One supposes that something of a similar nature may have occurred to the others—with the exception of Mrs. Marigold. It was the case of Mrs. Marigold that, as the Doctor grudgingly admits, went far to weaken his hypothesis. Mrs. Marigold, having emerged, was spreading herself, much to her own satisfaction. She had discarded her wedding ring as a relic of barbarism—of the days when women were mere goods and chattels, and had made her first speech at a meeting in favour of marriage reform. Subterfuge, in her case, had to be resorted to. Malvina had tearfully consented, and Marigold, M.P., was to bring Mrs. Marigold to the Cross Stones that same evening and there leave her, explaining to her that Malvina had expressed a wish to see her again—"just for a chat."
All might have ended well if only Commander Raffleton had not appeared framed in the parlour door just as Malvina was starting. His Cousin Christopher had written to the Commander. Indeed, after the Arlington affair, quite pressingly, and once or twice had thought he heard the sound of Flight Commander Raffleton's propeller, but on each occasion had been disappointed. "Affairs of State," Cousin Christopher had explained to Malvina, who, familiar one takes it with the calls upon knights and warriors through all the ages, had approved.
He stood there with his helmet in his hand.
"Only arrived this afternoon from France," he explained. "Haven't a moment to spare."
But he had just time to go straight to Malvina. He laughed as he took her in his arms and kissed her full upon the lips.
When last he had kissed her—it had been in the orchard; the Professor had been witness to it—Malvina had remained quite passive, only that curious little smile about her lips. But now an odd thing happened. A quivering seemed to pass through all her body, so that it swayed and trembled. The Professor feared she was going to fall; and, maybe to save herself, she put up her arms about Commander Raffleton's neck, and with a strange low cry—it sounded to the Professor like the cry one sometimes hears at night from some little dying creature of the woods—she clung to him sobbing.
It must have been a while later when the chiming of the clock recalled to the Professor the appointment with Mrs. Marigold.
"You will only just have time," he said, gently seeking to release her. "I'll promise to keep him till you come back." And as Malvina did not seem to understand, he reminded her.
But still she made no movement, save for a little gesture of the hands as if she were seeking to lay hold of something unseen. And then she dropped her arms and looked from one of them to the other. The Professor did not think of it at the time, but remembered afterwards; that strange aloofness of hers, as if she were looking at you from another world. One no longer felt it.
"I am so sorry," she said. "It is too late. I am only a woman."
And Mrs. Marigold is still thinking.
And here follows the Prologue. It ought, of course, to have been written first, but nobody knew of it until quite the end entirely. It was told to Commander Raffleton by a French comrade, who in days of peace had been a painter, mingling with others of his kind, especially such as found their inspiration in the wide horizons and legend-haunted dells of old-world Brittany. Afterwards the Commander told it to the Professor, and the Professor's only stipulation was that it should not be told to the Doctor, at least for a time. For the Doctor would see in it only confirmation for his own narrow sense-bound theories, while to the Professor it confirmed beyond a doubt the absolute truth of this story.
It commenced in the year Eighteen hundred and ninety-eight (anno Domini), on a particularly unpleasant evening in late February—"a stormy winter's night," one would describe it, were one writing mere romance. It came to the lonely cottage of Madame Lavigne on the edge of the moor that surrounds the sunken village of Aven-a-Christ. Madame Lavigne, who was knitting stockings—for she lived by knitting stockings—heard, as she thought, a passing of feet, and what seemed like a tap at the door. She dismissed the idea, for who would be passing at such an hour, and where there was no road? But a few minutes later the tapping came again, and Madame Lavigne, taking her candle in her hand, went to see who was there. The instant she released the latch a gust of wind blew out the candle, and Madame Lavigne could see no one. She called, but there was no answer. She was about to close the door again when she heard a faint sound. It was not exactly a cry. It was as if someone she could not see, in the tiniest of voices, had said something she could not understand.
Madame Lavigne crossed herself and muttered a prayer, and then she heard it again. It seemed to come from close at her feet, and feeling with her hands—for she thought it might be a stray cat—she found quite a large parcel, It was warm and soft, though, of course, a bit wet, and Madame Lavigne brought it in, and having closed the door and re-lit her candle, laid it on the table. And then she saw it was the tiniest of babies.
It must always be a difficult situation. Madame Lavigne did what most people would have done in the case. She unrolled the wrappings, and taking the little thing on her lap, sat down in front of the dull peat fire and considered. It seemed wonderfully contented, and Madame Lavigne thought the best thing to do would be to undress it and put it to bed, and then go on with her knitting. She would consult Father Jean in the morning and take his advice. She had never seen such fine clothes. She took them off one by one, lovingly feeling their texture, and when she finally removed the last little shift and the little white thing lay exposed, Madame Lavigne sprang up with a cry and all but dropped it into the fire. For she saw by the mark that every Breton peasant knows that it was not a child but a fairy.
Her proper course, as she well knew, was to have opened the door and flung it out into the darkness. Most women of the village would have done so, and spent the rest of the night on their knees. But someone must have chosen with foresight. There came to Madame Lavigne the memory of her good man and her three tall sons, taken from her one by one by the jealous sea, and, come what might of it, she could not do it. The little thing understood, that was clear, for it smiled quite knowingly and stretched out its little hands, touching Madame Lavigne's brown withered skin, and stirring forgotten beatings of her heart.
Father Jean—one takes him to have been a tolerant, gently wise old gentleman—could see no harm. That is, if Madame Lavigne could afford the luxury. Maybe it was a good fairy. Would bring her luck. And certain it is that the cackling of Madame's hens was heard more often than before, and the weeds seemed fewer in the little patch of garden that Madame Lavigne had rescued from the moor.
Of course, the news spread. One gathers that Madame Lavigne rather gave herself airs. But the neighbours shook their heads, and the child grew up lonely and avoided. Fortunately, the cottage was far from other houses, and there was always the great moor with its deep hiding-places. Father Jean was her sole playmate. He would take her with him on his long tramps through his scattered district, leaving her screened among the furze and bracken near to the solitary farmsteads where he made his visitations.
He had learnt it was useless: all attempt of Mother Church to scold out of this sea and moor-girt flock their pagan superstitions. He would leave it to time. Later, perhaps opportunity might occur to place the child in some convent, where she would learn to forget, and grow into a good Catholic. Meanwhile, one had to take pity on the little lonely creature. Not entirely for her own sake maybe; a dear affectionate little soul strangely wise; so she seemed to Father Jean. Under the shade of trees or sharing warm shelter with the soft-eyed cows, he would teach her from his small stock of knowledge. Every now and then she would startle him with an intuition, a comment strangely unchildlike. It was as if she had known all about it, long ago. Father Jean would steal a swift glance at her from under his shaggy eyebrows and fall into a silence. It was curious also how the wild things of the field and wood seemed unafraid of her. At times, returning to where he had left her hidden, he would pause, wondering to whom she was talking, and then as he drew nearer would hear the stealing away of little feet, the startled flutter of wings. She had elfish ways, of which it seemed impossible to cure her. Often the good man, returning from some late visit of mercy with his lantern and his stout oak cudgel, would pause and listen to a wandering voice. It was never near enough for him to hear the words, and the voice was strange to him, though he knew it could be no one else. Madame Lavigne would shrug her shoulders. How could she help it? It was not for her to cross the "child," even supposing bolts and bars likely to be of any use. Father Jean gave it up in despair. Neither was it for him either to be too often forbidding and lecturing. Maybe the cunning tender ways had wove their web about the childless old gentleman's heart, making him also somewhat afraid. Perhaps other distractions! For Madame Lavigne would never allow her to do anything but the lightest of work. He would teach her to read. So quickly she learnt that it seemed to Father Jean she must be making believe not to have known it already. But he had his reward in watching the joy with which she would devour, for preference, the quaint printed volumes of romance and history that he would bring home to her from his rare journeyings to the distant town.
It was when she was about thirteen that the ladies and gentlemen came from Paris. Of course they were not real ladies and gentlemen. Only a little company of artists seeking new fields. They had "done" the coast and the timbered houses of the narrow streets, and one of them had suggested exploring the solitary, unknown inlands. They came across her seated on an old grey stone reading from an ancient-looking book, and she had risen and curtsied to them. She was never afraid. It was she who excited fear. Often she would look after the children flying from her, feeling a little sad. But, of course, it could not be helped. She was a fairy. She would have done them no harm, but this they could not be expected to understand. It was a delightful change; meeting human beings who neither screamed nor hastily recited their paternosters, but who, instead, returned one's smile. They asked her where she lived, and she showed them. They were staying at Aven-a-Christ; and one of the ladies was brave enough even to kiss her. Laughing and talking they all walked down the hill together. They found Madame Lavigne working in her garden. Madame Lavigne washed her hands of all responsibility. It was for Suzanne to decide. It seemed they wanted to make a picture of her, sitting on the grey stone where they had found her. It was surely only kind to let them; so next morning she was there again waiting for them. They gave her a five-franc piece. Madame Lavigne was doubtful of handling it, but Father Jean vouched for it as being good Republican money; and as the days went by Madame Lavigne's black stocking grew heavier and heavier as she hung it again each night in the chimney.
It was the lady who had first kissed her that discovered who she was. They had all of them felt sure from the beginning that she was a fairy, and that "Suzanne" could not be her real name. They found it in the "Heptameron of Friar Bonnet. In which is recorded the numerous adventures of the valiant and puissant King Ryence of Bretagne," which one of them had picked up on the Quai aux Fleurs and brought with him. It told all about the White Ladies, and therein she was described. There could be no mistaking her; the fair body that was like to a willow swayed by the wind. The white feet that could pass, leaving the dew unshaken from the grass. The eyes blue and deep as mountain lakes. The golden locks of which the sun was jealous.
