Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Sandra Brown
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE TALLEYRAND MAXIM
BY J. S. FLETCHER
I DEATH BRINGS OPPORTUNITY
II IN TRUST
III THE SHOP-BOY
IV THE FORTUNATE POSSESSORS
VI THE UNEXPECTED
VII THE SUPREME INDUCEMENT
IX UNTIL NEXT SPRING
X THE FOOT-BRIDGE
XI THE PREVALENT ATMOSPHERE
XII THE POWER OF ATTORNEY
XIII THE FIRST TRICK
XIV CARDS ON THE TABLE
XV PRATT OFFERS A HAND
XVI A HEADQUARTERS CONFERENCE
XVIII THE CONFIDING LANDLORD
XIX THE EYE-WITNESS
XX THE _Green Man_
XXI THE DIRECT CHARGE
XXII THE CAT'SPAW
XXIII SMOOTH FACE AND ANXIOUS BRAIN
XXIV THE BETTER HALF
XXV DRY SHERRY
XXVI THE TELEPHONE MESSAGE
XXVII RESTORED TO ENERGY
XXVIII THE WOMAN IN BLACK
THE TALLEYRAND MAXIM
DEATH BRINGS OPPORTUNITY
Linford Pratt, senior clerk to Eldrick & Pascoe, solicitors, of Barford,
a young man who earnestly desired to get on in life, by hook or by
crook, with no objection whatever to crookedness, so long as it could be
performed in safety and secrecy, had once during one of his periodical
visits to the town Reference Library, lighted on a maxim of that other
unscrupulous person, Prince Talleyrand, which had pleased him greatly.
"With time and patience," said Talleyrand, "the mulberry leaf is turned
into satin," This seemed to Linford Pratt one of the finest and soundest
pieces of wisdom which he had ever known put into words.
A mulberry leaf is a very insignificant thing, but a piece of satin is a
highly marketable commodity, with money in it. Henceforth, he regarded
himself as a mulberry leaf which his own wit and skill must transform
into satin: at the same time he knew that there is another thing, in
addition to time and patience, which is valuable to young men of his
peculiar qualities, a thing also much beloved by Talleyrand--opportunity.
He could find the patience, and he had the time--but it would give him
great happiness if opportunity came along to help in the work. In
everyday language, Linford Pratt wanted a chance--he waited the arrival
of the tide in his affairs which would lead him on to fortune.
Leave him alone--he said to himself--to be sure to take it at the flood.
If Pratt had only known it, as he stood in the outer office of Eldrick &
Pascoe at the end of a certain winter afternoon, opportunity was slowly
climbing the staircase outside--not only opportunity, but temptation,
both assisted by the Devil. They came at the right moment, for Pratt was
alone; the partners had gone: the other clerks had gone: the office-boy
had gone: in another minute Pratt would have gone, too: he was only
looking round before locking up for the night. Then these things
came--combined in the person of an old man, Antony Bartle, who opened
the door, pushed in a queer, wrinkled face, and asked in a quavering
voice if anybody was in.
"I'm in, Mr. Bartle," answered Pratt, turning up a gas jet which he had
just lowered. "Come in, sir, What can I do for you?"
Antony Bartle came in, wheezing and coughing. He was a very, very old
man, feeble and bent, with little that looked alive about him but his
light, alert eyes. Everybody knew him--he was one of the institutions of
Barford--as well known as the Town Hall or the Parish Church. For fifty
years he had kept a second-hand bookshop in Quagg Alley, the narrow
passage-way which connected Market Street with Beck Street. It was not
by any means a common or ordinary second-hand bookshop: its proprietor
styled himself an "antiquarian bookseller"; and he had a reputation in
two Continents, and dealt with millionaire buyers and virtuosos in both.
Barford people sometimes marvelled at the news that Mr. Antony Bartle
had given two thousand guineas for a Book of Hours, and had sold a
Missal for twice that amount to some American collector; and they got a
hazy notion that the old man must be well-to-do--despite his snuffiness
and shabbiness, and that his queer old shop, in the window of which
there was rarely anything to be seen but a few ancient tomes, and two or
three rare engravings, contained much that he could turn at an hour's
notice into gold. All that was surmise--but Eldrick & Pascoe--which term
included Linford Pratt--knew all about Antony Bartle, being his
solicitors: his will was safely deposited in their keeping, and Pratt
had been one of the attesting witnesses.
The old man, having slowly walked into the outer office, leaned against
a table, panting a little. Pratt hastened to open an inner door.
"Come into Mr. Eldrick's room, Mr. Bartle," he said. "There's a nice
easy chair there--come and sit down in it. Those stairs are a bit
trying, aren't they? I often wish we were on the ground floor."
He lighted the gas in the senior partner's room, and turning back, took
hold of the visitor's arm, and helped him to the easy chair. Then,
having closed the doors, he sat down at Eldrick's desk, put his fingers
together and waited. Pratt knew from experience that old Antony Bartle
would not have come there except on business: he knew also, having been
at Eldrick & Pascoe's for many years, that the old man would confide in
him as readily as in either of his principals.
"There's a nasty fog coming on outside," said Bartle, after a fit of
coughing. "It gets on my lungs, and then it makes my heart bad. Mr.
"Gone," replied Pratt. "All gone, Mr. Bartle--only me here."
"You'll do," answered the old bookseller. "You're as good as they are."
He leaned forward from the easy chair, and tapped the clerk's arm with a
long, claw-like finger. "I say," he continued, with a smile that was
something between a wink and a leer, and suggestive of a pleased
satisfaction. "I've had a find!"
"Oh!" responded Pratt. "One of your rare books, Mr. Bartle? Got
something for twopence that you'll sell for ten guineas? You're one of
the lucky ones, you know, you are!"
"Nothing of the sort!" chuckled Bartle. "And I had to pay for my
knowledge, young man, before I got it--we all have. No--but I've found
something: not half an hour ago. Came straight here with it. Matters for
lawyers, of course."
"Yes?" said Pratt inquiringly. "And--what may it be?" He was expecting
the visitor to produce something, but the old man again leaned forward,
and dug his finger once more into the clerk's sleeve.
"I say!" he whispered. "You remember John Mallathorpe and the affair
of--how long is it since?"
"Two years," answered Pratt promptly. "Of course I do. Couldn't very
well forget it, or him."
He let his mind go back for the moment to an affair which had provided
Barford and the neighbourhood with a nine days' sensation. One winter
morning, just two years previously, Mr. John Mallathorpe, one of the
best-known manufacturers and richest men of the town, had been killed by
the falling of his own mill-chimney. The condition of the chimney had
been doubtful for some little time; experts had been examining it for
several days: at the moment of the catastrophe, Mallathorpe himself,
some of his principal managers, and a couple of professional
steeple-jacks, were gathered at its base, consulting on a report. The
great hundred-foot structure above them had collapsed without the
slightest warning: Mallathorpe, his principal manager, and his cashier,
had been killed on the spot: two other bystanders had subsequently died
from injuries received. No such accident had occurred in Barford, nor in
the surrounding manufacturing district, for many years, and there had
been much interest in it, for according to the expert's conclusions the
chimney was in no immediate danger.
Other mill-owners then began to examine their chimneys, and for many
weeks Barford folk had talked of little else than the danger of living
in the shadows of these great masses of masonry.
But there had soon been something else to talk of. It sprang out of the
accident--and it was of particular interest to persons who, like Linford
Pratt, were of the legal profession. John Mallathorpe, so far as anybody
knew or could ascertain, had died intestate. No solicitor in the town
had ever made a will for him. No solicitor elsewhere had ever made a
will for him. No one had ever heard that he had made a will for himself.
There was no will. Drastic search of his safes, his desks, his drawers
revealed nothing--not even a memorandum. No friend of his had ever heard
him mention a will. He had always been something of a queer man. He was
a confirmed bachelor. The only relation he had in the world was his
sister-in-law, the widow of his deceased younger brother, and her two
children--a son and a daughter. And as soon as he was dead, and it was
plain that he had died intestate, they put in their claim to his
John Mallathorpe had left a handsome property. He had been making money
all his life. His business was a considerable one--he employed two
thousand workpeople. His average annual profit from his mills was
reckoned in thousands--four or five thousands at least. And some years
before his death, he had bought one of the finest estates in the
neighbourhood, Normandale Grange, a beautiful old house, set amidst
charming and romantic scenery in a valley, which, though within twelve
miles of Barford, might have been in the heart of the Highlands.
Therefore, it was no small thing that Mrs. Richard Mallathorpe and her
two children laid claim to. Up to the time of John Mallathorpe's death,
they had lived in very humble fashion--lived, indeed, on an allowance
from their well-to-do kinsman--for Richard Mallathorpe had been as much
of a waster as his brother had been of a money-getter. And there was no
withstanding their claim when it was finally decided that John
Mallathorpe had died intestate--no withstanding that, at any rate, of
the nephew and niece. The nephew had taken all the real estate: he and
his sister had shared the personal property. And for some months they
and their mother had been safely installed at Normandale Grange, and in
full possession of the dead man's wealth and business.
All this flashed through Linford Pratt's mind in a few seconds--he knew
all the story: he had often thought of the extraordinary good fortune of
those young people. To be living on charity one week--and the next to be
legal possessors of thousands a year!--oh, if only such luck would come
"Of course!" he repeated, looking thoughtfully at the old bookseller.
"Not the sort of thing one does forget in a hurry, Mr. Bartle. What of
Antony Bartle leaned back in his easy chair and chuckled--something,
some idea, seemed to be affording him amusement.
"I'm eighty years old," he remarked. "No, I'm more, to be exact. I shall
be eighty-two come February. When you've lived as long as that, young
Mr. Pratt, you'll know that this life is a game of topsy-turvy--to some
folks, at any rate. Just so!"
"You didn't come here to tell me that, Mr. Bartle," said Pratt. He was
an essentially practical young man who dined at half-past six every
evening, having lunched on no more than bread-and-cheese and a glass of
ale, and he also had his evenings well mapped out. "I know that already,
"Aye, aye, but you'll know more of it later on," replied Bartle.
"Well--you know, too, no doubt, that the late John Mallathorpe was a
bit--only a bit--of a book-collector; collected books and pamphlets
relating to this district?"
"I've heard of it," answered the clerk.
"He had that collection in his private room at the mill," continued the
old bookseller, "and when the new folks took hold, I persuaded them to
sell it to me. There wasn't such a lot--maybe a hundred volumes
altogether--but I wanted what there was. And as they were of no interest
to them, they sold 'em. That's some months ago. I put all the books in a
corner--and I never really examined them until this very afternoon.
