I DID NOT, however, find Lieutenant Clutterbuck that night. He was out of reach, and likely to remain so for some while to come. He had left his lodgings at mid day and taken his body-servant with him, and his landlady had no knowledge of his whereabouts. I thought it probable, however, that some of his friends might have that knowledge, and I thereupon hurried to those haunts where of an evening he was an habitual visitor. The “Hercules Pillars” in Piccadilly, the “Cocoa Tree” in St. James’s Street, the “Spring Gardens” at Vauxhall, “Barton’s” in King Street, the “Spread Eagle” in Covent Garden,—I hurried from one to the other of these places, and though I came upon many of Clutterbuck’s intimates, not one of them was a whit better informed than myself. I returned to my lodging late and more disheartened than I could have believed possible in a matter wherein I had no particular concern. And, indeed, it was not so much any conjecture as to what strange tragical events might be happening about that watched and solitary house in Tresco which troubled me, or even pity for the girl maddened by her fears, or regret that I had not been able to do Clutterbuck that slight service which I purposed. But I took out the map of the Great West Road, and thought of the lad Parmiter trudging along it, doing a day’s work here among the fields, begging a lift there upon a waggon and slowly working his way down into the West. I had a very clear picture of him before my eyes. The day was breaking, I remember, and I blew out the candles and looked out of the window down the street. The pavement was more silent at that hour than those country roads on which he might now be walking, or that hedge under which he might be shaking the dew from off his clothes. For there the thrush would be calling to the blackbird with an infinite bustle and noise, and the fields of corn would be whispering to the fields of wheat.
I came back again to my map, and while the light broadened, followed Parmiter from the outset of his journey, through Knightsbridge, along the Thames, between the pine-trees of Hampshire, past Whitchurch, and into the county of Devon. The road was unwound before my eyes like a tape. I saw it slant upwards to the brow of a hill, and dip into the cup of a valley; here through a boskage of green I saw a flash of silver where the river ran; there between flat green fields it lay, a broad white line geometrically straight to the gate of a city; it curved amongst the churches and houses, but never lost itself in that labyrinth, aiming with every wind and turn at that other gate, from which it leaped free at last to the hills. And always on the road I saw Dick Parmiter, drunk with fatigue, tottering and stumbling down to the West.
For awhile he occupied that road alone; but in the end I saw another traveller a long way behind—a man on horseback, who spurred out from London and rode with the speed of the wind. For a little I watched that rider, curious only to discern how far he travelled, and whether he would pass Dick Parmiter; then, as I saw him drawing nearer and nearer, devouring the miles which lay between, it came upon me slowly that he was riding not to pass but to overtake; and at once the fancy flashed across me that this was Clutterbuck. I gazed at my map upon the table as one might gaze into a magician’s globe. It was no longer a map; it was the road itself imprisoned in hedges, sunlit, and chequered with the shadows of trees. I could see the horseman, I could see the dust spirting up from beneath his horse’s hoofs like smoke from a gun-barrel. Only his hat was pushed down upon his brows because of the wind made by the speed of his galloping, so that I could not see his face. But it was Clutterbuck I had no doubt. Whither had he gone from his lodging? Now I was convinced that I knew. There had been no need of my night’s wanderings from tavern to tavern, had I but looked at my map before. It was Clutterbuck without a doubt. At some bend of the road he would turn in his saddle to look backwards, and I should recognise his face. It was Lieutenant Clutterbuck, taking the good air into his lungs with a vengeance. He vanished into a forest, but beyond the forest the road dipped down a bank of grass and lay open to the eye. I should see him in a second race out, his body bent over his horse’s neck to save him from the swinging boughs. I could have clapped my hands with sheer pleasure. I wished that my voice could have reached out to Parmiter, tramping wearily so far beyond; in my excitement, I believed that it would, and before I knew what I did, I cried out aloud:
“Parmiter! Parmiter!” and a voice behind me answered:
“You must be mad, Berkeley! What in the world has come to you?”
I sat upright in my chair. The excitement died out of me and left me chilly. I looked about me; I was in my own lodging at the corner of St James’s Street, outside in the streets the world was beginning to wake, and the voice which had spoken to me and the hand which was now laid upon my shoulder were the voice and the hand of Lieutenant Clutterbuck.
“What’s this?” said he, leaning over my shoulder. “It is a map.”
“Yes,” I answered, “it is a mere map, the map of the Great West Road;” and in my eyes it was no longer any more than a map.
Clutterbuck, who was holding it in his hand, dropped it with a movement and an exclamation of anger. Then he looked curiously at me, stepped over to the sideboard and took up a glass or two which stood there. The glasses were clean and dry. He looked at me again, his curiosity had grown into uneasiness; he walked to the opposite side of the table, and drawing up a chair seated himself face to face with me.
“I hoped you were drunk,” said he. “But it seems you are as sober as a bishop. Are you daft, then? Has it come to a strait-waistcoat? I come back late from Twickenham. I stopped at the Hercules Pillars.” There I heard that you had rushed in two hours before in a great flurry and disorder, crying out that you must speak to me on the instant. The same story was told to me at the ‘Cocoa Trees.’ My landlady repeated it. I conjectured that it must needs be some little affair to be settled with sharps at six in the morning; and so that you might not say your friends neglect you, I turn from my bed, and hurry to you at three o’clock of the morning. I find that you have left your front-door unlatched for any thief that wills to make his profit of the house. I come into your room and find you bending over a map in a great excitement and crying out aloud that damned boy’s name. Is he to trouble my peace until the Judgment Day? Are you daft, eh, Steve?” and he reached his hand across the table not unkindly, and laid it on my sleeve. “Are you daft?”
