Chapter Six. The Spanish Manuscript

Lauriston, walking back to his room after leaving Melky at the door of the eating-house, faced the situation in which an unfortunate combination of circumstances had placed him. Ayscough had been placable enough; the authorities at the police-station had heard his own version of things with attention--but he was still conscious that he was under a certain amount of suspicion. More than that, he felt convinced that the police would keep an eye on him that night. Ayscough, indeed, had more than hinted that that would probably be done. For anything he knew, some plain-clothes man might be shadowing him even then--anyway, there had been no mistaking the almost peremptory request of the inspector that he should report himself at the police station in the morning. It was no use denying the fact--he was suspected, in some degree.

He knew where the grounds of suspicion lay--in his possession of two rings, which were undoubtedly very similar to the rings which lay in the tray that he and the detective had found on the table in the back-parlour of the pawnshop. It needed no effort on the part of one who had already had considerable experience in the construction of plots for stories, to see how the police would build up a theory of their own. Here, they would say, is a young fellow, who on his own confession, is so hard up, so penniless, indeed, that he has had to pawn his watch. He has got to know something of this particular pawnshop, and of its keepers--he watches the girl leave; he ascertains that the old man is alone; he enters, probably he sees that tray of rings lying about; he grabs a couple of the rings; the old man interrupts him in the act; he seizes the old man, to silence his outcries; the old man, feeble enough at any time, dies under the shock. A clear, an unmistakable case!

What was he, Lauriston, to urge against the acceptance of such a theory? He thought over everything that could be said on his behalf. The friendliness of Zillah and her cousin Melky towards him could be dismissed--that, when it came to it, would weigh little against the cold marshalling of facts which a keen legal mind would put into the opposite scale. His own contention that it was scarcely probable that he should have gone to the pawnshop except to pledge something, and that that something was the rings, would also be swept aside, easily enough: his real object, the other side would say, had been robbery when the old man was alone: what evidence had he that the two rings which he had in his hand when Ayscough found him hurrying out of the shop were really his?

Here, Lauriston knew he was in a difficulty. He had kept these two rings safely hidden in his old-fashioned trunk ever since coming to London, and had never shown them to a single person--he had, indeed, never seen them himself for a long time until he took them out that afternoon. But where was his proof of that! He had no relations to whom he could appeal. His mother had possessed an annuity; just sufficient to maintain her and her son, and to give Lauriston a good education: it had died with her, and all that she had left him, to start life on, was about two hundred pounds and some small personal belongings, of which the rings and his father's watch and chain were a part. And he remembered now that his mother had kept those rings as securely put away as he had kept them since her death-- until they came into his hands at her death he had only once seen them; she had shown them to him when he was a boy and had said they were very valuable. Was it possible that there was any one, far away in Scotland, who had known his mother and who would come forward--if need arose--and prove that those rings had been her property? But when he had put this question to himself, he had to answer it with a direct negative--he knew of no one.

There was one gleam of hope in this critical situation. John Purdie was coming to London. Lauriston had always felt that he could rely on John Purdie, and he had just received proof of the value of his faith in his old schoolmate. John Purdie would tell him what to do: he might even suggest the names of some of Mrs. Lauriston's old friends. And perhaps the need might not arise--there must surely be some clue to the old pawnbroker's assailant; surely the police would go deeper into the matter. He cheered up at these thoughts, and having written replies to the two welcome letters and asked John Purdie to see him immediately on his arrival in town, he went out again to the post-office and to fulfil his promise to Melky to call at the pawnshop.

Lauriston was naturally of quick observation. He noticed now, as he stepped out into the ill-lighted, gloomy street that a man was pacing up and down in front of the house. This man took no notice of him as he passed, but before he had reached Praed Street, he glanced around, and saw that he was following him. He followed him to Spring Street post-office; he was in his rear when Lauriston reached the pawnshop. Idly and perfunctorily as the man seemed to be strolling about, Lauriston was sure that he was shadowing him--and he told Melky of the fact when Melky admitted him to the shop by the private door.

"Likely enough, mister," remarked Melky. "But I shouldn't bother myself about it if I were you. There'll be more known about this affair before long. Now, look here," he continued, leading the way into the little back- parlour where Lauriston had found Daniel Multenius lying dead, "here's you and me alone--Zillah, she's upstairs, and Mrs. Goldmark is with her. Just you tell me what you saw when you came in here, d'you see, Mr. Lauriston-- never mind the police--just give me the facts. I ain't no fool, you know, and I'm going to work this thing out."

Lauriston gave Melky a complete account of his connection with the matter: Melky checked off all the points on his long fingers. At the end he turned to the table and indicated the finely-bound book which Lauriston had noticed when he and the detective had first looked round.

