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Read Johnny Ludlow Second Series Part 4

Johnny Ludlow is a web novel made by Mrs. Henry Wood.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

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Read WebNovel Johnny Ludlow Second Series Part 4

Rymer was standing at his door still. The shop was empty, and there were no ears near. Tod lowered his voice, though.

“The truth is, Mr. Rymer, that the note, subst.i.tuted in the letter for ours, was one of those two lost by the butcher at Tewkesbury. I conclude you heard of the robbery.”

“One of those two!” exclaimed Rymer.

“Yes: Salmon at South Crabb recognized it yesterday when we were asking him to give change for it.”

“But why not have told me this at once, Mr. Joseph?”

“Because the Squire and Cole, laying their wise heads together this morning, thought it might be better not to let that get abroad: it would put people on their guard, they said. You see now where the motive lay for exchanging the notes.”

“Of course I do,” said Mr. Rymer in his quiet way. “But it is very unaccountable. I cannot imagine where the treason lies.”

“Not on this side, seemingly,” remarked Tod: “The letter appears to have pa.s.sed through no one’s hands but Lee’s: and he is safe.”

“Safe and sure. It must have been accomplished at Worcester. Or–in the railway train,” he slowly added. “I have heard of such things.”

“You had better keep counsel at present as to the stolen note, Mr.


“I will until you give me leave to speak. All I can do to a.s.sist in the discovery is heartily at Squire Todhetley’s service. I’d transport these rogues, for my part.”

We carried our report home–that the thing had not been, and could not have been, effected on the Timberdale side, unless old Lee was to be suspected: which was out of the question.

Time went on, and it grew into more of a mystery than ever. Not as to the fact itself or the stolen note, for all that was soon known high and low. The Worcester office exonerated itself from suspicion, as did the railway letter-van. The van let off its resentment in a little private sneering: but the office waxed hot, and declared the fraud must lie at the door of Timberdale. And so the matter was given up for a bad job, the Squire submitting to the loss of his note.

But a curious circ.u.mstance occurred, connected with Thomas Rymer. And, to me, his behaviour had seemed almost curious throughout. Not at that first interview–as I said, he was open, and, so to say, indifferent then; but soon afterwards his manner changed.

On the day following that interview, the Squire, who was very restless over it, wanting the thing to come to light in no time, sent me again to Rymer’s, to know if he had learned any news. Rymer said he had not; and his manner was just what it had been the past day. I could have staked my life, if necessary, that the man _believed_ what he said–that news must be looked for elsewhere, not at Timberdale. I am sure that he thought it impossible that the theft could have been effected after the letters came into his hands. But some days later on, when the whole matter had been disclosed, and the public knew as much about it as we did, the Squire, well of his cold, thought he would have a talk with Rymer himself, went over, and took me with him.

I shall not forget it. In Rymer’s window, the chemical side, there was a picture of a bullock eating up some newly-invented cattle-food and growing fat upon it. It caught the Squire’s eye. Whilst he stopped to read the advertis.e.m.e.nt, I went in. The moment Rymer saw me–his daughter called to him to come out of the parlour where he was at dinner–his face turned first red, and then as pale as death.

“Mr. Todhetley thought he would like to come and see you, Mr. Rymer.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, in an agitated sort of tone, and then he stooped to put some jars closer together under the counter; but I thought he knew how white he was, and wanted to hide it.

When the Squire came in, asking first of all about the new cattle-food, he noticed nothing. Rymer was very nearly himself then, and said he had taken the agency, and old Ma.s.sock had ordered some of it.

Then they talked about the note. Rymer’s tone was quite different from what it had been before; though whether I should have noticed it but for his white face I can hardly tell. That had made me notice _him_.

He spoke in a low, timid voice, saying no more than he was obliged to say, as if the subject frightened him. One thing I saw–that his hands trembled. Some camomile blows lay on a white paper on the counter, and he began doing them up with shaky fingers.

Was his wife given to eavesdropping? I should have thought not–she was too independent for it. But there she was, standing just within the little parlour, and certainly listening. The Squire caught sight of her gown, and called out, “How d’ye do, Mrs. Rymer?” upon which she came forward. There was a scared look on her face also, as if its impudence had shrunk out of it. She did not stay an instant–just answered the Squire, and went away again.

