Chapter Eleven. The Back Door
 

Once outside in the street, Melky turned down the nearest side-street, motioning Lauriston to follow him. Before they had gone many yards he edged himself close to his companion's side, at the same time throwing a cautious glance over his own shoulder.

"There's one o' them blooming detectives after us!" said Melky. "But that's just what's to be expected, mister!--they'll never let you out o' their sight until one of two things happen!"

"What things?" asked Lauriston.

"Either you'll have to prove, beyond all doubt, that them rings is yours, and was your poor mother's before you," answered Melky, "or we shall have to put a hand on the chap that scragged my uncle. That's a fact! Mister!-- will you put your trust and confidence in me, and do what I tell you? It's for your own good."

"I don't know that I could do better," responded Lauriston, after a moment's thought. "You're a right good fellow, Melky--I'm sure of that! What do you want me to do?"

Melky pulled out a handsome gold watch and consulted it.

"It's dinner-time," he said. "Come round to Mrs. Goldmark's and get some grub. I'll tell you what to do while we're eating. I've been thinking things over while that there Parminter was badgering poor Zillah, and s'elp me, there only is one thing for you to do, and you'd best to do it sharp! But come on to Praed Street--don't matter if this here chap behind does shadow you--I can get the better of him as easy as I could sell this watch! It 'ud take all the detectives in London to beat me, if I put my mind to it."

They were at Mrs. Goldmark's eating-house in five minutes: Melky, who knew all the ins and outs of that establishment, conducted Lauriston into an inner room, and to a corner wherein there was comparative privacy, and summoned a waitress. Not until he and his companion were half way through their meal did he refer to the business which was in his thoughts: then he leaned close to Lauriston and began to talk.

"Mister!" he whispered. "Where do you come from?"

"Peebles," answered Lauriston. "You heard me tell them so, in that court."

"I'm no scholar," said Melky. "I ain't no idea where Peebles is, except that it's in Scotland. Is it far into that country, or where is it?"

"Not far across the Border," replied Lauriston.

"Get there in a few hours, I reckon?" asked Melky. "You could? Very well, then, mister, you take my tip--get there! Get there--quick!"

Lauriston laid down his knife and fork and stared.

"Whatever for?" he exclaimed.

"To find somebody--anybody--as can prove that those rings are yours!" answered Melky solemnly and emphatically. "Tain't no use denying it-- you're in a dangerous position. The police always goes for the straightest and easiest line. Their line was clear enough, just now--Parminter give it away! They've a theory--they always have a theory--and when once police gets a theory, nothing can drive it out o' their heads--their official heads, anyway. What they're saying, and what they'll try to establish, is this here. That you were hard up, down to less than your last penny. You went to Mr. Multenius's--you peeked and peered through the shop window and saw him alone, or, perhaps, saw the place empty. You went in--you grabbed a couple o' rings--he interrupted you--you scragged him! That's their line--and Zillah can't swear that those rings which you claim to be yours aren't her grandfather's, and up to now you can't prove that they're yours and were once your mother's! Mister!--be off to this here Peebles at once --immediate!--and find somebody, some old friend, as can swear that he or she--never mind which--knows them rings to be your property beyond a shadow of doubt! Bring that friend back--bring him if he has to come in an invalid carriage!"

Lauriston was so much struck by Melky's argument and advice that it needed no more explanations to convince him of its wisdom.

"But--how could I get away'" he asked. "There'll be that detective chap hanging about outside--I know I've been shadowed ever since last evening! They'll never let me get away from London, however much I wish. The probability is that if they saw me going to a railway station they'd arrest me."

"My own opinion, mister, after what's taken place this morning, is that if you stop here, you'll be arrested before night," remarked Melky coolly. "I'd lay a tenner on it! But you ain't going to stop--you must go! There must be somebody in the old spot as can swear that them two rings o' yours is family property, and you must find 'em and bring 'em, if you value your neck. As to slipping the police, I'll make that right for you, proper! Now, then, what money have you about you, Mr. Lauriston?"

"Plenty!" answered Lauriston. "Nearly forty pounds--the money I got last night."

"Will you do exactly what I tell you?" asked Melky, "And do it at once, without any hesitation, any hanging about, any going home to Mother Flitwick's, or anything o' that sort?"

"Yes!" replied Lauriston. "I'm so sure you're right, that I will."

"Then you listen to me--careful," said Melky. "See that door in the corner? As soon as you've finished that pudding, slip out o' that door. You'll find yourself in a little yard. Go out o' that yard, and you'll find yourself in a narrow passage. Go straight down the passage, and you'll come out in Market Street. Go straight down Southwick Street--you know it--to Oxford and Cambridge Terrace, and you'll see a cab-rank right in front of you. Get into a taxi, and tell the fellow to drive you to Piccadilly Circus. Leave him there--take a turn round so's he won't see what you do--then get into another taxi, and drive to St. Pancras Church. Get out there--and foot it to King's Cross Station. You'll catch the 3.15 for the North easy--and after you're once in it, you're all right. Get to Peebles!--that's the thing! S'elp me, Mr. Lauriston, it's the only thing!"

