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The Camera Fiend
by E.W. Hornung
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Pocket was not even bearing it like a manly boy; he had flung himself back into the big chair, and broken down for the first time utterly. One name became articulate through his sobs. "My mother!" he moaned. "It'll kill her! I know it will! Oh, that I should live to kill my mother too!"

"Mothers have more lives than that; they have more than most people," remarked Baumgartner sardonically.

"You don't understand! She has had a frightful illness, bad news of any kind has to be kept from her, and can you imagine worse news than this? She mustn't hear it!" cried the boy, leaping to feet with streaming eyes. "For God's sake, sir, help me to hush it up!"

"It's in the papers already," replied Baumgartner, with a forbearing shrug.

"But my part in it!"

"You said it had got to come out."

"I didn't realise all it meant—to her!"

"I thought you meant to make a clean breast of it?"

"So I did; but now I don't!" cried Pocket, vehemently. "Now I would give my own life, cheerfully, rather than let her know what I've done—than drag them all through that!"

"Do you mean what you say?"

Baumgartner appeared to be forming some conditional intention.

"Every syllable!" said Pocket.

"Because, you know," explained the doctor, "it is a case of now or never so far as going to Scotland Yard is concerned."

"Then it's never!"

"I must put it plainly to you. It's not too late to do whatever you decide, but you must decide now. I would still go with you to Scotland Yard, and the chances are that they would still accept the true story of to-day. I have told you what I believe to be the worst that can happen to you; it may be that rather more may happen to me for harbouring you all day as I have done. I hope not, but I took the law into my own hands, and I I am prepared to abide by the law if you so decide this minute."

"I have decided."

"Mind you, it would mean putting yourself unreservedly in my hands, at any rate for the present," said Baumgartner, impressively. "Better come to Scotland Yard this minute than go back to school and blab about the whole thing there!"

"I shouldn't do that."

"I'm not so sure," replied the acute doctor. "I believe I know you better than you know yourself; one learns more of a person in an hour like this than in a whole humdrum lifetime. I believe you would find it very difficult not to tell somebody."

Pocket admitted it with a natural outburst of his leading quality. In truth no previous act or word of Baumgartner's had inspired such confidence as this unerring piece of insight. It seemed to the boy a perfect miracle of discernment. He was not old enough to know that what he would have done, in his weakness, most grown-up men and women of his temperament would have done in theirs.

"Remember," resumed the doctor, "you would have the whole of to-day to account for; it's not as though you wouldn't have some very awkward questions to answer the moment you got back to school."

And again the lad marvelled at this intuition into public-school conditions on the part of one who could have no first-hand knowledge of those insular institutions. But this fresh display of understanding only confirmed him in his resolve.

"I trust you, sir," said he; "haven't you done enough for me to make me? I put myself, as you say, absolutely in your hands; and I'm grateful to you for all you've done and whatever you mean to do!"

"Even though it comes to hiding with us here in London?"

"No matter what it comes to," cried Pocket, strangely exalted now, "so long as my people never know!"

"They may think you dead." He thought of saying that he wished he was; but it would not have been true; even then it would have been a lie, and Pocket was not the boy to tell one if he knew it.

"That would be better than knowing what I have done," was what he said; and in his exaltation he believed no less.

"You quite see that you are taking a step which must be final?"

"It is final—absolutely—so far as I am concerned."

And it was meant to be, in all good faith; the very fulness and fairness of the doctor's warnings served but to strengthen that resolve. But Baumgartner, as if to let well or ill alone, dropped the matter with a clinching shrug; and presently he left his visitor, less wisely, to brood on it alone.

Pocket was a dab at brooding! That is the worst of your conscientious ass; he takes his decision like a man; he means to stick to it like a sportsman; but he cannot help wondering whether he has decided for the best, and what would have happened if he had decided otherwise, and what his world will say about him as it is.

This one went much further in the unique stress of his extraordinary position. He pictured his people dressing for dinner at home; he pictured his form sitting down to private-work in his form-master's hall; there was no end to his mental pictures, for they included one of himself on the scaffold in the broad-arrows of the little old waxwork at Madame Tassaud's! He could not help himself; his mind was crumbling with his dreadful deed and its awful possibilities. Now his heart bled honestly for the poor dead man, now for his own mother and sister, and now not less freely for himself. He had been so innocent in the whole matter; he had only been an innocent and rather sporting fool. And now one of these lives was ended by his hand, and all the rest would be darkened for ever after!

It was too great a burden for a boy to bear; but Pocket bore it far into the long June twilight, scarcely stirring in the big soft chair, yet never leaning back in it again. He sat hunched up as though once more battling for breath, but curiously enough his bodily distress had flown before that of the mind. Pocket would thankfully have changed them back again, for his brain was as clear as his bronchial tubes, its capacity for suffering undimmed by a single physical preoccupation. Between seven and eight the young lady of the house came in with candles and a kind of high-tea on a tray; she also brought a box of d'Auvergne Cigarettes and the latest evening paper, which her uncle thought that Mr. Upton would like to see. That was how the girl addressed the boy, and the style always made him feel, and wish to seem, something of a man. But his present effort in that direction was sadly perfunctory: he almost ejected little Miss Platts in his eagerness to shut the door on her and see the news.

It was neither unimportant nor at first sight reassuring. The dead man had been identified by the police, who knew him of old, and were reported as hopeful of obtaining a clue through his identity. The clue was the point that stuck like a burr in the boyish brain; his idea of a clue was one leading straight to himself; it took Dr. Baumgartner to explain the true value of the identity clause, and bid the boy eat his meal.

"Trust the police!" said he. "They're on a false scent already; they may try at that end till it turns their hair grey!"

Pocket disliked this tone; he had begun to think almost as reverentially of his victim as of a dead member of his own family. It appeared thus early, however, that in life the defunct had been by no means worthy of respect. Rowton Houses had been his only home, except when his undistinguished offences got him into gaol; the surreptitious practices of the professional mendicant, his sole means of livelihood. So much was to be read between the few brief lines in the stop-press column of the latest evening paper. Again it required Baumgartner to extract comfort from such items.

"At all events," said he, "you cannot reproach yourself with the destruction of a valuable life! The man was evidently the worthless creature that he looked. You talk about your undesirable aliens, but here in England you breed undesirables enough to manure the world! It's a public service to reduce their number."

This pitch of nauseous cynicism had not been reached at a bound; the doctor had been working up to it all the evening, and this was the climax of his cold-blooded consolation as the schoolboy mechanically undressed himself for bed. His host had accompanied him up two pairs of stairs, carrying candles, and his meerschaum pipe in aromatic blast. Pocket felt a new chill through his veins, but he was not revolted as he would have been at first. This extraordinary man had shown him still more extraordinary kindness; the die was cast for them to stand or fall together; and there was something about the gaunt old visionary, a confidential candour, a dry intellectual plausibility, which could not but stimulate respect for his ungodliest views. Whether they really were his views, or only a tortuous attempt at comfort, the sympathy underlying their expression was undoubted and indubitable. But the doctor spoke as though he meant every word, and the boy only longed to agree with him: his conscientious failure to do so declared itself in a series of incoherent expostulations to which Baumgartner himself gave articulate shape in order to demolish them in the next breath.

"You say his life was as much to him as yours to you? Is that it, my young fellow?"

Pocket acknowledged the interpretation, and watched the Turk's head wreathed in cool blue clouds.

"You might as well compare withered weed with budding flower!" cried the poetic doctor. "You have an honourable life before you; he had a disreputable one behind him. You were bred and nurtured in the lap of luxury; he finds it for the first time in his——"

But here even Baumgartner broke off abruptly. The boy was writhing in his bed; the man sat down on the end of it.

"You do such poor devils a service," said he, "in sending them to a world that cannot use them worse than this one. They are better under the ground than lying on it drenched and drunk!"

"It was a human life," groaned the boy, shutting his eyes in pain.

