The kitchen passage ran out at right angles to the room in which he sat, and formed one side of the garden. The windows in it were high up, so that it did not overlook the flowerbeds, and on this torrid afternoon they were all fully open. Suddenly from just inside came the fierce clanging peal of a bell, which made him start from his recumbent position. It was the front-door bell, as he knew, and as it continued ringing as if a maniac's grip was on the handle, he heard the steps of his servant running along the stone floor of the passage to see what imperative summons this was. Then, as the front door was opened, the bell ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and the moment afterward he heard Morris's voice shrill and commanding.
"But he has got to see me," he cried, "What's the use of you going to ask if he will?"
Mr. Taynton went to the door of his room which opened into the hall.
"Come in, Morris," he said.
Though it had been Morris's hand which had raised so uncontrolled a clamour, and his voice that just now had been so uncontrolled, there was no sign, when the door of Mr. Taynton's room had closed behind them, that there was any excitement of any sort raging within him. He sat down at once in a chair opposite the window, and Mr. Taynton saw that in spite of the heat of the day and the violence of that storm which he knew was yelling and screaming through his brain, his face was absolutely white. He sat with his hands on the arms of the Chippendale chair, and they too were quite still.
"I have seen Sir Richard," said he, "and I came back at once to see you. He has told me everything. Godfrey Mills has been lying about me and slandering me."
Mr. Taynton sat down heavily on the sofa.
"No, no; don't say it, don't say it," he murmured. "It can't be true, I can't believe it."
"But it is true, and you have got to believe it. He suggested that you should go and talk it over with him. I will drive you up in the car, if you wish—"
Mr. Taynton waved his hand with a negative gesture.
"No, no, not at once," he cried. "I must think it over. I must get used to this dreadful, this appalling shock. I am utterly distraught."
Morris turned to him, and across his face for one moment there shot, swift as a lightning-flash, a quiver of rage so rabid that he looked scarcely human, but like some Greek presentment of the Furies or Revenge. Never, so thought his old friend, had he seen such glorious youthful beauty so instinct and inspired with hate. It was the demoniacal force of that which lent such splendour to it. But it passed in a second, and Morris still very pale, very quiet spoke to him.
"Where is he?" he asked. "I must see him at once. It won't keep."
Then he sprang up, his rage again mastering him.
"What shall I do it with?" he said. "What shall I do it with?"
For the moment Mr. Taynton forgot himself and his anxieties.
"Morris, you don't know what you are saying," he cried. "Thank God nobody but me heard you say that!"
Morris seemed not to be attending.
"Where is he?" he said again, "are you concealing him here? I have already been to your office, and he wasn't there, and to his flat, and he wasn't there."
"Thank God," ejaculated the lawyer.
"By all means if you like. But I've got to see him, you know. Where is he?"
"He is away in town," said Mr. Taynton, "but he will be back to-night. Now attend. Of course you must see him, I quite understand that. But you mustn't see him alone, while you are like this."
"No, I don't want to," said Morris. "I should like other people to see what I've got to—to say to him—that, that partner of yours."
"He has from this moment ceased to be my partner," said Mr. Taynton brokenly. "I could never again sign what he has signed, or work with him, or—or—except once—see him again. He is coming here by appointment at half-past nine. Suppose that we all meet here. We have both got to see him."
Morris nodded and went toward the door. A sudden spasm of anxiety seemed to seize Mr. Taynton.
"What are you going to do now?" he asked.
"I don't know. Drive to Falmer Park perhaps, and tell Sir Richard you cannot see him immediately. Will you see him to-morrow?"
"Yes, I will call to-morrow morning. Morris, promise me you will do nothing rash, nothing that will bring sorrow on all those who love you."
"I shall bring a little sorrow on a man who hates me," said he.
He went out, and Mr. Taynton sat down again, his mouth compressed into hard lines, his forehead heavily frowning. He could not permanently prevent Morris from meeting Godfrey Mills, besides, it was his right to do so, yet how fraught with awful risks to himself that meeting would be! Morris might easily make a violent, even a murderous, assault on the man, but Mills was an expert boxer and wrestler, science would probably get the upper hand of blind rage. But how deadly a weapon Mills had in store against himself; he would certainly tell Morris that if one partner had slandered him the other, whom he so trusted and revered, had robbed him; he would say, too, that Taynton had been cognizant of, and had approved, his slanders. There was no end to the ruin that would certainly be brought about his head if they met. Mills's train, too, would have left London by now; there was no chance of stopping him. Then there was another danger he had not foreseen, and it was too late to stop that now. Morris was going again to Falmer Park, had indeed started, and that afternoon Godfrey Mills would get out of the train, as he had planned, at the station just below, and walk back over the downs to Brighton. What if they met there, alone?
For an hour perhaps Mr. Taynton delved at these problems, and at the end even it did not seem as if he had solved them satisfactorily, for when he went out of his house, as he did at the end of this time to get a little breeze if such was obtainable, his face was still shadowed and overclouded. Overclouded too was the sky, and as he stepped out into the street from his garden-room the hot air struck him like a buffet; and in his troubled and apprehensive mood it felt as if some hot hand warned him by a blow not to venture out of his house. But the house, somehow, in the last hour had become terrible to him, any movement or action, even on a day like this, when only madmen and the English go abroad, was better than the nervous waiting in his darkened room. Dreadful forces, forces of ruin and murder and disgrace, were abroad in the world of men; the menace of the low black clouds and stifling heat was more bearable. He wanted to get away from his house, which was permeated and soaked in association with the other two actors, who in company with himself, had surely some tragedy for which the curtain was already rung up. Some dreadful scene was already prepared for them; the setting and stage were ready, the prompter, and who was he? was in the box ready to tell them the next line if any of them faltered. The prompter, surely he was destiny, fate, the irresistible course of events, with which no man can struggle, any more than the actor can struggle with or alter the lines that are set down for him. He may mumble them, he may act dispiritedly and tamely, but he has undertaken a certain part; he has to go through with it.
Though it was a populous hour of the day, there were but few people abroad when Mr. Taynton came out to the sea front; a few cabs stood by the railings that bounded the broad asphalt path which faced the sea, but the drivers of these, despairing of fares, were for the most part dozing on the boxes, or with a more set purpose were frankly slumbering in the interior. The dismal little wooden shelters that punctuated the parade were deserted, the pier stretched an untenanted length of boards over the still, lead-coloured sea, and it seemed as if nature herself was waiting for some elemental catastrophe.
And though the afternoon was of such hideous and sultry heat, Mr. Taynton, though he walked somewhat more briskly than his wont, was conscious of no genial heat that produced perspiration, and the natural reaction and cooling of the skin. Some internal excitement and fever of the brain cut off all external things; the loneliness, the want of correspondence that fever brings between external and internal conditions, was on him. At one moment, in spite of the heat, he shivered, at another he felt that an apoplexy must strike him.
For some half hour he walked to and fro along the sea-wall, between the blackness of the sky and the lead-coloured water, and then his thoughts turned to the downs above this stricken place, where, even in the sultriest days some breath of wind was always moving. Just opposite him, on the other side of the road, was the street that led steeply upward to the station. He went up it.
* * * * *
It was about half-past seven o'clock that evening that the storm burst. A few huge drops of rain fell on the hot pavements, then the rain ceased again, and the big splashes dried, as if the stones had been blotting paper that sucked the moisture in. Then without other warning a streamer of fire split the steeple of St. Agnes's Church, just opposite Mr. Taynton's house, and the crash of thunder answered it more quickly than his servant had run to open the door to Morris's furious ringing of the bell. At that the sluices of heaven were opened, and heaven's artillery thundered its salvoes to the flare of the reckless storm. In the next half-hour a dozen houses in Brighton were struck, while the choked gutters overflowing on to the streets made ravines and waterways down the roadways. Then the thunder and lightning ceased, but the rain still poured down relentlessly and windlessly, a flood of perpendicular water.
Mr. Taynton had gone out without umbrella, and when he let himself in by his latch-key at his own house-door about half-past eight, it was no wonder that he wrung out his coat and trousers so that he should not soak his Persian rugs. But from him, as from the charged skies, some tension had passed; this tempest which had so cooled the air and restored the equilibrium of its forces had smoothed the frowning creases of his brow, and when the servant hurried up at the sound of the banged front-door, he found his master soaked indeed, but serene.
"Yes, I got caught by the storm, Williams," he said, "and I am drenched. The lightning was terrific, was it not? I will just change, and have a little supper; some cold meat, anything that there is. Yes, you might take my coat at once."
He divested himself of this.
"And I expect Mr. Morris this evening," he said. "He will probably have dined, but if not I am sure Mrs. Otter will toss up a hot dish for him. Oh, yes, and Mr. Mills will be here at half-past nine, or even sooner, as I cannot think he will have walked from Falmer as he intended. But whenever he comes, I will see him. He has not been here already?"
"No, sir," said Williams, "Will you have a hot bath, sir?"
"No, I will just change. How battered the poor garden will look tomorrow after this deluge."
* * * * *
Mr. Taynton changed his wet clothes and half an hour afterwards he sat down to his simple and excellent supper. Mrs. Otter had provided an admirable vegetable soup for him, and some cold lamb with asparagus and endive salad. A macedoine of strawberries followed and a scoop of cheese. Simple as his fare was, it just suited Mr. Taynton's tastes, and he was indulging himself with the rather rare luxury of a third glass of port when Williams entered again.
