Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 43

On the Track.

The railway journey between Shorncliffe and Derby was by no means the most pleasant expedition for a cold spring night, with the darkness lying like a black shroud on the flat fields, and a melancholy wind howling over those desolate regions, across which all night-trains seem to wend their way. I think that flat and darksome land which we look upon out of the window of a railway carriage in the dead of the night must be a weird district, conjured into existence by the potent magic of an enchanter’s wand — a dreary desert transported out of Central Africa, to make the night-season hideous, and to vanish at cock-crow.

Mr. Carter never travelled without a railway rug and a pocket brandy-flask; and sustained by these inward and outward fortifications against the chilling airs of the long night, he established himself in a corner of the second-class carriage, and made the best of his situation.

Fortunately there was no position of hardship to which the detective was unaccustomed; indeed, to be rolled up in a railway rug in the corner of a second-class carriage, was to be on a bed of down as compared with some of his experiences. He was used to take his night’s rest in brief instalments, and was snoring comfortably three minutes after the guard had banged-to the door of his carriage.

But he was not permitted to enjoy any prolonged rest. The door was banged open, and a stentorian voice bawled into his ear that hideous announcement which is so fatal to the repose of travellers, “Change here!” &c., &c. The journey from Shorncliffe to Derby seemed almost entirely to consist of “changing here;” and poor Mr. Carter felt as if he had passed a long night in being hustled out of one carriage into another, and off one line of railway on to another, with all those pauses on draughty platforms which are so refreshing to the worn-out traveller who works his weary way across country in the dead of the night.

At last, however, after a journey that seemed interminable by reason of those short naps, which always confuse the sleeper a estimate of time, the detective found himself at Derby still in the dead of the night; for to the railway traveller it is all of night after dark. Here he applied immediately to the station-master, from whom he got another little note directed to him by Mr. Tibbles, and very much resembling that which he had received at Shorncliffe.

All right up to Derby,” wrote Sawney Tom. “Gent in furred coat took a ticket through to Hull. Have took the same, and go on with him direct. — Yours to command, T.T.

Mr. Carter lost no time after perusing this communication. He set to work at once to find out all about the means of following his assistant and the lame traveller.

Here he was told that he had a couple of hours to wait for the train that was to take him on to Normanton, and at Normanton he would have another hour to wait for the train that was to carry him to Hull.

“Ah, go it, do, while you’re about it!” he exclaimed, bitterly, when the railway official had given him this pleasing intelligence. “Couldn’t you make it a little longer? When your end and aim lies in driving a man mad, the quicker you drive the better, I should think!”

All this was muttered in an undertone, not intended for the ear of the railway official. It was only a kind of safety-valve by which the detective let off his superfluous steam.

“Sawney’s got the chance,” he thought, as he paced up and down the platform; “Sawney’s got the trump cards this time; and if he’s knave enough to play them against me —— But I don’t think he’ll do that; our profession’s a conservative one, and a traitor would have an uncommon good chance of being kicked out of it. We should drop him a hint that, considering the state of his health, we should take it kindly of him if he would hook it; or send him some polite message of that kind; as the military swells do when they want to get rid of a pal.”

There were plenty of refreshments to be had at Derby, and Mr. Carter took a steaming cup of coffee and a formidable-looking pile of sandwiches before retiring to the waiting-room to take what he called “a stretch.” He then engaged the services of a porter, who was to call him five minutes before the starting of the Normanton train, and was to receive an illegal douceur for that civility.

In the waiting-room there was a coke fire, very red and hollow, and a dim lamp. A lady, half buried in shawls, and surrounded by a little colony of small packages, was sitting close to the fire, and started out of her sleep to make nervous clutches at her parcels as the detective entered, being in that semi-conscious state in which the unprotected female is apt to mistake every traveller for a thief.

Mr. Carter made himself very comfortable on one of the sofas, and snored on peacefully until the porter came to rouse him, when he sprang up refreshed to continue his journey.

