"THERE are three things to be borne in mind," said Nikola, when _I_ ha_ecovered myself a little: "the first is the dependent point, namely, that th_an has to be, well, shall we call it, relieved of the responsibility of hi_xistence! Secondly, the deed must be done at once; and, thirdly, it must b_ccomplished in such a manner that no suspicion is aroused against you. Now, to you who know the world, and England in particular, _I_ need scarcel_xplain that there are very few ways in which this can be done. _If_ yo_esire to follow the melodramatic course, you will decoy your enemy to a_mpty house and stab him there; in that case, however, there will, in al_robability, be a tramp taking refuge in the coal cellar who will overhea_ou, the marks of blood on the floor will give evidence against you, and—wha_ill be worse than all—there will be the body to dispose of. _It_ tha_rocedure does not meet with your approval, you might follow him about nigh_fter night until you find an opportunity of effecting your purpose in som_eserted thoroughfare; but then you must take into consideration the fact tha_here will always be the chance of his calling out, or in other way_ttracting the attention of the neighbourhood, or of someone coming round th_orner before you have quite finished. A railway train has been trie_epeatedly, but never with success; for there is an increased difficulty i_etting rid of the body, while porters and ticket collectors have a peculia_emory for faces, and history shows that whatever care you may take you ar_ound to be discovered sooner or later. In his own house the man is as secure, or more so, than he would be in the Tower of London; and even if you di_anage to reach him there, the betting would be something like a million t_ne that you would be detected. No; none of these things are worthy of ou_onsideration. I came to this conclusion in another and similar case in whic_y assistance was invoked three months ago. If one wants to succeed in murder, as in anything else, one must endeavour to be original."
"For heaven's sake, man, choose your words less carefully!" I cried, with _udden fierceness for which I could not afterwards account. "You talk as if w_ere discussing an ordinary business transaction."
"And are we not?" he replied calmly, paying no attention to my outburst o_emper. "I am inclined to think we are. You desire to revenge yourself upon _an who has wronged you. For a consideration I find you the means of doing it.
You want—I supply. Surely supply and demand constitute the component parts o_n ordinary business transaction?"
"You said nothing just now about a consideration. What is it to be?"
"We will discuss that directly."
"No, not directly. Now! I must know everything before I hear more of you_lans."
"By all means let us discuss it then. Properly speaking, I suppose I shoul_emand your soul as my price, and write the bond with a pen dipped in you_lood. But, though you may doubt it, I am not Mephistopheles. My terms ar_ifty thousand pounds, to be paid down within six months of your coming in t_our money. I think you will admit that that is a small enough sum to charg_or helping a man to obtain possession of nearly two millions. I don't doub_ur friend Bartrand would pay three times as much to be allowed to remain o_n Park Lane. What do you think?"
The mere mention of Bartrand's name roused me again to fury.
"You shall have the money," I cried. "And much good may it do you. Come wha_ay, I will not touch a penny of it myself. I want to punish him, not to ge_is fortune. Now what is your scheme?"
"Pardon me, one thing at a time if you please."
He crossed to the escritoire standing in the corner of the room, and from _rawer took a sheet of paper. Having glanced at it he brought it to me with _en and ink.
"Read it, and when you have done so, sign. We will then proceed to business."
I glanced at it, and discovered that it was a legally drawn up promise to pa_r. Antonio Nikola fifty thousand pounds within six months of my succeeding t_he property of Richard Bartrand, of Park Lane, London, and Chenningto_astle, Shropshire, should such an event ever occur. Dipping the pen into th_nk I signed what he had written, and then waited for him to continue. H_olded up the paper with great deliberation, returned it to its place in th_scritoire, and then seated himself opposite me again.
"Now I am with you hand and glove," he said with a faint smile upon his sallo_ace. "Listen to my arrangement. In considering the question of murder I hav_hought of houses, trains, street stabbings, poisonings, burnings, drowning, shipwreck, dynamite, and even electricity; and from practical experience _ave arrived at the conclusion that the only sure way in which you can ri_ourself of an enemy is to do the deed in a hansom cab."
"A hansom cab?" I cried. "You must be mad. How can that be safe at all?"
"Believe me, it is not only the safest, but has been proved to be the mos_uccessful. I will explain more fully, then you will be able to judge of th_eautiful simplicity of my plan for yourself. The cab I have constructe_yself after weeks of labour, in this very house; it is downstairs now; if yo_ill accompany me we will go and see it."
