"You don't seem surprised!" said Brereton.
"There has always been so much mystery to me about my father that I'm not surprised," she replied. "No!—I'm just thankful! For this man—whoever he is—says that my father's innocence is known to him. And that's—just think what it means—to me!"
"Why doesn't he come forward and prove it, then?" demanded Brereton.
Avice shook her head.
"He—they—want it to be proved without that," she answered. "But—don't you think that if all else fails the man who wrote this would come forward? Oh, surely!"
Brereton stood silently looking at her for a full minute. From the first time of meeting with her he had felt strangely and strongly attracted to his client's daughter, and as he looked at her now he began to realize that he was perhaps more deeply interested in her than he knew.
"It's all the most extraordinary mystery—this about your father—that ever I came across!" he exclaimed suddenly. Then he looked still more closely at her. "You've been worrying!" he said impetuously. "Don't! I beg you not to. I'll move heaven and earth—because I, personally, am absolutely convinced of your father's innocence. And—here's powerful help."
"You'll do what's suggested here?" she asked.
"Certainly! It's a capital idea," he answered. "I'd have done it myself if I'd been a rich man—but I'm not. Cheer up, now!—we're getting on splendidly. Look here—ask Mrs. Northrop to let you come out with me. We'll go to the solicitor—together—and see about that reward at once."
As they presently walked down to the town Brereton gave Avice another of his critical looks of inspection.
"You're feeling better," he said in his somewhat brusque fashion. "Is it this bit of good news?"
"That—and the sense of doing something," she answered. "If I wasn't looking well when you came in just now, it was because this inaction is bad for me. I want to do something!—something to help. If I could only be stirring—moving about. You understand?"
"Quite!" responded Brereton. "And there is something you can do. I saw you on a bicycle the other day. Why not give up your teaching for a while, and scour the country round about, trying to get hold of some news about your father's movements that night? That he won't tell us anything himself is no reason why we shouldn't find out something for ourselves. He must have been somewhere—someone must have seen him! Why not begin some investigation?—you know the district. How does that strike you?"
"I should be only too thankful," she said. "And I'll do it. The Northrops are very kind—they'll understand, and they'll let me off. I'll begin at once—tomorrow. I'll hunt every village between the sea and the hills!"
"Good!" said Brereton. "Some work of that sort, and this reward—ah, we shall come out all right, you'll see."
"I don't know what we should have done if it hadn't been for you!" said Avice. "But—we shan't forget. My father is a strange man, Mr. Brereton, but he's not the sort of man he's believed to be by these Highmarket people—and he's grateful to you—as you'll see."
"But I must do something to merit his gratitude first, you know," replied Brereton. "Come!—I've done next to nothing as yet. But we'll make a fresh start with this reward—if your father's solicitor approves."
The solicitor did approve—strongly. And he opened his eyes to their widest extent when he read the anonymous letter and saw the bank-notes.
"Your father," he observed to Avice, "is the most mysterious man I ever heard of! The Kitely mystery, in my opinion, is nothing to the Harborough mystery. Do you really mean to tell me that you haven't an idea of what all this means?"
"Not an idea!" replied Avice. "Not the ghost of one."
"Well—we'll get these posters and handbills out, anyway, Mr. Brereton," said the solicitor. "Five hundred pounds is a good figure. Lord bless you!—some of these Highmarket folk would sell their mothers for half that! The whole population will be turned into amateur detectives. Now let's draft the exact wording, and then we'll see the printer."
Next day the bill-poster placarded Highmarket with the reward bills, and distributed them broadcast in shops and offices, and one of the first persons to lay hands on one was Mallalieu & Cotherstone's clerk, Herbert Stoner.
THE SHEET OF FIGURES
At that time Stoner had been in the employment of Mallalieu and Cotherstone for some five or six years. He was then twenty-seven years of age. He was a young man of some ability—sharp, alert, quick at figures, good at correspondence, punctual, willing: he could run the business in the absence of its owners. The two partners appreciated Stoner, and they had gradually increased his salary until it reached the sum of two pounds twelve shillings and sixpence per week. In their opinion a young single man ought to have done very well on that: Mallalieu and Cotherstone had both done very well on less when they were clerks in that long vanished past of which they did not care to think. But Stoner was a young man of tastes. He liked to dress well. He liked to play cards and billiards. He liked to take a drink or two at the Highmarket taverns of an evening, and to be able to give his favourite barmaids boxes of chocolate or pairs of gloves now and then—judiciously. And he found his salary not at all too great, and he was always on the look-out for a chance of increasing it.
Stoner emerged from Mallalieu & Cotherstone's office at his usual hour of half-past five on the afternoon of the day on which the reward bills were put out. It was his practice to drop in at the Grey Mare Inn every evening on his way to his supper, there to drink a half-pint of bitter ale and hear the news of the day from various cronies who were to be met with in the bar-parlour. As he crossed the street on this errand on this particular evening, Postick, the local bill-poster, came hurrying out of the printer's shop with a bundle of handbills under his arm, and as he sped past Stoner, thrust a couple of them into the clerk's hand.
"Here y'are, Mr. Stoner!" he said without stopping. "Something for you to set your wits to work on. Five hundred reward—for a bit o' brain work!"
Stoner, who thought Postick was chaffing him, was about to throw the handbills, still damp from the press, into the gutter which he was stepping over. But in the light of an adjacent lamp he caught sight of the word Murder in big staring capitals at the top of them. Beneath it he caught further sight of familiar names—and at that he folded up the bills, went into the Grey Mare, sat down in a quiet corner, and read carefully through the announcement. It was a very simple one, and plainly worded. Five hundred pounds would be paid by Mr. Tallington, solicitor, of Highmarket, to any person or persons who would afford information which would lead to the arrest and conviction of the murderer or murderers of the deceased Kitely.
No one was in the bar-parlour of the Grey Mare when Stoner first entered it, but by the time he had re-read the handbill, two or three men of the town had come in, and he saw that each carried a copy. One of them, a small tradesman whose shop was in the centre of the Market Square, leaned against the bar and read the terms of the reward aloud.
"And whose money might that be?" he asked, half-sneeringly. "Who's throwing brass round in that free-handed fashion? I should want to know if the money's safe before I wasted my time in trying to get it."
"Money'll be all right," observed one of the speaker's companions. "There's Lawyer Tallington's name at the foot o' that bill. He wouldn't put his name to no offer o' that sort if he hadn't the brass in hand."
"Whose money is it, then?" demanded the first speaker. "It's not a Government reward. They say that Kitely had no relatives, so it can't be them. And it can't be that old housekeeper of his, because they say she's satisfied enough that Jack Harborough's the man, and they've got him. Queer do altogether, I call it!"
"It's done in Harborough's interest," said a third man. "Either that, or there's something very deep in it. Somebody's not satisfied and somebody's going to have a flutter with his brass over it." He turned and glanced at Stoner, who had come to the bar for his customary half-pint of ale. "Your folks aught to do with this?" he asked. "Kitely was Mr. Cotherstone's tenant, of course."
Stoner laughed scornfully as he picked up his tankard.
"Yes, I don't think!" he sneered. "Catch either of my governors wasting five hundred pence, or five pence, in that way! Not likely!"
"Well, there's Tallington's name to back it," said one of the men. "We all know Tallington. What he says, he does. The money'll be there—if it's earned."
Then they all looked at each other silently, surmise and speculation in the eyes of each.
"Tell you what!" suddenly observed the little tradesman, as if struck with a clever idea. "It might be young Bent! Five hundred pound is naught to him. This here young London barrister that's defending Harborough is stopping with Bent—they're old schoolmates. Happen he's persuaded Bent to do the handsome: they say that this barrister chap's right down convinced that Harborough's innocent. It must be Bent's brass!"
"What's Popsie say?" asked one of the younger members of the party, winking at the barmaid, who, having supplied her customers' needs, was leaning over a copy of the handbill which somebody had laid on the bar. "Whose brass can it be, Popsie?"
The barmaid stood up, seized a glass and a cloth, and began to polish the glass with vigor.
"What's Popsie say?" she repeated. "Why, what she says is that you're a lot of donkeys for wasting your time in wondering whose brass it is. What does it matter whose brass it is, so long as it's safe? What you want to do is to try and earn it. You don't pick up five hundred pounds every day!"
"She's right!" said some man of the group. "But—how does anybody start on to them games?"
"There'll be plenty o' starters, for all that, my lads!" observed the little tradesman. "Never you fear! There'll be candidates."
Stoner drank off his ale and went away. Usually, being given to gossip, he stopped chatting with anybody he chanced to meet until it was close upon his supper-time. But the last remark sent him off. For Stoner meant to be a starter, and he had no desire that anybody should get away in front of him.
The lodging in which Stoner kept his bachelor state was a quiet and eminently respectable one. He had two small rooms, a parlour and a bedchamber, in the house of a widow with whom he had lodged ever since his first coming to Highmarket, nearly six years before. In the tiny parlour he kept a few books and a writing-desk, and on those evenings which he did not spend in playing cards or billiards, he did a little intellectual work in the way of improving his knowledge of French, commercial arithmetic, and business correspondence. And that night, his supper being eaten, and the door closed upon his landlady, he lighted his pipe, sat down to his desk, unlocked one of its drawers, and from an old file-box drew out some papers. One of these, a half-sheet of ruled foolscap, he laid in front of him, the rest he put back. And then, propping his chin on his folded hands, Stoner gave that half-sheet a long, speculative inspection.
