Read CHAPTER XVI. - MR. JACK ROGERS AS A MAN OF AFFAIRS. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

“I know,” said I, meeting her gaze sturdily, “that you are in danger.”

“How should I be in danger?”

“That I cannot tell you, Miss Isabel, unless you first tell me something.”

She waited, her eyes searching mine.

“Last night,” I went on, “in the road ­you were expecting someone.”

Her chin went up proudly; but a tide of red rose with it, flushing her throat and so creeping up and colouring her face.

“Was it Archibald Plinlimmon?”

She put up a hand as if to push me aside:  but on a sudden turned and hastened from me, with bowed head, towards the cottage.

“Miss Isabel!” I cried, following her close.  “I meant no harm ­how could I mean you harm?  Miss Isabel!”

I would not let her go, but followed her to the door, entreating; even pushed after her into the small kitchen, where at last she faced on me.

“Why cannot you let me alone, boy?  Into what have you come here to pry?  You are odious ­yes, odious!” She stamped her foot.  “And I thought last night, that you were in trouble.  Was I not kind to you for that, and that only?” She broke off pitifully.  “Oh, Harry, I am dreadfully unhappy!”

She sank into a chair beside the table, across which she flung an arm and so leaned her brow and let the sobs shake her.

“And I am here to help you, Miss Isabel:  only so much is puzzling me!  Last night you said you had a secret, and that it was a happy one.  To-day you are crying, and it is miserable to see.”

“And why should I not be happy?” She lifted a hand to the bosom of her bodice, and slipped over her third finger the ring she had worn over-night.

“Why should I not be expecting him?” she murmured.

For the moment I was slow in understanding.  But I suppose that at length she saw that in my eyes which satisfied her:  for she drew down my head to her lap, and sat laughing and weeping softly.

A kettle hanging from a crook in the chimney-place boiled over, hissing down upon the hot wood-ashes.  She sprang up and lifted it down to the hearth.

“Oh, and I forgot!” Her hand went back to her bodice again.  “Mr. Jack Rogers was here this morning inquiring for you.  He drove up in his tilbury, and said he was on his way to Plymouth.  But he left this note.”

I took it and deciphered these words, scrawled in an abominable hand: 

“Meet me to-night, nine o’clock, at the place where we parted. 
J. R.”

“Was Mr. Rogers going to Plymouth?” I asked.

“Yes, and in a hurry, by the pace he was driving.”

As you may guess, this news discomposed me.  Could Mr. Rogers be preparing a trap?  No:  certainly not for me.  Whitmore, if anyone, was his quarry.  But I mistrusted that, if he once started this game, it would lead him on to another scent.  That Archibald Plinlimmon was innocent of the Jew’s murder I felt sure.  Still ­what had he been seeking on the roofs by the Jew’s house?  It would be an ugly question, if Mr. Rogers blundered on it; and in the way of honest blundering I felt Mr. Rogers to be infinitely capable.  Would that, trusting in his good nature, I had made a clean breast to him!

A clean breast?  Isabel too, poor girl, was aching to make confession to her father.  For weeks her secret had been a sword within her, wearing the flesh, and it eased her somewhat (as I saw) even to have made confession to me.  But she would not speak to her father without first consulting Archibald.  It was he, I gathered, who had enjoined silence.  Major Brooks (and small blame to him) would assuredly have imposed a probation:  old men with lovely daughters do not surrender them at call to penniless youths, even when the penniless youth happens to be the son of an old friend.  I wished Master Archibald to perdition for a selfish fool.

I talked long with Isabel:  first in the kitchen, and again on our way back to the summer-house, where her father sat awake and expecting me, book in hand.

There she left me, and he began to dictate at once as I settled myself to write.

    “First, then, for site.  Seek, and instal your Bee
     Where nor may winds invade (for winds forbid
     His homeward load); nor sheep, nor heady kid
     Trample the flowers; nor blundering heifer pass,
     Brush off the dew and bruise the tender grass;
     Nor lizard foe in painted armour prowl
     Round the rich hives.  Ban him, ban every fowl ­
     Bee-bird with Procne of the bloodied breast: 
     These rifle all ­our Hero with the rest,
     Snapped on the wing and haled, a tit-bit, to the nest. 
      ­But seek a green moss’d pool, with well-spring nigh;
     And through the turf a streamlet fleeting by.”

