Book IV. In Pursuit
Chapter XLI. The Constable,--His Clue,--and the Cab
Miss Coleman, getting up in a fluster, went hurrying to the door.
'I won't have that young man in my house. I won't have him! Don't let him dare to put his nose across my doorstep.'
I endeavoured to appease her perturbation.
'I promise you that he shall not come in, Miss Coleman. My friend here, and I, will go and speak to him outside.'
She held the front door open just wide enough to enable Lessingham and me to slip through, then she shut it after us with a bang. She evidently had a strong objection to any intrusion on Sydney's part.
Standing just without the gate he saluted us with a characteristic vigour which was scarcely flattering to our late hostess. Behind him was a constable.
'I hope you two have been mewed in with that old pussy long enough. While you've been tittle-tattling I've been doing,--listen to what this bobby's got to say.'
The constable, his thumbs thrust inside his belt, wore an indulgent smile upon his countenance. He seemed to find Sydney amusing. He spoke in a deep bass voice,--as if it issued from his boots.
'I don't know that I've got anything to say.
It was plain that Sydney thought otherwise.
'You wait till I've given this pretty pair of gossips a lead, officer, then I'll trot you out.' He turned to us.
'After I'd poked my nose into every dashed hole in that infernal den, and been rewarded with nothing but a pain in the back for my trouble, I stood cooling my heels on the doorstep, wondering if I should fight the cabman, or get him to fight me, just to pass the time away,--for he says he can box, and he looks it,--when who should come strolling along but this magnificent example of the metropolitan constabulary.' He waved his hand towards the policeman, whose grin grew wider. 'I looked at him, and he looked at me, and then when we'd had enough of admiring each other's fine features and striking proportions, he said to me, "Has he gone?" I said, "Who?--Baxter?--or Bob Brown?" He said, "No, the Arab." I said, "What do you know about any Arab?" He said, "Well, I saw him in the Broadway about three-quarters of an hour ago, and then, seeing you here, and the house all open, I wondered if he had gone for good." With that I almost jumped out of my skin, though you can bet your life I never showed it. I said, "How do you know it was he?" He said, "It was him right enough, there's no doubt about that. If you've seen him once, you're not likely to forget him." "Where was he going?" "He was talking to a cabman,--four-wheeler. He'd got a great bundle on his head,--wanted to take it inside with him. Cabman didn't seem to see it." That was enough for me,-- I picked this most deserving officer up in my arms, and carried him across the road to you two fellows like a flash of lightning.'
Since the policeman was six feet three or four, and more than sufficiently broad in proportion, his scarcely seemed the kind of figure to be picked up in anybody's arms and carried like a 'flash of lightning,' which,--as his smile grew more indulgent, he himself appeared to think.
Still, even allowing for Atherton's exaggeration, the news which he had brought was sufficiently important. I questioned the constable upon my own account.
'There is my card, officer, probably, before the day is over, a charge of a very serious character will be preferred against the person who has been residing in the house over the way. In the meantime it is of the utmost importance that a watch should be kept upon his movements. I suppose you have no sort of doubt that the person you saw in the Broadway was the one in question?'
'Not a morsel. I know him as well as I do my own brother,--we all do upon this beat. He's known amongst us as the Arab. I've had my eye on him ever since he came to the place. A queer fish he is. I always have said that he's up to some game or other. I never came across one like him for flying about in all sorts of weather, at all hours of the night, always tearing along as if for his life. As I was telling this gentleman I saw him in the Broadway,--well, now it's about an hour since, perhaps a little more. I was coming on duty when I saw a crowd in front of the District Railway Station,--and there was the Arab, having a sort of argument with the cabman. He had a great bundle on his head, five or six feet long, perhaps longer. He wanted to take this great bundle with him into the cab, and the cabman, he didn't see it.'
'You didn't wait to see him drive off.'
'No,--I hadn't time. I was due at the station,--I was cutting it pretty fine as it was.'
'You didn't speak to him,--or to the cabman?'
'No, it wasn't any business of mine you understand. The whole thing just caught my eye as I was passing.'
'And you didn't take the cabman's number?'
