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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWaring's Peril - Chapter 10
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Waring's Peril - Chapter 10 Post by :eheyoka Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :2883

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Waring's Peril - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

Lieutenant Reynolds was seated at his desk at department head-quarters about nine o'clock that morning when an orderly in light-battery dress dismounted at the banquette and came up the stairs three at a jump. "Captain Cram's compliments, sir, and this is immediate," he reported, as he held forth a note. Reynolds tore it open, read it hastily through, then said, "Go and fetch me a cab quick as you can," and disappeared in the general's room. Half an hour later he was spinning down the levee towards the French Market, and before ten o'clock was seated in the captain's cabin of the big British steamer Ambassador, which had arrived at her moorings during the night. Cram and Kinsey were already there, and to them the skipper was telling his story.

Off the Tortugas, just about as they had shaped their course for the Belize, they were hailed by the little steamer Tampa, bound from New Orleans to Havana. The sea was calm, and a boat put off from the Tampa and came alongside, and presently a gentleman was assisted aboard. He seemed weak from illness, but explained that he was Lieutenant Waring, of the United States Artillery, had been accidentally carried off to sea, and the Ambassador was the first inward-bound ship they had sighted since crossing the bar. He would be most thankful for a passage back to New Orleans. Captain Baird had welcomed him with the heartiness of the British tar, and made him at home in his cabin. The lieutenant was evidently far from well, and seemed somewhat dazed and mentally distressed. He could give no account of his mishap other than that told him by the officers of the Tampa, which had lain to when overtaken by the gale on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning when they resumed their course down-stream they overhauled a light skiff and were surprised to find a man aboard, drenched and senseless. "The left side of his face was badly bruised and discolored, even when he came to us," said Baird, "and he must have been slugged and robbed, for his watch, his seal-ring, and what little money he had were all gone." The second officer of the Tampa had fitted him out with a clean shirt, and the steward dried his clothing as best he could, but the coat was stained and clotted with blood. Mr. Waring had slept heavily much of the way back until they passed Pilot Town. Then he was up and dressed Thursday afternoon, and seemingly in better spirits, when he picked up a copy of the New Orleans _Picayune which the pilot had left aboard, and was reading that, when suddenly he started to his feet with an exclamation of amaze, and, when the captain turned to see what was the matter, Waring was ghastly pale and fearfully excited by something he had read. He hid the paper under his coat and sprang up on deck and paced nervously to and fro for hours, and began to grow so ill, apparently, that Captain Baird was much worried. At night he begged to be put ashore at the barracks instead of going on up to town, and Baird had become so troubled about him that he sent his second officer in the gig with him, landed him on the levee opposite the sally-port, and there, thanking them heartily, but declining further assistance, Waring had hurried through the entrance into the barrack square. Mr. Royce, the second officer, said there was considerable excitement, beating of drums and sounding of bugles, at the post, as they rowed towards the shore. He did not learn the cause. Captain Baird was most anxious to learn if the gentleman had safely reached his destination. Cram replied that he had, but in a state bordering on delirium and unable to give any coherent account of himself. He could tell he had been aboard the Ambassador and the Tampa, but that was about all.

And then they told Baird that what Waring probably saw was Wednesday's paper with the details of the inquest on the body of Lascelles and the chain of evidence pointing to himself as the murderer. This caused honest Captain Baird to lay ten to one he wasn't, and five to one he'd never heard of it till he got the paper above Pilot Town. Whereupon all three officers clapped the Briton on the back and shook him by the hand and begged his company to dinner at the barracks and at Moreau's; and then, while Reynolds sped to the police-office and Kinsey back to Colonel Braxton, whom he represented at the interview, Cram remounted, and, followed by the faithful Jeffers, trotted up Rampart Street and sent in his card to Madame Lascelles, and Madame's maid brought back reply that she was still too shocked and stricken to receive visitors. So also did Madame d'Hervilly deny herself, and Cram rode home to Nell.

"It is useless," he said. "She will not see me."

"Then she shall see me," said Mrs. Cram.

And so a second time did Jeffers make the trip to town that day, this time perched with folded arms in the rumble of the pony-phaeton.

And while she was gone, the junior doctor was having the liveliest experience of his few years of service. Scorched and burned though she was, Mrs. Doyle's faculties seemed to have returned with renewed acuteness and force. She demanded to be taken to her husband's side, but the doctor sternly refused. She demanded to be told his condition, and was informed that it was so critical he must not be disturbed, especially by her, who was practically responsible for all his trouble. Then she insisted on knowing whether he was conscious and whether he had asked for a priest, and when informed that Father Foley had already arrived, it required the strength of four men to hold her. She raved like a maniac, and her screams appalled the garrison. But screams and struggles were all in vain. "Pills the Less" sent for his senior, and "Pills the Pitiless" more than ever deserved his name. He sent for a straitjacket, saw her securely stowed away in that and borne over to a vacant room in the old hospital, set the steward's wife on watch and a sentry at the door, went back to Waring's bedside, where Sam lay tossing in burning fever, murmured his few words of caution to Pierce and Ferry, then hastened back to where poor Doyle was gasping in agony of mind and body, clinging to the hand of the gentle soldier of the cross, gazing piteously into his father confessor's eyes, drinking in his words of exhortation, yet unable to make articulate reply. The flames had done their cruel work. Only in desperate pain could he speak again.

