A B C D E F
G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!


Text on one page: Few Medium Many
Business first and pleasure afterwards."

With this promise the jarvey was prevailed upon to clamber to his place
and drive, with hideous deliberation, to the door of the Lodge. There
were no signs as yet of any public emotion; only, two men stood not far
off in talk, and their presence, seen from afar, set John's pulses
buzzing. He might have spared himself his fright, for the pair were lost
in some dispute of a theological complexion, and, with lengthened upper
lip and enumerating fingers, pursued the matter of their difference, and
paid no heed to John.

But the cabman proved a thorn in the flesh. Nothing would keep him on
his perch; he must clamber down, comment upon the pebble in the door
(which he regarded as an ingenious but unsafe device), help John with
the portmanteau, and enliven matters with a flow of speech, and
especially of questions, which I thus condense:--

"He'll no' be here himsel', will he? No? Well, he's an eccentric man--a
fair oddity--if ye ken the expression. Great trouble with his tenants,
they tell me. I've driven the faim'ly for years. I drove a cab at his
father's waddin'. What'll your name be?--I should ken your face.
Baigrey, ye say? There were Baigreys about Gilmerton; ye'll be one of
that lot? Then this'll be a friend's portmantie, like? Why? Because the
name upon it's Nucholson! O, if ye're in a hurry, that's another job.
Waverley Brig'? Are ye for away?"

So the friendly toper prated and questioned and kept John's heart in a
flutter. But to this also, as to other evils under the sun, there came a
period; and the victim of circumstances began at last to rumble towards
the railway terminus at Waverley Bridge. During the transit he sat with
raised glasses in the frosty chill and mouldy foetor of his chariot, and
glanced out sidelong on the holiday face of things, the shuttered shops,
and the crowds along the pavement, much as the rider in the Tyburn cart
may have observed the concourse gathering to his execution.

At the station his spirits rose again; another stage of his escape was
fortunately ended--he began to spy blue water. He called a railway
porter, and bade him carry the portmanteau to the cloak-room: not that
he had any notion of delay; flight, instant flight, was his design, no
matter whither; but he had determined to dismiss the cabman ere he
named, or even chose, his destination, thus possibly baulking the
Judicial Error of another link. This was his cunning aim, and now with
one foot on the roadway, and one still on the coach-step, he made haste
to put the thing in practice, and plunged his hand into his
trousers-pocket.

There was nothing there!

O, yes; this time he was to blame. He should have remembered, and when
he deserted his blood-stained pantaloons, he should not have deserted
along with them his purse. Make the most of his error, and then compare
it with the punishment. Conceive his new position, for I lack words to
picture it; conceive him condemned to return to that house, from the
very thought of which his soul revolted, and once more to expose himself
to capture on the very scene of the misdeed: conceive him linked to the
mouldy cab and the familiar cabman. John cursed the cabman silently, and
then it occurred to him that he must stop the incarceration of his
portmanteau; that, at least, he must keep close at hand, and he returned
to recall the porter. But his reflections, brief as they had appeared,
must have occupied him longer than he supposed, and there was the man
already returning with the receipt.

Well, that was settled; he had lost his portmanteau also; for the
sixpence with which he had paid the Murrayfield Toll was one that had
strayed alone into his waistcoat-pocket, and unless he once more
successfully achieved the adventure of the house of crime, his
portmanteau lay in the cloak-room in eternal pawn, for lack of a penny
fee. And then he remembered the porter, who stood suggestively
attentive, words of gratitude hanging on his lips.

John hunted right and left; he found a coin--prayed God that it was a
sovereign--drew it out, beheld a halfpenny, and offered it to the
porter.

The man's jaw dropped.

"It's only a halfpenny," he said, startled out of railway decency.

"I know that," said John piteously.

And here the porter recovered the dignity of man.

"Thank you, sir," said he, and would have returned the base gratuity.
But John, too, would none of it; and as they struggled, who must join in
but the cabman?

"Hoots, Mr. Baigrey," said he, "you surely forget what day it is!"

"I tell you I have no change!" cried John.

"Well," said the driver, "and what then? I would rather give a man a
shillin' on a day like this than put him off with a derision like a
bawbee. I'm surprised at the like of you, Mr. Baigrey!"

"My name is not Baigrey!" broke out John, in mere childish temper and
distress.

"Ye told me it was yoursel'," said the cabman.

"I know I did; and what the devil right had you to ask?" cried the
unhappy one.

"O very well," said the driver. "I know my place, if you know yours--if
you know yours!" he repeated, as one who should imply grave doubts; and
muttered inarticulate thunders, in which the grand old name of gentleman
was taken seemingly in vain.

