We had what they called the “dead-lights” put in the ladies’ cabin at Gravesend: that will show what the weather was expected to be in the open sea. In the saloon, things were pitching about before we reached Margate. Rounding the point off Broadstairs, the steamer caught it strong and sharp.
“Never heed a bit of pitching: we’ve the wind all for us, and shall make a short passage,” said the captain in hearty tones, by way of consolation to the passengers generally. “A bit o’ breeze at sea is rather pleasant.”
Pleasant it might be to him, Captain Tune, taking in a good dinner, as much at ease as if he had been sitting in his dining-room ashore. Not so pleasant, though, for some of us, his passengers.
Ramsgate and other landmarks passed, and away in the open sea it was just a gale. That, and nothing less. Some one said so to the man at the wheel: a tall, middle-aged, bronzed-faced fellow in shirt sleeves and open blue waistcoat.
“Bless y’re ignorance! This a gale! Why, ‘taint half a one. It’ll be a downright fair passage, this ’un will, shorter nor ord’nary.”
“What do you call a gale — if this is not one?”
“I ain’t allowed to talk: you may see it writ up.”
“Writ up,” it was. “Passengers are requested not to talk to the man at the wheel.” But if he had been allowed to talk, and talked till now, he would never have convinced some of the unhappy creatures around, that the state of wind then blowing was not a gale.
It whistled in the sails, it roared over the paddle-wheels, it seemed to play at pitch-and-toss with the sea. The waves rose with mountain force, and then broke like mad: the steamer rolled and lurched, and righted herself; and then lurched and rolled again. Captain Tune stood on the bridge, apparently enjoying it, the gold band on his cap glistening in the sun. We got his name from the boat bills; and a jolly, courteous, attentive captain he seemed to be. But for the pitching and tossing and general discomfort, it would have been called beautiful weather. The air was bright; the sun as hot as it is in July, although September was all but out.
“Johnny. Johnny Ludlow.”
The voice — Mr. Brandon’s — was too faint to be squeaky. He sat amidships on a camp stool, his back against the cabin wall — or whatever the boarding was — wrapped in a plaid. A yellow handkerchief was tied over his head, partly to keep his cap on, partly to protect his ears. The handkerchief hid most of his face, except his little nose; which looked pinched and about as yellow as the silk.
“Did you call me, sir?”
“I wish you’d see if you can get to my tail pocket, Johnny. I’ve been trying this ten minutes, and do nothing but find my hands hopelessly entangled in the plaid. There’s a tin box of lozenges there.”
“Do you feel ill, sir?” I asked, as I found the box, and gave it to him.
“Never was ill at sea in my life, Johnny, in the way you mean. But the motion always gives me the most frightful headache imaginable. How are you?”
The less said about how I was, the better. All I hoped was he wouldn’t keep me talking.
“Where’s the Squire?” he asked.
I pointed to a distant heap on the deck, from which groans came forth occasionally: and just managed to speak in answer.
“He seems uncommonly ill, sir.”
“Well, he would come, you know, Johnny. Tell him he ought to take ——”
What he ought to take was lost in the rush of a wave which came dashing over us.
After all, I suppose it was a quick and good, though rough passage, for Boulogne-sur-Mer was sighted before we thought for. As the stiller I kept the better I was, there was nothing to do but to sit motionless and stare at it.
You’ll never guess what was taking us across the Channel. Old Brandon called it from the first a wild-goose chase; but, go, the Squire would. He was after that gentleman who had played havoc with many people’s hearts and money, who had, so to say, scattered ruin wholesale — Mr. Clement–Pell.
Not a trace had the public been able to obtain as to the direction of the Pells’ flight; not a clue to the spot in which they might be hiding themselves. The weeks had gone on since their departure: August passed into September, September was passing: and for all that could be discovered of them, they might as well never have existed. The committee for winding up the miserable affairs raged and fumed and pitied, and wished they could just put their hands on the man who had wrought the evil; Squire Todhetley raged and fumed also on his own score; but none of them were any the nearer finding Pell. In my whole life I had never seen the Squire so much put out. It was not altogether the loss of the two hundred pounds he had been (as he persisted in calling it) swindled out of; it was the distress he had to witness daily around him. I do think nothing would have given him more satisfaction than to join a mob in administering lynch law to Clement–Pell, and to tar and feather him first. Before this happened, the Squire had talked of going to the seaside: but he would not listen to a word on the subject now: only to speak of it put him out of temper. Tod was away. He received an invitation to stay with some people in Gloucestershire, who had good game preserves; and was off the next day. And things were in this lively state at home: the Squire grumbling, Mrs. Todhetley driving about with one or other of the children in the mild donkey-cart, and I fit to eat my head off with having nothing to do: when some news arrived of the probable sojourning place of the Clement–Pells.
The news was not much. And perhaps hardly to be relied on. Mr. and Mrs. Sterling at the Court had been over to Paris for a fortnight: taking the baby with them. I must say that Mrs. Sterling was always having babies — if any one cares for the information. Before one could walk another was sure to arrive. And not only the baby had been to Paris, but the baby’s nursemaid, Charlotte. Old Brandon, remarking upon it, said he’d rather travel with half a score of mischievous growing boys than one baby: and they were about the greatest calamity he could think of.