Then--by this afternoon's post--I got a letter from a Barford man who's
now out in America. He wanted to know if I could supply him with a nice
copy of Hopkinson's _History of Barford._ I knew there was one in that
Mallathorpe collection, so I got it out, and examined it. And in the
pocket inside, in which there's a map, I found--what d'ye think?"
"Couldn't say," replied Pratt. He was still thinking of his dinner, and
of an important engagement to follow it, and he had not the least idea
that old Antony Bartle was going to tell him anything very important.
"Letters? Bank-notes? Something of that sort?"
The old bookseller leaned nearer, across the corner of the desk, until
his queer, wrinkled face was almost close to Pratt's sharp, youthful
one. Again he lifted the claw-like finger: again he tapped the clerk's
"I found John Mallathorpe's will!" he whispered. "His--will!"
Linford Pratt jumped out of his chair. For a second he stared in
speechless amazement at the old man; then he plunged his hands deep into
his trousers' pockets, opened his mouth, and let out a sudden
"No!" he said. "No! John Mallathorpe's--will? His--will!"
"Made the very day on which he died," answered Bartle, nodding
"Queer, wasn't it? He might have had some--premonition, eh?"
Pratt sat down again.
"Where is it?" he asked,
"Here in my pocket," replied the old bookseller, tapping his rusty coat.
"Oh, it's all right, I assure you. All duly made out, signed, and
witnessed. Everything in order, I know!--because a long, a very long
time ago, I was like you, an attorney's clerk. I've drafted many a will,
and witnessed many a will, in my time. I've read this, every word of
it--it's all right. Nothing can upset it."
"Let's see it," said Pratt, eagerly.
"Well--I've no objection--I know you, of course," answered Bartle, "but
I'd rather show it first to Mr. Eldrick. Couldn't you telephone up to
his house and ask him to run back here?"
"Certainly," replied Pratt. "He mayn't be there, though. But I can try.
You haven't shown it to anybody else?"
"Neither shown it to anybody, nor mentioned it to a soul," said Bartle.
"I tell you it's not much more than half an hour since I found it. It's
not a long document, Do you know how it is that it's never come out?" he
went on, turning eagerly to Pratt, who had risen again. "It's easily
explained. The will's witnessed by those two men who were killed at the
same time as John Mallathorpe! So, of course, there was nobody to say
that it was in evidence. My notion is that he and those two
men--Gaukrodger and Marshall, his manager and cashier-had signed it not
long before the accident, and that Mallathorpe had popped it into the
pocket of that book before going out into the yard. Eh? But see if you
can get Mr. Eldrick down here, and we'll read it together. And I
say--this office seems uncommonly stuffy--can you open the window a bit
or something?--I feel oppressed, like."
Pratt opened a window which looked out on the street. He glanced at the
old man for a moment and saw that his face, always pallid, was even
paler than usual.
"You've been talking too much," he said. "Rest yourself, Mr. Bartle,
while I ring up Mr. Eldrick's house. If he isn't there, I'll try his
club--he often turns in there for an hour before going home."
He went out by a private door to the telephone box, which stood in a
lobby used by various occupants of the building. And when he had rung up
Eldrick's private house and was waiting for the answer, he asked himself
what this discovery would mean to the present holders of the Mallathorpe
property, and his curiosity--a strongly developed quality in him--became
more and more excited. If Eldrick was not at home, if he could not get
in touch with him, he would persuade old Bartle to let him see his
find--he would cheerfully go late to his dinner if he could only get a
peep at this strangely discovered document. Romance! Why, this indeed
was romance; and it might be--what else? Old Bartle had already chuckled
about topsy-turvydom: did that mean that--
The telephone bell rang: Eldrick had not yet reached his house. Pratt
got on to the club: Eldrick had not been there. He rang off, and went
back to the private room.
"Can't get hold of him, Mr. Bartle," he began, as he closed the door.
"He's not at home, and he's not at the club. I say!--you might as well
let me have a look at----"
Pratt suddenly stopped. There was a strange silence in the room: the old
man's wheezy breathing was no longer heard. And the clerk moved forward
quickly and looked round the high back of the easy chair....
He knew at once what had happened--knew that old Bartle was dead before
he laid a finger on the wasted hand which had dropped helplessly at his
side. He had evidently died without a sound or a movement--died as
quietly as he would have gone to sleep. Indeed, he looked as if he had
just laid his old head against the padding of the chair and dropped
asleep, and Pratt, who had seen death before, knew that he would never
wake again. He waited a moment, listening in the silence. Once he
touched the old man's hand; once, he bent nearer, still listening. And
then, without hesitation, and with fingers that remained as steady as if
nothing had happened, he unbuttoned Antony Bartle's coat, and drew a
folded paper from the inner pocket.
As quietly and composedly as if he were discharging the most ordinary of
his daily duties, Pratt unfolded the document, and went close to the
solitary gas jet above Eldrick's desk. What he held in his hand was a
half-sheet of ruled foolscap paper, closely covered with writing, which
he at once recognized as that of the late John Mallathorpe. He was
familiar with that writing--he had often seen it. It was an
old-fashioned writing--clear, distinct, with every letter well and fully
"Made it himself!" muttered Pratt. "Um!--looks as if he wanted to keep
the terms secret. Well----"
He read the will through--rapidly, but with care, murmuring the
phraseology half aloud.
"This is the last will of me, John Mallathorpe, of Normandale Grange, in
the parish of Normandale, in the West Riding of the County of York. I
appoint Martin William Charlesworth, manufacturer, of Holly Lodge,
Barford, and Arthur James Wyatt, chartered accountant, of 65, Beck
Street, Barford, executors and trustees of this my will. I give and
devise all my estate and effects real and personal of which I may die
possessed or entitled to unto the said Martin William Charlesworth and
Arthur James Wyatt upon trust for the following purposes to be carried
out by them under the following instructions, namely:--As soon after my
death as is conveniently possible they will sell all my real estate,
either by private treaty or by public auction; they shall sell all my
personal property of any nature whatsoever; they shall sell my business
at Mallathorpe's mill in Barford as a going concern to any private
purchaser or to any company already in existence or formed for the
purpose of acquiring it; and they shall collect all debts and moneys due
to me. And having sold and disposed of all my property, real and
personal, and brought all the proceeds of such sales and of such
collection of debts and moneys into one common fund they shall first pay
all debts owing by me and all legal duties and expenses arising out of
my death and this disposition of my property and shall then distribute
my estate as follows, namely: to each of themselves, Martin William
Charlesworth and Arthur James Wyatt, they shall pay the sum of five
thousand pounds; to my sister-in-law, Ann Mallathorpe, they shall pay
the sum of ten thousand pounds; to my nephew, Harper John Mallathorpe,
they shall pay the sum of ten thousand pounds; to my niece, Nesta
Mallathorpe, they shall pay the sum of ten thousand pounds. And as to
the whole of the remaining residue they shall pay it in one sum to the
Mayor and Corporation of the borough of Barford in the County of York to
be applied by the said Mayor and Corporation at their own absolute
discretion and in any manner which seems good to them to the
establishment, furtherance and development of technical and commercial
education in the said borough of Barford. Dated this sixteenth day of
Signed by the testator in
the presence of us both
present at the same
time who in his presence } JOHN MALLATHORPE
and in the presence
of each other
have hereunto set our
names as witnesses.
HENRY GAUKRODGER, 16, Florence Street,
Barford, Mill Manager.
CHARLES WATSON MARSHALL, 56, Laburnum Terrace,
As the last word left his lips Pratt carefully folded up the will,
slipped it into an inner pocket of his coat, and firmly buttoned the
coat across his chest. Then, without as much as a glance at the dead
man, he left the room, and again visited the telephone box. He was
engaged in it for a few minutes. When he came out he heard steps coming
up the staircase, and looking over the banisters he saw the senior
partner, Eldrick, a middle-aged man. Eldrick looked up, and saw Pratt.
"I hear you've been ringing me up at the club, Pratt," he said. "What is
Pratt waited until Eldrick had come up to the landing. Then he pointed
to the door of the private room, and shook his head.
"It's old Mr. Bartle, sir," he whispered. "He's in your room
"Dead?" exclaimed Eldrick. "Dead!"
Pratt shook his head again.
"He came up not so long after you'd gone, sir," he said. "Everybody had
gone but me--I was just going. Wanted to see you about something I don't
know what. He was very tottery when he came in--complained of the stairs
and the fog. I took him into your room, to sit down in the easy chair.
And--he died straight off. Just," concluded Pratt, "just as if he was
going quietly to sleep!"
"You're sure he is dead?--not fainting?" asked Eldrick.
"He's dead, sir--quite dead," replied Pratt. "I've rung up Dr.
Melrose--he'll be here in a minute or two--and the Town Hall--the
police--as well. Will you look at him, sir?"
Eldrick silently motioned his clerk to open the door; together they
walked into the room. And Eldrick looked at his quiet figure and wan
face, and knew that Pratt was right.
"Poor old chap!" he murmured, touching one of the thin hands. "He was a
fine man in his time, Pratt; clever man! And he was very, very old--one
of the oldest men in Barford. Well, we must wire to his grandson, Mr.
Bartle Collingwood. You'll find his address in the book. He's the only
relation the old fellow had."
"Come in for everything, doesn't he, sir?" asked Pratt, as he took an
address book from the desk, and picked up a sheaf of telegram forms.
"Every penny!" murmured Eldrick. "Nice little fortune, too--a fine thing
for a young fellow who's just been called to the Bar. As a matter of
fact, he'll be fairly well independent, even if he never sees a brief in
"He has been called, has he, sir?" asked Pratt, laying a telegram form
on Eldrick's writing pad and handing him a pen. "I wasn't aware of
"Called this term--quite recently--at Gray's Inn," replied Eldrick, as
he sat down. "Very promising, clever young man. Look here!--we'd better
send two wires, one to his private address, and one to his chambers.
They're both in that book. It's six o'clock, isn't it?--he might be at
his chambers yet, but he may have gone home. I'll write both
messages--you put the addresses on, and get the wire off--we must have
him down here as soon as possible."
"One address is 53x, Pump Court; the other's 96, Cloburn Square,"
remarked Pratt consulting the book. "There's an express from King's
Cross at 8.15 which gets here midnight."
