James Payn.

A confidential agent, Volume 3 online

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' I have seen Mr. Helston but twice in my
hfe, and each time only for a few seconds/
began the Major ; ' but, from circumstances
to which you have alluded, the tidings that
he had disappeared with Lady Pargiter's
jewels aroused a greater interest in my mind
than it otherwise would have done. I should
say, by-the-by, that I was present on one
occasion when Lady Pargiter, as it seemed
to me, treated him with great indignity, and
I pitied the man ; and though afterwards he
expressed pleasure at a certain misfortune
that befell me — ^it was the loss of a bet — I
owed him no grudge on that account, for
I felt that he had good cause to be hostile
to me. This bet I had made with one
Captain Langton ; and since it was in his
presence that Helston in a manner insulted
me '

' One moment. Major Lovell,' interrupted
Mr. Barlow. 'How was it that Helston


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met you in Captain Langton's company ? '
That he should have done so struck the
lawyer as remarkable, and even suggested
that Helston might have had acquaintances,
such as his friends and family had no idea
of, all along.

' Well, the whole thing happened in a
moment. We stopped him in his cab one
night, thinking him a perfect stranger, in
order to decide a bet — or rather Langton did.'

* Bless my soul!' murmured Mr. Barlow,
to whom this proceeding appeared out-

'And that was why,' continued the
Major, ' though I should have been silent
upon the subject to people in general, I
spoke to Langton about Helston after the

' Then even at that early date, Major
Lovell^ you took it for granted he was

*Well, it looked uncommonly fishy, of
course, from the very first. I certainly
never expressed any such opinion, nor in-

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deed did Langton at that time. On the
contrary, he suggested that Pargiter, being
very hard up, might have laid hands on the
diamonds himself/

* Not in earnest, surely? ' said Mr. Barlow,
very much scandalised.

'Well, half in joke, half in earnest.
Langton is a very queer fellow. I spoke
to him, as I now remember, about the
robbery because he had at one time ex-
pressed a wish to see the diamonds, and
knowing I was a friend of Pargiter's, had
asked me to procure him the opportunity.'

* And did you?'

' No ; Langton is not the sort of man I
should wish to introduce to a friend's house.
I put him off with some excuse or another.'

Discursive and apparently aimless as was
the Major's statement, there was one portion
of it which struck \hQ lawyer's attention in
a manner hardly exphcable even to his own

' You have hinted,' he interposed, * that
this Captain Langton is not a special friend

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of yours ; may I ask what you know about

' Well, it is very little ; he is merely a
cardroom acquaintance. He is an unpopu-
lar man amongst us ; but then he is gene-
rally a winner, which may partly account
for that. However, some men have a great
objection to him — Sir Charles Pargiter has,
for one. I remember his saying at the club
that he believed he must have committed a
murder, and someone replying, " So he has,
but it was only at sea " — which for all I
know may have been the case.'

' Did you know of the robbery in Moor
Street at that time ? ' inquired Mr. Barlow.

' Well, no ; how could we ? In fact, it
must have been just then in course of com-

' Did you speak to Captain Langton
about it the next day? '

'No; he left England almost imme-
diately, to spend his Christmas in Paris.
Our conversation about Helston took place
some time afterwards — just after Lady

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Pargiter had advertised the reward. He
said it was offered too late, for that Helston
had been in Paris for a week, and had no
doubt by that time disposed of the jewels.
He even named a diamond merchant in
the Rue de Bris to whom he had offered

'But how came Captain Langton to
know that ? '

* I have no idea. Langton, however, is
a man ready to do a stroke of business in
anything ; and in diamonds as likely as any-
thing else ; so that he may have visited the
merchant on his own account. As I have
said, he is a queer fish.'

* And yet it was upon his testimony, it
seems, that you wrote to Lady Pargiter to
say that Helston was in Paris.'

'No, not entirely,' said the Major red-
dening and hesitating. ' It is true I had
not seen the man myself, but I had seen one
the fact of whose presence here — taking
into consideration Langton's evidence — con-
vinced me that it was so.'

