Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 20

On Guard.

Mr. Andrew Larkspur, the police-officer, took up his abode in Percy Street a week after his interview with Lady Eversleigh.

For a fortnight after he became an occupant of the house in which she lived, Honoria received no tidings from him. She knew that he went out early every morning, and that he returned late every night, and this was all that she knew respecting his movements.

At the end of the fortnight, he came to her late one evening, and begged to be favoured with an audience.

“I shall want at least two hours of your time, ma’am,” he said; “and, perhaps, you may find it fatiguing to listen to me so late at night. If you’d rather defer the business till to-morrow morning —”

“I would rather not defer it,” answered Lady Eversleigh; “I am ready to listen to you for as long a time as you choose. I have been anxiously expecting some tidings of your movements.”

“Very likely, ma’am,” replied Mr. Larkspur, coolly; “I know you ladies are given to impatience, as well as Berlin wool work, and steel beads, and the pianoforte, and such like. But you see, ma’am, there’s not a living creature more unlike a race-horse than a police-officer. And it’s just like you ladies to expect police-officers to be Flying Dutchmen, in a manner of speaking. I’ve been a hard worker in my time, ma’am; but I never worked harder, or stuck to my work better, than I have these last two weeks; and all I can say is, if I ain’t dead-beat, it’s only because it isn’t in circumstances to dead-beat me.”

Lady Eversleigh listened very quietly to this exordium; but a slight, nervous twitching of her lips every now and then betrayed her impatience.

“I am waiting to hear your news,” she said, presently.

“And I’m a-going to tell it, ma’am, in due course,” returned the police-officer, drawing a bloated leather book from his pocket, and opening it. “I’ve got all down here in regular order. First and foremost, the baronet — he’s a bad lot, is the baronet.”

“I do not need to hear that from your lips.”

“Very likely not, ma’am. But if you set me to watch a gentleman, you must expect I shall form an opinion about him. The baronet has lodgings in Villiers Street, uncommon shabby ones. I went in and took a good survey of him and his lodgings together, in the character of a bootmaker, taking home a pair of boots, which was intended for a Mr. Everfield in the next street, says I, and, of course, Everfield and Eversleigh being a’most the same names, was calculated to lead to inconvenient mistakes. In the character of the bootmaker, Sir Reginald Eversleigh tells me to get out of his room, and be — something uncommonly unpleasant, and unfit for the ears of ladies. In the character of the bootmaker, I scrapes acquaintance with a young person employed as housemaid, and very willing to answer questions, and be drawed out. From the young person employed as housemaid, I gets what I take the liberty to call my ground-plan of the baronet’s habits; beginning with his late breakfast, consisting chiefly of gunpowder tea and cayenne pepper, and ending with the scroop of his latch-key, to be heard any time from two in the morning to day-break. From the young person employed as housemaid, I discover that my baronet always spends his evenings out of doors, and is known to visit a lady at Fulham very constant, whereby the young person employed as housemaid supposes he is keeping company with her. From the same young person I obtain the lady’s address — which piece of information the young person has acquired in the course of taking letters to the post. The lady’s address is Hilton House, Fulham. The lady’s name has slipped my young person’s memory, but is warranted to begin with a D.”

Mr. Larkspur paused to take breath, and to consult the memoranda in the bloated leather book.

