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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 7
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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 7 Post by :dant245 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1123

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What Will He Do With It - Book 8 - Chapter 7

BOOK VIII CHAPTER VII

THE MAN-EATER CONTINUES TO TAKE HIS QUIET STEAK OUT OF DOLLY POOLE; AND IS IN TURN SUBJECTED TO THE ANATOMICAL KNIFE OF THE DISSECTING AUTHOR. TWO TRAPS ARE LAID FOR HIM--ONE BY HIS FELLOW MAN-EATERS-- ONE BY THAT DEADLY PERSECUTRIX, THE WOMAN WHO TRIES TO SAVE HIM IN SPITE OF ALL HE CAN DO TO BE HANGED.

Meanwhile the unhappy Adolphus Poole had been the reluctant but unfailing source from which Jasper Losely had weekly drawn the supplies to his worthless and workless existence. Never was a man more constrainedly benevolent, and less recompensed for pecuniary sacrifice by applauding conscience, than the doomed inhabitant of Alhambra Villa. In the utter failure of his attempts to discover Sophy, or to induce Jasper to accept Colonel Morley's proposals, he saw this parasitical monster fixed upon his entrails, like the vulture on those of the classic sufferer in mythological tales. Jasper, indeed, had accommodated himself to this regular and unlaborious mode of gaining "_sa pauvre vie_." To call once a week upon his old acquaintance, frighten him with a few threats, or force a deathlike smile from agonising lips by a few villanous jokes, carry off his four sovereigns, and enjoy himself thereon till pay-day duly returned, was a condition of things that Jasper did not greatly care to improve; and truly had he said to Poole that his earlier energy had left him. As a sensualist of Jasper's stamp grows older and falls lower, indolence gradually usurps the place once occupied by vanity or ambition. Jasper was bitterly aware that his old comeliness was gone; that never more could he ensnare a maiden's heart or a widow's gold. And when this truth was fully brought home to him, it made a strange revolution in all his habits. He cared no longer for dress and gewgaws--sought rather to hide himself than to parade. In the neglect of the person he had once so idolised--in the coarse roughness which now characterised his exterior--there was that sullen despair which the vain only know when what had made them dainty and jocund is gone for ever. The human mind, in deteriorating, fits itself to the sphere into which it declines. Jasper would not now, if he could, have driven a cabriolet down St. James's Street. He had taken more and more to the vice of drinking as the excitement of gambling was withdrawn from him. For how gamble with those who had nothing to lose, and to whom he himself would have been pigeon, not hawk? And as he found that, on what he thus drew regularly from Dolly Poole, he could command all the comforts that his embruted tastes now desired, so an odd kind of prudence for the first time in his life came with what he chose to consider "a settled income." He mixed with ruffians in their nightly orgies; treated them to cheap potations; swaggered, bullied, boasted, but shared in no project of theirs which might bring into jeopardy the life which Dolly Poole rendered so comfortable and secure. His energies, once so restless, were lulled, partly by habitual intoxication, partly by the physical pains which had nestled themselves into his robust fibres, efforts of an immense and still tenacious vitality to throw off diseases repugnant to its native magnificence of health. The finest constitutions are those which, when once seriously impaired, occasion the direst pain; but they also enable the sufferer to bear pain that would soon wear away the delicate. And Jasper bore his pains stoutly, though at times they so exasperated his temper, that woe then to any of his comrades whose want of caution or respect gave him the occasion to seek relief in wrath! His hand was as heavy, his arm as stalwart as ever. George Morley had been rightly informed. Even by burglars and cut-throats, whose dangers he shunned, while fearlessly he joined their circle, Jasper Losely was regarded with terror. To be the awe of reckless men, as he had been the admiration of foolish women, this was delight to his vanity, the last delight that was left to it. But he thus provoked a danger to which his arrogance was blind. His boon companions began to grow tired of him. He had been welcomed to their resort on the strength of the catchword or passport which confederates at Paris had communicated to him, and of the reputation for great daring and small scruple which he took from Cutts, who was of high caste amongst their mysterious tribes, and who every now and then flitted over the Continent, safe and accursed as the Wandering Jew. But when they found that this Achilles of the Greeks would only talk big, and employ his wits on his private exchequer and his thews against themselves, they began not only to tire of his imperious manner, but to doubt his fidelity to the cause. And, all of a sudden, Cutts, who had at first extolled Jasper as one likely to be a valuable acquisition to the Family of Night, altered his tone, and insinuated that the bravo was not to be trusted; that his reckless temper and incautious talk when drunk would unfit him for a safe accomplice in any skilful project of plunder; and that he was so unscrupulous, and had so little sympathy with their class, that he might be quite capable of playing spy or turning king's evidence; that, in short, it would be well to rid themselves of his domineering presence. Still there was that physical power in this lazy Hercules--still, if the Do-nought, he was so fiercely the Dreadnought--that they did not dare, despite the advantage of numbers, openly to brave and defy him. No one would bell the cat--and such a cat! They began to lay plots to get rid of him through the law. Nothing could be easier to such knowing adepts in guilt than to transfer to his charge any deed of violence one of their own gang had committed--heap damning circumstances round him--privily apprise justice--falsely swear away his life. In short, the man was in their way as a wasp that has blundered into an ants' nest; and, while frightened at the size of the intruder, these honest ants were resolved to get him out of their citadel alive or dead. Probable it was that Jasper Losely would meet with his deserts at last for an offence of which he was as innocent as a babe unborn.