If anybody had looked over Stoner's shoulder they would have seen him gazing at a mass of figures. The half-sheet of foolscap was covered with figures: the figuring extended to the reverse side. And—what a looker-on might not have known, but what Stoner knew very well—the figures were all of Cotherstone's making—clear, plain, well-formed figures. And amongst them, and on the margins of the half-sheet, and scrawled here and there, as if purposelessly and carelessly, was one word in Cotherstone's handwriting, repeated over and over again. That word was—Wilchester.
Stoner knew how that half-sheet of foolscap had come into his possession. It was a half-sheet which he had found on Cotherstone's desk when he went into the partners' private room to tidy things up on the morning after the murder of Kitely. It lay there, carelessly tossed aside amongst other papers of clearer meaning, and Stoner, after one glance at it, had carefully folded it, placed it in his pocket, taken it home, and locked it up, to be inspected at leisure.
He had had his reasons, of course, for this abstraction of a paper which rightfully belonged to Cotherstone. Those reasons were a little difficult to explain to himself in one way; easy enough to explain, in another. As regards the difficulty, Stoner had somehow or other got a vague idea, that evening of the murder, that something was wrong with Cotherstone. He had noticed, or thought he noticed, a queer look on old Kitely's face when the ex-detective left the private room—it was a look of quiet satisfaction, or triumph, or malice; any way, said Stoner, it was something. Then there was the fact of Cotherstone's curious abstraction when he, Stoner, entered and found his employer sitting in the darkness, long after Kitely had gone—Cotherstone had said he was asleep, but Stoner knew that to be a fib. Altogether, Stoner had gained a vague feeling, a curious intuition, that there was something queer, not unconnected with the visit of Cotherstone's new tenant, and when he heard, next morning, of what had befallen Kitely, all his suspicions were renewed.
So much for the difficult reasons which had made him appropriate the half-sheet of foolscap. But there was a reason which was not difficult. It lay in the presence of that word Wilchester. If not of the finest degree of intellect, Stoner was far from being a fool, and it had not taken him very long to explain to himself why Cotherstone had scribbled the name of that far-off south-country town all over that sheet of paper, aimlessly, apparently without reason, amidst his figurings. It was uppermost in his thoughts at the time—and as he sat there, pen in hand, he had written it down, half-unconsciously, over and over again.... There it was—Wilchester—Wilchester—Wilchester.
The reiteration had a peculiar interest for Stoner. He had never heard Cotherstone nor Mallalieu mention Wilchester at any time since his first coming into their office. The firm had no dealings with any firm at Wilchester. Stoner, who dealt with all the Mallalieu & Cotherstone correspondence, knew that during his five and a half years' clerkship, he had never addressed a single letter to any one at Wilchester, never received a single letter bearing the Wilchester post-mark. Wilchester was four hundred miles away, far off in the south; ninety-nine out of every hundred persons in Highmarket had never heard the name of Wilchester. But Stoner had—quite apart from the history books, and the geography books, and map of England. Stoner himself was a Darlington man. He had a close friend, a bosom friend, at Darlington, named Myler—David Myler. Now David Myler was a commercial traveller—a smart fellow of Stoner's age. He was in the service of a Darlington firm of agricultural implement makers, and his particular round lay in the market-towns of the south and south-west of England. He spent a considerable part of the year in those districts, and Wilchester was one of his principal headquarters: Stoner had many a dozen letters of Myler's, which Myler had written to him from Wilchester. And only a year before all this, Myler had brought home a bride in the person of a Wilchester girl, the daughter of a Wilchester tradesman.
So the name of Wilchester was familiar enough to Stoner. And now he wanted to know what—what—what made it so familiar to Cotherstone that Cotherstone absent-mindedly scribbled it all over a half-sheet of foolscap paper?
But the figures? Had they any connexion with the word? This was the question which Stoner put to himself when he sat down that night in his parlour to seriously consider if he had any chance of winning that five hundred pounds reward. He looked at the figures again—more carefully. The truth was that until that evening he had never given much attention to those figures: it was the word Wilchester that had fascinated him. But now, summoning all his by no means small arithmetical knowledge to his aid, Stoner concentrated himself on an effort to discover what those figures meant. That they were a calculation of some sort he had always known—now he wanted to know of what.
The solution of the problem came to him all of a sudden—as the solution of arithmetical problems often does come. He saw the whole thing quite plainly and wondered that he had not seen it at a first glance. The figures represented nothing whatever but three plain and common sums—in compound arithmetic. Cotherstone, for some reason of his own, had taken the sum of two thousand pounds as a foundation, and had calculated (1st) what thirty years' interest on that sum at three and a half per cent. would come to; and (2nd) what thirty years' interest at five per cent. would come to; and (3rd) what the compound interest on two thousand pounds would come to—capital and compound interest—in the same period. The last reckoning—the compound interest one—had been crossed over and out with vigorous dashes of the pen, as if the calculator had been appalled on discovering what an original sum of two thousand pounds, left at compound interest for thirty years, would be transformed into in that time.
All this was so much Greek to Stoner. But he knew there was something in it—something behind those figures. They might refer to some Corporation financial business—Cotherstone being Borough Treasurer. But—they might not. And why were they mixed up with Wilchester?
For once in a way, Stoner took no walk abroad that night. Usually, even when he stopped in of an evening, he had a brief stroll to the Grey Mare and back last thing before going to bed. But on this occasion he forgot all about the Grey Mare, and Popsie the barmaid did not come into his mind for even a second. He sat at home, his feet on the fender, his eyes fixed on the dying coals in the grate. He thought—thought so hard that he forgot that his pipe had gone out. The fire had gone out, too, when he finally rose and retired. And he went on thinking for a long time after his head had sought his pillow.
"Well, it's Saturday tomorrow, anyway!" he mused at last. "Which is lucky."
Next day—being Saturday and half-holiday—Stoner attired himself in his best garments, and, in the middle of the afternoon, took train for Darlington.
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER
Although Stoner hailed from Darlington, he had no folk of his own left there—they were all dead and gone. Accordingly he put himself up at a cheap hotel, and when he had taken what its proprietors called a meat tea, he strolled out and made for that part of the town in which his friend Myler had set up housekeeping in a small establishment wherein there was just room for a couple of people to turn round. Its accommodation, indeed, was severely taxed just then, for Myler's father and mother-in-law had come to visit him and their daughter, and when Stoner walked in on the scene and added a fifth the tiny parlour was filled to its full extent.
"Who'd ha' thought of seeing you, Stoner!" exclaimed Myler joyously, when he had welcomed his old chum, and had introduced him to the family circle. "And what brings you here, anyway? Business?"
"Just a bit of business," answered Stoner. "Nothing much, though—only a call to make, later on. I'm stopping the night, though."
"Wish we could ha' put you up here, old sport!" said Myler, ruefully. "But we don't live in a castle, yet. All full here!—unless you'd like a shakedown on the kitchen table, or in the wood-shed. Or you can try the bath, if you like."
Amidst the laughter which succeeded this pleasantry, Stoner said that he wouldn't trouble the domestic peace so far—he'd already booked his room. And while Myler—who, commercial-traveller like, cultivated a reputation for wit—indulged in further jokes, Stoner stealthily inspected the father-in-law. What a fortunate coincidence! he said to himself; what a lucky stroke! There he was, wanting badly to find out something about Wilchester—and here, elbow to elbow with him, was a Wilchester man! And an elderly Wilchester man, too—one who doubtless remembered all about Wilchester for many a long year. That was another piece of luck, for Stoner was quite certain that if Cotherstone had ever had any connexion with Wilchester it must have been a long, long time ago: he knew, from information acquired, that Cotherstone had been a fixture in Highmarket for thirty years.
He glanced at Myler's father-in-law again as Myler, remarking that when old friends meet, the flowing bowl must flow, produced a bottle of whisky from a brand-new chiffonier, and entreated his bride to fetch what he poetically described as the crystal goblets and the sparkling stream. The father-in-law was a little apple-faced old gentleman with bright eyes and a ready smile, who evidently considered his son-in-law a born wit, and was ready to laugh at all his sallies. A man of good memory, that, decided Stoner, and wondered how he could diplomaticaly lead Mr. Pursey to talk about the town he came from. But Mr. Pursey was shortly to talk about Wilchester to some purpose—and with no drawing-out from Stoner or anybody.
"Well," remarked Myler, having supplied his guests with spirituous refreshment, and taken a pull at his own glass. "I'm glad to see you, Stoner, and so's the missis, and here's hoping you'll come again as often as the frog went to the water. You've been having high old times in that back-of-beyond town of yours, haven't you? Battles, murders, sudden deaths!—who'd ha' thought a slow old hill-country town like Highmarket could have produced so much excitement! What's happened to that chap they collared?—I haven't had time to look at the papers this last day or two—been too busy."
"Committed for trial," answered Stoner. "He'll come up at Norcaster Assizes next month."
"Do they think he did it?" asked Myler. "Is it a sure thing?"
Before Stoner could reply Mr. Pursey entered the arena. His face displayed the pleased expression of the man who has special information.
"It's an odd thing, now, David," he said in a high, piping voice, "a very odd thing, that this should happen when I come up into these parts—almost as foreign to me as the Fiji Islands might be. Yes, sir," he went on, turning to Stoner, "it's very odd! I knew that man Kitely."
Stoner could have jumped from his seat, but he restrained himself, and contrived to show no more than a polite interest.
"Oh, indeed, sir?" he said. "The poor man that was murdered? You knew him?"
"I remember him very well indeed," assented Mr. Pursey. "Yes, although I only met him once, I've a very complete recollection of the man. I spent a very pleasant evening with him and one or two more of his profession—better sort of police and detectives, you know—at a friend's of mine, who was one of our Wilchester police officials—oh, it's—yes—it must be thirty years since. They'd come from London, of course, on some criminal business. Deary me!—the tales them fellows could tell!"