“Having ascertained this much, I had done with the young person, for the time being,” he continued, glibly; “and I felt that my next business would be at Hilton House. Here I presented myself in the character of a twopenny postman; but here I found the servants foreign, and so uncommonly close that they might as well have been so many marble monuments, for any good that was to be got out of them. Failing the servants, I fell back upon the neighbours and the tradespeople; and from the neighbours and the tradespeople I find out that my foreign lady’s name is Durski, and that my foreign lady gives a party every night, which party is made up of gentlemen. That is queer, to say the least of it, thinks I. A lady who gives a party every night, and whose visitors are all gentlemen, is an uncommonly queer customer. Having found out this much, my mouth watered to find out more; for a man who has his soul in his profession takes a pleasure in his work, ma’am; and if you were to offer to pay such a man double to waste his time, he couldn’t do it. I tried the neighbours, and I tried the tradespeople, every way; and work ’em how I would, I couldn’t get much out of ’em. You see, ma’am, there’s scarcely a human habitation within a quarter of a mile of Hilton House, so, when I say neighbours, I don’t mean neighbours in the common sense of the word. There might be assassination going on every night in Hilton House undiscovered, for there’s no one lives near enough to hear the victims’ groans; and if there was anything as good for our trade as pork-pie making out of murdered human victims going nowadays, ma’am, Hilton House would be the place where I should look for pork-pies. Well, I was almost beginning to lose patience, when I sat down in a fancy-stationer’s shop to rest myself. I sat down in this shop because I was really tired, not with any hope of making use of my time, for I was too far away from Hilton House to expect any luck in the way of information from the gentleman behind the counter. However, when a man has devoted his life to ferreting out information, the habit of ferreting is apt to be very strong upon him; so I pass the time of day to my fancy-stationer, and then begins to ferret. ‘Madame Durski, at Hilton House yonder, is an uncommonly handsome woman,’ I throw out, by way of an opening. ‘Uncommonly,’ replies my fancy-stationer, by which I perceive he knows her. ‘A customer of yours, perhaps?’ I throw out, promiscuous. ‘Yes,’ answers my fancy-stationer. ‘A good one, too, I’ll be bound,’ I throw out, in a lively, conversational way. My fancy-stationer smiles, and being accustomed to study smiles, I see significance in his smile. ‘A very good one in some things,’ replies my fancy-stationer, laying a tremendous stress upon the word some. ‘Oh,’ says I, ‘gilt-edged note~paper and cream-coloured sealing-wax, for instance.’ ‘I don’t sell her a quire of paper in a month,’ answers my stationer. ‘If she was as fond of writing letters as she is of playing cards, I think it would be better for her.’ ‘Oh, she’s fond of card-playing is she?’ I ask. ‘Yes,’ replies my fancy-stationer, ‘I rather think she is. Your hair would stand on end if I were to tell you how many packs of playing-cards I’ve sold her lady-companion within the last three months. The lady~companion comes here at dusk with a thick black veil over her face, and she thinks I don’t know who she is; but I do know her, and know where she lives, and whom she lives with.’ After this I buy myself a quire of writing-paper, which I don’t want, and I wish my fancy-stationer good afternoon. ‘Oh, oh,’ I say to myself when I get outside, ‘I know the meaning of Madame Durski’s parties now. Madame Durski’s house is a flash gambling crib, and all those fine gentlemen in cabs and broughams go there to play cards.’”

“The mistress of a gaming-house!” exclaimed Honoria. “A fitting companion for Reginald Eversleigh!”

“Just so, ma’am; and a fitting companion for Mr. Victor Carrington likewise.”

“Have you found out anything about him?” cried Lady Eversleigh, eagerly.

“No, ma’am, I haven’t. At least, nothing in my way. I’ve tried his neighbours, and his tradespeople also, in the character of a postman, which is respectable, and calculated to inspire confidence. But out of his tradespeople I can get nothing more than the fact that he is a remarkably praiseworthy young man, who pays his debts regular, and is the very best of sons to a highly-respectable mother. There’s nothing much in that, you know, ma’am.”

“Hypocrite!” murmured Lady Eversleigh. “A hypocrite so skilled in the vile arts of hypocrisy that he will contrive to have the world always on his side. And this is all your utmost address has been able to achieve?”

“All at present, ma’am; but I live in hopes. And now I’ve got a bit of news about the baronet, which I think will astonish you. I’ve been improving my acquaintance with the young person employed as housemaid in Villiers Street for the last fortnight, and I find from her that my baronet is on very friendly terms with his first cousin, Mr. Dale, of the Temple.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Honoria. “These two men are the last between whom I should have imagined a friendship impossible.”

“Yes, ma’am; but so it is, notwithstanding. Mr. Douglas Dale, barrister-at-law, dined with his cousin, Sir Reginald, twice last week; and on each occasion the two gentlemen left Villiers Street together in a hack cab, between eight and nine o’clock. My friend, the housemaid, happened to hear the address given to the cabmen on both occasions; and on both occasions the address was Hilton House, Fulham.”