It was all quite clear. She was Malvina, once favourite to Harbundia, Queen of the White Ladies of Brittany. For reasons—further allusion to which politeness forbade—she had been a wanderer, no one knowing what had become of her. And now the whim had taken her to reappear as a little Breton peasant girl, near to the scene of her past glories. They knelt before her, offering her homage, and all the ladies kissed her. The gentlemen of the party thought their turn would follow. But it never did. It was not their own shyness that stood in their way: one must do them that justice. It was as if some youthful queen, exiled and unknown amongst strangers, had been suddenly recognised by a little band of her faithful subjects, passing by chance that way. So that, instead of frolic and laughter, as had been intended, they remained standing with bared heads; and no one liked to be the first to speak.
She put them at their ease—or tried to—with a gracious gesture. But enjoined upon them all her wish for secrecy. And so dismissed they seem to have returned to the village a marvellously sober little party, experiencing all the sensations of honest folk admitted to their first glimpse of high society.
They came again next year—at least a few of them—bringing with them a dress more worthy of Malvina's wearing. It was as near as Paris could achieve to the true and original costume as described by the good Friar Bonnet, the which had been woven in a single night by the wizard spider Karai out of moonlight. Malvina accepted it with gracious thanks, and was evidently pleased to find herself again in fit and proper clothes. It was hidden away for rare occasions where only Malvina knew. But the lady who had first kissed her, and whose speciality was fairies, craving permission, Malvina consented to wear it while sitting for her portrait. The picture one may still see in the Palais des Beaux Arts at Nantes (the Bretonne Room). It represents her standing straight as an arrow, a lone little figure in the centre of a treeless moor. The painting of the robe is said to be very wonderful. "Malvina of Brittany" is the inscription, the date being Nineteen Hundred and Thirteen.
The next year Malvina was no longer there. Madame Lavigne, folding knotted hands, had muttered her last paternoster. Pere Jean had urged the convent. But for the first time, with him, she had been frankly obstinate. Some fancy seemed to have got into the child's head. Something that she evidently connected with the vast treeless moor rising southward to where the ancient menhir of King Taramis crowned its summit. The good man yielded, as usual. For the present there were Madame Lavigne's small savings. Suzanne's wants were but few. The rare shopping necessary Father Jean could see to himself. With the coming of winter he would broach the subject again, and then be quite firm. Just these were the summer nights when Suzanne loved to roam; and as for danger! there was not a lad for ten leagues round who would not have run a mile to avoid passing, even in daylight, that cottage standing where the moor dips down to the sealands.
But one surmises that even a fairy may feel lonesome. Especially a banished fairy, hanging as it were between earth and air, knowing mortal maidens kissed and courted, while one's own companions kept away from one in hiding. Maybe the fancy came to her that, after all these years, they might forgive her. Still, it was their meeting place, so legend ran, especially of midsummer nights. Rare it was now for human eye to catch a glimpse of the shimmering robes, but high on the treeless moor to the music of the Lady of the Fountain, one might still hear, were one brave enough to venture, the rhythm of their dancing feet. If she sought them, softly calling, might they not reveal themselves to her, make room for her once again in the whirling circle? One has the idea that the moonlight frock may have added to her hopes. Philosophy admits that feeling oneself well dressed gives confidence.
If all of them had not disappeared—been kissed three times upon the lips by mortal man and so become a woman? It seems to have been a possibility for which your White Lady had to be prepared. That is, if she chose to suffer it. If not, it was unfortunate for the too daring mortal. But if he gained favour in her eyes! That he was brave, his wooing proved. If, added thereto, he were comely, with kind strong ways, and eyes that drew you? History proves that such dreams must have come even to White Ladies. Maybe more especially on midsummer nights when the moon is at its full. It was on such a night that Sir Gerylon had woke Malvina's sister Sighile with a kiss. A true White Lady must always dare to face her fate.
It seems to have befallen Malvina. Some told Father Jean how he had arrived in a chariot drawn by winged horses, the thunder of his passing waking many in the sleeping villages beneath. And others how he had come in the form of a great bird. Father Jean had heard strange sounds himself, and certain it was that Suzanne had disappeared.
Father Jean heard another version a few weeks later, told him by an English officer of Engineers who had ridden from the nearest station on a bicycle and who arrived hot and ravenously thirsty. And Father Jean, under promise of seeing Suzanne on the first opportunity, believed it. But to most of his flock it sounded an impossible rigmarole, told for the purpose of disguising the truth.
So ends my story—or rather the story I have pieced together from information of a contradictory nature received. Whatever you make of it; whether with the Doctor you explain it away; or whether with Professor Littlecherry, LL.D., F.R.S., you believe the world not altogether explored and mapped, the fact remains that Malvina of Brittany has passed away. To the younger Mrs. Raffleton, listening on the Sussex Downs to dull, distant sounds that make her heart beat, and very nervous of telegraph boys, has come already some of the disadvantages attendant on her new rank of womanhood. And yet one gathers, looking down into those strange deep eyes, that she would not change anything about her, even if now she could.
THE STREET OF THE BLANK WALL.
I had turned off from the Edgware Road into a street leading west, the atmosphere of which had appealed to me. It was a place of quiet houses standing behind little gardens. They had the usual names printed on the stuccoed gateposts. The fading twilight was just sufficient to enable one to read them. There was a Laburnum Villa, and The Cedars, and a Cairngorm, rising to the height of three storeys, with a curious little turret that branched out at the top, and was crowned with a conical roof, so that it looked as if wearing a witch's hat. Especially when two small windows just below the eaves sprang suddenly into light, and gave one the feeling of a pair of wicked eyes suddenly flashed upon one.
The street curved to the right, ending in an open space through which passed a canal beneath a low arched bridge. There were still the same quiet houses behind their small gardens, and I watched for a while the lamplighter picking out the shape of the canal, that widened just above the bridge into a lake with an island in the middle. After that I must have wandered in a circle, for later on I found myself back in the same spot, though I do not suppose I had passed a dozen people on my way; and then I set to work to find my way back to Paddington.
I thought I had taken the road by which I had come, but the half light must have deceived me. Not that it mattered. They had a lurking mystery about them, these silent streets with their suggestion of hushed movement behind drawn curtains, of whispered voices behind the flimsy walls. Occasionally there would escape the sound of laughter, suddenly stifled as it seemed, and once the sudden cry of a child.
It was in a short street of semi-detached villas facing a high blank wall that, as I passed, I saw a blind move half-way up, revealing a woman's face. A gas lamp, the only one the street possessed, was nearly opposite. I thought at first it was the face of a girl, and then, as I looked again, it might have been the face of an old woman. One could not distinguish the colouring. In any case, the cold, blue gaslight would have made it seem pallid.
The remarkable feature was the eyes. It might have been, of course, that they alone caught the light and held it, rendering them uncannily large and brilliant. Or it might have been that the rest of the face was small and delicate, out of all proportion to them. She may have seen me, for the blind was drawn down again, and I passed on.
There was no particular reason why, but the incident lingered with me. The sudden raising of the blind, as of the curtain of some small theatre, the barely furnished room coming dimly into view, and the woman standing there, close to the footlights, as to my fancy it seemed. And then the sudden ringing down of the curtain before the play had begun. I turned at the corner of the street. The blind had been drawn up again, and I saw again the slight, girlish figure silhouetted against the side panes of the bow window.
At the same moment a man knocked up against me. It was not his fault. I had stopped abruptly, not giving him time to avoid me. We both apologised, blaming the darkness. It may have been my fancy, but I had the feeling that, instead of going on his way, he had turned and was following me. I waited till the next corner, and then swung round on my heel. But there was no sign of him, and after a while I found myself back in the Edgware Road.
Once or twice, in idle mood, I sought the street again, but without success; and the thing would, I expect, have faded from my memory, but that one evening, on my way home from Paddington, I came across the woman in the Harrow Road. There was no mistaking her. She almost touched me as she came out of a fishmonger's shop, and unconsciously, at the beginning, I found myself following her. This time I noticed the turnings, and five minutes' walking brought us to the street. Half a dozen times I must have been within a hundred yards of it. I lingered at the corner. She had not noticed me, and just as she reached the house a man came out of the shadows beyond the lamp-post and joined her.
I was due at a bachelor gathering that evening, and after dinner, the affair being fresh in my mind, I talked about it. I am not sure, but I think it was in connection with a discussion on Maeterlinck. It was that sudden lifting of the blind that had caught hold of me. As if, blundering into an empty theatre, I had caught a glimpse of some drama being played in secret. We passed to other topics, and when I was leaving a fellow guest asked me which way I was going. I told him, and, it being a fine night, he proposed that we should walk together. And in the quiet of Harley Street he confessed that his desire had not been entirely the pleasure of my company.
"It is rather curious," he said, "but today there suddenly came to my remembrance a case that for nearly eleven years I have never given a thought to. And now, on top of it, comes your description of that woman's face. I am wondering if it can be the same."
"It was the eyes," I said, "that struck me as so remarkable."
"It was the eyes that I chiefly remember her by," he replied. "Would you know the street again?"
We walked a little while in silence.
"It may seem, perhaps, odd to you," I answered, "but it would trouble me, the idea of any harm coming to her through me. What was the case?"
"You can feel quite safe on that point," he assured me. "I was her counsel—that is, if it is the same woman. How was she dressed?"
I could not see the reason for his question. He could hardly expect her to be wearing the clothes of eleven years ago.
"I don't think I noticed," I answered. "Some sort of a blouse, I suppose." And then I recollected. "Ah, yes, there was something uncommon," I added. "An unusually broad band of velvet, it looked like, round her neck."
