Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Part 6 out of 8
"I must ask you to be more explicit," said he.
"You do not help me much," I retorted. "But see if you can
understand: my conscience is not very fine-spun; still, I have
one. Now, there are degrees of foul play, to some of which I
have no particular objection. I am sure with Mr. Carthew, I am
not at all the person to forgo an advantage; and I have much
curiosity. But on the other hand, I have no taste for
persecution; and I ask you to believe that I am not the man to
make bad worse, or heap trouble on the unfortunate."
"Yes; I think I understand," said he. "Suppose I pass you my
word that, whatever may have occurred, there were excuses--
great excuses--I may say, very great?"
"It would have weight with me, doctor," I replied.
"I may go further," he pursued. "Suppose I had been there, or
you had been there: after a certain event had taken place, it's a
grave question what we might have done--it's even a question
what we could have done--ourselves. Or take me. I will be
plain with you, and own that I am in possession of the facts.
You have a shrewd guess how I have acted in that knowledge.
May I ask you to judge from the character of my action,
something of the nature of that knowledge, which I have no
call, nor yet no title, to share with you?"
I cannot convey a sense of the rugged conviction and judicial
emphasis of Dr. Urquart's speech. To those who did not hear
him, it may appear as if he fed me on enigmas; to myself, who
heard, I seemed to have received a lesson and a compliment.
"I thank you," I said. "I feel you have said as much as possible,
and more than I had any right to ask. I take that as a mark of
confidence, which I will try to deserve. I hope, sir, you will let
me regard you as a friend."
He evaded my proffered friendship with a blunt proposal to
rejoin the mess; and yet a moment later, contrived to alleviate
the snub. For, as we entered the smoking-room, he laid his
hand on my shoulder with a kind familiarity.
"I have just prescribed for Mr. Dodd," says he, "a glass of our
I have never again met Dr. Urquart: but he wrote himself so
clear upon my memory that I think I see him still. And indeed
I had cause to remember the man for the sake of his
communication. It was hard enough to make a theory fit the
circumstances of the Flying Scud; but one in which the chief
actor should stand the least excused, and might retain the
esteem or at least the pity of a man like Dr. Urquart, failed me
utterly. Here at least was the end of my discoveries; I learned
no more, till I learned all; and my reader has the evidence
complete. Is he more astute than I was? or, like me, does he
give it up?
CROSS-QUESTIONS AND CROOKED ANSWERS.
I have said hard words of San Francisco; they must scarce be
literally understood (one cannot suppose the Israelites did
justice to the land of Pharaoh); and the city took a fine revenge
of me on my return. She had never worn a more becoming
guise; the sun shone, the air was lively, the people had flowers
in their button-holes and smiles upon their faces; and as I made
my way towards Jim's place of employment, with some very
black anxieties at heart, I seemed to myself a blot on the
My destination was in a by-street in a mean, rickety building;
"The Franklin H. Dodge Steam Printing Company" appeared
upon its front, and in characters of greater freshness, so as to
suggest recent conversion, the watch-cry, "White Labour Only."
In the office, in a dusty pen, Jim sat alone before a table. A
wretched change had overtaken him in clothes, body, and
bearing; he looked sick and shabby; he who had once rejoiced
in his day's employment, like a horse among pastures, now sat
staring on a column of accounts, idly chewing a pen, at times
heavily sighing, the picture of inefficiency and inattention. He
was sunk deep in a painful reverie; he neither saw nor heard
me; and I stood and watched him unobserved. I had a sudden
vain relenting. Repentance bludgeoned me. As I had predicted
to Nares, I stood and kicked myself. Here was I come home
again, my honour saved; there was my friend in want of rest,
nursing, and a generous diet; and I asked myself with Falstaff,
"What is in that word honour? what is that honour?" and, like
Falstaff, I told myself that it was air.
"Jim!" said I.
"Loudon!" he gasped, and jumped from his chair and stood
The next moment I was over the barrier, and we were hand in
"My poor old man!" I cried.
"Thank God, you're home at last!" he gulped, and kept patting
my shoulder with his hand.
"I've no good news for you, Jim!" said I.
"You've come--that's the good news that I want," he replied.
"O, how I've longed for you, Loudon!"
"I couldn't do what you wrote me," I said, lowering my voice.
"The creditors have it all. I couldn't do it."
"Ssh!" returned Jim. "I was crazy when wrote. I could never
have looked Mamie in the face if we had done it. O, Loudon,
what a gift that woman is! You think you know something of
life: you just don't know anything. It's the GOODNESS of the
woman, it's a revelation!"
"That's all right," said I. "That's how I hoped to hear you, Jim."
"And so the Flying Scud was a fraud," he resumed. "I didn't
quite understand your letter, but I made out that."
"Fraud is a mild term for it," said I. "The creditors will never
believe what fools we were. And that reminds me," I
continued, rejoicing in the transition, "how about the
"You were lucky to be out of that," answered Jim, shaking his
head; "you were lucky not to see the papers. The _Occidental_
called me a fifth-rate Kerbstone broker with water on the brain;
another said I was a tree-frog that had got into the same
meadow with Longhurst, and had blown myself out till I went
pop. It was rough on a man in his honeymoon; so was what
they said about my looks, and what I had on, and the way I
perspired. But I braced myself up with the Flying Scud. How
did it exactly figure out anyway? I don't seem to catch on to
that story, Loudon."
"The devil you don't!" thinks I to myself; and then aloud: "You
see we had neither one of us good luck. I didn't do much more
than cover current expenses; and you got floored immediately.
How did we come to go so soon?"
"Well, we'll have to have a talk over all this," said Jim with a
sudden start. "I should be getting to my books; and I guess you
had better go up right away to Mamie. She's at Speedy's. She
expects you with impatience. She regards you in the light of a
favourite brother, Loudon."
Any scheme was welcome which allowed me to postpone the
hour of explanation, and avoid (were it only for a breathing
space) the topic of the Flying Scud. I hastened accordingly to
Bush Street. Mrs. Speedy, already rejoicing in the return of a
spouse, hailed me with acclamation. "And it's beautiful you're
looking, Mr. Dodd, my dear," she was kind enough to say.
"And a miracle they naygur waheenies let ye lave the oilands. I
have my suspicions of Shpeedy," she added, roguishly. "Did ye
see him after the naygresses now?"
I gave Speedy an unblemished character.
"The one of ye will niver bethray the other," said the playful
dame, and ushered me into a bare room, where Mamie sat
working a type-writer.
I was touched by the cordiality of her greeting. With the
prettiest gesture in the world she gave me both her hands;
wheeled forth a chair; and produced, from a cupboard, a tin of
my favourite tobacco, and a book of my exclusive cigarette
"There!" she cried; "you see, Mr. Loudon, we were all prepared
for you; the things were bought the very day you sailed."
I imagined she had always intended me a pleasant welcome;
but the certain fervour of sincerity, which I could not help
remarking, flowed from an unexpected source. Captain Nares,
with a kindness for which I can never be sufficiently grateful,
had stolen a moment from his occupations, driven to call on
Mamie, and drawn her a generous picture of my prowess at the
wreck. She was careful not to breathe a word of this interview,
till she had led me on to tell my adventures for myself.
"Ah! Captain Nares was better," she cried, when I had done.
"From your account, I have only learned one new thing, that
you are modest as well as brave."
I cannot tell with what sort of disclamation I sought to reply.
"It is of no use," said Mamie. "I know a hero. And when I
heard of you working all day like a common labourer, with
your hands bleeding and your nails broken--and how you told
the captain to 'crack on' (I think he said) in the storm, when he
was terrified himself--and the danger of that horrid mutiny"--
(Nares had been obligingly dipping his brush in earthquake
and eclipse)--"and how it was all done, in part at least, for Jim
and me--I felt we could never say how we admired and thanked
"Mamie," I cried, "don't talk of thanks; it is not a word to be
used between friends. Jim and I have been prosperous
together; now we shall be poor together. We've done our best,
and that's all that need be said. The next thing is for me to find
a situation, and send you and Jim up country for a long holiday
in the redwoods--for a holiday Jim has got to have."
"Jim can't take your money, Mr. Loudon," said Mamie.
"Jim?" cried I. "He's got to. Didn't I take his?"
Presently after, Jim himself arrived, and before he had yet done
mopping his brow, he was at me with the accursed subject.
"Now, Loudon," said he, "here we are all together, the day's
work done and the evening before us; just start in with the
"One word on business first," said I, speaking from the lips
outward, and meanwhile (in the private apartments of my
brain) trying for the thousandth time to find some plausible
arrangement of my story. "I want to have a notion how we
stand about the bankruptcy."
"O, that's ancient history," cried Jim. "We paid seven cents,
and a wonder we did as well. The receiver----" (methought a
spasm seized him at the name of this official, and he broke off).
"But it's all past and done with anyway; and what I want to get
at is the facts about the wreck. I don't seem to understand it;
appears to me like as there was something underneath."
"There was nothing IN it, anyway," I said, with a forced laugh.
"That's what I want to judge of," returned Jim.
"How the mischief is it I can never keep you to that
bankruptcy? It looks as if you avoided it," said I--for a man in
my situation, with unpardonable folly.
"Don't it look a little as if you were trying to avoid the wreck?"
It was my own doing; there was no retreat. "My dear fellow, if
you make a point of it, here goes!" said I, and launched with
spurious gaiety into the current of my tale. I told it with point
and spirit; described the island and the wreck, mimicked
Anderson and the Chinese, maintained the suspense.... My pen
has stumbled on the fatal word. I maintained the suspense so
well that it was never relieved; and when I stopped--I dare not
say concluded, where there was no conclusion--I found Jim and
Mamie regarding me with surprise.
"Well?" said Jim.
"Well, that's all," said I.
"But how do you explain it?" he asked.
"I can't explain it," said I.
Mamie wagged her head ominously.
"But, great Caesar's ghost! the money was offered!" cried Jim.
"It won't do, Loudon; it's nonsense, on the face of it! I don't say
but what you and Nares did your best; I'm sure, of course, you
did; but I do say, you got fooled. I say the stuff is in that ship
to-day, and I say I mean to get it."
"There is nothing in the ship, I tell you, but old wood and iron!"