"Mr. Assheton," he said, and held the door open.
Morris came in; he was dressed in evening clothes with a dinner jacket, and gave no salutation to his host.
"He's not come yet?" he asked.
But his host sprang up.
"Dear boy," he said, "what a relief it is to see you. Ever since you left this afternoon I have had you on my mind. You will have a glass of port?"
Morris laughed, a curious jangling laugh.
"Oh yes, to drink his health," he said.
He sat down with a jerk, and leaned his elbows on the table.
"He'll want a lot of health to carry him through this, won't he?" he asked.
He drank his glass of port like water, and Mr. Taynton instantly filled it up again for him.
"Ah, I remember you don't like port," he said. "What else can I offer you?"
"Oh, this will do very well," said Morris. "I am so thirsty."
"You have dined?" asked his host quietly.
"No; I don't think I did. I wasn't hungry."
The Cromwellian clock chimed a remnant half hour.
"Half-past," said Morris, filling his glass again. "You expect him then, don't you?"
"Mills is not always very punctual," said Mr. Taynton.
For the next quarter of an hour the two sat with hardly the interchange of a word. From outside came the swift steady hiss of the rain on to the shrubs in the garden, and again the clock chimed. Morris who at first had sat very quiet had begun to fidget and stir in his chair; occasionally when he happened to notice it, he drank off the port with which Mr. Taynton hospitably kept his glass supplied. Sometimes he relit a cigarette only to let it go out again. But when the clock struck he got up.
"I wonder what has happened," he said. "Can he have missed his train? What time ought he to have got in?"
"He was to have got to Falmer," said Mr. Taynton with a little emphasis on the last word, "at a quarter to seven. He spoke of walking from there."
Morris looked at him with a furtive sidelong glance.
"Why, I—I might have met him there," he said. "I went up there again after I left you to tell Sir Richard you would call to-morrow."
"You saw nothing of him?" asked the lawyer.
"No, of course not. Otherwise—There was scarcely a soul on the road; the storm was coming up. But he would go by the downs, would he not?"
"The path over the downs doesn't branch off for a quarter of a mile below Falmer station," said Mr. Taynton.
The minutes ticked on till ten. Then Morris went to the door.
"I shall go round to his rooms to see if he is there," he said.
"There is no need," said his host, "I will telephone."
The instrument hung in a corner of the room, and with very little delay, Mills's servant was rung up. His master had not yet returned, but he had said that he should very likely be late.
"And he made an appointment with you for half-past nine?" asked Morris again.
"Yes. I cannot think what has happened to detain him."
Morris went quickly to the door again.
"I believe it is all a trick," he said, "and you don't want me to meet him. I believe he is in his rooms the whole time. I shall go and see."
Before Mr. Taynton could stop him he had opened the front-door and banged it behind him, and was off hatless and coatless through the pouring perpendicular rain.
Mr. Taynton ran to the door, as if to stop him, but Morris was already halfway down the street, and he went upstairs to the drawing-room. Morris was altogether unlike himself; this discovery of Mills's treachery seemed to have changed his nature. Violent and quick he always was, but to-night he was suspicious, he seemed to distrust Mr. Taynton himself. And, a thing which his host had never known him do before, he had drunk in that half hour when they sat waiting, close on a bottle of port.
The evening paper lay ready cut for him in its accustomed place, but for some five minutes Mr. Taynton did not appear to notice it, though evening papers, on the money-market page, might contain news so frightfully momentous to him. But something, this strangeness in Morris, no doubt, and his general anxiety and suspense as to how this dreadful knot could unravel itself, preoccupied him now, and even when he did take up the paper and turn to the reports of Stock Exchange dealings, he was conscious of no more than a sort of subaqueous thrill of satisfaction. For Boston Copper had gone up nearly a point since the closing price of last night.
It was not many minutes, however before Morris returned with matted and streaming hair and drenched clothes.
"He has not come back," he said. "I went to his rooms and satisfied myself of that, though I think they thought I was mad. I searched them you understand; I insisted. I shall go round there again first thing to-morrow morning, and if he is not there, I shall go up to find him in town. I can't wait; I simply can't wait."
Mr. Taynton looked at him gravely, then nodded.
"No, I guess how you are feeling," he said, "I cannot understand what has happened to Mills; I hope nothing is wrong. And now, my dear boy, let me implore you to go straight home, get off your wet things and go to bed. You will pay heavily for your excitement, if you are not careful."
"I'll get it out of him." said Morris.
Morris, as Mr. Taynton had advised, though not because he advised it, had gone straight home to the house in Sussex Square. He had stripped off his dripping clothes, and then, since this was the line of least resistance he had gone to bed. He did not feel tired, and he longed with that aching longing of the son for the mother, that Mrs. Assheton had been here, so that he could just be in her presence and if he found himself unable to speak and tell her all the hideous happenings of those last days, let her presence bring a sort of healing to his tortured mind. But though he was conscious of no tiredness, he was tired to the point of exhaustion, and he had hardly got into bed, when he fell fast asleep. Outside, hushing him to rest, there sounded the sibilant rain, and from the sea below ripples broke gently and rhythmically on the pebbly beach. Nature, too, it seemed, was exhausted by that convulsion of the elements that had turned the evening into a clamorous hell of fire and riot, and now from very weariness she was weeping herself asleep.
It was not yet eleven when Morris had got home, and he slept dreamlessly with that recuperative sleep of youth for some six hours. Then, as within the secret economy of the brain the refreshment of slumber repaired the exhaustion of the day before, he began to dream with strange lurid distinctness, a sort of resurrection dream of which the events of the two days before supplied the bones and skeleton outline. As in all very vivid and dreadful dreams the whole vision was connected and coherent, there were no ludicrous and inconsequent interludes, none of those breakings of one thread and hurried seizures of another, which though one is dreaming very distinctly, supply some vague mental comfort, since even to the sleeper they are reminders that his experiences are not solid but mere phantasies woven by imperfect consciousness and incomplete control of thought. It was not thus that Morris dreamed; his dream was of the solid and sober texture of life.
He was driving in his motor, he thought, down the road from the house at Falmer Park, which through the gate of a disused lodge joins the main road, that leads from Falmer Station to Brighton. He had just heard from Sir Richard's own lips who it was who had slandered and blackened him, but, in his dream, he was conscious of no anger. The case had been referred to some higher power, some august court of supreme authority, which would certainly use its own instruments for its own vengeance. He felt he was concerned in the affair no longer; he was but a spectator of what would be. And, in obedience to some inward dictation, he drove his motor on to the grass behind the lodge, so that it was concealed from the road outside, and walked along the inside of the park-palings, which ran parallel with it.
The afternoon, it seemed, was very dark, though the atmosphere was extraordinarily clear, and after walking along the springy grass inside the railings for some three hundred yards, where was the southeastern corner of the park enclosure, he stopped at the angle and standing on tip-toe peered over them, for they were nearly six feet high, and looked into the road below. It ran straight as a billiard-cue just here, and was visible for a long distance, but at the corner, just outside the palings, the footpath over the downs to Brighton left the road, and struck upward. On the other side of the road ran the railway, and in this clear dark air, Morris could see with great distinctness Falmer Station some four hundred yards away, along a stretch of the line on the other side of it.
As he looked he saw a puff of steam rise against the woods beyond the station, and before long a train, going Brightonward, clashed into the station. Only one passenger got out, and he came out of the station into the road. He was quite recognisable even at this distance. In his dream Morris felt that he expected to see him get out of the train, and walk along the road; the whole thing seemed pre-ordained. But he ceased tiptoeing to look over the paling; he could hear the passenger's steps when he came nearer.
He thought he waited quietly, squatting down on the mossy grass behind the paling. Something in his hands seemed angry, for his fingers kept tearing up the short turf, and the juice of the severed stems was red like blood. Then in the gathering darkness he heard the tip-tap of footsteps on the highway. But it never occurred to him that this passenger would continue on the highroad; he was certainly going over the downs to Brighton.
The air was quite windless, but at this moment Morris heard the boughs of the oak-tree immediately above him stir and shake, and looking up he saw Mr. Taynton sitting in a fork of the tree. That, too, was perfectly natural; Mr. Taynton was Mills's partner; he was there as a sort of umpire. He held a glass of port wine in one hand, and was sipping it in a leisurely manner, and when Morris looked up at him, he smiled at him, but put his finger to his lips, as if recommending silence. And as the steps on the road outside sounded close he turned a meaning glance in the direction of the road. From where he sat high in the tree, it was plain to Morris that he must command the sight of the road, and was, in his friendly manner, directing operations.
Suddenly the sound of the steps ceased, and Morris wondered for the moment whether Mills had stopped. But looking up again, he saw Mr. Taynton's head twisted round to the right, still looking over the palings. But Morris found at once that the footsteps were noiseless, not because the walker had paused, but because they were inaudible on the grass. He had left the road, as the dreamer felt certain he would, and was going over the downs to Brighton. At that Morris got up, and still inside the park railings, followed in the direction he had gone. Then for the first time in his dream, he felt angry, and the anger grew to rage, and the rage to quivering madness. Next moment he had vaulted the fence, and sprang upon the walker from behind. He dealt him blows with some hard instrument, belabouring his head, while with his left hand he throttled his throat so that he could not scream. Only a few were necessary, for he knew that each blow went home, since all the savage youthful strength of shoulder and loose elbow directed them. Then he withdrew his left hand from the throttled throat of the victim who had ceased to struggle, and like a log he fell back on to the grass, and Morris for the first time looked on his face. It was not Mills at all; it was Mr. Taynton.
