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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter51)

2006-08-28 16:16

  Chapter LI. Which Tells How and Why Mr. Shrig's Case was Spoiled

  "Why," exclaimed Barnabas, starting, "is that you, Mr. Shrig?"

  "As ever vas, sir. I ain't partial to disguises as a rule, but circumstances obleeges me to it now and then," sighed Mr. Shrig as they turned into Hatton Garden. "Ye see, I've been keeping a eye——or as you might say, a fatherly ogle on vun o' my fambly, vich is the v'y and the v'erefore o' these 'ere v'iskers. Yesterday, I vas a market gerdener, vith a basket o' fine wegetables as nobody 'ad ordered,——the day afore, a sailor-man out o' furrin parts, as vos a-seeking and a-searchin' for a gray-'eaded feyther as didn't exist,——to-day I'm a riverside cove as 'ad found a letter——a letter as I'd stole——"

  "Stolen!" repeated Barnabas.

  "Vell, let's say borreyed, sir,——borreyed for purposes o' obserwation, ——out o' young Barrymaine's pocket, and werry neatly I done it too!" Here Mr. Shrig chuckled softly, checked himself suddenly, and shook his placid head. "But life ain't all lavender, sir,——not by no manner o' means, it ain't," said he dolefully. "Things is werry slack vith me,——nothing in the murder line this veek, and only vun sooicide, a couple o' 'ighvay robberies, and a 'sault and battery! You can scrag me if I know v'ot things is coming to. And then, to make it vorse, I 've jest 'ad a loss as vell."

  "I'm sorry for that, Mr. Shrig, but——"

  "A loss, sir, as I shan't get over in a 'urry. You'll remember V'istlin' Dick, p'r'aps,——the leary, flash cove as you give such a leveller to, the first time as ever I clapped my day-lights on ye?"

  "Yes, I remember him."

  "Veil sir,' e's been and took, and gone, and got 'isself kicked to death by an 'orse!"

  "Eh,——a horse?" exclaimed Barnabas, starting.

  "An 'orse, sir, yes. Vich I means to say is coming it a bit low down on me, sir,——sich conduct ain't 'ardly fair, for V'istlin' Dick vos a werry promising cove as Capitals go. And now to see 'im cut off afore 'is time, and in such a outrageous, onnat'ral manner, touches me up, Mr. Barty, sir,——touches me up werry sharp it do! For arter all, a nice, strong gibbet vith a good long drop is qvicker, neater, and much more pleasant than an 'orse's 'oof,——now ain't it? Still," said Mr. Shrig, sighing and shaking his head again, "things is allus blackest afore the dawn, sir, and——'twixt you and me,——I'm 'oping to bring off a nice little murder case afore long——"

  "Hoping?"

  "Veil——let's say——expecting, sir. Quite a bang up affair it'll be too,——nobs, all on 'em, and there's three on 'em concerned. I'll call the murderer Number Vun, Number Two is the accessory afore the fact, and Number Three is the unfort'nate wictim. Now sir, from private obserwation, the deed is doo to be brought off any time in the next three veeks, and as soon as it's done, v'y then I lays my right 'and on Number Vun, and my left 'and on Number Two, and——"

  "But——what about Number Three?" inquired Barnabas.

  Mr. Shrig paused, glanced at Barnabas, and scratched his ear, thoughtfully.

  "V'y sir," said he at last, "Number Three vill be a corp."

  "A what?" said Barnabas.

  "A corp, sir——a stiff——"

  "Do you mean——dead?"

  "Ah,——I mean werry much so!" nodded Mr. Shrig.

  "Number Three vill be stone cold,——somev'eres in the country it'll 'appen, I fancy,——say in a vood! And the leaves'll keep a-fluttering over 'im, and the birds'll keep a-singing to 'im,——oh, Number Three'll be comfortable enough,——'e von't 'ave to vorry about nothink no more, it'll be Number Vun and Number Two as'll do the vorrying, and me——till I gets my 'ooks on 'em, and then——"

  "But," said Barnabas earnestly, "why not try to prevent it?"

  "Prewent it, sir?" said Mr. Shrig, in a tone of pained surprise. "Prewent it? Lord, Mr. Barty, sir——then vere vould my murder case be? Besides, I ain't so onprofessional as to step in afore my time. Prewent it? No, sir. My dooty is to apprehend a man arter the crime, not afore it."

  "But surely you don't mean to allow this unfortunate person to be done to death?"

  "Sir," said Mr. Shrig, beginning to finger his ear again, "unfort'nate wictims is born to be——vell, let's say——unfort'nate. You can't 'elp 'em being born wictims. I can't 'elp it,——nobody can't, for natur' vill 'ave 'er own vay, sir, and I ain't vun to go agin natur' nor yet to spile a good case,——good cases is few enough. Oh, life ain't all lavender, as I said afore,——burn my neck if it is!" And here Mr. Shrig shook his head again, sighed again, and walked on in a somewhat gloomy silence.

