Of all the gloomy houses any one ever stayed in, Captain Sanker’s was the worst. Nothing but coffins coming into it, and all of us stealing about on tip-toe. King lay in the room where he died. There was to be an inquest: at which the captain was angry. But he was so excited and sorrowful just then as to have no head at all.
Which might well be excused in him. Picture what it was! Three carriages full of us had started on the Tuesday morning, expecting to have a day of charming pleasure on the Malvern Hills in the July sunshine; no more thinking of death or any other catastrophe, than if the world had never contained such! And poor King — poor lame King, whose weakness made him more helpless than were we strong ones, and who only on the previous Saturday had been plucked out of the fight in Diglis Meadow and been saved — King must fall asleep on a dangerous part of the hill and roll down it and come home to die! “Better King than any of the rest of you,” cried Mrs. Sanker, more than once, in her dreamy way, and with her eyes dry, for she seemed tired of tears; “he could never have done battle with the world as you will have to do it; and he was quite ready for heaven.”
Instead of going home with our people the day after the death, as Tod did, I had to wait at Worcester for the inquest. When the beadle (or whoever the officer might be; he had gold cord on his hat and white ribbed stockings below his breeches: which stockings might have been fellows to old Jones’s of Church Dykely) came to Captain Sanker’s to make inquiries the night of the death, and heard that I had been first up with King after his fall, he said I should have to give evidence. So I stayed on with them — much to my uneasiness.
If I had thought the Sankers queer people before, I thought them queerer now. Not one of the boys and girls, except Fred, cared to go alone by the door of the room where King lay. And, talking of King, it was not until I saw the name on the coffin-lid that I knew his name was not King, but Kingsley. He looked as nice and peaceful as any dead lad with a nice face could look; and yet they were afraid to pass by outside. Dan and Ruth were the worst. I did not wonder at her — she was a little girl; but I did at Dan. Fred told me that when they were children a servant used to tell them stories of ghosts and dreams and banshees; Hetta and he were too old to be frightened, but the rest had taken it all into their nature. I privately thought that Mrs. Sanker was no better than the fool of a servant, reciting to them her dreams and accounts of apparitions.
King died on the Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon the inquest took place. It was held at the Angel Inn, in Sidbury, and Mr. Robert Allies was the foreman. Boys don’t give evidence on inquests every day: I felt shy and uncomfortable at having to do it; and perhaps that may be the reason why the particulars remain so strongly on my memory. The time fixed was three o’clock, but it was nearly four when they came down to look at King: the coroner explained to the jury that he had been detained. When they went back to the Angel Inn we followed them — Captain Sanker, Fred, and I.
All sorts of nonsense ran about the town. It was reported that there had been a fight with the Frogs on Malvern Hill, during which King had been pitched over. This was only laughed at by those who knew how foundationless it was. Not a shadow of cause existed for supposing it to have been anything but a pure accident.
The coroner and jury sat at a long table covered with green baize. The coroner had his clerk by him; and on one side Mr. Allies sat Captain Chamberlain, on the other side Mr. Allcroft. Dr. Teal and Mr. Woodward were present, and gave the medical evidence in a most learned manner. Reduced to plainness, it meant that King had died of an injury to the head.
When my turn came, what they chiefly asked me was, whether I had seen or heard any quarrelling with St. Peter’s boys that day at Malvern. None whatever, I answered. Was I quite sure of that? pursued one — it was Mr. Allcroft. I did not think there had been, or could have been, I repeated: we and the charity boys had kept apart from each other all day. Then another of the jury, Mr. Stone, put some questions, and then Mr. Allen — I thought they were never going to believe me. So I said it was the opposite of quarrelling, and told of Captain Sanker’s giving one of them half-a-crown because he had been kind to King on Saturday, and of some of the boys — all who had not gone home in the first van — having helped us to look for King at night. After they had turned me inside out, the coroner could say that these questions were merely put for form’s sake and for the satisfaction of the public.
When the witnesses were done with, the coroner spoke to the jury. I suppose it was his charge. It seemed all as plain as a turnpike, he said: the poor little lame boy had slipped and fallen. The probability was that he had dropped asleep too near the edge of the perpendicular bank, and had either fallen over in his sleep, or in the act of awaking. He (the coroner) thought it must have been the former, as no cry appeared to have been made, or heard. Under these circumstances, he believed the jury could have no difficulty in arriving at their verdict.
The last word, “verdict,” was still on his tongue, when some commotion took place at the end of the room. A working-man, in his shirt-sleeves and a leather apron on, was pushing in through the crowd at the door, making straight for the table and the coroner. Some of the jury knew him for John Dance, a glove-cutter at a Quaker gentleman’s manufactory hard by. He begged pardon of the gentlefolk for coming amid ’em abrupt like that, he said, just as he was, but something had but now come to his hearing about the poor little boy who had died. It made him fear he had not fell of himself, but been flung over, and he had thought it his duty to come and tell it.
The consternation this suggestion created, delivered in its homely words, would not be easy to describe. Captain Sanker, who had been sitting against the wall, got up in agitation. John Dance was asked his grounds for what he said, and was entering into a long rigmarole of a tale when the coroner stopped him, and bade him simply say how it had come to his own knowledge. He answered that upon going home just now to tea, from his work, his son Harry, who was in St. Peter’s School, told him of it, having been sent to do so by the master, Clerk Jones. His son was with him, waiting to be questioned.
The boy came forward, very red and sheepish, looking as though he thought he was going to be hung. He stammered and stuttered in giving his answers to the coroner.
The tale he told was this. His name was Henry Dance, aged thirteen. He was on the hill, not very far from St. Ann’s Well, on the Tuesday afternoon, looking about for Mark Ferrar. All on a sudden he heard some quarrelling below him: somebody seemed to be in a foaming passion, and little King the lame boy called out in a fright, “Oh, don’t! don’t! you’ll throw me over!” Heard then a sort of rustle of shrubs — as it sounded to him — and then heard the steps of some one running away along the path below the upright bank. Couldn’t see anything of this; the bank prevented him; but did see the arm of the boy who was running as he turned round the corner. Didn’t see the boy; only saw his left arm swaying; he had a green handkerchief in his hand. Could not tell whether it was one of their boys (St. Peter’s) or one of the college boys; didn’t see enough of him for that. Didn’t know then that anything bad had happened, and thought no more about it at all; didn’t hear of it till the next morning: he had been in the first van that left Malvern, and went to bed as soon as he got home.
