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Ghosts I have Met and Some Others


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Author Topic: Ghosts I have Met and Some Others  (Read 1132 times)
Keeper of the Seven Keys
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« Reply #120 on: November 03, 2009, 02:28:14 am »

"And not yourself?" queried the attorney.

"Well, I don't see what that has to do with it," returned Parton.
"As to the locality there is no question. He was there. We saw him,
and others saw him, and we have taken the trouble to come down here
to state the fact, and have brought with us the call-boy from the
hotel, who can support our testimony if it is not regarded as
sufficient. I advise you, however, as attorney for Barker, not to
inquire too deeply into that matter, because I am convinced that if
he isn't guilty of this crime--as of course he is not--he hasn't the
cleanest record in the world. He has bad written on every line of
his face, and there were one or two things connected with our
meeting with him that mightn't be to his taste to have mentioned in
court."

"I don't need advice, thank you," said the attorney, dryly. "I wish
simply to establish the fact of his presence at Keswick at the hour
of 5 P.M. on Tuesday, August 16th. That was the hour at which the
murder is supposed--in fact, is proved--to have been committed. At
5.30, according to witnesses, my client was seen in the
neighborhood, faint with loss of blood from a knife-wound in the
shoulder. Barker has the knife-wound, but he might have a dozen of
them and be acquitted if he wasn't in Frewenton on the day in
question."

"You may rely upon us to prove that," said I. "We will swear to it.
We can produce tangible objects presented to us on that afternoon by
Barker--"

"I can't produce mine," said Parton. "I threw it into the lake."

"Well, I can produce the stone he gave me," said I, "and I'll do it
if you wish."

"That will be sufficient, I think," returned the attorney. "Barker
spoke especially about that stone, for it was a half of an odd
souvenir of the East, where he was born, and he fortunately has the
other half. The two will fit together at the point where the break
was made, and our case will be complete."

The attorney then left us. The following day we appeared at the
preliminary examination, which proved to be the whole examination as
well, since, despite the damning circumstantial evidence against
Barker, evidence which shook my belief almost in the veracity of my
own eyes, our plain statements, substantiated by the evidence of the
call-boy and the two halves of the oriental pebble, one in my
possession and the other in Barker's, brought about the discharge of
the prisoner from custody; and the "Frewenton Atrocity" became one
of many horrible murders, the mystery of which time alone, if
anything, could unravel.

After Barker was released he came to me and thanked me most
effusively for the service rendered him, and in many ways made
himself agreeable during the balance of our stay in London. Parton,
however, would have nothing to do with him, and to me most of his
attentions were paid. He always had a singularly uneasy way about
him, as though he were afraid of some impending trouble, and finally
after a day spent with him slumming about London--and a more perfect
slummer no one ever saw, for he was apparently familiar with every
one of the worst and lowest resorts in all of London as well as on
intimate terms with leaders in the criminal world--I put a few
questions to him impertinently pertinent to himself. He was
surprisingly frank in his answers. I was quite prepared for a more
or less indignant refusal when I asked him to account for his
intimacy with these dregs of civilization.

"It's a long story," he said, "but I'll tell it to you. Let us run
in here and have a chop, and I'll give you some account of myself
over a mug of ale."

We entered one of the numerous small eating-houses that make London
a delight to the lover of the chop in the fulness of its glory. When
we were seated and the luncheon ordered Barker began.

"I have led a very unhappy life. I was born in India thirty-nine
years ago, and while my every act has been as open and as free of
wrong as are those of an infant, I have constantly been beset by
such untoward affairs as this in which you have rendered such
inestimable service. At the age of five, in Calcutta, I was in peril
of my liberty on the score of depravity, although I never committed
any act that could in any sense be called depraved. The main cause
of my trouble at that time was a small girl of ten whose sight was
partially destroyed by the fiendish act of some one who, according
to her statement, wantonly hurled a piece of broken glass into one
of her eyes. The girl said it was I who did it, although at the time
it was done, according to my mother's testimony, I was playing in
her room and in her plain view. That alone would not have been a
very serious matter for me, because the injured child might have
been herself responsible for her injury, but in a childish spirit of
fear, afraid to say so, and, not realizing the enormity of the
charge, have laid it at the door of any one of her playmates she saw
fit. She stuck to her story, however, and there were many who
believed that she spoke the truth and that my mother, in an endeavor
to keep me out of trouble, had stated what was not true."