"Human life!" cried Baumgartner, leaping to his feet, his huge shadow guying him on the ceiling. "What is this human life, and who are you and I, that we set such store by it? The great men of this world never did; it's only the little people and the young who pule and whine about human life. The ancient Roman sacrificed his weaklings as on an altar; there are some of us in these days who would prescribe a Tarpeian Rock for modern decadence. So much in pious parenthesis! Napoleon thought nothing of your human life. Von Moltke, Bismarck, and our staff in Germany thought as little of it as Napoleon; the Empire of my countrymen was founded on a proper appreciation of the infinitesimal value of human life, and your British Empire will be lost through exaggerating its importance. Blood and Iron were our our watchwords; they're on the tip of every Fleet Street pen to-day, but I speak of what I know. I've heard the Iron shriek without ceasing, like the wind, and I've felt the Blood like spray from a hot spring! I fought at Gravelotte; as a public schoolboy you probably never heard the name before this minute. I fought in the Prussian Guard. I saw you looking at the pictures downstairs. I was in that charge across those hellish ridges. Over two thousand of us fell dead in half an hour, but we gained the victory. More Germans were killed that day—that sweltering August afternoon—than English in your whole South African War that took you years! The flower of Germany fell at Gravelotte; that was human life with a vengeance! But an Empire rose out of my comrades' ashes. And that's all it's for, this human life of yours: for the master-builders to lay out in their wisdom on the upward road."

The schoolboy was carried away. In the sudden eloquence of this strange outburst, with its poetic frenzy, its ruthless idealism, its wild bloodthirsty nobility, the youthful listener lost sight of its irrelevancy, or rather it was the irrevelant features that flared up first in his brain. It was a childish question, but here was a very child, and he could not help asking the fierce old soldier whether he had escaped without a wound.

"Without a scratch," was the reply. "I come home. I leave the army. I ally my human life with one that is all but divine. My Queen is struck down dead at my side within a year. And you expect me to pity the veriest pawn in the game!"

The boy was never to forget these bitter speeches altogether; there was not a single sentence of them that he failed to recall at one time or another word for word. He would see a wild arm waving, wisps of smoke from a waving pipe, a core of nicotine in a curve of amber, and the Turk's face glistening in its heat like that of the hard old man himself. He would hear the cynical and scornful voice softening in a breath to the simple, tender, and domestic humanity of his race. The voice and the face were with him throughout that night of his own manifold misery; but the time had not come for so young a boy to realise that Dr. Baumgartner had begun to say one thing, and been carried away like his listener.



POINTS OF VIEW

On the following morning, the ominous Friday of this disastrous week, there was a letter for Mr. Upton on the breakfast-table down in Leicestershire. This circumstance was not so usual as it sounds, because Mr. Upton conducted all his correspondence from his office at the works. If you simply put the name of the village, as he did on his stationery, to the works it went; it was necessary to direct your letter to the hall if you wished it to be delivered there; and few there were who had anything to say to Mr. Upton, on paper, unless it was on business too. His youngest son, however, had furnished the more impressive address to Dr. Bompas, whose hurried hand it was that dealt the first blow.

It so happened that a letter from Dr. Bompas had been expected; this made the letter he wrote especially upsetting, and for the following reason. Mrs. Upton had been so shaken by her vivid dream on the Thursday morning, that her husband had telegraphed to Bompas, somewhat against his own judgment, to know how he found their son. The reply had been: "Better expecting him again to-day will write"—which prepared the family for still more reassuring accounts in the morning. Lettice felt relieved as the original discoverer of Dr. Bompas. Horace found his views confirmed as to the systematic exaggeration of a touch of asthma, and Fred was only prevented by absence from entirely agreeing with Horace. Mr. Upton thought no more about the matter. But poor Mrs. Upton lay upstairs looking forward to a letter which it was quite impossible to show her now that it had come.

Mr. Upton read it more than once without a word; and it was not his way to keep a family matter to himself at his own table; but on this occasion he triumphed over temperament with an extraordinary instinct for what was in the air.

"The most infernal letter I ever had in my life!" was his only comment as he thrust it in his pocket out of sight. Lettice, however, might have seen that her father was far more distressed than angry had not Horace promptly angered him by saying he was not surprised. The young fellow's face and the old one's neck were redder before the last was heard of that remark. A garbled paraphrase of the letter was eventually vouchsafed; the boy had made very little improvement, and was not likely to make more while he remained at a school where he was allowed to use any remedy he liked; in fact, until he was taken away from school, and placed under his own immediate control in town, Dr. Bompas declined to persevere with the case.

"Blighter!" said Horace impartially, as though now there were two of them. Such was, in fact, the sum of his observations to Lettice when their father had taken himself and his letter upstairs. Young Tony was not "playing the game"; but then he never did play it to the expert satisfaction of Fred and Horace.

Upstairs the husband gave a more elaborate version of his letter, and told a lie. He said he had destroyed the letter in his indignation. He had destroyed it, but solely to escape any question of his showing it to his wife. He said a happier thing by chance; he said that for two pins he would motor over to the school and see for himself how the boy really was; then perhaps he would be in a position to consider the entreaty which Mrs. Upton added to the specialist's demand, that his patient should be placed under his eye in town. Mr. Upton went so far, however, without much immediate intention of taking so strong a measure.

He wished to discuss the matter with Horace; he might be quite justified in his fears. He was sorry he had let them lead to words with his eldest son. There were aspects of the case, as it presented itself to his mind, which he could hardly thresh out with Lettice, and her mother must not know of his anxiety on any account. Horace, however, had gone off earlier than usual in his dudgeon.

Mr. Upton was not long in following him to the works.

It was a charming garden that he passed through on his way; it charmed its owner all the more from his having made it himself out of a few rolling meadows. The rhododendrons were at the climax of their June glory. The new red gravel (his own colouring to a shade) appealed to an eye which had never looked longer than necessary in the glass. Lawn-tennis courts were marked out snowily on a shaven lawn; the only eyesore the good man encountered was poor Pocket's snob-wickets painted on a buttress in the back premises; his own belching blast-furnaces, corroding and defiling acres and acres within a few hundred yards of his garden wall, were but another form of beauty to the sturdy Briton who had made them too.

Horace was called into the private office and speedily propitiated. "I was more anxious than I could tell you at the time," his father said; "the fact is, I concealed half the fellow's letter on account of Lettice. But it's a man's matter, and you ought to know."

Of course the letter had stated that the erratic patient had failed to keep his appointment on the morning of writing; but if it had drawn the line of information there, it is highly improbable that Mr. Upton would have exercised so wise a discretion at table and in his wife's room. It now appeared that as a busy professional man the outspoken Bompas had gone far out of his way to play Mahomet to his patient's mountain. Tony had told him where he hoped to stay in London, which Bompas particularly wished to know on account of some special prescription the boy was to try that night. On his failure to appear at the appointed time, the doctor had telephoned to the address in question, only to learn that the boy had not stayed there at all. He had been given another address with the same result, except that from the second house he gathered that the young gentleman had gone on to some hotel. Horace was left to imagine a professional opinion of such proceedings, and asked for his own on the facts as a man of the world.

"Exactly like young Tony!" quoth Horace, never afraid to say what he thought.

"What! Like a lad of sixteen to go and put up at some hotel?"

"Like Tony," repeated Horace significantly. "Trust him to do what nobody else ever did."

"But how could Spearman give him the chance?"

"Heaven knows! Fred and I never got it."

"I thought he was to stay at Coverley's?"

"So I heard."

"I don't like it! It's all wrong at his age," said Mr. Upton. He had his notions of life and its temptations, and he was blunt enough with his elder sons, yet it was not without some hesitation that he added: "You don't think there's any question of bad company, do you?"

And though Horace had "no use for" his so-called pocket edition, he answered without any hesitation at all: "Not for a moment, from what I know of Tony."

Mr. Upton was sorry he had said so much. He excused himself by mentioning his wife's dream, now family property, which had been on his mind all this time. Horace, however, had no hesitation in informing him that nobody nowadays believed in dreams.

"Well, I never have, certainly," said Mr. Upton. "But what can it be?"

"He probably went up to Lord's, and forgot all about his doctor."

"I hope not! You're too down on him, Horace."

"If there was nobody to put him up it was the game to go back to school."

"But he's said to have gone to some hotel."

"I don't suppose he did," said Horace. "I expect he got back somehow."

The question was still under discussion when a telegram from Mr. Spearman settled it. Where was Tony? He had not returned when due the day before, and his friends in London wired that they knew nothing about him.

"What friends?" cried Mr. Upton, in a fury. "Why the devil couldn't Spearman give their names or Bompas the addresses he talked about?"

Horace could only think of Mr. Coverley or "that Knaggs crowd." Neither he nor Fred had been at Coverley's school, and young Tony's friends were by no means theirs.

