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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER X. 'NOTHING COMES AMISS, SO MONEY COMES WITHAL.'
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CHAPTER X. 'NOTHING COMES AMISS, SO MONEY COMES WITHAL.'
The inquest was held at two o'clock, and adjourned. Few facts were elicited beyond those which had been in everybody's mouth that morning, when Matthew Elgood heard of the murder at the bar of that tavern where he took his noontide dram—the three penn'orth of gin and bitters which revivified him after last night's orgies.

James Penwyn had been shot through the heart by a hidden assassin. It seemed tolerably clear that the murderer had taken aim from behind the ragged bushes which divided the low-lying land by the river from the road just at this point. There were footprints on the marshy turf—not the prints of a clodhopper's bulky boots. The line of footsteps indicated that the murderer had entered the field by a gate a hundred yards nearer the city, and had afterwards156 gone across the grass to the towpath. Here, on harder ground, the footsteps ceased altogether. They were the impressions of a gentleman's sole—or so thought the detectives, who were anxious to find a correspondence between these footprints and the boots of Maurice Clissold. Here, however, they were somewhat at fault. Maurice's stout shooting boot made a wider and longer print on the sward.

'He may have worn a smaller boot last night,' said Smelt. 'But they say up at the inn that he has only two pairs, one off, one on, both the same make. I looked at those he's wearing, and they are just as big as these.'

This was a slight check to the chain, which had run out pretty freely till now. True that there seemed little or no motive for the crime; but the one fact of the quarrel was something to go upon; and the curious absence of Maurice Clissold on that particular night was a circumstance that would have to be accounted for.

Who could tell how serious that quarrel might have been?—perhaps the last outbreak of a long-smouldering flame; perhaps a dispute involving157 deepest interests. Further evidence would come out by degrees. At any rate, they had got their man.

Maurice was present at the inquest, very calm and quiet. He made no statement whatever, by the advice of the local solicitor, Mr. Brent, whose aid he had not rejected. He would have been more agitated, perhaps, by the fact of his friend's untimely death, but for this monstrous accusation. That made him iron.

The inquest was adjourned, the facts being so few, and Mr. Clissold was taken to Eborsham Castle, a medi?val fortress, which our modern civilization had converted into the county jail.

Here he was comfortable enough, so far as surroundings went; for he was a young man of adventurous mind, and tastes so simple that a hard bed and a carpetless room were no afflictions to him.

Mr. Brent, the solicitor, visited him in his confinement, and discussed the facts of the case.

'It's hard upon you, both ways,' said the lawyer; 'hard to lose your friend, and still harder to find yourself exposed to this monstrous suspicion.'

158

'I don't care two straws for the suspicion,' answered Maurice, 'but I do care very much for the loss of my friend. He was one of the best fellows that ever lived—so bright, so brimming over with freshness and vitality. If I had not seen him lying in that tavern, stark and cold, I couldn't bring myself to believe in his death. It's hard to believe in it, even with the memory of that poor murdered clay fresh in my mind. Poor James! I loved him like a younger brother!'

'You have no knowledge of any circumstances in his life that can help us to find the murderer?' asked Mr. Brent.

'I know of nothing. He had picked up some people I didn't care about his being intimate with, strolling players, who are acting at the theatre in this place. But my worst fear was that he might be trapped into some promise of marriage. I can hardly fancy these people concerned in a crime.'

'No. They are for the most part harmless vagabonds,' replied the lawyer. 'Do you know where Mr. Penwyn spent last night?'

159

'With these people, no doubt—a man called Elgood, and his daughter. The man ought to be called as a witness, I should think.'

'Unquestionably. We'll have him before the coroner next Saturday, and we'll keep an eye upon him meanwhile.'

The inquest had been adjourned for three days, to give time for new facts to be elicited.

'Your friend had no enemies, you say?'

'Not one,' answered Clissold. 'He was one of those men who never make an enemy. He hadn't the strength of mind to refuse a favour to the veriest blackguard. It was my knowledge of his character that made me anxious about this Elgood's acquaintance. I saw that he was fascinated by the girl, and feared he might be lured into some false position. That was the sole cause of our dispute the other night.'

'Why did you leave him?'