He rose from his chair, took up the lamp that stood upon the table, and signe_o me to follow him. I did so, down the stairs by which he had ascended, an_long the passage to a large room at the rear of the building. Folding door_pened from it into the yard, and, standing in the centre of this barn-lik_partment, its shafts resting on an iron trestle, was, a hansom cab of th_atest pattern, fitted with all the most up-to-date improvements.
"Examine it," said Nikola, "and I think you will be compelled to admit that i_s as beautiful a vehicle as any man could wish to ride in; get inside and tr_t for yourself."
While he held the lamp aloft I climbed in and seated myself upon the sof_ushions. The inside was lined with Russia leather, and was in every wa_xquisitely fitted. A curious electric lamp of rather a cumbersome pattern, _hought, was fixed on the back in such a position as to be well above th_ider's head. A match-box furnished the bottom of one window, and a cigar- cutter the other; the panels on either side of the apron were decorated wit_irrors; the wheels were rubber tyred, and each of the windows had smal_linds of heavy stamped leather. Altogether it was most comfortable an_omplete.
"What do you think of it?" said Nikola, when I had finished my scrutiny.
"It's exactly like any other hansom," I answered. "Except that it is finishe_n a more expensive style than the average cab, I don't see any difference a_ll."
"There you refer to its chief charm," replied Nikola, with a grim chuckle. "I_t _were_ different in any way to the ordinary hansom, detection would b_asy. As it is I am prepared to defy even an expert to discover the mechanis_ithout pulling it to pieces."
"What is the mechanism, then, and what purpose does it serve?"
"I will explain."
He placed the lamp he held in his hand upon a bracket on the wall, and the_pproached the vehicle.
"In the first place examine these cushions," he said, pointing to th_nterior. "You have doubtless remarked their softness. If you study the_losely you will observe that they are pneumatic. The only difference is tha_he air used is the strongest anaesthetic known to science. The glass i_ront, as you will observe now that I have lowered it, fits into a slot in th_pron when the latter is closed, and thus, by a simple process, the interio_ecomes air-tight. When this has been done the driver has but to press thi_nob, which at first sight would appear to be part of the nickel rein-support, and a valve opens on either side of the interior—in the match-box in the righ_indow, in the cigar-cutter in the left; the gas escapes, fills the cab, an_he result is—well, I will leave you to imagine the result for yourself."
"And then?" I muttered hoarsely, scarcely able to speak distinctly, s_vercome was I by the horrible exactness and ingenuity of this murderou_ffair.
"Then the driver places his foot upon this treadle, which, you see, is made t_ook as if it works the iron support that upholds the vehicle when resting, the seat immediately revolves and the bottom turns over, thus allowing th_ody to drop through on to the road. Its very simplicity is its charm. Havin_arried out your plan you have but to find a deserted street, drive along it, depress the lever, and be rid of your fare when and where you please. By tha_ime he will be far past calling out, and you can drive quietly home, conscious that your work is accomplished. Now what do you think of m_nvention?"
For a few moments I did not answer, but sat upon an upturned box close by, m_ead buried in my hands.
The agony of that minute no man will ever understand. Shame for myself fo_istening, loathing of my demoniacal companion for tempting me, hatred o_artrand, and desire for revenge, all struggled within me for the mastery. _ould scarcely breathe; the air of that hateful room seemed to suffocate me.
At last I rose to my feet, and as I did so another burst of fury seized me.
"Monster! Murderer!" I cried, turning like a madman on Nikola, who was testin_he appliances of his awful invention with a smile of quiet satisfaction o_is face. "Let me go, I will not succumb to your temptations. Show me the wa_ut of this house, or I will kill you."
Sobs shook my being to its very core. A violent fit of hysteria had seized me, and under its influence I was not responsible for what I said or did.
Nikola turned from the cab as calmly as if it had been an ordinary hanso_hich he was examining with a view to purchase, and, concentrating his gaz_pon me as he spoke, said quietly:
"My dear Pennethorne, you are exciting yourself. Pray endeavour to be calm.
Believe me, there is nothing to be gained by talking in that eccentri_ashion. Sit down again and pull yourself together."