"Thirty years is a long time, sir," observed Stoner politely.
"Aye, but I remember it quite well," said Mr. Pursey, with a confident nod. "I know it was thirty years ago, 'cause it was the Wilchester Assizes at which the Mallows & Chidforth case was tried. Yes—thirty years. Eighteen hundred and eighty-one was the year. Mallows & Chidforth—aye!"
"Famous case that, sir?" asked Stoner. He was almost bursting with excitement by that time, and he took a big gulp of whisky and water to calm himself. "Something special, sir? Murder, eh?"
"No—fraud, embezzlement, defalcation—I forget what the proper legal term 'ud be," replied Mr. Pursey. "But it was a bad case—a real bad 'un. We'd a working men's building society in Wilchester in those days—it's there now for that matter, but under another name—and there were two better-class young workmen, smart fellows, that acted one as secretary and t'other as treasurer to it. They'd full control, those two had, and they were trusted, aye, as if they'd been the Bank of England! And all of a sudden, something came out, and it was found that these two, Mallows, treasurer, Chidforth, secretary, had made away with two thousand pounds of the society's money. Two thousand pounds!"
"Two thousand pounds?" exclaimed Stoner, whose thoughts went like lightning to the half-sheet of foolscap. "You don't say!"
"Yes—well, it might ha' been a pound or two more or less," said the old man, "but two thousand was what they called it. And of course Mallows and Chidforth were prosecuted—and they got two years. Oh, yes, we remember that case very well indeed in Wilchester, don't we, Maria?"
"And good reason!" agreed Mrs. Pursey warmly. "There were a lot of poor people nearly ruined by them bad young men."
"There were!" affirmed Mr. Pursey. "Yes—oh, yes! Aye—I've often wondered what became of 'em—Mallows and Chidforth, I mean. For from the time they got out of prison they've never been heard of in our parts. Not a word!—they disappeared completely. Some say, of course, that they had that money safely planted, and went to it. I don't know. But—off they went."
"Pooh!" said Myler. "That's an easy one. Went off to some colony or other, of course. Common occurrence, father-in-law. Bert, old sport, what say if we rise on our pins and have a hundred at billiards at the Stag and Hunter—good table there."
Stoner followed his friend out of the little house, and once outside took him by the arm.
"Confound the billards, Dave, old man!" he said, almost trembling with suppressed excitement. "Look here!—d'you know a real quiet corner in the Stag where we can have an hour's serious consultation. You do?—then come on, and I'll tell you the most wonderful story you ever heard since your ears were opened!"
Myler, immediately impressed, led the way into a small and vacant parlour in the rear of a neighbouring hostelry, ordered refreshments, bade the girl who brought them to leave him and his friend alone, and took the liberty of locking the door on their privacy. And that done he showed himself such a perfect listener that he never opened his lips until Stoner had set forth everything before him in detail. Now and then he nodded, now and then his sharp eyes dilated, now and then he clapped his hands. And in the end he smote Stoner on the shoulder.
"Stoner, old sport!" he exclaimed. "It's a sure thing! Gad, I never heard a clearer. That five hundred is yours—aye, as dead certain as that my nose is mine! It's—it's—what they call inductive reasoning. The initials M. and C.—Mallows and Chidforth—Mallalieu and Cotherstone—the two thousand pounds—the fact that Kitely was at Wilchester Assizes in 1881—that he became Cotherstone's tenant thirty years after—oh, I see it all, and so will a judge and jury! Stoner, one, or both of 'em killed that old chap to silence him!"
"That's my notion," assented Stoner, who was highly pleased with himself, and by that time convinced that his own powers, rather than a combination of lucky circumstances, had brought the desired result about. "Of course, I've worked it out to that. And the thing now is—what's the best line to take? What would you suggest, Dave?"
Myler brought all his business acumen to bear on the problem presented to him.
"What sort of chap is this Tallington?" he asked at last, pointing to the name at the foot of the reward handbill.
"Most respectable solicitor in Highmarket," answered Stoner, promptly.
"Word good?" asked Myler.
"Good as—gold," affirmed Stoner.
"Then if it was me," said Myler, "I should make a summary of what I knew, on paper—carefully—and I should get a private interview with this Tallington and tell him—all. Man!—you're safe of that five hundred! For there's no doubt, Stoner, on the evidence, no doubt whatever!"
Stoner sat silently reflecting things for a while. Then he gave his friend a sly, somewhat nervous look. Although he and Myler had been bosom friends since they were breeched, Stoner was not quite certain as to what Myler would say to what he, Stoner, was just then thinking of.
"Look here," he said suddenly. "There's this about it. It's all jolly well, but a fellow's got to think for himself, Dave, old man. Now it doesn't matter a twopenny cuss to me about old Kitely—I don't care if he was scragged twice over—I've no doubt he deserved it. But it'll matter a lot to M. & C. if they're found out. I can touch that five hundred easy as winking—but—you take my meaning?—I daresay M. & C. 'ud run to five thousand if I kept my tongue still. What?"
But Stoner knew at once that Myler disapproved. The commercial traveller's homely face grew grave, and he shook his head with an unmistakable gesture.
"No, Stoner," he said. "None o' that! Play straight, my lad! No hush-money transactions. Keep to the law, Stoner, keep to the law! Besides, there's others than you can find all this out. What you want to do is to get in first. See Tallington as soon as you get back."
"I daresay you're right," admitted Stoner. "But—I know M. & C, and I know they'd give—aye, half of what they're worth—and that's a lot!—to have this kept dark."
That thought was with him whenever he woke in the night, and as he strolled round Darlington next morning, it was still with him when, after an early dinner, he set off homeward by an early afternoon train which carried him to High Gill junction; whence he had to walk five miles across the moors and hills to Highmarket. And he was still pondering it weightily when, in one of the loneliest parts of the solitudes which he was crossing, he turning the corner of a little pine wood, and came face to face with Mallalieu.
THE LONELY MOOR
During the three hours which had elapsed since his departure from Darlington, Stoner had been thinking things over. He had seen his friend Myler again that morning; they had had a drink or two together at the station refreshment room before Stoner's train left, and Myler had once more urged upon Stoner to use his fortunately acquired knowledge in the proper way. No doubt, said Myler, he could get Mallalieu and Cotherstone to square him; no doubt they would cheerfully pay thousands where the reward only came to hundreds—but, when everything was considered, was it worth while? No!—a thousand times, no, said Myler. The mere fact that Stoner had found out all this was a dead sure proof that somebody else might find it out. The police had a habit, said Myler, of working like moles—underground. How did Stoner know that some of the Norcaster and London detectives weren't on the job already? They knew by that time that old Kitely was an ex-detective; they'd be sure to hark back on his past doings, in the effort to trace some connexion between one or other of them and his murder. Far away as it was, that old Wilchester affair would certainly come up again. And when it came up—ah, well, observed Myler, with force and earnestness, it would be a bad job for Stoner if it were found out that he'd accepted hush-money from his masters. In fact—Myler gave it as his decided opinion, though, as he explained, he wasn't a lawyer—he didn't know but what Stoner, in that case, would be drawn in as an accessory after the fact.
"Keep to the law, Bert, old man!" counselled Myler, as they parted. "You'll be all right then. Stick to my advice—see Tallington at once—this very afternoon!—and put in for the five hundred. You'll be safe as houses in doing that—but there'd be an awful risk about t'other, Bert. Be wise!—you'll get no better counsel."
Stoner knew that his sagacious friend was right, and he was prepared to abide by his counsel—as long as Myler was at his elbow. But when he had got away from him, his mind began to wobble. Five hundred pounds!—what was it in comparison with what he might get by a little skilful playing of his cards? He knew Mallalieu and he knew Cotherstone—knew much more about both of them than they had any idea of. He knew that they were rich men—very rich men. They had been making money for years, and of late certain highly successful and profitable contracts had increased their wealth in a surprising fashion. Everything had gone right with them—every contract they had taken up had turned out a gold mine. Five thousand pounds would be nothing to them singly—much less jointly. In Stoner's opinion, he had only to ask in order to have. He firmly believed that they would pay—pay at once, in good cash. And if they did—well, he would take good care that no evil chances came to him! If he laid hands on five thousand pounds, he would be out of Highmarket within five hours, and half-way across the Atlantic within five days. No—Dave Myler was a good sort—one of the best—but he was a bit straight-laced, and old-fashioned—especially since he had taken a wife—and after all, every man has a right to do his best for himself. And so, when Stoner came face to face with Mallalieu, on the lonely moor between High Gill and Highmarket, his mind was already made up to blackmail.
The place in which they met was an appropriate one—for Stoner's purpose. He had crossed the high ground between the railway and the little moorland town by no definite track, but had come in a bee-line across ling and bracken and heather. All around stretched miles upon miles of solitude—nothing but the undulating moors, broken up by great masses of limestone rock and occasional clumps and coverts of fir and pine; nothing but the blue line of the hills in the west; nothing but the grey northern skies overhead; nothing but the cry of the curlew and the bleating of the mountain sheep. It was in the midst of this that he met his senior employer—at the corner of a thin spinney which ran along the edge of a disused quarry. Mallalieu, as Stoner well knew, was a great man for walking on these moors, and he always walked alone. He took these walks to keep his flesh down; here he came, swinging his heavy oak walking-stick, intent on his own thoughts, and he and Stoner, neither hearing the other's footfall on the soft turf, almost ran into each other. Stoner, taken aback, flushed with the sudden surprise.
