Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 2

Done in the Darkness.

Before Thomas Milsom, otherwise Black Milsom, could express his surprise, the landlord of the ‘Jolly Tar’ returned from his business excursion, and presented himself in the dingy little room, where it was already beginning to grow dusk.

Milsom told Dennis Wayman how he had discovered the captain sleeping uneasily, with his head upon the table; and on being pressed a little, Valentine Jernam told his dream as freely as it was his habit to tell everything relating to his own affairs.

“I don’t see that it was such a very bad dream, after all,” said Dennis Wayman, when the story was finished. “You dreamt you were at sea in a dead calm, that’s about the plain English of it.”

“Yes; but such a calm! I’ve been becalmed many a time; but I never remember anything like what I saw in my dream just now. Then the loneliness; not a creature on board besides myself; not a human voice to answer me when I called. And the face — there was something so awful in the face — smiling at me, and yet with a kind of threatening look in the smile; and the hand pointing to the tombstone! Do you know that I was thirty-three last December?”

The sailor covered his face with his hands, and sat for some moments in a meditative attitude. Bold and reckless though he was, the superstition of his class had some hold upon him; and this bad dream influenced him, in spite of himself.

The landlord was the first to break the silence. “Come, captain,” he said; “this is what I call giving yourself up to the blue devils. You went to sleep in an uncomfortable position, and you had an uncomfortable dream, with no more sense nor reason in it than such dreams generally have. What do you say to a hand at cards, and a drop of something short? You want cheering up a bit, captain; that’s what you want.”

Valentine Jernam assented. The cards were brought, and a bowl of punch ordered by the open-handed sailor, who was always ready to invite people to drink at his expense.

The men played all-fours; and what generally happens in this sort of company happened now to Captain Jernam. He began by winning, and ended by losing; and his losses were much heavier than his gains.

He had been playing for upwards of an hour, and had drunk several glasses of punch, before his luck changed, and he had occasion to take out the bloated leathern pocket-book, distended unnaturally with notes and gold.

But for that rum-punch he might, perhaps, have remembered Joyce Harker’s warning, and avoided displaying his wealth before these two men. Unhappily, however, the fumes of the strong liquor had already begun to mount to his brain, and the clerk was completely forgotten. He opened his pocket-book every time he had occasion to pay his losses, and whenever he opened it the greedy eyes of Dennis Wayman and Black Milsom devoured the contents with a furtive gaze.

With every hand the sailor grew more excited. He was playing for small stakes, and as yet his losses only amounted to a few pounds. But the sense of defeat annoyed him. He was feverishly eager for his revenge: and when Milsom rose to go, the captain wanted him to continue to play.

“You shan’t sneak off like that,” he said; “I want my revenge, and I must have it.”

Black Milsom pointed to a little Dutch clock in a corner of the room.

“Past eight o’clock,” he said; “and I’ve got a five-mile walk between me and home. My girl, Jenny, will be waiting up for me, and getting anxious about her father.”

In the excitement of play, and the fever engendered by strong drink, Valentine Jernam had forgotten the ballad-singer. But this mention of her name brought the vision of the beautiful face back to him.

“Your daughter!” he muttered; “your daughter! Yes; the girl who sang here, the beautiful girl who sang.”

His voice was thick, and his accents indistinct. Both the men had pressed Jernam to drink, while they themselves took very little. They had encouraged him to talk as well as to drink, and the appointment with his brother had been spoken of by the captain.

In speaking of this intended meeting, Valentine Jernam had spoken also of the good fortune which had attended his latest trading adventures; and he had said enough to let these men know that he carried the proceeds of his trading upon his person.

“Joyce wanted me to bank my money,” he said; “but none of your banking rogues for me. My brother George is the only banker I trust, or ever mean to trust.”

Milsom insisted upon the necessity of his departure, and the sailor declared that he would have his revenge. They were getting to high words, when Dennis Wayman interfered to keep the peace.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” he said; “if the captain wants his revenge, it’s only fair that he should have it. Suppose we go down to your place, Milsom! you can give us a bit of supper, I dare say. What do you say to that?”

