« AnteriorContinuar »
see after the safety of those trunks that the and down the line, prepared to signal the porter had glibly assured them would “be all engine-driver. At that moment a man came right;" and Paterfamilias was gathering his darting across the platform, tore open the door, strayed family around him, or wrangling over jumped in, and sat down opposite to me. A a charge for overweight.
policeman ran up, and shut the door. “ Open this door, you guard ! Halloa, “ All right, Saunderson !” guard ! Open the door of this carriage, will The train began to move.
I looked at my
opposito neighbour, and could hardly repress It was thus that my reverie was broken in an exclamation of surprise and vexation. The upon. A strange traveller, with a railway Russian! Yes, there was no mistaking the rug over his arm, was roughly shaking the
I knew that red-brown beard, that flat door of the compartment where I sat alone. tigerish face, those long crafty eyer, black and The guard came up rather reluctantly. Rail
an American Indian's, perfectly way guards are discriminating persons as to well. social condition, and the newcomer's coarse I had seen the man at the ticket-window, manners and husky voice were not calculated certainly, but that was more than ten minutes to inspire respect.
ago, and I had been confident that he had long “ First-class, sir ?” asked the guard, and since taken his seat in some other compartwhen the man, with a curse, produced his ment of the train. Such, however, was not ticket, the guard was still too loyal to my
I was fated, it seemed, always to tacit compact with him to permit the invasion be in contact with this person, for whom I of my privacy without an effort to preserve it. had conceived an antipathy that was perhaps
“First to C-, sir ? This way, please. unjust, but was not the less decided. There Plenty of room here.” And he tried to draw was a look of stealthy fierceness and greasy the intruder towards a distant carriage that self-sufficiency about the man which would was half full. But this manoeuvre failed. have been distasteful to most people. His
" There is plenty of room in this carriage. was one of those faces that conveyed to those Look sharp and let me in,” said the obstinate who looked upon it at once a threat and a traveller; and the guard, being an English warning. And, after all, was it a coincidence and not a French official, succumbed, and un- that had brought me so often face to face with locked the door.
this grim foreigner ? Certainly it might have He apologised to me in a gruff whisper, heen pure accident which caused him to wit“ Couldn't help myself, sir.”
ness both my entry into and my exit from the “Never mind,” said I, smiling, and applied jeweller's shop. It might have been mere myself to observing the newcomer, who sat hazard which made him my fellow traveller by down, not opposite to me, but in the middle the same train and carriage. And yet I could partition, full in the glare of the lamp. In a not help somehow connecting the four-wheeled very short time I had, as I thought, taken the cab drawn by the grey horse, the cab that had measure of this not very delightful fellow been stationed near the club door, that had ap. voyager. He was a young man, perhaps a peared in the street stoppage, with the sudden year my senior, strongly built, and with rather appearance of the Russian at the terminus of the a handsome face, sadly marred by very evident railway. Had he dogged me all that evening, traces of dissipation. He wore a coat of sport- tracking me with a blood-hound's pertinacity ing cut; a blue “birdseye” scarf, with a horse from the jeweller's door to the railway car
shoe pin in it, and a great deal of dubious riage ? It was possible, though not likely. | jewellery in the shape of rings, watch-chain, But in vain I tried to dismiss the idea as silly
and dangling trinkets. The railway rug, that and romantic. It recurred again and again. lay across the knees of his tight-fitting drab And yet why should he or anyone dog my
trousers, was of a gaudy pattern, yellow and steps ? 1 red. His eyes were bloodshot, his voice thick, The answer to this self-question soon came. i and he smelt very strongly of bad tobacco and The jewels ! the costly set of pearl and ruby
bad brandy. To all appearance he was ornaments I carried about me, and of which betting man, or sporting “gent” of the lower this man had probably overheard the garrulous substratum of that uninviting class.
old jeweller make mention ! And yet the The bell rang for the last time.
