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The Talleyrand Maxim by J. S. Fletcher

Part 3 out of 5

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"Then that man made her write it while he was here!" exclaimed Nesta.
"As to the relationship--it may be so. I never heard of it. But I don't
care what relation he is to my mother--he is not going to interfere with
her affairs!"

"The strange thing," said Collingwood, as pointedly as was consistent
with kindness, "is that your mother--just now, at any rate--doesn't seem
to be taking you into her confidence."

Nesta looked steadily at him for a moment, without speaking. When she
did speak it was with decision.

"Quite so!" she said. "She is keeping something from me! And if she
won't tell me things--well, I must find them out for myself."

She would say no more than that, and Collingwood left her. And as he
went back to Barford he cursed Linford Pratt soundly for a deep and
underhand rogue who was most certainly playing some fine game.

But Pratt himself was quite satisfied--up to that point. He had won his
first trick and he had splendid cards still left in his hand. And he was
reckoning his chances on them one morning a little later when a ring at
his bell summoned him to his office door--whereat stood Nesta
Mallathorpe, alone.



Had any third person been present, closely to observe the meeting of
these two young people, he would have seen that the one to whom it was
unexpected and a surprise was outwardly as calm and self-possessed as if
the other had come there to keep an ordinary business appointment.

Nesta Mallathorpe, looking very dignified and almost stately in her
mourning, was obviously angry, indignant, and agitated. But Pratt was as
cool and as fully at his ease as if he were back in Eldrick's office,
receiving the everyday ordinary client. He swept his door open and
executed his politest bow--and was clever enough to pretend that he saw
nothing of his visitor's agitation. Yet deep within himself he felt more
tremors than one, and it needed all his powers of dissimulation to act
and speak as if this were the most usual of occurrences.

"Good morning, Miss Mallathorpe!" he said. "You wish to see me? Come
into my private office, if you please. I haven't fixed on a clerk yet,"
he went on, as he led his visitor through the outer room, and to the
easy chair by his desk. "I have several applications from promising
aspirants, but I have to be careful, you know, Miss Mallathorpe--it's a
position of confidence. And now," he concluded, as he closed the door
upon Nesta and himself, "how is Mrs. Mallathorpe today? Improving, I

Nesta made no reply to these remarks, or to the question. And instead of
taking the easy chair which Eldrick had found so comfortable, she went
to one which stood against the wall opposite Pratt's desk and seated
herself in it in as upright a position as the wall behind her.

"I wish to speak to you--plainly!" she said, as Pratt, who now regarded
her somewhat doubtfully, realizing that he was in for business of a
serious nature, sat down at his desk. "I want to ask you a plain
question--and I expect a plain answer. Why are you blackmailing my

Pratt shook his head--as if he felt more sorrow than anger. He glanced
deprecatingly at his visitor.

"I think you'll be sorry--on reflection--that you said that, Miss
Mallathorpe," he answered. "You're a little--shall we say--upset? A
little--shall we say--angry? If you were calmer, you wouldn't say such
things--you wouldn't use such a term as--blackmailing. It's--dear me, I
dare say you don't know it!--it's actionable. If I were that sort of
man, Miss Mallathorpe, and you said that of me before witnesses--ah! I
don't know what mightn't happen. However--I'm not that sort of man.
But--don't say it again, if you please!"

"If you don't answer my question--and at once," said Nesta, whose cheeks
were pale with angry determination, "I shall say it again in a fashion
you won't like--not to you, but to the police!"

Pratt smiled--a quiet, strange smile which made his visitor feel a
sudden sense of fear. And again he shook his head, slowly and

"Oh, no!" he said gently. "That's a bigger mistake than the other, Miss
Mallathorpe! The police! Oh, not the police, I think, Miss Mallathorpe.
You see--other people than you might go to the police--about something

Nesta's anger cooled down under that scarcely veiled threat. The sight
of Pratt, of his self-assurance, his comfortable offices, his general
atmosphere of almost sleek satisfaction, had roused her temper, already
strained to breaking point. But that smile, and the quiet look which
accompanied his last words, warned her that anger was mere foolishness,
and that she was in the presence of a man who would have to be dealt
with calmly if the dealings were to be successful. Yet--she repeated her
words, but this time in a different tone.

