The Heart of a Womanскачать книгу бесплатно
"Oh, no, sir; not all that. 'E only told 'em that 'e was in for a good thing. A gentleman's gentleman 'e told 'em 'e was and doin' well for hisself. 'E said 'e would come and see the fam'ly – 'e meant me and 'is mother, sir – some day soon. But 'e never come."
"Did he say where he was living?"
"Yes, sir. 'E gave 'is address to Emily. Up 'Ampstead way it were. A long way, sir. Me and 'is mother never seemed to 'ave the time to go and look 'im up; but Emily she went with young Smith one Sunday, but they never found the street, not where Paul said 'e was livin'. There weren't no such street in 'Ampstead, sir."
"And you never thought of making further inquiries?"
"No, sir." This again with that quiet philosophy, the stolid fatalism, peculiar to those who live from day to day, from hand to mouth, who have neither leisure nor desire to peer outside the very circumscribed limits of their own hearths.
"You never made any effort to know more about what your son was doing or how he was living?" suggested the coroner, who, though accustomed to this same quiet philosophy in men and women of that class, was nevertheless strangely moved in this instance by the expression of a fatalism that carried in its train such extraordinary consequences.
But Jim Baker, mildly astonished at the coroner's insistence over so obvious a matter, explained meekly:
"We knew that Paul was doin' well, you see, sir. 'E was that splendidly dressed when Emily and young Smith seed 'im they was quite respectful like to 'im. So we knew 'e was all right."
"And you never troubled any further about your son?"
"We didn't want to interfere with 'im, sir. Gentlemen don't allus like their servants to be 'aving visitors, or to 'obnob with poor people like us."
More calm philosophy not unmixed with a delicate sense of pride this time, and a sublime if unconscious vein of selflessness.
"Well," rejoined the coroner, not unkindly this time – the man who looked so like a beetle, who was so humble and apologetic, compelled quite a certain amount of regard – "we'll leave that matter for the moment, Mr. Baker. Now will you tell the jury what made you come to this court to-day? What led you to think that the man who had been murdered in a cab the night before last, and of whom all the newspapers spoke as Mr. Philip de Mountford – what made you think that he was your son?"
Jim Baker by way of a reply plunged one of his thin hands in the pocket of his shabby coat and drew out a portion of very grimy newspaper carefully folded up quite small. He undid the folds until his eyes lighted on that which they sought. Then he held the paper out toward the coroner and pointed to a picture sandwiched in among the letter-press.
"I saw this," he said, "in the Daily Graphic yesterday. It's the picture of Paul, I says to myself."
The coroner took the paper from the witness and laid it down on the table, glancing at it casually.
There had been innumerable portraits of the murdered man published both in the morning and the evening papers of yesterday.
"It's Paul to the life," insisted Jim Baker. "I was at my work, you understand, when I seed the paper in one o' the other chaps' 'ands. I couldn't give up my work then. I 'ad to wait till evenin' to speak to my missus. Then we talked it all over, and young Smith 'e took a day off and me too, and Mrs. Baker and Emily and Jane Smith, they all come along."
"And you looked on the face of the dead man, and you swear that it is your son?"
"I take my oath, sir. Ask 'is mother there. She knows 'er own son. She'll tell you just what vaccination marks 'e 'ad on 'is arm, and about the scar on 'is leg and all. The ladies, sir, they are that sharp – "
Jim Baker – feeling no doubt that his ordeal was nearly over – was losing his nervousness, or perhaps it took a new form, that of jocularity. The coroner thought it best to check his efforts at humour in the bud.
"That will do!" he said curtly.
And the Clapham bricklayer at once retired within his shell of humble self-deprecation. He answered a few more questions that the coroner put to him, but clearly his own circle of vision was so circumscribed that, willing as he undoubtedly was, he could throw no light whatever on the unknown events which led up to the extraordinary fraud practised on the Earl of Radclyffe and which culminated in the mysterious murder in the taxicab.
The father of the strangely enigmatic personality, who indeed had taken many a secret with him to the grave, was far too indifferent, too fatalistic, to put forth any theory as to his son's motives, or the inducements and temptations which had first given birth to the astoundingly clever deception.
Wearied and impatient at last the coroner gave up his questionings. He turned to the jury with the accustomed formula:
"Would any of you gentlemen like to ask this witness any questions?"