"But you were innocent, of course?" I said.

"I am sorry you think it necessary to ask that," he replied, his
pallid face flushing with a not unnatural indignation; "and I
decline to answer it," he added. "I have made a practice of late,
when I am in trouble or in any way under suspicion, to let others do
my pleading and prove my innocence. But you didn't mean to be like
your friend Parton, I know, and I cannot be angry with a man who has
done so much for me as you have--so let it pass. I was saying that
standing alone the accusation of that young girl would not have been
serious in its effects in view of my mother's testimony, had not a
seeming corroboration come three days later, when another child was
reported to have been pushed over an embankment and maimed for life
by no less a person than my poor innocent self. This time I was
again, on my mother's testimony, at her side; but there were
witnesses of the crime, and they every one of them swore to my
guilt, and as a consequence we found it advisable to leave the home
that had been ours since my birth, and to come to England. My father
had contemplated returning to his own country for some time, and the
reputation that I had managed unwittingly to build up for myself in
Calcutta was of a sort that made it easier for him to make up his
mind. He at first swore that he would ferret out the mystery in the
matter, and would go through Calcutta with a drag-net if necessary
to find the possible other boy who so resembled me that his
outrageous acts were put upon my shoulders; but people had be-gun to
make up their minds that there was not only something wrong about
me, but that my mother knew it and had tried to get me out of my
scrapes by lying--so there was nothing for us to do but leave."

"And you never solved the mystery?" I queried.

"Well, not exactly," returned Barker, gazing abstractedly before
him. "Not exactly; but I have a theory, based upon the bitterest
kind of experience, that I know what the trouble is."

"You have a double?" I asked.

"You are a good guesser," he replied; "and of all unhanged criminals
he is the very worst."

There was a strange smile on his lips as Carleton Barker said this.
His tone was almost that of one who was boasting--in fact, so
strongly was I impressed with his appearance of conceit when he
estimated the character of his double, that I felt bold enough to
say:

"You seem to be a little proud of it, in spite of all."

Barker laughed.

"I can't help it, though he has kept me on tenter-hooks for a
lifetime," he said. "We all feel a certain amount of pride in the
success of those to whom we are related, either by family ties or
other shackles like those with which I am bound to my murderous
_alter ego_. I knew an Englishman once who was so impressed with the
notion that he resembled the great Napoleon that he conceived the
most ardent hatred for his own country for having sent the
illustrious Frenchman to St. Helena. The same influence--a very
subtle one--I feel. Here is a man who has maimed and robbed and
murdered for years, and has never yet been apprehended. In his
chosen calling he has been successful, and though I have been put to
my trumps many a time to save my neck from the retribution that
should have been his, I can't help admiring the fellow, though I'd
kill him if he stood before me!"

"And are you making any effort to find him?"

"I am, of course," said Barker; "that has been my life-work. I am
fortunately possessed of means enough to live on, so that I can
devote all my time to unravelling the mystery. It is for this reason
that I have acquainted myself with the element of London with which,
as you have noticed, I am very familiar. The life these criminals
are leading is quite as revolting to me as it is to you, and the
scenes you and I have witnessed together are no more unpleasant to
you than they are to me; but what can I do? The man lives and must
be run down. He is in England, I am certain. This latest diversion
of his has convinced me of that."

"Well," said I, rising, "you certainly have my sympathy, Mr. Barker,
and I hope your efforts will meet with success. I trust you will
have the pleasure of seeing the other gentleman hanged."

"Thank you," he said, with a queer look in his eyes, which, as I
thought it over afterwards, did not seem to be quite as appropriate
to his expression of gratitude as it might have been.
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