Life had gone on during the winter at St Diddulph’s Parsonage in a dull, weary, painful manner. There had come a letter in November from Trevelyan to his wife, saying that as he could trust neither her nor her uncle with the custody of his child, he should send a person armed with due legal authority, addressed to Mr Outhouse, for the recovery of the boy, and desiring that little Louis might be at once surrendered to the messenger. Then of course there had arisen great trouble in the house. Both Mrs Trevelyan and Nora Rowley had learned by this time that, as regarded the master of the house, they were not welcome guests at St Diddulph’s. When the threat was shewn to Mr Outhouse, he did not say a word to indicate that the child should be given up. He muttered something, indeed, about impotent nonsense, which seemed to imply that the threat could be of no avail; but there was none of that reassurance to be obtained from him which a positive promise on his part to hold the bairn against all corners would have given. Mrs Outhouse told her niece more than once that the child would be given to no messenger whatever; but even she did not give the assurance with that energy which the mother would have liked. ‘They shall drag him away from me by force if they do take him!’ said the mother, gnashing her teeth. Oh, if her father would but come! For some weeks she did not let the boy out of her sight; but when no messenger had presented himself by Christmas time, they all began to believe that the threat had in truth meant nothing, that it had been part of the ravings of a madman.
But the threat had meant something. Early on one morning in January Mr Outhouse was told that a person in the hall wanted to see him, and Mrs Trevelyan, who was sitting at breakfast, the child being at the moment upstairs, started from her seat. The maid described the man as being ‘All as one as a gentleman,’ though she would not go so far as to say that he was a gentleman in fact. Mr Outhouse slowly rose from his breakfast, went out to the man in the passage, and bade him follow into the little closet that was now used as a study. It is needless perhaps to say that the man was Bozzle.
‘I dare say, Mr Houthouse, you don’t know me,’ said Bozzle. Mr Outhouse, disdaining all complimentary language, said that he certainly did not. ‘My name, Mr Houthouse, is Samuel Bozzle, and I live at No. 55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough. I was in the Force once, but I work on my own ‘ook now.’
‘What do you want with me, Mr Bozzle?’
‘It isn’t so much with you, sir, as it is with a lady as is under your protection; and it isn’t so much with the lady as it is with her infant.’
‘Then you may go away, Mr Bozzle,’ said Mr Outhouse, impatiently. ‘You may as well go away at once.’
‘Will you please read them few lines, sir,’ said Mr Bozzle. ‘They is in Mr Trewilyan’s handwriting, which will no doubt be familiar characters leastways to Mrs T., if you don’t know the gent’s fist.’ Mr Outhouse, after looking at the paper for a minute, and considering deeply what in this emergency he had better do, did take the paper and read it. The words ran as follows: ‘I hereby give full authority to Mr Samuel Bozzle, of 55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough, to claim and to enforce possession of the body of my child, Louis Trevelyan; and I require that any person whatsoever who may now have the custody of the said child, whether it be my wife or any of her friends, shall at once deliver him up to Mr Bozzle on the production of this authority, LOUIS TREVELYAN.’ It may be explained that before this document had been written there had been much correspondence on the subject between Bozzle and his employer. To give the ex-policeman his due, he had not at first wished to meddle in the matter of the child. He had a wife at home who expressed an opinion with much vigour that the boy should be left with its mother, and that he, Bozzle, should he succeed in getting hold of the child, would not know what to do with it. Bozzle was aware, moreover, that it was his business to find out facts, and not to perform actions. But his employer had become very urgent with him. Mr Bideawhile had positively refused to move in the matter; and Trevelyan, mad as he was, had felt a disinclination to throw his affairs into the hands of a certain Mr Skint, of Stamford Street, whom Bozzle had recommended to him as a lawyer. Trevelyan had hinted, moreover, that if Bozzle would make the application in person, that application, if not obeyed, would act with usefulness as a preliminary step for further personal measures to be taken by himself. He intended to return to England for the purpose, but he desired that the order for the child’s rendition should be made at once. Therefore Bozzle had come. He was an earnest man, and had now worked himself up to a certain degree of energy in the matter. He was a man loving power, and specially anxious to enforce obedience from those with whom he came in contact by the production of the law’s mysterious authority. In his heart he was ever tapping people on the shoulder, and telling them that they were wanted. Thus, when he displayed his document to Mr Outhouse, he had taught himself at least to desire that that document should be obeyed.