Russian had hardly the air of a pickpocket. ihe customary final rush and scurry of belated There was something defiant and arrogant in passengers and porters, and the voices of the his look, and an undefinable air of education newspaper boys grew shriller and more excited. clung to him in spite of his shabby exterior. Then the guards sprang to the steps of their And as for violence, I had a young man's convans, and the station-master looked warily up fidence in my own power to cope with any
single antagonist, and, besides, I was not alone suburbs as the dark hedges and dim meadows with him. So far my thoughts had gone, succeeded to houses and factories, but then I while I gazed abstractedly from the window, cast a glance around and saw a sight which as if marking the last lights of the London caused me an involuntary thrill of alarm. The
two passengers in the carriage were rapidly and peradoes, each in his separate style, were secretly conversing by means of signs !
accomplices. Up to that moment I had not There could be no doubt upon the point. for an instant suspected any collusion between The two men who were my sole companions in the two. They came at different times, one that rapid and lonely journey, ill-looking dos- was English, the other a foreigner, and between
the shabby lecturer and the betting man, was livid with agitation, I noticed, and his sodden with drink and attired in flashy finery, face was blotched with crimson, and damp any previous acquaintance seemed improbable. with heat-drops, while his hands trembled very Yet there they were, rapidly communicating much. He it was who first spoke, in a husky with one another by means of some thieves' whisper. alphabet of finger telegraphy, unaware as yet 6. What shall we do with him?" that I had observed them. So far as I could “ La belle affaire ! Toss him out! The fall make out, the foreigner was urging the other won't hurt him!” sneered the Russian. to some course which the latter was reluctant It was plain that they believed me to be
dead. I lay still, resolved that no cry, no I am not, I believe, one whit more disposed | twitching of an eyelid, should betray that life to timidity than most of my fellow country- was still not extinct. Too well I knew that men, and yet I must confess that my blood mercy was hopeless, and that my chance would ran cold and my heart almost ceased beating be far better if flung out, at the risk of being as the truth dawned upon me. I was the mangled and crushed beneath the whirling victim evidently of an artful and treacherous iron wheels, than if I remained in that luxuscheme. That cab—that sudden appearance rious first-class carriage, with those two wild of the Russian at the terminus—that per- beasts in human guise, ready to finish their sistency of his English confederate to occupy work at the first sign that I yet lived.
Tho a seat in the carriage where I sat alone ! All Russian leaned out of the window, and was clear to me now. Robbery, no doubt, cautiously opened the door. I felt the chill was the object of the two villains in whose of the fresh night wind upon my cheek as I company I was shut up, and probably they lay. Then I had to summon all my resoluwould hesitate at no crime to obtain posses- tion to my help, to repress a shudder as the sion of the valuable jewels I so incautiously murderers stooped and lifted me up, one taking carried about my person,
Both were strong me by the head, and the other by the feet, as men, probably armed too ; and though I braced butchers carry a slaughtered calf.
The Engmy nerves and set my teeth for a struggle, I lishman breathed hard, and trembled perhad little hope of a successful resistance, none ceptibly as he dragged me towards the gaping of rescue. The train was racing fast through doorway. the black stillness of a moonless night. There “I don't half like the job," he growled was to be no stoppage short of C- and out. hours nust elapse before that station was The Russian gave a scornful laugh. reached.
“ Pitch the carrion out, blanc bec that you At the moment when my thoughts had One, two, three, and over with him.” travelled thus far, I made some slight movo- I remember one agonised moment of susment; the Russian looked up, and our eyes pense as I was violently thrust forward, one met, and the villain saw that his bye-play had hurried frenzied prayer that rose from my been observed, and instantly threw off the heart to my lips, but was drowned by the roar mask. Grinding out an oath between his set and rush of the long train of massive carriages teeth, he rose from his seat. I rose, too ; and as they tore along the iron way. I was launched as the Russian noticed the action he sprang out, and felt myself falling, and then I dropped like a tiger at my throat, grappling with me with a crash, and my brain reeled, and sensaso closely that the blow I dealt him took but tion seemed again to desert me. partial effect. Linked together, we wrestled On coming gradually to myself, my first furiously for a few seconds, rising and falling ; vague perception was, that I formed a part of but I was the younger and more agile of the some vast moving body speeding swiftly along, two, and had nearly overpowered my enemy, swinging and swaying, but rushing fast through when his confederate came to his aid, and the cool night air. Then, as memory l'cdealt me a succession of crushing blows upon turned, I began to