As I looked into his face all my strength seemed to go from me. Without _econd's hesitation I sat down as he commanded me, and stared in a stupid, dazed fashion at the floor. I no longer had any will of my own. Of course _an see now that he had hypnotised me; but his methods must have been mor_eadly than I have ever seen exercised before, for he did not insist upon m_ooking into his eyes for any length of time, nor did he make any passe_efore my face as I had seen professional mesmerists do. He simply glanced a_e—perhaps a little more fixedly than usual—and all my will was immediatel_aken from me. When I was calm he spoke again.
"You are better now," he said, "so we can talk. You must pay particula_ttention to what I am going to say, and what I tell you to do you will do t_he letter. To begin with, you will now go back to your hotel, and, as soon a_ou reach it, go to bed. You will sleep without waking till four o'clock thi_fternoon; then you will dress and go for a walk. During that walk you wil_hink of the man who has wronged you, and the more you think of him th_iercer your hatred for him will become. At six o'clock you will return t_our hotel and dine, going to sleep again in the smoking-room till ten. Whe_he clock has struck you will wake, take a hansom, and drive to 23, Grea_unter Street, Soho. Arriving at the house, you will ask for Levi Solomon, t_hom you will be at once conducted. He will look after you until I ca_ommunicate with you again. That is your programme for the day. I order yo_ot to fail in any single particular of it. Now you had better be off. It i_early six o'clock."
I rose from my seat and followed him out into the passage like a dog; thenc_e made our way into the yard. To my surprise a cab was standing waiting fo_s, the lamps glaring like fierce eyes into the dark archway which led int_he street.
"Get in," said Nikola, opening the apron. "My man will drive you to you_otel. On no account give him a gratuity, for I do not countenance it, and h_nows my principle. Good night."
I obeyed him mechanically, still without emotion, and when I was seated th_ab drove out into the street.
Throughout the journey back to the hotel I sat in the corner trying to think, and not succeeding. I was only conscious that, whatever happened, I must obe_ikola in all he had told me to do. Nothing else seemed of any importance.
On approaching my residence, I wondered how I should obtain admittance; but, as it turned out, that proved an easy matter, for when I arrived the servant_ere already up and about, and the front door stood open. Disregarding th_tare of astonishment with which I was greeted, I went upstairs to my room, and in less than ten minutes was in bed and fast asleep.
Strangely enough, considering the excitement of the previous twenty-fou_ours, my sleep was dreamless. It seemed only a few minutes from the time _losed my eyes till I was awake again, yet the hands of my watch had stood a_alf-past six a.m. when I went to bed, and when I opened my eyes again the_hronicled four o'clock exactly. So far I had fulfilled Nikola's instruction_o the letter. Without hesitation I rose from my bed, dressed mysel_arefully, and when I was ready, donned my overcoat and went out for a walk.
The evening was bitterly cold, and heavy snow was falling. To keep myself war_ hurried along, and as I went I found my thoughts reverting continually t_artrand. I remembered my life at Markapurlie, and the cat-and-dog existence _ad passed there with him. Then the memory of poor old Ben's arrival at th_tation came back to me as distinctly as if it had been but yesterday, an_ith its coming the manager's brutality roused me afresh. I thought of th_ight we had had, and then of the long weeks of nursing at the wretched Mai_hange on the plains. In my mind's eye I seemed to see poor old Ben sitting u_n bed telling me his secret, and when I was once more convalescent, wen_ver, day by day, my journey to the Boolga Ranges,and dreamt again the dream_f wealth that had occupied my brain then, only to find myself robbed of m_ortune at the end. Now the man who had stolen my chance in life was one o_he richest men in England. He had in his possession all that is popularl_upposed to make life worth the living, and while he entertained royalty, bought racehorses and yachts, and enjoyed every advantage in life at m_xpense, left me to get along as best I might. I might die of starvation i_he gutter for all he would care. At that moment I was passing a newsagent'_tall. On a board before the door, setting forth the contents of an evenin_ewspaper, was a line that brought me up all standing with surprise, as th_ailors say. " _Bartrand's Generosity.—A Gift to the People,"_ it ran. I wen_nside, bought a copy of the paper, and stood in the light of the doorway t_ead the paragraph. It was as follows:—
"Mr. Richard Bartrand, the well-known Australian millionaire, has, so we ar_nformed, written to the London County Council offering to make a free gift t_he city of that large area of ground recently occupied by Montgomery House, of which he has lately become the possessor. The donor makes but on_tipulation, and that is that it shall be converted into public gardens, an_hall be known in the future as Bartrand Park. As the ground in question wa_urchased at auction by the millionaire last week for the large sum of fift_housand pounds, the generosity of this gift cannot be overestimated."
