Johnny Ludlow, First Series, by Ellen Wood

8.

Going Through the Tunnel.

We had to make a rush for it. And making a rush did not suit the Squire, any more than it does other people who have come to an age when the body’s heavy and the breath nowhere. He reached the train, pushed head-foremost into a carriage, and then remembered the tickets. “Bless my heart?” he exclaimed, as he jumped out again, and nearly upset a lady who had a little dog in her arms, and a mass of fashionable hair on her head, that the Squire, in his hurry, mistook for tow.

“Plenty of time, sir,” said a guard who was passing. “Three minutes to spare.”

Instead of saying he was obliged to the man for his civility, or relieved to find the tickets might still be had, the Squire snatched out his old watch, and began abusing the railway clocks for being slow. Had Tod been there he would have told him to his face that the watch was fast, braving all retort, for the Squire believed in his watch as he did in himself, and would rather have been told that he could go wrong than that the watch could. But there was only me: and I wouldn’t have said it for anything.

“Keep two back-seats there, Johnny,” said the Squire.

I put my coat on the corner furthest from the door, and the rug on the one next to it, and followed him into the station. When the Squire was late in starting, he was apt to get into the greatest flurry conceivable; and the first thing I saw was himself blocking up the ticket-place, and undoing his pocket-book with nervous fingers. He had some loose gold about him, silver too, but the pocket-book came to his hand first, so he pulled it out. These flurried moments of the Squire’s amused Tod beyond everything; he was so cool himself.

“Can you change this?” said the Squire, drawing out one from a roll of five-pound notes.

“No, I can’t,” was the answer, in the surly tones put on by ticket-clerks.

How the Squire crumpled up the note again, and searched in his breeches pocket for gold, and came away with the two tickets and the change, I’m sure he never knew. A crowd had gathered round, wanting to take their tickets in turn, and knowing that he was keeping them flurried him all the more. He stood at the back a moment, put the roll of notes into his case, fastened it and returned it to the breast of his over-coat, sent the change down into another pocket without counting it, and went out with the tickets in hand. Not to the carriage; but to stare at the big clock in front.

“Don’t you see, Johnny? exactly four minutes and a half difference,” he cried, holding out his watch to me. “It is a strange thing they can’t keep these railway clocks in order.”

“My watch keeps good time, sir, and mine is with the railway. I think it is right.”

“Hold your tongue, Johnny. How dare you! Right? You send your watch to be regulated the first opportunity, sir; don’t you get into the habit of being too late or too early.”

When we finally went to the carriage there were some people in it, but our seats were left for us. Squire Todhetley sat down by the further door, and settled himself and his coats and his things comfortably, which he had been too flurried to do before. Cool as a cucumber was he, now the bustle was over; cool as Tod could have been. At the other door, with his face to the engine, sat a dark, gentleman-like man of forty, who had made room for us to pass as we got in. He had a large signet-ring on one hand, and a lavender glove on the other. The other three seats opposite to us were vacant. Next to me sat a little man with a fresh colour and gold spectacles, who was already reading; and beyond him, in the corner, face to face with the dark man, was a lunatic. That’s to mention him politely. Of all the restless, fidgety, worrying, hot-tempered passengers that ever put themselves into a carriage to travel with people in their senses, he was the worst. In fifteen moments he had made as many darts; now after his hat-box and things above his head; now calling the guard and the porters to ask senseless questions about his luggage; now treading on our toes, and trying the corner seat opposite the Squire, and then darting back to his own. He wore a wig of a decided green tinge, the effect of keeping, perhaps, and his skin was dry and shrivelled as an Egyptian mummy’s.

A servant, in undress livery, came to the door, and touched his hat, which had a cockade on it, as he spoke to the dark man.

“Your ticket, my lord.”

Lords are not travelled with every day, and some of us looked up. The gentleman took the ticket from the man’s hand and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.

“You can get me a newspaper, Wilkins. The Times, if it is to be had.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Yes, there’s room here, ma’am,” interrupted the guard, sending the door back for a lady who stood at it. “Make haste, please.”

