"I might also have accepted your offer to go to South Africa, where I could soon have cleared out, having embezzled thousands. But, then, I should have been in a position of trust and responsibility—and I am not quite rogue enough to rob you under those conditions.
"Whatever else I am, however, I am not a hypocrite. I do not pretend to be anything more than a common swindler. If I return you your papers intact, it is only on the same principle as that of the Australian bushranger, who made a lady a present of her own watch because she had sung to him and reminded him of England. In other words, he did not take it from her. In like manner, when I found you had behaved, for once, like a gentleman, contrary to my expectation, I declined to go on with the trick I then meditated. Which does not mean to say I may not hereafter play you some other. That will depend upon your future good behaviour.
"Why, then, did I get White Heather to purloin your dispatch-box, with intent to return it? Out of pure lightness of heart? Not so; but in order to let you see I really meant it. If I had gone off with no swag, and then written you this letter, you would not have believed me. You would have thought it was merely another of my failures. But when I have actually got all your papers into my hands, and give them up again of my own free will, you must see that I mean it.
"I will end, as I began, seriously. My trade has not quite crushed out of me all germs or relics of better feeling; and when I see a millionaire behave like a man, I feel ashamed to take advantage of that gleam of manliness.
"Yours, with a tinge of penitence, but still a rogue, CUTHBERT CLAY."
The first thing Charles did on receiving this strange communication was to bolt downstairs and inquire for the dispatch-box. It had just arrived by Eagle Express Company. Charles rushed up to our rooms again, opened it feverishly, and counted his documents. When he found them all safe, he turned to me with a hard smile. "This letter," he said, with quivering lips, "I consider still more insulting than all his previous ones."
But, for myself, I really thought there was a ring of truth about it. Colonel Clay was a rogue, no doubt—a most unblushing rogue; but even a rogue, I believe, has his better moments.
And the phrase about the "position of trust and responsibility" touched Charles to the quick, I suppose, in re the Slump in Cloetedorp Golcondas. Though, to be sure, it was a hit at me as well, over the ten per cent commission.
THE EPISODE OF THE GAME OF POKER
"Seymour," my brother-in-law said, with a deep-drawn sigh, as we left Lake George next day by the Rennselaer and Saratoga Railroad, "no more Peter Porter for me, if you please! I'm sick of disguises. Now that we know Colonel Clay is here in America, they serve no good purpose; so I may as well receive the social consideration and proper respect to which my rank and position naturally entitle me."
"And which they secure for the most part (except from hotel clerks), even in this republican land," I answered briskly.
For in my humble opinion, for sound copper-bottomed snobbery, registered A1 at Lloyd's, give me the free-born American citizen.
We travelled through the States, accordingly, for the next four months, from Maine to California, and from Oregon to Florida, under our own true names, "Confirming the churches," as Charles facetiously put it—or in other words, looking into the management and control of railways, syndicates, mines, and cattle-ranches. We inquired about everything. And the result of our investigations appeared to be, as Charles further remarked, that the Sabeans who so troubled the sons of Job seemed to have migrated in a body to Kansas and Nebraska, and that several thousand head of cattle seemed mysteriously to vanish, a la Colonel Clay, into the pure air of the prairies just before each branding.
However, we were fortunate in avoiding the incursions of the Colonel himself, who must have migrated meanwhile on some enchanted carpet to other happy hunting-grounds.
It was chill October before we found ourselves safe back in New York, en route for England. So long a term of freedom from the Colonel's depredations (as Charles fondly imagined—but I will not anticipate) had done my brother-in-law's health and spirits a world of good; he was so lively and cheerful that he began to fancy his tormentor must have succumbed to yellow fever, then raging in New Orleans, or eaten himself ill, as we nearly did ourselves, on a generous mixture of clam-chowder, terrapin, soft-shelled crabs, Jersey peaches, canvas-backed ducks, Catawba wine, winter cherries, brandy cocktails, strawberry-shortcake, ice-creams, corn-dodger, and a judicious brew commonly known as a Colorado corpse-reviver. However that may be, Charles returned to New York in excellent trim; and, dreading in that great city the wiles of his antagonist, he cheerfully accepted the invitation of his brother millionaire, Senator Wrengold of Nevada, to spend a few days before sailing in the Senator's magnificent and newly-finished palace at the upper end of Fifth Avenue.
"There, at least, I shall be safe, Sey," he said to me plaintively, with a weary smile. "Wrengold, at any rate, won't try to take me in—except, of course, in the regular way of business."
Boss-Nugget Hall (as it is popularly christened) is perhaps the handsomest brown stone mansion in the Richardsonian style on all Fifth Avenue. We spent a delightful week there. The lines had fallen to us in pleasant places. On the night we arrived Wrengold gave a small bachelor party in our honour. He knew Sir Charles was travelling without Lady Vandrift, and rightly judged he would prefer on his first night an informal party, with cards and cigars, instead of being bothered with the charming, but still somewhat hampering addition of female society.
The guests that evening were no more than seven, all told, ourselves included—making up, Wrengold said, that perfect number, an octave. He was a nouveau riche himself—the newest of the new—commonly known in exclusive old-fashioned New York society as the Gilded Squatter; for he "struck his reef" no more than ten years ago; and he was therefore doubly anxious, after the American style, to be "just dizzy with culture." In his capacity of Maecenas, he had invited amongst others the latest of English literary arrivals in New York—Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, and leader of the Briar-rose school of West-country fiction.
"You know him in London, of course?" he observed to Charles, with a smile, as we waited dinner for our guests.
"No," Charles answered stolidly. "I have not had that honour. We move, you see, in different circles."
I observed by a curious shade which passed over Senator Wrengold's face that he quite misapprehended my brother-in-law's meaning. Charles wished to convey, of course, that Mr. Coleyard belonged to a mere literary and Bohemian set in London, while he himself moved on a more exalted plane of peers and politicians. But the Senator, better accustomed to the new-rich point of view, understood Charles to mean that he had not the entree of that distinguished coterie in which Mr. Coleyard posed as a shining luminary. Which naturally made him rate even higher than before his literary acquisition.
At two minutes past the hour the poet entered. Even if we had not been already familiar with his portrait at all ages in The Strand Magazine, we should have recognised him at once for a genuine bard by his impassioned eyes, his delicate mouth, the artistic twirl of one gray lock upon his expansive brow, the grizzled moustache that gave point and force to the genial smile, and the two white rows of perfect teeth behind it. Most of our fellow-guests had met Coleyard before at a reception given by the Lotus Club that afternoon, for the bard had reached New York but the previous evening; so Charles and I were the only visitors who remained to be introduced to him. The lion of the hour was attired in ordinary evening dress, with no foppery of any kind, but he wore in his buttonhole a dainty blue flower whose name I do not know; and as he bowed distantly to Charles, whom he surveyed through his eyeglass, the gleam of a big diamond in the middle of his shirt-front betrayed the fact that the Briar-rose school, as it was called (from his famous epic), had at least succeeded in making money out of poetry. He explained to us a little later, in fact, that he was over in New York to look after his royalties. "The beggars," he said, "only gave me eight hundred pounds on my last volume. I couldn't stand that, you know; for a modern bard, moving with the age, can only sing when duly wound up; so I've run across to investigate. Put a penny in the slot, don't you see, and the poet will pipe for you."
"Exactly like myself," Charles said, finding a point in common. "I'm interested in mines; and I, too, have come over to look after my royalties."
The poet placed his eyeglass in his eye once more, and surveyed Charles deliberately from head to foot. "Oh," he murmured slowly. He said not a word more; but somehow, everybody felt that Charles was demolished. I saw that Wrengold, when we went in to dinner, hastily altered the cards that marked their places. He had evidently put Charles at first to sit next the poet; he varied that arrangement now, setting Algernon Coleyard between a railway king and a magazine editor. I have seldom seen my respected brother-in-law so completely silenced.
The poet's conduct during dinner was most peculiar. He kept quoting poetry at inopportune moments.
"Roast lamb or boiled turkey, sir?" said the footman.
"Mary had a little lamb," said the poet. "I shall imitate Mary."
Charles and the Senator thought the remark undignified.
After dinner, however, under the mellowing influence of some excellent Roederer, Charles began to expand again, and grew lively and anecdotal. The poet had made us all laugh not a little with various capital stories of London literary society—at least two of them, I think, new ones; and Charles was moved by generous emulation to contribute his own share to the amusement of the company. He was in excellent cue. He is not often brilliant; but when he chooses, he has a certain dry vein of caustic humour which is decidedly funny, though not perhaps strictly without being vulgar. On this particular night, then, warmed with the admirable Wrengold champagne—the best made in America—he launched out into a full and embroidered description of the various ways in which Colonel Clay had deceived him. I will not say that he narrated them in full with the same frankness and accuracy that I have shown in these pages; he suppressed not a few of the most amusing details—on no other ground, apparently, than because they happened to tell against himself; and he enlarged a good deal on the surprising cleverness with which several times he had nearly secured his man; but still, making all allowances for native vanity in concealment and addition, he was distinctly funny—he represented the matter for once in its ludicrous rather than in its disastrous aspect. He observed also, looking around the table, that after all he had lost less by Colonel Clay in four years of persecution than he often lost by one injudicious move in a single day on the London Stock Exchange; while he seemed to imply to the solid men of New York, that he would cheerfully sacrifice such a fleabite as that, in return for the amusement and excitement of the chase which the Colonel had afforded him.