Milsom hesitated in a sheepish kind of manner. “Mine’s such a poor place for a gentleman like the captain,” he said. “My daughter Jenny will do her best to make things straight and comfortable; but still it is about the poorest place that ever was — there’s no denying that.”

“I’m no fine gentleman,” said the captain, enraptured at the idea of seeing the ballad-singer; “if your daughter will give us a crust of bread and cheese, I shall be satisfied. We’ll take two or three bottles of wine down with us, and we’ll be as jolly as princes. Get your trap ready, Wayman, and let’s be off at once.”

The captain was all impatience to start. Dennis Wayman went away to get the vehicle ready, and Milsom followed him, but they did not leave Captain Jernam much time for thought, for Dennis Wayman came back almost immediately to say that the vehicle was ready.

“Now, then, look sharp, captain!” he said; “it’s a dark night, and we shall have a dark drive.”

It was a dark night — dark even here in Wapping, darker still on the road by which Valentine Jernam found himself travelling presently.

The vehicle which Dennis Wayman drove was a disreputable-looking conveyance — half chaise-cart, half gig — and the pony was a vicious-looking animal, with a shaggy mane; but he was a tremendous pony to go, and the dark, marshy country flew past the travellers in the darkness like a landscape in a dream.

The ripple of the water, sounding faintly in the stillness, told Valentine Jernam that the river was near at hand; but beyond this the sailor had little knowledge of his whereabouts.

They had soon left London behind.

After driving some six or seven miles, and always keeping within sound of the dull plash of the river, the landlord of the ‘Jolly Tar’ drew up suddenly by a dilapidated wooden paling, behind which there was a low~roofed habitation of some kind or other, which was visible only by reason of one faint glimmer of light, flickering athwart a scrap of dingy red curtain. The dull, plashing sound of the river was louder here; and, mingling with that monotonous ripple of the water, there was a shivering sound — the trembling of rushes stirred by the chill night wind.

“I’d almost passed your place, Tom,” said the landlord, as he drew up before the darksome habitation.

“You might a’most drive over it on such a night as this,” answered Black Milsom, “and not be much the wiser.”

The three men alighted, and Dennis Wayman led the vicious pony to a broken-down shed, which served as stable and coach-house in Mr. Milsom’s establishment.

Valentine Jernam looked about him. As his eyes grew more familiar with the locality, he was able to make out the outline of the dilapidated dwelling.

It was little better than a hovel, and stood on a patch of waste ground, which could scarcely have been garden within the memory of man. By one side of the house there was a wide, open ditch, fringed with rushes — a deep, black ditch, that flowed down to the river.

“I can’t compliment you on the situation of your cottage, mate,” he said; “it might be livelier.”

“I dare say it might,” answered Black Milsom, rather sulkily. “I took to this place because everybody else was afraid to take to it, and it was to be had for nothing. There was an old miser as cut his throat here seven or eight year ago, and the place has been left to go to decay ever since. The miser’s ghost walks about here sometimes, after twelve o’clock at night, folks say. ‘Let him walk till he tires himself out,’ says I. ‘He don’t come my way; and if he did he wouldn’t scare me.’ Come, captain.”

Mr. Milsom opened the door, and ushered his visitor into the lively abode, which the prejudice of weak-minded people permitted him to occupy rent-free.

The girl whom Jernam had seen at the Wapping public-house was sitting by the hearth, where a scrap of fire burnt in a rusty grate. She had been sitting in a listless attitude, with her hands lying idle on her lap, and her eyes fixed on the fire; but she looked up as the two men entered.

She did not welcome her father’s return with any demonstration of affection; she looked at him with a strange, wondering gaze; and she looked with an anxious expression from him to his companion.

Dennis Wayman came in presently, and as the girl recognized him, a transient look, almost like horror, flitted across her face, unseen by the sailor.

