Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 38

Notes from a Journal Kept by Clement Austin During His Journey to Winchester.

“If I had been a happy man, with no great trouble weighing upon my mind, and giving its own dull colour to every event of my life, I think I might have been considerably entertained by the society of Mr. Carter, the detective. The man had an enthusiastic love of his profession; and if there is anything degrading in the office, that degradation had in no way affected him. It may be that Mr. Carter’s knowledge of his own usefulness was sufficient to preserve his self-respect. If, in the course of his duty, he had unpleasant things to do; if he had to affect friendly acquaintanceship with the man whom he was hunting to the gallows; if he was called upon to worm-out chance clues to guilty secrets in the careless confidence that grows out of a friendly glass; if at times he had to stoop to acts which, in other men, would be branded as shameful and treacherous, he knew that he did his duty, and that society could not hold together unless some such men as himself — clear-headed, brave, resolute, and unscrupulous in the performance of unpleasant work — were willing to act as watch-dogs for the protection of the general fold, and to the terror of savage and marauding beasts.

“Mr. Carter told me a great deal of his experience during our journey down to Winchester. I listened to him, and understood what he said to me; but I could not take any interest in his conversation. I could not remember anything, or think of anything, except the mystery which separates me from the woman I love.

“The more I think of this, the stronger becomes my conviction that I have not been the dupe of a heartless or mercenary woman. Margaret has not acted as a free agent. She has paid the penalty of her determination to force herself into the presence of Henry Dunbar. By some inexplicable means, by some masterpiece of villany and cunning, this man has induced his victim’s daughter to become the champion of his innocence, instead of the denouncer of his guilt.

“There must be some hopeless entanglement, some cruel involvement, by reason of which Margaret is compelled to falsify her nature, and sacrifice her own happiness as well as mine. When she left me that day at Shorncliffe, she suffered as cruelly as I could suffer: I know now that it was so. But I was blinded then by pride and anger: I was conscious of nothing but my own wrongs.

“Three times in the course of my journey from London to Winchester I have taken Margaret’s strange letter from my pocket-book, and have read the familiar lines, with the idea of putting entire confidence in my companion, and placing the letter in his hands. But in order to do this I must tell him the story of my love and my disappointment; and I cannot bring myself to do that. It may be that this man could discover hidden meanings in Margaret’s words — meanings that are utterly dark to me. I suppose the science of detection includes the power to guess at thoughts that lurk behind expressions which are simple enough in themselves.

“We got into Winchester at twelve o’clock in the day; and Mr. Carter proposed that we should come straight to the George Hotel, at which house Henry Dunbar stayed after the murder in the grove.

“‘We can’t do better than put up at the hotel where the suspected party was stopping at the time of the event we’re looking up,’ Mr. Carter said to me, as we strolled away from the station, after giving our small amount of luggage into the care of a porter; ‘we shall pick up all manner of information in a promiscuous way, if we’re staying in the house; little bits that will seem nothing at all till you put them all together, and begin at the beginning, and read them off the right way. Now, Mr. Austin, there’s a few words I must say before we begin business; for you’re an amateur at this kind of work, and it’s just possible that, with the best intentions, you may go and spoil my game. Now, I’ve undertaken this affair, and I want to go through with it conscientiously; under which circumstances I’m obliged to be candid. Are you willing to act under orders?’

“I told Mr. Carter that I was perfectly willing to obey his orders in everything, so long as what I did helped the purposes of our journey.

“‘That’s all square and pleasant,’ he answered; ‘so now for it. First and foremost, you and me are two gentlemen that have got more time than we know what to do with, and more money than we know how to spend. We’ve heard a great deal about the fishing round Winchester; and we’ve come down to spend an idle week or so, and have a look about the place against next summer; and if we like the looks of the place, why, we shall come and spend the summer months at the George, where we find the accommodation in general, and say the fried soles, or the mock-turtle, in particular, better than at any hotel in the three kingdoms. That’s number one; and that places us at once on the footing of good customers, who are likely to be better customers. This will square the landlord and the waiters, and there’s nothing they can tell us that they won’t tell us willingly. So much for the first place. Now point number two is, that we know nothing whatever of the man that was murdered. We know Mr. Dunbar because he’s a great man, a public character, and all that sort of thing. We did see something about the murder in the papers, but didn’t take any interest in it. This will draw out the landlord or the waiters, as the case may be, and we shall get the history of the murder, with all that was said, and done, and thought, and suspected and hinted, and whispered about it. When the landlord and the waiters have talked about it a good deal, we begin to warm up, and take a kind of morbid interest in the business; and then, little by little, I put in my questions, and keep on putting ’em till every bit of information upon this particular subject is picked away as clean as the meat that’s torn off a bone by a hungry dog. Now you’d like to help me in this business, I dare say, Mr. Austin; and if you would, I think I can hit upon a plan by which you might make yourself uncommonly useful.’