Well, in coming home, the Sterling party had, to make the short crossing, put themselves on board the Folkestone boat at Boulogne, and the nursemaid was sitting on deck with the baby on her lap, when, just as the steamer was moving away, she saw, or thought she saw, Constance Pell, standing on the shore a little apart from the people gathered there to watch the boat off. Mrs. Sterling told the nurse she must be mistaken: but Charlotte held to it that she was not. As chance had it, Squire Todhetley was at the Court with old Sterling when they got home; and he heard this. It put him into a commotion. He questioned Charlotte closely, but she never wavered in her statement.
“I am positive it was Miss Constance Pell, sir,” she repeated. “She had on a thick blue veil, and one of them new-fashioned large round capes. Just as I happened to be looking at her — not thinking it was anybody I knew — a gust of wind took the veil right up above her bonnet, and I saw it was Miss Constance Pell. She pulled at the veil with both her hands, in a scuffle like, to get it down again.”
“Then I’ll go off to Boulogne,” said the Squire, with stern resolution. And back he came to Dyke Manor full of it.
“It will be a wild-goose chase,” observed Mr. Brandon, who had called in. “If Pell has taken himself no further away than Boulogne — that is, allowing he has got out of England at all — he is a greater fool than I took him for.”
“Wild-goose chase or not, I shall go,” said the Pater, hotly. “And I shall take Johnny; he’ll be useful as an interpreter.”
“I will go with you,” came the unexpected rejoinder of Mr. Brandon. “I want a bit of a change.”
And so we went up to London to take the steamer there. And here we were, all three of us, ploughing the waves en route for Boulogne, on the wild-goose chase after Clement–Pell.
Just as the passengers had come to the conclusion that they must die of it, the steamer shot into Boulogne harbour. She was tolerably long swinging round; then was made fast, and we began to land. Mr. Brandon took off his yellow turban and shook his cap out.
“Johnny, I’d never have come if I had known it was going to be like this,” moaned the poor Squire — and every trace of red had gone out of his face. “No, not even to catch Clement–Pell. What on earth is that crowd for?”
It looked about five hundred people; they were pushing and crushing each other, fighting for places to see us land and go through the custom-house. No need to tell of this: not a reader of you, but you must know it well.
The first thing, patent to my senses amidst the general confusion, was hearing my name shouted out by the Squire in the custom-house.
He was standing before two Frenchmen in queer hats, who sat behind a table or counter, asking him questions and preparing to write down the answers: what his name was, and what his age, and where he was born, just as though he were a footman in want of a place. Not a word could he understand, and looked round for me helplessly. As to my French — well, I knew it pretty well, and talked often with our French master at Dr. Frost’s: but you must not think I was as fluent in it as though I’d been a born Frenchman. It was rather the other way.
We put up at the Hôtel des Bains. A good hotel — as is well known — but nothing to look at from the street. Mr. Brandon had been in Boulogne before, and always used it. The table d’hôte restored the Squire’s colour and spirits together: and by the time dinner was over, he felt ready to encounter the sea again. As to Mr. Brandon, he made his meal of some watery broth, two slices of melon, and a bowlful of pounded sugar.
The great question was — to discover whether the Clement–Pells were in the town; and, if so, to find them out. Mr. Brandon’s opinion never varied — that Charlotte had been mistaken and they were not in the place at all. Allowing, for argument’s sake, that they were there, he said, they would no doubt be living partly in concealment; and it might not answer for us to go inquiring about them openly, lest they got to hear of it, and took measures to secure themselves. There was sense in that.
The next day we went strolling up to the post-office in the Rue des Vieillards, the wind blowing us round the corners sharply; and there inquired for the address of the Clement–Pells. The people were not very civil; stared as if they’d never been asked for an address before; and shortly affirmed that no such name was known there.
“Why, of course not,” said old Brandon quietly, as we strolled down again. “They wouldn’t be in the town under their own name — if they are here at all.”
And there would lie the difficulty.
That wind, that the man at the wheel had scoffed at when called a gale, had been at any rate the beginning of one. It grew higher and higher, chopping round to the south-west, and for three days we had it kindly. On the second day not a boat could get out or in; and there were no bathing-machines to be had. The sea was surging, full of tumult — but it was a grand sight to see. The waves dashed over the pier, ducking the three or four venturesome spirits who went there. I was one of them — and received a good blowing up from Mr. Brandon for my pains.
The gale passed. The weather set in again calm and lovely; but we seemed to be no nearer hearing anything of the Clement–Pells. So far as that went, the time was being wasted: but I don’t think any of us cared much about that. We kept our eyes open, looking out for them, and asked questions in a quiet way: at the établissement, where the dancing went on; at the libraries; and of the pew women at the churches. No; no success: and time went on to the second week in October. On account of the remarkably fine weather, the season and amusements were protracted.
One Friday morning I was sitting on the pier in the sunshine, listening to a couple of musicians, who appeared there every day. He had a violin; she played a guitar, and sang “Figaro.” An old gentleman by me said he had heard her sing the same song for nearly a score of years past. The town kept very full, for the weather was more like summer than autumn. There were moments, and this was one of them, that I wished more than ever Tod was over.
