Chapter 161823665

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Chapter NumberXXXII
Chapter TitleTHE DISCOVERY OF SPENSER TAIT.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161823665
Full Date1895-06-29
Page Number36
Corrections0
Word Count2546
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Third Volume
article text

THE NOVELIST.

THE THIRD VOLUME.

BY FBR3US HUME, .

Author of " The, Mystery of a Hansom Oab,'

" TheJjone Inn," "The Ohinese Jar," &o,

CHAPTER XXXII.

THE DISCOTEBf OF SPEXBBB TilT.

Horriston might . fitly be oompared to Jonah's gourd—jt sprang up in a night, so to speak, and withered in the apaoe of a day. In the earlier part of the Viotorian era a oele brated dootor recommended its mineral springs, and invalids flooked to be cured at tbie new pool of Hotheads. Whether the ouree were not genuine or insufficiently rapid to please the siok folk it is hard to say, but after fifteen or twenty years of prosperity the orowd of fashionable valetudinarians oeased to oooupy the oommodious lodging-houses and hotels of Horriston. Other plaoos sprang up with greater attractions and more certain cures, so the erstwhile fashionable town relapsed into its provincial dulness. No one lived there but a few retired army men, and no one came save a stray neurotio person in searob of absolute quiet. Few failed to get that at Horriston, whioh was now. as sleepy a plaoeeB oould be fouud in ell England. Even Thorston was more in touoh with the nineteenth oentury

than this deserted town.

Ab Tait drove through the streets on his way to the principal hotel, he could not liolp notioing the dreary look of theobief thorough fare. Many of the shops were dosed, some were unoooupied, and those still open dis played wares grimy and flyblown. The shop keepers oame to their doors in a dazed fashion to look at the new visitor in the single fly whioh plied between station and hotel, thereby showing that the event was one of rare occurrence. There were no vehicles in the streot itself save a lumbar ing oart containing market produce and the doctor's trap whioh stood at the doctor's door. A few people sauntered along the pavement in a listless fashion, and the whole aspect of the pl&oe was one of decay and desertion. But for the preBenoe of shop keepers and pedestrians, few though thoy were, Tait could almost have imagined him self in some deserted mining township on the

Oalifornianooast.

The priumpal hotel faced one side oi a melanoholy square, and was called "The Royal Victoria," out of compliment to the reigning monarch. It wee a large barraok, with staring windows, and a (light of white steps leading up to a deserted hall. No busy waiters, no genial landlord or buxom barmaid, not even the eound of cheerful voioes. Osts slept ou the stops and fowls cluoked in the square, while a melancholy waiter, peering out of the window, put the finishing toualito the lamentable dreariness of the aoene. The

sign "Royal Victoria" should have been re moved out of very shame, aud the word "Iohabod" written up in its place. The land lord was lacking in humour to let things re

main as they were.

However, Tait, being hungry and dusty and tired, consoled himself with the reflection that it was at all events an hotel, and speedily found himself the sole oooupant of the dining room, attended to by the melanoholy waiter. The viandB provided were by no means bad, and the wine was undeniably good ; and small wonder, seeing it had been in the aellars for a quarber of a oentury for want of some one to drink it. This faot was confided .to Tait by his Bad Ganymede.

"we uaea to see a sight of oompany hers,

said this elderly person when he appeared with the olaret, "but, bless you, it's like Babylon the fallen now, Sir. You're the first gentleman as I have seen here for a week."

"Shouldn't think it would pay to keep the hotel open."

?'It don't, Sir,"replied the waiter with con viction, "but master is well off—made hie money in the days when Sorriston was Hor riston, and keeps this plaoe as a sort of hobby. We have a club here in the evenings, Sir, and that makes things a bit lively."

"Have you been here long?" a»ked Tait,

noticing how grey and wrinkled was this ' despondent servitor. 1

"Over thirty years, Sir," responded Gany mede, with a sigh as though the memory was too muoh for him ; "man and boy I've been here thirty years."

" I'm glad of that. You'ro the man I want. Got a good memory ?"

" Pretty good, sir. Not that there's muoh to remember." and he sighed again.

" H'm, Have you any recollection of a murder which took p'aoe at 'The Laurels' twenty-five years ago V"

"That I have, Sir," said the waitor, with faint animation; " it was tho talk of tho oouutry. Oaptain Larcher, wasn't it, Sir, and his wife, a sweetly pretty woman. She was aoeused of the murder. 1 think ; but she didn't do it. No, nor Mr. Jeringham either, though some people think he did 'uause he cleared out. And small blame to bun when tbey were after hiin like roaring lions."

