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Jonah's LuckByFergus Hume
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Liczba stron: 475
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CHAPTER I. THE ADVENTURE OF THE INN
CHAPTER II. A RECOGNITION
CHAPTER III. CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
CHAPTER IV. WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
CHAPTER V. HUE AND CRY
CHAPTER VI. THE CARAVAN
CHAPTER VII. KIND'S OPINIONS
CHAPTER VIII. MISS MAUD TEDDER
CHAPTER IX. THE SOLICITOR
CHAPTER X. THE INQUEST
CHAPTER XI. LOVERS
CHAPTER XII. THE STRANGE WORD
CHAPTER XIII. A MEXICAN BEAUTY
CHAPTER XIV. AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL
CHAPTER XV. A FRIEND IN NEED
CHAPTER XVI. MR. GOWRIE'S PLOTTING
CHAPTER XVII. MAUD'S INHERITANCE
CHAPTER XVIII. A SURPRISING DEFENCE
CHAPTER XIX. MRS. MOUNTFORD'S ACCUSATION
CHAPTER XX. AT THE "MARSH INN"
CHAPTER XXI. ON BOARD THE YACHT
CHAPTER XXII. ANOTHER MYSTERY
CHAPTER XXIII. AN EXPLANATION
CHAPTER XXIV. STARTLING NEWS
CHAPTER XXV. THE CAPTAIN'S STORY
CHAPTER XXVI. THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE END
It was the close of a chilly autumn day; and under a lowering grey sky the landscape of river and marsh and low-lying hills looked forbiddingly forlorn. White mists veiled the wet earth; the road, running between withered hedgerows, was ankle-deep in mud, and the stubbled fields held streaks of water between their ploughed ridges. Occasionally the pale beams of a weakened sun would break through the foggy air: but the fitful light, without warmth or power, only served to accentuate the depression of the scene. The most cheerful of men would have succumbed to the pessimism of the moment.
As it was, the solitary creature who trudged along the miry highway accepted his misery with sulky resignation. At intervals he lifted a hopeless face to the darkening clouds: sometimes he peered idly to right and left, and twice he halted, breathing heavily, a monument of wretchedness. But usually, with his hands in the pockets of a thin jacket, and with a bent head, he plodded doggedly onward, bearing submissively a situation which he could not mend. In his gait there was the hint of the pedestrian who aims at no goal. Without eagerness, without resolution, with slack muscles and a blank expression, he toiled like a hag-ridden dreamer through those dreary, weary, eerie, Essex marshes, a derelict of civilisation.
Yet his face, when revealed by the wan sunshine, appeared young and handsome and refined, though sadly worn and lean. The skin, bronzed to a clear brown by wind and rain and sunshine, was marred by unexpected wrinkles, less the work of time than of care. His closely-clipped hair and small moustache exhibited the hue of ripe corn; his eyes possessed the fathomless blue of Italian skies; his thin nose, slightly curved, his firm chin and set lips revealed character and determination. Also, he had the frame of a wiry athlete, the spring-gait of a long-distance walker, and the expansive forehead of a student. Such a man should not have been ploughing through the mud of a lonely country road, with but a threadbare suit of blue serge to protect him from the inclement weather. Something was wrong: and none knew that better than the tramp himself. But whatever might be the cause of his misery, he kept it in his heart, being by nature reticent, and by experience, suspicious.
At sunset the air became darker, the mists thicker, the scene even more dreary. Still he laboured onward, but now, for the first time, with a hint of resolution in his movements, bracing himself, as it were, for a final spurt, to attain a newly-guessed-at end. On the right he could hear the lapping of the Thames against its weedy banks, on the left a dull dripping of water from leafless boughs, saluted his ears. Sometimes there sounded the cry of a belated bird; again would come the shrill whistling of trains, and not infrequently the hooting of a siren, as steamers passed each other on the blind river. And, between pauses, he could hear his own weary breathing, and the squelching of the water in his well-worn shoes. None of these sounds tended to raise his spirits, which were, at the moment, as low as the tide of the unseen stream.
Only when a dim light glimmered through the mists did he show any signs of interest in the physical, and then he heaved a sigh of relief. A jingle of money came from his right-hand pocket as he moved his fingers, and a gleam of satisfaction flitted across his sullen face. The light, as he surmised, must come from some cottage, or farm-house, or inn, and there he would be able to obtain bed and board for the night. It had been his intention to push on to Tarhaven, in search of a friend, but the rapid closing in of the night and the increasing gloom of the fogs, forced him to spend his last few pence in rest and food. The evil of to-day he could no longer endure: the morrow would, and must, look after itself—a true beggar's philosophy, and what was he but one of the unemployed.
The light became stronger as he drew near, and he found himself unexpectedly on the outskirts of what he presumed was a small village, and within a yard or so of the inn. The hostel was pretentious, seeing that it consisted of two storeys, and yet it was mean in appearance, as the walls were merely of whitewashed mud, and the roof of sodden grey thatch. Over the low, broad door, flanked by dripping benches, appeared a sign advertising, in rude black letters, that the house was "The Marsh Inn." Through the windows on either side of the closed door, gleamed a ruddy light telling of comfort and warmth within, obtainable, doubtless, at a small charge. With his hand on the latch, since the entry was free to all comers, stood the tramp, while a shrill voice objurated within, without pause or grammar.
"Jus' slip out t' git water, y' bloomin' silly. Pope wants 'is tea, bein' took with poetry. I don' keep y' fur show nohow. But thet's fine lydies all over: ho yuss. I want y' fur a glarse cupboard, in corse, y' lazy Jezebel, 'Eaven forgive me fur bringin' y' int' 'Oly Writ, es the parsin torks of."