“Douglas Dale a gambler!” cried Honoria; “the companion of his infamous cousin! That is indeed ruin.”

“Well, certainly, ma’am, it does not seem a very lively prospect for my friend, D. D.,” answered Mr. Larkspur, with irrepressible flippancy.

“Do you know any more respecting this acquaintance?” asked Honoria.

“Not yet, ma’am; but I mean to know more.”

“Watch then,” she cried; “watch those two men. There is danger for Mr. Dale in any association with his cousin, Sir Reginald Eversleigh. Do not forget that. There is peril for him — the deadliest it may be. Watch them, Mr. Larkspur; watch them by day and night.”

“I’ll do my duty, ma’am, depend upon it,” replied the police officer; “and I’ll do it well. I take a pride in my profession, and to me duty is a pleasure.”

“I will trust you.”

“You may, ma’am. Oh, by-the-bye, I must tell you that in this house my name is Andrews. Please remember that, ma’am.”

“Mr. Andrews, lawyer’s clerk. The name of Larkspur smells too strong of Bow Street.”

The information acquired by Andrew Larkspur was perfectly correct. An intimacy and companionship had arisen between Douglas Dale and his cousin, Reginald Eversleigh, and the two men spent much of their time together.

Douglas Dale was still the same simple-minded, true-hearted young man that he had been before his uncle Oswald’s death endowed him with an income of five thousand a year; but with the accession of wealth the necessity for industry ceased; and instead of a hard-working student, Douglas became one of the upper million, who have nothing to think of but the humour of the moment — now Alpine tourist, now Norwegian angler; anon idler in clubs and drawing-rooms; anon book collector, or amateur litterateur.

He still occupied chambers in the Temple; he still called himself a barrister; but he had no longer any desire to succeed at the bar.

His brother Lionel had become rector of Hallgrove, a village in Dorsetshire, where there was a very fine old church and a very small congregation. It was one of those fat livings which seem only to fall to the lot of rich men.

Lionel had the tastes of a typical country gentleman, and he found ample leisure to indulge in his favourite amusement of hunting, after having conscientiously discharged his duties.

The poor of Hallgrove had good reason to congratulate themselves on the fact that their rector was a rich man. Mr. Dale’s charities seemed almost boundless to his happy parishioners.

The rectory was a fine old house, situated in one of those romantic spots which one scarcely hopes to see out of a picture. Hill, wood, and water combined to make the beauty of the landscape; and amid verdant woods and fields the old red-brick mansion looked the perfection of an English homestead. It had been originally a manor-house, and some portions of it were very old.

Douglas Dale called Hallgrove the Happy Valley. Neither of the brothers had yet married, and the barrister paid frequent visits to the rector. He was glad to find repose after the fatigue and excitement of London life. Like his brother, he delighted in the adventures and perils of the hunting field, and he was rarely absent from Hallgrove during the hunting season.

In London he had his clubs, and the houses of friends. The manoeuvring mammas of the West End were very glad to welcome Mr. Dale at their parties. He might have danced with the prettiest girls in London every night of his life had he pleased.

To an unmarried man, with unlimited means and no particular occupation, the pleasures of a life of fashionable amusement are apt to grow “weary, flat, stale, and unprofitable,” after a certain time. Douglas Dale was beginning to be very tired of balls and dinner parties, flower-shows and morning concerts, when he happened to meet his cousin, Reginald Eversleigh, at a club to which both men belonged.

Eversleigh could make himself very agreeable when he chose; and on this occasion he exerted himself to the utmost to produce a good impression upon the mind of Douglas Dale. Hitherto Douglas had not liked his cousin, Reginald; but he now began to fancy that he had been prejudiced against his kinsman. He felt that Reginald had some reason to consider himself ill-used; and with the impulsive kindness of a generous nature, he was ready to extend the hand of friendship to a man who had been beaten in the battle of life.

The two men dined together at their club; they met again and again; sometimes by accident — sometimes by appointment. The club was one at which there was a good deal of quiet gambling amongst scientific whist~players; but until his meeting with Reginald Eversleigh, Douglas Dale had never been tempted to take part in a rubber.

