Read CHAPTER VI of Her Ladyship's Elephant , free online book, by David Dwight Wells, on


Mr. Scarsdale entered Mrs. Allingford’s compartment with so great an impetus, when he swung himself into her carriage at Basingstoke, that he completely lost his balance, and shot past her on all fours, to land in a heap on the floor. A second later the guard banged the door, and the train was off.

“What does this mean?” exclaimed the Consul’s wife, “and where is my husband?”

“Excuse me,” gasped Scarsdale, picking himself up from the floor, “but I couldn’t leave you.”

“So it appears,” she replied coldly. “But you have not answered my question, and” as the train began to move rapidly, “it is not possible that we are getting under way!”

“Yes,” he said gloomily, “we are off to Southampton.”

“Answer me instantly: where is my husband?” she demanded.

“Gone to Exeter, I suppose, with my wife.”

“What do you mean?”

“That he was carried off in the first division of the train, which left five minutes ago.”

“But I thought we stopped ten minutes.”

“So you did; we stopped only five. When I left you just now, I saw that the forward half of this train had disappeared, and the guard told me it had gone to Exeter, and that this portion was just leaving for Southampton. I thought it better to stay with you than to let you go by yourself; so as the carriage was moving, and it was impossible to get you out, I jumped in.”

“Thank you,” she said simply; and for a moment there was silence between them while the train rattled over the points, and, reaching the outskirts of the town, began to increase its speed. The little Englishwoman did not, however, emulate her fair American partner in distress, who was at this moment indulging in hysterics in the other train; she had been too well trained to betray her feelings before a man whom she knew but slightly, even over the loss of a husband; so, after remaining quiet for a little, she controlled herself sufficiently to say, very calmly:

“I do not see that we can either of us blame ourselves for what has happened; we must try and make the best of it, and rejoin your wife and my husband as soon as possible.”

Plucky little woman! thought Scarsdale to himself; to Mrs. Allingford he said:

“I am glad you see things in so sensible a light. You must let me help you in every way that is in my power.”

“You say our first stop is Southampton?” she asked.

“Yes, we reach there in less than an hour. They slip some carriages at Winchester, but the train doesn’t stop,” he replied.

“Then I think we should alight at Southampton,” she said, “and return at once to Basingstoke.”

“That would certainly be our best course. When you lose a man in a crowd, it is much better to wait at the point where you lost him till he finds you than to hunt for him yourself, as you will both miss each other.”

“Then you propose to let them find us.”

“That is my idea. Of course I’ll telegraph to the station-master at Basingstoke that we will return there, so that if they wire for information concerning us he can give it them.”

“Where do you think they have gone?”

“If we either of us knew our destination it would be far easier,” he said, laughing. “I hope this will be a lesson to my wife.”

“But surely the train must stop before it reaches Exeter.”

“Undoubtedly; but as I have no time-table, I can’t say where. Perhaps your husband has one in his overcoat. If you will permit me,” and he proceeded to examine the garment in question.

No time-table was forthcoming, however, and they were forced to resign themselves to waiting till they reached Southampton.

Mrs. Allingford bore up bravely, and even tried to make conversation; but it proved to be a dreary ride, and when they drew up at their destination they were both exceedingly thankful.

“Is there a train back to Basingstoke soon?” asked Scarsdale of the first railway porter he saw.

“Yes, sir, over there on the left. Express leaves in three or four minutes,” replied that individual, as he hurried away with somebody else’s baggage.

“I’ll take you over,” said Scarsdale.

“No,” replied his companion, “I can find it. You attend to the telegram and my luggage.”

He dashed off accordingly, and when he returned they both entered the train on the left.

“I’ve sent the telegram,” he said, “and I have also discovered your destination.”

“How?” she inquired.

“By the labels on the luggage. It was marked for Bournemouth, and a jolly hard time I had to induce them to take it out of the van and send it back with us.”

“It seems to me,” she said after a little, “that we’ve been waiting here more than four minutes. I trust we are not in the wrong train. One has just gone out.”

“Hi! guard!” called Scarsdale from the window. “Is this the express for Basingstoke?”

“No, sir,” replied the official. “It was the train beyond you, which has just left. Sorry if you’ve made a mistake, sir.”

“Confound it, yes!” cried Scarsdale. “Where does this train go?”

“Stopping train for Winchester.”

