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Title: The Borough Treasurer
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Borough Treasurer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BOROUGH
TREASURER

BY

J. S. FLETCHER

AUTHOR OF

THE MIDDLE TEMPLE MURDER,
THE PARADISE MYSTERY, ETC.

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

Made in the United States of America


COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.

Published July, 1921
Second Printing, November, 1921

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


CONTENTS


     I BLACKMAIL,                            1

    II CRIME--AND SUCCESS,                  11

   III MURDER,                              21

    IV THE PINE WOOD,                       31

     V THE CORD,                            41

    VI THE MAYOR,                           52

   VII NIGHT WORK,                          61

  VIII RETAINED FOR THE DEFENCE,            71

    IX ANTECEDENTS,                         82

     X THE HOLE IN THE THATCH,              91

    XI CHRISTOPHER PETT,                   101

   XII PARENTAL ANXIETY,                   111

  XIII THE ANONYMOUS LETTER,               121

   XIV THE SHEET OF FIGURES,               131

    XV ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER,         141

   XVI THE LONELY MOOR,                    149

  XVII THE MEDICAL OPINION,                159

 XVIII THE SCRAP BOOK,                     171

   XIX A TALL MAN IN GREY CLOTHES,         181

    XX AT BAY,                             191

   XXI THE INTERRUPTED FLIGHT,             203

  XXII THE HAND IN THE DARKNESS,           211

 XXIII COMFORTABLE CAPTIVITY,              221

  XXIV STRICT BUSINESS LINES,              231

   XXV NO FURTHER EVIDENCE,                242

  XXVI THE VIRTUES OF SUSPICION,           251

 XXVII MR. WRAYTHWAITE OF WRAYE,           260

XXVIII PAGES FROM THE PAST,                269

  XXIX WITHOUT THOUGHT OF CONSEQUENCES,    277

   XXX COTHERSTONE,                        283

  XXXI THE BARRISTER'S FEE,                302



THE BOROUGH TREASURER



CHAPTER I

BLACKMAIL


Half way along the north side of the main street of Highmarket an
ancient stone gateway, imposing enough to suggest that it was originally
the entrance to some castellated mansion or manor house, gave access to
a square yard, flanked about by equally ancient buildings. What those
buildings had been used for in other days was not obvious to the casual
and careless observer, but to the least observant their present use was
obvious enough. Here were piles of timber from Norway; there were stacks
of slate from Wales; here was marble from Aberdeen, and there cement
from Portland: the old chambers of the grey buildings were filled to
overflowing with all the things that go towards making a
house--ironwork, zinc, lead, tiles, great coils of piping, stores of
domestic appliances. And on a shining brass plate, set into the wall,
just within the gateway, were deeply engraven the words: _Mallalieu and
Cotherstone, Builders and Contractors_.

Whoever had walked into Mallalieu & Cotherstone's yard one October
afternoon a few years ago would have seen Mallalieu and Cotherstone in
person. The two partners had come out of their office and gone down the
yard to inspect half a dozen new carts, just finished, and now drawn up
in all the glory of fresh paint. Mallalieu had designed those carts
himself, and he was now pointing out their advantages to Cotherstone,
who was more concerned with the book-keeping and letter-writing side of
the business than with its actual work. He was a big, fleshy man,
Mallalieu, midway between fifty and sixty, of a large, solemn,
well-satisfied countenance, small, sly eyes, and an expression of steady
watchfulness; his attire was always of the eminently respectable sort,
his linen fresh and glossy; the thick gold chain across his ample front,
and the silk hat which he invariably wore, gave him an unmistakable air
of prosperity. He stood now, the silk hat cocked a little to one side,
one hand under the tail of his broadcloth coat, a pudgy finger of the
other pointing to some new feature of the mechanism of the new carts,
and he looked the personification of self-satisfaction and smug content.

"All done in one action, d'ye see, Cotherstone?" he was saying. "One
pull at that pin releases the entire load. We'd really ought to have a
patent for that idea."

Cotherstone went nearer the cart which they were examining. He was a
good deal of a contrast to his partner--a slightly built, wiry man,
nervous and quick of movement; although he was Mallalieu's junior he
looked older, and the thin hair at his temples was already whitening.
Mallalieu suggested solidity and almost bovine sleekness; in
Cotherstone, activity of speech and gesture was marked well-nigh to an
appearance of habitual anxiety. He stepped about the cart with the quick
action of an inquisitive bird or animal examining something which it has
never seen before.

"Yes, yes, yes!" he answered. "Yes, that's a good idea. But if it's to
be patented, you know, we ought to see to it at once, before these carts
go into use."

"Why, there's nobody in Highmarket like to rob us," observed Mallalieu,
good-humouredly. "You might consider about getting--what do they call
it?--provisional protection?--for it."

"I'll look it up," responded Cotherstone. "It's worth that, anyhow."

"Do," said Mallalieu. He pulled out the big gold watch which hung from
the end of his cable chain and glanced at its jewelled dial. "Dear me!"
he exclaimed. "Four o'clock--I've a meeting in the Mayor's parlour at
ten past. But I'll look in again before going home."

He hurried away towards the entrance gate, and Cotherstone, after
ruminative inspection of the new carts, glanced at some papers in his
hand and went over to a consignment of goods which required checking. He
was carefully ticking them off on a list when a clerk came down the
yard.

"Mr. Kitely called to pay his rent, sir," he announced. "He asked to see
you yourself."

"Twenty-five--six--seven," counted Cotherstone. "Take him into the
private office, Stoner," he answered. "I'll be there in a minute."

He continued his checking until it was finished, entered the figures on
his list, and went briskly back to the counting-house near the gateway.
There he bustled into a room kept sacred to himself and Mallalieu, with
a cheery greeting to his visitor--an elderly man who had recently
rented from him a small house on the outskirts of the town.

"Afternoon, Mr. Kitely," he said. "Glad to see you, sir--always glad to
see anybody with a bit of money, eh? Take a chair, sir--I hope you're
satisfied with the little place, Mr. Kitely?"

The visitor took the offered elbow-chair, folded his hands on the top of
his old-fashioned walking-cane, and glanced at his landlord with a
half-humorous, half-quizzical expression. He was an elderly,
clean-shaven, grey-haired man, spare of figure, dressed in rusty black;
a wisp of white neckcloth at his throat gave him something of a clerical
appearance: Cotherstone, who knew next to nothing about him, except that
he was able to pay his rent and taxes, had already set him down as a
retired verger of some cathedral.

"I should think you and Mr. Mallalieu are in no need of a bit of money,
Mr. Cotherstone," he said quietly. "Business seems to be good with you,
sir."

"Oh, so-so," replied Cotherstone, off-handedly. "Naught to complain of,
of course. I'll give you a receipt, Mr. Kitely," he went on, seating
himself at his desk and taking up a book of forms. "Let's
see--twenty-five pounds a year is six pound five a quarter--there you
are, sir. Will you have a drop of whisky?"

Kitely laid a handful of gold and silver on the desk, took the receipt,
and nodded his head, still watching Cotherstone with the same
half-humorous expression.

"Thank you," he said. "I shouldn't mind."

He watched Cotherstone produce a decanter and glasses, watched him fetch
fresh water from a filter in the corner of the room, watched him mix the
drinks, and took his own with no more than a polite nod of thanks. And
Cotherstone, murmuring an expression of good wishes, took a drink
himself, and sat down with his desk-chair turned towards his visitor.

"Aught you'd like doing at the house, Mr. Kitely?" he asked.

"No," answered Kitely, "no, I can't say that there is."

There was something odd, almost taciturn, in his manner, and Cotherstone
glanced at him a little wonderingly.

"And how do you like Highmarket, now you've had a spell of it?" he
inquired. "Got settled down, I suppose, now?"

"It's all that I expected," replied Kitely. "Quiet--peaceful. How do you
like it?"

"Me!" exclaimed Cotherstone, surprised. "Me?--why, I've had--yes,
five-and-twenty years of it!"

Kitely took another sip from his glass and set it down. He gave
Cotherstone a sharp look.

"Yes," he said, "yes--five-and-twenty years. You and your partner, both.
Yes--it'll be just about thirty years since I first saw you. But--you've
forgotten."

Cotherstone, who had been lounging forward, warming his hands at the
fire, suddenly sat straight up in his chair. His face, always sharp
seemed to grow sharper as he turned to his visitor with a questioning
look.

"Since--what?" he demanded.

"Since I first saw you--and Mr. Mallalieu," replied Kitely. "As I say,
you've forgotten. But--I haven't."

Cotherstone sat staring at his tenant for a full minute of
speechlessness. Then he slowly rose, walked over to the door, looked at
it to see that it was closed, and returning to the hearth, fixed his
eyes on Kitely.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Just what I say," answered Kitely, with a dry laugh. "It's thirty years
since I first saw you and Mallalieu. That's all."

"Where?" demanded Cotherstone.

Kitely motioned his landlord to sit down. And Cotherstone sat
down--trembling. His arm shook when Kitely laid a hand on it.

"Do you want to know where?" he asked, bending close to Cotherstone.
"I'll tell you. In the dock--at Wilchester Assizes. Eh?"

Cotherstone made no answer. He had put the tips of his fingers together,
and now he was tapping the nails of one hand against the nails of the
other. And he stared and stared at the face so close to his own--as if
it had been the face of a man resurrected from the grave. Within him
there was a feeling of extraordinary physical sickness; it was quickly
followed by one of inertia, just as extraordinary. He felt as if he had
been mesmerized; as if he could neither move nor speak. And Kitely sat
there, a hand on his victim's arm, his face sinister and purposeful,
close to his.

"Fact!" he murmured. "Absolute fact! I remember everything. It's come on
me bit by bit, though. I thought I knew you when I first came
here--then I had a feeling that I knew Mallalieu. And--in time--I
remembered--everything! Of course, when I saw you both--where I did see
you--you weren't Mallalieu & Cotherstone. You were----"

Cotherstone suddenly made an effort, and shook off the thin fingers
which lay on his sleeve. His pale face grew crimson, and the veins
swelled on his forehead.

"Confound you!" he said in a low, concentrated voice. "Who are you?"

Kitely shook his head and smiled quietly.

"No need to grow warm," he answered. "Of course, it's excusable in you.
Who am I? Well, if you really want to know, I've been employed in the
police line for thirty-five years--until lately."

"A detective!" exclaimed Cotherstone.

"Not when I was present at Wilchester--that time," replied Kitely. "But
afterwards--in due course. Ah!--do you know, I often was curious as to
what became of you both! But I never dreamed of meeting you--here. Of
course, you came up North after you'd done your time? Changed your
names, started a new life--and here you are! Clever!"

Cotherstone was recovering his wits. He had got out of his chair by that
time, and had taken up a position on the hearthrug, his back to the
fire, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on his visitor. He was
thinking--and for the moment he let Kitely talk.

"Yes--clever!" continued Kitely in the same level, subdued tones, "very
clever indeed! I suppose you'd carefully planted some of that money
you--got hold of? Must have done, of course--you'd want money to start
this business. Well, you've done all this on the straight, anyhow. And
you've done well, too. Odd, isn't it, that I should come to live down
here, right away in the far North of England, and find you in such good
circumstances, too! Mr. Mallalieu, Mayor of Highmarket--his second term
of office! Mr. Cotherstone, Borough Treasurer of Highmarket--now in his
sixth year of that important post! I say again--you've both done
uncommonly well--uncommonly!"

"Have you got any more to say?" asked Cotherstone.

But Kitely evidently intended to say what he had to say in his own
fashion. He took no notice of Cotherstone's question, and presently, as
if he were amusing himself with reminiscences of a long dead past, he
spoke again, quietly and slowly.

"Yes," he murmured, "uncommonly well! And of course you'd have capital.
Put safely away, of course, while you were doing your time. Let's
see--it was a Building Society that you defrauded, wasn't it? Mallalieu
was treasurer, and you were secretary. Yes--I remember now. The amount
was two thous----"

Cotherstone made a sudden exclamation and a sharp movement--both
checked by an equally sudden change of attitude and expression on the
part of the ex-detective. For Kitely sat straight up and looked the
junior partner squarely in the face.

"Better not, Mr. Cotherstone!" he said, with a grin that showed his
yellow teeth. "You can't very well choke the life out of me in your own
office, can you? You couldn't hide my old carcase as easily as you and
Mallalieu hid those Building Society funds, you know. So--be calm! I'm a
reasonable man--and getting an old man."

He accompanied the last words with a meaning smile, and Cotherstone took
a turn or two about the room, trying to steady himself. And Kitely
presently went on again, in the same monotonous tones:

"Think it all out--by all means," he said. "I don't suppose there's a
soul in all England but myself knows your secret--and Mallalieu's. It
was sheer accident, of course, that I ever discovered it. But--I know!
Just consider what I do know. Consider, too, what you stand to lose.
There's Mallalieu, so much respected that he's Mayor of this ancient
borough for the second time. There's you--so much trusted that you've
been Borough Treasurer for years. You can't afford to let me tell the
Highmarket folk that you two are ex-convicts! Besides, in your case
there's another thing--there's your daughter."

Cotherstone groaned--a deep, unmistakable groan of sheer torture. But
Kitely went on remorselessly.

"Your daughter's just about to marry the most promising young man in the
place," he said. "A young fellow with a career before him. Do you think
he'd marry her if he knew that her father--even if it is thirty years
ago--had been convicted of----"

"Look you here!" interrupted Cotherstone, through set teeth. "I've had
enough! I've asked you once before if you'd any more to say--now I'll
put it in another fashion. For I see what you're after--and it's
blackmail! How much do you want? Come on--give it a name!"

"Name nothing, till you've told Mallalieu," answered Kitely. "There's no
hurry. You two can't, and I shan't, run away. Time enough--I've the whip
hand. Tell your partner, the Mayor, all I've told you--then you can put
your heads together, and see what you're inclined to do. An annuity,
now?--that would suit me."

"You haven't mentioned this to a soul?" asked Cotherstone anxiously.

"Bah!" sneered Kitely. "D'ye think I'm a fool? Not likely. Well--now you
know. I'll come in here again tomorrow afternoon. And--you'll both be
here, and ready with a proposal."

He picked up his glass, leisurely drank off its remaining contents, and
without a word of farewell opened the door and went quietly away.



CHAPTER II

CRIME--AND SUCCESS


For some moments after Kitely had left him, Cotherstone stood vacantly
staring at the chair in which the blackmailer had sat. As yet he could
not realize things. He was only filled with a queer, vague amazement
about Kitely himself. He began to look back on his relations with
Kitely. They were recent--very recent, only of yesterday, as you might
say. Kitely had come to him, one day about three months previously, told
him that he had come to these parts for a bit of a holiday, taken a
fancy to a cottage which he, Cotherstone, had to let, and inquired its
rent. He had mentioned, casually, that he had just retired from
business, and wanted a quiet place wherein to spend the rest of his
days. He had taken the cottage, and given his landlord satisfactory
references as to his ability to pay the rent--and Cotherstone, always a
busy man, had thought no more about him. Certainly he had never
anticipated such an announcement as that which Kitely had just made to
him--never dreamed that Kitely had recognized him and Mallalieu as men
he had known thirty years ago.

It had been Cotherstone's life-long endeavour to forget all about the
event of thirty years ago, and to a large extent he had succeeded in
dulling his memory. But Kitely had brought it all back--and now
everything was fresh to him. His brows knitted and his face grew dark as
he thought of one thing in his past of which Kitely had spoken so easily
and glibly--the dock. He saw himself in that dock again--and Mallalieu
standing by him. They were not called Mallalieu and Cotherstone then, of
course. He remembered what their real names were--he remembered, too,
that, until a few minutes before, he had certainly not repeated them,
even to himself, for many a long year. Oh, yes--he remembered
everything--he saw it all again. The case had excited plenty of
attention in Wilchester at the time--Wilchester, that for thirty years
had been so far away in thought and in actual distance that it might
have been some place in the Antipodes. It was not a nice case--even now,
looking back upon it from his present standpoint, it made him blush to
think of. Two better-class young working-men, charged with embezzling
the funds of a building society to which they had acted as treasurer and
secretary!--a bad case. The Court had thought it a bad case, and the
culprits had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment. And now
Cotherstone only remembered that imprisonment as one remembers a
particularly bad dream. Yes--it had been real.

His eyes, moody and brooding, suddenly shifted their gaze from the easy
chair to his own hands--they were shaking. Mechanically he took up the
whisky decanter from his desk, and poured some of its contents into his
glass--the rim of the glass tinkled against the neck of the decanter.
Yes--that had been a shock, right enough, he muttered to himself, and
not all the whisky in the world would drive it out of him. But a
drink--neat and stiff--would pull his nerves up to pitch, and so he
drank, once, twice, and sat down with the glass in his hand--to think
still more.

That old Kitely was shrewd--shrewd! He had at once hit on a fact which
those Wilchester folk of thirty years ago had never suspected. It had
been said at the time that the two offenders had lost the building
society's money in gambling and speculation, and there had been grounds
for such a belief. But that was not so. Most of the money had been
skilfully and carefully put where the two conspirators could lay hands
on it as soon as it was wanted, and when the term of imprisonment was
over they had nothing to do but take possession of it for their own
purposes. They had engineered everything very well--Cotherstone's
essentially constructive mind, regarding their doings from the vantage
ground of thirty years' difference, acknowledged that they had been
cute, crafty, and cautious to an admirable degree of perfection. Quietly
and unobtrusively they had completely disappeared from their own
district in the extreme South of England, when their punishment was
over. They had let it get abroad that they were going to another
continent, to retrieve the past and start a new life; it was even known
that they repaired to Liverpool, to take ship for America. But in
Liverpool they had shuffled off everything of the past--names,
relations, antecedents. There was no reason why any one should watch
them out of the country, but they had adopted precautions against such
watching. They separated, disappeared, met again in the far North, in a
sparsely-populated, lonely country of hill and dale, led there by an
advertisement which they had seen in a local newspaper, met with by
sheer chance in a Liverpool hotel. There was an old-established business
to sell as a going concern, in the dale town of Highmarket: the two
ex-convicts bought it. From that time they were Anthony Mallalieu and
Milford Cotherstone, and the past was dead.

During the thirty years in which that past had been dead, Cotherstone
had often heard men remark that this world of ours is a very small one,
and he had secretly laughed at them. To him and to his partner the world
had been wide and big enough. They were now four hundred miles away from
the scene of their crime. There was nothing whatever to bring Wilchester
people into that northern country, nothing to take Highmarket folk
anywhere near Wilchester. Neither he nor Mallalieu ever went far
afield--London they avoided with particular care, lest they should meet
any one there who had known them in the old days. They had stopped at
home, and minded their business, year in and year out. Naturally, they
had prospered. They had speedily become known as hard-working young men;
then as good employers of labour; finally as men of considerable
standing in a town of which there were only some five thousand
inhabitants. They had been invited to join in public matters--Mallalieu
had gone into the Town Council first; Cotherstone had followed him
later. They had been as successful in administering the affairs of the
little town as in conducting their own, and in time both had attained
high honours: Mallalieu was now wearing the mayoral chain for the second
time; Cotherstone, as Borough Treasurer, had governed the financial
matters of Highmarket for several years. And as he sat there, staring at
the red embers of the office fire, he remembered that there were no two
men in the whole town who were more trusted and respected than he and
his partner--his partner in success ... and in crime.

But that was not all. Both men had married within a few years of their
coming to Highmarket. They had married young women of good standing in
the neighbourhood; it was perhaps well, reflected Cotherstone, that
their wives were dead, and that Mallalieu had never been blessed with
children. But Cotherstone had a daughter, of whom he was as fond as he
was proud; for her he had toiled and contrived, always intending her to
be a rich woman. He had seen to it that she was well educated; he had
even allowed himself to be deprived of her company for two years while
she went to an expensive school, far away; since she had grown up, he
had surrounded her with every comfort. And now, as Kitely had reminded
him, she was engaged to be married to the most promising young man in
Highmarket, Windle Bent, a rich manufacturer, who had succeeded to and
greatly developed a fine business, who had already made his mark on the
Town Council, and was known to cherish Parliamentary ambitions.
Everybody knew that Bent had a big career before him; he had all the
necessary gifts; all the proper stuff in him for such a career. He would
succeed; he would probably win a title for himself--a baronetcy, perhaps
a peerage. This was just the marriage which Cotherstone desired for
Lettie; he would die more than happy if he could once hear her called
Your Ladyship. And now here was--this!

Cotherstone sat there a long time, thinking, reflecting, reckoning up
things. The dusk had come; the darkness followed; he made no movement
towards the gas bracket. Nothing mattered but his trouble. That must be
dealt with. At all costs, Kitely's silence must be purchased--aye, even
if it cost him and Mallalieu one-half of what they had. And, of course,
Mallalieu must be told--at once.

A tap of somebody's knuckles on the door of the private room roused him
at last, and he sprang up and seized a box of matches as he bade the
person without to enter. The clerk came in, carrying a sheaf of papers,
and Cotherstone bustled to the gas.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed. "I've dropped off into a nod over this warm
fire, Stoner. What's that--letters?"

"There's all these letters to sign, Mr. Cotherstone, and these three
contracts to go through," answered the clerk. "And there are those
specifications to examine, as well."

"Mr. Mallalieu'll have to see those," said Cotherstone. He lighted the
gas above his desk, put the decanter and the glasses aside, and took the
letters. "I'll sign these, anyhow," he said, "and then you can post 'em
as you go home. The other papers'll do tomorrow morning."

The clerk stood slightly behind his master as Cotherstone signed one
letter after the other, glancing quickly through each. He was a young
man of twenty-two or three, with quick, observant manners, a keen eye,
and a not handsome face, and as he stood there the face was bent on
Cotherstone with a surmising look. Stoner had noticed his employer's
thoughtful attitude, the gloom in which Cotherstone sat, the decanter on
the table, the glass in Cotherstone's hand, and he knew that Cotherstone
was telling a fib when he said he had been asleep. He noticed, too, the
six sovereigns and the two or three silver coins lying on the desk, and
he wondered what had made his master so abstracted that he had forgotten
to pocket them. For he knew Cotherstone well, and Cotherstone was so
particular about money that he never allowed even a penny to lie out of
place.

"There!" said Cotherstone, handing back the batch of letters. "You'll be
going now, I suppose. Put those in the post. I'm not going just yet, so
I'll lock up the office. Leave the outer door open--Mr. Mallalieu's
coming back."

He pulled down the blinds of the private room when Stoner had gone, and
that done he fell to walking up and down, awaiting his partner. And
presently Mallalieu came, smoking a cigar, and evidently in as good
humour as usual.

"Oh, you're still here?" he said as he entered. "I--what's up?"

He had come to a sudden halt close to his partner, and he now stood
staring at him. And Cotherstone, glancing past Mallalieu's broad
shoulder at a mirror, saw that he himself had become startlingly pale
and haggard. He looked twenty years older than he had looked when he
shaved himself that morning.

"Aren't you well?" demanded Mallalieu. "What is it?"

Cotherstone made no answer. He walked past Mallalieu and looked into the
outer office. The clerk had gone, and the place was only half-lighted.
But Cotherstone closed the door with great care, and when he went back
to Mallalieu he sank his voice to a whisper.

"Bad news!" he said. "Bad--bad news!"

"What about?" asked Mallalieu. "Private? Business?"

Cotherstone put his lips almost close to Mallalieu's ear.

"That man Kitely--my new tenant," he whispered. "He's met us--you and
me--before!"

Mallalieu's rosy cheeks paled, and he turned sharply on his companion.

"Met--us!" he exclaimed. "Him! Where?--when?"

Cotherstone got his lips still closer.

"Wilchester!" he answered. "Thirty years ago. He--knows!"

Mallalieu dropped into the nearest chair: dropped as if he had been
shot. His face, full of colour from the keen air outside, became as pale
as his partner's; his jaw fell, his mouth opened; a strained look came
into his small eyes.

"Gad!" he muttered hoarsely. "You--you don't say so!"

"It's a fact," answered Cotherstone. "He knows everything. He's an
ex-detective. He was there--that day."

"Tracked us down?" asked Mallalieu. "That it?"

"No," said Cotherstone. "Sheer chance--pure accident. Recognized
us--after he came here. Aye--after all these years! Thirty years!"

Mallalieu's eyes, roving about the room, fell on the decanter. He pulled
himself out of his chair, found a clean glass, and took a stiff drink.
And his partner, watching him, saw that his hands, too, were shaking.

"That's a facer!" said Mallalieu. His voice had grown stronger, and the
colour came back to his cheeks. "A real facer! As you say--after thirty
years! It's hard--it's blessed hard! And--what does he want? What's he
going to do?"

"Wants to blackmail us, of course," replied Cotherstone, with a
mirthless laugh. "What else should he do? What could he do? Why, he
could tell all Highmarket who we are, and----"

"Aye, aye!--but the thing is here," interrupted Mallalieu.

"Supposing we do square him?--is there any reliance to be placed on him
then? It 'ud only be the old game--he'd only want more."

"He said an annuity," remarked Cotherstone, thoughtfully. "And he added
significantly, that he was getting an old man."

"How old?" demanded Mallalieu.

"Between sixty and seventy," said Cotherstone. "I'm under the impression
that he could be squared, could be satisfied. He'll have to be! We can't
let it get out--I can't, any way. There's my daughter to think of."

"D'ye think I'd let it get out?" asked Mallalieu. "No!--all I'm thinking
of is if we really can silence him. I've heard of cases where a man's
paid blackmail for years and years, and been no better for it in the
end."

"Well--he's coming here tomorrow afternoon some time," said Cotherstone.
"We'd better see him--together. After all, a hundred a year--a couple of
hundred a year--'ud be better than--exposure."

Mallalieu drank off his whisky and pushed the glass aside.

"I'll consider it," he remarked. "What's certain sure is that he'll have
to be quietened. I must go--I've an appointment. Are you coming out?"

"Not yet," replied Cotherstone. "I've all these papers to go through.
Well, think it well over. He's a man to be feared."

Mallalieu made no answer. He, like Kitely, went off without a word of
farewell, and Cotherstone was once more left alone.



CHAPTER III

MURDER


When Mallalieu had gone, Cotherstone gathered up the papers which his
clerk had brought in, and sitting down at his desk tried to give his
attention to them. The effort was not altogether a success. He had hoped
that the sharing of the bad news with his partner would bring some
relief to him, but his anxieties were still there. He was always seeing
that queer, sinister look in Kitely's knowing eyes: it suggested that as
long as Kitely lived there would be no safety. Even if Kitely kept his
word, kept any compact made with him, he would always have the two
partners under his thumb. And for thirty years Cotherstone had been
under no man's thumb, and the fear of having a master was hateful to
him. He heartily wished that Kitely was dead--dead and buried, and his
secret with him; he wished that it had been anywise possible to have
crushed the life out of him where he sat in that easy chair as soon as
he had shown himself the reptile that he was. A man might kill any
poisonous insect, any noxious reptile at pleasure--why not a human
blood-sucker like that?

He sat there a long time, striving to give his attention to his papers,
and making a poor show of it. The figures danced about before him; he
could make neither head nor tail of the technicalities in the
specifications and estimates; every now and then fits of abstraction
came over him, and he sat drumming the tips of his fingers on his
blotting-pad, staring vacantly at the shadows in the far depths of the
room, and always thinking--thinking of the terrible danger of
revelation. And always, as an under-current, he was saying that for
himself he cared naught--Kitely could do what he liked, or would have
done what he liked, had there only been himself to think for.
But--Lettie! All his life was now centred in her, and in her happiness,
and Lettie's happiness, he knew, was centred in the man she was going to
marry. And Cotherstone, though he believed that he knew men pretty well,
was not sure that he knew Windle Bent sufficiently to feel sure that he
would endure a stiff test. Bent was ambitious--he was resolved on a
career. Was he the sort of man to stand the knowledge which Kitely might
give him? For there was always the risk that whatever he and Mallalieu
might do, Kitely, while there was breath in him, might split.

A sudden ringing at the bell of the telephone in the outer office made
Cotherstone jump in his chair as if the arresting hand of justice had
suddenly been laid on him. In spite of himself he rose trembling, and
there were beads of perspiration on his forehead as he walked across the
room.

"Nerves!" he muttered to himself. "I must be in a queer way to be taken
like that. It won't do!--especially at this turn. What is it?" he
demanded, going to the telephone. "Who is that?"

His daughter's voice, surprised and admonitory, came to him along the
wire.

"Is that you, father?" she exclaimed. "What are you doing? Don't you
remember you asked Windle, and his friend Mr. Brereton, to supper at
eight o'clock. It's a quarter to eight now. Do come home!"

Cotherstone let out an exclamation which signified annoyance. The event
of the late afternoon had completely driven it out of his recollection
that Windle Bent had an old school-friend, a young barrister from
London, staying with him, and that both had been asked to supper that
evening at Cotherstone's house. But Cotherstone's annoyance was not
because of his own forgetfulness, but because his present abstraction
made him dislike the notion of company.

"I'd forgotten--for the moment," he called. "I've been very busy. All
right, Lettie--I'm coming on at once. Shan't be long."

But when he had left the telephone he made no haste. He lingered by his
desk; he was slow in turning out the gas; slow in quitting and locking
up his office; he went slowly away through the town. Nothing could have
been further from his wishes than a desire to entertain company that
night--and especially a stranger. His footsteps dragged as he passed
through the market-place and turned into the outskirts beyond.

Some years previously to this, when they had both married and made
money, the two partners had built new houses for themselves. Outside
Highmarket, on its western boundary, rose a long, low hill called
Highmarket Shawl; the slope which overhung the town was thickly covered
with fir and pine, amidst which great masses of limestone crag jutted
out here and there. At the foot of this hill, certain plots of building
land had been sold, and Mallalieu had bought one and Cotherstone
another, and on these they had erected two solid stone houses, fitted up
with all the latest improvements known to the building trade. Each was
proud of his house; each delighted in welcoming friends and
acquaintances there--this was the first night Cotherstone could remember
on which it was hateful to him to cross his own threshold. The lighted
windows, the smell of good things cooked for supper, brought him no
sense of satisfaction; he had to make a distinct effort to enter and to
present a face of welcome to his two guests, who were already there,
awaiting him.

"Couldn't get in earlier," he said, replying to Lettie's half-anxious,
half-playful scoldings. "There was some awkward business turned up this
evening--and as it is, I shall have to run away for an hour after
supper--can't be helped. How do you do, sir?" he went on, giving his
hand to the stranger. "Glad to see you in these parts--you'll find this
a cold climate after London, I'm afraid."

He took a careful look at Bent's friend as they all sat down to
supper--out of sheer habit of inspecting any man who was new to him. And
after a glance or two he said to himself that this young limb of the law
was a sharp chap--a keen-eyed, alert, noticeable fellow, whose every
action and tone denoted great mental activity. He was sharper than Bent,
said Cotherstone, and in his opinion, that was saying a good deal.
Bent's ability was on the surface; he was an excellent specimen of the
business man of action, who had ideas out of the common but was not so
much given to deep and quiet thinking as to prompt doing of things
quickly decided on. He glanced from one to the other, mentally comparing
them. Bent was a tall, handsome man, blonde, blue-eyed, ready of word
and laugh; Brereton, a medium-sized, compact fellow, dark of hair and
eye, with an olive complexion that almost suggested foreign origin: the
sort, decided Cotherstone, that thought a lot and said little. And
forcing himself to talk he tried to draw the stranger out, watching him,
too, to see if he admired Lettie. For it was one of Cotherstone's
greatest joys in life to bring folk to his house and watch the effect
which his pretty daughter had on them, and he was rewarded now in seeing
that the young man from London evidently applauded his friend's choice
and paid polite tribute to Lettie's charm.

"And what might you have been doing with Mr. Brereton since he got down
yesterday?" asked Cotherstone. "Showing him round, of course?"

"I've been tormenting him chiefly with family history," answered Bent,
with a laughing glance at his sweetheart. "You didn't know I was raking
up everything I could get hold of about my forbears, did you? Oh, I've
been busy at that innocent amusement for a month past--old Kitely put me
up to it."

Cotherstone could barely repress an inclination to start in his chair;
he himself was not sure that he did not show undue surprise.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Kitely? My tenant? What does he know about your
family? A stranger!"

"Much more than I do," replied Bent. "The old chap's nothing to do, you
know, and since he took up his abode here he's been spending all his
time digging up local records--he's a good bit of an antiquary, and that
sort of thing. The Town Clerk tells me Kitely's been through nearly all
the old town documents--chests full of them! And Kitely told me one day
that if I liked he'd trace our pedigree back to I don't know when, and
as he seemed keen, I told him to go ahead. He's found out a lot of
interesting things in the borough records that I never heard of."

Cotherstone had kept his eyes on his plate while Bent was talking; he
spoke now without looking up.

"Oh?" he said, trying to speak unconcernedly. "Ah!--then you'll have
been seeing a good deal of Kitely lately?"

"Not so much," replied Bent. "He's brought me the result of his work now
and then--things he's copied out of old registers, and so on."

"And what good might it all amount to?" asked Cotherstone, more for the
sake of talking than for any interest he felt. "Will it come to aught?"

"Bent wants to trace his family history back to the Conquest," observed
Brereton, slyly. "He thinks the original Bent came over with the
Conqueror. But his old man hasn't got beyond the Tudor period yet."

"Never mind!" said Bent. "There were Bents in Highmarket in Henry the
Seventh's time, anyhow. And if one has a pedigree, why not have it
properly searched out? He's a keen old hand at that sort of thing,
Kitely. The Town Clerk says he can read some of our borough charters of
six hundred years ago as if they were newspaper articles."

Cotherstone made no remark on that. He was thinking. So Kitely was in
close communication with Bent, was he?--constantly seeing him, being
employed by him? Well, that cut two ways. It showed that up to now he
had taken no advantage of his secret knowledge and might therefore be
considered as likely to play straight if he were squared by the two
partners. But it also proved that Bent would probably believe anything
that Kitely might tell him. Certainly Kitely must be dealt with at once.
He knew too much, and was obviously too clever, to be allowed to go
about unfettered. Cost what it might, he must be attached to the
Mallalieu-Cotherstone interest. And what Cotherstone was concentrating
on just then, as he ate and drank, was--how to make that attachment in
such a fashion that Kitely would have no option but to keep silence. If
only he and Mallalieu could get a hold on Kitely, such as that which he
had on them----

"Well," he said as supper came to an end, "I'm sorry, but I'm forced to
leave you gentlemen for an hour, at any rate--can't be helped. Lettie,
you must try to amuse 'em until I come back. Sing Mr. Brereton some of
your new songs. Bent--you know where the whisky and the cigars are--help
yourselves--make yourselves at home."

"You won't be more than an hour, father?" asked Lettie.

"An hour'll finish what I've got to do," replied Cotherstone, "maybe
less--I'll be as quick as I can, anyway, my lass."

He hurried off without further ceremony; a moment later and he had
exchanged the warmth and brightness of his comfortable dining-room for
the chill night and the darkness. And as he turned out of his garden he
was thinking still further and harder. So Windle Bent was one of those
chaps who have what folk call family pride, was he? Actually proud of
the fact that he had a pedigree, and could say who his grandfather and
grandmother were?--things on which most people were as hazy as they were
indifferent. In that case, if he was really family-proud, all the more
reason why Kitely should be made to keep his tongue still. For if Windle
Bent was going on the game of making out that he was a man of family, he
certainly would not relish the prospect of uniting his ancient blood
with that of a man who had seen the inside of a prison.
Kitely!--promptly and definitely--and for _good_!--that was the ticket.

Cotherstone went off into the shadows of the night--and a good hour had
passed when he returned to his house. It was then ten o'clock; he
afterwards remembered that he glanced at the old grandfather clock in
his hall when he let himself in. All was very quiet in there; he opened
the drawing-room door to find the two young men and Lettie sitting over
a bright fire, and Brereton evidently telling the other two some story,
which he was just bringing to a conclusion.

" ... for it's a fact, in criminal practice," Brereton was saying, "that
there are no end of undiscovered crimes--there are any amount of guilty
men going about free as the air, and----"

"Hope you've been enjoying yourselves," said Cotherstone, going forward
to the group. "I've been as quick as I could."

"Mr. Brereton has been telling us most interesting stories about
criminals," said Lettie. "Facts--much stranger than fiction!"

"Then I'm sure it's time he'd something to refresh himself with," said
Cotherstone hospitably. "Come away, gentlemen, and we'll see if we can't
find a drop to drink and a cigar to smoke."

He led the way to the dining-room and busied himself in bringing out
some boxes of cigars from a cupboard while Lettie produced decanters and
glasses from the sideboard.

"So you're interested in criminal matters, sir?" observed Cotherstone as
he offered Brereton a cigar. "Going in for that line, eh?"

"What practice I've had has been in that line," answered Brereton, with
a quiet laugh. "One sort of gets pitchforked into these things, you
know, so----"

"What's that?" exclaimed Lettie, who was just then handing the young
barrister a tumbler of whisky and soda which Bent had mixed for him.
"Somebody running hurriedly up the drive--as if something had happened!
Surely you're not going to be fetched out again, father?"

A loud ringing of the bell prefaced the entrance of some visitor, whose
voice was heard in eager conversation with a parlourmaid in the hall.

"That's your neighbour--Mr. Garthwaite," said Bent.

Cotherstone set down the cigars and opened the dining-room door. A
youngish, fresh-coloured man, who looked upset and startled, came out of
the hall, glancing round him inquiringly.

"Sorry to intrude, Mr. Cotherstone," he said. "I say!--that old
gentleman you let the cottage to--Kitely, you know."

"What of him?" demanded Cotherstone sharply.

"He's lying there in the coppice above your house--I stumbled over him
coming through there just now," replied Garthwaite. "He--don't be
frightened, Miss Cotherstone--he's--well, there's no doubt of it--he's
dead! And----"

"And--what?" asked Cotherstone. "What, man? Out with it!"

"And I should say, murdered!" said Garthwaite. "I--yes, I just saw
enough to say that. Murdered--without a doubt!"



CHAPTER IV

THE PINE WOOD


Brereton, standing back in the room, the cigar which Cotherstone had
just given him unlighted in one hand, the glass which Lettie had
presented to him in the other, was keenly watching the man who had just
spoken and the man to whom he spoke. But all his attention was quickly
concentrated on Cotherstone. For despite a strong effort to control
himself, Cotherstone swayed a little, and instinctively put out a hand
and clutched Bent's arm. He paled, too--the sudden spasm of pallor was
almost instantly succeeded by a quick flush of colour. He made another
effort--and tried to laugh.

"Nonsense, man!" he said thickly and hoarsely. "Murder? Who should want
to kill an old chap like that? It's--here, give me a drink, one of
you--that's--a bit startling!"

Bent seized a tumbler which he himself had just mixed, and Cotherstone
gulped off half its contents. He looked round apologetically.

"I--I think I'm not as strong as I was," he muttered. "Overwork,
likely--I've been a bit shaky of late. A shock like that----"

"I'm sorry," said Garthwaite, who looked surprised at the effect of his
news. "I ought to have known better. But you see, yours is the nearest
house----"

"Quite right, my lad, quite right," exclaimed Cotherstone. "You did the
right thing. Here!--we'd better go up. Have you called the police?"

"I sent the man from the cottage at the foot of your garden," answered
Garthwaite. "He was just locking up as I passed, so I told him, and sent
him off."

"We'll go," said Cotherstone. He looked round at his guests. "You'll
come?" he asked.

"Don't you go, father," urged Lettie, "if you're not feeling well."

"I'm all right," insisted Cotherstone. "A mere bit of weakness--that's
all. Now that I know what's to be faced--" he twisted suddenly on
Garthwaite--"what makes you think it's murder?" he demanded. "Murder!
That's a big word."

Garthwaite glanced at Lettie, who was whispering to Bent, and shook his
head.

"Tell you when we get outside," he said. "I don't want to frighten your
daughter."

"Come on, then," said Cotherstone. He hurried into the hall and snatched
up an overcoat. "Fetch me that lantern out of the kitchen," he called to
the parlourmaid. "Light it! Don't you be afraid, Lettie," he went on,
turning to his daughter. "There's naught to be afraid of--now. You
gentlemen coming with us?"

Bent and Brereton had already got into their coats: when the maid came
with the lantern, all four men went out. And as soon as they were in
the garden Cotherstone turned on Garthwaite.

"How do you know he's murdered?" he asked. "How could you tell?"

"I'll tell you all about it, now we're outside," answered Garthwaite.
"I'd been over to Spennigarth, to see Hollings. I came back over the
Shawl, and made a short cut through the wood. And I struck my foot
against something--something soft, you know--I don't like thinking of
that! And so I struck a match, and looked, and saw this old
fellow--don't like thinking of that, either. He was laid there, a few
yards out of the path that runs across the Shawl at that point. I saw he
was dead--and as for his being murdered, well, all I can say is, he's
been strangled! That's flat."

"Strangled!" exclaimed Bent.

"Aye, without doubt," replied Garthwaite. "There's a bit of rope round
his neck that tight that I couldn't put my little finger between it and
him! But you'll see for yourselves--it's not far up the Shawl. You never
heard anything, Mr. Cotherstone?"

"No, we heard naught," answered Cotherstone. "If it's as you say,
there'd be naught to hear."

He had led them out of his grounds by a side-gate, and they were now in
the thick of the firs and pines which grew along the steep, somewhat
rugged slope of the Shawl. He put the lantern into Garthwaite's hand.

"Here--you show the way," he said. "I don't know where it is, of
course."

"You were going straight to it," remarked Garthwaite. He turned to
Brereton, who was walking at his side. "You're a lawyer, aren't you?" he
asked. "I heard that Mr. Bent had a lawyer friend stopping with him just
now--we hear all the bits of news in a little place like Highmarket.
Well--you'll understand, likely--it hadn't been long done!"

"You noticed that?" said Brereton.

"I touched him," replied Garthwaite. "His hand and cheek were--just
warm. He couldn't have been dead so very long--as I judged matters.
And--here he is!"

He twisted sharply round the corner of one of the great masses of
limestone which cropped out amongst the trees, and turned the light of
the lantern on the dead man.

"There!" he said in a hushed voice. "There!"

The four men came to a halt, each gazing steadily at the sight they had
come to see. It needed no more than a glance to assure each that he was
looking on death: there was that in Kitely's attitude which forbade any
other possibility.

"He's just as I found him," whispered Garthwaite. "I came round this
rock from there, d'ye see, and my foot knocked against his shoulder.
But, you know, he's been dragged here! Look at that!"

Brereton, after a glance at the body, had looked round at its
surroundings. The wood thereabouts was carpeted--thickly carpeted--with
pine needles; they lay several inches thick beneath the trunks of the
trees; they stretched right up to the edge of the rock. And now, as
Garthwaite turned the lantern, they saw that on this soft carpet there
was a great slur--the murderer had evidently dragged his victim some
yards across the pine needles before depositing him behind the rock. And
at the end of this mark there were plain traces of a struggle--the soft,
easily yielding stuff was disturbed, kicked about, upheaved, but as
Brereton at once recognized, it was impossible to trace footprints in
it.

"That's where it must have been," said Garthwaite. "You see there's a
bit of a path there. The old man must have been walking along that path,
and whoever did it must have sprung out on him there--where all those
marks are--and when he'd strangled him dragged him here. That's how I
figure it, Mr. Cotherstone."

Lights were coming up through the wood beneath them, glancing from point
to point amongst the trees. Then followed a murmur of voices, and three
or four men came into view--policemen, carrying their lamps, the man
whom Garthwaite had sent into the town, and a medical man who acted as
police surgeon.

"Here!" said Bent, as the newcomers advanced and halted irresolutely.
"This way, doctor--there's work for you here--of a sort, anyway. Of
course, he's dead?"

The doctor had gone forward as soon as he caught sight of the body, and
he dropped on his knees at its side while the others gathered round. In
the added light everybody now saw things more clearly. Kitely lay in a
heap--just as a man would lie who had been unceremoniously thrown down.
But Brereton's sharp eyes saw at once that after he had been flung at
the foot of the mass of rock some hand had disarranged his clothing. His
overcoat and under coat had been torn open, hastily, if not with
absolute violence; the lining of one trousers pocket was pulled out;
there were evidences that his waistcoat had been unbuttoned and its
inside searched: everything seemed to indicate that the murderer had
also been a robber.

"He's not been dead very long," said the doctor, looking up. "Certainly
not more than three-quarters of an hour. Strangled? Yes!--and by
somebody who has more than ordinary knowledge of how quickly a man may
be killed in that way! Look how this cord is tied--no amateur did that."

He turned back the neckcloth from the dead man's throat, and showed the
others how the cord had been slipped round the neck in a running-knot
and fastened tightly with a cunning twist.

"Whoever did this had done the same thing before--probably more than
once," he continued. "No man with that cord round his neck, tightly
knotted like that, would have a chance--however free his hands might be.
He'd be dead before he could struggle. Does no one know anything about
this? No more than that?" he went on, when he had heard what Garthwaite
could tell. "Well, this is murder, anyway! Are there no signs of
anything about here?"

"Don't you think his clothing looks as if he had been robbed?" said
Brereton, pointing to the obvious signs. "That should be noted before
he's moved."

"I've noted that, sir," said the police-sergeant, who had bent over the
body while the doctor was examining it. "There's one of his pockets
turned inside out, and all his clothing's been torn open. Robbery, of
course--that's what it's been--murder for the sake of robbery!"

One of the policemen, having satisfied his curiosity stepped back and
began to search the surroundings with the aid of his lamp. He suddenly
uttered a sharp exclamation.

"Here's something!" he said, stooping to the foot of a pine-tree and
picking up a dark object. "An old pocket-book--nothing in it, though."

"That was his," remarked Cotherstone. "I've seen it before. He used to
carry it in an inner pocket. Empty, do you say?--no papers?"