The account was listened to breathlessly. The boy was in a regular fright while he told it, but his tones and looks seemed honest and true.
“How did you know it was King Sanker’s voice you heard?” asked the coroner.
“Please, sir, I didn’t know it,” was the answer. “When I came to hear of his fall the next day, I supposed it must ha’ been his. I didn’t know anybody had fell down; I didn’t hear any cry.”
“What time in the afternoon was this?”
“Please, sir, I don’t know exact. We had our tea at four: it wasn’t over-long after that.”
“Did you recognize the other voice?”
“No, sir. It was a boy’s voice.”
“Was it one you had ever heard before?”
“I couldn’t tell, sir; I wasn’t near enough to hear or to catch the words. King Sanker spoke last, just as I got over the spot.”
“You heard of the accident the next morning, you say. Did you hear of it early?”
“It was afore breakfast, sir. Some of our boys that waited for the last van telled me; and Ferrar, he telled me. They said they had helped to look for him.”
“And then it came into your mind, that it was King Sanker you had heard speak?”
“Yes, sir, it did. It come right into my mind, all sudden like, that he might have been throwed over.”
“Well now, Mr. Harry Dance, how was it that you did not at once hasten to report this? How is it that you have kept it in till now?”
Harry Dance looked too confused and frightened to answer. He picked at the band of his grey cap and stood, first on one foot, then on the other. The coroner pressed the question sharply, and he replied in confusion.
Didn’t like to tell it. Knew people were saying it might have been one of their boys that had pitched him over. Was afraid to tell. Did say a word to Mark Ferrar; not much: Ferrar wanted to know more, and what it was he meant, but didn’t tell him. That was yesterday morning. Had felt uncomfortable ever since then, wanting to tell, but not liking to. This afternoon, in school, writing their copies at the desk, he had told Tom Wood’art, the carpenter’s son, who sat next him; leastways, had said the college boy had not fell of himself, but been pitched over; and Tom Wood’art had made him tell it to another boy, Collins; and then the two had went up to the desk and telled their master, Mr. Jones; and Mr. Jones, after calling him up to ask about it, had ordered him home to tell it all to his father; and his father said he must come and tell it here.
The father, John Dance, spoke up again to confirm this, so far as his part went. He was so anxious it should be told to the gentlemen at once, he repeated, that he had come out all untidy as he was, not stopping to put himself to rights in any way.
The next person to step forward was Mr. Jones, in his white cravat and black clothes. He stated that the two boys, Thomas Woodward and James Collins, had made this strange communication to him. Upon which he had questioned Dance, and at once despatched him home to acquaint his father.
“What sort of a boy is Harry Dance, Mr. Jones?” inquired the coroner. “A truthful boy? — one to be depended on? Some boys, as I dare say you know, are capable of romancing in the most unaccountable manner: inventing lies by the bushel.”
“The boy is truthful, sir; a sufficiently good boy,” was the reply. “Some of them are just what you describe; but Dance, so far as I believe, may be relied upon.”
“Well, now, if this is to be credited, it must have been one of St. Peter’s boys who threw the deceased over,” observed a juryman at the other end. “Did you do it yourself, Harry Dance? Stand straight, and answer.”
“No, sir; I shouldn’t never like to do such a cowardly thing,” was the answer, given with a rush of fear — if the look of his face might be trusted. “I was not anigh him.”
“It must have been one of you. This is the result of that fight you two sets of boys held on Saturday. You have been harbouring malice.”
“Please, sir, I wasn’t in the fight on Saturday. I had went over to Clains on an errand for mother.”
“That’s true,” said Clerk Jones. “Dance was not in the fight at all. As far as I can ascertain, there was no ill-feeling displayed on either side at Malvern; no quarrelling of any kind.” And Captain Sanker, who was standing up to listen, confirmed this.
“The natural deduction to be drawn is, that if the deceased was flung over, it was by one of St. Peter’s boys — though the probability is that he did not intend to inflict much injury,” observed one of the jury to the rest. “Boys are so reprehensibly thoughtless. Come, Harry Dance! if you did not give him a push yourself, you can tell, I dare say, who did.”
But Dance, with tears in his eyes, affirmed that he knew no more than he had told: he had not the least notion who the boy was that had been quarrelling with King. He saw none of the boys, St. Peter’s boys or college boys, about the hill at that time; though he was looking out for them, because he wanted to find Ferrar: and he knew no more than the dead what boy it was who had run away, for he saw nothing but his arm and a green handkerchief.
“Did you find Ferrar after that?” resumed the coroner.
“Yes, sir; not long after. I found him looking for me round on t’other side of St. Ann’s Well.”
“By the way — on which side of St. Ann’s Well is situated the spot where you heard the quarrel?”
“On the right-hand side, sir, looking down the hill,” said the boy. And by the stress laid on the “down” I judged him to be given to exactness. “I know the place, sir. If you take a sideway path from the Well bearing down’ards, you come to it. It’s shady and quiet there; a place that nobody hardly finds out.”
“Did you say anything to Ferrar, when you found him, of what you had heard?”
“No, sir. I didn’t think any more about it. I didn’t think any harm had been done.”
“But you did mention it to Ferrar the next morning?”
“Yes, sir, I had heard of it, then.”
“What did you say?”
“I only said I was afeard he might have been throwed over. Ferrar asked me why, but I didn’t like to say no more, for fear of doing mischief. It wasn’t me,” added Dance, appealing piteously to the jury. “I wouldn’t have hurt a hair of his head: he was weak and lame.”
“Is Ferrar here?” cried the coroner. “We must have him.”