His habits changed gradually under the influence of his cousin and Victor Carrington. He consented to take a hand at écarté after dinner on one day; on another day to join at a whist-party. Three months after his first meeting with Reginald, he accompanied the baronet to Hilton House, where he was introduced to the beautiful Austrian widow.

Sir Reginald Eversleigh played his cards very cautiously. It was only after he had instilled a taste for gambling into his kinsman’s breast that he ventured to introduce him to the fashionable gaming-house presided over by Paulina Durski.

The introduction had a sinister effect upon his destiny. He had passed unscathed through the furnace of London life; many women had sought to obtain power over him; but his heart was still in his own keeping when he first crossed the threshold of Hilton House.

He saw Paulina Durski, and loved her. He loved her from the very first with a deep and faithful affection, as far above the selfish fancy of Reginald Eversleigh as the heaven is above the earth.

But she was no longer mistress of her heart. That was given to the man whose baseness she knew, and whom she loved despite her better reason.

Sir Reginald speedily discovered the state of his cousin’s feelings. He had laid his plans for this result. Douglas Dale, as the adoring slave of Madame Durski, would be an easy dupe, and much of Sir Oswald’s wealth might yet enrich his disinherited nephew. Victor Carrington looked on, and shared his spoils; but he watched Eversleigh’s schemes with a half-contemptuous air.

“You think you are doing wonders, my dear Reginald,” he said; “and certainly, by means of Mr. Dale’s losses, you and I contrive to live — to say nothing of our dear Madame Durski, who comes in for her share of the plunder. But after all, what is it? a few hundreds more or less, at the best. I think you may by-and-by play a better and a deeper game than that, Reginald, and I think I can show you how to play it.”

“I do not want to be mixed up in any more of your schemes,” answered Sir Reginald, “I have had enough of them. What have they done for me?”

The two men were seated in Sir Reginald’s dingy sitting-room in Villiers Street when this conversation took place.

They were sitting opposite to each other, with a little table between them. Victor Carrington rested his folded arms upon the table, and leaned across them, looking full in the face of his companion.

“Look you, Reginald Eversleigh,” he said, “because I have failed once, there is no reason that I am to fail always. The devil himself conspired against me last time; but the day will come when I shall have the devil on my side. It is yet on the cards for you to become owner of ten thousand a-year; and it shall be my business to make you owner of that income.”

“Stay, Carrington, do you think I would permit —?”

“I ask your permission for nothing: I know you to be a weak and wavering coward, who of your own volition would never rise from the level of a ruined spendthrift and penniless vagabond. You forget, perhaps, that I hold a bond which gives me an interest in your fortunes. I do not forget. When my own wisdom counsels action, I shall act, without asking your advice. If I am successful, you will thank me. If I fail, you will reproach me for my folly. That is the way of the world. And now let us change the subject. When do you go down to Dorsetshire with your cousin, Douglas Dale?”

“Why do you ask me that question?”

“My curiosity is only prompted by a friendly interest in your welfare, and that of your relations. You are going to hunt with Lionel Dale, are you not?”

“Yes; he has invited me to spend the remainder of the hunting season with him?”

“At his brother’s request, I believe?”

“Precisely. I have not met Lionel since — since my uncle’s funeral — as you know.” Sir Reginald pronounced these last words with considerable hesitation. “Douglas spends Christmas with his brother, and Douglas wishes me to join the party. In order to gratify this wish, Lionel has written me a very friendly letter, inviting me down to Hallgrove Rectory, and I have accepted the invitation.”

“Nothing could be more natural. There is some talk of your buying a hunter for Lionel, is there not, by-the-bye?”

“Yes. They know I am a tolerable judge of horseflesh, and Douglas wishes me to get his brother a good mount for the winter.”

“When is the animal to be chosen?” asked Victor, carelessly.

“Immediately. We go down to Hallgrove next week, I shall select the horse whenever I can get Douglas to go with me to the dealer’s, and send him down to get used to his new quarters before his hard work begins.”

“Good. Let me know when you are going to the horse-dealer’s: but if you see me there, take no notice of me beyond a nod, and be careful not to attract Douglas Dale’s attention to me or introduce me to him.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Reginald, looking suspiciously at his companion.