The poet was pleased. "You are a man of spirit, Sir Charles," he said. "I love to see this fine old English admiration of pluck and adventure! The fellow must really have some good in him, after all. I should like to take notes of a few of those stories; they would supply nice material for basing a romance upon."
"I hardly know whether I'm exactly the man to make the hero of a novel," Charles murmured, with complacence. And he certainly didn't look it.
"I was thinking rather of Colonel Clay as the hero," the poet responded coldly.
"Ah, that's the way with you men of letters," Charles answered, growing warm. "You always have a sneaking sympathy with the rascals."
"That may be better," Coleyard retorted, in an icy voice, "than sympathy with the worst forms of Stock Exchange speculation."
The company smiled uneasily. The railway king wriggled. Wrengold tried to change the subject hastily. But Charles would not be put down.
"You must hear the end, though," he said. "That's not quite the worst. The meanest thing about the man is that he's also a hypocrite. He wrote me such a letter at the end of his last trick—here, positively here, in America." And he proceeded to give his own version of the Quackenboss incident, enlivened with sundry imaginative bursts of pure Vandrift fancy.
When Charles spoke of Mrs. Quackenboss the poet smiled. "The worst of married women," he said, "is—that you can't marry them; the worst of unmarried women is—that they want to marry you." But when it came to the letter, the poet's eye was upon my brother-in-law. Charles, I must fain admit, garbled the document sadly. Still, even so, some gleam of good feeling remained in its sentences. But Charles ended all by saying, "So, to crown his misdemeanours, the rascal shows himself a whining cur and a disgusting Pharisee."
"Don't you think," the poet interposed, in his cultivated drawl, "he may have really meant it? Why should not some grain of compunction have stirred his soul still?—some remnant of conscience made him shrink from betraying a man who confided in him? I have an idea, myself, that even the worst of rogues have always some good in them. I notice they often succeed to the end in retaining the affection and fidelity of women."
"Oh, I said so!" Charles sneered. "I told you you literary men have always an underhand regard for a scoundrel."
"Perhaps so," the poet answered. "For we are all of us human. Let him that is without sin among us cast the first stone." And then he relapsed into moody silence.
We rose from table. Cigars went round. We adjourned to the smoking-room. It was a Moorish marvel, with Oriental hangings. There, Senator Wrengold and Charles exchanged reminiscences of bonanzas and ranches and other exciting post-prandial topics; while the magazine editor cut in now and again with a pertinent inquiry or a quaint and sarcastic parallel instance. It was clear he had an eye to future copy. Only Algernon Coleyard sat brooding and silent, with his chin on one hand, and his brow intent, musing and gazing at the embers in the fireplace. The hand, by the way, was remarkable for a curious, antique-looking ring, apparently of Egyptian or Etruscan workmanship, with a projecting gem of several large facets. Once only, in the midst of a game of whist, he broke out with a single comment.
"Hawkins was made an earl," said Charles, speaking of some London acquaintance.
"What for?" asked the Senator.
"Successful adulteration," said the poet tartly.
"Honours are easy," the magazine editor put in.
"And two by tricks to Sir Charles," the poet added.
Towards the close of the evening, however—the poet still remaining moody, not to say positively grumpy—Senator Wrengold proposed a friendly game of Swedish poker. It was the latest fashionable variant in Western society on the old gambling round, and few of us knew it, save the omniscient poet and the magazine editor. It turned out afterwards that Wrengold proposed that particular game because he had heard Coleyard observe at the Lotus Club the same afternoon that it was a favourite amusement of his. Now, however, for a while he objected to playing. He was a poor man, he said, and the rest were all rich; why should he throw away the value of a dozen golden sonnets just to add one more pinnacle to the gilded roofs of a millionaire's palace? Besides, he was half-way through with an ode he was inditing to Republican simplicity. The pristine austerity of a democratic senatorial cottage had naturally inspired him with memories of Dentatus, the Fabii, Camillus. But Wrengold, dimly aware he was being made fun of somehow, insisted that the poet must take a hand with the financiers. "You can pass, you know," he said, "as often as you like; and you can stake low, or go it blind, according as you're inclined to. It's a democratic game; every man decides for himself how high he will play, except the banker; and you needn't take bank unless you want it."
"Oh, if you insist upon it," Coleyard drawled out, with languid reluctance, "I'll play, of course. I won't spoil your evening. But remember, I'm a poet; I have strange inspirations."
The cards were "squeezers"—that is to say, had the suit and the number of pips in each printed small in the corner, as well as over the face, for ease of reference. We played low at first. The poet seldom staked; and when he did—a few pounds—he lost, with singular persistence. He wanted to play for doubloons or sequins, and could with difficulty be induced to condescend to dollars. Charles looked across at him at last; the stakes by that time were fast rising higher, and we played for ready money. Notes lay thick on the green cloth. "Well," he murmured provokingly, "how about your inspiration? Has Apollo deserted you?"
It was an unwonted flight of classical allusion for Charles, and I confess it astonished me. (I discovered afterwards he had cribbed it from a review in that evening's Critic.) But the poet smiled.
"No," he answered calmly, "I am waiting for one now. When it comes, you may be sure you shall have the benefit of it."
Next round, Charles dealing and banking, the poet staked on his card, unseen as usual. He staked like a gentleman. To our immense astonishment he pulled out a roll of notes, and remarked, in a quiet tone, "I have an inspiration now. Half-hearted will do. I go five thousand." That was dollars, of course; but it amounted to a thousand pounds in English money—high play for an author.
Charles smiled and turned his card. The poet turned his—and won a thousand.
"Good shot!" Charles murmured, pretending not to mind, though he detests losing.
"Inspiration!" the poet mused, and looked once more abstracted.
Charles dealt again. The poet watched the deal with boiled-fishy eyes. His thoughts were far away. His lips moved audibly. "Myrtle, and kirtle, and hurtle," he muttered. "They'll do for three. Then there's turtle, meaning dove; and that finishes the possible. Laurel and coral make a very bad rhyme. Try myrtle; don't you think so?"
"Do you stake?" Charles asked, severely, interrupting his reverie.
The poet started. "No, pass," he replied, looking down at his card, and subsided into muttering. We caught a tremor of his lips again, and heard something like this: "Not less but more republican than thou, Half-hearted watcher by the Western sea, After long years I come to visit thee, And test thy fealty to that maiden vow, That bound thee in thy budding prime For Freedom's bride—"
"Stake?" Charles interrupted, inquiringly, again.
"Yes, five thousand," the poet answered dreamily, pushing forward his pile of notes, and never ceasing from his murmur: "For Freedom's bride to all succeeding time. Succeeding; succeeding; weak word, succeeding. Couldn't go five dollars on it."
Charles turned his card once more. The poet had won again. Charles passed over his notes. The poet raked them in with a far-away air, as one who looks at infinity, and asked if he could borrow a pencil and paper. He had a few priceless lines to set down which might otherwise escape him.
"This is play," Charles said pointedly. "Will you kindly attend to one thing or the other?"
The poet glanced at him with a compassionate smile. "I told you I had inspirations," he said. "They always come together. I can't win your money as fast as I would like, unless at the same time I am making verses. Whenever I hit upon a good epithet, I back my luck, don't you see? I won a thousand on half-hearted and a thousand on budding; if I were to back succeeding, I should lose, to a certainty. You understand my system?"
"I call it pure rubbish," Charles answered. "However, continue. Systems were made for fools—and to suit wise men. Sooner or later you must lose at such a stupid fancy."
The poet continued. "For Freedom's bride to all ensuing time."
"Stake!" Charles cried sharply. We each of us staked.
"Ensuing," the poet murmured. "To all ensuing time. First-rate epithet that. I go ten thousand, Sir Charles, on ensuing."
We all turned up. Some of us lost, some won; but the poet had secured his two thousand sterling.
"I haven't that amount about me," Charles said, in that austerely nettled voice which he always assumes when he loses at cards; "but—I'll settle it with you to-morrow."
"Another round?" the host asked, beaming.
"No, thank you," Charles answered; "Mr. Coleyard's inspirations come too pat for my taste. His luck beats mine. I retire from the game, Senator."
Just at that moment a servant entered, bearing a salver, with a small note in an envelope. "For Mr. Coleyard," he observed; "and the messenger said, urgent."
Coleyard tore it open hurriedly. I could see he was agitated. His face grew white at once.
"I—I beg your pardon," he said. "I—I must go back instantly. My wife is dangerously ill—quite a sudden attack. Forgive me, Senator. Sir Charles, you shall have your revenge to-morrow."
It was clear that his voice faltered. We felt at least he was a man of feeling. He was obviously frightened. His coolness forsook him. He shook hands as in a dream, and rushed downstairs for his dust-coat. Almost as he closed the front door, a new guest entered, just missing him in the vestibule.
"Halloa, you men," he said, "we've been taken in, do you know? It's all over the Lotus. The man we made an honorary member of the club to-day is not Algernon Coleyard. He's a blatant impostor. There's a telegram come in on the tape to-night saying Algernon Coleyard is dangerously ill at his home in England."
