Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Alarm.

Forester would willingly have sat up all night with M. Pasgrave, to foment his ankle from time to time, and, if possible, to assuage the pain: but the man would not suffer him to sit up, and about twelve o’clock he retired to rest. He had scarcely fallen asleep, when his door opened, and Archibald Mackenzie roused him, by demanding, in a peremptory tone, how he could sleep when the whole family were frightened out of their wits by his pranks?

“Is the dancing-master worse? What’s the matter?” exclaimed Forester in great terror.

Archihald replied, that he was not talking or thinking about the dancing-master, and desired Forester to make haste and dress himself, and that he would then soon hear what was the matter.

Forester dressed himself as fast as he could, and followed Archibald through a long passage, which led to a back staircase. “Do you hear the noise?” said Archibald.

“Not I,” said Forester.

“Well, you’ll hear it plain enough presently,” said Archibald: “follow me down-stairs.”

He followed, and was surprised, when he got into the hall, to find all the family assembled. Lady Catherine had been awakened by a noise, which she at first imagined to be the screaming of an infant. Her bedchamber was on the ground floor, and adjoining to Dr. Campbell’s laboratory, from which the noise seemed to proceed. She awakened her son Archibald and Mrs. Campbell; and, when she recovered her senses a little, she listened to Dr. Campbell, who assured her, that what her ladyship thought was the screaming of an infant was the noise of a cat: the screams of this cat were terrible; and, when the light approached the door of the laboratory, the animal flew at the door with so much fury, that nobody could venture to open it. Every body looked at Forester, as if they suspected that he had confined the cat, or that he was in some way or other the cause of the disturbance. The cat, which, from his having constantly fed and played with it, had grown extremely fond of him, used to follow him often from room to room; and he now recollected, that it followed him the preceding evening into the laboratory, when he went to replace the skeleton. He had not observed whether it came out of the room again, nor could he now conceive the cause of its yelling in this horrible manner. The animal seemed to be mad with pain. Dr. Campbell asked his son whether all the presses were locked. Henry said he was sure they were all locked. It was his business to lock them every evening; and he was so exact, that nobody doubted his accuracy.

Archibald Mackenzie, who all this time knew, or at least suspected the truth, held himself in cunning silence. The preceding evening he, for want of something to do, had strolled into the laboratory, and, with the pure curiosity of idleness, peeped into the presses, and took the stoppers out of several of the bottles. Dr. Campbell happened to come in, and carelessly asked him if he had been looking in the presses; to which question Archibald, though with scarcely any motive for telling a falsehood, immediately replied in the negative. As the doctor turned his head, Archibald put aside a bottle, which he had just before taken out of the press; and, fearing that the noise of replacing the glass stopper would betray him, he slipped it into his waistcoat pocket. How much useless cunning! All this transaction was now fully present to Archibald’s memory: and he was well convinced that Henry had not seen the bottle when he afterwards went to lock the presses; that the cat had thrown it down; and that this was the cause of all the yelling that disturbed the house. Archibald, however, kept his lips fast closed; he had told one falsehood; he dreaded to have it discovered; and he hoped the blame of the whole affair would rest upon Forester. At length the animal flew with diminished fury at the door; its screams became feebler and feebler, till, at last, they totally ceased. There was silence: Dr. Campbell opened the door: the cat was seen stretched upon the ground, apparently lifeless. As Forester looked nearer at the poor animal, he saw a twitching motion in one of its hind legs; Dr. Campbell said, that it was the convulsion of death. Forester was just going to lift up his cat, when his friend Henry stopped his hand, telling him, that he would burn himself, if he touched it. The hair and flesh of the cat on one side were burnt away, quite to the bone. Henry pointed to the broken bottle, which, he said, had contained vitriolic acid.

Henry in vain attempted to discover by whom the bottle of vitriolic acid had been taken out of its place. Suspicion naturally fell upon Forester, who, by his own account, was the last person in the room before the presses had been locked for the night. Forester, in warm terms, asserted, that he knew nothing of the matter. Dr. Campbell coolly observed, that Forester ought not to be surprised at being suspected upon this occasion; because every body had the greatest reason to suspect the person, whom they had detected in one practical joke, of planning another.

“Joke!” said Forester, looking down upon his lifeless favourite; “do you think me capable of such cruelty? Do you doubt my truth?” exclaimed Forester, haughtily. “You are unjust. Turn me out of your house this instant. I do not desire your protection, if I have forfeited your esteem.”

“Go to bed for to-night in my house,” said Dr. Campbell; “moderate your enthusiasm, and reflect coolly upon what has passed.”

Dr. Campbell, as Forester indignantly withdrew, said, with a benevolent smile, as he looked after him, “He wants nothing but a little common sense. Henry, you must give him a little of yours.”

In the morning, Forester first went to inquire how the dancing-master had slept, and then knocked impatiently at Dr. Campbell’s door.

“My father is not awake,” said Henry; but Forester marched directly up to the side of the bed, and, drawing back the curtain with no gentle hand, cried, with a loud voice, “Dr. Campbell, I am come to beg your pardon. I was angry when I said you were unjust.”

“And I was asleep when you begged my pardon,” said Dr. Campbell, rubbing his eyes.

“The dancing-master’s ankle is a great deal better; and I have buried the poor cat,” pursued Forester: “and I hope now, doctor, you’ll at least tell me, that you do not really suspect me of any hand in her death.”

“Pray let me go to sleep,” said Dr. Campbell, “and time your explanations a little better.”

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44