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   Chapter 24 ON THE TRACK.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 14020

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Theobald's Row was as depressing in the morning as it had been in the evening, and looked as if a bath would do it good. The workingmen's lodging houses bore even a more striking resemblance to prisons, and the men and women I passed looked as if they had been up all night, and had hurried out to their depressing occupations without having had recourse to soap and water. On the doorstep of Dr. Cooper's shop the same half dozen children were playing the same games with pieces of broken crockery and dry mud, and bore no appearance of having been washed since I last set eyes on them. One of the children, catching sight of me, jumped up and ran into the shop, screaming:

"Here's the gentleman, mother!" At which summons the slatternly woman immediately presented herself. It struck me that there was something aggressive in her aspect.

"Oh," she said, in no amiable tone, "it's you!"

"Yes," I replied, "it is I."

"And you call yourself a workingman," she exclaimed.

"I am not aware that I have done so."

"So my husband told me last night; you are the man who called last night, and went to seek my husband at the Britannia. Don't deny it."

"I have not the least intention of doing so. You gave me the information where to see him."

"So I did, and he said you pretended to be a workingman. Now, a workingman wouldn't say, 'it is I'; he'd say 'it's me.' I have been brought pretty low, but I had fair schooling when I was young, and I know a workingman from a gentleman."

"Well," I observed, "say that I am a gentleman; is that anything against me?"

"It is everything against you. I heard from my husband all that passed between you--as nearly as he could remember, in the state he was. When he's in his cups his tongue runs too free, and you gave him rope enough. Perhaps you're not a gentleman, after all. What do you say to detective?"

"I am not a detective," I answered, with, I confess, a rather guilty feeling, for if I was not doing the work of a detective, what else was I doing? "For what reason on earth should a detective be running after your husband?"

"An admission!" she cried, and I saw that I had to do with a sharp woman. "Then you are running after him." She folded her arms defiantly. "Now, what for?"

I smiled rather feebly as I said, "You would not believe me if I told you I have come to put something in his way."

"You are right there. I should not believe you."

"But it is the truth, nevertheless, and it will not serve me to talk it over with you. Can I see your husband?"

"You cannot see him."

"Is he not at home?"

"He is not at home."

"Will he be in soon?"

"He will not be in soon."

There was no mistaking her meaning; she regarded me as an enemy, and it was her intention to be personally offensive.

"You do not wish me and your husband to meet?"

"You shan't meet if I can help it."

"Then you must have something to fear."

This thrust, which I gave involuntarily--for I had no desire to hurt the poor woman's feelings--drove the color from her face. She retreated a step, and stumbled over a child that was playing on the floor. The slight accident seemed to infuriate her; she angrily pushed the child away with her foot, and turned upon me like a tigress.

"What are you hunting us down for?" she cried. "Do you think I have not had trouble enough in my life? Driven here and there, with a pack of hungry children in rags, and tied to a man who expects me to keep a home and a family upon ten shillings a week! But he's my husband for all that, and I'm not going to help you bring a deeper disgrace upon us. You came here yesterday to set a trap for him, with a lying story that you owed him a few pence which you were anxious to pay. God knows what you wormed out of him, for, clever as he is, he's a fool when he pours the drink down his throat. I've warned him over and over again to be careful what he says; but I might as well have talked to a stone. He's out of your reach now, at all events, and you'll have a job to find him. I wish you joy of your task, you cowardly sneak!"

The passion of her defiance of me was wonderful to witness; but underlying this defiance was a terror which did not escape my observation.

"I came here," I said gently, for her despair and her poverty inspired me with genuine pity, "in the hope that he would assist me in the discovery of a crime which has not been brought to light. If he is not implicated in it he would have earned a few pounds; if in any way he is involved in it, all I can say is, Heaven pity him--and you!"

My time was too precious to waste further words upon her, and I left the shop, and entered the cab which was waiting for me. Before I could close the door a man accosted me.

