Lady of the Barge and Others, Entire Collection
Part 2 out of 4
"I don't believe that place is healthy," said Mrs. Benson, emphatically.
"I really think it might be filled in, Jem."
"All right," said her son, slowly. "Pity it wasn't filled in long ago."
He took the chair vacated by his mother as she entered the house with
Olive, and with his hands hanging limply over the sides sat in deep
thought. After a time he rose, and going upstairs to a room which was
set apart for sporting requisites selected a sea fishing line and some
hooks and stole softly downstairs again. He walked swiftly across the
park in the direction of the well, turning before he entered the shadow
of the trees to look back at the lighted windows of the house. Then
having arranged his line he sat on the edge of the well and cautiously
He sat with his lips compressed, occasionally looking about him in a
startled fashion, as though he half expected to see something peering at
him from the belt of trees. Time after time he lowered his line until at
length in pulling it up he heard a little metallic tinkle against the
side of the well.
He held his breath then, and forgetting his fears drew the line in inch
by inch, so as not to lose its precious burden. His pulse beat rapidly,
and his eyes were bright. As the line came slowly in he saw the catch
hanging to the hook, and with a steady hand drew the last few feet in.
Then he saw that instead of the bracelet he had hooked a bunch of keys.
With a faint cry he shook them from the hook into the water below, and
stood breathing heavily. Not a sound broke the stillness of the night.
He walked up and down a bit and stretched his great muscles; then he came
back to the well and resumed his task.
For an hour or more the line was lowered without result. In his
eagerness he forgot his fears, and with eyes bent down the well fished
slowly and carefully. Twice the hook became entangled in something, and
was with difficulty released. It caught a third time, and all his
efforts failed' to free it. Then he dropped the line down the well,
and with head bent walked toward the house.
He went first to the stables at the rear, and then retiring to his room
for some time paced restlessly up and down. Then without removing his
clothes he flung himself upon the bed and fell into a troubled sleep.
Long before anybody else was astir he arose and stole softly downstairs.
The sunlight was stealing in at every crevice, and flashing in long
streaks across the darkened rooms. The dining-room into which he looked
struck chill and cheerless in the dark yellow light which came through
the lowered blinds. He remembered that it had the same appearance when
his father lay dead in the house; now, as then, everything seemed ghastly
and unreal; the very chairs standing as their occupants had left them the
night before seemed to be indulging in some dark communication of ideas.
Slowly and noiselessly he opened the hall door and passed into the
fragrant air beyond. The sun was shining on the drenched grass and
trees, and a slowly vanishing white mist rolled like smoke about the
grounds. For a moment he stood, breathing deeply the sweet air of the
morning, and then walked slowly in the direction of the stables.
The rusty creaking of a pump-handle and a spatter of water upon the
red-tiled courtyard showed that somebody else was astir, and a few steps
farther he beheld a brawny, sandy-haired man gasping wildly under severe
self-infliction at the pump.
"Everything ready, George?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, sir," said the man, straightening up suddenly and touching his
forehead. "Bob's just finishing the arrangements inside. It's a lovely
morning for a dip. The water in that well must be just icy."
"Be as quick as you can," said Benson, impatiently.
"Very good, sir," said George, burnishing his face harshly with a very
small towel which had been hanging over the top of the pump. "Hurry up,
In answer to his summons a man appeared at the door of the stable with a
coil of stout rope over his arm and a large metal candlestick in his
"Just to try the air, sir," said George, following his master's glance,
"a well gets rather foul sometimes, but if a candle can live down it, a
His master nodded, and the man, hastily pulling up the neck of his shirt
and thrusting his arms into his coat, followed him as he led the way
slowly to the well.
"Beg pardon, sir," said George, drawing up to his side, "but you are not
looking over and above well this morning. If you'll let me go down I'd
enjoy the bath."
"No, no," said Benson, peremptorily.
"You ain't fit to go down, sir," persisted his follower. "I've never
seen you look so before. Now if--"
"Mind your business," said his master curtly.
George became silent and the three walked with swinging strides through
the long wet grass to the well. Bob flung the rope on the ground and at
a sign from his master handed him the candlestick.
"Here's the line for it, sir," said Bob, fumbling in his pockets.
Benson took it from him and slowly tied it to the candlestick. Then he
placed it on the edge of the well, and striking a match, lit the candle
and began slowly to lower it.
"Hold hard, sir," said George, quickly, laying his hand on his arm, "you
must tilt it or the string'll burn through."
Even as he spoke the string parted and the candlestick fell into the
Benson swore quietly.
"I'll soon get another," said George, starting up.
"Never mind, the well's all right," said Benson.
"It won't take a moment, sir," said the other over his shoulder.
"Are you master here, or am I?" said Benson hoarsely.
George came back slowly, a glance at his master's face stopping the
protest upon his tongue, and he stood by watching him sulkily as he sat
on the well and removed his outer garments. Both men watched him
curiously, as having completed his preparations he stood grim and silent
with his hands by his sides.
"I wish you'd let me go, sir," said George, plucking up courage to
address him. "You ain't fit to go, you've got a chill or something. I
shouldn't wonder it's the typhoid. They've got it in the village bad."
For a moment Benson looked at him angrily, then his gaze softened. "Not
this time, George," he said, quietly. He took the looped end of the rope
and placed it under his arms, and sitting down threw one leg over the
side of the well.
"How are you going about it, sir?" queried George, laying hold of the
rope and signing to Bob to do the same.
"I'll call out when I reach the water," said Benson; "then pay out three
yards more quickly so that I can get to the bottom."
"Very good, sir," answered both.
Their master threw the other leg over the coping and sat motionless. His
back was turned toward the men as he sat with head bent, looking down the
shaft. He sat for so long that George became uneasy.
"All right, sir?" he inquired.
"Yes," said Benson, slowly. "If I tug at the rope, George, pull up at
once. Lower away."
The rope passed steadily through their hands until a hollow cry from the
darkness below and a faint splashing warned them that he had reached the
water. They gave him three yards more and stood with relaxed grasp and
strained ears, waiting.
"He's gone under," said Bob in a low voice.
The other nodded, and moistening his huge palms took a firmer grip of the
Fully a minute passed, and the men began to exchange uneasy glances.
Then a sudden tremendous jerk followed by a series of feebler ones nearly
tore the rope from their grasp.
"Pull!" shouted George, placing one foot on the side and hauling
desperately. "Pull! pull! He's stuck fast; he's not coming; PULL!"
In response to their terrific exertions the rope came slowly in, inch by
inch, until at length a violent splashing was heard, and at the same
moment a scream of unutterable horror came echoing up the shaft.
"What a weight he is !" panted Bob. "He's stuck fast or something.
Keep still, sir; for heaven's sake, keep still."
For the taut rope was being jerked violently by the struggles of the
weight at the end of it. Both men with grunts and sighs hauled it in
foot by foot.
"All right, sir," cried George, cheerfully.
He had one foot against the well, and was pulling manfully; the burden
was nearing the top. A long pull and a strong pull, and the face of a
dead man with mud in the eyes and nostrils came peering over the edge.
Behind it was the ghastly face of his master; but this he saw too late,
for with a great cry he let go his hold of the rope and stepped back.
The suddenness overthrew his assistant, and the rope tore through his
hands. There was a frightful splash.
"You fool!" stammered Bob, and ran to the well helplessly.
"Run!" cried George. "Run for another line."
He bent over the coping and called eagerly down as his assistant sped
back to the stables shouting wildly. His voice re-echoed down the shaft,
but all else was silence.
In the comfortable living-room at Negget's farm, half parlour and half
kitchen, three people sat at tea in the waning light of a November
afternoon. Conversation, which had been brisk, had languished somewhat,
owing to Mrs. Negget glancing at frequent intervals toward the door,
behind which she was convinced the servant was listening, and checking
the finest periods and the most startling suggestions with a warning
"Go on, uncle," she said, after one of these interruptions.
"I forget where I was," said Mr. Martin Bodfish, shortly.
"Under our bed," Mr. Negget reminded him.
"Yes, watching," said Mrs. Negget, eagerly.
It was an odd place for an ex-policeman, especially as a small legacy
added to his pension had considerably improved his social position, but
Mr. Bodfish had himself suggested it in the professional hope that the
person who had taken Mrs. Negget's gold brooch might try for further
loot. He had, indeed, suggested baiting the dressing-table with the
farmer's watch, an idea which Mr. Negget had promptly vetoed.
"I can't help thinking that Mrs. Pottle knows something about it," said
Mrs. Negget, with an indignant glance at her husband.
"Mrs. Pottle," said the farmer, rising slowly and taking a seat on the
oak settle built in the fireplace, "has been away from the village for
near a fortnit."
"I didn't say she took it," snapped his wife. "I said I believe she
knows something about it, and so I do. She's a horrid woman. Look at
the way she encouraged her girl Looey to run after that young traveller
from Smithson's. The whole fact of the matter is, it isn't your brooch,
so you don't care."
"I said--" began Mr. Negget.
"I know what you said," retorted his wife, sharply, "and I wish you'd be
quiet and not interrupt uncle. Here's my uncle been in the police
twenty-five years, and you won't let him put a word in edgeways.'
"My way o' looking at it," said the ex-policeman, slowly, "is different
to that o' the law; my idea is, an' always has been, that everybody is
guilty until they've proved their innocence."
"It's a wonderful thing to me," said Mr. Negget in a low voice to his
pipe, "as they should come to a house with a retired policeman living in
it. Looks to me like somebody that ain't got much respect for the
The ex-policeman got up from the table, and taking a seat on the settle
opposite the speaker, slowly filled a long clay and took a spill from the
fireplace. His pipe lit, he turned to his niece, and slowly bade her go
over the account of her loss once more.
