"Eight o'clock!" cried the magician, with a glance at his watch and an ear towards the open window. "The postman's knock from door to door down every street in town—house to house from one end of your British Islands to the other! A certain letter is without doubt being delivered at this very moment—eh, my poor young fellow?"
HUNTING WITH THE HOUNDS
Eugene Thrush was a regular reader of the journal on which Dr. Baumgartner heaped heavy satire, its feats of compression, its genius for headlines, and the delicious expediency of all its views, which enabled its editorial column to face all ways and bow where it listed, in the universal joint of popularity, were points of irresistible appeal to a catholic and convivial sense of humour. He read the paper with his early cup of tea, and seldom without a fat internal chuckle between the sheets.
That Saturday morning, however, Mr. Thrush was not only up before the paper came, but for once he took its opinion seriously on a serious matter. It said exactly what he wished to think about the Hyde Park murder: that the murderer would prove to be the author of a similar crime, committed in the previous month of March, when the Upton boy must have been safe at school. If that were so, it was manifestly absurd to connect the lad with a mystery which merely happened to synchronise with that of his own disappearance—absurd, even if he were shown to have been somewhere near the scene of the murder, somewhere about the time of its perpetration.
That much, though no more, had, however, been fairly established overnight. It was a conclusion to which Mullins, with the facile conviction of his class, had jumped on the slender evidence of the asthma cigarette alone; but before midnight Thrush himself had been forced to admit its extreme probability. There was a medicine cork as well as an asthma cigarette; the medicine cork had been found very much nearer the body; in fact, just across the pathway, under a shrub on the other side of the fence. It was Mullins, who had made both discoveries, who also craved permission to ring up Dr. Bompas, late at night, to ask if there was any particular chemist to whom he sent his patients with their prescriptions. Dr. Bompas was not at home, which perhaps was just as well but his man gave the name of Harben, in Oxford Street. Harbens, rung up in their turn, found that they certainly had made up one of the doctor's prescriptions on the Wednesday, for a young Mr. Upton, and, within half an hour, had positively identified the cork found by Mullins in Hyde Park. It was still sticky with the very stuff which had put poor Pocket asleep.
Yet Thrush could not or would not conceive any actual connection between a harmless schoolboy and an apparently cold-blooded crime. He resisted the idea on more grounds than he felt disposed to urge in argument with his now strangely animated factotum. It was still a wide jump to a detestable conclusion, but he confined his criticism to the width of the jump. The cork and the cigarette might be stepping-stones, but at least one more was wanted to justify the slightest suspicion against the missing boy. Let it be shown that he had carried firearms on the Wednesday night, and Thrush undertook to join his satellite on the other side; but his mental bias may be gauged from the fact that he made no mention of the boy's mother's dream.
Mullins found him not only up, shaved and booted, but already an enthusiastic convert to the startling theory of a sensation journalist, and consequently an irritable observer of the saturnine countenance which darkened to a tinge of distinct amusement over the leaded type.
"So you don't think there's much in it, Mullins?"
"I shouldn't say there was anything at all, sir."
"Yet I suppose you remember the very similar occurrence in Holland Walk?"
"Oh yes, sir, but it was a case of suicide."
"I don't agree."
"But surely, sir, the jury brought it in suicide?"
"The coroner's jury did—in spite of the coroner—but it may come before another jury yet, Mullins! I remember the case perfectly; the medical evidence was that the shot had been fired at arm's length. That isn't the range at which we usually bring ourselves down! Then there was nothing to show that the man ever possessed a pistol, or even the price of one; he was so stony it would have gone up the spout long before. The very same point crops up in the case of this poor boy. Who says he ever had a revolver in his life? His father tells me explicitly that he never had; I happened to ask the question," added Thrush, without explaining in what connection.
"Well, sir," said Mullins, with respect enough in his tone, "you talk about jumping to conclusions, but it strikes me the gentleman who write for the papers could give me some yards and a licking, sir!"
This was a sprightly speech for Mullins; but it was delivered with the very faintest of deferential smiles, and Mr. Thrush shook his spectacles without one at all.
"The gentlemen on this paper have a knack of lighting on the truth, however," he remarked; "it may be by fair means, or it may be by foul, but they have a way of getting there before the others start."
Mullins remarked with quiet confidence that they were not going to do it this time. His position was, briefly, that he could not bring himself to believe in two separate mysteries, at one and the same time and place, with no sort of connection between them.
"That would be too much of a coincidence," said Mullins, sententiously.
Thrush looked at him for a moment.
"But life's one long collection of coincidences! That's what I'm always telling you; the mistake is to look on them as anything else. Don't you call it a bit of a coincidence that both these men should meet their death at the very hour of the morning when you're on your way over here from Netting Hill, and in much the same degree of latitude, which you've got to cross somewhere or other on your way? Yet who has the nerve to say you must have gone through Holland Walk that other morning, and been mixed up in that affair because you are in this?"
"I don't admit I'm mixed up in anything," replied Mullins, with some warmth.
"I mean as a witness of sorts. I was merely reducing your argument to the absurd, Mullins; you didn't take me literally, did you? It's no use talking when we both seem to have made up our minds; but I'm always ready to unmake mine if you show me that young Mr. Upton carried a pistol, Mullins! Now I should like my breakfast, Mullins, and you must be roaring inside for yours. The man who's been knocking up chemists all night is the man to whom breakfast is due; get your own and then mine, and after that you can tell me how you got on."
Anything more genial than the garrulous banter of Eugene Thrush, at his best, it was impossible to encounter or incur; he had been, however, for a few minutes at his worst, and it was difficult to see why the pendulum should have swung so suddenly to the other extreme. Mullins went about his business with his usual sleek solemnity. But Thrush was yet another man the moment he was alone. His face was a sunny background for ideas, misgivings, and half-formed plans, one after the other, whirling like clouds across a crimson sky. But the sky was clear whenever Mullins was in the room. And at the breakfast-table there was not a cloud.
"To come back to those chemists, and this shop-to-shop canvassing," resumed Thrush, as Mullins poured out his tea; "how many have you done, and how many have we still to do between us?"
Mullins produced a pocket-book that did him credit, and consulted notes as neat.
"Rung up when you were out at dinner—seventeen. Kept Cigarettes d'Auvergne—one. That was Thornycroft's in Shaftesbury Avenue, where I'd just been when I met you down below in the street. In the night I knocked up other eight-and-twenty, all either in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square or else on the line of the Park."
"Poor devils! I suppose you urged a pretty bad case?"
"A matter of life or death."
"Three more kept them, not counting Harbens: one in Knightsbridge, one in New Bond Street, and one a little way down the Brompton Road."
"Much demand in any of those quarters?"
"Only in the Brompton Road; a literary gentleman has a box regularly every week, and two in the autumn. Pringle, his name is."
"I know him; so he's as breathless as his own yarns, is he?" murmured Thrush, to his buttered egg. "But has one of these apothecaries sold a box of d'Auvergnes since Wednesday afternoon?"
"Two have," said Mullins, "but one was to Mr. Pringle."
Thrush levelled inquiring spectacles.
"How did you worm that out, Mullins?"
"By changing my tune a bit, sir. I started asking if they knew anybody who could recommend the cigarettes from personal experience, as we were only trying them on hearsay."
"Very smart of you, Mullins! And one wheezy novelist is the only consumer?"
"That's right, sir, but the man in Knights-bridge sold a box on Thursday to a doctor."
"Did you get the name?"
"Bone-Gardner, I think it was a Dr. Otto Bone-Gardner."
"Baumgartner, I expect you mean!" cried Thrush, straightening a wry face to spell the name. "I've heard of an Otto Baumgartner, though I can't say when or where. What's his address?"
"He couldn't tell me, sir; or else he wouldn't. Suppose he thought I'd be turning the doctor out next. Old customer, I understood he was."
"For d'Auvergne Cigarettes?"
"I didn't inquire."
"My good fellow, that's the whole point! I'll go myself and ask for the asthma cigarettes that Dr. Baumgartner always has; if they say he never had them before, that'll be talking. His being a doctor looks well. But I'm certain I know his name; you might look it up in Who's Who, and read out what they say."
And Mullins did so with due docility, albeit with queer gulps at barbaric mouthfuls such as the list of battle-fields on which Dr. Baumgartner had fought in his martial youth; the various Universities whereat he had studied psychology and theology in an evident reaction of later life; even the titles of his subsequent publications, which contained some long English words, but were given in German too. A copious contribution concluded with the information that photography and billiards were the doctor's recreations, and that he belonged to a polysyllabically unpronounceable Berlin club, and to one in St. James's which Mullins more culpably miscalled the Parthenian.
"Parthenon!" said Thrush, as though he had bitten on a nerve. "But what about his address?"
"There's no getting hold of that address," said Mullins, demoralised and perspiring. "It's not given here either."
"Well, the chemist or the directory will supply that if we want it, but I'm afraid he sounds a wheezy old bird. The author of 'Peripatetic Psychology' deserves to have asthma all his nights, and 'After this Life' smacks of the usual Schopenhauer and Lager. No, we won't build on Dr. Baumgartner, Mullins; but we'll go through the chemists of London with a small tooth-comb, from here to the four-mile radius."