* * * * *
The terror plucked him from his sleep; for a moment he wrestled and struggled to raise his head from the pillow and loosen the clutch of the night-hag who had suddenly seized him, and with choking throat and streaming brow he sat up in bed. Even then his dream was more real to him than the sight of his own familiar room, more real than the touch of sheet and blanket or the dew of anguish which his own hand wiped from his forehead and throat. Yet, what was his dream? Was it merely some subconscious stringing together of suggestions and desires and events vivified in sleep to a coherent story (all but that recognition of Mr. Taynton, which was nightmare pure and simple), or had it happened?
With waking, anyhow, the public life, the life that concerned other living folk as well as himself, became predominant again. He had certainly seen Sir Richard the day before, and Sir Richard had given him the name of the man who had slandered him. He had gone to meet that man, but he had not kept his appointment, nor had he come back to his flat in Brighton. So to-day he, Morris, was going to call there once more, and if he did not find him, was going to drive up to London, and seek him there.
But he had been effectually plucked from further sleep, sleep had been strangled, and he got out of bed and went to the window. Nature, in any case, had swept her trouble away, and the pure sweet morning was beginning to dawn in lines of yellow and fleeces of rosy cloud on the eastern horizon.
All that riot and hurly-burly of thunder, the bull's eye flashing of lightning, the perpendicular rain were things of the past, and this morning a sky of pale limpid blue, flecked only by the thinnest clouds, stretched from horizon to horizon. Below the mirror of the sea seemed as deep and as placid as the sky above it, and the inimitable freshness of the dawn spoke of a world rejuvenated and renewed.
It was, by his watch, scarcely five; in an hour it would be reasonable to call at Mills's flat, and see if he had come by the midnight train. If not his motor could be round by soon after six, and he would be in town by eight, before Mills, if he had slept there, would be thinking of starting for Brighton. He was sure to catch him.
Morris had drawn up the blind, and through the open window came the cool breath of the morning ruffling his hair, and blowing his nightshirt close to his skin, and just for that moment, so exquisite was this feeling of renewal and cleanness in the hour of dawn, he thought with a sort of incredulous wonder of the red murderous hate which had possessed him the evening before. He seemed to have been literally beside himself with anger and his words, his thoughts, his actions had been controlled by a force and a possession which was outside himself. Also the dreadful reality of his dream still a little unnerved him, and though he was himself now and awake, he felt that he had been no less himself when he throttled the throat of that abhorred figure that walked up the noiseless path over the downs to Brighton, and with vehement and savage blows clubbed it down. And then the shock of finding it was his old friend whom he had done to death! That, it is true, was nightmare pure and simple, but all the rest was clad in sober, convincing garb of events that had really taken place. He could not at once separate his dream from reality, for indeed what had he done yesterday after he had learned who his traducer had been? He scarcely knew; all events and facts seemed colourless compared to the rage and mad lust for vengeance which had occupied his entire consciousness.
Thus, as he dressed, the thoughts and the rage of yesterday began to stir and move in his mind again. His hate and his desire that justice should be done, that satisfaction should be granted him, was still in his heart. But now they were not wild and flashing flames; they burned with a hard, cold, even light. They were already part of himself, integral pieces and features of his soul. And the calm beauty and peace of the morning ceased to touch him, he had a stern piece of business to put through before he could think of anything else.
* * * * *
It was not yet six when he arrived at the house in which was Mills's flat. A few housemaids were about, but the lift was not yet working, and he ran upstairs and rang at the bell. It was answered almost immediately, for Mills's servant supposed it must be his master arriving at this early hour, since no one else would come then, and he opened the door, half dressed, with coat and trousers only put over his night things.
"Is Mr. Mills back yet?" asked Morris.
Morris turned to go, but then stopped, his mind still half-suspicious that he had been warned by his partner, and was lying perdu.
"I'll give you another ten shillings," he said, "if you'll let me come in and satisfy myself."
The man hesitated.
"A sovereign," said Morris.
* * * * *
He went back to Sussex Square after this, roused Martin, ordering him to bring the motor round at once, and drank a cup of tea, for he would breakfast in town. His mother he expected would be back during the morning, and at the thought of her he remembered that this was June 24th, her birthday, and that his present to her would be arriving by the early post. He gave orders, therefore, that a packet for him from Asprey's was not to be unpacked, but given to her on her arrival with her letters. A quarter of an hour later he was off, leaving Martin behind, since there were various businesses in the town which he wanted him to attend to.
Mr. Taynton, though an earlier riser than his partner, considered that half past nine was soon enough to begin the day, and punctually at that time he came downstairs to read, as his custom was, a few collects and some short piece of the Bible to his servants, before having his breakfast. That little ceremony over he walked for a few minutes in his garden while Williams brought in his toast and tea-urn, and observed that though the flowers would no doubt be all the better for the liberal watering of the day before, it was idle to deny that the rain had not considerably damaged them. But his attention was turned from these things to Williams who told him that breakfast was ready, and also brought him a telegram. It was from Morris, and had been sent off from the Sloane Square office an hour before.
"Mills is not in town; they say he left yesterday afternoon. Please inform me if you know whether this is so, or if you are keeping him from me. Am delayed by break-down. Shall be back about five.—Morris, Bachelors' Club."
Mr. Taynton read this through twice, as is the habit of most people with telegrams, and sent, of course, the reply that all he knew was that his partner intended to come back last night, since he had made an appointment with him. Should he arrive during the day he would telegraph. He himself was keeping nothing from Morris, and had not had any correspondence or communication with his partner since he had left Brighton for town three days before.
The telegram was a long one, but Mr. Taynton still sat with poised pen. Then he added, "Pray do nothing violent, I implore you." And he signed it.
* * * * *
He sat rather unusually long over his breakfast this morning, though he ate but little, and from the cheerful smiling aspect of his face it would seem that his thoughts were pleasant to him. He was certainly glad that Morris had not yet come across Mills, for he trusted that the lapse of a day or two would speedily calm down the lad's perfectly justifiable indignation. Besides, he was in love, and his suit had prospered; surely there were pleasanter things than revenge to occupy him. Then his face grew grave a moment as he thought of Morris's mad, murderous outburst of the evening before, but that gravity was shortlived, and he turned with a sense of pleasant expectation to see recorded again the activity and strength of Boston Coppers. But the reality was far beyond his expectations; copper had been strong all day, and in the street afterward there had been renewed buying from quarters which were usually well informed. Bostons had been much in request, and after hours they had had a further spurt, closing at L7 10S. Already in these three days he had cleared his option, and at present prices the shares showed a profit of a point. Mills would have to acknowledge that his perspicacity had been at fault, when he distrusted this last purchase.
He left his house at about half-past ten, and again immured himself in the birdcage lift that carried him up to his partner's flat, where he inquired if he had yet returned. Learning he had not, he asked to be given pen and paper, to write a note for him, which was to be given to him on his arrival.
"Mr. Morris Assheton has learned that you have made grave accusations about him to Sir Richard Templeton, Bart. That you have done so appears to be beyond doubt, and it of course rests with you to substantiate them. I cannot of course at present believe that you could have done so without conclusive evidence; on the other hand I cannot believe that Mr. Assheton is of the character which you have given him.
"I therefore refrain, as far as I am able, from drawing any conclusion till the matter is cleared up.
"I may add that he deeply resents your conduct; his anger and indignation were terrible to see.
"Edward Taynton. Godfrey Mills, Esq."
Mr. Taynton read this through, and glanced round, as if to see whether the servants had left the room. Then he sat with closed eyes for a moment, and took an envelope, and swiftly addressed it. He smudged it, however, in blotting it, and so crumpled it up, threw it into the waste-paper basket. He then addressed a second one, and into this he inserted his letter, and got up.
The servant was waiting in the little hall outside.
"Please give this to Mr. Mills when he arrives," he said. "You expected him last night, did you not?"
Mr. Taynton found on arrival at his office that, in his partner's absence, there was a somewhat heavy day of work before him, and foresaw that he would be occupied all afternoon and indeed probably up to dinner time. But he was able to get out for an hour at half-past twelve, at which time, if the weather was hot, he generally indulged in a swim. But today there was a certain chill in the air after yesterday's storm, and instead of taking his dip, he walked along the sea front toward Sussex Square. For in his warm-hearted way, seeing that Morris was, as he had said, to tell his mother today about his happy and thoroughly suitable love affair, Mr. Taynton proposed to give a little partie carree on the earliest possible evening, at which the two young lovers, Mrs. Assheton, and himself would form the table. He would learn from her what was the earliest night on which she and Morris were disengaged, and then write to that delightful girl whose affections dear Morris had captured.
But at the corner of the square, just as he was turning into it, there bowled swiftly out a victoria drawn by two horses; he recognised the equipage, he recognised also Mrs. Assheton who was sitting in it. Her head, however, was turned the other way, and Mr. Taynton's hand, already half-way up to his hat was spared the trouble of journeying farther.