The lady who stepped in was the same the Squire had bolted against. She sat down in the seat opposite me, and looked at every one of us by turns. There was a sort of violet bloom on her face and some soft white powder, seen plain enough through her veil. She took the longest gaze at the dark gentleman, bending a little forward to do it; for, as he was in a line with her, and also had his head turned from her, her curiosity could only catch a view of his side-face. Mrs. Todhetley might have said she had not put on her company manners. In the midst of this, the man-servant came back again.

“The Times is not here yet, my lord. They are expecting the papers in by the next down-train.”

“Never mind, then. You can get me one at the next station, Wilkins.”

“Very well, my lord.”

Wilkins must certainly have had to scramble for his carriage, for we started before he had well left the door. It was not an express-train, and we should have to stop at several stations. Where the Squire and I had been staying does not matter; it has nothing to do with what I have to tell. It was a long way from our own home, and that’s saying enough.

“Would you mind changing seats with me, sir?”

I looked up, to find the lady’s face close to mine; she had spoken in a half-whisper. The Squire, who carried his old-fashioned notions of politeness with him when he went travelling, at once got up to offer her the corner. But she declined it, saying she was subject to face-ache, and did not care to be next the window. So she took my seat, and I sat down on the one opposite Mr. Todhetley.

“Which of the peers is that?” I heard her ask him in a loud whisper, as the lord put his head out at his window.

“Don’t know at all, ma’am,” said the Squire. “Don’t know many of the peers myself, except those of my own county: Lyttleton, and Beauchamp, and ——”

Of all snarling barks, the worst was given that moment in the Squire’s face, suddenly ending the list. The little dog, an ugly, hairy, vile-tempered Scotch terrier, had been kept concealed under the lady’s jacket, and now struggled itself free. The Squire’s look of consternation was good! He had not known any animal was there.

“Be quiet, Wasp. How dare you bark at the gentleman? He will not bite, sir: he ——”

“Who has a dog in the carriage?” shrieked the lunatic, starting up in a passion. “Dogs don’t travel with passengers. Here! Guard! Guard!”

To call out for the guard when a train is going at full speed is generally useless. The lunatic had to sit down again; and the lady defied him, so to say, coolly avowing that she had hidden the dog from the guard on purpose, staring him in the face while she said it.

After this there was a lull, and we went speeding along, the lady talking now and again to the Squire. She seemed to want to grow confidential with him; but the Squire did not seem to care for it, though he was quite civil. She held the dog huddled up in her lap, so that nothing but his head peeped out.

“Halloa! How dare they be so negligent? There’s no lamp in this carriage.”

It was the lunatic again, and we all looked at the lamp. It had no light in it; but that it had when we first reached the carriage was certain; for, as the Squire went stumbling in, his head nearly touched the lamp, and I had noticed the flame. It seems the Squire had also.

“They must have put it out while we were getting our tickets,” he said.

“I’ll know the reason why when we stop,” cried the lunatic, fiercely. “After passing the next station, we dash into the long tunnel. The idea of going through it in pitch darkness! It would not be safe.”

“Especially with a dog in the carriage,” spoke the lord, in a chaffing kind of tone, but with a good-natured smile. “We will have the lamp lighted, however.”

As if to reward him for interfering, the dog barked up loudly, and tried to make a spring at him; upon which the lady smothered the animal up, head and all.

Another minute or two, and the train began to slacken speed. It was only an insignificant station, one not likely to be halted at for above a minute. The lunatic twisted his body out of the window, and shouted for the guard long before we were at a standstill.

“Allow me to manage this,” said the lord, quietly putting him down. “They know me on the line. Wilkins!”

The man came rushing up at the call. He must have been out already, though we were not quite at a standstill yet.

“Is it for the Times, my lord? I am going for it.”

“Never mind the Times. This lamp is not lighted, Wilkins. See the guard, and get it done. At once.”

“And ask him what the mischief he means by his carelessness,” roared out the lunatic after Wilkins, who went flying off. “Sending us on our road without a light! — and that dangerous tunnel close at hand.”