“I told my companion that I was very anxious to give him any help I could afford, however insignificant that help might be.

“‘Then, I’ll tell you what you can do. I shan’t go at the subject we want to talk about at once; because, if I did, I should betray my interest in the business and spoil my game; not that anybody would try to thwart me, you understand, if they knew that I was detective officer Henry Carter, of Scotland Yard. They’d be all on the qui vive directly they found out who I was, and what I was after, and they’d try to help me. That’s what they’d do; and Tom would tell me this, and Dick would explain that, and Harry would remember the other; and among them they’d contrive to muddle the clearest head that ever worked a difficult problem in criminal Euclid. My game is to keep myself dark, and get all the light I can from other people. I shan’t ask any leading question, but I shall wait quietly till the murder of Joseph Wilmot crops up in the conversation; and I don’t suppose I shall have to wait long. Your business will be easy enough. You’ll have letters to write, you will; and as soon as ever you hear me and the landlord, or me and the waiter, as the case may be, working round to the murder, you’ll take out your desk and begin to write.’

“‘You want me to take notes of the conversation,’ I said.

“‘You’ve hit it. You won’t appear to take any interest in the talk about Henry Dunbar and the murder of his valet. You’ll be altogether wrapped up in those letters of yours, which must be written before the London post goes out; but you’ll contrive to write down every word that’s said by the people at the George bearing upon the business we’re hunting up. Never mind my questions; don’t write them down, for they’re of no account. Write down the answers as plain as you can. They’ll come all of a heap, or anyhow; but that’s no matter. It’ll be my business to sort ’em, and put ’em ship-shape afterwards. You just keep your mouth shut, and take notes, Mr. Austin; that’s all you’ve got to do.’

“I promised to do this to the best of my ability. We were close to the George by this time, and I could not help thinking of that bright summer’s day upon which Henry Dunbar and his victim had driven into Winchester on the first stage of a journey which one of them was never to finish. The conviction of the banker’s guilt had so grown upon me since that scene in St. Gundolph Lane, that I thought of the man now almost as if he had been fairly tried and deliberately found guilty. It surprised me when the detective talked of his guilt as open to question, and yet to be proved. In my mind Henry Dunbar stood self-condemned, by the evidence of his own conduct, as the murderer of his old servant Joseph Wilmot.

“The weather was bleak and windy, and there were very few wanderers in the hilly High Street of Winchester. We were received with very courteous welcome at the George, and were conducted to a comfortable sitting-room upon the first-floor, with windows looking out upon the street. Two bedrooms in the vicinity of the sitting-room were assigned to us. I ordered dinner for six o’clock, having ascertained that hour to be agreeable to Mr. Carter, who was slowly removing his wrappings, and looking deliberately at every separate article in the room; as if he fancied there might be some scrap of information to be picked up from a window-blind, or a coal-scuttle, or lurking mysteries hidden in a sideboard-drawer. I have no doubt the habit of observation was so strong upon this man that he observed the most insignificant things involuntarily.

“It was a very dull unpleasant day, and I was glad to draw my chair to the fire and make myself comfortable, while the waiter went to fetch a bottle of soda-water and sixpenn’orth of ‘best French’ for my companion, who was walking about the room with his hands in his pockets, and his grizzled eyebrows knotted together.

“The reward which Government had offered for the arrest of Joseph Wilmot’s murderer was the legitimate price usually bidden for the head of an assassin. The Government had offered to pay one hundred pounds to any person or persons who should give such information as would lead to the apprehension of the guilty party or parties. I had promised Mr. Carter that I would give him another hundred pounds on my own account if he succeeded in solving the mystery of Joseph Wilmot’s death. The reward at stake was therefore two hundred pounds; and this was a pretty high stake, Mr. Carter told me, as the detective business went. I had given him my written engagement to pay the hundred pounds upon the day of the murderer’s arrest, and I was very well able to do so without fear of being compelled to ask help of my mother; for I had saved upwards of a thousand pounds during my twelve years’ service in the house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.

