the time of waiting, and nothing else—at Mr. Candy’s bedside. I told you he was delirious, I think? And I mentioned the time at which his delirium came on?”
“Well, I had reached a section of my book, at that time, which touched on this same question of delirium. I won’t trouble you at any length with my theory on the subject—I will confine myself to telling you only what it is your present interest to know. It has often occurred to me in the course of my medical practice, to doubt whether we can justifiably infer—in cases of delirium—that the loss of the faculty of speaking connectedly, implies of necessity the loss of the faculty of thinking connectedly as well. Poor Mr. Candy’s illness gave me an opportunity of putting this doubt to the test. I understand the art of writing in shorthand; and I was able to take down the patient’s ‘wanderings’, exactly as they fell from his lips.—Do you see, Mr. Blake, what I am coming to at last?”
I saw it clearly, and waited with breathless interest to hear more.
“At odds and ends of time,” Ezra Jennings went on, “I reproduced my shorthand notes, in the ordinary form of writing—leaving large spaces between the broken phrases, and even the single words, as they had fallen disconnectedly from Mr. Candy’s lips. I then treated the result thus obtained, on something like the principle which one adopts in putting together a child’s ‘puzzle.’ It is all confusion to begin with; but it may be all brought into order and shape, if you can only find the right way. Acting on this plan, I filled in each blank space on the paper, with what the words or phrases on either side of it suggested to me as the speaker’s meaning; altering over and over again, until my additions followed naturally on the spoken words which came before them, and fitted naturally into the spoken words which came after them. The result was, that I not only occupied in this way many vacant and anxious hours, but that I arrived at something which was (as it seemed to me) a confirmation of the theory that I held. In plainer words, after putting the broken sentences together I found the superior faculty of thinking going on, more or less connectedly, in my patient’s mind, while the inferior faculty of expression was in a state of almost complete incapacity and confusion.”
“One word!” I interposed eagerly. “Did my name occur in any of his wanderings?”
“You shall hear, Mr. Blake. Among my written proofs of the assertion which I have just advanced—or, I ought to say, among the written experiments, tending to put my assertion to the proof—there IS one, in which your name occurs. For nearly the whole of one night, Mr. Candy’s mind was occupied with SOMETHING between himself and you. I have got the broken words, as they dropped from his lips, on one sheet of paper. And I have got the links of my own discovering which connect those words together, on another sheet of paper. The product (as the arithmeticians would say) is an intelligible statement—first, of something actually done in the past; secondly, of something which Mr. Candy contemplated doing in the future, if his illness had not got in the way, and stopped him. The question is whether this does, or does not, represent the lost recollection which he vainly attempted to find when you called on him this morning?”
“Not a doubt of it!” I answered. “Let us go back directly, and look at the papers!”
“Quite impossible, Mr. Blake.”
“Put yourself in my position for a moment,” said Ezra Jennings. “Would you disclose to another person what had dropped unconsciously from the lips of your suffering patient and your helpless friend, without first knowing that there was a necessity to justify you in opening your lips?”
I felt that he was unanswerable, here; but I tried to argue the question, nevertheless.
“My conduct in such a delicate matter as you describe,” I replied, “would depend greatly on whether the disclosure was of a nature to compromise my friend or not.”
“I have disposed of all necessity for considering that side of the question, long since,” said Ezra Jennings. “Wherever my notes included anything which Mr. Candy might have wished to keep secret, those notes have been destroyed. My manuscript experiments at my friend’s bedside, include nothing, now, which he would have hesitated to communicate to others, if he had recovered the use of his memory. In your case, I have every reason to suppose that my notes contain something which he actually wished to say to you.”
“And yet, you hesitate?”
“And yet, I hesitate. Remember the circumstances under which I obtained the information which I possess! Harmless as it is, I cannot prevail upon myself to give it up to you, unless you first satisfy me that there is a reason for doing so. He was so miserably ill, Mr. Blake! and he was so helplessly dependent upon Me! Is it too much to ask, if I request you only to hint to me what your interest is in the lost recollection—or what you believe that lost recollection to be?”