To the surprise of the newsagent I crushed the paper up, threw it on th_round, and rushed from the shop in a blind rage. What right had he to pose a_ public benefactor, who was only a swindler and a robber? What right had h_o make gifts of fifty thousand pounds to the people, when it was only by hi_illainy he had obtained the money? But ah! I chuckled to myself, before man_ours were over I should be even with him, and then we would see what woul_appen. A hatred more intense, more bitter, than I could ever have believe_ne man could entertain for another, filled my breast. Under its influence al_y scruples vanished, and I wanted nothing but to cry quits with my enemy.
For more than half an hour I hurried along, scarcely heeding where I went, thinking only of my hatred, and gloating over the hideous revenge I was abou_o take. That I was doing all this under Nikola's hypnotic influence I no_eel certain; but at the time I seemed to be acting on my own initiative, an_ikola to be only playing the part of the _deus ex machina._
At last I began to weary of my walk, so, hailing a hansom, I directed th_river to convey me back to my hotel. As I passed through the hall the cloc_ver the billiard-room door struck six, and on hearing it I became aware tha_n one other particular I had fulfilled Nikola's orders. After dinner I wen_nto the smoking-room, and, seating myself in an easy chair before the fire, lit a cigar. Before I had half smoked it I was fast asleep, dreaming that _as once more in Australia and tossing on a bed of sickness in the Mail Chang_t Markapurlie. A more vivid dream it would be impossible to imagine. I sa_yself, pale and haggard, lying upon the bed, unconscious of what was passin_round me. I saw Bartrand and Gibbs standing looking down at me. Then th_ormer came closer, and bent over me. Next moment he had taken a paper fro_he pocket of my shirt, and carried it with him into the adjoining bar. A fe_inutes Later he returned with it and replaced it in the pocket. As he did s_e turned to the landlord, who stood watching him from the doorway, an_aid—"You're sure he's delirious, that he's not shamming?"
"Shamming? Poor beggar," answered Gibbs, who after all was not such a ba_ellow at heart. "Take a good look at him and see for yourself. I hope I ma_ever be as near gone as he is now."
"So much the better," said Bartrand with a sneer, as he stepped away from th_ed. "We'll save him the trouble of making us his legatees."
"You don't mean to steal the poor beggar's secret, surely?" replied Gibbs. "_ouldn't have told you if I'd thought that."
"More fool you then," said Bartrand. "Of course I'm not going to _steal_ it, only to borrow it. Such chances don't come twice in a lifetime. But are yo_ure of your facts? Are you certain the old fellow said there was gold enoug_here to make both of them millionaires half-a-dozen times over?"
"As certain as I'm sitting here," answered Gibbs.
"Very good; then I'm off to-night for the Boolga Ranges. In ten days I'll hav_he matter settled, and by the time that dog there gets on to his feet agai_e'll both be on the high road to fortune."
"And I'm only to have a quarter of what you get? It's not fair, Bartrand."
Bartrand stepped up to him with that nasty, bullying look on his face that _new so well of old.
"Look here, my friend," he said, "You know Richard Bartrand, don't you? An_ou also know what I can tell about you. I offer you a fourth of the mine fo_our information, but I don't give it to you for the reason that I'm afraid o_ou, for I'm not. Remember I know enough of your doings in this grog shanty t_ang you a dozen times over; and, by the Lord Harry, if you make yourself _uisance to me I'll put those on your track who'll set you swinging. Stan_ast by me and I'll treat you fair and square, but get up to any hanky-pank_nd I'll put such a stopper on your mouth that you'll never be able to open i_gain."
Gibbs leaned against the door with a face like lead. It was evident tha_owever much he hated Bartrand he feared him a good deal more. A prettier pai_f rogues it would have been difficult to find in a long day's march.
"You needn't be afraid, Mr. Bartrand," he said at last, but this time in n_ertain voice. "I'll not split on yon as long as you treat me fairly. You'v_een a good friend to me in the past, and I know you mean me well though yo_peak so plain."
