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Title: Miss Arnott's Marriage
Author: Marsh, Richard, -1915
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 "Miss Arnott's Marriage" ***

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



Transcriber's Notes:

1. Page scan source:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=NTQPAAAAQAAJ.

2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                                               Miss Arnott's
                                               Marriage



                    |-------------------------------|
                    |      BY THE SAME AUTHOR       |
                    |                               |
                    |           *   *   *           |
                    |                               |
                    | CURIOS                        |
                    | ADA VERNHAM, ACTRESS          |
                    | MRS MUSGRAVE AND HER HUSBAND  |
                    | THE MAGNETIC GIRL             |
                    |                               |
                    |           *   *   *           |
                    |                               |
                    | John Long, Publisher, London  |
                    |_______________________________|



                         Miss Arnott's Marriage



                                   By
                             Richard Marsh

                      Author of "The Bettle," etc.



                                 London
                               John Long
                 13 & 14 Norris Street, Haymarket
                                  1904



                                CONTENTS


      CHAP.

         I. ROBERT CHAMPION'S WIFE.

        II. THE WOMAN ON THE PAVEMENT.

       III. THE HEIRESS ENTERS INTO HER OWN.

        IV. THE EARL OF PECKHAM'S PROPOSAL.

         V. TRESPASSING.

        VI. AN AUTHORITY ON THE LAW OF MARRIAGE.

       VII. MR MORICE PRESUMES.

      VIII. THE LADY WANDERS.

        IX. THE BEECH TREE.

         X. THE TALE WHICH WAS TOLD.

        XI. THE MAN ON THE FENCE.

       XII. WHAT SHE HEARD, SAW AND FOUND.

      XIII. AFTERWARDS.

       XIV. ON THE HIGH ROAD.

        XV. COOPER'S SPINNEY.

       XVI. JIM BAKER.

      XVII. INJURED INNOCENCE.

     XVIII. AT THE FOUR CROSS ROADS.

       XIX. THE BUTTONS OFF THE FOILS.

        XX. THE SOLICITOR'S CLERK.

       XXI. THE "NOTE".

      XXII. ERNEST GILBERT.

     XXIII. THE TWO MEN.

      XXIV. THE SOMNAMBULIST.

       XXV. HUGH MORICE EXPLAINS.

      XXVI. THE TWO MAIDS.

     XXVII. A CONFIDANT.

    XXVIII. MRS DARCY SUTHERLAND.

      XXIX. SOME PASSAGES OF ARMS.

       XXX. MISS ARNOTT IS EXAMINED.

      XXXI. THE TWO POLICEMEN.

     XXXII. THE HOUSEMAID'S TALE.

    XXXIII. ON HIS OWN CONFESSION.

     XXXIV. MR DAY WALKS HOME.

      XXXV. IN THE LADY'S CHAMBER.

     XXXVI. OUT OF SLEEP.

    XXXVII. WHAT WAS WRITTEN.

   XXXVIII. MISS ARNOTT'S MARRIAGE.



                         Miss Arnott's Marriage



                               CHAPTER I

                         ROBERT CHAMPION'S WIFE


"Robert Champion, you are sentenced to twelve months' hard labour."

As the chairman of the Sessions Court pronounced the words, the
prisoner turned right round in the dock, and glanced towards where he
knew his wife was standing. He caught her eye, and smiled. What
meaning, if any, the smile conveyed, he perhaps knew. She could only
guess. It was possibly intended to be a more careless, a more
light-hearted smile than it in reality appeared. Robert Champion had
probably not such complete control over his facial muscles as he would
have desired. There was a hunted, anxious look about the eyes, a
suggestion of uncomfortable pallor about the whole countenance which
rather detracted from the impression which she had no doubt that he had
intended to make. She knew the man well enough to be aware that nothing
would please him better than that she should suppose that he regarded
the whole proceedings with gay bravado, with complete indifference,
both for the powers that were and for the punishment which they had
meted out to him. But even if the expression on his face had not shown
that the cur in the man had, for the moment, the upper hand, the
unceremonious fashion in which the warders bundled him down the
staircase, and out of sight, would have been sufficient to prevent any
impression being left behind that he had departed from the scene in a
halo of dignity.

As regards his wife, the effect made upon her by the whole proceedings
was an overwhelming consciousness of unbearable shame. When the man
with the cheap good looks was hustled away, as if he were some inferior
thing, the realisation that this was indeed her husband, was more than
she could endure. She reached out with her hand, as if in search of
some support, and, finding none, sank to the floor of the court in a
swoon.

"Poor dear!" said a woman, standing near. "I expect she's something to
do with that scamp of a fellow--maybe she's his wife."

"This sort of thing often is hardest on those who are left behind,"
chimed in a man. "Sometimes it isn't those who are in prison who suffer
most; it's those who are outside."

When, having regained some of her senses, Violet Champion found herself
in the street, she was inclined to call herself hard names for having
gone near the court at all. She had only gone because she feared that
if she stayed away she might not have learned how the thing had ended.
This crime of which Robert Champion had been guilty was such a petty,
such a paltry thing, that, so far as she knew, the earlier stages of
the case had not been reported at all. One or other of the few score
journals which London issues might have noticed it at some time,
somewhere. If so, it had escaped her observation. Her knowledge of
London papers was limited. They contained little which was likely to be
of interest to her. She hardly knew where to look for such comments.
The idea was not to be borne that she should be left in ignorance as to
how the case had gone, as to what had become of Robert Champion.
Anything rather than that. Her want of knowledge would have been to her
as a perpetual nightmare. She would have scarcely dared to show herself
in the streets for fear of encountering him.

Yet, now that it was all over, and she knew the worst--or best--her
disposition was to blame herself for having strayed within the tainted
purlieus of that crime-haunted court. She felt as if the atmosphere of
the place had infected her with some loathsome bacillus. She also
thought it possible that he might have misconstrued the meaning of her
presence. He was in error if he had supposed that it was intended as a
mark of sympathy. In her complete ignorance of such matters she had no
notion as to the nature of the punishment to which he had rendered
himself liable. If he were sentenced to a long term of penal servitude
she simply wished to know it, that was all. In such a situation any
sort of certainty was better than none. But sympathy! If he had been
sentenced to be hung, her dominant sensation would have been one of
relief. The gallows would have been a way of escape.

No one seeing the tall, handsome girl strolling listlessly along the
street would have connected her with such a sordid tragedy. But it
seemed to her that the stigma of Robert Champion's shame was branded
large all over her, that passers-by had only to glance at her to
perceive at once the depths into which she had fallen.

And they were depths. Only just turned twenty-one; still a girl, and
already a wife who was no wife. For what sort of wife can she be called
who is mated to a convicted felon? And Robert Champion was one of
nature's felons; a rogue who preferred to be a rogue, who loved crooked
ways because of their crookedness, who would not run straight though
the chance were offered him. He was a man who, to the end of his life,
though he might manage to keep his carcase out of the actual hands of
the law, would render himself continually liable to its penalties.
Twelve months ago he was still a stranger. The next twelve months he
was to spend in gaol. When his term of imprisonment was completed would
their acquaintance be recommenced?

At the thought of such a prospect the dizziness which had prostrated
her in court returned. At present she dared not dwell on it.

She came at last to the house in Percy Street in which she had hired a
lodging. A single room, at the top of the house, the rent of which,
little though it was, was already proving a severe drain on her limited
resources. From the moment in which, at an early hour in the morning,
her husband had been dragged out of bed by policemen, she had
relinquished his name. There was nothing else of his she could
relinquish. The rent for the rooms they occupied was in arrears;
debts were due on every side. Broadly speaking, they owed for
everything--always had done since the day they were married. There were
a few articles of dress, and of personal adornment, which she felt that
she was reasonably justified in considering her own. Most of these she
had turned into cash, and had been living--or starving--on the proceeds
ever since. The occupant of the "top floor back" was known as Miss
Arnott. She had returned to her maiden name. She paid six shillings a
week for the accommodation she received, which consisted of the bare
lodging, and what--ironically--was called "attendance." Her rent had
been settled up to yesterday, and she was still in possession of
twenty-seven shillings.

When she reached her room she became conscious that she was
hungry--which was not strange, since she had eaten nothing since breakfast,
which had consisted of a cup of tea and some bread and butter. But of
late she had been nearly always hungry. Exhausted, mentally and bodily,
she sank on to the side of the bed, which made a more comfortable seat
than the only chair which the room contained; and thought and thought
and thought. If only certain puzzles could be solved by dint of sheer
hard thinking! But her brain was in such a state of chaos that she
could only think confusedly, in a vicious circle, from which her
mind was incapable of escaping. To only one conclusion could she
arrive--that it would be a very good thing if she might be permitted to
lie down on the bed, just as she was, and stay there till she was dead.
For her life was at an end already at twenty-one. She had put a period
to it when she had suffered herself to become that man's wife.

She was still vaguely wondering if it might not be possible for her to
take advantage of some such means of escape when she was startled by a
sudden knocking at the door. Taken unawares, she sprang up from the
bed, and, without pausing to consider who might be there, she cried,--

"Come in!"

Her invitation was accepted just as she was beginning to realise that
it had been precipitately made. The door was opened; a voice--a
masculine voice--inquired,--

"May I see Miss Arnott?"

The speaker remained on the other side of the open door, in such a
position that, from where she was, he was still invisible.

"What do you want? Who are you?" she demanded.

"My name is Gardner--Edward Gardner. I occupy the dining-room. If you
will allow me to come in I will explain the reason of my intrusion. I
think you will find my explanation a sufficient one."

She hesitated. The fact that the speaker was a man made her at once
distrustful. Since her marriage day she had been developing a
continually increasing distaste for everything masculine--seeing in
every male creature a possible replica of her husband. The moment, too,
was unpropitious. Yet, since the stranger was already partly in the
room, she saw no alternative to letting him come a little farther.

"Come in," she repeated.

There entered an undersized, sparely-built man, probably between forty
and fifty years of age. He was clean-shaven, nearly bald--what little
hair he had was iron grey--and was plainly but neatly dressed in black.
He spoke with an air of nervous deprecation, as if conscious that he
was taking what might be regarded as a liberty, and was anxious to show
cause why it should not be resented.

"As I said just now, I occupy the dining-rooms and my name is Gardner.
I am a solicitor's clerk. My employers are Messrs Stacey, Morris &
Binns, of Bedford Row. Perhaps you are acquainted with the firm?"

He paused as if for a reply. She was still wondering more and more what
the man could possibly be wanting; oppressed by the foreboding, as he
mentioned that he was a solicitor's clerk, that he was a harbinger of
further trouble. With her law and trouble were synonyms. He went on,
his nervousness visibly increasing. He was rendered uneasy by the
statuesque immobility of her attitude, by the strange fashion in which
she kept her eyes fixed on his face. It was also almost with a sense of
shock that he perceived how young she was, and how beautiful.

"It is only within the last few minutes that I learned, from the
landlady, that your name was Arnott. It is a somewhat unusual name;
and, as my employers have been for some time searching for a person
bearing it, I beg that you will allow me to ask you one or two
questions. Of course, I understand that my errand will quite probably
prove to be a futile one; but, at the same time, let me assure you that
any information you may give will only be used for your advantage; and
should you, by a strange coincidence, turn out to be a member of the
family for whom search has been made, you will benefit by the discovery
of the fact. May I ask if, to your knowledge, you ever had a relation
named Septimus Arnott?"

"He was my uncle. My father's name was Sextus Arnott. My grandfather
had seven sons and no daughters. He was an eccentric man, I believe--I
never saw him; and he called them all by Latin numerals. My father was
the sixth son, Sextus; the brother to whom you refer, the seventh and
youngest, Septimus."

"Dear, dear! how extraordinary! almost wonderful!"

"I don't know why you should call it wonderful. It was perhaps curious;
but, in this world, people do curious things."

"Quite so!--exactly!--not a doubt of it! It was the coincidence which I
was speaking of as almost wonderful, not your grandfather's method of
naming his sons; I should not presume so far. And where, may I further
be allowed to ask, is your father now, and his brothers?"

"They are all dead."

"All dead! Dear! dear!"

"My father's brothers all died when they were young men. My father
himself died three years ago--at Scarsdale, in Cumberland. My mother
died twelve months afterwards. I am their only child."

"Their only child! You must suffer me to say, Miss Arnott, that it
almost seems as if the hand of God had brought you to this house and
moved me to intrude myself upon you. I take it that you can furnish
proofs of the correctness of what you say?"

"Of course I can prove who I am, and who my father was, and his
father."

"Just so; that is precisely what I mean--exactly. Miss Arnott, Mr
Stacey, the senior partner in our firm, resides in Pembridge Gardens,
Bayswater. I have reason to believe that, if I go at once, I shall find
him at home. When I tell him what I have learnt I am sure that he will
come to you at once. May I ask you to await his arrival? I think I can
assure you that you shall not be kept waiting more than an hour."

"What can the person of whom you speak have to say to me?"

"As I have told you, I am only a servant. It is not for me to betray my
employer's confidence; but so much I may tell you--if you are the niece
of the Septimus Arnott for whom we are acting you are a very fortunate
young lady. And, in any case, I do assure you that you will not regret
affording Mr Stacey an opportunity of an immediate interview."

Mr Gardner went; the girl consented to await his return. Almost as soon
as he was gone the landlady--Mrs Sayers--paid her a visit. It soon
appeared that she had been prompted by the solicitor's clerk.

"I understand, Miss Arnott, from Mr Gardner, who has had my dining-room
now going on for five years, that his chief governor, Mr Stacey, is
coming to call on you, as it were, at any moment. If you'd like to
receive him in my sitting-room, I'm sure you're very welcome; and you
shall be as private as you please."

The girl eyed the speaker. Hitherto civility had not been her strongest
point. Her sudden friendly impulse could only have been induced by some
very sufficient reason of her own. The girl declined her offer. Mrs
Sayers became effusive, almost insistent.

"I am sure, my dear, that you will see for yourself that it's not quite
the thing for a young lady to receive a gentleman, and maybe two, in a
room like this, which she uses for sleeping. You're perfectly welcome
to my little sitting-room for half an hour, or even more, where you'll
be most snug and comfortable; and as for making you a charge, or
anything of that sort, I shouldn't think of it, so don't let yourself
be influenced by any fears of that kind."

But the girl would have nothing to do with Mrs Sayers' sitting-room.
This woman had regarded her askance ever since she had entered the
house, had treated her with something worse than incivility. Miss
Arnott was not disposed, even in so trifling a matter, to place herself
under an obligation to her now. Mrs Sayers was difficult to convince;
but the girl was rid of her at last, and was alone to ask herself what
this new turn of fortune's wheel might portend. On this already
sufficiently eventful day, of what new experiment was she to be made
the subject? What was this stranger coming to tell her about Septimus
Arnott--the uncle from whom her father had differed, as he himself was
wont to phrase it, on eleven points out of ten? She was, it appeared,
to be asked certain questions. Good; she would be prepared to answer
them, up to a certain point. But where, exactly, was that point? And
what would happen after it was reached?

She was ready and willing to give a full and detailed account of all
that had ever happened to her--up to the time of her coming to London.
And how much afterwards? She did not, at present, know how it could be
done; but if, by any means whatever, the thing were possible, she meant
to conceal--from the whole world!--the shameful fact that she was
Robert Champion's wife. Nothing, save the direst unescapable pressure,
should ever induce her to even admit that she had known the man. That
entire episode should be erased from her life, as if it had never been,
if it were feasible. And she would make it feasible.

The matter she had at present to consider was, how much--or how
little--she should tell her coming visitors.



                               CHAPTER II

                       THE WOMAN ON THE PAVEMENT


Mr Stacey was a tall, portly gentleman, quite an accepted type of
family lawyer. He was white-headed and inclined to be red-faced. He
carried a pair of nose glasses, which were as often between his fingers
as on his nose. His manner was urbane, with a tendency towards
pomposity; and when he smiled, which was often, he showed a set of
teeth which were as white and regular as the dentist could make them.
He was followed into the room by Mr Gardner; and when the apartment
contained three persons it was filled to overflowing.

"Miss Arnott, my excellent friend, Mr Gardner here, has brought me
most important news--most important. He actually tells me that you
are--eh--the Miss Arnott for whom we have been so long in search."

"I am Miss Arnott. I am not aware, however, that anyone has searched
for me. I don't know why they should."

Mr Gardner, who had been showing a vivid consciousness of scanty space,
proffered a suggestion.

"If I might make so bold, sir, as to ask Miss Arnott to honour me by
stepping down to my poor parlour, we should, at least, have a little
more room to move."

"Mrs Sayers has already made me a similar proposal. I declined it, as I
decline yours. What you wish to say to me you will be so good as to say
to me here. This room, such as it is, is at anyrate my own--for the
present."

"For the present; quite so!--quite so! A fine spirit of independence--a
fine spirit. I think, Miss Arnott, that before long you will have other
rooms of your own, where you will be able to be independent in another
sense. I understand that you claim to be the only surviving relative of
Septimus Arnott, of Exham Park, Hampshire."

"You understand quite wrongly; I claim nothing. I merely say that I am
the only child of Sextus Arnott, and that I had an uncle whose name was
Septimus. When they were young men my father and his brother were both
artists. But, after a time, Uncle Septimus came to the conclusion that
there was not much money to be made out of painting. He wanted my
father to give it up. My father, who loved painting better than
anything else in the world"--the words were uttered with more than a
shade of bitterness--"wouldn't. They quarrelled and parted. My father
never saw his brother again, and I have never seen him at all."

"You don't know, then, that he is dead?"

"I know nothing except what my father has told me. He remained what he
called 'true to his art' to the end of his life, and never forgave his
brother for turning his back on it."

"Pardon my putting to you a somewhat delicate question. Did your father
make much money by his painting?"

"Much money!" The girl's lip curled. "When he died there was just
enough left to keep my mother till she died."

"And then?"

"I came to London in search of fortune."

"And found it?"

"Do I look as if I had--in this attic, which contains all that I have
in the world? No; fortune does not come to such as I am. I should be
tolerably content if I were sure of daily bread. But why do you ask
such questions? Why do you pry into my private affairs? I am not
conscious of a desire to thrust them on your notice--or on anyone's."

"Miss Arnott, I beg that you will not suppose that I am actuated by
common curiosity. Let me explain the situation in half-a-dozen words.
Your Uncle Septimus, after he left your father, went to South America.
There, after divers adventures, he went in for cattle breeding. In that
pursuit he amassed one of those large fortunes which are characteristic
of modern times. Eventually he came to England, bought a property,
settled himself on it, and there died. We acted as his legal advisers.
He left his whole property to his brother Sextus; or, in the event of
his brother predeceasing him, to his brother's children. You must
understand that he himself lived and died a bachelor. His own death
occurred three years ago."

"My father also died three years ago--on the 18th of March."

"This is very remarkable, Miss Arnott; they must have died on the same
day!"

"My father died at five minutes to six in the evening. His last words
were, 'Well, Septimus.' My mother and I, who were at his bedside,
wondered why he had said it--which he did so plainly that we both
turned round to see if anyone had come into the room. Until then he had
not mentioned his brother's name for a long time."

"Miss Arnott, this is more and more remarkable; quite apart from any
legal proof there can be no sort of doubt that you are the person
we are seeking. It happened that I was present at your uncle's
deathbed--partly as a friend and partly as his professional adviser. For
I should tell you that he was a very lonely man. He seemed to have no
friends, and was chary of making acquaintances; in that great house he
lived the life of a lonely recluse. He died just as the clock was
striking six; and just before he died he sat up in bed, held out his
hand, and exclaimed in quite his old, hearty voice, 'Hullo, Sextus.'
No one there knew to what the reference was made; but from what you say
it would almost appear as if their spirits were already meeting." Mr
Stacey blew his nose as if all at once conscious that they were touching
a subject which was not strictly professional. "Before entering further
into matters, I presume that--merely for form's sake--you are in a
position to prove, Miss Arnott, that you are you."

"Certainly, I can do that, to some extent, at once." She took an
envelope from a shabby old handbag; from the envelope some papers.
"This is my mother's marriage certificate; this is the certificate of
my own birth; this--" the paper of which she had taken hold chanced to
be a copy of the document which certified that a marriage had taken
place between Robert Champion, bachelor, and Violet Arnott, spinster.
For the moment she had forgotten its existence. When she recognised
what it was her heart seemed to sink in her bosom; her voice trembled;
it was only with an effort that she was able to keep herself from
handing it to the man of law in front of her. "No," she stammered,
"that's the wrong paper." Just in time she drew it back. If he had only
had one glance at it the whole course of her life would have been
different. She went on, with as complete a show of calmness as she was
capable of, "This is the paper I meant to give you--it is a copy of the
certificate of my father's death; and this is a copy of my mother's.
They are both buried in the same grave in the cemetery at Scarsdale."

He took the papers she passed to him, seemingly unconscious that there
was anything curious in her manner. That other paper, crumpling it up,
she slipped between the buttons of her bodice. He looked through the
documents she had given him.

"They appear to be perfectly in order--perfectly in order, and I have
no doubt that on investigation they will be ascertained to be. By the
way, Miss Arnott, I notice that you were born just one-and-twenty years
ago."

"Yes; my twenty-first birthday was on the 9th of last month--five weeks
ago."

She did not think it necessary to mention that the memory of it would
be with her for ever, since it had been celebrated by the arrest of her
husband.

"Five weeks ago? A pity that it couldn't have been next month instead
of last; then the date of your coming of age might have been made a
great occasion. However, it shall still be to you a memorable year. You
will, of course, understand that there are certain forms which must be
gone through; but I don't think I am premature in expressing to you my
personal conviction that you are the person who is intended to benefit
under the will of the late Mr Septimus Arnott. Your uncle was one of
our multi-millionaires. I cannot, at this moment, state the exact value
of his estate; but this I can inform you--that your income will be
considerably over one hundred thousand pounds a year."

"One hundred thousand pounds a year!" She gripped, with her right hand,
the back of the room's one chair. "Do you mean it?"

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt. I am free to admit that I am fond of a
jest; but a fortune of that magnitude is not a fit subject for a joke.
Believe me, you will find it a serious matter when you come to be
directly responsible for its administration."

"It seems a large sum of money."

He observed her a little curiously; she showed so few signs of emotion,
none of elation. In her position, at her age, on receipt of such news,
one would have looked for her cheeks to flush, for her lips to be
parted by a smile, for a new brightness to come into her eyes--for
these things at least. So far as he was able to perceive, not the
slightest change took place in her bearing, her manner, her appearance;
except that perhaps she became a little paler. The communication he had
just made might have been of interest to a third party, but of none to
her, so striking was the suggestion of indifference which her demeanour
conveyed.

He decided that the explanation was that as yet she was incapable of
realising her own good fortune.

"Seems a large sum? It is a large sum! How large I lack words to enable
you to clearly comprehend. When we talk of millions we speak of figures
anything like the full meaning of which the ordinary imagination is
altogether incapable to grasp. I think, Miss Arnott, that some time
will probably elapse vast is the responsibility which is about to be
placed upon you. In the meantime I would make two remarks--first, that
until matters are placed in regular order I shall be happy to place at
your disposition any amount of ready cash you may require; and second,
that until everything is arranged, Mrs Stacey and myself will be only
too glad to extend to you our hospitality at Pembridge Gardens."

"I think, if you don't mind, I should like to remain here at anyrate
to-night. I shall have a great many things to consider; I should prefer
to do so alone. If you wish it I will call on you in the morning at
your offices, and then we will go into everything more fully."

"Very good. As you choose, Miss Arnott. It is for you to command, for
me to obey. You are your own mistress in a sense, and to a degree which
I fancy you don't at present understand. I took the precaution to
provide myself, before leaving home, with a certain amount of ready
money. Permit me to place at your service this hundred pounds; you will
find that there are twenty five-pound notes. I need scarcely add that
the money is your own property. Now as to to-morrow. We have had so
much difficulty in finding you, and it is by such a seeming miracle
that we have lighted on you at last, that I am reluctant to lose sight
of you even for a single night--until, that is, everything is in due
order, and you have happily released us from the great weight of
responsibility which has lain so long upon us. May I take it that we
shall certainly see you to-morrow at our offices at noon?"

"Yes; I will be with you to-morrow at noon." It was on that
understanding they parted. Before he left the house Mr Stacey said to
his clerk,--

"Gardner, that's a singular young woman. So young, so beautiful, and
yet so cold, so frigid, so--stolid. She didn't even thank me for
bringing her the good news, neither by a word nor look did she so much
as hint that the news had gratified her; indeed, I am not at all sure
that she thinks it is good news. In one so young, so charming--because,
so far as looks are concerned, she is charming, and she will be
particularly so when she is well dressed--it isn't natural, Gardner, it
isn't natural."

In the top floor back the girl was contemplating the twenty five-pound
notes. She had never before been the owner of so much money, or
anything like so much. Had she been the possessor of such a fortune
when she came to town she might never have become a "model" in the
costume department of the world-famed Messrs Glover & Silk, she might
never have made the acquaintance of Robert Champion, she would
certainly never have become his wife. The glamour which had seemed to
surround him had been the result of the circumstances in which she had
first encountered him. Had her own position not been such a pitiable
one she would never have been duped by him, by his impudent assurance,
his brazen lies, his reckless promises. She had seen that clearly, long
ago.

A hundred pounds! Why, the fraud for which, at that moment, he was in
gaol had had for its objective a sum of less than twenty pounds. She
writhed as she thought of it. Was he already in prisoner's clothes,
marked with the broad arrow? Was he thinking of her in his felon's
cell? She tried to put the vision from her, as one too horrible for
contemplation. Would it persistently recur to her, in season and out,
her whole life long? God forbid! Rather than that, better death,
despite her uncle's fortune.

In any case she could at least afford to treat herself to a sufficient
meal. She went to a quiet restaurant in Oxford Street, and there fared
sumptuously--that is, sumptuously in comparison to the fashion in which
she had fared this many and many a day. Afterwards, she strolled along
the now lamp-lit street. As she went she met a girl of about her own
age who was decked out in tawdry splendours. They had nearly passed
before they knew each other. Then recognition came. The other girl
stopped and turned.

"Why, Vi!" she exclaimed. "Who'd have dreamt of seeing you?"

The girl addressed did not attempt to return the greeting. She did not
even acknowledge it. Instead she rushed off the pavement into a
"crawling" hansom, saying to the driver as she entered his vehicle,--

"Drive me to the city--anywhere; only be quick and get away from here!"

When she concluded that she was well out of that other girl's sight she
instructed the man to drive her to Percy Street. At the corner of the
street she alighted. Once more in her attic she did as she had done on
her previous return to it--she sank down on to the side of the bed,
trembling from head to foot.

The woman who had spoken to her in Oxford Street was Sarah Stevens, who
had been a fellow employee at Messrs Glover & Silk's. It was she who
had introduced her to Robert Champion. It was largely owing to the
tales she had told of him, and to her eager advocacy of his suit, that
she had been jockeyed into becoming his wife. It was only afterwards,
when it was too late, that she had learnt that the girl was as bad
as--if not worse than--the man to whom she had betrayed her. From the
beginning the pair had been co-conspirators; Violet Arnott had been
their victim.

Was she to be haunted always by the fear of such encounters? Rather
than run that risk she would never again set foot in London. Certainly,
the sooner she was out of it the better.



                              CHAPTER III

                    THE HEIRESS ENTERS INTO HER OWN


During the days and weeks which followed it was as though she were the
chief personage in a strange, continuous dream. Always she expected an
awakening--of a kind of which she did not dare to think. But the dream
continued. All at once her path was strewn with roses; up to then she
had seemed to have to pick her way, barefooted, amid stones and
thistles. No obstacle of any kind arose. Everything was smooth and
easy. Her claim to be her uncle's niece was admitted as soon as it was
made. Under her uncle's will Mr Stacey was the sole trustee. To all
intents and purposes his trusteeship was at an end when she was found.
She was of age; the property was hers to do with exactly as she would.
By no conditions was she bound. She was her own mistress; in sole
control of that great fortune. It was a singular position for a young
girl to find herself suddenly occupying.

She was glad enough to leave her affairs in the hands of Messrs Stacey,
Morris & Binns. In those early days the mere attempt to understand them
was beyond her power. They were anxious enough to place before her an
exact statement of the position she had now to occupy. To some extent
she grasped its meaning. But the details she insisted on being allowed
to assimilate by degrees.

"If I know pretty well what I have and what I haven't, what I can do
and what I can't, and what my duties and responsibilities are, say, in
three, or even six months' time, I'll be content. In the meanwhile you
must continue to do precisely what you have been doing during the time
in which I was still not found. I understand sufficiently to know that
you have managed all things better than I am ever likely to."

She provided herself with what she deemed an ample, and, indeed,
extravagant supply of clothing at Mrs Stacey's urgent request. That
lady's ideas, however, were much more gorgeous than her own. The
solicitor's wife insisted that it was only right and proper that she
should have a wardrobe which, as she put it, "was suitable to her
position." That meant, apparently, that, in the way of wearing apparel,
she should supply herself with the contents of a good-sized London
shop. To that Miss Arnott objected.

"What do you suppose I shall do with all those things?" she demanded.
"I am going into the country to stay there. I am going to live all
alone, as my uncle did. I sha'n't see a creature from week's end to
week's end--a heap of new dresses won't be wanted for that. They'll all
be out of fashion long before I have a chance of wearing them."

Mrs Stacey smiled; she was a lady of ample proportions, who had herself
a taste for sumptuous raiment.

"I fancy, dear Miss Arnott, that even now you don't realise your own
situation. Do you really suppose that--as you suggest--you will be
allowed to live all alone at Exham Park, without seeing a creature from
week's end to week's end?"

"Who is going to prevent me?"

"Dear Miss Arnott, you are positively amusing. Before you have been
there a fortnight the whole county, at least, will have been inside
your doors."

"I hope not."

The look of distress on the young lady's countenance was almost
comical.

"You speak, I think, without reflection. I, personally, should be both
grieved and disappointed if anything else were to happen."

"You would be grieved and disappointed? Good gracious! Mrs Stacey,
why?"

"It is only in accordance with the requirements of common decency that
a person in your position should receive adequate recognition. If
everyone did not call on you you would be subjected to an injurious
slight."

"Certainly that point of view did not occur to me. Up to now no one
worth speaking of has recognised my existence in the slightest degree.
The idea, therefore, that it has suddenly become everyone's duty to do
so is, to say the least, a novel one.

"So I imagined. It is, however, as I say; you see, circumstances are
altered. Quite apart from the period when you will possess a town
residence--"

"That period will be never."

"Never is a long while--a very long while. I say, quite apart from that
period, what I cannot but call your unique position will certainly
entitle you to act as one of the leaders of county society."

"How dreadful! I'm beginning to wish my position wasn't so unique."

"You speak, if you will forgive my saying so, as a child. Providence
has seen fit to place you in a position in which you will be an object
of universal admiration. With your youth, your appearance, your
fortune, not only all Hampshire, but all England, will be at your feet.

"All England! Mrs Stacey, isn't that just a little exaggerated?"

"Not in the least. On the contrary, my language, if anything, errs on
the side of being too guarded. A beautiful young girl of twenty-one,
all alone in the world, with more than a hundred thousand pounds a year
entirely under her own control--princes from all parts of the world
will tumble over each other in their desire to find favour in your
eyes."

"Then princes must be much more foolish persons than I supposed."

"My dear, of that we will say nothing. Don't let us speak evil of
dignitaries. I was always brought up to think of them with respect. To
return to the subject of your wardrobe. I have merely made these few
remarks in order to point out to you how essential it is that you
should be furnished, at the outset, with a wardrobe likely to prove
equal to all the demands which are certain to be made on one in your
position."

"All the same, I won't have five hundred dresses. Position or no
position, I know I shall be much happier with five."

It is an undoubted fact that the young lady's equipment of costumes
extended to more than five, though it stopped far short of the number
which her feminine mentor considered adequate. Indeed, Mrs Stacey made
no secret of her opinion that, from the social point of view, her
arrangements were scarcely decent.

"At the very first serious call which is made upon your resources, you
will find yourself absolutely without a thing to wear. Then you'll have
to rush up to town and have clothes made for you in red-hot haste, than
which nothing can be more unsatisfactory."

"I shall have to chance that. I hate shops and I hate shopping."

"My dear!"

"I do. I don't care how it is with other girls, it's like that with me.
I've already had more than enough of dressmakers; for ever so long I
promise you that I won't go near one for another single thing. I'm
going to the country, and I'm going to live a country life; and for the
kind of country life I mean to live you don't want frocks."

Mrs Stacey lifted up her hands and sighed. To her such sentiments
seemed almost improper. It was obvious that Miss Arnott meant to be her
own mistress in something more than name. On one question, however, she
was over-ruled. That was on the question of a companion.

It was perfectly clear, both to her legal advisers and to the senior
partner's wife, that it was altogether impossible for her to live at
Exham Park entirely companionless.

"What harm will there be?" she demanded. "I shall be quite alone."

"My dear," returned Mrs Stacey, "you won't understand. It is precisely
that which is impossible--you must not be quite alone; a young girl, a
mere child like you. People will not only think things, they will say
them--and they will be right in doing so. The idea is monstrous, not to
be entertained for a moment. You must have some sort of a companion."

Miss Arnott emitted a sound which might have been meant for a groan.

"Very well then, if I must I must--but she shall be younger than I am;
or, at anyrate, not much older."

Mrs Stacey looked as if the suggestion had rendered her temporarily
speechless.

"My dear," she finally gasped, "that would be worse than ever. Two
young girls alone together in such a house--what a scandal there would
be!"

"Why should there be any scandal?"

Miss Arnott's manner was a little defiant.

"If you cannot see for yourself I would rather you did not force me to
explain. I can only assure you that if you are not extremely careful
your innocence of evil will lead you into very great difficulties. What
you want is a woman of mature age, of wide knowledge of the world;
above all, of impregnable respectability. One who will, in a sense,
fill the place of a mother, officiate--nominally--as the head of your
household, who will help you in entertaining visitors--"

"There will be no visitors to entertain."

The elder lady indulged in what she intended for an enigmatic smile.

"When you have been at Exham Park for six months you will blush at the
recollection of your own simplicity. At present I can only ask you to
take my word for it that there will be shoals of visitors."

"Then that companion of mine will have to entertain them, that's all.
One thing I stipulate: you will have to discover her, I sha'n't."

To this Mrs Stacey willingly acceded. The companion was discovered. She
was a Mrs Plummer; of whom her discoverer spoke in tones of chastened
solemnity.

"Mrs Plummer is a distant connection of Mr Stacey. As such, he has
known her all his life; and can therefore vouch for her in every
respect. She has known trouble; and, as trouble always does, it has
left its impress upon her. But she is a true woman, with a great heart
and a beautiful nature. She is devoted to young people. You will find
in her a firm friend, one who will make your interests her own, and who
will be able and willing to give you sound advice on all occasions in
which you find yourself in difficulty. I am convinced that you will
become greatly attached to her; you will find her such a very present
help in all times of trouble."

When, a few days before they went down together to Exham Park, Miss
Arnott was introduced to Mrs Plummer in Mrs Stacey's drawing-room, in
some way, which the young lady would have found it hard to define, she
did not accord with her patroness's description. As her custom
sometimes was, Miss Arnott plunged headforemost into the midst of
things.

"I am told that you are to be my companion. I am very sorry for you,
because I am not at all a companionable sort of creature."

"You need not be sorry. I think you will find that I understand the
situation. Convention declines to allow a young woman to live alone in
her own house; I shall be the necessary figurehead which the
proprieties require. I shall never intrude myself. I shall be always in
the background--except on occasions when I perceive that you would
sooner occupy that place yourself. I shall be quick to see when those
occasions arise; and, believe me, they will be more frequent than you
may at this moment suspect. As for freedom--you will have more freedom
under the ægis of my wing, which will be purely an affair of the
imagination, than without it; since, under its imaginary shelter, you
will be able to do all manner of things which, otherwise, you would
hardly be able to do unchallenged. In fact, with me as cover, you will
be able to do exactly as you please; and still remain in the inner
sanctuary of Mrs Grundy."

Mrs Plummer spoke with a degree of frankness for which Miss Arnott was
unprepared. She looked at her more closely, to find that she was a
little woman, apparently younger than she had expected. Her dark brown
hair was just beginning to turn grey. She was by no means ugly; the
prominent characteristic of her face being the smallness of the
features. She had a small mouth, thinly lipped, which, when it was
closed, was tightly closed. She had a small, slenderly-fashioned
aquiline nose, the nostrils of which were very fine and delicate. Her
eyes were small and somewhat prominent, of a curious shade in blue,
having about them a quality which suggested that, while they saw
everything which was taking place around her, they served as masks
which prevented you seeing anything which was transpiring at the back
of them. She was dressed like a lady; she spoke like a lady; she looked
a lady. Miss Arnott had not been long in her society before she
perceived, though perhaps a little dimly, what Mrs Stacey had meant by
saying that trouble had left its impress on her. There was in her
voice, her face, her bearing, her manner, a something which spoke of
habitual self-repression, which was quite possibly the outcome of some
season of disaster which, for her, had changed the whole aspect of the
world.

The day arrived, at last, when the heiress made her first appearance at
Exham Park. The house had been shut up, and practically dismantled, for
so long, that the task of putting it in order, collecting an adequate
staff of servants, and getting it generally ready for its new mistress,
occupied some time. Miss Arnott journeyed with Mrs Plummer; it was the
first occasion on which they had been companions. The young lady's
sensations, as the train bore her through the sunlit country, were of a
very singular nature; the little woman in the opposite corner of the
compartment had not the faintest notion how singular.

Mr Stacey met the travellers at the station, ushering them into a
landau, the door of which was held open by a gigantic footman in
powdered hair and silk stockings. Soon after they had started, Miss
Arnott asked a question,--

"Is this my carriage?"

The gentleman replied, with some show of pomposity,--

"It is one of them, Miss Arnott, one of them. You will find, in your
coach-houses, a variety of vehicles; but, of course, I do not for a
moment pretend that you will find there every kind of conveyance you
require. Indeed, the idea has rather been that you should fill the
inevitable vacancies in accordance with the dictates of your own
taste."

"Whose idea is the flour and the silk stockings?"

She was looking up at the coachman and footman on the box.

"The--eh?--oh, I perceive; you allude to the men's liveries. The
liveries, Miss Arnott, were chosen by your late uncle; I think you will
admit that they are very handsome ones. It has been felt that, in
deference to him, they should be continued, until you thought proper to
rule otherwise."

"Then I'm afraid that they won't be continued much longer. In such
matters my uncle's tastes were--I hope it isn't treason to say
so--perhaps a trifle florid. Mine are all the other way. I don't like
floured heads, silk stockings, or crimson velvet breeches; I like
everything about me to be plain to the verge of severity. My father's
ideal millionaire was mine; shall I tell you what that was?"

"If you will be so good."

"He held that a man with five thousand a year, if he were really a
gentleman, would do his best not to allow it to be obvious to the man
who only had five hundred that he had more than he had."

"There is something to be said for that point of view; on the other
hand, there is a great deal to be said for the other side."

"No doubt. There is always a great deal to be said for the other side.
I am only hinting at the one towards which I personally incline."
Presently they were passing along an avenue of trees. "Where are we
now?"

"We are on your property--this is the drive to the house."

"There seems to be a good deal of it."

"It is rather more than three miles long; there are lodge gates at
either end; the house stands almost in the centre."

"It seems rather pretty."

"Pretty! Exham Park is one of the finest seats in the country. That is
why your uncle purchased it."

After a while they came in sight of the house.

"Is that the house? It looks more like a palace. Fancy my living all
alone in a place like that! Now I understand why a companion was an
absolute necessity. It strikes me, Mrs Plummer, that you will want a
companion as much as I shall. What shall we two lone, lorn women do in
that magnificent abode?"

As they stepped in front of the splendid portico there came down the
steps a man who held his hat in his hand, with whom Mr Stacey at once
went through the ceremony of introduction.

"Miss Arnott, this is Mr Arthur Cavanagh, your steward."

She found herself confronted by a person who was apparently not much
more than thirty years of age; erect, well-built, with short, curly
hair, inclined to be ruddy, a huge moustache, and a pair of the
merriest blue eyes she had ever seen. When they were in the house, and
Mr Stacey was again alone with the two ladies, he observed, with
something which approximated to an air of mystery,--

"You must understand, Miss Arnott, that, as regards Mr Cavanagh, we--my
partners and myself--have been in a delicate position. He was your
uncle's particular _protégé_. I have reason to know that he came to
England at his express request. We have hardly seen our way--acting
merely on our own initiative--to displace him."

"Displace him? Why should he be displaced? Isn't he a good steward?"

"As regards that, good stewards are not difficult to find. Under the
circumstances, the drawbacks in his case are, I may almost say,
notorious. He is young, even absurdly young; he is not ill-looking, and
he is unmarried."

Miss Arnott smiled, as if Mr Stacey had been guilty of perpetrating a
joke.

"It's not his fault that he is young; it's not my fault that I am
young. It's nice not to be ill-looking, and--I rather fancy--it's nice
to be unmarried." She said to Mrs Plummer as, a little later, they were
going upstairs together, side by side, "What odd things Mr Stacey does
say. Fancy regarding them as drawbacks being young, good-looking and
unmarried. What can he be thinking of?"

"I must refer you to him. It is one of the many questions to which I am
unable to supply an answer of my own."

When she was in her own room, two faces persisted in getting in front
of Miss Arnott's eyes. One was the face of Mr Arthur Cavanagh, the
other was that of the man who was serving a term of twelve months' hard
labour, and which was always getting, as it were, between her and the
daylight.



                               CHAPTER IV

                     THE EARL OF PECKHAM'S PROPOSAL


Miss Arnott soon realised what Mrs Stacey had meant by insisting on the
impossibility of her living a solitary life. So soon as she arrived
upon the scene, visitors began to appear at Exham Park in a constant
stream. The day after she came calls were made by two detachments of
the clergy, and by the representatives of three medical men. But, as
Mrs Plummer somewhat unkindly put it, these might be regarded as
professional calls; or, in other words, requests for custom.

"Since you are the patron of these livings, their present holders were
bound to haste and make obeisance--though it would seem that, in that
respect, one of them is still a defaulter. The way in which those two
doctors and their wives, who happened to come together, glowered at
each other was beautiful. One quite expected to see them lapse into
mutual charges of unprofessional conduct. Which of the three do you
propose to favour?"

"Mr Cavanagh says that uncle used to patronise all three. He had one
for the servants on the estate one for the indoor servants, and one for
himself."

"And which of the three was it who killed him?"

"There came a time when all three were called together to consult upon
his case. That finished uncle at once. He died within four-and-twenty
hours. So Mr Cavanagh says."

"I suppose Mr Cavanagh is able to supply you with little interesting
details on all sorts of recondite subjects?"

"Oh yes; he is like a walking encyclopedia of information on all
matters connected with the estate. Whenever I want to know anything I
simply go to him; he always knows. It is most convenient."

"And I presume that he is always willing to tell you what you want to
know."

"Most willing. I never met a more obliging person. And so
good-humoured. Have you noticed his smile?"

"I can't say that I have paid particular attention to his smile."

"It's wonderful; it lights up all his face and makes him positively
handsome. I think he's a most delightful person, and so clever. I'm
sure he's immensely popular with everyone; not at all like the
hard-as-nails stewards one reads about. I can't imagine what Mr Stacey
meant byalmost expressing a regret that he had not displaced him, can
you?"

"Some people sometimes say such extraordinary things that it's no use
trying to imagine what they mean."

The answer was a trifle vague; but it seemed to satisfy Miss Arnott.
Neither of the ladies looked to see if the other was smiling.

Mrs Stacey's sibylline utterance was prophetic; in a fortnight the
whole county had called--that is, so much of it as was within anything
like calling distance, and in the country in these days "calling
distance" is a term which covers a considerable expanse of ground.
Practically the only abstentions were caused by people's absence from
home. It was said that some came purposely from London, and even
farther, so that they might not lose an opportunity of making Miss
Arnott's acquaintance.

For instance, there was the case of the Dowager Countess of Peckham. It
happened that the old lady's dower house was at Stevening, some
fourteen or fifteen miles from Exham Park. Since she had never occupied
it since the time it came into her possession, having always preferred
to let it furnished to whoever might come along, one would scarcely
have supposed that she would have called herself Miss Arnott's
neighbour. When, however, a little bird whispered in her ear what a
very charming millionairess was in practically solitary occupation of
Exham Park, it chanced that, for the moment, her own house was
untenanted, and, within four-and-twenty hours of the receipt of that
whispered communication, for the first time in her life she was under
its roof. On the following day she covered the fourteen miles which lay
between her and Exham Park in a hired fly, was so fortunate as to find
Miss Arnott at home, and was so agreeably impressed by the lady
herself, by her surroundings, and by all that she heard of her, that
she stopped at the village post office on her homeward journey to send
a peremptory telegram to her son to come at once. The Earl of Peckham
came. He had nothing particular to do just then; or, at least, nothing
which he could not easily shirk. He might as well run down to his
mother. So he ran down on his automobile. Immediately on his arrival
she favoured him with a few home truths; as she had done on many
previous occasions, and peremptorily bundled him over to Exham Park.

"Mind! you now have a chance such as you never had before; and such as
you certainly will never have again. The girl has untold wealth
absolutely at her own command; she hasn't a relation in the world; she
is alone with a woman who is perfectly ready to be hoodwinked; she
knows nobody worth speaking of. You will have her all to yourself, it
will be your own fault if she's not engaged to you in a fortnight, and
your wife within six weeks. Think of it, a quarter of a million a year,
not as representing her capital, you understand, but a year! and
absolutely no relations. None of that crowd of miserable hangers-on
which so often represents the mushroom millionaire's family
connections. If you don't take advantage of this heaven-sent
opportunity, Peckham, you are past praying for--that's all I can say."

Peckham sighed. According to her that always was all she could say, and
she had said it so many times. He motored over to Exham Park in a frame
of mind which was not in keeping with the character of a light-hearted
wooer. He had wanted his mother to accompany him. But she had a
conservative objection to motor cars, nothing would induce her to trust
herself on one. So, reluctantly enough, he went alone.

"You ask Miss Arnott to lunch to-morrow; you can go over yourself and
bring her on your car, it will be an excellent opening. And when she is
here I will do the honours. But I have no intention of risking my own
life on one of those horrible machines."

As he reached the bottom of a rather steep slope, his lordship met a
lady and a gentleman, who were strolling side by side. Stopping, he
addressed the gentleman,--

"I beg your pardon, but can you tell me if I am going right for Exham
Park? There were crossroads some way back, at the top of the hill, but
I was going so fast that I couldn't see what was on the direction
posts. I mean Miss Arnott's."

"You will find the lodge gate on your right, about half a mile further
on." The speaker hesitated, then added, "This is Miss Arnott."

Off came his lordship's hat again.

"I am very fortunate. I am Peckham--I mean the Earl of Peckham. My
mother has sent me with a message."

The lady was regarding the car with interested eyes.

"I never have been on a motor car, but if you could find room for me on
yours, you might take me up to the house, and--give me the message."

In a trice the mechanician was in the tonneau, and the lady by his
lordship's side. As Mr Cavanagh, left alone, gazed after the retreating
car, it was not the good-humoured expression of his countenance which
would have struck Miss Arnott most.

The young lady's tastes were plainly altogether different from the old
one's--at anyrate, so far as motor cars were concerned. Obviously she
did not consider them to be horrible machines. She showed the liveliest
interest in this, the first one of which she had had any actual
experience. They went for quite a lengthy drive together, three times
up and down the drive, which meant nearly nine miles. Once, at the
lady's request, the driver showed what his car could do. As it was a
machine of the highest grade, and of twenty-four horse power, it could
do a good deal. Miss Arnott expressed her approbation of the
performance.

"How splendid! I could go on like that for ever; it blows one about a
bit, but if one were sensibly dressed that wouldn't matter. How fast
were we going?"

"Oh, somewhere about fifty miles an hour. It's all right in a place
like this; but, the worst of it is, there are such a lot of beastly
policemen about. It's no fun having always to pay fines for excessive
speed, and damages for running over people, and that kind of thing."

"I should think not, indeed. Have you ever run over anyone?"

"Well, not exactly; only, accidents will happen, you know."

As she observed that young man's face, a suspicion dawned upon her
mind, that--when he was driving--they occasionally would.

Ere she descended she received some elementary lessons in the art of
controlling a motor car. And, altogether, by the time they reached the
house, and the message was delivered, they were on terms of
considerable intimacy.