"I missed it this morning," said Mrs. Negget, rapidly, "at ten minutes
past twelve o'clock by the clock, and half-past five by my watch which
wants looking to. I'd just put the batch of bread into the oven, and
gone upstairs and opened the box that stands on my drawers to get a
lozenge, and I missed the brooch."
"Do you keep it in that box?" asked the ex-policeman, slowly.
"Always," replied his niece. "I at once came down stairs and told Emma
that the brooch had been stolen. I said that I named no names, and
didn't wish to think bad of anybody, and that if I found the brooch back
in the box when I went up stairs again, I should forgive whoever took
"And what did Emma say?" inquired Mr. Bodfish.
"Emma said a lot o' things," replied Mrs. Negget, angrily. "I'm sure by
the lot she had to say you'd ha' thought she was the missis and me the
servant. I gave her a month's notice at once, and she went straight up
stairs and sat on her box and cried."
"Sat on her box?" repeated the ex-constable, impressively. "Oh!"
"That's what I thought," said his niece, "but it wasn't, because I got
her off at last and searched it through and through. I never saw
anything like her clothes in all my life. There was hardly a button or a
tape on; and as for her stockings--"
"She don't get much time," said Mr. Negget, slowly.
"That's right; I thought you'd speak up for her," cried his wife,
"Look here--" began Mr. Negget, laying his pipe on the seat by his side
and rising slowly.
"Keep to the case in hand," said the ex-constable, waving him back to his
seat again. "Now, Lizzie."
"I searched her box through and through," said his niece, "but it wasn't
there; then I came down again and had a rare good cry all to myself."
"That's the best way for you to have it," remarked Mr. Negget, feelingly.
Mrs. Negget's uncle instinctively motioned his niece to silence, and
holding his chin in his hand, scowled frightfully in the intensity of
"See a cloo?" inquired Mr. Negget, affably.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, George," said his wife, angrily;
"speaking to uncle when he's looking like that."
Mr. Bodfish said nothing; it is doubtful whether he even heard these
remarks; but he drew a huge notebook from his pocket, and after vainly
trying to point his pencil by suction, took a knife from the table and
hastily sharpened it.
"Was the brooch there last night?" he inquired.
"It were," said Mr. Negget, promptly. "Lizzie made me get up just as the
owd clock were striking twelve to get her a lozenge."
"It seems pretty certain that the brooch went since then," mused Mr.
"It would seem like it to a plain man," said Mr. Negget, guardedly.
"I should like to see the box," said Mr. Bodfish.
Mrs. Negget went up and fetched it and stood eyeing him eagerly as he
raised the lid and inspected the contents. It contained only a few
lozenges and some bone studs. Mr. Negget helped himself to a lozenge,
and going back to his seat, breathed peppermint.
"Properly speaking, that ought not to have been touched," said the
ex-constable, regarding him with some severity.
"Eh!" said the startled farmer, putting his finger to his lips.
"Never mind," said the other, shaking his head. "It's too late now."
"He doesn't care a bit," said Mrs. Negget, somewhat sadly. "He used to
keep buttons in that box with the lozenges until one night he gave me one
by mistake. Yes, you may laugh--I'm glad you can laugh."
Mr. Negget, feeling that his mirth was certainly ill-timed, shook for
some time in a noble effort to control himself, and despairing at length,
went into the back place to recover. Sounds of blows indicative of Emma
slapping him on the back did not add to Mrs. Negget's serenity.
"The point is," said the ex-constable, "could anybody have come into your
room while you was asleep and taken it?"
"No," said Mrs. Negget, decisively. I'm a very poor sleeper, and I'd
have woke at once, but if a flock of elephants was to come in the room
they wouldn't wake George. He'd sleep through anything."
"Except her feeling under my piller for her handkerchief," corroborated
Mr. Negget, returning to the sitting-room.
Mr. Bodfish waved them to silence, and again gave way to deep thought.
Three times he took up his pencil, and laying it down again, sat and
drummed on the table with his fingers. Then he arose, and with bent head
walked slowly round and round the room until he stumbled over a stool.
"Nobody came to the house this morning, I suppose?" he said at length,
resuming his seat.
"Only Mrs. Driver," said his niece.
"What time did she come?" inquired Mr. Bodfish.
"Here! look here!" interposed Mr. Negget. "I've known Mrs. Driver
thirty year a'most."
"What time did she come?" repeated the ex-constable, pitilessly.
His niece shook her head. "It might have been eleven, and again it might
have been earlier," she replied. "I was out when she came."
"Out!" almost shouted the other.
Mrs. Negget nodded.
"She was sitting in here when I came back."
Her uncle looked up and glanced at the door behind which a small
staircase led to the room above.
"What was to prevent Mrs. Driver going up there while you were away?" he
"I shouldn't like to think that of Mrs. Driver," said his niece, shaking
her head; "but then in these days one never knows what might happen.
Never. I've given up thinking about it. However, when I came back, Mrs.
Driver was here, sitting in that very chair you are sitting in now."
Mr. Bodfish pursed up his lips and made another note. Then he took a
spill from the fireplace, and lighting a candle, went slowly and
carefully up the stairs. He found nothing on them but two caked rims of
mud, and being too busy to notice Mr. Negget's frantic signalling, called
his niece's attention to them.
"What do you think of that?" he demanded, triumphantly.
"Somebody's been up there," said his niece. "It isn't Emma, because she
hasn't been outside the house all day; and it can't be George, because he
promised me faithful he'd never go up there in his dirty boots."
Mr. Negget coughed, and approaching the stairs, gazed with the eye of a
stranger at the relics as Mr. Bodfish hotly rebuked a suggestion of his
niece's to sweep them up.
"Seems to me," said the conscience-stricken Mr. Negget, feebly, "as
they're rather large for a woman."
"Mud cakes," said Mr. Bodfish, with his most professional manner; "a
small boot would pick up a lot this weather."
"So it would," said Mr. Negget, and with brazen effrontery not only met
his wife's eye without quailing, but actually glanced down at her boots.
Mr. Bodfish came back to his chair and ruminated. Then he looked up and
"It was missed this morning at ten minutes past twelve," he said, slowly;
"it was there last night. At eleven o'clock you came in and found Mrs.
Driver sitting in that chair."
"No, the one you're in," interrupted his niece.
"It don't signify," said her uncle. "Nobody else has been near the
place, and Emma's box has been searched.
"Thoroughly searched," testified Mrs. Negget.
"Now the point is, what did Mrs. Driver come for this morning?" resumed
the ex-constable. "Did she come--"
He broke off and eyed with dignified surprise a fine piece of wireless
telegraphy between husband and wife. It appeared that Mr. Negget sent
off a humorous message with his left eye, the right being for some reason
closed, to which Mrs. Negget replied with a series of frowns and staccato
shakes of the head, which her husband found easily translatable. Under
the austere stare of Mr. Bodfish their faces at once regained their
wonted calm, and the ex-constable in a somewhat offended manner resumed
"Mrs. Driver has been here a good bit lately," he remarked, slowly.
Mr. Negget's eyes watered, and his mouth worked piteously.
"If you can't behave yourself, George--began began his wife, fiercely.
"What is the matter?" demanded Mr. Bodfish. "I'm not aware that I've
said anything to be laughed at."
"No more you have, uncle," retorted his niece; "only George is such a
stupid. He's got an idea in his silly head that Mrs. Driver--But it's
all nonsense, of course."
"I've merely got a bit of an idea that it's a wedding-ring, not a brooch,
Mrs. Driver is after," said the farmer to the perplexed constable.
Mr. Bodfish looked from one to the other. "But you always keep yours on,
Lizzie, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," replied his niece, hurriedly; "but George has always
got such strange ideas. Don't take no notice of him."
Her uncle sat back in his chair, his face still wrinkled perplexedly;
then the wrinkles vanished suddenly, chased away by a huge glow, and he
rose wrathfully and towered over the match-making Mr. Negget. "How dare
you?" he gasped.
Mr. Negget made no reply, but in a cowardly fashion jerked his thumb
toward his wife.
"Oh! George! How can you say so?" said the latter.
"I should never ha' thought of it by myself," said the farmer; "but I
think they'd make a very nice couple, and I'm sure Mrs. Driver thinks
The ex-constable sat down in wrathful confusion, and taking up his
notebook again, watched over the top of it the silent charges and
countercharges of his niece and her husband.
"If I put my finger on the culprit," he asked at length, turning to his
niece, "what do you wish done to her?"
Mrs. Negget regarded him with an expression which contained all the
Christian virtues rolled into one.
"Nothing," she said, softly. "I only want my brooch back."
The ex-constable shook his head at this leniency.
"Well, do as you please," he said, slowly. "In the first place, I want
you to ask Mrs. Driver here to tea to-morrow--oh, I don't mind Negget's
ridiculous ideas--pity he hasn't got something better to think of; if
she's guilty, I'll soon find it out. I'll play with her like a cat with
a mouse. I'll make her convict herself."
"Look here!" said Mr. Negget, with sudden vigour. "I won't have it.
I won't have no woman asked here to tea to be got at like that. There's
only my friends comes here to tea, and if any friend stole anything o'
mine, I'd be one o' the first to hush it up."
"If they were all like you, George," said his wife, angrily, "where would
the law be?"
"Or the police?" demanded Mr. Bodfish, staring at him.
"I won't have it!" repeated the farmer, loudly. "I'm the law here, and
I'm the police here. That little tiny bit o' dirt was off my boots, I
dare say. I don't care if it was."
"Very good," said Mr. Bodfish, turning to his indignant niece; "if he
likes to look at it that way, there's nothing more to be said. I only
wanted to get your brooch back for you, that's all; but if he's against
"I'm against your asking Mrs. Driver here to my house to be got at," said
"O' course if you can find out who took the brooch, and get it back again
anyway, that's another matter."