Thrush had finished breakfast, and Mullins was beginning to clear away, when a stormy step was heard upon the stairs, and in burst Mr. Upton with a panic-stricken face. He was colourless almost to the neck, but he denied that he had any news, though not without a pregnant glance at Mullins, and fell to abusing London and the Londoners, but City men above all others, till Thrush and he should be alone together. The incidental diatribe was no mere padding, either; it was the sincere utterance of a passionately provincial soul. Nobody in all London, he declared, and apparently without excepting Mr. Thrush, cared a twopenny curse what became of his poor boy. In view of the fact that the present company alone knew of his disappearance, and not so very many more of the boy's existence, this was an extravagantly sweeping statement. But the distracted man had a particular instance to bear him out; he had been to see his boy's friends' father, "a swine called Knaggs," that very morning at his house in St. John's Wood.
"Rather early, wasn't it?" suggested Thrush, whose manner was more softly sympathetic than it had been the night before. The change was slight, and yet marked. He was more solicitous.
"Early!" cried Mr. Upton. "Haven't I lost my boy, and wasn't it these Cockney cads who turned him adrift in London? I ought to have gone to them last night. I wish I had, when my blood was up after your dinner; for I don't mind telling you now, Mr. Thrush, that in spite of your hospitality I was none too pleased at your anxiety to get rid of me afterwards. It made me feel like doing a little bit for the boy on my own; but I'd called once on my way into town, and only seen a servant then, so I thought I'd make sure of putting salt on somebody by waiting till this morning."
The visitor paused to look harder than ever at Mullins, and Thrush seized the opportunity to offer an apology for his abrupt behaviour in the street.
"I confess I showed indecent haste," said he; "but Mullins and I had our night's work cut out, and he at any rate has not had his boots off since you saw him."
"Hasn't he?" cried Mr. Upton, in remorseful recognition of an unsuspected devotion; "then I'll say what I've got to say in front of him, for you're both my friends, and I'll unsay all I said just now. Bear with my temper, both of you, if you can, for I feel beside myself about the boy! It was all I could do to keep my hands off that smug little lump of London inhumanity! Kept me waiting while he finished his breakfast, he did, and then came in polishing a hat as sleek as himself, and saying 'Rather early!'—just as you set me off by saying yourself a minute ago."
"But he seems to have told you something, Mr. Upton?"
"Has he not! He began by telling me he was sorry for me, confound him! I could have made him sorrier for himself! He was sorry for me, but what could he do? London was a large place, and 'we Londoners' were busy men. I told him so were some of us in the iron-trade, but not too busy to keep an eye on boys who were friends of our boys. He said London life was different; and I said so I could see. They never had spare beds at a moment's notice, much less for boys who might set fire to the house or—or shoot themselves——"
His two hearers uttered a simultaneous exclamation, and Mr. Upton stood glancing piteously from one to the other, as though his lad's death-warrant were written in their faces. Eugene Thrush, however, looked so genuinely distressed that the less legible handwriting on the face of Mullins also attracted less attention.
"Had he anything to shoot himself with?" inquired Thrush, in a curiously gentle voice.
Mr. Upton nodded violently as he moistened his lips.
"He had, after all!" he croaked. "Little as I dreamt it yesterday, my unhappy boy, who had never to my knowledge pulled a trigger in his life before, was going about London with a loaded revolver in his pocket!"
"Had he brought it from school?" asked Thrush, with a covert frown at the transfigured Mullins.
Mr. Upton repeated what he had heard through the young Westminsters, with their father's opinion of pawnbrokers' shops as resorts for young schoolboys, of young schoolboys who frequented them, and of parents and guardians who gave them the chance. How the two gentlemen had parted without fisticuffs became the latest mystery to Eugene Thrush, whose only comment was that it behoved him all the more to do something to redeem the capital in the other's eyes.
"Now we know why my poor wife heard a shot!" was the only rejoinder, in a voice not too broken to make Mullins prick up his ears; it was the first he had heard about the dream.
"I wouldn't say that, Mr. Upton. We know no more than we knew before. Yet I will own now," exclaimed Thrush, catching Mullins's bright eye, "that the coincidence will be tremendous if there's nothing in it!"
But only half the coincidence was present in the father's mind; no thought of the murder had yet entered it in connection with his boy; and to hear so emphatic an echo to his foreboding was more than his fretted nerves could stand. In the same breath he pounced on Thrush for a pessimist—apologised—and humbly entreated him to take a more hopeful view.
"There may have been an accident, Thrush, but not necessarily a fatal one!"
An accident! Thrush had never thought of that explanation of the public mystery; but evidently Mullins had, judging by his almost fiendish grins and nods behind the poor father's back. Thrush looked at both men with the troubled frown of a strenuously reasoning being—looked and frowned again—frowned and reasoned afresh. And then, all in an instant, the trouble lifted from his face; light had come to him in an almost blinding flash, such as might well obscure the quality of the light; enough for Eugene Thrush that it lit him back to his mystery every bit as brightly as it lit him onward to its solution.
He was even man enough to refrain from reflecting it automatically in his face, as he put a number of apparently irrelevant questions to Mr. Upton about the missing boy. What was his character? what its chief points? Was he a boy with the moral courage of his acts? Would he face their consequences like a man?
"I never knew him tell a lie in his life," said Mr. Upton, "either to save his own skin or any thing else; and it was a case of their young skins when they got into trouble with me! Poor Tony was the most conscientious of them all, and I hear that's what they say of him at school."
Thrush put one or two further questions, and then said he had a clue, though a very slight one, which he was rather in a hurry to follow up himself; and this time the ironmaster went off quietly of his own accord, with a dejected undertaking to be at his hotel when he was wanted.
"I don't like the look of our friend," remarked Thrush, looking hard at Mullins when at last they were alone. "He shapes none too well for the strain he's got to bear; if he cracks up there'll be a double tragedy, if not a triple one, in that family. We must catch our hare quickly, Mullins, or we may catch him too late."
Mullins turned on the disagreeable grin that Thrush had so resented a few minutes before; he took no notice of it now.
"You'll find your man," said Mullins significantly, "the very moment that I find mine, Mr. Thrush."
"Meaning they're the same person?"
"To be sure."
"That this lad is the actual slayer of the man Holdaway?"
"Surely, sir, it's as plain as a pikestaff now?"
"Not to me, Mullins—not to me."
Thrush was twinkling behind his great round goggles.
"Then who do you think has done it, sir?" inquired Mullins, in deferential derision.
"Ah! that's another matter, my man; but I can tell you whom I hope to get arrested within another hour!"
Mullins looked as though he could hardly believe his ears; his jaw, black as a crape hat-band this morning, fell in front of his grimy collar.
"You're actually thinking of arresting some one else?"
"I am—with your permission, Mullins."
"Tell me who it is, sir, for Heaven's sake!"
And with his fattest smile Thrush whispered into an ear that recoiled from his words as though they had been so many drops of boiling oil.
BOY AND GIRL
Pocket Upton was able to relieve his soul of one load that morning. Dr. Baumgartner had left the schoolboy to his soap and water, taking the newspaper with him; but apparently Pocket had followed him down in quicker time than the other anticipated. At any rate the little lady of the house was all alone in the dining-room, where Pocket found her boiling eggs on the gas-fire, and had her to himself for several seconds of which he wasted none. There was neither grace nor tact in what he said, and his manner was naturally at its worst, but the penitential torrent came from his heart, and was only stemmed by the doctor's hasty arrival on the scene. Miss Platts had not been given time to say a word, but now she asked Mr. Upton how many minutes he liked his egg boiled, and would not let him do it himself, but smiled when he told her it was "done to a shake." Dr. Baumgartner, on the other hand, scowled upon them both until observation or reflection had convinced him that no promises had been broken and no confidences exchanged.
The callow pair saw something more of each other during the morning; for Pocket hotly resented being distrusted, and showed it by making up to the young girl under the doctor's nose. He talked to her about books in the other room. He had the impertinence to invite her into the dining-room for a game of billiards, but the sense next moment to include her uncle in an amended form of more becoming suggestion. Baumgartner eventually countenanced a game, but spent most of the time with his back to the players and his eye on the street. The boy and girl got on very well now; they seemed frankly glad of each other, though he caught her more than once with a large and furtive eye on him. But she seemed to enjoy her baptism of schoolboy slang. And it was only when she began to question him about his special vocabulary, that Baumgartner looked on for a little, and put in his word.
"You see he still believes in his public school," said he to Phillida, in a tone which reminded their visitor of his first breakfast in the house.
"I should think I did!" cried Pocket, and did a little loyal boasting about the best of schools, and the best house in that school, until memory took him by the throat and filled his eyes. It was twelve o'clock, and a summer's Saturday. School was over for the week. Only your verses to do in your own time, and get signed by Spearman before you went up to dormitory on Saturday night; but meanwhile, Saturday afternoon! A match on the Upper, where you could lie on your rug and watch the game you couldn't play; call-over at the match; ices and lemon-drinks in a tent on the field; and for Saturday supper anything you liked to buy, cooked for you in the kitchen and put piping hot at your place in hall, not even for the asking, but merely by writing your name plainly on the eggs and leaving them on the slab outside! It was not these simple luxuries that Pocket missed so sorely; it was the whole full life of ups and downs, and no yesterdays and no to-morrows, that he had lost for ever since last Saturday. The heavy midday meal came in smoking from the Italian restaurant, and Pocket was himself again, as a boy will be; after all, they knew about him at home by this time, their worst fears were allayed, and in the end it would all come right. In the end he would be sitting in his own old place at home, instead of with strangers in an unknown street; telling them everything, instead of holding his peace; and watching even Fred and Horace listening to every word—much as Dr. Baumgartner was listening to something now.
What was it? Phillida was listening, too, and watching her uncle as she listened. Pocket did both in his turn.
