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Now resteth in my memory but this point, which indeed is the chief to you of all others; which is the choice of what men you are to direct yourself to; for it is certain no vessel can leave a worse taste in the liquor it contains, than a wrong teacher infects an unskilful hearer with that which hardly will ever out...But you may say, "How shall I get excellent men to take pains to speak with me?" Truly, in few words, either by much expense or much humbleness. Letter of Sir Philip Sidney to his brother Robert.
How many things which, at the first moment, strike us as curious coincidences, afterwards become so operative on our lives, and so interwoven with the whole web of their histories, that instead of appearing any more as strange accidents, they assume the shape of unavoidable necessities, of homely, ordinary, lawful occurrences, as much in their own place as any shaft or pinion of a great machine!
It was dusk before Hugh turned his steps homeward. He wandered along, thinking of Euphra and the Count and the stolen rings. He greatly desired to clear himself to Mr. Arnold. He saw that the nature of the ring tended to justify Mr. Arnold's suspicions; for a man who would not steal for money's worth, might yet steal for value of another sort, addressing itself to some peculiar weakness; and Mr. Arnold might have met with instances of this nature in his position as magistrate. He greatly desired, likewise, for Euphra's sake, to have Funkelstein in his power. His own ring was beyond recovery; but if, by its means, he could hold such a lash over him as would terrify him from again exercising his villanous influences on her, he would he satisfied.
While plunged in this contemplation, he came upon two policemen talking together. He recognized one of them as a Scotchman, from his speech. It occurred to him at once to ask his advice, in a modified manner; and a moment's reflection convinced him that it would at least do no harm. He would do it. It was one of those resolutions at which one arrives by an arrow flight of the intellect.
"You are a countryman of mine, I think," said he, as soon as the two had parted.
"If ye're a Scotchman, sir--may be ay, may be no."
"Whaur come ye frae, man?"
"It's mine ain calf-country. An' what do they ca' ye?"
"They ca' me John MacPherson."
"My name's Sutherland."
"Eh, man! It's my ain mither's name. Gie's a grup o' yer han', Maister Sutherlan'.--Eh, man!" he repeated, shaking Hugh's hand with vehemence.
"I have no doubt," said Hugh, relapsing into English, "that we are some cousins or other. It's very lucky for me to find a relative, for I wanted some--advice."
He took care to say advice, which a Scotchman is generally prepared to bestow of his best. Had it been sixpence, the cousinship would have required elaborate proof, before the treaty could have made further progress.
"I'm fully at your service, sir."
"When will you be off duty?"
"At nine o'clock preceesely."
"Come to No. 13,--Square, and ask for me. It's not far."
"Wi' pleesir, sir, 'gin 'twar twise as far."
Hugh would not have ventured to ask him to his house on Sunday night, when no refreshments could be procured, had he not remembered a small pig (Anglicé stone bottle) of real mountain dew, which he had carried with him when he went to Arnstead, and which had lain unopened in one of his boxes.
Miss Talbot received her lodger with more show of pleasure than usual, for he came lapped in the odour of the deacon's sanctity. But she was considerably alarmed and beyond measure shocked when the policeman called and requested to see him. Sally had rushed in to her mistress in dismay.
"Please'm, there's a pleaceman wants Mr. Sutherland. Oh! lor'm!"
"Well, go and let Mr. Sutherland know, you stupid girl," answered her mistress, trembling.
"Oh! lor'm!" was all Sally's reply, as she vanished to bear the awful tidings to Hugh.
"He can't have been housebreaking already," said Miss Talbot to herself, as she confessed afterwards. "But it may be forgery or embezzlement. I told the poor deluded young man that the way of transgressors was hard."
"Please, sir, you're wanted, sir," said Sally, out of breath, and pale as her Sunday apron.
"Who wants me?" asked Hugh.
"Please, sir, the pleaceman, sir," answered Sally, and burst into tears.
Hugh was perfectly bewildered by the girl's behaviour, and said in a tone of surprise:
"Well, show him up, then."
"Ooh! sir," said Sally, with a Plutonic sigh, and began to undo the hooks of her dress; "if you wouldn't mind, sir, just put on my frock and apron, and take a jug in your hand, an' the pleaceman'll never look at you. I'll take care of everything till you come back, sir." And again she burst into tears.
Sally was a great reader of the Family Herald, and knew that this was an orthodox plan of rescuing a prisoner. The kindness of her anxiety moderated the expression of Hugh's amusement; and having convinced her that he was in no danger, he easily prevailed upon her to bring the policeman upstairs.
Over a tumbler of toddy, the weaker ingredients of which were procured by Sally's glad connivance, with a lingering idea of propitiation, and a gentle hint that Missus mustn't know--the two Scotchmen, seated at opposite corners of the fire, had a long chat. They began about the old country, and the places and people they both knew, and both didn't know. If they had met on the shores of the central lake of Africa, they could scarcely have been more couthy together. At length Hugh referred to the object of his application to MacPherson.