Strolling back off the pier and along the port, picking my way amidst the ropes of the fishing-boats, stretched across my path, I met face to face — Constance Pell. The thick blue veil, just as Charlotte had described it, was drawn over her bonnet: but something in her form struck me, and I saw her features through the veil. She saw me too, and turned her head sharply towards the harbour.
I went on without notice, making believe not to have seen her. Glancing round presently, I saw her cross the road and begin to come back on the other side by the houses. Knowing that the only chance was to trace her home, and not to let her see I was doing it, I stopped before one of the boats, and began talking to a fisherman, never turning my head towards her at all. She passed quickly, on to the long street, once glancing back at me. When she was fairly on her way, I went at the top of my speed to the port entrance of the hotel; ran straight through the yard and up to my room, which faced the street. There she was, walking onwards, and very quickly. Close by the chemist’s shop at the opposite corner, she turned to look back; no doubt looking after me, and no doubt gratified that I was nowhere to be seen. Then she went on again.
Neither the Squire nor Mr. Brandon was in the hotel, that I could find; so I had to take the matter in hand myself, and do the best I could. Letting her get well ahead, I followed cautiously. She turned up the Grande Rue, and I turned also, keeping her in view. The streets were tolerably full, and though she looked back several times, I am sure she did not see me.
Up the hill of the Grande Rue, past the Vice–Consulate, under the gateway of the Upper Town, through the Upper Town itself, and out by another gateway. I thought she was never going to stop. Away further yet, to the neighbourhood of a little place called Mâquétra — but I am not sure that I spell the word properly. There she turned into a small house that had a garden before it.
They call me a muff at home, as you have heard often: and there’s no doubt I have shown myself a muff more than once in my life. I was one then. What I ought to have done was, to have gone back the instant I had seen her enter; what I really did was, to linger about behind the hedge, and try to get a glimpse through it. It skirted the garden: a long, narrow garden, running down from the side of the house.
It was only a minute or two in all. And I was really turning back when a maid-servant in a kind of short brown bedgown (so Hannah called the things at home), black petticoat, grey stockings and wooden sabots, came out at the gate, carrying a flat basket made of black and white straw.
“Does Monsieur Pell live there?” I asked, waiting until she had come up.
“Monsieur Qui?” said the girl.
“Pell. Or Clement–Pell.”
“There is no gentlemans at all lives there,” returned she, changing her language to very decent English. “Only one Madame and her young meesses.”
I seemed to take in the truth in a minute: they were there, but he was not. “I think they must be the friends I am in search of,” was my remark. “What is the name?”
“Brune? — Oh, Brown. A lady and four young ladies?”
“Yes, that’s it. Bon jour, monsieur.”
She hurried onwards, the sabots clattering. I turned leisurely to take another look at the hedge and the little gate in it, and saw a blue veil fluttering inwards. Constance Pell, deeper than I, had been gazing after me.
Where had the Squire and old Brandon got to? Getting back to the hotel, I could not find either of them. Mr. Brandon might be taking a warm sea-bath, the waiters thought, and the Squire a cold one. I went about to every likely place, and went in vain. The dinner-bell was ringing when they got in-tired to death; having been for some prolonged ramble over beyond Capécure. I told them in their rooms while they were washing their hands — but as to stirring in it before dinner, both were too exhausted for it.
“I said I thought they must be here, Brandon,” cried the Squire, in triumph.
“He is not here now, according to Johnny,” squeaked old Brandon.
After dinner more time was lost. First of all, in discussing what they should do; next, in whether it should be done that night. You see, it was not Mrs. Pell they wanted, but her husband. As it was then dark, it was thought best to leave it until morning.
We went up in state about half-past ten; taking a coach, and passing en route the busy market scene. The coach seemed to have no springs: Mr. Brandon complained that it shook him to pieces. This was Saturday, you know. The Squire meant to be distantly polite to Mrs. and the Miss Pells, but to insist upon having the address given him of Mr. Pell. “We’ll not take the coach quite up to the door,” said he, “or we may not get in.” Indeed, the getting in seemed to be a matter of doubt: old Brandon’s opinion was that they’d keep every window and door barred, rather than admit us.
So the coach set us down outside the furthermost barrier of the Upper Town, and we walked on to the gate, went up the path, and knocked at the door.
As soon as the servant opened it — she had the same brown bedgown on, the same grey stockings, and wooden sabots — the Squire dexterously slipped past her into the passage to make sure of a footing. She offered no opposition: drew back, in fact, to make room.
“I must come in; I have business here,” said he, almost as if in apology.
“The Messieurs are free to enter,” was her answer; “but they come to a house empty.”
“I want to speak to Madame Brown,” returned the Squire, in a determined tone.
“Madame Brown and the Mees Browns are depart,” she said. “They depart at daylight this morning, by the first convoi.”
We were in the front parlour then: a small room, barely furnished. The Squire flew into one of his tempers: he thought the servant was playing with him. Old Brandon sat down against the wall, and nodded his head. He saw how it was — they had really gone.
But the Squire stormed a little, and would not believe it. The girl, catching one word in ten, for he talked very fast, wondered at his anger.
The young gentlemans was at the place yesterday, she said, glancing at me: it was a malheur but they had come up before the morning, if they wanted so much to see Madame.
“She has not gone: I know better,” roared the Squire. “Look here, young woman — what’s your name, though?”
