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For one moment only he hesitated before he plunged into the lion’s jaws, as it were – should he speak to a policeman and tell him how to act if he did not soon return?
“No,” he said; “it would be too cowardly, and I might injure her.”
The next minute he had given a heavy peal on knocker and bell, listened to the hollow echoes raised within the forbidding place, and stood waiting for the opening of the door.
The Bookworm at Home
As Chester waited for an answer to his summons the thought of the awkwardness of his position struck him, but he was strung up and determined to go on with his quest at all hazards. At the end of a minute there was no reply, and he knocked and rang again, with the hope rising that he was on the right tack at last, for the silence accorded with the mystery of the place he sought.
It was not until he had roused the echoes within the house for the third time that he heard the rattle of a chain being taken down; then the door was opened slowly, and Chester’s heart sank as he found himself face to face with a dim-eyed, sleepy-looking old man, thin, stooping, and untidy of aspect, in his long, dusty dressing-gown and slippers. He was wearing an old-fashioned pair of round glass, silver-rimmed spectacles, whose ends were secured by a piece of black ribbon; and these he pushed up on his forehead as he turned his head side-wise and peered at the visitor.
“I’m afraid you knocked before, sir,” he said in a quiet, dreamy tone.
“Yes – yes. I ought not to have come in this unceremonious way.”
“Pray do not apologise,” said the old gentleman, mildly. “I was busy reading, and did not hear.”
He pushed his glasses a little higher and smiled in a pleasant, benevolent fashion, while at the first glance Chester saw that he was quite off the scent. For he gazed past the old man into the great hall whose walls were covered with book-shelves, while parcels and piles of volumes were heaped up in every available corner.
“I see that I have made a mistake,” said Chester, hastily.
“I have come to the wrong house. I am very sorry. I am trying to find some people here.”
“Yes? Well, houses are very much alike. Will you step in? I can perhaps help you. I think I have a Directory somewhere – somewhere, if I can lay my hand upon it, for I seldom use such a work, and I have so many books.”
The old gentleman, whose appearance branded him as a dreamy, absorbed bookworm, drew back, and Chester involuntarily entered the hall, to note that with the book-cases away it would be such a place as he had visited; but while that was magnificently furnished, and pervaded by the soft glow of electric light, here all was dust and mouldering knowledge, the entrance suggesting that the rest of the house must be the same.
“Pray come in,” said the old man, after closing the door; and he led the way into what had been intended for a large dining-room, but had been turned by its occupant into a library, packed with books from floor to ceiling; piles were upon the tables and chairs, and heaps here and there upon the dusty old Turkey carpet.
“Directory – Directory,” said the old man, looking slowly round.
“Books, books, books, but not the one we want.”
“You seem to have a large and valuable library,” Chester ventured to observe.
“Eh? Yes, I suppose so. The work of a long life, sir. But very dusty all over the house. What did you say was the name of the people you wanted?”
“I – that is,” stammered Chester, confusedly, “I do not know their name. Some patients whom I want to find out.”
“Are you a doctor, sir?” said the old man, looking at his visitor with a benevolent smile. “Grand profession. I should have liked to have been a doctor. But is not that a very vague description? Names are so useful for distinguishing one person, place, or thing, from another. But it was in this street, you say?”
“Well – er – no, I am not sure,” said Chester, hurriedly.
“Dear me! that is rather perplexing,” said the old man, taking off his spectacles and beginning to wipe them upon the tail of his dressing-gown. “But,” he added, as if relieved, “the Directory would be of no use if you do not know the name.”
“None whatever,” said Chester, who was smarting with the thought that this pleasant old gentleman must take him for a lunatic. “Pray forgive me for troubling you in this unceremonious way.”
“Oh, not at all, my dear sir, not at all. I have so few visitors, though,” he added, “as you see I am surrounded by old friends.”
“The same style of house – the same sort of hall,” thought Chester, as he went out after a few more words had been exchanged. “Could it have been in this street?”
He looked up sharply at a heavy-faced butler and a tall, smart, powdered-headed footman, who were standing at the door of the next house, doing nothing, with the air of two men whose employers were out.
Chester looked eagerly at them and passed by, but the door was nearly closed, and he could not see inside.
His sharp look was returned with interest, the two men evidently expecting him to come up the steps and address them, but he went on for a short distance in an undecided way, thinking deeply, and trying hard to see through the mental mist which shut him in. But a short time before he had felt convinced that he had found the house and been disappointed; now he felt quite as sure that the mansion where the two servants were standing must be the place. He had no special reason for coming to the conclusion, but all the same a curious feeling of attraction made him slacken his pace, angry and annoyed the while that he had not stopped and spoken to the men.