realise my position. In the head with some heavy weapon, beneath falling, when the assassins had thrown me out which I fell, stunned and helpless, with my of the carriage where the robbery had taken face covered with blood, and my strength and place, I had dropped upon the wooden plank senses left me. When I came to myself again, that runs like an elongated step below the the ruffians were rifling my pockets as I lay on carriages, and my hand had closed mechanically, the floor of the carriage. The Russian had in a clutch like that of a drowning man, on opened one of the morocco cases that held the some projecting portion of the iron-work ornaments, and he was examining the gems by above, which I presently conjectured to be the the light of the lamp overhead. The other prop of one of the iron steps by which pasvillain was searching for fresh plunder. He sengers ascend. And there I clung instinc
tively, like a limpet to a rock, while the tempted to let go my hold and drop, and face swerving, swinging train flew madly on through the worst at once beneath the grinding sway the black night. It was a position of fearful of the merciless wheels. peril. True, I had escaped immediate death; Should we never be at C-? How long but to all appearance my fate was only de- would that hideous night continue ? Was it ferred. The train was not to halt till it possible that my tired muscles would much reached C-- ; I despaired of being able to longer endure the strain upon them? And hold on till then, for already my cramped then came a new thought. I remembered that sinews seemed to be stiffening, and my attitude in dear Carry's last letter she had made me a was a painful and uneasy one. And by night half-playful promise that she and my sister there was no hope that my danger would be Clara and the rest would come down to the observed, and an alarm given, as I was hurled, station and meet me there on the arrival of the helpless and despairing, through the darkness. night train.
That recollection filled my torThe wounds I bad received in the head caused tured heart with a new anguish, as I thought me a dull, aching pain, and I was weak with of our mutual love, of the wedding-day so loss of blood ; but my thoughts were coherent soon to come, and of poor Caroline's grief and clear. I knew my risk well. If I fell | when she should be left, widowed of the benow I must certainly be left behind, a mutilated trothed bridegroom of her choice. And then corpse, torn to fragments by the cruel wheels the mental pain was conquered by physical that whirred and spun close by me. My only weakness and distress, and my dulled brain chance was to hold on—to hold on till I preserved nothing but a vague terror lest I reached C-, if my strength lasted so long. should fall—fall beneath those pitiless iron Once or twice I essayed a cry for help, But my wheels so close to me. And then I seemed to feeble voice was lost in the noise of the train. fall again into a waking dream, through which And presently I felt thankful that it had not the lights of C- station gleamed very brilbeen heard, for, from the window of the car- liantly. riage to the left of where I lay crouching, was Real lights! a real crowd! though the figures protruded the head of a man who peered out seemed to waver dimly before my dazzled eyes. into the night ; and I shrunk still closer to The train had come to a dead stop. We really the woodwork as I recognised in the faint
were at C
I saw a commotion among lamp-light the flat white face, the red-brown those on the platform. I heard a shout of beard, the tigerish grin of the Russian, my surprise, and men came running and lifted me late fellow-traveller. He did not see me, how- from where I lay, and carried me between ever, but resumed his place with a well satis- i them into the station, the centre of a number fied air.
of eager faces and cries of pity, amazement, On we went through the silent country, and alarm. Among those faces was that of with scream and rush and roar,—now diving Caroline Lethbridge, and as she saw me, pale, into tunnels, now ploughing our way between bloody, and apparently dead, and heard me deep banks, now among the dark trees and called dead by the heedless tongues around hedges. On past the lighted stations, where her, I tried in vain to speak, as I saw her the signal was made that the road was clear, totter and sink fainting in my sister's arms. and where policemen and porters, and pas- And then I swooned again, and when medical sengers waiting for some slower train that care and rest brought back my senses, I read stopped there, were to be seen watching us as in the pitying looks of those about me that we flew past. But they never saw me as I some fresh grief was in store for me. It was clung, with desperate gripe and aching limbs, to the swiftly-hurrying mass of wood and My Caroline was dangerously ill of a brainiron. Twice during that phantom ride I heard fever, and though her life was saved, her the shriek of the steam-whistle of a coming reason, poor stricken thing, never was retrain, and twice I saw the red lamps and flame, stored. As for myself, a long illness followed, of the advancing engine, glaring through the and left me broken in health and spirits, and dark like the angry eyes and lurid breath of | with hair that the horror of that hideous some monstrous creature rushing down upon night had sprinkled with premature grey.
