The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXII

Mr Toogood at ‘The Dragon of Wantly’

In accordance with his arrangement with Mr Walker, Mr Toogood went over to Barchester early in the morning and put himself up at ‘The Dragon of Wantly’. He now knew the following facts: that Mr Soames, when he lost the cheque, had had with him one of the servants from that inn — that the man who had been with Mr Soames had gone to New Zealand — that the cheque had found its way into the hands of Mrs Arabin, and that Mrs Arabin was the owner of the inn in question. So much he believed to be within his knowledge, and if his knowledge should prove to be correct, his work would be done as far as Mr Crawley was concerned. If Mr Crawley had not stolen the cheque, and if that could be proved, it would be a question of no great moment to Mr Toogood who had stolen it. But he was a sportsman in his own line who liked to account for his own fox. As he was down at Barchester, he thought that he might as well learn how the cheque had got into Mrs Arabin’s hands. No doubt that for her own possession of it she would be able to account on her return. But it might be well that he should be prepared with any small circumstantial details which he might be able to pick up at the inn.

He reached Barchester before breakfast, and in ordering his tea and toast, reminded the old waiter with the dirty towel of his former acquaintance with him. ‘I remember you, sir,’ said the old waiter. ‘I remember you very well. You was asking questions about the cheque which Mr Soames lost before Christmas.’ Mr Toogood certainly had asked one question on the subject. He had inquired whether a certain man who had gone to New Zealand had been the post-boy who accompanied Mr Soames when the cheque was lost; and the waiter had professed to know nothing about Mr Soames or the cheque. He now perceived at once that the gist of the question had remained in the old man’s mind, and that he was recognised as being in some way connected with the lost money.

‘Did I? Ah, yes; I think I did. And I think you told me that he was the man?’

‘No, sir; I never told you that.’

‘Then you told me he wasn’t.’

‘Nor I didn’t tell you that neither,’ said the waiter angrily.

‘Then what the devil did you tell me?’ To this further question the waiter sulkily declined to give any answer, and soon afterwards left the room. Toogood, as soon as he had done his breakfast, rang the bell, and the same man appeared. ‘Will you tell Mr Stringer that I should be glad to see him if he’s disengaged,’ said Mr Toogood. ‘I know he’s bad with the gout, and therefore if he’ll allow me, I’ll go to him instead of his coming to me.’ Mr Stringer was the landlord of the inn. The waiter hesitated a moment, and then declared that to the best of his belief his master was not down. He would go and see. Toogood, however, would not wait for that; but rising quickly and passing the waiter, crossed the hall from the coffee-room, and entered what was called the bar. The bar was a small room connected with the hall by a large open window, at which orders for rooms were given and cash was paid, and glasses of beer were consumed — and a good deal of miscellaneous conversation was carried on. The barmaid was here at the window, and there was also, in the corner of the room, a man at a desk with a red nose. Toogood knew that the man at the desk with the red nose was Mr Stringer’s clerk. So much he had learned in his former rummaging about the inn. And he also remembered at this moment that he had observed the man with the red nose standing under a narrow archway in the close as he was coming out of the deanery, on the occasion of his visit to Mr Harding. It had not occurred to him then that the man with the red nose was watching him, but it did occur to him now that the man with the red nose had been there, under the arch, with the express purpose of watching him on that occasion. Mr Toogood passed quickly through the bar into the inner parlour, in which was sitting Mr Stringer, the landlord, propped among his cushions. Toogood, as he entered the hotel, had seen Mr Stringer so placed, through the two doors, which at that moment had both happened to be open. He knew therefore that his old friend the waiter had not been quite true to him in suggesting that his master was not as yet down. As Toogood cast a glance of his eye on the man with the red nose, he told himself the old story of the apparition under the archway.

‘Mr Stringer,’ said Mr Toogood to the landlord, ‘I hope I’m not intruding.’

‘Oh dear, no sir,’ said the forlorn man. ‘Nobody ever intrudes coming in here. I’m always happy to see gentlemen — only, mostly, I’m so bad with the gout.’

‘Have you got a sharp touch of it now, Mr Stringer?’

‘Not just today, sir. I’ve been a little easier since Saturday. The worst of this burst is over. But Lord bless you, sir, it don’t leave me — not for a single fortnight at a time, now; it don’t. And it ain’t what I drink, nor it ain’t what I eat.’