"I heard what passed inside the shop," he said. "Make it worth my while, and I'll tell you something about Dr. Cooper."

"Jump in," I answered; "I have no time to stop talking here." I gave the driver Ronald Elsdale's address, and we sped thitherward. "Now, what have you to say?"

"You want to know where the doctor is?" he commenced.

"I do."

"Well, I can't tell you that exactly, but I can put you on his track. It's worth, I should say,"--he deliberated, and looked at me covertly to decide what he would be likely to screw out of me--"not less than half a crown."

"I will give you that if you keep nothing back."

"All right. Where's the coin?"

"No, my friend," I said, "I'll have the goods before I pay for them."

"You're a sharp old file, but I'm out of work; It's capital and labor, and we know who's the grinder. Here was I, at six this morning, looking for work and not getting it. The doctor's shop shut, it's not the likes of him that catches worms. Back I come home at a quarter past seven, and there's a telegraph boy banging at the doctor's door. I help him bang, and out comes the doctor, doing up his buttons; takes the telegram, reads it, turns red and white, rushes into the house, rushes out in a brace of shakes, and scuds off. 'What's up?' thinks I, and off I scuds after him; he's too excited to notice. At St. George's Hospital, walking up and down in a fume, and looking as if he'd knock everything and everybody into a cocked hat if he had his way, there's a gentleman waiting for him, and a four-wheeler, with trunks atop, waiting for both of 'em. They have a hurried talk; I'm not near enough to hear what passes, but I get up to the cab as they step in. 'Charing Cross Station,' cries the gentleman to cabby. 'Break your horse's neck if you like; if I don't catch the Continental train I'll break yours.' Off goes the cab, and then, what do you think? off goes another cab that I hadn't noticed, after the first. I've got no money to pay for cabs, but having nothing better to do, and looking upon the move as a rum sort of move, I foots it to the station, and gets there at five minutes to eight. There they are, Dr. Cooper and his gentleman friend, as busy as bees, and there's the bell ringing and p

orters shouting, and everything hurry scurry. Away they go through the gate, and off goes the train; and if all that aint worth half a dollar I'd like to know what is."

"You shall have the money," I said; "are you sure they both went away in the train?"

"I'm sure they didn't comeback. I asked one of the porters what train that was. 'Train for Paris,' he said."

"Did you see the man who went after them in the second cab?"

"Never caught sight of him in the cab or out of it."

"But you saw the gentleman who met Dr. Cooper at the hospital."

"Of course I did."

"Was there anything peculiar in his appearance that you noticed particularly?"

"I noticed he had a red beard and mustache."

"Did he wear spectacles?"

"He had a pair of gold eyeglasses that he was continually putting on and off."

"You have earned the money. Here it is."

He took the half crown, bawled to the driver to stop, jumped out of the cab, and was off.

At five minutes past ten my cab drew up at Ronald Elsdale's house. Bob had been expeditious, and was there before me; he had even found time to tell Ronald everything. He informed me of this as he himself admitted me into the house.

"How did he take it?" I inquired.

"Very quietly," Bob answered. "He did not interrupt me once, nor did he ask a single question. When I finished he said, 'I must write letters to my pupils, telling them that there must be an unavoidable interruption in their lessons for a short time----'"

I did not follow Ronald's excellent example of listening quietly, but interrupted Bob excitedly. "For what reason?" I asked.

"He intends to accompany us. I did not argue with him. When my nephew makes up his mind to a thing he is not to be turned from it. His mother is packing his bag now. I had no difficulty at your house. The maid showed me where your clothes were, and I bundled a lot of them into the Gladstone. Here is Ronald. Don't oppose him; it will be quite useless."

"Good-morning, Mr. Emery," said the young man. "My uncle has related to me all the particulars of this strange affair, which we have not time to talk over now. You have heard of my intention to accompany you."

"Yes."