Ferrar was not there. And Mr. Jones, speaking up, said he had seen nothing of Ferrar since the previous day. He was informed that he had taken French leave to go off somewhere — which kind of leave, in point of fact, he added, Master Ferrar was much in the habit of taking.
“But where has he gone?” cried the coroner. “You don’t mean he has decamped?”
“Decamped for the time being,” said Mr. Jones. “He will no doubt put in an appearance in a day or two.”
Not one of the jury but pricked up his ears; not one, I could see it in their faces, but was beginning to speculate on this absence of Ferrar’s. The coroner was staring straight before him, speculating too: and just then Fred Sanker said something in a half-whisper.
“Ferrar was with my brother King at the spot where he fell from. As far as we know he was the last person who ever saw him alive.”
“And not here!” cried the coroner. “Why is he not? Where does the neglect lie, I wonder? Gentlemen, I think we had better send round for his father, and ask an explanation.”
In a small town like Worcester (small in comparison with great capitals) the inhabitants, rich and poor, mostly know one another, what they are, and where their dwelling is. Old Ferrar lived within a stone’s-throw of the Angel; he was a china painter, employed by the Messrs. Chamberlain. Some one ran for him; and he came; a tidy-looking man in a good coat, with grey whiskers and grey hair. He bowed civilly to the room, and gave his name as Thomas Ferrar.
As far as anything connected with what took place at Malvern he was in total ignorance, he said. When his son Mark got home on the Tuesday night, he had told him that Captain Sanker’s little boy had fallen down a part of the hill, and that he, Mark, had been one of those who helped to find him. In the afternoon of the same day they heard the little boy had died.
“Where is your son?” asked the coroner.
“I am not sure where he is,” replied Thomas Ferrar. “When I and his brother got home from the factory on Wednesday evening, my daughter told me Mark had gone off again. Somebody had given him half-a-crown, I believe. With that in his pocket, he was pretty sure to go off on one of his rovings.”
“He is in the habit of going off, then?”
“Yes, sir, he has done it on occasion almost ever since he could run alone. I used to leather him well for it, but it was of no use; it didn’t stop it. It’s his only fault. Barring that, he’s as good and upright a lad as anybody need have. He does not go off for the purpose of doing harm: neither does he get into any.”
“Where does he go to?”
“Always to one of two places; to South Crabb, or to his grandfather’s at Pinvin. It’s generally to South Crabb, to see the Batleys, who are cousins of my late wife’s. They’ve boys and girls of Mark’s own age, and he likes to be there.”
“You conclude, then, that he is at one of these places now?”
“Sure to be, sir; and I think it’s sure to be South Crabb. He was at Pinvin a fortnight ago; for I walked over on the Sunday morning and took him with me. Mark is of a roving turn; he is always talking of wanting to see the world. I don’t believe he’ll ever settle down to steady work at home.”
“Well, we want him here, Mr. Ferrar; and must have him too. Could you send after him — and get him here by tomorrow?”
“I can send his brother after him, if you say it must be. The likelihood is that he will come home of himself tomorrow evening.”
“Ay, but we must have him here in the afternoon, you see. We want to hear what he can tell us about the deceased. It is thought that he was the last person with him before the fall. And, gentlemen,” added the coroner, turning to the jury, “I will adjourn proceedings to the same hour tomorrow — three o’clock.”
So the inquest was adjourned accordingly, and the room slowly cleared itself. Very slowly. People stood in groups of threes and fours to talk to each other. This new evidence was startling: and the impression it made was, that one of the Frogs had certainly thrown King down.
The green handkerchief was mentioned. Coloured silk pocket-handkerchiefs were much patronized by gentlemen then, and the one used by Dr. Teal that day happened to be green. The doctor said he had missed his handkerchief when they were down at the Abbey before tea, but could not tell where he had left it. He found it in the room at St. Ann’s when they got up again, and supposed it had been there all along. So that handkerchief was not much thought of: especially as several of the Frogs had green neckerchiefs on, and might have taken them off, as it was very hot. That a Frog had flung King over, appeared to be, to use the coroner’s words on another part of the subject, as plain as a turnpike. The Sankers, one and all, adopted it as conclusive; Captain Sanker in particular was nearly wild, and said bitter things of the Frogs. Poor King still lay in the same room, and none of them, as before, cared to go by the door.
It must have been in the middle of the night. Anyway, it looked pitch-dark. I was asleep, and dreaming that we were sorting handkerchiefs: all colours seemed to be there but a green one, and that — the one being looked for — we could not find: when something suddenly woke me. A hand was grasping at my shoulder.
“Halloa! who’s there?”
“I say, Johnny, I can’t stop in my bed; I’ve come to yours. If you mind my getting in, I’ll lie across the foot, and get to sleep that way.”
The voice was Dan’s, and it had no end of horror in it. He was standing by the bed in his night-shirt, shivering. And yet the summer’s night was hot.
“Get in, if you like, Dan: there’s plenty of room. What’s the matter with your own bed?”
“King’s there,” he said, in a dreadful whisper, as he crept trembling in.
“King! Why, what do you mean?”
“He comes in and lies down in his place just as he used to lie,” shivered Dan. “I asked Toby to sleep with me to-night, and Fred wouldn’t let him. Fred ought to be ashamed; it’s all his ill-nature. He’s bigger than I am, one of the seniors, and he never cares whether he sleeps alone or not.”
“But, Dan, you should not get these fancies into your head about King. You know it’s not true.”
“I tell you it is true. King’s there. First of all, he stood at the foot of the bed and looked at me; and then, when I hid my face, I found he had got into it. He’s lying there, just as he used to lie, his face turned to the wall.”
“To begin with, you couldn’t see him — him, or any one else. It’s too dark.”
“It’s not dark. My room’s lighter than this; it has a bigger window: and the sky was bright and the stars were out. Anyway, Johnny, it was light enough to see King — and there he was. Do you think I’d tell a lie over it?”
I can’t say I felt very comfortable myself. It’s not pleasant to be woke up with this kind of thing at the top of a house when somebody’s lying dead underneath. Dan’s voice was enough to give one the shivers, let alone his words. Some stars came out, and I could see the outline of the furniture: or perhaps the stars had been shining all along; only, on first awaking, the eye is not accustomed to the darkness.
