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I have seldom seen a more indignant face than the one which my new acquaintance bent over the weapon, as he held it to the light, and ran his finger along the blade. He could have not frowned more heavily if he had recognized the knife.
"The villains!" he muttered. "The damned villains!"
"Villains?" I queried. "Did you see more than one of them, then?"
"Didn't you?" he asked quickly. "Yes, yes, to be sure! There was at least one other beggar skulking down below." He stood looking at me, the knife in his hand, though mine was held out for it. "Don't you think, Mr. Cole, that it's our duty to hand this over to the police? I - I've heard of other cases about these Inns of Court. There's evidently a gang of them, and this knife might convict the lot; there's no saying; anyway I think the police should have it. If you like I'll take it to Scotland Yard myself, and hand it over without mentioning your name."
"Oh, if you keep my name out of it," said I, "and say nothing about it here in the hotel, you may do what you like, and welcome! It's the proper course, no doubt; only I've had publicity enough, and would sooner have felt that blade in my body than set my name going again in the newspapers."
"I understand," he said, with his well-bred sympathy, which never went a shade too far; and he dropped the weapon into a drawer, as the boots entered with the tray. In a minute he had brewed two steaming jorums of spirits-and-water; as he handed me one, I feared he was going to drink my health, or toast my luck; but no, he was the one man I had met who seemed, as he said, to "understand." Nevertheless, he had his toast.
"Here's confusion to the criminal classes in general," he cried; "but death and damnation to the owners of that knife!"
And we clinked tumblers across the little oval table in the middle of the room. It was more of a sitting-room than mine; a bright fire was burning in the grate, and my companion insisted on my sitting over it in the arm-chair, while for himself he fetched the one from his bedside, and drew up the table so that our glasses should be handy. He then produced a handsome cigar-case admirably stocked, and we smoked and sipped in the cosiest fashion, though without exchanging many words.
You may imagine my pleasure in the society of a youth, equally charming in looks, manners and address, who had not one word to say to me about the Lady Jermyn or my hen-coop. It was unique. Yet such, I suppose, was my native contrariety, that I felt I could have spoken of the catastrophe to this very boy with less reluctance than to any other creature whom I had encountered since my deliverance. He seemed so full of silent sympathy: his consideration for my feelings was so marked and yet so unobtrusive. I have called him a boy. I am apt to write as the old man I have grown, though I do believe I felt older then than now. In any case my young friend was some years my junior. I afterwards found out that he was six-and-twenty.
I have also called him handsome. He was the handsomest man that I have ever met, had the frankest face, the finest eyes, the brightest smile. Yet his bronzed forehead was low, and his mouth rather impudent and bold than truly strong. And there was a touch of foppery about him, in the enormous white tie and the much-cherished whiskers of the fifties, which was only redeemed by that other touch of devilry that he had shown me in the corridor. By the rich brown of his complexion, as well as by a certain sort of swagger in his walk, I should have said that he was a naval officer ashore, had he not told me who he was of his own accord.
"By the way," he said, "I ought to give you my name. It's Rattray, of one of the many Kirby Halls in this country. My one's down in Lancashire."
"I suppose there's no need to tell my name?" said I, less sadly, I daresay, than I had ever yet alluded to the tragedy which I alone survived. It was an unnecessary allusion, too, as a reference to the foregoing conversation will show.
"Well, no!" said he, in his frank fashion; "I can't honestly say there is."
We took a few puffs, he watching the fire, and I his firelit face.
"It must seem strange to you to be sitting with the only man who lived to tell the tale!"
The egotism of this speech was not wholly gratuitous. I thought it did seem strange to him: that a needless constraint was put upon him by excessive consideration for my feelings. I desired to set him at his ease as he had set me at mine. On the contrary, he seemed quite startled by my remark.
"It is strange," he said, with a shudder, followed by the biggest sip of brandy-and-water he had taken yet. "It must have been horrible - horrible!" he added to himself, his dark eyes staring into the fire.
"Ah!" said I, "it was even more horrible than you suppose or can ever imagine."
I was not thinking of myself, nor of my love, nor of any particular incident of the fire that still went on burning in my brain. My tone was doubtless confidential, but I was meditating no special confidence when my companion drew one with his next words. These, however, came after a pause, in which my eyes had fallen from his face, but in which I heard him emptying his glass.
"What do you mean?" he whispered. "That there were other circumstances - things which haven't got into the papers?"
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