“I don’t believe the man has touched the worth of a pin belonging to any one since he came here, even on your preserves. People took up the notion from his wild appearance, and because he had no ostensible means of living. It would not have done to let them know that he had his supplies—sometimes money, sometimes food—from respectable clerk Gum’s.”
“But why should he be in concealment at all? That bank affair was made all right at the time.”
“There are other things he feared, it seems. I’ve not time to enter into details now; you’ll know them later. There he is—Pike: and there he’ll die—Pike always.”
“How long have you known it?”
“Since that fever he caught from the Rectory some years ago. I recollect your telling me not to let him want for anything;” and Lord Hartledon winced at the remembrance brought before him, as he always did wince at the unhappy past. “I never shall forget it. I went in, thinking Pike was ill, and that he, wild and disreputable though he had the character of being, might want physic as well as his neighbours. Instead of the black-haired bear I expected to see, there lay a young, light, delicate fellow, with a white brow, and cheeks pink with fever. The features seemed familiar to me; little by little recognition came to me, and I saw it was Willy Gum, whom every one had been mourning as dead. He said a pleading word or two, that I would keep his secret, and not give him up to justice. I did not understand what there was to give him up for then. However, I promised. He was too ill to say much; and I went to the next door, and put it to Gum’s wife that she should go and nurse Pike for humanity’s sake. Of course it was what she wanted to do. Poor thing! she fell on her knees later, beseeching me not to betray him.”
“And you have kept counsel all this time?”
“Yes,” said the surgeon, laconically. “Would your lordship have done otherwise, even though it had been a question of hanging?”
“I! I wouldn’t give a man a month at the treadmill if I could help it. One gets into offences so easily,” he dreamily added.
They crossed over the waste land, and Mr. Hillary opened the door of the shed with a pass-key. A lock had been put on when Pike was lying in rheumatic fever, lest intruders might enter unawares, and see him without his disguise.
“Pike, I have brought you my lord. He won’t betray you.”
THE SHED RAZED.
Closing the door upon them, the surgeon went off on other business, and Lord Hartledon entered and bent over the bed; a more comfortable bed than it once had been. It was the Willy Gum of other days; the boy he had played with when they were boys together. White, wan, wasted, with the dying hectic on his cheek, the glitter already in his eye, he lay there; and Val’s eyelashes shone as he took the worn hand.