"You'll see," said Jim. "Next time I go myself. I'll take Mamie
for the trip; Longhurst won't refuse me the expense of a
schooner. You wait till I get the searching of her."
"But you can't search her!" cried I. "She's burned."
"Burned!" cried Mamie, starting a little from the attitude of
quiescent capacity in which she had hitherto sat to hear me, her
hands folded in her lap.
There was an appreciable pause.
"I beg your pardon, Loudon," began Jim at last, "but why in
snakes did you burn her?"
"It was an idea of Nares's," said I.
"This is certainly the strangest circumstance of all," observed
"I must say, Loudon, it does seem kind of unexpected," added
Jim. "It seems kind of crazy even. What did you--what did
Nares expect to gain by burning her?"
"I don't know; it didn't seem to matter; we had got all there was
to get," said I.
"That's the very point," cried Jim. "It was quite plain you
"What made you so sure?" asked Mamie.
"How can I tell you?" I cried. "We had been all through her.
We WERE sure; that's all that I can say."
"I begin to think you were," she returned, with a significant
Jim hurriedly intervened. "What I don't quite make out,
Loudon, is that you don't seem to appreciate the peculiarities of
the thing," said he. "It doesn't seem to have struck you same as
it does me."
"Pshaw! why go on with this?" cried Mamie, suddenly rising.
"Mr. Dodd is not telling us either what he thinks or what he
"Mamie!" cried Jim.
"You need not be concerned for his feelings, James; he is not
concerned for yours," returned the lady. "He dare not deny it,
besides. And this is not the first time he has practised
reticence. Have you forgotten that he knew the address, and
did not tell it you until that man had escaped?"
Jim turned to me pleadingly--we were all on our feet.
"Loudon," he said, "you see Mamie has some fancy; and I must
say there's just a sort of a shadow of an excuse; for it IS
bewildering--even to me, Loudon, with my trained business
intelligence. For God's sake, clear it up."
"This serves me right," said I. "I should not have tried to keep
you in the dark; I should have told you at first that I was
pledged to secrecy; I should have asked you to trust me in the
beginning. It is all I can do now. There is more of the story,
but it concerns none of us, and my tongue is tied. I have given
my word of honour. You must trust me and try to forgive me."
"I daresay I am very stupid, Mr. Dodd," began Mamie, with an
alarming sweetness, "but I thought you went upon this trip as
my husband's representative and with my husband's money?
You tell us now that you are pledged, but I should have thought
you were pledged first of all to James. You say it does not
concern us; we are poor people, and my husband is sick, and it
concerns us a great deal to understand how we come to have
lost our money, and why our representative comes back to us
with nothing. You ask that we should trust you; you do not
seem to understand; the question we are asking ourselves is
whether we have not trusted you too much."
"I do not ask you to trust me," I replied. "I ask Jim. He knows
"You think you can do what you please with James; you trust to
his affection, do you not? And me, I suppose, you do not
consider," said Mamie. "But it was perhaps an unfortunate day
for you when we were married, for I at least am not blind. The
crew run away, the ship is sold for a great deal of money, you
know that man's address and you conceal it, you do not find
what you were sent to look for, and yet you burn the ship; and
now, when we ask explanations, you are pledged to secrecy!
But I am pledged to no such thing; I will not stand by in silence
and see my sick and ruined husband betrayed by his
condescending friend. I will give you the truth for once. Mr.
Dodd, you have been bought and sold."
"Mamie," cried Jim, "no more of this! It's me you're striking;
it's only me you hurt. You don't know, you cannot understand
these things. Why, to-day, if it hadn't been for Loudon, I
couldn't have looked you in the face. He saved my honesty."
"I have heard plenty of this talk before," she replied. "You are
a sweet-hearted fool, and I love you for it. But I am a clear-
headed woman; my eyes are open, and I understand this man's
hypocrisy. Did he not come here to-day and pretend he would
take a situation--pretend he would share his hard-earned wages
with us until you were well? Pretend! It makes me furious!
His wages! a share of his wages! That would have been your
pittance, that would have been your share of the Flying
Scud--you who worked and toiled for him when he was a
beggar in the streets of Paris. But we do not want your charity;
thank God, I can work for my own husband! See what it is to
have obliged a gentleman. He would let you pick him up when
he was begging; he would stand and look on, and let you black
his shoes, and sneer at you. For you were always sneering at
my James; you always looked down upon him in your heart,
you know it!" She turned back to Jim. "And now when he is
rich," she began, and then swooped again on me. "For you are
rich, I dare you to deny it; I defy you to look me in the face and
try to deny that you are rich--rich with our money--my
Heaven knows to what a height she might have risen, being, by
this time, bodily whirled away in her own hurricane of words.
Heart-sickness, a black depression, a treacherous sympathy
with my assailant, pity unutterable for poor Jim, already filled,
divided, and abashed my spirit. Flight seemed the only
remedy; and making a private sign to Jim, as if to ask
permission, I slunk from the unequal field.
I was but a little way down the street, when I was arrested by
the sound of some one running, and Jim's voice calling me by
name. He had followed me with a letter which had been long
awaiting my return.
I took it in a dream. "This has been a devil of a business," said
"Don't think hard of Mamie," he pleaded. "It's the way she's
made; it's her high-toned loyalty. And of course I know it's all
right. I know your sterling character; but you didn't, somehow,
make out to give us the thing straight, Loudon. Anybody might
have--I mean it--I mean----"
"Never mind what you mean, my poor Jim," said I. "She's a
gallant little woman and a loyal wife: and I thought her
splendid. My story was as fishy as the devil. I'll never think
the less of either her or you."
"It'll blow over; it must blow over," said he.
"It never can," I returned, sighing: "and don't you try to make
it! Don't name me, unless it's with an oath. And get home to
her right away. Good by, my best of friends. Good by, and
God bless you. We shall never meet again."
"O Loudon, that we should live to say such words!" he cried.
I had no views on life, beyond an occasional impulse to commit
suicide, or to get drunk, and drifted down the street, semi-
conscious, walking apparently on air, in the light-headedness of
grief. I had money in my pocket, whether mine or my creditors'
I had no means of guessing; and, the Poodle Dog lying in my
path, I went mechanically in and took a table. A waiter
attended me, and I suppose I gave my orders; for presently I
found myself, with a sudden return of consciousness, beginning
dinner. On the white cloth at my elbow lay the letter,
addressed in a clerk's hand, and bearing an English stamp and
the Edinburgh postmark. A bowl of bouillon and a glass of
wine awakened in one corner of my brain (where all the rest
was in mourning, the blinds down as for a funeral) a faint stir
of curiosity; and while I waited the next course, wondering the
while what I had ordered, I opened and began to read the epoch
"DEAR SIR: I am charged with the melancholy duty of
announcing to you the death of your excellent grandfather, Mr.
Alexander Loudon, on the 17th ult. On Sunday the 13th, he
went to church as usual in the forenoon, and stopped on his
way home, at the corner of Princes Street, in one of our
seasonable east winds, to talk with an old friend. The same
evening acute bronchitis declared itself; from the first, Dr.
M'Combie anticipated a fatal result, and the old gentleman
appeared to have no illusion as to his own state. He repeatedly
assured me it was 'by' with him now; 'and high time, too,' he
once added with characteristic asperity. He was not in the least
changed on the approach of death: only (what I am sure must
be very grateful to your feelings) he seemed to think and speak
even more kindly than usual of yourself: referring to you as
'Jeannie's yin,' with strong expressions of regard. 'He was the
only one I ever liket of the hale jing-bang,' was one of his
expressions; and you will be glad to know that he dwelt
particularly on the dutiful respect you had always displayed in
your relations. The small codicil, by which he bequeaths you
his Molesworth and other professional works, was added (you
will observe) on the day before his death; so that you were in
his thoughts until the end. I should say that, though rather a
trying patient, he was most tenderly nursed by your uncle, and
your cousin, Miss Euphemia. I enclose a copy of the testament,
by which you will see that you share equally with Mr. Adam,
and that I hold at your disposal a sum nearly approaching
seventeen thousand pounds. I beg to congratulate you on this
considerable acquisition, and expect your orders, to which I
shall hasten to give my best attention. Thinking that you might
desire to return at once to this country, and not knowing how
you may be placed, I enclose a credit for six hundred pounds.
Please sign the accompanying slip, and let me have it at your
"I am, dear sir, yours truly,
"W. RUTHERFORD GREGG."
"God bless the old gentleman!" I thought; "and for that matter
God bless Uncle Adam! and my cousin Euphemia! and Mr.
Gregg!" I had a vision of that grey old life now brought to an
end--"and high time too"--a vision of those Sabbath streets
alternately vacant and filled with silent people; of the babel of
the bells, the long-drawn psalmody, the shrewd sting of the
east wind, the hollow, echoing, dreary house to which "Ecky"
had returned with the hand of death already on his shoulder; a
vision, too, of the long, rough country lad, perhaps a serious
courtier of the lasses in the hawthorn den, perhaps a rustic
dancer on the green, who had first earned and answered to that
harsh diminutive. And I asked myself if, on the whole, poor
Ecky had succeeded in life; if the last state of that man were not
on the whole worse than the first; and the house in Randolph
Crescent a less admirable dwelling than the hamlet where he
saw the day and grew to manhood. Here was a consolatory
thought for one who was himself a failure.
Yes, I declare the word came in my mind; and all the while, in
another partition of the brain, I was glowing and singing for my
new-found opulence. The pile of gold--four thousand two
hundred and fifty double eagles, seventeen thousand ugly
sovereigns, twenty-one thousand two hundred and fifty
Napoleons--danced, and rang and ran molten, and lit up life
with their effulgence, in the eye of fancy. Here were all things
made plain to me: Paradise--Paris, I mean--Regained, Carthew
protected, Jim restored, the creditors...
"The creditors!" I repeated, and sank back benumbed. It was all
theirs to the last farthing: my grandfather had died too soon to
I must have somewhere a rare vein of decision. In that
revolutionary moment, I found myself prepared for all extremes
except the one: ready to do anything, or to go anywhere, so
long as I might save my money. At the worst, there was flight,
flight to some of those blest countries where the serpent,
extradition, has not yet entered in.