“Come, Jenny,” said Milsom; “I’ve brought Wayman and a friend of his down to supper. What can you give us to eat? There’s a bit of cold beef in the house, I know, and bread and cheese; the captain here has brought the wine; so we shall do well enough. Look sharp, lass. You’re in one of your tempers to-night, I suppose; but you ought to know that don’t answer with me. I say, captain,” added the man, with a laugh, “if ever you’re going to marry a pretty woman, make sure she isn’t troubled with an ugly temper; for you’ll find, as a rule, that the handsomer a woman is the more of the devil there is in her. Now, Jenny, the supper, and no nonsense about it.”

The girl went into another room, and returned presently with such fare as Mr. Milsom’s establishment could afford. The sailor’s eyes followed her wherever she went, full of compassion and love. He was sure this brutal wretch, Milsom, used her badly, and he rejoiced to think that he had disregarded all Joyce Harker’s warnings, and penetrated into the scoundrel’s home. He rejoiced, for he meant to rescue this lovely, helpless creature. He knew nothing of her, except that she was beautiful, friendless, lonely, and ill-used; and he determined to take her away and marry her.

He did not perplex himself with any consideration as to whether she would return his love, or be grateful for his devotion. He thought only of her unhappy position, and that he was predestined to save her.

The supper was laid upon the rickety deal table, and the three men sat down. Valentine would have waited till his host’s daughter had seated herself; but she had laid no plate or knife for herself, and it was evident that she was not expected to share the social repast.

“You can go to bed now,” said Milsom. “We’re in for a jolly night of it, and you’ll only be in the way. Where’s the old man?”

“Gone to bed.”

“So much the better: and the sooner you follow him will be so much the better again. Good night.”

The girl did not answer him. She looked at him for a few moments with an earnest, inquiring gaze, which seemed to compel him to return her look, as if he had been fascinated by the profound earnestness of those large dark eyes; and then she went slowly and silently from the room.

“Sulky!” muttered Mr. Milsom. “There never was such a girl to sulk.”

He took up a candle, and followed his daughter from the room.

A rickety old staircase led to the upper floor, where there were three or four bed-chambers. The house had been originally something more than a cottage, and the rooms and passages were tolerably large.

Thomas Milsom found the girl standing at the top of the stairs, as if waiting for some one.

“What are you standing mooning there for?” asked the man. “Why don’t you go to bed?”

“Why have you brought that sailor here?” inquired the girl, without noticing Milsom’s question.

“What’s that to you? You’d like to know my business, wouldn’t you? I’ve brought him here because he wanted to come. Is that a good answer? I’ve brought him here because he has money to lose, and is in the humour to lose it. Is that a better answer?”

“Yes,” returned the girl, fixing her eyes upon him with a look of horror; “you will win his money, and, if he is angry, there will be a quarrel, as there was on that hideous night three years ago, when you brought home the foreign sailor, and what happened to that man will happen to this one. Father,” cried the girl, suddenly and passionately, “let this man leave the house in safety. I sometimes think my heart is almost as hard as yours; but this man trusts us. Don’t let any harm come to him.”

“Why, what harm should come to him?”

For some time the girl called Jenny stood before her father in silence, with her head bent, and her face in shadow; then she lifted her head suddenly, and looked at him piteously.

“The other!” she murmured; “the other! I remember what happened to him.”

“Come, drop that!” cried Milsom, savagely; “do you think I’m going to stand your mad talk? Get to bed, and go to sleep. And the sounder you sleep the better, unless you want to sleep uncommonly sound for the future, my lady.”

The ruffian seized his daughter by the arm, and half pushed, half flung her into a room, the door of which stood open. It was the dreary room which she called her own. Milsom shut the door upon her, and locked it with a key which he took from his pocket — a key which locked every door in the house. “And now, I flatter myself, you’re safe, my pretty singing-bird,” he muttered.

He went down stairs, and returned to his guest, who had been pressed to eat and drink by Dennis Wayman, and who had yielded good-naturedly to that gentleman’s hospitable attentions.

Alone in her room, Jenny Milsom opened the window, and sat looking out into the inky darkness of the night, and listening to the voices of the three men in the room below.

The voices sounded very distinctly in that dilapidated old house. Every now and then a hearty shout of laughter seemed to shake the crazy rafters; but presently the revellers grew silent. Jenny knew they were busy with the cards.