"I thought so," he said. "Yes. It must be the same."
We had reached Marylebone Road, where our ways parted.
"I will look you up to-morrow afternoon, if I may," he said. "We might take a stroll round together."
He called on me about half-past five, and we reached the street just as the one solitary gas-lamp had been lighted. I pointed out the house to him, and he crossed over and looked at the number.
"Quite right," he said, on returning. "I made inquiries this morning. She was released six weeks ago on ticket-of-leave."
He took my arm.
"Not much use hanging about," he said. "The blind won't go up to-night. Rather a clever idea, selecting a house just opposite a lamp-post."
He had an engagement that evening; but later on he told me the story—that is, so far as he then knew it.
* * *
It was in the early days of the garden suburb movement. One of the first sites chosen was off the Finchley Road. The place was in the building, and one of the streets—Laleham Gardens—had only some half a dozen houses in it, all unoccupied save one. It was a lonely, loose end of the suburb, terminating suddenly in open fields. From the unfinished end of the road the ground sloped down somewhat steeply to a pond, and beyond that began a small wood. The one house occupied had been bought by a young married couple named Hepworth.
The husband was a good-looking, pleasant young fellow. Being clean-shaven, his exact age was difficult to judge. The wife, it was quite evident, was little more than a girl. About the man there was a suggestion of weakness. At least, that was the impression left on the mind of the house-agent. To-day he would decide, and to-morrow he changed his mind. Jetson, the agent, had almost given up hope of bringing off a deal. In the end it was Mrs. Hepworth who, taking the matter into her own hands, fixed upon the house in Laleham Gardens. Young Hepworth found fault with it on the ground of its isolation. He himself was often away for days at a time, travelling on business, and was afraid she would be nervous. He had been very persistent on this point; but in whispered conversations she had persuaded him out of his objection. It was one of those pretty, fussy little houses; and it seemed to have taken her fancy. Added to which, according to her argument, it was just within their means, which none of the others were. Young Hepworth may have given the usual references, but if so they were never taken up. The house was sold on the company's usual terms. The deposit was paid by a cheque, which was duly cleared, and the house itself was security for the rest. The company's solicitor, with Hepworth's consent, acted for both parties.
It was early in June when the Hepworths moved in. They furnished only one bedroom; and kept no servant, a charwoman coming in every morning and going away about six in the evening. Jetson was their nearest neighbour. His wife and daughters called on them, and confess to have taken a liking to them both. Indeed, between one of the Jetson girls, the youngest, and Mrs. Hepworth there seems to have sprung up a close friendship. Young Hepworth, the husband, was always charming, and evidently took great pains to make himself agreeable. But with regard to him they had the feeling that he was never altogether at his ease. They described him—though that, of course, was after the event—as having left upon them the impression of a haunted man.
There was one occasion in particular. It was about ten o'clock. The Jetsons had been spending the evening with the Hepworths, and were just on the point of leaving, when there came a sudden, clear knock at the door. It turned out to be Jetson's foreman, who had to leave by an early train in the morning, and had found that he needed some further instructions. But the terror in Hepworth's face was unmistakable. He had turned a look towards his wife that was almost of despair; and it had seemed to the Jetsons—or, talking it over afterwards, they may have suggested the idea to each other—that there came a flash of contempt into her eyes, though it yielded the next instant to an expression of pity. She had risen, and already moved some steps towards the door, when young Hepworth had stopped her, and gone out himself. But the curious thing was that, according to the foreman's account, Hepworth never opened the front door, but came upon him stealthily from behind. He must have slipped out by the back and crept round the house.
The incident had puzzled the Jetsons, especially that involuntary flash of contempt that had come into Mrs. Hepworth's eyes. She had always appeared to adore her husband, and of the two, if possible, to be the one most in love with the other. They had no friends or acquaintances except the Jetsons. No one else among their neighbours had taken the trouble to call on them, and no stranger to the suburb had, so far as was known, ever been seen in Laleham Gardens.
Until one evening a little before Christmas.
Jetson was on his way home from his office in the Finchley Road. There had been a mist hanging about all day, and with nightfall it had settled down into a whitish fog. Soon after leaving the Finchley Road, Jetson noticed in front of him a man wearing a long, yellow mackintosh, and some sort of soft felt hat. He gave Jetson the idea of being a sailor; it may have been merely the stiff, serviceable mackintosh. At the corner of Laleham Gardens the man turned, and glanced up at the name upon the lamp-post, so that Jetson had a full view of him. Evidently it was the street for which he was looking. Jetson, somewhat curious, the Hepworths' house being still the only one occupied, paused at the corner, and watched. The Hepworths' house was, of course, the only one in the road that showed any light. The man, when he came to the gate, struck a match for the purpose of reading the number. Satisfied it was the house he wanted, he pushed open the gate and went up the path.
But, instead of using the bell or knocker, Jetson was surprised to hear him give three raps on the door with his stick. There was no answer, and Jetson, whose interest was now thoroughly aroused, crossed to the other corner, from where he could command a better view. Twice the man repeated his three raps on the door, each time a little louder, and the third time the door was opened. Jetson could not tell by whom, for whoever it was kept behind it.
He could just see one wall of the passage, with a pair of old naval cutlasses crossed above the picture of a three-masted schooner that he knew hung there. The door was opened just sufficient, and the man slipped in, and the door was closed behind him. Jetson had turned to continue his way, when the fancy seized him to give one glance back. The house was in complete darkness, though a moment before Jetson was positive there had been a light in the ground floor window.
It all sounded very important afterwards, but at the time there was nothing to suggest to Jetson anything very much out of the common. Because for six months no friend or relation had called to see them, that was no reason why one never should. In the fog, a stranger may have thought it simpler to knock at the door with his stick than to fumble in search of a bell. The Hepworths lived chiefly in the room at the back. The light in the drawing-room may have been switched off for economy's sake. Jetson recounted the incident on reaching home, not as anything remarkable, but just as one mentions an item of gossip. The only one who appears to have attached any meaning to the affair was Jetson's youngest daughter, then a girl of eighteen. She asked one or two questions about the man, and, during the evening, slipped out by herself and ran round to the Hepworths. She found the house empty. At all events, she could obtain no answer, and the place, back and front, seemed to her to be uncannily silent.
Jetson called the next morning, something of his daughter's uneasiness having communicated itself to him. Mrs. Hepworth herself opened the door to him. In his evidence at the trial, Jetson admitted that her appearance had startled him. She seems to have anticipated his questions by at once explaining that she had had news of an unpleasant nature, and had been worrying over it all night. Her husband had been called away suddenly to America, where it would be necessary for her to join him as soon as possible. She would come round to Jetson's office later in the day to make arrangements about getting rid of the house and furniture.
The story seemed to reasonably account for the stranger's visit, and Jetson, expressing his sympathy and promising all help in his power, continued his way to the office. She called in the afternoon and handed him over the keys, retaining one for herself. She wished the furniture to be sold by auction, and he was to accept almost any offer for the house. She would try and see him again before sailing; if not, she would write him with her address. She was perfectly cool and collected. She had called on his wife and daughters in the afternoon, and had wished them good-bye.
Outside Jetson's office she hailed a cab, and returned in it to Laleham Gardens to collect her boxes. The next time Jetson saw her she was in the dock, charged with being an accomplice in the murder of her husband.
* * *
The body had been discovered in a pond some hundred yards from the unfinished end of Laleham Gardens. A house was in course of erection on a neighbouring plot, and a workman, in dipping up a pail of water, had dropped in his watch. He and his mate, worrying round with a rake, had drawn up pieces of torn clothing, and this, of course, had led to the pond being properly dragged. Otherwise the discovery might never have been made.
The body, heavily weighted with a number of flat-irons fastened to it by a chain and padlock, had sunk deep into the soft mud, and might have remained there till it rotted. A valuable gold repeater, that Jetson remembered young Hepworth having told him had been a presentation to his father, was in its usual pocket, and a cameo ring that Hepworth had always worn on his third finger was likewise fished up from the mud. Evidently the murder belonged to the category of crimes passionel. The theory of the prosecution was that it had been committed by a man who, before her marriage, had been Mrs. Hepworth's lover.
The evidence, contrasted with the almost spiritually beautiful face of the woman in the dock, came as a surprise to everyone in court. Originally connected with an English circus troupe touring in Holland, she appears, about seventeen, to have been engaged as a "song and dance artiste" at a particularly shady cafe chantant in Rotterdam, frequented chiefly by sailors. From there a man, an English sailor known as Charlie Martin, took her away, and for some months she had lived with him at a small estaminet the other side of the river. Later, they left Rotterdam and came to London, where they took lodgings in Poplar, near to the docks.
It was from this address in Poplar that, some ten months before the murder, she had married young Hepworth. What had become of Martin was not known. The natural assumption was that, his money being exhausted, he had returned to his calling, though his name, for some reason, could not be found in any ship's list.
That he was one and the same with the man that Jetson had watched till the door of the Hepworths' house had closed upon him there could be no doubt. Jetson described him as a thick-set, handsome-looking man, with a reddish beard and moustache. Earlier in the day he had been seen at Hampstead, where he had dined at a small coffee-shop in the High Street. The girl who had waited on him had also been struck by the bold, piercing eyes and the curly red beard. It had been an off-time, between two and three, when he had dined there, and the girl admitted that she had found him a "pleasant-spoken gentleman," and "inclined to be merry." He had told her that he had arrived in England only three days ago, and that he hoped that evening to see his sweetheart. He had accompanied the words with a laugh, and the girl thought—though, of course, this may have been after-suggestion—that an ugly look followed the laugh.
