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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter VIII A Small Precaution

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In my dejection I took a new view of the night's outrage. It was no common burglar's work, for what had I worth stealing? It was the work of my unseen enemies, who dogged me in the street; they alone knew why; the doctor had called these hallucinations, and I had forced myself to agree with the doctor; but I could not deceive myself in my present mood. I remembered the steps, the steps - the stopping when I stopped - the drawing away in the crowded streets - the closing up in quieter places. Why had I never looked round? Why? Because till to-day I had thought it mere vulgar curiosity; because a few had bored me, I had imagined the many at my heels; but now I knew - I knew! It was the few again: a few who hated me even unto death.

The idea took such a hold upon me that I did not trouble my head with reasons and motives. Certain persons had designs upon my life; that was enough for me. On the whole, the thought was stimulating; it set a new value on existence, and it roused a certain amount of spirit even in me. I would give the fellows another chance before I left town. They should follow me once more, and this time to some purpose. Last night they had left a knife on me; to-night I would have a keepsake ready for them.

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Hitherto I had gone unarmed since my landing, which, perhaps, was no more than my duty as a civilized citizen. On Black Hill Flats, however, I had formed another habit, of which I should never have broken myself so easily, but for the fact that all the firearms I ever had were reddening and rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. I now went out and bought me such a one as I had never possessed before.

The revolver was then in its infancy; but it did exist; and by dusk I was owner of as fine a specimen as could be procured in the city of London. It had but five chambers, but the barrel was ten inches long; one had to cap it, and to put in the powder and the wadded bullet separately; but the last-named would have killed an elephant. The oak case that I bought with it cumbers my desk as I write, and, shut, you would think that it had never contained anything more lethal than fruit-knives. I open it, and there are the green-baize compartments, one with a box of percussion caps, still apparently full, another that could not contain many more wadded-bullets, and a third with a powder-horn which can never have been much lighter. Within the lid is a label bearing the makers' names; the gentlemen themselves are unknown to me, even if they are still alive; nevertheless, after five-and-forty years, let me dip my pen to Messrs. Deane, Adams and Deane!

That night I left this case in my room, locked, and the key in my waistcoat pocket; in the right-hand side-pocket of my overcoat I carried my Deane and Adams, loaded in every chamber; also my right hand, as innocently as you could wish. And just that night I was not followed! I walked across Regent's Park, and I dawdled on Primrose Hill, without the least result. Down I turned into the Avenue Road, and presently was strolling between green fields towards Finchley. The moon was up, but nicely shaded by a thin coating of clouds which extended across the sky: it was an ideal night for it. It was also my last night in town, and I did want to give the beggars their last chance. But they did not even attempt to avail themselves of it: never once did they follow me: my ears were in too good training to make any mistake. And the reason only dawned on me as I drove back disappointed: they had followed me already to the gunsmith's!

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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