“Try and go to sleep, Dan. You’ll be all right in the morning.”
To go to sleep seemed, however, to be far enough from Dan’s thoughts. After a bit of uneasy turning and trembling — and I’m sure any one would have said his legs had caught St. Vitus’s dance — he gave sleep up as a bad job, and broke out now and again with all sorts of detached comments. I could only lie and listen.
Wondered whether he should be seeing King always? — if so, would rather be dead. Wished he had not gone to sleep on that confounded bench outside St. Ann’s Well — might have been at hand near King, and saved him, if he had not. It was that beastly bottled ale that made him. Wished bottled ale had not been invented. Wished he could wring Dance’s neck — or Ferrar’s — or that Wood’arts, whichever of the lot it was that had struck King. Knew it was one of the three. What on earth could have taken the Frogs to Malvern that day? — Wished every Frog ever born was hanged or drowned. Thought it must be Ferrar — else why had the fellow decamped? Thought the whole boiling of Frogs should be driven from the town — how dared they, the insolent charity beggars, have their school near the college school? Wondered what would be done to Ferrar if it was proved against him? Wished it had been Ferrar to fall down in place of King. Wished it had been himself (Dan) rather than King. Poor King! — who was always so gentle — and never gave offence to any of them — and was so happy with his hymns and his fancies, and his poetry! — and had said “Lord Bateman” for them that day when told to say it, and — and ——
At this thought Dan broke fairly down and sobbed as though his heart were breaking. I felt uncommonly sorry for him; he had been very fond of King; and I was sorry for his superstition. What a mistake it seemed for Mrs. Sanker to have allowed them to grow up in it.
At three o’clock the next day the inquest met again. The coroner and jury, who seemed to have got thoroughly interested in the case now, kept their time to a minute. There was much stir in the neighbourhood, and the street was full before the Angel Inn. As to Frog Lane, it was said the excitement there had never been equalled. The report that it was one of St. Peter’s boys who had done it, went echoing everywhere; no one thought of doubting it. I did not. Watching Harry Dance’s face when he had given his evidence, I felt sure that every word he said was true. Some one had flung King over: and that some one, there could be no question of it, was one of those common adversaries, the Frogs. If King must have gone to sleep that afternoon, better that Dan, as he had said, or one of the rest of us, had stayed by to protect him!
Mark Ferrar had turned up. His brother found him at South Crabb. He came to the inquest in his best clothes, those he had worn at Malvern. I noticed then, but I had not remembered it, that he had a grass-green neckerchief on, tied with a large bow and ends. His good-natured, ugly, honest face was redder than ever as he stood to give his evidence. He did not show any of the stammering confusion that Dance had done, but spoke out with modest self-possession.
His name was Mark Ferrar, aged nearly fourteen (and looking ever so much older), second son of Thomas Ferrar, china painter. He had seen the deceased boy, King Sanker, at Malvern on Tuesday. When he and some more of St. Peter’s boys were coming down the hill they had met King and his party. King spoke to him and told his father, Captain Sanker, that he was the Frog — the college boys called them Frogs — who had picked him up out of the fight on Saturday to save him from being crushed: and Captain Sanker thanked him and gave him half-a-crown to spend in Malvern cakes. Master Johnny Ludlow was with the Sankers, and saw and heard this. Did not buy the Malvern cakes: had meant to, and treat the rest of the boys; but dinner was ready near the foot of the hill when they got down, and forgot it afterwards. After dinner he and a lot more boys went up another of the beacons and down on the Herefordshire side. They got back about four o’clock, and had bread-and-butter and cider for tea. Then he and Harry Dance went up the hill again, taking two ways, to see which would be at St. Ann’s Well first. Couldn’t see Dance when he got up, thought he might be hiding, and went looking about for him. Went along a side-path leading off from St. Ann’s; ’twas sheltered, and thought Dance might be there. Suddenly heard himself called to: looked onwards, and saw the lame boy, King Sanker, there, and some chairs and glasses on a table. Went on, and King asked him to sit down, and began talking to him, saying he had had to say “Lord Bateman” before them all. He, Ferrar, did not know what “Lord Bateman” was, and King said he would say it to him. Began to say it; found it was poetry verses: King had said a good many when he broke off in the middle of one, and told him to go then, for they were coming. Did not know who “they” meant, did not see or hear anybody himself; but went away accordingly. Went looking all about for Dance again; found him by-and-by on a kind of plateau on the other side of St. Ann’s. They went up the hill together, and only got down again when it was time to start for Worcester. He did not go in the first van; there was no room; waited for the second. Saw the other party starting: heard that some one was missing: found it was King; offered to help to look for him. Was going up with the rest past the Unicorn, when some people met them, saying they’d heard groans. Ran on, and found it was King Sanker. He seemed to have fallen right down from the place where he had been sitting in the afternoon, and where he, Ferrar, had left him.
Such in substance was the evidence he gave. Some of it I could corroborate, and did. I told of King’s asking that Ferrar might go up to him the next day, and of his promising him “Lord Bateman,” which he had got by him, written out.
But Ferrar was not done with. Important questions had to be asked him yet. Sometimes it was the coroner who put them, sometimes one or other of the jury.
“Did you see anything at all of the deceased after leaving him as you have described, Mark Ferrar?”
“No, sir. I never saw him again till night, when we found him lying under a part of the hill.”
“When you quitted him at his bidding, did you see any boys about, either college boys or St. Peter’s boys?”
“No, sir, I did not see any; not one. The hills about there seemed as lonely as could be.”
“Which way did you take when you left him?”
“I ran straight past St. Ann’s, and got on to the part that divides the Worcestershire beacon from the next. Waiting for Dance, I sat down on the slope, and looked at Worcester for a bit, trying how much of the town I could make out, and how many of the churches, and that. As I was going back toward St. Ann’s I met Dance.”
“What did Dance say to you?”
