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Bold Speculations on Murder
George Vavasor was not in a very happy mood when he left Queen Anne Street, after having flung his gift ring under the grate. Indeed there was much in his condition, as connected with the house which he was leaving, which could not but make him unhappy. Alice was engaged to be his wife, and had as yet said nothing to show that she meditated any breach of that engagement, but she had treated him in a way which made him long to throw her promise in her teeth. He was a man to whom any personal slight from a woman was unendurable. To slights from men, unless they were of a nature to provoke offence, he was indifferent. There was no man living for whose liking or disliking George Vavasor cared anything. But he did care much for the good opinion, or rather for the personal favour, of any woman to whom he had endeavoured to make himself agreeable. "I will marry you," Alice had said to him,--not in words, but in acts and looks, which were plainer than words,--"I will marry you for certain reasons of my own, which in my present condition make it seem that that arrangement will be more convenient to me than any other that I can make; but pray understand that there is no love mixed up with this. There is another man whom I love;--only, for those reasons above hinted, I do not care to marry him." It was thus that he read Alice's present treatment of him, and he was a man who could not endure this treatment with ease.
But though he could throw his ring under the grate in his passion, he could not so dispose of her. That he would have done so had his hands been free, we need not doubt. And he would have been clever enough to do so in some manner that would have been exquisitely painful to Alice, willing as she might be to be released from her engagement. But he could not do this to a woman whose money he had borrowed, and whose money he could not repay;--to a woman, more of whose money he intended to borrow immediately. As to that latter part of it, he did say to himself over and over again, that he would have no more of it. As he left the house in Queen Anne Street, on that occasion, he swore, that under no circumstances would he be indebted to her for another shilling. But before he had reached Great Marlborough Street, to which his steps took him, he had reminded himself that everything depended on a further advance. He was in Parliament, but Parliament would be dissolved within three months. Having sacrificed so much for his position, should he let it all fall from him now,--now, when success seemed to be within his reach? That wretched old man in Westmoreland, who seemed gifted almost with immortality,--why could he not die and surrender his paltry acres to one who could use them? He turned away from Regent Street into Hanover Square before he crossed to Great Marlborough Street, giving vent to his passion rather than arranging his thoughts. As he walked the four sides of the square he considered how good it would be if some accident should befall the old man. How he would rejoice were he to hear to-morrow that one of the trees of the "accursed place," had fallen on the "obstinate old idiot," and put an end to him! I will not say that he meditated the murder of his grandfather. There was a firm conviction on his mind, as he thought of all this, that such a deed as that would never come in his way. But he told himself, that if he chose to make the attempt, he would certainly be able to carry it through without detection. Then he remembered Rush and Palmer--the openly bold murderer and the secret poisoner. Both of them, in Vavasor's estimation, were great men. He had often said so in company. He had declared that the courage of Rush had never been surpassed. "Think of him," he would say with admiration, "walking into a man's house, with pistols sufficient to shoot every one there, and doing it as though he were killing rats! What was Nelson at Trafalgar to that? Nelson had nothing to fear!" And of Palmer he declared that he was a man of genius as well as courage. He had "looked the whole thing in the face," Vavasor would say, "and told himself that all scruples and squeamishness are bosh,--child's tales. And so they are. Who lives as though they fear either heaven or hell? And if we do live without such fear or respect, what is the use of telling lies to ourselves? To throw it all to the dogs, as Palmer did, is more manly." "And be hanged," some hearer of George's doctrine replied. "Yes, and be hanged,--if such is your destiny. But you hear of the one who is hanged, but hear nothing of the twenty who are not."
Vavasor walked round Hanover Square, nursing his hatred against the old Squire. He did not tell himself that he would like to murder his grandfather. But he suggested to himself, that if he desired to do so, he would have courage enough to make his way into the old man's room, and strangle him; and he explained to himself how he would be able to get down into Westmoreland without the world knowing that he had been there,--how he would find an entrance into the house by a window with which he was acquainted,--how he could cause the man to die as though, those around him should think, it was apoplexy,--he, George Vavasor, having read something on that subject lately. All this he considered very fully, walking rapidly round Hanover Square more than once or twice. If he were to become an active student in the Rush or Palmer school, he would so study the matter that he would not be the one that should be hung. He thought that he could, so far, trust his own ingenuity. But yet he did not meditate murder. "Beastly old idiot!" he said to himself, "he must have his chance as other men have, I suppose," And then he went across Regent Street to Mr Scruby's office in Great Marlborough Street, not having, as yet, come to any positive conclusion as to what he would do in reference to Alice's money.