The authority laid upon the words “Get it done,” seemed an earnest that the speaker was accustomed to be obeyed, and would be this time. For once the lunatic sat quiet, watching the lamp, and for the light that was to be dropped into it from the top; and so did I, and so did the lady. We were all deceived, however, and the train went puffing on. The lunatic shrieked, the lord put his head out of the carriage and shouted for Wilkins.

No good. Shouting after a train is off never is much good. The lord sat down on his seat again, an angry frown crossing his face, and the lunatic got up and danced with rage.

“I do not know where the blame lies,” observed the lord. “Not with my servant, I think: he is attentive, and has been with me some years.”

“I’ll know where it lies,” retorted the lunatic. “I am a director on the line, though I don’t often travel on it. This is management, this is! A few minutes more and we shall be in the dark tunnel.”

“Of course it would have been satisfactory to have a light; but it is not of so much consequence,” said the nobleman, wishing to soothe him. “There’s no danger in the dark.”

“No danger! No danger, sir! I think there is danger. Who’s to know that dog won’t spring out and bite us? Who’s to know there won’t be an accident in the tunnel? A light is a protection against having our pockets picked, if it’s a protection against nothing else.”

“I fancy our pockets are pretty safe today,” said the lord, glancing round at us with a good-natured smile; as much as to say that none of us looked like thieves. “And I certainly trust we shall get through the tunnel safely.”

“And I’ll take care the dog does not bite you in the dark,” spoke up the lady, pushing her head forward to give the lunatic a nod or two that you’d hardly have matched for defying impudence. “You’ll be good, won’t you, Wasp? But I should like the lamp lighted myself. You will perhaps be so kind, my lord, as to see that there’s no mistake made about it at the next station!”

He slightly raised his hat to her and bowed in answer, but did not speak. The lunatic buttoned up his coat with fingers that were either nervous or angry, and then disturbed the little gentleman next him, who had read his big book throughout the whole commotion without once lifting his eyes, by hunting everywhere for his pocket-handkerchief.

“Here’s the tunnel!” he cried out resentfully, as we dashed with a shriek into pitch darkness.

It was all very well for her to say she would take care of the dog, but the first thing the young beast did was to make a spring at me and then at the Squire, barking and yelping frightfully. The Squire pushed it away in a commotion. Though well accustomed to dogs he always fought shy of strange ones. The lady chattered and laughed, and did not seem to try to get hold of him, but we couldn’t see, you know; the Squire hissed at him, the dog snarled and growled; altogether there was noise enough to deafen anything but a tunnel.

“Pitch him out at the window,” cried the lunatic.

“Pitch yourself out,” answered the lady. And whether she propelled the dog, or whether he went of his own accord, the beast sprang to the other end of the carriage, and was seized upon by the nobleman.

“I think, madam, you had better put him under your mantle and keep him there,” said he, bringing the dog back to her and speaking quite civilly, but in the same tone of authority he had used to his servant about the lamp. “I have not the slightest objection to dogs myself, but many people have, and it is not altogether pleasant to have them loose in a railway carriage. I beg your pardon; I cannot see; is this your hand?”

It was her hand, I suppose, for the dog was left with her, and he went back to his seat again. When we emerged out of the tunnel into daylight, the lunatic’s face was blue.

“Ma’am, if that miserable brute had laid hold of me by so much as the corner of my great-coat tail, I’d have had the law of you. It is perfectly monstrous that any one, putting themselves into a first-class carriage, should attempt to outrage railway laws, and upset the comfort of travellers with impunity. I shall complain to the guard.”

“He does not bite, sir; he never bites,” she answered softly, as if sorry for the escapade, and wishing to conciliate him. “The poor little bijou is frightened at darkness, and leaped from my arms unawares. There! I’ll promise that you shall neither see nor hear him again.”

She had tucked the dog so completely out of sight, that no one could have suspected one was there, just as it had been on first entering. The train was drawn up to the next station; when it stopped, the servant came and opened the carriage-door for his master to get out.

“Did you understand me, Wilkins, when I told you to get this lamp lighted?”

“My lord, I’m very sorry; I understood your lordship perfectly, but I couldn’t see the guard,” answered Wilkins. “I caught sight of him running up to his van-door at the last moment, but the train began to move off, and I had to jump in myself, or else be left behind.”