“He said he had been hunting for me, and wanted to know where I had hid myself, and I said I had been hunting for him. We went on up the hill then and met some more of our boys; and we stayed all together till it was time to go down.”
“Did Dance say that he had heard sounds of quarrelling?”
“No, sir, never a word.”
“What communication did Dance make to you on the subject the following morning?”
“Nothing certain, sir. Dance went home in the first van, and he didn’t hear about King Sanker till the morning. I was saying then how we found him, and that he must have fell straight off from the place above. Dance stopped me, and said was it sure that he fell — was it sure he had not been pushed off? I asked why he said that, but he wouldn’t answer.”
“Did he refuse to answer?”
“I kept asking him to tell me, but he just said it was only a fancy that came to him. He had interrupted so eager like, that I thought he must have heard something. Later, I asked Master Johnny Ludlow whether the boy had been pushed off, but he said no. I couldn’t get it out of my head, however.”
“What clothes did you wear, witness, that day at Malvern?”
“These here that I’ve got on now, sir.”
“Did you wear that same green neckerchief?”
“Yes, sir. My sister Sally bought it new for me to go in.”
“Did you take it off at Malvern?”
“Not at all?”
“No, sir. Some of them took their handkerchers off at dinner, because it was hot, but I didn’t.”
“Why did you not?”
For the first time Ferrar hesitated. His face turned scarlet.
“Come, speak up. The truth, mind.”
“Sally had told me not to mess my new silk handkercher, for I wasn’t likely to have another of one while; and I thought if I got untying and retying of it, I should mess it.” It seemed quite a task to Ferrar to confess this. He feared the boys would laugh at him. But I think no one doubted that it was the true reason.
“You did not take it off while you were sitting with the deceased?”
“No, sir. I never took it off all day.”
“Take it off now.”
Mark Ferrar looked too surprised to understand the order, and did nothing. The coroner repeated it.
“Take off this here handkercher, sir? Now?”
“Yes. The jury wish to see it open.”
Mark untied the bow and pulled it off, his very freckles showing out red. It was a three-cornered silk neckerchief, as green as grass.
“Was this like the kerchief you saw being swung about, Harry Dance?” asked the coroner, holding it up, and then letting it drop on the table.
Harry Dance gazed at it as it lay, and shook his head. “I don’t think it were the one, sir,” he said.
“Why don’t you think it?”
“That there looks smaller and brighter, and t’other was bigger and darker. Leastways, I think it were.”
“Was it more like this?” interrupted Dr. Teal, shaking out his handkerchief from his pocket.
“I don’t know, sir. It seemed like a big handkerchief, and was about that there colour o’ your’n.”
Some inquiry was made at this point as to the neckerchiefs worn by the other boys. It turned out that two or three had worn very large ones, something the colour of Dr. Teal’s. So that passed.
“One word, Harry Dance. Did you see Ferrar with his handkerchief off that day?”
“I didn’t notice, sir: I don’t remember. Some of us took ’em off on the hills —’twas very hot — and never put ’em on again all day.”
The coroner and jury talked together, and then Harry Dance was told to repeat the evidence he had given the day before. He went over it again: the sounds of quarrelling, and the words in the voice he had supposed to be King’s: “Oh, don’t — don’t! you’ll throw me over.”
“Had Ferrar his neckerchief on when you met him soon after this?” questioned Captain Chamberlain.
“I think he had, sir. I think if he had not I should ha’ noticed it. I’m nearly as sure as I can be that it wasn’t off.”
When Dance was done with, Mark Ferrar was begun upon again.
“What induced you to go off from your home on Wednesday evening without notice?” asked the coroner.
“I went to South Crabb, sir.”
“I don’t ask you where you went, I ask why you went?”
“I go over there sometimes, sir. I told Sally I was going.”
“Can’t you understand my question? Why did you go?”
“Nothing particular made me go, sir. Only that I had got some money; and I was feeling so sorry that the little lame boy was dead, I couldn’t bear to be still.”
“You have been punished often, Mark Ferrar, for going off on these expeditions?” cried one of the jury.
“I used to be, sir. Father has leathered me for it at home, and Clerk Jones at school. I can’t do without going out a bit. I wish I was a sailor.”
“Oh, indeed! Well — is there one of your companions that you can suspect of having harmed this poor little boy — accidentally or otherwise?”
“No, sir. It is being said that he was pushed over in ill-feeling, or else by accident; but it don’t seem likely.”
“Did you push him over yourself?”
“Me!” returned Ferrar, in surprise. “Me push him over!”
“As far as we can learn yet, no one was with him there but you.”
“I’d have saved him from it, sir, if I had been there, instead of harming him. When he sent me away he was all right, and not sitting anigh the edge. If it was me that had done it, sir, he’d not have asked for me to go up to him in his room — and shook hands — and said I should see him in heaven.”
Mark Ferrar broke down at the remembrance, and sobbed like a child. I don’t think one single person present thought it was he, especially the coroner and jury. But the question was — which of the other boys could it have been?
Several of them were called before the coroner. One and all declared they had done no harm to the deceased — had not been near him to do it — would not have done it if they had been — did not know he had been sitting in the place talked of — did not (most of them) know where the spot was now. In short, they denied it utterly.
Mr. Jones stepped forward then. He told the coroner and jury that he had done his best to come to the bottom of the affair, but could not find out anything. He did not believe one of his boys had been in it; they were mischievous enough, as he well knew, and sometimes deceitful enough; but they all seemed to be, and he honestly believed were, innocent of this.
The room was cleared while the jury deliberated. Their verdict was to the effect that Kingsley Sanker had died from falling over a portion of one of the Malvern hills; but whether the fall was caused by accident, or not, there was not sufficient evidence to show.
It was late when it was over. Growing dusk. In turning out of the inn passage to the street, I remember the great buzz around, and the people pushing one’s elbows; and I can’t remember much more. If one Frog was there, it seemed to me that there were hundreds.
I stayed at Captain Sanker’s again that night. We all went up to bed after supper and prayers — which the captain read. He said he could not divest himself of the idea that it was a pure accident — for who would be likely to harm a helpless lad? — and that what Dance heard must have been some passing dispute connected with other people.