But he soon found himself talking to Mr Scruby as though there were no doubts as to the forthcoming funds for the next elections. And Mr Scruby talked to him very plainly, as though those funds must be forthcoming before long. "A stitch in time saves nine," said Mr Scruby, meaning to insinuate that a pound in time might have the same effect. "And I'll tell you what, Mr Vavasor,--of course I've my outstanding bills for the last affair. That's no fault of yours, for the things came so sharp one on another that my fellows haven't had time to make it out. But if you'll put me in funds for what I must be out of pocket in June--"
"Will it be so soon as June?"
"They are talking of June. Why, then, I'll lump the two bills together when it's all over."
In their discussion respecting money Mr Scruby injudiciously mentioned the name of Mr Tombe. No precise caution had been given to him, but he had become aware that the matter was being managed through an agency that was not recognized by his client; and as that agency was simply a vehicle of money which found its way into Mr Scruby's pocket, he should have held his tongue. But Mr Tombe's name escaped from him, and Vavasor immediately questioned him. Scruby, who did not often make such blunders, readily excused himself, shaking his head, and declaring that the name had fallen from his lips instead of that of another man. Vavasor accepted the excuse without further notice, and nothing more was said about Mr Tombe while he was in Mr Scruby's office. But he had not heard the name in vain, and had unfortunately heard it before. Mr Tombe was a remarkable man in his way. He wore powder to his hair,--was very polite in his bearing,--was somewhat asthmatic, and wheezed in his talking,--and was, moreover, the most obedient of men, though it was said of him that he managed the whole income of the Ely Chapter just as he pleased. Being in these ways a man of note, John Grey had spoken of him to Alice, and his name had filtered through Alice and her cousin Kate to George Vavasor. George seldom forgot things or names, and when he heard Mr Tombe's name mentioned in connection with his own money matters, he remembered that Mr Tombe was John Grey's lawyer.
As soon as he could escape out into the street he endeavoured to put all these things together, and after a while resolved that he would go to Mr Tombe. What if there should be an understanding between John Grey and Alice, and Mr Tombe should be arranging his money matters for him! Would not anything be better than this,--even that little tragedy down in Westmoreland, for which his ingenuity and courage would be required? He could endure to borrow money from Alice. He might even endure it still,--though that was very difficult after her treatment of him; but he could not endure to be the recipient of John Grey's money. By heavens, no! And as he got into a cab, and had himself driven off to the neighbourhood of Doctors' Commons, he gave himself credit for much fine manly feeling. Mr Tombe's chambers were found without difficulty, and, as it happened, Mr Tombe was there.
The lawyer rose from his chair as Vavasor entered, and bowed his powdered head very meekly as he asked his visitor to sit down. "Mr Vavasor;--oh, yes. He had heard the name. Yes; he was in the habit of acting for his very old friend Mr John Grey. He had acted for Mr John Grey, and for Mr John Grey's father,--he or his partner,--he believed he might say, for about half a century. There could not be a nicer gentleman than Mr John Grey;--and such a pretty child as he used to be!" At every new sentence Mr Tombe caught his poor asthmatic breath, and bowed his meek old head, and rubbed his hands together as though he hardly dared to keep his seat in Vavasor's presence without the support of some such motion; and wheezed apologetically, and seemed to ask pardon of his visitor for not knowing intuitively what was the nature of that visitor's business. But he was a sly old fox was Mr Tombe, and was considering all this time how much it would be well that he should tell Mr Vavasor, and how much it would be well that he should conceal. "The fat had got into the fire," as he told his old wife when he got home that evening. He told his old wife everything, and I don't know that any of his clients were the worse for his doing so. But while he was wheezing, and coughing, and apologizing, he made up his mind that if George Vavasor were to ask him certain questions, it would be best that he should answer them truly. If Vavasor did ask those questions, he would probably do so upon certain knowledge, and if so, why, in that case, lying would be of no use. Lying would not put the fat back into the frying pan. And even though such questions might be asked without any absolute knowledge, they would, at any rate, show that the questioner had the means of ascertaining the truth. He would tell as little as he could; but he decided during his last wheeze, that he could not lie in the matter with any chance of benefiting his client. "The prettiest child I ever saw, Mr Vavasor!" said Mr Tombe, and then he coughed violently. Some people who knew Mr Tombe declared that he nursed his cough.