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* I do not quite follow you, Major Lovell.
Pray forgive me if I seem to press you on
what may be delicate ground ; but the
importance of this matter may be very

^ Well, the fact is I recognised a lady
in the street as one to whom Mr. Helston
when a very young man was deeply at-
tached, and '

* You mean Phoebe Mayson ? '

•Yes; Langton told me (I don't know
upon whose authority) that Helston had re-
newed his addresses to her ; that they had, in
fact, come to Paris in company. The whole
story seemed so probable that I felt it my
duty, since Mr. Signet was questioning his
claim to compensation, to let Pargiter know
how matters stood ; but I did it, I do assure
you, against the grain.'

'I am sure of that,' said Mr. Barlow
earnestly. ' You do not happen to know, of
course, where the young person you spoke of
is residing ? '

Most certainly not,' returned the Major,

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in a tone which might have been mistaken
(by a stranger to him) for one of virtuous in-
dignation, but which was in reality caused
by wounded pride.

* But you can give me the name of the
jeweller ? '

'It is either Monteur or Montague —
Langton's French is very fishy — ^but the Eue
de Bris is a short street, and you will have
no difficulty in finding him.'

' I am greatly obliged to you, Major
Lovell,' said Barlow, rising. *You have
behaved most frankly.'

* Not at all, not at all,' put in the Major.
' You have my best wishes, not only for the
recovery of the diamonds, but for helping
your friend out of his scrape — "removing
him from the jurisdiction of the Court " is,
I believe, the technical expression. Good

Under any other circumstances Mr.
Barlow would have very warmly protested
against a phrase which certainly imputed to
him very unprofessional intentions ; but he

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was too well satisfied with his companion's
behaviour to find fault with him, and also
too full of a certain thought which his nar-
ration had suggested to him, to take much
note of minor matters. What had obtained
possession of his mind was evidently a sub-
ject insignificant enough in the present con-
nection in the Major's eyes, but which in
those of the lawyer was growing every
moment, though in a vague and dusky
fashion, like the genius of the bottle in
the Arabian tales ; only the shape it took
Avas by no means that of a genius, but of
one Captain Langton — a man who had been
anxious to get a sight of the Pargiter dia-
monds, and who, though tolerated, as it
seemed, in certain circles of society, was
credited with a murder, though only at sea.
It was incredible, notwithstanding all that
had happened to disturb Mr. Barlow's views
respecting Helston's character, that such a
man as this could have been a friend and
still more a confidant of Matthew's. How
came it, then, that he should profess to

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know, not only that he was in Paris, but
that he was in possession of the diamonds,
and endeavouring to dispose of them ?

This weighty question in connection with
certain possibilities contingent on it, and in
combination, it may be added, with the ec-
centric and unaccustomed movements of the
eider-down quilt with which his bed was
provided, rendered Mr. Barlow's first night
in Paris a very disturbed one.

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It is often stated by those who are good
linguists, I scarcely know whether for the
comfort of those to whom not only 'the
French of Paris is unknown,' but even ' that
of Stratford atte Bowe,' or for their disap-
pointment and distraction, that 'everybody
in Paris speaks English.' Or, if they shrink
from telling a falsehood of that enormous
magnitude, they will nevertheless confidently
assert that there are plenty of people who
understand English in the queen of cities,
'wherever you go,' and that in the hotels
and shops, at all events, ' you will be quite
at home.' They do not hint that the con-
versation of the poor islander during his
stay on the Continent must necessarily be of
the parrot and phrase-book kind, and that

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the best chance he will have of that inter-
change of ideas which is to ' open his mind '
so much will be with a waiter. Even with
the waiters, however, poor Mr. Barlow did
not find himself on a very intelligible footing,
while his intercourse with the shopkeepers
was like the first rehearsal of a pantomime,
in which he had always to sustain the part of
pantaloon. The Eue de Bris he discovered,
like a navigator, by means of a chart ; but
M. Monteur might have been M. Tonson, so
difficult he found it to ascertain that gentle-
man's place of residence. He looked, of
course, for a shop, never imagining that the
place he sought was an hotel with a court-
yard resembhng a small edition of the
Admiralty, in Whitehall ; and when at last
he had made his way thither, and found the
proprietor — an ancient personage in a black
velvet skull-cap, full of antics, and hung on
springs, in a parlour at the back of his
premises — he was not certain in his own
mind whether he stood in the presence of a
diamond merchant or a monkey. Upon the

