« PreviousContinue »
“Yes ?" said the manager, doubtfully; " is that all?"
“I knew her when she was a girl at Dunelm ; I take the deepest interest in her welfare; I knew the poor old man her grandfather, the organist who is mentioned in the trial. I am at this moment engaged in procuring important evidence in her favour. I am her friend. There is nothing in the world I would not do for her, even unto death.”
“Then you must be” said the manager, starting to his feet.
“No. 20,” said Kalmnat solemnly, “ that was my number when I stayed here before. Do not interrupt me. At present it is necessary that I should work in the dark. I have never spoken to her husband; but I respect and honour him. I am rich, as iny friend Father Lemare can testify. I have no occupation in the world but that which this unhappy case gives me. I would not say this to any other man. I am frank and open with you because I feel that I can and must trust you.”
The manager looked thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment,
“I knew you were not a professional detective,” he said. “I feel that you are a true gentleman ; your number, you say, is 20; now there is another number you must remember as well.”
“ What is that?"
“No; we had no number. I was made a Freemason in a mininghut on the banks of a Californian river, in a mining village, where the brethren had seen neither wife, sister, maid nor mother for six months ; where the outer guard was no symbolic figure or person, but had for cowans the wild Indians of the adjacent prairie,” said Kalmat.
“You are a strange brother,” said the manager, “but I am bound to take the sign you now give me ; and further than that, my judgment tells me that you will not deceive me. There is my hand again.”
The two men shook hands; Kalmat filled his meerschaum, the manager lighted a cigar, rang the bell, and ordered a bottle of claret. When the servant had left the room, the manager said,
“Well, sir, and what is your course of action ?”
“To place the lady, through you, in the hands of the best physician in the town; to ensure her every comfort; to ask you to act thoroughly upon your word to her, and give her the undivided services of your housekeeper ; to beg of you to see that her every want is anticipated; and having done this, I intend to return to London and explain all that has transpired to her husband."
“Do you not think that would be a breach of trust ?" “ I do not."
“But she made me promise not to give any information to any one concerning her.” “ Neither do you.
I am not pledged, and I know her secret. I know what is best for her to have known. The truth is she is not in her proper senses. She has been persecuted and tried beyond the endurance of man or woman. The last thing she would dream of doing is to cause her husband pain ; and when she recovers you will see that she will endorse in every particular all I shall do.”
“You know best,” said the manager. “I can promise and ensure her safety and comfort so far as the medical skill and the resources of Boulogne will permit. When do you propose to go across?” " By the first boat,” said Kalmat, consulting his watch.
At eight o'clock," said the landlord. “It is now after two ; you will want some sleep.”
“That means you would like to go to bed,” said Kalmat. “Well, good night. See that your housekeeper or some good servant sits up in the room next to that in which Lady St. Barnard sleeps in case she should require her. And let her ladyship know of the arrangement.”
“I will,” said the manager; and the two parted for the night.
" IS IT DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN ?"
LORD ST. BARNARD had hardly returned to the Westminster Palace Hotel, to consult, not with Mr. Holland nor with his solicitors, but with himself upon the situation which had arisen, when he received the following note :
“Would your lordship have any objection to see me for five minutes ?
“Show the gentleman up," said Lord St. Barnard, “and see that we are not disturbed."
Cuffing entered the room gradually. He appeared by inches, and every inch of him was on the qui vive. When he was fairly inside the room he looked sharply round it and then glanced warily at Lord St. Barnard.
“Do not be afraid,” said his lordship, standing erect upon the hearth-rug, with a firm but troubled expression of face; "there is no occasion for alarm."
“I am not afraid,” said Cuffing, bowing awkwardly to his lordship
and still looking around suspiciously, “but I fear my presence is not very agreeable to you.”
“ It is not, sir,” said Lord St. Barnard, without moving. “I do not like you, certainly, if that is what you mean; but I suppose you have only carried out your instructions and that you are here upon business of some importance.”
“ Thank you, my lord, thank you,” said Cuffing, closing the door and advancing further into the room. “I have been within my instructions, and I come here on business of far more interest to your lordship than to myself.”
“Indeed," said his lordship laconically.
“Yes,” said Cuffing, “I assure your lordship I have many times felt deeply grieved for Lady St. Barnard, and I accuse myself greatly for ever having taken the case up; but if I had not some one else would, and some one who might have acted upon his instructions more strictly than I have done."
“ Perhaps,” said Lord St. Barnard. “It is a very sad and unfortunate affair."
“ Indeed it is,” said Cuffing, laying down his hat and stick, and advancing three steps further towards his lordship. “In the whole of my professional career I have not had so painful a duty to perform.”
“ Did you come here to offer me this explanation ? "
“No, not exactly," replied Cuffing quickly, and again cautiously surveying the room ; "I cime here partly out of sympathy for your lordship and with the intention of asking if there is anything I can do to lighten the load which presses so heavily upon yourself and wife.”
