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CHAPTER II HORN
"No, sir," said Mudd, "he don't take scarcely anything in the bar of the hotel, but he was sitting last night till closing-time in the Bricklayer's Arms."

"Oh, that's where he was," said Bobby. "How did you find out?"

"Well, sir," said Mudd, "I was in there myself in the parlour, having a drop of hot water and gin with a bit of lemon in it. It's a decent house, and the servants' room in this hotel don't please me, nor Mr. Anderson's man. I was sitting there smoking my pipe when in he came to the bar outside. I heard his voice. Down he sits and talks quite friendly with the folk there and orders a pint of beer all round. Quite affable and friendly."

"Well, there's no harm in that," said Bobby. "I've often done the same in a country inn. Did he stick to beer?"

"He did," said Mudd grimly. "He'd got that ten-pound note I was fool enough to let him[Pg 201] have. Yes, he stuck to beer, and so did the chaps he was treating."

"The funny thing is," said Bobby, "that though he knows we have his money—and, begad, there's nearly eleven thousand of it—he doesn't kick at our taking it—he must have known we cut open that portmanteau—but comes to you for money like a schoolboy."

"That's what he is," said Mudd. "It's my belief, Mr. Robert, that he's getting younger and younger; he's artful as a child after sweets. And he knows we're looking after him, I believe, and he doesn't mind, for it's part of his amusement to give us the slip. Well, as I was saying, there he sat talking away and all these village chaps listening to him as if he was the Sultan of Turkey laying down the law. That's what pleased him. He likes being the middle of everything; and as the beer went down the talk went up—till he was telling them he'd been at the battle of Waterloo."

"Good Lord!"

"They didn't know no different," said Mudd, "but it made me crawl to listen to him."

"The bother is," said Bobby, "that we are dealing, not only with a young man, but with the sort of young man who was young forty years ago. That's our trouble, Mudd; we can't[Pg 202] calculate on what he'll do because we haven't the data. And another bother is that his foolishness seems to have increased by being bottled so long, like old beer, but he can't come to harm with the villagers, they're an innocent lot."

"Are they?" said Mudd. "One of the chaps he was talking to was a gallows-looking chap. Horn's his name, and a poacher he is, I believe. Then there's the blacksmith and a squint-eyed chap that calls himself a butcher; the pair of them aren't up to much. Innocent lot! Why, if you had the stories Mr. Anderson's man has told me about this village the hair would rise on your head. Why, London's a girl-school to these country villages, if all's true one hears. No, Mr. Robert, he wants looking after here more than anywhere, and it seems to me the only person who has any real hold on him is the young lady."

"Miss Rossignol?"

"Yes, Mr. Robert, he's gone on her in his foolish way, and she can twist him round her finger like a child. When he's with her he's a different person, out of sight of her he's another man."

"Look here, Mudd," said the other, "he can't be in love with her, for there's not a girl he sees he doesn't cast his eye after."

"Maybe," said Mudd, "but when he's with her he's in love with her; I've been watching him and I know. He worships her, I believe, and if she wasn't so sensible I'd be afeard of it. It's a blessing he came across her; she's the only hold on him, and a good hold she is."

"It is a blessing," said Bobby. Then, after a pause, "Mudd, you've always been a good friend of mine, and this business has made me know what you really are. I'm bothered about something—I'm in love with her myself. There, you have it."

"With Miss Rossignol?"

"Yes."

"Well, you might choose worse," said Mudd.

"But that's not all," said Bobby. "There's another girl—Mudd, I've been a damn fool."

"We've all been fools in our time," said Mudd.

"I know, but it's jolly unpleasant when one's follies come home to roost on one. She's a nice girl enough, Miss Delyse, but I don't care for her. Yet somehow I've got mixed up with her—not exactly engaged, but very near it. It all happened in a moment, and she's coming down here; I had a letter from her this morning."

"Oh, Lord!" said Mudd, "another mixture. As if there wasn't enough of us in the business!"

"That's a good name for it, 'business.' I feel as if I was helping to run a sort of beastly factory, a mad sort of show where we're trying to condense folly and make it consume its own smoke—an illicit whisky-still, for we're trying to hide............
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