It was nearly dark when Mrs. Cram came driving back to barracks, bringing Mr. Reynolds with her. Her eyes were dilated, her cheeks flushed with excitement, as she sprang from the low phaeton, and, with a murmured "Come to me as soon as you can" to her husband, she sped away up the stairs, leaving him to receive and entertain her passenger.

"I, too, went to see Madame Lascelles late this afternoon," said Reynolds. "I wished to show her this."

It was a copy of a despatch to the chief of police of New Orleans. It stated in effect that Philippe Lascelles had not been seen or heard of around Key West for over two weeks. It was believed that he had gone to Havana.

"Can you get word of this to our friend the detective?" asked Cram.

"I have wired already. He has gone to Georgia. What I hoped to do was to note the effect of this on Madame Lascelles; but she was too ill to see me. Luckily, Mrs. Cram was there, and I sent it up to her. She will tell you. Now I have to see Braxton."

And then came a messenger to ask Cram to join the doctor at Doyle's quarters at once: so he scurried up-stairs to see Nell first and learn her tidings.

"Did I not tell you?" she exclaimed, as he entered the parlor. "Philippe Lascelles was here that very night, and had been seen with his brother at the office on Royal Street twice before this thing happened, and they had trouble about money. Oh, I made her understand. I appealed to her as a woman to do what she could to right Mr. Waring, who was so generally believed to be the guilty man. I told her we had detectives tracing Philippe and would soon find how and when he reached New Orleans. Finally I showed her the despatch that Mr. Reynolds sent up, and at last she broke down, burst into tears, and said she, too, had learned since the inquest that Philippe was with her husband, and probably was the stranger referred to, that awful night. She even suspected it at the time, for she knew he came not to borrow but to demand money that was rightfully his, and also certain papers that Armand held and that now were gone. It was she who told me of Philippe's having been seen with Armand at the office, but she declared she could not believe that he would kill her husband. I pointed out the fact that Armand had fired two shots from his pistol, apparently, and that no bullet-marks had been found in the room where the quarrel took place, and that if his shots had taken effect on his antagonist he simply could not have been Waring, for though Waring had been bruised and beaten about the head, the doctor said there was no sign of bullet-mark about him anywhere. She recognized the truth of this, but still she said she believed that there was a quarrel or was to be a quarrel between her husband and Mr. Waring. Otherwise I believe her throughout. I believe that, no matter what romance there was about her nursing Philippe and his falling in love with her, she did not encourage him, did not call him here again, was true to her old husband. She is simply possessed with the idea that the quarrel which killed her husband was between himself and Mr. Waring, and that it occurred after Philippe had got his money and papers, and gone."

"W-e-e-ll, Philippe will have a heap to explain when he is found," was Cram's reply. "Now I have to go to Doyle's. He is making some confession, I expect, to the priest."

But Cram never dreamed for an instant what that was to be.

That night poor Doyle's spirit took its flight, and the story of misery he had to tell, partly by scrawling with a pencil, partly by gesture in reply to question, partly in painfully-gasped sentences, a few words at a time, was practically this. Lascelles and his party did indeed leave him at the Pelican when he was so drunk he only vaguely knew what was going on or what had happened in the bar-room where they were drinking, but his wife had told him the whole story. Lascelles wanted more drink,--champagne; the bar-tender wanted to close up. They bought several bottles, however, and had them put in the cab, and Lascelles was gay and singing, and, instead of going directly home, insisted on stopping to make a call on the lady who occupied the upper floor of the house Doyle rented on the levee. Doyle rarely saw her, but she sometimes wrote to Lascelles and got Bridget to take the letters to him. She was setting her cap for the old Frenchman. "We called her Mrs. Dawson." The cabman drove very slowly through the storm as Doyle walked home along with Bridget and some man who was helping, and when they reached the gate there was the cab and Waring in it. The cab-driver was standing by his horse, swearing at the delay and saying he would charge double fare. Doyle had had trouble with his wife for many years, and renewed trouble lately because of two visits Lascelles had paid there, and that evening when she sent for him he was drinking in Waring's room, had been drinking during the day; he dreaded more trouble, and 'twas he who took Waring's knife, and still had it, he said, when he entered the gate, and no sooner did he see Lascelles at his door than he ordered him to leave. Lascelles refused to go. Doyle knocked him down, and the Frenchman sprang up, swearing vengeance. Lascelles fired two shots, and Doyle struck once,--with the knife,--and there lay Lascelles, dead, before Doyle could know or realize what he was doing. In fact, Doyle never did know. It was what his wife had told him, and life had been a hell to him ever since that woman came back. She had blackmailed him, more or less, ever since he got his commission, because of an old trouble he'd had in Texas.

And this confession was written out for him, signed by Doyle on his dying bed, duly witnessed, and the civil authorities were promptly notified. Bridget Doyle was handed over to the police. Certain detectives out somewhere on the trail of somebody else were telegraphed to come in, and four days later, when the force of the fever was broken and Waring lay weak, languid, but returning to his senses, Cram and the doctor read the confession to their patient, and then started to their feet as he almost sprang from the bed.

"It's an infernal lie!" he weakly cried. "I took that knife from Doyle and kept it. I myself saw Lascelles to his gate, safe and sound."

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