The acquaintance, thus auspiciously begun, rapidly ripened. The Earl
did not find the business on which he was engaged anything like such a
nuisance as he had feared; on the contrary, he found it an agreeable
occupation. He was of opinion that the girl was not half a bad sort;
that, in fact, she was a very good sort indeed. He actually decided
that she would have been eligible for a place in the portrait gallery
of the Countesses of Peckham even if she had not been set in such a
desirable frame. That motor car was a great aid to intimacy. He drove
her; and he taught her to drive him. Sometimes, the chauffeur being
left behind, they had the car to themselves. It was on such an
occasion, when their acquaintance hardly extended beyond his mother's
suggested fortnight, that he made her an offer of his hand and heart.
She was driving at the time, and going at a pretty good pace, which was
possibly on the wrong side of the legal limit; but when she began to
have an inkling of what he was talking about, she instantly put on the
brakes, and pulled up dead. She was so taken by surprise, and her own
hideous position was so continually present to her mind's eye, that it
was some seconds before she perceived that the young man at her side
must, of necessity, be completely unconscious of the monstrous nature
of his proposal. She was silent for several moments, then she answered,
while the car was still at a standstill in the middle of the road,--

"Thank you. No doubt your offer is not meant unkindly; but acceptance
on my part is altogether out of the question."

"Why?"

"Why? Because it is. I am sorry you should have spoken like this,
because I was beginning to like you."

"Isn't that a reason why I should speak? If you are beginning to like
me, by degrees you may get to like me more and more."

"I think not. Because this little _contretemps_ will necessarily put a
period to our acquaintance."

"Oh, rats! that isn't fair! If I'd thought it would worry you I
wouldn't have said a word. Only--I should like to ask if there is
anybody else."

"Do you mean, is there anyone else to whom I am engaged to be married?
There is not--and there never will be."

"I say, Miss Arnott! Every man in England--who can get within reach of
you--will have tried his luck before the end of the season. You will
have to take one of them, to save yourself from being bothered."

"Shall I? You think so? You are wrong. If you don't mind, I will turn
the car round, and take it to the lodge gate; then I will get out, and
walk home. Only there must be no more conversation of this sort on the
way, or I shall get out at once."

"You need not fear that I shall offend again; put her round."

She "put her round." They gained the lodge gate. The lady descended.

"Good-bye, Lord Peckham. I have to thank you for some very pleasant
rides, and for much valuable instruction. I'm sorry I couldn't do what
you wanted, but--it's impossible."

"I sha'n't forget the jolly time I've had with you, and shall hope to
meet you again when you come to town. You are inclined to treat me with
severity, but I assure you that if you intend to treat every man
severely, merely because he proposes, you have set yourself a task
which would have been too much for the strength of Hercules."

His lordship returned then and there to London. On the road he sent a
telegram to his mother which contained these two words only: "Been
refused."

On her part, Miss Arnott did not at once return to the house. She chose
instead a winding path which led to a certain woodland glade which she
had already learned to love. There, amidst the trees, the bushes, the
gorse, the wild flowers, the tall grasses and the bracken, she could
enjoy solitary communion with her own thoughts. Just then she had
plenty to think about. There was not only Lord Peckham's strange
conduct, there was also his parting words.

Her knowledge of the world was very scanty, especially of that sort of
world in which she so suddenly found herself. But she was a girl of
quick intuitions; and already she had noticed a something in the
demeanour of some of the masculine acquaintances she had made which she
had not altogether relished. Could what Lord Peckham had said be true?
Would every man who came within reach of her try his luck--in a certain
sense? If so, a most unpleasant prospect was in store for her. There
was one way out of the difficulty. She had only to announce that she
was a married woman and that sort of persecution would cease at once.
She doubted, however, if the remedy would not be worse than the
disease. She had grown to regard her matrimonial fetters with such
loathing, that, rather than acknowledge, voluntarily, that she was
bound about by them, and admit that her husband was an unspeakable
creature in a felon's cell, she believed that she was ready to endure
anything. Certainly she would sooner reject a dozen men a day.

She came to the woodland glade she sought. It so chanced that the
particular nook which she had learned, from experience, was the best to
recline in was just on the other side of a rough fence. She crossed the
fence, reclined at her ease on the mossy bank; and thought, and thought,
and thought. On a sudden she was roused from her deepest day-dream by
a voice which addressed to her an inquiry from above,--

"Are you trespassing--or am I?"



                               CHAPTER V

                              TRESPASSING


She looked up with a start--to find that a man was observing her who
seemed to be unusually tall. She lay in a hollow, he stood on the top
of the bank; so that perhaps their relative positions tended to
exaggerate his apparent inches. But that he was tall was beyond a
doubt. He was also broad. Her first feeling was, that she had never
seen a man who was at once so tall and so broad across the shoulders.
He was rather untidily dressed--in a grey tweed knickerbocker suit,
with a Norfolk jacket, and a huge cap which was crammed right down on
his head. He wore a flannel shirt, and a dark blue knitted tie, which
was tied in a scrambling sailor's knot. Both hands were in the pockets
of his jacket, which was wide open; and, altogether, the impression was
conveyed to her, as she lay so far beneath him, that he was of a
monstrous size.

It struck her that his being where he was was an impertinence, which
was rendered much greater by his venturing to address her; especially
with such an inquiry. Merely raising herself on her elbow, she favoured
him with a glance which was intended to crush him.

"There can be no doubt as to who is trespassing as you must be
perfectly well aware--you are."

"I quite agree with you in thinking that there can be no doubt as to
who is trespassing; but there, unfortunately, our agreement ends,
because, as it happens, you are."

"Do you suppose that I don't know which is my own property? I am Miss
Arnott, of Exham Park--this is part of my ground."

"I fancy, with all possible deference, that I know which is my property
better than you appear to know which is yours. I am Hugh Morice, of Oak
Dene, and, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, the ground on which
we both are is mine."

She rose to her feet a little hurriedly.

"What authority have you for what you say? Are you trying to amuse
yourself at my expense?"

"Allow me to explain. You see that fence, which is in rather a
doddering condition--it forms the boundary line between Exham Park and
Oak Dene, a fact which I have a particular reason to remember. Once,
before this was my ground, I was shooting in these woods. My bird--it
was only a pigeon--dropped on the other side of that fence. I was no
better acquainted with the landmarks then than you appear to be now.
Not aware that there was any difference between this side and that, I
was scrambling over the fence to retrieve my pigeon when I was pulled
up short by some very plain words, pronounced in a very plain tone of
voice. I won't tell you what the words were, because you might like
them even less than I did. I looked up; and there was an old gentleman,
who was flanked by two persons who were evidently keepers. He was one
of the most eloquent old gentlemen I had ever met. He commenced by
wanting to know what I meant by being about to defile his ground by the
intrusion of my person. I replied that I wasn't aware that it was his
ground, and that I wanted my pigeon. He asked me who I was. When I told
him he informed me that he was Septimus Arnott, and desired me to
inform all persons bearing my name what he thought of them. He thought
a good deal--in a sense. He wound up by remarking that he would
instruct his keepers, if ever they caught me on the wrong side of that
fence, to put a charge of lead into me at sight. Towards the end of the
interview I was as genially disposed as he was; so I retorted by
assuring him that if ever I caught anyone from Exham Park on this side,
I'd do the honours with a charge of lead. This is the exact spot on
which that interview took place--he was there and I here. But the
circumstances have changed--it is Exham Park who is now the trespasser.
Shall I put a charge of lead into you?"

"By all means--if you wish to."

"I am not quite sure that I do wish to."

"If you have the slightest inclination in that direction, pray don't
hesitate."

"You mightn't like it."

"Don't consider my feelings, I beg. In such a matter surely you
wouldn't allow my feelings to count."

"No? You think not? I don't know. Perhaps you're right; but, you see, I
haven't a gun. I can't put charges of lead into anything, or anyone,
without one.

"Pray don't let any trifling obstacle of that kind stand in your way.
Permit me to send for one."

"Would you? You're very good. Who would you send?"

"Of course I would myself fetch you the indispensable weapon."

"And how long would you be, do you imagine? Should I have time to smoke
a pipe while you were going there and back?"

Suddenly the lady drew herself up with a gesture which was possibly
meant to be expressive of a judicious mingling of scorn with hauteur.

"It is possible, if you prefer it. I will admit that it is probable
that my uncle was rude to you. Do you intend to continue the tradition,
and be rude to me?"

"I was simply telling you a little anecdote, Miss Arnott."

"I am obliged to you for taking so much trouble. Now, with your
permission, I will return to what you state to be my side of the
fence."

"I state? Don't you state that that side of the fence is yours?"

"My impression was that both sides were mine. I will have the matter
carefully inquired into. If your statement proves to be correct I will
see that a communication is sent to you, conveying my apologies for
having been an unwitting trespasser on your estate."

"Thank you. Can I lift you over?"

"Lift me over!"

The air of red-hot indignation with which his proposition was declined
ought to have scorched him. It seemed, however, to have no effect on
him of any sort. He continued to regard her from the top of the bank,
with an air of indolent nonchalance, which was rapidly driving her to
the conclusion that he was the most insolent person she had ever
encountered. With a view, possibly, of showing the full absurdity of
his offer of assistance, she placed both hands on the top of the fence,
with the intention of vaulting over it. The intention was only
partially fulfilled. During her wanderings with her father among their
Cumberland hills she had become skilled in all manner of athletic
exercises. Ordinarily she would have thought nothing of vaulting--or,
for the matter of that, jumping--an insignificant fence. Perhaps her
nervous system was more disorganised than she imagined. She caught her
knee against the bar, and, instead of alighting gracefully on her feet,
she rolled ignominiously over. She was up almost as soon as she was
down, but not before he had cleared the fence at a bound, and was
standing at her side. She exhibited no sign of gratitude for the
rapidity with which he had come to her assistance. She merely put to
him an icy question,--

"Was it necessary that you should trespass also?"

"Are you sure that you are not hurt? ankle not twisted, or anything of
that kind?"

"Quite sure. Be so good as to return to your own side."

As he seemed to hesitate, a voice exclaimed, in husky tones,--

"By----, I've a mind to shoot you now."

He turned to see a man, between forty and fifty years of age, in the
unmistakable habiliments of a gamekeeper, standing some twenty feet
off, holding a gun in a fashion which suggested that it would need very
little to induce him to put it to his shoulder and pull the trigger.
Hugh Morice greeted him as if he were an old acquaintance.

"Hullo, Jim Baker! So you're still in the land of the living?"

Mr Baker displayed something more than surliness in his reply.

"So are you, worse luck! What are you doing here? Didn't Mr Arnott tell
me if I saw you on our land to let fly, and pepper you?"

"I was just telling Miss Arnott the story. Odd that you should come
upon the scene as corroborating evidence."

"For two pins I'd let fly!"

"Now, Baker, don't be an idiot. Take care how you handle that gun, or
there'll be trouble; your hands don't seem too steady. You don't want
me to give you another thrashing, do you? Have you forgotten the last
one I gave you?"

"Have I forgotten?" The man cursed his questioner with a vigour which
was startling. "I'll never forget--trust me. I'll be even with you yet,
trust me. By ---- if you say another word about it I'll let fly at you
now!"

Up went the stock of the gun to the speaker's shoulder, the muzzle
pointing direct at Mr Morice. That gentleman neither moved nor spoke;
Miss Arnott did both.

"Baker, are you mad? Put down that gun. How dare you so misbehave
yourself?"

The gun was lowered with evident reluctance.

"Mr Arnott, he told me to shoot him if ever I see him this side the
fence."

"I am mistress here now. You may think yourself fortunate if you're not
presently introduced to a policeman."

"I was only obeying orders, that's all I was doing."

"Orders! How long ago is it since the orders to which you refer were
given you?"

Mr Morice interposed an answer,--

"It's more than four years since I was near the place."

The keeper turned towards him with a vindictive snarl.

"Four years! what's four years? An order's an order if it's four years
or forty. How was I to know that things are different, and that now
you're to come poaching and trespassing whenever you please?"

Miss Arnott was very stern.

"Baker, take yourself away from here at once. You will hear of this
again. Do you hear me? Go! without a word!"

Mr Baker went, but as he went he delivered himself of several words.
They were uttered to himself rather than to the general public, but
they were pretty audible all the same. When he was out of sight and
sound, the lady put a question to the gentleman,--

"Do you think it possible that he could have been in earnest, and that
he would have shot you?"

"I daresay. I suspect that few things would have pleased him better.
Why not? He would only have been carrying out instructions received."

"But--Mr Morice, I wish you would not jest on such a subject! Has he a
personal grudge against you?"

"It depends upon what you call a grudge; you heard what he said. He
used to live in that cottage near the gravel pits; and may do so still
for all I know. Once, when I was passing, I heard a terrible
hullabaloo. I invited myself inside to find that Mr Baker was
correcting Mrs Baker with what seemed to me such unnecessary vigour
that--I corrected him. The incident seems to linger in his memory, in
spite of the passage of the years; and I shouldn't be at all surprised
if, in his turn, he is still quite willing to correct me, with the aid
of a few pellets of lead."

"But he must be a dangerous character."

"He's a character, at anyrate. I've always felt he was a little mad;
when he's drunk he's stark mad. He's perhaps been having half a gallon
now. Let me hasten to assure you that, I fancy, Baker's qualities were
regarded by Mr Septimus Arnott, in the main, as virtues. Mr Arnott was
himself a character; if I may be excused for saying so."

"I never saw my uncle in his life, and knew absolutely nothing about
him, except what my father used to tell me of the days when they were
boys together."

"If, in those days, he was anything like what he was afterwards, he
must have been a curiosity. To make the whole position clear to you I
should mention that my uncle was also a character. I am not sure that,
taking him altogether, he was not the more remarkable character of the
two. The Morices, of course, have been here since the flood. But when
your uncle came my uncle detected in him a kindred spirit. They became
intimates; inseparable chums, and a pair of curios I promise you they
were, until they quarrelled--over a game of chess."

"Of chess?"

"Of chess. They used to play together three or four times a
week--tremendous games. Until one evening my uncle insisted that your
uncle had taken his hand off a piece, and wouldn't allow him to withdraw
his move. Then the fur flew. Each called the other everything he could
think of, and both had an extensive répertoire. The war which followed
raged unceasingly; it's a mystery to me how they both managed to die in
their beds."

"And all because of a dispute over a game of chess?"

"My uncle could quarrel about a less serious matter than a game of
chess; he was a master of the art. He quarrelled with me--but that's
another story; since when I've been in the out-of-the-way-corners of
the world. I was in Northern Rhodesia when I heard that he was dead,
and had left me Oak Dene. I don't know why--except that there has
always been a Morice at Oak Dene, and that I am the only remaining
specimen of the breed."

"How strange. It is only recently that I learned--to my complete
surprise--that Exham Park was mine."

"It seems that we are both of us indebted to our uncles, dead; though
apparently we neither of us owed much to them while they still were
living. Well, are the orders to be perpetuated that I'm to be shot when
seen on this side of the fence?"

"I do not myself practise such methods."

"They are drastic; though there are occasions on which drastic methods
are the kindest. Since I only arrived yesterday I take it that I am the
latest comer. It is your duty, therefore, to call on me. Do you propose
to do your duty?"

"I certainly do not propose to call on you, if that's what you mean."

"Good. Then I'll call on you. I shall have the pleasure, Miss Arnott,
of waiting on you, on this side of the fence, at a very early date. Do
you keep a shot gun in the hall?"

"Do you consider it good taste to persist in harping on a subject which
you must perceive is distasteful?"

"My taste was always bad."

"That I can easily imagine."

"There is something which I also can easily imagine."

"Indeed?"

"I can imagine that your uncle left you something besides Exham Park."

"What is that?"

"A little of his temper."

"Mr Morice! I have no wish to exchange retorts with you, but, from what
you say, it is quite obvious that your uncle left you all his manners."

"Thank you. Anything else?"

"Yes, Mr Morice, there is something else. It is not my fault that we
are neighbours."

"Don't say that it's my misfortune."

"And since you must have left many inconsolable friends behind you in
Rhodesia there is no reason why we should continue to be neighbours."

"Quite so."

"Of course, whether you return to Rhodesia or remain here is a matter
of complete indifference to me."

"Precisely."

"But, should you elect to stay, you will be so good as to understand
that, if you do call at Exham Park, you will be told that I am not at
home. Good afternoon, Mr Morice, and good-bye."

"Good-bye, Miss Arnott. I had a sort of premonition that those orders
would be re-issued, and that I should be shot if I was seen this side."

She had already gone some distance; but, on hearing this, stopping, she
turned towards him again.

"Possibly if we raise the fence to a sufficient height, that will keep
you out."

"Oh, I can scale any fence. No fence was ever constructed that I
couldn't negotiate. You'll have to shoot."

"Shall we? We shall see."

"We shall--Miss Arnott?"

She stopped again.

"What is it you wish to say to me?"

"Merely that I have in my mind some half-formed intention to call on
you to-morrow."

"You dare!"

"You have no notion what I do dare."

This time she was not tempted to a further rejoinder. He watched her
as, straight as a dart, her head in the air, striding along the winding
path, she vanished among the trees. He ruminated after she had gone,--

"She's splendid! she magnificent! How she holds herself, and how she
looks at you, and what eyes they are with which to look. I never saw
anything like her, and I hope, for her own sake, she never saw anything
like me. What a brute she must think me, and what a brute I am. I don't
care; there's something about her which sets all my blood on fire,
which rouses in me the instinct of the hunter. I wish old Baker would
come along just now; gun or no gun, we'd have a pretty little argument.
It might do me good. There's no doubt that what I said was true--the
girl has her uncle's temper, if I've my uncle's manners; as I'm a
sinful man I've as good as half a mind to marry her."

The lady was unconscious of the compliments which, mentally, the
gentleman was paying her. When, returning home, she entered the
apartment where Mrs Plummer, apparently just roused from a peaceful
doze, was waiting for her tea, she was in a flame of passion.

"I have just left the most unendurable person I ever yet encountered,
the most ill-mannered, the most clumsy, the most cowardly, the most
stupid, the most absurd, the most unspeakable!"

"My dear! who is this very superlative individual? what is his
delightful name?"

"His name!" For some occult reason Mrs Plummer's, under the
circumstances, mild request, seemed to cause her passion to flame up
higher. "What do I care what his name is? So far as I am concerned such
a creature has no name!"



                               CHAPTER VI

                  AN AUTHORITY ON THE LAW OF MARRIAGE


The next day Mr Hugh Morice fulfilled his threat--he paid his
ceremonial call at Exham Park. The word "ceremonial" is used advisedly,
since nothing could have been more formal and decorous than his
demeanour throughout.

Miss Arnott and Mrs Plummer happened to be entertaining four or five
people that afternoon, among them a Mr Pyecroft, a curate attached to
one of Miss Arnott's three livings. He was favouring that lady with a
graphic account of the difficulties encountered in endeavouring, in a
country place, to arouse interest on any subject whatever, and was
illustrating the position by describing the disappointments he had met
with in the course of an attempt he had made to organise a series of
local entertainments in aid of a new church organ, when his listener
suddenly became conscious that a person had just entered the room, who,
if she could believe her eyes, was none other than the unspeakable
individual of the previous day. Not only was it unmistakably he, but he
was actually--with an air of complete self-possession--marching
straight across the room towards her. When he stood in front of her, he
bowed and said,--

"Permit me, Miss Arnott, to introduce myself to you. I am Hugh Morice,
of Oak Dene, which, as you are probably aware, adjoins Exham Park. I
only arrived two days ago, and, so soon as I learned that I was
honoured by having you as a neighbour, I ventured to lose no time
in--with your permission--making myself known to you."

Miss Arnott looked at him with an expression on her countenance which
was hardly encouraging. His own assurance was so perfect that it
deprived her, for the moment, of her presence of mind. He wore a suit
of dark blue serge, which made him seem huger even than he had done the
day before. In the presence of Mr Pyecroft, and of the other people,
she could scarcely assail this smiling giant, and remind him,
pointedly, that she had forbidden him to call. Some sort of explanation
would have to be forthcoming, and it was exactly an explanation which
she desired to avoid. Observing that she seemed tongue-tied, the
visitor continued,--

"I have been so long a wanderer among savages that I have almost
forgotten the teachings of my guide to good manners. I am quite
unaware, for example, what, as regards calling, is the correct
etiquette on an occasion when an unmarried man finds himself the
next-door neighbour to an unmarried lady. As I could hardly expect you
to call upon me I dared to take the initiative. What I feared most was
that I might not find you in."

The invitation was so obvious that the lady at once accepted it.

"It is only by the merest accident that you have done so."

Mr Morice was equal to the occasion. "I fancy, Miss Arnott, that for
some of the happiest hours of our lives we are indebted to accidents.
Ah, Pyecroft, so you have not deserted us."

Mr Morice shook hands with Mr Pyecroft--Miss Arnott thought they looked
a most incongruous couple--with an air of old comradeship, and
presently was exchanging greetings with others of those present with a
degree of heartiness which, to his hostess, made it seem impossible
that she should have him shown the door. When all the other visitors
had gone--including the unspeakable man--she found, to her amazement,
that he had made a most favourable impression on Mrs Plummer. That lady
began almost as soon as his back was turned.

"What a delightful person Mr Morice is." Miss Arnott was so taken by
surprise that she could do nothing but stare. Mrs Plummer went placidly
on, "It is nice to be able just to look at him, the mere sight of him's
a satisfaction. To a little woman the idea of a man of his size is such
a comfort."

The young lady's manner was not effusive.

"We're not all of us fond of monstrosities."

"Monstrosities! my dear! He's not a monstrosity, he's a perfect figure
of a man, magnificently proportioned. You must admit that."

"I don't."

"And then his manners are so charming."

"They never struck me like that."

"No? I suppose one judges people as one finds them. I know he was
particularly nice to me. By the way, that dreadful person you spoke of
yesterday, you might tell me what his name is, so that I might be on my
guard against him, should our paths happen to cross."

"I repeat what I have already told you that, so far as I am concerned,
he has no name; and anyhow, you wouldn't recognise him from my
description if you did meet."

It was odd, considering how much Miss Arnott disliked Mr Morice, how
frequently he was destined to come, at anyrate, within her line of
vision. And yet, perhaps, it was natural--because, although their
houses were a couple of miles apart, their estates joined--they were
neighbours. And then Miss Arnott was inclined to suspect that the
gentleman went out of his way to bring about a meeting. Situated as
they were, it was not a difficult thing to do.

To a certain extent, the lady had accepted the position. That is, she
had allowed the acquaintance to continue; being, indeed, more than half
disposed to fear that she might not find it easy to refuse to know him
altogether. But she had been careful to avoid any reference to that
curious first encounter. He, on his part, had shown no disposition to
allude to it. So there grew up between them a sort of casual intimacy.
They saw each other often. When he spoke to her she spoke to him,
though never at any greater length than, as it seemed to her, she could
help.

With the lessons she had received from the Earl of Peckham still fresh
in her mind she bought herself a motor car; almost simultaneously with
its appearance on the scene her relations with Hugh Morice began to be
on a friendlier footing. She was sitting in it one day, talking to the
lodge-keeper, when Mr Morice came striding by. At sight of it he at
once approached.

"That's a strange beast."

She had become somewhat accustomed to his odd tricks of speech, and
merely smiled a wintry smile.

"You think so?"

"It's not only a strange, it's a wonderful beast, since it holds in its
hands no small portion of the future history of the world."

"Are you referring to this particular machine?"

"I am referring to all the machines of which that one's a type. They're
going to repeat the performance of Puffing' Billy--produce a
revolution. I wish you'd give me a ride."

"I was just thinking of going in."

"Put off going in for a few minutes--take me for a run."

She looked at the chauffeur, who was quick to take the hint. Presently
they were bowling along between the hedgerows, she conscious that his
eyes were paying more attention to her than she quite relished. A fact
of which his words immediately gave evidence.

"You like it. This feeling of flight through the air, which you can
command by touching a handle, supplies you with an evanescent interest
in life which, in ordinary, everyday existence you find lacking."

"What do you mean?"

"Is it necessary that I should tell you? Do you wish me to?"

"Do you mean that, as a general rule, I don't take an interest in
things?"

"Do you? At your age, in your position, you ought to take an interest
in everything. But the impression you convey to my mind is that you
don't, that you take an interest in nothing. You try to, sometimes,
pretty hard. But you never quite succeed. I don't know why. You remind
me, in some odd way, of the impersonal attitude of a spectator who
looks on at something with which he never expects to have any personal
concern."

"I don't know what you're talking about, I don't believe you do either.
You say the strangest things."

"You don't find them strange, you understand them better than I do. I
am many years older than you--ye Goths, how many! I am tolerably
_blasé_, as befits my age. But you, you are tired--mortally tired--of
everything already. I've not yet reached that stage. You don't know
what keenness means; thank goodness there are still a good many things
which I am keen about. Just as something turns up for which you're on
the point of really caring, a shadow steps from the back of your mind
to the front, and stops you. I don't know what it is, but I know it's
there."

"I'm going back."

As this man spoke something tugged at her heartstrings which filled her
with a sort of terror. If he was beginning to regard her attitude
towards life--of which she herself was only too hideously conscious--as
a problem, the solution of which he had set himself to find out, what
might the consequences not be? Then she could not stop to think. She
swung the car round towards home. As if in obedience to her unspoken
hint he changed the subject, speaking with that calm assumption of
authority which galled her the more because she found herself so
frequently compelled to submission.

"You must teach me to drive this machine of yours."

"My mechanician will be able to do that better than I can, I am myself
only a tyro."

"Thank you, I prefer that you should teach me. Which handle do you move
to stop?" She showed him. "And which to start?" She showed him again.

Before they parted, she had put him, however unwillingly, through quite
a small course of elementary instruction. In consequence of which
she had a bad quarter of an hour, when, later, she was in her own
sitting-room, alone.

"He frightens me! He makes me do things I don't want to do; and
then--he seems to know me better than I know myself. Is it so obvious
that I find it difficult to take a real interest in things? or has he a
preternaturally keen sense of perception? Either way it isn't nice for
me. It's true enough; nothing does interest me. How should it? What
does money, and all that matter; when there's that--shadow--in the
prison, coming closer to me, day by day? I believe that being where I
am--Miss Arnott of Exham Park--makes it worse, because if it weren't
for the shadow, it would be so different--so different!"

That night she dreamed of Hugh Morice. She and he were on the motor car
together, flying through the sunshine, on and on and on, happy as the
day was bright, and the road was fair. Suddenly the sun became
obscured, all the world was dark; they were approaching a chasm.
Although it was so dark she knew that it was there. In a wild frenzy of
fear she tried to stop the car, to find, all at once, that it had no
brake. She made to leap out on to the road, but Mr Morice seized her
round the waist and held her. In another moment they were dashing over
the edge of an abyss, into the nameless horrors which lay below.

It was not a pleasant dream, it did not leave an agreeable impression
on her mind after she was awake. But dreams are only dreams. Sensible
people pay no heed to them. Miss Arnott proved herself to be sensible
at least in that respect. She did not, ever afterwards, refuse him a
seat in her car, because she had once, in a nightmare, come to grief in
his society. On the contrary, she not only took him for other drives,
but--imitating her own experience with the Earl of Peckham, when, after
a while--it was a very little while--he had attained to a certain
degree of proficiency, she suffered him to drive her. And, as she had
done, he liked driving so much that, before long, he also had an
automobile of his own.

Then a new phase of the affair commenced. It was, of course, necessary
that--with a view of extending her experience, and increasing her
knowledge of motor cars--she should try her hand at driving his. She
tried her hand, a first and a second time, perhaps a third. She
admitted that his car was not a bad one. It had its points--but slight
vibration, little noise, scarcely any smell. It ran sweetly, was a good
climber, easy to steer. Certainly a capital car. So much she was ready
to allow. But, at the same time, she could not but express her opinion
that, on the whole, hers was a better one. There they joined issue. At
first, Mr Morice was disposed to doubt, he was inclined to think that
perhaps, for certain reasons, the lady's car might be a shade the
superior. But, by degrees, as he became more accustomed to his new
possession, he changed his mind. He was moved to state his conviction
that, as a matter of fact, the superiority lay with his own car.

Whereupon both parties proceeded to demonstrate with which of the
pair the palm of merit really lay. They ran all sorts of trials
together--trials which sometimes resulted in extremely warm arguments;
and by which, somehow, very little was proved. At anyrate, each party
was always ready to discount the value of the conclusion at which the
other had arrived.

One fact was noticeable--as evidence of the keen spirit of emulation.
Wherever one car was the other was nearly sure to be somewhere near at
hand.

Mrs Plummer, who had a gift of silence, said little. But one remark she
made did strike Miss Arnott as peculiar.

"Mr Morice doesn't seem to have so many friends, or even acquaintances,
as I should have expected in a man in his position."

"How do you know he hasn't?"

"I say he doesn't seem to have. He never has anyone at his own house,
and he never goes to anyone else's. He always seems to be alone."

Miss Arnott was still. Mrs Plummer had not accentuated it in the
slightest degree; yet the young lady wondered in what sense--in that
construction--she had used the word "alone."

One day, when she was in town, Miss Arnott did a singular thing. Having
deposited Mrs Plummer in a large drapery establishment, with peremptory
instructions to make certain considerable purchases, she went off in a
hansom by herself to an address in the Temple. Having arrived, she
perceived in the hall of the house she had entered a board, on which
were painted a number of names. Her glance rested on one--First floor,
Mr Whitcomb. Without hesitation she ascended to the first floor, until
she found herself confronted by a door on which that name appeared in
black letters. She knocked; the door was opened by a very young
gentleman.

"Can I see Mr Whitcomb?" she inquired.

"What name? Have you an appointment?"

"I have not an appointment, and my name is of no consequence. I wish to
see Mr Whitcomb on very particular business."

The young gentleman looked at her askance, as if he was of
opinion--which he emphatically was--that she was not at all the sort of
person he was accustomed to see outside that door.

"Mr Whitcomb doesn't generally see people without an appointment,
especially if he doesn't know their names; but if you'll step inside,
I'll see if he's engaged."

She stepped inside to find herself in an apartment in which there were
several other young gentlemen, of somewhat riper years; one and all of
whom, she immediately became conscious, began to take the liveliest
interest in her. Soon there appeared a grey-haired man, who held a pair
of spectacles between the fingers of his right hand.

"May I ask what your name is? and what is the nature of the business on
which you wish to see Mr Whitcomb?"

"I have already explained that my name doesn't matter. And I can only
state my business to Mr Whitcomb himself." Then she added, as if struck
by the look of doubt in the grey-haired man's face, "Pray don't imagine
that I am here to beg for subscriptions to a charity or any nonsense of
that kind. I wish to see Mr Whitcomb about something very important."

The grey-headed man smiled faintly, apparently amused by something in
the caller's manner, or appearance. Departing whence he came he almost
immediately reappeared, and beckoned to her with his hand.

"Mr Whitcomb is very much engaged, but he will manage to spare you five
minutes."

"I daresay I sha'n't want to keep him longer."

She found herself in a spacious room, which was principally furnished,
as it seemed to her, with books. At a table, which was almost entirely
covered with books, both open and shut, stood a tall man, with
snow-white hair, who bowed to her as she entered.

"You wish to see me?"

"You are Mr Whitcomb?"

"That is my name. How can I serve you?"

She seated herself on the chair towards which he pointed. Each looked
at the other for some seconds, in silence. Then she spoke.

"I want you to tell me on what grounds a wife can obtain a divorce from
her husband."

Mr Whitcomb raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"I think, madam, that it may have been a solicitor you wanted. I,
unfortunately, am only a barrister. I fear you have made a mistake."

"I have not made a mistake; how have I made a mistake? I saw in a paper
the other day that you were the greatest living authority on the law of
marriage."

"It was very good of the paper to say so. Since I am indebted for your
presence here to so handsome a compliment, I will waive the point of
etiquette and inform you--of what you, surely, must be already
aware--that the grounds on which a divorce may be obtained are various."

"I know that; that isn't what I mean. What I specially want to know is
this--can a woman get a divorce from her husband because he gets sent
to prison?"

"Because he gets sent to prison? For doing what?"

"For--for swindling; because he's a scoundrel."

Mr Whitcomb's eyebrows went up again.

"The idea that a marriage may be dissolved because one of the parties
is guilty of felony, and is consequently sentenced to a term of
imprisonment, is a novel one to me."

"Not if a girl finds out that the man who has married her is a villain
and a thief? A thief, mind."

He shook his head.

"I find that that would be no ground for dissolution."

"Are you sure?"

"My dear young lady, you were good enough to say that some paper or
other credited me with a knowledge of the laws dealing with the subject
of marriage. I can assure you that on that point there is no doubt
whatever."

"Is that so?" The girl's lips were tightly compressed, her brows knit.
"Then there are no means whatever by which a wife can be rid of a
husband whom she discovers to be a rogue and a rascal?"

"Not merely because he is a rogue and a rascal; except by the act of
God."

"What do you mean by the act of God?"

"If, for example, he should die."

"If he should die? I see! There is no way by which she can be released
from him except by--death. Thank you, that is all I wanted to know."

She laid on his table what, to his surprise, he perceived to be a
twenty-pound note.

"My dear young lady, what is this?"

"That is your fee. I don't want to occupy your time or obtain
information from you for nothing."

"But you have done neither. Permit me to return you this. That is not
the way in which I do business; in this instance, the honour of having
been consulted by you is a sufficient payment. Before you go, however,
let me give a piece of really valuable advice. If you have a friend who
is in any matrimonial trouble, persuade her to see a respectable
solicitor at once, and to place the whole facts before him
unreservedly. He may be able to show her a way out of her difficulty
which would never have occurred to her."

He commented--inwardly--on his visitor, after her departure.

"That's either a very simple-minded young woman or a most unusual
character. Fancy her coming to me with such an inquiry! She has got
herself into some matrimonial mess, most probably, without the
cognisance of her friends. Unless I am mistaken she is the kind of
young woman who, if she has made up her mind to get out of it, will get
out of it; if not by fair means, then--though I hope not!--by foul."



                              CHAPTER VII

                           MR MORICE PRESUMES


One day a desire seized Miss Arnott to revisit the place where she had
first met Mr Morice. She had not been there since. That memorable
encounter had spoilt it for her. It had been her custom to wander there
nearly every fine day. But, since it had been defiled by such a memory,
for her, its charm had fled.

Still, as the weeks went by, it dawned upon her by degrees, that, after
all, there was no substantial reason why she should turn her back on it
for ever. It was a delightful spot; so secluded, so suited to solitary
meditation.

"I certainly do not intend," she told herself, "to allow that
man"--with an accent on the "that"--"to prevent my occasionally visiting
one of the prettiest parts of my own property. It would be mere affectation
on my part to pretend that the place will ever be to me the same again;
but that is no reason why I should never take a walk in that
direction."

It was pleasant weather, sunny, not too warm and little wind. Just the
weather for a woodland stroll, and, also, just the weather for a motor
ride. That latter fact was particularly present to her mind, because
she happened to be undergoing one of those little experiences which
temper an automobilist's joys. The machine was in hospital. She had
intended to go for a long run to-day, but yesterday something had all
at once gone wrong with the differential, the clutch, the bevel gear or
something or other. She herself did not quite know what, or,
apparently, anyone else either. As a result, the car, instead of flying
with her over the sun-lit roads, was being overhauled by the nearest
local experts.

That was bad enough. But what almost made it worse was the additional
fact that Hugh Morice's car was flying over the aforesaid country roads
with him. That her car should have broken down, though ever so
slightly, and his should not--that altogether inferior article, of
which he was continually boasting in the most absurd manner--was gall
and wormwood.

The accident, which had rendered her own car for the moment
unavailable, had something to do with her stroll; the consciousness
that "that man" was miles away on his had more.

"At anyrate I sha'n't run the risk of any more impertinent
interferences with my privacy. Fortunately, so far as I know, there is
no one else in the neighbourhood who behaves quite as he does. So, as
he is risking his life on that noisy machine of his, I am safe. I only
hope he won't break his neck on it; there never was such a reckless
driver."

This pious wish of hers was destined to receive an instant answer.
Hardly had the words been uttered, than, emerging from the narrow path,
winding among the trees and bushes, along which she had been wandering,
she received ample proof that Mr Morice's neck still remained unbroken.
The gentleman himself was standing not fifty paces from where she was.
So disagreeably was she taken by surprise that she would have
immediately withdrawn, and returned at the top of her speed by the way
she had come, had it not been for two things. One was that he saw her
as soon as she saw him; and the other that she also saw something else,
the sight of which filled her with amazement.

The first reason would not have been sufficient to detain her;
although, so soon as he caught sight of her, he hailed her in his usual
hearty tones. The terms of courtesy--or rather of discourtesy--on which
these two stood towards each other were of such a nature that she held
herself at liberty wholly to ignore him whenever she felt inclined.
More than once when they had parted they had been on something less
than speaking terms. For days together she had done her very best to
cut him dead. Then, when at last, owing to his calm persistency, the
acquaintance was renewed, he evinced not the slightest consciousness
of its having ever been interrupted. Therefore she would not have
hesitated to have turned on her heels, and walked away without a
word--in spite of his salutation, had it not been for the something
which amazed her.

The fence had been moved!

At first she thought that her eyes, or her senses, were playing her a
trick. But a moment's inspection showed her that the thing was so. The
old wooden, lichen-covered rails had been taken away for a space of
sixty or seventy feet; and, instead, a little distance farther back, on
the Oak Dene land, a solid, brand-new fence had been erected; standing
in a position which conveyed the impression that the sheltered nook to
which--in her ignorance of boundaries--Miss Arnott had been so
attached, and in which Mr Morice first discovered her, was part and
parcel of Exham Park instead of Oak Dene.

It was some seconds before the lady realised exactly what had happened.
When she did, she burst out on Mr Morice with a question.

"Who has done this?"

The gentleman, who stood with his back against a huge beech tree, took
his pipe from between his lips, and smiled.

"The fairies."

"Then the fairies will soon be introduced to a policeman. You did it."

"Not with my own hands, I assure you. At my time of life I am beyond
that sort of thing."

"How dare you cause my fence to be removed?"

"Your fence? I was not aware it was your fence."

"You said it was my fence."

"Pardon me--never. I could not be guilty of such a perversion of the
truth."

"Then whose fence was it?"

"It was mine. That is, it was my uncle's, and so, in the natural course
of things, it became mine. It was like this. At one time, hereabouts,
there was no visible boundary line between the two properties. I fancy
it was a question of who should be at the expense of erecting one.
Finally, my uncle loosed his purse-strings. He built this fence, with
the wood out of his own plantations--even your friend Mr Baker will be
able to tell you so much--the object being to keep out trespassers from
Exham Park."

"Then, as you have removed your fence, I shall have to put up one of my
own. I have no intention of allowing innocent persons, connected with
Exham Park, to trespass--unconsciously--on land belonging to Oak Dene."

"Miss Arnott, permit your servant to present a humble petition."

He held his cap in his hands, suggesting deference; but in the eyes was
that continual suspicion of laughter which made it difficult to tell
when he was serious. It annoyed Miss Arnott to find that whenever she
encountered that glimmer of merriment she found it so difficult to
preserve the rigidity of decorum which she so ardently desired. Now,
although she meant to be angry, and was angry, when she encountered
that peculiar quality in his glance, it was really hard to be as angry
as she wished.

"What objectionable remark have you to make now?"

"This--your servant desires to be forgiven."

"If the fence was yours, you were at liberty to do what you liked with
it. You don't want to be forgiven for doing what you choose with your
own. You can pull down all the fence for all I care."

"Exactly; that is very good of you. It is not precisely for that I
craved forgiveness. Your servant has ventured to do a bold thing."

"Please don't call yourself my servant. If there is a ridiculous thing
which you can say it seems as if you were bound to say it. Nothing you
can do would surprise me. Pray, what particular thing have you been
doing now? I thought you were going to Southampton on your car?"

"The car's in trouble."

"What's the matter with it?"

"One man says one thing; another says another. I say--since this is the
second time it's been in trouble this week--the thing's only fit for a
rummage sale."

"I have never concealed my opinion from you."

"You haven't. Your opinion, being unbiassed by facts, is always the
same; mine--depends. What, by the way, is just now your opinion of your
own one? Lately it never seems to be in going order."

"That's preposterous nonsense, as you are perfectly well aware. But I
don't mean to be drawn into a senseless wrangle. I came here hoping to
escape that sort of thing."

"And you found me, which is tragic. However, we are wandering from the
subject on to breezy heights. As I previously remarked, I have ventured
to do a bold thing."

"And I have already inquired, what unusually bold thing is it you have
done?"

"This."

They were at some little distance from each other; he on one side of
the newly-made fence, she, where freshly-turned sods showed that the
old fence used to be. He took a paper from his pocket, and, going close
up to his side of the fence, held it out to her in his outstretched
hand. She, afar off, observed both it and him distrustfully.

"What is it?"

"This? It's a paper with something written on it. We'll call it a
document. Come and look at it. It's harmless. It's not a pistol--or a
gun."

"I doubt if it contains anything which is likely to be of the slightest
interest to me. Read what is on it."

"I would rather you read it yourself. Come and take it, if you please."

He spoke in that tone of calm assurance which was wont to affect her in
a fashion which she herself was at a loss to understand. She resented
bitterly its suggestion of authority; yet, before she was able to give
adequate expression to her resentment, she was apt to find herself
yielding entire obedience, as on the present occasion. In her
indignation at the thought that he should issue his orders to her, as
if she were his servant, she was more than half disposed to pick up a
clod of earth, or a stone, and, like some street boy, hurl it at him
and run away. She refrained from doing this, being aware that such a
proceeding would not increase her dignity; and, also, because she did
what he told her. She marched up to the fence and took the paper from
his hand.

"I don't want it; you needn't suppose so. I've not the faintest desire
to know what's on it." He simply looked at her with a glint of laughter
in his big grey eyes. "I've half a mind to tear it in half and return
it to you."

"You won't do that."

"Then I'll take it with me and look at it when I get home, if I look at
it at all."

"Read it now."

She opened and read it; or tried to. "I don't understand what it's
about; it seems to be so much gibberish. What is the thing?"

"It's a conveyance."

"A conveyance? What do you mean?"

"Being interpreted, it's a legal instrument which conveys to you and to
your heirs for ever the fee-simple of--that."

"That?"

"That." He was pointing to the piece of land which lay within the
confines of the newly-made fence. "That nook--that dell--that haven in
which I saw you first, because you were under the impression it was
yours. I was idiot enough to disabuse your mind, not being conscious,
then, of what a fool I was. My idiocy has rankled ever since. However,
it may have been of aforetime your lying there, cradled on that turf,
has made of it consecrated ground. I guessed it then; I know it now.
Then you fancied it was your own; now it assuredly is, you hold the
conveyance in your hand."

"Mr Morice, what are you talking about? I don't in the least
understand.'

"I was only endeavouring to explain what is the nature of the document
you hold. Henceforward that rood of land--or thereabouts--is yours. If
I set foot on it, you will be entitled to put into me a charge of
lead."

"Do you mean to say that you have given it me? Do you expect me to
accept a gift--"

"Miss Arnott, the time for saying things is past. The transaction is
concluded--past redemption. That land is yours as certainly as you
are now standing on it; nothing you can say or do can alter that
well-established fact by so much as one jot or tittle. The matter is
signed, sealed and settled; entered in the archives of the law. Protest
from you will be a mere waste of time."

"I don't believe it."

"As you please. Take that document to your lawyer; lay it before him;
he will soon tell you whether or not I speak the truth. By the way, I
will take advantage of this opportunity to make a few remarks to you
upon another subject. Miss Arnott, I object to you for one reason."

"For one reason only? That is very good of you. I thought you objected
to me for a thousand reasons."

"Your irony is justified. Then we will put it that I object to you for
one reason chiefly."

"Mr Morice, do you imagine that I care why you object to me? Aren't you
aware that you are paying me the highest compliment within your power
by letting me know that you do object to me? Do you suppose that, in
any case, I will stand here and listen to your impertinent attempts at
personal criticism?"

"You will stand there, and you will listen; but I don't propose to
criticise you, either impertinently or otherwise, but you will stand
and listen to what I have to say." Such a sudden flame came into Mr
Hugh Morice's eyes that the girl, half frightened, half she knew not
what, remained speechless there in front of him. He seemed all at once
to have grown taller, and to be towering above her like some giant
against whose irresistible force it was vain to try and struggle. "The
chief reason why I object to you, Miss Arnott, is because you are so
rich."

"Mr Morice!"

"In my small way, I'm well to do. I can afford to buy myself a motor. I
can even afford to pay for its repairs; and, in the case of a car like
mine, that means something."

"I can believe that, easily."

"Of course you can. But, relatively, compared to you, I'm a pauper, and
I don't like it."

"And yet you think that I'll accept gifts from you--valuable gifts?"

"What I would like is, that a flaw should be found in your uncle's
will; or the rightful heir turn up; or something happen which would
entail your losing every penny you have in the world."

"What delightful things you say."

"Then, if you were actually and literally a pauper I might feel that
you were more on an equality with me.

"Why should you wish to be on an equality with me?"

"Why? Don't you know?" On a sudden she began to tremble so that she
could scarcely stand. "I see that you do know. I see it by the way the
blood comes and goes in your cheeks; by the light which shines out of
your eyes; by the fashion in which, as you see what is in mine, you
stand shivering there. You know that I would like to be on an equality
with you because I love you; and because it isn't flattering to my
pride to know that, in every respect, you are so transcendently above
me, and that, compared to you, I am altogether such a thing of clay. I
don't want to receive everything and to give nothing. I am one of those
sordid animals who like to think that their wives-who-are-to-be will be
indebted to them for something besides their bare affection."

"How dare you talk to me like this?"

She felt as if she would have given anything to have been able to turn
and flee, instead of seeming to stultify herself by so halting a
rejoinder; but her feet were as if they were rooted to the ground.

"Do you mean, how dare I tell you that I love you? Why, I'd dare to
tell you if you were a queen upon your throne and I your most
insignificant subject. I'd dare to tell you if I knew that the telling
would bring the heavens down. I'd dare to tell you if all the
gamekeepers on your estate were behind you there, pointing their guns
at me, and I was assured they'd pull their triggers the instant I had
told. Why should I not dare to tell you that I love you? I'm a man;
and, after all, you're but a woman, though so rare an one. I dare to
tell you more. I dare to tell you that the first time I saw you lying
there, on that grassy cushion, I began to love you then. And it has
grown since, until now, it consumes me as with fire. It has grown to be
so great, that, mysterious and strange--and indeed, incredible though
it seems--I've a sort of inkling somewhere in my bosom, that one day
yet I'll win you for my wife. What do you say to that?"

"I say that you don't know what you're talking about. That you're
insane."

"If that be so, I've a fancy that it's a sort of insanity which, in
howsoever so slight a degree, is shared by you. Come closer."

He leaned over the fence. Almost before she knew it, he had his arms
about her; had drawn her close to him, and had kissed her on the mouth.
She struck at him with her clenched fists; and, fighting like some wild
thing, tearing herself loose, rushed headlong down the woodland path,
as if Satan were at her heels.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                            THE LADY WANDERS


That was the beginning of a very bad time for Mrs Plummer.

She was sitting peacefully reading--she was not one of those ladies who
indulge in "fancy work," and was always ready to confess that never,
under any circumstances, if she could help it, would she have a needle
in her hand--when Miss Arnott came rushing into the room in a condition
which would have been mildly described as dishevelled. She was a young
lady who was a little given to vigorous entrances and exits, and was
not generally, as regards her appearance, a disciple of what has been
spoken of as "the bandbox brigade." But on that occasion she moved Mrs
Plummer, who was not easily moved in that direction, to an exhibition
of surprise.

"My dear child! what have you been doing to yourself, and where have
you been?"

"I've been to the woods. Mrs Plummer, I've come to tell you that we're
going abroad."

"Going abroad? Isn't that rather a sudden resolution? I thought you had
arranged--"

"Never mind what I've arranged. We're going abroad to-morrow, if we
can't get away to-night."

"To-morrow? To-night? My child, are you in earnest?"

"Very much so. That is, I don't wish to put any constraint on you. You,
of course, are at liberty to go or stay, exactly as you please. I
merely wish to say that I am going abroad, whether you come with me or
whether you don't; and that I intend to start either to-night or
to-morrow morning."

They left the next morning. The packing was done that night. At an
early hour they went up to town; at eleven o'clock they started for the
Continent. That evening they dined in Paris. Mrs Plummer would have
liked to remonstrate--and did remonstrate so far as she dared; but it
needed less sagacity than she possessed to enable her to see that, in
Miss Arnott's present mood, the limits of daring might easily be
passed. When she ventured to suggest that before their departure Mr
Stacey should be consulted, the young lady favoured her with a little
plain speaking.

"Why should I consult Mr Stacey? He is only my servant."

"Your servant? My dear!"

