Hugh Stanbury went down on the Saturday, by the early express to Exeter, on his road to Lessboro’. He took his ticket through to Lessboro’, not purposing to stay at Exeter; but, from the exigencies of the various trains, it was necessary that he should remain for half an hour at the Exeter Station. This took place on the Saturday, and Colonel Osborne’s visit to the Clock House had been made on the Friday. Colonel Osborne had returned to Lessboro’, had slept again at Mrs Clegg’s house, and returned to London on the Saturday. It so happened that, he also was obliged to spend half an hour at the Exeter Station, and that his half-hour, and Hugh Stanbury’s half-hour, were one and the same. They met, therefore, as a matter of course, upon the platform. Stanbury was the first to see the other, and he found that he must determine on the spur of the moment what he would say, and what he would do. He had received no direct commission from Trevelyan as to his meeting with Colonel Osborne. Trevelyan had declared that, as to the matter of quarrelling, he meant to retain the privilege of doing that for himself; but Stanbury had quite understood that this was only the vague expression of an angry man. The Colonel had taken a glass of sherry, and had lighted a cigar, and was quite comfortable having thrown aside, for a time, that consciousness of the futility of his journey which had perplexed him when Stanbury accosted him.
‘What! Mr Stanbury how do you do? Fine day, isn’t it? Are you going up or down?’
‘I’m going to see my own people at Nuncombe Putney, a village, beyond Lessboro’,’ said Hugh.
‘Ah indeed.’ Colonel Osborne of course perceived it once that as this man was going to the house at which he had just been visiting, it would be better that he should himself explain what he had done. If he were to allow this mention of Nuncombe Putney to pass without saying that he himself had been there, he would be convicted of at least some purpose of secrecy in what he had been doing. ‘Very strange,’ said he; ‘I was at Nuncombe Putney myself yesterday.’
‘I know you were,’ said Stanbury.
‘And how did you know it?’ There had been a tone of anger in Stanbury’s voice which Colonel Osborne had at once appreciated, and which made him assume a similar one. As they spoke there was a man standing in a corner close by the bookstall, with his eye upon them, and that man was Bozzle, the ex-policeman who was doing his duty with sedulous activity by seeing ‘the Colonel’ back to London. Now Bozzle did not know Hugh Stanbury, and was angry with himself that, he should be so ignorant. It is the pride of a detective ex-policeman to know everybody that comes in his way.
‘Well, I had been so informed. My friend Trevelyan knew that you were there — or that you were going there.’
‘I don’t care who knew that I was going there,’ said the Colonel.
‘I won’t pretend to understand how that may be, Colonel Osborne; but I think you must be aware, after, what took place in Curzon Street, that it would have been better that you should not have attempted to see Mrs Trevelyan. Whether you have seen her I do not know.’
‘What business is it of yours, Mr Stanbury, whether I have seen that lady or not?’
‘Unhappily for me, her husband has made it my business.’
‘Very unhappily for you, I should say.’
‘And the lady is staying at my mother’s house.’
‘I presume the lady is not a prisoner in your mother’s house, and that your mother’s hospitality is not so restricted but that her guest may see an old friend under her roof.’ This, Colonel Osborne said with an assumed look of almost righteous indignation, which was not at all lost upon Bozzle. They had returned back towards the bookstall, and Bozzle, with his eyes fixed on a copy of the ‘D. R.’ which he had just bought, was straining his ears to the utmost to catch what was being said.
‘You best know whether you have seen her or not.’
‘I have seen her.’
‘Then I shall take leave to tell you, Colonel Osborne, that you have acted in a most unfriendly way, and have done that which must tend to keep an affectionate husband apart from his wife.’
‘Sir, I don’t at all understand this kind of thing addressed to me. The father of the lady you are speaking of has been my most intimate friend for thirty years.’ After all, the Coonel was a mean man when he could take pride in his youth, and defend himself on the score of his age, in one and the same proceeding.
‘I have nothing further to say,’ replied Stanbury.