It is at this juncture that we are re-admitted to the presence of Arabella Crane.

She was standing by a window on the upper floor of a house situated in a narrow street. The blind was let down, but she had drawn it a little aside, and was looking out. By the fireside was seated a thin, vague, gnome-like figure, perched comfortless on the edge of a rush-bottomed chair, with its shadowy knees drawn up till they nearly touched its shadowy chin. There was something about the outline of this figure so indefinite and unsubstantial, that you might have taken it for an optical illusion, a spectral apparition on the point of vanishing. This thing was, however, possessed of voice, and was speaking in a low but distinct hissing whisper. As the whisper ended, Arabella Crane, without turning her face, spoke, also under her breath.

"You are sure that, so long as Losely draws this weekly stipend from the man whom he has in his power, he will persist in the same course of life. Can you not warn him of the danger?"

"Peach against pals! I dare not. No trusting him."

"He would come down, mad with brandy, make an infernal row, seize two or three by the throat, dash their heads against each other, blab, bully, and a knife would be out, and a weasand or two cut, and a carcase or so dropped into the Thames--mine certainly--his perhaps."

"You say you can keep back this plot against him for two or three days?"

"For two days--yes. I should be glad to save General Jas. He has the bones of a fine fellow, and if he had not destroyed himself by brandy, he might have been at the top of the tree-in the profession. But he is fit for nothing now."

"Ah! and you say the brandy is killing him?"

"No, he will not be killed by brandy, if he continues to drink it among the same jolly set."

"And if he were left without the money to spend amongst these terrible companions, he would no longer resort to their meetings? You are right there. The same vanity that makes him pleased to be the great man in that society would make him shrink from coming amongst them as a beggar."

"And if he had not the wherewithal to pay the weekly subscription, there would be an excuse to shut the door in his face. All these fellows wish to do is to get rid of him; and if by fair means, there would be no necessity to resort to foul. The only danger would be that from which you have so often saved him. In despair, would he not commit some violent rash action--a street robbery, or something of the kind? He has courage for any violence, but no longer the cool head to plan a scheme which would not be detected. You see I can prevent my pals joining in such risks as he may propose, or letting him (if he were to ask it) into an adventure of their own, for they know that I am a safe adviser; they respect me; the law has never been able to lay hold of me; and when I say to them, 'That fellow drinks, blabs, and boasts, and would bring us all into trouble,' they will have nothing to do with him; but I cannot prevent his doing what he pleases out of his own muddled head, and with his own reckless hand."

"But you will keep in his confidence, and let me know till that he proposes!"

"Yes."

"And meanwhile, he must come to me. And this time I have more hope than ever, since his health gives way, and he is weary of crime itself. Mr. Cutts, come near--softly. Look-nay, nay, he cannot see you from below, and you are screened by the blind. Look, I say, where he sits."

She pointed to a room on the ground-floor in the opposite house, where might be dimly seen a dull red fire in a sordid grate, and a man's form, the head pillowed upon arms that rested on a small table. On the table a glass, a bottle.

"It is thus that his mornings pass," said Arabella Crane, with a wild bitter pity in the tone of her voice. "Look, I say, is he formidable now? can you fear him?"

"Very much indeed," muttered Cutts. "He is only stupefied, and he can shake off a doze as quickly as a bulldog does when a rat is let into his kennel."

"Mr. Cutts, you tell me that he constantly carries about him the same old pocket-book which he says contains his fortune; in other words, the papers that frighten his victim into giving him the money which is now the cause of his danger. There is surely no pocket you cannot pick or get picked, Mr. Cutts? Fifty pounds for that book in three hours."

"Fifty pounds are not enough; the man he sponges on would give more to have those papers in his power."

"Possibly; but Losely has not been dolt enough to trust you sufficiently to enable you to know how to commence negotiations. Even if the man's name and address be amongst those papers, you could not make use of the knowledge without bringing Jasper himself upon you; and even if Jasper were out of the way, you would not have the same hold over his victim; you know not the circumstances; you could make no story out of some incoherent rambling letters; and the man, who, I can tell you, is by nature a bully, and strong, compared with any other man but Jasper, would seize you by the collar; and you would be lucky if you got out of his house with no other loss than the letters, and no other gain but a broken bone. Pooh! YOU know all that, or you would have stolen the book, and made use of it before. Fifty pounds for that book in three hours; and if Jasper Losely be safe and alive six months hence, fifty pounds more, Mr. Cutts. See! he stirs not must be fast asleep. Now is the moment."

"What, in his own room!" said Cutts with contempt. "Why, he would know who did it; and where should I be to-morrow? No--in the streets; any one has a right to pick a pocket in the Queen's highways. In three hours you shall have the book."

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