The Four Philanthropists/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV
I TRY MY HAND ON MRS. JUBB

I hurried to Fleet Street Post Office, and wired to Marmaduke:

"Come at once. Catch next train. Bring clothes. Will meet you at Euston."

Then I went back to my rooms and packed a kit-bag. By the time I had done lunch was ready, a carefully chosen lunch to celebrate the return of Angel; and all through it she teased me to tell her what I had in mind. But I assured her that she had much better wait for an agreeable surprise. She did her best to hide her disappointment at my leaving her, and never said a word to keep me back, but she sighed now and again and she begged me not to be long away.

I took a hansom to Euston to meet Marmaduke's train, and she went with me. To my great content, he had caught it. I put Angel into a hansom, and bade her good-by. Then I and Marmaduke drove to Waterloo.

He was looking another man, a man not only stouter, but of more spirit. But it was somewhat sadly that he told me that he had seen in the papers how the firm to whom I had entrusted the business had failed in their attempt to remove his abominable stepmother.

"I hope," he said timidly, "that you did not take a hand in it yourself."

"I?" I cried. "Good heavens, my dear chap, I'm a respectable and rising young barrister! I couldn't do such things! Why, I haven't been out of London!"

"I'm very pleased to hear that," he said quickly. "I was afraid you might be in danger."

I was touched by his thought for me.

"I'm in no danger," I said. "But what do you mean by the attempt having failed?"

"Hasn't it?" he said, brightening. "This morning's paper said she had recovered."

"That's true enough. But every one in Hardstone believes that she attempted her own life and is suffering from suicidal and homicidal mania. A bottle of chloroform, or rather an empty bottle which had held chloroform, and a letter in her own handwriting declaring her intention of committing suicide, were found near the spot on which she alleges she was assaulted. Moreover, she asserts that one of the masked men who assaulted her was the Vicar of Hardstone."

"Old Toombes? What nonsense!"

"Exactly. The whole story of the assault is nonsense. But all her neighbors are living in utter dread of her, and from that dread you are going to relieve them. You are going down to Hardstone to put her into a lunatic asylum."

Marmaduke gasped.

"I undertook to clear her out of your path, not to have her murdered—to give you control of your seven thousand a year. And I'm going to carry out my undertaking."

"It's wonderful—wonderful!" said Marmaduke.

His face was bright with cheerful hope, and making suggestion after suggestion, he showed himself eager indeed to play the chief part in carrying out my scheme.

We caught the train at Waterloo, and all the journey we discussed our plan of action. I was pleased to find that the doctor and the family lawyer were as friendly to Marmaduke as they were hostile to his stepmother, for we were to a great extent in their hands. I was delighted, too, with the spirit he showed; necessity had indeed stiffened him. But I did not like his linen. His clothes, knickerbockered as he was, would serve very well, but his linen and cravat were weak. However, we had the compartment to ourselves; he soon changed into a shirt collar and cravat of mine, and looked once more a prosperous young man.

At Winchester we broke our journey, and went to the office of Mr. Brodrick, the Jubb family lawyer.

As soon as we gave him our names, the clerk said: "Mr. Brodrick has been wiring all day to try and find your address, Mr. Jubb. I'll take you straight to him."

As we entered his room, Mr. Brodrick, a well-preserved man of sixty, started up from his chair, saying: "My dear Mr. Marmaduke, this is indeed a relief! I've been trying to get into communication with you all day."

"I thought I'd better come straight to you, Mr. Brodrick, as soon as I heard how matters were. I'm living in Hertfordshire, or I should have been here sooner. I'm afraid it's a sad business," said Marmaduke.

"We must act, Mr. Marmaduke; we must act at once, before anything worse happens," said Mr. Brodrick, falling into his natural tone of pompous solemnity.

"I felt that something must be done, and I came to you to learn what was to be done. Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Brand, a barrister of the Inner Temple," said Marmaduke.

Mr. Brodrick shook hands with me.

"I did not like to come down alone under these distressing circumstances," Marmaduke went on, "and Mr. Brand kindly came with me. Now what can I do? Is there anything I can do?"

"There is only one thing to do, and that is to put your unfortunate stepmother under restraint," said Mr. Brodrick firmly.

"I shall be guided entirely by your advice," said Marmaduke. "But are you sure she is really insane? Mayn't this be a mere passing aberration?"

"I have a letter here, sent me by Detective Inspector Bramick of Scotland Yard, and found near the scene of the alleged assault on your stepmother, which settles that matter beyond question. Read it; you will recognize the handwriting," said the lawyer solemnly; and he took from his pocket-book the suicide's letter, which had cost poor Angel three days' hard work.

Marmaduke read it, shook his head and said: "Very sad—very sad! How am I to set about the business?"

"I propose that we catch the next train to Hardstone, and discuss the matter with Dr. Beach to-night. It is late, of course, but there is no time to lose," said Mr. Brodrick. "And I shall not feel justified in leaving the place till every possible step has been taken to avert the danger which threatens the inhabitants."