Charles gasped a violent gasp. "Colonel Clay!" he shouted, aloud. "And once more he's done me. There's not a moment to lose. After him, gentlemen! after him!"
Never before in our lives had we had such a close shave of catching and fixing the redoubtable swindler. We burst down the stairs in a body, and rushed out into Fifth Avenue. The pretended poet had only a hundred yards' start of us, and he saw he was discovered. But he was an excellent runner. So was I, weight for age; and I dashed wildly after him. He turned round a corner; it proved to lead nowhere, and lost him time. He darted back again, madly. Delighted with the idea that I was capturing so famous a criminal, I redoubled my efforts—and came up with him, panting. He was wearing a light dust-coat. I seized it in my hands. "I've got you at last!" I cried; "Colonel Clay, I've got you!"
He turned and looked at me. "Ha, old Ten Per Cent!" he called out, struggling. "It's you, then, is it? Never, never to you, sir!" And as he spoke, he somehow flung his arms straight out behind him, and let the dust-coat slip off, which it easily did, the sleeves being new and smoothly silk-lined. The suddenness of the movement threw me completely off my guard, and off my legs as well. I was clinging to the coat and holding him. As the support gave way I rolled over backward, in the mud of the street, and hurt my back seriously. As for Colonel Clay, with a nervous laugh, he bolted off at full speed in his evening coat, and vanished round a corner.
It was some seconds before I had sufficiently recovered my breath to pick myself up again, and examine my bruises. By this time Charles and the other pursuers had come up, and I explained my condition to them. Instead of commending me for my zeal in his cause—which had cost me a barked arm and a good evening suit—my brother-in-law remarked, with an unfeeling sneer, that when I had so nearly caught my man I might as well have held him.
"I have his coat, at least," I said. "That may afford us a clue." And I limped back with it in my hands, feeling horribly bruised and a good deal shaken.
When we came to examine the coat, however, it bore no maker's name; the strap at the back, where the tailor proclaims with pride his handicraft, had been carefully ripped off, and its place was taken by a tag of plain black tape without inscription of any sort. We searched the breast-pocket. A handkerchief, similarly nameless, but of finest cambric. The side-pockets—ha, what was this? I drew a piece of paper out in triumph. It was a note—a real find—the one which the servant had handed to our friend just before at the Senator's.
We read it through breathlessly:—
"DARLING PAUL,—I told you it was too dangerous. You should have listened to me. You ought never to have imitated any real person. I happened to glance at the hotel tape just now, to see the quotations for Cloetedorps to-day, and what do you think I read as part of the latest telegram from England? 'Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, is lying on his death-bed at his home in Devonshire.' By this time all New York knows. Don't stop one minute. Say I'm dangerously ill, and come away at once. Don't return to the hotel. I am removing our things. Meet me at Mary's. Your devoted, MARGOT."
"This is very important," Charles said. "This does give us a clue. We know two things now: his real name is Paul—whatever else it may be, and Madame Picardet's is Margot."
I searched the pocket again, and pulled out a ring. Evidently he had thrust these two things there when he saw me pursuing him, and had forgotten or neglected them in the heat of the melee.
I looked at it close. It was the very ring I had noticed on his finger while he was playing Swedish poker. It had a large compound gem in the centre, set with many facets, and rising like a pyramid to a point in the middle. There were eight faces in all, some of them composed of emerald, amethyst, or turquoise. But one face—the one that turned at a direct angle towards the wearer's eye—was not a gem at all, but an extremely tiny convex mirror. In a moment I spotted the trick. He held this hand carelessly on the table while my brother-in-law dealt; and when he saw that the suit and number of his own card mirrored in it by means of the squeezers were better than Charles's, he had "an inspiration," and backed his luck—or rather his knowledge—with perfect confidence. I did not doubt, either, that his odd-looking eyeglass was a powerful magnifier which helped him in the trick. Still, we tried another deal, by way of experiment—I wearing the ring; and even with the naked eye I was able to distinguish in every case the suit and pips of the card that was dealt me.
"Why, that was almost dishonest," the Senator said, drawing back. He wished to show us that even far-Western speculators drew a line somewhere.
"Yes," the magazine editor echoed. "To back your skill is legal; to back your luck is foolish; to back your knowledge is—"
"Immoral," I suggested.
"Very good business," said the magazine editor.
"It's a simple trick," Charles interposed. "I should have spotted it if it had been done by any other fellow. But his patter about inspiration put me clean off the track. That's the rascal's dodge. He plays the regular conjurer's game of distracting your attention from the real point at issue—so well that you never find out what he's really about till he's sold you irretrievably."
We set the New York police upon the trail of the Colonel; but of course he had vanished at once, as usual, into the thin smoke of Manhattan. Not a sign could we find of him. "Mary's," we found an insufficient address.
We waited on in New York for a whole fortnight. Nothing came of it. We never found "Mary's." The only token of Colonel Clay's presence vouchsafed us in the city was one of his customary insulting notes. It was conceived as follows:—
"O ETERNAL GULLIBLE!—Since I saw you on Lake George, I have run back to London, and promptly come out again. I had business to transact there, indeed, which I have now completed; the excessive attentions of the English police sent me once more, like great Orion, "sloping slowly to the west." I returned to America in order to see whether or not you were still impenitent. On the day of my arrival I happened to meet Senator Wrengold, and accepted his kind invitation solely that I might see how far my last communication had had a proper effect upon you. As I found you quite obdurate, and as you furthermore persisted in misunderstanding my motives, I determined to read you one more small lesson. It nearly failed; and I confess the accident has affected my nerves a little. I am now about to retire from business altogether, and settle down for life at my place in Surrey. I mean to try just one more small coup; and, when that is finished, Colonel Clay will hang up his sword, like Cincinnatus, and take to farming. You need no longer fear me. I have realised enough to secure me for life a modest competence; and as I am not possessed like yourself with an immoderate greed of gain, I recognise that good citizenship demands of me now an early retirement in favour of some younger and more deserving rascal. I shall always look back with pleasure upon our agreeable adventures together; and as you hold my dust-coat, together with a ring and letter to which I attach importance, I consider we are quits, and I shall withdraw with dignity. Your sincere well-wisher, CUTHBERT CLAY, Poet."
"Just like him!" Charles said, "to hold this one last coup over my head in terrorem. Though even when he has played it, why should I trust his word? A scamp like that may say it, of course, on purpose to disarm me."
For my own part, I quite agreed with "Margot." When the Colonel was reduced to dressing the part of a known personage I felt he had reached almost his last card, and would be well advised to retire into Surrey.
But the magazine editor summed up all in a word. "Don't believe that nonsense about fortunes being made by industry and ability," he said. "In life, as at cards, two things go to produce success—the first is chance; the second is cheating."
THE EPISODE OF THE BERTILLON METHOD
We had a terrible passage home from New York. The Captain told us he "knew every drop of water in the Atlantic personally"; and he had never seen them so uniformly obstreperous. The ship rolled in the trough; Charles rolled in his cabin, and would not be comforted. As we approached the Irish coast, I scrambled up on deck in a violent gale, and retired again somewhat precipitately to announce to my brother-in-law that we had just come in sight of the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Charles merely turned over in his berth and groaned. "I don't believe it," he answered. "I expect it is probably Colonel Clay in another of his manifold disguises!"
At Liverpool, however, the Adelphi consoled him. We dined luxuriously in the Louis Quinze restaurant, as only millionaires can dine, and proceeded next day by Pullman car to London.
We found Amelia dissolved in tears at a domestic cataclysm. It seemed that Cesarine had given notice.
Charles was scarcely home again when he began to bethink him of the least among his investments. Like many other wealthy men, my respected connection is troubled more or less, in the background of his consciousness, by a pervading dread that he will die a beggar. To guard against this misfortune—which I am bound to admit nobody else fears for him—he invested, several years ago, a sum of two hundred thousand pounds in Consols, to serve as a nest-egg in case of the collapse of Golcondas and South Africa generally. It is part of the same amiable mania, too, that he will not allow the dividend-warrants on this sum to be sent to him by post, but insists, after the fashion of old ladies and country parsons, upon calling personally at the Bank of England four times a year to claim his interest. He is well known by sight to not a few of the clerks; and his appearance in Threadneedle Street is looked forward to with great regularity within a few weeks of each lawful quarter-day.
So, on the morning after our arrival in town, Charles observed to me, cheerfully, "Sey, I must run into the City to-day to claim my dividends. There are two quarters owing."
I accompanied him in to the Bank. Even that mighty official, the beadle at the door, unfastened the handle of the millionaire's carriage. The clerk who received us smiled and nodded. "How much?" he asked, after the stereotyped fashion.
"Two hundred thousand," Charles answered, looking affable.
The clerk turned up the books. "Paid!" he said, with decision. "What's your game, sir, if I may ask you?"
"Paid!" Charles echoed, drawing back.
The clerk gazed across at him. "Yes, Sir Charles," he answered, in a somewhat severe tone. "You must remember you drew a quarter's dividend from myself—last week—at this very counter."
Charles stared at him fixedly. "Show me the signature," he said at last, in a slow, dazed fashion. I suspected mischief.