To have answered him with the frankness which his language and his manner both claimed from me, would have been to commit myself to openly acknowledging that I was suspected of the theft of the Diamond. Strongly as Ezra Jennings had intensified the first impulsive interest which I had felt in him, he had not overcome my unconquerable reluctance to disclose the degrading position in which I stood. I took refuge once more in the explanatory phrases with which I had prepared myself to meet the curiosity of strangers.
This time I had no reason to complain of a want of attention on the part of the person to whom I addressed myself. Ezra Jennings listened patiently, even anxiously, until I had done.
“I am sorry to have raised your expectations, Mr. Blake, only to disappoint them,” he said. “Throughout the whole period of Mr. Candy’s illness, from first to last, not one word about the Diamond escaped his lips. The matter with which I heard him connect your name has, I can assure you, no discoverable relation whatever with the loss or the recovery of Miss Verinder’s jewel.”
We arrived, as he said those words, at a place where the highway along which we had been walking branched off into two roads. One led to Mr. Ablewhite’s house, and the other to a moorland village some two or three miles off. Ezra Jennings stopped at the road which led to the village.
“My way lies in this direction,” he said. “I am really and truly sorry, Mr. Blake, that I can be of no use to you.”
His voice told me that he spoke sincerely. His soft brown eyes rested on me for a moment with a look of melancholy interest. He bowed, and went, without another word, on his way to the village.
For a minute or more I stood and watched him, walking farther and farther away from me; carrying farther and farther away with him what I now firmly believed to be the clue of which I was in search. He turned, after walking on a little way, and looked back. Seeing me still standing at the place where we had parted, he stopped, as if doubting whether I might not wish to speak to him again. There was no time for me to reason out my own situation—to remind myself that I was losing my opportunity, at what might be the turning point of my life, and all to flatter nothing more important than my own self-esteem! There was only time to call him back first, and to think afterwards. I suspect I am one of the rashest of existing men. I called him back—and then I said to myself, “Now there is no help for it. I must tell him the truth!”
He retraced his steps directly. I advanced along the road to meet him.
“Mr. Jennings,” I said. “I have not treated you quite fairly. My interest in tracing Mr. Candy’s lost recollection is not the interest of recovering the Moonstone. A serious personal matter is at the bottom of my visit to Yorkshire. I have but one excuse for not having dealt frankly with you in this matter. It is more painful to me than I can say, to mention to anybody what my position really is.”
Ezra Jennings looked at me with the first appearance of embarrassment which I had seen in him yet.
“I have no right, Mr. Blake, and no wish,” he said, “to intrude myself into your private affairs. Allow me to ask your pardon, on my side, for having (most innocently) put you to a painful test.”
“You have a perfect right,” I rejoined, “to fix the terms on which you feel justified in revealing what you heard at Mr. Candy’s bedside. I understand and respect the delicacy which influences you in this matter. How can I expect to be taken into your confidence if I decline to admit you into mine? You ought to know, and you shall know, why I am interested in discovering what Mr. Candy wanted to say to me. If I turn out to be mistaken in my anticipations, and if you prove unable to help me when you are really aware of what I want, I shall trust to your honour to keep my secret—and something tells me that I shall not trust in vain.”
“Stop, Mr. Blake. I have a word to say, which must be said before you go any farther.” I looked at him in astonishment. The grip of some terrible emotion seemed to have seized him, and shaken him to the soul. His gipsy complexion had altered to a livid greyish paleness; his eyes had suddenly become wild and glittering; his voice had dropped to a tone—low, stern, and resolute—which I now heard for the first time. The latent resources in the man, for good or for evil—it was hard, at that moment, to say which—leapt up in him and showed themselves to me, with the suddenness of a flash of light.
“Before you place any confidence in me,” he went on, “you ought to know, and you MUST know, under what circumstances I have been received into Mr. Candy’s house. It won’t take long. I don’t profess, sir, to tell my story (as the phrase is) to any man. My story will die with me. All I ask, is to be permitted to tell you, what I have told Mr. Candy. If you are still in the mind, when you have heard that, to say what you have proposed to say, you will command my attention and command my services. Shall we walk on?”