'Because I saw that my interference irritated him, and was likely to arouse a lurking obstinacy which I knew to be in his nature. He was such a spoiled child of fortune that I fancied if I left him160 alone to take his own way his passion would cool. Opposition fired him.'

'There is only one awkward circumstance in the whole case—as regards yourself, I mean.'

'What is that?' asked Clissold.

'Your objection to state where you spent last night.'

'I should be sorry if I were driven to so poor a defence as an alibi.'

'I don't think there's any fear of that. The evidence against you amounts to so little. But why not simplify matters by accounting for your time up to your return to-day? You only came back to Eborsham by the twelve o'clock train from Spinnersbury, you say?'

'I came by that train.'

'Do you think any of the porters or ticket collectors would remember seeing you?'

'Not likely. The train was crowded with people coming to the races. It was as much as I could do to get a seat. I had to scramble into a third-class compartment as the train began to move.'

'But why not refer to some one at Spinnersbury,161 to prove your absence from Eborsham last night?'

'When my neck is in danger I may do that. In the meantime you may as well let the matter drop. I have my own reasons for not saying where I was last night, unless I am very hard pushed.'

Mr. Brent was obliged to be satisfied. The case against his client was of the weakest as yet; but it was curious that this young man should so resolutely refuse to give a straightforward account of himself. Mr. Brent had felt positive of his client's innocence up to this point; but this refusal disturbed him. He went home with an uncomfortable feeling that there was something wrong somewhere.

Messrs. Higlett and Smelt were not idle during the interval. Higlett lodged at the 'Waterfowl,' and heard all the gossip of the house, where the one absorbing topic was the murder of James Penwyn.

Among other details the Spinnersbury detective heard Mrs. Marport, the landlady, speak of a certain letter which the morning's post brought Mr. Clissold the day he went away. It came by the first delivery, which was before eight o'clock. Jane, the162 housemaid, took it up to Mr. Clissold's room with his boots and shaving water.

'I never set eyes upon such a letter,' said Mrs. Marport. 'It seemed to have been all round the world for sport, as the saying is. It had been to some address in London, and to Wales, and to Cumberland, and was all over post-marks. I suppose it must have been something rather particular to have been sent after him so.'

'A bill, I dare say—or a lawyer's letter, perhaps.'

'Oh no, it wasn't. It was a lady's handwriting. I took particular notice of that.'

'Any cress or mornagarm,' asked Higlett.

'No, there was nothing on the envelope; but the paper was as thick as parchment. Whoever wrote that letter was quite the lady.'

'Ah,' said Higlett, 'Mr. Clissold's sweetheart, very likely.'

'That's what I've been thinking, and that it was that letter, perhaps, that took him off so suddenly, and that he really may have been far away from Eborsham on the night of the murder.'

'If he was, he'll be able to prove it,' replied163 Mr. Higlett, who was not inclined to entertain the idea of Mr. Clissold's innocence. To earn his share of the reward he must find the murderer, and it mattered very little to Higlett where he found him.
* * * * *

In the afternoon of the day succeeding the inquest, two persons of some importance to the case arrived at Eborsham. They came by the same train, and had travelled together from London. One was Churchill Penwyn, the inheritor of the Penwyn estate. The other was Mr. Pergament, the family solicitor, chief partner in the firm of Pergament and Pergament, New Square, Lincoln's Inn.

Churchill Penwyn and the solicitor met at King's Cross station, five minutes before the starting of the ten o'clock express for Eborsham. They were very well acquainted with each other; Churchill's meagre portion, inherited under the will of old Mrs. Penwyn, his grandmother, who had been an heiress in a small way, having passed through Mr. Pergament's hands. Nicholas Penwyn's will, which disposed of Penwyn Manor for two generations, had been drawn up by164 Mr. Pergament's father, and all business connected with the Penwyn estate had been transacted in Mr. Pergament's office for the last hundred years. Pergaments had been born and died during the century, but the office was the same as in the time of Penruddock Penwyn, who, inheriting a farm of a hundred and fifty acres or so, had made a fortune in the East Indies, and extended the estate by various important additions to its present dimensions. For before the days of Penruddock the race of Penwyn had declined in splendour, though it was always known and acknowledged that the Penwyns were one of the oldest families in Cornwall.