And then, with clang and clash, Our two happy young lives were blighted by and deafening roar, and in the midst of a gust one stroke. of wind caused by its rapid progress, the long array of carriages went by me. On, on, as if As for the Russian and his accomplice, all impelled by a demon's force, we flew ; and clue to them and to the stolen jewels was lost. still feebler grew my arm, and I felt despair Yet, soon or late, I cannot doubt that Justice and fatigue benumb my faculties, and was half i will claim her own.
THEO! FORGIVE ME!"
might be lived over again—when he would CONFIDENTIAL intercourse between Harold have acted differently, ah ! how differently. Ffrench and Theo Leigh was of less frequent “ Can you put that finery out of your mind occurrence at this date than it had been a few for an hour this evening, and take a walk with days previously ; for May, as I have said, had Theo ?” he asked, when divers sighs made come in, and with it the necessity for a re- it manifest to him that the Leighs' dinner organisation of Theo's wardrobė before she hour was approaching. Theo was prompt could be pronounced ready to go to London. with her answer that she “ would gladly.” It rather shaded over the vivid charm Hough- " What the deuce did I ask her to go for ?” ton had possessed for him before this exigency | he asked himself as he walked down to the arose—but there was no help for it. Theo Bull. “What can I say that will be pleasant was very deeply and naturally interested in for her to hear, that I hadn't better leave the fit and make of her new dresses-inte- unsaid ?" But still, though he thus quesrested to the point of working upon them tioned himself, he held to his resolve to take herself. The fact was that Miss Leigh was that walk with Theo—and to say what should anxious to appear in his eyes better adorned, be pleasant to her during it. but that he did not know. Consequently he There was the unwonted presence of a well detested the new dresses, and began to find built little pony-phaeton in the inn yard, but Houghton dull.
he did not regard it much—he was thinking of But despite this temporary check to soli- other things than that which caused no small tary intercourse he lingered on in the place excitement to the usual knot of village idlers still, and sedulously stifled the conviction that lounging round. But he was roused from his it would be well for him to go. He had come meditations about these other things by the upon this oasis in the desert of his life by landlord coming to meet him with the inforaccident; he would just for awhile tent upon mation that “a lady was a' waitin' for him in it, and then before he had brushed the bloom the parlour,” and by the sight of his cousin off its verdure drift on and be forgotten by Kate Galton's boy in buttons, the smart and her.
invariable appendage to her pony-carriage. “I should be a beast to try and make the “Halloa, Mrs. Galton !- my dear Kate, I girl love me,” he would say.
am very sorry that you should have had to this seenied to relieve his conscience, and to wait here alone for me,” he said as he entered be regarded by him as an all-sufficient precau- the room where Kate sat on a hard sofa, tion. For after saying it in the solitude of poking holes in a soft, slightly decayed carpet, his chamber at the Bull, he would go up and with her parasol. sit by Theo's side and suffer the girl to see “ Never mind - as you have come in at that she had won his affections ; which was last,” she replied. There was a good deal of not the wisest course to pursue, if he really grace in the welcoming gesture she made, and wished to avoid the other catastrophe—that, a good deal of affection in the tone she adopted. namely, of winning her to love him.
“I didn't expect you, you see, Kate, after He was assisting largely in the pavement your note; if I had dreamt of your coming I of a certain place at this juncture. Daily he should have taken the precaution of leaving made the good resolution to go away and be word where I was going when I went out, in forgotten by, even if he could not forget, this order that I might have been sent for if you girl ;-daily he suffered this good resolution to die away unaccomplished. The middle of “Could you have been sent for ? I thought May was upon them, and he was at Houghton you were mud-larking.” still.
“Not exactly—I was up at the Leighs'.” He had been sitting for an hour or two one “I have come to call on your friends, morning up in the Leighs' garden near to the Harold. I refused to come at first on account open window by which Mrs. Leigh and Theo of the distance solely ; but when John said I sat working, -sitting there idly, watching the had better come over and look you up, and girl and dreaming of bygone days, and events persuade you to come back to Haversham, I that had occurred in them. Idly dreaming, made up my mind to call on them as well.” and even more idly wishing that those days “Your husband's very good, and so are