The Four Philanthropists/Chapter 13

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Mrs. Jubb's handwriting was difficult to imitate for its very formlessness. Angel worked steadily away at it hour after hour for three days with a resolute patience infinitely creditable. At the end of the second day her imitations were very fair, and I was of the opinion that they were quite good enough, since it would be only natural to allow for the shakiness induced by suicidal emotion. But she was not content; she worked at it for another day; and then none of us could tell a letter of Mrs. Jubb from her copy of it.

I had been pondering the letter which that good lady would write were she going to commit suicide, and I had made up my mind that nothing short of madness would induce so selfish a creature to put an end to her worthless self. Therefore I composed the following letter:

I am sick of this life, for the voices tell me that the plots of my enemies will soon be successful. I cannot fight against them any more, for they are devils and there is no killing them, or I should have starved Marmaduke and his wife long ago. He is a devil and so is she. All my enemies are devils, including the vicar, and they are always plotting—they think I do not know it, but they will find themselves mistaken, for the voices tell me all their plots. They say it is necessary for me or them to die. What I want is rest, rest for the weary, and I shall find it in the grave; the voices say so, and they know.

Henrietta A. Jubb.

It seemed to us that the letter in Mrs. Jubb's handwriting and an empty phial smelling of chloroform by her side would satisfy even the most suspicious that the good lady had committed suicide.

Our preparations having been made, next morning Angel travelled down to Hardstone in the character of a lady artist, and took with her a bicycle and an easel. It was hardly the time of year for painting landscape, but, as I pointed out, we really could not take the responsibility of the seasons, and it was not possible for all artists to paint their winter scenes from their studio windows. By the first post I had a letter from her saying that she was comfortably settled at the Rose and Crown; and next day a fuller letter, describing the Manor-house grounds, enclosing a map of the country and showing the lane which ran between the common and the side of the grounds most suitable to philanthropic enterprise. The lane ran from the main road through a wood—that side of the common was wooded—and there was excellent cover right up to the hedge of the Manor-house grounds.

In the letter of the fourth day she said that she had seen Mrs. Jubb, "a loathsome, bloated creature," and she was walking, accompanied by a pack of small dogs, along a path through a shrubbery of deodoras and Wellingtonias which would afford half a dozen good hiding-places from which to spring out upon her. Angel advised us to use bicycles and not a motor-car; for motor-cars had not, curiously enough, yet become common objects by the wayside in that part of the country, and would arrest attention.

In the letters of the fifth and sixth days she said that she had again seen Mrs. Jubb, and on both occasions walking along the same path. This information seemed very good, and we made ready to travel down to Hardstone and set about the business directly Angel summoned us. Bottiger procured from his brilliant but drunken doctor an anæsthetic which took effect quicker than plain chloroform. But when it came to drawing lots for the anæsthetist, Chelubai would not let me draw, and Bottiger backed him up, on the ground that as the holder of Marmaduke Jubb's note of hand for £5,000 I must not appear in the business. I resisted to the degree proper to the occasion; but they had reason on their side, and I yielded when I had made the show of reluctance decency demanded. When Fortune chose Chelubai to manipulate the noose-bag, he was positively overjoyed. "I feel that I have again a chance to retrieve my character after the Pudleigh fiasco," he said.

Two days later came the summons from Angel. She had ascertained that Mrs. Jubb was a woman of the most regular habits, that she always passed through the suitable shrubbery between twelve and a quarter past every fine day. She suggested that the Company should, following the guidance of the map, meet her on the common at eleven the next morning and explore thoroughly the ground.

Accordingly, that afternoon, Chelubai and Bottiger took the train for Winchester, which they were to make their headquarters, equipped with their bicycles, the noose-bag, the anæsthetic and the suicide's letter. As I bade them good-by, I impressed upon them the danger of going near Angel, once she had shown them the ground, either before or after the operation; for I had no intention of letting her be mixed up in the business, if anything went wrong. They agreed, with some glumness, that I was right.

I was beginning to miss Angel sorely. I missed her in the morning, and came to breakfast the less cheerful for that she would not be there. I was always looking up from my writing, or the studying of briefs, to say something to her, and remembering with a sigh, often after I had begun the sentence, that she was not there. Time and again I caught myself listening for her footfall. I went about my work and my pleasure in a half-hearted way. As luck would have it, on the morrow of the setting out of Chelubai and Bottiger, the weather broke, and it rained and rained. The waiting for her return grew wearier and wearier. I had letters telling me that Chelubai and Bottiger had met her at the appointed place, and under her guidance explored thoroughly the ground she had chosen for the operation. Chelubai seemed exceedingly pleased with it. In her letter Angel dwelt at a comforting length on her disappointment on finding only Chelubai and Bottiger at the meeting-place. Her eagerness to be back at the Temple gave me a singular pleasure, and I was tempted to write and bid her return, but the G. P. R. C. had resolved that she should stay on at Hardstone for at least a week after the removal of Mrs. Jubb to watch how things went, and I would not act against its resolution.