The foreman of the jury wanted to know if the witness's son had any birthmarks on him, or other palpable means of identification.
"Yes, sir," replied Jim Baker, "but 'is mother'll tell you better'n me – she knows best – about the vaccination marks and all."
The foreman then asked the coroner whether the jury would be allowed to identify the marks. On being assured by the coroner that after adjournment this very day every means would be taken to corroborate Jim Baker's statement, the jury seemed satisfied.
And the corner called the next witness.
AND THEN EVERY ONE WENT HOME
Though the hour was getting late, no one among the crowd thought of leaving the court. Even the desire for tea, so peculiarly insistent at a certain hour of the day in the whole of the British race, was smothered beneath the wave of intense excitement which swept right over every one.
Although the next witnesses – who each in their turn came forward to the foot of the table – swore to tell the truth and faced the coroner with more or less assurance, they could but repeat the assertions of the head of the family; nevertheless the public seemed ready to listen with untiring patience to the story which went to prove that the man whom everybody believed to be the heir of one of the oldest titles and richest rent-rolls in England was the son of a Clapham bricklayer, a master of audacity and of fraud.
The mother – a worthy and simple soul – was the first to explain that Paul, her only son, had always been something of a gentleman. He had done very well at school, and never done a stroke of work like 'is father. When he was fifteen he was quite stage-struck. "Always play-acting," as the mother put it, "and could recite poetry beautiful!"
Mrs. Baker seemed distinctly proud of her son's deeply rooted horror of work. She thought that all the instincts of a gentleman were really in him. When he was a grown lad, he went as footman in a gentleman's family somewhere in the Midlands. The mother loftily supposed that it was there that Paul learned his good manners.
"He was a perfect gentleman, sir," she reiterated complacently.
It appeared too that the wastrel had had a period in his career when the call of the stage proved quite irresistible, for he seemed to have left the gentleman's family in the Midlands somewhat abruptly and walked on as super for a time in the various melodramas produced at the Grand Theatre, Nottingham, whenever a crowd was required on the stage. There seems also to have existed a legend in the heart of the fond mother and of the doting sister that Paul had once really played a big part in a serious play. But this statement was distinctly wanting in corroboration.
What was obviously an established fact was that the man had a certain spirit of adventure in him, and that he had been a regular rolling stone, a regular idle, good-for-nothing wastrel, possessing a certain charm of manner which delighted his family and which was readily mistaken by the simple folk for that of a gentleman.
They were all called in turn; the sister, and young Smith "from next door," and the latter's sister. Not one of them swerved for a moment from the original story told by Jim Baker. Emily and young Smith told of the meeting which occurred on a fine summer's afternoon between themselves and Paul. By the strange caprice of wanton coincidence the meeting occurred inside Green Park. Paul seemed a little worried, thinking that the passers-by would see him talking to "poor people like us," as Emily Baker had it, "although," she added proudly, "I 'ad me new 'at on, with the pink roses." Otherwise he was quite pleasant and not at all "off-'and."
The account of this interview was fully corroborated by young Smith "from next door." Jane Smith, who at one time had considered herself engaged to Paul Baker, had a few tender reminiscences to recount. She had seen the prodigal once on the boards of the Queen's Theatre, Lewisham, and she declared that he looked "a perfect gentleman."
The day wore on, or rather the commencement of evening. The evil-smelling fog from outside had made its home inside the dismal room. People there only saw one another through a misty veil; the corners of the room were wrapped in gloom. Exciting as was the story which had been unfolded this afternoon, one or two among the audience had given way to sleep. Lady Ducies' feathers nodded ominously, and the old dame who had munched sandwiches was inclined to give forth an occasional snore.
Louisa's eyes were aching. Constant watching had tired them; they even ceased to see clearly. Her brain too had become somnolent. She was tired of hearing these people talk. From the moment that Jim Baker had stated that the murdered man was his own son, Louisa had known that he had spoken the truth. Instinct was guiding her toward the truth, showing her the truth, wherever possible. She listened at first – deeply interested – to the scrappy evidence which told of Paul Baker's early life, but the family from Clapham Junction Road had marvellously little to relate. They no more understood their adventurous-spirited son than they would have been capable of aiding and abetting the fraud which he concocted.
