Chapter 162353681

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleAN UNFORESEEN TRAGEDY.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162353681
Full Date1899-01-07
Page Number43
Corrections0
Word Count2381
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Red-Headed Man
article text

THE NOVELIST.

THE RED-HEADED MAN.

BY FERGUS HUME,

Author of "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab,'' "The Clock Struck One," "The "Rain

bow Feather/' "Madame Midas," 'Monsieur Judas," &c.

DABREL LOOKED, AND . , • , BEHELD THE RED-HEADED MAN STONE DEAD.

CHAPTER L—AN UNFORESEEN TRA

GEDY,

I'rank Darrel was a young man ol twenty-five, with a sufficiency of good looks, and a comfortahle income of five hundred a year. Also, by way of employing hie spare time, he was a realistic novelist of a particularly new school, founded upon the axiom that fact invariably poaches on the domain of fiction. He neither conceived nor adapted, but set down actual details of the life around him with so rigid an ad herence to the truth that his published works read like police reports rewritten in decent English. In a word, lie held the mirror up to nature, and presented the i-e fi-.ction, beautiful or ugly, to the criticism of the British public.

To preach thoroughly liis gospel of art, as lie conceived it, Barrel lived in London, that microcosm o-f life in all its phases, good, bad, and indifferent. Usually lie worked in the morning, slept in the after noon, amused,himself in the evening, and dovoied the night from 12 to 5 to exploring - the deeps of the metropolitan ocean. In a

disguise of decent poverty more threadbare than ragged, this enthusiast would exploit the dark corners of the Strand, penetrate into Whitechapel slums, and explore the least known recesses of the city. On occa sion he would view the West-End and its civilized vices by gaslight, make expeditions into suburbs of known respectability, and, when weary of observing middle-class vir tue, would liaunt less reputable districts in search of character and adventure. All his gleanings were then transmuted into vigorous prose, and figured, under pictures que titles, as novels of fact improved into fiction. This method of changing the com monplace into the romantic was adopted by one Honore de Balzac, with a result known to all the intellectual world. Bar rel, with less genius than persevering ob servation, was a disciple of that great man.

One evening, late in the summer of last year, Darrel, disguised as a respectable me chanic, found himself observing humanity within the narrow limits of Drury-lane. The hour of midnight had just boomed in twelve strokes from the towers of near (jiliurohes, ? and the ragged, hoarse-voiced crowd was beginning to thin into scattered groups. Vendors of various wares had ex tinguished their flaring lights, and were wheeling home their barrows. Playgoers, chattering about their evening's pleasure.,

wore disappearing into side streets: shops j being closed; hotelkeepers were driving j

forth late customers more or less intoxi cated; and the whole machinery of the quarter's civilization was running down vapidly, to stop altogether somewhere about the small hours of the morning. Frank, with a short pipe in iris mouth, and a keen eye in his head stood observinglv at a cor ner, and took note of this slackening."" It

was at this moment that his attention was attracted to a red-headed man.

This^individual was tall and stout. He was dressed in a seedy suit of greasy broad oblh; and his head and beard were a vio lent red. lie seemed restless and ill at easb, passed and repassed young Darrel, looked into the window of a still open shop, glanced at a near policeman with obvious nervousness, and conducted himself so un comfortably that the novelist began to

watch him.

hat fellow wants to do something,'

he thought, "and can't make up his mind to take the first step. H'111! Maybe a crimi nal matter occupies his thoughts. I'll keep my f ye on him."

shortly the red-headed man walked pas rod Frank with a resolute air, and dis appeared down a dark alley to the left. Barrel, after some hesitation, was about to follow, when the creature returned, and again began his restless wanderings in the more populated lane. Once or twice, lie pan rod near the policeman, as though wish ing to ask him some question, and once or

twice liis heart so failed him that he turned away, with a look of anxiety. Then lie caught sight of Barrel, and advanced diiccflv towards him; but again flinched and willed away. At once interested and puzzled, Frank turned to observe the shop window, but in the meantime watched the red-headed man out of the corner of his eye. The fellow's appearance and beha viour promised an adventure.