“Mathilde,” said she, standing quite at ease, her hands turned on her hips and her elbows out.
“Well, then, I warn you that it’s of no use your trying to deceive me. I shall go into every room of this house till I find Madame Brown — and if you attempt to stop me, I’ll bring the police up here. Tell her that in French, Johnny.”
“I hear,” said Mathilde, who had a very deliberate way of speaking. “I comprehend. The Messieurs go into the rooms if they like, but I go with, to see they not carry off any of the articles. This is the salon.”
Waiting for no further permission, he was out of the salon like a shot. Mr. Brandon stayed nodding against the wall; he had not the slightest reverence for the Squire’s diplomacy at any time. The girl slipped off her sabots and put her feet into some green worsted slippers that stood in the narrow passage. My belief was she thought we wanted to look over the house with a view to taking it.
“It was small, but great enough for a salle à manger,” she said, showing the room behind — a little place that had literally nothing in it but an oval dining-table, some matting, and six common chairs against the walls. Upstairs were four bedrooms, bare also. As to the fear of our carrying off any of the articles, we might have found a difficulty in doing so. Except beds, chairs, drawers, and wash-hand-stands, there was nothing to carry. Mrs. Brown and the Miss Browns were not there: and the rooms were in as much order as if they had not been occupied for a month. Mathilde had been at them all the morning. The Squire’s face was a picture when he went down: he began to realize the fact that he was once more left in the lurch.
“It is much health up here, and the house fine,” said the girl, leaving her shoes in the passage side by side with the sabots, and walking into the salon in her stockings, without ceremony; “and if the Messieurs thought to let it, and would desire to have a good servant with it, I would be happy to serve them, me. I sleep in the house, or at home, as my patrons please; and I very good to make the kitchen; and I——”
“So you have not found them,” interrupted old Brandon, sarcastically.
The Squire gave a groan. He was put out, and no mistake. Mathilde, in answer to questions, readily told all she knew.
About six weeks ago, she thought it was — but no, it must be seven, now she remembered — Madame Brown and the four Mees Browns took this house of the propriétaire, one Monsieur Bourgeois, marchand d’épicerie, and engaged her as servant, recommended to Madame by M. Bourgeois. Madame and the young ladies had lived very quietly, giving but little trouble; entrusted her to do all the commissions at the butcher’s and elsewhere, and never questioned her fidelity in the matter of the sous received in change at market. The previous day when she got home with some pork and sausages, which she was going after when the young gentlemans spoke to her — nodding to me — Madame was all bouleversée; first because Mees Constance had been down to the town, which Madame did not like her to do; next because of a letter ——
At this point the Squire interrupted. Did she mean to imply that the ladies never went out?
No, never, continued Mathilde. Madame found herself not strong to walk out, and it was not proper for the young demoiselles to go walk without her — as the Messieurs would doubtless understand. But Mees Constance had ennui with that, and three or four times she had walked out without Madame’s knowing. Yesterday, par exemple, Madame was storming at her when she (Mathilde) came home with the meat, and the young ladies her sisters stormed at her ——
“There; enough of that,” snapped the Squire. “What took them away?”
That was the letter, resumed the girl in her deliberate manner. It was the other thing, that letter was, that had contributed to Madame’s bouleversement. The letter had been delivered by hand, she supposed, while she was gone to the pork-shop; it told Madame the triste news of the illness of a dear relative; and Madame had to leave at once, in consequence. There was confusion. Madame and the young ladies packing, and she (Mathilde), when her dinner had been cooked and eaten, running quick for the propriétaire, who came back with her. Madame paid him up to the end of the next week, when the month would be finished and — that was all.
Old Brandon took up the word. “Mr. Brown? — He was not here at all, was he?”
“Not at all,” replied Mathilde. “Madame’s fancy figured to her he might be coming one of these soon days: if so, I refer him to M. Bourgeois.”
“Refer him for what?”
“Nay, I not ask, monsieur. For the information, I conclude, of where Madame go and why she go. Madame talk to the propriétaire with the salon door shut.”
So that was all we got. Mathilde readily gave M. Bourgeois’s address, and we went away. She had been civil through it all, and the Squire slipped a franc into her hand. From the profusion of thanks he received in return, it might have been a louis d’or.
Monsieur Bourgeois’s shop was in the Upper Town, not far from the convent of the Dames Ursulines. He said — speaking from behind his counter while weighing out some coffee — that Madame Brown had entrusted him with a sealed letter to Monsieur Brown in case he arrived. It contained, Madame had remarked to him, only a line or two to explain where they had gone, as he would naturally be disappointed at not finding them; and she had confided the trust to him that he would only deliver it into M. Brown’s own hand. He did not know where Madame had gone. As M. Bourgeois did not speak a word of English, or the Squire a word of French, it’s hard to say when they would have arrived at an explanation, left to themselves.
“Now look here,” said Mr. Brandon, in his dry, but uncommonly clear-sighted way, as we went home, “Clement–Pell’s expected here. We must keep a sharp watch on the boats.”
The Squire did not see it. “As if he’d remain in England all this time, Brandon!”
“We don’t know where he has stayed. I have thought all along he was as likely to be in England as elsewhere: there’s no place a man’s safer in, well concealed. The very fact of his wife and daughters remaining in this frontier town would be nearly enough to prove that he was still in England.”