On no condition is extradition
Allowed in Callao!
--the old lawless words haunted me; and I saw myself hugging
my gold in the company of such men as had once made and
sung them, in the rude and bloody wharfside drinking-shops of
Chili and Peru. The run of my ill-luck, the breach of my old
friendship, this bubble fortune flaunted for a moment in my
eyes and snatched again, had made me desperate and (in the
expressive vulgarism) ugly. To drink vile spirits among vile
companions by the flare of a pine-torch; to go burthened with
my furtive treasure in a belt; to fight for it knife in hand, rolling
on a clay floor; to flee perpetually in fresh ships and to be
chased through the sea from isle to isle, seemed, in my then
frame of mind, a welcome series of events.
That was for the worst; but it began to dawn slowly on my
mind that there was yet a possible better. Once escaped, once
safe in Callao, I might approach my creditors with a good
grace; and properly handled by a cunning agent, it was just
possible they might accept some easy composition. The hope
recalled me to the bankruptcy. It was strange, I reflected: often
as I had questioned Jim, he had never obliged me with an
answer. In his haste for news about the wreck, my own no less
legitimate curiosity had gone disappointed. Hateful as the
thought was to me, I must return at once and find out where I
I left my dinner still unfinished, paying for the whole, of
course, and tossing the waiter a gold piece. I was reckless; I
knew not what was mine and cared not: I must take what I
could get and give as I was able; to rob and to squander
seemed the complementary parts of my new destiny. I walked
up Bush Street, whistling, brazening myself to confront Mamie
in the first place, and the world at large and a certain visionary
judge upon a bench in the second. Just outside, I stopped and
lighted a cigar to give me greater countenance; and puffing this
and wearing what (I am sure) was a wretched assumption of
braggadocio, I reappeared on the scene of my disgrace.
My friend and his wife were finishing a poor meal--rags of old
mutton, the remainder cakes from breakfast eaten cold, and a
starveling pot of coffee.
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Pinkerton," said I. "Sorry to inflict my
presence where it cannot be desired; but there is a piece of
business necessary to be discussed."
"Pray do not consider me," said Mamie, rising, and she sailed
into the adjoining bedroom.
Jim watched her go and shook his head; he looked miserably
old and ill.
"What is it, now?" he asked.
"Perhaps you remember you answered none of my questions,"
"Your questions?" faltered Jim.
"Even so, Jim. My questions," I repeated. "I put questions as
well as yourself; and however little I may have satisfied Mamie
with my answers, I beg to remind you that you gave me none at
"You mean about the bankruptcy?" asked Jim.
He writhed in his chair. "The straight truth is, I was ashamed,"
he said. "I was trying to dodge you. I've been playing fast and
loose with you, Loudon; I've deceived you from the first, I
blush to own it. And here you came home and put the very
question I was fearing. Why did we bust so soon? Your keen
business eye had not deceived you. That's the point, that's my
shame; that's what killed me this afternoon when Mamie was
treating you so, and my conscience was telling me all the time,
Thou art the man."
"What was it, Jim?" I asked.
"What I had been at all the time, Loudon," he wailed; "and I
don't know how I'm to look you in the face and say it, after my
duplicity. It was stocks," he added in a whisper.
"And you were afraid to tell me that!" I cried. "You poor, old,
cheerless dreamer! what would it matter what you did or didn't?
Can't you see we're doomed? And anyway, that's not my point.
It's how I stand that I want to know. There is a particular
reason. Am I clear? Have I a certificate, or what have I to do
to get one? And when will it be dated? You can't think what
hangs by it!"
"That's the worst of all," said Jim, like a man in a dream, "I
can't see how to tell him!"
"What do you mean?" I cried, a small pang of terror at my
"I'm afraid I sacrificed you, Loudon," he said, looking at me
"Sacrificed me?" I repeated. "How? What do you mean by
"I know it'll shock your delicate self-respect," he said; "but
what was I to do? Things looked so bad. The receiver----" (as
usual, the name stuck in his throat, and he began afresh).
"There was a lot of talk; the reporters were after me already;
there was the trouble and all about the Mexican business; and I
got scared right out, and I guess I lost my head. You weren't
there, you see, and that was my temptation."
I did not know how long he might thus beat about the bush
with dreadful hintings, and I was already beside myself with
terror. What had he done? I saw he had been tempted; I knew
from his letters that he was in no condition to resist. How had
he sacrificed the absent?
"Jim," I said, "you must speak right out. I've got all that I can
"Well," he said--"I know it was a liberty--I made it out you
were no business man, only a stone-broke painter; that half the
time you didn't know anything anyway, particularly money and
accounts. I said you never could be got to understand whose
was whose. I had to say that because of some entries in the
"For God's sake," I cried, "put me out of this agony! What did
you accuse me of?"
"Accuse you of?" repeated Jim. "Of what I'm telling you. And
there being no deed of partnership, I made out you were only a
kind of clerk that I called a partner just to give you taffy; and so
I got you ranked a creditor on the estate for your wages and the
money you had lent. And----"
I believe I reeled. "A creditor!" I roared; "a creditor! I'm not in
the bankruptcy at all?"
"No," said Jim. "I know it was a liberty----"
"O, damn your liberty! read that," I cried, dashing the letter
before him on the table, "and call in your wife, and be done
with eating this truck "--as I spoke, I slung the cold mutton in
the empty grate--"and let's all go and have a champagne
supper. I've dined--I'm sure I don't remember what I had; I'd
dine again ten scores of times upon a night like this. Read it,
you blaying ass! I'm not insane. Here, Mamie," I continued,
opening the bedroom door, "come out and make it up with me,
and go and kiss your husband; and I'll tell you what, after the
supper, let's go to some place where there's a band, and I'll
waltz with you till sunrise."
"What does it all mean?" cried Jim.
"It means we have a champagne supper to-night, and all go to
Napa Valley or to Monterey to-morrow," said I. "Mamie, go
and get your things on; and you, Jim, sit down right where you
are, take a sheet of paper, and tell Franklin Dodge to go to
Texas. Mamie, you were right, my dear; I was rich all the time,
and didn't know it."
TRAVELS WITH A SHYSTER.
The absorbing and disastrous adventure of the Flying Scud was
now quite ended; we had dashed into these deep waters and we
had escaped again to starve, we had been ruined and were
saved, had quarrelled and made up; there remained nothing but
to sing Te Deum, draw a line, and begin on a fresh page of my
unwritten diary. I do not pretend that I recovered all I had lost
with Mamie; it would have been more than I had merited; and I
had certainly been more uncommunicative than became either
the partner or the friend. But she accepted the position
handsomely; and during the week that I now passed with them,
both she and Jim had the grace to spare me questions. It was
to Calistoga that we went; there was some rumour of a Napa
land-boom at the moment, the possibility of stir attracted Jim,
and he informed me he would find a certain joy in looking on,
much as Napoleon on St. Helena took a pleasure to read
military works. The field of his ambition was quite closed; he
was done with action; and looked forward to a ranch in a
mountain dingle, a patch of corn, a pair of kine, a leisurely and
contemplative age in the green shade of forests. "Just let me
get down on my back in a hayfield," said he, "and you'll find
there's no more snap to me than that much putty."
And for two days the perfervid being actually rested. The third,
he was observed in consultation with the local editor, and
owned he was in two minds about purchasing the press and
paper. "It's a kind of a hold for an idle man," he said,
pleadingly; "and if the section was to open up the way it ought
to, there might be dollars in the thing." On the fourth day he
was gone till dinner-time alone; on the fifth we made a long
picnic drive to the fresh field of enterprise; and the sixth was
passed entirely in the preparation of prospectuses. The pioneer
of McBride City was already upright and self-reliant as of yore;
the fire rekindled in his eye, the ring restored to his voice; a
charger sniffing battle and saying ha-ha, among the spears. On
the seventh morning we signed a deed of partnership, for Jim
would not accept a dollar of my money otherwise; and having
once more engaged myself--or that mortal part of me, my
purse--among the wheels of his machinery, I returned alone to
San Francisco and took quarters in the Palace Hotel.
The same night I had Nares to dinner. His sunburnt face, his
queer and personal strain of talk, recalled days that were scarce
over and that seemed already distant. Through the music of the
band outside, and the chink and clatter of the dining-room, it
seemed to me as if I heard the foaming of the surf and the
voices of the sea-birds about Midway Island. The bruises on
our hands were not yet healed; and there we sat, waited on by
elaborate darkies, eating pompano and drinking iced
"Think of our dinners on the Norah, captain, and then oblige
me by looking round the room for contrast."
He took the scene in slowly. "Yes, it is like a dream," he said:
"like as if the darkies were really about as big as dimes; and a
great big scuttle might open up there, and Johnson stick in a
great big head and shoulders, and cry, 'Eight bells!'--and the
whole thing vanish."
"Well, it's the other thing that has done that," I replied. "It's all
bygone now, all dead and buried. Amen! say I."
"I don't know that, Mr. Dodd; and to tell you the fact, I don't
believe it," said Nares. "There's more Flying Scud in the oven;
and the baker's name, I take it, is Bellairs. He tackled me the
day we came in: sort of a razee of poor old humanity--jury
clothes--full new suit of pimples: knew him at once from your
description. I let him pump me till I saw his game. He knows
a good deal that we don't know, a good deal that we do, and
suspects the balance. There's trouble brewing for somebody."
I was surprised I had not thought of this before. Bellairs had
been behind the scenes; he had known Dickson; he knew the
flight of the crew; it was hardly possible but what he should
suspect; it was certain if he suspected, that he would seek to
trade on the suspicion. And sure enough, I was not yet dressed
the next morning ere the lawyer was knocking at my door. I let
him in, for I was curious; and he, after some ambiguous
prolegomena, roundly proposed I should go shares with him.
"Shares in what?" I inquired.
"If you will allow me to clothe my idea in a somewhat vulgar
form," said he, "I might ask you, did you go to Midway for your
"I don't know that I did," I replied.
