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Pseudonym of the British author born Richard Bernard Heldmann. He is best known for his supernatural thriller The Beetle: A Mystery, which was published in the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula and was initially even more popular.Heldman was educated at Eton and Oxford University. He began to publish short stories, mostly adventure tales, as "Bernard Heldmann," before adopting the name "Richard Marsh" in 1893. Several of the prolific Marsh's novels were published posthumously.
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Chapter 1. The Open Door.
Chapter 2. The Man with the Silk Handkerchief.
Chapter 3. The Name on the Scrap of Paper.
Chapter 4. Blackmail.
Chapter 5. The Face in the Darkness.
Chapter 6. A Confession.
Chapter 7. A Visitor.
Chapter 8. More than His Match.
Chapter 9. For the Second Time.
Chapter 10. The Honour of the Club.
Chapter 11. What Mr. Tennant had Written.
Chapter 12. Sir Haselton Jardine.
Chapter 13. An Afternoon Call.
Chapter 14. Selling Boomjopfs.
Chapter 15. The Club.
Chapter 16. Drawing the Lot.
Chapter 17. A Little Game.
Chapter 18. Damon and Pythias: A Modern Instance.
Chapter 19. The Promise.
Chapter 20. The News from Town.
Chapter 21. The Adventures of a Night.
Chapter 22. Louise O’donnel’s Father.
Chapter 23. Mr. Townsend Comes to Tea.
Chapter 24. What Mrs. Carruth Saw.
Chapter 25. Mr. Townsend’s Double.
Chapter 26. Announced!
Chapter 27. Mr. Townsend is Made to Understand.
Chapter 28. The Prisoner Comes into Court.
Chapter 29. The Trial Begins.
Chapter 30. Mr. Taunton’s Evidence.
Chapter 31. The Case for the Crown Concludes.
Chapter 32. Mrs. Carruth Removes Her Veil.
Chapter 33. Mr. Tennant Speaks.
Chapter 34. Mr. Holman at Home.
Chapter 35. The Woman of the Portrait.
Chapter 36. The Various Moods of a Gentleman of Fashion.
Chapter 37. “Call Me Dora.”
Chapter 38. On the Threshold.
Chapter 39. The Last Meeting of the Club.
Chapter 40. Mr. Townsend Reaches Home.
Chapter 41. Taking Leave.
Chapter 42. Hand in Hand.
I ran down to Brighton for the Sunday. My wife’s cousin, George Baxendale, was stopping there, with the Coopers. The wife and I were both to have gone. But our little Minna was very queer — feverish cold, or something — and Lucy did not like to leave her with the nurse. So I went down alone.
It was a fine day, for November. We drove over to Bramber — Jack Cooper and his wife, Baxendale, and I. When we got back to Regency Square it was pretty late. I was to go back by the 8.40. When we had dined I had to make quite a rush to catch the train. Jack and George both came up to see me off. As the Pullman carriages all seemed full, I got into the compartment of an ordinary first-class carriage.
“You’ll be better in there,” said Jack. “You’ll have it to yourself.”
I did, till just as the train was off. When the train had actually started, a woman came hurrying up the platform. A porter threw open the door of my carriage, and she got in. I let her have the seat by the door through which she had entered. I went to the other end of the compartment. I did not feel too much obliged to the porter who had shown her in. Although it was not a smoking carriage, as I had expected to have had it to myself, I had intended to smoke all the way to town. In fact, I was smoking at that moment. I hardly knew what to do. The train did not stop till it reached Victoria. There would be no opportunity of changing carriages. I did not relish the idea of not smoking, while I scarcely knew if I might venture to ask permission to smoke of the new-comer.
I made up my mind that I would. I had only just lighted a cigar. I had not looked at her as she came up the platform, to notice what kind of person she was. I had been too much engaged with Jack and George. I turned to her, raising my hat as I did so.
“May I ask if you object to ——”
I had got so far; but I got no farther. She looked at me, and, as she did so, and I saw her face clearly, and met her eyes, my blood went cold in my veins.
The woman at the other end of the carriage was either Nelly, or Nelly’s ghost. If she was her ghost, then she was the most substantial ghost I had ever heard of. And yet I had to stare at her for some moments in stupefied silence before I could believe that she was not a ghost. Before I could believe that she was genuine flesh and blood.
She struck me as being as much surprised at seeing me as I was at seeing her — and, at first at any rate, not much better pleased. We stared at each other as if we were moonstruck. She was the first to find her voice — she always was quicker, in every sense of the word, than I am.
“Tom!” she said. Then gave a sort of gasp.
“Nelly!” It was all I could do to get her name to pass my lips.
I am not going to enter into details as to what I said to her, and as to what she said to me. Nothing pleasant was said on either side. When a man meets a woman, even after a separation of seven years and more, who has wronged him as Ellen Howth, as she was named when I first knew her, had wronged me, he is not likely to greet her with sugared phrases, especially when he has had every reason to suppose that his prayers have been answered, and that she is dead. When I saw that she had tricked me, for the thousand-and-first time, and that she was not dead, as I have written, my blood went cold. When it warmed, it was not with love for her.
We quarrelled, as we had done many and many a time before. She had been drinking. She was always bad enough when sober; when not sober she was infinitely worse. Every moment I expected her to assail me with personal violence. She threatened to, over and over again. I feared that there would be some outrageous scene in the railway carriage. Fearing this, and the scandal which such a thing would necessarily entail, I formed a wild resolution. I determined that, even while the train continued to fly through the air, I would leave the compartment in which she was, and at any and every risk seek refuge in an adjoining one.
