What's Bred In the Bone by Grant Allen
Chapter XXX. Fresh Discoveries.
As Cyril drove home from Waterloo next day to his lonely rooms in Staple Inn, Holborn, he turned aside with his cab for a few minutes to make a passing call at the bank in Lombard Street. He was short of ready money, and wanted to cash a cheque for fifty pounds for expenses incurred in his defence at Tavistock.
The cashier stared at him hard; then, without consulting anybody, he said, in a somewhat embarrassed tone, "I don't know whether you're aware of it, Mr. Waring, but this overdraws your current account. We haven't fifty pounds on our books to your credit."
He was well posted on the subject, in fact, for only that morning he had hunted up Cyril's balance in the ledger at his side for the gratification of his own pure personal curiosity.
Cyril stared at him in astonishment. In this age of surprises, one more surprise was thus suddenly sprung upon him. His first impulse was to exclaim in a very amazed voice, "Why, I've six thousand odd pounds to my credit, surely;" but he checked himself in time with a violent effort. How could he tell what strange things might have happened in his absence? If the money was gone, and Nevitt was murdered, and Guy in hiding, who could say what fresh complications might not still be in store for him? So he merely answered, with a strenuous endeavour to suppress his agitation, "Will you kindly let me have my balance-sheet, if you please? I--ur--I thought I'd more money than that still left with you."
The cashier brought out a big book and a bundle of cheques, which he handed to Cyril with a face of profound interest. To him, too, this little drama was pregnant with mystery and personal implications. Cyril turned the vouchers over one by one, with close attention, recognising the signature and occasion of each, till he arrived at last at a big cheque which staggered him sadly for a moment. He took it up in his hands and examined it in the light. "Pay Self or Bearer, Six Thousand Pounds (L6,000), Cyril Waring."
Oh, horrible, horrible! This, then, was the secret of Guy's sudden disappearance.
He didn't cry aloud. He didn't say a word. He looked at the thing hard, and knew in a moment exactly what had happened. Guy had forged that cheque; it was Guy's natural hand, written forward like Cyril's own, instead of backward, as usual. And no one but himself could possibly have told it from his own true signature. But Cyril knew it at once for Guy's by one infallible sign--a tiny sign that might escape the veriest expert--some faint hesitation about the tail of the capital C, which was shorter in Guy's hand than Cyril ever made it, and which Guy had therefore deliberately lengthened, by an effort or an afterthought, to complete the imitation.
"You cashed that cheque yourself, sir, over the counter, you remember," the cashier said quietly, "on the date it was drawn on."
Cyril never altered a muscle of his rigid face.
"Ah, quite so," he answered, in a very dry voice, not daring to contradict the man. He knew just what had happened. Guy must have come to get the money himself, and the cashier must have mistaken him for the proper owner of the purloined six thousand. They were so very much alike. Nobody ever distinguished them.
"And that was one of the days, I think, when you proved the alibi in Belgium before the Devonshire magistrates at Tavistock yesterday," the clerk went on, with a searching glance. Cyril started this time. He saw in a second the new danger thus sprung upon him. If the cashier chose to press the matter home to the hilt, he must necessarily arrive at one or other of two results. Either the alibi would break down altogether, or it would be perfectly clear that Guy had committed a forgery.
"So it seems," he answered, looking his keen interlocutor straight in the eyes. "So it seems, I should say, by the date on the face of it."
But the cashier did not care to press the matter home any further; and for a very good reason. It was none of his business to suggest the idea of a forgery, after a cheque had been presented and duly cashed, if the customer to whose account it was debited in course chose voluntarily to accept the responsibility of honouring it. The objection should come first from the customer's side. If he didn't care to press it, then neither did the cashier. Why should he, indeed? Why saddle his firm with six thousand pounds loss? He would only get himself into trouble for having failed to observe the discrepancy in the signatures, and the difference between the brothers. That, after all, is what a cashier is for. If he doesn't fulfil those first duties of his post, why what on earth can be the good of him to anybody in any way?
The two men looked at one another across the counter with a strong inscrutable stare of mutual suspicion. Then Cyril slowly tore up the cheque he had tendered for fifty pounds, filled in another for his real balance of twenty-two, handed it across to the clerk without another word, received the cash in white trembling hands, and went out to his cab again in a turmoil of excitement.
All the way back to his rooms in Staple Inn one seething idea alone possessed his soul. His faith in Guy was beginning to break down. And with it, his faith in himself almost went. The man was his own brother--his very counterpart, he knew; could he really believe him capable of committing a murder? Cyril looked within, and said a thousand times no; he looked at that forged cheque, and his heart misgave him.
