Passers-By - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Passers-By ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The illicit gambling house in the Place Noire was raided by the police in Paris. Several of the gang were killed, one was caught and jailed, and one escaped by shambling off in the guise of a workman, accompanied by a young girl, a dwarf, and a monkey. Gilbert Hannaway, who was wounded as a bystander on the night of the raid, has been searching for the girl for five years but, one evening, he finds her. Lord Ellingham is a peer of the realm, with a successful marriage, and a cabinet position, but he flees England rather than meet with the girl. Jacques Leblun, most brilliant of French detectives, desires to end his illustrious career by landing the long sought „escaped” man from the raid. And what of Ambrose the dwarf and Chicot the monkey? What secrets do they hold?

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Liczba stron: 352

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER I

There was nothing particularly inviting about the dark, stone-flagged passage, nothing which could possibly suggest a happy hunting-ground for the itinerant seeker after charity. Yet the couple passing wearily along the Strand welcomed it as at least a temporary refuge from the constant admonitions of a very vigilant police. A word and a glance were all that passed between the girl and the atom of deformity who wheeled the small piano. They crossed the sidewalk, and made their way down the inhospitable-looking passage. It led by a somewhat devious route to the Embankment, but at the present moment passers-by were few. On the left-hand side were a couple of shops, dirty, ill-cared for, improvident. On the right, a blank wall; in front, a small section of a great hotel. About halfway down was a gas-lamp, burning with a dim, uncertain luster, feebly reflected through the dirt-encrusted glass. The place had an unattractive and deserted air. Nevertheless the man who had been wheeling the piano brought it to a standstill there, with a little gasp of relief. The girl stood by his side, and for a moment buried her face upon her folded arms, leaning upon the top of the instrument. With a prodigious yawn a small monkey, who had been asleep in a basket, awoke and shook himself. He looked around with an air of plaintive disgust, and would have settled himself down to sleep again but for a pat from his master.

“Sit up, Chicot,” the man ordered. “It’s a poor place, but God knows where one may rest in this city. What do you say, Christine? Is it worth while?”

The girl looked up and down the dark passage. Two boys passed, whistling, without a glance at them. A beggar woman selling matches was the only other person in sight. Nevertheless she produced a roll of music and glanced through it.

“I will sing,” she said. “I must. Some fool may pass this way. Who can tell?”

The man at the piano, deformed, with the long, worn face of a man and the misshapen body of a youth, drew in a little breath which sounded like a hiss, as his fingers wandered over the keys.

“Who can tell?” he muttered, in a voice which sounded singularly deep for such a small creature. “Who can tell, after all? It may be even here that the great adventure should come.”

She turned her back a little upon him, and as he struck the notes she began to sing a familiar ballad. She sang to the bare walls, to the deserted shops, to the rain-soaked flagstones. Chance seemed suddenly to have diverted into other thoroughfares even the insignificant stream of people that sometimes filtered through the little passage. Only the monkey listened, listened with his head a little on one side, and an air of intense, plaintive interest. When she had finished there was a dead silence. Not a soul was in sight.

No remark passed between the two. The woman pushed her hat a little farther back as she bent once more over the music, and one saw something of her face by the light of that ill-looking gas-lamp. She was dark, and whatever good looks might have been hers under normal conditions were temporarily, at any rate, unrecognizable, owing to the ill-kept hair which came low over her forehead, and the bitter, sullen lines of her mouth. She drew another song from the shabby portfolio, and once more she sang.

A messenger boy, passing through, lingered for a moment. A woman with a basket of apples propped it up against the wall, and gave herself a second’s rest, hurrying on, though, when she saw the monkey fingering the little tray that hung from a cord round his neck. Once more the girl finished her song, and as its echoes died away she swept the passage from end to end with her sullen, angry eyes. There was no one in sight. She leaned back against the wall.

Up on the fifth floor of the great hotel, a narrow section of which fronted the passage, a man suddenly pushed open a window and looked down. He saw the rain-soaked pavements, and turned back to the valet who was putting out his clothes.

“It’s a wet night, Fred,” he remarked. “I’ll have my thicker patent shoes, and my opera-hat.”

He was on the point of leaving the window when his eyes chanced to fall upon the little group below. He eyed them at first carelessly enough, and then, as he continued to look, a startling change took place in his face. He leaned forward out of the wide-opened window. His lips were parted, his eyes almost distended. He was like a man who looks upon some impossible vision, a man who is driven to doubt even the evidence of his senses. Intensely, with a rapt air of complete obsession, he stood there, perfectly, rigid, gazing at that little group. He looked at the man, sitting before the crazy instrument, his head bowed, the rain beating upon his threadbare coat. He looked at the girl, leaning back against the wall, motionless as a statue, and yet with that touch of hopelessness about her face which was written large in the features of her companion. He looked at the monkey, who stood with a pitiful air of his own, shaking in his paw the little tray, and gazing up and down the empty passage. He looked at them all fiercely, incredulously, and then an exclamation broke from his lips.

