David Christie Murray.

Bob Martin's little girl online

. (page 13 of 29)
Online LibraryDavid Christie MurrayBob Martin's little girl → online text (page 13 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


both wanted her. The other man, he went out to Aus-
tralia."

"And was lost for two years," said Dom. "That
is a long time to be lost for."

"Yes," said the landlord, frothing out a mug of
beer for himself, "it's a longish time^ but when you
come to think about it it's natural enough. The poor
man seems to have got a sunstroke in the wilds out
there. I've heard him say he didn't remember even
his own name when he got into his right mind again."

There was the open door! But standing in the light
it gave or seemed to give was an imagination so mon-
strous, so unfounded, so gratuitously impossible and
absurd, that Monsieur Dom waved it imperatively on
one side and declined to look at it.

" Could not remember his own name," said the land-
lord.

"And so took mine!"

The words sprang into Dom's mind, and were almost



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOB martin's little GIRL. 163

at his lips before he saw how wild they would have
sounded if spoken, how mad they seemed even to his
own fancy.

This Hetheridge had known him; Andr^ Dom had
vanished for two years from the sight of the world, had
had reason to hate Redwood, had come to the scene of
the nniurder within two days of its perpetration. .Well,
what was there in all that ? The root of the ridiculous
fancy, of which it would be wise to breathe no word.

For the next ten minutes the landlord had the talk
entirely to himself. Monsieur Dom smoked assidu-
ously, stroking his huge mustache, and grunting yes or
no at random. At the end of that time Hetheridge
entered, and the Frenchman awaking from his reverie
plunged into talk with him.

"Our good friend the patron,'* he said, "has been
telling me that you suffered from a sunstroke from
your wanderings in the bush."

"Yes," said Hetheridge with averted face. "You'd
have thought it too late in the year for that, wouldn't
you? But I remember one or two blazing days."

Was that fancy, the little Vigneron asked himself,
or was it humbug? He remembered the long and
painful search for the missing man, and he recalled it
minutely, detail by detail. Hot weather for the season
of the year undoubtedly, but hot enough for sunstroke ?
Possibly, he thought at last. There was no knowing
precisely what might happen to a man weakened by
want and exposure.

He decided that he suspected nothing. That as an
honorable and clean-minded man, he had no right to
suspect anything. The fancy which had attacked him
was no better than an intrusive madness. He would
let it go.

But all the same it clung.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



CHAPTER XVI.

Sam Potter was domiciled in London in the highly
respectable boardipg-house off the. Gray's Inn Road.
The little Matilda was in Wellsted in. care of her in-
fant charge there until such time as the Reverend Jor-
dan Farrell should secure a successor for her. Sam
had been formally introduced to the lawyers who
had charge of his affairs, and they were taking out
letters of administration for him. Nothing but the
routine business had to be gone through, and Sam, in
the hands of the lawyers, was docile and did as he
was commanded so that things went smoothly, and in a
fortnight he was in full possession of his own.

In the mean time he had afforded a dreadful exercise
to Matilda's maiden aunt. He was perfectly quiet,
and so far as the good lady knew, was strictly virtuous
and sober. But he had camping-out habits which were
hard to bear. He had a rooted repugnance against
going to bed, for instance, and slept upon the bedroom
floor in his boots. He smoked the strongest kind of
plug tobacco in the foulest old clay in the world, and
the whole house reaped the fumes of his perpetual in-
cense. His table manners were almost barbarous. In
moments of extorted respect he called his landlady
Boss, but in ordinary converse addressed her as Matey.

He gave away specimens and small nuggets with a
lavish hand, and he supplied the children of the neigh-
borhood so freely with small, cheap drums and painted
wooden trumpets that the hitherto quiet street became
a pandemonium. The infantry of the district skir-
mished about the area railings with shrieks of "Sam,"
and were dispersed by the heavier metal of the house-
hold brigade, only to return unconquerable as flies.

164

Digitized by Google • "



BOB martin's little GIRL. 165

On Sam's appearance he was hailed with clamors
of delight and expectation. He held scrambles for
coppers and sweet stuff of all sorts, and general 1)^
brought the street he lived in to such a stage of disre-
pute that all its decent householders were willing to
enter into a league against him.

A deputation waited on Miss Thoms and represented
the case strongly. The excellent lady promised to take
the bull by the horns, and implemented her promise
as the Scotch lawyers say, no later than that after-
noon.

