Mr Peacocke went on alone to San Francisco from the Ogden Junction, and there obtained full information on the matter which had brought him upon this long and disagreeable journey. He had no difficulty in obtaining the evidence which he required. He had not been twenty-four hours in the place before he was, in truth, standing on the stone which had been placed over the body of Ferdinand Lefroy, as he had declared to Robert Lefroy that he would stand before he would be satisfied. On the stone was cut simply the names, Ferdinand Lefroy of Kilbrack, Louisiana; and to these were added the dates of the days on which the man had been born and on which he died. Of this stone he had a photograph made, of which he took copies with him; and he obtained also from the minister who had buried the body and from the custodian who had charge of the cemetery certificates of the interment. Armed with these he could no longer doubt himself, or suppose that others would doubt, that Ferdinand Lefroy was dead.
Having thus perfected his object, and feeling but little interest in a town to which he had been brought by such painful circumstances, he turned round, and on the second day after his arrival, again started for Chicago. Had it been possible, he would fain have avoided any further meeting with Robert Lefroy. Short as had been his stay at San Francisco he had learnt that Robert, after his brother’s death, had been concerned in buying mining shares and paying for them with forged notes. It was not supposed that he himself had been engaged in the forgery, but that he had come into the city with men who had been employed for years on this operation, and had bought shares and endeavoured to sell them on the following day. He had, however, managed to leave the place before the police had got hold of him, and had escaped, so that no one had been able to say at what station he had got upon the railway. Nor did anyone in San Francisco know where Robert Lefroy was now to be found. His companions had been taken, tried, and convicted, and were now in the State prison — where also would Robert Lefroy soon be if any of the officers of the State could get hold of him. Luckily Mr Peacocke had said little or nothing of the man in making his own inquiries. Much as he had hated and dreaded the man; much as he had suffered from his companionship — good reason as he had to dislike the whole family — he felt himself bound by their late companionship not to betray him. The man had assisted Mr Peacocke simply for money; but still he had assisted him. Mr Peacocke therefore held his peace and said nothing. But he would have been thankful to have been able to send the money that was now due to him without having again to see him. That, however, was impossible.
On reaching Chicago he went to an hotel far removed from that which Lefroy had designated. Lefroy had explained to him something of the geography of the town, and had explained that for himself he preferred a “modest, quiet hotel”. The modest, quiet hotel was called Mrs Jones’s boarding-house, and was in one of the suburbs far from the main street. “You needn’t say as you’re coming to me,” Lefroy had said to him; “nor need you let on as you know anything of Mrs Jones at all. People are so curious; and it may be that a gentleman sometimes likes to lie perdoo. “ Mr Peacocke, although he had but small sympathy for the taste of a gentleman who likes to lie perdoo, nevertheless did as he was bid, and found his way to Mrs Jones’s boarding-house without telling anyone whither he was going.
Before he started he prepared himself with a thousand dollars in bank-notes, feeling that this wretched man had earned them in accordance with their compact. His only desire now was to hand over the money as quickly as possible, and to hurry away out of Chicago. He felt as though he himself were almost guilty of some crime in having to deal with this man, in having to give him money secretly, and in carrying out to the end an arrangement of which no one else was to know the details. How would it be with him if the police of Chicago should come upon him as a friend, and probably an accomplice, of one who was “wanted” on account of forgery at San Francisco? But he had no help for himself, and at Mrs Jones’s he found his wife’s brother-in-law seated in the bar of the public house — that everlasting resort for American loungers — with a cigar as usual stuck in his mouth, loafing away his time as only American frequenters of such establishments know how to do. In England such a man would probably be found in such a place with a glass of some alcoholic mixture beside him, but such is never the case with an American. If he wants a drink he goes to the bar and takes it standing — will perhaps take two or three, one after another; but when he has settled himself down to loaf, he satisfies himself with chewing a cigar, and covering a circle around him with the results. With this amusement he will remain contented hour after hour — nay, throughout the entire day if no harder work be demanded of him. So was Robert Lefroy found now. When Peacocke entered the hall or room the man did not rise from his chair, but accosted him as though they had parted only an hour since. “So, old fellow, you’ve got back all alive.”
“I have reached this place at any rate.”
“Well; that’s getting back, ain’t it?”
“I have come back from San Francisco.”
“H’sh!” exclaimed Lefroy, looking round the room, in which, however, there was no one but themselves. “You needn’t tell everybody where you’ve been.”
“I have nothing to conceal.”
“That is more than anybody knows of himself. It’s a good maxim to keep your own affairs quiet till they’re wanted. In this country everybody is spry enough to learn all about everything. I never see any good in letting them know without a reason. Well — what did you do when you got there?”