But he went on to the house, since his invitation could be easily conveyed by a note which he would scribble there, and was admitted by Martin. Mrs. Assheton, however, was out, a fact which he learned with regret, but, if he might write a note to her, his walk would not be wasted. Accordingly he was shown up into the drawing-room, where on the writing-table was laid an open blotting-book. Even in so small a detail as a blotting-book the careful appointment of the house was evident, for the blotting-paper was absolutely clean and white, a virgin field.
Mr. Taynton took up a quill pen, thought over for a moment the wording of his note and then wrote rapidly. A single side of notepaper was sufficient; he blotted it on the pad, and read it through. But something in it, it must be supposed, did not satisfy him, for he crumpled it up. Ah, at last and for the first time there was a flaw in the appointment of the house, for there was no wastepaper basket by the table. At any rate one must suppose that Mr. Taynton did not see it, for he put his rejected sheet into his pocket.
He took another sheet of paper, selecting from the various stationery that stood in the case a plain piece, rejecting that which was marked with the address of the house, wrote his own address at the head, and proceeded for the second time to write his note of invitation.
But first he changed the quill for his own stylograph, and wrote with that. This was soon written, and by the time he had read it through it was dry, and did not require to be blotted. He placed it in a plain envelope, directed it, and with it in his hand left the room, and went briskly downstairs.
Martin was standing in the hall.
"I want this given to Mrs. Assheton when she comes in, Martin," he said.
He looked round, as he had done once before when speaking to the boy.
"I left it at the door," he said with quiet emphasis. "Can you remember that? I left it. And I hope, Martin, that you have made a fresh start, and that I need never be obliged to tell anybody what I know about you. You will remember my instructions? I left this at the door. Thank you. My hat? Yes, and my stick."
Mr. Taynton went straight back to his office, and though this morning there had seemed to him to be a good deal of work to be got through, he found that much of it could be delegated to his clerks. So before leaving to go to his lunch, he called in Mr. Timmins.
"Mr. Mills not been here all morning?" he asked. "No? Well, Timmins, there is this packet which I want him to look at, if he comes in before I am back. I shall be here again by five, as there is an hour's work for me to do before evening. Yes, that is all, thanks. Please tell Mr. Mills I shall come back, as I said. How pleasant this freshness is after the rain. The 'clear shining after rain.' Wonderful words! Yes, Mr. Timmins, you will find the verse in the second book of Samuel and the twenty-third chapter."
Mr. Taynton made but a short meal of lunch, and ate but sparingly, for he meant to take a good walk this afternoon, and it was not yet two o'clock when he came out of his house again, stick in hand. It was a large heavy stick that he carried, a veritable club, one that it would be easy to recognise amid a host of others, even as he had recognised it that morning in the rather populous umbrella stand in the hall of Mrs. Assheton's house. He had, it may be remembered, more office work to get through before evening, so he prepared to walk out as far as the limits of the time at his disposal would admit and take the train back. And since there could be nothing more pleasurable in the way of walking than locomotion over the springy grass of the downs, he took, as he had done a hundred times before, the road that led to Falmer. A hundred yards out of Brighton there was a stile by the roadside; from there a footpath, if it could be dignified by the name of path at all, led over the hills to a corner of Falmer Park. From there three or four hundred yards of highway would bring him to the station. He would be in good time to catch the 4.30 train back, and would thus be at his office again for an hour's work at five.
His walk was solitary and uneventful, but, to one of so delicate and sensitive a mind, full of tiny but memorable sights and sounds. Up on these high lands there was a considerable breeze, and Mr. Taynton paused for a minute or two beside a windmill that stood alone, in the expanse of down, watching, with a sort of boyish wonder, the huge flails swing down and aspire again in the circles of their tireless toil. A little farther on was a grass-grown tumulus of Saxon times, and his mind was distracted from the present to those early days when the unknown dead was committed to this wind-swept tomb. Forests of pine no doubt then grew around his resting place, it was beneath the gloom and murmur of their sable foliage that this dead chief was entrusted to the keeping of the kindly earth. He passed, too, over the lines of a Roman camp; once this sunny empty down re-echoed to the clang of arms, the voices of the living were mingled with the cries and groans of the dying, for without doubt this stronghold of Roman arms was not won, standing, as it did, on the top-most commanding slope of the hills, without slaughter. Yet to-day the peaceful clumps of cistus and the trembling harebell blossomed on the battlefield.
From this point the ground declined swiftly to the main road. Straight in front of him were the palings of Falmer Park, and the tenantless down with its long smooth curves, was broken up into sudden hillocks and depressions. Dells and dingles, some green with bracken, others half full of water lay to right and left of the path, which, as it approached the corner of the park, was more strongly marked than when it lay over the big open spaces. It was somewhat slippery, too, after the torrent of yesterday, and Mr. Taynton's stick saved him more than once from slipping. But before he got down to the point where the corner of the park abutted on the main road, he had leaned on it too heavily, and for all its seeming strength, it had broken in the middle. The two pieces were but luggage to him and just as he came to the road, he threw them away into a wooded hollow that adjoined the path. The stick had broken straight across; it was no use to think of having it mended.
* * * * *
He was out of the wind here, and since there was still some ten minutes to spare, he sat down on the grassy edge of the road to smoke a cigarette. The woods of the park basked in the fresh sunshine; three hundred yards away was Falmer Station, and beyond that the line was visible for a mile as it ran up the straight valley. Indeed he need hardly move till he saw the steam of his train on the limit of the horizon. That would be ample warning that it was time to go.
Then from far away, he heard the throbbing of a motor, which grew suddenly louder as it turned the corner of the road by the station. It seemed to him to be going very fast, and the huge cloud of dust behind it endorsed his impression. But almost immediately after passing this corner it began to slow down, and the cloud of dust behind it died away.
At the edge of the road where Mr. Taynton sat, there were standing several thick bushes. He moved a little away from the road, and took up his seat again behind one of them. The car came very slowly on, and stopped just opposite him. On his right lay the hollow where he had thrown the useless halves of his stick, on his left was the corner of the Falmer Park railings. He had recognised the driver of the car, who was alone.
Morris got out when he had stopped the car, and then spoke aloud, though to himself.
"Yes, there's the corner," he said, "there's the path over the downs. There—"
Mr. Taynton got up and came toward him.
"My dear fellow," he said, "I have walked out from Brighton on this divine afternoon, and was going to take the train back. But will you give me the pleasure of driving back with you instead?"
Morris looked at him a moment as if he hardly thought he was real.
"Why, of course," he said.
Mr. Taynton was all beams and smiles.
"And you have seen Mills?" he asked. "You have been convinced that he was innocent of the terrible suspicion? Morris, my dear boy, what is the matter?"
Morris had looked at him for a moment with incredulous eyes. Then he had sat down and covered his face with his hands.
"It's nothing," he said at length. "I felt rather faint. I shall be better in a minute. Of course I'll drive you back."
He sat huddled up with hidden face for a moment or two. Mr. Taynton said nothing, but only looked at him. Then the boy sat up.
"I'm all right," he said, "it was just a dream I had last night. No, I have not seen Mills; they tell me he left yesterday afternoon for Brighton. Shall we go?"
For some little distance they went in silence; then it seemed that Morris made an effort and spoke.
"Really, I got what they call 'quite a turn' just now," he said. "I had a curiously vivid dream last night about that corner, and you suddenly appeared in my dream quite unexpectedly, as you did just now."
"And what was this dream?" asked Mr. Taynton, turning up his coat collar, for the wind of their movement blew rather shrilly on to his neck.
"Oh, nothing particular," said Morris carelessly, "the vividness was concerned with your appearance; that was what startled me."
Then he fell back into the train of thought that had occupied him all the way down from London.
"I believe I was half-mad with rage last night," he said at length, "but this afternoon, I think I am beginning to be sane again. It's true Mills tried to injure me, but he didn't succeed. And as you said last night I have too deep and intense a cause of happiness to give my thoughts and energies to anything so futile as hatred or the desire for revenge. He is punished already. The fact of his having tried to injure me like that was his punishment. Anyhow, I am sick and tired of my anger."
The lawyer did not speak for a moment, and when he did his voice was trembling.
"God bless you, my dear boy," he said gently.
Morris devoted himself for some little time to the guiding of the car.
"And I want you also to leave it all alone," he said after a while. "I don't want you to dissolve your partnership with him, or whatever you call it. I suppose he will guess that you know all about it, so perhaps it would be best if you told him straight out that you do. And then you can, well, make a few well-chosen remarks you know, and drop the whole damned subject forever."
Mr. Taynton seemed much moved.
"I will try," he said, "since you ask it. But Morris, you are more generous than I am."
Morris laughed, his usual boyish high spirits and simplicity were reasserting themselves again.
"Oh, that's all rot," he said. "It's only because it's so fearfully tiring to go on being angry. But I can't help wondering what has happened to the fellow. They told me at his flat in town that he went off with his luggage yesterday afternoon, and gave orders that all letters were to be sent to his Brighton address. You don't think there's anything wrong, do you?"
"My dear fellow, what could be wrong?" asked Mr. Taynton. "He had some business to do at Lewes on his way down, and I make no doubt he slept there, probably forgetting all about his appointment with me. I would wager you that we shall find he is in Brighton when we get in."
"I'll take that," said Morris. "Half a crown."
"No, no, my usual shilling, my usual shilling," laughed the other.
* * * * *
Morris set Mr. Taynton down at his office, and by way of settling their wager at once, waited at the door, while the other went upstairs to see if his partner was there. He had not, however, appeared there that day, and Mr. Taynton sent a clerk down to Morris, to ask him to come up, and they would ring up Mr. Mills's flat on the telephone.
