THE PENANCE OF INEZ

“What is the matter, child?” asked Mrs. Marshall, sharply.

But Ruth could not answer. She sat with the red pocket-book in her
lap, gazing upon it as though it were a viper. Aunt Inez repeated
her question impatiently then, surprised at her niece’s silence, she
crossed the garret. Her eyes fell at once on the red book, and for a
few seconds no word was spoken. Then at last Ruth made a remark, and
made it in a hushed voice, as though she feared it might be heard by
others than the frozen woman before her.

“It was not produced at the trial,” was what she said, looking at her
aunt.

Mrs. Marshall might have been a granite image for all the movement she
made. Her face was like snow, her eyes fixed as though she were in a
cataleptic state. And so she was–for the moment. Only when Ruth, who
was the first to recover herself, made a motion to rise did she shew
any signs of life. She sighed deeply and removed her eyes from the book.

“I will shew it to my father,” said the girl; whereat her aunt changed
suddenly into a creature of fire. She snatched at the pocket-book and
had it in her grasp before Ruth could close her fingers upon it.

“You will shew it to no one,” she said, thrusting it into her pocket.
“I forbid you to say a word.”

“Tell me how it came to be here, and I will consider if it is right for
me to be silent.”

“I will explain nothing. Girl, what demon brought you here and shewed
you that book? I came up here to look for it; I have been searching
for over an hour. You came in and found it in a few minutes. It is
fate–fate.”

“Aunt Inez,” Ruth drew back until she was standing up against the wall,
“you–oh, no!–you did not–did not–kill the man!”

Mrs. Marshall shrugged her shoulders, her colour and her courage coming
back to her almost as she spoke. “You are at liberty to think so if you
like. I will not contradict you. No, indeed. I have other things to do.”

“Will you contradict my father?”

“I forbid you to tell your father of this.”

“I must! I will know the truth of this matter. There is an innocent
woman in gaol for—-”

“An innocent woman!” interrupted her aunt, with contempt. “Oh, yes,
very innocent!” She paused and looked at Ruth. “Come downstairs,” she
said. “As you have found what I wanted, we need not remain here.”

“You knew that this book was hidden here?”

“Yes; I have known it for years.”

“Why did you not produce it at the trial?”

“That is my business.”

“How did it come into your possession?”

“Ah! that I refuse to tell you. Think me guilty if you like. It is
evident you want to smirch our family name. But I have had enough of
this nonsense. You must hold your tongue.”

“To all persons save my father. I must tell him, and I will.”

“I forbid you.”

“It is no use your forbidding me. I tell my father. He has the honour
of the family quite as at heart as you have; and he is the man to
decide what should be done.”

“You will tell?”

“Yes; I am going straight home to tell all.”

The eyes of the two women met, and for a moment there was a duel of
wills. Then Ruth, with her more youthful fire, got the upper hand; her
aunt turned away.

“You are bringing me into great danger,” she said; “but have it your
own way. Tell your father.”

“Aunt! You did not kill the man?”

“Think so if you like.”

Mrs. Marshall passed out of the garret. Ruth remained a moment
to recover her self-control which had been sorely shaken by this
extraordinary conversation. Then she also went down the stairs to the
inhabited portion of the house. Mrs. Marshall was not to be seen; and
on inquiring of the servant, Ruth learnt that she had locked herself
in her bedroom and refused to see anyone. In this dilemma there was
nothing left for the girl but to go home, which she proceeded to do
feeling sick at heart.

On the way to Hollyoaks a sudden thought struck her. Suppose her
aunt were guilty–suppose she had shut herself in her room to commit
suicide! If she had not been almost at the gates of the park when this
occurred to her she would have run back. But the best thing she could
do now was to see her father and implore him to go to Aunt Inez at
once. She felt there was no time to be lost, and ran up the avenue as
quickly as she could. The window of the library which opened on to the
terrace was ajar, so taking this as a short cut she ran up the steps on
to the terrace and flung herself into the room with a white and haggard
face.

“Ruth! What is the matter? Ruth!” cried Mr. Cass, and sprang forward
just in time to catch her in his arms. For a minute or so she could not
speak, but when speech did come the words poured out in a torrent.

“Aunt Inez,” she cried. “I went to see her. She was in the garret;
there I found the red pocket-book–Jenner’s book–which was stolen! She
will not say if she killed him; yet she knew that the book was in the
garret. Oh, see her at once, father–at once! She has locked herself
in her bedroom. I believe that she will kill herself!” and the excited
girl burst into tears of exhaustion and terror.

