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Title: In the Mayor's Parlour
Author: Fletcher, J. S. (Joseph Smith), 1863-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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IN THE MAYOR'S PARLOUR

By J. S. FLETCHER

JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LIMITED

LONDON                    MCMXXII



SECOND EDITION

_Printed in Great Britain by_ Butler & Tanner, _Frome and London_.



CONTENTS


 CHAP.                                                      PAGE

     I  THE MAYOR'S PARLOUR                                   1
    II  THE CAMBRIC HANDKERCHIEF                             14
   III  THE TANNERY HOUSE                                    27
    IV  BULL'S SNUG                                          41
     V  SLEEPING FIRES                                       53
    VI  THE ANCIENT OFFICE OF CORONER                        67
   VII  THE VOLUNTARY WITNESS                                80
  VIII  MRS. SAUMAREZ                                        93
    IX  THE RIGHT TO INTERVENE                              107
     X  THE CAT IN THE BAG                                  121
    XI  THE NINETEEN MINUTES' INTERVAL                      132
   XII  CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE                             143
  XIII  A WOMAN INTERVENES                                  153
   XIV  WHOSE VOICES?                                       164
    XV  THE SPECIAL EDITION                                 174
   XVI  THE CASTLE WALL                                     185
  XVII  IMPREGNABLE                                         196
 XVIII  LOOSE STRANDS                                       208
   XIX  BLACK SECRETS AND RED TAPE                          221
    XX  THE FELL HAND                                       235
   XXI  CORRUPTION                                          246
  XXII  THE PARLOUR-MAID                                    258
 XXIII  THE CONNECTING WALL                                 268
  XXIV  BEHIND THE PANEL                                    280
   XXV  THE EMPTY ROOM                                      291



IN THE MAYOR'S PARLOUR



CHAPTER I

THE MAYOR'S PARLOUR


Hathelsborough market-place lies in the middle of the town--a long,
somewhat narrow parallelogram, enclosed on its longer side by old gabled
houses; shut in on its western end by the massive bulk of the great
parish church of St. Hathelswide, Virgin and Martyr, and at its eastern
by the ancient walls and high roofs of its mediæval Moot Hall. The inner
surface of this space is paved with cobble-stones, worn smooth by
centuries of usage: it is only of late years that the conservative
spirit of the old borough has so far accommodated itself to modern
requirements as to provide foot-paths in front of the shops and houses.
But there that same spirit has stopped; the utilitarian of to-day would
sweep away, as being serious hindrances to wheeled traffic, the two
picturesque fifteenth-century erections which stand in this
market-place; these, High Cross and Low Cross, one at the east end, in
front of the Moot Hall, the other at the west, facing the chancel of the
church, remain, to the delight of the archæologist, as instances of the
fashion in which our forefathers built gathering places in the very
midst of narrow thoroughfares.

Under the graceful cupola and the flying buttresses of High Cross the
countryfolk still expose for sale on market-days their butter and their
eggs; around the base of the slender shaft called Low Cross they still
offer their poultry and rabbits; on other than market-days High Cross
and Low Cross alike make central, open-air clubs, for the patriarchs of
the place, who there assemble in the lazy afternoons and still lazier
eventides, to gossip over the latest items of local news; conscious that
as they are doing so their ancestors have done for many a generation,
and that old as they may be themselves, in their septuagenarian or
octogenarian states, they are as infants in comparison with the age of
the stones and bricks and timbers about them, grey and fragrant with the
antiquity of at least three hundred years.

Of all this mass of venerable material, still sound and uncrumbled, the
great tall-towered church at one end of the market-place, and the
square, heavily fashioned Moot Hall at the other, go farthest back,
through association, into the mists of the Middle Ages. The church dates
from the thirteenth century and, though it has been skilfully restored
on more than one occasion, there is nothing in its cathedral-like
proportions that suggests modernity; the Moot Hall, erected a hundred
years later, remains precisely as when it was first fashioned, and
though it, too, has passed under the hand of the restorer its renovation
has only taken the shape of strengthening an already formidably
strong building. Extending across nearly the whole eastern end
of the market-place, and flanked on one side by an ancient
dwelling-house--once the official residence of the Mayors of
Hathelsborough--and on the other by a more modern but still old-world
building, long used as a bank, Hathelsborough Moot Hall presents the
appearance of a mediæval fortress, as though its original builders had
meant it to be a possible refuge for the townsfolk against masterful
Baron or marauding Scot. From the market-place itself there is but one
entrance to it; an arched doorway opening upon a low-roofed stone hall;
in place of a door there are heavy gates of iron, with a smaller
wicket-gate set in their midst; from the stone hall a stone stair leads
to the various chambers above; in the outer walls the windows are high
and narrow; each is filled with old painted glass. A strong, grim
building, this; and when the iron gates are locked, as they are every
night when the curfew bell--an ancient institution jealously kept up in
Hathelsborough--rings from St. Hathelswide's tower, a man might safely
wager his all to nothing that only modern artillery could effect an
entrance to its dark and gloomy interior.

On a certain April evening, the time being within an hour of
curfew--which, to be exact, is rung in Hathelsborough every night, all
the year round, sixty minutes after sunset, despite the fact that it is
nowadays but a meaningless if time-honoured ceremony--Bunning, caretaker
and custodian of the Moot Hall, stood without its gates, smoking his
pipe and looking around him. He was an ex-Army man, Bunning, who had
seen service in many parts of the world, and was frequently heard to
declare that although he had set eyes on many men and many cities he
had never found the equal of Hathelsborough folk, nor seen a fairer
prospect than that on which he now gazed. The truth was that Bunning was
a Hathelsborough man, and having wandered about a good deal during his
military service, from Aldershot to Gibraltar, and Gibraltar to Malta,
and Malta to Cairo, and Cairo to Peshawar, was well content to settle
down in a comfortable berth amidst the familiar scenes of his childhood.
But anyone who loves the ancient country towns of England would have
agreed with Bunning that Hathelsborough market-place made an unusually
attractive picture on a spring evening. There were the old gabled
houses, quaintly roofed and timbered; there the lace-like masonry of
High Cross; there the slender proportions of Low Cross; there the mighty
bulk of the great church built over the very spot whereon the virgin
saint suffered martyrdom; there, towering above the gables on the north
side, the well-preserved masonry of the massive Norman Keep of
Hathelsborough Castle; there a score of places and signs with which
Bunning had kept up a close acquaintance in youth and borne in mind when
far away under other skies. And around the church tower, and at the base
of the tall keep, were the elms for which the town was famous; mighty
giants of the tree world, just now bursting into leaf, and above them
the rooks and jackdaws circling and calling above the hum and murmur of
the town.

To Bunning's right and left, going away from the eastern corner of the
market-place, lay two narrow streets, called respectively River Gate and
Meadow Gate--one led downwards to the little river on the southern edge
of the town; the other ran towards the wide-spread grass-lands that
stretched on its northern boundary. And as he stood looking about him,
he saw a man turn the corner of Meadow Gate--a man who came hurrying
along in his direction, walking sharply, his eyes bent on the flags
beneath his feet, his whole attitude that of one in deep reflection. At
sight of him Bunning put his pipe in his pocket, gave himself the
soldier's shake and, as the man drew near, stood smartly to attention.
The man looked up--Bunning's right hand went up to his cap in the old
familiar fashion; that was how, for many a long year of service, he had
saluted his superiors.

There was nothing very awe-compelling about the person whom the
caretaker thus greeted with so much punctilious ceremony. He was a
little, somewhat insignificant-looking man--at first sight. His clothes
were well-worn and carelessly put on; the collar of his under-coat
projected high above that of his overcoat; his necktie had slipped round
towards one ear; his linen was frayed; his felt hat, worn anyway, needed
brushing; he wore cotton gloves, too big for him. He carried a mass of
papers and books under one arm; the other hand grasped an umbrella which
had grown green and grey in service. He might have been all sorts of
insignificant things: a clerk, going homeward from his work; a
tax-gatherer, carrying his documents; a rent-collector, anxious about a
defaulting tenant--anything of that sort. But Bunning knew him for Mr.
Councillor John Wallingford, at that time Mayor of Hathelsborough. He
knew something else too--that Wallingford, in spite of his careless
attire and very ordinary appearance, was a remarkable man. He was not a
native of the old town; although he was, for twelve months at any rate,
its first magistrate, and consequently the most important person in the
place, Hathelsborough folk still ranked him as a stranger, for he had
only been amongst them for some twelve years. But during that time he
had made his mark in the town--coming there as managing clerk to a firm
of solicitors, he had ultimately succeeded to the practice which he had
formerly managed for its two elderly partners, now retired. At an early
period of his Hathelsborough career he had taken keen and deep interest
in the municipal affairs of his adopted town and had succeeded in
getting a seat on the Council, where he had quickly made his influence
felt. And in the previous November he had been elected--by a majority of
one vote--to the Mayoralty and had so become the four hundred and
eighty-first burgess of the ancient borough to wear the furred mantle
and gold chain which symbolized his dignity. He looked very different in
these grandeurs to what he did in his everyday attire, but whether in
the Mayoral robes or in his carelessly worn clothes any close observer
would have seen that Wallingford was a sharp, shrewd man with all his
wits about him--a close-seeing, concentrated man, likely to go through,
no matter what obstacles rose in his path, with anything that he took in
hand.

Bunning was becoming accustomed to these evening visits of the Mayor to
the Moot Hall. Of late, Wallingford had come there often, going upstairs
to the Mayor's Parlour and remaining there alone until ten or eleven
o'clock. Always he brought books and papers with him; always, as he
entered, he gave the custodian the same command--no one was to disturb
him, on any pretext whatever. But on this occasion, Bunning heard a
different order.

"Oh, Bunning," said the Mayor, as he came up to the iron gates before
which the ex-sergeant-major stood, still at attention, "I shall be in
the Mayor's Parlour for some time to-night, and I'm not to be disturbed,
as usual. Except, however, for this--I'm expecting my cousin, Mr. Brent,
from London, this evening, and I left word at my rooms that if he came
any time before ten he was to be sent on here. So, if he comes, show him
up to me. But nobody else, Bunning."

"Very good, your Worship," replied Bunning. "I'll see to it. Mr. Brent,
from London."

"You've seen him before," said the Mayor. "He was here last
Christmas--tall young fellow, clean-shaven. You'll know him."

He hurried inside the stone hall and went away by the stairs to the
upper regions of the gloomy old place, and Bunning, with another salute,
turned from him, pulled out his pipe and began to smoke again. He was
never tired of looking out on that old market-place; even in the
quietest hours of the evening there was always something going on,
something to be seen, trivial things, no doubt, but full of interest to
Bunning: folks coming and going; young people sweethearting;
acquaintances passing and re-passing; these things were of more
importance to his essentially parochial mind than affairs of State.

Presently came along another Corporation official, whom Bunning knew as
well as he knew the Mayor, an official who, indeed, was known all over
the town, and familiar to everybody, from the mere fact that he was
always attired in a livery the like of which he and his predecessors had
been wearing for at least two hundred years. This was Spizey, a
consequential person who, in the borough rolls for the time being, was
entered as Bellman, Town Crier, and Mace Bearer. Spizey was a big,
fleshy man, with a large solemn face, a ponderous manner, and small
eyes. His ample figure was habited at all seasons of the year in a
voluminous cloak which had much gold lace on its front and cuffs and
many capes about the shoulders; he wore a three-cornered laced hat on
his bullet head, and carried a tall staff, not unlike a wand, in his
hand. There were a few--very few--progressive folk in Hathelsborough who
regarded Spizey and his semi-theatrical attire as an anachronism, and
openly derided both, but so far nobody had dared to advocate the
abolition of him and his livery. He was part and parcel of the high
tradition, a reminder of the fact that Hathelsborough possessed a
Charter of Incorporation centuries before its now more popular and
important neighbouring boroughs gained theirs, and in his own opinion
the discontinuance of his symbols of office would have been little less
serious than the sale of the Mayor's purple robe and chain of solid
gold: Spizey, thus attired, was Hathelsborough. And, as he was not slow
to remind awe-stricken audiences at his favourite tavern, Mayors,
Aldermen and Councillors were, so to speak, creatures of the moment--the
Mayor, for example, was His Worship for twelve months and plain Mr.
Chipps the grocer ever after--but he, Spizey, was a Permanent
Institution, and not to be moved.

Spizey was on his way to his favourite tavern now, to smoke his
pipe--which it was beneath his dignity to do in public--and drink his
glass amongst his cronies, but he stopped to exchange the time of day
with Bunning, whom he regarded with patronizing condescension, as being
a lesser light than himself. And having remarked that this was a fine
evening, after the usual fashion of British folk, who are for ever
wasting time and breath in drawing each other's attention to obvious
facts, he cocked one of his small eyes at the stairs behind the iron
gates.

"Worship up there?" he asked, transferring his gaze to Bunning.

"Just gone up," answered Bunning. "Five minutes ago."

The Mace-Bearer looked up the market-place, down River Gate and along
Meadow Gate. Having assured himself that there was nobody within fifty
yards, he sank his mellow voice to a melodious whisper, and poked
Bunning in the ribs with a pudgy forefinger.

"Ah!" he said confidingly. "Just so! Again! Now, as a Corporation
official--though not, to be sure, of the long standing that I am--what
do you make of it?"

"Make of what?" demanded the caretaker.

Spizey came still nearer to his companion. He was one of those men who
when disposed to confidential communication have a trick of getting as
close as possible to their victims, and of poking and prodding them.
Again he stuck his finger into Bunning's ribs.

"Make of what, says you!" he breathed. "Ay, to be sure! Why, of all this
here coming up at night to the Moot Hall, and sitting, all alone, in
that there Mayor's Parlour, not to be disturbed by nobody, whosomever!
What's it all mean?"

"No business of mine," replied Bunning. "Nor of anybody's but his own.
That is, so far as I'm aware of. What about it?"

Spizey removed his three-cornered hat, took a many-coloured handkerchief
out of it, and wiped his forehead--he was in a state of perpetual
warmth, and had a habit of mopping his brow when called on for mental
effort.

"Ah!" he said. "That's just it--what about it, do you say? Well, what I
say is this here--'taint in accordance with precedent! Precedent, mark
you!--which is what a ancient Corporation of this sort goes by. Where
should we all be if what was done by our fathers before us wasn't done
by us? What has been, must be! Take me, don't I do what's been done in
this here town of Hathelsborough for time immemorial? Well, then!"

"That's just it," said Bunning. "Well, then? Why shouldn't his Worship
come here at night and stick up there as long as he likes? What's
against it?"

"Precedent!" retorted Spizey. "Ain't never been done before--never!
Haven't I been in the office I hold nigh on to forty years? Seen a many
mayors, aldermen and common councillors come and go in my time. But
never do I remember a Mayor coming here to this Moot Hall of a night,
with books and papers--which is dangerous matters at any time, except
in their proper place, such as my proclamations and the town
dockyments--and sitting there for hours, doing--what?"

Bunning shook his head. He was pulling steadily at his pipe as he
listened, and he gazed meditatively at the smoke curling away from it
and his pipe.

"Well?" he said, after a pause. "And what do you make of it? You'll have
some idea, I reckon, a man of your importance."

Once more the Mace-Bearer looked round, and once more applied his
forefinger to Bunning's waistline. His voice grew deep with confidence.

"Mischief!" he whispered. "Mischief! That's what I make of it! He's up
to something--something what'll be dangerous to the vested interests in
this here ancient borough. Ain't he allus been one o' them
Radicals--what wants to pull down everything that's made this here
country what it is? Didn't he put in his last election address, when he
was a candidate for the Council, for the Castle Ward, that he was all
for retrenchment and reform? Didn't he say, when he was elected
Mayor--by a majority of one vote!--that he intended to go thoroughly
into the financial affairs of the town, and do away with a lot of
expenses which in his opinion wasn't necessary? Oh, I've heard talk--men
in high office, like me, hears a deal. Why, I've heard it said that he's
been heard to say, in private, that it was high time to abolish me!"

Bunning's mouth opened a little. He was a man of simple nature, and the
picture of Hathelsborough without Spizey and his livery appalled him.

"Bless me!" he exclaimed.

"To be sure!" said Spizey. "It's beyond comprehension! To abolish
me!--what, in a manner of speaking, has existed I don't know how long. I
ain't a man--I'm a office! Who'd cry things that was lost--at that there
Cross? Who'd pull the big bell on great occasions, and carry round the
little 'un when there was proclamations to be made? Who'd walk in front
o' the Mayor's procession, with the Mace--what was give to this here
town by King Henry VII, his very self? Abolish me? Why, it's as bad as
talking about abolishing the Bible!"

"It's the age for that sort of thing," remarked Bunning. "I seen a deal
of it in the Army. Abolished all sorts o' things, they have, there. I
never seen no good come of it, neither. I'm all for keeping up the good
old things--can't better 'em, in my opinion. And, as you say, that there
mace of ours--'tis ancient!"

"Nobody but one o' these here Radicals and levellers could talk o' doing
away with such proper institutions," affirmed Spizey. "But I tell
yer--I've heard of it. He said--but you'd scarce believe it!--there was
no need for a town crier, nor a bellman, and, as for this mace, it could
be carried on Mayor's Day by a policeman! Fancy that, now--our mace
carried by a policeman!"

"Dear, dear!" said Bunning. "Don't seem to fit in, that! However," he
added consolingly, "if they did abolish you, you'd no doubt get a
handsome pension."

"Pension!" exclaimed Spizey. "That's a detail!--it's the office I'm
a-considering of. What this here free and ancient borough 'ud look
like, without me, I cannot think!"

He shook his head and went sadly away, and Bunning, suddenly remembering
that it was about his supper-time, prepared to retreat into the room
which he and his wife shared, at the end of the stone hall. But as he
entered the gates, a quick firm footstep sounded behind him, and he
turned to see a smart, alert-looking young man approaching. Bunning
recognized him as a stranger whom he had seen once or twice before, at
intervals, in company with Wallingford. For the second time that night
he saluted.

"Looking for the Mayor, sir?" he asked, throwing the gate open. "His
Worship's upstairs--I was to show you up. Mr. Brent, isn't it, sir?"

"Right!" replied the other. "My cousin left word I was to join him here.
Whereabouts is he in this old fortress of yours?"

"This way, sir," said Bunning. "Fortress, you call it, sir, but it's
more like a rabbit-warren! No end of twists and turns--that is, once you
get inside it."

He preceded Richard Brent up the stone staircase, along narrow corridors
and passages, until he came to a door, at which he knocked gently.
Receiving no reply he opened it and went in, motioning Brent to follow.
But before Bunning had well crossed the threshold he started back with a
sharp cry. The Mayor was there, but he was lying face forward across the
desk--lifeless.



CHAPTER II

THE CAMBRIC HANDKERCHIEF


Bunning knew the Mayor was dead before that cry of surprise had passed
his lips. In his time he had seen many dead men--sometimes it was a
bullet, sometimes a bayonet; he knew the signs of what follows on the
swift passage of one and the sharp thrust of the other. In his first
glance into the room he had been quick to notice the limp hand hanging
across the edge of the desk, the way in which Wallingford's head lay
athwart the mass of papers over which he had collapsed in falling
forward from his chair--that meant death. And the old soldier's
observant eye had seen more than that--over the litter of documents
which lay around the still figure were great crimson stains. The
caretaker's cry changed to articulated speech.

"Murder! The Mayor's been murdered!"

Brent, a strongly-built and active man, pushed by, and made for the
desk. He was going to lay a hand on his cousin's shoulder, but Bunning
stopped him.

"For God's sake, Mr. Brent, don't touch him!" he exclaimed. "Let him be,
sir, till the police----" He paused, staring round the gloomy,
oak-panelled room from the walls of which the portraits of various
dignitaries looked down. "Who on earth can have done it?" he muttered.
"It's--it's not three-quarters of an hour since he came up here!"

"Alone?" asked Brent.

"Alone, sir! And I'll take my solemn oath that nobody was here, waiting
for him. I'd been in this room myself, not five minutes before he came,"
said Dunning. "It was empty of course."

Brent disregarded the caretaker's admonition and laid a finger on the
dead man's forehead. But Bunning pointed to a dark stain, still
spreading, on the back of the Mayor's coat--a well-worn garment of grey
tweed.

"Look there, sir," he whispered. "He's been run through the body from
behind--right through the heart!--as he sat in his chair. Murder!"

"Who should murder him?" demanded Brent.

Bunning made no answer. He was looking round. There were three doors
into that room; he glanced at each, shaking his head after each glance.

"We'd best get the police, at once, Mr. Brent," he said. "The police
station's just at the back--there's a way down to it from outside this
parlour. I'll run down now. You, sir----"

"I'll stop here," answered Brent. "But get a doctor, will you? I want to
know----"

"Dr. Wellesley, the police-surgeon, is next door," replied Brent. "The
police'll get him. But he's beyond all doctors, Mr. Brent!
Instantaneous--that! I know!"

He hurried out of the room, and Brent, left alone with the dead man,
looked at him once again wonderingly. Cousins though they were, he and
Wallingford knew little of each other: their acquaintance, such as it
was, had not been deep enough to establish any particular affection
between them. But since Wallingford's election as Mayor of
Hathelsborough Brent, by profession a journalist in London, had twice
spent a week-end with him in the old town, and had learnt something of
his plans for a reform of certain matters connected with the
administration of its affairs. They had discussed these things on the
occasion of his last visit, and now, as he stood by the dead man, Brent
remembered certain words which Wallingford had spoken.

"There are things that I can do," Wallingford had said, with some
confidence. And then he had added, with a cynical laugh, "But there are
other things that--why, it would be, literally, as much as my life's
worth to even try to undermine them!"

That was now four months since, but Brent remembered. And as he stood
there, waiting for help which would be useless, he began to wonder if
Wallingford, eager for reform, had attempted anything likely to bring
him into personal danger. Certainly, from all that Brent knew of him, he
was the sort of man who, having set himself to a task, would let nothing
stop him in accomplishing it; he was the sort of man too, Brent thought,
who had a genius for making enemies: such men always have. But murder?
Cold-blooded, deliberate, apparently well-planned murder! Yet there it
was, before him. The Mayor of Hathelsborough had walked up into that
room, sacred to his official uses and suggestive in its atmosphere and
furniture of his great dignity, and had settled down to his desk, only
to be assassinated by some enemy who had taken good care to perform his
crime with swiftness and thoroughness.

The sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs outside the half-open door
aroused Brent from these melancholy speculations; he turned to see
Bunning coming back, attended by several men, and foremost among them,
Hawthwaite, superintendent of the borough police, whom Brent had met
once or twice on his previous visits to the town. Hawthwaite, a big,
bearded man, was obviously upset, if not actually frightened; his ruddy
face had paled under the caretaker's startling news, and he drew his
breath sharply as he entered the Mayor's Parlour and caught sight of the
still figure lying across the big desk in the--middle.

"God bless my life and soul, Mr. Brent!" he exclaimed in hushed tones as
he tiptoed nearer to the dead and the living. "What's all this? You
found the Mayor dead--you and Bunning? Why--why----"

"We found him as you see him," answered Brent. "He's been murdered!
There's no doubt about this, superintendent."

Hawthwaite bent down fearfully towards the dead man, and then looked
round at Bunning.

"When did he come up here?" he asked sharply.

"About three-quarters of an hour before Mr. Brent came, sir," replied
Bunning. "He came up to me as I was standing outside the gates, smoking
my pipe, and said that he was going up to the Mayor's Parlour, and
nobody was to be allowed to disturb him, but that if his cousin, Mr.
Brent, came, he was to be shown up. Mr. Brent came and I brought him
up, and we found his Worship as you see."

"Somebody's been lying in wait for him," muttered Hawthwaite. "Hid in
this room!"

"Nobody here five minutes before he came up, sir," affirmed Bunning. "I
was up here myself. There was nobody in here, and nobody in this part of
the building."

Hawthwaite looked round the room, and Brent looked with him. It was a
big room, panelled in old oak to half the height of its walls; above the
panelling hung numerous portraits of past occupants of the Mayoral chair
and some old engravings of scenes in the town. A wide, old-fashioned
fire-place stood to the right of the massive desk; on either side of it
were recesses, in each of which there was a door. Hawthwaite stepped
across to these in turn and tried them; each was locked from the inside;
he silently pointed to the keys.

"The door to the stairs was open, sir," remarked Bunning. "I mean his
Worship hadn't locked himself in, as I have known him do."

Hawthwaite nodded. Then he nudged Brent's elbow, looking sideways at the
dead man.

"Been done as he sat writing in his chair," he muttered. "Look--the
pen's fallen from his fingers as he fell forward. Queer!"

A policeman came hurrying into the room, pulling himself up as he saw
what was there. His voice instinctively hushed.

"Dr. Wellesley's just gone down Meadow Gate, sir," he announced.
"They've sent for him to come here at once."

"Unless!" murmured the superintendent. "Still----"

Then the five or six men present stood, silently waiting. Some stared
about the room, as if wondering at its secret: some occasionally took
covert glances at its central figure. One of the three high, narrow
windows was open: Brent distinctly heard the murmur of children playing
in the streets outside. And suddenly, from the tower of St. Hathelswide,
at the other end of the market-place, curfew began to ring.

"He's coming, sir!" whispered the policeman who stood near the door. "On
the stairs, sir."

Brent turned as Dr. Wellesley came hurrying into the room; a tall,
clean-shaven, fresh-coloured man, who went straight to the desk, looked
at what he found there, and turned quickly on the men grouped around.

"How long is it since he was found?" he asked abruptly.

"Ten or twelve minutes," answered Brent.

"Dead then?"

"Yes," said Brent. "I should say--of course, I don't speak
professionally--but I should think he'd been dead at least half an
hour."

The doctor glanced at the superintendent.

"We must have him taken down to the mortuary," he said. "Let some of you
men stay here with me, and send another for my assistant and for Dr.
Barber."

The superintendent gave some orders, and touching Brent's arm motioned
him to follow outside the room.

"This is a bad business, Mr. Brent!" he said as they paused at the head
of the stair. "That's murder, sir! But how on earth did the murderer get
in there? Bunning tells me that he himself was standing outside the iron
gates at the entrance to the Moot Hall from the time the Mayor entered
until you came. He asserts that nobody entered the place by those
gates."

"I suppose there are other means of entrance?" suggested Brent.

"Doubtful if anybody could get in by them at this hour of the evening,"
answered the superintendent. "But there are two ways by which anybody
could get to the Mayor's Parlour. They're both what you might call
complicated. I'll show you them. Come this way."

He led Brent across a corridor that branched off from the head of the
stone staircase, and presently stopped at a big double door.

"This is the Council Chamber," he said, as they entered a spacious
apartment. "You see that door in the far corner, over there? There's a
staircase leads down from that to the rooms that Bunning and his wife
occupy as caretakers--a back stairs, in fact. But nobody can come up it,
and through the Council Chamber, and along the corridor to the Mayor's
Parlour without first coming through Bunning's rooms, that's flat. As
for the other--well, it's still more unlikely."

He led Brent out of the Council Chamber and farther along to another
door, which he flung open as he motioned his companion to enter.

"This is the Borough Court," he said. "Magistrates' bench, solicitors'
table, and all the rest of it. And there's the dock, where we put the
prisoners. Now, Mr. Brent, there's a staircase--a corkscrew staircase,
modern, of ironwork--in the corner of that dock which leads down to the
cells. And that's the second way by which you could get to the Mayor's
Parlour. But just fancy what that means! A man who wanted to reach the
Mayor's Parlour by that means of approach would have to enter the police
station from St. Laurence Lane, at the back of the Moot Hall, pass the
charge office, pass my office, go along a passage in which he'd be
pretty certain to meet somebody, come up that stairs into the dock
there, cross the court and--so on. That's not likely! And yet, those are
the only ways by which there's access to the Mayor's Parlour except by
the big staircase from the iron gates."

"What is certain," observed Brent, "is that the murderer did get to the
Mayor's Parlour. And what seems more important just now is the
question--how did he get away from it, unobserved? If Bunning is certain
that no one entered by the front between my cousin's arrival and my
coming, he is equally certain that no one left. Is it possible that
anyone left by the police station entrance?"

"We'll soon settle that point!" answered Hawthwaite. "Come down there."

He opened the door of the dock and led Brent down an iron staircase into
an arched and vaulted hall at its foot, whence they proceeded along
various gloomy passages towards a heavy, iron-studded door. Near this, a
police constable stood writing at a tall desk; the superintendent
approached and spoke to him. Presently he turned back to Brent.

"There's nobody that he doesn't know has been in or out of this place
during the whole of the evening," he said. "He's been on duty there
since six o'clock. Nobody has entered--or left--during the time that's
elapsed."

"I never supposed they had," remarked Brent. "The thing's been done in
much cleverer fashion than that! As I said before, what we do know is
that the murderer got to the Mayor's Parlour, and that he got away from
it!"

Hawthwaite shook his head, with a puzzled expression overspreading his
somewhat heavy and unimaginative features.

"Ay, but how?" he said. "How?"

"That's a job for you," replied Brent, with a suggestive glance. "And,
if I might suggest it, why not make a thorough examination of the Moot
Hall? My cousin showed me over it when I was here last, and I remember
some queer places in it."

"There are queer places in it," admitted Hawthwaite. "But it's hardly
likely the murderer would hang about after doing what he did. Of course
I'll have the whole place searched thoroughly--every inch of it!--for
any possible clues and traces. We shall neglect nothing in a case of
this sort, I can assure you, Mr. Brent. I--But come into my office."

He led the way into a drab-walled, official-looking apartment, curiously
suggestive of the lesser and meaner forms of crime, and pointed to a
chair.

"Sit down," he said. "As I was about to say----"

"Oughtn't one to be doing something?" interrupted Brent, refusing the
chair. "That's what I feel anyway. Only what can one do?"

"Ah, that's just it!" exclaimed Hawthwaite. "You may feel as energetic
as you will, but what can you do? The doctors are doing the absolutely
necessary things at present; as for me, all I can do is to search for
clues and traces, as I suggested, and make all possible inquiries. But
there you are, we've nothing to go on--nothing, I mean, that would
identify."

Brent gave the superintendent a keen glance.

"Between ourselves," he said, "have you any reason for suspecting
anyone?"

Hawthwaite started. His surprise was genuine enough.

"For suspecting anyone?" he exclaimed. "Good Lord, no, Mr. Brent! His
Worship, poor man, wasn't exactly popular in the town--with a certain
section, that is--but I couldn't believe that there's man or woman in
the place would wish him harm! No, sir--in my opinion this is outside
work!"

"Somewhat doubtful whether any outsider could obtain the apparently very
accurate knowledge of Hathelsborough Moot Hall which the murderer of my
cousin evidently possessed, isn't it?" suggested Brent. "I should say
the guilty person is some one who knows the place extremely well!"

Before the superintendent could reply, his partly-open door was further
opened, and a little, bustling, eager-faced man, who wore large
spectacles and carried a pencil behind his right ear, looked in. Brent
recognized him as another of the half-dozen Hathelsborough men whose
acquaintance he had made on former visits--Peppermore, the hard-worked
editor-reporter of the one local newspaper. Wallingford had introduced
him to Peppermore in the smoking-room of the _Chancellor_ Hotel, and
Peppermore, who rarely got the chance of talking to London journalists,
had been loquacious and ingratiating. His expressive eyebrows--prominent
features of his somewhat odd countenance--went up now as he caught sight
of Brent standing on the superintendent's hearth-rug. He came quickly
into the room.

"Mr. Brent!" he exclaimed. "No idea you were here, sir. My profound
sympathy, Mr. Brent! Dear, dear! what a truly terrible affair!" Then,
his professional instincts getting the better of him, he turned on
Hawthwaite, at the same time pulling out a note-book. "What are the
details, Mr. Superintendent?" he asked. "I just met one of your
officers, going for Dr. Barber; he gave me the scantiest information, so
I hurried to see you."

"And I can't give you any more," replied Hawthwaite. "There are no
details yet, my lad! All we know is that the Mayor was found dead in the
Mayor's Parlour half an hour ago, and that he's been murdered. You'll
have to wait for the rest."

"We don't go to press till 12.30," remarked Peppermore, unperturbed by
this curtness. "Perhaps by then you can give me more news, Mr.
Superintendent? Murdered! The Mayor of Hathelsborough! Now that's
something that's unique in the history of the town, I believe. I was
looking over the records not so long since, and I don't remember coming
across any entry of such an event as this. Unparalleled!"

Hawthwaite made no reply. At that moment a policeman put his head inside
the door and asked him to go to Dr. Wellesley, and he went off, leaving
the two newspaper men together. Brent looked at Peppermore and suddenly
put an abrupt question to him.

"I guess you'll know," he said meaningly. "Was my cousin unpopular in
this place?"

Peppermore turned his big spectacles on his questioner and sank his
voice to a whisper.

"Between ourselves," he answered, "in some quarters--very!"

"Of late, I suppose?" suggested Brent.

"Become--gradually--more and more so, Mr. Brent," said Peppermore. "You
see, he only got elected Mayor by one vote. That meant that half the
Council was against him. Against his policy and ideas, you know. Of
course he was a reformer. Those who didn't like him called him a
meddler. And in my experience of this place--ten years--it's a bad thing
to meddle in Hathelsborough affairs. Too many vested interests, sir!
Certainly--amongst some people--Mr. Wallingford was not at all popular.
But--murder!"

"There are plenty of people who don't stick at that," remarked Brent.
"But you wanted information. I'll give you some." He went on to tell how
he and Bunning had found Wallingford, and of the difficulties of access
to the Mayor's Parlour. "The thing is," he concluded, "how did the
murderer get in, and how did he get away?"

"Queer!" admitted Peppermore, scribbling fast in his note-book. "That's
a nice job for the detectives. Looks like a skilfully-planned,
premeditated job too----"

Hawthwaite came in again, carrying something in his hand, concealed by a
piece of brown paper. His face betokened a discovery.

"Look here!" he said. "No secret about it--you can mention it,
Peppermore. Just after you and I had gone out of the Mayor's Parlour,
Mr. Brent, Bunning picked something out of the hearth, where it was
half-burnt, and what's left charred, and gave it to Dr. Wellesley. See!"

He laid the brown paper on his desk, turned back the edges, and revealed
part of a fine cambric pocket-handkerchief, crumpled and blood-stained,
charred and blackened.

"Without a doubt," he whispered confidentially, "this belonged to the
murderer! He got blood on his hands--he wiped them on this, and threw it
away on the fire, to burn. And this half is not burned!"



CHAPTER III

THE TANNERY HOUSE


During a moment's impressive silence the three men, standing side by
side at Hawthwaite's desk, stared at the blood-stained memento of the
crime. Each was thinking the same thought--there, before them, was the
life-blood of the man who little more than an hour previously had been
full of energy, forcefulness, ambition. It was Peppermore who first
spoke, in an awe-stricken voice.

"You'll take care of that, Mr. Superintendent?" he said. "A clue!"

"I should just think so!" exclaimed Hawthwaite. He picked up a box of
letter-paper which lay close by, emptied it of its contents, and lifted
the fragment of handkerchief by a corner. "That goes into my safe," he
continued, as he placed his find in the box. "A clue, as you say, and an
important one. That, as you may observe, is no common article; it's a
gentleman's handkerchief--fine cambric. If it had only been the other
part of it, now, there'd probably have been a name on it, or initials
wove into it: there's nothing of that sort, you see, on what's left.
But it's something, and it may lead to a good deal."

He put the cardboard box away in a safe and locked it up; putting the
key in his pocket, he gave Brent an informing glance.

"I've had a word or two with the medical men while I was out there," he
said confidentially. "They say there's no doubt as to how he was killed.
The murderer, they're confident, was standing behind him as he himself
was either writing or looking over the papers on his desk, and suddenly
thrust a knife clean through his shoulders. They say death would be
instantaneous."

"A knife!" muttered Brent.

"Well," continued Hawthwaite, "as regards that, there are all sorts of
knives. It would be a long, thin weapon, said Dr. Wellesley; and Dr.
Barber, he suggested that it was the sort of wound that would be caused
by one of those old-fashioned rapiers. And they did say, both of them,
that it had been used--whatever the weapon was--with great force: gone
clean through."

Peppermore was listening to these gruesome details with all the ardour
of the born news-seeker. But Brent turned away.

"Is there anything I can do?" he asked.

"Why, there isn't," replied Hawthwaite. "The fact is, there is nothing
to do outside our work. The doctors are doing theirs, and there'll have
to be an inquest of course. I've sent to notify Mr. Seagrave, the
coroner, already, and I'm having a thorough search made of the Moot
Hall, and making inquiries about his Worship's last movements. There's
nothing more can be done, at present. One of my men has gone round to
tell his landlady. It's a fortunate thing, Mr. Brent," he added with a
knowing look, "that your cousin wasn't a married man! This would have
been a fine thing to have to break to a man's wife and family! About
relations, now, Mr. Brent, you'll know what to do? I know nothing about
his private affairs."

"Yes," answered Brent. "But I'm much more concerned, just now, about his
public affairs. It seems to me--indeed, it's no use trying to disguise
it--that this has arisen out of the fact that as Mayor of Hathelsborough
he was concerning himself in bringing about some drastic reforms in the
town. You probably know yourself that he wasn't popular----"

"Yes, yes, Mr. Brent," interrupted Hawthwaite.

"But then, you know, murder----! I can't think there's anybody in this
place would carry their likes to that length! Murder!"

"You don't know," said Brent. "But, at any rate, I'm my cousin's nearest
blood-relation, and I'm going to find out who killed him, if it's
humanly possible. Now who is there in the town who knows most about his
public affairs--who is there who's most conversant with whatever it was
that he had in hand?"

Hawthwaite seemed to consider matters.

"Well, Alderman Crood, the tanner, is the Deputy-Mayor," he replied at
last. "I should say he's as good a man to go to as anybody, Mr. Brent.
He's chairman of the Financial Committee too; and it was in financial
matters that Mr. Wallingford was wanting to make these reforms you've
mentioned. If there's anything known--I mean that I don't know--Alderman
Crood's the most likely man to know it."

"Alderman Crood," remarked Peppermore softly, "knows everything that
goes on in Hathelsborough--everything!"

"So to speak; so to speak!" said Hawthwaite. "There are things of
course----"

"Where does Alderman Crood live?" asked Brent. Already he was moving
towards the door. "As I can do nothing here, I'll go to him at once. I'm
not going to leave a stone unturned in this matter, superintendent."

"Quite right, Mr. Brent, quite right! Neither will I," asserted
Hawthwaite. "Alderman Crood lives by his tannery--the far end of the
town. Anybody'll show you the place, once you're past the big church."

"I'm going that way," remarked Peppermore. "Come with me, Mr. Brent." He
led Brent out into St. Lawrence Lane, a narrow thoroughfare at the back
of the Moot Hall, and turning a corner, emerged on the market-place,
over which the night shadows had now fallen. "A terrible affair, this,
Mr. Brent!" he said as they walked along. "And a most extraordinary one
too--it'll be more than a nine days' wonder here. A deep mystery, sir,
and I question if you'll get much light on it where you're going."

"You said that Alderman Crood knew everything," observed Brent.

"Ay!" answered Peppermore, with a short laugh. "But that isn't to say
that he'll tell everything--or anything! Alderman Crood, Mr. Brent, is
the closest man in this town--which is saying a good deal. Since I came
here, sir, ten years ago, I've learnt much--and if you'll drop in at the
_Monitor_ office any time you like, Mr. Brent--mornings preferable--I'll
give you the benefit of my experience: Hathelsborough folk, sir, are, in
my opinion, the queerest lot in all England. But you want to see
Alderman Crood--now, go to the end of the market-place, turn down Barley
Market, and drop a hundred yards or so down the hill at the end--then
you'll smell Crood's tan-yard, even if you don't see it. His is the big,
solid-looking house at the side--you can't miss it."

The editor-reporter shot up an alley at his left, at the head of which
was a lighted window with MONITOR OFFICE on it in black letters; and
Brent went on his way to seek the Deputy-Mayor. As he passed Low Cross,
and the east end of the great church, and turned into the wide,
irregular space called Barley Market, he tried to analyse his feelings
about the tragic event on which he had chanced without warning. He had
left Fleet Street early that afternoon, thinking of nothing but a few
days' pleasant change, and here he was, in that quiet, old-world town,
faced with the fact that his kinsman and host had been brutally murdered
at the very hour of his arrival. He was conscious of a fierce if dull
resentment--the resentment of a tribesman who finds one of his clan done
to death, and knows that the avenging of blood is on his shoulders from
henceforth. He had no particular affection for his cousin, and
therefore no great sense of personal loss, but Wallingford after all was
of his breed, and he must bring his murderer to justice.

Alderman Crood's house, big, broad, high, loomed up across him as the
odours of the tan-yard at its side and rear assailed his nostrils. As he
went towards it, the front door opened a little, and a man came out. He
and Brent met in the light of a street lamp, and Brent recognized a
policeman whom he had seen in the Mayor's Parlour. The man recognized
him, and touched his helmet. Brent stopped.

"Oh," he said, "have you been to tell Mr. Crood of what has happened?"

"Just that, sir," replied the policeman. "He's Deputy-Mayor, sir."

"I know," said Brent. "Then, he's at home?"

"Yes, sir."

Brent was going forward, but a sudden curiosity seized on him. He
paused, glancing at the policeman suggestively.

"Did--did Mr. Crood say anything?" he asked.

The policeman shook his head.

"Nothing, sir, except that he supposed Superintendent Hawthwaite was
seeing to everything."

"Did you happen to tell him that I was here?"

"I did, sir; I said his Worship's cousin from London had just come. No
harm, sir, I hope?"

"Not a bit--glad you did," said Brent. "He'll expect me."

He said good night to the man and walked forward to Alderman Crood's
door. It was like the house to which it gave entrance--very high and
broad, a massive affair, topped by a glass transom, behind which a
light, very dim and feeble, was burning. Brent felt for and rang a bell,
and heard it ring somewhere far off in the house. Then he waited; waited
so long that he was about to ring again, when he heard a bolt being
withdrawn inside the big door; then another. Each creaked in a fashion
that suggested small use, and the need of a little oil. The door opened,
and he found himself confronting a girl, who stood holding a small lamp
in her hand; behind her, at the far end of a gloomy, cavernous hall a
swinging lamp, turned low, silhouetted her figure.

Something about the girl made Brent look at her with more attention than
he would ordinarily have given. She was a tallish girl, whose figure
would have been unusually good had it been properly filled out; as it
was, she was thin, but only too thin for her proportions--her thinness,
had she been three inches shorter, would have passed for a graceful
slenderness. But Brent took this in at a glance; his attention was more
particularly concentrated on the girl's face--a delicate oval, framed in
a mass of dark hair. She was all dark--dark hair, an olive complexion,
large, unusually lustrous dark eyes, fringed by long soft lashes, an
almost dark rose-tint on her cheeks. And in the look which she gave him
there was something as soft as her eyes, which were those of a shy
animal--something appealing, pathetic. He glanced hastily at her
attire--simple, even to plainness--and wondered who she was, and what
was her exact status in that big house, which seemed to require the
services of a staff of domestics.

Brent asked for Alderman Crood. The girl glanced towards the end of the
hall and then looked at him doubtfully.

"What name?" she inquired in tones that were little above a whisper.

"My name's Brent," the caller answered, in a clear, loud voice. Somehow,
he had a suspicion that Crood was listening at the other end of the
cavernous hall. "I am Mr. Wallingford's cousin."

The girl gave him a curious glance and motioning him to wait, went away
up the hall to a door which stood partly open, revealing a lighted
interior. She disappeared within; came out again, walked a little way
towards Brent, and spoke with a timid smile.

"Will you please come this way?" she said. "Mr. Crood will see you."

Brent strode up the hall, the girl, preceding him, pushed open the door
which she had just left. He walked into a big room and, through a fog of
tobacco smoke, saw that he was in the presence of three men, who sat in
arm-chairs round a hearth whereon a big fire of logs blazed. Behind
their chairs a table was set out with decanters and glasses, a
tobacco-jar and cigar-boxes: clearly he had interrupted a symposium of a
friendly and social sort.

The visitor's eyes went straight to the obvious master of the house, a
big, heavily-built, massive-framed man of sixty or thereabouts, who sat
in state on the right-hand side of the hearth. Brent took in certain
details of his appearance at a glance: the broad, flabby,
parchment-hued face, wide mouth, square jaw, and small, shrewd eyes; the
suit of dead-black broadcloth, and the ample black neckcloth swathed
about an old-fashioned collar; he noted, too, the fob which dangled from
Alderman Crood's waist, and its ancient seals and ornaments. A survival
of the past, Alderman Crood, he thought, in outward seeming, but there
was that in his watchful expression which has belonged to man in every
age.

The small shrewd eyes, in their turn, measured up Brent as he crossed
the threshold, and Crood, seeing what he would have described as a
well-dressed young gentleman who was evidently used to superior society,
did what he would certainly not have done for any man in
Hathelsborough--he rose from his chair and stretched out a hand.