Of course Mr. Pergament, knowing Nicholas Penwyn's will by heart, was perfectly aware of the alteration which this awful event of the murder made in Churchill's circumstances. Churchill had been a cadet of the house heretofore, though his cousin James's senior by nearly ten years—a person of no importance whatever. Mr. Pergament had treated him with a free and easy friendliness—was always ready to do him a good turn—sent him a brief now and then, and so on. To-day Mr. Pergament165 was deferential. The old friendliness was toned down to a subdued respect. It seemed as if Mr. Pergament's eye, respectfully raised to Churchill's broad pale brow, in imagination beheld above it the round and top of sovereignty, the lordship of Penwyn Manor.

'Very distressing event,' murmured the lawyer, as they seated themselves opposite each other in the first-class carriage. This was a comfortable train to travel by, not arriving at Eborsham till three. The race traffic had been cleared off by a special, at an earlier hour.

'Very,' returned Churchill, gravely. 'Of course I cannot be expected to be acutely grieved by an event which raises me from a working man's career to affluence, especially as I knew so little of my cousin; but I was profoundly shocked at the circumstances of his death. A commonplace, vulgar murder for gain, I apprehend, committed by some rustic ruffian. I doubt if that class of man thinks much more of murder than of sparrow-shooting.'

'I hope they'll get him, whoever he is,' said the lawyer.

166

'If the acuteness of the police can be stimulated by the hope of reward, that motive shall not be wanting; returned Churchill. 'I shall offer a couple of hundred pounds for the conviction of the murderer.'

'Very proper,' murmured Mr. Pergament, approvingly. 'No, you had seen very little of poor James, I apprehend,' he went on, in a conversational tone.

'I doubt if he and I met half a dozen times. I saw him once at Eton, soon after my father's death, when I was spending a day or two at a shooting-box near Bracknell, and walked over to have a look at the college. He was a little curly-headed chap, playing cricket, and I remember tipping him, ill as I could afford the half-sovereign. One can't see a schoolboy without tipping him. I daresay the young rascal ran off and spent my hard-earned shillings on strawberry ices and pound-cake as soon as my back was turned. I saw him a few years afterwards in his mother's house, somewhere near Baker Street. She asked me to a dinner party, and as she made rather a point of it, I went. A slowish business—as167 women's dinners generally are—all the delicacies that were just going out of season, and some elderly ladies to adorn the board. I asked James to breakfast at my club—put him up for the Garrick—and I think that's about the last time I ever saw him.'

'Poor lad,' sighed the family solicitor. 'Such a promising young fellow. But I doubt if he would have kept the property together. There was very little of his grandfather, old Squire Penwyn, about him. A wonderful man that, vigorous in body and mind to the last year of his life. I spent a week at Penwyn about seventeen years ago, just before your poor uncle was killed by those abominable red-skins in Canada. I can see the Squire before me now, a hale old country gentleman, always dressed in a Lincoln-green coat, with basket buttons, Bedford cords, and vinegar tops—hunted three times a week every season, after he was seventy years of age—the Assheton Smith stamp of man. The rising generation will never ripen into that kind of thing, Mr. Penwyn. The stuff isn't in 'em.'

'I never saw much of my grandfather,' said168 Churchill, in his grave quiet voice, which expressed so little emotion, save when deepest passion warmed his spirit to eloquence. 'My father's marriage offended him, as I dare say you heard at the time.'

Mr. Pergament nodded assent.

'Prejudice, prejudice,' he murmured, blandly. 'Elderly gentlemen who live on their estates are prone to that sort of thing.'

'He did my mother the honour to call her a shopkeeper's daughter—her father was a brewer at Exeter, in a very fair way of business—upon which my father, who had some self-respect, and a great deal of respect for his wife, told the Squire that he should take care not to intrude the shopkeeper's daughter upon his notice. "If I hadn't made my will," said my grandfather, "it might be the worse for you. But I have made my will, as you all know. I made it six years ago, and I don't mean to budge from it. When I do a thing it's done. When I say a thing it's said. I never undo or unsay. The estate will be kept together, for the next half-century I think, come what may."'

'Just like him,' said Mr. Pergament, chuckling.169 'The man to the life. How well you hit him off.'

