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The Second Dandy Chater, Page 2

Tom Gallon



  The man’s first impulse was to shout for assistance; his second, todash hot foot after the murderer; his last, to keep perfectly still,while he thought hard, with all his wits sharpened by the crisis of themoment. For hours, he had been racing across country, and hiding anddodging, in pursuit of this man; and he came upon him lying dead, thevictim of he knew not what conspiracy. Instinctively he glanced abouthim, with the dread of seeing other murderous eyes watching;instinctively sprang to his feet, the better to face whatever dangermight threaten.

  The thing was so awful, and so unexpected, that the man, for a moment,had no power to face it; indeed, he had started to run from the place,in an agony of fear, when a sudden thought swept over him—arrestinghis flight, and holding him as motionless as though some mortal handhad gripped him, and brought him to bay.

  “Dandy Chater dead!” he gasped. “This puts a new light on thingsindeed! Dandy Chater dead—and out of the way! Let me think; let mehammer something out of this new horror—let me find the best road totravel!” He sat down among the rotting timbers, and propped his chin inhis palms, and stared at the dead man.

  “Who am I? Who—in all this amazing world, will believe my story, if Itell it? Dandy Chater out of the way!——My God!—that serves mypurpose; that was what I wanted. The game’s in my hands; thelikeness——”

  He started to his feet again, and looked round wildly—looked round,like a hunted man who seeks desperately for some way of escape; ran afew paces, and stood listening; came slowly back again.

  “Great heavens!” he muttered softly—“they’ll think I murdered him!”

  That was a sufficiently sobering thought; he stood still, the better towork out the new problem which faced him.

  “Think, Philip Crowdy: you’ve come across the world, to find thisman—to wrest from him that which is your right. His real murderer isby this time far away; you are alone with his body, in a place to whichyou have tracked him. If Dandy Chater has been lured here, and struckdown, as is more than likely in such a neighbourhood, for the merepurpose of robbery, there is not the slightest chance—or a very faintone, at best—of finding the man who struck the blow. On the otherhand—how do you stand? Tell your story to the world, and, if theybelieve it, what must inevitably be said: that by this man’s death youbenefit—therefore, by logical reasoning, you must have compassed hisdeath. Philip Crowdy—you’re in a remarkably tight place!”

  Looking at the matter from one standpoint and another, he came to adesperate resolution—even smiled grimly a little to himself, as hebent again over the dead man. Turning the body over, he found thatDandy Chater had been struck down from behind, apparently with a heavypiece of timber which lay near at hand; he must have been wandering atthe very edge of the river at the time, for the rising tide was nowactually lapping the edges of his garments. Philip Crowdy bent abovehim and began to search rapidly in the pockets, for whatever they mightcontain.

  “Papers—watch and chain—keys—a very little money,” he whispered tohimself quickly, as he made his search. “The money I’ll leave; someriver shark will get that; the rest I’ll take. The keys I shallwant—also the papers.”

  Carefully stowing away the things in his own pockets, he rose to hisfeet, and looked about him. It was very late, and there seemed to be nosign of life, either on land or water, save for the distant muffledsound of the steady beat of a tug, working heavily down stream.

  “I can’t leave him here; for the body to be discovered would spoileverything. And it wouldn’t be particularly nice for Philip Crowdy tobe discovered, with Dandy Chater’s private possessions in his pockets.Now—what’s to be done?”

  The perplexing question was answered for him, in an unexpected way. Thebeat of the tug sounded nearer and louder, and he saw the gleam of thelight which hung from its funnel. Behind it, towering high in thedarkness, was a great vessel, which it was dragging manfully down theriver. While the man stood there, idly and mechanically watching it,with his dead likeness lying at his feet, there came a suddendisturbance in the water; a great wash from the river swamped up allabout him, so that he turned, and ran back hurriedly a few paces, outof the way of it.