The clerk pushed the book across to him. Charles examined the name close.
"Colonel Clay again!" he cried, turning to me with a despondent air. "He must have dressed the part. I shall die in the workhouse, Sey! That man has stolen away even my nest-egg from me."
I saw it at a glance. "Mrs. Quackenboss!" I put in. "Those portraits on the Etruria! It was to help him in his make-up! You recollect, she sketched your face and figure at all possible angles."
"And last quarter's?" Charles inquired, staggering.
The clerk turned up the entry. "Drawn on the 10th of July," he answered, carelessly, as if it mattered nothing.
Then I knew why the Colonel had run across to England.
Charles positively reeled. "Take me home, Sey," he cried. "I am ruined, ruined! He will leave me with not half a million in the world. My poor, poor boys will beg their bread, unheeded, through the streets of London!"
(As Amelia has landed estate settled upon her worth a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, this last contingency affected me less to tears than Charles seemed to think necessary.)
We made all needful inquiries, and put the police upon the quest at once, as always. But no redress was forthcoming. The money, once paid, could not be recovered. It is a playful little privilege of Consols that the Government declines under any circumstances to pay twice over. Charles drove back to Mayfair a crushed and broken man. I think if Colonel Clay himself could have seen him just then, he would have pitied that vast intellect in its grief and bewilderment.
After lunch, however, my brother-in-law's natural buoyancy reasserted itself by degrees. He rallied a little. "Seymour," he said to me, "you've heard, of course, of the Bertillon system of measuring and registering criminals."
"I have," I answered. "And it's excellent as far as it goes. But, like Mrs. Glasse's jugged hare, it all depends upon the initial step. 'First catch your criminal.' Now, we have never caught Colonel Clay—"
"Or, rather," Charles interposed unkindly, "when you did catch him, you didn't hold him."
I ignored the unkindly suggestion, and continued in the same voice, "We have never secured Colonel Clay; and until we secure him, we cannot register him by the Bertillon method. Besides, even if we had once caught him and duly noted the shape of his nose, his chin, his ears, his forehead, of what use would that be against a man who turns up with a fresh face each time, and can mould his features into what form he likes, to deceive and foil us?"
"Never mind, Sey," my brother-in-law said. "I was told in New York that Dr. Frank Beddersley, of London, was the best exponent of the Bertillon system now living in England; and to Beddersley I shall go. Or, rather, I'll invite him here to lunch to-morrow."
"Who told you of him?" I inquired. "Not Dr. Quackenboss, I hope; nor yet Mr. Algernon Coleyard?"
Charles paused and reflected. "No, neither of them," he answered, after a short internal deliberation. "It was that magazine editor chap we met at Wrengold's."
"He's all right," I said; "or, at least, I think so."
So we wrote a polite invitation to Dr. Beddersley, who pursued the method professionally, asking him to come and lunch with us at Mayfair at two next day.
Dr. Beddersley came—a dapper little man, with pent-house eyebrows, and keen, small eyes, whom I suspected at sight of being Colonel Clay himself in another of his clever polymorphic embodiments. He was clear and concise. His manner was scientific. He told us at once that though the Bertillon method was of little use till the expert had seen the criminal once, yet if we had consulted him earlier he might probably have saved us some serious disasters. "A man so ingenious as this," he said, "would no doubt have studied Bertillon's principles himself, and would take every possible means to prevent recognition by them. Therefore, you might almost disregard the nose, the chin, the moustache, the hair, all of which are capable of such easy alteration. But there remain some features which are more likely to persist—height, shape of head, neck, build, and fingers; the timbre of the voice, the colour of the iris. Even these, again, may be partially disguised or concealed; the way the hair is dressed, the amount of padding, a high collar round the throat, a dark line about the eyelashes, may do more to alter the appearance of a face than you could readily credit."
"So we know," I answered.
"The voice, again," Dr. Beddersley continued. "The voice itself may be most fallacious. The man is no doubt a clever mimic. He could, perhaps, compress or enlarge his larynx. And I judge from what you tell me that he took characters each time which compelled him largely to alter and modify his tone and accent."
"Yes," I said. "As the Mexican Seer, he had of course a Spanish intonation. As the little curate, he was a cultivated North-countryman. As David Granton, he spoke gentlemanly Scotch. As Von Lebenstein, naturally, he was a South-German, trying to express himself in French. As Professor Schleiermacher, he was a North-German speaking broken English. As Elihu Quackenboss, he had a fine and pronounced Kentucky flavour. And as the poet, he drawled after the fashion of the clubs, with lingering remnants of a Devonshire ancestry."
"Quite so," Dr. Beddersley answered. "That is just what I should expect. Now, the question is, do you know him to be one man, or is he really a gang? Is he a name for a syndicate? Have you any photographs of Colonel Clay himself in any of his disguises?"
"Not one," Charles answered. "He produced some himself, when he was Medhurst the detective. But he pocketed them at once; and we never recovered them."
"Could you get any?" the doctor asked. "Did you note the name and address of the photographer?"
"Unfortunately, no," Charles replied. "But the police at Nice showed us two. Perhaps we might borrow them."
"Until we get them," Dr. Beddersley said, "I don't know that we can do anything. But if you can once give me two distinct photographs of the real man, no matter how much disguised, I could tell you whether they were taken from one person; and, if so, I think I could point out certain details in common which might aid us to go upon."
All this was at lunch. Amelia's niece, Dolly Lingfield, was there, as it happened; and I chanced to note a most guilty look stealing over her face all the while we were talking. Suspicious as I had learned to become by this time, however, I did not suspect Dolly of being in league with Colonel Clay; but, I confess, I wondered what her blush could indicate. After lunch, to my surprise, Dolly called me away from the rest into the library. "Uncle Seymour," she said to me—the dear child calls me Uncle Seymour, though of course I am not in any way related to her—"I have some photographs of Colonel Clay, if you want them."
"You?" I cried, astonished. "Why, Dolly, how did you get them?"
For a minute or two she showed some little hesitation in telling me. At last she whispered, "You won't be angry if I confess?" (Dolly is just nineteen, and remarkably pretty.)
"My child," I said, "why should I be angry? You may confide in me implicitly." (With a blush like that, who on earth could be angry with her?)
"And you won't tell Aunt Amelia or Aunt Isabel?" she inquired somewhat anxiously.
"Not for worlds," I answered. (As a matter of fact, Amelia and Isabel are the last people in the world to whom I should dream of confiding anything that Dolly might tell me.)
"Well, I was stopping at Seldon, you know, when Mr. David Granton was there," Dolly went on; "—or, rather, when that scamp pretended he was David Granton; and—and—you won't be angry with me, will you?—one day I took a snap-shot with my kodak at him and Aunt Amelia!"
"Why, what harm was there in that?" I asked, bewildered. The wildest stretch of fancy could hardly conceive that the Honourable David had been flirting with Amelia.
Dolly coloured still more deeply. "Oh, you know Bertie Winslow?" she said. "Well, he's interested in photography—and—and also in me. And he's invented a process, which isn't of the slightest practical use, he says; but its peculiarity is, that it reveals textures. At least, that's what Bertie calls it. It makes things come out so. And he gave me some plates of his own for my kodak—half-a-dozen or more, and—I took Aunt Amelia with them."
"I still fail to see," I murmured, looking at her comically.
"Oh, Uncle Seymour," Dolly cried. "How blind you men are! If Aunt Amelia knew she would never forgive me. Why, you must understand. The—the rouge, you know, and the pearl powder!"
"Oh, it comes out, then, in the photograph?" I inquired.
"Comes out! I should think so! It's like little black spots all over auntie's face. such a guy as she looks in it!"
"And Colonel Clay is in them too?"
"Yes; I took them when he and auntie were talking together, without either of them noticing. And Bertie developed them. I've three of David Granton. Three beauties; most successful."
"Any other character?" I asked, seeing business ahead.
Dolly hung back, still redder. "Well, the rest are with Aunt Isabel," she answered, after a struggle.
"My dear child," I replied, hiding my feelings as a husband, "I will be brave. I will bear up even against that last misfortune!"
Dolly looked up at me pleadingly. "It was here in London," she went on; "—when I was last with auntie. Medhurst was stopping in the house at the time; and I took him twice, tete-a-tete with Aunt Isabel!"
"Isabel does not paint," I murmured, stoutly.
Dolly hung back again. "No, but—her hair!" she suggested, in a faint voice.
"Its colour," I admitted, "is in places assisted by a—well, you know, a restorer."
Dolly broke into a mischievous sly smile. "Yes, it is," she continued. "And, oh, Uncle Sey, where the restorer has—er—restored it, you know, it comes out in the photograph with a sort of brilliant iridescent metallic sheen on it!"
"Bring them down, my dear," I said, gently patting her head with my hand. In the interests of justice, I thought it best not to frighten her.
Dolly brought them down. They seemed to me poor things, yet well worth trying. We found it possible, on further confabulation, by the simple aid of a pair of scissors, so to cut each in two that all trace of Amelia and Isabel was obliterated. Even so, however, I judged it best to call Charles and Dr. Beddersley to a private consultation in the library with Dolly, and not to submit the mutilated photographs to public inspection by their joint subjects. Here, in fact, we had five patchy portraits of the redoubtable Colonel, taken at various angles, and in characteristic unstudied attitudes. A child had outwitted the cleverest sharper in Europe!