“Come along, Johnny: this one candle’ll do for us both,” cried Dan, taking up a bed candlestick and waiting for me to follow him.
I kept close to him as we went by the room —the room, you know — for Dan was worse than any of them for passing it. He and King had been much together. King followed him in age; they had always slept together and gone to school together; the rest were older or younger — and naturally Dan felt it most.
“I shan’t be a minute, Johnny, and then you can take the candle,” said he, when we got to the top. “Come in.”
Before I had well turned round, after getting in, I declare Dan had rushed all his things off in a heap and leaped into bed. Poor King used not to be so quick, and Dan always made him put the light out.
“Good-night, Johnny. I hope I shall get to sleep.”
He put his head under the bedclothes as I went away with the candle. I was not long getting into bed either. The stars were bright in the sky.
Before there was time to get to sleep, Dan came bursting in, shivering as on the past night, and asking to be let get into the bed. I did not mind his being in the bed — liked it rather, for company — but I did think it a great stupid pity that he should be giving way to these superstitious fears as though he were a girl.
“Look here, Dan: I should be above it. One of the smallest of those Frogs couldn’t show out more silly than this.”
“He’s in my bed again, Johnny. Lying down. I can’t sleep there another night.”
“You know that he is below in his coffin — with the room-door locked.”
“I don’t care — he’s there in the bed. You had no sooner gone with the light than King crept in and lay down beside me. He used to have a way of putting his left arm over me outside the clothes, and he put it so to-night.”
“I tell you he did. Nobody would believe it, but he did. I felt it like a weight. It was heavy, just as dead arms are. Johnny, if this goes on, I shall die. Have you heard what mamma says?”
“She says she saw King last night. She couldn’t sleep; and by-and-by, happening to look out of bed, she saw him standing there. He was looking very solemn, and did not speak. She turned to awake papa, in spite of the way he goes on ridiculing such things, but when she looked next King had gone. I wish he was buried, Johnny; I shouldn’t think he could come back into the house then. Should you?”
“He’s not in it now — in that sense. It’s all imagination.”
“Is it! I should like you to have been in my bed, instead of me; you’d have seen whether it was imagination or not. Do you suppose his heavy arm across me was fancy?”
“Well, he does not come in here. Let us go to sleep. Good-night, Dan.”
Dan lay still for a good bit, and I was nearly asleep when he awoke me sobbing. His face was turned the other way.
“I wish you’d kill me, Johnny.”
“I don’t care to live any longer without King. It is so lonely. There’s nobody now. Fred’s getting to be almost a man, and Toby’s a little duffer. King was best. I’ve many a time snubbed him and boxed him, and I always put upon him; and — and now he’s gone. I wish I had fallen down instead of him.”
“You’ll get over it, Dan.”
“Perhaps. But it’s such a thing to get over. And the time goes so slowly. I wish it was this time next year!”
“Do you know what some of the doctors say?”
“What do they say?” returned Dan, putting the tip of his nose out of bed.
“Dr. Teal told Captain Sanker of it; I was by and heard him. They think that poor King would not have lived above another year, or so: that there was no chance of his living to grow up. So you might have lost him soon in any case, Dan.”
“But he’d have been here till then; he wouldn’t have died through falling down Malvern Hill. Oh, and to think that I was rough with him often! — and didn’t try to help him when he wanted it! and laughed at his poetry! Johnny, I wish you’d kill me! I wish it had been me to fall over instead of him!”
There was not one of them that felt it as keenly as Dan did: but the chances were that he would forget King the soonest. Dan was of that impetuous warm nature that’s all fire at first; and all forgetfulness when the fire goes out.
I went home the next day to Crabb Cot. Mr. Coney came into Worcester to attend the corn-market, and offered to drive me back in his gig. So I took my leave of the Sankers, and my last look at poor King in his coffin. He was to be buried on Monday in St. Peter’s churchyard.
The next news we had from Worcester was that Mark Ferrar had gone to sea. His people had wanted him to take up some trade at home; but Mark said he was not going to stay there to be told every day of his life that he killed King Sanker. For some of the Frogs had taken up the notion that it must have been he — why else, they asked, did the coroner and the rest of ’em want to see his green handkercher shook out? So his father, who was just as much hurt at the aspersions as Mark, allowed him to have his way and go to sea; in spite of Sally crying her eyes out, and foretelling that he would come home drowned. Mark was sent to London to some friend, who undertook to make the necessary arrangements; he was bound apprentice to the sea, and shipped off in a trading vessel sailing for Spain.
It was Michaelmas when we next went in to Worcester (save for a day at the festival), driving in from Dyke Manor: the Squire, Mrs. Todhetley, and I. You have heard the expedition mentioned before, for it was the one when we hired the dairymaid, Grizzel, at St. John’s mop. That business over, we went down to Captain Sanker’s and found them at home.
They were all getting pretty well over the death now, except Dan. Dan’s grief and nervousness were as bad as ever. Worse, even. Captain and Mrs. Sanker enlarged upon it.
“Dan grieves after his brother dreadfully: they were always companions, you see,” said the captain. “He has foolish fancies also: thinks he sees King continually. We have had to put him to sleep with Fred downstairs, for nothing would persuade him that King, poor fellow, did not come and get into his old place in bed. The night the poor lad was buried, Dan startled the whole house up; he flew down the stairs crying and shrieking, and saying that King was there. We don’t know what to do: he seems to get worse, rather than better. Did you notice how thin he has become? You saw him as you came in.”
“Like a bag of bones,” said the Squire.
“Ay. Some days he is so nervous and ill he can’t go to school. I never knew such a thing, for my part. I was for trying flogging, but his mother wouldn’t have it.”
“But — do you mean to tell us, Sanker, that he fancies he sees King’s ghost?” cried the Squire, in great amazement.