“Can we go on to Basingstoke?”

“Not by this train, sir.”

“But from Winchester?”

“There is sure to be a train this evening, sir.”

“It has been a chapter of accidents,” he said, explaining it to Mrs. Allingford, “but we had better go to Winchester, I think; it is on the way anyhow.”

“Yes,” she assented, “and then get on to Basingstoke as fast as we can, and not be discouraged.”

“Quite right,” he replied, and entered into a description of Southampton docks and the varied cargoes that were received there, in the hope of distracting her mind.

“Oh, look!” she cried, as, once more started on their travels, they came in sight of the shipping, “see what they are loading on that truck! I do believe it is an elephant!”

After what seemed an interminable journey, they at length arrived at Winchester, and as soon as Scarsdale had seen Mrs. Allingford established in the ladies’ waiting-room, he hastened to ascertain their chances of getting to Basingstoke that night. On his return he wore a very long face, which his companion was not slow to interpret.

“Are there no trains?” she exclaimed, in evident dismay.

“There is one,” he replied, “but we should not reach our destination till very late, almost midnight in fact, and we cannot tell that we should find your husband even then. I think our best course would be to remain here.”

“Oh, but that is impossible.”

“No, there is a very fair hotel.”

“I didn’t mean that. But can’t you see the position in which I am placed?”

He did see, and he knew that what he proposed seemed to her almost an impossibility; but as they were now situated he considered that circumstances altered cases.

“I am sure, Mrs. Allingford,” he said, “that your good sense, which has carried you through so much this afternoon, will show you the necessity of acting as I have suggested. You must not forget that you are now a married woman, and can do things which before were not permissible.”

“Still,” she contended, “to go to a public hotel with a gentleman who is a comparative stranger, and pass the night there, seems to me not the thing at all; and if we were recognised by anybody” She paused, hardly knowing how to complete her sentence.

“Then go alone. There are other hotels; I will put up somewhere else,” he replied.

“No, no, I couldn’t be left alone; I’ve never been alone before in my life. That would be worse than all else. You see, if you were only related to me it would be so different.”

“I am quite willing to pass myself off as any relation you please, for the sake of appearances.”

“But that would be deceitful.”

“I think the exigencies of the case will excuse that; besides, it is my own affair, not yours. Will you have me as a brother for one night only?” he asked, laughing.

“But I have no brother,” she replied.

“Then as your husband’s brother,” he suggested; “that would be better still, as he is an American and not known here.”

“Do you really think it best?”

“To save you annoyance, I think it is a pardonable deception. What is his name?”

“Richard. But I don’t know much about him.”

“Then we will consider that that is settled,” he said cheerfully, and, without giving her time to argue the matter, summoned a fly, which presently deposited them bag and baggage at the hotel door. To make assurance doubly sure, he hastened to sign their names in the visitors’ book:

“Mrs. Robert Allingford, Christchurch, England.

“Mr. Richard Allingford, U.S.A.”

“Can you give my sister and me good rooms for to-night?” he asked the landlady.

“Yes, sir, two nice rooms just opposite each other.”

He said that that would do very well, and they were soon installed.

Once in her apartment, Mrs. Allingford indulged in a good cry, while Scarsdale strolled out before dinner to have a smoke and think it over. He did not see much further use in telegraphing just at that moment. Later it would, perhaps, be well to send a message to Basingstoke, saying that they were detained at Winchester and would come on next morning; for he had quickly learned that Mrs. Scarsdale and Mr. Allingford would be able to leave the train at Salisbury, and justly surmised that they had done so.

Presently, having finished his cigar, he returned to the hotel to find Mrs. Allingford ready for dinner, and much refreshed by her tears and subsequent ablutions. They neither of them ate much, and after the fish they gave up any attempt to make conversation as worse than useless, and finished the repast in silence.

“I’m afraid,” she said, as she folded her napkin, “that you’ve found me very poor company.”

“I’m nothing to boast of myself,” he replied.

“I hope they are not as miserable as we are,” she added, as they rose to leave the table. “I haven’t been able to eat a thing.”

Scarsdale did not reply; he had a gloomy suspicion that his wife was making a very good meal somewhere. Not that he doubted her love; but he did not believe her devotion included loss of appetite.

“Don’t you think they are miserable?” she queried, uneasy at his silence.