Mr. Upton thought Lettice would know, and was going to speak to her on the telephone when Horace reminded him of his own remark about its being "a man's matter"; it was beginning to look, even to Horace, like a serious one as well, and in his opinion it was much better that neither his mother nor his sister should know anything at all about it before it was absolutely necessary. Horace now quoted his mother's dream as the devil did Scripture, but adduced sounder arguments besides; he was speaking quite nicely of them both, for instance, when he declared that Lettice was wrapped up in Tony, and would be beside herself if she thought any evil had overtaken him. It would be simply impossible for her to hide her anxiety from the mother on whom she also waited hand and foot. Mr. Upton disagreed a little there; he had good reason to believe in Lettice's power of suppressing her own feelings; but for her own sake, and particularly in view of that discredited dream, he now decided to keep his daughter in the dark as long as his wife.

It was his first decision; his next was to motor over to the school, as he had fortunately told his wife he might, and have a word with Mr. Spearman, who deserved hanging for the whole thing! The mischief was done, however, and it was now a matter in which home and school authorities must act together. A clerk was instructed to telephone to the garage for the car to come straight to the works. And the ironmaster stood waiting at his office window in a fever of anxiety.

The grimy scene on which he looked had a constant charm for him, and yet to-day it almost added to the bitterness of his heart. His was the brain that had conceived those broad effects of smoke and flame, and blackened faces lit by the light of molten metal; his the strong hand and the stout heart which had brought his conception into being. Those were his trucks bringing in his ore from his mines; that was his consequential little locomotive fussing in front of them. His men, dwellers in his cottages on the brow of that hill, which was also his, happened to be tapping one of his furnaces at the moment; that was his pig-iron running out into the moulds as magically as an electric advertisement writes itself upon the London sky at night. The sense of possession is the foible of many who have won all they have; the ironmaster almost looked upon the hot air dancing over the white-hot bars as his too. The whole sulphurous prospect, once a green pasture, had long been his to all intents and purposes, and no second soul would ever take his pride in it; to his children it would never be more than the means of livelihood; and how had it repaid even him for a life's devotion? With a house of sorrow in the next valley! With a stricken wife, and sons whose right hands kept their cunning for the cricket-field, and one of whom the very thought had become a sudden madness!

Yet he could think of nothing else, except his wife, even in the great green car that whisked him westward in a dancing cloud of dust; for he did not drive himself, and the rush through the iced fragrance of the summer's day was a mental stimulant that did its work only too well. Now it recalled the ailing infancy of the missing boy—bronchitis it had been in the early stages—and how his mother had taken him to Hastings three successive winters, and wrapped him up far too much. Old family jokes cropped up in a new light, dimming the eyes without an instant's warning. On one of those flittings south the solicitous mother had placed the uncomplaining child on a footwarmer, and forgotten him until a cascade of perspiration apprised her of the effect: poor Mr. Upton had never thought of the incident without laughter, until to-day. Without doubt she had coddled him, and all for this, and she herself too ill to hear a word about it!

His mind harked back to his wife. In her sad case there was no uncertainty. He thought of thirty years ago when he had seen her first. There had been drama and colour in their meeting; the most celebrated of the neighbouring packs had run a fox to earth on his works, indeed in his very slag-heap! The author of cancerous furnaces in the green heart of a grass country had never been a popular personage with the hunting folk; but he was master of the situation that memorable day. It was his terrier that went into the slag-heap like a ferret, and came out bloody with a moribund fox; his pocket-knife that shore through the brush, his hand that presented it across the wall to the only young lady in at the death. The men in pink looking over, the hunt servants with their work cut out on the other side, the tongue of molten slag sticking out of the furnace mouth—the momentary contact of the industrial and the sporting world—it was that strange and yet significant scene which had first endeared its dingy setting to the ironmaster's heart. But he had made the contact permanent by falling in love with the young lady of the brush and marrying her under all the guns of her countified kith and kin. And now she was a stricken invalid, and their youngest-born was God knew where!

Of course there were no tidings of him at the school, where the now distracted father spent a more explosive hour than he cared to think about as he flew on to town in the car. He was afraid he had been very rude to Mr. Spearman; but then Spearman had been rash enough to repudiate his obvious responsibility in the matter. It was not his fault that the boy went up to town so often to see his doctor and stay the night. He had his own opinion of that arrangement, but it had become his business to see it carried out. Mr. Upton got in a sharp thrust here, to which the house-master retorted that if a boy of seventeen could not be trusted to keep his word, he should like to know who could! Tony had promised him faithfully to return that same night, failing friends whom he had mentioned as certain to put him up; their names Mr. Upton was able to demand at last as though they were so much blood; and he could not have cursed them more freely if Spearman had been a layman like himself. But that was all the information forthcoming from this quarter; for, happening to ask what the head master thought of the affair, Mr. Upton was calmly informed that it had still to reach his ears; at which he stared, and then merely remarked that he was not surprised, but in such a tone that Spearman sprang up and led him straight into the presence.

Now the Benevolent Despot of this particular seat of learning was an astute pedagogue who could handle men as well as boys. He explained to Mr. Upton that the safe-keeping of the unit was the house-master's concern, but agreed it was time that he himself was made acquainted with the present case. He took it as seriously, too, as Mr. Upton could have wished, but quite as frankly from his own point of view as his two visitors did from each of theirs. He had no doubt the boy would turn up, but when he did it would be necessary for him to give a satisfactory account of his proceedings before he could be received back into the school.

"Bother the school!" cried Mr. Upton, diluting the anathema with difficulty. "Let me find my lad alive and well; then you can do what you like."

"But how do you propose to find him?" inquired the head master, with only a dry smile (which disappointed Spearman) by way of rejoinder.

"First I shall have a word with these infernal people who, on their own showing, refused the boy a bed. I'll give them a bit of my mind, I promise you! Then there's the hotel they seem to have driven him to; it may be the one we always stay at, or one they've recommended. If I can't hear anything of him there, I suppose there'll be nothing for it but to call in the police."

"My dear sir," exclaimed the head master, "you may as well call in the public at once! It will be in the papers before you know where you are; and that, I need hardly point out to you, is as undesirable from our point of view as I should have thought it would be from yours."

"It's more so from mine!" cried Mr. Upton, in fresh alarm and indignation. "You think about your school. I think about my wife and boy; it might kill her to hear about this before he's found. But if I don't go to the police, who am I to go to?" The head master leant back in his chair, and joined his finger-tips judicially.

"There was a man we had down here to investigate an extraordinary case of dishonesty, in which I was actually threatened with legal proceedings on behalf of a certain boy. But this man Thrush came down and solved the mystery within twenty-four hours, and saved the school a public scandal."

"He may save you another," said Mr. Upton, "if he can find my boy. What did you say the name was?"

"Thrush—Eugene Thrush—quite a remarkable man, and, I think, a gentleman," said the head master impressively. Further particulars, including an address in Glasshouse Street, were readily supplied from an advertisement in that day's Times, in which Mr. Thrush was described as an "inquiry agent," capable alike of "delicate investigations" and "confidential negotiations."

That was the very man for Mr. Upton, as he himself agreed. And he departed both on speaking terms with Mr. Spearman, who said a final word for his own behaviour in the matter, and grimly at one with the head master on the importance of keeping it out of the papers.



MR. EUGENE THRUSH

The remarkable Mr. Thrush was a duly qualified solicitor, who had never been the man for that orderly and circumscribed profession. The tide of events which had turned his talents into their present channel, was known to but few of his many boon companions, and much nonsense was talked about him and his first career. It was not the case (as anybody might have ascertained) that he had been struck off the rolls in connection with the first great scandal in which he was professionally concerned. Nor was there much more truth in the report that he drank, in the ordinary interpretation of the term.

It is true, however, that Mr. Thrush had a tall tumbler on his dressing-table, to help him shave for the evening of that fateful Friday. He was dressing for an early dinner before a first night. His dressing-room, in which he also slept in Spartan simplicity, was the original powder-closet of the panelled library out of which it led. There was a third room in which his man Mullins prepared breakfast and spent the day. But the whole was a glorified garret, at the top of such stairs as might have sent a nervous client back for an escort.

Mullins, with the expression of an undertaker's mute (a calling he had followed in his day), was laying out his master's clothes as mournfully as though his master were in them, instead of chatting genially as he shaved.

"I'm sorry to have missed your evidence, Mullins, but if we go into this case it's no use letting the police smell the competitive rat too soon. Inquests are not in my line, and they'd have wondered what the devil I was doing there, especially as you refrained from saying you were in my service."

"I had no call, sir."

"Quite right, Mullins! An ideal witness, I can see you were. So you'd only to describe the finding of the body?"

"That was all, sir."

"And your description was really largely founded on fact?"

Mullins stood like a funereal grenadier at his gentleman's shaving elbow. "I told the truth, sir, and nothing but the truth," said he, with sombre dignity.

"But not the whole truth, eh, Mullins! What about the little souvenirs you showed me yesterday?"