The guard passed as he was explaining this, and the nobleman drew his attention to the lamp, curtly ordering him to “light it instantly.” Lifting his hat to us by way of farewell, he disappeared; and the lunatic began upon the guard as if he were commencing a lecture to a deaf audience. The guard seemed not to hear it, so lost was he in astonishment at there being no light.

“Why, what can have douted it?” he cried aloud, staring up at the lamp. And the Squire smiled at the familiar word, so common in our ears at home, and had a great mind to ask the guard where he came from.

“I lighted all these here lamps myself afore we started, and I see ’em all burning,” said he. There was no mistaking the home accent now, and the Squire looked down the carriage with a beaming face.

“You are from Worcestershire, my man.”

“From Worcester itself, sir. Leastways from St. John’s, which is the same thing.”

“Whether you are from Worcester, or whether you are from Jericho, I’ll let you know that you can’t put empty lamps into first-class carriages on this line without being made to answer for it!” roared the lunatic. “What’s your name! I am a director.”

“My name is Thomas Brooks, sir,” replied the man, respectfully touching his cap. “But I declare to you, sir, that I’ve told the truth in saying the lamps were all right when we started: how this one can have got douted, I can’t think. There’s not a guard on the line, sir, more particular in seeing to the lamps than I am.”

“Well, light it now; don’t waste time excusing yourself,” growled the lunatic. But he said nothing about the dog; which was surprising.

In a twinkling the lamp was lighted, and we were off again. The lady and her dog were quiet now: he was out of sight: she leaned back to go to sleep. The Squire lodged his head against the curtain, and shut his eyes to do the same; the little man, as before, never looked off his book; and the lunatic frantically shifted himself every two minutes between his own seat and that of the opposite corner. There were no more tunnels, and we went smoothly on to the next station. Five minutes allowed there.

The little man, putting his book in his pocket, took down a black leather bag from above his head, and got out; the lady, her dog hidden still, prepared to follow him, wishing the Squire and me, and even the lunatic, with a forgiving smile, a polite good morning. I had moved to that end, and was watching the lady’s wonderful back hair as she stepped out, when all in a moment the Squire sprang up with a shout, and jumping out nearly upon her, called out that he had been robbed. She dropped the dog, and I thought he must have caught the lunatic’s disorder and become frantic.

It is of no use attempting to describe exactly what followed. The lady, snatching up her dog, shrieked out that perhaps she had been robbed too; she laid hold of the Squire’s arm, and went with him into the station-master’s room. And there we were: us three, and the guard, and the station-master, and the lunatic, who had come pouncing out too at the Squire’s cry. The man in spectacles had disappeared for good.

The Squire’s pocket-book was gone. He gave his name and address at once to the station-master: and the guard’s face lighted with intelligence when he heard it, for he knew Squire Todhetley by reputation. The pocket-book had been safe just before we entered the tunnel; the Squire was certain of that, having felt it. He had sat in the carriage with his coat unbuttoned, rather thrown back; and nothing could have been easier than for a clever thief to draw it out, under cover of the darkness.

“I had fifty pounds in it,” he said; “fifty pounds in five-pound notes. And some memoranda besides.”

“Fifty pounds!” cried the lady, quickly. “And you could travel with all that about you, and not button up your coat! You ought to be rich!”

“Have you been in the habit of meeting thieves, madam, when travelling?” suddenly demanded the lunatic, turning upon her without warning, his coat whirling about on all sides with the rapidity of his movements.

“No, sir, I have not,” she answered, in indignant tones. “Have you?”

“I have not, madam. But, then, you perceive I see no risk in travelling with a coat unbuttoned, although it may have bank-notes in the pockets.”

She made no reply: was too much occupied in turning out her own pockets and purse, to ascertain that they had not been rifled. Re-assured on the point, she sat down on a low box against the wall, nursing her dog; which had begun its snarling again.

“It must have been taken from me in the dark as we went through the tunnel,” affirmed the Squire to the room in general and perhaps the station-master in particular. “I am a magistrate, and have some experience in these things. I sat completely off my guard, a prey for anybody, my hands stretched out before me, grappling with that dog, that seemed — why, goodness me! yes he did, now that I think of it — that seemed to be held about fifteen inches off my nose on purpose to attack me. That’s when the thing must have been done. But now — which of them could it have been?”