“Not so miserable as we are,” he said. “They are both Americans, you see, and Americans don’t take things seriously as a rule.”

“What do you suppose they are doing?” was her next question.

“Seated swinging their feet over the edge of Salisbury platform, finishing my five-pound box of American candy,” he said.

She tried to be amused, and even forced a little laugh; but it was a dismal failure, and, realising it, she at once excused herself and retired to her room for the night, leaving Scarsdale to pass the evening as best he could. He approved of her circumspection, but it was beastly dull, and, as he sat smoking in the winter garden which the hotel boasted, he felt that he should soon become insufferably bored.

He presently, therefore, overcame his natural reserve sufficiently to respond to the advances of the only person in the room who seemed inclined to be sociable. The stranger was a florid, shaggy-bearded man of a distinctively American type, a person Scarsdale would naturally have avoided under ordinary circumstances; but to-night he felt the need of human society, no matter whose, and in a few moments they had drifted into conversation. At first the subjects under discussion were harmless enough, relating mainly to Winchester and neighbouring points of interest, concerning which Scarsdale was forced to confess himself ignorant, as it was his first visit to the place. Before long, however, they began to touch on more dangerous ground, and he saw that, even with a casual acquaintance of this sort, he must be guarded if he was to remain consistent in his rôle of brother to the deserted bride.

“Were you ever in America?” was the first question which startled him.

He replied in the affirmative, as he could honestly do, having been taken by his father to Canada when but a lad. But the stranger was not satisfied, and began, after the manner of his nation, a series of leading questions, which kept Scarsdale busy in trying to assimilate with some regard to truth the character he had chosen. It was at this moment that a waiter came to him and asked in a perfectly audible voice if he was Mr. Richard Allingford. Scarsdale was forced to admit the fact, and to reply to a message sent, as the waiter took unnecessary pains to explain, “By your sister, sir.”

“Excuse me,” interjected his companion, “but may I ask if your sister’s name is Mrs. Robert Allingford?”

The Englishman would have given worlds to deny the fact, but in the presence of the waiter, who still lingered, and in the face of the evidence in the visitors’ book, only one course was open to him, and he replied reluctantly in the affirmative.

“Wife of the United States Consul at Christchurch?”

“Yes,” said Scarsdale.

Now he could once more tell the truth, he felt happier; but he had a premonition that all was not well, and heartily wished he had never encouraged this American, who might know more than was convenient.

“Why, Dick!” said that personage, leaning across the little table that separated them, and grasping both his hands “Why, Dick! Don’t you know me?”

If a thunderbolt had shattered the floor at the Englishman’s feet he could not have been more dumfounded. The one seemingly impossible thing had come to pass. In all this great world, with every chance against it, fate had ordained that the little provincial city in which he had planned to play, for one night only, another man’s part, should also contain one of that man’s friends, and they two had met. He was so staggered, as the possibilities contingent on this mischance crowded through his brain, that he could only stammer out:

“You have the advantage of me.”

“Well, I don’t much wonder,” continued his new-found friend. “If I have changed as much in fifteen years as you have, it isn’t strange you didn’t recognise me. Lord! I’d never have known you if you hadn’t told me who you were.”

“You must do me as great a favour,” said Scarsdale, regaining a little of his self-composure. If so long a time had elapsed since their last meeting, he felt that things were not so bad after all, and that he could reasonably hope to bluff it out.

“Well,” said the other, “the boys used to call me Faro Charlie; now you remember.”

The Englishman tried to look as if he did, and the American proceeded to further elucidate matters by saying:

“Why, surely you ain’t forgotten me as was your pal out to Red Dog, the time you was prospecting for copper and struck gold?”

“No, no,” said Scarsdale. “Of course I remember you now.” He couldn’t be supposed to have forgotten such an event, he felt; but the whole affair was most unfortunate.

“I guess you’ve settled down and become pious, from the looks of you,” continued Faro Charlie; “but you’ll have a drink for old times’ sake just the same.”

“No, thanks, you must excuse me,” he replied, feeling that he must drop this unwelcome friend as soon as possible. But the friend had no intention of being dropped, and contented himself by saying:

“Rats!” and ordering two whiskies.

“Why, I’ve known the day,” he continued, “when Slippery Dick we used to call you Slippery Dick, you remember, ’cause you could cheat worse at poker than any man in the camp.” Scarsdale writhed. “Well, as I was saying, you’d have shot a man then who refused to drink with you.”