"I know the sort of man with whom I have to deal, you see," returned Bartran_ith another nasty sneer. "Now I must get my horse and be off. I've a lot t_o if I want to get away to-night."
He went out into the verandah and unhitched his reins from the nails on whic_hey were hanging.
"Let me have word directly that carrion in there comes to himself again," h_aid, as he got into the saddle. "And be sure you never breathe a word to hi_hat I've been over. I'll let you know all that goes on as soon as we've go_ur claim fixed up. In the meantime, mum's the word. Good-bye."
Gibbs bade him good-bye, and when he had watched him canter off across th_lain returned to the room where I lay. Evidently his conscience was reprovin_im, for he stood by my bed for some minutes looking down at me in silence.
Then he heaved a little sigh and said under his breath, "You miserable beggar, how little you know what is happening, but I'm bothered if I don't think afte_ll that you're a dashed sight happier than I am. I'm beginning to wish I'_ot given you away to that devil. The remembrance of it will haunt me all m_ife long."
I woke up with his last speech ringing in my ears, and for a moment coul_carcely believe my own eyes. I had imagined myself back in the bush, and t_ake up in the smoking room of a London hotel was a surprise for which I wa_ot prepared. The clock over the door was just striking eleven as I rose to m_eet and went out into the hall. Taking my coat down from a peg I put it on, and then, donning my hat and turning up my collar, went out into the street.
Snow was still falling, and the night was bitterly cold. As I walked I though_gain of the dream from which I had just wakened. It seemed more like a visio_ntended for my guidance than the mere imagining of an over-excited brain. Ho_uch would I not have given to know if it was only imagination, or whether _ad been permitted to see a representation of what had really happened? Thi_uestion, however, I could not of course answer.
On reaching the Strand I hailed a hansom and bade the driver convey me wit_ll speed to 23, Great Gunter Street, Soho.
"Twenty-three, Great Gunter Street?" repeated the man, staring at me i_urprise. "You don't surely mean that, sir?"
"I do," I answered. "If you don't like the job I can easily find another man."
"Oh, I'll take you there, never fear, sir," replied the man; "but I didn'_now perhaps whether you was aware what sort of a crib it is. It's not th_hop gentlemen goes to as a general rule at night time, except maybe they'r_fter a dog as has been stole, or the like."
"So it's that sort of place is it?" I answered. "Well, I don't know that i_atters. I'm able to take care of myself."
As I said this I got into the vehicle, and in half a minute we were drivin_own the Strand in the direction of Soho. In something under a quarter of a_our we had left Leicester Square behind us, crossed Shaftesbury Avenue, an_urned into Great Gunter Street. It proved to be exactly what the driver ha_nsinuated, neither a respectable nor a savoury neighbourhood; and when I sa_t and its inhabitants I ceased to wonder at his hesitation. When he ha_roceeded half-way down the street he pulled his horse up before the entranc_o what looked like a dark alley leading into a court. Realising that thi_ust be my destination I opened the apron and sprang out.
"Number 23 is somewhere hereabouts, sir," said the driver, who seemed t_erive a certain amount of satisfaction from his ignorance of the locality. "_on't doubt but what one of these boys will be able to tell you exactly."
I paid him his fare and sixpence over for his civility, and then turned t_uestion a filthy little gutter urchin, who, with bare feet and chatterin_eeth, was standing beside me.
"Where is 23, my lad?" I inquired. "Can you take me to it?"
"Twenty-three, sir?" said the boy. "That's where Crooked Billy lives, sir. Yo_ome along with me and I'll show you the way."
"Go ahead then," I answered, and the boy thereupon bolted into the darkness o_he alley before which we had been standing. I followed him as quickly as _ould, but it was a matter of some difficulty, for the court was as black a_he Pit of Tophet, and seemed to twist and turn in every conceivabl_irection. A more unprepossessing place it would have been difficult to find.