It was the voice of newspaper hawkers, shouting in couples, coming nearer with their shouts. Dr. Baumgartner jumped up from the table, and ran outside without his hat.
His promise alone prevented Pocket from following and outstripping the doctor. He knew what the shouting was about before he could have sworn to a single raucous word. But Phillida could not know, and she resumed at once where they had left off before breakfast.
"Of course I forgive you," she whispered. "It was I began it!"
"Our row yesterday."
Phillida had a demure twinkle, after all; but it was lost on Pocket now. "I'd forgotten all about it," he said with superfluous candour, his ear still on the street.
Her voice made him remember better. "I hope to goodness I didn't hurt you?"
"Of course you didn't."
"But you must have thought me mad!"
There was a slight but most significant pause.
"Well, I never shall again."
"Then you did!" he gasped. Their eyes had met sharply; both young faces were flooded with light, and it was much the same light. There was no nonsense about it, but there was indignant horror on his side, and indignant shame on hers.
"You really are at school?" she whispered, not increduously, but as one seeking assurance in so many words; and in a flash he saw what she had thought, what she had been deliberately made to think, that his beloved school was not a school at all, but an Ayslum!
But at that moment Dr. Baumgartner was heard bargaining at the gate with one raucous voice, while the other went on roaring huskily, "Park murder—arrest! 'Rest o' de Park murderer! Park murder—Park murder—arrest!" And Pocket sprang up from the table in a state that swept his last thoughts clean from his mind.
The girl said something; he did not hear what. He was white and trembling, in pitiable case even to eyes that could only see skin-deep; but the doctor's step came beating like a drum to him, and he was solidly seated when the doctor entered—without any paper at all.
"It's that murder the papers are all exploiting," he explained benignly. "They were shouting out something about an arrest; you would hear them, I daresay. But it's the usual swindle; the police are merely hoping to effect an arrest. I threatened to send for them unless the scoundrel took his paper back!"
He was in his lightest mood of sardonic gaiety. The sins of the vendors recalled those of "your vermin press itself"; the association was wilfully unfair, the favourite phrase a studied insult; but the English boy was either dense or indifferent, and Phillida's great eyes were in some other world. Baumgartner subjected them both to a jealous scrutiny, and suddenly cried out upon his own bad memory. It appeared there was a concert at the Albert Hall, where "the most popular and handsome pair in England" (the inverted commas were in the doctor's sneer) were being welcomed on their return from the ends of the earth. He had intended going to hear what they could do; but Phillida should go instead; she was not past the ballad stage.
And Phillida rose submissively, with unreal thanks which could not conceal her recognition of the impromptu pretext for getting rid of her; her uncle called a taxicab, and with harsh hilarity turned her off the premises in the frock she had been wearing all day.
"And now," said he, returning with a scowl, "what the devil were you two talking about while my back was turned?"
"Yesterday," replied Pocket, more than ready for him, though his heart beat fast.
"What about yesterday?"
"Our scuffle in the other room."
"Is that all?"
"No—I found out something; she didn't tell me." "What did you find out?"
"That you let her think me mad!" cried Pocket, in monstrous earnest. He might have laughed at himself, could he have seen his own reproachful face. But he could have killed Baumgartner for laughing at him; it did not occur to him that the laugh was partly one of pure relief.
"Why, my young fellow, how else can I account for you?"
"You said she would think I was a patient."
"Exactly! A mental case."
"You had no business to make me out mad," persisted Pocket, with dogged valour.
"Pardon me! I had all the business in the world; and I beg that you'll continue to foster the illusion as thoroughly as you did yesterday when I was out. It's no good shaking your head at me; listen to reason," continued Baumgartner, with an adroit change of tone. "And try, my good young fellow, do try to think of somebody besides yourself; have some consideration for my niece, if you have none for me."
Pocket was mystified, but still more incensed; for he felt himself being again put gently but clearly in the wrong.
"And I should like to know," he cried, "what good it does her to think she's associating with a lunatic?"
"She would probably prefer the idea to that of a murderer," was the suave reply. "I speak only of ideas; otherwise I should not make use of such an expression, even in jest. It's as ugly as it's ridiculous in your case. Yet you heard for yourself that others are applying the horrid term in all sobriety."
"I heard more than that," returned Pocket. "They've arrested somebody!"
"I thought I told you there was no truth in that?"
But Baumgartner had winced for once, and the boy had seen it, and his retort was a precocious inspiration.
"That was only to avoid a scene at table, Dr. Baumgartner!"
"Well, my young fellow," said the doctor, after one of his wise pauses, "and what if it was?"
"I can't sit here and let an innocent man lie in prison."
"He won't lie long."
"It's absolutely wicked to let them keep him at all."
"Nor will they, longer than another hour or two."
"Well, if they do, you know what I shall do!"
Pocket had never displayed such determination, nor incurred quite the same measure or quality of wrath that Baumgartner poured upon him without a word for the next few moments. It was a devouring gaze of sudden and implacable animosity. The ruthless lips were shut out of sight, yet working as though the teeth were being ground behind them; the crow's footed face flushed up, and the crow's feet were no more; it was as though age was swallowed in that flood of speechless passion till the whole man was no older than the fiery eyes that blazed upon the boy. And yet the most menacing thing of all was the complete control with which the doctor broke this pregnant silence.
"You say that. I say otherwise. You had better find a book in the other room till you know your own mind again."
"I know it now, unless they release that man," said Pocket, through his teeth, although they chattered.
"Give them a chance, and give yourself one! It will be time to think of clearing other people when they fail to clear themselves. Have more patience! Think of your own friends, and give them time too."
If the last allusion was to the lad's letter, due in Leicestershire that morning, it was as happy as all Baumgartner's last words. If he meant himself to be included among Pocket's friends, there was food for thought in the suggestion that a man of the doctor's obvious capacity was not idle in the boy's best interests. Pocket was made to feel rather ashamed of himself, as usual; but he could not forget the concentrated fury of the look which had not been weakened by infuriate words; and the recollection remained as an excuse, as well as a menace, in his mind. He had time enough to think it over. Dr. Baumgartner smoked his meerschaum in the gathering shade at the back of the house. The schoolboy sulked for some time in the big chair, but eventually took the doctor at his word about a book.
If it be ever true that a man may be known by his books, it was certainly so to some extent in the case of Dr. Otto Baumgartner. His library was singularly small for an intellectual man who wrote himself, and a majority of the volumes were in languages which no public schoolboy could be expected to read; but of the English books many were on military subjects, some few anthropological; there were photographic year-books and Psychical Research Reports by the foot or yard, and there was an odd assortment of second-hand books which had probably been labelled "occult" in their last bookseller's list. Boismont on "Hallucinations" was one of these; it was the book for Pocket. He took the little red volume down, and read a long chapter on somnambulism in the big chair. In a way it comforted him. It was something to find that he was far from being the only harmless creature who had committed a diabolical deed in his sleep; here among several cases was one of another boy who had made an equally innocent and yet determined attempt on his own father. But there was something peculiar in poor Pocket's case, something that distinguished it from any of those cited in the book, and he was still ferreting for its absolute fellow when Phillida came in long before he expected her. Boismont had made the time fly wonderfully, in spite of everything; the girl, too, appeared to have been taken out of herself, and talked about her concert as any other young girl might have done, both to Pocket and her uncle, who glided in at once from the garden. The doctor, however, was himself in mellower mood; and they were having tea, for all the world like any ordinary trio, the girl still making talk about sundry songs, the man quizzing them and her, and the boy standing up for one that his sister sang at home, when a metallic tattoo put a dramatic stop to the conversation.
The two young people, but not their elder, were startled quite out of their almost inadvertent tranquillity; and the knocker was not still before Pocket realised that it was the first time he had heard it. No letters were delivered at that house; not a soul had he seen or heard at the door before. Even in his excitement, however, with its stunning recrudescence of every reality, its instantaneous visions of his people or the police, there was room for a measure of disgust when the girl got up, at an ungallant nod from the German, to go to the door.
"It's a huge fat man," whispered Phillida, on her return to the big room at the back of the house. "Here's his card."
"Thrush!" muttered Baumgartner as though he knew the name, and he glowered at the two young faces on which it made no impression whatever. It was plain how he hated leaving them together; but for once it must be done, and done quickly—with both doors open and the visitor's very movements audible on the steps. To the door the doctor must go, and went, shutting that one pointedly behind him.
The young creatures, looking in each other's eyes, listened for raised voices and the slam of prompt expulsion; but the voices were pitched too low to reach their ears in words, and were only interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the hall, and the perfectly passive closing of an outer and an inner door in quick succession.
"He's taken him into the dining-room," murmured Phillida. "Who can it be?"
"Hasn't he any friends?"
"None who ever come here; none of that name anywhere, I feel sure." Her great eyes, without leaving his for an instant, filled with thought as a blank screen takes a shadow. "I wonder if it's about that!" she whispered.
"What they were calling out with the newspapers while we were at table."
There was a pause. The look in her eyes had changed. It was purely penetrating now.
"Why should it be?" asked Pocket, his own eyes falling.
"It's no use asking me, Mr. Upton."
"But I don't understand the question."
"Is that true?"
"No," he muttered; "it isn't."
She was leaning over to him; he felt it, without looking up.
"Mr. Upton," she said, speaking quickly in the undertone they were both instinctively adopting, "you know now what I thought about you at first. I won't say what made me; but that was what I thought, but could hardly believe, and never will again. It makes it all the more a mystery, your being here. I can't ask my uncle—he tells me nothing—but there's something I can and must ask you."