“Great heavens! What a vacillating moral coward I have grown,” he said to himself. “What would have been easier?”
He said this but felt that the task was terribly hard, for it seemed such a childish thing to do – to go about asking folk if that was the house where some people lived who had fetched him to attend a man who had been shot, and kept him a prisoner for days and days before drugging him and having him shut up in a cab to be driven about in the middle of the night.
“Why, if I could explain all this to them,” he said to himself at last, “they’d think I was a harmless kind of madman, troubled with memories of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, which I was trying to drag into everyday life like a Barber’s hundredth brother, or a one-eyed Calendar. Come, come, old fellow,” he continued, as he mentally apostrophised himself; “go back home and prescribe for yourself, and then begin to show someone that you have been suffering from a strange mental vagary, brought about by over-excitement. She will believe it in time, and all may come right again. Ah! how like.”
He started and hurried after an open carriage in which two ladies were seated. He only saw the profile of one of them very slightly, and her back as she passed, but there was a turn of the figure – a particularly graceful air, as she leaned forward to give some instruction to the coachman – which struck him as being exactly similar to attitudes he had seen Marion assume again and again when attending upon her brother.
He jumped into a cab and told the man to follow the victoria, with the result that the latter came to a standstill in front of one of the fashionable West-End drapery establishments.
Chester was close up as the lady alighted, and he sprang out excitedly to go and speak to her.
There was every opportunity, for the carriage drove on with her companion, and she crossed the pavement alone, to walk a few steps alone in front of the great plate-glass window, gazing carelessly in at the various costumes displayed.
“A woman after all,” he said to himself, bitterly annoyed at what he considered her frivolity in thinking of dress at a time when her brother was in all probability suffering still.
“But it is their nature, or the result of their education,” he said the next minute, as he went close up behind her, and saw her face reflected clearly in the long series of mirrors at the back.
Mr Roach Lowers Himself
“Bah!” ejaculated Chester in his rage and despair, as he swung round and hurried away. “Fool, idiot! No more like her than that miserable flower-seller is. Am I suffering from the shock of the drug they gave me? Well, if I am, she must be found all the same, for I cannot go on like this and live!”
He hurried along, without heeding which way he went, and as if by instinct made for his own house, reached it, started as if in surprise, and then turned to enter, but altered his mind after a pause, and drew the door to, after which he walked swiftly away in the direction of Westminster.
For the meeting had raised thoughts which he felt that he would only obliterate by plunging once more into the mazes of his wild search.
He was not long in reaching the old street which had so taken up his attention before, and he looked long and attentively at the mansion adjoining that occupied by the collector. The contrast was curious, the one with bright, well-curtained windows, the door glistening in its fresh graining and varnish, the other dim, unpainted, looking as if it were quite unoccupied, the very steps as if they had not been cleaned for years.
Chester went and studied a Directory, and with the name Clareborough upon his lips, he determined, after passing through the street two or three times, to risk making a call.
“Why should I mind?” he muttered. “If I am wrong, I have only made a mistake.”
He walked on till he reached the house, perfectly unconscious that the footman was standing a little back from one of the narrow windows, and after having his attention drawn to the vacillating, rather haggard personage who had been taking so much interest in the house, was ready to look upon him with suspicion.
“Begging letter dodges, or something to sell,” said the footman to himself, as the visitors’ bell was rung, and after waiting a sufficient time to suggest that he had come from downstairs, the fellow opened the door, to receive Chester with a calm stare.
“Mr Clareborough in?”
“Not at home, sir.”
“Mr Robert is, of course?”
“Out of town, sir.”
“Well, I must see somebody,” said Chester, who had been checked for the moment by the announcement that Mr Robert was out of town, but encouraged by the fact that two shots went home. “Ask Mr Paddy if he will see me.”
The nickname made the footman raise his eyebrows, but he replied coolly —
“Not at home, sir.”
“Well, then, one of the ladies.”
“On the Continent, sir.”
“Tut, tut, how tiresome!” cried Chester, impatiently. “Look here, my man; how is Mr Robert?”
“Quite well, thank you, sir,” said the man, superciliously.
Chester stared at the man. He had evidently been schooled what to say, and for the moment the visitor hesitated, but recovering his sang-froid the next moment, he said —
“Rather strange that, after so serious an accident.”
At that moment the butler came forward from the back of the hall, pulling the door a little more open, and Chester drew a deep breath full of satisfaction, as he caught sight of one of the statues and a chair, on the back of which was emblazoned the same crest as he had seen upon the seal.