"Oh, it would do if he came down first thing in the morning--leave it to
him," said Eldrick. "I say, Pratt, do you think an inquest will be
Pratt had not thought of that--he began to think. And while he was
thinking, the doctor whom he had summoned came in. He looked at the dead
man, asked the clerk a few questions, and was apparently satisfied. "I
don't think there's any need for an inquest," he said in reply to
Eldrick. "I knew the old man very well--he was much feebler than he
would admit. The exertion of coming up these stairs of yours, and the
coughing brought on by the fog outside--that was quite enough. Of
course, the death will have to be reported in the usual way, but I have
no hesitation in giving a certificate. You've let the Town Hall people
know? Well, the body had better be removed to his rooms--we must send
over and tell his housekeeper. He'd no relations in the town, had he?"
"Only one in the world that he ever mentioned--his grandson--a young
barrister in London," answered Eldrick. "We've just been wiring to him.
Here, Pratt, you take these messages now, and get them off. Then we'll
see about making all arrangements. By-the-by," he added, as Pratt moved
towards the door, "you don't know what--what he came to see me about?"
"Haven't the remotest idea, sir," answered Pratt, readily and glibly.
"He died--just as I've told you--before he could tell me anything."
He went downstairs, and out into the street, and away to the General
Post Office, only conscious of one thing, only concerned about one
thing--that he was now the sole possessor of a great secret. The
opportunity which he had so often longed for had come. And as he hurried
along through the gathering fog he repeated and repeated a fragment of
the recent conversation between the man who was now dead, and
himself--who remained very much alive.
"You haven't shown it to anybody else?" Pratt had asked.
"Neither shown it to anybody, nor mentioned it to a soul," Antony Bartle
had answered. So, in all that great town of Barford, he, Linford Pratt,
he, alone out of a quarter of a million people, knew--what? The
magnitude of what he knew not only amazed but exhilarated him. There
were such possibilities for himself in that knowledge. He wanted to be
alone, to think out those possibilities; to reckon up what they came to.
Of one thing he was already certain--they should be, must be, turned to
his own advantage.
It was past eight o'clock before Pratt was able to go home to his
lodgings. His landlady, meeting him in the hall, hoped that his dinner
would not be spoiled: Pratt, who relied greatly on his dinner as his one
great meal of the day, replied that he fervently hoped it wasn't, but
that if it was it couldn't be helped, this time. For once he was
thinking of something else than his dinner--as for his engagement for
that evening, he had already thrown it over: he wanted to give all his
energies and thoughts and time to his secret. Nevertheless, it was
characteristic of him that he washed, changed his clothes, ate his
dinner, and even glanced over the evening newspaper before he turned to
the real business which was already deep in his brain. But at last, when
the maid had cleared away the dinner things, and he was alone in his
sitting-room, and had lighted his pipe, and mixed himself a drop of
whisky-and-water--the only indulgence in such things that he allowed
himself within the twenty-four hours--he drew John Mallathorpe's will
from his pocket, and read it carefully three times. And then he began to
think, closely and steadily.
First of all, the will was a good will. Nothing could upset it. It was
absolutely valid. It was not couched in the terms which a solicitor
would have employed, but it clearly and plainly expressed John
Mallathorpe's intentions and meanings in respect to the disposal of his
property. Nothing could be clearer. The properly appointed trustees were
to realize his estate. They were to distribute it according to his
specified instructions. It was all as plain as a pikestaff. Pratt, who
was a good lawyer, knew what the Probate Court would say to that will if
it were ever brought up before it, as he did, a quite satisfactory will.
And it was validly executed. Hundreds of people, competent to do so,
could swear to John Mallathorpe's signature; hundreds to Gaukrodger's;
thousands to Marshall's--who as cashier was always sending his signature
broadcast. No, there was nothing to do but to put that into the hands of
the trustees named in it, and then....
Pratt thought next of the two trustees. They were well-known men in the
town. They were comparatively young men--about forty. They were men of
great energy. Their chief interests were in educational matters--that,
no doubt, was why John Mallathorpe had appointed them trustees. Wyatt
had been plaguing the town for two years to start commercial schools:
Charlesworth was a devoted champion of technical schools. Pratt knew how
the hearts of both would leap, if he suddenly told them that enormous
funds were at their disposal for the furtherance of their schemes. And
he also knew something else--that neither Charlesworth nor Wyatt had the
faintest, remotest notion or suspicion that John Mallathorpe had ever
made such a will, or they would have moved heaven and earth, pulled down
Normandale Grange and Mallathorpe's Mill, in their efforts to find it.
But the effect--the effect of producing the will--now? Pratt, like
everybody else, had been deeply interested in the Mallathorpe affair.
There was so little doubt that John Mallathorpe had died intestate, such
absolute certainty that his only living relations were his deceased
brother's two children and their mother, that the necessary proceedings
for putting Harper Mallathorpe and his sister Nesta in possession of the
property, real and personal, had been comparatively simple and speedy.
But--what was it worth? What would the two trustees have been able to
hand over to the Mayor and Corporation of Barford, if the will had been
found as soon as John Mallathorpe died? Pratt, from what he remembered
of the bulk and calculations at the time, made a rapid estimate. As near
as he could reckon, the Mayor and Corporation would have got about
That, then--and this was what he wanted to get at--was what these young
people would lose if he produced the will. Nay!--on second thoughts, it
would be much more, very much more in some time; for the manufacturing
business was being carried on by them, and was apparently doing as well
as ever. It was really an enormous amount which they would lose--and
they would get--what? Ten thousand apiece and their mother a like sum.
Thirty thousand pounds in all--in comparison with hundreds of thousands.
But they would have no choice in the matter. Nothing could upset that
He began to think of the three people whom the production of this will
would disposses. He knew little of them beyond what common gossip had
related at the time of John Mallathorpe's sudden death. They had lived
in very quiet fashion, somewhere on the outskirts of the town, until
this change in their fortunes. Once or twice Pratt had seen Mrs.
Mallathorpe in her carriage in the Barford streets--somebody had pointed
her out to him, and had observed sneeringly that folk can soon adapt
themselves to circumstances, and that Mrs. Mallathorpe now gave herself
all the airs of a duchess, though she had been no more than a hospital
nurse before she married Richard Mallathorpe. And Pratt had also seen
young Harper Mallathorpe now and then in the town--since the good
fortune arrived--and had envied him: he had also thought what a strange
thing it was that money went to young fellows who seemed to have no
particular endowments of brain or energy. Harper was a very ordinary
young man, not over intelligent in appearance, who, Pratt had heard, was
often seen lounging about the one or two fashionable hotels of the
place. As for the daughter, Pratt did not remember having ever set eyes
on her--but he had heard that up to the time of John Mallathorpe's death
she had earned her own living as a governess, or a nurse, or something
of that sort.
He turned from thinking of these three people to thoughts about himself.
Pratt often thought about himself, and always in one direction--the
direction of self-advancement. He was always wanting to get on. He had
nobody to help him. He had kept himself since he was seventeen. His
father and mother were dead; he had no brothers or sisters--the only
relations he had, uncles and aunts, lived--some in London, some in
Canada. He was now twenty-eight, and earning four pounds a week. He had
immense confidence in himself, but he had never seen much chance of
escaping from drudgery. He had often thought of asking Eldrick & Pascoe
to give him his articles--but he had a shrewd idea that his request
would be refused. No--it was difficult to get out of a rut. And yet--he
was a clever fellow, a good-looking fellow, a sharp, shrewd, able--and
here was a chance, such a chance as scarcely ever comes to a man. He
would be a fool if he did not take it, and use it to his own best and
And so he locked up the will in a safe place, and went to bed, resolved
to take a bold step towards fortune on the morrow.
When Pratt arrived at Eldrick & Pascoe's office at his usual hour of
nine next morning, he found the senior partner already there. And with
him was a young man whom the clerk at once set down as Mr. Bartle
Collingwood, and looked at with considerable interest and curiosity. He
had often heard of Mr. Bartle Collingwood, but had never seen him. He
knew that he was the only son of old Antony Bartle's only child--a
daughter who had married a London man; he knew, too, that Collingwood's
parents were both dead, and that the old bookseller had left their son
everything he possessed--a very nice little fortune, as Eldrick had
observed last night. And since last night he had known that Collingwood
had just been called to the Bar, and was on the threshold of what
Eldrick, who evidently knew all about it, believed to be a promising
career. Well, there he was in the flesh; and Pratt, who was a born
observer of men and events, took a good look at him as he stood just
within the private room, talking to Eldrick.
A good-looking fellow; what most folk would call handsome; dark,
clean-shaven, tall, with a certain air of reserve about his well-cut
features, firm lips, and steady eyes that suggested strength and
determination. He would look very well in wig and gown, decided Pratt,
viewing matters from a professional standpoint; he was just the sort
that clients would feel a natural confidence in, and that juries would
listen to. Another of the lucky ones, too; for Pratt knew the contents
of Antony Bartle's will, and that the young man at whom he was looking
had succeeded to a cool five-and-twenty thousand pounds, at least,
through his grandfather's death.
"Here is Pratt," said Eldrick, glancing into the outer office as the
clerk entered it. "Pratt, come in here--here is Mr. Bartle Collingwood,
He would like you to tell him the facts about Mr. Bartle's death,"
Pratt walked in--armed and prepared. He was a clever hand at foreseeing
things, and he had known all along that he would have to answer
questions about the event of the previous night.
"There's very little to tell, sir," he said, with a polite
acknowledgment of Collingwood's greeting. "Mr. Bartle came up here just
as I was leaving--everybody else had left. He wanted to see Mr. Eldrick.
Why, he didn't say. He was coughing a good deal when he came in, and he
complained of the fog outside, and of the stairs. He said
something--just a mere mention--about his heart being bad. I lighted the
gas in here, and helped him into the chair. He just sat down, laid his
head back, and died."
"Without saying anything further?" asked Collingwood.
"Not a word more, Mr. Collingwood," answered Pratt. "He--well, it was
just as if he had dropped off to sleep. Of course, at first I thought
he'd fainted, but I soon saw what it was--it so happens that I've seen a
death just as sudden as that, once before--my landlady's husband died in
a very similar fashion, in my presence. There was nothing I could do,
Mr. Collingwood--except ring up Mr. Eldrick, and the doctor, and the
"Mr. Pratt made himself very useful last night in making arrangements,"
remarked Eldrick, looking at Collingwood. "As it is, there is very
little to do. There will be no need for any inquest; Melrose has given
his certificate. So--there are only the funeral arrangements. We can
help you with that matter, of course. But first you'd no doubt like to
go to your grandfather's place and look through his papers? We have his
will here, you know--and I've already told you its effect."