Mr. Cass said nothing, but put her into a chair. Indeed, he did not
know what to say, or even what to think, for he felt completely
stunned. He had suspected Marshall, but never Inez. Even now he did not
believe that she could ever have brought herself to commit such a crime.

“Go! Go!” cried Ruth, wringing her hands. “Aunt Inez–you may be too
late! She will kill herself, I know she will!”

“No fear of that,” said her father, recovering himself somewhat. “She
is not the woman to give up the fight in that way, Inez. No, she never
killed that beast–never!”

“But, father, the red pocket-book—-”

“She will be able to explain how she came by it. She has a temper, and
is fierce enough when she is roused; but she would not go so far as
that. As to committing suicide, she has no reason for doing that, if
she is innocent.”

“I hope she is. Oh, I hope she is” wailed Ruth, distracted with terror.

Her father saw that the girl was thoroughly overwrought. In her present
state of mind everything would be exaggerated. He intended to go at
once and learn the truth from his sister, but he could not leave Ruth
in this plight. Before he went he must soothe her. So, pulling himself
together–no easy task, at his age, for he had received a severe
shock–he sat down beside the terrified girl and took her hand firmly
in his own. “See here, child,” he said, “however that book got into
Marshall’s hands your aunt had nothing to do with it. She did not–she
could not have killed Jenner. I know it because she was in this house
on the night and at the time of the murder.”

“Then if she is innocent why didn’t she tell me so?”

“Well, you know what she is. No doubt she was angry to think you
should conceive her capable of such a crime. She will tell me all she
knows, if she has any knowledge, which I am inclined to doubt. But I
want you to understand, Ruth, that your aunt is innocent, and that her
innocence can be proved by me. Under these circumstances, she will not
commit suicide, as you appear to think. I will go over and see her at
once, and I shall doubtless have a reassuring report to give you when
I return. But you must promise not to worry while I am away; and above
all things, Ruth, do not tell anyone of this. There may be trouble.”

“I will say nothing–nothing,” panted the girl, pressing her hands
against her beating heart. “And, indeed, father, I did not meddle with
the matter again. The discovery was thrust upon me. You can trust me,
indeed you can.”

“And you will not make yourself ill with expecting the worst?”

“No, no; I promise I will go to my room and lie down.”

“That’s a good girl; and I will walk over at once.”

“Ride–ride! You don’t know what may happen.”

“Nothing bad, at all events. Yes, I will ride. Now go to your room,
dear, and leave me to attend to this.”

“Yes, father,” she said, faintly. She had the utmost belief in his
capability of arranging the situation. “But kiss me before you go. I
am–I am rather frightened.”

“Believe me, there is no need for that,” said Mr. Cass, with an attempt
at a smile. “There is your kiss, now go.”

Mr. Cass reviewed the whole situation as he rode over to his sister’s
house. He reflected that Marshall must have told his wife about the
bill, for that and the book were, so to speak, inseparable.

“In a word,” thought Mr. Cass, as he dismounted at the door and gave
his horse to a groom, “Marshall did not kill the man himself, but he
knows who did. But I’ll make Inez tell truth in some way. This is no
time to consider her feelings.”

Following the servant, he went into the stone-coloured drawing-room,
and found his sister waiting to receive him. She was dressed in black,
without a scrap of white to relieve her funereal aspect.

“I did not expect you to come so soon, Sebastian,” she said, in her
rich, low voice. “But I knew you would come sooner or later.”

“I could hardly help coming after what Ruth told me.” Her brother was
surprised at her composure.

“What did she tell you?”

“That the red pocket-book belonging to Jenner had been found by her in
this house.”

“To be particular, the garret,” said Mrs. Marshall, pointing to the
table. “There it is.”

He looked at it with repugnance, and touched it gingerly. Then he
opened it, glanced at the name, and laid it down with a sigh. There was
no doubt it had been Jenner’s property, the name was clear enough. “How
did it come into your possession?” he asked, sharply.

“That is not an easy question for me to answer.”

“Yet it can be answered, and must be, answered.”

“How do you know that I will comply with your ‘must’?” she asked, with
scorn.

“Oh, I know you are hard to drive, but in this case you must speak out.
I have the means to make you, that is if you have any regard for your
husband.”

“You know how I love him, little as he deserves it. You are talking
of the bill. Oh, don’t look so astonished. Frank told me of his
conversation with you. It was by my advice that he went away.”

“Inez, is it possible you can love so base a creature?”

