Dr. Wortle's school, by Anthony Trollope

The Journey

We will now follow Mr Peacocke for a while upon his journey. He began his close connection with Robert Lefroy by paying the man’s bill at the inn before he left Broughton, and after that found himself called upon to defray every trifle of expense incurred as they went along. Lefroy was very anxious to stay for a week in town. It would, no doubt, have been two weeks or a month had his companion given way — but on this matter a line of conduct had been fixed by Mr Peacocke in conjunction with the Doctor from which he never departed. “If you will not be guided by me, I will go without you,” Mr Peacocke had said, “and leave you to follow your own devices on your own resources.”

“And what can you do by yourself?”

“Most probably I shall be able to learn all that I want to learn. It may be that I shall fail to learn anything either with you or without you. I am willing to make the attempt with you if you will come along at once — but I will not be delayed for a single day. I shall go whether you go or stay.” Then Lefroy had yielded, and had agreed to be put on board a German steamer starting from Southampton to New York.

But an hour or two before the steamer started he made a revelation. “This is all gammon, Peacocke,” he said, when on board.

“What is all gammon?”

“My taking you across to the States.”

“Why is it gammon?”

“Because Ferdinand died more than a year since — almost immediately after you took her off.”

“Why did you not tell me that at Bowick?”

“Because you were so uncommon uncivil. Was it likely I should have told you that when you cut up so uncommon rough?”

“An honest man would have told me the very moment that he saw me.”

“When one’s poor brother has died, one does not blurt it like that all at once.”

“Your poor brother!”

“Why not my poor brother as well as anybody else’s? And her husband too! How was I to let it out in that sort of way? At any rate he is dead as Julius C+aesar. I saw him buried — right away at ‘Frisco.”

“Did he go to San Francisco?”

“Yes — we both went there right away from St Louis. When we got up to St Louis we were on our way with them other fellows. Nobody meant to disturb you; but Ferdy got drunk, and would go and have a spree, as he called it.”

“A spree, indeed!”

“But we were off by train to Kansas at five o’clock the next morning. The devil wouldn’t keep him sober, and he died of D.T. the day after we got him to ‘Frisco. So there’s the truth of it, and you needn’t go to New York at all. Hand me the dollars. I’ll be off to the States; and you can go back and marry the widow — or leave her alone, just as you please.”

They were down below when this story was told, sitting on their portmanteaus in the little cabin in which they were to sleep. The prospect of the journey certainly had no attraction for Mr Peacocke. His companion was most distasteful to him; the ship was abominable; the expense was most severe. How glad would he avoid it all if it were possible! “You know it all as well as if you were there,” said Robert, “and were standing on his grave.” He did believe it. The man in all probability had at the last moment told the true story. Why not go back and be married again? The Doctor could be got to believe it.

But then if it were not true? It was only for a moment that he doubted. “I must go to ‘Frisco all the same,” he said.

“Why so?”

“Because I must in truth stand upon his grave. I must have proof that he has been buried there.”

“Then you may go by yourself,” said Robert Lefroy. He had said this more than once or twice already, and had been made to change his tone. He could go or stay as he pleased, but no money would be paid to him until Peacocke had in his possession positive proof of Ferdinand Lefroy’s death. So the two made their unpleasant journey to New York together. There was complaining on the way, even as to the amount of liquor that should be allowed. Peacocke would pay for nothing that he did not himself order. Lefroy had some small funds of his own, and was frequently drunk while on board. There were many troubles; but still they did at last reach New York.

Then there was a great question whether they would go on direct from thence to San Francisco, or delay themselves three or four days by going round by St Louis. Lefroy was anxious to go to St Louis — and on that account Peacocke was almost resolved to take tickets direct through for San Francisco. Why should Lefroy wish to go to St Louis? But then, if the story were altogether false, some truth might be learned at St Louis; and it was at last decided that thither they would go. As they went on from town to town, changing carriages first at one place and then at another, Lefroy’s manner became worse and worse, and his language more and more threatening. Peacocke was asked whether he thought a man was to be brought all that distance without being paid for his time. “You will be paid when you have performed your part of the bargain,” said Peacocke.

“I’ll see some part of the money at St Louis,” said Lefroy, “or I’ll know the reason why. A thousand dollars! What are a thousand dollars? Hand out the money.” This was said as they were sitting together in a corner or separated portion of the smoking-room of a little hotel at which they were waiting for a steamer which was to take them down the Mississippi to St Louis. Peacocke looked round and saw that they were alone.

“I shall hand out nothing till I see your brother’s grave,” said Peacocke.

“You won’t?”

“Not a dollar! What is the good of your going on like that? You ought to know me well enough by this time.”

“But you do not know me well enough. You must have taken me for a very tame sort o’ critter.”

“Perhaps I have.”

“Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

“Perhaps I shall. It is quite possible that you should murder me. But you will not get any money by that.”

“Murder you. You ain’t worth murdering.” Then they sat in silence, waiting another hour and a half till the steamboat came. The reader will understand that it must have been a bad time for Mr Peacocke.

