Under the great tobacco-cloud, beneath which the endless flood of talk seethes and boils, speculation and comment ran furious.
“Young Calverly heard it first,” says Welterwate. “The servant came up to Limmer’s and told him. Jack Ponsonby was there, and they both went down.”
“There was some row over that horse, wasn’t there?” asked Berry.
“Dacre hadn’t behaved very well, I believe; at least, so the fellows said in the train last night; but that’s all over now, poor devil.”
“They found a letter from Nantwich on the table,” says Miniver, “giving him an under-secretaryship. He hadn’t opened it.”
“By Jove!” says little Fitz. “Life’s a rum thing, you know. Just as a fellow’s got all he wants, you know, by Jove, he gets murdered! It’s awful, upon my soul!”
“I suppose there’s no doubt but that Chatteris did it?”
“None in the world. The Mercury’s got the whole thing traced out. But they won’t catch him. He’s got over to Paris, or some place, by this time. Why, he’s got a good twelve hours’ start!”
“It’s an awful thing!” says Millington. “The fellow was here last night, sir, sitting in that very chair!”
“I can’t understand it!” cries old Grosmith. “Damn it, sir, it couldn’t have been about that Kirkminster business?”
Welter shook his head. Other rumours had got about that day—rumours of some reason stronger than disappointed pride, for the bloody crime. Rumour became certainty in a few days. At the inquest the whole hideous story came out. How Cyril Chatteris—the presumed murderer, for whom the police were hunting high and low, whose description was at all the shipping offices and police stations in the kingdom—had been secretly married to the daughter of his lodging-house keeper; how the dead man had intrigued with his friend’s wife; how that intrigue was discovered; and how Cyril Chatteris had set off to London to redeem his honour; and how he had followed Dacre home and killed him.
“Justifiable homicide, begad, sir!” moral Millington had said when he had heard it; and the public seemed to agree with him.
But the fact of Cyril’s engagement to his cousin being known, this view began to be disputed; and by-and-bye it leaked out—in the mysterious way in which such things do leak out—that the dead man had been urged on to seduce the wife, in order that the man who had murdered him might marry another woman.
The search after Cyril grew hotter and hotter, but all in vain. It seemed that when the door banged behind him on that gusty night, it had shut him out from the world for ever; that the darkness had swallowed him up; that the night had hidden him as securely as the cold earth and the pompous grave-stone had hidden the body of his victim.
By-and-bye the chase grew colder, and the story began to fade from men’s minds. Another fortunate gentleman obtained the patronage of Nantwich, and matters went on much as usual. But it was strange to see how the sudden death of Dacre had brought toppling down to the ground all that edifice of worldly honour which had been erected with such care. It was as though the keystone of an arch had been suddenly knocked away, and the whole fabric brought to instant ruin.
The whole wretched story of folly and baseness which I have told in these pages became at once known to the world. The little drama that had been played out so quietly between London and Loamshire was familiar to everybody. It was no longer a story of three private lives,—a social secret, or mystery, to be hinted and nodded at. It was a Fact, a Crime, a thing to be writ down and recorded for a precedent. By Dacre’s sudden death, the whole social economy of six lives was changed in an instant.
Mrs. Manton, once so fond and proud of her daughter, hiding with her in a remote suburb of London under a feigned name, and visited only by Bland and poor honest Binns;—Sir John Ellesmere, the rich baronet, cursing hard fate that brought him into connection with a family so notorious, whimpering and whining at his poor pretty wife for her relationship to a man whose name had been the sport of vulgar tongues;— Old Saville Chatteris, broken-down and querulous (refusing to hear his son’s name mentioned, or to recognise his son’s wife by word or deed), shut up in gloomy Matcham—upon which some weird shadow of Cyril’s guilt seemed to have fallen—seeing no one but young Squire Calverly, who was going back to Australia soon, and who came sometimes to Matcham, and would try to comfort him in his honest way;—Old Chatteris, who seemed, as he grew day by day nearer to his end, to awake to the consciousness of the false standard of greatness he had set up for himself, and to begin to value honesty and goodness and virtue above rank and birth,—for he grew very fond of Bob, and would potter about the grounds, leaning on the young man’s stalwart arm, as though he looked upon him almost as another son;—Kate, too, on the other side of her uncle, would often look up with pleased smile at Bob’s frank face, and in Bob’s honest heart there arose up a hope—which he scarcely dared breathe even to himself as yet. Upon all these the weight of crime and sin fell heavily enough; but the world without—the wicked world, for whose sake the dead man had toiled and plotted, in whose grim service he had died—thought but little of the matter.
It was but two the less in that pleasant masquerade. Plunge your finger twice into the ocean, and you will see the place they filled.
While the excitement was at its height,—while the papers teemed with paragraphs and letters,—while surmise ran mad, and all the hideous details of the two lives, that had just been blotted out, were familiar to men’s lips,—there was a certain supper party, at which the “world” was present.
“I hear that it is suspected he’s got away to Australia!” said Leamington.
“I will lay fifty to one that they catch him!” offered Welter.
“What do they do with them here!” asked AglaŽ, who affected to be profoundly ignorant of English customs.
“Hang ’em, my dear!” says Quantox, with a chuckle.
“Oh! Bon! I shall go and see him then!”
“Dear me!” put in a sleek Jew, by name Knippstein, who founded his claim to recognition in society upon the fact of his “protecting” a Christian ballet-dancer, “I thought the late lamented Rupert was a friend of yours!”
“Tais toi, Monsieur, qui paye!” says the girl, in an atrocious Belgian pâtois. “Je suis mêre de famille Anglaise—Madams Breeeegs!”
The Jew grew angry, but was afraid that Brentwood would laugh if he said anything, and so contented himself by thinking of a man who owed him money, and determined to write to his solicitors to press the case.
“I hope the fellow will get away,” says good-natured Hethrington. “I did’nt dislike him, and he had a brother in ‘ours.’”
“He was a bad-tempered beggar!” said Fleem.
“Thought himself witty!” said Hurst.
“I believe the fellow was a little cracked!” said a crochetty M.P. who had a scheme for abolishing the Irish Church by destroying the Dogger-Bank, and thus spoiling the supply of fish on Fridays.
“Yes, I think the poor devil must have been mad!” says Pierrepoint. “Not he! Bad blood, sir; bad blood!”
“The other man was worse!”
“Well, he has got his ‘good deliverance’ now, at all events!”
“Nous ferons des crèpes!” says the Belgian, pulling her poodle’s ears.
“Well,” said Gablentz, with his heavy German accent, “we don’t miss either of ’em much.”
“The game of life is too exciting for an empty chair to be long unfilled. Eh, Gablentz?” says Hurst.
Gablentz smiled at an illustration so exactly after his own heart.
“Well, lul-l-look here!” cries Randon, in a sudden burst of frankness. “I fuf-fuf-fwankly own that there w-w-as s-s-something abub-bub-bout ’em bub-both that I never could gug-get over. My soul s-s-sympathises with the T-t-twue! I own, I fuf-fwankly own, I never liked ’em!”
“Noble sentiment!” says Brentwood; “but Mademoiselle’s best pearl powder has come off on your coat sleeve.”
There was a roar of laughter.
“Hang it!” says Quantox, “let’s talk of something else; I’m sick of these two fellows.”