“What should I mean except what I say? I do not see how even your imagination can fancy any dark meaning lurking beneath the common-place desire to waste an afternoon in a visit to a horse-dealer’s yard.”

“My dear Carrington, forgive me,” exclaimed Reginald. “I am irritable and impatient. I cannot forget the misery of those last days at Raynham.”

“Yes,” answered Victor Carrington: “the misery of failure.”

No more was said between the two men. The sway which the powerful intellect of the surgeon exercised over the weaker nature of his friend was omnipotent. Reginald Eversleigh feared Victor Carrington. And there was something more than this ever-present fear in his mind; there was the lurking hope that, by means of Carrington’s scheming, he should yet obtain the wealth he had forfeited.

The conversation above recorded took place on the day after Mr. Larkspur’s interview with Honoria.

Three days afterwards, Reginald Eversleigh and his cousin met at the club, for the purpose of going together to inspect the hunters on sale at Mr. Spavin’s repository, in the Brompton Road.

Dale’s mail-phaeton was waiting before the door of the club, and he drove his cousin down to the repository.

Mr. Spavin was one of the most fashionable horse-dealers of that day. A man who could not afford to give a handsome price had but a small chance of finding himself suited at Mr. Spavin’s repository. For a poor customer the horse-dealer felt nothing but contempt.

Half a dozen horsey-looking men came out of stables, loose boxes, and harness-rooms to attend upon the gentlemen, whose dashing mail-phaeton and stylish groom commanded the respect of the whole yard. The great Mr. Spavin himself emerged from his counting-house to ask the pleasure of his customers.

“Carriage-horses, sir, or ‘acks?” he asked. “That’s a very fine pair in the break yonder, if you want anything showy for a mail-phaeton. They’ve been exercising in the park. All blood, sir, and not an ounce too much bone. A pair of hosses that would do credit to a dook.”

Reginald asked to see Mr. Spavin’s hunters, and the grooms and keepers were soon busy trotting out noble-looking creatures for the inspection of the three gentlemen. There was a tan-gallop at the bottom of the yard, and up and down this the animals were paraded.

Douglas Dale was much interested in the choice of the horse which he intended to present to his brother; and he discussed the merits of the different hunters with Sir Reginald Eversleigh, whose eye had lighted, within a minute of their entrance, upon Victor Carrington. The surgeon stood at a little distance from them, absorbed by the scene before him; but it was to be observed that his attention was given less to the horses than the men who brought them out of their boxes.

At one of these men he looked with peculiar intensity; and this man was certainly not calculated to attract the observation of a stranger by any personal advantages of his own. He was a wizened little man, with red hair, a bullet-shaped head, and small, rat-like eyes.

This man had very little to do with the display of the horses; but once, when there was a pause in the business, he opened the door of a loose-box, went in, and presently emerged, leading a handsome bay, whose splendid head was reared in a defiant attitude, as the fiery eyeballs surveyed the yard.

“Isn’t that ‘Wild Buffalo?’” asked Mr. Spavin.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you ought to know better than to bring him out,” exclaimed the horse-dealer, angrily. “These gentlemen want a horse that a Christian can ride, and the ‘Buffalo’ isn’t fit to be ridden by a Christian; not yet awhile at any rate. I mean to take the devil out of him before I’ve done with him, though,” added Mr. Spavin, casting a vindictive glance at the horse.

“He is rather a handsome animal,” said Sir Reginald Eversleigh.

“Oh, yes, he’s handsome enough,” answered the dealer. “His looks are no discredit to him; but handsome is as handsome does — that’s my motter; and if I’d known the temper of that beast when Captain Chesterly offered him to me, I’d have seen the captain farther before I consented to buy him. However, there he is; I’ve got him, and I must make the best of him. But Jack Spavin is not the man to sell such a beast to a customer until the wickedness is taken out of him. When the wickedness is taken out of him, he’ll be at your service, gentlemen, with Jack Spavin’s best wishes.”

The horse was taken back to his box. Victor watched the animal and the groom with an intensely earnest gaze as they disappeared from his sight.

“That’s a curious-looking fellow, that groom of yours,” Sir Reginald said to the horse-dealer.

