Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

The Cloven Foot, volume II, an electronic edition

by M.E. Braddon [Braddon, M.E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1837-1915]

date: [187?]
source publisher: John and Robert Maxwell
collection: Genre Fiction

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MR. DESROLLES left the Manor House a new man. He held his head erect, and bore himself with a lofty air, even before the butler who showed him out. He was respectabilised by a full purse. There was nothing left in him of the shabby, downcast stranger who had approached the house with an air of mingled mystery and apprehension. Trimmer hardly knew him. The man's seedy overcoat hung with the reckless grace of artistic indifference to attire, and not with the forlorn droop of beggary. His hat was set on with a debonair slant. He looked a Bohemian, a painter, an actor, a popular parson gone to the bad: anything rather than an undistinguished pauper. He flung Trimmer half-a-crown, with the lofty elegance of a Lauzun or a Richelieu, nodded a condescending good-night, and walked slowly along the gravel drive, humming | | 226 La Donna e mobile, with not an unskilful mimicry of him who, of all men that ever walked the boards of Covent Garden, looked and moved like a prince of the blood royal, and the thinnest thread of whose fading voice sent a thrill through every heart in the vast opera-house.

The snow was no longer falling. It lay in patches here and there upon the grass, and whitened the topmost edge of the moor, but there was an end of the brief snowstorm. The stars were shining in a deep blue sky, calm and clear as at midsummer. The moon was rising behind the dark ridge of moor. It was a scene that might have stirred the heart of a man fresh from the life of cities; but the thoughts of Desrolles were occupied in considering the new aspect given to affairs by his discovery of Jack Chicot in the young squire of Hazlehurst, and in calculating how he might best turn the occasion to his own peculiar profit.

'A good, easy-going fellow,' he reflected, 'and he seems inclined to be open-handed. But if the dancer was his legal wife, and if he married Laura a year ago, that poor girl is no more his wife than | | 227 I am. Awkward for me to wink at such a position as that, in my paternal character; yet it might be dangerous for me to interfere.'

'Good evening, Mr. Desrolles,' said a voice close behind him.

He had been so deeply absorbed in self-interested speculations that he had not heard footsteps on the, gravel. He turned sharply round, surprised at the familiar mention of his name, and encountered Edward Clare.

In that dim light he failed to recognise the man whom he had met in Long Acre, and talked with for about ten minutes, nearly a year ago.

'You seem to have forgotten me,' said Clare, pleasantly; 'yet we have met before. Do you remember meeting me in Long Acre one afternoon, and our talking together of your fellow-lodger, Mr. Chicot?'

'Your face and voice are both familiar to me,' said Desrolles, thoughtfully. 'Yes, you are the, gentleman with whom I conversed for some minutes in the bar of the Rose Tavern. I remember your speaking of Hazlehurst. You belong to this part of the world, I presume?'

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'I do; but I am rather surprised to see you in such an out-of-the-way nook and corner of the universe—on Christmas Eve, too——'

'When I ought to be hanging up holly in my ancestral mansion, and kissing my grandchildren under the mistletoe,' interjected Desrolles, with a harsh laugh. 'Sir, I am a floating weed upon the river of life, and you need never be surprised to see me anywhere. I have no cable to moor me to any harbour, no dock but the hospital, no haven but the grave.'

Desrolles uttered this dismal speech with positive relish. He had a hundred pounds in his pocket, and the world before him where to choose. What did he want with dock or haven? He was by nature a rover.

'I am very glad we have met,' said Edward, gravely; 'I have something serious to say to you—so serious that I would rather say it within four walls. Can you come with me to my house for half an hour, and let me talk to you over a tumbler of toddy?'

Toddy had but little temptation for the brandy | | 229 drinker; it was almost as if some one had offered him milk and water.

'I want to get away by the mail,' said Desrolles, doubtfully; 'and what the deuce can you have to say to me?'

'Something of the utmost importance. Something that may put money in your purse.'

'The suggestion provokes my curiosity. Suppose I forego the idea of the mail? It's a cold night, and I've had a good deal of travelling since morning. Does your village boast an inn where a mall can get a decent bed?'

'Yes, they will make you comfortable at the George. You had better come home with me, and hear what I have to say. It's a quarter past nine, and the mail goes at ten thirty. You could hardly do it, if you tried.'

'Well, let the mail go without this Cæsar and his fortunes; I'll hear what you have to say.'

They walked together to the Vicarage. Mr. and Mrs. Clare and Celia were still at the Manor House, where the Christmas-tree was being stripped by the tumultuous infants, with shouts of rapture | | 230 and shrill screams of delight. Edward had slipped out directly he had finished the 'Jackdaw,' under the pretence of smoking a cigar, and had gone round to the front of the house to watch for the unknown visitor's departure.

The Vicarage was wrapped in darkness, save in the servants' quarters, where some mild rejoicings were in progress. Edward let himself in at the hall door, and went up to his den, followed by Mr. Desrolles The fire had burnt low, but there was a basket of word by the hearth. Edward flung on a log, and lighted the candles on the table. Then he opened a cosy little corner cupboard in the panelling, and took out a black bottle, a couple of tumblers, and a sugar basin.

'If your whiskey's good, don't trouble to mix it,' said Desrolles; 'I'd rather taste it neat.'

He settled himself comfortably in the chair beside the hearth, the poet's own particular rocking chair, in which he was wont to cradle his fine fancies, and sometimes hush his genius to placid slumber.

'A tidy little crib,' said Desrolles, looking | | 231 curiously round the room, with all its masculine luxuries, and feminine frivolities. 'I wonder you should speak so disparagingly of a village in which you've such snug quarters.'

'The grub is snug in his cocoon," retorted Edward, 'but that isn't life.'