Mr. Bodfish leaned over the table toward his niece.
"If I get an opportunity, I'll search her cottage," he said, in a low
voice. "Strictly speaking, it ain't quite a legal thing to do, o course,
but many o' the finest pieces of detective work have been done by
breaking the law. If she's a kleptomaniac, it's very likely lying about
somewhere in the house."
He eyed Mr. Negget closely, as though half expecting another outburst,
but none being forthcoming, sat back in his chair again and smoked in
silence, while Mrs. Negget, with a carpet-brush which almost spoke, swept
the pieces of dried mud from the stairs.
Mr. Negget was the last to go to bed that night, and finishing his pipe
over the dying fire, sat for some time in deep thought. He had from the
first raised objections to the presence of Mr. Bodfish at the farm, but
family affection, coupled with an idea of testamentary benefits, had so
wrought with his wife that he had allowed her to have her own way. Now
he half fancied that he saw a chance of getting rid of him. If he could
only enable the widow to catch him searching her house, it was highly
probable that the ex-constable would find the village somewhat too hot to
hold him. He gave his right leg a congratulatory slap as he thought of
it, and knocking the ashes from his pipe, went slowly up to bed.
He was so amiable next morning that Mr. Bodfish, who was trying to
explain to Mrs. Negget the difference between theft and kleptomania,
spoke before him freely. The ex-constable defined kleptomania as a sort
of amiable weakness found chiefly among the upper circles, and cited the
case of a lady of title whose love of diamonds, combined with great
hospitality, was a source of much embarrassment to her guests.
For the whole of that day Mr. Bodfish hung about in the neighbourhood of
the widow's cottage, but in vain, and it would be hard to say whether he
or Mr. Negget, who had been discreetly shadowing him, felt the
disappointment most. On the day following, however, the ex-constable
from a distant hedge saw a friend of the widow's enter the cottage, and
a little later both ladies emerged and walked up the road.
He watched them turn the corner, and then, with a cautious glance round,
which failed, however, to discover Mr. Negget, the ex-constable strolled
casually in the direction of the cottage, and approaching it from the
rear, turned the handle of the door and slipped in.
He searched the parlour hastily, and then, after a glance from the
window, ventured up stairs. And he was in the thick of his self-imposed
task when his graceless nephew by marriage, who had met Mrs. Driver and
referred pathetically to a raging thirst which he had hoped to have
quenched with some of her home-brewed, brought the ladies hastily back
"I'll go round the back way," said the wily Negget as they approached the
cottage. "I just want to have a look at that pig of yours."
He reached the back door at the same time as Mr. Bodfish, and placing his
legs apart, held it firmly against the frantic efforts of the exconstable.
The struggle ceased suddenly, and the door opened easily just as Mrs.
Driver and her friend appeared in the front room, and the farmer, with a
keen glance at the door of the larder which had just closed, took a chair
while his hostess drew a glass of beer from the barrel in the kitchen.
Mr. Negget drank gratefully and praised the brew. From beer the
conversation turned naturally to the police, and from the police to the
listening Mr. Bodfish, who was economizing space by sitting on the bread-
pan, and trembling with agitation.
"He's a lonely man," said Negget, shaking his head and glancing from the
corner of his eye at the door of the larder. In his wildest dreams he
had not imagined so choice a position, and he resolved to give full play
to an idea which suddenly occurred to him.
"I dare say," said Mrs. Driver, carelessly, conscious that her friend was
"And the heart of a little child," said Negget; "you wouldn't believe how
simple he is."
Mrs. Clowes said that it did him credit, but, speaking for herself, she
hadn't noticed it.
"He was talking about you night before last," said Negget, turning to his
hostess; "not that that's anything fresh. He always is talking about you
The widow coughed confusedly and told him not to be foolish.
"Ask my wife," said the farmer, impressively; "they were talking about
you for hours. He's a very shy man is my wife's uncle, but you should
see his face change when your name's mentioned."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Bodfish's face was at that very moment taking on
a deeper shade of crimson.
"Everything you do seems to interest him," continued the farmer,
disregarding Mrs. Driver's manifest distress; "he was asking Lizzie about
your calling on Monday; how long you stayed, and where you sat; and after
she'd told him, I'm blest if he didn't go and sit in the same chair!"
This romantic setting to a perfectly casual action on the part of Mr.
Bodfish affected the widow visibly, but its effect on the ex-constable
nearly upset the bread-pan.
"But here," continued Mr. Negget, with another glance at the larder, "he
might go on like that for years. He's a wunnerful shy man--big, and
gentle, and shy. He wanted Lizzie to ask you to tea yesterday."
"Now, Mr. Negget," said the blushing widow. "Do be quiet."
"Fact," replied the farmer; "solemn fact, I assure you. And he asked her
whether you were fond of jewellery."
"I met him twice in the road near here yesterday," said Mrs. Clowes,
suddenly. "Perhaps he was waiting for you to come out."
"I dare say," replied the farmer. "I shouldn't wonder but what he's
hanging about somewhere near now, unable to tear himself away."
Mr. Bodfish wrung his hands, and his thoughts reverted instinctively to
instances in his memory in which charges of murder had been altered by
the direction of a sensible judge to manslaughter. He held his breath
for the next words.
Mr. Negget drank a little more ale and looked at Mrs. Driver.
[Illustration: MRS. DRIVER FELL RACK BEORE THE EMERGING FORM OF MR.
"I wonder whether you've got a morsel of bread and cheese?" he said,
slowly. "I've come over that hungry--"
The widow and Mr. Bodfish rose simultaneously. It required not the brain
of a trained detective to know that the cheese was in the larder. The
unconscious Mrs. Driver opened the door, and then with a wild scream fell
back before the emerging form of Mr. Bodfish into the arms of Mrs.
Clowes. The glass of Mr. Negget smashed on the floor, and the farmer
himself, with every appearance of astonishment, stared at the apparition
"Mr.--Bodfish!" he said at length, slowly.
Mr. Bodfish, incapable of speech, glared at him ferociously.
"Leave him alone," said Mrs. Clowes, who was ministering to her friend.
"Can't you see the man's upset at frightening her? She's coming round,
Mr. Bodfish; don't be alarmed."
"Very good," said the farmer, who found his injured relative's gaze
somewhat trying. "I'll go, and leave him to explain to Mrs. Driver why
he was hidden in her larder. It don't seem a proper thing to me."
"Why, you silly man," said Mrs. Clowes, gleefully, as she paused at the
door, "that don't want any explanation. Now, Mr. Bodfish, we're giving
you your chance. Mind you make the most of it, and don't be too shy."
She walked excitedly up the road with the farmer, and bidding him
good-bye at the corner, went off hastily to spread the news. Mr. Negget
walked home soberly, and hardly staying long enough to listen to his
wife's account of the finding of the brooch between the chest of drawers
and the wall, went off to spend the evening with a friend, and ended by
making a night of it.
IN THE LIBRARY
The fire had burnt low in the library, for the night was wet and warm.
It was now little more than a grey shell, and looked desolate. Trayton
Burleigh, still hot, rose from his armchair, and turning out one of the
gas-jets, took a cigar from a box on a side-table and resumed his seat
The apartment, which was on the third floor at the back of the house, was
a combination of library, study, and smoke-room, and was the daily
despair of the old housekeeper who, with the assistance of one servant,
managed the house. It was a bachelor establishment, and had been left to
Trayton Burleigh and James Fletcher by a distant connection of both men
some ten years before.
Trayton Burleigh sat back in his chair watching the smoke of his cigar
through half-closed eyes. Occasionally he opened them a little wider and
glanced round the comfortable, well-furnished room, or stared with a cold
gleam of hatred at Fletcher as he sat sucking stolidly at his brier pipe.
It was a comfortable room and a valuable house, half of which belonged to
Trayton Burleigh; and yet he was to leave it in the morning and become a
rogue and a wanderer over the face of the earth. James Fletcher had said
so. James Fletcher, with the pipe still between his teeth and speaking
from one corner of his mouth only, had pronounced his sentence.
"It hasn't occurred to you, I suppose," said Burleigh, speaking suddenly,
"that I might refuse your terms."
"No," said Fletcher, simply.
Burleigh took a great mouthful of smoke and let it roll slowly out.
"I am to go out and leave you in possession?" he continued. "You will
stay here sole proprietor of the house; you will stay at the office sole
owner and representative of the firm? You are a good hand at a deal,
"I am an honest man," said Fletcher, "and to raise sufficient money to
make your defalcations good will not by any means leave me the gainer, as
you very well know."
"There is no necessity to borrow," began Burleigh, eagerly. "We can pay
the interest easily, and in course of time make the principal good
without a soul being the wiser."
"That you suggested before," said Fletcher, "and my answer is the same.
I will be no man's confederate in dishonesty; I will raise every penny at
all costs, and save the name of the firm--and yours with it--but I will
never have you darken the office again, or sit in this house after
"You won't," cried Burleigh, starting up in a frenzy of rage.
"I won't," said Fletcher. "You can choose the alternative: disgrace and
penal servitude. Don't stand over me; you won't frighten me, I can
assure you. Sit down."
"You have arranged so many things in your kindness," said Burleigh,
slowly, resuming his seat again, "have you arranged how I am to live?"
"You have two strong hands, and health," replied Fletcher. "I will give
you the two hundred pounds I mentioned, and after that you must look out
for yourself. You can take it now."
He took a leather case from his breast pocket, and drew out a roll of
notes. Burleigh, watching him calmly, stretched out his hand and took
them from the table. Then he gave way to a sudden access of rage, and
crumpling them in his hand, threw them into a corner of the room.
Fletcher smoked on.
"Mrs. Marl is out?" said Burleigh, suddenly.