The suppressed misery in his face silenced me. I answered his question by a sign. We walked on.
After advancing a few hundred yards, Ezra Jennings stopped at a gap in the rough stone wall which shut off the moor from the road, at this part of it.
“Do you mind resting a little, Mr. Blake?” he asked. “I am not what I was—and some things shake me.”
I agreed of course. He led the way through the gap to a patch of turf on the heathy ground, screened by bushes and dwarf trees on the side nearest to the road, and commanding in the opposite direction a grandly desolate view over the broad brown wilderness of the moor. The clouds had gathered, within the last half hour. The light was dull; the distance was dim. The lovely face of Nature met us, soft and still colourless—met us without a smile.
We sat down in silence. Ezra Jennings laid aside his hat, and passed his hand wearily over his forehead, wearily through his startling white and black hair. He tossed his little nosegay of wild flowers away from him, as if the remembrances which it recalled were remembrances which hurt him now.
“Mr. Blake!” he said, suddenly. “You are in bad company. The cloud of a horrible accusation has rested on me for years. I tell you the worst at once. I am a man whose life is a wreck, and whose character is gone.”
I attempted to speak. He stopped me.
“No,” he said. “Pardon me; not yet. Don’t commit yourself to expressions of sympathy which you may afterwards wish to recall. I have mentioned an accusation which has rested on me for years. There are circumstances in connexion with it that tell against me. I cannot bring myself to acknowledge what the accusation is. And I am incapable, perfectly incapable, of proving my innocence. I can only assert my innocence. I assert it, sir, on my oath, as a Christian. It is useless to appeal to my honour as a man.”
He paused again. I looked round at him. He never looked at me in return. His whole being seemed to be absorbed in the agony of recollecting, and in the effort to speak.
“There is much that I might say,” he went on, “about the merciless treatment of me by my own family, and the merciless enmity to which I have fallen a victim. But the harm is done; the wrong is beyond all remedy. I decline to weary or distress you, sir, if I can help it. At the outset of my career in this country, the vile slander to which I have referred struck me down at once and for ever. I resigned my aspirations in my profession—obscurity was the only hope left for me. I parted with the woman I loved—how could I condemn her to share my disgrace? A medical assistant’s place offered itself, in a remote corner of England. I got the place. It promised me peace; it promised me obscurity, as I thought. I was wrong. Evil report, with time and chance to help it, travels patiently, and travels far. The accusation from which I had fled followed me. I got warning of its approach. I was able to leave my situation voluntarily, with the testimonials that I had earned. They got me another situation in another remote district. Time passed again; and again the slander that was death to my character found me out. On this occasion I had no warning. My employer said, ‘Mr. Jennings, I have no complaint to make against you; but you must set yourself right, or leave me.’ I had but one choice—I left him. It’s useless to dwell on what I suffered after that. I am only forty years old now. Look at my face, and let it tell for me the story of some miserable years. It ended in my drifting to this place, and meeting with Mr. Candy. He wanted an assistant. I referred him, on the question of capacity, to my last employer. The question of character remained. I told him what I have told you—and more. I warned him that there were difficulties in the way, even if he believed me. ‘Here, as elsewhere,’ I said ‘I scorn the guilty evasion of living under an assumed name: I am no safer at Frizinghall than at other places from the cloud that follows me, go where I may.’ He answered, ‘I don’t do things by halves—I believe you, and I pity you. If you will risk what may happen, I will risk it too.’ God Almighty bless him! He has given me shelter, he has given me employment, he has given me rest of mind—and I have the certain conviction (I have had it for some months past) that nothing will happen now to make him regret it.”
“The slander has died out?” I said.
“The slander is as active as ever. But when it follows me here, it will come too late.”
“You will have left the place?”