‘You have said too much already, Mr Stanbury.’
‘I think not, Colonel Osborne. You have, I fear, done an incredible deal of mischief by going to Nuncombe Putney; and, after all that you have heard on the subject, you must have known that it would be mischievous. I cannot understand how you can force yourself about a man’s wife against the man’s expressed wish.’
‘Sir, I didn’t force myself upon anybody. Sir, I went down to see an old friend and a remarkable piece of antiquity. And, when another old friend was in the neighbourhood, close by, one of the oldest friends I have in the world, wasn’t I to go and see her? God bless my soul! What business is it of yours? I never heard such impudence in my life!’ Let the charitable reader suppose that Colonel Osborne did not know that he was lying — that he really thought, when he spoke, that he had gone down to Lessboro’ to see the remarkable piece of antiquity.
‘Good morning,’ said Hugh Stanbury, turning on his heels and walking away. Colonel Osborne shook himself, inflated his cheeks, and blew forth the breath out of his mouth, put his thumbs up to the armholes of his waistcoat, and walked about the platform as though he thought it to be incumbent on him to show that he was somebody, somebody that ought not to be insulted, somebody, perhaps, whom a very pretty woman might prefer to her own husband, in spite of a small difference in age. He was angry, but not quite so much angry as proud. And he was safe, too. He thought that he was safe. When he should come to account for himself and his actions to his old friend, Sir Marmaduke, he felt that he would be able to show that he had been, in all respects, true to friendship. Sir Marmaduke had unfortunately given his daughter to a jealous, disagreeable fellow, and the fault all lay in that. As for Hugh Stanbury he would simply despise Hugh Stanbury, and have done with it.
Mr Bozzle, though he had worked hard in the cause, had heard but a word or two. Eaves-droppers seldom do hear more than that. A porter had already told him who was Hugh Stanbury, that he was Mr Hugh Stanbury, and that his aunt lived at Exeter. And Bozzle, knowing that the lady about whom he was concerned was living with a Mrs Stanbury at the house he had been watching, put two and two together with his natural cleverness. ‘God bless my soul! what business is it of yours?’ Those words were nearly all that Bozzle had been able to hear; but even those sufficiently indicated a quarrel. ‘The lady’ was living with Mrs Stanbury, having been so placed by her husband; and young Stanbury was taking the lady’s part! Bozzle began to fear that the husband had not confided in him with that perfect faith which he felt to be essentially necessary to the adequate performance of the duties of his great profession. A sudden thought, however, struck him. Something might be done on the journey up to London. He at once made his way back to the ticket-window and exchanged his ticket second-class for first-class. It was a noble deed, the expense falling all upon his own pocket; for, in the natural course of things, he would have charged his employers with the full first-class fare. He had seen Colonel Osborne seat himself in a carriage, and within two minutes he was occupying the opposite place. The Colonel was aware that he had noticed the man’s face lately, but did not know where.
‘Very fine summer weather, sir,’ said Bozzle.
‘Very fine,’ said the Colonel, burying himself behind a newspaper.
‘They is getting up their wheat nicely in these parts, sir.’
The answer to this was no more than a grunt. But Bozzle was not offended. Not to be offended is the special duty of all policemen, in and out of office; and the journey from Exeter to London was long, and was all before him.
‘A very nice little secluded village is Nuncombe Putney,’ said Bozzle, as the train was leaving the Salisbury station.
At Salisbury two ladies had left the carriage, no one else had got in, and Bozzle. was alone with the Colonel.
‘I dare say,’ said the Colonel, ‘who by this time had relinquished his shield, and who had begun to compose himself for sleep, or to pretend to compose himself, as soon as he heard Bozzle’s voice. He had been looking at Bozzle, and though he had not discovered the man’s trade, had told himself that his companion was a thing of dangers a thing to be avoided, by one engaged, as had been he himself, on a special and secret mission.
‘Saw you there calling at the Clock House,’ said Bozzle.
