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The Talleyrand Maxim by J. S. Fletcher

Part 2 out of 5

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Pratt was in Eldrick & Pascoe's office soon after half-past eight next
morning, and for nearly forty minutes he had the place entirely to
himself. But it took only a few of those minutes for him to do what he
had carefully planned before he went to bed the previous night. Shutting
himself into Eldrick's private room, and making sure that he was alone
that time, he immediately opened the drawer in the senior partner's
desk, wherein Eldrick, culpably enough, as Parrawhite had sneeringly
remarked, was accustomed to put loose money. Eldrick was strangely
careless in that way: he would throw money into that drawer in presence
of his clerks--notes, gold, silver. If it happened to occur to him, he
would take the money out at the end of the afternoon and hand it to
Pratt to lock up in the safe; but as often as not, it did not occur.
Pratt had more than once ventured on a hint which was almost a
remonstrance, and Eldrick had paid no attention to him. He was a
careless, easy-going man in many respects, Eldrick, and liked to do
things in his own way. And after all, as Pratt had decided, when he
found that his hints were not listened to, it was Eldrick's own affair
if he liked to leave the money lying about.

There was money lying about in that drawer when Pratt drew it open; it
was never locked, day or night, or, if it was, the key was left in it.
As soon as he opened it, he saw gold--two or three sovereigns--and
silver--a little pile of it. And, under a letter weight, four banknotes
of ten pounds each. But this was precisely what Pratt had expected to
see; he himself had handed banknotes, gold, and silver to Eldrick the
previous evening, just after receiving them from a client who had called
to pay his bill. And he had seen Eldrick place them in the drawer, as
usual, and soon afterwards Eldrick had walked out, saying he was going
to the club, and he had never returned.

What Pratt now did was done as the result of careful thought and
deliberation. There was a cheque-book lying on top of some papers in the
drawer; he took it up and tore three cheques out of it. Then he picked
up the bank-notes, tore them and the abstracted blank cheques into
pieces, and dropped the pieces in the fire recently lighted by the
caretaker. He watched these fragments burn, and then he put the gold and
silver in his hip-pocket, where he already carried a good deal of his
own, and walked out.

Nine o'clock brought the office-boy; a quarter-past nine brought the
clerks; at ten o'clock Eldrick walked in. According to custom, Pratt
went into Eldrick's room with the letters, and went through them with
him. One of them contained a legal document over which the solicitor
frowned a little.

"Ask Parrawhite's opinion about that," he said presently, indicating a
marked paragraph.

"Parrawhite has not come in this morning, sir," observed Pratt,
gathering up letters and papers. "I'll draw his attention to it when he

He went into the outer office, only to be summoned back to Eldrick a few
minutes later. The senior partner was standing by his desk, looking a
little concerned, and, thought Pratt, decidedly uncomfortable. He
motioned the clerk to close the door.

"Has Parrawhite come?" he asked.

"No," replied Pratt, "Not yet, Mr. Eldrick."

"Is--is he usually late?" inquired Eldrick.

"Usually quite punctual--half-past nine," said Pratt.

Eldrick glanced at his watch; then at his clerk.

"Didn't you give me some cash last night?" he asked.

"Forty-three pounds nine," answered Pratt. "Thompson's bill of costs--he
paid it yesterday afternoon."

Eldrick looked more uncomfortable than ever.

"Well--the fact is," he said, "I--I meant to hand it to you to put in
the safe, Pratt, but I didn't come back from the club. And--it's gone!"

Pratt simulated concern--but not astonishment. And Eldrick pulled open
the drawer, and waved a hand over it.

"I put it down there," he said. "Very careless of me, no doubt--but
nothing of this sort has ever happened before, and--however, there's the
unpleasant fact, Pratt. The money's gone!"

Pratt, who had hastily turned over the papers and other contents of the
drawer, shook his head and used his privilege as an old and confidential
servant. "I've always said, sir, that it was a great mistake to leave
loose money lying about," he remarked mournfully. "If there'd only been
a practice of letting me lock anything of that sort up in the safe every
night--and this chequebook, too, sir--then----"

"I know--I know!" said Eldrick. "Very reprehensible on my part--I'm
afraid I am careless--no doubt of it. But----"

He in his turn was interrupted by Pratt, who was turning over the

"Some cheque forms have been taken out of this," he said. "Three! at the
end. Look there, sir!"

Eldrick uttered an exclamation of intense annoyance and disgust. He
looked at the despoiled cheque-book, and flung it into the drawer.

"Pratt!" he said, turning half appealingly, half confidentially to the
clerk. "Don't say a word of this--above all, don't mention it to Mr.
Pascoe. It's my fault and I must make the forty-three pounds good.
Pratt, I'm afraid this is Parrawhite's work. I--well, I may as well tell
you--he'd been in trouble before he came here. I gave him another
chance--I'd known him, years ago. I thought he 'd go straight. But--I
fear he's been tempted. He may have seen me leave money about. Was he in
here last night?"

Pratt pointed to a document which lay on Eldrick's desk.

"He came in here to leave that for your perusal," he answered. "He was
in here--alone--a minute or two before he left."

All these lies came readily and naturally--and Eldrick swallowed each.
He shook his head.

"My fault--all my fault!" he said. "Look here--keep it quiet. But--do
you know where Parrawhite has lived--lodged?"

"No!" replied Pratt. "Some of the others may, though!"

"Try to find out--quickly," continued Eldrick; "Then, make some excuse
to go out--take papers somewhere, or something--and find if he's left
his lodgings! I--I don't want to set the police on him. He was a decent
fellow, once. See what you can make out, Pratt| In strict secrecy, you
know---I do not want this to go further."

Pratt could have danced for joy when he presently went out into the
town. There would be no hue-and-cry after Parrawhite--none! Eldrick
would accept the fact that Parrawhite had robbed him and flown--and
Parrawhite would never be heard of--never mentioned again. It was the
height of good luck for him. Already he had got rid of any small scraps
of regret or remorse about the killing of his fellow-clerk. Why should
he be sorry? The scoundrel had tried to murder him, thinking no doubt
that he had the will on him. And he had not meant to kill him--what he
had done, he had done in self-defence. No--everything was working most
admirably--Parrawhite's previous bad record, Eldrick's carelessness and
his desire to shut things up: it was all good. From that day forward,
Parrawhite would be as if he had never been. Pratt was not even afraid
of the body being discovered--though he believed that it would remain
where it was for ever--for the probability was that the authorities
would fill up that pit with earth and stones. But if it was brought to
light? Why, the explanation was simple.

Parrawhite, having robbed his employer, had been robbed himself,
possibly by men with whom he had been drinking, and had been murdered in
the bargain. No suspicion could attach to him, Pratt--he had nothing to

For the form of the thing, he called at the place whereat Parrawhite had
lodged--they had seen nothing of him since the previous morning. They
were poor, cheap lodgings in a mean street. The woman of the house said
that Parrawhite had gone out as usual the morning before, and had never
been in again. In order to find out all he could, Pratt asked if he had
left much behind him in the way of belongings, and--just as he had
expected--he learned that Parrawhite's personal property was remarkably
limited: he possessed only one suit of clothes and not over much
besides, said the landlady.

"Is there aught wrong?" she asked, when Pratt had finished his
questions. "Are you from where he worked?"

"That's it," answered Pratt, "And he hasn't turned up this morning, and
we think he's left the town. Owe you anything, missis?"

"Nay, nothing much," she replied. "Ten shillings 'ud cover it, mister."

Pratt gave her half a sovereign. It was not out of consideration for
her, nor as a concession to Parrawhite's memory: it was simply to stop
her from coming down to Eldrick & Pascoe's.

"Well, I don't think you'll see him again," he remarked. "And I dare say
you won't care if you don't."

He turned away then, but before he had gone far, the woman called him

"What am I to do with his bits of things, mister, if he doesn't come
back?" she asked.

"Aught you please," answered Pratt, indifferently. "Throw 'em on the

As he went back to the centre of the town, he occupied himself in
considering his attitude to Mrs. Mallathorpe when she called on him that
evening. In spite of his own previous notion, and of his
carefully-worked-out scheme about the stewardship, he had been impressed
by what Parrawhite has said as to the wisdom of selling the will for
cash. Pratt did not believe that there was anything in the Collingwood
suggestion--no doubt whatever, he had decided, that old Bartle had meant
to tell Mrs. Mallathorpe of his discovery when she called in answer to
his note, but as he had died before she could call, and as he had told
nobody but him, Pratt, what possible danger could there be from
Collingwood? And a stewardship for life appealed to him. He knew, from
observation of the world, what a fine thing it is to have a certainty.

Once he became steward and agent of the Normandale Grange estate, he
would stick there, until he had saved a tidy heap of money. Then he
would retire--with a pension and a handsome present--and enjoy himself.
To be provided for, for life!--what more could a wise man want? And
yet--there was something in what that devil Parrawhite had urged.

For there was a risk--however small--of discovery, and if discovery were
made, there would be a nice penalty to pay. It might, after all, be
better to sell the will outright--for as much ready money as ever he
could get, and to take his gains far away, and start out on a career
elsewhere. After all, there was much to be said for the old proverb. The
only question was--was the bird in hand worth the two; or the money,
which he believed he would net in the bush?

Pratt's doubts on this point were settled in a curious fashion. He had
reached the centre of the town in his return to Eldrick's, and there, in
the fashionable shopping street, he ran up against an acquaintance. He
and the acquaintance stopped and chatted--about nothing. And as they
lounged on the curb, a smart victoria drew up close by, and out of it,
alone, stepped a girl who immediately attracted Pratt's eyes. He watched
her across the pavement; he watched her into the shop. And his companion

"That's the sort!" he remarked flippantly. "If you and I had one each,
old man--what?"

"Who is she?" demanded Pratt.

The acquaintance stared at him in surprise.

"What!" he exclaimed. "You don't know. That's Miss Mallathorpe."

"I didn't know," said Pratt "Fact!"

He waited until Nesta Mallathorpe came out and drove away--so that he
could get another and a closer look at her. And when she was gone, he
went slowly back to the office, his mind made up. Risk or no risk, he
would carry out his original notion. Whatever Mrs. Mallathorpe might
offer, he would stick to his idea of close and intimate connection with
Normandale Grange.



