Of course, our first thought was, 'Was she really married?' And it was settled betwixt us that Harry should go up to London to the church named in her marriage lines and see if it was a real marriage or a make-up, like what you read of in the weekly papers. And Harry went up, I settling to go the same day to fetch my clothes from Charleston.
So as soon as I had seen him off by the train, I walked up to Charleston, and father with me, to fetch my things.
Mrs. Blake - for Mrs. Alderton I can't and won't call her - was out, and I was able to get my bits of things together comfortable without her fussing and interfering. But there was a pair of scissors of mine I couldn't find, and I looked for them high and low till I remembered that I had lent them to Mrs. Blake the week before. So I went to her room to look for them, thinking no harm; and there, looking in her corner cupboard for my scissors, as I had a right to do, I found something else that I hadn't been looking for; and, right or wrong, I put that in my pocket and said nothing to father, and so we went home and sat down to wait for Harry.
He came in by the last train, looking tired and gloomy.
'They were married right enough,' he said. 'I've seen the register, and I've seen the clerk, and he remembers them being married.'
'Then you'd better have a bit of supper, my boy,' says mother, and takes it smoking hot out of the oven.
The next day when I had cleared away breakfast, I stood looking into the street. It was a cold day, and a day when nobody would be out of doors that could anyways be in. I shouldn't have had my nose out of the door myself, except that I wanted to turn my back on other folks now, and think of what I had found at Charleston, for I hadn't even told Harry of it yet.
And as I sat there, who should come along but the postman, as is my second cousin by the mother's side, and, 'Well, Polly,' says he, 'times do change. They tell me young Alderton is biding with your folks now.'
'They tell you true for once,' says I.
'Then 'tain't worth my while to be trapesing that mile and a quarter to leave a letter at the farm, I take it, especially as it's a registered letter, and him not there to sign for it.'
So I calls Harry out, who was smoking a pipe in the chimney-corner, as humped and gloomy as a fowl on a wet day, and he was as surprised as me at getting a letter with a London postmark, and registered too; and he was that surprised that he kept turning it over and over, and wondering who it could have come from, till we thought it would be the best way to open and see, and we did.
'Well, I'm blowed!' says Harry; and then he read it out to me. It was -
'MY DEAR BROTHER, - I have seen in the papers the melancholy account of our poor father's decease, and the disastrous circumstances of his second marriage; and the more I have thought of it, the more it seems to me that there was a screw loose somewhere. I had the misfortune, as you know, to offend him by my choice of a profession; but you will be glad to hear that I have risen from P.C. to detective-sergeant, and am doing well.
'I have made a few inquiries about the movements of our lamented father and Mrs. Blake on the day when they were united, and if the same will be agreeable to you, I will come down Sunday morning and talk matters over with you. - I remain, my dear brother, your affectionate brother,
JOHN. 'P.S. I shall register the letter to make sure. Telegraph if you would like me to come.'
Well, we telegraphed, though mother doesn't hold with such things, looking on it as flying in the face of Providence and what's natural. But we got it all in, with the address, for sixpence, and Harry was as pleased as Punch to think of seeing his brother again. But mother said she doubted if it would bring a blessing. And on the Sunday morning John came.
He was a very agreeable, gentlemanly man, with such manners as you don't see in Littlington - no, nor in Polegate neither, - and very changed from the boy with the red cheeks as used to come past our house on his way to school when he was very little.
Harry met him at the station and brought him home, and when he come in he kissed me like a brother, and mother too, and he said -
'The best good of trouble, ma'am, is to show you who your friends really are.'
'Ah,' says mother, 'I doubt if all the detectives in London, asking your pardon, Master John, can set Master Harry up in his own again. But he's got a pair of hands, and so has my Polly, and he might have chosen worse, though I says it.'
Now, after dinner, when I'd cleared away, nothing would serve but I must go out with the two of them. So we went out, and walked up on to the Downs for quietness' sake, and it was a warm day and soft, though November, and we leaned against a grey gate and talked it all over.
Then says Master John, 'Look here, Polly, we aren't to have any secrets from you. There's no doubt they were married, but doesn't it seem to you rather strange that my poor old father should have been taken off so suddenly after the wedding?'
'Yes,' I said, 'but the doctors seemed to understand all about it.'
Then he said something about the doctors that it was just as well they weren't there to hear, and he went on -
'Of course I thought at first they weren't married, so I set about finding out what they did when they came to London; and I haven't found out what my father did, but I did pounce on a bit of news, and that's that she wasn't with him the whole day. They came to Charing Cross by the same train, but he wasn't with her when she went to get that arsenic from the chemist's.'
'What!' says I, 'arsenic?'
'Yes,' says John, 'don't you get excited, my dear. I found that out by a piece of luck once as doesn't come to a man every day of the week. A woman answering to her description went into a chemist's shop, and the assistant gave the arsenic, a shilling's-worth it was, to kill rats with.'
'And God above only knows why they put such bits of fools into a shop to sell sixpenny-worths of death over the counter,' says Harry.
'Now the question is: Was this woman answering to her description really Mrs. Blake or not?'
'It was Mrs. Blake,' says I, very short and sharp.
'How do you know?' says John, shorter and sharper.
Then I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out what I had found in Mrs. Blake's corner cupboard, and John took it in his hand and looked at it, and whistled long and low. It was a little white packet, and had been opened and the label torn across, but you could read what was on it plain enough - 'Arsenic - Poison,' and the name of the chemist in London.
John's face was red as fire, like some men's is when they're going in fighting, and my Harry's as white as milk, as some other men's is at such times. But as for me, I fell a-crying to think that any woman could be so wicked, and him such a good master and so kind to her, and she having the sole care of him, helpless in her hands as the new-born babe.
And Harry, he patted me on the back, and told me to cheer up and not to cry, and to be a good girl; and presently, my handkerchief being wet through, I stopped, and then John, he said -
'We'll bring it home to her yet, Harry, my boy. I'll get an order to have poor old father exhumed, and the doctors shall tell us how much of the arsenic that cursed old hag gave him.'