"Similarly, Mr. Dodd, you may be sure I would never have
taken the present step without influential grounds," pursued the
lawyer. "Intrusion is foreign to my character. But you and I,
sir, are engaged on the same ends. If we can continue to work
the thing in company, I place at your disposal my knowledge of
the law and a considerable practice in delicate negotiations
similar to this. Should you refuse to consent, you might find in
me a formidable and"--he hesitated--"and to my own regret,
perhaps a dangerous competitor."
"Did you get this by heart?" I asked, genially.
"I advise YOU to!" he said, with a sudden sparkle of temper
and menace, instantly gone, instantly succeeded by fresh
cringing. "I assure you, sir, I arrive in the character of a friend;
and I believe you underestimate my information. If I may
instance an example, I am acquainted to the last dime with
what you made (or rather lost), and I know you have since
cashed a considerable draft on London."
"What do you infer?" I asked.
"I know where that draft came from," he cried, wincing back
like one who has greatly dared, and instantly regrets the
"So?" said I.
"You forget I was Mr. Dickson's confidential agent," he
explained. "You had his address, Mr. Dodd. We were the only
two that he communicated with in San Francisco. You see my
deductions are quite obvious: you see how open and frank I
deal with you, as I should wish to do with any gentleman with
whom I was conjoined in business. You see how much I
know; and it can scarcely escape your strong common-sense,
how much better it would be if I knew all. You cannot hope to
get rid of me at this time of day, I have my place in the affair, I
cannot be shaken off; I am, if you will excuse a rather technical
pleasantry, an encumbrance on the estate. The actual harm I
can do, I leave you to valuate for yourself. But without going
so far, Mr. Dodd, and without in any way inconveniencing
myself, I could make things very uncomfortable. For instance,
Mr. Pinkerton's liquidation. You and I know, sir--and you
better than I--on what a large fund you draw. Is Mr. Pinkerton
in the thing at all? It was you only who knew the address, and
you were concealing it. Suppose I should communicate with
"Look here!" I interrupted, "communicate with him (if you will
permit me to clothe my idea in a vulgar shape) till you are blue
in the face. There is only one person with whom I refuse to
allow you to communicate further, and that is myself. Good
He could not conceal his rage, disappointment, and surprise;
and in the passage (I have no doubt) was shaken by St. Vitus.
I was disgusted by this interview; it struck me hard to be
suspected on all hands, and to hear again from this trafficker
what I had heard already from Jim's wife; and yet my strongest
impression was different and might rather be described as an
impersonal fear. There was something against nature in the
man's craven impudence; it was as though a lamb had butted
me; such daring at the hands of such a dastard, implied
unchangeable resolve, a great pressure of necessity, and
powerful means. I thought of the unknown Carthew, and it
sickened me to see this ferret on his trail.
Upon inquiry I found the lawyer was but just disbarred for
some malpractice; and the discovery added excessively to my
disquiet. Here was a rascal without money or the means of
making it, thrust out of the doors of his own trade, publicly
shamed, and doubtless in a deuce of a bad temper with the
universe. Here, on the other hand, was a man with a secret;
rich, terrified, practically in hiding; who had been willing to
pay ten thousand pounds for the bones of the Flying Scud. I
slipped insensibly into a mental alliance with the victim; the
business weighed on me; all day long, I was wondering how
much the lawyer knew, how much he guessed, and when he
would open his attack.
Some of these problems are unsolved to this day; others were
soon made clear. Where he got Carthew's name is still a
mystery; perhaps some sailor on the Tempest, perhaps my own
sea-lawyer served him for a tool; but I was actually at his
elbow when he learned the address. It fell so. One evening,
when I had an engagement and was killing time until the hour,
I chanced to walk in the court of the hotel while the band
played. The place was bright as day with the electric light; and
I recognised, at some distance among the loiterers, the person
of Bellairs in talk with a gentleman whose face appeared
familiar. It was certainly some one I had seen, and seen
recently; but who or where, I knew not. A porter standing hard
by, gave me the necessary hint. The stranger was an English
navy man, invalided home from Honolulu, where he had left
his ship; indeed, it was only from the change of clothes and the
effects of sickness, that I had not immediately recognised my
friend and correspondent, Lieutenant Sebright.
The conjunction of these planets seeming ominous, I drew
near; but it seemed Bellairs had done his business; he vanished
in the crowd, and I found my officer alone.
"Do you know whom you have been talking to, Mr. Sebright?"
"No," said he; "I don't know him from Adam. Anything
"He is a disreputable lawyer, recently disbarred," said I. "I
wish I had seen you in time. I trust you told him nothing about
He flushed to his ears. "I'm awfully sorry," he said. "He
seemed civil, and I wanted to get rid of him. It was only the
address he asked."
"And you gave it?" I cried.
"I'm really awfully sorry," said Sebright. "I'm afraid I did."
"God forgive you!" was my only comment, and I turned my
back upon the blunderer.
The fat was in the fire now: Bellairs had the address, and I was
the more deceived or Carthew would have news of him. So
strong was this impression, and so painful, that the next
morning I had the curiosity to pay the lawyer's den a visit. An
old woman was scrubbing the stair, and the board was down.
"Lawyer Bellairs?" said the old woman. "Gone East this
morning. There's Lawyer Dean next block up."
I did not trouble Lawyer Dean, but walked slowly back to my
hotel, ruminating as I went. The image of the old woman
washing that desecrated stair had struck my fancy; it seemed
that all the water-supply of the city and all the soap in the State
would scarce suffice to cleanse it, it had been so long a clearing
-house of dingy secrets and a factory of sordid fraud. And now
the corner was untenanted; some judge, like a careful
housewife, had knocked down the web, and the bloated spider
was scuttling elsewhere after new victims. I had of late (as I
have said) insensibly taken sides with Carthew; now when his
enemy was at his heels, my interest grew more warm; and I
began to wonder if I could not help. The drama of the Flying
Scud was entering on a new phase. It had been singular from
the first: it promised an extraordinary conclusion; and I, who
had paid so much to learn the beginning, might pay a little
more and see the end. I lingered in San Francisco,
indemnifying myself after the hardships of the cruise, spending
money, regretting it, continually promising departure for the
morrow. Why not go indeed, and keep a watch upon Bellairs?
If I missed him, there was no harm done, I was the nearer
Paris. If I found and kept his trail, it was hard if I could not put
some stick in his machinery, and at the worst I could promise
myself interesting scenes and revelations.
In such a mixed humour, I made up what it pleases me to call
my mind, and once more involved myself in the story of
Carthew and the Flying Scud. The same night I wrote a letter
of farewell to Jim, and one of anxious warning to Dr. Urquart
begging him to set Carthew on his guard; the morrow saw me
in the ferry-boat; and ten days later, I was walking the
hurricane deck on the City of Denver. By that time my mind
was pretty much made down again, its natural condition: I told
myself that I was bound for Paris or Fontainebleau to resume
the study of the arts; and I thought no more of Carthew or
Bellairs, or only to smile at my own fondness. The one I could
not serve, even if I wanted; the other I had no means of finding,
even if I could have at all influenced him after he was found.
And for all that, I was close on the heels of an absurd
adventure. My neighbour at table that evening was a 'Frisco
man whom I knew slightly. I found he had crossed the plains
two days in front of me, and this was the first steamer that had
left New York for Europe since his arrival. Two days before
me meant a day before Bellairs; and dinner was scarce done
before I was closeted with the purser.
"Bellairs?" he repeated. "Not in the saloon, I am sure. He may
be in the second class. The lists are not made out, but--Hullo!
'Harry D. Bellairs?' That the name? He's there right enough."
And the next morning I saw him on the forward deck, sitting in
a chair, a book in his hand, a shabby puma skin rug about his
knees: the picture of respectable decay. Off and on, I kept him
in my eye. He read a good deal, he stood and looked upon the
sea, he talked occasionally with his neighbours, and once when
a child fell he picked it up and soothed it. I damned him in my
heart; the book, which I was sure he did not read--the sea, to
which I was ready to take oath he was indifferent--the child,
whom I was certain he would as lieve have tossed overboard
--all seemed to me elements in a theatrical performance; and I
made no doubt he was already nosing after the secrets of his
fellow-passengers. I took no pains to conceal myself, my scorn
for the creature being as strong as my disgust. But he never
looked my way, and it was night before I learned he had
I was smoking by the engine-room door, for the air was a little
sharp, when a voice rose close beside me in the darkness.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Dodd," it said.
"That you, Bellairs?" I replied.
"A single word, sir. Your presence on this ship has no
connection with our interview?" he asked. "You have no idea,
Mr. Dodd, of returning upon your determination?"
"None," said I; and then, seeing he still lingered, I was polite
enough to add "Good evening;" at which he sighed and went
The next day, he was there again with the chair and the puma
skin; read his book and looked at the sea with the same
constancy; and though there was no child to be picked up, I
observed him to attend repeatedly on a sick woman. Nothing
fosters suspicion like the act of watching; a man spied upon
can hardly blow his nose but we accuse him of designs; and I
took an early opportunity to go forward and see the woman for
myself. She was poor, elderly, and painfully plain; I stood
abashed at the sight, felt I owed Bellairs amends for the
injustice of my thoughts, and seeing him standing by the rail in
his usual attitude of contemplation, walked up and addressed
him by name.
"You seem very fond of the sea," said I.
"I may really call it a passion, Mr. Dodd," he replied. "And the
tall cataract haunted me like a passion," he quoted. "I never
weary of the sea, sir. This is my first ocean voyage. I find it a
glorious experience." And once more my disbarred lawyer
dropped into poetry: "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean,
Though I had learned the piece in my reading-book at school, I
came into the world a little too late on the one hand--and I
daresay a little too early on the other--to think much of Byron;
and the sonorous verse, prodigiously well delivered, struck me
"You are fond of poetry, too?" I asked.
"I am a great reader," he replied. "At one time I had begun to
amass quite a small but well selected library; and when that
was scattered, I still managed to preserve a few volumes--
chiefly of pieces designed for recitation--which have been my
"Is that one of them?" I asked, pointing to the volume in his
"No, sir," he replied, showing me a translation of the _Sorrows
of Werther_, "that is a novel I picked up some time ago. It has
afforded me great pleasure, though immoral."
"O, immoral!" cried I, indignant as usual at any complication of
art and ethics.