They themselves were far too simple and too stupid to be dangerously criminal. And so the evidence quickly lost its interest for Louisa. She herself, with the fragmentary statements which she heard, could more easily surmise the life history of Paul Baker than could the doting mother, who retailed complacently every mark on the skin and on the body of her son, and knew nothing whatever – less than nothing – of his thoughts, his schemes, of the evil that was in him, and the ambition which led to his end.
And now the last of the Baker contingent was dismissed. Jane Smith, the sweetheart of the murdered man, was the last to leave the coroner's table. She did so in a flood of tears, in which the others promptly and incontinently joined.
The coroner, somewhat impatient with them all, for their vague notions on the most important bearings of the case had severely tried him, adjourned the inquiry until the morrow.
He ordered the jury to be present at a quarter before ten, and gave the signal for general withdrawal.
After which every one went home.
AND THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DO NOT CARE
For the first time in the whole course of her life Louisa Harris felt that convention must be flouted and social duties could not be fulfilled.
When the coroner, rising from his seat, gave the signal for general exodus, she had felt her father's firm hand grasping her arm, and leading her out of the fog-ridden, stuffy room into the cold, gray passages outside.
The herd of cackling geese were crowding round her. Heavens above, how they cackled and gossiped! It seemed as if the very floodgates of a noisy, bubbling stream had been torn asunder, and a whirlpool of chattering women been let loose upon the earth.
Convention, grim and untractable, tried to pull the string to make all puppets dance. But for once Louisa Harris rebelled. She closed her ears to insinuating calls from her friends, responding with a mere curt nod to the most gushing "Oh, Miss Harris! how are you?" which greeted her from every side.
She turned her back resolutely on convention. The slave for once rebelled against the taskmaster: the puppet refused to dance to the ever-wearying monotonous tune.
She had lost sight of Luke the moment the court rose. She supposed that his solicitor, Mr. Dobson, knowing the ropes, had got him away from the reach of cackling geese by leading him through some other more private way. But she was far too dazed, too numb, either to wonder or to be disappointed at this. She felt as if she had pitched head foremost down a long flight of stairs, and had only just had sufficient strength to pick herself up, and not to let other people see quite how severely she had been bruised.
Mentally, morally, even physically, she felt bruised from head to foot.
Colonel Harris contrived to steer her through the crowd: at the gate outside even the smoke-laden atmosphere seemed pure and invigorating in comparison with that stuffy pen, wherein the herd of cackling geese had found its happy hunting ground. Louisa drew in a long breath, filling her lungs with fog, but feeling a little freer, less choked in spite of the grime which she inhaled.
"I think," said Colonel Harris now, "that you'd better go straight back to the Langham, and get some tea. You'll feel better when you've had your tea."
"I feel all right, dear," she said, trying to smile.
"So much the better," he retorted with an equal effort at cheerfulness. "I'll come along as soon as I can."
"Where are you off to, dear?" she asked.
"I'll just go and have a talk to Tom," he replied.
"I'll come with you. I can wait in the cab. I don't suppose that you'll be long."
He tried to protest, but obviously she had made up her mind. Perhaps she did not like the idea of going back to the hotel alone. So he hailed a passing cab and told the man to drive to Scotland Yard.
He had deliberately – and despite former prejudices – selected a taxicab. He wanted to see Tom as soon as was possible.
Louisa leaned back in the corner of the vehicle silent and motionless. Father and daughter did not exchange a single word whilst the cab rattled through the crowded streets of London. Hansoms, omnibuses, innumerable other taxis, rattled along the selfsame way, just as they had always done before this, just as they would go on doing to the end of time. People walked along, busy and indifferent. Many went past the shrieking news vendors without even stopping to buy a paper.
Luke stood accused, almost self-convicted, of a horrible crime, and there were thousands, nay millions, of people who didn't even care!
The taxicab flew past the railings of the Green Park, there where another taxicab had drawn up a couple of evenings ago, and where a snake-wood stick marked with tell-tale stains had been found clumsily buried in the mud. Louisa peered out of the window of the cab. People walked past that spot, indifferent and busy. Two girls were standing close to the railings chatting and giggling.
And Luke to-morrow, or perhaps to-night, would be under arrest – charged with murder – horrible, cruel, brutal murder – a vulgar, cowardly crime! The snake-wood stick had told a tale which he had not attempted to refute.
