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The Hunt Ball Mystery by Magnay, William

Part 4 out of 4

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"Your own?" Henshaw's question was put with a curling lip.

"My own," Gifford repeated steadfastly.

"May one ask what you mean by that?"

Henshaw's contemptuous incredulity was by no means diminished even by the
other's confident attitude.

Gifford gave a short laugh. "Naturally you do not take my meaning.
Obviously you think I am not a competent witness, that I know nothing
except by hearsay. You are, extraordinary as it may seem, quite wrong.
My testimony would be of nothing but what I myself saw and heard."

"What do you mean?" Henshaw had for a moment seemed to be calculating the
probability of this monstrous suggestion being a fact, and had dismissed
it with the contempt which showed itself in his question.

"I mean," Gifford replied with quiet assurance, "that I happened to be a
witness of the interview in the tower-room between your brother and Miss
Morriston, that I was there when he received his death-wound, and that it
was I whom the girl Haynes saw descending by a rope from the top window."

Henshaw had started to his feet, his face working with an almost
passionate astonishment. "You--you tell me all that," he cried, "and
expect me to believe it?"

"I have told you and shall tell you nothing," was the cool reply, "that I
am not prepared to state on oath in the witness-box."

For a while Henshaw seemed without the power to reply, dumbfounded, as
his active brain tried to realize the probabilities of the declaration.
"It seems to me," he said at length in a voice of which he was scarcely
master, "that, whether your statement is true or otherwise, you are
placing yourself in an uncommonly dangerous position, Mr. Gifford."

"I am aware that I am inviting a certain amount of ugly suspicion,"
Gifford agreed, "but the truth, which might have remained a mystery, has
been forced from me by the necessity of protecting Miss Morriston.
Perhaps you had better hear a frank account of the whole story, and the
explanation of what I admit you are so far justified in setting down as
concocted and wildly improbable."

"I should very much like to hear it," Henshaw returned in a tone which
held out no promise of credence.

Thereupon Gifford gave him a terse account of the events and the chance
which had led him into the tower and to be a secret witness of what
happened there. Remembering that he was addressing the dead man's
brother, he recounted the details of the interview without feeling;
indeed he threw no more colour into it than if he had been opening a
case in court. He simply stated the facts without comment. Henshaw
listened to the singular story in an attitude of doggedly unemotional
attention. Lawyer-like he restrained all tendency to interrupt the
narrative and asked no question as it proceeded. Nevertheless it was
clear he was thinking keenly, eager to note any weak points which he
could turn to use.

When the recital had come to an end he said coolly--

"Your story is a very extraordinary one, Mr. Gifford; I won't call it, as
it seems at first sight, wildly improbable, but it is at any rate an
almost incredible coincidence. With your knowledge of the law I need
scarcely remind you that the facts as you have just recounted them place
you in a rather unenviable position."

"As I have already said," Gifford replied, "my story is calculated to
suggest suspicion against me. But I am prepared to risk that

"In court," Henshaw observed, with a malicious smile, "handled by a
counsel who knew his business, your statement could be given a very ugly
turn indeed."

"As I have just told you," Gifford returned quietly, "I would take that
risk rather than allow Miss Morriston to remain longer under suspicion.
As for myself I should have every confidence in the result."

"It is well to be sanguine," Henshaw sneered. "If you have not already
done so, are you prepared to repeat your story to the police?"

"Most certainly I am, if necessary," was the prompt answer. "But I do not
fancy you will wish me to do so."

Henshaw's look was one of surprise, real or affected. "Indeed? Why so?"

"I will tell you," Gifford replied with a touch of sternness. "Because it
would be absolutely against your interest. For one thing it would, short
of absolute proof, leave still the shadow of doubt over your brother's
death, it would effectually put a stop to your designs on Miss Morriston,
which in any case must come to an end, and it would show up your dead
brother's character and conduct in a very disreputable light. Now what I
have to say to you is this. I know that, following in your brother's
footsteps, you have been subjecting Miss Morriston to an amount of very
hateful persecution. There may have been a certain excuse for it, at any
rate a degree of temptation, but your designs have not been welcome to
the lady, and they must forthwith come to an end. Now unless you
undertake to cease your attentions to Miss Morriston, in short to put an
end at once and for all to this persecution, I shall effectually remove
the hold you imagine you have over her by going straight to the police,
giving them the real story of what happened in the tower that night and
as a natural consequence shall give evidence to that effect at the
adjourned inquest. You will know best whether it would be worth your
while to force me to do this. I simply state the position."