"I shall certainly go to the police authorities," she said, "unless I
get some proper explanation from you. I shall have no option. You are
forcing--or have forced--my mother to enter into some strange
arrangements with you, and I can't think it is for anything but what I
say--blackmail. You've got--or you think you've got--some hold on her.
Now what is it? I mean to know, one way or another!"

"Miss Mallathorpe," said Pratt. "You're taking a wrong course--with me.
Now who advised you to come here and speak to me like this, as if I were
a common criminal? Mr. Collingwood, no doubt? Or perhaps Mr. Robson? Now
if either----"

"Neither Mr. Robson nor Mr. Collingwood know anything whatever about my
coming here!" retorted Nesta. "No one knows! I am quite competent to
manage my own affairs--of this sort. I want to know why my mother has
been forced into that arrangement with you--for I am sure you have
forced her! If you will not tell me why--then I shall do what I said."

"You'll go to the police authorities?" asked Pratt. "Ah!--but let us
consider things a little, Miss Mallathorpe. Now, to start with, who says
there has been any forcing? I know one person who won't say so--and
that's your mother herself!"

Nesta felt unable to answer that assertion. And Pratt smiled
triumphantly and went on.

"She'll tell you--Mrs. Mallathorpe'll tell you--that she's very pleased
indeed to have my poor services," he said. "She knows that I shall serve
her well. She's glad to do a kind service to a poor relation. And since
I am your mother's relation, Miss Mallathorpe, I'm yours, too. I'm some
degree of cousin to you. You might think rather better, rather more
kindly, of me!"

"Are you going to tell me anything more than that?" asked Nesta
steadily. Pratt shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands.

"What more can I tell?" he asked. "The fact is, there's a business
arrangement between me and your mother--and you object to it. Well--I'm
sorry, but I've my own interests to consider."

"Are you going to tell me what it was that induced my mother to sign
that paper you got from her the other day?" asked Nesta.

"Can I say more than that it was--a business arrangement?" pleaded
Pratt. "There's nothing unusual in one party in a business arrangement
giving a power of attorney to another party. Nothing!"

"Very well!" said Nesta, rising from the straight-backed chair, and
looking very rigid herself as she stood up. "You won't tell me anything!
So--I am now going to the police. I don't know what they'll do. I don't
know what they can do. But--I can tell them what I think, and feel about
this, at any rate. For as sure as I am that I see you, there's something
wrong! And I'll know what it is."

Pratt recognized that she had passed beyond the stage of mere anger to
one of calm determination. And as she marched towards the door he called
her back--as the result of a second's swift thought on his part.

"Miss Mallathorpe," he said. "Oblige me by sitting down again. I'm not
in the least afraid of your going to the police. But my experience is
that if one goes to them on errands of this sort, it sets all sorts of
things going--scandal, and suspicion, and I don't know what! You don't
want any scandal. Sit down, if you please, and let us think for a
moment. And I'll see if I can tell you--what you want to know."

Nesta already had a hand on the door. But after looking at him for a
second or two, she turned back, and sat down in her old position. And
Pratt, still seated at his desk, plunged his hands in his trousers
pockets, tilted back his chair, and for five minutes stared with knitted
brows at his blotting pad. A queer silence fell on the room. The windows
were double-sashed; no sound came up from the busy street below. But on
the mantelpiece a cheap Geneva clock ticked and ticked, and Nesta felt
at last that if it went on much longer, without the accompaniment of a
human voice, she should suddenly snatch it up, and hurl it--anywhere.

Pratt was in the position of the card-player, who, confronted by a
certain turn in the course of a game which he himself feels sure he is
bound to win, wonders whether he had better not expedite matters by
laying his cards on the table, and asking his opponent if he can
possibly beat their values and combination. He had carefully reckoned up
his own position more than once during the progress of recent events,
and the more carefully he calculated it the more he felt convinced that
he had nothing to fear. He had had to alter his ground in consequence of
the death of Harper Mallathorpe, and he had known that he would have to
fight Nesta. But he had not anticipated that hostilities would come so
soon, or begin with such evident determination on her part. How would it
be, then, at this first stage to make such a demonstration in force that
she would recognize his strength?

He looked up at last and saw Nesta regarding him sternly. But Pratt
smiled--the quiet smile which made her uneasy.