Pocket hung his head. He knew what was coming. It came.
"My uncle brought you here, Mr. Upton, on the very morning that thing happened they were calling out about to-day. In the Park. It is to the Park he goes so often in the early morning with his camera! How can I say what I want to say? But, if you think, you will see that everything points to it; especially the way he ran out for that paper—and hid the truth when he came in!"
Pocket looked up at last.
"I know the truth."
"About the arrest?"
"Yes; it was quite obvious, and he admitted it when you'd gone."
"Why not before?"
"I couldn't tax him about it in front of you," he muttered, looking up and down quickly, unable to face her fierce excitement.
"Do tell me what it is you both know about this dreadful case!"
"I can't," the boy said hoarsely; "don't ask me."
"Then you know who did it. I can see you do."
There was a new anguish even in her whisper; he could hear what she thought.
"It was nobody you care about," he mumbled, hoarser than before, and his head lower.
"You don't mean——"
She stopped aghast.
"I can't say another word—and you won't say another to me!" he added, a bitter break in his muffled voice. He longed to tell her it had been an accident, to tell her all; but he had given his word to Baumgartner not to confide in her, and he did not think that he had broken it yet.
"You don't know me," she whispered, and for a moment her hand lay warm in his; "trust me! I'm your friend in spite of all you've said—or done!"
Dr. Baumgartner might have been ten minutes getting rid of the intruder; before that he had been first amazed and then relieved to hear the piano in the drawing-room; and that was all his anxious ear had heard of either boy or girl during his absence. Yet the boy was not standing over the piano, as he might have been, for Phillida was trying to recall one of the concert songs he said his sister sang. Pocket, however, was staring out into the garden with a troubled face, which he turned abruptly, aggressively, and yet apprehensively to meet the doctor's.
But the doctor no longer looked suspiciously from him to Phillida, but stood beaming on them both, and rubbing his hands as though he had done something very clever indeed.
BEFORE THE STORM
Sunday in London has got itself a bad name among those who occasionally spend one at their hotel, and miss the band, their letters, and the theatre at night; but at Dr. Baumgartner's there was little to distinguish the seventh day from the other six. The passover of the postman, that boon to residents and grievance of the traveller, was a normal condition in the dingy house of no address. More motor-horns were heard in the distance, and less heavy traffic; the sound of church bells came as well through the open windows; then the street-door shut, and there was a long period without Phillida, until it opened and shut again, and in she peeped with her parasol and Prayer-book, as though they were all quite ordinary people without a guilty secret among them!
Such was the Sunday morning. It was fine and warm. Dr. Baumgartner pottered about his untidy little garden, a sun-trap again as Pocket had seen it first; the Turk's head perspired from internal and external heat, but its rich yellow, shading into richer auburn, clashed rather with a red geranium which the doctor wore jauntily in the button-hole of his black alpaca jacket.
It was Phillida who had given him the flower at breakfast. She grew what she could in the neglected garden; the plants in the miniature conservatory were also hers, though the doctor took a perfunctory interest in them, obviously on her account. It was obvious at least to Pocket Upton. He saw all these things, and what they meant. He was not without his little gifts of observation and deduction. He noticed the difference in Baumgartner's voice when he addressed his niece, the humane kindling of the inexorable eyes, and to-day he thought he saw a reciprocal softening on the part of Phillida. There had been none to see yesterday or the day before. It was her uncle whom the girl had seemed unable to forgive for the unseemly scuffle of Friday morning. But now it was as though memory and common fairness had set years of kindness against these days of unendurable mystery, and bidden her endure them with a better grace. If she felt she had been disloyal to him, she could not have made sweeter amends than she did by many an unobtrusive little office. And she exchanged no more confidences with poor Pocket.
Yet these two were together most of the day; all three were; and it was a strangely peaceful day, a day of natural hush, and the cessation of life's hostilities, such as is sometimes almost pointedly bestowed before or after a time of strain. It was a day on which Pocket certainly drew his spiritual breath more freely than on any other since the dire catastrophe. There were few fresh clouds; perhaps the only one before evening was the removal of the book on hallucinations in which Pocket had become interested on the Saturday afternoon. It was no longer lying about the room as he had left it. There was a gap in its place in the shelf. The book had been taken away from him; it made him feel as though he were back again at his very first dame's school.
And the church bells sent him back to the school he was at now! They were more mellow and sedate then the chapel bells there, that rang you down the hill at the double if you were late and not too asthmatical; and Pocket saw and heard himself puffing up the opposite hill to take his place for chapel call-over in the school quad. The fellows would be forming in squads there now, all in their Sunday tails or Eton jackets as the case might be; of course Pocket was in tails, though still rather proud of them. The masters, in their silk hoods or their rabbit-skins were prominent in his mind's eye. Then came the cool and spacious chapel, with its marble pulpit and its brazen candelabra, and rows of chastened chapel faces, that he knew better than his own, giving a swing to chants which ran in his head at the very thought. How real it all was to him, and how unreal this Sunday morning, in the sunny room with the battle engravings over the book-cases, and the walnut chairs in front of them, and Dr. Baumgartner in and out in his alpaca coat! After chapel he would have gone for a walk with Blundell minor, most probably, or else written his letter home and got it over. And that chapter would have ended with cold boiled beef and apple-pie with cloves in it at Spearman's.
The Italian restaurant which sent in Dr. Baumgartner's meals certainly provided richer fare than that. There was a top-floor of soup in the portable contrivance, and before the meat a risotto, which the doctor praised without a single patriotic reservation.
"Italy is a country where one can live," said he. "Not that you must understand me to be altogether down on your own fatherland, my young fellow; there is something to be said for London, especially on a Sunday. No organs from my dear Italy, none of those so-called German bands which we in Germany would not tolerate for a moment; no postman every hour of the day, and no gaolbirds crying false news down the streets."
Pocket looked for a grim twinkle in the speaker's eye, but found it fixed on Phillida, who had not looked up. Instinct prompted Pocket to say something quickly; that he had not seen a postman there, was the actual remark.
"That is because I conduct my correspondence at my club," explained the doctor. "I give out no other address; then you only get your letters when you want them."
"Do you often go there?" the boy ventured to inquire, devoutly wishing he would go that afternoon.
"Not when I have visitors," replied Baumgartner, with a smiling bow. "And I look upon my patients in that light," he added, with benevolent but futile hypocrisy, embarrassing enough to Phillida, but not more so than if she had still believed it to be the truth.
Silence ensued until they were all in the other room; then the niece took refuge at her piano, and this time Pocket hung over her for an hour or more. He went through her music, and asked for everything that Lettice played or sang. Phillida would not sing to him, but she had the makings of a pianist. The boy's enthusiasm for the things he knew made her play then as well as ever he had heard them played. Even the doctor, dozing in the big chair with eyes that were never quite shut, murmured his approval more than once; he loved his Mendelssohn and Schubert, and had nothing to say against the Sousas and others that the boy picked out as well, and mentioned with ingenuous fervour in the same breath. Pocket would have sung himself if the doctor had not been there, for he had a bit of a voice when he was free from asthma; and once or twice he stopped listening to wonder at himself. Could he be the boy who had killed a man, however innocently, three days before! Could it be he whom the police might come and carry off to prison at any moment? Was it true that he might never see his own people any more? Such questions appalled and stunned him; he could neither answer them nor realise their full import. They turned the old man in the chair, who alone could answer them, back into the goblin he had seemed at first. Yet they did give a certain shameful zest and excitement even to this quiet hour of motley music in his presence.
Besides, there was always one comfort to remember now: his letter home. Of course Lettice would show it to their father; of course something would be done at once. Shame and sorrow for the accident would be his for ever; but as for his present situation, there were moments when Pocket felt rather like a story-book cabin-boy luxuriously marooned, and already in communication with the mainland.
He wondered what steps had been taken so far. No doubt his father had come straight up to town; it was a moving thought that he might be within a mile of that very room at that very moment. Would all the known circumstances of his disappearance be published broadcast in the papers? Pocket felt he would have red ears all his life if that were done; and yet it had hurt him a little to gather from Baumgartner that so far there was nothing in the papers to say he had so much as disappeared. That fact must have been known since Thursday or Friday. Once it did cross his mind that to keep it from his mother they would have to keep it out of the papers. Well, as long as she did not know!
He pictured the blinds down in her room; it was the hour of her afternoon rest. If he were at home, he would be going about quietly. Lettice would be reading or writing in the morning-room, most probably. Father would be gloating over his rhododendrons with a strong cigar; in his last letter the boy had heard how beautiful they were. Horace might be with him, smoking a cigarette, if he and Fred were not playing tennis. Their pocket edition had not to look very far ahead to see himself smoking proper cigarettes with the others, to hear his own voice telling them of his own experience—of this very hour at Dr. Baumgartner's. Even Fred and Horace would have to listen to that! Pocket looked at the long lean figure in the chair, at the eyelids never quite closed, and so imparting at once a softening and a sinister effect. He noted the drooping geranium in his buttonhole, and grey ash from the Turk's head sprinkling the black alpaca coat. It brought the very phrases of a graphic portrait almost to his lips.
Yet if anybody had told the boy he was beginning to gloat over the silver lining to the cloud that he was under, and that it was not silver at all but one of the baser metals of the human heart, how indignantly he would have denied it at first, how humbly seen it in the end!