“I saw from Mr. Carter’s countenance that he was thinking, and thinking very earnestly. He drank the soda-water and brandy; but he said nothing to the waiter who brought him that popular beverage. When the man was gone, he came and planted himself opposite to me upon the hearth-rug.

“‘I’m going to talk to you very seriously, sir,’ he said.

“I assured him that I was quite ready to listen to anything he might have to say.

“‘When you employ a detective officer, sir,’ he began, ‘don’t employ a man you can’t put entire confidence in. If you can’t trust him don’t have anything to do with him; for if he isn’t to be trusted with the dearest family secret that ever was kept sacred by an honest man, why he’s a scoundrel, and you’re much better off without his help. But when you’ve got a man that has been recommended to you by those who know him, trust him, and don’t be afraid to trust him, don’t confide in him by halves; don’t tell him one part of your story, and keep the other half hidden from him; because, you see, working in the twilight isn’t much more profitable than working in the dark. Now, why do I say this to you, Mr. Austin? You know as well as I do. I say it because I know you haven’t trusted me.’

“‘I have told you all that was absolutely necessary for you to know,’ I said.

“‘Not a bit of it, sir. It’s absolutely necessary for me to know everything: that is, if you want me to succeed in the business I’m engaged upon. You’re afraid to give me your confidence out and out, without reserve. Lor’ bless your innocence, sir; in my profession a man learns the use of his eyes; and when once he’s learnt how to use them, it ain’t easy for him to keep them shut. I know as well as you do that you’re hiding something from me: you’re keeping something back, though you’ve half a mind to trust me. You took out a letter three times while we wore sitting opposite to each other in the railway carriage; and you read the letter; and every now and then, while you were reading it, you looked up at me with a hesitating you-would-and-you-wouldn’t sort of look. You thought I was looking out of the window all the time; and so I was, being uncommonly interested in the corn-fields we were passing just then, so flat and stumpy and picturesque they looked; but, lor’, Mr. Austin, if I couldn’t look out of the window and watch you at the same time, I shouldn’t be worth my salt to you or any one else. I saw plain enough that you had half a mind to show me that letter; and it wasn’t very difficult to guess that the letter had some bearing upon the business that has brought us to Winchester.’

“Mr. Carter paused, and settled himself comfortably against the corner of the chimney-piece. I was not surprised that he should have read my thoughts in the railway carriage. I pondered the matter seriously. He was right in the main, no doubt; but how could I tell a detective officer my dearest secret — the sad story of my only love?

“‘Trust me, Mr. Austin,’ my companion said; ‘if you want me to be of use to you, trust me thoroughly. The very thing you are hiding from me may be the clue I most want to get hold of.’

“‘I don’t think that,’ I said. ‘However, I have every reason to believe you to be an honest, conscientious fellow, and I will trust you. I dare say you wonder why I am so much interested in this business?’

“‘Well, to tell the honest truth, sir, it does seem rather out of the common to see an independent gentleman like you taking all this trouble to find out the rights and wrongs of a murder committed going on for a twelvemonth ago: unless you’re any relation of the murdered man: and even if you’re that, you’re very unlike the common run of relations, for they generally take such things quieter than anybody else,’ answered Mr. Carter.

“I told the detective that I had never seen the murdered man in the course of my life, and had never heard his name until after the murder.

“‘Well, sir, then all I can say is, I don’t understand your motive,’ returned, Mr. Carter.

“‘Well, Carter, I think you’re a good fellow, and I’ll trust you,’ I said; ‘but, in order to do that, I must tell you a long story, and what’s worse still, a love-story.’

“I felt that I blushed a little as I said this, and was ashamed of the false shame that brought that missish glow into my cheeks. Mr. Carter perceived my embarrassment, and was kind enough to encourage me.

“‘Don’t you be afraid of telling the story, because it’s a sentimental one,’ he said: ‘Lor’ bless you, I’ve heard plenty of love-stories. There ain’t many bits of business come our way but what, if you sift ’em to the bottom, you find a petticoat. You remember the Oriental bloke that always asked, ‘Who is she?’ when he heard of a fight, or a fire, or a mad bull broke loose, or any trifling calamity of that sort; because, according to his views, a female was at the bottom of everything bad that ever happened upon this earth. Well, sir, if that Oriental potentate had lived in our times, and been brought up to the detective line, I’m blest if he need have changed his opinions. So don’t you be ashamed of telling a love-story, sir. I was in love myself once, though I do seem such a dry old chip; and I married the woman I loved too; and she was a pretty little country girl, as fresh and innocent as the daisies in her father’s paddocks; and to this day she don’t know what my business really is. She thinks I’m something in the City, bless her dear little heart!’