"There was no call to name them either, sir. The cheroot-end I must have picked up a hundred yards away, and even the medicine-cork wasn't on the actual scene of the murder."

"That's all right, Mullins. I don't see what they could possibly have to do with it, myself; and really, but for the fluke of your being the one to find the body, and picking the first-fruits for what they're worth, it's the last kind of case that I should dream of touching with a ten-foot pole. By the way, I suppose they won't require you at the adjourned inquest?"

"They may not require me, sir, but I should like to attend, if quite convenient," replied Mullins deferentially. "The police were very stingy with their evidence to-day; they've still to produce the fatal bullet, and I should like a sight of that, sir."

Mr. Thrush did not continue the conversation, possibly because he took as little real interest as he professed in the case which was being thrust upon him, but more obviously owing to the necessary care in shaving the corners of a delightfuly long and mobile mouth. Indeed, the whole face emerging from the lather, as a cast from its clay, would have delighted any eye but its own. It was fat and flabby as the rest of Eugene Thrush; there was quite a collection of chins to shave; and yet anybody but himself must have recognised the invincible freshness of complexion, the happy penetration of every glance, as an earnest of inexhaustible possibilities beneath the burden of the flesh. Great round spectacles, through which he stared like a wise fish in an aquarium, were caught precariously on a button of a nose which in itself might have prevented the superficial observer from taking him any more seriously than he took himself.

Mr. Upton, who arrived before Thrush was visible, was an essentially superficial and antipathetic observer of unfamiliar types; and being badly impressed by the forbidding staircase, he had determined on the landing to sound his man before trusting him. In the rank undergrowth of his prejudices there was no more luxuriant weed than an innate abhorrence of London and all Londoners, which neither the cause of his visit nor the murky mien of Mullins was calculated to abate. The library of books in solid bindings, many of them legal tomes, was the first reassuring feature; another was the large desk, made business-like with pigeon-holes and a telephone; but Mr. Upton was only beginning to recover confidence when Eugene Thrush shook it sadly at his first entry.

It might have been by his face, or his fat, or his evening clothes seen from the motorist's dusty tweeds, almost as much as by the misplaced joviality with which Thrush exclaimed: "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, sir, and the worst of it is that I can't let you keep me!"

This touched a raw nerve in the ironmaster, as the kind of reception one had to come up to London to incur. "Then I'll clear out!" said he, and would have been as good as his word but for its instantaneous effect.

Thrush had pulled out a gold watch after a stare of kindly consternation.

"I really am rather rushed," said he; "but I can give you four minutes, if that's any good to you."

Now, at first sight, before a word was spoken, Mr. Upton would have said four hours or four days of that boiled salmon in spectacles would have been no good to him; but the precise term of minutes, together with a seemlier but not less decisive manner, had already quickened the business man's respect for another whose time was valuable. This is by no means to say that Thrush had won him over in a breath. But the following interchange took place rapidly.

"I understand you're a detective, Mr. Thrush?"

"Hardly that, Mr.——I've left your card in the other room."

"Upton is my name, sir."

"I don't aspire to the official designation, Mr. Upton, an inquiry agent is all I presume to call myself."

"But you do inquire into mysteries?"

"I've dabbled in them."

"As an amateur?"

"A paid amateur, I fear."

"I come on a serious matter, Mr. Thrush—a very serious matter to me!"

"Pardon me if I seem anything else for a moment; as it happens, you catch me dabbling, or rather meddling, in a serious case which is none of my business, but strictly a matter for the police, only it happens to have come my way by a fluke. I am not a policeman, but a private inquisitor. If you want anything or anybody ferreted out, that's my job and I should put it first."

"Mr. Thrush, that's exactly what I do want, if only you can do it for me! I had reason to fear, from what I heard this morning, that my youngest child, a boy of sixteen, had disappeared up here in London, or been decoyed away. And now there can be no doubt about it!"

So, in about one of the allotted minutes, Thrush was trusted on grounds which Mr. Upton could not easily have explained; but the time was up before he had concluded a briefly circumstantial report of the facts within his knowledge.

"When can I see you again?" he asked abruptly of Thrush.

"When? What do you mean, Mr. Upton?"

"The four minutes must be more than up."

"Go on, my dear sir, and don't throw good time after bad. I'm only dining with a man at his club. He can wait."

"Thank you, Mr. Thrush."

"More good time! How do you know the boy hasn't turned up at school or at home while you've been fizzing in a cloud of dust?"

"I was to have a wire at the hotel I always stop at; there's nothing there; but the first thing they told me was that my boy had been for a bed which they couldn't give him the night before last. I did let them have it! But it seems the manager was out, and his understrappers had recommended other hotels; they've just been telephoning to them all in turn, but at every one the poor boy seems to have fared the same. Then I've been in communication with these infernal people in St. John's Wood, and with the doctor, but none of them have heard anything. I thought I'd like to do what I could before coming to you, Mr. Thrush, but that's all I've done or know how to do. Something must have happened!"

"It begins to sound like it," said Thrush gravely.

"But there are happenings and happenings; it may be only a minor accident. One moment!"

And he returned to the powder-closet of its modish day, where Mullins was still pursuing his ostensibly menial avocation. What the master said was inaudible in the library, but the man hurried out in front of him, and was heard clattering down the evil stairs next minute.

"In less than an hour," explained Thrush, "he will be back with a list of the admissions at the principal hospitals for the last forty-eight hours. I don't say there's much in it; your boy had probably some letter or other means of easier indentification about him; but it's worth trying."

"It is, indeed!" murmured Mr. Upton, much impressed.

"And while he is trying it," exclaimed Eugene Thrush, lighting up as with a really great idea, "you'll greatly oblige me by having a whisky-and-soda in the first place."

"No, thank you! I haven't had a bite all day. It would fly to my head."

"But that's its job; that's where it's meant to fly," explained the convivial Mr. Thrush, preparing the potion with practised hand. Baited with a biscuit it was eventually swallowed, and a flagging giant refreshed by his surrender. It made him like his new acquaintance too well to bear the thought of detaining him any more.

"Go to your dinner, man, and let me waylay you later!"

"Thank you, I prefer to keep you now I've got you, Mr. Upton! My man begins his round by going to tell my pal I can't dine with him at all. Not a word, I beg! I'll have a bite with you instead when Mullins gets back, and in a taxi that won't be long."

"But do you think you can do anything?"

The question floated in pathetic evidence on a flood of inarticulate thanks.

"If you give me time, I hope so," was the measured answer. "But the needle in the hay is nothing to the lost unit in London, and it will take time. I'm not a magazine detective, Mr. Upton; if you want a sixpenny solution for soft problems, don't come to me!"

At an earlier stage the ironmaster would have raised his voice and repeated that this was a serious matter; even now he looked rather reproachfully at Eugene Thrush, who came back to business on the spot.

"I haven't asked you for a description of the boy, Mr. Upton, because it's not much good if we've got to keep the matter to ourselves. But is there anything distinctive about him besides the asthma?"

"Nothing; he was never an athlete, like my other boys."

"Come! I call that a distinction in itself," said Mr. Thrush, smiling down his own unathletic waistcoat. "But as a matter of fact, nothing could be better than the very complaint which no doubt unfits him for games."

"Nothing better, do you say?"

"Emphatically, from my point of view. It's harder to hide a man's asthma than to hide the man himself."

"I never thought of that."

It was impossible to tell whether Thrush had thought of it before that moment. The round glasses were levelled at Mr. Upton with an inscrutable stare of the marine eyes behind them.

"I suppose it has never affected his heart?" he inquired nonchalantly; but the nonchalance was a thought too deliberate for paternal perceptions quickened as were those of Mr. Upton.

"Is that why you sent round the hospitals, Mr. Thrush?"

"It was one reason, but honestly not the chief."

"I certainly never thought of his heart!"

"Nor do I think you need now, in the case of so young a boy," said Thrush earnestly. "On the other hand, I shouldn't be surprised if his asthma were to prove his best friend."

"It owes him something!"

"Do you know what he does for it?"

"Yes, I do," said Mr. Upton, remembering the annoying letter he seemed to have received some weeks before. "He smokes, against his doctor's orders."

"Do you mean tobacco?"

"No—some stuff for asthma."

"In cigarettes?"

"Yes."

"Do you know the name?"

"I have it here."

The offensive letter was not only produced, but offered for inspection after a precautionary glance. Thrush was on his feet to receive it in outstretched hand. Already he looked extraordinarily keen for his bulk, but the reading of the letter left him alive and alert to the last superfluous ounce.