“Well, I suppose so,” answered the captain. “He fancies he sees him: and poor King, as far as this world’s concerned, can be nothing but a ghost now. The other evening, when Dan had been commanded to the head-master’s house for something connected with the studies and detained till after dark, he came rushing in with a white face and his hair all wet, saying he had met King under the elm-trees, as he was running back through the green towards Edgar Tower. How can you deal with such a case?”
“I should say flogging would be as good as anything,” said the Squire, decidedly.
“So I thought at first. He’s too ill for it now. There’s nothing, hardly, left of him to flog.”
“Captain Sanker, there is only one thing for you to do,” put in Mrs. Todhetley. “And that is, consult a clever medical man.”
“Why, my dear lady, we have taken him to pretty nearly all the medical men in Worcester,” cried the captain. “He goes regularly to Dr. Hastings.”
“And what do the doctors say?”
“They think that the catastrophe of King’s unhappy death has seized upon the lad’s mind, and brought on a sort of hypochondriacal affection. One of them said it was what the French would call a maladie des nerfs. Dan seems so full of self-reproach, too.”
“Well, for not having made more of King when he was living. And also, I think, for having suffered himself to fall asleep that afternoon on the bench outside the Well: he says had he kept awake he might have been with King, and so saved him. But, as I tell Dan, there’s nothing to reproach himself with in that: he could not foresee that King would meet with the accident. The doctors say now that he must have change of air, and be got away altogether. They recommend the sea.”
“The sea! Do you mean sea-air?”
“No; the sea itself; a voyage: and Dan’s wild to go. A less complete change than that, they think, will be of little avail, for his illness borders almost — almost upon lunacy. I’m sure, what with one thing and another, we seem to be in for a peck of misfortunes,” added the captain, rumpling his hair helplessly.
“And shall you let him go to sea?”
“Well, I don’t know. I stood out against it at first. Never meant to send a son of mine to sea; that has always been my resolution. Look at what I had to starve upon for ever so many years — a lieutenant’s half-pay — and to keep my wife and bring up my children upon it! You can’t imagine it, Squire; it’s cruel. Dan’s too old for the navy, however; and, if he does go, it must be into the merchant service. I don’t like that, either; we regular sailors never do like it, we hold ourselves above it; but there’s a better chance of getting on in it and of making money.”
“I’m sure I am very sorry for it altogether,” said Mrs. Todhetley. “A sailor cannot have any comfort.”
“I expect he’ll have to go,” said the captain, ruefully: “he must get these ideas out of his head. It’s such a thing, you see, for him to be always fancying he sees King.”
“It is a dreadful thing.”
“My wife had a brother once who was always seeing odd colours wherever he looked: colours and shadows and things. But that was not as bad as this. His doctor called it nerves: and I conclude Dan takes after him.”
“My dear, I think Dan takes after your side, not mine,” calmly put in Mrs Sanker, who had her light hair flowing and something black in it that looked like a feather. “He is so very passionate, you know: and I could not go into a passion if I tried.”
“I suppose he takes after us both,” returned Captain Sanker. “I know he never got his superstitious fancies from me, or from any one belonging to me. We may be of a passionate nature, we Sankers, but we don’t see ghosts.”
In a week or two’s time after that, Dan was off to sea. A large shipping firm, trading from London to India, took him as midshipman. The ship was called the Bangalore; a fine vessel of about fourteen hundred tons, bound for some port out there. When Captain Sanker came back from shipping him off, he was full of spirits, and said Dan was cured already. No sooner was Dan amidst the bustle of London, than his fears and fancies left him.
It was some time in the course of the next spring — getting on for summer, I think — that Captain Sanker gave up his house in Worcester, and went abroad, somewhere into Germany. Partly from motives of economy, for they had no idea of saving, and somehow spent more than their income; partly to see if change would get up Mrs. Sanker’s health, which was failing. After that, we heard nothing more of them: and a year or two went on.
“Please, sir, here’s a young man asking to see you.”
“A young man asking to see me,” cried the Squire — we were just finishing dinner. “Who is it, Thomas?”
“I don’t know, sir,” replied old Thomas. “Some smart young fellow dressed as a sailor. I’ve showed him into your room, sir.”
“Go and see who it is, Johnny.”
It was summer-time, and we were at home at Dyke Manor. I went on to the little square room. You have been in it too. Opposite the Squire’s old bureau and underneath the map of Warwickshire on the wall, sat the sailor. He had good blue clothes on and a turned-down white collar, and held a straw hat in his hand. Where had I seen the face? A very red-brown honest face, with a mouth as wide as Molly’s rolling-pin. Wider, now that it was smiling.
He stood up, and turned his straw hat about a little nervously. “You’ve forgotten me, Master Johnny. Mark Ferrar, please, sir.”
Mark Ferrar it was, looking shorter and broader; and I put out my hand to him. I take my likes and dislikes, as you have already heard, and can’t help taking them; and Ferrar was one whom I had always liked.
“Please, sir, I’ve made bold to come over here,” he went on. “Captain Sanker’s left Worcester, they tell me, and I can’t hear where he is to be found: and the Teals, they have left. I’ve brought news to him from his son, Mr. Dan: and father said I had better come over here and tell it, and maybe Squire Todhetley might get it sent to the captain.”
“Have you seen anything of Mr. Dan, then?”
“I’ve been with him nearly all the time, Master Johnny. We served on the same ship: he as middy and I as working apprentice. Not but what the middies are apprenticed just as sure as we are. They don’t do our rough work, the cleaning and that, and they mess apart; but that’s pretty nigh all the difference.”
“And how are you getting on, Mark?”
“First-rate, sir. The captain and officers are satisfied with me, and when I’ve served my four years I shall go up to pass for second mate. I try to improve myself a bit in general learning at odd moments too, sir, seeing I didn’t have much. It may be of use to me if I ever get up a bit in life. Mr. Dan ——”
“But look here, Ferrar,” I interrupted, the recollection striking me. “How came you and Mr. Dan to sail together? You were on a small home-coasting barque: he went in an Indiaman.”