"How do you do, sir?" he said in a fat, unctuous voice. "The cousin of
our lamented Mayor, poor gentleman, of whose terrible fate we have this
moment learned, sir. I can assure you, Mr.--Brent, I think?--and
whatever other relations there may be, of our sincere sympathy, sir--I
never knew a more deplorable thing in my life. And to happen just as you
should arrive on a visit to your cousin, Mr. Brent--dear, dear! The
constable who came to inform me of what had happened mentioned that
you'd come, and we were just talking--But I'll introduce you to these
gentlemen, sir; allow me--Mr. Mallett, our esteemed bank manager. Mr.
Coppinger, our respected borough treasurer."

Brent silently shook hands with the two other men; just as silently he
made a sharp inspection of them as they resettled themselves in their
chairs. Mallett, a spick-and-span sort of man, very precise as to the
cut of his clothes and particular as to the quality of his linen and the
trimming of his old-fashioned side-whiskers, he set down at once as the
personification of sly watchfulness: he was the type of person who would
hear all and say no more than was necessary or obligatory. Coppinger, a
younger man, had that same watchful look; a moment later, Brent saw it
in Crood's big face too. They were all watchful, all sly, these men, he
decided: the sort who would sit by and listen, and admit nothing and
tell nothing; already, before even he asked the questions which he had
come to put, he knew that he would get no answer other than
noncommittal, evasive ones. He saw that all three men, instead of being
anxious to give him information, were actuated by the same desire--to
find out what he knew, to hear what he had to say.

Crood, as Brent seated himself, waved a hand towards the decanters on
the table.

"You'll try a little drop o' something, Mr. Brent?" he said, with
insinuating hospitality. "A taste of whisky, now? Do you no harm after
what you've just been through." He turned to the girl, who had followed
Brent into the room and, picking up her needlework, had seated herself
near the master of the house. "Queenie, my love," he continued, "give
the gentleman a whisky and soda--say the word, sir. My niece, sir--Miss
Queenie Crood--all my establishment, Mr. Brent; quiet, old-fashioned
folk we are, but glad to see you, sir; though I wish the occasion had
been a merrier one--dear, dear!"

Brent made the girl a polite bow and, not wishing to show himself
stand-offish, took the glass which she mixed and handed to him. He
turned to Crood.

"It's not a pleasant occasion for me, sir," he said. "I am my cousin's
nearest blood-relative, and it lies with me to do what I can to find out
who's responsible for his death. I understand that you are Deputy-Mayor,
so naturally you're conversant with his public affairs. Now, I've learnt
within the last hour that he had become unpopular in the town--made
enemies. Is that so, Mr. Crood?"

Crood, who was smoking a long churchwarden pipe, took its stem from his
lips, and waved it in the air with an expressive motion.

"Well, well!" he said soothingly. "There might ha' been a little of
something of that sort, you know, Mr. Brent, but in a purely political
sense, sir, an entirely political sense only. No personal feeling, you
know, sir. I'm sure Mr. Mallett there will agree with me--and Mr.
Coppinger too."

"Absolutely!" said Mallett.

"Unreservedly!" said Coppinger.

"Your cousin, sir, our late lamented Mayor, was much respected in the
town," continued Crood. "He was the hardest-working Mayor we've had for
many years, Mr. Brent."

"A first-rate man of business!" observed Mallett.

"A particularly clever hand at figures!" remarked Coppinger.

"A man as tried hard to do his duty," said Crood. "Of course I'll not
say that everybody saw eye to eye with him. They didn't. Wherever
there's public bodies, Mr. Brent, there'll be parties. Your poor cousin
had his party--and there was, to be sure, a party against him and his.
But you'll be well aware, sir, as a London gentleman, that no doubt
often visits Parliament, that here in England men is enemies in politics
that's firm friends outside 'em. I believe I may say that that's a fact,
sir?"

"Oh, no doubt!" agreed Brent. He was already feeling at a loss, and he
scarcely knew what to say next. "I heard, though, that my cousin, as
Mayor, was proposing such drastic reforms in the administration of your
borough affairs, that--well, in short, that personal feeling had been
imported."

Crood shook his head more solemnly than ever.

"I think you've been misinformed on that point, Mr. Brent," he said.
"There may be--no doubt are--mischievous persons that would say such
things, but I never heard nothing of the sort, sir. Political feeling,
perhaps; but personal feeling--no!"

"Certainly not!" said Mallett.

"Nothing of the sort!" said Coppinger.

"Now, I should say," remarked Crood, waving his pipe again, "that our
late lamented Mayor, as an individual, was much thought of amongst the
townspeople. I believe Mr. Mallett will agree with that--and Mr.
Coppinger."

"A great deal thought of," answered Mallett.

"By, I should say, everybody," added Coppinger.

"He was, of course, a comparative stranger," continued Crood. "Twelve
years only had he been amongst us--and now cut off, sudden and
malicious, at the beginning of his career! But well thought of, sir,
well thought of!"

"Then you feel sure that this crime has not sprung out of his public
affairs?" suggested Brent. "It's not what you'd call a political
murder?"

"Of that, sir, I would take my solemn oath!" declared Crood. "The idea,
sir, is ridiculous."

"Absurd!" said Mallett.

"Out of the question!" affirmed Coppinger.

"Why then, has he been murdered?" asked Brent. "What's at the bottom of
it?"

All three men shook their heads. They looked at each other. They looked
at Brent.

"Ay--what?" said Crood.

"Just so!" agreed Mallett.

"That's precisely where it is," concluded Coppinger. "Exactly!"

"More in it than anyone knows of--most probably--at present, Mr. Brent,"
observed Crood, with solemn significance. "Time, sir, time! Time, sir,
may tell--may!"

Brent saw that he was not going to get any information under that roof,
and after a further brief exchange of trite observations he rose to take
his leave. Alderman Crood wrung his hand.

"Sorry I am, sir, that your first visit to my establishment should be
under such painful circumstances," he said unctuously. "I hope you'll
favour me with another talk, sir--always pleased to see a London
gentleman, I'm sure--we're behind, perhaps, in these parts, Mr. Brent,
but honest and hearty, sir, honest and hearty. Queenie, my love, you'll
open the door for the young gentleman?"

The girl took Brent into the gloomy hall. Halfway along its shadows, she
suddenly turned on him with a half shy, half daring expression.

"You are from London?" she whispered.

"From London?--yes," said Brent. "Why?"

"I want to--to talk to somebody about London," she went on, with a
nervous, backward glance at the door they had just left. "May I--will
you let me talk to--you?"

"To be sure!" answered Brent. "But when--where?"

"I go into the Castle grounds every afternoon," she answered timidly.
"Could--could you come there--some time?"

"To-morrow afternoon?" suggested Brent. "Say three o'clock? Would that
do?"

"Yes," she whispered. "Thank you--I'll be there. It seems--queer, but
I'll tell you. Thank you again--you'll understand to-morrow."

She had her hand on the big street door by then. Without more words she
let him out into the night; he heard the door close heavily behind him.
He went back towards the heart of the little town, wondering. Only a few
hours before, he had been in the rush and bustle of Fleet Street, and
now, here he was, two hundred miles away, out of the world, and faced
with an atmosphere of murder and mystery.



CHAPTER IV

BULL'S SNUG


When Brent came again to the centre of the town he found that
Hathelsborough, instead of sinking to sleep within an hour of curfew,
according to long-established custom, had awakened to new life. There
were groups at every corner, and little knots of folk at doors, and men
in twos and threes on the pavement, and it needed no particular
stretching of his ears to inform him that everybody was talking of the
murder of his cousin. He caught fragmentary bits of surmise and comment
as he walked along; near a shadowy corner of the great church he
purposely paused, pretending to tie his shoe-lace, in order to overhear
a conversation between three or four men who had just emerged from the
door of an adjacent tavern, and were talking in loud, somewhat excited
tones: working men, these, whose speech was in the vernacular.

"You can bet your life 'at this job's been done by them whose little
game Wallingford were going to checkmate!" declared one man. "I've allus
said 'at he were running a rare old risk. We know what t' old saying is
about new brooms sweeping clean--all very well, is that, but ye can
smash a new broom if ye use it over vigorously. Wallingford were going
a bit too deeply into t' abuses o' this town--an' he's paid t' penalty.
Put out o' t' way--that's t' truth on it!"

"Happen it may be," said a second man. "And happen not. There's no
denying 'at t' Mayor were what they call a man o' mystery. A mysterious
chap, d'ye see, in his comings and goings. Ye don't know 'at he mayn't
ha' had secret enemies; after all, he were nowt but a stranger i' t'
town--nobbut been here twelve year or so. How do we know owt about him?
It may be summat to do wi' t' past, this here affair. I'm none going t'
believe 'at there's anybody i' Hathelsborough 'ud stick a knife into him
just because he were cleaning up t' town money affairs, like."

"Never ye mind!" asserted the former speaker. "He were going to touch t'
pockets o' some on 'em, pretty considerable, were t' Mayor. And ye know
what Hathelsborough folk is when their pockets is touched--they'll stick
at nowt! He's been put away, has Wallingford, 'cause he were interfering
over much."

Brent walked on, reflecting. His own opinions coincided, uncomfortably
but decidedly, with those of the last speaker, and a rapidly-growing
feeling of indignation and desire for vengeance welled up within him. He
looked round at the dark-walled, closely shuttered old houses about him
with a sense of dull anger--surely they were typical of the reserve, the
cunning watchfulness, the suggestive silences of the folk who lived in
them, of whom he had just left three excellent specimens in Crood,
Mallett and Coppinger. How was he, a stranger, going to unearth the
truth about his cousin's brutal murder, amongst people like these,
endowed, it seemed to him, with an Eastern-like quality of
secretiveness? But he would!

He went on to the rooms in which Wallingford had lived ever since his
first coming to the town. They were good, roomy, old-fashioned
apartments in a big house, cosy and comfortable, but the sight of
Wallingford's study, of his desk, his books and papers, of his favourite
chair and his slippers at the fire, of the supper-table already spread
for him and Brent in an inner parlour, turned Brent sick at heart. He
turned hastily to Wallingford's landlady, who had let him in and
followed him into the dead man's room.

"It's no use, Mrs. Appleyard," he said. "I can't stop here to-night,
anyway. It would be too much! I'll go to the _Chancellor_, and send on
for my luggage."

The woman nodded, staring at him wonderingly. The news had evidently
wrought a curious change in her; usually, she was a cheery,
good-natured, rather garrulous woman, but she looked at Brent now as if
something had dazed her.

"Mr. Brent," she whispered, in awe-stricken accents, "you could have
knocked me down with a feather when they came here and told me. He was
that well--and cheerful--when he went out!"

"Yes," said Brent dully. "Yes." He let his eyes run over the room
again--he had looked forward to having a long, intimate chat with
Wallingford that night over the bright fire, still crackling and
glowing in readiness for host and guest. "Ay, well!" he added. "It's
done now!"

"Them police fellows, Mr. Brent," said the landlady, "have they any idea
who did it?"

"I don't think they've the least idea yet," replied Brent. "I suppose
you haven't, either?"

Mrs. Appleyard, thus spurred to reminiscence, recovered something of her
customary loquaciousness.

"No, to be sure I haven't," she answered. "But I've heard things, and I
wish--eh, I do wish!--that I'd warned him! I ought to ha' done."

"What about?" asked Brent. "And what things?"

The landlady hesitated a little, shaking her head.

"Well, you know, Mr. Brent," she said at last, "in a little town like
this, folk will talk--Hathelsborough's a particular bad place for talk
and gossip; for all that, Hathelsborough people's as secret as the grave
when they like, about their own affairs. And, as I say, I've heard
things. There's a woman comes here to work for me at odd times, a woman
that sometimes goes to put in a day or two at Marriner's Laundry, where
a lot of women works, and I recollect her telling me not so long since
that there was talk amongst those women about the Mayor and his
interfering with things, and she'd heard some of 'em remark that he'd
best keep his fingers out o' the pie or he'd pay for it. No more, Mr.
Brent; but a straw'll show which way the wind blows. I'm sure there was
them in the town that wanted to get rid of him. All the same--murder!"

"Just so," said Brent. "Well, I've got to find it all out."

He went away to the _Chancellor_ Hotel, made his arrangements, sent to
Mrs. Appleyard's for his luggage, and eventually turned into bed.

But it was little sleep that Brent got that night, and he was thankful
when morning came and he could leave his bed and find relief in
activity. He was out and about while the grey mists still hung around
the Hathelsborough elms, and at eight o'clock walked into the
police-station, anxious for news.

Hawthwaite had no news for him. Late the previous night, and early that
morning, the police had carried out an exhaustive search of the old Moot
Hall, and had failed to discover anything that seemed to bear relation
to the crime. Also they had made themselves acquainted with the murdered
man's movements immediately previous to his arrival at the Moot Hall;
there was nothing whatever in them that afforded any clue.

"We know all that he did from five o'clock yesterday afternoon to the
time you found him, Mr. Brent," said Hawthwaite. "He left his office at
five o'clock, and went home to his rooms. He was there till nearly seven
o'clock. He went out then and walked round by Abbey Lodge, where he left
some books--novels, or something of the sort--for Mrs. Saumarez.
Then----"

"Who's Mrs. Saumarez?" asked Brent.

"She's a young widow lady, very wealthy, it's understood, who came to
live in the town some two years ago," replied Hawthwaite. "Very handsome
young woman--you'll be seeing her. Between you and me," he added, with a
knowing glance, "his Worship--late Worship, I should say--had been
showing her great attention, and I don't think she was indifferent to
him--he used to go and dine with her a good deal anyway. However, that's
neither here nor there, just now. He called, I say, at Abbey Lodge, left
these books, and then came on to the Moot Hall, as Bunning said. That's
the plain truth about his movements."

"I don't think his movements matter," observed Brent. "What does matter
is--what were the movements of the murderer, and how did he get into the
Mayor's Parlour? Or was he concealed there when my cousin entered and,
if so, how did he get out and away?"

"Ay, just so, Mr. Brent," agreed Hawthwaite. "As to that, we know
nothing--so far. But it was of importance to find out about your
cousin's own movements, because, you see, he might have been seen, for
instance, in conversation with some stranger, or--or something of that
sort, and it all helps."

"You don't know anything about the presence of any strangers in the town
last night?" inquired Brent.

"Oh, we've satisfied ourselves about that," replied Hawthwaite. "We made
full inquiries last night at the railway station and at the hotels.
There were no strangers came into the town last night, or evening, or
afternoon, barring yourself and a couple of commercial travellers who
are well known here. We saw to that particular at once."

"Then you've really found out--nothing?" suggested Brent.

"Nothing!" asserted Hawthwaite. "But the inquest won't be held until
to-morrow morning, and by then we may know something. And, in the
meantime, there's something you might do, Mr. Brent--I gather that
you're his next-of-kin? Very well, sir, then you might examine his
papers--private papers and so on. You never know what bit of sidelight
you might come upon."

"Very good," said Brent. "But I shall want help--large help--in that.
Can you recommend a solicitor, now?"

"There's Mr. Tansley," replied Hawthwaite. "His office is next door to
his late Worship's--a sound man, Tansley, Mr. Brent. And, if I were you,
I should get Tansley to represent you at the inquest to-morrow--legal
assistance is a good thing to have, sir, at an affair of that sort."

Brent nodded his acquiescence and went back to his hotel. He was
thankful that there were few guests in the house--he had no wish to be
stared at as a principal actor in the unfolding drama. Yet he speedily
realized that he had better lay aside all squeamish feelings of that
sort; he foresaw that the murder of its Mayor would throw Hathelsborough
into the fever of a nine-days' wonder, and that his own activities would
perforce draw attention to himself. And there were things to be done,
and after he had breakfasted he set resolutely and systematically about
doing them. Tansley's office first--he made an arrangement with Tansley
to meet him at Wallingford's rooms that afternoon, to go through any
private papers that might be found there. Then his cousin's
office--there were clerks there awaiting instructions. Brent had to
consult with them as to what was to be done about business. And that
over, there was another and still more difficult task--the arrangements
for Wallingford's interment. Of one thing Brent was determined--whatever
Alderman Crood, as Deputy-Mayor, or whatever the Aldermen and
Councillors of Hathelsborough desired, he, as the murdered man's
next-of-kin, was not going to have any public funeral or demonstration;
it roused his anger to white heat to think of even the bare possibility
of Wallingford's murderer following him in smug hypocrisy to his grave.
And in Brent's decided opinion that murderer was a Hathelsborough man,
and one of high place.

It was nearly noon when he had completed these arrangements, and then,
having no more to do at the moment, he remembered the little newspaper
man, Peppermore, and his invitation to call at the _Monitor_ office. So,
as twelve o'clock chimed and struck from the tower of St. Hathelswide,
he walked up the narrow entry from the market-place, along which the
editor-reporter had shot the previous night, and, after a preliminary
reconnoitring of the premises, tapped at a door marked "Editorial." A
shrill voice bade him enter, and he turned the handle to find himself
inspecting an unusually untidy and littered room, the atmosphere of
which seemed chiefly to be derived from a mixture of gas, paste and
printers' ink. Somewhere beyond sounded the monotonous rumble of what
was probably an old-fashioned printing machine.

A small-figured, sharp-faced, red-haired youngster of apparently fifteen
or sixteen years was the sole occupant of this unsavoury sanctum. He was
very busy--so busy that he had divested himself of his jacket, and had
rolled up his shirt-sleeves. In his right hand he wielded a pair of
scissors; with them he was industriously clipping paragraphs from a pile
of newspapers which lay before him on a side-table. It was evident that
he had a sharp eye for telling stuff, for in the moment which elapsed
after Brent's entrance he had run it over a column, swooped on a likely
item, snipped it out and added it to a heap of similar gleanings at his
elbow. He glanced at his caller with an expression which was of the sort
that discourages wasting of time.

"Mr. Peppermore?" inquired Brent, taking his cue. "In?"

"Out," answered the boy.

"Long?" demanded Brent.

"Can't say," said the busy one. "Might be and mightn't." Then he gave
Brent a close inspection. "If it's news," he added, "I can take it. Is
it?"

"No news," replied Brent. "Mr. Peppermore asked me to call. I'll wait."
He perched himself on the counter, and watched the scissors. "You're the
sub-editor, I reckon?" he said at last with a smile. "Eh?"

"I'm all sorts of things in this blooming office," answered the boy.
"We're short-handed here, I can tell you! Takes me and Mr. P. all our
time to get the paper out. Why, last week, Mr. P. he didn't have time to
write his Editorial! We had to shove an old one in. But lor' bless you,
I don't believe anybody reads 'em! Liveliness, and something about
turnips--that's what our folks likes. However, they'll have some good
stuff this week. We'd a real first-class murder in this town last night.
The Mayor! Heard about it?"

"I've heard," said Brent. "Um! And how long have you been at that job?"

"Twelve months," replied the boy. "I was in the law before that--six
months. But the law didn't suit me. Slow! There's some go in this--bit
too much now and then. What we want is another reporter. Comes hard on
me and Mr. Peppermore, times. I did two cricket matches, a fire, a lost
child, and a drowning case last Saturday."

"Good!" said Brent. "Know any shorthand?"

"I can do a fair bit," answered the man-of-all-work. "Learning. Can
you?"

"Some," replied Brent. "Did a lot--once. What system?"

But just then Peppermore, more in a hurry than ever, came bustling in,
to beam brightly through his spectacles at sight of his visitor.

"Mr. Brent!" he exclaimed. "Delighted, my dear sir, charmed! Not often
our humble roof is extended over a distinguished visitor. Take a chair,
sir--but no! stop! I've an idea." He seized Brent by the lapel of his
coat and became whispering and mysterious. "Step outside," he said.
"Twelve o'clock--we'll go over to Bull's."

"What's Bull's?" asked Brent, as they went out into the entry.

Peppermore laughed and wagged his finger.

"Bull's, sir?" he said. "Bull's?--centre of all the gossip in
Hathelsborough. Come across there and have a quiet glass with me, and
keep your eyes and ears open. I've been trying all the morning to get
some news, ideas, impressions, about the sad event of last night, Mr.
Brent--now, for current criticism, Bull's is the place. All the gossips
of the town congregate there, sir."

"All right," agreed Brent. "Show the way!"

Peppermore led him down the narrow entry, across the market-place, and
into an equally narrow passage that opened between two shops near High
Cross. There Brent found himself confronted by what seemed to be a high,
blank, doorless and windowless wall; Peppermore perceived his
astonishment and laughed.

"Some queer, odd nooks and corners in Hathelsborough, Mr. Brent!" he
said knowingly. "It would take a stranger a long time to find out all
the twists and turns in this old town. But everybody knows the way to
Bull's Snug--and here we are!"

He suddenly made a sharp turn to the right and into another passage,
where he pushed open a door, steered his companion by the elbow through
a dark entry, and thrusting aside a heavy curtain ushered him into as
queer a place as Brent had ever seen. It was a big, roomy apartment,
lavishly ornamented with old sporting prints and trophies of the rustic
chase; its light came from the top through a skylight of coloured glass;
its floor was sawdusted; there were shadowy nooks and recesses in it,
and on one side ran a bar, presided over by two hefty men in their
shirt-sleeves. And here, about the bar, and in knots up and down the
room and at the little tables in the corners, was a noontide assemblage,
every man with a glass in his hand or at his elbow. Peppermore drew
Brent into a vacant alcove and gave him a significant glance.

"I guess there isn't a man in this room, Mr. Brent, that hasn't got his
own theory about what happened last night," he murmured. "I don't
suppose any of 'em know you--they're not the sort of men you'd meet
when you were here before--these are all chiefly tradesmen, betting men,
sportsmen, and so on. But as I say, if you want the gossip of the town,
here's the place! There never was a rumour in Hathelsborough but it was
known and canvassed and debated and improved upon in Bull's, within an
hour. Every scandalmonger and talebearer comes here--and here's," he
continued, suddenly dropping his voice to a whisper, "one of the biggest
of 'em--watch him, and listen to him, if he comes near us. That tall,
thin man, in the grey suit, the man with the grizzled moustache. Listen,
Mr. Brent; I'll tell you who that chap is, for he's one of the queerest
and at the same time most interesting characters in the town. That, sir,
is Krevin Crood, the ne'er-do-weel brother of Mr. Alderman Crood--watch
him!"



CHAPTER V

SLEEPING FIRES


Already interested in the Crood family because of what he had seen of
Simon Crood and his niece on the previous evening, Brent looked closely
at the man whom Peppermore pointed out. There was no resemblance in him
to his brother, the Alderman. He was a tall, spare, fresh-coloured man,
apparently about fifty years of age, well-bred of feature, carefully
groomed; something in his erect carriage, slightly swaggering air and
defiant eye suggested the military man. Closer inspection showed Brent
that the grey tweed suit, though clean and scrupulously pressed, was
much worn, that the brilliantly polished shoes were patched, that the
linen, freshly-laundered though it was, was far from new--everything,
indeed, about Krevin Crood, suggested a well-kept man of former
grandeur.

"Decayed old swell--that's what he looks like, eh, Mr. Brent?" whispered
Peppermore, following his companion's thoughts. "Ah, they say that once
upon a time Krevin Crood was the biggest buck in Hathelsborough--used to
drive his horses and ride his horses, and all the rest of it. And
now--come down to that."

He winked significantly as he glanced across the room, and Brent knew
what he meant. Krevin Crood, lofty and even haughty in manner as he was,
had lounged near the bar and stood looking around him, nodding here and
there as he met the eye of an acquaintance.

"Waiting till somebody asks him to drink," muttered Peppermore. "Regular
sponge, he is! And once used to crack his bottle of champagne with the
best!"

"What's the story?" asked Brent, still quietly watching the subject of
Peppermore's remarks.

"Oh, the old one," said Peppermore. "Krevin Crood was once a solicitor,
and Town Clerk, and, as I say, the biggest swell in the place. Making
his couple of thousand a year, I should think. Come down in the usual
fashion--drink, gambling, extravagance and so on. And in the end they
had to get rid of him--as Magistrates' Clerk, I mean: it was impossible
to keep him on any longer. He'd frittered away his solicitor's practice
too by that time, and come to the end of his resources. But Simon was
already a powerful man in the town, so they--he and some others--cooked
things nicely for Krevin. Krevin Crood, Mr. Brent, is one of the
Hathelsborough abuses that your poor cousin meant to rid the ratepayers
of--fact, sir!"

"How?" asked Brent.

"Well," continued Peppermore, "I said that Simon and some others cooked
things for him. Instead of dismissing Krevin for incompetence and
inattention to his duties, they retired him--with a pension. Krevin
Crood, sir, draws a hundred and fifty-six pounds a year out of the
revenues of this rotten little borough--all because he's Simon's
brother. Been drawing that--three pounds a week--for fifteen years now.
It's a scandal! However, as I say, he once had two thousand a year."

"A difference," remarked Brent.

"Ay, well, he adds a bit to his three pound," said Peppermore. "He does
odd jobs for people. For one thing, he carries out all Dr. Wellesley's
medicines for him. And he shows strangers round the place--he knows all
about the history and antiquities of the Castle, St. Hathelswide, and
St. Laurence, and the Moot Hall, and so on. A hanger-on, and a
sponge--that's what he is, Mr. Brent. But clever--as clever, sir, as
he's unprincipled."

"The Croods seem to be an interesting family," observed Brent. "Who is
that girl that I saw last night--the Alderman's niece? Is she, by any
chance, this chap's daughter?"

"Queenie," said Peppermore. "Pretty girl too, that, Mr. Brent. No, sir;
she's this chap's niece, and Simon's. She's the daughter of another
Crood. Ben Crood. Ben's dead--he never made anything out, either--died,
I believe, as poor as a church mouse. Simon's the moneyed man of the
Crood family--the old rascal rolls in brass, as they call it here. So he
took Queenie out of charity, and I'll bet my Sunday hat that he gets out
of her the full equivalent of all that he gives her! Catch him giving
anything for nothing!"

"You don't love Alderman Crood?" suggested Brent.

Peppermore picked up his glass of bitter ale and drank off what
remained. He set down the glass with a bang.

"Wouldn't trust him any farther than I could throw his big carcase!" he
said with decision. "Nor any more than I would Krevin there--bad 'uns,
both of 'em. But hullo! as nobody's come forward this morning, Krevin's
treating himself to a drink! That's his way--he'll get his drink for
nothing, if he can, but, if he can't, he's always got money. Old
cadger!"

Brent was watching Krevin Crood. As Peppermore had just said, nobody had
joined Krevin at the bar. And now he was superintending the mixing of a
drink which one of the shirt-sleeved barmen was preparing for him.
Presently, glass in hand, he drew near a little knot of men, who, in the
centre of the room, were gossiping in whispers. One of the men turned on
him.

"Well, and what's Sir Oracle got to say about it?" he demanded, with
something like a covert sneer. "You'll know all about it, Krevin, I
reckon! What's your opinion?"

Krevin Crood looked over the speaker with a quiet glance of conscious
superiority. However much he might have come down in the world, he still
retained the manners of a well-bred and educated man, and Brent was not
surprised to hear a refined and cultured accent when he presently spoke.

"If you are referring to the unfortunate and lamentable occurrence of
last night, Mr. Spelliker," he answered, "I prefer to express no
opinion. The matter is _sub judice_."

"Latin!" sneered the questioner. "Ay! you can hide a deal o' truth away
behind Latin, you old limbs o' the law! But I reckon the truth'll come
out, all the same."

"It is not a legal maxim, but a sound old English saying that murder
will out," remarked Krevin quietly. "I think you may take it, Mr.
Spelliker, that in this case, as in most others, the truth will be
arrived at."

"Ay, well, if all accounts be true, it's a good job for such as you that
the Mayor is removed," said Spelliker half-insolently. "They say he was
going to be down on all you pensioned gentlemen--what?"

"That, again, is a matter which I do not care to discuss," replied
Krevin. He turned away, approaching a horsy-looking individual who stood
near. "Good-morning, Mr. Gates," he said pleasantly. "Got rid of your
brown cob yet? If not, I was talking to Simpson, the vet, yesterday--I
rather fancy you'd find a customer in him."

Peppermore nudged his companion's arm. Brent leaned nearer to him.

"Not get any change out of him!" whispered Peppermore. "Cool old
customer, isn't he? _Sub judice_, eh? Good! And yet--if there's a man in
all Hathelsborough that's likely to know what straws are sailing on the
undercurrent, Mr. Brent, Krevin Crood's the man! But you'll come across
him before you're here long--nobody can be long in Hathelsborough
without knowing Krevin!"

They left Bull's then, and after a little talk in the market-place about
the matter of paramount importance Brent returned to the _Chancellor_,
thinking about what he had just seen and heard. It seemed to him, now
more assuredly than ever, that he was in the midst of a peculiarly
difficult maze, in a network of chicanery and deceit, in an underground
burrow full of twistings and turnings that led he could not tell
whither. An idea had flashed through his mind as he looked at Krevin
Crood in the broken man's brief interchange of remarks with the
half-insolent tradesman: an idea which he had been careful not to
mention to Peppermore. Krevin Crood, said Peppermore, was mainly
dependent on his pension of three pounds a week from the borough
authorities--a pension which, of course, was terminable at the pleasure
of those authorities; Wallingford had let it be known, plainly and
unmistakably, that he was going to advocate the discontinuance of these
drains on the town's resources: Krevin Crood, accordingly, would be one
of the first to suffer if Wallingford got his way, as he was likely to
do. And Peppermore had said further that Krevin Crood knew all about the
antiquities of Hathelsborough--knew so much, indeed, that he acted as
cicerone to people who wanted to explore the Castle, and the church, and
the Moot Hall. Now, supposing that Krevin Crood, with his profound
knowledge of the older parts of the town, knew of some mysterious and
secret way into the Mayor's Parlour, and had laid in wait there,
resolved on killing the man who was threatening by his reforming actions
to deprive him of his pension? It was not an impossible theory. And
others branched out of it. It was already evident to Brent that Simon
Crood, big man though he was in the affairs of the borough, was a
schemer and a contriver of mole's work: supposing that he and his gang
had employed Krevin Crood as their emissary? That, too, was possible.
Underground work! There was underground work all round.

Then, thinking of Alderman Crood, he remembered Alderman Crood's niece;
her request to him; his promise to her. He had been puzzled, not a
little taken aback by the girl's eager, anxious manner. She had been
quiet and demure enough as she sat by Simon Crood's fire, sewing, in
silence, a veritable modest mouse, timid and bashful; but in that big,
gloomy hall her attitude had changed altogether--she had been almost
compelling in her eagerness. And Brent had wondered ever since, at
intervals, whatever it could be that she wanted with him--a stranger?
But it was near three o'clock now, and instead of indulging in further
surmise, he went off to meet her.

Hathelsborough Castle, once one of the most notable fortresses of the
North, still remained in an excellent state of preservation. Its great
Norman keep formed a landmark that could be seen over many a mile of the
surrounding country; many of its smaller towers were still intact, and
its curtain walls, barbican and ancient chapel had escaped the ravages
of time. The ground around it had been laid out as a public garden, and
its great courtyard turned into a promenade, set out with flowerbeds. It
was a great place of resort for the townsfolk on summer evenings and on
Sundays, but Brent, coming to it in the middle of the afternoon, found
it deserted, save for a few nursemaids and children. He went wandering
around it and suddenly caught sight of Queenie Crood. She was sitting on
a rustic bench in an angle of the walls, a book in her hand; it needed
little of Brent's perception to convince him that the book was unread:
she was anxiously expecting him.

"Here I am!" he said, with an encouraging smile, as he sat down beside
her. "Punctual to the minute, you see!"

He looked closely at her. In the clearer light of day he saw that she
was not only a much prettier girl than he had fancied the night before,
but that she had more fire and character in her eyes and lips than he
had imagined. And though she glanced at him with evident shyness as he
came up, and the colour came into her cheeks as she gave him her hand,
he was quick to see that she was going to say whatever it was that was
in her mind. It was Brent's way to go straight to the point.

"You wanted to speak to me," he said, smiling again. "Fire away!--and
don't be afraid."

The girl threw her book aside, and turned to him with obvious candour.

"I won't!" she exclaimed. "I'm not a bit afraid--though I don't know
whatever you'll think of me, Mr. Brent, asking advice from a stranger in
this barefaced fashion!"

"I've had to seek advice from strangers more than once in my time," said
Brent, with a gentle laugh. "Go ahead!"

"It was knowing that you came from London," said Queenie. "You mightn't
think it but I never met anybody before who came from London. And--I
want to go to London. I will go!"

"Well," remarked Brent slowly, "if young people say they want to go to
London, and declare that they will go to London, why, in my experience
they end up by going. But, in your case, why not?"

The girl sat silent for a moment, staring straight in front of her at
the blue smoke that circled up from the quaint chimney stacks of the
town beneath the Castle. Her eyes grew dreamy.

"I want to go on the stage," she said at last. "That's it, Mr. Brent."

Brent turned and looked at her. Under his calm and critical inspection
she blushed, but as she blushed she shook her head.

"Perhaps you think I'm one of the stage-struck young women?" she said.
"Perhaps you're wondering if I can act? Perhaps----"

"What I'm wondering," interrupted Brent, "is--if you know anything about
it? Not about acting, but about the practical side of the thing--the
profession? A pretty stiff proposition, you know."

"What I know," said Queenie Crood determinedly, "is that I've got a
natural talent for acting. And I'd get on--if only I could get away from
this place. I will get away!--if only somebody would give me a bit of
advice about going to London and getting--you know--getting put in the
way of it. I don't care how hard the life is, nor how hard I'd have to
work--it would be what I want, and better than this anyway!"

"You aren't happy in this town?" suggested Brent.

Queenie gave an eloquent glance out of her dark eyes.

"Happy!" she exclaimed scornfully. "Shut up in that house with Simon
Crood! Would you be? You saw something of it last night. Would you like
to be mewed up there, day in, day out, year in, year out, with no
company beyond him and those two cronies of his, who are as bad as
himself--mean, selfish, money-grubbers! Oh!"

"Isn't your uncle good to you?" asked Brent with simple directness.

"He's been good enough in giving me bed and board and clothing since my
father and mother died six years ago," answered the girl, "and in return
I've saved him the wages of the two servants he ought to have. But do
you think I want to spend all my life there, doing that sort of thing? I
don't--and I won't! And I thought, when I heard that you were a London
man, and a journalist, that you'd be able to tell me what to do--to get
to London. Help me, Mr. Brent!"

She involuntarily held out her hands to him, and Brent just as
involuntarily took them in his. He was a cool and not easily impressed
young man, but his pulses thrilled as he felt the warm fingers against
his own.

"By George!" he exclaimed. "If--if you can act like that----"

"I'm not acting!" she said quickly.

"Well, well, I didn't say you were," he answered with a laugh. "Only if
you could--but of course I'll help you! I'll find out a thing or two
for you: I don't know much myself, but I know people who do know. I'll
do what I can."

The girl pressed his hands and withdrew her own.

"Thank you, thank you!" she said impulsively. "Oh, if you only knew how
I want to get away--and breathe! That house----"

"Look here," interrupted Brent, "you're very candid. I like that--it
suits me. Now, frankly you don't like that old uncle of yours? And just
why?"

Queenie looked round. There was no one near them, no one indeed in
sight, except a nursemaid who wheeled a perambulator along one of the
paths, but she sunk her voice to something near a whisper.

"Mr. Brent," she said, "Simon Crood's the biggest hypocrite in this
town--and that's implying a good deal more than you'd ever think. He and
those friends of his, Mallett and Coppinger, who are always there with
him--ah, they think I know nothing, and understand nothing, but I hear
their schemings and their talk, veiled as it is. They're deep and
subtle, those three--and dangerous. Didn't you see last night that if
you'd sat there till midnight or till morning you'd never have had a
word out of them--a word, that is, that you wanted? You wouldn't!--they
knew better!"

"I got nothing out of them," admitted Brent. He sat thinking in silence
for a time. "Look here," he said at last, "you know what I want to find
out--who killed my cousin. Help me! Keep your eyes and ears open to
anything you see and hear--understand?"

"I will!" answered Queenie. "But you've got a big task before you! You
can be certain of this--if the Mayor was murdered for what you called
political reasons----"

"Well?" asked Brent, as she paused. "Well?"

"It would all be arranged so cleverly that there's small chance of
discovery," she went on. "I know this town--rotten to the core! But I'll
help you all I can, and----"

A policeman suddenly came round the corner of the wall, and at sight of
Brent touched his peaked cap.

"Looking for you, Mr. Brent," he said. "I heard you'd been seen coming
up here. The superintendent would be obliged if you'd step round, sir;
he wants to see you at once, particularly."

"Follow you in a moment," answered Brent. He turned to Queenie as the
man went away. "When shall I see you again?" he asked.

"I always come here every afternoon," she answered. "It's the only
change I get. I come here to read."

"Till to-morrow--or the next day, then," said Brent. He nodded and
laughed. "Keep smiling! You'll maybe play Juliet, or some other of those
old games, yet."

The girl smiled gratefully, and Brent strode away after the policeman.
In a few minutes he was in Hawthwaite's office. The superintendent
closed the door, gave him a mysterious glance, and going over to a
cupboard produced a long, narrow parcel, done up in brown paper.

"A discovery!" he whispered. "It occurred to me this afternoon to have
all the heavy furniture in the Mayor's Parlour examined. No light job,
Mr. Brent--but we found this."

And with a jerk of his wrist he drew from the brown paper a long, thin,
highly polished rapier, the highly burnished steel of which was dulled
along half its length, as if it had been first dimmed and then hastily
rubbed.

"I make no doubt that this was what it was done with," continued
Hawthwaite. "We found it thrust away between the wainscoting and a heavy
bookcase which it took six men to move. And our deputy Town Clerk says
that a few days ago he saw this lying on a side table in the Mayor's
Parlour--his late Worship observed to him that it was an old Spanish
rapier that he'd picked up at some old curiosity shop cheap."

"You'll go into that, and bring it in evidence?" suggested Brent.

"You bet!" replied Hawthwaite grimly. "Oh, we're not going to sleep, Mr.
Brent--we'll get at something yet! Slow and sure, sir, slow but sure."

Brent went away presently, and calling on Tansley, the solicitor, walked
with him to Wallingford's rooms. During the next two hours they
carefully examined all the dead man's private papers. They found nothing
that threw any light whatever on his murder. But they came upon his
will. Wallingford had left all he possessed to his cousin, Richard
Brent, and by the tragedy of the previous night Brent found that he had
benefited to the extent of some fifteen thousand pounds.



CHAPTER VI

THE ANCIENT OFFICE OF CORONER


The discovery of Wallingford's will, which lay uppermost amongst a small
collection of private papers in a drawer of the dead man's desk, led
Brent and Tansley into a new train of thought. Tansley, with the ready
perception and acumen of a man trained in the law, was quick to point
out two or three matters which in view of Wallingford's murder seemed to
be of high importance, perhaps of deep significance. Appended to the
will was a schedule of the testator's properties and possessions, with
the total value of the estate estimated and given in precise
figures--that was how Brent suddenly became aware that he had come into
a small fortune. Then the will itself was in holograph, written out in
Wallingford's own hand on a single sheet of paper, in the briefest
possible fashion, and witnessed by his two clerks. And, most important
and significant of all, it had been executed only a week previously.

"Do you know how that strikes me?" observed Tansley in a low voice, as
if he feared to be overheard. "It just looks to me as if Wallingford had
anticipated that something was about to happen. Had he ever given you
any idea in his letters that he was going to do this?"

"Never!" replied Brent. "Still--I'm the only very near relative that he
had."

"Well," said Tansley, "it may be mere coincidence, but it's a bit odd
that he should be murdered within a week of that will's being made. I'd
just like to know if he'd been threatened--openly, anonymously, any way.
Looks like it."

"I suppose we shall get into things at the inquest?" asked Brent.

Tansley shrugged his shoulders.

"Maybe," he answered. "I've no great faith in inquests myself. But
sometimes things do come out. And our coroner, Seagrave, is a
painstaking and thorough-going sort of old chap--the leading solicitor
in the town too. But it all depends on what evidence can be brought
forward. I've always an uneasy feeling, as regards a coroner's inquiry,
that the very people who really could tell something never come
forward."

"Doesn't that look as if such people were keeping something back that
would incriminate themselves?" suggested Brent.

"Not necessarily," replied Tansley. "But it often means that it might
incriminate others. And in an old town like this, where the folk are
very clannish and closely connected one with another by, literally,
centuries of intermarriage between families, you're not going to get one
man to give another away."

"You think that even if the murderer is known, or if some one suspected,
he would be shielded?" asked Brent.

"In certain eventualities, yes," answered Tansley. "We all know that
rumours about your cousin's murder are afloat in the town now--and
spreading. Well, the more they spread, the closer and more secretive
will those people become who are in the know; that is, of course, if
anybody is in the know. That's a fact!"

"What do you think yourself?" said Brent suddenly. "Come now?"

"I think the Mayor was got rid of--and very cleverly," replied Tansley.
"So cleverly that I'm doubtful if to-morrow's inquest will reveal
anything. However, it's got to be held."

"Well, you'll watch it for me?" said Brent. "I'm going to spare no
expense and no pains to get at the truth."

He sat at Tansley's side when the inquest was opened next morning in the
principal court of the old Moot Hall. It struck him as rather a curious
fact that, although he had followed the profession of journalist for
several years, he had never until then been present at the holding of
this--one of the most ancient forms of inquiry known to English law. But
he was familiar with the history of the thing--he knew that ever since
the days of Edward IV the Coroner had held his sitting, _super visum
corporis_, with the aid of at least twelve jurymen, _probi et legales
homines_, there was scarcely in all the range of English legal economy
an office more ancient. He inspected the Coroner and his jury with
curious interest--Seagrave, Coroner of the Honour of Hathelsborough, was
a keen-faced old lawyer, whose astute looks were relieved by a kindly
expression; his twelve good men and true were tradesmen of the town,
whose exterior promised a variety of character and temperament, from
the sharply alert to the dully unimaginative.

There were other people there in whom Brent was speedily interested, and
at whom he gazed with speculative attention in the opening stages of the
proceedings. The court was crowded: by the time Seagrave, as Coroner,
took his seat, there was not a square foot of even standing space. Brent
recognized a good many folk. There was Peppermore, with his sharp-eyed
boy assistant; there, ranged alongside of them, were many other
reporters, from the various county newspapers, and at least one man whom
Brent recognized as being from the Press Association in London. And
there was a big array of police, with Hawthwaite at its head, and there
were doctors, and officials of the Moot Hall, and, amongst the general
public, many men whom Brent remembered seeing the previous day in Bull's
Snug. Krevin Crood was among these; in a privileged seat, not far away,
sat his brother, the Alderman, with Queenie half-hidden at his side, and
his satellites, Mallett and Coppinger, in close attendance. And near
them, in another privileged place, sat a very pretty woman, of a
distinct and superior type, attired in semi-mourning, and accompanied by
her elderly female companion. Brent was looking at these two when
Tansley nudged his elbow.

"You see that handsome woman over there--next to the older one?" he
whispered. "That's the Mrs. Saumarez you've heard of--that your
unfortunate cousin was very friendly with. Rich young widow, she is, and
deuced pretty and attractive--Wallingford used to dine with her a good
deal. I wonder if she's any ideas about this mystery? However, I guess
we shall hear many things before the day's out; of course I haven't the
slightest notion what evidence is going to be given. But I've a pretty
good idea that Seagrave means to say some pretty straight things to the
jury!"

Here Tansley proved to be right. The Coroner, in opening the
proceedings, made some forcible remarks on their unusual gravity and
importance. Here was a case in which the chief magistrate of one of the
most ancient boroughs in England had been found dead in his official
room under circumstances which clearly seemed to point to murder.
Already there were rumours in the town and neighbourhood of the darkest
and most disgraceful sort--that the Mayor of Hathelsborough had been
done to death, in a peculiarly brutal fashion, by a man or men who
disagreed with the municipal reforms which he was intent on carrying
out. It would be a lasting, an indelible blot on the old town's fair
fame, never tarnished before in this way, if this inquiry came to
naught, if no definite verdict was given, he earnestly hoped that by the
time it concluded they would be in possession of facts which would, so
to speak, clear the town, and any political party in the town. He begged
them to give the closest attention to all that would be put before them,
and to keep open minds until they heard all the available evidence.

"A fairly easy matter in this particular case!" muttered Tansley, as the
jurymen went out to discharge their distasteful, preliminary task of
viewing the body of the murdered man. "I don't suppose there's a single
man there who has the ghost of a theory, and I'm doubtful if he'll know
much more to-night than he knows now--unless something startling is
sprung upon us."

Brent was the first witness called into the box when the court settled
down to its business. He formally identified the body of the deceased as
that of his cousin, John Wallingford: at the time of his death, Mayor of
Hathelsborough, and forty-one years of age. He detailed the particulars
of his own coming to the town on the evening of the murder, and told how
he and Bunning, going upstairs to the Mayor's Parlour, had found
Wallingford lying across his desk, dead. All this every man and woman in
the court knew already--but the Coroner desired to know more.