Presently the cab drew up and Colonel Harris jumped down.
"I won't be longer than I can help," he said. "Will you be all right?"
"Yes, father dear," she replied, "I'll be all right. Don't hurry."
She saw her father disappearing through the wide open door, above which a globe of light shone yellow through the fog. She remained huddled up in her furs, for she felt very cold. Her feet were like ice, and the fog seemed to have penetrated to her very marrow. Few people were to be seen in the narrow roadway, and only an occasional cab rattled past.
From the embankment close by came the cry of news vendors rushing along with late editions of the evening papers.
A church clock not far away slowly struck six, but she held no count of time. A kind of drowsiness was upon her, and the foggy atmosphere, coupled with intense, damp cold, acted as a kind of soporific.
She may have waited years, or only a few minutes; she did not know, but presently her father came back. His presence there under the lintel of the door seemed to have roused her from her torpor, as if with a swift, telepathic current. As he stood for a moment beneath the electric light, adjusting the collar of his coat, she saw his face quite distinctly: its expression told her everything. Luke's arrest was imminent. It was but a question of a few hours, moments perhaps.
"I am going to Exhibition Road at once," he said, speaking quickly, like a man deeply troubled.
And without waiting for her assent, which was a foregone conclusion, he gave the chauffeur the address: "Fairfax Mansions, Exhibition Road"; and added, "drive as fast as you can!"
Then he jumped in beside Louisa. The taxicab moaned and groaned whilst it man?uvred for turning; then it rattled off once more at prohibited speed.
"It is," she said simply, "only a question of time, I suppose?"
"The warrant is out," he replied curtly. "Any moment now the police may be at his door."
"Uncle Ryder is convinced of Luke's guilt?"
"Beyond that what does he say?"
"That unless Luke chooses to make a bolt of it, he had better plead guilty and intense provocation. But he thinks Luke would be wise to catch the night boat for Calais."
"They'd get him back on extradition."
"Tom says they won't try very hard. And if Luke keeps his wits about him, and has a sufficiency of money he'll be able to get right through to Spain and from thence to Tangiers. With money and influence much can be done, and Tom says that if Luke will only get away to-night he himself is prepared to take all the blame and all the responsibility of having allowed a criminal to escape. It's very decent of Tom," added the colonel thoughtfully, "for he risks his entire future."
But the sorely troubled father did not tell his daughter all that Sir Thomas had told him in the course of the brief interview.
In effect the chief of the Criminal Investigation Department had given a brief alternative by way of advice.
"A ticket to anywhere via Calais at once – or a revolver."
And he had added dryly:
"I see nothing else for it. The man has practically confessed."
But this Colonel Harris would not admit, and so the two men parted. Louisa's father, thinking a great deal of his friend but still more of his daughter, wanted above all things to have a final talk with Luke.
Louisa in the meanwhile sat silent in the corner of the cab.
She was trying to visualize this new picture: Luke – a fugitive from justice!
The taxicab was making a slight detour as Whitehall and the Mall were closed for road repairs. The chauffeur was driving round by St. Martin's Lane. At one of the theatres there, a popular play was filling the house night after night with enthusiastic crowds. It was only half past six now, and in a long queue extending over two hundred yards away from the pit and gallery doors of the lucky playhouse, patient crowds waited for the evening's pleasure.
People were going to theatres, they laughed at farces, and wept at tragedies. Was there ever such a tragedy enacted inside a theatre, as now took place in the life of a commonplace man and woman?
Luke – a fugitive from justice! Money and influence could do much! They could enable a wealthy criminal to escape the consequences of his own crime! They could enable him to catch express trains unmolested, to fly across land and sea under cover of the night, to become, Cain-like, a wanderer on the face of the earth without rest and without peace.
Could they prevent him from seeing ever present at his elbow the grim Angel of Remorse, holding in one hand the glass wherein relentlessly flowed the sands of time, and in the other, the invisible sword of a retarded but none the less sure vengeance? Could they prevent his hearing the one word, Nemesis?
Luke – a fugitive from justice! Accused of a crime which he did not commit, self-convicted, almost self-accused, and fleeing from its consequences as he would from Remorse!
And people went to theatres, and laughed and cried. People ate and danced and sang. News vendors shrieked their wares, the latest sensational news; the gentleman criminal who had money and influence and with their help evaded the grip of justice.
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