"I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Pratt," said Collingwood, turning to the
clerk. He turned again to Eldrick. "All right," he went on. "I'll go
over to Quagg Alley. Bye-the-bye, Mr. Pratt--my grandfather didn't tell
you anything of the reason of his call here?"
"Not a word, sir," replied Pratt. "Merely said he wanted Mr. Eldrick."
"Had he any legal business in process?" asked Collingwood.
Eldrick and his clerk both shook their heads. No, Mr. Bartle had no
business of that sort that they knew of. Nothing--but there again Pratt
"It might have been about the lease of that property in Horsebridge
Land, sir," he said, glancing at his principal. "He did mention that,
you know, when he was in here a few weeks ago."
"Just so," agreed Eldrick. "Well, you'll let me know if we can be of
use," he went on, as Collingwood turned away. "Pratt can be at your
disposal, any time."
Collingwood thanked him and went off. He had travelled down from London
by the earliest morning train, and leaving his portmanteau at the hotel
of the Barford terminus, had gone straight to Eldrick & Pascoe's office;
accordingly this was his first visit to the shop in Quagg Alley. But he
knew the shop and its surroundings well enough, though he had not been
in Barford for some time; he also knew Antony Bartle's old housekeeper,
Mrs. Clough, a rough and ready Yorkshirewoman, who had looked after the
old man as long as he, Collingwood, could remember. She received him as
calmly as if he had merely stepped across the street to inquire after
his grandfather's health.
"I thowt ye'd be down here first thing, Mestur Collingwood," she said,
as he walked into the parlor at the back of the shop. "Of course,
there's naught to be done except to see after yer grandfather's burying.
I don't know if ye were surprised or no when t' lawyers tellygraphed to
yer last night? I weren't surprised to hear what had happened. I'd been
expecting summat o' that sort this last month or two."
"You mean--he was failing?" asked Collingwood.
"He were gettin' feebler and feebler every day," said the housekeeper.
"But nobody dare say so to him, and he wouldn't admit it his-self. He
were that theer high-spirited 'at he did things same as if he were a
young man. But I knew how it 'ud be in the end--and so it has been--I
knew he'd go off all of a sudden. And of course I had all in
readiness--when they brought him back last night there was naught to do
but lay him out. Me and Mrs. Thompson next door, did it, i' no time.
Wheer will you be for buryin' him, Mestur Collingwood?"
"We must think that over," answered Collingwood.
"Well, an' theer's all ready for that, too," responded Mrs. Clough.
"He's had his grave all ready i' the cemetery this three year--I
remember when he bowt it--it's under a yew-tree, and he told me 'at he'd
ordered his monnyment an' all. So yer an' t' lawyers'll have no great
trouble about them matters. Mestur Eldrick, he gev' orders for t' coffin
Collingwood left these gruesome details--highly pleasing to their
narrator--and went up to look at his dead grandfather. He had never seen
much of him, but they had kept up a regular correspondence, and always
been on terms of affection, and he was sorry that he had not been with
the old man at the last. He remained looking at the queer, quiet, old
face for a while; when he went down again, Mrs. Clough was talking to a
sharp-looking lad, of apparently sixteen or seventeen years, who stood
at the door leading into the shop, and who glanced at Collingwood with
keen interest and speculation.
"Here's Jabey Naylor wants to know if he's to do aught, Mestur," said
the housekeeper. "Of course, I've telled him 'at we can't have the shop
open till the burying's over--so I don't know what theer is that he can
"Oh, well, let him come into the shop with me," answered Collingwood. He
motioned the lad to follow him out of the parlour. "So you were Mr.
Bartle's assistant, eh?" he asked. "Had he anybody else?"
"Nobody but me, sir," replied the lad. "I've been with him a year."
"And your name's what?" inquired Collingwood.
"Jabez Naylor, sir, but everybody call me Jabey."
"I see--Jabey for short, eh?" said Collingwood good-humouredly. He
walked into the shop, followed by the boy, and closed the door. The
outer door into Quagg Alley was locked: a light blind was drawn over the
one window; the books and engravings on the shelves and in the presses
were veiled in a half-gloom. "Well, as Mrs. Clough says, we can't do any
business for a few days, Jabey--after that we must see what can be done.
You shall have your wages just the same, of course, and you may look in
every day to see if there's anything you can do. You were here
yesterday, of course? Were you in the shop when Mr. Bartle went out?"
"Yes, sir," replied the lad. "I'd been in with him all the afternoon. I
was here when he went out--and here when they came to say he'd died at
Collingwood sat down in his grandfather's chair, at a big table, piled
high with books and papers, which stood in the middle of the floor.
"Did my grandfather seem at all unwell when he went out?" he asked.
"No, sir. He had been coughing a bit more than usual--that was all.
There was a fog came on about five o'clock, and he said it bothered
What had he been doing during the afternoon? Anything particular?"
"Nothing at all particular before half-past four or so, sir."
Collingwood took a closer look at Jabez Naylor. He saw that he was an
observant lad, evidently of superior intelligence--a good specimen of
the sharp town lad, well trained in a modern elementary school.
"Oh?" he said. "Nothing particular before half-past four, eh? Did he do
something particular after half-past four?"
"There was a post came in just about then, sir," answered Jabey. "There
was an American letter--that's it, sir--just in front of you. Mr. Bartle
read it, and asked me if we'd got a good clear copy of Hopkinson's
_History of Barford_. I reminded him that there was a copy amongst the
books that had been bought from Mallathorpe's Mill some time ago."
"Books that had belonged to Mr. John Mallathorpe, who was killed?" asked
Collingwood, who was fully acquainted with the chimney accident.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Bartle bought a lot of books that Mr. Mallathorpe had at
the Mill--local books. They're there in that corner: they were put there
when I fetched them, and he'd never looked over them since,
"Well--and this _History of Barford_? You reminded him of it?"
"I got it out for him, sir. He sat down--where you're sitting--and began
to examine it. He said something about it being a nice copy, and he'd
get it off that night--that's it, sir: I didn't read it, of course. And
then he took some papers out of a pocket that's inside it, and I heard
him say 'Bless my soul--who'd have thought it!'"
Collingwood picked up the book which the boy indicated--a thick,
substantially bound volume, inside one cover of which was a linen
pocket, wherein were some loose maps and plans of Barford.
"These what he took out?" he asked, holding them up.
"Yes, sir, but there was another paper, with writing on it--a biggish
sheet of paper--written all over."
"Did you see what the writing was? Did you see any of it?"
"No, sir--only that it was writing, I was dusting those shelves out,
over there; when I heard Mr. Bartle say what he did. I just looked
round, over my shoulder--that was all."
"Was he reading this paper that you speak of?"
"Yes, sir--he was holding it up to the gas, reading it."
"Do you know what he did with it?"
"Yes, sir--he folded it up and put it in his pocket."
"Did he say any more--make any remark?"
"No, sir. He wrote a letter then."
"Yes, sir--straight off. But he wasn't more than a minute writing it.
Then he sent me to post it at the pillar-box, at the end of the Alley."
"Did you read the address?"
The lad turned to a book which stood with others in a rack over the
chimney-piece, and tapped it with his finger.
"Yes, sir--because Mr. Bartle gave orders when I first came here that a
register of every letter sent out was to be kept--I've always entered
them in this book."
"And this letter you're talking about--to whom was it addressed?"
"Miss Mallathorpe, Normandale Grange, sir."
"You went and posted it at once?"
"That very minute, sir."
"Was it soon afterwards that Mr. Bartle went out?"
"He went out as soon as I came back, sir."
"And you never saw him again?"
Jabey shook his head.
"Not alive, sir," he answered. "I saw him when they brought him back."
"How long had he been out when you heard he was dead?"
"About an hour, sir--just after six it was when they told Mrs. Clough
and me. He went out at ten minutes past five."
Collingwood got up. He gave the lad's shoulder a friendly squeeze.
"All right!" he said. "Now you seem a smart, intelligent lad--don't
mention a word to any one of what we've been talking about. You have not
mentioned it before, I suppose? Not a word? That's right--don't. Come in
again tomorrow morning to see if I want you to be here as usual. I'm
going to put a manager into this shop."
When the boy had gone Collingwood locked up the shop from the house
side, put the key in his pocket, and went into the kitchen.
"Mrs. Clough," he said. "I want to see the clothes which my grandfather
was wearing when he was brought home last night. Where are they?"
"They're in that little room aside of his bed-chamber, Mestur
Collingwood," replied the housekeeper. "I laid 'em all there, on the
clothes-press, just as they were taken off of him, by Lawyer Eldrick's
orders--he said they hadn't been examined, and wasn't to be, till you
came. Nobody whatever's touched 'em since."
Collingwood went upstairs and into the little room--a sort of box-room
opening out of that in which the old man lay. There were the clothes; he
went through the pockets of every garment. He found such things as keys,
a purse, loose money, a memorandum book, a bookseller's catalogue or
two, two or three letters of a business sort--but there was no big
folded paper, covered with writing, such as Jabey Naylor had described.
The mention of that paper had excited Collingwood's curiosity. He
rapidly summed up what he had learned. His grandfather had found a
paper, closely written upon, in a book which had been the property of
John Mallathorpe, deceased. The discovery had surprised him, for he had
given voice to an exclamation of what was evidently astonishment. He had
put the paper in his pocket. Then he had written a letter--to Mrs.
Mallathorpe of Normandale Grange. When his shop-boy had posted that
letter, he himself had gone out--to his solicitor. What, asked
Collingwood, was the reasonable presumption? The old man had gone to
Eldrick to show him the paper which he had found.
He lingered in the little room for a few minutes, thinking. No one but
Pratt had been with Antony Bartle at the time of his seizure and sudden
death. What sort of a fellow was Pratt? Was he honest? Was his word to
be trusted! Had he told the precise truth about the old man's death. He
was evidently a suave, polite, obliging sort of fellow, this clerk, but
it was a curious thing that if Antony Bartle had that paper, whatever it
was--in his pocket when he went to Eldrick's office it should not be in
his pocket still--if his clothing had really remained untouched. Already
suspicion was in Collingwood's mind--vague and indefinable, but there.
He was half inclined to go straight back to Eldrick & Pascoe's and tell
Eldrick what Jabey Naylor had just told him. But he reflected that while
Naylor went out to post the letter, the old bookseller might have put
the paper elsewhere; locked it up in his safe, perhaps. One thing,
however, he, Collingwood, could do at once--he could ask Mrs.