"He renders me certain services, for which I pay him. Doesn't that mean
that, in a certain sense, he's my servant? I have authority over him,
but he has none over me--not one iota. He was my trustee; but, as I
understand it, his trusteeship ceased when I entered into actual
possession of my uncle's property. He does as I tell him, that's all. I
shouldn't dream of consulting him as to my personal movements--nor
anyone. As, in the future, my movements may appear to you to be
erratic, please, Mrs Plummer, let us understand each other now. You are
my companion--good! I have no objection. When we first met, you told me
that my liberty would be more complete with you than without you. I
assure you, on my part, that I do not intend to allow you to interfere
with my perfect freedom of action in the least degree. I mean to go
where I please, when I please, how I please, and I want no criticism.
You can do exactly as you choose; I shall do as I choose. I don't
intend to allow you, in any way whatever, to be a clog upon my
movements. The sooner we understand each other perfectly on that point
the better it will be for both sides. Don't you think so?"

Mrs Plummer had to think so.

"I'm sure that if you told me you meant to start in ten minutes for the
North Pole, you'd find me willing; that is, if you'd be willing to take
me with you."

"Oh, I'd be willing to take you, so long as you don't even hint at a
disinclination to be taken."

They stayed in Paris for two days. Then they wandered hither and
thither in Switzerland. Everywhere, it seemed, there were too many
people.

"I want to be alone," declared Miss Arnott. "Where there isn't a soul
to speak to except you and Evans,"--Evans was her maid--"you two don't
count. But I can't get away from the crowds; they're even on the tops
of the mountains. I hate them."

Mrs Plummer sighed; being careful, however, to conceal the sigh from
Miss Arnott. It seemed to her that the young lady had an
incomprehensible objection to everything that appealed to anyone else.
She avoided hotels where the cooking was decent, because other people
patronised them. She eschewed places where there was something to be
obtained in the way of amusement, because other reasonable creatures
showed a desire to be amused. She shunned beauty spots, merely because
she was not the only person in the world who liked to look upon the
beauties of nature. Having hit upon an apparently inaccessible retreat,
from the ordinary tourist point of view, in the upper Engadine, where,
according to Mrs Plummer, the hotel was horrible, and there was nothing
to do, and nowhere to go, there not being a level hundred yards within
miles, the roads being mere tracks on the mountain sides, she did show
some disposition to rest awhile. Indeed, she showed an inclination to
stay much longer than either Mrs Plummer or Evans desired. Those two
were far from happy.

"What a young lady in her position can see in a place like this beats
me altogether. The food isn't fit for a Christian, and look at the room
we have to eat it in; it isn't even decently furnished. There's not a
soul to speak to, and nothing to do except climb up and down the side
of a wall. She'll be brought in one day--if they ever find her--nothing
but a bag of bones; you see if she isn't!"

In that strain Evans frequently eased her mind, or tried to.

To this remote hamlet, however, in course of time, other people began
to come. They not only filled the hotel, which was easy, since Miss
Arnott already had most of it, and would have had all, if the landlord,
who was a character, had not insisted on keeping certain rooms for
other guests; but they also overflowed into the neighbouring houses.
These newcomers filled Miss Arnott with dark suspicions. When indulging
in her solitary expeditions one young man in particular, named
Blenkinsop, developed an extraordinary knack of turning up when she
least expected him.

"I believe I'm indebted to you for these people coming here."

This charge she levelled at Mrs Plummer, who was amazed.

"To me! Why, they're all complete strangers to me; I never saw one of
them before, and haven't the faintest notion where they come from or
who they are.

"All the same, I believe I am; to you or to Evans; probably to both."

"My dear, what do you mean? The things you say!"

"It's the things you say, that's what I mean. You and Evans have been
talking to the people here; you have been telling them who I am, and a
great many things you have no right to tell them. They've been telling
people down in the valley, and the thing has spread; how the rich
Arnott girl, who has so much money she herself doesn't know how much,
is stopping up here all alone. I know. These creatures have come up in
consequence. That man Blenkinsop as good as told me this afternoon that
he only came because he heard that I was here."

"My dear, what can you expect? You can't hide your light under a
bushel. You would have much more real solitude in a crowd than in a
place like this."

"Should I? We shall see. If this sort of thing occurs again I shall
send you and Evans home. I shall drop my own name, and take a
pseudonym; and I shall go into lodgings, and live on fifty francs a
week--then we'll see if I sha'n't be left alone."

When Mrs Plummer retailed these remarks to Evans, the lady's maid--who
had already been the recipient of a few observations on her own
account--expressed herself with considerable frankness on the subject
of her mistress.

"I believe she's mad--I do really. I don't mean that she's bad enough
for a lunatic asylum or anything like that; but that she has a screw
loose, and that there's something wrong with her, I'm pretty nearly
sure. Look at the fits of depression she has--with her quite young and
everything to make her all the other way. Look how she broods. She
might be like the party in the play who'd murdered sleep, the way she
keeps awake of nights. I know she reads till goodness knows what time;
and often and often I don't believe she has a wink of sleep all night
It isn't natural--I know I shouldn't like it if it was me. She might
have done some dreadful crime, and be haunted by it, the way that she
goes on--she might really."

It was, perhaps, owing to the fact that the unfortunate lady
practically had no human society except the lady's maid's that Mrs
Plummer did not rebuke her more sharply for indulging in such free and
easy comments on the lady to whom they were both indebted. She did
observe that Evans ought not to say such things; but, judging from
certain passages in a letter which, later on, she sent to Mrs Stacey,
it is possible that the woman's words had made a greater impression
than she had cared to admit.

They passed from the Engadine to Salmezzo, a little village which
nestles among the hills which overlook Lake Como. It was from there
that the letter in question was written. After a page or two about
nothing in particular it went on like this:--

"I don't want to make mountains out of molehills, and I don't wish you
to misunderstand me; but I am beginning to wonder if there is not
something abnormal about the young lady whom I am supposed to chaperon.
In so rich, so young, and so beautiful a girl--and I think she grows
more beautiful daily--this horror of one's fellow-creatures--carried to
the extent she carries it--is in itself abnormal. But, lately, there
has been something more. She is physically, or mentally, unwell; which
of the two I can't decide. I am not in the least bit morbid; but,
really, if you had been watching her--and, circumstanced as I am, you
can't help watching her--you would begin to think she must be haunted.
It's getting on my nerves. Usually, I should describe her as one of the
most self-possessed persons I had ever met; but, during the last week
or two, she has taken to starting--literally--at shadows.

"The other day, at the end of the little avenue of trees which runs in
front of my bedroom, right before my eyes, she stopped and leaned
against one of the trees, as if for support. I wondered what she meant
by it--the attitude was such an odd one. Presently a man came along the
road, and strode past the gate. The nearer he came the more she slunk
behind the tree. When he had passed she crouched down behind the tree,
and began to cry. How she did cry! While I was hesitating whether I
ought to go to her or not, apparently becoming conscious that she might
be overlooked, she suddenly got up and--still crying--rushed off among
the trees.

"Now who did she think that man was she heard coming along the road?
Why did she cry like that when she found it wasn't he? Were they tears
of relief or disappointment? It seemed very odd.

"Again, one afternoon she went for a drive with me; it is not often
that she will go anywhere with me, especially for a drive, but that
afternoon the suggestion actually came from her. After we had gone some
distance we alighted from the vehicle to walk to a point from which a
famous view can be obtained. All at once, stopping, she caught me by
the arm.

"'Who's that speaking?' she asked. Up to then I had not been conscious
that anyone was speaking. But, as we stood listening, I gradually
became conscious, in the intense silence, of a distant murmur of voices
which was just, and only just, audible. Her hearing must be very acute.
'It is an English voice which is speaking,' she said. She dragged me
off the path among the shadow of the trees. She really did drag; but I
was so taken aback by the extraordinary look which came upon her face,
and by the strangeness of her tone, that I was incapable of offering
the least resistance. On a sudden she had become an altogether
different person; a dreadful one, it seemed to me. Although I was
conscious of the absurdity of our crouching there among the trees, I
could not say so--simply because I was afraid of her. At last she said,
as if to herself, 'It's not his voice.' Then she gave a gasp, or a
groan, or sigh--I don't know what it was. I could feel her shuddering;
it affected me most unpleasantly. Presently two perfectly inoffensive
young Englishmen, who were staying at our hotel, came strolling by.
Fortunately they did not look round. If they had seen us hiding there
among the trees I don't know what they would have thought.

"I have only given you two instances. But recently, she is always doing
ridiculous things like that, which, although they are ridiculous, are
disconcerting. She certainly is unwell mentally, or physically, or
both; but not only so. I seriously do believe she's haunted. Not by
anything supernatural, but by something, perhaps, quite ordinary. There
may be some episode in her life which we know nothing of, and which it
might be much better for her if we did, and that haunts her. I should
not like to venture to hint at what may be its exact nature; because I
have no idea; but I would not mind hazarding a guess that it has
something to do with a man."


Mrs Plummer's sagacity was not at fault; it had something to do with a
man--her husband. She had hoped that constant wandering might help her
to banish him from her mind--him and another man. The contrary proved
to be the case. The farther she went the more present he seemed to
be--they both seemed to be.

And, lately, the thing had become worse. She had begun to count the
hours which still remained before the prison gates should be reopened.
So swiftly the time grew shorter. When they were reopened, what would
happen then? Now she was haunted; what Mrs Plummer had written was
true. Day and night she feared to see his face; she trembled lest every
unknown footstep might be his. A strange voice made her heart stand
still.

The absurdity of the thing did not occur to her? she was so wholly
obsessed by its horror. Again Mrs Plummer was right, she was unwell
both mentally and physically. The burden which was weighing on her,
body and soul, was rapidly becoming heavier than she could bear. She
magnified it till it filled her whole horizon. Look where she would it
was there, the monster who--it seemed to her, at any moment--might
spring out at her from behind the prison gates. The clearness of her
mental vision was becoming obscured, the things she saw were distorted
out of their true proportions.

As a matter of fact, the hour of Robert Champion's release was drawing
near. The twelve months were coming to an end. The probability was that
they had seemed much longer to him than to her. To her it seemed that
the hour of his release would sound the knell of the end of all things.
She awaited it as a condemned wretch might await the summons to the
gallows. As, with the approaching hour, the tension grew tighter, the
balance of her mind became disturbed. Temporarily, she was certainly
not quite sane.

One afternoon she crowned her display of eccentricity by rushing off
home almost at a moment's notice. On the previous day--a Tuesday--she
had arranged with the landlord to continue in his hotel for a further
indefinite period. On the Wednesday, after lunch, she came to Mrs
Plummer and announced that they were going home at once. Although Mrs
Plummer was taken wholly by surprise, the suggestion being a complete
reversal of all the plans they had made, Miss Arnott's manner was so
singular, and the proposition was in itself so welcome, that the elder
lady fell in with the notion there and then, without even a show of
remonstrance. The truth is that she had something more than a suspicion
that Miss Arnott would be only too glad to avail herself of any excuse
which might offer, and return to England alone, leaving her--Mrs
Plummer--alone with Evans. Why the young lady should wish to do such a
thing she had no idea, but that she did wish to do it she felt
uncomfortably convinced. The companion managing to impress the lady's
maid with her aspect of the position, the trunks were packed in less
than no time, so that the entire cortège was driven over to catch the
afternoon train, leaving the smiling landlord with a thumping cheque,
to compensate him for the rapidity with which the eccentric young
Englishwoman thought proper to break the engagements into which she had
solemnly entered.

That was on the Wednesday. On the Saturday--by dint of losing no time
upon the way--they arrived at Exham Park. On the Sunday Robert
Champion's term of imprisonment was to come to an end; on that day he
would have been twelve months in jail. What a rigid account she had
kept of it all, like the schoolboy who keeps count of the days which
bar him from his holidays. But with what a different feeling in her
heart! She had seen that Sunday coming at her from afar off--nearer and
nearer. What would happen when it came, and he was free to get at her
again, she did not know. What she did know was that she meant to have
an hour or two at Exham Park before the Sunday dawned, and the monster
was set free again. She had come at headlong speed from the Lake of
Como to have it.



                               CHAPTER IX

                             THE BEECH TREE


When the travellers returned it was after nine o'clock. So soon as they
set foot indoors they were informed that dinner was ready to be served;
an announcement which, as they had been travelling all day, and had
only had a scanty lunch on the train, Mrs Plummer was inclined to hail
with rapture. Miss Arnott, however--as she was only too frequently wont
to be--was of a different mind.

"I don't want any dinner," she announced.

"Not want any dinner!" Mrs Plummer stared. The limits of human
forbearance must be reached some time, and the idea that that erratic
young woman could not want dinner was beyond nature. "But you must want
dinner--you're starving; I'm sure you are."

"Indeed? I don't see how you can be sure. I assure you, on my part,
that I am not even hungry. However, as you probably mean that yours is
a case of starvation, far be it from me to stand in the way of your
being properly fed. Come! let us go in to dinner at once."

The imperious young woman marched her unresisting companion straight
off into the dining-room, without even affording her an opportunity to
remove the stains of travel. Not that Mrs Plummer was unwilling to be
led, having arrived at that stage in which the satisfaction of the
appetite was the primary consideration.

Miss Arnott herself made but an unsubstantial meal; watching the
conscientious manner in which the elder lady did justice to the
excellent fare with ill-concealed and growing impatience. At last--when
they had only reached the entrées--her feeling found vent.

"Really, Mrs Plummer, you must excuse me. I'm not in the least bit
hungry, and am in that state of mind in which even the sight of food
upsets me--I must have some fresh air."

"Fresh air! But, my dear child, surely you must recently have had
enough fresh air."

"Not of the kind I want. You stay there and continue to recruit
exhausted nature; don't let my vagaries make any difference to you. I'm
going out--to breathe."

"After travelling for three whole days where can you be going to at
this time of night? It's ten o'clock."

"I'm going--" From the way in which she looked at her Mrs Plummer
deemed it quite possible that her charge was going to request her to
mind her own business. But, suddenly, Miss Arnott stopped; seemed to
change her mind, and said with a smile wrinkling her lips, "Oh, I'm
going out into the woods."

Before the other could speak again she was gone.

Left alone, Mrs Plummer put down her knife and fork, and stared at the
door through which the lady had vanished. Had there been someone to say
it to she might have said something to the point. The only persons
present were the butler and his attendant minions. To them she could
hardly address herself on such a subject. It was not even desirable
that any action of hers should acquaint them with the fact that there
was something which she was burning to say. She controlled her
feelings, composed her countenance, took up her knife and fork and
resumed her meal.

And Miss Arnott went out into the woods.

She was in a curious mood, or she would never have gone out on such a
frolic. Directly she found herself out in the cool night air,
stretching out her arms and opening her chest, she drank in great
draughts of it; not one or two, but half a dozen. When she reached the
shadow of the trees she paused. So far the sky had been obscured by
clouds. The woods stretched out in front of her in seemingly
impenetrable darkness. It was impossible to pick out a footpath in that
blackness. But all at once the clouds passed from before the moon.
Shafts of light began to penetrate the forest fastness, and to
illuminate its mysteries. The footpath was revealed, not over clearly,
yet with sufficient distinctness to make its existence obvious.
Unhesitatingly she began to follow it. It was not easy walking. The
moon kept coming and going. When it was at its brightest its rays were
not sufficiently vivid to make perfectly plain the intricacies of the
path. When it vanished she found herself in a darkness which might
almost have been felt. Progression was practically impossible. In spite
of her putting out her hands to feel the way she was continually coming
into contact with trees, and shrubs, and all sorts of unseen obstacles.
Not only so, there was the risk of her losing the path--all sense of
direction being nonexistent.

"If I don't take care I shall be lost utterly, and shall have to spend
the night, alone with the birds and beasts, in this sweet wilderness.
Sensible people would take advantage of the first chance which offers
to turn back. But I sha'n't; I shall go on and on."

Presently the opportunity to do so came again. The moon returned; this
time to stay. It seemed brighter now. As her eyes became accustomed to
its peculiar glamour she moved more surely towards the goal she had in
view. The light, the scene, the hour, were all three fitted to her
mood; which certainly would have defied her own analysis. It seemed to
her, by degrees, that she was bewitched--under the influence of some
strange spell. This was a fairy forest through which she was passing,
at the witching hour. Invisible shapes walked by her. Immaterial forms
peopled the air. It was as though she was one of a great company;
moving with an aerial bodyguard through a forest of faerie.

What it all meant she did not know; or why she was there; or whither,
exactly, she was going. Until, on a sudden, the knowledge came.

Unexpectedly, before she supposed she had gone so far, she came to
the end of the path. There, right ahead, was the mossy glade, the
fee-simple of which had been presented to her in such queer fashion the
last time she came that way. Coming from the shadow of the forest path
it stood out in the full radiance of the moon; every object showing out
as clearly as at high noon. The new-made fence, with its novelty
already fading; the turf on which she loved to lie; the unevenness on
the slope which had seemed to have been made for the express purpose of
providing cushions for her head and back. These things she saw, as
distinctly as if the sun were high in the heavens; and something else
she saw as well, which made her heart stand still.

Under the giant beech, whose spreading branches cast such grateful
shade, when the sun was hot, over the nook which she had chosen as a
couch, stood a man--who was himself by way of being a giant. Never
before had his height so struck her. Whether it was the clothes he
wore, the position in which he stood, or a trick of the moonlight, she
could not tell. She only knew that, as he appeared so instantly before
her, he was like some creature out of Brobdingnag, seeming to fill all
space with his presence.

The man was Hugh Morice.

He was so absorbed in what he was doing, and she was still some little
distance from him, and had come so quietly; that she saw him while he
still remained unconscious of her neighbourhood. She had ample time to
withdraw. She had only to take a few steps back, and he would never
know she had been near him. So the incident would be closed. Her
instinct told her that in that way she would be safest. And for a
moment or two she all but turned to go.

Her retreat, however, was delayed by one or two considerations. One was
that the sight of him affected her so strangely that, for some seconds,
she was genuinely incapable of going either backward or forward. Her
feet seemed shod with lead, her knees seemed to be giving way beneath
her, she was trembling from head to foot. Then she was divided between
conflicting desires, the one saying go, the other stay; and while her
instinct warned her to do the one, her inclination pointed to the
other. In the third place there was her woman's curiosity. While she
hesitated this began to gain the upper hand. She wondered what it was
he was doing which absorbed him so completely that he never ceased from
doing it to look about him.

He was in a dinner suit, and was apparently hatless. He had something
in his hand, with which he was doing something to the tree in front of
which he stood. What was he doing? She had no right to ask; she had no
right to be there at all; still--she wondered. She moved a little
farther out into the open space, to enable her to see. As she did so it
seemed that he finished what he was doing. Standing up straight he drew
back from the tree the better to enable him to examine his handiwork;
and--then he turned and saw her.

There was silence. Neither moved. Each continued to look at the other,
as if at some strange, mysterious being. Then he spoke.

"Are you a ghost?--I think not. I fancy you're material. But I haunt
this place so constantly myself--defying Jim Baker's charge of
lead--that I should not be one whit surprised if your spirit actually
did appear to keep me company. Do you believe in telepathy?"

"I don't know what it is."

"Do you believe that A, by dint of taking thought, can induce B to
think of him? or--more--can draw, B to his side? I'm not sure that I
believe; but it certainly is queer that I should have been thinking of
you so strenuously just then, longing for you, and should turn and find
you here. I thought you were over the hills and far away, haunting the
shores of the Italian lakes."

"On Wednesday we came away from Como."

"On Wednesday? That's still stranger. It was on Wednesday my fever came
to a head. I rushed down here, bent, if I could not be with you, on
being where you had been. Since my arrival I've longed--with how great
a longing--to use all sorts of conjurations which should bring you back
to Exham; and, it seems, I conjured wiser than I knew."

"I left Como because I could no longer stay."

"From Exham? or from me? Speak sweetly; see how great my longing is."

"I had to return to say good-bye."

"To both of us? That's good; since our goodbyes will take so long in
saying. Come and see what I have done." She went to the tree. There,
newly cut in the bark, plain in the moonlight, were letters and figures.
"Your initials and mine, joined by the date on which we met--beneath this
tree. I brought my hunting knife out with me to do it--you see how sharp
a point and edge it has." She saw that he held a great knife in his hand.
"As I cut the letters you can believe I thought--I so thought of you
with my whole heart and soul that you've come back to me from Como."

"Did I not say I've returned to say good-bye?"

"What sort of good-bye do you imagine I will let you say, now that
you've returned? That tree shall be to us a family chronicle. The first
important date's inscribed on it; the others shall follow; they'll be
so many. But the trunk's of a generous size. We'll find room on it for
all. That's the date on which I first loved you. What's the date on
which you first loved me?"

"I have not said I ever loved you."

"No; but you do."

"Yes; I do. Now I know that I do. No, you must not touch me."

"No need to draw yourself away; I do not mean to, yet. Some happinesses
are all the sweeter for being a little postponed. And when did the
knowledge first come to you? We must have the date upon the tree."

"That you never shall. Such tales are not for trees to tell, even if I
knew, which I don't. I'm afraid to think; it's all so horrible."

"Love is horrible? I think not."

"But I know. You don't understand--I do."

"My dear, I think it is you who do not understand."

"Nor must you call me your dear; for that I shall never be."

"Not even when you're my wife?"

"I shall never be your wife!"

"Lady, these are strange things of which you speak. I would rather
that, just now, you did not talk only in riddles."

"It is the plain truth--I shall never be your wife."

"How's that? Since my love has brought you back from Como, to tell me
that you also love? Though, mind you, I do not stand in positive need
of being told. Because, now that I see you face to face, and feel you
there so close to me, your heart speaks to mine--I can hear it
speaking; I can hear, sweetheart, what it says. So that I know you love
me, without depending for the knowledge on the utterance of your lips."

"Still, I shall never be your wife."

"But why, sweetheart, but why?"

"Because--I am a wife already."



                               CHAPTER X

                        THE TALE WHICH WAS TOLD


They were silent. To her it seemed that the silence shrieked aloud. He
looked at her with an expression on his face which she was destined
never to forget--as if he were hard of hearing, or fancied that his
senses played him a trick, or that she had indulged in some ill-timed
jest.

"What did you say?"

"I said that I am a wife already."

His look had become one of inquiry; as if desirous of learning if she
were really in earnest. She felt her heart beating against her ribs, or
seeming to--a habit of which it had been too fond of late. When it
behaved like that it was only with an uncomfortable effort that she
could keep a hold upon her consciousness; being fearful that it might
slip away from her, in spite of all that she might be able to do. When
he spoke again his tone had changed; as if he were puzzled. She had a
sudden feeling that he was speaking to her as he might have spoken to a
child.

"Do you know what you are saying? and do you mean what you say?"

"Of course I do."

"But--pardon me--I don't see the of course at all. Do
you--seriously--wish me to understand that you're--a married woman?"

"Whether you understand it or not, I am."

"But you are scarcely more than a child. How old are you?"

"I am twenty-two."

"And how long do you wish me to understand that you've been married?"

"Two years."

"Two years? Then--you were married before you came here?"

"Of course."

"Of course? But everyone here has always spoken to me of you as Miss
Arnott."

"That is because no one who knows me here knows that I am married."

He put his arms down to his sides, and drew himself up still
straighter, so that she had to look right up at him, and knit his
brows, as if he found himself confronted by a problem which was
incapable of solution.

"I believe that I am the least curious of men, I say it seriously; but
it appears to me that this is a situation in which curiosity is
justified. You made yourself known to me as Miss Arnott; as Miss Arnott
there have previously been certain passages between us; as Miss Arnott
you have permitted me to tell you that I love you; you have even
admitted that you love me. It is only when I take it for granted--as I
am entitled to do--that the mutual confession involves your becoming my
wife, that you inform me--that you are already a married woman. Under
the circumstances I think I have a right to ask for information at
least on certain points; as, for instance, so that I may know how to
address you--what is your husband's name?"

"Robert Champion."

"Robert Champion? Then--you are Mrs Champion?"

"I am."

"Am I to take it that Mr Champion is alive?"

"So far as I know."

"So far as you know? That does not suggest very intimate--or very
recent knowledge. When did you hear from him last?"

"I saw him twelve months ago."

"You saw him twelve months ago? That was not long before you came here.
Why did he not accompany you when you came?"

"He couldn't."

"He couldn't? Why?"

"He was in prison."

"In--" He stopped, looked at her with, in his eyes, an altogether
different expression; then, throwing his head back, seemed to be
staring straight at the moon, as if he were endeavouring to read
something which was written on her surface. Presently he spoke in an
entirely altered tone of voice. "Now I understand, or, rather, now I
begin to understand. It dawns on me that here is a position which will
want some understanding." As if seized with sudden restlessness he
began to pace to and fro, keeping to the same piece of ground, of which
he seemed to be making mental measurements; she meanwhile, watching
him, silent, motionless, as if she were waiting for him to pronounce
judgment. After a while he broke into speech, while he still continued
pacing to and fro. "Now I begin to see daylight everywhere; the meaning
of the things which puzzled me. Why you seemed to take no interest in
anything; why you were so fond of solitude; why, in the middle of a
conversation, one found that your thoughts had strayed. The life you
were living in public was not the one you were living to yourself. It's
not nice to be like that. Poor child! And I have laughed at you,
because I thought you were a character, and--you were. How many fools
escape being kicked just at those moments when a kicking would do them
good. It occurs to me, Mrs Champion--"

"Don't call me that!"

"But--if it's your name?"

"It's not my name to you; I wish you always to think of me as Miss
Arnott."

"Then--" He paused; ceased to walk; looked at her, and went and stood
with his back against the tree. "I fancy that what you stand most in
need of is a friend. I can be that to you, if I can be nothing else.
Come, tell me all about it--it will ease your mind."

"I've wanted to tell someone all the time; but I've told no one. I
couldn't."

"I know what you mean; and I think I know what it feels like. Tell
me--you'll find me an excellent father confessor."

"I shall have to begin at the beginning."

"Do. If I am to be of any assistance, and it's possible I may be, I
shall have to understand it all quite clearly."

"My father died first, and then my mother, and when she died I was left
with only quite a little money."

"And no relations?"

"No--no relations."

"And no friends?"

"No--no friends."

"Poor child!"

"You mustn't talk like that, or I sha'n't be able to go on, and I want
to go straight on. I wasn't yet eighteen. There wasn't anything to be
done in the country--we had lived quite out of the world--so I went to
London. I was strange to London; but I thought I should have more
chance there than in Scarsdale, so I went. But, when I got there, I
soon found that I wasn't much better off than before, I'm not sure I
wasn't worse. It was so lonely and so--so strange. My money went so
fast, I began to be afraid, there seemed to be no means of earning
more--I didn't know what to do. Then I saw an advertisement in a paper,
of a shop where they wanted models in the costume department; they had
to be tall and of good appearance. I didn't know what the advertisement
meant; but I thought I was that, so I went, and they engaged me. I was
to have board and lodging, and a few shillings a week. It was horrible.
I had to keep putting on new dresses, and walk up and down in them in
front of strange women, and sometimes men, and show them off. I had
always been used to the open air, and to solitude; sometimes I thought
I was going mad. Then the food was bad--at least, I thought it was
bad--and, there were all sorts of things. But I had come so close to my
last few shillings--and been so afraid--that I didn't dare to leave.
There was one girl, who was also a model, whom I almost trusted; now
that I look back I know that I never did quite. I used to walk about
with her in the streets; I couldn't walk about alone, and there was
nowhere else to walk, and I had to have some fresh air. She introduced
me to a friend of hers--a man. She said he was a gentleman, but I knew
better than that. She made out that he was very rich, and everything he
ought to be. Directly he was introduced he began to make love. I so
hated being a model; and I saw no prospect of doing anything else,
and--besides, I wasn't well--I wasn't myself the whole of the time. She
laughed when I said I didn't like him, and, therefore, couldn't be his
wife. She declared that I was throwing away the best chance a girl in
my position ever had; and said he would make the most perfect husband I
could possibly want. He promised all sorts of things; he said we should
live in the country, he even took me to see a house which he said he
had taken. I grew to hate being a model more and more; I was miserable
and ill, and they all made fun of me. At last, after he had asked me I
don't know how many times, I said yes. We were married. We went to
Margate for our honeymoon. Within four-and-twenty hours I knew what
kind of a man he was."

She stopped; putting her hands up before her face. He could see her
trembling in the moonlight, and could only stand and watch. He dared
not trust himself to speak.

Presently she went on.

"I lived with him twelve months."

"Twelve months!"

"When I think of it now I wonder why I didn't kill him. I had chances,
but I daren't even run away. All the life had gone out of me, and all
the spirit too. I didn't even try to defend myself when he struck me."

"Struck you?"

"Oh, he often did that. But I was a weak and helpless creature. I
seemed to myself to be half-witted. He used to say that he believed I
had a tile loose. I had, then. Then they locked him up."

"What for?"

"He put an advertisement in the paper for a person to fill a position
of trust. When someone applied he got them to make what he termed a
'deposit' of a few pounds. Then he stole it. Of course there was no
position of trust to fill. That was how he made his living. I always
wondered where he got his money from. After he was arrested I
understood."

"And he was sentenced?"

"To twelve months' hard labour."

"Only twelve months' hard labour? Then his term of imprisonment will
soon be drawing to a close."

"To-morrow."

"To-morrow! You poor child!"

"Now you perceive why I hurried back from Lake Como to say good-bye."

"I hope I need not tell you, in words, how intensely I sympathise with
you."

"Thank you, I would rather you didn't; I know."

"We will speak of such matters later. In the meantime, obviously, what
you want is a friend; as I guessed. As a friend, let me assure you that
your position is not by any means so hopeless as you appear to
imagine."

"Not with my husband coming out of prison to-morrow? You don't know
him."

"If you can do nothing else, you can keep him at arm's length."

"How do you mean?"

"You have money, he hasn't. You can at least place yourself in a
position in which he can't get at you."

"Can't he compel me to give him money?"

"Emphatically, no. He has no claim to a penny of yours, not to a
farthing. The marriage laws are still quite capable of being improved,
but one crying injustice they have abolished. What a woman has is her
own, and hers only, be she married or single. If Mr Champion wants
money he will have to earn it. He has not a scintilla of right to any
of yours, or anything that is yours. So, at anyrate, you should have no
difficulty in placing yourself beyond his reach. But there is something
more. You should experience no trouble in freeing yourself from him
altogether. There is such a place as the divorce court. Plainly, it
would be easy to show cruelty, and probably something else as well."

"I don't know. I knew nothing of what he did, and cared nothing, so
long as he left me alone."

"Quite so. This is a matter which will be better managed by other hands
than yours. Only--there are abundant ways and means of dealing with a
person of his kind. What I want you to do now is not to worry. One
moment! it's not a counsel of perfection! I see clearly what this means
to you, what it has meant, but--forgive me for saying so--the burden
has been made much heavier by your insisting on bearing it alone."

"I couldn't blurt out my shame to everyone--to anyone!"

"Well, you have told me now, thank goodness! And you may rely on this,
that man sha'n't be allowed to come near you; if necessary, I will make
it my business to prevent him. I will think things over to-night; be
sure that I shall find a way out. To-morrow I will come and tell you
what I've thought about, when the conditions are more normal."

"Rather than that he should again be able to claim me for his wife,
even for an hour, I would kill him."

"Certainly; I will kill him for you if it comes to that. I have lived
in countries where they make nothing of killing vermin of his
particular type. But there'll be no necessity for such a drastic
remedy. Now, I want you to go home and promise not to worry, because
your case is now in hands which are well qualified to relieve you of
all cause for apprehension of any sort or kind. I beg you will believe
it. Good-night."

She hesitated, then put her hands up to her temples, as if her head was
aching.

"I will say good-night to you. You go, I will stay. My brain's all in a
whirl. I want to be alone--to steady it."

"I don't like to leave you, in such a place, at such an hour."

"Why not? While I've been abroad I've sometimes spent half the night in
wandering alone over the mountains. Why am I not as safe here as
there?"

"It's not a question of safety, no doubt you're safe enough. But--it's
the idea."

"Be so good as to do as I ask--leave me, please."

"Since you ask me in such a tone. Promise me, at least, that you won't
stay half the night out here; that, indeed, you won't stay long."

"I promise, if my doing so affords you any satisfaction. Probably I'll
be in my own room in half an hour, only--I must be alone for a few
minutes first. Don't you see?"

"I fancy that I do. Good-night. Remember that I'm at least your
friend."

"I'll remember."

"By the way, in the morning where, and when, shall I find you?"

"I shall be in the house till lunch."

"Good, then before lunch I'll come to you, as early as I can.
Good-night again."

"Good-night. And"--as he was moving off--"you're not to stop about and
watch me, playing the part of the unseen protector. I couldn't bear the
thought of being watched. I want to be alone."

He laughed.

"All right! All right! Since you've promised me that you'll not stay
long I promise you that I'll march straight home."

He strode off, his arms swinging at his sides, his head hanging a
little forward on his chest, as his habit was. She followed him with
her eyes. When she saw that he vanished among the trees on his own
estate, and did not once look back, she was conscious of an illogical
little pang. She knew that he wanted her to understand that, in
obedience to her wishes, he refused to keep any surveillance over her
movements, even to the extent of looking back. Still she felt that he
might have given her one backward glance, ere he vanished into the
night.



                               CHAPTER XI

                          THE MAN ON THE FENCE


Her first feeling, when she knew herself in truth to be alone, was of
thankfulness so intense as almost to amount to pain. He knew! As he
himself had said, thank goodness! Her relief at the knowledge that her
burden was shared, in however slight a degree, was greater than she
could have imagined possible. And of all people in the world--by him!
Now he understood, and understanding had, in one sense, drawn him
closer to her; if in another it had thrust him farther off. Again, to
use his own words, he was at least her friend. And, among all persons,
he was the one whom--for every possible reason--she would rather have
chosen as a friend. In his hands she knew she would be safe. Whatever
he could do, he would do, and more. That ogre who, in a few hours,
would again be issuing from the prison gates, would not have her so
wholly at his mercy as she had feared. Now, and henceforward, there
would be someone else with whom he would have to reckon. One in whom,
she was convinced, he would find much more than his match.

Again as he had said--thank goodness!

For some minutes she remained just as he had left her, standing looking
after him, where he had vanished among the trees. After a while the
restraint which she had placed upon herself throughout that trying
interview, began to slacken. The girl that was in her came to the
front--nature had its way. All at once she threw herself face downward
on the cushioned turf in her own particular nook, and burst into a
flood of tears. It was to enable her to do that, perhaps, that she had
so wished to be alone. For once in a way, it was a comfort to cry; they
were more than half of them tears of happiness. On the grass she lay,
in the moonlight, and sobbed out, as it were, her thanks for the
promise of help which had so suddenly come to her.

Until all at once she became aware, amidst the tumult of her sobbing,
of a disturbing sound. She did not at first move or alter her position.
She only tried to calm herself and listen. What was it which had struck
upon her consciousness? Footsteps? Yes, approaching footsteps.

Had he played her false, and, despite his promise, kept watch on her?
And was he now returning, to intrude upon her privacy? How dare he! The
fountain of her tears was all at once dried up; instead, she went hot
all over. The steps were drawing nearer. The person who was responsible
was climbing the fence, within, it seemed, half a dozen feet of her.
She started up in a rage, to find that the intruder was not Hugh
Morice.

Seated on the top rail of the fence, on which he appeared to have
perched himself, to enable him to observe her more at his ease, was
quite a different-looking sort of person, a much more unprepossessing
one than Hugh Morice. His coat and trousers were of shepherd's plaid;
the open jacket revealing a light blue waistcoat, ornamented with
bright brass buttons. For necktie he wore a narrow scarlet ribbon. His
brown billycock hat was a little on one side of his head; his face was
clean shaven, and between his lips he had an unlighted cigarette. In
age he might have been anything between thirty and fifty.

His appearance was so entirely unexpected, and, in truth, so almost
incredible, that she stared at him as she might have stared at some
frightful apparition. And, indeed, no apparition could have seemed more
frightful to her; for the man on the fence was Robert Champion.

For the space of at least a minute neither spoke. It was as if both
parties were at a loss for words. At last the man found his tongue.

"Well, Vi, this is a little surprise for both of us."

So far she had been kneeling on the turf, as if the sight of him had
paralysed her limbs and prevented her from ascending higher. Now, with
a sudden jerky movement, she stood up straight.

"You!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, my dear--me. Taken you a little by surprise, haven't I? You don't
seem to have made many preparations for my reception, though of course
it's always possible that you've got the fatted calf waiting for me
indoors."

"I thought you were in prison."

"Well, it's not a very delicate reminder, is it? on this the occasion
of our first meeting. But, strictly between ourselves, I've been in
prison, and that's a solid fact; and a nasty, unsociable place I found
it."

"But I thought they weren't going to let you out until to-morrow."

"No? Did you? I see. That's why you were crying your heart out on the
grass there, because you thought they were going to keep me from you
four-and-twenty hours longer. The brutes! I should have thought you'd
have found it damp enough without wanting to make it damper; but
there's no accounting for tastes; yours always were your own, and I
recognise the compliment. As it happens, when a gentleman's time's up
on a Sunday, they let him tear himself away from them on the Saturday.
Sunday's what they call a _dies non_; you're a lady of education, so
you know what that means. You were right in reckoning that the twelve
months for which they tore a husband from his wife wasn't up until
tomorrow; but it seems that you didn't reckon for that little
peculiarity, on account of which I said goodbye to them this morning.
See?"

"But--I don't understand!"

She threw out her arms with a gesture which was eloquent of the
confusion--and worse--with which his sudden apparition had filled her.

"No? what don't you understand? It all seems to me clear enough; but,
perhaps, you always were a trifle dull."

"I don't understand how you've found me! how it is that you are here!"

"Oh, that's it, is it? Now I begin to catch on. That's the simplest
part of the lot. You--the wife of my bosom, the partner of my joys and
sorrows--particularly of my sorrows--you never wrote me a line; you
never took the slightest interest in my hard fate. For all you cared I
might have died. I don't like to think that you really didn't care, but
that's what it looked like." He grinned, as if he had said something
humorous. "But I had a friend--a true friend--one. That friend met me
this morning, where my wife ought to have met me, at the prison gates.
From that friend I learned of the surprising things which had happened
to you; how you had come into a fortune--a fortune beyond the dreams of
avarice. It seems strange that, under the circumstances, you weren't
outside the prison, with a coach and four, waiting to bear me away in
triumph to your gilded bowers. Ah-h!" He emitted a sound which might
have been meant for a sigh. "But I bore up--with the aid of the first
bottle of champagne I'd tasted since I saw you last--the gift of my one
true friend. So, as you hadn't come to me, I came to you. You might
have bungled up the dates or something; there's never any telling. I
knew you'd be glad to see me--your loving husband, dear. My late
arrival is due to no fault of mine; it's that beastly railway. I
couldn't make out which was the proper station for this little shanty
of yours! and it seems I took a ticket for the wrong one. Found myself
stranded in a God-forsaken hole; no conveyance to be got; no more
trains until tomorrow. So I started to walk the distance. They told me
it was about five miles. About five miles! I'd like to make 'em cover
it as five against the clock; they'd learn! When I'd gone about ten I
met an idiot who told me there was a short cut, and set me on it. Short
cut! If there's a longer cut anywhere I shouldn't care to strike it.
Directly I'd seen the back of him it came on pitch dark; and there was
I, in a pathless wilderness, with no more idea of where I was going
than the man in the moon. For the last two hours I've been forcing my
way through what seemed to me to be a virgin forest. I've had a time!
But now I've found you, by what looks very like a miracle; and all's
well that ends well. So give us a kiss, like a good girl, and say
you're glad to see me. Come and salute your husband."

"You're not my husband!"

"Not--I say! Don't go and throw away your character like that. As my
wife, it's precious to me, if it isn't to you."

"What do you suppose you're going to do now?"

"Now?--Do you mean this minute? Well, I did dream of a tender meeting;
you know the kind of thing. As a loving wife you ought to, but,
perhaps, you'd like to put that off till a little later. Now I suppose
we're going up together to the little home of which I've heard, and
have come so far to see; and there--well, there we'll have the tender
meeting."

"I advise you not to set foot upon my ground!"

"Your ground? Our ground, you mean. Really, how you do mix things up."

"My ground, I mean. You have no more to do with it than--than the
jailer who let you out of the prison gate, to prey upon the world
again."

She had evidently learnt her lesson from Mr Morice in the nick of time.

"Don't be silly; you don't know what you're talking about. What's yours
is mine; what's the wife's the husband's."

"That's a lie, and you know it. I know it's a lie, as you'll discover.
This side of that fence is my property. If you trespass on it I'll
summon my gamekeepers--there are always plenty of them about--and I'll
have you thrown off it. What you do on the other side of the fence is
no business of mine. That belongs to someone who is well able to deal
with men like you."

"This is a cheerful hearing, upon my word! Can this virago be the
loving wife I've come all this way to see? No, it can't be--it must be
a delusion. Let me tell you again--don't be silly. Where the wife is
the husband's a perfect right to be. That's the law of England and it's
the law of God."

"It's neither when the husband is such as you. Let me repeat my advice
to you--don't trespass on my ground."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to find a gamekeeper; to warn him that bad characters are
about, and to instruct him how to deal with them."

"Stop! don't talk nonsense to me like that! Have you forgotten what
kind of man I am?"

"Have I forgotten! As if I ever could forget!"

"Then mind it! Come here! Where are you off to? Did you hear me tell
you to come here?"

"I repeat, I'm going to find a gamekeeper. I heard you tell me; but I
pay no more attention to what you tell me than the trunk of that tree."

"By----! we'll see about that!"

Descending from the fence, he moved towards her. She stopped, turned
and faced him.

"What do you think you're going to do?"

"I'm going to see you mind me--that's what I'm going to do."

"Does that mean that you're going to assault me, as you used to?"

He laughed.

"Assault you! Not much! Look here. What's the good of your carrying on
like this? Why can't you behave like a reasonable girl, and talk
sensibly?" She looked him steadily in the face; then turned on her
heel. "You'd better stand still! I'm your husband; you're my wife. It's
my duty to see that you obey me, and I'm going to do my duty. So just
you mark my words!"

"Husband! Duty! You unutterable thing! Don't touch me! Take your hand
from off my shoulder!"

"Then you stand still. I'm not going to have you slip through my
fingers, and leave me here, and have the laugh on me; so don't you make
any mistake, my girl. You've never had the laugh on me yet, and you
never will."

"If you don't take your hand off my shoulder, I'll kill you."

Again he laughed.

"It strikes me that if there's going to be any killing done it's I
who'll do it. You're getting my temper up, like you used to; and when
you've got it fairly up there'll be trouble. You stand still! Do you
hear me? Your eyes-- What's that?" With a sudden, vigorous movement she
broke from his retaining grasp. "Would you! I'll teach you!"

He advanced, evidently meaning to renew his grip upon her shoulders.
Before he could do so she swung out her right arm with all the strength
at her command, and struck him in the face. Not anticipating such
violent measures, taken unawares, he staggered blindly backwards. Ere
he could recover himself she had sprung round, and was rushing at the
top of her speed towards the narrow, winding path along which she had
come. As she gained it the moon passed behind the clouds.



                              CHAPTER XII

                     WHAT SHE HEARD, SAW AND FOUND


She hurried along as rapidly as she could in the darkness which had
followed the eclipse of the moon. Momentarily she expected to hear his
footsteps coming after her. But, so far as she was able to tell, there
was not a sound which suggested pursuit. Something, possibly, had
prevented his giving immediate chase. In the darkness it was impossible
to see where she was going, or to make out surrounding objects. What
seemed to be the branch of a tree struck her across the face with such
force that it brought her to an instant standing. She stood still,
trembling from head to foot. The collision had partly stunned her. Her
face was smarting, where it had come in contact with the unseen
obstacle. For the moment she was demoralised, incapable of moving in
any direction. Her breath was coming in great gasps. It would have
needed very little to have made her burst into tears.

As she was gradually regaining her equilibrium, her presence of mind, a
sound crashed through the darkness, which started her trembling worse
than ever. It was a gunshot. Quite close at hand. So close that the
flash of it flamed before her eyes. In the air about her was the smell
of the powder.

Silence followed, which was the more striking, because it was
contrasted with the preceding thunderclap. What had happened? Who had
fired? at what? and where? The gun had been fired by someone who was on
the left of where she was then standing, possibly within twenty or
thirty feet. The direction of the aim, it seemed, had been at something
behind her. What was there behind her at which anyone would be likely
to fire, in that reckless fashion, at that hour of the night? Robert
Champion was behind her; but the idea that anyone--

The silence was broken. Someone was striding through the brushwood
towards the place which had been aimed at. She became conscious of
another sound, which made her heart stand still. Was not someone
groaning, as if in pain? Someone who, also, was behind her? Suddenly
there was the sound of voices. The person who had strode through the
underwood was speaking to the person who was groaning. Apparently she
was farther off than she had supposed, or they were speaking in muffled
tones. She could only just distinguish voices. Who were the speakers,
and what they said, she had not a notion. The colloquy was but a brief
one. Again there was a sound of footsteps, which retreated; then,
again, groans.

What did it mean? What had happened? who had come and gone? who had
been the speakers? of what had they been talking? The problem was a
knotty one. Should she go back and solve it? The groans which
continued, and, if anything, increased in vigour, were in themselves a
sufficiently strenuous appeal. That someone was in pain was
evident--wounded, perhaps seriously. It seemed that whoever was
responsible for that gunshot had, with complete callousness, left his
victim to his fate. And he might be dying! Whoever it was, she could
not let him die without, at least, attempting succour. If she did, she
would be a participant in a crime of which--to use an Irishism--she
had not only been an unseen, but also an unseeing, witness. If she let
this man die without doing something to help him live, his blood would
be on her hands also; certainly, she would feel it was. However
repugnant the task might be, she must return and proffer aid.

She had just brought herself to the sticking point, and was about to
retrace her steps, when, once more, she became conscious of someone
being in movement. But, this time, not only did it come from another
direction, but it had an entirely different quality. Before, there had
been no attempt at concealment. Whoever had gone striding through the
underwood, had apparently cared nothing for being either seen nor
heard. Whoever was moving now, unless the girl's imagination played her
a trick--was desirous of being neither seen nor heard. There was a
stealthy quality in the movements, as if someone were stealing softly
through the brushwood, taking cautious steps, keenly on the alert
against hidden listeners.

In what quarter was the newcomer moving? The girl could not at first
decide; indeed, she never was quite clear, but it seemed to her that
someone was creeping along the fence which divided Exham Park and Oak
Dene. All the while, the wounded man continued to groan.

Suddenly, she could not tell how she knew, but she knew that the
newcomer had not only heard the groans, but, in all probability, had
detected the quarter from whence they came; possibly had caught sight
of the recumbent figure, prostrate on the grass. Because, just then,
the moon came out again in undiminished splendour, and, almost
simultaneously, the footsteps ceased. To Violet Arnott, the plain
inference seemed to be that the returning light had brought the
sufferer into instant prominence. Silence again, broken only by groans.
Presently, even they ceased.

Then, without the slightest warning, something occurred which was far
worse than the gunshot, which affected her with a paralysis of horror,
as if death itself had her by the throat.

The footsteps began again, only with a strange, new swiftness, as if
whoever was responsible for them had suddenly darted forward. In the
same moment there was a noise which might have been made by a man
struggling to gain his feet. Then, just for a second, an odd little
silence. Then two voices uttering together what seemed to her to be
formless ejaculations. While the voices had still not ceased to be
audible, there came a dreadful sound; the sound as of a man who was in
an agony of fear and pain. Then a thud--an eloquent thud. And, an
instant afterwards, someone went crashing, dashing through the
underwood, like some maddened wild beast, flying for life.

The runner was passing close to where she stood. She did not dare to
move; she could not have moved even had she dared--her limbs had
stiffened. But she could manage to move her head, and she did. She
turned, and saw, in the moonlight, in headlong flight, forcing aside
the brushwood as he went, Hugh Morice.

What happened during the next few moments she never knew. The
probability is that, though she retained her footing, consciousness
left her. When, once more, she realised just where she was, and what
had occurred, all was still, with an awful stillness. She listened for
a sound--any sound; those inarticulate sounds which are part and parcel
of a wood at night. She could hear nothing--no whisper of the breeze
among the leaves; no hum of insect life; no hint of woodland creatures
who wake while men are sleeping. A great hush seemed to have fallen on
the world--a dreadful hush. Her heart told her that there was horror in
the silence.

What should she do? where should she go? what was lying on the ground
under the beech tree, on which not so long ago, Hugh Morice had cut
their initials with his hunting-knife? She was sure there was
something--what?

She would have to go and see. The thought of doing so was hideous--but
the idea of remaining in ignorance was not to be borne. Knowledge must
be gained at any price; she would have to know. She waited. Perhaps
something would happen to tell her; to render it unnecessary that she
should go upon that gruesome errand. Perhaps--perhaps he would groan
again? If he only would! it would be the gladdest sound she had ever
heard.

But he would not--or he did not.

Yet all was still--that awful stillness.

It was no use her playing the coward--putting it off. She would have to
go--she must go. She would never know unless she did. The sooner she
went, the sooner it would be done.