'I've heard my father repeat that speech a good many times,' answered Churchill.

'Then you never saw the old Squire?'

'Once only. I was a day boy at Westminster, and one afternoon when I was playing ball in the quadrangle, a curious-looking elderly gentleman, with a drab overcoat, and a broad-brimmed white hat, breeches and topboots, a bunch of seals at his fob, and a gold-headed hunting-crop in his hand, came into the court and looked about him. He looked like a figure out of a sporting print. Yet he looked a gentleman all the same. "Can anybody tell me where to find a boy called Penwyn?" he inquired. I ran forward. "What, you're Churchill Penwyn, are you, youngster?" he asked, with his hands upon my shoulders, looking at me straight from under his bushy grey eyebrows. "Yes, you're a genuine Penwyn, none of the brewer here. It's a pity your father was a younger son. You wouldn't have made a bad Squire. I dare say you've heard of your170 grandfather?" "Yes, sir, very often," I said; "are you he?" "I am; I'm up in London for a week, and I took it into my head I should like to have a look at you. It isn't likely the estate will ever come to you, but if, by any chance, it should come your way, I hope you'll think of the old Squire sometimes, when he lies under the sod, and try and keep things together, in my way." He tipped me a five-pound note, shook hands, and walked out of the quad., and that's the only time I ever saw Nicholas Penwyn.'

'Curious,' said Mr. Pergament.

'By the way, talking of estates, what is Penwyn worth? My inheritance seemed so remote a contingency that I have never taken the trouble to ask the question.'

'The estate is a fine one,' replied the lawyer, joining the tips of his fat fingers, and speaking with unction, as of a favourite and familiar subject, 'but land in Cornwall, as you are doubtless aware, is not the most remunerative investment. The farm lands of Penwyn produce on an average a bare three per cent. on their value,171 that is to say, about three pounds an acre. There are eleven hundred acres of farm land, and thus we have three thousand three hundred pounds. But,' continued the lawyer, swelling with importance, 'the more remunerative portion of the estate consists of mines, which after lying idle for more than a quarter of a century, were reopened at the latter end of the Squire's life, and are now being worked by a company who pay a royalty upon their profits, which royalty in the aggregate amounts to something between two and four thousand a year, and is likely to increase, as they have lately opened a new tin mine, and come upon a promising lode.'

'My grandfather risked nothing in the working of these mines, I suppose?'

'No,' exclaimed the lawyer, with tremendous emphasis. 'Squire Penwyn was much too wise for that. He let other people take the risks, and only stood in for the profits.'

They talked about the estate for some little time after this, and then Churchill threw himself back into his corner, opened a newspaper and appeared172 to read—appeared only, for his eyes were fixed upon one particular bit of the column before him in that steady gaze which betokens deepest thought. In sooth he had enough to think of. The revolution which James Penwyn's death had wrought in his fate was a change to set most men thinking. From a struggling man just beginning to make a little way in an arduous profession, he found himself all at once worth something like seven thousand a year, master of an estate which would bring with it the respect of his fellow-men, position and power—the means of climbing higher than any Penwyn had yet risen on the ladder of life.

'I shall not bury myself alive in a stupid old manor-house,' he thought, 'like my grandfather. And yet it will be rather a pleasant thing playing at being a country squire.'

Most of all he thought of her who was to share his fortunes—the new bright life they could lead together—of her beauty, which had an imperial grandeur that needed a splendid setting—of her power to charm, which would be an influence to help his aggrandizement. He fancied himself member173 for Penwyn, making his mark in the House, as he had already begun to make it at the Bar. Literature and statecraft should combine to help him on. He saw himself far away, in the fair prosperous future, leader of his party. He thought that when he first crossed the threshold of the Senate House as a member, he should say to himself, almost involuntarily, 'Some day I shall enter this door as Prime Minister.'

He was not a man whose desires were bounded by the idea of a handsome house and gardens, a good stable, wine-cellar, and cook. He asked Fortune for something more than these. If not for his own sake, for his betrothed, he would wish to be something more than a prosperous country gentleman. Madge would expect him to be famous. Madge would be disappointed if he failed to make his mark in the world. He fell to calculating how long it would have been in the common course of things, plodding on at literature and his profession, before he could have won a position to justify his marrying Madge Bellingham. Far away to the extreme point in perspective stretched the distance.