This was done, and before many seconds had elapsed they were in communication. His valet was there, still waiting for his master's return, for he had not yet come back. It appeared that he was getting rather anxious, for Mr. Taynton reassured him.
"There is not the slightest cause for any anxiety," were his concluding words. "I feel convinced he has merely been detained. Thanks, that's all. Please let me know as soon as he returns."
He drew a shilling from his pocket, and handed it to Morris. But his face, in spite of his reassuring words, was a little troubled. You would have said that though he might not yet be anxious, he saw that there was some possibility of his being so, before very long. Yet he spoke gaily enough.
"And I made so sure I should win," he said. "I shall put it down to unexpected losses, not connected with business; eh, Mr. Timmins? Or shall it be charity? It would never do to put down 'Betting losses.'"
But this was plainly a little forced, and Morris waited till Mr. Timmins had gone out.
"And you really meant that?" he asked. "You are really not anxious?"
"No, I am not anxious," he said, "but—but I shall be glad when he comes back. Is that inconsistent? I think perhaps it is. Well, let us say then that I am just a shade anxious. But I may add that I feel sure my anxiety is quite unnecessary. That defines it for you."
Morris went straight home from here, and found that his mother had just returned from her afternoon drive. She had found the blotting book waiting for her when she came back that morning, and was delighted with the gift and the loving remembering thought that inspired it.
"But you shouldn't spend your money on me, my darling," she said to Morris, "though I just love the impulse that made you."
"Oh, very well," said Morris, kissing her, "let's have the initials changed about then, and let it be M.A. from H.A."
Then his voice grew grave.
"Mother dear, I've got another birthday present for you. I think—I think you will like it."
She saw at once that he was speaking of no tangible material gift.
"Yes, dear?" she said.
"Madge and me," said Morris. "Just that."
And Mrs. Assheton did like this second present, and though it made her cry a little, her tears were the sweetest that can be shed.
* * * * *
Mother and son dined alone together, and since Morris had determined to forget, to put out of his mind the hideous injury that Mills had attempted to do him, he judged it to be more consistent with this resolve to tell his mother nothing about it, since to mention it to another, even to her, implied that he was not doing his best to bury what he determined should be dead to him. As usual, they played backgammon together, and it was not till Mrs. Assheton rose to go to bed that she remembered Mr. Taynton's note, asking her and Morris to dine with him on their earliest unoccupied day. This, as is the way in the country, happened to be the next evening, and since the last post had already gone out, she asked Morris if Martin might take the note round for her tonight, since it ought to have been answered before.
That, of course, was easily done, and Morris told his servant to call also at the house where Mr. Mills's flat was situated, and ask the porter if he had come home. The note dispatched his mother went to bed, and Morris went down to the billiard room to practise spot-strokes, a form of hazard at which he was singularly inefficient, and wait for news. Little as he knew Mills, and little cause as he had for liking him, he too, like Mr. Taynton, felt vaguely anxious and perturbed, since "disappearances" are necessarily hedged about with mystery and wondering. His own anger and hatred, too, like mists drawn up and dispersed by the sun of love that had dawned on him, had altogether vanished; the attempt against him had, as it turned out, been so futile, and he genuinely wished to have some assurance of the safety of the man, the thought of whom had so blackened his soul only twenty-four hours ago.
His errands took Martin the best part of an hour, and he returned with two notes, one for Mrs. Assheton, the other for Morris. He had been also to the flat and inquired, but there was no news of the missing man.
Morris opened his note, which was from Mr. Taynton.
"I am delighted that your mother and you can dine to-morrow, and I am telegraphing first thing in the morning to see if Miss Madge will make our fourth. I feel sure that when she knows what my little party is, she will come.
"I have been twice round to see if my partner has returned, and find no news of him. It is idle to deny that I am getting anxious, as I cannot conceive what has happened. Should he not be back by tomorrow morning, I shall put the matter into the hands of the police. I trust that my anxieties are unfounded, but the matter is beginning to look strange.
There is nothing so infectious as anxiety, and it can be conveyed by look or word or letter, and requires no period of incubation. And Morris began to be really anxious also, with a vague disquietude at the sense of there being something wrong.
Mr. Taynton, according to the intention he had expressed, sent round early next morning (the day of the week being Saturday) to his partner's flat, and finding that he was not there, and that no word of any kind had been received from him, went, as he felt himself now bound to do, to the police office, stated what had brought him there, and gave them all information which it was in his power to give.
It was brief enough; his partner had gone up to town on Tuesday last, and, had he followed his plans should have returned to Brighton by Thursday evening, since he had made an appointment to come to Mr. Taynton's house at nine thirty that night. It had been ascertained too, by—Mr. Taynton hesitated a moment—by Mr. Morris Assheton in London, that he had left his flat in St. James's Court on Thursday afternoon, to go, presumably, to catch the train back to Brighton. He had also left orders that all letters should be forwarded to him at his Brighton address.
Superintendent Figgis, to whom Mr. Taynton made his statement, was in manner slow, stout, and bored, and looked in every way utterly unfitted to find clues to the least mysterious occurrences, unearth crime or run down the criminal. He seemed quite incapable of running down anything, and Mr. Taynton had to repeat everything he said in order to be sure that Mr. Figgis got his notes, which he made in a large round hand, with laborious distinctness, correctly written. Having finished them the Superintendent stared at them mournfully for a little while, and asked Mr. Taynton if he had anything more to add.
"I think that is all," said the lawyer. "Ah, one moment. Mr. Mills expressed to me the intention of perhaps getting out at Falmer and walking over the downs to Brighton. But Thursday was the evening on which we had that terrible thunderstorm. I should think it very unlikely that he would have left the train."
Superintendent Figgis appeared to be trying to recollect something.
"Was there a thunderstorm on Thursday?" he asked.
"The most severe I ever remember," said Mr. Taynton.
"It had slipped my memory," said this incompetent agent of justice.
But a little thought enabled him to ask a question that bore on the case.
"He travelled then by Lewes and not by the direct route?"
"Presumably. He had a season ticket via Lewes, since our business often took him there. Had he intended to travel by Hayward's Heath," said Mr. Taynton rather laboriously, as if explaining something to a child, "he could not have intended to get out at Falmer."
Mr. Figgis had to think over this, which he did with his mouth open.
"Seeing that the Hayward's Heath line does not pass Falmer," he suggested.
Mr. Taynton drew a sheet of paper toward him and kindly made a rough sketch-map of railway lines.
"And his season ticket went by the Lewes line," he explained.
Superintendent Figgis appeared to understand this after a while. Then he sighed heavily, and changed the subject with rather disconcerting abruptness.
"From my notes I understand that Mr. Morris Assheton ascertained that the missing individual had left his flat in London on Thursday afternoon," he said.
"Yes, Mr. Assheton is a client of ours, and he wished to see my partner on a business matter. In fact, when Mr. Mills was found not to have returned on Thursday evening, he went up to London next day to see him, since we both supposed he had been detained there."
Mr. Figgis looked once more mournfully at his notes, altered a palpably mistaken "Wednesday" into Thursday, and got up.
"The matter shall be gone into," he said.
* * * * *
Mr. Taynton went straight from here to his office, and for a couple of hours devoted himself to the business of his firm, giving it his whole attention and working perhaps with more speed than it was usually his to command. Saturday of course was a half-holiday, and it was naturally his desire to get cleared off everything that would otherwise interrupt the well-earned repose and security from business affairs which was to him the proper atmosphere of the seventh, or as he called it, the first day. This interview with the accredited representative of the law also had removed a certain weight from his mind. He had placed the matter of his partner's disappearance in official hands, he had done all he could do to clear up his absence, and, in case—but here he pulled himself up; it was at present most premature even to look at the possibility of crime having been committed.
Mr. Taynton was in no way a vain man, nor was it his habit ever to review his own conduct, with the object of contrasting it favourably with what others might have done under the circumstances. Yet he could not help being aware that others less kindly than he would have shrugged sarcastic shoulders and said, "probably another blackmailing errand has detained him." For, indeed, Mills had painted himself in very ugly colours in his last interview with him; that horrid hint of blackmail, which still, so to speak, held good, had cast a new light on him. But now Taynton was conscious of no grudge against him; he did not say, "he can look after himself." He was anxious about his continued absence, and had taken the extreme step of calling in the aid of the police, the national guardian of personal safety.
He got away from his office about half-past twelve and in preparation for the little dinner festival of this evening, for Miss Templeton had sent her joyful telegraphic acceptance, went to several shops to order some few little delicacies to grace his plain bachelor table. An ice-pudding, for instance, was outside the orbit, so he feared of his plain though excellent cook, and two little dishes of chocolates and sweets, since he was at the confectioner's, would be appropriate to the taste of his lady guests. Again a floral decoration of the table was indicated, and since the storm of Thursday, there was nothing in his garden worthy of the occasion; thus a visit to the florist's resulted in an order for smilax and roses.
* * * * *
He got home, however, at his usual luncheon hour to find a telegram waiting for him on the Heppelwhite table in the hall. There had been a continued buying of copper shares, and the feature was a sensational rise in Bostons, which during the morning had gone up a clear point.