  Now, all at once, as they turned into the rush and roar of Holborn, Barnabas espied a face amid the hurrying throng; a face whose proud, dark beauty there was no mistaking despite its added look of sorrow; and a figure whose ripe loveliness the threadbare cloak could not disguise. For a moment her eyes looked up into his, dark and suddenly wide,——then, quick and light of foot, she was gone, lost in the bustling crowd.

  But, even so, Barnabas turned and followed, striding on and on until at length he saw again the flutter of the threadbare cloak. And, because of its shabbiness, he frowned and hastened his steps, and because of the look he had read in her eyes, he paused again, yet followed doggedly nevertheless. She led him down Holborn Hill past the Fleet Market, over Blackfriars Bridge, and so, turning sharp to the right, along a somewhat narrow and very grimy street between rows of dirty, tumble-down houses, with, upon the right hand, numerous narrow courts and alley-ways that gave upon the turgid river. Down one of these alleys the fluttering cloak turned suddenly, yet when Barnabas reached the corner, behold the alley was quite deserted, save for a small and pallid urchin who sat upon a rotting stump, staring at the river, with a pallid infant in his arms.

  "Which way did the lady go?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Lady?" said the urchin, staring.

  "Yes. She wore a cloak,——a gray cloak. Where did she go?" and Barnabas held up a shilling. Instantly the urchin rose and, swinging the pallid infant to his ragged hip, pattered over the cobbles with his bare feet, and with one small, dirty claw extended.

  "A bob!" he cried in a shrill, cracked voice, "gimme it, sir! Yus, ——yus,——I'll tell ye. She's wiv Nick——lives dere, she do. Now gimme th' bob,——she's in dere!" And he pointed to a narrow door at the further end of the alley. So Barnabas gave the shilling into the eager clutching fingers, and approaching the door, knocked upon the rotting timbers with the head of his cane.

  "Come in!" roared a mighty voice. Hereupon Barnabas pushed open the crazy door, and descending three steps, found himself in a small, dark room, full of the smell of leather. And here, its solitary inmate, was a very small man crouched above a last, with a hammer in his hand and an open book before him. His head was bald save for a few white hairs that stood up, fiercely erect, and upon his short, pugnacious nose he wore a pair of huge, horn-rimmed spectacles.

  "What's for you, sir?" he demanded in the same great, fierce voice, viewing Barnabas over his spectacles with sharp, bright eyes. "If it's a pair o' Hessians you'll be wanting——"

  "It isn't," said Barnabas, "I——"

  "Or a fine pair o' dancing shoes——?"

  "No, thank you, I want to——"

  "Or a smart pair o' bang up riding-jacks——?"

  "No," said Barnabas again, "I came here to see——"

  "You can't 'ave 'em! And because why?" demanded the little man, his fierce eyes growing fiercer as he stared at Barnabas from modish hat to flowered waistcoat, "because I don't make for the Quality. Quality——bah! If I 'ad my way, I'd gillertine 'em all,——ah, that I would! Like the Frenchies did when they revolutioned. I'd cut off their 'eads! By the dozen! With j'y!"

  "You are Nick, the Cobbler, I think?"

  "And what if I am? I'd chop off their 'eads, I tell ye,——with j'y and gusto!"

  "And pray where is Clemency?"

  "Eh?" exclaimed the little cobbler, pushing up his horn spectacles, "'oo did ye say?"

  "Where is the lady who came in here a moment ago?"

  "Lady?" said the cobbler, shaking his round, bald head, "Lord, sir, your heyes 'as been a-deceiving of you!"

  "I am——her friend!"

  "Friend!" exclaimed the cobbler, "to which I says——Hookey Walker, sir! 'Andsome gells don't want friends o' your kind. Besides, she ain't here——you can see that for yourself. Your heyes 'as been a-deceiving of you,——try next door."

  "But I must see her," said Barnabas, "I wish to help her,——I have good news for her——"

  "Noos?" said the cobbler, "Oh? Ah! Well go and tell your noos to someone else as ain't so 'andsome,——Mrs. Snummitt, say, as lives next door,——a widder,——respectable, but with only one heye,——try Mrs. Snummitt."

  "Ah,——perhaps she's in the room yonder," said Barnabas, "anyhow, I mean to see——"

  "No ye don't!" cried the little cobbler, seizing a crutch that leant near him, and springing up with astonishing agility, "no ye don't, my fine gentleman,——she ain't for you,——not while I'm 'ere to protect her!" and snatching up a long awl, he flourished it above his head. "I'm a cobbler, oh yes,——but then I'm a valiant cobbler, as valiant as Sir Bedevere, or Sir Lancelot, or any of 'em,——every bit,——come and try me!" and he made a pass in the air with the awl as though it had been a two-edged sword. But, at this moment, the door of the inner room was pushed open and Clemency appeared. She had laid aside her threadbare cloak, and Barnabas was struck afresh by her proud, dark loveliness.

