Read CHAPTER XIX. - CHECKMATE. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Rogers’s attitude stiffened with mock terror.  So natural was it that I cowered back under the bed.  He closed the valise with a snap as a heel grated on the window-ledge and George Leicester dropped into the room.

“Wh ­ew!  So that’s why you couldn’t hear an old friend’s signal!  Bolting, were you?  No, no, my pretty duck ­pay first, if you please!”

“Take it then!”

Mr. Rogers swung round on him and smote him full on the jaw ­a neat blow and beautifully timed.  The man went down like an ox, his head striking the floor with a second thud close beside my hiding-place.

Miss Belcher ran from her curtain, clapping her hands.  But Mr. Rogers had not finished with his man.

“Shut the window!” he commanded, flinging himself forward and gripping Leicester’s hands as they clutched at the carpet.  “Here, youngster ­pass the straps yonder and hold on to his legs!”

The blow had so rattled Leicester ­had come so very near to smiting him senseless ­that he scarcely struggled whilst we bound him, trussing him like a fowl with the aid of Miss Belcher’s riding-crop which she obligingly handed.  He was not a pretty object, with his mouth full of blood and two of his teeth knocked awry, and we made him a ludicrous one.  Towards the end of the operation he began to spit and curse.

“Gently, my lad!” Mr. Rogers turned him over.

“You came here to settle up and we don’t mean to disappoint you.  Let’s see what you’re worth.”  He plunged a hand into Leicester’s breeches pocket and drew forth a coin or two.

“Let me alone, you ‘ ­’ thief!” roared Leicester, his voice coming back to him in full strength.

“Indeed, Mr. Rogers,” the Rector protested, “this is going too far, I doubt.”

“It’s funny work for a Justice of the Peace, I’ll own,” he answered, with a grin at Miss Belcher.  “Lydia, my dear, be so good as to bring one of those candles:  I want to have a look at these coins. . . .  Ah, I thought so!”

“Put that money back where you found it!” snarled Leicester.  “By God!  I don’t know what you’re after, but I’ll have the law of you for this evening’s work!”

“All in good time, my friend:  you shall have as much law as you like, and a trifle over.  See, Rector?” Mr. Rogers pointed to a scratch on the face of one of the coins.

Leicester began to smell danger.  “What’s wrong with the money?” he demanded.  Then as no one answered, “There’s nothing wrong with it, is there?” he asked.

“Depends where you got it, and how,” he was answered.

“Look here ­you’re not treating me fair,” urged the rogue, changing his tune.  “If it’s over the money you’re knocking me about like this, you’re maltreating an innocent man; for I had it from Parson Whitmore ­every penny.”

“Ah, if you can prove that” ­Mr. Rogers’s face was perfectly grave ­ “you’re a lucky man!  The Reverend Mr. Whitmore has disappeared.”

The scoundrel’s face was a study.  Miss Belcher turned to the window, and even the Rector was forced to pull his lip.

“Disappeared,” Mr. Rogers repeated, “and most mysteriously.  The unfortunate part of the business is that before leaving he made no mention of any money actually paid to you.  On the contrary, we gathered that for some reason or other he owed you a considerable sum which he found a difficulty in paying.  Let me see” ­he looked around on us as if for confirmation ­“the sum was fifty pounds, if I mistake not?  We found it difficult to guess how he, a priest in Holy Orders, came to owe you this substantial amount.  But perhaps you met him on his way, and these guineas in my hand were tendered as part-payment?”

George Leicester blinked.  Accustomed to play with the fears of others, he understood well enough the banter in Mr. Rogers’s tone, and that he was being sauced in his own sauce.  He read the menace in it too.  But what could he answer?

“I had the money from Whitmore,” he repeated doggedly.

“When?”

“That I’ll leave you to find out.”  He laughed a short laugh, between rage and derision.  “Gad! you’ve a fair stock of impudence among you!  First you assault me, half kill me, and tie me up here without a penn’orth of reason given:  and now you’re inviting me to walk into another trap-for all I can learn, merely because it amuses you.  It won’t do, my fine Justice-fellow; and that you’ll discover.”

“The question is important, nevertheless.  I may tell you that at one time or another these coins were in the possession of the Jew Rodriguez, who was found murdered in Southside Street, Plymouth, yesterday morning.  You perceive, therefore, that something depends on when and how you came by them.  Still, since you prefer ­and perhaps wisely ­to keep your knowledge to yourself, I’ll start by making out the warrant and we’ll have in the constables.”  Mr. Rogers stepped towards the bureau.

“Wh ­” Leicester attempted a low whistle, but his mouth hurt him and he desisted.  An ugly grin of comprehension spread over his face ­of comprehension and, at the same time, of relief.  “That explains,” he muttered.  “But where did he find the pluck?”

“Eh?” Mr. Rogers, in the act of seating himself by the bureau, had caught the tone but not the words.  As he slewed round with the query I heard another sound in the adjoining room.

