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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter XVII. Sukey as a Private Detective

Chapter XVII. Sukey as a Private Detective.

Under the benignant influence of the day-god, the flood waters subsided and entirely passed away, after carrying away bridges and portion of the railway line, dismantling culverts and reservoirs, and filling the shafts of the coal-mines. The fortunate patient left the institution for good after a fortnight's illness.

The training of the race-horse Moss Rose was proceeding apace to the complete satisfaction of his owner and trainer, and the mettlesome little mustang was developing signs of a steadily-progressive improvement day after day. Not so the sufferance of the house committee of the hospital. Most of the committee were culled from the different trades of the town, page 106and the majority consisted of a motley collection of illiterate men, some of whom could scarcely sign their names and were obliged to hold the tip of the pen between their thumbs and forefingers while Lilliecrap signed for them their names in the visiting-book. The more insignificant the member the more he displayed his overweening conceit. Two friends alone on that committee ever showed any kindness to the doctor. One of these was the architect, whose boat he had risked his life to procure for the rescue of the perishing Mrs. Downward on the roof. Through the architect he heard the secrets of a conspiracy amongst the others directed against the resident surgeon for keeping and running a race-horse. The groom Paddy, he told Eugene, was looked upon as an impostor on the funds of the hospital, and in the opinion of some of the committee it was an imposition for the resident surgeon to keep him there at the expense of the institution.

"He was there when I took the appointment," said Eugene as they rode out together one Sunday morning a few miles out of the town, "and if he should be discharged now, he should have been discharged before I took charge." Riding along, with the tawny St. Bernard as a precursor, together with two greyhounds, they came upon a little creek called the Broken Creek, and as the horses were fording it the architect went on advising Eugene to give up horse-racing and dismiss Paddy next day.

"What are those dogs tearing at?" said Eugene, stopping the trend of the conversation, as the greyhounds howled and tore up the yellow silt from the sandy bed of the formerly flooded creek, and the St. Bernard tugged at something which he held in his mouth. Making a detour, they came up to the dogs. "It's a foot!" said Eugene in astonishment, as he got down from the saddle and scraped the silt away from the side, to discover a human leg and the naked remains of the body of a girl about twelve years old.

"It can't be that girl who was drowned at the time of the flood in Augusta, for she had her boots and clothes on at the time," remarked the architect.

"That is who it will be." replied Eugene. "When a body is drowned the currents and undertow of the water in time will take the clothes off it, and boots as well. We had better get back and apprise the police."

Calling off the frantic dogs and re-mounting, he rode back again to Augusta with the architect. The following day a coronial enquiry was held and the body identified by a milkwoman as that of her daughter, who had been carried away by the sweeping flood when milking, and drowned after a protracted struggle for her life.

On leaving the architect at his lodgings, they touched again upon the subject of the hospital conspiracy. "I don't like to discharge a good and faithful servant," said Eugene; "but I shall send the horse away to proper training-stables near the city, and get Paddy taken on there as a groom if I can."

"Don't breathe a word of what I have told you," said Cosgrove, "or I page 107shall have Littlejohn getting up a conspiracy against me for divulging hospital committee secrets;" when the doctor, with an avowal of his good faith, walked his mare Rosie home. Upon entering the stable and dismounting, he informed Paddy that it was his intention to despatch Moss Rose to the training stables near the city and put him in charge of a professional trainer. He was too good for those small country meetings, he said, and the horse should distinguish himself in his own class about town.

"Well, it's for yerself to say, sir," began the ardent lover of the little black horse, lifting the green cap and scratching his head; "but by the holy Mary mother o' God, nobody can do anything with that harse but meself."

"Oh, that will be all right, Paddy," said the doctor. "You can take him down as soon as we get a horse-box from New Orleans, and I think I can make arrangements with the trainer to give you a job as groom there. Old Billy Fox has had forty years experience in horse-training, and was for years an owner himself. He has several other horses there, and I know he will be glad to have Moss Rose, as he seemed to take a liking to him after he won the cup, and I promised to let him have the horse if ever he left me. He ought to have something for you to do Paddy, and I know he will give it to you if be has."

"With respecks to yer honour, sir," said Paddy wiping a furtive tear from the side of his nose, "if that harse laves it will be the death of Patrick Flynn, so it will—the death of Patrick Flynn—the darlin'!"