“Then why on earth did he stay there?” retorted the Squire. “Why has he not got away before?”
“I don’t know. Might fear there was danger perhaps in making the attempt. He has lain perdu in some quiet corner; and now that he thinks the matter has partly blown over and the scent is less keen, he means to come over. That’s what his wife has waited for.”
The Squire seemed to grasp the whole at once. “I wonder when he will be here?”
“Within a day or two, you may be sure, or not at all,” said Mr. Brandon, with a nod. “She’ll write to stop his coming, if she knows where to write to. The sight of Johnny Ludlow has startled her. You were a great muff to let yourself be seen, young Johnny.”
“Yes, sir, I know I was.”
“Live and learn, live and learn,” said he, bringing out his tin box. “One cannot put old heads upon young shoulders.”
Sunday morning. After breakfast I and Mr. Brandon were standing under the porte-cochère, looking about us. At the banking house opposite; at a man going into the chemist’s shop with his hand tied up; at the marchand-decoco with his gay attire and jingling bells and noisy tra-la-la-la: at anything, in short, there might be to see, and so while away the half-hour before church-time. The Squire had gone strolling out, saying he should be back in time for service. People were passing down towards the port, little groups of them in twos and threes; apart from the maid-servants in their white caps, who were coming back from mass. One of the hotel waiters stood near us, his white napkin in his hand. He suddenly remarked, with the easy affability of the French of his class (which, so far as I know, and I have seen more of France since then, never degenerates into disrespect), that some of these people might be expecting friends by the excursion boat, and were going down to see it come in.
“What excursion boat?” asked Mr. Brandon of the waiter, quicker than he generally spoke.
“One from Ramsgate,” the man replied. “It was to leave the other side very early, so as to get to Boulogne by ten o’clock; and to depart again at six in the afternoon.” Mr. Brandon looked at the speaker; and then at me. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he drew me towards the port; charging the waiter to be sure and tell Mr. Todhetley when he returned, that we had gone to see the Ramsgate boat come in. It was past ten then.
“If Clement–Pell comes at all it will be by this excursion boat, Johnny,” said he impressively, as we hurried on.
“Why do you think so, Mr. Brandon?”
“Well, I do think so. The people who make excursion trips are not those likely to know him, or of whom he would be afraid. He will conceal himself on it amongst the crowd. It is Sunday also — another reason. What flag is that up on the signal-post by the pier house, Johnny? Your eyes are younger than mine.”
“It is the red one, sir”
“For a steamer in sight. She is not in yet then. It must be for her. It’s hardly likely there would be another one coming in this morning.”
“There she is!” I exclaimed. For at that moment I caught sight in the distance of a steamer riding on close up to the harbour mouth, pitching a little in her course.
“Run you on, Johnny,” said Mr. Brandon, in excitement. “I’ll come as quickly as I can, but my legs are not as fleet as yours. Get a place close to the cords, and look out sharply.”
It was a bright day, somewhat colder than it had been, and the wind high enough to make it tolerably rough for any but good sailors — as the sparkles of white foam on the blue sea betrayed. I secured a good place behind the cord, close to the landing-stage: a regular crowd had collected, early though it was, Sunday being an idle day with some of the French. The boat came in, was being moored fast below us, and was crowded with pale faces.
Up came the passengers, mounting the almost perpendicular gangway: assisted by the boatmen, below; and by two appariteurs, in their cocked hats and Sunday clothes, above. It was nearly low water: another quarter-of-an-hour and they’d have missed their tide: pleasant, that would have been, for the excursionists. As only one could ascend the ladder at once, I had the opportunity of seeing them all.
Scores came: my sight was growing half-confused: and there had been no one resembling Clement–Pell. Some of them looked fearfully ill still, and had not put up the ears of their caps or turned down their coat collars; so that to get a good view of these faces was not possible — and Clement–Pell might have already landed, for all I could be sure of to the contrary. Cloaks were common in those days, and travelling caps had long ears to them.
It was quite a stroke of fortune. A lady with a little boy behind her came up the ladder, and the man standing next to me — he was vary tall and big — went at once into a state of excitement. “C’est toi! c’est toi, ma soeur!” he called out. She turned at the voice, and a batch of kissing ensued. A stout dame pushed forward frantically to share the kissing: but a douanier angrily marched off the passenger towards the custom-house. She retorted on him not to be so difficile, turned round and said she must wait for her other little one. Altogether there was no end of chatter and commotion. I was eclipsed and pushed back into the shade.
The other child was appearing over the top of the ladder then; a mite of a girl, her face held close to the face of the gentleman carrying her. I supposed he was the husband. He wore a cloak, his cap was drawn well over his eyebrows, and very little could be seen of him but his hands and his nose. Was he the husband? The mother, thanking him volubly in broken English for his politeness in carrying up her little girl, would have taken her from him; but he motioned as if he would carry her to the custom-house, and stepped onward, looking neither to the left nor right. At that moment my tall neighbour and the stout dame raised a loud greeting to the child, clapping their hands and blowing kisses: the man put out his long arm and pulled at the sleeve of the young one’s pelisse. It caused the gentleman to halt and look round. Enough to make him.
Why — where had I seen the eyes? They were close to mine, and seemed quite familiar. Then remembrance flashed over me. They were Clement–Pell’s.