"I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Potter,*' she began,
** that a highly respectable lodger of mine is coming
up from the country to-morrow, and that I shall want
your room for her."

" All right, matey," Sam returned. " Any room will
do for me."

**I regret," Miss Thoms responded, "that I have
no other room to place at your disposal."

"Well," said the accommodating Sam, "I can get a
strip or two of weather-board, and a strip o' canvas.
Then a hammer and a handful o' nails, and I can fix
myself up in the back yard as right as ninepence."

At this evidence of savagery. Miss Thoms, though
a resolute and courageous woman, displayed symptoms
of faintness so pronounced, as to alarm her guest.

"You are not in the jungle now, Mr. Potter, but in
a respectable house in London. What you propose
might be suitable for Greenland's^ icy mountains or
India's coral strand, but we can endure no such pro-
ceedings in the neighborhood of the Gray's Inn Road."

"All right, matey," said Sam placidly, unaware of
his countless offences against propriety. " Fix it how
you like it. 1 can have a shake-down on the floor
here, or in the kitchen. There's a lot of black beetles
in the kitchen. I know that because I've seen 'em,
but-after snakes, they won't count for much, will they,
matey ?"

" None of the expedients you propose, Mr. Potter,"



Digitized by VjOOQIC



i66 BOB martin's little girl.

returned the lady of the house, with extremest frozen
dignity, "are at all likely to be adopted here."

"Good iron," returned the inexorably amiable Sam.
"Just put me where you like. One^place is pretty
much the same to me as another. When a bloke's
humped his bluey all over the Australias from Auck-
land to the Bluff and Carpenteria to Melbourne, for a
matter of fifteen year, why don't you see he gets ma-
nured to things. Put me anywhere, boss. I shall be
contented."

" There is no room for you in the house, Mr. Potter,"
the old lady insisted.

"Oh, I see," said Sam, at last enlightened. "You
want to fire me out? All right. Anything for a quiet
life. But look here, matey, where am I to go to? I
don't know anybody in the township."

"You had better go to Wellsted and join my niece
Matilda. Your things are packed already, and if you
start at once you may catch a train for Colchester at
the Eastern Counties Railway station. One of the
maids shall call you a four-wheeler."

Being thus summarily disposed of, there was nothing
for it but to obey orders. Sam's luggage was heaped
upon it, and he was driven away, obstinately good-
humored to the last, and pursued out of sight by a
shrieking mob of infant savagery.

Matilda was greatly surprised to receive a message
from her husband late at night to the effect that he
had put up at the local hotel, and should expect to
see her in the morning. She passed a night of some
anxiety, and at an early hour started out in search of
Sam, whom she found in the back yard of the hotel
making his toilet at the pump, splashing like a water
fowl and hissing as if had been red-hot. Sam ex-
plained the meaning of his presence there, and sub-
mitted meekly to be told that his dismissal was the
result of his own heathen habits.

"Well, my dear," he said placably, "I'm better off
in a pub. than I am in that kind o' dandy hash-house.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



, BOB martin's little GIRL. 167^

I'm more used to it, and in a pub. nobody takes any
notice of my ways."

"Promise me you won't drink, Sam," his wife be-
sought him.

"Well, I won't drink," Sam answered. "Look
here; if I've got a big check about me I'm bound
to knock it down sooner or later. You take the whole
thundering swag, 'Tilda, and give me a couple of
dollars a day. That'll pay for the shake-down and
the tucker, and I shan't have a chance to go round
shouting drinks for anybody. "

To this sensible programme Matilda at once acceded.
Sam handed over the whole of his money to his wife,
and paying his bill daily with a scrupulous regularity,
made cold tea his sole beverage, and kept out of the
way of temptation.

When 'Tilda walked out with her young charge
morning and afternoon she found Sam awaiting her
punctual as in the days of courtship. They had many
rambles together, and conversed on many topics, but
nothing but failure encountered the little woman's at-
tempts to elicit the narrative of Sam's days of prolonged
absence.

" It's no use, 'Tilda," Sam would say. " I can't get
back at it. Directly I begin to think about it my head
begins to spin and my brains fly off at the handle."

" I'm afraid," Tilda answered on one occasion, " that
you did something you're ashamed to let me know."

