EVENING has set in over the city of Edinburgh. All down the broad clean streets the lights twinkle and wink at each other through the blue, dim twilight, and every here and there in the Old Town round the Grassmarket some solitary candle sheds its yellow glare out of a twelfth story window, like a proud patriarchal Eye looking down superciliously on the lower luminaries of modern creation.
There is a great deal of bustle and confusion at the railway station, for the last and most important train of the day is about to start on its southward journey, and travellers, luggage, and colis de voyage are pouring in upon the scene of preparation from all quarters.
Rep, who since we last saw him, has regaled himself with a frugal symposium at the “Caledonian,” is here now, standing apart from the scufflers, and so intensely engaged in a minute inspection of the second-class ticket for London, which he had just taken, that he does not notice how narrow an examination is being made of his own personal appearance by a stranger lolling against the opposite wall, in seedy-looking costume, with gloveless hands plunged wrist-deep in his pockets, and a dissipated white tie clinging limply about his neck, curiously suggesting the idea of its having been up all night. "Take him for all in all,” as the immortal one remarks upon a different subject, you will hardly look upon the like of this particular individual again in any novel relative to modern existence, for the man is a remarkable anomaly. He is not the sallow lantern-jawed, hungry jackal that a back view of his person might suggest, but very much to the contrary; handsome and youthful enough to please the most fastidious Venus, and if the robing of his outer man could but be entrusted to artistic hands, the result would doubtless be an especially dangerous one for the impressionable heart of the Paphian goddess.
But if the Immortal One aforesaid is correct when he observes elsewhere that the apparel oft proclaims the man, it would be a curious problem to determine what sort of a man it proclaims in this particular instance. Primo – a long rusty coat, closely buttoned from the chin to the waist; shall we therefore infer that the wearer, not being a pampered child of Fortune, has recently committed some conventional inner garment to the temporary custody of an avuncular relative? Secundo – a pair of pantaloons, ragged round the tops of the boots, and baggy at the knees, generally suggestive of nothing but contemptuous disregard of elegance and sullen compliance with the requisitions of modern purists; shall we surmise upon this evidence that our new acquaintance is not liable to poetic frenzies on the subject of the Beautiful, and that his sense of moral rectitude is scarcely acute? Tertio – the dissipated necktie before noticed, which might indicate either a convivial parson, a young curate just out of his first sermon, or an itinerant waiter of the greengrocer genus, retiring to his domestic circle after an evening of severe professional exertion, passed in a hot dining-room during the height of the dog-days. And the crowning object of all the rest is an old silk chimney-hat of the penultimate fashion, garnished economically with an expansive cloth band, as though by way of mourning for other garments, of the same ancient family that had been and were not.
Rep’s valise lies at its owner’s feet, newly decorated with a small card fastened conspicuously above the hasp of the lock, and bearing in very legible characters a notification to the effect that the property thus distinguished appertains at this time present to Mr. Smith. This fact the solitary gentleman opposite Rep has duly digested, but either because he is struck with the singularity of the patronymic itself, or because he takes it ill of Rep that he is not somebody else, his observant eyes continue obstinately fixed upon his unconscious vis-à-vis, as though he were endeavouring to identify every particle and shred of Mr. Smith’s attire, from the centre tuft of his Scotch bonnet to the heels of his patent leather boots. In his natural man this inquisitive neighbour of Rep’s is not unlike Rep himself. Both
are tall beyond the ordinary standard, both have dark, curly hair, and brown eyes; and perhaps if the stranger’s face were better acquainted with saponacious and aquatic applications, both might have the same clear blond complexion. Probably, too, there is not really the disparity of age between the two young men that might at first be supposed, only that whereas the physiognomy of the unknown is stamped in every line with the image and superscription of the world’s current coinage, the face of the fugitive aristocrat is virgin gold, pur et simple, no alloy as yet has entered into its composition, no conventional die has struck suspicion or artificiality upon its fair, smooth surface. Now Rep being naturally somewhat anxious for the hour of his departure from Edinburgh, yields to that foolish curiosity customary with persons in a hurry, who, by way of hastening the progress of the Winged One, consult the oracular powers. His watch is in requisition, and out it comes accordingly. But Mr. Smith’s gold repeater, unlike the luggage of Mr. Smith, displays upon its outer case, not the ordinary floral design or unpretentious monogram that might reasonably have been expected to adorn the metallic possessions of so humble an individual, but an engraven combination of certain initials, among which the pseudonymous “S” has no part, which initials are not only fearfully and wonderfully interwoven, but are further surmounted by an unmistakable pictorial allusion to the coronet of a noble house. All of which inharmonious details, as being connected with and involving the centre of the strangers’s observation, are duly and silently appreciated by that astute spectator, and mentally digested by aid of the outward and visible accompaniment of a portion of very strong and unsavoury tobacco, imbibed through a huge meerschaum, on the expansive bowl of which is exhibited a medallion visage of sagacious lineaments, strikingly suggestive of the larger face behind it done to a mulatto.
