The stranger took up his
quarters at the inn above named, and there remained for several weeks,
puzzling the waiters sadly to conjecture who or what he could be; for he
did no business; seemed to have no acquaintance in the town; and no
apparent object or aim in making it a place of sojournment. He, however,
paid his way handsomely, was quiet and gentlemanly in his manners, and
regular in his habits— circumstances which went far to reconcile the good
people of the King’s Arms—master, mistress, and servants—to their unknown
guest, notwithstanding the mystery in which his history, and the purpose
of his visit, was involved.
The manners of the
stranger, as already remarked, were quiet and composed; but there was an
expression of determination, of cool, calm resolution in his countenance,
that gave assurance of his being a man of strong mind and unshrinking
The sequel will show that
he was so. Mr Edgecomb, as we shall call him, seeing that he so called
himself, had been about or nearly a month a guest in the King’s Arms, when
two men called one night, shortly after dark, and desired to see the
They were ushered into a
private room, where was the person they desired to see.
"Have you an English
gentleman lodging in the house just now?" said one of the men.
"We have," replied the
landlord of the King’s Arms.
"Has he been here for some
time?" inquired the former.
"For about a month, I
think," said the latter.
"A tall man?" said the
first speaker, looking on a piece of paper which he held in his hand.
"Dark hair, and large black
"Yes. I think so."
"Light gray eyes?"
"Gentlemanly appearance and
"Both!" replied the
landlord of the King’s Arms.
"Our man, Bob," said the
first speaker, winking to his companion.
"Have you any notion who
this person is, whence he came, or what he is doing here?" continued the
former, addressing the landlord.
"Know nothing about him,"
replied the latter; "only that he pays his way and conducts himself in all
respects like a gentleman."
"Is he one though, think
you?" said the former, with an equivocal smile.
"Can’t say," replied the
landlord. "Take every man to be a gentleman who conducts himself like
"Not a bad rule, but, like
every other, it has exceptions," said the spokesman of the two visitors,
"and this is one."
"Now, sir," he continued,
"you don’t know who this man is. We’ll tell you; and expect that you will
aid us, if need be, in the discharge of our duty. He is a notorious
swindler and forger, on whom the police of every city in the kingdom have
long had their eye, but have hitherto been unable to convict in any one of
the numerous charges brought against him, so dexterously and cautiously
does he manage his proceedings. We think we have him now, however, in a
case of forgery. The bill is now lying in the council chambers, and we
have come here with a warrant to apprehend him. We’ll thank you, then, to
show us the gentleman’s apartment."
The men, who were criminal
officers, were shown, though with no great alacrity, the room occupied by
Mr Edgecomb. They entered it, and found that person sitting before the
fire reading a newspaper, with a decanter of wine on the table beside him.
Without moving a muscle, or
exhibiting the slightest discomposure, although he must have guessed the
purpose of his unceremonious visitors, Edgecomb awaited their approach,
looking steadily at them as they advanced.
One of the men came up to
him, and, touching him on the shoulder, said, "You are my prisoner, sir."
"Indeed," said Edgecomb,
coolly—nay, smiling, and without rising from his seat, or betraying the
smallest emotion. "Pray, sir, for what?"
"On a charge of forgery,
sir," replied the officer. "Here is my warrant; and you’ll oblige me by
coming along with us."
"Forgery, ha!" exclaimed
Edgecomb, with a contemptuous smile. "What sort of forgery is this I am
charged with, my man, eh? On whom am I said to have forged?" he added,
with the air of a man who, conscious of innocence, sports with both his
accusers and their accusation.
"The fiscal will tell you
all about that," replied the officer. "In the meantime, you will come
along with us, if you please."
"Oh, certainly; by all
means," said Edgecomb. "I’ll accompany you wherever you choose. Forgery,
ha! a good jest truly. But no matter, we’ll see the end of this odd
affair. Take a glass of wine, gentlemen?" he said, seizing the decanter,
filling up a glass, and pushing it towards the officers.
One of them took it up and
drunk it off. Edgecomb filled up another, and presented it to his
companion, who, nothing loth, did by it as his neighbour had done.
Their entertainer now
poured out another glass to himself, and drinking to the healths of his
visitors, tossed it off.
