Chapter XXIII. Guy in Luck.
 

Guy Waring reached Waterloo ten minutes too late. Nevitt had gone on by the West of England express. The porter at the labelling place "minded the gentleman well." He was a sharp-looking gentleman, with a queer look about the eyes, and a dark moustache curled round at the corners.

"Yes, yes," Guy cried eagerly, "that's him right enough. The eyes mark the man. And where was he going to?"

"He had his things labelled," the porter said, "for Plymouth."

"And when does the next train start?" Guy inquired, all on fire.

The porter, consulting the time-table in the muddle-headed way peculiar to railway porters, and stroking his chin with his hand to assist cerebration, announced, after a severe internal struggle, that the 3.45 down, slow, was the earliest train available.

There was nothing for it then, Guy perceived, but to run home to his rooms, possessing his soul in patience, pack up a few things in his Gladstone bag, and return at his leisure to catch the down train thus unfavourably introduced to his critical notice.

If Guy had dared, to be sure, he might have gone straight to a police-station, and got an inspector to telegraph along the line to stop the thief with his booty at Basingstoke or Salisbury. But Guy didn't dare. For to interfere with Nevitt now by legal means would be to risk the discovery of his own share in the forgery. And from that risk the startled and awakened young man shrank for a thousand reasons; though the chief among them all was certainly one that never would have occurred to any one but himself as even probable.

He didn't wish Elma Clifford to know that the man she loved, and the man who loved her, had become that day a forger's brother.

To be sure, he had only seen Elma once--that afternoon at the Holkers' garden-party. But, as Cyril himself knew, he had fallen in love with her at first sight--far more immediately, indeed, than even Cyril himself had done. Blood, as usual, was thicker than water. The points that appealed to one brother appealed also to the other, but with this characteristic difference, that Guy, who was the more emotional and less strong-willed of the two, yielded himself up at the very first glance to the beautiful stranger, while Cyril required some further acquaintance before quite giving way and losing his heart outright to her. And from that first meeting forward, Guy had carried Elma Clifford's image engraved upon his memory--as he would carry it, he believed, to his dying day. Not, to be sure, that he ever thought for a moment of endeavouring to win her away from his brother. She was Cyril's discovery, and to Cyril, therefore, he yielded her up, as of prior right, though with a pang of reluctance. But now that he stood face to face at last with his own accomplished crime, the first thought that rose in his mind spontaneous was for Elma's happiness. He must never let Elma Clifford know that the man she loved, and would doubtless marry, was now by his act--a forger's brother.

Three forty-five arrived at last, and Guy set off, all trembling, on his fatal quest. As he sped along, indignant at heart with Nevitt's black treachery, on the line to Plymouth, he had plenty of time to revolve these things abundantly in his own soul. And when, after a long and dusty drive, he reached Plymouth, late at night, he could learn nothing for the moment about Montague Nevitt's movements. So he was forced to go quietly for the evening to the Duke of Devonshire Hotel, and there wait as best he might to see how events would next develop themselves.

A day passed away--two days--but nothing turned up. Guy wasted much time in Plymouth making various inquiries before he learnt at last that a man with a queer look about the eyes, and a moustache with waxed ends, had gone down a night or so earlier by the other line to a station at the foot of Dartmoor, by the name of Mambury.

No sooner, however, had he learnt this promising news, than he set off at once, hot at heart as ever, to pursue the robber. That wretch shouldn't get away scot free with his booty; Guy would follow him and denounce him to the other end of the universe! When he reached Mambury, he went direct to the village inn and asked, with trembling lips, if Mr. Montague Nevitt was at present staying there. The landlord shook his head with a stubborn, rustic negative. "No, we arn't a-got no gentleman o' thik there name in the house," he said; "fact is, zur, to tell 'ee the truth, we arn't a-had nobody stoppin' in the Arms at all lately, 'cep' it might be a gentleman come down from London, an' it was day afore yesterday as he did come, an' he do call 'unself McGregor."

Quick as lightning, Guy suspected Nevitt might be passing under a false name. What more likely, indeed, seeing he had made off with Guy's three thousand pounds?

"And what sort of a man is this McGregor?" he asked hastily, putting his suspicion into shape. "What age? What height? What kind of a person to look at?"