He meant which of the passengers. As he looked hard at us in rotation, especially at the guard and station-master, who had not been in the carriage, the lady gave a shriek, and threw the dog into the middle of the room.

“I see it all,” she said, faintly. “He has a habit of snatching at things with his mouth. He must have snatched the case out of your pocket, sir, and dropped it from the window. You will find it in the tunnel.”

“Who has?” asked the lunatic, while the Squire stared in wonder.

“My poor little Wasp. Ah, villain! beast! it is he that has done all this mischief.”

“He might have taken the pocket-book,” I said, thinking it time to speak, “but he could not have dropped it out, for I put the window up as we went into the tunnel.”

It seemed a nonplus for her, and her face fell again. “There was the other window,” she said in a minute. “He might have dropped it there. I heard his bark quite close to it.”

I pulled up that window, madam,” said the lunatic. “If the dog did take it out of the pocket it may be in the carriage now.”

The guard rushed out to search it; the Squire followed, but the station-master remained where he was, and closed the door after them. A thought came over me that he was stopping to keep the two passengers in view.

No; the pocket-book could not be found in the carriage. As they came back, the Squire was asking the guard if he knew who the nobleman was who had got out at the last station with his servant. But the guard did not know.

“He said they knew him on the line.”

“Very likely, sir. I have not been on this line above a month or two.”

“Well, this is an unpleasant affair,” said the lunatic impatiently; “and the question is — What’s to be done? It appears pretty evident that your pocket-book was taken in the carriage, sir. Of the four passengers, I suppose the one who left us at the last station must be held exempt from suspicion, being a nobleman. Another got out here, and has disappeared; the other two are present. I propose that we should both be searched.”

“I’m sure I am quite willing,” said the lady, and she got up at once.

I think the Squire was about to disclaim any wish so to act; but the lunatic was resolute, and the station-master agreed with him. There was no time to be lost, for the train was ready to start again, her time being up, and the lunatic was turned out. The lady went into another room with two women, called by the station-master, and she was turned out. Neither of them had the pocket-book.

“Here’s my card, sir,” said the lunatic, handing one to Mr. Todhetley. “You know my name, I dare say. If I can be of any future assistance to you in this matter, you may command me.”

“Bless my heart!” cried the Squire, as he read the name on the card. “How could you allow yourself to be searched, sir?”

“Because, in such a case as this, I think it only right and fair that every one who has the misfortune to be mixed up in it should be searched,” replied the lunatic, as they went out together. “It is a satisfaction to both parties. Unless you offered to search me, you could not have offered to search that woman; and I suspected her.”

“Suspected her!” cried the Squire, opening his eyes.

“If I didn’t suspect, I doubted. Why on earth did she cause her dog to make all that row the moment we got into the tunnel? It must have been done then. I should not be startled out of my senses if I heard that that silent man by my side and hers was in league with her.”

The Squire stood in a kind of amazement, trying to recall what he could of the little man in spectacles, and see if things would fit into one another.

“Don’t you like her look?” he asked suddenly.

“No, I don’t,” said the lunatic, turning himself about. “I have a prejudice against painted women: they put me in mind of Jezebel. Look at her hair. It’s awful.”

He went out in a whirlwind, and took his seat in the carriage, not a moment before it puffed off.

Is he a lunatic?” I whispered to the Squire.

“He a lunatic!” he roared. “You must be a lunatic for asking it, Johnny. Why, that’s — that’s ——”

Instead of saying any more, he showed me the card, and the name nearly took my breath away. He is a well-known London man, of science, talent, and position, and of world-wide fame.

“Well, I thought him nothing better than an escaped maniac.”

Did you?” said the Squire. “Perhaps he returned the compliment on you, sir. But now — Johnny, who has got my pocket-book?”

As if it was any use asking me? As we turned back to the station-master’s room, the lady came into it, evidently resenting the search, although she had seemed to acquiesce in it so readily.