"Miss Mallathorpe!" he said. "I was thinking of two things just then--a
game at cards--and the science of warfare. In both it's a good thing
sometimes to let your adversary see what a strong hand you've got. Now,
then, a question, if you please--are you and I adversaries?"

"Yes!" answered Nesta unflinchingly. "You're acting like an enemy--you
are an enemy!"

"I've hoped that you and I would be friends--good friends," said Pratt,
with something like a sigh. "And if I may say so, I've no feeling of
enmity towards you. When I speak of us being adversaries, I mean it
in--well, let's say a sort of legal sense. But now I'll show you my
hand--that is, as far as I please. Will you listen quietly to me?"

"I've no choice," replied Nesta bluntly. "And I came here to know what
you've got to say for yourself. Say it!"

Pratt moved his chair a little nearer to his visitor.

"Now," he said, speaking very quietly and deliberately, "I'll go through
what I have to say to you carefully, point by point. I shall ask you to
go back a little way. It is now some time since I discovered a secret
about your mother, Mrs. Mallathorpe. Ah, you start!--it may be with
indignation, but I assure you I'm telling you, and am going to tell you,
the absolute truth. I say--a secret! No one knows it but myself--not one
living soul! Except, of course, your mother. I shall not reveal it to
you--under any consideration, or in any circumstances--but I can tell
you this--if that secret were revealed, your mother would be ruined for
life--and you yourself would suffer in more ways than one."

Nesta looked at him credulously--and yet she began to feel he was
telling some truth. And Pratt shook his head at the incredulous

"It's quite so!" he said. "You'll begin to believe it---from other
things. Now, it was in connection with this that I paid a visit to
Normandale Grange one evening some months ago. Perhaps you never heard
of that? I was alone with your mother for some time in the study."

"I have heard of it," she answered.

"Very good," said Pratt. "But you haven't heard that your mother came to
see me at my rooms here in Barford--my lodgings--the very next night! On
the same business, of course. But she did--I know how she came, too.
Secretly--heavily veiled--naturally, she didn't want anybody to know.
Are you beginning to see something in it, Miss Mallathorpe?"

"Go on with your--story," answered Nesta.

"I go on, then, to the day before your brother's death," continued
Pratt. "Namely, a certain Friday. Now, if you please, I'll invite you to
listen carefully to certain facts--which are indisputable, which I can
prove, easily. On that Friday, the day before your brother's death, Mrs.
Mallathorpe was in the shrubbery at Normandale Grange which is near the
north end of the old foot-bridge. She was approached by Hoskins, an old
woodman, who has been on the estate a great many years--you know him
well enough. Hoskins told Mrs. Mallathorpe that the foot-bridge between
the north and south shrubberies, spanning the cut which was made there a
long time since so that a nearer road could be made to the stables, was
in an extremely dangerous condition--so dangerous, in fact, that in his
opinion, it would collapse under even a moderate weight. I impress this
fact upon you strongly."

"Well?" said Nesta.

"Hoskins," Pratt went on, "urged upon Mrs. Mallathorpe the necessity of
having the bridge closed at once, or barricaded. He pointed out to her
from where they stood certain places in the bridge, and in the railing
on one side of it, which already sagged in such a fashion, that he, as a
man of experience, knew that planks and railings were literally rotten
with damp. Now what did Mrs. Mallathorpe do? She said nothing to
Hoskins, except that she'd have the thing seen to. But she immediately
went to the estate carpenter's shop, and there she procured two short
lengths of chain, and two padlocks, and she herself went back to the
foot-bridge and secured its wicket gates at both ends. I beg you will
bear that in mind, too, Miss Mallathorpe."

"I am bearing everything in mind," said Nesta resolutely. "Don't be
afraid that I shall forget one word that you say."

"I hear that sneer in your voice," answered Pratt, as he turned,
unlocked a drawer, and drew out some papers. "But I think you will soon
learn that the sneer at what I'm telling you is foolish. Mrs.
Mallathorpe had a set purpose in locking up those gates--as you will see
presently. You will see it from what I am now going to tell you. Oblige
me, if you please, by looking at that letter. Do you recognize your
mother's handwriting?"