Mrs. Mallathorpe, left to face the situation which Pratt had revealed to
her in such sudden and startling fashion, had been quick to realize its
seriousness. It had not taken much to convince her that the clerk knew
what he was talking about. She had no doubt whatever that he was right
when he said that the production of John Mallathorpe's will would mean
dispossession to her children, and through them to herself. Nor had she
any doubt, either, of Pratt's intention to profit by his discovery. She
saw that he was a young man of determination, not at all scrupulous,
eager to seize on anything likely to turn to his own advantage. She was,
in short, at his mercy. And she had no one to turn to. Her son was weak,
purposeless, almost devoid of character; he cared for nothing beyond
ease and comfort, and left everything to her so long as he was allowed
to do what he liked. She dared not confide in him--he was not fit to be
entrusted with such a secret, nor endowed with the courage to carry it
boldly and unflinchingly. Nor dare she confide it to her daughter--Nesta
was as strong as her brother was weak: Mrs. Mallathorpe had only told
the plain truth when she said to Pratt that if her daughter knew of the
will she would go straight to the two trustees. No--she would have to do
everything herself. And she could do nothing save under Pratt's
dictation. So long as he had that will in his possession, he could make
her agree to whatever terms he liked to insist upon.

She spent a sleepless night, resolving all sorts of plans; she resolved
more plans and schemes during the day which followed. But they all ended
at the same point--Pratt. All the future depended upon--Pratt. And by
the end of the day it had come to this--she must make a determined
effort to buy Pratt clean out, so that she could get the will into her
own possession and destroy it. She knew that she could easily find the
necessary money--Harper Mallathorpe had such a natural dislike of all
business matters and was so little fitted to attend to them that he was
only too well content to leave everything relating to the estate and the
mill at Barford to his mother. Up to that time Mrs. Mallathorpe had
managed the affairs of both, and she had large sums at her disposal, out
of which she could pay Pratt without even Harper being aware that she
was paying him anything. And surely no young man in Pratt's position--a
mere clerk, earning a few pounds a week--would refuse a big sum of ready
money! It seemed incredible to her--and she went into Barford towards
evening hoping that by the time she returned the will would have been
burned to grey ashes.

Mrs. Mallathorpe used some ingenuity in making her visit to Pratt.
Giving out that she was going to see a friend in Barford, of whose
illness she had just heard, she drove into the town, and on arriving
near the Town Hall dismissed her carriage, with orders to the coachman
to put up his horses at a certain livery stable, and to meet her at the
same place at a specified time. Then she went away on foot, and drew a
thick veil over her face before hiring a cab in which she drove up to
the outskirt on which Pratt had his lodging. She was still veiled when
Pratt's landlady showed her into the clerk's sitting-room.

"Is it safe here?" she asked at once. "Is there no fear of anybody
hearing what we may say?"

"None!" answered Pratt reassuringly. "I know these folks--I've lived
here several years. And nobody could hear however much they put their
ears to the keyhole. Good thick old walls, these, Mrs. Mallathorpe, and
a solid door. We're as safe here as we were in your study last night."

Mrs. Mallathorpe sat down in the chair which Pratt politely drew near
his fire. She raised her veil and looked at him, and the clerk saw at
once how curious and eager she was.

"That--will!" she said, in a low voice. "Let me see it--first."

"One moment," answered Pratt. "First--you understand that I'm not going
to let you handle it. I'll hold it before you, so you can read it.
Second--you give me your promise--I'm trusting you--that you'll make no
attempt to seize it. It's not going out of my hands."

"I'm only a woman--and you're a strong man," she retorted sullenly.

"Quite so," said Pratt. "But women have a trick of snatching at things.
And--if you please--you'll do exactly what I tell you to do. Put your
hands behind you! If I see you make the least movement with them--back
goes the will into my pocket!"

If Pratt had looked more closely at her just then, he would have taken
warning from the sudden flash of hatred and resentment which swept
across Mrs. Mallathorpe's face--it would have told him that he was
dealing with a dangerous woman who would use her wits to circumvent and
beat him--if not now, then later. But he was moving the gas bracket over
the mantelpiece, and he did not see.

"Very well--but I had no intention of touching it," said Mrs.
Mallathorpe. "All I want is to see it--and read it."

She obediently followed out Pratt's instructions, and standing in front
of her he produced the will, unfolded it, and held it at a convenient
distance before her eyes. He watched her closely, as she read it, and he
saw her grow very pale.

"Take your time--read it over two or three times," he said quietly. "Get
it well into your mind, Mrs. Mallathorpe."

She nodded her head at last, and Pratt stepped back, folded up the will,
and turning to a heavy box which lay open on the table, placed it
within, under lock and key. And that done, he turned back and took a
chair, close to his visitor.

"Safe there, Mrs. Mallathorpe," he said with a glance that was both
reassuring and cunning. "But only for the night. I keep a few securities
of my own at one of the banks in the town--never mind which--and that
will shall be deposited with them tomorrow morning."

Mrs. Mallathorpe shook her head.

"No!" she said. "Because--you'll come to terms with me."

Pratt shook his head, too, and he laughed.

"Of course I shall come to terms with you," he answered. "But they'll be
my terms--and they don't include any giving up of that document. That's
flat, Mrs. Mallathorpe!"

"Not if I make it worth your while?" she asked. "Listen!--you don't know
what ready money I can command. Ready money, I tell you--cash down, on
the spot!"

"I've a pretty good notion," responded Pratt. "It's generally understood
in the town that your son's a mere figure-head, and that you're the real
boss of the whole show. I know that you're at the mill four times a
week, and that the managers are under your thumb. I know that you manage
everything connected with the estate. So, of course, I know you've lots
of ready money at your disposal."

"And I know that you don't earn more than four or five pounds a week, at
the outside," said Mrs. Mallathorpe quietly. "Come, now--just think what
a nice, convenient thing it would be to a young man of your age to
have--a capital. Capital! It would be the making of you. You could go
right away--to London, say, and start out on whatever you liked. Be
sensible--sell me that paper--and be done with the whole thing."

"No!" replied Pratt.

Mrs. Mallathorpe looked at him for a full moment. She was a shrewd judge
of character, and she felt that Pratt was one of those men who are hard
to stir from a position once adopted. But she had to make her
effort--and she made it in what she thought the most effective way.

"I'll give you five thousand pounds--cash--for it," she said. "Meet me
with it tomorrow--anywhere you like in the town--any time you like--and
I'll hand you the money--in notes."

"No!" said Pratt. "No!"

Once more she looked at him. And Pratt looked back--and smiled.

"When I say no, I mean no," he went on. "And I never meant 'No' more
firmly than I do now."

"I don't believe you," she answered, affecting a doubt which she
certainly did not feel. "You're only holding out for more money."

"If I were holding out for more money, Mrs. Mallathorpe," replied Pratt,
"if I meant to sell you that will for cash payment, I should have stated
my terms to you last night. I should have said precisely how much I
wanted--and I shouldn't have budged from the amount. Mrs.
Mallathorpe!--it's no good. I've got my own schemes, and my own
ideas--and I'm going to carry 'em out. I want you to appoint me steward
to your property, your affairs, for life."

"Life!" she exclaimed. "Life!"

"My life," answered Pratt. "And let me tell you--you'll find me a
first-class man--a good, faithful, honest servant. I'll do well by you
and yours. You'll never regret it as long as you live. It'll be the best
day's work you've ever done. I'll look after your son's
interests--everybody's interests--as if they were my own. As indeed," he
added, with a sly glance, "they will be."

Mrs. Mallathorpe realized the finality, the resolve, in all this--but
she made one more attempt.

"Ten thousand!" she said. "Come, now!--think what ten thousand pounds in
cash would mean to you!"

"No--nor twenty thousand," replied Pratt. "I've made up my mind. I'll
have my own terms. It's no use--not one bit of use--haggling or
discussing matters further. I'm in possession of the will--and therefore
of the situation, Mrs. Mallathorpe, you've just got to do what I tell

He got up from his chair, and going over to a side-table took from it a
blotting-pad, some writing paper and a pencil. For the moment his back
was turned--and again he did not see the look of almost murderous hatred
which came into his visitor's eyes; had he seen and understood it, he
might even then have reconsidered matters and taken Mrs, Mallathorpe's
last offer. But the look had gone when he turned again, and he noticed
nothing as he handed over the writing materials.

"What are these for?" she asked.

"You'll see in a moment," replied Pratt, reseating himself, and drawing
his chair a little nearer her own. "Now listen--because it's no good
arguing any more. You're going to give me that stewardship and agency.
You'll simply tell your son that it's absolutely necessary to have a
steward. He'll agree. If he doesn't, no matter--you'll convince him.
Now, then, we must do it in a fashion that won't excite any suspicion.
Thus--in a few days--say next week--you'll insert in the Barford
papers--all three of them--the advertisement I'm going to dictate to
you. We'll put it in the usual, formal phraseology. Write this down, if
you please, Mrs. Mallathorpe."

He dictated an advertisement, setting forth the requirements of which he
had spoken, and Mrs. Mallathorpe obeyed him and wrote. She hated Pratt
more than ever at that moment--there was a quiet, steadfast
implacability about him that made her feel helpless. But she restrained
all sign of it, and when she had done his bidding she looked at him as
calmly as he looked at her.

"I am to insert this in the Barford papers next week," she said.
"And--what then?"

"Then you'll get a lot of applications for the job," chuckled Pratt.
"There'll be mine amongst them. You can throw most of 'em in the fire.
Keep a few for form's sake. Profess to discuss them with Mr. Harper--but
let the discussion be all on your side. I'll send two or three good
testimonials--you'll incline to me from the first. You'll send for me.
Your interview with me will be highly satisfactory. And you'll give me
the appointment."

"And--your terms?" asked Mrs. Mallathorpe. Now that her own scheme had
failed, she seemed quite placable to all Pratt's proposals--a sure sign
of danger to him if he had only known it. "Better let me know them
now--and have done with it."

"Quite so," agreed Pratt. "But first of all--can you keep this secret to
yourself and me? The money part, any way?"

"I can--and shall," she answered.

"Good!" said Pratt. "Very well. I want a thousand a year. Also I want
two rooms--and a business room--at the Grange. I shall not interfere
with you or your family, or your domestic arrangements, but I shall
expect to have all my meals served to me from your kitchen, and to have
one of your servants at my disposal. I know the Grange--I've been over
it more than once. There's much more room there than you can make use
of. Give me the rooms I want in one of the wings. I shan't disturb any
of you. You'll never see me except on business--and if you want to."

Again the calm acquiescence which would have surprised some men. Why
Pratt failed to be surprised by it was because he was just then feeling
exceedingly triumphant--he believed that Mrs. Mallathorpe was,
metaphorically, at his feet. He had more than a little vanity in him,
and it pleased him greatly, that dictating of terms: he saw himself a
conqueror, with his foot on the neck of his victim.

"Is that all, then?" asked the visitor.

"All!" answered Pratt.

Mrs. Mallathorpe calmly folded up the draft advertisement and placed it
in her purse. Then she rose and adjusted her veil.

"Then--there is nothing to be done until I get your answer to this--your
application?" she asked. "Very well."

Pratt showed her out, and walked to the cab with her. He went back to
his rooms highly satisfied--and utterly ignorant of what Mrs.
Mallathorpe was thinking as she drove away.