Half-way down I heard the boy cry out 'Hold up, mother!" and before I coul_top I found myself in collision with a woman who, besides being unsteady o_er legs, reeked abominably of gin. Disengaging myself, to the accompanimen_f her curses, I sped after my leader, and a moment later emerged into th_pen court itself. The snow had ceased, and the three-quarter moon, sailin_long through swift flying clouds, showed me the surrounding houses. In one o_wo windows, lights were burning, revealing sights which almost made my fles_reep with loathing. In one I could see a woman sewing as if for her very lif_y the light of a solitary candle stuck in a bottle, while two little childre_ay asleep, half-clad, on a heap of straw and rags in the corner. On my righ_ had a glimpse of another room, where the dead body of a man was stretche_pon a mattress on the floor, with two old hags seated at a table beside it, drinking gin from a black bottle, turn and turn about. The wind whistle_ournfully among the roof tops; the snow had been trodden into a disgustin_lush everywhere, save close against the walls, where it still showed white a_ilver; while the reflection of the moon gleamed in the icy puddles golden a_ spade guinea.
"This is number 23," said my conductor, pointing to the door before which h_tood.
I rewarded him, and then turned my attention to the door indicated.
Having rapped with my knuckles upon the panel, I waited for it to be opened t_e. But those inside were in no hurry, and for this reason some minute_lapsed before I heard anyone moving about; then there came the sound o_huffling feet, and next moment the door was opened an inch or two, and _emale voice inquired with an oath—which I will omit—what was wanted and wh_as wanting it.
To the first query I replied by asking if Levi Solomon lived there, and, if h_id, whether I could see him. The second I shirked altogether. In answer I wa_nformed that Levi Solomon did reside there, and that if I was the gentlema_ho had called to see him about a hansom cab I was to come in at once.
The door was opened to me, and I immediately stepped into the grimiest, mos_vil-smelling passage it has ever been my ill luck to set foot in. The wall_ere soiled and stained almost beyond recognition; the floor was littered wit_range peel, paper, cabbage leaves, and garbage of all sorts and descriptions, while the stench that greeted me baffles description. I have never smelle_nything like it before, and I hope I may never do so again.
The most I can say for the old lady who admitted me is that she matched he_urroundings. She was short almost to dwarfishness, well-nigh bald, and ha_ost her left eye. Her dress consisted of a ragged skirt, and in place of _ody—I believe that is the technical expression—she wore a man's coat, whic_ave a finishing touch of comicality to the peculiar outline of her figure. A_oon as she saw that I had entered, she bade me shut the door behind me an_ollow her. This I did by means of a dilapidated staircase, in which almos_very step was taken at the risk of one's life, to the second floor. Havin_rrived there, she knocked upon a door facing her; and I noticed that it wa_ot until she had been ordered to enter that she ventured to turn the handle.
"The gentleman what has come about the 'ansom keb," she said, as she ushere_e into the room.
The apartment was lit by two candles stuck in their own wax upon a little dea_able, and by their rays I could distinguish the man I had come in search o_tanding by the fireplace awaiting me. He did not greet me until he had mad_ertain, by listening at the keyhole, that the old woman had gone downstairs.
He was a quaint little fellow, Jewish from the soles of his feet to the top o_is head. He had the nose of his race, little beady eyes as sharp as gimlets, and a long beard which a little washing might have made white. He was dresse_n a black frock coat two sizes too large for him, black trousers that woul_ave fitted a man three times his size, and boots that had been patched an_therwise repaired till their original maker would not have known them again.
"Mr. Pennethorne, I presume," he began, rubbing his hands together an_peaking as if he had a bad cold in his head. "I am delighted to see you. I a_orry that I cannot ask you to sit down, but I have no chair to give you. Fo_he same reason I cannot offer you refreshment. Have you had a good look a_e?"
My surprise at this abrupt question prevented my replying for a moment; then _nsinuated that I thought I should know him again, after which, with _uttered "That's all right," he blew out one of the candles, remarking that, as we now knew each other, we could conduct our business quite as well wit_alf the light.
"I received word from our mutual acquaintance Dr. Nikola this morning," h_egan, when the illumination had been thus curtailed, "that you would b_oming to see me. Of course I did not ask the business, for Dr. Nikola is m_riend, and I obey and trust him to the letter. By his instructions I am t_it you with a disguise, and then to take you to the place where you wil_iscover a certain hansom cab awaiting you."
I nodded. At the very mention of the cab my old hatred of Bartrand sprang u_gain, and I began to question the Jew as to where we were to find it and wha_ was to do when I had got it. But this impetuosity did not meet with hi_pproval.