They were on the steamer together for about twenty-four hours, during which Lefroy hardly spoke a word. As far as his companion could understand he was out of funds, because he remained sober during the greater part of the day, taking only what amount of liquor was provided for him. Before, however, they reached St Louis, which they did late at night, he had made acquaintance with certain fellow-travellers, and was drunk and noisy when they got out upon the quay. Mr Peacocke bore his position as well as he could, and accompanied him up to the hotel. It was arranged that they should remain two days at St Louis, and then start for San Francisco by the railway which runs across the State of Kansas. Before he went to bed Lefroy insisted on going into the large hall in which, as is usual in American hotels, men sit and loaf and smoke and read the newspapers. Here, though it was twelve o’clock, there was still a crowd; and Lefroy, after he had seated himself and lit his cigar, got up from his seat and addressed all the men around him.

“Here’s a fellow,” said he, has come out from England to find out what’s become of Ferdinand Lefroy.”

“I knew Ferdinand Lefroy”, said one man, and I know you too, Master Robert.”

“What has become of Ferdinand Lefroy?” asked Mr Peacocke.

“He’s gone where all the good fellows go,” said another.

“You mean that he is dead?” asked Peacocke.

“Of course he’s dead,” said Robert. I’ve been telling him so ever since we left England; but he is such a d — unbelieving infidel that he wouldn’t credit the man’s own brother. He won’t learn much here about him.”

“Ferdinand Lefroy”, said the first man, died on the way as he was going out West. I was over the road the day after.”

“You know nothing about it,” said Robert. He died at ‘Frisco two days after we’d got him there.”

“He died at Ogden Junction, where you turn down to Utah City.”

“You didn’t see him dead,” said the other.

“If I remember right,” continued the first man, they’d taken him away to bury him somewhere just there in the neighbourhood. I didn’t care much about him, and I didn’t ask any particular questions. He was a drunken beast — better dead than alive.”

“You’ve been drunk as often as him, I guess,” said Robert.

“I never gave nobody the trouble to bury me at any rate,” said the other.

“Do you mean to say positively of your own knowledge,” asked Peacocke, “that Ferdinand Lefroy died at that station?”

“Ask him; he’s his brother, and he ought to know best.”

“I tell you,” said Robert, earnestly, that we carried him on to ‘Frisco, and there he died. If you think you know best, you can go to Utah City and wait there till you hear all about it. I guess they’ll make you one of their elders if you wait long enough.” Then they all went to bed.

It was now clear to Mr Peacocke that the man as to whose life or death he was so anxious had really died. The combined evidence of these men, which had come out without any preconcerted arrangement, was proof to his mind. But there was no evidence which he could take back with him to England and use there as proof in a court of law, or even before the Bishop and Dr Wortle. On the next morning, before Robert Lefroy was up, he got hold of the man who had been so positive that death had overtaken the poor wretch at the railway station which is distant from San Francisco two days’ journey. Had the man died there, and been buried there, nothing would be known of him in San Francisco. The journey to San Francisco would be entirely thrown away, and he would be as badly off as ever.

“I wouldn’t like to say for certain,” said the man when he was interrogated. “I only tell you what they told me. As I was passing along somebody said as Ferdy Lefroy had been taken dead out of the cars on to the platform. Now you know as much about it as I do.”

He was thus assured that at any rate the journey to San Francisco had not been altogether a fiction. The man had gone “West”, as had been said, and nothing more would be known of him at St Louis. He must still go on upon his journey and make such inquiry as might be possible at the Ogden Junction.

On the day but one following they started again, taking their tickets as far as Leavenworth. They were told by the officials that they would find a train at Leavenworth waiting to take them on across country into the regular San Francisco line. But, as is not unusual with railway officials in that part of the world, they were deceived. At Leavenworth they were forced to remain for four-and-twenty hours, and there they put themselves up at a miserable hotel in which they were obliged to occupy the same room. It was a rough, uncouth place, in which, as it seemed to Mr Peacocke, the men were more uncourteous to him, and the things around more unlike to what he had met elsewhere, than in any other town of the Union. Robert Lefroy, since the first night at St Louis, had become sullen rather than disobedient. He had not refused to go on when the moment came for starting, but had left it in doubt till the last moment whether he did or did not intend to prosecute his journey. When the ticket was taken for him he pretended to be altogether indifferent about it, and would himself give no help whatever in any of the usual troubles of travelling. But as far as this little town of Leavenworth he had been carried, and Peacocke now began to think it probable that he might succeed in taking him to San Francisco.

On that night he endeavoured to induce him to go first to bed, but in this he failed. Lefroy insisted on remaining down at the bar, where he had ordered for himself some liquor for which Mr Peacocke, in spite of all his efforts to the contrary, would have to pay. If the man would get drunk and lie there, he could not help himself. On this he was determined, that whether with or without the man, he would go on by the first train — and so he took himself to his bed.