“This touch of sentiment in Mr. Carter’s conversation was quite unaffected, and I felt all the more inclined to trust him after this little revelation of his domestic life. I told him the story of my acquaintance with Margaret, very briefly giving him only the necessary details. I told him of the girl’s several efforts to see Henry Dunbar, and the banker’s persistent avoidance of her. I told him then of our journey to Shorncliffe, and Margaret’s strange conduct after her interview with the man she had been so eager to see.

“The telling of this, though I told it briefly, occupied nearly an hour. Mr. Carter sat opposite me all the time, listening intently; staring at me with one fixed unvarying stare, and fingering musical passages upon his knees, with slow cautious motions of his fingers and thumbs. But I could see that he was not listening only: he was pondering and reasoning upon what I told him. When I had finished my story, he remained silent for some minutes: but he still stared at me with the same relentless and stony gaze, and he still fingered his knees, following up his right hand with his left, as slowly and deliberately as if he had been composing a fugue after the manner of Mendelssohn.

“‘And up to the time of that interview at Maudesley Abbey, Miss Wilmot had stuck to the idea that Henry Dunbar was the murderer of her father?’ he said, at last.

“‘Most resolutely.’

“‘And after that interview the young lady changed her opinion all of a sudden, and would have it that the banker was innocent?’ asked Mr. Carter.

“‘Yes; when Margaret returned from Maudesley Abbey she declared her conviction of Henry Dunbar’s innocence.’

“‘And she refused to fulfil her engagement with you?’

“‘She did.’

“The detective left off fingering fugues upon his knees, and began to scratch his head, slowly pushing his hand up and down amongst his iron-grey hair, and staring at me. I saw now that this stony glare was only the fixed expression of Mr. Carter’s face when he was thinking profoundly, and that the relentlessness of his gaze had very little relation to the object at which he gazed.

“I watched his face as he pondered, in the hope of seeing some sudden mental illumination light up his stolid countenance: but I watched in vain. I saw that he was at fault: I saw that Margaret Wilmot’s conduct was quite as inexplicable to him as it had been to me.

“‘Mr. Dunbar’s a very rich man,’ he said, at last; ‘and money generally goes a good way in these cases. There was a political party, Sir Robert somebody — but not Sir Robert Peel — who said, ‘Every man has his price.’ Now, do you think it possible that Miss Wilmot would take a bribe, and hold her tongue?’

“‘Do I think that she would take money from the man she suspected as the murderer of her father — the man she knew to have been the enemy of her father? No,’ I answered, resolutely; ‘I am certain that she is incapable of any such baseness. The idea that she had been bribed flashed across me in the first bitterness of my anger: but even then I dismissed it as incredible. Now that I can think coolly of the business, I know that such an alternative is impossible. If Margaret Wilmot has been influenced by Henry Dunbar, it is upon her terror that he has acted. Heaven knows how he may have threatened her! The man who could lure his old servant into a lonely wood and there murder him — the man who, neither early nor late, had one touch of pity for the tool and accomplice of his youthful crime — not one lingering spark of compassion for the humble friend who sacrificed an honest name in order to serve his master — would have little compunction in torturing a friendless girl who dared to come before him in the character of an accuser.’

“‘But you say that Miss Wilmot was resolute and high-spirited. Is she a likely person to be governed by her terror of Mr. Dunbar? What threat could he use to terrify her?’

“I shook my head hopelessly.

“‘I am as ignorant as you are,’ I said; ‘but I have strong reason to believe that Margaret Wilmot was under the influence of some great terror when she returned from Maudesley Abbey.’

“‘What reason?’ asked Mr. Carter.

“‘Her manner was sufficient evidence that she had been frightened. Her face was as white as a sheet of paper when I met her, and she trembled and shrank away from me, as if even my presence was horrible to her.’

“‘Could you manage to repeat what she said that night and the next morning?’