"I believe, Mr. Brent," he said, when the witness had given these
particulars, "that you are the deceased's nearest blood-relative?"

"I am," replied Brent.

"Then you can give us some information which may be of use. Although the
Mayor had lived in Hathelsborough some twelve years or so, he was
neither a native of the town nor of these parts. Now, can you give us
some particulars about him--about his family and his life before he came
to this borough?"

"Yes," said Brent. "My cousin was the only son--only child, in fact--of
the Reverend Septimus Wallingford, who was sometime Vicar of Market
Meadow, in Berkshire. He is dead--many years ago--so is his wife. My
cousin was educated at Reading Grammar School, and on leaving it he was
articled to a firm of solicitors in that town. After qualifying as a
solicitor, he remained with that firm for some time. About twelve years
ago he came to this place as managing clerk to a Hathelsborough firm;
its partners eventually retired, and he bought their practice."

"Was he ever married?"

"Never!"

"You knew him well?"

"He was some twelve years my senior," answered Brent, "so I was a mere
boy when he was a young man. But of late years we have seen a good deal
of each other--he has frequently visited me in London, and this would
have been my third visit to him here. We corresponded regularly."

"You were on good terms?"

"We were on very good terms."

"And confidential terms?"

"As far as I know--yes. He took great interest in my work as a
journalist, and I took great interest in his career in this town."

"And I understand that he has marked his sense of--shall we say, kinship
for you by leaving you all his property?"

"He has!"

"Now, did he ever say anything to you, by word of mouth or letter, about
any private troubles?"

"No, never!"

"Or about any public ones?"

"Well, some months ago, soon after he became Mayor of Hathelsborough, he
made a sort of joking reference, in a letter, to something that might
come under that head."

"Yes? What, now?"

"He said that he had started on his task of cleaning out the Augean
stable of Hathelsborough, and that the old task of Hercules was child's
play compared to his."

"I believe, Mr. Brent, that you visited your cousin here in the town
about Christmas last? Did he say anything to you about Hathelsborough at
that time? I mean, as regards what he called his Augean stables task?"

Brent hesitated. He glanced at the eagerly-listening spectators, and he
smiled a little.

"Well," he replied half-hesitatingly, "he did! He said that in his
opinion Hathelsborough was the rottenest and most corrupt little town in
all England!"

"Did you take that as a seriously meant statement, Mr. Brent?"

"Oh, well--he laughed as he made it. I took it as a specimen of his
rather heightened way of putting things."

"Did he say anything that led you to think that he believed himself to
have bitter enemies in the town?"

"No," said Brent, "he did not."

"Neither then nor at any other time?"

"Neither then nor at any other time."

The Coroner asked no further questions, and Brent sat down again by
Tansley, and settled himself to consider whatever evidence might follow.
He tried to imagine himself a Coroner or juryman, and to estimate and
weigh the testimony of each succeeding witness in its relation to the
matter into which the court was inquiring. Some of it, he thought, was
relevant; some had little in it that carried affairs any further. Yet he
began to see that even the apparently irrelevant evidence was not
without its importance. They were links, these statements, these
answers; links that went to the making of a chain.

He was already familiar with most of the evidence: he knew what each
witness was likely to tell before one or other entered the box. Bunning
came next after himself; Bunning had nothing new to tell. Nor was there
anything new in the medical evidence given by Dr. Wellesley and Dr.
Barber--all the town knew how the Mayor had been murdered, and the
purely scientific explanations as to the cause of death were merely
details. More interest came when Hawthwaite produced the fragment of
handkerchief picked up on the hearth of the Mayor's Parlour, half-burnt;
and when he brought forward the rapier which had been discovered behind
the bookcase; still more when a man who kept an old curiosity shop in a
back street of the town proved that he had sold the rapier to
Wallingford only a few days before the murder. But interest died down
again while the Borough Surveyor produced elaborate plans and diagrams,
illustrating the various corridors, passages, entrances and exits of the
Moot Hall, with a view to showing the difficulty of access to the
Mayor's Parlour. It revived once more when the policeman who had been on
duty at the office in the basement stepped into the box and was
questioned as to the possibilities of entrance to the Moot Hall through
the door near which his desk was posted. For on pressure by the Coroner
he admitted that between six and eight o'clock on the fateful evening he
had twice been absent from the neighbourhood of that door for intervals
of five or six minutes--it was therefore possible that the murderer had
slipped in and slipped out without attracting attention.

This admission produced the first element of distinct sensation which
had so far materialized. As almost every person present was already
fairly well acquainted with the details of what had transpired on the
evening of the murder--Peppermore having published every scrap of
information he could rake up, in successive editions of his
_Monitor_--the constable's belated revelation came as a surprise.
Hawthwaite turned on the witness with an irate, astonished look; the
Coroner glanced at Hawthwaite as if he were puzzled; then looked down at
certain memoranda lying before him. He turned from this to the witness,
a somewhat raw, youthful policeman.

"I understood that you were never away from that door between six and
eight o'clock on the evening in question?" he said. "Now you admit that
you were twice away from it?"

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir, I clean forgot that when--when the
superintendent asked me at first. I--I was a bit flustered like."

"Now let us get a clear statement about this," said the Coroner, after a
pause. "We know quite well from the plans, and from our own knowledge,
that anyone could get up to the Mayor's Parlour through the police
office in the basement at the rear of the Moot Hall. What time did you
go on duty at the door that opens into the office, from St. Laurence
Lane?"

"Six o'clock, sir."

"And you were about the door--at a desk there, eh?--until when?"

"Till after eight, sir."

"But you say you were absent for a short time, twice?"

"Yes, sir, I remember now that I was."

"What were the times of those two absences?"

"Well, sir, about ten minutes to seven I went along to the charge office
for a few minutes--five or six minutes. Then at about a quarter to eight
I went downstairs into the cellar to get some paraffin for a lamp--I
might be away as long, then, sir."

"And, of course, during your absence anybody could have left or
entered--unnoticed?"

"Well, they could, sir, but I don't think anybody did."

"Why, now?"

"Because, sir, the door opening into St. Laurence Lane is a very heavy
one, and I never heard it either open or close. The latch is a heavy
one, too, sir, and uncommon stiff."

"Still, anybody might," observed the Coroner. "Now, what is the length
of the passage between that door, the door at the foot of the stairs
leading to this court--by which anybody would have to come to get that
way to the Mayor's Parlour?"

The witness reflected for a moment.

"Well, about ten yards, sir," he answered.

The Coroner looked at the plan which the Borough Surveyor had placed
before him and the jury a few minutes previously. Before he could say
anything further, Hawthwaite rose from his seat and making his way to
him exchanged a few whispered remarks with him. Presently the Coroner
nodded, as if in assent to some suggestions.

"Oh, very well," he said. "Then perhaps we'd better have her at once.
Call--what's her name, did you say? Oh, yes--Sarah Jane Spizey!"

From amidst a heterogeneous collection of folk, men and women,
congregated at the rear of the witness-box, a woman came forward--one of
the most extraordinary looking creatures that he had ever seen, thought
Brent. She was nearly six feet in height; she was correspondingly built;
her arms appeared to be as brawny as a navvy's; her face was of the
shape and roundness of a full moon; her mouth was a wide slit, her nose
a button; her eyes were as shrewd and hard as they were small and
close-set. A very Grenadier of a woman!--and apparently quite unmoved by
the knowledge that everybody was staring at her.

Sarah Jane Spizey--yes. Wife of the Town Bellman. Resident in St.
Laurence Lane. Went out charing sometimes; sometimes worked at
Marriner's Laundry. Odd-job woman, in fact.

"Mrs. Spizey," said the Coroner, "I understand that on the evening of
Mr. Wallingford's death you were engaged in some work in the Moot Hall.
Is that so?"

"Yes, sir. Which I was a-washing the floor of this very court."

"What time was that, Mrs. Spizey?"

"Which I was at it, your Worshipful, from six o'clock to eight."

"Did you leave this place at all during that time?"

"Not once, sir; not for a minute."

"Now during the whole of that time, Mrs. Spizey, did you see anybody
come up those stairs, cross the court, and go towards the Mayor's
Parlour?"

"Which I never did, sir! I never see a soul of any sort. Which the place
was empty, sir, for all but me and my work, sir."

The Coroner motioned Mrs. Spizey to stand down, and glanced at
Hawthwaite.

"I think this would be a convenient point at which to adjourn," he said.
"I----"

But Hawthwaite's eyes were turned elsewhere. In the body of the court an
elderly man had risen.



CHAPTER VII

THE VOLUNTARY WITNESS


Everybody present, not excluding Brent, knew the man at whom the
Superintendent of Police was staring, and who evidently wished to
address the Coroner. He was Mr. Samuel John Epplewhite, an elderly,
highly respectable tradesman of the town, and closely associated with
that Forward Party in the Town Council of which the late Mayor had
become the acknowledged leader; a man of substance and repute, who would
not break in without serious reason upon proceedings of the sort then
going on. The Coroner, following Hawthwaite's glance, nodded to him.

"You wish to make some observation, Mr. Epplewhite?" he inquired.

"Before you adjourn, sir, if you please," replied Epplewhite, "I should
like to make a statement--evidence, in fact, sir. I think, after what
we've heard, that it's highly necessary that I should."

"Certainly," answered the Coroner. "Anything you can tell, of course.
Then, perhaps you'll step into the witness-box?"

The folk who crowded the court to its very doors looked on impatiently
while Epplewhite went through the legal formalities. Laying down the
Testament on which he had taken the oath, he turned to the Coroner. But
the Coroner again nodded to him.

"You had better tell us what is in your mind in your own way, Mr.
Epplewhite," he said. "We are, of course, in utter ignorance of what it
is you can tell. Put it in your own fashion."

Epplewhite folded his hands on the ledge of the witness-box and looked
around the court before finally settling his eyes on the Coroner: it
seemed to Brent as if he were carefully considering the composition,
severally and collectively, of his audience.

"Well, sir," he began, in slow, measured accents, "what I have to say,
as briefly as I can, is this: everybody here, I believe, is aware that
our late Mayor and myself were on particularly friendly terms. We'd
always been more or less of friends since his first coming to the town:
we'd similar tastes and interests. But our friendship had been on an
even more intimate basis during the last year or two, and especially of
recent months, owing, no doubt, to the fact that we belonged to the same
party on the Town Council, and were both equally anxious to bring about
a thorough reform in the municipal administration of the borough. When
Mr. Wallingford was elected Mayor last November, he and I, and our
supporters on the Council, resolved that during his year of office we
would do our best to sweep away certain crying abuses and generally get
the affairs of Hathelsborough placed on a more modern and a better
footing. We were all----"

The Coroner held up his hand.

"Let us have a clear understanding," he said. "I am
gathering--officially, of course--from what you are saying that in
Hathelsborough Town Council there are two parties, opposed to each
other: a party pledged to Reform, and another that is opposed to Reform.
Is that so, Mr. Epplewhite?"

"Precisely so," answered the witness. "And of the Reform party, the late
Mayor was the leader. This is well known in the town--it's a matter of
common gossip. It is also well known to members of the Town Council that
Mr. Wallingford's proposals for reform were of a very serious and
drastic nature, that we of his party were going to support them through
thick and thin, and that they were bitterly opposed by the other party,
whose members were resolved to fight them tooth and nail."

"It may be as well to know what these abuses were which you proposed to
reform?" suggested the Coroner. "I want to get a thorough clearing-up of
everything."

"Well," responded the witness, with another glance around the court,
"the late Mayor had a rooted and particular objection to the system of
payments and pensions in force at present, which, without doubt, owes
its existence to favouritism and jobbery. There are numerous people in
the town drawing money from the borough funds who have no right to it on
any ground whatever. There are others who draw salaries for what are
really sinecures. A great deal of the ratepayers' money has gone in this
way--men in high places in the Corporation have used their power to
benefit relations and favourites: I question if there's another town in
the country in which such a state of things would be permitted. But
there is a more serious matter than that, one which Mr. Wallingford was
absolutely determined, with the help of his party, and backed by public
opinion, if he could win it over--no easy thing, for we had centuries of
usage and tradition against us!--to bring to an end. That is, the fact
that the financial affairs of this town are entirely controlled by what
is virtually a self-constituted body, called the Town Trustees. They are
three in number. If one dies, the surviving two select his
successor--needless to say, they take good care that they choose a man
who is in thorough sympathy with their own ideas. Now the late Mayor was
convinced that this system led to nothing but--well, to put it mildly,
to nothing but highly undesirable results, and he claimed that the
Corporation had the right to deprive the existing Town Trustees of their
power, and to take into its own hands the full administration of the
borough finances. And of course there was much bitter animosity aroused
by this proposal, because the Town Trustees have had a free hand and
done what they liked with the town's money for a couple of centuries!"

The Coroner, who was making elaborate notes, lifted his pen.

"Who are the Town Trustees at present, Mr. Epplewhite?" he inquired.

Epplewhite smiled, as a man might smile who knows that a question is
only asked as a mere formality.

"The Town Trustees at present, sir," he answered quietly, "are Mr.
Alderman Crood, Deputy Mayor; Mr. Councillor Mallett, Borough Auditor;
and Mr. Councillor Coppinger, Borough Treasurer."

Amidst a curious silence, broken only by the scratching of the Coroner's
pen, Alderman Crood rose heavily in his place amongst the spectators.

"Mr. Coroner," he said, with some show of injured feeling, "I object,
sir, to my name being mentioned in connection with this here matter.
You're inquiring, sir----"

"I'm inquiring, Mr. Crood, into the circumstances surrounding the death
of John Wallingford," said the Coroner. "If you can throw any light on
them, I shall be glad to take your evidence. At present I am taking the
evidence of another witness. Yes, Mr. Epplewhite?"

"Well, sir, I come to recent events," continued Epplewhite, smiling
grimly as the Deputy-Mayor, flushed and indignant, resumed his seat.
"The late Mayor was very well aware that his proposals were regarded,
not merely with great dislike, but with positive enmity. He, and those
of us who agreed with him, were constantly asked in the Council Chamber
what right we had to be endeavouring to interfere with a system that had
suited our fathers and grandfathers? We were warned too, in the Council
Chamber, that we should get ourselves into trouble----"

"Do you refer to actual threats?" asked the Coroner.

"Scarcely that, sir--hints, and so on," replied the witness. "But of
late, in the case of the late Mayor, actual threats have been used. And
to bring my evidence to a point, Mr. Coroner, I now wish to make a
certain statement, on my oath, and to produce a certain piece of
evidence, to show that Mr. Wallingford's personal safety was threatened
only a few days before his murder!"

Thus saying, Epplewhite thrust a hand into the inner pocket of his coat,
and, producing a letter, held it out at arm's length, so that every one
could see it. So holding it, he turned to the Coroner.

"It is just a week ago, sir," he proceeded, "that Mr. Wallingford came
to supper at my house. After supper, he and I, being alone, began
talking about the subject which was uppermost in our minds--municipal
reform. That day I had had considerable talk with two or three
fellow-members of the Council who belonged to the opposite party, and as
a result I showed to Wallingford that opposition to our plans was
growing more concentrated, determined and bitter. He laughed a little
satirically. 'It's gone beyond even that stage with me, personally,
Epplewhite,' he said. 'Don't you ever be surprised, my friend, if you
hear of my being found with a bullet through my head or a knife between
my ribs!' 'What do you mean?' said I. 'Nonsense!' He laughed again, and
pulled out this envelope. 'All right,' he answered. 'You read that!' I
read what was in the envelope, sir--and I now pass it to you!"

The Coroner silently took the letter which was passed across to him from
the witness, withdrew a sheet of paper from it, and read the contents
with an inscrutable face and amidst a dead silence. It seemed a long
time before he turned to the jury. Then, he held up the sheet of paper
and the envelope which had contained it.

"Gentlemen!" he said. "I shall have to draw your particular attention
to this matter. This is an anonymous letter. From the date on the
postmark, it was received by the late Mayor about a week before he
showed it to Mr. Epplewhite. It is a typewritten communication. The
address on the envelope is typewritten; the letter itself is
typewritten. I will now read the letter to you. It is as follows:

     "'MR. MAYOR,

     "'You are a young man in an old town, but you are old enough and
     sharp enough to take a hint. Take one now, and mind your own
     business. What business is it of yours to interfere with good old
     customs in a place to which you don't belong and where you're still
     a comparative stranger? You only got elected to the Mayoral chair
     by one vote, and if you are fool enough to think that you and those
     behind you are strong enough to upset things you'll find yourself
     wrong, for you won't be allowed. There's something a deal stronger
     in this town than what you and them are, and that you'll see
     proved--or happen you won't see it, for if you go on as you are
     doing, putting your nose in where you've no right, you'll be made
     so that you'll never see nor hear again. Things is not going to be
     upset here for want of putting upsetters out of the way; there's
     been better men than you quietly sided for less. So take a quiet
     warning, leave things alone. It would become you a deal better if
     you'd be a bit more hospitable to the Council and give them a glass
     of decent wine instead of the teetotal stuff you disgraced the
     table with when you gave your Mayoral banquet--first time any
     Mayor of this good old borough ever did such a thing. There's them
     that's had quite enough of such goings-on, and doesn't mind how
     soon you're shifted. So mend your ways before somebody makes them
     as they'll never need mending any more.'

"Now, gentlemen," continued the Coroner, as he laid down the letter,
"there are one or two things about that communication to which I wish to
draw your attention. First of all, it is the composition of a vulgar and
illiterate, or, at any rate, semi-illiterate person. I don't think its
phrasing and illiteracy are affected; I think it has been written in its
present colloquial form without art or design, by whoever wrote it; it
is written, phrased, expressed, precisely as a vulgar, coarse sort of
person would speak. That is the first point. The second is--it is
typewritten. Now, in these days, there are a great many typewriting
machines in use in the town; small as the town is, we know there are a
great many, in offices, shops, institutions, banks, even private houses.
It is not at all likely that the sender of this letter would employ a
professional typist to write it, not even a clerk, nor any
employé--therefore he typed it himself. I will invite your attention to
the letter, which I now hand to you, and then I will place it in the
custody of the police, who will, of course, use their best endeavours to
trace it."

He passed the letter over to the foreman of the jury, and turned to the
witness-box.

"I conclude, Mr. Epplewhite, that the late Mayor left that letter in
your possession?" he asked.

"He did, sir," replied Epplewhite. "He said, half jokingly, 'You can
keep that, Epplewhite! If they sacrifice me on the altar of vested
interests, it'll be a bit of evidence.' So I locked up the letter in my
safe there and then, and it has remained there until this morning."

"You, of course, have no idea as to the identity of the sender?"

"None, sir!"

"Had Mr. Wallingford?"

"Neither of us, sir, formed any conclusion. But we both thought that the
letter emanated from some member of the opposition."

"Did Mr. Wallingford take it as a serious threat?"

Epplewhite looked doubtful.

"I scarcely know," he said. "He seemed half-minded about it. To regard
it, you know, as half a joke and half serious. But I feel certain that
he knew he had enemies who might become--well, deadly. That's my
distinct impression, Mr. Coroner."

The typewritten letter went its round of the jury and presently came
back to the Coroner. He replaced it in its envelope and handed the
envelope to Hawthwaite.

"You must leave no stone unturned in your effort to trace that letter to
its source," he said. "That's of the highest importance. And now I think
we had better adjourn for----"

But Tansley rose from his seat at Brent's elbow.

"I should like to draw attention to a somewhat pertinent fact, Mr.
Coroner," he said. "It seems to have a distinct bearing on what has just
transpired. During a search of the deceased's private papers, made by
Mr. Brent and myself, yesterday afternoon, we found Mr. Wallingford's
will. It was drawn up by himself, in very concise terms, and duly
executed, only a few days before his death. It suggests itself to me
that he was impelled to this by the threat which is distinctly made in
the letter you have just read."

"I think we may take it that the late Mayor felt that he was in some
personal danger," answered the Coroner. "What you say, Mr. Tansley,
appears to corroborate that."

Then with a few words of counsel to the jury, he adjourned the inquest
for ten days, and presently the folk who had listened to the proceedings
streamed out into the market-place, excited and voluble. Instead of
going away, the greater number of those who had been present lingered
around the entrance, and Brent, leaving in Tansley's company a few
minutes later, found high words being spoken between Alderman Crood and
Epplewhite, who, prominent on the pavement, were haranguing each other
amidst a ring of open-mouthed bystanders.

"You were at that game all through what you called your evidence!"
vociferated Alderman Crood, who was obviously excited and angry far
beyond his wont. "Nice evidence, indeed! Naught is it but trying to
fasten blame on to innocent folk!"

"Suggesting!" sneered Mallett, close on his leader's right elbow.
"Insinuating!"

"Hinting at things!" said Coppinger, close on the left. "Implying!"

"Dirty work!" shouted Alderman Crood. "Such as nobody but the likes o'
you--Radicals and teetotallers and chapel folk!--'ud ever think o'
doing. You say straight out before the town what's in your mind, Sam
Epplewhite, and I'll see what the law has to say to you! I'm none going
to have my character taken away by a fellow o' your sort. Say your say,
here in public----"

"I'll say my say at the right time and place, Alderman Crood!" retorted
Epplewhite. "This thing's going through! We'll find out who murdered
John Wallingford yet--there's no need to go far away to find the
murderer!"

Crood's big face grew livid with anger, and his long upper lip began to
quiver. He raised his hand, as if to command the attention of the crowd,
but just then Hawthwaite and a couple of policemen appeared in the open
doorway behind, and Mallett and Coppinger, nudging the big man from
either side, led him away along the market-place. And suddenly, from
amongst the dispersing crowd, distinct murmurs of disapproval and
dislike arose, crystallized in a sharp cry from some man on its outer
edge.

"Down wi' the Town Trustees!--they're at t' bottom o' this! Down wi'
'em!"

The Town Trustees retreated before a suddenly awakened chorus of
hooting. They disappeared into Mallett's private door at the Bank.
Brent, watching and listening with speculative curiosity, felt Tansley
touch his arm. He turned, to find the solicitor shaking his head, and
with a grave countenance.

"Bad, bad!" muttered Tansley. "Very bad!--once get public opinion set on
like that, and----"

"And what?" demanded Brent. He was already so convinced that his cousin
had fallen a victim to political hatred that he was rather welcoming the
revengeful outburst of feeling. "What, now?"

"There'll be an end of all sensible and practical proceedings in
connection with the affair," answered Tansley. "There's a big following
of the Reform party in the town amongst the working folk, and if they
once get it into their heads that the Conservative lot put your cousin
away--well, there'll be hell to pay!"

"Personally," said Brent, with a hardening of his square jaw, "I don't
care if there is! If we can only put our hands on the murderers, I don't
care if the people hang 'em to those lamp-posts! I shouldn't be sorry to
see a little lynch law!"

"Then we shall never get at the truth," retorted Tansley. "We may--only
may, mind you!--have got a bit towards it this morning, but not far. If
at all--perhaps!"

"That threatening letter?" suggested Brent.

"I attach very little importance to it," said Tansley, "though I wasn't
going to say so much in court. In my experience in this town, if I've
seen one anonymous letter I've seen a hundred. Hathelsborough folk are
given to that sort of thing. No, sir--there's a tremendous lot to come
out yet. Don't you be surprised if all sorts of extraordinary
developments materialize--perhaps when you're least expecting 'em!"

Brent made no answer. He was not easily surprised, and from the moment
of his discovery of the crime he had realized that this was a mystery in
the unravelling of which time and trouble would have to be expended
freely. But he had a moment of genuine surprise that evening, when, as
he sat in his private sitting-room at the _Chancellor_, he received a
note, written in a delicate feminine hand on crested and scented paper,
wherein he was requested, in somewhat guarded and mysterious fashion, to
step round to the private residence of Mrs. Saumarez.



CHAPTER VIII

MRS. SAUMAREZ


Brent, at that moment, was in a state of mind which made every fibre of
his being particularly sensitive to suspicions and speculative ideas--he
had no sooner slipped Mrs. Saumarez's note into his pocket than he began
to wonder why she had sent for him? Of course, it had something to do
with Wallingford's murder, but what? If Mrs. Saumarez knew anything, why
did she not speak at the inquest? She had been present all through the
proceedings. Brent had frequently turned his eyes on her; always he had
seen her in the same watchful, keen-eyed attitude, apparently deeply
absorbed in the evidence, and, it seemed to him, showing signs of a
certain amount of anxiety. Anxiety--yes, that was it, anxiety. The other
spectators were curious, morbidly curious, most of them, but Mrs.
Saumarez he felt sure was anxious. And about what? He wondered, but
wondering was no good. He must go and see her of course; and presently
he made himself ready and set out. But as he crossed the hall of the
hotel he encountered Tansley, who was just emerging from the
smoking-room. A thought occurred to him, and he motioned Tansley back
into the room he had just quitted, and led him to a quiet corner.

"I say," said Brent, "between ourselves, I've just had a note from that
Mrs. Saumarez we saw this morning in the Coroner's Court. She wants me
to go round to her house at once."

Tansley showed his interest.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Then, she's something to tell."

"Why to me?" demanded Brent.

"You're Wallingford's next of kin," said the solicitor laconically.
"That's why."

"Wonder what it is?" muttered Brent. "Some feminine fancy maybe."

"Go and find out, man!" laughed Tansley.

"Just so," replied Brent. "I'm going now. But look here--who and what is
this Mrs. Saumarez? Post me up."

Tansley waved his cigar in the air, as if implying that you could draw a
circle around his field of knowledge.

"Oh, well," he said, "you saw her to-day. So you're already aware that
she's young and pretty and charming--and all that. As for the rest,
she's a widow, and a wealthy one. Relict, as we say in the law, of a
naval officer of high rank, who, I fancy, was some years older than
herself. She came here about two years ago and rents a picturesque old
place that was built, long since, out of the ruins of the old
Benedictine Abbey that used to stand at the rear of what's now called
Abbey Gate--some of the ruins, as you know, are still there. Clever
woman--reads a lot and all that sort of thing. Not at all a society
woman, in spite of her prettiness--bit of a blue-stocking, I fancy.
Scarcely know her myself."

"I think you said my cousin knew her?" suggested Brent.

"Your cousin and she, latterly, were very thick," asserted Tansley. "He
spent a lot of time at her house. During nearly all last autumn and
winter, though, she was away in the South of France. Oh, yes,
Wallingford often went to dine with her. She has a companion who lives
with her--that elderly woman we saw this morning. Yes, I suppose
Wallingford went there, oh, two or three evenings a week. In fact, there
were people--gossipers--who firmly believed that he and Mrs. Saumarez
were going to make a match of it. Might be so; but up to about the end
of last summer the same people used to say that she was going to marry
the doctor--Wellesley."

Brent pricked his ears--he scarcely knew why.

"Wellesley?" he said. "What? Was he a--a suitor?"

"Oh, well," answered Tansley, "I think the lady's one of the sort that's
much fonder of men's society than of women's, you know. Anyway, after
she came here, she and Wellesley seemed to take to each other, and she
used to be in his company a good deal--used to go out driving with him,
a lot, and so on. And he used to go to the Abbey House at that time just
as much as your cousin did of late. But about the end of last summer
Mrs. Saumarez seemed to cool off with Wellesley and take on with
Wallingford--fact! The doctor got his nose put out by the lawyer!
There's no doubt about it; and there's no doubt, either, that the result
was a distinct coolness, not to say dislike, between Wellesley and
Wallingford, for up to then those two had been rather close friends. But
they certainly weren't after Mrs. Saumarez plainly showed a preference
for Wallingford. Yet, in spite of that," continued Tansley, as if some
after-thought struck him, "I'll say this for Wellesley: he's never
allowed his undoubted jealousy of Wallingford to prevent him from
supporting Wallingford on the Town Council. Wellesley, indeed, has
always been one of his staunchest and most consistent supporters."

"Oh, Dr. Wellesley's on the Town Council, is he?" asked Brent. "And a
Reform man?"

"He's Councillor for the Riverside Ward," answered Tansley, "and a
regular Radical. In fact he, Wallingford, and that chap Epplewhite, were
the three recognized leaders of the Reform party. Yes, Wellesley stuck
to Wallingford as leader even when it became pretty evident that
Wallingford had ousted him in Mrs. Saumarez's affections--fact!"

"Affections, eh?" surmised Brent. "You think it had come to as much as
that?"

"I do!" affirmed Tansley. "Lord bless you, she and Wallingford were as
thick as thieves, as our local saying goes. Oh, yes, I'm sure she threw
Wellesley over for Wallingford."

Brent heard all this in silence, and remained for a time in further
silence.

"Um!" he remarked at last. "Odd! Mrs. Saumarez is an unusually pretty
woman. Dr. Wellesley is a very handsome man. Now, my cousin was about
as plain and insignificant a chap to look at as ever I came across--poor
fellow!"

"Your cousin was a damned clever chap!" said Tansley incisively. "He'd
got brains, my dear sir, and where women--cleverish women, anyhow--are
concerned, brains are going to win all the way and come in winners by as
many lengths as you please! Mrs. Saumarez, I understand, is a woman who
dabbles in politics, and your cousin interested her. And when a woman
gets deeply interested in a man----?"

"I guess you're right," assented Brent. "Well, I'll step along and see
her."

He left Tansley in the hotel and went away along the market-place,
wondering a good deal about the information just given to him. So there
was a coolness between his cousin and Wellesley, was there, a coolness
that amounted, said Tansley, to something stronger? Did it amount to
jealousy? Did the jealousy lead to----? But at that point Brent gave up
speculating. If there was anything in this new suggestion, Mrs. Saumarez
would hold the key. Once more he was face to face with the fact that had
steadily obtruded itself upon him during the last two days: that here in
this time-worn old place there were folks who had secrets and did things
in a curiously secret fashion.

Mrs. Saumarez's house stood a little way back from the street called
Abbey Gate, an old, apparently Early Jacobean mansion, set amidst the
elms for which Hathelsborough was famous, so profusely and to such a
height did they grow all over the town. A smart parlour-maid, who looked
inquisitively at him, and was evidently expecting his arrival, admitted
Brent, and led him at once along a half-lighted hall into a little room,
where the light of a shaded lamp shone on a snug and comfortable
interior and on rows of more books than young and pretty women generally
possess. Left alone for a few minutes, Brent glanced round the
well-filled shelves, and formed the opinion that Mrs. Saumarez went in
for very solid reading, chiefly in the way of social and political
economy. He began to see now why she and the murdered Mayor had been
such close friends--the subjects that apparently interested her had been
those in which Wallingford had always been deeply absorbed. Maybe, then,
Mrs. Saumarez had been behind the Reform party in Hathelsborough?--there
was a woman wire-puller at the back of these matters as a rule, he
believed--that sort of thing, perhaps, was Mrs. Saumarez's little hobby.
He turned from these speculations to find her at his elbow.

"Thank you for coming, Mr. Brent," she said softly.

Brent looked attentively at her as he took the hand which she held out
to him. Seen at closer quarters he saw that she was a much prettier
woman than he had fancied; he saw too that, whatever her tastes might be
in the way of politics and sociology, she was wholly feminine, and not
above enhancing her charms by punctilious attention to her general
appearance and setting. She had been very quietly and even sombrely
dressed at the inquest that morning, but she was now in evening dress,
and her smart gown, her wealth of fair hair, her violet eyes, and the
rose tint of her delicate cheek somewhat dazzled Brent, who was not
greatly used to women's society. He felt a little shy and a little
awkward.

"Yes, yes, I came at once," he said. "I--of course, I gathered that you
wanted me."

Mrs. Saumarez smiled, and pointing to an easy chair in front of the
bright fire dropped into another close by it.

"Sit down, Mr. Brent," she said. "Yes, I wanted you. And I couldn't very
well go to the _Chancellor_, could I? So thank you again for coming so
promptly. Perhaps"--she turned and looked at him steadily--"you're
already aware that your cousin and I were great friends?"

"I've heard it," answered Brent. He nodded at one of the book-cases at
which she had found him looking. "Similar tastes, I suppose? He was a
great hand at that sort of thing."

"Yes," she said. "We had a good deal in common; I was much interested in
all his plans, and so on. He was a very clever man, a deeply interesting
man, and I have felt--this--more than I'm going to say. And--but I think
I'd better tell you why I sent for you."

"Yes," assented Brent.

"I gathered from what was said at the inquest this morning that you are
your cousin's sole executor?" she asked.

"I am," replied Brent. "Sole everything."

"Then, of course, you have entire charge and custody of his papers?" she
suggested.

"That's so," answered Brent. "Everything's in my possession."

Mrs. Saumarez sighed gently; it seemed to Brent that there was something
of relief in the sigh.

"Last autumn and winter," she continued presently, "I was away from home
a long time; I was in the South of France. Mr. Wallingford and I kept up
a regular, and frequent, correspondence: it was just then, you know,
that he became Mayor, and began to formulate his schemes for the
regeneration of this rotten little town----"

"You think it's that, eh?" interrupted Brent, emphasizing the personal
pronoun. "That's your conviction?"

Mrs. Saumarez's violet eyes flashed, and a queer little smile played for
a second round the corner of her pretty lips.

"Rotten to the core!" she said quietly. "Ripe rotten! _He_ knew
it!--knew more than he ever let anyone know!"

"More than he ever let you know?" asked Brent.

"I knew a good deal," she replied evasively. "But this correspondence.
We wrote to each other twice a week all the time I was away. I have all
his letters--there, in that safe."

"Yes?" said Brent.

Mrs. Saumarez looked down at the slim fingers which lay in her lap.

"He kept all mine," she continued.

"Yes?" repeated Brent.

"I want them," she murmured, with a sudden lifting of her eyelids in her
visitor's direction. "I, naturally, I don't want them to--to fall into
anybody else's hands. You understand, Mr. Brent?"

"You want me to find them?" suggested Brent.

"Not to find them, that is, not to search for them," she replied
quickly. "I know where they are. I want you, if you please, to give them
back to me."

"Where are they?" asked Brent.

"He told me where he kept them," answered Mrs. Saumarez. "They are in a
cedar-wood cabinet, in a drawer in his bedroom."

"All right," said Brent. "I'll get them."

Was he mistaken in thinking that it was an unmistakable sigh of relief
that left Mrs. Saumarez's delicate red lips and that an additional
little flush of colour came into her cheeks? But her voice was calm and
even enough.

"Thank you," she said. "So good of you. Of course, they aren't of the
faintest interest to anybody. I can have them, then--when?"

Brent rose to his feet.

"When I was taught my business," he said, with a dry smile, "I'd a motto
drummed into my head day in and day out. DO IT NOW! So I guess I'll just
go round to my cousin's old rooms and get you that cabinet at once."

Mrs. Saumarez smiled. It was a smile that would have thrilled most men.
But Brent merely got a deepened impression of her prettiness.

"I like your way of doing things," she said. "That's business. You ought
to stop here, Mr. Brent, and take up your cousin's work."

"It would be a fitting tribute to his memory, wouldn't it?" answered
Brent. "Well, I don't know. But this letter business is the thing to do
now. I'll be back in ten minutes, Mrs. Saumarez."

"Let yourself in, and come straight here," she said. "I'll wait for
you."

Wallingford's old rooms were close at hand--only round the corner, in
fact--and Brent went straight to them and into the bedroom. He found the
cedar cabinet at once; he had, in fact, seen it the day before, but
finding it locked had made no attempt to open it. He carried it back to
Mrs. Saumarez, set it on her desk, and laid beside it a bunch of keys.

"I suppose you'll find this key amongst those," he said. "They're all
the private keys of his that I have anyway."

"Perhaps you will find it?" she suggested. "I'm a bad hand at that sort
of thing."

Brent had little difficulty in finding the right key. Unthinkingly, he
raised the lid of the cabinet--and quickly closed it again. In that
momentary glimpse of the contents it seemed to him that he had unearthed
a dead man's secret. For in addition to a pile of letters he had seen a
woman's glove; a knot of ribbon; some faded flowers.

"That's it," he said hurriedly, shutting down the lid and affecting to
have seen nothing. "I'll take the key off the bunch."

Mrs. Saumarez took the key from him in silence, relocked the cabinet,
and carried it over to a safe let in to the wall of the room.

"Thank you, Mr. Brent," she said. "I'm glad to have those letters."

Brent made as if to leave. But he suddenly turned on her.

"You know a lot," he remarked brusquely. "What's your opinion about my
cousin's murder?"

Mrs. Saumarez remained silent so long that he spoke again.

"Do you think, from what you've seen of things in this town, that it was
what we may call political?" he asked. "A--removal?"

He was watching her closely, and he saw the violet eyes grow sombre, and
a certain hardness settle about the lines of the well-shaped mouth and
chin.

"It's this!" she said suddenly. "I told you just now that this town is
rotten--rotten and corrupt, as so many of these little old-world English
boroughs are! _He_ knew it, poor fellow; he's steadily been finding it
out ever since he came here. I dare say you, coming from London, a great
city, wouldn't understand, but it's this way: this town is run by a
gang, the members of which manoeuvre everything for their own and
their friends' benefit, their friends and their hangers-on, their
associates, their toadies. They----"

"Do you mean the Town Trustees?" asked Brent.

"Not wholly," replied Mrs. Saumarez. "But all that Epplewhite said
to-day about the Town Trustees is true. The three men control the
financial affairs of the borough. Wallingford, by long and patient
investigation, had come to know _how_ they controlled them, and how
utterly corrupt and rotten the whole financial administration is. If you
could see some of the letters of his which I have in that safe----"

"Wouldn't it be well to produce them?" suggested Brent.

"Not yet anyway," she said. "I'll consider that--much of it's general
statement, not particular accusation. But the Town Trustees question is
not all. Until very recently, when a Reform party gradually got into
being and increased steadily--though it's still in a minority--the whole
representation and administration of the borough was hopelessly bad and
unprincipled. For what do you suppose men went into the Town Council? To
represent the ratepayer, the townspeople? No, but to look after their
own interests; to safeguard themselves; to get what they could out of
it: the whole policy of the old councils was one of--there's only one
word for it, Mr. Brent, and that's only just becoming Anglicized--Graft!
Now, the Corporation of a town is supposed to exist for the good, the
welfare, the protection of a town, but the whole idea of these
Hathelsborough men, in the past, has been to use their power and
privileges as administrators, for their own ends. So here you've had, on
the one hand, the unfortunate ratepayer and, on the other, a close
Corporation, a privileged band of pirates, battening on them. In plain
words, there are about a hundred men in Hathelsborough who have used the
seven or eight thousand other folk as a means to their own ends. The
town has been a helpless, defenceless thing, from which these harpies
have picked whatever they could lay their talons on!"

"That's the conclusion he'd come to?" asked Brent.

"He couldn't come to any other after many years of patient
investigation," declared Mrs. Saumarez. "And he was the sort of man who
had an inborn hatred of abuses and shams and hypocrisy! And now put it
to yourself--when a man stands up against vested interests, such as
exist here, and says plainly that he's never going to rest, nor leave a
stone unturned, until he's made a radical and thorough reformation, do
you think he's going to have a primrose path of it? Bah! But _he_ knew!
He knew his danger."

"But--murder?" said Brent. "Murder!"

Mrs. Saumarez shook her head.

"Yes," she answered. "But there are men in this place who wouldn't stick
at even that! You don't know. If Wallingford had done all the things
he'd vowed to do, there would have been such an exposure of affairs here
as would have made the whole country agape. And some men would have been
ruined--literally. I know! And things will come out and be tracked down,
if no red herrings are drawn across the trail. You're going to get at
the truth?"

"By God, yes!" exclaimed Brent, with sudden fervour. "I am so!"

"Look for his murderers amongst the men he intended to show up, then!"
she said, with a certain fierce intensity. "And look closely--and
secretly! There's no other way!"

Brent presently left her and went off wondering about the contents of
the little cabinet. He would have wondered still more if he had been
able to look back into the cosy room which he had just left. For when he
had gone, Mrs. Saumarez took the cabinet from the safe and carefully
emptied the whole of its contents into the glowing heart of the fire.
She stood watching as the flames licked round them, and until there was
nothing left there but black ash.



CHAPTER IX

THE RIGHT TO INTERVENE


Brent went back to his hotel to find the Town Clerk of Hathelsborough
waiting for him in his private sitting-room. His visitor, a sharp-eyed
man whose profession was suggested in every look and movement, greeted
him with a suavity of manner which set Brent on his guard.

"I am here, Mr. Brent," he said, with an almost deprecating smile,
"as--well, as a sort of informal deputation--informal."

"Deputations represent somebody or something," retorted Brent, in his
brusquest fashion. "Whom do you represent?"

"The borough authorities," replied the Town Clerk, with another smile.
"That is to say----"

"You'll excuse me for interrupting," said Brent. "I'm a man of plain
speech. I take it that by borough authorities you mean, say, Mr. Simon
Crood and his fellow Town Trustees? That so?"

"Well, perhaps so," admitted the Town Clerk. "Mr. Alderman Crood, to be
sure, is Deputy-Mayor. And he and his brother Town Trustees are
certainly men of authority."

"What do you want?" demanded Brent.

The Town Clerk lowered his voice--quite unnecessarily in Brent's
opinion. His suave tones became dulcet and mollifying.

"My dear sir," he said, leaning forward, "to-morrow you--you have the
sad task of interring your cousin, our late greatly respected Mayor."

"Going to bury him to-morrow," responded Brent. "Just so--well?"

"There is a rumour in the town that you intend the--er--ceremony to be
absolutely private," continued the Town Clerk.

"I do," assented Brent. "And it will be!"

The Town Clerk made a little expostulatory sound.

"My dear sir," he said soothingly, "the late Mr. Wallingford was Mayor
of Hathelsborough! The four hundred and eighty-first Mayor of
Hathelsborough, Mr. Brent!"

Brent, who was leaning against the mantelpiece, looked fixedly at his
visitor.

"Supposing he was the nine hundred and ninety-ninth Mayor of
Hathelsborough," he asked quietly, "what then?"

"He should have a public funeral," declared the Town Clerk promptly. "My
dear sir, to inter a Mayor of Hathelsborough--and the four hundred and
eighty-first holder of the ancient and most dignified office--privately,
as if he were a--a mere nobody, a common townsman, is--oh, really, it's
unheard of!"

"That the notion of the men who sent you here?" asked Brent grimly.

"The notion, as you call it, of the gentlemen who sent me here, Mr.
Brent, is that your cousin's funeral obsequies should be of a public
nature," answered the Town Clerk. "According to precedent, of course.
During my term of office as Town Clerk two Mayors have died during their
year of Mayoralty. On such occasions the Corporation has been present in
state."

"In state?" said Brent. "What's that amount to? Sort of procession?"

"A duly marshalled one," answered the Town Clerk. "The beadle with his
mace; the Deputy-Mayor; the Recorder--the Recorder and Town Clerk, of
course, in wigs and gowns--the Aldermen in their furred robes; the
Councillors in their violet gowns--a very stately procession, Mr. Brent,
preceding the funeral cortège to St. Hathelswide's Church, where the
Vicar, as Mayor's Chaplain, would deliver a funeral oration. The
procession would return subsequently to the Moot Hall, for wine and
cake."

Brent rubbed his square chin, staring hard at his visitor.

"Um!" he said at last. "Well, there isn't going to be anything of that
sort to-morrow. I'm just going to bury my cousin quietly and privately,
without maces and furred robes and violet gowns. So you can just tell
'em politely--nothing doing!"

"But my dear sir, my good Mr. Brent!" expostulated the visitor. "The
Mayor of Hathelsborough! The oldest borough in the country! Why, our
charter of incorporation dates from----"

"I'm not particularly interested in archæology, just now anyway,"
interrupted Brent. "And it's nothing to me in connection with this
matter if your old charter was signed by William the Conqueror or
Edward the Confessor. I say--nothing doing!"

"But your reasons, my dear sir, your reasons!" exclaimed the Town Clerk.
"Such a breaking with established custom and precedent! I really don't
know what the neighbouring boroughs will say of us!"

"Let 'em say!" retorted Brent. He laughed contemptuously. But suddenly
his mood changed, and he turned on his visitor with what the Town Clerk
afterwards described as a very ugly look. "But if you want to know," he
added, "I'll tell you why I won't have any Corporation processing after
my cousin's dead body! It's because I believe that his murderer's one of
'em! See?"

The Town Clerk, a rosy-cheeked man, turned pale. His gloves lay on the
table at his elbow, and his fingers trembled a little as he picked them
up and began fitting them on with meticulous precision.

"My dear sir!" he said, in a tone that suggested his profession more
strongly than ever. "That's very grave language. As a solicitor, I
should advise you----"

"When I say murderer," continued Brent, "I'm perhaps wrong. I might--and
no doubt ought to--use the plural. Murderers! I believe that more than
one of your rascally Corporation conspired to murder my cousin! And I'm
going to have no blood-stained hypocrites processing after his coffin!
You tell 'em to keep away!"

"I had better withdraw," said the Town Clerk.