So much, with interminably slow pauses, we accomplished before the light waned in the summer-house and Isabel called us in to supper, which we ate together in a low-ceiled parlour overlooking the garden.  At a quarter to nine, on pretence that I had still to make up arrears of sleep, she signed to me to wish her father good-night and escorted me out into the passage.  A slip of the bolt, and I was free of the night.

I found the spot where I had dropped into the road, and cautiously mounted the hedge, putting the brambles aside and peering through them into the fast falling twilight.  A low whistle sounded, and Mr. Rogers stepped into view on the footbridge.  But he left a companion behind him in the shadow of the alders, and who this might be I could neither see nor guess.

“Is that you, Master Revel?”

There was no help for it now; so over the hedge I climbed and met him.

“How did you find out ­”

­“Your name?  Miss Brooks told me, this morning.  But, for that matter, it’s placarded all over Plymouth and at every public and forge and signpost along the road.  You’re a notorious character, my son.”

I began to quake.

“Parson,” he went on, turning and addressing the figure in the shadow, “here’s the boy.  Better make haste, if you have any questions to ask him before we get to business.”

There stepped forward, not Mr. Whitmore (as I was fearfully expecting), but a figure unknown to me; an old shovel-hatted man leaning on a stick and buttoned to the chin in a black Inverness cape.  I felt his eyes peering at me through the dusk.

“He seems very young to be a trustworthy witness,” croaked this old gentleman in a voice which seemed to be affected by the night air.

“He’s right enough,” Mr. Rogers answered cheerfully.

“He shall tell his tale, then, in Mr. Whitmore’s presence.  I will not yet believe that a minister of Christ’s religion, whose papers ­ as I have proved to you ­are in order, whose testimonials are unexceptionable, who has the Bishop’s licence ­”

“The Bishop’s fiddlestick!  The Bishop didn’t license him to carry marked guineas in his pocket, and I don’t wait for a licence to carry a warrant in mine.”

“You will at least afford him an opportunity of explaining before you execute it.  To be plain with you, Mr. Rogers, this business is like to be scandalous, however you look at it.”

“The constables shall remain outside, and the warrant I’ll keep in my pocket until your reverence’s doubts are at rest.”  Mr. Rogers gave another low whistle and two men, hitherto concealed at a little distance in the trees’ shadow, stepped silently forward and joined us.  “Ready, lads?  Quick march, then!”

We took the path up the valley bottom, and across a grassy shoulder of the park to a small gate in the ring-fence.  Beyond this gate a lane, or cart-road, dipped steeply downhill to the right; and following it, we came on a high stone wall overtopped by trees.

“Here’s your post, Hodgson,” whispered Mr. Rogers, after waiting for the constables to come up.  “Jim will take the back of the house:  and understand that no one is to enter or leave.  If anyone attempts it, signal to me:  one whistle from you, Hodgson, and two from Jim.  Off you go, my lad!  The signal’s the same if I want you ­one whistle or two, as the case may be.”

The constable he called Jim crept away in the darkness, while Mr. Rogers found and cautiously opened a wicket-gate leading to a courtlage, across which a solitary window shone on the ground-floor of a house lifting its gables and heavy chimneys against a sky only less black than itself.

“Gad!” said Mr. Rogers softly, “I wonder what Whitmore’s doing?  The fun would be, now, to find one of these windows unfastened, and slip in upon him without announcing ourselves.  ’Twouldn’t be the thing, though, for a Justice of the Peace, let alone Mr. Doidge here.  No:  we’ll have to do it in order and knock.  The maid knows me.  Only you two must keep back in the shadow here while she opens the door.”

He stepped forward and knocked boldly.

To the astonishment of us all the door opened almost at once, and without any noise of unlocking or drawing of bolts.

“For Heaven’s sake, my dear ­unless you want to wake the village ­” began a voice testily.  It was Mr. Whitmore’s, and almost on the instant, by the light of a candle which he held, he recognised the man on the doorstep.

“Mr. Rogers?  To what do I owe ­”

“Good evening, Whitmore!  May I come in?  Won’t detain you long ­ especially since you seem to be expecting company.”

“It’s the maid,” answered Mr. Whitmore coldly, though he seemed confused.  “She has stepped down to the village for an hour, to her mother’s cottage, and I am alone.”

“So you call her ‘my dear’?  That’s a bit pastoral, eh?”