Before the end of this pleasant admonition the door flew open so suddenly that the stranger started back. Past him, shot a girl of small stature, with a white, haggard face, firmly closed lips and defiant eyes. She was scarcely a woman, and weak in her appearance, so the zinc bucket she swung at her side was undeniably too heavy for her frail strength. The tramp heard her gasp as she sprang into the mist, and with the unconsidered haste of a kindly heart, he followed impulsively. Her laboured breathing guided him to a well, encircled with rough stone-work and surmounted by an iron wheel. Down dropped the jangling bucket, and the girl, breathing with exhaustion, strove to bring it to the surface again, weighty with water. The effort extorted a low, heart-breaking sob.
"This is too much for you," said the tramp in a refined and pleasant voice. "Allow me!" and he fell to work.
The girl started when he spoke, but she did not cry out. Evidently she was accustomed to command her feelings. In the mist she could scarcely see the face of her assistant, but his voice sounded like that of a gentleman, and there lurked a quality in its tones which gave her confidence. In a moment or so he had the filled bucket in his grip, and was walking towards the inn. At the door the girl silently took his burden from him with a nod of thanks, and entered with a word of gratitude. And her voice was also refined, by no means the voice of a servant. Howsoever this girl came to occupy so menial a position, the tramp guessed that she was a gentlewoman. However, he was too weary to weave romances about beggarmaids, and was no King Cophetua to do so. He sighed and walked in.
The room was small and ancient, with a low ceiling and a gigantic fire-place, in which glowed a noble driftwood fire. On either side of this stood settles, and in the centre of the room, was an oblong deal table, upon which appeared pewter tankards, and clumsy china mugs. The floor was sanded, the smoke-panelled walls were decorated with cheap hunting pictures, vilely coloured, and with illustrations cut from The Graphic. Also there was an old horse-hair sofa, of the ugly Albert period, a cumbersome chair or two, and spittoons. A dingy paraffin lamp dangled from the grimy, whitewashed ceiling, blackening it with smoke, and diffusing a dull yellow glare. In fact this especial tap-room was of the kind usually to be found by the dozen in agricultural districts, unlovely, dirty, cheap, and vulgar, yet comfortable enough in an animal way.
On one settle, sat a lean, loosely-knit youth of of twenty, with a slack, foolish face, and a drooping underlip, revealing small serrated teeth. His hair was long and unbrushed, his clothes were of well-worn tweed, extremely untidy, and badly fitting. Book in hand he stared at the ceiling, with lack-lustre eyes, oblivious to his surroundings. Opposite to him, and watching sneeringly, sat an elderly man, with a strong square face, much inflamed with drink. His apparel was disreputable, his head bald, and his beard untrimmed. Yet he had the thoughtful eyes of a scholar, and his hands, though dirty, were white and slender, and eloquently emphasised the fact to the observant, that he worked less with them than with his brain. Undoubtedly he had been gently reared, and the cause of his falling into this mire, could be discerned only too plainly in his red nose and shiny skin, and in the affectionate way in which he grasped a glass of what looked like water, and which was really gin.
Lastly, the new-comer's eyes wandered to the landlady, and in her he beheld the representative Whitechapel virago, so well-known in the police-courts of that district. She was tall and lean, fierce in looks, vehement of tongue, prodigal of gestures: a slattern in dress and a tyrant in manner. Having chased the girl with the bucket into the back parts of the house, she strode forward with the swing of a grenadier, and the insolence of a bully, to face the new guest.
"An' wot may y' want?" she demanded, harshly scornful.
"Bed and board for the night," replied the tramp, curtly.
"Ho! An' the money? Eh? D'y think I'm a-goin' t'waste five bob."
The man produced two half-crowns.
"A meal now, a bed later, and breakfast at nine in the morning."
"Five, an' praps bad money," muttered the woman, biting one of the coins, "sevening y' mean."
"Five shillings is all I mean to give. If you don't," he made a motion to take back the money.
The woman, who was really overpaid, dosed her broad red hand sharply, and nodded contemptuously.
"But y' don't git th' bes' bedroom, thet bein' taiken by a gent, es is a gent, an' not a broken down toff. 'Ow do I know es y're respectable?"
"I certify," said a grand mellow voice from one settle, "that Mr. Angus Herries is well-born and honest!" Then with a sudden plunge into the Scottish dialect. "Dinna ding the laddie wi' sic blatter, ye fule wumon."
Herries wheeled round at the sound of those trumpet tones, and stared at the stout old rascal, who sipped his gin with a knowing leer.
"Gowrie," he gasped, quite taken aback. "Mr. Gowrie."
"Ye've a quick eye, my laddie. Michael Gowrie it is, though ye micht ca' me the Reverend Michael Gowrie, an' nae burn the tongue o' ye. Sit ye doon, my mon, an' we'll hae a dram togither for the sake o' auld lang syne." He hummed the last seven words.
Herries sat on the opposite settle, next to the untidy youth, who cast sidelong, disdainful looks on him, but took no further notice.
"I want food rather than drink," said the young man wearily.
"Aye! But drink is the ain an' the tither ye ken."
"Mister," cried the landlady, who had been bottling up her wrath, "I'd hev y' know, es m' naime es 'Liza Narby, an' I comes of genteel folk in Rotherhithe. Don't y' call me a bloomin' fool. D'ye see?"
"Pardon me," said the Reverend Michael in excellent English. "I did not misuse the word 'blooming,' which applies only to young and lovely beings of your sex."
"Such es Elspeth," sneered Mrs. Narby, with the venom of an ugly woman.
"Haud your tongue, ye limmer," thundered Gowrie, evidently irritated, and cast a look at the door, through which the girl had vanished, "or, nae mair custom do ye get frae me."
"Ho!" shouted Mrs. Narby, with her arms akimbo, and going at once on the warpath, "'spose I kin do without thet any'ow, an'——"
She was about to launch out in true Whitechapel style, when the untidy youth intervened listlessly.
"Milton talks of a blooming archangel," said he, addressing the Rev. Michael Gowrie.
"Nae in your mither's sense," chuckled the scholar.
But that a bell tinkled somewhere in the back premises, Mrs. Narby would have returned to the attack.