"But this is magnificent!" he cried, with eyes as round as their glasses.

"I confess I don't see why."

"Cigarettes d'Auvergne!"

"Some French rubbish."

"The boy has evidently been dependent on them?"

"It looks like it."

"And this man Bompas made him give them all up?"

"So he has the impudence to say."

"Is it possible you don't see the importance of all this?"

Mr. Upton confessed incompetence unashamed.

"I never heard of these cigarettes before; they're an imported article; you can't get them everywhere, I'll swear! Your boy has got to rely on them; he's out of reach of the doctor who's forbidden them; he'll try to get them somewhere! If he's been trying in London, I'll find out where before I'm twenty-four hours older!"

"But how can you?" asked Mr. Upton, less impressed with the possibility than by this rapid if obvious piece of reasoning.

"A. V. M.!" replied Eugene Thrush, with cryptic smile.

"Who on earth is he?"

"Nobody; it's the principle on which I work."

"A. V. M.?"

"Otherwise the old nursery game of Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral."

Again Mr. Upton had to prevent himself by main force from declaring it all no laughing matter; but his silence was almost bellicose.

"You divide things into two," explained Thrush, "and go on so dividing them until you come down to the indivisible unit which is the answer to the riddle. Animal or Vegetable? Vegetable or Mineral? Northern or Southern Hemisphere? Ah! I thought your childhood was not so very much longer ago than mine."

Mr. Upton had shrugged an impatient recognition of the game.

"In this case it's Chemists Who Do Sell D'Auvergne Cigarettes and Chemists Who Don't. Then—Chemists Who Do and Did Yesterday, and Chemists Who Do but Didn't! But we can probably improve on the old game by playing both rounds at once."

"I confess I don't quite follow," said Mr. Upton, "though there seems some method in the madness."

"It's all the method I've got," rejoined Thrush frankly. "But you shall see it working, for unless I'm much mistaken this is Mullins back sooner than I expected."

Mullins it was, and with the negative information expected and desired, though the professional melancholy of his countenance might have been the precursor of the worst possible news. The hospitals on his rapid round had included Charing Cross, St. Thomas's, St. George's, and the Royal Free; but he had telephoned besides to St. Mary's and St. Bartholomew's. At none of these institutions had a young gentleman of the name of Upton, or of unknown name, been admitted in the last forty-eight hours. Mullins, however, looked as sympathetically depressed as though no news had lost its proverbial value; and he had one of those blue-black faces that lend themselves to the look, his chin being in perpetual mourning for the day before.

"Don't go, Mullins! I've another job for you," said Eugene Thrush. "Take the telephone directory and the London directory, and sit you down at my desk. Look up 'chemists' under 'trades'; there are pages of them. Work through the list with the telephone directory, and ring up every chemist who's on the telephone, beginning with the ones nearest in, to ask if he keeps d'Auvergne Cigarettes for asthma. Make a note of the first few who do; go round to them all in turn, and be back here at nine with a box from each. Complain to each of the difficulty of getting 'em elsewhere—say you wonder there's so little demand—and with any luck you should find out whether and to whom they've sold any since Wednesday evening."

"But surely that's the whole point?" suggested the ironmaster.

"It's the next point," said Thrush. "The first is to divide the chemists of London into the Animals who keep the cigarettes and the Vegetables who don't. I should really like to play the next round myself, but Mullins must do something while we're out."

"While we're out, Mr. Thrush?"

"My dear Mr. Upton, you're going to step across into the Cafe Royal with me, and have a square meal before you crack up!"

"And what about your theatre?" asked Mr. Upton, to whom resistance was a physical impossibility, when they had left the sombre Mullins entrenched behind telephone and directories.

"The theatre! I was only going out of curiosity to see the sort of tripe that any manager has the nerve to serve up on a Friday in June; but I'm not going to chuck the drama that's come to me!"

The ironmaster dined with his head in a whirl. It was a remarkably good dinner that Thrush ordered, if as inappropriate to the occasion as to his own weight. His guest, however, knew no more what he was eating or drinking than he knew the names of the people in diamonds and white waistcoats who stared at the distraught figure in the country clothes. It even escaped his observation that the obese Thrush was an unblushing gourmet with a cynical lust for Burgundy. The conscious repast of Mr. Upton consisted entirely of the conversation of Eugene Thrush, and of that conversation only such portions as exploited his professional theories, and those theories only as bearing on the case in hand. He was merely bored when Thrush tried to distract him with some account of the murder in which he himself was only interested because his myrmidon happened to have discovered the body. What was the murder of some ragamuffin in Hyde Park to a man from the country who had lost his son?

"I don't see how your theory can work there," he sighed, out of pure politeness, when Thrush paused to punish the wine.

"It should work all right," returned Thrush. "You take an absolutely worthless life; what do you do it for? It must be one of two motives: either you have a grudge against the fellow or his existence is a menace to you. Revenge or fear; he wants your money, or he's taken your wife! But what revenge can there be upon a poor devil without the price of a bed on his indescribable person? He hasn't anything to bless himself with, and he makes it a bit too hot for somebody who has, eh? So you whittle it down. And then perhaps by sheer luck you run your blade into the root of the matter."

Thrush gave up trying to take the other out of himself, since his boldest statements were allowed to pass unchallenged, unless they dealt with the one subject on the poor man's mind. The cessation of his voice, however, caused a twinge of conscience in the bad listener; he made a mental grab at the last phrase, and was astonished to find it germane to his own thoughts.

"That's the second time you've mentioned luck, Mr. Thrush!"

"When was the first?"

"You spoke of Friday as an unlucky day, as God knows this one is to me! Are you of a superstitious turn of mind?"

"Not seriously."

"You don't believe in dreams, for example?"

"That's another question," said Thrush, his spectacles twinkling to colossal rubies as he sipped his Santenay. "Why do you ask?"

"If you're a disbeliever it's no use my telling you."

"Perhaps I'm neither one thing nor the other."

"Have you ever known a mystery solved through a dream?"

"I've heard of one," said Thrush, with a significant stress upon the verb; "that's the famous old murder in the Red Barn a hundred years ago. The victim's mother dreamed three nights running that her missing daughter was buried in the Red Barn, and there she was all the time. There may have been other cases."

"Cases in which a parent has dreamt of an absent child, at the very time at which something terrible has happened to that child?"

"Any amount of those."

The father's voice had trembled with the question. Thrush put down his glass as he gave his answer, and his spectacled eyes fixed themselves in a more attentive stare.

"Do you think they're all coincidences?" demanded Mr. Upton hoarsely.

"Some of them may be, but certainly not all," was the reply. "That would be the greatest coincidence of the lot!"

"I hardly like to tell you why I ask," said Mr. Upton, much agitated; for he could be as emotional as most irascible men.

"You've been dreaming about the boy?"

"Not I; but my poor wife has; that was one reason why I daren't tell her he had disappeared."

"Why? What was the dream?"

"That she saw him—and heard a shot."

"A shot!"

Thrush looked as though he had heard one himself, but only until he had time to think.

"She says she did hear one," added Mr. Upton, "and that she wasn't dreaming at all."

"But when was this?"

"Between six and seven yesterday morning." This time Thrush did not move a muscle of his face; it only lit up like a Chinese lantern, and again he was quick to quench the inner flame; but now the coincidence was complete. Coincidences, however, had nothing to say to the A. V. M. system, neither was Eugene Thrush the man to jump to wild conclusions on the strength of one. He asked whether the boy was very fond of shooting in the holidays, as though that might have accounted for the dream, but his father was not aware that he had ever smelt powder in his life. He little dreamt what Thrush was driving at! The tone of subsequent inquiries concerning Mrs. Upton's health (already mentioned as the great reason for keeping the affair as long as possible a secret) sounded purely compassionate to an ear unconsciously aching for compassion.

"Then that accounts for it," said Thrush, when he had heard the whole sad story. There was the faintest ring of disappointment in his tone. "What do you mean?"

"That anybody as ill as that, more particularly a lady, is naturally fanciful, I'm afraid."

"Then you think it a mere delusion, after all?"

"My dear Mr. Upton, it would be presumption to express an opinion either way. I only say, don't think too much about that dream. And since you won't keep me company in my cups, we may as well rejoin the faithful Mullins."

They ran into Mullins, as it happened, in Glasshouse Street, and Mr. Upton for one would not have recognised him as the same being. His sepulchral face was alight with news—it was the transformation of the undertaker's mute into the wedding guest. And yet he had only one box of the d'Auvergne Cigarettes to show for his evening's work, and that chemist had declared it was the first he had sold for weeks.