“It was not very pleasant to me to re-open my wounds for the benefit of Mr. Carter the detective; but it would have been absurd to thwart the man when he was working in my interests. I loved Margaret too well to forget anything she ever said to me, even in our happiest and most careless hours: and I had special reason to remember that cruel farewell interview, and the strange scene in the corridor at the Reindeer, on the night of her return from Maudesley Abbey. I went over all this ground again, therefore, for Mr. Carter’s edification, and told him, word for word, all that Margaret had said to me. When I had finished, he relapsed once more into a reverie, during which I sat listening to the ticking of an eight-day clock in the passage outside our sitting-room, and the occasional tramp of a passing footstep on the pavement below our windows.

“‘There’s only one thing strikes me very particular in all you’ve told me,’ the detective said, by-and-by, when I had grown tired of watching him, and had suffered my thoughts to wander back to the happy time in which Margaret and I had loved and trusted each other; ‘there’s only one thing strikes me in all the young lady said to you, and that is these words —‘There is contamination in my touch,’ Miss Wilmot says to you. ‘I am unfit to be the associate of an honest man,’ Miss Wilmot says to you. Now, that looks as if she had been bought over somehow or other by Mr. Dunbar. I’ve turned it over in my mind every way; and however I reckon it up, that’s about what it comes to. The young woman was bought over, and she was ashamed of herself for being bought over.’

“I told Mr. Carter that I could never bring myself to believe this.

“‘Perhaps not, sir, but it may be gospel truth for all that. There’s no other way I can account for the young woman’s carryings on. If Mr. Dunbar was innocent, and had contrived, somehow or other, to convince the young woman of his innocence, why, she’d have come to you free and open, and would have said, ‘My dear, I’ve made a mistake about Mr. Dunbar, and I’m very sorry for it; but we must look somewhere else for my poor pa’s murderer.’ But what does the young woman do? She goes and scrapes herself along the passage-wall, and shudders and shivers, and says, ‘I’m a wretch; don’t touch me — don’t come near me.’ It’s just like a woman, to take the bribe, and then be sorry for having taken it.’

“I said nothing in answer to this. It was inexpressibly obnoxious to me to hear my poor Margaret spoken of as ‘a young woman’ by my business-like companion. But there was no possibility of keeping any veil over the sacred mysteries of my heart. I wanted Mr. Carter’s help. For the present Margaret was lost to me; and my only hope of penetrating the hidden cause of her conduct lay in Mr. Carter’s power to solve the dark enigma of Joseph Wilmot’s death.

“‘Oh, by the bye,’ exclaimed the detective, ‘there was a letter, wasn’t there?’

“He held out his hand as I searched for the letter in my pocket-book. What a greedy, inquisitive-looking palm it seemed! and how I hated Mr. Henry Carter, detective officer, at that particular moment!

“I gave him the letter; and I did not groan aloud as I handed it to him. He read it slowly, once, twice, three times — half-a-dozen times, I think, in all — pushing the fingers of his left hand through his hair as he read, and frowning at the paper before him. It was while he was reading the letter for the last time that I saw a sudden glimmer of light in his hard eyes, and a half-smile playing round his thin lips.

“‘Well?’ I said, interrogatively, as he gave me back the letter.

“‘Well, sir, the young lady,’— Mr. Carter called Margaret a young lady this time, and I could not help thinking that her letter had revealed her to him as something different from the ordinary class of female popularly described as a young woman — ‘the young lady was in earnest when she wrote that letter, sir,’ he said; ‘it wasn’t written under dictation, and she wasn’t bribed to write it. There’s heart in it, sir, if I may be allowed the expression: there’s a woman’s heart in that letter: and when a woman’s heart is once allowed scope, a woman’s brains shrivel up like so much tinder. I put this letter to that speech in the corridor at the Reindeer, Mr. Austin; and out of those two twos I verily believe I can make the queerest four that was ever reckoned up by a first-class detective.’

“A faint flush, which looked like a glow of pleasure, kindled all over Mr. Carter’s sallow face as he spoke, and he got up and walked about the room; not slowly or thoughtfully, but with a brisk eager tread that was new to me. I could see that his spirits had risen a great many degrees since the reading of the letter.

“‘You have got some clue,’ I said; ‘you see your way ——’

“He turned round and checked my eager curiosity by a warning gesture of his uplifted hand.

“‘Don’t be in a hurry, sir,’ he said, gravely; ‘when you lose your way of a dark night, in a swampy country, and see a light ahead, don’t begin to clap your hands and cry hooray till you know what kind of light it is. It may be a Jack-o’-lantern; or it may be the identical lamp over the door of the house you’re bound for. You leave this business to me, Mr. Austin, and don’t you go jumping at conclusions. I’ll work it out quietly: and when I’ve worked it out I’ll tell you what I think of it. And now suppose we take a stroll through the cathedral-yard, and have a look at the place where the body was found.’