"What plan would you have me pursue, John, to get hold of a man in London?"
"I could manage that for ye, sir. I ken maist the haill mengie o' the detaictives."
"But you see, unfortunately, I don't wish, for particular reasons, that the police should have anything to do with it."
"Ay! ay! Hm! Hm! I see brawly. Ye'll be efter a stray sheep, nae doot?"
Hugh did not reply; so leaving him to form any conclusion he pleased.
"Ye see," MacPherson continued, "it's no that easy to a body that's no up to the trade. Hae ye ony clue like, to set ye spierin' upo'?"
"Not the least."
The man pondered a while.
"I hae't," he exclaimed at last. "What a fule I was no to think o' that afore! Gin't be a puir bit yow-lammie like, 'at ye're efter, I'll tell ye what: there's ae man, a countryman o' our ain, an' a gentleman forbye, that'll do mair for ye in that way, nor a' the detaictives thegither; an' that's Robert Falconer, Esquire.--I ken him weel."
"But I don't," said Hugh.
"But I'll introduce ye till 'im. He bides close at han' here; roun' twa corners jist. An' I'm thinkin' he'll be at hame the noo; for I saw him gaein that get, afore ye cam' up to me. An' the suner we gang, the better; for he's no aye to be gotten hand o'. Fegs! he may be in Shoreditch or this."
"But will he not consider it an intrusion?"
"Na, na; there's no fear o' that. He's ony man's an' ilka woman's freen--so be he can do them a guid turn; but he's no for drinkin' and daffin' an' that. Come awa', Maister Sutherlan', he's yer verra man."
Thus urged, Hugh rose and accompanied the policeman. He took him round rather more than two corners; but within five minutes they stood at Mr. Falconer's door. John rang. The door opened without visible service, and they ascended to the first floor, which was enclosed something after the Scotch fashion. Here a respectable looking woman awaited their ascent.
"Is Mr. Falconer at hom', mem?" said Hugh's guide.
"He is; but I think he's just going out again."
"Will ye tell him, mem, 'at hoo John MacPherson, the policeman, would like sair to see him?"
"I will," she answered; and went in, leaving them at the door.
She returned in a moment, and, inviting them to enter, ushered them into a large bare room, in which there was just light enough for Hugh to recognize, to his astonishment, the unmistakeable figure of the man whom he had met in Whitechapel, and whom he had afterwards seen apparently watching him from the gallery of the Olympic Theatre.
"How are you, MacPherson?" said a deep powerful voice, out of the gloom.
"Verra weel, I thank ye, Mr. Falconer. Hoo are ye yersel', sir?"
"Very well too, thank you. Who is with you?"
"It's a gentleman, sir, by the name o' Mr. Sutherlan', wha wants your help, sir, aboot somebody or ither 'at he's enteresstit in, wha's disappeared."
Falconer advanced, and, bowing to Hugh said, very graciously:
"I shall be most happy to serve Mr. Sutherland, if in my power. Our friend MacPherson has rather too exalted an idea of my capabilities, however."
"Weel, Maister Falconer, I only jist spier at yersel', whether or no ye was ever dung wi' onything ye took in han'."
Falconer made no reply to this. There was the story of a whole life in his silence--past and to come.
He merely said:
"You can leave the gentleman with me, then, John. I'll take care of him."
"No fear o' that, sir. Deil a bit! though a' the policemen i' Lonnon war efter 'im."
"I'm much obliged to you for bringing him."
"The obligation's mine sir--an' the gentleman's. Good nicht, sir. Good nicht, Mr. Sutherlan'. Ye'll ken whaur to fin' me gin ye want me. Yon's my beat for anither fortnicht."
"And you know my quarters," said Hugh, shaking him by the hand. "I am greatly obliged to you."
"Not a bit, sir. Or gin ye war, ye sud be hertily welcome."
"Bring candles, Mrs. Ashton," Falconer called from the door. Then, turning to Hugh, "Sit down, Mr. Sutherland," he said, "if you can find a chair that is not illegally occupied already. Perhaps we had better wait for the candles. What a pleasant day we have had!"
"Then you have been more pleasantly occupied than I have," thought Hugh, to whose mind returned the images of the Appleditch family and its drawing-room, followed by the anticipation of the distasteful duties of the morrow. But he only said:
"It has been a most pleasant day."
"I spent it strangely," said Falconer.
Here the candles were brought in.
The two men looked at each other full in the face. Hugh saw that he had not been in error. The same remarkable countenance was before him. Falconer smiled.
"We have met before," said he.
"We have," said Hugh.
"I had a conviction we should be better acquainted, but I did not expect it so soon."
"Are you a clairvoyant, then?"
"Not in the least."
"Or, perhaps, being a Scotchman, you have the second sight?"
"I am hardly Celt enough for that. But I am a sort of a seer, after all--from an instinct of the spiritual relations of things, I hope; not in the least from the nervo-material side."
"I think I understand you."
"Are you at leisure?"