So she returned along the footpath towards the beech tree. In the
moonlight the way was plain enough. Yet she went stumbling along it as
she had never stumbled even in the darkness--uncertain upon her feet;
reeling from side to side; starting at shadows; stopping half-a-dozen
times in as many yards, fearful of she knew not what.

What was that? A sound? No, nothing. Only a trick of her imagination,
which was filled with such fantastic imaginings, such shapes and sounds
of horror.

She came to the end of the path. Before her was the open space; the
favourite nook where she had first met Hugh Morice, which she had come
to regard almost as a sanctuary. In front was the saucer-shaped break
in the ground which she had found offered such luxurious ease. What was
lying in it now?

Nothing? Or--was that something? Well under the shadow of the beech
tree, where the moonlight scarcely reached? almost in the darkness, so
that at a first glance it was difficult to see? She stood, leaning a
little forward, and looked--long, intently. As she looked her heart
seemed to become gradually constricted; she became conscious of actual
pain--acute, lancinating.

Something was there. A figure--of a man--in light-coloured clothes. He
lay on the ground, so far as she could judge from where she stood, a
little on his right side, with his hands thrown over his head as if
asleep--fast asleep. The recumbent figure had for her an unescapable
fascination. She stared and stared, as though its stillness had in it
some strange quality.

She called to the sleeper--in a tone which was so unlike her ordinary
voice that--even in that awful moment--the sound of it startled her.

"Robert! Robert! Wake up!"

Probably not a dozen times since she had known this man had she called
him by his Christian name. It was so singular that she should have done
so; the mere singularity of the thing should have roused him from the
soundest slumber. But he continued silent. He neither moved nor
answered, nor was there any sign to show that he had heard. She called
again.

"Robert! Robert! Do you hear me, wake up! Answer me!"

But he did neither--he neither woke nor answered.

The persistent silence was assuming an appalling quality. She could
endure it no longer. She suddenly moved forward under the shadow of the
beech tree, and bent down to look. What was that upon the front of his
jacket? She touched it with her finger.

"Oh--h--h!"

A sound, which was part shriek, part groan, broke from her trembling
lips. Her finger-tips were wet. She had not realised what the dark mark
might mean--now she understood. All at once she burst out crying, until
she saw something shining up at her from the turf almost at her feet.
At sight of it she ceased to cry with the same suddenness with which
she had begun. She picked the shining thing up. It was a knife--his
knife--Hugh Morice's--the one with which he had cut their initials in
the trunk of the tree. Its great blade was all wet.

She gave one quick glance round, slipped the blade--still all
wet--inside her bodice; then, returning to the winding footpath, ran
along it at the top of her speed, neither pausing nor looking back.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                               AFTERWARDS


At the foot of the broad flight of steps leading up to her own hall
door she stopped for the first time. It was late. What was the exact
hour she had no notion. She only knew that, in that part of the world,
it would be regarded as abnormal. The hall door was closed, that little
fact in itself was eloquent. There were outer and inner doors. It was
the custom to leave the outer door wide open until all the household
had retired to rest. She would have to knock to gain admission. Her
late return could hardly fail to attract attention. She was breathless
with the haste she had made, heated, dishevelled. Whoever admitted her
would be sure to notice the condition she was in.

It could not be helped. Let them notice. She was certainly not going to
fear the scrutiny of her own servants. So she told herself. She
declined to admit that they were sufficiently human to dare to
criticise her movements. Besides, what did it matter?

She knocked with difficulty, the knocker was so heavy. Instantly the
door was opened by old Day, the butler. Day was a person of much
importance. He was a survival of her uncle's time, being in occupation
of the house while the next owner was being sought for. An excellent
servant, with a very clear idea of his own dignity and the
responsibility of his position. That he should have opened the door to
her with his own hands at that hour, seemed to her to convey a reproof.
She marched straight past him, however, without even a word of thanks.
He addressed to her an inquiry as she went, in his even, level tones,
as if there were nothing strange in her entering in such a condition,
immediately after her return from a prolonged absence, at the dead of
the night. Again her ardent imagination seemed to scent an unspoken
criticism, which she ignored.

"Will anything else be required?"

"Nothing. I am going to bed."

In her bedroom she found Evans dozing in an easy-chair. The woman
started up as she entered.

"I beg your pardon, miss, for slipping off, but I was beginning to be
afraid that something might be wrong." She stared as she began to
realise the peculiarity of her young mistress's appearance. "Why, miss,
whatever--I hope that nothing's happened."

"What should have happened? Why haven't you gone to bed?"

"Well, miss, I thought that you might want me as this was the first
night of your coming home."

"What nonsense! Haven't I told you that I won't have you sit up for me
when I'm unusually late? I dislike to feel that my movements are being
overlooked by my servants, that they are too intimately acquainted with
my goings out and comings in. Go to bed at once."

"Is there nothing I can do for you, miss? Are you--I beg your
pardon--but are you sure there's nothing wrong? You look so strange!"

"Wrong? What do you mean--wrong? Go!"

Evans went, the imperturbable demeanour of the well-trained servant
not being sufficient to conceal the fact that she went unwillingly.
When she was gone Miss Arnott looked at the silver clock on the
mantel-shelf. It was past two. She had been out more than four hours.
Into those four hours had been crowded the events of a lifetime; the
girl who had gone out was not the woman who had returned.

For the first time she began to suspect herself of being physically
weary. She moved her hand up towards her forehead. As she did so her
glance fell on it; it was all smirched with blood. Simultaneously she
became aware that stains of the same sort were on the light blue linen
costume she was wearing, particularly on the front of the bodice. She
moved to a cheval glass. Was it possible? were her eyes playing her a
trick? was there something the matter with the light? Not a bit of it,
the thing was clear enough, her face was all smeared with blood,
probably where it had been touched by her fingers. Why, now that she
could see herself plainly, she saw that she looked as if she had come
fresh from a butcher's shambles. No wonder Evans had stared at her in
such evident perturbation, demanding if she was sure that there was
nothing wrong. Old Day must have been an automaton, not a man, to have
betrayed no surprise at the spectacle she presented.

She tore open her bodice, took out from it the knife--his knife, Hugh
Morice's. It was drier, but still damp. It was covered with blood all
over. It must have been thrust in up to the hilt--even the handle was
mired. It had come off on to all her clothes, had penetrated even to
her corsets. Seemingly it resembled ink in its capacity to communicate
its presence. She stripped herself almost to the skin in the sudden
frenzy of her desire to free herself from the contamination of his
blood. When she had washed herself she was amazed to see what a
sanguine complexion the water had assumed. It seemed to her that she
was in an atmosphere of blood--his blood. What was to be done? She sat
down on a chair and tried to think.

It was not surprising that she found it hard to bring herself to a
condition in which anything like clarity of thought was possible. But,
during the last four hours, she had matured unconsciously, had attained
to the possession of will power of strength of which she herself was
unsuspicious. She had made up her mind that she would think this thing
out, and by degrees she did, after a fashion.

Three leading facts became gradually present to her mind to the
exclusion of almost all beside. One was that Robert Champion was
dead--dead. And so she had obtained release by the only means to which,
as it seemed to her, Mr Whitcomb, that eminent authority on the law of
marriage, had pointed. But at what a price! The price exceeded the
value of the purchase inconceivably. There was the knife--his knife--to
show it. When she shut her eyes she could still see him rushing in the
moonlight through the brushwood, like some wild creature, mad with the
desire to escape. Beyond all doubt the price was excessive. And it had
still to be paid. That was the worst of it, very much the worst. The
payment--what form would it take?

As that aspect of the position began to penetrate her consciousness, it
was all she could do to keep herself from playing the girl. After all,
in years, she was only a girl. In simplicity, in ignorance of evil, in
essential purity--a child. When she found herself confronted by the
inquiry, what form would the payment take? girl-like, her courage
began, as it were, to slip through her finger ends. Then there was that
other side to the question, from whom would payment be demanded?
Suddenly required to furnish an answer to this, for some moments her
heart stood still. She looked about her, at the ruddy-hued water in the
wash basin, at the clothing torn off because it was stained. Recalled
her tell-tale entry, her admission by Day who, in spite of his
unnaturally non-committal attitude, must have noticed the state that
she was in; Evans's startled face when, attempting no concealment, she
blurted out her confession of what she saw. Here, plainly, were all the
essentials for a comedy or tragedy of misunderstanding.

If Hugh Morice chose to be silent all the visible evidences pointed at
her. They all seemed to cry aloud that it was she who had done this
thing. From the ignorant spectator's point of view there could hardly
be a stronger example of perfect circumstantial proof.

For some occult reason her lips were wrinkled by a smile at the thought
of Hugh Morice keeping silent. As if he would when danger threatened
her, for whom he had done this thing. And yet, if he did not keep
silent, who would have to pay? Would--? Yes, he would; certainly. At
that thought her poor, weak, childish heart seemed to drop in her bosom
like a lump of lead. The tears stood in her eyes. She went hot and
cold. No--not that. Rather than that, it would be better that he should
keep silent. Better--better anything than that. He had done this for
her; but, he must not be allowed to do more. He had done enough for her
already--more than enough--much more. She must make it her business to
see that he did nothing else. Nothing.

Just as she was, all unclothed, she knelt down and prayed. The
strangest prayer, a child's prayer, the kind of prayer which,
sometimes, coming from the very heart of the child, is uttered in all
simplicity. Many strange petitions have been addressed to God; but few
stranger than that. She prayed that whoever might have to suffer for
what had been done, he might escape scot-free; not only here but also
hereafter; in heaven as well as on earth. Although the supplication
invoked such an odd confusion of ideas, it was offered up with such
intense earnestness and simplicity of purpose, that it had, at anyrate,
one unlooked for effect. It calmed her mind. She rose up from her knees
feeling more at ease than she had done since ten o'clock. In some vague
way, which was incomprehensible to herself, her prayer seemed already
to have been answered. Therefore, the future had no perils in store for
her; she was at peace with the world.

She collected the garments which she had taken off, arranged them in a
neat bundle and placed them in an almost empty drawer which she found
at the bottom of a wardrobe. The knife she put under the bundle. Then,
locking the drawer, she disposited the key beneath her pillows. In the
morning her brain would be clearer. She would be able to decide what to
do with the things which, although speechless, were yet so full of
eloquence. The water in which she had washed she carried into the
apartment which opened out of her bedroom, and, emptying it into the
bath, watched it disappear down the waste water pipe. She flushed the
bath so as to remove any traces which it might have left behind. Then,
arraying herself in her night attire, she put out the lights and got
into bed.

She awoke with that sense of pleasant refreshment which comes after
calm, uninterrupted slumber. She lay, for some seconds, in a state of
blissful indolence. Then, memory beginning to play its part, she raised
herself upon her elbow with a sudden start. She looked about the room.
All was as she had left it. Although the curtains and the blinds were
drawn the presence of the sun was obvious. Through one window a long
pencil of sunshine gleamed across the carpet. Evidently a fine night
was to be followed by a delightful day. She touched the ivory push
piece just above her head. Instantly Evans appeared.

"Get my bath ready. I'm going to get up at once."

She eyed the woman curiously, looking for news upon her face. There
were none. Her countenance was again the servant's expressionless mask.
When the curtains and blinds were drawn the room was filled with golden
light. She had the windows opened wide. The glory of a summer's day
came streaming in. The events of the night seemed to have become the
phantasmagoria of some transient dream. It was difficult to believe
that they were real, that she had not dreamed them. Her spirits were
higher than they had been for some time. She sang to herself while she
was having her bath. Evans, putting out her clothes in the next room,
heard her.

"She seems to be all right now. That's the first time I've heard her
singing, and she looks better. Slept well, I suppose. When you're young
and healthy a good sleep works wonders. A nice sight she looked when
she came in this morning; I never saw anything like it--never! All
covered with blood, my gracious! A queer one she is, the queerest I've
ever had to do with, and I've had to do with a few. Seems to me that
the more money a woman's got the queerer she is, unless she's got a man
to look after her. However, it's no business of mine; I don't want to
know what games she's up to. I have found knowing too much brings
trouble. But whatever has become of the clothes that she had on?
They've vanished, every single thing except the stockings. What can she
have done with them? It's queer. I suppose, as she hasn't left them
about it's a hint that I'm not to ask questions. I don't want to; I'm
sure the less I know the better I'm pleased. Still, I do hope there's
nothing wrong. She's a good sort; in spite of all her queernesses, I
never want to meet a better. That generous! and simple as a child!
Sooner than anything should happen to her I'd--well, I'd do a good
deal. If she'd left those clothes of hers about I'd have washed 'em and
got 'em up myself, so that no one need have known about the state that
they were in. I don't want to speak to her about it. With her ideas
about not liking to be overlooked she might think that I was
interfering; but, I wish she had."

Somewhat to her surprise Miss Arnott found Mrs Plummer waiting for her
at the breakfast-table.

"Why," she exclaimed, "I thought you would have finished long ago--ever
so long ago."

"I was a little late myself; so I thought I'd wait for you. What time
did you come in?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Nothing. I only wondered. Directly I had finished dinner I went to
bed--straight from the table. I was tired; I thought you wouldn't care
for me to sit up for you."

"Of course not; what an idea! You never have sat up for me, and I
shouldn't advise you to begin. But--you still look tired. Haven't you
slept away your fatigue?"

"I don't fancy I have quite. As you say, I'm still a little tired. Yet
I slept well, fell asleep as soon as I got into bed directly, and never
woke."

"Didn't you dream?"

"Dream? Why should I dream?"

"There's no particular reason that I know of, only when people march
straight from dinner to bed dreams do sometimes follow--at least, so
I've been told."

"They don't with me; I never dream, never. I don't suppose I've dreamt
half-a-dozen times in my life."

"You're lucky."

"I've a clear conscience, my dear; a perfectly clear conscience. People
with clear consciences don't dream. Where did you go to?"

"Oh--I strolled about, enjoying the fresh air."

"An odd hour to enjoy it, especially after the quantity of fresh air
that you've been enjoying lately. What time did you say it was that you
came in?"

"I didn't say. Day will be able to tell you, if you are anxious to
know--you appear to be. He let me in." The elder lady was silent,
possibly not caring to lay herself open to the charge of being curious.
Presently Miss Arnott put the inquiry to the butler on her own account.
"Probably, Day, you will be able to supply Mrs Plummer with the
information she desires. What time was it when I came in?"

"I'm afraid I don't know. I didn't look at my watch. I've no idea."

The butler kept his eyes turned away as he answered. Something in his
tone caused her to look at him--something which told her that if the
man had not been guilty of a positive falsehood, he had at least been a
party to the suppression of the truth. She became instantly convinced
that his intention was to screen her. She did not like the notion, it
gave her an uncomfortable qualm.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                            ON THE HIGH ROAD


All that day nothing happened. Miss Arnott went in the morning to
church; in the afternoon for a run on her motor, which had been
neglected during the whole period of her absence abroad. She continued
in a state of expectation. Before she started for church from everyone
who approached her she looked for news; being persuaded that, if there
were news of the kind she looked for, it would not be hidden from her
long. But, plainly, no one had anything to tell.

Mrs Plummer accompanied her to church. Miss Arnott would rather she had
refrained. A conviction was forcing itself upon her that, at the back
of Mrs Plummer's mind, there was something which she was doing her best
to keep to herself, but which now and then would peep out in spite of
her--something hostile to herself. A disagreeable feeling was growing
on her that the lady knew much more about her movements on the previous
night than she was willing to admit. How she knew she did not attempt
to guess, or even whether the knowledge really amounted to anything
more than a surmise. She had an uncomfortable impression that her
companion, who was obviously ill at ease, was watching her with a
furtive keenness which she intuitively resented.

When they reached the church she was scarcely in a religious mood. She
was conscious that her unexpected appearance made a small sensation.
Those who knew her smiled at her across the pews. Only servants were in
the Oak Dene pew; the master was absent. She wondered if anything had
yet transpired; half expecting some allusion to the matter during the
course of the sermon. While the vicar preached her thoughts kept
wandering to the mossy nook beneath the beech tree. Surely someone must
have been there by now, and seen. She would hear all about it after
church--at anyrate, when she reached home.

But no, not a word. Nothing had stirred the tranquil country air. One
item of information she did receive on her entering the house--Hugh
Morice had called. She probably appeared more startled than the
occasion seemed to warrant. The fact being that she had forgotten the
appointment he had made with her the night before. In any case she
would not have expected him to keep it. That he should have done so
almost took her breath away. He had merely inquired if she was in; on
learning that she was not had gone away. He had left no message.

If she had stayed at home and seen him, what would he have said to her?

That was the question which she kept putting to herself throughout the
run on her motor; fitting it not with one answer, but a dozen. There
were so many things he might have said, so many he might have left
unsaid.

She expected to be greeted with the news when she brought the car to a
standstill in front of her own hall door. No; still not a word. Not one
during the whole of the evening. A new phase seemed to be developing in
Mrs Plummer's character--she had all at once grown restless, fidgety.
Hitherto, if she had had a tendency, it had been to attach herself too
closely to her charge. She was disposed to be too conversational. Now,
on a sudden, it was all the other way. Unless the girl's fancy played
her a trick she was not only desirous of avoiding her, but when in her
society she was taciturn almost to the verge of rudeness. Miss Arnott
was anxious neither for her company nor her conversation; but she did
not like her apparent unflattering inclination to avoid her altogether.

That night the girl went early to bed. Hardly had she got into her room
than she remembered the key; the key of the wardrobe drawer, which, in
the small hours of the morning, she had put under her pillow before she
got into bed. Until that moment she had forgotten its existence. Now,
all at once, it came back to her with a jarring shock. She went to the
bed and lifted the pillows--there was nothing there.

"Have you heard anything about a key being found underneath this
pillow? I put it there just before I got into bed. I forgot it when I
got up."

"No, miss, I haven't. What key was it?"

"It was"--she hesitated--"it was the key of a drawer in this wardrobe.
Perhaps it's in it now. No; there's nothing there. Whoever made my bed
must have seen it. Who made the bed?"

"Wilson, miss. If she saw a key under your pillow she ought to have
given it me at once. I was in the room all the while; but she never
said a word. I'll go and ask her at once."

"Do. But I see all the drawers have keys. I suppose any one of them
will fit any drawer?"

"No, miss, that's just what they won't do; and very awkward it is
sometimes. There's a different lock to every drawer, and only one key
which fits it. I'll go and make inquiries of Wilson at once."

While Evans was gone Miss Arnott considered. It would be awkward if the
key were lost or mislaid. To gain access to that drawer the lock would
have to be forced. Circumstances might very easily arise which would
render it necessary that access should be gained, and by her alone. Nor
was the idea a pleasant one that, although the drawer was closed to
her, it might be accessible to somebody else.

Evans returned to say that the maid, Wilson, denied all knowledge of a
key.

"She declares that there was no key there. She says that if there had
been she couldn't have helped but see it. I don't see how she could
have either. You are sure, miss, that you left it there?"

"Certain."

"Then perhaps it slipped on to the floor when she moved the pillow,
without being noticed."

It was not on the floor then--at least, they could discover no signs of
it. Evans moved the bed, and went on her knees to see. Nor did it
appear to have strayed into the bed itself.

"I will see Wilson myself in the morning," said Miss Arnott, when
Evans's researches proved resultless. "The key can't have vanished into
nothing."

But Wilson, even when interviewed by her mistress, afforded no
information. She was a raw country girl. A bundle of nerves when she
saw that Miss Arnott was dissatisfied. There seemed no possible reason
why she should wish to conceal the fact that she had lighted on the
key, if she had done so. So far as she knew the key was valueless,
certainly it was of no interest to her. Miss Arnott had to console
herself with the reflection that if she did not know what had become of
the key no one else did either. She gave instructions that if it was
found it was to be handed her at once. There, for the moment, the
matter rested.

Again on that Monday nothing transpired. It dawned upon the girl, when
she began to think things over, that it was well within the range of
possibility that nothing would transpire for a considerable period.
That mossy nook was in a remote part of the estate. Practically
speaking, except the gamekeepers, nobody went there at all. It was
certain that whoever did would be trespassing. So far as she knew,
thereabouts, trespassers of any sort were few and far between. As for
the gamekeepers, there was nothing to take them there.

By degrees her cogitations began to trend in an altogether unexpected
direction. If the discovery had not been made already, and might be
postponed for weeks, it need never be made at all. The body might quite
easily be concealed. If there was time it might even be buried at the
foot of the beech tree under which it had been lying, and all traces of
the grave be hidden. It only needed a little care and sufficient
opportunity. She remembered when a favourite dog had died, how her
father had buried it at one side of the lawn in their Cumberland home.
He had been careful in cutting out the sods of turf; when replacing
them in their former positions, he had done so with such neatness and
accuracy that, two or three days after no stranger would have supposed
they had ever been moved.

The dead man might be treated as her father had treated Fido. In which
case his fate might never become known, unless she spoke. Indeed, for
all she could tell, the body might be under the turf by now. If she
chose to return to the enjoyment of her favourite lounge there might be
nothing to deter her. She might lie, and laze, and dream, and be
offended by nothing which could recall unpleasant memories.

As the possibility that this might be so occurred to her she became
possessed by a strange, morbid disposition to put it to the test. She
was nearly half inclined to stroll once more along that winding path,
and see if there was anything to prevent her enjoying another waking
dream. This inclination began to be so strong that, fearful lest it
should get the better of her, to escape what was becoming a hideous
temptation, she went for another run upon her car, and, in returning,
met Hugh Morice.

They saw each other's car approaching on the long straight road, while
they were yet some distance apart, possibly more than a mile, backed by
the usual cloud of dust. She was descending an incline, he was below,
far off, where the road first came in sight. For some moments she was
not sure that the advancing car was his, then she was undecided what to
do; whether to sweep past him, or to halt and speak. Her heart beat
faster, her hands were tremulous, her breath came quicker. She had just
resolved to go past him with a commonplace salutation, when the matter
was taken out of her hands. When he was within a hundred yards of her
he stopped his car, with the evident design of claiming her attention
for at least a second or two. So she stopped also, when the machines
were within a yard of one another.

He was alone. He glanced at her chauffeur with his big grey eyes, as if
the sight of him were offensive. Then he looked at her and she at him,
and for a while they were silent. It seemed to her that he was
devouring her with his eyes. She was vaguely conscious of a curious
feeling of satisfaction at being devoured. For her part she could not
take her eyes off his face--she loved to look at him.

It was only after some moments had passed that it appeared to occur to
him that there might be anything singular in such a fashion of meeting,
especially in the presence of her mechanic. When he spoke his voice
seemed husky, the manner of his speech was, as usual, curt.

"Why weren't you at home yesterday morning as you promised?"

"I had forgotten that I did promise."

"You had forgotten?"

"Not that it would have made any difference if I had remembered; I
should not have stayed in. I did not suppose you would come."

"I told you I should come."

"Yes, you told me."

"What I tell you I will do that I do do. Nothing that may happen will
cause me to change my mind." He looked past her along the way she had
come, then addressed the chauffeur. "There is something lying on the
road. It may be something Miss Arnott has dropped--go and see."

"I don't think it is anything of mine. I have had nothing to drop."

"Go and see what it is." The man, descending, returned along the road.
"I don't choose to have everything you and I may have to say to each
other overheard. You knew that I should come, why did you not stay in?
of what were you afraid?"

"Afraid? I? Of nothing, There was no reason why I should be afraid."

He searched her face, as if seeking for something which he was amazed
to find himself unable to discover.

"You are a strange woman; but then women were always puzzles to me. You
may not be stranger than the rest--I don't know. Hadn't you better go
away again to-day? Back to the Lake of Como or further?"

"Why should I go away? Of what are you afraid?"

"Of what am I not afraid? I am even afraid to think of what I am
afraid--of such different stuff are we two made. I never knew what fear
was, before; now, I hardly dare to breathe for fear."

"Don't you trust me?"

"Trust you? What has that to do with it?"

"I see, you think it doesn't matter. I hardly know whether you intend
to flatter me or not. Why don't you go away?"

"What's the use? Where should I go where I could be hidden? There is no
hiding-place, none. Besides, if I were to hide myself under the sea it
might make no difference. Don't you understand?

"I'm not sure; no, I don't think I do. But, tell me, I want to know! I
must know! It was all I could do to keep myself from going to see--what
have you done with him?"

"Done with him?"

"Have you--have you buried him?"

"Buried him? Do you think he could be buried?"

Something came on to his face which frightened her, started her all
trembling.

"I--I didn't know. Don't look at me like that. I only wondered."

"You only wondered! Is it possible that you thought it could be hidden
like that? My God! that you should be such a woman! Don't speak, here's
your chauffeur close upon you; you don't want him to understand. You'll
find the dust is worse further on. Good-day!"

He whizzed off, leaving her enveloped in a cloud of the dust of which
he had spoken.



                               CHAPTER XV

                            COOPER'S SPINNEY


Not till the Friday following was the dead body discovered. And then in
somewhat singular fashion.

A young gamekeeper was strolling through the forest with his dog. The
dog, a puppy, strayed from his side. He did not notice that it had done
so till he heard it barking. When he whistled it came running up to him
with something in its mouth--a brown billycock hat. The creature was in
a state of excitement. On his taking the hat from it, it ran back in
the direction it had come, barking as it went. Puzzled by its
behaviour, curious as to how it had found the hat, he followed to where
the dead man lay beneath the beech tree.

He thought at first that it was some stranger who, having trespassed
and lighted on a piece of open ground, had taken advantage of the
springy turf to enjoy a nap. It was only after he had called to him
three times, and, in spite, also, of the dog's persistent barking, had
received no answer, that he proceeded to examine more closely into the
matter. Then he saw not only that the man was dead, but that his
clothing was stiff with coagulated blood. There had been a violent
thunderstorm the night before. The rain had evidently come drenching
down on the silent sleeper, but it had not washed out that blood.

Clarke was a country bumpkin, only just turned eighteen. When it began
to break on his rustic intelligence that, in all probability, he was
looking down on the victim of some hideous tragedy, he was startled out
of his very few wits. He had not the faintest notion what he ought to
do. He only remembered that the great house was the nearest human
habitation. When he had regained sufficient control of his senses, he
ran blindly off to it. A footman, seeing him come staggering up the
steps which led to the main entrance, came out to inquire what he meant
by such a glaring breach of etiquette.

"What are you doing here? This isn't the place for you. Go round to the
proper door. What's the matter with you? Do you hear, what's up?"

"There--there's a man in Cooper's Spinney!"

"Well! what of it? That's none of our business."

"He's--he's dead."

"Dead? Who's dead? What do you mean?"

The hobbledehoy broke into a fit of blubbering.

"They've--they've killed him," he blubbered.

"Killed him? Who's killed him? What are you talking about? Stop that
noise. Can't you talk sense?"

Day, the butler, crossing the hall, came out to see what was the cause
of the to-do. At any moment people might call. They would please to
find this senseless gawk boohooing like a young bull calf. Day and the
footman between them tried to make head or tail of the fellow's
blundering story. While they were doing so Mrs Plummer appeared in the
doorway.

"Day, what is the matter here? What is the meaning of this
disturbance?"

"I can't quite make out, but from what this young man says it appears
that he's seen someone lying dead in Cooper's Spinney. So far as I can
understand the young man seems to think that he's been murdered."

Mrs Plummer started back, trembling so violently that she leaned
against the wall, as if in want of its support.

"Murdered? He's not been murdered! It's a lie!"

Day, after one glance at her, seemed to avoid looking in her direction.

"As to that, madam, I can say nothing. The young man doesn't seem to be
too clear-headed. I will send someone at once and have inquiries made."

Shortly it was known to all the house that young Clarke's story was not
a lie. A horse was put into a trap, the news was conveyed to the
village, the one policeman brought upon the scene. When Miss Arnott
returned with her motor it was easy enough for her to see that at last
the air was stirred.

"Has anything happened?" she inquired of the footman who came to
superintend her descent from the motor.

"I am afraid there has--something very unpleasant."

"Unpleasant! How?"

"It appears that a man has been found dead in Cooper's
Spinney--murdered, cut to pieces, they do say.

"In Cooper's Spinney? Cut to pieces?" She paused, as if to reflect.
"Did you say cut to pieces? Surely there's some mistake."

"I only know what they say, miss. Granger's up there now."

"Granger?"

"The policeman, miss. Now I'm told they've sent for a doctor."

A second footman handed her an envelope as she entered the hall. She
saw that "Oak Dene" was impressed in scarlet letters on the flap.

"When did this come?"

"One of Mr Morice's grooms brought it soon after you went out."

She tore the envelope open, and there and then read the note which it
contained. It had no preamble, it simply ran,--


"Why have you not acted on my suggestion and gone back to Lake Como or
farther?

"At any moment it may be too late! Don't you understand?

"When I think of what may be the consequences of delay I feel as if I
were going mad. I shall go mad if you don't go. I don't believe that I
have slept an hour since.

"Do as I tell you--go!                                H. M."


Then at the bottom two words were added,--


"Burn this."


As she was reading it a second time Mrs Plummer came into the hall,
white and shaky.

"Have you heard the dreadful news?"

She asked the question in a kind of divided gasp, as if she were short
of breath. Miss Arnott did not answer for a moment. She fixed her
glance on the elder lady, as if she were looking not at, but through
her. Then she put a question in return.

"Where is Cooper's Spinney?"

Had the girl hauled at her a volley of objurgations Mrs Plummer could
not have seemed more distressed.

"Cooper's Spinney!" she exclaimed. "Why do you ask me? How should I
know?"

Without stopping for anything further Miss Arnott went up to her
bedroom. There she found Evans, waiting to relieve her of her motoring
attire. As she performed her accustomed offices her mistress became
aware that her hands were trembling.

"What's the matter with you? Aren't you well?"

The woman seemed to be shaking like a leaf, and to be only capable of
stammering,--

"I--I don't think, miss, I--I can be well. I--I think that dreadful
news has upset me."

"Dreadful news? Oh, I see. By the way, where is Cooper's Spinney?"

"I haven't a notion, miss. I--I only know just about the house."

Miss Arnott put another question as she was leaving the room.

"Has nothing been heard yet of the key of that wardrobe drawer?"

"No, miss, nothing. And, miss--I beg your pardon--but if you want to
break it open, you can do it easily, or I will for you; and, if you'll
excuse my taking a liberty, if those clothes are in it, I'll wash them
for you, and no one shall ever know."

Miss Arnott stared at the speaker in unmistakable surprise.

"It's very good of you. But I don't think I need trouble you to step so
far out of the course of your ordinary duties." When she was in her
sitting-room she said to herself, "She will wash them for me? What does
the woman mean? And what does he mean by writing to me in such a
strain?" She referred to Mr Morice's note which she had in her hand.
"'Do as I tell you--go.' Why should I go? and how dare he issue his
commands to me, as if it were mine merely to obey. Plainly this was
written before the news reached Oak Dene; when he hears it, it is
possible that he may not stand upon the order of his going, but go at
once. I'll answer him. He shall have his reply before he goes, unless
his haste's too great. Then, perhaps, he will understand."

On the back leaf of the note signed "H. M." she scribbled.


"Is not the advice you offer me better suited to yourself? Why should I
go? It seems to me that it is you who do not understand. Have you heard
the news? Possibly understanding will come with it. You do not appear
to recognise what kind of person I really am. Believe me, I am to be
trusted. But am I the only factor to be reckoned with?

"Had you not better swallow your own prescription?          V. A."


She hesitated before adding the initials, since he knew that they were
not actually hers. Then, putting her answer, still attached to his
note, into an envelope, she gave instructions that a messenger should
ride over with it at once. While she was hesitating whether to go down
and learn if any fresh development had occurred, there came a tapping
at her sitting-room door. Day entered. To him she promptly put the
question she had addressed to others.

"Oh, Day, perhaps you will be able to tell me where is Cooper's
Spinney?"

He looked at her until he saw that she was looking at him, then his
glance fell.

"Cooper's Spinney is right away to the east, where our land joins Oak
Dene. I don't know how it gets its name. It's pretty open there. In one
part there's a big beech tree. It was under the tree the--the body was
found."

"Thank you, Day. I think I know where you mean." Again the butler's
glance rose and fell. Perceiving that he seemed to be at a loss for
words she went on. "Is there anything you wish to speak to me about?"

"Yes, Miss Arnott, I'm sorry to say there is. I've come to give you
notice."

"To give me notice?"

"Yes, miss, with your permission. I've been in service all my life,
good service. I've been in this house a good many years. I've saved a
little money. If I'm ever to get any enjoyment out of it, and I've my
own ideas, it seems to me that I'd better start doing it. I should like
to leave to-day."

"To-day?"

"Yes, miss, to-day. There isn't much to do in the house just now, and
there's plenty of people to do it. Bevan's quite capable of taking my
place till you get someone else to fill it. Your convenience won't
suffer."

"But isn't this a very sudden resolution? What has caused you to arrive
at it?"

Day still kept his glance turned down, as if searching for an answer on
the carpet. It was apparently only a lame one which he found.

"I'm in an awkward situation, Miss Arnott. I don't want to say anything
which can be misconstrued. So much is that my feeling that I thought of
going away without saying a word."

"That would not have been nice conduct on your part."

"No, miss; that's what I felt, so I came."

"Come, Day, what is it you are stammering about? Something
extraordinary must have happened to make you wish to leave at a
moment's notice after your long service. Don't be afraid of
misconstruction. What is it, please?"

The man's tone, without being in the least uncivil, became a trifle
dogged.

"Well, miss, the truth is, I'm not comfortable in my mind."

"About what?"

"I don't want to be, if I may say so, dragged into this business."

"What business?"

"Of the body they've found in Cooper's Spinney."

"Day, what are you talking about? What possible connection can that
have with you?"

"Miss Arnott, I understand that Dr Radcliffe says that that man has
been lying dead under that beech tree for at least four or five days.
That takes us back to Saturday, the day that you came home. In these
sort of things you never know what the police may take it into their
heads to do. I do not want to run the risk of being called as a witness
at the inquest or--anywhere else, and--asked questions about last
Saturday."

Then the man looked his mistress straight in the face, and she
understood--or thought she did.

"What you have said, Day, settles the question. Under no circumstances
will I permit you to leave my service--or this house--until the matter
to which you refer has been finally settled. So resolved am I upon that
point that, if I have any further reason to suspect you of any
intention of doing so, I shall myself communicate with the police at
once. Understand that clearly."



                              CHAPTER XVI

                               JIM BAKER


The inquest, which was held at the "Rose and Crown," was productive of
one or two pieces of what the local papers were perhaps justified in
describing as "Startling Evidence." It was shown that the man had been
stabbed to death. Some broad-bladed, sharp-pointed instrument had been
driven into his chest with such violence that the point had penetrated
to the back. The wall of the chest had been indented by the violence of
the blow. Death must have been practically instantaneous. And yet one
side of him had been almost riddled by shot. He had received nearly the
entire charge of a gun which had been fired at him--as the close
pattern showed--within a distance of a very few feet. It was only small
shot, and no vital organ had been touched. The discharge had been in no
way responsible for his death. Still, the pain must have been
exquisite. The medical witnesses were of opinion that the first attack
had come from the gun; that, while he was still smarting from its
effects, advantage was taken of his comparative helplessness to inflict
the death-wound.

Nothing came out before the coroner to prove motive. There were no
signs that the man had been robbed. A common metal watch, attached to a
gilt chain, was found on his person, a half-sovereign, six-shillings in
silver, and ninepence in copper, a packet of cigarettes, a box of
matches, a handkerchief, apparently brand new, and a piece of paper on
which was written "Exham Park." As nothing suggested that an attempt
had been made to rifle his pockets the probability was that that was
all the property he had had on him at the moment of his death. There
was no initial or name on any of his clothing, all of which, like his
handkerchief, seemed brand new. His identity remained unrevealed by
anything which he had about him.

On this point, however, there was evidence of a kind. The police
produced witnesses who asserted that, on the preceding Saturday
afternoon, he had arrived, by a certain train, at a little roadside
station. He had given up a single third-class ticket from London, and
had asked to be directed to Exham Park. On being informed that Exham
Park was some distance off, he had shown symptoms of disgust. He had
endeavoured to hire a conveyance to take him there but had failed. What
had happened to him afterwards, or what had been the course of his
movements, there was no evidence to show.

The coroner adjourned his court three times to permit of the discovery
of such evidence.

During the time the inquiry was in the air the whole countryside was on
tip-toe with curiosity, and also with expectation. Tongues wagged,
fingers pointed, the wildest tales were told. Exham Park was the centre
of a very disagreeable sort of interest. The thing to do was to visit
the scene of the murder. Policemen and gamekeepers had to be placed on
special duty to keep off trespassers from Cooper's Spinney,
particularly on Sundays. The scrap of paper with "Exham Park" written
on it, which had been found in the dead man's pocket, was a trifling
fact which formed a sufficient basis for a mountain of conjecture.

Why had he been going to Exham Park? Who had he been desirous of seeing
there? To furnish answers to these questions, the entire household was
subjected by the police--with Miss Arnott's express sanction--to
cross-examination. The same set of questions was put to every man, woman
and child in the house, about it, and on the estate. Each individual was
first of all informed that he or she was not compelled to answer, and
was then examined as follows:--

Did you know the deceased? Did you ever see him? Or hear from--or
of--him? Had you any knowledge of him of any sort or kind? Have you any
reason whatever to suppose that he might have been coming to see you?
Have you the least idea of who it was he was coming to see? On what is
that idea based?

The house servants were questioned in the dining-room, in Miss Arnott's
presence. She sat in the centre of one side of the great dining-table,
completely at her ease. On her right was Mrs Plummer, obviously the
most uncomfortable person present. She had protested vigorously against
any such proceedings being allowed to take place.

"I believe it's illegal, and if it isn't illegal, it's sheer impudence.
How dare any common policeman presume to come and ask a lot of
impertinent questions, and treat us as if we had a house full of
criminals!"

Miss Arnott only laughed.

"As for it's being illegal, I can't see how it can be that, if it's
done with my permission. I suppose I can let who I like into my own
house. No one's compelled to answer. I'm sure you needn't. You needn't
even be questioned if you'd rather not be. As for a house full of
criminals, I'm not aware that anyone has suggested that I harbour even
one."

But Mrs Plummer was not to be appeased.

"It's all very well for you to say that I needn't be questioned, but if
I decline I shall look most conspicuous. Everybody will attribute my
refusal to some shameful reason. I dislike the whole affair. I'm sure
no good will come of it. But, so far as I'm concerned, I shall answer
all their questions without the slightest hesitation."

And she did, with direct negatives, looking Mr Nunn, the detective who
had come down specially from London to take the case in charge,
straight in the face in a fashion which suggested that she considered
his conduct to be in the highest degree impertinent.

Miss Arnott, on the other hand, who proffered herself first, treated
the questions lightly, as if they had and could have no application to
herself. She said no to everything, denied that she had ever known the
dead man, that she had ever seen him, that she had ever heard from, or
of, him, that she had any reason to suppose that he was coming to see
her, that she had any idea of who he was coming to see, and did it all
with an air of careless certainty, as if it must be plain to everyone
that the notion of in any way connecting her with him was sheer
absurdity.

With the entire household the result was the same. To all the questions
each alike said no, some readily enough, some not so readily; but
always with sufficient emphasis to make it abundantly clear that the
speaker hoped that it was taken for granted that no other answer was
even remotely possible.

Thus, to all appearances, that inquiry carried the matter not one
hair's breadth further. The explanation of why the dead man had borne
those two words--"Exham Park"--about with him was still to seek; since
no one could be found who was willing to throw light upon the reasons
which had brought him into that part of the world. And as the police,
in spite of all their diligence, could produce no further evidence
which bore, even remotely, on any part of the business, it looked as
if, at anyrate so far as the inquest was concerned, the result would
have to be an open verdict. They searched practically the whole
country-side for some trace of a weapon with which the deed could have
been done; in vain. The coroner had stated that, unless more witnesses
were forthcoming, he would have to close the inquiry, and the next
meeting of his court would have to be the last, and it was, therefore,
with expectations of some such abortive result that, on the appointed
day, the villagers crowded into the long room of the "Rose and Crown."

However, the general expectation was not on that occasion destined to
be realised. The proceedings were much more lively, and even exciting,
than had been anticipated. Instead of the merely formal notes which the
reporters had expected to be able to furnish to their various journals,
they found themselves provided with ample material, not only to prove a
strong attraction for their own papers, but also to serve as appetising
matter to the press of the entire kingdom, with contents bills for
special editions--"The Cooper's Spinney Murder. Extraordinary
Developments."

These "extraordinary developments" came just as the proceedings were
drawing to a close. Merely formal evidence had been given by the
police. The coroner was explaining to the jury that, as nothing fresh
was before them, or, in spite of repeated adjournments, seemed likely
to be, all that remained was for them to return their verdict. What
that verdict ought to be unfortunately there could be no doubt. The
dead man had been foully murdered. No other hypothesis could possibly
meet the circumstances of the case. Who had murdered him was another
matter. As to that, they were at present able to say nothing. The
identity of the miscreant was an unknown quantity. They could point
neither in this quarter nor in that. The incidents before them would
not permit of it. It seemed probable that the crime had been committed
under circumstances of peculiar atrocity. The murderer had first fired
at his victim--actually nearly fifty pellets of lead had been found
embedded in the corpse. Then, when the poor wretch had been disabled by
the pain and shock of the injuries which had been inflicted on him, his
assailant had taken advantage of his helplessness to stab him literally
right through the body.

The coroner had said so much, and seemed disposed to say much more, in
accents which were intended to be impressive, and which, in fact, did
cause certain of the more easily affected among his auditors to shiver,
when a voice exclaimed from the back of the room,--

"That's a damned lie!"

The assertion, a sufficiently emphatic one in itself, was rendered
still more so by the tone of voice in which it was uttered; the speaker
was, evidently, not in the least desirous of keeping his opinion to
himself. The coroner stopped. Those who were sitting down stood up,
those who were already standing turned in the direction from which the
voice came.

The coroner inquired, with an air of authority which was meant to
convey his righteous indignation,--

"Who said that?"

The speaker did not seem at all abashed. He replied, without a moment's
hesitation, still at the top of his voice,--

"I did."

"Who is that man speaking? Bring him here!"

"No one need bring me, and no one hadn't better try. I'm coming, I am;
I've got two good legs of my own, and I'm coming as fast as they'll
carry me. Now then, get out of the way there. What do you mean by
blocking up the floor? It ain't your floor!"

The speaker--as good as his word--was exhibiting in his progress toward
the coroner's table a degree of zeal which was not a little
inconvenient to whoever chanced to be in his way. Having gained his
objective, leaning both hands on the edge of the table he stared at the
coroner in a free-and-easy fashion which that official was not slow to
resent.

"Take off your cap, sir!"

"All right, governor, all right. Since you've got yours off I don't
mind taking mine--just to oblige you."

"Who are you? What's your name?"

"I'm a gamekeeper, that's what I am. And as for my name, everybody
knows what my name is. It's Jim Baker, that's what my name is. Is there
anybody in this room what don't know Jim Baker? Of course there ain't."

"You're drunk, sir!"

"And that I'm not. If I was drunk I shouldn't be going on like this.
You ask 'em. They know Jim Baker when he's drunk. There isn't many men
in this parish as could hold him; it would take three or four of some
of them."

"At anyrate, you've been drinking."

"Well, and so would you have been drinking if you'd been going through
what I have these last weeks."

"How dare you come to my court in this state? and use such language?"

"Language! what language? I ain't used no language. I said it's a
damned lie, and so it is."

"You'll get yourself into serious trouble, my man, if you don't take
care. I was saying that, having shot the deceased, the murderer
proceeded to stab him through the body. Is that the statement to which
you object with such ill-timed vigour?"

The answer was somewhat unlooked for. Stretching half-way across the
table, Jim Baker shook his fist at the coroner with an amount of vigour
which induced that officer to draw his chair a little further back.

"Don't you call me a murderer!"

"What do you mean, sir, by your extraordinary behaviour? I did not call
you a murderer; I said nothing of the kind."

"You said that the man who shot him, stabbed him. I say it's a lie;
because he didn't!"

"How do you know? Stop! Before you say another word it's my duty to
inform you that if you have any evidence to offer, before you do so you
must be duly sworn; and, further, in your present condition it becomes
essential that I should warn you to be on your guard, lest you should
say something which may show a guilty knowledge."

"And what do you call a guilty knowledge? I ask you that."

"As for instance--"

Mr Baker cut the coroner's explanation uncivilly short.

"I don't want none of your talk. I'm here to speak out, that's what I'm
here for. I'm going to do it. When you say that the man as shot him
knifed him, I say it's a damned lie. How do I know? Because I'm the man
as shot him; and, beyond giving him a dose of pepper, I'm ready to take
my Bible oath that I never laid my hand on him."

Mr Baker's words were followed by silence--that sort of silence which
the newspapers describe by the word "sensation." People pressed further
into the room, craning their heads to get a better view of the speaker.
The coroner searched him with his eyes, as if to make sure that the man
was in possession of at least some of his senses.

"Do you know what it is you are saying?"

"Do I know what I'm saying? Of course I know. I say that I peppered the
chap, but beyond that I never done him a mischief; and I tell you again
that to that I'm ready to take my Bible oath."

The coroner turned to his clerk.

"Swear this man."

Jim Baker was sworn--unwillingly enough. He handled the Testament which
was thrust into his hand as if he would have liked to have thrown it at
the clerk's head.

"Now, James Baker, you are on your oath. I presume that you know the
nature of an oath?"

"I ought to at my time of life."

There were those that tittered. It was possible that Mr Baker was
referring to one kind of oath and the coroner to another.

"And, I take it, you are acquainted with the serious consequences of
swearing falsely?"

"Who's swearing falsely! When I swear falsely it will be time for you
to talk."

"Very good: so long as you understand. Before proceeding with your
examination I would again remind you that you are in no way bound to
answer any question which you think would criminate yourself."

"Go on, do. I never see such a one for talking. You'd talk a bull's
hind leg off."

Once more there were some who smiled. The coroner kept his temper in a
manner which did him credit. He commenced to examine the witness.

"Did you know the dead man?"

"Know him? Not from Adam."

"Did you have any acquaintance with him of any sort or kind?"

"Never heard tell of him in my life; never set eyes on him till that
Saturday night. When I see him under the beech tree in Cooper's Spinney
I let fly at him."

"Did you quarrel?"

"Not me; there wasn't no time. I let fly directly I see him."

"At a perfect stranger? Why? For what possible reason? Did you suspect
him of poaching?"

"I'd been having a glass or two."

"Do you mean to say that because you were drunk you shot this
unfortunate man?"

"I made a mistake; that's how it was."

"You made a mistake?"

"I must have been as near drunk as might be, because, when I come upon
this here chap sudden like, I thought he was Mr Hugh Morice."

"You thought he was Mr Hugh Morice?"

"I did."

"Remember you are not bound to answer any question if you would rather
not. Bearing that well in mind, do you wish me to understand that you
intended to shoot Mr Morice?"

"Of course I did."

"But why?"

"He's sitting there; you ask him; he knows."

As a matter of fact Mr Hugh Morice--who had throughout shown a lively
interest in the proceedings--was occupying the chair on the coroner's
right hand side. The two men exchanged glances; there was an odd look
on Mr Morice's face, and in his eyes. Then the coroner returned to the
witness.

"If necessary, Mr Morice will be examined later on. At present I want
information from you. Why should you have intended to shoot Mr Morice?"

"Obeying orders, that's what I was doing."

"Obeying orders? Whose orders?"

"My old governor's. He says to me--and well Mr Hugh Morice knows it,
seeing he was there and heard--'Jim,' he says, 'if ever you see Hugh
Morice on our ground you put a charge of lead into him.' So I done
it--leastways, I meant to."

The coroner glanced at Mr Morice with an uplifting of his eyebrows
which that gentleman chose to regard as an interrogation, and
answered,--

"What Baker says is correct; the late Mr Arnott did so instruct him,
some seven or eight years ago."

"Was Mr Arnott in earnest?"

Hugh Morice shrugged his shoulders.

"He was in a very bad temper."

"I see. And because of certain words which were uttered in a moment of
irritation seven or eight years ago, James Baker meant to shoot Mr
Morice, but shot this stranger instead. Is that how it was?"

"That's about what it comes to."

"I would again remind you that you need not answer the question I am
about to ask you unless you choose; but, if you do choose, be careful
what you say, and remember that you are on your oath. After you had
shot this man what did you do?"

"He started squealing. As soon as I heard his voice I thought there was
something queer about it. So I went up and had a look at him. Then I
saw I'd shot the wrong man."

"Then what did you do?"

"Walked straight off."

"And left that unfortunate man lying helpless on the ground?"

"He wasn't helpless, nor yet he wasn't lying on the ground. He was
hopping about like a pig in a fit."

"You know it has been proved that this man was stabbed to death?"

"I've heard tell on it."

"Now--and remember that you are not bound to answer--did you stab him?"

"I did not. I swear to God I didn't. After I pulled the trigger I done
nothing to him at all."