“Yes, yes,” she murmured; “it all happens as it happened that night — first the loud voices and laughter; then the silence; then — Great Heaven! will the end be like the end of that night?”

She clasped her hands in silent agony, and sank in a crouching position by the open window, with her head lying on the sill.

For hours this wretched girl sat upon the floor in the same attitude, with the cold wind blowing in upon her. All seemed tranquil in the room below. The voices sounded now and then, subdued and cautious, and there were no more outbursts of jovial laughter.

A dim, gray streak glimmered faint and low in the east — the first pale flicker of dawn. The girl raised her weary eyes towards that chill gray light.

“Oh! if this night were only ended!” she murmured: “if it were only ended without harm!”

The words were still upon her lips, when the voices sounded loud and harsh from the room below. The girl started to her feet, white and trembling. Louder with every moment grew those angry voices. Then came a struggle; some article of furniture fell with a crash; there was the sound of shivered glass, and then a dull heavy noise, which echoed through the house, and shook the weather-beaten wooden walls to their foundations.

After the fall there came the sound of one loud groan, and then subdued murmurs, cautious whispers.

The window of Jenny Milsom’s room looked towards the road. From that window she could see nothing of the sluggish ditch or the river.

She tried the door of her room. It was securely locked, as she had expected to find it.

“They would kill me, if I tried to come between them and their victim,” she said; “and I am afraid to die.”

She crept to her wretched bed, and flung herself down, dressed as she was. She drew the thin patchwork coverlet round her.

Ten minutes after she had thrown herself upon the bed, a key turned in the lock, and the door was opened by a stealthy hand. Black Milsom looked into the room.

The cold glimmer of day fell full upon the girl’s pale face. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing was loud and regular.

“Asleep,” he whispered to some one outside; “as safe as a rock.”

He drew back and closed the door softly.

Joyce Harker worked his hardest on board the ‘Pizarro’, and the repairs were duly completed by the 4th of April. On the morning of the 5th the vessel was a picture, and Joyce surveyed her with the pride of a man who feels that he has not worked in vain.

He had set his heart upon the brothers celebrating the first day of their re-union on board the trim little craft: and he had made arrangements for the preparation of a dinner which was to be a triumph in its way.

Joyce presented himself at the bar of the ‘Jolly Tar’ at half-past eleven on the appointed morning. He expected that the brothers would be punctual; but he did not expect either of them to appear before the stroke of noon.

All was very quiet at the ‘Jolly Tar’ at this hour of the day. The landlord was alone in the bar, reading a paper. He looked up as Joyce entered; but did not appear to recognize him.

“Can I step through into your private room?” asked Joyce; “I expect Captain Jernam and his brother to meet me here in half an hour.”

“To be sure you can, mate. There’s no one in the private room at this time of day. Jernam — Jernam, did you say? What Jernam is that? I don’t recollect the name.”

“You’ve a short memory,” answered Joyce; “you might remember Captain Jernam of the ‘Pizarro’; for it isn’t above a week since he was here with me. He dined here, and slept here, and left early in the morning, though you were uncommonly pressing for him to stay.”

“We’ve so many captains and sailors in and out from year’s end to year’s end, that I don’t remember them by name,” said Dennis Wayman; “but I do remember your friend, mate, now you remind me of him; and I remember you, too.”

“Yes,” said Joyce, with a grin; “there ain’t so many of my pattern. I’ll take a glass of rum for the good of the house; and if you can lend me a paper, I’ll skim the news of the day while I’m waiting.”

Joyce passed into the little room, where Dennis took him the newspaper and the rum.

Twelve o’clock struck, and the clerk began to watch and to listen for the opening of the door, or the sound of a footstep in the passage outside. The time seemed very long to him, watching and listening. The minute-hand of the Dutch clock moved slowly on. He turned every now and then towards the dusky corner where the clock hung, to see what progress that slow hand had made upon the discoloured dial.

He waited thus for an hour.

“What does it mean?” he thought. “Valentine Jernam so faithfully promised to be punctual. And then he’s so fond of his brother. He’d scarcely care to be a minute behindhand, when he has the chance of seeing Captain George.”