He waited for Henshaw's answer. The man was plainly cornered and seemed
to be divided between a desire to let Gifford go on and place himself in
a dangerous situation, and the more expedient course of raising a scandal
which would touch him as well as disgrace his dead brother.

"This is a clever piece of bluff, Mr. Gifford," he said at
length; "but--"

"It is no bluff at all," Gifford interrupted firmly. "I am merely
determined to take the obvious course to save Miss Morriston from
something a good deal worse than annoyance. I have no wish to discredit
the dead, but I must remind you that the persecution of Miss Morriston by
your brother had gone on for a very considerable time, and had latterly
developed into an atrocious system of bullying. It is not an occasion for
mincing one's expressions, and I must say that in my opinion your own
conduct has been very little, if any, better; and that will be the
judgment of every decent man if the truth comes out, as come out it
shall, unless you agree to my terms before you leave this room."

For a while Henshaw made no reply. He sat thinking strenuously, evidently
weighing his chances, estimating the strength of his adversary's
position. Now and again he shot a glance, half probing, half sullen, at
Gifford, who leaned back against the mantelpiece coolly awaiting his
answer. At length he spoke.

"This is a very fine piece of bravado, Mr. Gifford. But I am not such a
fool as it pleases you to think me. It is very good of you to explain to
me my position in this affair; I am, however, quite capable of seeing
that for myself. And you can hardly expect me to look upon your
gratuitous advice as disinterested."

The man was talking to gain time; Gifford shrewdly guessed that. "I
might be pardoned for supposing you do not altogether realize how you
stand," he replied quietly. "But, after all, that is, as you suggest,
your affair."

Henshaw forced a smile. "The point of view is everything," he said in a
preoccupied tone; "and ours, yours and mine, are diametrically opposed."

"The point of view which perhaps ought most to be considered," Gifford
retorted with rising impatience, "is that of the honourable profession to
which we both belong. If you are prepared to face the odium, professional
and social, of an exposure--"

Henshaw interrupted him with a wave of the hand. "You may apply that to
yourself and to your friend, Miss Morriston," he said sharply. "I can
take care of myself, thank you."

Gifford shrugged. "Very well, then. There is no more to be said." He
crossed the room and took up his hat. "I will go and see Major Freeman at
once." At the door he turned, to see with surprise and a certain
satisfaction that Henshaw, although he had risen from his chair, seemed
in no hurry to move. "You are coming with me," he suggested. "It would be
quite in order, I think, for you to be present at my statement--unless
you prefer not."

It seemed clear that the rather foxy Gervase Henshaw had really more than
suspected a studied game of bluff. But now Gifford's attitude tended to
put that out of the question.

"In the circumstances, as your statement will consist mainly of a slander
against me and my dead brother," Henshaw replied sullenly, "I prefer to
keep out of the business for the present. I fancy," he added with an ugly
significance, "that the police will be quite equal to dealing with the
situation without any assistance or intervention from me."

Gifford ignored the covert threat. "Very well, then," he said, throwing
open the door and standing aside for Henshaw to pass out; "I will go
alone. Yes; it will be better."

But Henshaw did not move.

"I don't quite gather," he said in answer to Gifford's glance of inquiry,
"exactly what your object is in taking this step."

"I should have thought--" Gifford began.

"Is it," Henshaw proceeded, falling back now to his ordinary lawyer-like
tone--"is it merely to checkmate what you are pleased to call my designs
upon Miss Morriston?"

"That will be a mere incidental result," Gifford answered, shutting the
door and coming back into the room. "My object is to put it, at once and
for all, out of your power to hold over Miss Morriston the threat that
she is at any moment liable to be accused--by you of all people--of your
brother's murder, and so suggest that she is in your power."

"Why do you say by me, of all people?"

"You who profess an affection for her."

"Your word profess scarcely does me justice, Mr. Gifford," Henshaw
returned, drawing back his shut lips. "I had, and have, a very sincere
affection for Edith Morriston, which, it seems, I am not to be allowed to
declare or even have credit for. As a man of the world you can hardly
pretend to be ignorant of what a man will do when his happiness is at
stake. What he does under such a stress is no guide to his real feelings.
But we need not labour that point. My affection, genuine or not, seems to
be in no fair way to be requited, and I had already made up my mind to
leave it at that. I have merely kept up the game to this point out of
curiosity to see how far your--shall we say knight-errantry?--would lead
you. I will now relieve you from the necessity of going through an act of
Quixotic folly which would assuredly, sooner or later, have unpleasant
consequences for you."

So Gifford realized with a thrill of pleasure that he had won. He felt
that in much of his speech the man was lying; that no consideration of
mere unrequited affection had induced him to abandon his design.

