He stood long by the bedside, watching the man’s regular breathing, and examining his face attentively. Many strange thoughts passed through his mind, as he stood there, looking at the man who had caused such misery to himself, such shame and sorrow to his fair wife, such disappointment to the honest man who was now trying to save him from the very grasp of death. So this was Mary Goddard’s husband, little Nellie’s father—this grimy wretch, whose foul rags lay heaped there in the corner, whose miserable head pressed the spotless linen of the pillow, whose half-closed eyes stared up so senselessly at the squire’s face. This was the man for whose sake Mary Goddard started and turned pale, fainted and grew sick, languished and suffered so much pain. No wonder she concealed it from Nellie—no wonder she had feared lest after many years he should come back and claim her for his wife—no wonder either that a man with such a face should do bad deeds.
Mr. Juxon was a judge of faces; persons accustomed for many years to command men usually are. He noted Walter Goddard’s narrow jaw and pointed chin, his eyes set near together, his wicked lips, parted and revealing sharp jagged teeth, his ill-shaped ears and shallow temples, his flat low forehead, shown off by his cropped hair. And yet this man had once been called handsome, he had been admired and courted. But then his hair had hidden the shape of his head, his long golden moustache had covered his mouth and disguised all his lower features, he had been arrayed by tailors of artistic merit, and he had had much gold in his pockets. He was a very different object now—the escaped convict, close cropped, with a half-grown beard upon his ill-shaped face, and for all ornament a linen sheet drawn up under his chin.
The squire was surprised that he did not recover consciousness, seeing that he breathed regularly and was no longer so pale as at first. A faint flush seemed to rise to his sunken cheeks, and for a long time Mr. Juxon stood beside him, expecting every moment that he would speak. Once he thought his lips moved a little. Then Mr. Juxon took a little brandy in a spoon and raising his head poured it down his throat. The effect was immediate. Goddard opened wide his eyes, the blood mounted to his cheeks with a deep flush, and he uttered an inarticulate sound.
“What did you say?” asked the squire, bending over him.
But there was no answer. The sick man’s head fell back upon the pillow, though his eyes remained wide open and the flush did not leave his cheeks. His pulse was now very high, and his breathing grew heavy and stertorous.
“I hope I have not made him any worse,” remarked Mr. Juxon aloud, as he contemplated his patient. “But if he is going to die, I wish he would die now.”
The thought was charitable, on the whole. If Walter Goddard died then and there, he would be buried in a nameless grave under the shadow of the old church; no one would ever know that he was the celebrated forger, the escaped convict, the husband of Mary Goddard. If he lived—heaven alone knew what complications would follow if he lived.