“‘How shall we find out the exact spot?’ I asked, while I was putting on my hat and overcoat.

“‘Any passer-by will point it out,’ Mr. Carter answered; ‘they don’t have a popular murder in the neighbourhood of Winchester every day; and when they do, I make not the least doubt they know how to appreciate the advantage. You may depend upon it, the place is pretty well known.’

“It was nearly five o’clock by this time. We went down the slippery oak-staircase, and out into the quiet street. A bleak wind was blowing down from the hills, and the rooks’ nests high up in the branches of the old trees about the cathedral were rocking like that legendary cradle in the tree-top. I had never been in Winchester before, and I was pleased with the quaint old houses, the towering cathedral, the flat meadows, and winding streams of water rippled by the wind. I was soothed, somehow or other, by the peculiar quiet of the scene; and I could not help thinking that, if a man’s life was destined to be miserable, Winchester would be a nice place for him to be miserable in. A dreamy, drowsy, forgotten city, where the only changes of the slow day would be the varying chimes of the cathedral clock, the different tones of the cathedral bells.

“Mr. Carter had studied every scrap of evidence connected with the murder of Joseph Wilmot. He pointed out the door at which Henry Dunbar had gone into the cathedral, the pathway which the two men had taken as they went towards the grove. We followed this pathway, and walked to the very place in which the murdered man had been found.

“A lad who was fishing in one of the meadows near the grove went with us to show us the exact spot. It was between an elm and a beech.

“‘There’s not many beeches in the grove,’ the lad said, ‘and this is the biggest of them. So that it’s easy enough for any one to pick out the spot. It was very dry weather last August at the time of the murder, and the water wasn’t above half as deep as it is now.’

“‘Is it the same depth every where?’ Mr. Carter asked.

“‘Oh, dear no,’ the boy said; ‘that’s what makes these streams so dangerous for bathing: they’re shallow enough in some places; but there’s all manner of holes about; and unless you’re a good swimmer, you’d better not try it on.’

“Mr. Carter gave the boy sixpence and dismissed him. We strolled a little farther on, and then turned and went back towards the cathedral. My companion was very silent, and I could see that he was still thinking. The change that had taken place in his manner after he had read Margaret’s letter had inspired me with new confidence in him, and I was better able to await the working out of events. Little by little the solemn nature of the business in which I was engaged grew and gathered force in my mind, and I felt that I had something more to do than to solve the mystery of Margaret’s conduct to myself: I had to perform a duty to society, by giving my uttermost help towards the discovery of Joseph Wilmot’s murderer.

“If the heartless assassin of this wretched man was suffered to live and prosper, to hold up his head as the master of Maudesley Abbey, the chief partner in a great City firm that had borne an honourable name for a century and a half, a kind of premium was offered to crime in high places. If Henry Dunbar had been some miserable starving creature, who, in a fit of mad fury against the inequalities of life, had lifted his gaunt arm to slay his prosperous brother for the sake of bread — detectives would have dogged his sneaking steps, and watched his guilty face, and hovered round and about him till they tracked him to his doom. But because in this case the man to whom suspicion pointed had the supreme virtues comprised in a million of money, Justice wore her thickest bandage, and the officials, who are so clever in tracking a low-born wretch to the gallows, held aloof, and said respectfully, ‘Henry Dunbar is too great a man to be guilty of a diabolical crime.’

“These thoughts filled my mind as I walked back to the George Hotel with Mr. Carter.

“It was half-past six when we entered the house, and we had kept dinner waiting half an hour, much to the regret of the most courteous of waiters, who expressed intense anxiety about the condition of the fish.

“As the man hovered about us at dinner, I expected every moment that Mr. Carter would lead up to the only topic which had any interest either for himself or me. But he was slow to do this; he talked of the town, the last assizes, the state of the country, the weather, the prosperity of the trout-fishing season — everything except the murder of Joseph Wilmot. It was only after dinner, when some petrified specimens of dessert, in the shape of almonds and raisins, figs and biscuits, had been arranged on the table, that any serious business began. The preliminary skirmishing had not been without its purpose, however; for the waiter had been warmed into a communicative and confidential mood, and was now ready to tell us anything he knew.