It is almost the only thing about a man or woman that cannot be disguised — the expression of the eyes. Once you are familiar with any one’s eye, and have learned its expression by heart; the soul that looks out of it; you cannot be mistaken in the eye, though you meet it in a desert, and its owner be disguised as a cannibal.
But for the eyes, I should never have known him, got up, as he was, with false red hair. He went straight on instantly, not suspecting I was there, for the two had hidden me. The little child’s face was pressed close to Mr. Pell’s as he went on; a feeling came over me that he was carrying it, the better to conceal himself. As he went into the custom-house, I pushed backwards out of the crowd; saw Mr. Brandon, and whispered to him. He nodded quietly; as much as to say he thought Pell would come.
“Johnny, we must follow him: but we must not let him see us on any account. I dare say he is going all the way up to Mâquétra — or whatever you call the place.”
Making our way round to the door by which the passengers were let out, we mixed with the mob and waited. The custom-house was not particular with Sunday excursionists, and they came swarming out by dozens. When Pell appeared, I jogged Mr. Brandon’s elbow.
The touters, proclaiming the merits of their respective hotels, and thrusting their cards in Pell’s face, seemed to startle him, for he shrank back. Comprehending the next moment, he said, No, no, passed on to the carriages, and stepped into one that was closed. The driver was a couple of minutes at least, taking his orders: perhaps there was some bother, the one jabbering French, the other English. But the coach drove off at last.
“Now then, Johnny, for that other closed coach. We shall have to do without church this morning. Mind you make the coachman understand what he is to do.”
“Suivez cette voiture qui vient de partir; mais pas trop près.” The man gave back a hearty “Oui, monsieur,” as if he understood the case.
It was a slow journey. The first coach did not hurry itself, and took by-ways to its destination. It turned into the Rue de la Coupe, opposite our hotel, went through the Rue de l’Hôpital, and thence to regions unknown. All I knew was, we went up a hill worse than that of the Grande Rue, and arrived circuitously at Mâquétra. Mr. Brandon had stretched his head out as we passed the hotel, but could not see the Squire.
“It’s his affair, you know, Johnny. Not mine.”
Clement Pell got out at his gate, and went in. We followed cautiously, and found the house-door on the latch, Mathilde having probably forgotten to close it after admitting Mr. Pell. They stood in the salon: Mathilde in a handsome light chintz gown and white stockings and shoes, for she had been to nine-o’clock mass; he with a strangely perplexed, blank expression on his face as he listened to her explanation.
“Yes, monsieur, it is sure they are depart; it is but the morning of yesterday. The propriétaire, he have the letter for you that Madame confide to him. He — Tiens, voici encore ces Messieurs!”
Surprise at our appearance must have caused her change of language. Clement–Pell gave one look at us and turned his face to the window, hoping to escape unrecognized. Mr. Brandon ordered me to the English church in the Upper Town, saying I should not be very late for that, and told Mathilde he did not want her.
“I shall make the little promenade and meet my bon-ami,” observed Mathilde, independently, as I proceeded to do as I was bid. And what took place between the two we left can only be related at second hand.
“Now, Mr. Pell, will you spare me your attention?” began Mr. Brandon.
Clement–Pell turned, and took off his cloak and cap, seeing that it would be worse than useless to attempt to keep up the farce. With the red wig on his head and the red hair on his face, no unobservant man would then have recognized him for the great exfinancier.
Mr. Brandon was cold, uncompromising, but civil; Clement–Pell at first subdued and humble. Taking courage after a bit, he became slightly restive, somewhat inclined to be insolent.
“It is a piece of assurance for you to come here at all, sir; tracking me over my very threshold, as if you were a detective officer. What is the meaning of it? I don’t owe you money.”
“I have told you the meaning,” replied Mr. Brandon — feeling that his voice had never been more squeaky, but showing no sign of wrath. “The affair is not mine at all, but Squire Todhetley’s, I was down on the port when you landed — went to look for you, in fact; the Squire did not happen to be in the way, so I followed you up in his place.”
“With what object?”
“Why, dear me, Mr. Pell, you are not deaf. I mentioned the object; the Squire wants his two hundred pounds refunded. A very clever trick, your getting it from him!”
Clement–Pell drew in his lips; his face had no more colour in it than chalk. He sat with his back to the wall, his hands restlessly playing with his steel watch-chain. What had come of the thick gold one he used to wear? Mr. Brandon had a chair near the table, and faced him.
“Perhaps you would like me to refund to you all my creditors’ money wholesale, as well as Mr. Todhetley’s?” retorted Clement–Pell, mockingly.
“I have nothing to do with them, Mr. Pell. Neither, I imagine, does Mr. Todhetley intend to make their business his. Let each man mind his own course, and stand or fall by it. If you choose to assure me you don’t owe a fraction to any one else in the world, I shall not tell you that you do. I am speaking now for my friend, Squire Todhetley: I would a great deal rather he were here to deal with you himself; but action has accidentally been forced upon me.”
“I know that I owe a good deal of money; or, rather, that a good many people have lost money through me,” returned Clement–Pell, after a pause. “It’s my misfortune; not my fault.”
Mr. Brandon gave a dry cough. “As to its not being your fault, Mr. Pell, the less said about that the better. It was in your power to pull up in time, I conclude, when you first saw things were going wrong.”