"Is it possible that you were so drunk as to have been unconscious of
what you did?"

"Not a bit of it. So soon as I see as I'd shot the wrong man that
sobered me, I tell you. All I thought about was getting away. I went
straight to my own place, two miles off."

"When you last saw this man he was still alive?"

"Very much alive he was."

"He had not been stabbed?"

"He hadn't, so far as I know."

"You must have known if he had been."

"I never touched him, and I asked no questions."

"What was he doing when you saw him last?"

"Hopping about and swearing."

"And you don't know what happened to him afterwards?"

"I see nothing; I'd seen more than enough already. I tell you I walked
straight off home."

"And you heard nothing?"

"Nothing out of the way."

"Why haven't you told this story of yours before?"

"Because I didn't want to have any bother, that's why. I knew I hadn't
killed him, that was enough for me. Small shot don't hurt no one--at
least, not serious. Any man can have a shot at me for a ten-pound note;
there's some that's had it for less. But when I heard you saying that
the man as shot him stabbed him, then I had to speak--bound to. I
wasn't going to have no charge of that kind made against me. And I have
spoken, and you've got the truth."

"What time did it happen--all this you have been telling us about?"

Jim Baker answered to the best of his ability. He answered many other
questions, also, to the best of his ability. He had a bad time of it.
But the worst time was to come when all the questions had been asked
and answered.

The coroner announced that, in consequence of the fresh evidence which
had been placed before the court, the inquiry would not close that day;
but that there would be a further adjournment.

As Mr Baker passed out of the room and down the stairs people drew away
from him to let him pass, with an alacrity which was not exactly
flattering. When he came out into the street, Granger, the policeman,
came forward and laid his hand upon his shoulder, saying, in those
squeaky tones which had caused him to be regarded with less respect
than was perhaps desirable,--

"James Baker, I arrest you for wilful murder. You needn't say anything,
but what you do say will be taken down and used against you. Take my
advice and come quiet."

By way of answer Jim Baker stared at Granger and at the London
detective at his side and at the people round about him. Then he
inquired,--

"What's that you say?"

"I say that I arrest you for wilful murder, and my advice to you is to
come quiet."

When Baker saw the policeman taking a pair of handcuffs out of his
coat-tail pocket he drew a long breath.

"What's that you've got there?"

"You know what it is very well--it's handcuffs. Hold out your hands and
don't let us have no trouble."

Jim Baker held out his hand, his right one. As the policeman advanced,
ready to snap them on his wrist, Baker snatched them from him and
struck him with them a swinging blow upon the shoulder. Granger,
yelling, dropped as if he had been shot. Although he was not tall, his
weight was in the neighbourhood of sixteen stone, and he was not of a
combative nature.

"If anybody wants some more," announced Mr Baker, "let him come on."

Apparently someone did want more. The words were hardly out of his
mouth, before Nunn, the detective, had dodged another blow from the
same weapon, and had closed with him in a very ugly grip.

There ensued the finest rough-and-tumble which had been seen in that
parish within living memory. Jim Baker fought for all he was worth;
when he had a gallon or so of beer inside him his qualifications in
that direction were considerable. But numbers on the side of authority
prevailed. In the issue he was borne to the lock-up in a cart, not only
handcuffed, but with his legs tied together as well. As he went he
cursed all and sundry, to the no small amusement of the heterogeneous
gathering which accompanied the cart.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                           INJURED INNOCENCE


Mr Baker had some uncomfortable experiences. When he was brought before
the magistrates it was first of all pointed out--as it were,
inferentially--that he was not only a dangerous character, but, also,
just the sort of person who might be expected to commit a heinous
crime, as his monstrous behaviour when resisting arrest clearly showed.
Not content with inflicting severe injuries on the police, he had
treated other persons, who had assisted them in their laudable attempts
to take him into safe custody, even worse. In proof of this it was
shown that one such person was in the cottage hospital, and two more
under the doctor's hands; while Granger, the local constable, and Nunn,
the detective in charge of the case, appeared in the witness-box, one
with his arm in a sling, and the other with plastered face and bandaged
head. The fact that the prisoner himself bore unmistakable traces of
having lately been engaged in some lively proceedings did not enhance
his naturally uncouth appearance. It was felt by more than one who saw
him that he looked like the sort of person who was born to be hung.

His own statement in the coroner's court having been produced in
evidence against him, it was supplemented by the statements of
independent witnesses in a fashion which began to make the case against
him look very ugly indeed. Both Miss Arnott and Mr Morice were called
to prove that his own assertion--that he had threatened to shoot the
master of Oak Dene--was only too true. While they were in the box the
prisoner, who was unrepresented by counsel, preserved what, for him,
was an unusual silence. He stared at them, indeed, and particularly at
the lady, in a way which was almost more eloquent than speech. Then
other witnesses were produced who shed a certain amount of light on his
proceedings on that memorable Saturday night.

It was shown, for instance, that he was well within the mark in saying
that he had had a glass or two. Jenkins, the landlord of the "Rose and
Crown," declared that he had had so many glasses that he had to eject
him from his premises; he was "fighting drunk." In that condition he
had staggered home, provided himself with a gun and gone out with it. A
driver of a mail-cart, returning from conveying the mails to be taken
by the night express to town, had seen him on a stile leading into
Exham Park; had hailed him, but received no answer. A lad, the son of
the woman with whom Baker lodged, swore that he had come in between two
and three in the morning, seeming "very queer." He kept muttering to
himself while endeavouring to remove his boots--muttering out loud. The
lad heard him say, "I shot him--well, I shot him. What if I did shoot
him? what if I did?" He kept saying this to himself over and over
again. After he had gone to bed, the lad, struck by the singularity of
his persistent repetition, looked at his gun. It had been discharged.
The lad swore that, to his own knowledge, the gun had been loaded when
Baker had taken it out with him earlier in the night.

The prisoner did not improve matters by his continual interruptions. He
volunteered corroborations of the witnesses' most damaging statements;
demanding in truculent tones to be told what was the meaning of all the
fuss.

"I shot the man--well, I've said I shot him. But that didn't do him no
harm to speak of. I swear to God I didn't do anything else to him. I
hadn't no more to do with killing him than an unborn babe."

There were those who heard, however, who were inclined to think that he
had had a good deal more to do with killing him than he was inclined to
admit.

Miss Arnott, also, was having some experiences of a distinctly
unpleasant kind. It was, to begin with, a shock to hear that Jim Baker
had been arrested on the capital charge. When she was told what he had
said, and read it for herself in the newspapers, she began to
understand what had been the meaning of the gunshot and of the groans
which had ensued. She, for one, had reason to believe that what the
tippling old scoundrel had said was literally true, that he had spoken
all the truth. Her blood boiled when she read his appeal to Hugh
Morice, and that gentleman's carefully formulated corroboration. The
idea that serious consequences might ensue to Baker because of his
candour was a frightful one.

It was not pleasant to be called as a witness against him; she felt
very keenly the dumb eloquence of the appeal in the blood-shot eyes
which were fixed upon her the whole time she was testifying, she
observed with something more than amazement. She had a horrible feeling
that he was deliberately endeavouring to fit a halter round the neck of
the drink-sodden wretch who, he had the best reason for knowing, was
innocent of the crime of which he was charged.

A brief encounter which took place between them, as they were leaving
the court, filled her with a tumult of emotions which it was altogether
beyond her power to analyse. He came out of the door as she was getting
into her car. Immediately advancing to her side he addressed her
without any sort of preamble.

"I congratulate you upon the clearness with which you gave your
evidence, and on the touch of feminine sympathy which it betrayed for
the prisoner. I fear, however, that that touch of sympathy may do him
more harm than you probably intended."

There was something in the words themselves, and still more in the tone
in which they were uttered, which sent the blood surging up into her
face. She stared at him in genuine amazement.

"You speak to me like that?--you? Certainly you betrayed no touch of
sympathy. I can exonerate you from the charge of injuring him by
exhibiting anything of that kind."

"I was in rather a difficult position. Don't you think I was? Unluckily
I was not at my ease, which apparently you were."

"I never saw anyone more at his ease than you seemed to be. I wondered
how it was possible."

"Did you? Really? What a curious character yours is. And am I to take
it that you were uneasy?"

"Uneasy? I--I loathed myself."

"Not actually? I can only assure you that you concealed the fact with
admirable skill."

"And--I loathed you."

"Under the circumstances, that I don't wonder at at all. You would. I
even go further. Please listen to me carefully, Miss Arnott, and read,
as you very well can, the meaning which is between the lines. If a
certain matter goes as, judging from present appearances, it very
easily may go, I may have to take certain action which may cause you to
regard me with even greater loathing than you are doing now. Do not
mistake me on that point, I beg of you."

"If I understand you correctly, and I suppose I do, you are quite right
in supposing that I shall regard you with feelings to which no mere
words are capable of doing justice. I had not thought you were that
kind of man."

Events marched quickly. Jim Baker was brought up before the magistrates
three times, and then, to Miss Arnott's horror, he was committed for
trial on the capital charge. She could hardly have appeared more
affected if she herself had been committed. When the news was brought
to her by Day, the butler, who still remained in her service, she
received it with a point-blank contradiction.

"It's not true. It can't be true. They can't have done anything so
ridiculous."

The old man looked at his young mistress with curious eyes, he himself
seemed to be considerably disturbed.

"It's quite true, miss. They've sent him to take his trial at the
assizes."

"I never heard of anything so monstrous. But, Day, it isn't possible
that they can find him guilty?"

"As for that, I can't tell. They wouldn't, if I was on the jury, I do
know that."

"Of course not, and they wouldn't if I was."

"No, miss, I suppose not."

Day moved off, Miss Arnott following him with her eyes, as if something
in his last remark had struck her strangely.

A little later, when talking over the subject with Mrs Plummer, the
elder lady displayed a spirit which seemed to be beyond the younger
one's comprehension. Miss Arnott was pouring forth scorn upon the
magistrates.

"I have heard a great deal of the stupidity of the Great Unpaid, but I
had never conceived that it could go so far as this. There is not one
jot or tittle of evidence to justify them in charging that man with
murder."

Mrs Plummer's manner as she replied was grim.

"I wonder to hear you talk like that."

"Why should you wonder?"

"I do wonder." Mrs Plummer looked her charge straight in the face
oddly. Miss Arnott had been for some time conscious of a continual
oddity in the glances with which the other favoured her. Without being
aware of it she was beginning to entertain a very real dislike for Mrs
Plummer; she herself could scarcely have said why. "For my part I have
no hesitation in saying that I think it a very good thing they have
sent the man for trial; it would have been nothing short of a public
scandal if they hadn't. On his own confession the man's an utterly
worthless vagabond, and I hope they'll hang him.

"Mrs Plummer!"

"I do; and you ought to hope so."

"Why ought I to hope so?"

"Because then there'll be an end of the whole affair."

"But if the man is innocent?"

"Innocent!" The lady emitted a sound which might have been meant to
typify scorn. "A nice innocent he is. Why you are standing up for the
creature I can't see; you might have special reason. I say let them
hang him, and the sooner the better, because then there'll be an end of
the whole disgusting business, and we shall have a little peace and
quietude."

"I for one should have no peace if I thought that an innocent man had
been hanged, merely for the sake of providing me with it. But it is
evidently no use our discussing the matter. I can only say that I don't
understand your point of view, and I may add that there has been a good
deal about you lately which I have not understood."

Mrs Plummer's words occasioned her more concern than she would have
cared to admit; especially as she had a sort of vague feeling that they
were representative of the state of public opinion, as it existed
around her. Rightly or wrongly she was conscious of a very distinct
suspicion that most of the people with whom she came into daily and
hourly contact would have been quite willing to let Jim Baker hang, not
only on general principles, but also with a confused notion--as Mrs
Plummer had plainly put it--of putting an end to a very disagreeable
condition of affairs.

In her trouble, not knowing where else to turn for advice or help, she
sent for Mr Stacey. After dinner she invited him to a tête-à-tête
interview in her own sitting-room, and then and there plunged into the
matter which so occupied her thoughts.

"Do you know why I have sent for you, Mr Stacey?"

"I was hoping, my dear young lady, that it was partly for the purpose
of affording me the inexpressible pleasure of seeing you again."

She had always found his urbanity a little trying, it seemed
particularly out of place just now. Possibly she did not give
sufficient consideration to the fact that the old gentleman had been
brought out of town at no small personal inconvenience, and that he had
just enjoyed a very good dinner.

"Of course there was that; but I am afraid that the principal reason
why I sent for you is because of this trouble about Jim Baker."

"Jim Baker?"

"The man who is charged with committing the murder in Cooper's
Spinney."

"I see, or, rather, I do not see what connection you imagine can exist
between Mr Baker and myself."

"He is innocent--as innocent as I am."

"You know that of your own knowledge?"

"I am sure of it."

"What he has to do is to inspire the judge and jury with a similar
conviction."

"But he is helpless. He is an ignorant man and has no one to defend
him. That's what I want you to do--I want you to defend him."

"Me! Miss Arnott!" Mr Stacey put up his glasses the better to enable
him to survey this astonishing young woman. He smiled benignly. "I may
as well confess, since we are on the subject of confessions"--they were
not, but that was by the way--"that there are one or two remarks which
I should like to make to you, since you have been so kind as to ask me
to pay you this flying visit; but, before coming to them, let us first
finish with Mr Baker. Had you done me the honour to hint at the subject
on which you wished to consult me, I should at once have informed you
that I am no better qualified to deal with it than you are. We--that is
the firm with which I am associated--do no criminal business; we never
have done, and, I think I am safe in assuring you, we never shall do.
May I ask if you propose to defray any expenses which may be incurred
on Mr Baker's behalf? or is he prepared to be his own chancellor of the
exchequer?"

"He has no money; he is a gamekeeper on a pound a week. I am willing to
pay anything, I don't care what."

"Then, in that case, the matter is simplicity itself. Before I go I
will give you the name of a gentleman whose reputation in the conduct
of criminal cases is second to none; but I warn you that you may find
him an expensive luxury."

"I don't care how much it costs."

Mr Stacey paused before he spoke again; he pressed the tips of his
fingers together; he surveyed the lady through his glasses.

"Miss Arnott, will you permit me to speak to you quite frankly?"

"Of course, that's what I want you to do."

"Then take my very strong advice and don't have anything to do with Mr
Baker. Don't interfere between him and the course of justice, don't
intrude yourself in the matter at all. Keep yourself rigidly outside
it."

"Mr Stacey! Why?"

"If you will allow me to make the remarks to which I just now alluded,
possibly, by the time I have finished, you will apprehend some of my
reasons. But before I commence you must promise that you will not be
offended at whatever I may say. If you think that, for any cause
whatever, you may be disposed to resent complete candour from an old
fellow who has seen something of the world and who has your best
interests very much at heart, please say so and I will not say a word."

"I shall not be offended."

"Miss Arnott, you are a very rich young lady."

"Well?"

"You are also a very young lady."

"Well again?"

"From such a young lady the world would--not unnaturally--expect a
certain course of action."

"How do you mean?"

"Why don't you take up that position in the world to which you are on
all accounts entitled?"

"Still I don't quite understand."

"Then I will be quite plain--why do you shut yourself up as if, to use
a catch phrase, you were a woman with a past?"

Miss Arnott started perceptibly--the question was wholly unexpected.
Rising from her chair she began to re-arrange some flowers in a vase on
a table which was scarcely in need of her attentions.

"I was not aware that I did."

"Do you mean that seriously?"

"I imagined that I was entitled to live the sort of life I preferred to
live without incurring the risk of criticism--that is what I mean."

"Already you are beginning to be offended. Let us talk of the garden.
How is it looking? Your uncle was very proud of his garden. I certainly
never saw anything finer than his roseries. Do you still keep them up?"

"Never mind the roseries, or the garden either. Why do you advise me
not to move a finger in defence of an innocent man, merely because I
choose to live my own life?"

"You put the question in a form of your own; which is not mine. To the
question as you put it I have no answer."

"How would you put it?"

"Miss Arnott, in this world no one can escape criticism;--least of all
unattached young ladies;--particularly young ladies in your very
unusual position. I happen to know that nothing would have pleased your
uncle better than that you should be presented at Court. Why don't you
go to Court? Why don't you take your proper place in Society?"

"Because I don't choose."

"May I humbly entreat you to furnish me with your reasons?"

"Nor do I choose to give you my reasons."

"I am sorry to hear it, since your manner forces me to assume that you
have what you hold to be very sufficient reasons. Already I hear you
spoken of as the 'Peculiar Miss Arnott.' I am bound to admit not wholly
without cause. Although you are a very rich woman you are living as if
you were, relatively, a very poor one. Your income remains practically
untouched. It is accumulating in what, under the circumstances, I am
constrained to call almost criminal fashion. All sorts of unpleasant
stories are being connected with your name--lies, all of them, no
doubt; but still, there they are. You ought to do something which would
be equivalent to nailing them to the counter. Now there is this most
unfortunate affair upon your own estate. I am bound to tell you that if
you go out of your way to associate yourself with this man Baker, who,
in spite of what you suggest, is certainly guilty in some degree, and
who, in any case, is an irredeemable scoundrel; if you persist in
pouring out money like water in his defence, although you will do him
no manner of good, you may do yourself very grave and lasting injury."

"That is your opinion?"

"It is."

"I thank you for expressing it so clearly. Now may I ask you for the
name of the gentleman--the expert criminal lawyer--to whom you
referred? and then we will change the subject."

He gave her the name, and, later, in the seclusion of his own chamber,
criticised her mentally, as Mr Whitcomb once had done.

"That girl's a character of an unusual kind. I shouldn't be surprised
if she knows more about that lamentable business in Cooper's Spinney
than she is willing to admit, and, what's more, if she isn't extremely
careful she may get herself into very serious trouble."



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                        AT THE FOUR CROSS-ROADS


The next morning Miss Arnott sent a groom over to Oak Dene with this
curt note:--


"I shall be at the Wycke Cross--at the four crossroads--this afternoon
at half-past three, alone. I shall be glad if you will make it
convenient to be there also. There is something which it is essential I
should say to you.

                                                      V. A."


The groom brought back, in an envelope, Mr Hugh Morice's visiting card.
On the back of it were four words,--

"I will be there."

And Mr Hugh Morice was there before the lady. Miss Arnott saw his car
drawn up by the roadside, long before she reached it. She slackened her
pace as she approached. When she came abreast of it she saw that its
owner was sitting on a stile, enjoying a pipe. Taking his pipe out of
his mouth, his cap off his head, he advanced to her in silence.

"Am I late?" she asked.

"No, it is I who am early."

They exchanged glances--as it were, neutral glances--as if each were
desirous, as a preliminary, of making a study of the other. She
saw--she could not help seeing--that he was not looking well. The
_insouciance_ with which, mentally, she had always associated him, had
fled. The touch of the daredevil, of the man who looks out on to the
world without fear and with something of humorous scorn, that also had
gone. She did not know how old he was, but he struck her, all at once,
as being older than she had supposed. The upper part of his face was
seamed with deep lines which had not always, she fancied, been so
apparent. There were crow's-feet in the corners of his eyes, the eyes
themselves seemed sunken. The light in them was dimmed, or perhaps she
only fancied it. It was certain that he stooped more than he had used
to do. His head hung forward between his broad shoulders, as if the
whole man were tired, body, soul and spirit. There was something in his
looks, in his bearing, a suggestion of puzzlement, of bewilderment, of
pain, which might come from continuous wrestling with an insistent
problem which defied solution, which touched her to the heart, made her
feel conscious of a feeling she had not meant to feel. And because she
had not intended to harbour anything even remotely approaching such a
feeling, she resented its intrusion, and fought against herself so that
she might appear to this man to be even harder than she had proposed to
be.

On his part he saw, seated in her motor car, a woman whom he would have
given all that he possessed to have taken in his arms and kept there.
His acumen was greater, perhaps, than hers; he saw with a clearness
which frightened him, her dire distress, the weight of trouble which
bore her down. She might think that she hid it from the world, but, to
him, it was as though the flesh had been stripped from her nerves, and
he saw them quivering. He knew something of this girl's story; this
woman whose childhood should have been scarcely yet behind her, and he
knew that it had brought that upon her face which had no right to be
there even though her years had attained to the Psalmist's span. And
because his whole nature burned within him with a desire that she might
be to him as never woman had been before, he was unmanned. He was
possessed by so many emotions, all warring with each other, that, for
the moment, he was like a helmless ship, borne this way and that, he
knew not why or whither.

Then she was so hard, looked at him out of eyes which were so cold,
spoke to him as if it were only because she was compelled that she
spoke to him at all. How could he dare to hint--though only in a
whisper--at sympathy, or comfort? He knew that she would resent it as
bitterly as though he had lashed her with a whip. And, deeming herself
the victim of an outrage, the probabilities were that she would snatch
the supposititious weapon out of his hand and strike him with all her
force with the butt of it.

So that, in the end, her trouble would be worse at the end than it had
been at the beginning. He felt that this was a woman who would dree her
own weird, and that from him, of all men in the world, she would brook
only such interference, either by deed word, as she herself might
choose to demand.

When they had done studying one another she put her hand up to her
face, as if to brush away cobwebs which might have been spun before her
eyes, and she asked,--

"Shall we talk here?"

His tone was as stiff and formal as hers had been.

"As you please. It depends upon the length to which our conversation is
likely to extend. As I think it possible that what you have to say may
not be capable of compression within the limits of a dozen words, I
would, suggest that you should draw your car a little to one side here,
where it would not be possible for the most imaginative policeman to
regard it as an obstruction to the traffic which seldom or never comes
this way; and that you should then descend from it, and say what you
have to say under the shade of these trees, and in the neighbourhood of
this stile."

She acted on his suggestion, and took off the long dust cloak which she
was wearing, and tossed it on the seat of her car. Going to the stile
she leaned one hand on the cross bar. He held out his pipe towards her.

"May I smoke?"

"Certainly, why not? I think it possible that you may require its
soothing influence before we have gone very far."

There was something in her voice which seemed as if it had been meant
to sting him; it only made him smile.

"I also think that possible."

She watched him as, having refilled and relighted his pipe, he puffed
at it, as if he found in the flavour of the tobacco that consolation at
which she had hinted. Perceiving that he continued to smoke in silence
she spoke again, as if she resented being constrained to speak.

"I presume that you have some idea of what it is I wish to say to you?"

He shook his head.

"I haven't."

"Really?"

"Absolutely. If you will forgive my saying so, and I fear that you are
in an unforgiving mood, I have ceased attempting to forecast what,
under any stated set of circumstances, you may either say or do. You
are to me what mathematicians call an unknown quantity; you may stand
for something or for nothing. One never knows."

"I have not the honour to understand you, Mr Morice."

"Don't imagine that I am even hinting at a contradiction; but I hope,
for both our sakes, that you understand me better than I do you."

"I think that's very possible."

"I think so also; alas! that it should be so."

"You may well say, alas!"

"You are right; I may."

She was silent, her lips twitching, as if with impatience or scorn.

"My acquaintance with the world is but a slight one, Mr Morice; and,
unfortunately, in one respect it has been of an almost uniform kind. I
have learned to associate with the idea of a man something not
agreeable. I hoped, at one time, that you would prove to be a
variation; but you haven't. That is why, in admitting that I did
understand you a little, I think that you were justified in saying,
alas!"

"That, however, is not why I said it, as I should have imagined you
would have surmised; although I admire the ingenuity with which you
present your point of view. But, may I ask if you have ordered me to
present myself at Wyche Cross with the intention of favouring me with
neatly turned remarks on the subject of men in general and of myself in
particular?"

"You know I haven't."

"I am waiting to know it."

"I had not thought that anyone fashioned in God's image could play so
consummately the hypocrite."

"Of all the astounding observations! Is it possible that you can have
overlooked your own record?"

As he spoke the blood dyed her face; she swerved so suddenly that one
felt that if it had not been for the support of the stile she might
have fallen. On the instant he was penitent.

"I beg your pardon; but you use me in such a fashion; you say such
things, that you force me to use my tongue."

"Thank you, you need not apologise. The taunt was deserved. I have
played the hypocrite; I know it--none know it better. But let me assure
you that, latterly, I have continued to play the hypocrite for your
sake."

"For my sake?"

"For your sake and for yours only, and you know it."

"I know it? This transcends everything! The courage of such a
suggestion, even coming from you, startles me almost into
speechlessness. May I ask you to explain?"

"I will explain, if an explanation is necessary, which we both know it
is not!"

He waved his pipe with an odd little gesture in the air.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                       THE BUTTONS OFF THE FOILS


Outwardly she was the calmer of the two. She stood upright and
motionless; he was restless and fidgety, as if uneasy both in mind and
body. She kept her eyes fixed steadily upon his face; he showed a
disposition to elude her searching glance. When she spoke her tone was
cool and even.

"You have accused me of playing the hypocrite. It is true, I have. I
have allowed the world to regard me as a spinster, when I was a married
woman; as free when I was bound. I have told you that I should have
ceased before this to play the hypocrite, if it had not been for you.
You have--pretended--to doubt it. Well, you are that kind of man. And
it is because you are that kind of man that I am constrained to ask if
you wish me now to cease to play the hypocrite and save Jim Baker's
life?"

"Is not that a question for your consideration rather than for mine?"

"You propose to place the responsibility upon my shoulders!"

"Would you rather it were on mine?"

"That is where it properly belongs."

"In dealing with you I am at a serious disadvantage, since you are a
woman and I am a man. The accident of our being of different sexes
prevents my expressing myself with adequate precision."

"You appear to be anxious to take refuge even when there is nothing
behind which you can hide. The difference in our sexes has never
prevented you from saying to me exactly what you pleased, how you
pleased--you know it. Nor do I intend to allow your manhood to shelter
you. Mr Morice, the time for fencing's past. When life and death are
hanging in the balance, words are weightless. I ask you again, do you
intend to save Jim Baker's life?"

"I have yet to learn that it is in imminent peril."

"Then acquire that knowledge now from me. I am informed that if someone
is not discovered, on whom the onus of guilt can be indubitably fixed,
the probabilities are that Jim Baker will be hanged for murder."

"And you suggest that I should discover that--unhappy person?"

"I ask you if you do not think the discovery ought to be made, to save
that wretched creature?"

"What I am anxious to get at, before I commit myself to an answer is
this--presuming that I think the discovery should be made, do you
suggest that it should be made by you or by me?"

"Mr Morice, I will make my meaning plainer, if the thing be possible.
When--that night--in the wood it happened, I thought that it was done
for me. I still think that might have been the motive; partly, I
confess, because I cannot conceive of any other, though the
misapprehension was as complete as it was curious. I did not require
that kind of service--God forbid! And, therefore, thinking this--that I
was, though remotely, the actual cause--it appears to me that I was,
and am, unable to speak, lest it would seem that I was betraying one
whose intention was to render me a service."

"For all I understand of what you're saying you might be talking in an
unknown tongue. You speak of the futility of fencing, when you do
nothing else but fence! To the point, if you please. What service do
you suppose was intended to be rendered you that night in Cooper's
Spinney?"

There was a perceptible pause before she answered, as if she were
endeavouring to summon all her courage to her aid.

"Mr Morice, when you killed my husband, did you not do it for me?"

His countenance, as she put this question, would have afforded an
excellent subject for a study in expression. His jaw dropped open, his
pipe falling unnoticed to the ground; his eyes seemed to increase in
magnitude; the muscles of his face became suddenly rigid--indeed the
rigidity of his whole bearing suggested a paralytic seizure. For some
seconds he seemed to have even ceased to breathe. Then he gave a long
gasping breath, and with in his attitude still some of that unnatural
rigidity, he gave her question for question.

"Why do you ask me such a monstrous thing? You! you!"

Something in his manner and appearance seemed to disturb her more than
anything which had gone before. She drew farther away from him, and
closer to the stile.

"You forced me to ask you."

"I forced you to ask me--that!"

"Why do you look at me so? Do you wish to frighten me?"

"Do you think I didn't see? Have you forgotten?"

"See? Forgotten? What do you mean?"

"Oh, woman! that you should be so young and yet so old; so ignorant and
yet so full of knowledge; that you should seem a shrine of all the
virtues, and be a thing all evil!"

"Mr Morice, why do you look at me like that! you make me afraid!"

"Would I could make you afraid--of being the thing you are!"

"It's not fair of you to speak to me like that I--it's not fair! I'm
not so wicked! When I married--"

"When you married! No more of that old wife's tale. Stick to the point,
please--to the point! You whited sepulchre! is it possible that, having
shown one face to the world, you now propose to show another one to me,
and that you think I'll let you? At anyrate, I'll have you know that I
do know you for what you are! Till now I have believed that that dead
man, your husband, Mrs Champion, was as you painted him--an unspeakable
hound; but now, for the first time, I doubt, since you dared to ask me
that monstrous thing, knowing that I saw you kill him!"

She looked at him as if she were searching his face for something she
could not find on it.

"Is it possible that you wish me to understand that you are speaking
seriously?"

"What an actress you are to your finger-tips! Do you think I don't know
you understand?"

"Then you know more than I do, for I myself am not so sure. My wish is
to understand, and--I am beginning to be afraid I do."

He waved his hand with an impatient gesture.

"Come, no more of that! Let me beg you to believe that I am not quite
the fool that you suppose. You asked me just now if I intend to save
Jim Baker's life? Well, that's where I'm puzzled. At present it's not
clear to me that it's in any serious danger. I think that the very
frankness of his story may prove to be his salvation; I doubt if
they'll be able to establish anything beyond it. But should the
contrary happen, and he finds himself confronted by the gallows, then
the problem will have to be fairly faced. I shall have to decide what I
am prepared to do. Of course my action would be to some extent guided
by yours, that is why I'm so anxious to learn what, under those
circumstances, you would do."

"Shall I tell you?"

"If you would be so very kind."

"I should send for Granger and save Jim Baker's life."

"By giving yourself up?"

She stood straighter.

"No, Mr Morice, by giving you up."

"But again I don't understand."

"You have had ample warning and ample opportunity. You might have
hidden yourself on the other side of the world if you chose. If you did
not choose the fault was yours."

"But why should I hide?"

"If you forced me, I should tell Granger that it was you who killed
Robert Champion, and that I had proofs of it, and so Jim Baker would be
saved."

Again he threw out his arms with the gesture which suggested not only
impatience, but also lack of comprehension.

"Then am I to take it that you propose to add another item to your list
of crimes?"

"It is not a crime to save the innocent by punishing the guilty."

"The guilty, yes; but in that case where would you be?"

"I, however unwillingly, should be witness against you."

"You would, would you? A pleasant vista your words open to one's view."

"You could relieve me of the obligation--easily."

"I don't see how--but that is by the way. Do you know it begins to
occur to me that the singularity of your attitude may be induced by
what is certainly the remote possibility that you are ignorant of how
exactly the matter stands. Is it possible that you are not aware that I
saw you--actually saw you--kill that man."

"What story are you attempting to use as a cover? Are you a liar as
well as that thing?"

"Don't fence! Are you denying that I saw you kill him, and that when
you ran away I tried to catch you?"

"Of course I deny it! That you should dare to ask me such a question!"

"This is a wonderful woman!"

"You appear to be something much worse than a wonderful man--something
altogether beyond any conception I had formed of you. Your
suppositional contingency may be applied to you; it is just possible
that you don't know how the matter stands, and that that explains your
attitude. It is true that I did not see you kill that man."

"That certainly is true."

"But I heard you kill him."

"You heard me?"

"I heard you--I was only a little way off. First I heard the
shot--Baker's shot. Then I heard him go. Then I heard you come."

"You heard me come?"

"I heard you strike him; I heard him fall. Then I saw you running from
the thing that you had done."

"You saw me running?"

"I saw you running. The moon was out; I saw you clearly running among
the bushes and the trees. I did not know who it was had come until I
saw you, then I knew. After you had gone I was afraid to go or stay.
Then I went to see what you had done. I saw your knife lying on the
ground. I picked it up and took it home with me."

"I can easily believe you took it home with you."

"I have it now--to be produced, if need be in evidence."

"Of what?"

"Of your guilt! of what else?"

"She asks me such a question! Now let me tell you my story. If it lacks
something of the air of verisimilitude which gives yours such a finish,
let me remind you that there are those who lie like truth. After we had
parted I discovered that I had left my knife behind--the one with which
I had cut our initials on the tree. It was a knife I prized--never mind
why. When I had allowed sufficient time to enable you to have reached
home I returned to look for it. To my surprise, as I approached our
trysting-place I heard voices--yours and a man's. You were neither of
you speaking in a whisper. At night in the open air sound travels far.
When I came a little nearer I saw you and a man. So I withdrew till I
was out of sight again, and could only hear the faint sound of distant
voices. Presently a gun was fired. I rushed forward to see by whom, and
at what. When I came near enough there was a man staggering about
underneath the tree. I saw you come out from among the bushes and look
at him. You picked up a knife from the ground--my knife. I saw you
drive it into his chest. As he fell--for ever--you ran off into the
forest and I ran after you."

"You ran after me! after me?"

"After you; but you ran so quickly, or you knew your way so well, or I
blundered, or something, because, after you had once disappeared in the
wood, I never caught sight of you."

"And have you invented this story--which you tell extremely well--to
save your neck at the expense of mine?"

"What an odd inquiry! Referring to your own tale, may I ask what motive
you would ascribe to me, if you were asked what you suppose induced me,
a peaceful, law-abiding citizen, to kill at sight--under circumstances
of peculiar cowardice--an inoffensive stranger?"

"I imagined that you knew he was my husband, and that you killed him to
relieve me. You see I credited you with something like chivalry."

"Did you indeed. And you would prostitute the English language by
calling conduct of that sort chivalry! However, it is plainly no use
our pushing the discussion further. We appear to understand each other
now if we never did before. Each proposes to save Jim Baker's life--at
a pinch--by sacrificing the other. Good! I must hold myself prepared. I
had dreamt of discovering means of saving you from the consequences of
your crime, but I had scarcely intended to go the lengths which you
suggest--to offer myself instead of you. But then I did not credit you
with the qualifications which you evidently possess. In the future I
shall have to realise that, even if I save your life, I cannot save
your soul, because, plainly, you intend to perjure that lightheartedly,
and to stain it with the blood of two men instead of only one. Let me
give you one warning. I see the strength of the case which your
ingenious--and tortuous--brain may fabricate against me. Still, I think
that it may fail; and that you may yourself fall into the pit which you
have digged for me, for this reason. They know me, hereabouts and
elsewhere; my record's open to all the world. They don't know you, as
yet; when they do they'll open their eyes and yours. Already some
unpleasant tales are travelling round the country. I myself have been
forced to listen to one or two, and keep still. When my story is told,
and yours, I am afraid that your story will prove to be your own
destruction; it will hang you, unless there comes a reprieve in time. I
saw you kill your husband. You know I saw you; you know that I can
prove I saw you. Therefore, take the advice I have already tendered, go
back to Lake Como and further. Lest, peradventure, by staying you lose
your life to save Jim Baker's. Henceforward, Mrs Champion, the buttons
are off our foils; we fight with serious weapons--I against you and you
against me. At least we have arrived at that understanding; to have a
clear understanding of any sort is always something, and so, good-day."



                               CHAPTER XX

                         THE SOLICITOR'S CLERK


Hugh Morice was the first to leave the four crossroads; Miss Arnott
stood some time after he had gone, thinking. Life had had for her some
queer phases--none queerer than that which confronted her, as she stood
thinking by the stile.

That Hugh Morice should have done the thing she knew he had done, was
bad enough. That he should have denied it to her face in such explicit
terms and coupled with his denial such a monstrous accusation, was
inconceivable. He had not gone very far before she told herself that,
after all, she had misunderstood him, she must have done. For some
minutes she was half disposed to jump into her car, follow him and
insist on a clearer explanation. He could not have meant what he had
appeared to do, not seriously and in earnest.

But she refrained from putting her idea into execution as she recalled
the almost savage fashion in which he had hurled opprobrium at her. He
had meant it; he must have meant it, or he would not have spoken to her
in such a strain. At the thought she shivered.

Because, if this were the case, if she really had to regard his words
as seriously intended, then she would have to rearrange her whole
outlook on to life, particularly that portion of it which was pressing
so hardly on her now. In her blackest moments she had not credited Hugh
Morice with being a scoundrel. He had been guilty of a crime, but she
could have forgiven him for that. By what he had done he had separated
himself from her for ever and for ever. Still, she could have looked at
him across the dividing chasm with something tenderer than pity.

This new attitude he had taken up altered the position altogether. If
it meant anything it meant that he had killed Robert Champion for some
recondite reason of his own--one with which she had no sort of
connection. Obviously, if he had done it for her sake, he would not be
so strenuous in denial; still less would he charge her with his crime.

Thus the whole business assumed a different complexion. The inference
seemed to be that Hugh Morice and Robert Champion had not been
strangers to each other. There had been that between them which induced
the one to make away with the other when opportunity offered. The whole
thing had been the action of a coward. In imagination the girl could
see it all. Hugh Morice coming suddenly on the man he least
expected--or desired--to meet; the great rush of his astonishment; the
instant consciousness that his enemy was helpless; the sight of the
knife; the irresistible, wild temptation; the yielding to it; the
immediate after-pangs of conscience-stricken terror; the frantic flight
through the moon-lit forest from the place of the shedding of blood.

And this was the man whom, almost without herself being aware of it,
she had been making a hero of. This sordid wretch, who, not content
with having slain a helpless man for some, probably wholly unworthy,
purpose of his own, in his hideous anxiety to save his own miserable
skin was willing, nay, eager, to sacrifice her. Possibly his desire to
do so was all the greater because he was haunted by the voice of
conscience crying out to him that this girl would not only be a
continual danger, but that he would never be able to come into her
presence without being racked by the knowledge that she knew him--no
matter how gallantly he bore himself--to be the thing he really was.

So it was plain to her that here was a new danger sprung up all at once
out of the ground, threatening more serious ills than any she had
known. If Jim Baker was found guilty of this man's crime, and she moved
a finger to save him from his unmerited fate, then it might be that she
would find herself in imminent peril of the gallows. For it needed but
momentary consideration to enable her to perceive that what he had
suggested was true enough, that if they began to accuse each other it
would be easier, if he were set on playing the perjurer, to prove her
guilt than his. And so quite possibly it might come about that, in
order to save Jim Baker, it would be necessary she should hang. And
life was yet young in her veins, and, though she had in it such sorry
usage, still the world was very fair, and, consciously, in all her life
she had never done an evil thing.

And then it was not strange that, there in the sunshine by the
roadside, at the bare thought that it was even remotely possible that
such a fate might be in store for her, she sat down on the stile,
clinging to the rail, trembling from head to foot.

She would have sat there longer had she not been roused by a familiar,
unescapable sound--the panting of a motor. Along the road was
approaching a motor bicyclist. At sight of her, and of the waiting car,
he stopped, raising his cap.

"I beg your pardon, but is there anything wrong with the car?"

She stood up, still feeling that, at anyrate, there was something wrong
with the world, or with her.

"No, thank you, the car's all right; I was only resting."

"I beg your pardon once more, but aren't you Miss Arnott of Exham
Park?"

She looked at the speaker, which hitherto she had avoided doing. He was
a young man of four or five and twenty, with a not unpleasing
countenance; so far as she knew, a stranger to her.

"I am, but I don't know you."

"That is very possible--I am a person of no importance. My name is
Adams--Charles Adams. I am clerk to Mr Parsloe, solicitor, of
Winchester. We had a communication from a man who is in Winchester
Gaol, waiting his trial for murder, a man named Baker. Possibly you
have heard of him."

"Oh yes, I have heard of Jim Baker; he is a gamekeeper on my own
estate."

"So he gave me to understand. Mr Parsloe sent me to see him. I did see
him, in private. He gave me a note, which he was extremely anxious that
I should give into your own hands. I was just coming on to Exham Park
on the off-chance of finding you in. Perhaps you won't mind my giving
it to you now?"

"By all means. Why not?"

He had taken out of a leather case a piece of folded paper.

"You see it is rather a rough-and-ready affair, but I should like to
give you my assurance that I have no idea what it contains."

"I don't suppose it would matter much if you did. Jim Baker is hardly
likely to have a communication of a private nature to make to me."

"As to that I know nothing. I can only say that Baker was not satisfied
till I had sworn that I would not attempt to even so much as peep at
the contents of his note, or let it go out of my hands until it reached
yours."

"Really?"

"Really! I never saw a man more desperately in earnest on a point of
the kind."

"Jim Baker is a character."

"He certainly is. You will see that the note is written on a piece of
rough paper. Where he got it from I don't know, and was careful not to
ask; but it looks suspiciously like a fly-leaf which had been torn out
of a book. You are possibly aware that in prison, in the ordinary way,
they are allowed neither paper, pen nor ink. I fancy you'll find that
this is written with a pencil. When I first saw it it had been simply
folded, and one end slipped into the other. I happened to have some
sealing-wax in my pocket. Baker insisted on my sealing it, in his
presence, in three places, as you perceive, so that it was impossible
to get at the contents without breaking the seals. I say all this
because Baker himself was emphatically of opinion that this note
contained matter of an extremely confidential nature, to which I should
like you clearly to understand that I have had no sort of access. I may
add another fact, of which you are also possibly aware, and that is
that the whole transaction was irregular. He had no right to give me
the note, and I had no right to convey it out of the prison; but he did
the one, and I did the other, and here it is."

Mr Adams handed the lady the scrap of paper, she asking him a question
as he did so,--

"To whom did you say that you were clerk?"

"To Mr Parsloe, a well-known and highly-esteemed Winchester solicitor."

"Why did Baker, as you put it, communicate with Mr Parsloe?"

"He wanted us to undertake his defence."

"And are you going to do so?"

Mr Adams smiled.

"As matters are, I am afraid not. Baker appears to be penniless, he is
not even able to keep himself while awaiting trial, but is on the
ordinary prison fare. It is necessary that a client should not only
have his solicitor's sympathy, but also the wherewithal with which to
pay his fees."

"Then it is only a question of money. I see. At what address shall I
find Mr Parsloe if I wish to do so?"

The gentleman gave the lady a card.

"That is Mr Parsloe's address. You will find my name in the corner as
representing him. I may mention that I also am an admitted solicitor."

"It is possible that you will hear from me. In the meantime, thank you
very much for taking so much trouble in bringing me this note. Any
expenses which may have been incurred I shall be happy to defray."

"At present no expenses have been incurred. I need hardly say that any
instructions with which you may honour us will receive our instant and
most careful attention."

Again Mr Adams's cap came off. He turned his bicycle round, and
presently was speeding back the way he had come. Miss Arnott stood
looking after him, the "note" in her hand.

Jim Baker's "note," as the solicitor's clerk had more than hinted, was
distinctly unusual as to form. It was represented by an oblong scrap of
paper, perhaps two inches long by an inch broad. Nothing was written on
the outside; on the exterior there was nothing whatever to show for
what destination it was designed. As Mr Adams had said, where one end
had been slipped into the other three seals had been affixed. On each
seal was a distinct impression of what probably purported to be Mr
Adams's own crest; with, under the circumstances, a sufficiently
apposite motto--for once in a way in plain English--"Fear Nothing."



                              CHAPTER XXI

                               THE "NOTE"


Miss Arnott displayed somewhat singular unwillingness to break the
seals. She watched Mr Adams retreating on his bicycle; not only till
the machine itself was out of sight, but the cloud of dust which marked
its progress had vanished also. Then she turned the scrap of paper over
and over in her fingers, possessed by an instinctive reluctance to
learn what it contained. It seemed ridiculous to suppose that Jim Baker
could have anything to cause her disturbance, yet she had an eerie
feeling that there was something disagreeable inside his "note,"
something which she would much rather not come into contact with. Had
she followed her own inclination she would have shredded it into
pieces, and scattered the pieces over the roadway. In some
indescribable fashion she was actually afraid of the scrap of paper
which she held between her fingers.

It was the sudden realisation that this was so which stung her into
action. Afraid of anything Jim Baker might have to say? She? Nonsense!
The idea! Could anything be more absurd!

There and then she broke the seals, unfolded the sheet of paper. But
when she had got so far again she hesitated. The thing was fresh from a
prison; had about it, she fancied, a prison atmosphere, a whiff of
something sordid which it had borne with it out of gaol. It was that,
she told herself, which she did not relish. Why should she read the
scrawl? What interest could it have for her? Better instruct Mr
Parsloe, or that eminent practitioner in the conduct of criminal cases
with whose name Mr Stacey had furnished her, to undertake Baker's
defence, and spare no expense in doing so, and so have done with it.
Let her keep her own fingers out of the mire; leave the whole thing to
the lawyers; that would be better for everyone concerned. So it would
not be necessary for her to spell her way through the man's ill-written
scribble.

And then she read Jim Baker's "note."

As Mr Adams had surmised it was written in pencil; apparently with a
blunt stump of pencil used by unaccustomed fingers, probably under
circumstances in which a skilful writer would have been uneasy. Here
and there it seemed that the pencil had refused to write; possibly only
by dint of pressure had it been induced to write at all. The letters
were blurred and indistinct, ill-formed, irregular, disjoined--in
general, mere hieroglyphics. And yet, despite the crabbed writing, the
eccentric spelling, the clumsy wording, Jim Baker's "note" made a
stronger impression on Miss Arnott than the most eloquent epistle with
which she had ever been favoured.


"Miss Arnott I see you done it but I wouldnt say nuthink about it if it
wasnt that from what I ear they are going to hang me for what I se you
doing and I wont say nuthin about it now if you se I have a loryer and
all regular so as to get me out of this were it aint rite I should be
sein I saw you they may cutt my tung out before Ill speak unless they
make out I dun it so if you dont se I have a loryer and all regular Ill
have to speke Jim Baker."


That was Mr Baker's note; unpunctuated, formless, badly put together,
ill-spelt, but alive and eloquent in spite of its obvious deficiencies.
It was plain why he was so anxious that Mr Adams should not peep at the
contents, why he had insisted on the three seals, why he had stipulated
on its being given into Miss Arnott's own hands. From his point of view
the "note" was a messenger of life and death, with hanging matter in
every line.

The lady read it once and again and then again. As she crumpled it up
in her hand it seemed to her that the country round about had assumed a
different appearance, the cloudless sky had become dimmed, a grey tint
had settled upon everything; for her the sunlight had gone out of the
world.

Here was Jim Baker calling to her out of his prison cell that he was
where she ought to be, because he had seen her do it, warning her, if
she did not provide him with a lawyer "and all regular" to get him "out
of this," that he would have to speak. What hallucination was this
which all at once possessed men's minds? Could it be possible that the
hallucination was actually hers? Could what, first Hugh Morice, now Jim
Baker, said be true, and that they had seen her do it? What condition
could she have been in at the time? Was it conceivable that a person
could do such a deed unwittingly? During what part of her sojourn in
the wood had she been in her sober senses? When had she ceased to be
responsible for her own actions? and how? and why? Which of those awful
happenings had been plain material fact and which nightmare imaginings?

She re-read Jim Baker's opening words,--"Miss Arnott I see you done
it." The accusation was bold enough, plain enough, conclusive enough.
It staggered her; forced her to wonder if she was, unknowingly, this
dreadful thing.

But, by degrees, her common sense regained the upper-hand, and she
began to put two and two together in an attempt to solve the mystery of
Jim Baker's words. The man was drunk; so much was admitted. He had
probably seen her, hazily enough, bearing away the blood-stained knife;
and had, therefore, jumped to an erroneous conclusion. Then she
remembered that he had sworn that, after firing the shot, he had gone
straight home; then, how came he to see her? More, he had sworn that on
his homeward way he had seen nothing; so, somewhere, there was a lie.
At the very worst, Jim Baker was labouring under a misapprehension; the
statement in his note was capable of no other explanation.

Still, it was awkward that he should be under such a misapprehension,
in view of the attitude which Hugh Morice had just been taking up. The
problem of saving Jim Baker's life became involved. If freeing him
meant that Mr Morice would prefer against her such a charge, and that
Baker himself would support it; then it behoved her to be careful how
she went. In any case it was not agreeable to think that that ancient
but muddle-headed family retainer believed--with some considerable
foundation in truth--that she was willing--to say no more--that he
should suffer for her offences.

Her thoughts were not pleasant companions on her homeward journey. Nor
was her peace of mind heightened by a brief interview which she had
with Mrs Plummer almost immediately on her return. The lady, waylaying
her on the landing, followed her into her sitting-room. She was
evidently in a state of considerable agitation.

"My dear, there is something which I must say to you at once--at once!"

Miss Arnott looked at her with that mixture of amusement and resentment
with which she had been conscious that, of late, Mrs Plummer's near
neighbourhood was wont to fill her.

"Then by all means speak, especially if refraining from doing so would
occasion you inconvenience."

"Mrs Forrester called; you are never in when people come."

"I am not sorry that I was out when Mrs Forrester came; she bores me."

"You ought to fix a regular day, so that people might know when to find
you."