"Yes!" admitted Nesta, with a sudden feeling of apprehension. "That is
her writing."

"Very good," said Pratt. "Then before I read it to you, I'll just tell
you what this letter is. It formed, when it was written, an invitation
from Mrs. Mallathorpe to me--an invitation to walk, innocently, into
what she knew--knew, mind you!--to be a death-trap! She meant _me_ to
fall through the bridge!"



For a full moment of tense silence Nesta and Pratt looked at each other
across the letter which he held in his outstretched hand--looked
steadily and with a certain amount of stern inquiry. And it was Nesta's
eyes which first gave way--beaten by the certainty in Pratt's. She
looked aside; her cheeks flamed; she felt as if something were rising in
her throat--to choke her.

"I can't believe that!" she muttered. "You're--mistaken! Oh--utterly

"No mistake!" said Pratt confidently. "I tell you your mother meant
me--me!--to meet my death at that bridge. Here's the proof in this
letter! I'll tell you, first, when I received it: then I'll read you
what's in it, and if you doubt my reading of it, you shall read it
yourself--but it won't go out of my hands! And first as to my getting
it, for that's important. It reached me, by registered post, mind you,
on the Saturday morning on which your brother met his death. It was
handed in at Normandale village post-office for registration late on the
Friday afternoon. And--by whom do you think?"

"I--don't know!" replied Nesta faintly. This merciless piling up of
details was beginning to frighten her--already she felt as if she
herself were some criminal, forced to listen from the dock to the
opening address of a prosecuting counsel. "How should I know?--how can I

"It was handed in for registration by your mother's maid, Esther
Mawson," said Pratt with a dark look. "I've got her evidence, anyway!
And that was all part of a plan--just as a certain something that was
enclosed was a part of the same plan--a plot. And now I'll read you the
letter--and you'll bear it in mind that I got it by first post that
Saturday morning. This is what it--what your mother--says:--

"I particularly wish to see you again, at once, about the matter
between us and to have another look at _that document._ Can you
come here, bringing it with you, tomorrow, Saturday afternoon,
by the train which leaves soon after two o'clock? As I am most
anxious that your visit should be private and unknown to any one
here, do not come to the house. Take the path across the park to
the shrubberies near the house, so that if you are met people
would think you were taking a near cut to the village. I will
meet you in the shrubbery on the house side of the little
foot-bridge. The gates--'"

Pratt suddenly paused, and before proceeding looked hard at his visitor.

"Now listen to what follows--and bear in mind what your mother knew, and
had done, at the time she wrote this letter. This is how the letter goes
on---let every word fix itself in your mind, Miss Mallathorpe!"

"'The gates of the foot-bridge are locked, but the enclosed keys
will open them. I will meet you amongst the trees on the further
side. Be sure to come and to bring _that document_--I have
something to say about it on seeing it again,'"

Pratt turned to the drawer from which he had taken the letter and took
out two small keys, evidently belonging to patent padlocks. He held them
up before Nesta.

"There they are!" he said triumphantly. "Been in my possession ever
since--and will remain there. Now--do you wish to read the letter? I've
read it to you word for word. You don't? Very good--back it goes in
there, with these keys. And now then," he continued, having replaced
letter and keys in his drawer, and turned to her again, "now then, you
see what a diabolical scheme it was that was in your mother's mind
against me. She meant me to meet with the fate which overtook her own
son! She meant me to fall through that bridge. Why? She hoped that I
should break my neck--as he did! She wanted to silence me--but she also
wanted more--she wanted to take from my dead body, or my unconscious
body, the certain something which she was so anxious I should bring with
me, which she referred to as _that document_. She was willing to risk
anything--even to murder!--to get hold of that. And now you know why I
went to Normandale Grange that Saturday--you know, now, the real reason.
I told a deliberate lie at the inquest, for your mother's sake--for your
sake, if you know it. I did not go there to hand in my application for
the stewardship--I went in response to the letter I've just read. Is all
this clear to you?"

Nesta could only move her head in silent acquiescence. She was already
convinced, that whether all this was entirely true or not, there was
truth of some degree in what Pratt had told her. And she was thinking of
her mother--and of the trap which she certainly appeared to have
laid--and of her brother's fate--and for the moment she felt sick and
beaten. But Pratt went on in that cold, calculating voice, telling his
story point by point.