One imagines that it was this man's return that had been the fear constantly haunting young Hepworth. The three raps on the door, it was urged by the prosecution, was a pre-arranged or pre-understood signal, and the door had been opened by the woman. Whether the husband was in the house, or whether they waited for him, could not be said. He had been killed by a bullet entering through the back of the neck; the man had evidently come prepared.
Ten days had elapsed between the murder and the finding of the body, and the man was never traced. A postman had met him coming from the neighbourhood of Laleham Gardens at about half-past nine. In the fog, they had all but bumped into one another, and the man had immediately turned away his face.
About the soft felt hat there was nothing to excite attention, but the long, stiff, yellow mackintosh was quite unusual. The postman had caught only a momentary glimpse of the face, but was certain it was clean shaven. This made a sensation in court for the moment, but only until the calling of the next witness. The charwoman usually employed by the Hepworths had not been admitted to the house on the morning of Mrs. Hepworth's departure. Mrs. Hepworth had met her at the door and paid her a week's money in lieu of notice, explaining to her that she would not be wanted any more. Jetson, thinking he might possibly do better by letting the house furnished, had sent for this woman, and instructed her to give the place a thorough cleaning. Sweeping the carpet in the dining-room with a dustpan and brush, she had discovered a number of short red hairs. The man, before leaving the house, had shaved himself.
That he had still retained the long, yellow mackintosh may have been with the idea of starting a false clue. Having served its purpose, it could be discarded. The beard would not have been so easy. What roundabout way he may have taken one cannot say, but it must have been some time during the night or early morning that he reached young Hepworth's office in Fenchurch Street. Mrs. Hepworth had evidently provided him with the key.
There he seems to have hidden the hat and mackintosh and to have taken in exchange some clothes belonging to the murdered man. Hepworth's clerk, Ellenby, an elderly man—of the type that one generally describes as of gentlemanly appearance—was accustomed to his master being away unexpectedly on business, which was that of a ships' furnisher. He always kept an overcoat and a bag ready packed in the office. Missing them, Ellenby had assumed that his master had been called away by an early train. He would have been worried after a few days, but that he had received a telegram—as he then supposed from his master—explaining that young Hepworth had gone to Ireland and would be away for some days. It was nothing unusual for Hepworth to be absent, superintending the furnishing of a ship, for a fortnight at a time, and nothing had transpired in the office necessitating special instructions. The telegram had been handed in at Charing Cross, but the time chosen had been a busy period of the day, and no one had any recollection of the sender. Hepworth's clerk unhesitatingly identified the body as that of his employer, for whom it was evident that he had entertained a feeling of affection. About Mrs. Hepworth he said as little as he could. While she was awaiting her trial it had been necessary for him to see her once or twice with reference to the business. Previous to this, he knew nothing about her.
The woman's own attitude throughout the trial had been quite unexplainable. Beyond agreeing to a formal plea of "Not guilty," she had made no attempt to defend herself. What little assistance her solicitors had obtained had been given them, not by the woman herself, but by Hepworth's clerk, more for the sake of his dead master than out of any sympathy towards the wife. She herself appeared utterly indifferent. Only once had she been betrayed into a momentary emotion. It was when her solicitors were urging her almost angrily to give them some particulars upon a point they thought might be helpful to her case.
"He's dead!" she had cried out almost with a note of exultation. "Dead! Dead! What else matters?"
The next moment she had apologised for her outburst.
"Nothing can do any good," she had said. "Let the thing take its course."
It was the astounding callousness of the woman that told against her both with the judge and the jury. That shaving in the dining-room, the murdered man's body not yet cold! It must have been done with Hepworth's safety-razor. She must have brought it down to him, found him a looking-glass, brought him soap and water and a towel, afterwards removing all traces. Except those few red hairs that had clung, unnoticed, to the carpet. That nest of flat-irons used to weight the body! It must have been she who had thought of them. The idea would never have occurred to a man. The chain and padlock with which to fasten them. She only could have known that such things were in the house. It must have been she who had planned the exchange of clothes in Hepworth's office, giving him the key. She it must have been who had thought of the pond, holding open the door while the man had staggered out under his ghastly burden; waited, keeping watch, listening to hear the splash.
Evidently it had been her intention to go off with the murderer—to live with him! That story about America. If all had gone well, it would have accounted for everything. After leaving Laleham Gardens she had taken lodgings in a small house in Kentish Town under the name of Howard, giving herself out to be a chorus singer, her husband being an actor on tour. To make the thing plausible, she had obtained employment in one of the pantomimes. Not for a moment had she lost her head. No one had ever called at her lodgings, and there had come no letters for her. Every hour of her day could be accounted for. Their plans must have been worked out over the corpse of her murdered husband. She was found guilty of being an "accessory after the fact," and sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude.
That brought the story up to eleven years ago. After the trial, interested in spite of himself, my friend had ferreted out some further particulars. Inquiries at Liverpool had procured him the information that Hepworth's father, a shipowner in a small way, had been well known and highly respected. He was retired from business when he died, some three years previous to the date of the murder. His wife had survived him by only a few months. Besides Michael, the murdered son, there were two other children—an elder brother, who was thought to have gone abroad to one of the colonies, and a sister who had married a French naval officer. Either they had not heard of the case or had not wished to have their names dragged into it. Young Michael had started life as an architect, and was supposed to have been doing well, but after the death of his parents had disappeared from the neighbourhood, and, until the trial, none of his acquaintances up North ever knew what had become of him.
But a further item of knowledge that my friend's inquiries had elicited had somewhat puzzled him. Hepworth's clerk, Ellenby, had been the confidential clerk of Hepworth's father! He had entered the service of the firm as a boy; and when Hepworth senior retired, Ellenby—with the old gentleman's assistance—had started in business for himself as a ships' furnisher! Nothing of all this came out at the trial. Ellenby had not been cross-examined. There was no need for it. But it seemed odd, under all the circumstances, that he had not volunteered the information. It may, of course, have been for the sake of the brother and sister. Hepworth is a common enough name in the North. He may have hoped to keep the family out of connection with the case.
As regards the woman, my friend could learn nothing further beyond the fact that, in her contract with the music-hall agent in Rotterdam, she had described herself as the daughter of an English musician, and had stated that both her parents were dead. She may have engaged herself without knowing the character of the hall, and the man, Charlie Martin, with his handsome face and pleasing sailor ways, and at least an Englishman, may have seemed to her a welcome escape.
She may have been passionately fond of him, and young Hepworth—crazy about her, for she was beautiful enough to turn any man's head—may in Martin's absence have lied to her, told her he was dead—lord knows what!—to induce her to marry him. The murder may have seemed to her a sort of grim justice.
But even so, her cold-blooded callousness was surely abnormal! She had married him, lived with him for nearly a year. To the Jetsons she had given the impression of being a woman deeply in love with her husband. It could not have been mere acting kept up day after day.
"There was something else." We were discussing the case in my friend's chambers. His brief of eleven years ago was open before him. He was pacing up and down with his hands in his pockets, thinking as he talked. "Something that never came out. There was a curious feeling she gave me in that moment when sentence was pronounced upon her. It was as if, instead of being condemned, she had triumphed. Acting! If she had acted during the trial, pretended remorse, even pity, I could have got her off with five years. She seemed to be unable to disguise the absolute physical relief she felt at the thought that he was dead, that his hand would never again touch her. There must have been something that had suddenly been revealed to her, something that had turned her love to hate.
"There must be something fine about the man, too." That was another suggestion that came to him as he stood staring out of the window across the river. "She's paid and has got her receipt, but he is still 'wanted.' He is risking his neck every evening he watches for the raising of that blind."
His thought took another turn.
"Yet how could he have let her go through those ten years of living death while he walked the streets scot free? Some time during the trial—the evidence piling up against her day by day—why didn't he come forward, if only to stand beside her? Get himself hanged, if only out of mere decency?"
He sat down, took the brief up in his hand without looking at it.
"Or was that the reward that she claimed? That he should wait, keeping alive the one hope that would make the suffering possible to her? Yes," he continued, musing, "I can see a man who cared for a woman taking that as his punishment."
Now that his interest in the case had been revived he seemed unable to keep it out of his mind. Since our joint visit I had once or twice passed through the street by myself, and on the last occasion had again seen the raising of the blind. It obsessed him—the desire to meet the man face to face. A handsome, bold, masterful man, he conceived him. But there must be something more for such a woman to have sold her soul—almost, one might say—for the sake of him.
There was just one chance of succeeding. Each time he had come from the direction of the Edgware Road. By keeping well out of sight at the other end of the street, and watching till he entered it, one might time oneself to come upon him just under the lamp. He would hardly be likely to turn and go back; that would be to give himself away. He would probably content himself with pretending to be like ourselves, merely hurrying through, and in his turn watching till we had disappeared.
Fortune seemed inclined to favour us. About the usual time the blind was gently raised, and very soon afterwards there came round the corner the figure of a man. We entered the street ourselves a few seconds later, and it seemed likely that, as we had planned, we should come face to face with him under the gaslight. He walked towards us, stooping and with bent head. We expected him to pass the house by. To our surprise he stopped when he came to it, and pushed open the gate. In another moment we should have lost all chance of seeing anything more of him except his bent back. With a couple of strides my friend was behind him. He laid his hand on the man's shoulder and forced him to turn round. It was an old, wrinkled face with gentle, rather watery eyes.
We were both so taken aback that for a moment we could say nothing. My friend stammered out an apology about having mistaken the house, and rejoined me. At the corner we burst out laughing almost simultaneously. And then my friend suddenly stopped and stared at me.
"Hepworth's old clerk!" he said. "Ellenby!"