"You have made that remark before. Is that all you have to say?"

"No, it is not; and let me tell you that this flippant way you have of
treating everything I say may have the most serious and unlooked-for
consequences."

Miss Arnott laughed, which caused Mrs Plummer to resort to a trick she
had--when at all put out--of rubbing the palms of her hands briskly
together.

"Oh, you may laugh; but I can assure you that if things go on like this
much longer I don't know what will be the end of it."

"The end of what?"

"Do you know what Mrs Forrester has been saying? She tells me that
there is a story going about the place that that evening you were out
in the woods till all hours of the night; and she wanted to know if she
should contradict it."

"That's as she pleases."

"But don't you see how serious it is? Won't you understand? I
understand; if you don't. Violet, I insist upon your telling me what
time it was when you came in that night; where you went, and what you
did. I insist! I insist!"

At each repetition Mrs Plummer brought her hands together with quite a
smart clap. Miss Arnott looked down at the excited little woman as if
she was still divided between two moods.

"You insist? Mrs Plummer, aren't you--rather forgetting yourself?"

"Of course I am prepared for you to adopt that tone. You always adopt
it when I ask you a question, and I am ready to leave the house this
moment if you wish it; but I can only assure you that if you won't give
me an answer you may have to give one to somebody else before very
long."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean exactly what I say. Won't you see?"

"I can see that you are in a state of excitement which is not warranted
by anything I understand."

It was odd what a disinclination the elder lady showed to meet the
young one's eyes. She moved hither and thither, as if possessed by a
spirit of restlessness; but, though Miss Arnott kept her gaze fixed on
her unfalteringly wherever she went, she herself never glanced in the
girl's direction.

"Excited! I can't help being excited! How you can keep so cool is what
I don't know! Everyone is pointing a finger and saying that you were
out in the woods at the very time that--that wretched man was--was
being murdered"--Mrs Plummer cast furtive looks about her as if the
deed was being enacted that very moment before her eyes--"and asking
where you were and what you were doing all alone in the woods at that
hour, and how it was that you knew nothing at all of what was taking
place, possibly quite close by you; and you let them ask, and say and
do nothing to stop their tongues; and if they are not stopped heaven
only knows where they'll lead them. My dear, won't you tell me where
you went? and what it was that you were doing?"

"No, Mrs Plummer, I won't--so now your question is answered. And as I
have some letters to write may I ask you to leave me?"

Mrs Plummer did glance at Miss Arnott for one moment; but for only one.
Then, as if she did not dare to trust herself to speak again, she
hurried from the room. Left alone, the young lady indulged in some
possibly ironical comments on her companion's deportment.

"Really, to judge from Mrs Plummer's behaviour, one would imagine that
this business worried her more than it does me. If she doesn't exercise
a little more self-control I shouldn't be surprised if it ends in
making her actually ill."



                              CHAPTER XXII

                           MR ERNEST GILBERT


Miss Arnott wrote to Mr Ernest Gilbert--the famous lawyer whose name Mr
Stacey had given her--asking him to make all necessary arrangements for
Jim Baker's defence. She expressed her own personal conviction in the
man's innocence, desiring him to leave no stone unturned to make it
plain, and to spare no expense in doing so. In proof of her willingness
to pay any costs which might be incurred she enclosed a cheque for
£500, and assured him that she would at once forward any further sum
which might be required. Mr Gilbert furnished himself with a copy of
the depositions given before the committing justices, and also before
the coroner; and, having mastered them, went down to see his client in
Winchester Gaol.

He found Mr Baker in very poor plight. The gamekeeper, who probably had
gipsy blood in his veins, had been accustomed from childhood to an open
air life. Often in fine weather he did not resort to the shelter of a
roof for either sleeping or eating. Crabbed and taciturn by
constitution he loved the solitude and freedom of the woods. On a
summer's night the turf at the foot of a tree was couch enough for him,
the sky sufficient roof. Had he been able to give adequate expression
to his point of view, his definition of the torments of hell would have
been confinement within four walls. In gaol--cribbed, cabined and
confined--he seemed to slough his manhood like a skin. His nature
changed. When Mr Gilbert went to see him, the dogged heart of the man
had lost half its doggedness. He pined for freedom--for God's air, and
the breath of the woods--with such desperate longing that, if he could,
he would have made an end of every soul in Winchester Gaol to get at
it.

Mr Gilbert summed him up--or thought he did--at sight. He made it a
rule in these sort of cases to leap at an instant conclusion, even
though afterwards it might turn out to be erroneous. Experience had
taught him that, in first interviews with clients of a certain kind,
quickness of speech--and of decision--was a trick which often paid. So
that the door had hardly been closed which left the pair together
than--metaphorically--he sprang at Mr Baker like a bull terrier at a rat.

"Now, my man, do you want to hang?"

"Hang? me? No, I don't. Who does?"

"Then you'll tell me who stuck a knife into that fellow in Cooper's
Spinney."

"Me tell you? What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean, and you know who handled that knife; and it's
only by telling me that you'll save your neck from the gallows."

Baker stared with tightened lips and frowning brows. This spruce little
gentleman was beyond him altogether.

"Here! you go too fast for me. I don't know who you are, not from Adam.
Who might you be?"

"My name's Gilbert--I'm a lawyer--and I'm going to save you from the
gallows, if I can."

"A lawyer?" Baker put up a gnarled hand to rasp his stubbly chin. He
looked at the other with eyes which trouble had dimmed. "Has she sent
you?"

"She? Who?"

"You know who I mean."

"I shall know if you tell me. How can I know if you don't tell me?"

"Has Miss Arnott sent you?"

"Miss Arnott? Why should Miss Arnott send me?"

"She knows if you don't."

"Do you think Miss Arnott cares if you were strung up to the top of the
tallest tree to-morrow?"

"She mightn't care if I was strung up, but I ain't going to be strung
up; and that she does know."

The lawyer looked keenly at the countryman. All at once he changed his
tone, he became urbanity itself.

"Now, Baker, let's understand each other, you and I. I flatter myself
that I've saved more than one poor chap from a hempen collar, and I'd
like to save you. You never put that knife into that man."

"Of course I didn't; ain't I kept on saying so?"

"Then why should you hang?"

"I ain't going to hang. Don't you make any mistake about it, and don't
let nobody else make any mistake about it neither. I ain't going to
hang."

"But, my good fellow, in these kind of affairs they generally hang
someone; if they can't find anyone else, it will probably be you. How
are you going to help it?"

Baker opened and closed his mouth like a trap, once, twice, thrice, and
nothing came out of it. There was a perceptible pause; he was possibly
revolving something in his sluggish brain. Then he asked a question,--

"Is that all you've got to say?"

"Of course it's not. My stock of language isn't quite so limited. Only
I want you to see just where you're standing, and just what the danger
is that's threatening. And I want you to know that I know that you know
who handled that knife; and that probably the only way of saving you
from the gallows is to let me know. You understand that it doesn't
necessarily follow that I'm going to tell everyone; the secret will be
as safe with me as with you. Only this is a case in which, if I'm to do
any good, I must know where we are. Now, Baker, tell me, who was it who
used the knife?"

Again Baker's jaws opened and shut, as if automatically; then, after
another interval, again he asked a question.

"You ain't yet told me if it was Miss Arnott as sent you?"

"And you haven't yet told me why Miss Arnott should send me?"

"That's my business. Did she? Do you hear me ask you--did she?"

Baker brought his fist down with a bang on to the wooden table by which
he was standing. Mr Gilbert eyed him in his eager, terrier-like
fashion, as if he were seeking for a weak point on which to make an
attack. Then, suddenly, again his manner altered. Ignoring Baker's
question as completely as if it had never been asked, he diverted the
man's attention from the expected answer by all at once plunging into
entirely different matters. Before he knew what was happening Baker
found himself subjected to a stringent examination of a kind for which
he was wholly unprepared. The solicitor slipped from point to point in
a fashion which so confused his client's stupid senses that, by the
time the interview was over, Jim Baker had but the vaguest notion of
what he had said or left unsaid.

Mr Gilbert went straight from the gaol to a post-office from which he
dispatched this reply-paid telegram:--


"To HUGH MORICE, Oak Dene.

"When I was once able to do you a service you said that, if ever the
chance offered, you would do me one in return. You can do me such a
service by giving me some dinner and a bed for to-night.

                                   "ERNEST GILBERT.

"GEORGE HOTEL, WINCHESTER."


He lunched at the George Hotel. While he was smoking an after-luncheon
cigar an answer came. Hugh Morice wired to say that if he arrived by a
certain train he would meet him at the station. Mr Gilbert travelled by
that train, and was met. It was only after a _tête-à-tête_ dinner that
anything was said as to the reason why the lawyer had invited himself
to be the other's guest.

"I suppose you're wondering why I've forced myself upon your
hospitality?"

"I hope that nothing in my manner has caused you to think anything of
the kind. I assure you that I'm very glad to see you."

"It's very nice of you to say so. Still, considering how I've thrown
myself at you out of the clouds you can hardly help but wonder."

"Well, I have taken it a little for granted that you have some reason
for wishing to pay me a visit at this particular moment."

"Exactly. I have. It's because I find myself in rather a singular
situation."

"As how?"

The lawyer considered. He looked at his host across the little table,
on which were their cups of coffee, with his bright eyes and the
intensely inquisitive stare, which seemed to suggest that curiosity was
his devouring passion. His host looked back at him lazily,
indifferently, as if he were interested in nothing and in no one. The
two men were in acute contrast. The one so tall and broad; the other so
small and wiry--in the scales possibly not half Hugh Morice's size. The
solicitor glanced round the room, inquiringly.

"I suppose we're private here?"

They were in the billiard-room. The doors were shut, windows closed,
blinds drawn--the question seemed superfluous.

"Perfectly. No one would hear you if you shouted."

"It's just as well to be sure; because what I have to say to you is of
a particularly private nature."

"At your leisure."

"You and I have had dealings before--you will probably remember that,
under certain circumstances, I'm not a stickler for professional
etiquette."

"I remember it very well indeed."

"That's fortunate. Because, on the present occasion, I'm going to outrage
every standard of propriety which is supposed--professionally--to hedge me
round. Now listen to me attentively; because I don't wish to use plainer
speech than I can help; I don't want to dot my 'i's,' and I want you, at
a hint from me, to read between the lines. This is a ticklish matter I'm
going to talk about."

"I'm all attention."

"That's good; then here's what I've come to say."



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                              THE TWO MEN


Yet Mr Gilbert hesitated. He took his cigar from between his lips,
carefully removed the ash, sipped at his coffee, and all the time kept
his glance on Hugh Morice, as if he were desirous of gleaning from his
face indications as to the exact line which his remarks should take.
When he did speak he still continued to stare at his host.

"I have been retained to defend James Baker."

"James Baker?"

"The man who is to stand his trial for the murder in Cooper's Spinney."

"Oh, Jim Baker. Hereabouts he is known as Jim. When you spoke of him as
James, for the moment I didn't know who you meant."

"This morning I saw him in Winchester Gaol."

"That is what you were doing in Winchester? Now I understand. How is
he?"

"In a bad way. They may as well hang him as keep him jailed. He's not
at home in there."

"So I should imagine. Jim Baker!"

Hugh Morice smiled sardonically, as if the idea of Jim Baker being in
gaol was grimly humorous.

"That interview has resulted in placing me in a very curious quandary."

"I should imagine that interviews with your clients did occasionally
have results of that kind."

"That's so; but I don't recall one which had just this result, and--I
don't like it. That's why I've come to you."

"I don't see the sequitur. What have I to do with your
quandaries?--that is, mind you, with your professional quandaries;
because, outside your profession, as you're perfectly well aware, I'm
willing enough to help you in any kind of a hole."

"This is both professional and unprofessional--that's the trouble.
Anyhow, I'm going to make you my confidant, and I shall expect you to
give me some sort of a pointer."

"What might you happen to be driving at? I take it that you don't
credit me with the capacity to read between lines which are
non-existent."

"I'll tell you in a sentence. James--or, as you call him--Jim Baker has
left the impression on my mind that it was Miss Arnott, of Exham Park,
who killed that man in Cooper's Spinney."

"The scoundrel!"

"Generally speaking, perhaps, in this particular instance--I doubt it."

"Do you mean to say that he formulated the charge in so many words?"

"He never formulated it at all. On the contrary, he didn't even begin
to make it. I fancy that if you were to go to him now, he'd say that he
never so much as hinted at anything of the sort. But all the same it
was so present in his mind that it got into mine. I have a knack,
occasionally, of studying my clients' minds rather than their words."

"My good sir, if A is charged with a crime he quite
constantly--sometimes unconsciously--tries to shift the guilt on to B."

"As if I didn't know it! Talk sense! There are times when I am able to
detect the real from the counterfeit, and this is one. I tell you that
Jim Baker is convinced that Miss Arnott stabbed that man in the wood,
and that, if he chose, he could advance substantial reasons for the
faith that is in him."

"Good God! You--you shock me!"

"Are you sure I shock you?"

"What the devil do you mean by that? Look here, Gilbert, if you've come
here to make yourself disagreeable you'll have to excuse me if I go to
bed."

"My dear chap, why this sudden explosion! So far from wishing to make
myself disagreeable my desire is all the other way; but you haven't yet
let me explain to you the nature of the quandary I am in."

"I know Jim Baker better than you do. I've thrashed him within an inch
of his life before to-day, and, by George! if what you say is true, I'd
like to do it again. If you've come to retail any cock and bull stories
emanating from that source I don't want to listen to them--that's
plain."

"Perfectly plain. I've come to retail cock and bull stories emanating
from no source. If you'll grant me thirty seconds I'll tell you what
the trouble is. The trouble is that I've been retained by Miss Arnott
to defend Jim Baker."

"The deuce!"

"Yes, as you observe, it is the deuce. She has behaved--in a pecuniary
sense--very handsomely, and is apparently prepared--in that sense--to
continue to behave very handsomely."

"Then where's the trouble if you're well paid for the work you're asked
to do?"

"Supposing, for the sake of argument, that Miss Arnott is guilty, and
that Jim Baker knows it, that, from one point of view, would be a
sufficient reason why she should spend money like water in his defence,
and I should be placed in a very awkward situation."

"Are you taking it for granted that what that blackguard says--"

"Baker has said nothing."

"That what he hints is true? Do you know Miss Arnott?"

"I don't; do you?"

"Of course, she's my neighbour."

"But you're some distance apart."

"Nothing as we count it in the country."

"Is she an old woman?"

"Old! She's a girl!"

"A girl? Oh! now I perceive that we are getting upon delicate ground."

"Gilbert, may I ask you to be extremely careful what you allow yourself
to say."

"I will be--extremely careful. May I take it that you are of opinion
that there is no foundation for what Jim Baker believes?"

"What on earth have I to do with what Jim Baker believes or with what
he chooses to make you think he believes?"

"Precisely; I am not connecting you with his belief in any way
whatever. What I am asking is, are you of opinion that he has no ground
for his belief?"

"How should I know what ground he has or thinks he has? That fellow's
mind--what he has of it--is like a rabbit warren, all twists and
turns."

The speaker had risen from his chair. Possibly with some intention of
showing that he did not find the theme a pleasant one, he had taken
down a billiard cue. The lawyer watched him as he prepared to make a
shot.

"Morice, do you know to what conclusion you are driving me?"

"I don't know, and I don't care. Come and have a game."

"Thank you, I don't mind. But first, I should like to tell you what
that conclusion is. You are forcing me to think that Jim Baker's belief
is yours."

Mr Morice did not make his shot. Instead, he stood up straight,
gripping his cue almost as if he meant to use it as a weapon.

"Gilbert!"

"It's no use glaring at me like that. I'm impervious to threats. I've
been the object of too many. Let me tell you something else. A faint
suspicion, which I had before I came here, has become almost a
certainty. I believe that Baker saw what that young woman did and I
believe you saw her also."

"You hound! Damn you! I'd like to throw you out of the house!"

"Oh no, you wouldn't; that's only a momentary impulse. An instant's
reflection will show you that this is a position in which the one thing
wanted is common sense, and you've got plenty of common sense if you
choose to give it a chance. Don't you see that we shall, all of
us--Miss Arnott, Jim Baker, you and me--find ourselves in a very
uncomfortable situation, if we don't arrive at some common
understanding. If Jim Baker saw that girl committing murder, and if you
saw her--"

"You have not the faintest right to make such a monstrous insinuation."

"I have invited contradiction and none has come."

"I do contradict you--utterly."

"What, exactly, do you contradict?"

"Everything you have said."

"To descend from the general to the particular. Do you say that you did
not see what that girl did?"

"I decline to be cross-examined. I'm your host, sir, I'm not in the
witness-box."

"No, but at a word from me you very soon will be. That's the point you
keep on missing."

"Gilbert, I'll wring your neck!"

"Not you, if only because you know that it would make bad worse. It's
no good your throwing things at me. I'm as fairly in a cleft stick as
you are. If I throw up Jim Baker's case, Miss Arnott, who has sent me a
cheque for £500, will naturally want to know why. What shall I tell
her? I shall have to tell her something. If, on the other hand, I stick
to Baker, my first and only duty will be towards him. I shall have to
remember that his life is at stake, and leave no stone unturned to save
it. But, being employed by Miss Arnott, I don't want to take advantage
of that employment and of her money to charge her with the crime, nor
do I want to have to put you into the witness-box to prove it. What I
want to know is which course am I to follow? And to get that knowledge
I've come to you. Now, you've got the whole thing in a nutshell."

Mr Morice, perhaps unconsciously, was still gripping the billiard cue
as if it were a bludgeon. Plainly, he was ill at ease.

"I wish you'd been kept out of the affair. I'd have kept you out if I'd
had a chance. I should have known you'd make yourself a nuisance."

"Having a clear perception of the lines on which I should be likely to
make myself a nuisance, I see. Shall I tell you what I do wish? I'm
inclined to wish that I'd been retained by Miss Arnott on her own
account."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You will make me dot my i's. However, I'll dot them if you like. Here
are two men who know the truth. Isn't it probable that there are other
persons who suspect it? So far the affair's been bungled. Baker himself
put the police on the wrong scent. They've followed it blindly. But
when the right man's put on the job I'm prepared to wager that he'll
find the whole air is full of the lady's name. Then she'll want
assistance."

Hugh Morice returned the cue to its place with almost ostentatious
precision, keeping his back towards his guest as he did so. Then,
turning, he took up his stand before the fireplace. His manner had all
at once become almost unnaturally calm.

"There are two or three points, Mr Gilbert, on which I should like to
arrive at that understanding which you pretend to desiderate. When you
suggest, as you do, that I have any guilty knowledge of the crime with
which Jim Baker stands charged, you not only suggest what is wholly
false, but you do so without the slightest shadow of an excuse, under
circumstances which make your conduct peculiarly monstrous. I have no
such knowledge. It, therefore, necessarily follows that I know nothing
of Miss Arnott's alleged complicity in the matter. More, I believe from
my heart that she had no more to do with it than you had; she is
certainly as innocent as you are. You yourself admit that Baker has
said nothing. I fancy you may have jumped at an erroneous conclusion;
your fault is over-cleverness. I know him to be a thorough-paced coward
and rascal. If he ever does say outright, anything of the nature you
have hinted at, there will be no difficulty whatever in proving him to
be a liar. Now, sir, have I given you all the information which you
require?"

Mr Gilbert looked at the fresh cigar, which he had just lighted, with
the first smile in which he had permitted himself to indulge during the
course of the discussion.

"Then I am to defend Jim Baker and do my best for him?"

It was a second or two before Hugh Morice answered.

"I think that, feeling as you do, you had better withdraw from the
case."

"And what shall I tell Miss Arnott?"

"You need tell her nothing. I will tell her all that is necessary."

"I see. I thought you would probably feel like that."

"For once in a way you thought correctly."

"The cheque shall be returned to her. Shall I return it through you?"

"I think that perhaps you had better."

"I think so also."

Mr Gilbert rose from his chair.

"Before I go to bed, with your permission, I will finish this excellent
cigar upstairs, and I'm afraid that game of billiards will have to be
postponed. Will you allow me to say, without prejudice, that if, later,
Miss Arnott finds herself in need of legal aid I shall esteem myself
fortunate to be allowed to render her any assistance in my power. I can
make my presence felt in a certain kind of case, and this is going to
be a very pretty one, though that mayn't be your feeling just now. I
should like to add that I feel sure I could defend her much better than
I could Jim Baker."

"There will not be the slightest necessity for you to do anything of
the kind.".

"Of course not. I am merely putting a suppositious case. May I take it
that you are the lady's friend?"

"You may."

"And that you would be willing to do her a service?"

"I would do her any service in my power."

"Then shall I tell you what is the best service you could do her?"

"I am listening."

"Start for the most inaccessible part of the globe you can think of at
the very earliest opportunity, and stay there."

"Why should I do that?"

"Because if they can't find you, they can't put you in the witness-box,
and, if I were acting for Miss Arnott, I would much rather, for her
sake, that you kept out. Good-night, Mr Morice. I have to thank you for
your generous hospitality."

When the solicitor was in his bedroom he said to himself.

"I'm glad I came. But what a tangle! Unless I err they'll have my lady
under lock and key before the assizes begin; or, at anyrate, under
police observation. And my host loves her. What a prospect? When a man,
who is not a constitutional liar, does lie, he's apt to give his lie
too artistic a finish; still, as an example of the lie cumulative and
absolute, that lie of his was fair, very fair indeed."

Hugh Morice had his thoughts also.

"If she'd only let me know that she proposed to call in Ernest Gilbert
I'd have stopped her somehow. There's no more dangerous man in England.
Now it's too late. We shall have to face the music. If I am
subp[oe]naed I'll go into the witness-box and swear I did it. She
charged me with having done it. She shall go into the witness-box and
give evidence against me. We'll dish Ernest Gilbert. 'Greater love hath
no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.' And
she's my friend, since I love her. At anyrate, I'll be her friend, if
the thing may be."



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                            THE SOMNAMBULIST


Miss Arnott was not happy. Money had not brought her anything worth
having. In her case, fortune had been synonymous with misfortune.
Young, rich "beyond the dreams of avarice," good-looking; all those
papers which deal with what are ironically called "personal topics,"
held her up to public admiration as one of the persons in the world who
were most to be envied. In plain truth she was one of the most
miserable. In her penniless days she was not unhappier. Then her
trouble was simple, now it was compound. Not the least of her disasters
was the fact that health was failing. That robust habit of mind and
body which had, so far, stood her in good stead, was being sapped by
the continuous strain. Her imagination was assuming a morbid tinge. Her
nights were sleepless, or dream-haunted, which was as bad. She was
becoming obsessed by an unhealthy feeling that she lived in a tainted
atmosphere. That all the air about her was impregnated with suspicion.
That she was becoming the centre of doubting eyes, whispering tongues,
furtively pointing fingers.

While she was more or less unconsciously drifting into this physically
and mentally unhealthy condition she received a visit from a Mrs
Forrester, in the course of which that lady insisted on dwelling on
topics of a distinctly disagreeable kind.

Mrs Forrester was a widow, childless, well-to-do. She had two
occupations--one was acting as secretary to the local branch of the
Primrose League, and the other was minding other people's business. She
so managed that the first was of material assistance to her in the
second. She was a person for whom Miss Arnott had no liking. Had she
had a chance she would have denied herself. But Mrs Forrester came
sailing in through the hall just as she was going out of it.

"Oh, my dear Miss Arnott, this is an unexpected pleasure! I am so
fortunate in finding you at home, I so seldom do! And there is
something of the first importance which I must speak to you about at
once--of the very first importance, I do assure you."

The motor was at the door. Miss Arnott's inclination was to fib, to
invent a pressing engagement--say, twenty miles off--and so shunt the
lady off on to Mrs Plummer. It seemed as if the visitor saw what was in
her mind. She promptly gave utterance to her intention not to be
shunted.

"Now you mustn't say you're engaged, because I sha'n't keep you a
minute, or at most but five. That motor of yours can wait, and you
simply must stop and listen to what I have to say. It's in your own
interest, your own urgent interest, so I can't let you go."

Miss Arnott stopped, perforce. She led the way into the red
drawing-room. Mrs Forrester burst into the middle of the subject, which
had brought her there, in her own peculiar fashion.

"Now, before I say a single word, I want you to understand most clearly
that the only reason which has brought me here, the one thing I have
come for, is to obtain your permission, your authority, to contradict
the whole story."

"What story?"

The visitor held up her hands.

"What story! You don't mean to say you haven't heard? It simply shows
how often we ourselves are the last persons to hear of matters in which
we are most intimately concerned. My dear, the whole world is talking
about it, the entire parish! And you say, what story?"

"I say again, what story? I've no doubt that my concerns do interest a
large number of persons, even more than they do me, but I've not the
vaguest idea to which one of them you're now referring."

"Is it possible? My dear, I was told no longer ago than this morning
that you walk every night through the woods in--well, in your
nightdress."

"What's that?"

"Of course it's nonsense. No one knows better than I do that such an
idea's ridiculous. But there's the story. And, as I've said, I've come
on purpose to ask you to allow me to offer an authoritative
contradiction."

"But what is the story? I should be obliged to you, Mrs Forrester, if
you could manage to make it a little clearer."

"I will make it clear. To me it has been made painfully
clear--painfully. I may tell you that I've heard the story, in different
forms, from various sources. Indeed I believe it's no exaggeration to
say that it's on everybody's tongue, and, on the whole, no wonder. My
informant this morning was Briggs, the postman. You know him?"

"I can't claim the honour. However, I'm willing to take your statement
as proof of his existence."

"A most respectable man, most respectable. His wife has fifteen
children--twins only last March,--but perhaps I oughtn't to speak of it
to you. He used to be night watchman at Oak Dene in old Mr Morice's
time. Sometimes he takes the letter-bags to and from the mail train,
which goes through at half-past one in the morning. He did so last
night. He assures me with his own lips that, coming home, as he was
passing your place, he heard something moving, and on looking round saw
you among the trees in your nightdress. Of course it couldn't have been
you. But, at the same time, it is most singular. He is such a
respectable man, and his story was most circumstantial. Could it have
been you?"

"I was not out last night at all, and it never is my custom to wander
about the grounds in the costume you refer to, if that is what you
mean, Mrs Forrester--at least, not consciously."

"Exactly, that is the very point, of course--not consciously. But do
you do it unconsciously?"

"Unconsciously! What do you mean?"

"My dear, it is my duty to tell you that all sorts of people claim to
have seen you wandering--sometimes actually running--through the woods
of Exham Park at the most extraordinary hours, clad only in your
nightdress. The suggestion is that you are walking in your sleep."

"Walking in my sleep? Mrs Forrester!"

"Yes, my dear, walking in your sleep. It is strange that the story
should not have reached you; it is on everybody's tongue. But when, as
I tell you, Briggs made that positive statement to me with his own
lips, I felt it my bounden duty to come and see you about it at the
earliest possible moment. Because, if there is any truth in the tale at
all--and they can't all be liars--it is absolutely essential for your
own protection that you should have someone to sleep with you--at any
rate, in the same room. Somnambulism is a most serious thing. If you
are a somnambulist--and if you aren't, what are you?--proper
precautions ought to be taken, or goodness only knows what may happen."

"If I am a somnambulist, Mrs Forrester. But am I? In all my life I have
never heard it hinted that I am anything of the kind, and I myself have
never had any reason to suspect it."

"Still, my dear, there are all those stories told by all sorts of
people."

"They may have imagined they saw something. I very much doubt if they
saw me."

"But there is Briggs's positive assertion. I have such faith in Briggs.
And why should he invent a tale of the sort?"

"Did he see my face?"

"No; he says you were walking quickly from him, almost running, but he
is positive it was you. He wanted to come and tell you so himself; but
I dissuaded him, feeling that it was a matter about which you would
prefer that I should come and speak to you first."

"What time was it when he supposes himself to have seen me?"

"Somewhere about two o'clock."

Miss Arnott reflected.

"To the best of my knowledge and belief I was in bed at two o'clock,
and never stirred from it till Evans called me to get into my bath. If,
as you suggest, I was out in the woods in my nightdress--delightful
notion!--surely I should have brought back with me some traces of my
excursion. I believe it rained last night."

"It did; Briggs says it was raining at the time he saw you."

"Then that settles the question; he didn't see me. Was I barefooted?"

"He couldn't see."

"The presumption is that, if I choose to wander about in such an airy
costume as a nightgown, it is hardly likely that I should think it
necessary to go through the form of putting on either shoes or
stockings. Anyhow, I should have been soaked to the skin. When I woke
up this morning my nightgown would have shown traces at least of the
soaking it had undergone. But not a bit of it; it was as clean as a new
pin. Ask Evans! My feet were stainless. My bedroom slippers--the only
footwear within reach, were unsoiled. No; I fancy, Mrs Forrester, that
those friends of yours have ardent imaginations, and that even the
respectable Briggs is not always to be trusted."

"Then you authorise me to contradict the story _in toto?_

"Yes, Mrs Forrester; I give you the fullest authority to inform anyone
and everyone that I never, in the whole course of my life, went out for
a stroll in my nightgown, either asleep or waking. Thank you very much
indeed for giving me the opportunity of furnishing you with the
necessary power."

Mrs Forrester rose from her chair solemnly.

"I felt that I should only be doing my duty if I came."

"Of course you did, and you never miss an opportunity of doing your
duty. Do you?"

Before the lady had a chance of replying a door opened. Miss Arnott
turned to find that it had admitted Mr Morice. The sight of him was so
unexpected, and took her so wholly by surprise that, at a momentary
loss for a suitable greeting, she repeated, inanely enough, almost the
identical words which she had just been uttering to Mrs Forrester.

"Mr Morice! This is--this is a surprise. I--I was just telling Mrs
Forrester, who has been good enough to bring me rather a curious story,
that if anyone mentions, in her hearing, that they saw me strolling
through the woods in the middle of the night in a state of considerable
undress, I shall be obliged if she gives such a statement a point-blank
contradiction."

Mr Morice inclined his head gravely, as if he understood precisely what
the lady was talking about.

"Certainly. Always advise Mrs Forrester to contradict everything she
hears. Mrs Forrester hears such singular things."



                              CHAPTER XXV

                          HUGH MORICE EXPLAINS


So soon as Mrs Forrester had gone Mr Morice asked a question.

"What tale has that woman been telling you?"

"She actually says that people have seen me walking about the woods in
the middle of the night in my nightdress. That a postman, named Briggs,
saw me doing so last night. I believe I am supposed to have been
walking in my sleep. Of course it is only some nonsensical rigmarole. I
won't say the whole thing is an invention of Mrs Forrester's own brain,
but it's the sort of thing she's fond of."

"That's true enough. It is the sort of tale she's fond of; but, for
once in a way, she is justified by fact. Since we are on the subject I
may as well inform you that, four nights or rather mornings, ago I
myself saw you, at two o'clock in the morning, in Cooper's Spinney, in
some such costume as that which you describe."

"Mr Morice!"

"I do not know that I should have told you if it had not been for Mrs
Forrester; but, since she has intervened, I do so. In any case, it is
perhaps as well that you should be on your guard."

"Are you sure you saw me?"

"I am not likely to make a mistake in a matter of that sort."

"But are you sure it was me?"

"Certain."

"What was I doing?"

"You were under the beech tree--our beech tree. You appeared to me to
be looking for something on the ground--something which you could not
find."

"But four nights ago? I remember it quite well. I was reading and
writing till ever so late. Then I fell asleep directly I got into bed.
I certainly never woke again until Evans called me."

"The probability is that you got out of bed directly you were asleep.
It struck me that there was something singular about your whole
proceedings. A doubt crossed my mind at the time as to whether you
could possibly be in a somnambulistic condition. As I approached you
retreated so rapidly that I never caught sight of you again."

"Do you mean to say I was in my nightdress?"

"As to that I cannot be certain. You had on something white; but it
struck me that it was some sort of a dressing-gown."

"I have no white dressing-gown."

"On that point I cannot speak positively. You understand that I only
saw you for a few seconds, just long enough to make sure that it was
you."

She put her hands up to her face, shuddering.

"This is dreadful! that I should walk in my sleep--in the woods--and
everyone see me--and I know nothing! What shall I do?"

"There is one thing I should recommend. Have someone to sleep in your
room--someone who is quickly roused."

"That is what Mrs Forrester advised. I will certainly have that done. A
bed shall be put in my room, and Evans shall sleep in it to-night. Is
it to make this communication that you have favoured me with the very
unexpected honour of your presence here, Mr Morice?"

"No, Mrs--I beg your pardon, Miss Arnott--it is not." As she noticed
the slip she flushed. "The errand which has brought me here is of a
different nature, though not, I regret to say, of a more pleasant one."

"Nothing pleasant comes my way. Do not let unpleasantness deter you, Mr
Morice. As you are aware I am used to it."

There was a bitterness in her tone which hurt him. He turned aside,
searching for words to serve him as a coating of sugar, and failing to
find them.

"Why," he presently asked, "did you instruct Ernest Gilbert to defend
Jim Baker?"

She stared in amazement; evidently that was not what she expected.

"Why? Why shouldn't I?"

"For the simple but sufficient reason that he was the very last man
whose interference you should have invited in a matter of this
particular kind."

"Mr Stacey was of a different opinion. It was he who gave me his name.
He said he was the very man I wanted."

"Mr Stacey? Mr Stacey was not acquainted with all the circumstances of
the case, Miss Arnott. Had you consulted me--"

"I should not have dreamt of consulting you."

"Possibly not. Still, I happen to know something of Mr Gilbert
personally, and had you consulted me I should have warned you that, in
all human probability, the result would be exactly what it has turned
out to be."

"Result? Has anything resulted?"

"Something has--Mr Gilbert has withdrawn from the case."

"Withdrawn from the case! What do you mean?"

"Here is the £500 which you sent him. He has requested me to hand it
back to you."

"A cheque for £500? Mr Morice, I don't understand! Why has Mr Gilbert
returned me this?"

"I will tell you plainly. We are, both of us, in a position in which
plainness is the only possible course."

"Well, tell me--don't stand choosing your words--tell me plainly! Why
has Mr Gilbert sent me back my cheque through you?"

"Because Jim Baker conveyed the impression to his mind that
he--Jim--saw you commit the crime with which he stands charged."

"I don't understand."

"I think you do. Gilbert's position is that he finds himself unable to
retain your money when his duty to Baker may necessitate his putting
you in the dock on the capital charge."

"Mr Morice! It's--it's not true!"

"Unfortunately, it is true. Lest, however, you should think the
position worse than it actually is, part of my business here is to
reassure your mind on at least one point."

"Reassure my mind! Nothing will ever do that--ever! ever! And
reassurance from you!--from you!"

"If matters reach a certain point--before they go too far--it is my
intention to surrender myself--say, to Granger--our local
representative of law and order--as having been guilty of killing that
man in Cooper's Spinney."

"Mr Morice! Do you--do you mean it?"

"Certainly I mean it. Then you will have an opportunity of going into
the witness-box and giving that testimony of which you have spoken.
That in itself ought to be sufficient to hang me."

"Mr Morice!"

"What we have principally to do is to render it impossible that the
case against me shall fail. A very trifling accident may bring the
whole business to an end; especially if Ernest Gilbert puts ever such a
distant finger in the pie. Against the possibility of such an accident
we shall have to guard. For instance, by way of a beginning, where's
that knife?"

"Knife?"

"The knife."

"I've lost the key."

"Lost the key? of what?"

"I put it in a wardrobe drawer with my--my things, and locked it, and,
somehow, I lost the key."

"I don't quite follow. Do you mean that, having locked up my knife in a
drawer with some other articles, you have mislaid the key of the lock?"

"Yes, that's what I mean."

"Then in that case, you had better break that lock open at the earliest
possible moment."

"Why?"

"The answer's obvious, in order that you may hand me back my knife. If
I'm to be the criminal it will never do for my knife to be found in
your possession. It would involve all sorts of difficulties which we
might neither of us find it easy to get over. Give me the knife. I will
hide it somewhere on my own premises, where I'll take care that, at the
proper moment, it is found. Properly managed, that knife ought to make
my guilt as plain as the noonday sun; mismanaged, the affair might
assume quite a different complexion."

For the first time a doubt entered the girl's mind.

"Mr Morice, do you wish me to understand that you propose to surrender
merely to save me?"

"I wish you to understand nothing of the sort. The position is--in its
essence--melodrama; but do let us make it as little melodramatic as we
conveniently can. Someone must suffer for the--blunder. It may as well
be me. Why not?"

"Do you wish me--seriously--to believe that it was not you
who--blundered?"

"Of course I blundered--and I've kept on blundering ever since. One
blunder generally does lead to another, don't you know. Come--Miss
Arnott"--each time, as she noticed, there was a perceptible pause
before he pronounced the name to which she still adhered--"matters have
reached a stage when, at any moment, events may be expected to move
quickly. Your first business must be to get that drawer open--key or no
key--and let me have that knife. You may send it by parcel post if you
like. Anyhow, only let me have it. And, at latest, by tomorrow night.
Believe me, moments are becoming precious. By the way, I hope it hasn't
been--cleaned."

"No, it hasn't been cleaned."

"That would have been to commit a cardinal error. In an affair of this
sort blood-stains are the things we want; the _pièces de conviction_
which judge and jury most desire. Give me the knife--my knife--that did
the deed, with the virginal blood-stains thick upon it. Let it be
properly discovered by a keen-nosed constable in an ostentatious
hiding-place, and the odds are a hundred to one as to what the verdict
will be. A hundred? a million! I assure you that I already feel the
cravat about my neck." Hugh Morice put his hand up to his throat with a
gesture which made Miss Arnott shiver. "Only, I do beg of you, lose no
time. Get that drawer open within the hour, and let me have my
hunting-knife before you have your dinner. Let me entreat you to grasp
this fact clearly. At any moment Jim Baker may be out of Winchester Gaol;
someone will have to take his place. That someone must be me."



                              CHAPTER XXV

                             THE TWO MAIDS


After Hugh Morice had left her, Miss Arnott had what was possibly the
worst of all her bad half hours. The conviction of his guilt had been
so deeply rooted in her mind that it required something like a
cataclysm to disturb its foundations. She had thought that nothing
could have shaken it; yet it had been shaken, and by the man himself.
As she had listened to what he had been saying, an impression had been
taking hold of her, more and more, that she had misjudged him. If so,
where was she herself standing? A dreadful feeling had been stealing on
her that he genuinely believed of her what she had believed of him. If
such was the case, what actually was her position.

Could she have done the thing which he believed her to have done? It
was not only, moreover, what he believed; there were others. An array
of witnesses was gathering round her, pointing with outstretched
fingers. There was Jim Baker--it seemed that he was honestly persuaded
that, with his own eyes, he had seen her kill her husband. So
transparent was his honesty that he had succeeded--whether
intentionally or not she did not clearly understand--in imparting his
faith to the indurated lawyer to such a degree, that he had actually
thrown her money back at her, as if it had been the price of blood. She
had little doubt that if her own retainers were polled, and forced to
vote in accordance with the dictates of their consciences, merely on
the strength of the evidence they believed themselves to be already in
possession of, they would bring her in as guilty. She had had this
feeling dimly for some time--she had it very clearly then.

And now she was walking in her sleep. That thing of which she had read
and heard, but never dreamt to be--a somnambulist. It seemed that her
conscience drove her out at dead of night to revisit--unwittingly--the
scene of the crime which stained her soul.

Could that be the interpretation of the stories which Mrs Forrester had
told her? and Hugh Morice? She had been seen, it would appear, by half
the countryside, clad--how? wandering--conscience-driven--on what
errand?

The more she thought, however, of the tale which Briggs the postman had
retailed to Mrs Forrester, not to speak of Hugh Morice's strange
narrative--the more she doubted--the more she had to doubt. They
might have the evidence of their own eyes, but it seemed to her that
she had evidence which was at least equally conclusive. It was
incredible--impossible that she could have tramped through the rain and
the mire, among the trees and the bushes, in the fashion described, and
yet have found no traces of her eccentric journeyings either on her
clothes or on her person. But in that matter measures could--and should--be
taken. She would soon learn if there was any truth in the tales so far as
they had reference to her. Evans should be installed in her room that night
as watchman. Then, if she attempted to get out of bed while fast
asleep, the question would be settled on the spot. The question of the
knife--Hugh Morice's knife--was a graver one. But as regards that also
steps should be promptly taken. Whether it should be returned to its
owner as he suggested, or retained in her possession, or disposed of
otherwise. These were problems which required consideration. In the
meanwhile, she would have it out of its hiding-place at once. She went
upstairs to force open that wardrobe drawer. So soon as she entered her
bedroom she perceived that she had been forestalled, and that, in
consequence, a lively argument was going on. The disputants were
two--her own maid, Evans, and Wilson, the housemaid, who had been
supposed to have been in part responsible for the disappearance of the
key. Miss Arnott was made immediately conscious--even before she opened
the door--that the pair were talking at the top of their voices. Evans's
was particularly audible. She was pouring forth on to her fellow-servant
a flood of language which was distinctly the reverse of complimentary.
So occupied, indeed, were they by the subject under discussion that, until
Miss Arnott announced her presence, they were not conscious that she
had come into the room.

Their young mistress paused on the threshold, listening, with feelings
which she would have found it difficult to analyse, to some of the
heated observations which the disputants thought proper to fling at
each other. She interrupted Evans in the middle of a very warmly
coloured harangue.

"Evans, what is the meaning of this disturbance? and of the
extraordinary language you are using?"

The maid, though evidently taken by surprise by the advent of her
mistress, showed very few of the signs of shame and confusion which
some might have considered would have become a person in her position.
Apparently she was much too warm to concern herself, at anyrate for the
moment, with matters of etiquette. She turned to Miss Arnott a flushed
and angry face, looking very unlike the staid and decorous servant with
whom that young lady was accustomed to deal. Hot words burst from her
lips,--

"That there Wilson had the key all the time. I knew she had."

To which Wilson rejoined with equal disregard of ceremonial usages,--

"I tell you I hadn't! Don't I tell you I hadn't! At least, I didn't
know that I had, not till five minutes ago."

Evans went on, wholly ignoring her colleague's somewhat singular
disclaimer,--

"Then if she didn't use it to unlock your drawer with--your private
drawer--and to take liberties with everything that was inside it. I
daresay if I hadn't come and caught her she'd have walked off with the
lot. And then to have the face to brazen it out!"

To which Wilson, in a flame of fury,--

"Don't you dare to say I'd have taken a single thing, because I won't
have it. I'm no more a thief than you are, nor perhaps half so much,
and so I'll have you know. You're a great deal too fond of calling
names, you are; but if you call me a thief I'll pay you for it. You
see!"

Evans turned again to her adversary, eager for a continuance of the
fray.

"If you weren't going to take them what did you go to the drawer for?"

"I tell you I went to the drawer to see if it was the key.

"Why didn't you bring the key to me?"

"I would have brought it, if you'd given me a chance."

"You would have brought it! Didn't I catch you--"

Miss Arnott thought she had heard enough; she interposed.

"Will you be so good as to be still, both of you, and let me understand
what is the cause of this disgraceful scene. Evans, has the key of the
drawer been found?"

"Yes, miss, it has. It was never lost; she had it all the time, as I
suspected."

"I didn't have it, miss--leastways, if I did, I didn't know it, not
till just now."

"Explain yourself, Wilson. Has or has not the key been in your
possession?"

"It's like this, miss; it must somehow have slipped inside my dress
that morning when I was making your bed."

"She'll explain anything!"

This was the resentful Evans.

"I'll tell the truth anyhow, which is more than you do."

Again their mistress interposed.

"Evans, will you allow Wilson to tell her story in her own way. Wilson,
you forget yourself. On the face of it, your story is a lame one. What
do you mean by saying that the key of my wardrobe drawer slipped into
your dress? Where was it that it was capable of such a singular
proceeding?"

"That's more than I can tell you, miss. I can only say that just now
when I was taking down a skirt which I haven't worn since I don't know
when, it felt heavy, and there in the hem on one side--it's a broad
hem, miss, and only tacked--there was a key, though how it got there I
haven't a notion."

"Of course not!"

This was Evans. Miss Arnott was in time to prevent a retort.

"Evans! Well, Wilson, what did you do then?"

"I came with it to Evans."

The lady's-maid was not to be denied.

"That's a falsehood, anyhow. You came with it to me! I do like that!"

The housemaid was equal to the requirements of the occasion.

"I did come with it to you. I came with it straight to this bedroom.
They told me you were here; it wasn't my fault if you weren't."

"Oh dear no! And, I suppose, it wasn't your fault if, finding I wasn't
here, you unlocked the drawer!"

"I only wanted to see if it was the lost key I had found; I meant no
harm."

Again Miss Arnott.

"Now, Evans, will you be silent! Well, Wilson, I don't see that, so
far, you have been guilty of anything very reprehensible. It's quite
possible that, somehow, the key may have slipped into the hem of your
skirt; such accidents have been known. When you had tried the key and
found that it was the one which had been mislaid; when you had opened
the drawer with it, what did you do then?"

Again the lady's-maid was not to be denied. Orders or no orders, she
refused to be silent.

"Yes, what did she do? I'll tell you what she did; don't you listen to
anything she says, miss. She took liberties with everything that was
inside that drawer, just as if the things was her own. She turned all
the things out that was in it; you can see for yourself that it's
empty! and she's got some of them now. Though I've asked her for them
she won't give them up; yet she has the face to say she didn't mean to
steal 'em!"

This time the housemaid was silent. Miss Arnott became conscious that
not only had she been all the time holding herself very upright, but,
also, that she was keeping her hands behind her back--in short, that
her attitude more than suggested defiance.

"Wilson, is this true?"

The answer was wholly unlooked for.

"My mother is Jim Baker's cousin, miss."

"Your mother--" Miss Arnott stopped short to stare. "And what has that
to do with your having in your possession property which is not your
own?"

Her next answer was equally unexpected.

"And Mr Granger, he's my uncle, miss."

"Mr Granger? What Mr Granger?"

"The policeman down in the village, miss."

"Apparently, Wilson, you are to be congratulated on your relations, but
I don't see what they have to do with what Evans was saying."

"I can't help that, miss."

"You can't help what? Your manner is very strange. What do you mean?"
The girl was silent. Miss Arnott turned to the lady's-maid. "Evans,
what does she mean?"

"Don't ask me, miss; she don't know herself. The girl's wrong in her
head, that's what's the matter with her. She'll get herself into hot
water, if she don't look out; and that before very long. Now, then, you
give me what you've got there!"

"Don't you lay your hands on me, Mrs Evans, or you'll be sorry."

"Evans!--Wilson!"

Kit had not been for Miss Arnott's presence it looked very much as if
the two would have indulged in a scrimmage then and there. The
lady's-maid showed a strong inclination to resort to physical force,
which the other evinced an equal willingness to resent.

"Wilson, what is it which you are holding behind your back? I insist
upon your showing me at once."

"This, miss--and this."



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                              A CONFIDANT


In her right hand Wilson held a knife--the knife. Miss Arnott needed no
second glance to convince her of its identity. In her left a dainty
feminine garment--a camisole, compact of lace and filmy lawn. The
instant she disclosed them Evans moved forward, as if to snatch from
her at least the knife. But Wilson was as quick as she was--quicker.
Whipping her hands behind her back again she retreated out of reach.

"No, you don't! hands off! you try to snatch, you do!"

The baffled lady's-maid turned to her mistress.

"You see, miss, what she's like! and yet she wants to make out that
she's no thief!"

Miss Arnott was endeavouring to see through the situation in her mind,
finding herself suddenly confronted by the unforeseen. It was
impossible that the girl could mean what she seemed to mean; a raw
country wench in her teens!

"Wilson, you seem to be behaving in a very strange manner, and to be
forgetting yourself altogether. It is not strange that Evans has her
doubts of you. Give me those things which you have in your hands at
once."

"Begging your pardon, miss, I can't."

"They're not yours."

"No, miss, I know they're not."

"Then, if you're an honest girl, as you pretend, what possible reason
can you have for refusing to give me my own property, which you have
taken out of my drawer in a manner which is at least suspicious?"

"Because Jim Baker, he's my mother's cousin; and Mr Granger he's my
uncle."

"What possible justification can that be for your trying to steal what
belongs to me?"

Then it came out.

"My uncle he says to me, 'I don't believe Jim Baker done it--I don't
believe he did anything to the chap beyond peppering him. Jim's no
liar. 'Twill be a shame if they hang him. No, my girl,' Mr Granger
says, 'it's my belief that they know more over at Exham Park than they
pretend, or, at least, someone does. You keep your eyes wide open. We
don't want to have no one hung in our family, specially for just
peppering a chap. If you come across anything suspicious, you let me
know and you let me have a look at it, if so be you can. Your mother
don't want to have Jim Baker hung, nor more don't I.' Miss Arnott, you
put them things in the drawer the time that you came home, the time
that chap was murdered, the time that you was out in the woods till all
hours. They haven't found the knife what did it yet, and this knife's
all covered with blood; so's the things. I'm going to let Mr Granger
see what I've got here, and tell him where I found them. If there's
nothing wrong about them I'll have to suffer, but show them to him I
will."

