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[-248-] 

CHAPTER CCXI.

THE DEED.

    CRANKEY Jem was at dinner, in the afternoon of the day which followed the night of Holford's sad historical studies, when the young man entered his room.
    "Oh! so you've turned up at last," said Jem, pointing to a seat, and pushing a plate across the table in the same direction. "What have you been doing with yourself for the last two days? But sit down first, and get something to eat; for you look as pale and haggard as if you'd just been turned out of a workhouse."
    "I am not well, Jem," replied Holford, evasively; "and I cannot eat  thank you all the same. But I will take a glass of beer: it may refresh me."
    "Do. You really seem very ill, my poor lad," observed Crankey Jem, attentively surveying Holford's countenance, which was sadly changed. "If you have got no money left, my little store is at your service, as far as it goes; and you need not think of working in any way till you are better. I can easily make another boat or two more during the week; and so you shall not want for either medicine or good food."
    "You are very kind to me, Jem," said Holford, wiping away a tear. "If it hadn't been for you I don't know what I should have done. You have supplied me with the means of getting a lodging and  "
    "And you served me well by tracing the villain Tidkins to his nest in Globe Town," interrupted the returned transport. "I have watched about that neighbourhood every night since you followed him there, and have seen something that has made me hesitate a little before I pay him the debt of vengeance I owe him. Now that he is in my power, I don't care about waiting a while. Besides, if I can find him out in something that would send him to the gibbet, I would sooner let him die that way  as a dog, with a halter round his neck  than kill him outright with my dagger."
    "And you suspect  " began Holford.
    Yes  yes: but no matter now," cried Jem, hastily. "You are not in the right mood to-day to listen to me: but, either I am very much mistaken, or murder has been committed within the last few days at that house in Globe Town. At all events, I saw a person taken by force into the place one night; and that person has never come out again since."
    "How do you know!" said Holford. "You only watch about the neighbourhood by night."
    "And is it likely that a person who was conveyed into that house by force during the night, would be allowed to walk quietly out in the day-time?" demanded Crankey Jem. "No such thing! Tidkins is not the chap to play such a game. The person I speak of was blindfolded  I could see it all as plain as possible, for the moon was bright, though I kept in the shade. Now, being blindfolded," continued Jem, "It was to prevent her  "
    "What! was the person a woman?" cried Holford, his interest in Jem's conversation somewhat increasing, in spite of the absorbing nature of his own reflections.
    "Yes. And, as I was saying, the blindfolding was of course to prevent her knowing whereabouts she was: so it isn't likely that Tidkins would let her go away again in the broad day-light."
    "Neither does it seem probable that he took her there to make away with her," said Holford; "for, as the dead tell no tales, there was not any use in binding her eyes."
    "That also struck me," observed Crankey Jem; "and it's all those doubts and uncertainties that make me watch him so close to find out what it all means. And, mark, me, Harry  I will find it all out too! I'm pretty near as cunning as he is! Why  what a fool he must take me for, if he thinks I can't see that he has got a great hulking chap to dog me about. But I always give him the slip somehow or another; and every evening when I go out I take a different direction. So I'll be bound that I've set Tidkins and his man at fault. The night afore last I saw the spy, as I call him  [-249-]