The moment Beddersley's eye fell upon them, a curious look came over his face. "Why, these," he said, "are taken on Herbert Winslow's method, Miss Lingfield."
"Yes," Dolly admitted timidly. "They are. He's—a friend of mine, don't you know; and—he gave me some plates that just fitted my camera."
Beddersley gazed at them steadily. Then he turned to Charles. "And this young lady," he said, "has quite unintentionally and unconsciously succeeded in tracking Colonel Clay to earth at last. They are genuine photographs of the man—as he is—without the disguises!"
"They look to me most blotchy," Charles murmured. "Great black lines down the nose, and such spots on the cheek, too!"
"Exactly," Beddersley put in. "Those are differences in texture. They show just how much of the man's face is human flesh—"
"And how much wax," I ventured.
"Not wax," the expert answered, gazing close. "This is some harder mixture. I should guess, a composition of gutta-percha and india-rubber, which takes colour well, and hardens when applied, so as to lie quite evenly, and resist heat or melting. Look here; that's an artificial scar, filling up a real hollow; and this is an added bit to the tip of the nose; and those are shadows, due to inserted cheek-pieces, within the mouth, to make the man look fatter!"
"Why, of course," Charles cried. "India-rubber it must be. That's why in France they call him le Colonel Caoutchouc!"
"Can you reconstruct the real face from them?" I inquired anxiously.
Dr. Beddersley gazed hard at them. "Give me an hour or two," he said—"and a box of water-colours. I think by that time—putting two and two together—I can eliminate the false and build up for you a tolerably correct idea of what the actual man himself looks like."
We turned him into the library for a couple of hours, with the materials he needed; and by tea-time he had completed his first rough sketch of the elements common to the two faces. He brought it out to us in the drawing-room. I glanced at it first. It was a curious countenance, slightly wanting in definiteness, and not unlike those "composite photographs" which Mr. Galton produces by exposing two negatives on the same sensitised paper for ten seconds or so consecutively. Yet it struck me at once as containing something of Colonel Clay in every one of his many representations. The little curate, in real life, did not recall the Seer; nor did Elihu Quackenboss suggest Count von Lebenstein or Professor Schleiermacher. Yet in this compound face, produced only from photographs of David Granton and Medhurst, I could distinctly trace a certain underlying likeness to every one of the forms which the impostor had assumed for us. In other words, though he could make up so as to mask the likeness to his other characters, he could not make up so as to mask the likeness to his own personality. He could not wholly get rid of his native build and his genuine features.
Besides these striking suggestions of the Seer and the curate, however, I felt vaguely conscious of having seen and observed the man himself whom the water-colour represented, at some time, somewhere. It was not at Nice; it was not at Seldon; it was not at Meran; it was not in America. I believed I had been in a room with him somewhere in London.
Charles was looking over my shoulder. He gave a sudden little start. "Why, I know that fellow!" he cried. "You recollect him, Sey; he's Finglemore's brother—the chap that didn't go out to China!"
Then I remembered at once where it was that I had seen him—at the broker's in the city, before we sailed for America.
"What Christian name?" I asked.
Charles reflected a moment. "The same as the one in the note we got with the dust-coat," he answered, at last. "The man is Paul Finglemore!"
"You will arrest him?" I asked.
"Can I, on this evidence?"
"We might bring it home to him."
Charles mused for a moment. "We shall have nothing against him," he said slowly, "except in so far as we can swear to his identity. And that may be difficult."
Just at that moment the footman brought in tea. Charles wondered apparently whether the man, who had been with us at Seldon when Colonel Clay was David Granton, would recollect the face or recognise having seen it. "Look here, Dudley," he said, holding up the water-colour, "do you know that person?"
Dudley gazed at it a moment. "Certainly, sir," he answered briskly.
"Who is it?" Amelia asked. We expected him to answer, "Count von Lebenstein," or "Mr. Granton," or "Medhurst."
Instead of that, he replied, to our utter surprise, "That's Cesarine's young man, my lady."
"Cesarine's young man?" Amelia repeated, taken aback. "Oh, Dudley, surely, you must be mistaken!"
"No, my lady," Dudley replied, in a tone of conviction. "He comes to see her quite reg'lar; he have come to see her, off and on, from time to time, ever since I've been in Sir Charles's service."
"When will he be coming again?" Charles asked, breathless.
"He's downstairs now, sir," Dudley answered, unaware of the bombshell he was flinging into the midst of a respectable family.
Charles rose excitedly, and put his back against the door. "Secure that man," he said to me sharply, pointing with his finger.
"What man?" I asked, amazed. "Colonel Clay? The young man who's downstairs now with Cesarine?"
"No," Charles answered, with decision; "Dudley!"
I laid my hand on the footman's shoulder, not understanding what Charles meant. Dudley, terrified, drew back, and would have rushed from the room; but Charles, with his back against the door, prevented him.
"I—I've done nothing to be arrested, Sir Charles," Dudley cried, in abject terror, looking appealingly at Amelia. "It—it wasn't me as cheated you." And he certainly didn't look it.
"I daresay not," Charles answered. "But you don't leave this room till Colonel Clay is in custody. No, Amelia, no; it's no use your speaking to me. What he says is true. I see it all now. This villain and Cesarine have long been accomplices! The man's downstairs with her now. If we let Dudley quit the room he'll go down and tell them; and before we know where we are, that slippery eel will have wriggled through our fingers, as he always wriggles. He is Paul Finglemore; he is Cesarine's young man; and unless we arrest him now, without one minute's delay, he'll be off to Madrid or St. Petersburg by this evening!"
"You are right," I answered. "It is now or never!"
"Dudley," Charles said, in his most authoritative voice, "stop here till we tell you you may leave the room. Amelia and Dolly, don't let that man stir from where he's standing. If he does, restrain him. Seymour and Dr. Beddersley, come down with me to the servants' hall. I suppose that's where I shall find this person, Dudley?"
"N—no, sir," Dudley stammered out, half beside himself with fright. "He's in the housekeeper's room, sir!"
We went down to the lower regions in a solid phalanx of three. On the way we met Simpson, Sir Charles's valet, and also the butler, whom we pressed into the service. At the door of the housekeeper's room we paused, strategically. Voices came to us from within; one was Cesarine's, the other had a ring that reminded me at once of Medhurst and the Seer, of Elihu Quackenboss and Algernon Coleyard. They were talking together in French; and now and then we caught the sound of stifled laughter.
We opened the door. "Est-il drole, donc, ce vieux?" the man's voice was saying.
"C'est a mourir de rire," Cesarine's voice responded.
We burst in upon them, red-handed.
Cesarine's young man rose, with his hat in his hand, in a respectful attitude. It reminded me at once of Medhurst, as he stood talking his first day at Marvillier's to Charles; and also of the little curate, in his humblest moments as the disinterested pastor.
With a sign to me to do likewise, Charles laid his hand firmly on the young man's shoulder. I looked in the fellow's face: there could be no denying it; Cesarine's young man was Paul Finglemore, our broker's brother.
"Paul Finglemore," Charles said severely, "otherwise Cuthbert Clay, I arrest you on several charges of theft and conspiracy!"
The young man glanced around him. He was surprised and perturbed; but, even so, his inexhaustible coolness never once deserted him. "What, five to one?" he said, counting us over. "Has law and order come down to this? Five respectable rascals to arrest one poor beggar of a chevalier d'industrie! Why, it's worse than New York. There, it was only you and me, you know, old Ten per Cent!"
"Hold his hands, Simpson!" Charles cried, trembling lest his enemy should escape him.
Paul Finglemore drew back even while we held his shoulders. "No, not you, sir," he said to the man, haughtily. "Don't dare to lay your hands upon me! Send for a constable if you wish, Sir Charles Vandrift; but I decline to be taken into custody by a valet!"
"Go for a policeman," Dr. Beddersley said to Simpson, standing forward.
The prisoner eyed him up and down. "Oh, Dr. Beddersley!" he said, relieved. It was evident he knew him. "If you've tracked me strictly in accordance with Bertillon's methods, I don't mind so much. I will not yield to fools; I yield to science. I didn't think this diamond king had sense enough to apply to you. He's the most gullible old ass I ever met in my life. But if it's you who have tracked me down, I can only submit to it."
Charles held to him with a fierce grip. "Mind he doesn't break away, Sey," he cried. "He's playing his old game! Distrust the man's patter!"
"Take care," the prisoner put in. "Remember Dr. Polperro! On what charge do you arrest me?"
Charles was bubbling with indignation. "You cheated me at Nice," he said; "at Meran; at New York; at Paris!"
Paul Finglemore shook his head. "Won't do," he answered, calmly. "Be sure of your ground. Outside the jurisdiction! You can only do that on an extradition warrant."
"Well, then, at Seldon, in London, in this house, and elsewhere," Charles cried out excitedly. "Hold hard to him, Sey; by law or without it, blessed if he isn't going even now to wriggle away from us!"
At that moment Simpson returned with a convenient policeman, whom he had happened to find loitering about near the area steps, and whom I half suspected from his furtive smile of being a particular acquaintance of the household.