O to have been able to discharge this monster, whom John now perceived,
with tardy clear-sightedness, to have begun betimes the festivities of
Christmas! But far from any such ray of consolation visiting the lost,
he stood bare of help and helpers, his portmanteau sequestered in one
place, his money deserted in another and guarded by a corpse; himself,
so sedulous of privacy, the cynosure of all men's eyes about the
station; and, as if these were not enough mischances, he was now fallen
in ill-blood with the beast to whom his poverty had linked him! In
ill-blood, as he reflected dismally, with the witness who perhaps might
hang or save him! There was no time to be lost; he durst not linger any
longer in that public spot; and whether he had recourse to dignity or to
conciliation, the remedy must be applied at once. Some happily surviving
element of manhood moved him to the former.

"Let us have no more of this," said he, his foot once more upon the
step. "Go back to where we came from."

He had avoided the name of any destination, for there was now quite a
little band of railway folk about the cab, and he still kept an eye upon
the court of justice, and laboured to avoid concentric evidence. But
here again the fatal jarvey out-manoeuvred him.

"Back to the Ludge?" cried he, in shrill tones of protest.

"Drive on at once!" roared John, and slammed the door behind him, so
that the crazy chariot rocked and jingled.

Forth trundled the cab into the Christmas streets, the fare within
plunged in the blackness of a despair that neighboured on
unconsciousness, the driver on the box digesting his rebuke and his
customer's duplicity. I would not be thought to put the pair in
competition; John's case was out of all parallel. But the cabman, too,
is worth the sympathy of the judicious; for he was a fellow of genuine
kindliness and a high sense of personal dignity incensed by drink; and
his advances had been cruelly and publicly rebuffed. As he drove,
therefore, he counted his wrongs, and thirsted for sympathy and drink.
Now, it chanced he had a friend, a publican in Queensferry Street, from
whom, in view of the sacredness of the occasion, he thought he might
extract a dram. Queensferry Street lies something off the direct road to
Murrayfield. But then there is the hilly cross-road that passes by the
valley of the Leith and the Dean Cemetery; and Queensferry Street is on
the way to that. What was to hinder the cabman, since his horse was
dumb, from choosing the cross-roads, and calling on his friend in
passing? So it was decided; and the charioteer, already somewhat
mollified, turned aside his horse to the right.

John, meanwhile, sat collapsed, his chin sunk upon his chest, his mind
in abeyance. The smell of the cab was still faintly present to his
senses, and a certain leaden chill about his feet; all else had
disappeared in one vast oppression of calamity and physical faintness.
It was drawing on to noon--two-and-twenty hours since he had broken
bread; in the interval he had suffered tortures of sorrow and alarm, and
had been partly tipsy; and though it was impossible to say he slept, yet
when the cab stopped, and the cabman thrust his head into the window,
his attention had to be recalled from depths of vacancy.

"If you'll no' _stand_ me a dram," said the driver, with a well-merited
severity of tone and manner, "I daresay ye'll have no objection to my
taking one mysel'?"

"Yes--no--do what you like," returned John; and then, as he watched his
tormentor mount the stairs and enter the whisky-shop, there floated into
his mind a sense as of something long ago familiar. At that he started
fully awake, and stared at the shop-fronts. Yes, he knew them; but when?
and how? Long since, he thought; and then, casting his eye through the
front glass, which had been recently occluded by the figure of the
jarvey, he beheld the tree-tops of the rookery in Randolph Crescent. He
was close to home--home, where he had thought, at that hour, to be
sitting in the well-remembered drawing-room in friendly converse; and,
instead----!

It was his first impulse to drop into the bottom of the cab; his next,
to cover his face with his hands. So he sat, while the cabman toasted
the publican, and the publican toasted the cabman, and both reviewed the
affairs of the nation; so he still sat, when his master condescended to
return, and drive off at last downhill, along the curve of Lynedoch
Place; but even so sitting, as he passed the end of his father's street,
he took one glance from between shielding fingers, and beheld a doctor's
carriage at the door.

"Well, just so," thought he; "I'll have killed my father! And this is
Christmas Day!"

If Mr. Nicholson died, it was down this same road he must journey to the
grave; and down this road, on the same errand, his wife had preceded him
years before; and many other leading citizens, with the proper trappings
and attendance of the end.



Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | 40 | | 41 | | 42 | | 43 | | 44 | | 45 | | 46 | | 47 | | 48 | | 49 | | 50 | | 51 | | 52 | | 53 | | 54 | | 55 | | Next |

N O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.