He spoke as though a horde of Bashi-bazouks was about to be let loose on that peaceful village.

"I feel bound to help you in every possible way," said Marmaduke, in a tone of veritable solemnity; and I saw that he, too, was deeply impressed by the gravity of the affair.

We had some tea with Mr. Brodrick, and caught the train to Hardstotfe. We went to the "Rose and Crown" to engage rooms and order dinner, and our welcome at that old-time inn surpassed my most sanguine expectations. We were hailed as deliverers from an imminent peril; and Mrs. Chivers, the wife of the landlord, shed tears as she said: "You can't think, Mr. Marmaduke, what a relief it is to see you and Mr. Brodrick. The suspense 'as been that orful, we none of us knew but what we might be murdered in our beds! She might break out at any moment!"

Apparently they had convinced themselves that Mrs. Jubb might waddle down and decimate the village with a hatchet.

"It's very shocking, Mrs. Chivers. We are going to take measures at once," said Marmaduke.

He went off with Mr. Brodrick to confer with Dr. Beach, and while they were gone I talked with the landlord and Mrs. Chivers. He had been butler and she parlor-maid in the service of Marmaduke's father. They were full to bubbling over of Mrs. Jubb's insanity, and they gave me the opinions of every one, of the police, the vicar, the doctor and the village on the matter. Every one had the opinion I could have wished. I learned, too, that three of the maids had already fled from the Manor-house to the village, and that each of them remembered at least a score of occasions on which Mrs. Jubb had acted like a mad woman. They were in the full flood of their talk when Marmaduke and Mr. Brodrick returned. They had found Dr. Beach out, but had left a note for him, begging him to come to us as soon as he returned.

We had a private sitting-room, and sat in it while our dinner was being cooked. Talk languished; for that peculiarly human sense of being the hub of the universe was very strong on Mr. Brodrick at the moment, and he sat in a portentous silence looking, or at any rate trying to look, a man of extraordinary power and ability dealing with the crisis of a century.

Dinner was a relief, and we had scarcely begun when Dr. Beach was announced. He was the very type of the old-time, country doctor, wearing the very air of a man whose chief reliance was on calomel and again calomel. Marmaduke invited him to join us, and he joined us with an appetite. Little was said of the business which had brought us together during the meal; at the end of it, on my suggestion, Marmaduke ordered a bottle of port, and when we had closed round it, the lawyer asked the doctor his opinion of Mrs. Jubb.

Dr. Beach shook his head solemnly, and said: "Dementia—acute dementia, I fear." And forthwith he plunged into an account of her symptoms, and of how he had for some time observed the insidious advance of the disease, and looked round in vain for some responsible person to inform of what was impending. He ended by saying, "This morning the poor lady called me a doddering old idiot."

He was the very doctor we wanted; and our murmur of sympathy was not untinged with the proper amazement.

Then Marmaduke made a point I had impressed on him. "This is very serious," he said solemnly, "very serious. The worst of it is, I don't know anything about her relations. I never heard of her having any."

"No more has any one else," said the doctor. "Have you, Brodrick?"

The lawyer shook his head.

"Is there any immediate danger?" I said. "Perhaps it would be better for Jubb to wait a few days on the chance of some relation turning up."

"The danger is immediate!" cried the doctor. "She has just had an acute attack of suicidal mania! To-morrow it may be homicidal!"

"It's very serious, indeed," said Marmaduke. "What steps do you propose I should take?"

"There can be no doubt about what you should do. She should be put under proper restraint at once," said the doctor.

"Certainly," said the lawyer.

"But am I the proper person? It's throwing a great responsibility on me," said Marmaduke anxiously.

"A great responsibility," said I.

"You're the only person to take the necessary steps. If she has any relations, we can't afford to wait till they turn up, or we can find them," said the doctor.

"Yes; you must act, Mr. Marmaduke," said the lawyer.

"Well, gentlemen, I place myself unreservedly in your hands," said Marmaduke. "I shall follow your advice implicitly. What is to be done?"

The lawyer rubbed his hands, the doctor smiled and said: "I shall send word to Dr. Sharpe—he's the best man in Winchester—to-night, and ask him to come with me and visit her to-morrow morning. We shall sign the certificate, and you will only have to send it to the Medical Superintendent of the County Asylum, and he will send for her."

"Oh, no, I shouldn't like that at all," said Marmaduke quickly. "I should prefer a good private asylum, where she will be as comfortable as possible. Of course, before she married my father she did not enjoy decent comfort, much less luxury. Still, that is what I should prefer."

"Well, after the way she's treated you, I must say that your thoughtfulness does you credit," said Mr. Brodrick, with warm approval.

"In that case," said Dr. Beach, "I will write to my old friend Mr. Glazebrook, at Barkley. His is an excellent asylum; and she would be as comfortable there as anywhere I know. What did you think of paying him?"

"Eight hundred a year," said Marmaduke.

That's very handsome—very handsome. I must say you don't bear malice. I'll write to him at once, and he'll have a carriage and attendants here before Sharpe has gone," said the doctor.