"There's thet gent, es come this night," she said, looking at her son,—for the untidy youth, held such a relationship towards this Amazon. "Go an' see wot he wants, Pope. Whoy, he might take a fancy t' y', an' elp publish yer poetry."
"I want no patrons," said Pope rising haughtily. "Genius stands quite alone."
All the same, he stalked out of the tap-room quickly, to see why the bell had sounded, and was followed by his mother, who was heard scolding her servant again. Herries took no notice of these Cockney vulgarities, being too weary to enjoy their humour. He stared into the glowing fire, while Gowrie chuckled, and finished his gin and water with great relish.
"Aye!" he drawled, wiping his coarse red lips with the sleeve of his dilapidated coat, "yon's wha ye ca a gowk, or maybe a stirk. Poetry quotha; the lad hes nae mair poetry nor ma fut. An' tis a queer thing, Herries, that you randy quean deems him a genius, nae less. There's a vein o' verse in yon limmer, else she wuldnae hae ca'd her bairn Pope."
"After the poet?"
"Tush, laddie. Pope, the wee crooked thing, wes nae a poet. Gi' me glorious Robby Bur-rns. Aye, aye, the besom o' a landleddy hes a glimmerin' o' the divine. 'Tis queer where the speeritual spark, as ye micht say, taks up its abode. I hae a wee bit glimmer maesel, an' I thocht ye hed it also, Herries. But ye've come doon, sadly, puir saul,—eh,—the looks of ye."
"Drink has nothing to do with them at least," retorted Herries nettled, "while to look at you,——"
"Eh, an' what ails me, laddie?"
"Drink! Gin, whisky and suchlike. Ten years ago, you had me as a pupil in Edinburgh, and although a minister without a church, you were at least respectable. Now——"
"Ye may weel say't, laddie. Drink's the curse o' a' sons o' Adaam. I wes a stickit meenister, foreby, and didnae wag ma pow in a pu-pit, mair's the peety. Aye, aye," he sighed, "whusky's the deil's broth, I'm theenking."
"How did you fall so low?" Angus asked his old preceptor.
"Whusky! Whusky!" said the old reprobate, "tho' I've tacken to gin as cheaper. But 'tis weary wark at times, for gin's nae sa quick as it micht be, in bringing oot the glorious points o' a mon."
"It doesn't make you drunk enough, I suppose you mean?"
"Joost sae. Ye micht pit it yon way."
"What a mercy you never married, Gowrie."
"Ca' me Meester Gowrie, be decent to your elders, laddie. Marrit, is it?" He chuckled again, and cast a strange glance at Herries from out his inflamed eyes. "Ou aye, marrit. Weel,—weel,—we're a' son's o Adaam, ye ken."
"Then are you——?"
"Hold your tongue, sir," interrupted Gowrie, in fierce English, "respect the secret of a gentleman. You an' me's met in a queer gait," he pursued in the homely Scotch, "maister an' pupil, an' baith doon on oor hunkers, as ye may say. It's a waefu' warld, I'm theenking."
Herries made no direct reply, being occupied with his thoughts. Ten years before he had been a pupil of the Rev. Michael Gowrie in Edinburgh, and even then the wreck before him now, had not been noted for sobriety. When Herries went to the University, he had lost sight of his old preceptor, and was therefore much surprised to meet him in these out-of-the-way parts, and in such straits.
"How do you live?" he asked abruptly.
"Well!" said the other in his odd mixture of Scotch and English, "I write for the daily press. Nature studies ye ken, laddie. I present the warks o' God in decent language tae an ignorant public, as ye micht say. It keeps me in drams, though the emoluments are nae what they micht be tae a scholar, an' a gentlemon foreby. An' yer ain history, laddie? a sad ain I doot not."
"The history of Jonah," said Herries, gloomily.
It was at this moment that the girl returned to spread a half cloth on the table. Herries would rather have eaten in a less smoky atmosphere, but the girl informed him that the gentleman,—it seemed that his name was unknown,—had the best parlour, and one of the bedrooms, so that there was but little accommodation.
"Aye, aye," said Gowrie meditatively, "Elspeth is richt. It's here I'll sleep maesel. An' what's yon gentlemon daeing here, lassie?"
"I don't know," said Elspeth shortly, and with an averted face.
"He'll hae been benighted, maybe?"
She shook her head.
"He came only an hour ago, well wrapped up in a fur coat, from Tarhaven."
"Ye'll ken his name?"
"No. He refused to give his name, but said that he expected to see a gentleman here about eight o'clock. Then he has arranged to go before breakfast in the morning, and has paid Mrs. Narby beforehand for his rooms."
"It's queer," said Gowrie, handling his pipe meditatively, while Elspeth left the room to bring in the food for Herries. "Ye see mony queer things in sic hooses as these, my mon. Aye, aye, poverty maks us acquaint wi' strange bedfellows, as Wully Shakespeare pit it varra weel."
Herries did not reply, but sat down to an ill-cooked mutton chop and a tankard of very flat ale. Gowrie treated himself to another steaming glass of gin and water, talking while his ex-pupil devoured his welcome meal. Elspeth wandered in and out of the room on various errands. Mrs. Narby, busy in the kitchen, presumably, did not present her lovely self, and the poet was also absent, probably being engaged in fascinating the unknown gentleman, in the hope of obtaining the patronage he seemed to contemn.
"And why are ye here, laddie?" demanded Gowrie, inquisitively.
"I come from Pierside," explained Herries, carelessly, "there I left a tramp schooner, on which I had shipped as doctor."
"Aye, aye, that's it. I mind ye studied medicine."
"I have studied everything," said Herries shrugging. "As you know, Mr. Gowrie, my parents left me just sufficient to provide me with an education, and a few pounds over to start me in life. I got my degree, and then began to practice in a London suburb. I failed there, and tried another, failed again and tried a third. Then I went on the stage, that refuge of the destitute, and could not make that pay. Finally I joined a gipsy ship as doctor, and have been frizzling and shivering in several parts of the world for years. Since then I have fared no better, and my last adventure was in an Arctic sealer. I left her, as I said, at Pierside, being unable to stomach the brutality of her captain any longer. Now I am on my way to Tarhaven to see an old medical friend, who may help me. That is my history, as sad as your own, Mr. Gowrie; but," this with a glance at the dissipated face, "perhaps more respectable."