"Wull, he's a vine upstandin' zart of a gentleman," the landlord answered glibly in his own dialect; "as proper a gentleman as you'd wish to zee in a day's march; med be about your height, zur, or a trifle more, has his moustaches curled round zame as if it med be a bellick's harns; an' a strange zart o' a look about his eyes, too, as if ur could zee right drew an' drew 'ee."

"That's him!" Guy exclaimed, with a start, in profound excitement. "That's the fellow, sure enough. I know him. I know him. And where is he now, landlord? Is he in the house? Can I see him?"

"Well, no, 'ee can't zee him, zur," the landlord answered, eyeing the stranger askance; "he be out, jest at present. He do go vur a walk, mostly, down yonner in the bottom alongside the brook. Mebbe if you was to vollow by river-bank you med come up wi' him by-an'-by ... and mebbe, agin, you medn't."

"I'll follow him," Guy exclaimed, growing more excited than ever, now this quarry was almost well within sight; "I'll follow him till I find him, the confounded rascal. I'll follow him to his grave. He shan't get away from me."

The landlord looked at him with a dubious frown. That one could smile and smile and be a villain didn't enter into his simple rustic philosophy.

"He's a pleasant-spoken gentleman is Maister McGregor," the honest Devonian said, with a tinge of disapprobation in his thick voice. "What vur do 'ee want to vind 'un? That's what I wants to know. He don't look like one as did ever hurt a vlea. Such a soft zart of a voice. An' he do play on the viddle that beautiful--that beautiful, why, 'tis the zame if he war a angel from heaven. Viddler Moore, he wur up here wi' his music last night; an' Maister McGregor, he took the instrument vrom un, an' 'Let me have a try, my vrend,' says he, all modest and unassoomin'; and vi' that, he wounded it up, an' he begun to play. Lard, how he did play. Never heard nothing like it in all my barn days. It is the zame, vor all the world, as you do hear they viddler chaps that plays by themselves in the Albert Hall up to London. Depend upon it, zur, there ain't no harm in him. A vullow as can play on the viddle like thik there, why, he couldn't do no hurt, not to child nor chicken."

Guy turned away from the door, fretting and fuming inwardly. He knew better than that. Nevitt's consummate mastery of his chosen instrument was but of a piece, after all, with the way he could play on all the world, as on a familiar gamut. It was the very skill of the man that made him so dangerous and so devilish. Guy felt that under the spell of Nevitt's eye he himself was but as clay in the hands of the potter.

But Nevitt should never so trick him and twist him again. To that his mind was now fully made up. He would never let that cold eye hold him fixed as of yore by its steely glance. Once for all, Nevitt had proved his power too well. Guy would take good care he never subjected himself in future to that uncanny influence. One forgery was enough. Henceforth he was adamant.

And yet? And yet he was going to seek out Nevitt; going to stand face to face with that smiling villain again; going to tax him with his crime; going to ask him what he meant by this double-dyed treachery.

The landlord had told him where Nevitt was most likely to be found. He followed that direction. At a gate that turned by the river-bank, twenty minutes from the inn, a small boy was seated. He was a Devonshire boy of the poorest moorland type, short, squat, and thick set. As Guy reached the gate, the boy rose and opened it, pulling his forelock twice or thrice, expectant of a ha'penny. "Has anybody gone down here?" Guy asked, in an excited voice.

And the boy answered promptly, "Yes, thik there gentleman, what's stoppin' at the Talbot Arms. And another gentleman, too; o'ny t'other one come after and went t'other way round. A big zart o' a gentleman wi' 'ands vit vor two. He axed me the zame question, had anybody gone by. This is dree of 'ee as has come zince I've been a zitting here."

Guy paid no attention to the second-named gentleman, with the hands fit for two, or to his inquiries after who might have gone before him. He fastened at once on the really important and serious information that the person who was stopping at the Talbot Arms had shortly before turned down the side footpath.

"All right, my boy," he said, tossing the lad sixpence, the first coin he came across in his waistcoat pocket. The boy opened his eyes wide, and pocketed it with a grin. So unexpected a largess sufficed to impress the handsome stranger firmly on his memory. He didn't forget him when a few days later he was called on to give evidence--at a coroner's inquest.