“They were rude, those women. It is the first time I ever had the misfortune to travel with men who carry pocket-books to lose them, and I hope it will be the last,” she pursued, in scornful passion, meant for the Squire. “One generally meets with gentlemen in a first-class carriage.”

The emphasis came out with a shriek, and it told on him. Now that she was proved innocent, he was as vexed as she for having listened to the advice of the scientific man — but I can’t help calling him a lunatic still. The Squire’s apologies might have disarmed a cross-grained hyena; and she came round with a smile.

“If any one has got the pocket-book,” she said, as she stroked her dog’s ears, “it must be that silent man with the gold spectacles. There was no one else, sir, who could have reached you without getting up to do it. And I declare on my honour, that when that commotion first arose through my poor little dog, I felt for a moment something like a man’s arm stretched across me. It could only have been his. I hope you have the numbers of the notes.”

“But I have not,” said the Squire.

The room was being invaded by this time. Two stray passengers, a friend of the station-master’s, and the porter who took the tickets, had crept in. All thought the lady’s opinion must be correct, and said the spectacled man had got clear off with the pocket-book. There was no one else to pitch upon. A nobleman travelling with his servant would not be likely to commit a robbery; the lunatic was really the man his card represented him to be, for the station-master’s friend had seen and recognized him; and the lady was proved innocent by search. Wasn’t the Squire in a passion!

“That close reading of his was all a blind,” he said, in sudden conviction. “He kept his face down that we should not know him in future. He never looked at one of us! he never said a word! I shall go and find him.”

Away went the Squire, as fast as he could hurry, but came back in a moment to know which was the way out, and where it led to. There was quite a small crowd of us by this time. Some fields lay beyond the station at the back; and a boy affirmed that he had seen a little gentleman in spectacles, with a black bag in his hand, making over the first stile.

“Now look here, boy,” said the Squire. “If you catch that same man, I’ll give you five shillings.”

Tod could not have flown faster than the boy did. He took the stile at a leap; and the Squire tumbled over it after him. Some boys and men joined in the chase; and a cow, grazing in the field, trotted after us and brought up the rear.

Such a shout from the boy. It came from behind the opposite hedge of the long field. I was over the gate first; the Squire came next.

On the hedge of the dry ditch sat the passenger, his legs dangling, his neck imprisoned in the boy’s arms. I knew him at once. His hat and gold spectacles had fallen off in the scuffle; the black bag was wide open, and had a tall bunch of something green sticking up from it; some tools lay on the ground.

“Oh, you wicked hypocrite!” spluttered the Squire, not in the least knowing what he said in his passion. “Are you not ashamed to have played upon me such a vile trick? How dare you go about to commit robberies!”

“I have not robbed you, at any rate,” said the man, his voice trembling a little and his face pale, while the boy loosed the neck but pinioned one of the arms.

“Not robbed me!” cried the Squire. “Good Heavens! Who do you suppose you have robbed, if not me? Here, Johnny, lad, you are a witness. He says he has not robbed me.”

“I did not know it was yours,” said the man meekly. “Loose me, boy; I’ll not attempt to run away.”

“Halloa! here! what’s to do?” roared a big fellow, swinging himself over the gate. “Any tramp been trespassing? — anybody wanting to be took up? I’m the parish constable.”

If he had said he was the parish engine, ready to let loose buckets of water on the offender, he could not have been more welcome. The Squire’s face was rosy with satisfaction.

“Have you your handcuffs with you, my man?”

“I’ve not got them, sir; but I fancy I’m big enough and strong enough to take him without ’em. Something to spare, too.”

“There’s nothing like handcuffs for safety,” said the Squire, rather damped, for he believed in them as one of the country’s institutions. “Oh, you villain! Perhaps you can tie him with cords?”

The thief floundered out of the ditch and stood upon his feet. He did not look an ungentlemanly thief, now you came to see and hear him; and his face, though scared, might have been thought an honest one. He picked up his hat and glasses, and held them in his hand while he spoke, in tones of earnest remonstrance.

“Surely, sir, you would not have me taken up for this slight offence! I did not know I was doing wrong, and I doubt if the law would condemn me; I thought it was public property!”