'No, well, as far as that goes it wasn't needful. I know the cabman, his name and all about him, his stable's in Bradmore.'
I whipped out my note-book.
'Give me his address.'
'I don't know what his Christian name is, Tom, I believe, but I'm not sure. Anyhow his surname's Ellis and his address is Church Mews, St John's Road, Bradmore,--I don't know his number, but any one will tell you which is his place, if you ask for Four-Wheel Ellis,--that's the name he's known by among his pals because of his driving a four-wheeler.'
'Thank you, officer. I am obliged to you.' Two half-crowns changed hands. 'If you will keep an eye on the house and advise me at the address which you will find on my card, of any thing which takes place there during the next few days, you will do me a service.'
We had clambered back into the hansom, the driver was just about to start, when the constable was struck by a sudden thought.
'One moment, sir,--blessed if I wasn't going to forget the most important bit of all. I did hear him tell Ellis where to drive him to,--he kept saying it over and over again, in that queer lingo of his. "Waterloo Railway Station, Waterloo Railway Station." "All right," said Ellis, "I'll drive you to Waterloo Railway Station right enough, only I'm not going to have that bundle of yours inside my cab. There isn't room for it, so you put it on the roof." "To Waterloo Railway Station," said the Arab, "I take my bundle with me to Waterloo Railway Station,--I take it with me." "Who says you don't take it with you?" said Ellis. "You can take it, and twenty more besides, for all I care, only you don't take it inside my cab,--put it on the roof." "I take it with me to Waterloo Railway Station," said the Arab, and there they were, wrangling and jangling, and neither seeming to be able to make out what the other was after, and the people all laughing.'
'Waterloo Railway Station,--you are sure that was what he said?'
'I'll take my oath to it, because I said to myself, when I heard it, "I wonder what you'll have to pay for that little lot, for the District Railway Station's outside the four-mile radius."' As we drove off I was inclined to ask myself, a little bitterly--and perhaps unjustly--if it were not characteristic of the average London policeman to almost forget the most important part of his information,--at any rate to leave it to the last and only to bring it to the front on having his palm crossed with silver.
As the hansom bowled along we three had what occasionally approached a warm discussion.
'Marjorie was in that bundle,' began Lessingham, in the most lugubrious of tones, and with the most woe-begone of faces.
'I doubt it,' I observed.
'She was,--I feel it,--I know it. She was either dead and mutilated, or gagged and drugged and helpless. All that remains is vengeance.'
'I repeat that I doubt it.'
Atherton struck in.
'I am bound to say, with the best will in the world to think otherwise, that I agree with Lessingham.'
'You are wrong.'
'It's all very well for you to talk in that cock-sure way, but it's easier for you to say I'm wrong than to prove it. If I am wrong, and if Lessingham's wrong, how do you explain his extraordinary insistance on taking it inside the cab with him, which the bobby describes? If there wasn't something horrible, awful in that bundle of his, of which he feared the discovery, why was he so reluctant to have it placed upon the roof?'
'There probably was something in it which he was particularly anxious should not be discovered, but I doubt if it was anything of the kind which you suggest.'
'Here is Marjorie in a house alone--nothing has been seen of her since,--her clothing, her hair, is found hidden away under the floor. This scoundrel sallies forth with a huge bundle on his head,--the bobby speaks of it being five or six feet long, or longer,--a bundle which he regards with so much solicitude that he insists on never allowing it to go, for a single instant, out of his sight and reach. What is in the thing? don't all the facts most unfortunately point in one direction?'
Mr Lessingham covered his face with his hands, and groaned.
'I fear that Mr Atherton is right.'
'I differ from you both.'
Sydney at once became heated.
'Then perhaps you can tell us what was in the bundle?'
'I fancy I could make a guess at the contents.'
'Oh you could, could you, then, perhaps, for our sakes, you'll make it,--and not play the oracular owl!--Lessingham and I are interested in this business, after all.'