The resolution was no sooner formed than I proceeded to put it into execution. There was no necessity to lower the window; the handle was inside the carriage. Turning the handle, I rose from my seat. Whether she mistook or designed to frustrate my purpose, I cannot say. No sooner did I rise, than she came rushing at me. The violence of her assault took me by surprise. The handle escaping from my grasp, the door swung back upon its hinges. She had me by the shoulders. I endeavoured to wrest myself free. There was a struggle. In the struggle, unconsciously certainly to me, we must have reversed our positions, because, suddenly loosing her grasp of me, before I had the faintest suspicion of what was about to happen, she had fallen backwards through the open carriage door, out into the night, and the train was going at express speed to town.
It was some moments before I realised what had actually occurred. When I did do so, I sat down on the seat in a sort of stupor. I was roused from it by the banging of the carriage door. It was being swung backwards and forwards by the momentum of the train. I shut it, almost mechanically; as I did so I noticed that the glass was shattered. It might have been broken by the banging of the door, or she might have broken it by striking it in her frantic efforts to clutch at something.
What was I to do? My eyes wandered to the alarm-bell. Should I ring it and stop the train? To what purpose? She might not be dead. Indeed, the probabilities were that she was, at least, not quite dead. In such a case I knew her well enough to be aware that nothing was more likely than that she would at once denounce me as her attempted murderer. Then in what a plight I should be! To the best of my knowledge and belief she had brought her fate upon herself. I had nothing to do with it. Undoubtedly, I had not opened the door to hurl her through. It is easy enough after the event to say that at all hazards I ought at once to have stopped the train, and explained what had occurred. I should have done so had I been able to foresee the events which followed. I should have been willing to have given a great deal to have saved myself from bearing what I actually have borne. But, at the moment, I foresaw nothing. My wits were woolgathering. I was confronted by the thought that, in face of her allegations of my guilt, my protestations of innocence might avail but little. I had suffered too much on her account already to have any desire to suffer more.
As I sat there thinking, something struck me a severe blow in the face. It was a piece of glass from the broken window which had been loosened, and which had been forced out of its place by the pressure of the wind. I lowered the window, lest the remaining fragments should also be driven from their places. The sharp edge of the piece of glass had come into contact with my cheek. It had cut me to the bone. I put up my handkerchief to stop the bleeding. As I did so I noticed that my overcoat seemed to have been torn open in the struggle; the top button appeared to be missing.
The blood flowed freely from the open wound. The piece of glass seemed to have cut me like a knife. My handkerchief was quite inadequate to stop the flow. It was becoming soaked with blood. While I was wondering what I should do if the bleeding did not shortly cease, the train drew up at Victoria.
The distance between Brighton and town had never before seemed to me to be so short.
Now that I had reached Victoria I did not know what to do. I continued to sit in a sort of bewilderment, wondering. Should I speak to the guard, or should I not? Should I walk out of the station as if nothing had happened? I was, or it seemed to me that I was, between the devil and the deep sea. Whichever path I took was the path, not of safety but of danger.
While I sat hesitating and apparently incapable of anything but hesitation, the carriage door was opened. I supposed that, seeing me, a porter had opened it for me to alight. But it was not a porter who stood there looking in-looking in, as it struck me, with eager curiosity. It was an individual in a top hat and an overcoat ornamented with fur cuffs and collar. Even in my state of confusion, and in that imperfect light, I was at once struck by the fact that both hat and overcoat were the worse for wear. The face under the hat was also the worse for wear. The cheeks were ruddy, with a ruddiness which suggested alcohol. The moustache and whiskers were too black for nature. The eyes, which were at once both impudent and shifty, in colour almost matched the whiskers. There was something about the man which reminded me of some one I had seen before. Who it was, at the moment, I could not think.
He addressed me with what he probably intended for an ingratiating smile, “This is Victoria.” I told him I was aware of it. “All get out here.” I added that I was also aware of that.
His eyes, which had been travelling round and round the carriage in an eager, searching fashion, which, for some reason, made me curiously uneasy, finally rested on my face. He at once noticed the blood-stained handkerchief which I still was holding to my cheek.
“No; I’ve cut my cheek.”
I don’t know why I sat there speaking to the man as I did.
“Permit me to offer you my handkerchief; yours seems soaked with blood.”
Taking out a red silk handkerchief, the corner of which had been protruding from the outside pocket of his overcoat, he held it out to me. I was reluctant to take it. One is reluctant to accept the loan of a silk handkerchief from a perfect stranger, more especially, perhaps, from the sort of stranger he appeared to be. But what was I to do? I was in want of a handkerchief. My own was worse than useless. It was reeking wet. Great gouts of blood were commencing to drop from it. My cheek was bleeding as profusely as ever. I was beginning to wonder if a blood-vessel had been severed. One cannot buy handkerchiefs on a Sunday night. I should have to borrow from some one. So I borrowed from him. Unwillingly enough, I admit. As I applied his handkerchief to my cheek, turning, I threw my own through the open window at my side.
He rushed forward, as if to stay my arm. He was too late. The handkerchief had gone. “Good God!” he exclaimed, “what have you done?”
He seemed unnecessarily excited, considering that, in any case, the handkerchief was mine.
“I’ve thrown it away. You don’t suppose that, in that condition, I could carry it home.” He looked at me with his eager eyes.
“Was your name upon it?”
“I believe so; why?”
Leaning over, he laid his hand upon my shoulder. He spoke in a tone of voice which, in spite of myself, sent a thrill all over me.
“Man, supposing they find it? It may be a question of life or death. Let’s get out of this — come!”
It was time that we left the carriage. I had noticed a porter staring in, as if wondering why we remained its occupants. But that was no reason why the stranger, thrusting his arm through mine, should have almost dragged me out on to the platform. As he continued to cling to me when we were on the platform, I remonstrated —“Be so good as to release my arm.”
Paying no attention to my request, he made as if to hurry me on.
“Come to a little place I know near here. I am a bit of a doctor. I’ll soon make that cut of yours all right.”
I did not budge. I repeated my request —
“Be so good as to release my arm. I am obliged to you for your suggestion. I, however, prefer to go straight home.”