"I am glad to hear you have come to a sensible conclusion," he said as
coolly as the sense of triumph would let him. "Whatever happened you
could hardly have expected your--plans to succeed."

"I don't know that," Henshaw retorted, with a touch of a beaten man's
malice. "Anyhow I have my own ideas on the subject. But looking into the
future with my brother's blood between us I think it might have turned
out a hideous mistake."

"A safe conjecture," Gifford commented, between indignation and amusement
at the cool way the man was now trying to save his face.

"Anyhow there's an end of it," Henshaw said with an air and gesture of
half scornfully dismissing the affair. "And so I bid you good afternoon."

As he walked towards the door Gifford intercepted him.

"Not quite so fast, Mr. Henshaw," he said resolutely. "We can't leave the
affair like this."

"What do you mean?" Henshaw ejaculated, with a look which was half
defiant, half apprehensive.

"You have heard my story," Gifford pursued with steady decisiveness,
"and have, I presume, accepted it."

"For what it is worth." The smart of defeat prompted the futile reply.

"That won't do at all," Gifford returned with sternness. "You either
accept the account I have just given you, or you do not."

There was something like murder in Henshaw's eyes as he replied, "This
bullying attitude is what I might expect from you. To put an end,
however, to this most unpleasant interview you may take it that I accept
your statement."

"To the absolute exoneration of Miss Morriston?"


"I must have your assurance in writing."

Henshaw fell back a step and for a moment showed signs of an
uncompromising refusal. "You are going a little too far, Mr. Gifford,"
he said doggedly.

"Not at all," Gifford retorted. "It is imperatively necessary."

"Is it?" Henshaw sneered. "For what purpose?"

"For Miss Morriston's protection."

The sneer deepened. "I should have thought that purpose quite negligible,
seeing how valiantly the lady is already protected. But I have no
objection," he added in an offhand tone, "as you seem to distrust the
lasting power of bluff, to give you an extra safeguard. Indeed I think it
just as well, all things considered, that Miss Morriston should have it.
Give me a pen and a sheet of paper." Henshaw's manner was now the
quintessence of insolence, but Gifford could afford, although it cost him
an effort, to ignore it. With the practised pen of a lawyer Henshaw
quickly wrote down a short declaration, signing it with a flourish and
then flicking it across the table to Gifford. "That should meet the
case," he said, leaning back confidently and thrusting his hands into his
pockets. Dealing with one who, like himself, was learned in the law he
had, to save trouble, written a terse declaration which he knew should be
quite acceptable. It simply stated that from certain facts which had come
to his knowledge he was quite satisfied that his brother's death had been
caused by an accident, and that no one was to blame for it, and he
thereby undertook to make no future charge or imputation against any one,
in connexion therewith.

"Yes, that will do," Gifford answered curtly when he had read the
few lines.

Henshaw rose with a rather mocking smile. "I congratulate you on
your--luck, Mr. Gifford," he said with a studied emphasis, and so
left the room.



With the precious declaration in his pocket Gifford lost no time in going
to Wynford Place. His light heart must have been reflected in his face,
for Edith Morriston's anxious look brightened as she joined him in the
drawing-room. All the same it seemed as though she almost feared to ask
the result, and he was the first to speak.

"I bring you good news, Miss Morriston. You have nothing more to fear
from Gervase Henshaw."

"Ah!" She caught her breath, and for a moment seemed unable to respond.
"Tell me," she said at length, almost breathlessly.

"I have had a long and, as you may imagine, not very pleasant interview
with the fellow," he answered quietly; "and am happy to say I won all
along the line."

"You won? You mean--?"

He had taken the declaration from his pocket-book and for answer handed
it to her. With a manifest effort to control her feelings she read it
eagerly. Then her voice trembled as she spoke.

"Mr. Gifford, what can I say? I wish I knew how to thank you."

"Please don't try," he replied lightly. "If you only knew the pleasure it
has given me to get the better of this fellow you would hardly consider
thanks necessary. Would you care to hear a short account of what
happened?" he added tactfully, with the intention, seeing how painful the
revulsion was, of giving her time to recover from her agitation.

"Please; do tell me." She spoke mechanically, still hardly able to trust
her voice above a whisper.

They sat down and he related the salient points of his interview with
Henshaw. "It was lucky that I happened to have something of a hold over
him," he concluded with a laugh; "Mr. Gervase Henshaw is not wanting in
determination, and it took a long time to persuade him that he could not
possibly win the game he was playing; but he stood to lose more heavily
than he could afford. The conclusion, however, was at last borne in upon
him that the position he had taken up was untenable, and that paper is
the result."