"Not a scrap of anything," answered the policeman, handing the book over
to his sergeant, and proceeding to search further. "We'd best to see if
there's any footprints about."

"You'd better examine that path, then," said Garthwaite. "You'll find no
prints on all this pine-needle stuff--naught to go by, anyway--it's too
thick and soft. But he must have come along that path, one way or
another--I've met him walking in here of an evening, more than once."

The doctor, who had exchanged a word or two with the sergeant, turned to
Cotherstone.

"Wasn't he a tenant of yours?" he asked. "Had the cottage at the top of
the Shawl here. Well, we'd better have the body removed there, and some
one should go up and warn his family."

"There's no family," answered Cotherstone. "He'd naught but a
housekeeper--Miss Pett. She's an elderly woman--and not likely to be
startled, from what I've seen of her."

"I'll go," said Bent. "I know the housekeeper." He touched Brereton's
elbow, and led him away amongst the trees and up the wood. "This is a
strange affair!" he continued when they were clear of the others. "Did
you hear what Dr. Rockcliffe said?--that whoever had done it was
familiar with that sort of thing!"

"I saw for myself," replied Brereton. "I noticed that cord, and the knot
on it, at once. A man whose neck was tied up like that could be thrown
down, thrown anywhere, left to stand up, if you like, and he'd be
literally helpless, even if, as the doctor said, he had the use of his
hands. He'd be unconscious almost at once--dead very soon afterwards.
Murder?--I should think so!--and a particularly brutal and determined
one. Bent!--whoever killed that poor old fellow was a man of great
strength and of--knowledge! Knowledge, mind you!--he knew the trick. You
haven't any doubtful character in Highmarket who has ever lived in
India, have you?"

"India! Why India?" asked Bent.

"Because I should say that the man who did that job has learned some of
the Indian tricks with cords and knots," answered Brereton. "That
murder's suggestive of Thuggeeism in some respects. That the cottage?"
he went on, pointing to a dim light ahead of him. "This housekeeper,
now?--is she the sort who'll take it quietly?"

"She's as queer a character as the old fellow himself was," replied
Bent, as they cleared the wood and entered a hedge-enclosed garden at
the end of which stood an old-fashioned cottage. "I've talked to her now
and then when calling here--I should say she's a woman of nerve."

Brereton looked narrowly at Miss Pett when she opened the door. She
carried a tallow candle in one hand and held it high above her head to
throw a light on the callers; its dim rays fell more on herself than on
them. A tall, gaunt, elderly woman, almost fleshless of face, and with a
skin the colour of old parchment, out of which shone a pair of bright
black eyes; the oddity of her appearance was heightened by her
head-dress--a glaring red and yellow handkerchief tightly folded in such
a fashion as to cover any vestige of hair. Her arms, bare to the elbow,
and her hands were as gaunt as her face, but Brereton was quick to
recognize the suggestion of physical strength in the muscles and sinews
under the parchment-like skin. A strange, odd-looking woman altogether,
he thought, and not improved by the fact that she appeared to have lost
all her teeth, and that a long, sharp nose and prominent chin almost met
before her sunken lips.

"Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Bent?" she said, before either of the young
men could speak. "Mr. Kitely's gone out for his regular bedtime
constitution--he will have that, wet or fine, every night. But he's much
longer than usual, and----"

She stopped suddenly, seeing some news in Bent's face, and her own
contracted to a questioning look.

"Is there aught amiss?" she asked. "Has something happened him? Aught
that's serious? You needn't be afraid to speak, Mr. Bent--there's
naught can upset or frighten me, let me tell you--I'm past all that!"

"I'm afraid Mr. Kitely's past everything, too, then," said Bent. He
looked steadily at her for a moment, and seeing that she understood,
went on. "They're bringing him up, Miss Pett--you'd better make ready.
You won't be alarmed--I don't think there's any doubt that he's been
murdered."

The woman gazed silently at her visitors; then, nodding her turbaned
head, she drew back into the cottage.

"It's what I expected," she muttered. "I warned him--more than once.
Well--let them bring him, then."

She vanished into a side-room, and Bent and Brereton went down the
garden and met the others, carrying the dead man. Cotherstone followed
behind the police, and as he approached Bent he pulled him by the sleeve
and drew him aside.

"There's a clue!" he whispered. "A clue, d'ye hear--a strong clue!"



CHAPTER V

THE CORD


Ever since they had left the house at the foot of the pine wood,
Brereton had been conscious of a curious psychological atmosphere,
centring in Cotherstone. It had grown stronger as events had developed;
it was still stronger now as they stood outside the dead man's cottage,
the light from the open door and the white-curtained window falling on
Cotherstone's excited face. Cotherstone, it seemed to Brereton, was
unduly eager about something--he might almost be said to be elated. All
of his behaviour was odd. He had certainly been shocked when Garthwaite
burst in with the news--but this shock did not seem to be of the
ordinary sort. He had looked like fainting--but when he recovered
himself his whole attitude (so, at any rate, it had seemed to Brereton)
had been that of a man who has just undergone a great relief. To put the
whole thing into a narrow compass, it seemed as if Cotherstone appeared
to be positively pleased to hear--and to find beyond doubt--that Kitely
was dead. And now, as he stood glancing from one young man to the other,
his eyes glittered as if he were absolutely enjoying the affair: he
reminded Brereton of that type of theatre-goer who will insist on
pointing out stage effects as they occur before his eyes, forcing his
own appreciation of them upon fellow-watchers whose eyes are as keen as
his own.

"A strong clue!" repeated Cotherstone, and said it yet again. "A good
'un! And if it's right, it'll clear matters up."

"What is it?" asked Bent. He, too, seemed to be conscious that there was
something odd about his prospective father-in-law, and he was gazing
speculatively at him as if in wonder. "What sort of a clue?"

"It's a wonder it didn't strike me--and you, too--at first," said
Cotherstone, with a queer sound that was half a chuckle. "But as long as
it's struck somebody, eh? One's as good as another. You can't think of
what it is, now?"

"I don't know what you're thinking about," replied Bent, half
impatiently.

Cotherstone gave vent to an unmistakable chuckle at that, and he
motioned them to follow him into the cottage.

"Come and see for yourselves, then," he said. "You'll spot it. But,
anyway--Mr. Brereton, being a stranger, can't be expected to."

The three men walked into the living-room of the cottage--a good-sized,
open-raftered, old-fashioned place, wherein burnt a bright fire, at
either side of which stood two comfortable armchairs. Before one of
these chairs, their toes pointing upwards against the fender, were a
pair of slippers; on a table close by stood an old lead tobacco-box,
flanked by a church-warden pipe, a spirit decanter, a glass, and a
plate on which were set out sugar and lemon--these Brereton took to be
indicative that Kitely, his evening constitutional over, was in the
habit of taking a quiet pipe and a glass of something warm before going
to bed. And looking round still further he became aware of an open
door--the door into which Miss Pett had withdrawn--and of a bed within
on which Kitely now lay, with Dr. Rockcliffe and the police-sergeant
bending over him. The other policemen stood by the table in the
living-room, and one of them--the man who had picked up the
pocket-book--whispered audibly to Cotherstone as he and his companions
entered.

"The doctor's taking it off him," he said, with a meaning nod of his
head. "I'll lay aught it's as I say, Mr. Cotherstone."

"Looks like it," agreed Cotherstone, rubbing his hands. "It certainly
looks like it, George. Sharp of you to notice it, though."

Brereton took this conversation to refer to the mysterious clue, and his
suspicion was confirmed a moment later. The doctor and the sergeant came
into the living-room, the doctor carrying something in his hand which he
laid down on the centre table in full view of all of them. And Brereton
saw then that he had removed from the dead man's neck the length of grey
cord with which he had been strangled.

There was something exceedingly sinister in the mere placing of that
cord before the eyes of these living men. It had wrought the death of
another man, who, an hour before, had been as full of vigorous life as
themselves; some man, equally vigorous, had used it as the instrument of
a foul murder. Insignificant in itself, a mere piece of strongly spun
and twisted hemp, it was yet singularly suggestive--one man, at any
rate, amongst those who stood looking at it, was reminded by it that the
murderer who had used it must even now have the fear of another and a
stronger cord before him.

"Find who that cord belongs to, and you may get at something," suddenly
observed the doctor, glancing at the policemen. "You say it's a
butcher's cord?"

The man who had just whispered to Cotherstone nodded.

"It's a pig-killer's cord, sir," he answered. "It's what a pig-killer
fastens the pig down with--on the cratch."

"A cratch?--what's that?" asked Brereton, who had gone close to the
table to examine the cord, and had seen that, though slender, it was
exceedingly strong, and of closely wrought fibre. "Is it a sort of
hurdle?"

"That's it, sir," assented the policeman. "It is a sort of hurdle--on
four legs. They lay the pig on it, don't you see, and tie it down with a
cord of this sort--this cord's been used for that--it's greasy with long
use."

"And it has been cut off a longer piece, of course," said the doctor.
"These cords are of considerable length, aren't they?"

"Good length, sir--there's a regular coil, like," said the man. He, too,
bent down and looked at the length before him. "This has been cut off
what you might call recent," he went on, pointing to one end.

"And cut off with a sharp knife, too."

The police sergeant glanced at the doctor as if asking advice on the
subject of putting his thoughts into words.

"Well?" said the doctor, with a nod of assent. "Of course, you've got
something in your mind, sergeant?"

"Well, there is a man who kills pigs, and has such cords as that, lives
close by, doctor," he answered. "You know who I mean--the man they call
Gentleman Jack."

"You mean Harborough," said the doctor. "Well--you'd better ask him if
he knows anything. Somebody might have stolen one of his cords. But
there are other pig-killers in the town, of course."

"Not on this side the town, there aren't," remarked another policeman.

"What is plain," continued the doctor, looking at Cotherstone and the
others, "is that Kitely was strangled by this rope, and that everything
on him of any value was taken. You'd better find out what he had, or was
likely to have, on him, sergeant. Ask the housekeeper."

Miss Pett came from the inner room, where she had already begun her
preparations for laying out the body. She was as calm as when Bent first
told her of what had occurred, and she stood at the end of the table,
the cord between her and her questioners, and showed no emotion, no
surprise at what had occurred.

"Can you tell aught about this, ma'am?" asked the sergeant. "You see
your master's met his death at somebody's hands, and there's no doubt
he's been robbed, too. Do you happen to know what he had on him?"

The housekeeper, who had her arms full of linen, set her burden down on
a clothes-horse in front of the fire before she replied. She seemed to
be thinking deeply, and when she turned round again, it was to shake her
queerly ornamented head.

"Well, I couldn't say exactly," she answered. "But I shouldn't wonder if
it was a good deal--for such as him, you know. He did carry money on
him--he was never short of money ever since I knew him, and sometimes
he'd a fair amount in his pockets--I know, of course, because he'd pull
it out, loose gold, and silver, and copper, and I've seen him take
bank-notes out of his pocket-book. But he'd be very like to have a good
deal more than usual on him tonight."

"Why?" asked the sergeant.

"Because he'd been to the bank this morning to draw his pension money,"
replied Miss Pett. "I don't know how much that would be, any more than I
know where it came from. He was a close man--he'd never tell anybody
more than he liked, and he never told me aught about that. But I do know
it was what you'd call a fair amount--for a man that lives in a cottage.
He went to the bank this noon--he always went once a quarter--and he
said this afternoon that he'd go and pay his rent to Mr. Cotherstone
there--"

"As he did," muttered Cotherstone, "yes--he did that."

"Well, he'd have all the rest of his money on him," continued the
housekeeper. "And he'd have what he had before, because he'd other money
coming in than that pension. And I tell you he was the sort of man that
carried his money about him--he was foolish that way. And then he'd a
very valuable watch and chain--he told me they were a presentation, and
cost nearly a hundred pounds. And of course, he'd a pocket-book full of
papers."

"This pocket-book?" asked the sergeant.

"Aye, that's it, right enough," assented Miss Pett. "But he always had
it bursting with bits of letters and papers. You don't mean to say you
found it empty? You did?--very well then, I'm no fool, and I say that if
he's been murdered, there's been some reason for it altogether apart
from robbing him of what money and things he had on him! Whoever's taken
his papers wanted 'em bad!"

"About his habits, now?" said the sergeant, ignoring Miss Pett's
suggestion. "Did he go walking on the Shawl every night?"

"Regular as clock-work," answered the housekeeper. "He used to read and
write a deal at night--then he'd side away all his books and papers, get
his supper, and go out for an hour, walking round and about. Then he'd
come in, put on his slippers--there they are, set down to warm for
him--smoke one pipe, drink one glass of toddy--there's the stuff for
it--and go to bed. He was the regularest man I ever knew, in all he
did."

"Was he out longer than usual tonight?" asked Bent, who saw that the
sergeant had no more to ask. "You seemed to suggest that, when we
came."

"Well, he was a bit longer," admitted Miss Pett. "Of course, he varied.
But an hour was about his time. Up and down and about the hill-side he'd
go--in and out of the coppices. I've warned him more than once."

"But why?" asked Brereton, whose curiosity was impelling him to take a
part in this drama. "What reason had you for warning him?"

Miss Pett turned and looked scrutinizingly at her last questioner. She
took a calm and close observation of him and her curious face relaxed
into something like a smile.

"I can tell what you are, mister," she said. "A law gentleman! I've seen
your sort many a time. And you're a sharp 'un, too! Well--you're young,
but you're old enough to have heard a thing or two. Did you never hear
that women have got what men haven't--instinct?"

"Do you really tell me that the only reason you had for warning him
against going out late at night was--instinct?" asked Brereton. "Come,
now!"

"Mostly instinct, anyhow," she answered. "Women have a sort of feeling
about things that men haven't--leastways, no men that I've ever met had
it. But of course, I'd more than that. Mr. Kitely, now, he was a
townsman--a London man. I'm a countrywoman. He didn't understand--you
couldn't get him to understand--that it's not safe to go walking in
lonely places in country districts like this late at night. When I'd got
to know his habits, I expostulated with him more than once. I pointed
out to him that in spots like this, where there's naught nearer than
them houses at the foot of the hill one way, and Harborough's cottage
another way, and both of 'em a good quarter of a mile off, and where
there's all these coverts and coppices and rocks, it was not safe for an
elderly man who sported a fine gold watch and chain to go wandering
about in the darkness. There's always plenty of bad characters in
country places who'd knock the King himself on the head for the sake of
as much as Mr. Kitely had on him, even if it was no more than the chain
which every Tom and Dick could see! And it's turned out just as I
prophesied. He's come to it!"

"But you said just now that he must have been murdered for something
else than his valuables," said Brereton.

"I said that if his papers were gone, somebody must have wanted them
bad," retorted Miss Pett. "Anyway, what's happened is just what I felt
might happen, and there he is--dead. And I should be obliged to some of
you if you'd send up a woman or two to help me lay him out, for I can't
be expected to do everything by myself, nor to stop in this cottage
alone, neither!"

Leaving the doctor and a couple of policemen to arrange matters with the
housekeeper, the sergeant went outside, followed by the others. He
turned to Cotherstone.

"I'm going down to Harborough's cottage, at the other end of the Shawl,"
he said. "I don't expect to learn aught much there--yet--but I can see
if he's at home, anyway. If any of you gentlemen like to come down----"

Bent laid a hand on Cotherstone's arm and turned him in the direction of
his house.

"Brereton and I'll go with the sergeant," he said. "You must go
home--Lettie'll be anxious about things. Go down with him, Mr.
Garthwaite--you'll both hear more later."

To Brereton's great surprise, Cotherstone made no objection to this
summary dismissal. He and Garthwaite went off in one direction; the
others, led by the observant policeman who had found the empty
pocket-book and recognized the peculiar properties of the cord, turned
away in another.

"Where's this we're going now?" asked Brereton as he and Bent followed
their leaders through the trees and down the slopes of the Shawl.

"To John Harborough's cottage--at the other end of the hill," answered
Bent. "He's the man they spoke of in there. He's a queer character--a
professional pig-killer, who has other trades as well. He does a bit of
rat-catching, and a bit of mole-catching--and a good deal of poaching.
In fact, he's an odd person altogether, not only in character but in
appearance. And the curious thing is that he's got an exceedingly
good-looking and accomplished daughter, a really superior girl who's
been well educated and earns her living as a governess in the town.
Queer pair they make if you ever see them together!"

"Does she live with him?" asked Brereton.

"Oh yes, she lives with him!" replied Bent. "And I believe that they're
very devoted to each other, though everybody marvels that such a man
should have such a daughter. There's a mystery about that man--odd
character that he is, he's been well bred, and the folk hereabouts call
him Gentleman Jack."

"Won't all this give the girl a fright?" suggested Brereton. "Wouldn't
it be better if somebody went quietly to the man's cottage?"

But when they came to Harborough's cottage, at the far end of the Shawl,
it was all in darkness.

"Still, they aren't gone to bed," suddenly observed the policeman who
had a faculty for seeing things. "There's a good fire burning in the
kitchen grate, and they wouldn't leave that. Must be out, both of 'em."

"Go in and knock quietly," counselled the sergeant.

He followed the policeman up the flagged walk to the cottage door, and
the other two presently went after them. In the starlight Brereton
looked round at these new surroundings--an old, thatched cottage, set in
a garden amongst trees and shrubs, with a lean-to shed at one end of it,
and over everything an atmosphere of silence.

The silence was suddenly broken. A quick, light step sounded on the
flagged path behind them, and the policemen turned their lamps in its
direction. And Brereton, looking sharply round, became aware of the
presence of a girl, who looked at these visitors wonderingly out of a
pair of beautiful grey eyes.



CHAPTER VI

THE MAYOR


Here, then, thought Brereton, was Gentleman Jack's daughter--the girl of
whom Bent had just been telling him. He looked at her narrowly as she
stood confronting the strange group. A self-possessed young woman, he
said to himself--beyond a little heightening of colour, a little
questioning look about eyes and lips she showed no trace of undue
surprise or fear. Decidedly a good-looking young woman, too, and not at
all the sort of daughter that a man of queer character would be supposed
to have--refined features, an air of breeding, a suggestion of culture.
And he noticed that as he and Bent raised their hats, the two policemen
touched their helmets--they were evidently well acquainted with the
girl, and eyed her with some misgiving as well as respect.

"Beg pardon, miss," said the sergeant, who was obviously anything but
pleased with his task. "But it's like this, d'you see?--your father,
now, does he happen to be at home?"

"What is it you want?" she asked. And beginning a glance of inquiry at
the sergeant she finished it at Bent. "Has something happened, Mr.
Bent?" she went on. "If you want my father, and he's not in, then I
don't know where he is--he went out early in the evening, and he hadn't
returned when I left the house an hour ago."

"I daresay it's nothing," replied Bent. "But the fact is that something
has happened. Your neighbour at the other end of the wood--old Mr.
Kitely, you know--he's been found dead."

Brereton, closely watching the girl, saw that this conveyed nothing to
her, beyond the mere announcement. She moved towards the door of the
cottage, taking a key from her muff.

"Yes?" she said. "And--I suppose you want my father to help? He may be
in--he may have gone to bed."

She unlocked the door, walked into the open living-room, and turning up
a lamp which stood on the table, glanced around her.

"No," she continued. "He's not come in--so----"

"Better tell her, Mr. Bent," whispered the sergeant. "No use keeping it
back, sir--she'll have to know."

"The fact is," said Bent, "Mr. Kitely--we're afraid--has been murdered."

The girl turned sharply at that; her eyes dilated, and a brighter tinge
of colour came into her cheeks.

"Murdered!" she exclaimed. "Shot?"

Her eyes went past Bent to a corner of the room, and Brereton, following
them, saw that there stood a gun, placed amongst a pile of fishing-rods
and similar sporting implements. Her glance rested on it for only the
fraction of a second; then it went back to Bent's face.

"I'd better tell you everything," said Bent quietly. "Mr. Kitely has
been strangled. And the piece of cord with which it was done is--so the
police here say--just such a piece as might have been cut off one of the
cords which your father uses in his trade, you know."

"We aren't suggesting aught, you know, Miss Avice," remarked the
sergeant. "Don't go for to think that--at present. But, you see,
Harborough, he might have one o' those cords hanging about somewhere,
and--do you understand?"

The girl had become very quiet, looking steadily from one man to the
other. Once more her eyes settled on Bent.

"Do you know why Kitely was killed?" she asked suddenly. "Have you seen
any reason for it?"

"He had been robbed, after his death," answered Bent. "That seems
absolutely certain."

"Whatever you may say, you've got some suspicion about my father," she
remarked after a pause. "Well--all I can say is, my father has no need
to rob anybody--far from it, if you want the truth. But what do you
want?" she continued, a little impatiently. "My father isn't in, and I
don't know where he is--often he is out all night."

"If we could just look round his shed, now?" said the sergeant. "Just to
see if aught's missing, like, you know. You see, miss----"

"You can look round the shed--and round anywhere else," said Avice.
"Though what good that will do--well, you know where the shed is."

She turned away and began taking off her hat and coat, and the four men
went out into the garden and turned to the lean-to shed at the end of
the cottage. A tiled verandah ran along the front of cottage and shed,
and the door of the shed was at its further end. But as the sergeant was
about to open it, the policeman of the observant nature made his third
discovery. He had been flashing the light of his bull's-eye lamp over
his surroundings, and he now turned it on a coil of rope which hung from
a nail in the boarded wall of the shed, between the door and the window.

"There you are, gentlemen!" he said, lifting the lamp in one hand and
pointing triumphantly to a definite point of the coiled cord with the
index finger of the other. "There! Cut clean, too--just like the bit up
yonder!"

Brereton pressed forward and looked narrowly at what the man was
indicating. There was no doubt that a length of cord had been freshly
cut off the coil, and cut, too, with an unusually sharp, keen-bladed
knife; the edges of the severance were clean and distinct, the separated
strands were fresh and unsoiled. It was obvious that a piece of that
cord had been cut from the rest within a very short time, and the
sergeant shook his head gravely as he took the coil down from its nail.

"I don't think there's any need to look round much further, Mr. Bent,"
he said. "Of course, I shall take this away with me, and compare it with
the shorter piece. But we'll just peep into this shed, so as to make
his daughter believe that was what we wanted: I don't want to frighten
her more than we have done. Naught there, you see," he went on, opening
the shed door and revealing a whitewashed interior furnished with
fittings and articles of its owner's trade. "Well, we'll away--with what
we've got."

He went back to the door of the cottage and putting his head inside
called gently to its occupant.

"Well?" demanded Avice.

"All right, miss--we're going," said the sergeant. "But if your father
comes in, just ask him to step down to the police-station, d'you see?--I
should like to have a word or two with him."

The girl made no answer to this gentle request, and when the sergeant
had joined the others, she shut the door of the cottage, and Brereton
heard it locked and bolted.

"That's about the strangest thing of all!" he said as he and Bent left
the policemen and turned down a by-lane which led towards the town. "I
haven't a doubt that the piece of cord with which Kitely was strangled
was cut off that coil! Now what does it mean? Of course, to me it's the
very surest proof that this man Harborough had nothing to do with the
murder."

"Why?" asked Bent.

"Why? My dear fellow!" exclaimed Brereton. "Do you really think that any
man who was in possession of his senses would do such a thing? Take a
piece of cord from a coil--leave the coil where anybody could find
it--strangle a man with the severed piece and leave it round the
victim's neck? Absurd! No--a thousand times no!"

"Well--and what then?" asked Bent.

"Ah! Somebody cut that piece off--for the use it was put to," answered
Brereton. "But--who?"

Bent made no reply for a while. Then, as they reached the outskirts of
the town, he clapped a hand on his companion's arm.

"You're forgetting something--in spite of your legal mind," he said.
"The murderer may have been interrupted before he could remove it. And
in that case----"

He stopped suddenly as a gate opened in the wall of a garden which they
were just passing, and a tall man emerged. In the light of the adjacent
lamp Bent recognized Mallalieu. Mallalieu, too, recognized him, and
stopped.

"Oh, that you, Mr. Mayor!" exclaimed Bent. "I was just wondering whether
to drop in on you as I passed. Have you heard what's happened tonight?"

"Heard naught," replied Mallalieu. "I've just been having a hand at
whist with Councillor Northrop and his wife and daughter. What has
happened, then?"

They were all three walking towards the town by that time, and Bent
slipped between Brereton and Mallalieu and took the Mayor's arm.

"Murder's happened," he said. "That's the plain truth of it. You know
old Kitely--your partner's tenant? Well, somebody's killed him."

The effect of this announcement on Mallalieu was extraordinary. Bent
felt the arm into which he had just slipped his own literally quiver
with a spasmodic response to the astonished brain; the pipe which
Mallalieu was smoking fell from his lips; out of his lips came something
very like a cry of dismay.

"God bless me!" he exclaimed. "You don't say so?"

"It's a fact," said Bent. He stopped and picked up the fallen pipe.
"Sorry I let it out so clumsily--I didn't think it would affect you like
that. But there it is--Kitely's been murdered. Strangled!"

"Strangled!" echoed Mallalieu. "Dear--dear--dear! When was this, now?"

"Within the hour," replied Bent. "Mr. Brereton here--a friend of mine
from London--and I were spending the evening at your partner's, when
that neighbour of his, Garthwaite, came running in to tell Mr.
Cotherstone that Kitely was lying dead on the Shawl. Of course we all
went up."

"Then--you've seen him?" demanded Mallalieu. "There's no doubt about
it?"

"Doubt!" exclaimed Bent. "I should think there is no doubt! As
determined a murder as ever I heard of. No--there's no doubt."

Mallalieu paused--at the gate of his own house.

"Come in, gentlemen," he said. "Come in just a minute, anyway. I--egad
it's struck me all of a heap, has that news! Murder?--there hasn't been
such a thing in these parts ever since I came here, near thirty years
ago. Come in and tell me a bit more about it."

He led the way up a gravelled drive, admitted himself and his visitors
to the house with a latchkey, and turned into a parlour where a fire
burned and a small supper-tray was set out on a table beneath a lamp.

"All my folks'll have gone to bed," he said. "They go and leave me a
bite of something, you see--I'm often out late. Will you gentlemen have
a sandwich--or a dry biscuit? Well, you'll have a drink, then. And so,"
he went on, as he produced glasses from the sideboard, "and so you were
spending the evening with Cotherstone, what?"

"Well, I can't say that we exactly spent all the evening with him,"
answered Bent, "because he had to go out for a good part of it, on
business. But we were with him--we were at his house--when the news
came."

"Aye, he had to go out, had he?" asked Mallalieu, as if from mere
curiosity. "What time would that be, like? I knew he'd business
tonight--business of ours."

"Nine to ten, roughly speaking," replied Bent. "He'd just got in when
Garthwaite came with the news."

"It 'ud shock him, of course," suggested Mallalieu. "His own tenant!"

"Yes--it was a shock," agreed Bent. He took the glass which his host
handed to him and sat down. "We'd better tell you all about it," he
said. "It's a queer affair--Mr. Brereton here, who's a barrister, thinks
it's a very queer affair."

Mallalieu nodded and sat down, too, glass in hand. He listened
attentively--and Brereton watched him while he listened. A sleek, sly,
observant, watchful man, this, said Brereton to himself--the sort that
would take all in and give little out. And he waited expectantly to hear
what Mallalieu would say when he had heard everything.

Mallalieu turned to him when Bent had finished.

"I agree with you, sir," he said. "Nobody but a fool would have cut that
piece of cord off, left it round the man's neck, and left the coil
hanging where anybody could find it. And that man Harborough's no fool!
This isn't his job, Bent. No!"

"Whose, then?" asked Bent.

Mallalieu suddenly drank off the contents of his glass and rose.

"As I'm chief magistrate, I'd better go down to see the police," he
said. "There's been a queer character or two hanging about the town of
late. I'd better stir 'em up. You won't come down, I suppose?" he
continued when they left the house together.

"No--we can do no good," answered Bent.

His own house was just across the road from Mallalieu's, and he and
Brereton said goodnight and turned towards it as the Mayor strode
quickly off in the direction of the police-station.



CHAPTER VII

NIGHT WORK


From the little colony of new houses at the foot of the Shawl to the
police station at the end of the High Street was only a few minutes'
walk. Mallalieu was a quick walker, and he covered this distance at his
top speed. But during those few minutes he came to a conclusion, for he
was as quick of thought as in the use of his feet.

Of course, Cotherstone had killed Kitely. That was certain. He had begun
to suspect that as soon as he heard of the murder; he became convinced
of it as soon as young Bent mentioned that Cotherstone had left his
guests for an hour after supper. Without a doubt Cotherstone had lost
his head and done this foolish thing! And now Cotherstone must be
protected, safe-guarded; heaven and earth must be moved lest suspicion
should fall on him. For nothing could be done to Cotherstone without
effect upon himself--and of himself--and of himself Mallalieu meant to
take very good care. Never mind what innocent person suffered,
Cotherstone must go free.

And the first thing to do was to assume direction of the police, to pull
strings, to engineer matters. No matter how much he believed in
Harborough's innocence, Harborough was the man to go for--at present.
Attention must be concentrated on him, and on him only.
Anything--anything, at whatever cost of morals and honesty to divert
suspicion from that fool of a Cotherstone!--if it were not already too
late. It was the desire to make sure that it was not too late, the
desire to be beforehand, that made Mallalieu hasten to the police. He
knew his own power, he had a supreme confidence in his ability to manage
things, and he was determined to give up the night to the scheme already
seething in his fertile brain rather than that justice should enter upon
what he would consider a wrong course.

While he sat silently and intently listening to Bent's story of the
crime, Mallalieu, who could think and listen and give full attention to
both mental processes without letting either suffer at the expense of
the other, had reconstructed the murder. He knew Cotherstone--nobody
knew him half as well. Cotherstone was what Mallalieu called deep--he
was ingenious, resourceful, inventive. Cotherstone, in the early hours
of the evening, had doubtless thought the whole thing out. He would be
well acquainted with his prospective victim's habits. He would know
exactly when and where to waylay Kitely. The filching of the piece of
cord from the wall of Harborough's shed was a clever thing--infernally
clever, thought Mallalieu, who had a designing man's whole-hearted
admiration for any sort of cleverness in his own particular line. It
would be an easy thing to do--and what a splendidly important thing! Of
course Cotherstone knew all about Harborough's arrangements--he would
often pass the pig-killer's house--from the hedge of the garden he would
have seen the coils of greased rope hanging from their nails under the
verandah roof, aye, a thousand times. Nothing easier than to slip into
Harborough's garden from the adjacent wood, cut off a length of the
cord, use it--and leave it as a first bit of evidence against a man
whose public record was uncertain. Oh, very clever indeed!--if only
Cotherstone could carry things off, and not allow his conscience to
write marks on his face. And he must help--and innocent as he felt
Harborough to be, he must set things going against Harborough--his life
was as naught, against the Mallalieu-Cotherstone safety.

Mallalieu walked into the police-station, to find the sergeant just
returned and in consultation with the superintendent, whom he had
summoned to hear his report. Both turned inquiringly on the Mayor.

"I've heard all about it," said Mallalieu, bustling forward. "Mr. Bent
told me. Now then, where's that cord they talk about?"

The sergeant pointed to the coil and the severed piece, which lay on a
large sheet of brown paper on a side-table, preparatory to being sealed
up. Mallalieu crossed over and made a short examination of these
exhibits; then he turned to the superintendent with an air of decision.

"Aught been done?" he demanded.

"Not yet, Mr. Mayor," answered the superintendent. "We were just
consulting as to what's best to be done."

"I should think that's obvious," replied Mallalieu. "You must get to
work! Two things you want to do just now. Ring up Norcaster for one
thing, and High Gill Junction for another. Give 'em a description of
Harborough--he'll probably have made for one place or another, to get
away by train. And ask 'em at Norcaster to lend you a few plain-clothes
men, and to send 'em along here at once by motor--there's no train till
morning. Then, get all your own men out--now!--and keep folk off the
paths in that wood, and put a watch on Harborough's house, in case he
should put a bold face on it and come back--he's impudence enough--and
of course, if he comes, they'll take him. Get to all that now--at once!"

"You think it's Harborough, then?" said the superintendent.

"I think there's what the law folks call a prymer facy case against
him," replied Mallalieu. "It's your duty to get him, anyway, and if he
can clear himself, why, let him. Get busy with that telephone, and be
particular about help from Norcaster--we're under-staffed here as it
is."

The superintendent hurried out of his office and Mallalieu turned to the
sergeant.

"I understood from Mr. Bent," he said, "that that housekeeper of
Kitely's said the old fellow had been to the bank at noon today, to draw
some money? That so?"

"So she said, your Worship," answered the sergeant. "Some allowance, or
something of that sort, that he drew once a quarter. She didn't know how
much."

"But she thought he'd have it on him when he was attacked?" asked
Mallalieu.

"She said he was a man for carrying his money on him always," replied
the sergeant. "We understood from her it was his habit. She says he
always had a good bit on him--as a rule. And of course, if he'd drawn
more today, why, he might have a fair lot."

"We'll soon find that out," remarked Mallalieu. "I'll step round to the
bank manager and rouse him. Now you get your men together--this is no
time for sleeping. You ought to have men up at the Shawl now."

"I've left one man at Kitely's cottage, sir, and another about
Harborough's--in case Harborough should come back during the night,"
said the sergeant. "We've two more constables close by the station. I'll
get them up."

"Do it just now," commanded Mallalieu. "I'll be back in a while."

He hurried out again and went rapidly down the High Street to the
old-fashioned building near the Town Hall in which the one bank of the
little town did its business, and in which the bank manager lived. There
was not a soul about in the street, and the ringing of the bell at the
bank-house door, and the loud knock which Mallalieu gave in supplement
to it, seemed to wake innumerable echoes. And proof as he believed
himself to be against such slight things, the sudden opening of a window
above his head made him jump.

The startled bank-manager, hurrying down to his midnight visitor in his
dressing-gown and slippers, stood aghast when he had taken the Mayor
within and learned his errand.

"Certainly!" he said. "Kitely was in the bank today, about noon--I
attended to him myself. That's the second time he's been here since he
came to the town. He called here a day or two after he first took that
house from Mr. Cotherstone--to cash a draft for his quarter's pension.
He told me then who he was. Do you know?"

"Not in the least," replied Mallalieu, telling the lie all the more
readily because he had been fully prepared for the question to which it
was an answer. "I knew naught about him."

"He was an ex-detective," said the bank-manager. "Pensioned off, of
course: a nice pension. He told me he'd had--I believe it was getting on
to forty years' service in the police force. Dear, dear, this is a sad
business--and I'm afraid I can tell you a bit more about it."

"What?" demanded Mallalieu, showing surprise in spite of himself.

"You mentioned Harborough," said the bank-manager, shaking his head.

"Well?" said Mallalieu. "What then?"

"Harborough was at the counter when Kitely took his money," answered the
bank-manager. "He had called in to change a five-pound note."

The two men looked at each other in silence for a time. Then the
bank-manager shook his head again.

"You wouldn't think that a man who has a five-pound note of his own to
change would be likely, to murder another man for what he could get," he
went on. "But Kitely had a nice bit of money to carry away, and he wore
a very valuable gold watch and chain, which he was rather fond of
showing in the town, and----eh?"

"It's a suspicious business," said Mallalieu. "You say Harborough saw
Kitely take his money?"

"Couldn't fail," replied the bank-manager. "He was standing by him. The
old man put it--notes and gold--in a pocket that he had inside his
waistcoat."

Mallalieu lingered, as if in thought, rubbing his chin and staring at
the carpet. "Well, that's a sort of additional clue," he remarked at
last. "It looks very black against Harborough."

"We've the numbers of the notes that I handed to Kitely," observed the
bank-manager. "They may be useful if there's any attempt to change any
note, you know."

Mallalieu shook his head.

"Aye, just so," he answered. "But I should say there won't be--just yet.
It's a queer business, isn't it--but, as I say, there's evidence against
this fellow, and we must try to get him."

He went out then and crossed the street to the doctor's house--while he
was about it, he wanted to know all he could. And with the doctor he
stopped much longer than he had stopped at the bank, and when he left
him he was puzzled. For the doctor said to him what he had said to
Cotherstone and to Bent and to the rest of the group in the wood--that
whoever had strangled Kitely had had experience in that sort of grim
work before--or else he was a sailorman who had expert knowledge of
tying knots. Now Mallalieu was by that time more certain than ever that
Cotherstone was the murderer, and he felt sure that Cotherstone had no
experience of that sort of thing.

"Done with a single twist and a turn!" he muttered to himself as he
walked back to the police-station. "Aye--aye!--that seems to show
knowledge. But it's not my business to follow that up just now--I know
what my business is--nobody better."

The superintendent and the sergeant were giving orders to two
sleepy-eyed policemen when Mallalieu rejoined them. He waited until the
policemen had gone away to patrol the Shawl and then took the
superintendent aside.

"I've heard a bit more incriminatory news against Harborough," he said.
"He was in the bank this morning--or yesterday morning, as it now
is--when Kitely drew his money. There may be naught in that--and there
may be a lot. Anyway, he knew the old man had a goodish bit on him."

The superintendent nodded, but his manner was doubtful.

"Well, of course, that's evidence--considering things," he said, "but
you know as well as I do, Mr. Mayor, that Harborough's not a man that's
ever been in want of money. It's the belief of a good many folks in the
town that he has money of his own: he's always been a bit of a mystery
ever since I can remember. He could afford to give that daughter of his
a good education--good as a young lady gets--and he spends plenty, and I
never heard of him owing aught. Of course, he's a queer lot--we know
he's a poacher and all that, but he's so skilful about it that we've
never been able to catch him. I can't think he's the guilty party--and
yet----"

"You can't get away from the facts," said Mallalieu. "He'll have to be
sought for. If he's made himself scarce--if he doesn't come home----"

"Ah, that 'ud certainly be against him!" agreed the superintendent.
"Well, I'm doing all I can. We've got our own men out, and there's three
officers coming over from Norcaster by motor--they're on the way now."

"Send for me if aught turns up," said Mallalieu.

He walked slowly home, his brain still busy with possibilities and
eventualities. And within five minutes of his waking at his usual hour
of six it was again busy--and curious. For he and Cotherstone, both keen
business men who believed in constant supervision of their workmen, were
accustomed to meet at the yard at half-past six every morning, summer or
winter, and he was wondering what his partner would say and do--and look
like.

Cotherstone was in the yard when Mallalieu reached it. He was giving
some orders to a carter, and he finished what he was doing before coming
up to Mallalieu. In the half light of the morning he looked pretty much
as usual--but Mallalieu noticed a certain worn look under his eyes and
suppressed nervousness in his voice. He himself remained silent and
observant, and he let Cotherstone speak first.

"Well?" said Cotherstone, coming close to him as they stood in a vacant
space outside the office. "Well?"

"Well?" responded Mallalieu.

Cotherstone began to fidget with some account books and papers that he
had brought from his house. He eyed his partner with furtive glances;
Mallalieu eyed him with steady and watchful ones.

"I suppose you've heard all about it?" said Cotherstone, after an
awkward silence.

"Aye!" replied Mallalieu, drily. "Aye, I've heard."

Cotherstone looked round. There was no one near him, but he dropped his
voice to a whisper.

"So long as nobody but him knew," he muttered, giving Mallalieu another
side glance, "so long as he hadn't said aught to anybody--and I don't
think he had--we're--safe."

Mallalieu was still staring quietly at Cotherstone. And Cotherstone
began to grow restless under that steady, questioning look.

"Oh?" observed Mallalieu, at last. "Aye? You think so? Ah!"

"Good God--don't you!" exclaimed Cotherstone, roused to a sudden anger.
"Why----"

But just then a policeman came out of the High Street into the yard,
caught sight of the two partners, and came over to them, touching his
helmet.

"Can your Worship step across the way?" he asked. "They've brought
Harborough down, and the Super wants a word with you."



CHAPTER VIII

RETAINED FOR THE DEFENCE


Instead of replying to the policeman by word or movement, Mallalieu
glanced at Cotherstone. There was a curious suggestion in that glance
which Cotherstone did not like. He was already angry; Mallalieu's
inquiring look made him still angrier.

"Like to come?" asked Mallalieu, laconically.

"No!" answered Cotherstone, turning towards the office. "It's naught to
me."

He disappeared within doors, and Mallalieu walked out of the yard into
the High Street--to run against Bent and Brereton, who were hurrying in
the direction of the police-station, in company with another constable.

"Ah!" said Mallalieu as they met. "So you've heard, too, I suppose?
Heard that Harborough's been taken, I mean. Now, how was he taken?" he
went on, turning to the policeman who had summoned him. "And when, and
where?--let's be knowing about it."

"He wasn't taken, your Worship," replied the man. "Leastways, not in
what you'd call the proper way. He came back to his house half an hour
or so ago--when it was just getting nicely light--and two of our men
that were there told him what was going on, and he appeared to come
straight down with them. He says he knows naught, your Worship."

"That's what you'd expect," remarked Mallalieu, drily. "He'd be a fool
if he said aught else."

He put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, and, followed by the
others, strolled into the police-station as if he were dropping in on
business of trifling importance. And there was nothing to be seen there
which betokened that a drama of life and death was being constructed in
that formal-looking place of neutral-coloured walls, precise furniture,
and atmosphere of repression. Three or four men stood near the
superintendent's desk; a policeman was writing slowly and laboriously on
a big sheet of blue paper at a side-table, a woman was coaxing a
sluggish fire to burn.

"The whole thing's ridiculous!" said a man's scornful voice. "It
shouldn't take five seconds to see that."

Brereton instinctively picked out the speaker. That was Harborough, of
course--the tall man who stood facing the others and looking at them as
if he wondered how they could be as foolish as he evidently considered
them to be. He looked at this man with great curiosity. There was
certainly something noticeable about him, he decided. A wiry, alert,
keen-eyed man, with good, somewhat gipsy-like features, much tanned by
the weather, as if he were perpetually exposed to sun and wind, rain and
hail; sharp of movement, evidently of more than ordinary intelligence,
and, in spite of his rough garments and fur cap, having an indefinable
air of gentility and breeding about him. Brereton had already noticed
the pitch and inflection of his voice; now, as Harborough touched his
cap to the Mayor, he noticed that his hands, though coarsened and
weather-browned, were well-shaped and delicate. Something about him,
something in his attitude, the glance of his eye, seemed to indicate
that he was the social superior of the policemen, uniformed or
plain-clothed, who were watching him with speculative and slightly
puzzled looks.

"Well, and what's all this, now?" said Mallalieu coming to a halt and
looking round. "What's he got to say, like?"

The superintendent looked at Harborough and nodded. And Harborough took
that nod at its true meaning, and he spoke--readily.

"This!" he said, turning to the new-comers, and finally addressing
himself to Mallalieu. "And it's what I've already said to the
superintendent here. I know nothing about what's happened to Kitely. I
know no more of his murder than you do--not so much, I should say--for I
know naught at all beyond what I've been told. I left my house at eight
o'clock last night--I've been away all night--I got back at six o'clock
this morning. As soon as I heard what was afoot, I came straight here. I
put it to you, Mr. Mayor--if I'd killed this old man, do you think I'd
have come back? Is it likely?"

"You might ha' done, you know," answered Mallalieu. "There's no
accounting for what folks will do--in such cases. But--what else? Say
aught you like--it's all informal, this."

"Very well," continued Harborough. "They tell me the old man was
strangled by a piece of cord that was evidently cut off one of my coils.
Now, is there any man in his common senses would believe that if I did
that job, I should leave such a bit of clear evidence behind me? I'm not
a fool!"

"You might ha' been interrupted before you could take that cord off his
neck," suggested Mallalieu.

"Aye--but you'd have to reckon up the average chances of that!"
exclaimed Harborough, with a sharp glance at the bystanders. "And the
chances are in my favour. No, sir!--whoever did this job, cut that
length of cord off my coil, which anybody could get at, and used it to
throw suspicion on me! That's the truth--and you'll find it out some
day, whatever happens now."

Mallalieu exchanged glances with the superintendent and then faced
Harborough squarely, with an air of inviting confidence.

"Now, my lad!" he said, almost coaxingly. "There's a very simple thing
to do, and it'll clear this up as far as you're concerned. Just answer a
plain question. Where ha' you been all night?"

A tense silence fell--broken by the crackling of the wood in the grate,
which the charwoman had at last succeeded in stirring into a blaze, and
by the rattling of the fire-irons which she now arranged in the fender.
Everybody was watching the suspected man, and nobody as keenly as
Brereton. And Brereton saw that a deadlock was at hand. A strange look
of obstinacy and hardness came into Harborough's eyes, and he shook his
head.

"No!" he answered. "I shan't say! The truth'll come out in good time
without that. It's not necessary for me to say. Where I was during the
night is my business--nobody else's."

"You'll not tell?" asked Mallalieu.

"I shan't tell," replied Harborough.

"You're in danger, you know," said Mallalieu.

"In your opinion," responded Harborough, doggedly. "Not in mine! There's
law in this country. You can arrest me, if you like--but you'll have
your work set to prove that I killed yon old man. No, sir! But----" here
he paused, and looking round him, laughed almost maliciously "--but I'll
tell you what I'll do," he went on. "I'll tell you this, if it'll do you
any good--if I liked to say the word, I could prove my innocence down to
the ground! There!"

"And you won't say that word?" asked Mallalieu.

"I shan't! Why? Because it's not necessary. Why!" demanded Harborough,
laughing with an expresssion of genuine contempt. "What is there against
me? Naught! As I say, there's law in this country--there's such a thing
as a jury. Do you believe that any jury would convict a man on what
you've got? It's utter nonsense!"

