The squire doubted whether he would be willing to exchange his personality for that of Mr. Booley.
“Well—what then?” he said. “I think I would try to be merciful.”
“Yes; but suppose that in being merciful, you just allowed that lady the time necessary to present her beloved husband with a convenient little pill, just to shorten his sufferings? And suppose that—”
“Really, Mr. Booley, I think you make very unwarrantable suppositions,” said Mr. Juxon severely. “I cannot suppose any such thing.”
“Many women—ladies too—have done that to save a man from hanging,” returned Mr. Booley, fixing his grey eye on the squire.
“Hanging?” repeated the latter in surprise. “But Goddard is not to be hanged.”
“Of course he is. What did you expect?” Mr. Booley looked surprised in his turn.
“But—what for?” asked the squire very anxiously. “He has not killed anybody—”
“Oh—then you don’t know how he escaped?”
“No—I have not the least idea—pray tell me.”
“I don’t wonder you don’t understand me, then,” said Mr. Booley. “Well, it is a short tale but a lively one, as they say. Of course it stands to reason in the first place that he could not have got out of Portland. He was taken out for a purpose. You know that after his trial was over, all sorts of other things besides the forgery came out about him, proving that he was altogether a very bad lot. Now about three weeks ago there was a question of identifying a certain person—it was a very long story, with a bad murder case and all the rest of it—commonplace, you know the sort—never mind the story, it will all be in the papers before long when they have got it straight, which is more than I have, seeing that these affairs do get a little complicated occasionally, you know, as such things will.” Mr. Booley paused. It was evident that his command of the English tongue was not equal to the strain of constructing a long sentence.
“This person, whom he was to identify, was the person murdered?” inquired Mr. Juxon.
“Exactly. It was not the person, but the person’s body, so to say. Somebody who had been connected with the Goddard case was sure that if Goddard could be got out of prison he could do the identifying all straight. It did not matter about his being under sentence of hard labour—it was a private case, and the officer only wanted Goddard’s opinion for his personal satisfaction. So he goes to the governor of Portland, and finds that Goddard had a very good character in that institution—he was a little bit of a gay deceiver, you see, and knew how to fetch the chaps in there and particularly the parson. So he had a good character. Very good. The governor consents to send him to town for this private job, under a strong force—that means three policemen—with irons on his hands. When they reached London they put him in a fourwheeler. Those things are done sometimes, and nobody is the wiser, because the governor does it on his own responsibility, for the good of the law, I suppose. I never approved of it. Do you follow me, Mr. Juxon?”