previous
next



  ― 74 ―

Chapter XI He Makes a Good-Bye

ONE morning some weeks on, Heans was waked by a loud rapping upon his door. He was instantly conscious of Mrs. Quaid's voice telling him from the stair that the constables had just called and informed her that 2749 (the exalted number of her listener) was to report himself at the guard-room at the jetty-head at ten o'clock. Heans had no word yet of the Emerald or his money. He had drunk rather heavily of some cheap wine before retiring (for economical reasons he had resigned his Burgundy), and as he rose and called tragically for his breakfast, his brain surged with fears for Stifft and a wrecking of his hopes. Habit, rather than will, dressed him with leisurely detail. When he had fitted his breeches over his devotedly varnished boots, “mounted” his satin stock, assumed his black-velvet waistcoat, his chains, seals, and wonderful spotless clawhammer; combed his French moustaches, arranged with exquisite neatness his slightly-curled grey hair, he came less shakily up the few steps into his sitting-room. A wan sunlight was on the windows, and his egg, toast, and favourite jelly lay on the precarious table by the chimney. He was about to breakfast, all standing, when Mrs. Quaid appeared with the grey earthenware coffee-pot. Instantly he grew his ceremonious self, and she, from a somewhat agonised entry, stiffened to a grumbling defence.

“The police have gone?” he asked, settling himself in his chair and opening a handkerchief over his trousers.

“Oho yes, they're gone,” she sighed out. (She had a trembling stealth about her.) “What have you been doing, fetching the constables to my poor house, Sir William 'Eans?”

“You're certain they have gone?” he said, as he carefully cut his egg.

“There's not a soul in the lane—that I know,” she informed him, placing the coffee before the fire and moving covertly here and there. “That's why your egg's hard. Young Bertram's gone up the street. When he comes back he's to whistle—hark, sir!” She put up her trembling hand.

“Whistle if the road's clear?”

“Yes, sir.” (She had gone back to the door, and was listening.) “I can't bear them constables coming here, sir. I must speak plain.


  ― 75 ―
Oho dear! I hope there's nothing wrong. No lodgers 'll stop where there's police. I'll lose all my figure—I will. They know where I've been.” (She was listening as hardly knowing what she said.) “Mr. Boxley 'ardly sees you, sir, without threatening me under the table-cloth to Mrs. Boxley, though he do copy your honour's cravats and—hark, sir!—waistcoats. There's whistling now, sir. That's my boy Bertram. There's no one about.” Her seared old face, as she looked into the room, and her numb lifted hand were grim with gratitude.

Inwardly Sir William was easier. He rearranged his handkerchief upon his knees and began to approach his egg. Possibly he had witnessed the arrest of an absconder. The stubborn inexorability of that operation in no sense resembled this mere visitation—this tainting touch and light evanishment. He was also familiar with the bottomless strategy of the police—their preference for arrest in the open, and pains to accomplish it—yet was calmed by the conviction that neither his own nor his landlady's defences (nor even consideration for the eclectic cravats of Mr. Boxley) invited to any such refinement of method. The face of his prisoner-landlady would alone have confirmed him that he—the plotter Heans—was safe yet with such vague usage.

Mrs. Quaid waited a moment on the second stair, the door at her shoulder.

“Mr. Daunt 'as a room at the jetty,” she stated. “He's severe on some of 'em.”

“At the jetty—yes—yes—so he has. He's severe, is he?”

“Oho, dear, a fair gentleman, but severe on some. I hope he'll get no down on my house! He's quick to detect good—and kind to improvement, I'll say that. He's been very kind to me. (Yes, Bertram, we 'eard you.) ‘You're past the Rubicon, Mrs. Quaid,’ he says; ‘keep this up, and you've nothing to fear from me.’ Oho, dear, it was a great day for me when I saw Mr. Boxley walk out of my door with his high collars. If you could consider Mr. Boxley a bit, sir, and give him a bow now and then? It's not only my respectability I'm serving.”

“We will put it down to your conscience, dear Mrs. Quaid.”

“Well, sir, I get into such a fright. It's anxiety! If gentlemen come here and make mistakes I can't be blamed—— You're looking pale this morning, sir.” This was said with a trace of sympathy.

“In mourning for my Burgundy, madam. I'm better already for your enchanting Mocha.”

She stared steadily, yet not quite at him, her ringlets dangling about her scarred ember of a face.

“I'd ha' given up my horse, Sir William, I would,” she said, “sooner than take in that stuff of Braxley's.”