"Now I come to what happened that Saturday afternoon," he said. "I may
as well tell you that in my own interest I have carefully collected
certain evidence which never came out at the inquest--which, indeed, has
nothing to do with the exact matter of the inquest. Now, that Saturday,
your mother and you had lunch together--your brother, as we shall see in
a moment, being away--at your lunch time--a quarter to two. About twenty
minutes past two your mother left the house. She went out into the
gardens. She left the gardens for the shubberies. And at twenty-five
minutes to three, she was seen by one of your gardeners, Featherstone,
in what was, of course, hiding, amongst the trees at the end of the
north shrubbery. What was she doing there, Miss Mallathorpe? She was
waiting!--waiting until a certain hoped-for accident happened--to me.
Then she would come out of her hiding-place in the hope of getting that
document from my pocket! Do you see how cleverly she'd laid her
plans--murderous plans?"

Nesta was making a great effort to be calm. She knew now that she was
face to face with some awful mystery which could only be solved by
patience and strenuous endeavour. She knew, too, that she must show no
sign of fear before this man!

"Will you finish your story, if you please?" she asked.

"In my own way--in my own time," answered Pratt. "I now come to--your
mother. On the Friday noon, the late Mr. Harper Mallathorpe went to
Barford to visit a friend--young Stemthwaite, at the Hollies. He was to
stay the night there, and was not expected home until Saturday evening.
He did stay the night, and remained in Barford until noon on Saturday;
but he--unexpectedly--returned to the house at half past two. And almost
as soon as he'd got in, he picked up a gun and strolled out--into the
gardens and the north shrubbery. And, as you know, he went to the
foot-bridge. You see, Miss Mallathorpe, your mother, clever as she was,
had forgotten one detail--the gates of that footbridge were merely low,
four-barred things, and there was nothing to prevent an active young man
from climbing them. She forgot another thing, too--that warning had not
been given at the house that the bridge was dangerous. And, of course,
she'd never, never calculated that your brother would return sooner than
he was expected, or that, on his return, he'd go where he did. And
so--but I'll spare you any reference to what happened. Only--you know
now how it was that Mrs. Mallathorpe was found by her son's body. She'd
been waiting about--for me! But--the fate she'd meant for me was dealt
out to--him!"

In spite of herself Nesta gave way to a slight cry.

"I can't bear any more of that!" she said. "Have you finished?"

"There's not much more to say--now at any rate," replied Pratt. "And
what I have to say shall be to the point. I'm sorry enough to have been
obliged to say all that I have said. But, you know, you forced me to it!
You threatened me. The real truth, Miss Mallathorpe, is just this--you
don't understand me at all. You come here--excuse my plain
speech--hectoring and bullying me with talk about the police, and
blackmail, and I don't know what! It's I who ought to go to the police!
I could have your mother arrested, and put in the dock, on a charge of
attempted murder, this very day! I've got all the proofs."

"I suppose you held that out as a threat to her when you forced her to
sign that power of attorney?" observed Nesta.

For the first time since her arrival Pratt looked at his visitor in an
unfriendly fashion. His expression changed and his face flushed a

"You think that, do you?" he said. "Well, you're wrong. I'm not a fool.
I held out no such threat. I didn't even tell your mother what I'd found
out. I wasn't going to show her my hand all at once--though I've shown
you a good deal of it."

"Not all?" she asked quickly.

"Not all," answered Pratt with a meaning glance. "To use more
metaphors--I've several cards up my sleeve, Miss Mallathorpe. But you're
utterly wrong about the threats. I'll tell you--I don't mind that--how I
got the authority you're speaking about. Your mother had promised me
that stewardship--for life. I'd have been a good steward. But we
recognized that your brother's death had altered things--that you,
being, as she said, a self-willed young woman--you see how plain I
am--would insist on looking after your own affairs. So she gave
me--another post. I'll discharge its duties honestly."

"Yes," said Nesta, "but you've already told me that you'd a hold on my
mother before any of these recent events happened, and that you possess
some document which she was anxious to get into her hands. So it comes
to this--you've a double hold on her, according to your story."

"Just so," agreed Pratt. "You're right, I have--a double hold."

Nesta looked at him silently for a while: Pratt looked at her.