'It contained the bearer's personal property: that, and nothing more. Stay! before you jeer at me, suffer me to finish. If I am not mistaken as to the identity of the person whom the constable describes as the Arab, I apprehend that the contents of that bundle were of much more importance to him than if they had consisted of Miss Lindon, either dead or living. More. I am inclined to suspect that if the bundle was placed on the roof of the cab, and if the driver did meddle with it, and did find out the contents, and understand them, he would have been driven, out of hand, stark staring mad.'
Sydney was silent, as if he reflected. I imagine he perceived there was something in what I said.
'But what has become of Miss Lindon?'
'I fancy that Miss Lindon, at this moment, is--somewhere; I don't, just now, know exactly where, but I hope very shortly to be able to give you a clearer notion,--attired in a rotten, dirty pair of boots; a filthy, tattered pair of trousers; a ragged, unwashed apology for a shirt; a greasy, ancient, shapeless coat; and a frowsy peaked cloth cap.'
They stared at me, opened-eyed. Atherton was the first to speak.
'What on earth do you mean?'
'I mean that it seems to me that the facts point in the direction of my conclusions rather than yours--and that very strongly too. Miss Coleman asserts that she saw Miss London return into the house; that within a few minutes the blind was replaced at the front window; and that shortly after a young man, attired in the costume I have described, came walking out of the front door. I believe that young man was Miss Marjorie Lindon.'
Lessingham and Atherton both broke out into interrogations, with Sydney, as usual, loudest.
'But--man alive! what on earth should make her do a thing like that? Marjorie, the most retiring, modest girl on all God's earth, walk about in broad daylight, in such a costume, and for no reason at all! my dear Champnell, you are suggesting that she first of all went mad.'
'She was in a state of trance.'
'Then you think that--juggling villain did get hold of her?'
'Undoubtedly. Here is my view of the case, mind it is only a hypothesis and you must take it for what it is worth. It seems to me quite clear that the Arab, as we will call the person for the sake of identification, was somewhere about the premises when you thought he wasn't.'
'But--where? We looked upstairs, and downstairs, and everywhere-- where could he have been?'
'That, as at present advised, I am not prepared to say, but I think you may take it for granted that he was there. He hypnotised the man Holt, and sent him away, intending you to go after him, and so being rid of you both--'
'The deuce he did, Champnell! You write me down an ass!'
'As soon as the coast was clear he discovered himself to Miss Lindon, who, I expect, was disagreeably surprised, and hypnotised her.'
The first exclamation was Lessingham's, the second Sydney's.
'He then constrained her to strip herself to the skin--'
'He cut off her hair; he hid it and her clothes under the floor where we found them--where I think it probable that he had already some ancient masculine garments concealed--'
'By Jove! I shouldn't be surprised if they were Holt's. I remember the man saying that that nice joker stripped him of his duds,--and certainly when I saw him,--and when Marjorie found him!--he had absolutely nothing on but a queer sort of cloak. Can it be possible that that humorous professor of hankey-pankey--may all the maledictions of the accursed alight upon his head!--can have sent Marjorie Lindon, the daintiest damsel in the land!--into the streets of London rigged out in Holt's old togs!'
'As to that, I am not able to give an authoritative opinion, but, if I understand you aright, it at least is possible. Anyhow I am disposed to think that he sent Miss Lindon after the man Holt, taking it for granted that he had eluded you.--'
'That's it. Write me down an ass again!'
'That he did elude you, you have yourself admitted.'
'That's because I stopped talking with that mutton-headed bobby,-- I'd have followed the man to the ends of the earth if it hadn't been for that.'
'Precisely; the reason is immaterial, it is the fact with which we are immediately concerned. He did elude you. And I think you will find that Miss Lindon and Mr Holt are together at this moment.'
'In men's clothing?'
'Both in men's clothing, or, rather, Miss Lindon is in a man's rags.'
'Great Potiphar! To think of Marjorie like that!'
'And where they are, the Arab is not very far off either.'
Lessingham caught me by the arm.
'And what diabolical mischief do you imagine that he proposes to do to her?'
I shirked the question.
'Whatever it is, it is our business to prevent his doing it.'
'And where do you think they have been taken?'
'That it will be our immediate business to endeavour to discover, --and here, at any rate, we are at Waterloo.'