Charles gave the man in charge formally. Paul Finglemore insisted that he should specify the nature of the particular accusation. To my great chagrin, Charles selected from his rogueries, as best within the jurisdiction of the English courts, the matter of the payment for the Castle of Lebenstein—made in London, and through a London banker. "I have a warrant on that ground," he said. I trembled as he spoke. I felt at once that the episode of the commission, the exposure of which I dreaded so much, must now become public.
The policeman took the man in charge. Charles still held to him, grimly. As they were leaving the room the prisoner turned to Cesarine, and muttered something rapidly under his breath, in German. "Of which tongue," he said, turning to us blandly, "in spite of my kind present of a dictionary and grammar, you still doubtless remain in your pristine ignorance!"
Cesarine flung herself upon him with wild devotion. "Oh, Paul, darling," she cried, in English, "I will not, I will not! I will never save myself at your expense. If they send you to prison—Paul, Paul, I will go with you!"
I remembered as she spoke what Mr. Algernon Coleyard had said to us at the Senator's. "Even the worst of rogues have always some good in them. I notice they often succeed to the end in retaining the affection and fidelity of women."
But the man, his hands still free, unwound her clasping arms with gentle fingers. "My child," he answered, in a soft tone, "I am sorry to say the law of England will not permit you to go with me. If it did" (his voice was as the voice of the poet we had met), "'stone walls would not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.'" And bending forward, he kissed her forehead tenderly.
We led him out to the door. The policeman, in obedience to Charles's orders, held him tight with his hand, but steadily refused, as the prisoner was not violent, to handcuff him. We hailed a passing hansom. "To Bow Street!" Charles cried, unceremoniously pushing in policeman and prisoner. The driver nodded. We called a four-wheeler ourselves, in which my brother-in-law, Dr. Beddersley and myself took our seats. "Follow the hansom!" Charles cried out. "Don't let him out of your sight. After him, close, to Bow Street!"
I looked back, and saw Cesarine, half fainting, on the front door steps, while Dolly, bathed in tears, stood supporting the lady's-maid, and trying to comfort her. It was clear she had not anticipated this end to the adventure.
"Goodness gracious!" Charles screamed out, in a fresh fever of alarm, as we turned the first corner; "where's that hansom gone to? How do I know the fellow was a policeman at all? We should have taken the man in here. We ought never to have let him get out of our sight. For all we can tell to the contrary, the constable himself—may only be one of Colonel Clay's confederates!"
And we drove in trepidation all the way to Bow Street.
THE EPISODE OF THE OLD BAILEY
When we reached Bow Street, we were relieved to find that our prisoner, after all, had not evaded us. It was a false alarm. He was there with the policeman, and he kindly allowed us to make the first formal charge against him.
Of course, on Charles's sworn declaration and my own, the man was at once remanded, bail being refused, owing both to the serious nature of the charge and the slippery character of the prisoner's antecedents. We went back to Mayfair—Charles, well satisfied that the man he dreaded was under lock and key; myself, not too well pleased to think that the man I dreaded was no longer at large, and that the trifling little episode of the ten per cent commission stood so near discovery.
Next day the police came round in force, and had a long consultation with Charles and myself. They strongly urged that two other persons at least should be included in the charge—Cesarine and the little woman whom we had variously known as Madame Picardet, White Heather, Mrs. David Granton, and Mrs. Elihu Quackenboss. If these accomplices were arrested, they said, we could include conspiracy as one count in the indictment, which gave us an extra chance of conviction. Now they had got Colonel Clay, in fact, they naturally desired to keep him, and also to indict with him as many as possible of his pals and confederates.
Here, however, a difficulty arose. Charles called me aside with a grave face into the library. "Seymour," he said, fixing me, "this is a serious business. I will not lightly swear away any woman's character. Colonel Clay himself—or, rather, Paul Finglemore—is an abandoned rogue, whom I do not desire to screen in any degree. But poor little Madame Picardet—she may be his lawful wife, and she may have acted implicitly under his orders. Besides, I don't know whether I could swear to her identity. Here's the photograph the police bring of the woman they believe to be Colonel Clay's chief female accomplice. Now, I ask you, does it in the least degree resemble that clever and amusing and charming little creature, who has so often deceived us?"
In spite of Charles's gibes, I flatter myself I do really understand the whole duty of a secretary. It was clear from his voice he did not wish me to recognise her; which, as it happened, I did not. "Certainly, it doesn't resemble her, Charles," I answered, with conviction in my voice. "I should never have known her." But I did not add that I should no more have known Colonel Clay himself in his character of Paul Finglemore, or of Cesarine's young man, as that remark lay clearly outside my secretarial functions.
Still, it flitted across my mind at the time that the Seer had made some casual remarks at Nice about a letter in Charles's pocket, presumably from Madame Picardet; and I reflected further that Madame Picardet in turn might possibly hold certain answers of Charles's, couched in such terms as he might reasonably desire to conceal from Amelia. Indeed, I must allow that under whatever disguise White Heather appeared to us, Charles was always that disguise's devoted slave from the first moment he met it. It occurred to me, therefore, that the clever little woman—call her what you will—might be the holder of more than one indiscreet communication.
"Under these circumstances," Charles went on, in his austerest voice, "I cannot consent to be a party to the arrest of White Heather. I—I decline to identify her. In point of fact"—he grew more emphatic as he went on—"I don't think there is an atom of evidence of any sort against her. Not," he continued, after a pause, "that I wish in any degree to screen the guilty. Cesarine, now—Cesarine we have liked and trusted. She has betrayed our trust. She has sold us to this fellow. I have no doubt at all that she gave him the diamonds from Amelia's riviere; that she took us by arrangement to meet him at Schloss Lebenstein; that she opened and sent to him my letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie. Therefore, I say, we ought to arrest Cesarine. But not White Heather—not Jessie; not that pretty Mrs. Quackenboss. Let the guilty suffer; why strike at the innocent—or, at worst, the misguided?"
"Charles," I exclaimed, with warmth, "your sentiments do you honour. You are a man of feeling. And White Heather, I allow, is pretty enough and clever enough to be forgiven anything. You may rely upon my discretion. I will swear through thick and thin that I do not recognise this woman as Madame Picardet."
Charles clasped my hand in silence. "Seymour," he said, after a pause, with marked emotion, "I felt sure I could rely upon your—er—honour and integrity. I have been rough upon you sometimes. But I ask your forgiveness. I see you understand the whole duties of your position."
We went out again, better friends than we had been for months. I hoped, indeed, this pleasant little incident might help to neutralise the possible ill-effects of the ten per cent disclosure, should Finglemore take it into his head to betray me to my employer. As we emerged into the drawing-room, Amelia beckoned me aside towards her boudoir for a moment.
"Seymour," she said to me, in a distinctly frightened tone, "I have treated you harshly at times, I know, and I am very sorry for it. But I want you to help me in a most painful difficulty. The police are quite right as to the charge of conspiracy; that designing little minx, White Heather, or Mrs. David Granton, or whatever else we're to call her, ought certainly to be prosecuted—and sent to prison, too—and have her absurd head of hair cut short and combed straight for her. But—and you will help me here, I'm sure, dear Seymour—I cannot allow them to arrest my Cesarine. I don't pretend to say Cesarine isn't guilty; the girl has behaved most ungratefully to me. She has robbed me right and left, and deceived me without compunction. Still—I put it to you as a married man—can any woman afford to go into the witness-box, to be cross-examined and teased by her own maid, or by a brute of a barrister on her maid's information? I assure you, Seymour, the thing's not to be dreamt of. There are details of a lady's life—known only to her maid—which cannot be made public. Explain as much of this as you think well to Charles, and make him understand that if he insists upon arresting Cesarine, I shall go into the box—and swear my head off to prevent any one of the gang from being convicted. I have told Cesarine as much; I have promised to help her: I have explained that I am her friend, and that if she'll stand by me, I'll stand by her, and by this hateful young man of hers."
I saw in a moment how things went. Neither Charles nor Amelia could face cross-examination on the subject of one of Colonel Clay's accomplices. No doubt, in Amelia's case, it was merely a question of rouge and hair-dye; but what woman would not sooner confess to a forgery or a murder than to those toilet secrets?
I returned to Charles, therefore, and spent half an hour in composing, as well as I might, these little domestic difficulties. In the end, it was arranged that if Charles did his best to protect Cesarine from arrest, Amelia would consent to do her best in return on behalf of Madame Picardet.
We had next the police to tackle—a more difficult business. Still, even they were reasonable. They had caught Colonel Clay, they believed, but their chance of convicting him depended entirely upon Charles's identification, with mine to back it. The more they urged the necessity of arresting the female confederates, however, the more stoutly did Charles declare that for his part he could by no means make sure of Colonel Clay himself, while he utterly declined to give evidence of any sort against either of the women. It was a difficult case, he said, and he felt far from confident even about the man. If his decision faltered, and he failed to identify, the case was closed; no jury could convict with nothing to convict upon.
At last the police gave way. No other course was open to them. They had made an important capture; but they saw that everything depended upon securing their witnesses, and the witnesses, if interfered with, were likely to swear to absolutely nothing.