‘Constitutional, I suppose?’ said Toogood.

‘Look here, sir’; and Stringer showed his visitor the chalk stones in all his knuckles. ‘They say I’m a mass of chalk. I sometimes think they’ll break me up to mark the scores behind my own door with.’ And Mr Stringer laughed at his own wit.

Mr Toogood laughed too. He laughed loud and cheerily. And then he asked a sudden question, keeping his eye as he did so upon a little square open window which communicated between the landlord’s private room and the bar. Through this small aperture he could see as he stood a portion of the hat worn by the man with the red nose. Since he had been in the room with the landlord, the man with the red nose had moved his head twice, on each occasion drawing himself closer into his corner; but Mr Toogood, by moving also, had still contrived to keep a morsel of that hat in sight. He laughed cheerily at the landlord’s joke, and then he asked a sudden question — looking at the morsel of that hat as he did so. ‘Mr Stringer,’ said he, ‘how do you pay your rent, and to whom do you pay it?’ There was immediately a jerk in the hat, and then it disappeared. Toogood, stepping to the open door, saw that the red-nosed clerk had taken his hat off and was very busy at his accounts.

‘How do I pay my rent?’ said Mr Stringer, the landlord. ‘Well, sir, since this cursed gout has been so bad, it’s hard enough to pay it at all sometimes. You ain’t here to look for it, sir, are you?’

‘Not I,’ said Toogood. ‘It was only a chance question.’ He felt that he had nothing more to do with Mr Stringer, the landlord. Mr Stringer, the landlord, knew nothing about Mr Soames’s cheque. ‘What’s the name of your clerk?’ said he.

‘The name of my clerk?’ said Mr Stringer. ‘Why do you want to know the name of my clerk?’

‘Does he ever pay the rent for you?’

‘Well, yes; he does, at times. He pays it into the bank for the lady as owns this house. Is there any reason for you asking these questions, sir. It isn’t usual, you know, for a stranger, sir.’

Toogood the whole of this time was standing with his eye upon the red-nosed man, and the red-nosed man could not move. The red-nosed man heard all the questions and the landlord’s answers, and could not even pretend that he did not hear them. ‘I am my cousin’s clerk,’ said he, putting on his hat, and coming up to Mr Toogood with a swagger. ‘My name is Dan Stringer, and I’m Mr John Stringer’s cousin. I’ve lived with Mr John Stringer for twelve year and more, and I’m a’most as well known in Barchester as himself. Have you anything to say to me, sir?’

‘Well, yes; I have,’ said Toogood.

‘I believe you’re the one of them attorneys from London?’ said Mr Dan Stringer.

‘That’s true. I am an attorney from London.’

‘I hope there’s nothing wrong?’ said the gouty man, trying to get off his chair, but not succeeding. ‘If there is anything wronger than usual, Dan, do tell me. Is there anything wrong, sir?’ and the landlord appealed piteously to Mr Toogood.

‘Never you mind, John,’ said Dan. ‘You keep yourself quiet, and don’t answer none of his questions. He’s one of them low sort, he is. I know him. I knowed him for what he is directly I saw him. Ferreting about — that’s his game; to see if there’s anything to be got.’

‘But what is he ferreting for?’ said Mr John Stringer.

‘I’m ferreting for Mr Soames’s cheque for twenty pounds,’ said Mr Toogood.

‘That’s the cheque the parson stole,’ said Dan Stringer. ‘He’s to be tried for it at the ‘sizes.’

‘You’ve heard about Mr Soames and his cheque, and about Mr Crawley, I daresay?’ said Mr Toogood.

‘I’ve heard a deal about them,’ said the landlord.

‘And so, I daresay, have you?’ said Toogood, turning to Dan Stringer. But Dan Stringer did not seem inclined to carry on the conversation any further. When he was hardly pressed, he declared that he just had heard that there was some parson in trouble about a sum of money; but that he knew no more about it than that. He didn’t know whether it was a cheque or a note that the parson had taken, and had never been sufficiently interested in the matter to make any inquiry.

‘But you’ve just said that Mr Soames’s cheque was the cheque the parson stole,’ said the astonished landlord, turning with open eyes, upon his cousin.

‘You be blowed,’ said Dan Stringer, the clerk, to Mr John Stringer, the landlord; and then walked out of the room back to the bar.

‘I understand nothing about it — nothing at all,’ said the gouty man.