For the third time this vacillating indi vidual stepped up to the policeman and al most opened liis mouth to speak; but before he cculd bring himself to utter a word he shrank, away and took his stand at the shop window next to Frank. The young man, apparently indifferent, out of diplo macy, became aware that be was being scrutinized; and judged that the man was debating the advisability of speaking to htm. The next moment his judgment proved correct.

"1 beg your pardon," whispered the red haired man in husky tones, "but'could y.ou tell me the whereabouts of Mortality-laneV"

"It is close at hand," replied Frank readily, "I'll take you there if you like."

. "Thank you, no," said the other hur riedly; "just tell me where;—

"I can't explain," answered Darrel, cut

ting him short. "You would not be able to , find it in this network of streets. If you j don't trust me, ask that policeman to guide i yotn"

38

The man winced, and drew a quick breath, then looked again at Frank. "You are an educated man,"' said he—"a geutle

"I might say the same of you," rejoined Darrel, who had noted the relined accent of the man, "but that is neither here nor there, Mortality-lane is to the left. Good niglit, sir."

"Stay, stay!" cried the red-headed man as Darrel moved away. ''I trust you; please guide me to the place."

Ever sparing of words, Frank nodded and turned down a side, street, followed by his companion, who walked beside him in a cat-like way. In the narrow street there was hut scant light, as the gas lamps were few and far between; still, the luminosity •of the summer night revealed to Darrel that his companion kept at a respectful distance, and had his right hand in the breast of his seedy coat. Evidently lie'was nervous of his guide, and feared a sudden assault in some dark corner. From this obvious fear Darrel concluded tjhat his companion was not a criminal; and, moreover, that he car

ried some valuables about him which lie dreaded might be stolen. On further re flection, the novelist decided that the red headed man was a disguised gentleman, wlio was venturing into strange places and stranger company on some disreputable er rand. Darrel wondered what his purpose might be, but did not think it advisable to ask questions; nor, as he mentally ad mitted, had he the right to do so. _

The two men walked onward in silence, the one a little in advance of the other. Turning down one street, crossing a second, walking up a third, they at length emerged into a small open space in which stood three four-wheeled cabs. Opposite the first of these, oil the further side of the square, as it might be called, there was a narrow alley, and to this Darrel pointed. ~

"Yonder is Mortality-lane," lie said, "but' it is not a very safe place for a single per son. If you like, I'll go down"

"No, no," interrupted the red - headed man, eagerly. "You have shown me where it is—that is all I wish to know."

"Are you not going down the lane?" asked Darrel, in surprise.

"Oil the contrary, I am going home." re plied the man—then adding in a.n abrupt tone, "Good-night," lie walked towards the first cab and spoke a few words to the driver. Darrel saw that he gave the cab man some money, then disappeared into tihe cab, closing the door after him. For two or three minutes the driver occupied him self in taking tile blanket off his horse and adjusting the harness. Then he mounted i.lie box and drove off' slowly in tjlie direc tion of the Strand.

At once Darrel felt a strong desire to asc-eitain the reimon of the red - headed man's strange behaviour. Almost without thinking he crossw4.over to the second cab and opened the door.

"Follow that first cab," said he to the driver, "and I'll give you half a sove reign."

"Hullo," replied .the man, noting suspi ciously the dress of his fare, "wot's yer little game?"

"Police business worth half a sovereign," was Darrel's diplomatic reply.

"Bliimne, that's all right, sir," said 1;he driver, accepting this explanation with alacrity. "Jump in, an' I'll ketch up t'other keb in two shakes."

Confident that the driver would earn his money, Darrel lay back on the cushions, and wondered what; would be the outcome of his pursuit. That the red-headed man should have turned away- at the very goal towards which he had requested guidance was most extraordinary. If lie had no special business in Mortality-lane, why liad lie enquired for it? And if he had a reason for going, and his reason was an innocent one, why did he not ask the police man in Drury-lane instead of applying to a complete stranger? Frank, ever on the alert for romance, asked himse<i these ques tions, but could find 110 answer to them. However, he hoped to gratify his curiosity when he caught up with the stranger who was tihe cause of it—provided the stranger was willing to afford an explanation.