"Very well," she said at last. "How much do you want--to be bought out?"

Pratt laughed.

"I thought that would be the end of it!" he remarked. "Yes--I thought

"Name your price!" said Nesta.

"Miss Mallathorpe!" answered Pratt, bending forward and speaking with a
new earnestness. "Just listen to me. It's no good. I'm not to be bought
out. Your mother tried that game with me before. She offered me first
five, then ten thousand pounds--cash down--for that document, when she
came to see me at my rooms. I dare say she'd have gone to twenty
thousand--and found the money there and then. But I said no then--and I
say no to you! I'm not to be purchased in that way. I've my own ideas,
my own plans, my own ambitions, my own--hopes. It's not any use at all
for you to dangle your money before me. But--I'll suggest something
else--that you can do."

Nesta made no answer. She continued to look steadily at the man who
evidently had her mother in his power, and Pratt, who was watching her
intently, went on speaking quietly but with some intensity of tone.

"You can do this," he said. "To start with--and it'll go a long
way--just try and think better of me. I told you, you don't understand
me. Try to! I'm not a bad lot. I've great abilities. I'm a hard worker.
Eldrick & Pascoe could tell you that I'm scrupulously honest in money
matters. You'll see that I'll look after your mother's affairs in a
fashion that'll commend itself to any firm of auditors and accountants
who may look into my accounts every year. I'm only taking the salary
from her that I was to have had for the stewardship. So--why not leave
it at that? Let things be! Perhaps--in time you'll come to see that--I'm
to be trusted."

"How can I trust a man who deliberately tells me that he holds a secret
and a document over a woman's head?" demanded Nesta. "You've admitted a
previous hold on my mother. You say you're in possession of a secret
that would ruin her--quite apart from recent events. Is that honest?"

"It was none of my seeking," retorted Pratt. "I gained the knowledge by

"You're giving yourself away," said Nesta. "Or you've some mental twist
or defect which prevents you from seeing things straight. It's not how
you got your knowledge, but the use you're making of it that's the
important thing! You're using it to force my mother to----"

"Excuse me!" interrupted Pratt with a queer smile. "It's you who don't
see things straight. I'm using my knowledge to protect--all of you. Let
your mind go back to what was said at first--to what I said at first. I
said that I'd discovered a secret which, if revealed, would ruin your
mother and injure--you! So it would--more than ever, now. So, you see,
in keeping it, I'm taking care, not only of her interests, but

Nesta rose. She realized that there was no more to be said--or done. And
Pratt rose, too, and looked at her almost appealingly.

"I wish you'd try to see things as I've put them, Miss Mallathorpe," he
said. "I don't bear malice against your mother for that scheme she
contrived--I'm willing to put it clear out of my head. Why not accept
things as they are? I'll keep that secret for ever--no one shall ever
know about it. Why not be friends, now--why not shake hands?"

He held out his hand as he spoke. But Nesta drew back.

"No!" she said. "My opinion is just what it was when I came here."

Before Pratt could move she had turned swiftly to the door and let
herself out, and in another minute she was amongst the crowds in the
street below. For a few minutes she walked in the direction of Robson's
offices, but when she had nearly reached them, she turned, and went
deliberately to those of Eldrick & Pascoe.



By the time she had been admitted to Eldrick's private room, Nesta had
regained her composure; she had also had time to think, and her present
action was the result of at any rate a part of her thoughts. She was
calm and collected enough when she took the chair which the solicitor
drew forward.

"I called on you for two reasons, Mr. Eldrick," she said. "First, to
thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness at the time of my
brother's death, in sending your clerk to help in making the

"Very glad he was of any assistance, Miss Mallathorpe," answered
Eldrick. "I thought, of course, that as he had been on the spot, as it
were, when the accident happened, he could do a few little things----"

"He was very useful in that way," said Nesta. "And I was very much
obliged to him. But the second reason for my call is--I want to speak to
you about him."

"Yes?" responded Eldrick. He had already formed some idea as to what was
in his visitor's mind, and he was secretly glad of the opportunity of
talking to her. "About Pratt, eh? What about him, Miss Mallathorpe?"

"He was with you for some years, I believe?" she asked.

"A good many years," answered Eldrick. "He came to us as office-boy, and
was head-clerk when he left us."