“Come, Mrs. Quaid, what is your quarrel with old Suffolk? I can't give him up?” (He seemed moved.) “Wait—I shall


  ― 76 ―
want him this morning. Pray, tell Master Bertram to fetch him.”

“What time, sir?”

“About ten.”

“They said ten.”

“Did they indeed … well—well, you will give him my order. I will ride from here at ten.”

“Ah, them constables … I've no right to speak with a gentleman of experience! They never moves, Sir William, I'll warn you, never without intention.”

“Why, Mrs. Quaid, I have been fretted abominably by these fellows: pulled up for nothing here, reported for less there. I am acquainted with Mr. Daunt—I know their arrogant, abusive methods. This is my ‘circulating library’ affair, in which more than likely Mr. Daunt has thrust his altruistic oar. Ha—ha!” (he began to walk rather wickedly)—“our careful Mr. Daunt! Quick to detect anything and kind to improvement—well—well! It would never do, dear Mrs. Quaid, if I improved myself quite out of touch with these constables—now would it?”

“I get in a fright when I think of you, sir,” she cried, “so innocent-like among these men.” (For the instant her face looked among its ringlets as full of memories as that of an old galley-witch.) “That's Mr. Boxley calling for his shaving-dish! Coming, to your honour's pleasure—coming! Oh, for the love of Heaven, sir, be obedient! That's an officer who's an influential man, sir! I'll never listen to a word against Daunt in this house. I've lived in Hobarton too long not to know my rock and defence, and the good advice and remembering I've 'ad from him. There—that's what he's done for a prison-woman! I'd swear to that gentleman's conscience afore a court of law!”

Sir William rose and irritably shook his kerchief napkin into the fire. He then carefully dusted his shepherd's-plaid legs with it. His face was somewhat sad and angry. “You will not, Mrs. Quaid,” he said, “forget about my horse?”

She had pushed the door before her till the little stair was disclosed, and, five steps down, Sir William's bedroom, and the dark tea scented mouth of the well.

“Your honour, Mr. Boxley's pleasure, sir,” she shrilled; then threw her ringlets up with a glare of anger. “Ah, I'll order your horse,” she said, in a trembling voice, “and you'll ride down the town with it. I wish you a brave journey—a brave journey—and may God keep the crumbs off your honour's fine pantaloons!”

The door banged behind her, and Sir William, flashing round, put a hand tremblingly towards the logs. Suddenly he swung back to his “escritoire” and seizing a sheet, began a letter with the words, “My dear Stifft,” only to pause with a wide eye, and presently pitch it carefully on the fire. With his eyeglass in, he now took his seat again, and ceremoniously opened his Plutarch. He began reading at the eighth page of the life of Cato the Censor. “This contrast was found, not only in his manners,


  ― 77 ―
but in his style, which was eloquent, facetious, and familiar, and at the same time grave, nervous, and sententious. Thus Plato tells us, ‘The outside of Socrates was that of a satyr and buffoon, but his soul was all virtue; and from within him came such divine and pathetic things as pierced the heart and drew tears from his hearers.’” (Here Sir William heard a slow foot mounting his stairs, looked up, paled, stilled his shaking hands, and read sternly on.) “One day, when the Romans clamoured violently and unreasonably for a distribution of corn, to dissuade them from it, he thus began his address: ‘It is a difficult task, my fellow-citizens, to speak to the belly, because it has no ears——’”

There was a summons upon the door, and it was drawn back. A shabby man, with a handsome die-away air, stood in the gloom of the stair. He had little dyed whiskers and a seared top-hat worn awry. Successful—in better heart and better dress—he might have been a sardonic young doctor; now, black clawhammer, strained breeches, boots, and even his harrassed, tragic, petulant, unshaven face, seemed one and all infinitesimally in decay.

He stood in the dark, smiling and swinging his cane, until Sir William, breaking off his reading, gave him a glassy if ceremonious stare.

“Well?” called Heans, in a faint, sharp tone.

“Carnt,” said the visitor, with a sort of sharp laugh. “Can I see you?” He was staring in openly and darkly.

“Heavens, come in, Carnt!” said Sir William, struggling slowly up. “How is your Piccadilly influenza?”

“Catching—plaguey catching,” said Carnt. (He came up; threw his hat and cane upon a battered ottoman which was producing some promising iron-grey beards, and with his hands on his high hips, stood gazing at Heans.) “Cornered by Mrs. Quaid in the passage,” he continued, “who seemed afraid of me—a grim sensation. She is in my catalogue as the angelically rudest woman I beard.”