Miss Arnott, perceiving that here was an emergency in which prompt
action was the one thing needful, glanced at Evans, who was quick to
take the hint. She advanced towards Wilson with designs which that
young woman considered sufficiently obvious. To evade her, still
holding her booty behind her to secure it from Evans, she turned her
back to Miss Arnott who was not slow to avail herself of the
opportunity to grip her wrists and tear the knife and camisole away
from her. The wench, finding herself outwitted, sprang at her mistress,
screaming,--

"Give them to me! give them to me! You give them back to me!"

But Miss Arnott had already dropped them into the open wardrobe drawer,
shut the drawer and turned the key. While she kept the girl at arms'
length, to prevent her wresting from her the key, Miss Arnott issued
her instructions to the lady's-maid.

"Evans, ring the bell, keep on ringing."

There was a lively minute or so. Then Bevan, Mr Day's understudy,
appeared in the doorway, to stare at the proceedings open-eyed. Miss
Arnott had succeeded in retaining possession of the key, though she had
not found the excited girl easy to manage. Bevan, striding forward,
spun the housemaid round on her feet as if she were a teetotum.

"Now, then," he demanded, "what do you think you're doing? Are you
mad?"

"Bevan," exclaimed Miss Arnott, "Wilson has been misbehaving herself.
See that she is paid her wages and sent about her business at once."

Wilson, who by now was more than half hysterical, shrieked defiance.

"Mr Bevan, you make her give me that knife! you make her. I believe she
killed that chap in Cooper's Spinney. She's got the knife she killed
him with shut up in that drawer there! You make her give it me! I'm
going to show it to my uncle!"

Bevan was unsympathetic.

"Now, then, out you go!" was the only answer he made to her appeal.

But Mr Granger's niece was not disposed to go in compliance with his
mere request. When he essayed persuasion of a more active kind she
began to fight him tooth and nail. Reinforcements had to be brought
upon the scene. When, finally, she was borne from the room, she was
kicking and struggling like some wild cat. A pretty tumult she managed
to create as they conveyed her down the stairs.

Miss Arnott and her maid, left alone together, surveyed each other with
startled looks. The plumage of both had been something more than
ruffled; a tress of hair which was hanging down Miss Arnott's back was
proof of the housemaid's earnestness. Evans was the first to speak.

"I wish you'd let me do as I said, miss--break that drawer open, and
let me wash those things."

"But who would have thought she was such a creature! Is she mad?"

"Oh, she's sane enough after her own fashion; though, if she's one of
that Baker and Granger set, she's mad enough for anything. I can't
abide that village lot, and they know it. I wish you'd let me do as I
said!"

"I wish I had. As for my clothes, you can wash them now--if you don't
mind, that is."

"I'll wash them fast enough. I've done some washing in my time. Though,
after those stains have been in them all this time, they'll want some
soaking. What are you going to do about that knife, miss? If I had
known it was there I'd have broken open that drawer first and asked
your permission afterwards."

"I'll see to that."

"You'll see to it! But, miss, you'll never get these stains out, never!
not now! They're eaten into the steel! Nothing will get them out except
re-burnishing. If that Wilson gets down to that fool of a Granger it's
quite likely that we'll have him here with a search warrant, and then
Heaven help us! No, miss, you'll give me that knife, if you please.
I'll make it safe enough."

Miss Arnott was struck by the singularity of the woman's manner; she
yielded to a sudden impulse.

"Evans, I fancy you are under a misapprehension. If so, let me remove
it from your mind, if it can be removed. I believe you think that I am
responsible for what happened to that man in Cooper's Spinney. I'm not.
I had no hand in it whatever."

"You didn't kill him?"

"Emphatically, no. I had nothing to do with killing him; nothing."

"Miss, are you sure?"

"I am quite sure; quite."

"I believe you, miss, I believe you. But--I don't understand--the
stains upon your things; the knife? If you didn't kill him yourself you
know who did."

"I thought I did; that is why the knife is in my possession. Bringing
it home--inside my bodice--caused the stains."

"Whose knife is it? Did it belong to the--man who was killed?"

"No; it did not. I would rather not tell you to whom it did belong--at
least, not now."

"You know?"

"Oh, yes, I know. Evans, I believe you're disposed to be my friend, and
I'm in need of a friend."

"You are, miss, in more need than you have perhaps a notion of. I don't
want to use any big words, but there's nothing I wouldn't do for you,
and be glad to do it, as, maybe, before all's done, I'll prove. But I
wish you'd trust me, miss--trust me all the way. I wish you'd tell me
whose knife that is and how you came to have it."

"I'd rather not, and for this reason. I was convinced that the owner of
that knife was the murderer. That is why, when I found it, I brought it
home with me.

"To screen him?"

"You must not ask me that. Quite lately I have begun to think that I
was wrong, that the owner of that knife is as innocent as I am. It's a
tangle. I was quite close when it happened; I heard it all happening;
yet now I am conscious that I have no more real knowledge of who did it
than you have. You mustn't ask me any questions; I may tell you more
some other time--I may have to--not now! not now! I want to think! But,
Evans, there is one thing I wish to say to you--do you believe that I'm
a somnambulist?"

"A somnambulist? A sleep-walker do you mean? Whatever has put that idea
into your head?"

"Have you heard the tales they're telling--about my having been seen in
the woods at night in my nightdress?"

"I've heard some stuff; it's all a pack of nonsense! What next?"

"Do you know Briggs the postman? What sort of man is he?"

"He's got his head screwed on right enough for a countryman."

"Well, Mrs Forrester called this afternoon for the express purpose of
informing me that Briggs the postman saw me in the woods at two o'clock
this morning in my nightdress."

"But, miss, it's impossible! Did you ever walk in your sleep?"

"Never to my knowledge. Have you ever had occasion to suspect me of
anything of the kind?"

"That I certainly have not."

"This time it seems peculiarly incredible, because it was pouring cats
and dogs. If I had done anything of the sort there must have been
traces on my nightdress, or on something. This is a question I mean to
have settled one way or the other. I'm going to have a bed put up in
this room, and I'm going to ask you to sleep in it, if you conveniently
can, with one eye open. You'll soon find out what my habits are when
fast asleep. Between ourselves I believe that this is going to be an
opportunity for me to play that favourite character in fiction--the
detective--on lines of my own."

"I'll sleep here, miss, and be pleased to do it. But as for your
walking in your sleep, I should have found it out long ago if you'd
been given that way. I don't believe a word of it; that's all
nonsense."

Miss Arnott seemed to reflect before she spoke again.

"I'm not so sure of that--that it's all nonsense, Evans. I'm going to
tell you something; at present it's a secret, but I think I can trust
you to keep it. You're not the only person who has suspected me of
having killed that man."

"Lor' bless you, miss, as if I didn't know that! That's no secret! I
don't believe you've any idea yourself of what a dangerous place it is
in which you're standing."

"I'll be ready for the danger--when it comes. I'll not be afraid. What
I meant was that I have been actually supposed to have been seen
killing that man. Someone was seen to kill him, and that someone was a
woman."

"You're quite sure, miss, that it wasn't you? You're quite sure?"

"Quite, Evans; don't you be afraid."

"Then if that's so, miss, I don't mind. If you're innocent I don't care
what they do; let them do their worst."

"That's what I feel--exactly. But I wish you'd let me make my meaning
clear to you! If a woman did do it, then--though I confess I don't
understand how--we must all of us be on the wrong scent, and the woman
who has been seen wandering through the woods at dead of night--and
that such an one has been seen I have good reasons for knowing--is the
one we want. So what we have to do is to identify that somnambulist."

"But how are we going to do it?"

"That, as yet, I own is more than I can tell you. The first step is to
make sure it isn't me."

"Don't you fret about that, miss; I'm sure it isn't. I'll take these
things away and get 'em in soak at once." She gathered up the various
garments which her mistress had worn on that fateful night. "I wish
you'd let me take that knife; I'd feel safer if you would."

"Thank you, Evans; but at present I'd rather you left the knife with
me."

As Evans left the room Mrs Plummer came in, in the state of fluster
which, of late, was her chronic condition.

"My dear," she began, "what is this I hear about Wilson? What is this
shocking story?"

"Wilson has misbehaved herself and is therefore no longer in my
service. I imagine, Mrs Plummer, that that is what you hear. I am sorry
you should find it so shocking. It is not such a very unusual thing for
a servant to forget herself, is it?"

"I don't know, my dear, when it comes to fighting Bevan and positively
assaulting you. But everything seems to be at sixes and sevens; nothing
seems to go right, either indoors or out. It makes me most unhappy. And
now there's an extraordinary person downstairs who insists on seeing
you."

"An extraordinary person? What do you call an extraordinary person? Do
you know, Mrs Plummer, that a good deal of your language lately has
seemed to me to have had a flavour of exaggeration."

"Exaggeration? You call it exaggeration? I should have thought it would
have been impossible to exaggerate some of the things which have
happened in this neighbourhood in the last few weeks. But there's no
accounting for people. I can only tell you that I should call the
person who is below an extraordinary person. Here is her card; she
herself thrust it into my hand."

"Mrs Darcy Sutherland? I don't know anyone of that name."

"She knows you, or she pretends she does. I met her on the steps as I
was coming in. When I told her you were out--because I thought you had
gone on your motor, you said you were going--she replied that she would
wait till you came back, if she had to wait a week. That I call an
extraordinary remark to make."

"It is rather an unusual one. I will go down and see Mrs Darcy
Sutherland."



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                          MRS DARCY SUTHERLAND


As Miss Arnott went to her visitor she had premonitions that more
disagreeables were at hand. No one whom she was desirous of seeing
would have uttered such a speech as that which Mrs Plummer had
repeated. Her premonitions were realised to the full. As she entered
the sitting-room, into which the caller had been shown, a big, blowsy,
over-dressed woman rose from a chair, whom the girl instantly
acknowledged that Mrs Plummer had been perfectly justified in calling
an extraordinary person. She was painted, and powdered, and pencilled,
and generally got up in a style which made it only too plain what kind
of character she was. With a sinking heart Miss Arnott recognised Sarah
Stevens, her quondam associate as a model in that costume department of
that Regent Street draper's where, once upon a time--it seemed
centuries ago--she had earned her daily bread, the woman who had
introduced her to Robert Champion, who had urged her to marry him, to
whom she owed all the trouble which had come upon her, and whose real
character she had learned too late.

She had not expected, as she had asked herself what awaited her now,
that it was anything so bad as this.

"You!" she stammered.

"Yes, my dear, me! A nice little surprise for you, isn't it?" The woman
advanced towards her with the apparent intention of greeting her with a
kiss. Miss Arnott showed by her manner, as much as by the way in which
she drew back, that she did not intend to submit to anything of that
sort. The visitor was not at all abashed. She continued to smile the
hard, mechanical smile of the woman of her class. "You didn't expect to
see me, I'll be bound. Perhaps you'd forgotten me, and you thought,
perhaps, that I'd forgotten you, but you see I haven't. I've got a very
good memory, I have. Well, my love, and how are you? You're not looking
so well as I expected; quite peaked, you seem, nothing like so well
filled out as you used to be."

"What do you mean by coming here? And by calling yourself Mrs Darcy
Sutherland?"

"My dear Vi!"

"Have the goodness not to address me by my Christian name."

"It used to be Vi and Sally in the days gone by. But I suppose
circumstances are changed, that sometimes makes a difference. I don't
mind, it's all the same to me. I'll call you whatever you choose--Miss
Arnott if you like. I'm surprised to find that they all do seem to call
you that round here."

"You haven't answered my questions. Why have you come here? And why do
you call yourself Mrs Sutherland?"

"As to why I've come here, I'll tell you in half a minute, though
there's some who wouldn't ask such a thing of an old friend. Let me get
my breath, my love; that rotten old fly shook me all to pieces. As to
why I call myself Mrs Sutherland--that does seem an unpleasant remark
to make to a lady, let alone an old friend. But I'm not one that's
quick to take offence. I call myself Mrs Sutherland because I am Mrs
Sutherland. I've married since I saw you last."

"You've married?"

"Yes, why shouldn't I? And, unlike you, I'm not ashamed of my married
name, or of my husband's. By the way, my love, you must remember my
husband."

"Remember him?"

"Of course you must. He remembers you quite well. He was a friend of
your husband's."

"A friend of my husband?"

"Rather. They were pals--thick as thieves. Darcy knew Robert Champion
long before you did."

"Darcy?"

"That's my husband's Christian name. You can call him by it if you
like, though you don't want me to call you by yours. But then I'm more
open-minded, perhaps, than you are, and open-hearted too."

"Be so good as to tell me why you have come here."

The woman took a handkerchief from the bag made of steel beads which
was suspended from her waist; opening it out she twiddled it between
the white-gloved fingers of either hand. Miss Arnott immediately became
conscious of the odour of some strong perfume.

"Can't you guess?"

"I cannot."

"Sure?"

"I am quite sure that I am unable to think of any plausible excuse for
your presence in my house. You never were a friend of mine. Nor are you
a person whose acquaintance I desire to renew. You are perfectly well
aware that I know what kind of character you are. You did me all the
harm you could. It was only by the mercy of God that you did not do me
more. I do not intend to allow my house to be sullied by your presence
one moment longer than I can help."

The girl crossed the room.

"What are you going to do?"

"I am going to ring to have you shown to the door."

"You had better hear first what I've come for, unless you want me to
tell you in front of your servants."

"As to that, I am indifferent. If you have anything to say to me say it
at once."

"Oh, I'll tell you fast enough, don't you worry. It won't take me long
to say it. I can say it in just one sentence. Mrs Champion, I've come
to see your husband."

The girl started, perceiving that trouble was threatening from still
another quarter. She was conscious that her visitor noticed her start,
but in spite of it she could not prevent her pulses throbbing
unpleasantly.

"My husband? What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know what I mean well enough, don't try acting the stupid with
me. You're not so dull as all that, nor yet so simple; and I'm not if
you are. Mrs Champion, I've come to see your husband, Mr Robert
Champion, my old friend Bob."

"He's not here, you know he's not here."

"How do I know he's not here? I know he came here."

"How do you know he came here?"

"Because me and my husband met him outside the gate of Wandsworth
Prison the Saturday morning he came out of it from doing his sentence.
His wife ought to have been there--that's you! but you wasn't! I
suppose you were on your couch of rose-leaves and didn't want to be
disturbed. Nice idea of a wife's duties you seem to have, and a pretty
sort you are to want to look down on me. Poor fellow! he was in sad
trouble, without a penny in his pocket, or a chance of getting one, and
him with the richest woman in England for his wife. When we told him of
the luck you'd had--"

"So it was you who told him, was it?"

"Yes, it was, and I daresay you'd have rather we hadn't; you'd have
rather he'd starved and got into trouble again, and rotted out his life
in gaol. But Darcy and me were his true friends, if his own wife
wasn't. We weren't going to see him hungry in the gutter while you were
gorging yourself on the fat of the land. We gave him a good meal, he
wanted it, poor chap; nothing but skin and bone he was. We told him all
about you, and where you lived, put him inside a new suit of clothes,
clothed him in new things from head to foot, we did, so that you
shouldn't think he disgraced you by his appearance, and gave him the
money to come down here; and he came."

"Well?"

For Mrs Darcy Sutherland had paused.

"Well? You think it's well, do you? Then all I can say is, I don't. Mrs
Champion, I've come to see your husband."

"He's not here."

"He's not here? Then where is he?"

"It is sufficient for you to be informed that he's not here."

"Oh, no, it isn't; and don't you think it, my love. It's not sufficient
by a long way. He promised to let us hear from him directly he got down
here; we've heard nothing from that day to this, and that's some time
ago, you know."

"If that is all you have to say I'll ring the bell."

"But it's not all I've got to say. Still, you can ring the bell if you
like, it's not my bell. Though, if you take my advice, you'll hear me
out before you do."

"Go on."

"Oh, I'll go on, as I told you before, don't you worry, and don't you
try to bully me, because I'm not to be bullied, threatening me with
your bells! Mrs Champion," the woman repeated the name with a curious
gusto, enjoying the discomfort the sound of it occasioned the girl in
front of her, "Mr Sutherland and me, we're not rich. Your husband
promised to give us back that money we let him have, and since it seems
that I can't see him I should like to see the colour of the money."

"That's what you want, is it? I begin to understand. How much was it?"

"Well, we'll say a thousand pounds."

"A thousand pounds!"

"A thousand pounds."

"Do you dare to pretend that you gave him a thousand pounds?"

"I don't pretend anything of the kind. I pretend nothing. What I say is
this. If I can see Mr Robert Champion and enjoy the pleasure of a
little chat with him I shall be content to receive back the cash we
lent him. If I can't do that I want a thousand pounds. Don't you
understand, my love?"

Miss Arnott did understand at last. She realised that the purport of
this woman's errand was blackmail. When comprehension burst upon her
she was silent; she was trying to collect her thoughts, to think--a
process which the increasing pressure of "the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune" made difficult. Mrs Darcy Sutherland observed her
obvious discomposure with smiling amusement, as the proverbial child
might observe the movements of the fly which it has impaled with a pin.

Miss Arnott was saying to herself, or rather, endeavouring to say to
herself--for her distress of mind was blurring her capacity for exact
expression--that a thousand pounds was but a trifling sum to her, and
that if by the expenditure of such an amount she could free herself
from this new peril it would be money well spent. She did not stop to
reflect, although, all the while, the idea was vaguely present in her
mind that, by yielding to this woman's demand, she would be delivering
herself to her body and soul. Her one feeling was the desire to get
this woman out of the house without a scene--another scene such as she
had had with Wilson, probably a much worse one than that. If she could
only be relieved of the odious oppression born of her near
neighbourhood, breathe purer air uncontaminated by this creature's
presence, if she could only do this for a time it would be something.
She would have a chance to look round her, to gather together her
forces, her scattered senses. If she could only do that she might be
more than a match for Mrs Darcy Sutherland yet. But she must have that
chance, she must not have exposure--in its worst form--thrust upon her
now, in her present state--she was becoming more and more conscious of
shaky nerves--that might be more than she was able to bear. The chance
was well worth a thousand pounds, which to her was nothing.

She was all at once seized with an overwhelming longing to take instant
advantage of the chance the woman offered her. She resolved to give her
what she asked.

"If I let you have what you want will you promise to go away
immediately--right away?"

"I'll walk out of this house without speaking a word to a creature in
it, or to anyone out of it for the matter of that, and I'll take the
next train back to town, if that's what you mean."

"That's what I do mean. If I give you a cheque for a thousand pounds
will that do?"

"If you leave it open, and make it payable to bearer, I don't know that
I'd mind taking it. I suppose there's money enough at the bank to meet
it; and that you won't try to stop its being paid."

"There's plenty of money to meet it, and I certainly shall not try to
stop its being paid."

"Then I'll tell you what; you give me all the ready money you have got
in the house, and an open cheque to bearer for the balance--that'll be
more satisfactory for both parties--then I'll take myself off as fast
as you like."

"Very well. I'll go and see what money I've got and I'll bring you a
cheque for the rest."

Miss Arnott moved towards the door, intending to perpetrate what was
perhaps the worst folly of which she had been guilty yet. Just as she
reached the door it opened. Mr Stacey entered, followed by a dark,
dapper gentleman--Ernest Gilbert.



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                         SOME PASSAGES OF ARMS


Mr Stacey held out both hands to her in the effusive fashion which,
when he chose, he could manage very well.

"My dear Miss Arnott, I think I'm unexpected." He was; so unexpected
that, in the first flush of her surprise, the girl was oblivious of his
outstretched hands. He went on, ignoring her confusion. "But I trust I
am not unwelcome because I happen to come unheralded." Looking about
him he noticed Mrs Sutherland. "But you are not alone. I hope that our
unannounced entrance has not been an intrusion. May I ask you to make
me known to your"--something caused him not to use the word which was
already on the tip of his tongue--"to this lady."

"This is Mrs Darcy Sutherland."

"Mrs Darcy Sutherland?" In spite of his mellifluous tones there was
something in the way in which he repeated the name which hardly
suggested a compliment. "And what might Mrs Darcy Sutherland want with
you?"

Mrs Sutherland took it upon herself to answer.

"Well, I never! the impudence of that! Who are you, pray? and what
business is it of yours?"

The lawyer was blandness itself.

"I beg your pardon. Were you speaking to me?"

"Yes, I was speaking to you, and you know I was." She turned to Miss
Arnott. "I think, my dear, it would be better if you were to ask these
two gentlemen to leave us alone together till you and I have finished
our little business."

"Business?" At the sound of the word Mr Stacey pricked up his ears. He
addressed Miss Arnott. "As in all matters of business I have the honour
to represent you, don't you think that, perhaps, you had better leave
me to deal with this--lady in a matter of business?"

The lady referred to resented the suggestion hotly.

"What next, I wonder? You'll do nothing of the kind, my dear, not if I
know it you won't. And as I'm in rather a hurry, perhaps you'll go and
do what you said you would."

Mr Stacey put to Miss Arnott a question.

"What was it you said that you would do for this lady?"

Again the lady showed signs of heat.

"I never saw the equal of you for meddling. Don't you go poking your
nose into other people's affairs, or you'll be sorry. If you take my
advice, my dear, you won't tell him a single thing. I sha'n't, if you
won't, you may trust me for that. You'll keep your own business to
yourself, especially when it's business of such a very particular
kind--interfering old party!"

"If you take my advice, Miss Arnott, and I think you have reason to
know that in general my advice is to be trusted, you will tell me in
the fewest, and also in the plainest, possible words what this person
wants with you. It is evidently something of which she is ashamed, or
she would not be so anxious for concealment."

"Don't you call me a person, because I won't have it; and don't you
interfere in what's my business, because I won't have that either." The
indignant Mrs Darcy Sutherland rose to her feet. "Now, look here, and
don't let there be any mistake about it, I'm not going to have this
impudent old man humbugging about with me, so don't let anyone think
it. So you'll please to understand, Miss Arnott, that if you're going
to get what you promised to get, you'd better be quick about it,
because I've had about as much as I care to put up with. I'm not going
to let any man trample on me, I don't care who he is, especially when I
don't know him from Adam."

"Surely there can be no objection to my putting a simple question. What
is it you promised to get for this--lady about which she betrays so
much anxiety?"

Miss Arnott replied.

"If you don't mind, I'd rather not have any bother. I've had some
trouble already."

"I know you have; it is because of that that we are here. Believe me,
my dear young lady, you will be quite safe if you trust yourself in my
hands."

"I don't want to have any more trouble, so, as it wasn't a sum which
was of much consequence to me, I was just going to get some money which
Mrs Sutherland wanted when you came in."

"Money?"

"Yes, money!--money she owes me!--so now you know!"

"Do you owe this--lady money?"

"Well, it isn't exactly that I owe it, but money is owing to her, I
believe."

"How much?"

"A thousand pounds."

"A thousand pounds! Is it possible that you were thinking of giving
this woman a thousand pounds?"

At this point Mrs Darcy Sutherland thought proper to give her passion
reins, with results which were hardly becoming.

"Look here, don't you call me a woman, you white-headed old rooster, as
if I wasn't a lady! I'm as much a lady as she is, and a good deal more.
The next time you give me any more of your sauce, I'll smack your face;
I've done it to better men than you before to-day, so don't you say
that I didn't warn you!" She turned to Miss Arnott. "As for you--how
much longer are you going to be tommy-rotting about? Are you going to
give me that thousand pounds, or aren't you? You know what the
consequences will be if you don't! Don't you think, in spite of his
smooth tongue, that he can save you from them, because he can't, as you
shall very soon see. Now, am I going to have that money or not?"

Mr Gilbert, asserting himself for the first time, interfered.

"Stacey, I should like to say a few words to Mrs Darcy Sutherland. Mrs
Darcy Sutherland, I believe my name is not unknown to you--Ernest
Gilbert."

"Ernest Gilbert?" The woman changed countenance. "Not the Ernest
Gilbert?"

"Yes, the Ernest Gilbert. And I see you are the Mrs Darcy Sutherland;
thank you very much. I have been favoured with instructions to proceed
against a gang of long firm swindlers, the ringleader of whom is a man
who calls himself Darcy Sutherland. There's a warrant out for his
arrest, but for the moment he's slipped through our fingers. There has
been some talk as to whether your name should be included in that
warrant; at present, it isn't. When you leave here I'll have you
followed. The probability is that you'll make for the man you call your
husband. If you do so, we'll have him; if you don't, we'll have
you--see?"

On hearing this the woman flung all remnants of decency from her.

"That's the time of day, is it? You think you've got me, do you? Fancy
you've only got to snap your fingers and I'm done for? That's where
you're wrong, as I'll soon show you. If I'm in a bit of a hole, what
about her? Who do you think she is? What do you think she's been doing?
I'll tell you if you don't know, and then we shall know where we
are!--and she'll know too!--by----! she will!"

Mr Ernest Gilbert glanced round towards Mr Stacey.

"Take Miss Arnott out of the room."

Inside thirty seconds Mr Stacey had whisked the girl out of the room
and vanished with her. Mrs Darcy Sutherland, realising the trick which
was being played, rushed to the door. But Mr Gilbert was there first;
with the key turned, he stood with his back to the door and faced her.

"You get away from in front of that door! What do you mean by turning
that key? You open that door and let me out this instant!"

The lawyer's reply did not breathe the spirit of conciliation.

"I'll see you hung first."

"Don't you speak to me like that! Who do you think you're talking to?"

"To you. Now, you foul-mouthed judy, I'm going to take off the gloves
to deal with you. I've not had the dregs of the criminal population
pass through my hands all these years without knowing how to deal with
a woman of your type, as I'm going to show you. What were you going to
say to Miss Arnott?--out with it!"

"Never mind what I was going to say to Miss Arnott; I'm going to say
nothing to you; don't you think it! Who do you think you're trying to
bounce?"

"You're going to say exactly what you would have said if that young
lady had remained in the room, or when you do go it will be in the
charge of a policeman."

"Oh, shall I? We'll see! Don't you make any mistake!"

"Don't you."

"You must think I'm a simple-minded innocent, to come trying to play
your confidence tricks off on me. What do you want me to think I'll be
in the charge of a policemen for, I'd like to know?"

"Blackmail."

"Blackmail! What do you mean?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean. You have just been trying to
blackmail that girl to the tune of a thousand pounds. No offence more
severely punished. I'll have you jugged on one charge, and the
blackguard you call your husband on another."

"I wasn't trying to do anything of the sort; don't fancy you can bluff
me! I was only telling the truth."

"Makes it worse. Suppose you believed her to have committed murder, and
said you'd out with what you knew if she didn't give you a thousand
pounds--that would be blackmail in its most heinous form; you'd get a
lifer as sure as you're alive. My time's valuable. Which is it going to
be--the policeman or what you call the truth?"

"If I do tell you what use will you make of it?"

"No questions answered. Which is it going to be?"

"If I tell you, will you let me go right straight off? No shadowing or
anything of that kind?"

"The only promise I'll make is that I won't let you go if you don't.
Out with it!"

"You're very hard on a girl! I don't know what I've done to you!"

"No snivelling; put away that evil-smelling rag; I'm going to have that
policeman."

He was standing by the bell.

"Don't! I'll tell you!"

"Then tell!"

"I don't know what it is you want me to tell you--I really don't!"

"I want you to tell me what's the pull you've got, or think you've got,
over Miss Arnott."

"It's about that chap who was killed in the woods here."

"What about him?"

"He was her husband."

"How do you know?"

"I ought to. He was an old friend of mine, and I was her bridesmaid
when she married him."

"Why did she keep him dark?"

"Well, he got into a bit of trouble."

"Go on! out with it all! and don't you stammer!"

"I'm not stammering, and I'm going on as fast as ever I can! I never
saw anyone like you. He got into prison, that's what he did, and of
course she wasn't proud of it. He only came out the morning of the day
he came down here; my husband and me lent him the money to come with,
and we want our money back again--we can't afford to lose it."

"I see. His object in coming was blackmail--like yours. Is that all the
pull?"

"All! I should think it's enough, considering. But, as it happens, it
isn't all."

"What else is there?"

"Why, she killed him."

"How do you know?"

"It stands to reason. Why didn't she let out he was her husband and
that she knew all about him? Isn't it plain enough why? Because they
met in the woods, and had a bit of a quarrel, and she knifed him,
that's why. And she'll swing for it in spite of all her money. And it's
because she knows it that she was so willing to give me that thousand
pounds. What do you think?"

"You evil-speaking, black-hearted cat! Now I'll have that policeman,
and for what you've said to me you shall have a lifer!"

He moved towards the bell.

"Don't! you promised you'd let me go!"

"I promised nothing of the kind, you---! I tell you what I will do.
I'll unlock that door and let you through it. You shall have six hours'
start, and then I'll have a warrant out for you, and if I catch you I
promise I'll do my best to get you penal servitude for life. As we've a
shrewd idea of your husband's whereabouts, if you take my advice you'll
keep away from him. Now, out you go!"

Unlocking the door he threw it open.

"Six hours mind, honest!"

"Six hours, by my watch. After that, if I can catch you I will, you can
bet on it. Take yourself outside this house before I change my mind.
You'd better!"

Apparently Mrs Darcy Sutherland was of his opinion; she was out of the
house with a swiftness which did credit to her agility. Almost as soon
as she had gone Mr Stacey appeared in the doorway of the room she had
just quitted.



                              CHAPTER XXX

                        MISS ARNOTT IS EXAMINED


Mr Stacey put a question to Mr Gilbert.

"Have you got rid of her?"

"Very much so. Stacey, I must see Miss Arnott at once, the sooner the
safer. I'm afraid she did it."

"Do you mean that she killed that fellow in Cooper's Spinney? I don't
believe a word of it. What's that woman been saying?"

"It's not a question of belief but of fact. I'll tell you afterwards
what she's been saying. What we want to do is to get at the truth. I
fancy we shall do it if you let me have a few minutes' conversation
with your young friend. If she didn't do it I'll do my level best to
prevent a hair of her head from being injured, and if she did I may be
able to save her. This is one of those cases in which, before I'm able
to move, I must know just where I am standing."

"You seem to have an ethical standard of your own."

"A man in my line of business must have. Where's Miss Arnott?"

"I'll take you to her. She's expecting you. I told her you'd like to
have a little talk with her. But, mind this, she's anything but well,
poor girl! I believe she's been worried half out of her mind."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"I didn't bring you down here to subject her to a hostile
cross-examination. I won't let you do it--especially in her present
condition."

"When you've finished perhaps you'll take me to her; you don't want her
to hang."

"Hang! Gilbert! God forbid! Whatever she may have done she's only a
child, and I'm persuaded that at heart she's as innocent as you or me."

"If she isn't more innocent than I am I'm sorry for her. Will you take
me to see this paragon of all the feminine virtues?"

"You wear your cynicism like a cloak; it's not such an essential part
as you choose to imagine."

Ernest Gilbert smiled as if he would show his teeth.

Mr Stacey led the way to an apartment which was called the red
drawing-room, where already that afternoon Miss Arnott had interviewed
Hugh Morice and Mrs Forrester. It was a pleasant, well-lighted room,
three windows ran up one side of it almost from floor to ceiling. The
girl was standing in front of one of these as the two men entered,
looking out on to the Italian garden, which was a blaze of sunshine and
of flowers. Mr Stacey crossed to her with his somewhat exuberant,
old-fashioned courtesy.

"Permit me, my dear young lady, to offer you a chair. I think you will
find this a comfortable one. There, how is that?" She had seated
herself, at his invitation, in a large, straight-backed armchair
covered with a fine brocade, gold on a crimson background, whose age
only enhanced its beauty. "As I was telling you just now, I have heard,
to my great distress, that several things have happened recently,
hereabouts, which could hardly tend to an increase of your comfort."

"No, indeed."

"Part of my information came from my very good friend here, and he will
be your very good friend also if you will let him. Let me introduce you
to Mr Ernest Gilbert."

In acknowledgment of the introduction the girl inclined her head. Mr
Gilbert gave his a perfunctory little shake, as if he had a stiff neck.

"I am glad to meet you, Mr Gilbert. I was sorry to learn from Mr Morice
that you have sent me back my money and refused to defend Jim Baker."

Mr Stacey interposed before the other had a chance to answer.

"Quite so, my dear young lady, quite so; we will come to that
presently. Mr Gilbert came to see me this morning on that very subject.
It is in consequence of certain communications which he then made to me
that we are here. You instructed him, from what I understand, to defend
this unfortunate man."

"Which he at first consented, and then declined to do."

This time it was Mr Gilbert who interposed, before Mr Stacey was ready
with his reply.

"Stacey, if you don't mind, I'll speak. I think it's possible that Miss
Arnott and I may understand each other in half a dozen sentences."

Mr Gilbert was leaning over the back of a chair, right in front of her.
The girl eyed him steadily. There was a perceptible interval, during
which neither spoke, as if each was taking the other's measure. Then
the girl smiled, naturally, easily, as if amused by some quality which
she discerned either in the lawyer's terrier-like countenance or in the
keenness of his scrutiny. It was she who was the first to speak, still
with an air of amusement.

"I will try to understand you, and I should like you to understand me.
At present I'm afraid you don't."

"I'm beginning to."

"Are you? That's good news."

"Your nerves are strong."

"I've always flattered myself that they weren't weak."

"You like plain speaking."

"I do--that is, when occasion requires."

"This is such an occasion."

"I think it is."

"Then you won't mind my asking you a plain question."

"Not at all."

"Who killed that man in Cooper's Spinney?"

"I don't know."

"You are sure?"

"Quite."

"Are you aware that Jim Baker thinks you killed him?"

"I am."

"And that Hugh Morice thinks so also?"

"I know he did think so; I fancy that now he has his doubts--at least,
I hope he has."

"How do you explain the fact of two such very different men being under
the same erroneous impression?"

"I can't explain it; I can explain nothing. I don't know if you are
aware that until quite recently I thought it was Mr Morice himself who
killed that man."

"What made you think that?"

"Two or three things, but as I am now of a different opinion it doesn't
matter what they were."

"But it does matter--it matters very much. What made you think that
Hugh Morice killed that man?"

The girl turned to Mr Stacey.

"Shall I answer him? It's like this. I don't know where Mr Gilbert's
questions may be landing me, and I don't want to have more trouble than
I have had already--especially on this particular point."

"My dear young lady, if your own conscience acquits you--and I am sure
it does--my strongest advice to you is, tell all you have to tell. The
more light we have thrown on the matter the better. I grieve to learn
that the finger of scandal has been pointed at you, and that, if we are
not very careful, very serious and disagreeable consequences may
presently ensue. I implore you to hide nothing from us which may enable
us to afford you more than adequate protection from any danger which
may threaten. This may prove to be a very grave business."

"I'm not afraid of what may happen to me, not one bit. Pray don't
either of you be under any delusion on that point. What I don't want is
to have something happen to anyone else because of me." She addressed
Mr Gilbert. "What use will you make of any information which I may give
you with regard to Mr Morice?"

"If it will relieve your mind, Miss Arnott, and enable you to answer my
question, let me inform you that I am sure--whatever you may suppose to
the contrary--that Hugh Morice is not the guilty person."

"Why are you sure?"

"First, because I know him; and he's not that kind of man. And second,
because in the course of a lengthy interview I had with him I should
have perceived something to cause me to suspect his guilt, instead of
which I was struck by his conviction of yours."

"Now I also believe he is innocent--but I had reasons for my doubts;
better ones than he had for his doubts of me."

"May I ask what those reasons were?"

"I was within a very short distance of where the murder was committed,
and though I was not an actual witness, I heard. A moment afterwards I
saw Mr Morice come running from--the place where it was done, as if for
his life. Then--by the dead man I found the knife with which he had
been killed. It was Mr Morice's knife; a few minutes before I had seen
him with it in his hand."

"You found Hugh Morice's knife? What did you do with it?"

"It is still in my possession. You see, I thought that he was guilty,
and--for reasons of my own--I did not wish to have the fact made
public."

"This is a curious tangle into which you have managed to get things
between you. Have you any idea of what it is Mrs Darcy Sutherland has
just been telling me?"

"I can guess. She has probably told you that the dead man was my
husband--Robert Champion."

"Your husband! My dear young lady!"

This was Mr Stacey.

"Yes, my husband, who had that morning been released from gaol." Mr
Stacey would, probably, have pursued the subject further, but with a
gesture Mr Gilbert prevented him. The girl went on. "Mr Morice knew he
was my husband. I thought he had killed him to save me from him; he
thought I had done so to save myself. It is a puzzle. There is only one
thing that seems clear."

"And that is?"

"That it was a woman who killed my husband."

"I see what you mean. I have been trying to splice the threads. That
person who has just been here--Mrs Darcy Sutherland--do you think it
possible that she could have been that woman?"

"I should say that it was impossible."



                              CHAPTER XXXI

                           THE TWO POLICEMEN


Mr William Granger, of the County Police, was just finishing tea in his
official residence when there came a rap at the door leading into the
street. Mr Granger was not in the best of tempers. The county policeman
has not quite such a rosy time as his urban colleague is apt to
suppose. Theoretically he is never off duty; his armlet is never off
his sleeve. It is true that he has not so much to do as his city
brother in the way of placing law-breakers under lock and key; but then
he has to do a deal of walking exercise. For instance, Mr Granger had a
twelve-mile beat to go over every day of his life, hot or cold, rain or
shine, besides various local perambulations before or after his main
round was finished. Not infrequently he walked twenty miles a day,
occasionally more.

One would have thought that so much pedestrianism would have kept Mr
Granger thin; he himself sincerely wished that it had had that effect.
As a matter of fact he was the stoutest man in the village, which was
galling. First, because he was conscious that his bulk did not tend to
an increase of personal dignity. Second, because, when the inspector
came from the neighbouring town, he was apt to make unpleasant remarks
about his getting plumper every time he saw him; hinting that it was a
very snug and easy billet for which he drew his pay; adding a hope that
it was not because he was neglecting his duty that he was putting on
weight so fast. Third, because when one is fat walking is apt to result
in considerable physical discomfort, and twenty miles on a hot summer's
day for a man under five foot ten who turns the scale at seventeen
stone!

Mr Granger, who had come back hot and tired, had scarcely flung his
helmet into one corner of the room, and his tunic into the other, when
his inspector entered. That inspector was fond of paying surprise
visits; he surprised Mr Granger very much just then. The policeman had
a bad time. His official superior more than hinted that not only had he
cut his round unduly short on that particular day, but that he was in
the habit of curtailing it, owing to physical incapacity. Then he took
him for another little stroll, insisting on his accompanying him to the
station and seeing him off in the train which took him back to
headquarters, which entailed another walk of a good six miles--three
there and three back--along the glaring, dusty road.

By the time Mr Granger was home again he was as bad-tempered a
policeman as you would have cared to encounter. Tea, which had been
postponed to an unholy hour, did but little to improve either his
temper or his spirits. He scarcely opened his mouth except to swallow
his food and snap at his wife; and when, just as she was clearing away
the tea-things, there came that rap at the door, there proceeded from
his lips certain expletives which were very unbecoming to a constable,
as his wife was not slow to point out.

"William! what are you saying? I will not have you use such language in
my presence. I should like to know what Mr Giles would say if he heard
you."

Mr Giles was the inspector with whom Mr Granger had just such an
agreeable interview; the allusion was unfortunate.

"Mr Giles be----"

"William!"

"Then you shouldn't exasperate me; you only do it on purpose; as if I
hadn't enough to put up with as it is. Don't stand there trying to put
me in a bad temper, but just open that door and see who's knocking."

Possibly Mr Granger spoke in louder tones than he supposed, because
before his helpmate could reach the door in question it was opened and
someone put his head inside.

"All right, Mr Granger, I'm sure that good lady of yours has enough to
do without bothering about opening doors; it's only yours very truly."

The newcomer spoke in a tone of voice which suggested complete
confidence that he would be welcome; a confidence, however, which was
by no means justified by the manner of his reception. The constable
stared at him as if he would almost sooner have seen Inspector Giles
again.

"You! What brings you here at this time of day? I thought you were in
London."

"Ah, that's where you thought wrong. Mrs Granger, what's that you've
got there--tea? I'm just about feeling equal to a sup of tea, if it's
only what's left at the bottom of the pot."

The speaker was a tall, loose-limbed man with a red face, and hair just
turning grey. From his appearance he might have been a grazier, or a
farmer, or something to do with cattle; only it happened that he was Mr
Thomas Nunn, the detective from London who had been specially detailed
for duty in connection with the murder in Cooper's Spinney. As Mr
Granger had learned to associate his presence with worries of more
kinds than one, it was small wonder--especially in the frame of mind in
which he then was--that he did not receive him with open arms. Mr Nunn
seemed to notice nothing, not even the doubtful glances with which Mrs
Granger looked into her teapot.

"There isn't a drop in here, and I don't know that it will bear more
water."

"Put in another half-spoonful and fill it up out of the kettle;
anything'll do for me so long as there's plenty of it and it's moist,
as you'd know if you saw the inside of my throat. Talk about dust!"

Mr Granger was eyeing him askance.

"You never come down from London. I saw the train come in, and you
weren't in it."

"No, I haven't come from London."

"The last train back to London's gone--how are you going to manage?"

"Well, if it does come to the pinch I thought that you might give me a
shake-down somewhere."

The policeman glanced at his wife.

"I don't know about that. I ain't been paid for the last time you were
here. They don't seem too anxious to pay your bills--your people
don't."

"That's their red tape. You'll get your money. This time, however, I'm
going to pay for what I have down on the nail."

"What's brought you? You know, Mr Nunn, this ain't an inn. My wife and
me don't pretend to find quarters for all the members of the force."

"Of course you don't. But I think you'll be interested when you hear
what has brought me. I may be wrong, but I think you will. I've come
from Winchester."

"From Winchester?"

Husband and wife both started.

"Yes, from Winchester. I've been to see that chap Baker. By the way, I
hear he's a relation of yours."

"Most of the people is related hereabouts, somehow; but he's only
distant. He's only a sort of a cousin, and I've never had much truck
with him though I ain't saying he's not a relation. What's up with him
now?"

"He made a communication to the governor, and the governor made a
communication to headquarters, and headquarters made a communication to
me. In consequence of that communication I've been paying him a call."

"What's the last thing he's been saying?"

"Well, he's been making a confession."

At this point Mrs Granger--who was lingering with the
tea-tray--interposed.

"A confession, Mr Nunn! You don't mean for to tell that after all he
owns up 'twas he who killed he man?"

"No, I can't say exactly that I do. It's not that sort of confession
he's been making. What he's been confessing is that he knows who did
kill him."

"Who was it, Mr Nunn?"

"Supposing, Mrs Granger, you were to get me that sup of tea. If you
were to know what my throat felt like you wouldn't expect to get much
through it till it had had a good rinsing."

The constable issued his marital orders.

"Now then, Susan, hurry up with that tea for Mr Nunn. What are you
standing there gaping for? If you were to know what the dust is like
you'd move a little quicker."

Mrs Granger proceeded to hurry. Mr Nunn seated himself comfortably at
the table and waited, showing no sign of a desire to continue the
conversation till the tea appeared. His host dropped a hint or two,
pointing out that to him, in his official capacity, the matter was of
capital importance. But Mr Nunn declined to take them. When the tea did
appear he showed more reticence than seemed altogether necessary. He
was certainly slower in coming to the point than his hearers relished.
Mr Granger did his best to prompt him.

"Well, Mr Nunn, now that you've had three cups of tea perhaps you
wouldn't mind mentioning what Jim Baker's been saying that's brought
you here."

Mr Nunn helped himself to a fourth.

"I'm in rather a difficult position."

"I daresay. It might make it easier perhaps if you were to tell me just
what it is."

"I'm not so sure, Granger, I'm not so sure. That relative of yours is a
queer fish."

"Maybe I know what sort of a fish he is better than you do, seeing I've
known him all my life."

"What I've got to ask myself is--What reliance is to be placed on what
he says?"

"Perhaps I might be able to tell you if you were to let me know what he
does say."

"Oh, that's the point." Mr Nunn stirred what remained of his fourth cup
of tea with a meditative air. "Mr Granger, I don't want to say anything
that sounds unfriendly or that's calculated to hurt your feelings, but
I'm beginning to be afraid that you've muddled this case."

"Me muddled it! Seeing that you've had the handling of it from the
first, if anyone's muddled it, it's you."

"I don't see how you make that out, Mr Granger, seeing that you're on
the spot and I'm not."

"What's the good of being on the spot if I'm not allowed to move a
finger except by your instructions?"

"Have there been rumours, Mr Granger? and by that I mean rumours which
a man who had his professional advancement at heart might have laid his
hand on."

"Of course there have been rumours! there's been nothing else but
rumours! But every time I mentioned one of them to you all I got was a
wigging for my pains."

"That's because the ones you mentioned to me were only
will-o'-the-wisps. According to the information I've received the real
clues you've let slip through your fingers."

Mr Granger stood up. He was again uncomfortably hot. His manner was
hardly deferential.

"Excuse me, Mr Nunn, but if you've come here to lecture me while
drinking of my wife's tea, since I've had a long and a hard day's work,
perhaps you'll let me go and clean myself and have a bit of rest."

"If there's anything in what Jim Baker says there's plenty for you to
do, Mr Granger, before you think of resting."

"What the devil does he say?"

"You needn't swear at me, Mr Granger, thank you all the same. I've come
here for the express purpose of telling you what he says."

"Then you're a long time doing it."

"Don't you speak to me like that, Granger, because I won't have it. I
conduct the cases which are placed in my hands in my own way, and I
don't want no teaching from you. Jim Baker says that although he didn't
kill the chap himself he saw him being killed, and who it was that
killed him."

"Who does he say it was?"

"Why, the young woman up at Exham Park--Miss Arnott."



                             CHAPTER XXXII

                          THE HOUSEMAID'S TALE


Mr And Mrs Granger looked at each other. Then the husband dropped down
into the chair which he had just vacated with a sound which might be
described as a snort; it was perhaps because he was a man of such
plethoric habit that the slightest occasion for surprise caused him to
emit strange noises. His wife caught at the edge of the table with both
her hands.

"Lawk-a-mussy!" she exclaimed. "To think of Jim Baker saying that!"

"It seems to me," observed Mr Nunn, with an air of what he perhaps
meant to be rhadamanthine severity, "that if there's anything in what
that chap says somebody ought to have had their suspicions before now.
I don't say who."

This with a very meaning glance at Mr Granger.

"Suspicions!" cried the lady. "Why, Mr Nunn, there ain't been nothing
but suspicions! I shouldn't think there was a soul for ten miles round
that hasn't been suspected by someone else of having done it. You
wouldn't have had my husband lock 'em all up! Do you believe Jim
Baker?"

"That's not the question. It's evidence I want, and it's for evidence,
Mr Granger, I've come to you."

"Evidence of what?" gasped the policeman. "I don't know if you think I
keep evidence on tap as if it was beer. All the evidence I have you've
got--and more."

His wife persisted in her inquiry.

"What I ask you, Mr Nunn, is--Are you going to lock up that young lady
because of what Jim Baker says?"

"And I repeat, Mrs Granger, that that's not the question, though you
must allow me to remark, ma'am, that I don't see what is your _locus
standi_ in the matter."

"Aren't you drinking my tea?"

"I don't see what my drinking your tea has got to do with it anyhow. At
the same time, since it'll all soon enough be public property, I don't
know that it's of much consequence. Of course a man hasn't been at the
game all the years I have without becoming aware that nothing's more
common than for A, when he's accused of a crime, to try to lay the
blame of it on B; and that, therefore, if for that reason only, what
that chap in Winchester Gaol says smells fishy. But at the same time
the statement he has made is of such a specific nature, and should be
so open to corroboration, or the reverse, that I'm bound to admit that
if anything did turn up to give it colour I should feel it my duty to
act on it at once."

"Do you mean that you'd have her arrested?"

"I do--that is if, as I say, I obtain anything in the nature of
corroborative evidence, and for that I look to Mr Granger."

There was no necessity for him to do that, fortunately for the peace of
mind and body of the active and intelligent officer referred to.
Evidence of the kind of which he spoke was coming from an altogether
different quarter. Indeed, it was already at the door.

Hardly had he done speaking than a modest tap was heard. Opening, Mrs
Granger found a small urchin standing in the dusk without, who slipped
an envelope into her hand, with which she returned into the room,
peering at the address.

"What's this? 'To the Policeman.' I suppose, William, that means you;
it's only some rubbish, I suppose."

She passed the envelope to her husband, who peered at the address as
she had done.

"Let's have the lamp, Susan, you can't see to read in this here light.
Not that I suppose it's anything worth reading, but mine ain't cat's
eyes anyhow."

The lamp was lit and placed upon the table. Mr Granger studied what was
written on the sheet of paper which he took from the envelope.