* * *
It seemed to him monstrous. The man had been more than a clerk. The family had treated him as a friend. Hepworth's father had set him up in business. For the murdered lad he had had a sincere attachment; he had left that conviction on all of them. What was the meaning of it?
A directory was on the mantelpiece. It was the next afternoon. I had called upon him in his chambers. It was just an idea that came to me. I crossed over and opened it, and there was his name, "Ellenby and Co., Ships' Furnishers," in a court off the Minories.
Was he helping her for the sake of his dead master—trying to get her away from the man. But why? The woman had stood by and watched the lad murdered. How could he bear even to look on her again?
Unless there had been that something that had not come out—something he had learnt later—that excused even that monstrous callousness of hers.
Yet what could there be? It had all been so planned, so cold-blooded. That shaving in the dining-room! It was that seemed most to stick in his throat. She must have brought him down a looking-glass; there was not one in the room. Why couldn't he have gone upstairs into the bathroom, where Hepworth always shaved himself, where he would have found everything to his hand?
He had been moving about the room, talking disjointedly as he paced, and suddenly he stopped and looked at me.
"Why in the dining-room?" he demanded of me.
He was jingling some keys in his pocket. It was a habit of his when cross-examining, and I felt as if somehow I knew; and, without thinking—so it seemed to me—I answered him.
"Perhaps," I said, "it was easier to bring a razor down than to carry a dead man up."
He leant with his arms across the table, his eyes glittering with excitement.
"Can't you see it?" he said. "That little back parlour with its fussy ornaments. The three of them standing round the table, Hepworth's hands nervously clutching a chair. The reproaches, the taunts, the threats. Young Hepworth—he struck everyone as a weak man, a man physically afraid—white, stammering, not knowing which way to look. The woman's eyes turning from one to the other. That flash of contempt again—she could not help it—followed, worse still, by pity. If only he could have answered back, held his own! If only he had not been afraid! And then that fatal turning away with a sneering laugh one imagines, the bold, dominating eyes no longer there to cower him.
"That must have been the moment. The bullet, if you remember, entered through the back of the man's neck. Hepworth must always have been picturing to himself this meeting—tenants of garden suburbs do not carry loaded revolvers as a habit—dwelling upon it till he had worked himself up into a frenzy of hate and fear. Weak men always fly to extremes. If there was no other way, he would kill him.
"Can't you hear the silence? After the reverberations had died away! And then they are both down on their knees, patting him, feeling for his heart. The man must have gone down like a felled ox; there were no traces of blood on the carpet. The house is far from any neighbour; the shot in all probability has not been heard. If only they can get rid of the body! The pond—not a hundred yards away!"
He reached for the brief, still lying among his papers; hurriedly turned the scored pages.
"What easier? A house being built on the very next plot. Wheelbarrows to be had for the taking. A line of planks reaching down to the edge. Depth of water where the body was discovered four feet six inches. Nothing to do but just tip up the barrow.
"Think a minute. Must weigh him down, lest he rise to accuse us; weight him heavily, so that he will sink lower and lower into the soft mud, lie there till he rots.
"Think again. Think it out to the end. Suppose, in spite of all our precautions, he does rise? Suppose the chain slips? The workmen going to and fro for water—suppose they do discover him?
"He is lying on his back, remember. They would have turned him over to feel for his heart. Have closed his eyes, most probably, not liking their stare.
"It would be the woman who first thought of it. She has seen them both lying with closed eyes beside her. It may have always been in her mind, the likeness between them. With Hepworth's watch in his pocket, Hepworth's ring on his finger! If only it was not for the beard—that fierce, curling, red beard!
"They creep to the window and peer out. Fog still thick as soup. Not a soul, not a sound. Plenty of time.
"Then to get away, to hide till one is sure. Put on the mackintosh. A man in a yellow mackintosh may have been seen to enter; let him be seen to go away. In some dark corner or some empty railway carriage take it off and roll it up. Then make for the office. Wait there for Ellenby. True as steel, Ellenby; good business man. Be guided by Ellenby."
He flung the brief from him with a laugh.
"Why, there's not a missing link!" he cried. "And to think that not a fool among us ever thought of it!"
"Everything fitting into its place," I suggested, "except young Hepworth. Can you see him, from your description of him, sitting down and coolly elaborating plans for escape, the corpse of the murdered man stretched beside him on the hearthrug?"
"No," he answered. "But I can see her doing it, a woman who for week after week kept silence while we raged and stormed at her, a woman who for three hours sat like a statue while old Cutbush painted her to a crowded court as a modern Jezebel, who rose up from her seat when that sentence of fifteen years' penal servitude was pronounced upon her with a look of triumph in her eyes, and walked out of court as if she had been a girl going to meet her lover.
"I'll wager," he added, "it was she who did the shaving. Hepworth would have cut him, even with a safety-razor."
"It must have been the other one, Martin," I said, "that she loathed. That almost exultation at the thought that he was dead," I reminded him.
"Yes," he mused. "She made no attempt to disguise it. Curious there having been that likeness between them." He looked at his watch. "Do you care to come with me?" he said.
"Where are you going?" I asked him.
"We may just catch him," he answered. "Ellenby and Co."
* * *
The office was on the top floor of an old-fashioned house in a cul-de-sac off the Minories. Mr. Ellenby was out, so the lanky office-boy informed us, but would be sure to return before evening; and we sat and waited by the meagre fire till, as the dusk was falling, we heard his footsteps on the creaking stairs.
He halted a moment in the doorway, recognising us apparently without surprise; and then, with a hope that we had not been kept waiting long, he led the way into an inner room.
"I do not suppose you remember me," said my friend, as soon as the door was closed. "I fancy that, until last night, you never saw me without my wig and gown. It makes a difference. I was Mrs. Hepworth's senior counsel."
It was unmistakable, the look of relief that came into the old, dim eyes. Evidently the incident of the previous evening had suggested to him an enemy.
"You were very good," he murmured. "Mrs. Hepworth was overwrought at the time, but she was very grateful, I know, for all your efforts."
I thought I detected a faint smile on my friend's lips.
"I must apologise for my rudeness to you of last night," he continued. "I expected, when I took the liberty of turning you round, that I was going to find myself face to face with a much younger man."
"I took you to be a detective," answered Ellenby, in his soft, gentle voice. "You will forgive me, I'm sure. I am rather short-sighted. Of course, I can only conjecture, but if you will take my word, I can assure you that Mrs. Hepworth has never seen or heard from the man Charlie Martin since the date of"—he hesitated a moment—"of the murder."
"It would have been difficult," agreed my friend, "seeing that Charlie Martin lies buried in Highgate Cemetery."
Old as he was, he sprang from his chair, white and trembling.
"What have you come here for?" he demanded.
"I took more than a professional interest in the case," answered my friend. "Ten years ago I was younger than I am now. It may have been her youth—her extreme beauty. I think Mrs. Hepworth, in allowing her husband to visit her—here where her address is known to the police, and watch at any moment may be set upon her—is placing him in a position of grave danger. If you care to lay before me any facts that will allow me to judge of the case, I am prepared to put my experience, and, if need be, my assistance, at her service."
His self-possession had returned to him.
"If you will excuse me," he said, "I will tell the boy that he can go."
We heard him, a moment later, turn the key in the outer door; and when he came back and had made up the fire, he told us the beginning of the story.
The name of the man buried in Highgate Cemetery was Hepworth, after all. Not Michael, but Alex, the elder brother.
From boyhood he had been violent, brutal, unscrupulous. Judging from Ellenby's story, it was difficult to accept him as a product of modern civilisation. Rather he would seem to have been a throwback to some savage, buccaneering ancestor. To expect him to work, while he could live in vicious idleness at somebody else's expense, was found to be hopeless. His debts were paid for about the third or fourth time, and he was shipped off to the Colonies. Unfortunately, there were no means of keeping him there. So soon as the money provided him had been squandered, he returned, demanding more by menaces and threats. Meeting with unexpected firmness, he seems to have regarded theft and forgery as the only alternative left to him. To save him from punishment and the family name from disgrace, his parents' savings were sacrificed. It was grief and shame that, according to Ellenby, killed them both within a few months of one another.
Deprived by this blow of what he no doubt had come to consider his natural means of support, and his sister, fortunately for herself, being well out of his reach, he next fixed upon his brother Michael as his stay-by. Michael, weak, timid, and not perhaps without some remains of boyish affection for a strong, handsome, elder brother, foolishly yielded. The demands, of course, increased, until, in the end, it came almost as a relief when the man's vicious life led to his getting mixed up with a crime of a particularly odious nature. He was anxious now for his own sake to get away, and Michael, with little enough to spare for himself, provided him with the means, on the solemn understanding that he would never return.
But the worry and misery of it all had left young Michael a broken man. Unable to concentrate his mind any longer upon his profession, his craving was to get away from all his old associations—to make a fresh start in life. It was Ellenby who suggested London and the ship furnishing business, where Michael's small remaining capital would be of service. The name of Hepworth would be valuable in shipping circles, and Ellenby, arguing this consideration, but chiefly with the hope of giving young Michael more interest in the business, had insisted that the firm should be Hepworth and Co.
They had not been started a year before the man returned, as usual demanding more money. Michael, acting under Ellenby's guidance, refused in terms that convinced his brother that the game of bullying was up. He waited a while, and then wrote pathetically that he was ill and starving. If only for the sake of his young wife, would not Michael come and see them?
This was the first they had heard of his marriage. There was just a faint hope that it might have effected a change, and Michael, against Ellenby's advice, decided to go. In a miserable lodging-house in the East End he found the young wife, but not his brother, who did not return till he was on the point of leaving. In the interval the girl seems to have confided her story to Michael.