"She will be away the night," he said, slowly; "and Jane too; they have
gone together somewhere, but they will be back at half-past eight in the
"You are going to let me have one more breakfast in the old place, then,"
said Burleigh. "Half-past eight, half-past----"
He rose from his chair again. This time Fletcher took his pipe from his
mouth and watched him closely. Burleigh stooped, and picking up the
notes, placed them in his pocket.
"If I am to be turned adrift, it shall not be to leave you here," he
said, in a thick voice.
He crossed over and shut the door; as he turned back Fletcher rose from
his chair and stood confronting him. Burleigh put his hand to the wall,
and drawing a small Japanese sword from its sheath of carved ivory,
stepped slowly toward him.
"I give you one chance, Fletcher," he said, grimly. "You are a man of
your word. Hush this up and let things be as they were before, and you
"Put that down," said Fletcher, sharply.
"By ---, I mean what I say!" cried the other.
"I mean what I said!" answered Fletcher.
He looked round at the last moment for a weapon, then he turned suddenly
at a sharp sudden pain, and saw Burleigh's clenched fist nearly touching
his breast-bone. The hand came away from his breast again, and something
with it. It went a long way off. Trayton Burleigh suddenly went to a
great distance and the room darkened. It got quite dark, and Fletcher,
with an attempt to raise his hands, let them fall to his side instead,
and fell in a heap to the floor.
He was so still that Burleigh could hardly realize that it was all over,
and stood stupidly waiting for him to rise again. Then he took out his
handkerchief as though to wipe the sword, and thinking better of it, put
it back into his pocket again, and threw the weapon on to the floor.
The body of Fletcher lay where it had fallen, the white face turned up to
the gas. In life he had been a commonplace-looking man, not to say
vulgar; now Burleigh, with a feeling of nausea, drew back toward the
door, until the body was hidden by the table, and relieved from the
sight, he could think more clearly. He looked down carefully and
examined his clothes and his boots. Then he crossed the room again, and
with his face averted, turned out the gas. Something seemed to stir in
the darkness, and with a faint cry he blundered toward the door before he
had realized that it was the clock. It struck twelve.
[Illustration: BURLEIGH, WITH A FEELING OF NAUSEA, DREW BACK TOWARD THE
He stood at the head of the stairs trying to recover himself; trying to
think. The gas on the landing below, the stairs and the furniture, all
looked so prosaic and familiar that he could not realize what had
occurred. He walked slowly down and turned the light out. The darkness
of the upper part of the house was now almost appalling, and in a sudden
panic he ran down stairs into the lighted hall, and snatching a hat from
the stand, went to the door and walked down to the gate.
Except for one window the neighbouring houses were in darkness, and the
lamps shone tip a silent street. There was a little rain in the air, and
the muddy road was full of pebbles. He stood at the gate trying to screw
up his courage to enter the house again. Then he noticed a figure coming
slowly up the road and keeping close to the palings.
The full realization of what he had done broke in upon him when he found
himself turning to fly from the approach of the constable. The wet cape
glistening in the lamplight, the slow, heavy step, made him tremble.
Suppose the thing upstairs was not quite dead and should cry out?
Suppose the constable should think it strange for him to be standing
there and follow him in? He assumed a careless attitude, which did not
feel careless, and as the man passed bade him good-night, and made a
remark as to the weather.
Ere the sound of the other's footsteps had gone quite out of hearing,
he turned and entered the house again before the sense of companionship
should have quite departed. The first flight of stairs was lighted by
the gas in the hall, and he went up slowly. Then he struck a match and
went up steadily, past the library door, and with firm fingers turned on
the gas in his bedroom and lit it. He opened the window a little way,
and sitting down on his bed, tried to think.
He had got eight hours. Eight hours and two hundred pounds in small
notes. He opened his safe and took out all the loose cash it contained,
and walking about the room, gathered up and placed in his pockets such
articles of jewellery as he possessed.
The first horror had now to some extent passed, and was succeeded by the
fear of death.
With this fear on him he sat down again and tried to think out the first
moves in that game of skill of which his life was the stake. He had
often read of people of hasty temper, evading the police for a time, and
eventually falling into their hands for lack of the most elementary
common sense. He had heard it said that they always made some stupid
blunder, left behind them some damning clue. He took his revolver from a
drawer and saw that it was loaded. If the worst came to the worst, he
would die quickly.
Eight hours' start; two hundred odd pounds. He would take lodgings at
first in some populous district, and let the hair on his face grow. When
the hue-and-cry had ceased, he would go abroad and start life again. He
would go out of a night and post letters to himself, or better still,
postcards, which his landlady would read. Postcards from cheery friends,
from a sister, from a brother. During the day he would stay in and
write, as became a man who described himself as a journalist.
Or suppose he went to the sea? Who would look for him in flannels,
bathing and boating with ordinary happy mortals? He sat and pondered.
One might mean life, and the other death. Which?
His face burned as he thought of the responsibility of the choice. So
many people went to the sea at that time of year that he would surely
pass unnoticed. But at the sea one might meet acquaintances. He got up
and nervously paced the room again. It was not so simple, now that it
meant so much, as he had thought.
The sharp little clock on the mantel-piece rang out "one," followed
immediately by the deeper note of that in the library. He thought of the
clock, it seemed the only live thing in that room, and shuddered. He
wondered whether the thing lying by the far side of the table heard it.
He started and held his breath with fear. Somewhere down stairs a board
creaked loudly, then another. He went to the door, and opening it a
little way, but without looking out, listened. The house was so still
that he could hear the ticking of the old clock in the kitchen below. He
opened the door a little wider and peeped out. As he did so there was a
sudden sharp outcry on the stairs, and he drew back into the room and
stood trembling before he had quite realized that the noise had been made
by the cat. The cry was unmistakable; but what had disturbed it?
There was silence again, and he drew near the door once more. He became
certain that something was moving stealthily on the stairs. He heard the
boards creak again, and once the rails of the balustrade rattled. The
silence and suspense were frightful. Suppose that the something which
had been Fletcher waited for him in the darkness outside?
He fought his fears down, and opening the door, determined to see what
was beyond. The light from his room streamed out on to the landing, and
he peered about fearfully. Was it fancy, or did the door of Fletcher's
room opposite close as he looked? Was it fancy, or did the handle of the
door really turn?
In perfect silence, and watching the door as he moved, to see that
nothing came out and followed him, he proceeded slowly down the dark
stairs. Then his jaw fell, and he turned sick and faint again. The
library door, which he distinctly remembered closing, and which,
moreover, he had seen was closed when he went up stairs to his room, now
stood open some four or five inches. He fancied that there was a
rustling inside, but his brain refused to be certain. Then plainly and
unmistakably he heard a chair pushed against the wall.
He crept to the door, hoping to pass it before the thing inside became
aware of his presence. Something crept stealthily about the room. With
a sudden impulse he caught the handle of the door, and, closing it
violently, turned the key in the lock, and ran madly down the stairs.
A fearful cry sounded from the room, and a heavy hand beat upon the
panels of the door. The house rang with the blows, but above them
sounded the loud hoarse cries of human fear. Burleigh, half-way down to
the hall, stopped with his hand on the balustrade and listened. The
beating ceased, and a man's voice cried out loudly for God's sake to let
At once Burleigh saw what had happened and what it might mean for him.
He had left the hall door open after his visit to the front, and some
wandering bird of the night had entered the house. No need for him to go
now. No need to hide either from the hangman's rope or the felon's cell.
The fool above had saved him. He turned and ran up stairs again just as
the prisoner in his furious efforts to escape wrenched the handle from
"Who's there?" he cried, loudly.
"Let me out!" cried a frantic voice. "For God's sake, open the door!
There's something here."
"Stay where you are!" shouted Burleigh, sternly. "Stay where you are!
If you come out, I'll shoot you like a dog!"
The only response was a smashing blow on the lock of the door. Burleigh
raised his pistol, and aiming at the height of a man's chest, fired
through the panel.
The report and the crashing of the wood made one noise, succeeded by an
unearthly stillness, then the noise of a window hastily opened. Burleigh
fled hastily down the stairs, and flinging wide the hall door, shouted
loudly for assistance.
It happened that a sergeant and the constable on the beat had just met in
the road. They came toward the house at a run. Burleigh, with
incoherent explanations, ran up stairs before them, and halted outside
the library door. The prisoner was still inside, still trying to
demolish the lock of the sturdy oaken door. Burleigh tried to turn the
key, but the lock was too damaged to admit of its moving. The sergeant
drew back, and, shoulder foremost, hurled himself at the door and burst
He stumbled into the room, followed by the constable, and two shafts of
light from the lanterns at their belts danced round the room. A man
lurking behind the door made a dash for it, and the next instant the
three men were locked together.
Burleigh, standing in the doorway, looked on coldly, reserving himself
for the scene which was to follow. Except for the stumbling of the men
and the sharp catch of the prisoner's breath, there was no noise. A
helmet fell off and bounced and rolled along the floor. The men fell;
there was a sobbing snarl and a sharp click. A tall figure rose from the
floor; the other, on his knees, still held the man down. The standing
figure felt in his pocket, and, striking a match, lit the gas.
The light fell on the flushed face and fair beard of the sergeant. He
was bare-headed, and his hair dishevelled. Burleigh entered the room and
gazed eagerly at the half-insensible man on the floor-a short, thick-set
fellow with a white, dirty face and a black moustache. His lip was cut
and bled down his neck. Burleigh glanced furtively at the table. The
cloth had come off in the struggle, and was now in the place where he had
"Hot work, sir," said the sergeant, with a smile. "It's fortunate we
The prisoner raised a heavy head and looked up with unmistakable terror
in his eyes.
"All right, sir," he said, trembling, as the constable increased the
pressure of his knee. "I 'ain't been in the house ten minutes
altogether. By ---, I've not."