Within a week of his sudden death in Eldrick's private office, old
Antony Bartle was safely laid in the tomb under the yew-tree of which
Mrs. Clough had spoken with such appreciation, and his grandson had
entered into virtual possession of all that he had left. Collingwood
found little difficulty in settling his grandfather's affairs.
Everything had been left to him: he was sole executor as well as sole
residuary legatee. He found his various tasks made uncommonly easy.
Another bookseller in the town hurried to buy the entire stock and
business, goodwill, book debts, everything--Collingwood was free of all
responsibility of the shop in Quagg Alley within a few days of the old
man's funeral. And when he had made a handsome present to the
housekeeper, a suitable one to the shop-boy, and paid his grandfather's
last debts, he was free to depart--a richer man by some five-and-twenty
thousand pounds than when he hurried down to Barford in response to
Eldrick's telegram.

He sat in Eldrick's office one afternoon, winding up his affairs with
him. There were certain things that Eldrick & Pascoe would have to do;
as for himself it was necessary for him to get back to London.

"There's something I want to propose to you," said Eldrick, when they
had finished the immediate business. "You're going to practise, of

"Of course!" replied Collingwood, with a laugh. "If I get the chance!"

"You'll get the chance," said Eldrick. "What were you going in for?"

"Commercial law--company law--as a special thing," answered Collingwood.


"I'll tell you what it is," continued Eldrick eagerly. "There's a career
for you if you'll take my advice. Leave London--come down here and take
chambers in the town, and go the North-Eastern Circuit. I'll promise
you--for our firm alone--plenty of work. You'll get more--there's lots
of work waiting here for a good, smart young barrister. Ah!--you smile,
but I know what I'm talking about. You don't know Barford men. They
believe in the old adage that one should look at home before going
abroad. They're terribly litigious, too, and if you were here, on the
spot, they'd give you work. What do you say, Collingwood?"

"That sounds very tempting. But I was thinking of sticking to London."

"Not one hundredth part of the chance in London that there is here!"
affirmed Eldrick "We badly want two or three barristers in this place. A
man who's really well up in commercial and company law would soon have
his hands full. There's work, I tell you. Take my advice, and come!"

"I couldn't come--in any case--for a few months," said Collingwood,
musingly. "Of course, if you really think there's an opening----"

"I know there is!" asserted Eldrick. "I'll guarantee you lots of
work--our work. I'm sick of fetching men down all the way from town, or
getting them from Leeds. Come!--and you'll see."

"I might come in a few months' time, and try things for a year or two,"
replied Collingwood. "But I'm off to India, you know, next week, and I
shall be away until the end of spring--four months or so."

"To India!" exclaimed Eldrick. "What are you going to do there?"

"Sir John Standridge," said Collingwood, mentioning a famous legal
luminary of the day, "is going out to Hyderabad to take certain
evidence, and hold a sort of inquiry, in a big case, and I'm going with
him as his secretary and assistant--I was in his chambers for two years,
you know. We leave next week, and we shall not be back until the end of

"Lucky man!" remarked the solicitor. "Well, when you return, don't
forget what I've said. Come back!--you'll not regret it. Come and settle
down. Bye-the-bye, you're not engaged, are you?"

"Engaged?" said Collingwood. "To what--to whom--what do you mean?"

"Engaged to be married," answered Eldrick coolly. "You're not? Good! If
you want a wife, there's Miss Mallathorpe. Nice, clever girl, my
boy--and no end of what Barford folk call brass. The very woman for

"Do you Barford people ever think of anything else but what you call
brass?" asked Collingwood, laughing.

"Sometimes," replied Eldrick. "But it's generally of something that
nothing but brass can bring or produce. After all, a rich wife isn't a
despicable thing, nowadays. You've seen this young lady?"

"I've been there once," asserted Collingwood.

"Go again--before you leave," counselled Eldrick. "You're just the right
man. Listen to the counsels of the wise! And while you're in India,
think well over my other advice. I tell you there's a career for you,
here in the North, that you'd never get in town."

Collingwood left him and went out--to find a motorcar and drive off to
Normandale Grange, not because Eldrick had advised him to go, but
because of his promise to Harper and Nesta Mallathorpe. And once more he
found Nesta alone, and though he had no spice of vanity in his
composition it seemed to him that she was glad when he walked into the
room in which they had first met.

"My mother is out--gone to town--to the mill," she said. "And Harper is
knocking around the park with a gun--killing rabbits--and time. He'll be
in presently to tea--and he'll be delighted to see you. Are you going to
stay in Barford much longer?"

"I'm going up to town this evening--seven o'clock train," answered
Collingwood, watching her keenly. "All my business is finished now--for
the present."

"But--you'll be coming back?" she asked.

"Perhaps," he said. "I may come back--after a while."

"When you do come back," she went on, a little hurriedly, "will you come
and see us again? I--it's difficult to explain--but I do wish Harper
knew more men--the right sort of men. Do you understand?"

"You mean--he needs more company?"

"More company of the right kind. He doesn't know many nice men. And he
has so little to occupy him. He's no head for business--my mother
attends to all that--and he doesn't care much about sport--and when he
goes into Barford he only hangs about the club, and, I'm afraid, at two
or three of the hotels there, and--it's not good for him."

"Can't you get him interested in anything?" suggested Collingwood. "Is
there nothing that he cares about?"

"He never did care about anything," replied Nesta with a sigh. "He's
apathetic! He just moves along. Sometimes I think he was born half
asleep, and he's never been really awakened. Pity, isn't it?"

"Considering everything--a great pity," agreed Collingwood. "But--he's
provided for."

Nesta gave him a swift glance.

"It might have been a good deal better for him if he hadn't been
provided for!" she said. "He'd have just had to do something, then.
But--if you come back, you'll come here sometimes?"

"Of course!" answered Collingwood. "And if I come back, it will probably
be to stop here. Mr. Eldrick says there's a lot of work going begging in
Barford--for a smart young barrister well up in commercial law. Perhaps
I may try to come up to his standard--I'm certainly young, but I don't
know whether I'm smart."

"Better come and try," she said, smiling. "Don't forget that I've seen
you look the part, anyway--your wig and gown suited you very well."

"Theatrical properties," he replied, laughing. "The wig was too small,
and the gown too long. Well--we'll see. But in the meantime, I'm going
away for four months--to India,"

"To India--four months!" she exclaimed. "That sounds nice."

"Legal business," said Collingwood. "I shall be back about the end of
April--and then I shall probably come down here again, and seriously
consider Eldrick's suggestion. I'm very much inclined to take it."

"Then--you'd leave London?" she asked.

"I've little to leave there," replied Collingwood. "My father and mother
are dead, and I've no brothers, no sisters--no very near relations.
Sounds lonely, doesn't it?"

"One can feel lonely when one has relations," said Nesta.

"Are you saying that from--experience?" he asked.

"I often wish I had more to do," she answered frankly. "What's the use
of denying it? I've next to nothing to do, here. I liked my work at the
hospital--I was busy all day. Here----"

"If I were you," interrupted Collingwood, "I'd set to work nursing in
another fashion. Look after your brother! Get him going at
something--even if it's playing golf. Play with him! It would do
him--and you--all the good in the world if you got thoroughly infatuated
with even a game. Don't you see?"

"You mean--anything is better than nothing," she replied. "All
right--I'll try that, anyway. For--I'm anxious about Harper. All this
money!--and no occupation!"

Collingwood, who was sitting near the windows, looked out across the
park and into the valley beyond.

"I should have thought that a man who had come into an estate like this
would have found plenty of occupation," he remarked. "What is there,
beside the house and this park?"

Nesta, who had busied herself with some fancy-work since Collingwood's
entrance, laid it down and came to the windows. She pointed to certain
roofs and gables in the valley.

"There's the whole village of Normandale," she said. "A busy place, no
doubt, but it's all Harper's--he's lord of the manor, He's patron of the
living, too. It's all his--farms, cottages, everything. And the woods,
and the park, and this house, and a stretch of the moors, as well. Of
course, he ought to find a lot to do--but he doesn't. Perhaps because my
mother does everything. She really is a business woman."

Collingwood looked out over the area which Nesta had indicated. Harper
Mallathorpe, he calculated, must be possessed of some three or four
thousand acres.

"A fine property!" he said. "He's a very fortunate fellow!"

Just then this very fortunate fellow came in. His face, dull enough as
he entered, lighted up at sight of a visitor, and fell again when
Collingwood explained that his visit was a mere flying one, and that he
was returning to London that night. Collingwood led him on to the
project which he had mentioned at his previous visit--the making of golf
links in the park, and pointed out, as a devotee of the sport, what a
fine course could be made. Before he left he had succeeded in arousing
like interest in Harper--he promised to go into the matter, and to
employ a man whom Collingwood recommended as an expert in laying out
golf courses.

"You'll have got your greens in something like order by this time next
year, if you start operations soon," said Collingwood. "And then, if I
settle down at Barford, I'll come out now and then, if you'll let me."

"Let you!" exclaimed Harper. "By Jove!--we're only too glad to have
anybody out here--aren't we, Nesta?"

"We shall always be glad to see Mr. Collingwood," said Nesta.

Collingwood went away with that last intimation warm in his memory. He
had an idea that the girl meant what she said--and for a moment he was
sorry that he was going to India. He might have settled down at Barford
there and then, and--but at that he laughed at himself.

"A young woman with several thousands a year of her own!" he said. "Of
course, she'll marry some big pot in the county. They feel a little
lonely, those two, just now, because everything's new to them, and
they're new to their changed circumstances. But when I get back--ah!--I
guess they'll have got plenty of people around them."

And he determined, being a young man of sense, not to think any
more--for already he had thought a good deal of Nesta Mallathorpe, until
he returned from his Indian travels. Let him attend to his business, and
leave possibilities until they came nearer.

"All the same." he mused, as he drew near the town again, "I'm pretty
sure I shall come back here next spring--I feel like it."

He called in at Eldrick's office on his way to the hotel, to take some
documents which had been preparing for him. It was then late in the
afternoon, and no one but Pratt was there--Pratt, indeed, had been
waiting until Collingwood called.

"Going back to town, Mr. Collingwood?" asked Pratt as he handed over a
big envelope. "When shall we have the pleasure of seeing you again,

Something in the clerk's tone made Collingwood think--he could not tell
why--that Pratt was fishing for information. And--also for reasons which
he could not explain--Collingwood had taken a curious dislike to Pratt,
and was not inclined to give him any confidence.

"I don't know," he answered, a little icily. "I am leaving for India
next week."

He bade the clerk a formal farewell and went off, and Pratt locked the
office door and slowly followed him downstairs.

"To India!" he said to himself, watching the young barrister's
retreating figure. "To India, eh? For a time--or for--what?"