He had been there perhaps half an hour when his companion came into the room — certainly not drunk. He seated himself on his bed, and then, pulling to him a large travelling-bag which he used, he unpacked it altogether, laying all the things which it contained out upon the bed. “What are you doing that for?” said Mr Peacocke; we have to start from here tomorrow morning at five.”

“I’m not going to start tomorrow at five, nor yet tomorrow at all, nor yet next day.”

“You are not?”

“Not if I know it. I have had enough of this game. I am not going further west for anyone. Hand out the money. You have been told everything about my brother, true and honest, as far as I know it. Hand out the money.”

“Not a dollar,” said Peacocke. All that I have heard as yet will be of no service to me. As far as I can see, you will earn it; but you will have to come on a little further yet.”

“Not a foot; I ain’t a-going out of this room tomorrow.”

“Then I must go without you — that’s all.”

“You may go and be — . But you’ll have to shell out the money first, old fellow.”

“Not a dollar.”

“You won’t?”

“Certainly I will not. How often have I told you so.”

“Then I shall take it.”

“That you will find very difficult. In the first place, if you were to cut my throat — ”

“Which is just what I intend to do.”

“If you were to cut my throat — which in itself will be difficult — you would only find the trifle of gold which I have got for our journey as far as ‘Frisco. That won’t do you much good. The rest is in circular notes, which to you would be of no service whatever.”

“My God,” said the man suddenly, I am not going to be done in this way.” And with that he drew out a bowie-knife which he had concealed among the things which he had extracted from the bag. “You don’t know the sort of country you’re in now. They don’t think much here of the life of such a skunk as you. If you mean to live till tomorrow morning you must come to terms.”

The room was a narrow chamber in which two beds ran along the wall, each with its foot to the other, having a narrow space between them and the other wall. Peacocke occupied the one nearest to the door. Lefroy now got up from the bed in the further corner, and with the bowie-knife in his hand rushed against the door as though to prevent his companion’s escape. Peacocke, who was in bed undressed, sat up at once; but as he did so he brought a revolver out from under his pillow. “So you have been and armed yourself, have you?” said Robert Lefroy.

“Yes,” said Peacocke — if you come nearer me with that knife I shall shoot you. Put it down.”

“Likely I shall put it down at your bidding.”

With the pistol still held at the other man’s head, Peacocke slowly extracted himself from his bed.

“Now,” said he, if you don’t come away from the door I shall fire one barrel just to let them know in the house what sort of affair is going on. Put the knife down. You know that I shall not hurt you then.”

After hesitating for a moment or two, Lefroy did put the knife down. “I didn’t mean anything, old fellow,” said he. I only wanted to frighten you.”

“Well; you have frightened me. Now, what’s to come next?”

“No, I ain’t — not frightened you a bit. A pistol’s always better than a knife any day. Well now, I’ll tell ye how it all is.” Saying this, he seated himself on his own bed, and began a long narration.

He would not go further West than Leavenworth. Whether he got his money or whether he lost it, he would not travel a foot further. There were reasons which would make it disagreeable for him to go into California. But he made a proposition. If Peacocke would only give him money enough to support himself for the necessary time, he would remain at Leavenworth till his companion should return there, or would make his way to Chicago, and stay there till Peacocke should come to him.

Then he proceeded to explain how absolute evidence might be obtained at San Francisco as to his brother’s death. “That fellow was lying altogether”, he said, “about my brother dying at the Ogden station. He was very bad there, no doubt, and we thought it was going to be all up with him. He had the horrors there, worse than I ever saw before, and I hope never to see the like again. But we did get him on to San Francisco; and when he was able to walk into the city on his own legs, I thought that, might be, he would rally and come round. However, in two days he died — and we buried him in the big cemetery just out of the town.”

“Did you put a stone over him?”

“Yes; there is a stone as large as life. You’ll find the name on it — Ferdinand Lefroy of Kilbrack, Louisiana. Kilbrack was the name of our plantation, where we should be living now as gentlemen ought, with three hundred niggers of our own, but for these accursed Northern hypocrites.”

“How can I find the stone?”

“There’s a chap there who knows, I guess, where all them graves are to be found. But it’s on the right hand, a long way down, near the far wall at the bottom, just where the ground takes a little dip to the north. It ain’t so long ago but what the letters on the stone will be as fresh as if they were cut yesterday.”

“Does no one in San Francisco know of his death?”

“There’s a chap named Burke at Johnson’s, the cigarshop in Montgomery Street. He was brother to one of our party, and he went out to the funeral. Maybe you’ll find him, or, anyway, some traces of him.”

The two men sat up discussing the matter nearly the whole of the night, and Peacocke, before he started, had brought himself to accede to Lefroy’s last proposition. He did give the man money enough to support him for two or three weeks and also to take him to Chicago, promising at the same time that he would hand to him the thousand dollars at Chicago should he find him there at the appointed time, and should he also have found Ferdinand Lefroy’s grave at San Francisco in the manner described.


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