“I delegated all our arrangements to my companion; and it was something wonderful to see Mr. Carter lolling in his arm-chair with what he called the ‘wine-cart’ in his hand, deliberating between a forty-two port, ‘light and elegant,’ and a forty-five port, ‘tawny and rich bouquet.’

“‘I think we may as well try number fifteen,’ he said, handing the list of wines to the waiter after due consideration; ‘and decant it carefully, whatever you do. I hope your cellar isn’t cold.’

“‘Oh, no, sir; master’s very careful of his cellar, sir.’

“The waiter went away impressed with the idea that he had to deal with a couple of connoisseurs.

“‘You’ve got those letters to write before ten o’clock, eh, Mr. Austin?’ said the detective, as the waiter re-entered the room with a decanter on a silver salver.

“I understood the hint, and accordingly took my travelling-desk to a side-table near the fireplace. Mr. Carter handed me one of the wax-candles, and I sat down before the little table, unlocked my desk, and began to write a few lines to my mother; while the detective smacked his lips and knowingly deliberated over his first glass of port.

“‘Very decent quality of wine,’ he said, ‘very decent. Do you know where your master got it, eh? No, you don’t. Ah! bottled it himself, I suppose. I thought he might have got it at the Warren–Court sale the other day, at the other end of the county. Fill a glass for yourself, waiter, and put the decanter down by the fender; the wine’s rather cold. By the bye, I heard your wines very well spoken of the other day, by a person of some importance, too — of considerable importance, I may say.’

“‘Indeed, sir,’ murmured the waiter, who was standing at a respectful distance from the table, and was sipping his wine with deferential slowness.

“‘Yes; I heard your house spoken of by no less a person than Mr. Dunbar, the great banker.’

“The waiter pricked up his ears. I pushed aside the letter to my mother, and waited with a blank sheet of paper before me.

“‘That was a strange affair, by the bye,’ said Mr. Carter. ‘Fill yourself another glass of wine, waiter; my friend here doesn’t drink port; and if you don’t help me to put away that bottle, I shall take too much. Were you examined at the inquest on Joseph Wilmot?’

“No, sir,’ answered the waiter, eagerly. ‘I were not, sir; and they do say as we ought every one of us to have been examined; for you see there’s little facks as one person will notice and as another won’t notice, and it isn’t a man’s place to come forward with every little trivial thing, you see, sir; but if little trivial things was drawn out of one and another, they might help, you see, sir.’

“There could be no end gained by taking notes of this reply, so I amused myself by making a good nib to my pen while I waited for something better worth jotting down.

“‘Some of your people were examined, I suppose?’ said Mr. Carter.

“‘Oh, yes, sir,’ answered the waiter; ‘master, he were examined, to begin with; and then Brigmawl, the head-waiter, he give his evidence; but, lor’, sir, without unfriendliness to William Brigmawl, which me and Brigmawl have been fellow-servants these eleven year, our head-waiter is that wrapped up in hisself, and his own cravats, and shirt-fronts, and gold studs, and Albert chain, that he’d scarcely take notice of an earthquake swallering up half the world before his eyes, unless the muck and dirt of that earthquake was to spoil his clothes. William Brigmawl has been head-waiter in this house nigh upon thirty year; and beyond a stately way of banging-to a carriage-door, or showing visitors to their rooms, or poking a fire, and a kind of knack of leading on timid people to order expensive wines, I really don’t see Brigmawl’s great merit. But as to Brigmawl at an inquest, he’s about as much good as the Pope of Rome.’

“‘But why was Brigmawl examined in preference to any one else?’

“‘Because he was supposed to know more of the business than any of us, being as it was him that took the order for the dinner. But me and Eliza Jane, the under-chambermaid, was in the hall at the very moment when the two gentlemen came in.’

“‘You saw them both, then?’

“‘Yes, sir, as plain as I now see you. And you might have knocked me down with a feather when I was told afterwards that the one who was murdered was nothing more than a valet.’

“‘You’re not getting on very fast with your letters,’ said Mr. Carter, looking over his shoulder at me.

“‘I had written nothing yet, and I understood this as a hint to begin. I wrote down the waiter’s last remark.

“‘Why were you so surprised to find he was a valet?’ Mr. Carter asked of the waiter.

“‘Because, you see, sir, he had the look of a gentleman,’ the man answered; ‘an out-and-out gentleman. It wasn’t that he held his head higher than Mr. Dunbar, or that he was better dressed — for Mr. Dunbar’s clothes looked the newest and best; but he had a kind of languid don’t-careish way that seems to be peculiar to first-class gentlemen.’