For five days it rained, and not till the sixth morning did I awake to find it fine. I was, indeed, delighted by the change; not so much because Mrs. Jubb would be removed, but because the fine weather brought Angel's return nearer. I was very impatient all day, and in the evening I called at Chelubai's rooms to learn if he had returned. He had not, nor had his man received a wire from him. The next morning I received a letter from him saying that they had waited for half an hour for Mrs. Jubb, but, owing doubtless to the dampness of the grounds after the rain, she had not come. They hoped for better luck on the morrow.

It was another day of impatience for me, but in the middle of my dressing for dinner Chelubai and Bottiger came triumphant.

"It's all right!" cried Chelubai joyfully. "We brought it off at once."

"Good!" I said. "Let's hear all about it."

"As I told you in my letters, we explored the ground carefully with your sister," said Chelubai. "Yesterday we hid our bicycles amongst the trees on the common, put on our masks and laid in wait for Mrs. Jubb in the shrubbery, but she never came. To-day we did the same, and soon after we heard a clock strike twelve she came down the path with half a dozen little curs."

"Seven," said Bottiger. "I kept counting them."

"Seven, was it?" said Chelubai. "Well, I poured the anæsthetic into the noose-bag——"

"That anæsthetic has a most unpleasant smell," interrupted Bottiger.

"So you've told me forty times!" said Chelubai, with what seemed to me needless heat, since it was a harmless, natural remark. "Well, I stepped out behind her," he went on. "One of the curs snapped at my legs; she turned round, saw us masked, and was just firing off a yell when I popped the noose-bag over her head, jerked the wires tight and held on. Bottiger was patting the dogs and speaking kindly to them to keep them quiet. The anæsthetic was splendid; it——"

"It has a most unpleasant smell. I don't know when I came across a more unpleasant smell," Bottiger interrupted. "I don't think it can be healthy."

"Look here!" cried Chelubai. "You'd better get that smell off your mind once and for all! Say all you want to say about it—all—every word! Then I'll go on with my story."

"It's off my nose I want to get it," said Bottiger, with a pathetic smile. "Go on. I'll tell Roger about it later."

"I'll lay my life you will!" said Chelubai furiously. "I've heard nothing else since we left Hardstone! Well, she was very quickly unconscious, and we carried her in among the trees and laid her down."

"She took some carrying, too. She was a lump," said Bottiger.

"She was," said Cheluhai. "Then we smoothed out her dress to make it look as if she'd lain down comfortably, and waited a good five minutes to let the anæsthetic work properly."

"It was a five minutes! The smell of that anæsthetic—" said Bottiger, and checked himself.

Chelubai scowled at him, and went on: "Then I took the noose-bag off and saw her face. I felt no doubt whatever that I should acquire no bad harm whatever from the removal. I saw that the Planetary Logos wanted that woman removed. It was only fair to Humanity. It was very satisfactory, and set my mind quite at rest"

"She did look a wrong 'un," said Bottiger.

"Then I took a gold pin out of her shirt-waist—I mean blouse—and pinned the suicide letter to the tree-trunk above her head," said Chelubai.

"Her own gold pin was a very happy touch—very convincing," I said, with warm approval

"We left the bottle which had held the anæsthetic by her side, and put her handkerchief over her face. Then we made sure that the coast was clear, pressed out a footprint or two, got back to our bicycles and rode to Winchester."

"Good! An excellent piece of work," said I.

"But something must really be done about the smell of that anæsthetic," said Bottiger earnestly. "It's awful—a kind of disgusting sickliness. I can't really describe to you how awful it is. The next time we get a bottle, you must smell it for yourself, Roger."

"I will not!" I said firmly.

"Let's go and dine somewhere. Perhaps food will stop his mouth," said Chelubai wearily. "I've had hours of this kind of thing. That anæsthetic has got into his brain."

Bottiger suggested the Carlton, and, when we agreed, he said we would walk to it. I wondered at this, for like most athletes Bottiger will never walk when he can ride. Soon I learned the reason. We came to a chemist's shop, and in he went. We waited, and presently he came out disconsolate.

"It's no good; he can't cure it," he said in a tone of despair.

"Cure what?" said I.

"The smell in my nose," said Bottiger.

"Oh, come on!" said Chelubai harshly.

At the next chemist Bottiger stopped us again. He came out shaking his head ruefully. At the next chemist we revolted. We took a hansom and drove off, bidding him come to the Carlton at his leisure. He came to us three-quarters of an hour later, still unsatisfied and unhappy. I have never seen anything make so deep an impression on Bottiger as did the smell of that anæsthetic. He talked of nothing else, ransacking creation to tell us what it smelt like and what it did not smell like. He was positively morbid on the subject, and turned a dinner which should have been the cheerful celebration of a splendid piece of work into a funeral monologue.