Mallathorpe if the letter referred to the paper. He was fully acquainted
with all the facts of the Mallathorpe history; old Bartle, knowing they
would interest his grandson, had sent him the local newspaper accounts
of its various episodes. It was only twelve miles to Normandale
Grange--a motor-car would carry him there within the hour. He glanced at
his watch--just ten o 'clock.
An hour later, Collingwood found himself standing in a fine oak-panelled
room, the windows of which looked out on a romantic valley whose thickly
wooded sides were still bright with the red and yellow tints of autumn.
A door opened--he turned, expecting to see Mrs. Mallathorpe. Instead, he
found himself looking at a girl, who glanced inquiringly at him, and
from him to the card which he had sent in on his arrival.
THE FORTUNATE POSSESSORS
Collingwood at once realized that he was in the presence of one of the
two fortunate young people who had succeeded so suddenly--and, according
to popular opinion, so unexpectedly--to John Mallathorpe's wealth. This
was evidently Miss Nesta Mallathorpe, of whom he had heard, but whom he
had never seen. She, however, was looking at him as if she knew him, and
she smiled a little as she acknowledged his bow.
"My mother is out in the grounds, with my brother," she said, motioning
Collingwood towards a chair. "Won't you sit down, please?--I've sent for
her; she will be here in a few minutes."
Collingwood sat down; Nesta Mallathorpe sat down, too, and as they
looked at each other she smiled again.
"I have seen you before, Mr. Collingwood," she said. "I knew it must be
you when they brought up your card."
Collingwood used his glance of polite inquiry to make a closer
inspection of his hostess. He decided that Nesta Mallathorpe was not so
much pretty as eminently attractive--a tall, well-developed,
warm-coloured young woman, whose clear grey eyes and red lips and
general bearing indicated the possession of good health and spirits. And
he was quite certain that if he had ever seen her before he would not
have forgotten it.
"Where have you seen me?" he asked, smiling back at her.
"Have you forgotten the mock-trial--year before last?" she asked.
Collingwood remembered what she was alluding to. He had taken part, in
company with various other law students, in a mock-trial, a breach of
promise case, for the benefit of a certain London hospital, to him had
fallen one of the principal parts, that of counsel for the plaintiff.
"When I saw your name, I remembered it at once," she went on. "I was
there--I was a probationer at St. Chad's Hospital at that time."
"Dear me!" said Collingwood, "I should have thought our histrionic
efforts would have been forgotten. I'm afraid I don't remember much
about them, except that we had a lot of fun out of the affair. So you
were at St. Chad's?" he continued, with a reminiscence of the
surroundings of the institution they were talking of. "Very different to
"Yes," she replied. "Very--very different to Normandale. But when I was
at St. Chad's, I didn't know that I--that we should ever come to
"And now that you are here?" he asked.
The girl looked out through the big window on the valley which lay in
front of the old house, and she shook her head a little.
"It's very beautiful," she answered, "but I sometimes wish I was back at
St. Chad's--with something to do. Here--there's nothing to do but to do
nothing." Collingwood realized that this was not the complaint of the
well-to-do young woman who finds time hang heavy--it was rather
indicative of a desire for action.
"I understand!" he said. "I think I should feel like that. One wants--I
suppose--is it action, movement, what is it?"
"Better call it occupation--that's a plain term," she answered. "We're
both suffering from lack of occupation here, my brother and I. And it's
bad for us--especially for him."
Before Collingwood could think of any suitable reply to this remarkably
fresh and candid statement, the door opened, and Mrs. Mallathorpe came
in, followed by her son. And the visitor suddenly and immediately
noticed the force and meaning of Nesta Mallathorpe's last remark. Harper
Mallathorpe, a good-looking, but not remarkably intelligent appearing
young man, of about Collingwood's own age, gave him the instant
impression of being bored to death; the lack-lustre eye, the aimless
lounge, the hands thrust into the pockets of his Norfolk jacket as if
they took refuge there from sheer idleness--all these things told their
tale. Here, thought Collingwood, was a fine example of how riches can be
a curse--relieved of the necessity of having to earn his daily bread by
labour, Harper Mallathorpe was finding life itself laborious.
But there was nothing of aimlessness, idleness, or lack of vigour in
Mrs. Mallathorpe. She was a woman of character, energy, of
brains--Collingwood saw all that at one glance. A little, neat-figured,
compact sort of woman, still very good-looking, still on the right side
of fifty, with quick movements and sharp glances out of a pair of shrewd
eyes: this, he thought, was one of those women who will readily
undertake the control and management of big affairs. He felt, as Mrs.
Mallathorpe turned inquiring looks on him, that as long as she was in
charge of them the Mallathorpe family fortunes would be safe.
"Mother," said Nesta, handing Collingwood's card to Mrs. Mallathorpe,
"this gentleman is Mr. Bartle Collingwood. He's--aren't you?--yes, a
barrister. He wants to see you. Why. I don't know. I have seen Mr.
Collingwood before--but he didn't remember me. Now he'll tell you what
he wants to see you about."
"If you'll allow me to explain why I called on you, Mrs. Mallathorpe,"
said Collingwood, "I don't suppose you ever heard of me--but you know,
at any rate, the name of my grandfather, Mr. Antony Bartle, the
bookseller, of Barford? My grandfather is dead--he died very suddenly
Mrs. Mallathorpe and Nesta murmured words of polite sympathy. Harper
suddenly spoke--as if mere words were some relief to his obvious
"I heard that, this morning," he said, turning to his mother. "Hopkins
told me--he was in town last night. I meant to tell you."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Mallathorpe, glancing at some letters which
stood on a rack above the mantelpiece. "Why--I had a letter from Mr.
Bartle this very morning!"
"It is that letter that I have come to see you about," said Collingwood.
"I only got down here from London at half-past eight this morning, and
of course, I have made some inquiries about the circumstances of my
grandfather's sudden death. He died very suddenly indeed at Mr.
Eldrick's office. He had gone there on some business about which nobody
knows nothing--he died before he could mention it. And according to his
shop-boy, Jabey Naylor, the last thing he did was to write a letter to
you. Now--I have reason for asking--would you mind telling me, Mrs.
Mallathorpe, what that letter was about?" Mrs. Mallathorpe moved over to
the hearth, and took an envelope from the rack. She handed it to
Collingwood, indicating that he could open it. And Collingwood drew out
one of old Bartle's memorandum forms, and saw a couple of lines in the
familiar crabbed handwriting:
"MRS. MALLATHORPE, Normandale Grange.
"Madam,--If you should drive into town tomorrow, will you kindly
give me a call? I want to see you particularly.
"Respectfully, A. BARTLE."
Collingwood handed back the letter.
"Have you any idea to what that refers?" he asked.
"Well, I think I have--perhaps," answered Mrs. Mallathorpe. "Mr. Bartle
persuaded us to sell him some books--local books--which my late
brother-in-law had at his office in the mill. And since then he has been
very anxious to buy more local books and pamphlets about this
neighbourhood, and he had some which Mr. Bartle was very anxious indeed
to get hold of. I suppose he wanted to see me about that." Collingwood
made no remarks for the moment. He was wondering whether or not to tell
what Jabey Naylor had told him about this paper taken from the linen
pocket inside the _History of Barford_. But Mrs. Mallathorpe's ready
explanation had given him a new idea, and he rose from his chair.
"Thank you," he said. "I suppose that's it. You may think it odd that I
wanted to know what he'd written about, but as it was certainly the last
letter he wrote----"
"Oh, I'm quite sure it must have been that!" exclaimed Mrs. Mallathorpe.
"And as I am going into Barford this afternoon, in any case, I meant to
call at Mr. Bartle's. I'm sorry to hear of his death, poor old
gentleman! But he was very old indeed, wasn't he?"
"He was well over eighty," replied Collingwood. "Well, thank you
again--and good-bye--I have a motorcar waiting outside there, and I have
much to do in Barford when I get back."
The two young people accompanied Collingwood into the hall. And Harper
"I say!" he said. "Have a drink before you go. It's a long way in and
out. Come into the dining-room."
But Collingwood caught Nesta's eye, and he was quick to read a signal in
"No, thanks awfully!" he answered. "I won't really--I must get
back--I've such a lot of things to attend to. This is a very beautiful
place of yours," he went on, as Harper, whose face had fallen at the
visitor's refusal, followed with his sister to where the motor-car
waited. "It might be a hundred miles from anywhere."
"It's a thousand miles from anywhere!" muttered Harper. "Nothing to do
"No hunting, shooting, fishing?" asked Collingwood. "Get tired of 'em?
Well, why not make a private golf-links in your park? You'd get a fine
sporting course round there."
"That's a good notion, Harper," observed Nesta, with some eagerness.
"You could have it laid out this winter."
Harper suddenly looked at Collingwood.
"Going to stop in Barford?" he asked.
"Till I settle my grandfather's affairs--yes," answered Collingwood.
"Come and see us again," said Harper. "Come for the night--we've got a
jolly good billiard table."
"Do!" added Nesta heartily.
"Since you're so kind, I will, then," replied Collingwood. "But not for
a few days."
He drove off--to wonder why he had visited Normandale Grange at all. For
Mrs. Mallathorpe's explanation of the letter was doubtless the right
one: Collingwood, little as he had seen of Antony Bartle, knew what a
veritable sleuth-hound the old man was where rare books or engravings
were concerned. Yet--why the sudden exclamation on finding that paper?
Why the immediate writing of the letter to Mrs. Mallathorpe? Why the
setting off to Eldrick & Pascoe's office as soon as the letter was
written? It all looked as if the old man had found some document, the
contents of which related to the Mallathorpe family, and was anxious to
communicate its nature to Mrs. Mallathorpe, and to his own solicitor, as
soon as possible.
"But that's probably only my fancy," he mused, as he sped back to
Barford; "the real explanation is doubtless that suggested by Mrs.
Mallathorpe. Something made the old man think of the collection of local
books at Normandale Grange--and he immediately wrote off to ask her to
see him, with the idea of persuading her to let him have them. That's
all there is in it--what a suspicious sort of party I must be getting!
And suspicious of whom--and of what? Anyhow, I'm glad I went out
there--and I'll certainly go again."