"Not me," said Sam; "no fear. There's somebody
'as had something to do with it. I can't tell who it
is, but it's always as if he was close by to me. He's
always there, and I can't see him. I get that mad
sometimes my head goes all to nothing. The more I
try the further off it seems."

But for this strange lapse of memory, Sam was as
sure as ever he had been, and after a time, when Ma-
tilda had ceased to interrogate him, he did his best to
put all thoughts of his misfortune on one side. He
became a decided popular favorite in Wellsted, and



Digitized by VjOOQIC



, i68 BOB martin's little girl. ,

told interminable yarns over his cold tea at the public-
house at which he had taken up his residence, insomuch
that crowds assembled in the tap-room to hear the
traveller's stories. He could tell from his own recol-
lection of the first great gold rush to Ballarat and the
fight at the Eureka Stockade. He could tell hQw,
with his own eyes, he had seen a gloomy forest ban-
ished, and great city erected, as if by magic, on the
space where it had stood. He painted scenes of desert
privation and of wild orgie, and in his own vdugh and
. homely language related a thousand epic circumstances.

In due time, Mrs. Jordan Farrell having found a
successor for Matilda, the little woman was free to re-
turn to her husband. In the course of their rambles
with the child she and Sam had marked a six-roomed
cottage, standing in the midst of an inviting and well-
ordered little plot of ground, and decided between
them that it would be a rather agreeable thing to
have the perils of housekeeping and live there. In-
quiries proved that the cottage might be had* on a
seven-years' lease at a moderate rental. . The place
was taken and furnished, and the pair ^settled down
with a very small servant-girl as the sole complement
of the household. Sam found congenial employment
in the garden, where he pruned and raked and hoed
and planted and weeded with a constant ardor, whilst
Matilda and the small maid between them kept the
house painfully neat and polished.

They had been housekeeping for half a year or there-
abouts when they decided on a question of great
moment to this history. ** I have kept my lips closed,
Sam," said Tilda, "up till now; but the little thing
will be growing up to an understanding age, and I
want to know whether it would be right to tell her
who she really is or to keep dark about it?"

Sam revolved the matter in his mind in silence, slowly
puffing at his pipe meanwhile.

"Well, my dear," he asked at last, "what do you
think ?"



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOB martin's little GIRL. 169

«

"No, Sam," urged Matilda, "I want to know what
you think."

"Well, you see, Matilda," Sam responded, " it's like
this. I never quitfe know what I do think until I know
what ypu think. Which," he added idly, " is rhyme
as well as reason."

"Well, then, Sam," said Matilda, "I think it best
to say nothing at all. She's Bob Martin's little girl
in point of fact, as I've heard you say a thousand
times. Now her fother had no' got anything to leave
her, had he?"

" Not so much as an old boot," Sam answered.

" Nor," pursued Matilda, " his father's kith and kin ?"

"His old folks," Sam responded, "is dead this ten
years. His sister married a ship's mate and has gone
the Lord knows where. There's nobody to claim the
kid and nobody to take care of her except me. I'm
her natural guardian." ^

"She's likely to be a great deal better off without
you," said Mrs. Potter, decisively, "and it's too late to
meddle with her now. I'm speaking for the child's
good, Sam. It's getting to be a good deal over three
yea*s since I first had to do with her, and it stands to
reason I've got fond of her. She's got a name of her
own, or at least she's got a name she's known by.
Mr. Hetheridge left her all his money once, and he's
likely to do as much again, for I don't suppose he'll ever
marry. She's being taken thorough good care of, and
I think we'd better make up our minds once for all
to keep a quiet tongue about it. She'll grow up to a
lady where she is being took excellent good care of,
else urge itupon you, I never would, Sam, and that
you may put your Bible word to."

"Very well, Matilda," Sam returned. "That being
your opinion it's mine likewise. I shan't say any-
thing."

The phenomena of mental disease are often obscure
and strange. The lost figure after which Potter's
memory strayed in fruitless endeavor had been in his



Digitized by VjOOQIC



T70 BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL.

thoughts a hundred times, and he had never recognized
it. In a ramblkng and half-intelligible way he had
told his tale to Redwood, and at that time he had
known quite clearly who it was that had dealt him
that almost fatal blow in Hetheridge's house in Mel-
bourne. Now, the memory of that terrible episode
seemed altogether erased from Jiis mind. The pic-
tures of it had faded into nothingness. Even the men-
tion of Hetheridge's name brought no hint to his in-
telligence. In his talks about the child with his wife,
he often heard the name and often used it. His mind
seemed clear in respect to all his dealings with Hether-
idge, except one. To revive the memory of that. night
he needed a remembrance of another sort, and in due
time it came.