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whole, indeed, since M. Monteur received
him with native pohteness — that is, with a
profusion of shrugs and jabber — he rather
leant to the latter view. As soon, however,
as Mr. Barlow made his new acquaintance
understand that he was an Englishman, ' Ha,
ha ; ma fiUe shall come,' cried monsieur in
an ecstasy; and on pulling the bell and
giving some orders to the servant, a young
lady — ^indeed, a mere schoolgirl — but of pre-
possessing appearance, presented herself to
Mr. Barlow's astonished view. It appeared
M. Monteur had a daughter who had resided
in the Isle of Fogs and could speak its tongue
like a native ; and this was she.

After a few words of explanation from
the old man, ' You have beezness with my
papa, monsieur?' said she in a sprightly
tone. * Vaar good ; you tell it to me, and I
will tell it to him. Fire away.'

Mr. Barlow stared, as well he might ; for
the young lady, though obviously enjoying
the task that had been set her, looked
perfectly serious.

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' I have ventured to call upon Monsieur
Monteur,' he said, 'in respect to a matter
which can hardly be called a business one,
but to which, I hope, he will have the
courtesy to give his attention. A gentleman
in whom I am deeply interested has suddenly
disappeared from his wife and family, to their
great distress and perplexity, and I am come
to Paris to find him. I have reason to
believe that he called upon your father some
days ago with respect to the purchase of
some diamonds.'

This statement having been translated
to the merchant, he replied, through his
daughter, that a countryman of Mr. Bar-
low's had, indeed, called upon him in the
preceding week, but upon a private mat-

' Not if he knows it,' said the young
lady (but with a sweetly apologetic air, as
though she had said, *• Deeply as he regrets
to refuse you '), will my father geef you any
information about the matter unless you show
some authority for demanding it.'

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At this Mr. Barlow was a good deal cast
down, and his face showed it.

' Are you a relative of his who has quar-
relled with him for cutting his stick ? '
inquired the young lady tenderly. She had
cheek-bones so high that one really could
not look over them to the extent of calling
her a beauty, but she had soft eyes and a
gentle voice; and if it were not for her
inexplicable indulgence in slang Mr. Barlow
would have pronounced her essentially fem-
inine. When French people spoke French
they puzzled him, but the way in which this
young woman spoke English amazed and
even alarmed him beyond expression.

'I am not a relative of the person in
question ' he began.

* Name of Butt,' she put in with quick-
ness but great gravity.

' Just so ; but it is possible — I hope
probable— that I may become connected
with him.'

' Ah ' (lighting up with sudden vivacity),

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*you are going to marry his sister. Have
you popped ? '

This was worse than all; it seemed a
positive sacrilege to Mr. Barlow to have his
lost love spoken of in this flippant fashion ;
bnt then it was so necessary to secure this
young person's sympathy.

' Yes, mademoiselle, I have — popped.'

Whereupon mademoiselle clapped her
hands delightedly, and, turning to her father,
seemed to appeal to him in Mr. Barlow's
favour. That gentleman, of course, did not
understand what she said, but he afterwards
compared her winning manner and caresses
and flow of words to a rain of sugarplums.

' My father says you must describe your
brother-in-law that is to be,' said she, 'before
he can furnish you with his address. My
papa is a man of business, you see ; moreover,'
she added in an apologetic tone, ' there is no
green in his eye. He is a young man from
the country, but you cannot get over Aim.'

* Indeed, my dear young lady, I do not

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wish to get over him/ protested Mr. Barlow.
' My brother-ia-law is a man about my own
height ; rather more stoutly built.'

' Eh ? Ah, I understand ; and I, too,
have seen him. Yes, he is stumpy, podgy.'

' He has short brown hair, and his face is

' Yes ; that is right — a heavy spirit ; or,
as you say in England, down upon his luck.
He looks as if he had lost sixpence.'