Joyce went into the bar. The landlord was scrutinizing the address of a letter — a foreign letter.

“Didn’t you say your friend’s name was Jernam?” he asked.

“I did.”

“Then this letter must be for him. It has been lying here for the last two or three days; but I forgot all about it till just this minute.”

Joyce took the letter. It was addressed to Captain Valentine Jernam, of the ‘Pizarro’, at the ‘Jolly Tar’, care of the landlord, and it came from the Cape of Good Hope.

Joyce recognized George Jernam’s writing.

“This means a disappointment,” he thought, as he turned the letter over and over slowly; “there’ll be no meeting yet awhile. Captain George is off to the East Indies on some new venture, I dare say. But what can have become of Captain Valentine? I’ll go down to the ‘Golden Cross,’ and see if he’s there.”

He told Dennis Wayman where he was going, and left a message for his captain. From Ratcliff Highway to Charing Cross was a long journey for Joyce; but he had no idea of indulging in any such luxury as a hackney~coach. It was late in the afternoon when he reached the hotel; and there he was doomed to encounter a new disappointment.

Captain Jernam had been there on the second of the month, and had never been there since. He had left in the forenoon, after saying that he should return at night; and in evidence that such had been his intention, the waiter told Joyce that the captain had left a carpet~bag, containing clean linen and a change of clothes.

“He’s broken his word to me, and he’s got into bad hands,” thought Harker. “He’s as simple as a child, and he’s got into bad hands. But how and where? He’d never, surely, go back to the ‘Jolly Tar’, after what I said to him. And where else can he have gone? I know no more where to look for him in this great overgrown London than if I was a new-born baby.”

In his perfect ignorance of his captain’s movements, there was only one thing that Joyce Harker could do, and that was to go back to the “Jolly Tar,” with a faint hope of finding Valentine Jernam there.

It was dusk by the time he got back to Ratcliff Highway, and the flaring gas-lamps were lighted. The bar of the tavern was crowded, and the tinkling notes of the old piano sounded feebly from the inner room.

Dennis Wayman was serving his customers, and Thomas Milsom was drinking at the bar. Joyce pushed his way to the landlord.

“Have you seen anything of the captain?” he asked.

“No, he hasn’t been here since you left.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Quite sure.”

“He’s not been here to day; but he’s been here within the week, hasn’t he? He was here on Tuesday, if I’m not misinformed.”

“Then you are misinformed,” Wayman said, coolly; “for your seafaring friend hasn’t darkened my doors since the morning you and he left to go to the coach-office.”

Joyce could say nothing further. He passed through the passage into the public room, where the so-called concert had begun. Jenny Milsom was singing to the noisy audience.

The girl was very pale, and her manner and attitude, as she sat by the piano, were even more listless than usual.

Joyce Harker did not stop long in the concert-room. He went back to the bar. This time there was no one but Milsom and Wayman in the bar, and the two seemed to be talking earnestly as Joyce entered.

They left off, and looked up at the sound of the clerk’s footsteps.

“Tired of the music already?” asked Wayman.

“I didn’t come here to hear music,” answered Joyce; “I came to look for my captain. He had an appointment to meet his brother here to-day at twelve o’clock, and it isn’t like him to break it. I’m beginning to get uneasy about him.”

“But why should you be uneasy? The captain is big enough, and old enough, to take care of himself,” said the landlord, with a laugh.

“Yes; but then you see, mate, there are some men who never know how to take care of themselves when they get into bad company. There isn’t a better sailor than Valentine Jernam, or a finer fellow at sea; but I don’t think, if you searched from one end of this city to the other, you’d find a greater innocent on shore. I’m afraid of his having fallen into bad hands, Mr. Wayman, for he had a goodish bit of money about him; and there’s land-sharks as dangerous as those you meet with on the sea.”

“So there are, mate,” answered the landlord; “and there’s some queer characters about this neighbourhood, for the matter of that.”