"Well, that's settled then. But if I get into trouble through taking this responsibility I shall expect you to stand by me, since I am acting on your advice," said Marmaduke.

"We'll see you through, my boy! We'll see you through! But there won't be any trouble," they said, with one voice.

We filled our glasses, and ordered another bottle of port Then the lawyer said: "With regard to the property: if you would like to leave the arrangements in my hands——"

"Of course! Of course!" said Marmaduke.

"Then I think I can arrange that you take out letters of administration and practically take the property over," said the lawyer; and he looked at me to see if I would suggest any obstacle to that course of action.

I suggested no obstacle. But I fancied that in the necessary documents there would be no insistence whatever on the fact that Marmaduke was Mrs. Jubb's stepson—indeed, to the cursory official reader of them it would probably appear that he was her son. However, this was one of those mysteries of the legal profession with which the Bar has nothing to do, unless they are presented to its notice in a brief, and I said nothing. Who was I to prevent Marmaduke from enjoying at least three years' affluence? And I could hardly expect Dr. Glazebrook to discover Mrs. Jubb's sanity earlier—if then—since the human intellect has hardly reached that high pitch of acuteness which enables it to make discoveries which cost its possessor £800 a year. Indeed, such a sum would probably persuade him to take the most favorable view of her case—most favorable, that is, from our point of view—for many years, and I could hardly believe the abominable old creature to be saner than the average woman. When I came to think of it, she was probably madder than an average hatter.

Everything having been settled, the doctor and the lawyer helped us drink the second bottle of port with a very good will, and then the doctor took his leave, and we went to bed. The next morning Marmaduke and I had nothing to do, since the doctor was doing everything for us, but we did not leave the inn, that we might be on hand to have the earliest news of what happened. About eleven we saw the Winchester doctor drive through the village, and ten minutes later he and Dr. Beach drove back through it on their way to the Manor-house. Soon after they had gone the closed carriage from the lunatic asylum came through the village to Dr. Beach's house, and returned from there to the "Rose and Crown," where it waited. Marmaduke grew fidgety, as was not unnatural; Mr. Brodrick read the morning paper with the quiet content of a man for whose holiday some one else is paying. At last the two doctors came, and were shown up to our sitting-room.

Their eyes were very bright, and their faces were still red. I gathered that they had not had a pleasant time with the lady of the Manor. Dr. Beach took up the tale, and he told us that, to use his own unprofessional phrase, Mrs. Jubb had given them a devil of a time. It seemed that she had only that morning recovered the full use of her temper after Chelubai and Bottiger's painful but fruitless attempt to remove her, and she had whetted it on them as the first convenient objects. She had taunted them with their profession, their lack of skill in it and the fulness of the graveyards in their neighborhoods. From their profession she had moved to the even more personal matter of their years, and the little use they had made of them. They had tried to turn her gibes lightly aside; but the more they humored her, the more furious she grew, till at last she had foamed at the mouth as she heaped on their devoted heads the choicest flowers of a rich vocabulary.

"She was obscene, gentlemen! I assure you, obscene!" Dr. Sharpe broke in. "I have never come across a more obvious case of acute dementia in the whole course of my professional experience—never! It is, doubtless, the result of drinking. I learn that she has been a confirmed soaker for years."

If they were satisfied, I am sure that Marmaduke and I were. I began to grow assured, indeed, in the face of the confidence of these experts, that we had done the community a service in drawing the attention of its guardians to a dangerous member and withdrawing her from its midst. At any rate, I saw the certificate signed with a serene mind—it is sad to be consigned to a lunatic asylum, but in this case inhumanity was its own reward. After all, she would live many years longer than if she had been left at large; and her character would benefit greatly by the discipline.

Then followed a discussion as to who should be present at Mrs. Jubb's removal. Marmaduke, in a spirit of not unnatural vindictiveness, was for going himself; but I dissuaded him. It seemed to me that Mr. Brodrick and Dr. Beach were the men to oversee that process; their presence would give an official sanction to it. They fell in with this view. The asylum carriage set off briskly for the Manor-house, and the doctor drove Mr. Brodrick in his carriage after it. Half an hour later Marmaduke and I strolled up to the Manor-house. At the bottom of the drive we met the asylum carriage coming away, and I caught a glimpse of the great, purple, bloated face through the window. It was not a sight to inspire me with any feeling that we were not acting for the best.

Mr. Brodrick and Dr. Beach were expecting us, and they made haste to tell us of the removal of the lady of the Manor. It seemed to have been a scene of unsurpassed verbal violence, but the skill of the attendants had prevented any unseemly struggle. I think that the doctor and lawyer had both been well fortified to bear it with equanimity—perhaps even with restrained cheerfulness—by their exceeding dislike of the good lady. We lunched, and lunched very well, since the cook had not fled, in Marmaduke's ancestral, or rather paternal, home; and for my part, I ate and drank in the peaceful and contented spirit of the successful philanthropist.