The sergeant regarded him curiously.
"It don't signify," he said, slowly; "ten minutes or ten seconds won't
make any difference."
The man shook and began to whimper.
"It was 'ere when I come," he said, eagerly; "take that down, sir. I've
only just come, and it was 'ere when I come. I tried to get away then,
but I was locked in."
"What was?" demanded the sergeant.
"That," he said, desperately.
The sergeant, following the direction of the terror-stricken black eyes,
stooped by the table. Then, with a sharp exclamation, he dragged away
the cloth. Burleigh, with a sharp cry of horror, reeled back against the
"All right, sir," said the sergeant, catching him; "all right. Turn your
He pushed him into a chair, and crossing the room, poured out a glass of
whiskey and brought it to him. The glass rattled against his teeth, but
he drank it greedily, and then groaned faintly. The sergeant waited
patiently. There was no hurry.
"Who is it, sir?" he asked at length.
"My friend--Fletcher," said Burleigh, with an effort. "We lived
together." He turned to the prisoner.
"You damned villain!"
"He was dead when I come in the room, gentlemen," said the prisoner,
strenuously. "He was on the floor dead, and when I see 'im, I tried to
get out. S' 'elp me he was. You heard me call out, sir. I shouldn't
ha' called out if I'd killed him."
"All right," said the sergeant, gruffly; "you'd better hold your tongue,
"You keep quiet," urged the constable.
The sergeant knelt down and raised the dead man's head.
"I 'ad nothing to do with it," repeated the man on the floor. "I 'ad
nothing to do with it. I never thought of such a thing. I've only been
in the place ten minutes; put that down, sir."
The sergeant groped with his left hand, and picking up the Japanese
sword, held it at him.
"I've never seen it before," said the prisoner, struggling.
"It used to hang on the wall," said Burleigh. "He must have snatched it
down. It was on the wall when I left Fletcher a little while ago."
"How long?" inquired the sergeant.
"Perhaps an hour, perhaps half an hour," was the reply. "I went to my
The man on the floor twisted his head and regarded him narrowly.
"You done it!" he cried, fiercely. "You done it, and you want me to
swing for it."
"That 'll do," said the indignant constable.
The sergeant let his burden gently to the floor again.
"You hold your tongue, you devil!" he said, menacingly.
He crossed to the table and poured a little spirit into a glass and took
it in his hand. Then he put it down again and crossed to Burleigh.
"Feeling better, sir?" he asked.
The other nodded faintly.
"You won't want this thing any more," said the sergeant.
He pointed to the pistol which the other still held, and taking it from
him gently, put it into his pocket.
"You've hurt your wrist, sir," he said, anxiously.
Burleigh raised one hand sharply, and then the other.
"This one, I think," said the sergeant. "I saw it just now."
He took the other's wrists in his hand, and suddenly holding them in the
grip of a vice, whipped out something from his pocket--something hard and
cold, which snapped suddenly on Burleigh's wrists, and held them fast.
"That's right," said the sergeant; "keep quiet."
The constable turned round in amaze; Burleigh sprang toward him
"Take these things off!" he choked. "Have you gone mad? Take them
"All in good time," said the sergeant.
"Take them off!" cried Burleigh again.
For answer the sergeant took him in a powerful grip, and staring steadily
at his white face and gleaming eyes, forced him to the other end of the
room and pushed him into a chair.
"Collins," he said, sharply.
"Sir?" said the astonished subordinate.
"Run to the doctor at the corner hard as you can run!" said the other.
"This man is not dead!"
As the man left the room the sergeant took up the glass of spirits he had
poured out, and kneeling down by Fletcher again, raised his head and
tried to pour a little down his throat. Burleigh, sitting in his corner,
watched like one in a trance. He saw the constable return with the
breathless surgeon, saw the three men bending over Fletcher, and then saw
the eyes of the dying man open and the lips of the dying man move. He
was conscious that the sergeant made some notes in a pocket-book, and
that all three men eyed him closely. The sergeant stepped toward him and
placed his hand on his shoulder, and obedient to the touch, he arose and
went with him out into the night.
A man came slowly over the old stone bridge, and averting his gaze from
the dark river with its silent craft, looked with some satisfaction
toward the feeble lights of the small town on the other side. He walked
with the painful, forced step of one who has already trudged far. His
worsted hose, where they were not darned, were in holes, and his coat and
knee-breeches were rusty with much wear, but he straightened himself as
he reached the end of the bridge and stepped out bravely to the taverns
which stood in a row facing the quay.
He passed the "Queen Anne"--a mere beershop--without pausing, and after a
glance apiece at the "Royal George" and the "Trusty Anchor," kept on his
way to where the "Golden Key" hung out a gilded emblem. It was the best
house in Riverstone, and patronized by the gentry, but he adjusted his
faded coat, and with a swaggering air entered and walked boldly into the
The room was empty, but a bright fire afforded a pleasant change to the
chill October air outside. He drew up a chair, and placing his feet on
the fender, exposed his tattered soles to the blaze, as a waiter who had
just seen him enter the room came and stood aggressively inside the door.
"Brandy and water," said the stranger; "hot."
"The coffee-room is for gentlemen staying in the house," said the waiter.
The stranger took his feet from the fender, and rising slowly, walked
toward him. He was a short man and thin, but there was something so
menacing in his attitude, and something so fearsome in his stony brown
eyes, that the other, despite his disgust for ill-dressed people, moved
"Brandy and water, hot," repeated the stranger; "and plenty of it. D'ye
The man turned slowly to depart.
"Stop!" said the other, imperiously. "What's the name of the landlord
"Mullet," said the fellow, sulkily.
"Send him to me," said the other, resuming his seat; "and hark you, my
friend, more civility, or 'twill be the worse for you."
He stirred the log on the fire with his foot until a shower of sparks
whirled up the chimney. The door opened, and the landlord, with the
waiter behind him, entered the room, but he still gazed placidly at the
"What do you want?" demanded the landlord, in a deep voice.
The stranger turned a little weazened yellow face and grinned at him
"Send that fat rascal of yours away," he said, slowly.
The landlord started at his voice and eyed him closely; then he signed to
the man to withdraw, and closing the door behind him, stood silently
watching his visitor.
"You didn't expect to see me, Rogers," said the latter.
"My name's Mullet," said the other, sternly. "What do you want?"
"Oh, Mullet?" said the other, in surprise. "I'm afraid I've made a
mistake, then. I thought you were my old shipmate, Captain Rogers. It's
a foolish mistake of mine, as I've no doubt Rogers was hanged years ago.
You never had a brother named Rogers, did you?"
"I say again, what do you want?" demanded the other, advancing upon him.
"Since you're so good," said the other. "I want new clothes, food, and
lodging of the best, and my pockets filled with money."
"You had better go and look for all those things, then," said Mullet.
"You won't find them here."
"Ay!" said the other, rising. "Well, well--There was a hundred guineas
on the head of my old shipmate Rogers some fifteen years ago. I'll see
whether it has been earned yet."
"If I gave you a hundred guineas," said the innkeeper, repressing his
passion by a mighty effort, "you would not be satisfied."
"Reads like a book," said the stranger, in tones of pretended delight.
"What a man it is!"
He fell back as he spoke, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, drew
forth a long pistol as the innkeeper, a man of huge frame, edged toward
"Keep your distance," he said, in a sharp, quick voice.
The innkeeper, in no wise disturbed at the pistol, turned away calmly,
and ringing the bell, ordered some spirits. Then taking a chair, he
motioned to the other to do the same, and they sat in silence until the
staring waiter had left the room again. The stranger raised his glass.
"My old friend Captain Rogers," he said, solemnly, "and may he never get
"From what jail have you come?" inquired Mullet, sternly.
"'Pon my soul," said the other, "I have been in so many--looking for
Captain Rogers--that I almost forget the last, but I have just tramped
from London, two hundred and eighty odd miles, for the pleasure of seeing
your damned ugly figure-head again; and now I've found it, I'm going to
stay. Give me some money."
The innkeeper, without a word, drew a little gold and silver from his
pocket, and placing it on the table, pushed it toward him.
"Enough to go on with," said the other, pocketing it; "in future it is
halves. D'ye hear me? Halves! And I'll stay here and see I get it."
He sat back in his chair, and meeting the other's hatred with a gaze as
steady as his own, replaced his pistol.
"A nice snug harbor after our many voyages," he continued. "Shipmates we
were, shipmates we'll be; while Nick Gunn is alive you shall never want
for company. Lord! Do you remember the Dutch brig, and the fat
"I have forgotten it," said the other, still eyeing him steadfastly.
"I have forgotten many things. For fifteen years I have lived a decent,
honest life. Pray God for your own sinful soul, that the devil in me
does not wake again."
"Fifteen years is a long nap," said Gunn, carelessly; "what a godsend it
'll be for you to have me by you to remind you of old times! Why, you're
looking smug, man; the honest innkeeper to the life! Gad! who's the
[Illustration: GUNN PLACED A HAND, WHICH LACKED TWO FINGERS ON HIS BREAST
AND BOWED AGAIN.]
He rose and made a clumsy bow as a girl of eighteen, after a moment's
hesitation at the door, crossed over to the innkeeper.
"I'm busy, my dear," said the latter, somewhat sternly.
"Our business," said Gunn, with another bow, "is finished. Is this your
daughter, Rog-- Mullet?"
"My stepdaughter," was the reply.
Gunn placed a hand, which lacked two fingers, on his breast, and bowed
"One of your father's oldest friends," he said smoothly; "and fallen on
evil days; I'm sure your gentle heart will be pleased to hear that your
good father has requested me--for a time--to make his house my home."
"Any friend of my father's is welcome to me, sir," said the girl, coldly.