“And you with your lively ladies,” said Heans (for Carnt was then clerk to the women's prison at the Cascades), “should have experience. I suppose, sir, you get soured?”

“I do,” said Carnt. “Yet the lowest of them flaunts one high moment in her face if you could but tap it.”

“Why, Jarvis,” cried Heans, with a light laugh, “still digging after marsh-lights in that miasma!”

“Jack-o'-lanterns!” laughed Mr. Carnt.

“Light-o'-loves,” laughed Sir William Heans, and then turned deadly pale.

Carnt was silent, swinging a little.

“Bromley was at the prison last night,” he began, “togged up for some state dinner. I was hauled out of the office into the gateway, and questioned as to my goings to and fro. I was asked when I had last seen S——, then Henry Six, then Weighton, Starkey, Dalgleish, and you.” (He stared for a moment rather


  ― 78 ―
sheepishly at the other.) “They wanted to know whom you played with, and whether I was one. I said I had seen you playing with Six and, I thought, Starkey, but not with Weighton or Captain Stifft. I told them you were rather a duffer at cards, but were very careful whom you played with after I pinked Rudstone. I said, moreover, that I seldom played with you because your play bored me——”

“Rather untruthful of you,” said Sir William, greyly testy, “seeing that I beat you against the cards three consecutive nights in Six's shop.”

“Pooh—pooh—‘a game of chance in the nursery,’ as old Rudstone says when they catch him cheating. Moreover—d—n it!—you had all the aces! They know me better than you do. I think I was believed, a peculiar sensation from Bromley. Careful as he was to hide it, I gathered Daunt has a secret contempt for you—a golden asset I did not corrode with heroics; though not clever, that man has a sort of feminine intuition. How have you deceived him?”

“Heavens, the feminine intuition is not always right!” said Sir William, rising and dropping out his glass with a puff of relief. “The fellow is a hazing booby. I am, believe me, favoured with a visit from constables this morning. My presence is required at the quay office at ten o'clock. (Oh, don't be alarmed—yes, they're gone, sir!) Through Shaxton, and his generous lady, I am offered a secretaryship among the literary people which I have refused. I am—hang it!—possibly to be inquired into for that!”

“Singular!” said Carnt. (His thin lips were twisted in his high-coloured face, and he seemed inclined to shadow some sardonic morality at the other through a startled look.) “Deuced singular! But stoopid—heavenly stoopid! Heave the anchor! All hands to the sails! Ah—and all your friends—and the lady, Mrs. Shaxton—with what a romantic interest you will remember the old prison station, Heans!”

Sir William Heans grew haggard as he stood eyeing the speaker. Carnt slowly dropped his eyes, and began to draw from the tight sleeve of his coat a small uneven packet, which he handed to Heans with a somewhat sour irony. Sir William took the enclosure in a short wild way, with a face half ecstatic, half touched with amazement and confusion. Perhaps the smell of tar upon it had reached his nostrils with a hint of open sea.

Carnt turned away to the window, swinging with wide eyes and hands on hips. “There was another row,” said he, “last night at Fraser's. Silk and Goddesden fought like cats over a story about Silk's murder case. Stifft moved up while the row was on, and passed this into my hand with the debt of a quid owing. He said, ‘Pass that in to Sir William. He'll give you five pounds for that.’ Singular way he talks. We then had some words about the woman dropping the money from her fly——”

“Did he—was he so little of a gentleman——?”




  ― 79 ―

“As to mention names—yes, he was! Stifft is too talkative. I think you're a fool to trust a man with such a little mouth.”

“Faithful,” mumbled Sir William, terribly moved.

Carnt, in his light way, swore before G—d he was lucky.

They were silent for a while. Carnt seemed to grow harassed and tragic as he looked through the little windows over the brick walls and black shingle roofs to the dipping green waves, on which a tarred skiff with a long stack and great paddles was heaving her way slowly across from the Point. Her whistle went dimly. There was a far-off noise as of heavy logs falling on iron: an organ note. He went to the window and put his hand upon it. Presently he spoke from there. “Pray give me my money and let me be off,” said he.

“Certainly,” said Sir William, “I have it here—I would it were fifty. One moment—don't go yet—let us see what he says.”