When Phillida went off to make the tea her uncle sought his room and sponge, but did not neglect to take Pocket with him. Pocket was for going higher up to his own room; but Baumgartner said that would only make more work, in a tone precluding argument. It struck Pocket that the doctor really needed sleep, and was irritable after a continuous struggle against it. If so, it served him right for not trusting a fellow—and for putting Boismont in the waste-paper basket, by Jove!
There was no mistaking the red book there; it was one of the first things Pocket noticed, while the doctor was stooping over his basin in the opposite corner; and the schoolboy's strongest point, be it remembered, was a stubborn tenacity of his own devices. He made a dive at the waste-paper basket, meaning to ask afterwards if the doctor minded his reading that book. But the question never was asked; the book was still in the basket when the doctor had finished drying his face; and the boy was staring and swaying as though he had seen the dead.
"Why, what's the matter with my young fellow?" inquired Baumgartner, solicitously.
"Nothing! I'll be all right soon," muttered Pocket, wiping his forehead and then his hand.
"You look faint. Here's my sponge. No, lie flat down there first!"
But Pocket was not going to lie down on that bed.
"I do feel seedy," he said, in a stronger voice with a new note in it, "but I'm not going to faint. I'm quite well able to go upstairs. I'd rather lie down on my own bed, if you don't mind."
His own bed! The irony struck him even as he said the words. He was none the less glad to sit down on it; and so sitting he made his first close examination of two or three tiny squares of paper which he had picked out of the basket in the doctor's room instead of Boismont's book on hallucinations. There had been no hallucination about those scraps of paper; they were fragments of the boy's own letter to his sister, which Dr. Baumgartner had never posted at all.
A LIKELY STORY
At that moment help was as far away as it had been near the day before, when Eugene Thrush was closeted in the doctor's dining-room; for not only had Mr. Upton decamped for Leicestershire, without a word of warning to anybody, on the Saturday afternoon, but Thrush himself had followed by the only Sunday train.
A bell was ringing for evening service when he landed in a market town which reversed the natural order by dozing all summer and waking up for the hunting season. And now the famous grass country was lying in its beauty-sleep, under a gay counterpane of buttercups and daisies, and leafy coverts, with but one blot in the sky-line, in the shape of a permanent plume of sluggish smoke. But the works lay hidden, and the hall came first; and Thrush, having ascertained that this was it, abandoned the decrepit vessel he had boarded at the station, and entered the grounds on foot.
A tall girl, pacing the walks with a terribly anxious face, was encountered and accosted before he reached the house.
"I believe Mr. Upton lives here. Can you tell me if he's at home? I want to see him about something."
Lettice flushed and shrank.
"I know who you are! Have you found my brother?"
"No; not yet," said Thrush, after a pause. "But you take my breath away, my dear young lady! How could you be so sure of me? Is it no longer to be kept a secret, and is that why your father bolted out of town without a word?"
"It's still a secret," whispered Lettice, as though the shrubs had ears, "only I'm in it. Nobody else is—nobody fresh—but I guessed, and my mother was beginning to suspect. My father never stays away a Sunday unless he's out of England altogether; she couldn't understand it, and was worrying so about him that I wired begging him to come back if only for the night. So it's all my fault, Mr. Thrush; and I know everything but what you've come down to tell us!"
"That's next to nothing," he shrugged. "It's neither good nor bad. But if you can find your father I'll tell you both exactly what I have found out."
In common with all his sex, he liked and trusted Lettice at sight, without bestowing on her a passing thought as a person capable of provoking any warmer feeling. She was the perfect sister—that he felt as instinctively as everybody else—and a woman to trust into the bargain. It would be cruel and quite unnecessary to hide anything from that fine and unselfish face. So he let her lead him to a little artificial cave, lined and pungent with pitch-pine, over against the rhododendrons, while she went to fetch her father quietly from the house.
The ironmaster amplified the excuses already made for him; he had rushed for the first train after getting his daughter's telegram, leaving but a line for Thrush with his telephone number, in the hopes that he would use it whether he had anything to report or not.
"As you didn't," added Mr. Upton, in a still aggrieved voice, "I've been trying again and again to ring you up instead; but of course you were never there, nor your man Mullins either. I was coming back by the last train, however, and should have been with you late to-night."
"Did you leave the motor behind?"
"Yes; it'll be there to meet me at St. Pancras."
"It may have to do more than that," said Thrush, spreading his full breadth on the pitch-pine seat. "I've found out something; how much or how little it's too soon to tell; but I wasn't going to discuss it through a dozen country exchanges as long as you wanted the thing a dead secret, Mr. Upton, and that's why I didn't ring you up. As for your last train, I'd have waited to meet it in town, only that wouldn't have given me time to say what I've got to say before one or other of us may have to rush off somewhere else by another last train."
"Do for God's sake say what you've got to say!" cried Mr. Upton.
"Well, I've seen a man who thinks he may have seen the boy!"
"And perfectly well—but for his asthma—on Thursday."
The ironmaster thanked God in a dreadful voice; it was Lettice who calmed him, not he her. Her eyes only shone a little, but his were blinded by the first ray of light.
"Where was it?" he asked, when he could ask anything.
"I'll tell you in a minute. I want first to be convinced that it really was your son. Did the boy take any special interest in Australia?"
"Rather!" cried Lettice, the sister of three boys.
"What kind of interest?"
"He wanted to go out there. It had just been talked about." She looked at her father. "I wouldn't let him go," he said. "Why?"
"I want to know just how it came to be talked about."
"A fool of a doctor in town recommended it."
Lettice winced, but Thrush nodded as though that tallied.
"Did he recommend any particular vessel?"
"Yes, a sailing ship—the Seringapatam— an old East Indiaman they've turned into a kind of floating hospital. I wouldn't hear of the beastly tub."
"Do you know when she was to sail?"
"I did know," said Lettice. "I believe it was just about now."
"She sailed yesterday," said Thrush, impressively; "and your brother, if it was your brother, talked a good deal about her to this man. He told him all about your having always been in favour of it, Miss Upton, and his father not. I'm bound to say it sounds as though it may have been the boy."
Thrush seemed to be keeping something back; but the prime and absorbing question of identity prevented the others from noticing this.
"It must have been!" cried Mr. Upton. "Who was the man, and where exactly did he see him?"
"First on Thursday morning, and last on Thursday night. But perhaps I'd better tell you about my informant, since we've only his word for Thursday, and only his suspicions as to what has happened since. In the first place he's a semi-public man, though I don't suppose you know his name. It's Baumgartner—Dr. Otto Baumgartner—a German scientist of some distinction."
The ironmaster made a remark which did him little credit, and Thrush continued with some pride: "There was some luck in it, of course, for he was the very first man I struck who'd bought d'Auvergne Cigarettes since Wednesday; but I was on his doorstep well within twenty-four hours of hearing that your son was missing; and you may chalk that up to A. V. M.! I might have been with him some hours sooner still, but I preferred to spend them getting to know something about my man. I tried his nearest shops; perfect mines! One was a chemist, who didn't know him by sight, and had never heard of the cigarettes, but remembered being asked for them by an elderly gentleman last Thursday morning! That absolutely confirmed my first suspicion that Baumgartner himself was not the asthmatic; if he had been, the nearest chemist would have known all about him. Yet he had gone to the nearest chemist first!"
"The nearest butcher was next door; but he was so short about Baumgartner that I scented a true-green vegetarian. It was a false scent, Mr. Upton; not to mention the baker and the candlestick-maker, there's a little restaurant in the same row, which was about the fifth place where I began by asking if they knew where a Dr. Baumgartner lived in that neighbourhood. The little Italian boss was all over me on the spot! The worthy doctor proved to be his most regular customer, having all his meals sent in hot from the restaurant in quite the Italian manner. I don't suppose you see how very valuable this was to me. Germans love Italy, the little man explained; but I said that was the one point on which I should never yield to Germany—and I thought I was going to be kissed across the counter! It seems the good doctor lives alone with his niece (not always even her), and keeps no servants and never entertains. Yet on Friday, for the first time since the arrangement was made, the old chap went to the restaurant himself to complain of short commons; there had not been enough for them to eat on the Thursday night!"
"Had they been alone?" asked Mr. Upton, with a puzzled face.
"That's the whole point! My little Florentine understood they were, but I deduced one extra, and then conceived a course that may astonish you. It was the bold course; but it nearly always pays. I lunched at my leisure (an excellent Chianti my little friend keeps) and afterwards went round and saw the doctor himself. The niece opened the door—I wish I'd seen more of her—but she fetched her uncle at once and I begged for an interview on an urgent matter. He consented in a way that, I must say, impressed me very favourably; and the moment we were alone I said, 'I want to know, Doctor, who you bought those asthma cigarettes for last Thursday!' "
"That took him aback, but not unduly; so then I added, 'I'm an inquiry agent with a very delicate case in hand, and if you'll tell me it may solve at heart-breaking a mystery as I've ever handled.' Is was treating him like a gentleman, but I believe in that; there's no shorter cut to whether a man is one or not."
"Well, his face had lit up, and a very fine face it is; it hadn't blackened for the fifth of a second; but I had a disappointment in store. 'I'd tell you his name with all my heart,' he said, 'only I don't really know it myself. He said it was John Green—but his handkerchiefs were marked "A. A. U." ' "
"Tony's initials!" cried Tony's father.
"But it never was Tony under a false name," his sister vowed. "That settles it for me, Mr. Thrush."
"Not even if he'd got into some scrape or adventure, Miss Upton?"
"He would never give a name that wasn't his."
"Suppose he felt he had disgraced his name?"