“Quite right; there is no place like home. Let’s go and find a cab.”
Not at all nonplussed, he again made as if to hasten on. I still declined to budge.
“Thank you. I can perform that office for myself. If you will give me your address, I will forward you your handkerchief. Or, if you prefer it, I will deposit with you its value.”
“Sir, I am a gentleman.” He drew himself up with an assumption of dignity which was so overdone as to be ludicrous. The two last words he repeated —“A gentleman!”
“I do not doubt it. It is I who may not be a gentleman.”
“I, sir, can tell a gentleman when I see one.” He laid a stress upon the personal pronoun, as if he wished me to infer that such clearness of vision might be a personal peculiarity. “I will give you my address in the cab.”
Willing to humour him, I suffered him to stroll up the platform at my side. I held out my hand to him when we reached a hansom.
“I said I would give you my address in the cab.” Leaning towards me, he spoke in that curious tone which had impressed me so unpleasantly in the railway carriage. “Get into the cab, man; I travelled from Brighton in the next compartment to yours.”
I was foolish. I ought, even at the eleventh hour, to have addressed myself to an official, to have made a clean breast of it, to have told him of the accident, the unavoidable accident, which had happened on the line. I know that now too well. I knew it, dimly, then. But, at the moment, I was weak. The fellow’s manner increased my state of mental confusion. In a sense, his words overwhelmed me. I yielded to him. I got into the cab. He placed himself at my side.
“Where shall I tell the man to drive?” he asked.
“Piccadilly Circus!” he shouted. The cab was off.
We sat in silence, I in a state of mind which I should find some difficulty in making plain. I will not attempt it. I will only say that I should have dearly liked to have taken my friend, the stranger, by the scuff of his neck and to have thrown him out into the street. I did not dare.
When we were clear of the traffic I asked him, in a voice which I scarcely knew to be my own, it was so husky and dry —
“What did you mean by saying that you travelled from Brighton in the next compartment to mine?”
“Mean? My dear sir, I meant what I said. It was a coincidence — nothing more.” He spoke lightly; impudently even. I felt incapable of pressing him for a more precise explanation. He added, as a sort of afterthought, “I’m a detective.”
I turned to him with a start. “A detective?”
He pretended to be surprised by my surprise.
“What’s the matter, my dear sir?” He paused. Then, with a sneer, “I’m not that sort. I’m the respectable sort. I’m a private detective, sir. I make delicate inquiries for persons of position and of means.” He emphasised “means.” “Have you a cigar?”
“I gave him one; he proceeded to light it. I was conscious that, since I had admitted him to a share of the cab, a change had taken place in his bearing. It was not only familiar, it was positively brutal. Yet, strange though it may appear — and I would point out that nothing is so common as that sort of wisdom which enables us to point out the folly of each other’s behaviour — I found myself unable to resent it.
“I’ve been down to Brighton on business; to make inquiries about a woman.”
“A woman who is missing — women are missing now and then — Louise O’Donnel. I suppose you never happen to have heard the name?”
“Louise O’Donnel?” I wondered what he meant; there was meaning in his tone. Indeed, every word he uttered, every gesture he made, seemed pregnant with meaning. The more I saw of him, the more uncomfortable I became. “I do not remember to have heard the name Louise O’Donnel.”
“Yes, Louise O’Donnel. You’re quite sure you never heard it?”
“So far as I remember, never.”
“Perhaps your memory is at fault; one never knows.” He puffed at his cigar — or, rather, he puffed at my cigar. “I don’t think I’ll give you my address. I’ll call for the handkerchief at yours. What is your address?”
I hesitated. I was quite aware that to give him my address would be to commit a further act of folly. But, at the same time, I did not see how I could avoid giving it him without a row or worse.
“My office is in Austin Friars?”
“Austin Friars? You don’t happen to have a card about you?”
I did happen to have one of my business cards in my letter-case. Taking it out, I gave it to him. He looked at it askance, reading the name on it out loud.
“Thomas Tennant. Rather an alliterative kind of name. Almost like a pseudonym.” I sat in silence. “However, there may be some one about with such a name.” He slipped the card into his waistcoat pocket. “I shall have pleasure, Mr. Tennant, in calling on you, for my silk handkerchief, in Austin Friars; possibly tomorrow, possibly next week, or the week after — but that I shall call for it, sooner or later, you may rest assured.” He looked at me with a grin. “Now that we have transacted that little piece of business, I don’t think there is any necessity for me to inflict my company upon you any longer. I may as well get out.”
I was thankful for the prospect of a prompt deliverance. But I was not to be rid of him so easily, as his next words showed. He was drumming with his finger-tips on the front of the cab.
“By the way, you were good enough to mention something about a deposit for my handkerchief. I think that, after all, I will trouble you for one.”
I advanced my hand towards my pocket.
“With pleasure. If you have no objection, I will buy the handkerchief right out at a liberal price?”
His reply was a sneer.
“Thank you; I am obliged; the handkerchief is not for sale. I prize it too greatly — as a present from my late lamented greatgrandmother. But something on deposit I don’t mind.”
“How much shall we say?”
“Say — we’ll say ten pounds.”
“Ten pounds!” I stared at him. The fellow’s impudence was increasing. “You are jesting.”
He turned on me quite savagely — his black eyes glared.
“Jesting? What do you mean by saying I am jesting?”
“I shall certainly deposit with you no sum approaching ten pounds.”
He continued to regard me as if he were taking my measure. I met his glance unflinchingly. I wished him to understand that I was not quite the simpleton he seemed to take me for. I think he grasped something of my meaning. His tone became sullen.
“Make it five pounds, then.”
“I am more likely to make it five shillings. However, under the peculiar circumstances, as I don’t know what I should have done without your handkerchief, I don’t mind going as far as half a sovereign, which is about four times its value.”
His reply, though scarcely a direct answer to my words, still was sufficiently plain.