174

He gave a short bitter sigh of very weariness. 'It would have been ten or fifteen years before I could have given her as good a home as her father's,' he said to himself. 'Why fatigue one's brain by such profitless speculations? She would never have been my wife. She is a girl who must have made a great marriage. She might be true as steel, but everybody else would have been against me. Her father and her sister would have worried her almost to death, and some morning while I was marching bravely on towards the distant goal I should have received a letter, tear-blotted, remorseful, telling me that she had yielded to the persuasions of her father, and had consented to marry the millionaire stockbroker, or the wealthy lordling, as the case might be.'

'Who is this Mr. Clissold?' Churchill asked by and by, throwing aside his unread paper, and emerging from that brown study in which he had been absorbed for the last hour or so.

'A college friend of poor James's, his senior by some few years. They had been reading together in the north. You must have met Clissold in Axminster175 Square, I should think, when you dined with your aunt. He and James were inseparable.'

'I have some recollection of a tall, dark-browed youth, who seemed one of the family.'

'That was young Clissold, no doubt.'

'Civil of him to telegraph to me,' said Churchill, and there the subject dropped. The two gentlemen yawned a little. Churchill looked out of the window, and relapsed into thoughtfulness, and so the time went on, and the journey came to an end.

Churchill and the lawyer drove straight to the police station, to inquire if the murderer had been found. There they heard what had befallen Maurice Clissold.

'Absurd!' exclaimed the solicitor. 'No possible motive.'

The official in charge shook his head sagely.

'There appears to have been a quarrel,' he said, in his slow ponderous way, between the two young gents, the night previous. High words was over'eard at the hinn, and on the night of the murder Mr. Cliss'll was absent, which he is unwilling to account for his time.'

176

Mr. Pergament looked at Churchill, as much as to say, 'This is serious.'

'Young men do not murder each other on account of a few high words,' said Mr. Penwyn. 'I dare say Mr. Clissold will give a satisfactory account of himself when the proper time comes. No one in their right senses could suspect a gentleman of such a crime—a common robbery, with violence, on the high road. In the race week, too, when a place is always running over with ruffians of every kind.'

'I beg your pardon, sir,' said the superintendent, 'but that's the curious part of the case. The footsteps of the murderer have been traced. Mr. Penwyn was shot at from behind a hedge, you see, and the print of the sole looks like the print of a gentleman's boot—narrow, and a small heel; nothing of the clodhopper about it. The ground's a bit of marshy clay just there, and the impression was uncommonly clear.'

Churchill Penwyn looked at the man thoughtfully for a moment, with that penetrating glance of his which was wont to survey an adverse witness in order to see what might be made of him—the177 glance of a man familiar with the study of his fellow-men.

'There are vagabonds enough in the world who wear decently made boots,' he said, 'especially your racing vagabonds.'

He made all necessary inquiries about the inquest, and then adjourned to one of the chief hotels, crowded with racing men, though not to suffocation, as at the Summer Meeting.

'You'll watch the case in the interests of the family, of course,' he said to Mr. Pergament. 'I should like you to do what you can for this Mr. Clissold, too. There can be no ground for his arrest.'

'I should suppose not—he and James were such friends.'

'And then the empty purse shows that the murder was done for gain. My cousin may have won money, or have been supposed to have won, on the racecourse, and may have been watched and followed by some prowling ruffian—tout, or tramp, or gipsy.'

'It's odd that Mr. Clissold refused to account for his time last night.'

178

'Yes, that is curious; but I feel pretty sure the explanation will come when he's pressed.'

And then the gentlemen dined together comfortably.

A little later on, Mr. Pergament got up to go out.

'There are the last melancholy details to be arranged,' he said; 'have you any wish on that point, as his nearest relation?'

'Only that his own wishes should be respected.'

'His father and mother are buried at Kensal Green. I dare say he would rather be there than at Penwyn.'

'One would suppose so.'

'Then I'll go and see about the removal, and so on,' said Mr. Pergament, taking up his hat. 'By the way—perhaps, before it is too late, you would like to see your cousin?'

Churchill gave a little start, almost a shudder.

'No,' he said, 'I never went in for that kind of thing.'


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