"That paper," she said in a low voice, "means life to me instead of a
living death; it means more than I can tell you, more than even you can

He had risen, but before he could speak she had come to him and
impulsively taken his hand. "Mr. Gifford," she said, "tell me how I can
repay you."

Her eyes met his; they were full of gratitude and something more. But he
resisted the temptation to answer her question in the way it was plain to
him he was invited to do.

"It is reward enough for me to have served you," he responded steadily.
"Seeing that chance gave me the power, I could do no less."

"You would have risked your life for mine," she persisted, her eyes
still on him.

"Hardly that," he returned, with an effort to force a smile. "But had it
been necessary, I should have been quite content to do so."

"And you will not tell me how I can show my gratitude?"

"I did not do it for reward," he murmured, scarcely able to
restrain himself.

"I am sure of that," she assented. "But you once hinted, or at any rate
led me to believe, that I could repay you."

There could be no pretence of ignoring her meaning now. Still he felt
that chivalry forbade his acceptance.

"I was wrong," he replied with an effort, "and most unfair if I suggested
a bargain."

"Have you repented the suggestion?" she asked almost quizzingly and with
a curious absence of her characteristic pride.

"Only in a sense," he answered. "I hope I am too honourable to take an
unfair advantage."

She laughed now; joyously, it seemed. "If your scruples are so strong
there will be nothing for it but for me to throw away mine and offer
myself to you."

"Edith," he exclaimed in a flash of rapture, then, checked the passionate
impulse to take her in his arms. "You must not; not now, not now. It is
not fair to yourself. At the moment of your release from this horrible
danger you cannot be master of yourself. You must not mistake gratitude
for love."

Edith drew back with a touch of resentful pride.

"If you think I don't know my own mind--" she began.

"Does any one know his own mind at such a crisis as you have just passed
through?" he said, a little wistfully. "Edith," he went on as he took her
unresisting hand, "you must not be offended with me. Think. The whole
object of what I have done for you has been to set you free, as free as
though you had woke up to find the episode of these Henshaws had been no
more than a horrible dream. You must be free, you must realize and enjoy
your freedom. You are now relieved from the crushing weight you have
borne so long; the release must be untouched by the shadow of a bargain
expressed or implied. That is the only way in which a man of honour can
regard the position."

"Very well," she returned simply, "I understand. I am sorry for my

Her manner shook his resolution. "I can't think you understand," he
replied forcibly. "I only ask, in fairness to yourself, for time. Don't
think that I am not desperately in love with you. You must have seen it,
ever since our first confidential talk, that night at the Stograve dance.
And my love has gone on increasing every day till--oh, you don't know how
cruelly hard it is to resist taking you at your word. But I can't, I
simply can't snatch at an unfair advantage, however great the temptation.
I must give you time, time to know your own heart when the nightmare
shall have passed away. I propose to return to town as soon as this man
Henshaw has cleared out of the neighbourhood. Will you let us be as we
are for a month, Edith, and if then you are of the same mind, send me a
line and I will come to you by the first train. Is not that only fair?"

She gave a little sigh of contentment. "Very well," she said, "if that
will satisfy you."

He took her hand. "It will seem a horribly long time to wait; but I
feel it is right. Today is the 16th; on this day month I shall hear
from you?"

"Yes, on the 16th," she answered.

"And so," he said, "you are free, unless you call me back to you."

"That is understood," she said with a smile.

He might have kissed her lips, her look into his eyes was almost an
invitation, but, having steeled himself to be scrupulously fair, he
refrained and contented himself with kissing her hand.

On reaching the hotel he heard with satisfaction that Henshaw had gone
off by the late afternoon train and had suggested the unlikelihood of his
returning. "So I suppose he is content to let the mystery remain a
mystery," the landlord remarked. And the Coroner's jury subsequently had
perforce to come to the same conclusion.

On the 16th of the following month, Hugh Gifford's impatience and
anxiety were set at rest, as the morning's post brought the expected
letter from Wynford.

"Dick and I are expecting you here tomorrow, unless you have changed your
mind--I have not. The 3.15 train shall be met if you do not wire to the

When Gifford jumped out of the 3.15 Edith was on the platform. As they
shook hands he read in her eyes an unwonted happiness and knew for
certain that all was well.

"I had something to do in the town and thought I might as well come on to
the station," Edith said with a lurking smile.

"I am glad you have not added even a half-hour to this long month," he
replied as they took their seats in the carriage.

"It has been long," she murmured.

"Long enough to set our doubts at rest."

"I never had any," she replied quietly. He drew her to him and
kissed her.

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