Anyway, that was good news, Pratt had seen in Collingwood a possible



Collingwood's return to London was made on a Friday evening: next day he
began the final preparations for his departure to India on the following
Thursday. He was looking forward to his journey and his stay in India
with keen expectation. He would have the society of a particularly
clever and brilliant man; they were to break their journey in Italy and
in Egypt; he would enjoy exceptional facilities for seeing the native
life of India; he would gain valuable experience. It was a chance at
which any young man would have jumped, and Collingwood had been greatly
envied when it was known that Sir John Standridge had offered it to him.
And yet he was conscious that if he could have done precisely what he
desired, he would have stayed longer at Barford, in order to see more of
Nesta Mallathorpe. Already it seemed a long time to the coming spring,
when he would be back--and free to go North again.

But Collingwood was fated to go North once more much sooner than he had
dreamed of. As he sat at breakfast in his rooms on the Monday morning
after his departure from Barford, turning over his newspaper with no
particular aim or interest, his attention was suddenly and sharply
arrested by a headline. Even that headline might not have led him to
read what lay beneath. But in the same instant in which he saw it he
also saw a name--Mallathorpe. In the next he knew that heavy trouble had
fallen on Normandale Grange, the very day after he had left it.

This is what Collingwood read as he sat, coffee-cup in one hand,
newspaper in the other--staring at the lines of unleaded type:


"A fatal accident, of a particularly sad and disturbing nature,
occurred near Barford, Yorkshire, on Saturday. About four
o'clock on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Linford Pratt, managing clerk
to Messrs. Eldrick & Pascoe, Solicitors, of Barford, who was
crossing the grounds of Normandale Grange on his way to a
business appointment, discovered the dead body of Mr. H. J.
Mallathorpe, the owner of the Normandale Estate, lying in a
roadway which at that point is spanned, forty feet above, by a
narrow foot-bridge. The latter is an ancient construction of
wood, and there is no doubt that it was in extremely bad repair,
and had given way when the unfortunate young gentleman, who was
out shooting in his park, stepped upon it. Mr. Mallathorpe, who
was only twenty-four years of age, succeeded to the Normandale
estates, one of the finest properties in the neighbourhood of
Barford, about two years ago, under somewhat romantic--and also
tragic--circumstances, their previous owner, his uncle, Mr. John
Mallathorpe, a well-known Barford manufacturer, meeting a sudden
death by the falling of his mill chimney--a catastrophe which
also caused the deaths of several of his employees. Mr. John
Mallathorpe died intestate, and the estate at Normandale passed
to the young gentleman who met such a sad fate on Saturday
afternoon. Mr. H.J. Mallathorpe was unmarried, and it is
understood that Normandale (which includes the village of that
name, the advowson of the living, and about four thousand acres
of land) now becomes the property of his sister, Miss Nesta

Collingwood set down his cup, and dropped the newspaper. He was but half
way through his breakfast, but all his appetite had vanished. All that
he was conscious of was that here was trouble and grief for a girl in
whom--it was useless to deny it--he had already begun to take a warm
interest. And suddenly he started from his chair and snatched up a
railway guide. As he turned over its pages, he thought rapidly. The
preparations for his journey to India were almost finished--what was not
done he could do in a few hours. He had no further appointment with Sir
John Standridge until nine o'clock on Thursday morning, when he was to
meet him at the train for Dover and Paris. Monday--Tuesday--Wednesday--he
had three days--ample time to hurry down to Normandale, to do what he
could to help there, and to get back in time to make his own last
arrangements. He glanced at his watch--he had forty minutes in which to
catch an express from King's Cross to Barford. Without further delay he
picked up a suit-case which was already packed and set out for the

He was in Barford soon after two o'clock--in Eldrick's office by
half-past two. Eldrick shook his head at sight of him.

"I can guess what's brought you down, Collingwood," he said. "Good of
you, of course--I don't think they've many friends out there."

"I can scarcely call myself that--yet," answered Collingwood. "But--I
thought I might be of some use. I'll drive out there presently. But
first--how was it?"

Eldrick shook his head.

"Don't know much more than what the papers say," he answered. "There's
an old foot-bridge there that spans a road in the park--road cut through
a ravine. They say it was absolutely rotten, and the poor chap's weight
was evidently too much for it. And there was a drop of forty feet into a
hard road. Extraordinary thing that nobody on the estate seems to have
known of the dangerous condition of that bridge!--but they say it was
little used--simply a link between one plantation and another.
However;--it's done, now. Our clerk--Pratt, you know--found the body.
Hadn't been dead five minutes, Pratt says."

"What was Pratt doing there?" asked Collingwood.

"Oh, business of his own," replied Eldrick. "Not ours. There was an
advertisement in Saturday's papers which set out that a steward was
wanted for the Normandale estate, and Pratt mentioned it to me in the
morning that he thought of applying for the job if we'd give him a good
testimonial. I suppose he'd gone out there to see about the
preliminaries. Anyway, he was walking through the park when he found
young Mallathorpe's body. I understand he made himself very useful, too,
and I've sent him out there again today, to do anything he can--smart
chap, Pratt!"

"Possibly, then, there is nothing I can do," remarked Collingwood.

"I should say you'll do a lot by merely going there," answered Eldrick.
"As I said just now, they've few friends, and no relations, and I hear
that Mrs. Mallathorpe is absolutely knocked over. Go, by all means--a
bit of sympathy goes a long way on these occasions. I say!--what a
regular transformation an affair of this sort produces. Do you know,
that young fellow, just like his uncle, had not made any will! Fact!--I
had it from Robson, their solicitor, this very morning. The whole of the
estate comes to the sister, of course--she and the mother will share the
personal property. By that lad's death, Nesta Mallathorpe becomes one of
the wealthiest young women in Yorkshire!"

Collingwood made no reply to this communication. But as he drove off to
Normandale Grange, it was fresh in his mind. And it was not very
pleasant to him. One of the wealthiest young women in Yorkshire!--and he
was already realizing that he would like to make Nesta Mallathorpe his
wife: it was because he felt what he did for her that he had rushed down
to do anything he could that would be of help. Supposing--only
supposing--that people--anybody--said that he was fortune-hunting!
Somewhat unduly sensitive, proud, almost to a fault, he felt his cheek
redden at the thought, and for a moment he wished that old John
Mallathorpe's wealth had never passed to his niece. But then he sneered
at himself for his presumption.

"Ass!" he said. "She's never even thought of me--in that way, most
likely! Anyway, I'm a stupid fool for thinking of these things at

But he knew, within a few minutes of entering the big, desolate-looking
house, that Nesta had been thinking of him. She came to him in the room
where they had first met, and quietly gave him her hand.

"I was not surprised when they told me you were here," she said. "I was
thinking about you--or, rather, expecting to hear from you."

"I came at once," answered Collingwood, who had kept her hand in his.
"I--well, I couldn't stop away. I thought, perhaps, I could do
something--be of some use."

"It's a great deal of use to have just--come," she said. "Thank you!
But--I suppose you'll have to go?"

"Not for two days, anyway," he replied. "What can I do?"

"I don't know that you can actually do anything," she answered.
"Everything is being done, Mr. Eldrick sent his clerk, Mr. Pratt--who
found Harper--he's been most kind and useful. He--and our own
solicitor--are making all arrangements. There's got to be an inquest.
No--I don't know that you can do actual things. But--while you're
here--you can look in when you like. My mother is very ill--she has
scarcely spoken since Saturday."

"I'll tell you what I will do," said Collingwood determinedly. "I
noticed in coming through the village just now that there's quite a
decent inn there. I'll go down and arrange to stay there until Wednesday
evening--then I shall be close by--if you should need me."

He saw by her look of quick appreciation and relief that this suggestion
pleased her. She pressed his hand and withdrew her own. "Thank you
again!" she said. "Do you know--I can't quite explain--I should be glad
if you were close at hand? Everybody has been very kind--but I do feel
that there is nobody I can talk to. If you arrange this, will you come
in again this evening?"

"I shall arrange it," answered Collingwood. "I'll see to it now. Tell
your people I am to be brought in whenever I call. And--I'll be close by
whenever you want me."

It seemed little to say, little to do, but he left her feeling that he
was being of some use. And as he went off to make his arrangements at
the inn he encountered Pratt, who was talking to the butler in the outer

The clerk looked at Collingwood with an unconcern and a composure which
he was able to assume because he had already heard of his presence in
the house. Inwardly, he was malignantly angry that the young barrister
was there, but his voice was suave, and polite enough when he spoke.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Collingwood," he said quietly. "Very sad occasion
on which we meet again, sir. Come to offer your sympathy, Mr.
Collingwood, of course--very kind of you."

"I came," answered Collingwood, who was not inclined to bandy phrases
with Pratt, "to see if I could be of any practical use."

"Just so, sir," said Pratt. "Mr. Eldrick sent me here for the same
purpose. There's really not much to do--beyond the necessary
arrangements, which are already pretty forward. Going back to town,
sir?" he went on, following Collingwood out to his motor-car, which
stood waiting in the drive.

"No!" replied Collingwood. "I'm going to send this man to Barford to
fetch my bag to the inn down there in the village, where I'm going to
stay for a few days. Did you hear that?" he continued, turning to the
driver. "Go back to Barford--get my bag from the _Station Hotel_
there--bring it to the _Normandale Arms_--I'll meet you there on your

The car went off, and Collingwood, with a nod to Pratt, was about to
turn down a side path towards the village. But Pratt stopped him.

"Would you care to see the place where the accident happened, Mr.
Collingwood?" he said. "It's close by--won't take five minutes."

Collingwood hesitated a moment; then he turned back. It might be well,
he reflected, if he made himself acquainted with all the circumstances
of this case, simple as they seemed.

"Thank you," he said. "If it's so near."

"This way, sir," responded Pratt. He led his companion along the front
of the house, through the shrubberies at the end of a wing, and into a
plantation by a path thickly covered with pine needles. Presently they
emerged upon a similar track, at right angles to that by which they had
come, and leading into a denser part of the woods. And at the end of a
hundred yards of it they came to a barricade, evidently of recent
construction, over which Pratt stretched a hand. "There!" he said.
"That's the bridge, sir." Collingwood looked over the barricade. He saw
that he and Pratt were standing at the edge of one thick plantation of
fir and pine; the edge of a similar plantation stretched before them
some ten yards away. But between the two lay a deep, dark ravine, which,
immediately in front of the temporary barricade, was spanned by a narrow
rustic bridge--a fragile-looking thing of planks, railed in by boughs of
trees. And in the middle was a jagged gap in both floor and side-rails,
showing where the rotten wood had given way.