She looked from the innkeeper to his odd-looking guest, and conscious of
something strained in the air, gave him a little bow and quitted the
"You insist upon staying, then?" said Mullet, after a pause.
"More than ever," replied Gunn, with a leer toward the door. "Why, you
don't think I'm _afraid,_ Captain? You should know me better than that."
"Life is sweet," said the other.
"Ay," assented Gunn, "so sweet that you will share things with me to keep
"No," said the other, with great calm. "I am man enough to have a better
"No psalm singing," said Gunn, coarsely. "And look cheerful, you old
buccaneer. Look as a man should look who has just met an old friend
never to lose him again."
He eyed his man expectantly and put his hand to his pocket again, but the
innkeeper's face was troubled, and he gazed stolidly at the fire.
"See what fifteen years' honest, decent life does for us," grinned the
The other made no reply, but rising slowly, walked to the door without a
"Landlord," cried Gunn, bringing his maimed hand sharply down on the
The innkeeper turned and regarded him.
"Send me in some supper," said Gunn; "the best you have, and plenty of
it, and have a room prepared. The best."
The door closed silently, and was opened a little later by the dubious
George coming in to set a bountiful repast. Gunn, after cursing him for
his slowness and awkwardness, drew his chair to the table and made the
meal of one seldom able to satisfy his hunger. He finished at last, and
after sitting for some time smoking, with his legs sprawled on the
fender, rang for a candle and demanded to be shown to his room.
His proceedings when he entered it were but a poor compliment to his
host. Not until he had poked and pried into every corner did he close
the door. Then, not content with locking it, he tilted a chair beneath
the handle, and placing his pistol beneath his pillow, fell fast asleep.
Despite his fatigue he was early astir next morning. Breakfast was laid
for him in the coffee-room, and his brow darkened. He walked into the
hall, and after trying various doors entered a small sitting-room, where
his host and daughter sat at breakfast, and with an easy assurance drew a
chair to the table. The innkeeper helped him without a word, but the
girl's hand shook under his gaze as she passed him some coffee.
"As soft a bed as ever I slept in," he remarked.
"I hope that you slept well," said the girl, civilly.
"Like a child," said Gunn, gravely; "an easy conscience. Eh, Mullet?"
The innkeeper nodded and went on eating. The other, after another remark
or two, followed his example, glancing occasionally with warm approval at
the beauty of the girl who sat at the head of the table.
"A sweet girl," he remarked, as she withdrew at the end of the meal; "and
no mother, I presume?"
"No mother," repeated the other.
Gunn sighed and shook his head.
"A sad case, truly," he murmured. "No mother and such a guardian. Poor
soul, if she but knew! Well, we must find her a husband."
He looked down as he spoke, and catching sight of his rusty clothes and
broken shoes, clapped his hand to his pocket; and with a glance at his
host, sallied out to renew his wardrobe. The innkeeper, with an
inscrutable face, watched him down the quay, then with bent head he
returned to the house and fell to work on his accounts.
In this work Gunn, returning an hour later, clad from head to foot in new
apparel, offered to assist him. Mullett hesitated, but made no demur;
neither did he join in the ecstasies which his new partner displayed at
the sight of the profits. Gunn put some more gold into his new pockets,
and throwing himself back in a chair, called loudly to George to bring
him some drink.
In less than a month the intruder was the virtual master of the "Golden
Key." Resistance on the part of the legitimate owner became more and
more feeble, the slightest objection on his part drawing from the
truculent Gunn dark allusions to his past and threats against his future,
which for the sake of his daughter he could not ignore. His health began
to fail, and Joan watched with perplexed terror the growth of a situation
which was in a fair way of becoming unbearable.
The arrogance of Gunn knew no bounds. The maids learned to tremble at
his polite grin, or his worse freedom, and the men shrank appalled from
his profane wrath. George, after ten years' service, was brutally
dismissed, and refusing to accept dismissal from his hands, appealed to
his master. The innkeeper confirmed it, and with lack-lustre eyes fenced
feebly when his daughter, regardless of Gunn's presence, indignantly
appealed to him.
"The man was rude to my friend, my dear," he said dispiritedly
"If he was rude, it was because Mr. Gunn deserved it," said Joan, hotly.
Gunn laughed uproariously.
"Gad, my dear, I like you!" he cried, slapping his leg. "You're a girl
of spirit. Now I will make you a fair offer. If you ask for George to
stay, stay he shall, as a favour to your sweet self."
The girl trembled.
"Who is master here?" she demanded, turning a full eye on her father.
Mullet laughed uneasily.
"This is business," he said, trying to speak lightly, "and women can't
understand it. Gunn is--is valuable to me, and George must go."
"Unless you plead for him, sweet one?" said Gunn.
The girl looked at her father again, but he turned his head away and
tapped on the floor with his foot. Then in perplexity, akin to tears,
she walked from the room, carefully drawing her dress aside as Gunn held
the door for her.
"A fine girl," said Gunn, his thin lips working; "a fine spirit. 'Twill
be pleasant to break it; but she does not know who is master here."
"She is young yet," said the other, hurriedly.
"I will soon age her if she looks like that at me again," said Gunn. "By
---, I'll turn out the whole crew into the street, and her with them, an'
I wish it. I'll lie in my bed warm o' nights and think of her huddled on
His voice rose and his fists clenched, but he kept his distance and
watched the other warily. The innkeeper's face was contorted and his
brow grew wet. For one moment something peeped out of his eyes; the next
he sat down in his chair again and nervously fingered his chin.
"I have but to speak," said Gunn, regarding him with much satisfaction,
"and you will hang, and your money go to the Crown. What will become of
her then, think you?"
The other laughed nervously.
"'Twould be stopping the golden eggs," he ventured.
"Don't think too much of that," said Gunn, in a hard voice. "I was never
one to be baulked, as you know."
"Come, come. Let us be friends," said Mullet; "the girl is young, and
has had her way."
He looked almost pleadingly at the other, and his voice trembled. Gunn
drew himself up, and regarding him with a satisfied sneer, quitted the
room without a word.
Affairs at the "Golden Key" grew steadily worse and worse. Gunn
dominated the place, and his vile personality hung over it like a shadow.
Appeals to the innkeeper were in vain; his health was breaking fast, and
he moodily declined to interfere. Gunn appointed servants of his own
choosing-brazen maids and foul-mouthed men. The old patrons ceased to
frequent the "Golden Key," and its bedrooms stood empty. The maids
scarcely deigned to take an order from Joan, and the men spoke to her
familiarly. In the midst of all this the innkeeper, who had complained
once or twice of vertigo, was seized with a fit.
Joan, flying to him for protection against the brutal advances of Gunn,
found him lying in a heap behind the door of his small office, and in her
fear called loudly for assistance. A little knot of servants collected,
and stood regarding him stupidly. One made a brutal jest. Gunn,
pressing through the throng, turned the senseless body over with his
foot, and cursing vilely, ordered them to carry it upstairs.
Until the surgeon came, Joan, kneeling by the bed, held on to the
senseless hand as her only protection against the evil faces of Gunn and
his proteges. Gunn himself was taken aback, the innkeeper's death at
that time by no means suiting his aims.
The surgeon was a man of few words and fewer attainments, but under his
ministrations the innkeeper, after a long interval, rallied. The half-
closed eyes opened, and he looked in a dazed fashion at his surroundings.
Gunn drove the servants away and questioned the man of medicine. The
answers were vague and interspersed with Latin. Freedom from noise and
troubles of all kinds was insisted upon and Joan was installed as nurse,
with a promise of speedy assistance.
The assistance arrived late in the day in the shape of an elderly woman,
whose Spartan treatment of her patients had helped many along the silent
road. She commenced her reign by punching the sick man's pillows, and
having shaken him into consciousness by this means, gave him a dose of
physic, after first tasting it herself from the bottle.
After the first rally the innkeeper began to fail slowly. It was seldom
that he understood what was said to him, and pitiful to the beholder to
see in his intervals of consciousness his timid anxiety to earn the good-
will of the all-powerful Gunn. His strength declined until assistance
was needed to turn him in the bed, and his great sinewy hands were
forever trembling and fidgeting on the coverlet.
Joan, pale with grief and fear, tended him assiduously. Her stepfather's
strength had been a proverb in the town, and many a hasty citizen had
felt the strength of his arm. The increasing lawlessness of the house
filled her with dismay, and the coarse attentions of Gunn became more
persistent than ever. She took her meals in the sick-room, and divided
her time between that and her own.
Gunn himself was in a dilemma. With Mullet dead, his power was at an end
and his visions of wealth dissipated. He resolved to feather his nest
immediately, and interviewed the surgeon. The surgeon was ominously
reticent, the nurse cheerfully ghoulish.
"Four days I give him," she said, calmly; "four blessed days, not but
what he might slip away at any moment."
Gunn let one day of the four pass, and then, choosing a time when Joan
was from the room, entered it for a little quiet conversation. The
innkeeper's eyes were open, and, what was more to the purpose,
"You're cheating the hangman, after all," snarled Gunn. "I'm off to
swear an information."
The other, by a great effort, turned his heavy head and fixed his wistful
eyes on him.
"Mercy!" he whispered. "For her sake--give me--a little time!"
"To slip your cable, I suppose," quoth Gunn. "Where's your money?
Where's your hoard, you miser?"
Mullet closed his eyes. He opened them again slowly and strove to think,
while Gunn watched him narrowly. When he spoke, his utterance was thick
"Come to-night," he muttered, slowly. "Give me--time--I will make your
--your fortune. But the nurse-watches."
"I'll see to her," said Gunn, with a grin. "But tell me now, lest you
"You will--let Joan--have a share?" panted the innkeeper.
"Yes, yes," said Gunn, hastily.