“I do not understand you,” said Lord St. Barnard. “ Pray be seated and speak further."
“I can stand,” said Cuffing. "Are we quite alone here? Will anything I say be overheard? Is Mr. White in the neighbourhood ? I know what a special faculty Mr. White has of overhearing."
“We are quite alone,” said his lordship, “quite; if you come nearer you need not speak above a whisper, if you think well.”
Good,” said Cuffing, advancing firmly. “What I am going to say to your lordship is of course without prejudice and must be regarded as confidential between man and man- -I ought to say between myself and your lordship.”
“Without prejudice," said his lordship, “that I concede; but I cannot promise to accept a secret from you."
“ Then it is no good my staying," said Cuffing, taking up his hat.
“You know best," said his lordship, looking down curiously upon the little wily, serpent-like advocate.
“I do," said Cuffing. “Good day, my lord.” “ He had reached the door before Lord St. Barnard called him back.
“If it was worth your while to come here,” he said, “it is worth your while to carry out your mission.”
“I would like to do so,” said Cuffing, returning, and again placing his hat and cane upon a chair as if he were glad he had been recalled.
“Let me say then, while I cannot give you a pledge of confidence until I know the kind of communication which you are about to make to me, I give you my word that I will receive what you have to say in a fair and considerate spirit.”
"In the spirit in which it is offered ?” said Cuffing, taking a pinch of snuff in a thoughtful way. The snuff-box and a pair of eye-glasses helped him now and then to gain time, though he rarely used either. He was generally a match for all occasions; but lord St. Barnard's coolness bothered him.
“Well, perhaps I may go as far as that,” said his lordship.
Lord St. Barnard sat down, thus bringing himself somewhat on a level as regards height with his visitor.
“It is reported,” said Cuffing, “ that Lady St. Barnard has left the country.”
"Oh, it is reported, is it? Well?”
“Well,” said Cuffing, pointing his finger at Lord St. Barnard as it his lordship were a witness under cross-examination, “now supposing this should be the case, it is pretty clear that on our reappearance at Bow Street next week, this prosecution is not only at an end, but it finishes most disastrously for Lady St. Barnard."
“Now my client has, during the last four-and-twenty hours, been greatly afflicted with remorse, and I am satisfied that if his own liberty had not been in danger, he would have made an effort to release Lady St. Barnard from the awful position in which she was placed."
“I am sure of it, quite sure,” said Cuffing, a little embarrassed under the calm scrutiny of the injured husband. “ You see, Ransford is naturally a coward, and he was afraid of being transported. It was a mistake to press so heavily upon him-Mr. Holland is not judicious; he knows nothing of criminal practice. Now Ransford, in the first instance, had been a good deal harassed and worried and annoyed at the treatment he had received."
“The treatment he had received !” said Lord St. Barnard, contemptuously. “The scoundrel ! he ought to have been flogged at a cart's tail.”
“That may be,” said Cuffing, relieved by this outburst of feeling, in which he saw far more encouragement to his hopes than in the calm, calculating reception which his remarks had met with up to that time. “He may be a scoundrel-probably he is; but that is neither here nor there at this particular moment of time. I am neither here to support Ransford, nor to condemn him. I am not here, in short, to do anything which may affect him in that respect. It is clear, my lord, that in his early days he held a respectable position in life, and so far as education is concerned and money, was entitled to every courtesy and consideration”
“I do not know," said his lordship impatiently.
“Pardon me, your lordship," said Cuffing, flinging open his shabby frock coat with a forensic air, “ pardon me, I only say what is well known. He came to grief. He fell from his high estate. It is only a brave man who can fall gracefully. Ransford is not a brave man. He ascribed his financial ruin to Lady St. Barnard. Pardon me, it is best to let me continue. She certainly was afterwards endowed with the very property he would have come into but fur his father's misfortunes. Poetic justice, Mr. Holland would say. I think not; but in any case Ransford had something like a reasonable grievance, and it rankled in his mind.”
“Well, well,” said Lord St. Barnard. “Sir, you must excuse me, I cannot listen to this kind of talk; 1 have heard enough of it elsewhere ; I do not desire to transfer Bow Street to my private room.
e If this is what you have sought an interview with me for the sooner we close it the better."
Lord St. Barnard rose impatiently and looked angrily at his visitor.
“If that is your decision,” said Cuffing, “ I am very sorry; but I came to say something of real importance ; only I thought I would lead up to it. There are communications, sir, which cannot be blurted out, which must be led up to, and such a communication I come here to make to a noble lord whose wife is in great trouble. No matter, I beg his lordship's pardon and take my leave.”
Cuffing took up his hat and stick.
“ You provoke me almost beyond endurance," said Lord St. Barnard, biting his lips. “I have every desire to hear you. Be frank and open and say
what you came to say ; surely you have made a sufficiently lengthy introduction to your most important announcement."