The next morning I awoke at the postman's knock, and found a letter from Angel in the letter-box. What was my disgust to read that Chelubai and Bottiger had failed! Mrs. Jubb had recovered, and staggered back to the Manor-house with a tale of how two masked men had tried to asphyxiate her, and rendered her unconscious; how she had recovered slowly, and at last been able to totter back to the house. The doctor had been sent for, then the local police, then the chief of the Winchester police. The country was being scoured in search of her assailants. I made haste to dress, and in the middle of my dressing the paper came. I stopped dressing to search its columns, and soon found the following paragraph:

Strange Outrage on a Hampshire Lady

A strange affair is reported by our Winchester correspondent. Yesterday Mrs. Jubb, of the Manor-house, Hardstone, the widow of Mr. Henry Jubb, of Ne Plus Ultra Pickle fame, was taking a walk through her grounds when two men in masks sprang out upon her, and forcing a bag containing some anaesthetic over her head, endeavored to asphyxiate her. She became unconscious, but it is to be presumed that something frightened away her assailants before they had accomplished their fell purpose. Mrs. Jubb recovered so far as to be able to walk to the house, where she lies in a critical condition suffering from the shock. The unfortunate lady had only a glimpse of her two assailants, and cannot give an accurate description of them. But the police have a clue. The motive of the crime is buried in mystery, for Mrs. Jubb's purse and jewelry were untouched. The police are making every effort to discover them, and Detective Inspector Bramick of Scotland Yard has gone down to investigate the matter. Further developments are expected immediately.

For my part, I truly expected further developments immediately, nor was I mistaken. I was but half-way through my breakfast when Chelubai came in, looking the most miserable of men. He shut the door carefully behind him, sank limply into a chair, and said in a voice full of tears: "Well, I'm a most unfortunate creature. There seems to be a fate against me. I have made an utter mess of it."

"It certainly was an unfortunate failure," I said. "But I don't see any utter mess. There is no chance of your being connected with the affair."

"But to have failed like that! When I had the thing done, absolutely done! I shall never forgive myself, never! The Company will never have a more perfectly arranged operation, and to mull it like that!"

I was hardly in the mood to contradict his well-deserved self-reproach. I only said, "How do you suppose it happened?"

"I've been trying to think it out. It may have been that there wasn't enough of the anæsthetic; or it may have been that the stuff of the bag let the air through. I can't make up my mind."

"Did you keep the bag on long enough?"

"Sure; five or six minutes."

"You timed it, I suppose?"

"No; I judged it."

"Then that was how you went wrong. I'd bet three to one, if there was any way of settling the matter, that you didn't keep the bag on two minutes. You never allowed for the way the minutes dragged while you were waiting in anxious excitement."

Chelubai's face fell even more miserable. "That makes it worse than ever. I shall never forgive myself—never! I bungled it through rank carelessness."

His despair touched me, and I said: "Cheer up, there's nothing to be gained by fretting over it. We tried to perform a noble action, and the fact that we failed does not make it any less creditable to us to have attempted it."

Chelubai shook his head. "I don't take any stock in failures," he said. "Success is the thing."

"Oh, Chelubai, Chelubai!" I cried. "You have now been a friend of mine for five years, and even still in moments of deep emotion I hear from you echoes of the base sentiment of the tradesman! It is far better to have failed nobly than to make an ignoble success."

"We don't look at in that way in the States. Success is success," he said heavily.

I was impatient of him, but I saw that his feelings were too deeply lacerated by the failure of his philanthropic enterprise for him to be susceptible to the finer emotions at the moment. If he had succeeded in asphyxiating the good lady, the base sentiment of the tradesman would have found no place in him. I said no more.

"What I feel is," he went on, "if you'd been there, with all that time on your hands, you'd never have left the place till you'd make sure that we'd outed her."

"Yes, a classical education has its advantages," I said. "But, after all, Bottiger, who was at school and at Oxford with me, was there."

"Ah, but he hasn't made the most of his advantages, like you. Besides, there's Celtic blood in him, I'm sure there is. He's too impulsive. You should have heard him swear at the smell of the anæsthetic after he had finished speaking kindly to the dogs."

"It seems to have been somewhat unnecessary."

"And there's that unfortunate young Jubb and his wife and child robbed, absolutely robbed, by my bungling!"

"I'm afraid poor Marmaduke will be bitterly disappointed to learn that his abominable stepmother is still alive. But, after all, he has acquired a right to sit for the rest of his life on the doorstep of the Company. And Angel and I will look after him. We'll find him work; he's our protégé."