Mrs. Marshall sighed. “To you, Sebastian, I will say things I would not
say to any other person. Little as we love one another, still we are
brother and sister. I know you would do much for me.”

“I would do anything for you, Inez; blood is stronger than water, after
all. And you can speak freely to me, your honour is my honour. I can
hold my tongue. Speak out freely,” he repeated.

“I will,” she said, and gave him the kindest look that had been in her
eyes for many a long year.

“You know how madly in love I was with Frank when I married him. It was
not love, it was infatuation I believed him to be the most perfect and
the most misunderstood man in the whole world. I blamed you for getting
him out of the business, and I thought to repair your wrong by marrying
him. Well, I did; and then what happened?”

“I can guess. The scales fell from your eyes.”

“They did, within six months. For even then he deceived me. Yes, after
all I had done for him. I had made him rich. I had–but that comes
later on in the story. Suffice it to say, that I soon found out that I
had married a faithless brute.”

“Why did you not get rid of him? I would have helped you.”

She cast a look around the dismal room and smiled strangely. “Because I
had committed a sin. I came to look upon Frank as the cross laid upon
me for the expiation of that sin.”

“Good Heavens, Inez! You don’t mean to say you killed Jenner? No! What
nonsense am I talking? You were in bed on that night.”

“I did not kill Jenner,” she said, calmly. “Nevertheless I had
committed a sin; you shall hear all in good time. Well, I took Frank
as my cross, and put up all these years with his infidelities, and
drunkenness, and wickedness. I behaved to him as though I still loved
him. I have deceived everyone.”

“You certainly deceived me for one,” said Mr. Cass, bluntly. “I thought
you still loved the creature.”

“Loved him! Why, I hated him with all my soul. It was only my religious
principles, and my desire to expiate my sin, that made me tolerate him.”

“In Heaven’s name, what is your sin?”

“I’ll tell you soon enough,” she said. “But do not be afraid. I have
not dipped my hands in blood. Let me tell my story in my own way. It is
not easy for me to tell it at all. I only do so now in order to avert,
worse trouble.”

Knowing her obstinacy, her brother saw that it was useless to protest.
“Go on,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Have your own way.”

“I often wish we had kept to our mother’s faith,” continued Mrs.
Marshall. “She was of the true Church, and Catholicism is such a
comforting religion. One has a confessor; that would have done me good.
I have often longed to confess and relieve my mind.”

“Why did you not confess to me?”

“I had no reason for making you my confidant, Sebastian,” she said,
icily. “Well, I was of the Protestant faith, and could not confess, so
I had to bear my own sorrow as best I could. Frank tried me at times
with his dreadful ways, but I had a whip to manage him.”

“What was the whip?” asked Mr. Cass, struck by the fact that she used
almost the same phrase that he had used to her husband.

“I will tell you shortly; but I mortified my flesh in every way. Look
at this house. You know how I love pretty things, and yet I spend my
life in the midst of these horrors. I am fond of—-”

“See here, Inez,” broke in her brother, “I want I to know about this
pocket-book. You can tell me your feelings later.”

Sebastian’s abrupt interruption of his sister’s enthusiastic confession
was as a douche of cold water on glowing iron. The iron forthwith
cooled; that is to say, Mrs. Marshall, from flesh and blood, became
stone again.

“Of course I will tell you all you wish to know,” she said, in even
tones, with about as much feeling as might have been expected from a
cuckoo. “But since you will not let me tell my story in my own way, I
think it is best that you should put your own questions, then I shall
know precisely what you do want.”

“Don’t be angry!” entreated her brother; “but tell me all for the sake
of the family. Where did you learn that Frank had committed forgery?”

“At the Waggoner’s Pond.”

Mr. Cass started from his seat and stared down at his sister in
surprise. He remembered what Marshall had told him about that
appointment at the Waggoner’s Pond. “What!” he cried. “Were you out
on the night of the murder? Did you overhear the conversation between
Marshall and Jenner?”

“Oh, it was Jenner, was it?” she said, quite composedly. “Well, I
guessed as much, though I could never be quite sure.”

“Didn’t your husband tell you that he had met him by the Waggoner’s
Pond?”

She looked up with scorn and contempt.

“Frank never told me anything but what was wrung out of him by fear.
Besides, we did not speak of these things. Like him, I preferred to let
sleeping dogs lie.”

Her brother had taken his seat again, and, deep in thought, paid little
attention to what she was saying. “I thought you were in bed on that
night with a headache?”

“A woman’s excuse,” she said, coolly. “I had no headache; but I had
a very keen desire to find out why Frank had an appointment on that
night, and with whom. I suspected another woman–you can guess her
name.”

