The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVIII

The “Fiddle with One String”

Mr. Gager reached Ramsgate by the earliest train on the following morning, and was not long in finding out the “Fiddle with One String.” The “Fiddle with One String” was a public-house, very humble in appearance, in the outskirts of the town, on the road leading to Pegwell Bay. On this occasion Mr. Gager was dressed in his ordinary plain clothes, and though the policeman’s calling might not be so manifestly declared by his appearance at Ramsgate as it was in Scotland Yard, still, let a hint in that direction have ever been given, and the ordinary citizens of Ramsgate would at once be convinced that the man was what he was. Gager had doubtless considered all the circumstances of his day’s work carefully, and had determined that success would more probably attend him with this than with any other line of action. He walked at once into the house, and asked whether a young woman was not lodging there. The man of the house was behind the bar, with his wife, and to him Gager whispered a few words. The man stood dumb for a moment, and then his wife spoke. “What’s up now?” said she, “There’s no young women here. We don’t have no young women.” Then the man whispered a word to his wife, during which Gager stood among the customers before the bar with an easy, unembarrassed air.

“Well, what’s the odds?” said the wife. “There ain’t anything wrong with us.”

“Never thought there was, ma’am,” said Gager. “And there’s nothing wrong as I know of with the young woman.” Then the husband and wife consulted together, and Mr. Gager was asked to take a seat in a little parlour, while the woman ran upstairs for half an instant. Gager looked about him quickly, and took in at a glance the system of the construction of the “Fiddle with One String.” He did sit down in the little parlour, with the door open, and remained there for perhaps a couple of minutes. Then he went to the front door, and glanced up at the roof.

“It’s all right,” said the keeper of the house, following him. “She ain’t a-going to get away. She ain’t just very well, and she’s a-lying down.”

“You tell her, with my regards,” said Gager, “that she needn’t be a bit the worse because of me.” The man looked at him suspiciously. “You tell her what I say. And tell her, too, the quicker the better. She has a gentleman a-looking after her, I daresay. Perhaps I’d better be off before he comes.” The message was taken up to the lady, and Gager again seated himself in the little parlour.

We are often told that all is fair in love and war, and perhaps the operation on which Mr. Gager was now intent may be regarded as warlike. But he now took advantage of a certain softness in the character of the lady whom he wished to meet, which hardly seems to be justifiable even in a policeman. When Lizzie’s tall footman had been in trouble about the necklace, a photograph had been taken from him which had not been restored to him. This was a portrait of Patience Crabstick, which she, poor girl, in a tender moment, had given to him who, had not things gone roughly with them, was to have been her lover. The little picture had fallen into Gager’s hands, and he now pulled it from his pocket. He himself had never visited the house in Hertford Street till after the second robbery, and, in the flesh, had not as yet seen Miss Crabstick; but he had studied her face carefully, expecting, or at any rate hoping, that he might some day enjoy the pleasure of personal acquaintance. That pleasure was now about to come to him, and he prepared himself for it by making himself intimate with the lines of the lady’s face as the sun had portrayed them. There was even yet some delay, and Mr. Gager more than once testified uneasiness.

“She ain’t a-going to get away,” said the mistress of the house, “but a lady as is going to see a gentleman can’t jump into her things as a man does.” Gager intimated his acquiescence in all this, and again waited.

“The sooner she comes, the less trouble for her,” said Gager to the woman. “If you’ll only make her believe that.” At last, when he had been somewhat over an hour in the house, he was asked to walk upstairs, and then, in a little sitting-room over the bar, he had the opportunity, so much desired, of making personal acquaintance with Patience Crabstick.

It may be imagined that the poor waiting-woman had not been in a happy state of mind since she had been told that a gentleman was waiting to see her down-stairs, who had declared himself to be a policeman immediately on entering the shop. To escape was of course her first idea, but she was soon made to understand that this was impracticable. In the first place there was but one staircase, at the bottom of which was the open door of the room in which the policeman was sitting; and then, the woman of the house was very firm in declaring that she would connive at nothing which might cost her and her husband their license. “You got to face it,” said the woman.

“I suppose they can’t make me get out of bed unless I pleases,” said Patience firmly. But she knew that even that resource would fail her, and that a policeman, when aggravated, can take upon him all the duties of a lady’s maid. She had to face it, and she did face it.

“I’ve just got to have a few words with you, my dear,” said Gager.

“I suppose, then, we’d better be alone,” said Patience; whereupon the woman of the house discreetly left the room.

The interview was so long that the reader would be fatigued were he asked to study a record of all that was said on the occasion. The gentleman and lady were closeted together for more than an hour, and so amicably was the conversation carried on that when the time was half over Gager stepped down-stairs and interested himself in procuring Miss Crabstick’s breakfast. He even condescended himself to pick a few shrimps and drink a glass of beer in her company. A great deal was said and something was even settled, as may be learned from a few concluding words of that very memorable conversation. “Just don’t you say anything about it, my dear, but leave word for him that you’ve gone up to town on business.”

“Lord love you, Mr. Gager, he’ll know all about it.”

“Let him know. Of course he’ll know if he comes down. It’s my belief he’ll never show himself at Ramsgate again.”

“But, Mr. Gager ——”

“Well, my dear.”

“You aren’t a perjuring of yourself?”

“What; about making you my wife? That I ain’t. I’m upright and always was. There’s no mistake about me when you’ve got my word. As soon as this work is off my mind you shall be Mrs. Gager, my dear. And you’ll be all right. You’ve been took in, that’s what you have.”

“That I have, Mr. Gager,” said Patience, wiping her eyes.

“You’ve been took in and you must be forgiven.”

“I didn’t get — not nothing out of the necklace; and as fot the other things, they’ve frightened me so that I let ’em all go for just what I tell you. And as for Mr. Smiler, I never didn’t care for him; that I didn’t. He ain’t the man to touch my heart; not at all; and it was not likely either. A plain fellow, very, Mr. Gager.”

“He’ll be plainer before long, my dear.”

“But I’ve been that worrited among ’em, Mr. Gager, since first they made their wicked prepositions, that I’ve been jest — I don’t know how I’ve been. And though my lady was not a lady as any girl could like, and did deserve to have her things took if anybody’s things ever should be took, still, Mr. Gager, I knows I did wrong. I do know it and I’m a-repenting of it in sackcloth and ashes; so I am. But you’ll be as good as your word, Mr. Gager?”

It must be acknowledged that Mr. Gager had bidden high for success, and had allowed himself to be carried away by his zeal almost to the verge of imprudence. It was essential to him that he should take Patience Crabstick back with him to London, and that he should take her as witness and not as a criminal. Mr. Benjamin was the game at which he was flying — Mr. Benjamin, and if possible, Lord George — and he conceived that his net might be big enough to hold Smiler as well as the other two greater fishes, if he could induce Patience Crabstick and Billy Cann to co-operate with him cordially in his fishing.

But his mind was still disturbed on one point. Let him press his beloved Patience as closely as he might with questions, there was one point on which he could not get from her what he believed to be the truth. She persisted that Lord George de Bruce Carruthers had had no hand in either robbery, and Gager had so firmly committed himself to a belief on this matter, that he could not throw the idea away from him, even on the testimony of Patience Crabstick.

On that evening he returned triumphant to Scotland Yard with Patience Crabstick under his wing; and that lady was housed there with every comfort she could desire, except that of personal liberty.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01