“It was all as you told me.”
“Didn’t I say so? What was the good of bringing me all this way, when, if you’d only believed me, you might have saved me the trouble. Ain’t I to be paid for that?”
“You are to be paid. I have come here to pay you.
“That’s what you owe for the knowledge. But for coming? Ain’t I to be paid extra for the journey?”
“You are to have a thousand dollars.”
“H’sh! — you speak of money as though every one has a business to know that you have got your pockets full. What’s a thousand dollars, seeing all that I have done for you!”
“It’s all that you’re going to get. It’s all, indeed, I that I have got to give you.”
“It’s all, at any rate, that you’re going to get. Will you have it now?”
“You found the tomb, did you?”
“Yes; I found the tomb. Here is a photograph of it. You can keep a copy if you like it.”
“What do I want of a copy?” said the man, taking the photograph in his hand. “He was always more trouble than he was worth — was Ferdy. It’s a pity she didn’t marry me. I’d’ve made a woman of her.” Peacocke shuddered as he heard this, but he said nothing. “You may as well give us the picter — it’ll do to hang up somewhere if ever I have a room of my own. How plain it is. Ferdinand Lefroy — of Kilbrack! Kilbrack indeed! It’s little either of us was the better for Kilbrack. Some of them psalm-singing rogues from New England has it now — or perhaps a right-down nigger. I shouldn’t wonder. One of our own lot, maybe! Oh; that’s the money, is it? — A thousand dollars; all that I’m to have for coming to England and telling you, and bringing you back, and showing you where you could get this pretty picter made.” Then he took the money, a thick roll of notes, and crammed them into his pocket.
“You’d better count them.”
“It ain’t worth the while with such a trifle as that.”
“Let me count them then.”
“You’ll never have that plunder in your fists again, my fine fellow.”
“I do not want it.”
“And now about my expenses out to England, on purpose to tell you all this. You can go and make her your wife now — or can leave her, just as you please. You couldn’t have done neither if I hadn’t gone out to you.”
“You have got what was promised.”
“But my expenses — going out?”
“I have promised you nothing for your expenses going out — and will pay you nothing.”
“Not a dollar more.”
“Certainly not. I do not suppose that you expect it for a moment, although you are so persistent in asking for it.”
“And you think you’ve got the better of me, do you? You think you’ve carried me along with you, just to do your bidding and take whatever you please to give me? That’s your idea of me?”
“There was a clear bargain between us. I have not got the better of you at all.”
“I rather think not, Peacocke. I rather think not. You’ll have to get up earlier before you get the better of Robert Lefroy. You don’t expect to get this money back again — do you?”
“Certainly not — any more than I should expect a pound of meat out of a dog’s jaw.” Mr Peacocke, as he said this, was waxing angry.
“I don’t suppose you do — but you expected that I was to earn it by doing your bidding — didn’t you?”
“And you have.”
“Yes, I have; but how? You never heard of my cousin, did you — Ferdinand Lefroy of Kilbrack, Louisiana?”
“Heard of whom?”
“My cousin; Ferdinand Lefroy. He was very well known in his own State, and in California too, till he died. He was a good fellow, but given to drink. We used to tell him that if he would marry it would be better for him — but he never would — he never did.” Robert Lefroy as he said this put his left hand into his trousers-pocket over the notes which he had placed there, and drew a small revolver out of his pocket with the other hand. “I am better prepared now,” he said, “than when you had your six-shooter under your pillow at Leavenworth”
“I do not believe a word of it. It’s a lie,” said Peacocke.
“Very well. You’re a chap that’s fond of travelling, and have got plenty of money. You’d better go down to Louisiana and make your way straight from New Orleans to Kilbrack. It ain’t above forty miles to the south-west, and there’s a rail goes within fifteen miles of it. You’ll learn there all about Ferdinand Lefroy as was our cousin — him as never got married up to the day he died of drink and was buried at San Francisco. They’ll be very glad, I shouldn’t wonder, to see that pretty little picter of yours, because they was always uncommon fond of cousin Ferdy at Kilbrack. And I’ll tell you what; you’ll be sure to come across my brother Ferdy in them parts, and can tell him how you’ve seen me. You can give him all the latest news, too, about his own wife. He’ll be glad to hear about her, poor woman.” Mr Peacocke listened to this without saying a word since that last exclamation of his. It might be true. Why should it not be true? If in truth there had been these two cousins of the same name, what could be more likely than that his money should be lured out of him by such a fraud as this? But yet — yet, as he came to think of it all, it could not be true. The chance of carrying such a scheme to a successful issue would have been too small to induce the man to act upon it from the day of his first appearance at Bowick. Nor was it probable that there should have been another Ferdinand Lefroy unknown to his wife; and the existence of such a one, if known to his wife, would certainly have been made known to him.