"Surely you cannot deny that, sir--if you know the book," he
said. "The passion is illicit, although certainly drawn with a
good deal of pathos. It is not a work one could possibly put
into the hands of a lady; which is to be regretted on all
accounts, for I do not know how it may strike you; but it seems
to me--as a depiction, if I make myself clear--to rise high above
its compeers--even famous compeers. Even in Scott, Dickens,
Thackeray, or Hawthorne, the sentiment of love appears to me
to be frequently done less justice to."
"You are expressing a very general opinion," said I.
"Is that so, indeed, sir?" he exclaimed, with unmistakable
excitement. "Is the book well known? and who was
GO-EATH? I am interested in that, because upon the title-page
the usual initials are omitted, and it runs simply 'by
GO-EATH.' Was he an author of distinction? Has he written
Such was our first interview, the first of many; and in all he
showed the same attractive qualities and defects. His taste for
literature was native and unaffected; his sentimentality,
although extreme and a thought ridiculous, was plainly
genuine. I wondered at my own innocent wonder. I knew that
Homer nodded, that Caesar had compiled a jest-book, that
Turner lived by preference the life of Puggy Booth, that Shelley
made paper boats, and Wordsworth wore green spectacles! and
with all this mass of evidence before me, I had expected
Bellairs to be entirely of one piece, subdued to what he worked
in, a spy all through. As I abominated the man's trade, so I had
expected to detest the man himself; and behold, I liked him.
Poor devil! he was essentially a man on wires, all sensibility
and tremor, brimful of a cheap poetry, not without parts, quite
without courage. His boldness was despair; the gulf behind
him thrust him on; he was one of those who might commit a
murder rather than confess the theft of a postage-stamp. I was
sure that his coming interview with Carthew rode his
imagination like a nightmare; when the thought crossed his
mind, I used to think I knew of it, and that the qualm appeared
in his face visibly. Yet he would never flinch: necessity
stalking at his back, famine (his old pursuer) talking in his ear;
and I used to wonder whether I most admired, or most
despised, this quivering heroism for evil. The image that
occurred to me after his visit was just; I had been butted by a
lamb; and the phase of life that I was now studying might be
called the Revolt of a Sheep.
It could be said of him that he had learned in sorrow what he
taught in song--or wrong; and his life was that of one of his
victims. He was born in the back parts of the State of New
York; his father a farmer, who became subsequently bankrupt
and went West. The lawyer and money-lender who had ruined
this poor family seems to have conceived in the end a feeling of
remorse; he turned the father out indeed, but he offered, in
compensation, to charge himself with one of the sons: and
Harry, the fifth child and already sickly, was chosen to be left
behind. He made himself useful in the office; picked up the
scattered rudiments of an education; read right and left;
attended and debated at the Young Men's Christian
Association; and in all his early years, was the model for a
good story-book. His landlady's daughter was his bane. He
showed me her photograph; she was a big, handsome, dashing,
dressy, vulgar hussy, without character, without tenderness,
without mind, and (as the result proved) without virtue. The
sickly and timid boy was in the house; he was handy; when she
was otherwise unoccupied, she used and played with him:
Romeo and Cressida; till in that dreary life of a poor boy in a
country town, she grew to be the light of his days and the
subject of his dreams. He worked hard, like Jacob, for a wife;
he surpassed his patron in sharp practice; he was made head
clerk; and the same night, encouraged by a hundred freedoms,
depressed by the sense of his youth and his infirmities, he
offered marriage and was received with laughter. Not a year
had passed, before his master, conscious of growing infirmities,
took him for a partner; he proposed again; he was accepted; led
two years of troubled married life; and awoke one morning to
find his wife had run away with a dashing drummer, and had
left him heavily in debt. The debt, and not the drummer, was
supposed to be the cause of the hegira; she had concealed her
liabilities, they were on the point of bursting forth, she was
weary of Bellairs; and she took the drummer as she might have
taken a cab. The blow disabled her husband, his partner was
dead; he was now alone in the business, for which he was no
longer fit; the debts hampered him; bankruptcy followed; and
he fled from city to city, falling daily into lower practice. It is
to be considered that he had been taught, and had learned as a
delightful duty, a kind of business whose highest merit is to
escape the commentaries of the bench: that of the usurious
lawyer in a county town. With this training, he was now shot,
a penniless stranger, into the deeper gulfs of cities; and the
result is scarce a thing to be surprised at.
"Have you heard of your wife again?" I asked.
He displayed a pitiful agitation. "I am afraid you will think ill
of me," he said.
"Have you taken her back?" I asked.
"No, sir. I trust I have too much self-respect," he answered,
"and, at least, I was never tempted. She won't come, she
dislikes, she seems to have conceived a positive distaste for me,
and yet I was considered an indulgent husband."
"You are still in relations, then?" I asked.
"I place myself in your hands, Mr. Dodd," he replied. "The
world is very hard; I have found it bitter hard myself--bitter
hard to live. How much worse for a woman, and one who has
placed herself (by her own misconduct, I am far from denying
that) in so unfortunate a position!"
"In short, you support her?" I suggested.
"I cannot deny it. I practically do," he admitted. "It has been a
mill-stone round my neck. But I think she is grateful. You can
see for yourself."
He handed me a letter in a sprawling, ignorant hand, but
written with violet ink on fine, pink paper with a monogram. It
was very foolishly expressed, and I thought (except for a few
obvious cajoleries) very heartless and greedy in meaning. The
writer said she had been sick, which I disbelieved; declared the
last remittance was all gone in doctor's bills, for which I took
the liberty of substituting dress, drink, and monograms; and
prayed for an increase, which I could only hope had been
"I think she is really grateful?" he asked, with some eagerness,
as I returned it.
"I daresay," said I. "Has she any claim on you?"
"O no, sir. I divorced her," he replied. "I have a very strong
sense of self-respect in such matters, and I divorced her
"What sort of life is she leading now?" I asked.
"I will not deceive you, Mr. Dodd. I do not know, I make a
point of not knowing; it appears more dignified. I have been
very harshly criticised," he added, sighing.
It will be seen that I had fallen into an ignominious intimacy
with the man I had gone out to thwart. My pity for the
creature, his admiration for myself, his pleasure in my society,
which was clearly unassumed, were the bonds with which I
was fettered; perhaps I should add, in honesty, my own ill-
regulated interest in the phases of life and human character.
The fact is (at least) that we spent hours together daily, and that
I was nearly as much on the forward deck as in the saloon. Yet
all the while I could never forget he was a shabby trickster,
embarked that very moment in a dirty enterprise. I used to tell
myself at first that our acquaintance was a stroke of art, and
that I was somehow fortifying Carthew. I told myself, I say;
but I was no such fool as to believe it, even then. In these
circumstances I displayed the two chief qualities of my
character on the largest scale--my helplessness and my
instinctive love of procrastination--and fell upon a course of
action so ridiculous that I blush when I recall it.
We reached Liverpool one forenoon, the rain falling thickly and
insidiously on the filthy town. I had no plans, beyond a
sensible unwillingness to let my rascal escape; and I ended by
going to the same inn with him, dining with him, walking with
him in the wet streets, and hearing with him in a penny gaff
that venerable piece, _The Ticket-of-Leave Man_. It was one
of his first visits to a theatre, against which places of
entertainment he had a strong prejudice; and his innocent,
pompous talk, innocent old quotations, and innocent reverence
for the character of Hawkshaw delighted me beyond relief. In
charity to myself, I dwell upon and perhaps exaggerate my
pleasures. I have need of all conceivable excuses, when I
confess that I went to bed without one word upon the matter of
Carthew, but not without having covenanted with my rascal for
a visit to Chester the next day. At Chester we did the
Cathedral, walked on the walls, discussed Shakespeare and the
musical glasses--and made a fresh engagement for the morrow.
I do not know, and I am glad to have forgotten, how long these
travels were continued. We visited at least, by singular
zigzags, Stratford, Warwick, Coventry, Gloucester, Bristol,
Bath, and Wells. At each stage we spoke dutifully of the scene
and its associations; I sketched, the Shyster spouted poetry and
copied epitaphs. Who could doubt we were the usual
Americans, travelling with a design of self-improvement?
Who was to guess that one was a blackmailer, trembling to
approach the scene of action--the other a helpless, amateur
detective, waiting on events?
It is unnecessary to remark that none occurred, or none the least
suitable with my design of protecting Carthew. Two trifles,
indeed, completed though they scarcely changed my conception
of the Shyster. The first was observed in Gloucester, where we
spent Sunday, and I proposed we should hear service in the
cathedral. To my surprise, the creature had an ISM of his own,
to which he was loyal; and he left me to go alone to the
cathedral--or perhaps not to go at all--and stole off down a
deserted alley to some Bethel or Ebenezer of the proper shade.
When we met again at lunch, I rallied him, and he grew restive.
"You need employ no circumlocutions with me, Mr. Dodd," he
said suddenly. "You regard my behaviour from an
unfavourable point of view: you regard me, I much fear, as
I was somewhat confused by the attack. "You know what I
think of your trade," I replied, lamely and coarsely.
"Excuse me, if I seem to press the subject," he continued, "but
if you think my life erroneous, would you have me neglect the
means of grace? Because you consider me in the wrong on one
point, would you have me place myself on the wrong in all?
Surely, sir, the church is for the sinner."
"Did you ask a blessing on your present enterprise?" I sneered.
He had a bad attack of St. Vitus, his face was changed, and his
eyes flashed. "I will tell you what I did!" he cried. "I prayed
for an unfortunate man and a wretched woman whom he tries
I cannot pretend that I found any repartee.
The second incident was at Bristol, where I lost sight of my
gentleman some hours. From this eclipse, he returned to me
with thick speech, wandering footsteps, and a back all
whitened with plaster. I had half expected, yet I could have
wept to see it. All disabilities were piled on that weak back--
domestic misfortune, nervous disease, a displeasing exterior,
empty pockets, and the slavery of vice.