Clement–Pell lifted his hand to his forehead, as if he felt a pain there. “You don’t know; you don’t know,” he said irritably — a great deal of impatience in his tone.
“No, I’m thankful that I don’t,” said Mr. Brandon, taking out his tin box, and coolly eating a lozenge. “I am very subject to heartburn, Mr. Pell. If ever you get it try magnesia lozenges. An upset, such as this affair of yours has been, would drive a man of my nerves into a lunatic asylum.”
“It may do the same by me before I have done with it,” returned Clement Pell. And Mr. Brandon thought he meant what he said.
“Any way, it is rumoured that some of those who are ruined will be there before long, Mr. Pell. You might, perhaps, feel a qualm of conscience if you saw the misery it has entailed.”
“And do you think I don’t feel it?” returned Mr. Pell, catching his breath. “You are mistaken, if you suppose I do not.”
“About Squire Todhetley’s two hundred pounds, sir?” resumed old Brandon, swallowing the last of the lozenge. “Is it convenient to you to give it me?”
“No, it is not,” was the decided answer. And he seemed to be turning restive again.
“But I will thank you to do so, Mr. Pell.”
“I cannot do so.”
“And not to make excuses over it. They will only waste time.”
“I have not got the money; I cannot give it.”
Upon that they set on again, hammer and tongs. Mr. Brandon insisting upon the money; Pell vowing that he had it not, and could not and would not give so much as a ten-pound note of it. Old Brandon never lost his temper, never raised his voice, but he said a thing or two that must have stung Pell’s pride. At the end of twenty minutes, he was no nearer the money than before. Pell’s patience gave signs of wearing out: Mr. Brandon could have gone quietly on till bed-time.
“You must be aware that this is not a simple debt, Mr. Pell. It is — in fact — something worse. For your own sake, it may be well to refund it.”
“Once more I say I cannot.”
“Am I to understand that is as much as to say you will not?”
“If you like to take it so. It is most painful to me, Mr. Brandon, to have to meet you in this spirit, but you force it on me. The case is this: I am not able to refund the debt to Squire Todhetley, and he has no power to enforce his claim to it.”
“I don’t know that.”
“I do though. It is best to be plain, as we have come to this, Mr. Brandon; and then perhaps you will bring the interview to an end, and leave me in peace. You have no power over me in this country; none whatever. Before you can obtain that, there are certain forms and ceremonies to be gone through in a legal court; you must make over the ——”
“Squire Todhetley’s is not a case of debt,” interrupted old Brandon. “If it were, he would have no right in honour to come here and seek payment over the heads of the other creditors.”
“It is a case of debt, and nothing else. As debt only could you touch me upon it here — and not then until you have proved it and got judgment upon it in England. Say, if you will, that I have committed murder or forged bank-notes — you could not touch me here unless the French government gave me up at the demand of the English government. Get all the police in the town to this room if you will, Mr. Brandon, and they would only laugh at you. They have no power over me. I have committed no offence against this country.”
“Look here,” said old Brandon, nodding his head. “I know a bit about French law; perhaps as much as you: knew it years ago. What you say is true enough; an Englishman, whether debtor or criminal, in his own land, cannot be touched here, unless certain forms and ceremonies, as you express it, are first gone through. But you have rendered yourself amenable to French law on another point, Clement–Pell; I could consign you to the police this moment, if I chose, and they would have to take you.”
Clement–Pell quite laughed at what he thought the useless boast. But he might have known old Brandon better. “What is my crime, sir?”
“You have come here and are staying here under a false name — Brown. That is a crime in the eyes of the French law; and one that the police, if they get to know of it, are obliged to take cognizance of.”
“No!” exclaimed Clement–Pell, his face changing a little.
“Yes,” said Mr. Brandon. “Were I to give you up for it today, they would put you on board the first boat leaving for your own country. Once on the opposite shore, you may judge whether Squire Todhetley would let you escape again.”
It was all true. Mr. Pell saw that it was so. His fingers nervously trembled; his pale face wore a piteous aspect.
“You need not be afraid of me: I am not likely to do it,” said Mr. Brandon: “I do not think the Squire would. But you see now what lies within his power. Therefore I would recommend you to come to terms with him.”
Clement–Pell rubbed his brow with his handkerchief. He was driven into a corner.
“I have told you truth, Mr. Brandon, in saying that I am not able to repay the two hundred pounds. I am not. Will he take half of it?”
“I cannot tell. I have no authority for saying that he will.”
“Then I suppose he must come up here. As it has come to this, I had better see him. If he will accept one hundred pounds, and undertake not to molest me further, I will hand it over to him. It will leave me almost without means: but you have got me in a hole. Stay a moment — a thought strikes me. Are there any more of my creditors in the town at your back, Mr. Brandon?”
“Not that I am aware of. I have seen none.”
“On your honour?”
Mr. Brandon opened his little eyes, and took a stare at Pell. “My word is the same as my honour, sir. Always has been and always will be.”
“I beg your pardon. A man, driven to my position, naturally fears an enemy at every corner. And — if my enemies were to find me out here, they might be too much for me.”
“Of course they would be,” assented Mr. Brandon, by way of comfort.