“What is it, Orthur,” said the butler in a deep, mellow voice suggestive of port wine.
“Gentleman asking to see Mr Robert, sir.”
“Yes, I particularly wish to see him,” said Chester. “I am the medical man who attended him after his accident.”
“I beg pardon, sir.”
“I say I am the medical man who attended him after his late accident, and I wish to see my patient again.”
The butler glared at the speaker in a heavy, solemn way, and then turned slowly to his subordinate, who raised his eyebrows and drew down the corners of his lips.
“I beg pardon, sir,” said the butler, turning his eyes again on the visitor, who was beginning to lose temper. “There is a Mr Robert here – Mr Robert Clareborough. You must mean some other gentleman. Our Mr Robert is quite well, and on the Continent just now.”
“Impossible!” cried Chester, angrily. “Look here, my man, take this for yourself and my card in to Mr Robert. Say I beg that he will give me a few minutes’ conversation.”
The butler glanced at the card and the coin held out, but took neither.
“Beg pardon, sir. I told you that Mr Robert is on the Continent.”
“Yes; and I tell you that you are not speaking the truth. Do as I tell you. I will wait till he sees me.”
Chester took a couple of steps forward as he spoke, with the intention of entering the hall, but the butler stood firm, and the footman closed up to his side, the pair effectually barring the way. Chester stopped, feeling that he could do no more, for the servants must have been instructed to deny everybody to him. He thought, too, of his position; he had attended his patient and retained the heavy fee paid him, having, had he so wished, been debarred from returning it by his ignorance of the sender’s address.
While he was musing the butler said haughtily —
“If you like to leave your card, sir, I’ll lay it on the ’all table, and if one of the gentlemen wishes to see you, I daresay he’ll write or call.”
“No,” said Chester, irritably. “Tell Mr Robert that I came, and – no, say nothing; I daresay I can find Mr Robert Clareborough at his club, or I shall meet him somewhere else.”
He turned upon his heel, and walked sharply away, satisfied now that he had found the house, and feeling more eager than ever to obtain an interview with his patient, who would, he felt sure, have his sister by his side.
The thought of her position sent the hot blood coursing to the doctor’s head, and a chill of horror and anxiety ran through him once more. But he felt that he must wait a little longer and devise some way of obtaining speech with Marion, life being unendurable till he had seen her once again.
“New dodge, Mr Roach, sir?” said the footman, when Chester had disappeared.
“I don’t quite know what to make of it, Orthur,” replied the butler, solemnly. “It does seem like a new way of raising the wind. It ain’t books nor engravings.”
“What about being Mr Robert’s medical man, though. What do you make of that?”
“Well, Orthur, putting that and that together – his quick, jerky, excited way, and his fierce-looking eyes, and his ignorance of Society etiquette as to strangers calling, and wanting to see everybody, just as if he was one of the oldest friends of the family – I should say that he’s one of those chaps who get a few names o’ people out o’ Directories, and then goes and calls.”
“For swindling and picking up anything as is not out of his reach, sir, or about money?”
“Well, say a bit touched in the head, Orthur.” The butler put his hand to his throat to try whether the tie of his white cravat was in its place, and looked up the street and down, acts imitated exactly by his lieutenant, and for some minutes nothing more was said. Then the footman in very respectful tones —
“Ever try your ’and, Mr Roach, sir, at any of those gambling shops abroad?”
“Well, once or twice, Orthur,” said the butler, relaxing a little to his junior. “I was with a young nobleman out at Homburg and Baden and one or two other places.”
“And how did you get on, sir?”
“Oh, I made a few louis, Orthur, and I should have made more if we had stopped, I daresay.”
“Lor’! How I should like to have a bit of a try there, sir,” said the footman, eagerly.
“You would, Orthur, eh? You mean it?”
“Mean it, sir? I should just think I should. That’s what Mr Robert’s after now, I’ll bet; and look at the money, Mr Dennis – Mr Paddy – pockets over his flutters there, let alone over every race and event coming off. Ah, it’s fine to be them.”
“Well, yes, Orthur, my good lad, I suppose they do pretty well. You see, if I or you were disposed to put a sov’rin or two on the next event – ”
“Half-a-crown’s ’bout my figure, sir.”
“Ah, well, say half-a-crown, Orthur; it may turn up a pound, or two pound, or three pound. It might even be a fiver. But with them when they win, it’s hundreds or thousands.”
“Ah!” ejaculated the footman, smacking his lips.
“By the way, there’s Newmarket coming again next week.”
“Yes, sir; got anything on?”
“Well, no, not yet, Orthur; perhaps I may.”