Mr Outhouse read the paper and turned up his nose at it. ‘You had better go away,’ said he, as he thrust it back into Bozzle’s hand.
‘Of course I shall go away when I have the child.’
‘Psha!’ said Mr Outhouse.
‘What does that mean, Mr Houthouse? I presume you’ll not dispute the paternal parent’s legal authority?’
‘Go away, sir,’ said Mr Outhouse.
‘Yes out of this house. It’s my belief that you’re a knave.’
‘A knave, Mr Houthouse?’
‘Yes a knave. No one who was not a knave would lend a hand towards separating a little child from its mother. I think you are a knave, but I don’t think you are fool enough to suppose that the child will he given up to you.’
‘It’s my belief that knave is hactionable,’ said Bozzle whose respect, however, for the clergyman was rising fast. ‘Would you mind ringing the bell, Mr Houthouse, and calling me a knave again before the young woman?’
‘Go away,’ said Mr Outhouse.
‘If you have no objection, sir, I should be glad to see the lady before I goes.’
‘You won’t see any lady here; and if you don’t get out of my house when I tell you, I’ll send for a real policeman.’ Then was Bozzle conquered; and, as he went, he admitted to himself that he had sinned against all the rules of his life in attempting to go beyond the legitimate line of his profession. As long as he confined himself to the getting up of facts nobody could threaten him with ‘a real policeman.’ But one fact he had learned today. The clergyman of St Diddulph’s, who had been represented to him as a weak, foolish man, was anything but that. Bozzle was much impressed in favour of Mr Outhouse, and would have been glad to have done that gentleman a kindness had an opportunity come in his way.
‘What does he want, Uncle Oliphant?’ said Mrs Trevelyan at the foot of the stairs, guarding the way up to the nursery. At this moment the front door had just been closed behind the back of Mr Bozzle.
‘You had better ask no questions,’ said Mr Outhouse.
‘But is it about Louis?’
‘Yes, he came about him.’
‘Well? Of course you must tell me, Uncle Oliphant. Think of my condition.’
‘He had some stupid paper in his hand from your husband, but it meant nothing.’
‘He was the messenger, then?’
‘Yes, he was the messenger. But I don’t suppose he expected to get anything. Never mind. Go up and look after the child.’ Then Mrs Trevelyan returned to her boy, and Mr Outhouse went back to his papers.
It was very hard upon him, Mr Outhouse thought, very hard. He was threatened with an action now, and most probably would become subject to one. Though he had been spirited enough in presence of the enemy, he was very much out of spirits at this moment. Though he had admitted to himself that his duty required him to protect his wife’s niece, he had never taken the poor woman to his heart with a loving, generous feeling of true guardianship. Though he would not give up the child to Bozzle, he thoroughly wished that the child was out of his house. Though he called Bozzle a knave and Trevelyan a madman, still he considered that Colonel Osborne was the chief sinner, and that Emily Trevelyan had behaved badly. He constantly repeated to himself the old adage, that there was no smoke without fire; and lamented the misfortune that had brought him into close relation with things and people that were so little to his taste. He sat for awhile, with a pen in his hand, at the miserable little substitute for a library table which had been provided for him, and strove to collect his thoughts and go on with his work. But the effort was in vain. Bozzle would be there, presenting his document, and begging that the maid might be rung for, in order that she might hear him called a knave. And then he knew that on this very day his niece intended to hand him money, which he could not refuse. Of what use would it be to refuse it now, after it had been once taken? As he could not write a word, he rose and went away to his wife.
‘If this goes on much longer,’ said he, ‘I shall be in Bedlam.’
‘My dear, don’t speak of it in that way!’
‘That’s all very well. I suppose I ought to say that I like it. There has been a policeman here who is going to bring an action against me.’
‘Some one that her husband has sent for the child.’
‘The boy must not be given up, Oliphant.’
‘It’s all very well to say that, but I suppose we must obey the law. The Parsonage of St Diddulph’s isn’t a castle in the Apennines. When it comes to this, that a policeman is sent here to fetch any man’s child, and threatens me with an action because I tell him to leave my house, it is very hard upon me, seeing how very little I’ve had to do with it. It’s all over the parish now that my niece is kept here away from her husband, and that a lover comes to see her. This about a policeman will be known now, of course. I only say it is hard; that’s all.’ The wife did all that she could to comfort him, reminding him that Sir Marmaduke would be home soon, and that then the burden would be taken from his shoulders. But she was forced to admit that it was very hard.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26