On his way back to Barford he thought a good deal of the two young
people he had just left. There was something of the irony of fate about
their situation. There they were, in possession of money and luxury and
youth--and already bored because they had nothing to do. He felt what
closely approached a contemptuous pity for Harper--why didn't he turn to
some occupation? There was their own business--why didn't he put in so
many hours a day there, instead of leaving it to managers? Why didn't he
interest himself in local affairs?--work at something? Already he had
all the appearance of a man who is inclined to slackness--and in that
case, mused Collingwood, his money would do him positive harm. But he
had no thoughts of that sort about Nesta Mallathorpe: he had seen that
she was of a different temperament.
"She'll not stick there--idling," he said. "She'll break out and do
something or other. What did she say? 'Suffering from lack of
occupation'? A bad thing to suffer from, too--glad I'm not similarly
There was immediate occupation for Collingwood himself when he reached
the town. He had already made up his mind as to his future plans. He
would sell his grandfather's business as soon as he could find a
buyer--the old man had left a provision in his will, the gist of which
Eldrick had already communicated to Collingwood, to the effect that his
grandson could either carry on the business with the help of a competent
manager until the stock was sold out, or could dispose of it as a going
concern--Collingwood decided to sell it outright, and at once. But first
it was necessary for him to look round the collection of valuable books
and prints, and get an idea of what it was that he was about to sell.
And when he had reached Barford again, and had lunched at his hotel, he
went to Quagg Alley, and shut himself in the shop, and made a careful
inspection of the treasures which old Bartle had raked up from many
Within ten minutes of beginning his task Collingwood knew that he had
gone out to Normandale Grange about a mere nothing. Picking up the
_History of Barford_ which Jabey Naylor had spoken of, and turning over
its leaves, two papers dropped out; one a half sheet of foolscap,
folded; the other, a letter from some correspondent in the United
States. Collingwood read the letter first--it was evidently that which
Naylor had referred to as having been delivered the previous afternoon.
It asked for a good, clear copy of Hopkinson's _History of Barford_--and
then it went on, "If you should come across a copy of what is, I
believe, a very rare tract or pamphlet, _Customs of the Court Leet of
the Manor of Barford_, published, I think, about 1720, I should be glad
to pay you any price you like to ask for it--in reason." So much for the
letter--Collingwood turned from it to the folded paper. It was headed
"List of Barford Tracts and Pamphlets in my box marked B.P. in the
library at N Grange," and it was initialled at the foot J.M. Then
followed the titles of some twenty-five or thirty works--amongst them
was the very tract for which the American correspondent had inquired.
And now Collingwood had what he believed to be a clear vision of what
had puzzled him--his grandfather having just read the American buyer's
request had found the list of these pamphlets inside the _History of
Barford_, and in it the entry of the particular one he wanted, and at
once he had written to Mrs. Mallathorpe in the hope of persuading her to
sell what his American correspondent desired to buy. It was all quite
plain--and the old man's visit to Eldrick & Pascoe's had nothing to do
with the letter to Mrs. Mallathorpe. Nor had he carried the folded paper
in his pocket to Eldrick's--when Jabey Naylor went out to post the
letter. Antony had placed the folded paper and the American letter
together in the book and left them there. Quite, quite simple!--he had
had his run to Normandale Grange and back all about nothing, and for
nothing--except that he had met Nesta Mallathorpe, whom he was already
sufficiently interested in to desire to see again. But having arrived at
an explanation of what had puzzled him and made him suspicious, he
dismissed that matter from his mind and thought no more of it.
But across the street, all unknown to Collingwood, Linford Pratt was
thinking a good deal. Collingwood had taken his car from a rank
immediately opposite Eldrick & Pascoe's windows; Pratt, whose desk
looked on to the street, had seen him drive away soon after ten o'clock
and return about half-past twelve. Pratt, who knew everybody in the
business centre of the town, knew the man who had driven Collingwood,
and when he went out to his lunch he asked him where he had been that
morning. The man, who knew no reason for secrecy, told him--and Pratt
went off to eat his bread and cheese and drink his one glass of ale and
to wonder why young Collingwood had been to Normandale Grange. He became
slightly anxious and uneasy. He knew that Collingwood must have made
some slight examination of old Bartle's papers. Was it--could it be
possible that the old man, before going to Eldrick's, had left some
memorandum of his discovery in his desk--or in a diary? He had said that
he had not shown the will, nor mentioned the will, to a soul--but he
might;--old men were so fussy about things--he might have set down in
his diary that he had found it on such a day, and under such-and-such
However, there was one person who could definitely inform him of the
reason of Collingwood's visit to Normandale Grange--Mrs. Mallathorpe. He
would see her at once, and learn if he had any grounds for fear. And so
it came about that at nine o'clock that evening, Mrs. Mallathorpe, for
the second time that day, found herself asked to see a limb of the law.
Mrs. Mallathorpe was alone when Pratt's card was taken to her. Harper
and Nesta were playing billiards in a distant part of the big house.
Dinner had been over for an hour; Mrs. Mallathorpe, who had known what
hard work and plenty of it was, in her time, was trifling over the
newspapers--rest, comfort, and luxury were by no means boring to her.
She looked at the card doubtfully--Pratt had pencilled a word or two on
it: "Private and important business." Then she glanced at the butler--an
elderly man who had been with John Mallathorpe many years before the
"Who is he, Dickenson?" she asked. "Do you know him?"
"Clerk at Eldrick & Pascoe's, in the town, ma'am," replied the butler.
"I know the young man by sight."
"Where is he?" inquired Mrs. Mallathorpe.
"In the little morning room, at present, ma'am," said Dickenson.
"Take him into the study," commanded Mrs. Mallathorpe. "I'll come to him
presently." She was utterly at a loss to understand Pratt's presence
there. Eldrick & Pascoe were not her solicitors, and she had no business
of a legal nature in which they could be in any way concerned. But it
suddenly struck her that that was the second time she had heard
Eldrick's name mentioned that day--young Mr. Collingwood had said that
his grandfather's death had taken place at Eldrick & Pascoe's office.
Had this clerk come to see her about that?--and if so, what had she to
do with it? Before she reached the room in which Pratt was waiting for
her, Mrs. Mallathorpe was filled with curiosity. But in that curiosity
there was not a trace of apprehension; nothing suggested to her that her
visitor had called on any matter actually relating to herself or her
The room into which Pratt had been taken was a small apartment opening
out of the library--John Mallathorpe, when he bought Normandale Grange,
had it altered and fitted to suit his own tastes, and Pratt, as soon as
he entered it, saw that it was a place in which privacy and silence
could be ensured. He noticed that it had double doors, and that there
were heavy curtains before the window. And during the few minutes which
elapsed between his entrance and Mrs. Mallathorpe's, he took the
precaution to look behind those curtains, and to survey his
surroundings--what he had to say was not to be overheard, if he could
Mrs. Mallathorpe looked her curiosity as soon as she came in. She did
not remember that she had ever seen this young man before, but she
recognized at once that he was a shrewd and sharp person, and she knew
from his manner that he had news of importance to give her. She quietly
acknowledged Pratt's somewhat elaborate bow, and motioned him to take a
chair at the side of the big desk which stood before the fireplace--she
herself sat down at the desk itself, in John Mallathorpe's old
elbow-chair. And Pratt thought to himself that however much young Harper
John Mallathorpe might be nominal master of Normandale Grange, the real
master was there, in the self-evident, quiet-looking woman who turned to
him in business-like fashion.
"You want to see me?" said Mrs. Mallathorpe. "What is it?"
"Business, Mrs. Mallathorpe," replied Pratt. "As I said on my card--of a
private and important sort."
"To do with me?" she asked.
"With you--and with your family," said Pratt. "And before we go any
further, not a soul knows of it but--me."
Mrs. Mallathorpe took another searching look at her visitor. Pratt was
leaning over the corner of the desk, towards her; already he had lowered
his tones to the mysterious and confidential note.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "Go on."
Pratt bent a little nearer.
"A question or two first, if you please, Mrs. Mallathorpe. And--answer
them! They're for your own good. Young Mr. Collingwood called on you
"Well--and what of it?"
"What did he want?"
Mrs. Mallathorpe hesitated and frowned a little. And Pratt hastened to
reassure her. "I'm using no idle words, Mrs. Mallathorpe, when I say
it's for your own good. It is! What did he come for?"
"He came to ask what there was in a letter which his grandfather wrote
to me yesterday afternoon."
"Antony Bartle had written to you, had he? And what did he say, Mrs.
Mallathorpe? For that is important!"
"No more than that he wanted me to call on him today, if I happened to
be in Barford."
"Nothing more--not a word."
"Nothing as to--why he wanted to see you?"
"No! I thought that he probably wanted to see me about buying some books
of the late Mr. Mallathorpe's."
"Did you tell Collingwood that?" asked Pratt, eagerly.
"Did it satisfy him?"
Mrs. Mallathorpe frowned again.
"Why shouldn't I?" she demanded. "It was the only explanation I could
possibly give him. How do I know what the old man really wanted?"
Pratt drew his chair still nearer to the desk. His voice dropped to a
whisper and his eyes were full of meaning.
"I'll tell you what he wanted!" he said speaking very slowly. "It's what
I've come for. Listen! Antony Bartle came to our office soon after five
yesterday afternoon. I was alone--everybody else had gone. I took him
into Eldrick's room. He told me that in turning over one of the books
which he had bought from Mallathorpe Mill, some short time ago, he had
found--what do you think?"
Mrs. Mallathorpe's cheek had flushed at the mention of the books from
the Mill. Now, at Pratt's question, and under his searching eye, she
turned very pale, and the clerk saw her fingers tighten on the arms of
"What?" she asked. "What?"
"John Mallathorpe's will!" he answered. "Do you understand? His--will!"
The woman glanced quickly about her--at the doors, the uncurtained
"Safe enough here," whispered Pratt. "I made sure of that. Don't be
afraid--no one knows--but me."
But Mrs. Mallathorpe seemed to find some difficulty in speaking, and
when she at last got out a word her voice sounded hoarse.
"It's a fact!" said Pratt. "Nothing was ever more a fact as you'll see.
But let me finish my story. The old man told me how he'd found the
will--only half an hour before--and he asked me to ring up Eldrick, so
that we might all read it together. I went to the telephone--when I came
back, Bartle was dead--just dead. And--I took the will out of his
Mrs. Mallathorpe made an involuntary gesture with her right hand. And
Pratt smiled, craftily, and shook his head.