“I was in the barque first of all, Master Johnny, and took a voyage to Spain and back. But our owners, hearing a good report of me, that I was likely to make a smart and steady sailor, put me on their big ship, the Bangalore. In a day or two Mr. Dan Sanker came on board.”
“And how is he getting on? Does he ——”
“If you please, Master Johnny, I’d like to tell what I’ve got to tell about him to the Squire,” he interrupted. “It is for that, sir, I have come all the way over here.”
So I called the Squire in. The following was the condensed substance of Ferrar’s narrative. What with his way of telling it, and what with the Squire’s interruptions, it was rather long.
“Mr. Dan joined the Bangalore the day we sailed, sir. When he saw me as one of the sailors he started back as if I shocked him. But in a week or two, when he had got round from his sea-sickness, he grew friendly, and sometimes talked a bit. I used to bring up Master King’s death, and say how sorry I was for it — for you see, sir, I couldn’t bear that he should think it true that I had had a hand in it. But he seemed to hate the subject; he’d walk away if I began it, and at last he said he couldn’t stand the talking about King; so I let it be. Our voyage was a long one, for the ship went about from port to port. Mr. Dan ——”
“What sort of a sailor did he make?” interrupted the Squire.
“Well, sir, he was a good smart sailor at his work, but he got to be looked upon as rather a queer kind of young man. He couldn’t bear to keep his night watches — it was too lonely, he said; and several times he fell into trouble for calling up the hands when there was nothing to call them up for. At Hong Kong he had a fever, and they shaved his head; but he got well again. One evening, after we had left Hong Kong and were on our way to San Francisco, I was on deck — almost dark it was — when Mr. Dan comes down the rigging all in a heap, just as if a wild-cat was after him. ‘There’s King up there,’ he says to me: and Mr. Conroy, do what he would, couldn’t get him up again. After that he went about the ship peeping and peering, always fancying King was hiding somewhere and going to pounce out upon him. The captain said his fever was coming back: Mr. Dan said it was not fever, it was King. I told him one day what I thought — that Master King had been flung down; that it was not an accident — I felt as sure of it as though I had seen it done; and what I said seemed to put him up, sir. Who did I fancy had done it, or would do it? he asked me all in anger: and I said I did not know who, but if ever I got back to Worcester I’d leave not a stone unturned to find out. Well, sir, he got worse: worse in his fancies, and worse as to sickness. He was seeing King always at night, and he had dysentery and ague, and grew so weak that he could hardly stand. One of the cabin-boys took sick and died on board. The night he lay below, dead, Mr. Dan burst into the saloon saying it was King who was below, and that he’d never be got out of the ship again. Mr. Conroy — he was the chief mate, sir — humoured him, telling him not to fear, that if it was King he would be buried deep in the sea on the morrow: but Mr. Dan said he’d not stop in the sea, any more than he had stopped in his grave in St. Peter’s churchyard at home; he’d be back in the ship again.”
“Dan Sanker must have been mad,” observed the Squire.
“Yes, sir, I think he was; leastways not right. In a day or two he had to be fastened down in his berth with brain-fever, and Mr. Conroy said that as he had known me in the past days I had better be the one to sit with him, for he couldn’t be left. I was quite taken aback to hear what he said in his mutterings, and hoped it wasn’t true.”
“Did he get well again?”
“Just for a day or two, sir. The fever left him, but he was in the shockingest state of weakness you could imagine. The night before he died ——”
The Squire started up. “Dan Sanker’s not dead, Ferrar!”
“Yes he is, sir. It’s what I have come to tell of.”
“Goodness bless me! Poor Dan dead! Only think of it, Johnny!”
But I was not surprised. From the moment Ferrar first spoke, an instinct had been upon me that it was so. He resumed.
“Everything was done for him that could be, sir. We had a doctor on board — a passenger going to California — but he could not save him. He said when it came to such awful weakness as that, there could be no saving. Mr. Conroy and the other officers were very kind to him — the skipper too; but they could do nothing. All his fears seemed to be gone then; we could hardly hear his whispers, but he was sensible and calm. He said he knew God had forgave him for what he did, and would blot his sin out, and King had forgave him too, and had come to tell him so: he had been to him in the night and talked and smiled happily and said over to him a verse of ‘Lord Bateman’——”
“And you say he was in his senses, Ferrar?”
“Yes, sir, that he was. That night he made a confession, Mr. Conroy and the doctor and me being by him. It was he that killed King.”
“Bless my heart!” cried the Squire.
“He had seen me sitting with King that afternoon at Malvern, and heard him saying the verses to me. It put his temper up frightful, sir, I being one of their enemies the Frogs; but he says if he’d known it was me that snatched King out of the fight on Saturday, he’d not have minded so much. It must have been him that King saw coming, Master Johnny,” added Ferrar, turning momentarily from the Squire to address me; “when he broke off in the midst of ‘Lord Bateman,’ and told me, all in a hurry, to go away. He waited till I was gone, and then rushed on to King and began abusing him and knocking him about. King was unsteady through his weak leg, and one of the knocks sent him over the bank. Dan says he was frightened almost to death; he caught up Dr. Teal’s green handkercher from a chair and ran to the Well with it; he was too frightened to go and see after King, thinking he had killed him; and he sat down outside the Well and made as if he went to sleep. He never meant to hurt King, he said; it was only passion; but he had drunk a lot of strong ale and some wine upon it, and hardly knew what he was about. He said there was never a minute since but what he had been sorry for it, and he had been always seeing King. He asked me to show him the verses that had been given to me, that King wrote out, ‘Lord Bateman’— for I had got them with me at sea, sir — and he kissed them and held them to him till he died.”
“Dear, dear!” sighed the Squire.
“And that’s all, sir,” concluded Ferrar. “Mr. Conroy wrote out a copy of his confession, which I brought along with me to Worcester. Mr. Dan charged me to tell his father, and my own folks, and any other friends I liked that had thought me guilty, and I promised him. He was as placid as a child all the day after that, and died at sundown, so happy and peaceful that it was almost like heaven.”
Ferrar broke off with a sob. Poor Dan!
And that was the final ending of the Day of Pleasure. He and King are together again.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55