I will never deny that our prolonged conjunction was the result
of double cowardice. Each was afraid to leave the other, each
was afraid to speak, or knew not what to say. Save for my ill-
judged allusion at Gloucester, the subject uppermost in both
our minds was buried. Carthew, Stallbridge-le-Carthew,
Stallbridge-Minster--which we had long since (and severally)
identified to be the nearest station--even the name of
Dorsetshire was studiously avoided. And yet we were making
progress all the time, tacking across broad England like an
unweatherly vessel on a wind; approaching our destination, not
openly, but by a sort of flying sap. And at length, I can scarce
tell how, we were set down by a dilatory butt-end of local train
on the untenanted platform of Stallbridge-Minster.
The town was ancient and compact: a domino of tiled houses
and walled gardens, dwarfed by the disproportionate bigness of
the church. From the midst of the thoroughfare which divided
it in half, fields and trees were visible at either end; and
through the sally-port of every street, there flowed in from the
country a silent invasion of green grass. Bees and birds
appeared to make the majority of the inhabitants; every garden
had its row of hives, the eaves of every house were plastered
with the nests of swallows, and the pinnacles of the church
were flickered about all day long by a multitude of wings. The
town was of Roman foundation; and as I looked out that
afternoon from the low windows of the inn, I should scarce
have been surprised to see a centurion coming up the street
with a fatigue draft of legionaries. In short, Stallbridge-
Minster was one of those towns which appear to be maintained
by England for the instruction and delight of the American
rambler; to which he seems guided by an instinct not less
surprising than the setter's; and which he visits and quits with
I was not at all in the humour of the tourist. I had wasted
weeks of time and accomplished nothing; we were on the eve
of the engagement, and I had neither plans nor allies. I had
thrust myself into the trade of private providence and amateur
detective; I was spending money and I was reaping disgrace.
All the time, I kept telling myself that I must at least speak;
that this ignominious silence should have been broken long
ago, and must be broken now. I should have broken it when he
first proposed to come to Stallbridge-Minster; I should have
broken it in the train; I should break it there and then, on the
inn doorstep, as the omnibus rolled off. I turned toward him at
the thought; he seemed to wince, the words died on my lips,
and I proposed instead that we should visit the Minster.
While we were engaged upon this duty, it came on to rain in a
manner worthy of the tropics. The vault reverberated; every
gargoyle instantly poured its full discharge; we waded back to
the inn, ankle-deep in impromptu brooks; and the rest of the
afternoon sat weatherbound, hearkening to the sonorous
deluge. For two hours I talked of indifferent matters,
laboriously feeding the conversation; for two hours my mind
was quite made up to do my duty instantly--and at each
particular instant I postponed it till the next. To screw up my
faltering courage, I called at dinner for some sparkling wine. It
proved when it came to be detestable; I could not put it to my
lips; and Bellairs, who had as much palate as a weevil, was left
to finish it himself. Doubtless the wine flushed him; doubtless
he may have observed my embarrassment of the afternoon;
doubtless he was conscious that we were approaching a crisis,
and that that evening, if I did not join with him, I must declare
myself an open enemy. At least he fled. Dinner was done; this
was the time when I had bound myself to break my silence; no
more delays were to be allowed, no more excuses received. I
went upstairs after some tobacco; which I felt to be a mere
necessity in the circumstances; and when I returned, the man
was gone. The waiter told me he had left the house.
The rain still plumped, like a vast shower-bath, over the
deserted town. The night was dark and windless: the street lit
glimmeringly from end to end, lamps, house windows, and the
reflections in the rain-pools all contributing. From a public-
house on the other side of the way, I heard a harp twang and a
doleful voice upraised in the "Larboard Watch," "The Anchor's
Weighed," and other naval ditties. Where had my Shyster
wandered? In all likelihood to that lyrical tavern; there was no
choice of diversion; in comparison with Stallbridge-Minster on
a rainy night, a sheepfold would seem gay.
Again I passed in review the points of my interview, on which I
was always constantly resolved so long as my adversary was
absent from the scene: and again they struck me as inadequate.
From this dispiriting exercise I turned to the native
amusements of the inn coffee-room, and studied for some time
the mezzotints that frowned upon the wall. The railway guide,
after showing me how soon I could leave Stallbridge and how
quickly I could reach Paris, failed to hold my attention. An
illustrated advertisement book of hotels brought me very low
indeed; and when it came to the local paper, I could have wept.
At this point, I found a passing solace in a copy of Whittaker's
Almanac, and obtained in fifty minutes more information than I
have yet been able to use.
Then a fresh apprehension assailed me. Suppose Bellairs had
given me the slip? suppose he was now rolling on the road to
Stallbridge-le-Carthew? or perhaps there already and laying
before a very white-faced auditor his threats and propositions?
A hasty person might have instantly pursued. Whatever I am, I
am not hasty, and I was aware of three grave objections. In the
first place, I could not be certain that Bellairs was gone. In the
second, I had no taste whatever for a long drive at that hour of
the night and in so merciless a rain. In the third, I had no idea
how I was to get admitted if I went, and no idea what I should
say if I got admitted. "In short," I concluded, "the whole
situation is the merest farce. You have thrust yourself in where
you had no business and have no power. You would be quite
as useful in San Francisco; far happier in Paris; and being (by
the wrath of God) at Stallbridge-Minster, the wisest thing is to
go quietly to bed." On the way to my room, I saw (in a flash)
that which I ought to have done long ago, and which it was
now too late to think of--written to Carthew, I mean, detailing
the facts and describing Bellairs, letting him defend himself if
he were able, and giving him time to flee if he were not. It was
the last blow to my self-respect; and I flung myself into my bed
I have no guess what hour it was, when I was wakened by the
entrance of Bellairs carrying a candle. He had been drunk, for
he was bedaubed with mire from head to foot; but he was now
sober and under the empire of some violent emotion which he
controlled with difficulty. He trembled visibly; and more than
once, during the interview which followed, tears suddenly and
silently overflowed his cheeks.
"I have to ask your pardon, sir, for this untimely visit," he said.
"I make no defence, I have no excuse, I have disgraced myself,
I am properly punished; I appear before you to appeal to you in
mercy for the most trifling aid or, God help me! I fear I may go
"What on earth is wrong?" I asked.
"I have been robbed," he said. "I have no defence to offer; it
was of my own fault, I am properly punished."
"But, gracious goodness me!" I cried, "who is there to rob you
in a place like this?"
"I can form no opinion," he replied. "I have no idea. I was
lying in a ditch inanimate. This is a degrading confession, sir;
I can only say in self-defence that perhaps (in your good nature)
you have made yourself partly responsible for my shame. I am
not used to these rich wines."
"In what form was your money? Perhaps it may be traced," I
"It was in English sovereigns. I changed it in New York; I got
very good exchange," he said, and then, with a momentary
outbreak, "God in heaven, how I toiled for it!" he cried.
"That doesn't sound encouraging," said I. "It may be worth
while to apply to the police, but it doesn't sound a hopeful
"And I have no hope in that direction," said Bellairs. "My
hopes, Mr. Dodd, are all fixed upon yourself. I could easily
convince you that a small, a very small advance, would be in
the nature of an excellent investment; but I prefer to rely on
your humanity. Our acquaintance began on an unusual footing;
but you have now known me for some time, we have been
some time--I was going to say we had been almost intimate.
Under the impulse of instinctive sympathy, I have bared my
heart to you, Mr. Dodd, as I have done to few; and I believe--I
trust--I may say that I feel sure--you heard me with a kindly
sentiment. This is what brings me to your side at this most
inexcusable hour. But put yourself in my place--how could I
sleep--how could I dream of sleeping, in this blackness of
remorse and despair? There was a friend at hand--so I ventured
to think of you; it was instinctive; I fled to your side, as the
drowning man clutches at a straw. These expressions are not
exaggerated, they scarcely serve to express the agitation of my
mind. And think, sir, how easily you can restore me to hope
and, I may say, to reason. A small loan, which shall be
faithfully repaid. Five hundred dollars would be ample." He
watched me with burning eyes. "Four hundred would do. I
believe, Mr. Dodd, that I could manage with economy on two."
"And then you will repay me out of Carthew's pocket?" I said.
"I am much obliged. But I will tell you what I will do: I will
see you on board a steamer, pay your fare through to San
Francisco, and place fifty dollars in the purser's hands, to be
given you in New York."
He drank in my words; his face represented an ecstasy of
cunning thought. I could read there, plain as print, that he but
thought to overreach me.
"And what am I to do in 'Frisco?" he asked. "I am disbarred, I
have no trade, I cannot dig, to beg----" he paused in the
citation. "And you know that I am not alone," he added,
"others depend upon me."
"I will write to Pinkerton," I returned. "I feel sure he can help
you to some employment, and in the meantime, and for three
months after your arrival, he shall pay to yourself personally, on
the first and the fifteenth, twenty-five dollars."
"Mr. Dodd, I scarce believe you can be serious in this offer," he
replied. "Have you forgotten the circumstances of the case?
Do you know these people are the magnates of the section?
They were spoken of to-night in the saloon; their wealth must
amount to many millions of dollars in real estate alone; their
house is one of the sights of the locality, and you offer me a
bribe of a few hundred!"
"I offer you no bribe, Mr. Bellairs, I give you alms," I returned.
"I will do nothing to forward you in your hateful business; yet I
would not willingly have you starve."
"Give me a hundred dollars then, and be done with it," he cried.
"I will do what I have said, and neither more nor less," said I.
"Take care," he cried. "You are playing a fool's game; you are
making an enemy for nothing; you will gain nothing by this, I
warn you of it!" And then with one of his changes, "Seventy
dollars--only seventy--in mercy, Mr. Dodd, in common charity.
Don't dash the bowl from my lips! You have a kindly heart.
Think of my position, remember my unhappy wife."
"You should have thought of her before," said I. "I have made
my offer, and I wish to sleep."
"Is that your last word, sir? Pray consider; pray weigh both
sides: my misery, your own danger. I warn you--I beseech
you; measure it well before you answer," so he half pleaded,
half threatened me, with clasped hands.
"My first word, and my last," said I.