"Much too valuable to carry about, Mrs. Mallathorpe," he said. "I've got
it--all safe--under lock and key. But as I've said--nobody knows of it
but myself. Not a living soul. No one has any idea! No one can have any
idea. I was a bit alarmed when I heard that young Collingwood had been
to you, for I thought that the old man, though he didn't tell me of any
such thing, might have dropped you a line saying what he'd found. But as
he didn't--well, not one living; soul knows that the will's in
existence, except me--and you!"
Mrs. Mallathorpe was regaining her self-possession. She had had a great
shock, but the worst of it was over, Already she knew, from Pratt's
manner, insidious and suggesting, that the will was of a nature that
would dispossess her and hers of this recently acquired wealth--the
clerk had made that evident by look, and tone. So--there was nothing but
to face things.
"What--what does it--say?" she asked, with an effort.
Pratt unbuttoned his overcoat, plunged a hand into the inner pocket,
drew out a sheet of paper, unfolded it and laid it on the desk.
"An exact copy," he said tersely. "Read it for yourself."
In spite of the determined effort which she made to be calm, Mrs.
Mallathorpe's fingers still trembled as she took up the sheet on which
Pratt had made a fair copy of the will. The clerk watched her narrowly
as she read. He knew that presently there would be a tussle between
them: he knew, too, that she was a woman who would fight hard in defence
of her own interest, and for the interests of her children.
Always keeping his ears open to local gossip, especially where money was
concerned, Pratt had long since heard that Mrs. Mallathorpe was a keen
and sharp business woman. And now he was not surprised when, having
slowly and carefully read the copy of the will from beginning to end,
she laid it down, and turned to him with a business-like question.
"The effect of that?" she asked. "What would it be--curtly?"
"Precisely what it says," answered Pratt. "Couldn't be clearer!"
"We--should lose all?" she demanded, almost angrily. "All?"
"All--except what he says--there," agreed Pratt.
"And that," she went on, drumming her fingers on the paper, "that--would
"What it's a copy of would stand," said Pratt. "Oh, yes, don't you make
any mistake about it, Mrs. Mallathorpe! Nothing can upset that will. It
is plain as a pikestaff how it came to be made. Your late brother-in-law
evidently wrote his will out--it's all in his own handwriting--and took
it down to the Mill with him the very day of the chimney accident. Just
as evidently he signed it in the presence of his manager, Gaukrodger,
and his cashier, Marshall--they signed at the same time, as it says,
there. Now I take it that very soon after that, Mr. Mallathorpe went out
into his mill yard to have a look at the chimney--Gaukrodger and
Marshall went with him. Before he went, he popped the will into the
book, where old Bartle found it yesterday--such things are easily done.
Perhaps he was reading the book--perhaps it lay handy--he slipped the
will inside, anyway. And then--he was killed--and, what's more the two
witnesses were killed with him. So there wasn't a man left who could
tell of that will! But--there's half Barford could testify to these
three signatures! Mrs. Mallathorpe, there's not a chance for you if I
put that will into the hands of the two trustees!"
He leaned back in his chair after that--nodding confidently, watching
keenly. And now he saw that the trembling fingers were interlacing each
other, twisting the rings on each other, and that Mrs. Mallathorpe was
thinking as she had most likely never thought in her life. After a
moment's pause Pratt went on. "Perhaps you didn't understand," he said.
"I mean, you don't know the effect. Those two trustees--Charlesworth &
Wyatt--could turn you all clean out of this--tomorrow, in a way of
speaking. Everything's theirs! They can demand an account of every penny
that you've all had out of the estate and the business--from the time
you all took hold. If anything's been saved, put aside, they can demand
that. You're entitled to nothing but the three amounts of ten thousand
each. Of course, thirty thousand is thirty thousand--it means, at five
per cent., fifteen hundred a year--if you could get five per cent.
safely. But--I should say your son and daughter are getting a few
thousand a year each, aren't they, Mrs. Mallathorpe? It would be a nice
come-down! Five hundred a year apiece--at the outside. A small house
instead of Normandale Grange. Genteel poverty--comparatively
speaking--instead of riches. That is--if I hand over the will to
Charlesworth & Wyatt."
Mrs. Mallathorpe slowly turned her eyes on Pratt. And Pratt suddenly
felt a little afraid--there was anger in those eyes; anger of a curious
sort. It might be against fate--against circumstance: it might not--why
should it?--be against him personally, but it was there, and it was
malign and almost evil, and it made him uncomfortable.
"Where is the will!" she asked.
"Safe! In my keeping," answered Pratt.
She looked him all over--surmisingly.
"You'll sell it to me?" she suggested. "You'll hand it over--and let me
burn it--destroy it?"
"No!" answered Pratt. "I shall not!"
He saw that his answer produced personal anger at last. Mrs. Mallathorpe
gave him a look which would have warned a much less observant man than
Pratt. But he gave her back a look that was just as resolute.
"I say no--and I mean no!" he continued. "I won't sell--but I'll
bargain. Let's be plain with each other. You don't want that will to be
handed over to the trustees named in it, Charlesworth & Wyatt?"
"Do you think I'm a fool--man!" she flashed out.
"I should be a fool myself if I did," replied Pratt calmly. "And I'm not
a fool. Very well--then you'll square me. You'll buy me. Come to terms
with me, and nobody shall ever know. I repeat to you what I've said
before--not a soul knows now, no nor suspects! It's utterly impossible
for anybody to find out. The testator's dead. The attesting witnesses
are dead. The man who found this will is dead. No one but you and myself
ever need know a word about all this. If--you make terms with me, Mrs.
"What do you want?" she asked sullenly. "You forget--I've nothing of my
own. I didn't come into anything."
"I've a pretty good notion who's real master here--and at Mallathorpe
Mill, too," retorted Pratt. "I should say you're still in full control
of your children, Mrs. Mallathorpe, and that you can do pretty well what
you like with them."
"With one of them perhaps," she said, still angry and sullen. "But--I
tell you, for you may as well know--if my daughter knew of what you've
told me, she'd go straight to these trustees and tell! That's a fact
that you'd better realize. I can't control her."
"Oh!" remarked Pratt. "Um!--then we must take care that she doesn't
know. But we don't intend that anybody should know but you and me, Mrs.
Mallathorpe. You needn't tell a soul--not even your son. You mustn't
tell! Listen, now--I've thought out a good scheme which'll profit me,
and make you safe. Do you know what you want on this estate?"
She stared at him as if wondering what this question had to do with the
matter which was of such infinite importance. And Pratt smiled, and
hastened to enlighten her.
"You want--a steward," he said. "A steward and estate agent. John
Mallathorpe managed everything for himself, but your son can't, and
pardon me if I say that you can't--properly. You need a man--you need
me. You can persuade your son to that effect. Give me the job of steward
here. I'll suggest to you how to do it in such a fashion that it'll
arouse no suspicion, and look just like an ordinary--very
ordinary--business job--at a salary and on conditions to be arranged,
and--you're safe! Safe, Mrs. Mallathorpe--you know what that means!"
Mrs. Mallathorpe suddenly rose from her chair.
"I know this!" she said. "I'll discuss nothing, and do nothing, till
I've seen that will!"
Pratt rose, too, nodding his head as if quite satisfied. He took up the
copy, tore it in two pieces, and carefully dropped them into the glowing
"I shall be at my lodgings at any time after five-thirty tomorrow
evening," he answered quietly. "Call there. You have the address. And
you can then read the will with your own eyes. I shan't bring it here.
The game's in my hands, Mrs. Mallathorpe."
Within a few minutes he was out in the park again, and making his way to
the little railway station in the valley below. He felt triumphant--he
knew that the woman he had just left was at his mercy and would accede
to his terms. And all the way back to town, and through the town to his
lodgings, he considered and perfected the scheme he was going to suggest
to Mrs. Mallathorpe on the morrow.
Pratt lived in a little hamlet of old houses on the very outskirts of
Barford--on the edge of a stretch of Country honeycombed by
stone-quarries, some in use, some already worked out. It was a lonely
neighbourhood, approached from the nearest tramway route by a narrow,
high-walled lane. He was half-way along that lane when a stealthy foot
stole to his side, and a hand was laid on his arm--just as stealthily
came the voice of one of his fellow-clerks at Eldrick & Pascoe's.
"A moment, Pratt! I've been waiting for you. I want--a word or two--in
Pratt started when he heard that voice and felt the arresting hand. He
knew well enough to whom they belonged--they were those of one James
Parrawhite, a little, weedy, dissolute chap who had been in Eldrick &
Pascoe's employ for about a year. It had always been a mystery to him
and the other clerks that Parrawhite had been there at all, and that
being there he was allowed to stop. He was not a Barford man. Nobody
knew anything whatever about him, though his occasional references to it
seemed to indicate that he knew London pretty thoroughly. Pratt shrewdly
suspected that he was a man whom Eldrick had known in other days,
possibly a solicitor who had been struck off the rolls, and to whom
Eldrick, for old times' sake, was disposed to extend a helping hand.
All that any of them knew was that one morning some fifteen months
previously, Parrawhite, a complete stranger, had walked into the office,
asked to see Eldrick, had remained closeted with him half an hour, and
had been given a job at two pounds a week, there and then. That he was a
clever and useful clerk no one denied, but no one liked him.
He was always borrowing half-crowns. He smelt of rum. He was altogether
undesirable. It was plain to the clerks that Pascoe disliked him. But he
was evidently under Eldrick's protection, and he did his work and did it
well, and there was no doubt that he knew more law than either of the
partners, and was better up in practice than Pratt himself. But--he was
not desirable ... and Pratt never desired him less than on this
"What are you after--coming on a man like that!" growled Pratt.
"You," replied Parrawhite. "I knew you'd got to come up this lane, so I
waited for you. I've something to say."
"Get it said, then!" retorted Pratt.
"Not here," answered Parrawhite. "Come down by the quarry--nobody about
"And suppose I don't?" asked Pratt,
"Then you'll be very sorry for yourself--tomorrow," replied Parrawhite.
Pratt had already realized that this fellow knew something. Parrawhite's
manner was not only threatening but confident. He spoke as a man speaks
who has got the whip hand. And so, still growling, and inwardly raging
and anxious, he turned off with his companion into a track which lay
amongst the stone quarries. It was a desolate, lonely place; no house
was near; they were as much alone as if they had been in the middle of
one of the great moors outside the town, the lights of which they could
see in the valley below them. In the grey sky above, a waning moon gave
them just sufficient light to see their immediate surroundings--a
grass-covered track, no longer used, and the yawning mouths of the old
quarries, no longer worked, the edges of which were thick with gorse and
bramble. It was the very place for secret work, and Pratt was certain
that secret work was at hand.