‘I understand nearly all about it,’ said Mr Toogood, following the red-nosed clerk. There was no necessity that he should trouble the landlord any further. He left the room, and went through the bar, and as he passed out along the hall, he found Dan Stringer with his hat on talking to the waiter. The waiter immediately pulled himself up, and adjusted his dirty napkin under his arm, after the fashion of waiters, and showed that he intended to be civil to the customers of the house. But he of the red nose cocked his hat, and looked with insolence at Mr Toogood, and defied him. ‘There’s nothing I do hate so much as them low-bred Old Bailey attorneys,’ said Mr Dan Stringer to the waiter, in a voice intended to reach Mr Toogood’s ears. Then Mr Toogood told himself that Dan Stringer was not the thief himself, and that it might be very difficult to prove that Dan had even been the receiver of stolen goods. He had, however, no doubt in his own mind but that such was the case.

He first went to the police office, and there explained his business. Nobody at the police office pretended to forget Mr Soames’s cheque, or Mr Crawley’s position. The constable went so far as to swear that there wasn’t a man, woman, or child in all Barchester who was not talking of Mr Crawley at that present moment. Then Mr Toogood went with the constable to the private house of the mayor, and had a little conversation with the mayor. ‘Not guilty!’ said the mayor, with incredulity, when he first heard the news about Crawley. But when he heard Mr Toogood’s story, or as much of it as it was necessary that he should hear, he yielded reluctantly. ‘Dear, dear!’ he said. ‘I’d have bet anything ’twas he who stole it.’ And after that he mayor was quite sad. Only let us think what a comfortable excitement it would create throughout England if it was surmised that an archbishop had forged a deed; and how England would lose when it was discovered that the archbishop was innocent! As the archbishop and his forgery would be to England, so was Mr Crawley and the cheque for twenty pounds to Barchester and its mayor. Nevertheless, the mayor promised his assistance to Mr Toogood.

Mr Toogood, still neglecting his red-nosed friend, went next to the deanery, hoping that he might again see Mr Harding. Mr Harding was, he was told, too ill to be seen. Mr Harding, Mrs Baxter said, could never be seen now by strangers, nor yet by friends, unless they were very old friends. ‘There’s been a deal of change since you were here last, sire. I remember you coming, sir. You were talking to Mr Harding about the poor clergyman as is to be tried.’ He did not stop to tell Mrs Baxter the whole story of Mr Crawley’s innocence; but having learned that a message had been received to say that Mrs Arabin would be home on the next Tuesday — this being Friday — he took his leave of Mrs Baxter. His next visit was to Mr Soames, who lived three miles out in the country.

He found it very difficult to convince Mr Soames. Mr Soames was more staunch in his belief of Mr Crawley’s guilt than anyone whom Toogood had yet encountered. ‘I never took the cheque out of his house,’ said Mr Soames. ‘But you have not stated that on oath,’ said Mr Toogood. ‘No,’ rejoined the other; ‘and I never will. I can’t swear to it; but yet I’m sure of it.’ He acknowledged that he had been driven by a man named Scuttle, and that Scuttle might have picked up the cheque, if it had been dropped in the gig. But the cheque had not been dropped in the gig. The cheque had been dropped in Mr Crawley’s house. ‘Why did he say then that I paid it to him?’ said Mr Soames, when Mr Toogood spoke confidently of Mr Crawley’s innocence. ‘Ah, why indeed?’ answered Toogood. ‘If he had not been fool enough to do that, we should have been saved all this trouble. All the same, he did not steal your money, Mr Soames; and Jem Scuttle did steal it. Unfortunately, Jem Scuttle is in New Zealand by this time.’ ‘Of course, it is possible,’ said Mr Soames, as he bowed Mr Toogood out. Mr Soames did not like Mr Toogood.

That evening a gentleman with a red nose asked at the Barchester station for a second-class ticket for London by the up night-mail train. He was well-known at the station, and the station-master made some little inquiry. ‘All the way to London tonight, Mr Stringer?’ he said.

‘Yes — all the way,’ said the red-nosed man sulkily.

‘I don’t think you’d better go up to London tonight, Mr Stringer,’ said a tall man, stepping out of the door of the booking-office. ‘I think you’d better come back with me to Barchester. I do indeed.’ There was some little argument on the occasion; but the stranger, who was a detective policeman, carried his point, and Mr Dan Stringer did return to Barchester.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43