"I'll explain, Mr. Collingwood," said the clerk presently. "I knew this
park, sir--I knew it well, before the late Mr. John Mallathorpe bought
the property. That path at the other end of the bridge makes a short cut
down to the station in the valley--through the woods and the lower part
of the park. I came up that path, from the station, on Saturday
afternoon, intending to cross this bridge and go on to the house, where
I had private business. When I got to the other end of the bridge,
there, I saw the gap in the middle. And then I looked down into the
cut--there's a road--a paved road--down there, and I saw--him! And so I
made shift to scramble down--stiff job it was!--to get to him. But he
was dead, Mr. Collingwood--stone dead, sir!--though I'm certain he
hadn't been dead five minutes. And----"

"Aye, an' he'd never ha' been dead at all, wouldn't young Squire, if
only his ma had listened to what I telled her!" interrupted a voice
behind them. "He'd ha' been alive at this minute, he would, if his ma
had done what I said owt to be done--now then!"

Collingwood turned sharply--to confront an old man, evidently one of the
woodmen on the estate who had come up behind them unheard on the thick
carpeting of pine needles. And Pratt turned, too--with a keen look and a
direct question.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "What are you talking about?"

"I know what I'm talking about, young gentleman," said the man doggedly.
"I ain't worked, lad and man, on this one estate nine-and-forty
years--and happen more--wi'out knowin' all about it. I tell'd Mrs.
Mallathorpe on Friday noon 'at that there owd brig 'ud fall in afore
long if it worn't mended. I met her here, at this very place where we're
standin', and I showed her 'at it worn't safe to cross it. I tell'd her
't she owt to have it fastened up theer an' then. It's been rottin' for
many a year, has this owd brig--why, I mind when it wor last repaired,
and that wor years afore owd Mestur Mallathorpe bowt this estate!"

"When do you say you told Mrs. Mallathorpe all that?" asked Pratt.

"Friday noon it were, sir," answered the woodman. "When I were on my way
home--dinner time. 'Cause I met the missis here, and I made bold to tell
her what I'd noticed. That there owd brig!--lor' bless yer, gentlemen!
it were black rotten i' the middle, theer where poor young maister he
fell through it. 'Ye mun hev' that seen to at once, missis,' I says.
'Sartin sure, 'tain't often as it's used,' I says, 'but surely sartin
'at if it ain't mended, or closed altogether,' I says, 'summun 'il be
going through and brekkin' their necks,' I says. An' reight, too,
gentlemen--forty feet it is down to that road. An' a mortal hard road,
an' all, paved wi' granite stone all t' way to t' stable-yard."

"You're sure it was Friday noon?" repeated Pratt.

"As sure as that I see you," answered the woodman. "An' Mrs. Mallathorpe
she said she'd hev it seen to. Dear-a-me!--it should ha' been closed!"

The old man shook his head and went off amongst the trees, and Pratt,
giving his vanishing figure a queer look, turned silently back along the
path, followed by Collingwood. At the point where the other path led to
the house, he glanced over his shoulder at the young barrister.

"If you keep straight on, Mr. Collingwood," he said, "you'll get
straight down to the village and the inn. I must go this way."

He went off rapidly, and Collingwood walked on through the plantation
towards the _Normandale Arms_--wondering, all the way, why Pratt was so
anxious to know exactly when it was that Mrs. Mallathorpe had been
warned about the old bridge.



Until that afternoon Collingwood had never been in the village to which
he was now bending his steps; on that and his previous visits to the
Grange he had only passed the end of its one street. Now, descending
into it from the slopes of the park, he found it to be little more than
a hamlet--a church, a farmstead or two, a few cottages in their gardens,
all clustering about a narrow stream spanned by a high-arched bridge of
stone. The _Normandale Arms_, a roomy, old-fashioned place, stood at one
end of the bridge, and from the windows of the room into which
Collingwood was presently shown he could look out on the stream itself
and on the meadows beyond it. A peaceful, pretty, quiet place--but the
gloom which was heavy at the big house or the hill seemed to have spread
to everybody that he encountered.

"Bad job, this, sir!" said the landlord, an elderly, serious-faced man,
to whom Collingwood had made known his wants, and who had quickly formed
the opinion that his guest was of the legal profession. "And a queer
one, too! Odd thing, sir, that our old squire, and now the young one,
should both have met their deaths in what you might term violent

"Accident--in both cases," remarked Collingwood.

The landlord nodded his head--and then shook it in a manner which seemed
to indicate that while he agreed with this proposition in one respect he
entertained some sort of doubt about it in others.

"Ay, well!" he answered. "Of course, a mill chimney falling, without
notice, as it were, and a bridge giving way--them's accidents, to be
sure. But it's a very strange thing about this foot-bridge, up yonder at
the Grange--very strange indeed! There's queer talk about it, already."

"What sort of talk?" asked Collingwood. Ever since the old woodman had
come up to him and Pratt, as they stood looking at the foot-bridge, he
had been aware of a curious sense of mystery, and the landlord's remark
tended to deepen it. "What are people talking about?"

"Nay--it's only one or two," replied the landlord. "There's been two men
in here since the affair happened that crossed that bridge Friday
afternoon--and both of 'em big, heavy men. According to what one can
learn that there bridge wasn't used much by the Grange people--it led to
nowhere in particular for them. But there is a right of way across that
part of the park, and these two men as I'm speaking of--they made use of
it on Friday--getting towards dark. I know 'em well--they'd both of 'em
weigh four times as much--together--as young Squire Mallathorpe, and yet
it didn't give way under them. And then--only a few hours later, as you
might say, down it goes with him!"

"I don't think you can form any opinion from that!" said Collingwood.
"These things, these old structures, often give way quite suddenly and

"Ay, well, they did admit, these men too, that it seemed a bit tottery,
like," remarked the landlord. "Talking it over, between themselves, in
here, they agreed, to be sure, that it felt to give a bit. All the same,
there's them as says that it's a queer thing it should ha' given
altogether when young squire walked on it,"

Collingwood clinched matters with a straight question.

"You don't mean to say that people are suggesting that the foot-bridge
had been tampered with?" he asked.

"There is them about as wouldn't be slow to say as much," answered the
landlord. "Folks will talk! You see, sir--nobody saw what happened. And
when country folk doesn't see what takes place, with their own eyes,
then they----"

"Make mysteries out of it," interrupted Collingwood, a little
impatiently. "I don't think there's any mystery here, landlord--I
understood that this foot-bridge was in a very unsafe condition. No! I'm
afraid the whole affair was only too simple."

But he was conscious, as he said this, that he was not precisely voicing
his own sentiments. He himself was mystified. He was still wondering why
Pratt had been so pertinacious in asking the old woodman when,
precisely, he had told Mrs. Mallathorpe about the unsafe condition of
the bridge--still wondering about a certain expression which had come
into Pratt's face when the old man told them what he did--still
wondering at the queer look which Pratt had given the information as he
went off into the plantation. Was there, then, something--some secret
which was being kept back by--somebody?

He was still pondering over these things when he went back to the
Grange, later in the evening--but he was resolved not to say anything
about them to Nesta. And he saw Nesta only for a few minutes. Her
mother, she said, was very ill indeed--the doctor was with her then, and
she must go back to them. Since her son's death, Mrs. Mallathorpe had
scarcely spoken, and the doctor, knowing that her heart was not strong,
was somewhat afraid of a collapse.

"If there is anything that I can do,--or if you should want me, during
the night," said Collingwood, earnestly, "promise me that you'll send at
once to the inn!"

"Yes," answered Nesta. "I will. But--I don't think there will be any
need. We have two nurses here, and the doctor will stop. There is
something I should be glad if you would do tomorrow," she went on,
looking at him a little wistfully, "You know about--the inquest?"

"Yes," said Collingwood.

"They say we--that is I, because, of course, my mother couldn't--that I
need not be present," she continued. "Mr. Robson--our solicitor--says it
will be a very short, formal affair. He will be there, of
course,--but--would you mind being there, too!--so that you
can--afterwards--tell me all about it?"

"Will you tell me something--straight out?" answered Collingwood,
looking intently at her. "Have you any doubt of any description about
the accepted story of your brother's death? Be plain with me!"

Nesta hesitated for awhile before answering.

"Not of the actual circumstances," she replied at last,--none at all of
what you call the accepted story. The fact is, I'm not a good hand at
explaining anything, and perhaps I can't convey to you what I mean. But
I've a feeling--an impression--that there is--or was some mystery on
Saturday which might have--and might not have--oh, I can't make it
clear, even to myself.

"If you would be at the inquest tomorrow, and listen carefully to
everything--and then tell me afterwards--do you understand?"

"I understand," answered Collingwood. "Leave it to me."

Whether he expected to hear anything unusual at the inquest, whether he
thought any stray word, hint, or suggestion would come up during the
proceedings, Collingwood was no more aware than Nesta was certain of her
vague ideas. But he was very soon assured that there was going to be
nothing beyond brevity and formality. He had never previously been
present at an inquest--his legal mind was somewhat astonished at the way
in which things were done. It was quickly evident to him that the twelve
good men and true of the jury--most of them cottagers and labourers
living on the estate--were quite content to abide by the directions of
the coroner, a Barford solicitor, whose one idea seemed to be to get
through the proceedings as rapidly and smoothly as possible. And
Collingwood felt bound to admit that, taking the evidence as it was
brought forward, no simpler or more straightforward cause of
investigation could be adduced. It was all very simple indeed--as it
appeared there and then.

The butler, a solemn-faced, respectable type of the old family
serving-man, spoke as to his identification of the dead master's body,
and gave his evidence in a few sentences. Mr. Mallathorpe, he said, had
gone out of the front door of the Grange at half-past two on Saturday
afternoon, carrying a gun, and had turned into the road leading towards
the South Shrubbery. At about Three o'clock Mr. Pratt had come running
up the drive to the house, and told him and Miss Mallathorpe that he had
just found Mr. Mallathorpe lying dead in the sunken cut between the
South and North Shrubbery. Nobody had any question to ask the butler.
Nor were any questions asked of Pratt--the one really important witness.

Pratt gave his evidence tersely and admirably. On Saturday morning he
had seen an advertisement in the Barford newspapers which stated that a
steward and agent was wanted for the Normandale Estate, and all
applications were to be made to Mrs. Mallathorpe. Desirous of applying
for the post, he had written out a formal letter during Saturday
morning, had obtained a testimonial from his present employers, Messrs.
Eldrick & Pascoe, and, anxious to present his application as soon as
possible, had decided to take it to Normandale Grange himself, that
afternoon. He had left Barford by the two o'clock train, which arrived
at Normandale at two-thirty-five. Knowing the district well, he had
taken the path through the plantations. Arrived at the foot-bridge, he
had at once noticed that part of it had fallen in. Looking into the
cutting, he had seen a man lying in the roadway beneath--motionless. He
had scrambled down the side of the cutting, discovered that the man was
Mr. Harper Mallathorpe, and that he was dead, and had immediately
hurried up the road to the house, where he had informed the last witness
and Miss Mallathorpe.

