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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 27. Fellow-Criminals
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The Survivor - Chapter 27. Fellow-Criminals Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1071

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The Survivor - Chapter 27. Fellow-Criminals

CHAPTER XXVII. FELLOW-CRIMINALS

"Stand precisely as you are, Douglas Guest. If you turn your head, or take a single step towards me, you are a dead man."

Douglas was not a coward, and the sound of a human voice dispelled in a moment the vague fears which had caused his heart to leap. He remained immovable.

"Under those circumstances," he answered steadily, "I can assure you that I have not the slightest intention of moving. Who are you, and what do you want with me?"

A hard little laugh. Again the click of a revolver.

"I want from you several things. First of all, and most important, the address of the writer of that letter which you have just been reading."

"That's precisely," Douglas said, "what I should like to know myself. The lady does not give it."

"You are very near death, Douglas Guest. Her address?

"I am not in the habit of swearing," Douglas answered, "but upon my oath it is not in this letter. Upon my oath I do not know it."

He caught the sound of a sob, but when he would have turned his head there came again the sharp click of the revolver and an angry exclamation from his unseen adversary.

"Stand as you are. If by chance you should see my face I will shoot you. I have killed men before, and I have no love for you."

Then Douglas knew that his assailant, if not a lunatic, was surely verging upon madness. He looked towards the door--the distance was too far. No answer occurred to him which seemed discreet, so he remained silent.

"As to her state of health, Douglas Guest. She has been ill."

"I know nothing save that she is better."

"Have you seen her since?"

"You were with her when she was taken ill?"

"I was," Douglas answered.

"You know the circumstances?"

"I know," Douglas said, "that she was the victim of a cowardly and infamous attempt at assassination."

There came a mocking little laugh. Douglas never turned his head, but he felt instinctively that his life was in danger--that a finger was laid upon the trigger of that revolver.

"You are a brave man, Douglas Guest."

"Braver at least," Douglas answered, "than the man who shoots at women and runs away."

There was the sound of a scornful laugh, a step upon the floor. His unbidden guest was coming from out of the shadows.

"You need fear no longer. I am known to you, I see. I have put my revolver away. You and I will talk for a while."

Douglas turned round with a little breath of relief. Yes, it was the man whom he had expected to see, pale as death, with sunken eyes encircled with deep, black lines, one little spot of colour flaring on his cheeks, shabbily dressed, yet carrying in his personality still the traces of refinement. He dropped into the one easy chair, and Douglas watched him half fascinated.

"You have become" he continued, leaning his head upon his bony fingers, "a man of letters, I believe. I congratulate you. You have stepped into the whirlpool from which no man can retrace his steps. Yet even this is better, is it not, than the Methodism? You were not cut out, I think, for a parson."

"Never mind me and my affairs," Douglas said hoarsely. "I want to have nothing to do with you. I wish you no harm--only I beg that you will leave this room, and that I may never see you again."

The newcomer did not move.

"That is all very well, Mr. Guest," he said, "but I fancy that last time we met it was as fellow-criminals, eh?"

"We were both trying to rob your father," Douglas answered slowly, "but there was a difference. The money I wanted, and took was mine--ay, and more besides. He had no right to withhold it. As for you--"

"Well, he was my father, and of his own will he had never given me a halfpenny in my life. Surely I had a right to something?"

"Let the robbery go," Douglas said, leaning across the table. "It's true that I took but my own--but no more of that. At least I never raised my hand against him."

The man in the chair beat with the tips of his fingers upon the table by his side. He spoke in a dull, unemotional tone.

"Perhaps not, but while you robbed he slept. I was as gentle as you and quieter, but in the midst of it he woke up, and I found his eyes wide open, watching me. I saw his fingers stiffen--in a moment he would have been upon me--so I struck him down. You heard him call and came back. Yet we neither of us thought him dead. I did not wish to kill him. Do you remember how we stood side by side and shuddered?

"Don't!" Douglas cried sharply. "Don't. I wish you would go away."

The man in the chair took no notice. There was a retrospective light in his dark eyes. He tapped upon the table again with his skinny forefinger.

"Just a little blue mark upon his temple," he continued, in the same hard, emotionless voice. "We stood and looked at it, you and I. It was close upon morning then, you know--it seemed to grow light as we stood there, didn't it? You tried to bring him to. I knew that it was no use. I knew then that he was dead."

Douglas reeled where he stood, and every atom of colour had left his cheeks.

"I wish you would go away, or be silent," he moaned. "You will send me mad--as you are."

Then the man in the chair smiled, and awful though his impassiveness had been, that smile was worse.

"It is not I who will send you mad," he said. "She will do it in good time. She has done it to others--she has done it to me. That is why I tried to kill her. That is why I may not rest until I have killed her. Don't you know why I wanted that money? She was at the Priory, and I walked there, to see her for a moment, to hear her voice. I hid in the grounds--it was two days before I saw her. Then she shrank away from me as though I were some unclean animal. She would not look at me, nor suffer me to speak. I had no right, she said, to come into her presence in such a state. I was to come decently dressed, in my right mind--then she might talk with me. But a creature in rags! It wasn't kind, was it? I had waited so long, and I was what she had made me. So I went across the hills to Feldwick, and I wrote a note to my father. He tore it into small pieces unread. So I came by night, a thief, and you also were there by night, a thief. The same night, too. It was queer.

"I do not want to hear any more," Douglas said, with a shiver. "I thought that you were dead."

"I have an excellent recipe for immortality," was the slow, bitter answer. "I desire to die."

"There are your sisters," Douglas said slowly. "They are in London. After all, you did not mean to kill him."

The man shook his head.

"I have no sisters," he said, "nor any kin."

"Why not Africa, and a fresh start?" Douglas said. "I am poor, but I can help you, and I can borrow a bit--enough for your passage and clothes, at any rate."

No thanks--no sign even of having heard. The man had moved to the window. He seemed fascinated by the view. There was a silence between them. Then he waved his hand towards that red glow which hung like a mist of fire over the city.

"A cauldron," he muttered, "a seething cauldron of stinking vice and imperishable iniquity. Once I lodged somewhere near here. I have stood at a window like this by the hour, and my heart has leaped like a boy's at the sound of that roar. Douglas, those old Methodists up in the hill-village were not so far from the truth--not so far from the truth, after all. How I laughed when they wagged their old grey heads and told me that the great South road was the road to Hell."

Life is what we make it, here or in the hills Douglas said, with a sententiousness which sounded to himself like ugly irony.

The man at the window drew himself up. For a moment there was a gleam of the old self.

"For the cattle, ay, Douglas," he answered. "For such as you and me, it is what the woman makes it. I'm going. I've no ill-will towards you, but if you hinder or follow me, I'll shoot you like a dog."

So he passed out and was lost in the byways. Douglas remained sitting at the window with folded arms.

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