“Will you go for Squire Todhetley? What is done, must be done today, for I shall be away by the first train in the morning.”
Shrewd old Brandon considered the matter before speaking. “By the time I get back here with the Squire you may have already taken your departure, Mr. Pell.”
“No, on my honour. How should I be able to do it? No train leaves the town before six to-night: the water is low in the harbour and no boat could get out. As it has come to this, I will see Squire Todhetley: and the sooner the better.”
“I will trust you,” said Mr. Brandon.
“Time was when I was deemed more worthy of trust: perhaps was more worthy of it,”— and tears involuntarily rose to his eyes. “Mr. Brandon, believe me — no man has suffered by this as I have suffered. Do you think I did it for pleasure? — or to afford myself wicked gratification! No. I would have forfeited nearly all my remaining life to prevent the smash. My affairs got into their awful state by degrees; and I had not the power to retrieve them. God alone knows what the penalty has been to me — and what it will be to my life’s end.”
“Ay. I can picture it pretty tolerably, Mr. Pell.”
“No one can picture it,” he returned, with emotion. “Look at my ruined family — the position of my sons and daughters. Not one of them can hold up their heads in the world again without the consciousness that they may be pointed at as the children of Clement–Pell the swindler. What is to be their future? — how are they to get along? You must have heard many a word of abuse applied to me lately, Mr. Brandon: but there are few men on this earth more in need of compassion than I— if misery and suffering can bring the need. When morning breaks, I wish the day was done; when night comes, I toss and turn and wonder how I shall live through it.”
“I am sorry for you,” said Mr. Brandon, moved to pity, for he saw how the man needed it. “Were I you, I would go back home and face my debts. Face the trouble, and in time you may be able to live it down.”
Clement–Pell shook his head hopelessly. Had it been debt alone, he might never have come away.
The sequel to all this had yet to come. Perhaps some of you may guess it. Mr. Brandon pounced upon the Squire as he was coming out of church in the Rue du Temple, and took him back in another coach. Arrived at the house, they found the door fast. Mathilde appeared presently, arm-inarm with her sweetheart — a young man in white boots with ear-rings in his ears. “Was M. Brown of depart,” she repeated, in answer to the Squire’s impulsive question: but no, certainly he was not. And she gave them the following information.
When she returned after midday, she found M. Brown all impatience, waiting for her to show him the way to the house of Monsieur Bourgeois, that he might claim Madame’s letter. When they reached the shop, it had only the fille de boutique in it. Monsieur the patron was out making a promenade, the fille de boutique said he might be home possibly for the shutting up at two o’clock.
Upon that, M. Brown decided to make a little promenade himself until two o’clock; and Mathilde, she made a further promenade on her own account: and had now come up, before two, to get the door open. Such was her explanation. If the gentlemans would be at the pains of sitting down in the salon, without doubt M. Brown would not long retard.
They sat down. The clock struck two. They sat on, and the clock struck three. Not until then did any thought arise that Clement–Pell might not keep faith with them. Mathilde’s freely expressed opinion was that M. Brown, being strange to the town, had lost himself. She ran to the grocer’s shop again, and found it shut up: evidently no one was there.
Four o’clock, five o’clock; and no Mr. Brown. They gave him up then; it seemed quite certain that he had given them the slip. Starving with hunger, exploding with anger, the Squire took his wrathful way back to the hotel: Mr. Brandon was calm and sucked his magnesia lozenges. Clement–Pell was a rogue to the last.
There came to Mr. Brandon the following morning, through the Boulogne post-office, a note; on which he had to pay five sous. It was from Clement–Pell, written in pencil. He said that when he made the agreement with Mr. Brandon never a thought crossed him of not keeping faith: but that while he was waiting about for the return of the grocer who held his wife’s letter, he saw an Englishman come off the ramparts — a creditor who knew him well and would be sure to deliver him up, were it in his power, if he caught sight of him. It struck him, Clement–Pell, with a panic: he considered that he had only one course left open to him — and that was to get away from the place at once and in the quietest manner he was able. There was a message to Mr. Todhetley to the effect that he would send him the hundred pounds later if he could. Throughout the whole letter ran a vein of despairing sadness, according with what he had said to Mr. Brandon; and the Squire’s heart was touched.
“After all, Brandon, the fellow is to be pitied. It’s a frightful position: enough to make a man lose heart for good and all. I’m not sure that I should have taken the hundred pounds from him.”
“That’s more than probable,” returned old Brandon, drily. “It remains a question, though, in my mind, whether he did see the creditor and did ‘take a panic:’ or whether both are not invented to cover his precipitate departure with the hundred pounds.”
How he got away from the town we never knew. The probability was, that he had walked to the first station after Boulogne on the Paris railroad, and there taken the evening train. And whether he had presented himself again at Monsieur Bourgeois’s shop, that excellent tradesman, who did not return home until ten on Sunday night, was unable to say. Any way, M. Bourgeois held the letter yet in safety. So the chances are, that Mr. and Mrs. Pell are still dodging about the earth in search of each other, after the fashion of the Wandering Jew.
And that’s a true account of our visit to Boulogne after Clement–Pell. Mr. Brandon calls it to this hour a wild-goose chase: certainly it turned out a fruitless one. But we had a good passage back again, the sea as calm as a mill-pond.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55