"No hurry," observed Brent, changing to geniality. He laid his hand on
the bell. "Have a whisky-and-soda and a cigar? We've finished our
business, and I guess you're a man as well as a lawyer?"

But the visitor was unable to disassociate his personal identity from
his office, and he bowed himself out. Brent laughed when he had gone.

"Got the weight of four hundred and eighty-one years of incorporation on
him!" he said. "Lord! it's like living with generation after generation
of your grandfathers slung round you! Four hundred and eighty-one years!
Must have been in the bad old days when this mouldy town got its
charter!"

Next morning Brent buried the dead Mayor in St. Hathelswide's
Churchyard, privately and quietly. He stayed by the grave until the
sexton and his assistants had laid the green turf over it; that done, he
went round to the Abbey House and sought out Mrs. Saumarez. After his
characteristic fashion he spoke out what was in his mind.

"I've pretty well fixed up, in myself, to do what you suggested last
night," he said, giving her one of his direct glances. "You know what I
mean--to go on with his work."

Mrs. Saumarez's eyes sparkled.

"That would be splendid!" she exclaimed. "But, if he had opposition,
you'll have it a hundred-fold! You're not afraid?"

"Afraid of nothing," said Brent carelessly. "But I just don't know how
I'd get any right to do it. I'm not a townsman--I've no _locus standi_.
But, then he wasn't, to begin with."

"I'd forgotten that," said Mrs. Saumarez. "And you'd have to give up
your work in London--journalism, isn't it?"

"I've thought of that," said Brent. "Well, I've had a pretty good spell
at it, and I'm not so keen about keeping on it any longer. There's other
work--literary work--I'd prefer. And I'm not dependent on it any
way--I've got means of my own, and now Wallingford's left me a good lot
of money. No; I guess I wouldn't mind coming here and going on with the
job he'd set himself to; I'd like to do it But, then, how to get a
footing in the place?"

Mrs. Saumarez considered for a while. Suddenly her face lighted up.

"You've got money," she said. "Why don't you buy a bit of property in
the town--a piece of real estate? Then----"

Brent picked up his hat.

"That's a good notion," he said. "I'll step round and see Tansley about
it."

Tansley had been one of the very few men whom Brent had invited to be
present at his cousin's interment. He had just changed his mourning
garments for those of everyday life and was settling down to his
professional business when Brent was shown into his private office.

"Busy?" demanded Brent in his usual laconic fashion.

"Give you whatever time you want," answered the solicitor, who knew his
man by that time. "What is it now?"

"I've concluded to take up my abode in this old town," said Brent, with
something of a sheepish smile. "Seems queer, no doubt, but my mind's
fixed. And so, look here, you don't know anybody that's got a bit of
real estate to sell--nice little house, or something of that sort? If
so----"

Tansley thrust his letters and papers aside, pushed an open box of
cigars in his visitor's direction, and lighting one himself became
inquisitively attentive.

"What's the game?" he asked.

Brent lighted a cigar and took two or three meditative puffs at it
before answering this direct question.

"Well," he said at last, "I don't think that I'm a particularly
sentimental sort of person, but all the same I'm not storm-proof against
sentiment. And I've just got the conviction that it's up to me to go on
with my cousin's job in this place."

Tansley took his cigar from his lips and whistled.

"Tall order, Brent!" he remarked.

"So I reckon," assented Brent. "But I've served an apprenticeship to
that sort of thing. And I've always gone through with whatever came in
my way."

"Let's be plain," said Tansley. "You mean that you want to settle here
in the town, and go on with Wallingford's reform policy?"

"That's just it," replied Brent. "You've got it."

"All I can say is, then, that you're rendering yourself up to--well, not
envy, but certainly to hatred, malice and all uncharitableness, as it's
phrased in the Prayer Book," declared Tansley. "You'll have a hot old
time!"

"Used to 'em!" retorted Brent. "You forget I've been a press-man for
some years."

"But you didn't get that sort of thing?" suggested Tansley, half
incredulous.

Brent flicked the ash from his cigar and smiled.

"Don't go in for tall talk," he said lazily. "But it was I who tracked
down the defaulting directors of the Great Combined Amalgamation affair,
and ran to earth that chap who murdered his ward away up in
Northumberland, and found the Pembury absconding bank-manager who'd
scooted off so cleverly that the detectives couldn't trace even a smile
of him! Pretty stiff propositions, all those! And I reckon I can do my
bit here in this place, on Wallingford's lines, if I get the right to
intervene, as a townsman. That's what I want--_locus standi_."

"And when you've got it?" asked Tansley.

Brent worked his cigar into the corner of his firm lips and folding his
arms stared straight in front of him.

"Well," he said slowly, "I think I've fixed that in my own mind, fixed
it all out while the parson was putting him away in that old churchyard
this morning--I was thinking hard while he was reading his book. I
understand that by my cousin's death there's a vacancy in the Town
Council--he sat for some ward or other?"

"He sat for the Castle Ward, as Town Councillor," assented Tansley. "So
of course there's a vacancy."

"Well," continued Brent, "I reckon I'll put up for that vacancy. I'll be
Mr. Councillor Richard Brent!"

"You're a stranger, man!" laughed Tansley.

"I'll not be in a week's time," retorted Brent. "I'll be known to every
householder in that ward! But--this _locus standi_? If I bought real
estate in the town, I'd be a townsman, wouldn't I? A burgess, I reckon.
And then--why legally I'd be as much a Hathelsborough man as, say, Simon
Crood?"

Tansley took his hands out of his pockets and began to search amongst
his papers.

"Well, you're a go-ahead chap, Brent!" he said. "Evidently not the sort
to let grass grow under your feet. And if you want to buy a bit of nice
property I've the very goods for you. There's a client of mine, John
Chillingham, a retired tradesman, who wants to sell his house--he's
desirous of quitting this part of the country and going to live on the
South Coast. It's a delightful bit of property, just at the back of the
Castle, and it's therefore in the Castle Ward. Acacia Lodge, it's
called--nice, roomy, old-fashioned house, in splendid condition,
modernized, set in a beautiful old garden, with a magnificent cedar tree
on the lawn, and a fine view from its front windows. And, for a quick
sale, cheap."

"What's the figure?" asked Brent.

"Two thousand guineas," answered Tansley.

Brent reached for his hat.

"Let's go and look at it," he said.

Within a few hours Brent had settled his purchase of Acacia Lodge from
the retired tradesman and Tansley was busy with the legal necessities of
the conveyance. That done, and in his new character of townsman and
property owner, Brent sought out Peppermore, and into that worthy's
itching and astonished ears poured out a confession which the editor of
the _Monitor_ was to keep secret until next day; after which, retiring
to his sitting-room at the _Chancellor_, he took up pen and paper, and
proceeded to write a document which occasioned him more thought than he
usually gave to his literary productions. It was not a lengthy document,
but it had been rewritten and interlineated and corrected several times
before Brent carried it to the _Monitor_ office and the printing-press.
Peppermore, reading it over, grinned with malicious satisfaction.

"That'll make 'em open their mouths and their eyes to-morrow morning,
Mr. Brent!" he exclaimed. "We'll have it posted all over the town by ten
o'clock, sir. And all that the _Monitor_--powerful organ, Mr. Brent,
very powerful organ!--can do on your behalf and in your interest shall
be done, sir, it shall be done--_con amore_, as I believe they say in
Italy."

"Thank 'ee!" said Brent. "You're the right stuff."

"Don't mention it, sir," replied Peppermore. "Only too pleased. Egad! I
wish I could see Mr. Alderman Crood's face when he reads this poster!"

At five minutes past ten next morning, as he, Mallett and Coppinger came
together out of the side-door of the bank, where they had been in close
conference since half-past nine, on affairs of their own, Mr. Alderman
Crood saw the poster on which was set out Brent's election address to
the voters of the Castle Ward. The bill-posting people had pasted a copy
of it on a blank wall opposite; the three men, open-mouthed and
wide-eyed, gathered round and read. Crood grew purple with anger.

"Impudence!" he exclaimed at last. "Sheer brazen impudence! Him--a
stranger! Take up his cousin's work, will he? And what's he mean by
saying that he's now a Hathelsborough man?"

"I heard about that last night," answered Coppinger. "Tansley told two
or three of us at the club. This fellow Brent has bought that property
of old Chillingham's--Acacia Lodge. Freehold, you know; bought it right
out. He's a Hathelsborough man now, right enough."

Then they both turned and glanced at Mallett, who was re-reading Brent's
election address with brooding eyes and lowering brow.

"Well?" demanded Coppinger. "What do you make of it, Mallett?"

Mallett removed his glasses and sniffed.

"Don't let's deceive ourselves," he said, with a hasty glance round.
"This chap's out to make trouble. He's no fool, either. If he gets into
the Council we shall have an implacable enemy. And he's every chance. So
it's all the more necessary than ever that we should bring off to-morrow
what we've been talking over this morning."

"We ought to do that," said Coppinger. "We can count on fourteen sure
votes."

"Ay!" said Mallett. "But so can they! The thing is--the three votes
neither party can count on. We must get at those three men to-day. If we
don't carry our point to-morrow, we shall have Sam Epplewhite or Dr.
Wellesley as Mayor, and things'll be as bad as they were under
Wallingford."

This conversation referred to an extraordinary meeting of the Town
Council which had been convened for the next day, in order to elect a
new Mayor of Hathelsborough in succession to John Wallingford, deceased.
Brent heard of it that afternoon, from Queenie Crood, in the Castle
grounds. He had met Queenie there more than once since their first
encountering in those sheltered nooks: already he was not quite sure
that he was not looking forward with increasing pleasure to these
meetings. For with each Queenie came further out of her shell, the more
they met, the more she let him see of herself--and he found her
interesting. And they had given up talking of Queenie's stage
ambitions--not that she had thrown them over, but that she and Brent had
begun to find the discussion of their own personalities more to the
immediate point than the canvassing of remote possibilities: each, in
fact, was in the stage of finding each other a mine worth exploring.
Brent began to see a lot in Queenie and her dark eyes; Queenie was
beginning to consider Brent, with his grim jaw, his brusque, off-hand
speech, and masterful manner, a curiously fascinating person; besides,
he was beginning to do things that only strong men do.

"You're in high disgrace at the Tannery House," she remarked archly when
they met that afternoon. "I should think your ears must have burned this
dinner-time."

"Why, now?" inquired Brent.

"Uncle Simon brought Mallet and Coppinger home to dinner," continued
Queenie. "It was lucky there was a big hot joint!--they're all great
eaters and drinkers. And they abused you to their hearts' content. This
Town Council business--they say it's infernal impudence for you to put
up for election. However, Coppinger says you'll not get in."

"Coppinger is a bad prophet," said Brent. "I'll be Town Councillor in a
fortnight. Lay anybody ten to one!"

"Well, they'll do everything they can to keep you out," declared
Queenie. "You've got to fight an awful lot of opposition."

"Let 'em all come!" retorted Brent. "I'll represent the Castle Ward, and
now that I'm a burgess of Hathelsborough I'll be Mayor some old time."

"Not yet, though," said Queenie. "They're going to elect a new Mayor
to-morrow. In place of your cousin of course."

Brent started. Nobody had mentioned that to him. Yet he might have
thought of it himself--of course there must be a new Mayor of
Hathelsborough.

"Gad! I hope it'll not be one of the old gang!" he muttered. "If it
is----"

But by noon next day he heard that the old gang had triumphed. Mr.
Alderman Crood was elected Mayor of Hathelsborough by a majority of two
votes. A couple of the wobblers on the Council had given way at the last
moment and thrown in their lot with the reactionary, let-things-alone
party.

"Never mind! I'll win my election," said Brent. "The future is with me."

He set to work, in strenuous fashion, to enlist the favours of the
Castle Ward electorate. All day, from early morning until late at night,
he was cultivating the acquaintance of the burgesses. He had little time
for any other business than this--there were but ten days before the
election. But now and then he visited the police station and interviewed
Hawthwaite; and at each visit he found the superintendent becoming
increasingly reserved and mysterious in manner. Hawthwaite would say
nothing definite, but he dropped queer hints about certain things that
he had up his sleeve, to be duly produced at the adjourned inquest. As
to what they were, he remained resolutely silent, even to Brent.



CHAPTER X

THE CAT IN THE BAG


But as the day of the adjourned inquest drew near Brent became aware
that there were rumours in the air--rumours of some sensational
development, the particulars of which were either non-obtainable or
utterly vague. He heard of them from Peppermore, whose journalistic
itching for news had so far gone unrelieved; Peppermore himself knew no
more than that rumour was busy, and secret.

"Can't make out for the life of me what it is, Mr. Brent!" said
Peppermore, calling upon Brent at the _Chancellor_ on the eve of the
inquiry. "But there's something, sir, something! You know that boy of
mine--young Pryder?"

"Smart youth!" replied Brent.

"As they make 'em, sir," agreed Peppermore. "That boy, Mr. Brent, will
go far in the profession of which you're a shining and I'm a dim
light!--he's got what the French, I believe, sir, call a _flair_ for
news. Took to our line like a duck to water, Mr. Brent! Well, now, young
Pryder's father is a policeman--sergeant in the Borough Constabulary,
and naturally he's opportunities of knowing. And when he knows he
talks--in the home circle, Mr. Brent."

"Been talking?" asked Brent.

"Guardedly, sir, guardedly!" replied Peppermore. "Young Pryder, he told
me this afternoon that his father, when he came home to dinner to-day,
said to him and his mother that when the inquest's reopened to-morrow
there's be something to talk about--somebody, said Sergeant Pryder,
would have something to talk of before the day was over. So--there you
are!"

"I suppose old Pryder didn't tell young Pryder any more than that?"
suggested Brent.

"He did not, sir," said Peppermore. "Had he done so, Jimmy Pryder would
have made half a column, big type, leaded, out of it. No; nothing more.
There are men in this world, Mr. Brent, as you have doubtless observed,
who are given to throwing out mere hints--sort of men who always look at
you as much as to say, 'Ah, I could tell a lot if I would!' I guess
Sergeant Pryder's one of 'em."

"Whatever Sergeant Pryder knows he's got from Hawthwaite, of course,"
remarked Brent.

"To be sure, sir!" agreed Peppermore. "Hawthwaite's been up to
something--I've felt that for some days. I imagine there'll be new
witnesses to-morrow, but who they'll be I can't think."

Brent could not think, either, nor did he understand Hawthwaite's
reserve. But he wasted no time in speculation: he had already made up
his mind that unless something definite arose at the resumed inquiry he
would employ professional detective assistance and get to work on lines
of his own. He had already seen enough of Hathelsborough ways and
Hathelsborough folk to feel convinced that if this affair of his
cousin's murder could be hushed up it would be hushed up--the Simon
Crood gang, he was persuaded, would move heaven and earth to smooth
things over and consign the entire episode to oblivion. Against that
process he meant to labour: in his opinion the stirring up of strong
public interest was the line to take, and he was fully determined that
if the Coroner and his twelve good men and true could not sift the
problem of this inquiry to the bottom he would.

That public feeling and curiosity--mainly curiosity--were still strong
enough, and were lasting well over the proverbial nine days, Brent saw
as soon as he quitted the hall door of the _Chancellor_ next morning.
The open space between High Cross and the Moot Hall was packed with
people, eager to enter the big court room as soon as the doors were
thrown open. Conscious that he himself would get a seat whoever else did
not, Brent remained standing on the steps of the hotel, lazily watching
the gossiping crowd And suddenly Mrs. Saumarez, once more attired in the
semi-mourning which she had affected at the earlier proceedings, and
attended by the same companion, came along the market-place in his
direction. Brent went down and joined her.

"Pretty stiff crowd!" he remarked laconically. "I'm afraid you'll find
it a bit of a crush this time. I suppose you'll not let that stop you,
though?"

He noticed then that Mrs. Saumarez was looking anxious, perhaps a little
distressed, and certainly not too well pleased. She gave him a glance
which began at himself and ended at a folded paper which she carried in
her well-gloved hand.

"I've got to go!" she murmured. "Got to--whether I like it or not!
They've served me with a summons, as a witness. Ridiculous! What do I
know about it? All that I do know is--private."

Brent stared at the bit of paper. He, too, was wondering what the
Coroner wanted with Mrs. Saumarez.

"I'm afraid they haven't much respect for privacy in these affairs," he
remarked. "Odd, though, that if they want you now they didn't want you
at the first sitting!"

"Do you think they'll ask questions that are--private?" she suggested
half-timidly.

"Can't say," replied Brent. "You'd better be prepared for anything. You
know best, after all, what they can ask you. I reckon the best thing, in
these affairs, is just to answer plainly, and be done with it."

"There are certain things one doesn't want raking up," she murmured.
"For instance--do you think you'll have to give evidence again?"

"Maybe," said Brent.

She gave him a meaning look and lowered her voice.

"Well," she whispered, "if you have to, don't let anything come out
about--about those letters. You know what I mean--the letters you got
for me from his rooms? I--I don't want it to be known, in the town, that
he and I corresponded as much as all that. After all, there are some
things----"

Just then, and while Brent was beginning to speculate on this
suddenly-revealed desire for secrecy, a movement in the crowd ahead of
them showed that the doors of the Moot Hall had been thrown open; he,
too, moved forward, drawing his companion with him.

"You'll not forget that?" said Mrs. Saumarez insistently. "It's--those
letters, I mean--they're nothing to do with this, of course--nothing!
Don't let it out that----"

"I shan't volunteer any evidence of any sort," responded Brent. "If I'm
confronted with a direct question which necessitates a direct answer,
that's another matter. But I don't think you've anything to worry
about--I should say that what they want you for is to ask a question or
two as to my cousin's movements that night, didn't he call at your house
on his way to the Mayor's Parlour? Yes, why that'll be about it!"

"I hope so!" said Mrs. Saumarez, with a sigh of relief. "But--that
witness-box, and before all these people--I don't like it."

"Got to be done," observed Brent. "Soon over, though. Now let's get in."

He piloted Mrs. Saumarez and her companion into the borough Court,
handed over to the Coroner for the special purposes of his inquest,
found them seats in a reserved part, and leaving them went over to the
solicitor's table, where he took a place by the side of Tansley, already
settled there with his notes and papers. Tansley gave him a significant
glance, nodding his head sideways at other men near them.

"Going to be a more serious affair, this, than the first was, Brent," he
whispered. "These police chaps have either got something up their
sleeves or Hawthwaite's got some bee in his bonnet! Anyway, there's a
barrister in the case on their behalf--that little, keen-eyed chap at
the far end of the table on your left; that's Meeking, one of the
sharpest criminal barristers going--and I hear they're meaning to call a
lot of new witnesses. But what it's all about, I don't know."

Brent looked up and down the table at which they were sitting. There
were men there--legal-looking men--whom he had not seen at the opening
day's proceedings.

"Who are these other fellows?" he asked.

"Oh, well, Crood's got a man representing his interests," replied
Tansley. "And there's another solicitor watching the case on behalf of
the Corporation. And I rather fancy that that chap at the extreme end of
the table is representing the Treasury--which may mean that this affair
is going to be taken up at Head-quarters. But we know nothing till the
cards are on the board! Hawthwaite looks important enough this morning
to hold all the aces!"

Brent glanced at the superintendent, who was exchanging whispers with
the Coroner's officer, and from him to the crowded seats that ran round
three sides of the court. All the notabilities of Hathelsborough were
there again, in full force: Simon Crood, in a seat of honour, as
befitted his new dignity of Mayor; Mallett; Coppinger, anybody and
everybody of consequence. And there, too, was Krevin Crood, and Queenie,
and, just behind Mrs. Saumarez, Dr. Wellesley, looking distinctly bored,
and his assistant, Dr. Carstairs, a young Scotsman, and near them
another medical man, Dr. Barber; and near the witness-box were several
men whom Brent knew by sight as townsmen and who were obviously
expecting to be called for testimony. He turned away wondering what was
to come out of all this.

Once more the Coroner, precise and formal as ever, took his seat; once
more the twelve jurymen settled in their places. And while Brent was
speculating on the first order of procedure he was startled by the
sharp, official voice of the Coroner's officer.

"Mrs. Anita Saumarez!"

Brent heard Tansley smother an exclamation of surprise; a murmur that
was not smothered ran round the crowded benches behind him. There was
something dramatic in the sudden calling of the pretty young widow,
whose personality was still more or less of a mystery to Hathelsborough
folk, and something curiosity-raising in the mere fact that she was
called. All eyes were on her as, showing traces of confusion and
dislike, she made her way to the witness-box. There was delay then; Mrs.
Saumarez had to be instructed to lift her veil and remove her right-hand
glove; this gave the crowd abundant opportunity for observing that her
usually bright complexion had paled and that she was obviously ill at
ease. It was with much embarrassment and in a very low voice that she
replied to the preliminary questions. Anita Saumarez. Widow of the late
Captain Roderick Francis Saumarez. Has been resident at the Abbey House,
Hathelsborough, for about two years. "Doesn't like this job!" whispered
Tansley to Brent. "Queer! From what bit I've seen of her, I should have
said she'd make a very good and self-possessed witness. But she's
nervous! Old Seagrave'll have to tackle her gently."

The Coroner evidently realized this as much as Tansley did. He leaned
forward confidentially from his desk, toying with his spectacles, and
regarded the witness with an encouraging and paternal smile.

"Mrs. Saumarez," he began, "we want to ask you a few
questions--questions your replies to which may perhaps give us a little
light on this very sad matter. I believe I am right in thinking that you
and the late Mr. Wallingford were personal friends?"

Mrs. Saumarez's answer came in low tones--and in one word:

"Yes."

"Very close friends, I believe?"

"Yes."

"He used to visit at your house a great deal?"

"Yes."

"Dine with you, I think, once or twice a week?"

"At one time--yes."

"You say at one time? When was that period, now?"

Mrs. Saumarez, who up to this had kept her eyes on the ledge of the
witness-box, began to take courage. She lifted them towards the Coroner
and, encountering his placidly benevolent gaze, let them remain there.

"Well," she replied, "from about the time he became Mayor until the time
of his death."

"Regularly?"

"Yes--regularly."

"We may take it, then, that you were fond of each other's society?"

Mrs. Saumarez hesitated.

"He was a very interesting man," she said at last. "I liked to talk to
him."

The Coroner bent a little nearer.

"Well, now, a more personal question," he said suavely. "You will see
the importance of it. Mr. Wallingford was constantly visiting you. I
want a plain answer to what I am going to ask you. Was he a suitor for
your hand?"

Mrs. Saumarez's cheeks flushed, and she looked down at the ungloved hand
which rested, pressed on its gloved fellow, on the ledge before her.

"He certainly asked me to marry him," she murmured.

"When was that?"

"Not--not long before his death."

"And--I'm afraid I must ask you--what was your answer?"

"I refused his offer."

"Did that make any difference to your friendship?"

"It hadn't done up to the time of his death."

"He still visited you?"

"Yes, just as often."

The Coroner remained silent for a moment, glancing at his notes. When he
looked towards the witness again he was blander than ever.

"Now I shall have to ask you still more personal questions," he said.
"It is, as you must be aware, Mrs. Saumarez, well known in the town that
on your first coming here as a resident you became on terms of great
friendship with Dr. Wellesley. Do you agree to that?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"You used to go out a great deal with Dr. Wellesley--driving, and so
on?"

"Yes."

"In fact, Dr. Wellesley at that time paid you great attention?"

"Yes."

"Did those attentions cease about the time that you became so friendly
with Mr. Wallingford?"

"Well, they didn't altogether cease."

"But, shall we say, fell off?"

Mrs. Saumarez hesitated, obviously disliking the question.

"I have always been friends with Dr. Wellesley," she said eventually.

"All the same, has your friendship with him been quite what it was
originally, since you became so very friendly with the late Mayor?"

"Well, perhaps not."

"Will you give me a plain answer to this question? Was there any
jealousy aroused between Dr. Wellesley and Mr. Wallingford because of
you?"

This time Mrs. Saumarez took a long time to answer. She seemed to be
thinking, reflecting. And when she replied it was only to question the
Coroner:

"Am I obliged to answer that?" she asked.

"I am afraid I must press for an answer," said the Coroner, "it is
important."

"I think there was jealousy," she replied in a low voice.

"On whose part?"

"Dr. Wellesley thought I had thrown him over for Mr. Wallingford."

"Had Dr. Wellesley ever asked you to marry him?"

Mrs. Saumarez's answer came with unexpected swiftness.

"Oh, yes! two or three times!"

"Had you refused him also, then?"

Mrs Saumarez paused. Her cheeks flushed a deeper red.

"The fact was--I didn't want to marry anybody--just then anyway," she
answered. "They--both asked me--several times. I--if you please, will
you not ask me any more about my private affairs?--they've nothing to do
with this! It wasn't my fault that those two were jealous of each other,
and----"

"She's let the cat out of the bag now!" whispered Tansley to Brent.
"Gad! I see how this thing's going to develop! Whew! Well, there she
goes!"

For the Coroner had politely motioned Mrs. Saumarez away from the box,
and the next instant the official voice rapped out another name:

"Dr. Rutherford Carstairs!"



CHAPTER XI

THE NINETEEN MINUTES' INTERVAL


Carstairs, a red-haired, blue-eyed, stolid-faced young Scotsman, stepped
into the witness-box with the air of a man who is being forced against
his will to the performance of some distasteful obligation. Everybody
looked wonderingly at him; he was a comparative stranger in the town,
and the unimaginative folk amongst the spectators were already
cudgelling their brains for an explanation of his presence. But Brent,
after a glance at Carstairs, transferred his attention to Carstairs's
principal, at whom he had already looked once or twice during Mrs.
Saumarez's brief occupancy of the witness-box. Wellesley, sitting in a
corner seat a little to the rear of the solicitor's table, had
manifested some signs of surprise and annoyance while Mrs. Saumarez was
being questioned; now he showed blank wonder at hearing his assistant
called. He looked from Carstairs to the Coroner, and from the Coroner to
Hawthwaite, and suddenly, while Carstairs was taking the oath, he
slipped from his seat, approached Cotman, a local solicitor, who sat
listening, close by Tansley, and began to talk to him in hurried
undertones. Tansley nudged Brent's elbow.

"Wellesley's tumbled to it!" he whispered. "The police suspect--him!"

"Good heavens!" muttered Brent, utterly unprepared for this suggestion.
"You really think--that?"

"Dead sure!" asserted Tansley. "That's the theory! What's this
red-headed chap called for, else? You listen!"

Brent was listening, keenly enough. The witness was giving an
account of himself. Robert Carstairs, qualified medical
practitioner--qualifications specified--at present assistant to Dr.
Wellesley; been with him three months.

"Dr. Carstairs," began the Coroner, "do you remember the evening on
which the late Mayor, Mr. Wallingford, was found dead in the Mayor's
Parlour?"

"I do!" replied Carstairs bluntly.

"Where were you on that evening?"

"In the surgery."

"What are your surgery hours at Dr. Wellesley's?"

"Nine to ten of a morning; seven to nine of an evening."

"Was Dr. Wellesley with you in the surgery on that particular evening?"

"He was--some of the time."

"Not all the time?"

"No."

"What part of the time was he there, with you?"

"He was there, with me, from seven o'clock until half-past seven."

"Attending to patients, I suppose?"

"There were patients--three or four."

"Do you remember who they were?"

"Not particularly. Their names will be in the book."

"Just ordinary callers?"

"Just that."

"You say Dr. Wellesley was there until half-past seven. What happened
then?"

"He went out of the surgery."

"Do you mean out of the house?"

"I mean what I say. Out of the surgery."

"Where is the surgery situated?"

"At the back of the house; behind the dining-room. There's a way into it
from St. Lawrence Lane. That's the way the patients come in."

"Did Dr. Wellesley go out that way, or did he go into the house?"

"I don't know where he went. All I know is--he went, leaving me there."

"Didn't say where he was going?"

"He didn't say anything."

"Was he dressed for going out?"

"No--he was wearing a white linen jacket. Such as we always wear at
surgery hours."

"And that was at half-past seven?"

"Half-past seven precisely."

"How do you fix the time?"

"There's a big, old-fashioned clock in the surgery. Just as Dr.
Wellesley went out I heard the Moot Hall clock chime half-past seven,
and then the chimes of St. Hathelswide's Church. I noticed that our
clock was a couple of minutes slow, and I put it right."

"When did you next see Dr. Wellesley?"

"At just eleven minutes to eight."

"Where?"

"In the surgery."

"He came back there?"

"Yes."

"How do you fix that precise time--eleven minutes to eight?"

"Because he'd arranged to see a patient in Meadow Gate at ten minutes to
eight. I glanced at the clock as he came in, saw what time it was, and
reminded him of the appointment."

"Did he go to keep it?"

"He did."

"Was he still wearing the white linen jacket when he came back to you?"

"Yes. He took it off, then put on his coat and hat and went out again."

"According to what you say he was out of the surgery, wearing that white
linen jacket, exactly nineteen minutes. Did he say anything to you when
he came back at eleven minutes to eight of where he had been or what he
had been doing during the interval between 7.30 and 7.49?"

"He said nothing."

"You concluded that he had been in the house?"

"I concluded nothing. I never even thought about it. But I certainly
shouldn't have thought that he would go out into the street in his
surgery jacket."

"Well, Dr. Wellesley went out at 7.50 to see this patient in Meadow
Gate. Did anything unusual happen after that--in the surgery, I mean?"

"Nothing, until a little after eight. Then a policeman came for Dr.
Wellesley, saying that the Mayor had been found dead in his Parlour,
and that it looked like murder. I sent him to find Dr. Wellesley in
Meadow Gate, told him where he was."

"You didn't go to the Moot Hall yourself?"

"No; there were patients in the surgery."

The Coroner paused in his questioning, glanced at his papers, and then
nodded to the witness as an intimation that he had nothing further to
ask him. And Carstairs was about to step down from the box, when Cotman,
the solicitor to whom Wellesley had been whispering, rose quickly from
his seat and turned towards the Coroner.

"Before this witness leaves the box, sir," he said, "I should like to
ask him two or three questions. I am instructed by Dr. Wellesley to
appear for him. Dr. Wellesley, since you resumed this inquest, sir,
learns with surprise and--yes, I will say disgust--for strong word
though it is, it is strictly applicable!--that all unknown to him the
police hold him suspect, and are endeavouring to fasten the crime of
murder on him. In fact, sir, I cannot sufficiently express my
condemnation of the methods which have evidently been resorted to, in
underhand fashion----"

The Coroner waved a deprecating hand.

"Yes, yes!" he said. "But we are here, Mr. Cotman, to hold a full
inquiry into the circumstances of the death of the late Mayor, and the
police, or anybody else, as you know very well, are fully entitled to
pursue any course they choose in the effort to get at the truth. Just as
you are entitled to ask any questions of any witness, to be sure. You
wish to question the present witness?"

"I shall exercise my right to question this and any other witness,
sir," replied Cotman. He turned to Carstairs, who had lingered in the
witness-box during this exchange between coroner and solicitor. "Dr.
Carstairs," he continued, "you say that after being away from his
surgery for nineteen minutes on the evening of Mr. Wallingford's death,
Dr. Wellesley came back to you there?"

"Yes," answered Carstairs. "That's so."

"Was anyone with you in the surgery when he returned?"

"No, no one."

"You were alone with him, until he went out again to the appointment in
Meadow Gate?"

"Yes, quite alone."

"So you had abundant opportunity of observing him. Did he seem at all
excited, flurried, did you notice anything unusual in his manner?"

"I didn't. He was just himself."

"Quite calm and normal?"

"Oh, quite!"

"Didn't give you the impression that he'd just been going through any
particularly moving or trying episode--such as murdering a
fellow-creature?"

"He didn't," replied Carstairs, without the ghost of a smile. "He
was--just as usual."

"When did you see him next, after he went out to keep the appointment in
Meadow Gate?"

"About half-past eight, or a little later."

"Where?"

"At the mortuary. He sent for me. I went to the mortuary, and found him
there with Dr. Barber. They were making an examination of the dead man
and wanted my help."

"Was Dr. Wellesley excited or upset then?"

"He was not. He seemed to me--I'm speaking professionally, mind
you--remarkably cool."

Cotman suddenly sat down, and turned to his client with a smile on his
lips. Evidently he made some cynical remark to Wellesley, for Wellesley
smiled too.

"Smart chap, Cotman!" whispered Tansley to Brent. "That bit of
cross-exam'll tell with the jury. And now, what next?"

Bunning, recalled from the previous sitting, came next--merely to repeat
that the Mayor went up to his parlour at twenty-five minutes past seven,
and that he and Mr. Brent found his Worship dead just after eight
o'clock. Following him came Dr. Barber, who testified that when he first
saw Wallingford's dead body, just about a quarter-past eight, he came to
the conclusion that death had taken place about forty-five minutes
previously, perhaps a little less. And from him Cotman drew evidence
that Wellesley, in the examination at the mortuary, was normal, calm,
collected, and, added Dr. Barber, of his own will, greatly annoyed and
horrified at the murder.

Brent was beginning to get sick of this new development: to him it
seemed idle and purposeless. He whispered as much to Tansley. But
Tansley shook his head.

"Can't say that," he replied. "Where was Wellesley during that nineteen
minutes' absence from the surgery? He'll have to explain that anyway.
But they'll have more evidence than what we've heard. Hello! here's
Walkershaw, the Borough Surveyor! What are they going to get out of him,
I wonder?"

Brent watched an official-looking person make his way to the
witness-box. He was armed with a quantity of rolls of drawing-paper, and
a clerk accompanied him whose duty, it presently appeared, was to act as
a living easel and hold up these things, diagrams and outlines, while
his principal explained them. Presently the eager audience found itself
listening to what was neither more nor less than a lecture on the
architecture of Hathelsborough Moot Hall and its immediately adjacent
buildings--and then Brent began to see the drift of the Borough
Surveyor's evidence.

The whole block of masonry between Copper Alley and Piper's Passage,
testified Walkershaw, illustrating his observations by pointing to the
large diagram held on high by his clerk, was extremely ancient. In it
there were three separate buildings--separate, that was, in their use,
but all joining on to each other. First, next to Copper Alley, which ran
out of Meadow Gate, came the big house long used as a bank. Then came
the Moot Hall itself. Next, between the Moot Hall and Piper's Passage,
which was a narrow entry between River Gate and St. Lawrence Lane, stood
Dr. Wellesley's house. Until comparatively recent times Dr. Wellesley's
house had been the official residence of the Mayor of Hathelsborough.
And between it and the Moot Hall there was a definite means of
communication: in short, a private door.

There was a general pricking of ears upon this announcement, and Tansley
indulged in a low whistle: he saw the significance of Walkershaw's
statement.

"Another link in the chain, Brent!" he muttered. "'Pon my word, they're
putting it together rather cleverly: nineteen minutes' absence? door
between his house and the Moot Hall? Come!"

Brent made no comment. He was closely following the Borough Surveyor as
that worthy pointed out on his plans and diagrams the means of
communication between the Moot Hall and the old dwelling-place at its
side. In former days, said Walkershaw, some Mayor of Hathelsborough had
caused a door to be made in a certain small room in the house; that door
opened on a passage in the Moot Hall which led to the corridor wherein
the Mayor's Parlour was situated. It had no doubt been used by many
occupants of the Mayoral chair during their term of office. Of late,
however, nobody seemed to have known of it; but he himself having
examined it, for the purposes of this inquiry, during the last day or
two, had found that it showed unmistakable signs of recent usage. In
fact, the lock and bolts had quite recently been oiled.

The evidence of this witness came to a dramatic end in the shape of a
question from the Coroner:

"How long would it take, then, for any person to pass from Dr.
Wellesley's house to the Mayor's Parlour in the Moot Hall?"

"One minute," replied Walkershaw promptly. "If anything--less."

Cotman, who had been whispering with his client during the Borough
Surveyor's evidence, asked no questions, and presently the interest of
the court shifted to a little shrewd-faced, self-possessed woman who
tripped into the witness-box and admitted cheerfully that she was Mrs.
Marriner, proprietor of Marriner's Laundry, and that she washed for
several of the best families in Hathelsborough. The fragment of
handkerchief which had been found in the Mayor's Parlour was handed to
her for inspection, and the Coroner asked her if she could say
definitely if she knew whose it was. There was considerable doubt and
scepticism in his voice as he put the question; but Mrs. Marriner showed
herself the incarnation of sure and positive conviction.

"Yes, sir," she answered. "It's Dr. Wellesley's."

"You must wash a great many handkerchiefs at your laundry, Mrs.
Marriner," observed the Coroner. "How can you be sure about one--about
that one?"

"I'm sure enough about that one, sir, because it's one of a dozen that's
gone through my hands many a time!" asserted Mrs. Marriner. "There's
nobody in the town, sir, leastways not amongst my customers--and I wash
for all the very best people, sir--that has any handkerchiefs like them,
except Dr. Wellesley. They're the very finest French cambric. That there
is a piece of one of the doctor's best handkerchiefs, sir, as sure as
I'm in this here box--which I wish I wasn't!"

The Coroner asked nothing further; he was still plainly impatient about
the handkerchief evidence, if not wholly sceptical, and he waved Mrs.
Marriner away. But Cotman stopped her.

"I suppose, Mrs. Marriner, that mistakes are sometimes made when you and
your assistants send home the clean clothes?" he suggested. "Things get
in the wrong baskets, eh?"

"Well, not often--at my place, sir," replied Mrs. Marriner. "We're very
particular."

"Still--sometimes, you know?"

"Oh, I'll not say that they don't, sometimes, sir," admitted Mrs.
Marriner. "We're all of us human creatures, as you're very well aware,
sir."

"This particular handkerchief may have got into a wrong basket?" urged
Cotman. "It's--possible?"

"Oh, it's possible, sir," said Mrs. Marriner. "Mistakes will happen,
sir."

Mrs. Marriner disappeared amongst the crowd, and a new witness took her
place. She, too, was a woman, and a young and pretty one--and in a
tearful and nervous condition. Tansley glanced at her and turned, with a
significant glance, to Brent.

"Great Scott!" he whispered. "Wellesley's housemaid!"



CHAPTER XII

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE


Interest was beginning to thicken: the people in court, from Simon
Crood, pompous and aloof in his new grandeur of chief magistrate, to
Spizey the bellman, equally pompous in his ancient livery, were already
open-mouthed with wonder at the new and startling development. But the
sudden advent of the young and pretty domestic, whose tears betrayed her
unwillingness to come forward, deepened the interest still further;
everybody leaned forward towards the centre of the court, intent on
hearing what the girl had to tell. She, however, paid no attention to
these manifestations of inquisitiveness; standing in the witness-box, a
tear-soaked handkerchief in her hands, half-sullen, half-resentful of
mouth and eye, she looked at nobody but the Coroner; her whole
expression was that of a defenceless animal, pinned in a corner and
watchful of its captor.

But this time it was not the Coroner who put questions to the witness.
There had been some whispering between him, Hawthwaite and Meeking, the
barrister who represented the police authorities, and it was Meeking who
turned to the girl and began to get her information from her by means
of bland, suavely-expressed, half-suggesting interrogatories. Winifred
Wilson; twenty years of age; housemaid at Dr. Wellesley's--been in the
doctor's employ about fourteen months.

"Did you give certain information to the police recently?" inquired
Meeking, going straight to his point as soon as these preliminaries were
over. "Information bearing on the matter now being inquired into?"

"Yes, sir," replied the witness in a low voice.

"Was it relating to something that you saw, in Dr. Wellesley's house, on
the evening on which Mr. Wallingford was found dead in the Mayor's
Parlour?"

"Yes, sir."

"What was it that you saw?"

The girl hesitated. Evidently on the verge of a fresh outburst of tears,
she compressed her nether lip, looking fixedly at the ledge of the
witness-box.

"Don't be afraid," said Meeking. "We only want the truth--tell that, and
you've nothing to be afraid of, nor to reproach yourself with. Now what
did you see?"

The girl's answer came in a whisper.

"I saw Dr. Wellesley!"

"You saw your master, Dr. Wellesley. Where did you see Dr. Wellesley?"

"On the hall staircase, sir."

"On the hall staircase. That, I suppose, is the main staircase of the
house? Very well. Now where were you?"

"Up on the top landing, sir."

"What were you doing there?"

"I'd just come out of my room, sir--I'd been getting dressed to go out."

"And how came you to see your master?"

"I heard a door open on the landing below, sir, and I just looked over
the banister to see who it was."

"Who was it?"

"Dr. Wellesley, sir."

"Dr. Wellesley. What was he doing?"

"He'd just come out of the drawing-room door, sir."

"Are you sure he'd come out of that particular door?"

"Well, sir, I saw him close it behind him."

"What happened then?"

"He stood for a minute, sir, on the landing."

"Doing anything?"

"No, sir--just standing."

"And what then?"

"He went downstairs, sir."

"And disappeared?"

"He went towards the surgery, sir."

"How was the staircase lighted when you saw all this?"

"Well, sir, there was a light in the hall, at the foot of the staircase,
and there was another on the drawing-room floor landing."

"Then you could see Dr. Wellesley quite clearly?"

"Yes, sir."

"How was he dressed?"

"He'd his surgery jacket on, sir--a white linen jacket."

"You saw Dr. Wellesley quite clearly, wearing a white linen jacket, and
coming out of the drawing-room door. Now I want to ask you about the
drawing-room. Is there another room, a small room, opening out of Dr.
Wellesley's drawing-room?"

"Yes, sir."

"How big is it?"

"Well, sir, it's a little room. Not very big, sir."

"What is it used for? What is there in it now?"

"Nothing much, sir. Some book-cases and a desk and a chair or two."

"Is there a door on its farther side--the next side to the Moot Hall?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have you ever seen it open?"

"No, sir, never."

"You don't know where it gives access to?"

"No, sir."

"Might be a cupboard door, eh?"

"I always thought it was a cupboard door, sir."

"Very good. Now I want you to be very particular about answering my next
question. What time was it when you saw Dr. Wellesley come out of his
drawing-room?"

"It would be just about a quarter to eight, sir."

"Are you quite sure about that?"

"Quite sure, sir!"

"Did anything fix the time on your mind?"

"Yes, sir--at least, I heard the clocks strike the quarter just after.
The Moot Hall clock, sir, and the parish church."

"You're sure it was a quarter to eight o'clock that you heard?"

"Yes, sir, quite sure."

"Why are you quite sure?"

The witness reddened a little and looked shyly aside.

"Well, sir, I'd got to meet somebody, outside the house, at a quarter to
eight o'clock," she murmured.

"I see! Did you meet him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Punctually?"

"I might have been a minute late, sir. The clocks had done striking."

"Very good. And just before they began to strike you saw Dr. Wellesley
come out of his drawing-room door?"

"Yes, sir."

Meeking suddenly dropped back into his seat and began to shuffle his
papers. The Coroner glanced at Cotman--and Cotman, with a cynical smile,
got to his feet and confronted the witness.

"Was it your young man that you went out to meet at a quarter to eight
o'clock that evening?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," admitted the girl.

"What's his name?"

"Joe Green, sir."

"Did you tell Joe Green that you'd just seen Dr. Wellesley come out of
his drawing-room?"

"No, sir!"

"Why not?"

"Because I didn't think anything of it, sir."

"You didn't think anything of it? And pray when did you begin to think
something of it?"

"Well, sir, it was--it was when the police began asking questions."

"And of whom did they ask questions?"

"Me and the other servants, sir."

"Dr. Wellesley's servants?"

"Yes, sir."

"How many servants has Dr. Wellesley?"

"Four, sir--and a boy."

"So the police came asking questions, did they? About Dr. Wellesley?
What about him?"

"Well, sir, it was about what we knew of Dr. Wellesley's movements on
that evening, sir--where he was from half-past seven to eight o'clock.
Then I remembered, sir."

"And told the police?"

"No, sir--not then. I said nothing to anybody--at first."

"But you did later on. Now, to whom?"

The witness here began to show more signs of tearfulness.

"Don't cry!" said Cotman. "Whom did you first mention this to?"

"Well, sir, it was to Mrs. Lane. I got so upset about it that I told
her."

"Who is Mrs. Lane?"

"She's the lady that looks after the Girls' Friendly Society, sir."

"Are you a member of that?"

"Yes, sir."

"So you went and told Mrs. Lane all about it?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did Mrs. Lane say?"

"She said I must tell Mr. Hawthwaite, sir."

"Did she take you to Mr. Hawthwaite?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you told him all that you have told us now?"

"Yes, sir--Mrs. Lane said I must."

"You didn't want to, eh?"

Here the girl burst into tears, and Cotman turned to the Coroner.

"I have no further questions to put to this witness, sir," he said, "but
I would make a respectful suggestion to yourself. That is, that my
client, Dr. Wellesley, should be called at once. We know now that the
police have been secretly working up a case against Dr. Wellesley--in
fact, I am very much surprised that, ignoring these proceedings
altogether, they have not gone to the length of arresting him! Perhaps
that's a card which Superintendent Hawthwaite still keeps up his sleeve.
I may tell him, on behalf of my client, that he's quite welcome to
arrest Dr. Wellesley and bring him before the magistrates whenever he
likes! But as Dr. Wellesley's name has been very freely mentioned this
morning I think it will be only fair, sir, that he should be allowed to
go into that box at once, where he will give evidence on oath----"

"If Dr. Wellesley elects to go into the box," interrupted the Coroner,
"I shall, of course, warn him in the usual way, Mr. Cotman. He is not
bound to give any evidence that might incriminate himself, but no doubt
you have already made him aware of that."