“You and I, Mr. Tennant, will spend the night together.”
“Again, I ask you, what do you mean by that?”
The fellow smoothed his clean-shaven chin and grinned.
“I mean, Mr. Tennant, that I am beginning to suspect that it may be my painful duty to thrust myself on your society until I have ascertained what became of the woman who got into your compartment at Brighton, but who was not in it when we reached Victoria.”
A creepy, crawly feeling went all over me. This came of not having told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, directly the accident had happened. Already I was suspected of the worst. And by such a fellow! Already, to a certain extent, I was in his power.
I did not give him the five pounds he asked. I did not make quite such an idiot of myself as that. But I gave him much more than his ancient rag was worth. He rattled the coins, gold coins, together in the palms of his hands; he chuckled at the sound of them; he called out to the cabman, “Stop!” Standing on the pavement, he took off his hat to me with a sweeping flourish, saying, with a laugh —
“The handkerchief itself — that priceless relic of my late lamented greatgrandmother! — I will call for at your office in Austin Friars.”
I was quite conscious, as I drove home the rest of the way alone, that I had made of myself, doubly and trebly, a fool. But, if possible, still worse remained behind.
How the African gentleman, of whom I read the other day, manages with 999 wives, I, for one, am at a loss to understand. When a man is on good terms with one wife — and I had rather be on good terms with one wife than on bad terms with 999 — occasions do arise on which he experiences little difficulties. For instance, I had been in the habit of telling my wife everything — or, perhaps, it would be more correct to write, practically everything. It would have been well for me if there had been no reservations. As a matter of fact, I had said nothing about two or three little incidents of my prenuptial existence. Notably, I had said nothing about Ellen Howth — though that, perhaps, was rather more than an incident.
The result was that when I reached home I was in something of a quandary. The wife plied me with the usual questions, to which I was unable to supply the accustomed copious and satisfactory answers. She wished to know how my face came to be cut in that terrible fashion. I rigged up some cock-and-bull story about a broken window — a window had been broken, but not altogether in the manner I led her to infer. Then she found that a button was missing from my overcoat. Another cock-and-bull story had to be manufactured to account for that. It did not require a woman’s keen eyes to discover that there was something amiss about my general demeanour — that I “wore a worried look.” In endeavouring to satisfactorily account for that I blundered fearfully. We went to bed with a shade of coolness perceptible on either side. I felt that I had been ill-used generally, and Lucy felt that I had ill-used her.
The wife had bound up my face with a sticking-plaster. In the morning the sticking-plaster was much in evidence. I had not had a good night’s rest. I should like to know who would have done, after my adventures of the evening! I got up, not so much in a bad temper as oppressed with gloom. Lucy, as a matter of course, plied me with her questions all over again. We had a fencing match while dressing. The match was continued at breakfast, till the buttons almost came off the foils. I had resolved, in the small hours of the morning, to screw my courage to the sticking point, and to make a clean breast of it to some one. I told myself that the first plunge would be the worst, when I had taken that all would be well. But, by the time I started for the City, I had become so aggrieved with Lucy that my resolution, as it were, had assumed a different hue. It was irresolution again.
I bought all the papers. I searched them to learn if anything or any one had been found upon the Brighton line. I did not see very well how there could have been, in time for the fact to have been printed in the morning papers. But a morbid anxiety constrained me to the search. Pilbeam, who always travels with me to town, displayed almost as much interest in the papers as I did. He wanted to know why I had bought them. He became facetious in his way — which is his way, and, thank Providence, his way only. I listened to Pilbeam’s facetiæ while I was mentally asking myself if it would be better — for me — for her to be found living or dead. In the one case I knew that she would denounce me at once to the police, and I should sleep that night in gaol — and then, what could I say or do? In the other, the odds might be slightly in my favour. Under the circumstances, I naturally enjoyed Pilbeam’s jokes. They were so funny, and so suited to my mood.
That was a dreadful day. There was no business doing. Had there been I might have been saved from thinking — and from drinking. As a rule, I never drink anything in town. But that day I had to. I was too invertebrate to keep going without it.
Boon after midday I was sitting in one of the City bars — one of those in which men play chess and draughts and dominoes. I was leaning on one of the little marble tables scribbling aimlessly upon a sheet of paper. Some one, standing in front of me, addressed me by my name. I looked up. It was a man with whom I had occasionally done business — a man named Townsend, a tall, well-built fellow, with what one sometimes hears called the “beauty of the devil.” He had always been something of a mystery to me. Although I had done a good deal for him at one time or another, he had never given me an address at which, in case of necessity, I could find him. His reference, which hitherto had been a sufficient one, had been a City bank. He used to give me instructions, and then would call at the office to see what I had made of them. He certainly seemed to get hold of reliable information, principally about mining securities; but that he was no City man I was persuaded. There was about him an indefinable something which irresistibly suggested the West End. He struck me as some butterfly of fashion with opportunities and tastes for punting of various kinds. That he confined his transactions to me I never for a moment believed, and in spite of his being the best dressed and the handsomest man I ever saw, whenever he gave me anything like a large line, before I operated I was always careful to have an eye for cover.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, as I glanced up at him. “They told me at the office I should probably find you here. I want you to do a little deal for me.” He dropped into a chair on the other side of the table. “What’s this you’ve been scribbling here; anything private?”
He referred to the piece of paper on which I had been allowing my pencil to scrawl, I knew not what. “It’s nothing; only rubbish.”
He picked the piece of paper up; I was watching him as he did so. As his eyes fell on it, not a little to my surprise a most singular change took place in his countenance. Although his face was clean shaven, and, therefore, as one would have thought, likely to give visual evidence of any passing shades of feeling, it had always seemed to me the most inscrutable of masks. Neither success nor failure seemed to make the slightest difference to him. His expression was ever the same. The change which now took place in it therefore, was all the more surprising. In an instant there came into his face a look of the most unmistakable terror. His eyes dilated, his jaw dropped open. He sat staring at the paper as if paralysed by horror.