Mr. Taynton had no need to make calculations; he knew, as a man knows the multiplication table of two, what every fraction of a rise in Bostons meant to him, and this, provided only he had time to sell at once, meant the complete recovery of the losses he had suffered. With those active markets it was still easily possible though it was Saturday, to effect his sale, since there was sure to be long continued business in the Street and he had but to be able to exercise his option at that price, to be quit of that dreadful incubus of anxiety which for the last two years had been a millstone round his neck that had grown mushroom like. The telephone to town, of course, was far the quickest mode of communication, and having given his order he waited ten minutes till the tube babbled and croaked to him again.
There is a saying that things are "too good to be true," but when Mr. Taynton sat down to his lunch that day, he felt that the converse of the proverb was the correcter epigram. Things could be so good that they must be true, and here, still ringing in his ears was one of them—Morris—it was thus he phrased it to himself—was "paid off," or, in more business-like language, the fortune of which Mr. Taynton was trustee was intact again, and, like a tit-bit for a good child, there was an additional five or six hundred pounds for him who had managed the trust so well. Mr. Taynton could not help feeling somehow that he deserved it; he had increased Morris's fortune since he had charge of it by L10,000. And what a lesson, too, he had had, so gently and painlessly taught him! No one knew better than he how grievously wrong he had got, in gambling with trust money. Yet now it had come right: he had repaired the original wrong; on Monday he would reinvest this capital in those holdings which he had sold, and Morris's L40,000 (so largely the result of careful and judicious investment) would certainly stand the scrutiny of any who could possibly have any cause to examine his ledgers. Indeed there would be nothing to see. Two years ago Mr. Morris Assheton's fortune was invested in certain railway debentures and Government stock. It would in a few days' time be invested there again, precisely as it had been. Mr. Taynton had not been dealing in gilt-edged securities lately, and could not absolutely trust his memory, but he rather thought that the repurchase could be made at a somewhat smaller sum than had been realised by their various sales dating from two years ago. In that case there was a little more sub rosa reward for this well-inspired justice, weighed but featherwise against the overwhelming relief of the knowledge he could make wrong things right again, repair his, yes, his scoundrelism.
How futile, too, now, was Mills's threatened blackmail! Mills might, if he chose, proclaim on any convenient housetop, that his partner had gambled with Morris's L40,000 that according to the ledgers was invested in certain railway debentures and other gilt-edged securities. In a few days, any scrutiny might be made of the securities lodged at the County Bank, and assuredly among them would be found those debentures, those gilt-edged securities exactly as they appeared in the ledgers. Yet Mr. Taynton, so kindly is the nature of happiness, contemplated no revengeful step on his partner; he searched his heart and found that no trace of rancour against poor Mills was hoarded there.
Whether happiness makes us good, is a question not yet decided, but it is quite certain that happiness makes us forget that we have been bad, and it seemed to Mr. Taynton, as he sat in his cool dining-room, and ate his lunch with a more vivid appetite than had been his for many months, it seemed that the man who had gambled with his client's money was no longer himself; it was a perfectly different person who had done that. It was a different man, too, who, so few days ago had connived at and applauded the sorry trick which Mills had tried to play on Morris, when (so futilely, it is true) he had slandered him to Sir Richard. Now he felt that he—this man that to-day sat here—was incapable of such meannesses. And, thank God, it was never too late; from to-day he would lead the honourable, upright existence which the world (apart from his partner) had always credited him with leading.
He basked in the full sunshine of these happy and comfortable thoughts, and even as the sun of midsummer lingered long on the sea and hills, so for hours this inward sunshine warmed and cheered him. Nor was it till he saw by his watch that he must return from the long pleasant ramble on which he had started as soon as lunch was over, that a cloud filmy and thin at first began to come across the face of the sun. Once and again those genial beams dispersed it, but soon it seemed as if the vapours were getting the upper hand. A thought, in fact, had crossed Mr. Taynton's mind that quite distinctly dimmed his happiness. But a little reflection told him that a very simple step on his part would put that right again, and he walked home rather more quickly than he had set out, since he had this little bit of business to do before dinner.
He went—this was only natural—to the house where Mr. Mills's flat was situated, and inquired of the porter whether his partner had yet returned. But the same answer as before was given him, and saying that he had need of a document that Mills had taken home with him three days before he went up in the lift, and rang the bell of the flat. But it was not his servant who opened it, but sad Superintendent Figgis.
For some reason this was rather a shock to Mr. Taynton; to expect one face and see another is always (though ever so slightly) upsetting, but he instantly recovered himself and explained his errand.
"My partner took home with him on Tuesday a paper, which is concerned with my business," he said. "Would you kindly let me look round for it?"
Mr. Figgis weighed this request.
"Nothing must be removed from the rooms," he said, "till we have finished our search."
"Search for what?" asked Mr. Taynton.
"Any possible clue as to the reason of Mr. Mills's disappearance. But in ten minutes we shall have done, if you care to wait."
"I don't want to remove anything." said the lawyer. "I merely want to consult—"
At the moment another man in plain clothes came out of the sitting-room. He carried in his hand two or three letters, and a few scraps of crumpled paper. There was an envelope or two among them.
"We have finished, sir," he said to the Superintendent.
Mr. Figgis turned to the lawyer, who was looking rather fixedly at what the other man had in his hand.
"My document may be among those," he said.
Mr. Figgis handed them to him. There were two envelopes, both addressed to the missing man, one bearing his name only, some small torn-up scrap of paper, and three or four private letters.
"Is it among these?" he asked.
Mr. Taynton turned them over.
"No," he said, "it was—it was a large, yes, a large blue paper, official looking."
"No such thing in the flat, sir," said the second man.
"Very annoying," said the lawyer.
An idea seemed slowly to strike Mr. Figgis.
"He may have taken it to London with him," he said. "But will you not look round?"
Mr. Taynton did so. He also looked in the waste-paper basket, but it was empty.
So he went back to make ready to receive his guests, for the little party. But it had got dark; this "document" whatever it was, appeared to trouble him. The simple step he had contemplated had not led him in quite the right direction.
The Superintendent with his colleague went back into the sitting-room on the lawyer's departure, and Mr. Figgis took from his pocket most of his notes.
"I went to the station, Wilkinson," he said, "and in the lost luggage office I found Mr. Mills's bag. It had arrived on Thursday evening. But it seems pretty certain that its owner did not arrive with it."
"Looks as if he did get out at Falmer," said Wilkinson.
Figgis took a long time to consider this.
"It is possible," he said. "It is also possible that he put his luggage into the train in London, and subsequently missed the train himself."
Then together they went through the papers that might conceivably help them. There was a torn-up letter found in his bedroom fireplace, and the crumpled up envelope that belonged to it. They patiently pieced this together, but found nothing of value. The other letters referred only to his engagements in London, none of which were later than Thursday morning. There remained one crumpled up envelope (also from the paperbasket) but no letter that in any way corresponded with it. It was addressed in a rather sprawling, eager, boyish hand.
"No letter of any sort to correspond?" asked Figgis for the second time.
"I think for the present we will keep it," said he.
* * * * *
The little party at Mr. Taynton's was gay to the point of foolishness, and of them all none was more light-hearted than the host. Morris had asked him in an undertone, on arrival, whether any more had been heard, and learning there was still no news, had dismissed the subject altogether. The sunshine of the day, too, had come back to the lawyer; his usual cheerful serenity was touched with a sort of sympathetic boisterousness, at the huge spirits of the young couple and it was to be recorded that after dinner they played musical chairs and blind-man's buff, with infinite laughter. Never was an elderly solicitor so spontaneously gay; indeed before long it was he who reinfected the others with merriment. But as always, after abandonment to laughter a little reaction followed, and when they went upstairs from his sitting-room where they had been so uproarious, so that it might be made tidy again before Sunday, and sat in the drawing-room overlooking the street, there did come this little reaction. But it was already eleven, and soon Mrs. Assheton rose to go.
The night was hot, and Morris was sitting to cool himself by the open window, leaning his head out to catch the breeze. The street was very empty and quiet, and his motor, in which as a great concession, his mother had consented to be carried, on the promise of his going slow, had already come for them. Then down at the seaward end of the street he heard street-cries, as if some sudden news had come in that sent the vendors of the evening papers out to reap a second harvest that night. He could not, however, catch what it was, and they all went downstairs together.
Madge was going home with them, for she was stopping over the Sunday with Mrs. Assheton, and the two ladies had already got into the car, while Morris was still standing on the pavement with his host.
Then suddenly a newsboy, with a sheaf of papers still hot from the press, came running from the corner of the street just above them, and as he ran he shouted out the news which was already making little groups of people collect and gather in the streets.
Mr. Taynton turned quickly as the words became audible, seized a paper from the boy, giving him the first coin that he found, and ran back into the hall of his house, Morris with him, to beneath the electric light that burned there. The shrill voice of the boy still shouting the news of murder got gradually less loud as he went further down the street.
They read the short paragraph together, and then looked at each other with mute horror in their eyes.
The inquest was held at Falmer on the Monday following, when the body was formally identified by Mr. Taynton and Mills's servant, and they both had to give evidence as regards what they knew of the movements of the deceased. This, as a matter of fact, Mr. Taynton had already given to Figgis, and in his examination now he repeated with absolute exactitude what he had said before including again the fact that Morris had gone up to town on Friday morning to try to find him there. On this occasion, however, a few further questions were put to him, eliciting the fact that the business on which Morris wanted to see him was known to Mr. Taynton but could not be by him repeated since it dealt with confidential transactions between the firm of solicitors and their client. The business was, yes, of the nature of a dispute, but Mr. Taynton regarded it as certain that some amicable arrangement would have been come to, had the interview taken place. As it had not, however, since Morris had not found him at his flat in town, he could not speak for certain on this subject. The dispute concerned an action of his partner's, made independently of him. Had he been consulted he would have strongly disapproved of it.