Upon entering on the Monday morning the deserted residence on the hill and passing the door of the dining-room, as he walked down the passage he heard voices in the drawing-room. Thinking a small crowd of female patients had come to consult him, he entered and saw seated around the table on every available chair the whole of the ostensible representatives of the houses of Gould, and one from the house of Whitworth.

There they were as large as life, just as if the Montagues and the Capulets had taken up their abode under the same roof to sit in solemn conclave and discuss the pleasure of Juliet. The great and mighty air-compressor, stirring himself to address the assembled houses, asked how much money the doctor expected he would have to pay over to the young widow (she was fifty-four). He had never seen the young woman himself, he admitted; but, from his experience he thought that one woman was quite enough for any man, and if money would tide over the present difficulty he could find it somewhere or other with that object in view. He then sat down upon a timid and tender Italian greyhound, called "Tottie," which had been worried by a bull-dog and sorely cut and bruised. The doctor had trimmed the wounds, bandaged them, and made Tottie a little bed on the sofa. It screamed with agony when the whole tonnage of the hydraulic rammer and great air-compressor fell upon the wounds in the sore little limbs; whereupon the mother-in-law was only prevented by page 108the doctor from flinging it out of the window, or taking it down to the dunghill.

The doctor, making light of the reference to Mrs. Downward, stated that he did not owe the lady any money, and that he had no difficulty which money could tide over, as he did not patronise the bookmakers very much; besides, he had just made up his mind to send the race-horse away to a trainer near the city on the understanding that he was to get all the stakes and pay a reduced fee for the training.

The head of the house of Whitworth straightway came to the rescue and threw a flood of light upon the congress—particularly upon the doctor himself. He had been greatly surprised, he might say amazed, at receiving a telegram from his newly-made daughter-in-law the day before commanding him to come at once to Maconville. Dreading the worst, he had been travelling in a collier and nearly all night in the sluggish goods train, arriving at six a.m. that morning. If he had the money to pay away, it would not be necessary to ask for it twice—it would be quickly forthcoming; but unfortunately most of his means were exhausted in an expensive luxury at Chicago. He had some doubts in his mind about the correctness of the story which he had heard from Mrs. Gould at Maconville, but all he could say was that, if it were true, a woman of such a character would be enough to poison—yes, poison—the atmosphere around her wherever she breathed.

"Poison the devil!" ejaculated the doctor, and he gave the true particulars of the whole affair, smiling at the half-cynical bird of Paradise, who frowned at him in return, while it was as much as his sardonically-grinning mother-in-law could do to keep her finger-nails from tearing his face as she furiously fulminated1 at him for pandering to the worst of passions, and crushing the heart of her dear little Birdie under the wheels of a domestic Juggernaut.

The great and mighty man displaying an anxiety to catch the next train to the city, saying he wanted to see about some new Dick's driving belts, talked business again, and finished by asking the doctor point-blank how much he owed the widow again, with an air of vapid flippancy.

"Go and ask her yourself," retorted Eugene; "there's nothing owing to anybody by me," and taking up his hat, he left the meeting of the clans to discuss the question amongst themselves, while he loitered smoking cigars about the more congenial Moss Rose's box.

The two scions of the noteworthy houses shortly afterwards interviewed the lady in question, and in the most delicate manner possible they elicited from her the information that there was about two hundred dollars owing to her, which she was despairing of ever recovering. During the course of the delicately-worded inquiry, the great coal-king was informed that she would esteem his son-in-law as long as she lived, whereupon the great man winked at old Christopher Whitworth, as much as to say, "You see Birdie is right, there's something wrong here: there's none of the fool about Birdie."

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After she had further declared that among all her friends none had done for her what he had done for her and her children, the deputation retired to discuss ways and means at the Seven Stars Hotel. Upon receiving the following morning by post a voucher for the sum of two hundred dollars, paid into her credit at the local bank, she was at her wit's end to know from whom it could have come, and for a long while imagined it had come from the doctor. One fool makes many.

The flood had swept the advertisement away. The defaulters were left unmolested, and Mrs. Downward decided upon leaving Augusta and purchasing a small millinery business in the city; while old Christopher assuming that his mission in the affair—which he looked upon as a great joke—had ended, confided to the doctor the idea that if the other old buffer was so generous he might have split the cheque and given him half for his trouble in mediating with the old woman and Birdie. Now that the tea-pot storm was over, he took his departure home by the afternoon train and steam-boat, deploring the length of time he had stayed away from Lily Cottage, as he might say for nothing at all.

