Chapter Twelve. The Friend from Peebles

Melky, as principal lodger in Mrs. Flitwick's establishment, occupied what that lady was accustomed to describe as the front drawing-room floor--a couple of rooms opening one into the other. Into one of these, furnished as a sitting-room, he now led Lauriston's friend, hospitably invited him to a seat, and took a quiet look at him. He at once sized up Mr. John Purdie for what he was--a well-to-do, well-dressed, active-brained young business man, probably accustomed to controlling and dealing with important affairs. And well satisfied with this preliminary inspection, he immediately plunged into the affair of the moment.

"Mister," began Melky, pulling up a chair to Purdie's side, and assuming a tone and manner of implicit confidence. "I've heard of you. Me and Mr. Lauriston's close friends. My name's Mr. Rubinstein--Mr. Melchior Rubinstein, commonly called Melky. I know all about you--you're the friend that Lauriston asked for a bit of help to see him through, like--ain't it? Just so--and you sent him twenty pounds to be going on with--which he got, all right, last night. Also, same time, he got another twenty quid for two of his lit'ry works--stories, mister. Mister!--I wish he'd got your money and the other money just an hour before it come to hand! S'elp me!-- if them there letters had only come in by one post earlier, it 'ud ha' saved a heap o' trouble!"

"I haven't the remotest notion of what you're talking about, you know," said Purdie good-naturedly. "You evidently know more than I do. I knew Andie Lauriston well enough up to the time he left Peebles, but I've never seen or heard of him since until he wrote to me the other week. What's it all about, and why has he gone back to Peebles? I told him I was coming up here any day now--and here I am, and he's gone!"

Melky edged his chair still nearer to his visitor, and with a cautious glance at the door, lowered his voice.

"I'm a-going to tell you all about it, mister," he said. "I know you Scotch gentlemen have got rare headpieces on you, and you'll pick it up sharp enough. Now you listen to me, Mr. Purdie, same as if I was one of them barrister chaps stating a case, and you'll get at it in no time."

John Purdie, who had already recognized his host as a character, as interesting as he was amusing, listened attentively while Melky told the story of Lauriston's doings and adventure from the moment of his setting out to pawn his watch at Multenius's pledge-office to that in which, on Melky's suggestion, he had made a secret and hurried departure for Peebles. Melky forgot no detail; he did full justice to every important point, and laid particular stress on the proceedings before the Coroner. And in the end he appealed confidently to his listener.

"And now I put it up to you, mister--straight!" concluded Melky. "Could I ha' done better for him than to give him the advice I did? Wasn't it best for him to go where he could get some evidence on his own behalf, than to run the risk of being arrested, and put where he couldn't do nothing for himself? What d'you say, now, Mr. Purdie?"

"Yes," agreed Purdie, after a moment's further thought. "I think you did well. He'll no doubt be able to find some old friends in Peebles who can surely remember that his mother did possess those two rings. But you must bear this in mind--the police, you say, have shadowed him since yesterday afternoon. Well, when they find he's flown, they'll take that as a strong presumptive evidence of guilt. They'll say he's flying from justice!"

"Don't matter, mister, if Lauriston comes back with proof of his innocence," replied Melky.

"Yes, but they'll not wait for that," said Purdie. "They'll set the hue- and-cry on to him--at once. He's not the sort to be easily mistaken or overlooked--unless he's changed a lot this late year or two--he was always a good-looking lad."

"Is so now, mister," remarked Melky, "is so now!"

"Very well," continued Purdie. "Then I want to make a suggestion to you. It seems to me that the wisest course is for you and me to go straight to the police authorities, and tell them frankly that Lauriston has gone to get evidence that those rings are really his property, and that he'll return in a day or two with that evidence. That will probably satisfy them--I think I can add a bit more that will help further. We don't want it to be thought that the lad's run away rather than face a possible charge of murder, you know!"

"I see your point, mister, I see your point!" agreed Melky. "I'm with you!--I ain't no objection to that. Of course, there ain't no need to tell the police precisely where he has gone--what?"

"Not a bit!" said Purdie. "But I'll make myself responsible to them for his re-appearance. Now--did you and he arrange anything about communicating with each other?"

"Yes," replied Melky. "If anything turns up this next day or two I'm to wire to him at the post-office, Peebles. If he finds what he wants, he'll wire to me, here, at once."

"Good!" said Purdie. "Now, here's another matter. You've mentioned Mr. Spencer Levendale and this book which was so strangely left at the pledge- office. I happen to know Mr. Levendale--pretty well."

"You do, mister!" exclaimed Melky. "Small world, ain't it, now?"