“Do, sir, and I will, too. Mr Roach, sir,” whispered the young man behind his hand, as the butler turned upon him with a look of reproof for his assumption, “Black Pepper, sir.”
“What, my good boy! Why, that horse is at fifty to one.”
“That’s it, sir; and I’m going half-a-crown on him.”
“Better keep it in your pocket, my lad,” said the butler, blandly.
“No, sir; I think not. I’ve got the tip.”
“Eh?” said the butler, eagerly. “Where from?”
“I heered Mr Paddy tell Mr James, sir, that it was a sure thing, and Mr James gave him gold out of his cash-box in the lib’ry – little rolls out of that big tin box of his. I didn’t hear no more, but that was quite enough for me.”
“Eh? Yes,” said the butler, dropping his superior way of speaking to whisper confidentially, “it will do for me too, Orthur. I’ll give you half-a-sovereign to put on at the same time. Let me see, Orthur, we’re not very busy this afternoon, and I shall be about to answer the door. Come down to the pantry, and I’ll give you the money, and you can go and make the bets before they get to a different price.”
“All right, sir, I will,” said the footman excitedly. “Beg pardon, sir,” he continued, as the door closed and they stood together in the elaborately-furnished hall. “Yes, Orthur, what is it?”
“Could you oblige me with half-a-crown, sir, till I get my wages?”
“Humph! Well, my lad, I do make it a rule never to lend money, but seeing that it is you, Orthur, a lad that I can trust – ”
“Oh, yes, sir, you may trust me.”
“I will let you have the money.”
“Thank ye, sir, and I’ll go at once.”
A Fatal Attraction
“You, Isabel dear!” cried Laura one day, as the visitor whom she had looked upon as a sister was shown into the room.
“Yes, dear, I felt obliged to come. Don’t, pray don’t be ashamed of me and think me weak,” pleaded the poor girl, as they embraced and then sat down together upon the couch.
“How can you say such things!” cried Laura, warmly, as she passed her arm about her friend’s waist.
“Because I feel that I deserve it, dear. I know how weak and foolish I am. I have been watching for an hour till I saw him go out.”
“You have been watching, Bel?”
“Yes, dear; from a brougham with the blinds partly drawn down. We are in town now. Papa says I must have a change, and we are staying here for a few days before they take me over to Paris. Laura dear, I was obliged to come. Don’t betray me, please, to anyone. They would be so angry if they knew, and say that I was shameless. I suppose I am, dear, but I hope you can sympathise with me a little.”
“Not a little, Bel dear,” cried Laura, warmly, and Isabel flung her arms about her friend’s neck, buried her face in her breast and sobbed violently for a few minutes before she raised her thin white face and said quite calmly, with a piteous smile on her lip —
“There, I told you how weak I was. I feel so much better now. I would have given anything for days and days to cry like that, but I could not. My head has been hot, and my brain seemed dry and burnt up. Now I can talk. But tell me, is – is he likely to come back?”
“No,” said Laura, shaking her head. “He will not be back till night, and even if he did return he would not come here, but go straight to his room and shut himself in.”
“Has – has he told you anything?”
“No, dear; he hardly ever speaks either to me or aunt. He did say that he was kept away to attend an important patient.”
“Yes, yes, of course. That must be it.”
Laura was silent. Aunt Grace had sown a seed in her heart which had begun to grow rapidly, in spite of her sisterly efforts to check it as a noxious weed.
“Well, why don’t you speak?” cried the visitor, sharply.
“Because I have nothing to say.”
Isabel flushed up, and Laura stared at her, wondering whether this was the placid, gentle girl whom she had known so long.
“Then why have you nothing to say?” cried Isabel, angrily. “He is your brother, and if all the world is turning against him, is it not your duty to defend – to try and find excuses for his conduct?”
“Well, I mean what I say. It is quite enough that I turn against him and that everything between us is at an end. I hate him now, for he has used me cruelly, and it seems to have changed my nature; but I cannot forget the past, and would not be malignant and cruel too.”
Laura took the hand that was resigned to her, and the pair sat in silence for some minutes.
Isabel’s lips moved several times, as if she were about to speak, but no words came, till, with a desperate effort, she said in a husky whisper —
“Have you seen her, Laura?”
“I? No!” cried the girl, who was startled by the question.
“But you know she is beautiful, and rich, and aristocratic?”
“I only know what aunt has said, dear; but if she were the most beautiful woman that ever breathed, it is no excuse for Fred treating you as he did.”
“I don’t know,” said Isabel, sadly. “He is wise and clever, while I have often felt that it was more than I could expect for a man like him to care for me, so simple and homely as I am.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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