"My brother Tony wouldn't do it!"
"He might feel he had?"
"He might," the father agreed, "even if he'd done no such thing; in fact, he's just the kind of boy who would take an exaggerated view of some things." His mind went back to his last talk with Horace on the subject.
"Or he might feel he was about to do something, shall we say, unworthy of you all?" Thrush made the suggestion with much delicacy.
"Then I don't think he'd do it," declared loyal Lettice.
"Let us hear what you think he did," said Mr. Upton.
"It's not what I think; it's what this man Baumgartner thinks, and his story that you ought to hear."
And that which they now heard at second-hand was in fact a wonderfully true version—up to a point—of poor Pocket's condition and adventures—with the sleep-walking and the shooting left out—from the early morning of his meeting with Baumgartner until the late afternoon of that day.
Baumgartner had actually described the boy's long sleep in his chair; it was with the conversation when he awoke that the creative work began in earnest.
"That's a good man!" said Mr. Upton, with unimaginable irony. "I'd like to take him by the hand—and those infernal Knaggses by the scruff of their dirty necks—and that old hag Harbottle by the hair!"
"I think of dear darling Tony," said Lettice, in acute distress; "lying out all night with asthma—it was enough to kill him—or to send him out of his mind."
"I wonder if it could have done that," remarked Thrush, in a tone of serious speculation which he was instantly called upon to explain.
"What are you keeping back?" cried Lettice, the first to see that he had been keeping something all this time.
"Only something he'd kept back from them," replied Thrush, with just a little less than his usual aplomb. "It was a surprise he sprang on them after waking; it will probably surprise you still more, Mr. Upton. You may not believe it. I'm not certain that I do myself. In the morning he had spoken of the Australian voyage as though you'd opposed it, but withdrawn your opposition—one moment, if you don't mind! In the evening he suddenly explained that he was actually sailing in the Seringapatam, that his baggage was already on board, and he must get aboard himself that night!"
"I don't believe it, Thrush."
"No more do I, father, for a single instant. Tony, of all people!"
Thrush looked from one to the other with a somewhat disingenuous eye. "I don't say I altogether accept it myself; that's why I kept it to the end," he explained. "But we must balance the possibilities against the improbabilities, never losing sight of the one incontestable fact that the boy has undoubtedly disappeared. And here's a man, a well-known man, who makes no secret of the fact that he found him wandering in the Park, in the early morning, breathless and dazed, and drove him home to his own house, where the boy spent the day; they took a hansom, the doctor tells me, than which no statement is more quickly and easily checked. Are we to believe this apparently unimpeachable and disinterested witness, or are we not? He was most explicit about everything, offering to show me exactly where he found the boy, and never the least bit vague or unsatisfactory in any way. If you are prepared to believe him, if only for the sake of argument, you may care to hear Dr. Baumgartner's theory as to what has happened."
Lettice shook her head in scorn, but Mr. Upton observed, "Well, we may as well hear what the fellow had to say to you; we must be grateful to him for taking pity on our boy, and he was the last who saw him; he may have seen something that we shouldn't guess."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Eugene Thrush; "he saw, or at any rate he now thinks he saw, enough to build up a pretty definite theory on the foundation of fact supplied by me. He didn't know the boy had come up to see a doctor and been refused a lodging for the night; he understood he had come up to join his ship, and suspected he had been on a sort of mild spree—if Miss Upton will forgive me!" And he turned deferential lenses on the indignant girl.
"I don't forgive the suggestion," said she; "but it isn't yours, Mr. Thrush, so please go on."
"It's an idea that Dr. Baumgartner continues to hold in spite of all I was able to tell him, and we mustn't forget, as Mr. Upton says, that he was the last to see your brother. Briefly, he believes the boy did meet with some misadventure that night in town; that he had been ill-treated or intimidated by some unscrupulous person or persons; perhaps threatened with blackmail; at any rate imbued with the conviction that he is not more sinned against than sinning. That, I think, is only what one expects of these very conscientious characters, particularly in youth; he was taking something or somebody a thousandfold more seriously than a grown man would have done. Afraid to go back to school for fear of expulsion, ashamed to show his face at home! What's to be done? He thinks of the ship about to sail, the ship he hoped to sail in, and in his desperation he determines to sail in her still—even if he has to stow away!"
"My God!" cried Mr. Upton, "he's just the one to think of it. His head was full of those trashy adventure stories!"
But Lettice shook hers quietly.
"To think of it, but not to do it," said she, with a quiet conviction that rather nettled Mr. Thrush.
"But really, Miss Upton, he must have done something, you know! And he actually talked to Dr. Baumgartner about this; not of doing it himself, but of stowaways in general, a propos of his voyage; and how many pounds of biscuit and how many ounces of water would carry one alive into blue water. There's another thing, by the way! He told Baumgartner the ship touched nowhere between the East India Docks and Melbourne; he would be out of the world for three whole months."
"And she only sailed yesterday?" cried Mr. Upton, coming furiously to his feet. "And you let her get through the Straits of Dover and out to sea while you came down here to tell me this by inches?"
Thrush blinked blandly through his port-hole glasses.
"I'm letting her go as far as Plymouth," said he, "where one or both of us will board her tomorrow if she's up to time!"
"You said she didn't touch anywhere between the docks and Melbourne?"
"No; your son said that, Mr. Upton, and it was his one mistake. They don't usually touch, but a son of one of the owners happens to have gone round in the ship to Plymouth for the trip. I got it first from an old boatswain of the line who's caretaker at the office, and the only man there, of course, yesterday afternoon; but I've since bearded one of the partners at his place down the river, and had the statement confirmed and amplified. One or two pasengers are only going aboard at Plymouth, so she certainly won't sail again before to-morrow noon, even if she's there by then. You will be in ample time to board her—and I've got a sort of search-warrant from the partner I saw—if you go down by the 12.15 from Paddington to-night."
The ironmaster asked no more questions; that was good enough for him, he said, and went off to tell a last lie to his wife, with the increasing confidence of one gradually mastering the difficulties of an uncongenial game. He felt also that a happy issue was in sight, and after that he could tell the truth and liberate his soul. He was pathetically sanguine of the solution vicariously propounded by Eugene Thrush, and prepared to rejoice in a discovery which would have filled him with dismay and chagrin if he had not been subconsciously prepared for something worse. It never occurred to Mr. Upton to question the man's own belief in the theory he had advanced; but Lettice did so the moment she had the visitor to herself in the smoking-room, where it fell to her to do certain honours vice Horace, luckily engaged at the works. "And do you believe this astounding theory, Mr. Thrush?"
Thrush eyed her over his tumbler's rim, but completed his draught before replying.
"It's not my province to believe or to disbelieve, Miss Upton; my job is to prove things one way or the other."
"Then I'll tell you just one thing for your guidance: my brother is absolutely incapable of the conduct you ascribe to him between you."
Thrush did not look as though he were being guided by anybody or anything, beyond the dictates of his own appetites, as he sat by the window of the restaurant car, guzzling new potatoes and such Burgundy as could be had in a train. But he was noticeably less garrulous than usual, and his companion also had very little to say until the train was held up inexplicably outside Willesden, when he began to fume.
"I never knew such a thing on this line before," he complained; "it's all the harder luck, for I never was on such an errand before, and it'll just make the difference to me."
"You'll have time," said Thrush, consulting his watch as the train showed signs of life at last.
"Not for what I want to do," said Mr. Upton firmly. "I want to shake that man's hand, and to hear from his own lips about my boy!"
"I'm not sure that you'll find him at home," Thrush said, after a contemplative pause.
"I'll take my chance of that."
"He said something about their both going out of town to-day—meaning niece and self. I heard her playing just before I left, and that seemed to remind him of it."
"Well, Thrush, I mean to risk it."
"And losing the train?"
"I can motor down to Plymouth; there's plenty of time. I might take him with me, as well as you?"
"Better," said Thrush, after another slight pause. "I'd rather you didn't count on me for that trip, Mr. Upton."
"Not count on you"?
"One of us will be quite enough."
"Have you some other case to shove in front of mine, then?" cried the ironmaster, touched on the old raw spot.
"I shouldn't put it like that, Mr. Upton."
"All right! I'll take your man Mullins instead; but I'll try my luck at that German doctor's first," he growled, determined to have his own way in something.
"I'm afraid you can't have Mullins," said Thrush, gently.
"Want him yourself do you?"
"I do; but I'm afraid neither of us can have him just now, Mr. Upton."
"Why not? Where is he."
Thrush leant across as they swam into the lighted terminus.
"In prison! Your man Mullins?"
"Yes, Mr. Upton, he's the man they arrested yesterday on suspicion of complicity in this Hyde Park affair!"
Pocket had put the fragments of his poor letter together again, and was still poring over those few detached and mutilated words, which were the very ones his tears had blotted, when there came a warning chink of tea-things on the stairs. He was just able to thrust the pieces back into his pocket, and to fling himself at full length on the bed, before Dr. Baumgartner entered with a tray.
"There, my young fellow! This will make a man of you! Then we shall see you yourself again by supper-time."
"I'm not coming down again," said Pocket. "Don't force me, please"
"Force you?" Baumgartner cocked a keen eye at the open window. "What a tyrant you would make me out! On the contrary, I think you show your wisdom in remaining quiet. Perhaps you would be quieter still with the window shut—so—and fastened to prevent it rattling. I will open it when I come up again. There shall not be a sound in the house to disturb you."
And he took to tiptoes there and then, gliding about with a smiling stealth that set Pocket shivering on the bed; he shivered the more when an admirable doctor's hand, cool and smooth as steel, was laid upon his forehead.