"Dr. Wellesley is very well aware of it, sir," replied Cotman. "I ask
that he should be allowed to give evidence at once."

"Let Dr. Wellesley be called, then," said the Coroner. "That course,
perhaps, will be best."

Brent inspected Wellesley closely as he stepped into the witness-box. He
was a well set-up, handsome man, noted in the town for his correct and
fashionable attire, and he made a distinguished figure as the
centre-point of these somewhat sordid surroundings. That he was
indignant was very obvious; he answered the preliminary questions
impatiently; there was impatience, too, in his manner as after taking
the oath he turned to the Coroner; it seemed to Brent that Wellesley's
notion was that the point-blank denial of a man of honour was enough to
dispose of any charge.

This time the Coroner went to work himself, quietly and confidentially.

"Dr. Wellesley," he began, leaning over his desk, "I need not warn you
in the way I mentioned just now: I'm sure you quite understand the
position. Now, as you have been in Court all the morning, you have heard
the evidence that has already offered itself. As regards the evidence
given by your assistant, Dr. Carstairs, as to your movements and absence
from the surgery between 7.30 and 7.49--is that correct?"

Wellesley drew himself to his full height, and spoke with emphasis:

"Absolutely!"

"And the evidence of the young woman, your housemaid? Is she correct in
what she told us?"

"Quite!"

The Coroner looked down at his papers, his spectacled eyes wandering
about them as if in search of something. Suddenly he looked up.

"There's this matter of the handkerchief, or portion of a handkerchief,"
he said. "Picked up, we are told, from the hearth in the Mayor's
Parlour, where the rest of it had been burned. Did you hear Mrs.
Marriner's evidence about that, Dr. Wellesley?"

"I did!"

"Is what she said, or suggested, correct? Is the handkerchief yours?"

"I have never seen the handkerchief, or, rather, the remains of it. I
heard that some portion of a handkerchief, charred and blood-stained,
was found on the hearth in the Mayor's Parlour, and that it had been
handed over to Superintendent Hawthwaite, but I have not had it shown to
me."

The Coroner glanced at Hawthwaite, who since the opening of the Court
had sat near Meeking, occasionally exchanging whispered remarks.

"Let Dr. Wellesley see that fragment," he said.

All eyes were fixed on the witness as he took the piece of charred and
faintly stained stuff in his hands and examined it. Everybody knew that
the stain was from the blood of the murdered man; the same thought was
in everybody's mind--was that stain now being critically inspected by
the actual murderer?

Wellesley suddenly looked up; at the same time he handed back the
fragment to the policeman who had passed it to him.

"To the best of my belief," he said, turning to the Coroner, "that is
certainly part of a handkerchief of mine. The handkerchief is one of a
dozen which I bought in Paris about a year ago."

A murmur ran round the crowded court at this candid avowal; as it died
away the Coroner again spoke:

"Had you missed this handkerchief?"

"I had not. I have a drawer in my dressing-room full of
handkerchiefs--several dozens of them. But--from the texture--I am
positive that that is mine."

"Very well," said the Coroner. "Now about the evidence of Mr.
Walkershaw. Did you know of the door between your house and the Moot
Hall?"

"Yes! So did the late Mayor. As a matter of fact, he and I, some time
ago, had it put to rights. We both used it; I, to go into the Moot Hall;
he, to come and see me."

"There was no secrecy about it, then?"

"Not between Wallingford and myself at any rate."

The Coroner took off his spectacles and leaned back in his chair--sure
sign that he had done. And Meeking rose, cool, level-voiced.

"Dr. Wellesley, I think you heard the evidence of Mrs. Saumarez?"

But before Dr. Wellesley could make answer, the other doctors present in
the Court-room were suddenly called into action. As the barrister
pronounced her name, Mrs. Saumarez collapsed in her seat, fainting.



CHAPTER XIII

A WOMAN INTERVENES


In the midst of the commotion that followed and while Mrs. Saumarez,
attended by the doctors, was being carried out of the Court-room,
Tansley, at Brent's elbow, drew in his breath with a sharp sibilant
sound that came near being a whistle. Brent turned from the withdrawing
figures to look at him questioningly.

"Well?" he said.

"Queer!" muttered Tansley. "Why should she faint? I wonder----"

"What?" demanded Brent as the solicitor paused.

"I'm wondering if she and Wellesley know anything that they're keeping
to themselves," said Tansley. "She was obviously nervous and frightened
when she was in that box just now."

"She's a nervous, highly-strung woman--so I should say, from what bit
I've seen of her," remarked Brent. "Excitable!"

"Well, he's cool enough," said Tansley, nodding towards the witness-box.
"Hasn't turned a hair! Meeking'll get nothing out of him!"

The barrister was again addressing himself to Wellesley, who, after one
glance at Mrs. Saumarez as she fainted, had continued, erect and
defiant, facing the Court.

"You heard Mrs. Saumarez's evidence just now, Dr. Wellesley?" asked
Meeking quietly.

"I did!"

"Was it correct?"

"I am not going to discuss it!"

"Nor answer any questions arising out of it?"

"I am not!"

"Perhaps you will answer some questions of mine. Was there any jealousy
existing between you and the late John Wallingford, of which Mrs.
Saumarez was the cause?"

Wellesley hesitated, taking a full minute for evident consideration.

"I will answer that to a certain extent," he replied at last. "At the
time of his death, no! None!"

"Had there been previously?"

"At one time--yes. It was over."

"You and he were good friends?"

"Absolutely! Both in private and public--I mean in public affairs. I was
in complete touch and sympathy with him as regards his public work."

"Now, Dr. Wellesley, I think that for your own sake you ought to give us
some information on one or two points. Mrs. Saumarez said on oath that
you asked her to marry you, two or three times. She also said that the
late Mayor asked her too. Now----"

Wellesley suddenly brought down his hand on the ledge of the
witness-box.

"I have already told you, sir, that I am not going to discuss my affairs
with Mrs. Saumarez nor with the late Mayor in relation to Mrs.
Saumarez!" he exclaimed with some show of anger. "They are private and
have nothing to do with this inquiry. I shall not answer any question
relating to them."

"In that case, Dr. Wellesley, you will lay yourself open to whatever
conclusions the jury chooses to make," said Meeking. "We have already
heard Mrs. Saumarez say--what she did say. But, as you won't answer, I
will pass to another matter. You have already told us that the evidence
of your assistant, Dr. Carstairs, is correct as to your movements
between half-past seven and eleven minutes to eight, or, rather, as to
your absence from the surgery during those nineteen minutes. You adhere
to that?"

"Certainly! Carstairs is quite correct."

"Very well. Where were you during that time--nineteen minutes?"

"For the most part of the time, in my drawing-room."

"What do you mean by most part of the time?"

"Well, I should say three parts of it."

"And the other part?"

"Spent in letting a caller in and letting the caller out."

"By your front door?"

"No; by a side door--a private door."

"You took this caller to your drawing-room?"

"Yes."

"For a private interview?"

"Precisely."

Meeking allowed a minute to elapse, during which he affected to look at
his papers. Suddenly he turned full on his witness.

"Who was the caller?"

Wellesley drew his tall figure still more erect.

"I refuse to say!"

"Why?"

"Because I am not going to drag in the name of my caller! The business
my caller came upon was of a very private and confidential nature, and I
am not going to break my rule of professional silence. I shall not give
the name."

Meeking again paused. Finally, with a glance at the Coroner, he turned
to his witness and began to speak more earnestly.

"Let me put this to you," he said. "Consider calmly, if you please, what
we have heard already, from previous witnesses, and what you yourself
have admitted. Mrs. Saumarez has sworn that you and the late Mayor were
rivals for her hand and that there was jealousy between you. You admit
that Mrs. Marriner is correct in identifying the burnt and blood-stained
fragment of handkerchief found in the Mayor's Parlour after the murder
as your property; you also acknowledge the existence of a door
communicating between your house and the Moot Hall. You further admit
that you were away from your surgery for nineteen minutes at the very
time the murder was committed--according to the medical evidence--and
that you were in your drawing-room from an inner room of which the door
I have just referred to opens. Now I suggest to you, Dr. Wellesley, that
you should give us the name of the person who was with you in your
drawing-room?"

Wellesley, who, during this exordium, had steadily watched his
questioner, shook his head more decidedly than before.

"No!" he answered promptly. "I shall not say who my caller was."

Meeking spread out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. He turned to
the Coroner who, for the last few minutes, had shown signs of being ill
at ease, and had frequently shaken his head at Wellesley's point-blank
refusals.

"I don't know if it is any use appealing to you, sir," said Meeking.
"The witness----"

The Coroner leaned towards Wellesley, his whole attitude conciliatory
and inviting.

"I really think that it would be better, doctor, if you could find it in
your way to answer Mr. Meeking's question----"

"I have answered it, sir," interrupted Wellesley. "My answer is--no!"

"Yes, yes, but I don't want the jury to get any false impressions--to
draw any wrong conclusions," said the Coroner a little testily. "I feel
sure that in your own interest----"

"I am not thinking of my own interest," declared Wellesley. "Once
again--I shall not give the name of my caller."

There was a further pause, during which Meeking and the Coroner
exchanged glances. Then Meeking suddenly turned again to the
witness-box.

"Was your caller a man or a woman?" he asked.

"That I shan't say!" answered Wellesley steadily.

"Who admitted him--or her?"

"I did."

"How--by what door of your house?"

"By the side-door in Piper's Passage."

"Did any of your servants see the caller?"

"No."

"How came that about? You have several servants."

"My caller came to that door by arrangement with myself at a certain
time--7.30--was admitted by me, and taken straight up to my drawing-room
by a side staircase. My caller left, when the interview was over, by the
same way."

"The interview, then, was a secret one?"

"Precisely! Secret; private; confidential."

"And you flatly refuse to give us the caller's name?"

"Flatly!"

Meeking hesitated a moment. Then, with a sudden gesture, as though he
washed his hands of the whole episode, he dropped back into his seat,
bundled his papers together, and made some evidently cynical remark to
Hawthwaite who sat near to him. But Hawthwaite made no response: he was
watching the Coroner, and in answer to a questioning glance he shook his
head.

"No more evidence," whispered Tansley to Brent, as Wellesley, dismissed,
stepped down from the witness-box. "Whew! this is a queer business, and
our non-responsive medical friend may come to rue his obstinacy. I
wonder what old Seagrave will make of it? He'll have to sum it all up
now."

The Coroner was already turning to the jury. He began with his notes of
the first day's proceedings and spent some time over them, but
eventually he told his listeners that all that had transpired in the
opening stages of the inquiry faded into comparative insignificance
when viewed in the light of the evidence they had heard that morning. He
analysed that evidence with the acumen of the cute old lawyer that
everybody knew him to be, and at last got to what the sharper intellects
amongst his hearers felt, with him, to be the crux of the situation--was
there jealousy of an appreciable nature between Wallingford and
Wellesley in respect of Mrs. Saumarez? If there was--and he brushed
aside, rather cavalierly, Wellesley's denial that it existed at the time
of Wallingford's death, estimating lightly that denial in face of the
fact that the cause was still there, and that Wellesley had admitted
that it had existed, at one time--then the evidence as they had it
clearly showed that between 7.30 and 7.49 on the evening of the late
Mayor's death, Wellesley had ready and easy means of access to the
Mayor's Parlour. Something might have occurred which had revivified the
old jealousy--there might have been a sudden scene, a quarrel, high
words: it was a pity, a thousand pities, that Dr. Wellesley refused to
give the name of the person who, according to his story, was with him
during the nineteen minutes' interval which----

"Going dead against him!" whispered Tansley to Brent. "The old chap's
taken Meeking's job out of his hands. Good thing this is a coroner's
court--if a judge said as much as Seagrave's saying to an assize jury,
Gad! Wellesley would hang! Look at these jurymen! They're half
dead-certain that Wellesley's guilty already!"

"Well?" muttered Brent. "I'm not so far off that stage myself. Why
didn't he speak out, and be done with it. There's been more in that
love affair than I guessed at, Tansley--that's where it is! The woman's
anxious enough anyway--look at her!"

Mrs. Saumarez had come back into court. She was pale enough and eager
enough--and it seemed to Brent that she was almost holding her breath as
the old Coroner, in his slow, carefully-measured accents and phrases,
went on piling up the damning conclusions that might be drawn against
Wellesley.

"You must not allow yourselves to forget, gentlemen," he was saying,
"that Dr. Wellesley's assertion that he was busy with a caller during
the fateful nineteen minutes is wholly uncorroborated. There are
several--four or five, I think--domestic servants in his establishment,
and there was also his assistant in the house, and there were patients
going in and out of the surgery, but no one has been brought forward to
prove that he was engaged with a visitor in his drawing-room. Now you
are only concerned with the evidence that has been put before you, and I
am bound to tell you that there is no evidence that Dr. Wellesley had
any caller----"

A woman's voice suddenly rang out, clear and sharp, from a point of the
audience immediately facing the Coroner.

"He had! I was the caller!"

In the excitement of the moment Tansley sprang to his feet, stared, sank
back again.

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "Mrs. Mallett! Who'd have thought it!"

Brent, too, got up and looked. He saw a handsome, determined-looking
woman standing amidst the closely-packed spectators. Mallett sat by her
side; he was evidently struck dumb with sudden amazement and was staring
open-mouthed at her; on the other side, two or three men and women,
evidently friends, were expostulating with the interrupter. But Mrs.
Mallett was oblivious of her husband's wonder and her friends'
entreaties; confronting the Coroner she spoke again.

"Mr. Seagrave, I am the person who called on Dr. Wellesley!" she said in
a loud, clear voice. "I was there all the time you're discussing, and if
you'll let me give evidence you shall have it on my oath. I am not going
to sit here and hear an innocent man traduced for lack of a word of
mine."

The Coroner, who looked none too well pleased at this interruption,
motioned Mrs. Mallett to come forward. He waved aside impatiently a
protest from Wellesley, who seemed to be begging this voluntary witness
to go back to her seat and say nothing, and, as Mrs. Mallett entered the
witness-box, turned to Meeking.

"Perhaps you'll be good enough to examine this witness," he said a
little irritably. "These irregular interruptions! But let her say what
she has to say."

Mrs. Mallett, in Brent's opinion, looked precisely the sort of lady to
have her say, and to have it right out. She was calm enough now, and
when she had taken the oath and told her questioner formally who she
was, she faced him with equanimity. Meeking, somewhat uncertain of his
ground, took his cue from the witness's dramatic intervention.

"Mrs. Mallett, did you call on Dr. Wellesley at 7.30 on the evening in
question--the evening on which Mr. Wallingford met his death?"

"I did."

"By arrangement?"

"Certainly--by arrangement."

"When was the arrangement made?"

"That afternoon. Dr. Wellesley and I met, in the market-place, about
four o'clock. We made it then."

"Was it to be a strictly private interview?"

"Yes, it was. That was why I went to the side door in Piper's Passage."

"Did Dr. Wellesley admit you himself?"

"Yes, he did, and he took me straight up to his drawing-room by a side
staircase."

"No one saw you going in?"

"No; nor leaving, either!"

"Why all this privacy, Mrs. Mallett?"

"My business was of a private sort, sir!"

"Will you tell us what it was?"

"I will tell you that I had reasons of my own--my particular own--for
seeing Dr. Wellesley and the Mayor."

"The Mayor! Did you see the Mayor--there?"

"No. I meant to see him, but I didn't."

"Do you mean that you expected to meet him there--in Dr. Wellesley's
drawing-room?"

"No. Dr. Wellesley had told me of the door between his house and the
Moot Hall, and he said that after he and I had had our talk I could go
through that door to the Mayor's Parlour, where I should be sure to find
Mr. Wallingford at that time."

"I see. Then, did you go to see Mr. Wallingford?"

"I did."

"After talking with Dr. Wellesley?"

"Yes. He showed me the way--opened the door for me----"

"Stay, what time would that be?"

"About 7.35 or so. I went along the passage to the Mayor's Parlour, but
I never entered."

"Never entered? Why, now, Mrs. Mallett?"

"Because, as I reached the door, I heard people talking inside the
Parlour. So I went back."



CHAPTER XIV

WHOSE VOICES?


Meeking, who by long experience knew the value of dramatic effect in the
examination of witnesses, took full advantage of Mrs. Mallett's strange
and unexpected announcement. He paused, staring at her--he knew well
enough that when he stared other folk would stare too. So for a full
moment the situation rested--there stood Mrs. Mallett, resolute and
unmoved, in the box, with every eye in the crowded court fixed full upon
her, and Meeking still gazing at her intently--and, of set purpose,
half-incredulously. There was something intentionally sceptical,
cynical, in his tone when, at last, he spoke:

"Do you say--on oath--that you went, through the door between Dr.
Wellesley's house and the Moot Hall, to the Mayor's Parlour--that
evening?"

"To the door of the Mayor's Parlour," corrected Mrs. Mallett. "Yes. I
do. I did!"

"Was the door closed?"

"The door was closed."

"But you say you heard voices?"

"I heard voices--within."

"Whose voices?"

"That I can't say. I couldn't distinguish them."

"Well, did you hear the Mayor's voice?"

"I tell you I couldn't distinguish any voice. There were two people
talking inside the Mayor's Parlour, anyway, in loud voices. It seemed to
me that they were both talking at the same time--in fact, I thought----"

"What did you think?" demanded Meeking, as Mrs. Mallett paused.

"Well, I thought that, whoever they were, the two people were
quarrelling--the voices were loud, lifted, angry, I thought."

"And yet you couldn't distinguish them?"

"No, I couldn't. I might have recognized the Mayor's voice perhaps, if
I'd gone closer to the door and listened, but I didn't stay. As soon as
I heard--what I have told you of--I went straight back."

"By the same way? To Dr. Wellesley's drawing-room?"

"Yes."

"What happened then?"

"I told Dr. Wellesley that the Mayor had somebody with him and that they
appeared to be having high words, and as I didn't want to stop he
suggested that I should come again next evening. Then I went home."

"In the same way--by the private door into Piper's Passage?"

"Exactly."

"Did Dr. Wellesley go downstairs with you and let you out?"

"He did."

"See anybody about on that occasion?"

"No--no one."

Meeking paused, and after a glance round the table at which he was
standing looked at his notes.

"Now, Mrs. Mallett," he said presently, "what time was this--I mean,
when you left Dr. Wellesley's?"

"A little before a quarter to eight. The clock struck a quarter to eight
just after I got into my own house."

"And--where is your house?"

"Next door to the Moot Hall. Dr. Wellesley's house is on one side of the
Moot Hall; ours is on the other."

"It would take you a very short time, then, to go home?"

"A minute or two."

"Very well. And you went to Dr. Wellesley's at 7.30?"

"Just about that."

"Then you were with him most of the time you were there--in his
drawing-room?"

"Certainly! All the time except for the two or three minutes spent in
going to the Mayor's Parlour."

"Talking to Dr. Wellesley?"

"Of course! What do you suppose I went for?"

"That's just what I want to find out!" retorted Meeking, with a glance
that took in the audience, now all agog with excitement. "Will you tell
us, Mrs. Mallett?"

Mrs. Mallett's handsome face became rigid, and her well-cut lips fixed
themselves in a straight line. But she relaxed them to rap out one word.

"No!"

"Come, now, Mrs. Mallett! This is a serious, a very serious inquiry. It
is becoming more serious the more it becomes mysterious, and it is
becoming increasingly mysterious. You have already told us that you went
secretly to Dr. Wellesley's house in order that you might see him and,
afterwards, the Mayor, Mr. Wallingford. Now, you must have had some very
special reason, or cause, for these interviews. Tell me what it was.
What was it, Mrs. Mallett?"

"No! That's my business! Nobody else's. I shall not say."

"Does Dr. Wellesley know what it was?"

"Of course!"

"Would the Mayor have known if you'd seen him?"

"Considering that that was the object I had in wanting to see him, of
course he would!" retorted Mrs. Mallett. "I should think that's
obvious."

"But you didn't see him, eh?"

"You know very well I didn't!"

"Pardon me, madam," said Meeking with lightning-like promptitude. "I
don't know anything of the sort! However, does anyone else know of
this--business?"

"That, too, is my concern," declared Mrs. Mallett, who had bridled
indignantly at the barrister's swift reply. "I shan't say."

"Does your husband know of it?"

"I'm not going to say that, either!"

"Did your husband--who, I believe, is one of the Town Trustees--did he
know of your visit to Dr. Wellesley's house on this particular
occasion?"

"I'll answer that! He did not."

"Where was he, while you were at Dr. Wellesley's? Had you left him at
home?"

"No, he had gone out before I went out myself. As to where he was, I
should say he was either at the Conservative Club or at Mr. Simon
Crood's. Is it relevant?"

Amidst a ripple of laughter Meeking made a gesture which signified that
he had done with Mrs. Mallett, and she presently stepped down from the
witness-box. Meeking turned to the Coroner.

"I want to have Dr. Wellesley in that box again, sir," he said.

"Let Dr. Wellesley be recalled," commanded the Coroner.

Wellesley, once more in the full gaze of the court, looked vexed and
impatient. Those who had occasionally glanced at him while Mrs. Mallett
was giving her evidence had observed that he showed signs of being by no
means pleased at the turn things had taken since her sudden
intervention--sometimes he had frowned; once or twice he had muttered to
himself. And he now looked blackly at Meeking as the barrister once more
confronted him.

"You have heard the evidence of the last witness?" asked Meeking
abruptly.

"All of it," replied Wellesley.

"Is it correct as to details of time?"

"So far as I recollect, quite!"

"When Mrs. Mallett went by the private door between your drawing-room
and the Moot Hall to see the Mayor, what did you do?"

"Waited for her in my drawing-room."

"How long was she away?"

"Five minutes perhaps."

"Had you made any appointment with the Mayor on her behalf?"

"No. I had not."

"You sent her to see him on the chance of her finding him there--in the
Mayor's Parlour?"

"There was no chance about it. I knew--as a good many other people
did--that just then Wallingford spent almost every evening in the
Mayor's Parlour."

"Had you ever visited him in the Mayor's Parlour during these evening
attendances of his?"

"Oh, yes--several times!"

"By this communicating door?"

"Certainly. And he had made use of it in coming to see me."

"Do you know what the Mayor was doing on these occasions--I mean, do you
know why he spent so much time at the Mayor's Parlour of an evening?"

"Yes. He was going as thoroughly as he could into the financial affairs
of the Corporation."

"Now I want to put a very particular question to you--with the object of
getting at some solution of this mystery. What was Mrs. Mallett's
business with you and the Mayor?"

"I cannot reply to that."

"You won't give me an answer?"

"I won't!"

"Do you base your refusal on professional privilege, doctor?"

"No! Not at all. Mrs. Mallett's business was of an absolutely private
nature. It had nothing whatever to do with the subject of this
inquiry--I tell you that on my honour, on my oath. Nothing whatever!"

"You mean--directly?"

Meeking threw a good deal of significance into this question, which he
put slowly, and with a peculiarly meaning glance at his witness. But
Wellesley either did not see or affected not to see any significance,
and his answer came promptly:

"I mean precisely what I say--as I always do."

Meeking leaned across the table, eyeing Wellesley still more closely.

"Do you think, knowing all that you do now, that it had anything to do
with it indirectly? Indirectly!"

Self-controlled though he was, Wellesley could not repress a start of
surprise at this question. It was obviously unexpected--and it seemed to
those who, like Brent and Tansley, were watching him narrowly, that he
was considerably taken aback by it. He hesitated.

"I want an answer to that," said Meeking, after a pause.

"Well," replied Wellesley at last, "I can't say. What I mean by that is
that I am not in a position to say. I am not sufficiently acquainted
with--let me call them facts to be able to say. What I do say is that
Mrs. Mallett's business with me and with Wallingford that evening was of
an essentially private nature and had nothing whatever to do with what
happened in the Mayor's Parlour just about the time she was in my
drawing-room."

"That is, as far as you are aware?"

"As far as I am aware--yes! But I am quite sure it hadn't."

"You can't give this court any information that would help to solve this
problem?"

"I cannot!"

"Well, a question or two more. When Mrs. Mallett left you at your door
in Piper's Passage--I mean, when you let her out, just before a quarter
to eight, what did you next do?"

"I went upstairs again to my drawing-room."

"May I ask why?"

"Yes. I thought of going to see Wallingford, in the Mayor's Parlour."

"Did you go?"

"No. I should have gone, but I suddenly remembered that I had an
appointment with a patient in Meadow Gate at ten minutes to eight
o'clock. So I went back to the surgery, exchanged my jacket for a coat
and went out."

"On your oath, have you the slightest idea as to who killed John
Wallingford?"

"I have not the least idea! I never have had."

Meeking nodded, as much as to imply that he had no further questions to
ask; when his witness had stepped down, he turned to the Coroner.

"I should like to have Bunning, the caretaker, recalled, sir," he said.
"I want to ask him certain questions which have just occurred to me.
Bunning," he continued, when the ex-sergeant had been summoned to the
witness-box, "I want you to give me some information about the relation
of your rooms to the upper portion of the Moot Hall. You live in rooms
on the ground floor, don't you? Yes? Very well, now, is there any
entrance to your rooms other than that at the front of the building--the
entrance from the market-place?"

"Yes, sir. There's an entrance from St. Lawrence Lane, at the back."

"Is there any way from your rooms to the upper floors of the Moot Hall?"

"Yes, sir. There's a back stair, from our back door."

"Could anybody reach the Mayor's Parlour by that stair?"

"They could, sir, certainly; but either me or my wife would see them."

"Just so, if you were in your rooms. But you told us in your first
evidence that from about 7.20 or so until eight o'clock you were smoking
your pipe at the market-place entrance to the Moot Hall, where, of
course, you couldn't see your back door. That correct? Very well. Now,
while you were at the front, was your wife in your rooms at the back?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know what she was doing?"

"I do, sir. She was getting our supper ready."

"Are you sure she never left the house--your rooms, you know?"

Bunning started. Obviously, a new idea had occurred.

"Ay!" said Meeking, with a smile. "Just so, Bunning. You're not sure?"

"Well, sir," replied Bunning slowly, "now that I come to think of it,
I'm not! It never occurred to me before, but during that time my missis
may have been out of the place for a few minutes or so, to fetch the
supper beer, sir."

"To be sure! Now where does Mrs. Bunning get your supper beer?"

"At the _Chancellor_ Vaults, sir--round the corner."

Meeking turned quietly to the Coroner.

"I think we ought to have Mrs. Bunning's evidence," he remarked.

It took ten minutes to fetch Mrs. Bunning from her rooms in the lower
regions of the old Moot Hall. She came at last, breathless, and in her
working attire, and turned a wondering, good-natured face on the
barrister.

"Just a little question or two, Mrs. Bunning," he said
half-indifferently. "On the evening of the late Mayor's death, did you
go out to the _Chancellor_ Vaults to fetch your supper beer?"

"I did, sir--just as usual."

"What time?"

"A bit earlier than usual, sir--half-past seven."

"How long were you away?"

"Why, sir, to tell you the truth, nigh on to half an hour. I met a
neighbour at the corner and----"

"Exactly! And stopped chatting a bit. So you were out of your rooms in
the Moot Hall that evening from 7.30 to nearly eight o'clock?"

"Yes, sir."

Meeking gave the Coroner a glance, thrust his hands into his pockets,
and dropped back into his seat--silent and apparently satisfied.



CHAPTER XV

THE SPECIAL EDITION


But if the barrister was satisfied with the possibilities suggested by
this new evidence, the gist of which had apparently altered the whole
aspect of the case, the Coroner obviously was not. Ever since Mrs.
Mallett had interrupted his summing-up to the jury, he had shown signs
of fidgetiness. He had continually put on and taken off his spectacles;
he had moved restlessly in his chair; now and then he had seemed on the
point of interrupting counsel or witnesses: it was evident that things
were not at all to his liking. And now as Meeking sat down the Coroner
turned to Mrs. Bunning, who stood, looking wonderingly about her, and
still fingering the apron in which she had been found at her work.

"Mrs. Bunning," he said, "I want to ask you some questions about this
back entrance of yours. What is it--a door opening out of the rear of
the Moot Hall?"

"Yes, sir; that's it, sir."

"Does it open on St. Lawrence Lane?"

"Yes, sir."

"What does it open into--a hall, lobby, passage, or what?"

"A lobby, sir, next to our living-room."

"Is there a staircase, then, in that lobby--I mean, by which you can get
to the upper rooms in the Moot Hall?"

"Oh, yes, sir; that's the staircase we use, me and my husband, when we
go up for cleaning and dusting, sir."

"Then, if anybody went in by that door while you were out that evening,
whoever it was could go up that staircase to the upper rooms?"

"Oh, yes, sir, they could."

"And get to the Mayor's Parlour?"

"Yes, sir. The staircase opens on to the big landing, sir, and the door
of the Mayor's Parlour is at the far end of it."

"And you were out of your rooms for half an hour that evening?"

"Just about that, sir. It would be a bit after half-past seven when I
went out, and it was just before eight when I went in again."

"Did you notice anything that made you think somebody had been in?"

"Oh, no, sir, nothing!"

"Had you left your door open--your outer door?"

"Yes, sir--a bit ajar. Of course I never thought to be away many
minutes, sir."

"Very good. That's all, thank you, Mrs. Bunning," said the Coroner. He
looked round the court. "Is the Borough Surveyor still there?" he asked.
"Mr. Walkershaw? Let him come into the witness-box again."

But the Borough Surveyor had gone--nor was he to be found in his office
in another part of the building. Once more the Coroner looked round.

"I dare say we are all quite familiar with what I may call the geography
of St. Lawrence Lane," he remarked. "But I want some formal evidence
about it that can be put on the record. I see Mr. Krevin Crood there--I
believe Mr. Crood is as big an authority on Hathelsborough as anybody
living--perhaps he'll oblige me by coming forward."

Krevin Crood, sitting at the front of the densely-packed mass of
spectators, rose and walked into the witness-box. The Coroner leaned
confidentially in his direction.

"Mr. Crood," he said, "I think you're perfectly familiar with St.
Lawrence Lane--in its relation to the immediately surrounding property?"

"I am, sir," replied Krevin. "Every inch of it!"

"Just describe it to us, as if we knew nothing about it," continued the
Coroner. "You know what I want, and what I mean."

"Certainly, sir," assented Krevin. "St. Lawrence Lane is a narrow
thoroughfare, about eighty to ninety yards in length which lies at the
back of Mr. Mallett's house--I mean the bank premises--the Moot Hall,
and Dr. Wellesley's house. It's north entrance, at the corner of the
bank, is in Woolmarket; its south in Strand Lane. On its west side there
is a back door to the bank house; another into Bunning's rooms on the
basement of the Moot Hall; a third into the Police Office, also in that
basement; a fourth into the rear of Dr. Wellesley's house. On the
opposite side of the lane--the east--there is nothing but St. Lawrence's
Church and churchyard. St. Lawrence's church tower and west end faces
the back of the Moot Hall; there is a part of the churchyard opposite
the bank premises--the rear premises; the rest of the churchyard faces
Dr. Wellesley's house--the back of it, of course."

"Is the lane much frequented?"

"No, sir; it is very little used. Except by tradesmen going to Mr.
Mallett's or to Dr. Wellesley's back doors, and by people going to the
Police Office, it is scarcely used at all. There is no traffic along it.
On Sundays, of course, it is used by people going to the services at St.
Lawrence."

"Would it be likely to be quiet, unfrequented, of an evening?"

"Emphatically--yes."

"Do you think it likely that any person wishing to enter the Moot Hall
unobserved and seeing Mrs. Bunning go away from her rooms and round the
corner to the _Chancellor_ Vaults--as we've just heard she did--could
slip in unseen?"

"Oh, to be sure!" affirmed Krevin. "The easiest thing in the world! If I
may suggest something----?"

"Go on, go on!" said the Coroner, waving his spectacles. "Anything that
helps--suggest whatever you like."

"Well," said Krevin, slowly and thoughtfully, "if I may put it in my own
way. Suppose that there is somebody in the town who is desirous of
finding the late Mayor alone in the Mayor's Parlour, being also
cognizant of the fact--well known to many people--that the late Mr.
Wallingford was to be found there every evening? Suppose, too, that that
person was well acquainted with the geography of St. Lawrence Lane and
the Moot Hall? Suppose further that he or she was also familiar with the
fact that Mrs. Bunning invariably went out every evening to fetch the
supper beer from the _Chancellor_ Vaults? Such a person could easily
enter the Bunnings' back door with an absolutely minimum risk of
detection. The churchyard of St. Lawrence is edged with thick shrubs and
trees, anybody could easily hide amongst the shrub--laurel, myrtle,
ivy--watch for Mrs. Bunning's going out, and, when she had gone, slip
across the lane--a very narrow one!--and enter the door which, as she
says, she left open. It would not take two minutes for any person who
knew the place to pass from St. Lawrence Churchyard to the Mayor's
Parlour, or from the Mayor's Parlour to St. Lawrence Churchyard."

A murmur of comprehension and understanding ran round the court: most of
the people present knew St. Lawrence Lane and the Moot Hall as well as
Krevin Crood knew them; his suggestion appealed to their common sense.
And Tansley, with a sudden start, turned to Brent.

"That's done it!" he whispered. "Everybody tumbles to that! We've been
going off on all sorts of side-tracks all the morning, now Wellesley,
now Mrs. Mallett, and now--here's another! Access to the Mayor's
Parlour--there you are! Easy as winking, on Krevin Crood's theory. Lay
you a fiver to a shilling old Seagrave won't go on any farther."

Herein Tansley was quickly proved to be right. The Coroner was showing
unmistakable symptoms of his satiety for the time being. He thanked
Krevin Crood punctiliously for his assistance, and once again toying
restlessly with his spectacles, turned to the jury, who, on their part,
looked blank and doubtful.

"Well, gentlemen," he said, "it seems to me that the entire complexion
of this matter is changed by the evidence we have heard since Mrs.
Mallett broke in so unexpectedly upon what I was saying to you. I don't
propose now to say any more as regards the evidence of either Dr.
Wellesley or Mrs. Mallett: since we heard what they had to say we have
learnt a good deal which I think will be found to have more importance
than we attach to it at present. As matters stand, the evidence of Mrs.
Bunning is of supreme importance--there is no doubt whatever that there
was easy means of access to the Mayor's Parlour during that half hour
wherein the Mayor met his death. The mystery of the whole affair has
deepened considerably during to-day's proceedings, and instead of
bringing this inquiry to a definite conclusion I feel that I must wait
for more evidence. I adjourn this inquest for a month from to-day."

The court cleared; the spectators filtered out into the market-place in
various moods, and under different degrees of excitement. Some were
openly disappointed that the jury had not been allowed to return a
verdict; some were vehement in declaring that the jury never would
return a verdict; here and there were men who wagged their heads sagely
and remarked with sinister smiles that they knew what they thought about
it. But, within the rapidly emptying court Brent, Tansley and Hawthwaite
were grouped around Meeking--the barrister was indulging in some
private remarks upon the morning's proceedings, chiefly addressed to the
police superintendent.

"There's no doubt about it, you know," he was saying. "The evidence of
the Bunning woman, supplemented by what Krevin Crood said--which was a
mere, formal, crystallizing of common knowledge--has altered the whole
thing. Here's the back entrance to the Moot Hall left absolutely
unprotected, unguarded, unwatched--whatever you like to call it--for
half an hour, the critical half hour. Of course the murderer got up to
the Mayor's Parlour that way and got away by the same means. You're as
far off as ever, Hawthwaite, and it's a pity you wasted time on that
jealousy business. I watched Wellesley closely, and I believe that he
spoke the truth when he said that whatever there might have been there
was no jealousy about Mrs. Saumarez between him and Wallingford at the
end. My own impression is that Wellesley was clear off with Mrs.
Saumarez."

Hawthwaite, essentially a man of fixed ideas, looked sullen.

"Well, it isn't mine, then," he growled. "From all I've learnt--and I've
chances and opportunities that most folks haven't--my impression is that
both men were after her, right up to the time Wallingford was murdered.
I can tell you this--and I could have put it in evidence if I'd thought
it worth while--Wellesley used to go and see her, of an evening,
constantly, up to a very recent date, though she was supposed to have
broken off with him and to be on with the Mayor. Now then!"

"Do you know that for a fact, Hawthwaite?" asked Tansley.

"I know it for a fact! He used to go there late at night, and stop late.
If you want to know where I got it from, it was from a young woman that
used to be housemaid at the Abbey House, Mrs. Saumarez's place. She's
told me a lot; both Wallingford and Wellesley used to visit there a good
deal, but as I say, Wellesley used to go there very late of an evening.
This young woman says that she knows for a fact that he was often with
her mistress till close on midnight. I don't care twopence what
Wellesley said; I believe he was, and is, after her, and of course he'd
be jealous enough about her being so friendly with Wallingford. There's
a deal more in all this than's come out yet--let me tell you that!"

"I don't think anybody will contradict you, Hawthwaite," observed the
barrister dryly. "But the pertinent fact is what I tell you--the fact of
access! Somebody got to the Mayor's Parlour by way of the back
staircase, through Bunning's rooms, that evening. Who was it? That's
what you've got to find out. If you'd only found out, before now, that
Mrs. Bunning took half an hour to fetch the supper beer that night we
should have been spared a lot of talk this morning. As things are, we're
as wise as ever."

Then Meeking, with a cynical laugh, picked up his papers and went off,
and Brent, leaving Tansley talking to the superintendent, who was
inclined to be huffy, strolled out of the Moot Hall, and went round to
the back, with the idea of seeing for himself the narrow street which
Krevin Crood had formally described. He saw at once that Krevin was an
admirable exponent of the art of description: everything in St. Lawrence
Lane was as the ex-official had said: there was the door into the
Bunnings' rooms, and there, facing it, the ancient church and its
equally ancient churchyard. It was to the churchyard that Brent gave
most attention; he immediately realized that Krevin Crood was quite
right in speaking of it as a place wherein anybody could conveniently
hide--a dark, gloomy, sheltered, high-walled place, filled with thick
shrubbery, out of which, here and there, grew sombre yew-trees, some of
them of an antiquity as venerable as that of the church itself. It would
be a very easy thing indeed, Brent decided, for any designing person to
hide amongst these trees and shrubs, watch the Bunnings' door until Mrs.
Bunning left it, jug in hand, and then to slip across the grass-grown,
cobble-paved lane, silent and lonely enough, and up to the Mayor's
Parlour. But all that presupposed knowledge of the place and of its
people and their movements.

He went back to the market-place and towards the _Chancellor_.
Peppermore came hurrying out of the hotel as Brent turned into it. He
carried a folded paper in his hand, and he waved it at Brent as, at
sight of him, he came to a sudden halt.

"Just been looking for you, Mr. Brent!" he said mysteriously. "Come into
some quiet spot, sir, and glance at this. Here we are, sir, corner of
the hall."

He drew Brent into an alcove that opened close by them, and affecting a
mysterious air began to unfold his paper, a sheet of news-print which,
Brent's professional eye was quick to see, had just been pulled as a
proof.

"All that affair to-day, Mr. Brent," he whispered, "most unsatisfactory,
sir, most unsatisfactory--unconvincing, inconclusive, Mr. Brent! The
thing's getting no farther, sir, no farther, except, of course, for the
very pertinent fact about Mrs. Bunning's absence from her quarters that
fateful evening. My own impression, sir, is that Hawthwaite and all the
rest of 'em don't know the right way of going about this business. But
the _Monitor's_ going to wade in, sir--the _Monitor_ is coming to the
rescue! Look here, sir, we're going to publish a special edition
to-night, with a full account of to-day's proceedings at the inquest,
and with it we're going to give away, as a gratis supplement--what do
you think, sir? This, produced at great cost, sir, in the interest of
Justice! Look at it!"

Therewith Peppermore, first convincing himself that he and his companion
were secure from observation, spread out before Brent a square sheet of
very damp paper, strongly redolent of printers' ink, at the head of
which appeared, in big, bold, black characters, the question:

WHO TYPED THIS LETTER?

Beneath it, excellently reproduced, was a facsimile of the typewritten
letter which Wallingford had shown to Epplewhite and afterwards left in
his keeping. And beneath that was a note in large italics inviting
anyone who could give any information as to the origin of the document
to communicate with the Editor of the _Monitor_, at once.

"What d'ye think of that for a _coup_, Mr. Brent?" demanded Peppermore
proudly. "Up to Fleet Street form that, sir, ain't it? I borrowed the
original, sir, had it carefully reproduced in facsimile, and persuaded
my proprietor to go to the expense of having sufficient copies struck
off on this specially prepared paper to give one away with every copy of
the _Monitor_ that we shall print to-night. Five thousand copies, Mr.
Brent! That facsimile, sir, will be all over Hathelsborough by supper
time!"

"Smart!" observed Brent. "Top-hole idea, Peppermore. And you hope----?"

"There aren't so many typewriters in Hathelsborough as all that,"
replied Peppermore. "I hope that somebody'll come forward who can tell
something. Do you notice, sir, that this has been done--the original, I
mean--on an old-fashioned machine, and that the lettering is
considerably worn, sir? I hope the _Monitor's_ efforts will solve the
mystery!"

"Much obliged to you," said Brent. "There's a lot of spade-work to
do--yet."

He was thinking over the best methods of further attempts on that
spade-work, when, late that evening, he received a note from Queenie
Crood. It was confined to one line:

     To-morrow usual place three urgent--Q.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CASTLE WALL


Brent went to bed that night wondering what it was that Queenie Crood
wanted. Since their first meeting in the Castle grounds they had met
frequently. He was getting interested in Queenie: she developed on
acquaintance. Instead of being the meek and mild mouse of Simon Crood's
domestic hearth that Brent had fancied her to be on his visit to the
Tannery, he was discovering possibilities in her that he had not
suspected. She had spirit and imagination and a continually rebellious
desire to get out of Simon Crood's cage and spread her wings in
flight--anywhere, so long as Hathelsborough was left behind. She had
told Brent plainly that she thought him foolish for buying property in
the town; what was there in that rotten old borough, said Queenie, to
keep any man of spirit and enterprise there? Brent argued the point in
his downright way: it was his job, he conceived, to take up his cousin's
work where it had been laid down; he was going to regenerate
Hathelsborough.

"And that you'll never do!" affirmed Queenie. "You might as well try to
blow up the Castle keep with a halfpenny cracker! Hathelsborough people
are like the man in the Bible--they're joined to their idols. You can
try and try, and you'll only break your heart, or your back, in the
effort, just as Wallingford would have done. If Wallingford had been a
wise man he'd have let Hathelsborough go to the devil in its own way;
then he'd have been alive now."

"Well, I'm going to try," declared Brent. "I said I would, and I will!
You wait till I'm elected to that Town Council! Then we'll see."

"It's fighting a den of wild beasts," said Queenie. "You won't have a
rag left on you when they're through with you."

She used to tell him at these meetings of the machinations of Simon
Crood and Coppinger and Mallett against his chances of success in the
Castle Ward election: according to her they were moving heaven and earth
to prevent him from succeeding Wallingford. Evidently believing Queenie
to be a tame bird that carried no tales, they were given to talking
freely before her during their nightly conclaves. Brent heard a good
deal about the underhand methods in which municipal elections are
carried on in small country towns, and was almost as much amused as
amazed at the unblushing corruption and chicanery of which Queenie told
him. And now he fancied that she had some special news of a similar sort
to give him: the election was close at hand, and he knew that Simon and
his gang were desperately anxious to defeat him. Although Simon had been
elected to the Mayoralty, his party in the Town Council was in a parlous
position--at present it had a majority of one; if Brent were elected,
that majority would disappear, and there were signs that at the annual
elections in the coming November it would be transformed into a
minority. Moreover, the opponent whom Brent had to face in this
by-election was a strong man, a well-known, highly respected ratepayer,
who, though an adherent of the Old Party, was a fair-minded and moderate
politician, and likely to secure the suffrages of the non-party
electors. It was going to be a stiff fight, and Brent was thankful for
the occasional insights into the opposition's plans of campaign which
Queenie was able to give him.