"I dare say," said George.
"Can you tell me, Mr Tombe, whether either you or he have anything to do with the payment of certain sums to my credit at Messrs Hock and Block's?"
"Messrs Hock and Block's, the bankers,--in Lom--bard Street?" said Mr Tombe, taking a little more time.
"Yes; I bank there," said Vavasor, sharply.
"A most respectable house."
"Has any money been paid there to my credit, by you, Mr Tombe?"
"May I ask you why you put the question to me, Mr Vavasor?"
"Well, I don't think you may. That is to say, my reason for asking it can have nothing to do with yours for replying to it. If you have had no hand in any such payment, there is an end of it, and I need not take up your time by saying anything more on the subject."
"I am not prepared to go that length, Mr Vavasor,--not altogether to go that length,--ugh--ugh--ugh."
"Then, will you tell me what you have done in the matter?"
"Well,--upon my word, you've taken me a little by surprise. Let me see. Pinkle,--Pinkle." Pinkle was a clerk who sat in an inner room, and Mr Tombe's effort to call him seemed to be most ineffectual. But Pinkle understood the sound, and came. "Pinkle, didn't we pay some money into Hock and Block's a few weeks since, to the credit of Mr George Vavasor?"
"Did we, sir?" said Pinkle, who probably knew that his employer was an old fox, and who, perhaps, had caught something of the fox nature himself.
"I think we did. Just look Pinkle;--and, Pinkle,--see the date, and let me know all about it. It's fine bright weather for this time of year, Mr Vavasor; but these easterly winds!--ugh--ugh--ugh!"
Vavasor found himself sitting for an apparently interminable number of minutes in Mr Tombe's dingy chamber, and was coughed at, and wheezed at, till he begun to be tired of his position; moreover, when tired, he showed his impatience. "Perhaps you'll let us write you a line when we have looked into the matter?" suggested Mr Tombe.
"I'd rather know at once," said Vavasor. "I don't suppose it can take you very long to find out whether you have paid money to my account, by order of Mr Grey. At any rate, I must know before I go away."
"Pinkle, Pinkle!" screamed the old man through his coughing; and again Pinkle came. "Well, Pinkle, was anything of the kind done, or is my memory deceiving me?" Mr Tombe was, no doubt, lying shamefully, for, of course, he remembered all about it; and, indeed, George Vavasor had learned already quite enough for his own purposes.
"I was going to look," said Pinkle; and Pinkle again went away.
"I'm sorry to give your clerk so much trouble," said Vavasor, in an angry voice; "and I think it must be unnecessary. Surely you know whether Mr Grey has commissioned you to pay money for me?"
"We have so many things to do, Mr Vavasor; and so many clients. We have, indeed. You see, it isn't only one gentleman's affairs. But I think there was something done. I do, indeed."
"What is Mr John Grey's address?" asked Vavasor, very sharply.
"Number 5, Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East," said Mr Tombe. Herein Mr Tombe somewhat committed himself. His client, Mr Grey, was, in fact, in town, but Vavasor had not known or imagined that such was the case. Had Mr Tombe given the usual address of Nethercoats, nothing further would have been demanded from him on that subject. But he had foolishly presumed that the question had been based on special information as to his client's visit to London, and he had told the plain truth in a very simple way.
"Number 5, Suffolk Street," said Vavasor, writing down the address. "Perhaps it will be better that I should go to him, as you do not seem inclined to give me any information." Then he took up his hat, and hardly bowing to Mr Tombe, left the chambers. Mr Tombe, as he did so, rose from his chair, and bent his head meekly down upon the table.
"Pinkle, Pinkle," wheezed Mr Tombe. "Never mind; never mind." Pinkle didn't mind; and we may say that he had not minded; for up to that moment he had taken no steps towards a performance of the order which had been given him.
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