She had been a singer, engaged at a music-hall in Rotterdam. There Alex Hepworth, calling himself Charlie Martin, had met her and made love to her. When he chose, he could be agreeable enough, and no doubt her youth and beauty had given to his protestations, for the time being, a genuine ring of admiration and desire. It was to escape from her surroundings, more than anything else, that she had consented. She was little more than a child, and anything seemed preferable to the nightly horror to which her life exposed her.
He had never married her. At least, that was her belief at the time. During his first drunken bout he had flung it in her face that the form they had gone through was mere bunkum. Unfortunately for her, this was a lie. He had always been coolly calculating. It was probably with the idea of a safe investment that he had seen to it that the ceremony had been strictly legal.
Her life with him, so soon as the first novelty of her had worn off, had been unspeakable. The band that she wore round her neck was to hide where, in a fit of savagery, because she had refused to earn money for him on the streets, he had tried to cut her throat. Now that she had got back to England she intended to leave him. If he followed and killed her she did not care.
It was for her sake that young Hepworth eventually offered to help his brother again, on the condition that he would go away by himself. To this the other agreed. He seems to have given a short display of remorse. There must have been a grin on his face as he turned away. His cunning eyes had foreseen what was likely to happen. The idea of blackmail was no doubt in his mind from the beginning. With the charge of bigamy as a weapon in his hand, he might rely for the rest of his life upon a steady and increasing income.
Michael saw his brother off as a second-class passenger on a ship bound for the Cape. Of course, there was little chance of his keeping his word, but there was always the chance of his getting himself knocked on the head in some brawl. Anyhow, he would be out of the way for a season, and the girl, Lola, would be left. A month later he married her, and four months after that received a letter from his brother containing messages to Mrs. Martin, "from her loving husband, Charlie," who hoped before long to have the pleasure of seeing her again.
Inquiries through the English Consul in Rotterdam proved that the threat was no mere bluff. The marriage had been legal and binding.
What happened on the night of the murder, was very much as my friend had reconstructed it. Ellenby, reaching the office at his usual time the next morning, had found Hepworth waiting for him. There he had remained in hiding until one morning, with dyed hair and a slight moustache, he had ventured forth.
Had the man's death been brought about by any other means, Ellenby would have counselled his coming forward and facing his trial, as he himself was anxious to do; but, viewed in conjunction with the relief the man's death must have been to both of them, that loaded revolver was too suggestive of premeditation. The isolation of the house, that conveniently near pond, would look as if thought of beforehand. Even if pleading extreme provocation, Michael escaped the rope, a long term of penal servitude would be inevitable.
Nor was it certain that even then the woman would go free. The murdered man would still, by a strange freak, be her husband; the murderer—in the eye of the law—her lover.
Her passionate will had prevailed. Young Hepworth had sailed for America. There he had no difficulty in obtaining employment—of course, under another name—in an architects office; and later had set up for himself. Since the night of the murder they had not seen each other till some three weeks ago.
* * *
I never saw the woman again. My friend, I believe, called on her. Hepworth had already returned to America, and my friend had succeeded in obtaining for her some sort of a police permit that practically left her free.
Sometimes of an evening I find myself passing through the street. And always I have the feeling of having blundered into an empty theatre—where the play is ended.
HIS EVENING OUT.
The evidence of the park-keeper, David Bristow, of Gilder Street, Camden Town, is as follows:
I was on duty in St. James's Park on Thursday evening, my sphere extending from the Mall to the northern shore of the ornamental water east of the suspension bridge. At five-and-twenty to seven I took up a position between the peninsula and the bridge to await my colleague. He ought to have relieved me at half-past six, but did not arrive until a few minutes before seven, owing, so he explained, to the breaking down of his motor-'bus—which may have been true or may not, as the saying is.
I had just come to a halt, when my attention was arrested by a lady. I am unable to explain why the presence of a lady in St. James's Park should have seemed in any way worthy of notice except that, for certain reasons, she reminded me of my first wife. I observed that she hesitated between one of the public seats and two vacant chairs standing by themselves a little farther to the east. Eventually she selected one of the chairs, and, having cleaned it with an evening paper—the birds in this portion of the Park being extremely prolific—sat down upon it. There was plenty of room upon the public seat close to it, except for some children who were playing touch; and in consequence of this I judged her to be a person of means.
I walked to a point from where I could command the southern approaches to the bridge, my colleague arriving sometimes by way of Birdcage Walk and sometimes by way of the Horse Guards Parade. Not seeing any signs of him in the direction of the bridge, I turned back. A little way past the chair where the lady was sitting I met Mr. Parable. I know Mr. Parable quite well by sight. He was wearing the usual grey suit and soft felt hat with which the pictures in the newspapers have made us all familiar. I judged that Mr. Parable had come from the Houses of Parliament, and the next morning my suspicions were confirmed by reading that he had been present at a tea-party given on the terrace by Mr. Will Crooks. Mr. Parable conveyed to me the suggestion of a man absorbed in thought, and not quite aware of what he was doing; but in this, of course, I may have been mistaken. He paused for a moment to look over the railings at the pelican. Mr. Parable said something to the pelican which I was not near enough to overhear; and then, still apparently in a state of abstraction, crossed the path and seated himself on the chair next to that occupied by the young lady.
From the tree against which I was standing I was able to watch the subsequent proceedings unobserved. The lady looked at Mr. Parable and then turned away and smiled to herself. It was a peculiar smile, and, again in some way I am unable to explain, reminded me of my first wife. It was not till the pelican put down his other leg and walked away that Mr. Parable, turning his gaze westward, became aware of the lady's presence.
From information that has subsequently come to my knowledge, I am prepared to believe that Mr. Parable, from the beginning, really thought the lady was a friend of his. What the lady thought is a matter for conjecture; I can only speak to the facts. Mr. Parable looked at the lady once or twice. Indeed, one might say with truth that he kept on doing it. The lady, it must be admitted, behaved for a while with extreme propriety; but after a time, as I felt must happen, their eyes met, and then it was I heard her say:
"Good evening, Mr. Parable."
She accompanied the words with the same peculiar smile to which I have already alluded. The exact words of Mr. Parable's reply I cannot remember. But it was to the effect that he had thought from the first that he had known her but had not been quite sure. It was at this point that, thinking I saw my colleague approaching, I went to meet him. I found I was mistaken, and slowly retraced my steps. I passed Mr. Parable and the lady. They were talking together with what I should describe as animation. I went as far as the southern extremity of the suspension bridge, and must have waited there quite ten minutes before returning eastward. It was while I was passing behind them on the grass, partially screened by the rhododendrons, that I heard Mr. Parable say to the lady:
"Why shouldn't we have it together?"
To which the lady replied:
"But what about Miss Clebb?"
I could not overhear what followed, owing to their sinking their voices. It seemed to be an argument. It ended with the young lady laughing and then rising. Mr. Parable also rose, and they walked off together. As they passed me I heard the lady say:
"I wonder if there's any place in London where you're not likely to be recognised."
Mr. Parable, who gave me the idea of being in a state of growing excitement, replied quite loudly:
"Oh, let 'em!"
I was following behind them when the lady suddenly stopped.
"I know!" she said. "The Popular Cafe."
The park-keeper said he was convinced he would know the lady again, having taken particular notice of her. She had brown eyes and was wearing a black hat supplemented with poppies.
* * *
Arthur Horton, waiter at the Popular Cafe, states as follows:
I know Mr. John Parable by sight. Have often heard him speak at public meetings. Am a bit of a Socialist myself. Remember his dining at the Popular Cafe on the evening of Thursday. Didn't recognise him immediately on his entrance for two reasons. One was his hat, and the other was his girl. I took it from him and hung it up. I mean, of course, the hat. It was a brand-new bowler, a trifle ikey about the brim. Have always associated him with a soft grey felt. But never with girls. Females, yes, to any extent. But this was the real article. You know what I mean—the sort of girl that you turn round to look after. It was she who selected the table in the corner behind the door. Been there before, I should say.
I should, in the ordinary course of business, have addressed Mr. Parable by name, such being our instructions in the case of customers known to us. But, putting the hat and the girl together, I decided not to. Mr. Parable was all for our three-and-six-penny table d'hote; he evidently not wanting to think. But the lady wouldn't hear of it.
"Remember Miss Clebb," she reminded him.
Of course, at the time I did not know what was meant. She ordered thin soup, a grilled sole, and cutlets au gratin. It certainly couldn't have been the dinner. With regard to the champagne, he would have his own way. I picked him out a dry '94, that you might have weaned a baby on. I suppose it was the whole thing combined.
It was after the sole that I heard Mr. Parable laugh. I could hardly credit my ears, but half-way through the cutlets he did it again.
There are two kinds of women. There is the woman who, the more she eats and drinks, the stodgier she gets, and the woman who lights up after it. I suggested a peche Melba between them, and when I returned with it, Mr. Parable was sitting with his elbows on the table gazing across at her with an expression that I can only describe as quite human. It was when I brought the coffee that he turned to me and asked:
"What's doing? Nothing stuffy," he added. "Is there an Exhibition anywhere—something in the open air?"
"You are forgetting Miss Clebb," the lady reminded him.
"For two pins," said Mr. Parable, "I would get up at the meeting and tell Miss Clebb what I really think about her."
I suggested the Earl's Court Exhibition, little thinking at the time what it was going to lead to; but the lady at first wouldn't hear of it, and the party at the next table calling for their bill (they had asked for it once or twice before, when I came to think of it), I had to go across to them.
When I got back the argument had just concluded, and the lady was holding up her finger.
"On condition that we leave at half-past nine, and that you go straight to Caxton Hall," she said.