 I mean the chap that is set to dog me-go to Tidkins's house; and about an hour afterwards a man I once knew well-one Jack Wicks, who is called the Buffer  went there also. And there's a precious nest of them!"
    "I say, Jem," exclaimed Henry Holford, abruptly "I wish you would lend me your pistols for a few hours."
    "And what do you want with pistols, young feller?" demanded the returned convict, laying down his knife, and looking Holford full in the face.
    "A friend of mine has made a wager with another man about hitting a halfpenny at thirty paces," said Henry, returning the glance in a manner so confident and unabashed, that Jem's suspicions were hushed in a moment.
    "Yes  you shall have the pistols till this evening" said he: "but mind you bring 'em back before dusk."
    With these words, he rose, went to a cupboard, and produced the weapons.
    "I'll be sure to bring them back by the time you go out," said Holford. "Are they loaded!"
    "No," answered Jem. "But here's powder and ball, which you can take along with you."
    "I wish you would load them all ready," observed Holford. "I  I don't think my friend knows how."
    "Not know how to load a pistol  and yet be able a to handle one skilfully!" ejaculated Jem, his vague suspicions returning.
    "Many persons learn to fire at a mark at Copenhagen House, or a dozen other places about London," said the young man, still completely unabashed; "and yet they can't load a pistol for the life of them."
    "Well  that's true enough," muttered Jem.
    Still he was not quite reassured; and yet he was unwilling to tax Holford with requiring the pistols for any improper purpose. The young lad's reasons might be true-they were at least feasible-and Jem was loth to hurt his feelings by hinting at any suspicion which the demand for the weapons had occasioned. Moreover, it would be churlish to refuse the loan of them  and almost equally so to decline loading them;  and the returned convict possessed an obliging disposition, although he had been so much knocked about in the world. He was also attached to Henry Holford, and would go far to serve him.
    [-250-] Nevertheless, he still hesitated.
    "Well  won't you do what I ask you, Jem?" said Holford, observing that he wavered.
    "Is it really for your friends?" demanded the man, turning short round upon the lad.
    "Don't you believe me?" cried Holford, now blushing deeply. "Why, you cannot think that I'm going to commit a highway robbery or a burglary in the day-time  even if I ever did at all?"
    "No  no," said Jem; "but you seemed so strange  so excited  when you first came in  "
    "Ha! ha!" cried Holford, laughing: "you thought I was going to make away with myself! No, Jem  the river would be better than the pistol, if I meant that."
    "Well  you must have your will, then," said Crankey Jem; and, turning to the cupboard, he proceeded to load the pistols.
    But still he was not altogether satisfied!  Holford rose from his seat with an assumed air of indifference, and approached the table where the little models of the ships were standing.
    A few minutes thus elapsed in profound silence.
    "They're all ready now," said Jem, at length; "and as your friends don't know how to load them, it's no use your taking the powder and ball. I suppose they'll fire a shot each, and have done with it?"
    "I suppose so," returned Holford, as he concealed the pistols about his person. "I shall see you again presently. Good bye till then."
    "Good bye," said Jem.
    But scarcely had Holford left the room a minute, when the returned convict followed him.  The fact was that there shot forth a gleam of such inexpressible satisfaction from Holford's eyes, at the moment when he grasped the pistols, that the vague suspicions which had already been floating in the mind of Crankey Jem seamed suddenly to receive confirmation  or at least to be materially strengthened; and he feared lest his young friend meditated self-destruction.
    "The pistols are of no use to him," muttered Jem, as he hastened down the stairs, slouching his large hat over his eyes; "but if he is bent on suicide, the river is not far off. I don't like his manner at all!"
    When he gained the street, he looked hastily up and down, and caught a glimpse of Holford, who was just turning into Russell Street, leading from Drury Lane towards Covent Garden.
    "I will watch him at all events," thought Crankey Jem. "If he means no harm, he will never find out that I did it; and if he does, I may save him."
    Meantime, Holford, little suspecting that his friend was at no great distance behind him, pursued his way towards St. James's Park.
    Now that his mind was bent upon a particular object, and that all considerations had resolved themselves into that fixed determination, his countenance, though very pale, was singularly calm and tranquil; and neither by his face nor his manner did he attract any particular notice as he wandered slowly along.