" Do you remember Jeringham';"

"I should think so, Sir. Why, he stooped in this very hotel, he did. As kind and affable a gentlemen as I ever met, Sir. lie killed Captain Larcher! Not he ! no more than did the wife, poor thing. Now I have my own opinion," said the wise person, significantly, " but I didn't take to it for five years aftor the murder. As you might say twenty years ago, Sir."

"Woo do you think oommitted the orioie, then?" asked Tait, rather impressed by the

men's manner.

The waiter looked around, with the enjoy able air of a man about to impart a pieoe of startling information, and bent across tbe table to ooinmnnioate it to Tait. " Denia Bantry was the man, Sir," he said solemnly ;

"Oantain Laroher'a valet."

" Nonsense! What makes you think that?" "I don't think it, Sir. I know it. Tf yon don't believe me, go to • The Laurels' and ask tbe old gardener, Diok Pental. He saw it," finished the waiter, in a tragio whiaper.

" Saw what ? The murder? " said Tait, with

a startled look.

"Yes, Sir. He «aw the murder. I heard it all from him, I did; I forget the exact story he told ins. But D inis Bantry shnuld have been hanged, Sir. Oh, there isn't tbe least doubt about it. Sir

"But if thin D ck Pental raw the orime oommitted, why did he not oorne forward and

tell about it?"

"Well, eir, it wae thie way," said Gany mede, dusting the table with hie napkin. "Dink ain't all there. Not to be too delioate,

Sir, Dink'e m'd. He was alway a softy from a. boy, not that he's old now, Sir. Forby-Gvo, I believe, and he was twenty years of age when he was in Captain Laroher'a service."

V A.nd is he at' The Laurels' still ?"

"Why, yes, sir. You see, after the murder, no one would take the house. They thought it hannted maybe, so Diok was put in as oara taker. He looked after it for twenty years, and then it was taken by a gentleman who didn't oare for murdera or ghoats. He's there now, sir, and so is Diok, who still looks after the garden."

''But why didn't Dick relate what .he caw?'--,

"Beoause of his softness, sir," said the waiter/, deliberately. " You see; .Diok had been put into a lunatic asylnrn, he had, - just before he oame of age. Captain Laroher—a kind gentleman/sir—took him out, and,made him gardener at 'The Laurel*,'eo when Diok law the murder done he wae afraid to apeak, in oaaehe should be iooked up again. No head, you see, sir. So he held hie tongue, be did, and only told me fire years after the murder. Then it was too late, for all thoBB.who were at 'The Laurel*'on that night had disappeared. You don't happen to know where Denie Bantry is, sir, do you?—for he ought to hang, air; indeed he ought."

Tsit did not think it wise.to take this blood thirsty waiter into hie oonfidenoe, hut re warded him with half-a-sorereign for hie in formation, and retired to bed to think the matter over. He was startled by this new disoovery, whioh seemed to indioate Denie Bantry, alias Korry, as the assassin, and wondered if he had been wrong ail through in suspecting Hillieton. Yet if Kerry had oou mitted the orime Tait saw no,reason why Hil lieton should protect him, ae he was evidently doing. Assuming that the waiter had spoken correctly, the only ground on whioh Tait oould explain Hillieton'« oondnet was that Mrs. Larober was implioatad with' the old"

?ervant in the murder. If Kerry were . arrested he. might oonfeea eufiioient to entaugle Mrs. Laroher; and as Hil listou loved the woman, ft fact of whioh Tait was certain, he would not like to run so great » risk to her liberty. But this reasoning was upset by the reraeinbranoe that Mrs. Laroher had already been tried and acquitted of the crime ; and, as accord mg to law she oould not be tried twice on tho same obarge, she was safo in any oass. Tait was bewildered by bis own thoughts. The kaleidosoope had shifted again ; the combinations were different, but the component parts were the same; and, argue ae he might, there eeemed noaolution of the myetery. Mrs, Larohor, Denie Bantry, his eiBter, Hillieton, and Mark Jeringham ;

who had killed the unfortunate husband ? i Tait oould find no answer to this perplexing question.