'No. Life is to be a butterfly, at the mercy of every wind that blows. I think on the whole the grub has the best of it."

'Help yourself,' said Edward, pushing the whisky bottle across the table to his visitor.

Desrolles filled a glass and emptied it at a draught. 'New and raw,' he said, disapprovingly.

"Well, Mr.——. By the way you did not favour me with your card when last we met.'

'My name is Clare.'

'Well, Mr. Clare; here I am. I have gone out, of my own way to put myself at your disposal. What is this wondrous communication you have to make to me?'

'First, let us discuss your own position.'

'I beg your pardon,' exclaimed Desrolles, rising and taking up his hat. 'I did not come here to talk about | | 232 that. If you've set a trap for me you'll find you've got the wrong customer. I belong to the ferret tribe.'

'My dear fellow, don't be in such a hurry,' said Edward, putting up his white womanish hand in languid entreaty; 'as a prelude to what I have got to say I am obliged to speak of your own position with reference to Laura Treverton, and her husband, John Treverton, otherwise Jack Chicot.'

'What do you mean?'

'Simply what I say. John Treverton, squire of Hazlehurst, and Jack Chicot—Bohemian, adventurer, artist in black and white, unsuccessful painter in oils, what you will—are one and the same. It may suit Mr. Treverton to forget that he was ever Jack Chicot; but the story of his past life is not blotted out because he is ashamed of it. You know, and I know, that the present lord of Hazlehurst manor is Mrs. Evitt's old lodger.'

'You must be crazy to suggest such a thing,' said Desrolles, looking at the other with an air of half stupefied inquiry, as a man in whom he did verily perceive indications of insanity. 'The two men have not one attribute in common.'

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'If the man I saw talking to you in Long Acre was Chicot, the caricaturist, then Chicot and Treverton are one.'

'My dear fellow, your eyes played you false. Possibly there may be a kind of likeness, as far as height, figure, complexion, go.'

'I saw the man's face at the magazine office, and I'll swear it was Treverton's face.'

Desrolles shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say, 'Here is a poor half-cracked fellow labouring under a harmless delusion. I must indulge him.'

'Well, my dear sir,' he said presently, stretching his well-worn boots before the hearth, and luxuriating in the warmth of the blazing wood, 'if this is all you have to say, you might as well have let me get away by the mail.'

'You deny the identity of John Treverton and Chicot, the caricaturist.'

'Most emphatically. I have the honour to know both men, and am in a position to state that they are totally distinct individuals—bearing a kind of resemblance to each other in certain | | 234 broad characteristics—height, figure, complexion—a resemblance that might mislead a man seeing one of the two for a few moments, as you saw Chicot——'

'How do you know how often I saw Chicot?'

'I draw my inference from your own conduct. If you had seen him often—if you had seen him more than once—you could not possibly mistake him for Mr. Treverton, or Mr. Treverton for him.'

Edward Clare shrugged his shoulders, and sat looking frowningly at the fire for some moments. Whatever this man Desrolles knew, or whatever he thought, it was evident that there was very little to be got out of him.

'You are very positive,' Edward said presently, so I suppose you are right. After all I can have no desire to identify the husband of a woman I highly esteem with such a fellow as this Chicot. I waist only to protect her interests. Married to a scoundrel, what might not be her fate? Perhaps as terrible as that of the dancer.'

Desrolles answered nothing. He was lying | | 235 back in the rocking chair, resting, his eyes half closed.

'Have you seen Chicot since his wife was murdered?' asked Edward, after a pause.

'No one has seen him. It is my belief that he made straight for one of the bridges, and drowned himself.'

'In that case his body would have been found, and his death made known to the police.'

'You would not say that if you were a Londoner. How many nameless corpses do you think are fished out of the Thames every week—how many unrecognised corpses lie in the east-end deadhouses waiting for some one to claim them, and are never claimed or identified, and go to the paupers' burial-ground without a name. The police did not know Chicot. They had only his description to guide them in their search for him. I am very clear in my mind that the poor devil put himself out of their way in the most effectual manner.'

'You think he murdered his wife.'

Desrolles shrugged his shoulders dubiously.

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'I think nothing,' he answered. 'Why should I think the very worst of a man who was my friend? But I know he bolted. The inference is against his innocence.'

'If he is alive it shall be my business to find him,' said Edward savagely, 'The crime was brutal—unprovoked—inexcusable—and if it is in my power to bring it home to him he shall suffer for it.'

'You speak as if you had a personal animosity,' said Desrolles. 'I could understand the detectives being savage with him, for he has led them a pretty dance, and they have been held up to ridicule for their failure in catching him. But why you—a gentleman living at ease here—should feel thus strongly——'

'I have my reasons,' said Edward.

'Well, I'll wish you good night. It's getting late, and I suppose the George is an early house. Au revoir, Mr. Clare. By the way, when you told me your name just now I forgot to ask you how you came to be so familiar with mine.'

'I saw it in the newspapers, in the report of the inquest oat Madame Chicot.'

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'True. I had told you that I was Jack Chicot's fellow-lodger. I had forgotten that. Good night.'

'You are still living in Cibber Street, I suppose?'

'No, the house became hateful to me after that terrible event. Mrs. Evitt lost both her lodgers. Mrs. Rawber, the tragedienne, moved two doors off. My address is at the Poste Restante all over Europe. But for the next week or so I may be found at Paris.'

'Good night,' said Edward. 'I must come down stairs and let you out. My people ought to be home by this time, and perhaps you may not care to meet them.'

'It is indifferent to me,' Desrolles answered, loftily.

They did not encounter the Vicar or his wife on the stairs. The children's party had been kept up till the desperate hour of half-past ten, and Mr. and Mrs. Clare were now on their road home, leaving Celia behind them to spend Christmas Day with the Trevertons.

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