“What, Hawkins — Jim Hawkins? Yes; his looks won’t make his fortune. He’s a hard-working fellow enough in his way; but he’s something like the horse in the matter of temper. But I think I’ve taken the devil out of him,” said Mr. Spavin, with an ominous crack of his heavy riding~whip.

More horses were brought out, examined, discussed, and taken back to their boxes. Mr. Spavin knew he had to deal with a good customer, and he wished to show off the resources of his stable.

“Bring out ‘Niagara,’” he said, presently, and in a few minutes a groom emerged from one of the stables, leading a magnificent bay. “Now, gentlemen,” said Mr. Spavin, “that animal is own brother to ‘Wild Buffalo,’ and if it had not been for my knowledge of that animal’s merits I should never have bought the ‘Buffalo.’ Now, there’s apt to be a good deal of difference between human beings of the same family; but perhaps you’d hardly believe the difference there can be between horses of the same blood. That animal is as sweet a temper as you’d wish to have in a horse — and ‘Buffalo’ is a devil; yet, if you were to see the two horses side by side, you’d scarcely know which was which.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Sir Reginald; “I should like, for the curiosity of the thing, to see the two animals together.”

Mr. Spavin gave his orders, and presently Jim Hawkins, the queer~looking groom, brought out “Wild Buffalo.”

The two horses were indeed exactly alike in all physical attributes, and the man who could have distinguished one from the other must have had a very keen eye.

“There they are, gents, as like as two peas, and if it weren’t for a small splash of white on the inner side of ‘Buffalo’s’ left hock, there’s very few men in my stable could tell one from the other.”

Victor Carrington, observing that Dale was talking to the horse-dealer, drew near the animal, with the air of an interested stranger, and stooped to examine the white mark. It was a patch about as large as a crown-piece.

“‘Niagara’ seems a fine creature,” he said.

“Yes,” replied a groom; “I don’t think there’s many better horses in the place than ‘Niagara.’”

When Douglas Dale returned to the examination of the two horses, Victor Carrington drew Sir Reginald aside, unperceived by Dale.

“I want you to choose the horse ‘Niagara’ for Lionel Dale,” he said, when they were beyond the hearing of Douglas.

“Why that horse in particular?”

“Never mind why,” returned Carrington, impatiently. “You can surely do as much as that to oblige me.”

“Be it so,” answered Sir Reginald, with assumed carelessness; “the horse seems a good one.”

There was a little more talk and consultation, and then Douglas Dale asked his cousin which horse he liked best among those they had seen.

“Well, upon my word, if you ask my opinion, I think there is no better horse than that bay they call ‘Niagara;’ and if you and Spavin can agree as to price, you may settle the business without further hesitation.”

Douglas Dale acted immediately upon the baronet’s advice. He went into Mr. Spavin’s little counting-house, and wrote a cheque for the price of the horse on the spot, much to that gentleman’s satisfaction. While Douglas Dale was writing this cheque, Victor Carrington waited in the yard outside the counting-house.

He took this opportunity of addressing Hawkins, the groom.

“I want a job done in your line,” he said, “and I think you’d be just the man to manage it for me. Have you any spare time?”

“I’ve an hour or two, now and then, of a night, after my work’s over,” answered the man.

“At what time, and where, are you to be met with after your work?”

“Well, sir, my own home is too poor a place for a gentleman like you to come to; but if you don’t object to a public — and a very respectable public, too, in its way — there’s the ‘Goat and Compasses,’ three doors down the little street as you’ll see on your left, as you leave this here yard, walking towards London.”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Victor, impatiently; “you are to be found at the ‘Goat and Compasses’?”

“I mostly am, sir, after nine o’clock of an evening — summer and winter —”

“That will do,” exclaimed Victor, with a quick glance at the door of the counting-house. “I will see you at the ‘Goat and Compasses’ to~night, at nine. Hush!”

Eversleigh and his cousin were just emerging from the counting-house, as Victor Carrington gave the groom a warning gesture.

“Mum’s the word,” muttered the man.

Sir Reginald Eversleigh and Douglas Dale took their places in the phaeton, and drove away.

Victor Carrington arrived at half-past eight at the “Goat and Compasses”— a shabby little public-house in a shabby little street. Here he found Mr. Hawkins lounging in the bar, waiting for him, and beguiling the time by the consumption of a glass of gin.