“Look here, Rogers:  if you’re drunk, I beg you to call at some other time.  To tell the truth, I’m busy.”

“Writing your sermon?  I thought Saturday was the night for that.  ’Pon my honour now I wouldn’t intrude, only the business is urgent.”  He waited while Mr. Whitmore somewhat grudgingly set the door wide to admit him.  “By the way I’ve brought a couple of friends with me.”

“Confound it all, Rogers ­”

“Oh, you know them.”  Mr. Rogers, with his foot planted over the threshold, airily waved us forward out of the darkness.  “Mr. Doidge, your Rector,” he announced; “also Mr. Revel ­a recent acquaintance of yours, as I understand.”

“Good evening, Whitmore,” said the Rector stepping forward.  “I owe you an apology (I sincerely hope) for the circumstances of this visit, as I certainly discommend Mr. Rogers’s method of introducing us.”

Now, as we two stepped forward, Mr. Whitmore had instantly shot out his right hand to the door ­against which Mr. Rogers, however, had planted his foot ­with a gesture as if to slam it in our faces.  But the sombre apparition of the Rector seemed to freeze him where he stood ­or all of him but his left hand which, grasping the candlestick, slowly and as if involuntarily lifted it above the level of his eyes.  Then, before the Rector had concluded, he lowered it, turned, and walked hastily before us down the passage.

Still without speaking he passed through a door on his right, and we followed him into a sparely furnished room lined with empty book-shelves.  A few books lay scattered on the centre table where also, within the shaded light of a reading lamp, stood a tray with a decanter and a couple of glasses.  Beside this lamp he set down the candle and faced us.  In those few paces down the passage I had observed that he wore riding-boots and spurs, and that they were spotlessly bright and clean.  But from this moment I had eyes only for his face, which was ashen white and the more horrible because he was essaying a painful smile.

“My dear Rector,” he began, “this is indeed a ­a surprise.  You said nothing of any such intention when I had the honour to call on you in Plymouth, two days ago.”

“Good reason for why,” interrupted Mr. Rogers.  “Look here, Whitmore ­with the Rector’s leave we’ll get this over.  Do you know this coin?”

He held forward a guinea under the lamp.

I could see the unhappy man pick up his courage to fix his gaze on the coin and hold it fixed.

“I don’t understand you, Rogers,” he answered.  “I have, of course, no knowledge of that coin or what it means.  To me it looks like an ordinary guinea.”

“I had it from you last night, Whitmore:  and it is not an ordinary guinea, but a marked one.  What’s more, I marked it myself ­see, with this small cross behind the king’s head.  What’s more I sold it, so marked, to Rodriguez, the Jew.”

­“Who, I suppose, promptly put it into circulation in Plymouth, where by chance it was handed to me amid the change when I paid my hotel-bill ­if indeed you are absolutely sure you were given this coin by me.”

“Come, Rogers, that’s an explanation I myself suggested,” put in the Rector.

“The folks at the Royal Hotel,” answered Mr. Rogers curtly, “tell me that you paid your bill in silver.”

It seemed to me that Mr. Rogers was pressing Whitmore harshly, almost with a note of private vindictiveness in his voice.  But while I wondered at this my eyes fell on the curate’s hand as it played nervously with the base of the brass candlestick.  There was a ring on the little finger:  and in an instant I knew ­though I could not have sworn to it in court ­yet knew more certainly than many things to which I could have testified on oath ­that this was the hand I had seen closing the door in the Jew’s House.

Through a buzzing of the brain I heard him addressing the Rector and protesting against the absurdity, the monstrosity, of the charge ­yet still with that recurring agonised glance at me.  But my eyes now were on Mr. Rogers; and the buzzing ceased and my brain cleared when he swung round, inviting me to speak.  I cannot tell what question he put to me, but what I said was: 

“If you please, sirs, the runners are after me; and it isn’t fair to make me tell yet what happened in the Jew’s house, or what I saw there:  for what I told might be twisted and turned against me.”

“Nonsense!” interrupted Mr. Rogers.  But the Rector nodded his head.  “The boy’s right.  He’s under suspicion himself, and should have a lawyer to advise him before he speaks.  That’s only fair play.”

“But,” I went on “there’s another thing, if you’ll be pleased to ask Mr. Whitmore about it.  Why is he paying money to a soldier ­a man who calls himself Letcher, but his real name is Leicester?  And what have they been plotting against Miss Isabel down at the Cottage?”