“Public property!” cried the Squire, turning red at the words. “Of all the impudent brazen-faced rascals that are cheating the gallows, you must be the worst. My bank-notes public property!”

“Your what, sir?”

“My bank-notes, you villain. How dare you repeat your insolent questions?”

“But I don’t know anything about your bank-notes, sir,” said the man meekly. “I do not know what you mean.”

They stood facing each other, a sight for a picture; the Squire with his hands under his coat, dancing a little in rage, his face crimson; the other quite still, holding his hat and gold spectacles, and looking at him in wonder.

“You don’t know what I mean! When you confessed with your last breath that you had robbed me of my pocket-book!”

“I confessed — I have not sought to conceal — that I have robbed the ground of this rare fern,” said the man, handling carefully the green stuff in the black bag. “I have not robbed you or any one of anything else.”

The tone, simple, quiet, self-contained, threw the Squire in amazement. He stood staring.

“Are you a fool?” he asked. “What do you suppose I have to do with your rubbishing ferns?”

“Nay, I supposed you owned them; that is, owned the land. You led me to believe so, in saying I had robbed you.”

“What I’ve lost is a pocket-book, with ten five-pound bank-notes in it; I lost it in the train; it must have been taken as we came through the tunnel; and you sat next but one to me,” reiterated the Squire.

The man put on his hat and glasses. “I am a geologist and botanist, sir. I came here after this plant today — having seen it yesterday, but then I had not my tools with me. I don’t know anything about the pocket-book and bank-notes.”

So that was another mistake, for the botanist turned out of his pockets a heap of letters directed to him, and a big book he had been reading in the train, a treatise on botany, to prove who he was. And, as if to leave no loophole for doubt, one stepped up who knew him, and assured the Squire there was not a more learned man in his line, no, nor one more respected, in the three kingdoms. The Squire shook him by the hand in apologizing, and told him we had some valuable ferns near Dyke Manor, if he would come and see them.

Like Patience on a monument, when we got back, sat the lady, waiting to see the prisoner brought in. Her face would have made a picture too, when she heard the upshot, and saw the hot Squire and the gold spectacles walking side by side in friendly talk.

“I think still he must have got it,” she said, sharply.

“No, madam,” answered the Squire. “Whoever may have taken it, it was not he.”

“Then there’s only one man, and that is he whom you have let go on in the train,” she returned decisively. “I thought his fidgety movements were not put on for nothing. He had secured the pocket-book somewhere, and then made a show of offering to be searched. Ah, ha!”

And the Squire veered round again at this suggestion, and began to suspect he had been doubly cheated. First, out of his money, next out of his suspicions. One only thing in the whole bother seemed clear; and that was, that the notes and case had gone for good. As, in point of fact, they had.


We were on the chain-pier at Brighton, Tod and I. It was about eight or nine months after. I had put my arms on the rails at the end, looking at a pleasure-party sailing by. Tod, next to me, was bewailing his ill-fortune in not possessing a yacht and opportunities of cruising in it.

“I tell you No. I don’t want to be made sea-sick.”

The words came from some one behind us. It seemed almost as though they were spoken in reference to Tod’s wish for a yacht. But it was not that that made me turn round sharply; it was the sound of the voice, for I thought I recognized it.

Yes: there she was. The lady who had been with us in the carriage that day. The dog was not with her now, but her hair was more amazing than ever. She did not see me. As I turned, she turned, and began to walk slowly back, arm-inarm with a gentleman. And to see him — that is, to see them together — made me open my eyes. For it was the lord who had travelled with us.

“Look, Tod!” I said, and told him in a word who they were.

“What the deuce do they know of each other?” cried Tod with a frown, for he felt angry every time the thing was referred to. Not for the loss of the money, but for what he called the stupidity of us all; saying always had he been there, he should have detected the thief at once.

I sauntered after them: why I wanted to learn which of the lords he was, I can’t tell, for lords are numerous enough, but I had had a curiosity upon the point ever since. They encountered some people and were standing to speak to them; three ladies, and a fellow in a black glazed hat with a piece of green ribbon round it.