Thrush ordered his man upstairs, and took his late guest's hand as soon as ever he dared.

"You need a good night's rest, my dear sir, and it's no use climbing to my masthead for nothing. Mullins and I will do best if you don't mind leaving us to ourselves for the night; but first thing tomorrow morning I shall be at your service again, and I hope there will be some progress to report."

Mullins was waiting for him with all the lights on, his solemn face still more strikingly illuminated.

"Look at this, sir, look at this! These are the d'Auvergne Cigarettes!"

"So I perceive."

"This stump is the stump of a d'Auvergne Cigarette."

"I hope you enjoyed it, Mullins."

"I didn't smoke it, sir!"

"Who did?"

"That's for you to say, sir; but it's one of the little things I collected near the scene of the murder, but took for a common cheroot, yesterday morning in Hyde Park."

"Near the actual place?"

Thrush had pounced upon the stump, and was holding it under the strongest of the electric lamps.

"Under a seat, sir, not above a hundred yards away!"



SECOND THOUGHTS

Pocket had been dreaming again. What else could he expect? Waking, he felt that he had got off cheaply; that he might have been through the nightmare of battle, as described by one who had, and depicted in the engravings downstairs, instead of on a mercifully hazy visit to the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's. The trouble was that he had seen the one and not the other, and what he had seen continued to haunt him as he lay awake, but quite horribly when he fell back into a doze. There was nothing nebulous about the vile place then; it was as light and bright as the room in which he lay. The sinister figures in the panelled pens were swathed in white, as he had somewhere read that they always were at nights. Their evil faces were shrouded out of sight. But that only made their defiant, portly figures the more humanly inhuman and terrifying; it was as though they had all risen, in their winding-sheets, from their murderer's graves. Better by far their beastly faces, that you knew were wax! So he reasoned with himself, and screwed up his courage, and laid hands on one of the shorter figures that he could reach. It rocked stiffly in its place, a most palpable and reassuring waxwork. He unwound the cerements from the hollow and unyielding head; and the face was new to him; it had not been there the other afternoon. It was a young face like his own, as ill-mounted on high shoulders, with thickish lips ajar, and only a pair of intelligent eyes to redeem an apparent heaviness: one and all his own identical characteristics. And no wonder, for the last recruit to the waxen army of murderers was a faithful model of himself.

There was no awaking from this dream: the dreamer was not positive that he had been asleep. The veiled sunlight in his room was just what it had seemed in that deserted dungeon of swaddled malefactors. The boy shuddered till the bed shook under him. But after that he still lay on, facing himself as he had seen himself, and his deed as others must see it soon or late. Not the actual accident in the Park; but this hiding in the heart of London, this skulking among strangers, this leaving his own people to mourn him as the dead!

The thought of them drew scalding tears. Never had they seemed so dear to him before. It was not only Lettice and their parents. Fred and Horace, how good they had been to him at school, and how proud he had been of them! What would they think of him if he went on skulking like this? What would they have done in his place? Anything but lie low like that, thought Pocket, and resolved forthwith to play the game as preached and practised by his brothers. It was strange that he should have been so dense about so plain a duty overnight; this morning he saw it as sharp as an image in perfect focus on the ground-glass screen…To think that a mad photographer should have talked him into an attitude as mad as his own! This morning he saw the common sense of the situation as well as its right and wrong. Nothing would happen to him if he gave himself up, but anything might if he waited till he was caught. As for the consequences to his poor mother, surely in the end suspense and uncertainty would eat deeper into the slender cord of her life than the shock of the truth would cut.

Having made up his mind, however, as to the only thing to do, the boy behaved characteristically in not hastening to do it. The ordeal in front of him, beginning in certain conflict with Baumgartner, and ending in a blaze of wretched notoriety, was a severe one to face; meanwhile he lay in such peace and safety as it was only human to prolong a little. That night, for all his moral innocence, he might lie in prison; let him make the most of a good bed while he had one, especially as he was still mysteriously free from asthma. The last consideration took his mind off the ethical dilemma for quite a little time. He remembered the doctor at home telling him that he himself had suffered from chronic asthma, but had lost it after a carriage accident in which he was nearly killed.

"My accident may have done the same for me," thought Pocket—and was bitterly ashamed next moment to catch himself thinking complacently of any aspect of his deed. Its other aspects were a sufficient punishment.

To get up, and raise the green linen blind, flooding with sunshine the plain upstairs room to which Baumgartner had conducted his guest, was to conjure uncomfortable visions of the eccentric doctor, with his ferocious meerschaum, his bloodthirsty battle-talk, and all his arguments in favour of the course which Pocket had now determined to abandon. The boy fully realised that he had been given his chance, and had refused it. And of all the interviews before him, that with Dr. Baumgartner was the one that he most dreaded, and would have given most to escape.

Could he escape it? That was an idea; others came of it. If he did escape, and did give himself up for what he had done, there was no reason why he should involve Baumgartner in that voluntary confession. Suppose he hailed the first cab he saw, and drove over to St. John's Wood to borrow money (they could scarcely refuse him that), and then took the first train home to tell his father everything in the first instance, that father would never hear of his incriminating a stranger who had befriended him according to his lights. He himself need never say where he had spent the twenty-four hours after the tragedy, even if he were ever to know. And so far he had no notion, thanks to the ridiculous posture prescribed by Baumgartner in the cab; he could only suppose the motive had been to keep him out of sight, the benefit to his breathing a mere pretext; and yet it was a curious result that after a day and a night he should still be in total ignorance of his whereabouts.

He opened his window and looked out; but it was a back window, and the sunny little strip of garden below was one of many in a row. Old discoloured walls divided them from each other and from the gardens of a parallel block of bigger houses, whose slates and chimneys towered above the intervening trees. The street in front of those houses was completely hidden, but the hum of its traffic travelled pleasantly to the ear, and there were other reassuring sights and sounds. In one of the contiguous gardens a very small boy was wheeling a doll's perambulator; on the other side, where the fine, warm gravel reminded Pocket of the carroty kind at home, a man was mowing an equally trim lawn. Pocket listened to the murmur of the machine, and watched the green spray playing over the revolving knives, and savoured the curiously countrified smell of cut grass; the combined effect was a still stronger reminiscence of his father's garden, where his own old pony pulled the machine in leather shoes.

Because such associations filled his eyes again, there seemed no end to them. Somebody was playing the piano near some open window, and playing almost as well as Lettice did, and playing one of her things! Pocket could not bear to listen or look out any longer, and he dressed as quietly as he could. He had almost resolved to slip out without a word, whatever else he did, if the opportunity offered. It simply never occurred to him, until he made the discovery, that anybody would dare to lock him in his room!

Yet they had done it; that infernal old German doctor had had the cheek to do it; and the effect on the boy, who so expressed the situation to himself, was rather remarkable. A wholly ineffectual tug or two told him he was on the wrong side of the door for applying mere bodily strength, that either he must raise an ignominious shout for freedom or else achieve it for himself by way of the window. Unathletic as he always had been, he was sportsman enough not to hesitate an instant between the two alternatives; and on again looking out of the window, saw his way down at a glance.

Immediately underneath was another window, opening on a leaded balcony over the bow-window in the drawing-room. To shift his bedstead with the least possible noise, to tie a sheet to it, and to slide down the sheet till he had but a few feet to drop into the balcony, was the work of a very few minutes to one as excitedly determined as Pocket had become on finding himself a prisoner. Thought they would lock him in, did they? They would just find out their mistake! It was exactly the same mood in which he had scaled the upright palings in defiance of the policeman who said he might not sleep in the Park.

The balcony window was open, the room within empty. It was obviously Baumgartner's bedroom. There was a camp bedstead worthy of an old campaigner, a large roll-top desk, and a waste-paper basket which argued either a voluminous correspondence or imperfect domestic service; it would have furnished scent for no short paper-chase. Otherwise the room was tidy enough, and so eloquent of Baumgartner himself, in its uncompromising severity, that Pocket breathed more freely on the landing. And in the hall he felt absolutely safe, for he had gained it without the creaking of a stair, and there on the pegs hung his hat, but neither the cloak nor the weird wide-awake affected by his host.