“‘What sort of a looking man was he?’

“‘Paler than Mr. Dunbar, and thinner built, and fairer.’

“I jotted down the waiter’s remarks; but I could not help thinking that this talk about the murdered man’s manner and appearance was about as useless as anything could be.

“‘Paler and thinner than Mr. Dunbar,’ repeated the detective; ‘paler and thinner, eh? This was one thing you noticed; but what was it, now, that you could have said at the inquest if you had been called as a witness?’

“‘Well, sir, I’ll tell you. It’s a small matter, and I’ve mentioned it many a time, both to William Brigmawl and to others; but they talk me down, and say I was mistaken; and Eliza Jane being a silly giggling hussey, can’t bear me out in what I say. But I do most solemnly declare that I speak the truth, and am not deceived. When the two gentlemen — which gentlemen they both was to look at — came into our hall, the one that was murdered had his coat buttoned tight across his chest, except one button; and through the space left by that one button I saw the glitter of a gold chain.’

“‘Well, what then?’

“‘The other gentleman, Mr. Dunbar, had his coat open as he got out of the carriage, and I saw as plain as ever I saw anything, that he had no gold-chain. But two minutes after he had come into the hall, and while he was ordering dinner, he took and bottoned his coat. Well, sir, when he came in, after visiting the cathedral, his coat was partially unbuttoned and I saw that he wore a gold-chain, and, unless I am very much mistaken, the same gold-chain that I had seen peeping out of the breast of the murdered man. I could almost have sworn to that chain because of the colour of the gold, which was a particular deep yaller. It was only afterwards that these things came back to my mind, and I certainly thought them very strange.’

“‘Was there anything else?’

“‘Nothing; except what Brigmawl dropped out one night at supper, some weeks after the inquest, about his having noticed Mr. Dunbar opening his desk while he was waiting for Joseph Wilmot to come home to dinner; and Brigmawl do say, now that it ain’t a bit of use, that Mr. Dunbar, do what he would, couldn’t find the key of his own desk for ever so long.’

“‘He was confused, I suppose; and his hands trembled, eh?’ asked the detective.

“‘No, sir; according to what Brigmawl said, Mr. Dunbar seemed as cool and collected as if he was made of iron. But he kept trying first one key and then another, for ever so long, before he could find the right one.’

“‘Did he now? that was queer.’

“‘But I hope you won’t think anything of what I’ve let drop, sir,’ said the waiter, hastily. ‘I’m sure I wouldn’t say any thing disrespectful against Mr. Dunbar; but you asked me what I saw, sir, and I have told you candid, and ——’

“‘My good fellow, you’re perfectly safe in talking to me,’ the detective answered, heartily. ‘Suppose you bring us a little strong tea, and clear away this dessert; and if you’ve anything more to tell us, you can say it while you’re pouring out the tea. There’s so much connected with these sort of things that never gets into the papers, that really it’s quite interesting to hear of ’em from an eye-witness.’

“The waiter went away, pleased and re-assured, after clearing the table very slowly. I was impatient to hear what Mr. Carter had gathered from the man’s talk.

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘unless I’m very much mistaken, I think I’ve got my friend the master of Maudesley Abbey.’

“‘You do: but how so?’ I asked. ‘That talk about the gold-chain having changed hands must be utterly absurd. What should Henry Dunbar want with Joseph Wilmot’s watch and chain?’

“‘Ah, you’re right there,’ answered Mr. Carter. ‘What should Henry Dunbar want with Joseph Wilmot’s gold chain? That’s one question. Why should Joseph Wilmot’s daughter be so anxious to screen Henry Dunbar now that she has seen him for the first time since the murder? There’s another question for you. Find the answer for it, if you can.

“I told the detective that he seemed bent upon mystifying me, and that he certainly succeeded to his heart’s content.

“Mr. Carter laughed a triumphant little laugh.

“‘Never you mind, sir,’ he said; you leave it to me, and you watch it well, sir. It’ll work out very neatly, unless I’m altogether wrong. Wait for the end, Mr. Austin, and wait patiently. Do you know what I shall do to-morrow?’

“‘I haven’t the faintest idea.’

“‘I shall waste no more time in asking questions. I shall have the water near the scene of the murder dragged. I shall try and find the clothes that were stripped off the man who was murdered last August!’”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/henry_dunbar/chapter38.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31