A quite plain story, evidently thought everybody--no questions needed.
Nor were there any questions needed in the case of the only other
witnesses--the estate carpenter who said that the foot-bridge was very
old, but that he had not been aware that it was in quite so bad a
condition, and who gave it as his opinion that the recent heavy rains
had had something to do with the matter; and the doctor who testified
that the victim had suffered injuries which would produce absolutely
instantaneous death. A clear case--nothing could be clearer, said the
coroner to his obedient jury, who presently returned the only
verdict--one of accidental death--which, on the evidence, was possible.

Collingwood heard no comments on the inquest from those who were
present. But that evening, as he sat in his parlour at the _Normandale
Arms_, the landlord, coming in on pretence of attending to the fire,
approached him with an air of mystery and jerked his thumb in the
direction of the regions which he had just quitted.

"You remember what we were talking of this afternoon when you come in,
sir?" he whispered. "There's some of 'em--regular nightly customers,
village folk, you understand--talking of the same thing now, and of this
here inquest. And if you'd like to hear a bit of what you may call local
opinion--and especially one man's--I'll put you where you can hear it,
without being seen. It's worth hearing, anyway."

Collingwood, curious to know what the village wiseacres had to say,
rose, and followed the landlord into a small room at the back of the

An open hatchment in the wall, covered by a thin curtain, allowed him to
hear every word which came from what appeared to be a full company. But
it was quickly evident that in that company there was one man who either
was, or wished to be dictator and artifex--a man of loud voice and
domineering tone, who was laying down the law to the accompaniment of
vigorous thumpings of the table at which he sat. "What I say is--and I
say it agen---I reckon nowt at all o' crowners' quests!" he was
affirming, as Collingwood and his guide drew near the curtained opening.
"What is a crowner's quest, anyway? It's nowt but formality--all form
and show--it means nowt. All them 'at sits on t' jury does and says just
what t' crowner tells 'em to say and do. They nivver ax no questions out
o' their own mouths--they're as dumb as sheep--that's what yon jury wor
this mornin'--now then!"

"That's James Stringer, the blacksmith," whispered the landlord, coming
close to Collingwood's elbow. "He thinks he knows everything!"

"And pray, what would you ha' done, Mestur Stringer, if you'd been on
yon jury?" inquired a milder voice. "I suppose ye'd ha' wanted to know a
bit more, what?" "Mestur Stringer 'ud ha' wanted to know a deal more,"
observed another voice. "He would do!"

"There's a many things I want to know," continued the blacksmith, with a
stout thump of the table. "They all tak' it for granted 'at young squire
walked on to yon bridge, an' 'at it theer and then fell to pieces. Who
see'd it fall to pieces? Who was theer to see what did happen?"

"What else did happen or could happen nor what were testified to?" asked
a new voice. "Theer wor what they call circumstantial evidence to show
how all t' affair happened!"

"Circumstantial evidence be blowed!" sneered the blacksmith heartily. "I
reckon nowt o' circumstantial evidence! Look ye here! How do you
know--how does anybody know 'at t' young squire worn't thrown off that
bridge, and 'at t' bridge collapsed when he wor thrown? He might ha' met
somebody on t' bridge, and quarrelled wi' 'em, and whoivver it wor might
ha' been t' strongest man, and flung him into t' road beneath!"

"Aye, but i' that case t' other feller--t' assailant--'ud ha' fallen wi'
him," objected somebody.

"Nowt o' t' sort!" retorted the blacksmith. "He'd be safe on t' sound
part o' t' bridge--it's only a piece on 't that gave way. I say that
theer idea wants in-quirin' into. An' theer's another thing--what wor
that lawyer-clerk chap fro' Barford--Pratt--doin' about theer? What
reight had he to be prowlin' round t' neighbourhood o' that bridge, and
at that time? Come, now!--theer's a tickler for somebody."

"He telled that," exclaimed several voices. "He had business i' t'
place. He had some papers to 'liver."

"Then why didn't he go t' nearest way to t' house t' 'liver 'em?"
demanded Stringer. "T' shortest way to t' house fro' t' railway station
is straight up t' carriage drive--not through them plantations. I ax
agen--what wor that feller doin' theer? It's important."

"Why, ye don't suspect him of owt, do yer, Mestur Stringer?" asked
somebody. "A respectable young feller like that theer--come!"

"I'm sayin' nowt about suspectin' nobody!" vociferated the blacksmith.
"I'm doin' nowt but puttin' a case, as t' lawyers 'ud term it. I say 'at
theer's a lot o' things 'at owt to ha' corned out. I'll tell ye one on
'em--how is it 'at nowt--not a single word--wor said at yon inquest
about Mrs. Mallathorpe and t' affair? Not one word!"

A sudden silence fell on the company, and the landlord tapped
Collingwood's arm and took the liberty of winking at him.

"Why," inquired somebody, at last, "what about Mrs. Mallathorpe and t'
affair? What had she to do wi' t' affair?"

The blacksmith's voice became judicial in its solemnity.

"Ye listen to me!" he said with emphasis. "I know what I'm talking
about. Ye know what came out at t' inquest. When this here Pratt ran to
tell t' news at t' house he returned to what they term t' fatal spot i'
company wi' t' butler, and a couple of footmen, and Dan Scholes, one o'
t' grooms. Now theer worn't a word said at t' inquest about what that
lot--five on em, mind yer--found when they reached t' dead corpse--not
one word! But I know--Dan Scholes tell'd me!"

"What did they find, then, Mestur Stringer?" asked an eager member of
the assemblage. "What wor it?"

The blacksmith's voice sank to a mysterious whisper.

"I'll tell yer!" he replied. "They found Mrs. Mallathorpe, lyin' i' a
dead faint--close by! And they say 'at she's nivver done nowt but go out
o' one faint into another, ivver since. So, of course, she's nivver been
able to tell if she saw owt or knew owt! And what I say is," he
concluded, with a heavy thump of the table, "that theer crowner's quest
owt to ha' been what they term adjourned, until Mrs. Mallathorpe could
tell if she did see owt, or if she knew owt, or heer'd owt! She mun ha'
been close by--or else they wo'dn't ha' found her lyin' theer aside o'
t' corpse. What did she see? What did she hear? Does she know owt? I
tell ye 'at theer's questions 'at wants answerin'--and theer's trouble
ahead for somebody if they aren't answered--now then!"

Collingwood went away from his retreat, beckoning the landlord to
follow. In the parlour he turned to him.

"Have you heard anything of what Stringer said just now?" he asked. "I
mean--about Mrs. Mallathorpe?"

"Heard just the same--and from the same chap, Scholes, the groom, sir,"
replied the landlord. "Oh, yes! Of course, people will wonder why they
didn't get some evidence from Mrs. Mallathorpe--just as Stringer says."

Collingwood sat a long time that night, thinking over the things he had
heard. He came to the conclusion that the domineering blacksmith was
right in one of his dogmatic assertions--there was trouble ahead. And
next morning, before going up to the Grange, he went to the nearest
telegraph office, and sent Sir John Standridge a lengthy message in
which he resigned the appointment that would have taken him to India.



Collingwood had many things to think over as he walked across Normandale
Park that morning. He had deliberately given up his Indian appointment
for Nesta's sake, so that he might be near her in case the trouble which
he feared arose suddenly. But it was too soon yet to let her know that
she was the cause of his altered arrangements--in any case, that was not
the time to tell her that it was on her account that he had altered

He must make some plausible excuse: then he must settle down in Barford,
according to Eldrick's suggestion. He would then be near at hand--and if
the trouble, whatever it might be, took tangible form, he would be able
to help. But he was still utterly in the dark as to what that possible
trouble might be--yet, of one thing he felt convinced--it would have
some connection with Pratt.

He remembered, as he walked along, that he had formed some queer, uneasy
suspicion about Pratt when he first hurried down to Barford on hearing
of Antony Bartle's death: that feeling, subsequently allayed to some
extent, had been revived. There might be nothing in it, he said to
himself, over and over again; everything that seemed strange might be
easily explained; the evidence of Pratt at the inquest had appeared
absolutely truthful and straightforward, and yet the blunt, rough,
downright question of the blacksmith, crudely voiced as it was, found a
ready agreement in Collingwood's mind. As he drew near the house he
found himself repeating Stringer's broad Yorkshire--"What wor that
lawyer-clerk chap fro' Barford--Pratt--doin' about theer? What reight
had he to be prowlin' round t' neighbourhood o' that bridge, and at that
time? Come, now--theer's a tickler for somebody!" And even as he smiled
at the remembrance of the whole rustic conversation of the previous
evening, and thought that the blacksmith's question certainly might be a
ticklish one--for somebody--he looked up from the frosted grass at his
feet, and saw Pratt.

Pratt, a professional-looking bag in his hand, a morning newspaper under
the other arm, was standing at the gate of one of the numerous
shrubberies which flanked the Grange, talking to a woman who leaned over
it. Collingwood recognized her as a person whom he had twice seen in the
house during his visits on the day before---a middle-aged, slightly
built woman, neatly dressed in black, and wearing a sort of nurse's cap
which seemed to denote some degree of domestic servitude. She was a
woman who had once been pretty, and who still retained much of her good
looks; she was also evidently of considerable shrewdness and
intelligence and possessed a pair of remarkably quick eyes--the sort of
eyes, thought Collingwood, that see everything that happens within their
range of vision. And she had a firm chin and a mouth which expressed
determination; he had seen all that as she exchanged some conversation
with the old butler in Collingwood's presence--a noticeable woman
altogether. She was evidently in close conference with Pratt at that
moment--but as Collingwood drew near she turned and went slowly in the
direction of the house, while Pratt, always outwardly polite, stepped
towards the interrupter of this meeting, and lifted his hat.

"Good morning, Mr. Collingwood," he said. "A fine, sharp morning, sir! I
was just asking Mrs. Mallathorpe's maid how her mistress is this
morning--she was very ill when I left last night. Better, sir, I'm glad
to say--Mrs. Mallathorpe has had a much better night."

"I'm very pleased to hear it," replied Collingwood. He was going towards
the front of the Grange, and Pratt walked at his side, evidently in the
same direction. "I am afraid she has had a great shock. You are still
here, then?" he went on, feeling bound to make some remark, and saying
the first obvious thing. "Still busy?"

"Mr. Eldrick has lent me--so to speak--until the funeral's over,
tomorrow," answered Pratt. "There are a lot of little things in which I
can be useful, you know, Mr. Collingwood. I suppose your
arrangements--you said you were sailing for India--won't permit of your
being present tomorrow, sir?"

Collingwood was not sure if the clerk was fishing for information.
Pratt's manner was always polite, his questions so innocently put, that
it was difficult to know what he was actually after. But he was not
going to give him any information--either then, or at any time.

"I don't quite know what my arrangements may be," he answered. And just
then they came to the front entrance, and Collingwood was taken off in
one direction by a footman, while Pratt, who already seemed to be fully
acquainted with the house and its arrangements, took himself and his bag
away in another.