"How do you make that out?" asked the other in his best English.
"I have never been a drunkard," said Angus significantly.
"It's no decent tae speak to me yon way," fumed the elder man, wincing.
"Isn't it the truth?
"Weel, ye dinna look varra drunk, I'll say that. Aye, I'll say that."
"I am not talking of myself, Mr. Gowrie, but of you. Any one can see how you come to be here."
"Weel, weel," cried the ex-minister testily, "there's nae mair to be said. Ma sin's nae yer sin, but I doot ye've a glass hoose of your ain. What will ye do now?"
"Go to bed," snapped Herries, rising.
"Wull ye nae stap, and hae a crack?"
"No! I'll see you in the morning."
"Man, I'll be gone early. It's London I'm bound for. Joost sae, tae see an eeditor aboot an article on the modest daisy."
The young man shrugged his shoulders again. On another occasion he would have been amused at Gowrie's impudence, with his odd changes from Scotch to English. But the heart was out of him, and meeting with an old friend, even so fallen a one as Mr. Gowrie, he could not help breaking out with his troubles. An overcharged heart will speak, however reticent may be the nature of its possessor, and after fiddling with the door-handle for a few moments, Herries burst out——
"I'm a Jonah, Mr. Gowrie," he cried, almost savagely. "I swear that I have done all that a man could do, to earn an honest living, but everything has gone wrong with me. I am sober, honest, industrious and,—as you said,—clever——"
"Aye," said the sage, "I'll bear testimony to that. Nae mair capable laddie ever passed through my varra capable hands."
"Then why am I so unfortunate?" demanded the miserable young man, looking up to the ceiling. "I am cursed in some way. Whatever I take up, fails. I try and try and try again. I foresee all chances, and work desperately. Yet again and again, I fail."
Facing Gowrie, with clenched hands and desperate eyes, Herries neither saw nor heard the door into the back parts of the house, open and shut suddenly. It was just as though someone, hearing the raised voice, had peered out, and then, after a glance, had retired hastily. Gowrie looked out of the tail of his eye, but saw nothing, and shook his head at his unfortunate pupil.
"It's a weary world," he said with drunken seriousness.
"The world is all right," cried Herries, "it is the infernal folk who live in it that make me hate life. Oh," he dashed his hands across his eyes. "I could shame my manhood and weep, when I think of my sorrow"—here he became aware that Elspeth was in the room gazing at him with pitying eyes. A feeling of pride made him close his mouth, and with an abrupt gesture of despair, he left the room at a run. The girl followed to show him his sleeping-apartment. Old Gowrie remained, and cried to Mrs. Narby for a third glass of gin.
"Aye, aye," muttered the old reprobate, "breeth we are an' dust we mau' be. Puir laddie, an' sae clever. Aye a lad of pairts. I doot 'tis the drink," he wagged his head sadly. "Weel, and why should nae the puir wean droon his sorrows in the flowing bowl, the which term Thomas Moore applies tae whusky. He's got nae siller an' varra little o' that is in ma purse. But maybe he has enow tae help the guid friend whae guided his young footsteps. Hech," he rose, and pondered, "maybe if I flatter the lad, he may spare a bittock. Drink! aye drink, which maketh glad the hairt o' mon. He'll be guid for a shulling at daybreak."
In pursuance of this plan, the Rev. Michael Gowrie was shortly on his legs, staggering to the bedroom with a stiff jorum of gin and water. Mrs. Narby led the way, and pointed out the apartment occupied by Herries, with the unnecessary information that the unknown gentleman, now in the parlour, would sleep in the next room.
"An' me sleeping in the tap-room," mourned Gowrie. "Is yon gentleman in bed, wumon?"
"No. He's still in the parlour," snapped Mrs. Narby, bristling at being called a woman. "He's waiting fur 'is friend, as comes at eight."
"It'll be haulf an hoor tae eight," said Gowrie consulting a yellow-faced watch, not worthy of a pawnbroker's ticket.
"Ow shud I know? Give yer shady toff 'is drink, an' cut."
Gowrie had little difficulty in inducing Herries to swallow the hot liquor. The young man was worn out, and when the drink was finished his head fell on the pillow like a lump of lead. His kind preceptor tucked him in, and cast a longing glance at his pupil's garments, lying disorderly on a chair near the bed.
But Mrs. Narby glared grimly at the door, and Gowrie had no chance of examining the pockets, as he wished to do. It was with great reluctance that he departed with the ogress, while Herries, blind to the world, slept heavily, but, alas, not dreamlessly.
His dreams indeed were terrible. For hours and hours he seemed to be flying from some dreadful danger. Along a lonely road he sped breathless and anguished. After him raced a shadow, which once caught up with him, and enveloped him in cold gloom. But out of that Egyptian darkness, he was drawn by a firm warm hand, and found himself under a glimmering moon, looking into the face of Elspeth. She pointed towards the East, and there broke swiftly the cool fresh dawn, at the sight of which his terrors vanished. It seemed to the dreamer that he kissed the girl, but of this he could not be sure; for the vision dispersed into fragments, and he finally fell into the deep slumber of the worn-out.
When he awoke it was daylight, and from the position of a faint gleam of sunshine, breaking through the still clinging mists, he guessed that it was nine o'clock. But Herries cast no second look through the window, when he saw what lay on the patchwork quilt. Thereon appeared a white bone-handled razor crimson with blood, and he found that one sleeve of his woollen shirt was likewise stained red.