The innkeeper strove to raise himself in the bed, and then fell back
again exhausted as Joan's step was heard on the stairs. Gunn gave
a savage glance of warning at him, and barring the progress of the girl
at the door, attempted to salute her. Joan came in pale and trembling,
and falling on her knees by the bedside, took her father's hand in hers
and wept over it. The innkeeper gave a faint groan and a shiver ran
through his body.
It was nearly an hour after midnight that Nick Gunn, kicking off his
shoes, went stealthily out onto the landing. A little light came from
the partly open door of the sick-room, but all else was in blackness. He
moved along and peered in.
The nurse was siting in a high-backed oak chair by the fire. She had
slipped down in the seat, and her untidy head hung on her bosom. A glass
stood on the small oak table by her side, and a solitary candle on the
high mantel-piece diffused a sickly light. Gunn entered the room, and
finding that the sick man was dozing, shook him roughly.
The innkeeper opened his eyes and gazed at him blankly.
"Wake, you fool," said Gunn, shaking him again.
The other roused and muttered something incoherently. Then he stirred
"The nurse," he whispered.
"She's safe enow," said Gunn. "I've seen to that."
He crossed the room lightly, and standing before the unconscious woman,
inspected her closely and raised her in the chair. Her head fell limply
over the arm.
"Dead?" inquired Mullet, in a fearful whisper.
"Drugged," said Gunn, shortly. "Now speak up, and be lively."
The innkeeper's eyes again travelled in the direction of the nurse.
"The men," he whispered; "the servants."
"Dead drunk and asleep," said Gunn, biting the words. "The last day
would hardly rouse them. Now will you speak, damn you!"
"I must--take care--of Joan," said the father.
Gunn shook his clenched hand at him.
"My money--is--is--" said the other. "Promise me on--your oath--Joan."
"Ay, ay," growled Gunn; "how many more times? I'll marry her, and she
shall have what I choose to give her. Speak up, you fool! It's not for
you to make terms. Where is it?"
He bent over, but Mullet, exhausted with his efforts, had closed his eyes
again, and half turned his head.
"Where is it, damn you?" said Gunn, from between his teeth.
Mullet opened his eyes again, glanced fearfully round the room, and
whispered. Gunn, with a stifled oath, bent his ear almost to his mouth,
and the next moment his neck was in the grip of the strongest man in
Riverstone, and an arm like a bar of iron over his back pinned him down
across the bed.
"You dog!" hissed a fierce voice in his ear. "I've got you--Captain
Rogers at your service, and now you may tell his name to all you can.
Shout it, you spawn of hell. Shout it!"
He rose in bed, and with a sudden movement flung the other over on his
back. Gunn's eyes were starting from his head, and he writhed
"I thought you were a sharper man, Gunn," said Rogers, still in the same
hot whisper, as he relaxed his grip a little; "you are too simple, you
hound! When you first threatened me I resolved to kill you. Then you
threatened my daughter. I wish that you had nine lives, that I might
take them all. Keep still!"
He gave a half-glance over his shoulder at the silent figure of the
nurse, and put his weight on the twisting figure on the bed.
"You drugged the hag, good Gunn," he continued. "To-morrow morning,
Gunn, they will find you in your room dead, and if one of the scum you
brought into my house be charged with the murder, so much the better.
When I am well they will go. I am already feeling a little bit stronger,
Gunn, as you see, and in a month I hope to be about again."
He averted his face, and for a time gazed sternly and watchfully at the
door. Then he rose slowly to his feet, and taking the dead man in his
arms, bore him slowly and carefully to his room, and laid him a huddled
heap on the floor. Swiftly and noiselessly he put the dead man's shoes
on and turned his pockets inside out, kicked a rug out of place, and put
a guinea on the floor. Then he stole cautiously down stairs and set a
small door at the back open. A dog barked frantically, and he hurried
back to his room. The nurse still slumbered by the fire.
She awoke in the morning shivering with the cold, and being jealous of
her reputation, rekindled the fire, and measuring out the dose which the
invalid should have taken, threw it away. On these unconscious
preparations for an alibi Captain Rogers gazed through half-closed lids,
and then turning his grim face to the wall, waited for the inevitable
A TIGER'S SKIN
The travelling sign-painter who was repainting the sign of the
"Cauliflower" was enjoying a well-earned respite from his labours. On
the old table under the shade of the elms mammoth sandwiches and a large
slice of cheese waited in an untied handkerchief until such time as his
thirst should be satisfied. At the other side of the table the oldest
man in Claybury, drawing gently at a long clay pipe, turned a dim and
regretful eye up at the old signboard.
"I've drunk my beer under it for pretty near seventy years," he said,
with a sigh. "It's a pity it couldn't ha' lasted my time."
The painter, slowly pushing a wedge of sandwich into his mouth, regarded
"It's all through two young gentlemen as was passing through 'ere a month
or two ago," continued the old man; "they told Smith, the landlord,
they'd been looking all over the place for the 'Cauliflower,' and when
Smith showed 'em the sign they said they thought it was the 'George the
Fourth,' and a very good likeness, too."
The painter laughed and took another look at the old sign; then, with the
nervousness of the true artist, he took a look at his own. One or two
He flung his legs over the bench and took up his brushes. In ten minutes
the most fervent loyalist would have looked in vain for any resemblance,
and with a sigh at the pitfalls which beset the artist he returned to his
interrupted meal and hailed the house for more beer.
"There's nobody could mistake your sign for anything but a cauliflower,"
said the old man; "it looks good enough to eat."
The painter smiled and pushed his mug across the table. He was a tender-
hearted man, and once--when painting the sign of the "Sir Wilfrid
Lawson"--knew himself what it was to lack beer. He began to discourse on
art, and spoke somewhat disparagingly of the cauliflower as a subject.
With a shake of his head he spoke of the possibilities of a spotted cow
or a blue lion.
"Talking of lions," said the ancient, musingly, "I s'pose as you never
'eard tell of the Claybury tiger? It was afore your time in these parts,
The painter admitted his ignorance, and, finding that the allusion had no
reference to an inn, pulled out his pipe and prepared to listen.
"It's a while ago now," said the old man, slowly, "and the circus the
tiger belonged to was going through Claybury to get to Wickham, when,
just as they was passing Gill's farm, a steam-ingine they 'ad to draw
some o' the vans broke down, and they 'ad to stop while the blacksmith
mended it. That being so, they put up a big tent and 'ad the circus
"I was one o' them as went, and I must say it was worth the money, though
Henry Walker was disappointed at the man who put 'is 'ead in the lion's
mouth. He said that the man frightened the lion first, before 'e did it.
"It was a great night for Claybury, and for about a week nothing else was
talked of. All the children was playing at being lions and tigers and
such-like, and young Roberts pretty near broke 'is back trying to see if
he could ride horseback standing up.
"It was about two weeks after the circus 'ad gone when a strange thing
'appened: the big tiger broke loose. Bill Chambers brought the news
first, 'aving read it in the newspaper while 'e was 'aving his tea. He
brought out the paper and showed us, and soon after we 'eard all sorts o'
tales of its doings.
"At first we thought the tiger was a long way off, and we was rather
amused at it. Frederick Scott laughed 'imself silly a'most up 'ere one
night thinking 'ow surprised a man would be if 'e come 'ome one night and
found the tiger sitting in his armchair eating the baby. It didn't seem
much of a laughing matter to me, and I said so; none of us liked it, and
even Sam Jones, as 'ad got twins for the second time, said 'Shame!'
But Frederick Scott was a man as would laugh at anything.
"When we 'eard that the tiger 'ad been seen within three miles of
Claybury things began to look serious, and Peter Gubbins said that
something ought to be done, but before we could think of anything to do
"We was sitting up 'ere one evening 'aving a mug o' beer and a pipe--same
as I might be now if I'd got any baccy left--and talking about it, when
we 'eard a shout and saw a ragged-looking tramp running toward us as 'ard
as he could run. Every now and then he'd look over 'is shoulder and give
a shout, and then run 'arder than afore.
"'It's the tiger!' ses Bill Chambers, and afore you could wink a'most he
was inside the house, 'aving first upset Smith and a pot o' beer in the
"Before he could get up, Smith 'ad to wait till we was all in. His
langwidge was awful for a man as 'ad a license to lose, and everybody
shouting 'Tiger!' as they trod on 'im didn't ease 'is mind. He was
inside a'most as soon as the last man, though, and in a flash he 'ad the
door bolted just as the tramp flung 'imself agin it, all out of breath
and sobbing 'is hardest to be let in.
"'Open the door,' he ses, banging on it.
"'Go away,' ses Smith.
"'It's the tiger,' screams the tramp; 'open the door.'
"'You go away,' ses Smith, 'you're attracting it to my place; run up the
road and draw it off.'"
"Just at that moment John Biggs, the blacksmith, come in from the
taproom, and as soon as he 'eard wot was the matter 'e took down Smith's
gun from behind the bar and said he was going out to look after the
wimmen and children.
"'Open the door,' he ses.
"He was trying to get out and the tramp outside was trying to get in,
but Smith held on to that door like a Briton. Then John Biggs lost 'is
temper, and he ups with the gun--Smith's own gun, mind you--and fetches
'im a bang over the 'ead with it. Smith fell down at once, and afore we
could 'elp ourselves the door was open, the tramp was inside, and John
Biggs was running up the road, shouting 'is hardest.
"We 'ad the door closed afore you could wink a'most, and then, while the
tramp lay in a corner 'aving brandy, Mrs. Smith got a bowl of water and a
sponge and knelt down bathing 'er husband's 'ead with it.
"'Did you see the tiger?' ses Bill Chambers.
"'See it?' ses the tramp, with a shiver. 'Oh, Lord!'
"He made signs for more brandy, and Henery Walker, wot was acting as
landlord, without being asked, gave it to 'im.