Nesta came to Collingwood looking less anxious than when he had left her
at his last call the night before. He had already told her what his
impressions of the inquest were, and he was now wondering whether to
tell her of the things he had heard said at the village inn. But
remembering that he was now going to stay in the neighbourhood, he
decided to say nothing at that time--if there was anything in these
vague feelings and suspicions it would come out, and could be dealt with
when it arose. At present he had need of a little diplomacy.

"Oh!--I wanted to tell you," he said, after talking to her awhile about
Mrs. Mallathorpe. "I--there's a change in my arrangements, I'm not going
to India, after all."

He was not prepared for the sudden flush that came over the girl's face.
It took him aback. It also told him a good deal that he was glad to
know--and it was only by a strong effort of will that he kept himself
from taking her hands and telling her the truth. But he affected not to
see anything, and he went on talking rapidly. "Complete change in the
arrangements at the last minute," he said. "I've just been writing about
it. So--as that's off, I think I shall follow Eldrick's advice, and take
chambers in Barford for a time, and see how things turn out. I'm going
into Barford now, to see Eldrick about all that."

Nesta, who was conscious of her betrayal of more than she cared to show
just then, tried to speak calmly.

"But--isn't it an awful disappointment?" she said. "You were looking
forward so to going there, weren't you?"

"Can't be helped," replied Collingwood. "All these affairs
are--provisional. I thought I'd tell you at once, however--so that
you'll know--if you ever want me--that I shall be somewhere round about.
In fact, as it's quite comfortable there, I shall stop at the inn until
I've got rooms in the town."

Then, not trusting himself to remain longer, he went off to Barford,
certain that he was now definitely pledged in his own mind to Nesta
Mallathorpe, and not much less that when the right time came she would
not be irresponsive to him. And on that, like a cold douche, came the
remembrance of her actual circumstances--she was what Eldrick had said,
one of the wealthiest young women in Yorkshire. The thought of her
riches made Collingwood melancholy for a while--he possessed a curious
sort of pride which made him hate and loathe the notion of being taken
for a fortune-hunter. But suddenly, and with a laugh, he remembered that
he had certain possessions of his own--ability, knowledge, and
perseverance. Before he reached Eldrick's office, he had had a vision of
the Woolsack.

Eldrick received Collingwood's news with evident gratification. He
immediately suggested certain chambers in an adjacent building; he
volunteered information as to where the best rooms in the town were to
be had. And in proof of his practical interest in Collingwood's career,
he there and then engaged his professional services for two cases which
were to be heard at a local court within the following week.

"Pratt shall deliver the papers to you at once," he said. "That is, as
soon as he's back from Normandale this afternoon. I sent him there again
to make himself useful."

"I saw him this morning," remarked Collingwood. "He appears to be a very
useful person."

"Clever chap," asserted Eldrick, carelessly. "I don't know what'll be
done about that stewardship that he was going to apply for. Everything
will be altered now that young Mallathorpe's dead. Of course, I,
personally, shouldn't have thought that Pratt would have done for a job
like that, but Pratt has enough self-assurance and self-confidence for a
dozen men, and he thought he would do, and I couldn't refuse him a
testimonial. And as he's made himself very useful out there, it may be
that if this steward business goes forward, Pratt will get the
appointment. As I say, he's a smart chap."

Collingwood offered no comment. But he was conscious that it would not
be at all pleasing to him to know that Linford Pratt held any official
position at Normandale. Foolish as it might be, mere inspiration though
it probably was, he could not get over his impression that Eldrick's
clerk was not precisely trustworthy. And yet, he reflected, he himself
could do nothing--it would be utter presumption on his part to offer any
gratuitous advice to Nesta Mallathorpe in business matters. He was very
certain of what he eventually meant to say to her about his own personal
hopes, some time hence, when all the present trouble was over, but in
the meantime, as regarded anything else, he could only wait and watch,
and be of service to her if she asked him to render any.

Some time went by before Collingwood was asked to render service of any
sort. At Normandale Grange, events progressed in apparently ordinary and
normal fashion. Harper Mallathorpe was buried; his mother began to make
some recovery from the shock of his death; the legal folk were busied in
putting Nesta in possession of the estate, and herself and her mother in
proprietorship of the mill and the personal property. In Barford, things
went on as usual, too. Pratt continued his round of duties at Eldrick &
Pascoe's; no more was heard--by outsiders, at any rate--of the
stewardship at Normandale. As for Collingwood, he settled down in
chambers and lodgings and, as Eldrick had predicted, found plenty of
work. And he constantly went out to Normandale Grange, and often met
Nesta elsewhere, and their knowledge of each other increased, and as the
winter passed away and spring began to show on the Normandale woods and
moors, Collingwood felt that the time was coming when he might speak. He
was professionally engaged in London for nearly three weeks in the early
part of that spring--when he returned, he had made up his mind to tell
Nesta the truth, at once. He had faced it for himself--he was by that
time so much in love with her that he was not going to let monetary
considerations prevent him from telling her so.

But Collingwood found something else than love to talk about when he
presented himself at Normandale Grange on the morning after his arrival
from his three weeks' absence in town. As soon as he met her, he saw
that Nesta was not only upset and troubled, but angry.

"I am glad you have come," she said, when they were alone. "I want some
advice. Something has happened--something that bothers--and puzzles--me
very, very much! I'm dreadfully bothered."

"Tell me," suggested Collingwood.

Nesta frowned--at some recollection or thought.

"Yesterday afternoon," she answered, "I was obliged to go into Barford,
on business. I left my mother fairly well---she has been recovering fast
lately, and she only has one nurse now. Unfortunately, she, too, was out
for the afternoon. I came back to find my mother ill and much
upset---and there's no use denying it--she'd all the symptoms of having
been--well, frightened. I can't think of any other term than
that--frightened. And then I learned that, in my absence, Mr. Eldrick's
clerk, Mr. Pratt--you know him--had been here, and had been with her for
quite an hour. I am furiously angry!"

Collingwood had expected this announcement as soon as she began to
explain. So--the trouble was beginning!

"How came Pratt to be admitted to your mother?" he asked.

"That makes me angry, too," answered Nesta. "Though I confess I ought to
be angry with myself for not giving stricter orders. I left the house
about two--he came about three, and asked to see my mother's maid,
Esther Mawson. He told her that it was absolutely necessary for him to
see my mother on business, and she told my mother he was there. My
mother consented to see him--and he was taken up. And as I say, I found
her ill--and frightened--and that's not the worst of it!"

"What is the worst of it?" asked Collingwood, anxiously. "Better tell
me!--I may be able to do something."

"The worst of it," she said, "is just this--my mother won't tell me what
that man came about! She flatly refuses to tell me anything! She will
only say that it was business of her own. She won't trust me with it,
you see!--her own daughter! What business can that man have with
her?--or she with him? Eldrick & Pascoe are not our solicitors! There's
some secret and----"

"Will you answer one or two questions?" said Collingwood quietly. He had
never seen Nesta angry before, and he now realized that she had certain
possibilities of temper and determination which would be formidable when
roused. "First of all, is that maid you speak of, Esther Mawson,

"I don't know!" answered Nesta. "My mother has had her two years--she's
a Barford woman. Sometimes I think she's sly and cunning. But I've given
her such strict orders now that she'll never dare to let any one see my
mother again without my consent."

"The other question's this," said Collingwood. "Have you any idea, any
suspicion of why Pratt wanted to see your mother?"

"Not unless it was about that stewardship," replied Nesta. "But--how
could that frighten her? Besides, all that's over. Normandale is
mine!--and if I have a steward, or an estate agent, I shall see to the
appointment myself. No!--I do not know why he should have come here!
But--there's some mystery. The curious thing is----"

"What?" asked Collingwood, as she paused.

"Why," she said, shaking her head wonderingly, "that I'm absolutely
certain that my mother never even knew this man Pratt--I don't I think
she even knew his name--until quite recently. I know when she got to
know him, too. It was just about the time that you first called here--at
the time of Mr. Bartle's death. Our butler told me this morning that
Pratt came here late one evening--just about that time!--and asked to
see my mother, and was with her for some time in the study. Oh! what is
it all about?--and why doesn't she tell me?"

Collingwood stood silently staring out of the window. At the time of
Antony Bartle's death? An evening visit?--evidently of a secret nature.
And why paid to Mrs. Mallathorpe at that particular time? He suddenly
turned to Nesta.

"What do you wish me to do?" he asked.

"Will you speak to Mr. Eldrick?" she said. "Tell him that his clerk must
not call upon, or attempt to see, my mother. I will not have it!"

Collingwood went off to Barford, and straight to Eldrick's office. He
noticed as he passed through the outer rooms that Pratt was not in his
accustomed place--as a rule, it was impossible to get at either Eldrick
or Pascoe without first seeing Pratt.

"Hullo!" said Eldrick. "Just got in from town? That's lucky--I've got a
big case for you."

"I got in last night," replied Collingwood. "But I went out to
Normandale first thing this morning: I've just come back from there. I
say, Eldrick, here's an unpleasant matter to tell you of"; and he told
the solicitor all that Nesta had just told him, and also of Pratt's
visit to Mrs. Mallathorpe about the time of Antony Bartle's death.
"Whatever it is," he concluded sternly, "it's got to stop! If you've any
influence over your clerk----"

Eldrick made a grimace and waved his hand.

"He's our clerk no longer!" he said. "He left us the week after you went
up to town, Collingwood. He was only a weekly servant, and he took
advantage of that to give me a week's notice. Now, what game is Master
Pratt playing? He's smart, and he's deep, too. He----"

Just then an office-boy announced Mr. Robson, the Mallathorpe family
solicitor, a bustling, rather rough-and-ready type of man, who came into
Eldrick's room looking not only angry but astonished. He nodded to
Collingwood, and flung himself into a chair at the side of Eldrick's

"Look here, Eldrick!" he exclaimed. "What on earth has that clerk of
yours, Pratt, got to do with Mrs. Mallathorpe? Do you know what Mrs.
Mallathorpe has done? Hang it, she must be out of her senses,--or--or
there's something I can't fathom. She's given your clerk, Linford Pratt,
a power of attorney to deal with all her affairs and all her property!
Oh, it's all right, I tell you! Pratt's been to my office, and exhibited
it to me as if--as if he were the Lord Chancellor!"

Eldrick turned to Collingwood, and Collingwood to Eldrick--and then both
turned to Robson.



The Mallathorpe family solicitor shook his head impatiently under those
questioning glances.

"It's not a bit of use appealing to me to know what it means!" he
exclaimed. "I know no more than what I've told you. That chap walked
into my office as bold as brass, half an hour ago, and exhibited to me a
power of attorney, all duly drawn up and stamped, executed in his favour
by Mrs. Mallathorpe yesterday. And as Mrs. Mallathorpe is, as far as I
know, in her senses,--why--there you are!"