The constable who had come down from the Shawl with Bent and Brereton
had for some time been endeavouring to catch the eye of the
superintendent. Succeeding in his attempts at last, he beckoned that
official into a quiet corner of the room, and turning his back on the
group near the fireplace, pulled something out of his pocket. The two
men bent over it, and the constable began to talk in whispers.

Mallalieu meanwhile was eyeing Harborough in his stealthy, steady
fashion. He looked as if he was reckoning him up.

"Well, my lad," he observed at last. "You're making a mistake. If you
can't or won't tell what you've been doing with yourself between eight
last night and six this morning, why, then----"

The superintendent came back, holding something in his hand. He, too,
looked at Harborough.

"Will you hold up your left foot?--turn the sole up," he asked. "Just to
see--something."

Harborough complied, readily, but with obvious scornful impatience. And
when he had shown the sole of the left foot, the superintendent opened
his hand and revealed a small crescent-shaped bit of bright steel.

"That's off the toe of your boot, Harborough," he said. "You know it is!
And it's been picked up--just now, as it were--where this affair
happened. You must have lost it there during the last few hours, because
it's quite bright--not a speck of rust on it, you see. What do you say
to that, now?"

"Naught!" retorted Harborough, defiantly. "It is mine, of course--I
noticed it was working loose yesterday. And if it was picked up in that
wood, what then? I passed through there last night on my way to--where I
was going. God--you don't mean to say you'd set a man's life on bits
o'things like that!"

Mallalieu beckoned the superintendent aside and talked with him. Almost
at once he himself turned away and left the room, and the
superintendent came back to the group by the fireplace.

"Well, there's no help for it, Harborough," he said. "We shall have to
detain you--and I shall have to charge you, presently. It can't be
helped--and I hope you'll be able to clear yourself."

"I expected nothing else," replied Harborough. "I'm not blaming you--nor
anybody. Mr. Bent," he continued, turning to where Bent and Brereton
stood a little apart. "I'd be obliged to you if you'd do something for
me. Go and tell my daughter about this, if you please! You see, I came
straight down here--I didn't go into my house when I got back. If you'd
just step up and tell her--and bid her not be afraid--there's naught to
be afraid of, as she'll find--as everybody'll find."

"Certainly," said Bent. "I'll go at once." He tapped Brereton on the
arm, and led him out into the street. "Well?" he asked, when they were
outside. "What do you think of that, now?"

"That man gives one all the suggestion of innocence," remarked Brereton,
thoughtfully, "and from a merely superficial observation of him, I,
personally, should say he is innocent. But then, you know, I've known
the most hardened and crafty criminals assume an air of innocence, and
keep it up, to the very end. However, we aren't concerned about that
just now--the critical point here, for Harborough, at any rate, is the
evidence against him."

"And what do you think of that?" asked Bent.

"There's enough to warrant his arrest," answered Brereton, "and he'll be
committed on it, and he'll go for trial. All that's certain--unless
he's a sensible man, and tells what he was doing with himself between
eight and ten o'clock last night."

"Ah, and why doesn't he?" said Bent. "He must have some good reason. I
wonder if his daughter can persuade him?"

"Isn't that his daughter coming towards us?" inquired Brereton.

Bent glanced along the road and saw Avice Harborough at a little
distance, hastening in their direction and talking earnestly to a
middle-aged man who was evidently listening with grave concern to what
she said.

"Yes, that's she," he replied, "and that's Northrop with her--the man
that Mallalieu was playing cards with last night. She's governess to
Northrop's two younger children--I expect she's heard about her father,
and has been to get Northrop to come down with her--he's a magistrate."

Avice listened with ill-concealed impatience while Bent delivered his
message. He twice repeated Harborough's injunction that she was not to
be afraid, and her impatience increased.

"I'm not afraid," she answered. "That is, afraid of nothing but my
father's obstinacy! I know him. And I know that if he's said he won't
tell anything about his whereabouts last night, he won't! And if you
want to help him--as you seem to do--you must recognize that."

"Wouldn't he tell you?" suggested Brereton.

The girl shook her head.

"Once or twice a year," she answered, "he goes away for a night, like
that, and I never know--never have known--where he goes. There's some
mystery about it--I know there is. He won't tell--he'll let things go to
the last, and even then he won't tell. You won't be able to help him
that way--there's only one way you can help."

"What way?" asked Bent.

"Find the murderer!" exclaimed Avice with a quick flash of her eyes in
Brereton's direction. "My father is as innocent as I am--find the man
who did it and clear him that way. Don't wait for what these police
people do--they'll waste time over my father. Do something! They're all
on the wrong track--let somebody get on the right one!"

"She's right!" said Northrop, a shrewd-faced little man, who looked
genuinely disturbed. "You know what police are, Mr. Bent--if they get
hold of one notion they're deaf to all others. While they're
concentrating on Harborough, you know, the real man'll be going
free--laughing in his sleeve, very like."

"But--what are we to do?" asked Bent. "What are we to start on?"

"Find out about Kitely himself!" exclaimed Avice. "Who knows anything
about him? He may have had enemies--he may have been tracked here. Find
out if there was any motive!" She paused and looked half appealingly,
half-searchingly at Brereton. "I heard you're a barrister--a clever
one," she went on, hesitating a little. "Can't--can't you suggest
anything?"

"There's something I'll suggest at once," responded Brereton
impulsively. "Whatever else is done, your father's got to be defended.
I'll defend him--to the best of my ability--if you'll let me--and at no
cost to him."

"Well spoken, sir!" exclaimed Northrop. "That's the style!"

"But we must keep to legal etiquette," continued Brereton, smiling at
the little man's enthusiasm. "You must go to a solicitor and tell him to
instruct me--it's a mere form. Mr. Bent will take you to his solicitor,
and he'll see me. Then I can appear in due form when they bring your
father before the magistrates. Look here, Bent," he went on, wishing to
stop any expression of gratitude from the girl, "you take Miss
Harborough to your solicitor--if he isn't up, rouse him out. Tell him
what I propose to do, and make an appointment with him for me. Now run
along, both of you--I want to speak to this gentleman a minute."

He took Northrop's arm, turned him in the direction of the Shawl, walked
him a few paces, and then asked him a direct question.

"Now, what do you know of this man Harborough?"

"He's a queer chap--a mystery man, sir," answered Northrop. "A sort of
jack-of-all-trades. He's a better sort--you'd say, to hear him talk,
he'd been a gentleman. You can see what his daughter is--he educated her
well. He's means of some sort--apart from what he earns. Yes, there's
some mystery about that man, sir--but I'll never believe he did this
job. No, sir!"

"Then we must act on the daughter's suggestion and find out who did,"
observed Brereton. "There is as much mystery about that as about
Harborough."

"All mystery, sir!" agreed Northrop. "It's odd--I came through them
woods on the Shawl there about a quarter to ten last night: I'd been
across to the other side to see a man of mine that's poorly in bed. Now,
I never heard aught, never saw aught--but then, it's true I was
hurrying--I'd made an appointment for a hand at whist with the Mayor at
my house at ten o'clock, and I thought I was late. I never heard a
sound--not so much as a dead twig snap! But then, it would ha' been
before that--at some time."

"Yes, at some time," agreed Brereton. "Well,--I'll see you in court, no
doubt."

He turned back, and followed Bent and Avice at a distance, watching them
thoughtfully.

"At some time?" he mused. "Um! Well, I'm now conversant with the
movements of two inhabitants of Highmarket at a critical period of last
night. Mallalieu didn't go to cards with Northrop until ten o'clock, and
at ten o'clock Cotherstone returned to his house after being absent--one
hour."



CHAPTER IX

ANTECEDENTS


During the interval which elapsed between these early morning
proceedings and the bringing up of Harborough before the borough
magistrates in a densely-packed court, Brereton made up his mind as to
what he would do. He would act on Avice Harborough's suggestion, and,
while watching the trend of affairs on behalf of the suspected man,
would find out all he could about the murdered one. At that moment--so
far as Brereton knew--there was only one person in Highmarket who was
likely to know anything about Kitely: that person, of course, was the
queer-looking housekeeper. He accordingly determined, even at that early
stage of the proceedings, to have Miss Pett in the witness-box.

Harborough, who had been formally arrested and charged by the police
after the conversation at the police-station, was not produced in court
until eleven o'clock, by which time the whole town and neighbourhood
were astir with excitement. Somewhat to Brereton's surprise, the
prosecuting counsel, who had been hastily fetched from Norcaster and
instructed on the way, went more fully into the case than was usual.
Brereton had expected that the police would ask for an adjournment
after the usual evidence of the superficial facts, and of the prisoner's
arrest, had been offered; instead of that, the prosecution brought
forward several witnesses, and amongst them the bank-manager, who said
that when he cashed Kitely's draft for him the previous morning, in
Harborough's presence, he gave Kitely the one half of the money in gold.
The significance of this evidence immediately transpired: a constable
succeeded the bank-manager and testified that after searching the
prisoner after his arrest he found on him over twenty pounds in
sovereigns and half-sovereigns, placed in a wash-leather bag.

Brereton immediately recognized the impression which this evidence made.
He saw that it weighed with the half-dozen solid and slow-thinking men
who sat on one side or the other of Mallalieu on the magisterial bench;
he felt the atmosphere of suspicion which it engendered in the court.
But he did nothing: he had already learned sufficient from Avice in a
consultation with her and Bent's solicitor to know that it would be very
easy to prove to a jury that it was no unusual thing for Harborough to
carry twenty or thirty pounds in gold on him. Of all these witnesses
Brereton asked scarcely anything--but he made it clear that when
Harborough was met near his cottage at daybreak that morning by two
constables who informed him of what had happened, he expressed great
astonishment, jeered at the notion that he had had anything to do with
the murder, and, without going on to his own door, offered voluntarily
to walk straight to the police-station.

But when Miss Pett--who had discarded her red and yellow turban, and
appeared in rusty black garments which accentuated the old-ivory tint of
her remarkable countenance--had come into the witness-box and answered a
few common-place questions as to the dead man's movements on the
previous evening, Brereton prepared himself for the episode which he
knew to be important. Amidst a deep silence--something suggesting to
everybody that Mr. Bent's sharp-looking London friend was about to get
at things--he put his first question to Miss Pett.

"How long have you known Mr. Kitely?"

"Ever since I engaged with him as his housekeeper," answered Miss Pett.

"How long since is that?" asked Brereton.

"Nine to ten years--nearly ten."

"You have been with him, as housekeeper, nearly ten
years--continuously?"

"Never left him since I first came to him."

"Where did you first come to him--where did he live then?"

"In London."

"Yes--and where, in London?"

"83, Acacia Grove, Camberwell."

"You lived with Mr. Kitely at 83, Acacia Grove, Camberwell, from the
time you became his housekeeper until now--nearly ten years in all. So
we may take it that you knew Mr. Kitely very well indeed?"

"As well as anybody could know--him," replied Miss Pett, grimly. "He
wasn't the sort that's easy to know."

"Still, you knew him for ten years. Now," continued Brereton,
concentrating his gaze on Miss Pett's curious features, "who and what
was Mr. Kitely?"

Miss Pett drummed her black-gloved fingers on the edge of the
witness-box and shook her head.

"I don't know," she answered. "I never have known.

"But you must have some idea, some notion--after ten years'
acquaintanceship! Come now. What did he do with himself in London? Had
he no business?"

"He had business," said Miss Pett. "He was out most of the day at it. I
don't know what it was."

"Never mentioned it to you?"

"Never in his life."

"Did you gain no idea of it? For instance, did it take him out at
regular hours?"

"No, it didn't. Sometimes he'd go out very early--sometimes late--some
days he never went out at all. And sometimes he'd be out at night--and
away for days together. I never asked him anything, of course."

"Whatever it was, he retired from it eventually?"

"Yes--just before we came here."

"Do you know why Mr. Kitely came here?"

"Well," said Miss Pett, "he'd always said he wanted a nice little place
in the country, and preferably in the North. He came up this way for a
holiday some months since, and when he got back he said he'd found just
the house and neighbourhood to suit him, so, of course, we removed
here."

"And you have been here--how long?"

"Just over three months."

Brereton let a moment or two elapse before he asked his next question,
which was accompanied by another searching inspection of the witness.

"Do you know anything about Mr. Kitely's relations?"

"No!" answered Miss Pett. "And for a simple reason. He always said he
had none."

"He was never visited by anybody claiming to be a relation?"

"Not during the ten years I knew him."

"Do you think he had property--money--to leave to anybody?"

Miss Pett began to toy with the fur boa which depended from her thin
neck.

"Well--yes, he said he had," she replied hesitatingly.

"Did you ever hear him say what would become of it at his death?"

Miss Pett looked round the court and smiled a little.

"Well," she answered, still more hesitatingly, "he--he always said that
as he'd no relations of his own, he'd leave it to me."

Brereton leaned a little closer across the table towards the witness-box
and dropped his voice.

"Do you know if Mr. Kitely ever made a will?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Miss Pett. "He did."

"When?"

"Just before we left London."

"Do you know the contents of that will?"

"No!" said Miss Pett. "I do not--so there!"

"Did you witness it?"

"No, I didn't."

"Do you know where it is?"

"Yes, I know that."

"Where is it?"

"My nephew has it," replied Miss Pett. "He's a solicitor, and he made
it."

"What is your nephew's name and address?" asked Brereton.

"Mr. Christopher Pett, 23B Cursitor Street," answered Miss Pett, readily
enough.

"Have you let him know of Mr. Kitely's death?"

"Yes. I sent him a telegram first thing this morning."

"Asking him to bring the will?"

"No, I did not!" exclaimed Miss Pett, indignantly. "I never mentioned
the will. Mr. Kitely was very fond of my nephew--he considered him a
very clever young man."

"We shall, no doubt, have the pleasure of seeing your nephew," remarked
Brereton. "Well, now, I want to ask you a question or two about
yourself. What had you been before you became housekeeper to Mr.
Kitely?"

"Housekeeper to another gentleman!" replied Miss Pett, acidly.

"Who was he?"

"Well, if you want to know, he was a Major Stilman, a retired
officer--though what that has----"

"Where did Major Stilman live?" asked Brereton.

"He lived at Kandahar Cottage, Woking," replied Miss Pett, who was now
showing signs of rising anger. "But----"

"Answer my questions, if you please, and don't make remarks," said
Brereton. "Is Major Stilman alive?"

"No, he isn't--he's dead this ten years," answered Miss Pett. "And if
you're going to ask me any more questions about who and what I am, young
man, I'll save you the trouble. I was with Major Stilman a many years,
and before that I was store-keeper at one London hotel, and linen-keeper
at another, and before that I lived at home with my father, who was a
respectable farmer in Sussex. And what all this has to do with what
we're here for, I should like----"

"Just give me the names of the two hotels you were at in London, will
you?" asked Brereton.

"One was the _Royal Belvedere_ in Bayswater, and the other the _Mervyn
Crescent_ in Kensington," replied Miss Pett. "Highly respectable, both
of 'em."

"And you come originally from--where in Sussex?"

"Oakbarrow Farm, near Horsham. Do you want to know any----"

"I shan't trouble you much longer," said Brereton suavely. "But you
might just tell me this--has Mr. Kitely ever had any visitors since he
came to Highmarket?"

"Only one," answered Miss Pett. "And it was my nephew, who came up for a
week-end to see him on business. Of course, I don't know what the
business was. Mr. Kitely had property in London; house-property,
and----"

"And your nephew, as his solicitor, no doubt came to see him about it,"
interrupted Brereton. "Thank you, Miss Pett--I don't want to trouble you
any more."

He sat down as the housekeeper left the witness-box--confident that he
had succeeded in introducing a new atmosphere into the case. Already
there were whisperings going on in the crowded court; he felt that these
country folk, always quick to form suspicions, were beginning to ask
themselves if there was not something dark and sinister behind the
mystery of Kitely's murder, and he was callous enough--from a purely
professional standpoint--to care nothing if they began to form ideas
about Miss Pett. For Brereton knew that nothing is so useful in the
breaking-down of one prejudice as to set up another, and his great
object just then was to divert primary prejudice away from his client.
Nevertheless, nothing, he knew well, could at that stage prevent
Harborough's ultimate committal--unless Harborough himself chose to
prove the _alibi_ of which he had boasted. But Harborough refused to do
anything towards that, and when the case had been adjourned for a week,
and the prisoner removed to a cell pending his removal to Norcaster
gaol, a visit from Brereton and Avice in company failed to move him.

"It's no good, my girl; it's no good, sir," he said, when both had
pleaded with him to speak. "I'm determined! I shall not say where I was
last night."

"Tell me--in secret--and then leave me to make use of the knowledge,
also in secret," urged Brereton.

"No, sir--once for all, no!" answered Harborough. "There's no necessity.
I may be kept locked up for a bit, but the truth about this matter'll
come out before ever I'm brought to trial--or ought to be. Leave me
alone--I'm all right. All that bothers me now, my girl, is--you!"

"Then don't bother," said Avice. "I'm going to stay with Mrs. Northrop.
They've insisted on it."

Brereton was going out of the cell, leaving father and daughter
together, when he suddenly turned back.

"You're a man of sense, Harborough," he said. "Come, now--have you got
anything to suggest as to how you can be helped?"

Harborough smiled and gave his counsel a knowing look.

"Aye, sir!" he answered. "The best suggestion you could get. If you want
to find out who killed Kitely--go back! Go back, sir--go inch by inch,
through Kitely's life!"



CHAPTER X

THE HOLE IN THE THATCH


Bent, taking his guest home to dinner after the police-court
proceedings, showed a strong and encouraging curiosity. He, in common
with all the rest of the townsfolk who had contrived to squeeze into the
old court-house, had been immensely interested in Brereton's examination
of Miss Pett. Now he wanted to know what it meant, what it signified,
what was its true relation to the case?

"You don't mean to say that you suspect that queer old atomy of a
woman!" he exclaimed incredulously as they sat down to Bent's bachelor
table. "And yet--you really looked as if you did--and contrived to throw
something very like it into your voice, too! Man, alive!--half the
Highmarket wiseacres'll be sitting down to their roast mutton at this
minute in the full belief that Miss Pett strangled her master!"

"Well, and why not?" asked Brereton, coolly. "Surely, if you face facts,
there's just as much reason to suspect Miss Pett as there is to suspect
Harborough. They're both as innocent as you are, in all probability.
Granted there's some nasty evidence against Harborough, there's also the
presumption--founded on words from her own lips--that Miss Pett expects
to benefit by this old man's death. She's a strong and wiry woman, and
you tell me Kitely was getting somewhat enfeebled--she might have killed
him, you know. Murders, my dear fellow, are committed by the most
unlikely people, and for curious reasons: they have been committed by
quite respectable females--like Miss Pett--for nothing but a mere whim."

"Do you really suspect her?" demanded Bent. "That's what I want to
know."

"That's what I shan't tell you," replied Brereton, with a good-humoured
laugh. "All I shall tell you is that I believe this murder to be either
an exceedingly simple affair, or a very intricate affair. Wait a
little--wait, for instance, until Mr. Christopher Pett arrives with that
will. Then we shall advance a considerable stage."

"I'm sorry for Avice Harborough, anyway," remarked Bent, "and it's
utterly beyond me to imagine why her father can't say where he was last
night. I suppose there'd be an end of the case if he'd prove where he
was, eh?"

"He'd have to account for every minute between nine and ten o'clock,"
answered Brereton. "It would be no good, for instance, if we proved to a
jury that from say ten o'clock until five o'clock next morning,
Harborough was at--shall we say your county town, Norcaster. You may say
it would take Harborough an hour to get from here to Norcaster, and an
hour to return, and that would account for his whereabouts between nine
and ten last night, and between five and six this morning. That wouldn't
do--because, according to the evidence, Kitely left his house just
before nine o'clock, and he may have been killed immediately. Supposing
Harborough killed him at nine o'clock precisely, Harborough would even
then be able to arrive in Norcaster by ten. What we want to know, in
order to fully establish Harborough's innocence is--where was he, what
was he doing, from the moment he left his cottage last night until say a
quarter past nine, the latest moment at which, according to what the
doctor said, the murder could have been committed?"

"Off on one of his poaching expeditions, I suppose," said Bent.

"No--that's not at all likely," answered Brereton. "There's some very
strange mystery about that man, and I'll have to get at the truth of
it--in spite of his determined reticence! Bent!--I'm going to see this
thing right through! The Norcaster Assizes will be on next month, and of
course Harborough will be brought up then. I shall stop in this
neighbourhood and work out the case--it'll do me a lot of good in all
sorts of ways--experience--work--the interest in it--and the _kudos_ I
shall win if I get my man off--as I will! So I shall unashamedly ask you
to give me house-room for that time."

"Of course," replied Bent. "The house is yours--only too glad, old chap.
But what a queer case it is! I'd give something, you know, to know what
you really think about it."

"I've not yet settled in my own mind what I do think about it," said
Brereton. "But I'll suggest a few things to you which you can think over
at your leisure. What motive could Harborough have had for killing
Kitely? There's abundant testimony in the town--from his daughter, from
neighbours, from tradesmen--that Harborough was never short of
money--he's always had more money than most men in his position are
supposed to have. Do you think it likely that he'd have killed Kitely
for thirty pounds? Again--does anybody of sense believe that a man of
Harborough's evident ability would have murdered his victim so clumsily
as to leave a direct clue behind him? Now turn to another side. Is it
not evident that if Miss Pett wanted to murder Kitely she'd excellent
chances of not only doing so, but of directing suspicion to another
person? She knew her master's habits--she knew the surroundings--she
knew where Harborough kept that cord--she is the sort of person who
could steal about as quietly as a cat. If--as may be established by the
will which her nephew has, and of which, in spite of all she affirmed,
or, rather, swore, she may have accurate knowledge--she benefits by
Kitely's death, is there not motive there? Clearly, Miss Pett is to be
suspected!"

"Do you mean to tell me that she'd kill old Kitely just to get
possession of the bit he had to leave?" asked Bent incredulously. "Come,
now,--that's a stiff proposition."

"Not to me," replied Brereton. "I've known of a case in which a young
wife carefully murdered an old husband because she was so eager to get
out of the dull life she led with him that she couldn't wait a year or
two for his natural decease; I've heard of a case in which an elderly
woman poisoned her twin-sister, so that she could inherit her share of
an estate and go to live in style at Brighton. I don't want to do Miss
Pett any injustice, but I say that there are grounds for suspecting
her--and they may be widened."

"Then it comes to this," said Bent. "There are two people under
suspicion: Harborough's suspected by the police--Miss Pett's suspected
by you. And it may be, and probably is, the truth that both are entirely
innocent. In that case, who's the guilty person?"

"Ah, who indeed?" assented Brereton, half carelessly. "That is a
question. But my duty is to prove that my client is not guilty. And as
you're going to attend to your business this afternoon, I'll do a little
attending to mine by thinking things over."

When Bent had gone away to the town, Brereton lighted a cigar, stretched
himself in an easy chair in front of a warm fire in his host's
smoking-room, and tried to think clearly. He had said to Bent all that
was in his mind about Harborough and about Miss Pett--but he had said
nothing, had been determined to say nothing, about a curious thought, an
unformed, vague suspicion which was there. It was that as yet formless
suspicion which occupied all his mental powers now--he put Harborough
and Miss Pett clean away from him.

And as he sat there, he asked himself first of all--why had this curious
doubt about two apparently highly-respectable men of this little,
out-of-the-world town come into his mind? He traced it back to its first
source--Cotherstone. Brereton was a close observer of men; it was his
natural instinct to observe, and he was always giving it a further
training and development. He had felt certain as he sat at supper with
him, the night before, that Cotherstone had something in his thoughts
which was not of his guests, his daughter, or himself. His whole
behaviour suggested pre-occupation, occasional absent-mindedness: once
or twice he obviously did not hear the remarks which were addressed to
him. He had certainly betrayed some curious sort of confusion when
Kitely's name was mentioned. And he had manifested great astonishment,
been much upset, when Garthwaite came in with the news of Kitely's
death.

Now here came in what Brereton felt to be the all-important, the
critical point of this, his first attempt to think things out. He was
not at all sure that Cotherstone's astonishment on hearing Garthwaite's
announcement was not feigned, was not a piece of pure acting. Why? He
smiled cynically as he answered his own question. The answer
was--_Because when Cotherstone, Garthwaite, Bent, and Brereton set out
from Cotherstone's house to look at the dead man's body, Cotherstone led
the way straight to it_.

How did Cotherstone know exactly where, in that half-mile of wooded
hill-side, the murder had been committed of which he had only heard five
minutes before? Yet, he led them all to within a few yards of the dead
man, until he suddenly checked himself, thrust the lantern into
Garthwaite's hands and said that of course he didn't know where the body
was! Now might not that really mean, when fully analyzed, that even if
Cotherstone did not kill Kitely himself during the full hour in which
he was absent from his house he knew that Kitely had been killed, and
where--and possibly by whom?

Anyway, here were certain facts--and they had to be reckoned with.
Kitely was murdered about a quarter-past nine o'clock. Cotherstone was
out of his house from ten minutes to nine o'clock until five minutes to
ten. He was clearly excited when he returned: he was more excited when
he went with the rest of them up the wood. Was it not probable that
under the stress of that excitement he forgot his presence of mind, and
mechanically went straight to the all-important spot?

So much for that. But there was something more. Mallalieu was
Cotherstone's partner. Mallalieu went to Northrop's house to play cards
at ten o'clock. It might be well to find out, quietly, what Mallalieu
was doing with himself up to ten o'clock. But the main thing was--what
was Cotherstone doing during that hour of absence? And--had Cotherstone
any reason--of his own, or shared with his partner--for wishing to get
rid of Kitely?

Brereton sat thinking all these things over until he had finished his
cigar; he then left Bent's house and strolled up into the woods of the
Shawl. He wanted to have a quiet look round the scene of the murder. He
had not been up there since the previous evening; it now occurred to him
that it would be well to see how the place looked by daylight. There was
no difficulty about finding the exact spot, even in those close coverts
of fir and pine; a thin line of inquisitive sightseers was threading its
way up the Shawl in front of him, each of its units agog to see the
place where a fellow-being had been done to death.

But no one could get at the precise scene of the murder. The police had
roped a portion of the coppice off from the rest, and two or three
constables in uniform were acting as guards over this enclosed space,
while a couple of men in plain clothes, whom Brereton by that time knew
to be detectives from Norcaster, were inside it, evidently searching the
ground with great care. Round and about the fenced-in portion stood
townsfolk, young and old, talking, speculating, keenly alive to the
goings-on, hoping that the searchers would find something just then, so
that they themselves could carry some sensational news back to the town
and their own comfortable tea-tables. Most of them had been in or
outside the Court House that morning and recognized Brereton and made
way for him as he advanced to the ropes. One of the detectives
recognized him, too, and invited him to step inside.

"Found anything?" asked Brereton, who was secretly wondering why the
police should be so foolish as to waste time in a search which was
almost certain to be non-productive.

"No, sir--we've been chiefly making out for certain where the actual
murder took place before the dead man was dragged behind that rock,"
answered the detective. "As far as we can reckon from the disturbance of
these pine needles, the murderer must have sprung on Kitely from behind
that clump of gorse--there where it's grown to such a height--and then
dragged him here, away from that bit of a path. No--we've found
nothing. But I suppose you've heard of the find at Harborough's
cottage?"

"No!" exclaimed Brereton, startled out of his habitual composure. "What
find?"

"Some of our people made a search there as soon as the police-court
proceedings were over," replied the detective. "It was the first chance
they'd had of doing anything systematically. They found the bank-notes
which Kitely got at the Bank yesterday evening, and a quantity of
letters and papers that we presume had been in that empty pocket-book.
They were all hidden in a hole in the thatch of Harborough's shed."

"Where are they?" asked Brereton.

"Down at the police-station--the superintendent has them," answered the
detective. "He'd show you them, sir, if you care to go down."

Brereton went off to the police-station at once and was shown into the
superintendent's office without delay. That official immediately drew
open a drawer of his desk and produced a packet folded in brown paper.

"I suppose this is what you want to see, Mr. Brereton," he said. "I
guess you've heard about the discovery? Shoved away in a rat-hole in the
thatch of Harborough's shed these were, sir--upon my honour, I don't
know what to make of it! You'd have thought that a man of Harborough's
sense and cleverness would never have put these things there, where they
were certain to be found."

"I don't believe Harborough did put them there," said Brereton. "But
what are they?"

The superintendent motioned his visitor to sit by him and then opened
the papers out on his desk.

"Not so much," he answered. "Three five-pound notes--I've proved that
they're those which poor Kitely got at the bank yesterday. A number of
letters--chiefly about old books, antiquarian matters, and so
forth--some scraps of newspaper cuttings, of the same nature. And this
bit of a memorandum book, that fits that empty pocket-book we found,
with pencil entries in it--naught of any importance. Look 'em over, if
you like, Mr. Brereton. I make nothing out of 'em."

Brereton made nothing out either, at first glance. The papers were just
what the superintendent described them to be, and he went rapidly
through them without finding anything particularly worthy of notice. But
to the little memorandum book he gave more attention, especially to the
recent entries. And one of these, made within the last three months,
struck him as soon as he looked at it, insignificant as it seemed to be.
It was only of one line, and the one line was only of a few initials, an
abbreviation or two, and a date: _M. & C. v. S. B. cir. 81_. And why
this apparently innocent entry struck Brereton was because he was still
thinking as an under-current to all this, of Mallalieu and
Cotherstone--and M. and C. were certainly the initials of those not too
common names.



CHAPTER XI

CHRISTOPHER PETT


The two men sat staring silently at the paper-strewn desk for several
moments; each occupied with his own thoughts. At last the superintendent
began to put the several exhibits together, and he turned to Brereton
with a gesture which suggested a certain amount of mental impatience.

"There's one thing in all this that I can't understand, sir," he said.
"And it's this--it's very evident that whoever killed Kitely wanted the
papers that Kitely carried in that pocket-book. Why did he take 'em out
of the pocket-book and throw the pocket-book away? I don't know how that
strikes you--but it licks me, altogether!"

"Yes," agreed Brereton, "it's puzzling--certainly. You'd think that the
murderer would have carried off the pocket-book, there and then. That he
took the papers from it, threw the pocket-book itself away, and then
placed the papers--or some of them--where your people have just found
them--in Harborough's shed--seems to me to argue something which is even
more puzzling. I daresay you see what I mean?"

"Can't say that I do, sir," answered the superintendent. "I haven't had
much experience in this sort of work, you know, Mr. Brereton--it's a
good bit off our usual line. What do you mean, then?"

"Why," replied Brereton, laughing a little, "I mean this--it looks as if
the murderer had taken his time about his proceedings!--after Kitely was
killed. The pocket-book, as you know, was picked up close to the body.
It was empty--as we all saw. Now what can we infer from that but that
the murderer actually stopped by his victim to examine the papers? And
in that case he must have had a light. He may have carried an electric
torch. Let's try and reconstruct the affair. We'll suppose that the
murderer, whoever he was, was so anxious to find some paper that he
wanted, and that he believed Kitely to have on him, that he immediately
examined the contents of the pocket-book. He turned on his electric
torch and took all the papers out of the pocket-book, laying the
pocket-book aside. He was looking through the papers when he heard a
sound in the neighbouring coppices or bushes. He immediately turned off
his light, made off with the papers, and left the empty case--possibly
completely forgetting its existence for the moment. How does that strike
you--as a theory?"

"Very good, sir," replied the superintendent. "Very good--but it is only
a theory, you know, Mr. Brereton."

Brereton rose, with another laugh.

"Just so," he said. "But suppose you try to reduce it to practice? In
this way--you no doubt have tradesmen in this town who deal in such
things as electric torches. Find out--in absolute secrecy--if any of
them have sold electric torches of late to any one in the town, and if
so, to whom. For I'm certain of this--that pocket-book and its contents
was examined on the spot, and that examination could only have been made
with a light, and an electric torch would be the handiest means of
providing that light. And so--so you see how even a little clue like
that might help, eh?"

"I'll see to it," assented the superintendent. "Well, it's all very
queer, sir, and I'm getting more than ever convinced that we've laid
hands on the wrong man. And yet--what could, and what can we do?"

"Oh, nothing, at present," replied Brereton. "Let matters develop.
They're only beginning."

He went away then, not to think about the last subject of conversation,
but to take out his own pocket-book as soon as he was clear of the
police-station, and to write down that entry which he had seen in
Kitely's memoranda:--_M. & C. v. S. B. cir. 81_. And again he was struck
by the fact that the initials were those of Mallalieu and Cotherstone,
and again he wondered what they meant. They might have no reference
whatever to the Mayor and his partner--but under the circumstances it
was at any rate a curious coincidence, and he had an overwhelming
intuition that something lay behind that entry. But--what?

That evening, as Bent and his guest were lighting their cigars after
dinner, Bent's parlour-maid came into the smoking-room with a card. Bent
glanced from it to Brereton with a look of surprise.

"Mr. Christopher Pett!" he exclaimed. "What on earth does he want me
for? Bring Mr. Pett in here, anyway," he continued, turning to the
parlour-maid. "Is he alone?--or is Miss Pett with him?"

"The police-superintendent's with him, sir," answered the girl. "They
said--could they see you and Mr. Brereton for half an hour, on
business?"

"Bring them both in, then," said Bent. He looked at Brereton again, with
more interrogation. "Fresh stuff, eh?" he went on. "Mr. Christopher
Pett's the old dragon's nephew, I suppose. But what can he want
with--oh, well, I guess he wants you--I'm the audience."

Brereton made no reply. He was watching the door. And through it
presently came a figure and face which he at once recognized as those of
an undersized, common-looking, sly-faced little man whom he had often
seen about the Law Courts in London, and had taken for a solicitor's
clerk. He looked just as common and sly as ever as he sidled into the
smoking-room, removing his silk hat with one hand and depositing a brief
bag on the table with the other, and he favoured Brereton with a sickly
grin of recognition after he had made a bow to the master of the house.
That done he rubbed together two long and very thin white hands and
smiled at Brereton once more.

"Good-evening, Mr. Brereton," he said in a thin, wheedling voice. "I've
no doubt you've seen me before, sir?--I've seen you often--round about
the Courts, Mr. Brereton--though I've never had the pleasure of putting
business in your way--as yet, Mr. Brereton, as yet, sir! But----"

Brereton, to whom Bent had transferred Mr. Christopher Pett's card,
glanced again at it, and from it to its owner.

"I see your address is that of Messrs. Popham & Pilboody in Cursitor
Street, Mr. Pett," he observed frigidly. "Any connection with that
well-known firm?"

Mr. Pett rubbed his hands, and taking the chair which Bent silently
indicated, sat down and pulled his trousers up about a pair of bony
knees. He smiled widely, showing a set of curiously shaped teeth.

"Mr. Popham, sir," he answered softly, "has always been my very good
friend. I entered Mr. Popham's service, sir, at an early age. Mr.
Popham, sir, acted very handsomely by me. He gave me my articles, sir.
And when I was admitted--two years ago, Mr. Brereton--Messrs. Popham &
Pilboody gave me--very generously--an office in their suite, so that I
could have my name up, and do a bit on my own, sir. Oh yes!--I'm
connected--intimately--with that famous firm, Mr. Brereton!"

There was an assurance about Mr. Pett, a cocksureness of demeanour, a
cheerful confidence in himself, which made Brereton long to kick him;
but he restrained his feelings and said coldly that he supposed Mr. Pett
wished to speak to Mr. Bent and himself on business.

"Not on my own business, sir," replied Pett, laying his queer-looking
white fingers on his brief bag. "On the business of my esteemed feminine
relative, Miss Pett. I am informed, Mr. Brereton--no offence, sir, oh,
none whatever!--that you put some--no doubt necessary--questions to
Miss Pett at the court this morning which had the effect of prejudicing
her in the eyes--or shall we say ears?--of those who were present. Miss
Pett accordingly desires that I, as her legal representative, should
lose no time in putting before you the true state of the case as regards
her relations with Kitely, deceased, and I accordingly, sir, in the
presence of our friend, the superintendent, whom I have already spoken
to outside, desire to tell you what the truth is. Informally, you
understand, Mr. Brereton, informally!"

"Just as you please," answered Brereton. "All this is, as you say,
informal."

"Quite informal, sir," agreed Pett, who gained in cheerfulness with
every word. "Oh, absolutely so. Between ourselves, of course. But it'll
be all the pleasanter if you know. My aunt, Miss Pett, naturally does
not wish, Mr. Brereton, that any person--hereabouts or elsewhere--should
entertain such suspicions of her as you seemed--I speak, sir, from
information furnished--to suggest, in your examination of her today. And
so, sir, I wish to tell you this. I acted as legal adviser to the late
Mr. Kitely. I made his will. I have that will in this bag. And--to put
matters in a nutshell, Mr. Brereton--there is not a living soul in this
world who knows the contents of that will but--your humble and
obedient!"

"Do you propose to communicate the contents of the late Mr. Kitely's
will to us?" asked Brereton, drily.

"I do, sir," replied Mr. Pett. "And for this reason. My relative--Miss
Pett--does not know what Mr. Kitely's profession had been, nor what Mr.
Kitely died possessed of. She does not know--anything! And she will not
know until I read this will to her after I have communicated the gist of
it to you. And I will do that in a few words. The late Mr. Kitely, sir,
was an ex-member of the detective police force. By dint of economy and
thrift he had got together a nice little property--house-property, in
London--Brixton, to be exact. It is worth about one hundred and fifty
pounds per annum. And--to cut matters short--he has left it absolutely
to Miss Pett. I myself, Mr. Brereton, am sole executor. If you desire to
see the will, sir, you, or Mr. Bent, or the superintendent, are at
liberty to inspect it."

Brereton waved the proffered document aside and got up from his chair.

"No, thank you, Mr. Pett," he said. "I've no desire to see Mr. Kitely's
will. I quite accept all that you say about it. You, as a lawyer, know
very well that whatever I asked Miss Pett this morning was asked in the
interests of my client. No--you can put the will away as far as I'm
concerned. You've assured me that Miss Pett is as yet in ignorance of
its contents, and--I take your word. I think, however, that Miss Pett
won't be exactly surprised."

"Oh, I daresay my aunt has a pretty good idea, Mr. Brereton," agreed
Pett, who having offered the will to both Bent and the superintendent,
only to meet with a polite refusal from each, now put it back in his
bag. "We all of us have some little idea which quarter the wind's in,
you know, sir, in these cases. Of course, Kitely, deceased, had no
relatives, Mr. Brereton: in fact, so far as Miss Pett and self are
aware, beyond ourselves, he'd no friends."

"I was going to ask you a somewhat pertinent question, Mr. Pett," said
Brereton. "Quite an informal one, you know. Do you think he had any
enemies?"

Pett put his long white fingers together and inclined his head to one
side. His slit of a mouth opened slightly, and his queer teeth showed
themselves in a sly grin.

"Just so!" he said. "Of course, I take your meaning, Mr. Brereton.
Naturally, you'd think that a man of his profession would make enemies.
No doubt there must be a good many persons who'd have been glad--had he
still been alive--to have had their knives into him. Oh, yes!
But--unfortunately, I don't know of 'em, sir."

"Never heard him speak of anybody who was likely to cherish revenge,
eh?" asked Brereton.

"Never, sir! Kitely, deceased," remarked Pett, meditatively, "was not
given to talking of his professional achievements. I happen to know that
he was concerned in some important cases in his time--but he rarely, if
ever, mentioned them to me. In fact, I may say, gentlemen," he continued
in a palpable burst of confidence, "I may say, between ourselves, that
I'd had the honour of Mr. K.'s acquaintance for some time before ever I
knew what his line of business had been! Fact!"

"A close man, eh?" asked Brereton.

"One of the very closest," replied Pett. "Yes, you may say that, sir."

"Not likely to let things out, I suppose?" continued Brereton.

"Not he! He was a regular old steel trap, Kitely was--shut tight!" said
Pett.

"And--I suppose you've no theory, no idea of your own about his murder?"
asked Brereton, who was watching the little man closely. "Have you
formed any ideas or theories?"

Pett half-closed his eyes as he turned them on his questioner.

"Too early!" he replied, with a shake of his head. "Much too early. I
shall--in due course. Meantime, there's another little commission I have
to discharge, and I may as well do it at once. There are two or three
trifling bequests in this will, gentlemen--one of 'em's to you, Mr.
Bent. It wasn't in the original will--that was made before Kitely came
to these parts. It's in a codicil--made when I came down here a few
weeks ago, on the only visit I ever paid to the old gentleman. He
desired, in case of his death, to leave you something--said you'd been
very friendly to him."

"Very good of him, I'm sure," said Bent with a glance of surprise. "I'm
rather astonished to hear of it, though."

"Oh, it's nothing much," remarked Pett, with a laugh as he drew from the
brief bag what looked like an old quarto account book, fastened by a
brass clasp. "It's a scrap-book that the old man kept--a sort of album
in which he pasted up all sorts of odds and ends. He thought you'd find
'em interesting. And knowing of this bequest, sir, I thought I'd bring
the book down. You might just give me a formal receipt for its delivery,
Mr. Bent."

Bent took his curious legacy and led Mr. Pett away to a writing-desk to
dictate a former of receipt. And as they turned away, the superintendent
signed to Brereton to step into a corner of the room with him.

"You know what you said about that electric torch notion this afternoon,
sir?" he whispered. "Well, after you left me, I just made an
inquiry--absolutely secret, you know--myself. I went to Rellit, the
ironmonger--I knew that if such things had ever come into the town, it
'ud be through him, for he's the only man that's at all up-to-date.
And--I heard more than I expected to hear!"

"What?" asked Brereton.

"I think there may be something in what you said," answered the
superintendent. "But, listen here--Rellit says he'd swear a solemn oath
that nobody but himself ever sold an electric torch in Highmarket. And
he's only sold to three persons--to the Vicar's son; to Mr. Mallalieu;
and to Jack Harborough!"



CHAPTER XII

PARENTAL ANXIETY


For a moment Brereton and the superintendent looked at each other in
silence. Then Bent got up from his desk at the other side of the room,
and he and the little solicitor came towards them.

"Keep that to yourself, then," muttered Brereton. "We'll talk of it
later. It may be of importance."

"Well, there's this much to bear in mind," whispered the superintendent,
drawing back a little with an eye on the others. "Nothing of that sort
was found on your client! And he'd been out all night. That's worth
considering--from his standpoint, Mr. Brereton."

Brereton nodded his assent and turned away with another warning glance.
And presently Pett and the superintendent went off, and Bent dropped
into his easy chair with a laugh.

"Queer sort of unexpected legacy!" he said. "I wonder if the old man
really thought I should be interested in his scrap-book?"

"There may be a great deal that's interesting in it," remarked Brereton,
with a glance at the book, which Bent had laid aside on top of a
book-case. "Take care of it. Well, what did you think of Mr.
Christopher Pett?"

"Cool hand, I should say," answered Bent. "But--what did you think of
him?"

"Oh, I've met Mr. Christopher Pett's sort before," said Brereton, drily.
"The Dodson & Fogg type of legal practitioner is by no means extinct. I
should much like to know a good deal more about his various dealings
with Kitely. We shall see and hear more about them, however--later on.
For the present there are--other matters."

He changed the subject then--to something utterly apart from the murder
and its mystery. For the one topic which filled his own mind was also
the very one which he could not discuss with Bent. Had Cotherstone, had
Mallalieu anything to do with Kitely's death? That question was
beginning to engross all his attention: he thought more about it than
about his schemes for a successful defence of Harborough, well knowing
that his best way of proving Harborough's innocence lay in establishing
another man's guilt.

"One would give a good deal," he said to himself, as he went to bed that
night, "if one could get a moment's look into Cotherstone's mind--or
into Mallalieu's either! For I'll swear that these two know
something--possibly congratulating themselves that it will never be
known to anybody else!"

If Brereton could have looked into the minds of either of the partners
at this particular juncture he would have found much opportunity for
thought and reflection, of a curious nature. For both were keeping a
double watch--on the course of events on one hand; on each other, on the
other hand. They watched the police-court proceedings against Harborough
and saw, with infinite relief, that nothing transpired which seemed
inimical to themselves. They watched the proceedings at the inquest held
on Kitely; they, too, yielded nothing that could attract attention in
the way they dreaded. When several days had gone by and the police
investigations seemed to have settled down into a concentrated purpose
against the suspected man, both Mallalieu and Cotherstone believed
themselves safe from discovery--their joint secret appeared to be well
buried with the old detective. But the secret was keenly and vividly
alive in their own hearts, and when Mallalieu faced the truth he knew
that he suspected Cotherstone, and when Cotherstone put things squarely
to himself he knew that he suspected Mallalieu. And the two men got to
eyeing each other furtively, and to addressing each other curtly, and
when they happened to be alone there was a heavy atmosphere of mutual
dislike and suspicion between them.

It was a strange psychological fact that though these men had been
partners for a period covering the most important part of their lives,
they had next to nothing in common. They were excellent partners in
business matters; Mallalieu knew Cotherstone, and Cotherstone knew
Mallalieu in all things relating to the making of money. But in taste,
temperament, character, understanding, they were as far apart as the
poles. This aloofness when tested further by the recent discomposing
events manifested itself in a disinclination to confidence. Mallalieu,
whatever he thought, knew very well that he would never say what he
thought to Cotherstone; Cotherstone knew precisely the same thing with
regard to Mallalieu. But this silence bred irritation, and as the days
went by the irritation became more than Cotherstone could bear. He was a
highly-strung, nervous man, quick to feel and to appreciate, and the
averted looks and monosyllabic remarks and replies of a man into whose
company he could not avoid being thrown began to sting him to something
like madness. And one day, left alone in the office with Mallalieu when
Stoner the clerk had gone to get his dinner, the irritation became
unbearable, and he turned on his partner in a sudden white heat of
ungovernable and impotent anger.