I was staring again at the map, and did not answer him. He shifted his hand from my sleeve and took it up and away from my eyes. He looked at it himself, and then spoke slowly, and in quite a different voice:
“It is a curious, suggestive thing, the map of a road, when all’s said,” he observed slowly. “I’ll not deny but what it seizes one’s fancies. Its simple lines and curves call up I know not what pictures of flowering hedgerows; a little black blot means a village of stone cottages, very likely overhung with ivy and climbed upon with roses.” He suddenly thrust the map again under my nose, “What do you see upon the road?” said he.
“Parmiter,” I answered.
“Of course,” he interrupted sharply. “Well, where is Parmiter?” and I laid a finger on the map.
“Between Fenny Bridges and Exeter,” said he, leaning forward. “He has made great haste.”
He spoke quite seriously, not questioning my conjecture, but accepting it as a mere statement of fact.
“That is a heath?” he asked, pointing to an inch or so where the map was shaded on each side of the high-road. “Yes, a heath t’other side of Hartley Row; I know it. There should be a mail-coach there, and the horses out of the shafts, and one or two men in crape masks and a lady in a swoon, and the driver stretched in the middle of the road with a bullet through his crop.”
“I do not see that,” I returned. “But here, beyond Axminster——”
He leaned yet further forward.
“There is a forest here.”
“I saw a man on horseback ride into it between the trees. He has not as yet emerged from it.”
“Who was he? Did you know him?”
“I thought I did. But I could not see his face.”
Clutterbuck watched that forest eagerly, and with a queer suspense in his attitude and even in his breathing. Every now and then he raised his eyes to mine with a question in them. Each time I shook my head, and answered:
“Not yet,” and we both again stared at the map.
Then Clutterbuck whispered quickly:
“What if his horse had stumbled? What if he is lying there at the roadside beneath the tree?”
He tore himself away from the contemplation of the map. “The thing’s magical!” he cried. “It has bewitched you, Steve, and by the Lord it has come near to bewitching me!”
“I thought the horseman was yourself. Why don’t you go?” said I, pointing to the map.
Lieutenant Clutterbuck rose impatiently from his chair.
“There must be an end of this. Once for all I will not go. There is no reason I should. There is reason why I should not. You do not know in what you are meddling. You are taken like a schoolboy by an old wife’s tale of a lonely girl trapped in a net. You are too old for such follies.”
“I was too old a fortnight ago,” I returned, “but, by the Lord, these last days I have grown young again—so young that——”
I stopped suddenly. Not until this instant had the notion occurred to me, but it came now, it thrilled through me with a veritable shock. I leaned back in my chair and stared at Clutterbuck. He understood, for he in his turn stared at me.
“The rider!” said he breathlessly, tapping the map with his forefinger, ‘’the man whose face you did not see!”
I nodded at him.
“What if the face were mine?” said I.
“You could never believe it.”
“I believe that I have even enough youth for that,” I cried, and I bent over the map, trying again to fashion from its plain black and white my picture of the great high-road, climbing and winding through a country-side rich with all the colours of the summer. But it was only a map of lines and curves, nor could I any longer discover the horseman who spurred along it—though I had now a particular reason to wish for a view of his face,—or the wood into which he disappeared.
“Well, has your cavalier galloped into the open yet? “asked Clutterbuck.
He spoke with sarcasm, but the sarcasm was forced. It was but a cloak to cover and excuse the question.
I shook my head.
“No, and he will not,” said Clutterbuck.
“Is that so sure?” I asked. “What if the face were mine?”
“You are serious!” he cried. “You would go a stranger and offer your unsought aid? It would be an impertinence.”
“Suppose life and death are in the balance, would they weigh impertinence?”
“It might be your life and your death!”
And as he spoke, it seemed to me that all my last seven years rose up in their shrouds and laughed at him.
“And what then?” I cried. “Would the world shiver if I died? Would even a tavern-keeper draw down his blinds? Perhaps some drunkard in his cups would wish I lived, that he might take my measure in a drinking-bout. There’s my epitaph for you! Good Lord, Clutterbuck, but I would dearly love to die a clean death! There’s that boy Parmiter tramping down his road. He does a far better thing than I have ever done. You know! Why talk of it? You know the life I have lived, and since that boy flung his example in my eyes, upon my word I sicken to think of it. Twelve years ago, Clutterbuck, I came to London, a cadet with a cadet’s poor portion, but what a wealth of dreams! A fortune first, if I slaved till I was forty, and then I would set free my soul and live! The fortune came, and I slaved but six years for it. The treaty of Aix and a rise of stocks, and there was my fortune. You know how I have lived since.”
Clutterbuck looked at me curiously. I had never said so much to him or to any man in this strain. Nor should I have said so much now, but I was fairly shaken out of my discretion. For a little Clutterbuck sat silent and motionless. Then he said gently:
“Shall I tell you why I will not go? Yes, I will tell you,” and he told me the history of that Sunday, two years ago, when Cullen Mayle sat in the stocks, or at least as much of it as had come within his knowledge. The events of that day were the beginning of all the trouble, indeed, but Lieutenant Clutterbuck never knew more of it than what concerned himself, and as I sat over against him on that July morning and listened to his story while the world awoke, I had no suspicion of what the passage of that Sunday hid, or of the extraordinary consequences which it brought about.