  "You good, brave Nick!" said she, laying her hand upon the little cripple's bent shoulder, "but we can trust this gentleman, I know."

  "Trust him!" repeated the cobbler, peering at Barnahas, more particularly at his feet, "why, your boots is trustworthy——now I come to look at 'em, sir,"

  "Boots?" said Barnabas.

  "Ah," nodded the cobbler, "a man wears his character into 'is boots a sight quicker than 'e does into 'is face,——and I can read boots and shoes easier than I can print,——and that's saying summat, for I'm a great reader, I am. Why didn't ye show me your boots at first and have done with it?" saying which the cobbler snorted and sat down; then, having apparently swallowed a handful of nails, he began to hammer away lustily, while Barnabas followed Clemency into the inner room, and, being there, they stood for a long moment looking on each other in silence.

  And now Barnabas saw that, with her apron and mobcap, the country serving-maid had vanished quite. In her stead was a noble woman, proud and stately, whose clear, sad eyes returned his gaze with a gentle dignity; Clemency indeed was gone, but Beatrix had come to life. Yet, when he spoke, Barnabas used the name he had known her by first.

  "Clemency," said he, "your father is seeking for you."

  "My——father!" she exclaimed, speaking in a whisper. "You have seen——my father? You know him?"

  "Yes. I met him——not long ago. His name is Ralph Darville, he told me, and he goes up and down the countryside searching for you——has done so, ever since he lost you, and he preaches always Forgiveness and Forgetfulness of Self!"

  "My father!" she whispered again with quivering lips. "Preaching?"

  "He tramps the roads hoping to find you, Clemency, and he preaches at country wakes and fairs because, he told me, he was once a very selfish man, and unforgiving."

  "And——oh, you have seen him, you say,——lately?" she cried.

  "Yes. And I sent him to Frittenden——to the 'Spotted Cow.' But Clemency, he was just a day too late."

  Now when Barnabas said this, Clemency uttered a broken cry, and covered her face.

  "Oh, father!" she whispered, "if I had only known,——if I could but have guessed! Oh, father! father!"

  "Clemency, why did you run away?"

  "Because I——I was afraid!"

  "Of Chichcster?"

  "No!" she cried in sudden scorn, "him I only——hate!"

  "Then——whom did you fear?"

  Clemency was silent, but, all at once, Barnabas saw a burning flush that crept up, over rounded throat and drooping face, until it was lost in the dark shadow of her hair.

  "Was it——the Viscount?" Barnabas demanded suddenly.

  "No——no, I——I think it was——myself. Oh, I——I am very wretched and——lonely!" she sobbed, "I want——my father!"

  "And he shall be found," said Barnabas, "I promise you! But, until then, will you trust me, Clemency, as——as a sister might trust her brother? Will you let me take you from this dreary place,——will you, Clemency? I——I'll buy you a house——I mean a——a cottage——in the country——or anywhere you wish."

  "Oh, Mr. Beverley!" she sighed, looking up at him with tear-dimmed eyes, but with the ghost of a smile hovering round her scarlet lips, "I thank you,——indeed, indeed I do, but how can I? How may I?"

  "Quite easily," said Barnabas stoutly, "oh quite——until I bring your father to you."

  "Dear, dear father!" she sighed. "Is he much changed, I wonder? Is he well,——quite well?"

  "Yes, he is very well," answered Barnabas, "but you——indeed you cannot stay here——"

  "I must," she answered. "I can earn enough for my needs with my needle, and poor little Nick is very kind——so gentle and considerate in spite of his great, rough voice and fierce ways. I think he is the gentlest little man in all the world. He actually refused to take my money at first, until I threatened to go somewhere else."

  "But how did you find your way to——such a place as this?"

  "Milo brought me here."

  "The Viscount's little imp of a groom?"

  "Yes, though he promised never to tell——him where I was, and Milo always keeps his word. And you, Mr. Beverley, you will promise also, won't you?"

  "You mean——never to tell the Viscount of your whereabouts?"

  Clemency nodded.

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "I will promise, but——on condition that you henceforth will regard me as a brother. That you will allow me the privilege of helping you whenever I may, and will always turn to me in your need. Will you promise me this, Clemency?" And Barnabas held out his hand.

  "Yes," she answered, smiling up into his earnest eyes, "I think I shall be——proud to——have you for a brother." And she put her hand into his.

  "Ah! so you're a-going, are ye?" demanded the cobbler, disgorging the last of the nails as Barnabas stepped into the dark little shop.