' He has lost more than that,' sighed Mr.
Barlow. ' If M. Monteur has still a doubt as
to my personal knowledge of this gentleman,
I think I can state the nature of the business
about which he came. He wished to dispose
of certain diamonds — like these.' And he
produced the drawing of the Pargiter parure
which he had obtained from Mr. Brail.

The merchant took the drawing and ex-
amined it with curiosity. * Yes, that is right,'
he said in French; *we might have done
business together, this gentleman and I, only
I required certain explanations which were
refused me. From what you tell me, my

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darling, it is probable that they i^ere his
wife's jewels, to which he had no claim. She
must have been very wealthy. Well — well,
I have sufficiently respected his desire for
secrecy. Om* visitor, it seems, has a right to
what he asks. The gentleman's address was
Hotel de la Fontaine, Eue du Simon.'

' You are most kind, mademoiselle,' said
Barlow gratefully, when this news had been
translated to him. ' You have made easy what
would otherwise have been very difficult.'

'Do not mention it, sir,' returned she
gracefully. 'And do keep up your pecker.
Look less like a duck in a thunderstorm, and
never say die while there's a shot in the

' Your advice is admirable, mademoiselle,'
said Mr. Barlow; then added, with an ir-
repressible curiosity, ' But may I ask where
you learnt your EngUsh ? '

' Yes, yes ; that is what everyone says,'
cried she exultingly. ' " Where did I leai'n
my English ? " I speak like a native ; is it
not so ? '


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^Indeed you do, mademoiselle; more so,
indeed, than most natives.'

'Ah, that is thanks to my two cousins
at Eugby College. They taught me the
idioms all in the Christmas hoUdays, at the
house of their mother. Yes, I speak vaar
good English. Eight you are. I believe
you, my boy.'

What could Mr. Barlow do? She was
so perfectly unconscious of her linguistic
defects, and so blissful in her possession of
them, that it would have been a cruelty to
undeceive her ; he could only take her hand
— having received the politest of bows from
M. Monteur — and wish her good-bye, which
he did most cordially.

' Ta, ta,' she said with all the ingenuous
delight of a child who is exhibiting its ac-
complishments ; 'ta, ta, and take care of
yourself. Permit me to jerk the tinkler,
and the slavey will show you the way out.'

Mr. Barlow was deficient in humour, and
serious thoughts were oppressing him, yet he
could not avoid being amused by this artles

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girl. The confidence which her father ex-
hibited in her command of the English
tongue, extending as it did even to matters
of business, and the obvious pride he took in
it, had tickled him in spite of himself. But
when the concierge closed the house-door
behind him, it seemed to shut him out from
gaiety and good humour, from laughter and
lightness of all kinds, for evermore. Attorney
though he was, Mr. Barlow had a tender
conscience, and he reproached himself for
having given way even for a few moments to
that sense of the ridiculous which is one of
the few possessions of man unshared by the
lower animals. The tidings he had just re-
ceived, and of which he had been in search,
were, indeed, full of gloom ; and if he had
ventured for some hours to entertain the
glimmer of a certain hope, they had extin-
guished it. It was true that he had omitted
to show M. Monteur the photograph of
Matthew, but the verbal description he had
given of him had evidently tallied but too
well with the merchant's recollection of the
K 2

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man, whom, moreover, the assumed name of
Butt identified beyond doubt with Helston.

And now he was about to be brought
face to face with him in his infamy and dis-
grace ; not to know the worst — for the worst
he knew — ^but to awaken, if possible, in one
whom he had once believed to be without
reproach, some sense of his own ignominy,
and to suggest, not amendment and repent-
ance, for they were impossible, but a tardy
and probably partial reparation.

It was curious, considering the whole
situation, how much he thought of Matthew
per se, and of the ruin he had brought upon
himself as well as upon others. He had
broken the law ; he had sinned against
morality; and committed, in short, every
trespass calculated to awaken indignation in
the mind of a man of Barlow's character ;
and yet he was unable to divest himself of a
certain yearning pity for the man, as weH. as
of a profound regret for his degradation.
But of course Sabey and Amy occupied the
chief share in his thoughts What kind of

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message, he wondered, would he have to
give them from this unhappy wretch, and
how would he, the bearer of it, be received
on his return ? This last consideration, all-
important as it was as respected his own
interests, affected him, perhaps, just now the
least. The Present loomed so large and
gloomily in front of him that for the moment
it shut out the Future.