“I was trying to induce my wife to take a sail,” the lord was saying, “but she won’t. She is not a very good sailor, unless the sea has its best behaviour on.”

“Will you go tomorrow, Mrs. Mowbray?” asked the man in the glazed hat, who spoke and looked like a gentleman. “I will promise you perfect calmness. I am weather-wise, and can assure you this little wind will have gone down before night, leaving us without a breath of air.”

“I will go: on condition that your assurance proves correct.”

“All right. You of course will come, Mowbray?”

The lord nodded. “Very happy.”

“When do you leave Brighton, Mr. Mowbray?” asked one of the ladies.

“I don’t know exactly. Not for some days.”

“A muff as usual, Johnny,” whispered Tod. “That man is no lord: he is a Mr. Mowbray.”

“But, Tod, he is the lord. It is the one who travelled with us; there’s no mistake about that. Lords can’t put off their titles as parsons can: do you suppose his servant would have called him ‘my lord,’ if he had not been one?”

“At least there is no mistake that these people are calling him Mr. Mowbray now.”

That was true. It was equally true that they were calling her Mrs. Mowbray. My ears had been as quick as Tod’s, and I don’t deny I was puzzled. They turned to come up the pier again with the people, and the lady saw me standing there with Tod. Saw me looking at her, too, and I think she did not relish it, for she took a step backward as one startled, and then stared me full in the face, as if asking who I might be. I lifted my hat.

There was no response. In another moment she and her husband were walking quickly down the pier together, and the other party went on to the end quietly. A man in a tweed suit and brown hat drawn low over his eyes, was standing with his arms folded, looking after the two with a queer smile upon his face. Tod marked it and spoke.

“Do you happen to know that gentleman?”

“Yes, I do,” was the answer.

“Is he a peer?”

“On occasion.”

“On occasion!” repeated Tod. “I have a reason for asking,” he added; “do not think me impertinent.”

“Been swindled out of anything?” asked the man, coolly.

“My father was, some months ago. He lost a pocket-book with fifty pounds in it in a railway carriage. Those people were both in it, but not then acquainted with each other.”

“Oh, weren’t they!” said the man.

“No, they were not,” I put in, “for I was there. He was a lord then.”

“Ah,” said the man, “and had a servant in livery no doubt, who came up my-lording him unnecessarily every other minute. He is a member of the swell-mob; one of the cleverest of the gentleman fraternity, and the one who acts as servant is another of them.”

“And the lady?” I asked.

“She is a third. They have been working in concert for two or three years now; and will give us trouble yet before their career is stopped. But for being singularly clever, we should have had them long ago. And so they did not know each other in the train! I dare say not!”

The man spoke with quiet authority. He was a detective come down from London to Brighton that morning; whether for a private trip, or on business, he did not say. I related to him what had passed in the train.

“Ay,” said he, after listening. “They contrived to put the lamp out before starting. The lady took the pocket-book during the commotion she caused the dog to make, and the lord received it from her hand when he gave her back the dog. Cleverly done! He had it about him, young sir, when he got out at the next station. She waited to be searched, and to throw the scent off. Very ingenious, but they’ll be a little too much so some fine day.”

“Can’t you take them up?” demanded Tod.

“No.”

“I will accuse them of it,” he haughtily said. “If I meet them again on this pier ——”

“Which you won’t do today,” interrupted the man.

“I heard them say they were not going for some days.”

“Ah, but they have seen you now. And I think — I’m not quite sure — that he saw me. They’ll be off by the next train.”

“Who are they?” asked Tod, pointing to the end of the pier.

“Unsuspecting people whose acquaintance they have casually made here. Yes, an hour or two will see Brighton quit of the pair.”

And it was so. A train was starting within an hour, and Tod and I galloped to the station. There they were: in a first-class carriage: not apparently knowing each other, I verily believe, for he sat at one door and she at the other, passengers dividing them.

“Lambs between two wolves,” remarked Tod. “I have a great mind to warn the people of the sort of company they are in. Would it be actionable, Johnny?”

The train moved off as he was speaking. And may I never write another word, if I did not catch sight of the man-servant and his cockade in the next carriage behind them!

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30