“It’s a lie,” said he, from beginning to end.
“Very well; very well. I’ll take care to make the truth known by letter to Dr Wortle and the Bishop and all them pious swells over there. To think that such a chap as you, a minister of the gospel, living with another man’s wife and looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth! I tell you what; I’ve got a little money in my pocket now, and I don’t mind going over to England again and explaining the whole truth to the Bishop myself. I could make him understand how that photograph ain’t worth nothing, and how I explained to you myself as the lady’s righteous husband is all alive, keeping house on his own property down in Louisiana. Do you think we Lefroys hadn’t any place beside Kilbrack among us?”
“Certainly you are a liar,” said Peacocke.
“Very well. Prove it.”
“Did you not tell me that your brother was buried at San Francisco?”
“Oh, as for that, that don’t matter. It don’t count for much whether I told a crammer or not. That picter counts for nothing. It ain’t my word you were going on as evidence. You is able to prove that Ferdy Lefroy was buried at ‘Frisco. True enough. I buried him. I can prove that. And I would never have treated you this way, and not have said a word as to how the dead man was only a cousin, if you’d treated me civil over there in England. But you didn’t.”
“I am going to treat you worse now,” said Peacocke, looking him in the face.
“What are you going to do now? It’s I that have the revolver this time.” As he said this he turned the weapon round in his hand.
“I don’t want to shoot you — nor yet to frighten you, as I did in the bedroom at Leavenworth. Not but what I have a pistol too.” And he slowly drew his out of his pocket. At this moment two men sauntered in and took their places in the further corner of the room. “I don’t think there is to be any shooting between us.”
“There may,” said Lefroy.
“The police would have you.”
“So they would — for a time. What does that matter to me? Isn’t a fellow to protect himself when a fellow like you comes to him armed?”
“But they would soon know that you are the swindler who escaped from San Francisco eighteen months ago. Do you think it wouldn’t be found out that it was you who paid for the shares in forged notes?”
“I never did. That’s one of your lies.”
“Very well. Now you know what I know; and you had better tell me over again who it is that lies buried under the stone that’s been photographed there.”
“What are you men doing with them pistols?” said one of the strangers, walking across the room, and standing over the backs of their chairs.
“We are a-looking at ’em,” said Lefroy.
“If you’re a-going to do anything of that kind you’d better go and do it elsewhere,” said the stranger.
“Just so,” said Lefroy. That’s what I was thinking myself.”
“But we are not going to do anything,” said Mr Peacocke. “I have not the slightest idea of shooting the gentleman; and he has just as little of shooting me.”
“Then what do you sit with ’em out in your hands in that fashion for?” said the stranger. “It’s a decent widow woman as keeps this house, and I won’t see her set upon. Put ’em up.” Thereupon Lefroy did return his pistol to his pocket — upon which Mr Peacocke did the same. Then the stranger slowly walked back to his seat at the other side of the room.
“So they told you that lie; did they — at ‘Frisco?” asked Lefroy.
“That was what I heard over there when I was inquiring about your brother’s death.”
“You’d believe anything if you’d believe that.”
“I’d believe anything if I’d believe in your cousin.” Upon this Lefroy laughed, but made no further allusion to the romance which he had craftily invented on the spur of the moment. After that the two men sat without a word between them for a quarter of an hour, when the Englishman got up to take his leave. “Our business is over now,” he said, “and I will bid you goodbye.
“I’ll tell you what I’m a-thinking,” said Lefroy. Mr Peacocke stood with his hand ready for a final adieu, but he said nothing. “I’ve half a mind to go back with you to England. There ain’t nothing to keep me here.”
“What could you do there?”
“I’d be evidence for you, as to Ferdy’s death, you know.”
“I have evidence. I do not want you.”
“I’ll go, nevertheless.”
“And spend all your money on the journey.”
“You’d help — wouldn’t you now?”
“Not a dollar,” said Peacocke, turning away and leaving the room. As he did so he heard the wretch laughing loud at the excellence of his own joke.
Before he made his journey back again to England he only once more saw Robert Lefroy. As he was seating himself in the railway car that was to take him to Buffalo the man came up to him with an affected look of solicitude. “Peacocke,” he said, there was only nine hundred dollars in that roll.”
“There were a thousand. I counted them half-an-hour before I handed them to you.”
“There was only nine hundred when I got ’em.”
“There were all that you will get. What kind of notes were they you had when you paid for the shares at ‘Frisco?” This question he asked out loud, before all the passengers. Then Robert Lefroy left the car, and Mr Peacocke never saw him or heard from him again. CONCLUSION
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14