The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XXX. Elm Court
In Beaufort Street they only learnt that Waymark had not yet been home. Thence they drove to the east, and stopped at a police-station, where Abraham saw the inspector. The latter suggested that Mr. Woodstock should go through all the houses which Waymark would have visited; if that search proved fruitless, the police would pursue the matter. Ida insisted on being allowed to accompanying him when the cab stopped at the end of Litany Lane. She gazed about her like one who had been suddenly set down in a new country; this squalor and vileness, so familiar to her of old, affected her strangely under the present conditions. The faces of people at whom she looked remained fresh in her memory for years after; the long confinement and the excitement which now possessed her resulted in preternatural acuteness of observation. Abraham spoke first with several people whom he had already questioned about Waymark, but they had heard nothing since.
"Are you strong enough for this?" he asked Ida. "Hadn't you better go back to the cab and wait for me!"
"Don't ask me to do that!" she entreated earnestly. "I must be active. I have strength now for anything."
Just as she spoke, Mr. Woodstock became aware of a disturbance of some kind in a duty little tobacconist's shop close at hand. There was a small crowd at the door, and the sound of wrangling voices came from within. Such an occurrence was too ordinary to suggest any special significance, but Abraham would not pass without making some inquiry. Begging Ida to stand where he left her, he pushed his way into the shop and listened to what was going on. A lad, well known in these parts as "Lushy Dick," was, it appeared, charging the tobacconist with cheating him; he alleged that he had deposited half a sovereign on the counter in payment for a cigar, and the shopman had given him change as if for sixpence, maintaining stoutly that sixpence had been the coin given him, and no half-sovereign at all. When Mr. Woodstock entered, the quarrel had reached a high pitch.
"Arf a quid!" the tobacconist was exclaiming contemptuously. "I'd like to know where such as you's likely to git arf a quid from."
Lushy Dick, stung to recklessness by a succession of such remarks, broke out in vehement self-justification.
"Would yer like to know, y' old ----! Then yer shall, ---- soon! I'm ---- if I don't tell jist the ---- truth, an' take the ---- consequences. It was Slimy as give it me, an' if yer want to know where Slimy got it, yer 'll 'ave to ---- well find out, 'cos I don't know myself."
"And how came Slimy to give you half a sovereign?" Mr. Woodstock at once interposed, speaking with authority.
"Is that you, Mr. Woodstock?" exclaimed the boy, turning round suddenly at the sound of the voice. "Now, look 'ere, I'm a-goin' to make a ---- clean breast of it. This 'ere ---- bloke's been a ringin' the changes on me; I'll show him up, an' ---- well chance it. Slimy give me a quid afore he took his ---- hook."
The lad had clearly been drinking, but had not yet reached the incoherent stage. He spoke in great excitement, repeating constantly his determination to be revenged upon the tobacconist at all costs. It was with difficulty that Mr. Woodstock kept him to the point.
"Why Slimy give it me? Well, I'll jist tell yer, Mr. Woodstock. It was to do a job for him, which I never done it after all. Slimy told me as 'ow I was to go to your orffice at ten o'clock last night, 'an tell you from him as he'd no more 'casion for his room, so he'd sent yer the key, an' yer'd better come as soon as possible an' see as he'd left everything square behind him, an' 'cos he was afraid he'd locked in a friend o' yourn by mistake an' in his hurry."
"And why the devil didn't you come?" exclaimed Abraham, looking at him in angry surprise.
"'Cos why, Mr. Woodstock? Well, I'll tell yer just the bloomin' truth, an' charnce it. I loss the key out o' my pocket, through 'avin' a ---- hole in it, so I thought as 'ow I'd best just say nothink about neither Slimy nor his room, an' there y'ave it!"
Abraham was out of the shop again on the instant.
"I've found him," he said to Ida. "A house round there in the court."
She walked quickly by his side, a cluster of people following them. Fortunately, a policeman was just coming from the opposite end of Litany Lane, and Mr. Woodstock secured his services to keep the mob from entering the house where Slimy had lived. As soon as they got inside, the old man begged Ida to remain in a room on the ground floor whilst he went upstairs, and this she consented to do. Reaching the garret, he tried the handle of the door, without effect. Knocking and calling produced no response, and within all was perfectly quiet. Hesitating no longer, he drew back as far as the wall would allow him, and ran with his foot against the door. The rotten woodwork cracked, and a second onset forced the lock away. In the middle of the floor Waymark lay, just as Slimy had left him nearly twenty-four hours ago. Abraham scarcely ventured to draw near; there was no motion in the fettered body, and he dreaded to look closely at the face. Before he could overcome this momentary fear, there was a quick step behind him, and, with a smothered cry, Ida had rushed into the room. She was on her knees beside Waymark, her face close down to his.
"He is alive!" she cried. "His eyes have opened. A knife! Cut these cords!"
That was soon accomplished, but Waymark lay motionless; he showed that he understood what was going on, but he was quite blind, his voice had all but gone, and a dead man could as soon have risen. Ida still knelt by him, chafing one of his hands; when he tried to speak, she gently raised his head and let it rest upon her lap. In a few minutes Abraham had procured a glass of spirits, and, after drinking this, Waymark was able to make himself understood.
"Who is touching me?" he asked in a hoarse whisper. "It is all dark. Whose hand is this?"
"It's Ida," Abraham said, when she herself remained silent. "She and I have had a rare hunt for you."
He endeavoured to raise himself, but in vain. All he could do was to press her hand to his heart. In the meantime the policeman had come up, and with his help Waymark was carried downstairs, out into the court, and thence to the end of Litany Lane, where the cab still waited.
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Four days after this the following paragraph appeared in the morning papers:--
"The man wanted on a charge of robbery with violence in the East End, and who appears to be known only by the nickname of Slimy, was yesterday afternoon discovered by the police in a cellar in Limehouse. He seems to have been in hiding there since the perpetration of the crime, only going out from time to time to purchase liquor at public-houses in the neighbourhood. Information given by the landlord of one of these houses led to his arrest. He was found lying on the stone floor, with empty bottles about him, also a quantity of gold and silver coins, which appeared to have rolled out of his pocket. He was carried to the police-station in an insensible state, but on being taken to the cell, came to himself, and exhibited symptoms of delirium tremens. Two officers remained with him, but the assistance of a third shortly became necessary, owing to the violence of his struggles. Towards midnight his fury lessened, and. after a very brief interval of unconsciousness, the wretched creature expired."