  When he looked again at the spot where he had stood, the body was gone.Some of the timbers, too, among which it had lain, were washing about,and crashing together, at some little distance from the shore. The manran to the very edge of the water, and strained his eyes eagerly, insearch for something else beside timbers; but the darkness was tooprofound for him to see anything clearly; and, although he ran alongthe muddy bank—first to right, and then to left—he could discovernothing. He stood alone, in that desolate place, and the dead man wasundoubtedly being hurried, with the timbers among which he had fallen,down the river towards the sea.

  Presently, the man seemed to realise the full significance of what hadhappened; touched the papers in his pocket; and stood staringthoughtfully at the ground for a long time.

  “There is some strange fate in this,” he muttered to himself.“To-night, by accident, I took the place of the real Dandy Chater for afew hours; now I’ll take his place—not by accident, but by design.Dandy Chater is dead and gone! Yes—Dandy Chater is dead—but long liveDandy Chater!”

  With these words, the man turned quickly, hurried up the alley way intothe street, and set off as rapidly as possible in the direction ofLondon.

  It was so late, that all public vehicles had ceased running, and therailway station was closed. He did not care to excite attention, bychartering a cab to take him to London, and he stood for some time inone of the main streets—now almost deserted—wondering what he shoulddo. The appearance of a small coffee-house, on the other side of thestreet, with the announcement swinging outside that beds were to be letthere, attracted his attention; the proprietor of it had already closedone half of the double doors, and was standing outside, leaning againstthe side of the window, and contemplating the street, before retiringfrom the public eye for the day. Philip Crowdy, after a moment’shesitation, crossed the street, and accosted the man.

  “Can I have a bed here?” he asked.

  The man looked him up and down for a moment in silence; removed thepipe he was smoking from his lips—blew a long stream of smoke into theair; and finally ejaculated—“’Ave yer pick of the w’ole bloomin’ lot,if yer like. It’s my private opinion that there ain’t anybody asleepin’ in beds these times, ’cept me, an’ the missis, and the Queen,an’ a few of sich like nobs; leastways, they don’t come my way. Walkin, guv’nor.”

  Crowdy followed the man into the shop—a small and very dingy-lookingeating-house, fitted up with boxes along each side. The sight of theboxes reminded him that he had had nothing to eat for many hours;discussing the matter with the proprietor of the establishment, hefound that he could be supplied with a light meal within a short spaceof time. Accordingly, he ordered it, and sat down to await its coming.

  He picked up a stained newspaper, and tried to read; but before hiseyes, again and again, came the image of the dead face, which hadstared into his that night. So much had happened—so much that was wildand strange—within the past few hours, that it all seemed like somehorrible unruly nightmare. Yet he knew that it was something more thanthat; for his fingers touched the papers in his pocket, and the watchthat had belonged to the dead man. For a moment, as his hands closedupon them, a sweat of fear broke out upon his forehead, and he glancedabout him uneasily.

  “It’s a desperate game,” he muttered. “If the body should be found, andrecognised—or if the likeness be not so complete as I havethought—what shall I say—what shall I do? Why—I don’t even know whatmanner of man this Dandy Chater was—or what were his habits, hiscompanions, the places to which he resorted; I know absolutely nothing.Every step of the way I must grope in the dark. And I may betray myselfat any moment!”

  He dropped the paper from before his eyes, and found, to his
astonishment, and somewhat to his discomfiture, that he was beingsteadily regarded, by a man who sat at the other side of the table.More than that, the man, having his back towards the little inner roomwhere the meal was being prepared, nodded his head quickly, in afamiliar fashion, and bent forward, and whispered the followingastounding remark—

  “Wot—give the Count the slip—’ave yer?”

  Philip Crowdy’s position, at that moment, was not an enviable one. Hewas utterly alone, in the sense that, whatever battles lay before him,he had to fight them as best he could, and dared not trust any livingsoul; worse than all, he must fight them in the dark, not knowing, whenhe took one step, where the next might lead. Moreover, the man beforehim was one of the most repulsive looking ruffians it is possible toimagine—a man who, from his appearance, might have been one of thoseunfortunates described by the proprietor of the place as never sleepingin a bed. His clothes, which had once been black, were of a greenishhue, from long exposure to the weather, and were fastened together, inthe more necessary places, by pins and scraps of string. His face, longand thin and cadaverous, had upon it, besides its native dirt, a week’sgrowth of beard and moustache; his hair—thin almost to baldness on thetop—hung long about his ears, and was rolled inwards at the ends, inthe fashion of some thirty years ago.