"We'll see about it," said Mr. Parable, and offered me half a crown.
Tips being against the rules, I couldn't take it. Besides, one of the jumpers had his eye on me. I explained to him, jocosely, that I was doing it for a bet. He was surprised when I handed him his hat, but, the lady whispering to him, he remembered himself in time.
As they went out together I heard Mr. Parable say to the lady:
"It's funny what a shocking memory I have for names."
To which the lady replied:
"You'll think it funnier still to-morrow." And then she laughed.
Mr. Horton thought he would know the lady again. He puts down her age at about twenty-six, describing her—to use his own piquant expression—as "a bit of all right." She had brown eyes and a taking way with her.
* * *
Miss Ida Jenks, in charge of the Eastern Cigarette Kiosk at the Earl's Court Exhibition, gives the following particulars:
From where I generally stand I can easily command a view of the interior of the Victoria Hall; that is, of course, to say when the doors are open, as on a warm night is usually the case.
On the evening of Thursday, the twenty-seventh, it was fairly well occupied, but not to any great extent. One couple attracted my attention by reason of the gentleman's erratic steering. Had he been my partner I should have suggested a polka, the tango not being the sort of dance that can be picked up in an evening. What I mean to say is, that he struck me as being more willing than experienced. Some of the bumps she got would have made me cross; but we all have our fancies, and, so far as I could judge, they both appeared to be enjoying themselves. It was after the "Hitchy Koo" that they came outside.
The seat to the left of the door is popular by reason of its being partly screened by bushes, but by leaning forward a little it is quite possible for me to see what goes on there. They were the first couple out, having had a bad collision near the bandstand, so easily secured it. The gentleman was laughing.
There was something about him from the first that made me think I knew him, and when he took off his hat to wipe his head it came to me all of a sudden, he being the exact image of his effigy at Madame Tussaud's, which, by a curious coincidence, I happened to have visited with a friend that very afternoon. The lady was what some people would call good-looking, and others mightn't.
I was watching them, naturally a little interested. Mr. Parable, in helping the lady to adjust her cloak, drew her—it may have been by accident—towards him; and then it was that a florid gentleman with a short pipe in his mouth stepped forward and addressed the lady. He raised his hat and, remarking "Good evening," added that he hoped she was "having a pleasant time." His tone, I should explain, was sarcastic.
The young woman, whatever else may be said of her, struck me as behaving quite correctly. Replying to his salutation with a cold and distant bow, she rose, and, turning to Mr. Parable, observed that she thought it was perhaps time for them to be going.
The gentleman, who had taken his pipe from his mouth, said—again in a sarcastic tone—that he thought so too, and offered the lady his arm.
"I don't think we need trouble you," said Mr. Parable, and stepped between them.
To describe what followed I, being a lady, am hampered for words. I remember seeing Mr. Parable's hat go up into the air, and then the next moment the florid gentleman's head was lying on my counter smothered in cigarettes. I naturally screamed for the police, but the crowd was dead against me; and it was only after what I believe in technical language would be termed "the fourth round" that they appeared upon the scene.
The last I saw of Mr. Parable he was shaking a young constable who had lost his helmet, while three other policemen had hold of him from behind. The florid gentleman's hat I found on the floor of my kiosk and returned to him; but after a useless attempt to get it on his head, he disappeared with it in his hand. The lady was nowhere to be seen.
Miss Jenks thinks she would know her again. She was wearing a hat trimmed with black chiffon and a spray of poppies, and was slightly freckled.
* * *
Superintendent S. Wade, in answer to questions put to him by our representative, vouchsafed the following replies:
Yes. I was in charge at the Vine Street Police Station on the night of Thursday, the twenty-seventh.
No. I have no recollection of a charge of any description being preferred against any gentleman of the name of Parable.
Yes. A gentleman was brought in about ten o'clock charged with brawling at the Earl's Court Exhibition and assaulting a constable in the discharge of his duty.
The gentleman gave the name of Mr. Archibald Quincey, Harcourt Buildings, Temple.
No. The gentleman made no application respecting bail, electing to pass the night in the cells. A certain amount of discretion is permitted to us, and we made him as comfortable as possible.
Yes. A lady.
No. About a gentleman who had got himself into trouble at the Earl's Court Exhibition. She mentioned no name.
I showed her the charge sheet. She thanked me and went away.
That I cannot say. I can only tell you that at nine-fifteen on Friday morning bail was tendered, and, after inquiries, accepted in the person of Julius Addison Tupp, of the Sunnybrook Steam Laundry, Twickenham.
That is no business of ours.
The accused who, I had seen to it, had had a cup of tea and a little toast at seven-thirty, left in company with Mr. Tupp soon after ten.
Superintendent Wade admitted he had known cases where accused parties, to avoid unpleasantness, had stated their names to be other than their own, but declined to discuss the matter further.
Superintendent Wade, while expressing his regret that he had no more time to bestow upon our representative, thought it highly probable that he would know the lady again if he saw her.
Without professing to be a judge of such matters, Superintendent Wade thinks she might be described as a highly intelligent young woman, and of exceptionally prepossessing appearance.
* * *
From Mr. Julius Tupp, of the Sunnybrook Steam Laundry, Twickenham, upon whom our representative next called, we have been unable to obtain much assistance, Mr. Tupp replying to all questions put to him by the one formula, "Not talking."
Fortunately, our representative, on his way out through the drying ground, was able to obtain a brief interview with Mrs. Tupp.
Mrs. Tupp remembers admitting a young lady to the house on the morning of Friday, the twenty-eighth, when she opened the door to take in the milk. The lady, Mrs. Tupp remembers, spoke in a husky voice, the result, as the young lady explained with a pleasant laugh, of having passed the night wandering about Ham Common, she having been misdirected the previous evening by a fool of a railway porter, and not wishing to disturb the neighbourhood by waking people up at two o'clock in the morning, which, in Mrs. Tupp's opinion, was sensible of her.
Mrs. Tupp describes the young lady as of agreeable manners, but looking, naturally, a bit washed out. The lady asked for Mr. Tupp, explaining that a friend of his was in trouble, which did not in the least surprise Mrs. Tupp, she herself not holding with Socialists and such like. Mr. Tupp, on being informed, dressed hastily and went downstairs, and he and the young lady left the house together. Mr. Tupp, on being questioned as to the name of his friend, had called up that it was no one Mrs. Tupp would know, a Mr. Quince—it may have been Quincey.
Mrs. Tupp is aware that Mr. Parable is also a Socialist, and is acquainted with the saying about thieves hanging together. But has worked for Mr. Parable for years and has always found him a most satisfactory client; and, Mr. Tupp appearing at this point, our representative thanked Mrs. Tupp for her information and took his departure.
* * *
Mr. Horatius Condor, Junior, who consented to partake of luncheon in company with our representative at the Holborn Restaurant, was at first disinclined to be of much assistance, but eventually supplied our representative with the following information:
My relationship to Mr. Archibald Quincey, Harcourt Buildings, Temple, is perhaps a little difficult to define.
How he himself regards me I am never quite sure. There will be days together when we will be quite friendly like, and at other times he will be that offhanded and peremptory you might think I was his blooming office boy.
On Friday morning, the twenty-eighth, I didn't get to Harcourt Buildings at the usual time, knowing that Mr. Quincey would not be there himself, he having arranged to interview Mr. Parable for the Daily Chronicle at ten o'clock. I allowed him half an hour, to be quite safe, and he came in at a quarter past eleven.
He took no notice of me. For about ten minutes—it may have been less—he walked up and down the room, cursing and swearing and kicking the furniture about. He landed an occasional walnut table in the middle of my shins, upon which I took the opportunity of wishing him "Good morning," and he sort of woke up, as you might say.
"How did the interview go off?" I says. "Got anything interesting?"
"Yes," he says; "quite interesting. Oh, yes, decidedly interesting."
He was holding himself in, if you understand, speaking with horrible slowness and deliberation.
"D'you know where he was last night?" he asks me.
"Yes," I says; "Caxton Hall, wasn't it?—meeting to demand the release of Miss Clebb."
He leans across the table till his face was within a few inches of mine.
"Guess again," he says.
I wasn't doing any guessing. He had hurt me with the walnut table, and I was feeling a bit short-tempered.
"Oh! don't make a game of it," I says. "It's too early in the morning."
"At the Earl's Court Exhibition," he says; "dancing the tango with a lady that he picked up in St. James's Park."
"Well," I says, "why not? He don't often get much fun." I thought it best to treat it lightly.
He takes no notice of my observation.
"A rival comes upon the scene," he continues—"a fatheaded ass, according to my information—and they have a stand-up fight. He gets run in and spends the night in a Vine Street police cell."
I suppose I was grinning without knowing it.
"Funny, ain't it?" he says.
"Well," I says, "it has its humorous side, hasn't it? What'll he get?"
"I am not worrying about what HE is going to get," he answers back. "I am worrying about what I am going to get."
I thought he had gone dotty.
"What's it got to do with you?" I says.
"If old Wotherspoon is in a good humour," he continues, "and the constable's head has gone down a bit between now and Wednesday, I may get off with forty shillings and a public reprimand.
"On the other hand," he goes on—he was working himself into a sort of fit—"if the constable's head goes on swelling, and old Wotherspoon's liver gets worse, I've got to be prepared for a month without the option. That is, if I am fool enough—"
He had left both the doors open, which in the daytime we generally do, our chambers being at the top. Miss Dorton—that's Mr. Parable's secretary—barges into the room. She didn't seem to notice me. She staggers to a chair and bursts into tears.
"He's gone," she says; "he's taken cook with him and gone."
"Gone!" says the guv'nor. "Where's he gone?"