The body, as was made public now, had been discovered by accident, though, as has been seen, the probability of Mills having got out at Falmer had been arrived at by the police, and Figgis immediately after his interview with Mr. Taynton on the Saturday evening had started for Falmer to make inquiries there, and had arrived there within a few minutes of the discovery of the body. A carpenter of that village had strolled out about eight o'clock that night with his two children while supper was being got ready, and had gone a piece of the way up the path over the downs, which left the road at the corner of Falmer Park. The children were running and playing about, hiding and seeking each other in the bracken-filled hollows, and among the trees, when one of them screamed suddenly, and a moment afterward they both came running to their father, saying that they had come upon a man in one of these copses, lying on his face and they were frightened. He had gone to see what this terrifying person was, and had found the body. He went straight back to the village without touching anything, for it was clear both from what he saw and from the crowd of buzzing flies that the man was dead, and gave information to the police. Then within a few minutes from that, Mr. Figgis had arrived from Brighton, to find that it was superfluous to look any further or inquire any more concerning the whereabouts of the missing man. All that was mortal of him was here, the head covered with a cloth, and bits of the fresh summer growth of fern and frond sticking to his clothing.
After the identification of the body came evidence medical and otherwise that seemed to show beyond doubt the time and manner of his death and the possible motive of the murderer. The base of the skull was smashed in, evidently by some violent blow dealt from behind with a blunt heavy instrument of some sort, and death had probably been instantaneous. In one of the pockets was a first edition of an evening paper published in London on Thursday last, which fixed the earliest possible time at which the murder had been committed, while in the opinion of the doctor who examined the body late on Saturday night, the man had been dead not less than forty-eight hours. In spite of the very heavy rain which had fallen on Thursday night, there were traces of a pool of blood about midway between the clump of bracken where the body was found, and the path over the downs leading from Falmer to Brighton. This, taken in conjunction with the information already given by Mr. Taynton, made it practically certain that the deceased had left London on the Thursday as he had intended to do, and had got out of the train at Falmer, also according to his expressed intention, to walk to Brighton. It would again have been most improbable that he would have started on his walk had the storm already begun. But the train by which his bag was conveyed to Brighton arrived at Falmer at half-past six, the storm did not burst till an hour afterward. Finally, with regard to possible motive, the murdered man's watch was missing; his pockets also were empty of coin.
This concluded the evidence, and the verdict was brought in without the jury leaving the court, and "wilful murder by person or persons unknown" was recorded.
* * * * *
Mr. Taynton, as was indeed to be expected, had been much affected during the giving of his evidence, and when the inquest was over, he returned to Brighton feeling terribly upset by this sudden tragedy, which had crashed without warning into his life. It had been so swift and terrible; without sign or preparation this man, whom he had known so long, had been hurled from life and all its vigour into death. And how utterly now Mr. Taynton forgave him for that base attack that he had made on him, so few days ago; how utterly, too, he felt sure Morris had forgiven him for what was perhaps even harder to forgive. And if they could forgive trespasses like these, they who were of human passion and resentments, surely the reader of all hearts would forgive. That moment of agony short though it might have been in actual duration, when the murderous weapon split through the bone and scattered the brain, surely brought punishment and therefore atonement for the frailties of a life-time.
Mr. Taynton, on his arrival back at Brighton that afternoon, devoted a couple of solitary hours to such thoughts as these, and others to which this tragedy naturally gave rise and then with a supreme effort of will he determined to think no more on the subject. It was inevitable that his mind should again and again perhaps for weeks and months to come fall back on these dreadful events, but his will was set on not permitting himself to dwell on them. So, though it was already late in the afternoon, he set forth again from his house about tea-time, to spend a couple of hours at the office. He had sent word to Mr. Timmins that he would probably come in, and begin to get through the arrears caused by his unavoidable absence that morning, and he found his head clerk waiting for him. A few words were of course appropriate, and they were admirably chosen.
"You have seen the result of the inquest, no doubt, Mr. Timmins," he said, "and yet one hardly knows whether one wishes the murderer to be brought to justice. What good does that do, now our friend is dead? So mean and petty a motive too; just for a watch and a few sovereigns. It was money bought at a terrible price, was it not? Poor soul, poor soul; yes, I say that of the murderer. Well, well, we must turn our faces forward, Mr. Timmins; it is no use dwelling on the dreadful irremediable past. The morning's post? Is that it?"
Mr. Timmins ventured sympathy.
"You look terribly worn out, sir," he said. "Wouldn't it be wiser to leave it till to-morrow? A good night's rest, you know, sir, if you'll excuse my mentioning it."
"No, no, Mr. Timmins, we must get to work again, we must get to work."
Nature, inspired by the spirit and instinct of life, is wonderfully recuperative. Whether earthquake or famine, fire or pestilence has blotted out a thousand lives, those who are left, like ants when their house is disturbed, waste but little time after the damage has been done in vain lamentations, but, slaves to the force of life, begin almost instantly to rebuild and reconstruct. And what is true of the community is true also of the individual, and thus in three days from this dreadful morning of the inquest, Mr. Taynton, after attending the funeral of the murdered man, was very actively employed, since the branch of the firm in London, deprived of its head, required supervision from him. Others also, who had been brought near to the tragedy, were occupied again, and of these Morris in particular was a fair example of the spirit of the Life-force. His effort, no doubt, was in a way easier than that made by Mr. Taynton, for to be twenty-two years old and in love should be occupation sufficient. But he, too, had his bad hours, when the past rose phantom-like about him, and he recalled that evening when his rage had driven him nearly mad with passion against his traducer. And by an awful coincidence, his madness had been contemporaneous with the slanderer's death. He must, in fact, have been within a few hundred yards of the place at the time the murder was committed, for he had gone back to Falmer Park that day, with the message that Mr. Taynton would call on the morrow, and had left the place not half an hour before the breaking of the storm. He had driven by the corner of the Park, where the path over the downs left the main road and within a few hundred yards of him at that moment, had been, dead or alive, the man who had so vilely slandered him. Supposing—it might so easily have happened—they had met on the road. What would he have done? Would he have been able to pass him and not wreaked his rage on him? He hardly dared to think of that. But, life and love were his, and that which might have been was soon dreamlike in comparison of these. Indeed, that dreadful dream which he had had the night after the murder had been committed was no less real than it. The past was all of this texture, and mistlike, it was evaporated in the beams of the day that was his.
Now Brighton is a populous place, and a sunny one, and many people lounge there in the sun all day. But for the next three or four days a few of these loungers lounged somewhat systematically. One lounged in Sussex Square, another lounged in Montpellier Road, one or two others who apparently enjoyed this fresh air but did not care about the town itself, usually went to the station after breakfast, and spent the day in rambling agreeably about the downs. They also frequented the pleasant little village of Falmer, gossiping freely with its rural inhabitants. Often footmen or gardeners from the Park came down to the village, and acquaintances were easily ripened in the ale-house. Otherwise there was not much incident in the village; sometimes a motor drove by, and one, after an illegally fast progress along the road, very often turned in at the park gates. But no prosecution followed; it was clear they were not agents of the police. Mr. Figgis, also, frequently came out from Brighton, and went strolling about too, very slowly and sadly. He often wandered in the little copses that bordered the path over the downs to Brighton, especially near the place where it joined the main road a few hundred yards below Falmer station. Then came a morning when neither he nor any of the other chance visitors to Falmer were seen there any more. But the evening before Mr. Figgis carried back with him to the train a long thin package wrapped in brown paper. But on the morning when these strangers were seen no more at Falmer, it appeared that they had not entirely left the neighbourhood, for instead of one only being in the neighbourhood of Sussex Square, there were three of them there.
Morris had ordered the motor to be round that morning at eleven, and it had been at the door some few minutes before he appeared. Martin had driven it round from the stables, but he was in a suit of tweed; it seemed that he was not going with it. Then the front door opened, and Morris appeared as usual in a violent hurry. One of the strangers was on the pavement close to the house door, looking with interest at the car. But his interest in the car ceased when the boy appeared. And from the railings of the square garden opposite another stranger crossed the road, and from the left behind the car came a third.
"Mr. Morris Assheton?" said the first.
"Well, what then?" asked Morris.
The two others moved a little nearer.
"I arrest you in the King's name," said the first.
Morris was putting on a light coat as he came across the pavement. One arm was in, the other out. He stopped dead; and the bright colour of his face slowly faded, leaving a sort of ashen gray behind. His mouth suddenly went dry, and it was only at the third attempt to speak that words came.
"What for?" he said.
"For the murder of Godfrey Mills," said the man. "Here is the warrant. I warn you that all you say—"
Morris, whose lithe athletic frame had gone slack for the moment, stiffened himself up again.
"I am not going to say anything," he said. "Martin, drive to Mr. Taynton's at once, and tell him that I am arrested."
The other two now had closed round him.
"Oh, I'm not going to bolt," he said. "Please tell me where you are going to take me."
"Police Court in Branksome Street," said the first.
