“That will do,” interrupted Mr. Elster, arresting what might be coming; for he disliked strong language. “I believe you fully, Pike. What part of the country were you born in?”
“London. Born and bred in it.”
“That I do not believe,” he said frankly. “Your accent is not that of a Londoner.”
“As you will, sir,” returned Pike. “My mother was from Devonshire; but I was born and bred in London. I recognized that one with the writ for a fellow cockney at once; and for what he was, too—a sheriffs officer. Shouldn’t be surprised but I knew him for one years ago.”
Val Elster dropped a coin into the man’s hand, and bade him good morning. Pike touched his wide-awake, and reiterated his intention of “dodging the enemy.” But, as Mr. Elster cautiously pursued his way, the face he had just quitted continued to haunt him. It was not like any face he had ever seen, as far as he could remember; nevertheless ever and anon some reminiscence seemed to start out of it and vibrate upon a chord in his memory.
It was a somewhat singular coincidence, noted after the terrible event, now looming in the distance, had taken place, and when people began to weigh the various circumstances surrounding it, that Monday, the second day fixed for the boat-race, should be another day of rain. As though Heaven would have interposed to prevent it! said the thoughtful and romantic.
A steady, pouring rain; putting a stop again to the race for that day. The competitors might have been willing to face the elements themselves, but could not subject the fair spectators to the infliction. There was some inward discontent, and a great deal of outward grumbling; it did no good, and the race was put off until the next day.
Val Elster still retained his liberty. Very chary indeed had he been of showing himself outside the door on Saturday, once he was safely within it. Neither had any misfortune befallen Lord Hartledon. That unconscious victim must have contrived, in all innocence, to “dodge” the gentleman who was looking out for him, for they did not meet.
On the Sunday it happened that neither of the brothers went to church. Lord Hartledon, on awaking in the morning, found he had a sore throat, and would not get up. Val did not dare show himself out of doors. Not from fear of arrest that day, but lest any officious meddler should point him out as the real Simon Pure, Percival Elster. But for these circumstances, the man with the writ could hardly have remained under the delusion, as he appeared at church himself.
“Which is Lord Hartledon?” he whispered to his neighbour on the free benches, when the party from the great house had entered, and settled themselves in their pews.
“I don’t see him. He has not come to-day.”
“Which is Mr. Elster?”