But there were other things than this to think about, and he thought
much as he lay wakeful in bed that night and as he dressed next morning.
The proceedings at the adjourned inquest had puzzled him; left him
doubtful and uncertain. He was not sure about the jealousy theory. He
was not sure about Mrs. Saumarez, from what he had seen of her
personally and from what he had heard of her. He was inclined to believe
that she was not only a dabbler in politics with a liking for
influencing men who were concerned in them but that she was also the
sort of woman who likes to have more than one man in leash. He was now
disposed to think that there had been love-passages between her and
Wallingford, and not only between her and Wallingford but between her
and Wellesley--there might, after all, be something in the jealousy
idea. But then came in the curious episode of Mrs. Mallett, and the
mystery attaching to it--as things presented themselves at present there
seemed to be no chance whatever that either Mrs. Mallett or Wellesley
would lift the veil on what was evidently a secret between them. The
only satisfactory and straightforward feature about yesterday's
proceedings, he thought, was the testimony of Mrs. Bunning as to her
unguarded door. Now, at any rate, it was a sure thing that there had
been ready means of access to the Mayor's Parlour that evening; what was
necessary was to discover who it was that had taken advantage of them.

After breakfast Brent went round to see Hawthwaite. Hawthwaite gave him
a chair and eyed him expectantly.

"We don't seem to be going very fast ahead," remarked Brent.

"Mr. Brent," exclaimed Hawthwaite, "I assure you we're doing all we can!
But did you ever know a more puzzling case? Between you and me, I'm not
at all convinced about either Dr. Wellesley or Mrs. Mallett--there's a
mystery there which I can't make out. They may have said truth, and they
mayn't, and----"

"Cut them out," interrupted Brent. "For the time being anyway. We got
some direct evidence yesterday--for the first time."

"As--how?" questioned Hawthwaite.

"That door into Bunning's room," replied Brent. "That's where the
murderer slipped in."

"Ay; but did he?" said Hawthwaite. "If one could be certain----"

"Look here!" asserted Brent. "There is one thing that is certain--dead
certain. That handkerchief!"

"Well?" asked Hawthwaite.

"That should be followed up, more," continued Brent. "There's no doubt
whatever that that handkerchief, which Wellesley admits is his, got sent
by mistake to one or other of Mrs. Marriner's other customers. That's
flat! Now, you can trace it."

"How?" exclaimed Hawthwaite. "A small article like that!"

"It can be done, with patience," said Brent. "It's got to be done. That
handkerchief got into somebody's hands. That somebody is probably the
murderer. As to how it can be traced--well, I suggest this. As far as
I'm conversant with laundry matters, families, such as Mrs. Marriner
says she works for, have laundry books. These books are checked, I
believe, when the washing's sent home. If there's an article missing,
the person who does the checking notes it; if a wrong article's
enclosed, that, too, is noted, and returned to the laundry."

"If Wellesley's handkerchief got to the wrong place, why wasn't it
returned?" demanded Hawthwaite.

"To be sure; but that's just what you've got to find out," retorted
Brent. "You ought to go to Mrs. Marriner's laundry and make an
exhaustive search of her books, lists, and so on till you get some
light--see?"

"Mrs. Marriner has, I should say, a hundred customers," remarked
Hawthwaite.

"Don't matter if Mrs. Marriner's got five hundred customers," said
Brent. "That's got to be seen into. If you aren't going to do it, I
will. Whoever it was that was in that Mayor's Parlour tried to burn a
blood-stained handkerchief there. That handkerchief was Wellesley's.
Wellesley swears he was never near the Mayor's Parlour. I believe him!
So that handkerchief got by error into the box or basket of some other
customer of Mrs. Marriner. Trace it!"

He rose and moved towards the door, and Hawthwaite nodded.

"We'll make a try at it, Mr. Brent," he said. "But, as I say, to work on
a slight clue like that----"

"I've known of far slighter clues," replied Brent.

Yet, as he went away, he reflected on the extreme thinness of this
clue--it was possible that the handkerchief had passed through more
hands than one before settling in those of the person who had thrown it
on the hearth, stained with Wallingford's blood, in the Mayor's Parlour.
But it was a clue, and, in Brent's opinion, _the_ clue. One fact in
relation to it had always struck him forcibly--the murderer of his
cousin was either a very careless and thoughtless person or had been
obliged to quit the Mayor's Parlour very hurriedly. Anyone meticulously
particular about destroying clues or covering up traces would have seen
to it that the handkerchief was completely burnt up before leaving the
room. As it was, it seemed to Brent that the murderer had either thrown
the handkerchief on the hearth, seen it catch fire and paid no more
attention to it--which would denote carelessness--or had quitted the
place immediately after flinging it aside, which would imply that some
sound from without had startled him--or her. And, was it him--or was it
her? There were certain features of the case which had inclined Brent of
late to speculating on the possibility that his cousin had been murdered
by a woman. And, to be sure, a woman was now in the case--Mrs. Mallett.
If only he knew why Mrs. Mallett went to see the doctor and the
Mayor....

But that, after all, was mere speculation, and he had a busy morning
before him, in relation to his election business. He had been
continuously engaged all the time when at three o'clock he hurried to
the Castle Grounds to meet Queenie. He found her in her usual haunt, a
quiet spot in the angle of a wall, where she was accustomed to sit and
read.

"Well, and why 'urgent'?" asked Brent as he dropped on the seat at her
side.

"To make sure that you'd come," retorted Queenie. "Didn't want to leave
it to chance."

"I'm here!" said Brent. "Go ahead with the business."

"Did you see the _Monitor_ last night and that facsimile they gave away
with it?" inquired Queenie.

"I did! Saw the facsimile before it was published. Peppermore showed it
to me."

"Very well--that's the urgent business. I know whose machine that
letter--the original, I mean--was typed on!"

"You do? Great Scott! Whose, then?"

"Uncle Simon Crood's! Fact!"

"Whew! So the old fossil's got such a modern invention as a typewriter,
has he? And you think----"

"Don't think--I know! He's had a typewriter for years; it's an
old-fashioned thing, a good deal worn out. He rarely uses it, but now
and then he operates, with one finger, slowly. And that letter
originated from him--his machine."

"Proof!" said Brent.

Queenie took up a book that lay on the seat between them and from it
extracted a folded copy of the _Monitor's_ facsimile. She leaned nearer
to Brent.

"Now look!" she said. "Do you notice that two or three of the letters
are broken? That _M_--part of it's gone. That _O_--half made. The top of
that _A_ is missing. More noticeable still--do you see that the small
_t_ there is slanting the wrong way? Well, all that's on Uncle Simon's
machine! I knew where that letter had originated as soon as ever I saw
this facsimile last night."

She laid aside the supplement and once more opening her book produced a
sheet of paper.

"Look at this!" she continued. "When Uncle Simon went out to the tannery
this morning, I just took advantage of his absence to type out the
alphabet on his machine. Now then, you glance over that and compare the
faulty letters with those in the facsimile! What do you say now?"

"You're a smart girl, Queenie!" said Brent. "You're just the sort of
girl I've been wanting to meet--the sort that can see things when
they're right in front of her eyes. Oh, my! that's sure, positive proof
that old Simon----"

"Oh!" broke in Queenie sharply. "Oh, I say!"

Before Brent could look up, he was conscious that a big and bulky shadow
had fallen across the gravelled path at their feet. He lifted his eyes.
There, in his usual raiment of funereal black, his top-hat at the back
of his head, his hands behind him under the ample skirts of his
frock-coat, his broad, fat face heavy with righteous and affectedly
sorrowful indignation, stood Simon Crood. His small, pig-like eyes were
fixed on the papers which the two young people were comparing.

"Hello!" exclaimed Brent. He was quick to see that he and Queenie were
in for a row, probably for a row of a decisive sort which would affect
both their lives, and he purposely threw as much hearty insolence into
his tone as he could summon. "Eavesdropping, eh, Mr. Crood?"

Simon withdrew a hand from the sable folds behind him, and waved it in
lordly fashion.

"I've no words to waste on impudent young fellers as comes from nobody
knows where," he said loftily. "My words is addressed to my niece, as I
see sitting there, a-deceiving of her lawful rellytive and guardian. Go
you home at once, miss!"

"Rot!" exclaimed Brent. "She'll go home when she likes--and not at all,
if she doesn't like! You stick where you are, Queenie! I'm here."

And as if to prove the truth of his words he slipped his right arm round
Queenie's waist, clasped it tightly, and turned a defiant eye on Simon.

"See that?" he said. "Well! that's just where Queenie stops, as long as
ever Queenie likes! Eh, Queenie?"

The girl, reddening as Brent's arm slipped round her, instinctively laid
her free hand on his wrist. And as he appealed to her he felt her
fingers tighten there with a firm, understanding pressure.

"That's all right!" he whispered to her. "We've done it, girlie--it's
for good!" He looked up at Simon, whose mouth was opening with
astonishment. "Queenie's my girl, old bird!" he went on. "She isn't
going anywhere--not anywhere at all--at anybody's bidding, unless she
likes. And why shouldn't she be here?"

It seemed, from the pause that followed, as if Simon would never find
his tongue again. But at last he spoke.

"So this here is what's been going on behind my back, is it, miss?" he
demanded, pointedly ignoring Brent and fixing his gaze on Queenie.
"A-carrying on with strangers at my very gates, as you might say, and in
public places in a town of which I'm chief magistrate! What sort o'
return do you call this, miss, I should like to know, for all that I've
done for you? me that's lodged and boarded and clothed you, ever
since----"

"What have I done for you in return?" demanded Queenie with a flash of
spirit. "Saved you the wages of a couple of servants for all these
years! But this is the end, if you're going to throw that in my
teeth----"

Brent drew Queenie to her feet and turned her away from Simon. He gave
the big man a look over his shoulder.

"That's it, my friend!" he said. "That's the right term--the end! Find
somebody else to do your household drudgery--this young lady's done her
last stroke for you. And now don't begin to bluster," he added, as
Simon, purpling with wrath, shook his fist. "We'll just leave you to
yourself."

He led Queenie away down a side-path, and once within its shelter, put a
finger under her chin, and lifting her face, looked steadily at her.

"Look here, girlie," he said. "You heard what I whispered to you just
now? 'It's for good!' Didn't I say that? Well, is it?"

Queenie managed to get her eyes to turn on him at last.

"Do you mean it?" she murmured.

"I just do!" answered Brent fervently. "Say the word!"

"Yes, then!" whispered Queenie.

She looked at him wonderingly when he had bent and kissed her.

"You're an extraordinary man!" she said. "Whatever am I going to
do--now? Homeless!"

"Not much!" exclaimed Brent. "You come along with me, Queenie. I'm a
good hand at thinking fast. I'll put you up, warm and comfortable, at
Mother Appleyard's; and as quick as the thing can be done we'll be
married. Got that into your little head? Come on, then!"

That night Brent told Tansley of what had happened and what he was going
to do. Tansley listened, laughed, and shook his head.

"All right, my lad!" he said. "I've no doubt you and Queenie'll suit
each other excellently. But you've settled your chances of winning that
election, Brent! Simon Crood'll bring up every bit of his heavy
artillery against you, now--and will smash you!"



CHAPTER XVII

IMPREGNABLE


Brent received this plain-spoken declaration with a curious tightening
of lips and setting of jaw which Tansley, during their brief
acquaintance, had come to know well enough. They were accompanied by a
fixed stare--the solicitor knew that too. These things meant that
Brent's fighting spirit was roused and that his temper became ugly.
Tansley laughed.

"You're the sort of chap for a scrap, Brent," he continued, "and a
go-ahead customer too! But--you don't know this lot, nor their
resources. Whatever anybody may say, and whatever men like your late
cousin, and Epplewhite, and any of the so-called Progressives--I'm not
one, myself; it pays me to belong to neither party!--whatever these
folks may think or say, Simon Crood and his lot are top-dogs in this
little old town! Vested interests, my boy!--ancient tree, with roots
firmly fixed in the piled-up soil, strata upon strata, of a thousand
years! You're not going to pull up these roots, my lad!"

"How'll Simon Crood smash me?" demanded Brent quietly.

"As to the exact how," answered Tansley, "can't say! Mole work--but
he'll set the majority of the electors in that Castle Ward against you."

"I've enough promises of support now to give me a majority," retorted
Brent.

"That for promises!" exclaimed Tansley, snapping his fingers. "You don't
know Hathelsborough people! They'll promise you their support to your
face--just to get rid of your presence on their door-steps--and vote
against you when they reach the ballot-box. I'll lay anything most of
the folk you've been to see have promised their support to both
candidates."

"Why should these people support Crood and his crew?" demanded Brent.

"Because Crood and his crew represent the only god they worship!" said
Tansley, with a cynical laugh. "Brass!--as they call it. All that a
Hathelsborough man thinks about is brass--money. Get money where you
can--never mind how, as long as you get it, and keep just within the
law. Simon Crood represents the Hathelsborough principle of graft, and
whatever you may think, he's the paramount influence in the town
to-day."

"He and his lot have only got the barest majority on the Council,"
remarked Brent.

"Maybe; but they've got all the really influential men behind 'em, the
moneyed men," said Tansley. "And they've distributed all the various
official posts, sinecures most of 'em, amongst their friends. That Town
Trustee business is the nut to crack here, Brent, and a nut that's been
hardening for centuries isn't going to be cracked with an ordinary
implement. Come now, are you an extraordinary one?"

"I'll make a try at things anyway," replied Brent. "And I don't believe
I shall lose that election, either."

"You might have scraped in if you hadn't carried Simon Crood's niece
away from under his very nose," said Tansley. "But now that you've
brought personal matters into the quarrel, the old chap'll move every
piece he has on the board to checkmate you. It won't do to have you on
the Council, Brent, you're too much of an innovator. Now this town--the
real town!--doesn't want innovation. Innovation in an ancient borough
like this is--unsettling and uncomfortable. See?"

"This world doesn't stand still," retorted Brent. "I'm going ahead!"

But he reflected, as he left the solicitor's office, that much of what
Tansley had said was true. There was something baffling in the very
atmosphere of Hathelsborough--he felt like a man who fights the wind.
Everything was elusive, ungraspable, evasive--he seemed to get no
further forward. And, if Tansley was right in affirming that
Hathelsborough people made promises which they had no intention of
redeeming, his chances of getting a seat on the Town Council and setting
to work to rebuild his late cousin's schemes of reformation were small
indeed. But once more he set his jaw and nerved himself to endeavour,
and, as the day of election was now close at hand, plunged into the task
of canvassing and persuading--wondering all the time, now that he had
heard Tansley's cynical remarks, if the people to whom he talked and who
were mostly plausible and ingratiating in their reception of him were
in reality laughing at him for his pains. He saw little of the efforts
of the other side; but Peppermore agreed with Tansley that the
opposition would leave no stone unturned in the task of beating him.

The _Monitor_ was all for Brent--Peppermore's proprietor was a
Progressive; a tradesman who had bought up the _Monitor_ for a mere
song, and ran it as a business speculation which had so far turned out
very satisfactorily. Consequently, Brent at this period went much to the
_Monitor_ office, and did things in concert with Peppermore, inspiring
articles which, to say the least of them, were severely critical of the
methods of the Crood regime. On one of these visits Peppermore, in the
middle of a discussion about one of these effusions, abruptly switched
off the trend of his thought in another direction.

"I'd a visit from Mrs. Saumarez this morning, Mr. Brent," he said,
eyeing his companion with a knowing look. "Pretty and accomplished
woman, that, sir; but queer, Mr. Brent, queer!"

"What do you mean?" asked Brent.

"Odd ideas, sir, very odd!" replied Peppermore. "Wanted to find out from
me, Mr. Brent, if, in case she's called up again at this inquest
business, or if circumstances arise which necessitate police proceedings
at which she might be a witness, her name couldn't be suppressed? Ever
hear such a proposal, sir, to make to a journalist? 'Impossible, my dear
madam!' says I. 'Publicity, ma'am,' I says, 'is--well, it's the very
salt of life, as you might term it,' I says. 'When gentlemen of our
profession report public affairs we keep nothing back,' I says; firmly,
sir. 'I very much object to my name figuring in these proceedings,' she
says. 'I object very strongly indeed!' 'Can't help it, ma'am,' says I.
'If the highest in the land was called into a witness-box, and I
reported the case,' I says, 'I should have to give the name! It's the
glory of our profession, Mrs. Saumarez.' I says, 'just as it's that of
the law, that we don't countenance hole-and-corner business. The light
of day, ma'am, the light of day! that's the idea, Mrs. Saumarez!' I
says. 'Let the clear, unclouded radiance of high noon, ma'am, shine
on'--but you know what I mean, Mr. Brent. As I said to her, the
publicity that's attendant on all this sort of thing in England is one
of the very finest of our national institutions.

"Odd, sir, but, for a woman that's supposed to be modern and
progressive, she didn't agree. 'I don't want to see my name in the
papers in connection with this affair, Mr. Peppermore,' she declared
again. 'I thought, perhaps,' she says, rather coaxingly, 'that you could
suggest some way of keeping it out if there are any further
proceedings.' 'Can't, ma'am!' says I. 'If such an eventuality comes to
be, it'll be my duty to record faithfully and fully in the _Monitor_
whatever takes place.' 'Oh,' says she. 'But it's not the _Monitor_ that
I so much object to--it's the London papers. I understand that you
supply the reports to them, Mr. Peppermore.' Well, of course, as you
know, Mr. Brent, I am district correspondent for two of the big London
agencies, but I had to explain to her that in a sensational case like
this the London papers generally sent down men of their own: there were,
for instance, two or three London reporters present the other day.

"Yes, she said; so she'd heard, and she'd got all the London papers to
see if her name was mentioned, and had been relieved to find that it
hadn't: there were nothing but summarized reports: her name hadn't
appeared anywhere but in the _Monitor_. 'And what I wanted, Mr.
Peppermore,' she says, more wheedlingly than ever, 'was that, if it lay
in your power, and if occasion arises, you would do what you could to
keep my name out of it--I don't want publicity!' Um!" concluded
Peppermore. "Pretty woman, Mr. Brent, and with taking ways, but of
course I had to be adamant, sir--firm, Mr. Brent, firm as St.
Hathelswide's tower. 'The Press, Mrs. Saumarez,' I says, as I dismissed
the matter--politely, of course--'has its Duties. It can make no
exception, Mrs. Saumarez, to wealth, or rank, or--beauty.' I made her a
nice bow, Mr. Brent, as I spoke the last word. But she wasn't impressed.
As I say--queer woman! What's publicity matter to her as long as she's
no more than a witness?"

Brent was not particularly impressed by Peppermore's story. He saw
nothing in it beyond the natural desire of a sensitive, highly-strung
woman to keep herself aloof from an unpleasant episode, and he said so.

"I don't see what good Hawthwaite hoped to get by ever calling Mrs.
Saumarez before the Coroner," he added. "She told nothing that everybody
didn't know. What did it all amount to?"

"Ay, but that's just it, in a town like this, Mr. Brent," answered
Peppermore with a wink. "I can tell you why the police put the Coroner
up to calling Mrs. Saumarez as a witness. They'd got a theory--that
Wellesley killed your cousin in a fit of jealousy, of which she was the
cause, and they hoped to substantiate it through her evidence. There's
no doubt, sir, that there were love-passages between Dr. Wellesley and
this attractive lady and between her and your cousin, but--shall I tell
you, sir, something that's in my mind?"

"Ay. Why not?" answered Brent. He was thinking of the thick pile of
letters which he had returned to Mrs. Saumarez and of the unmistakable
love-tokens which he had seen deposited with them in the casket wherein
Wallingford had kept them. "What is it you're thinking of?"

Peppermore edged his chair closer to his visitor's, and lowered his
voice.

"I am not unobservant, Mr. Brent," he said. "Our profession, as you
know, sir, leads us to the cultivation of that faculty. Now, I've
thought a good deal about this matter, and I'll tell you a conclusion
I've come to. Do you remember that when Dr. Wellesley was being
questioned the other day he was asked if there was jealousy between him
and Mr. Wallingford about Mrs. Saumarez? To be sure! Now what did he
answer? He answered frankly that _there had been but it no longer
existed_! Do you know what I deduced from that, Mr. Brent? This--that
the little lady had had both those men as strings to her bow at the same
time, indecisive as to which of 'em she'd finally choose, but that, not
so long since, she'd given up both, in favour of a third man!"

Brent started, and laughed.

"Ingenious, Peppermore, very ingenious!" he said. "Given 'em both the
mitten as they say? But the third man?"

"Mrs. Saumarez was away on the Continent most of the winter," answered
Peppermore. "The Riviera, Nice, Monte Carlo--that sort of thing. She may
have met somebody there that she preferred to either Wellesley or
Wallingford. Anyway, Mr. Brent, what did the doctor mean when he frankly
admitted that there had been jealousy between him and Wallingford, but
that it _no longer existed_? He meant, I take it, that there was no
reason for its further existence. That implies that another man had come
into the arena!"

"Ay, but does it?" said Brent. "It might mean something else--that she'd
finally accepted Wellesley. Eh?"

"No," declared Peppermore. "She's not engaged to Wellesley: I'll lay
anything she isn't, Mr. Brent. There's a third man, somewhere in the
background, and it's my opinion that that's the reason why she doesn't
want the publicity she came to me about."

Brent fell into a new train of thought, more or less confused. Mrs.
Saumarez's talk to him about Wallingford, and the letters, and the
things in the casket, were all mixed up in it.

"Had you any opportunity of seeing Wellesley and my cousin together
during the last week or two before my cousin's death?" he asked
presently.

"Several, Mr. Brent, several opportunities," answered Peppermore. "I
went to report the proceedings of two or three committees of the Town
Council during the fortnight preceding that lamentable occurrence, sir,
and saw them at close quarters. I saw them frequently at the Club, of
which I am a member. I should say, sir, from what I observed, that they
were on very good terms with each other--more friendly than ever, Mr.
Brent."

"Um," said Brent. "Well, there's a lot of queer stuff about this
business, Peppermore. But let's get back to that of the moment. Look
here, I've got a fine notion for your _Monitor_--you'll just have time
to get it out before my election day. Let's make a real, vigorous,
uncompromising attack on the _principle_ of the Town Trustee business.
We'll not say one word about the present Trustees, old Crood, Mallett
and Coppinger--we'll have no personalities, and make no charges; we'll
avoid all stuff of that sort. We'll just attack the thing on its
principle, taking up the line that it's a bad principle that the
finances of a borough should be entrusted to the sole control of three
men responsible to nobody and with the power, if one dies, to elect his
successor. Let's argue it out _on_ the principle; then, later, we'll have
another article on the argument that the finances of a town should be
wholly controlled by the elected representatives of the people--see?"

"Your late cousin's theories, Mr. Brent," said Peppermore. "Excellent
notions, both, sir. You write the articles; I'll find the space. All on
principle--no personalities. Plain and practical, Mr. Brent, let them
be, so that everybody can understand. Though to be sure," he added
regretfully, "what our readers most like is personalities! If we dared
to slate old Crood with all the abuse we could lay our pens to, the
readers of the _Monitor_, sir, would hug themselves with pleasure. But
libel, Mr. Brent, libel! Do you know, sir, that ever since I occupied
the editorial chair of state I have always felt that the wet blanket of
the law of libel sat at my banquet like the ghost in Macbeth, letting
its sword hang by a thread an inch from my cranium! Bit mixed in my
metaphors, sir, but you know what I mean. Mustn't involve my respected
proprietor in a libel suit, Mr. Brent, so stick to abstract principles,
sir, and eschew those saucy personal touches which I regret--deeply--I
can't print."

Brent had no intention of indulging in personalities in his warfare with
Simon Crood and the reactionaries, but as the day of the election
approached he discovered that his adversaries were not at all particular
about putting forth highly personal references to himself.
Hathelsborough suddenly became flooded with handbills and posters, each
bearing a few pithy words in enormous type. These effusions were for the
most part in the form of questions, addressed to the recipients; there
was a cynical and sinister sneer in all of them. "Who _is_ Mr. Brent?"
"Why Support a Stranger?" "Who Wants a Carpet-Bagger?" "Vote for the
Home-Made Article." "Hathelsborough Men for Hathelsborough Matters."
"Stand by the True and Tried!" These appeals to the free and enlightened
burgesses whose suffrages he solicited met Brent on every side, and
especially on the day of the election. He had gone in for nothing of
this sort himself: his original election address, it seemed to him,
contained everything that he had to say, and beyond posting it all over
the town in great placards and distributing it in the form of handbills
to the electors of the Castle Ward he had issued nothing in the shape
of literature. But he had stumped his desired constituency thoroughly,
making speeches at every street corner and at every public
meeting-place, and he had a personal conviction from his usual reception
on these occasions that the people were with him. He was still sure of
victory when, at noon on the polling-day, he chanced to meet Tansley.

"Going strong, as far as I can make out," he answered, in response to
the solicitor's inquiry. "I've been about all the morning, and from what
I've seen and what my Committee tell me, I'm in!"

Tansley shook his head.

"Look here, my lad," he said, drawing Brent aside as they stood together
in the market-place, "don't you build too high! They're working against
you to-day, the Crood gang, as they never worked in their lives! They're
bringing every influence they can get hold of against you. And--you
haven't been over wise."

"What have I done now?" demanded Brent.

"Those articles that are appearing in the _Monitor_," replied Tansley.
"Everybody knows they're yours. Do you think there's a soul in
Hathelsborough who believes that Peppermore could write them? Now,
they're a mistake! They may be true----"

"They are true!" growled Brent.

"Granted! But, however true they are, they're an attack on
Hathelsborough," said Tansley. "Now, of whatever political colour they
are, Hathelsborough folk are Hathelsborough folk, and they're prouder of
this old town than you know. Look round you, my lad; there isn't a stone
that you can see that wasn't just where it is now hundreds of years
before you were born. Do you think these people like to hear you, a
stranger, criticizing their old customs, old privileges, as you are
doing in those articles? Not a bit of it! They're asking who you are to
come judging them. You'd have done a lot better, Brent, if you'd been a
bit diplomatic. You should have left all politics and reforms out of it,
and tried to win the seat simply on your relationship to Wallingford.
You could have shown your cards when you'd got in--you've shown 'em too
soon!"

"That be damned!" said Brent. "I've played the game straightforwardly
anyhow. I don't want any underhand business--there's enough of that in
this rotten place now. And I still think I shall be in!"

But before the summer evening had progressed far, Brent learnt that the
vested interests of an ancient English borough are stronger than he
thought. He was hopelessly defeated--only rather more than a hundred
voters marked their papers for him. His opponent was returned by a big
majority. He got a new idea when he heard the result, and went straight
off to Peppermore and the _Monitor_ with it. They would go on with the
articles, and make them of such a nature that the Local Government Board
in London would find it absolutely necessary to give prompt and
searching attention to Hathelsborough and its affairs.



CHAPTER XVIII

LOOSE STRANDS


By business time next morning Brent had cast aside all thought of the
previous day's proceedings and of his defeat at the hands of the Old
Gang, and had turned to affairs which were now of far more importance.
He had three separate enterprises in hand; to be sure, they were all
related, but each had a distinctive character of its own. He specified
all three as he ate his breakfast at the _Chancellor_, where he was
still located. First, now that he had done with his electioneering--for
the time being--he was going to work harder than ever at the task of
discovering Wallingford's murderer. Secondly, he was going to marry
Queenie, and that speedily. Queenie and he had settled matters to their
mutual satisfaction as soon as the row with Uncle Simon Crood was over,
and they had already begun furnishing the house which Brent had bought
in order to constitute himself a full-fledged burgess of Hathelsborough.
Thirdly, he was going to put all he knew into the articles which he was
writing for the _Monitor_--two had already appeared; he was going on
writing them until public opinion, gradually educated, became too strong
for the reactionary forces that had beaten him yesterday but which he
would infallibly defeat to-morrow, or, if not to-morrow, the day after.

And first the murderer. He fetched Queenie from Mrs. Appleyard's that
morning, and, utterly careless of the sly looks that were cast on him
and her, marched her through the market-place to Hawthwaite's office at
the police station. To Hawthwaite, keenly interested, he detailed
particulars of Queenie's discovery about the typewritten letter and
produced her proofs. Hawthwaite took it all in silently.

"You'll have to go into that, you know," concluded Brent. "Now that I've
got through with that election I'm going to give more time to this
business. We've got to find out who killed my cousin, Hawthwaite,
somehow--it's not going to rest. I won't leave a stone unturned! And
there," he added, pointing to the sheet of paper on which Queenie had
made specimens of the broken type of Simon's antiquated machine, "is a
stone which needs examining on all four sides!"

Hawthwaite picked up the sheet of paper, twisted it in his big fingers,
and looked over it at the two young people with a quizzical smile.

"I understand that you and Miss Queenie there are contemplating
matrimony, Mr. Brent?" he remarked. "That so, sir?"

"That's so," replied Brent promptly. "As soon as we've got our house
furnished we'll be married."

"Then I can speak freely and in confidence before Mrs. Brent that's to
be," responded Hawthwaite, with another smile. "Well, now, what you've
just told me isn't exactly fresh news to me! I'll show you something."
He turned, drew out a drawer from a chest behind his chair, and finding
a paper in it took it out and handed it to his visitors. "Look at that,
now!" he said. "You see what it is?"

Brent saw at once. It was a half-sheet of notepaper, on which were
examples of faulty type, precisely similar to those on Queenie's bit of
evidence.

"Hello!" exclaimed Brent. "Somebody else been at the same game, eh?"

"I'll tell you," answered Hawthwaite, settling himself in his chair.
"It's a bit since--let us think, now--yes, it would be a day or two
after that facsimile appeared in the _Monitor_ that a young man came to
me here one evening: respectable artisan sort of chap. He told me that
he was in the employ of a typewriter company at Clothford, which, Mr.
Brent, as Miss Queenie there knows, is our big town, only a few miles
away. He said that he'd come to tell me something in confidence. The
previous day, he said, Mr. Crood, of Hathelsborough, had come to their
place in Clothford and had brought with him an old-fashioned typewriter
which, he told them, he had bought when such things first came out. He
wanted to know the thing being, he said, an old favourite--if they
couldn't do it up for him, go through its mechanism thoroughly, supply
new letters, and so on. They said they could. He left it to be done, and
it was handed over to this young man. Now then, this young man, my
informant, has some relations here in Hathelsborough; a day or so before
Simon Crood called with his machine, they sent him--the young man--a
copy of the _Monitor_ with this facsimile letter enclosed. Being
concerned with such things in his trade, he was naturally interested in
the facsimile, and of course, as an expert, he noticed the broken
letters. However, he didn't connect the facsimile with Crood's machine
at first. But, happening to look at that machine more narrowly, to see
exactly what had to be done to it, he--as he phrased it--ran off the
keys on a sheet of paper, and he then saw at once that he had before him
the identical machine on which the threatening letter to our late Mayor
had been typed! And so he came to me!"

"What have you done about it?" asked Brent.

Hawthwaite gave him a knowing look.

"Well, I'll tell you that too," he answered. "I've got the machine! It's
there--in that box in the corner. The Clothford firm will make an excuse
to Mr. Crood that they've had to send this machine away for repairs--eh?
Of course I'm not going to let it out of my possession until--well,
until we know more."

"There's no doubt he wrote that threatening letter," observed Brent.

"Oh, no doubt, no doubt whatever," agreed Hawthwaite.

"What about that handkerchief and the inquiry at the laundry?" asked
Brent.

Hawthwaite accompanied his reply with a nod and a wink.

"That's being followed up," he said. "Don't ask me any more now; we're
progressing, and, I believe, in the right direction this time. Do you
leave it to us, Mr. Brent; you'll be surprised before long and so will
some other folks. You go on with those articles you've started in the
_Monitor_. It doesn't do for me to say much, being an official," he
added, with another wink, "but you'll do some good in that way--there's
a lot under the surface in this old town, sir, that only needs exposing
to the light of day to ensure destruction! Public opinion, Mr. Brent,
public opinion! You stir it up, and leave this matter to me; I may be
slow, Mr. Brent, but I'll surely get there in the end!"

"Good! It's all I ask," said Brent. "Only get there!"

He took Queenie away, but before they had gone many steps from the
superintendent's office Hawthwaite called Brent back, and leading him
inside the room closed the door on him.

"Your young lady'll not mind waiting a minute or two," he said, with a
significant glance. "As she already knew about old Simon's typewriter, I
didn't mind telling that I knew, d'ye see? But there's another little
matter that I'd like to tell you about--between ourselves, and to go no
further, you understand?"

"Just so," agreed Brent.

"Well," continued Hawthwaite, "there may be nothing in it. But I've
always had a suspicion that there was nothing definite got out of either
Dr. Wellesley or Mrs. Saumarez about their--well, I won't say love
affairs, but relations. Anyway, that there was something mysterious
about the sort of three-cornered relations between her and Wellesley and
your cousin I'm as dead certain as that I see you! I've an idea too that
somehow or other those relations have something to do with your cousin's
murder. But now, this is it--you know, I dare say, that at the back of
Mrs. Saumarez's garden at the Abbey House, there's a quiet, narrow lane,
little used?"

"I know it," replied Brent. "Farthing Lane."

"Just so, and why so called none of our local antiquaries know," said
Hawthwaite. "Well, not so many nights ago I had some business in that
lane, at a late hour--I was watching for somebody, as a matter of fact,
though it came to nothing. I was in a secret place, just as it was
getting nicely dark. Now then, who should come along that lane but
Krevin Crood!"

"Krevin Crood!" exclaimed Brent. "Ay?"

"Krevin Crood," repeated Hawthwaite. "And thinks I to myself, 'What may
you be doing here, my lad, at this hour of the night?' For as you know
that lane, Mr. Brent, you'll know that on one side of it there's nothing
but the long wall of Mrs. Saumarez's garden and grounds, and on the
other a belt of trees that shuts off Robinson's market-garden and
orchards. I was safe hidden amongst those trees. Well, Krevin came
along--I recognized him well enough. He sort of loitered about,
evidently waiting for somebody. And just as the parish church clock
struck ten I heard the click of a latch, and the door in Mrs. Saumarez's
back garden opened, and a woman came out! I knew her too."

"Not Mrs. Saumarez?" suggested Brent.

"No," replied Hawthwaite. "Not Mrs. Saumarez. But that companion of
hers, Mrs. Elstrick. Tall, thin, very reserved woman; you may have
noticed that she goes about the town very quietly--never talks to
anybody."

"I've scarcely noticed her except when she was here in court with Mrs.
Saumarez," replied Brent. "But I know the woman you mean. So it was
she?"

"Just so--Mrs. Elstrick," said Hawthwaite. "And I saw, of course, that
this was a put-up job, an arranged meeting between her and Krevin. They
met, turned, walked up and down the lane together for a good ten
minutes, talking in whispers. They passed and repassed me several times,
and I'd have given a good deal to hear what they were talking about. But
I couldn't catch a word--they were on the opposite side of the lane, you
see, close to the garden wall."

"And eventually?" asked Brent.

"Oh, eventually they parted of course," replied Hawthwaite. "She slipped
back into the garden, and he went off down the lane. Now----"

"They're both tending to elderliness, I think," interrupted Brent, with
a cynical laugh, "but one's never surprised at anything nowadays. So,
did you see any love-making?"

"Oh, Lord save us, no!" exclaimed Hawthwaite. "Nothing of that sort!
They never even shook hands. Just talked--and very earnestly too."

Brent reflected for a while.

"Queer!" he said at last. "What did they want with each other?"

"Ay!" said Hawthwaite. "As I said just now, I'd have given a good deal
to know. But Krevin Crood is a deep, designing, secret sort of man, and
that woman, whoever she may be, looks just the same."

"Has she been with Mrs. Saumarez long?" asked Brent.

"Came with her, when Mrs. Saumarez first came and took the Abbey House,"
replied Hawthwaite. "Always been with her; went away with her when Mrs.
S. was in the South of France all last winter. Odd couple I call the two
of 'em, Mr. Brent; between you and myself."

"Why, exactly?" inquired Brent. "I've seen nothing particularly odd
about Mrs. Saumarez, except that she's evidently a highly-strung,
perhaps a bit excitable sort of woman, all nerves, I should say, and
possibly a bit emotional. Clever woman, I think, and pretty."

"Pretty enough--and clever enough," assented Hawthwaite dryly. "And I
dare say you're right about the rest. But I'll tell you why I used that
term; at least, in regard to her. When Mrs. Saumarez first came here, it
was understood that she was the widow of a naval officer of high rank.
Well, naturally, the big folk of the neighbourhood called on her when
she'd settled down--she furnished and fitted her house from local shops,
and it took her some time to get fixed up--expecting, of course, that
she'd return their calls. She never returned a single one! Not one,
sir!"

"That certainly sounds odd," admitted Brent.

"Ay, doesn't it?" said Hawthwaite. "You'd have thought that a young and
stylish woman, coming to live here as she did, would have been glad of
society. But, though some dozen or so ladies of the place called on her,
she never, as I say, returned a single call; in fact, it very soon
became evident that she didn't want any society of that sort. She used
to go out bicycling a good deal by herself in those early days--that, I
fancy, was how she got to know both Wellesley and your cousin. She was
fond enough of their society anyway!"

"Always?" asked Brent. He was learning things that he had never heard
of, and was already thinking deeply about them. "From the beginning?"

"Well, practically," replied Hawthwaite. "First it was the doctor; then
it was Wallingford. And," he added, with a wink, "there are folk in the
town who declare that she carried on with both, playing one off against
the other, till the very end! I don't know how that may be, but I do
know that at one time she and Wellesley were very thick, and that
afterwards your cousin was always running after her. Naturally, there
was talk, especially amongst the folk who'd called on her and whose
calls she didn't return. And, to tell you the plain truth, they said
things."

"What sort of things?" inquired Brent.

"Oh, well!" said Hawthwaite, with a laugh. "If you'd lived as long in
this town as I have, and been in my position, you'd know that it--like
all little places--is a hotbed of scandal and gossip. The women, of
course, seeing her partiality for men friends, said things and hinted
more. Then the Vicar's wife--parsons' ladies are great ones for
talk--found something out and made the most of it. I told you that when
Mrs. Saumarez first came here it was understood that she was the widow
of an officer of some high position in the Royal Navy. Well, our Vicar's
wife has a brother who's a big man in that profession, and she was a bit
curious to know about the new-comer's relation to it. She persisted in
calling on Mrs. Saumarez though her calls weren't returned--she could
make excuses, you see, about parish matters and charities and what not.
And one day she asked Mrs. Saumarez point-blank what ship her late
husband had last served on? Now _she_ says that Mrs. Saumarez snapped
her up short--anyway, Mrs. S. gave her an answer. 'My late husband,'
said Mrs. S., 'was not in the British service!' And of course that
wasn't in her favour with the people whom she'd already snubbed."

"Um!" said Brent. There were many things in this retailing of gossip
that he wanted to think about at leisure. "Well," he added, after a
pause, "I dare say all sorts of small items help towards a solution,
Hawthwaite. But you're already busy about it."

"I'm not only busy, but actively so," replied the superintendent.
"And--again between you and me and nobody else--I'm expecting some very
special professional and expert assistance within the next few days. Oh,
you leave this to me, Mr. Brent, I'll run down your cousin's murderer or
murderess yet! Go you on with your articles--they're helpful, for
they're rousing public interest."

Brent went away and followed Hawthwaite's advice. His articles came out
in the _Monitor_ twice a week. Peppermore printed them in big type,
leaded, and gave them the most prominent place in the paper. He himself
was as proud of these uncompromising attacks on the municipal government
of Hathelsborough as if he had written them himself; the proprietor of
the _Monitor_ was placidly agreeable about them, for the simple reason
that after the first two had appeared the circulation of his journal
doubled, and after the next three was at least four times what it had
ever been before. Everybody in their immediate neighbourhood read and
discussed the articles; extracts from them were given in the county
papers; some of the London dailies began to lift them. Eventually a
local Member of Parliament asked a question about them in the House of
Commons. And one day Peppermore came rushing to Brent in a state of high
excitement.

"The pen _is_ mightier than the sword, Mr. Brent, sir, that's a fact,"
he gasped, tumbling headlong into Brent's room. "Heard the news, sir?
All through your articles!"

"Heard nothing," replied Brent. "What is it?"

"I had it from the Town Clerk just now, so it's gospel truth," replied
Peppermore. "The Local Government Board, sir, is, at last, moved to
action! It's going to send down an inspector--a real full-fledged
inspector! The Town Clerk is in a worse state of righteous indignation
than I ever saw a man, and as for Mayor Simon Crood, I understand his
anger is beyond belief. Mr. Brent, you've done it!"

But Brent was not so sure. He had some experience of Government
officials, and of official methods, and knew more of red tape than
Peppermore did. As for Tansley, who came in soon after, he was cynically
scornful.

"Local Government Board Inspector!" he exclaimed scoffingly. "Pooh! some
old fossil who'll come here--I'll tell you how! He'll ask for the
responsible authorities. That's Simon Crood and Company. He'll hear all
they've got to say. They'll say what they like. He'll examine their
documents. The documents will be all ready for him. Everything will be
nice and proper and in strict order, and every man will say precisely
what he's been ordered to say--and there you are! The Inspector will
issue his report that he's carefully examined everything and found all
correct, and the comedy will conclude with the farce of votes of thanks
all round! That's the line, Brent."

"Maybe!" said Brent. "And only maybe!"

"You're in a pessimistic vein, Mr. Tansley, sir," declared Peppermore.
"Sir, we're going to clean out the Augean stable!"

"Or perish in the attempt, eh, Peppermore?" retorted Tansley
good-humouredly. "All right, my lad! But it'll take a lot more than
_Monitor_ articles and Local Government Board inquiries to uproot the
ancient and time-honoured customs of Hathelsborough. _Semper eadem_,
Peppermore, _semper eadem_, that's the motto of this high-principled,
respectably ruled borough. Always the same--and no change."

"Except from bad to worse!" said Peppermore. "All right, sir; but
something's going to happen, this time."

Something did happen immediately following on the official announcement
of the Local Government Board inquiry, and it was Tansley who told Brent
of it.

"I say," he said, coming up to Brent in the street, "here's a queer
business--I don't know if you've heard of it. Mrs. Mallett's run away
from her husband! Fact! She's cleared clean out, and let it be known
too. Odd--mysteries seem to be increasing, Brent. What do you make of
it?"

Brent could make nothing of it. There might be many reasons why Mrs.
Mallett should leave her husband. But had this sudden retreat anything
to do with Mrs. Mallett's evidence at the inquest. He was speculating on
this when he got a request from Hawthwaite to go round at once to his
office. He responded immediately, to find the superintendent closeted
with Dr. Wellesley.



CHAPTER XIX

BLACK SECRETS AND RED TAPE


Before ever Brent dropped into the chair to which Hawthwaite silently
pointed him, he knew that he was about to hear revelations. He was
conscious of an atmosphere in that drab, sombre little room.
Hawthwaite's glance at him as he entered was that of a man who bids
another to prepare himself for news; Wellesley looked unusually stern
and perplexed.

"Dr. Wellesley got me to send for you, Mr. Brent," said the
superintendent. "He's got something to tell which he thinks you, as
next-of-kin to our late Mayor, ought to know."

Brent nodded, and turned, in silence, to Wellesley. Wellesley, who had
been staring moodily at the fireless grate, looked up, glancing from one
man to the other.

"You understand, Mr. Brent, and you, Hawthwaite, that whatever I tell
you is told in the very strictest confidence?" he said. "As you say,
Hawthwaite, I think it's something that you ought to know, both of you;
but, at present, I don't know if there's anything in it--I mean anything
that has real, practical relation to Wallingford's death, or not. I am
to speak in confidence?"

"To me--yes," answered Brent promptly.

"It'll not go beyond me, doctor," said Hawthwaite with a smile. "I'm
used to this job! Heard more secrets and private communications in my
time than I can remember; I've clean forgotten most of 'em."

"Very well," agreed Wellesley. "This is strictly private, then, at
present. Now, to begin with, I suppose you have both heard--it's pretty
well known through the town, I understand--that Mrs. Mallett has left
her husband?"

"Ay!" replied Hawthwaite. "I've heard that."

"Yes," said Brent. "I too."

"I dare say you both gathered from that evidence, of mine and of Mrs.
Mallett's, at the adjourned inquest, that there was some mystery
underlying her visit to me?" continued Wellesley. "Some secret, eh?"

"Couldn't very well gather anything else, doctor!" replied Hawthwaite.
"Evident!"

"The fact of the case is," said Wellesley suddenly, "that wasn't the
first visit Mrs. Mallett had paid to me--and to Wallingford--in that
way. She'd been twice before, during that week. On the first occasion
she only saw me; on the second she and I saw Wallingford together, in
the Mayor's Parlour; on the third--the one we gave evidence about--she
went to see Wallingford alone, but, as she told you, she found he was
engaged, so she came away."

The three men looked at each other. Hawthwaite voiced what two of the
three were wondering.

"Some business which concerned all three of you, then, doctor?" he
suggested.

"Business which deeply concerned her, and on which she came to consult
me and Wallingford," replied Wellesley. "Now I'll tell you straight out
what it was. Mrs. Mallett had found out that there was some sort of an
intrigue between her husband and Mrs. Saumarez!"

For a moment a deep silence fell over the room. Brent felt his brows
drawing together in a frown--the sort of frown that spreads over a man's
face when he tries to think quickly and clearly over a problem
unexpectedly presented to him. Hawthwaite folded his arms across his
braided tunic, stared at the ceiling, and whistled softly. He was the
first to speak.