Indeed, as it turned out, before the preliminary investigation at Bow Street was completed (with the usual remands), Charles had been thrown into such a state of agitation that he wished he had never caught the Colonel at all.
"I wonder, Sey," he said to me, "why I didn't offer the rascal two thousand a year to go right off to Australia, and be rid of him for ever! It would have been cheaper for my reputation than keeping him about in courts of law in England. The worst of it is, when once the best of men gets into a witness-box, there's no saying with what shreds and tatters of a character he may at last come out of it!"
"In your case, Charles," I answered, dutifully, "there can be no such doubt; except, perhaps, as regards the Craig-Ellachie Consolidated."
Then came the endless bother of "getting up the case" with the police and the lawyers. Charles would have retired from it altogether by that time, but, most unfortunately, he was bound over to prosecute. "You couldn't take a lump sum to let me off?" he said, jokingly, to the inspector. But I knew in my heart it was one of the "true words spoken in jest" that the proverb tells of.
Of course we could see now the whole building-up of the great intrigue. It had been worked out as carefully as the Tichborne swindle. Young Finglemore, as the brother of Charles's broker, knew from the outset all about his affairs; and, after a gentle course of preliminary roguery, he laid his plans deep for a campaign against my brother-in-law. Everything had been deliberately designed beforehand. A place had been found for Cesarine as Amelia's maid—needless to say, by means of forged testimonials. Through her aid the swindler had succeeded in learning still more of the family ways and habits, and had acquired a knowledge of certain facts which he proceeded forthwith to use against us. His first attack, as the Seer, had been cleverly designed so as to give us the idea that we were a mere casual prey; and it did not escape Charles's notice now that the detail of getting Madame Picardet to inquire at the Credit Marseillais about his bank had been solemnly gone through on purpose to blind us to the obvious truth that Colonel Clay was already in full possession of all such facts about us. It was by Cesarine's aid, again, that he became possessed of Amelia's diamonds, that he received the letter addressed to Lord Craig-Ellachie, and that he managed to dupe us over the Schloss Lebenstein business. Nevertheless, all these things Charles determined to conceal in court; he did not give the police a single fact that would turn against either Cesarine or Madame Picardet.
As for Cesarine, of course, she left the house immediately after the arrest of the Colonel, and we heard of her no more till the day of the trial.
When that great day came, I never saw a more striking sight than the Old Bailey presented. It was crammed to overflowing. Charles arrived early, accompanied by his solicitor. He was so white and troubled that he looked much more like prisoner than prosecutor. Outside the court a pretty little woman stood, pale and anxious. A respectful crowd stared at her silently. "Who is that?" Charles asked. Though we could both of us guess, rather than see, it was White Heather.
"That's the prisoner's wife," the inspector on duty replied. "She's waiting to see him enter. I'm sorry for her, poor thing. She's a perfect lady."
"So she seems," Charles answered, scarcely daring to face her.
At that moment she turned. Her eyes fell upon his. Charles paused for a second and looked faltering. There was in those eyes just the faintest gleam of pleading recognition, but not a trace of the old saucy, defiant vivacity. Charles framed his lips to words, but without uttering a sound. Unless I greatly mistake, the words he framed on his lips were these: "I will do my best for him."
We pushed our way in, assisted by the police. Inside the court we saw a lady seated, in a quiet black dress, with a becoming bonnet. A moment passed before I knew—it was Cesarine. "Who is—that person?" Charles asked once more of the nearest inspector, desiring to see in what way he would describe her.
And once more the answer came, "That's the prisoner's wife, sir."
Charles started back, surprised. "But—I was told—a lady outside was Mrs. Paul Finglemore," he broke in, much puzzled.
"Very likely," the inspector replied, unmoved. "We have plenty that way. When a gentleman has as many aliases as Colonel Clay, you can hardly expect him to be over particular about having only one wife between them, can you?"
"Ah, I see," Charles muttered, in a shocked voice. "Bigamy!"
The inspector looked stony. "Well, not exactly that," he replied, "occasional marriage."
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth tried the case. "I'm sorry it's him, Sey," my brother-in-law whispered in my ear. (He said him, not he, because, whatever else Charles is, he is not a pedant; the English language as it is spoken by most educated men is quite good enough for his purpose.) "I only wish it had been Sir Edward Easy. Easy's a man of the world, and a man of society; he would feel for a person in my position. He wouldn't allow these beasts of lawyers to badger and pester me. He would back his order. But Rhadamanth is one of your modern sort of judges, who make a merit of being what they call 'conscientious,' and won't hush up anything. I admit I'm afraid of him. I shall be glad when it's over."
"Oh, you'll pull through all right," I said in my capacity of secretary. But I didn't think it.
The judge took his seat. The prisoner was brought in. Every eye seemed bent upon him. He was neatly and plainly dressed, and, rogue though he was, I must honestly confess he looked at least a gentleman. His manner was defiant, not abject like Charles's. He knew he was at bay, and he turned like a man to face his accusers.
We had two or three counts on the charge, and, after some formal business, Sir Charles Vandrift was put into the box to bear witness against Finglemore.
Prisoner was unrepresented. Counsel had been offered him, but he refused their aid. The judge even advised him to accept their help; but Colonel Clay, as we all called him mentally still, declined to avail himself of the judge's suggestion.
"I am a barrister myself, my lord," he said—"called some nine years ago. I can conduct my own defence, I venture to think, better than any of these my learned brethren."
Charles went through his examination-in-chief quite swimmingly. He answered with promptitude. He identified the prisoner without the slightest hesitation as the man who had swindled him under the various disguises of the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon, the Honourable David Granton, Count von Lebenstein, Professor Schleiermacher, Dr. Quackenboss, and others. He had not the slightest doubt of the man's identity. He could swear to him anywhere. I thought, for my own part, he was a trifle too cocksure. A certain amount of hesitation would have been better policy. As to the various swindles, he detailed them in full, his evidence to be supplemented by that of bank officials and other subordinates. In short, he left Finglemore not a leg to stand upon.
When it came to the cross-examination, however, matters began to assume quite a different complexion. The prisoner set out by questioning Sir Charles's identifications. Was he sure of his man? He handed Charles a photograph. "Is that the person who represented himself as the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon?" he asked persuasively.
Charles admitted it without a moment's delay.
Just at that moment, a little parson, whom I had not noticed till then, rose up, unobtrusively, near the middle of the court, where he was seated beside Cesarine.
"Look at that gentleman!" the prisoner said, waving one hand, and pouncing upon the prosecutor.
Charles turned and looked at the person indicated. His face grew still whiter. It was—to all outer appearance—the Reverend Richard Brabazon in propria persona.
Of course I saw the trick. This was the real parson upon whose outer man Colonel Clay had modelled his little curate. But the jury was shaken. And so was Charles for a moment.
"Let the jurors see the photograph," the judge said, authoritatively. It was passed round the jury-box, and the judge also examined it. We could see at once, by their faces and attitudes, they all recognised it as the portrait of the clergyman before them—not of the prisoner in the dock, who stood there smiling blandly at Charles's discomfiture.
The clergyman sat down. At the same moment the prisoner produced a second photograph.
"Now, can you tell me who that is?" he asked Charles, in the regular brow-beating Old Bailey voice.
With somewhat more hesitation, Charles answered, after a pause: "That is yourself as you appeared in London when you came in the disguise of the Graf von Lebenstein."
This was a crucial point, for the Lebenstein fraud was the one count on which our lawyers relied to prove their case most fully, within the jurisdiction.
Even while Charles spoke, a gentleman whom I had noticed before, sitting beside White Heather, with a handkerchief to his face, rose as abruptly as the parson. Colonel Clay indicated him with a graceful movement of his hand. "And this gentleman?" he asked calmly.
Charles was fairly staggered. It was the obvious original of the false Von Lebenstein.
The photograph went round the box once more. The jury smiled incredulously. Charles had given himself away. His overweening confidence and certainty had ruined him.
Then Colonel Clay, leaning forward, and looking quite engaging, began a new line of cross-examination. "We have seen, Sir Charles," he said, "that we cannot implicitly trust your identifications. Now let us see how far we can trust your other evidence. First, then, about those diamonds. You tried to buy them, did you not, from a person who represented himself as the Reverend Richard Brabazon, because you believed he thought they were paste; and if you could, you would have given him 10 pounds or so for them. Do you think that was honest?"
"I object to this line of cross-examination," our leading counsel interposed. "It does not bear on the prosecutor's evidence. It is purely recriminatory."
Colonel Clay was all bland deference. "I wish, my lord," he said, turning round, "to show that the prosecutor is a person unworthy of credence in any way. I desire to proceed upon the well-known legal maxim of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. I believe I am permitted to shake the witness's credit?"
"The prisoner is entirely within his rights," Rhadamanth answered, looking severely at Charles. "And I was wrong in suggesting that he needed the advice or assistance of counsel."
Charles wriggled visibly. Colonel Clay perked up. Bit by bit, with dexterous questions, Charles was made to acknowledge that he wanted to buy diamonds at the price of paste, knowing them to be real; and, a millionaire himself, would gladly have diddled a poor curate out of a couple of thousand.
"I was entitled to take advantage of my special knowledge," Charles murmured feebly.