"Hang you!" he hissed between his set teeth. "I believe you think I did
that job! And if you do, blast you, why don't you say so, and be done
with it?"

Mallalieu, who was standing on the hearth, warming his broad back at the
fire, thrust his hands deeply into his pockets and looked
half-sneeringly at his partner out of his screwed-up eyes.

"I should advise you to keep yourself cool," he said with affected
quietness. "There's more than me'll think a good deal if you chance to
let yourself out like that."

"You do think it!" reiterated Cotherstone passionately. "Damn it, d'ye
think I haven't noticed it? Always looking at me as if--as if----"

"Now then, keep yourself calm," interrupted Mallalieu. "I can look at
you or at any other, in any way I like, can't I? There's no need to
distress yourself--I shan't give aught away. If you took it in your head
to settle matters--as they were settled--well, I shan't say a word. That
is unless--you understand?"

"Understand what?" screamed Cotherstone.

"Unless I'm obliged to," answered Mallalieu. "I should have to make it
clear that I'd naught to do with that particular matter, d'ye see? Every
man for himself's a sound principle. But--I see no need. I don't believe
there'll be any need. And it doesn't matter the value of that pen that's
shaking so in your hand to me if an innocent man suffers--if he's
innocent o' that, he's guilty o' something else. You're safe with me."

Cotherstone flung the pen on the floor and stamped on it. And Mallalieu
laughed cynically and walked slowly across to the door.

"You're a fool, Cotherstone," he said. "Go on a bit more like that, and
you'll let it all out to somebody 'at 'll not keep secrets as I can.
Cool yourself, man, cool yourself!"

"Hang you!" shouted Cotherstone. "Mind I don't let something out about
you! Where were you that night, I should like to know? Or, rather, I do
know! You're no safer than I am! And if I told what I do know----"

Mallalieu, with his hand on the latch, turned and looked his partner in
the face--without furtiveness, for once.

"And if you told aught that you do, or fancy you know," he said quietly,
"there'd be ruin in your home, you soft fool! I thought you wanted
things kept quiet for your lass's sake? Pshaw!--you're taking leave o'
your senses!"

He walked out at that, and Cotherstone, shaking with anger, relapsed
into a chair and cursed his fate. And after a time he recovered himself
and began to think, and his thoughts turned instinctively to Lettie.

Mallalieu was right--of course, he was right! Anything that he,
Cotherstone, could say or do in the way of bringing up the things that
must be suppressed would ruin Lettie's chances. So, at any rate, it
seemed to him. For Cotherstone's mind was essentially a worldly one, and
it was beyond him to believe that an ambitious young man like Windle
Bent would care to ally himself with the daughter of an ex-convict. Bent
would have the best of excuses for breaking off all relations with the
Cotherstone family if the unpleasant truth came out. No!--whatever else
he did, he must keep his secret safe until Bent and Lettie were safely
married. That once accomplished, Cotherstone cared little about the
future: Bent could not go back on his wife. And so Cotherstone
endeavoured to calm himself, so that he could scheme and plot, and
before night came he paid a visit to his doctor, and when he went home
that evening, he had his plans laid.

Bent was with Lettie when Cotherstone got home, and Cotherstone
presently got the two of them into a little snuggery which he kept
sacred to himself as a rule. He sat down in his easy chair, and signed
to them to sit near him.

"I'm glad I found you together," he said. "There's something I want to
say. There's no call for you to be frightened, Lettie--but what I've got
to say is serious. And I'll put it straight--Bent'll understand. Now,
you'd arranged to get married next spring--six months hence. I want you
to change your minds, and to let it be as soon as you can."

He looked with a certain eager wistfulness at Lettie, expecting to see
her start with surprise. But fond as he was of her, Cotherstone had so
far failed to grasp the later developments of his daughter's character.
Lettie Cotherstone was not the sort of young woman who allows herself to
be surprised by anything. She was remarkably level-headed, cool of
thought, well able to take care of herself in every way, and fully alive
to the possibilities of her union with the rising young manufacturer.
And instead of showing any astonishment, she quietly asked her father
what he meant.

"I'll tell you," answered Cotherstone, greatly relieved to find that
both seemed inclined to talk matters quietly over. "It's this--I've not
been feeling as well as I ought to feel, lately. The fact is, Bent, I've
done too much in my time. A man can work too hard, you know--and it
tells on him in the end. So the doctor says, anyhow."

"The doctor!" exclaimed Lettie. "You haven't been to him?"

"Seen him this afternoon," replied Cotherstone. "Don't alarm yourself.
But that's what he says--naught wrong, all sound, but--it's time I
rested. Rest and change--complete change. And I've made up my mind--I'm
going to retire from business. Why not? I'm a well-to-do man--better
off than most folks 'ud think. I shall tell Mallalieu tomorrow. Yes--I'm
resolved on it. And that done, I shall go and travel for a year or
two--I've always wanted to go round the world. I'll go--that for a
start, anyway. And the sooner the better, says the doctor. And----" here
he looked searchingly at his listeners--"I'd like to see you settled
before I go. What?"

Lettie's calm and judicial character came out in the first words she
spoke. She had listened carefully to Cotherstone; now she turned to
Bent.

"Windle," she said, as quietly as if she were asking the most casual of
questions, "wouldn't it upset all your arrangements for next year? You
see, father," she went on, turning to Cotherstone, "Windle had arranged
everything. He was going to have the whole of the spring and summer away
from business; we were going on the Continent for six months. And that
would have to be entirely altered and----"

"We could alter it," interrupted Bent. He was watching Cotherstone
closely, and fancying that he saw a strained and eager look in his face,
he decided that Cotherstone was keeping something back, and had not told
them the full truth about his health.

"It's all a matter of arrangement. I could arrange to go away during the
winter, Lettie."

"But I don't want to travel in winter," objected Lettie. "Besides--I've
made all my arrangements about my gowns and things."

"That can be arranged, too," said Bent. "The dressmaker can work
overtime."

"That'll mean that everything will be hurried--and spoiled," replied
Lettie. "Besides, I've arranged everything with my bridesmaids. They
can't be expected to----"

"We can do without bridesmaids," replied Bent, laying his hand on
Lettie's arm. "If your father really feels that he's got to have the
rest and the change he spoke of, and wants us to be married first, why,
then----"

"But there's nothing to prevent you having a rest and a change now,
father," said Lettie. "Why not? I don't like my arrangements to be
altered--I had planned everything out so carefully. When we did fix on
next spring, Windle, I had only just time as it was!"

"Pooh!" said Bent. "We could get married the day after tomorrow if we
wanted! Bridesmaids--gowns--all that sort of tomfoolery, what does it
matter?"

"It isn't tomfoolery," retorted Lettie. "If I am to be married I should
like to be married properly."

She got up, with a heightened colour and a little toss of her head, and
left the room, and the two men looked at each other.

"Talk to her, my lad," said Cotherstone at last. "Of course, girls think
such a lot of--of all the accompaniments, eh?"

"Yes, yes--it'll be all right," replied Bent. He tapped Cotherstone's
arm and gave him a searching look. "You're not keeping anything
back--about your health, are you?" he asked.

Cotherstone glanced at the door and sank his voice to a whisper.

"It's my heart!" he answered. "Over-strained--much over-strained, the
doctor says. Rest and change--imperative! But--not a word to Lettie,
Bent. Talk her round--get it arranged. I shall feel safer--you
understand?"

Bent was full of good nature, and though he understood to the full--it
was a natural thing, this anxiety of a father for his only child. He
promised to talk seriously to Lettie at once about an early wedding. And
that night he told Brereton of what had happened, and asked him if he
knew how special licences can be got, and Brereton informed him of all
he knew on that point--and kept silence about one which to him was
becoming deeply and seriously important.



CHAPTER XIII

THE ANONYMOUS LETTER


Within a week of that night Brereton was able to sum things up, to take
stock, to put clearly before himself the position of affairs as they
related to his mysterious client. They had by that time come to a clear
issue: a straight course lay ahead with its ultimate stages veiled in
obscurity. Harborough had again been brought up before the Highmarket
magistrates, had stubbornly refused to give any definite information
about his exact doings on the night of Kitely's murder, and had been
duly committed for trial on the capital charge. On the same day the
coroner, after holding an inquest extending over two sittings, had
similarly committed him. There was now nothing to do but to wait until
the case came on at Norcaster Assizes. Fortunately, the assizes were
fixed for the middle of the ensuing month: Brereton accordingly had
three weeks wherein to prepare his defence--or (which would be an
eminently satisfactory equivalent) to definitely fix the guilt on some
other person.

Christopher Pett, as legal adviser to the murdered man, had felt it his
duty to remain in Highmarket until the police proceedings and the
coroner's inquest were over. He had made himself conspicuous at both
police-court and coroner's court, putting himself forward wherever he
could, asking questions wherever opportunity offered. Brereton's dislike
of him increased the more he saw of him; he specially resented Pett's
familiarity. But Pett was one of those persons who know how to combine
familiarity with politeness and even servility; to watch or hear him
talk to any one whom he button-holed was to gain a notion of his
veneration for them. He might have been worshipping Brereton when he
buttoned-holed the young barrister after Harborough had been finally
committed to take his trial.

"Ah, he's a lucky man, that, Mr. Brereton!" observed Pett, collaring
Brereton in a corridor outside the crowded court. "Very fortunate man
indeed, sir, to have you take so much interest in him. Fancy you--with
all your opportunities in town, Mr. Brereton!--stopping down here, just
to defend that fellow out of--what shall we call it?--pure and simple
Quixotism! Quixotism!--I believe that's the correct term, Mr. Brereton.
Oh, yes--for the man's as good as done for. Not a cat's chance! He'll
swing, sir, will your client!"

"Your simile is not a good one, Mr. Pett," retorted Brereton. "Cats are
said to have nine lives."

"Cat, rat, mouse, dog--no chance whatever, sir," said Pett, cheerfully.
"I know what a country jury'll say. If I were a betting man, Mr.
Brereton--which I ain't, being a regular church attendant--I'd lay you
ten to one the jury'll never leave the box, sir!"

"No--I don't think they will--when the right man is put in the dock, Mr.
Pett," replied Brereton.

Pett drew back and looked the young barrister in the face with an
expression that was half quizzical and half serious.

"You don't mean to say that you really believe this fellow to be
innocent, Mr. Brereton?" he exclaimed. "You!--with your knowledge of
criminal proceedings! Oh, come now, Mr. Brereton--it's very kind of you,
very Quixotic, as I call it, but----"

"You shall see," said Brereton and turned off. He had no mind to be more
than civil to Pett, and he frowned when Pett, in his eagerness, laid a
detaining hand on his gown. "I'm not going to discuss it, Mr. Pett," he
added, a little warmly. "I've my own view of the case."

"But, but, Mr. Brereton--a moment!" urged Pett. "Just between ourselves
as--well, not as lawyers but as--as one gentleman to another. _Do_ you
think it possible it was some other person? Do you now, really?"

"Didn't your estimable female relative, as you call her, say that I
suggested she might be the guilty person?" demanded Brereton,
maliciously. "Come, now, Mr. Pett! You don't know all that I know!"

Pett fell back, staring doubtfully at Brereton's curled lip, and
wondering whether to take him seriously or not. And Brereton laughed and
went off--to reflect, five minutes later, that this was no laughing
matter for Harborough and his daughter, and to plunge again into the
maze of thought out of which it was so difficult to drag anything that
seemed likely to be helpful.

He interviewed Harborough again before he was taken back to Norcaster,
and again he pressed him to speak, and again Harborough gave him a
point-blank refusal.

"Not unless it comes to the very worst, sir," he said firmly, "and only
then if I see there's no other way--and even then it would only be for
my daughter's sake. But it won't come to that! There's three weeks
yet--good--and if somebody can't find out the truth in three weeks----"

"Man alive!" exclaimed Brereton. "Your own common-sense ought to tell
you that in cases like this three years isn't enough to get at the
truth! What can I do in three weeks?"

"There's not only you, sir," replied Harborough. "There's the
police--there's the detectives--there's----"

"The police and the detectives are all doing their best to fasten the
crime on you!" retorted Brereton. "Of course they are! That's their way.
When they've safely got one man, do you think they're going to look for
another? If you won't tell me what you were doing, and where you were
that night, well, I'll have to find out for myself."

Harborough gave his counsel a peculiar look which Brereton could not
understand.

"Oh, well!" he said. "If _you_ found it out----"

He broke off at that, and would say no more, and Brereton presently left
him and walked thoughtfully homeward, reflecting on the prisoner's last
words.

"He admits there is something to be found out," he mused. "And by that
very admission he implies that it could be found out. Now--how?
Egad!--I'd give something for even the least notion!"

Bent's parlour-maid, opening the door to Brereton, turned to a locked
drawer in the old-fashioned clothes-press which stood in Bent's hall,
and took from it a registered letter.

"For you, sir," she said, handing it to Brereton. "Came by the noon
post, sir. The housekeeper signed for it."

Brereton took the letter into the smoking-room and looked at it with a
sudden surmise that it might have something to do with the matter which
was uppermost in his thoughts. He had had no expectation of any
registered letter, no idea of anything that could cause any
correspondent of his to send him any communication by registered post.
There was no possibility of recognizing the handwriting of the sender,
for there was no handwriting to recognize: the address was typewritten.
And the postmark was London.

Brereton carefully cut open the flap of the envelope and drew out the
enclosure--a square sheet of typewriting paper folded about a thin wad
of Bank of England notes. He detached these at once and glanced quickly
at them. There were six of them: all new and crisp--and each was for a
hundred and fifty pounds.

Brereton laid this money aside and opened the letter. This, too, was
typewritten: a mere glance at its termination showed that it was
anonymous. He sat down at Bent's desk and carefully read it through.

There was no address: there was nothing beyond the postmark on the
envelope to show where the letter came from; there was absolutely
nothing in the contents to give any clue to the sender. But the wording
was clear and plain.


     "MR. GIFFORD BRERETON,--Having learnt from the newspapers that you
     are acting as counsel for John Harborough, charged with the murder
     of a man named Kitely at Highmarket, I send you the enclosed £900
     to be used in furthering Harborough's defence. You will use it
     precisely as you think fit. You are not to spare it nor any
     endeavour to prove Harborough's innocence--which is known to the
     sender. Whenever further funds are needed, all you need do is to
     insert an advertisement in the personal column of _The Times_
     newspaper in these words: _Highmarket Exchequer needs
     replenishing_, with your initials added. Allow me to suggest that
     you should at once offer a reward of £500 to whoever gives
     information which will lead to the capture and conviction of the
     real murderer or murderers. If this offer fails to bring
     information speedily, double it. I repeat that no pains must be
     spared in this matter, and that money to any amount is no object.
     The sender of this letter will keep well informed of the progress
     of events as narrated in the newspapers, to which you will please
     to afford all proper information."


Brereton read this extraordinary communication through three times; then
he replaced letter and bank-notes in the envelope, put the envelope in
an inner pocket, left the house, and walking across to the Northrop
villa, asked to see Avice Harborough.

Avice came to him in Mrs. Northrop's drawing-room, and Brereton glancing
keenly at her as she entered saw that she was looking worn and pale. He
put the letter into her hands with a mere word.

"Your father has a powerful friend--somewhere," he said.

To his astonishment the girl showed no very great surprise. She started
a little at the sight of the money; she flushed at one or two
expressions in the letter. But she read the letter through without
comment and handed it beck to him with a look of inquiry.

"You don't seem surprised!" said Brereton.

"There has always been so much mystery to me about my father that I'm
not surprised," she replied. "No!--I'm just thankful! For this
man--whoever he is--says that my father's innocence is known to him. And
that's--just think what it means--to me!"

"Why doesn't he come forward and prove it, then?" demanded Brereton.

Avice shook her head.

"He--they--want it to be proved without that," she answered. "But--don't
you think that if all else fails the man who wrote this would come
forward? Oh, surely!"

Brereton stood silently looking at her for a full minute. From the
first time of meeting with her he had felt strangely and strongly
attracted to his client's daughter, and as he looked at her now he began
to realize that he was perhaps more deeply interested in her than he
knew.

"It's all the most extraordinary mystery--this about your father--that
ever I came across!" he exclaimed suddenly. Then he looked still more
closely at her. "You've been worrying!" he said impetuously. "Don't! I
beg you not to. I'll move heaven and earth--because I, personally, am
absolutely convinced of your father's innocence. And--here's powerful
help."

"You'll do what's suggested here?" she asked.

"Certainly! It's a capital idea," he answered. "I'd have done it myself
if I'd been a rich man--but I'm not. Cheer up, now!--we're getting on
splendidly. Look here--ask Mrs. Northrop to let you come out with me.
We'll go to the solicitor--together--and see about that reward at once."

As they presently walked down to the town Brereton gave Avice another of
his critical looks of inspection.

"You're feeling better," he said in his somewhat brusque fashion. "Is it
this bit of good news?"

"That--and the sense of doing something," she answered. "If I wasn't
looking well when you came in just now, it was because this inaction is
bad for me. I want to do something!--something to help. If I could only
be stirring--moving about. You understand?"

"Quite!" responded Brereton. "And there is something you can do. I saw
you on a bicycle the other day. Why not give up your teaching for a
while, and scour the country round about, trying to get hold of some
news about your father's movements that night? That he won't tell us
anything himself is no reason why we shouldn't find out something for
ourselves. He must have been somewhere--someone must have seen him! Why
not begin some investigation?--you know the district. How does that
strike you?"

"I should be only too thankful," she said. "And I'll do it. The
Northrops are very kind--they'll understand, and they'll let me off.
I'll begin at once--tomorrow. I'll hunt every village between the sea
and the hills!"

"Good!" said Brereton. "Some work of that sort, and this reward--ah, we
shall come out all right, you'll see."

"I don't know what we should have done if it hadn't been for you!" said
Avice. "But--we shan't forget. My father is a strange man, Mr. Brereton,
but he's not the sort of man he's believed to be by these Highmarket
people--and he's grateful to you--as you'll see."

"But I must do something to merit his gratitude first, you know,"
replied Brereton. "Come!--I've done next to nothing as yet. But we'll
make a fresh start with this reward--if your father's solicitor
approves."

The solicitor did approve--strongly. And he opened his eyes to their
widest extent when he read the anonymous letter and saw the bank-notes.

"Your father," he observed to Avice, "is the most mysterious man I ever
heard of! The Kitely mystery, in my opinion, is nothing to the
Harborough mystery. Do you really mean to tell me that you haven't an
idea of what all this means?"

"Not an idea!" replied Avice. "Not the ghost of one."

"Well--we'll get these posters and handbills out, anyway, Mr. Brereton,"
said the solicitor. "Five hundred pounds is a good figure. Lord bless
you!--some of these Highmarket folk would sell their mothers for half
that! The whole population will be turned into amateur detectives. Now
let's draft the exact wording, and then we'll see the printer."

Next day the bill-poster placarded Highmarket with the reward bills, and
distributed them broadcast in shops and offices, and one of the first
persons to lay hands on one was Mallalieu & Cotherstone's clerk, Herbert
Stoner.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SHEET OF FIGURES


At that time Stoner had been in the employment of Mallalieu and
Cotherstone for some five or six years. He was then twenty-seven years
of age. He was a young man of some ability--sharp, alert, quick at
figures, good at correspondence, punctual, willing: he could run the
business in the absence of its owners. The two partners appreciated
Stoner, and they had gradually increased his salary until it reached the
sum of two pounds twelve shillings and sixpence per week. In their
opinion a young single man ought to have done very well on that:
Mallalieu and Cotherstone had both done very well on less when they were
clerks in that long vanished past of which they did not care to think.
But Stoner was a young man of tastes. He liked to dress well. He liked
to play cards and billiards. He liked to take a drink or two at the
Highmarket taverns of an evening, and to be able to give his
favourite barmaids boxes of chocolate or pairs of gloves now and
then--judiciously. And he found his salary not at all too great, and he
was always on the look-out for a chance of increasing it.

Stoner emerged from Mallalieu & Cotherstone's office at his usual hour
of half-past five on the afternoon of the day on which the reward bills
were put out. It was his practice to drop in at the Grey Mare Inn every
evening on his way to his supper, there to drink a half-pint of bitter
ale and hear the news of the day from various cronies who were to be met
with in the bar-parlour. As he crossed the street on this errand on this
particular evening, Postick, the local bill-poster, came hurrying out of
the printer's shop with a bundle of handbills under his arm, and as he
sped past Stoner, thrust a couple of them into the clerk's hand.

"Here y'are, Mr. Stoner!" he said without stopping. "Something for you
to set your wits to work on. Five hundred reward--for a bit o' brain
work!"

Stoner, who thought Postick was chaffing him, was about to throw the
handbills, still damp from the press, into the gutter which he was
stepping over. But in the light of an adjacent lamp he caught sight of
the word _Murder_ in big staring capitals at the top of them. Beneath it
he caught further sight of familiar names--and at that he folded up the
bills, went into the Grey Mare, sat down in a quiet corner, and read
carefully through the announcement. It was a very simple one, and
plainly worded. Five hundred pounds would be paid by Mr. Tallington,
solicitor, of Highmarket, to any person or persons who would afford
information which would lead to the arrest and conviction of the
murderer or murderers of the deceased Kitely.

No one was in the bar-parlour of the Grey Mare when Stoner first entered
it, but by the time he had re-read the handbill, two or three men of
the town had come in, and he saw that each carried a copy. One of them,
a small tradesman whose shop was in the centre of the Market Square,
leaned against the bar and read the terms of the reward aloud.

"And whose money might that be?" he asked, half-sneeringly. "Who's
throwing brass round in that free-handed fashion? I should want to know
if the money's safe before I wasted my time in trying to get it."

"Money'll be all right," observed one of the speaker's companions.
"There's Lawyer Tallington's name at the foot o' that bill. He wouldn't
put his name to no offer o' that sort if he hadn't the brass in hand."

"Whose money is it, then?" demanded the first speaker. "It's not a
Government reward. They say that Kitely had no relatives, so it can't be
them. And it can't be that old housekeeper of his, because they say
she's satisfied enough that Jack Harborough's the man, and they've got
him. Queer do altogether, I call it!"

"It's done in Harborough's interest," said a third man. "Either that, or
there's something very deep in it. Somebody's not satisfied and
somebody's going to have a flutter with his brass over it." He turned
and glanced at Stoner, who had come to the bar for his customary
half-pint of ale. "Your folks aught to do with this?" he asked. "Kitely
was Mr. Cotherstone's tenant, of course."

Stoner laughed scornfully as he picked up his tankard.

"Yes, I don't think!" he sneered. "Catch either of my governors wasting
five hundred pence, or five pence, in that way! Not likely!"

"Well, there's Tallington's name to back it," said one of the men. "We
all know Tallington. What he says, he does. The money'll be there--if
it's earned."

Then they all looked at each other silently, surmise and speculation in
the eyes of each.

"Tell you what!" suddenly observed the little tradesman, as if struck
with a clever idea. "It might be young Bent! Five hundred pound is
naught to him. This here young London barrister that's defending
Harborough is stopping with Bent--they're old schoolmates. Happen he's
persuaded Bent to do the handsome: they say that this barrister chap's
right down convinced that Harborough's innocent. It must be Bent's
brass!"

"What's Popsie say?" asked one of the younger members of the party,
winking at the barmaid, who, having supplied her customers' needs, was
leaning over a copy of the handbill which somebody had laid on the bar.
"Whose brass can it be, Popsie?"

The barmaid stood up, seized a glass and a cloth, and began to polish
the glass with vigor.

"What's Popsie say?" she repeated. "Why, what she says is that you're a
lot of donkeys for wasting your time in wondering whose brass it is.
What does it matter whose brass it is, so long as it's safe? What you
want to do is to try and earn it. You don't pick up five hundred pounds
every day!"

"She's right!" said some man of the group. "But--how does anybody start
on to them games?"

"There'll be plenty o' starters, for all that, my lads!" observed the
little tradesman. "Never you fear! There'll be candidates."

Stoner drank off his ale and went away. Usually, being given to gossip,
he stopped chatting with anybody he chanced to meet until it was close
upon his supper-time. But the last remark sent him off. For Stoner meant
to be a starter, and he had no desire that anybody should get away in
front of him.

The lodging in which Stoner kept his bachelor state was a quiet and
eminently respectable one. He had two small rooms, a parlour and a
bedchamber, in the house of a widow with whom he had lodged ever since
his first coming to Highmarket, nearly six years before. In the tiny
parlour he kept a few books and a writing-desk, and on those evenings
which he did not spend in playing cards or billiards, he did a little
intellectual work in the way of improving his knowledge of French,
commercial arithmetic, and business correspondence. And that night, his
supper being eaten, and the door closed upon his landlady, he lighted
his pipe, sat down to his desk, unlocked one of its drawers, and from an
old file-box drew out some papers. One of these, a half-sheet of ruled
foolscap, he laid in front of him, the rest he put back. And then,
propping his chin on his folded hands, Stoner gave that half-sheet a
long, speculative inspection.

If anybody had looked over Stoner's shoulder they would have seen him
gazing at a mass of figures. The half-sheet of foolscap was covered with
figures: the figuring extended to the reverse side. And--what a
looker-on might not have known, but what Stoner knew very well--the
figures were all of Cotherstone's making--clear, plain, well-formed
figures. And amongst them, and on the margins of the half-sheet, and
scrawled here and there, as if purposelessly and carelessly, was one
word in Cotherstone's handwriting, repeated over and over again. That
word was--_Wilchester_.

Stoner knew how that half-sheet of foolscap had come into his
possession. It was a half-sheet which he had found on Cotherstone's desk
when he went into the partners' private room to tidy things up on the
morning after the murder of Kitely. It lay there, carelessly tossed
aside amongst other papers of clearer meaning, and Stoner, after one
glance at it, had carefully folded it, placed it in his pocket, taken it
home, and locked it up, to be inspected at leisure.

He had had his reasons, of course, for this abstraction of a paper which
rightfully belonged to Cotherstone. Those reasons were a little
difficult to explain to himself in one way; easy enough to explain, in
another. As regards the difficulty, Stoner had somehow or other got a
vague idea, that evening of the murder, that something was wrong with
Cotherstone. He had noticed, or thought he noticed, a queer look on old
Kitely's face when the ex-detective left the private room--it was a look
of quiet satisfaction, or triumph, or malice; any way, said Stoner, it
was something. Then there was the fact of Cotherstone's curious
abstraction when he, Stoner, entered and found his employer sitting in
the darkness, long after Kitely had gone--Cotherstone had said he was
asleep, but Stoner knew that to be a fib. Altogether, Stoner had gained
a vague feeling, a curious intuition, that there was something queer,
not unconnected with the visit of Cotherstone's new tenant, and when he
heard, next morning, of what had befallen Kitely, all his suspicions
were renewed.

So much for the difficult reasons which had made him appropriate the
half-sheet of foolscap. But there was a reason which was not difficult.
It lay in the presence of that word _Wilchester_. If not of the finest
degree of intellect, Stoner was far from being a fool, and it had not
taken him very long to explain to himself why Cotherstone had scribbled
the name of that far-off south-country town all over that sheet of
paper, aimlessly, apparently without reason, amidst his figurings. _It
was uppermost in his thoughts at the time_--and as he sat there, pen in
hand, he had written it down, half-unconsciously, over and over
again.... There it was--_Wilchester_--Wilchester--Wilchester.

The reiteration had a peculiar interest for Stoner. He had never heard
Cotherstone nor Mallalieu mention Wilchester at any time since his first
coming into their office. The firm had no dealings with any firm at
Wilchester. Stoner, who dealt with all the Mallalieu & Cotherstone
correspondence, knew that during his five and a half years' clerkship,
he had never addressed a single letter to any one at Wilchester, never
received a single letter bearing the Wilchester post-mark. Wilchester
was four hundred miles away, far off in the south; ninety-nine out of
every hundred persons in Highmarket had never heard the name of
Wilchester. But Stoner had--quite apart from the history books, and the
geography books, and map of England. Stoner himself was a Darlington
man. He had a close friend, a bosom friend, at Darlington, named
Myler--David Myler. Now David Myler was a commercial traveller--a smart
fellow of Stoner's age. He was in the service of a Darlington firm of
agricultural implement makers, and his particular round lay in the
market-towns of the south and south-west of England. He spent a
considerable part of the year in those districts, and Wilchester was one
of his principal headquarters: Stoner had many a dozen letters of
Myler's, which Myler had written to him from Wilchester. And only a year
before all this, Myler had brought home a bride in the person of a
Wilchester girl, the daughter of a Wilchester tradesman.

So the name of Wilchester was familiar enough to Stoner. And now he
wanted to know what--what--what made it so familiar to Cotherstone that
Cotherstone absent-mindedly scribbled it all over a half-sheet of
foolscap paper?

But the figures? Had they any connexion with the word? This was the
question which Stoner put to himself when he sat down that night in his
parlour to seriously consider if he had any chance of winning that five
hundred pounds reward. He looked at the figures again--more carefully.
The truth was that until that evening he had never given much attention
to those figures: it was the word Wilchester that had fascinated him.
But now, summoning all his by no means small arithmetical knowledge to
his aid, Stoner concentrated himself on an effort to discover what
those figures meant. That they were a calculation of some sort he had
always known--now he wanted to know of what.

The solution of the problem came to him all of a sudden--as the solution
of arithmetical problems often does come. He saw the whole thing quite
plainly and wondered that he had not seen it at a first glance. The
figures represented nothing whatever but three plain and common sums--in
compound arithmetic. Cotherstone, for some reason of his own, had taken
the sum of two thousand pounds as a foundation, and had calculated (1st)
what thirty years' interest on that sum at three and a half per cent.
would come to; and (2nd) what thirty years' interest at five per cent.
would come to; and (3rd) what the compound interest on two thousand
pounds would come to--capital and compound interest--in the same period.
The last reckoning--the compound interest one--had been crossed over and
out with vigorous dashes of the pen, as if the calculator had been
appalled on discovering what an original sum of two thousand pounds,
left at compound interest for thirty years, would be transformed into in
that time.

All this was so much Greek to Stoner. But he knew there was something in
it--something behind those figures. They might refer to some Corporation
financial business--Cotherstone being Borough Treasurer. But--they might
not. And why were they mixed up with Wilchester?

For once in a way, Stoner took no walk abroad that night. Usually, even
when he stopped in of an evening, he had a brief stroll to the Grey
Mare and back last thing before going to bed. But on this occasion he
forgot all about the Grey Mare, and Popsie the barmaid did not come into
his mind for even a second. He sat at home, his feet on the fender, his
eyes fixed on the dying coals in the grate. He thought--thought so hard
that he forgot that his pipe had gone out. The fire had gone out, too,
when he finally rose and retired. And he went on thinking for a long
time after his head had sought his pillow.

"Well, it's Saturday tomorrow, anyway!" he mused at last. "Which is
lucky."

Next day--being Saturday and half-holiday--Stoner attired himself in his
best garments, and, in the middle of the afternoon, took train for
Darlington.



CHAPTER XV

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER


Although Stoner hailed from Darlington, he had no folk of his own left
there--they were all dead and gone. Accordingly he put himself up at a
cheap hotel, and when he had taken what its proprietors called a meat
tea, he strolled out and made for that part of the town in which his
friend Myler had set up housekeeping in a small establishment wherein
there was just room for a couple of people to turn round. Its
accommodation, indeed, was severely taxed just then, for Myler's father
and mother-in-law had come to visit him and their daughter, and when
Stoner walked in on the scene and added a fifth the tiny parlour was
filled to its full extent.

"Who'd ha' thought of seeing you, Stoner!" exclaimed Myler joyously,
when he had welcomed his old chum, and had introduced him to the family
circle. "And what brings you here, anyway? Business?"

"Just a bit of business," answered Stoner. "Nothing much, though--only a
call to make, later on. I'm stopping the night, though."

"Wish we could ha' put you up here, old sport!" said Myler, ruefully.
"But we don't live in a castle, yet. All full here!--unless you'd like a
shakedown on the kitchen table, or in the wood-shed. Or you can try the
bath, if you like."

Amidst the laughter which succeeded this pleasantry, Stoner said that he
wouldn't trouble the domestic peace so far--he'd already booked his
room. And while Myler--who, commercial-traveller like, cultivated a
reputation for wit--indulged in further jokes, Stoner stealthily
inspected the father-in-law. What a fortunate coincidence! he said to
himself; what a lucky stroke! There he was, wanting badly to find out
something about Wilchester--and here, elbow to elbow with him, was a
Wilchester man! And an elderly Wilchester man, too--one who doubtless
remembered all about Wilchester for many a long year. That was another
piece of luck, for Stoner was quite certain that if Cotherstone had ever
had any connexion with Wilchester it must have been a long, long time
ago: he knew, from information acquired, that Cotherstone had been a
fixture in Highmarket for thirty years.

He glanced at Myler's father-in-law again as Myler, remarking that when
old friends meet, the flowing bowl must flow, produced a bottle of
whisky from a brand-new chiffonier, and entreated his bride to fetch
what he poetically described as the crystal goblets and the sparkling
stream. The father-in-law was a little apple-faced old gentleman with
bright eyes and a ready smile, who evidently considered his son-in-law a
born wit, and was ready to laugh at all his sallies. A man of good
memory, that, decided Stoner, and wondered how he could diplomaticaly
lead Mr. Pursey to talk about the town he came from. But Mr. Pursey was
shortly to talk about Wilchester to some purpose--and with no
drawing-out from Stoner or anybody.

"Well," remarked Myler, having supplied his guests with spirituous
refreshment, and taken a pull at his own glass. "I'm glad to see you,
Stoner, and so's the missis, and here's hoping you'll come again as
often as the frog went to the water. You've been having high old times
in that back-of-beyond town of yours, haven't you? Battles, murders,
sudden deaths!--who'd ha' thought a slow old hill-country town like
Highmarket could have produced so much excitement! What's happened to
that chap they collared?--I haven't had time to look at the papers this
last day or two--been too busy."

"Committed for trial," answered Stoner. "He'll come up at Norcaster
Assizes next month."

"Do they think he did it?" asked Myler. "Is it a sure thing?"

Before Stoner could reply Mr. Pursey entered the arena. His face
displayed the pleased expression of the man who has special information.

"It's an odd thing, now, David," he said in a high, piping voice, "a
very odd thing, that this should happen when I come up into these
parts--almost as foreign to me as the Fiji Islands might be. Yes, sir,"
he went on, turning to Stoner, "it's very odd! I knew that man Kitely."

Stoner could have jumped from his seat, but he restrained himself, and
contrived to show no more than a polite interest.

"Oh, indeed, sir?" he said. "The poor man that was murdered? You knew
him?"

"I remember him very well indeed," assented Mr. Pursey. "Yes, although I
only met him once, I've a very complete recollection of the man. I spent
a very pleasant evening with him and one or two more of his
profession--better sort of police and detectives, you know--at a
friend's of mine, who was one of our Wilchester police officials--oh,
it's--yes--it must be thirty years since. They'd come from London, of
course, on some criminal business. Deary me!--the tales them fellows
could tell!"

"Thirty years is a long time, sir," observed Stoner politely.

"Aye, but I remember it quite well," said Mr. Pursey, with a confident
nod. "I know it was thirty years ago, 'cause it was the Wilchester
Assizes at which the Mallows & Chidforth case was tried. Yes--thirty
years. Eighteen hundred and eighty-one was the year. Mallows &
Chidforth--aye!"

"Famous case that, sir?" asked Stoner. He was almost bursting with
excitement by that time, and he took a big gulp of whisky and water to
calm himself. "Something special, sir? Murder, eh?"

"No--fraud, embezzlement, defalcation--I forget what the proper legal
term 'ud be," replied Mr. Pursey. "But it was a bad case--a real bad
'un. We'd a working men's building society in Wilchester in those
days--it's there now for that matter, but under another name--and there
were two better-class young workmen, smart fellows, that acted one as
secretary and t'other as treasurer to it. They'd full control, those
two had, and they were trusted, aye, as if they'd been the Bank of
England! And all of a sudden, something came out, and it was found that
these two, Mallows, treasurer, Chidforth, secretary, had made away with
two thousand pounds of the society's money. Two thousand pounds!"

"Two thousand pounds?" exclaimed Stoner, whose thoughts went like
lightning to the half-sheet of foolscap. "You don't say!"

"Yes--well, it might ha' been a pound or two more or less," said the old
man, "but two thousand was what they called it. And of course Mallows
and Chidforth were prosecuted--and they got two years. Oh, yes, we
remember that case very well indeed in Wilchester, don't we, Maria?"

"And good reason!" agreed Mrs. Pursey warmly. "There were a lot of poor
people nearly ruined by them bad young men."

"There were!" affirmed Mr. Pursey. "Yes--oh, yes! Aye--I've often
wondered what became of 'em--Mallows and Chidforth, I mean. For from the
time they got out of prison they've never been heard of in our parts.
Not a word!--they disappeared completely. Some say, of course, that they
had that money safely planted, and went to it. I don't know. But--off
they went."

"Pooh!" said Myler. "That's an easy one. Went off to some colony or
other, of course. Common occurrence, father-in-law. Bert, old sport,
what say if we rise on our pins and have a hundred at billiards at the
Stag and Hunter--good table there."

Stoner followed his friend out of the little house, and once outside
took him by the arm.

"Confound the billards, Dave, old man!" he said, almost trembling with
suppressed excitement. "Look here!--d'you know a real quiet corner in
the Stag where we can have an hour's serious consultation. You do?--then
come on, and I'll tell you the most wonderful story you ever heard since
your ears were opened!"

Myler, immediately impressed, led the way into a small and vacant
parlour in the rear of a neighbouring hostelry, ordered refreshments,
bade the girl who brought them to leave him and his friend alone, and
took the liberty of locking the door on their privacy. And that done he
showed himself such a perfect listener that he never opened his lips
until Stoner had set forth everything before him in detail. Now and then
he nodded, now and then his sharp eyes dilated, now and then he clapped
his hands. And in the end he smote Stoner on the shoulder.

"Stoner, old sport!" he exclaimed. "It's a sure thing! Gad, I never
heard a clearer. That five hundred is yours--aye, as dead certain as
that my nose is mine! It's--it's--what they call inductive reasoning.
The initials M. and C.--Mallows and Chidforth--Mallalieu and
Cotherstone--the two thousand pounds--the fact that Kitely was at
Wilchester Assizes in 1881--that he became Cotherstone's tenant thirty
years after--oh, I see it all, and so will a judge and jury! Stoner,
one, or both of 'em killed that old chap to silence him!"

"That's my notion," assented Stoner, who was highly pleased with
himself, and by that time convinced that his own powers, rather than a
combination of lucky circumstances, had brought the desired result
about. "Of course, I've worked it out to that. And the thing now
is--what's the best line to take? What would you suggest, Dave?"

Myler brought all his business acumen to bear on the problem presented
to him.

"What sort of chap is this Tallington?" he asked at last, pointing to
the name at the foot of the reward handbill.

"Most respectable solicitor in Highmarket," answered Stoner, promptly.

"Word good?" asked Myler.

"Good as--gold," affirmed Stoner.

"Then if it was me," said Myler, "I should make a summary of what I
knew, on paper--carefully--and I should get a private interview with
this Tallington and tell him--all. Man!--you're safe of that five
hundred! For there's no doubt, Stoner, on the evidence, no doubt
whatever!"

Stoner sat silently reflecting things for a while. Then he gave his
friend a sly, somewhat nervous look. Although he and Myler had been
bosom friends since they were breeched, Stoner was not quite certain as
to what Myler would say to what he, Stoner, was just then thinking of.

"Look here," he said suddenly. "There's this about it. It's all jolly
well, but a fellow's got to think for himself, Dave, old man. Now it
doesn't matter a twopenny cuss to me about old Kitely--I don't care if
he was scragged twice over--I've no doubt he deserved it. But it'll
matter a lot to M. & C. if they're found out. I can touch that five
hundred easy as winking--but--you take my meaning?--I daresay M. & C.
'ud run to five thousand if I kept my tongue still. What?"

But Stoner knew at once that Myler disapproved. The commercial
traveller's homely face grew grave, and he shook his head with an
unmistakable gesture.

"No, Stoner," he said. "None o' that! Play straight, my lad! No
hush-money transactions. Keep to the law, Stoner, keep to the law!
Besides, there's others than you can find all this out. What you want to
do is to get in first. See Tallington as soon as you get back."

"I daresay you're right," admitted Stoner. "But--I know M. & C, and I
know they'd give--aye, half of what they're worth--and that's a lot!--to
have this kept dark."

That thought was with him whenever he woke in the night, and as he
strolled round Darlington next morning, it was still with him when,
after an early dinner, he set off homeward by an early afternoon train
which carried him to High Gill junction; whence he had to walk five
miles across the moors and hills to Highmarket. And he was still
pondering it weightily when, in one of the loneliest parts of the
solitudes which he was crossing, he turning the corner of a little pine
wood, and came face to face with Mallalieu.



CHAPTER XVI

THE LONELY MOOR


During the three hours which had elapsed since his departure from
Darlington, Stoner had been thinking things over. He had seen his friend
Myler again that morning; they had had a drink or two together at the
station refreshment room before Stoner's train left, and Myler had once
more urged upon Stoner to use his fortunately acquired knowledge in the
proper way. No doubt, said Myler, he could get Mallalieu and Cotherstone
to square him; no doubt they would cheerfully pay thousands where the
reward only came to hundreds--but, when everything was considered, was
it worth while? No!--a thousand times, no, said Myler. The mere fact
that Stoner had found out all this was a dead sure proof that somebody
else might find it out. The police had a habit, said Myler, of working
like moles--underground. How did Stoner know that some of the Norcaster
and London detectives weren't on the job already? They knew by that time
that old Kitely was an ex-detective; they'd be sure to hark back on his
past doings, in the effort to trace some connexion between one or other
of them and his murder. Far away as it was, that old Wilchester affair
would certainly come up again. And when it came up--ah, well, observed
Myler, with force and earnestness, it would be a bad job for Stoner if
it were found out that he'd accepted hush-money from his masters. In
fact--Myler gave it as his decided opinion, though, as he explained, he
wasn't a lawyer--he didn't know but what Stoner, in that case, would be
drawn in as an accessory after the fact.

"Keep to the law, Bert, old man!" counselled Myler, as they parted.
"You'll be all right then. Stick to my advice--see Tallington at
once--this very afternoon!--and put in for the five hundred. You'll be
safe as houses in doing that--but there'd be an awful risk about
t'other, Bert. Be wise!--you'll get no better counsel."

Stoner knew that his sagacious friend was right, and he was prepared to
abide by his counsel--as long as Myler was at his elbow. But when he had
got away from him, his mind began to wobble. Five hundred pounds!--what
was it in comparison with what he might get by a little skilful playing
of his cards? He knew Mallalieu and he knew Cotherstone--knew much more
about both of them than they had any idea of. He knew that they were
rich men--very rich men. They had been making money for years, and of
late certain highly successful and profitable contracts had increased
their wealth in a surprising fashion. Everything had gone right with
them--every contract they had taken up had turned out a gold mine. Five
thousand pounds would be nothing to them singly--much less jointly. In
Stoner's opinion, he had only to ask in order to have. He firmly
believed that they would pay--pay at once, in good cash. And if they
did--well, he would take good care that no evil chances came to him! If
he laid hands on five thousand pounds, he would be out of Highmarket
within five hours, and half-way across the Atlantic within five days.
No--Dave Myler was a good sort--one of the best--but he was a bit
straight-laced, and old-fashioned--especially since he had taken a
wife--and after all, every man has a right to do his best for himself.
And so, when Stoner came face to face with Mallalieu, on the lonely moor
between High Gill and Highmarket, his mind was already made up to
blackmail.

The place in which they met was an appropriate one--for Stoner's
purpose. He had crossed the high ground between the railway and the
little moorland town by no definite track, but had come in a bee-line
across ling and bracken and heather. All around stretched miles upon
miles of solitude--nothing but the undulating moors, broken up by great
masses of limestone rock and occasional clumps and coverts of fir and
pine; nothing but the blue line of the hills in the west; nothing but
the grey northern skies overhead; nothing but the cry of the curlew and
the bleating of the mountain sheep. It was in the midst of this that he
met his senior employer--at the corner of a thin spinney which ran along
the edge of a disused quarry. Mallalieu, as Stoner well knew, was a
great man for walking on these moors, and he always walked alone. He
took these walks to keep his flesh down; here he came, swinging his
heavy oak walking-stick, intent on his own thoughts, and he and Stoner,
neither hearing the other's footfall on the soft turf, almost ran into
each other. Stoner, taken aback, flushed with the sudden surprise.

But Mallalieu, busied with his own reflections, had no thought of Stoner
in his mind, and consequently showed no surprise at meeting him. He made
a point of cultivating friendly relations with all who worked for him,
and he grinned pleasantly at his clerk.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed cordially. "Taking your walks alone, eh? Now I
should ha' thought a young fellow like you would ha' been taking one o'
Miss Featherby's little milliners out for a dander, like--down the
river-side, what?"

Stoner smiled--not as Mallalieu smiled. He was in no mood for
persiflage; if he smiled it was because he thought that things were
coming his way, that the game was being played into his hands. And
suddenly he made up his mind.

"Something better to do than that, Mr. Mallalieu," he answered pertly.
"I don't waste my time on dress-makers' apprentices. Something better to
think of than that, sir."

"Oh!" said Mallalieu. "Ah! I thought you looked pretty deep in
reflection. What might it be about, like?"

Something within Stoner was urging him on to go straight to the point.
No fencing, said this inward monitor, no circumlocution--get to it,
straight out. And Stoner thrust his hand into his pocket, and pulled out
a copy of the reward bill. He opened it before his employer, watching
Mallalieu's face.

"That!" he said. "Just that, Mr. Mallalieu."