"Come, gentlemen." he now
said, looking at the decanter which was about a third full, "we may as
well finish it. There’s not much in it, and I don’t like my wine to get
flat, which this might probably do before I got back. Sit down then a
moment, if you please, gentlemen."
The sitting down the
officers declined; but the proposal to finish the bottle they readily
On the latter being
emptied, and not before, Edgecomb rose from his seat, and, after coolly
adjusting himself before the looking-glass over the mantelpiece, intimated
his readiness to attend the officers. The party—the latter and their
prisoner—left the apartment, and were about to quit the house, when they
met the landlord.
this," exclaimed Edgecomb, addressing the latter smilingly. "Charge of
forgery!—ha! ha! Odd affair, indeed. I don’t understand it. However, we
shall see what it means by and by. In the meantime, keep my apartment for
me, if you please—for this matter must, of course, be speedily put to
rights—when I shall return to you."
Confounded, after what he
had heard, by the unconcerned manner of his guest, the landlord could only
bow a reply. Edgecomb smiled, and nodded in return, and, accompanied by
his escort, quitted the house.
During all this time the
conduct of Edgecomb had been so guarded, his manner so composed and so
entirely free from anything like conscious guilt—and he had, moreover, met
the charge against him with such calm indifference--that the officers
themselves began to fear there was some mistake in the matter: either that
they had taken the wrong man, or that the charge against him was
unfounded. They, however, proceeded with their prisoner to the jail, where
they secured him for the night.
On the following morning,
Edgecomb was conducted into the presence of the procurator-fiscal, whose
chambers were within the jail buildings.
The case having taken wind,
and having excited considerable interest, on account of the gentlemanly
appearance and manner of the accused, the apartment of the public
functionary, before whom he was now brought, was crowded with the
professional acquaintance of the latter, curious to witness the progress,
and learn the result of the prisoner’s precognition.
On entering the apartment,
and finding it filled with respectable people, Edgecomb raised his hat
politely and bowed with an easy graceful air to those around him.
His manner and elegant
exterior—for he was an uncommonly fine-looking man, and dressed in the
extremity of the fashion, although in perfect good taste--made a strong
impression in his favour—so strong, that several of those present
acknowledged his courtesy by raising their hats also. Even the fiscal
himself shared in the same sentiment, as was evident by the way in which
he addressed him.
"Mr Edgecomb," he said, in
an unusually civil, if not respectful tone, "here is a charge of forgery
Edgecomb smiled and bowed.
"So I understand, sir," he
replied, in his usual calm and gentlemanly way. "Very strange affair,
indeed. Pray, sir, what sort of forgery is it I am accused of? Is it a
bill, bond, draft, or what is it, pray?"
"Why, sir, it’s a bill,"
said the fiscal, stretching out his hand, and taking from the top of his
desk a slip of paper. "A bill, sir, for £250, professing to be drawn upon
and accepted by Messrs Broomley, Kennilworth, & Broomley. Discounted in
the Royal Bank."
"So, so," said Edgecomb.
"Ha! very good, indeed. A bill for £250 accepted by—whom do you call the
"Broomley, Kennilworth, &
Broomley," repeated the fiscal.
"Ah, just so. Pray favour
me with a sight of this extraordinary document, if you please?"
Thrown off his guard by the
polite and easy manner of the accused, and the apparently undesigning way
in which the request was made, the fiscal, simply enough, handed Edgecomb,
who was standing on the outside of a small railing by which the desk was
enclosed, the bill.
On getting possession of
the fatal paper, the latter, without saying a word, walked up deliberately
to a blazing fire that was immediately behind him, threw the bill on it,
and with the heel of his boot, thrust it into the heart of the burning
coals, where it was, of course, instantly consumed.
On accomplishing this feat,
which, though done with the utmost composure, was yet too quickly
performed for any one present to interfere, Edgecomb turned round to the
fiscal, and, making him a low and polite bow, said—"That, sir, will save
both you and I a vast deal of trouble. I wish you, sir, and you gentlemen,
a very good morning." Saying which, he again bowed, and, with the most
entire self-possession and deliberation, walked out of the office; there
being, as he well knew, now that the bill was destroyed, no ground for his
We need scarcely add that
the case was one of life and death; for, seeing the severity with which
the law was in those days executed, Edgecomb would, beyond all manner of
doubt, have been hanged, had he not, by this prompt and bold proceeding,
succeeded in destroying the evidence of his guilt.