The change upon the man was shocking. In the storm of anger
that now shook him, the lees of his intoxication rose again to
the surface; his face was deformed, his words insane with fury;
his pantomime excessive in itself, was distorted by an access of
"You will perhaps allow me to inform you of my cold opinion,"
he began, apparently self-possessed, truly bursting with rage:
"when I am a glorified saint, I shall see you howling for a drop
of water and exult to see you. That your last word! Take it in
your face, you spy, you false friend, you fat hypocrite! I defy, I
defy and despise and spit upon you! I'm on the trail, his trail or
yours, I smell blood, I'll follow it on my hands and knees, I'll
starve to follow it! I'll hunt you down, hunt you, hunt you
down! If I were strong, I'd tear your vitals out, here in this
room--tear them out--I'd tear them out! Damn, damn, damn!
You think me weak! I can bite, bite to the blood, bite you, hurt
you, disgrace you ..."
He was thus incoherently raging, when the scene was
interrupted by the arrival of the landlord and inn servants in
various degrees of deshabille, and to them I gave my temporary
lunatic in charge.
"Take him to his room," I said, "he's only drunk."
These were my words; but I knew better. After all my study of
Mr. Bellairs, one discovery had been reserved for the last
moment: that of his latent and essential madness.
Long before I was awake, the shyster had disappeared, leaving
his bill unpaid. I did not need to inquire where he was gone, I
knew too well, I knew there was nothing left me but to follow;
and about ten in the morning, set forth in a gig for Stallbridge
The road, for the first quarter of the way, deserts the valley of
the river, and crosses the summit of a chalk-down, grazed over
by flocks of sheep and haunted by innumerable larks. It was a
pleasant but a vacant scene, arousing but not holding the
attention; and my mind returned to the violent passage of the
night before. My thought of the man I was pursuing had been
greatly changed. I conceived of him, somewhere in front of me,
upon his dangerous errand, not to be turned aside, not to be
stopped, by either fear or reason. I had called him a ferret; I
conceived him now as a mad dog. Methought he would run,
not walk; methought, as he ran, that he would bark and froth at
the lips; methought, if the great wall of China were to rise
across his path, he would attack it with his nails.
Presently the road left the down, returned by a precipitous
descent into the valley of the Stall, and ran thenceforward
among enclosed fields and under the continuous shade of trees.
I was told we had now entered on the Carthew property. By
and by, a battlemented wall appeared on the left hand, and a
little after I had my first glimpse of the mansion. It stood in a
hollow of a bosky park, crowded to a degree that surprised and
even displeased me, with huge timber and dense shrubberies of
laurel and rhododendron. Even from this low station and the
thronging neighbourhood of the trees, the pile rose conspicuous
like a cathedral. Behind, as we continued to skirt the park
wall, I began to make out a straggling town of offices which
became conjoined to the rear with those of the home farm. On
the left was an ornamental water sailed in by many swans. On
the right extended a flower garden, laid in the old manner, and
at this season of the year, as brilliant as stained glass. The
front of the house presented a facade of more than sixty
windows, surmounted by a formal pediment and raised upon a
terrace. A wide avenue, part in gravel, part in turf, and
bordered by triple alleys, ran to the great double gateways. It
was impossible to look without surprise on a place that had
been prepared through so many generations, had cost so many
tons of minted gold, and was maintained in order by so great a
company of emulous servants. And yet of these there was no
sign but the perfection of their work. The whole domain was
drawn to the line and weeded like the front plot of some
suburban amateur; and I looked in vain for any belated
gardener, and listened in vain for any sounds of labour. Some
lowing of cattle and much calling of birds alone disturbed the
stillness, and even the little hamlet, which clustered at the
gates, appeared to hold its breath in awe of its great neighbour,
like a troop of children who should have strayed into a king's
The Carthew Arms, the small but very comfortable inn, was a
mere appendage and outpost of the family whose name it bore.
Engraved portraits of by-gone Carthews adorned the walls;
Fielding Carthew, Recorder of the city of London; Major-
General John Carthew in uniform, commanding some military
operations; the Right Honourable Bailley Carthew, Member of
Parliament for Stallbridge, standing by a table and brandishing
a document; Singleton Carthew, Esquire, represented in the
foreground of a herd of cattle--doubtless at the desire of his
tenantry, who had made him a compliment of this work of art;
and the Venerable Archdeacon Carthew, D.D., LL.D., A.M.,
laying his hand on the head of a little child in a manner highly
frigid and ridiculous. So far as my memory serves me, there
were no other pictures in this exclusive hostelry; and I was not
surprised to learn that the landlord was an ex-butler, the
landlady an ex-lady's-maid, from the great house; and that the
bar-parlour was a sort of perquisite of former servants.
To an American, the sense of the domination of this family over
so considerable a tract of earth was even oppressive; and as I
considered their simple annals, gathered from the legends of
the engravings, surprise began to mingle with my disgust.
"Mr. Recorder" doubtless occupies an honourable post; but I
thought that, in the course of so many generations, one Carthew
might have clambered higher. The soldier had stuck at Major-
General; the churchman bloomed unremarked in an
archidiaconate; and though the Right Honourable Bailley
seemed to have sneaked into the privy council, I have still to
learn what he did when he had got there. Such vast means, so
long a start, and such a modest standard of achievement, struck
in me a strong sense of the dulness of that race.
I found that to come to the hamlet and not visit the Hall, would
be regarded as a slight. To feed the swans, to see the peacocks
and the Raphaels--for these commonplace people actually
possessed two Raphaels--to risk life and limb among a famous
breed of cattle called the Carthew Chillinghams, and to do
homage to the sire (still living) of Donibristle, a renowned
winner of the oaks: these, it seemed, were the inevitable
stations of the pilgrimage. I was not so foolish as to resist, for I
might have need before I was done of general good-will; and
two pieces of news fell in which changed my resignation to
alacrity. It appeared in the first place, that Mr. Norris was from
home "travelling "; in the second, that a visitor had been before
me and already made the tour of the Carthew curiosities. I
thought I knew who this must be; I was anxious to learn what
he had done and seen; and fortune so far favoured me that the
under-gardener singled out to be my guide had already
performed the same function for my predecessor.
"Yes, sir," he said, "an American gentleman right enough. At
least, I don't think he was quite a gentleman, but a very civil
The person, it seems, had been civil enough to be delighted
with the Carthew Chillinghams, to perform the whole
pilgrimage with rising admiration, and to have almost
prostrated himself before the shrine of Donibristle's sire.
"He told me, sir," continued the gratified under-gardener, "that
he had often read of the 'stately 'omes of England,' but ours was
the first he had the chance to see. When he came to the 'ead of
the long alley, he fetched his breath. 'This is indeed a lordly
domain!' he cries. And it was natural he should be interested in
the place, for it seems Mr. Carthew had been kind to him in the
States. In fact, he seemed a grateful kind of person, and
wonderful taken up with flowers."
I heard this story with amazement. The phrases quoted told
their own tale; they were plainly from the shyster's mint. A few
hours back I had seen him a mere bedlamite and fit for a strait-
waistcoat; he was penniless in a strange country; it was highly
probable he had gone without breakfast; the absence of Norris
must have been a crushing blow; the man (by all reason)
should have been despairing. And now I heard of him, clothed
and in his right mind, deliberate, insinuating, admiring vistas,
smelling flowers, and talking like a book. The strength of
character implied amazed and daunted me.
"This is curious," I said to the under-gardener. "I have had the
pleasure of some acquaintance with Mr. Carthew myself; and I
believe none of our western friends ever were in England. Who
can this person be? He couldn't--no, that's impossible, he could
never have had the impudence. His name was not Bellairs?"
"I didn't 'ear the name, sir. Do you know anything against
him?" cried my guide.
"Well," said I, "he is certainly not the person Carthew would
like to have here in his absence."
"Good gracious me!" exclaimed the gardener. "He was so
pleasant spoken, too; I thought he was some form of a
schoolmaster. Perhaps, sir, you wouldn't mind going right up
to Mr. Denman? I recommended him to Mr. Denman, when he
had done the grounds. Mr. Denman is our butler, sir," he
The proposal was welcome, particularly as affording me a
graceful retreat from the neighbourhood of the Carthew
Chillinghams; and, giving up our projected circuit, we took a
short cut through the shrubbery and across the bowling green to
the back quarters of the Hall.
The bowling green was surrounded by a great hedge of yew,
and entered by an archway in the quick. As we were issuing
from this passage, my conductor arrested me.
"The Honourable Lady Ann Carthew," he said, in an august
whisper. And looking over his shoulder, I was aware of an old
lady with a stick, hobbling somewhat briskly along the garden
path. She must have been extremely handsome in her youth;
and even the limp with which she walked could not deprive her
of an unusual and almost menacing dignity of bearing.
Melancholy was impressed besides on every feature, and her
eyes, as she looked straight before her, seemed to contemplate
"She seems sad," said I, when she had hobbled past and we
had resumed our walk.
"She enjoy rather poor spirits, sir," responded the under-
gardener. "Mr. Carthew--the old gentleman, I mean--died less
than a year ago; Lord Tillibody, her ladyship's brother, two
months after; and then there was the sad business about the
young gentleman. Killed in the 'unting-field, sir; and her
ladyship's favourite. The present Mr. Norris has never been so
"So I have understood," said I, persistently, and (I think)
gracefully pursuing my inquiries and fortifying my position as a
family friend. "Dear, dear, how sad! And has this change--poor
Carthew's return, and all--has this not mended matters?"
"Well, no, sir, not a sign of it," was the reply. "Worse, we
think, than ever."
"Dear, dear!" said I again.
"When Mr. Norris arrived, she DID seem glad to see him," he
pursued; "and we were all pleased, I'm sure; for no one knows
the young gentleman but what likes him. Ah, sir, it didn't last
long! That very night they had a talk, and fell out or
something; her ladyship took on most painful; it was like old
days, but worse. And the next morning Mr. Norris was off
again upon his travels. "Denman," he said to Mr. Denman,
"Denman, I'll never come back," he said, and shook him by the
'and. I wouldn't be saying all this to a stranger, sir," added my
informant, overcome with a sudden fear lest he had gone too
He had indeed told me much, and much that was unsuspected
by himself. On that stormy night of his return, Carthew had
told his story; the old lady had more upon her mind than mere
bereavements; and among the mental pictures on which she
looked, as she walked staring down the path, was one of
Midway Island and the Flying Scud.
Mr. Denman heard my inquiries with discomposure, but
informed me the shyster was already gone.