Mallalieu glanced at the handbill, started a little, and looked
half-sharply, half-angrily, at his clerk.

"What about it?" he growled. His temper, as Stoner well knew, was
quickly roused, and it showed signs of awakening now. "What're you
showing me that bit o' paper for? Mind your manners, young man!"

"No offence meant," retorted Stoner, coolly. He looked round him,
noticed some convenient railings, old and worn, which fenced in the
quarry, and stepping back to them, calmly leaned against the top one,
put his hands in his pockets and looked at Mallalieu with a glance which
was intended to show that he felt himself top dog in any encounter that
might come. "I want a word or two with you, Mr. Mallalieu," he said.

Mallalieu, who was plainly amazed by this strange conduct, glared at
Stoner.

"You want a word--or two--with--me?" he exclaimed. "For why, pray?--and
why here?"

"Here's a convenient spot," said Stoner, with a nasty laugh. "We're all
alone. Not a soul near us. You wouldn't like anybody to overhear what
I've got to say."

Mallalieu stared at the clerk during a full minute's silence. He had a
trick of silently staring people out of countenance. But he found that
Stoner was not to be stared down, and eventually he spoke.

"I'll tell you what it is, my lad!" he said. "I don't know whether
you've been drinking, or if you've some bee in your bonnet, but I don't
allow nobody, and especially a man as I pay wages to, to speak in them
tones to me! What d'ye mean by it?"

"I'll tell you what I mean, Mr. Mallalieu," replied Stoner, still
regarding his man fixedly, and nerving himself for the contest. "I mean
this--I know who killed Kitely!"

Mallalieu felt himself start again; he felt his face flush warm. But he
managed to show a fairly controlled front, and he made shift to sneer.

"Oh, indeed," he said, twisting his mouth in derision. "Do you now?
Deary me!--it's wonderful how clever some young folks is! So you know
who killed Kitely, do you, my lad? Ah! And who did kill Kitely, now?
Let's be knowing! Or happen you'd rather keep such a grand secret to
yourself--till you can make something out of it?"

"I can make something out of it now," retorted Stoner, who was sharp
enough to see through Mallalieu's affectation of scorn. "Just you
realize the importance of what I'm saying. I tell you once again--I know
who killed Kitely!"

"And who did kill him, then?" demanded Mallalieu. "Psha!--you know
naught about it!"

Stoner laughed, looked round, and then leaned his head forward.

"Don't I?" he said, with a sneer that exceeded his employer's in
significance and meaning. "But you're wrong--I do! Kitely was murdered
by either you or Cotherstone! How's that, Mr. Mallalieu?"

Mallalieu again regarded his clerk in silence. He knew by that time that
this fellow was in possession of some information, and his
characteristic inclination was to fence with him. And he made a great
effort to pull himself together, so as to deal better with whatever
might be in store.

"Either me or Mr. Cotherstone!" he repeated sarcastically. "Oh! Now
which on us would you be inclined to fix it on, Mr. Stoner? Eh?"

"May have been one, may have been the other, may have been both, for
aught I know," retorted Stoner. "But you're both guilty, any way! It's
no use, Mr. Mallalieu--I know you killed him. And--I know why!"

Again there was silence, and again a duel of staring eyes. And at its
end Mallalieu laughed again, still affecting sneering and incredulous
sentiments.

"Aye?--and why did one or t'other or both--have it which way you
will--murder this here old gentleman?" he demanded. "Why, Mr.
Sharp-nose?"

"I'll tell you--and then you'll know what I know," answered Stoner.
"Because the old gentleman was an ex-detective, who was present when you
and Cotherstone, under your proper names of Mallows and Chidforth, were
tried for fraud at Wilchester Assizes, thirty years ago, and sentenced
to two years! That's why, Mr. Mallalieu. The old chap knew it, and he
let you know that he knew it, and you killed him to silence him. You
didn't want it to get out that the Mayor and Borough Treasurer of
Highmarket, so respected, so much thought of, are--a couple of old
gaol-birds!"

Mallalieu's hot temper, held very well in check until then, flamed up as
Stoner spat out the last contemptuous epithet. He had stood with his
right hand behind him, grasping his heavy oaken stick--now, as his rage
suddenly boiled, he swung hand and stick round in a savage blow at his
tormentor, and the crook of the stick fell crashing against Stoner's
temples. So quick was the blow, so sudden the assault, that the clerk
had time to do no more than throw up an arm. And as he threw it up, and
as the heavy blow fell, the old, rotten railing against which Stoner had
leant so nonchalantly, gave way, and he fell back through it, and across
the brow of the quarry--and without a sound. Mallalieu heard the crash
of his stick on his victim's temples; he heard the rending and crackling
of the railings--but he heard neither cry, nor sigh, nor groan from
Stoner. Stoner fell backward and disappeared--and then (it seemed an age
in coming) Mallalieu's frightened senses were aware of a dull thud
somewhere far down in the depths into which he had fallen. Then came
silence--deep, heavy silence--broken at last by the cry of a curlew
flying across the lonely moor.

Mallalieu was seized with a trembling fit. He began to shake. His heavy
frame trembled as if under the effects of a bad ague; the hand which had
struck the blow shook so violently that the stick dropped from it. And
Mallalieu looked down at the stick, and in a sudden overwhelming rage
kicked it away from him over the brink of the quarry. He lifted his fist
and shook it--and just as suddenly dropped it. The trembling passed, and
he broke out into a cold sweat of fear.

"God ha' mercy!" he muttered. "If--if he's killed? He shouldn't ha'
plagued me--he shouldn't ha' dared me! It was more than flesh and blood
could stand, and--Lord ha' mercy, what's to be done?"

The autumn twilight was creeping over the moor. The sun had set behind
the far-off western hills just before Mallalieu and Stoner had met, and
while they talked dusk had come on. The moorlands were now growing dark
and vague, and it seemed to Mallalieu that as the light failed the
silence increased. He looked round him, fearful lest any of the
shepherds of the district had come up to take a Sunday glance at their
flocks. And once he thought he saw a figure at a little distance away
along the edge of the trees, and he strained and strained his eyes in
its direction--and concluded it was nothing. Presently he strained his
eyes in another way--he crept cautiously to the edge of the quarry, and
looked over the broken railing, and far down on the limestone rocks
beneath he saw Stoner, lying on his back, motionless.

Long experience of the moorlands and their nooks and crannies enabled
Mallalieu to make his way down to the bottom of the quarry by a descent
through a brake of gorse and bramble. He crept along by the undergrowth
to where the body lay, and fearfully laid a hand on the still figure.
One touch was sufficient--he stood up trembling and shaking more than
ever.

"He's dead--dead!" he muttered. "Must ha' broken his neck--it's a good
fifty feet down here. Was ever aught so unfortunate! And--whatever shall
I say and do about it?"

Inspiration came to him quickly--as quickly as the darkness came into
that place of death. He made an effort, and regained his composure, and
presently was able to think and to decide. He would say and do
nothing--nothing whatever. No one had witnessed the meeting between
Stoner and himself. No one had seen the blow. No one had seen Stoner's
fall. Far better to say nothing, do nothing--far best to go away and let
things take their course. Stoner's body would be found, next day, the
day after, some day--and when it was found, people would say that Stoner
had been sitting on those rotten railings, and they had given way, and
he had fallen--and whatever marks there were on him would be attributed
to the fall down the sharp edges of the old quarry.

So Mallalieu presently went away by another route, and made his way back
to Highmarket in the darkness of the evening, hiding himself behind
hedges and walls until he reached his own house. And it was not until he
lay safe in bed that night that he remembered the loss of his stick.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MEDICAL OPINION


The recollection of that stick plunged Mallalieu into another of his
ague-like fits of shaking and trembling. There was little sleep for him
after that: he spent most of the night in thinking, anticipating, and
scheming. That stick would almost certainly be found, and it would be
found near Stoner's body. A casual passer-by would not recognize it, a
moorland shepherd would not recognize it. But the Highmarket police, to
whom it would be handed, would know it at once to be the Mayor's: it was
one which Mallalieu carried almost every day--a plain, very stout oak
staff. And the police would want to know how it came to be in that
quarry. Curse it!--was ever anything so unfortunate!--however could he
have so far lost his head as to forget it? He was half tempted to rise
in the middle of the night and set out for the moors, to find it. But
the night was dark, and solitary as the moors and the quarry where he
dared not risk the taking of a lantern. And so he racked his brains in
the effort to think of some means of explaining the presence of the
stick. He hit on a notion at last--remembering suddenly that Stoner had
carried neither stick nor umbrella. If the stick were found he would
say that he had left it at the office on the Saturday, and that the
clerk must have borrowed it. There was nothing unlikely in that: it was
a good reason, it would explain why it came to be found near the body.
Naturally, the police would believe the word of the Mayor: it would be a
queer thing if they didn't, in Mallalieu's opinion. And therewith he
tried to go to sleep, and made a miserable failure of it.

As he lay tossing and groaning in his comfortable bed that night,
Mallalieu thought over many things. How had Stoner acquired his
information? Did anybody else know what Stoner knew? After much
reflection he decided that nobody but Stoner did know. Further reckoning
up of matters gave him a theory as to how Stoner had got to know. He saw
it all--according to his own idea. Stoner had overheard the conversation
between old Kitely and Cotherstone in the private office, of course!
That was it--he wondered he had never thought of it before. Between the
partners' private room and the outer office in which Stoner sat, there
was a little window in the wall; it had been specially made so that
papers could be passed from one room to the other. And, of course, on
that afternoon it had probably been a little way open, as it often was,
and Stoner had heard what passed between Cotherstone and his tenant.
Being a deep chap, Stoner had kept the secret to himself until the
reward was offered. Of course, his idea was blackmail--Mallalieu had no
doubt about that. No--all things considered, he did not believe that
Stoner had shared his knowledge--Stoner would be too well convinced of
its value to share it with anybody. That conclusion comforted
Mallalieu--once more he tried to sleep.

But his sleep was a poor thing that night, and he felt tired and worn
when, as usual, he went early to the yard. He was there before
Cotherstone; when Cotherstone came, no more than a curt nod was
exchanged between them. They had never spoken to each other except on
business since the angry scene of a few days before, and now Mallalieu,
after a glance at some letters which had come in the previous evening,
went off down the yard. He stayed there an hour: when he re-entered the
office he looked with an affectation of surprise at the clerk's empty
desk.

"Stoner not come?" he demanded curtly.

Cotherstone, who was turning over the leaves of an account book, replied
just as curtly.

"Not yet!"

Mallalieu fidgeted about for a while, arranging some papers he had
brought in from the yard. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of
impatience, and going to the door, called to a lad who was passing.

"Here, you!" he said. "You know where Mr. Stoner lodges?--Mrs.
Battley's. Run round there, and see why he hasn't come to his work. It's
an hour and a half past his time. Happen he's poorly--run now, sharp!"

He went off down the yard again when he had despatched this message; he
came back to the office ten minutes later, just as the messenger
returned.

"Well?" he demanded, with a side-glance to assure himself that
Cotherstone was at hand. "Where is he, like?"

"Please, sir, Mrs. Battley, she says as how Mr. Stoner went away on
Saturday afternoon, sir," answered the lad, "and he hasn't been home
since. She thinks he went to Darlington, sir, on a visit."

Mallalieu turned into the office, growling.

"Must ha' missed his train," he muttered as he put more papers on
Stoner's desk. "Here--happen you'll attend to these things--they want
booking up."

Cotherstone made no reply, and Mallalieu presently left him and went
home to get his breakfast. And as he walked up the road to his house he
wondered why Stoner had gone to Darlington. Was it possible that he had
communicated what he knew to any of his friends? If so----

"Confound the suspense and the uncertainty!" growled Mallalieu. "It 'ud
wear the life out of a man. I've a good mind to throw the whole thing up
and clear out! I could do it easy enough wi' my means. A clear
track--and no more o' this infernal anxiety."

He reflected, as he made a poor show of eating his breakfast, on the
ease with which he could get away from Highmarket and from England.
Being a particularly astute man of business, Mallalieu had taken good
care that all his eggs were not in one basket. He had many baskets--his
Highmarket basket was by no means the principal one. Indeed all that
Mallalieu possessed in Highmarket was his share of the business and his
private house. As he had made his money he had invested it in easily
convertible, gilt-edged securities, which would be realized at an hour's
notice in London or New York, Paris or Vienna. It would be the easiest
thing in the world for him, as Mayor of Highmarket, to leave the town on
Corporation business, and within a few hours to be where nobody could
find him; within a few more, to be out of the country. Lately, he had
often thought of going right away, to enjoy himself for the rest of his
life. He had made one complete disappearance already; why not make
another? Before he went townwards again that morning, he was beginning
to give serious attention to the idea.

Meanwhile, however, there was the business of the day to attend to, and
Stoner's absence threw additional work on the two partners. Then at
twelve o'clock, Mallalieu had to go over to the Town Hall to preside at
a meeting of the General Purposes Committee. That was just over, and he
was thinking of going home to his lunch when the superintendent of
police came into the committee-room and drew him aside.

"I've bad news for you, Mr. Mayor," he announced in a whisper. "Your
clerk--he hasn't been at work this morning, I suppose?"

"Well?" demanded Mallalieu, nerving himself for what he felt to be
coming. "What about it?"

"He's met with a bad accident," replied the superintendent. "In fact,
sir, he's dead! A couple of men found his body an hour or so ago in
Hobwick Quarry, up on the moor, and it's been brought down to the
mortuary. You'd better come round, Mr. Mayor--Mr. Cotherstone's there,
now."

Mallalieu followed without a word. But once outside the Town Hall he
turned to his companion.

"Have you made aught out of it?" he asked. "He's been away, so his
landlady says, since Saturday afternoon: I sent round to inquire for him
when he didn't turn up this morning. What do you know, like?"

"It looks as if it had been an accident," answered the superintendent.
"These men that found him noticed some broken railings at top of the
quarry. They looked down and saw a body. So they made their way down and
found--Stoner. It would seem as if he'd leaned or sat on the railings
and they'd given way beneath him, and of course he'd pitched headlong
into the quarry. It's fifty feet deep, Mr. Mayor! That's all one can
think of. But Dr. Rockcliffe's with him now."

Mallalieu made a mighty effort to appear calm, as, with a grave and
concerned face, he followed his guide into the place where the doctor,
an official or two, and Cotherstone were grouped about the dead man. He
gave one glance at his partner and Cotherstone gave one swift look at
him--and there was something in Cotherstone's look which communicated a
sudden sense of uneasy fear to Mallalieu: it was a look of curious
intelligence, almost a sort of signal. And Mallalieu experienced a vague
feeling of dread as he turned to the doctor.

"A bad job--a bad job!" he muttered, shaking his head and glancing
sideways at the body. "D'ye make aught out of it, doctor? Can you say
how it came about?"

Dr. Rockcliffe pursed up his lips and his face became inscrutable. He
kept silence for a moment--when he spoke his voice was unusually stern.

"The lad's neck is broken, and his spine's fractured," he said in a low
voice. "Either of those injuries was enough to cause death. But--look at
that!"

He pointed to a contusion which showed itself with unmistakable
plainness on the dead man's left temple, and again he screwed up his
lips as if in disgust at some deed present only to the imagination.

"That's a blow!" he said, more sternly than before. "A blow from some
blunt instrument! It was a savage blow, too, dealt with tremendous
force. It may--may, I say--have killed this poor fellow on the spot--he
may have been dead before ever he fell down that quarry."

It was only by an enormous effort of will that Mallalieu prevented
himself from yielding to one of his shaking fits.

"But--but mightn't he ha' got that with striking his head against them
rocks as he fell?" he suggested. "It's a rocky place, that, and the
rocks project, like, so----"

"No!" said the doctor, doggedly. "That's no injury from any rock or
stone or projection. It's the result of a particularly fierce blow dealt
with great force by some blunt instrument--a life preserver, a club, a
heavy stick. It's no use arguing it. That's a certainty!"

Cotherstone, who had kept quietly in the background, ventured a
suggestion.

"Any signs of his having been robbed?" he asked.

"No, sir," replied the superintendent promptly. "I've everything that
was on him. Not much, either. Watch and chain, half a sovereign, some
loose silver and copper, his pipe and tobacco, a pocket-book with a
letter or two and such-like in it--that's all. There'd been no robbery."

"I suppose you took a look round?" asked Cotherstone. "See anything that
suggested a struggle? Or footprints? Or aught of that sort?"

The superintendent shook his head.

"Naught!" he answered. "I looked carefully at the ground round those
broken railings. But it's the sort of ground that wouldn't show
footprints, you know--covered with that short, wiry mountain grass that
shows nothing."

"And nothing was found?" asked Mallalieu. "No weapons, eh?"

For the life of him he could not resist asking that--his anxiety about
the stick was overmastering him. And when the superintendent and the two
policemen who had been with him up to Hobwick Quarry had answered that
they had found nothing at all, he had hard work to repress a sigh of
relief. He presently went away hoping that the oak stick had fallen into
a crevice of the rocks or amongst the brambles which grew out of them;
there was a lot of tangle-wood about that spot, and it was quite
possible that the stick, kicked violently away, had fallen where it
would never be discovered. And--there was yet a chance for him to make
that possible discovery impossible. Now that the body had been found, he
himself could visit the spot with safety, on the pretext of curiosity.
He could look round; if he found the stick he could drop it into a safe
fissure of the rocks, or make away with it. It was a good notion--and
instead of going home to lunch Mallalieu turned into a private room of
the Highmarket Arms, ate a sandwich and drank a glass of ale, and
hurried off, alone, to the moors.

The news of this second mysterious death flew round Highmarket and the
neighbourhood like wild-fire. Brereton heard of it during the afternoon,
and having some business in the town in connexion with Harborough's
defence, he looked in at the police-station and found the superintendent
in an unusually grave and glum mood.

"This sort of thing's getting beyond me, Mr. Brereton," he said in a
whisper. "Whether it is that I'm not used to such things--thank God!
we've had little experience of violence in this place in my time!--or
what it is, but I've got it into my head that this poor young fellow's
death's connected in some way with Kitely's affair! I have indeed,
sir!--it's been bothering me all the afternoon. For all the
doctors--there's been several of 'em in during the last two hours--are
absolutely agreed that Stoner was felled, sir--felled by a savage blow,
and they say he may ha' been dead before ever he fell over that quarry
edge. Mr. Brereton--I misdoubt it's another murder!"

"Have you anything to go on?" asked Brereton. "Had anybody any motive?
Was there any love affair--jealousy, you know--anything of that sort?"

"No, I'm sure there wasn't," replied the superintendent. "The whole town
and county's ringing with the news, and I should ha' heard something by
now. And it wasn't robbery--not that he'd much on him, poor fellow!
There's all he had," he went on, opening a drawer. "You can look at 'em,
if you like."

He left the room just then, and Brereton, disregarding the cheap watch
and chain and the pigskin purse with its light load, opened Stoner's
pocket-book. There was not much in that, either--a letter or two, some
receipted bills, a couple of much creased copies of the reward bill,
some cuttings from newspapers. He turned from these to the pocket-book
itself, and on the last written page he found an entry which made him
start. For there again were the initials!

"--_M. & C._--_fraud_--_bldg. soc._--_Wilchester
Assizes_--_81_--_£2000_--money never recovered--2 yrs.--K. _pres._"

Not much--but Brereton hastily copied that entry. And he had just
written the last word when the superintendent came back into the room
with a man who was in railway uniform.

"Come in here," the superintendent was saying. "You can tell me what it
is before this gentleman. Some news from High Gill junction, Mr.
Brereton," he went on, "something about Stoner. Well, my lad, what is
it?"

"The station-master sent me over on his bicycle," replied the visitor.
"We heard over there this afternoon about Stoner's body being found, and
that you were thinking he must have fallen over into the quarry in the
darkness. And we know over yonder that that's not likely."

"Aye?" said the superintendent. "Well, as a matter of fact, my lad, we
weren't thinking that, but no doubt that rumour's got out. Now why do
you railway folks know it isn't likely?"

"That's what I've come to tell," answered the man, a sharp,
intelligent-looking fellow. "I'm ticket-collector over there, as you
know, sir. Now, young Stoner came to the junction on Saturday afternoon
and booked for Darlington, and of course went to Darlington. He came
back yesterday afternoon--Sunday--by the train that gets to our junction
at 3.3. I took his ticket. Instead of going out of the station by the
ordinary way, he got over the fence on the down line side, saying to me
that he'd take a straight cut across the moor to Highmarket. I saw him
going Highmarket way for some distance. And he'd be at Hobwick Quarry by
4.30 at the latest--long before darkness."

"Just about sunset, as a matter of fact," remarked the superintendent.
"The sun sets about 4.18."

"So he couldn't have fallen over in the darkness," continued the
ticket-collector. "If all had gone well with him, he'd have been down in
Highmarket here by dusk."

"I'm obliged to you," said the superintendent. "It's worth knowing, of
course. Came from Darlington, eh? Was he alone?"

"Quite alone, sir."

"You didn't see anybody else going that way across the moors, did you?
Didn't notice anybody following him?"

"No," replied the ticket-collector with decision. "Me and one of my
mates watched him a long way, and I'll swear there was no one near him
till he was out of sight. We didn't watch him on purpose, neither. When
the down-train had gone, me and my mate sat down to smoke our pipes, and
from where we were we could see right across the moors in this
direction. We saw Stoner--now and then, you understand--right away to
Chat Bank."

"You didn't notice any suspicious characters come to your station that
afternoon or evening?" asked the superintendent.

The ticket-collector replied that nothing of that sort had been seen,
and he presently went away. And Brereton, after an unimportant word or
two, went away too, certain by that time that the death of Stoner had
some sinister connexion with the murder of Kitely.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SCRAP BOOK


Brereton went back to his friend's house more puzzled than ever by the
similarity of the entries in Kitely's memoranda and in Stoner's
pocket-book. Bent had gone over to Norcaster that afternoon, on
business, and was not to be home until late in the evening: Brereton
accordingly dined alone and had ample time to reflect and to think. The
reflecting and the thinking largely took the form of speculating--on the
fact that certain terms and figures which had been set down by Kitely
had also been set down by Stoner. There were the initials--M. & C. There
was a date--if it was a date--81. What in Kitely's memorandum the
initials S. B. might mean, it was useless to guess at. His memorandum,
indeed, was as cryptic as an Egyptian hieroglyph. But Stoner's
memorandum was fuller, more explicit. The M. & C. of the Kitely entry
had been expanded to Mallows and Chidforth. The entry "fraud" and the
other entries "Wilchester Assizes" and the supplementary words, clearly
implied that two men named Mallows and Chidforth were prosecuted at
Wilchester Assizes in the year 1881 for fraud, that a sum of £2,000 was
involved, which was never recovered, that Mallows and Chidforth,
whoever they were, were convicted and were sentenced to two years'
imprisonment. So much for Stoner's memorandum. But did it refer to the
same event to which Kitely made reference in his memorandum? It seemed
highly probable that it did. It seemed highly probable, too, that the M.
& C. of Kitely's entry were the Mallows & Chidforth of Stoner's. And now
the problem narrowed to one most serious and crucial point--were the
Mallows and Chidforth of these references the Mallalieu and Cotherstone
of Highmarket.

Speculating on this possibility, Brereton after his solitary dinner went
into Bent's smoking-room, and throwing himself into a chair before the
fire, lighted his pipe and proceeded to think things out. It was
abundantly clear to him by that time that Kitely and Stoner had been in
possession of a secret: it seemed certain that both had been murdered by
some person who desired to silence them. There was no possible doubt as
to Kitely's murder: from what Brereton had heard that afternoon there
seemed to be just as little doubt that Stoner had also been murdered. He
had heard what the local medical men had to say--one and all agreed that
though the clerk had received injuries in his fall which would produce
almost instantaneous death he had received a mortal blow before he fell.
Who struck that blow? Everything seemed to point to the fact that the
man who struck it was the man who strangled Kitely--a man of great
muscular power.

Glancing around the room as he sat in a big easy chair, his hands behind
his head, Brereton's eyes fell suddenly on Kitely's legacy to Windle
Bent. The queer-looking old volume which, because of its black calf
binding and brass clasp, might easily have been taken for a prayer-book,
lay just where Bent had set it down on his desk when Christopher Pett
formally handed it over--so far as Brereton knew Bent up to now had
never even opened it. And it was with no particular motive that Brereton
now reached out and picked it up, and unsnapping the clasp began idly to
turn over the leaves on which the old detective had pasted cuttings from
newspapers and made entries in his crabbed handwriting. Brereton
believed that he was idly handling what Pett had jocosely described the
book to be--a mere scrap-book. It never entered his head that he held in
his hands almost the whole solution of the mystery which was puzzling
him.

No man knows how inspiration comes to him, and Brereton never knew how
it was that suddenly, in the flash of an eye, in the swiftness of
thought, he knew that he had found what he wanted. Suggestion might have
had something to do with it. Kitely had written the word _Scrap-book_ on
the first blank page. Afterwards, at the tops of pages, he had filled in
dates in big figures--for reference--1875--1879--1887--and so on. And
Brereton suddenly saw, and understood, and realized. The cryptic entry
in Kitely's pocket-book became plain as the plainest print. _M. & C. v.
S. B. cir. 81_:--Brereton could amplify that now. Kitely, like all men
who dabble in antiquarian pursuits, knew a bit of Latin, and naturally
made an occasional airing of his knowledge. The full entry, of course,
meant M. &. C. _vide_ (=see) Scrap-Book _circa_ (=about) 1881.

With a sharp exclamation of delight, Brereton turned over the pages of
that queer record of crime and detection until he came to one over which
the figure 1881 stood out boldly. A turn or two more of pages, and he
had found what he wanted. There it was--a long cutting from what was
evidently a local newspaper--a cutting which extended over two or three
leaves of the book--and at the end a memorandum in Kitely's handwriting,
evidently made some years before. The editor of that local newspaper had
considered the case which Kitely had so carefully scissored from his
columns worthy of four headlines in big capitals:--


     THE BUILDING SOCIETY DEFALCATIONS MALLOWS AND CHIDFORTH AT THE
     WILCHESTER ASSIZES VERDICT AND SENTENCE


Brereton settled down to a careful reading of the report. There was
really nothing very remarkable about it--nothing exciting nor
sensational. It was indeed no more than a humdrum narrative of a vulgar
crime. But it was necessary that he should know all about it, and be
able to summarize it, and so he read it over with unusual care. It was a
very plain story--there were no complications. It appeared from the
evidence adduced that for some time previous to 1881 there had been in
existence in Wilchester a building society, the members of which were
chiefly of the small tradesman and better-class working-man order. Its
chief officials for a year or two had been John Mallows and Mark
Chidforth, who were respectively treasurer and secretary. Mallows was
foreman to a builder in the town; Chidforth was clerk to the same
employer. Both were young men. They were evidently regarded as smart
fellows. Up to the time of the revelations they had borne the very best
of characters. Each had lived in Wilchester since childhood; each had
continued his education at night schools and institute classes after the
usual elementary school days were over; each was credited with an
ambitious desire to rise in the world. Each, as a young man, was
attached to religious organizations--Mallows was a sidesman at one of
the churches, Chidforth was a Sunday-school teacher at one of the
chapels. Both had been fully and firmly trusted, and it appeared from
the evidence that they had had what practically amounted to unsupervised
control of the building society's funds. And--the really important
point--there was no doubt whatever that they had helped themselves to
some two thousand pounds of their fellow-members' money.

All this was clear enough: it took little time for Brereton to acquaint
himself with these facts. What was not so clear was the whereabouts or
disposal of the money. From the evidence there appeared to be two
conflicting notions current in Wilchester at the time. Some people
apparently believed confidently that the two culprits had lost the money
in secret speculation and in gambling: other people were just as certain
that they had quietly put the money away in some safe quarter. The
prisoners themselves absolutely refused to give the least scrap of
information: ever since their arrest they had maintained a stolid
silence and a defiant demeanour. More than once during the progress of
the trial they had opportunities of making clean breasts of their
misdoings and refused to take them. Found guilty, they were put back
until next day for sentence--that, of course, was to give them another
chance of saying what they had done with the money. But they had kept up
their silence to the end, and they had been sentenced to two years'
imprisonment, with hard labour, and so had disappeared from public view,
with their secret--if there really was a secret--intact.

So much for the newspaper cutting from the _Wilchester Sentinel_. But
there was more to read. The cutting came to an end on the top half of a
page in the scrap-book; underneath it on the blank half of the page
Kitely had made an entry, dated three years after the trial.

"Wilchester: June 28, 1884. _Re_ above. Came down here on business today
and had a talk with police about M. & C. and the money. M. & C. never
been heard of since their release. Were released at same time, and seen
in the town an hour or two later, after which they disappeared--a man
who spoke to M. says that M. told him they were going to emigrate. They
are believed to have gone to Argentine. Both had relatives in
Wilchester, but either they don't know anything of M. & C.'s subsequent
doings, or they keep silence. No further trace of money, and opinion
still divided as to what they really did with it: many people in W.
firmly convinced that they had it safely planted, and have gone to it."

To Brereton the whole affair was now as plain as a pikestaff. The old
detective, accidentally settling down at Highmarket, had recognized
Mallalieu and Cotherstone, the prosperous tradesmen of that little,
out-of-the-way town, as the Mallows and Chidforth whom he had seen in
the dock at Wilchester, and he had revealed his knowledge to one or the
other or both. That was certain. But there were many things that were
far from certain. What had happened when Kitely revealed himself as a
man who had been a witness of their conviction in those far-off days?
How had he revealed himself? Had he endeavoured to blackmail them? It
was possible.

But there was still more to think over. How had the dead clerk, Stoner,
got his knowledge of this great event in the life of his employers? Had
he got it from Kitely? That was not likely. Yet Stoner had written down
in his pocket-book an entry which was no more and no less than a
_précis_ of the absolute facts. Somehow, somewhere, Stoner had made
himself fully acquainted with Mallalieu and Cotherstone's secret. Did
Stoner's death arise out of a knowledge of that secret? On the face of
things there could be little doubt that it did. Who, then, struck the
blow which killed Stoner, or, if it did not actually kill him, caused
his death by bringing about the fall which broke his neck? Was it
Mallalieu?--or was it Cotherstone?

That one or other, or both, were guilty of Kitely's murder, and possibly
of Stoner's, Brereton was by that time absolutely certain. And
realizing that certainty, he felt himself placed in a predicament which
could not fail to be painful. It was his duty, as counsel for an
innocent man, to press to the full his inquiries into the conduct of men
whom he believed to be guilty. In this he was faced with an unpleasant
situation. He cared nothing about Mallalieu. If Mallalieu was a guilty
man, let Mallalieu pay the richly-deserved consequences of his misdeeds.
Brereton, without being indifferent or vindictive or callous, knew that
it would not give him one extra heart-throb if he heard Mallalieu found
guilty and sentenced to the gallows. But Cotherstone was the father of
the girl to whom Windle Bent was shortly to be married--and Bent and
Brereton had been close friends ever since they first went to school
together.

It was a sad situation, an unpleasant thing to face. He had come on a
visit to Bent, he had prolonged that visit in order to defend a man whom
he firmly believed to be as innocent as a child--and now he was to bring
disgrace and shame on a family with whom his host and friend was soon to
be allied by the closest of ties. But--better that than that an innocent
man should suffer! And walking up and down Bent's smoking-room, and
thinking the whole thing through and through, he half made up his mind
to tell Bent all about it when he returned.

Brereton presently put on hat and coat and left the house. It was then
half-past seven; a sharp, frosty November evening, with an almost full
moon rising in a clear, star-sprinkled sky. The sudden change from the
warmth of the house to the frost-laden atmosphere of the hillside
quickened his mental faculties; he lighted his pipe, and resolved to
take a brisk walk along the road which led out of Highmarket and to
occupy himself with another review of the situation. A walk in the
country by day or night and in solitude had always had attractions for
Brereton and he set out on this with zest. But he had not gone a hundred
yards in the direction of the moors when Avice Harborough came out of
the gate of Northrop's garden and met him.

"I was coming to see you," she said quietly. "I have heard something
that I thought you ought to hear, too--at once."

"Yes?" responded Brereton.

Avice drew an envelope from her muff and gave it to him.

"A boy brought that to me half an hour ago," she said. "It is from an
old woman, Mrs. Hamthwaite, who lives in a very lonely place on the
moors up above Hobwick Quarry. Can you read it in this light?"

"I will," answered Brereton, drawing a scrap of paper from the envelope.
"Here," he went on, giving it back to Avice, "you hold it, and I'll
strike a match--the moonlight's scarcely strong enough. Now," he
continued, taking a box of vestas from his pocket and striking one,
"steady--'If Miss Harborough will come up to see Susan Hamthwaite I will
tell you something that you might like to know.' Ah!" he exclaimed,
throwing away the match. "Now, how far is it to this old woman's
cottage?"

"Two miles," replied Avice.

"Can you go there now?" he asked.

"I thought of doing so," she answered.

"Come along, then," said Brereton. "We'll go together. If she objects to
my presence I'll leave you with her and wait about for you. Of course,
she wants to tell you something relating to your father."

"You think so?" said Avice. "I only hope it is!"

"Certain to be," he replied. "What else could it be?"

"There are so many strange things to tell about, just now," she
remarked. "Besides, if old Mrs. Hamthwaite knows anything, why hasn't
she let me know until tonight?"

"Oh, there's no accounting for that!" said Brereton. "Old women have
their own way of doing things. By the by," he continued, as they turned
out of the road and began to climb a path which led to the first ridge
of the moors outside the town, "I haven't seen you today--you've heard
of this Stoner affair?"

"Mr. Northrop told me this afternoon," she replied. "What do you think
about it?"

Brereton walked on a little way without replying. He was asking a
serious question of himself. Should he tell all he knew to Avice
Harborough?



CHAPTER XIX

A TALL MAN IN GREY CLOTHES


That question remained unanswered, and Brereton remained silent, until
he and Avice had reached the top of the path and had come out on the
edge of the wide stretch of moorland above the little town. He paused
for a moment and looked back on the roofs and gables of Highmarket,
shining and glittering in the moonlight; the girl paused too, wondering
at his silence. And with a curious abruptness he suddenly turned, laid a
hand on her arm, and gave it a firm, quick pressure.

"Look here!" he said. "I'm going to trust you. I'm going to say to you
what I haven't said to a soul in that town!--not even to Tallington,
who's a man of the law, nor to Bent, who's my old friend. I want to say
something to somebody whom I can trust. I can trust you!"

"Thank you," she answered quietly. "I--I think I understand. And you'll
understand, too, won't you, when I say--you can!"

"That's all right," he said, cheerfully. "Of course! Now we understand
each other. Come on, then--you know the way--act as guide, and I'll tell
you as we go along."

Avice turned off into what appeared to be no more than a sheep-track
across the heather. Within a few minutes they were not only quite alone,
but out of sight of any human habitation. It seemed to Brereton that
they were suddenly shut into a world of their own, as utterly apart from
the little world they had just left as one star is from another. But
even as he thought this he saw, far away across the rising and falling
of the heather-clad undulations, the moving lights of a train that was
speeding southward along the coast-line from Norcaster, and presently
the long scream of a whistle from its engine came on the light breeze
that blew inland from the hidden sea, and the sight and sound recalled
him to the stern realities of life.

"Listen, then, carefully," he began. "And bear in mind that I'm putting
what I believe to be safety of other men in your hands. It's this
way...."

Avice Harborough listened in absolute silence as Brereton told her his
carefully arranged story. They walked slowly across the moor as he told
it; now dipping into a valley, now rising above the ridge of a low hill;
sometimes pausing altogether as he impressed some particular point upon
her. In the moonlight he could see that she was listening eagerly and
intently, but she never interrupted him and never asked a question. And
at last, just as they came in sight of a light that burned in the window
of a little moorland cottage, snugly planted in a hollow beneath the
ridge which they were then traversing, he brought his story to an end
and turned inquiringly to her.

"There!" he said. "That's all. Now try to consider it without
prejudice--if you can. How does it appear to you?"

Instead of replying directly the girl walked on in silence for a moment
or two, and suddenly turned to Brereton with an impulsive movement.

"You've given me your confidence and I'll give you mine!" she exclaimed.
"Perhaps I ought to have given it before--to you or to Mr.
Tallington--but--I didn't like. I've wondered about Mallalieu! Wondered
if--if he did kill that old man. And wondered if he tried to put the
blame on my father out of revenge!"

"Revenge!" exclaimed Brereton. "What do you mean?"

"My father offended him--not so very long ago, either," she answered.
"Last year--I'll tell you it all, plainly--Mr. Mallalieu began coming to
our cottage at times. First he came to see my father about killing the
rats which had got into his out-buildings. Then he made excuses--he used
to come, any way--at night. He began to come when my father was out, as
he often was. He would sit down and smoke and talk. I didn't like it--I
don't like him. Then he used to meet me in the wood in the Shawl, as I
came home from the Northrops'. I complained to my father about it and
one night my father came in and found him here. My father, Mr. Brereton,
is a very queer man and a very plain-spoken man. He told Mr. Mallalieu
that neither of us desired his company and told him to go away. And Mr.
Mallalieu lost his temper and said angry things."

"And your father?" said Brereton. "Did he lose his temper, too?"

"No!" replied Avice. "He has a temper--but he kept it that night. He
never spoke to Mr. Mallalieu in return. He let him say his say--until
he'd got across the threshold, and then he just shut the door on him.
But--I know how angry Mr. Mallalieu was."

Brereton stood silently considering matters for a moment. Then he
pointed to the light in the window beneath them, and moved towards it.

"I'm glad you told me that," he said. "It may account for something
that's puzzled me a great deal--I must think it out. But at present--is
that the old woman's lamp?"

Avice led the way down to the hollow by a narrow path which took them
into a little stone-walled enclosure where a single Scotch fir-tree
stood sentinel over a typical moorland homestead of the smaller sort--a
one-storied house of rough stone, the roof of which was secured from
storm and tempest by great boulders slung on stout ropes, and having
built on to it an equally rough shelter for some small stock of cows and
sheep. Out of a sheer habit of reflection on things newly seen, Brereton
could not avoid wondering what life was like, lived in this solitude,
and in such a perfect hermitage--but his speculations were cut short by
the opening of the door set deep within the whitewashed porch. An old
woman, much bent by age, looked out upon him and Avice, holding a small
lamp so that its light fell on their faces.

"Come your ways in, joy!" she said hospitably. "I was expecting you'd
come up tonight: I knew you'd want to have a word with me as soon as
you could. Come in and sit you down by the fire--it's coldish o' nights,
to be sure, and there's frost in the air.

"This gentleman may come in, too, mayn't he, Mrs. Hamthwaite?" asked
Avice as she and Brereton stepped within the porch. "He's the
lawyer-gentleman who's defending my father--you won't mind speaking
before him, will you?"

"Neither before him, nor behind him, nor yet to him," answered Mrs.
Hamthwaite with a chuckle. "I've talked to lawyers afore today, many's
the time! Come your ways in, sir--sit you down."

She carefully closed the door on her guests and motioned them to seats
by a bright fire of turf, and then setting the lamp on the table, seated
herself in a corner of her long-settle and folding her hands in her
apron took a long look at her visitors through a pair of unusually large
spectacles. And Brereton, genuinely interested, took an equally long
look at her; and saw a woman who was obviously very old but whose face
was eager, intelligent, and even vivacious. As this queer old face
turned from one to the other, its wrinkles smoothed out into a smile.

"You'll be wondering what I've got to tell, love," said Mrs. Hamthwaite,
turning to Avice. "And no doubt you want to know why I haven't sent for
you before now. But you see, since that affair happened down your way, I
been away. Aye, I been to see my daughter--as lives up the coast. And I
didn't come home till today. And I'm no hand at writing letters. However
here we are, and better late than never and no doubt this lawyer
gentleman'll be glad to hear what I can tell him and you."

"Very glad indeed!" responded Brereton. "What is it?"

The old woman turned to a box which stood in a recess in the ingle-nook
at her elbow and took from it a folded newspaper.

"Me and my daughter and her husband read this here account o' the case
against Harborough as it was put before the magistrates," she said. "We
studied it. Now you want to know where Harborough was on the night that
old fellow was done away with. That's it, master, what?"

"That is it," answered Brereton, pressing his arm against Avice, who sat
close at his side. "Yes, indeed! And you----"

"I can tell you where Harborough was between nine o'clock and ten
o'clock that night," replied Mrs. Hamthwaite, with a smile that was not
devoid of cunning. "I know, if nobody else knows!"

"Where, then?" demanded Brereton.

The old woman leaned forward across the hearth.

"Up here on the moor!" she whispered. "Not five minutes' walk from here.
At a bit of a place--Miss there'll know it--called Good Folks' Lift. A
little rise i' the ground where the fairies used to dance, you know,
master."

"You saw him?" asked Brereton.

"I saw him," chuckled Mrs. Hamthwaite. "And if I don't know him, why
then, his own daughter doesn't!"

"You'd better tell us all about it," said Brereton.

Mrs. Hamthwaite gave him a sharp look. "I've given evidence to law folks
before today," she said. "You'll want to know what I could tell before a
judge, like?"

"Of course," replied Brereton.

"Well, then----" she continued. "You see, master, since my old man died,
I've lived all alone up here. I've a bit to live on--not over much, but
enough. All the same, if I can save a bit by getting a hare or a rabbit,
or a bird or two now and then, off the moor--well, I do! We all of us
does that, as lives on the moor: some folks calls it poaching, but we
call it taking our own. Now then, on that night we're talking about, I
went along to Good Folks' Lift to look at some snares I'd set early that
day. There's a good deal of bush and scrub about that place--I was
amongst the bushes when I heard steps, and I looked out and saw a tall
man in grey clothes coming close by. How did I know he were in grey
clothes? Why, 'cause he stopped close by me to light his pipe! But he'd
his back to me, so I didn't see his full face, only a side of it. He
were a man with a thin, greyish beard. Well, he walks past there, not
far--and then I heard other steps. Then I heard your father's voice,
miss--and I see the two of 'em meet. They stood, whispering together,
for a minute or so--then they came back past me, and they went off
across the moor towards Hexendale. And soon they were out of sight, and
when I'd finished what I was after I came my ways home. That's all,
master--but if yon old man was killed down in Highmarket Shawl Wood
between nine and ten o'clock that night, then Jack Harborough didn't
kill him, for Jack was up here at soon after nine, and him and the tall
man went away in the opposite direction!"

"You're sure about the time?" asked Brereton anxiously.

"Certain, master! It was ten minutes to nine when I went out--nearly ten
when I come back. My clock's always right--I set it by the almanack and
the sunrise and sunset every day--and you can't do better," asserted
Mrs. Hamthwaite.

"You're equally sure about the second man being Harborough?" insisted
Brereton. "You couldn't be mistaken?"

"Mistaken? No!--master, I know Harborough's voice, and his figure, aye,
and his step as well as I know my own fireside," declared Mrs.
Hamthwaite. "Of course I know it were Harborough--no doubt on't!"

"How are you sure that this was the evening of the murder?" asked
Brereton. "Can you prove that it was?"

"Easy!" said Mrs. Hamthwaite. "The very next morning I went away to see
my daughter up the coast. I heard of the old man's murder at High Gill
Junction. But I didn't hear then that Harborough was suspected--didn't
hear that till later on, when we read it in the newspapers."

"And the other man--the tall man in grey clothes, who has a slightly
grey beard--you didn't know him?"

Mrs. Hamthwaite made a face which seemed to suggest uncertainty.

"Well, I'll tell you," she answered. "I believe him to be a man that I
have seen about this here neighbourhood two or three times during this
last eighteen months or so. If you really want to know, I'm a good deal
about them moors o' nights; old as I am, I'm very active, and I go about
a goodish bit--why not? And I have seen a man about now and then--months
between, as a rule--that I couldn't account for--and I believe it's this
fellow that was with Harborough."

"And you say they went away in the direction of Hexendale?" said
Brereton. "Where is Hexendale?"

The old woman pointed westward.

"Inland," she answered. "Over yonder. Miss there knows Hexendale well
enough."

"Hexendale is a valley--with a village of the same name in it--that lies
about five miles away on the other side of the moors," said Avice.
"There's another line of railway there--this man Mrs. Hamthwaite speaks
of could come and go by that."

"Well," remarked Brereton presently, "we're very much obliged to you,
ma'am, and I'm sure you won't have any objection to telling all this
again at the proper time and place, eh?"

"Eh, bless you, no!" answered Mrs. Hamthwaite. "I'll tell it wherever
you like, master--before Lawyer Tallington, or the magistrates, or the
crowner, or anybody! But I'll tell you what, if you'll take a bit of
advice from an old woman--you're a sharp-looking young man, and I'll
tell you what I should do if I were in your place--now then!"

"Well, what?" asked Brereton good-humouredly.

Mrs. Hamthwaite clapped him on the shoulder as she opened the door for
her visitors.

"Find that tall man in the grey clothes!" she said. "Get hold of him!
He's the chap you want!"

Brereton went silently away, meditating on the old woman's last words.

"But where are we to find him?" he suddenly exclaimed. "Who is he?"

"I don't think that puzzles me," remarked Avice. "He's the man who sent
the nine hundred pounds."

Brereton smote his stick on the heather at their feet.

"By George!--I never thought of that!" he exclaimed. "I shouldn't
wonder!--I shouldn't wonder at all. Hooray!--we're getting nearer and
nearer to something."

But he knew that still another step was at hand--an unpleasant, painful
step--when, on getting back to Bent's, an hour later, Bent told him that
Lettie had been cajoled into fixing the day of the wedding, and that the
ceremony was to take place with the utmost privacy that day week.



