“We may do that,” Fardell answered. “Is he upstairs?”
“Ay!” the man answered, shuffling away. “Pay ’is rent, and yer can chuck ’im out of the winder, if yer like!”
They climbed the crazy staircase. Fardell opened the door of the room above without even the formality of knocking. An old man sat there, bending over a table, half dressed. Before him were several sheets of paper.
“I believe we’re in time,” Fardell muttered, half to himself. “Parkins, is that you?” he asked, in a louder tone.
The old man looked up and blinked at them. He shaded his eyes with one hand. The other he laid flat upon the papers before him. He was old, blear-eyed, unkempt.
“Is that Master Ronaldson?” he asked, in a thin, quavering tone. “I’ve signed ’em, sir. Have yer brought the money? I’m a poor old man, and I need a drop of something now and then to keep the life in me. If yer’ll just hand over a trifle I’ll send out for—eh—eh, my landlord, he’s a kindly man—he’ll fetch it. Eh? Two of yer! I don’t see so well as I did. Is that you, Mr. Ronaldson, sir?”
Fardell threw some silver coins upon the table. The old man snatched them up eagerly.
“It’s not Mr. Ronaldson,” he said, “but I daresay we shall do as well. We want to talk to you about those papers there.”
The old man nodded. He was gazing at the silver in his hand.
“I’ve writ it all out,” he muttered. “I told ’un I would. A pound a week for ten years. That’s what I ’ad! And then it stopped! Did she mean me to starve, eh? Not I! John Parkins knows better nor that. I’ve writ it all out, and there’s my signature. It’s gospel truth, too.”
“We are going to buy the truth from you,” Fardell said. “We have more money than Ronaldson. Don’t be afraid. We have gold to spare where Ronaldson had silver.”
The old man lifted the candle with shaking fingers. Then it dropped with a crash to the ground, and lay there for a moment spluttering. He shrank back.
“It’s ’im!” he muttered. “Don’t kill me, sir. I mean you no harm. It’s Mr. Mannering!”
THE JOURNALIST INTERVENES
The old man had sunk into a seat. His face and hands were twitching with fear. His eyes, as though fascinated, remained fixed upon Mannering’s. All the while he mumbled to himself. Fardell drew Mannering a little on one side.
“What can we do with him?” he asked. “We might tear up those sheets, give him money, keep him soddened with drink. And even then he’d give the whole show away the moment any one got at him. It isn’t so bad as he makes out, I suppose?”
“It is not so bad as that,” Mannering answered, “but it is bad enough.”
“What became of the woman?” Fardell asked. “Parkins’s mistress, I mean?”
“She is my wife,” Mannering answered.