Baumgartner out. That was a bit of luck; and it was just like Pocket to lose a moment in taking advantage of it; but the truth was that he had made an interesting discovery. It was in that house the piano was being played. He heard it through the drawing-room door; he had heard it on the balcony up above; it had never stopped once, so silent had he been. It was that Phillida, with the large dark eyes, and she was playing something that Lettice sometimes played, and very nearly, though naturally not quite, as well. Pocket would have said that it was Mendelssohn, or Chopin, "or something," for his love of music was greater than his knowledge. But it was not exactly the music that detained him; he was thinking more of the musician, who had shown him kindness, after all. It would be only decent to thank her before he went, and the doctor himself through his niece. If she knew he had been locked in, and he had to tell her how he had made his escape and yet not a sound—well, she would not think the less of him at all events, and so they would part for ever. Or perhaps not for ever! The juvenile instinct for romance was not to be stifled at such a stimulating moment. The girl would be sorry for him when she knew all; she might know enough to be sorry for him as it was; in any case it was the game to say goodbye.

The girl sprang from the music-stool in extraordinary excitement. Her large eyes were larger than ever, as it were with fear, and yet they blazed at the intruder. Pocket could not understand it, unless she already knew the truth.

"I'm so sorry for starting you," he apologised. "I just came in to say goodbye."

And he held out a hand which she never seemed to see.

"To say goodbye!" she gasped.

"Yes, I've got to go. I'm afraid the doctor's out?"

"Yes, he is. Won't you wait?"

"I'm afraid I can't."

She was shrinking from him, shrinking round towards the door. He stood aside, to let her bolt if that was her desire. And then she in turn took her stand, back to the door.

"He'll be very sorry to miss you," she said more firmly, and with a smile.

"And I'm very sorry to miss him," said Pocket, unconscientiously enough for anybody. "He's been most awfully good to me, and I wish you'd tell him how grateful I am."

"I'm afraid he won't believe me," the girl said dryly, "if he finds you gone."

"I must go—really I must. I shall get into an awful row as it is. Do you mind giving him one other message?"

"As many as you like."

"Well, you might tell him from me that I'll give myself away, but I'll never give him! He'll know what I mean."

"Is that all?"

She was keeping him very cleverly, putting in her word always at the last moment, and again refusing to see his hand; but again it was the boy who helped to waste his own golden opportunity, this time through an indefensible bit of boyish braggadocio.

"No; you may tell the doctor that if he wanted to detain me he went the worst way about it by locking me into my room!"

She looked mystified at first, and then astounded.

"How did you get out?"

"How do you suppose?"

"I never heard anything!"

"I took care you shouldn't."

And he described the successful adventure with pardonable unction in the end. After that he insisted on saying goodbye. And the young girl stood up to him like a little heroine.

"I'm very sorry, but I can't let you go, Mr. Upton."

"Can't let me?"

"I really am sorry—but you must wait to see my uncle."

He stood aghast before the determined girl. She was obviously older than himself, yet she was only a slip of a girl, and if he forced his way past—but he was not the fellow to do it—and that maddened him, because he felt she knew it.

"Oh, very well!" he cried, sarcastically. "If you won't let me out that way, I'll go this!"

And he turned towards the tiny conservatory, which led down into the garden; but she was on him, and there was no hesitation about her; she held him firmly by the hand.

"If you do I'll blow a police-whistle!" she said. "We have one—it won't take an instant. You shan't come out the front way, and you'll be stopped if you climb the wall!"

"But why? Do you take me for a lunatic, or what?" he gasped out bitterly.

"Never mind what I take you for!"

"You're treating me as though I were one!"

"You've got to stay and see my uncle."

"I shan't! Let me go, I tell you! You shall you shall! I hate your uncle, and you too!" But that was only half true, even then while he was struggling almost as passionately as though the girl had been another boy. He could not strike her; but that was the only line he drew, for she would grapple with him, and release himself he must. Over went walnut whatnots, and out came mutterings that made him hotter than ever for very shame. But he did not hate her even for what she made him say; all his hatred and all his fear were of the dreadful doctor whose will she was obeying; and both were at their highest pitch when the door burst open, and in he sprang to part them with a look. But it was a look that hurt more than word or blow; never had poor Pocket endured or imagined such a steady, silent downpour of indignation and contempt. It turned his hatred almost in a moment to hatred of himself; his fear it only increased.

"Leave us, Phillida," said Baumgartner at last. Phillida was in tears, and Pocket had been hanging his head; but now he sprang towards her.

"Forgive me!" he choked, and held the door open for her, and shut it after her with all the gallantry the poor lad had left.



ON PAROLE

"So," said Dr. Baumgartner, "you not only try to play me false, but you seize the first opportunity when my back is turned! Not only do you break your promise, but you break it with brutal violence to a young lady who has shown you nothing but kindness!"

Pocket might have replied with justice that the young lady had brought the violence upon herself; but that would have made him out a greater cad than ever, in his own eyes at any rate. He preferred to defend his honour as best he could, which was chiefly by claiming the right to change his mind about what was after all his own affair. But that was precisely what Baumgartner would not allow for a moment; it was just as much his affair as accessory after the fact, and in accordance with their mutual and final agreement overnight. Pocket could only rejoin that he had never meant to give the doctor away at all.

"I daresay not!" said Baumgartner sardonically. "It would have been dragged out of you all the same. I told you so yesterday, and you agreed with me. I put it most plainly to you as a case of then or never so far as owning up was concerned. You made your own bed with your eyes open, and I left you last night under the impression that you were going to lie on it like a man."

"Then why did you lock me in?" cried Pocket, pouncing on the one point on which he did not already feel grievously in the wrong. The doctor flattered him with a slight delay before replying.

"There were so many reasons," he said, with a sigh; "you mustn't forget that you walk in your sleep, for one of them. We might have had you falling downstairs in the middle of the night; but I own that I was more prepared for the kind of relapse which appears to have overtaken you. I was afraid you had more on your soul than you could keep to yourself without my assistance, and that you would get brooding over what has happened until it drove you to make a clean breast of the whole thing. I tell you it's no good brooding or looking back; take one more look ahead, and what do you see if you have your way? Humiliating notoriety for yourself, calamitous consequences in your own family, certain punishment for me!"

"The consequences at home," groaned Pocket, "will be bad enough whatever we do. I can't bear to think of them! If only they had taken Bompas's advice, and sent me round the world in the Seringapatam! I should have been at sea by this time, and out of harm's way for the next three months."

"The Seringapatam?" repeated the doctor. "I never heard of her."

"You wouldn't; she's only a sailing vessel, but she carries passengers and a doctor, a friend of Dr. Bompas's, who wanted to send me with him for a voyage round the world. But my people wouldn't let me go. She sails this very day, and touches nowhere till she gets to Melbourne. If I could only raise the passage-money, or even stow away on board, I could go out in her still, and that would be the last of me for years and years!"

It was not the last of him in his own mind; suddenly as the thought had come, and mad as it was, it flashed into the far future in the boy's brain; and he saw himself making his fortune in a far land, turning it up in a single nugget, and coming home to tell of his adventures, bearded like the pard, another "dead man come to life," after about as many years as the dream took seconds to fashion. And Baumgartner looked on as though following the same wild train of thought, as though it did not seem so wild to him, but extremely interesting; so that Pocket was quite disappointed when he shook his head.

"A stowaway with an attack of asthma! I think I see my poor young fellow! Why, they'd hear you wheezing in the hold, and you'd gasp out your whole story before you were in the Bay of Biscay! No, no, my fellow; you've taken your line, and you must stick to it, and stop with me till we can think of something better than a long sea voyage. If you say you won't, I say I'll make you—to save you from yourself—to save us both."

There was no mistaking the absolute intention in this threat; it was fixed and final, and the boy accepted it as he accepted his oppressor's power to make good his words. It was true that he might have escaped already; the nearer he had been to it, the less chance was he likely to be given again. So reasoned Pocket from the face and voice now dominating him more powerfully than ever; but it is an interesting fact that his conclusion neither cowed nor depressed him as it might have done. There was actually an element of relief in his discomfiture. He had done his best to do his duty. It was not his fault that responsibility had been wrested from his shoulders, and an evil hour delayed. And yet there was a certain, an immediate, a creature comfort in such delay, which was all the greater because unsought by him; it was a comfort that he had both ways, as the saying is, and from all points of view but that of his poor people wondering what had become of him.

"If only they knew!" he cried; "then I shouldn't care. Let me write to one of them! My mother needn't know; but I must write to one of the others, and at least let them know I am alive and well. My sister would keep my secret; she'd play the game all right, I promise you! And I'd play any game you like if only you let me write a line to her!"