"A little fever, I'm afraid! I should get right into bed, if I were you. It's nothing to be alarmed about, much less astonished; you have been through so much, my poor young fellow."
"I have indeed!" cried Pocket, with unguarded bitterness.
And Baumgartner paused between the foot of the bed and the door.
"But there's one consolation for you," he said at length, in a sibilant whisper. "They've had that letter of yours at home quite a long time now—ever since yesterday morning, haven't they?"
The bed shook under Pocket when the door was shut—he only hoped it was not before. Up to the last minute, he felt quite sure that Dr. Baumgartner, suspicious as he was, had suspected nothing of the discovery downstairs behind his back. If he himself had betrayed anything it was in the last few seconds, when it had been all that he could do to keep from screaming out his knowledge of the other's trickery. To play such a trick upon a broken-hearted boy! To have the heart to play it! No wonder he felt feverish to that wicked hand; the wonder was that he had actually lain there listening to the smooth impostor gratuitously revelling in his imposition!
Rage and disappointment seized him by turns, and both together; at first they bit deeper even than the fear of Baumgartner—a fear felt from the beginning, and naturally redoubled now. Disappointment had the sharper tooth: his letter had ever gone, not one of his people knew a thing about him yet, his tears had not drawn theirs, they had not hung in anxious conclave on his words! Not that he had recognised any such subtle consolations as factors in his temporary and comparative peace of mind; now that they were gone, he could not have said what it was he missed; he only knew that he could least forgive Baumgartner for this sudden sense of cruel and crushing disappointment.
The phase passed, for the boy had the temperament that sees the other side eventually, and of course there was something to be said for the doctor's stratagem. He could understand it, after all; the motive was not malevolent; it was to relieve his mind and keep him quiet. The plan had succeeded perfectly, and nobody was really any the worse off. His people would have known he was alive and well on the Friday; but that was all, and they had no reason yet to assume his death. No; even Pocket came to see that his letter had been more of a relief to write than it could have been to read; that, indeed, it could only have aggravated the anxiety and suspense at home. Yet there was in him some fibre which the deliberate deception had fretted and frayed beyond reason or forgiveness. He saw all there was to be said about it; he could imagine Baumgartner himself putting the case with irresistible logic, with characteristic plausibility, and all the mesmeric wisdom of a benevolent serpent; but for once, the boy felt, he would not be taken in. It was not coming to that, however, for he had quite decided not to betray his knowledge of the fraud—if only he had not already done so!
His fears on that score were largely allayed by Baumgartner's manner when at length he returned with another tray; for nothing could have been more considerate and sympathetic, and even fatherly, than the doctor's behaviour then. Pocket had never touched his tea; he was very gently chidden for that. Obstinately he declared he did not want any supper either: it was true he did not want to want any, or another bite of that man's bread, but he was sorry as soon as the words were out. It was against his reasoned policy to show temper, and he was beginning to feel very hungry besides. The doctor said, "You'll think better of that, my young fellow," which turned a mere remark into more than half an absolute resolution. The second tray was set with a lighted candle on a chair by the bedside. The boy eyed it wistfully with set teeth, and Baumgartner eyed the boy.
"Is there anything you could fancy, my young fellow?"
"Nothing to eat."
"Is there any book?"
"Yes," said Pocket, without a moment's premeditation. "There's the book I was reading yesterday."
"What was that?"
"Some Frenchman on hallucinations."
"So you were reading that book!" remarked the doctor, with detestable aplomb. "I wondered who had taken it down. It is a poor book. I have destroyed it."
"I'm sorry," said Pocket, and tried to look it rather than revolted.
"I am not," rejoined Baumgartner. "Even if it were a good book, it is no book for you at the present time. It is morbid to dwell on what is done and over."
"If it is over," murmured the boy.
"It is over!" said Baumgartner, fiercely.
"Well," said Pocket, "I'm glad I read what he'd got to say about somnambulism."
Pocket did not say it was a satisfaction to have done anything in spite of such a despot as his questioner. But he did say it was a comfort to know that others besides himself had committed terrible deeds in their sleep.
"But," he added, "they always seem to have dreamt the dreadful thing as well. Now, the funny thing is that I remember nothing until the shot woke me and I found myself where you saw me."
"I'm glad you find it funny!"
The sneer seemed strangely unworthy of a keen intelligence; the increased asperity of Baumgartner's manner, and his whole conduct about a harmless book, altogether inexplicable.
"You know what I mean," replied the boy, with spirit.
"Yes, I know what you mean! You mean to go out of your mind, and to do your best to drive me out of mine, for the sake of a technically human life less precious than the average dog's!"
And, much as it puzzled him, there was certainly something more human about this sudden outburst than in anything Dr. Baumgartner had said since the scene between them in the bedroom below. He even slammed the door behind him when he went. But Pocket preferred that novel exhibition, for its very heat and violence, to the sleek and calculated solicitude of the doctor's final visit, with pipe and candle, when the one by the bedside had burnt down almost to the socket.
"My young fellow!" he exclaimed in unctuous distress. "Not a bite eaten in all these hours! Do you know that it's nearly midnight?"
"I'm not hungry," replied Pocket, lying gloriously for once. "I told you I wasn't well."
"You'll be worse if you don't force yourself to eat."
"I can't help that."
"Well, well!" said the doctor, instead of the objurgation that seemed to tremble for an instant on his lips. He replaced between them the oval hook of clear amber enclosing the thin round one of black nicotine, and he puffed until the cruel carved face was hotter and more infuriate than ever, under the swirling smoke of mimic battle. To the boy it was all but a living face, and a vile one, capable of nameless atrocities; and the hard-frozen face of Baumgartner was capable of looking on.
"Well, well! If I am to have you ill on my hands it's my own fault. I take the responsibility for everything that has happened since the very first moment we met. Remember that, my young fellow! I took the law into my own hands, and you I took into my own house for better or worse. You were worse then, remember, and yet I took you in! Is it not strange that your asthma has entirely left you under my roof? Does it not lead you to believe in me, my young fellow—to trust me perhaps more than you have done?"
It did not. Pocket was not going to lie about that; he held his tongue stubbornly instead. He still believed in his own explanation, derived from one of his many doctors, and moreover already mentioned to this one, of the sudden cessation of his chronic complaint. He hated Baumgartner for forgetting that, and pretending for a moment to take any credit to himself. That again was not worthy of so cool and keen a brain, much less of the candid character with which Pocket had supposed himself to be dealing. The very young are pathetically apt to see their own virtues in those whom they trust at all; but the schoolboy's faith in Dr. Baumgartner had been shattered to its base; and now (as sure a symptom of his youth) he could see no virtue at all.
"You must trust me again," said Baumgartner, as though he knew what he had forfeited. "I know what will do you good."
"What?" asked Pocket, out of mere incredulous curiosity.
"Fresh air; some exercise; a glimpse of the beautiful town we live in, before another soul is about, before the sun itself is up!"
Pocket hardly knew what made him shudder at the proposition. It might have been the poignant picture of that other early morning, which came before him in a scorching flash. But there was something also in the way the doctor was bending over him in bed, holding his pipe nearer still, so that the two dreadful faces seemed of equal size. And Baumgartner's had become a dreadful face in the boy's eyes now; there was none among those cruel waxworks to match it in cold intellectual cruelty; and its smile—its new and strange smile it must have been that made him shudder and shake his head.
"But, my young fellow," urged the doctor, "it will do you so much good. And not a soul will see us so early, early in the morning!"
Again that insinuating smile inspired a horror of which the boy himself could have offered no satisfactory explanation, especially as there was much to commend the proposal to his mind. But his face was white enough as he moved it from side to side on the pillow.
"I tell you I'm ill," he whimpered. "How can I go out with you, when you see I can't eat a bite?"
Baumgartner gave it up for the night. He was coming back in the early, early lovely summer's morning; then they would see, would they not? Pocket had a last wave from the hideous meerschaum head, and a nod from the other. He was alone for the night. And he meant to be alone next morning when the doctor took his early walk; let him prowl by himself. Pocket was not going with him. He had never been more determined about anything than that. It was an animal instinct of fear and deep revulsion, an impulse quite distinct from a further determination to slip away in his turn as soon as the coast was clear. On this course he was equally decided, but on other and more palpable grounds. Baumgartner had broken his side of their treaty, so the treaty was torn up with the letter which had never gone. And Pocket was going instead of his letter—going straight to his people to tell them all, and have that poor innocent man set free before the day was out.
The night's immunity was meanwhile doubly precious; but it had been secured, or rather its continuance could only be assured, at a price which he wondered even now if he could pay. He was a growing, hungry boy, no longer ailing in wind or limb. Distress of mind was his one remaining ill; the rest was sham; and distress of mind did not prevent him from feeling ravenous after fasting ten or eleven hours. Here was food still within his reach, even at his side; but he felt committed to his declaration that he could not eat. If the tray were still untouched in the morning, surely there could be no further question of his going out with Baumgartner; but there was an "if." The boy was not used to being very stern with himself; his strongest point was not self-denial. Much of his moral stamina had been expended in nightly tussles for mere breath; he had grit enough there. But his temperament was self-indulgent, and that he triumphed over positive pangs only shows the power of that rival instinct not to accompany the doctor a yard from his door.
