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11

I prayed for guidance that night, but no word of help or comfort came to me; I was entirely deserted and abandoned to my own indecision. I was not so blind as to forget that Thurloe undoubtedly had his own reasons for intervening, but I did not know what these might be. Certainly, he would not avoid deceiving me if he felt it necessary. He had few powers left, and I fully expected him to use those that remained.

At the very least, I felt I should keep open all possible courses, and a few days later I spoke to the magistrate who immediately placed Sarah Blundy under arrest. As she had already been questioned it was natural that she would be afraid and I did not wish anything to be rendered impossible by her precipitate flight. Had she run, she knew more than enough people to give her refuge, and I would have had little chance of ever finding her again.

By that stage Cola had gone on his medical tour with Lower. I was furious when I heard of this and immediately feared that his expedition might be the culminating point of his conspiracy, but Mr. Boyle reassured me when he informed me in a letter from London that the Lord Chancellor did not intend to leave for his country estate for another few weeks. My nightmare of an imminent ambush on the London road, the coaches ravaged and all blamed on old soldiers turned highwaymen, ebbed away from me, as I realized that Cola must bemerely filling in idle time as he waited. Perhaps, indeed, Thurloe was right, and Cola was in England only for employment if a more peaceable attempt to unseat Clarendon failed.

Moreover, I was glad of the breathing space the knowledge gave me, for I had momentous decisions to make and was about to embark on a course which would either bring me to ruin, or would pull down one of the great men in the landthis is not something anyone does with a light heart.

So in that peaceful week in which Cola traveled the countryside (I understand that his account is again accurate in some details, for Lower told me that he labored with diligence among his patients) I considered all the possibilities which lay before me, went over all the evidence indicating my conclusions about the dangers this man Cola posed were correct. And I could see no fault in them, and defy anyone else to doubt them eitherno innocent ever acted in such a guilty fashion. Apart from that, I renewed my assault on Sarah Blundy, for I thought that if I could persuade her to say what interest Cola had in her family, then I might spare myself from the humiliation of having to give in to the wishes of a half-crazed adolescent like Jack Prestcott.

She was brought to me in a small room normally occupied by the castle warden. Incarceration had done little for her appearance and, as I swiftly discovered, had in no way eroded her insolence.

I trust you have meditated on the matters we talked of before. I am in a position to help you, if you will only allow me to do so.

I did not kill Dr. Grove.

I know that. But many people think you did, and you will die unless I help you.

If you know I am innocent, then surely you must help me anyway? You are a man of God.

Perhaps that is true. But you are a loyal subject of His Majesty, yet you refused to help me when I asked you for only the slightest assistance.

I did not refuse. I knew nothing that you wanted to hear.

For someone who may shortly be hanged you seem remarkably reluctant to avert that terrible fate.

If it is Gods will that I should die, then I will do so willingly. If it is not, then I shall be spared.

God expects us to labor on our own behalf. Listen, girl. What I ask is not so dreadful. You have become involved, no doubt innocently, in the most fiendish scheme imaginable. If you assist me you will not only go free, you will be rewarded well.

What scheme?

I certainly do not intend to tell you.

She fell silent.

You said, I prompted, that your benefactor, Mr. Cola, talked on occasion with your mother. What did they talk about? What did he ask? You said you would find out.

She is too sick to be asked. All she has told me is that Mr. Cola always showed her the greatest courtesy, and listened with great patience whenever she felt like talking. He said little himself.

I shook my head in exasperation. Listen, you stupid girl, I all but shouted at her. This man is here to commit a horrendous crime. The first thing he did when he got here was contact you. If you are not helping him, what was the purpose of that?

I do not know. All I know is that my mother is sick, and he has helped her. No one else offered, and without his generosity she would be dead. More than that I do not know, or care to know.

She looked at me straight in the eyes as she continued. You say he is a criminal. No doubt you have good reason for that. But I have never seen or heard him behave in any way except with the utmost civility, more, perhaps, than I properly deserve. Criminal or papist, that is how I judge him.

I state here that I wished to save her, if I could, if she would only allow me to do so. With all my heart I willed her to break, and say everything she knew. With good fortune she would make Prestcotts testimony unnecessary, and I could then refuse his bargain. I pressed again and again, far longer than I would have done with anyone else, but she would not give way.

You were not in New College that evening, nor were you at home tending your mother. You were running errands for Cola. Tell me where you were and who you spoke to. Tell me what other errands you have run for him in Abing-don and Bicester and Burford. That you will counter the evidence against you, and win my help at one and the same time.

She lifted her head to me, defiant once more.

There is nothing I know that can help you in any way. I do not know why Mr. Cola is here; if he was not motivated by Christian charity I do not know why he is helping my mother.

You have been carrying messages for him.

I have not.

You were carrying one for him on the night Grove died.

I was not.

Where were you then? I have established you were not tending your mother as your duty required.

I will not tell you. But as God is my witness, I have done nothing ill.

God is not testifying at your trial, I said, and sent her back to her cell. I was in a black humor. I knew at that moment that I would trade with Prestcott. May the Lord forgive me, I had given the girl every opportunity of saving herself, but she threw her own life away.



* * * | An Instance of the Fingerpost | * * *







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