But Mallalieu, busied with his own reflections, had no thought of Stoner in his mind, and consequently showed no surprise at meeting him. He made a point of cultivating friendly relations with all who worked for him, and he grinned pleasantly at his clerk.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed cordially. "Taking your walks alone, eh? Now I should ha' thought a young fellow like you would ha' been taking one o' Miss Featherby's little milliners out for a dander, like—down the river-side, what?"
Stoner smiled—not as Mallalieu smiled. He was in no mood for persiflage; if he smiled it was because he thought that things were coming his way, that the game was being played into his hands. And suddenly he made up his mind.
"Something better to do than that, Mr. Mallalieu," he answered pertly. "I don't waste my time on dress-makers' apprentices. Something better to think of than that, sir."
"Oh!" said Mallalieu. "Ah! I thought you looked pretty deep in reflection. What might it be about, like?"
Something within Stoner was urging him on to go straight to the point. No fencing, said this inward monitor, no circumlocution—get to it, straight out. And Stoner thrust his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a copy of the reward bill. He opened it before his employer, watching Mallalieu's face.
"That!" he said. "Just that, Mr. Mallalieu."
Mallalieu glanced at the handbill, started a little, and looked half-sharply, half-angrily, at his clerk.
"What about it?" he growled. His temper, as Stoner well knew, was quickly roused, and it showed signs of awakening now. "What're you showing me that bit o' paper for? Mind your manners, young man!"
"No offence meant," retorted Stoner, coolly. He looked round him, noticed some convenient railings, old and worn, which fenced in the quarry, and stepping back to them, calmly leaned against the top one, put his hands in his pockets and looked at Mallalieu with a glance which was intended to show that he felt himself top dog in any encounter that might come. "I want a word or two with you, Mr. Mallalieu," he said.
Mallalieu, who was plainly amazed by this strange conduct, glared at Stoner.
"You want a word—or two—with—me?" he exclaimed. "For why, pray?—and why here?"
"Here's a convenient spot," said Stoner, with a nasty laugh. "We're all alone. Not a soul near us. You wouldn't like anybody to overhear what I've got to say."
Mallalieu stared at the clerk during a full minute's silence. He had a trick of silently staring people out of countenance. But he found that Stoner was not to be stared down, and eventually he spoke.
"I'll tell you what it is, my lad!" he said. "I don't know whether you've been drinking, or if you've some bee in your bonnet, but I don't allow nobody, and especially a man as I pay wages to, to speak in them tones to me! What d'ye mean by it?"
"I'll tell you what I mean, Mr. Mallalieu," replied Stoner, still regarding his man fixedly, and nerving himself for the contest. "I mean this—I know who killed Kitely!"
Mallalieu felt himself start again; he felt his face flush warm. But he managed to show a fairly controlled front, and he made shift to sneer.
"Oh, indeed," he said, twisting his mouth in derision. "Do you now? Deary me!—it's wonderful how clever some young folks is! So you know who killed Kitely, do you, my lad? Ah! And who did kill Kitely, now? Let's be knowing! Or happen you'd rather keep such a grand secret to yourself—till you can make something out of it?"
"I can make something out of it now," retorted Stoner, who was sharp enough to see through Mallalieu's affectation of scorn. "Just you realize the importance of what I'm saying. I tell you once again—I know who killed Kitely!"
"And who did kill him, then?" demanded Mallalieu. "Psha!—you know naught about it!"
Stoner laughed, looked round, and then leaned his head forward.
"Don't I?" he said, with a sneer that exceeded his employer's in significance and meaning. "But you're wrong—I do! Kitely was murdered by either you or Cotherstone! How's that, Mr. Mallalieu?"
Mallalieu again regarded his clerk in silence. He knew by that time that this fellow was in possession of some information, and his characteristic inclination was to fence with him. And he made a great effort to pull himself together, so as to deal better with whatever might be in store.
"Either me or Mr. Cotherstone!" he repeated sarcastically. "Oh! Now which on us would you be inclined to fix it on, Mr. Stoner? Eh?"
"May have been one, may have been the other, may have been both, for aught I know," retorted Stoner. "But you're both guilty, any way! It's no use, Mr. Mallalieu—I know you killed him. And—I know why!"
Again there was silence, and again a duel of staring eyes. And at its end Mallalieu laughed again, still affecting sneering and incredulous sentiments.
"Aye?—and why did one or t'other or both—have it which way you will—murder this here old gentleman?" he demanded. "Why, Mr. Sharp-nose?"
"I'll tell you—and then you'll know what I know," answered Stoner. "Because the old gentleman was an ex-detective, who was present when you and Cotherstone, under your proper names of Mallows and Chidforth, were tried for fraud at Wilchester Assizes, thirty years ago, and sentenced to two years! That's why, Mr. Mallalieu. The old chap knew it, and he let you know that he knew it, and you killed him to silence him. You didn't want it to get out that the Mayor and Borough Treasurer of Highmarket, so respected, so much thought of, are—a couple of old gaol-birds!"
Mallalieu's hot temper, held very well in check until then, flamed up as Stoner spat out the last contemptuous epithet. He had stood with his right hand behind him, grasping his heavy oaken stick—now, as his rage suddenly boiled, he swung hand and stick round in a savage blow at his tormentor, and the crook of the stick fell crashing against Stoner's temples. So quick was the blow, so sudden the assault, that the clerk had time to do no more than throw up an arm. And as he threw it up, and as the heavy blow fell, the old, rotten railing against which Stoner had leant so nonchalantly, gave way, and he fell back through it, and across the brow of the quarry—and without a sound. Mallalieu heard the crash of his stick on his victim's temples; he heard the rending and crackling of the railings—but he heard neither cry, nor sigh, nor groan from Stoner. Stoner fell backward and disappeared—and then (it seemed an age in coming) Mallalieu's frightened senses were aware of a dull thud somewhere far down in the depths into which he had fallen. Then came silence—deep, heavy silence—broken at last by the cry of a curlew flying across the lonely moor.
Mallalieu was seized with a trembling fit. He began to shake. His heavy frame trembled as if under the effects of a bad ague; the hand which had struck the blow shook so violently that the stick dropped from it. And Mallalieu looked down at the stick, and in a sudden overwhelming rage kicked it away from him over the brink of the quarry. He lifted his fist and shook it—and just as suddenly dropped it. The trembling passed, and he broke out into a cold sweat of fear.
"God ha' mercy!" he muttered. "If—if he's killed? He shouldn't ha' plagued me—he shouldn't ha' dared me! It was more than flesh and blood could stand, and—Lord ha' mercy, what's to be done?"
The autumn twilight was creeping over the moor. The sun had set behind the far-off western hills just before Mallalieu and Stoner had met, and while they talked dusk had come on. The moorlands were now growing dark and vague, and it seemed to Mallalieu that as the light failed the silence increased. He looked round him, fearful lest any of the shepherds of the district had come up to take a Sunday glance at their flocks. And once he thought he saw a figure at a little distance away along the edge of the trees, and he strained and strained his eyes in its direction—and concluded it was nothing. Presently he strained his eyes in another way—he crept cautiously to the edge of the quarry, and looked over the broken railing, and far down on the limestone rocks beneath he saw Stoner, lying on his back, motionless.
Long experience of the moorlands and their nooks and crannies enabled Mallalieu to make his way down to the bottom of the quarry by a descent through a brake of gorse and bramble. He crept along by the undergrowth to where the body lay, and fearfully laid a hand on the still figure. One touch was sufficient—he stood up trembling and shaking more than ever.
"He's dead—dead!" he muttered. "Must ha' broken his neck—it's a good fifty feet down here. Was ever aught so unfortunate! And—whatever shall I say and do about it?"
Inspiration came to him quickly—as quickly as the darkness came into that place of death. He made an effort, and regained his composure, and presently was able to think and to decide. He would say and do nothing—nothing whatever. No one had witnessed the meeting between Stoner and himself. No one had seen the blow. No one had seen Stoner's fall. Far better to say nothing, do nothing—far best to go away and let things take their course. Stoner's body would be found, next day, the day after, some day—and when it was found, people would say that Stoner had been sitting on those rotten railings, and they had given way, and he had fallen—and whatever marks there were on him would be attributed to the fall down the sharp edges of the old quarry.
So Mallalieu presently went away by another route, and made his way back to Highmarket in the darkness of the evening, hiding himself behind hedges and walls until he reached his own house. And it was not until he lay safe in bed that night that he remembered the loss of his stick.
THE MEDICAL OPINION
The recollection of that stick plunged Mallalieu into another of his ague-like fits of shaking and trembling. There was little sleep for him after that: he spent most of the night in thinking, anticipating, and scheming. That stick would almost certainly be found, and it would be found near Stoner's body. A casual passer-by would not recognize it, a moorland shepherd would not recognize it. But the Highmarket police, to whom it would be handed, would know it at once to be the Mayor's: it was one which Mallalieu carried almost every day—a plain, very stout oak staff. And the police would want to know how it came to be in that quarry. Curse it!—was ever anything so unfortunate!—however could he have so far lost his head as to forget it? He was half tempted to rise in the middle of the night and set out for the moors, to find it. But the night was dark, and solitary as the moors and the quarry where he dared not risk the taking of a lantern. And so he racked his brains in the effort to think of some means of explaining the presence of the stick. He hit on a notion at last—remembering suddenly that Stoner had carried neither stick nor umbrella. If the stick were found he would say that he had left it at the office on the Saturday, and that the clerk must have borrowed it. There was nothing unlikely in that: it was a good reason, it would explain why it came to be found near the body. Naturally, the police would believe the word of the Mayor: it would be a queer thing if they didn't, in Mallalieu's opinion. And therewith he tried to go to sleep, and made a miserable failure of it.