‘Very likely,’ said the Colonel, throwing his head well back into the corner, shutting his eyes, and uttering a slight preliminary snore.
‘Very nice family of ladies at the Clock House,’ said Bozzle. The Colonel answered him by a more developed snore. ‘Particularly Mrs T,’ said Bozzle.
The Colonel could not stand this. He was so closely implicated with Mrs Trevelyan at the present moment that he could not omit to notice an address so made to him. ‘What the devil is that to you, sir?’ said he, jumping up and confronting Bozzle in his wrath.
But policemen have always this advantage in their difficulties, that they know to a fraction what the wrath of men is worth, and what it can do. Sometimes it can dismiss a policeman, and sometimes break his head. Sometimes it can give him a long and troublesome job, and sometimes it may be wrath to the death. But in nineteen out of twenty cases it is not a fearful thing, and the policeman knows well when he need not fear it. On the present occasion Bozzle was not at all afraid of Colonel Osborne’s wrath.
‘Well, sir, not much, indeed, if you come to that. ‘Only you was there, sir.’
‘Of course I was there,’ said the Colonel.
‘And a very nice young gentleman is Mr Stanbury,’ said Bozzle.
To this Colonel Osborne made no reply, but again had resort to his newspaper in the most formal manner.
‘He’s a going down to his family, no doubt,’ continued Bozzle.
‘He may be going to the devil for what I know,’ said the Colonel, who could not restrain himself.
‘I suppose they’re all friends of Mrs T.‘s?’ asked Bozzle.
‘Sir,’ said the Colonel, ‘I believe that you’re a spy.’
‘No, Colonel, no; no, no; I’m no spy. I wouldn’t demean myself to be such. A spy is a man as has no profession, and nothing to justify his looking into things. Things must be looked into, Colonel; or how’s a man to know where he is? or how’s a lady to know where she is? But as for spies, except in the way of evidence, I don’t think nothing of ’em.’ Soon after this, two more passengers entered the train, and nothing more was said between Bozzle and the Colonel.
The Colonel, as soon as he reached London, went home to his lodgings, and then to his club, and did his best to enjoy himself. On the following Monday he intended to start for Scotland. But he could not quite enjoy himself because of Bozzle. He felt that he was being watched; and there is nothing that any man hates so much as that, especially when a lady is concerned. Colonel Osborne knew that his visit to Nuncombe Putney had been very innocent; but he did not like the feeling that even his innocence had been made the subject of observation.
Bozzle went away at once to Trevelyan, whom he found at his chambers. He himself had had no very deep-laid scheme in his addresses to Colonel Osborne. He had begun to think that very little would come of the affair especially after Hugh Stanbury had appeared upon the scene and had felt that there was nothing to be lost by presenting himself before the eyes of the Colonel. It was necessary that he should make a report to his employer, and the report might be made a little more full after a few words with the man whom he had been ‘looking into.’ ‘Well, Mr Trewillian,’ he said, seating himself on a chair close against the wall, and holding his hat between the knees ‘I’ve seen the parties, and know pretty much all about it.’
‘All I want to know, Mr Bozzle, is, whether Colonel Osborne has been at the Clock House?’
‘He has been there, Mr Trewillian. There is no earthly dobt about that. From hour to hour I can tell you pretty nearly where he’s been since he left London.’ Then Bozzle took out his memorandum-book.
‘I don’t care about all that,’ said Trevelyan.
‘I dare say not, sir; but it may be wanted all the same. Any gentleman acting in our way can’t be too particular, can’t have too many facts. The smallest little tiddly things, and Bozzle as he said this seemed to enjoy immensely the flavour of his own epithet ‘the smallest little “tiddly” things do so often turn up trumps when you get your evidence into court.’
‘I’m not going to get any evidence into court.’
‘Maybe not, sir. A gentleman and lady is always best out of court as long as things can hang on any way, but sometimes things won’t hang on no way.’