“What the devil’s this?” he gasped, when his attitude and his continued silence were beginning to make me conscious of discomfort, and, goodness knows, I had been, and was, uncomfortable enough without his help!
I had not the faintest notion what it was which had had on him so singular an effect. I took the paper out of his momentarily nerveless hands. So soon as I saw what was on it, I too had something like a fit of the horrors. “Goodness gracious!” I exclaimed.
It showed in what sort of groove my mind had been working. Unconsciously I had been scribbling the name of the woman whom the stranger, when we had been together in the cab the night before, had told me he had been searching for in Brighton. There it was, “Louise O’Donnel, Louise O’Donnel,” scrawled all over the paper, perhaps fifty times.
“What an extraordinary thing,” I murmured.
And, indeed, it seemed to me to be a very extraordinary thing; and by no means a pleasant thing either. Very much the other way. It showed what I was capable of doing without being aware of it. I did not like it at all.
By the time I had regained some of my composure Mr. Townsend appeared to have regained some of his. He had called the waiter, from whom he was ordering brandy. I ordered brandy too — a shillingsworth; what they give you for sixpence would have had no effect upon me. We both drank before anything was said. Then Mr. Townsend looked at me over the top of his glass.
“May I ask, Mr. Tennant, what you know about Louise O’Donnel?”
The effect which the discovery of that name upon the sheet of paper — my sheet of paper — had had upon me was sufficiently capable of explanation. Only too capable. Why it should have affected Townsend surpassed my comprehension. I hardly knew what to answer when he put his question.
“Know! I know nothing.”
“Is that so? Then how came you to write the name upon that scrap of paper?”
“I know no more than the man in the moon.”
“Indeed. Then are you suggesting that its presence there is an illustration of the new kind of force which promises to be the craze — telepathic writing, don’t they call it?”
This was said with a sneer. Something about the tone, the manner in which it was uttered, reminded me forcibly of some one I had heard quite recently elsewhere. The resemblance was so strong that it came to me with the force of a sudden shock. To whom could it be? It came to me in a flash; the stranger of the night before. Directly he had appeared at the carriage door he had reminded me of some one. Now I knew of whom. He was sitting in front of me at that moment — Mr. Townsend. His tone was the stranger’s, his manner was the stranger’s; even his face, in some strange fashion, was the stranger’s too. The stranger wore side-whiskers and a moustache, he was older, he was not nearly so good-looking, he lacked Mr. Townsend’s peculiar air of polish, but in spite of the differences which existed between them, there was the resemblance too. The more I stared — and I did stare — the more the resemblance grew. Mr. Townsend leaned towards me across the table. The attitude was the stranger’s.
“Are you trying to think of where you heard the name before? I see that you have heard it.”
“Yes; last night.”
He was holding the glass in which the waiter had brought his brandy in his hand. As he echoed my words he brought it down upon the marble-topped table with a crash. It was strange that it was not splintered.
“Last night, as I came from Brighton.”
Mr. Townsend must have been in an oddly clumsy mood. As I spoke it seemed to me that he deliberately knocked his glass off the table on to the floor. When he bent over it, it was to find it shivered into fragments. From the waiter, who came to remove the broken remnants, he ordered a fresh supply of brandy. I had my glass replenished too.
“Have you a double, Mr. Townsend, moving about the world?”
He was raising his glass to his lips when I put the question. He spoke before he drank. “A double? What on earth do you mean?”
“Because it was from the lips of your double I heard the name of Louise O’Donnel.”
“My double?” He put down his glass, untasted.
“I came up with him in the same train last night from Brighton.”
“You came up with him in the same train last night from Brighton? With whom?”
His face was absolutely ghastly. He had gone white to the lips, and a curiously unnatural, sickly white. I could not make him out at all. I suspected that he could not make me out either. I know that something about him had for me, just then, a dreadful sort of fascination.
“I do not know, Mr. Tennant, if you are enjoying a little jest at my expense. I am not conscious of having a double, nor am I conscious of having come up with you last night in the same train from Brighton. By what train did you travel?”
“By the 8.40 express.”
“By the train, that is, which leaves Brighton at 8.40?”
“Yes; and which arrives in town at ten.”
Unless I was mistaken, a look of distinct relief passed over his face.
“Oh, then, you certainly never came from Brighton with me. It occurs to me, Mr. Tennant, that you are not looking well. You almost look as if you had had a recent serious shock. I trust that it is only my fancy.”
He looked at me with eager, searching eyes, which reminded me very acutely of the stranger’s.
“I am not feeling very well today, and that’s a fact.”
“You don’t look very well. By the by, how came this double of mine to mention the name?”
Mr. Townsend nodded towards the sheet of paper, almost, as it seemed to me, as if he were unwilling to pronounce the name which was upon it.
“He merely mentioned that he had been down to Brighton to look for a woman named Louise O’Donnel.”
Mr. Townsend’s glass came down on to the table with the same startled gesture as before. If he was not careful, he would break a second one. And, since he glanced our way, so the waiter seemed to think.
“Been looking for her? What had he been doing that for?”
“That is more than I can tell you.”
Mr. Townsend sat and stared at me as if doubting whether I spoke the truth.
“May I ask you, in my turn, what you know about this mysterious Louise O’Donnel?”
He looked down, and then up at me. He smiled, his smile striking me as being more than a little forced.
“That is the funny part of it. I, too, know nothing of Louise O’Donnel — no more than you do.”
“It seems odd that you should take so great an interest in a person of whom you know nothing.”
“Does not the same remark apply to you?”
“Not at all. I heard the name mentioned last night, casually, for the first time. It seems to have lingered in my memory, and I appear to have scribbled it, in a fit of abstraction, and, certainly, quite unconsciously.”