"Oh, certainly," the prisoner answered. "But, while professing friendship and affection for a clergyman and his wife, in straitened circumstances, you were prepared, it seems, to take three thousand pounds' worth of goods off their hands for ten pounds, if you could have got them at that price. Is not that so?"
Charles was compelled to admit it.
The prisoner went onto the David Granton incident. "When you offered to amalgamate with Lord Craig-Ellachie," he asked, "had you or had you not heard that a gold-bearing reef ran straight from your concession into Lord Craig-Ellachie's, and that his portion of the reef was by far the larger and more important?"
Charles wriggled again, and our counsel interposed; but Rhadamanth was adamant. Charles had to allow it.
And so, too, with the incident of the Slump in Golcondas. Unwillingly, shamefacedly, by torturing steps, Charles was compelled to confess that he had sold out Golcondas—he, the Chairman of the company, after repeated declarations to shareholders and others that he would do no such thing—because he thought Professor Schleiermacher had made diamonds worthless. He had endeavoured to save himself by ruining his company. Charles tried to brazen it out with remarks to the effect that business was business. "And fraud is fraud," Rhadamanth added, in his pungent way.
"A man must protect himself," Charles burst out.
"At the expense of those who have put their trust in his honour and integrity," the judge commented coldly.
After four mortal hours of it, all to the same effect, my respected brother-in-law left the witness-box at last, wiping his brow and biting his lip, with the very air of a culprit. His character had received a most serious blow. While he stood in the witness-box all the world had felt it was he who was the accused and Colonel Clay who was the prosecutor. He was convicted on his own evidence of having tried to induce the supposed David Granton to sell his father's interests into an enemy's hands, and of every other shady trick into which his well-known business acuteness had unfortunately hurried him during the course of his adventures. I had but one consolation in my brother-in-law's misfortunes—and that was the thought that a due sense of his own shortcomings might possibly make him more lenient in the end to the trivial misdemeanours of a poor beggar of a secretary!
I was the next in the box. I do not desire to enlarge upon my own achievements. I will draw a decent veil, indeed, over the painful scene that ensued when I finished my evidence. I can only say I was more cautious than Charles in my recognition of the photographs; but I found myself particularly worried and harried over other parts of my cross-examination. Especially was I shaken about that misguided step I took in the matter of the cheque for the Lebenstein commission—a cheque which Colonel Clay handed to me with the utmost politeness, requesting to know whether or not it bore my signature. I caught Charles's eye at the end of the episode, and I venture to say the expression it wore was one of relief that I too had tripped over a trifling question of ten per cent on the purchase money of the castle.
Altogether, I must admit, if it had not been for the police evidence, we would have failed to make a case against our man at all. But the police, I confess, had got up their part of the prosecution admirably. Now that they knew Colonel Clay to be really Paul Finglemore, they showed with great cleverness how Paul Finglemore's disappearances and reappearances in London exactly tallied with Colonel Clay's appearances and disappearances elsewhere, under the guise of the little curate, the Seer, David Granton, and the rest of them. Furthermore, they showed experimentally how the prisoner at the bar might have got himself up in the various characters; and, by means of a wax bust, modelled by Dr. Beddersley from observations at Bow Street, and aided by additions in the gutta-percha composition after Dolly Lingfield's photographs, they succeeded in proving that the face as it stood could be readily transformed into the faces of Medhurst and David Granton. Altogether, their cleverness and trained acumen made up on the whole for Charles's over-certainty, and they succeeded in putting before the jury a strong case of their own against Paul Finglemore.
The trial occupied three days. After the first of the three, my respected brother-in-law preferred, as he said, not to prejudice the case against the prisoner by appearing in court again. He did not even allude to the little matter of the ten per cent commission further than to say at dinner that evening that all men were bound to protect their own interests—as secretaries or as principals. This I took for forgiveness; and I continued diligently to attend the trial, and watch the case in my employer's interest.
The defence was ingenious, even if somewhat halting. It consisted simply of an attempt to prove throughout that Charles and I had made our prisoner the victim of a mistaken identity. Finglemore put into the box the ingenuous original of the little curate—the Reverend Septimus Porkington, as it turned out, a friend of his family; and he showed that it was the Reverend Septimus himself who had sat to a photographer in Baker Street for the portrait which Charles too hastily identified as that of Colonel Clay in his personification of Mr. Richard Brabazon. He further elicited the fact that the portrait of the Count von Lebenstein was really taken from Dr. Julius Keppel, a Tyrolese music-master, residing at Balham, whom he put into the box, and who was well known, as it chanced, to the foreman of the jury. Gradually he made it clear to us that no portraits existed of Colonel Clay at all, except Dolly Lingfield's—so it dawned upon me by degrees that even Dr. Beddersley could only have been misled if we had succeeded in finding for him the alleged photographs of Colonel Clay as the count and the curate, which had been shown us by Medhurst. Altogether, the prisoner based his defence upon the fact that no more than two witnesses directly identified him; while one of those two had positively sworn that he recognised as the prisoner's two portraits which turned out, by independent evidence, to be taken from other people!
The judge summed up in a caustic way which was pleasant to neither party. He asked the jury to dismiss from their minds entirely the impression created by what he frankly described as "Sir Charles Vandrift's obvious dishonesty." They must not allow the fact that he was a millionaire—and a particularly shady one—to prejudice their feelings in favour of the prisoner. Even the richest—and vilest—of men must be protected. Besides, this was a public question. If a rogue cheated a rogue, he must still be punished. If a murderer stabbed or shot a murderer, he must still be hung for it. Society must see that the worst of thieves were not preyed upon by others. Therefore, the proved facts that Sir Charles Vandrift, with all his millions, had meanly tried to cheat the prisoner, or some other poor person, out of valuable diamonds—had basely tried to juggle Lord Craig-Ellachie's mines into his own hands—had vilely tried to bribe a son to betray his father—had directly tried, by underhand means, to save his own money, at the risk of destroying the wealth of others who trusted to his probity—these proved facts must not blind them to the truth that the prisoner at the bar (if he were really Colonel Clay) was an abandoned swindler. To that point alone they must confine their attention; and if they were convinced that the prisoner was shown to be the self-same man who appeared on various occasions as David Granton, as Von Lebenstein, as Medhurst, as Schleiermacher, they must find him guilty.
As to that point, also, the judge commented on the obvious strength of the police case, and the fact that the prisoner had not attempted in any one out of so many instances to prove an alibi. Surely, if he were not Colonel Clay, the jury should ask themselves, must it not have been simple and easy for him to do so? Finally, the judge summed up all the elements of doubt in the identification—and all the elements of probability; and left it to the jury to draw their own conclusions.
They retired at the end to consider their verdict. While they were absent every eye in court was fixed on the prisoner. But Paul Finglemore himself looked steadily towards the further end of the hall, where two pale-faced women sat together, with handkerchiefs in their hands, and eyes red with weeping.
Only then, as he stood there, awaiting the verdict, with a fixed white face, prepared for everything, did I begin to realise with what courage and pluck that one lone man had sustained so long an unequal contest against wealth, authority, and all the Governments of Europe, aided but by his own skill and two feeble women! Only then did I feel he had played his reckless game through all those years with this ever before him! I found it hard to picture.
The jury filed slowly back. There was dead silence in court as the clerk put the question, "Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?"
"We find him guilty."
"On all the counts?"
"On all the counts of the indictment."
The women at the back burst into tears, unanimously.
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth addressed the prisoner. "Have you anything to urge," he asked in a very stern tone, "in mitigation of whatever sentence the Court may see fit to pass upon you?"
"Nothing," the prisoner answered, just faltering slightly. "I have brought it upon myself—but—I have protected the lives of those nearest and dearest to me. I have fought hard for my own hand. I admit my crime, and will face my punishment. I only regret that, since we were both of us rogues—myself and the prosecutor—the lesser rogue should have stood here in the dock, and the greater in the witness-box. Our country takes care to decorate each according to his deserts—to him, the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George; to me, the Broad Arrow!"
The judge gazed at him severely. "Paul Finglemore," he said, passing sentence in his sardonic way, "you have chosen to dedicate to the service of fraud abilities and attainments which, if turned from the outset into a legitimate channel, would no doubt have sufficed to secure you without excessive effort a subsistence one degree above starvation—possibly even, with good luck, a sordid and squalid competence. You have preferred to embark them on a lawless life of vice and crime—and I will not deny that you seem to have had a good run for your money. Society, however, whose mouthpiece I am, cannot allow you any longer to mock it with impunity. You have broken its laws openly, and you have been found out." He assumed the tone of bland condescension which always heralds his severest moments. "I sentence you to Fourteen Years' Imprisonment, with Hard Labour."
The prisoner bowed, without losing his apparent composure. But his eyes strayed away again to the far end of the hall, where the two weeping women, with a sudden sharp cry, fell at once in a faint on one another's shoulders, and were with difficulty removed from court by the ushers.
As we left the room, I heard but one comment all round, thus voiced by a school-boy: "I'd a jolly sight rather it had been old Vandrift. This Clay chap's too clever by half to waste on a prison!"
But he went there, none the less—in that "cool sequestered vale of life" to recover equilibrium; though I myself half regretted it.