"Oh, oh!" he said. "Um! So that's--But she'd have some proof, doctor,
for an assertion of that sort? Not mere guess-work?"

"I'm afraid there's no guess-work about it," said Wellesley. "It's not a
pleasant matter to discuss, but that's unavoidable now. This is what
Mrs. Mallett told Wallingford and myself; Mrs. Mallett, as you know, is
a downright, plain-spoken woman, with strong views of her own, and she's
just the sort to go through with a thing. Some little time ago she
found, evidently through Mallett's carelessness, a receipt for a very
valuable diamond ring from a London jeweller, a lady's ring. This, of
course, aroused her suspicions, and without saying anything to her
husband she determined to have his movements watched. She knew that
Mallett was frequently going away for a day at a time, ostensibly on
business connected with the bank, and she employed a private inquiry
agent to watch him. This man followed Mallett from Hathelsborough to
Clothford one morning, and from Clothford station to the Royal County
Hotel, where, in the lounge, he was joined by Mrs. Saumarez, who had
been previously pointed out to the agent here in Hathelsborough, and who
had evidently cycled over to Clothford. She and Mallett lunched at the
Royal County in a private room and spent the greater part of the
afternoon there; the same thing occurred on two other occasions. So then
Mrs. Mallett came to me and to Wallingford."

"Why to you?" demanded Brent.

"I think," replied Wellesley, with a forced smile, "she may have had a
womanish feeling of revenge, knowing that Wallingford and myself
had--well, both paid a good deal of attention to Mrs. Saumarez. But
there were other reasons--Mrs. Mallett has few friends in the town; I
was her medical attendant, and she and Wallingford frequently met each
other on one or two committees--Mrs. Mallett took a good deal of
interest in social affairs. Anyway, she came and confided in us about
this."

"I suppose you and Wallingford discussed it?" suggested Brent.

"Yes," replied Wellesley. "Briefly, on the night before his death."

"Was that the reason of your saying at the inquest that there was no
jealousy between you, at the time of his death, as regards Mrs.
Saumarez?"

"Just so! There couldn't be any jealousy, could there, after what we'd
heard?"

"You believed this, then?"

"We couldn't do anything else! The man whom Mrs. Mallett employed is a
thoroughly dependable man. There's not the slightest doubt that Mrs.
Saumarez secretly met Mallett and spent most of the afternoon with him,
under the circumstances I mentioned, on three separate occasions."

"And that's the reason of Mrs. Mallett's sudden flight--if you call it
so; is it, doctor?" asked Hawthwaite, who had been listening intently.

"That's the reason--yes," replied Wellesley.

"What's she going to do?" inquired Hawthwaite. "Divorce?"

"She said something about a legal separation," answered Wellesley. "I
suppose it will come to the other thing."

"And how do you think this is related to Wallingford's murder?" asked
Hawthwaite with sudden directness. "Let's be plain, doctor--do you
suspect Mallett?"

Wellesley showed signs of indecision.

"I don't like to say that I do," he replied at last. "And yet, I don't
know. I've rather wondered if there'd been any meeting between Mallett
and Wallingford after Wallingford knew about this: I believe they did
meet, on business, during the day. Now, to tell you the truth,
Wallingford was much more--shall we say upset?--about this affair than I
was: he was very much gone on Mrs. Saumarez. It's struck me that he may
have threatened Mallett with exposure; and exposure, of course, would
mean a great deal to a man in Mallett's position--a bank-manager, and
Town Trustee, and so on. And----But I really don't know what to think."

"There's a thing I'd like to know," said Brent. "What do you think about
the woman in the case? You've had chances of knowing her."

Wellesley gave his questioner a searching look.

"I would rather not say, Mr. Brent," he replied. "Discoveries of this
sort, substantiated, are--well, disconcerting. Besides, they tend to a
revision of opinion; they're sidelights--unfortunate ones."

"Look here," said Brent, "were you greatly surprised?"

"Well, looking back," responded Wellesley thoughtfully, "perhaps not
greatly. I think she's a bit of a mystery."

Brent turned to Hawthwaite. Hawthwaite, however, looked at the doctor.

"Well, doctor," he said, "I think you've done right to tell this.
There's something in the suggestion that there may have been a fatal
quarrel between Mallett and Wallingford. But I don't want to go into
this at present--I'm full up otherwise. Leave it until this Local
Government Board inspection is over."

"Why until then?" asked Wellesley.

"Why, because, for anything we know to the contrary, something may come
out at that which will dovetail into this," replied Hawthwaite. "The
Inspector is coming down at once--we'll leave this over till he's been.
Look here, has Mrs. Mallett let this out to anybody but you?"

"No, I'm sure of that," answered Wellesley. "It's been known in the town
for some time--common knowledge--that she and Mallett weren't on good
terms, but she assured me just before leaving that she hasn't mentioned
the episodes I've detailed to any other person here than myself. And, of
course, Wallingford."

"And he's gone, poor fellow!" said Hawthwaite. "And Mr. Brent and
myself'll be secret as the grave he lies in! All right, doctor--just
leave it to me."

When Wellesley had gone away, Hawthwaite turned to Brent.

"I don't believe for one moment that Mallett murdered your cousin!" he
said. "I'm not surprised about this other affair, but I don't think it's
anything to do with what we're after. No; that's on a side-track. But
I'll tell you what, Mr. Brent--I shouldn't be astonished if I found out
that Mallett knows who the murderer is!"

"I wish you'd tell me if you've any idea yourself who the murderer is!"
exclaimed Brent. "I'm wearying to get at something concrete!"

"Well, if you must have it, I have an idea," answered the
superintendent. "It's a strong idea too. I'm working at it. To tell you
the truth, though nobody knows it but one or two of my trusted men, I've
had a very clever man down from New Scotland Yard for the past
fortnight--he went away yesterday--and he was of great assistance in
unearthing certain facts. And I'm only waiting now for some expert
evidence on a very important point, which I can't get until next week,
in order to make a move. As soon as ever this Local Government Board
inspection's over, I'll make that move. And how do you think that
inspection'll turn out, Mr. Brent?"

"Don't know, can't say, no idea," replied Brent.

"Nor have I!" remarked Hawthwaite. "Candidly, I never expect much from
so-called public inquiries. There's too much officialism about 'em.
Still, every little helps."

These conversations, and the revelations which had transpired during
their course led Brent into a new train of thought. He had been well
aware ever since his coming to Hathelsborough of an atmosphere of
intrigue and mystery; every development that occurred seemed to thicken
it. Here again was more intrigue centring in a domestic imbroglio. There
was nothing much to be wondered at in it, he thought; Mallett was the
sort of man to attract a certain type of woman, and, from all Brent had
heard in the town, a man given to adventure; Mrs. Saumarez was clearly a
woman fond of men's society; Mrs. Mallett, on the other hand, was a
strait-laced, hard sort, given to social work and the furtherance of
movements in which her husband took no interest. The sequence of events
seemed probable to Brent. First there had been Wellesley; then
Wallingford; perhaps a cleverly-contrived double affair with both. But
during a recent period there had been this affair with Mallett--that,
from Wellesley's showing, had come to Wallingford's ears. Brent knew his
cousin sufficiently well to know that Wallingford would develop an ugly
frame of mind on finding that he had been deceived--all sorts of things
might well develop out of a sudden discovery. But had all this anything
to do with Wallingford's murder? That, after all, was, to him, the main
point. And so far he saw no obvious connection. He felt like a man who
is presented with a mass of tangled cord, from which protrude a dozen
loose ends--which end to seize upon that, on being drawn out, would not
reveal more knots and tangles he did not know, for the very life of him.
Perhaps, as Hawthwaite had remarked, it all helped, but as far as Brent
could see it was still difficult to lay hold of a continuous and
unbroken line.

It puzzled him, being still a stranger to the habits and customs of
these people, to see that life in Hathelsborough went on, amidst all
these alarums and excursions, very much as usual. He had already
cultivated a habit of frequenting places of public resort, such as the
smoking-room of his hotel, the big bar-room at Bull's, the rooms of the
Town Club, to which he had without difficulty been duly elected a member
on Tansley's nomination; at all these places he heard a great deal of
gossip, but found no surprise shown at its subjects. Within a day or
two, everybody who frequented these places knew that there had been a
domestic upheaval at Mallett's and had at least some idea of the true
reason of it. But nobody showed any astonishment; everybody, indeed,
seemed to take it as a matter of course. Evidently it made no difference
to Mallett himself, who was seen about the town just as usual, in his
accustomed haunts. And when Brent remarked on this seeming indifference
to Epplewhite, whom he sometimes conversed with at the Club, Epplewhite
only laughed.

"If you knew this town and its people as well as I do, Mr. Brent," he
said, "you'd know that things of this sort are viewed in a light that
outsiders, perhaps, wouldn't view them in. The underhand affairs, the
intrigues, the secret goings-on that exist here are multitudinous.
Hathelsborough folk have a fixed standard--do what you like, as long as
you don't get found out! Understand, sir?"

"But in this case the thing seems to have been found out," remarked
Brent.

"That, in the Hathelsborough mental economy, is the only mistake in it,"
replied Epplewhite dryly. "It's the only thing that Mallett'll get
blamed for! Lord bless you, do you think he's the only man in the place
that's had such an affair? But Hathelsborough folk, men and women, are
past masters and mistresses at secrecy and deception! If you could take
the top off this town, and look deep down under it--ah! there would be
something to see. But, as I dare say you're beginning to find out,
that's no easy job."

"Will the top be lifted at this Local Government Board inspection?"
asked Brent.

Epplewhite shook his head.

"I doubt it, sir!" he answered. "I doubt it very much. I've seen a bit
too much of officialism, Mr. Brent, to cherish any hopes of it. I'll
tell you what'll probably happen when this inspector comes. To start
with, he's bound to be more or less in the hands of the officials. We
know who they are--the three Town Trustees and the staff under them. Do
you think they won't prepare their books and documents in such a fashion
as to ensure getting a report in their favour? Of course! And what's to
stop it? Who's to interfere?"

"I suppose he will hear both sides of the question?" suggested Brent.

"Who is there to put the other side of the question, except on broad
lines, such as you've taken up in your _Monitor_ articles?" asked
Epplewhite. "True, the inspector can ask for information and for
criticism, and for any facts bearing on the subject. But who'll come
forward to give it? Can I? Can Wellesley? Can any of our party? Not one,
in any satisfactory fashion. We've nothing but impressions and
suspicions to go on--we haven't access to the books and papers. The only
man who could have done something was your cousin, our late Mayor; and
he's gone! And talking about that, Mr. Brent, there's a matter that I've
been thinking a good deal about lately, and I think it should be put to
Hawthwaite. You know, of course, that your cousin and I were very
friendly--that came out in my evidence when the inquest was first
opened. Well, he used to tell me things about his investigation of these
Corporation finances, and I happen to know that he kept his notes and
figures about them in a certain memorandum book--a thickish one, with a
stout red leather cover--which he always carried about with him. He'd
have it on him, or on his desk in the Mayor's Parlour, when he met his
death, I'm certain! Now then--where is that book?"

"That's highly important!" said Brent. "I never heard of it. It
certainly wasn't on him, and it wasn't on the desk, for I examined that
myself, in company with the police."

"Well, he had such a book, and search should be made for it," remarked
Epplewhite. "If it could have been produced at this inquiry, some good
might have come of it. But, as things are, I see little hope of any
change. Vested interests and old customs aren't upset in a day, Mr.
Brent."

And Brent was soon to discover that both Tansley and Epplewhite were
correct in their prophecies about the investigation which he himself had
so strenuously advocated in his articles. The Local Government Board
inspector came. He sat in the Moot Hall for two days, in public. He
examined the ancient charters and deeds. He questioned the Town
Trustees. He went through the books. He invited criticism and
objections--and got nothing but a general statement of the policy of the
reforming party from Epplewhite, as its leader: that party, said
Epplewhite, objected to the old constitution as being outworn and wished
for a more modern arrangement. Finally, the inspector, referring to the
articles in the _Monitor_ which had led to the holding of the inquiry,
expressed a wish to see and question their writer.

Brent stood up, in the midst of a crowded court, and confessed himself
sole author of the articles in question.

"Why did you write them?" inquired the inspector.

"From a sense of public duty," replied Brent.

"But I understand that you are a stranger, or a comparative stranger, to
the town?" suggested the inspector.

"I am a burgess, a resident, and a property-owner in the town. I took up
this work--which I mean to see right through!--in succession to my
cousin, John Wallingford, late Mayor of this borough, who was murdered
in this very hall," said Brent. "There are men here who know that he was
working day and night to bring about the financial reforms which I
advocate."

The inspector moved uneasily in his seat at the sound of the word which
Brent emphasized in his reference to his cousin.

"I am sure I sympathize with you, Mr. Brent," he said. "I have been much
grieved to hear of the late Mayor's sad fate. But you say you have
voluntarily taken up his work? Did he leave you any facts, figures,
statistics, particulars, to work on?"

"If he had known that I was going to take up his work he would doubtless
have left me plenty," replied Brent. "But he was murdered! He had such
things--a certain note-book, filled with his discoveries."

"Where is that book?" inquired the inspector. "Can it be produced?"

"It cannot," said Brent. "It was stolen when my cousin was killed."

The inspector hesitated, shuffling his papers.

"Then you have no figures, facts, anything, Mr. Brent?" he said
presently. "Nothing to support your newspaper articles?"

"Nothing of that sort," answered Brent. "My articles refer wholly to the
general principle of the thing."

The inspector smiled.

"I'm afraid governments--national or municipal--aren't run on general
principles, Mr. Brent," he remarked.

"No!" said Brent. "They seem to be run on the lack of them."

The official inquiry came to an end on that--amidst good-humoured
laughter at Brent's apparently ingenuous retort. The inspector
announced that he would issue his report in due course, and everybody
knew what it would be. The good old ways, the time-honoured customs
would have another lease of life. Once more, Simon Crood had come out on
top.

But as he was leaving the Moot Hall, Brent felt his arm touched and
turned to see Hawthwaite. The superintendent gave him a knowing look.

"To-morrow!" he whispered. "Be prepared! All's done; all's ready!"



CHAPTER XX

THE FELL HAND


Brent heard what the superintendent said, nodded a silent reply, and
five minutes later had put that particular thing clean out of his mind.
During the progress of the Local Government Board inquiry he had learned
something: that men like Tansley and Epplewhite knew a lot more about
Hathelsborough and Hathelsborough folk than he did, or than Wallingford
had known, despite the murdered man's longer experience of town and
people. Reform was not going to be carried out in a day in that
time-worn borough, nor were its ancient customs, rotten and corrupt as
they were, to be uprooted by newspaper articles. So far, Simon Crood and
his gang had won all along the line, and Brent realized that most men in
his position would have given up the contest and retired from the field
in weariness and disgust. But he was not going to give up, nor to
retire. He had a feeling, amounting to something near akin to a
superstition, that it was his sacred duty to carry on his dead cousin's
work, especially as Wallingford, by leaving him all his money, had
provided him with the means of doing it. There in Hathelsborough he was,
and in Hathelsborough he would stick, holding on like a bulldog to the
enemy.

"I'm not counted out!" he said that evening, talking the proceedings of
the day over with Queenie. "I'm up again and ready for the next round.
Here I am, and here I stop! But new tactics! Permeation! that's the
ticket. Reckon I'll nitrate and percolate the waters of pure truth into
these people in such a fashion that they'll come to see that what that
old uncle of yours and his precious satellites have been giving 'em was
nothing but a very muddy mixture. Permeation! that's the game in
future."

Queenie scarcely knew what he meant. But she gathered a sense of it from
the set of his square jaw and the flash of his grey eyes; being
increasingly in love with him, it was incomprehensible to her that
anybody could beat Brent at any game he took a hand in.

"The inquiry was all cut-and-dried business," remarked Queenie.
"Arranged! Of course the accounts and things would be cooked. Uncle
Simon and Mallett and Coppinger would see to that. They'll have an extra
bottle to-night over this victory. And if they could only hear to-morrow
that you're going to clear out their joy would be full."

"Well, I'm not!" declared Brent. "Instead of clearing out, I'm going to
dig in. I guess they'll find me entrenched harder than ever before long.
We'll get on at that to-morrow, now that this all-hollow inquiry's
over."

Queenie understood him perfectly that time. He and she were furnishing
the house which Brent had purchased in order to get a properly legal
footing in Hathelsborough. It was serious and occasionally deeply
fascinating work, necessitating much searching of the shops wherein
antique furniture was stored, much consultation with upholsterers and
decorators, much consideration of style and effect. Brent quickly
discovered that Queenie was a young woman of artistic taste with a
natural knowledge and appreciation of colour schemes and values; Queenie
found out that Brent had a positive horror of the merely modern.
Consequently, this furnishing and decorating business took up all their
spare time: Queenie eventually spent all hers at the house,
superintending and arranging; Brent was there when he was not writing
his _Monitor_ articles or interviewing Hawthwaite. The unproductive
inquiry had broken into this domestic adventure; Brent now proposed to
go ahead with it until it was finished; then he and Queenie would
quietly get married and settle down. Hathelsborough, he remarked, might
not want him, but there in Hathelsborough he had set up his tent, and
the pegs were firmly driven in.

On the day succeeding the Local Government Board inquiry Brent and
Queenie had spent morning, afternoon, and the first part of the evening
at the house, at the head of a small gang of workmen, and had reduced at
least half of the chaos to order. As dusk grew near Brent put on his
coat and gave Queenie one of his looks which signified that there was no
answer needed to what he was about to say.

"That's enough!" said Brent. "Dog tired! Now we'll go round to the
_Chancellor_ and get the best dinner they can give us. Put on your hat!"

Queenie obeyed, readily enough: she was in that stage whereat a young
woman finds obedience the most delightful thing in the world. Brent
locked up the house, and they went away together towards the hotel. In
the old market square the lamps were just being lighted; as usual there
were groups of townsfolk gathered about High Cross and Low Cross, and
the pavements were thronged with strolling pedestrians. Something
suggested to Brent that all these folk were discussing some news of
moment; he heard excited voices; once or twice men glanced inquisitively
at Queenie and himself as they walked towards the _Chancellor_; on the
steps outside the hotel a knot of men, amongst them the landlord, were
plainly in deep debate. They became silent as Queenie and Brent passed
in, and Brent, ushering Queenie into the inner hall, turned back to
them.

"Something going?" he asked laconically.

The men looked at each other; the landlord, with a glance in Queenie's
direction, replied, lowering his voice:

"Then you haven't heard, Mr. Brent?" he said. "I thought you'd have
known. Hawthwaite's arrested Krevin Crood for the murder."

In spite of his usual self-possession, Brent started.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Krevin!"

"Krevin," answered the landlord. "And Simon! Both of 'em. Got 'em at
seven o'clock. They're in the police station--cells of course. Nice
business--Mayor of a town arrested for the murder of his predecessor!"

"As far as I can make out, Simon's charged with being accessory,"
remarked one of the other men. "Krevin's the culprit-in-chief."

"Well, there they both are anyway," said the landlord. "And, if I know
anything about the law, it's as serious a thing to be accessory to a
murder as to be the principal in one. What do you say, Mr. Brent?"

Brent made no reply. He was thinking. So this was what Hawthwaite had
meant when he said, the day before, that all was ready? He wished that
Hawthwaite had given him a hint, or been perfectly explicit with him.
For there was Queenie to consider.

And now, without further remark to the group of gossipers, he turned on
his heel and went back to her and took her into the coffee-room and to
the table which was always specially reserved for him. Not until Queenie
had eaten her dinner did he tell her of what he had learned.

"So now there's going to be hell for a time, girlie," he said in
conclusion. "No end of unpleasantness for me--and for you, considering
that these men are your folk. And so all the more reason why you and I
stick together like leeches--not all the Simons and the Krevins in the
world are going to make any difference between you and me, and we'll
just go forward as if they didn't exist, whatever comes out. And now,
come along and I'll see you home to Mother Appleyard's, and then I'll
drop in on Hawthwaite and learn all about it."

"Do--do you think they did it?" asked Queenie in a fearful whisper.
"Actually?"

"God knows!" muttered Brent. "Damned if I do, or if I know what to
think. But Hawthwaite must have good grounds for this!"

He saw Queenie safely home to Mrs. Appleyard's and hurried off to the
police station, where he found the superintendent alone in his office.

"You've heard?" said Hawthwaite.

"I've heard," replied Brent. "I wish you'd given me an idea--a hint."

Hawthwaite shook his head. There was something peculiarly emphatic in
the gesture.

"Mr. Brent," he said solemnly. "I wouldn't have given the King himself a
hint! I'd reasons--good reasons--for keeping the thing a profound secret
until I could strike. As it is, I've been foiled. I've got Krevin Crood,
and I've got Simon Crood--safely under lock and key. But I haven't got
the other two!"

"What other two?" exclaimed Brent.

Hawthwaite smiled sourly.

"What other two?" he repeated. "Why, Mallett and Coppinger! They're off,
though how the devil they got wind of what was going on I can't think.
Leaked out, somehow."

"You suspect them too?" asked Brent.

"Suspect!" sneered Hawthwaite. "Lord! You wait till Simon and Krevin are
brought up before the magistrates to-morrow morning! We've got the whole
evidence so absolutely full and clear that we can go right full steam
ahead with the case to-morrow. Meeking'll prosecute, and I hope to get
'em committed before the afternoon's over."

"Look here," said Brent, "tell me--what's the line? How does the thing
stand?"

"Thus," replied Hawthwaite. "We shall charge Krevin with the murder of
your cousin, and Simon with being accessory to the fact."

"Before or after?" asked Brent.

"Before!"

"And those other two--Mallett and Coppinger?"

"Same charge as Simon."

Brent took a turn or two about the room.

"That," he remarked, pausing at last in front of Hawthwaite's desk,
"means that there was a conspiracy?"

"To be sure!" assented Hawthwaite. "Got proof of it!"

"Then I wish you'd laid hands on Mallett and Coppinger," said Brent.
"You've no idea of their whereabouts, I suppose?"

"None, so far," replied Hawthwaite. "Nor can I make out how or precisely
when they slipped off. But they are off. Oddly enough, Mrs. Mallett's
back in the town--I saw and spoke to her an hour ago. Of course she
knows nothing about Mallett. She didn't come back to him. I don't know
what she came back for. She's staying with friends, down Waterdale."

"What time will these men be brought up to-morrow morning?" asked Brent.

"Ten o'clock sharp," answered Hawthwaite. "And I hope that before the
end of the afternoon they'll have been fully committed to take their
trial! As I said just now, we can go straight on. Careful preparation
makes speedy achievement, Mr. Brent! And by the Lord Harry, we've done
some preparing!"

"If only the whole thing is cleared ... at last," said Brent quietly.
"You think ... now ... it will be?"

Hawthwaite smacked his hand on his blotting-pad.

"Haven't the shadow of a doubt, Mr. Brent, that Krevin Crood murdered
your cousin!" he asserted. "But you'll hear for yourself to-morrow. Come
early. And a word of advice----"

"Yes?" Brent inquired.

"Leave your young lady at home," said Hawthwaite. "No need for her
feelings to be upset. They're her uncles, these two, after all, you
know. Don't bring her."

"No; of course," assented Brent. "Never intended to."

He went away to his hotel, sorely puzzled. Hawthwaite seemed positively
confident that he had solved the problem at last; but was Hawthwaite
right? Somehow, Brent could scarcely think of Krevin Crood as a
cold-blooded murderer, nor did it seem probable to him that calculating,
scheming men like Simon Crood, Mallett, and Coppinger would calmly plot
assassination and thereby endanger their own safety. One thing, anyway,
seemed certain--if Wallingford's knowledge of the financial iniquities
of the Town Trustees was so deep as to lead them to commit murder as the
only way of compelling his silence, then those iniquities must have been
formidable indeed and the great and extraordinary wonder was that they
had just been able to cloak them so thoroughly and successfully.

He was early in attendance at the court-room of the Moot Hall next
morning, and for a particular reason of his own selected a seat in close
proximity to the door. Long before the magistrates had filed on to the
bench, the whole place was packed, and Hawthwaite, passing him,
whispered that there were hundreds of people in the market square who
could not get in. Everybody of any note in Hathelsborough was present;
Brent particularly observed the presence of Mrs. Mallett who, heavily
veiled, sat just beneath him. He looked in vain, however, for Mrs.
Saumarez; she was not there. But in a corner near one of the exits he
saw her companion, Mrs. Elstrick, the woman whom Hawthwaite had seen in
secret conversation with Krevin Crood in Farthing Lane.

Tansley caught sight of Brent, and leaving the solicitors' table in the
well of the court went over to him.

"What're you doing perched out there?" he asked. "Come down with
me--I'll find room for you."

"No," said Brent. "I'm all right here; I may have to leave. And I'm not
on in this affair. It's Hawthwaite's show. And is he right, this time?"

"God knows!" exclaimed Tansley. "He's something up his sleeve anyway.
Queerest business ever I knew! Simon! If it had been Krevin alone, now.
Here, I'll sit by you--I'm not on, either--nobody's instructed me. I
say, you'll not notice it, but there's never been such a show of
magistrates on that bench for many a year, if ever. Crowded! every
magistrate in the place present. And the chief magistrate to be in the
dock presently! That's dramatic effect, if you like!"

Brent was watching the dock: prisoners came into it by a staircase at
the back. Krevin came first: cool, collected, calmly defiant--outwardly,
he was less concerned than any spectator. But Simon shambled heavily
forward, his big, flabby face coloured with angry resentment and shame.
He beckoned to his solicitor and began to talk eagerly to him over the
separating partition; he, it was evident, was all nerves and eagerness.
But Krevin, after a careful look round the court, during which he
exchanged nods with several of his acquaintance, stood staring
reflectively at Meeking, as if speculating on what the famous barrister
was going to say in opening the case.

Meeking said little. The prisoners, he observed, addressing the bench in
quiet, conversational tones, were charged, Krevin Crood with the actual
murder of the late Mayor, John Wallingford; Simon, with being accessory
to the fact, and, if they had not absconded during the previous
twenty-four hours, two other well-known residents of the borough,
Stephen Mallett and James Coppinger, would have stood in the dock with
Simon Crood, similarly charged. He should show their worships by the
evidence which he would produce that patient and exhaustive
investigation by the local police had brought to light as wicked a
conspiracy as could well be imagined. There could be no doubt in the
mind of any reasonable person after hearing that evidence, that Simon
Crood, Mallett and Coppinger entered into a plot to rid themselves of a
man who, had his investigations continued, would infallibly have exposed
their nefarious practices to the community, nor that they employed
Krevin Crood to carry out their designs. He would show that the murder
of Wallingford was deliberately plotted at Mallett's house, between the
four men, on a certain particular date, and that Krevin Crood committed
the actual murder on the following evening. Thanks to the particularly
able and careful fashion in which Superintendent Hawthwaite had
marshalled the utterly damning body of evidence against these men, their
Worships would have no difficulty in deciding that there was a _prima
facie_ case against them and that they must be committed to take their
trial at the next Assizes.

Hawthwaite, called first, gave evidence as to the arrest of the two
prisoners. He arrested Krevin Crood in the passage leading from Bull's
Snug about 6.30 the previous evening, and Simon at his own home, half an
hour later. Krevin took the matter calmly, and merely remarked that he,
Hawthwaite, was making the biggest mistake he had ever made in his life;
Simon manifested great anger and indignation, and threatened an action
for false imprisonment. When actually charged neither of the accused
made any answer at all.

The superintendent stood down, and Meeking looked towards an inner door
of the court. An attendant came forward at his nod, bearing a heavy
package done up in Crown canvas and sealed. At the same moment a
smart-looking young man answered to the name of Samuel Owthwaite and
stepped alertly into the witness-box.



CHAPTER XXI

CORRUPTION


The tightly-wedged mass of spectators watched, open-mouthed and
quivering with anticipation, while the attendant, at Meeking's whispered
bidding, broke the seals and cut the strings of the package which he had
just carried in. Clearly, this was some piece of material evidence--but
what? A faint murmur of interest rose as the last wrappings fell aside
and revealed a somewhat-the-worse-for-wear typewriter. People glanced
from it to the witness: some of those present recognized him as a young
mechanic, a native of Hathelsborough, who had gone, a few years
previously, to work in the neighbouring manufacturing city of
Clothford--such began to ask themselves what he could have to do with
this case and waited eagerly for his evidence.

But Meeking, the battered typewriter before him, kept the witness
waiting. Turning to the bench, he put in the depositions taken at the
Coroner's inquest with respect to the typewritten threatening letter
sent to Wallingford and by him entrusted to Epplewhite; the letter
itself, and the facsimile of the letter published as a supplement by the
_Monitor_, with a brief explanation of his reasons for bringing them
into evidence. Then he addressed himself to his witness and got the
first facts from him--Samuel Owthwaite. Mechanic. Employed by Green &
Polford, Limited, of Clothford, agents for all the leading firms of
typewriter manufacturers.

"I believe you're a native of Hathelsborough, aren't you, Owthwaite?"
began Meeking.

"I am, sir."

"Keep up your interest in the old place, eh?"

"I do, sir."

"Have you any relations in the town?"

"Yes, sir, several."

"Do they send you the Hathelsborough paper, the _Monitor_, every week?"

"Yes, sir, regularly."

"Did they send you a copy of the _Monitor_ in which there was a
facsimile of the threatening letter addressed to the late Mayor by some
anonymous correspondent?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you look at the facsimile?"

"I did, sir."

"Notice anything peculiar, or strange, or remarkable about it?"

"Yes, sir, I notice that some of the letters were broken and some
defective."

"You noticed that as an expert mechanic, working at these things?"

"It was obvious to anybody, sir. The letters--some of them--were badly
broken."

"Look at the dock, Owthwaite. Do you know the prisoner, Simon Crood?"

"Well enough, sir!"

"How long have you known him?"

"Ever since I was a youngster, sir--always!"

"Have you ever seen Simon Crood at Green & Polford's, your employers?"

"I have, sir."

"When was that?"

"He came in two days after I'd seen the facsimile, sir."

"Bring anything with him?"

"Yes, sir, that typewriter before you."

"Sure it was this particular machine?"

"Positive, sir; it's an old Semmingford machine, number 32,587."

"Did you hear him say anything about it?"

"I did, sir. He told our Mr. Jeaveson--manager he is--that this was a
machine he'd bought in London, many years ago; that the lettering seemed
to be getting worn out, and that he wanted to know if we could supply
new letters and do the machine up generally."

"Yes; what then?"

"Mr. Jeaveson said we could, and the machine was handed over to me for
repair."

"Did you make any discovery about it?"

"Yes, sir. That afternoon I just ran the lettering off, to see what
defects there were. I found then that the broken and defective letters
were identical with those in the facsimile letter that I'd seen in the
_Monitor_ two days before."

"Just come down here, Owthwaite; take this sheet of paper, and run the
letters off again so that their Worships can compare the broken and
defective letters with those in the threatening letter. Now," continued
Meeking, when the mechanic had complied with this suggestion and gone
back to the witness-box, "what did you do on making this discovery?"

"I told Mr. Jeaveson about it, sir, and showed him what I meant. He
discussed the matter with Mr. Polford afterwards, and it was decided
that I should go over to Hathelsborough and see Mr. Hawthwaite, taking
the machine with me."

"Did you do that?"

"Yes, sir, next day, in the evening."

"Did you tell Superintendent Hawthwaite of your discovery and hand the
machine to him?"

"Yes, sir; both."

"Did he have the machine wrapped and sealed up in your presence?"

"He did, sir."

"This machine, now on the table?"

"That machine, sir."

"And this is the machine that the prisoner, Simon Crood, brought himself
to Green & Polford's?"

"That's the machine, sir."

Meeking nodded to his witness, signifying that he had no more to ask,
but before Owthwaite could leave the box, Stedman, the local solicitor
with whom Simon Crood had held a whispered conversation on coming into
court, rose and began to cross-examine him.

"Did you happen to be in Green & Polford's shop--the front shop, I
mean--when Alderman Crood brought in that machine?" he asked.

"I was there at the time, sir," replied Owthwaite.

"Did he come quite openly?"

"Yes, sir. In a cab, as a matter of fact. The cabman carried in the
machine."

"Did Alderman Crood say who he was?"

"Well, sir, to be exact, he saw me as soon as he came in, and recognized
me. He said, 'Oh, a Hathelsborough lad, I see? You'll know me, young
man.' Then he told Mr. Jeaveson and myself what he wanted."

"The whole business was quite open and above-board, then?"

"Quite so, sir."

"He drew your attention himself to the defects of the machine?"

"He did, sir."

"And this was after--not before--that facsimile appeared in the
_Monitor_?"

"After, sir."

"Now I want a particularly careful answer, Owthwaite, to my next
question. Did Alderman Crood ask you to get these repairs made
immediately?"

"No, sir, he did not. He said he was in no hurry."

"You were to take your own time about them, the machine remaining with
you?"

"Just that, sir."

Stedman sat down, as if satisfied, and Owthwaite left the witness-box.
At the calling of the next witness's name Tansley nudged Brent.

"Now we may hear something lively!" he whispered. "This chap's been the
Borough Accountant for some years, and I've often wondered if he doesn't
know a good deal that he's kept to himself. But, if he does, will he let
it out? Old Crood doesn't look over pleased to see him anyway!"

Brent glanced from the new witness, a quiet, reserved-looking man of
middle age, to Simon Crood. There was a dark scowl on the heavy
features, and, Brent fancied, a look of apprehension. Once more Simon
beckoned to his solicitor and exchanged a few whispered words with him
across the front of the dock before turning to the witness. And to him
Brent also turned, with an instinctive feeling that he possibly held a
key to those mysteries which had not yet been produced.

Matthew James Nettleton, Member of the Society of Incorporated
Accountants and Auditors. Borough Accountant of Hathelsborough during
the last seven years. During that period in close touch with all the
persons concerned in the present matter.

"Mr. Nettleton," said Meeking, "you are Borough Accountant of
Hathelsborough?"

The witness folded his hands on the ledge of the box and shook his head.

"No," he answered. "Was."

"Was? What do you mean?"

"I have resigned my appointment."

"When?"

"Yesterday--at six o'clock last evening, to be precise."

"May I ask why?"

"You may, sir. Because I knew the inquiry just held by the Inspector of
the Local Government Board to be an absolute farce! Because I know that
the financial affairs of the borough are rotten-ripe! Because I utterly
refuse to be a cat's paw in the hands of the Town Trustees any longer!
Those are my reasons."

Tansley dug his elbow into Brent's ribs as an irrepressible murmur of
surprise broke out all round the court. But Brent was watching the men
in the dock. Krevin Crood smiled cynically; the smile developed into a
short, sharp laugh. But Simon's flabby face turned a dull red, and
presently he lifted his big silk handkerchief and wiped his forehead.
Meeking waited a moment, letting the witness's outburst have its full
effect. Then, amidst a dead silence, he leaned towards the box.

"Why didn't you say all that at the recent inquiry?" he asked.

"Because it wouldn't have been a scrap of good!" retorted the witness.
"Those affairs are all cut-and-dried. My only course was to do what I
did last night--resign. And to give evidence now."

Meeking twisted his gown together and looked at the magistrates. He ran
his eye carefully along the row of faces, and finally let it settle
again on his witness.

"Tell their Worships, in your own fashion, your considered opinion as to
the state of the borough finances," he said. "Your opinion based on your
experience."

"They are, as I said just now, absolutely rotten!" declared Nettleton.
"It is now seven years since I came to this place as Borough Accountant.
I found that under an ancient charter the whole of the financial
business of the borough was in the hands of a small body known as the
Town Trustees, three only in number. It is marvellous that such a body
should be allowed to exist in these days! The Town Trustees are
responsible to nobody. They elect themselves. That is to say, if one
dies, the surviving two elect his successor. They are not bound to
render accounts to anyone; the Corporation, of which they are a
permanent committee, only know what they choose to tell. This has gone
on for at least three centuries. It may have served some good purpose at
some period, under men of strict probity, but, in my opinion, based on
such experience as I have been able to command, it has of late years led
to nothing but secret peculation, jobbery and knavery. As regards my own
position, it has simply been that I have never at any time been
permitted to see any accounts other than those placed before me by the
Town Trustees. My belief is that no one but themselves actually knows
what the financial condition of the town really is. I am of impression
that this Corporation, as a Corporation, is bankrupt!"

There now arose a murmur in court which the Chairman and officials found
it difficult to suppress. But curiosity prevailed over excitement, and
the silence was deep enough when Meeking got in his next question.

"You affirm all this in face of the recent inquiry?"

"I do--and strongly! The accounts shown at the recent inquiry were all
carefully manipulated, arranged, cooked by the Town Trustees. I had
nothing to do with them. They were prepared by the Town Trustees,
chiefly, I imagine, by Mallett and Coppinger, with Crood's approval and
consent. They were never shown to me. In short, my position has been
this, simply, I have had certain accounts placed before me by the Town
Trustees with the curt intimation that my sole duty was to see that the
merely arithmetical features were correct and to sign them as
accountant."

"Could you not have made a statement to this effect at the inquiry?"

"I could not!"

"Why, now?"

"Because I could not have produced the books and papers. All the books
and papers to which I have ever had access are merely such things as
rate books and so on--the sort of things that can't be concealed. But
the really important books and papers, showing the real state of things,
are in the possession of Mallett and Coppinger, who, with Crood, have
never allowed anybody to see them. If I could have had those things
brought before the inspector, I could have proved something. But I
couldn't bring them before a court of inquiry like that. You can bring
them before this!"

"How?" demanded Meeking.

"Because, I take it, they bear a very sinister relation to the murder of
the late Mayor," replied the witness. "He was as well aware as I am that
things were all wrong."

"You know that?"

"I know that he did his best, from such material as he could get at, to
find out what the true state of things was. He worked hard at examining
such accounts as were available. To my knowledge he did his best to get
at the secret accounts kept by the Town Trustees. He failed
utterly--they defied him. Yet, just before his murder, he was getting
at facts in a fashion which was not only unpleasant but highly dangerous
to them, and they were aware of it."

"Can you give us an example of any of these facts--these discoveries?"

"Yes, I can give you one in particular. Wallingford was slowly but
surely getting at the knowledge of the system of secret payment which
has gone on in this place for a long time under the rule of the Town
Trustees. He had found out the truth, for instance, as regards Krevin
Crood. Krevin Crood was supposed to be paid a pension of £150 a year; in
reality he was paid £300 a year. Wallingford ascertained this beyond all
doubt, and that it had gone on ever since Krevin Crood's retirement from
his official position. There are other men in the borough, hangers-on
and supporters of the Town Trustees, who benefit by public money in the
shape of pensions, grants, doles--in every case the actual amount paid
is much more than the amount set down in such accounts as are shown.
Wallingford meant to sweep all this jobbery clean away!"

"How?"

"By getting the financial affairs of the town into the full and absolute
control of the Corporation. He wanted to abolish the Town Trustees as a
body. If he had succeeded in his aims, he would have done away with all
the abuses which they not only kept up but encouraged."

"Then, if Wallingford's reforms had been carried out, Krevin Crood would
have lost £150 a year?"

"He would have lost £300 a year. Wallingford's scheme included the utter
abolition of all these Town Trustee-created pensions and doles. Lock,
stock and barrel, they were all to go."

"And the Town Trustees--Crood, Mallett, Coppinger--were fully acquainted
with his intentions and those of his party?"

The witness shrugged his shoulders.

"That's well known!" he answered. "They were frightened of him and his
schemes to the last degree. They knew what it meant."

"What did it mean?"

Nettleton glanced at Simon Crood and smiled.

"Just what it's come to, at last," he said. "Exposure--and disgrace!"

"Well," said Meeking, when a murmur of excited feeling had once more run
round the court, "a more particular question, Mr. Nettleton. Did the
late Mayor ever come to your office in the course of his
investigations?"

"He did, frequently. Not that I had much to show him. But he carefully
examined all the books and papers of which I was in possession."

"Did he make notes?"

"Notes and memoranda--yes. At considerable length, sometimes."

"What in?"

"In a thickish memorandum book, with a stout cover of red leather, which
he always carried in his pocket."

"Could you identify that book if you saw it?"

"Certainly! Besides, you would find it full of his notes and figures."

"That will do for the present, Mr. Nettleton, unless my friend here
wants to examine you. No? Then recall Superintendent Hawthwaite for a
moment. Superintendent, you have just heard of a certain pocket-book
which belonged to the late Mayor. Was it found on his dead body, or on
his desk, or anywhere, after the murder? No? Not after the most careful
and thorough search? Completely disappeared? Very good. Now let us have
Louisa Speck."

A smartly-dressed, self-possessed young woman came forward, and Tansley,
nudging Brent, whispered that this was Mallett's parlour-maid and that
things were getting deuced interesting.



CHAPTER XXII

THE PARLOUR-MAID


That the appearance of Louisa Speck in the witness-box came as something
more than an intense surprise to at any rate two particular persons in
that court was evident at once to Brent's watchful eye. Mrs. Mallett, a
close observer of what was going on, started as her parlour-maid's name
was called, and lifting her eye-glass surveyed the girl with a wondering
stare of prolonged inspection. And in the dock Krevin Crood also let a
start of astonishment escape him; he, too, stared at Louisa Speck, and a
frown showed itself between his eyebrows, as if he were endeavouring to
explain her presence to himself. Suddenly it cleared, and he indulged
his fancies with a sharp laugh, and turning to Simon made some whispered
observation. Simon nodded sullenly, as if he comprehended; from that
point forward he kept his small eyes firmly fixed on the witness.
Tansley, too, noticed these things, and bent towards his companion with
a meaning glance.

"This young woman knows something!" he muttered. "And those two chaps in
the dock know what it is!"

The young woman upon whom all eyes were fixed was perhaps the most
self-possessed person present. She answered the preliminary questions as
coolly as if she had been giving evidence in murder cases as a regular
thing. Louisa Speck. Twenty-six years of age. Been in the employ of Mrs.
Mallett, of the Bank House, for three years. Still in that employment,
as far as she knew. What did she mean by that? Well, that Mrs. Mallett
had left the house some days before, and that since yesterday afternoon
Mr. Mallett had not been there, and, accordingly, neither she nor the
other servants knew exactly how things stood.

"Just so," observed Meeking. "Somewhat uncertain, eh? Very well." He
paused a moment, glanced at his papers, and suddenly leaned forward
towards the witness-box with a sharp, direct look at its occupant. "Now
then!" he said. "When did you first hear of the murder of the late
Mayor, Mr. Wallingford?"

Louisa Speck's answer came promptly:

"The night it happened."

"What time--and who told you of it?"

"About nine o'clock. Robertshaw, the policeman, told me. I was at the
front door, looking out on the market square, and he was going past."

"I see. So you remember that evening very well?"

"Quite well."

"Do you remember the previous evening--equally well?"

"Yes!"

"Were you at the Bank House that evening--the evening before the
murder?"

"I was."

"What was going on there that evening? Anything that makes you
particularly remember it?"

"Yes."

"What, now?"

"Well, Mrs. Mallett went away that day to visit her sister, Mrs.
Coppinger, for a day or two. About noon Mr. Mallett told me and cook
that he wanted to have some gentlemen to dinner that evening, and we
were to prepare accordingly."

"I see. Sort of special dinner, eh?"

"Yes."

"Did the gentlemen come?"

"Yes."

"Who were they?"

"Mr. Coppinger and Alderman Crood."

"What time was that?"

"Between six and half-past."

"What happened after their arrival?"

"They went into the morning-room with Mr. Mallett. I took some brown
sherry in there and glasses. Soon after that, Mr. Mallett went out. I
was just inside the dining-room as he crossed the hall. He told me
there'd very likely be another gentleman to dinner, and I must lay
another cover. He went out then, and was away about ten minutes. Then he
came back with Mr. Krevin Crood."

"Came back with Mr. Krevin Crood. Did you see them come in together?"

"I let them in."

"Did you hear anything said as they entered?"

"Yes, I heard Mr. Krevin Crood say that he wasn't dressed for
dinner-parties. Mr. Mallett then told me to take Mr. Krevin upstairs
and get him anything he wanted."

"Did you take Mr. Krevin upstairs?"

"Yes. I took him up to Mr. Mallett's dressing-room. I showed him the hot
water arrangement, got him clean towels, and asked him what he wanted.
He said he wanted a clean shirt, a collar, and a handkerchief."

"A handkerchief?"

"Yes, a handkerchief."

"Did you get him these things?"

"I showed him where to get them. I opened the drawers in which Mr.
Mallett's shirts, collars and handkerchiefs are kept, so that he could
help himself. Then I asked him if there was anything more I could get
him. He said there was nothing but a clothes brush. I got him that, and
left him."

"When did you see him next?"

"About twenty minutes after, when he came downstairs and went into the
morning-room to the other gentlemen."

"Was he smartened up then?"

"He was smart enough--smarter than the others, I should say."

"Had he taken one of Mr. Mallett's shirts?"

"Yes, one of his very best white ones."