Taking out a cigar, Mr. Townsend commenced to light it with an appearance of indifference which was, perhaps, a trifle too pronounced.
“Very odd, very odd indeed, that both you and I should seem to evince so much interest in a person whose name we have merely heard casually mentioned. It occurred to me that, when you found the name confronting you, you appeared — shall I say startled? — as if it or its owner was connected in your mind with disagreeable associations. Perhaps, however, that was simply a consequence of the general ill-health from which you say you suffer. And, I must say myself, that you don’t look well. I hope that, next time I see you, you will be better.”
He carried it off with an air. But I did not believe him. I felt persuaded that he knew more of Louise O’Donnel than he chose to confess. What he knew was more than I could say. But I felt equally persuaded that he wished that he knew less. He went off without saying anything further about the little deal which he had said that he wanted me to do for him. It had, apparently, escaped his recollection. I, too, had forgotten it till after he had gone. I had never felt less inclined for business in my life.
Scarcely had I returned to the office than the door opened, and, wholly unannounced, the stranger of the night before came in. He might, almost, have been waiting and watching for my return.
Again I was struck by the man’s resemblance to Mr. Townsend. It was obvious even in the way in which he advanced towards me across the room. It was almost as if Townsend had slipped on some costume of a masquerade, and reappeared in it to play tricks with me. The fellow, going to the centre of the room, crossed his arms, in theatrical fashion, across his chest, and stood and stared at me — glared at me would be the more correct expression. Not caring to meet his glances, and to return him glare for glare, as if we were two madmen trying to outstare each other, I fumbled with the papers on my table.
“You have called for that handkerchief of yours? I am obliged to you for the loan of it; but I had to leave home for town so early this morning that my wife was not able to get it ready in time for me to bring it with me. If you will give me your address I will see that it is sent to you through the post.”
There was a considerable interval before he answered me — an interval during which he continued to glare, and I to fumble with my papers. When he did speak, it was in one of those portentous and assumed bass voices, which one inevitably connects with the proverbial “Villain at the Vic.”
“I have not called for my handkerchief.”
“Then, may I ask to what I am indebted for the pleasure of your presence here. I have only just come in, and I have some rather pressing business which I must do.”
“Your business has nothing to do with me.”
“Probably not; but it has with me.”
He came a step nearer, still keeping his arms crossed upon his chest. This time he spoke in a sort of a hiss. It seemed obvious that at some period of his career he must have had something to do with the stage.
“Do you not know what has brought me here. Does your own conscience not tell you, man?”
I began to suspect that he had been drinking. I looked up at him. He was eyeing me with a scowl which, to say the least of it, was scarcely civil.
“How should I know what has brought you here, if it is not a desire to regain possession of your property? I take it that you hardly intend to suggest a further deposit.”
I do not think that he altogether relished the allusion. His scowl became less theatrical, and a good deal more natural. He seemed, for a moment, to be at a loss as to what to say. Then a word came from between his lips which startled me.
That was rather more than I could stand. I sprang to my feet.
“What do you mean, sir, by addressing me like that? Are you mad?”
My assumption of indignation did not seem to impress him in the least. He returned to the basso profundo.
“Have you seen the evening papers?”
At the question something began to swim before my eyes. I had to lean against the edge of the table.
“No; what is there in the evening papers to interest me?”
“I will show you.”
He began to unfold a paper which he took from his pocket. Laying the open sheet before me on the table, he pointed to a column of leaded type.
“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest that, if you can.”
The heading of the column was enough for me. It was headed, “Tragedy on the Brighton Line.” I could read no farther. I dropped down into my chair again. The stranger continued to regard me with accusatory eyes.
“What’s the matter with you? You don’t seem well.”
“I’ve not been feeling well all day.”
“So I should imagine. Else you had been more or less than human. Since you are not able to read the paper yourself, at which I am not surprised, I will read it for you. The paper says that the body of a woman has been found on the up side of the Brighton line, just before Three Bridges Station.”
“Dead — murdered.”
I was speechless, tongue-tied. The whole hideous folly of which I had been guilty rose in front of me, and paralysed my brain. I saw, too clearly, and too late, the dreadful nature of the error I had made. I realised the awful something which, owing to my own cowardice, now stared me in the face. It might have been bad enough if I had played the man; but it would have been better than this.
The stranger kept his eyes fixed on my countenance. I have no doubt that on it was seen some of the horror which racked me. His voice sounded to me like an echo from far away.
“That explains how it was that I saw a woman get into your carriage at Brighton, and that she was not there when we reached Victoria. You had left her on the line.”
I made an effort to shake off the stupor which oppressed me. It was out of the question that I should continue to sit there passively, and allow this fellow to jump, in his own fashion, at his own conclusions. Better late than never! There might still be time for me to play the man. I took out my handkerchief to wipe away the moisture from my brow. I looked at the man in front of me.
“May I ask you for your name, sir?”
“My name is immaterial.”
“Excuse me, but it is not immaterial. You thrust yourself upon me last night, you thrust yourself upon me again today. If I am to have anything to say to you, I must know with whom I am dealing.”
“You are dealing with the witness of your crime.”
“That is not the case. I have been guilty of no crime.”
“Why do you lie to me? Don’t you know that I could go straight from this room and hang you?” He raised his voice in a manner which told upon my nerves. I looked furtively about the room. I had to wipe the moisture from my brow again.
“Is it necessary that you should speak so loudly, sir! Do you wish to be overheard? There are clerks in the adjoining room.”
“Then send them away; or don’t try to hoodwink me — me!” He struck his hand against his chest, accentuating the second “me,” as if he were an individual altogether separate and apart. “If I were to follow the promptings of my bosom, I should go at once to the police, and leave you to dangle on the gallows.”
“You are under a misapprehension, sir. I give you my word of honour that you are. I may have been guilty — I have been guilty — of an error of judgment, but not of a crime.”
