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   Chapter 19 CONTERMINOUS COURSES

At Large By E. W. Hornung Characters: 13995

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Between five and six o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, August 16th, when the last train but one steamed into the small station at Inglesby, six miles from Gateby, one passenger left it. He was a tall man in a light tweed suit. His luggage consisted of a portmanteau and a gun-case. After looking in vain for a conveyance outside the station, he found the station-master and asked where he could get one to take him to Gateby; the station-master directed him to the inn.

Between six and seven, but rather more than an hour later, the last train of the day came in. It also deposited a single passenger-another sportsman, for he too carried a gun-case; moreover, he went through the same performance as the last arrival: looked first for a conveyance and then for the station-master, to whom he put the same question about a trap and Gateby, and from whom he received the same direction. But the official was struck with the coincidence, and dropped a word or two about "the other gentleman;" at which this one, whose name was Edmonstone, started, though he walked off to the inn, a porter following with his baggage, without putting further questions.

The inn had a great square parlour, scrupulously clean and flagged with red tiles, where Dick entered, and clattered on the well-scoured table. The person of the landlady, who presently appeared, was in the nicest harmony with floor and furniture, so neat and spotless, and in hand and face so very red. Her speech, however, as she asked what was wanted, was by way of being rough.

"In the first place," said Edmonstone, "two glasses of beer"; and presently handed one to the porter, who tendered his respects, received sixpence, repeated his respects with emphasis, and withdrew. "In the next place a horse and trap."

"We've no hosses an' traps here, yooung man."

"Come now!" said Dick. "They told me at the station this was just the place where there was one."

"Mebbe it is, but it's out now. Where is't ye want to be?"

"Gateby."

"Ga?tby! Why, that's where it's gone with t'other gentleman!"

"Indeed? To Colonel Bristo's, do you know?"

"That was it."

"It's a pity I didn't come by the other train!" His tone puzzled the woman. "We might have travelled together, by Jove! What was the gentleman like?"

"Very tall."

"Taller than I am, I suppose?"

"Yes-easy."

"A fair beard?"

"To be sure. You know him, then?"

"Very well indeed. We ought to have travelled together. Has the trap that took him come back yet?"

"Not it. It hasn't had time."

"It must go back with me when it does. Don't look like that, woman; here's a sovereign for the job!"

He flung the coin on the table. The woman stared at him and at it, seemed doubtful whether to take or leave the sovereign, but eventually overcame her scruples, honestly determining to throw in a good square meal for the money.

"The trap won't be back yet a bit, sir. You'll be wanting--"

"Nothing, except to be left alone," broke in the strange guest. "That's all the trouble I shall put you to-that, and to tell me when the trap's ready."

There was no use in saying more to the gentleman. He might not be quite right-he might fly at a body. The good woman left him gazing abstractedly out of the window; yet she had scarcely closed the door when she heard him clattering to and fro over the tiled floor like a caged beast.

His thoughts were in a tumult. He calmed them by a strenuous effort. He strove to look the matter in the face. What was the matter?

Ned Ryan, the Australian outlaw, who had been screened on condition that he came near the Bristos no more, had broken that condition; had somehow heard that Edmonstone was not to be one of the shooting-party in Yorkshire, and was even now the Colonel's newly-arrived guest.

After all, perhaps this was no more than Dick had been prepared for, since his journey from Teddington to Waterloo in the same compartment with Jem Pound and Elizabeth Ryan; he had listened to a villain's suspicions of a brother villain; from that moment he had shared those suspicions. Dick realised then, and only then, that while he was not near the Bristos they were not safe from the advances of "Mr. Miles," if he was bold enough to make them. But the sudden realisation of his fears took Dick's breath away; he had not bargained to find Miles already at Gateby-he had no definite plan for the defeat of Miles, and he was certain that the man described to him by the mistress of the inn was Miles-as certain as if he had seen him himself.