"Very good. Now then, talking about shirts, who looks after the laundry
affairs at the Bank House?"

"I do."

"You send the linen to the laundry?"

"Yes."

"And receive it and put it away when it comes back?"

"Yes."

"Always?"

"Always!"

"When does it go, and when does it return?"

"It goes on Monday morning and comes home on Saturday afternoon."

"Do you put it away on Saturday afternoon?"

"Not finally. It goes into a hot cupboard to air. Then on Monday, some
time, I put it away in the proper place--sort it out."

"I see. Do you remember sorting it out and putting away the different
articles in their proper places on the Monday before this little
dinner-party?"

"Yes, I do."

"Did you notice the presence of any article which didn't belong to the
Mallett family?"

"Yes--at least, I was doubtful."

"Doubtful, eh? Well, what was it?"

"A gentleman's handkerchief."

"You weren't sure that it was Mr. Mallett's?"

"I wasn't sure that it wasn't. And I didn't think it was."

"Why were you uncertain?"

"Well, this wasn't like Mr. Mallett's handkerchiefs. He has dozens of
them, nearly all fancy ones, with coloured borders. This was a very fine
cambric handkerchief--I'd never seen one like it before. But, still, I
wasn't certain that it wasn't Mr. Mallett's after all."

"Why?"

"Because sometimes when Mr. Mallett was away for the day he'd buy a
spare handkerchief--he's a lot of odd handkerchiefs that he's brought
home in his pockets. I thought this might have been got that way."

"You didn't mention its presence to anybody?"

"No--I didn't think of it."

"Well, what did you do with the handkerchief about which you were
doubtful?"

"I laid it on top of one of several piles of handkerchiefs that were in
Mr. Mallett's handkerchief drawer in the dressing-room."

"Why did you put it on top?"

"In case any inquiry was made about it from Marriners' Laundry."

"Was any inquiry made?"

"No."

"Now was that drawer you have just spoken of the drawer that you pulled
open for Mr. Krevin Crood?"

"Yes."

"Was the handkerchief there then?"

"Yes, it was there!"

"You saw it?"

"I saw it."

"Have you ever seen it since?"

"Never!"

"Do you know if Mr. Krevin Crood took it out of the drawer?"

"No!"

"Did you see it in his possession that evening?"

"No! I didn't. But it wasn't in the drawer next morning."

"You are sure of that?"

"Positive. I went into Mr. Mallett's dressing-room very early next
morning, and I noticed that Mr. Krevin had left the drawers half-open.
The handkerchief drawer stuck a little, and I pulled it right out before
pushing it in. I noticed then that the handkerchief had gone."

"Did you conclude that Mr. Krevin had taken it?"

"No, I don't think so. I didn't conclude anything. If I thought
anything, it would be that Mr. Mallett had taken it. Mr. Mallett would
think nothing of taking half a dozen handkerchiefs a day."

"But the handkerchief was there when you opened the drawer for Mr.
Krevin that evening, and it wasn't there when you looked into the drawer
next morning early? That so?"

"Yes, that's so."

"Very well! Now then, about this little dinner. Mr. Mallett had three
guests, Mr. Simon Crood, Mr. Krevin Crood, Mr. Coppinger? Nobody else?"

"No; no one else."

"Was it a nice dinner?"

"It was a very good dinner."

"Wine?"

"There were several sorts of wine."

"What time was dinner?"

"About a quarter-past seven."

"And what time did the gentlemen rise from table?"

"They didn't rise from table. When dinner was over, Mr. Mallett decanted
some very special port that he has in the wine-cellar, and they settled
down to it round the dinner-table, talking."

"I see. Did you hear any of the conversation?"

"No, I didn't. I carried two decanters of the port into the dining-room
for Mr. Mallett, and got out port glasses from the sideboard, and after
that I never went into the room again."

"Until what hour did Mr. Mallett's guests remain with him?"

"Well, Alderman Crood and Mr. Krevin Crood left at about a quarter to
eleven. They went away together. Mr. Coppinger stopped till about
half-past eleven."

Meeking paused at this point, put his hand underneath the papers which
lay in front of him and produced a cardboard box. From this, after
slowly undoing various wrappings, he took the fragment of stained and
charred handkerchief which had been found in the Mayor's Parlour, and
passed it across to the witness.

"Take that in your hand and look at it carefully," he said. "Now, do you
recognize that as part of the handkerchief to which I have been
referring?"

"It's the same sort of stuff," replied Louisa. "I should say it was part
of that handkerchief. It's just like it."

"Same material?--an unusual material?"

"I think it is the same handkerchief. It's an unusually broad hem--I
noticed that at the time."

"To the best of your belief is that the handkerchief you've been talking
about?"

"Yes," declared Louisa Speck, this time without hesitation. "It is!"

Meeking sat down and glanced at Simon Crood's solicitor. Stedman
accepted the challenge and, rising, threw some scornful meaning into his
first question to the witness.

"Who got you to tell all this tale?" he asked satirically. "Who got at
you?"

Louisa Speck bridled.

"Nobody got at me!" she retorted. "What do you mean by such a question?"

"You don't mean to tell their Worships that you haven't been induced to
come forward and tell all this?" suggested Stedman incredulously. "Come,
now! Who helped you to refresh your memory, and to put all this
together?"

"Nobody helped me," replied Louisa Speck, with rising indignation. "Do
you think I'm not capable of doing things on my own? I can use my eyes
and ears as well as you can--and perhaps better!"

"Answer my question!" said Stedman, as a laugh rose against him. "Who
got you to go to the police?"

"Nobody got me to go to the police! I went to the police on my own
account. I read the newspaper about what took place at the inquest--the
last inquest, I mean--and as soon as I heard about the handkerchief, I
knew very well that that was the one I'd noticed in our laundry, and so
I went to see Mr. Hawthwaite. Mr. Hawthwaite's known what I had to tell
you for a good while now."

Stedman was taken aback. But he put a definite question.

"On your oath, did you see that handkerchief in Mr. Krevin Crood's
possession that night he was at Mr. Mallett's?" he asked.

"I've already told him I never did," retorted Louisa Speck, pointing at
Meeking. "I didn't see him with it. But I'm very certain he got it!"

Stedman waved the witness away, and Meeking proceeded to put in the
depositions taken before the Coroner in regard to the finding of the
fragment of handkerchief and its ownership, and called evidence to show
that the piece just produced was that which had been picked up from the
hearth in the Mayor's Parlour on the evening of the murder, soon after
the finding of the dead man, and to prove that it had remained in the
custody of the police ever since. The fragment went the round of the
bench of magistrates, and Tansley whispered to Brent that if Meeking
could prove that Krevin Crood had taken that handkerchief out of
Mallett's drawer, and had thrown it away on the following evening in the
Mayor's Parlour, Krevin's neck was in danger.

"But there's a link missing yet," he murmured. "How did Krevin get at
Wallingford? They've got to prove that! However, Meeking's evidently
well primed and knows what he's after. What's coming next?"

What came next was the glancing of the barrister's eye towards a
venerable, grey-bearded man who sat in the front row of spectators,
leaning on a gold-headed cane. He rose as Meeking looked at him, and
came slowly forward--a curious figure in those sombre surroundings.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE CONNECTING WALL


From a certain amount of whispering and nodding that went on around him,
Brent gathered that this ancient gentleman was not unknown to many of
those present. But Tansley was turning to him, ready as always with
information.

"That's old Dr. Pellery," he whispered. "Old Dr. Septimus Pellery.
Tremendous big pot on antiquarianism, archæology, and that sort of
stuff. Used to live here in Hathelsborough, years ago, when I was a
youngster. I should have thought he was dead, long since! Wonder where
they unearthed him, and what he's here for? No end of a swell, in his
own line anyway."

Meeking seemed determined to impress on the court the character and
extent of Dr. Pellery's qualifications as an expert in archæological
matters. Addressing him in an almost reverential manner, he proceeded to
enumerate the witness's distinctions.

"Dr. Pellery, you are, I believe, a Fellow of the Society of
Antiquaries?"

"I have that honour."

"And a member of more than one archæological society?"

"I am."

"And a corresponding member of various foreign societies of a similar
sort?"

"For many years."

"You are also, I think, a Doctor of Civil Law of the University of
Oxford?"

"Yes."

"And the author of many books and articles on your pet
subject--archæology?"

"That is so."

"Am I right, Dr. Pellery, in believing that you are thoroughly well
acquainted with the archæology, antiquities, and ancient architecture of
this town?"

"Quite right. I lived here for several years--ten or eleven years."

"That was--when?"

"It is about twenty years since I left this place."

"You made a close study of it while you were resident here?"

"A very close study. Hathelsborough, from my point of view, is one of
the most deeply interesting towns in England. While I lived here I
accumulated a vast mass of material respecting its history and
antiquities, with the idea of writing a monograph on the borough. But I
have never made use of it."

"Let us hope that you will still do so, Dr. Pellery," said Meeking, with
a suave smile and polite bow.

But Dr. Pellery shook his head and stroked his long beard. A cynical
smile played round his wrinkled eyes.

"No, I don't think I ever shall," he said. "Indeed, I'm sure I shan't!"

"May I ask why?"

"You may! Because there aren't twenty people in Hathelsborough who would
buy such a book. Hathelsborough people don't care twopence about the
history of their old town--all they care about is money. This case is a
proof!"

"I think we'll get back to the case," said Meeking, amidst a ripple of
laughter. "Well, we may consider you as the greatest living expert on
Hathelsborough anyway, Dr. Pellery, and eminently fitted to give us some
very important evidence. Do you know the ancient church of St. Lawrence
at the back of this Moot Hall?"

"Ay, as well as I know my own face in the glass!" answered Dr. Pellery
with a short laugh. "Every stone of it!"

"It is, I believe, a very old church?"

"It is the oldest church, not only in Hathelsborough, which is saying a
good deal, but in all this part of the county," replied the witness with
emphasis. "St. Hathelswide, the parish church, is old, but St. Lawrence
ante-dates it by at least five hundred years. The greater part of St.
Lawrence, as it now stands, was complete in the eighth century: St.
Hathelswide was built in the thirteenth."

Meeking produced a large chart, evidently made for the occasion, and had
it set up on the table, in full view of the bench and the witness-box.

"From this plan, Dr. Pellery, it appears that the west tower, a square
tower, of St. Lawrence immediately faces the back of the Moot Hall. And
between the outer wall of the tower and the outer wall of the Moot Hall
there is a sort of connecting wall----"

"Not a sort of," interrupted Dr. Pellery. "It is a connecting wall,
thirty-six feet long, ten feet high, and eight feet in width, forming an
arch over the street beneath--the narrow street called St. Lawrence
Lane."

"It is an uncommon feature, that wall?" suggested Meeking.

"Comparatively--yes. I know of other places where ancient buildings are
so joined. But there are few examples."

"Well, I want to ask you a very important question about that connecting
wall. Is there a secret way through that wall from St. Lawrence tower to
the Moot Hall?"

Dr. Pellery drew himself up, stroked his beard, and glanced round the
court. Then he gave Meeking an emphatic nod.

"There is! And I discovered it--years ago. And I have always thought
that I was the only living person who knew of it!"

Meeking let this answer soak into the mentality of his hearers. Then he
said quietly:

"Will you tell us all about it, Dr. Pellery?"

"Enough for your purpose," replied the witness. "You have there, I
believe, a sectional drawing of the tower--give it to me. Now," he
continued, holding up a sheet of stout paper and illustrating his
remarks with the tip of his forefinger, "I will show you what I mean.
St. Lawrence tower is eighty feet in height. It is divided into three
sections. The lower section, the most considerable of the three, forms a
western porch to the church itself, which is entered from it by a Norman
arch. Above this is the middle section; above that the upper section,
wherein are three ancient bells. The middle and upper sections are
reached from the lower by a newel stair, set in the south-west angle of
the tower. Now the middle section has for many centuries been a beamed
and panelled chamber, from which the bells are rung, and wherein are
stored a good many old things belonging to the church--chiefly in
ancient chests. During the years that I lived in Hathelsborough I spent
a great deal of time in this chamber--the then vicar of St. Lawrence,
Mr. Goodbody, allowed me to examine anything I found stored there--it
was amongst the muniments and registers of St. Lawrence, indeed, that I
discovered a great deal of valuable information about the history of the
town. Well, I have just said that this chamber, this middle section of
the tower, is panelled; it is panelled from the oak flooring to within
two feet of the oak beams in its ceiling, and the panelling, though it
is probably four hundred years old, is in an excellent state of
preservation. Now, about the middle of the last year that I spent in
this town, I began to be very puzzled about the connecting wall between
St. Lawrence tower and the Moot Hall. I saw no reason for making an arch
at that point, and the wall had certainly not been built as a support,
for the masonry of the tower and of the hall is unusually solid. I got
the idea that that wall had originally been built as a means of
communication between tower and hall; that it was hollow, and that there
at each extremity there was a secret means of entrance and exit. I knew
from experience that this sort of thing was common in Hathelsborough;
the older part of the town is a veritable rabbit-warren! There is
scarcely a house in the market-place, for instance, in which there is
not a double staircase, the inner one being very cleverly concealed, and
I know of several secret ways and passages, entered, say, on one side of
a street and terminating far off on another. There is a secret
underground way beneath the market-square which is entered at the
Barbican in the Castle and terminates in St. Faith's chapel in St.
Hathelswide's church; there is another, also underground, from St.
Matthias's Hospital to the God's House in Cripple Lane. There are
others--as I say, the old town is honeycombed. So there would be, of
course, nothing unusual or remarkable in the presence of a secret
passage between St. Lawrence tower and the Moot Hall. The only thing was
that there was no record of any such passage through the connecting
wall; no one had ever heard of it; and there were no signs of entrance
to it either in the tower or in the Moot Hall. However, I discovered
it--by careful and patient investigation of the panelling in the chamber
I have mentioned. The panelling is divided, on each wall of the chamber,
into seven compartments; the fourth compartment on the outer wall slides
back, and gives access to a passage cut through the arch across St.
Lawrence Lane and so to the Moot Hall."

"There's one man here who knows all this!" whispered Tansley in Brent's
ear. "Look at Krevin Crood!"

Krevin was smiling. There was something unusually cynical in his smile,
but it conveyed more than cynical amusement to Brent. There was in it
the suggestion of assurance--Krevin, decided Brent, had something up
his sleeve.

But the other people present were still intent on the old antiquary.
Having come to the end of his explanation he was passing back the chart
to Meeking, and seemed satisfied with what he had said. Meeking,
however, wanted more.

"To the Moot Hall!" he repeated. "Well, Dr. Pellery, and where does this
passage emerge in the Moot Hall?"

"Just so," said Dr. Pellery. "That, of course, is important. Well, the
wall or arch between St. Lawrence tower and the Moot Hall, on reaching
the outer wall of the latter, is continued within, from that outer wall
along the right-hand side of the corridor off which the extremely
ancient chamber known as the Mayor's Parlour is situated. If close
examination is made of that wall you will find that it is eight feet
thick. But it is not a solid wall. The secret passage I have mentioned
runs through it, to a point half-way along the length of the Mayor's
Parlour. And access to the Mayor's Parlour is had by a secret door in
the old panelling of that chamber--just as in the case of the chamber in
the church tower."

"You investigated all this yourself, Dr. Pellery?"

"Discovered and investigated it."

"And kept the secret to yourself?"

"I did. I saw no reason for communicating it to anyone."

"However, as you discovered it, it was not impossible that others should
make the same discovery?"

"It is very evident that somebody has discovered it!" replied the
witness with emphasis.

"Now, you say that it is about twenty years since you made this
discovery. Have you been in St. Lawrence tower since?"

"Yes. Superintendent Hawthwaite has been in communication with
me--privately--about this matter for some little time. I came to
Hathelsborough yesterday, and in the afternoon he and I visited the
tower and I showed him the secret way and the doors in the panelling. We
passed from the tower into the Mayor's Parlour--as you or anyone may,
just now, if you know the secret of the sliding panels."

"Is it what you would call a difficult secret?"

"Not a bit of it--once you have hit on the exact spot at which to exert
a pressure. The panels are then moved back quite easily."

"Your evidence, then, Dr. Pellery, comes to this--there is a secret
passage through the apparently solid arch in St. Lawrence Lane which
leads direct from the middle chamber in St. Lawrence tower to the
Mayor's Parlour in the Moot Hall? Is that correct?"

Dr. Pellery made an old-fashioned bow.

"That is absolutely correct!"

"I am sure the court is greatly obliged to you, sir," said Meeking,
responding to the old man's courtesy. He looked round, and seeing that
Stedman made no sign, glanced at the policeman who stood by the
witness-box. "Call Stephen Spizey!" he commanded.

Spizey moved ponderously into the box in all the glory of his
time-honoured livery. He looked very big, and very consequential, and
unusually glum. Meeking, who was not a Hathelsborough man, glanced
quizzingly at Spizey's grandeur and at the cocked hat which Spizey
placed on the ledge before him.

"Er--you're some sort of a Corporation official, aren't you, Spizey?" he
suggested.

"Apparitor to his Worshipful the Mayor of Hathelsborough," responded
Spizey in his richest tones. "Mace-bearer to his Worship. Town Crier.
Bellman. Steward of the Pound. Steward of High Cross and Low Cross.
Summoner of Thursday Market. Convener of Saturday Market. Receiver of
Dues and Customs----"

"You appear to be a good deal of a pluralist," interrupted Meeking.
"However, are you caretaker of St. Lawrence church?"

"I am!"

"Do you live in a cottage at the corner of St. Lawrence churchyard?"

"I do!"

"Do you remember the evening on which Mr. Wallingford was murdered?"

"Yes."

"At seven o'clock of that evening were you in your cottage?"

"I was!"

"Did Mr. Krevin Crood come to your cottage door about seven o'clock and
ask you for the keys of St. Lawrence?"

"He did!"

"Did he say why he wanted to go into the church?"

"Yes, to write out a hinscription for a London gent as wanted it."

"Did you give him the keys?"

"I did."

"Did you see him go into the church?"

"Yes, and hear him lock himself inside it."

"Did he eventually bring the keys back?"

"Not to me. My missis."

Meeking waved Spizey's magnificence aside and called for Mrs. Spizey.
Mrs. Spizey, too, readily remembered the evening under discussion and
said so, with a sniff which seemed to indicate decided disapproval of
her memories respecting it.

"What were you doing that evening, Mrs. Spizey?" asked Meeking.

"Which for the most part of it, sir, I was a-washing of that very floor
as you're a-standing on, sir, me being cleaner to the Moot Hall. That
'ud be from six to eight."

"Then you went home, I suppose?"

"I did, sir, and very thankful to!"

"Was your husband at home?"

"He were not, sir. Which Spizey had gone out to have his glass, sir--as
is his custom."

"Did Mr. Krevin Crood come to you with the keys of the church?"

"He did, sir. Which the clock had just struck eight. And remarked, sir,
that the light was failing, and that his eyes wasn't as strong as they
had been. Pleasant-like, sir."

"I see! Had Mr. Krevin Crood any papers in his hand?"

"He had papers in his hand, sir, or under his arm."

"And that was just after eight o'clock?"

"The clocks had just struck it, sir."

Meeking nodded his dismissal of Mrs. Spizey. It was plain that he was
getting near the end of his case and his manner became sharp and almost
abrupt.

"Call Detective-Sergeant Welton," he said. "Welton, were you present
when Superintendent Hawthwaite arrested the prisoner Krevin Crood, and
afterwards when the other prisoner, Simon Crood, was taken into
custody?"

"I was, sir."

"Did you afterwards, on Superintendent Hawthwaite's instructions, search
Krevin Crood's lodgings and Simon Crood's house?"

"I did, sir."

"Tell their Worships what you found."

"I first made a search at the rooms occupied by Krevin Crood in Little
Bailey Gate. I there found in an old writing-case kept in his bedroom a
quantity of papers and documents in the handwriting of the late Mayor,
Mr. Wallingford. I handed these over to Superintendent Hawthwaite. I now
produce them. There are fifty-six separate papers in all. I have gone
through them carefully. All relate to Corporation accounts and to the
financial affairs of the borough. Several are blood-stained."

There was a shiver of horror amongst the women present as the witness
handed over a sheaf of various-sized papers, indicating where the stains
lay. But the even-toned, matter-of-fact, coldly-official voice went on.

"Later, I made a search of the prisoner Simon Crood's house at the
Tannery. In a desk in a room which he uses as a private office I found
more papers and documents similar to those which I had found at Krevin
Crood's lodgings. I produce these--there are seventeen separate papers.
All are in the handwriting of the late Mr. Wallingford. I also
discovered in a drawer in Simon Crood's bedroom a memorandum book, bound
in red leather, the greater part of which is filled with notes and
figures made by the late Mayor. I produce this too. I also identify it
as a book which the late Mayor was in the habit of carrying about with
him. I have frequently seen him make use of it."

While every neck was craned forward to catch a glimpse of the memorandum
book, Tansley suddenly saw Krevin Crood making signals to him from the
dock. He drew Brent's attention to the fact; then went down into the
well of the court and over to Krevin. Brent watched them curiously; it
seemed to him that Krevin was asking Tansley's advice, and that Tansley
was dissuading Krevin from adopting some particular course. They
conversed for some minutes, while the magistrates were examining the
memorandum book and the papers. Simon Crood joined in, and seemed to
agree with Tansley. But suddenly Krevin turned away from both with a
decisive gesture, and advanced to the front of the dock.

"Your Worships," he exclaimed in a loud, compelling tone, "I have had
quite enough of this farce! I desire to make a full and important
statement!"



CHAPTER XXIV

BEHIND THE PANEL


Despite the admonitions of the presiding magistrate, and the stern
voices of sundry officials, posted here and there about the court, a
hubbub of excited comment and murmur broke out on Krevin Crood's
dramatic announcement. Nor was the excitement confined to the public
benches and galleries; round the solicitors' table there was a putting
together of heads and an exchange of whisperings; on the bench itself,
crowded to its full extent, some of the magistrates so far forgot their
judicial position as to bend towards each other with muttered words and
knowing looks. Suddenly, from somewhere in the background, a strident
voice made its tones heard above the commotion:

"He knows! Let him tell what he knows! Let's hear all about it!"

"Silence!" commanded the chairman. "If this goes on, I shall have the
court cleared. Any further interruption----" He interrupted himself,
glancing dubiously at Krevin. "I think you would be well advised----"

"I want no advice!" retorted Krevin. Simon had been at his elbow,
anxious and pleading, for the last minute: he, it was very evident, was
sorely concerned by Krevin's determination to speak. "I claim my right
to have my say, at this stage, and I shall have it--all this has gone on
long enough, and I don't propose to have it go on any longer. I had
nothing to do with the murder of Wallingford, but I know who had, and
I'm not going to keep the knowledge to myself, now that things have come
to this pass. You'd better listen to a plain and straightforward tale,
instead of to bits of a story here and bits of a story there."

The chairman turned to those of his brother magistrates who were sitting
nearest to him and, after a whispered consultation with them and with
the clerk, nodded not over graciously at the defiant figure in the dock.

"We will hear your statement," he said. "You had better go into the
witness-box and make it on oath."

Krevin moved across to the witness-box with alacrity and went through
the usual formalities as only a practised hand could. He smiled
cynically as he folded his fingers together on the ledge of the box and
faced the excited listeners.

"As there's no one to ask me any questions--at this stage, anyway--I'd
better tell my story in my own fashion," he said. "And to save time and
needless explanations, let me begin by saying that, as far as it went,
all the evidence your Worships have heard, from the police, from Louisa
Speck, from Dr. Pellery, from Spizey and his wife, from everybody, I
think, is substantially correct--entirely correct, I might say, for I
don't remember anything that I could contradict. The whole thing
is--what does it lead up to? In the opinion of the police to identifying
me with the actual murder of John Wallingford, and my brother there with
being accessory to the crime. The police, as usual, are absolutely and
entirely at fault--I did not kill Wallingford, and accordingly my
brother could not be an accessory to what I did not do and never had the
remotest intention of doing. Now you shall hear how circumstantial
evidence, brought to a certain point, is of no value whatever if it
can't be carried past that point. Hawthwaite has got his evidence to a
certain point--and now he's up against a blank wall. He doesn't know
what lies behind that blank wall. I do! And I'm the only person in this
world who does.

"Now listen to a plain, truthful, unvarnished account of the real facts.
On the evening of the day before Wallingford's murder, I was in the big
saloon at Bull's Snug between half-past six and seven o'clock. Mallett
came in, evidently in search of somebody. It turned out that I was the
person he was looking for. He came up to me and told me that his wife
was away and that he was giving a little dinner-party to my brother
Simon and to Coppinger. They were already at his house, and he and they
were anxious that I should join them. Now, I knew quite enough of my
brother Simon, and of Coppinger, and of Mallett himself to know that if
they wanted my company it was with some ulterior motive, and being a
straightforward man I said so there and then. Mallett admitted it--they
had, he said, a matter of business to propose to me. I had no objection
and I went with him. What the girl, Louisa Speck, has told you about
what happened after I entered the Bank House is quite correct--she's a
reliable and a good witness and gave her evidence most intelligently.
She took me up into Mallett's dressing-room, showed me where I could get
what I wanted, and left me to make my toilet. I helped myself to clean
linen, and I have no doubt whatever that the handkerchief which I took
from one of the drawers which the girl had opened for me was that of Dr.
Wellesley's of which we have heard so much in this case. I say, I have
no doubt whatever about that--in fact, I am sure of it.

"Having made my toilet, I went downstairs and joined my host and his
other guests. We had a glass or two of Mallett's excellent sherry, and
in due course we dined--dined very well indeed. When dinner was over,
Mallett got up some of his old port, and we settled down to our business
talk. I very quickly discovered why I had been brought into it. What we
may call the war between Wallingford, as leader of the reform party, and
the Town Trustees, as representatives of the old system, had come to a
definite stage, and Mallett, Coppinger, and my brother, Simon, realized
that it was high time they opened negotiations with the enemy. They
wanted, in short, to come to terms, and they were anxious that I, as a
lawyer, as a man thoroughly acquainted with the affairs of the borough,
and as a former official of high standing, should act as intermediary,
or ambassador, or go-between, whatever you like to call it, in the
matter at issue between them and Wallingford. Of course I was willing.

"Mallett acted as chief spokesman, in putting matters plainly before me.
He said that Wallingford, since his election as Mayor of Hathelsborough,
had found out a lot--a great deal more than they wished him to know. He
had accumulated facts, figures, statistics; he had contrived to possess
himself of a vast amount of information, and he was steadily and
persistently accumulating more. There was no doubt whatever, said
Mallett, as to what were the intentions of Wallingford and his
party--though up to then Wallingford's party did not know all that
Wallingford knew. There was to be a clean sweep of everything that
existed under the Town Trustee system. The Town Trustees themselves were
to go. All pensions were to be done away with. All secret payments and
transactions were to be unearthed and prohibited for the future. The
entire financial business of the town was to be placed in the care of
the Corporation. In short, everything was to be turned upside-down, and
the good old days to cease. That was what was to happen if Wallingford
went triumphantly on his way.

"But it was the belief of Mallett, and of Coppinger, and of my brother,
Simon, that Wallingford's way could be barred. How? Well, all three
believed that Wallingford could be bought off. They believed that
Wallingford had his price; that he could be got at; that he could be
squared. All three of them are men who believe that every man has his
price. I believe that myself, and I'm not ashamed of voicing my belief.
Every man can be bought--if you can only agree on a price with him. Now,
the Town Trustees knew that Wallingford had ambitions; they knew what
some of his ambitions were, and of one in particular. They proposed to
buy him in that way, and they commissioned me to see him privately and
to offer him certain terms.

"The terms were these. If Wallingford would drop his investigations and
remain quiet for the remaining period of his mayoralty, the Town
Trustees would agree to the making and carrying out of certain minor
reforms which should be engineered by and credited to Wallingford in
order to save his face with his party. Moreover, they would guarantee to
Wallingford a big increase in his practice as a solicitor, and they
would promise him their united support when a vacancy arose in the
Parliamentary representation of Hathelsborough, which vacancy, they
knew, would occur within the year, as the sitting member had intimated
his intention of resigning. Now, this last was the big card I was to
play--we all knew that Wallingford was extremely desirous of
Parliamentary honours, and that he was very well aware that with the
Town Trustees on his side he would win handsomely, whoever was brought
against him. I was to play that card for all it was worth. So then the
proposal was--Wallingford was to draw off his forces, and he was to be
rewarded as I have said. Not a man of us doubted that he would be
tempted by the bait, and would swallow it."

Brent leapt to his feet and flung a scornful exclamation across the
court.

"Then not a man of you knew him!" he cried. "He'd have flung your bribe
back into the dirty hands that offered it!"

But Krevin Crood smiled more cynically than ever.

"That's all you know, young man," he retorted. "You'll know more when
you're my age. Well," he continued, turning his back on Brent and again
facing the bench, "that was the situation. I was to act as ambassador,
and if I succeeded in my embassy I was to be well paid for my labour."

"By the Town Trustees?" inquired the chairman.

"By the Town Trustees, certainly," replied Krevin. "Who else? As my
principals----"

"I think you will have to tell us what fee, or payment, you were to
have," interrupted the chairman. "If----"

"Oh, as the whole thing's come to nothing, I don't mind telling that,"
said Krevin. "I shall never get it now, so why not talk of it? I was to
have a thousand pounds."

"As reward for inducing the Mayor to withhold from the public certain
information which he had acquired as regards the unsatisfactory
condition of the borough finances?" asked the chairman.

"Y-es, if you put it that way," assented Krevin. "You might put it
another way, as regards the Mayor. He was to--just let things slide."

"Go on, if you please," said the chairman dryly. "We understand."

"Well," continued Krevin cheerfully, "we settled my mission over
Mallett's port. The next thing was for me to carry it out. It was
necessary to do this immediately--we knew that Wallingford had carried
his investigations to such an advanced stage that he might make the
results public at any moment. Now, I did not want anyone to know of my
meeting with him--I wanted it to be absolutely secret. But I knew how
to bring that about. Wallingford spent nearly every evening alone in the
Mayor's Parlour--I knew how to reach the Mayor's Parlour unobserved. The
secret of which Dr. Pellery has just told you was also known to me--I
discovered the passage between St. Lawrence tower and the Moot Hall many
years ago. And I determined to get at Wallingford by way of that
passage.

"About seven o'clock of the evening on which Wallingford was murdered, I
called at Spizey's cottage in St. Lawrence churchyard and got the keys
of the church from him, on the excuse that I wanted to copy an
inscription. I locked myself into the church, and went up to the chamber
in the tower. I spent some little time there, considering the details of
my plan of campaign, before going along the secret passage. It would be
about half-past seven, perhaps more, when I at last slipped open the
panel, and crossed over to the Moot Hall. The panel at the other end of
the passage, which admits to the Mayor's Parlour, is the fifth one on
the left-hand side of that room; I undid it very cautiously and
silently. There was then no one in the parlour. All was silent. I looked
through the crack of the panel. There was no one in the place at all.
Incidentally, I may mention that when I thus took an observation of the
parlour I noticed that on an old oak chest, standing by the wainscoting
and immediately behind the Mayor's chair and desk, lay the rapier which
was produced at the inquest, and with which he, undoubtedly, was killed.

"I suddenly heard the handle of the door into the corridor turned, then
Wallingford's voice. I slipped the panel back till it was nearly
closed, and stood with my ear against it, listening. Wallingford was not
alone. He had a woman with him. And I made out, in their first exchange
of words, that he had met her in the corridor just outside the door of
the Mayor's Parlour and that they were quarrelling and both in high
temper. I----"

"Stop!" exclaimed the chairman, lifting his hand as an excited murmur
began to run round the court. "Silence! If there is any
interruption--Now," he went on, turning to Krevin, "you say you heard
Mr. Wallingford come into the Mayor's Parlour and that he was
accompanied by a woman, with whom he was having high words. Did you see
this woman?"

"No, I saw neither her nor Wallingford. I only heard their voices."

"Did you recognize her voice as that of any woman you knew?"

"I did--unmistakably! I knew quite well who she was."

"Who was she, then?"

Krevin shook his head.

"For the moment--wait!" he replied. "Let me tell my tale in my own way.
To resume, I say they--she and Wallingford--were having high words. I
could tell, for instance, that he was in a temper which I should call
furious. I overheard all that was said. He was wanting to know as they
entered the room how she had got there. She replied that she had watched
Mrs. Bunning out of her house from amongst the bushes in St. Lawrence
churchyard, and had then slipped in at Bunning's back door, being
absolutely determined to see him. Wallingford answered that she would
get no good by waylaying him; he had found her out and was done with
her; she was an impostor, an adventuress; she had come to the end of her
tether. She then demanded some letters--her letters; there were excited
words about this from each, and it was not easy to catch all that was
said; at times they were both speaking together. But she got in a clear
demand at last--was he or was he not going to hand those letters over?
He said no, he was not--they were going to remain in his possession as a
hold over her; she was a danger to the community with her plottings and
underhand ways, and he intended to show certain of those letters to
others. There was more excited wrangling over this--I heard Dr.
Wellesley's name mentioned, then Mallett's: I also heard some reference,
which I couldn't make head or tail of, to money and documents. In the
midst of all this Wallingford suddenly told her to go; he had had enough
of it, and had his work to attend to. Once more she demanded the
letters; he answered with a very peremptory negative. Then I heard a
sound as of his chair being pulled up to his desk, followed by a brief
silence. Then, all of a sudden, I heard another sound, half-cry,
half-groan, and a sort of dull thud, as if something had fallen. A
moment later, as I was wondering what had happened, and what to do, I
heard the door which opens into the corridor close gently. And at that I
pushed back the panel and looked into the Mayor's Parlour."

It seemed to Brent that every soul in that place, from the grey-haired
chairman on the bench to the stolid-faced official by the witness-box
was holding his breath, and that every eye was fastened on Krevin Crood
with an irresistible fascination. There was a terrible silence in the
court as Krevin paused, terminated by an involuntary sigh of relief as
he made signs of speaking again. And, in that instant, Brent saw Mrs.
Elstrick, the tall gaunt woman of whom he had heard at least one
mysterious piece of news from Hawthwaite, quietly slip out of her place
near the outer door and vanish; he saw too that no one but himself saw
her go, so absorbed were all others in what was coming.

"When I saw--what I did see," continued Krevin, in a low, concentrated
tone, "I went in. The Mayor was lying across his desk, still, quiet. I
touched his shoulder--and got blood on my fingers. I knew then what had
happened--the woman had snatched up that rapier and run him through. I
pulled out my handkerchief--the handkerchief I had taken from Mallett's
drawer--wiped my hand, and threw the handkerchief in the fire. Then I
took up a mass of papers and a memorandum book which Wallingford had
laid down--and went away by the passage. And that's the plain truth! I
should never have told it if I hadn't been arrested. I care nothing at
all that Wallingford was killed by this woman--not I! I shouldn't have
cared if she'd gone scot-free. But if it's going to be my neck or hers,
well, I prefer it to be hers. And there you are!"

"Once again," said the chairman, "who was this woman?"

Krevin Crood might have been answering the most casual of casual
questions.

"Who?" he replied. "Why--Mrs. Saumarez!"



CHAPTER XXV

THE EMPTY ROOM


Brent was out of his seat near the door, out of the court itself, out of
the Moot Hall, and in the market-place before he realized what he was
doing. It was a brilliant summer day, and just then the town clocks were
striking the noontide; he stood for a second staring about him as if
blinded and dazed by the strong sunlight. But it was not the sunlight at
all that confused him--though he stood there blinking under it--and
presently his brain cleared and he turned and ran swiftly down River
Gate, the narrow street that led to the low-lying outer edge of the
town. River Gate was always quiet; just then it was deserted. And as he
came to half-way down it, he saw at its foot a motor-car, drawn up by
the curb and evidently waiting for somebody. The somebody was Mrs.
Elstrick, who was hastening towards it. In another second she had sprung
in, and the car had sped away in the direction of the open country. And
Brent let it go, without another glance in its direction.

He turned at the foot of River Gate into Farthing Lane, the long,
winding, tree-bordered alley that ran beneath the edge of the town past
the outer fringe of houses, the alley wherein Hawthwaite had witnessed
the nocturnal meeting between Mrs. Elstrick and Krevin Crood. Brent
remembered that as he hastened along, running between the trees on one
side and the high walls of the gardens on the other. But he gave no
further thought to the recollection--his brain was not yet fully
recovered from the shock of Krevin Crood's last words, and it was
obsessed by a single idea: that of gaining the garden entrance of the
Abbey House and confronting the woman whom Krevin had formally denounced
as the murderer of Wallingford. And as he hurried along he found himself
saying certain words over and over again, and still again....

"I'm not going to see a woman hang!--I'm not going to see a woman hang!
I'm ... not ... going ... to----"

Behind this suddenly aroused Quixotic sentiment he was sick with horror.
He knew that what Krevin Crood had told at last was true. He knew, too,
that it would never have come out if Krevin himself had not been in
danger. A feeling of almost physical nausea came over him as he
remembered the callous, brutal cynicism of Krevin's last words, "If it's
going to be my neck or hers, I prefer it to be hers!" A woman!--yet, a
murderess; the murderess of his cousin, whose death he had vowed to
avenge. But of course it was so--he saw many things now. The anxiety to
get the letters; the dread of publicity expressed to Peppermore; the
mystery spread over many things and actions; now this affair with
Mallett--there was no reason to doubt Krevin Crood's accusation. The
fragments of the puzzle had been pieced together.

But as he ran along that lane, and as his mental faculties regained
their normality Brent himself did some piecing together. Every word of
Krevin Crood's statement had bitten itself into his intelligence. Now he
could reconstruct. It seemed to him that he visualized the Mayor's
Parlour on that fateful evening. An angry, disillusioned, nerve-racked
man, sore and restive under the fancy, or, rather, the realization of
deceit, saying bitter and contemptuous words; a desperate, defeated
woman, cornered like a rat--and close to her hand the rapier, lying on
the old chest where its purchaser had carelessly flung it. A maddened
thing, man or woman, would snatch that up, and----

"Blind, uncontrollable impulse!" muttered Brent. "She struck _at_ him,
_at_ him--and then it was all over. Intentional, no! Yet ... the law!
But, by God, I won't have a hand in hanging ... a woman! Time?"

He knew the exact location of the door in the garden wall of the Abbey
House and presently he ran up to it, panting from his swift dash along
the lane. Not five minutes had elapsed then since his slip out of the
excited court. But every second of the coming minutes was precious. And
the door was locked.

The garden wall was eight feet high, and so built that on all the
expanse of its smoothed surface there was no foothold, no projection for
fingers to cling to. But Brent was in that frame of mind which makes
light of obstacles: he drew back into the lane, ran, gathered himself
for an upward spring at the coping of the wall, leapt, grasped it,
struggled, drew up his weight with a mighty effort, threw a leg over,
and dropped, gasping and panting, into the shaded garden. It was quiet
there--peaceful as a glade set deep in the heart of a silent wood. He
lay for a few seconds where he had dropped; then, with a great effort to
get his breath, he rose and went quickly up the laurelled walks towards
the house. A moment more and he was abreast of the kitchen and its open
door, and in the presence of print-gowned, white-aproned women who first
exclaimed and then stared at the sudden sight of him.

"Mrs. Saumarez?" said Brent, frightened at the sound of his own voice.
"In?"

The cook, a fat, comfortable woman, turned on him from a clear fire.

"The mistress has not come in yet, sir," she said. "She went out very
early this morning on her bicycle, and we haven't seen her since. I
expect she'll be back for lunch."

Brent glanced at the open window of the room in which he had first
encountered Mrs. Saumarez and to which he had brought her the casket and
its contents.

"Can I go in there and sit down?" he asked. "I want to see Mrs.
Saumarez."

"Certainly, sir," answered cook and parlour-maid in chorus. "She can't
be long, surely."

Brent went further along and stepped into the room. Not long? He knew
very well that that room would never see its late occupant again! She
was gone of course.

The room looked much the same as when he had last seen it, except that
now there were great masses of summer flowers on all sides. He glanced
round and his observant eye was quick to notice a fact--beneath the
writing-table a big waste-paper-basket was filled to its edges with
torn-up papers. He moved nearer, speculating on what it was that had
been destroyed--and suddenly, behind the basket, he noticed, flung away,
crumpled, on the floor, the buff envelope of a telegram.

Brent, picking this up, expected to find it empty, but the message was
inside. He drew out and smoothed the flimsy sheet and read its contents.
They were comprised in five words: _Lingmore Cross Roads six-thirty_.

Of course that was from Mallett. He glanced at the post-marks. The
telegram had been sent from Clothford at seven o'clock the previous
evening, and received at Hathelsborough before eight. It was an
appointment without doubt. Brent knew Lingmore Cross Roads. He had been
there on a pleasure jaunt with Queenie. It was a point on a main road
whence you could go north or south, east or west with great facility.
And doubtless Mrs. Saumarez, arriving there early in the morning, would
find Mallett and a swift motor awaiting her. Well....

A sudden ringing at the front-door bell, a sudden loud knocking on the
same door, made Brent crush envelope and telegram in his hand and thrust
the crumpled ball of paper into his pocket. A second later he heard
voices at the door, heavy steps in the hall, Hawthwaite's voice.

"No," said the parlour-maid, evidently answering some question, "but
Mr. Brent's in the study. The mistress----"

Hawthwaite, with one of his plain-clothes men, came striding in, saw
Brent and closed the door, shutting out the parlour-maid.

"Gone?" he asked sharply.

"They say--out for a bicycle ride," answered Brent, purposely affecting
unconcern. "Went out very early this morning."

"What did you come here for?" demanded Hawthwaite.

"To ask her personally if what Krevin Crood said is true!" replied
Brent.

Hawthwaite laughed.

"Do you think she'd have admitted it, Mr. Brent?" he said. "I don't!"

"I think she would," answered Brent. "But----"

"Well?" inquired Hawthwaite.

"I don't suppose I shall ever have the chance of putting such a question
to her," added Brent. "She's--off!"

Hawthwaite looked round.

"Um!" he remarked. "Well, it only means another hue-and-cry. She and
Mallett of course. There's one thing in our favour. She doesn't know
that Krevin Crood knew anything about it."

"Are you sure of that?" suggested Brent.

"Oh, sure enough!" affirmed Hawthwaite. "She hasn't an idea that anybody
knows. So we shall get her!"

"What about Krevin Crood--and Simon?" asked Brent.

"Adjourned," replied Hawthwaite. "There's no doubt Krevin's told the
true story at last, but he and Simon are still in custody and will be
until, perhaps, to-morrow. We want to know a bit more yet. But I'll tell
you what, Mr. Brent, this morning's work has broken up the old system!
The Town Trustees and the ancient regime, as they call it--gone!
Smashed, Mr. Brent----"

"What are you going to do about this?" interrupted Brent, glancing round
the room.

"Set the wires to work," answered Hawthwaite half-carelessly. "Unless
she and Mallett have laid their plans with extraordinary cleverness,
they can't get out of the country. A noticeable pair too! Went out very
early this morning, cycling, did she? I must have a talk to the
servants. And that companion, now--Mrs. Elstrick--where's she got to? I
noticed her in court."

"Left, sir, just before Krevin Crood finished," said Hawthwaite's
companion. "I saw her slip out."

"Ay, well!" observed Hawthwaite. "I don't know that that matters! If any
of them can get through the meshes of our net ... Mr. Brent!"

"Well?" asked Brent.

"We've got at the truth at last about your cousin," continued
Hawthwaite, with a significant look. "It's been a case of one thing
leading to another. And two things running side by side. If we hadn't
cornered Krevin Crood we'd never have had his revelations about the Town
Trustees. Talk about your Local Government Board inquiry!--why, five
minutes of Krevin's tongue-work did more than half a dozen inquiries. I
tell you, sir, the old system's dead--the Crood gang was smashed to
pieces in that court this morning! Somehow, it's that that interests me
most, Mr. Brent. But--business!" He turned to the plain-clothes man, and
nodded towards the door. "Fetch those servants in here," he said.
"They've got to know."

Brent went away then, carrying certain secrets with him. He put them
away in a mental vault and sealed them down. Let Hawthwaite do his own
work, he would give him no help. He forsaw his own future work.
Wallingford, dead though he was, had won his victory and in his death
had slain the old wicked system. Now there was building and
reconstruction to be done, and it was his job to do it. He saw far ahead
as he trod the sunlit streets of the old town. He would marry Queenie
and they would settle into the slow-moving life of Hathelsborough, and
he and men who thought with him would slowly build up a new and healthy
state of things on the ruins of the old. So thinking he turned
mechanically towards Mrs. Appleyard's house, in search of Queenie.
Queenie, said Mrs. Appleyard, was in the garden behind. Brent went
through the house, and out into the garden's shade. There he found
Queenie. She sat in a summer-house, and she was shelling peas for
dinner.

                         THE END.



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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters errors, and
inconsistent spelling and punctuation; otherwise, every effort has been
made to be true to the original book.





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