“Do you call murder an error of judgment?”
“There has been no murder — I swear it!”
He held up his hand to check me. “Let me tell you how much I know about the business before you go out of your way to lie to me.” Seating himself on the edge of my writing-table, he brought his right hand down upon it now and then to emphasise his words. “Directly the train started I heard two voices in the compartment next to mine — in your compartment. The voices were raised in quarrelling. I had, by the purest accident, seen a woman get into your compartment just as we were leaving Brighton, and I knew that the voices were yours and hers. The quarrelling got worse and worse. I feared every moment that something dreadful would happen. I was just going to sound the alarm, when there was silence. Immediately after a door banged — the door of your carriage. I was afraid that something dreadful had happened. And yet, I told myself, if nothing had happened I should look foolish if I stopped the train. Unable to make up my mind what to do, I did nothing. When on reaching Victoria I made a bolt for your carriage and found that the woman was not there, I saw that my worst fears were realised. Then I understood the sudden silence, and the banging of the door.”
“She had fallen out.”
“Who opened the door for her to fall?”
“I did.” Seeing the slip I had made I endeavoured to correct myself. “That is, I opened the door with the intention of leaving the carriage, in order to escape her violence. In trying to prevent my leaving she herself fell out.”
“If, as you say, the whole thing was an accident, why did you not sound the alarm?”
“I ought to have done; I know I ought to have done. I can only say that it was all so sudden and so unexpected that I lost my head.”
“To whom have you mentioned a word about the — accident, until this moment I have charged you with your crime?”
“To no one. My reticence, unfortunately, is the error of judgment to which I referred.”
“You call that an error of judgment! Then, let me tell you, it was an error of judgment of a somewhat peculiar kind. A mere outsider would say that reticence was the best course you could possibly pursue.”
The fellow’s way of looking at the matter made things look blacker and blacker. The moisture accumulated upon my brow so fast that I could scarcely keep it from trickling down my cheeks.
“It might have been the best course to pursue had I been guilty, but I am not guilty; I swear it. I am as innocent as you are. It was my misfortune that there were peculiar circumstances connected with the matter which I wished to keep private. I feared to be misunderstood.”
“You were not misunderstood by me, I do assure you. I understood, and understand you only too well. The point is that you still seem unable to understand me. You still appear to be unable to realise that I was in the next compartment to yours, that the divisions between the compartments are thin, and that you shouted at the top of your voice. I distinctly heard you threaten to kill the woman — yes, and more than once, and in a tone of voice which sounded very much as if you meant it.”
He was wrong, and he was right. That was the worst of it. Undoubtedly, there had been strong language used on either side, uncommonly strong language. A listener who was not acquainted with all the circumstances might have supposed that some of it was meant. I can only protest that, so far as I was concerned, I had never meant what I had said half so much as she had meant what she said. No, nor a quarter as much. Nor, for the matter of that, an eighth. She had aggravated me to such an extent that I undoubtedly had said something — and perhaps in rather a loud tone of voice — to the effect that I should like to kill her. But I said it metaphorically. Every one who knows me knows that in practice I am the least bloodthirsty man alive. I never could kill a cat. Even when there are kittens to drown I have to leave them to my wife. Instead of the woman having killed herself I would infinitely rather she had killed me.
But it was no use trying to explain these things to the man in front of me. I saw that plainly. So far as he was concerned, my guilt was as if it were written in the skies. Taking up a position in front of the fire, he assumed what he possibly intended to be a judicial air, but which struck me as being a mixture of truculence with impudence.
“When a man threatens to kill a woman, and she is killed immediately afterwards, one asks who killed her. I do not ask, simply because I know. My impulse is to let the world know too. When I do get into the witness-box my evidence will hang you.”
I thought it possible, nay, I thought it probable. If I had only made a clean breast of it when the scoundrel had first accosted me the night before!
“The thing now is, what am I to do?”
“I should have thought,” I gasped, “that the thing now is what am I to do.”
“Nothing of the sort. You have placed yourself outside the pale of consideration. It is myself I must consider.” He said this with a lordly wave of the hand.
Crushed though I was, I found his manner a little trying.
“It is my misfortune that my ears are ever open to the promptings of mercy.”
“I had not previously supposed that a characteristic of that kind was a misfortune.”
“It is a misfortune, and one of the gravest kind. It is one, moreover, against which I have had to battle my whole life long. The truly fortunate man is he who can always mete out justice. But the still, small voice of mercy I have ever heard. It is a weakness, but it is mine own. My obvious duty to society would be to take prompt steps to rid it of such a man as you.”
That was a pleasant sort of observation to have addressed to one.
“It strikes me that you take rather a strained view of your duty, sir.”
“That would strike you. It doesn’t me. But I will be frank with you. Why should I not be frank — although you are not frank with me. Though perhaps I can afford to be frank better than you can.”
He threw his ancient overcoat, faced with ancient mock astrachan, wide open. He tilted his ancient silk hat on to the back of his head. He thrust his hands into the pockets of his ancient trousers.
“The plain fact is, Mr. Tennant, that I am a victim of the present commercial depression.”
He looked it, every inch of him. Though, at the moment, I scarcely cared to tell him so.
“The depreciation in landed property, and in various securities, has hit me hard.”
“To what securities do you allude?”
I fancy he made an effort at recollection, and that the effort failed.
“To South American securities, and others. But I need not particularise.” He repeated the former lordly gesture with his hand. “The truth is that my income is not only seriously crippled, but that I am, at this present moment, actually in want of ready cash.” I believed him, without his protestations. I judged from his looks. “Now, if I do something for you, will you do something for me?”
“What will you do for me?”
“Keep silence. I am not compelled to blurt out all I know. If I show mercy to you, what return will you make me for my kindness?”
I did not quite like his way of putting it. But that I had to stomach.
“What return will you require?”