"To Fingest," she says through her sobs—"to the cottage. Miss Bulstrode came in just after you had left," she says. "He wants to get away from everyone and have a few days' quiet. And then he is coming back, and he is going to do it himself."
"Do what?" says the guv'nor, irritable like.
"Fourteen days," she wails. "It'll kill him."
"But the case doesn't come on till Wednesday," says the guv'nor. "How do you know it's going to be fourteen days?"
"Miss Bulstrode," she says, "she's seen the magistrate. He says he always gives fourteen days in cases of unprovoked assault."
"But it wasn't unprovoked," says the guv'nor. "The other man began it by knocking off his hat. It was self-defence."
"She put that to him," she says, "and he agreed that that would alter his view of the case. But, you see," she continues, "we can't find the other man. He isn't likely to come forward of his own accord."
"The girl must know," says the guv'nor—"this girl he picks up in St. James's Park, and goes dancing with. The man must have been some friend of hers."
"But we can't find her either," she says. "He doesn't even know her name—he can't remember it."
"You will do it, won't you?" she says.
"Do what?" says the guv'nor again.
"The fourteen days," she says.
"But I thought you said he was going to do it himself?" he says.
"But he mustn't," she says. "Miss Bulstrode is coming round to see you. Think of it! Think of the headlines in the papers," she says. "Think of the Fabian Society. Think of the Suffrage cause. We mustn't let him."
"What about me?" says the guv'nor. "Doesn't anybody care for me?"
"You don't matter," she says. "Besides," she says, "with your influence you'll be able to keep it out of the papers. If it comes out that it was Mr. Parable, nothing on earth will be able to."
The guv'nor was almost as much excited by this time as she was.
"I'll see the Fabian Society and the Women's Vote and the Home for Lost Cats at Battersea, and all the rest of the blessed bag of tricks—"
I'd been thinking to myself, and had just worked it out.
"What's he want to take his cook down with him for?" I says.
"To cook for him," says the guv'nor. "What d'you generally want a cook for?"
"Rats!" I says. "Does he usually take his cook with him?"
"No," answered Miss Dorton. "Now I come to think of it, he has always hitherto put up with Mrs. Meadows."
"You will find the lady down at Fingest," I says, "sitting opposite him and enjoying a recherche dinner for two."
The guv'nor slaps me on the back, and lifts Miss Dorton out of her chair.
"You get on back," he says, "and telephone to Miss Bulstrode. I'll be round at half-past twelve."
Miss Dorton went out in a dazed sort of condition, and the guv'nor gives me a sovereign, and tells me I can have the rest of the day to myself.
Mr. Condor, Junior, considers that what happened subsequently goes to prove that he was right more than it proves that he was wrong.
Mr. Condor, Junior, also promised to send us a photograph of himself for reproduction, but, unfortunately, up to the time of going to press it had not arrived.
* * *
From Mrs. Meadows, widow of the late Corporal John Meadows, V.C., Turberville, Bucks, the following further particulars were obtained by our local representative:
I have done for Mr. Parable now for some years past, my cottage being only a mile off, which makes it easy for me to look after him.
Mr. Parable likes the place to be always ready so that he can drop in when he chooses, he sometimes giving me warning and sometimes not. It was about the end of last month—on a Friday, if I remember rightly—that he suddenly turned up.
As a rule, he walks from Henley station, but on this occasion he arrived in a fly, he having a young woman with him, and she having a bag—his cook, as he explained to me. As a rule, I do everything for Mr. Parable, sleeping in the cottage when he is there; but to tell the truth, I was glad to see her. I never was much of a cook myself, as my poor dead husband has remarked on more than one occasion, and I don't pretend to be. Mr. Parable added, apologetic like, that he had been suffering lately from indigestion.
"I am only too pleased to see her," I says. "There are the two beds in my room, and we shan't quarrel." She was quite a sensible young woman, as I had judged from the first look at her, though suffering at the time from a cold. She hires a bicycle from Emma Tidd, who only uses it on a Sunday, and, taking a market basket, off she starts for Henley, Mr. Parable saying he would go with her to show her the way.
They were gone a goodish time, which, seeing it's eight miles, didn't so much surprise me; and when they got back we all three had dinner together, Mr. Parable arguing that it made for what he called "labour saving." Afterwards I cleared away, leaving them talking together; and later on they had a walk round the garden, it being a moonlight night, but a bit too cold for my fancy.
In the morning I had a chat with her before he was down. She seemed a bit worried.
"I hope people won't get talking," she says. "He would insist on my coming."
"Well," I says, "surely a gent can bring his cook along with him to cook for him. And as for people talking, what I always say is, one may just as well give them something to talk about and save them the trouble of making it up."
"If only I was a plain, middle-aged woman," she says, "it would be all right."
"Perhaps you will be, all in good time," I says, but, of course, I could see what she was driving at. A nice, clean, pleasant-faced young woman she was, and not of the ordinary class. "Meanwhile," I says, "if you don't mind taking a bit of motherly advice, you might remember that your place is the kitchen, and his the parlour. He's a dear good man, I know, but human nature is human nature, and it's no good pretending it isn't."
She and I had our breakfast together before he was up, so that when he came down he had to have his alone, but afterwards she comes into the kitchen and closes the door.
"He wants to show me the way to High Wycombe," she says. "He will have it there are better shops at Wycombe. What ought I to do?"
My experience is that advising folks to do what they don't want to do isn't the way to do it.
"What d'you think yourself?" I asked her.
"I feel like going with him," she says, "and making the most of every mile."
And then she began to cry.
"What's the harm!" she says. "I have heard him from a dozen platforms ridiculing class distinctions. Besides," she says, "my people have been farmers for generations. What was Miss Bulstrode's father but a grocer? He ran a hundred shops instead of one. What difference does that make?"
"When did it all begin?" I says. "When did he first take notice of you like?"
"The day before yesterday," she answers. "He had never seen me before," she says. "I was just 'Cook'—something in a cap and apron that he passed occasionally on the stairs. On Thursday he saw me in my best clothes, and fell in love with me. He doesn't know it himself, poor dear, not yet, but that's what he's done."
Well, I couldn't contradict her, not after the way I had seen him looking at her across the table.
"What are your feelings towards him," I says, "to be quite honest? He's rather a good catch for a young person in your position."
"That's my trouble," she says. "I can't help thinking of that. And then to be 'Mrs. John Parable'! That's enough to turn a woman's head."
"He'd be a bit difficult to live with," I says.
"Geniuses always are," she says; "it's easy enough if you just think of them as children. He'd be a bit fractious at times, that's all. Underneath, he's just the kindest, dearest—"
"Oh, you take your basket and go to High Wycombe," I says. "He might do worse."
I wasn't expecting them back soon, and they didn't come back soon. In the afternoon a motor stops at the gate, and out of it steps Miss Bulstrode, Miss Dorton—that's the young lady that writes for him—and Mr. Quincey. I told them I couldn't say when he'd be back, and they said it didn't matter, they just happening to be passing.
"Did anybody call on him yesterday?" asks Miss Bulstrode, careless like—"a lady?"
"No," I says; "you are the first as yet."
"He's brought his cook down with him, hasn't he?" says Mr. Quincey.
"Yes," I says, "and a very good cook too," which was the truth.
"I'd like just to speak a few words with her," says Miss Bulstrode.
"Sorry, m'am," I says, "but she's out at present; she's gone to Wycombe."
"Gone to Wycombe!" they all says together.
"To market," I says. "It's a little farther, but, of course, it stands to reason the shops there are better."
They looked at one another.
"That settles it," says Mr. Quincey. "Delicacies worthy to be set before her not available nearer than Wycombe, but must be had. There's going to be a pleasant little dinner here to-night."
"The hussy!" says Miss Bulstrode, under her breath.
They whispered together for a moment, then they turns to me.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Meadows," says Mr. Quincey. "You needn't say we called. He wanted to be alone, and it might vex him."
I said I wouldn't, and I didn't. They climbed back into the motor and went off.
Before dinner I had call to go into the woodshed. I heard a scuttling as I opened the door. If I am not mistaken, Miss Dorton was hiding in the corner where we keep the coke. I didn't see any good in making a fuss, so I left her there. When I got back to the kitchen, cook asked me if we'd got any parsley.
"You'll find a bit in the front," I says, "to the left of the gate," and she went out. She came back looking scared.
"Anybody keep goats round here?" she asked me.
"Not that I know of, nearer than Ibstone Common," I says.
"I could have sworn I saw a goat's face looking at me out of the gooseberry bushes while I was picking the parsley," she says. "It had a beard."
"It's the half light," I says. "One can imagine anything."
"I do hope I'm not getting nervy," she says.
I thought I'd have another look round, and made the excuse that I wanted a pail of water. I was stooping over the well, which is just under the mulberry tree, when something fell close to me and lodged upon the bricks. It was a hairpin. I fixed the cover carefully upon the well in case of accident, and when I got in I went round myself and was careful to see that all the curtains were drawn.
Just before we three sat down to dinner again I took cook aside.
"I shouldn't go for any stroll in the garden to-night," I says. "People from the village may be about, and we don't want them gossiping." And she thanked me.
Next night they were there again. I thought I wouldn't spoil the dinner, but mention it afterwards. I saw to it again that the curtains were drawn, and slipped the catch of both the doors. And just as well that I did.
I had always heard that Mr. Parable was an amusing speaker, but on previous visits had not myself noticed it. But this time he seemed ten years younger than I had ever known him before; and during dinner, while we were talking and laughing quite merry like, I had the feeling more than once that people were meandering about outside. I had just finished clearing away, and cook was making the coffee, when there came a knock at the door.