Yet it meant more hours with the food beside him than he could endure lying still. He got up, inch by inch, for he knew who lay underneath; and he opened the window, which Baumgartner had broken his promise to open, by even slower and more laborious degrees. He leant out as he had done that first morning, it might have been a month ago; and this scene must have challenged comparison with that, had his mind been even as free from dread and terror as it had been then. But all he saw was the few remaining lighted windows in the backs of those other houses; he could not have sworn there was a moon. The moon poured no beam of comfort on his aching head; but the lighted windows were as the open eyes of honest men, who would not see him come to harm; and the last rumble in the streets was a faint but cheering chorus for lonely ears.
Once a motor-horn blew a solo near at hand, and Pocket half recognised its note; but he did not connect it with quite another set of sounds, which grew but gradually on his ear out of the bowels of the house. Somebody was knocking and ringing at the doctor's door, not furiously, but with considerable pertinacity. Pocket was thrilled to the marrow just at first, and flew from the open window to the landing outside his door. The house was in perfect darkness, and still as death in the patient intervals between each measured attempt to rouse the inmates without disturbing the street. It came to Pocket that it must be Baumgartner himself, gone out for something without his key; and the boy was about to run down and let him in, when he distinctly heard the retreat of feet down the front steps, and then a chuckle on the next landing as the doctor closed his bedroom door.
Who could it have been? Baumgartner's chuckle suggested the police; but in that case it was the boy upstairs who was going to have the last laugh, though a grim one, and very terribly at his own expense. He could not close an eye for thinking of it, and listening for another knocking and ringing down below. But nothing happened until the doctor returned between five and six, still with his meerschaum pipe, still in his alpaca jacket, but wearing also the goblin hat and cloak of their first meeting, to renew and intensify the animal fear that glued the boy to his bed.
"It is a pity," said Baumgartner, standing at the window which Pocket had left open. "The air is like champagne at this hour, and not a cloud in the sky! It would do you more good than lying there. It is you who are making yourself ill. If I thought you were doing it on purpose '—and his eyes blazed—'I'd feed you like a fowl!"
"It's so likely that I should do it on purpose," muttered Pocket, with schoolboy sarcasm. His eyes, however, were purposely closed, and they had missed the old daggers in Baumgartner's.
"You know best," said the doctor. "But you are missing the morning of your life! Not a cloud in the sky, only the golden rain in my little garden. I suppose you have not learnt what the golden rain is at your public school? You English call it laburnum; but we Germans have more imagination, thank God!"
Pocket did not open his eyes again till he had gone; next instant he had the door open too, as the doctor's step was creaking down the lower flight of stairs. Once more Pocket ventured out upon the landing, not quite to the banisters; he trusted to his ears as before. They told him the doctor had gone into his dark-room. His heart sank. It was only for a moment. The dark-room door shut sharply. The steps came creaking back along the hall, went grating out upon the doorstep. There was another sharp shutting. Food at last!
It was neither very nice nor half enough for a famishing lad, that plate of cold mixed meats from the restaurant, with a hard stale roll to eke them out. But Pocket felt he had a fresh start in life when he had eaten every crumb and emptied his water-bottle. Nor was he without plan or purpose any longer; he was only doubtful whether to knock at Phillida's door and shout goodbye, or to leave her a note explaining all. Baumgartner would be out for hours; he always was, on these early jaunts of his; there would almost be time to wait and say goodbye properly when the girl came down. She would hardly hinder him a second time, and he longed to see her and speak to her again, especially if that was to be the end between them. He did not mean it to be the end, by any means; but any nonsense that might have been gathering in the schoolboy's head was, at this point, more than rudely dispelled by the discovery that Dr. Baumgartner had removed his clothes!
Pocket swore an oath that would have shocked him in a schoolfellow; it was a practice he indeed abhorred, but decent words would not meet such a case. It was to be met by action, however, just as that locked door had been met, and the policeman's prohibition in the Park. He knew where his clothes must be. He slipped his overcoat, which he was using as a dressing-gown, over his pyjamas, and ran right downstairs as Dr. Baumgartner had done not many minutes before him. His clothes were in the dark-room. But the dark-room door had a Yale lock; there was no forcing it by foot or shoulder, though Pocket in his passion tried both. So round he went without a moment's hesitation to the dark-room window by way of the little conservatory. The blind was drawn. That mattered nothing. He went back for a plant-pot, and smashed both it and a sheet of ruby glass with one vicious blow.
Entry was simple after that; he had only to be careful not to cut his hands or feet. Inside, he removed the broken glass, closed the window, and let the blind down as he had found it, without looking twice at his clothes. There they were for him to carry upstairs at his leisure. They were not his only property in that room either. His revolver was there somewhere under lock and key. He might want it, waking, if Dr. Baumgartner came back before his time.
It was easily located; of the lockers, built in with the shelves on the folding doors, only one was actually locked, and the revolver was not in the others. Pocket went to his waistcoat for one of those knives beloved of schoolboys, with the hook for extracting stones from hoofs, among other superfluous implements. Pocket had never used this one, had often felt inclined to wrench it off because it was hard to open and in the way of the other tools. But he used it now with as little hesitation as he had done the other damage, with almost a lust for breakage; and there was his revolver, safe and sound as his clothes.
It had been honoured with a place beside a rack of special negatives; at least, there were other racks, in the other lockers, not locked up like that; and there was no other treasure that Pocket could see. He had his hand on his own treasure, was in the act of taking it, trembling a little, but more elated, as he stood in a ruby flood only partially diluted by the broken window behind the blind.
At that moment there came such a thunder of knuckles on the door beside him that the revolver caught in the rack of negatives, and brought the whole lot crashing about his toes.
ON THE TRACK OF THE TRUTH
The unseen knuckles renewed their assault upon the dark-room door; and Pocket wavered between its Yale lock, which opened on this side with a mere twist of the handle, and the broken red window behind the drawn red blind. Escape that way was easy enough; and if ever one could take the streets in pyjamas and overcoat, with the rest of one's clothes in a bundle under one's arm, it was before six o'clock in the morning. But it was not a course that vanity encouraged in an excited schoolboy with romantic instincts and a revolver which he perceived at a glance to be still loaded in most of its chambers. Pocket was not one of nature's heroes, but he had an overwhelming desire to behave like one, and time to feel how he should despise himself all his life if he bolted by the window instead of opening the door. So he did open it, trembling but determined. And there stood Phillida in her dressing-gown, her dark hair tumbling over her shoulders.
"It's you!" she cried, taking the exclamation out of his mouth.
"Yes," he said, with a gust of relief; "did you think it was thieves?"
"Isn't it?" she demanded, pointing to the broken window visible through the blind. Then she saw his revolver, and drew back an inch.
"He took this from me," said Pocket. "I had a right to it. Take it if you will!"
And he offered it, in the best romantic manner, by the barrel. But Phillida was too angry to look at revolvers.
"You had no business to break in to get it," she told him, with considerable severity.
"I didn't! I broke in for my clothes; he took them, too, this morning before he went out. They're what I broke in for, and I'd a perfect right; you know I had! And while I'm about it I thought I might as well have this thing too. I knew it was in here somewhere. It was in there. And I'm glad I got it, and so should you be, because you and I are in the house of one of the greatest villains alive!"
The words tumbled over each other with quite hereditary heat. They were all out in a few seconds, and the boy left panting with his indignation, the girl's eyes flashing hers.
"I begin to think my uncle was right," said she. "This is the act of what he said you were, if anything could be."
"He lied to you, and he's been lying to me!"
"He may have been justified."
"You wait till you hear all he's done! I don't mean taking my revolver from me; he was justified in that, if you like, after what I'd done with it. He may even have been justified in taking away my clothes, if he couldn't trust me to keep my word and stay in this awful house. But that isn't the worst. He encouraged me to write a letter home, to my own poor people who may think me dead——"
There was more sympathy in her voice, more anxiety; but his was breaking with his great grief and grievance.
"He took it out himself, to send it to the General Post Office to catch the country post. So he said; and I was so grateful to him! On Saturday morning he said they must have got it; he kept on saying so, and you don't know how thankful I was every time! But yesterday afternoon I found scraps of my letter in the waste-paper basket in his room; he'd never posted it at all!"
Phillida looked shocked and distressed enough at this; her liquid eyes filled with sympathy as they gazed upon the wretched youth.
"I'm a fool to blub about it—but—but that was the Limit!" he croaked, and worked the poor word till it came distinctly.
"It was cruel," she allowed. "It must seem so, at any rate; it does to me; but then I understand so little. I can't think why he's hiding you, or why you let yourself be hidden."
"But you must know what I've done; you must guess?"
The revolver was still in his hand; he gave it a guilty glance, and she looked from it to him without recoiling.
"Of course I guessed on Saturday." There was a studious absence of horror in her tone. "Yet I couldn't believe it, unless it was an accident. And if it was an accident——"
"It was one!" he choked. "It was the most absolute accident that ever happened; he saw it; he can tell you; but he never told me till hours afterwards. I was nearly dead with asthma; he brought me here, he was frightfully good to me, I'm grateful enough for all that. But he should have told me before the accident became a crime! When he did tell me I lost my head, and begged him to keep me here, and afterwards when I came to my senses he wouldn't let me go. I needn't remind you of that morning! After that I promised to stay on, and I'd have kept all my promises if only my letter had gone to my poor people!"
He told her what a guarded letter it had been, only written to let them know he was alive, and that with the doctor's expressed approval. But now he had learnt his lesson, and he was going to play the game. It was more than ever the game with that poor fellow lying in prison for what he had never done. And so the whole story would be in to-morrow's papers, with the single exception of Dr. Baumgartner's name.