As he lay tossing and groaning in his comfortable bed that night, Mallalieu thought over many things. How had Stoner acquired his information? Did anybody else know what Stoner knew? After much reflection he decided that nobody but Stoner did know. Further reckoning up of matters gave him a theory as to how Stoner had got to know. He saw it all—according to his own idea. Stoner had overheard the conversation between old Kitely and Cotherstone in the private office, of course! That was it—he wondered he had never thought of it before. Between the partners' private room and the outer office in which Stoner sat, there was a little window in the wall; it had been specially made so that papers could be passed from one room to the other. And, of course, on that afternoon it had probably been a little way open, as it often was, and Stoner had heard what passed between Cotherstone and his tenant. Being a deep chap, Stoner had kept the secret to himself until the reward was offered. Of course, his idea was blackmail—Mallalieu had no doubt about that. No—all things considered, he did not believe that Stoner had shared his knowledge—Stoner would be too well convinced of its value to share it with anybody. That conclusion comforted Mallalieu—once more he tried to sleep.
But his sleep was a poor thing that night, and he felt tired and worn when, as usual, he went early to the yard. He was there before Cotherstone; when Cotherstone came, no more than a curt nod was exchanged between them. They had never spoken to each other except on business since the angry scene of a few days before, and now Mallalieu, after a glance at some letters which had come in the previous evening, went off down the yard. He stayed there an hour: when he re-entered the office he looked with an affectation of surprise at the clerk's empty desk.
"Stoner not come?" he demanded curtly.
Cotherstone, who was turning over the leaves of an account book, replied just as curtly.
Mallalieu fidgeted about for a while, arranging some papers he had brought in from the yard. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of impatience, and going to the door, called to a lad who was passing.
"Here, you!" he said. "You know where Mr. Stoner lodges?—Mrs. Battley's. Run round there, and see why he hasn't come to his work. It's an hour and a half past his time. Happen he's poorly—run now, sharp!"
He went off down the yard again when he had despatched this message; he came back to the office ten minutes later, just as the messenger returned.
"Well?" he demanded, with a side-glance to assure himself that Cotherstone was at hand. "Where is he, like?"
"Please, sir, Mrs. Battley, she says as how Mr. Stoner went away on Saturday afternoon, sir," answered the lad, "and he hasn't been home since. She thinks he went to Darlington, sir, on a visit."
Mallalieu turned into the office, growling.
"Must ha' missed his train," he muttered as he put more papers on Stoner's desk. "Here—happen you'll attend to these things—they want booking up."
Cotherstone made no reply, and Mallalieu presently left him and went home to get his breakfast. And as he walked up the road to his house he wondered why Stoner had gone to Darlington. Was it possible that he had communicated what he knew to any of his friends? If so——
"Confound the suspense and the uncertainty!" growled Mallalieu. "It 'ud wear the life out of a man. I've a good mind to throw the whole thing up and clear out! I could do it easy enough wi' my means. A clear track—and no more o' this infernal anxiety."
He reflected, as he made a poor show of eating his breakfast, on the ease with which he could get away from Highmarket and from England. Being a particularly astute man of business, Mallalieu had taken good care that all his eggs were not in one basket. He had many baskets—his Highmarket basket was by no means the principal one. Indeed all that Mallalieu possessed in Highmarket was his share of the business and his private house. As he had made his money he had invested it in easily convertible, gilt-edged securities, which would be realized at an hour's notice in London or New York, Paris or Vienna. It would be the easiest thing in the world for him, as Mayor of Highmarket, to leave the town on Corporation business, and within a few hours to be where nobody could find him; within a few more, to be out of the country. Lately, he had often thought of going right away, to enjoy himself for the rest of his life. He had made one complete disappearance already; why not make another? Before he went townwards again that morning, he was beginning to give serious attention to the idea.
Meanwhile, however, there was the business of the day to attend to, and Stoner's absence threw additional work on the two partners. Then at twelve o'clock, Mallalieu had to go over to the Town Hall to preside at a meeting of the General Purposes Committee. That was just over, and he was thinking of going home to his lunch when the superintendent of police came into the committee-room and drew him aside.
"I've bad news for you, Mr. Mayor," he announced in a whisper. "Your clerk—he hasn't been at work this morning, I suppose?"
"Well?" demanded Mallalieu, nerving himself for what he felt to be coming. "What about it?"
"He's met with a bad accident," replied the superintendent. "In fact, sir, he's dead! A couple of men found his body an hour or so ago in Hobwick Quarry, up on the moor, and it's been brought down to the mortuary. You'd better come round, Mr. Mayor—Mr. Cotherstone's there, now."
Mallalieu followed without a word. But once outside the Town Hall he turned to his companion.
"Have you made aught out of it?" he asked. "He's been away, so his landlady says, since Saturday afternoon: I sent round to inquire for him when he didn't turn up this morning. What do you know, like?"
"It looks as if it had been an accident," answered the superintendent. "These men that found him noticed some broken railings at top of the quarry. They looked down and saw a body. So they made their way down and found—Stoner. It would seem as if he'd leaned or sat on the railings and they'd given way beneath him, and of course he'd pitched headlong into the quarry. It's fifty feet deep, Mr. Mayor! That's all one can think of. But Dr. Rockcliffe's with him now."
Mallalieu made a mighty effort to appear calm, as, with a grave and concerned face, he followed his guide into the place where the doctor, an official or two, and Cotherstone were grouped about the dead man. He gave one glance at his partner and Cotherstone gave one swift look at him—and there was something in Cotherstone's look which communicated a sudden sense of uneasy fear to Mallalieu: it was a look of curious intelligence, almost a sort of signal. And Mallalieu experienced a vague feeling of dread as he turned to the doctor.
"A bad job—a bad job!" he muttered, shaking his head and glancing sideways at the body. "D'ye make aught out of it, doctor? Can you say how it came about?"
Dr. Rockcliffe pursed up his lips and his face became inscrutable. He kept silence for a moment—when he spoke his voice was unusually stern.
"The lad's neck is broken, and his spine's fractured," he said in a low voice. "Either of those injuries was enough to cause death. But—look at that!"
He pointed to a contusion which showed itself with unmistakable plainness on the dead man's left temple, and again he screwed up his lips as if in disgust at some deed present only to the imagination.
"That's a blow!" he said, more sternly than before. "A blow from some blunt instrument! It was a savage blow, too, dealt with tremendous force. It may—may, I say—have killed this poor fellow on the spot—he may have been dead before ever he fell down that quarry."
It was only by an enormous effort of will that Mallalieu prevented himself from yielding to one of his shaking fits.
"But—but mightn't he ha' got that with striking his head against them rocks as he fell?" he suggested. "It's a rocky place, that, and the rocks project, like, so——"
"No!" said the doctor, doggedly. "That's no injury from any rock or stone or projection. It's the result of a particularly fierce blow dealt with great force by some blunt instrument—a life preserver, a club, a heavy stick. It's no use arguing it. That's a certainty!"
Cotherstone, who had kept quietly in the background, ventured a suggestion.
"Any signs of his having been robbed?" he asked.
"No, sir," replied the superintendent promptly. "I've everything that was on him. Not much, either. Watch and chain, half a sovereign, some loose silver and copper, his pipe and tobacco, a pocket-book with a letter or two and such-like in it—that's all. There'd been no robbery."
"I suppose you took a look round?" asked Cotherstone. "See anything that suggested a struggle? Or footprints? Or aught of that sort?"
The superintendent shook his head.
"Naught!" he answered. "I looked carefully at the ground round those broken railings. But it's the sort of ground that wouldn't show footprints, you know—covered with that short, wiry mountain grass that shows nothing."
"And nothing was found?" asked Mallalieu. "No weapons, eh?"
For the life of him he could not resist asking that—his anxiety about the stick was overmastering him. And when the superintendent and the two policemen who had been with him up to Hobwick Quarry had answered that they had found nothing at all, he had hard work to repress a sigh of relief. He presently went away hoping that the oak stick had fallen into a crevice of the rocks or amongst the brambles which grew out of them; there was a lot of tangle-wood about that spot, and it was quite possible that the stick, kicked violently away, had fallen where it would never be discovered. And—there was yet a chance for him to make that possible discovery impossible. Now that the body had been found, he himself could visit the spot with safety, on the pretext of curiosity. He could look round; if he found the stick he could drop it into a safe fissure of the rocks, or make away with it. It was a good notion—and instead of going home to lunch Mallalieu turned into a private room of the Highmarket Arms, ate a sandwich and drank a glass of ale, and hurried off, alone, to the moors.
The news of this second mysterious death flew round Highmarket and the neighbourhood like wild-fire. Brereton heard of it during the afternoon, and having some business in the town in connexion with Harborough's defence, he looked in at the police-station and found the superintendent in an unusually grave and glum mood.
"This sort of thing's getting beyond me, Mr. Brereton," he said in a whisper. "Whether it is that I'm not used to such things—thank God! we've had little experience of violence in this place in my time!—or what it is, but I've got it into my head that this poor young fellow's death's connected in some way with Kitely's affair! I have indeed, sir!—it's been bothering me all the afternoon. For all the doctors—there's been several of 'em in during the last two hours—are absolutely agreed that Stoner was felled, sir—felled by a savage blow, and they say he may ha' been dead before ever he fell over that quarry edge. Mr. Brereton—I misdoubt it's another murder!"
"Have you anything to go on?" asked Brereton. "Had anybody any motive? Was there any love affair—jealousy, you know—anything of that sort?"