CHAPTER XX

AT BAY


It was only by an immense effort of will that Brereton prevented an
exclamation and a start of surprise. But of late he had been perpetually
on the look-out for all sorts of unforeseen happenings and he managed to
do no more than show a little natural astonishment.

"What, so soon!" he said. "Dear me, old chap!--I didn't think of its
being this side of Christmas."

"Cotherstone's set on it," answered Bent. "He seems to be turning into a
regular hypochondriac. I hope nothing is really seriously wrong with
him. But anyway--this day week. And you'll play your part of best man,
of course."

"Oh, of course!" agreed Brereton. "And then--are you going away?"

"Yes, but not for as long as we'd meant," said Bent. "We'll run down to
the Riviera for a few weeks--I've made all my arrangements today. Well,
any fresh news about this last bad business? This Stoner affair, of
course, has upset Cotherstone dreadfully. When is all this mystery
coming to an end, Brereton? There is one thing dead certain--Harborough
isn't guilty in this case. That is, if Stoner really was killed by the
blow they talk of."

But Brereton refused to discuss matters that night. He pleaded fatigue,
he had been at it all day long, he said, and his brain was confused and
tired and needed rest. And presently he went off to his room--and when
he got there he let out a groan of dismay. For one thing was
imperative--Bent's marriage must not take place while there was the
least chance of a terrible charge being suddenly let loose on
Cotherstone.

He rose in the morning with his mind made up on the matter. There was
but one course to adopt--and it must be adopted immediately. Cotherstone
must be spoken to--Cotherstone must be told of what some people at any
rate knew about him and his antecedents. Let him have a chance to
explain himself. After all, he might have some explanation. But--and
here Brereton's determination became fixed and stern--it must be
insisted upon that he should tell Bent everything.

Bent always went out very early in the morning, to give an eye to his
business, and he usually breakfasted at his office. That was one of the
mornings on which he did not come back to the house, and Brereton
accordingly breakfasted alone, and had not seen his host when he, too,
set out for the town. He had already decided what to do--he would tell
everything to Tallington. Tallington was a middle-aged man of a great
reputation for common-sense and for probity; as a native of the town,
and a dweller in it all his life, he knew Cotherstone well, and he would
give sound advice as to what methods should be followed in dealing with
him. And so to Tallington Brereton, arriving just after the solicitor
had finished reading his morning's letters, poured out the whole story
which he had learned from the ex-detective's scrap-book and from the
memorandum made by Stoner in his pocket-book.

Tallington listened with absorbed attention, his face growing graver and
graver as Brereton marshalled the facts and laid stress on one point of
evidence after another. He was a good listener--a steady, watchful
listener--Brereton saw that he was not only taking in every fact and
noting every point, but was also weighing up the mass of testimony. And
when the story came to its end he spoke with decision, spoke, too, just
as Brereton expected he would, making no comment, offering no opinion,
but going straight to the really critical thing.

"There are only two things to be done," said Tallington. "They're the
only things that can be done. We must send for Bent, and tell him. Then
we must get Cotherstone here, and tell him. No other course--none!"

"Bent first?" asked Brereton.

"Certainly! Bent first, by all means. It's due to him. Besides," said
Tallington, with a grim smile, "it would be decidedly unpleasant for
Cotherstone to compel him to tell Bent, or for us to tell Bent in
Cotherstone's presence. And--we'd better get to work at once, Brereton!
Otherwise--this will get out in another way."

"You mean--through the police?" said Brereton.

"Surely!" replied Tallington. "This can't be kept in a corner. For
anything we know somebody may be at work, raking it all up, just now. Do
you suppose that unfortunate lad Stoner kept his knowledge to himself?
I don't! No--at once! Come, Bent's office is only a minute away--I'll
send one of my clerks for him. Painful, very--but necessary."

The first thing that Bent's eyes encountered when he entered
Tallington's private room ten minutes later was the black-bound,
brass-clasped scrap-book, which Brereton had carried down with him and
had set on the solicitor's desk. He started at the sight of it, and
turned quickly from one man to the other.

"What's that doing here?" he asked, "is--have you made some discovery?
Why am I wanted?"

Once more Brereton had to go through the story. But his new listener did
not receive it in the calm and phlegmatic fashion in which it had been
received by the practised ear of the man of law. Bent was at first
utterly incredulous; then indignant: he interrupted; he asked questions
which he evidently believed to be difficult to answer; he was
fighting--and both his companions, sympathizing keenly with him, knew
why. But they never relaxed their attitude, and in the end Bent looked
from one to the other with a cast-down countenance in which doubt was
beginning to change into certainty.

"You're convinced of--all this?" he demanded suddenly. "Both of you?
It's your conviction?"

"It's mine," answered Tallington quietly.

"I'd give a good deal for your sake, Bent, if it were not mine," said
Brereton. "But--it is mine. I'm--sure!"

Bent jumped from his chair.

"Which of them is it, then?" he exclaimed. "Gad!--you don't mean to say
that Cotherstone is--a murderer! Good heavens!--think of what that would
mean to--to----"

Tallington got up and laid a hand on Bent's arm.

"We won't say or think anything until we hear what Cotherstone has to
say," he said. "I'll step along the street and fetch him, myself. I know
he'll be alone just now, because I saw Mallalieu go into the Town Hall
ten minutes ago--there's an important committee meeting there this
morning over which he has to preside. Pull yourself together,
Bent--Cotherstone may have some explanation of everything."

Mallalieu & Cotherstone's office was only a few yards away along the
street; Tallington was back from it with Cotherstone in five minutes.
And Brereton, looking closely at Cotherstone as he entered and saw who
awaited him, was certain that Cotherstone was ready for anything. A
sudden gleam of understanding came into his sharp eyes; it was as if he
said to himself that here was a moment, a situation, a crisis, which he
had anticipated, and--he was prepared. It was an outwardly calm and cool
Cotherstone, who, with a quick glance at all three men and at the closed
door, took the chair which Tallington handed to him, and turned on the
solicitor with a single word.

"Well?"

"As I told you in coming along," said Tallington, "we want to speak to
you privately about some information which has been placed in our
hands--that is, of course, in Mr. Brereton's and in mine. We have
thought it well to already acquaint Mr. Bent with it. All this is
between ourselves, Mr. Cotherstone--so treat us as candidly as we'll
treat you. I can put everything to you in a few words. They're painful.
Are you and your partner, Mr. Mallalieu, the same persons as the
Chidforth and Mallows who were prosecuted for fraud at Wilchester
Assizes in 1881 and sentenced to two years' imprisonment?"

Cotherstone neither started nor flinched. There was no sign of weakness
nor of hesitation about him now. Instead, he seemed to have suddenly
recovered all the sharpness and vigour with which two at any rate of the
three men who were so intently watching him had always associated with
him. He sat erect and watchful in his chair, and his voice became clear
and strong.

"Before I answer that question, Mr. Tallington," he said, "I'll ask one
of Mr. Bent here. It's this--is my daughter going to suffer from aught
that may or may not be raked up against her father? Let me know
that!--if you want any words from me."

Bent flushed angrily.

"You ought to know what my answer is!" he exclaimed. "It's no!"

"That'll do!" said Cotherstone. "I know you--you're a man of your word."
He turned to Tallington. "Now I'll reply to you," he went on. "My
answer's in one word, too. Yes!"

Tallington opened Kitely's scrap-book at the account of the trial at
Wilchester, placed it before Cotherstone, and indicated certain lines
with the point of a pencil.

"You're the Chidforth mentioned there?" he asked quietly. "And your
partner's the Mallows?"

"That's so," replied Cotherstone, so imperturbably that all three looked
at him in astonishment "That's quite so, Mr. Tallington."

"And this is an accurate report of what happened?" asked Tallington,
trailing the pencil over the newspaper. "That is, as far as you can see
at a glance?"

"Oh, I daresay it is," said Cotherstone, airily. "That was the best
paper in the town--I daresay it's all right. Looks so, anyway."

"You know that Kitely was present at that trial?" suggested Tallington,
who, like Brereton, was beginning to be mystified by Cotherstone's
coolness.

"Well," answered Cotherstone, with a shake of his head, "I know now. But
I never did know until that afternoon of the day on which the old man
was murdered. If you're wanting the truth, he came into our office that
afternoon to pay his rent to me, and he told me then. And--if you want
more truth--he tried to blackmail me. He was to come next day--at four
o'clock--to hear what me and Mallalieu 'ud offer him for hush-money."

"Then you told Mallalieu?" asked Tallington.

"Of course I told him!" replied Cotherstone. "Told him as soon as Kitely
had gone. It was a facer for both of us--to be recognized, and to have
all that thrown up against us, after thirty years' honest work!"

The three listeners looked silently at each other. A moment of suspence
passed. Then Tallington put the question which all three were burning
with eagerness to have answered.

"Mr. Cotherstone!--do you know who killed Kitely?"

"No!" answered Cotherstone. "But I know who I think killed him!"

"Who, then?" demanded Tallington.

"The man who killed Bert Stoner," said Cotherstone firmly. "And for the
same reason."

"And this man is----"

Tallington left the question unfinished. For Cotherstone's alert face
took a new and determined expression, and he raised himself a little in
his chair and brought his lifted hand down heavily on the desk at his
side.

"Mallalieu!" he exclaimed. "Mallalieu! I believe he killed Kitely. I
suspicioned it from the first, and I came certain of it on Sunday night.
Why? _Because I saw Mallalieu fell Stoner!_"

There was a dead silence in the room for a long, painful minute.
Tallington broke it at last by repeating Cotherstone's last words.

"You saw Mallalieu fell Stoner? Yourself?"

"With these eyes! Look here!" exclaimed Cotherstone, again bringing his
hand down heavily on the desk. "I went up there by Hobwick Quarry on
Sunday afternoon--to do a bit of thinking. As I got to that spinney at
the edge of the quarry, I saw Mallalieu and our clerk. They were
fratching--quarrelling--I could hear 'em as well as see 'em. And I
slipped behind a big bush and waited and watched. I could see and hear,
even at thirty yards off, that Stoner was maddening Mallalieu, though of
course I couldn't distinguish precise words. And all of a sudden
Mallalieu's temper went, and he lets out with that heavy oak stick of
his and fetches the lad a crack right over his forehead--and with Stoner
starting suddenly back the old railings gave way and--down he went.
That's what I saw--and I saw Mallalieu kick that stick into the quarry
in a passion, and--I've got it!"

"You've got it?" said Tallington.

"I've got it!" repeated Cotherstone. "I watched Mallalieu--after this
was over. Once I thought he saw me--but he evidently decided he was
alone. I could see he was taking on rarely. He went down to the quarry
as it got dusk--he was there some time. Then at last he went away on the
opposite side. And I went down when he'd got clear away and I went
straight to where the stick was. And as I say, I've got it."

Tallington looked at Brereton, and Brereton spoke for the first time.

"Mr. Cotherstone must see that all this should be told to the police,"
he said.

"Wait a bit," replied Cotherstone. "I've not done telling my tales here
yet. Now that I am talking, I will talk! Bent!" he continued, turning to
his future son-in-law. "What I'm going to say now is for your benefit.
But these lawyers shall hear. This old Wilchester business has been
raked up--how, I don't know. Now then, you shall all know the truth
about that! I did two years--for what? For being Mallalieu's catspaw!"

Tallington suddenly began to drum his fingers on the blotting-pad which
lay in front of him. From this point he watched Cotherstone with an
appearance of speculative interest which was not lost on Brereton.

"Ah!" he remarked quietly. "You were Mallalieu's--or Mallows'--catspaw?
That is--he was the really guilty party in the Wilchester affair, of
Which that's an account?"

"Doesn't it say here that he was treasurer?" retorted Cotherstone,
laying his hand on the open scrap-book. "He was--he'd full control of
the money. He drew me into things--drew me into 'em in such a clever way
that when the smash came I couldn't help myself. I had to go through
with it. And I never knew until--until the two years was over--that
Mallalieu had that money safely put away."

"But--you got to know, eventually," remarked Tallington. "And--I
suppose--you agreed to make use of it?"

Cotherstone smote the table again.

"Yes!" he said with some heat. "And don't you get any false ideas, Mr.
Tallington. Bent!--I've paid that money back--I, myself. Each penny of
it--two thousand pound, with four per cent. interest for thirty years!
I've done it--Mallalieu knows naught about it. And here's the receipt.
So now then!"

"When did you pay it, Mr. Cotherstone?" asked Tallington, as Bent
unwillingly took the paper which Cotherstone drew from a pocket-book and
handed to him. "Some time ago, or lately?"

"If you want to know," retorted Cotherstone, "it was the very day after
old Kitely was killed. I sent it through a friend of mine who still
lives in Wilchester. I wanted to be done with it--I didn't want to have
it brought up against me that anybody lost aught through my fault. And
so--I paid."

"But--I'm only suggesting--you could have paid a long time before that,
couldn't you?" said Tallington. "The longer you waited, the more you had
to pay. Two thousand pounds, with thirty years' interest, at four per
cent.--why, that's four thousand four hundred pounds altogether!"

"That's what he paid," said Bent. "Here's the receipt.

"Mr. Cotherstone is telling us--privately--everything," remarked
Tallington, glancing at the receipt and passing it on to Brereton. "I
wish he'd tell us--privately, as I say--why he paid that money the day
after Kitely's murder. Why, Mr. Cotherstone?"

Cotherstone, ready enough to answer and to speak until then, flushed
angrily and shook his head. But he was about to speak when a gentle
tap came at Tallington's door, and before the solicitor could make
any response, the door was opened from without, and the
police-superintendent walked in, accompanied by two men whom Brereton
recognized as detectives from Norcaster.

"Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Tallington," said the superintendent, "but I
heard Mr. Cotherstone was here. Mr. Cotherstone!--I shall have to ask
you to step across with me to the office. Will you come over now?--it'll
be best."

"Not until I know what I'm wanted for," answered Cotherstone
determinedly. "What is it?"

The superintendent sighed and shook his head.

"Very well--it's not my fault, then," he answered. "The fact is we want
both you and Mr. Mallalieu for this Stoner affair. That's the plain
truth! The warrants were issued an hour ago--and we've got Mr. Mallalieu
already. Come on, Mr. Cotherstone!--there's no help for it."



CHAPTER XXI

THE INTERRUPTED FLIGHT


Twenty-four hours after he had seen Stoner fall headlong into Hobwick
Quarry, Mallalieu made up his mind for flight. And as soon as he had
come to that moment of definite decision, he proceeded to arrange for
his disappearance with all the craft and subtlety of which he was a past
master. He would go, once and for all, and since he was to go he would
go in such a fashion that nobody should be able to trace him.

After munching his sandwich and drinking his ale at the Highmarket Arms,
Mallalieu had gone away to Hobwick Quarry and taken a careful look
round. Just as he had expected, he found a policeman or two and a few
gaping townsfolk there. He made no concealment of his own curiosity; he
had come up, he said, to see what there was to be seen at the place
where his clerk had come to this sad end. He made one of the policemen
take him up to the broken railings at the brink of the quarry; together
they made a careful examination of the ground.

"No signs of any footprints hereabouts, the superintendent says,"
remarked Mallalieu as they looked around. "You haven't seen aught of
that sort!"

"No, your Worship--we looked for that when we first came up," answered
the policeman. "You see this grass is that short and wiry that it's too
full of spring to show marks. No, there's naught, anywhere about--we've
looked a goodish way on both sides."

Mallalieu went close to the edge of the quarry and looked down. His
sharp, ferrety eyes were searching everywhere for his stick. A little to
the right of his position the side of the quarry shelved less abruptly
than at the place where Stoner had fallen; on the gradual slope there, a
great mass of bramble and gorse, broom and bracken, clustered: he gazed
hard at it, thinking that the stick might have lodged in its meshes. It
would be an easy thing to see that stick in daylight; it was a brightish
yellow colour and would be easily distinguished against the prevalent
greens and browns around there. But he saw nothing of it, and his brain,
working around the event of the night before, began to have confused
notions of the ringing of the stick on the lime-stone slabs at the
bottom of the quarry.

"Aye!" he said musingly, with a final look round. "A nasty place to fall
over, and a bad job--a bad job! Them rails," he continued, pointing to
the broken fencing, "why, they're rotten all through! If a man put his
weight on them, they'd be sure to give way. The poor young fellow must
ha' sat down to rest himself a bit, on the top one, and of course, smash
they went."

"That's what I should ha' said, your Worship," agreed the policeman,
"but some of 'em that were up here seemed to think he'd been forced
through 'em, or thrown against 'em, violent, as it might be. They think
he was struck down--from the marks of a blow that they found."

"Aye, just so," said Mallalieu, "but he could get many blows on him as
he fell down them rocks. Look for yourself!--there's not only rough
edges of stone down there, but snags and roots of old trees that he'd
strike against in falling. Accident, my lad!--that's what it's
been--sheer and pure accident."

The policeman neither agreed with nor contradicted the Mayor, and
presently they went down to the bottom of the quarry again, where
Mallalieu, under pretence of thoroughly seeing into everything, walked
about all over the place. He did not find the stick, and he was quite
sure that nobody else had found it. Finally he went away, convinced that
it lay in some nook or cranny of the shelving slope on to which he had
kicked it in his sudden passion of rage. There, in all probability, it
would remain for ever, for it would never occur to the police that
whoever wielded whatever weapon it was that struck the blow would not
carry the weapon away with him. No--on the point of the stick Mallalieu
began to feel easy and confident.

He grew still easier and more confident about the whole thing during the
course of the afternoon. He went about the town; he was in and out of
the Town Hall; he kept calling in at the police-station; he became
certain towards evening that no suspicion attached to himself--as yet.
But--only as yet. He knew something would come out. The big question
with him as he went home in the evening was--was he safe until the
afternoon of the next day? While he ate and drank in his lonely
dining-room, he decided that he was; by the time he had got through his
after-dinner cigar he had further decided that when the next night came
he would be safely away from Highmarket.

But there were things to do that night. He spent an hour with a Bradshaw
and a map. While he reckoned up trains and glanced at distances and
situations his mind was busy with other schemes, for he had all his life
been a man who could think of more than one thing at once. And at the
end of the hour he had decided on a plan of action.

Mallalieu had two chief objects in immediate view. He wanted to go away
openly from Highmarket without exciting suspicion: that was one. He
wanted to make it known that he had gone to some definite place, on some
definite mission; that was the other. And in reckoning up his chances he
saw how fortune was favouring him. At that very time the Highmarket Town
Council was very much concerned and busied about a new water-supply.
There was a project afoot for joining with another town, some miles off,
in establishing a new system and making a new reservoir on the adjacent
hills, and on the very next morning Mallalieu himself was to preside
over a specially-summoned committee which was to debate certain matters
relating to this scheme. He saw how he could make use of that
appointment. He would profess that he was not exactly pleased with some
of the provisions of the proposed amalgamation, and would state his
intention, in open meeting, of going over in person to the other town
that very evening to see its authorities on the points whereon he was
not satisfied. Nobody would see anything suspicious in his going away on
Corporation business. An excellent plan for his purpose--for in order to
reach the other town it would be necessary to pass through Norcaster,
where he would have to change stations. And Norcaster was a very big
city, and a thickly-populated one, and it had some obscure parts with
which Mallalieu was well-acquainted--and in Norcaster he could enter on
the first important stage of his flight.

And so, being determined, Mallalieu made his final preparations. They
were all connected with money. If he felt a pang at the thought of
leaving his Highmarket property behind him, it was assuaged by the
reflection that, after all, that property only represented the price of
his personal safety--perhaps (though he did not like to think of that)
of his life. Besides, events might turn out so luckily that the
enjoyment of it might be restored to him--it was possible. Whether that
possibility ever came off or not, he literally dared not regard it just
then. To put himself in safety was the one, the vital consideration. And
his Highmarket property and his share in the business only represented a
part of Mallalieu's wealth. He could afford to do without all that he
left behind him; it was a lot to leave, he sighed regretfully, but he
would still be a very wealthy man if he never touched a pennyworth of it
again.

From the moment in which Mallalieu had discovered that Kitely knew the
secret of the Wilchester affair he had prepared for eventualities, and
Kitely's death had made no difference to his plans. If one man could
find all that out, he argued, half a dozen other men might find it out.
The murder of the ex-detective, indeed, had strengthened his resolve to
be prepared. He foresaw that suspicion might fall on Cotherstone; deeper
reflection showed him that if Cotherstone became an object of suspicion
he himself would not escape. And so he had prepared himself. He had got
together his valuable securities; they were all neatly bestowed in a
stout envelope which fitted into the inner pocket of a waistcoat which
he once had specially made to his own design: a cleverly arranged
garment, in which a man could carry a lot of wealth--in paper. There in
that pocket it all was--Government stock, railway stock, scrip, shares,
all easily convertible, anywhere in the world where men bought and sold
the best of gilt-edged securities. And in another pocket Mallalieu had a
wad of bank-notes which he had secured during the previous week from a
London bank at which he kept an account, and in yet another, a cunningly
arranged one, lined out with wash-leather, and secured by a strong flap,
belted and buckled, he carried gold.

Mallalieu kept that waistcoat and its precious contents under his pillow
that night. And next morning he attired himself with particular care,
and in the hip pocket of his trousers he placed a revolver which he had
recently purchased, and for the first time for a fortnight he ate his
usual hearty breakfast. After which he got into his most serviceable
overcoat and went away townwards ... and if anybody had been watching
him they would have seen that Mallalieu never once turned his head to
take a look at the house which he had built, and might be leaving for
ever.

Everything that Mallalieu did that morning was done with method. He was
in and about his office and his yard for an hour or two, attending to
business in his customary fashion. He saw Cotherstone, and did not speak
to him except on absolutely necessary matters. No word was said by
either in relation to Stoner's death. But about ten o'clock Mallalieu
went across to the police-station and into the superintendent's office,
and convinced himself that nothing further had come to light, and no new
information had been given. The coroner's officer was with the police,
and Mallalieu discussed with him and them some arrangements about the
inquest. With every moment the certainty that he was safe increased--and
at eleven o'clock he went into the Town Hall to his committee meeting.

Had Mallalieu chanced to look back at the door of the police-station as
he entered the ancient door of the Town Hall he would have seen three
men drive up there in a motor-car which had come from Norcaster--one of
the men being Myler, and the other two Norcaster detectives. But
Mallalieu did not look back. He went up to the committee-room and became
absorbed in the business of the meeting. His fellow committee-men said
afterwards that they never remembered the Mayor being in such fettle for
business. He explained his objections to the scheme they Were
considering; he pointed out this and urged that--finally, he said that
he was so little satisfied with the project that he would go and see
the Mayor of the sister town that very evening, and discuss the matter
with him to the last detail.

Mallalieu stepped out of the committee-room to find the superintendent
awaiting him in the corridor. The superintendent was pale and trembling,
and his eyes met Mallalieu's with a strange, deprecating expression.
Before he could speak, two strangers emerged from a doorway and came
close up. And a sudden sickening sense of danger came over Mallalieu,
and his tongue failed him.

"Mr. Mayor!" faltered the superintendent. "I--I can't help it! These are
officers from Norcaster, sir--there's a warrant for your arrest.
It's--it's the Stoner affair!"



CHAPTER XXII

THE HAND IN THE DARKNESS


The Highmarket clocks were striking noon when Mallalieu was arrested.
For three hours he remained under lock and key, in a room in the Town
Hall--most of the time alone. His lunch was brought to him; every
consideration was shown him. The police wanted to send for his solicitor
from Norcaster; Mallalieu bade them mind their own business. He turned a
deaf ear to the superintendent's entreaties to him to see some friend;
let him mind his own business too, said Mallalieu. He himself would do
nothing until he saw the need to do something. Let him hear what could
be brought against him--time enough to speak and act then. He ate his
lunch, he smoked a cigar; he walked out of the room with defiant eye and
head erect when they came to fetch him before a specially summoned bench
of his fellow-magistrates. And it was not until he stepped into the
dock, in full view of a crowded court, and amidst quivering excitement,
that he and Cotherstone met.

The news of the partners' arrest had flown through the little town like
wildfire. There was no need to keep it secret; no reason why it should
be kept secret. It was necessary to bring the accused men before the
magistrates as quickly as possible, and the days of private inquiries
were long over. Before the Highmarket folk had well swallowed their
dinners, every street in the town, every shop, office, bar-parlour,
public-house, private house rang with the news--Mallalieu and
Cotherstone, the Mayor and the Borough Treasurer, had been arrested for
the murder of their clerk, and would be put before the magistrates at
three o'clock. The Kitely affair faded into insignificance--except
amongst the cute and knowing few, who immediately began to ask if the
Hobwick Quarry murder had anything to do with the murder on the Shawl.

If Mallalieu and Cotherstone could have looked out of the windows of the
court in the Town Hall, they would have seen the Market Square packed
with a restless and seething crowd of townsfolk, all clamouring for
whatever news could permeate from the packed chamber into which so few
had been able to fight a way. But the prisoners seemed strangely
indifferent to their surroundings. Those who watched them closely--as
Brereton and Tallington did--noticed that neither took any notice of the
other. Cotherstone had been placed in the dock first. When Mallalieu was
brought there, a moment later, the two exchanged one swift glance and no
more--Cotherstone immediately moved off to the far corner on the left
hand, Mallalieu remained in the opposite one, and placing his hands in
the pockets of his overcoat, he squared his shoulders and straitened his
big frame and took a calm and apparently contemptuous look round about
him.

Brereton, sitting at a corner of the solicitor's table, and having
nothing to do but play the part of spectator, watched these two men
carefully and with absorbed interest from first to last. He was soon
aware of the vastly different feelings with which they themselves
watched the proceedings. Cotherstone was eager and restless; he could
not keep still; he moved his position; he glanced about him; he looked
as if he were on the verge of bursting into indignant or explanatory
speech every now and then--though, as a matter of fact, he restrained
whatever instinct he had in that direction. But Mallalieu never moved,
never changed his attitude. His expression of disdainful, contemptuous
watchfulness never left him--after the first moments and the formalities
were over, he kept his eyes on the witness-box and on the people who
entered it. Brereton, since his first meeting with Mallalieu, had often
said to himself that the Mayor of Highmarket had the slyest eyes of any
man he had even seen--but he was forced to admit now that, however sly
Mallalieu's eyes were, they could, on occasion, be extraordinarily
steady.

The truth was that Mallalieu was playing a part. He had outlined it,
unconsciously, when he said to the superintendent that it would be time
enough for him to do something when he knew what could be brought
against him. And now all his attention was given to the two or three
witnesses whom the prosecution thought it necessary to call. He wanted
to know who they were. He curbed his impatience while the formal
evidence of arrest was given, but his ears pricked a little when he
heard one of the police witnesses speak of the warrant having been
issued on information received. "What information? Received from whom?
He half-turned as a sharp official voice called the name of the first
important witness.

"David Myler!"

Mallalieu stared at David Myler as if he would tear whatever secret he
had out of him with a searching glance. Who was David Myler? No
Highmarket man--that was certain. Who was he, then?--what did he
know?--was he some detective who had been privately working up this
case? A cool, quiet, determined-looking young fellow, anyway. Confound
him! But--what had he to do with this?

Those questions were speedily answered for Mallalieu. He kept his
immovable attitude, his immobile expression, while Myler told the story
of Stoner's visit to Darlington, and of the revelation which had
resulted. And nothing proved his extraordinary command over his temper
and his feelings better than the fact that as Myler narrated one damning
thing after another, he never showed the least concern or uneasiness.

But deep within himself Mallalieu was feeling a lot. He knew now that he
had been mistaken in thinking that Stoner had kept his knowledge to
himself. He also knew what line the prosecution was taking. It was
seeking to show that Stoner was murdered by Cotherstone and himself, or
by one or other, separately or in collusion, in order that he might be
silenced. But he knew more than that. Long practice and much natural
inclination had taught Mallalieu the art of thinking ahead, and he
could foresee as well as any man of his acquaintance. He foresaw the
trend of events in this affair. This was only a preliminary. The
prosecution was charging him and Cotherstone with the murder of Stoner
today: it would be charging them with the murder of Kitely tomorrow.

Myler's evidence caused a profound sensation in court--but there was
even more sensation and more excitement when Myler's father-in-law
followed him in the witness-box. It was literally in a breathless
silence that the old man told the story of the crime of thirty years
ago; it was a wonderfully dramatic moment when he declared that in spite
of the long time that had elapsed he recognized the Mallalieu and
Cotherstone of Highmarket as the Mallows and Chidforth whom he had known
at Wilchester.

Even then Mallalieu had not flinched. Cotherstone flushed, grew
restless, hung his head a little, looked as if he would like to explain.
But Mallalieu continued to stare fixedly across the court. He cared
nothing that the revelation had been made at last. Now that it had been
made, in full publicity, he did not care a brass farthing if every man
and woman in Highmarket knew that he was an ex-gaol-bird. That was far
away in the dead past--what he cared about was the present and the
future. And his sharp wits told him that if the evidence of Myler and of
old Pursey was all that the prosecution could bring against him, he was
safe. That there had been a secret, that Stoner had come into possession
of it, that Stoner was about to make profit of it, was no proof that he
and Cotherstone, or either of them, had murdered Stoner. No--if that
was all....

But in another moment Mallalieu knew that it was not all. Up to that
moment he had firmly believed that he had got away from Hobwick Quarry
unobserved. Here he was wrong. He had now to learn that a young man from
Norcaster had come over to Highmarket that Sunday afternoon to visit his
sweetheart; that this couple had gone up the moors; that they were on
the opposite side of Hobwick Quarry when he went down into it after
Stoner's fall; that they had seen him move about and finally go away;
what was more, they had seen Cotherstone descend into the quarry and
recover the stick; Cotherstone had passed near them as they stood hidden
in the bushes; they had seen the stick in his hand.

When Mallalieu heard all this and saw his stick produced and identified,
he ceased to take any further interest in that stage of the proceedings.
He knew the worst now, and he began to think of his plans and schemes.
And suddenly, all the evidence for that time being over, and the
magistrates and the officials being in the thick of some whispered
consultations about the adjournment, Mallalieu spoke for the first time.

"I shall have my answer about all this business at the right time and
place," he said loudly. "My partner can do what he likes. All I have to
say now is that I ask for bail. You can fix it at any amount you like.
You all know me."

The magistrates and the officials looked across the well of the court in
astonishment, and the chairman, a mild old gentleman who was obviously
much distressed by the revelation, shook his head deprecatingly.

"Impossible!" he remonstrated. "Quite impossible! We haven't the
power----"

"You're wrong!" retorted Mallalieu, masterful and insistent as ever.
"You have the power! D'ye think I've been a justice of the peace for
twelve years without knowing what law is? You've the power to admit to
bail in all charges of felony, at your discretion. So now then!"

The magistrates looked at their clerk, and the clerk smiled.

"Mr. Mallalieu's theory is correct," he said quietly. "But no magistrate
is obliged to admit to bail in felonies and misdemeanours, and in
practice bail is never allowed in cases where--as in this case--the
charge is one of murder. Such procedure is unheard of."

"Make a precedent, then!" sneered Mallalieu. "Here!--you can have twenty
thousand pounds security, if you like."

But this offer received no answer, and in five minutes more Mallalieu
heard the case adjourned for a week and himself and Cotherstone
committed to Norcaster Gaol in the meantime. Without a look at his
fellow-prisoner he turned out of the dock and was escorted back to the
private room in the Town Hall from which he had been brought.

"Hang 'em for a lot of fools!" he burst out to the superintendent, who
had accompanied him. "Do they think I'm going to run away? Likely
thing--on a trumped-up charge like this. Here!--how soon shall you be
wanting to start for yon place?"

The superintendent, who had cherished considerable respect for Mallalieu
in the past, and was much upset and very downcast about this sudden
change in the Mayor's fortunes, looked at his prisoner and shook his
head.

"There's a couple of cars ordered to be ready in half an hour, Mr.
Mallalieu," he answered. "One for you, and one for Mr. Cotherstone."

"With armed escorts in both, I suppose!" sneered Mallalieu. "Well, look
here--you've time to get me a cup of tea. Slip out and get one o' your
men to nip across to the Arms for it--good, strong tea, and a slice or
two of bread-and-butter. I can do with it."

He flung half a crown on the table, and the superintendent, suspecting
nothing, and willing to oblige a man who had always been friendly and
genial towards himself, went out of the room, with no further
precautions than the turning of the key in the lock when he had once got
outside the door. It never entered his head that the prisoner would try
to escape, never crossed his mind that Mallalieu had any chance of
escaping. He went away along the corridor to find one of his men who
could be dispatched to the Highmarket Arms.

But the instant Mallalieu was left alone he started into action. He had
not been Mayor of Highmarket for two years, a member of its Corporation
for nearly twenty, without knowing all the ins-and-outs of that old Town
Hall. And as soon as the superintendent had left him he drew from his
pocket a key, went across the room to a door which stood in a corner
behind a curtain, unlocked it, opened it gently, looked out, passed into
a lobby without, relocked the door behind him, and in another instant
was stealing quietly down a private staircase that led to an entrance
into the quaint old garden at the back of the premises. One further
moment of suspense and of looking round, and he was safely in that
garden and behind the thick shrubs which ran along one of its high
walls. Yet another and he was out of the garden, and in an old-fashioned
orchard which ran, thick with trees, to the very edge of the coppices at
the foot of the Shawl. Once in that orchard, screened by its
close-branched, low-spreading boughs, leafless though they were at that
period of the year, he paused to get his breath, and to chuckle over the
success of his scheme. What a mercy, what blessing, he thought, that
they had not searched him on his arrest!--that they had delayed that
interesting ceremony until his committal! The omission, he knew, had
been winked at--purposely--and it had left him with his precious
waistcoat, his revolver, and the key that had opened his prison door.

Dusk had fallen over Highmarket before the hearing came to an end, and
it was now dark. Mallalieu knew that he had little time to lose--but he
also knew that his pursuers would have hard work to catch him. He had
laid his plans while the last two witnesses were in the box: his
detailed knowledge of the town and its immediate neighbourhood stood in
good stead. Moreover, the geographical situation of the Town Hall was a
great help. He had nothing to do but steal out of the orchard into the
coppices, make his way cautiously through them into the deeper wood
which fringed the Shawl, pass through that to the ridge at the top, and
gain the moors. Once on those moors he would strike by devious way for
Norcaster--he knew a safe place in the Lower Town there where he could
be hidden for a month, three months, six months, without fear of
discovery, and from whence he could get away by ship.

All was quiet as he passed through a gap in the orchard hedge and stole
into the coppices. He kept stealthily but swiftly along through the pine
and fir until he came to the wood which covered the higher part of the
Shawl. The trees were much thicker there, the brakes and bushes were
thicker, and the darkness was greater. He was obliged to move at a
slower pace--and suddenly he heard men's voices on the lower slopes
beneath him. He paused catching his breath and listening. And then, just
as suddenly as he had heard the voices, he felt a hand, firm, steady,
sinewy, fasten on his wrist and stay there.



CHAPTER XXIII

COMFORTABLE CAPTIVITY


The tightening of that sinewy grip on Mallalieu's wrist so startled him
that it was only by a great effort that he restrained himself from
crying out and from breaking into one of his fits of trembling. This
sudden arrest was all the more disturbing to his mental composure
because, for the moment, he could not see to whom the hand belonged. But
as he twisted round he became aware of a tall, thin shape at his elbow;
the next instant a whisper stole to his ear.

"H'sh! Be careful!--there's men down there on the path!--they're very
like after you," said the voice. "Wait here a minute!"

"Who are you?" demanded Mallalieu hoarsely. He was endeavouring to free
his wrist, but the steel-like fingers clung. "Let go my hand!" he said.
"D'ye hear?--let it go!"

"Wait!" said the voice. "It's for your own good. It's me--Miss Pett. I
saw you--against that patch of light between the trees there--I knew
your big figure. You've got away, of course. Well, you'll not get much
further if you don't trust to me. Wait till we hear which way them
fellows go."

Mallalieu resigned himself. As his eyes grew more accustomed to the
gloom of the wood, he made out that Miss Pett was standing just within
an opening in the trees; presently, as the voices beneath them became
fainter, she drew him into it.

"This way!" she whispered. "Come close behind me--the house is close
by."

"No!" protested Mallalieu angrily. "None of your houses! Here, I want to
be on the moors. What do you want--to keep your tongue still?"

Miss Pett paused and edged her thin figure close to Mallalieu's bulky
one.

"It'll not be a question of my tongue if you once go out o' this wood,"
she said. "They'll search those moors first thing. Don't be a
fool!--it'll be known all over the town by now! Come with me and I'll
put you where all the police in the county can't find you. But of
course, do as you like--only, I'm warning you. You haven't a cat's
chance if you set foot on that moor. Lord bless you, man!--don't they
know that there's only two places you could make for--Norcaster and
Hexendale? Is there any way to either of 'em except across the moors?
Come on, now--be sensible."

"Go on, then!" growled Mallalieu. Wholly suspicious by nature, he was
wondering why this she-dragon, as he had so often called her, should be
at all desirous of sheltering him. Already he suspected her of some
design, some trick--and in the darkness he clapped his hand on the
hip-pocket in which he had placed his revolver. That was safe
enough--and again he thanked his stars that the police had not searched
him. But however well he might be armed, he was for the time being in
Miss Pett's power--he knew very well that if he tried to slip away Miss
Pett had only to utter one shrill cry to attract attention. And so, much
as he desired the freedom of the moors, he allowed himself to be taken
captive by this gaoler who promised eventual liberty.

Miss Pett waited in the thickness of the trees until the voices at the
foot of the Shawl became faint and far off; she herself knew well enough
that they were not the voices of men who were searching for Mallalieu,
but of country folk who had been into the town and were now returning
home by the lower path in the wood. But it suited her purposes to create
a spirit of impending danger in the Mayor, and so she kept him there,
her hand still on his arm, until the last sound died away. And while she
thus held him, Mallalieu, who had often observed Miss Pett in her
peregrinations through the Market Place, and had been accustomed to
speaking of her as a thread-paper, or as Mother Skin-and-Bones, because
of her phenomenal thinness, wondered how it was that a woman of such
extraordinary attenuation should possess such powerful fingers--her grip
on his wrist was like that of a vice. And somehow, in a fashion for
which he could not account, especially in the disturbed and anxious
state of his mind, he became aware that here in this strange woman was
some mental force which was superior to and was already dominating his
own, and for a moment he was tempted to shake the steel-like fingers off
and make a dash for the moorlands.

But Miss Pett presently moved forward, holding Mallalieu as a nurse
might hold an unwilling child. She led him cautiously through the trees,
which there became thicker, she piloted him carefully down a path, and
into a shrubbery--she drew him through a gap in a hedgerow, and
Mallalieu knew then that they were in the kitchen garden at the rear of
old Kitely's cottage. Quietly and stealthily, moving herself as if her
feet were shod with velvet, Miss Pett made her way with her captive to
the door; Mallalieu heard the rasping of a key in a lock, the lifting of
a latch; then he was gently but firmly pushed into darkness. Behind him
the door closed--a bolt was shot home.

"This way!" whispered Miss Pett. She drew him after her along what he
felt to be a passage, twisted him to the left through another doorway,
and then, for the first time since she had assumed charge of him,
released his wrist. "Wait!" she said. "We'll have a light presently."

Mallalieu stood where she had placed him, impatient of everything, but
feeling powerless to move. He heard Miss Pett move about; he heard the
drawing to and barring of shutters, the swish of curtains being pulled
together; then the spurt and glare of a match--in its feeble flame he
saw Miss Pett's queer countenance, framed in an odd-shaped,
old-fashioned poke bonnet, bending towards a lamp. In the gradually
increasing light of that lamp Mallalieu looked anxiously around him.

He was in a little room which was half-parlour, half bed-room. There was
a camp bed in one corner; there was an ancient knee-hole writing desk
under the window across which the big curtains had been drawn; there
were a couple of easy-chairs on either side of the hearth. There were
books and papers on a shelf; there were pictures and cartoons on the
walls. Mallalieu took a hasty glance at those unusual ornaments and
hated them: they were pictures of famous judges in their robes, and of
great criminal counsel in their wigs--and over the chimney-piece, framed
in black wood, was an old broad-sheet, printed in big, queer-shaped
letters: Mallalieu's hasty glance caught the staring headline--_Dying
Speech and Confession of the Famous Murderer_....

"This was Kitely's snug," remarked Miss Pett calmly, as she turned up
the lamp to the full. "He slept in that bed, studied at that desk,
and smoked his pipe in that chair. He called it his
sanctum-something-or-other--I don't know no Latin. But it's a nice room,
and it's comfortable, or will be when I put a fire in that grate, and
it'll do very well for you until you can move. Sit you down--would you
like a drop of good whisky, now?"

Mallalieu sat down and stared his hardest at Miss Pett. He felt himself
becoming more confused and puzzled than ever.

"Look here, missis!" he said suddenly. "Let's get a clear idea about
things. You say you can keep me safe here until I can get away. How do
you know I shall be safe?"

"Because I'll take good care that you are," answered Miss Pett. "There's
nobody can get into this house without my permission, and before I let
anybody in, no matter with what warrants or such-like they carried, I'd
see that you were out of it before they crossed the threshold. I'm no
fool, I can tell you, Mr. Mallalieu, and if you trust me----"

"I've no choice, so it seems," remarked Mallalieu, grimly. "You've got
me! And now, how much are you reckoning to get out of me--what?"

"No performance, no pay!" said Miss Pett. "Wait till I've managed things
for you. I know how to get you safely away from here--leave it to me,
and I'll have you put down in any part of Norcaster you like, without
anybody knowing. And if you like to make me a little present then----"

"You're certain?" demanded Mallalieu, still suspicious, but glad to
welcome even a ray of hope. "You know what you're talking about?"

"I never talk idle stuff," retorted Miss Pett. "I'm telling you what I
know."

"All right, then," said Mallalieu. "You do your part, and I'll do mine
when it comes to it--you'll not find me ungenerous, missis. And I will
have that drop of whisky you talked about."

Miss Pett went away, leaving Mallalieu to stare about him and to
meditate on this curious change in his fortunes. Well, after all, it was
better to be safe and snug under this queer old woman's charge than to
be locked up in Norcaster Gaol, or to be hunted about on the bleak moors
and possibly to go without food or drink. And his thoughts began to
assume a more cheerful complexion when Miss Pett presently brought him a
stiff glass of undeniably good liquor, and proceeded to light a fire in
his prison: he even melted so much as to offer her some thanks.

"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you, missis," he said, with an attempt at
graciousness. "I'll not forget you when it comes to settling up. But I
should feel a good deal easier in my mind if I knew two things. First of
all--you know, of course, I've got away from yon lot down yonder, else I
shouldn't ha' been where you found me. But--they'll raise the
hue-and-cry, missis! Now supposing they come here?"

Miss Pett lifted her queer face from the hearth, where she had been
blowing the sticks into a blaze.

"There's such a thing as chance," she observed. "To start with, how much
chance is there that they'd ever think of coming here? Next to none!
They'd never suspect me of harbouring you. There is a chance that when
they look through these woods--as they will--they'll ask if I've seen
aught of you--well, you can leave the answer to me."

"They might want to search," suggested Mallalieu.

"Not likely!" answered Miss Pett, with a shake of the poke bonnet. "But
even if they did, I'd take good care they didn't find you!"

"Well--and what about getting me away?" asked Mallalieu. "How's that to
be done?"

"I'll tell you that tomorrow," replied Miss Pett. "You make yourself
easy--I'll see you're all right. And now I'll go and cook you a nice
chop, for no doubt you'll do with something after all the stuff you had
to hear in the court."

"You were there, then?" asked Mallalieu. "Lot o' stuff and nonsense! A
sensible woman like you----"

"A sensible woman like me only believes what she can prove," answered
Miss Pett.

She went away and shut the door, and Mallalieu, left to himself, took
another heartening pull at his glass and proceeded to re-inspect his
quarters. The fire was blazing up: the room was warm and comfortable;
certainly he was fortunate. But he assured himself that the window was
properly shuttered, barred, and fully covered by the thick curtain, and
he stood by it for a moment listening intently for any sound of movement
without. No sound came, not even the wail of a somewhat strong wind
which he knew to be sweeping through the pine trees, and he came to the
conclusion that the old stone walls were almost sound-proof and that if
he and Miss Pett conversed in ordinary tones no eavesdroppers outside
the cottage could hear them. And presently he caught a sound within the
cottage--the sound of the sizzling of chops on a gridiron, and with it
came the pleasant and grateful smell of cooking meat, and Mallalieu
decided that he was hungry.

To a man fixed as Mallalieu was at that time the evening which followed
was by no means unpleasant. Miss Pett served him as nice a little supper
as his own housekeeper would have given him; later on she favoured him
with her company. They talked of anything but the events of the day, and
Mallalieu began to think that the queer-looking woman was a remarkably
shrewd and intelligent person. There was but one drawback to his
captivity--Miss Pett would not let him smoke. Cigars, she said, might be
smelt outside the cottage, and nobody would credit her with the
consumption of such gentleman-like luxuries.

"And if I were you," she said, at the end of an interesting conversation
which had covered a variety of subjects, "I should try to get a good
night's rest. I'll mix you a good glass of toddy such as the late Kitely
always let me mix for his nightcap, and then I'll leave you. The bed's
aired, there's plenty of clothing on it, all's safe, and you can sleep
as if you were a baby in a cradle, for I always sleep like a dog, with
one ear and an eye open, and I'll take good care naught disturbs you, so
there!"