Trevelyan, who was conscious that the employment of Bozzle was discreditable, and whose affairs in Devonshire were now in the hands of, at any rate, a more honourable ally, was at present mainly anxious to get rid of the ex-policeman. ‘I have no doubt you’ve been very careful, Mr Bozzle,’ said he.
‘There isn’t no one in the business could be more so, Mr Trewillian.’
‘And you have found out what it was necessary that I should know. Colonel Osborne did go to the Clock House?’
‘He was let in at the front door on Friday the 5th by Sarah French, the housemaid, at 10.37 a.m., and was let out again by the same young woman at 11.44 a.m. Perhaps you’d like to have a copy of the entry, Mr Trewillian?’.
‘No, no, no.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Of course it’ll be with me when it’s wanted. Who was with him, exactly, at that time, I can’t say. There is things, Mr Trewillian, one can’t see. But I don’t think as he saw neither Mrs Stanbury, nor Miss Stanbury not to speak to. I did just have one word, promiscuous, with Sarah French, after he was gone. Whether the other young lady was with ’em or not, and if so for how long, I can’t say. There is things, Mr Trewillian, which one can’t see.’
How Trevelyan hated the man as he went on with his odious details, details, not one of which possessed the slightest importance. ‘It’s all right, I dare say, Mr Bozzle. And now about the account.’
‘Quite so, Mr Trewillian. But there was one question — just one question.’
‘What question?’ said Trevelyan, almost angrily.
‘And there’s another thing I must tell you, too, Mr Trewillian. I come back to town in the same carriage with the Colonel. I thought it better.’
‘You did not tell him who you were?’
‘No, Mr Trewillian; I didn’t tell him that. I don’t think he’d say if you was to ask him that I told him much of anything. No, Mr Trewillian, I didn’t tell him nothing. I don’t often tell folks much till the time comes. But I thought it better, and I did have a word or two with the gent, just a word or two. He’s not so very downy, isn’t the Colonel for one that’s been at it so long, Mr Trewillian.’
‘I dare say not. But if you could just let me have the account, Mr Bozzle —’
‘The account? Oh, yes that is necessary; ain’t it? These sort of inquiries do come a little expensive, Mr Trewillian; because time goes for so much; and when one has to be down on a thing, sharp, you know, and sure, so that counsel on the other side can’t part you from it, though he shakes you like a dog does a rat, and one has to get oneself up ready for all that, you know, Mr Trewillian; as I was saying, one can’t count one’s shillings when one has such a job as this in hand. Clench your nail — that’s what I say; be it even so. Clench your nail — that’s what you’ve got to do.’
‘I dare say we shan’t quarrel about the money, Mr Bozzle.’
‘Oh dear no. I find I never has any words about the money. But there’s that one question. There’s a young Mr Stanbury has gone down, as knows all about it. What’s he up to?’
‘He’s my particular friend,’ said Trevelyan.
‘Oh h. He do know all about it, then?’
‘We needn’t talk about that, if you please, Mr Bozzle.’
‘Because there was words between him and the Colonel upon the platform and very angry words. The young man went at the Colonel quite open-mouthed savage-like. It’s not the way such things should be done, Mr Trewillian; and though of course it’s not for me to speak — she’s your lady — still, when you has got a thing of this kind in hand, one head is better than a dozen. As for myself, Mr Trewillian, I never wouldn’t look at a case, not if I knew it, unless I was to have it all to myself. But of course there was no bargain, and so I says nothing.’
After considerable delay the bill was made out on the spot, Mr Bozzle copying down the figures painfully from his memorandum-book, with his head much inclined on one side. Trevelyan asked him, almost in despair, to name the one sum; but this Bozzle declined to do, saying that right was right. He had a scale of pilfering of his own, to which he had easily reconciled his conscience; and beyond that he prided himself on the honesty of his accounts. At last the bill was made out, was paid, and Bozzle was gone. Trevelyan, when he was alone, threw himself back on a sofa, and almost wept in despair. To what a depth of degradation had he not been reduced!
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26