"No, no!" cried Chelubai. "I'm responsible for that unfortunate family. I bungled their chance of a happy affluence. I adopt them."

"Well, you can settle that with Angel."

I went on peacefully with my breakfast to the accompaniment of the sighs and plaints of the griefstricken Chelubai. I had just finished when Mrs. Plimsoll brought in a telegram. It was from Angel, and ran:

Weather bad; cannot paint; returning Waterloo 12.1.

A thrill of pleasure at the thought of seeing her so soon set me veritably quivering. Then I could have wished that she had stayed at Hardstone a little longer to watch the march of events. I did not tell Chelubai that she was returning that morning; I wanted to have her all to myself. Presently Bottiger came in, and I saw at once that he, too, was overcome by sorrow at their failure to remove Mrs. Jubb.

However, he said, with a very fair affectation of brave indifference: "So we didn't kill the old beast after all." And then he added, with a sudden change to a very natural resentment, "And I made myself devilishly uncomfortable all for nothing! The smell of that rotten anæsthetic is in my nose still!"

"Confound the anæsthetic!" I said, with some heat. I had heard enough of it.

"She seemed dead enough, too. How did she recover?" he said; and then he added, with a cold determination, "When are we to have another go at her?"

"Never!" I cried, stirred to my inmost depths by the absurd suggestion. "For evermore Mrs. Jubb is sacrosant to us. She would be on her guard Every one about her would be on their guard. As far as we are concerned she will live out her allotted natural span."

"You wouldn't have us own ourselves beaten," said Bottiger, with a deep disgust.

"It's a fine honest English principle never to know when you're beaten," I said, "and far be it from me to disparage it. And if you are burning to die a martyr to principle, you go and remove Mrs. Jubb by yourself."

"And I think it's only fair that you should leave the £5,000 we ought to have got for it by her removal to the Children's Hospital," said Chelubai.

"That suggests to me to observe that you must not expect the G. P. R. C. to pay for your defence out of its working capital, for it won't be a transaction of the company," said I.

"Do you think she's as risky as that?" said Bottiger.

"She's as safe, from us, as houses," said I.

"She's impossible," said Chelubai.

"Then we have made a mull of it," said Bottiger. "I thought that you might have had a shot, Roger."

"And deprive Humanity of my future services? No," I said firmly.

They were both exceedingly mournful, and discussed methods of getting more philanthropic work in a half-hearted way, showing very little hopefulness.

Chelnbai summed up the chances when he said; "Fortune never forgives. All our failures come from my having mulled the Pudleigh removal."

At half-past eleven I turned them out, and bade them keep away from the Temple until we were quite sure that they were out of the wood—to my mind they were far too quick in taking it for granted—for it would never do to risk any chance of Angel's being connected with the assault on the abominable Mrs. Jubb.

I thought it well not to meet her at the station; and the rest of the morning dragged unconscionably. At last, at half-past twelve, she came, flushed and smiling, her eyes radiant with delight.

"I came back so soon," she cried, "because I couldn't stay away any longer! I couldn't, really!"

"I'm awfully glad to have you back," I said. "I've missed you horribly."

"I'm glad to hear that," she said, and putting down her easel she came into the sitting-room, gazed round it with contented eyes, walked across it, and pulled the curtains straight.

"I feel that this is my home—even more my home than my old home with my people. Isn't it a strange feeling?"

"A very proper one," I said.

She sat down in her easy chair, and looked about her.

"How's Mrs. Henrietta Jubb? Have the police found a clue?" I said, with some anxiety.

"No; and they're not trying to, or I shouldn't have come back. When Inspector Bramick saw the suicide's letter and the empty chloroform bottle, and examined the shrubbery and found no trace of a struggle, nor even a footprint, he was very doubtful. But when Mrs. Jubb declared that one of the masked men was the Vicar—it seems she hates the Vicar—he made up his mind that it was all an hallucination, that she had never been attacked at all. He told me all about it, for he was staying at the 'Rose and Crown,' and I talked to him a good deal. He said that she was as mad as a hatter, and tried to kill herself. Then when she didn't succeed, she trumped up the story of the masked men in case any one should have seen her when she was insensible, and read the letter."

"But how did he get over her leaving the letter in tie shrubbery?"

"He says that the chloroform made her stupid, and she forgot all about it."

A very reasonable supposition."

"Now every one in Hardstone says that she is mad, and oughtn't to be at large. They have ever so many instances of her being mad which they didn't notice at the time; and all her servants have given notice."

"Well, then we've not failed utterly. We've brought down retribution on her head. But—but—why, hang it all! The game's in our hands! We can pull the business out of the fire yet!"

And I sprang up from my chair.

"How?" said Angel, and her eyes opened wide.

"I'll do it first, and tell you afterwards!" And I made for the door.

"What a shame!" cried Angel.

But I seized my hat, and bolted down the stairs.