“There’s no one in the parlour, sir,” said Hawkins, as he recognized Mr. Carrington; “and if you’ll step in there, we shall be quite private. I suppose there ain’t no objection to this gent and me stepping into the parlour, is there, Mariar?” Mr. Hawkins asked of a young lady, in a very smart cap, who officiated as barmaid.

“Well, you ain’t a parlour customer in general, Mr. Hawkins; but I suppose if the gent wants to speak to you, there’ll be no objection to your making free with the parlour, promiscuous,” answered the damsel, with supreme condescension. “And if the gent has any orders to give, I’m ready to take ’em,” she added, pertly.

Victor Carrington ordered a pint of brandy.

The parlour was a dingy little apartment, very much the worse for stale tobacco smoke, and adorned with gaudy racing-prints. Here Mr. Carrington seated himself, and told his companion to take the place opposite him.

“Fill yourself a glass of brandy,” he said. And Mr. Hawkins was not slow to avail himself of the permission. “Now, I’m a man who does not care to beat about the bush, my friend Hawkins,” said Victor, “so I’ll come to business at once. I’ve taken a fancy to that bay horse, ‘Wild Buffalo,’ and I should like to have him; but I’m not a rich man, and I can’t afford a high price for my fancy. What I’ve been thinking, Hawkins, is that, with your help, I might get ‘Wild Buffalo’ a bargain?”

“Well, I should rather flatter myself you might, guv’nor,” answered the groom, coolly, “an uncommon good bargain, or an uncommon bad one, according to the working out of circumstances. But between friends, supposing that you was me, and supposing that I was you, you know, I wouldn’t have him at no price — no, not if Spavin sold him to you for nothing, and threw you in a handsome pair of tops and a bit of pink gratis likewise.”

Mr. Hawkins had taken a second glass of brandy by this time; and the brandy provided by Victor Carrington, taken in conjunction with the gin purchased by himself was beginning to produce a lively effect upon his spirits.

“The horse is a dangerous animal to handle, then?” asked Victor.

“When you can ride a flash of lightning, and hold that well in hand, you may be able to ride ‘Wild Buffalo,’ guv’nor,” answered the groom, sententiously; “but till you have got your hand in with a flash of lightning, I wouldn’t recommend you to throw your leg across the ‘Buffalo.’”

“Come, come,” remonstrated Victor, “a good rider could manage the brute, surely?”

“Not the cove as drove a mail-phaeton and pair in the skies, and was chucked out of it, which served him right — not even that sky-larking cove could hold in the ‘Buffalo.’ He’s got a mouth made of cast-iron, and there ain’t a curb made, work ’em how you will, that’s any more to him than a lady’s bonnet-ribbon. He got a good name for his jumping as a steeple-chaser; but when he’d been the death of three jocks and two gentlemen riders, folks began to get rather shy of him and his jumping; and then Captain Chesterly come and planted him on my guv’nor, which more fool my governor to take him at any price, says I. And now, sir, I’ve stood your friend, and give you a honest warning; and perhaps it ain’t going too far to say that I’ve saved your life, in a manner of speaking. So I hope you’ll bear in mind that I’m a poor man with a fambly, and that I can’t afford to waste my time in giving good advice to strange gents for nothing.”

Victor Carrington took out his purse, and handed Mr. Hawkins a sovereign. A look of positive rapture mingled with the habitual cunning of the groom’s countenance as he received this donation.

“I call that handsome, guv’nor,” he exclaimed, “and I ain’t above saying so.”

“Take another glass of brandy, Hawkins.”

“Thank you kindly, sir; I don’t care if I do,” answered the groom; and again he replenished his glass with the coarse and fiery spirit.

“I’ve given you that sovereign because I believe you are an honest fellow,” said the surgeon. “But in spite of the bad character you have given the ‘Buffalo’ I should like to get him.”

“Well, I’m blest,” exclaimed Mr. Hawkins; “and you don’t look like a hossey gent either, guv’nor.”