In the wide wide world there is no such passion as jealousy! What other can tear the idol of a life from its pedestal, and shatter it in ruins to the dust without an apparent cause? What other can eat its way into the core of a loving and faithful heart, like a cankerous worm, and corrode the well-springs of affection in such a guise? What other can, like a juggler, extract evil out of good, make white appear black, and the noblest instincts of man selfish treason and rebellion? It is the glittering prize of the Tempter and Destroyer, and the flashing sword of the monarch of hell.

Thou green-eyed monster! what faithful hearts hast thou maliciously betrayed! what happy homes hast thou turned into a hell upon earth! How stalkest thou in thy painted robes into the minds of the innocent and the noble, to wreak thy mischief upon the good and the pure!

"Truly, the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of corruption

Rise like an exhalation the misty phantoms of passion.

Angels of light they seem, but are only delusions of Satan."2

In the beloved bosom of Eugene's wife had been sown the seeds of that Mephistophelian passion, to flourish and rankle within it until they could grow no more. For a month she had been away, and he little thought it was on account of his friend. As far as he knew, his father might have dropped into the house that morning from the clouds, and for the first time in his life he discovered that he had to deal with an irritable, captious and absurdly jealous wife. He for the first time seriously reflected over the warning of Guinevere, whose Platonic love and passions belonged to the sovereign elements, and spiritualised themselves into dreams of haunting music. Her uncouth mother and her shadowing aunt had fanned the flames of her foundationless suspicions. Instead of extinguishing them, they had made them spread and had led her to the threshold of self-torment for years.

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Passing the matter over as lightly as he could, the house was at last left to themselves. Another servant was engaged, and Marvel seemed to be content and happy in her new home. While she had been away scores of visiting cards had been left, and now that the racehorse was gone he occupied the afternoons in driving her out to return the different calls. Fully a month had passed, and they were not half-way through the list, when a telegram came from the trainer saying that if the doctor could get away the following week he would like to meet him in the city. It thus became necessary to bustle through the week's work of repaying visits, and to urge Marvel to cut them as short as she possibly and decently could. She seemed to firmly believe that it was business in connection with the racehorse that was to take her husband away to town—as she had surreptitiously taken the telegram from his pocket, and had seen the trainer's name. Nevertheless her fantastic jealousy sponged out all reason and logic from her mind, and whispered to her that it seemed to be a strange coincidence that Mrs. Downward had left for the city a little while after the horse left. Swayed this way and that way by conflicting emotions, she was on the horns of a dilemma as to whether it was the horse or whether it was the woman that was taking him to the city. Her father had known the trainer, and she had heard him call the trainer an old rascal. This was quite enough. Marvel made up her mind that it was not the horse at all—it was the woman.

Suiting the action to the word, she arranged with her cousin at Sunnyside this time, instructing her not to come to the house but to go to the city the day on which he was supposed to meet the trainer; find out the trainer and inquire if he had seen her husband lately, and if so, when he had seen him last. Constant and devoted was her cousin Sukey—ever at the beck and call of Marvel for any little services of this character. So proficient did she become in performing them that she was afterwards called by Eugene, to her face, by the name of "Sukey Mouchard," which brand adhered to her as long as she lived. She was Marvel's tool and plaything.

Eugene proceeded with Marmaduke to town to keep his appointment with the trainer, who was to meet him opposite the horse-bazaar in the city. There he waited for an hour, but no trainer appeared. Instead, one of his daughters, a woman about forty, who had come into town to do some shopping, came after her business was finished to the spot opposite the horse-bazaar, and explained that her father was laid up in bed with twinges of gout, and could not leave home, but was anxious to see the doctor. Eugene thereupon decided on going out to the training stable, and Miss Fox, saying she had finished her business, walked with the doctor as far as the corner of Railway Street, and travelled with him in the same carriage to the training stables beyond Houston.

Near the horse-bazaar in the city was situated the Old Angel Hotel. Peeping out through an upstairs little casement, had the doctor looked up at the time, he might have noticed the steel-grey, ferrety eyes of his wife's dear cousin, with a white knob on her little inquisitorial nose flattened page 111against the glass. With the details of the important news simmering and seething in her artful brain, she made a sort of extract from the decoction, and picking up her umbrella she hurried away to the telegraph office and wired to Marvel at the Augusta hospital—"Not horse; woman."