Then how was he to act? Was he to show no quarter, since this villain had played false? That course presented difficulties-dangers as well; and at the least it involved a violent scene under Colonel Bristo's roof. Must he, then, parley a second time with the villain-let him off again, trust him again, go on shielding a known desperado? No. Ned Ryan could be trusted no further, shielded no more. There were more things than one to be considered-more people than one. The man must receive his deserts.

And to accomplish this-to deliver to justice a criminal of the first water-this young Edmonstone went blindly forward, with thoughts of doing it without fuss and all but single-handed.

There was little daylight left when Dick was driven out of Inglesby; night fell long before he saw the lights of Gateby; it was fully nine when they reached the little square stone house behind the hedge. The dogs in the kennel not far from the house barked an alarm. The front door opened, and Dick saw a well-known figure outlined against the light of the passage. It was the Colonel himself, and his greeting was most cordial. Yet how hard it was to put any heart into the answer! Dick tried, failed miserably, and knew it. Before there was time for many sentences, Dick found himself hustled into a room-a long, faded, unlovely room-in which sat two ladies, Miss Bristo and Mrs. Parish.

The meeting between Alice and Dick-who had not seen each other since that fateful second evening of July-was perfectly careless without being conspicuously cold. It may be assumed that neither was wholly free from some sort of agitation; but it is to be suspected that each had prepared for the same, and masked accordingly. The mummery on both sides was excellently well managed.

Observations the most natural in the world, as well as the most commonplace, were the order of the minute.

"How rude," said Alice, "you must have thought us not to send to meet you! But we have actually only one pony, and he had gone to Melmerbridge, which is in the opposite direction."

"We thought," said Mrs. Parish, "that as you had not telegraphed, and did not come by the usual train, you could not be coming to-night."

"Pray don't name it," Dick answered to the one lady; and to the other: "I really must apologise for forgetting to wire."

The window was wide open, for the night was warm: and through the window came the voices of men chatting, and the fain

t scent of cigars. Among the voices Dick immediately distinguished one that he was prepared for, and listened for-the soft, deep voice of Miles. Strangely enough, he only caught the well-known tones on the moment of entering the room; speaking himself, and being spoken to by those in the room, he could hear no more than a hum outside; and when he listened again, during the first pause, he could no longer hear Miles.

Very soon the conversation outside ceased altogether, and a moment later the men appeared in the room. There were but two of them, and Miles was not one. As for Mr. Oliver and Captain Awdry, they had only come for the first three days, and had both gone on the Saturday evening.

Dick remembered one of the two men; a heavy-jawed, squarely-built young man, whose eyes were of pale green, whose chin never by any chance appeared to have been shaved since the day before yesterday, whose expression in repose was too demure for a man. This was Philip Robson, and Dick shook hands with him. The dapper little dark man Dick had never seen before. Whoever he was, he seemed to know Alice pretty well, by the way he promptly pestered her for a song.

"So you have only recently returned from Australia, I understand," Robson said to Dick. "I, too, am fresh from those parts. And I am told you came by sailing-ship-so did I-as surgeon."

The dapper young gentleman at the other side of the room here made an inane remark in a loud tone about both being in the same boat, which was ignored by the worthy doctor and Dick, who stared. If they were listening they must have heard this wag informing Miss Bristo that she ought to laugh, and vowing that he would throw away no more good things in mere perishable words of mouth.

"No," said Alice, "write them. It is far the best. The point is so much more easily seen in print; and then, instead of pearls wasted on us poor things, the whole world roars at them."

"Sixty thousand people have the chance," Laurence Pinckney answered-in allusion, it was believed, to the circulation of "his" weekly paper.

But he seemed to have nothing smart ready just then, for he went back to begging for a song.

"Mr. Miles was somewhat tired, I presume, Dr. Robson?" Mrs. Parish was saying. "You see he had a great rush to come to-day. We only knew this morning, when we got his telegram-so thoughtful of him to send one!-that he had found it possible to come at all."