"I have taken it upon myself to send to my uncle's house for the poor child, Barbara, and she will go with us, too. She has no clothes for such a trip, I understand, but my mother has found a few things that will do for her, and when we are in Paris we can buy whatever else she requires. She will not be an additional expense to you; I will pay for her."

"We can arrange that when we are on the road," I said, somewhat amazed at this unexpected addition to our party. "Do you really consider it necessary that she should accompany us?"

"Otherwise," he replied, "I should not have ventured to send for her. Mr. Emery, we must not allow a chance to escape us; we must take advantage of everything that suggests or presents itself that is likely to assist us. I am blind; if Mr. Nisbet stood before me I should not know it. My uncle has not seen him; you are under the impression that you would be certain to recognize him, but there are thousands of men with red hair and gold eyeglasses. The only one of us who can be positive is Barbara."

I saw that he was resolved, and that it would be useless to remonstrate. What struck me, also, was that he seemed already to have assumed the command of the expedition, and to have placed himself at the head of it. Undoubtedly he had the right to take the initiative, for if a foul deed had been committed it was the lady he loved who had been the victim.

"Mr. Elsdale," I said, "I am satisfied with what you have done."

"Thank you, Mr. Emery," was his response. "There is here a mystery to be solved, a horrible wrong to be righted, a criminal to be brought to the bar of justice. I do not pretend to say that in so short a time I have reduced to order the terrible suggestions and possibilities that have presented themselves to my mind, but a man's duty is before me, and I will perform it faithfully and inexorably. Mere worldly considerations do not weigh in the scale. Though I lived to be an old man with this mystery still unsolved, I would not relinquish it. I will pursue it unflinchingly to the end, if I walk the earth barefoot. To you has come a spiritual sign and a spiritual mandate, and, through you, it has come to me." He drew me aside. "Is the apparition that first appeared to you in that ill-fated house visible to you? Is it here with us in the room?"

"It is not."

"It will appear again; be sure that it will appear again; and when justice is satisfied it will disappear, and you will no longer be troubled by it." He turned to Bob, and included him in the conversation. "Another reason why it is necessary and right that the little girl, Barbara, should accompany us is that we go not only to seek Mr. Nisbet, but to seek her sister. The young woman may have fallen under the spell of Mr. Nisbet's evil influence; he may have made her his slave. If that is the case, the efforts of strangers like ourselves to enlist her on our side would be futile; the love she bore her sister may help us here."

"You have entirely convinced me, Mr. Elsdale," I said, honestly and sincerely. "Little Barbara's aid may be invaluable to us."

As I made this remark the child knocked at the door, and as the maid-servant admitted her, Ronald's mother entered the room and said that all was ready. I looked at my watch.

"We have barely time to catch the eleven o'clock train," I said.

"Wot d'yer want of me, sir?" asked Barbara, whose appearance denoted that she had been summoned from household duties, without having had a moment given to her to tidy herself.

"We are going to take you for a trip, Barbara."

"A trip! Where to, sir?"

"To Paris, Barbara." The child gasped, and almost fell to the ground in her astonishment. "Don't be frightened. A brave little girl like you will be glad to see foreign countries."

Ronald's mother was busy with the little girl, smoothing her hair and arranging her poor clothes. She had a child's mantle, which she put on the girl, and a hat which made her look quite presentable. It was surprising what a few skillful touches achieved in poor little Barbara's appearance.

"Foring countries, sir!" she exclaimed, making no resistance to what was being done. "But I can't go, sir; I can't go! I must wait in London for Molly."

"We are going to try and find Molly, my dear."

"To find Molly! Oh--oh!"

Her joy was so profound that she could not utter another word. And when Ronald Elsdale, after embracing his mother fondly, took Barbara's hand and led her to the door, she yielded unresistingly. Away flew the cabs, and landed us at the railway station just in time to catch the eleven o'clock train. It was fortunate that we had only hand baggage with us, or we should have missed it. Within a few moments of our seating ourselves in the carriage we were speeding to Dover pier.

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