"Tell Mr. Taynton I am there," said Morris to his man.
There was a cab at the corner of the square, and in answer to an almost imperceptible nod from one of the men, it moved up to the house. The square was otherwise nearly empty, and Morris looked round as the cab drew nearer. Upstairs in the house he had just left, was his mother who was coming out to Falmer this evening to dine; above illimitable blue stretched from horizon to horizon, behind was the free fresh sea. Birds chirped in the bushes and lilac was in flower. Everything had its liberty.
Then a new instinct seized him, and though a moment before he had given his word that he was not meditating escape, liberty called to him. Everything else was free. He rushed forward, striking right and left with his arms, then tripped on the edge of the paving stones and fell. He was instantly seized, and next moment was in the cab, and fetters of steel, though he could not remember their having been placed there, were on his wrists.
It was a fortnight later, a hot July morning, and an unusual animation reigned in the staid and leisurely streets of Lewes. For the Assizes opened that day, and it was known that the first case to be tried was the murder of which all Brighton and a large part of England had been talking so much since Morris Assheton had been committed for trial. At the hearing in the police-court there was not very much evidence brought forward, but there had been sufficient to make it necessary that he should stand his trial. It was known, for instance, that he had some very serious reason for anger and resentment against his victim; those who had seen him that day remembered him as being utterly unlike himself; he was known to have been at Falmer Park that afternoon about six, and to have driven home along the Falmer Road in his car an hour or so later. And in a copse close by to where the body of the murdered man was found had been discovered a thick bludgeon of a stick, broken it would seem by some violent act, into two halves. On the top half was rudely cut with a pen-knife M. ASSHE ... What was puzzling, however, was the apparent motive of robbery about the crime; it will be remembered that the victim's watch was missing, and that no money was found on him.
But since Morris had been brought up for committal at the police-court it was believed that a quantity more evidence of a peculiarly incriminating kind had turned up. Yet in spite of this, so it was rumoured, the prisoner apparently did more than bear up; it was said that he was quite cheerful, quite confident that his innocence would be established. Others said that he was merely callous and utterly without any moral sense. Much sympathy of course was felt for his mother, and even more for the family of the Templetons and the daughter to whom it was said that Morris was actually engaged. And, as much as anyone it was Mr. Taynton who was the recipient of the respectful pity of the British public. Though no relation he had all his life been a father to Morris, and while Miss Madge Templeton was young and had the spring and elasticity of youth, so that, though all this was indeed terrible enough, she might be expected to get over it, Mr. Taynton was advanced in years and it seemed that he was utterly broken by the shock. He had not been in Brighton on the day on which Morris was brought before the police-court magistrates, and the news had reached him in London after his young friend had been committed. It was said he had fainted straight off, and there had been much difficulty in bringing him round. But since then he had worked day and night on behalf of the accused. But certain fresh evidence which had turned up a day or two before the Assizes seemed to have taken the heart out of him. He had felt confident that the watch would have been found, and the thief traced. But something new that had turned up had utterly staggered him. He could only cling to one hope, and that was that he knew the evidence about the stick must break down, for it was he who had thrown the fragments into the bushes, a fact which would come to light in his own evidence. But at the most, all he could hope for was, that though it seemed as if the poor lad must be condemned, the jury, on account of his youth, and the provocation he had received, of which Mr. Taynton would certainly make the most when called upon to bear witness on this point, or owing to some weakness in the terrible chain of evidence that had been woven, would recommend him to mercy.
The awful formalities at the opening of the case were gone through. The judge took his seat, and laid on the bench in front of him a small parcel wrapped up in tissue paper; the jury was sworn in, and the prisoner asked if he objected to the inclusion of any of those among the men who were going to decide whether he was worthy of life or guilty of death, and the packed court, composed about equally of men and women, most of whom would have shuddered to see a dog beaten, or a tired hare made to go an extra mile, settled themselves in their places with a rustle of satisfaction at the thought of seeing a man brought before them in the shame of suspected murder, and promised themselves an interesting and thrilling couple of days in observing the gallows march nearer him, and in watching his mental agony. They who would, and perhaps did, subscribe to benevolent institutions for the relief of suffering among the lower animals, would willingly have paid a far higher rate to observe the suffering of a man. He was so interesting; he was so young and good-looking; what a depraved monster he must be. And that little package in tissue paper which the judge brought in and laid on the bench! The black cap, was it not? That showed what the judge thought about it all. How thrilling!
Counsel for the Crown, opened the case, and in a speech grimly devoid of all emotional appeal, laid before the court the facts he was prepared to prove, on which they would base their verdict.
The prisoner, a young man of birth and breeding, had strong grounds for revenge on the murdered man. The prosecution, however, was not concerned in defending what the murdered man had done, but in establishing the guilt of the man who had murdered him. Godfrey Mills, had, as could be proved by witnesses, slandered the prisoner in an abominable manner, and the prosecution were not intending for a moment to attempt to establish the truth of his slander. But this slander they put forward as a motive that gave rise to a murderous impulse on the part of the prisoner. The jury would hear from one of the witnesses, an old friend of the prisoner's, and a man who had been a sort of father to him, that a few hours only before the murder was committed the prisoner had uttered certain words which admitted only of one interpretation, namely that murder was in his mind. That the provocation was great was not denied; it was certain however, that the provocation was sufficient.
Counsel then sketched the actual circumstances of the crime, as far as they could be constructed from what evidence there was. This evidence was purely circumstantial, but of a sort which left no reasonable doubt that the murder had been committed by the prisoner in the manner suggested. Mr. Godfrey Mills had gone to London on the Tuesday of the fatal week, intending to return on the Thursday. On the Wednesday the prisoner became cognisant of the fact that Mr. Godfrey Mills had—he would not argue over it—wantonly slandered him to Sir Richard Templeton, a marriage with the daughter of whom was projected in the prisoner's mind, which there was reason to suppose, might have taken place. Should the jury not be satisfied on that point, witnesses would be called, including the young lady herself, but unless the counsel for the defence challenged their statement, namely that this slander had been spoken which contributed, so it was argued, a motive for the crime it would be unnecessary to intrude on the poignant and private grief of persons so situated, and to insist on a scene which must prove to be so heart-rendingly painful.
(There was a slight movement of demur in the humane and crowded court at this; it was just these heart-rendingly painful things which were so thrilling.)
It was most important, continued counsel for the prosecution that the jury should fix these dates accurately in their minds. Tuesday was June 21st; it was on that day the murdered man had gone to London, designing to return on June 23d, Thursday. The prisoner had learned on Wednesday (June 22d) that aspersions had been made, false aspersions, on his character, and it was on Thursday that he learned for certain from the lips of the man to whom they had been made, who was the author of them. The author was Mr. Godfrey Mills. He had thereupon motored back from Falmer Park, and informed Mr. Taynton of this, and had left again for Falmer an hour later to make an appointment for Mr. Taynton to see Sir Richard. He knew, too, this would be proved, that Mr. Godfrey Mills proposed to return from London that afternoon, to get out at Falmer station and walk back to Brighton. It was certain from the finding of the body that Mr. Mills had travelled from London, as he intended, and that he had got out at this station. It was certain also that at that hour the prisoner, burning for vengeance, and knowing the movements of Mr. Mills, was in the vicinity of Falmer.
To proceed, it was certain also that the prisoner in a very strange wild state had arrived at Mr. Taynton's house about nine that evening, knowing that Mr. Mills was expected there at about 9.30. Granted that he had committed the murder, this proceeding was dictated by the most elementary instinct of self-preservation. It was also in accordance with that that he had gone round in the pelting rain late that night to see if the missing man had returned to his flat, and that he had gone to London next morning to seek him there. He had not, of course, found him, and he returned to Brighton that afternoon. In connection with this return, another painful passage lay before them, for it would be shown by one of the witnesses that again on the Friday afternoon the prisoner had visited the scene of the crime. Mr. Taynton, in fact, still unsuspicious of anything being wrong had walked over the Downs that afternoon from Brighton to Falmer, and had sat down in view of the station where he proposed to catch a train back to Brighton, and had seen the prisoner stop his motor-car close to the corner where the body had been found, and behave in a manner inexplicable except on the theory that he knew where the body lay. Subsequently to the finding of the body, which had occurred on Saturday evening, there had been discovered in a coppice adjoining a heavy bludgeon-like stick broken in two. The top of it, which would be produced, bore the inscription M. ASSHE...
Mr. Taynton was present in court, and was sitting on the bench to the right of the judge who had long been a personal friend of his. Hitherto his face had been hidden in his hands, as this terribly logical tale went on. But here he raised it, and smiled, a wan smile enough, at Morris. The latter did not seem to notice the action. Counsel for the prosecution continued.
All this, he said, had been brought forward at the trial before the police-court magistrates, and he thought the jury would agree that it was more than sufficient to commit the prisoner to trial. At that trial, too, they had heard, the whole world had heard, of the mystery of the missing watch, and the missing money. No money, at least, had been found on the body; it was reasonable to refer to it as "missing." But here again, the motive of self-preservation came in; the whole thing had been carefully planned; the prisoner, counsel suggested, had, just as he had gone up to town to find Mr. Mills the day after the murder was committed, striven to put justice off the scent in making it appear that the motive for the crime, had been robbery. With well-calculated cunning he had taken the watch and what coins there were, from the pockets of his victim. That at any rate was the theory suggested by the prosecution.