Chapter 32 Minor Incidents

The train continued on toward London, and so did Mr. Pierce. At the end of Harleigh Road, near St. Martin's Church, he hailed a cab and rode it into town to Regent Street, where he got out.

Pierce walked along Regent Street casually, never once glancing over his shoulder, but pausing frequently to look in the shopwindows along the street, and to watch the reflections in the glass.

He did not like what he saw, but he was wholly unprepared for what he next heard as a familiar voice cried out, "Edward, dear Edward!"

Groaning inwardly, Pierce turned to see Elizabeth Trent. She was shopping, accompanied by a livery boy, who carried brightly wrapped packages. Elizabeth Trent colored deeply. "I--- why, I must say, this is an extraordinary surprise."

"I am so pleased to see you," Pierce said, bowing and kissing her hand.

"I--- yes, I---"She snatched her hand away and rubbed it with her other. "Edward," she said, taking a deep breath. "Edward, I did not know what had become of you."

"I must apologize," Pierce said smoothly. "I was very suddenly called abroad on business, and I am sure my letter from Paris was inadequate to your injured sensibilities."

"Paris?" she said, frowning.

"Yes. Did you not receive my letter from Paris?"

"Why, no."

"Damn!" Pierce said, and then immediately apologized for his strong language. "It is the French," he said; "they are so ghastly inefficient. If only I had known, but I never suspected--- and when you did not reply to me in Paris, I assumed that you were angry..."

"I? Angry? Edward, I assure you," she began, and broke off. "But when did you return?"

"Just three days past," Pierce said.

"How strange," Elizabeth Trent said, with a sudden look of unfeminine shrewdness, "for Mr. Fowler was to dinner a fortnight past, and spoke of seeing you."

"I do not wish to contradict a business associate of your father's, but Henry has the deplorable habit of mixing his dates. I've not seen him for nearly three months." Pierce quickly added: "And how is your father?"

"My father? Oh, my father is well, thank you." Her shrewdness was replaced by a look of hurt confusion. "Edward, I--- My father, in truth, spoke some rather unflattering words concerning your character."

"Did he?"

"Yes. He called you a cad." She sighed. "And worse."

"I wholly understand, given the circumstances, but---"

"But now," Elizabeth Trent said, with a sudden determination, "since you are returned to England, I trust we shall be seeing you at the house once more."

Here it was Pierces turn to be greatly discomfited. "My dear Elizabeth," he said, stammering. "I do not know how to say this," and he broke off, shaking his head. It seemed that tears were welling up in his eyes. "When I did not hear from you in Paris, I naturally assumed that you were displeased with me, and... well, as time passed..." Pierce suddenly straightened. "I regret to inform you that I am betrothed."

Elizabeth Trent stared. Her mouth fell open.

"Yes," Pierce said, "it is true. I have given my word."

"But to whom?"

"To a French lady."

"A French lady?"

"Yes, I fear it is true, all true. I was most desperately unhappy, you see."

"I do see, sir," she snapped, and turned abruptly on her heel and walked away. Pierce remained standing on the sidewalk, trying to appear as abject as possible, until she had climbed into her carriage and driven off. Then he continued down Regent Street.

Anyone who observed him might have noticed that at the bottom of Regent Street there was nothing about his manner or carriage that indicated the least remorse. He boarded a cab to Windmill Street, where he entered an accommodation house that was a known dolly-mop's lurk, but one of the better class of such establishments.

In the plush velvet hallway, Miss Miriam said, "He's upstairs. Third door on the right."

Pierce went upstairs and entered a room to find Agar seated, chewing a mint. "Bit late," Agar said. "Trouble?"

"I ran into an old acquaintance."

Agar nodded vaguely.

"What did you see?" Pierce said.

"I cooled two," Agar said. "Both riding your tail nice-like. One's a crusher in disguise; the other's dressed as a square-rigged sport. Followed you all the way down Harleigh, and took a cab when you climbed aboard."

Pierce nodded. "I saw the same two in Regent Street."

"Probably lurking outside now," Agar said. "How's Willy?"

"Willy looks to be turning nose," Pierce said.

"Must have done a job."

Pierce shrugged.

"What's to be done with Willy, then?"

"He'll be getting what any gammy trasseno gets."

"I'd bump him," Agar said.

"I don't know about bumping," Pierce said, "but he won't have another chance to blow on us."

"What'll you do with the officers?"

"Nothing for the moment," Pierce said. "I've got to think a bit." And he sat back, lit a cigar, and puffed in silence.

The planned robbery was only five days away, and the police were on to him. If Willy had sung, and loudly, then the police would know that Pierces gang had broken into the London Bridge Terminus offices.

"I need a new lay," he said, and stared at the ceiling, "A proper flash lay for the miltonians to discover." He watched the cigar smoke curl upward, and frowned.