"The police," said Melky, "made Zillah lock up that tray o' rings that was there in a drawer what she had to clear out for 'em, and they've put a seal on it till tomorrow. They've got those rings of yours, too, mister, haven't they?"

"They said it would be best for me to leave them with them," answered Lauriston. "Ayscough advised it. They gave me a receipt for them, you know."

"All right," remarked Melky. "But there's something they ain't had the sense to see the importance of--that fine book there. Mister!--that there book wasn't in this parlour, nor in this shop, nor in this house, at a quarter to five o'clock this afternoon, when my cousin Zillah went out, leaving the poor old man alone. She'll swear to that. Now then, who brought it here--who left it here? Between the time Zillah went out, mister, and the time you come in, and found what you did find, somebody-- somebody!--had been in here and left that book behind him! And--mark you! --it wasn't pawned, neither. That's a fact! And--it's no common book, that. Look at it, Mr. Lauriston--you'd ought to know something about books. Look at it!--s'elp me if I don't feel there's a clue in that there volume, whoever it belongs to!"

Lauriston took the book in his hands. He had only glanced at it casually before; now he examined it carefully, while Melky stood at his elbow, watching. The mysterious volume was certainly worthy of close inspection-- a small quarto, wonderfully bound in old dark crimson morocco leather, and ornamented on sides and back with curious gold arabesque work: a heavy clasp, also intricately wrought, held the boards together. Lauriston, something of a book lover, whose natural inclination was to spend his last shilling on a book rather than on beef and bread, looked admiringly at this fine specimen of the binder's art as he turned it over.

"That's solid gold, isn't it?" he asked as he unfastened the clasp. "You know."

"Solid gold it is, mister--and no error," assented Melky. "Now, what's inside? It ain't no blooming account-book, I'll bet!"

Lauriston opened the volume, to reveal leaves of old vellum, covered with beautiful fine writing. He had sufficient knowledge of foreign languages to know what he was looking at.

"That's Spanish!" he said. "An old Spanish manuscript--and I should say it's worth a rare lot of money. How could it have come here?"

Melky took the old volume out of Lauriston's hands, and put it away in a corner cupboard.

"Ah, just so, mister!" he said. "But we'll keep that question to ourselves--for awhile. Don't you say nothing to the police about that there old book--I'll give Zillah the tip. More hangs round that than we know of yet. Now look here!--there'll be the opening of the inquest tomorrow. You be careful! Take my tip and don't let 'em get more out of you than's necessary. I'll go along with you. I'm going to stop here tonight--watch-dog, you know. Mrs. Goldmark and another friend's going to be here as well, so Zillah'll have company. And I say, Zillah wants a word with you--stop here, and I'll send her down."

Lauriston presently found himself alone with Zillah in the little parlour. She looked at him silently, with eyes full of anxiety: he suddenly realized that the anxiety was for himself.

"Don't!" he said, moving close to her and laying his hand on her arm. "I'm not afraid!"

Zillah lifted her large dark eyes to his.

"Those rings?" she said. "You'll be able to account for them? The police, oh, I'm so anxious about you!"

"The rings are mine!" he exclaimed. "It doesn't matter what the police say or think, or do, either--at least, it shan't matter. And--you're not to be anxious I've got a good friend coming from Scotland--Melky told you I'd had two lots of good news tonight, didn't he?"

A moment later Lauriston was in the street--conscious that, without a word spoken between them, he and Zillah had kissed each other. He went away with a feeling of exaltation--and he only laughed when he saw a man detach himself from a group on the opposite side of the street and saunter slowly after him. Let the police shadow him--watch his lodgings all night, if they pleased--he had something else to think of. And presently, not even troubling to look out of his window to see if there was a watcher there, he went to bed, to dream of Zillah's dark eyes.

But when morning came, and Lauriston realized that a fateful day was before him, his thoughts were not quite so rosy. He drew up his blind-- there, certainly was a man pacing the opposite sidewalk. Evidently, he was not to escape surveillance; the official eye was on him! Supposing, before the day was out, the official hand was on him, too?

He turned from the window as he heard his newspaper thrust under his door. He had only one luxury--a copy of the Times every morning. It was a three-penny Times in those days, but he had always managed to find his weekly eighteen pence for it. He picked it up now, and carelessly glanced at its front page as he was about to lay it aside. The next moment he was eagerly reading a prominent advertisement:

"Lost in a Holborn to Chapel Street Omnibus, about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, a Spanish manuscript, bound in old crimson morocco. Whoever has found the same will be most handsomely rewarded on bringing it to Spencer Levendale, Esq., M.P., 591, Sussex Square, W."

Lauriston read this twice over--and putting the paper in his pocket, finished his dressing and went straight to the police-station.