Mrs. Redwood and her boy had long since settled in
Wellsted, under the august shelter of Mrs. Wey-
bridge's wing. The widow had taken, under her pa-
troness' advice, a handsome little house, not far from
Weybridge Hall. Her story had followed her, of
course, but it awoke and could awake no sentiment but
one of pity, and she was never 'molested by a hint of
it. She was still young and pretty and was obviously
well to do, whilst the countenance of Mrs. Weybridge
gave her a better social position than ever she could
have aspired to in the neighborhood of Upnor, and
there were not a few gentlemen of early middle age in
that part of the country who were inclined to think
that she might make an agreeable life companion. She
was altogether unconscious of these fancies, and would
have looked on the mere suggestion of a second mar-
riage as something very like a blasphemy. Hether-
idge visited her now and then at considerable intervals,
but never imperilled his cause by a hint of the hope
that prompted him. He had waited years for revenge,
and he could wait as long, and at least as patiently for
love. He found life a weary business and subdued
himself to it with a fatigued resignation. He began
to see — he had long ago begun to see that from the



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL. 171

most purely "selfish point of view the murder of George
Redwood wajS a blunder. It had taken all the salt and.
spice out of the dish of life and had left the mess
flavorless. His desire for Ellice Redwood, though it
was still his strongest sentiment, was a poor thing in
comparison with what it had been whilst his detesta-
tion of her living husband lent it life and force. He
suffered, too, from the companionship of horrors whose
presence it was difficult to endure. That inspiration
of nervous hate which had so long supported him was
only possible to a man on whom the nerves could take
great and terrible revenges. Conscience, or what is
popularly known as conscience, left him unassailed,
but his outraged nerves called into being whole bat-
talions of invisible enemies to his peace. He had
gone back to business, and was up to the eyes in affairs
of great importance. Over and over again he courted
times when it seemed that a week might make or break
him; and these experiences, with the mental strain
they brought, afforded him the only trustworthy bul-
wark he had against the phantom host. The very
good fortune which followed all his business enter-
prises terrified whilst it enriched him. No man could
long be as lucky as himself with impunity. Some
stroke of misfortune would surely fall upon him and
atone for everything.

The constant gambling of his business life, the wine
he drank to drown his fears, the ceaseless torment of
his nervous tremors, combined to wear him down until
he seemed scarcely more than skin and bone.

It was necessary for him sometimes to entertain men
with whom he did business, and he had at first thought
of taking a large house in one of the least expensive
of the great western squares. He had even visited the
house he had in mind, and had obtained estimates for
furnishing it, when the dread of its empty loneliness
got hold of him and drove him from the project. He
found handsome lodgings, and gave his dinners,*^when
it was necessary to give them, at a hotel.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



172 BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL.

The multitude of his affairs rendered it impossible
. for him to visit Wellsted often, but he would 09ca-
sionally run down from Saturday till Monday, and
would sometimes call on Mrs. Redwood for an hour or
two on the Sunday afternoon. He was never happy in
her presence, or contented in his anticipation of his
visit or in his memory of it. They made a deeper
gloom in the night of life, and yet he sought them.

Wellsted is not a large place, but it had room enough
in it even at that time for a good many different social
circles. Mrs. Redwood lived on the fringe of the loft-
iest, and Sam Potter and his wife in the middle of a ring
simply and purely bourgeios.

Sam, who had been arrested for the murder of the
lady's husband, could hardly fail tp know of her his-
tory and whereabouts, but Mrs. Redwood remained
ignorant of his neighborhood.