He reached for the comb in the Plutarch, and slit the package. Unfolding this with a slight increase of colour, he eyed the few words: “Money to hand. Secured boys. Emerald near dry. Launch next Saturday. Sail on Wednesday morning, August 22nd. Hang off Spring Bay on Thursday, where boat will wait near mouth of creek after dusk.”

“Listen, Carnt——” he began hoarsely.

Carnt flashed round, “Stop,” he said. “D—n you, I mustn't hear it! I can't listen to you!”

The other looked at him with a flash of grey amazement in his face.

“I am still a prisoner here,” said Carnt, with maddened dignity. “You knew I was dangerous.”

“And a d—n fine fellow, Carnt,” Heans said gravely; “ah, I'm grateful to you, sir; this is for my friends to hear!” But he dropped his head, for he remembered once having seen this sentimental, worldly brother under the transformation of wine, eloquent, convincing—an accomplished cheat—giving away a friend's soul-secrets in a malignant rattle of treachery.

“The poison of asps was under the lips” of poor Carnt when he had been drinking.

He moved slowly round, and pulling open his writing drawer, took from a pigeon-hole a green netted purse, in which were some fifteen sovereigns. From this, screening the action with his person, he worked out ten coins upon the desk lid. Then sweeping them into the drawer, he rose and advanced towards Carnt.

“Accept this purse,” he said, “it is valueless, but done with devoted fingers.”

Carnt held it up, dangling it cynically in the window light.

“Feminine, I suppose!” said he.

“You refer to the women with some bitterness, Mr. Carnt!”

“Oh, I haven't your method for referring to them lightly!”

Sir William turned away. “No,” he said.

“I would to G—d you could leave me your remainder in


  ― 80 ―
another of them!” Sir William was grey as ashes. Carnt was still in the window. “D—d if you couldn't take your wide free skies, and me these bonds with her.”

“And how would you have won her?” asked Sir William quietly.

“I'd obtain a promise from her to drop a purse to a drunken skipper—and all the rest of it. Then when I went to say ‘farewell,’ I'd——”

“What?” in a somewhat brokenvoice.

Carnt was looking at the dipping green water and the life-empty hills of a thousand trees.

“G—d—I'd go,” he said, hoarsely; “yes, I'd cut myself of man and place! I'd fall, like you, and be my petty master. I'd leave the lady—and the others—leave 'em to bleach, blast 'em, and never think of them again!”

He turned with his sardonic face sad and dark, and put the purse carefully into the lapel of his breeches.

“You speak hardly, sir,” said Heans.

“Away with you,” said the other; “away with you, Sir William, like Flora in her car. But, by Heaven, don't get grabbed! Possibly you wouldn't bleach so prettily as me.”

“Let us end it, then, in this familiar strain,” said Sir William, acidly.

“Let us enumerate our pleasures together,” hoarsed Carnt, throwing his body up.

“Why should that word touch me?” cried Sir William.

“Heaven knows—excuse me! I'm in love with some of the women!” said the other; and both were silent.

Drip—drip—drip! a rainy mist had begun to patter from the gables on the sills of the little windows. Carnt had been swinging in the centre of the room, his hands in his lapels, his gay head down. Suddenly he threw it up and laughed gently. “Ha-ha-ha!” And he began to walk, a trace ruefully, towards the stair.

“Why, Carnt,” said Sir William, from his desk, “I shall go a sad man for life, with these words upon us, Carnt. I'm getting freedom, but losing people I desire to speak with, in life—the irony of it. The little world won't give them back—no. And I—I am not such a God-forsaken egotist I can speak words of anger and go out—anything but shamed and cut to the heart. From my own, I know how cruel and bitter is the life I'm leaving—made bitter by small men and our pride—eh, our pride. I wish I had the strength—I'd be better no doubt—to wait it out with you.”

Carnt turned near the door, laughing gently.

“You wouldn't,” he said, shaking his head. “You mistake me. I have business—cards—wine—dominoes—totem—and ‘lively ladies of the Cask-Hades,’ ever new, changeable as an April day. What more will you have in Dieppe? I'm even


  ― 81 ―
something of a poet, Sir William, and can find considerable pleasure in our ‘exquisite surroundings.’ It is so large to us English—eh! Yet under the mountains there's many a little hill and trickling water. Now, now, here's a hand—indifferent clean, Sir William! Stifft keeping his button shut, you'll get now out of it, thank Heaven!”

He strolled back and the two men locked hands. Carnt turned, strolled out of the door, and went humming down the dark stair.

Now, the reader may be interested to read how curiously the irony of Fate played with the relations of these two men.

previous
next