Five minutes later, there being no one but themselves in the little room, Lauriston gave Melky a hearty grip of the hand, walked out of the door in the corner, and vanished. And Melky, left alone, pulled out his cigarette case, and began to smoke, calmly and quietly. When the waitress came back, he whispered a word or two to her; the waitress nodded with full comprehension--for everybody knew Melky at Goldmark's, and if the waitresses wanted a little jewellery now and then, he let them have it at cost price.

"So you can give me the checks for both," said Melky. "I'll pay 'em."

But Melky let three-quarters of an hour elapse before he went to the desk in the outer shop. He sipped a cup of coffee; he smoked several cigarettes; it was quite a long time before he emerged into Praed Street, buttoning his overcoat. And without appearing to see anything, he at once saw the man who had followed Lauriston and himself from the Coroner's Court. Being almost preternaturally observant, he also saw the man start with surprise--but Melky showed, and felt, no surprise, when the watcher came after him.

"You know me, Mr. Rubinstein," he said, almost apologetically. "You know, of course, we're keeping an eye on that young Scotch fellow--we've got to! He went in there, to Goldmark's, with you? Is he still there?"

"Strikes me you ain't up to your job!" remarked Melky, coolly. "He went out, three-quarters of an hour ago. Gone home, I should say."

The man turned away, evidently puzzled, but just as evidently taking Melky's word. He went off in the direction of Star Street, while Melky strolled along to the pawnbroker's shop. It was necessary that he should tell his cousin of what he had done.

Mrs. Goldmark was still with Zillah--Melky unfolded his story to the two of them. Zillah heard it with unfeigned relief; Mrs. Goldmark, who, being a young and pretty widow, was inclined to sentiment, regarded Melky with admiration.

"My!--if you ain't the cute one, Mr. Rubinstein!" she exclaimed, clapping her plump hands. "As for me, now, I wouldn't have thought of that in a hundred years! But it's you that's the quick mind."

Melky laid a finger to the side of his nose.

"Do you know what, Mrs. Goldmark?" he said. "I ain't going to let them police fellows put a hand on young Lauriston, not me! I've my own ideas about this here business--wait till I put my hand on somebody, see? Don't it all come out clear to you?--if I find the right man, then there ain't no more suspicion attaching to this young chap, ain't it? Oh, I'm no fool, Mrs. Goldmark; don't you make no mistake!"

"I'm sure!" asserted Mrs. Goldmark. "Yes, indeed--you don't carry your eyes in your head for nothing, Mr. Rubinstein!"

Zillah, who had listened abstractedly to these compliments suddenly turned on her cousin.

"What are you going to do then, Melky?" she demanded. "What's all this business about that book? And what steps are you thinking of taking?"

But Melky rose and, shaking his head, buttoned up his overcoat as if he were buttoning in a multitude of profound secrets.

"What you got to do, just now, Zillah--and Mrs. Goldmark too," he answered, "is to keep quiet tongues about what I done with young Lauriston. There ain't to be a word said! If any o' them police come round here, asking about him, you don't know nothing--see? You ain't seen him since he walked out o' that court with me--see? Which, of course--you ain't. And as for the rest, you leave that to yours truly!"

"Oh, what it is to have a mind!" exclaimed Mrs. Goldmark "I ain't no mind, beyond managing my business."

"Don't you show your mind in managing that?" said Melky, admiringly. "What do I always say of you, Mrs. Goldmark? Don't I always say you're the smartest business woman in all Paddington? Ain't that having a mind? Oh, I think you've the beautifullest mind, Mrs. Goldmark!"

With this compliment Melky left Mrs. Goldmark and Zillah, and went away to his lodgings. He was aware of a taxi-cab drawn up at Mrs. Flitwick's door as he went up the street; inside Mrs. Flitwick's shabby hall he found that good woman talking to a stranger--a well-dressed young gentleman, who was obviously asking questions. Mrs. Flitwick turned to Melky with an air of relief.

"Perhaps you can tell this gentleman where Mr. Lauriston is, Mr. Rubinstein?" she said. "I ain't seen him since he went out first thing this morning."

Melky looked the stranger over--narrowly. Then he silently beckoned him outside the house, and walked him out of earshot.

"You ain't the friend from Scotland?" asked Melky. "Him what sent the bank-note, last night?"

"Yes!" assented the stranger. "I see you're aware of that. My name is Purdie--John Purdie. Where is Lauriston? I particularly want to see him."

Melky tapped the side of his nose, and whispered.

"He's on his way to where you come from, mister!" he said. "Here!--I know who you are, and you'll know me in one minute. Come up to my sitting- room!"