But Mr. Smith, scenting the atrocious fumes of this noxious narcotic, waves his hand to disperse the objectionable vapour, and shifts his position slightly to be out of its reach; another evidence of fastidiously cultivated taste, which the smoker duly estimates.
By-and-by the Babel in the noisier part of the station culminates in the savage and violent and tintinnabulation of a monstrous dinner-bell, and much fierce reiteration of the fact that the mail train is about to start for a curious variety of places, whose distinctive appellations it is amazingly difficult to determine even after repeated hearings. Hereupon, the strange young man removes the meerschaum from his lips, taps the bowl downwards against the side of the wall, stirs out the clinging contents with his penknife, pockets both instruments, and lounges on to the platform, whence Rep is already to be seen stepping with exemplary celerity into a second-class compartment near the end of the train. The hybrid stranger pauses, jerking in his hand a small, battered portmanteau, and eyeing the struggling passengers till they have all drifted past the carriage in which Rep has chosen to locate himself, and surged up to the fore-part of the train. Then, sauntering nonchalantly towards Mr. Smith's compartment, the unknown opens the door slowly, chucks his portmanteau upon the seat, and throws himself after it with the same cool air, closing the door just as the red-eyed engine, with a scream like an ogre in a fit, pants it way out of the Edinburgh station. Rep congratulates himself. So far at least his incognito has succeeded, and a whole day’s flight is safely accomplished. To-morrow night he will be in Paris.
“Your name’s Smith, I see?” says the stranger, with abrupt familiarity; nodding confidentially as he speaks at the label upon Rep’s valise. The voice is strangely unlike the face, so wonderfully harsh and coarse in its untutored intonation, that even had the question itself been less startling, the very sound of its utterance would have disturbed the most uninterested listener. Rep changes colour. Vague surmises concerning the national habits and customs of detective police rush into his mind, for this peculiar method of opening a conversation is, to say the least of it, embarassing.
“Yes,” says he, as carlessly as possible. Then by way of returning the compliment in kind, he adds with some touch of asperity:
“Jones,” returns the laconic stranger, with as little surprise and hesitation
as though this were the identical inquiry he had been constantly answering from infancy.
“Oh,” rejoins Rep, rather feebly, for want of that more appropriate remark which does not suggest itself.
There is silence for some time after this little bit of verbal fencing, and the train flies on southward. Then the man in the dissipated tie leads off again upon a new round.
“You’re quite sure your name’s Smith, aren’t you?” he asks, pointing the question straight into Rep’s eyeballs with a quick, bird-like jerk of his head, and a sharp glance out of his own beady orbs.
“Quite,” rejoins Rep, all his former discomfiture returning with redoubled strength. “Why?”
He is in so much trepidation now that he almost chokes himself with the enquiry, and the stranger grins at him in sardonic delight.
“All right,” he replies, coolly.” Because mine ain’t Jones.”
“Not Jones!” falters Rep, a prey to all manner of awful terrors.
“Nor anything like it,” returns the strange man, decisively.
“Then why did you tell me it was?” inquires Rep, not unnaturally for he is beginning to lose a little of his discomposure now in a sense of rising indignation at so much gratuitous impertinence.
“Because,” answers the other again, actually winking upon his fellow-traveller, “I thought one good turn deserved another. By the by,” he continues, taking out the meerschaum once more, and striking a fusee on the heel of his boot, “you don’t smoke, do you?”
Rep is strongly tempted in his reply to be personal towards the quality of the stranger’s tobacco, but he restrains the words on his lips, and contents himself with a brief negative.
“Thought not,” says the stranger, coolly. “Hope you won’t mind me.” Then after a little pause of unctuous enjoyment,
“You’re going to London, of course – right away?” This is said so decisively that it sounds more like an assertion than an enquiry, and Rep instinctively conscious of the fact, proffers no answer. “Well,” continues the smoker, puffing out his information in sudden splenetic detachments,
“I ain’t, I’m going to Liverpool, ‘cause I’m due for America.”