“Hull, Hull!” he muttered to himself. “His game will be to get off to Rotterdam, or Hamburgh, or St. Petersburg, perhaps; any place that there’s a vessel ready to take him. He’ll get on board the first that sails. It’s a good dodge, a very neat dodge, and if Sawney hadn’t been at the station, Mr. Joseph Wilmot would have given us the slip as neatly as ever a man did yet. But if Mr. Thomas Tibbles is true, we shall nab him, and bring him home as quiet as ever any little boy was took to school by his mar and par. If Mr. Tibbles is true — and as he don’t know too much about the business, and don’t know anything about the extra reward, or the evidence that’s turned up at Winchester — I dare say Thomas Tibbles will be true. Human nature is a very noble thing,” mused the detective; “but I’ve always remarked that the tighter you tie human nature down, the brighter it comes out.”

It was morning, and the sun was shining, when the train that carried Mr. Carter steamed slowly into the great station at Hull — it was morning, and the sun was shining, and the birds singing, and in the fields about the smoky town there were herds of sweet-breathing cattle sniffing the fresh spring air, and labourers plodding to their work, and loaded wains of odorous hay and dewy garden-stuff were lumbering along the quiet country roads, and the new-born day had altogether the innocent look appropriate to its tender youth — when the detective stepped out on the platform, calm, self-contained, and resolute, as brisk and business-like in his manner as any traveller in that train, and with no distinctive stamp upon him, however slight, that marked him as the hunter of a murderer.

He looked sharply up and down the platform. No, Mr. Tibbles had not betrayed him. That gentleman was standing on the platform, watching the passengers step out of the carriages, and looking more turnip-faced than usual in the early sunlight. He was chewing nothing with more than ordinary energy; and Mr. Carter, who was very familiar with the idiosyncrasies of his assistant, knew from that sign that things had gone amiss.

“Well,” he said, tapping Sawney Tom on the shoulder, “he’s given you the slip? Out with it; I can see by your face that he has.”

“Well, he have, then,” answered Mr. Tibbles, in an injured tone; “but if he have, you needn’t glare at me like that, for it ain’t no fault of mine. If you ever follered a lame eel — and a lame eel as makes no more of its lameness than if lameness was a advantage — you’d know what it is to foller that chap in the furred coat.”

The detective hooked his arm through that of his assistant, and led Mr. Tibbles out of the station by a door which opened on a desolate region at the back of that building.

“Now then,” said Mr. Carter, “tell me all about it, and look sharp.”

“Well, I was waitin’ in the Shorncliffe ticket-offis, and about five minutes after two in comes the gent as large as life, and I sees him take his ticket, and I hears him say Derby, on which I waits till he’s out of the offis, and I takes my own ticket, same place. Down we comes here with more changes and botheration than ever was; and every time we changes carriages, which we don’t seem to do much else the whole time, I spots my gentleman, limpin’ awful, and lookin’ about him suspicious-like, to see if he was watched. And, of course, he weren’t watched — oh, no; nothin’ like it. Of all the innercent young men as ever was exposed to the temptations of this wicked world, there never was sech a young innercent as that lawyer’s clerk, a carryin’ a blue bag, and a tellin’ a promiskruous acquaintance, loud enough for the gent in the fur coat to hear, that he’d been telegraphed for by his master, which was down beyond Hull, on electioneerin’ business; and a cussin’ of his master promiskruous to the same acquaintance for tele-graphin’ for him to go by sech a train. Well, we come to Derby, and the furry gent, he takes a ticket on to Hull; and we come to Normanton, and the furry gent limps about Normanton station, and I sees him comfortable in his carriage; and we comes to Hull, and I sees him get out on the platform, and I sees him into a fly, and I hears him give the order, ‘Victorier Hotel,’ which by this time it’s nigh upon ten o’clock, and dark and windy. Well, I got up behind the fly, and rides a bit, and walks a bit, keepin’ the fly in sight until we comes to the Victorier; and there stoops down behind, and watches my gent hobble into the hotel, in awful pain with that lame leg of his, judgin’ the faces he makes; and he walks into the coffee-room, and I makes bold to foller him; but there never was sech a young innercent as me, and I sees my party sittin’ warmin’ his poor lame leg, and with a carpet-bag, and railway-rug, and sechlike on the table beside him; and presently he gets up, hobblin’ worse than ever, and goes outside, and I hears him makin’ inquiries about the best way of gettin’ on to Edinborough by train; and I sat quiet, not more than three minutes at most, becos’, you see, I didn’t want to look like follerin’ him; and in three minutes time, out I goes, makin’ as sure to find him in the bar as I make sure of your bein’ close beside me at this moment; but when I went outside into the hall, and bar and sechlike, there wasn’t a mortal vestige of that man to be seen; but the waiter, he tells me, as dignified and cool as yer please, that the lame gentleman has gone out by the door looking towards the water, and has only gone to have a look at the place, and get a few cigars, and will be back in ten minutes to a chop which is bein’ cooked for him. Well, I cuts out by the same door, thinkin’ my lame friend can’t be very far; but when I gets out on to the quay-side, there ain’t a vestige of him; and though I cut about here, there, and everywhere, lookin’ for him, until I’d nearly walked my legs off in less than half an hour’s time, I didn’t see a sign of him, and all I could do was to go back to the Victorier, and see if he’d gone back before me.

