Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 45

Giving it up.

The Pretty Polly went back to the port of Kingston-upon-Hull in the grey morning light, carrying Mr. Carter, very cold and very down-hearted — not to say humiliated — by his failure. To have been hoodwinked by a girl, whose devotion to the unhappy wretch she called her father had transformed her into a heroine — to have fallen so easily into the trap that had been set for him, being all the while profoundly impressed with the sense of his own cleverness — was, to say the least of it, depressing to the spirits of a first-class detective.

“And that fellow Vallance, too,” mused Mr. Carter, “to think that he should go and chuck himself into the water just to spite me! There’d have been some credit in taking him back with me. I might have made a bit of character out of that. But, no! he goes and tumbles back’ards into the water, rather than let me have any advantage out of him.”

There was nothing for Mr. Carter to do but to go straight back to Lisford, and try his luck again, with everything against him.

“Let me get back as fast as I may, Joseph Wilmot will have had eight-and-forty hours’ start of me,” he thought; “and what can’t he do in that time, if he keeps his wits about him, and don’t go wild and foolish like, as some of ’em do, when they’ve got such a chance as this. Anyhow, I’m after him, and it’ll go hard with me if he gives me the slip after all, for my blood’s up, and my character’s at stake, and I’d think no more of crossing the Atlantic after him than I’d think of going over Waterloo Bridge!”

It was a very chill and miserable time of the morning when the Pretty Polly ground her nose against the granite steps of the quay. It was a chill and dismal hour of the morning, and Mr. Carter felt sloppy and dirty and unshaven, as he stepped out of the boat and staggered up the slimy stairs. He gave the two young fishermen the promised five-pound note, and left them very well contented with their night’s work, inglorious though it had been.

There were no vehicles to be had at that early hour of the morning, so Mr. Carter was fain to walk from the quay to the station, where he expected to find Mr. Tibbles, or to obtain tidings of that gentleman. He was not disappointed; for, although the station wore its dreariest aspect, having only just begun to throb with a little spasmodic life, in the way of an early goods-train, Mr. Carter found his devoted follower prowling in melancholy loneliness amid a wilderness of empty carriages and smokeless engines, with the turnip whiteness of his complexion relieved by a red nose.

Mr. Thomas Tibbles was by no means in the best possible temper in this chill early morning. He was slapping his long thin arms across his narrow chest, and performing a kind of amateur double-shuffle with his long flat feet, when Mr. Carter approached him; and he kept up the same shuffling and the same slapping while engaged in conversation with his superior, in a disrespectful if not defiant manner.

“A pretty game you’ve played me,” he said, in an injured tone. “You told me to hang about the station and watch the trains, and you’d come back in the course of the day — you would — and we’d dine together comfortable at the Station Hotel; and a deal you come back and dined together comfortable. Oh, yes! I don’t think so; very much indeed,” exclaimed Mr. Tibbles, vaguely, but with the bitterest derision in his voice and manner.

“Come, Sawney, don’t you go to cut up rough about it,” said Mr. Carter, coaxingly.

“I should like to know who’d go and cut up smooth about it?” answered the indignant Tibbles. “Why, if you could have a hangel in the detective business — which luckily you can’t, for the wings would cut out anything as mean as legs, and be the ruin of the purfession — the temper of that hangel would give way under what I’ve gone through. Hanging about this windy station, which the number of criss-cross draughts cuttin’ in from open doors and winders would lead a hignorant person to believe there was seventeen p’ints of the compass at the very least — hangin’ about to watch train after train, till there ain’t anything goin’ in the way of sarce as yen haven’t got to stand from the porters; or sittin’ in the coffee-room of the hotel yonder, watchin’ and listenin’ for the next train, till bein’ there to keep an appointment with your master is the hollerest of mockeries.”

Mr. Carter took his irate subordinate to the coffee-room of the Station Hotel, where Mr. Tibbles had engaged a bed and taken a few hours’ sleep in the dead interval between the starting of the last train at night and the first in the morning. The detective ordered a substantial breakfast, with a couple of glasses of pale brandy, neat, to begin with; and Mr. Tibbles’ equanimity was restored, under the influence of ham, eggs, mutton-cutlet, a broiled sole, and a quart or so of boiling coffee.

Mr. Carter told his assistant very briefly that he’d been wasting his time and trouble on a false track, and that he should give the matter up. Sawney Tom received this announcement with a great deal of champing and working of the jaws, and with rather a doubtful expression in his dull red eyes; but he accepted the payment which his employer offered him, and agreed to depart for London by the ten o’clock train.

“And whatever I do henceforth in this business, I do single-handed,” Mr. Carter said to himself, as he turned his back upon his companion.

At five o’clock that afternoon the detective found himself at the Shorncliffe station, where he hired a fly and drove on post-haste to Lisford cottage.