  Crowdy, after eyeing this man for a few moments in silence, gruntedsomething inaudible, and took up the paper again.

  “No offence, Dandy,” said the man, somewhat more humbly, and in thesame hoarse whisper as before. “Seed yer outside—an’ came in arteryer. Agin the rules—an’ well I knows it; but there ain’t no one ’ereto twig us—is there?”

  “Well—what of that?” asked the other, taking his cue from the fellow’shumility. “Can’t you let a man alone, even at this hour? What the devildo you want now?”

  “Don’t be so ’asty, Dandy,” replied the man, in an injured tone. “Itain’t for me ter say anyfink agin the Count—’cos ’e’s your pal. Butyou’re young at this game, Dandy, and the Count is a bit too fly. Ifyou wants a fren’, as ’ll _be_ a fren’, don’t fergit the Shady’un—will yer?” This last very insinuatingly.

  “Oh—so you’re the Shady ’un—are you?” thought Crowdy. Aloud hesaid—“Thanks—I can take care of myself.”

  “Ah—you wos always ’igh an’ mighty—you wos,” replied the other, witha propitiatory smile. “It ain’t fer me ter say anyfink agin theCount—on’y ’e’s a deep ’un, that’s all. An’ ’e’s got some new move on;’e was a stickin’ like wax to you to-night—yer know ’e wos.”

  Philip Crowdy caught his breath. Here, surely, was some faint clue atlast; for it was possible that the man who had been “sticking like wax”to the unfortunate Dandy Chater that night, might have stuck to him tothe very last, down by the river’s muddy brink. Crowdy was breathlesslysilent, waiting for more; he left his meal untouched, where it had beenplaced, and kept his eyes narrowly on his neighbour.

  But that neighbour had evidently made up his mind to say nothing more;after a pause, he shuffled to his feet, and started to leave the place.As he neared the door, however, he came back again, and bent his facedown to Crowdy’s ear.

  “I say—yer won’t fergit Toosday—will yer?”

  “What about it?” asked the other, as carelessly as he could.

  “W’y—at the Watermen—o’ course,” whispered the Shady ’un, in asurprised tone. “Ten thirty, sharp. I suppose you’ll come wiv theCount—eh?”

  “I suppose so,” replied Crowdy. “Good-night!”

  Left alone, he thrust his plate aside, and sat staring at the table,turning the business over in his mind. In the first place, he hadresolved to find Dandy Chater’s murderer; on the other hand, if, as waspossible, the man spoken of as the Count had anything to do with thatmurder, it would obviously be impossible for Philip Crowdy to appearbefore him; the fraud would be exposed at once. Again, it was evidentthat the late Dandy Chater had kept remarkably queer company; and that,moreover, Philip Crowdy—as the new Dandy Chater—was pledged to meetsome members of that queer company, on the following Tuesday, athalf-past ten, at the house known as The Three Watermen.

  “So far—so good—or rather, bad,” he said slowly to himself. “I’mDandy Chater—for the present, at least; if the man who struck the blowhappens to meet me, he’ll either die of fright, or denounce me. For thepresent, I’ve got to be very careful; I’ve very fortunately discoveredone or two things which may be useful. But how in the world am I toknow what Dandy Chater was doing, or meant to do—or what people heknew, or didn’t know? At all events, I must put a bold face on thematter, and trust to luck.”

  It was not until he was undressing for the night, in the shabby littleroom which had been assigned to him over the coffee-house, that heremembered the interview he had had with the girl, on the road outsideBamberton. He stopped, and stood stock still, with a puzzled face.

  “The girl—Patience Miller! I’d clean forgotten about her. Why, DandyChater was to have taken her to London, and they were to be marriedto-morrow. Now, Dandy Chater—or the real one, at least—is at thebottom of the river. But where on earth is the girl?”