In the morning he walked to "The Laurels," which be had no diftioulty in finding owing to the explioib direotione of his friend

the waiter. It was a pretty low-roofed house j

on a slight rise near the river, and built

somewhat after the fashion of a bungalow, j

The gardens eloped to the river bank on one side, and on the other were sheltered from inland winds by a belt of syoamore-trees. In front a light iron railing divided them from the road, whioh ran past the house on its way to the ferry. The gardenB were some three aores in extent, very pretty and pioturesque, showing at every turn that whatever might be the mental state of Dick Pental, he was thorough master of his business. Tait oame into ooutaot with him in a abort spaoe of time through the medium of the housekeeper.

Thie individual was a sour old maid, who informed him with eome aoerbity that Mr. Deemer, the present oooupant of " The Laurels," was away from home, and without his permission she oould not show him the house. Perhaps she suspected Tait's errand, for Bhe looked suspioiouBly at him, and reso lutely refused to let him cross the threshold. However, are oonoession, she said he oould inspect the grounds, whioh were well worth seeing; and called Diok Pantel to show him round. As Tait had really no great desire to see the interior of the house, where he would learn nothing likely to be of sorvioe, and a great desire to speak alone with the mad gardener, be thankfully aooepted the offer, and was then thrown into the oompany of the very man whom he most desired to see.

Dick Pental was a slender bright-eyed man, with a dreamy-looking faoe, alert in bis move ments and restless with his bands and feet. He did not seem unintelligent; but the germs of madness were plainly discernible, and Tait guessed that only hie oonBtant life in the open air kept him from returning to the asylum whenoe he had been taken by Oaptain Laroher. With justifiable pride this queer oreature showed Tait over the grounds, bub never by word or deed did be hiut at the story whioh he had told the waiter. Still hopeful Tait led the conversation in that direction, and finally suooeeded in touohing the spring in the man's brain, which made him relate the whole matter. The opportunity occurred when the two men were standing on a slight rise overlooking the river. Here Tait made-a remark ooncerningthe view.

11 What a peaceful Boene," ho said, waving his stick towards the prospect. " Corn lands, farmhouses, the square-towered Ohurob, and the ferry ornssing the placid river. I oan imagine nothing more homely, or so oharged with pleasant memories. Here all is peaoe and quiet, uo trouble, no danger, no orimes."

Diok thoughtfully rubbed the half-orcwn given him by Tait, aud looked dreamily at river and sky, and opposite shore. To his ab normally aotive brain the scene looked diffe red to what it did to this stranger; and he could not forbear alluding to the faot. More over, the gentleman had given him money, and Diok wae greedy, so in the expectation of ex tracting another coin he hinted that he oould tell a startling story about this very plaoe.

" Ain't you fond of murders, sir?" he asked abruptly, turning his bright eyes on Tait.

" No, I don't think I am," replied the other, delighted to think he had suooeeded in rousing the man's dormant intelligence. " Why do you ask. Murder iB an ugly word, aud oan have nothing to do with so peaceful a eoene ae this."

"Than all yon know. Sir, said Diok eagerly. "Why I oould tell yon of » murder as I seed myself in this very spot where we are now—or only a few yards from it, Sir."

Tait glanoed at his watoh with an affeotation of hurry, and shook hie head, ?" I am afraid I can't wait," he said artfully. " I must return to llorrieton in a few minutes."

"It won't take longer nor that to tell Why I've told it ;n tea minutes, I have. It's a I'1

freezer to the blood." A murder at night, too," added Diok in an agony lost Tait should go away, " with a lanteru and a corpse—just like you read in novels."

" IIm 1" observed Tait scepbioally, not yet being sureof themau. " Is it true

" Trne as gospsl, Sir. I wouldn't tell a lie, I would'nt. I've been brought up Methody, you know, Sir, and eoorna falsehood asa snare of the old 'un. You make it worth Dick'e

while, Sir, and he'll give you goose flesh. o^,

that he will."

Vory good,"said Tait, throwing himself oh tlie sward. "I don't mind hearing the legend of this plaoe. If it is as good as you say, I'll give you half a sovereign."

"In gold?" asked Dick, with grasping

eagerness.

"la bright gold. See! here is the half sovereign. You tell the story and it is yours. Now then what is it all about?"

Dick Puntal sat down beside Tait, but at some disbanoe away, and ohuokled as he rubbed his hands. He had a ohanoe of making twelve-and-sixpence that morning, and was overjoyed at bis good fortune. Resolved to begin with a startling remark, he gUnoed dawn to see that they were alone, and then brought it out.

"I oould"Jiang-* man, I oould," he uid cheerfully. "I oould hang him (ill he free a .deader." . . y