"Gone?" cried I. "Then what can he have come for? One thing
I can tell you, it was not to see the house."
"I don't see it could have been anything else," replied the butler.
"You may depend upon it it was," said I. "And whatever it
was, he has got it. By the way, where is Mr. Carthew at
present? I was sorry to find he was from home."
"He is engaged in travelling, sir," replied the butler, dryly.
"Ah, bravo!" cried I. "I laid a trap for you there, Mr. Denman.
Now I need not ask you; I am sure you did not tell this prying
"To be sure not, sir," said the butler.
I went through the form of "shaking him by the 'and"--like Mr.
Norris--not, however, with genuine enthusiasm. For I had
failed ingloriously to get the address for myself; and I felt a
sure conviction that Bellairs had done better, or he had still
been here and still cultivating Mr. Denman.
I had escaped the grounds and the cattle; I could not escape the
house. A lady with silver hair, a slender silver voice, and a
stream of insignificant information not to be diverted, led me
through the picture gallery, the music-room, the great dining-
room, the long drawing-room, the Indian room, the theatre, and
every corner (as I thought) of that interminable mansion. There
was but one place reserved; the garden-room, whither Lady
Ann had now retired. I paused a moment on the outside of the
door, and smiled to myself. The situation was indeed strange,
and these thin boards divided the secret of the Flying Scud.
All the while, as I went to and fro, I was considering the visit
and departure of Bellairs. That he had got the address, I was
quite certain: that he had not got it by direct questioning, I was
convinced; some ingenuity, some lucky accident, had served
him. A similar chance, an equal ingenuity, was required; or I
was left helpless, the ferret must run down his prey, the great
oaks fall, the Raphaels be scattered, the house let to some
stockbroker suddenly made rich, and the name which now
filled the mouths of five or six parishes dwindle to a memory.
Strange that such great matters, so old a mansion, a family so
ancient and so dull, should come to depend for perpetuity upon
the intelligence, the discretion, and the cunning of a Latin-
Quarter student! What Bellairs had done, I must do likewise.
Chance or ingenuity, ingenuity or chance--so I continued to
ring the changes as I walked down the avenue, casting back
occasional glances at the red brick facade and the twinkling
windows of the house. How was I to command chance? where
was I to find the ingenuity?
These reflections brought me to the door of the inn. And here,
pursuant to my policy of keeping well with all men, I
immediately smoothed my brow, and accepted (being the only
guest in the house) an invitation to dine with the family in the
bar-parlour. I sat down accordingly with Mr. Higgs the
ex-butler, Mrs. Higgs the ex-lady's-maid, and Miss Agnes
Higgs their frowsy-headed little girl, the least promising and
(as the event showed) the most useful of the lot. The talk ran
endlessly on the great house and the great family; the roast
beef, the Yorkshire pudding, the jam-roll, and the cheddar
cheese came and went, and still the stream flowed on; near four
generations of Carthews were touched upon without eliciting
one point of interest; and we had killed Mr. Henry in "the
'unting-field," with a vast elaboration of painful circumstance,
and buried him in the midst of a whole sorrowing county,
before I could so much as manage to bring upon the stage my
intimate friend, Mr. Norris. At the name, the ex-butler grew
diplomatic, and the ex-lady's-maid tender. He was the only
person of the whole featureless series who seemed to have
accomplished anything worth mention; and his achievements,
poor dog, seemed to have been confined to going to the devil
and leaving some regrets. He had been the image of the Right
Honourable Bailley, one of the lights of that dim house, and a
career of distinction had been predicted of him in consequence
almost from the cradle. But before he was out of long clothes,
the cloven foot began to show; he proved to be no Carthew,
developed a taste for low pleasures and bad company, went
birdnesting with a stable-boy before he was eleven, and when
he was near twenty, and might have been expected to display at
least some rudiments of the family gravity, rambled the country
over with a knapsack, making sketches and keeping company
in wayside inns. He had no pride about him, I was told; he
would sit down with any man; and it was somewhat
woundingly implied that I was indebted to this peculiarity for
my own acquaintance with the hero. Unhappily, Mr. Norris
was not only eccentric, he was fast. His debts were still
remembered at the University; still more, it appeared, the
highly humorous circumstances attending his expulsion. "He
was always fond of his jest," commented Mrs. Higgs.
"That he were!" observed her lord.
But it was after he went into the diplomatic service that the real
"It seems, sir, that he went the pace extraordinary," said the
ex-butler, with a solemn gusto.
"His debts were somethink awful," said the lady's-maid. "And
as nice a young gentleman all the time as you would wish to
"When word came to Mr. Carthew's ears, the turn up was
'orrible," continued Mr. Higgs. "I remember it as if it was
yesterday. The bell was rung after her la'ship was gone, which
I answered it myself, supposing it were the coffee. There was
Mr. Carthew on his feet. ''Iggs,' he says, pointing with his
stick, for he had a turn of the gout, 'order the dog-cart instantly
for this son of mine which has disgraced hisself.' Mr. Norris
say nothink: he sit there with his 'ead down, making belief to
be looking at a walnut. You might have bowled me over with
a straw," said Mr. Higgs.
"Had he done anything very bad?" I asked.
"Not he, Mr. Dodsley!" cried the lady--it was so she had
conceived my name. "He never did anythink to all really wrong
in his poor life. The 'ole affair was a disgrace. It was all rank
"Mrs. 'Iggs! Mrs. 'Iggs!" cried the butler warningly.
"Well, what do I care?" retorted the lady, shaking her ringlets.
"You know it was yourself, Mr. 'Iggs, and so did every member
of the staff."
While I was getting these facts and opinions, I by no means
neglected the child. She was not attractive; but fortunately she
had reached the corrupt age of seven, when half a crown
appears about as large as a saucer and is fully as rare as the
dodo. For a shilling down, sixpence in her money-box, and an
American gold dollar which I happened to find in my pocket, I
bought the creature soul and body. She declared her intention
to accompany me to the ends of the earth; and had to be
chidden by her sire for drawing comparisons between myself
and her uncle William, highly damaging to the latter.
Dinner was scarce done, the cloth was not yet removed, when
Miss Agnes must needs climb into my lap with her stamp
album, a relic of the generosity of Uncle William. There are
few things I despise more than old stamps, unless perhaps it be
crests; for cattle (from the Carthew Chillinghams down to the
old gate-keeper's milk-cow in the lane) contempt is far from
being my first sentiment. But it seemed I was doomed to pass
that day in viewing curiosities, and smothering a yawn, I
devoted myself once more to tread the well-known round. I
fancy Uncle William must have begun the collection himself
and tired of it, for the book (to my surprise) was quite
respectably filled. There were the varying shades of the
English penny, Russians with the coloured heart, old
undecipherable Thurn-und-Taxis, obsolete triangular Cape of
Good Hopes, Swan Rivers with the Swan, and Guianas with
the sailing ship. Upon all these I looked with the eyes of a fish
and the spirit of a sheep; I think indeed I was at times asleep;
and it was probably in one of these moments that I capsized the
album, and there fell from the end of it, upon the floor, a
considerable number of what I believe to be called
Here, against all probability, my chance had come to me; for as
I gallantly picked them up, I was struck with the
disproportionate amount of five-sous French stamps. Some
one, I reasoned, must write very regularly from France to the
neighbourhood of Stallbridge-le-Carthew. Could it be Norris?
On one stamp I made out an initial C; upon a second I got as
far as CH; beyond which point, the postmark used was in every
instance undecipherable. CH, when you consider that about a
quarter of the towns in France begin with "chateau," was an
insufficient clue; and I promptly annexed the plainest of the
collection in order to consult the post-office.
The wretched infant took me in the fact. "Naughty man, to 'teal
my 'tamp!" she cried; and when I would have brazened it off
with a denial, recovered and displayed the stolen article.
My position was now highly false; and I believe it was in mere
pity that Mrs. Higgs came to my rescue with a welcome
proposition. If the gentleman was really interested in stamps,
she said, probably supposing me a monomaniac on the point,
he should see Mr. Denman's album. Mr. Denman had been
collecting forty years, and his collection was said to be worth a
mint of money. "Agnes," she went on, "if you were a kind little
girl, you would run over to the 'All, tell Mr. Denman there's a
connaisseer in the 'ouse, and ask him if one of the young
gentlemen might bring the album down."
"I should like to see his exchanges too," I cried, rising to the
occasion. "I may have some of mine in my pocket-book and we
Half an hour later Mr. Denman arrived himself with a most
unconscionable volume under his arm. "Ah, sir," he cried,
"when I 'eard you was a collector, I dropped all. It's a saying of
mine, Mr. Dodsley, that collecting stamps makes all collectors
kin. It's a bond, sir; it creates a bond."
Upon the truth of this, I cannot say; but there is no doubt that
the attempt to pass yourself off for a collector falsely creates a
"Ah, here's the second issue!" I would say, after consulting the
legend at the side. "The pink--no, I mean the mauve--yes,
that's the beauty of this lot. Though of course, as you say," I
would hasten to add, "this yellow on the thin paper is more
Indeed I must certainly have been detected, had I not plied Mr.
Denman in self-defence with his favourite liquor--a port so
excellent that it could never have ripened in the cellar of the
Carthew Arms, but must have been transported, under cloud of
night, from the neighbouring vaults of the great house. At each
threat of exposure, and in particular whenever I was directly
challenged for an opinion, I made haste to fill the butler's glass,
and by the time we had got to the exchanges, he was in a
condition in which no stamp collector need be seriously feared.
God forbid I should hint that he was drunk; he seemed
incapable of the necessary liveliness; but the man's eyes were
set, and so long as he was suffered to talk without interruption,
he seemed careless of my heeding him.
In Mr. Denman's exchanges, as in those of little Agnes, the
same peculiarity was to be remarked, an undue preponderance
of that despicably common stamp, the French twenty-five
centimes. And here joining them in stealthy review, I found the
C and the CH; then something of an A just following; and then
a terminal Y. Here was also the whole name spelt out to me; it
seemed familiar, too; and yet for some time I could not bridge
the imperfection. Then I came upon another stamp, in which
an L was legible before the Y, and in a moment the word
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