At Staple Inn, the housekeeper who took care of their joint rooms came out to greet him with no small store of tears and lamentations. "Oh, Mr. Cyril," she cried, seizing both his hands in hers with a tremulous welcome, "I'm glad to see you back, and to know you're innocent. I always said you never could have done it; no, no, not you, nor yet Mr. Guy neither. The police has been here time and again to search the rooms, but, the Lord be praised, they never found anything. And I've got a letter for you, too, from Mr. Guy himself; but there--I locked it up till you come in my own cupboard at home, for fear of the detectives; and now you're back and safe in London again, I'll run home this minute round the corner and get it."
Cyril sat down in the familiar easy-chair, holding his face in his hands, and gazed about him blankly. Such a home-coming as this was inexpressibly terrible to him.
In a few minutes more the housekeeper came back, bringing in her hand Guy's letter from Plymouth.
Cyril sat for a minute and looked at the envelope in deadly silence. Then he motioned the housekeeper out of the room with one quivering hand. Before that good woman's face, he couldn't open it and read it.
As soon as she was gone, he tore it apart, trembling. As he read and read the suspicion within him deepened quickly into a doubt, the doubt into a conviction, the conviction into a certainty. He clapped his hands to his head. Oh, God, what was this? Guy acknowledged his own guilt! He confessed he had done it!
Cyril's last hope was gone. Guy himself admitted it!
"How I came to do it," the letter said, "I've no idea myself. A sudden suggestion--a strange, unaccountable impulse--a prompting, as it were, pressed upon me from without, and almost before I knew, the crime was committed."
Cyril bent his head low upon his knees with shame. He never could hold up that head henceforth. No further doubt or hesitation remained. He knew the whole truth. Guy was indeed a murderer.
He steeled himself for the worst, and read the letter through with a superhuman effort. It almost choked him to read. The very consecutiveness and coherency of the sentences seemed all but incredible under such awful circumstances. A murderer, red-handed, to speak of his crime so calmly as that! And then, too, this undying anger expressed and felt, even after death, against his victim Nevitt! Cyril couldn't understand how any man--least of all his own brother--could write such words about the murdered man whose body was then lying all silent and cold, under the open sky, among the bracken at Mambury.
And once more, this awful clue of the dead man's pocket-book! Those accursed notes! That hateful sum of money! How could Guy venture to speak of it all in such terms as those--the one palpable fact that indubitably linked him with that cold-blooded murder. "The three thousand sent herewith I recovered, almost by a miracle, from that false creature's grasp, under extraordinary circumstances, and I return them now, in proof of the fact, in Montague Nevitt's own pocket-book, which I'm sure you'll recognise as soon as you look at it."
Cyril saw it all now beyond the shadow of a doubt. He reconstructed the whole sad tale. He was sure he understood it. But to understand it was hardly even yet to believe it. Guy had lost heavily in the Rio Negro Mines, as the prosecution declared; in an evil hour he'd been cajoled into forging Cyril's name for six thousand. Montague Nevitt had in some way misappropriated the stolen sum. Guy had pursued him in a sudden white-heat of fury, had come up with him unawares, had killed him in his rage, and now calmly returned as much as he could recover of that fateful and twice-stolen money to Cyril. It was all too horrible, but all too true. In a wild ferment of remorse for his brother's sin, the unhappy painter sat down at once and penned a letter of abject self-humiliation to Elma Clifford.
"ELMA,-I said to you last night that I could never marry you till I had clearly proved my brother Guy's innocence. Well, I said what I can never conceivably do. Since returning to town I received a letter from Guy himself. What it contained I must never tell you, for Guy's own sake. But what I must tell you is this--I can never again see you. Guy and I are so nearly one, in every nerve and fibre of our being, that whatever he may have done is to me almost as if I myself had done it. You will know how terrible a thing it is for me to write these words, but for your sake I can't refrain from writing them. Think no more of me. I am not worthy of you. I will think of you as long as I live.
"Your ever devoted and heart-broken
He folded the letter, and sent it off to the temporary address at the West-End where Elma had told him that she and her mother would spend the night in London. Very late that evening a ring came at the bell. Cyril ran to the door. It was a boy with a telegram. He opened it, and read it with breathless excitement.
"Whatever Guy may have said, you are quite mistaken. There's a mystery somewhere. Keep his letter and show it to me. I may, perhaps, be able to unravel the tangle. I'm more than ever convinced that what I said to you last night was perfectly true. We will save him yet. Unalterably,
But the telegram brought little peace to Cyril. Of what value were Elma's vague intuitions now, by the side of Guy's own positive confession? With his very own hand Guy admitted that he had done it. Cyril went to bed that night, the unhappiest, loneliest man in London. What Guy was, he was. He felt himself almost like the actual murderer.