Story 2 | Chapter IX | Mr Barclay Goes Too Far | The Golden Incubus

Story 2—Chapter IX.

When young Mr Barclay—

Stop! How do I know all this?

Why, it was burned into my memory, and I heard every word from him.

When young Mr Barclay left the dining-room on the night he disappeared, he went up to his own room, miserable at his position with his father, and taking to himself the blame for the unhappiness that he had brought upon the girl who loved him with all her sweet true heart. “But it’s fate—it’s fate,” he said, as he went up to his room; and then, unable to settle himself there, he lit a cigar, came down, and went out just as he was dressed in his evening clothes, only that he had put on a light overcoat, and began to walk up and down in front of our house and watch the windows opposite, to try and catch a glimpse of Miss Adela.

Ten o’clock, eleven, struck, but she did not show herself at the window; and feeling quite sick at heart, he was thinking of going in again, when he suddenly heard a faint cough, about twenty yards away; and turning sharply, he saw the lady he was looking for crossing the road, having evidently just come back from some visit.

“Adela—at last,” he whispered as he caught her hand.

“Mr Drinkwater!” she cried in a startled way. “How you frightened me!”

“Love makes men fools,” said Mr Barclay, as he slipped into her home ere she could close the door. “Now take me in and introduce me to your sisters.”

“Adela, is that you? Here, for goodness’ sake. Why don’t you answer?”

“Is she there?”

The first was a rough man’s voice, the next that of a woman, and as they were heard in the passage, another voice cried hoarsely: “It’s of no use: the game’s up.”

“Hist! Hide! Behind that curtain! Anywhere!” panted Adela, starting up in alarm. “Too late!”

Barclay had sprung to his feet, and stood staring in amazement, and perfectly heedless of the girl’s appeal to him to hide, as two rough bricklayer-like men came in, followed by a woman.

“Will you let me pass?” cried Mr Barclay.—“Miss Mimpriss, I beg your pardon for this intrusion. Forgive me, and good-night.”

One man gave the other a quick look, and as Mr Barclay tried to pass, they closed with him, and, in spite of his struggles, bore him back from the door. The next moment, though, he recovered his lost ground, and would have shaken himself free, but the sour-looking woman who had entered with the two men watched her opportunity, got behind, flung her arms about the young man’s neck, and he was dragged heavily to the floor, where, as he lay half stunned, he saw Adela gazing at him with her brows knit, and then, without a word of protest, she hurried from the room.

Mr Barclay heaved himself up, and tried to rise; but one of his adversaries sat upon his chest while the other bound him hand and foot, an attempt at shouting for help being met by a pocket-handkerchief thrust into his mouth.

A minute later, as Mr Barclay lay staring wildly, the rough woman, whom he recalled now as one of the servants, and who had hurried from the room, returned, helping Adela to support a pallid-looking man, whose hands, face, and rough working clothes were daubed with clayey soil.

“Confound you! why didn’t you bring down the brandy?” he said harshly.—“Gently, girls, gently. That’s better. I’m half crushed.—Who’s that?”

“Visitor,” said one of Mr Barclay’s captors sourly. “What’s to be done?”

Mr Barclay looked wildly from one to the other, asking himself whether all this was some dream. Who were these men? Where the elderly Misses Mimpriss? And what was the meaning of Adela Mimpriss being on such terms with the injured man, who looked as if he had been working in some mine?

Their eyes met once, but she turned hers away directly, and held a glass of brandy to the injured man’s lips.

“That’s better,” he said. “I can talk now. I thought I was going to be smothered once.—Well, lads, the game’s up.”

“Why?” said one of the others sharply.

“Because it is. You won’t catch me there again if I know it; and here’s private inquiry at work from over the way.”

“Hold your tongue!” said the first man of the party. “There; he can’t help himself now. You watch him, Bell; and if he moves, give warning.”

The rough woman seated herself beside Mr Barclay and watched him fiercely. The two men crossed over to their companion; while Adela, still looking cold and angry, with brow wrinkled up, drew back to stand against the table and listen.

The men spoke in a low tone; but Mr Barclay caught a word now and then, from which he gathered that, while the man who had in some way been hurt was for giving up, the other two angrily declared that a short time would finish it now, and that they would go on with it at all hazards.

“And what will you do with him?” said the injured man grimly.

Mr Barclay could not help looking sharply at Adela, who just then met his eye, but it was with a look more of curiosity than anything else; and as she realised that he was gazing at her reproachfully, she turned away and watched the three men.

“Very well,” said the one who was hurt, “I wash my hands of what may follow.”

“All right.”

Mr Barclay turned cold as he wondered what was to happen next. He saw plainly enough now that the house had been let to a gang of men engaged upon some nefarious practice, but what it was he could not guess. Coining seemed to be the most likely thing; but from what he had heard and read, these men did not look like coiners.

Then a curious feeling of rage filled him, and the blood rushed to his brain as he lay reproaching himself for his folly. He had been attracted by this woman, who was evidently thoroughly in league with the man who spoke to her in a way which sent a jealous shudder through him, while the sisters of whom he had once or twice caught a glimpse, seemed to be absent, unless— The thought which occurred to him seemed to be so wild that he drove it away, and lay waiting for what was to come next.

“Be off, girls!” said the first man suddenly; and without a word, the two women present left the room, Adela not so much as casting a glance in the direction of the prisoner.

The three men whispered together for a few moments, and then Mr Barclay made an effort to get up, but it was useless, for the first two seized him between them, all bound as he was, and dragged him out of the room, along the passage, and down the stone steps to the basement, where they thrust him into the wine-cellar, and half-dragged him across there into the inner cellar, the houses on that side being exactly the same in construction as ours.

“Fetch a light,” said one of them; and this was done, when the speaker bent down and dragged the handkerchief from the prisoner’s mouth.

“You scoundrel!” cried Mr Barclay.

“Keep a civil tongue in your head, my fine fellow,” he said.

“You shall suffer for this,” retorted Mr Barclay.

“P’r’aps so. But now, listen. If you like to shout, you can do so, only I tell you the truth: no one can hear you when you’re shut in here; and if you do keep on making a noise, one of us may be tempted to come and silence you.”

“What do you want?—Money?”

“You to hold your tongue and be quiet. You behave yourself, and no harm shall come to you; but I warn you that if you attempt any games, look out, for you’ve desperate men to deal with. Now, then, will you take it coolly?”

“Tell me first what this means,” said Mr Barclay.

“I shall tell you nothing. I only say this—will you take it coolly, and do what we want?”

“I can’t help myself,” says Mr Barclay.

“That’s spoken like a sensible lad,” says the second man.—“Now, look here: you’ve got to stop for some days, perhaps, and you shall have enough to eat, and blankets to keep you warm.”

“But stop here—in this empty cellar?”

“That’s it, till we let you go. If you behave yourself, you shan’t be hurt. If you don’t behave yourself, you may get an ugly crack on the head to silence you. Now, then, will you be quiet?”

“I tell you again, that I cannot help myself.”

“Shall I undo his hands?” said one to the other.

“Yes; you can loosen them.”

This was done, and directly after Mr Barclay sat thinking in the darkness, alone with as unpleasant thoughts as a man could have for company.