"I met Mr. Spencer Levendale last September--two months ago," continued Purdie. "He was staying at an hotel in the Highlands, with his children and their governess: I was at the same hotel, for a month--he and I used to go fishing together. We got pretty friendly, and he asked me to call on him next time I was in town. Here I am--and when we've been to the police, I'm going to Sussex Square--to tell him I'm a friend of Lauriston's, that Lauriston is in some danger over this business, and to ask him if he can tell me more about--that book!"

Melky jumped up and wrung his visitor's hand.

"Mister!--you're one o' the right sort," he said fervently. "That there book has something to do with it! My idea is that the man what carried that book into the shop is the man what scragged my poor old relative --fact, mister! Levendale, he wouldn't tell us anything much this morning--maybe he'll tell you more. Stand by Lauriston, mister!--we'll pull him through."

"You seem very well disposed towards him," remarked Purdie. "He's evidently taken your fancy."

"And my cousin Zillah's," answered Melky, with a confidential grin. "Zillah--loveliest girl in all Paddington, mister--she's clear gone on the young fellow! And--a word in your ear, mister!--Zillah's been educated like a lady, and now that the old man's gone, Zillah'll have--ah! a fortune that 'ud make a nigger turn white! And no error about it! See it through, mister!"

"I'll see it through," said Purdie. "Now, then--these police. Look here-- is there a good hotel in this neighbourhood?--I've all my traps in that taxi-cab downstairs--I drove straight here from the station, because I wanted to see Andie Lauriston at once."

"Money's no object to you, I reckon, mister?" asked Melky, with a shrewd glance at the young Scotsman's evident signs of prosperity.

"Not in reason," answered Purdie.

"Then there's the Great Western Hotel, at the end o' Praed Street," said Melky. "That'll suit a young gentleman like you, mister, down to the ground. And you'll be right on the spot!"

"Come with me, then," said Purdie. "And then to the police."

Half-an-hour's private conversation with the police authorities enabled Purdie to put some different ideas into the official heads. They began to look at matters in a new light. Here was a wealthy young Scottish manufacturer, a person of standing and position, who was able to vouch for Andrew Lauriston in more ways than one, who had known him from boyhood, had full faith in him and in his word, and was certain that all that Lauriston had said about the rings and about his finding of Daniel Multenius would be found to be absolutely true. They willingly agreed to move no further in the matter until Lauriston's return--and Purdie noticed, not without a smile, that they pointedly refrained from asking where he had gone to. He came out from that interview with Ayscough in attendance upon him--and Melky, waiting without, saw that things had gone all right.

"You might let me have your London address, sir," said Ayscough. "I might want to let you know something."

"Great Western Hotel," answered Purdie. "I shall stay there until Lauriston's return, and until this matter's entirely cleared up, as far as he's concerned. Come there, if you want me. All right," he continued, as he and Melky walked away from the police-station. "They took my word for it!--they'll do nothing until Lauriston comes back. Now then, you know this neighbourhood, and I don't--show me the way to Sussex Square--I'm going to call on Mr. Levendale at once."

John Purdie had a double object in calling on Mr. Spencer Levendale. He had mentioned to Melky that when he met Levendale in the Highlands, Levendale, who was a widower, had his children and their governess with him. But he had not mentioned that he, Purdie, had fallen in love with the governess, and that one of his objects in coming to London just then was to renew his acquaintance with her. It was chiefly of the governess that he was thinking as he stood on the steps of the big house in Sussex Square--perhaps, in a few minutes, he would see her again.

But Purdie was doomed to see neither Mr. Spencer Levendale nor the pretty governess that day. Mr. Levendale, said the butler, was on business in the city and was to dine out that evening: Miss Bennett had taken the two children to see a relative of theirs at Hounslow, and would not return until late. So Purdie, having pencilled his London address on them, left cards for Mr. Levendale and Miss Bennett, and, going back to his hotel, settled himself in his quarters to await developments. He spent the evening in reading the accounts of the inquest on Daniel Multenius--in more than one of the newspapers they were full and circumstantial, and it needed little of his shrewd perception to convince him that his old schoolmate stood in considerable danger if he failed to establish his ownership of the rings.

He had finished breakfast next morning and was thinking of strolling round to Melky Rubinstein's lodgings, to hear if any news had come from Lauriston, when a waiter brought him Ayscough's card, saying that its presenter was waiting for him in the smoking-room. Purdie went there at once: the detective, who looked unusually grave and thoughtful, drew him aside into a quiet part of the room.

"There's a strange affair occurred during the night, Mr. Purdie," said Ayscough, when they were alone. "And it's my opinion it's connected with this Multenius affair."

"What is it?" asked Purdie.

"This," replied Ayscough. "A Praed Street tradesman--in a small way--was picked up, dying, in a quiet street off Maida Vale, at twelve o'clock last night, and he died soon afterwards. And--he'd been poisoned!--but how, the doctors can't yet tell."