The Guilty River
15. The Miller's Hospitality
On the way to Toller's cottage, my fears for Cristel weighed heavily on my mind.
That the man who had tried to poison me was capable of committing any other outrage,
provided he saw a prospect of escaping with impunity, no sane person could hesitate to
conclude. But the cause of my alarm was not to be traced to this conviction. It was a
doubt that made me tremble.
After what I had myself seen, and what Gloody had told me, could I hope to match my
penetration, or the penetration of any person about me whom I could trust, against the
fathomless cunning, the Satanic wickedness, of the villain who was still an inmate with
Cristel, under her father's roof?
I have spoken of his fathomless cunning, and his Satanic wickedness. The manner in
which the crime had been prepared and carried out would justify stronger expressions
still. Such was the deliberate opinion of the lawyer whom I privately consulted, under
circumstances still to be related.
"Let us arrive at a just appreciation of the dangerous scoundrel whom we have to deal
with," this gentleman said. "His preliminary experiment with the dog; his resolution to
make suspicion an impossibility, by drinking from the same tea which he had made ready
for you; his skilled preparation of an antidote, the color of which might court appearances
by imitating water--are there many poisoners clever enough to provide themselves
beforehand with such a defence as this? How are you to set the circumstances in their true
light, on your side? You may say that you threw out the calculations, on which he had
relied for securing his own safety, by drinking his second dose of the antidote while he
was out of the room; and you can appeal to the fainting-fits from which you and he
suffered on the same evening, as a proof that the action of the poison was partially
successful; in your case and in his, because you and he were insufficiently protected by
half doses only of the antidote. A bench of Jesuits would understand these refinements. A
bench of British magistrates would look at each other, and say: Where is the medical
evidence? No, Mr. Roylake, we must wait. You can't even turn him out of the cottage
before he has had the customary notice to quit. The one thing to take care of--in case
some other suspicions of ours turn out to be well founded--is that our man shall not give
us the slip. One of my clerks, and one of your gamekeepers shall keep watch on his
lodgings, turn and turn about, till his time is up. Go where he may after that, he shall not
I may now take up the chain of events again.
On reaching Toller's cottage, I was distressed (but hardly surprised) to hear that Cristel,
exhausted after a wakeful night, still kept her bed, in the hope of getting some sleep. I
was so anxious to know if she was at rest, that her father went upstairs to look at her.