Mallalieu drank the steaming glass of spirits and water which Miss Pett
presently brought him, and took her advice about going to bed. Without
ever knowing anything about it he fell into such a slumber as he had
never known in his life before. It was indeed so sound that he never
heard Miss Pett steal into his room, was not aware that she carefully
withdrew the precious waistcoat which, through a convenient hole in the
wall, she had watched him deposit under the rest of his garments on the
chair at his side, never knew that she carried it away into the
living-room on the other side of the cottage. For the strong flavour of
the lemon and the sweetness of the sugar which Miss Pett had put into
the hot toddy had utterly obscured the very slight taste of something
else which she had put in--something which was much stronger than the
generous dose of whisky, and was calculated to plunge Mallalieu into a
stupor from which not even an earthquake could have roused him.

Miss Pett examined the waistcoat at her leisure. Her thin fingers went
through every pocket and every paper, through the bank-notes, the scrip,
the shares, the securities. She put everything back in its place, after
a careful reckoning and estimation of the whole. And Mallalieu was as
deeply plunged in his slumbers as ever when she went back into his room
with her shaded light and her catlike tread, and she replaced the
garment exactly where she found it, and went out and shut the door as
lightly as a butterfly folds its wings.

It was then eleven o'clock at night, and Miss Pett, instead of retiring
to her bed, sat down by the living-room fire and waited. The poke bonnet
had been replaced by the gay turban, and under its gold and scarlet her
strange, skeleton-like face gleamed like old ivory as she sat there with
the firelight playing on it. And so immobile was she, sitting with her
sinewy skin-and-bone arms lying folded over her silk apron, that she
might have been taken for an image rather than for a living woman.

But as the hands of the clock on the mantelpiece neared midnight, Miss
Pett suddenly moved. Her sharp ears caught a scratching sound on the
shutter outside the window. And noiselessly she moved down the passage,
and noiselessly unbarred the front door, and just as noiselessly closed
it again behind the man who slipped in--Christopher, her nephew.



CHAPTER XXIV

STRICT BUSINESS LINES


Mr. Christopher Pett, warned by the uplifted finger of his aunt,
tip-toed into the living-room, and setting down his small travelling bag
on the table proceeded to divest himself of a thick overcoat, a warm
muffler, woollen gloves, and a silk hat. And Miss Pett, having closed
the outer and inner doors, came in and glanced inquiringly at him.

"Which way did you come, this time?" she inquired.

"High Gill," replied Christopher. "Got an afternoon express that stopped
there. Jolly cold it was crossing those moors of yours, too, I can tell
you!--I can do with a drop of something. I say--is there anything afoot
about here?--anything going on?"

"Why?" asked Miss Pett, producing the whisky and the lemons. "And how do
you mean?"

Christopher pulled an easy chair to the fire and stretched his hands to
the blaze.

"Up there, on the moor," he answered. "There's fellows going about with
lights--lanterns, I should say. I didn't see 'em close at hand--there
were several of 'em crossing about--like fire-flies--as if the chaps
who carried 'em were searching for something."

Miss Pett set the decanter and the materials for toddy on the table at
her nephew's side, and took a covered plate from the cupboard in the
corner.

"Them's potted meat sandwiches," she said. "Very toothsome you'll find
'em--I didn't prepare much, for I knew you'd get your dinner on the
train. Yes, well, there is something afoot--they are searching. Not for
something, though, but for somebody. Mallalieu!"

Christopher, his mouth full of sandwiches, and his hand laid on the
decanter, lifted a face full of new and alert interest.

"The Mayor!" he exclaimed.

"Quite so," assented Miss Pett. "Anthony Mallalieu, Esquire, Mayor of
Highmarket. They want him, does the police--bad!"

Christopher still remained transfixed. The decanter was already tilted
in his hand, but he tilted it no further; the sandwich hung bulging in
his cheek.

"Good Lord!" he said. "Not for----" he paused, nodding his head towards
the front of the cottage where the wood lay "--not for--that? They ain't
suspicioning _him_?"

"No, but for killing his clerk, who'd found something out," replied Miss
Pett. "The clerk was killed Sunday; they took up Mallalieu and his
partner today, and tried 'em, and Mallalieu slipped the police somehow,
after the case was adjourned, and escaped. And--he's here!"

Christopher had begun to pour the whisky into his glass. In his
astonishment he rattled the decanter against the rim.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Here? In this cottage?"

"In there," answered Miss Pett. "In Kitely's room. Safe and sound.
There's no danger. He'll not wake. I mixed him a glass of toddy before
he went to bed, and neither earthquakes nor fire-alarms 'ull wake him
before nine o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Whew!" said Christopher. "Um! it's a dangerous game--it's harbouring,
you know. However, they'd suspect that he'd come here. Whatever made him
come here?"

"I made him come here," replied Miss Pett. "I caught him in the wood
outside there, as I was coming back from the Town Hall, so I made him
come in. It'll pay very well, Chris."

Mr. Pett, who was lifting his glass to his lips, arrested it in mid-air,
winked over its rim at his aunt, and smiled knowingly.

"You're a good hand at business, I must say, old lady!" he remarked
admiringly. "Of course, of course, if you're doing a bit of business out
of it----"

"That'll come tomorrow," said Miss Pett, seating herself at the table
and glancing at her nephew's bag. "We'll do our own business tonight.
Well, how have you come on?"

Christopher munched and drank for a minute or two. Then he nodded, with
much satisfaction in his manner.

"Very well," he answered. "I got what I consider a very good price. Sold
the whole lot to another Brixton property-owner, got paid, and have
brought you the money. All of it--ain't even taken my costs, my
expenses, and my commission out of it--yet."

"How much did you sell for?" asked Miss Pett.

Christopher pulled his bag to his side and took a bundle of red-taped
documents from it.

"You ought to think yourself jolly lucky," he said, wagging his head
admonitorily at his aunt. "I see a lot of the state of the property
market, and I can assure you I did uncommonly well for you. I shouldn't
have got what I did if it had been sold by auction. But the man I sold
to was a bit keen, 'cause he's already got adjacent property, and he
gave rather more than he would ha' done in other circumstances. I got,"
he continued, consulting the topmost of his papers, "I got, in round
figures, three thousand four hundred--to be exact, three thousand four
hundred, seventeen, five, eleven."

"Where's the money?" demanded Miss Pett.

"It's here," answered Christopher, tapping his breast. "In my
pocket-book. Notes, big and little--so that we can settle up."

Miss Pett stretched out her hand.

"Hand it over!" she said.

Christopher gave his aunt a sidelong glance.

"Hadn't we better reckon up my costs and commission first?" he
suggested. "Here's an account of the costs--the commission, of course,
was to be settled between you and me."

"We'll settle all that when you've handed the money over," said Miss
Pett. "I haven't counted it yet."

There was a certain unwillingness in Christopher Pett's manner as he
slowly produced a stout pocket-book and took from it a thick wad of
bank-notes. He pushed this across to his aunt, with a tiny heap of
silver and copper.

"Well, I'm trusting to you, you know," he said a little doubtfully.
"Don't forget that I've done well for you."

Miss Pett made no answer. She had taken a pair of spectacles from her
pocket, and with these perched on the bridge of her sharp nose she
proceeded to count the notes, while her nephew alternately sipped at his
toddy and stroked his chin, meanwhile eyeing his relative's proceedings
with somewhat rueful looks.

"Three thousand, four hundred and seventeen pounds, five shillings and
elevenpence," and Miss Pett calmly. "And them costs, now, and the
expenses--how much do they come to, Chris?"

"Sixty-one, two, nine," answered Christopher, passing one of his papers
across the table with alacrity. "You'll find it quite right--I did it as
cheap as possible for you."

Miss Pett set her elbow on her heap of bank-notes while she examined the
statement. That done, she looked over the tops of her spectacles at the
expectant Christopher.

"Well, about that commission," she said. "Of course, you know, Chris,
you oughtn't to charge me what you'd charge other folks. You ought to do
it very reasonable indeed for me. What were you thinking of, now?"

"I got the top price," remarked Christopher reflectively. "I got you
quite four hundred more than the market price. How would--how would five
per cent. be, now?"

Miss Pett threw up the gay turban with a toss of surprise.

"Five per cent!" she ejaculated. "Christopher Pett!--whatever are you
talking about? Why, that 'ud be a hundred and seventy pound! Eh,
dear!--nothing of the sort--it 'ud be as good as robbery. I'm astonished
at you."

"Well, how much, then?" growled Christopher. "Hang it all!--don't be
close with your own nephew."

"I'll give you a hundred pounds--to include the costs," said Miss Pett
firmly. "Not a penny more--but," she added, bending forward and nodding
her head towards that half of the cottage wherein Mallalieu slumbered so
heavily, "I'll give you something to boot--an opportunity of feathering
your nest out of--him!"

Christopher's face, which had clouded heavily, lightened somewhat at
this, and he too glanced at the door.

"Will it be worth it?" he asked doubtfully. "What is there to be got out
of him if he's flying from justice? He'll carry naught--and he can't get
at anything that he has, either."

Miss Pett gave vent to a queer, dry chuckle; the sound of her laughter
always made her nephew think of the clicking of machinery that badly
wanted oiling.

"He's heaps o' money on him!" she whispered. "After he dropped off
tonight I went through his pockets. We've only got to keep a tight hold
on him to get as much as ever we like! So--put your hundred in your
pocket, and we'll see about the other affair tomorrow."

"Oh, well, of course, in that case!" said Christopher. He picked up the
banknote which his aunt pushed towards him and slipped it into his
purse. "We shall have to play on his fears a bit, you know," he
remarked.

"I think we shall be equal to it--between us," answered Miss Pett drily.
"Them big, flabby men's easy frightened."

Mallalieu was certainly frightened when he woke suddenly next morning to
find Miss Pett standing at the side of his bed. He glared at her for one
instant of wild alarm and started up on his pillows. Miss Pett laid one
of her claw-like hands on his shoulder.

"Don't alarm yourself, mister," she said. "All's safe, and here's
something that'll do you good--a cup of nice hot coffee--real Mocha, to
which the late Kitely was partial--with a drop o'rum in it. Drink
it--and you shall have your breakfast in half an hour. It's past nine
o'clock."

"I must have slept very sound," said Mallalieu, following his gaoler's
orders. "You say all's safe? Naught heard or seen?"

"All's safe, all's serene," replied Miss Pett. "And you're in luck's
way, for there's my nephew Christopher arrived from London, to help me
about settling my affairs and removing my effects from this place, and
he's a lawyer and'll give you good advice."

Mallalieu growled a little. He had seen Mr. Christopher Pett and he was
inclined to be doubtful of him.

"Is he to be trusted?" he muttered. "I expect he'll have to be squared,
too!"

"Not beyond reason," replied Miss Pett. "We're not unreasonable people,
our family. He's a very sensible young man, is Christopher. The late
Kitely had a very strong opinion of his abilities."

Mallalieu had no doubt of Mr. Christopher Pett's abilities in a certain
direction after he had exchanged a few questions and answers with that
young gentleman. For Christopher was shrewd, sharp, practical and
judicial.

"It's a very dangerous and--you'll excuse plain speaking under the
circumstances, sir--very foolish thing that you've done, Mr. Mallalieu,"
he said, as he and the prisoner sat closeted together in the still
shuttered and curtained parlour-bedroom. "The mere fact of your making
your escape, sir, is what some would consider a proof of guilt--it is
indeed! And of course my aunt--and myself, in my small way--we're
running great risks, Mr. Mallalieu--we really are--great risks!"

"Now then, you'll not lose by me," said Mallalieu. "I'm not a man of
straw."

"All very well, sir," replied Christopher, "but even if you were a
millionaire and recompensed us on what I may term a princely scale--not
that we shall expect it, Mr. Mallalieu--the risks would be
extraordinary--ahem! I mean will be extraordinary. For you see, Mr.
Mallalieu, there's two or three things that's dead certain. To start
with, sir, it's absolutely impossible for you to get away from here by
yourself--you can't do it!"

"Why not?" growled Mallalieu. "I can get away at nightfall."

"No, sir," affirmed Christopher stoutly. "I saw the condition of the
moors last night. Patrolled, Mr. Mallalieu, patrolled! By men with
lights. That patrolling, sir, will go on for many a night. Make up your
mind, Mr. Mallalieu, that if you set foot out of this house, you'll see
the inside of Norcaster Gaol before two hours is over!"

"What do you advise, then?" demanded Mallalieu. "Here!--I'm fairly in
for it, so I'll tell you what my notion was. If I can once get to a
certain part of Norcaster, I'm safe. I can get away to the Continent
from there."

"Then, sir," replied Christopher, "the thing is to devise a plan by
which you can be conveyed to Norcaster without suspicion. That'll have
to be arranged between me and my aunt--hence our risks on your behalf."

"Your aunt said she'd a plan," remarked Mallalieu.

"Not quite matured, sir," said Christopher. "It needs a little
reflection and trimming, as it were. Now what I advise, Mr. Mallalieu,
is this--you keep snug here, with my aunt as sentinel--she assures me
that even if the police--don't be frightened, sir!--did come here, she
could hide you quite safely before ever she opened the door to them. As
for me, I'll go, casual-like, into the town, and do a bit of quiet
looking and listening. I shall be able to find out how the land lies,
sir--and when I return I'll report to you, and the three of us will put
our heads together."

Leaving the captive in charge of Miss Pett, Christopher, having brushed
his silk hat and his overcoat and fitted on a pair of black kid gloves,
strolled solemnly into Highmarket. He was known to a few people there,
and he took good care to let those of his acquaintance who met him hear
that he had come down to arrange his aunt's affairs, and to help in the
removal of the household goods bequeathed to her by the deceased Kitely.
In proof of this he called in at the furniture remover's, to get an
estimate of the cost of removal to Norcaster Docks--thence, said
Christopher, the furniture could be taken by sea to London, where Miss
Pett intended to reside in future. At the furniture remover's, and in
such other shops as he visited, and in the bar-parlour of the Highmarket
Arms, where he stayed an hour or so, gossiping with the loungers, and
sipping a glass or two of dry sherry, Christopher picked up a great deal
of information. And at noon he returned to the cottage, having learned
that the police and everybody in Highmarket firmly believed that
Mallalieu had got clear and clean away the night before, and was already
far beyond pursuit. The police theory was that there had been collusion,
and that immediately on his escape he had been whirled off by some
person to whose identity there was as yet no clue.

But Christopher Pett told a very different story to Mallalieu. The
moors, he said, were being patrolled night and day: it was believed the
fugitive was in hiding in one of the old quarries. Every road and
entrance to Norcaster, and to all the adjacent towns and stations, was
watched and guarded. There was no hope for Mallalieu but in the kindness
and contrivance of the aunt and the nephew, and Mallalieu recognized the
inevitable and was obliged to yield himself to their tender mercies.



CHAPTER XXV

NO FURTHER EVIDENCE


While Mallalieu lay captive in the stronghold of Miss Pett, Cotherstone
was experiencing a quite different sort of incarceration in the
detention cells of Norcaster Gaol. Had he known where his partner was,
and under what circumstances Mallalieu had obtained deliverance from
official bolts and bars, Cotherstone would probably have laughed in his
sleeve and sneered at him for a fool. He had been calling Mallalieu a
fool, indeed, ever since the previous evening, when the police,
conducting him to Norcaster, had told him of the Mayor's escape from the
Town Hall. Nobody but an absolute fool, a consummate idiot, thought
Cotherstone, would have done a thing like that. The man who flies is the
man who has reason to fly--that was Cotherstone's opinion, and in his
belief ninety-nine out of every hundred persons in Highmarket would
share it. Mallalieu would now be set down as guilty--they would say he
dared not face things, that he knew he was doomed, that his escape was
the desperate act of a conscious criminal. Ass!--said Cotherstone, not
without a certain amount of malicious delight: they should none of them
have reason to say such things of him. He would make no attempt to
fly--no, not if they left the gate of Norcaster Gaol wide open to him!
It should be his particular care to have himself legally cleared--his
acquittal should be as public as the proceedings which had just taken
place. He went out of the dock with that resolve strong on him; he
carried it away to his cell at Norcaster; he woke in the morning with
it, stronger than ever. Cotherstone, instead of turning tail, was going
to fight--for his own hand.

As a prisoner merely under detention, Cotherstone had privileges of
which he took good care to avail himself. Four people he desired to see,
and must see at once, on that first day in gaol--and he lost no time in
making known his desires. One--and the most important--person was a
certain solicitor in Norcaster who enjoyed a great reputation as a sharp
man of affairs. Another--scarcely less important--was a barrister who
resided in Norcaster, and had had it said of him for a whole generation
that he had restored more criminals to society than any man of his
profession then living. And the other two were his own daughter and
Windle Bent. Them he must see--but the men of law first.

When the solicitor and the barrister came, Cotherstone talked to them as
he had never talked to anybody in his life. He very soon let them see
that he had two definite objects in sending for them: the first was to
tell them in plain language that money was of no consideration in the
matter of his defence; the second, that they had come there to hear him
lay down the law as to what they were to do. Talk he did, and they
listened--and Cotherstone had the satisfaction of seeing that they went
away duly impressed with all that he had said to them. He went back to
his cell from the room in which this interview had taken place
congratulating himself on his ability.

"I shall be out of this, and all'll be clear, a week today!" he assured
himself. "We'll see where that fool of a Mallalieu is by then! For he'll
not get far, nor go hidden for thirty years, this time."

He waited with some anxiety to see his daughter, not because he must see
her within the walls of a prison, but because he knew that by that time
she would have learned the secrets of that past which he had kept so
carefully hidden from her. Only child of his though she was, he felt
that Lettie was not altogether of his sort; he had often realized that
she was on a different mental plane from his own, and was also, in some
respects, a little of a mystery to him. How would she take all
this?--what would she say?--what effect would it have on her?--he
pondered these questions uneasily while he waited for her visit.

But if Cotherstone had only known it, he need have suffered no anxiety
about Lettie. It had fallen to Bent to tell her the sad news the
afternoon before, and Bent had begged Brereton to go up to the house
with him. Bent was upset; Brereton disliked the task, though he
willingly shared in it. They need have had no anxiety, either. For
Lettie listened calmly and patiently until the whole story had been
told, showing neither alarm, nor indignation, nor excitement; her
self-composure astonished even Bent, who thought, having been engaged
to her for twelve months, that he knew her pretty well.

"I understand exactly," said Lettie, when, between them, they had told
her everything, laying particular stress on her father's version of
things. "It is all very annoying, of course, but then it is quite
simple, isn't it? Of course, Mr. Mallalieu has been the guilty person
all through, and poor father has been dragged into it. But then--all
that you have told me has only to be put before the--who is
it?--magistrates?--judges?--and then, of course, father will be entirely
cleared, and Mr. Mallalieu will be hanged. Windle--of course we shall
have to put off the wedding?"

"Oh, of course!" agreed Bent. "We can't have any weddings until all this
business is cleared up."

"That'll be so much better," said Lettie. "It really was becoming an
awful rush."

Brereton glanced at Bent when they left the house.

"I congratulate you on having a fiancée of a well-balanced mind, old
chap!" he said. "That was--a relief!"

"Oh, Lettie's a girl of singularly calm and equable temperament,"
answered Bent. "She's not easily upset, and she's quick at sizing things
up. And I say, Brereton, I've got to do all I can for Cotherstone, you
know. What about his defence?"

"I should imagine that Cotherstone is already arranging his defence
himself," said Brereton. "He struck me during that talk this morning at
Tailington's as being very well able to take care of himself, Bent, and
I think you'll find when you visit him that he's already fixed things.
You won't perhaps see why, and I won't explain just now, but this
foolish running away of Mallalieu, who, of course, is sure to be caught,
is very much in Cotherstone's favour. I shall be much surprised if you
don't find Cotherstone in very good spirits, and if there aren't
developments in this affair within a day or two which will impress the
whole neighbourhood."

Bent, visiting the prisoner in company with Lettie next day, found
Brereton's prediction correct. Cotherstone, hearing from his daughter's
own lips what she herself thought of the matter, and being reassured
that all was well between Bent and her, became not merely confident but
cheerily boastful. He would be free, and he would be cleared by that day
next week--he was not sorry, he said, that at last all this had come
out, for now he would be able to get rid of an incubus that had weighted
him all his life.

"You're very confident, you know," remarked Bent.

"Not beyond reason," asserted Cotherstone doggedly. "You wait till
tomorrow!"

"What is there tomorrow?" asked Bent.

"The inquest on Stoner is tomorrow," replied Cotherstone. "You be
there--and see and hear what happens."

All of Highmarket population that could cram itself into the Coroner's
court was there next day when the adjourned inquest on the clerk's death
was held. Neither Bent nor Brereton nor Tallington had any notion of
what line was going to be taken by Cotherstone and his advisers, but
Tallington and Brereton exchanged glances when Cotherstone, in charge
of two warders from Norcaster, was brought in, and when the Norcaster
solicitor and the Norcaster barrister whom he had retained, shortly
afterwards presented themselves.

"I begin to foresee," whispered Tallington. "Clever!--devilish clever!"

"Just so," agreed Brereton, with a sidelong nod at the crowded seats
close by. "And there's somebody who's interested because it's going to
be devilish clever--that fellow Pett!"

Christopher Pett was there, silk hat, black kid gloves and all, not
afraid of being professionally curious. Curiosity was the order of the
day: everybody present--of any intelligent perception--wanted to know
what the presence of Cotherstone, one of the two men accused of the
murder of Stoner, signified. But it was some little time before any
curiosity was satisfied. The inquest being an adjourned one, most of the
available evidence had to be taken, and as a coroner has a wide field in
the calling of witnesses, there was more evidence produced before him
and his jury than before the magistrates. There was Myler, of course,
and old Pursey, and the sweethearting couple: there were other
witnesses, railway folks, medical experts, and townspeople who could
contribute some small quota of testimony. But all these were forgotten
when at last Cotherstone, having been duly warned by the coroner that he
need not give any evidence at all, determinedly entered the
witness-box--to swear on oath that he was witness to his partner's
crime.

Nothing could shake Cotherstone's evidence. He told a plain,
straightforward story from first to last. He had no knowledge whatever
of Stoner's having found out the secret of the Wilchester affair. He
knew nothing of Stoner's having gone over to Darlington. On the Sunday
he himself had gone up the moors for a quiet stroll. At the spinney
overhanging Hobwick Quarry he had seen Mallalieu and Stoner, and had at
once noticed that something in the shape of a quarrel was afoot. He saw
Mallalieu strike heavily at Stoner with his oak stick--saw Mallalieu, in
a sudden passion, kick the stick over the edge of the quarry, watched
him go down into the quarry and eventually leave it. He told how he
himself had gone after the stick, recovered it, taken it home, and had
eventually told the police where it was. He had never spoken to
Mallalieu on that Sunday--never seen him except under the circumstances
just detailed.

The astute barrister who represented Cotherstone had not troubled the
Coroner and his jury much by asking questions of the various witnesses.
But he had quietly elicited from all the medical men the definite
opinion that death had been caused by the blow. And when Cotherstone's
evidence was over, the barrister insisted on recalling the two
sweethearts, and he got out of them, separately (each being excluded
from the court while the other gave evidence), that they had not seen
Mallalieu and Cotherstone together, that Mallalieu had left the quarry
some time before they saw Cotherstone, and that when Mallalieu passed
them he seemed to be agitated and was muttering to himself, whereas in
Cotherstone's manner they noticed nothing remarkable.

Brereton, watching the faces of the jurymen, all tradesmen of the town,
serious and anxious, saw the effect which Cotherstone's evidence and the
further admissions of the two sweethearts was having. And neither he nor
Tallington--and certainly not Mr. Christopher Pett--was surprised when,
in the gathering dusk of the afternoon, the inquest came to an end with
a verdict of _Wilful Murder against Anthony Mallalieu_.

"Your client is doing very well," observed Tallington to the Norcaster
solicitor as they foregathered in an ante-room.

"My client will be still better when he comes before your bench again,"
drily answered the other. "As you'll see!"

"So that's the line you're taking?" said Tallington quietly. "A good
one--for him."

"Every man for himself," remarked the Norcaster practitioner. "We're not
concerned with Mallalieu--we're concerned about ourselves. See you when
Cotherstone's brought before your worthies next Tuesday. And--a word in
your ear!--it won't be a long job, then."

Long job or short job, the Highmarket Town Hall was packed to the doors
when Cotherstone, after his week's detention, was again placed in the
dock. This time, he stood there alone--and he looked around him with
confidence and with not a few signs that he felt a sense of coming
triumph. He listened with a quiet smile while the prosecuting
counsel--sent down specially from London to take charge--discussed with
the magistrates the matter of Mallalieu's escape, and he showed more
interest when he heard some police information as to how that escape had
been effected, and that up to then not a word had been heard and no
trace found of the fugitive. And after that, as the prosecuting counsel
bent over to exchange a whispered word with the magistrates' clerk,
Cotherstone deliberately turned, and seeking out the place where Bent
and Brereton sat together, favoured them with a peculiar glance. It was
the glance of a man who wished to say "I told you!--now you'll see
whether I was right!"

"We're going to hear something--now!" whispered Brereton.

The prosecuting counsel straightened himself and looked at the
magistrates. There was a momentary hesitation on his part; a look of
expectancy on the faces of the men on the bench; a deep silence in the
crowded court. The few words that came from the counsel were sharp and
decisive.

"There will be no further evidence against the prisoner now in the dock,
your worships," he said. "The prosecution decides to withdraw the
charge."

In the buzz of excitement which followed the voice of the old chairman
was scarcely audible as he glanced at Cotherstone.

"You are discharged," he said abruptly.

Cotherstone turned and left the dock. And for the second time he looked
at Bent and Brereton in the same peculiar, searching way. Then, amidst a
dead silence, he walked out of the court.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE VIRTUES OF SUSPICION


During that week Mallalieu was to learn by sad experience that it is a
very poor thing to acquire information at second hand. There he was, a
strictly-guarded--if a cosseted and pampered--prisoner, unable to put
his nose outside the cottage, and entirely dependent on Chris Pett for
any and all news of the world which lay so close at hand and was just
then so deeply and importantly interesting to him. Time hung very
heavily on his hands. There were books enough on the shelves of his
prison-parlour, but the late Kitely's taste had been of a purely
professional nature, and just then Mallalieu had no liking for murder
cases, criminal trials, and that sort of gruesomeness. He was constantly
asking for newspapers, and was skilfully put off--it was not within
Christopher's scheme of things to let Mallalieu get any accurate notion
of what was really going on. Miss Pett did not take in a newspaper;
Christopher invariably forgot to bring one in when he went to the town;
twice, being pressed by Mallalieu to remember, he brought back _The
Times_ of the day before--wherein, of course, Mallalieu failed to find
anything about himself. And it was about himself that he so wanted to
hear, about how things were, how people talked of him, what the police
said, what was happening generally, and his only source of information
was Chris.

Mr. Pett took good care to represent everything in his own fashion. He
was assiduous in assuring Mallalieu that he was working in his interest
with might and main; jealous in proclaiming his own and his aunt's
intention to get him clear away to Norcaster. But he also never ceased
dilating on the serious nature of that enterprise, never wearied in
protesting how much risk he and Miss Pett were running; never refrained
from showing the captive how very black things were, and how much
blacker they would be if it were not for his present gaolers' goodness.
And when he returned to the cottage after the inquest on Stoner, his
face was unusually long and grave as he prepared to tell Mallalieu the
news.

"Things are looking in a very bad way for you, Mr. Mallalieu," he
whispered, when he was closeted with Mallalieu in the little room which
the captive now hated fiercely and loathingly. "They look in a very bad
way indeed, sir! If you were in any other hands than ours, Mr.
Mallalieu, I don't know what you'd do. We're running the most fearful
risks on your behalf, we are indeed. Things is--dismal!"

Mallalieu's temper, never too good, and all the worse for his enforced
confinement, blazed up.

"Hang it! why don't you speak out plain?" he snarled. "Say what you
mean, and be done with it! What's up now, like? Things are no worse than
they were, I reckon."

Christopher slowly drew off one of the black kid gloves, and blew into
it before laying it on the table.

"No need to use strong language, Mr. Mallalieu," he said deprecatingly,
as he calmly proceeded to divest the other hand. "No need at all,
sir--between friends and gentlemen, Mr. Mallalieu!--things are a lot
worse. The coroner's jury has returned a verdict of wilful
murder--against you!"

Mallalieu's big face turned of a queer grey hue--that word murder was
particularly distasteful to him.

"Against me!" he muttered. "Why me particularly? There were two of us
charged. What about Cotherstone?"

"I'm talking about the inquest" said Christopher. "They don't charge
anybody at inquests--they only inquire in general. The verdict's against
you, and you only. And--it was Cotherstone's evidence that did it!"

"Cotherstone!" exclaimed Mallalieu. "Evidence against me! He's a liar
if----"

"I'll tell you--all in due order," interrupted Chris. "Be calm, Mr.
Mallalieu, and listen--be judicial."

But in spite of this exhortation, Mallalieu fumed and fretted, and when
Christopher had told him everything he looked as if it only required a
little resolution on his part to force himself to action.

"I've a good mind to go straight out o' this place and straight down to
the police!" he growled. "I have indeed!--a great mind to go and give
myself up, and have things proved."

"Do!" said Christopher, heartily. "I wish you would, sir. It 'ud save me
and my poor aunt a world of trouble. Only--it's my duty as a duly
qualified solicitor of the High Court to inform you that every step you
take from this haven of refuge will be a step towards the--gallows!"

Mallalieu shrank back in his chair and stared at Mr. Pett's sharp
features. His own blanched once more.

"You're sure of that?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Certain!" replied Christopher. "No doubt of it, sir. I know!"

"What's to be done, then?" asked the captive.

Christopher assumed his best consultation-and-advice manner.

"What," he said at last, "in my opinion, is the best thing is to wait
and see what happens when Cotherstone's brought up before the bench next
Tuesday. You're safe enough until then--so long as you do what we tell
you. Although all the country is being watched and searched, there's not
the ghost of a notion that you're in Highmarket. So remain as content as
you can, Mr. Mallalieu, and as soon as we learn what takes place next
Tuesday, we'll see about that plan of ours."

"Let's be knowing what it is," grumbled Mallalieu.

"Not quite matured, sir, yet," said Christopher as he rose and picked up
the silk hat and the kid gloves. "But when it is, you'll say--ah, you'll
say it's a most excellent one!"

So Mallalieu had to wait until the next Tuesday came round. He did the
waiting impatiently and restlessly. He ate, he drank, he slept--slept as
he had never slept in his life--but he knew that he was losing flesh
from anxiety. It was with real concern that he glanced at Christopher
when that worthy returned from the adjourned case on the Tuesday
afternoon. His face fell when he saw that Christopher was gloomier than
ever.

"Worse and worse, Mr. Mallalieu!" whispered Christopher mysteriously
when he had shut the door. "Everything's against you, sir. It's all
centring and fastening on you. What do you think happened? Cotherstone's
discharged!"

"What!" exclaimed Mallalieu, jumping in his chair. "Discharged! Why,
then, they'd have discharged me!"

Christopher laid his finger on the side of his nose.

"Would they?" he said with a knowing wink. "Not much they wouldn't.
Cotherstone's let loose--to give evidence against you. When you're
caught!"

Mallalieu's small eyes began to bulge, and a dull red to show on his
cheek. He looked as if he were bursting with words which he could not
get out, and Christopher Pett hastened to improve the occasion.

"It's my opinion it's all a plant!" he said. "A conspiracy, if you like,
between Cotherstone and the authorities. Cotherstone, he's got the
smartest solicitor in Norcaster and the shrewdest advocate on this
circuit--you know 'em, Mr. Mallalieu--Stilby's the solicitor, and
Gradston the barrister--and it strikes me it's a put-up job. D'ye see
through it? First of all, Cotherstone gives evidence at that inquest: on
his evidence a verdict of murder is returned against--you! Now
Cotherstone's discharged by the magistrates--no further evidence being
offered against him. Why? So that he can give evidence before the
magistrates and at the Assizes against--you! That is--when you're
caught."

"They've got to catch me yet," growled Mallalieu. "Now then--what about
this plan of yours? For I'm going to wait no longer. Either you tell me
what you're going to do for me, or I shall walk out o' that door as soon
as it's dark tonight and take my chances. D'ye hear that?"

Christopher rose, opened the door, and softly called Miss Pett. And Miss
Pett came, took a seat, folded her thin arms, and looked attentively at
her learned nephew.

"Yes, sir," said Christopher, resuming the conversation, "I hear
that--and we are now ready to explain plans and discuss terms. You will,
of course, recompense us, Mr. Mallalieu?"

"I've said all along that you'd not lose by me," retorted Mallalieu.
"Aught in reason, I'll pay. But--this plan o' yours? I'm going to know
what it is before we come to any question of paying. So out with it!"

"Well, it's an excellent plan," responded Christopher. "You say that
you'll be safe if you're set down in a certain part of Norcaster--near
the docks. Now that will suit our plans exactly. You're aware, of
course, Mr. Mallalieu, that my aunt here is about to remove her goods
and chattels--bequeathed by Mr. Kitely, deceased--from this house? Very
well--the removal's to take place tomorrow. I have already arranged with
Mr. Strawson, furniture remover, to send up a couple of vans tomorrow
morning, very early. Into those vans the furniture will be placed, and
the vans will convey it to Norcaster, whence they will be transshipped
bodily to London, by sea. Mr. Mallalieu--you'll leave here, sir, in one
of those vans!"

Mallalieu listened, considered, began to see possibilities.

"Aye!" he said, with a cunning glance. "Aye!--that's not a bad notion. I
can see my way in that respect. But--how am I going to get into a van
here, and got out of it there, without the vanmen knowing?"

"I've thought it all out," answered Christopher. "You must keep snug in
this room until afternoon. We'll get the first van off in the
morning--say by noon. I'll so contrive that the second van won't be
ready to start until after it's dusk. When it is ready the men'll go
down to fetch their horses--I'll give 'em something to get themselves a
drink before they come back--that'll delay 'em a bit longer. And while
they're away, we'll slip you into the van--and I shall go with that van
to Norcaster. And when we get to the shed at Norcaster where the vans
are to be left, the two men will go away with their horses--and I shall
let you out. It's a good plan, Mr. Mallalieu."

"It'll do, anyhow," agreed Mallalieu, who felt heartily relieved. "We'll
try it. But you must take all possible care until I'm in, and we're off.
The least bit of a slip----"

Mr. Pett drily remarked that if any slips occurred they would not be of
his making--after which both he and his aunt coughed several times and
looked at the guest-prisoner in a fashion which seemed to invite speech
from him.

"All right then," said Mallalieu. "Tomorrow, you say? All right--all
right!"

Miss Pett coughed again and began to make pleats in her apron.

"Of course, Christopher," she said, addressing her nephew as if there
were no other person present, "of course, Mr. Mallalieu has not yet
stated his terms."

"Oh!--ah!--just so!" replied Christopher, starting as from a pensive
reverie. "Ah, to be sure. Now, what would you say, Mr. Mallalieu? How do
you feel disposed, sir?"

Mallalieu looked fixedly from aunt to nephew, from nephew to aunt. Then
his face became hard and rigid.

"Fifty pound apiece!" he said. "That's how I'm disposed. And you don't
get an offer like that every day, I know. Fifty pound apiece!"

Miss Pett inclined her turbaned head towards her right shoulder and
sighed heavily: Mr. Pett folded his hands, looked at the ceiling, and
whistled.

"We don't get an offer like that every day!" he murmured. "No!--I should
think we didn't! Fifty pound apiece!--a hundred pound altogether--for
saving a fellow-creature from the gallows! Oh, Mr. Mallalieu!"

"Hang it!--how much money d'ye think I'm likely to carry on me?--me!--in
my unfortunate position!" snarled Mallalieu. "D'ye think----"

"Christopher," observed Miss Pett, rising and making for the door, "I
should suggest that Mr. Mallalieu is left to consider matters. Perhaps
when he's reflected a bit----"

She and her nephew went out, leaving Mallalieu fuming and grumbling. And
once in the living-room she turned to Christopher with a shake of the
head.

"What did I tell you?" she said. "Mean as a miser! My plan's much the
best. We'll help ourselves--and then we can snap our fingers at him.
I'll give him an extra strong nightcap tonight, and then...."

But before the close of that evening came Mallalieu's notions underwent
a change. He spent the afternoon in thinking. He knew that he was in the
power of two people who, if they could, would skin him. And the more he
thought, the more he began to be suspicious--and suddenly he wondered
why he slept so heavily at night, and all of a sudden he saw the reason.
Drugged!--that old she-devil was drugging his drink. That was it, of
course--but it had been for the last time: she shouldn't do it again.

That night when Miss Pett brought the hot toddy, mixed according to the
recipe of the late Kitely, Mallalieu took it at his door, saying he was
arrayed for sleep, and would drink it when in bed. After which he
carefully poured it into a flower-pot that graced his room, and when he
presently lay down it was with eyes and ears open and his revolver ready
to his right hand.



CHAPTER XXVII

MR. WRAYTHWAITE OF WRAYE


Had the Mayor of Highmarket, lying there sullen and suspicious, only
known what was taking place close to him at that very moment, only known
what had been happening in his immediate vicinity during the afternoon
and evening, he might have taken some course of action which would have
prevented what was shortly to come. But he knew nothing--except that he
was angry, and full of doubts, and cursed everything and everybody that
had led to this evil turn in his fortunes, and was especially full of
vindictiveness towards the man and woman in the next room, who, as he
felt sure, were trying to take advantage of his present helplessness.
And meanwhile, not far away, things were going on--and they had been
going on all that day since noon.

Brereton, going away from Highmarket Town Hall after the dramatic
discharge of Cotherstone, was suddenly accosted by a smart-looking young
man whom, at first glance, he knew to be in some way connected with the
law.

"Mr. Gifford Brereton?" inquired this stranger. "I have a note for you,
sir."

Brereton took the note and stepped aside into a quiet corner: the young
man followed and stood near. To Brereton's surprise he found himself
looking at a letter in the handwriting of a London solicitor who had two
or three times favoured him with a brief. He hastily glanced through its
contents:--


                                             "THE DUKE'S HEAD HOTEL"
                                                            _Norcaster._

     "DEAR MR. BRERETON,--

     "I have just arrived at this place on business which is closely
     connected with that which you have in hand. I shall be much obliged
     if you join me here at once, bringing with you the daughter of your
     client Harborough--it is important that she should accompany you.
     The bearer will have a car in readiness for you.

                                       Yours sincerely,
                                               "H. C. CARFAX."


Brereton put the note in his pocket and turned to the messenger.

"Mr. Carfax wishes me to return with you to Norcaster," he remarked. "He
mentions a car."

"Here, Mr. Brereton--round the corner--a good one, that will run us
there in twenty minutes," replied the messenger.

"There's a call to make first," said Brereton. He went round the corner
with his companion and recognized in the chauffeur who waited there a
man who had once or twice driven him from Norcaster of late. "Ah!" he
said, "I daresay you know where Mrs. Northrop lives in this town--up
near the foot of the Shawl? You do?--run us up there, then. Are you one
of Mr. Carfax's clerks?" he asked when he and the messenger had got
into the car. "Have you come down with him from London?"

"No, sir--I am a clerk at Willerby & Hargreaves' in Norcaster," replied
the messenger. "Carfax and Spillington are our London agents. Mr. Carfax
and some other gentlemen came down from town first thing this morning,
and Mr. Carfax got me to bring you that note."

"You don't know what he wants to see me about?" asked Brereton, who was
already curious to the point of eagerness.

"Well, sir, I have a pretty good idea," answered the clerk, with a
smile, "but I think Mr. Carfax would rather tell you everything himself.
We shall soon be there, Mr. Brereton--if the young lady doesn't keep
us."

Brereton ran into Northrop's house and carried Avice off with scant
ceremony.

"This, of course, has something to do with your father's case," he said,
as he led her down to the car. "It may be--but no, we won't anticipate!
Only--I'm certain things are going to right themselves. Now then!" he
called to the driver as they joined the clerk. "Get along to Norcaster
as fast as you can."

Within half an hour the car stopped at the old-fashioned gateway of the
Duke's Head in Norcaster market-place, and the clerk immediately led his
two companions into the hotel and upstairs to a private sitting-room, at
the door of which he knocked. A voice bade him enter; he threw the door
open and announced the visitors.

"Miss Harborough--Mr. Brereton, Mr. Carfax," he said.

Brereton glanced sharply at the men who stood in the room, evidently
expectant of his and his companion's arrival. Carfax, a short,
middle-aged man, quick and bustling in manner, he, of course, knew: the
others were strangers. Two of them Brereton instantly set down as
detectives; there were all the marks and signs of the craft upon them.
They stood in a window, whispering together, and at them Brereton gave
but a glance. But at the fourth man, who stood on the hearthrug, he
looked long and hard. And his thoughts immediately turned to the night
on which he and Avice had visited the old woman who lived in the lonely
house on the moors and to what she had said about a tall man who had met
Harborough in her presence--a tall, bearded man. For the man who stood
there before him, looking at Avice with an interested, somewhat wistful
smile, was a tall, bearded man--a man past middle age, who looked as if
he had seen a good deal of the far-off places of the world.

Carfax had hurried forward, shaken hands with Brereton, and turned to
Avice while Brereton was making this rapid inspection.

"So here you are, Brereton--and this young lady, I suppose, is Miss
Harborough?" he said, drawing a chair forward. "Glad you've come--and I
daresay you're wondering why you've been sent for? Well--all in good
time, but first--this gentleman is Mr. John Wraythwaite."

The big man started forward, shook hands hastily with Brereton, and
turned more leisurely to Avice.

"My dear young lady!" he said. "I--I--the fact is, I'm an old friend of
your father's, and--and it will be very soon now that he's all
right--and all that sort of thing, you know! You don't know me, of
course."

Avice looked up at the big, bearded figure and from it to Brereton.

"No!" she said. "But--I think it was you who sent that money to Mr.
Brereton."

"Ah! you're anticipating, young lady!" exclaimed Carfax. "Yes--we've a
lot of talking to do. And we'd better all sit down and do it
comfortably. One moment," he continued, and turned away to the two men
in the window, who, after a few words with him, left the room. "Now
then--we'll do our first part of the business, Brereton!" he went on, as
they all took seats at a table near the fire. "You, of course, don't
know who this gentleman is?"

"Not at all," replied Brereton.

"Very good!" continued Carfax, rubbing his hands as if in enjoyment of
the situation. "Then you've some interesting facts to hear about him. To
begin with, he's the man who, when your client, this young lady's
father, is brought up at these coming Assizes, will prove a complete
_alibi_ on his behalf. In other words, he's the man with whom Harborough
was in company during the evening and the greater part of the night on
which Kitely was murdered."

"I thought so," said Brereton. He looked reflectively at Mr.
Wraythwaite. "But why did you not come forward at once?" he asked.

"My advice--my advice!" exclaimed Carfax hastily. "I'm going to explain
the reasons. Now, you won't understand, Brereton, but Miss Harborough, I
think, will know what I mean, or she'll have some idea, when I say that
this gentleman is now--now, mind you!--Mr. Wraythwaite of Wraye."

Avice looked up quickly with evident comprehension, and the solicitor
nodded.

"You see--she knows," he went on, turning to Brereton. "At least, that
conveys something to her. But it doesn't to you. Well, my dear sir, if
you were a native of these parts it would. Wraye is one of the oldest
and most historic estates between here and the Tweed--everybody knows
Wraye. And everybody knows too that there has been quite a romance about
Wraye for some time--since the last Wraythwaite died, in fact. That
Wraythwaite was a confirmed old bachelor. He lived to a great age--he
outlived all his brothers and sisters, of whom he'd had several. He left
quite a tribe of nephews and nieces, who were distributed all over the
world. Needless to say, there was vast bother and trouble. Finally, one
of the nephews made a strong claim to the estate, as being the eldest
known heir. And he was until recently in good trim for establishing his
claim, when my client here arrived on the scene. For he is the eldest
nephew--he is the rightful heir--and I am thankful to say that--only
within this last day or two--his claim has been definitely recognized
and established, and all without litigation. Everything," continued
Carfax, again rubbing his hands with great satisfaction, "everything is
now all right, and Mr. Wraythwaite of Wraye will take his proper and
rightful place amongst his own people."

"I'm exceedingly glad to hear it," said Brereton, with a smile at the
big man, who continued to watch Avice as if his thoughts were with her
rather than with his solicitor's story. "But--you'll understand that I'd
like to know how all this affects my client?"

"Ye--yes!" said Mr. Wraythwaite, hastily. "Tell Mr. Brereton,
Carfax--never mind me and my affairs--get on to poor Harborough."

"Your affair and Harborough's are inextricably mixed, my dear sir,"
retorted Carfax, good-humouredly. "I'm coming to the mingling of them.
Well," he continued, addressing himself again to Brereton. "This is how
things are--or were. I must tell you that the eldest brother of the late
Squire of Wraye married John Harborough's aunt--secretly. They had not
been married long before the husband emigrated. He went off to
Australia, leaving his wife behind until he had established
himself--there had been differences between him and his family, and he
was straitened in means. In his absence our friend here was born--and at
the same time, sad to say, his mother died. The child was brought up by
Harborough's mother--Mr. Wraythwaite and Harborough are foster-brothers.
It remained in the care of Harborough's mother--who kept the secret of
the marriage--until it was seven years old. Then, opportunity occurring,
it was taken to its father in Australia. The father, Matthew
Wraythwaite, made a big fortune in Australia, sheep-farming. He never
married again, and the fortune, of course, came at his death to his
only son--our friend. Now, he had been told of the secret marriage of
his father, but, being possessed of an ample fortune himself, he
concerned himself little about the rest of the old family. However, a
year or so ago, happening to read in the newspapers about the death of
the old Squire, his uncle, and the difficulty of definitely deciding the
real heirship, he came over to England. But he had no papers relating to
his father's marriage, and he did not know where it had taken place. At
that time he had not consulted me--in fact, he had consulted no one. If
he had consulted me," continued Carfax, with a knowing wink at Brereton,
"we should have put him right in a few hours. But he kept off
lawyers--and he sought out the only man he could remember--his
foster-brother, Harborough. And by Harborough's advice, they met
secretly. Harborough did not know where that marriage had taken
place--he had to make inquiries all over this district--he had to search
registers. Now and then, my client--not my client then, of course--came
to see Harborough; when he did so, he and Harborough met in quiet
places. And on the night on which that man Kitely was murdered,"
concluded the solicitor, "Harborough was with my client from nine
o'clock until half-past four in the morning, when he parted with him
near Hexendale railway station. Mr. Wraythwaite will swear that."