  He puzzled over it for some time, and finally, finding sleep stealingover him, gave it up, with all the other troublous matters connectedwith the past few hours, and slept the sleep which comes only to a manwho is utterly worn out with fatigue and excitement.

  He slept late the next morning, and had time, while he dressed, toconsider what his future course of action should be. In part, he hadmade up his mind the previous night; had studied carefully the dressand appearance of the dead man, with that object—indefinite then, butclear and distinct now—of taking his place. He felt now that the firstmove in the game must be for him to get down to Bamberton.

  “No one in England knows of my existence; only one man, so far as I amaware, knows, beside myself, of the death and disappearance of DandyChater. There is no one to suspect; so far as I am concerned, there iseverything to gain, and but little to lose. Therefore, Mr. Dandy Chaterthe Second, you will go down into Essex.”

  Watchful and alert—ready to take up any faint cue which might beoffered him—suspicious of danger on every hand, Philip Crowdy got backto London; made some slight purchases, with a view to changing hisdress; and started for Chater Hall. Arriving at the little railwaystation, he returned, with grim satisfaction, the salutes and nods ofrecognition which one and another bestowed upon him; got into thefly—the only one the station boasted—and was driven rapidly to hisfuture home.

  It was a fine old house, standing in most picturesque grounds—a placewhich bore the stamp of having been in the same family for manygenerations. Mr. Philip Crowdy rattled along the drive which led to thehouse, with very mixed feelings, and with a heart beating unpleasantlyfast.

  “I need all the luck I’ve ever possessed, and all the impudence withwhich nature has endowed me,” he thought. “Why—I don’t even know myway about my own house—shan’t know where to turn, when I get inside,or what the servants’ names are. And I wish I knew what sort of manDandy Chater was—whether he bullied, or was soft-spoken—swore, orquoted Scripture.”

  The fly drew up, with a jerk, at the hall door, which was already open.A young servant—a pleasant-looking lad, of about twenty years of age,in a sober brown livery, ran out quickly, with a forefinger raised tohis forehead, and opened the door of the fly.

  “Morning, sir,” said this individual, in a voice as pleasant as hisface. “Hoped you’d telegraph, sir, and let me drive over for you.”

  Crowdy alighted slowly, looking keenly about him. “I hadn’t time,” hesaid, gruffly—being convinced, for some strange reason, that the lateDandy Chater had been of a somewhat overbearing disposition. He walkedslowly up the steps, and into Chater Hall.

  There his troubles began; for, in the first place, he did not even knowhis room—did not, as he had already suggested, even know which way toturn. In desperation, he laid his hand on the knob of the first door hesaw, and wa
lked boldly in.

  He found himself in what was evidently the dining-room. He turned, ashe was passing through the doorway, and beckoned to the young servant,who had taken his hat and coat, and who was lingering in the hall.

  “Here, I want you,” he said. His quick eye, roving round the room, hadseen a pipe on the mantelshelf, and a spirit stand on an ancientSheraton sideboard. “Get me a whiskey and soda, and bring me thosecigars—the last lot I had.”

  The servant placed the spirit stand at his master’s elbow, and hurriedaway to complete the order. Philip Crowdy leaned back in his chair, andlaughed softly, when he thought of how well he was carrying the thingoff. “I must be as natural as possible,” he muttered. “That was a goodmove about the cigars.”

  The servant reëntered the room, bringing the cigars, and a letter whichhe handed to Crowdy.

  “Brought this morning, sir, quite early,” he said.

  Philip Crowdy, after a moment’s hesitation, broke the seal, and readthe following astounding note—

  “_Dearest Dandy_,

  “_You shall have your answer, sooner even than I promised. I do trustyou; I do believe in your capacity for the better things of which youhave spoken. I will marry you, when you like, and with a glad heart.Come and see me to-morrow night, and we can talk about it comfortably._

  “_Yours loyally_,

  “_Margaret Barnshaw_.”

  Philip Crowdy dismissed the servant, with a wave of the hand, and sankinto a chair helplessly.