"Robert Champion was the name of the man who was murdered in the wood.
The mistress of Exham Park, who calls herself Miss Arnott, was his
wife. He came out of Wandsworth Prison to see her. And he saw her.

"Ask her why she said nothing about it.

"Then the whole truth will come out."


Mr Granger read this once, twice, thrice, while his wife and Mr Nunn
were watching him. Then he scratched his head.

"This is rummy--uncommon. Here, you take and look at it, it's beyond me
altogether."

He handed the sheet of paper to Mr Nunn, who mastered its contents at a
glance. Then he addressed a question to Mrs Granger, shortly, sharply.

"Who gave you this?"

"What is it?"

"Never mind what it is, woman! Answer my question--who gave it you?"

"It's no use your speaking to me like that, Mr Nunn, and so I'd have
you know. I'm no servant of yours! Some child slipped it into my hand,
but what with the bad light and the flurry I was in because of what
you'd been saying, I didn't notice what child no more than nothing at
all."

Mr Nunn seemed disturbed.

"It'll be a serious thing for you, Mrs Granger, if you're not able to
recognise who gave you this. You say it was a child? There can't be so
many children in the place. I'll find out which of them it was if I
have to interview every one in the parish. It can't have got so far
away; perhaps it's still waiting outside."

As he moved towards the entrance, with a view of finding out if the
bearer of that singular communication was still loitering in the
immediate neighbourhood, he became conscious that someone was
approaching from without--more than one. While he already had the
handle in his grasp it was turned with a certain degree of violence by
someone on the other side; the door was thrown open, and he found
himself confronted by what, in the gathering darkness, seemed quite a
crowd of persons.

"Is William Granger in?" demanded a feminine voice in not the most
placable of tones. Mr Nunn replied,--

"Mr Granger is in. Who are you, and what do you want with him?"

"I'm his sister, Elizabeth Wilson, that's who I am, and I should like
to know who you are to ask me such a thing. And as for what I want, I
want justice; me and my daughter, Sarah Ann, we both want justice--and
I'm going to see I get it too. My own cousin, Jim Baker, he's in prison
this moment for what he never did, and I'm going to see that he's let
out of prison double quick and the party as ought to be in prison put
there. So you stand out of the way and let me get inside this house to
see my brother."

Mr Nunn did as he was requested, and Mrs Wilson entered, accompanied by
her daughter, Sarah Ann. He looked at the assemblage without.

"Who are all these people?"

"They're my friends, that's who they are. They know all about it, and
they've come to see that I have fair play, and they'll see that I have
it too, and so I'd have everyone to understand."

By way of commentary Mr Nunn shut the door upon the "friends" and stood
with his back to it.

"Now then, Granger, who's this woman? And what's she talking about?"

Mrs Wilson answered for her brother.

"Don't you call me a woman, as if I was the dirt under your feet. And
as for who I am--William, who's this man? He's taking some fine airs on
himself. As what I have to say to you I don't want to have to say
before strangers, perhaps you'll just ask him to take himself outside."

"Now, Liz," observed her brother, fraternally, "don't you be no more
silly than you can help. This gentleman's Mr Nunn, what's in charge of
the case--you know what case. He saw Jim Baker in Winchester Gaol only
this afternoon."

"In Winchester Gaol, did he! Then more shame to them as put him in
Winchester Gaol, and him as innocent as the babe unborn! And with them
as did ought to be there flaunting about in all them fine feathers, and
with all their airs and graces, as if they were so many peacocks!"

"What might you happen to be talking about?"

"I'm talking about what I know, that's what I happen to be talking
about, William Granger, and so you'll soon learn. I know who ought to
be there instead of him, and if you've a drop of cousinly blood in your
veins you'll see that he's out of that vile place, where none of my
kith or kin ever was before, and that you know, the first thing
to-morrow morning."

"Oh, you know who did ought to be there, do you? This is news, this is.
Perhaps you'll mention that party's name. Only let me warn you,
Elizabeth Wilson, to be careful what you say, or you may find yourself
in worse trouble than you quite like."

"I'll be careful what I say, I don't need you to tell me, William
Granger! And I'll tell you who ought to be in Winchester Gaol instead
of Jim Baker--why, that there proud, stuck-up young peacock over at
Exham Park, that there Miss Arnott!"

"Liz! I've told you already not to be more silly than you can help.
What do you know about Miss Arnott?"

"What do I know about Miss Arnott? I'll soon tell you what I know about
your fine Miss Arnott. Sarah Ann, tell your uncle what you know about
that there Miss Arnott."

Then the tale was unfolded--by Wilson the housemaid--by degrees, with
many repetitions, in somewhat garbled form; still, the essential truth,
so far as she knew it, was there.

She told how, that eventful Saturday, the young mistress had been out
in the woods, as she put it, "till goodness only knows what hours of
the night." How, the next morning, the key of the wardrobe drawer was
lost; how, after many days, she, Wilson, had found it in the hem of her
own skirt, how she had tried the lock, "just to see if it really was
the key," of what the drawer contained--the stained clothing, the
bloody knife. She narrated, with dramatic force, how first Evans and
then Miss Arnott had come upon the scene, how the knife and the
camisole had been wrested from her, how she herself had been ejected
from the house.

When she had finished Mr Nunn looked up from the pocket-book in which
he had been making copious notes of the words as they came from her
lips.

"What you've said, Sarah Ann Wilson, you've said of your own free
will?"

"Of course I have. Haven't I come here on purpose?"

"And you're prepared to repeat your statement in a court of law, and
swear to its truth?"

"I am. I'll swear to it anywhere."

"You don't know what has become of that knife you've mentioned?"

"Haven't I told you that she took it from me?--she and Mrs Evans
between them."

"Yes; just so. Well, Mr Granger, all that I want now is a warrant for
the arrest of this young lady. And, at the same time, we'll search the
house. We'll find the knife of which this young woman speaks, if it's
to be found; only we mustn't let her have any longer time than we can
help to enable her to get rid of it, which, from all appearances, is
the first thing she'll try to do. So perhaps you'll be so good as to
tell me where I shall be likely to find the nearest magistrate--now, at
once."

"I am a magistrate. What is there I can do for you, Mr Nunn?"

Looking round to see from whom the unexpected answer came, they saw
that Mr Hugh Morice was standing in the open doorway. Closing the door
behind him he came into the room.



                             CHAPTER XXXIII

                         ON HIS OWN CONFESSION


Hugh Morice had been resorting to that medicine--in whose
qualifications to minister to a mind diseased he more than half
believed--a ride upon his motor car. Of late he had found nothing to
clear the cobwebs from his brain so effectually as a whiz through the
air. That afternoon, after he had left Exham Park, he had felt that his
brain stood very much in need of a clearance. So he had gone for a long
run on his car.

He was returning through the shadows, partially cured, when he found
what, in that part of the world, might be described as a crowd,
obstructing his passage through the village street. Stopping to inquire
what was the cause of the unusual concourse, he realised that the crowd
was loitering in front of Granger's cottage--the local stronghold of
the County Police. As he did so he was conscious that a shiver passed
all over him, which he was able neither to account for nor to control.
The answers, however, which the villagers gave to his hurried
questions, threw a lurid light upon the matter, and inspired him, on
the instant, with a great resolve. Dismounting, he entered the cottage,
just as Mr Nunn was addressing his remarks to Mr Granger. As he heard
he understood that, if what he proposed to do was to be of the
slightest effect, he had arrived in the very nick of time.

They, on their part, stared at him half bewildered, half amazed. He had
on a long motor coat which shrouded him from head to foot; a cap which
covered not only his ears but also part of his face; while his disguise
was completed by a pair of huge goggles. It was only when he removed
these latter that--in spite of the dust which enveloped him as flour
over a miller--they recognised who he was. He repeated his own words in
a slightly different form.

"You were saying, Mr Nunn, that you were requiring the services of a
magistrate. How can I serve you in that capacity?"

The detective stared at the gigantic figure, towering over his own by
no means insignificant inches, still in doubt as to who he was.

"I ought to know you; but, somehow, I don't feel as if I can place you
exactly, sir."

Mr Morice smiled.

"Tell him, Granger, who I am."

Mr Granger explained.

"This is Mr Hugh Morice, of Oak Dene, Justice of the Peace for this
division of the county. You can't have forgotten him, Mr Nunn; he used
to be present at the coroner's inquest."

"Of course; now that Granger reminds me I remember you very well, Mr
Morice. You have arrived at a fortunate moment for me, sir. I was just
about to start off in search of a magistrate, and that, in the country,
at this time of night, sometimes means a long job. I wish to lay an
information before you, sir, and ask for a warrant."

Mr Morice glanced at the three women.

"In presence of these persons?"

"I don't know that Mrs Granger need stop, or Mrs Wilson either. Mrs
Granger, you'd better take Mrs Wilson with you. It is partly in
consequence of a statement which this young woman has just been making
that I ask you for a warrant. Now, Mrs Wilson, off you go."

But Mrs Wilson showed reluctance.

"I don't know why I'm to be sent away--especially as it's my own
daughter--"

Hugh Morice cut her short brusquely,--

"Leave the room!"

Mrs Wilson showed him something of that deference which she had
hitherto declined to show to anyone else. Mrs Granger touched her on
the shoulder.

"I'm coming! I'm sure, Susan Granger, there's no need for you to show
me. No one can ever say I stop where I am not wanted."

When the two elder women had disappeared, Hugh Morice turned his
attention to Wilson the housemaid.

"Who is this young person?"

Mr Nunn informed him. Her story was gone through again. When she had
finished Mr Morice dismissed her to join her mother and her aunt.

"Now, Mr Nunn, what do you want from me?"

"A warrant for the arrest of Violet Arnott, of Exham Park."

"On what charge?"

"Wilful murder--the murder of Robert Champion."

"Of whom?"

"I said Robert Champion; but as it's not yet proved that was his name
we'd better have it in the warrant--name unknown. I may say, Mr Morice,
that that girl's statement is not all I'm going on. Within the hour
I've received this anonymous communication."

He handed the communication in question to Mr Morice, who turned it
over and over between his fingers.

"Where did you get this from?"

"I can't tell you just at the moment; but I daresay I shall be able to
tell you before very long. Of course it's anonymous; but, at the same
time, it's suggestive. Also a statement was made to me, of the most
positive and specific kind, by James Baker, at present a prisoner in
Winchester Gaol. Altogether I'm afraid, Mr Morice, that the case
against this young woman is looking very black."

"Are you in the habit, Mr Nunn, of making _ex officio_ statements of
that kind on occasions such as the present? If so, let me invite you
to break yourself of it. A man of your experience ought to know
better--very much better, Mr Nunn. I regret that I am unable to do
what you require."

Mr Nunn stared; possibly slightly abashed by the rebuke which had been
administered to him in the presence of Mr Granger.

"But, sir, begging your pardon, you've no option in the matter."

"Haven't I? You'll find I have--a very wide option. I shall decline to
allow a warrant to be issued for the arrest of the lady you have
named."

"But, Mr Morice, sir, on what grounds?"

"Very simple ones. Because I happen to know she's innocent."

"But that's no reason!"

"You'll find it is, since I also happen to know who's guilty."

"You know who's guilty? Mr Morice!"

"Precisely--Mr Morice. It is I who am guilty. Mr Nunn, I surrender
myself into your custody as having been guilty of killing a certain man
on a certain Saturday night in Cooper's Spinney. Is that in proper
form?"

"Are you serious, sir?"

"I mean what I say, if that's what you are asking, Mr Nunn."

"Then what about the tale that girl was telling, and that knife she
saw?"

"That knife is mine."

"Yours!"

"Exactly, and I'm afraid that knife is going to hang me."

"How came it in Miss Arnott's possession?"

"That's the simplest part of the whole affair. After I had used it she
found it, and has kept it ever since."

"Do you mean that she's been screening you?"

"Something like it. That is, I don't know that she was sure of
anything; but, I fancy, she has had her doubts. I daresay she'll tell
you all about it if you ask her. You see, Mr Nunn, I've been in rather
an awkward position. So long as it was only a question of Jim Baker it
didn't so much matter; it's quite on the cards that in the course of
his sinful career he's done plenty of things for which he deserves to
be hung. When it comes to Miss Arnott, knowing that she knows what she
does know, and especially that she has that accursed knife of mine,
that's a horse of a different colour. Since she has only to open her
mouth to make an end of me, I may as well make as graceful an exit as
possible, and own the game is up. I don't quite know what is the usual
course in a matter of this sort, Mr Nunn. My motor is outside. If it is
possible I should like to run over to my house. You may come with me,
if you please, and Mr Granger also. There are one or two trifles which
require my personal attention, and then you may do with me as you
please. In fact, if you could manage to let me have an hour or two I
should be happy to place at your disposal quite a little fortune, Mr
Nunn and Mr Granger."

"You ought to know better than to talk to me like that, Mr Morice.
After what you've just now said it's my duty to tell you that you're my
prisoner."



                             CHAPTER XXXIV

                           MR DAY WALKS HOME


It chanced that night that Mr Day, the highly respected butler at Exham
Park, paid a visit to a friend. It was rather late when he returned.
The friend offered to put him into a trap and drive him home, but Mr
Day declined.

"It's a fine night," he observed, "and a walk will do me good. I don't
get enough exercise out of doors. I like to take advantage of any that
comes my way. I'm not so young as I was--we none of us are; but a
five-mile walk won't do me any harm. On a night like this I'll enjoy it.
Thank you, Hardy, all the same."

So he walked.

It was just after eleven when he reached the village. Considering the
hour he was surprised to find how many people there were about. Mr
Jenkins had just turned his customers out of the "Rose and Crown." A
roaring trade he seemed to have been doing. A couple of dozen people
were gathered together in clusters in front of the inn, exchanging
final greetings before departing homewards. For the most part they were
talking together at the top of their voices, as yokels on such
occasions have a trick of doing. Mr Day stopped to speak to a man, with
whom he had some acquaintance, in the drily sarcastic fashion for which
he was locally famed.

"What's the excitement? Parish pump got burned?"

"Why, Mr Day, haven't you heard the news?"

"That Saturday comes before Sunday? Haven't heard anything newer."

"Why, Mr Day, don't you know that Sarah Ann Wilson, from up at your
place, has been over to Granger's, trying to get him to give her a
warrant for your young lady?"

"There's several kinds of fools about, but Sarah Ann Wilson's all kinds
of them together."

"So it seems that Granger thinks. Anyhow he ain't given it her. He's
locked up Mr Morice instead."

"What's that?"

Another man chimed in.

"Why, Mr Day, where are you been not to have heard that they've locked
up Mr Morice for murdering o' that there chap in Cooper's Spinney."

"What nonsense are you men talking about?"

"It ain't nonsense, Mr Day; no, that it ain't. You go over to Granger's
and you'll soon hear."

"Who locked him up?"

"Granger and Mr Nunn, that's the detective over from London. They
locked him up between them. It seems he gave himself up."

"Gave himself up?"

"So Mrs Wilson and her daughter says. They was in the kitchen, at the
other side of the door, and they heard him giving of himself up. Seems
as how they're going to take him over to Doverham in the morning and
bring him before the magistrates. My word! won't all the countryside be
there to see! To think of its having been Mr Morice after all. Me, I
never shouldn't have believed it, if he hadn't let it out himself."

Mr Day waited to hear no more. Making his way through the little crowd
he strode on alone. That moon-lit walk was spoilt for him. As he went
some curious reflections were taking shape in his mind.

"That finishes it. Now something will have to be done. I wish I'd done
as I said I would, and taken myself off long ago. And yet I don't know
that I should have been any more comfortable if I had. Wherever I might
have gone I should have been on tenterhooks. If I'd been on the other
side of the world and heard of this about Mr Morice, I should have had
to come back and make a clean breast of it. Yet it's hard on me at my
time of life!" He sighed, striking at the ground with the ferule of his
stick. "All my days I've made it my special care to have nothing to do
with the police-courts. I've seen too much trouble come of it to
everyone concerned, and never any good, and now to be dragged into a
thing like this. And all through her! If, after all, I've got to speak,
I don't know that I wouldn't rather have spoken at first. It would have
been better perhaps; it would have saved a lot of bother, not to speak
of all the worry I've had. I feel sure it's aged me. I could see by the
way Mrs Hardy looked at me to-night that she thought I was looking
older. Goodness knows that I'm getting old fast enough in the ordinary
course of nature." Again sighing, he struck at the ground with his
stick. "It would have served her right if I had spoken--anything would
have served her right. She's a nice sort, she is. And yet I don't know,
poor devil! She's not happy, that's sure and certain. I never saw
anyone so changed. What beats me is that no one seems to have noticed,
except me. I don't like to look her way: it's written so plain all over
her. It just shows how people can have eyes in their heads, and yet not
use them. From the remarks I've heard exchanged, I don't believe a
creature has noticed anything, yet I daresay if you were to ask them
they'd tell you they always notice everything. Blind worms!"

Perhaps for the purpose of relieving his feelings Mr Day stood still in
the centre of the road, tucked his stick under his arm, took out his
pipe, loaded it with tobacco and proceeded to smoke. Having got his
pipe into going order he continued his way and his reflections.

"I knew it was her from the first; never doubted for a moment. Directly
I saw her come into the house that night in the way she did, I knew
that she'd been up to something queer, and it wasn't very long before I
knew what it was. And I don't know that I was surprised when I heard
how bad it really was. All I wanted was to get out of the way before I
was dragged into the trouble that I saw was coming. If I hadn't known
from the first I should have found out afterwards. She's given herself
away a hundred times--ah, and more. If I'd been a detective put upon
the job I should have had her over and over again, unless I'd been as
stupid as some of those detectives do seem to be. Look at that Nunn
now! There's a precious fool! Locking up Mr Morice! I wonder he doesn't
lock himself up! Bah!"

This time Mr Day took his pipe out of his mouth with one hand, while he
struck at the vacant air with the stick in the other. Perhaps in
imagination he was striking at Mr Nunn.

"Poor devil! it must have been something pretty strong which made her
do a thing like that. I wonder who that chap was, and what he'd done to
her. Not that I want to know--the less I know the better. I know too
much as it is. I know that she's haunted, that never since has she had
a moment's peace of mind, either by day or night. I've the best of
reasons for knowing that she starts pretty nearly out of her skin at
every shadow. I shouldn't be surprised to hear at any moment that she's
committed suicide. I lay a thousand pounds to a penny that if I was to
touch her on the shoulder with the tip of my finger, and say, 'You
killed that man in the Cooper's Spinney, and he's looking over your
shoulder now,' she'd tumble straight off into a heap on the floor and
scream for mercy--What's that?"

He had reached a very lonely part of the road. The Exham Park woods
were on either side of him. A long line of giant beeches bordered the
road both on the right and left. Beyond again, on both sides, were
acres of pines. A charming spot on a summer's day; but, to some minds,
just then a little too much in shadow to be altogether pleasant. The
high beeches on his left obscured the moon. Here and there it found a
passage between their leaves; but for the most part the road was all in
darkness. Mr Day was well on in years, but his hearing was as keen as
ever, and his nerves as well under control. The ordinary wayfarer would
have heard nothing, or, not relishing his surroundings, would have
preferred to hear nothing, till he had reached a point where the moon's
illumination was again plainly visible. It is odd how many persons,
born and bred in the heart of the country, object strenuously to be out
among the scenes they know so well, alone in the darkness at night.

But the Exham Park butler was not a person of that kidney. When he
heard twigs snapping and the swishing of brushwood, as of someone
passing quickly through it, he was immediately desirous of learning
what might be the cause of such unwonted midnight sounds. Slipping his
pipe into his pocket he moved both rapidly and quietly towards the side
of the road from which the sounds proceeded. Just there the long line
of hedge was momentarily interrupted by a stile. Leaning over it he
peered as best he could into the glancing lights and shadows among the
pines. The sounds continued.

"Who is it? Hullo! Good lord! it's her!"

As he spoke to himself a figure suddenly appeared in a shaft of
moonlight which had found its way along an alley of pines--the figure
of a woman. She was clad in white--in some long, flowing garment which
trailed behind her as she went, and which must have seriously impeded
her progress, especially in view of the fact that she seemed to be
pressing forward at the top of her speed. The keen-eyed observer
watched her as she went.

"What's she got on? It's a tea-gown or a dressing-gown or something of
that. It's strange to me. I've never seen her in it before. So, after
all, there is something in the tales those gowks have been telling, and
she does walk the woods of nights. But she can't be asleep; she
couldn't go at that rate, through country of this sort, if she were,
and with all that drapery trailing out behind her. But asleep or not
I'll tackle her and have it out with her once and for all."

Mr Day climbed over the stile with an agility which did credit to his
years. As he reached the other side the woman in the distance either
became conscious of his presence and his malevolent designs or fortune
favoured her; because, coming to a part of the forest from which the
moon was barred, she suddenly vanished from his vision like a figure in
a shadow pantomime. When he gained the spot at which she had last been
visible, there was still nothing of her to be seen, but he fancied that
he caught a sound which suggested that, not very far away, someone was
pressing forward among the trees.

"She did that very neatly. Don't talk to me about her being asleep. She
both heard and saw me coming, so she's given me the slip. But she's not
done it so completely as she perhaps thinks. I'll have her yet. I'll
show her that I'm pretty nearly as good at trapesing through the woods
at night as she is. I don't want to be hard on a woman, and I wouldn't
be if it could be helped, but when it comes to be a question of Mr
Morice or her, it'll have to be her, and that's all about it. I don't
mean to let her go scot-free at his expense--not much, I don't, as I'll
soon show her!"

He plunged into the pitch blackness of the forest, towards where he
fancied he had heard a sound in the distance.



                              CHAPTER XXXV

                         IN THE LADY'S CHAMBER


Miss Arnott was restless. She had to entertain her two self-invited
guests--Mr Stacey and Mr Gilbert, and she was conscious that while she
was entertaining them, each, in his own fashion, was examining her
still. It was a curious dinner which they had together, their hostess
feeling, rightly or wrongly, that the most dire significance was being
read into the most commonplace remarks. If she smiled, she feared they
might think her laughter forced; if she was grave, she was convinced
that they were of opinion that it was because she had something
frightful on her mind. Mr Stacey made occasional attempts to lighten
the atmosphere, but, at the best of times, his touch was inclined to be
a heavy one; then all his little outbursts of gaiety--or what he meant
for gaiety--seemed to be weighted with lead. Mr Gilbert was frankly
saturnine. He seemed determined to say as little as he possibly could,
and to wing every word he did utter with a shaft of malice or of irony.
Especially was he severe on Mr Stacey's spasmodic efforts at the
promotion of geniality.

Miss Arnott arrived at two conclusions; one being that he didn't like
her, and the other that she didn't like him. How correct she was in the
first instance may be judged from some remarks which were exchanged
when--after the old fashion--she had left them alone together to enjoy
a cigarette over their cups of coffee, the truth being that she felt
she must be relieved from the burden of their society for, at anyrate,
some minutes.

Mr Stacey commenced by looking at his companion as if he were
half-doubtful, half-amused.

"Gilbert, you don't seem disposed to be talkative."

The reply was curt and to the point.

"I'm not."

"Nor, if you will forgive my saying so, do you seem inclined to make
yourself peculiarly agreeable to our hostess."

Mr Gilbert surveyed the ash which was on the tip of his cigar. His
words were pregnant with meaning.

"Stacey, I can't stand women."

With Mr Stacey amusement was getting the upper hand.

"Does that apply to women in general or to this one in particular?"

"Yes to both your questions. I don't wish to be rude to your ward or to
my hostess, but the girl's a fool."

"Gilbert!"

"So she is, like the other representatives of her sex. She's another
illustration of the eternal truth that a woman can't walk alone; she
can't. In consequence she's got herself into the infernal muddle she
has done. The first male who, so to speak, got within reach of her,
took her by the scruff of the neck, and made her keep step with him. He
happened to be a scamp, so there's all this to do. It constantly is
like that. Most women are like mirrors--mere surfaces on which to
reflect their owners; and when their owners take it into their heads to
smash the mirrors, why, they're smashed. When I think of what an ass
this young woman has made of herself and others, merely because she's a
woman, and therefore couldn't help it, something sticks in my throat. I
can't be civil to her; it's no use trying. I want to get in touch with
something vertebrate: I can't stand molluscs."

Under the circumstances it was not strange that matters in the
drawing-room were no more lively than they had been at dinner. So Miss
Arnott excused herself at what she considered to be the earliest possible
moment and went to bed.

At least she went as far as her bedroom. She found Evans awaiting her.
A bed was made up close to her own, all arrangements were arranged to
keep watch and ward over her through the night.

"Evans," she announced, "I've come to bed."

"Have you, miss? It's early--that is, for you."

"If you'd spent the sort of evening I have you'd have come early to
bed. Evans, I want to tell you something."

"Yes, miss; what might it be?"

"Don't you ever take it for granted that, because a man's clever at one
thing, he's clever, or the least bit of good, at anything else."

"I'm afraid, miss, that I don't understand."

"Then I'll make you understand, before I've done with you; you're not
stupid. I feel that before I even try to close my eyes I must talk to
some rational being, so I'll talk to you."

"Thank you, miss."

"There's a Mr Gilbert downstairs."

"Yes, miss, I've heard of him."

"He's supposed to be a famous criminal lawyer; perhaps you've heard
that too. I'm told that he's the cleverest living, and, I daresay, he's
smart enough in his own line. But out of it--such clumsiness, such
stupidity, such conceit, such manners--oh, Evans! I once heard a
specialist compared to a dog which is kept chained to its kennel;
within the limits of its chain that dog has an amazing knowledge of the
world. I suppose Mr Gilbert is a specialist. He knows everything within
the limits of his chain. But, though he mayn't be aware of it--and he
isn't--his chain is there! And now, Evans, having told you what I
wished to tell you, I'm going to bed."

But Miss Arnott did not go to bed just then. She seemed unusually wide
awake. It was obvious that, if any sound data were to be obtained on
the subject of her alleged somnambulistic habits, it was necessary,
first of all, that she should go to sleep; but it would not be much
good her getting into bed if she felt indisposed for slumber.

"The only thing, Evans, of which I'm afraid is that, if we're not
careful, you'll fall asleep first, and that then, so soon as you're
asleep, I shall start off walking through the woods. It'll make both of
us look so silly if I do."

"No fear of that, miss. I can keep awake as long as anyone, and when I
am asleep the fall of a feather is enough to wake me."

"The fall of a feather? Evans! I don't believe you could hear a feather
falling, even if you were wide awake."

"Well, miss, you know what I mean. I mean that I'm a light sleeper. I
shall lock the doors when we're both of us in bed, and I shall put the
keys underneath my pillow. No one will take those keys from under my
pillow without my knowing it, I promise you that, no matter how
light-fingered they may be."

"I see. I'm to be a prisoner. It doesn't sound quite nice; but I
suppose I'll have to put up with it. If you were to catch me walking in
my sleep how dreadful it would be."

"I sha'n't do it. I don't believe you ever have walked in your sleep,
and I don't believe you ever will."

Later it was arranged that the young lady should undress, take a book
with her to bed, and try to read herself to sleep. Then it became a
question of the book.

"I know the very book that would be bound to send me to sleep in a
couple of ticks, even in the middle of the day. I've tested its
soporific powers already. Three times I've tried to get through the
first chapter, and each time I've been asleep before I reached the end.
It is a book! I bought it a week or two ago. I don't know why. I wasn't
in want of a sleeping powder then. Where did I put it? Oh, I remember;
I lent it to Mrs Plummer. She seemed to want something to doze over, so
I suggested that would be just the thing. Evans, do you think Mrs
Plummer is asleep yet?"

"I don't know, miss. I believe she's pretty late. I'll go and see."

"No, I'll go and see. Then I can explain to her what it is I want, and
just what I want it for. You stay here; I sha'n't be a minute."

Miss Arnott went up to Mrs Plummer's bedroom. It was called the
tower-room. On one side of the house--which was an architectural
freak--was an eight-sided tower. Although built into the main building
it rose high above it. Near the top was a clock with three faces. On the
roof was a flagstaff which served to inform the neighbourhood if the
family was or was not at home.

Miss Arnott was wont to declare that the tower-rooms were the
pleasantest in the house. In proof of it the one which she had selected
to be her own special apartment lay immediately under that in which Mrs
Plummer slept. It had two separate approaches. The corridor in which
was Miss Arnott's sleeping-chamber had, at one end--the one farthest
from her--a short flight of stairs which ascended to a landing on to
which opened one of Mrs Plummer's bedroom doors. On the opposite side
of the room was another door which gave access to what was, to all
intents and purposes, a service staircase. Miss Arnott, passing along
the corridor and up the eight or nine steps, rapped at the panel once,
twice, and then again. As still no one answered she tried the handle,
thinking that if it was locked the probabilities were that Mrs Plummer
was in bed and fast asleep. But, instead of being locked, it opened
readily at her touch. The fact that the electric lights were all on
seemed to suggest that, at anyrate, the lady was not asleep in bed.

"Mrs Plummer!" she exclaimed, standing in the partly opened doorway.

No reply. Opening the door wider she entered the room. It was empty.
But there was that about the appearance of the chamber which conveyed
the impression that quite recently, within the last two or three
minutes, it had had an occupant. Clothes were thrown down anywhere, as
if their wearer had doffed them in a hurry. Miss Arnott, who had had a
notion that Mrs Plummer was the soul of neatness, was surprised and
even tickled by the evidence of untidiness which met her on every hand.
Not only were articles of wearing apparel scattered everywhere, but the
whole apartment was in a state of odd disarray; at one part the carpet
was turned quite back. As she looked about her, Miss Arnott smiled.

"What can Mrs Plummer have been doing? She appears to have been
preparing for a flitting. And where can she be? She seems to have
undressed. Those are her clothes, and there's the dress she wore at
dinner. She can't be in such a state of _déshabille_ as those things
seem to suggest; and yet--I don't think I'll wait till she comes back.
I wonder if she's left that book lying about. If I can find it I'll
sneak off at once, and tell her all about it in the morning."

On a table in the centre was piled up a heterogeneous and disorderly
collection of odds and ends. Miss Arnott glanced at it to see if among
the miscellanea was the volume she was seeking. She saw that a book
which looked like it was lying underneath what seemed to be a number of
old letters. She picked it up, removing the letters to enable her to do
so. One or two of the papers fell on to the floor. She stooped to pick
them up. The first was a photograph. Her eyes lighted on it, half
unwittingly; but, having lighted on it, they stayed.

The room seemed all at once to be turning round her. She was conscious
of a sense of vertigo, as if suddenly something had happened to her
brain. For some seconds she was obsessed by a conviction that she was
the victim of an optical delusion, that what she supposed herself to
see was, in reality, a phantom of her imagination. How long this
condition continued she never knew. But it was only after a perceptible
interval of time that she began to comprehend that she deluded herself
by supposing herself to be under a delusion, that what she had only
imagined she saw, she actually did see. It was the sudden shock which
had caused that feeling of curious confusion. The thing was plain
enough.

She was holding in her hand the photograph of her husband--Robert
Champion. The more she looked at it the stronger the conviction became.
There was not a doubt of it. The portrait had probably been taken some
years ago, when the man was younger; but that it was her husband she
was certain. She was hardly likely to make a mistake on a point of that
kind. But, in the name of all that was inexplicable, what was Robert
Champion's photograph doing here?

She glanced at another of the articles she had dropped. It was another
portrait of the same man, apparently taken a little later. There was a
third--a smaller one. In it he wore a yachting cap. Although he was no
yachting man--so far as she knew he had never been on the sea in his
life; but it was within her knowledge that it was a fashion in headgear
for which he had had, as she deemed, a most undesirable predilection.
He had worn one when he had taken her for their honeymoon to Margate;
anyone looking less like a seaman than he did in it, she thought she
had never seen. In a fourth photograph Robert Champion was sitting in a
chair with his arm round Mrs Plummer's waist; she standing at his side
with her hand upon his shoulder. She was obviously many years older
than the man in the chair; but she could not have looked more pleased,
either with herself or with him.

What did it mean?--what could it mean?--those photographs in Mrs
Plummer's room?

Returning to the first at which she had glanced, the girl saw that the
name was scrawled across the right-hand bottom corner, which had
hitherto been hidden by her thumb, in a hand which set her heart
palpitating with a sense of startled recognition. "Douglas Plummer."
The name was unmistakable in its big, bombastic letters; but what did
he mean by scrawling "Douglas Plummer" at the bottom of his own
photograph? She suddenly remembered having seen a visiting card of Mrs
Plummer's on which her name had been inscribed "Mrs Douglas Plummer."
What did it mean?

On the back of the photograph in which the man and the woman had been
taken together she found that there was written--she knew the writing
to be Mrs Plummer's--"Taken on our honeymoon."

When she saw that Miss Arnott rose to her feet--for the first time
since she had stooped to pick up the odds and ends which she had
dropped--and laughed. It was so very funny. Again she closely examined
the pair in the picture and the sentence on the back. There could be no
doubt as to their identity; none as to what the sentence said, nor as
to the hand by which it had been penned. But on whose honeymoon had it
been taken? What did it mean?

There came to her a feeling that this was a matter in which inquiries
should be made at once. She had forgotten altogether the errand which
had brought her there; she was overlooking everything in the strength
of her desire to learn, in the shortest possible space of time, what
was the inner meaning of these photographs which she was holding in her
hand. She saw the letters which she had disturbed to get at the book
beneath. In the light of the new discoveries she had made, even at that
distance she recognised the caligraphy in which they were written. She
snatched them up; they were in a bundle, tied round with a piece of
pink baby ribbon. To use a sufficiently-expressive figure of speech,
the opening line of the first "hit her in the face,"--"My darling
Agatha."

Agatha? That was Mrs Plummer's Christian name.

She thrust at a letter in the centre. It began--"My precious wife."

His precious wife? Whose wife? Douglas Plummer's?--Robert
Champion's?--Whose? What did it mean?

As she assailed herself with the question--for at least the dozenth
time--to which she seemed unlikely to find an answer, a fresh impulse
caused her to look again about the room--to be immediately struck by
something which had previously escaped her observation. Surely the bed
had been slept in. It was rumpled; the pillow had been lain on; the
bedclothes were turned back, as if someone had slipped from between the
sheets and left them so. What did that mean?

While the old inquiry was assuming this fresh shape, and all sorts of
fantastic doubts seemed to have had sudden birth and to be pressing on
her from every side, the door on the other side of the room was opened,
and Mrs Plummer entered.



                             CHAPTER XXXVI

                              OUT OF SLEEP


Miss Arnott was so astounded at the appearance which Mrs Plummer
presented that, in her bewilderment, she was tongue-tied. What, in the
absence of tonsorial additions--which the girl had already noted were
set out in somewhat gruesome fashion on the dressing-table--were shown
to be her scanty locks, straggled loose about her neck. The garment in
which her whole person was enveloped was one which Miss Arnott had
never seen before, and, woman-like, she had a very shrewd knowledge of
the contents of her companion's wardrobe. More than anything else it
resembled an unusually voluminous bath-sheet, seeming to have been made
of what had originally been white Turkish towelling. The whiteness,
however, had long since disappeared. It was not only in an
indescribable state of filth, but also of rags and tatters. How any of
it continued to hang together was a mystery; there was certainly not a
square foot of it without a rent. On her feet she wore what seemed to
be the remnants of a pair of bedroom slippers. So far as Miss Arnott
was able to discern the only other garment she had on was her
nightdress. In this attire she appeared to have been in some singular
places. She was all dusty and torn; attached to her here and there were
scraps of greenery: here a frond of bracken, there the needle of a
pine.

"Mrs Plummer," cried Miss Arnott, when she had in part realised the
extraordinary spectacle which her companion offered, "wherever have you
been?"

But Mrs Plummer did not answer, at first to the girl's increased
amazement; then it all burst on her in a flash--Mrs Plummer was asleep!
It seemed incredible; yet it was so. Her eyes were wide open; yet it
only needed a second or two to make it clear to Miss Arnott that they
did not see her. They appeared to have the faculty of only seeing those
objects which were presented to their owner's inner vision. Miss Arnott
was not present at the moment in Mrs Plummer's thoughts, therefore she
remained invisible to her staring eyes. It was with a curious feeling
of having come into unlooked-for contact with something uncanny that
the girl perceived this was so. Motionless, fascinated, hardly
breathing, she waited and watched for what the other was about to do.

Mrs Plummer closed the door behind her carefully--with an odd
carefulness. Coming a few steps into the room she stopped. Looking
about her with what the girl felt was almost an agony of eagerness, it
seemed strange that she should not see her; her eyes travelled over her
more than once. Then she drew a long breath like a sigh. Raising both
hands to her forehead she brushed back the thin wisps of her faded
hair. It was with a feeling which was half-shame, half-awe that the
girl heard her break into speech. It was as though she were intruding
herself into the other's very soul, and as if the woman was speaking
with a voice out of the grave.

Indeed, there was an eerie quality about the actual utterance--a
lifelessness, a monotony, an absence of light and shade. She spoke as
she might fancy an automaton would speak--all on the same note. The
words came fluently enough, the sentences seemed disconnected.

"I couldn't find it. I can't think where I put it. It's so strange. I
just dropped it like that." Mrs Plummer made a sudden forward movement
with her extended right hand, then went through the motion of dropping
something from it on to the floor. With sensations which in their
instant, increasing horror altogether transcended anything which had
gone before, the girl began to understand. "I can't quite remember. I
don't think I picked it up again. I feel sure I didn't bring it home. I
should have found it if I had. I have looked everywhere--everywhere."
The sightless eyes looked here and there, anxiously, restlessly,
searchingly, so that the girl began to read the riddle of the
disordered room. "I must find it. I shall never rest until I do--never!
I must know where it is! The knife! the knife!"

As the unconscious woman repeated for the second time the last two
words, a sudden inspiration flashed through the listener's brain; it
possessed her with such violence that, for some seconds, it set her
trembling from head to foot. When the first shock its advent had
occasioned had passed away, the tremblement was followed by a calm
which was perhaps its natural sequence.

Without waiting to hear or see more she passed out of the room with
rapid, even steps along the corridor to her own chamber. There she was
greeted by Evans.

"You've been a long time, miss. I suppose Mrs Plummer couldn't find the
book you wanted." Then she was evidently struck by the peculiarity of
the girl's manner. "What has happened? I hope there's nothing else
that's wrong. Miss Arnott, what are you doing there?"

The girl was unlocking the wardrobe drawer in which she had that
afternoon replaced Hugh Morice's knife. She took the weapon out.

"Evans, come with me! I'll show you who killed that man in Cooper's
Spinney! Be quick!"

She took the lady's-maid by the wrist and half-led, half-dragged her
from the room. Evans looked at her with frightened face, plainly in
doubt as to whether her young mistress had not all at once gone mad.
But she offered no resistance. On the landing outside the door they
encountered Mr Stacey and Mr Gilbert, who were apparently just coming
up to bed. Miss Arnott hailed them.

"Mr Stacey! Mr Gilbert! you wish to know who it was who murdered Robert
Champion? Come with me quickly. You shall see!"

They stared at the knife which was in her hand, at the strange
expression which was on her face. She did not wait for them to speak.
She moved swiftly towards the staircase which led to the tower-room.
She loosed her attendant's wrist. But Evans showed no desire to take
advantage of her freedom, she pressed closely on her mistress's heels.
Mr Gilbert, rapid in decision, went after the two women without even a
moment's hesitation. Mr Stacey, of slower habit, paused a moment before
he moved, then, obviously puzzled, he followed the others.

When the girl returned Mrs Plummer was bending over a drawer, tossing
its contents in seemingly haphazard fashion on to the carpet.

"I must find it! I must find it!" she kept repeating to herself.

Miss Arnott called to her, not loudly but clearly,--

"Mrs Plummer!" But Mrs Plummer paid no heed. She continued to mutter
and to turn out the contents of the drawer. The girl moved to her
across the floor, speaking to her again by name. "Mrs Plummer, what is
it you are looking for? Is it this knife?"

Plainly the somnambulist was vaguely conscious that a voice had spoken.
Ceasing to rifle the drawer she remained motionless, holding her head a
little on one side, as if she listened. Then she spoke again; but
whether in answer to the question which had been put to her or to
herself, was not clear.

"The knife! I want to find the knife."

"What knife is it you are looking for? Is it the knife with which you
killed your husband in the wood?"

The woman shuddered. It seemed as if something had reached her
consciousness. She said, as if echoing the other's words,--

"My husband in the wood."

The girl became aware that Day, the butler, had entered through the
door on the other side, wearing his hat, as if he had just come out of
the open air, and that he was accompanied by Granger in his uniform,
and by a man whom she did not recognise, but who, as a matter of fact,
was Nunn, the detective. She knew that, behind her, was Evans with Mr
Stacey and Mr Gilbert. She understood that, for her purpose, the
audience could scarcely have been better chosen.

She raised her voice a little, laying stress upon her words.

"Mrs Plummer, here is the knife for which you are looking."

With one hand she held out to her the handle of the knife, with the
other she touched her on the shoulder. There could be no mistake this
time as to whether or not the girl had penetrated to the sleep-walker's
consciousness. They could all of them see that a shiver went all over
her, almost as if she had been struck by palsy. She staggered a little
backwards, putting out her arms in front of her as if to ward off some
threatening danger. There came another fit of shivering, and then they
knew she was awake--awake but speechless. She stared at the girl in
front of her as if she were some dreadful ghost. Relentless, still set
upon her purpose, Miss Arnott went nearer to her.

"Mrs Plummer, here is the knife for which you have been looking--the
knife with which you killed your husband--Douglas Plummer--in the
wood."

The woman stared at the knife, then at the girl, then about her. She
saw the witnesses who stood in either doorway. Probably comprehension
came to her bewildered intellect, which was not yet wide awake. She
realised that her secret was no longer her own, since she had been her
own betrayer, that the Philistines were upon her. She snatched at the
knife which the girl still held out, and, before they guessed at her
intention, had buried it almost to the hilt in her own breast.



                             CHAPTER XXXVII

                            WHAT WAS WRITTEN


She expired that same night without having uttered an intelligible
word. In a sense her end could hardly have been called an unfortunate
one. It is certain that, had she lived, she would have had a bad time,
even if she had escaped the gallows. She had left behind her the whole
story, set forth in black and white by her own hand. It was a
sufficiently unhappy one. It is not impossible that, having heard it, a
jury would have recommended her to mercy. In which case the capital
sentence would probably have been commuted to one of penal servitude
for life. It is a moot question whether it is not better to hang
outright rather than endure a living death within the four walls of a
gaol.

The story of her life as recounted by herself--and there is no reason
to doubt the substantial accuracy of her narrative--was this.

Agatha Linfield, a spinster past her first prime, possessed of some
means of her own, met at a Brighton boarding-house a young man who
called himself Douglas Plummer. Possibly believing her to be better off
than she was he paid her attentions from the first moment of their
meeting. Within a month he had married her. In much less than another
month she had discovered what kind of a man she had for a husband. He
inflicted on her all sorts of indignities, subjecting her even to
physical violence, plundering her of all the money he could. When he
had brought her to the verge of beggary he fell into the hands of the
police; as he was destined to do again at a later period in his career.
Hardly had he been sentenced to a term of imprisonment than his wife
became the recipient of another small legacy, on the strength of which
she went abroad, and, by its means, managed to live. Her own desire was
never to see or hear of her husband again. She even went so far as to
inform her relatives that he had died and left her a sorrowing widow.
He, probably having wearied of a woman so much older than himself and
knowing nothing of the improvement in her fortunes, seems to have made
no effort on his release to ascertain her whereabouts. In short, for
some years each vanished out of the other's existence.

On the night of the Saturday on which they returned from abroad, when
Miss Arnott went for her woodland stroll, Mrs Plummer, whose curiosity
had been previously aroused as to the true inwardness of her
proceedings, after an interval followed to see what possible inducement
there could be to cause her, after a long and fatiguing journey, to
immediately wander abroad at such an uncanonical hour. She was severely
punished for her inquisitiveness. Exactly what took place her diary did
not make clear; details were omitted, the one prominent happening was
alone narrated in what, under the circumstances, were not unnaturally
vague and somewhat confused terms. She came upon the man who was known
to Miss Arnott as Robert Champion, and to her as Douglas Plummer, all
in a moment, without having had, the second before, the faintest
suspicion that he was within a hundred miles. She had hoped--had
tried to convince herself--that he was dead. The sight of him, as,
without the least warning he rose at her--like some spectre of a
nightmare--from under the beech tree, seems to have bereft her for a
moment of her senses. He must have been still writhing from the agony
inflicted by Jim Baker's "peppering" so that he himself was scarcely
sane. He had in his hand Hugh Morice's knife, which he had picked up,
almost by inadvertence, as he staggered to his feet at the sound of
someone coming. It may be that he supposed the newcomer to have been
the person who had already shot at him, that his intention was to defend
himself with the accidentally-discovered weapon from further violence.
She only saw the knife. She had set down in her diary that he was waiting
there to kill her; which, on the face of it, had been written with an
imperfect knowledge of the facts. As he lurched towards her--probably
as much taken by surprise as she was--she imagined he meant to strike
her with the knife. Scarcely knowing what she did she snatched it from
him and killed him on the spot.

It was at that moment she was seen by Hugh Morice and Jim Baker, both
of whom took her for Miss Arnott. Instantly realising what it was
that she had done she fled panic-stricken into the woods
with--presently--Hugh Morice dashing wildly after her. Miss Arnott saw
Hugh Morice, and him only, and drew her own erroneous conclusions.

Mrs Plummer gained entrance to the house by climbing through a tall
casement window, which chanced to have been left unfastened, and which
opened into a passage near the foot of the service staircase.
Afterwards, fast asleep, she frequently got in and out of the house
through that same window. Unknown to her the discreet Mr Day saw her
entry. She had still very far from regained full control of her sober
senses. So soon as she was in, seized, apparently, by a sudden
recollection, she exclaimed, turning again to the casement, "The knife!
the knife! I've left the knife!"

Mr Day, who had no particular affection for the lady, heard the words,
saw the condition she was in, and decided, there and then, that she had
recently been involved in some extremely singular business. Until,
shortly afterwards, he admitted her himself, he was inclined to fear
that she had killed his young mistress.

The impression Mrs Plummer had made upon his mind never left him.
Spying on her at moments when she little suspected espionage, his
doubts gained force as time went on, until they amounted to conviction.
When the body was found in the spinney, although he had little evidence
to go upon, he had, personally, no doubt as to who was the guilty
party. It was because he was divided between the knowledge that it was
his duty to tell all he knew and his feelings that it would be
derogatory to his dignity and repellent to his most cherished instincts
to be mixed up with anything which had to do with the police, that he
was desirous of quitting Miss Arnott's service ere he was dragged,
willy-nilly, into an uncomfortably prominent position in a most
unpleasant affair.

Nothing which afterwards transpired caused him at any time, to doubt,
that, whenever he chose, he could lay his hand upon the criminal. He
alone, of all the persons in the drama, had an inkling of the truth.



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII

                         MISS ARNOTT'S MARRIAGE


The charge against Jim Baker was withdrawn at the earliest possible
moment. Hugh Morice was released that night from the confinement which
he had himself invited. When Mr Nunn asked what had made him accuse
himself of a crime of which he was altogether innocent he laughed.

"Since you yourself were about to charge one innocent person, you
should be the last person in the world to object to my charging
another."

The next day he went to Exham Park. There he saw its mistress. By
degrees the whole tale was told. It took a long time in the telling.
Part of it was told in the house, and then, as it still seemed
unfinished, he went out with her upon her motor car. The rest of it was
told upon the way.

"It seems," she pointed out, "that, as the wretch married that poor
woman before he ever saw me, I never was his wife at all. I don't know
if it's better that way or worse."

"Better."

"I'm not so sure."

"I am. Because, when you become my wife--"

She put the car on to the fourth speed. There was a long, straight,
level road and not a soul in sight. They moved!

"You'll get into trouble if you don't look out."

"I'm not afraid."

"I was about to remark that when you become my wife--"

"I wish you wouldn't talk to me when we're going at this rate. You know
it's dangerous."

"Get down on to the first speed at once." She did slow a trifle, which
enabled him to speak without unduly imperilling their safety. "I was
saying that when you become my wife I shall marry you as Miss
Arnott--Violet Arnott, spinster. That will be your precise description.
I prefer it that way, if you don't mind."

Whether she minded or not that was what he did. No one thereabouts had
the dimmest notion what was her actual relation to the man who had met
the fate which, after all, was not wholly undeserved. So that the great
and glorious festival, which will not be forgotten in that countryside
for many a day, is always spoken of by everyone who partook of the
bride and bridegroom's splendid hospitality as "Miss Arnott's
marriage."

It was indeed one of those marriages of which we may assuredly affirm,
that those whom God hath joined no man shall put asunder.



                                THE END



                               EDINBURGH

                        COLSTON AND COY. LIMITED

                                PRINTERS





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