The doctor would not hear of it at first. Eventually he said he should have to inspect the letter before it went; and this proved the thin edge of consent. In the end it was arranged that Pocket should write what he liked to his sister only, and that Baumgartner should read and enclose it in a covering letter, so that everybody need not know it was a letter from the missing boy. Baumgartner was to have it posted from St. Martin's-le-Grand, to destroy all trace of a locality which he now refused point-blank to disclose even to the writer. And in return for the whole concession the schoolboy was to give his solemn word and sacred promise on the following points.

He was not to set foot outside the house without Baumgartner, nor to show himself for a moment at the windows back or front.

On no account was he to confide in the doctor's niece Phillida, to give her the slightest inkling of his connection with the latest of London mysteries, or even of the scene, or any of the circumstances of his first meeting with Baumgartner.

"You are bound to see something of each other; the less you say about yourself the better."

"But what can she think?"

"What she likes, my young fellow! I am a medical man; medical men may bring patients to their houses even when they have ceased to practise in the ordinary way. It is no business of hers, and what she chooses to think is no affair of ours. She has seen you very ill, remember, and she had your doctor's orders not to let you out of the house in his absence."

"She obeyed them like a little brick!" muttered Pocket, with a wistful heaviness.

"She did what she was told; think no more about it," said the doctor. "Give me your hand on these your promises, and die on your feet rather than break one of them! Now I trust you, my young fellow; you will play the game, as you call it, even as the poor lads in these pictures played it at Gravelotte, and die like them rather than go back an inch. Look at this one here. No, not the one with the ridges, but here where we come to bayonets and the sword. See the poor devils of the Prussian Guard! See the sheet-lightning pouring into us from the walls of St. Privat! Look at that fellow with his head bound up, and this one with no head to bind. That's meant for our colonel on the white horse. See him hounding us on to hell! And there's a drummer drumming as though we could hear a single beat! Our very colours were blown to ribbons, you see, and we ourselves to shreds; but the shreds hung together, my young fellow, and so will you and I in our day of battle!" Baumgartner might have known his boy for years, so sure was his touch upon the strings of a responsive nature, to strike the chords of a generous enthusiasm, and to wake the echoes of noble deeds. Pocket attacked his letter with the heart of a soldier, hardened and yet uplifted for the fight; it was only when he found himself writing down vague words, which nevertheless brought his innocent deed home to him as nothing had done before, that the artificial frost broke up, and real tears ran with his ink. He begged Lettice not to think too hardly of him, still less to be anxious about him, or to make anybody else; they must not fret for him, he wrote more than once, without seeing the humour of the injunction. He was better than he had been for years, and in the best of hands. But something terrible had happened; something he could not help, but would bitterly repent all his days, especially as it might prevent him from ever seeing any of them again. It was this monstrous remark, and others to which it led, that were literally blotted with the writer's tears. But just then he saw himself in all vivid sincerity as an outcast who could never show himself at home or at school again. And it required the spell of Baumgartner's presence to make the prospect such as could be borne with the least degree of visible manhood.

Be it remembered that he was not a man at all, but a boy in many ways younger than most boys of sixteen and three quarters, albeit older in some few. He was old in imagination, but young in common sense. One may be imaginative and still have a level head, but it is least likely in one's teens. The particular temperament does not need a label; but none who know it when they see it, and who see it here, will be surprised to learn that this emotional writer for one was enormously relieved and lightened in spirit when he had got his letter off his mind and hands.

True to his warning, Dr. Baumgartner began to glance at it with a kindly gravity; it was with something else that he shook his head over the second leaf.

"This is not for me to read!" said he. "I'd rather run the risk of trusting your discretion."

No words could have enslaved poor Pocket more completely; he clasped the hand that proceeded to write the covering note, and then the address, all openly before his eyes. And while the doctor was gone to the nearest messenger office to despatch the missive to the General Post Office, ostensibly to catch a particular post, his prisoner would not have decamped for a hundred pounds, and the doctor knew it.

Phillida did not appear at dinner, but at supper she did, and Pocket was only less uncomfortable in her absence, which he felt he had caused, than when they were both at table and he unable to say another word to express his sorrow for the unseemly scene of the forenoon. She spoke to him once or twice as though nothing of the kind had happened, but he could scarcely look her in the face. Otherwise both meals interested him; they were German in their order, a light supper following the substantial middle-day repast; but it appeared that they both came from an Italian restaurant, and the English boy was much taken with the pagoda-like apparatus in which the dishes arrived smoking hot in tiers. It provided a further train of speculation when he remembered that he had never seen a servant in the house, and that the steps had struck him as dirty, and the doctor's waste-paper basket as very full. Pocket determined to make his own bed next morning. He had meanwhile an unpleasing suspicion that the young girl was clearing away, for the doctor took him back into the drawing-room after supper; and later, when they returned for a game of billiards on the toy board, which they placed between them on the dining-table, both Phillida and the fragments had disappeared.

The little billiards were a bond and a distraction. They brought out Baumgartner's simple side, and they emphasised the schoolboy's simplicity. Both played a strenuous game, the doctor a most deliberate one; his brows would knit, his mouth shut, his eyes calculate, and his hand obey, as though his cue were a surgical instrument cutting deep between life and death. It was a curious glimpse of disproportionate concentration; even the Turk's head was only lit to be laid aside as an obstruction. Pocket's one chance was to hit hard and trust to the fortune that accrues on a small table. Both played to win, and the boy forgot everything when he actually succeeded in the last game. They had played very late for him, and he slept without stirring until Baumgartner came to his room about eight o'clock next morning.

Now Pocket had not seen a newspaper all Friday, but it was the first thing he did see on the Saturday morning, for the doctor was waving one like a flag to wake him.

"Trust your vermin press to get hold of the wrong end of the stick!" he cried, with fierce amusement; "it only remains to be seen whether they succeed in putting your precious police on the wrong tack too. Really, it's almost worth being at the bottom of a popular mystery to watch the smartest men in this country making fools of themselves!"

"May I see?" asked Pocket; he had winced at more than one of these remarks.

"Certainly," replied Baumgartner; "here's' the journalistic wonder of the age, and there you are in its most important column. I brought it up for you to see."

The boy bit his lips as he read. His deed had been promoted to leaded type and the highest rank in headlines. It appeared, in the first place, that no arrest had yet been made; but it was confidently asserted (by the omniscient butt of Teutonic sallies) that the police, wisely guided by the hint in yesterday's issue (which Pocket had not seen), were already in possession of a most important clue. In subsequent paragraphs of pregnant brevity the real homicide was informed that his fatal act could only be the work of a totally different and equally definite hand. Pocket gathered that there had been a certain commonplace tragedy, in a street called Holland Walk, in the previous month of March. A licensed messenger named Charlton had been found shot under circumstances so plainly indicative of suicide that a coroner's jury had actually returned a verdict to that effect. There appeared, however, to have been an element of doubt in the case. This the scribe of the leaded type sought to remove by begging the question from beginning to end. It had not been a case of suicide at all, he declared, but as wilful a murder as the one in Hyde Park, to which it bore a close and sinister resemblance. Both victims had been shot through the heart in the early hours of the morning; both belonged to one neighbourhood, and to the same dilapidated fringe of the community. A pothouse acquaintanceship was alleged between them; but the suggestion was that the link lay a good deal deeper than that, and that the two dead men were known to the police, who were busy searching for a third party of equal notoriety in connection with both murders.

"But we know he had nothing to do with the second one," said the boy, looking up at last. "It wasn't a murder, either; neither was the first, according to the coroner's jury, who surely ought to know."

"One would have thought so," said Baumgartner, with his sardonic smile; "but the yellow pressman knows better still, apparently."

"Do you suppose there's a word of truth in what he says? I don't mean about Charlton or—or poor Holdaway," said Pocket, wincing over his victim's name, which he had just gleaned from the paper. "But do you think the police are really after anybody?"

"I don't know," said Baumgartner. "What does it matter?"

"It would matter a great deal if they arrested somebody for what I did!"

The boy was no longer looking up; and his voice trembled.

"It would alter the whole thing," he mumbled significantly.

"I don't see it," returned the doctor, with grim good-nature. "The little wonder of the English reading world has nearly unearthed another mare's nest, as two of its readers know full well. No real harm can come of this typical farrago. Let it lead to an arrest! There are only two living souls who can't account for their time at that of this unfortunate affair."

Pocket realised this; but it was put in a way that gave him goose-skin under the clothes. He was always seeing his accident in some new light, always encountering some new possibility, or natural consequence of his silence, which had not occurred to him before. But he was learning to keep his feelings under control, to set his face and his teeth against the regular reactions of his coward conscience and his fickle will. And once again did Dr. Baumgartner atone for an unintentional minor by striking a rousing chord on the very heart-strings of the boy.

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