“Mrs. Jenner? Ah, but he did not go out to meet her!” cried Mr. Cass,
impatiently. “He had an appointment with her husband.”

“I found that out later. But I heard him asking one of the servants
where the Waggoner’s Pond was, and if he could find it in the dark. I
knew then that he intended to go there that night for some purpose.
The name of Mrs. Jenner was not mentioned; but as she was in the
neighbourhood–well, you know what a woman’s feelings are!”

“You jumped to conclusions?”

“Yes; they were wrong, but that did not matter. At all events, I was
satisfied that he did not meet the woman. I slipped out of a side
door unknown to everyone; my headache was a pretext that I might
be at the meeting-place. Had he done so, I would have broken off
the engagement–yes, much as I loved him, or rather, much as I was
infatuated–I would have broken it off at the eleventh hour had he put
such an insult on me!”

“And yet you married him?”

“Oh, what is the use of that parrot-cry?” she said, impatiently. “You
have already said that five or six times.”

“Because I am so amazed that your pride did not come to your aid when
you knew the use to which he intended to put your money. To him you
were not the woman he loved–but the banker upon whom he intended to
draw.”

“And yet I married him,” she said, with a cold smile. “Women are
strange creatures, I confess. Yet you always considered me proud. See
how mistaken you were! I had more weakness than you thought me capable
of possessing. I was wildly–madly in love with him. At all events, I
intended to marry him, and what is more, I intended to get back that
incriminating bill from Jenner without the expenditure of a penny. I
saw that he had replaced it in his red pocket-book; well, I made up my
mind that I would get that pocket-book.”

“Yet you never guessed the man was Jenner!” remarked her brother,
ironically.

“I was suspicious, but not certain. However, I did not go after Jenner
at once, for I knew where to find him. I wanted Frank to be out of the
way before I left my hiding-place–I was behind a hedge–and not alone.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Mr. Cass, startled.

“I mean what I say. Several times, while I was crouching in the wet
grass, I heard the breathing of someone no great distance off. Well, I
found that other person.”

“When–some time afterwards?”

“On the contrary, the person threw himself in my way within
half-an-hour after I was on my way to the Turnpike House.”

“Wait a moment!” cried Mr. Cass, with suppressed excitement. “I know who
it was–the gypsy, Job.”

“Ah!” replied Mrs. Marshall, without betraying much surprise. “Ruth
told you something!”

“Geoffrey did: Ruth had told him.”

Mrs. Marshall rose with a bound. “And pray what has Mr. Heron to do
with this matter?”

“A good deal,” rejoined her brother, drily. “You may as well sit down,
Inez. Geoffrey is perfectly discreet. He is going to marry Ruth, you
know: it will be as much to his interest as mine to keep this affair
secret. Well, so you met this gypsy blackguard?”

“Yes, half-way on the road to the Turnpike House. In spite of the
darkness and the mist, he knew me in a moment–instinct, I suppose.”

“How could he have met you? Had you met him before?”

“Lots of times. I knew the Romany dialect, and used to talk to Job.”

“I realty wonder at you, Inez, taking up with such scum! As for Ruth,
I’ll talk to her! She shall have nothing more to do with him.”

“Oh, as to that,” remarked his sister, shrugging her shoulders, “the
creature is dying; he is consumptive, and is drinking himself to
death. I have placed him in the Turnpike House–without Mr. Heron’s
permission, by the way–and I allow him a small sum a week so that he
may die in peace.”

“So that you may keep your secret, you mean.”

“It will soon be a secret no longer. Job, as I say, knew me. He told me
that he had been sleeping behind the hedge–near me, I suppose–and had
been aroused by the sound of voices. He recognised Frank’s voice, for
he had often spoken to him; but Jenner he did not know, any more than I
did.”

“Naturally. Jenner was a comparative stranger in these parts. Go on.”

“Well, Job had heard all about, the red pocket-book and the bill. I saw
in a twinkling that here was the instrument I required; I promised him
twenty pounds if he would get me that red pocket-book.”

“Inez! Did you send the man to murder Jenner?”

“No, I did not. I never thought he would goo so far as that. And, as a
matter of fact. Job has always denied to me that he struck the blow.”

“He certainly would tell you that to save his neck!”

“Well, after I had made this arrangement with him and had told him that
Jenner was at the Turnpike House, I returned home. I entered by the
side door and slipped up to my room without anyone being the wiser.”

“I certainly was not,” said her brother. “You are quite a diplomatist,
Inez. What about Job’s murdering mission?”