"No, I'm sure there wasn't," replied the superintendent. "The whole town and county's ringing with the news, and I should ha' heard something by now. And it wasn't robbery—not that he'd much on him, poor fellow! There's all he had," he went on, opening a drawer. "You can look at 'em, if you like."
He left the room just then, and Brereton, disregarding the cheap watch and chain and the pigskin purse with its light load, opened Stoner's pocket-book. There was not much in that, either—a letter or two, some receipted bills, a couple of much creased copies of the reward bill, some cuttings from newspapers. He turned from these to the pocket-book itself, and on the last written page he found an entry which made him start. For there again were the initials!
"—M. & C.—fraud—bldg. soc.—Wilchester Assizes—81—L2000—money never recovered—2 yrs.—K. pres."
Not much—but Brereton hastily copied that entry. And he had just written the last word when the superintendent came back into the room with a man who was in railway uniform.
"Come in here," the superintendent was saying. "You can tell me what it is before this gentleman. Some news from High Gill junction, Mr. Brereton," he went on, "something about Stoner. Well, my lad, what is it?"
"The station-master sent me over on his bicycle," replied the visitor. "We heard over there this afternoon about Stoner's body being found, and that you were thinking he must have fallen over into the quarry in the darkness. And we know over yonder that that's not likely."
"Aye?" said the superintendent. "Well, as a matter of fact, my lad, we weren't thinking that, but no doubt that rumour's got out. Now why do you railway folks know it isn't likely?"
"That's what I've come to tell," answered the man, a sharp, intelligent-looking fellow. "I'm ticket-collector over there, as you know, sir. Now, young Stoner came to the junction on Saturday afternoon and booked for Darlington, and of course went to Darlington. He came back yesterday afternoon—Sunday—by the train that gets to our junction at 3.3. I took his ticket. Instead of going out of the station by the ordinary way, he got over the fence on the down line side, saying to me that he'd take a straight cut across the moor to Highmarket. I saw him going Highmarket way for some distance. And he'd be at Hobwick Quarry by 4.30 at the latest—long before darkness."
"Just about sunset, as a matter of fact," remarked the superintendent. "The sun sets about 4.18."
"So he couldn't have fallen over in the darkness," continued the ticket-collector. "If all had gone well with him, he'd have been down in Highmarket here by dusk."
"I'm obliged to you," said the superintendent. "It's worth knowing, of course. Came from Darlington, eh? Was he alone?"
"Quite alone, sir."
"You didn't see anybody else going that way across the moors, did you? Didn't notice anybody following him?"
"No," replied the ticket-collector with decision. "Me and one of my mates watched him a long way, and I'll swear there was no one near him till he was out of sight. We didn't watch him on purpose, neither. When the down-train had gone, me and my mate sat down to smoke our pipes, and from where we were we could see right across the moors in this direction. We saw Stoner—now and then, you understand—right away to Chat Bank."
"You didn't notice any suspicious characters come to your station that afternoon or evening?" asked the superintendent.
The ticket-collector replied that nothing of that sort had been seen, and he presently went away. And Brereton, after an unimportant word or two, went away too, certain by that time that the death of Stoner had some sinister connexion with the murder of Kitely.
THE SCRAP BOOK
Brereton went back to his friend's house more puzzled than ever by the similarity of the entries in Kitely's memoranda and in Stoner's pocket-book. Bent had gone over to Norcaster that afternoon, on business, and was not to be home until late in the evening: Brereton accordingly dined alone and had ample time to reflect and to think. The reflecting and the thinking largely took the form of speculating—on the fact that certain terms and figures which had been set down by Kitely had also been set down by Stoner. There were the initials—M. & C. There was a date—if it was a date—81. What in Kitely's memorandum the initials S. B. might mean, it was useless to guess at. His memorandum, indeed, was as cryptic as an Egyptian hieroglyph. But Stoner's memorandum was fuller, more explicit. The M. & C. of the Kitely entry had been expanded to Mallows and Chidforth. The entry "fraud" and the other entries "Wilchester Assizes" and the supplementary words, clearly implied that two men named Mallows and Chidforth were prosecuted at Wilchester Assizes in the year 1881 for fraud, that a sum of L2,000 was involved, which was never recovered, that Mallows and Chidforth, whoever they were, were convicted and were sentenced to two years' imprisonment. So much for Stoner's memorandum. But did it refer to the same event to which Kitely made reference in his memorandum? It seemed highly probable that it did. It seemed highly probable, too, that the M. & C. of Kitely's entry were the Mallows & Chidforth of Stoner's. And now the problem narrowed to one most serious and crucial point—were the Mallows and Chidforth of these references the Mallalieu and Cotherstone of Highmarket.
Speculating on this possibility, Brereton after his solitary dinner went into Bent's smoking-room, and throwing himself into a chair before the fire, lighted his pipe and proceeded to think things out. It was abundantly clear to him by that time that Kitely and Stoner had been in possession of a secret: it seemed certain that both had been murdered by some person who desired to silence them. There was no possible doubt as to Kitely's murder: from what Brereton had heard that afternoon there seemed to be just as little doubt that Stoner had also been murdered. He had heard what the local medical men had to say—one and all agreed that though the clerk had received injuries in his fall which would produce almost instantaneous death he had received a mortal blow before he fell. Who struck that blow? Everything seemed to point to the fact that the man who struck it was the man who strangled Kitely—a man of great muscular power.
Glancing around the room as he sat in a big easy chair, his hands behind his head, Brereton's eyes fell suddenly on Kitely's legacy to Windle Bent. The queer-looking old volume which, because of its black calf binding and brass clasp, might easily have been taken for a prayer-book, lay just where Bent had set it down on his desk when Christopher Pett formally handed it over—so far as Brereton knew Bent up to now had never even opened it. And it was with no particular motive that Brereton now reached out and picked it up, and unsnapping the clasp began idly to turn over the leaves on which the old detective had pasted cuttings from newspapers and made entries in his crabbed handwriting. Brereton believed that he was idly handling what Pett had jocosely described the book to be—a mere scrap-book. It never entered his head that he held in his hands almost the whole solution of the mystery which was puzzling him.
No man knows how inspiration comes to him, and Brereton never knew how it was that suddenly, in the flash of an eye, in the swiftness of thought, he knew that he had found what he wanted. Suggestion might have had something to do with it. Kitely had written the word Scrap-book on the first blank page. Afterwards, at the tops of pages, he had filled in dates in big figures—for reference—1875—1879—1887—and so on. And Brereton suddenly saw, and understood, and realized. The cryptic entry in Kitely's pocket-book became plain as the plainest print. M. & C. v. S. B. cir. 81:—Brereton could amplify that now. Kitely, like all men who dabble in antiquarian pursuits, knew a bit of Latin, and naturally made an occasional airing of his knowledge. The full entry, of course, meant M. &. C. vide (=see) Scrap-Book circa (=about) 1881.
With a sharp exclamation of delight, Brereton turned over the pages of that queer record of crime and detection until he came to one over which the figure 1881 stood out boldly. A turn or two more of pages, and he had found what he wanted. There it was—a long cutting from what was evidently a local newspaper—a cutting which extended over two or three leaves of the book—and at the end a memorandum in Kitely's handwriting, evidently made some years before. The editor of that local newspaper had considered the case which Kitely had so carefully scissored from his columns worthy of four headlines in big capitals:—
THE BUILDING SOCIETY DEFALCATIONS MALLOWS AND CHIDFORTH AT THE WILCHESTER ASSIZES VERDICT AND SENTENCE
Brereton settled down to a careful reading of the report. There was really nothing very remarkable about it—nothing exciting nor sensational. It was indeed no more than a humdrum narrative of a vulgar crime. But it was necessary that he should know all about it, and be able to summarize it, and so he read it over with unusual care. It was a very plain story—there were no complications. It appeared from the evidence adduced that for some time previous to 1881 there had been in existence in Wilchester a building society, the members of which were chiefly of the small tradesman and better-class working-man order. Its chief officials for a year or two had been John Mallows and Mark Chidforth, who were respectively treasurer and secretary. Mallows was foreman to a builder in the town; Chidforth was clerk to the same employer. Both were young men. They were evidently regarded as smart fellows. Up to the time of the revelations they had borne the very best of characters. Each had lived in Wilchester since childhood; each had continued his education at night schools and institute classes after the usual elementary school days were over; each was credited with an ambitious desire to rise in the world. Each, as a young man, was attached to religious organizations—Mallows was a sidesman at one of the churches, Chidforth was a Sunday-school teacher at one of the chapels. Both had been fully and firmly trusted, and it appeared from the evidence that they had had what practically amounted to unsupervised control of the building society's funds. And—the really important point—there was no doubt whatever that they had helped themselves to some two thousand pounds of their fellow-members' money.
All this was clear enough: it took little time for Brereton to acquaint himself with these facts. What was not so clear was the whereabouts or disposal of the money. From the evidence there appeared to be two conflicting notions current in Wilchester at the time. Some people apparently believed confidently that the two culprits had lost the money in secret speculation and in gambling: other people were just as certain that they had quietly put the money away in some safe quarter. The prisoners themselves absolutely refused to give the least scrap of information: ever since their arrest they had maintained a stolid silence and a defiant demeanour. More than once during the progress of the trial they had opportunities of making clean breasts of their misdoings and refused to take them. Found guilty, they were put back until next day for sentence—that, of course, was to give them another chance of saying what they had done with the money. But they had kept up their silence to the end, and they had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment, with hard labour, and so had disappeared from public view, with their secret—if there really was a secret—intact.
So much for the newspaper cutting from the Wilchester Sentinel. But there was more to read. The cutting came to an end on the top half of a page in the scrap-book; underneath it on the blank half of the page Kitely had made an entry, dated three years after the trial.