He took a jiacre to the Eue du Simon,
but alighted at the corner of the street. He
felt a strange disinclination to precipitate
matters, and preferred to pass house by
house on foot till he came to the hotel of
which he was in search. How would he
feel, what would he know, thought he to
himself, when he should issue from that door
through which he was about to enter?
Which of us has been so fortunate as not to
have pictured to himself the hke, and have
imagined what the state of our mind will be
to-morrow, or the next hour, or the next
minute, after some important and perhaps
painful ordeal? Have we not ourselves

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stood outside our mistress's door, or our
creditor's, Or that of some other petty Provi-
dence of our fate, with similar feelings? Ay,
and but too often with the same sad fore-
bodings (God help us all) that, whatsoever
change may be in store for us, it can hardly
be for the better.

It was positively with some sense of re-
lief, though Mr. Barlow had undertaken his
jom-ney for no other object than that which
seemed to lie immediately before him, that
he reflected that Matthew might not be at
the Hotel de la Fontaine after all. When
the reward for his apprehension had been
made public was it not probable that he had
changed the address given to the diamond
merchant, and betaken himself to safer quar-
ters ? For though he could not be identified
by means of the name he had assumed, he
might be so by the jewels themselves.

The Hotel de la Fontaine was one of
considerable pretensions, and it struck Mr.
Barlow's practical mind that if Matthew Hel-
ston had resided there ever since his coming

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to Paris, one at least of the Pargiter diamonds
must have been disposed of to defray his ex-
penses. That he should have chosen so
ambitious a place of residence at all was
utterly inconsistent with his old habits of
economy, but why should they have re-
mained to him when every other rule of his
life had been negatived and overturned ?

The courtyard of the inn was open to the
street, and over the left hand of the gate was
the porter's lodge, to which Mr. Barlow at
last advanced with a determined step and
inquired for Mr. Butt. There was a board in
the lodge containing the names of the occu-
pants of the hotel, with a star against those
who had passed the gate that morning and
left their names with the concierge.

Mr. Butt, it appeared, had done so, for
that official (who could speak English) re-
plied that Monsieur was not within.

'Do you know when he wiU return?'
inquired Mr. Barlow.

The concierge did not know. As a rule
Mr. Butt left the hotel after breakfast and

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did not return till midday. ' Madame, how-
ever/ he added, ' was in as usual/

To Mr. Barlow, albeit far from an im-
aginative man, that ' as usual ' had a great
significance. He read in it — ^that is, in the
fact of her being usually left alone — a story
of satiety and repentance. Matthew, he sus-
pected, had already become tired of the
object of his guilty passion, or had failed to
find in it a Lethe balm against the stings of

' Did Monsieur wish to see Madame ? '

f he question startled him not a little,
for among all the embarrassing positions that
had presented themselves to his apprehension
he had certainly never contemplated a Ute-
a-tete with Miss Phoebe Mayson.

Still, was it not possible that there had
been a reciprocity of disillusion ? That the
girl might herself have repented of her bar-
gain, and be not indisposed to release herself
from such ties as bound her to the runaway?
If he could persuade her so to do, it struck
Mr. Barlow — ^though, it must be confessed.

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with considerable vagueness — ^that he would
be advancing Sabey's interest. In any case
by an interview with this young woman he
might obtain some information respecting
Matthew's true position.

' Yes,' he answered, with a sudden im-
pulse, ' I will see the lady.'

Whereupon a waiter was summoned, who
conducted him to Mr. Butt's apartments,
which were on the third floor.

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Having brought Mr. Barlow to the door of
No. 53, the waiter discreetly left him there
to proceed as he thought fit, for which that
gentleman hardly knew whether to be grate-
ful or otherwise, the business on hand being
such a very delicate one. However, the
more he thought about it the less he felt
very sure he was likely to like it, so he
knocked gently with his knuckles. There
was no answer, but he heard a rustle of silk,

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Online LibraryJames PaynA confidential agent, Volume 3 → online text (page 7 of 15)