“I dare say you’re right, Mr. Wayman,” returned Joyce; “and I’ll tell you what it is. If any harm has come to Valentine Jernam, let those that have done the harm look out for themselves. Perhaps they don’t know what it is to hurt a man that’s got a faithful dog at his heels. Let them hide themselves where they will, and let them be as cunning as they will, the dog will smell them out, sooner or later, and will tear them to pieces when he finds them. I’m Captain Jernam’s dog, Mr. Dennis Wayman; and if I don’t find my master, I’ll hunt till I do find those that have got him out of the way. I don’t know what’s amiss with me to~night; but I’ve got a feeling come over me that I shall never look in Valentine Jernam’s honest face again. If I’m right, Lord help the scoundrels who have plotted against him, for it’ll be the business of my life to track them down, and bring their crime home to them — and I’ll do it.”

After having said this, slowly and deliberately, with an appalling earnestness of voice and manner, Joyce Harker looked from Dennis Wayman to Black Milsom, and this time the masks they were accustomed to wear did not serve these scoundrels so well as usual, for in the faces of both there was a look of fear.

“I am going to search for my captain,” said Joyce. “Good night, mates.”

He left the tavern. The two men looked at each other earnestly as the door closed upon him.

“A dangerous man,” said Dennis Wayman.

“Bah!” muttered Black Milsom, savagely; “who’s afraid of a hunchback’s bluster? I dare say he wanted the handling of the money himself.”

All that night Joyce Harker wandered to and fro amidst the haunts of sailors and merchant captains; but wander where he would, and inquire of whom he would, he could obtain no tidings of the missing man.

Towards daybreak, he took a couple of hours’ sleep in a tavern at Shadwell, and with the day his search began again.

Throughout that day the same patient search continued, the same inquiries were repeated with indomitable perseverance, in every likely and unlikely place; but everywhere the result was failure.

It was towards dusk that Joyce Harker turned his back upon a tavern in Rotherhithe, and set his face towards the river bank.

“I have looked long enough for him among the living,” he said; “I must look for him now amongst the dead.”

Before midnight the search was ended. Amongst the printed bills flapping on dreary walls in that river-side neighbourhood, Joyce Harker had discovered the description of a man “found drowned.” The description fitted Valentine Jernam, and the body had been found within the last two days.

Joyce went to the police-office where the man was lying. He had no need to look at the poor dead face — the dark, handsome face, which was so familiar to him.

“I expected as much,” he said to the official who had admitted him to see the body; “he had money about him, and he has fallen into the hands of scoundrels.”

“You don’t think it was an accident?”

“No; he has been murdered, sir. And I think I know the men who did it.”

“You know the men?”

“Yes; but my knowledge won’t help to avenge his death, if I can’t bring it home to them — and I don’t suppose I can. There’ll be a coroner’s inquest, won’t there?”

At the inquest, next day, Joyce Harker told his story; but that story threw very little light on the circumstances of Valentine Jernam’s death.

The investigation before the coroner set at rest all question as to the means by which the captain had met his death. A medical examination demonstrated that he had been murdered by a blow on the back of the head, inflicted by some sharp heavy instrument. The unfortunate man must have died before he was thrown into the water.

The verdict of the coroner’s jury was to the effect that Valentine Jernam had been wilfully murdered by some person or persons unknown. And with this verdict Joyce Harker was obliged to be content. His suspicions he dared not mention in open court. They were too vague and shadowy. But he called upon a celebrated Bow Street officer, and submitted the case to him. It was a case for secret inquiry, for careful investigation; and Joyce offered a handsome reward out of his own savings.

While this secret investigation was in progress, Joyce opened the letter addressed to Valentine by his brother George.

“DEAR VAL,” wrote the sailor: “I have been tempted to make another trip to Calcutta with a cargo shipped at Lisbon, and shall not be able to meet you in London on the 5th of April. It will be ten or twelve months before I see England again; but when I do come back, I hope to add something handsome to our joint fortunes. I long to see your honest face, and grasp your hand again; but the chance of a big prize lures me out yonder. We are both young, and have all the world before us, so we can afford to wait a year or two. Bank the money; Joyce will tell you where, and how to do it; and let me know your plans before you leave London. A letter addressed to me, care of Riverdale and Co., Calcutta, will be safe. Good luck to you, dear old boy, now and always, and every good wish. — From your affectionate brother,” “GEORGE JERNAM.”