"Now then!" he said, when they had walked well into the wilderness.
"What is it? And no nonsense!"
"You'll get no nonsense from me," sneered Parrawhite. "I'm not that
sort. This is what I want to say. I was in Eldrick's office last night
all the time you were there with old Bartle."
This swift answer went straight through Pratt's defences. He was
prepared to hear something unpleasant and disconcerting, but not that.
And he voiced the first thought that occurred to him.
"That's a lie!" he exclaimed. "There was nobody there!"
"No lie," replied Parrawhite. "I was there. I was behind the curtain of
that recess--you know. And since I know what you did, I don't mind
telling you--we're in the same boat, my lad!--what I was going to do.
You thought I'd gone--with the others. But I hadn't. I'd merely done
what I've done several times without being found out--slipped in
there--to wait until you'd gone. Why? Because friend Eldrick, as you
know, is culpably careless about leaving loose cash in the unlocked
drawer of his desk, culpably careless, too, about never counting it.
And--a stray sovereign or half-sovereign is useful to a man who only
gets two quid a week. Understand?"
"So you're a thief?" said Pratt bitterly.
"I'm precisely what you are--a thief!" retorted Parrawhite. "You stole
John Mallathorpe's will last night. I heard everything. I tell you!--and
saw everything. I heard the whole business--what the old man said--what
you, later, said to Eldrick. I saw old Bartle die--I saw you take the
will from his pocket, read it, and put it in your pocket. I know
all!--except the terms of the will. But--I've a pretty good idea of what
those terms are. Do you know why? Because I watched you set off to
Normandale by the eight-twenty train tonight!"
"Hang you for a dirty sneak!" growled Pratt.
Parrawhite laughed, and flourished a heavy stick which he carried.
"Not a bit of it!" he said, almost pleasantly. "I thought you were more
of a philosopher--I fancied I'd seen gleams--mere gleams--of philosophy
in you at times. Fortunes of war, my boy! Come now--you've seen enough
of me to know I'm an adventurer. This is an adventure of the sort I
love. Go into it heart and soul, man! Own up!--you've found out that the
will leaves the property away from the present holders, and you've been
to Normandale to--bargain? Come, now!"
"What then!" demanded Pratt.
"Then, of course, I come in at the bargaining," answered Parrawhite.
"I'm going to have my share. That's a certainty. You'd better take my
advice. Because you're absolutely in my power. I've nothing to do but to
tell Eldrick tomorrow morning."
"Suppose I tell Eldrick tomorrow morning of what you've told me?"
"Eldrick will believe me before you," retorted Parrawhite,
imperturbably. "I'm a much cleverer, more plausible man than you are, my
friend--I've had an experience of the world which you haven't, I can
easily invent a fine excuse for being in that room. For two pins I'll
incriminate you! See? Be reasonable--for if it comes to a contest of
brains, you haven't a rabbit's chance against a fox. Tell me all about
the will--and what you've done. You've got to--for, by the Lord
Harry!--I'm going to have my share. Come, now!"
Pratt stood, in a little hollow wherein they had paused, and thought,
rapidly and angrily. There was no doubt about it--he was trapped. This
fearful scoundrel at his side, who boasted of his cleverness, would
stick to him like a leach--he would have to share. All his own smart
schemes for exploiting Mrs. Mallathorpe, for ensuring himself a
competence for life, were knocked on the head. There was no helping
it--he would have to tell--and to share. And so, sullenly, resentfully,
Parrawhite listened in silence, taking in every point. Pratt, knowing
that concealment was useless, told the truth about everything,
concisely, but omitting nothing.
"All right!" remarked Parrawhite at the end, "Now, then, what terms do
you mean to insist on?"
"What's the good of going into that?" growled Pratt. "Now that you've
stuck your foot in it, what do my terms matter?"
"Quite right," agreed Parrawhite, "They don't. What matter is--our
terms. Now let me suggest--no, insist on--what they must be. Cash! Do
you know why I insist on that? No? Then I'll tell you. Because this
young barrister chap, Collingwood, has evidently got some suspicion
"I can't see it," said Pratt uneasily. "He was only curious to know what
that letter was about."
"Never mind," continued Parrawhite. "He had some suspicion--or he
wouldn't have gone out there almost as soon as he reached Barford after
his grandfather's death. And even if suspicion is put to sleep for
awhile, it can easily be reawakened, so--cash! We must profit at
once--before any future risk arises. But--what terms were you thinking
"Stewardship of this estate for life," muttered Pratt gloomily.
"With the risk of some discovery being made, some time, any time!"
sneered Parrawhite. "Where are your brains, man? The old fellow, John
Mallathorpe, probably made a draft or two of that will before he did his
fair copy--he may have left those drafts among his papers."
"If he did, Mrs. Mallathorpe 'ud find 'em," said Pratt slowly. "I don't
believe there's the slightest risk. I've figured everything out. I don't
believe there's any danger from Collingwood or from anybody--it's
impossible! And if we take cash now--we're selling for a penny what we
ought to get pounds for."
"The present is much more important than the future, my friend,"
answered Parrawhite. "To me, at any rate. Now, then, this is my
proposal. I'll be with you when this lady calls at your place tomorrow
evening. We'll offer her the will, to do what she likes with, for ten
thousand pounds. She can find that--quickly. When she pays--as she
will!--we share, equally, and then--well, you can go to the devil! I
shall go--somewhere else. So that's settled."
"No!" said Pratt.
Parrawhite turned sharply, and Pratt saw a sinister gleam in his eyes.
"Did you say no?" he asked.
"I said--no!" replied Pratt. "I'm not going to take five thousand pounds
for a chance that's worth fifty thousand. Hang you!--if you hadn't been
a black sneak-thief, as you are, I'd have had the whole thing to myself!
And I don't know that I will give way to you. If it comes to it, my
word's as good as yours--and I don't believe Eldrick would believe you
before me. Pascoe wouldn't anyway. You've got a past!--in quod, I should
think--my past's all right. I've a jolly good mind to let you do your
worst--after all, I've got the will. And by george! now I come to think
of it, you can do your worst! Tell what you like tomorrow morning. I
shall tell 'em what you are--a scoundrel."
He turned away at that--and as he turned, Parrawhite, with a queer cry
of rage that might have come from some animal which saw its prey
escaping, struck out at him with the heavy stick. The blow missed
Pratt's head, but it grazed the tip of his ear, and fell slantingly on
his left shoulder. And then the anger that had been boiling in Pratt
ever since the touch on his arm in the dark lane, burst out in activity,
and he turned on his assailant, gripped him by the throat before
Parrawhite could move, and after choking and shaking him until his teeth
rattled and his breath came in jerking sobs, flung him violently against
the masses of stone by which they had been standing.
Pratt was of considerable physical strength. He played cricket and
football; he visited a gymnasium thrice a week. His hands had the grip
of a blacksmith; his muscles were those of a prize-fighter. He had put
more strength than he was aware of into his fierce grip on Parrawhite's
throat; he had exerted far more force than he knew he was exerting, when
he flung him away. He heard a queer cracking sound as the man struck
something, and for the moment he took no notice of it--the pain of that
glancing blow on his shoulder was growing acute, and he began to rub it
with his free hand and to curse its giver.
"Get up, you fool, and I'll give you some more!" he growled. "I'll teach
He suddenly noticed the curiously still fashion in which Parrawhite was
lying where he had flung him--noticed, too, as a cloud passed the moon
and left it unveiled, how strangely white the man's face was. And just
as suddenly Pratt forgot his own injury, and dropped on his knees beside
his assailant. An instant later, and he knew that he was once more
confronting death. For Parrawhite was as dead as Antony Bartle--violent
contact of his head with a rock had finished what Pratt had nearly
completed with that vicious grip. There was no questioning it, no
denying it--Pratt was there in that lonely place, staring half
consciously, half in terror, at a dead man.
He stood up at last, cursing Parrawhite with the anger of despair. He
had not one scrap of pity for him. All his pity was for himself. That he
should have been brought into this!--that this vile little beast,
perfect scum that he was, should have led him to what might be the utter
ruin of his career!--it was shameful, it was abominable, it was cruel!
He felt as if he could cheerfully tear Parrawhite's dead body to pieces.
But even as these thoughts came, others of a more important nature
crowded on them. For--there lay a dead man, who was not to be put in
one's pocket, like a will. It was necessary to hide that thing from the
light--ever that light. Within a few hours, morning would break, and
lonely and deserted as that place was nowadays, some one might pass that
way. Out of sight with him, then!--and quickly.
Pratt was very well acquainted with the spot at which he stood. Those
old quarries had a certain picturesqueness. They had become grass-grown;
ivy, shrubs, trees had clustered about them--the people who lived in the
few houses half a mile away, sometimes walked around them; the children
made a playground of the place: Pratt himself had often gone into some
quiet corner to read and smoke. And now his quick mind immediately
suggested a safe hiding place for this thing that he could not carry
away with him, and dare not leave to the morning sun--close by was a
pit, formerly used for some quarrying purpose, which was filled, always
filled, with water. It was evidently of considerable depth; the water
was black in it; the mouth was partly obscured by a maze of shrub and
bramble. It had been like that ever since Pratt came to lodge in that
part of the district--ten or twelve years before; it would probably
remain like that for many a long year to come. That bit of land was
absolutely useless and therefore neglected, and as long as rain fell and
water drained, that pit would always be filled to its brim.
He remembered something else: also close by where he stood--a heap of
old iron things--broken and disused picks, smashed rails, fragments
thrown aside when the last of the limestone had been torn out of the
quarries. Once more luck was playing into his hands--those odds and ends
might have been put there for the very purpose to which he now meant to
turn them. And being certain that he was alone, and secure, Pratt
proceeded to go about his unpleasant task skilfully and methodically. He
fetched a quantity of the iron, fastened it to the dead man's clothing,
drew the body, thus weighted, to the edge of the pit, and prepared to
slide it into the black water. But there an idea struck him. While he
made these preparations he had had hosts of ideas as to his operations
next morning--this idea was supplementary to them. Quickly and
methodically he removed the contents of Parrawhite's pockets to his
own--everything: money, watch and chain, even a ring which the dead man
had been evidently vain of. Then he let Parrawhite glide into the
water--and after him he sent the heavy stick, carefully fastened to a
bar of iron.
Five minutes later, the surface of the water in that pit was as calm and
unruffled as ever--not a ripple showed that it had been disturbed. And
Pratt made his way out of the wilderness, swearing that he would never
enter it again.