During his visit to the training stables he was persuaded to wait till the following morning at the old White Horse Hotel, of which the trainer was the proprietor, so that he might see Moss Rose do his trial first thing in the early morning. This was a most unlucky decision, as it turned out in the end to be in one respect, for although the trial of the horse surpassed all their expectations, when he arrived home at Augusta he found his wife in anguish and tears, hurling at him reproaches for his perfidy in the church, his false and treacherous subterfuges and low deceit, and avowing she would stay with him no longer, she telegraphed to her father again, scratched his face like a wild cat, and shut herself up, sobbing all day in her room. There was no use in attempting to make explanations: they were only another string of lies, to make her think all the less of him, despise him and hate the very sight of him from that day forward for evermore.

Instead of laying himself out for the lulling of any aerial suspicions, her husband made the grievous mistake of laying himself open unconsciously for more. Instead of spending his evenings at home with his wife, he mixed himself up with a horde of gamesters, book-makers, and all the horse-racing faculty of the town. He would stand for hours conversing about pedigrees of different horses, the colour and contour of some celebrated chieftain of the field, and at night, driven as he thought he was by the irritability of his wife from home, he was rapidly acquiring the habit of card-playing at one of the hotels—The Seven Stars.

Marmaduke always with him in the card-room, night after night he would sit with a coterie of three others—the publican, the bank-manager, and a played-out, antiquated doctor of medicine—till the night had been expended, and all the money was gone into the hands of the publican. He would wander home while the cocks were crowing on the hay-ricks, and his own canaries and skylarks were splitting the air with song. Marmaduke had no such cause for these delinquencies as he had. His gentle, forbearing and forgiving wife, instead of proclaiming his faults before the multitude from the house-tops and creating a scene of absurdity amongst her relations, would shield and screen him from every idle word, and sound his praises wherever she visited. Not so the hysterical, passionate, jealous, rabid and irritating Marvel. No peace could the doctor feel in his own house if anything he happened to do ruffled the vindictive and exasperating temper of his wife, with whom he lived on the chronic tip-toe of expectation of an eruptive storm, and in a continuous simmer of splenetic defiance. A jealous woman never forgives, and Marvel never forgot her horror of the toils of the soi-disant Circe.3

Instead of placating her, he unconsciously aggravated her by the profound silence which he maintained, and instead of spending his time with her to forestall her perversity and her petulance, he wasted it in the card-room, page 112and sometimes at the bar of the Seven Stars Hotel. The love which he felt for her when he solicited her devotion amidst the radiance of the rising yellow moon, and led her away as his queen from the altar, together with the constancy which he inwardly felt and outwardly showed to be one of his chief characteristics, Marvel herself, by her own premeditated actions, was doing all she could, without ever reflecting over it afterwards, to eradicate, root and branch from his mind. She had no introspectiveness, and she was a victim to mental myopia—an inability to foresee the outcome of her disaffection.

Having had his photo in conjunction with his bride taken during their honeymoon trip, when the package arrived, for some reason unknown to himself it contained only eleven portraits. With a galling sneer she taunted him with sending the missing one on the sly "to that bad woman," and threw the package into the fire. Little unconsidered trifles that not one woman in ten thousand would notice Marvel would magnify a hundred-fold, and in the heat of her temper she would cast them in his teeth as if they were the most atrocious crimes. Eugene without replying would slam the door, join the party at the Seven Stars Hotel, and make that little card-room his home for the rest of the night. Tout voila! He was disenchanted.

Ever since the morning when he had found her family and his own poor father ensconced in the dining-room at the instigation of his wife to present inuendoes of impropriety with a lady of great respect in the town, he perceived the littleness of her little mind, and resented it by withdrawing the former extravagance of his attention.

"This is the cross we must bear: the sin and the swift retribution."4

1 Thundered forth; uttered formal condemnation. OED Online, v., sense 7.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 The Courtship of Miles Standish. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Uncertain. Soi-disant, French, means 'self-named'; Circe was the sorceress of Greek myth who enchanted Odysseus and his followers.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 The Courtship of Miles Standish. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]