The Englishman sat aghast. Little had he thought he was impersonating a card-sharper and a wholesale murderer. The whisky came and he drank it, feeling that he needed a bracer.

“Now,” said Faro Charlie, “I want to hear all about what you’ve been doing, first and last. Tending copper-mines, I heered, out to Michigan.”

This, the Englishman felt, was going too far. It was bad enough to have to impersonate such a fellow as “Slippery Dick,” but to endow him with a fictitious history that was at all comparable with Faro Charlie’s account of his earlier years required too great an effort of imagination. And the fact that a quiet little man, who was sitting near by, edged up his chair and seemed deeply interested in the conversation, did not tend to put him more at his ease. No wonder, he thought, the Consul did not talk much about his brother. He therefore hastened to change the subject.

“Have you seen much of the Indians lately?” he ventured; it seemed such a safe topic.

“Thinking of that little squaw you was so chummy with down to Injun Reservation?” queried his friend, punching him jovially in the ribs. “You knew, didn’t you, that they’d had her up for horse-stealing to Fort Smith? Reckon as they’d a hung her if she hadn’t been a woman. She was a limb! Guess you had your hands full when you tackled her.”

Scarsdale decided his choice of a subject had not been fortunate, and begged Faro Charlie to have some more whisky.

“Sure,” replied that individual. “Drink with you all night.”

“I’m afraid you can’t do that,” replied Scarsdale, hastening to rid himself of his unwelcome friend. “I have some important business to attend to this evening.”

“I wish you weren’t in such a rush. Come back and we’ll paint the town, eh?”

Scarsdale thought it extremely unlikely, and shaking hands fled to the street with a sigh of relief; for he had had a very bad quarter of an hour. What cursed luck that he should have run across this American horror! He must avoid him at all costs to-morrow morning.

In his hurry he had not noticed that the quiet little man had left the winter garden with him. His one thought was to get away. He determined to send that telegram to Basingstoke at once, and go to bed before any one else recognised him: one of Slippery Dick’s friends was enough.

But unkind fate had not yet done with him, and a new and more terrible surprise was in store for the unfortunate bridegroom. He had scarcely gone a dozen yards from the hotel entrance, when a voice said just beside him:

“Excuse me, Mr. Richard Allingford, but may I have a few words with you?”

Scarsdale turned, and finding himself face to face with the quiet little man, who had seemed so interested in his conversation of a few moments ago, said:

“I seem to be in great demand to-night. Why do you wish to see me? I don’t know you.”

“No,” said the man who stood beside him. “No, you do not know me, Mr. Richard Allingford; but you will.”

He was a quiet, unpretending little man; but there was something about his dress and bearing, and the snap with which he shut his jaw at the end of a sentence, an air of decision, in short, which caused the Englishman to feel that he would do well to conciliate this stranger, whoever he might be, so he said shortly:

“What do you want with me? Speak quickly; I’m in a hurry.”

“I couldn’t help overhearing some of your conversation just now at the hotel, and so I took the liberty of following you to ask you a question.”

“Yes?” said Scarsdale interrogatively.

“If I mistake not you are the brother of the United States Consul at Christchurch, and came over to his wedding.”

“Yes,” he admitted; for he did not see how he could well deny to one man what he had just confessed to another.

“You have been in England about ten days, I think?”

“As long as that, certainly.”

“May I ask what ship you came on?”

“By what right do you ask me these questions?”

“You will see presently.”

“But suppose I refuse to answer them?”

The unknown shrugged his shoulders, and said quietly:

“Now wasn’t it the Paris?”

“Yes,” said Scarsdale, who remembered with joy having seen that fact chronicled in a London paper.

“I suppose you have never been in Winchester before?”

“Never in my life.”

“Not last week?”

“Look here!” said Scarsdale angrily, “what the devil are you driving at?”

“It is a pity you should have such a good memory for past and not for recent events,” said the quiet little man, “a great pity.”

“I tell you I have never been here!”

“Didn’t dine at the Lion’s Head last Wednesday, for instance?”

“No, I did not, and I’ve had enough of this insolence!”

“So have I,” said the little man, blowing a little whistle. “So have I, and therefore I arrest you, Richard Allingford, in the Queen’s name.”