"Wilchester: June 28, 1884. Re above. Came down here on business today and had a talk with police about M. & C. and the money. M. & C. never been heard of since their release. Were released at same time, and seen in the town an hour or two later, after which they disappeared—a man who spoke to M. says that M. told him they were going to emigrate. They are believed to have gone to Argentine. Both had relatives in Wilchester, but either they don't know anything of M. & C.'s subsequent doings, or they keep silence. No further trace of money, and opinion still divided as to what they really did with it: many people in W. firmly convinced that they had it safely planted, and have gone to it."
To Brereton the whole affair was now as plain as a pikestaff. The old detective, accidentally settling down at Highmarket, had recognized Mallalieu and Cotherstone, the prosperous tradesmen of that little, out-of-the-way town, as the Mallows and Chidforth whom he had seen in the dock at Wilchester, and he had revealed his knowledge to one or the other or both. That was certain. But there were many things that were far from certain. What had happened when Kitely revealed himself as a man who had been a witness of their conviction in those far-off days? How had he revealed himself? Had he endeavoured to blackmail them? It was possible.
But there was still more to think over. How had the dead clerk, Stoner, got his knowledge of this great event in the life of his employers? Had he got it from Kitely? That was not likely. Yet Stoner had written down in his pocket-book an entry which was no more and no less than a precis of the absolute facts. Somehow, somewhere, Stoner had made himself fully acquainted with Mallalieu and Cotherstone's secret. Did Stoner's death arise out of a knowledge of that secret? On the face of things there could be little doubt that it did. Who, then, struck the blow which killed Stoner, or, if it did not actually kill him, caused his death by bringing about the fall which broke his neck? Was it Mallalieu?—or was it Cotherstone?
That one or other, or both, were guilty of Kitely's murder, and possibly of Stoner's, Brereton was by that time absolutely certain. And realizing that certainty, he felt himself placed in a predicament which could not fail to be painful. It was his duty, as counsel for an innocent man, to press to the full his inquiries into the conduct of men whom he believed to be guilty. In this he was faced with an unpleasant situation. He cared nothing about Mallalieu. If Mallalieu was a guilty man, let Mallalieu pay the richly-deserved consequences of his misdeeds. Brereton, without being indifferent or vindictive or callous, knew that it would not give him one extra heart-throb if he heard Mallalieu found guilty and sentenced to the gallows. But Cotherstone was the father of the girl to whom Windle Bent was shortly to be married—and Bent and Brereton had been close friends ever since they first went to school together.
It was a sad situation, an unpleasant thing to face. He had come on a visit to Bent, he had prolonged that visit in order to defend a man whom he firmly believed to be as innocent as a child—and now he was to bring disgrace and shame on a family with whom his host and friend was soon to be allied by the closest of ties. But—better that than that an innocent man should suffer! And walking up and down Bent's smoking-room, and thinking the whole thing through and through, he half made up his mind to tell Bent all about it when he returned.
Brereton presently put on hat and coat and left the house. It was then half-past seven; a sharp, frosty November evening, with an almost full moon rising in a clear, star-sprinkled sky. The sudden change from the warmth of the house to the frost-laden atmosphere of the hillside quickened his mental faculties; he lighted his pipe, and resolved to take a brisk walk along the road which led out of Highmarket and to occupy himself with another review of the situation. A walk in the country by day or night and in solitude had always had attractions for Brereton and he set out on this with zest. But he had not gone a hundred yards in the direction of the moors when Avice Harborough came out of the gate of Northrop's garden and met him.
"I was coming to see you," she said quietly. "I have heard something that I thought you ought to hear, too—at once."
"Yes?" responded Brereton.
Avice drew an envelope from her muff and gave it to him.
"A boy brought that to me half an hour ago," she said. "It is from an old woman, Mrs. Hamthwaite, who lives in a very lonely place on the moors up above Hobwick Quarry. Can you read it in this light?"
"I will," answered Brereton, drawing a scrap of paper from the envelope. "Here," he went on, giving it back to Avice, "you hold it, and I'll strike a match—the moonlight's scarcely strong enough. Now," he continued, taking a box of vestas from his pocket and striking one, "steady—'If Miss Harborough will come up to see Susan Hamthwaite I will tell you something that you might like to know.' Ah!" he exclaimed, throwing away the match. "Now, how far is it to this old woman's cottage?"
"Two miles," replied Avice.
"Can you go there now?" he asked.
"I thought of doing so," she answered.
"Come along, then," said Brereton. "We'll go together. If she objects to my presence I'll leave you with her and wait about for you. Of course, she wants to tell you something relating to your father."
"You think so?" said Avice. "I only hope it is!"
"Certain to be," he replied. "What else could it be?"
"There are so many strange things to tell about, just now," she remarked. "Besides, if old Mrs. Hamthwaite knows anything, why hasn't she let me know until tonight?"
"Oh, there's no accounting for that!" said Brereton. "Old women have their own way of doing things. By the by," he continued, as they turned out of the road and began to climb a path which led to the first ridge of the moors outside the town, "I haven't seen you today—you've heard of this Stoner affair?"
"Mr. Northrop told me this afternoon," she replied. "What do you think about it?"
Brereton walked on a little way without replying. He was asking a serious question of himself. Should he tell all he knew to Avice Harborough?
A TALL MAN IN GREY CLOTHES
That question remained unanswered, and Brereton remained silent, until he and Avice had reached the top of the path and had come out on the edge of the wide stretch of moorland above the little town. He paused for a moment and looked back on the roofs and gables of Highmarket, shining and glittering in the moonlight; the girl paused too, wondering at his silence. And with a curious abruptness he suddenly turned, laid a hand on her arm, and gave it a firm, quick pressure.
"Look here!" he said. "I'm going to trust you. I'm going to say to you what I haven't said to a soul in that town!—not even to Tallington, who's a man of the law, nor to Bent, who's my old friend. I want to say something to somebody whom I can trust. I can trust you!"
"Thank you," she answered quietly. "I—I think I understand. And you'll understand, too, won't you, when I say—you can!"
"That's all right," he said, cheerfully. "Of course! Now we understand each other. Come on, then—you know the way—act as guide, and I'll tell you as we go along."
Avice turned off into what appeared to be no more than a sheep-track across the heather. Within a few minutes they were not only quite alone, but out of sight of any human habitation. It seemed to Brereton that they were suddenly shut into a world of their own, as utterly apart from the little world they had just left as one star is from another. But even as he thought this he saw, far away across the rising and falling of the heather-clad undulations, the moving lights of a train that was speeding southward along the coast-line from Norcaster, and presently the long scream of a whistle from its engine came on the light breeze that blew inland from the hidden sea, and the sight and sound recalled him to the stern realities of life.
"Listen, then, carefully," he began. "And bear in mind that I'm putting what I believe to be safety of other men in your hands. It's this way...."
Avice Harborough listened in absolute silence as Brereton told her his carefully arranged story. They walked slowly across the moor as he told it; now dipping into a valley, now rising above the ridge of a low hill; sometimes pausing altogether as he impressed some particular point upon her. In the moonlight he could see that she was listening eagerly and intently, but she never interrupted him and never asked a question. And at last, just as they came in sight of a light that burned in the window of a little moorland cottage, snugly planted in a hollow beneath the ridge which they were then traversing, he brought his story to an end and turned inquiringly to her.
"There!" he said. "That's all. Now try to consider it without prejudice—if you can. How does it appear to you?"
Instead of replying directly the girl walked on in silence for a moment or two, and suddenly turned to Brereton with an impulsive movement.
"You've given me your confidence and I'll give you mine!" she exclaimed. "Perhaps I ought to have given it before—to you or to Mr. Tallington—but—I didn't like. I've wondered about Mallalieu! Wondered if—if he did kill that old man. And wondered if he tried to put the blame on my father out of revenge!"
"Revenge!" exclaimed Brereton. "What do you mean?"
"My father offended him—not so very long ago, either," she answered. "Last year—I'll tell you it all, plainly—Mr. Mallalieu began coming to our cottage at times. First he came to see my father about killing the rats which had got into his out-buildings. Then he made excuses—he used to come, any way—at night. He began to come when my father was out, as he often was. He would sit down and smoke and talk. I didn't like it—I don't like him. Then he used to meet me in the wood in the Shawl, as I came home from the Northrops'. I complained to my father about it and one night my father came in and found him here. My father, Mr. Brereton, is a very queer man and a very plain-spoken man. He told Mr. Mallalieu that neither of us desired his company and told him to go away. And Mr. Mallalieu lost his temper and said angry things."
"And your father?" said Brereton. "Did he lose his temper, too?"
"No!" replied Avice. "He has a temper—but he kept it that night. He never spoke to Mr. Mallalieu in return. He let him say his say—until he'd got across the threshold, and then he just shut the door on him. But—I know how angry Mr. Mallalieu was."
Brereton stood silently considering matters for a moment. Then he pointed to the light in the window beneath them, and moved towards it.
"I'm glad you told me that," he said. "It may account for something that's puzzled me a great deal—I must think it out. But at present—is that the old woman's lamp?"
Avice led the way down to the hollow by a narrow path which took them into a little stone-walled enclosure where a single Scotch fir-tree stood sentinel over a typical moorland homestead of the smaller sort—a one-storied house of rough stone, the roof of which was secured from storm and tempest by great boulders slung on stout ropes, and having built on to it an equally rough shelter for some small stock of cows and sheep. Out of a sheer habit of reflection on things newly seen, Brereton could not avoid wondering what life was like, lived in this solitude, and in such a perfect hermitage—but his speculations were cut short by the opening of the door set deep within the whitewashed porch. An old woman, much bent by age, looked out upon him and Avice, holding a small lamp so that its light fell on their faces.