“The girl, the hunchback, and the monkey!” he exclaimed softly. “In London, of all places!”

He turned abruptly back into the room, and without a word of explanation to the valet hurried out into the corridor and rang the bell for the elevator. In a moment or two he was in the passage, and with a whispered breath of relief he saw that the little company was still there. He had caught up a hat as he left the room, and to give himself more the appearance of a casual passer-by he lit a cigarette with trembling fingers, and strolled along the passage. As he came, the monkey, the man, and the girl turned their heads. The girl, with something like a despairing shrug of the shoulders, began another song. The man commenced to play. Even the monkey seemed to eye this newcomer hungrily. He walked steadily on, but as he was in the act of passing, he paused, as though aware for the first time of the girl and her song. He went on a few paces and paused again. Finally he took up a position a few yards away, and established himself as an audience. His coming seemed to bring better fortune to the little group. Several other passers-by formed a broken semicircle. The girl sang to them in a hard, unsympathetic voice, flawless as to her notes, but with an indifferent intonation as though the words were flung from her lips against her will. When she had finished, the monkey was on his hind legs before the little gathering of listeners. A few pennies rattled in his tin tray. He paused in front of the man who had descended so suddenly from his room. Gilbert Hannaway thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, only to withdraw them with a little exclamation of annoyance. He drew a step nearer to the girl.

“I am very sorry,” he said. “I wished to give you something for your song, but I have left my money in my room. It is only a short distance off. If you will wait here for a few moments it will give me very great pleasure to offer you something perhaps a little better worth having than these.”

He touched the pennies in the tin tray, and looked up at the girl. Her dark eyes searched his face for a moment doubtfully.

“Thank you,” she said; “it doesn’t seem much use stopping here. Perhaps you’ll give us something next time.”

“No,” he said; “I wish to give you something now. Meanwhile, will you sing one more song?”

A faint surprise, not unmingled with suspicion gleamed in the girl’s dark eyes. “Why do you want to hear me sing?” she asked. “My voice is impossible. You know that.”

“I do not think so,” he answered gently. “If you will sing one more song, I should like to listen. Then I will go to my rooms, and I think that I can satisfy you both.” She looked at him steadfastly. “Where are your rooms?” she asked.

“Close by here,” he answered evasively.

She pointed up to the window out of which he had leaned.

“Was it you,” she asked, “who looked down at us from there?”

He hesitated for a moment, but denial seemed scarcely worth while.

“It was I,” he admitted. “I was just going to change my clothes. That is why I have no money in my pocket.”

“Why did you come down?” she asked.

“I wished to hear you sing,” he answered.

The shadow of a new emotion was in her face. She was afraid. All the time the man by her side was listening with half-closed eyes.

“Was it that only?” she asked. “Had you no other reason?”

The man was called upon to make a decision, and he felt himself unequal to it. They were alone in the passage now, for the other loiterers had passed on. The deformed man, from his seat in front of the piano, the monkey, and the girl were all looking at him. And Gilbert Hanna-way, because he was honest, spoke the truth.

“No,” he said. “I had another reason.”

A word, or was it only a glance, flashed from the girl to the man. He rose to his feet. His seat disappeared. Chicot jumped into his basket. With a slight gesture of stiffness the hunchback once more took hold of the handles of the barrow on which his crazy instrument was placed. The girl turned to join him.

“We do not want your money,” she said. “Please go away.”

Gilbert Hannaway planted himself obstinately before her. “Look here,” he said, “you must not send me away like this. I have been searching for you for years.”

“Absurd!” she declared. “You do not even know who we are.”

“I do not know your names,” he answered. “They do not concern me. And yet I have searched in many places for a hunchback who played the piano, a girl with black hair who sang, and a monkey. Send your thoughts backward a little way. Do you remember the afternoon when you sang in the Place Madeleine?”

Only the girl’s eyes moved, but it was enough. Her companion quietly relinquished the handles of his strange little vehicle. He took a step backward. The newcomer saw nothing. His eyes were fixed upon the girl.

“I have a question to ask you,” he repeated, “and I think you know what it is.”

Then the world spun round with him. The little dark passage began to wobble up and down. The thunder of the sea was in his ears, the girl’s face mocked him. Then there was darkness.

*     *

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