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THE HAND ON THE PANEL.

( Continued..) Something in the intonation of the fellow’s voice caused me to turn round ; I had scarcely looked at him before. 1 saw a large, powerfully built man, with a haggard white face, a black, bushy beard, and a pair of deep set, wildlooking eyes ; he held his helmet in his hand, and did not seem at all inclined to take the hint and move on. Evidently he had something else to say ; perhaps it was about the servants, who, excepting the nurse, had been engaged for us by our landlord, and of whom I consequently knew nothing. * If you’ll go into my room I’ll come and speak to you,’ I said. My curiosity was now excited. I followed the man to my room, turned up the gas, and said — ‘ Now. What is it ? What’s wrong ?’ He drew his hand, cased in a rough woollen glove, across his eyes; a peculiar movement: as it was made by him, it seemed as if he was clearing something from his sight. ‘ The gas is too strong,’ I said. ‘ You look ill, hardly fit for night work.’ ‘There you’re wrong, sir. Night work is my duty; darkness is no darkness to me. You know the text, sir, about evil doers, loving “ darkness because their deeds are evil.” That don’t apply personally in my case, but all the same'it do apply. You read Scripture, sir, no doubt. Can you oblige me by giving me your opinion of Matt, v., 38, “ An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” ’

‘ Really, my good man, I have no time to discuss such matters. If you will just stick to your text and inform me why you wished to speak to me, I shall be glad.’ He gave me a keen, suspicious glance ; came close up and whispered—- ‘ You’ve not been alarmed by anything, sir?’

Ah ! I was right, the servants were up to something. ‘No,’ I said, forgetting the ‘ It.’ ‘ Have you any suspicion against the servants ?’

He started, and held up his hand. ‘ You must be watchful, sir. It is wrong and unchristian to attach suspicion to an individual upon merely casual grounds; but be watchful, that is what I say ; be watchful.’ The man’s expression was so strange, bis manner so wild as he said this, that I at once set him down as drunk, and told him so, thereby hurting his feelings and causing him to produce a temperance paper with his left hand, as well as a certificate of good character and ability in his office, ‘ I’ve seen some eccentric policemen in my time,’ thought I; ‘but th ; s fellow beats them all.’

‘ Then you refuse to tell me what you apprehend ?’ ‘ Most certainly, sir. My duty forbids it. I must watch ; and when I can lay my hand upon the man, I shall speak ; not till then —not till then.’ ‘ The sooner you get hold of him the better. It’s perfectly abominable that one cannot find a decent servant now-a-days. I’ll say nothing to my wife of this, it will only make her uneasy.’ ‘ Right you are, sir. Lady with delicate nerves, I should say, sir 1 Noticed that when I called before.’

Confound his impudence. What right had he to make observations on my wife ? Anxious to get quit of him, I pulled out half-a-crown, but he would none of it. ‘ No, sir,’ he said ; *lam on duty.’ ‘ Then the sooner you go about it the better,’ said I, losing patience. * When you’ve spotted your man, and can tell me which of the women it is, come back: Good night to ypu.’,

■" ■ * I wfth you a very good night, sir, and likewise'your good lady.’ I could have kicked the fellow, so irritable had his absurd speeches, and affected manner of putting them, made me. Ellen coming in, eager to hear what he had said, proved the last straw. I broke out into what she calls one of my tantrums, told her to mind her own business, wished all the policemen in London at the bottom of the Thames, grumbled at my dinner, spoilt my digestion, drank too much, went to sleep, and woke at bedtime, with heart-burn and a bad conscience., So to bed.

To bed—but not to sleep:' NiS; ‘ Macbeth,’ or rather the policeman, ‘ had murdered sleep.’ There, I lay, wide-eyed, feverish, tossing. • Angry with myself for being angry, and angr| with my wife for sleeping placidly. J v One o’clock struck; the sound rang out like a knell, on the still November night. I heard the steady tramp of a policeman passing; the tramp ceased just, under the bedroom window.

‘ By Jove, it must be him,’ thought I. Presently I got up, pulled the blind T aside, and looked softly out. I saw no one. Yet surely I had not heard that footstep leave the spot. Ah ! possibly 1 he had gone across the road, and passed along on the path by the gardens. Just so. So after cooling myself for some minutes, following, the,movements of a, miserable cat, aqd;retnarking that someone must be ill across the square, as there was - a doc- 1 tor’s brougham (I wonder it is one r f always recognises the medical flavour)'" at the door and many windows lighted,* <<: I went nimbly back to bed. :■ Two o’clock struck ; my wife woke with a start, sat up, gave one terrified look at the panel, and, uttering a shrill. scream, fainted. Just after, a policeman’s rattle was sprung just below the window, followed by a peal at-the hall bell—a nice situa? tion for a man in the dead of night. A rattle going like mad, a bell ringing; •" as if it would pull down the house,; servants shrieking, baby bellowing, and my wife lying like a dead woraari fbn the bed. , _

I opened the hall door just in time - to prevent it being battered in. Five * or six policemen were on the steps. ‘ Now then, sir, what’s up ?’ I was asked, with six glaring bulleyes fixed full upon me. ‘ I came to ask you the same question,’ said I haughtily; ‘and also .to demand by what right you nearly pull my bell off and alarm this peaceful house.’