“We must come to the bottom of the business somehow, you know, Rymer,”

concluded the Squire, as he was leaving. “It would never do to let the thief get off. What I should think is, that it must be the same fellow who robbed the butcher—-“

“No, no,” hastily interrupted Rymer.

“_No!_ One of the gang, then. Any way, you’ll help us all you can. I should like to bring the lot to trial. If you get to learn anything, send me word at once.”

Rymer answered “Yes,” and attended us to the door. Then the Squire went back to the cattle-food; but we got away at last.

“Thomas Rymer breaks, Johnny, I think. He doesn’t seem in spirits somehow. It’s hard for a man to be in a shop all day long, from year’s end to year’s end, and never have an hour’s holiday.”

Ever after this, when the affair was spoken of with Rymer, he showed more or less the same sort of shrinking–as if the subject gave him some terrible pain. n.o.body but myself noticed it; and I only because I looked out for it. I believe he saw I thought something; for when he caught my eye, as he did more than once, his own fell.

But some curious circ.u.mstances connected with him have to be told yet.

One summer evening, when it was getting towards dusk, he came over to Crabb Cot to see the Squire. Very much to the pater’s surprise, Rymer put a five-pound note into his hand.

“Is the money found?” cried he, eagerly.

“No, sir, it is not found,” said Rymer, in a subdued tone. “It seems likely to remain a mystery to the last. But I wish to restore it myself.

It lies upon my conscience–being postmaster here–that such a loss should have taken place. With three parts of the public, and more, it is the Timberdale side that gets the credit of being to blame. And so–it weighs heavily upon me. Though I don’t see how I could have prevented it: and I lie awake night after night, thinking it over.”

The Squire stared for awhile, and then pushed back the note.

“Why, goodness, man!” cried he, when his amazement let him speak, “you don’t suppose I’d take the money from you! What in the world!–what right have you to bear the loss? You must be dreaming.”

“I should feel better satisfied,” said poor Rymer, in his subdued voice of pain. “Better satisfied.”

“And how do you think _I_ should feel?” stamped the Squire, nearly flinging the note into the fire. “Here, put it up; put it up. Why, my good fellow, don’t, for mercy’s sake, let this bother take your senses away. It’s no more your fault that the letter was rifled than it was mine. Well, this is a start–your coming to say this.”

They went on, battling it out. Rymer praying him to take the note as if he’d pray his life away; the Squire accusing the other of having gone clean mad, to think of such a thing. I happened to go into the room in the middle of it, but they had not leisure to look at me. It ended in Rymer’s taking back the note: it could not have ended in any other manner: the Squire vowing, if he did not, that he should go before the magistrates for lunacy.

“Get the port wine, Johnny.”

Rymer declined to take any: his head was not accustomed to wine, he said. The Squire poured out a b.u.mper and made him drink it: telling him he believed it was something of the kind his head wanted, or it would never have got such a wild notion into it as the errand he had come upon that evening.

A few minutes after Rymer had left, I heard the Squire shouting to me, and went back to the room. He had in his hand a little thin note-case of green leather, something like two leaves folded together.

“Rymer must have dropped this, Johnny, in putting it into his pocket.

The note is in it. You had better run after him.”

I took it, and went out. But which way had Rymer gone? I could see far along the solitary road, and it was light enough yet, but no one was in view, so I guessed he was taking the short-cut through the Ravine, braving the ghost, and I went across the field and ran down the zigzag path. Wasn’t it gloomy there!

Well, it was a surprise! Thinking himself alone, he had sat down on the stump of a tree, and was sobbing with all his might: sobs that had prevented his hearing me. There was no time for me to draw back, or for him to hide his trouble. I could only hold out the green case and make the best of it.

“I am afraid you are in some great trouble, Mr. Rymer?”

He got up and was quiet at once. “The best of us have trouble at times, Master Johnny.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Nothing. Nothing. Except forget that you have seen me giving way. It was very foolish of me: but there are moments when–when one loses self-control.”

Either through his awkwardness or mine, the leaves of the case opened, and the bank-note fluttered out. I picked it up and gave it to him. Our eyes met in the gloom.


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