After that first startled look, Herries sprang from the bed, anxious only, for the moment, to avoid contact with that blood-stained razor. But blood also smeared the right arm of his shirt, which he could not part with, as he had no other to wear. His hands were clean, the bed-quilt was smooth, and the door closed. He could not comprehend how the razor and the blood-stains came to be there. Half dazed and unable to grasp the meaning of these weird things, he flung open the window. It looked down into a small, bleak garden, and into thick white mists, behind which lay those weary marshes he had traversed on the previous evening. The inn might have been in the Aristophanic Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, for all the signs of earth-life that were visible in those dismal fogs. Herries, craning his body half out of the window, could hear men and women chattering in the street, and at times the shrill babble of children. So far as he could see and hear, nothing was wrong, yet he felt that something terrible had happened. It was at this point that he retreated suddenly from the window, with one awesome word beating insistently upon his confused brain.
"Murder!" he cried aloud in the empty room. "Murder!"
He sprang towards the door, clothed only in his shirt, and pulled it open with a jerk. Half frenzied with fear and possessed by an agonized feeling of terror, he shouted the word down the narrow staircase. People below were talking quietly, and moving about on various tasks intent, but at the sound of that choking cry, both movements and voices resolved themselves into an uncanny pause.
Shortly, the terror-stricken creature clinging to the top railings heard heavy footsteps ascending, and aware of his light attire, he slipped back into his room and into bed. The footsteps came nearer and a rough bearded face peered in at the door. It was that of the landlord, of whom he had caught a mere glimpse on the previous night. Mrs. Narby was well matched in her help-mate—outwardly at least—for he was a bulky, stout animal, with a heavy fist and a violent temper, when aroused. But for the most part he was too lethargic to become enraged, unless some special event demanded the use of uncontrolled passion. At the present moment, his mild face—in repose it was strangely mild—exhibited only wonder.
"What are you howling about?" he asked gruffly, and staring with bent brows at the white-faced man.
"Murder!" chattered Herries, shivering and sitting up in bed, chin on knees, "at least——" he flung the razor towards the man.
Narby, by this time well within the room, deftly caught the article, and examined it closely. "Blood!" said he under his breath; then looked at Herries, still shivering as with ague. "But y' ain't dead, cut yourself maybe, shaving?"
"I have not shaved for two days. I have no razor with me, that is not mine. Who has been murdered?" so Herries babbled, confusedly.
"Why, no one," growled the landlord, bristling. "This is a decent inn, this is. Do you think we take in folks to cut their throats. You've had a nightmare and this razor of yours——"
"It is not mine," passionately interrupted the young man. "I found it on the quilt when I woke at nine this morning."
"It's nearly ten by now."
"Then I mistook the time, having no watch. But the blood——"
"It is queer," admitted Narby, meditatively, "but there's no one dead, so far as I know. Old Gowrie slept in the tap-room, and went off at seven. My wife and Elspeth are alive and busy; Pope, too, ate a good breakfast, and there's no sign of a corpse about me."
"What of the gentleman who came last night?"
"He went away at eight, as he arranged, without his breakfast. My wife saw him pass through the tap-room in that fur-coat of his, and no wonder on such a chilly morning. He never passed the time of day—gentry manners in this country, I 'spose."
"Then there's nothing wrong!" cried Herries, more bewildered than ever.
"Not that I know of. Someone's been having a joke with you, though who'd play a low-down trick like this is more nor I can tell."
Narby looked at Herries, and Herries stared back at Narby, both puzzled, and both bad-tempered. Whosoever had played this poor joke, if joke it was, the landlord at least was innocent of the jest. The young man shook his head to clear it of cobwebs and signed to the other to leave the room, intending to get up and dress. The voice of Mrs. Narby in the passage chained him to the bed.
"Wot's he 'ollerin' abaout?" she asked in her vile dialect.
"Had the nightmare," grumbled her spouse, pushing her back as she tried to peep in.
"Ho! Then he'd best cut. D'y 'ear,—you," she shouted. "We don't want no crazy coves 'ere. Elspeth, go an' mek the front room bed. The gent hev gorn, an' th' room mus' be streight in a jiffy."
There was an inaudible reply, as Elspeth's light feet tripped past the noisy landlady. Shortly Herries heard her speak, for his bedroom door was still ajar, and the worthy couple were discussing his strange cry, angrily.
"The door is locked," said Elspeth.
"Nonsense," cried Mrs. Narby, going to the girl. "Wot shud he lock it fur, I'd like to knaow, an' 'im gittin' orf th' fust thing in th' mornin'? Ho," Herries heard her shake the door violently, "locked it is. Blimme, if he ain't gorn with th' key, 'aving locked the bloomin' door. I'll have th' lawr of him. Elspeth, git outside, an' up t' th' front winder. Them trellises mek quite a ledder."
"I'll do it," said Narby, quickly.
"You're too 'eavy. Ony a light shrimp like Elspeth cud git h'up. I don' want my trellises mussed up. Elspeth!"
"I'm afraid." Herries heard the girl say timidly.
"Y' ain't! Wot cause 'ave y' t' be afraid, y' mealy-mouthed, little, silly slut. Up y' go, or——" evidently a fist was raised at this point.
"She shan't," growled Narby, who seemed to have more decent feeling than his wife. "Here, stand aside!"
"If y' break th' door, it means poun's an' poun's," screamed the virago. The listening man heard a crash, and an angry ejaculation from Mrs. Narby at the destruction of her property. Then came a wild cry from Elspeth, an oath from the landlord, and finally a panic-stricken silence. With his fears again knocking at his heart, Herries jumped up, and hurriedly slipped into his trousers. Scarcely were they on, before Narby burst into the room, white-faced and savage. Behind, came his wife, bellowing like a fury of the Revolution. Elspeth in the meanwhile had fainted in the passage.
"You killed him!" shouted Narby fiercely, running towards Herries, and flung him like a feather on the bed.
"Killed—killed—whom?" gasped the young man, bursting into a cold perspiration.
"The gent as came last night. He's lying next door with his throat slit, you murdering devil!"
"Oh!" shivered Herries, "the razor."
"It's not mine. Let me up," and he struggled to rise.