‘ Come, check that; just catch hold, Bob, while I go upstairs,’ Bob laid hold of my arm.

1 am a pretty strong man when I am roused, so Bob let go, tumbling down the steps, for I had made good use of my right arm. The instant I had knocked the thin over, I saw what a fool I was. So I stood passive, while explanations ensued.

Accompanied by two of the police, I went into the drawing room and had it out.

One man said he was the first to arrive after the alarm, that be did not recognise the face of the officer who spoke to him and who was ringing the bell; then he heard shrieks of ‘Murder!’ That was all.

I saw the sergeant look at me. ‘ Are you Mr Elton, of the .’ * The same. What of it ?’

‘ Only, that I hope you will accept our explanation, sir, and not say anything about the affair; in return, we won’t take any notice of your knocking my man over; you understand. You would not care to appear, I dares ay.’ It was evidently a false alarm ; so as soon as the room was clear of the police, who, I may remark, did not, like their mysterious brother, refuse to liquor up, I went to bed.

Next day I gave our doctor a detailed account’of what had occurred. ‘ Over excitement of the nervous system ’ said he. ‘ I’ll drop in and see Mrs. Elton in the forenoon. But get her out of that bedroom —being there will only torment her; and if your friend the policeman calls again, ask his number, and report it to the headquarters ; the maid may be right, and the whole affair an abominable hoax. It’s a pity you didn’t say something to the sergeant, but perhaps it was better not. What time did you say the fellow came ?’ ‘ About six, Why ?’

‘ Only a thought struck me; but never mind now. I’ll see your wife and then we’ll talk it over.’

Naturally the events of the night reached our landlord’s ears. So about five in the afternoon he appeared, very indignant at the police, and very anxious to smooth matters in any way he could. He could answer for the characters of the women he engaged but not for their common sense.

I told of the visits of the one policeman. He affected great surprise, but advised me to take no notice of him ; possibly—he said —the man was right, and one of the maids had been up to , something. He expressed himself glad. s that we had moved'back into our old bedrooms, and went on in a rambling sort of way about draughts, until I began to think he had taken a leaf out of the policeman’s book. Ellen was all the better for having seen Dr Wilson ; probably the change of room had an effect also. Anyway, when the evening passed without our policeman showing up, and a good night’s rest strengthened her nerves, I ; began to laugh at it all ; and, a few ; * days after, told the story at a dinner party as a good joke. - : I noticed a gentleman, whose name I knew as a leading counsel, listening : very attentively to my story, and heard him ask what the number of my bouse was. After dinner he came to me, took me into a window recess, and said—

‘Your story struck me as curious, Mr Elton; have you any objection.to repeat the circumstances ?’ * {MRather amused at his serious way of , taking it, I did repeat the story, dwelling 7 a little more fully upon the visits of the policeman; even, at his request, gi\ !ng a close description ofthe man. To my surprise the lawyer pulled out a' notebook, and repeated my description as he noted it. • , :

‘ Now,’ he said, * I have a favor to ask; a curious one, perhaps you think it at present. Will you allow me to. go over your house ? and, also, if possible, I should like to see this same,visitor of , yours.’

‘But he has not come .. days.’ ‘You said you heard a step : street arrested under your wim'o ■•, a;;u that the instant your wife screa:;:cd t' c alarm was given.’ t’ ‘Certainly I did.’ ‘ You have had a bright light in your bedroom both nights. Well, if you light up that room again the man will call’ I stared. ‘You think the light will attract him ?’ ‘ I think the light will do more, Mr Elton. I think it will show us how to read a particularly dark chapter in life ; but as I want you to act entirely without prejudice, I’ll not say more until, with your kind permission. I’ve satisfied myself.’ So it was arranged that Mr Barrington was to call next afternoon, see the room and house, and wait for the chance of a visit from the policeman. {To be continued.)

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18810418.2.13

Bibliographic details

THE HAND ON THE PANEL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 321, 18 April 1881

Word Count
1,858

THE HAND ON THE PANEL. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 321, 18 April 1881

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