"What is it?" asked Eldrick. "A general power? Or a special?"

"General!" answered Robson, with an air of disgust. "Authorizes him to
act for her in all business matters. It means, of course, that that
fellow now has full control over--why, a tremendous amount of money! The
estate, of course, is Miss Mallathorpe's--he can't interfere with that.
But Mrs. Mallathorpe shares equally with her daughter as regards the
personal property of Harper Mallathorpe--his share in the business, and
all that he left, and what's more, Mrs. Mallathorpe is administratrix of
the personal property. She's simply placed in Pratt's hands an enormous
power! And--for what reason? Who on earth is Pratt--what right, title,
age, or qualification, has he to be entrusted with such a big affair? I
never knew of such a business in the whole course of my professional

"Nor I!" agreed Eldrick. "But there's one thing in which you're
mistaken, Robson. You ask what qualification Pratt has for a post of
that sort? Pratt's a very smart, clever, managing chap!"

"Oh, of course! He's your clerk!" retorted Robson, a little sneeringly.
"Naturally, you've a big idea of his abilities. But----"

"He's not our clerk any longer," said Eldrick. "He left us about a week
ago, I heard this morning that he's set up an office in Market
Street--in the Atlas Building--and I wondered for what purpose."

"Purpose of fleecing Mrs. Mallathorpe, I should say!" grumbled Robson.
"Of course, everything of hers must pass through his hands. What on
earth can her daughter have been thinking of to allow----"

"Stop a bit!" interrupted Eldrick. "Collingwood came in to tell me about
that--he's just come from Normandale Grange. Miss Mallathorpe complains
that Pratt called there yesterday in her absence. That's probably when
this power of attorney was signed. But Miss Mallathorpe doesn't know
anything of it--she insists that Pratt shall not visit her mother."

Robson stirred impatiently in his chair.

"That's all bosh!" he said. "She can't prevent it. I saw Mrs.
Mallathorpe myself three days ago--she's recovering very well, and she's
in her right senses, and she's capable of doing business. Her daughter
can't prevent her from doing anything she likes! And if she did what she
liked yesterday when she signed that document--why, everybody's
powerless--except Pratt."

"There's the question of how the document was obtained," remarked
Collingwood. "There may have been undue influence."

The two solicitors looked at each other. Then Eldrick rose from his
chair. "I'll tell you what I'll do," he said. "It's no affair of mine,
but we employed Pratt for years, and he'll confide in me. I'll go and
see him, and ask him what it's all about. Wait here a while, you two."

He went out of his office and across into Market Street, where the Atlas
Building, a modern range of offices and chambers, towered above the
older structures at its foot. In the entrance hall a man was gilding the
name of a new tenant on the address board--that name was Pratt's, and
Eldrick presently found himself ascending in the lift to Pratt's
quarters on the fifth floor. Within five minutes of leaving Collingwood
and Robson, he was closeted with Pratt in a well-furnished and appointed
little office of two rooms, the inner one of which was almost luxurious
in its fittings. And Pratt himself looked extremely well satisfied, and
confident--and quite at his ease. He wheeled forward an easy chair for
his visitor, and pushed a box of cigarettes towards him.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Eldrick," he said, with a cordial politeness which
suggested, however, somehow, that he and the solicitor were no longer
master and servant. "How do you like my little place of business?"

"You're making a comfortable nest of it, anyhow, Pratt," answered
Eldrick, looking round. "And--what sort of business are you going to do,

"Agency," replied Pratt, promptly. "It struck me some little time ago
that a smart man,--like myself, eh?--could do well here in Barford as an
agent in a new sort of fashion--attending to things for people who
aren't fitted or inclined to do 'em for themselves--or are rich enough
to employ somebody to look after their affairs. Of course, that
Normandale stewardship dropped out when young Harper died, and I don't
suppose the notion 'll be revived now that his sister's come in. But
I've got one good job to go on with---Mrs. Mallathorpe's given me her
affairs to look after."

Eldrick took one of the cigarettes and lighted it--as a sign of his
peaceable and amicable intentions.

"Pratt!" he said. "That's just what I've come to see you about.
Unofficially, mind--in quite a friendly way. It's like this"; and he
went on to tell Pratt of what had just occurred at his own office.
"So--there you are," he concluded. "I'm saying nothing, you know, it's
no affair of mine--but if these people begin to say that you've used any
undue influence----"

"Mr. Collingwood, and Mr. Robson, and Miss Mallathorpe--and anybody,"
answered Pratt, slowly and firmly, "had better mind what they are
saying, Mr. Eldrick. There's such a thing as slander, as you're well
aware. I'm not the man to be slandered, or libelled, or to have my
character defamed--without fighting for my rights. There has been no
undue influence! I went to see Mrs. Mallathorpe yesterday at her own
request. The arrangement between me and her is made with her approval
and free will. If her daughter found her a bit upset, it's because she'd
such a shock at the time of her son's death. I did nothing to frighten
her, not I! The fact is, Miss Mallathorpe doesn't know that her mother
and I have had a bit of business together of late. And all that Mrs.
Mallathorpe has entrusted to me is the power to look after her affairs
for her. And why not? You know that I'm a good man of business, a really
good hand at commercial accountancy, and well acquainted with the trade
of this town. You know too, Mr. Eldrick, that I'm scrupulously
honest--I've had many and many a thousand pounds of yours and your
partner's through my hands! Who's got anything to say against me? I'm
only trying to earn an honest living."

"Well, well!" said Eldrick, who, being an easy-going and
kindly-dispositioned man, was somewhat inclined to side with his old
clerk. "I suppose Mr. Robson thinks that if Mrs. Mallathorpe wished to
put her affairs in anybody's hands, she should have put them in his.
He's their family solicitor, you know, Pratt, while you're a young man
with no claim on Mrs. Mallathorpe."

Pratt smiled--a queer, knowing smile--and reached out his hand to some
papers which lay on his desk.

"You're wrong there, Mr. Eldrick," he said. "But of course, you don't
know. I didn't know myself, nor did Mrs. Mallathorpe, until lately. But
I have a claim--and a good one--to get a business lift from Mrs.
Mallathorpe. I'm a relation."

"What--of the Mallathorpe family?" exclaimed Eldrick, whose legal mind
was at once bitten by notion of kinship and succession, and who knew
that Harper Mallathorpe was supposed to have no male relatives at all,
of any degree. "You don't mean it?"

"No!--but of hers, Mrs. Mallathorpe," answered Pratt. "My mother was her
cousin. I found that out by mere chance, and when I'd found it, I worked
out the facts from our parish church register. They're all here--fairly
copied--Mrs. Mallathorpe has seen them. So I have some claim--even if
it's only that of a poor relation."

Eldrick took the sheets of foolscap which Pratt handed to him, and
looked them over with interest and curiosity. He was something of an
expert in such matters, and had helped to edit a print more than once of
the local parish registers. He soon saw from a hasty examination of the
various entries of marriages and births that Pratt was quite right in
what he said.

"I call it a poor--and a mean--game," remarked Pratt, while his old
master was thus occupied, "a very mean game indeed, of well-to-do folk
like Mr. Collingwood and Mr. Robson to want to injure me in a matter
which is no business of theirs. I shall do my duty by Mrs.
Mallathorpe--you yourself know I'm fully competent to do it--and I shall
fully earn the percentage that she'll pay me. What right have these
people--what right has her daughter--to come between me and my living?"

"Oh, well, well!" said Eldrick, as he handed back the papers and rose.
"It's one of those matters that hasn't been understood. You made a
mistake, you know, Pratt, when you went to see Mrs. Mallathorpe yesterday
in her daughter's absence. You shouldn't have done that."

Pratt pulled open a drawer and, after turning over some loose papers,
picked out a letter.

"Do you know Mrs. Mallathorpe's handwriting?" he asked. "Very
well--there it is! Isn't that a request from her that I should call on
her yesterday afternoon? Very well then!"

Eldrick looked at the letter with some surprise. He had a good memory,
and he remembered that Collingwood had told him that Nesta had said that
Pratt had gone to Normandale Grange, seen Esther Mawson, and told her
that it was absolutely necessary for him to see Mrs. Mallathorpe. And
though Eldrick was naturally unsuspicious, an idea flashed across his
mind--had Pratt got Mrs. Mallathorpe to write that letter while he was
there--yesterday--and brought it away with him?

"I think there's a good deal of misunderstanding," he said. "Mr.
Collingwood says that you went there and told her maid that it was
absolutely necessary for you to see her mistress--sort of forced
yourself in, you see, Pratt."

"Nothing of the sort!" retorted Pratt. He flourished the letter in his
hand. "Doesn't it say there, in Mrs. Mallathorpe's own handwriting, that
she particularly desires to see me at three o'clock? It does! Then it
was absolutely necessary for me to see her. Come, now! And Mr.
Collingwood had best attend to his own business. What's he got to do
with all this? After Miss Mallathorpe and her money, I should
think!--that's about it!"

Eldrick said another soothing word or two, and went back to his own
office. He was considerably mystified by certain things, but inclined to
be satisfied about others, and in giving an account of what had just
taken place he unconsciously seemed to take Pratt's side--much to
Robson's disgust, and to Collingwood's astonishment.

"You can't get over this, you know, Robson," said Eldrick. "Pratt went
there yesterday by appointment--went at Mrs. Mallathorpe's own express
desire, made in her own handwriting. And it's quite certain that what he
says about the relationship is true---I examined the proof myself. It's
not unnatural that Mrs. Mallathorpe should desire to do something for
her own cousin's son."

"To that extent?" sneered Robson. "Bless me, you talk as if it were no
more than presenting him with a twenty pound note, instead of its being
what it is--giving him the practical control of many a thousand pounds
every year. There'll be more heard of this--yet!"

He went away angrier than when he came, and Eldrick looked at
Collingwood and shook his head.

"I don't see what more there is to do," he said. "So far as I can make
out, or see, Pratt is within his rights. If Mrs. Mallathorpe liked to
entrust her business to him, what is to prevent it? I see nothing at all
strange in that. But there is a fact which does seem uncommonly strange
to me! It's this--how is it that Mrs. Mallathorpe doesn't consult,
hasn't consulted--doesn't inform, hasn't informed--her daughter about
all this?"

"That," answered Collingwood, "is precisely what strikes me--and I can't
give any explanation. Nor, I believe, can Miss Mallathorpe."

He felt obliged to go back to Normandale, and tell Nesta the result of
the afternoon's proceedings. And having seen during his previous visit
how angry she could be, he was not surprised to see her become angrier
and more determined than ever.

"I will not have Mr. Pratt coming here!" she exclaimed. "He shall not
see my mother--under my roof, at any rate. I don't believe she sent for

"Mr. Eldrick saw her letter!" interrupted Collingwood quietly.

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