It was Joyce Harker’s melancholy task to tell Valentine Jernam’s younger brother the story of the seaman’s death. He wrote a long letter, recording everything that had happened within his knowledge, from the moment of the ‘Pizarro’ reaching Gravesend to the discovery of Valentine’s body in the river-side police office. He told George the impression that had been made upon his brother by the ballad-singer’s beauty.

I think that this girl and these two men, her father, Thomas Milsom, and Dennis Wayman, the landlord of the ‘Jolly Tar’, are in the secret — are, between them, the murderers of your brother. I think that when he broke his promise to me, and came back to this end of London, before the fifth, he came lured by that girl’s beauty. It is to the girl we must look for a key to the secret of his death. I do not expect to extort anything from the fears of the men. They are both hardened villains; and if, as I believe, they are guilty of this crime, it is not likely to be the first in which they have been engaged. The police are on the watch, and I have promised a liberal reward for any discoveries they may make; but it is very slow work.”

This, and much more, Joyce Harker wrote to George Jernam. The letter was written immediately after the inquest; and on the night succeeding that inquiry, Joyce went to the ‘Jolly Tar’, in the hope of seeing Jenny Milsom. But he was doomed to disappointment; for in the concert~room at Dennis Wayman’s tavern he found a new singer — a fat, middle~aged woman, with red hair.

“What has become of the pretty girl who used to sing here?” he asked the landlord.

“Milsom’s daughter?” said Wayman. “Oh, we’ve lost her She was a regular she-devil, it seems. Her father and she had a row, and the girl ran away. She can get her living anywhere with that voice of hers; and I don’t suppose Milsom treated her over well. He’s a rough fellow, but an honest one.”

“Yes,” answered Joyce, with a sneer; “he seems uncommonly honest. There’s a good deal of that sort of honesty about this neighbourhood, I think, mate. I suppose you’ve heard about my captain?”

“Not a syllable. Is there anything wrong with him?”

“Ah! news seems to travel slowly down here. There was an inquest held this morning, not so many miles from this house.”

The landlord shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve been busy in-doors all day, and I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

Joyce told the story of his captain’s fate, to which Dennis Wayman listened with every appearance of sympathy.

“And you’ve no idea what has become of the girl?” Harker asked, after having concluded his story.

“No more than the dead. She’s cut and run, that’s all I know.”

“Has her father gone after her?”

“Not a bit of it. He’s not that sort of man. She has chosen to take herself off, and her father will let her go her own way.”

“And her grandfather, the old blind man?”

“He has gone with her.”

There was no more to be said about the girl after this.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Wayman,” said Joyce, “I’m likely to be a good bit down in this neighbourhood, while I’m waiting for directions about my poor captain’s ship from his brother Captain George, and as your house suits me as well as any other, I may as well take up my quarters here. I know you’ve got plenty of room, and you’ll find me a quiet lodger.”

“So be it,” answered the landlord, promptly. “I’m agreeable.”

Joyce deliberated profoundly as he walked away from the ‘Jolly Tar’ that night.

“He’s too deep to be caught easily,” he thought. “He’ll let me into his house, because he knows there’s nothing I can find out, watch as I may. Such a murder as that leaves no trace behind it. If I had been able to get hold of the girl, I might have frightened her into telling me something; but it’s clear to me she has really bolted, or Wayman would never let me into his house.”

For weeks Joyce Harker was a lodger at the ‘Jolly Tar’; always on the watch; always ready to seize upon the smallest clue to the mystery of Valentine Jernam’s death; but nothing came of his watching.

The police did their best to discover the key to the dreadful secret; but they worked in vain. The dead man’s money had been partly in notes and gold, partly in bills of exchange. It was easy enough to dispose of such bills in the City. There were men ready to take them at a certain price, and to send them abroad; men who never ask questions of their customers.

So there was little chance of any light being thrown on this dark and evil mystery. Joyce watched and waited with dog-like fidelity, ready to seize upon the faintest clue; but he waited and watched in vain.

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