"Had we not better walk, then? I have to go as far as Somers Town--no great way; and we can talk as well walking as sitting."
"With pleasure," answered Hugh, rising.
"Will you take anything before you go? A glass of port? It is the only wine I happen to have."
"Not a drop, thank you. I seldom taste anything stronger than water."
"I like that. But I like a glass of port too. Come then."
And Falconer rose--and a great rising it was; for, as I have said, he was two or three inches taller than Hugh, and much broader across the shoulders; and Hugh was no stripling now. He could not help thinking again of his old friend, David Elginbrod, to whom he had to look up to find the living eyes of him, just as now he looked up to find Falconer's. But there was a great difference between those organs in the two men. David's had been of an ordinary size, pure keen blue, sparkling out of cerulean depths of peace and hope, full of lambent gleams when he was loving any one, and ever ready to be dimmed with the mists of rising emotion. All that Hugh could yet discover of Falconer's eyes was, that they were large, and black as night, and set so far back in his head, that each gleamed out of its caverned arch like the reversed torch of the Greek Genius of Death, just before going out in night. Either the frontal sinus was very large, or his observant faculties were peculiarly developed.
They went out, and walked for some distance in silence. Hugh ventured to say at length:
"You said you had spent the day strangely: may I ask how?"
"In a condemned cell in Newgate," answered Falconer. "I am not in the habit of going to such places, but the man wanted to see me, and I went."
As Falconer said no more, and as Hugh was afraid of showing anything like vulgar curiosity, this thread of conversation broke. Nothing worth recording passed until they entered a narrow court in Somers Town.
"Are you afraid of infection?" Falconer said.
"Not in the least, if there be any reason for exposing myself to it."
"That is right.--And I need not ask if you are in good health."
"I am in perfect health."
"Then I need not mind asking you to wait for me till I come out of this house. There is typhus in it."
"I will wait with pleasure. I will go with you if I can be of any use."
"There is no occasion. It is not your business this time."
So saying, Falconer opened the door, and walked in.
Said Hugh to himself: "I must tell this man the whole story; and with it all my own."
In a few minutes Falconer rejoined him, looking solemn, but with a kind of relieved expression on his face.
"The poor fellow is gone," said he.
"What a thing it must be, Mr. Sutherland, for a man to break out of the choke-damp of a typhus fever into the clear air of the life beyond!"
"Yes," said Hugh; adding, after a slight hesitation, "if he be at all prepared for the change."
"Where a change belongs to the natural order of things," said Falconer, "and arrives inevitably at some hour, there must always be more or less preparedness for it. Besides, I think a man is generally prepared for a breath of fresh air."
Hugh did not reply, for he felt that he did not fully comprehend his new acquaintance. But he had a strong suspicion that it was because he moved in a higher region than himself.
"If you will still accompany me," resumed Falconer, who had not yet adverted to Hugh's object in seeking his acquaintance, "you will, I think, be soon compelled to believe that, at whatever time death may arrive, or in whatever condition the man may be at the time, it comes as the best and only good that can at that moment reach him. We are, perhaps, too much in the habit of thinking of death as the culmination of disease, which, regarded only in itself, is an evil, and a terrible evil. But I think rather of death as the first pulse of the new strength, shaking itself free from the old mouldy remnants of earth-garments, that it may begin in freedom the new life that grows out of the old. The caterpillar dies into the butterfly. Who knows but disease may be the coming, the keener life, breaking into this, and beginning to destroy like fire the inferior modes or garments of the present? And then disease would be but the sign of the salvation of fire; of the agony of the greater life to lift us to itself, out of that wherein we are failing and sinning. And so we praise the consuming fire of life."
"But surely all cannot fare alike in the new life."
"Far from it. According to the condition. But what would be hell to one, will be quietness, and hope, and progress to another; because he has left worse behind him, and in this the life asserts itself, and is.--But perhaps you are not interested in such subjects, Mr. Sutherland, and I weary you."
"If I have not been interested in them hitherto, I am ready to become so now. Let me go with you."
As I have attempted to tell a great deal about Robert Falconer and his pursuits elsewhere, I will not here relate the particulars of their walk through some of the most wretched parts of London. Suffice it to say that, if Hugh, as he walked home, was not yet prepared to receive and understand the half of what Falconer had said about death, and had not yet that faith in God that gives as perfect a peace for the future of our brothers and sisters, who, alas! have as yet been fed with husks, as for that of ourselves, who have eaten bread of the finest of the wheat, and have been but a little thankful,--he yet felt at least that it was a blessed thing that these men and women would all die--must all die. That spectre from which men shrink, as if it would take from them the last shivering remnant of existence, he turned to for some consolation even for them. He was prepared to believe that they could not be going to worse in the end, though some of the rich and respectable and educated might have to receive their evil things first in the other world; and he was ready to understand that great saying of Schiller--full of a faith evident enough to him who can look far enough into the saying:
"Death cannot be an evil, for it is universal."
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