"No. You stop here, until I send for the police. 'Liza!—ah would you?"
Herries, realizing his dreadful position, had begun to resist violently, and Narby held him down with brawny hands. As the two swung in close grips on the bed, there was a tinkling sound, and a shout from Mrs. Narby, who was red-faced and furious.
"Th' key,—th' blessed key," she screeched, picking it up from the floor, whence it had fallen off the bed. "Oh, the bloomin' Jack th' Ripper cove. He's ruined th' cussed 'ouse."
"It's a lie—a lie," breathed Herries, weakly.
Narby, with his knee on the other's chest, laughed grimly. "You'll have to prove that to a jury, my lad. The razor,—the key of the next room,—the—the—why here," he broke off to snatch at the stained shirt-sleeve, "more blood, you reptile," and he shook the young man with unrestrained anger.
"'Ow! 'Ow! 'Ow!" Mrs. Narby began to exhibit symptoms of hysteria, "he killed the pore gent. Pope,—Pope,—me darlin' boy. 'Elp! 'Elp."
"Let me up," gasped Herries, "you're stifling me."
"I'll leave the hangman to do that, sonny."
"You bet you won't," said Narby, in quite an American way, and seeing that there was really a chance of the young man becoming insensible under over-rough handling, he released his hold. "Dress yourself," he said sternly, "but out of this room you don't go, till the police come. 'Liza!—I say, 'Liza?"
There was no reply. Mrs. Narby had hurled herself down the stairs and they could hear her harsh voice clamouring for her son, and for drink to revive her. Shortly the murmur of many voices swelled out. Evidently the woman had summoned the neighbours, and Herries shivered at the snarl of an enraged mob.
"I never killed the man," he wailed, utterly broken up. "I know nothing about him,—I never saw him,—I didn't,——"
"Shut up," snapped Narby roughly, and pushed him back again on to the disordered bed. "I've known a man lynched, down 'Frisco way, for less than this. I reckon you'll dance at the end of a rope, before the month's out. See here," he went to the window, glanced out and returned to shake a large and menacing finger, more American in speech than ever. "You try an' light out that way, sonny, an' I shoot you straight. I keep my Derringer for use, not for show. D'ye see; you stop here."
"I am perfectly willing," retorted Herries, now beginning to recover his courage, since the worst of the shock was over. "I can easily clear my character."
Narby smiled grimly, and shook his head.
"Better say no more," he advised, "what you say, will tell against you."
"Surely you don't believe me guilty?"
"You make me tired," said Narby sharply, "you are in the next room to a murdered man, you show me a blood-stained razor, and you have blood on your shirt, and the key of the next room. Believe you guilty! Well, I guess I do. Say your prayers, sonny, for you'll hang as sure as you're a living man, which you won't be long," and without another word, the burly landlord left the room, locking the door after him.
With an eminently human impulse to seek immediate safety, the prisoner ran to the window. But there was no escape that way. He could easily drop into the garden, climb over the low fence and fly across the marshes, hidden by the kindly mists. But the palings which parted the garden from the village street were now lined with curious and horrified spectators. Men and women and children stared insistently at the mean house, with that fascination begotten of a morbid love of crime. No such exciting event had happened in the dull little Essex village for many a year,—if indeed ever before; and the whole population was agog with excitement. Mrs. Narby was haranguing her neighbours, and fiercely pointing at intervals towards the house, crying wildly that the inn was ruined. Catching sight of Herries at the window, she shook a large fist, and a sea of faces looked upward. Then came a howl of execration. From that terrible sound Herries, though courageous enough, shrank back, and closed the window in a panic. Then he staggered to the bed and lying down tried to reason calmly.
The stranger in the next room, whosoever he was, had been murdered. The key of that room had been found in this one; also, on the bed-quilt had lain the weapon with which, presumably, the dead man's throat had been cut. Then there was the damning evidence of the bloody sleeve. Herries examined this, and found that the stains streaked downward from the elbow, as though someone with reddened fingers had drawn them down the woollen fabric. On making this discovery the unhappy man regained his feet, scenting a conspiracy. "Some enemy has done this," he argued, trying to keep himself cool and composed. "I have fallen into a trap. The assassin, after committing the crime, must have come deliberately into my room, in order to implicate me in the matter. I was sound asleep, so he could easily have smeared my sleeve and left the razor and key. But who could have done it, and why was it done? I know no one in these parts,—I arrived here alone and unknown, and——"
He stopped as a sudden thought flashed through his brain. Michael Gowrie knew his name, and Gowrie had come to this very room on the previous evening with a glass of toddy. Could it be that Gowrie had murdered this unknown man, and had then arranged the snare, so that a perfectly innocent being should bear the penalty of his wickedness. It was credible, and yet,—from what Herries remembered of the old scamp,—Gowrie was not the man to commit so dreadful a deed. In his degraded state, the ex-minister would steal at a pinch in order to procure money for drink. He would lie glibly; he would blackmail, and bear false witness to serve his own ends; but Herries could not think even so base a man capable of murder. For one thing he would not have the nerve, seeing that drink had shattered his system. No! It would not be Gowrie, and yet, if not Gowrie, who could have an interest in implicating a stranger in the awful tragedy?
Again, as Herries reflected when his brain became clearer, Mrs. Narby said that the gentleman, who had occupied the bedroom next door, had departed in his noticeable fur coat at eight o'clock. If it was he who had passed through the tap-room, it certainly could not be him, who was lying dead in the next room. The affair was puzzling, and not the least mysterious thing was that no one in the house knew the dead man's name. He had come to see someone and had duly retired to bed; next morning he was found dead. If this was the case, who then could be the man who had visited him on the previous night? Who was the man who had left at eight in the morning, disguised in a fur coat belonging to the dead? There could be but one answer. He was the assassin.
