My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins, Chapter 31
My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins
The Man with the Sword
"Take me back! Take me to the place you brought me from," I cried to the stooping figure.
The others had come up. The chauffeur was vague and mumbling. He was drunk enough to be stubborn, cautious. But money quickened him.
He had picked my up, he said, "in one of the streets. . . ." he couldn't say positively which, and he mentioned several. It might be any one of them; but it wasn't far from St. John's Wood Station.
In spite of the man's condition I wanted to get into his cab. I had a horror of losing him.
"I have taken his number," the Healer said, as though that were enough.
And all the while-- But we are coming, Betty! Coming. . . .
The other driver had been summoned. I heard the names of streets and of police-stations. They settled which would be the one.
"Will you drive very fast?" I asked. "I
will give you all I have if you'll drive fast."
The drunken chauffeur followed us in his swerving, rocking cab. I leaned out of the window all the way, weeping, praying. And I never took my eyes away from the only clue.
Minutes and minutes went by. I seemed to have spent my life hanging out of a taxi window, watching a drunken driver steer his uneven course. He ran up on a curbstone, and the cab tilted. Then it righted, and came on at a terrific pace, almost to capsize again as it turned the abrupt corner, which we ourselves had rounded just before we stopped. I looked up, and saw a light burning in a lantern above an open door.
The room we went into was smaller than the one at Alton Street.
And Betty wasn't there.
Only one man, standing at a high desk. An honest-looking, fresh-coloured man; but quite young. When the others began telling him why we had come I broke in: "This is not an ordinary thing. We must see the inspector."
The young man said he was the inspector.
Among us we told him.
The drunken cabman, almost sober, spoke quite differently. Sensible, alert. Now something would be done! I no longer regretted the youth of the inspector. This man was human.
"You will bring 'the List' and come with us at once?"
I was told he could not come. An inspector must stay at his post. An inspector's post was the station.
But I clung to the hope he had inspired. What had he turned away for with that brisk air? My eyes went on before him, looking for the telephone he must be going to use; or an electric bell that should sound some great alarum, summoning a legion of police.
He had come back; he stood before us holding in his hand a piece of yellow paper. Precisely such a piece of paper as that on which already, there in Alton Street, the miserable story was set down. I shall not be believed, but this man, too, began to write on the glazed surface with a stump of blunt lead-pencil.
" Don't wait to write it all again!" I prayed. "Telephone for help. . . . "
But he, too, made little of the need for haste.
He, too, made much of what I had noticed as we left Victoria--the homely woman and the policeman watching as we drove away.
"You think," Mrs. Harborough said, "that the woman was suspicious?"
"No doubt--and no doubt the policeman was suspicious too." The inspector spoke with pride: "Oh, we get to know these people! They meet the trains. They're at the docks when ships come in."
It was then I saw that Mrs. Harborough could be stirred too. "If the policeman knew," she said-- "if he knew so much as suspected, why did he not stop the motor?"
The inspector shook his head.
"Why didn't he arrest the woman?"
"He is not allowed," said the inspector.
I was sure he couldn't be telling us the truth. A creeping despair came over me. My first impression had been right. This man was too young, too ignorant, to help in such appalling trouble as ours. He was speaking kindly still. I might be sure they would do all they could to discover the house--
And if they did discover it, he said, they would watch it.
"' Watch it!" I could not think I had heard right. "You don't mean stand outside and wait!--while all the time inside--"
They tried to make me calmer. The inspector said, under certain circumstances, a warrant could be obtained to search the house. . . .
And was the warrant ready?
Everything possible would be done. Oh, the times they said that! Then the inspector, a little wearied, told Mrs. Harborough "it might be advisable to go and see the man who is in charge of all these cases."
Not only I, Mrs. Harborough heard him. For she repeated, "'All these cases!' You don't mean such a thing has happened before?"
"Oh, yes," the young man said. "But usually it's poor girls. This is the gentleman who has charge of all that." He turned and pointed to the left. Beyond a board where keys were hanging, under two crossed swords, the electric light shone clear on the picture of a man in an officer's uniform. A man wearing a sword and a cocked hat with a plume--the sort of dress Lord Helmstone wore when he went to the King's Levée.
"When is he here?" Mrs. Harborough asked.
"Oh, he never comes here. He's at Scotland Yard."
"Scotland!" I cried.
They told me Scotland Yard was in London.
Then we'll go to Scotland Yard!
He wouldn't be at Scotland Yard now. "He might be there in the morning" . . . this man, in charge of all such cases!
The young inspector spoke his superior's name with awe. Oh, a person very great and powerful, and his hand was on his sword. I put my empty hands over my face and wept aloud.
Betty--Betty--who will help us?
* * *
I did not need their foolish words to realise, at last, that I should have as much help ( now, when help was any good)--as much help from the sword in the picture as from this man with three stripes on his sleeve and the blunt lead-pencil in his hand.
Who was there in all the world who really cared?
A vision of my mother rose to stab at me.
No other friend? Eric!--as far away as heaven.
The inspector and the man in leather were lifting me into a cab. The electric light was fierce in their faces. Then the light and they were gone. We were driving in silence through streets of shadow sharply streaked with light. I crouched in the corner, and fought the flames that shrivelled up my flesh.
Betty with a hundred faces. And every one a separate agony. Betty beginning to understand. Betty looking for her sister--calling out for me. No sister! No friend! Only the fiends of hell!
I was crying fiercely again, and beating with clenched fists. I heard a crash.
The cab was stopped, and strange faces crowded. I was being held. "She has lost her mind," one said.
But no, it wasn't lost! It was serving me with devilish clearness. More pictures, and still more.
Well, well--Betty would die soon!
Like cool water--holy water--came the thought of death. Perhaps she was already dead. Oh, by God, make it true! Let her be dead!
Here was healing at last. Betty was dead!
End Chapter XXXI
Available since August 1997