“He did not commit the murder,” insisted Mrs. Marshall. “He came next
day and brought me the pocket-book. I opened it, but could not find the
bill; then I accused Job of having taken it. He grinned, but would say
nothing. You understand, Sebastian, he had not got the bill; but he
wanted to have me in his power.”

“I see; but you could have turned the tables on him by having him
arrested for the crime.”

“No, he knew of the bill–of Frank’s disgrace. I thought, if he were
arrested, he would tell all, which he certainly would have done; then
Frank would have been prosecuted. Remember, I thought Job had the bill!
All these years I have believed he had it in his possession; you do not
know the blackmail I have paid that man! He was always worrying me for
money. At last, seeing he was ill, I put him into the Turnpike House,
and–well, I have told you all that. But now you know why I assisted
him.”

“Assisted a murderer?”

“Job denied that he had killed the man.”

“Then how did he get the pocket-book?”

“He said that he had met Jenner before he got to the Turnpike House,
and robbed him of the book.”

“That is a lie!” cried Mr. Cass; “and a feeble lie to boot. Jenner had
the book when he was in that room–before he was killed Mrs. Jenner
said that the book was on the table near the window; and my own opinion
is that the blow must have been struck through the window and the book
stolen.”

“But why believe Mrs. Jenner more than Job?”

“I will tell you all. The bill was in the pocket-book; you yourself
saw Jenner put it there. Well, he thought Marshall might steal that
bill, so he sewed it up in the body of a toy horse with which his child
was playing. Neil kept the horse, and a short time ago he sent it to
George, who cut the animal open. The bill was found, and is now in
my possession. So, you see, Job could not have taken the pocket-book
which contained the bill before Jenner got to the house. He must have
murdered the man and stolen the book after the bill had been placed
inside the horse.

“But nothing of all this came out at the trial.”

“No one knew anything about it–least of all Mrs. Jenner. But now you
are satisfied that Job committed that murder?”

“I suppose so; it looks like it. Oh, the wretch, to let me think all
these years that he had the bill, and that he was innocent of killing
the man!”

“Had you no suspicion of his guilt?”

She thought for a moment. “I confess I had,” she said, after a pause,
“but, you see, I had to put all such suspicions behind my back. If I
had denounced Job, I thought he would have produced the bill and ruined
Frank.”

“I see. Well, here is the bill. No one knows of it but Heron, and he
will say nothing. I thought of keeping it as a useful whip for your
husband, should he treat you cruelly. But now that I find you do not
care for him, I think it had better be destroyed.”

“No,” she said, putting it into her pocket, “I will keep it, to hold
over Frank myself. I hate him, and would gladly divorce him–which I
could easily do. But I am as proud of the family name as you are, and
I do not want a scandal. So I shall not separate from him; but now I
shall know how to make him behave himself.” She tapped her pocket with
a grim smile.

“Did you ever speak to him about the red pocket-book?”

“No, he never knew I had it. I put it away, and afterwards sent it up
to the garret, where I thought it would be safe. Hardly anyone ever
goes there but myself. Besides, if I had told Frank, he would have
worried Job about giving him the bill, and Heaven only knows what would
have happened then. No, I was wrong, I suppose, but I acted for the
best. When Frank told me that he had seen you, and that the bill was
in your possession, I went up to the garret, intending to find the
pocket-book and destroy it. Then I was foolish enough to ask Ruth; she
found it by chance–and–well, you know the rest.”

“Yes, I know the rest,” said Mr. Cass, grimly; “and, among other
things. I know that Job Lovell killed Jenner, and that the dead man’s
unhappy wife has been punished all these years. Inez, I know you always
hated her, but would you have let her lose her life?”

“No; if she had been in danger of that, I would have come forward and
told all I knew, even at the cost of disgrace; I would not have had
the blood of a fellow-creature on my soul. But, to tell you the truth,
Sebastian, as Mrs. Jenner did not defend herself, I really believed she
was guilty, and Job innocent. He confessed to having robbed Jenner; she
would say nothing; so of the two, I thought Job the innocent one. Can
you blame me?”

“Partly. I blame you for not having told me this long ago. I always
suspected your husband. Now I know that he is innocent; and I should
have known it all along, seeing that he was in the house–in my
house–when the crime was committed. If you had spoken out, I would
have managed to get Mrs. Jenner off in some way without exposing the
whole of this dreadful story. Job should be punished.”

“Think what that would mean to us all,” said his sister, warningly.

“I will contrive to evade the worst. But I must have that poor woman
released!”