“No, Mr. Blake—I shall be dead. For ten years past I have suffered from an incurable internal complaint. I don’t disguise from you that I should have let the agony of it kill me long since, but for one last interest in life, which makes my existence of some importance to me still. I want to provide for a person—very dear to me—whom I shall never see again. My own little patrimony is hardly sufficient to make her independent of the world. The hope, if I could only live long enough, of increasing it to a certain sum, has impelled me to resist the disease by such palliative means as I could devise. The one effectual palliative in my case, is—opium. To that all-potent and all-merciful drug I am indebted for a respite of many years from my sentence of death. But even the virtues of opium have their limit. The progress of the disease has gradually forced me from the use of opium to the abuse of it. I am feeling the penalty at last. My nervous system is shattered; my nights are nights of horror. The end is not far off now. Let it come—I have not lived and worked in vain. The little sum is nearly made up; and I have the means of completing it, if my last reserves of life fail me sooner than I expect. I hardly know how I have wandered into telling you this. I don’t think I am mean enough to appeal to your pity. Perhaps, I fancy you may be all the readier to believe me, if you know that what I have said to you, I have said with the certain knowledge in me that I am a dying man. There is no disguising, Mr. Blake, that you interest me. I have attempted to make my poor friend’s loss of memory the means of bettering my acquaintance with you. I have speculated on the chance of your feeling a passing curiosity about what he wanted to say, and of my being able to satisfy it. Is there no excuse for my intruding myself on you? Perhaps there is some excuse. A man who has lived as I have lived has his bitter moments when he ponders over human destiny. You have youth, health, riches, a place in the world, a prospect before you. You, and such as you, show me the sunny side of human life, and reconcile me with the world that I am leaving, before I go. However this talk between us may end, I shall not forget that you have done me a kindness in doing that. It rests with you, sir, to say what you proposed saying, or to wish me good morning.”
I had but one answer to make to that appeal. Without a moment’s hesitation I told him the truth, as unreservedly as I have told it in these pages.
He started to his feet, and looked at me with breathless eagerness as I approached the leading incident of my story.
“It is certain that I went into the room,” I said; “it is certain that I took the Diamond. I can only meet those two plain facts by declaring that, do what I might, I did it without my own knowledge——”
Ezra Jennings caught me excitedly by the arm.
“Stop!” he said. “You have suggested more to me than you suppose. Have you ever been accustomed to the use of opium?”
“I never tasted it in my life.”
“Were your nerves out of order, at this time last year? Were you unusually restless and irritable?”
“Did you sleep badly?”
“Wretchedly. Many nights I never slept at all.”
“Was the birthday night an exception? Try, and remember. Did you sleep well on that one occasion?”
“I do remember! I slept soundly.”
He dropped my arm as suddenly as he had taken it—and looked at me with the air of a man whose mind was relieved of the last doubt that rested on it.
“This is a marked day in your life, and in mine,” he said, gravely. “I am absolutely certain, Mr. Blake, of one thing—I have got what Mr. Candy wanted to say to you this morning, in the notes that I took at my patient’s bedside. Wait! that is not all. I am firmly persuaded that I can prove you to have been unconscious of what you were about, when you entered the room and took the Diamond. Give me time to think, and time to question you. I believe the vindication of your innocence is in my hands!”
“Explain yourself, for God’s sake! What do you mean?”
In the excitement of our colloquy, we had walked on a few steps, beyond the clump of dwarf trees which had hitherto screened us from view. Before Ezra Jennings could answer me, he was hailed from the high road by a man, in great agitation, who had been evidently on the look-out for him.
“I am coming,” he called back; “I am coming as fast as I can!” He turned to me. “There is an urgent case waiting for me at the village yonder; I ought to have been there half an hour since—I must attend to it at once. Give me two hours from this time, and call at Mr. Candy’s again—and I will engage to be ready for you.”
“How am I to wait!” I exclaimed, impatiently. “Can’t you quiet my mind by a word of explanation before we part?”
“This is far too serious a matter to be explained in a hurry, Mr. Blake. I am not wilfully trying your patience—I should only be adding to your suspense, if I attempted to relieve it as things are now. At Frizinghall, sir, in two hours’ time!”
The man on the high road hailed him again. He hurried away, and left me.