"And fortunately, we have some corroboration," observed Brereton, with a
glance at Avice, "for whether Mr. Wraythwaite knows it or not, his
meeting with Harborough on the moors that particular night was
witnessed."

"Capital--capital!" exclaimed Carfax. "By a credible--and
creditable--witness?"

"An old woman of exceptional character," answered Brereton, "except that
she indulges herself in a little night-poaching now and then."

"Ah, well, we needn't tell that when she goes into the witness-box,"
said Carfax. "But that's most satisfactory. My dear young lady!" he
added, turning to Avice, "your father will be released like--like one
o'clock! And then, I think," he went on bustling round on the new Squire
of Wraye, "then, my dear, I think Mr. Wraythwaite here----"

"Leave that to me, Carfax," interrupted Mr. Wraythwaite, with a nod at
Avice. "I'll tell this young lady all about that myself. In the
meantime----"

"Ah, just so!" responded Carfax. "In the meantime, we have something not
so interesting or pleasing, but extremely important, to tell Mr.
Brereton. Brereton--how are things going? Has any fresh light been
thrown on the Kitely murder? Nothing really certain and definite you
say? Very well, my dear sir--then you will allow me to throw some light
on it!"

So saying, Carfax rose from his chair, quitted the room--and within
another minute returned, solemnly escorting the two detectives.



CHAPTER XXVIII

PAGES FROM THE PAST


Before the solicitor and his companions could seat themselves at the
table whereat the former's preliminary explanation had been made, Mr.
Wraythwaite got up and motioned Avice to follow his example.

"Carfax," he said, "there's no need for me to listen to all that you've
got to tell Mr. Brereton--I know it already. And I don't think it will
particularly interest Miss Harborough at the moment--she'll hear plenty
about it later on. She and I will leave you--make your explanations and
your arrangements, and we'll join you later on."

He led the way to the door, beckoning Avice to accompany him. But Avice
paused and turned to Brereton.

"You feel sure that it is all right now about my father?" she said. "You
feel certain? If you do----"

"Yes--absolutely," answered Brereton, who knew what her question meant.
"And--we will let him know."

"He knows!" exclaimed Carfax. "That is, he knows that Mr. Wraythwaite
is here, and that everything's all right. Run away, my dear young lady,
and be quite happy--Mr. Wraythwaite will tell you everything you want to
know. And now, my dear sir," he continued, as he shut the door on
Wraythwaite and Avice and bustled back to the table, "there are things
that you want to know, and that you are going to know--from me and from
these two gentlemen. Mr. Stobb--Mr. Leykin. Both ex-Scotland Yard men,
and now in business for themselves as private inquiry agents. Smart
fellows--though I say it to their faces."

"I gather from that that you have been doing some private inquiry work,
then?" said Brereton. "In connexion with what, now?"

"Let us proceed in order," answered Carfax, taking a seat at the head of
the table and putting his fingers together in a judicial attitude. "I
will open the case. When Wraythwaite--a fine fellow, who, between
ourselves, is going to do great things for Harborough and his
daughter--when Wraythwaite, I say, heard of what had happened down here,
he was naturally much upset. His first instinct was to rush to
Highmarket at once and tell everything. However, instead of doing that,
he very wisely came to me. Having heard all that he had to tell, I
advised him, as it was absolutely certain that no harm could come to
Harborough in the end, to let matters rest for the time being, until we
had put the finishing touches to his own affair. He, however, insisted
on sending you that money--which was done: nothing else would satisfy
him. But now arose a deeply interesting phase of the whole
affair--which has been up to now kept secret between Wraythwaite,
myself, and Messrs. Stobb and Leykin there. To it I now invite your
attention."

Mr. Carfax here pulled out a memorandum book from his pocket, and having
fitted on his spectacles glanced at a page or two within it.

"Now," he presently continued, "Wraythwaite being naturally
deeply interested in the Kitely case, he procured the local
newspapers--Norcaster and Highmarket papers, you know--so that he could
read all about it. There was in those papers a full report of the first
proceedings before the magistrates, and Wraythwaite was much struck by
your examination of the woman Miss Pett. In fact, he was so much struck
by your questions and her replies that he brought the papers to me, and
we read them together. And, although we knew well enough that we should
eventually have no difficulty whatever in proving an _alibi_ in
Harborough's behalf, we decided that in his interest we would make a few
guarded but strict inquiries into Miss Pett's antecedents."

Brereton started. Miss Pett! Ah!--he had had ideas respecting Miss Pett
at the beginning of things, but other matters had cropped up, and
affairs had moved and developed so rapidly that he had almost forgotten
her.

"That makes you think," continued Carfax, with a smile. "Just so!--and
what took place at that magistrates' sitting made Wraythwaite and myself
think. And, as I say, we employed Stobb and Leykin, men of great
experience, to--just find out a little about Miss Pett. Of course, Miss
Pett herself had given us something to go on. She had told you some
particulars of her career. She had been housekeeper to a Major Stilman,
at Kandahar Cottage, Woking. She had occupied posts at two London
hotels. So--Stobb went to Woking, and Leykin devoted himself to the
London part of the business.

"And I think, Stobb," concluded the solicitor, turning to one of the
inquiry agents, "I think you'd better tell Mr. Brereton what you found
out at Woking, and then Leykin can tell us what he brought to light
elsewhere."

Stobb, a big, cheery-faced man, who looked like a highly respectable
publican, turned to Brereton with a smile.

"It was a very easy job, sir," he said. "I found out all about the lady
and her connexion with Woking in a very few hours. There are plenty of
folk at Woking who remember Miss Pett--she gave you the mere facts of
her residence there correctly enough. But--naturally--she didn't tell
you more than the mere facts, the surface, as it were. Now, I got at
everything. Miss Pett was housekeeper at Woking to a Major Stilman, a
retired officer of an infantry regiment. All the time she was with
him--some considerable period--he was more or less of an invalid, and he
was well known to suffer terribly from some form of neuralgia. He got
drugs to alleviate the pain of that neuralgia from every chemist in the
place, one time or another. And one day, Major Stilman was found dead in
bed, with some of these drugs by his bedside. Of course an inquest was
held, and, equally of course, the evidence of doctors and chemists
being what it was, a verdict of death from misadventure--overdose of the
stuff, you know--was returned. Against Miss Pett there appears to have
been no suspicion in Woking at that time--and for the matter of that,"
concluded Mr. Stobb drily, "I don't know that there is now."

"You have some yourself?" suggested Brereton.

"I went into things further," answered Mr. Stobb, with the ghost of a
wink. "I found out how things were left--by Stilman. Stilman had nothing
but his pension, and a capital sum of about two thousand pounds. He left
that two thousand, and the furniture of his house, to Miss Pett. The
will had been executed about a twelvemonth before Stilman died. It was
proved as quickly as could be after his death, and of course Miss Pett
got her legacy. She sold the furniture--and left the neighbourhood."

"What is your theory?" asked Brereton.

Mr. Stobb nodded across the table at Carfax.

"Not my business to say what my theories are, Mr. Brereton," he
answered. "All I had to do was to find out facts, and report them to Mr.
Carfax and Mr. Wraythwaite."

"All the same," said Brereton quietly, "you think it quite possible that
Miss Pett, knowing that Stilman took these strong doses, and having a
pecuniary motive, gave him a still stronger one? Come, now!"

Stobb smiled, rubbed his chin and looked at Carfax. And Carfax pointed
to Stobb's partner, a very quiet, observant man who had listened with a
sly expression on his face.

"Your turn, Leykin," he said. "Tell the result of your inquiries."

Leykin was one of those men who possess soft voices and slow speech.
Invited to play his part, he looked at Brereton as if he were half
apologizing for anything he had to say.

"Well," he said, "of course, sir, what Miss Pett told you about her
posts at two London hotels was quite right. She had been storekeeper at
one, and linen-keeper at another--before she went to Major Stilman.
There was nothing against her at either of those places. But of course I
wanted to know more about her than that. Now she said in answer to you
that before she went to the first of those hotels she had lived at home
with her father, a Sussex farmer. So she had--but it was a long time
before. She had spent ten years in India between leaving home and going
to the Royal Belvedere. She went out to India as a nurse in an officer's
family. And while she was in India she was charged with strangling a
fellow-servant--a Eurasian girl who had excited her jealousy."

Brereton started again at that, and he turned a sharp glance on Carfax,
who nodded emphatically and signed to Leykin to proceed.

"I have the report of that affair in my pocket," continued Leykin, more
softly and slowly than ever. "It's worth reading, Mr. Brereton, and
perhaps you'll amuse yourself with it sometime. But I can give you the
gist of it in a few words. Pett was evidently in love with her master's
orderly. He wasn't in love with her. She became madly jealous of this
Eurasian girl, who was under-nurse. The Eurasian girl was found near the
house one night with a cord tightly twisted round her neck--dead, of
course. There were no other signs of violence, but some gold ornaments
which the girl wore had disappeared. Pett was tried--and she was
discharged, for she set up an _alibi_--of a sort that wouldn't have
satisfied me," remarked Leykin in an aside. "But there was a queer bit
of evidence given which you may think of use now. One of the witnesses
said that Pett had been much interested in reading some book about the
methods of the Thugs, and had talked in the servants' quarters of how
they strangled their victims with shawls of the finest silk. Now this
Eurasian girl had been strangled with a silk handkerchief--and if that
handkerchief could only have been traced to Pett, she'd have been found
guilty. But, as I said, she was found not guilty--and she left her place
at once and evidently returned to England. That's all, sir."

"Stobb has a matter that might be mentioned," said Carfax, glancing at
the other inquiry agent.

"Well, it's not much, Mr. Brereton," said Stobb. "It's merely that we've
ascertained that Kitely had left all he had to this woman, and that----"

"I know that," interrupted Brereton. "She made no concealment of it. Or,
rather, her nephew, acting for her, didn't."

"Just so," remarked Stobb drily. "But did you know that the nephew had
already proved the will, and sold the property? No?--well, he has! Not
much time lost, you see, after the old man's death, sir. In fact, it's
been done about as quickly as it well could be done. And of course Miss
Pett will have received her legacy--which means that by this time she'll
have got all that Kitely had to leave."

Brereton turned to the solicitor, who, during the recital of facts by
the two inquiry agents, had maintained his judicial attitude, as if he
were on the bench and listening to the opening statements of counsel.

"Are you suggesting, all of you that you think Miss Pett murdered
Kitely?" he asked. "I should like a direct answer to that question."

"My dear sir!" exclaimed Carfax. "What does it look like? You've heard
the woman's record! The probability is that she did murder that
Eurasian, girl--that she took advantage of Stilman's use of drugs to
finish him off. She certainly benefited by Stilman's death--and she's
without doubt benefited by Kitely's. I repeat--what does it look like?"

"What do you propose to do?" asked Brereton.

The inquiry agents glanced at each other and then at Carfax. And Carfax
slowly took off his spectacles with a flourish, and looked more judicial
than ever as he answered the young barrister's question.

"I will tell you what I propose to do," he replied. "I propose to take
these two men over to Highmarket this evening and to let them tell the
Highmarket police all they have just told you!"



CHAPTER XXIX

WITHOUT THOUGHT OF CONSEQUENCE


Everything was very quiet in the house where Mallalieu lay wide-awake
and watchful. It seemed to him that he had never known it so quiet
before. It was quiet at all times, both day and night, for Miss Pett had
a habit of going about like a cat, and Christopher was decidedly of the
soft-footed order, and stepped from one room to another as if he were
perpetually afraid of waking somebody or trusting his own weight on his
own toes. But on this particular night the silence seemed to be
unusual--and it was all the deeper because no sound, not even the faint
sighing of the wind in the firs and pines outside came to break it. And
Mallalieu's nerves, which had gradually become sharpened and irritated
by his recent adventures and his close confinement, became still more
irritable, still more set on edge, and it was with difficulty that he
forced himself to lie still and to listen. Moreover, he was feeling the
want of the stuff which had soothed him into such sound slumber every
night since he had been taken in charge by Miss Pett, and he knew very
well that though he had flung it away his whole system was crying out
for the lack of it.

What were those two devils after, he wondered as he lay there in the
darkness? No good--that was certain. Now that he came to reflect upon it
their conduct during the afternoon and evening had not been of a
reassuring sort. Christopher had kept entirely away from him; he had not
seen Christopher at all since the discussion of the afternoon, which
Miss Pett had terminated so abruptly. He had seen Miss Pett twice or
thrice--Miss Pett's attitude on each occasion had been that of injured
innocence. She had brought him his tea in silence, his supper with no
more than a word. It was a nice supper--she set it before him with an
expression which seemed to say that however badly she herself was
treated, she would do her duty by others. And Mallalieu, seeing that
expression, had not been able to refrain from one of his sneering
remarks.

"Think yourself very badly done to, don't you, missis!" he had exclaimed
with a laugh. "Think I'm a mean 'un, what?"

"I express no opinion, Mr. Mallalieu," replied Miss Pett, frigidly and
patiently. "I think it better for people to reflect. A night's
reflection," she continued as she made for the door, "oft brings wisdom,
even to them as doesn't usually cultivate it."

Mallalieu had no objection to the cultivation of wisdom--for his own
benefit, and he was striving to produce something from the process as he
lay there, waiting. But he said to himself that it was easy enough to be
wise after the event--and for him the event had happened. He was in the
power of these two, whom he had long since recognized as an
unscrupulous woman and a shifty man. They had nothing to do but hand
him over to the police if they liked: for anything he knew, Chris Pett
might already have played false and told the police of affairs at the
cottage. And yet on deeper reflection, he did not think that
possible--for it was evident that aunt and nephew were after all they
could get, and they would get nothing from the police authorities, while
they might get a good deal from him. But--what did they expect to get
from him? He had been a little perplexed by their attitude when he asked
them if they expected him to carry a lot of money on him--a fugitive.
Was it possible--the thought came to him like a thunderclap in the
darkness--that they knew, or had some idea, of what he really had on
him? That Miss Pett had drugged him every night he now felt sure--well,
then, in that case how did he know that she hadn't entered his room and
searched his belongings, and especially the precious waistcoat?

Mallalieu had deposited that waistcoat in the same place every night--on
a chair which stood at the head of his bed. He had laid it folded on the
chair, had deposited his other garments in layers upon it, had set his
candlestick and a box of matches on top of all. And everything had
always been there, just as he had placed things, every morning when he
opened his eyes. But--he had come to know Miss Pett's stealthiness by
that time, and ...

He put out a hand now and fingered the pile of garments which lay,
neatly folded, within a few inches of his head. It was all right, then,
of course, and his hand drew back--to the revolver, separated from his
cheek by no more than the thickness of the pillow. The touch of that
revolver made him begin speculating afresh. If Miss Pett or Christopher
had meddled with the waistcoat, the revolver, too, might have been
meddled with. Since he had entered the cottage, he had never examined
either waistcoat or revolver. Supposing the charges had been
drawn?--supposing he was defenceless, if a pinch came? He began to sweat
with fear at the mere thought, and in the darkness he fumbled with the
revolver in an effort to discover whether it was still loaded. And just
then came a sound--and Mallalieu grew chill with suspense.

It was a very small sound--so small that it might have been no more than
that caused by the scratch of the tiniest mouse in the wainscot. But in
that intense silence it was easily heard--and with it came the faint
glimmering of a light. The light widened--there was a little further
sound--and Mallalieu, peeping at things through his eyelashes became
aware that the door was open, that a tall, spare figure was outlined
between the bed and the light without. And in that light, outside the
door, well behind the thin form of Miss Pett, he saw Christopher Pett's
sharp face and the glint of his beady eyes.

Mallalieu was sharp enough of thought, and big man though he was, he had
always been quick of action. He knew what Miss Pett's objective was, and
he let her advance half-way across the room on her stealthy path to the
waistcoat. But silently as she came on with that cat-like tread,
Mallalieu had just as silently drawn the revolver from beneath his
pillow and turned its small muzzle on her. It had a highly polished
barrel, that revolver, and Miss Pett suddenly caught a tiny
scintillation of light on it--and she screamed. And as she screamed
Mallalieu fired, and the scream died down to a queer choking sound ...
and he fired again ... and where Christopher Pett's face had shown
itself a second before there was nothing--save another choking sound and
a fall in the entry where Christopher had stood and watched.

After that followed a silence so deep that Mallalieu felt the drums of
his ears aching intensely in the effort to catch any sound, however
small. But he heard nothing--not even a sigh. It was as if all the awful
silences that had ever been in the cavernous places of the world had
been crystallized into one terrible silence and put into that room.

He reached out at last and found his candle and the matches, and he got
more light and leaned forward in the bed, looking.

"Can't ha' got 'em both!" he muttered. "Both? But----"

He slowly lifted himself out of bed, huddled on some of the garments
that lay carefully folded on the chair, and then, holding the candle to
the floor, went forward to where the woman lay. She had collapsed
between the foot of the bed and the wall; her shoulders were propped
against the wall and the grotesque turban hung loosely down on one
shoulder. And Mallalieu knew in that quick glance that she was dead, and
he crept onward to the door and looked at the other still figure, lying
just as supinely in the passage that led to the living-room. He looked
longer at that ... and suddenly he turned back into his
parlour-bedchamber, and carefully avoiding the dead woman put on his
boots and began to dress with feverish haste.

And while he hurried on his clothes Mallalieu thought. He was not sure
that he had meant to kill these two. He would have delighted in killing
them certainly, hating them as he did, but he had an idea that when he
fired he only meant to frighten them. But that was neither here nor
there now. They were dead, but he was alive--and he must get out of
that, and at once. The moors--the hills--anywhere....

A sudden heavy knocking at the door at the back of the cottage set
Mallalieu shaking. He started for the front--to hear knocking there,
too. Then came voices demanding admittance, and loudly crying the dead
woman's name. He crept to a front window at that, and carefully drew a
corner of the blind and looked out, and saw many men in the garden. One
of them had a lantern, and as its glare glanced about Mallalieu set eyes
on Cotherstone.



CHAPTER XXX

COTHERSTONE


Cotherstone walked out of the dock and the court and the Town Hall
amidst a dead silence--which was felt and noticed by everybody but
himself. At that moment he was too elated, too self-satisfied to notice
anything. He held his head very high as he went out by the crowded
doorway, and through the crowd which had gathered on the stairs; he
might have been some general returning to be publicly fêted as he
emerged upon the broad steps under the Town Hall portico and threw a
triumphant glance at the folk who had gathered there to hear the latest
news. And there, in the open air, and with all those staring eyes upon
him, he unconsciously indulged in a characteristic action. He had caused
his best clothes to be sent to him at Norcaster Gaol the previous night,
and he had appeared in them in the dock. The uppermost garment was an
expensive overcoat, finished off with a deep fur collar: now, as he
stood there on the top step, facing the crowd, he unbuttoned the coat,
threw its lapels aside, and took a long, deep breath, as if he were
inhaling the free air of liberty. There were one or two shrewd and
observant folk amongst the onlookers--it seemed to them that this
unconscious action typified that Cotherstone felt himself throwing off
the shackles which he had worn, metaphorically speaking, for the last
eight days.

But in all that crowd, no one went near Cotherstone. There were many of
his fellow-members of the Corporation in it--councillors, aldermen--but
none of them approached him or even nodded to him; all they did was to
stare. The news of what had happened had quickly leaked out: it was
known before he came into view that Cotherstone had been discharged--his
appearance in that bold, self-assured fashion only led to covert
whispers and furtive looks. But suddenly, from somewhere in the crowd, a
sneering voice flung a contemptuous taunt across the staring faces.

"Well done, Cotherstone!--saved your own neck, anyway!"

There was a ripple of jeering laughter at that, and as Cotherstone
turned angrily in the direction from whence the voice came, another,
equally contemptuous, lifted itself from another corner of the crowd.

"King's evidence! Yah!--who'd believe Cotherstone? Liar!"

Cotherstone's face flushed angrily--the flush died as quickly away and
gave place to a sickly pallor. And at that a man who had stood near him
beneath the portico, watching him inquisitively, stepped nearer and
whispered--

"Go home, Mr. Cotherstone!--take my advice, and get quietly away, at
once!"

Cotherstone rejected this offer of good counsel with a sudden spasm of
furious anger.

"You be hanged!" he snarled. "Who's asking you for your tongue? D'ye
think I'm afraid of a pack like yon? Who's going to interfere with me,
I'd like to know? Go home yourself!"

He turned towards the door from which he had just emerged--turned to see
his solicitor and his counsel coming out together. And his sudden anger
died down, and his face relaxed to a smile of triumph.

"Now then!" he exclaimed. "Didn't I tell you how it would be, a week
since! Come on across to the Arms and I'll stand a bottle--aye, two,
three, if you like!--of the very best. Come on, both of you."

The solicitor, glancing around, saw something of the state of affairs,
hurriedly excused himself, and slipped back into the Town Hall by
another entrance. But the barrister, a man who, great as his forensic
abilities were, was one of those people who have no private reputation
to lose, and of whom it was well known that he could never withstand the
temptation to a bottle of champagne, assented readily, and with great
good humour. And he and Cotherstone, arm in arm, walked down the steps
and across the Market Place--and behind them the crowd sneered and
laughed and indulged in audible remarks.

Cotherstone paid, or affected to pay, no heed. He steered his companion
into the Arms, and turned into the great bow-windowed room which served
as morning meeting-place for all the better class of loungers and
townsmen in Highmarket. The room was full already. Men had come across
from the court, and from the crowd outside; a babel of talk arose from
every corner. But when Cotherstone and the well-known barrister (so
famous in that circuit for his advocacy of criminals that he had
acquired the nickname of the Felons' Friend) entered, a dead silence
fell, and men looked at this curious pair and then at each other with
significant glances.

In that silence, Cotherstone, seizing a waiter, loudly demanded
champagne and cigars: he glared defiantly around him as he supplemented
the order with a command for the best box of cigars in the house, the
best champagne in the cellars. A loud laugh from some corner of the room
broke the silence, and the waiter, a shrewd fellow who saw how things
were, gave Cotherstone a look.

"Come into the small parlour, Mr. Cotherstone," he whispered. "Nobody in
there--you'll be more comfortable, sir."

"All right, then," responded Cotherstone. He glared once more at the
company around him, and his defiance suddenly broke out in another
fashion. "Any friend of mine that likes to join us," he said pointedly,
"is welcome. Who's coming, like?"

There was another hoarse laugh at this, and most of the men there turned
their backs on Cotherstone and began to talk loudly. But one or two of
the less particular and baser sort, whom Cotherstone would certainly not
have called friends a week before, nudged each other and made towards
the door which the waiter held invitingly open--it was not every day
that the best champagne and the best cigars were to be had for nothing,
and if Cotherstone liked to fling him money about, what did it matter,
so long as they benefited by his folly?

"That's the style!" said Cotherstone, pushing the barrister along.
"Bring two--bring three bottles," he cried to the waiter. "Big
'uns!--and the best."

An elderly man, one of Cotherstone's fellow-members of the Corporation,
came forward and caught him by the arm.

"Cotherstone!" he whispered. "Don't be a fool! Think of what's only just
over. Go home, like a good fellow--go quietly home. You're doing no good
with this--you'll have all the town talking!"

"Hang the town, and you too!" snapped Cotherstone. "You're one of them
that shouted at me in front of the Town Hall, curse you! I'll let you
and all Highmarket see what I care for you. What's it to you if I have a
quiet glass of wine with my friends?"

But there was no quiet drinking of a glass of wine in the parlour to
which Cotherstone and his cronies retired. Whenever its door opened
Cotherstone's excited tones were heard in the big room, and the more
sober-minded of the men who listened began to shake their heads.

"What's the matter with him?" asked one. "Nobody ever knew him like this
before! What's he carrying on in that fashion for?"

"He's excited with getting off," said another. "And that bit of a scene
outside there threw him off his balance. He should ha' been taken
straight home. Nice lot he's got with him, too! We all know what yon
barrister chap is--he can drink champagne like water, they say, and for
the others--listen to that, now!" he added as a burst of excited talking
came through the opened door. "He'll be in a fine fit state to go home
to that daughter of his, I know, if that goes on."

"It mustn't go on," said another, and got up. "I'll go across to Bent's
and get him to come over and take Cotherstone away. Bent's the only man
that'll have any influence with him."

He went out and crossed the Market Place to Bent's office. But Bent was
not there. By his advice Lettie had gone to stay with some friends until
the recent proceedings were over in one way or another, and Bent
himself, as soon as Cotherstone had left the court, had hurried away to
catch a train to the town in which she was temporarily staying in order
to tell her the news and bring her home. So the would-be doer-of-good
went back disappointed--and as he reached the hotel, Cotherstone and the
barrister emerged from it, parted at the door with evident great
cordiality, and went their several ways. And Cotherstone, passing the
man who had been to Bent's, stared him in the face and cut him dead.

"It's going to be war to the knife between Cotherstone and the town,"
remarked the ambassador, when he re-entered the big room and joined his
own circle. "He passed me just now as if I were one of the paving-stones
he trod on! And did you see his face as he went out?--egad, instead of
looking as if he'd had too much to drink, he looked too sober to please
me. You mind if something doesn't happen--yon fellow's desperate!"

"What should he be desperate about?" asked one of the group. "He's saved
his own neck!"

"It was that shouting at him when he came out that did it," observed
another man quietly. "He's the sort of man to resent aught like that. If
Cotherstone thinks public opinion's against him--well, we shall see!"

Cotherstone walked steadily away through the Market Place when he left
the barrister. Whatever the men in the big room might have thought, he
had not been indulging too freely in the little parlour. He had pressed
champagne on the group around him, but the amount he had taken himself
had not been great and it had pulled him together instead of
intoxicating him. And his excitement had suddenly died down, and he had
stopped what might have developed into a drinking bout by saying that he
must go home. And once outside, he made for his house, and as he went he
looked neither to right nor left, and if he met friend or acquaintance
his face became hard as flint.

Cotherstone, indeed, was burning and seething with indignation. The
taunts flung at him as he stood on the Town Hall steps, the looks turned
in his direction as he walked away with the convivially inclined
barrister, the expression on the faces of the men in the big room at the
Highmarket Arms--all these things had stung him to the quick. He knew,
whatever else he might have been, or was, he had proved a faithful
servant to the town. He had been a zealous member of the Corporation, he
had taken hold of the financial affairs of the borough when they were in
a bad way and had put them in a safe and prosperous footing; he had
worked, thought, and planned for the benefit of the place--and this was
his reward! For he knew that those taunts, those looks, those
half-averted, half-sneering faces meant one thing, and one thing
only--the Highmarket men believed him equally guilty with Mallalieu, and
had come to the conclusion that he was only let off in order that direct
evidence against Mallalieu might be forthcoming. He cursed them deeply
and bitterly--and sneered at them in the same breath, knowing that even
as they were weathercocks, veering this way and that at the least breath
of public opinion, so they were also utter fools, wholly unable to see
or to conjecture.

The excitement that had seized upon Cotherstone in face of that public
taunting of him died away in the silence of his own house--when Lettie
and Bent returned home in the course of the afternoon they found him
unusually cool and collected. Bent had come with uneasy feelings and
apprehensions; one of the men who had been at the Highmarket Arms had
chanced to be in the station when he and Lettie arrived, and had drawn
him aside and told him of what had occurred, and that Cotherstone was
evidently going on the drink. But there were no signs of anything
unusual about Cotherstone when Bent found him. He said little about the
events of the morning to either Bent or Lettie; he merely remarked that
things had turned out just as he had expected and that now perhaps they
would get matters settled; he had tea with them; he was busy with his
books and papers in his own room until supper-time; he showed no signs
of anything unusual at supper, and when an hour later he left the house,
saying that he must go down to the office and fetch the accumulated
correspondence, his manner was so ordinary that Bent saw no reason why
he should accompany him.

But Cotherstone had no intention of going to his office. He left his
house with a fixed determination. He would know once and for all what
Highmarket felt towards and about him. He was not the man to live under
suspicion and averted looks, and if he was to be treated as a suspect
and a pariah he would know at once.

There was at that time in Highmarket a small and select club, having its
house in the Market Place, to which all the principal townsmen belonged.
Both Mallalieu and Cotherstone had been members since its foundation;
Cotherstone, indeed, was its treasurer. He knew that the club would be
crowded that night--very well, he would go there and boldly face public
opinion. If his fellow-members cut him, gave him the cold shoulder,
ignored him--all right, he would know what to do then.

But Cotherstone never got inside the club. As he set his foot on the
threshold he met one of the oldest members--an alderman of the borough,
for whom he had a great respect. This man, at sight of him, started,
stopped, laid a friendly but firm hand on his arm, and deliberately
turned him round.

"No, my lad!" he said kindly. "Not in there tonight! If you don't know
how to take care of yourself, let a friend take care of you. Have a bit
of sense, Cotherstone! Do you want to expose yourself again to what you
got outside the Town Hall this noon! No--no!--go away, my lad, go
home--come home with me, if you like--you're welcome!"

The last word softened Cotherstone: he allowed himself to be led away
along the street.

"I'm obliged to you," he said brusquely. "You mean well. But--do you
mean to say that those fellows in there--men that know me--are
thinking--that!"

"It's a hard, censorious world, this," answered the elder man. "Leave
'em alone a bit--don't shove yourself on 'em. Come away--come home and
have a cigar with me."

"Thank you," said Cotherstone. "You wouldn't ask me to do that if you
thought as they do. Thank you! But I've something to do--and I'll go and
do it at once."

He pressed his companion's arm, and turned away--and the other man
watching him closely, saw him walk off to the police-station, to the
superintendent's private door. He saw him enter--and at that he shook
his head and went away himself, wondering what it was that Cotherstone
wanted with the police.

The superintendent, tired by a long day's work, was taking his ease with
his pipe and his glass when Cotherstone was shown into his parlour. He
started with amazement at the sight of his visitor: Cotherstone motioned
him back to his chair.

"Don't let me disturb you," said Cotherstone. "I want a word or two with
you in private--that's all."

The superintendent had heard of the scene at the hotel, and had had his
fears about its sequel. But he was quick to see that his visitor was not
only sober, but remarkably cool and normal, and he hastened to offer
him a glass of whisky.

"Aye, thank you, I will," replied Cotherstone, seating himself. "It'll
be the first spirits I've tasted since you locked me up, and I daresay
it'll do me no harm. Now then," he went on as the two settled themselves
by the hearth, "I want a bit of a straight talk with you. You know
me--we've been friends. I want you to tell me, straight, plain,
truthful--what are Highmarket folk thinking and saying about me? Come!"

The superintendent's face clouded and he shook his head.

"Well, you know what folks will be, Mr. Cotherstone!" he answered. "And
you know how very ready to say nasty things these Highmarket people are.
I'm not a Highmarket man myself, any more than you are, and I've always
regarded 'em as very bitter-tongued folk, and so----"

"Out with it!" said Cotherstone. "Let's know the truth--never mind what
tongues it comes from. What are they saying?"

"Well," replied the superintendent, reluctantly, "of course I get to
hear everything. If you must have it, the prevailing notion is that both
you and Mr. Mallalieu had a hand in Kitely's death. They think his
murder's at your doors, and that what happened to Stoner was a
by-chance. And if you want the whole truth, they think you're a deal
cleverer than Mallalieu, and that Kitely probably met his end at your
hands, with your partner's connivance. And there are those who say that
if Mallalieu's caught--as he will be--he'll split on you. That's all,
sir."

"And what do you think?" demanded Cotherstone.

The superintendent shifted uneasily in his chair.

"I've never been able to bring myself to think that either you or
Mallalieu 'ud murder a man in cold blood, as Kitely was murdered," he
said. "As regards Stoner, I've firmly held to it that Mallalieu struck
him in a passion. But--I've always felt this--you, or Mallalieu, or both
of you, know more about the Kitely affair than you've ever told!"

Cotherstone leaned forward and tapped his host on the arm.

"I do!" he said significantly. "You're right in that. I--do!"

The superintendent laid down his pipe and looked at his visitor gravely.

"Then for goodness sake, Mr. Cotherstone," he exclaimed, "for goodness
sake, tell! For as sure as we're sitting here, as things are at present,
Mallalieu 'll hang if you don't! If he doesn't hang for Stoner, he will
for Kitely, for if he gets off over Stoner he'll be re-arrested on the
other charge."

"Half an hour ago," remarked Cotherstone, "I shouldn't have minded if
Mallalieu had been hanged half a dozen times. Revenge is sweet--and I've
good reason for being revenged on Mallalieu. But now--I'm inclined to
tell the truth. Do you know why? Why--to show these Highmarket folks
that they're wrong!"

The superintendent sighed. He was a plain, honest, simple man, and
Cotherstone's reason seemed a strange--even a wicked one--to him. To
tell the truth merely to spite one's neighbour--a poor, poor reason,
when there was life at stake.

"Aye, Mr. Cotherstone, but you ought to tell the truth in any case!" he
said. "If you know it, get it out and be done with it. We've had enough
trouble already. If you can clear things up----"

"Listen!" interrupted Cotherstone. "I'll tell you all I know--privately.
If you think good, it can be put into proper form. Very well, then! You
remember the night of Kitely's murder?"

"Aye, I should think so!" said the superintendent. "Good reason to!"

"Let your mind go back to it, and to what you've since heard of it,"
said Cotherstone. "You know that on that afternoon Kitely had threatened
me and Mallalieu with exposure about the Wilchester affair. He wanted to
blackmail us. I told Mallalieu, of course--we were both to think about
it till next day. But I did naught but think--I didn't want exposure for
my daughter's sake: I'd ha' given anything to avoid it, naturally. I had
young Bent and that friend of his, Brereton, to supper that night--I was
so full of thought that I went out and left 'em for an hour or more. The
truth was I wanted to get a word with Kitely. I went up the wood at the
side of my house towards Kitely's cottage--and all of a sudden I came
across a man lying on the ground--him!--just where we found him
afterwards."

"Dead?" asked the superintendent.

"Only just," replied Cotherstone. "But he was dead--and I saw what had
caused his death, for I struck a match to look at him. I saw that empty
pocket-book lying by--I saw a scrap of folded newspaper, too, and I
picked it up and later, when I'd read it, I put it in a safe place--I've
taken it from that place tonight for the first time, and it's here--you
keep it. Well--I went on, up to the cottage. The door was open--I looked
in. Yon woman, Miss Pett, was at the table by the lamp, turning over
some papers--I saw Kitely's writing on some of 'em. I stepped softly in
and tapped her on the arm, and she screamed and started back. I looked
at her. 'Do you know that your master's lying dead, murdered, down
amongst those trees?' I said. Then she pulled herself together, and she
sort of got between me and the door. 'No, I don't!' she says. 'But if he
is, I'm not surprised, for I've warned him many a time about going out
after nightfall.' I looked hard at her. 'What're you doing with his
papers there?' I says. 'Papers!' she says. 'They're naught but old bills
and things that he gave me to sort.' 'That's a lie!' I says, 'those
aren't bills and I believe you know something about this, and I'm off
for the police--to tell!' Then she pushed the door to behind her and
folded her arms and looked at me. 'You tell a word,' she says, 'and I'll
tell it all over the town that you and your partner's a couple of
ex-convicts! I know your tale--Kitely'd no secrets from me. You stir a
step to tell anybody, and I'll begin by going straight to young
Bent--and I'll not stop at that, neither.' So you see where I was--I was
frightened to death of that old affair getting out, and I knew then that
Kitely was a liar and had told this old woman all about it, and--well,
I hesitated. And she saw that she had me, and she went on, 'You hold
your tongue, and I'll hold mine!' she says. 'Nobody'll accuse me, I
know--but if you speak one word, I'll denounce you! You and your partner
are much more likely to have killed Kitely than I am! Well, I still
stood, hesitating. 'What's to be done?' I asked at last. 'Do naught,'
she said. 'Go home, like a wise man, and know naught about it. Let him
be found--and say naught. But if you do, you know what to expect.' 'Not
a word that I came in here, then?' I said at last. 'Nobody'll get no
words from me beyond what I choose to give 'em', she says. 'And--silence
about the other?' I said. 'Just as long as you're silent,' she says. And
with that I walked out--and I set off towards home by another way. And
just as I was leaving the wood to turn into the path that leads into our
lane I heard a man coming along and I shrank into some shrubs and
watched for him till he came close up. He passed me and went on to the
cottage--and I slipped back then and looked in through the window, and
there he was, and they were both whispering together at the table. And
it--was this woman's nephew--Pett, the lawyer."

The superintendent, whose face had assumed various expressions during
this narrative, lifted his hands in amazement.

"But--but we were in and about that cottage most of that
night--afterwards!" he exclaimed. "We never saw aught of him. I know he
was supposed to come down from London the _next_ night, but----"

"Tell you he was there _that_ night!" insisted Cotherstone. "D'ye think
I could mistake him? Well, I went home--and you know what happened
afterwards: you know what she said and how she behaved when we went
up--and of course I played my part. But--that bit of newspaper I've
given you. I read it carefully that night, last thing. It's a column cut
out of a Woking newspaper of some years ago--it's to do with an inquest
in which this woman was concerned--there seems to be some evidence that
she got rid of an employer of hers by poison. And d'ye know what I
think, now?--I think that had been sent to Kitely, and he'd plagued her
about it, or held it out as a threat to her--and--what is it?"

The superintendent had risen and was taking down his overcoat.

"Do you know that this woman's leaving the town tomorrow?" he said. "And
there's her nephew with her, now--been here for a week? Of course, I
understand why you've told me all this, Mr. Cotherstone--now that your
old affair at Wilchester is common knowledge, far and wide, you don't
care, and you don't see any reason for more secrecy?"

"My reason," answered Cotherstone, with a grim smile, "is to show
Highmarket folk that they aren't so clever as they think. For the
probability is that Kitely was killed by that woman, or her nephew, or
both."

"I'm going up there with a couple of my best men, any way," said the
superintendent. "There's no time to lose if they're clearing out
tomorrow."

"I'll come with you," said Cotherstone. He waited, staring at the fire
until the superintendent had been into the adjacent police-station and
had come back to say that he and his men were ready. "What do you mean
to do?" he asked as the four of them set out. "Take them?"

"Question them first," answered the superintendent. "I shan't let them
get out of my sight, any way, after what you've told me, for I expect
you're right in your conclusions. What is it?" he asked, as one of the
two men who followed behind called him.

The man pointed down the Market Place to the doors of the
police-station.

"Two cars just pulled up there, sir," he said. "Came round the corner
just now from the Norcaster road."

The superintendent glanced back and saw two staring headlights standing
near his own door.

"Oh, well, there's Smith there," he said. "And if it's anybody wanting
me, he knows where I've gone. Come on--for aught we know these two may
have cleared out already."

But there were thin cracks of light in the living-room window of the
lonely cottage on the Shawl, and the superintendent whispered that
somebody was certainly there and still up. He halted his companions
outside the garden gate and turned to Cotherstone.

"I don't know if it'll be advisable for you to be seen," he said. "I
think our best plan'll be for me to knock at the front door and ask for
the woman. You other two go round--quietly--to the back door, and take
care that nobody gets out that way to the moors at the back--if anybody
once escapes to those moors they're as good as lost for ever on a dark
night. Go round--and when you hear me knock at the front, you knock at
the back."

The two men slipped away round the corner of the garden and through the
adjacent belt of trees, and the superintendent gently lifted the latch
of the garden gate.

"You keep back, Mr. Cotherstone, when I go to the door," he said. "You
never know--hullo, what's this?"

Men were coming up the wood behind them, quietly but quickly. One of
them, ahead of the others, carried a bull's-eye lamp and in swinging it
about revealed himself as one of the superintendent's own officers. He
caught sight of his superior and came forward.

"Mr. Brereton's here, sir, and some gentlemen from Norcaster," he said.
"They want to see you particularly--something about this place, so I
brought them----"

It was at that moment that the sound of the two revolver shots rang out
in the silence from the stillness of the cottage. And at that the
superintendent dashed forward, with a cry to the others, and began to
beat on the front door, and while his men responded with similar
knockings at the back he called loudly on Miss Pett to open.

It was Mallalieu who at last flung the door open and confronted the
amazed and wondering group clustered thickly without. Every man there
shrank back affrighted at the desperation on the cornered man's face.
But Mallalieu did not shrink, and his hand was strangely steady as he
singled out his partner and shot him dead--and just as steady as he
stepped back and turned the revolver on himself.

A moment later the superintendent snatched the bull's-eye lamp from his
man, and stepped over Mallalieu's dead body and went into the
cottage--to come back on the instant shivering and sick with shock at
the sight his startled eyes had met.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE BARRISTER'S FEE


Six months later, on a fine evening which came as the fitting close of a
perfect May afternoon, Brereton got out of a London express at Norcaster
and entered the little train which made its way by a branch line to the
very heart of the hills. He had never been back to these northern
regions since the tragedies of which he had been an unwilling witness,
and when the little train came to a point in its winding career amongst
the fell-sides and valleys from whence Highmarket could be seen, with
the tree-crowned Shawl above it, he resolutely turned his face and
looked in the opposite direction. He had no wish to see the town again;
he would have been glad to cut that chapter out of his book of memories.
Nevertheless, being so near to it, he could not avoid the recollections
which came crowding on him because of his knowledge that Highmarket's
old gables and red roofs were there, within a mile or two, had he cared
to look at them in the glint of the westering sun. No--he would never
willingly set foot in that town again!--there was nobody there now that
he had any desire to see. Bent, when the worst was over, and the strange
and sordid story had come to its end, had sold his business, quietly
married Lettie and taken her away for a long residence abroad, before
returning to settle down in London. Brereton had seen them for an hour
or two as they passed through London on their way to Paris and Italy,
and had been more than ever struck by young Mrs. Bent's philosophical
acceptance of facts. Her father, in Lettie's opinion, had always been a
deeply-wronged and much injured man, and it was his fate to have
suffered by his life-long connexion with that very wicked person,
Mallalieu: he had unfortunately paid the penalty at last--and there was
no more to be said about it. It might be well, thought Brereton, that
Bent's wife should be so calm and equable of temperament, for Bent, on
his return to England, meant to go in for politics, and Lettie would
doubtless make an ideal help-meet for a public man. She would face
situations with a cool head and a well-balanced judgment--and so, in
that respect, all was well. All the same, Brereton had a strong notion
that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bent would ever revisit Highmarket.

As for himself, his thoughts went beyond Highmarket--to the place
amongst the hills which he had never seen. After Harborough's due
acquittal Brereton, having discharged his task, had gone back to London.
But ever since then he had kept up a regular correspondence with Avice,
and he knew all the details of the new life which had opened up for her
and her father with the coming of Mr. Wraythwaite of Wraye. Her letters
were full of vivid descriptions of Wraye itself, and of the steward's
house in which she and Harborough--now appointed steward and agent to
his foster-brother's estate--had taken up their residence. She had a
gift of description, and Brereton had gained a good notion of Wraye from
her letters--an ancient and romantic place, set amongst the wild hills
of the Border, lonely amidst the moors, and commanding wide views of
river and sea. It was evidently the sort of place in which a lover of
open spaces, such as he knew Avice to be, could live an ideal life. But
Brereton had travelled down from London on purpose to ask her to leave
it.

He had come at last on a sudden impulse, unknown to any one, and
therefore unexpected. Leaving his bag at the little station in the
valley at which he left the train just as the sun was setting behind the
surrounding hills, he walked quickly up a winding road between groves of
fir and pine towards the great grey house which he knew must be the
place into which the man from Australia had so recently come under
romantic circumstances. At the top of a low hill he paused and looked
about him, recognizing the scenes from the descriptions which Avice had
given him in her letters. There was Wraye itself--a big, old-world
place, set amongst trees at the top of a long park-like expanse of
falling ground; hills at the back, the sea in the far distance. The
ruins of an ancient tower stood near the house; still nearer to
Brereton, in an old-fashioned flower garden, formed by cutting out a
plateau on the hillside, stood a smaller house which he knew--also from
previous description--to be the steward's. He looked long at this before
he went nearer to it, hoping to catch the flutter of a gown amongst the
rose-trees already bright with bloom. And at last, passing through the
rose-trees he went to the stone porch and knocked--and was half-afraid
lest Avice herself should open the door to him. Instead, came; a
strapping, redcheeked North-country lass who stared at this evident
traveller from far-off parts before she found her tongue. No--Miss Avice
wasn't in, she was down the garden, at the far end.

Brereton hastened down the garden; turned a corner; they met
unexpectedly. Equally unexpected, too, was the manner of their meeting.
For these two had been in love with each other from an early stage of
their acquaintance, and it seemed only natural now that when at last
they touched hands, hand should stay in hand. And when two young people
hold each other's hands, especially on a Springtide evening, and under
the most romantic circumstances and surroundings, lips are apt to say
more than tongues--which is as much as to say that without further
preface these two expressed all they had to say in their first kiss.

Nevertheless, Brereton found his tongue at last. For when he had taken a
long and searching look at the girl and had found in her eyes what he
sought, he turned and looked at wood, hill, sky, and sea.

"This is all as you described it" he said, with his arm round her, "and
yet the first real thing I have to say to you now that I am here is--to
ask you to leave it!"

She smiled at that and again put her hand in his.

"But--we shall come back to it now and then--together!" she said.

THE END



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