"'It chased me for over a mile,' ses the tramp; 'my 'eart's breaking.'
"He gave a groan and fainted right off. A terrible faint it was, too,
and for some time we thought 'ed never come round agin. First they
poured brandy down 'is throat, then gin, and then beer, and still 'e
didn't come round, but lay quiet with 'is eyes closed and a horrible
smile on 'is face.
"He come round at last, and with nothing stronger than water, which Mrs.
Smith kept pouring into 'is mouth. First thing we noticed was that the
smile went, then 'is eyes opened, and suddenly 'e sat up with a shiver
and gave such a dreadful scream that we thought at first the tiger was on
top of us.
"Then 'e told us 'ow he was sitting washing 'is shirt in a ditch, when he
'eard a snuffling noise and saw the 'ead of a big tiger sticking through
the hedge the other side. He left 'is shirt and ran, and 'e said that,
fortunately, the tiger stopped to tear the shirt to pieces, else 'is last
hour would 'ave arrived.
"When 'e 'ad finished Smith went upstairs and looked out of the bedroom
winders, but 'e couldn't see any signs of the tiger, and 'e said no doubt
it 'ad gone down to the village to see wot it could pick up, or p'raps it
'ad eaten John Biggs.
"However that might be, nobody cared to go outside to see, and after it
got dark we liked going 'ome less than ever.
"Up to ten o'clock we did very well, and then Smith began to talk about
'is license. He said it was all rubbish being afraid to go 'ome, and
that, at any rate, the tiger couldn't eat more than one of us, and while
'e was doing that there was the chance for the others to get 'ome safe.
Two or three of 'em took a dislike to Smith that night and told 'im so.
"The end of it was we all slept in the tap-room that night. It seemed
strange at first, but anything was better than going 'ome in the dark,
and we all slept till about four next morning, when we woke up and found
the tramp 'ad gone and left the front door standing wide open.
"We took a careful look-out, and by-and-by first one started off and then
another to see whether their wives and children 'ad been eaten or not.
Not a soul 'ad been touched, but the wimmen and children was that scared
there was no doing anything with 'em. None o' the children would go to
school, and they sat at 'ome all day with the front winder blocked up
with a mattress to keep the tiger out.
"Nobody liked going to work, but it 'ad to be done and as Farmer Gill
said that tigers went to sleep all day and only came out toward evening
we was a bit comforted. Not a soul went up to the 'Cauliflower' that
evening for fear of coming 'ome in the dark, but as nothing 'appened that
night we began to 'ope as the tiger 'ad travelled further on.
"Bob Pretty laughed at the whole thing and said 'e didn't believe there
was a tiger; but nobody minded wot 'e said, Bob Pretty being, as I've
often told people, the black sheep o' Claybury, wot with poaching and,
wot was worse, 'is artfulness.
"But the very next morning something 'appened that made Bob Pretty look
silly and wish 'e 'adn't talked quite so fast; for at five o'clock
Frederick Scott, going down to feed 'is hins, found as the tiger 'ad been
there afore 'im and 'ad eaten no less than seven of 'em. The side of the
hin-'ouse was all broke in, there was a few feathers lying on the ground,
and two little chicks smashed and dead beside 'em.
"The way Frederick Scott went on about it you'd 'ardly believe. He said
that Govinment 'ud 'ave to make it up to 'im, and instead o' going to
work 'e put the two little chicks and the feathers into a pudding basin
and walked to Cudford, four miles off, where they 'ad a policeman.
"He saw the policeman, William White by name, standing at the back door
of the 'Fox and Hounds' public house, throwing a 'andful o' corn to the
landlord's fowls, and the first thing Mr. White ses was, 'it's off my
beat,' he ses.
"'But you might do it in your spare time, Mr. White,' ses Frederick
Scott. It's very likely that the tiger'll come back to my hin 'ouse for
the rest of 'em, and he'd be very surprised if 'e popped 'is 'ead in and
see you there waiting for 'im.'
"He'd 'ave reason to be,' ses Policeman White, staring at 'im.
"'Think of the praise you'd get,' said Frederick Scott, coaxing like.
"'Look 'ere,' ses Policeman White, 'if you don't take yourself and that
pudding basin off pretty quick, you'll come along o' me, d'ye see?
You've been drinking and you're in a excited state.'
"He gave Frederick Scott a push and follered 'im along the road, and
every time Frederick stopped to ask 'im wot 'e was doing of 'e gave 'im
another push to show 'im.
"Frederick Scott told us all about it that evening, and some of the
bravest of us went up to the 'Cauliflower' to talk over wot was to be
done, though we took care to get 'ome while it was quite light. That
night Peter Gubbins's two pigs went. They were two o' the likeliest pigs
I ever seed, and all Peter Gubbins could do was to sit up in bed
shivering and listening to their squeals as the tiger dragged 'em off.
Pretty near all Claybury was round that sty next morning looking at the
broken fence. Some of them looked for the tiger's footmarks, but it was
dry weather and they couldn't see any. Nobody knew whose turn it would
be next, and the most sensible man there, Sam Jones, went straight off
'ome and killed his pig afore 'e went to work.
"Nobody knew what to do; Farmer Hall said as it was a soldier's job, and
'e drove over to Wickham to tell the police so, but nothing came of it,
and that night at ten minutes to twelve Bill Chambers's pig went. It was
one o' the biggest pigs ever raised in Claybury, but the tiger got it off
as easy as possible. Bill 'ad the bravery to look out of the winder when
'e 'eard the pig squeal, but there was such a awful snarling noise that
'e daresn't move 'and or foot.
"Dicky Weed's idea was for people with pigs and such-like to keep 'em in
the house of a night, but Peter Gubbins and Bill Chambers both pointed
out that the tiger could break a back door with one blow of 'is paw, and
that if 'e got inside he might take something else instead o' pig. And
they said that it was no worse for other people to lose pigs than wot it
was for them.
"The odd thing about it was that all this time nobody 'ad ever seen the
tiger except the tramp and people sent their children back to school agin
and felt safe going about in the daytime till little Charlie Gubbins came
running 'ome crying and saying that 'e'd seen it. Next morning a lot
more children see it and was afraid to go to school, and people began to
wonder wot 'ud happen when all the pigs and poultry was eaten.
"Then Henery Walker see it. We was sitting inside 'ere with scythes, and
pitchforks, and such-like things handy, when we see 'im come in without
'is hat. His eyes were staring and 'is hair was all rumpled. He called
for a pot o' ale and drank it nearly off, and then 'e sat gasping and
'olding the mug between 'is legs and shaking 'is 'ead at the floor till
everybody 'ad left off talking to look at 'im.
"'Wot's the matter, Henery?' ses one of 'em.
"'Don't ask me,' ses Henery Walker, with a shiver.
"'You don't mean to say as 'ow you've seen the tiger?" ses Bill
"Henery Walker didn't answer 'im. He got up and walked back'ards and
for'ards, still with that frightened look in 'is eyes, and once or twice
'e give such a terrible start that 'e frightened us 'arf out of our wits.
Then Bill Chambers took and forced 'im into a chair and give 'im two o'
gin and patted 'im on the back, and at last Henery Walker got 'is senses
back agin and told us 'ow the tiger 'ad chased 'im all round and round
the trees in Plashett's Wood until 'e managed to climb up a tree and
escape it. He said the tiger 'ad kept 'im there for over an hour, and
then suddenly turned round and bolted off up the road to Wickham.
"It was a merciful escape, and everybody said so except Sam Jones, and 'e
asked so many questions that at last Henery Walker asked 'im outright if
'e disbelieved 'is word.
"'It's all right, Sam,' ses Bob Pretty, as 'ad come in just after Henery
Walker. 'I see 'im with the tiger after 'im.'
"'Wot?' ses Henery, staring at him.
"'I see it all, Henery,' ses Bob Pretty, 'and I see your pluck. It was
all you could do to make up your mind to run from it. I believe if you'd
'ad a fork in your 'and you'd 'ave made a fight for it."
"Everybody said 'Bravo!'; but Henery Walker didn't seem to like it at
all. He sat still, looking at Bob Pretty, and at last 'e ses, 'Where was
you?' 'e s,es.
"'Up another tree, Henery, where you couldn't see me,' ses Bob Pretty,
smiling at 'im.
"Henery Walker, wot was drinking some beer, choked a bit, and then 'e put
the mug down and went straight off 'ome without saying a word to anybody.
I knew 'e didn't like Bob Pretty, but I couldn't see why 'e should be
cross about 'is speaking up for 'im as 'e had done, but Bob said as it
was 'is modesty, and 'e thought more of 'im for it.
"After that things got worse than ever; the wimmen and children stayed
indoors and kept the doors shut, and the men never knew when they went
out to work whether they'd come 'ome agin. They used to kiss their
children afore they went out of a morning, and their wives too, some of
'em; even men who'd been married for years did. And several more of 'em
see the tiger while they was at work, and came running 'ome to tell about
"The tiger 'ad been making free with Claybury pigs and such-like for
pretty near a week, and nothing 'ad been done to try and catch it, and
wot made Claybury men madder than anything else was folks at Wickham
saying it was all a mistake, and the tiger 'adn't escaped at all. Even
parson, who'd been away for a holiday, said so, and Henery Walker told
'is wife that if she ever set foot inside the church agin 'ed ask 'is old
mother to come and live with 'em.
"It was all very well for parson to talk, but the very night he come back
Henery Walker's pig went, and at the same time George Kettle lost five or
"He was a quiet man, was George, but when 'is temper was up 'e didn't
care for anything. Afore he came to Claybury 'e 'ad been in the Militia,
and that evening at the 'Cauliflower' 'e turned up with a gun over 'is
shoulder and made a speech, and asked who was game to go with 'im and
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