The neat little habitation of the late naval commander looked pretty much as Mr. Carter had seen it last, except that in one of the upper windows there was a bill — a large paper placard — announcing that this house was to let, furnished; and that all information respecting the same was to be obtained of Mr. Hogson, grocer, Lisford.

Mr. Carter gave a long whistle.

“The bird’s flown,” he muttered. “It wasn’t likely he’d stop here to be caught.”

The detective rang the bell; once, twice, three times; but there was no answer to the summons. He ran round the low garden-fence to the back of the premises, where there was a little wooden gate, padlocked, but so low that he vaulted over it easily, and went in amongst the budding currant-bushes, the neat gravel-paths and strawberry-beds, that had been erst so cherished by the naval commander. Mr. Carter peered in at the back windows of the house, and through the little casement he saw a vista of emptiness. He listened, but there was no sound of voices or footsteps. The blinds were undrawn, and he could see the bare walls of the rooms, the fireless grates, and that cold bleakness of aspect peculiar to an untenanted habitation.

He gave a low groan.

“Gone,” he muttered; “gone, as neat as ever a man went yet.”

He ran back to the fly, and drove to the establishment of Mr. Hogson, grocer and general dealer — the shop of the village of Lisford.

Here Mr. Carter was informed that the key of “Woodbine Cottage had been given up on the evening of that very day on which he had seen Joseph Wilmot sitting in the little parlour.

“Yes, sir, it were the night before the last,” Mr. Hogson said; “it were the night before last as a young woman wrapped up about the face like, and dressed very plain, got out of a fly at my door; and, says she, ‘Would you please take charge of this here key, and be so kind as to show any one over the cottage as would like to see it, which of course the commission is understood? — for my master is leaving for some time on account of having a son just come home from India, which is married and settled in Devonshire, and my master is going there to see him, not having seen him this many a long year.’ She was a very civil-spoken young woman, and Woodbine Cottage has been good customers to us, both with the old tenants and the new; so of course I took the key, willin’ to do any service as lay in my power. And if you’d like to see the cottage, sir ——”

“You’re very good,” said Mr. Carter, with something like a groan. “No, I won’t see the cottage to-night. What time was it when the fly stopped at your door?”

“Between seven and eight.”

“Between seven and eight. Just in time to catch the mail from Rugby. Was it one of the Rose-and-Crown flies, d’ye think?”

“Oh, yes, the fly belonged to Lisford. I’m sure of that, for Tim Baling was drivin’ it and wished me good-night.”

Mr. Carter left the Lisford emporium, and ran over to the Rose and Crown, where he saw the man who had driven him to Shorncliffe station. This man told the detective that he had been fetched in the evening by the same young woman who fetched him in the morning, and that he had driven another gentleman, who walked lame like the first, and had his head and face wrapped up a deal, not to Shorncliffe station, but to little Petherington station, six miles on the Rugby side of Shorncliffe, where the gentleman and the young woman who was with him got into a second-class carriage in the slow train for Rugby. The gentleman had said, laughing, that the young woman was his housemaid, and he was taking her up to town on purpose to be married to her. He was a very pleasant-spoken gentleman, the flyman added, and paid uncommon liberal.

“I dare say he did,” muttered Mr. Carter.

He gave the man a shilling for his information, and went back to the fly that had brought him to the station. It was getting on for seven o’clock by this time, and Joseph Wilmot had had eight-and-forty hours’ start of him. The detective was quite down-hearted now.

He went up to London by the same train which he had every reason to suppose had carried Joseph Wilmot and his daughter two nights before, and at the Euston terminus he worked very hard on that night and on the following day to trace the missing man. But Joseph Wilmot was only a drop in the great ocean of London life. The train that was supposed to have brought him to town was a long train, coming through from the north. Half-a-dozen lame men with half-a-dozen young women for their companions might have passed unnoticed in the bustle and confusion of the arrival platform.

Mr. Carter questioned the guards, the ticket-collectors, the porters, the cabmen; but not one among them gave him the least scrap of available information. He went to Scotland Yard despairing, and laid his case before the authorities there.

“There’s only one way of having him,” he said, “and that’s the diamonds. From what I can make out, he had no money with him, and in that case he’ll be trying to turn some of those diamonds into cash.”

The following advertisement appeared in the Supplement to the Times for the next day:

To Pawnbrokers and Others. — A liberal reward will be given to any person affording information that may lead to the apprehension of a tall man, walking lame, who is known to have a large quantity of unset diamonds in his possession, and who most likely has attempted to dispose of the same.”

But this advertisement remained unanswered.

“They’re too clever for us, sir,” Mr. Carter remarked to one of the Scotland–Yard officials. “Whoever Joseph Wilmot may have sold those diamonds to has got a good bargain, you may depend upon it, and means to stick to it. The pawnbrokers and others think our advertisement a plant, you may depend upon it”

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