At this period Rep cannot help committing himself to a marginal comment on the excellence of the arrangement, and the highly satisfactory result it is likely to ensure to all parties concerned in the translation. Another pause and a longer one, until the pipe is smoked out and consigned again to the place from whence it came. Then, after some forty miles of silence, as though no time had elapsed since the last words of this desultory conversation were uttered, the strange man resumes familiarly: “Yes, America’s my destination, Suppose you’re off to the continent, my lord?” Mr. Smith is aghast. Indefinite ideas of ringing a bell somewhere, and calling for some impossible assistance flash across his mind, and he almost rises from his seat in the excess of his agitation. Who can this insolent – this imperturbable – this inquisitive – this presumptuous fellow be? Is he a clairvoyant? Is he connected with Scotland-yard? Is he an escaped felon – a truant debtor – a criminal flying from detection? Well, Rep, the last guess is the nearest to the truth. For, reader mine, as it is always embarrassing to be introduced to the society of any individual whom you do not know by name, and as the stranger now under discussion, for certain reasons which will appear hereafter, is not very likely personally to furnish enquirers with information concerning his Christian and ancestral designations, it may be as well to assume professional omniscience on the subject, and predicate before further proceeding with this veracious history, that the gentleman now occupying so large a share of Rep’s attention, is the expanding flower of a promising blossom, reared some five years since with other delicate blooms of the same attractive species, in the hothouses of a theological college which shall be anonymous; and that, though in fact he may answer to a world of aliases, the only name to which he can claim a legal right is that of the Reverend Romeo Golightly. Now, it happens that this young gentleman of the cloth, during the two hours which have passed since his first acquaintance with Rep, has been resolving beneath his hat a little scheme of considerable interest, in the details of which his compagnon de voyage holds a prominent part. But delicacy of mind is hardly a
component element in the peculiar organisation of the fugitive ecclesiastic, and it is not in his experience to be greatly troubled with embarrassment upon any such question of “give and take,” as that which at present occupies his thoughts. So he walks into his subject with characteristic coolness, and perceiving the telling effect produced by his last venturous shot, follows up the advantage without loss of time.
“Don’t make yourself uneasy, Smith,” says he, lolling composedly across the whole length of the umpartitioned seat, and looking askant at the dismayed expression upon Rep’s countenance. “Think you said your name was Smith, didn’t you? More like another breed, though, from my point o’ view. ‘Fraid they’ll leg you, Smith, before you’ve done with Babylon. Look here, advice of a friend you know, Smith; that get-up of yours isn’t good for your little game. Devilish bad, in fact. I’m out of the country to-morrow morning. You’re off to Paris. Hair’s dark and curly. So’s mine. Eyes brown. So are mine. Figure’s tall. So’s this child’s. Chuck those togs of yours over here, get inside these instead, and give up that bad habit of washing that you’ve contracted, for a few days, What d’ye say, Smith?”
But Smith was too much astonished to say anything at present. ”This rascal,” he ruminates, “must be flying from his creditors. He wants to get me taken up by mistake in his place. But suppose they should really spot me in London? This fellow knows me evidently – knew me at once – why should others be less clever than he? It would be so ignominious, so annoying to be taken back to Kelpies like a runaway schoolboy. After that letter to Roy, too! Who can this scamp be?”
The voice of the eccentric stranger breaks in upon his musings with its ordinary suddeness and pertinence. “Don’t trust me. I see,” it says: ”Natural, no doubt. But I ain’t in trouble. I’m off ‘cause I’ve come into some property that other people think I’ve no right to. Old boy’s died and left his little bit of cash to me, and nephew’s cut up rough about it. That’s a fact. All the same. Keep your togs.”
They fly on in silence again through the darkness of the growing night. Rep drops the carriage-window softly, and peers out into the bleak open
air. There is no moon, no starlight, only a great looming mass of black cumuli, piled up like a range of phantom hills across the wide horizon; only sudden white puffs of steam from the engine that fly, glinting past the wheels, and fade swiftly in the darkness behind the rushing train. They are nearing a station now, the speed is slackening; slower, slower. They must have gone a long way! How far now?
“Think this must be my station,” says Rep’s companion, answering the unspoken query with curious appropriateness.” Preston? Yes.”
He shakes himself together with the words, and runs his fingers lightly through the rumpled curls of his hair. Slower still. Rep quivers all over with trepidation and anxiety.
“Look here!” he cries desperately, “Do you really think they’ll spot me in London?”
“Not a doubt of it,” returns the other with ready conclusiveness.
“Here, then!” cries Rep, tearing off his Scotch cap, and hurling it on the opposite seat; “make haste! I’ll exchange! Where’s your coat?” Mr. Golightly is quite ready with that and with anything else that may be required of him. “Keep your bags, eh?” inquires he, as he jerks on the upper part of the viscount’s costume. “All right. No apologies. Let’s have a look at that gold clock of yours with the crown on the outside. Find another in my pocket. ‘Taint marked, mine ain’t."
There is a sudden gleam of lamplight through the window, a confusion of voices outside, a sharp slamming and clicking of doors and the hurly-burly of hurrying porters shouting indistinguishably the name of the station. “Hi!” shouts the clerical reprobate thrusting his bonneted curls out of the window. “Here you are! Open this door. Preston! Ta, ta, Smith!” He leaps arily on to the platform, the yellow flickering gaslight flares full in his handsome, leery face for an instant, and the next he is gone; and the train plunges on again with a shriek and a snort, and sweeps down into the solitary darkness, and the gloomy void of southern night.