Again Herries looked out of the window, and saw that two men,—yokels apparently,—were guarding it below; he stole to the door, and strained his hearing to listen. Many people were coming and going in the passage, and he heard the faint murmur of voices. What was going on in the death-chamber, he could not think. The partitions of the inn, doubtless constructed long ago for smuggling purposes, were unusually thick, and even had a man spoken loudly in the next room, the listener would have heard nothing but the sound. In that case, as he argued, he could not have saved the dead man, even had he been awake. Probably the poor wretch's throat had been cut in his sleep. And who had killed him? And why had he, Angus Herries, a stranger, a wanderer on the face of the earth, been dragged into so hideous an affair?
These questions he asked himself constantly, while the slow hours dragged onward. The village—Desleigh was its name, as he heard later—was a long distance from the nearest town, whence a police inspector could be called; and the local constable, without doubt, had two or three of such villages to attend to. It was quite four or five hours since he had been shut up in his room, and no one had been near him. To pass the time, and escape from the terrible thoughts which tormented his brain, Herries dressed himself as neatly as he could. On leaving Pierside he had taken nothing with him, as his enemy the captain had detained all his luggage. He had nothing but the clothes he stood up in, and a few shillings,—say ten. On arriving at the "Marsh Inn," he had possessed fifteen, but five of these he had given for bed and board. He cursed the inn. Had he not halted here, this trouble would never have come upon his already over-burdened shoulders. And yet, he could not be sure of this. He had always been Jonah the unlucky, and Jonah he would remain, so far as his limited vision could see, until the end of his life. Throughout five and twenty years of existence he had suffered nothing but trouble. Everything went wrong with him. This new disaster was all of a piece with the rest of the pattern, that was being woven,—against his will, it would seem—on the looms of life. He wondered, with a sigh, why God permitted so many troubles to befall him, since he could see no good reason for their coming to him so persistently. Then out of sheer desire to do something, he searched his pockets for the remains of his poor fortune.
The ten shillings had vanished. Yet Herries knew that he had counted them on the previous evening, immediately before he retired to bed, and he had placed them in the right-hand pocket of his trousers,—eight shillings and four sixpences. Alarmed at the loss, which meant everything to him, he felt in every pocket, looked under his pillow, examined the floor, but could find no trace of the money.
"How on earth can I get to Tarhaven?" he asked himself, and then it came upon him with a shock, that he was not a free man.
Shortly a soft tap at the door roused him. He told the person who knocked to enter, and a key turned in the lock. Elspeth, her face white and her eyes red, entered, carrying a tray laden with coarse food. This she set down, then impulsively she rushed forward and caught his hand.
"You never did it," she panted, eagerly, and staring at him with burning eyes. "You never, never did it."
"Of course not. I can prove my innocence. No," he made a gesture of despair, as the full terror of his situation rushed upon him, "I say that to comfort myself. I am in a perilous position."
"That a kind man such as you are, should do such a thing," the girl went on, almost to herself, "it's ridiculous. You helped me with that bucket; you would not murder a poor soul in his sleep."
"That I did not. I swear by all that I hold sacred," said Herries, grateful for this true sympathy. "But you see how I am placed; you know the strong evidence against me."
"Mr. and Mrs. Narby are talking of it," she whispered, with a significant glance at the door, behind which no doubt some one was watching. "The police will be here soon. They have sent to Tarhaven, for the Inspector and the Doctor."
"What is the time now?"
"It is close upon three o'clock," said Elspeth. "Armour, who is the village constable, is on his rounds at some other village, and although they have sent out to get him, he cannot be found. But Pope has gone by train to Tarhaven to bring the Inspector. I expect he'll return every minute. And I cannot stop long; they will miss me. But I want to be your friend," she added again catching his hand. "Tell me, is there anyone I can send for, who will help you?"
"There is my friend, Dr. James Browne of Tarhaven. I have not seen him for a couple of years, but I daresay he'll remember me. Write and ask him to come, or perhaps you could procure me writing material."
"No. They," she alluded to the Narby's, "will allow you nothing."
"Then send the letter yourself to Browne, you kind little soul. He may say a good word for me."
"Is there no one else?"
Herries' head drooped.
"There is one I should not like to hear of my disgrace," he said, faintly.
"Ah!" the girl's dark eyes lighted up with a jealous flame, "and her name, Mr. Herries?"
The young man looked surprised.
"How can you guess that I am thinking of a woman?"
"I guess, because—because—oh, you would not understand. What is her name? I'll see her if you like," her face grew red as she spoke, and had Herries been more experienced in the other sex, he might have seen that her feelings towards him, for his simple act of kindness, were such as to make her hate anyone doing things for him, save herself.
However, he saw nothing of this, and gave the information with all frankness.
"Maud Tedder, she is a cousin of mine, the daughter of Sir Simon Tedder, a famous manufacturer you may have heard of."
"I've seen his name on jam tins and such like," she said rapidly. "He has a great house at Tarhaven."
"I know. I have been there once, a couple of years ago. But he quarrelled with me, and turned me out."
"Because of Miss—Miss?" she could not say the name.
"Yes! I wanted to marry my cousin. Sir Simon would not let me."
"She obeyed her father, as a daughter should," said Herries bitterly. "But I do not know why I talk of these very private affairs to you. But if you would——"
"Hush!" Elspeth placed a silencing finger on her lips, "the police."
Hardly had she left the room, when the Inspector—as he evidently was from his smart uniform—entered in an abrupt manner. He was a kindly, red-faced man, with a military moustache, and an official manner, which made him assume a severity which Herries guessed was foreign to his nature. Two policemen were visible in the narrow passage as the Inspector entered the room, after a word or two with the girl, to learn why she had been with the prisoner.
"Your name?" demanded the officer sharply, and taking in Herries' looks with a shrewd and observant eye.
"Angus Herries. I am innocent," said the accused man hurriedly, then, anxious to exculpate himself, he talked on vehemently, and thereby did the worst thing possible. "I do not know the dead man's name, or the man himself. I have never seen him. I was fast asleep all the time. I found the razor, and——"
"Stop," said the Inspector peremptorily, "anything you say now will be used in evidence against you. Hold your tongue, until I am ready to examine you, and follow me," and with that he turned his back to march out of the room.