“Well, there was his carpet-bag and his railway-rug, just as he’d left ’em, and there was a little table near the fire all laid out snug and comfortable ready for him; but there was no more vestige of hisself than there was in the streets where I’d been lookin’ for him; and so I went out again, with the prespiration streamin’ down my face, and I walked that blessed town till over one o’clock this mornin,’ lookin’ right and left, and inquirin’ at every place where such a gent was likely to try and hide hisself, and playing up Mag’s divarsions, which if it was divarsions to Mag, was oncommon hard work to me; and then I went back to the Victorier, and got a night’s lodgin’; and the first thing this mornin’ I was on my blessed legs again, and down at the quay inquirin’ about vessels, and there’s nothin’ likely to sail afore to-night, and the vessel as is expected to sail to-night is bound for Copenhagen, and don’t carry passengers; but from the looks of her captain, I should say she’d carry anythink, even to a churchyard full of corpuses, if she was paid to do it.”

“Humph! a sailing-vessel bound for Copenhagen; and the captain’s a villanous-looking fellow, you say?” said the detective, in a thoughtful tone.

“He’s about the villanousest I ever set eyes on,” answered Mr. Tibbles.

“Well, Sawney, it’s a bad job, certainly; but I’ve no doubt you’ve done your best.”

“Yes, I have done my best,” the assistant answered, rather indignantly: “and considerin’ the deal of confidence you honoured me with about this here cove, I don’t see as I could have done hanythink more.”

“Then the best thing you can do is to keep watch here for the starting of the up-trains, while I go and keep my eye upon the station at the other side of the water,” said Mr. Carter, “This journey to Hull may have been just a dodge to throw us off the scent, and our man may try and double upon us by going back to London. You’ll keep all safe here, Sawney, while I go to the other side of the compass.”

Mr. Carter engaged a fly, and made his way to a pier at the end of the town, whence a boat took him across the Humber to a station on the Lincolnshire side of the river.

Here he ascertained all particulars about the starting of the trains for London, and here he kept watch while two or three trains started. Then, as there was an interval of some hours before the starting of another, he re-crossed the water, and set to work to look for his man.

First he loitered about the quays a little, taking stock of the idle vessels, the big steamers that went to London, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg — the little steamers that went short voyages up or down the river, and carried troops of Sunday idlers to breezy little villages beside the sea. He found out all about these boats, their destination, and the hours and days on which they were to start, and made himself more familiar with the water-traffic of the place in half an hour than another man could have done in a day. He also made acquaintance with the vessel that was to sail for Copenhagen — a black sulky-looking boat, christened very appropriately the Crow, with a black sulky-looking captain, who was lying on a heap of tarpaulin on the deck, smoking a pipe in his sleep. Mr. Carter stood looking over the quay and contemplating this man for some moments with a thoughtful stare.