“Oh, go ahead with your warrant, my Jessamy Justice!  It tickles you and don’t hurt me.  Shall I help you spell it?”

“I was thinking to ask you that favour,” Mr. Rogers replied demurely.  “Your name, now?”

“Letcher ­L.e.t.c.h.e.r ­Sergeant, North Wilts Regiment.”

“Thank you ­’Letcher,’ you say?  Now I was on the point of writing it ‘Leicester.’”

In the dead silence that followed he laid down his pen, and with his hands behind him came slowly across the room and stared into Leicester’s face.

“The game is up, my friend.”

Leicester met the stare, but his jaw and throat worked as though he were choking.  I thought he was trying to answer.  If so, the words refused to come.

Someone knocked at the door.

Mr. Rogers stepped to it quickly.  “That you, Jim?”

“Yessir.”

“Is Miss Brooks with you?” He held the door a very little ajar ­not wide enough to give sight of us behind him.

“Yessir.  A gentleman, too, sir:  leastways he talks like one, though dressed like a private soldier.  He won’t give his name.”  Jim’s tone was an aggrieved one.

“Thank you:  that’s quite right.  You may go home to bed, if you wish:  but be ready for a call.  I may want you later on.”

“Be this all you want of me?” Jim was evidently disappointed.

“I fear so.”

“P’rhaps you don’t know it, sir, but Hodgson’s gone.  There was nobody at the gate when we came by.”

“Hodgson has a little job on hand.  It will certainly occupy him all night, but I am afraid you cannot help him.  Now don’t stay asking questions, my man, but be off to bed.  I’ll send word if I want you.”

Jim grumbled and withdrew.  “Best to get him out of the way,” Mr. Rogers explained to the Rector.  “You and I can take this fellow back to Plymouth at daybreak.”  He listened for a moment and announced, “He’s gone.  Keep an eye on our friend, please, while I prepare Isabel for it.  My word!” ­and he heaved a prodigious sigh ­ “I’d give something to be through with the next ten minutes!”

He opened the door and, passing through, closed it as quickly behind him.  He was absent for half an hour perhaps.  We could hear the mutter of his voice in the next room and now and again another masculine voice interrupting ­never Isabel’s.  The Rector had found a seat for Miss Belcher beside the bureau.  He himself took his stand beside the chimney and fingered a volume of the registers, making pretence to read but keeping his eye alert for any movement of Leicester.  No one spoke; until the prisoner, intercepting a glance from Miss Belcher, broke into a sudden brutal laugh.

“Poor old lady!” he jeered, and his eyes travelled wickedly across the disordered floor.  “Whitmore left a lot behind him, eh?”

She rose and turning her back on him, walked to the window.  There she leaned out, seeming to study the night:  but I saw that her shoulders heaved.

The Rector looked across with a puzzled frown.  Leicester laughed again:  and with that, Miss Belcher came back to him, slipped out the riding-crop which trussed him, and held it under his nose.  Her face was white, but calm.  She lifted the stick slowly to bring it across his face, paused, and flung it on the floor.

“You tempt me to be as dirty as yourself,” she said.  “But one woman has shown you mercy to-night, despising you.  Think of that, George Leicester.”

The door opened again and Mr. Rogers nodded to us.

“Hallo!” he exclaimed, perceiving the riding-crop on the floor.

“He can’t run,” said Miss Belcher nonchalantly.  “But he can stand now, I fancy ­and walk, if you loosen his legs a bit.  He’ll be wanted for a witness, won’t he?”

“You’re all wanted.”  Mr. Rogers helped Leicester to stand and slackened the bond about his ankles.  “We’ll tighten it again in the next room, my friend.  Stay a moment, Rector!” He pointed to the wardrobe.  The Rector went to it and unhitching a clean surplice laid it across his arm.  So we filed into the room where Isabel and Archibald Plinlimmon awaited us.

They stood in the shadow of the window-curtains, talking together in low tones:  and by their attitudes she was vehemently pleading for a favour which he as vehemently rejected.  But when she caught him by both hands he yielded, and they faced us together ­she with her beautiful face irradiated.

Miss Belcher stepped to her at once and kissed her; and across that good lady’s shoulder she cast one look at the prisoner, now being shuffled into the room by Mr. Rogers.  It was neither vindictive nor recriminatory, but cheerful and calm with an utter scorn.  I looked nervously at Archibald Plinlimmon.  His face was dusky red and sullen with rage; but I noted with a leap of my heart that he, too, looked Leicester squarely in the face:  and from that moment (if a boy may say so) I felt there was hope for him.

The Rector unfolded and donned the surplice.  Isabel disengaged herself from Miss Belcher’s arms and, drawing off her ring, handed it to her lover.  Their eyes met, and hers were smiling bravely:  but they brimmed on a sudden as the tears sprang into his.  And now I felt that there was strong hope for him.

Thus I came to be present at their wedding.  Indeed, the prisoner claimed so much of Mr. Rogers’s attention during the ceremony that you might almost say I acted as groomsman.