"Come your ways in, joy!" she said hospitably. "I was expecting you'd come up tonight: I knew you'd want to have a word with me as soon as you could. Come in and sit you down by the fire—it's coldish o' nights, to be sure, and there's frost in the air.
"This gentleman may come in, too, mayn't he, Mrs. Hamthwaite?" asked Avice as she and Brereton stepped within the porch. "He's the lawyer-gentleman who's defending my father—you won't mind speaking before him, will you?"
"Neither before him, nor behind him, nor yet to him," answered Mrs. Hamthwaite with a chuckle. "I've talked to lawyers afore today, many's the time! Come your ways in, sir—sit you down."
She carefully closed the door on her guests and motioned them to seats by a bright fire of turf, and then setting the lamp on the table, seated herself in a corner of her long-settle and folding her hands in her apron took a long look at her visitors through a pair of unusually large spectacles. And Brereton, genuinely interested, took an equally long look at her; and saw a woman who was obviously very old but whose face was eager, intelligent, and even vivacious. As this queer old face turned from one to the other, its wrinkles smoothed out into a smile.
"You'll be wondering what I've got to tell, love," said Mrs. Hamthwaite, turning to Avice. "And no doubt you want to know why I haven't sent for you before now. But you see, since that affair happened down your way, I been away. Aye, I been to see my daughter—as lives up the coast. And I didn't come home till today. And I'm no hand at writing letters. However here we are, and better late than never and no doubt this lawyer gentleman'll be glad to hear what I can tell him and you."
"Very glad indeed!" responded Brereton. "What is it?"
The old woman turned to a box which stood in a recess in the ingle-nook at her elbow and took from it a folded newspaper.
"Me and my daughter and her husband read this here account o' the case against Harborough as it was put before the magistrates," she said. "We studied it. Now you want to know where Harborough was on the night that old fellow was done away with. That's it, master, what?"
"That is it," answered Brereton, pressing his arm against Avice, who sat close at his side. "Yes, indeed! And you——"
"I can tell you where Harborough was between nine o'clock and ten o'clock that night," replied Mrs. Hamthwaite, with a smile that was not devoid of cunning. "I know, if nobody else knows!"
"Where, then?" demanded Brereton.
The old woman leaned forward across the hearth.
"Up here on the moor!" she whispered. "Not five minutes' walk from here. At a bit of a place—Miss there'll know it—called Good Folks' Lift. A little rise i' the ground where the fairies used to dance, you know, master."
"You saw him?" asked Brereton.
"I saw him," chuckled Mrs. Hamthwaite. "And if I don't know him, why then, his own daughter doesn't!"
"You'd better tell us all about it," said Brereton.
Mrs. Hamthwaite gave him a sharp look. "I've given evidence to law folks before today," she said. "You'll want to know what I could tell before a judge, like?"
"Of course," replied Brereton.
"Well, then——" she continued. "You see, master, since my old man died, I've lived all alone up here. I've a bit to live on—not over much, but enough. All the same, if I can save a bit by getting a hare or a rabbit, or a bird or two now and then, off the moor—well, I do! We all of us does that, as lives on the moor: some folks calls it poaching, but we call it taking our own. Now then, on that night we're talking about, I went along to Good Folks' Lift to look at some snares I'd set early that day. There's a good deal of bush and scrub about that place—I was amongst the bushes when I heard steps, and I looked out and saw a tall man in grey clothes coming close by. How did I know he were in grey clothes? Why, 'cause he stopped close by me to light his pipe! But he'd his back to me, so I didn't see his full face, only a side of it. He were a man with a thin, greyish beard. Well, he walks past there, not far—and then I heard other steps. Then I heard your father's voice, miss—and I see the two of 'em meet. They stood, whispering together, for a minute or so—then they came back past me, and they went off across the moor towards Hexendale. And soon they were out of sight, and when I'd finished what I was after I came my ways home. That's all, master—but if yon old man was killed down in Highmarket Shawl Wood between nine and ten o'clock that night, then Jack Harborough didn't kill him, for Jack was up here at soon after nine, and him and the tall man went away in the opposite direction!"
"You're sure about the time?" asked Brereton anxiously.
"Certain, master! It was ten minutes to nine when I went out—nearly ten when I come back. My clock's always right—I set it by the almanack and the sunrise and sunset every day—and you can't do better," asserted Mrs. Hamthwaite.
"You're equally sure about the second man being Harborough?" insisted Brereton. "You couldn't be mistaken?"
"Mistaken? No!—master, I know Harborough's voice, and his figure, aye, and his step as well as I know my own fireside," declared Mrs. Hamthwaite. "Of course I know it were Harborough—no doubt on't!"
"How are you sure that this was the evening of the murder?" asked Brereton. "Can you prove that it was?"
"Easy!" said Mrs. Hamthwaite. "The very next morning I went away to see my daughter up the coast. I heard of the old man's murder at High Gill Junction. But I didn't hear then that Harborough was suspected—didn't hear that till later on, when we read it in the newspapers."
"And the other man—the tall man in grey clothes, who has a slightly grey beard—you didn't know him?"
Mrs. Hamthwaite made a face which seemed to suggest uncertainty.
"Well, I'll tell you," she answered. "I believe him to be a man that I have seen about this here neighbourhood two or three times during this last eighteen months or so. If you really want to know, I'm a good deal about them moors o' nights; old as I am, I'm very active, and I go about a goodish bit—why not? And I have seen a man about now and then—months between, as a rule—that I couldn't account for—and I believe it's this fellow that was with Harborough."
"And you say they went away in the direction of Hexendale?" said Brereton. "Where is Hexendale?"
The old woman pointed westward.
"Inland," she answered. "Over yonder. Miss there knows Hexendale well enough."
"Hexendale is a valley—with a village of the same name in it—that lies about five miles away on the other side of the moors," said Avice. "There's another line of railway there—this man Mrs. Hamthwaite speaks of could come and go by that."
"Well," remarked Brereton presently, "we're very much obliged to you, ma'am, and I'm sure you won't have any objection to telling all this again at the proper time and place, eh?"
"Eh, bless you, no!" answered Mrs. Hamthwaite. "I'll tell it wherever you like, master—before Lawyer Tallington, or the magistrates, or the crowner, or anybody! But I'll tell you what, if you'll take a bit of advice from an old woman—you're a sharp-looking young man, and I'll tell you what I should do if I were in your place—now then!"
"Well, what?" asked Brereton good-humouredly.
Mrs. Hamthwaite clapped him on the shoulder as she opened the door for her visitors.
"Find that tall man in the grey clothes!" she said. "Get hold of him! He's the chap you want!"
Brereton went silently away, meditating on the old woman's last words.
"But where are we to find him?" he suddenly exclaimed. "Who is he?"
"I don't think that puzzles me," remarked Avice. "He's the man who sent the nine hundred pounds."
Brereton smote his stick on the heather at their feet.
"By George!—I never thought of that!" he exclaimed. "I shouldn't wonder!—I shouldn't wonder at all. Hooray!—we're getting nearer and nearer to something."
But he knew that still another step was at hand—an unpleasant, painful step—when, on getting back to Bent's, an hour later, Bent told him that Lettie had been cajoled into fixing the day of the wedding, and that the ceremony was to take place with the utmost privacy that day week.
It was only by an immense effort of will that Brereton prevented an exclamation and a start of surprise. But of late he had been perpetually on the look-out for all sorts of unforeseen happenings and he managed to do no more than show a little natural astonishment.
"What, so soon!" he said. "Dear me, old chap!—I didn't think of its being this side of Christmas."
"Cotherstone's set on it," answered Bent. "He seems to be turning into a regular hypochondriac. I hope nothing is really seriously wrong with him. But anyway—this day week. And you'll play your part of best man, of course."
"Oh, of course!" agreed Brereton. "And then—are you going away?"
"Yes, but not for as long as we'd meant," said Bent. "We'll run down to the Riviera for a few weeks—I've made all my arrangements today. Well, any fresh news about this last bad business? This Stoner affair, of course, has upset Cotherstone dreadfully. When is all this mystery coming to an end, Brereton? There is one thing dead certain—Harborough isn't guilty in this case. That is, if Stoner really was killed by the blow they talk of."
But Brereton refused to discuss matters that night. He pleaded fatigue, he had been at it all day long, he said, and his brain was confused and tired and needed rest. And presently he went off to his room—and when he got there he let out a groan of dismay. For one thing was imperative—Bent's marriage must not take place while there was the least chance of a terrible charge being suddenly let loose on Cotherstone.
He rose in the morning with his mind made up on the matter. There was but one course to adopt—and it must be adopted immediately. Cotherstone must be spoken to—Cotherstone must be told of what some people at any rate knew about him and his antecedents. Let him have a chance to explain himself. After all, he might have some explanation. But—and here Brereton's determination became fixed and stern—it must be insisted upon that he should tell Bent everything.
Bent always went out very early in the morning, to give an eye to his business, and he usually breakfasted at his office. That was one of the mornings on which he did not come back to the house, and Brereton accordingly breakfasted alone, and had not seen his host when he, too, set out for the town. He had already decided what to do—he would tell everything to Tallington. Tallington was a middle-aged man of a great reputation for common-sense and for probity; as a native of the town, and a dweller in it all his life, he knew Cotherstone well, and he would give sound advice as to what methods should be followed in dealing with him. And so to Tallington Brereton, arriving just after the solicitor had finished reading his morning's letters, poured out the whole story which he had learned from the ex-detective's scrap-book and from the memorandum made by Stoner in his pocket-book.