But Guy, unsuspicious of the harm he had done himself, walked on, all on fire, down the woodland path. It was a shady path, and it led through a deep dell arched with hazels on every side, while a little brawling brook ran along hard by, more heard than seen, in the bottom of the dingle. Thick bramble obscured the petty rapids from view and half trailed their lush shoots here and there across the pathway. It was just such a mossy spot as Cyril would have loved to paint; and Guy, himself half an artist by nature, would in any other mood have paused to gaze delighted on its tangled greenery.

As it was, however, he was in no mood to loiter long over ferns and mosses. He walked down that narrow way, where luxuriant branches of fresh green blackberry bushes encroached upon the track, still seething in soul, and full of the bitter wrong inflicted upon him by the man he had till lately considered his dearest friend. At each bend of the footpath, as it threaded its way through the tortuous dell, following close the elbows of the bickering little stream, he expected to come full in sight of Nevitt. But, gaze as he would, no Nevitt appeared. He must have gone on, Guy thought, and come out at the other end, into the upland road, of which the porters at Mambury Station had told him.

At last he arrived at a delicious green nook, where the shade of the trees overhead was exceptionally dense, and where the ferns by the side were somewhat torn and trodden. Casting his eye on the ground to the left, a metal clasp, gleaming silvery among the bracken, happened to attract his cursory attention. Something about that clasp looked strangely familiar. He paused and stared hard at it. Surely, surely he had seen those metal knobs before. A flash of recognition ran electric through his brain. Why, yes; it was the fastener of Montague Nevitt's pocket-book--the pocket-book in which he carried his most private documents; the pocket-book that must have held Cyril's stolen six thousand. Guy stooped down to pick it up with a whirling sense of surprise. Great heavens! what was this? Not only the clasp, but the pocket-book itself--the pocket-book filled full and crammed to bursting with papers. Ah, mercy, what papers? Yes, incredible--the money! Hundred-pound notes! Not a doubt upon earth of it. The whole of the stolen and re-stolen three thousand.

For a minute or two Guy stood there, unable to believe his own swimming eyes. What on earth could have happened? Was it chance or design? Had Nevitt deliberately thrown away his ill-gotten gains? Were detectives on the track? Was he anxious to conceal his part in the theft? Had remorse got the better of him? Or was he frightened at last, thinking Guy was on his way to recover and restore Cyril's stolen property?

But no, the pocket-book was neither hidden in the ferns nor yet studiously thrown away. From the place where it lay, Guy felt confident at once it had fallen unperceived from Nevitt's pocket, and been trodden by his heel unawares into the yielding leaf-mould.

Had he pulled it out accidentally with his handkerchief? Very likely, Guy thought. But then, how strange and improbable that a man so methodical and calculating as Nevitt should carry such valuable belongings as those in the self-same pocket. It was certainly most singular. However, Guy congratulated himself, after a moment's pause, that so much at least of the stolen property was duly recovered. He could pay back one-half of the purloined sum now to Cyril's credit. So he went on his way through the rest of the wood in a somewhat calmer and easier frame of mind. To be sure, he had still to hunt down that villain Nevitt, and to tax him to his face with his double-dyed treachery. But it was something, nevertheless, to have recovered a part, at any rate, of the stolen money. And Nevitt himself need never know by what fortunate accident he had happened to recover it.

He emerged on the upland road, and struck back towards Mambury. All the way round, he never saw his man. Weary with walking, he returned in the end to the Talbot Arms. Had Mr. McGregor come back? No, not yet; but he was sure to be home for dinner. Then Guy would wait, and dine at the inn as well. He might have to stop all night, but he must see McGregor.

As the day wore on, however, it became gradually clear to him that Montague Nevitt didn't mean to return at all. Hour after hour passed by, but nothing was heard of him. The landlord, good man, began to express his doubts and fears most freely. He hoped no harm hadn't come to the gentleman in the parlour; he had a powerful zight o' money on un for a man to carry about; the landlord had zeen it when he took out his book from his pocket to pay the porter. Volks didn't ought to go about with two or dree hundred pound or more in the lonely lanes on the edge of the moorland.

But Guy, for his part, put a different interpretation on the affair at once. In some way or other Montague Nevitt, he thought, must have found out he was being tracked, and, fearing for his safety, must have dropped the pocket-book and made off, without note or notice given, on his own sound legs, for some other part of the country.

So Guy made up his mind to return next morning by the very first train direct to Plymouth, and there inquire once more whether anything further had been seen of the noticeable stranger.