"My young friend, you must not be in such a hurry," he said, wagging his hea_eprecatingly at me.
"We shall have to be sure we make no mistake, otherwise the doctor would no_e pleased, and I should not like to risk that. Have you known Dr. Nikola ver_ong?"
"I met him this morning for the first time in my life," I answered, realisin_n what intimate terms we now stood, considering the length of ou_cquaintance.
"If that is so you have much to learn regarding him," the Jew replied. "Let u_e very careful that we do not risk his displeasure. Now we will get to work, for it is nearly time for us to be going."
As he spoke he crossed to a cupboard in the corner of the room, and took fro_t some garments which he placed upon the table in the centre.
"Here we have the very identical things," he said, "and when you've got the_n, you'll be as smart a cabby as any that mounts his box in the streets o_ondon. Try this and see how it suits you."
He handed me a bushy black beard, which worked on springs, and assisted me t_asten it to my face. When it was made secure he stepped back and examined i_ritically; then with a muttered "that will do," turned to the garments on th_able, and selected from the heap a tarpaulin cape, such as cabmen wear in we_eather. This I fixed round my shoulders. A sou'wester was next placed upon m_ead, and when this was done, as far as I was concerned, we were ready to b_ff. My curious acquaintance was not long in making his toilet, and fiv_inutes later found us passing out of the filthy alley into Great Gunte_treet once more.
"I'll go first," said the Jew. "You follow two or three paces behind me. It'_ust as well we should not be seen together."
I accordingly took up my position a few steps in the rear, and in this fashio_odged along behind him, until we reached the corner of Wardour and Pultne_treets. Here my guide stopped and looked about him. Evidently what he wante_as not forthcoming, for he began to grow uneasy, and stamped up and down th_avement, looking eagerly in each direction. All the time I did not venture t_pproach him. I was considering what I was about to do. I thought of m_ather, and my brother and sisters, and wondered what they would have though_f they could have known to what a pass I had fallen. What would my poo_other have said if she had lived? But she, as far as I could learn from thos_ho had known her, had been a gentle Christian woman, and if she had lived _hould in all probability never have left England. In that case I should no_ave known Bartrand, and this revenge would then not have been necessary. B_hat small chances are our destinies shaped out for us!
At last the rattle of wheels sounded, and a moment later a smart hansom cab, which I recognised as that shown me by Nikola at his house that morning, drov_own the street and pulled up at the corner where we stood. The lamps glowe_rightly in the frosty air, and it was evident the horse was one of spirit, for he tossed his head and pawed the ground with impatience to be off again.
The driver descended from his perch, while the Jew went to the horse's head.
The other was a tall fellow, and until he came into the light of the lamps _ould not see his face. To my surprise, he did not speak, but stood fumblin_n the pocket of his oilskin for something, which proved to be a letter. Thi_e handed to me.
I opened it and scanned its contents. It was, of course, from Nikola.
"Dear—Everything is arranged, and I send you this, with the cab, by m_ervant, who, as you know, will not reveal anything. As soon as you receiv_t, mount and drive to Pall Mall. Be opposite the Monolith Club punctually a_1.30 and once there, keep your eyes open for the man we want. I will arrang_hat he shall leave exactly as the clock chimes, and will also see that h_akes your cab. When you have dropped your fare in a quiet street, drive a_ast as you can go to Hogarth Square, and wait at, or near, the secon_amppost on the left-hand side. I will pick you up there, and will arrange th_est. The man in question has been entertaining a distinguished company, including two dukes and a Cabinet Minister, at dinner this evening, but I hav_rranged to meet and amuse him at twelve. May good luck attend you.
I stuffed the note into my pocket and then glanced at my watch. It was exactl_ quarter-past eleven, so if I wanted to be at the rendezvous at the tim_tated it was necessary that I should start at once. Without more ado, _limbed on to the seat at the back, wound the rug _I_ found there round m_egs, put on the badge the Chinaman handed up to me, and, whipping up th_orse, much to the Jew's consternation, drove off down the street at a rapi_ace. As I turned into Great Windmill Street snow began to fall again, and _ave an evil chuckle as I reflected that even the forces of Nature wer_ssisting me in my murderous intentions. In my heart I had no pity for the ma_hom I was about to kill. He had robbed me as cruelly as one man could ro_nother, and now I was going to repay him for his treachery.