Herries saw that it would be as well to be circumspect, and walked silently after the representative of the law. The official turned to the right and opened the door of the death room at which Narby was standing. This was the first time the Inspector had been inside, and he wanted Herries to be present to see what effect the sight of his supposed victim would have on his nerves. The young man was glad to enter. He wished to face the worst at once.
The room was similar to the other, bare, cold-looking, and sparingly furnished with the flotsam and jetsam of auction rooms. Everything seemed to be disordered, but the bedclothes were smoothed out, and thereon lay a stiff figure, covered with a sheet. The police officer turned down the sheet and beckoned Herries to approach. The very next moment the young man staggered back amazed.
"Great Heavens!" he gasped, thunderstruck, "it is Sir Simon Tedder!"
"Sir Simon Tedder!" Inspector Trent—as the red-faced official was called—relaxed his stiffness, so far as to display astonishment. "The millionaire, who made his fortune out of jam and pickles; who has a house at Tarhaven?"
"Yes!" faltered Herries weakly, and sinking into a chair near the door, he covered his shameful face. Trent, seeing tears trickling between the nerveless fingers, felt convinced, with the assurance of the shortsighted, that his experiment had proved successful. The guilty man's self-control had given way at the sight of his victim. So thought a jack-in-office, who was unable to see farther than his nose by reason of natural and official limitations. But the truth was—and a medical man would have surmised it—that Herries, with his long tramp, his weakened frame, his despairing outlook, and the surprising sight of his relative lying dead by violence, suddenly became as unstrung as an hysterical woman. The tears relieved him, and had they not broken forth, he would have become insane at the mere thought of this terrible disaster falling upon him, after years and years of cruel misfortune. He felt, and very naturally, like a tormented rat in a trap, and could see no means of escape.
"Sir Simon Tedder," repeated Trent, with a gratified glance at the still white face of the dead, "the millionaire," he rolled the agreeable word on his tongue. "This will be an important affair!" and throwing out his chest, he swelled with triumph at the thought of the fame and praise which so notorious a case would bring him. "Why did you kill him, young man?"
Herries, ashamed of the momentary weakness, dropped his hands and dashed the moisture from his eyes.
"I—did—not—kill—him!" he declared with emphatic slowness.
Trent grew red and indignant at what he conceived to be a shameless denial.
"I have heard the landlord's story," he retorted, pompously.
"And have therefore made up your mind, without hearing the other side, that I am guilty," said Herries, bitterly. "Is it the custom of the English law to hear only the accuser?"
"I am now prepared to listen to the defence," announced Trent, hastily, and in spite of the strong evidence, and his own belief, he felt sorry for the wreck before him, although red-tapeism condemned the too purely human feeling.
Leaving a stolid policeman to guard the door of the death-chamber, pending the arrival of the doctor, Trent led his prisoner down the stairs, and into the stuffy back-parlour, which Sir Simon had occupied on the previous evening. Mrs. Narby glared at the unfortunate man, whom she accused of having ruined her inn, and Pope's weak, silly face, alive with morbid curiosity, could be seen over the brawny maternal shoulder. Herries shuddered. In spite of many misfortunes, he had always been popular in his Bohemian world, and it was both new and unpleasant for him to see venomous looks cast upon him. Last night he had been merely an object of contemptuous interest; now he was like a tiger prisoned behind bars, at which everyone looked with dread and hatred.
As the short autumnal evening, rendered even more immediate by the still prevailing foes, was rapidly closing in, Trent lighted the cheap lamp which swung over the round table. The light and the oily smell came simultaneously, as both door and window were closed, and the room was crowded with frowsy furniture. The atmosphere was sickly and malodorous, and Herries never entered a stuffy apartment in after years without recalling that hopeless evening, when his misfortunes culminated in nothing less than a Waterloo.
The Inspector seated himself at the round table in a magisterial manner, and produced a portentous pocket-book. He permitted Herries to sit down in an antique arm-chair, slippery with horse-hair, and marvellously uncomfortable with an antimacassar of Berlin wool-work. Having moistened a pencil with his tongue he proceeded to ask what questions occurred to his not over-clever brain.
"What is your name?"
"I am a doctor, a ship's doctor, and I came last night from Pierside, where the Arctic sealer 'Nansen' is lying."
"Why did you come to this almost unknown inn?"
"I walked from Pierside, intending to seek a friend at Tarhaven. My strength gave way, and I stayed here to eat and sleep."
Trent took down these answers thoughtfully, then looked in what he fondly thought was a piercing manner at the suspected man.
"You told me that you did not know the deceased?"
"I did. That is perfectly true. Until you showed me the corpse, I was quite ignorant that Sir Simon had been killed. I did not even know that he was in this house."
"You knew Sir Simon Tedder then?"
"Yes!" Herries hesitated, then looked boldly at the officer, "I have nothing to conceal," he declared loudly, "Sir Simon is my uncle."
Trent looked at the shabby prisoner with great surprise; the reply amazed him, as coming from such a tramp.
"It is impossible," he said, sharply. "Sir Simon was wealthy and much respected. He would not allow his nephew to go about in rags."
Herries looked sullen.
"My uncle and I quarrelled."
"Oh," said the Inspector in a peculiar tone.
"Do you take that admission as a sign of guilt?" inquired Herries, ironically.
"I take it to mean that you had bad feelings towards the deceased."
The prisoner shook his head.
"You are wrong, I had no bad feelings."
"And yet you quarrelled?"
"Take care. What you say may be used against—" Herries rose with an angry gesture.
"An innocent man such as I am does not need to be careful of his words," he cried. "My life history is miserable enough certainly, but there is no page of which I need be ashamed."
"For an educated man to be in such a plight—."
The prisoner again interrupted.
"Do you know what Jonah's Luck is?
"I know that the person you mention was swallowed by a whale," said Trent with dignity. "I am not entirely a heathen."
In spite of his misery Herries could not help smiling.
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