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "and, if you think my boots sufficiently trustworthy, I should like to shake your hand."

  "Eh?" exclaimed the cobbler, "shake 'ands with old Nick, sir? But you're one o' the Quality, and I 'ates the Quality——chop off their 'eads if I 'ad my way, I would! and my 'and's very dirty——jest let me wipe it a bit,——there sir, if you wish to! and 'ere's 'oping to see you again. Though, mark you, the Frenchies was quite right,——there's nothing like the gillertine, I say. Good arternoon, sir."

  Then Barnabas went out into the narrow, grimy alley, and closed the crazy door behind him. But he had not gone a dozen yards when he heard Clemency calling his name, and hastened back.

  "Mr. Beverley," said she, "I want to ask you——something else——about my father——"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, as she hesitated.

  "Does he think I am——does he know that——though I ran away with——a beast, I——ran away——from him, also,——does he know——?"

  "He knows you for the sweet, pure woman you are," said Barnabas as she fell silent again, "he knows the truth, and lives but to find you again——my sister!" Now, when he said this, Barnabas saw within her tearful eyes the light of a joy unutterable; so he bared his head and, turning about, strode quickly away up the alley.

  Being come into the narrow, dingy street, he suddenly espied Mr. Shrig who leaned against a convenient post and stared with round eyes at the tumble-down houses opposite, while upon his usually placid brow he wore a frown of deep perplexity.

  "So you followed me?" exclaimed Barnabas.

  "V'y, sir, since you mention it,——I did take that 'ere liberty. This is a werry on-savory neighborhood at most times, an' the air's werry bad for——fob-seals, say,——and cravat-sparklers at all times. Sich things 'as a 'abit o' wanishing theirselves avay." Having said which, Mr. Shrig walked on beside Barnabas as one who profoundly meditates, for his brow was yet furrowed deep with thought.

  "Why so silent, Mr. Shrig?" inquired Barnabas as they crossed Blackfriars Bridge.

  "Because I'm vorking out a problem, sir. For some time I've been trying to add two and two together, and now I'm droring my conclusions. So you know Old Nick the cobbler, do you, sir?"

  "I didn't——an hour ago."

  "Sir, when you vos in his shop, I took the liberty o' peeping in at the winder."

  "Indeed?"

  "And I seen that theer 'andsome gal."

  "Oh, did you?"

  "I likewise 'eered her call your name——Beverley, I think?"

  "Yes,——well?"

  "Beverley!" repeated Mr. Shrig.

  "Yes."

  "But your name's——Barty!"

  "True, but in London I'm known as Beverley, Mr. Shrig."

  "Not——not——the Beverley? Not the bang up Corinthian? Not the Beverley as is to ride in the steeplechase?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "the very same,——why?"

  "Now——dang me for a ass!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, and, snatching off the fur cap, he dashed it to the ground, stooped, picked it up, and crammed it back upon his head,——all in a moment.

  "Why——what's the matter?"

  "Matter!" said Mr. Shrig, "matter, sir? Veil, vot vith your qviet, innocent looks and vays, and vot vith me a-adding two and two together and werry carefully making 'em——three, my case is spiled——won't come off,——can't come off,——mustn't come off!"

  "What in the world do you mean?"

  "Mean, sir? I mean as, if Number Vun is the murderer, and Number Two is the accessory afore the fact,——then Number Three——the unfort'nate wictim is——vait a bit!" Here, pausing in a quiet corner of Fleet Market, Mr. Shrig dived into his breast and fetched up his little book. "Sir," said he, turning over its pages with a questing finger, "v'en I borreyed that theer letter out o' young B.'s pocket, I made so free as to take a copy of it into my little reader,——'ere it is, ——jest take a peep at it."

  Then, looking where he pointed, Barnabas read these words, very neatly set down:

  MY DEAR BARRYMAINE,——I rather suspect Beverley will not ride in the race on the Fifteenth. Just now he is at Hawkhurst visiting Cleone! He is with——your sister! If you are still in the same mind about a certain project, no place were better suited. If you are still set on trying for him, and I know how determined you are where your honor, or Cleone's, is concerned, the country is the place for it, and I will go with you, though I am convinced he is no fighter, and will refuse to meet you, on one pretext or another. However, you may as well bring your pistols,——mine are at the gun-smith's.——Yours always,

  WILFRED CHICHESTER

  "So you see, sir," sighed Mr. Shrig, as he put away the little book, "my case is spiled,——can't come off,——mustn't come off! For if young B. is Number Vun, the murderer, and C. is Number Two, the accessory afore the fact, v'y then Number Three, the unfort'nate wictim is——you, sir,——you! And you——" said Mr. Shrig, sighing deeper than ever, "you 'appen to be my pal!"

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