“I am not a ‘horsey gent.’ I don’t want the ‘Buffalo’ for myself. I want him for a hunting-friend. If you can get me the brute a dead bargain, say for twenty pounds, and can get a week’s holiday to bring him down to my friend’s place in the country, I’ll give you a five~pound note for your trouble.”

The eyes of Mr. Hawkins glittered with the greed of gold as Victor Carrington said this; but, eager as he was to secure the tempting prize, he did not reply very quickly.

“Well, you see, guv’nor, I don’t think Mr. Spavin would consent to sell the ‘Buffalo’ yet awhile. He’d be afraid of mischief, you know. He’s a very stiff ’un, is Spavin, and he comes it uncommon bumptious about his character, and so on. I really don’t think he’d sell the ‘Buffalo’ till he’s broke, and the deuce knows how long it may take to break him.” “Oh, nonsense; Spavin would be glad to get rid of the beast, depend upon it. You’ve only got to say you want him for a friend of yours, a jockey, who’ll break him in better than any of Spavin’s people could do it.”

James Hawkins rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Well, perhaps if I put it in that way it might answer,” he said, after a meditative pause. “I think Spavin might sell him to a jock, where he would not part with him to a gentleman. I know he’d be uncommon glad to get rid of the brute.” “Very well, then,” returned Victor Carrington; “you manage matters well, and you’ll be able to earn your fiver. Be sure you don’t let Spavin think it’s a gentleman who’s sweet upon the horse. Do you think you are able to manage the business?”

The groom laid his finger on his nose, and winked significantly.

“I’ve managed more difficult businesses than that, guv’nor,” he said. “When do you want the animal?”

“Immediately.”

“Could you make it convenient to slip down here to-morrow night, or shall I wait upon you at your house, guv’nor?”

“I will come here to-morrow night, at nine.”

“Very good, guv’nor; in which case you shall hear news of ‘Wild Buffalo.’ But all I hope is, when you do present him to your friend, you’ll present the address-card of a respectable undertaker at the same time.”

“I am not afraid.”

“As you please, sir. You are the individual what comes down with the dibbs; and you are the individual what’s entitled to make your choice.”

Victor Carrington saw that the brandy had by this time exercised a potent influence over Mr. Spavin’s groom; but he had full confidence in the man’s power to do what he wanted done. James Hawkins was gifted with that low cunning which peculiarly adapts a small villain for the service of a greater villain.

At nine o’clock on the following evening, the two met again at the “Goat and Compasses.” This time their interview was very brief and business-like.

“Have you succeeded?” asked Victor.

“I have, guv’nor, like one o’clock. Mr. Spavin will take five-and~twenty guineas from my friend the jock; but wouldn’t sell the ‘Buffalo’ to a gentleman on no account.”

“Here is the money,” answered Victor, handing the groom five bank-notes for five pounds each, and twenty-five shillings in gold and silver. “Have you asked for a holiday?”

“No, guv’nor; because, between you and me, I don’t suppose I should get it if I did ask. I shall make so bold as to take it without asking. Sham ill, and send my wife to say as I’m laid up in bed at home, and can’t come to work.”

“Hawkins, you are a diplomatist,” exclaimed Victor; “and now I’ll make short work of my instructions. There’s a bit of paper, with the name of the place to which you’re to take the animal — Frimley Common, Dorsetshire. You’ll start to-morrow at daybreak, and travel as quickly as you can without taking the spirit out of the horse. I want him to be fresh when he reaches my friend.”

Mr. Hawkins gave a sinister laugh.

“Don’t you be afraid of that, sir. ‘Wild Buffalo’ will be fresh enough, you may depend,” he said.

“I hope he may,” replied Carrington, calmly. “When you reach Frimley Common — it’s little more than a village — go to the best inn you find there, and wait till you either see me, or hear from me. You understand?”

“Yes, guv’nor.”

“Good; and now, good-night.”

With this Carrington left the “Goat and Compasses.” As he went out of the public-house, an elderly man, in the dress of a mechanic, who had been lounging in the bar, followed him into the street, and kept behind him until he entered Hyde Park, to cross to the Edgware Road; there the man fell back and left him.

“He’s going home, I suppose,” muttered the man; “and there’s nothing more for me to do to-night.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/run_to_earth/chapter20.html

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