    He gained the Park, and proceeded up the Mall towards Constitution Hill.
    Crankey Jem followed him at a distance.
    "Perhaps, after all, it is true that he has got some friends to meet," he muttered to himself; "and it may be somewhere hereabouts that he is to join them."
    Holford stopped midway in the wide road intersecting Constitution Hill, and lounged in an apparently indifferent manner against the fence skirting the Green Park.
    There were but few persons about, in that particular direction, at the time,  although the afternoon was very fine, and the sun was shining brightly through the fresh, frosty air.
    It was now three o'clock; and some little bustle was visible amongst those few loungers who were at the commencement of the road, and who were enabled to command a view of the front of the palace.
    They ranged themselves on one side:  there was a trampling of horses; and in a few moments a open phaeton, drawn by four bays, turned rapidly from the park into the road leading over Constitution Hill.
    "They are coming!" murmured Holford to himself, as he observed the equipage from the short distance where he was standing.
    Every hat was raised by the little group at the end of the road, as the vehicle dashed by  for in it were seated the Queen and her illustrious husband.
    By a strange coincidence Her Majesty was sitting on the left hand of Prince Albert, and not on the right as usual: she was consequently nearest to the wall of the palace-gardens, while the Prince was nearest to the railings of the Green Park.
    And now the moment so anxiously desired by Holford, was at hand:  the phaeton draw nigh.
    He hesitated:  yes  he hesitated;  but it was only for a single second.
    "Now to avenge my expulsion from the palace!  now to make my name a subject for history!" were the thoughts that, rapid as lightning, flashed across his mind.
    Not another moment did he waver; but, advancing from the railings against which he had been lounging, he drew a pistol from his breast and fired it point-blank at the royal couple as the phaeton dashed past.
    The Queen screamed and rose from her seat; and the postillions stopped their horses.
    "Drive on!" cried the Prince, in a loud tone, as he pulled Her Majesty back upon the seat; and his countenance was ashy pale.
    Holford threw the first pistol hastily away from him, and drew forth the second.
    But at that moment a powerful grasp seized him from behind,  his arm was knocked upwards,  the pistol went off into the air,  and a well-known voice cried in his ears, "My God! Harry, what madness is this?"
    Several other persons had by this time collected on the spot; and the most cordial shouts of "God save the Queen!" "God save the Prince!" burst from their lips.
    Her Majesty bowed in a most graceful and grateful manner: the Prince raised his hat in acknowledgment of the sympathy and attachment manifested towards his royal spouse and himself;  and the phaeton rolled rapidly away towards Hyde Park, in obedience to the wishes of the Queen and the orders of the Prince.
    "What madness is this, I say, Harry?" repeated Crankey Jem, without relaxing his hold upon the would-be regicide.
    [-251-] But Holford hung down his head, and maintained a moody silence.
    "Do you know him?" "Who is he?" were the questions that were now addressed to Crankey Jem from all sides.
    But before he could answer his interrogators, two policemen broke through the crowd, and took Holford into custody.
    "We must take him to the Home Office," said one of the officers, who was a serjeant, to his companion.
    "Yes, Mr. Crisp," was the reply.
    "And you, my good feller," continued the serjeant, addressing himself to Crankey Jem, "had better come along with us  since you was the first to seize on this here young miscreant."
    "I'd rather not," said Jem, now terribly alarmed on his own account: "I  "
    "Oh! nonsense," cried Mr. Crisp. "The Home Secretary is a wery nice genelman, and will tell you how much obleeged he is to you for having seized  But, I say," added Mr. Crisp, changing his tone and assuming a severe look as he gazed on the countenance of the returned convict, "what the deuce have we here?"
    "What, Mr. Crisp?" said the policeman, who had charge of Holford.
    "Why! if my eyes doesn't deceive me," cried the serjeant, "this here feller is one James Cuffin, generally known as Crankey Jem  and he's a 'scaped felon."
    With these words Mr. Crisp collared the poor fellow, who offered no resistance.
    But large tears rolled down his cheeks!
    Policemen and prisoners then proceeded across the park to the Home Office, followed by a crowd that rapidly increased in numbers as it rolled onwards.   

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