More than a year had gone by since the widow's re-
moval from Upnor. It was winter-time, and there
were two or three inches of snow upon the ground.
Hetheridge had paid one of his Sunday visits, had said
his good-bys, and was in the act of returning to his
hotel. The Sabbath stillness was intensified by the
snow. His own footsteps were almost inaudible to
him as he walked down the long and winding path
v/hich led from the house to the gateway. Twice he
paused and looked back, saw the warm light in the
windows of the room he had just quitted. The land-
scape without looked old and bare, and the sky re-
flected the snow-light faintly, and objects a score of
yards away took already fantastic and uncertain forms.
The gate was wide open, and, as he reached it, he
turned a third time to look at the light which shone
out at the windows, broken into many shooting rays by
the intervening branches of the leafless trees. The
chill of coming enemy, the dull and deathly gray of
sky and landscape, and the all-pervading hush and
sense of loneliness combined to make the apartment he
had so recently left seem warmer and more homelike



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL. 1 73

\

than it had been in reality. He stood looking toward
it for a full minute filled with an impotent wrathful
yearning. He tore himself away with a groan of im-
patience, and swinging rapidly througj? the gateway
and into the road, came into rough contact with a stal-
wart figure at the corner.

"Where are you going to, you stupid yokel?" he
began.

He got no further, for, to his fear and amazement, a
pair of strong hands clutched him by the throat, and
so struck him that his hat flew into the horse road, and
his teeth seemed to chatter in his head. At first the
shock and astonishment of this unlooked-for assault
deprived him of all power of observation, but as his
wits began to work, and he struggled to escape the
grasp which held him; he saw that his assailant was
no other than Sam hotter.

"Oh, you can wriggle," said his adversary, still
shaking him, "but l*ve got you safe this time. You
murderer! you cold-blooded wicked murderer! You
come along o* me to the police. I've got you by the
wool, matey. You'd better be quiet and come along
peaceable. If you don't I'll.shakethe life out of you."

This statement made, Sam took one brawny grip of
shict, waistcoat, coat, and overcoat, half throttling his
captive, and marching into the road with him, com-
pelled him to stoop for his hat. When Hetheridge in
a half-dazed condition of mind had obeyed him, and
had put the hat on, his captor gave it a savagely hu-
morous tap on the crown and drove it over his ears.

"Now," he said, "you'll go knocking innocent men
on the head again, won't you? No. I can answer
that question for you, matey, not much you won't.
I'm going to have you took care of for the rest of
your natural life, I am. You come along o' me to the
watch-house."

Hetheridge was weaponless, and Potter's prodigious
strength gave him an advantage against which it was
vain to struggle.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



174 BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL.

" You madman, " he said, " what do you mean ? Who
are you? I never saw you in my life before."

"Oh, yes you did," said Potter jeeringly. "Your
name's John Hetheridge, and mine's Sam Potter.
We've met on the other side of the world, we have.
You tried to murder me in your own house in Mel-
bourne. You knocked me on the head and leffme
senseless, you wicked murderer. I can prove it all
agen you. I'll swear to every word of it."

He tightened his grasp and dragged Hetheridge
along the road, too excited at first to see that the grasp
he kept upon him was actually imperilling his life.
When he discovered this he changed his hold, and sus-
taining his captive in an upright posture whilst he re-
covered breath, he triumphed over him.

"You've waited a long time for this, haven't you,
matey? So have I. I wonder how often I've tried
to remember who it was that struck me that wicked
blow. I might never ha' found it out at all if you
hadn't run agen me, but you see I 'got it in a flash.
Here, I ain't goin' to waste time talking to you, come
along."

He dragged his prisoner on again. The dusk was
fast falling, and as chance had it, there was not a
soul abroad. •

The police office stood in a court-yard off the main
street of the town, and almost at the point where the
town and country met. Potter thrusting Hetheridge
before him, bustled his man into the outer room of the
station. An officer, who was lounging sleepily by the
fire, rose at the noise of their entrance.

"What's this?" he demanded.

" Here he is," said Potter, " I've got him. After all
these years I've got him."

"Well," inquired the officer, whose position afforded
him an occasional opportunity for the vent of a chas-
tened humor, " what are you going to do with him now
you have got him ?"

Sam passed an uncertain hand across his forehead



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOB MARTIN S LITTLE GIRL. 175

and looked from the prisoner to the policeman and
back again, but said nothing.

" The man's mad," said Hetheridge, " mad or drunk.
He fell upon me in the street just now and half choked
me."

"Come now," exclaimed the officer, turning severely
round on Potter. "You've got to explain all this, you
now. "

Sam said not a word. The excitement had been too
much for him and he had forgotten everything.



Digitized by VaOOQlC



CHAPTER XVII.

Hetheridge knew not what to make of his accuser's
silence.

"Come,** said the officer. "What's the meaning of



Online LibraryDavid Christie MurrayBob Martin's little girl → online text (page 13 of 29)