"Yes. He appeared to me to be considerably fatigued-indeed, when he left us I thought him looking pale. I offered to mix him a little something that would fit him for to-morrow. But he wouldn't let me."

Cousin Philip became professional on the slightest provocation.

Dick was asking the Colonel about the sport so far.

"Forty-eight brace the first day, forty-two the second; five guns; over dogs. But," added the Colonel, whispering, "my young friend over there hits nothing at all. Philip is fair; but as for me, I don't see as I used to. Awdry was the crack shot. But you and Miles will be a better pair than Awdry and Oliver."

Dick and Miles-coupled! That silenced Dick. He felt his very skin bristle at the thoughts that poured in upon his mind.

"Do you know Mr. Miles?"

The question was put in a solemn undertone by Cousin Philip. Considering Dick's thoughts at that moment, it was almost a startling question. He waited a moment before replying.

"Yes," he then said slowly, "I know him."

"An interesting man," said the doctor, "a profoundly interesting man; that I can see, and I congratulate myself on making his acquaintance. I shall enjoy his society, I know. And a Colonial, too."

"My dear fellow, Colonials are as good as any other people."

Dick had often to tell people that; but the words were scarcely spoken before it struck him that, in this connection, they were a little incongruous.

"They may be; they may be. But when I travelled for an insurance company in New Zealand, I know I didn't think so. We went round the stations-the agent and I-insuring people, you know."

Dick did know. He had himself met with many such professional Samaritans in Riverina. They were not popular there.

"Well," continued the young doctor, "I don't think we were always well treated. In some places they actually seemed to regard us with suspicion. We didn't meet with the least respect, I can assure you. Once or twice we were downright insulted. Now in England--"

"Let us listen to this song," said Dick. Robson was really too ponderous.

Alice had at last yielded to the importunities of Laurence Pinckney, and was singing something in French. That young gentleman turned over the leaves, but he did not look entirely appreciative. When the song was over, he complained of the French words. He wanted something in English; though he could not refrain from a trenchant and sweeping criticism of all the words of all the ballads and songs foisted on the musical world during this last decade of a degenerate age.

There was no more singing, however; and presently the small party broke up.

"Early hours for the moors," the Colonel said. "Philip, will you show Dick his room? I'm sorry we've had to put you outside, Dick; but there are more of us out than in, and there's really no choice. We all rough it when we go a-shooting."

Dick laughed, and mentioned that the last few years had not made him luxurious. The Colonel was on the stairs, candle in hand. Dick would have liked to speak to him then and there, and tell him everything-but Robson was there too: an inquisitive fellow, unless Dick's memory was at fault; a man who would prick up his ears if he heard a private interview asked for in his presence. So Dick merely said:

"I must be up early and look round. Shall I see you, sir, then?"

"See me? Why, you'll find I've been about for a good hour before you dream of awaking! Take it easy, boy; you've been travelling all day. I'm different. I never slept longer than six hours in my life. Good-night, Dick; good-night, Philip;" and Colonel Bristo went off to bed.

Edmonstone followed Robson out into the dark, comforting himself with the determination to tell Colonel Bristo everything before breakfast next morning. They walked for some moments, then stopped before a door that opened upon a flight of deal stairs. A candle and matches were on the bottom step. The good doctor discharged his duty to the full by lighting the candle and handing it to Dick.

"It is the room on the left," said Robson.

"Anyone in the room on the right?"

"No, I think not-I'm sure not. You are over the stable and that; Pinckney and I are a few yards away, over the laundry. Good-night."

"Good-night, Robson. I say, Robson!"

"Well?"

"Who is Pinckney?"

"Son of a brother officer of the Colonel's. Comes from town, I fancy."

"What does he do-besides making an ass of himself?"

"He writes, I think."

"I'm not surprised; he's got cheek enough for anything! Good-night, Robson."

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