He looked at me; then round the room; then back again to me. He was evidently making up his mind as to what it would be advisable for him to say.
“I should require you to make me an immediate, and, of course, temporary advance of £100 — in gold.”
“A hundred pounds? I am not exactly a poor man; on the other hand, I am emphatically not a rich one. To me a hundred pounds are a hundred pounds. Say ten.”
“Say ten! I’ll be hanged if I say ten! And you’ll be hanged if you try to make me.”
“I’m afraid I could not go beyond thirty.”
“Then the discussion is at an end.”
“Suppose — I only say suppose, mind — that I was able to find fifty.”
“I won’t take a penny less than a hundred pounds — not one centime.”
“Would you undertake to go abroad?”
“Go abroad! I’ll be shot if I would. You might go abroad. I have my business to attend to. You forget that I am a private detective in a very extensive way.”
“For how long will you keep silence?”
“Then, in that case, I must decline to advance you even so much as a hundred pence.”
“No — nor in that case either.”
“If you will undertake to keep silence until you are compelled to speak, I will give your suggestion my most careful consideration.”
“Give it your most careful consideration! Oh, will you? It strikes me, Mr. Tennant, that you are as far from understanding me as ever. If you don’t put the money down upon that table at once I go to the police.”
He straightened his hat. He began to button up his overcoat. He looked, and, it struck me, sounded as though he meant it. I hesitated. If the woman who hesitates is lost, so also is the man. I was lost before; I was lost again, because I hesitated. I was conscious that still the bold part was the better part; that I should be wise to go to the authorities and tell them the whole plain truth, although so tardily. I knew that this man was a mean bloodsucker; that he would spend my money, and then come to me for more and more, and, after all, would hang me if he could. But I dared not face the prospect of being handed, there and then, to the police; of being delivered by him into their clutches, with his evidence to hang me. I wanted to see my wife, my child, again. I wanted, if I could, to prepare them for the cloud which was about to burst in storm upon their heads. I wanted breathing space; time to look about me; to make ready. I wanted to postpone the falling of the hammer. So I gave him the hundred pounds which he demanded, bitterly conscious all the while of what a fool I was for giving it.
He would not take my cheque. Nothing would do for him but gold. I had to send a clerk to the bank to get it. He thrust the washleather bag in which it came, as it was, into his pocket. He was good enough to say that he would not insult me by counting it; he would treat me as one gentleman should always treat another. Then, with a triumphant grin, and an airy raising of his hat, he left me to enjoy my reflections — if I could.
I did not go home even when he had left me, though shortly afterwards I started to. As I was going along Throgmorton Street I met MacCulloch. He was jubilant. He had pulled off a big stake over some race or other — upon my word, I forget what. It was one which had been run that day. He asked me to have a small bottle with him. While we were having it three other fellows joined us. Then MacCulloch asked the lot of us to go and dine with him. I knew that I ought not to, but I didn’t care. I seemed to care for nothing. The moral side of me seemed dead, or sleeping. I was aware that, instead of plunging into dissipation with MacCulloch and his friends, duty, not to speak of common sense, required that, without further loss of time, I should prepare Lucy for the worst. Instead of following the path of duty, I went to dine, and that without sending to Lucy a word of warning not to wait for me. When the usually good husband does misbehave himself, it strikes me that he is worse than the usually bad one. I speak from what seems to me to be the teachings of my own experience.
We went down, all of us, in two hansoms to the West End. I rode upon MacCulloch’s knees. We began by playing billiards at some place in Jermyn Street. I know that I lost three pounds at pool. Then we dined in a private room at the Café Royal. I have not the faintest recollection of what we had for dinner, but I am under a strong impression that I ate and drank of whatever there was to eat and drink, and that of both there was too much. My digestion is my weak point. The plainest possible food is best for me, and only a little of that. I was unwell before the dinner was half way through. Still I kept pegging away. I never did know why. By the time it was over I was only fit for bed. But when I suggested that the next item on the programme should be a liver pill or a seidlitz-powder and then home, they wouldn’t hear of it. Their idea of what was the proper thing for men in our situation was another couple of cabs and a music-hall.
I am not certain what music-hall it was. Something, I can scarcely say what, leads me to believe that it was one at which there was a ballet. So far as I was concerned, as soon as I was in my stall I fell asleep. They wouldn’t let me sleep it out. Some one, I don’t know who, woke me, as I understood the matter, because I snored. When sleeping my breathing is a trifle stertorous perhaps; at least, so Lucy has informed me more than once. Then we went for a turn in the promenade. So far as I am able to recollect, MacCulloch who, I suspect, in common with the other men, had been since dinner making further efforts to quench his thirst, wanted to introduce me to some one whom he didn’t seem to know, and who certainly didn’t seem to want to know me. I fancy Kenyan, one of the fellows who was with us, trod upon somebody else’s toes, or somebody else trod upon his. At any rate there was an argument, which in an extraordinarily short time began to be punctuated by blows. Some one hit me, I don’t know who, and I hit some one — I am disposed to think MacCulloch, because his back was turned to me, and he happened to be nearest. Then there was a row. The next thing I can remember was finding myself on the pavement in the street — sitting down on it, if I do not err. They did not lock us up; personally, I should rather have preferred their doing so; it would have relieved me of a feeling of responsibility. Having, I believe, helped me up, MacCulloch, slipping his arm through mine, suggested that we should go upon the spree. I did not, and do not, know what he meant, nor what he supposed we had been doing up to then. Anyhow, I strenuously objected. I insisted upon a cab and home. He, or some one else, put me into one, and off I went.
The presumption is that directly the cabman started I fell asleep. When I awoke I found him bending over me, pulling at the collar of my coat.
“Now then, sir, wake up; this is Hackney.”
I stared at him. I did not understand. “Hackney! What do you mean?”
“The gentleman told me to drive you to Hackney, and this is Mare Street. What part of Hackney do you want?”
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