The cab—presumably following the other vehicle—drove down Bell-street, and turned into the Strand, now almost emptied of traffic. It lolled along the thoroughfare as far as Trafalgar - square, then turned down Northumberland-avenue, passed along fclie Embankment, and up Arundel - street into the Strand again. Darrel was greatly puzzled by' this circular route—the more so when he found his cab driving up Drury lane. Then a sudden thought struck him.

"The red-headed man fancied I was watching him," he said to himself, "and drove away to get rid of me. I should not be surprised if the first cab, with him in side, returns to the entrance to Mortality

lane." •

This proved to he the case, for, following almost the same route as he had conducted the stranger, the first fourwheeler drove into the little square and took up its old station at the mouth of the lane. By this time the third cab left behind bad dis appeared.

"'Ere y'are, sir3" said Darm s linver, | opening the door.: "We've both, come back 'ome an' never stopped the whole bloomin' time. ' Carn't mek out wot 'Eniy's fare's bin arter." ...

; Frank, .as puzzled as the cabman, jumped | out, and,1 walking to the first vehicle, 1 looked inside. To liis surprise, the red headed man had vanished.

"Wofs wrong with moy keb, mister," said the gruff voice of the driver.

"The man—the man with red hair?"—en quired the amazed Darrel.

"Oh, 'e'4 all right., JYon't y' fret yerself about 'iip- Wot y' poll-pryin' 'ere for,

"Ye'd best taike care, 'Enry," remarked | the other cabman, sauntering up. "This

gent's to do with the perliee." j

The insolence of Henry gave place at j once to respect. "Didn't know you was a 1 'tec, sir. Might the cove with carrots be I wanted ?" I

"He might be," said Darrel, not thinking i it wise to disclaim the profession attributed j to him by the two, cabmen. "When and j where did he get out?" I

"Well, y' see, sir, he were never in, so to speak."

"What do you mean?"

"'Twas this way, sir. The carrots cove conies 'ere, an' sez—'A man'—you, sir—"e's follerin' me. I'll give y' five bob to let me pass through yer keb an' down thet there lane. Then,' sez he, 'jes y' drive orf an' drive back, an' y' can pick me up and taike me 'ome,' bo while 1 was taiking the blangit orf he whips in at one door, an' out of t'other, and down thet lane like mad. I drives orf, an' larfs when I sees you was follerin'. bo e're I am back agin t' pick 'im up: but I don't see the bloomin' cove," concluded Henry, with a glance round.

It was with great amazement that Darrel listened to the story of the cabman. Strange indeed must have been the errand of the red-haired man to Mortality-lane when lie was so suspicious of a stranger and took sucli elaborate precautions against discovery. The word discovery no sooner Hashed into Darrei's brain than he repeated it aloud. Discovery of what? With, perhaps, unpardonable euribsity, Frank made up his mind to acquaint lnmseif at all costs with the reasons of the man's strange conduct.

"Well," said lie, in reply to Henry, "I'll wait here with you until this man re appears."

j "Y'll wait by yerself, then," said Henry, I getting on his box. "It's past one o'clock,

an', fare or no fare, I aint a-goin' to stay all night."

When lie drove off Darrel was left alone with the other cabman, and turned towards him in some perplexity. "Are you going, too?" he asked.

. "ies, sir. Moy missus '11 be expecting me." replied the man; "but," he added, taking down one of the cab lamps, "if y' think the gent's in that lane, I'll go down with yer, an' look him up. Then 1 can driv e y' both t' How-street."

Willi great alacrity Frank assented to this, and they went down the middle of the lane. As the gaslamps were few, the cab man flashed the light be carried from right 1o left. Mortality-lane is not very long, and

they were s-jon close to the end where it opens into Lincoln's Inn Fields. Here the cabman uttered an oath as be stumbled over a body. Jfanel looked, and in the circle of light cast by the carriage candle beheld the red-haired man stone dead with an ugly wound over the heart.