“He looks a bad ’un,” the detective muttered, as he walked away; “Sawney was right enough there.”

He went into the town, and walked about, looking at the jewellers’ shops with his accustomed rapid glance — a glance so furtive that it escaped observation — so full of sharp scrutiny that it took in every detail of the object looked at. Mr. Carter looked at the jewellers till he came to one whose proprietor blended the trade of money-lending with his more aristocratic commerce. Here Mr. Carter stopped, and entered by the little alley, within whose sombre shadows the citizens of Hull were wont to skulk, ashamed of the errand that betrayed their impecuniosity. Mr. Carter visited three pawnbrokers, and wasted a good deal of time before he made any discovery likely to be of use to him; but at the third pawnbroker’s he found himself on the right track. His manner with these gentlemen was very simple.

“I’m a detective officer,” he said, “from Scotland Yard, and I have a warrant for the apprehension of a man who’s supposed to be hiding in Hull. He’s known to have a quantity of unset diamonds in his possession — they’re not stolen, mind you, so you needn’t be frightened on that score. I want to know if such a person has been to you to-day?”

“The diamonds are all right?” asked the pawnbroker, rather nervously.

“Quite right. I see the man has been here. I don’t want to know anything about the jewels: they’re his own, and it’s not them we’re after. I want to know about him. He’s been here, I see — the question is, what time?”

“Not above half an hour ago. A man in a dark blue coat with a fur collar ——”

“Yes; a man that walks lame.”

The pawnbroker shook his head.

“I didn’t see that he was lame,” he said.

“Ah, you didn’t notice; or he might hide it just while he was in here. He sat down, I suppose?”

“Yes; he was sitting all the time.”

“Of course. Thank you; that’ll do.”

With this Mr. Carter departed, much to the relief of the money-lender.

The detective looked at his watch, and found that it was half-past one. At half-past three there was a London train to start from the station on the Lincolnshire side of the water. The other station was safe so long as Mr. Tibbles remained on the watch there; so for two hours Mr. Carter was free to look about him. He went down to the quay, and ascertained that no boat had crossed to the Lincolnshire side of the river within the last hour. Joseph Wilmot was therefore safe on the Yorkshire side; but if so, where was he? A man wearing a dark blue coat lined with sable, and walking very lame, must be a conspicuous object wherever he went; and yet Mr. Carter, with all the aid of his experience in the detective line, could find no clue to the whereabouts of the man he wanted. He spent an hour and a half in walking about the streets, prying into all manner of dingy little bars and tap-rooms, in narrow back streets and down by the water-side; and then was fain to go across to Lincolnshire once more, and watch the departure of the train.

Before crossing the river to do this, he had taken stock of the Crow and her master, and had seen the captain lying in exactly the same attitude as before, smoking a dirty black pipe in hie sleep.

Mr. Carter made a furtive inspection of every creature who went by the up-train, and saw that conveyance safely off before he turned to leave the station. After doing this he lost no time in re-crossing the water again, and landed on the Yorkshire side of the Humber as the clocks of Hull were striking four.

He was getting tired by this time, but he was not tired of his work. He was accustomed to spending his days very much in this manner; he was used to taking his sleep in railway carriages, and his meals at unusual hours, whenever and wherever he could get time to take his food. He was getting what ha called “peckish” now, and was just going to the coffee-room of the Victoria Hotel with the intention of ordering a steak and a glass of brandy-and-water — Mr. Carter never took beer, which is a sleepy beverage, inimical to that perpetual clearness of intellect necessary to a detective — when he changed his mind, and walked back to the edge of the quay, to prowl along once more with his hands in his pockets, looking at the vessels, and to take another inspection of the deck and captain of the Crow.

“I shouldn’t wonder if my gentleman’s gone and hidden himself down below the hatchway of that boat,” he thought, as he walked slowly along the quay-side. “I’ve half a mind to go on board and overhaul her.”

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