"Then you ought to know him--well," she suggested.

"As to that," replied Eldrick, "there are some people in this world whom
other people never could know well--that's to say, really well. I know
Pratt well enough for what he was--our clerk. Privately, I know little
about him. He's clever--he's ability--he's a chap who reads a good
deal--he's got ambitions. And I should say he is a bit--subtle."

"Deceitful?" she asked.

"I couldn't say that," replied Eldrick. "It wouldn't be true if I said
so. I think he's possibilities of strategy in him. But so far as we're
concerned, we found him hardworking, energetic, truthful, dependable and
honest, and absolutely to be trusted in money matters. He's had many and
many a thousand pounds of ours through his hands."

"I believe you're unaware that my mother, for some reason or other,
unknown to me, has put him in charge of her affairs?" asked Nesta.

"Yes--Mr. Collingwood told me so," answered Eldrick. "So, too, did your
own solicitor, Mr. Robson--who's very angry about it."

"And you?" she said, putting a direct question. "What do you think? Do
please, tell me!"

"It's difficult to say, Miss Mallathorpe," replied Eldrick, with a smile
and a shake of the head. "If your mother--who, of course, is quite
competent to decide for herself--wishes to have somebody to look after
her affairs, I don't see what objection can be taken to her procedure.
And if she chooses to put Linford Pratt in that position--why not? As I
tell you, I, as his last--and only--employer, am quite convinced of his
abilities and probity. I suppose that as your mother's agent, he'll
supervise her property, collect money due to her, advise her in
investments, and so on. Well, I should say--personally, mind--he's quite
competent to do all that, and that he'll do it honestly, I should
certainly say so."

"But--why should he do it at all?" asked Nesta.

Eldrick waved his hands.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Now you ask me a very different question! But--I
understand--in fact, I know--that Pratt turns out to be a relation of
yours--distant, but it's there. Perhaps your mother--who, of course, is
much better off since your brother's sad death--is desirous of
benefiting Pratt--as a relation."

"Do you advise anything?" asked Nesta.

"Well, you know, Miss Mallathorpe," replied Eldrick, smiling. "I'm not
your legal adviser. What about Mr. Robson?"

"Mr. Robson is so very angry about all this--with my mother," said
Nesta, "that I don't even want to ask his advice. What I really do want
is the advice, counsel, of somebody--perhaps more as a friend than as a

"Delighted to give you any help I can--either professionally or as a
friend," exclaimed Eldrick. "But--let me suggest something. And first of
all--is there anything--something--in all this that you haven't told to
anybody yet?"

"Yes--much!" she answered. "A great deal!"

"Then," said Eldrick, "let me advise a certain counsel. Two heads are
better than one. Let me ask Mr. Collingwood to come here."

He was watching his visitor narrowly as he said this, and he saw a faint
rise of colour in her cheeks. But for the moment she did not answer, and
Eldrick saw that she was thinking.

"I can get him across from his chambers in a few minutes," he said.
"He's sure to be in just now."

"Can I have a few minutes to decide?" asked Nesta.

Eldrick jumped up.

"Of course!" he said. "I'll leave you a while. It so happens I want to
see my partner, I'll go up to his room, and return to you presently."

Nesta, left alone, gave herself up to deep thought, and to a careful
reckoning of her position. She was longing to confide in some
trustworthy person or persons, for Pratt's revelations had plunged her
into a maze of perplexity. But her difficulties were many. First of all,
she would have to tell all about the terrible charge brought by Pratt
against her mother. Then about the second which he professed to--or
probably did--hold. What sort of a secret could it be? And supposing her
advisers suggested strong measures against Pratt--what then, about the
danger to her mother, in a twofold direction?

Would it be better, wiser, if she kept all this to herself at present,
and waited for events to develop? But at the mere thought of that, she
shrank, feeling mentally and physically afraid--to keep all that
knowledge to herself, to brood over it in secret, to wonder what it all
meant, what lay beneath, what might develop, that was more than she felt
able to bear. And when Eldrick came back she looked at him and nodded.

"I should like to talk to you and Mr. Collingwood," she said quietly.

Collingwood came across to Eldrick's office at once. And to these two
Nesta unbosomed herself of every detail that she could remember of her
interview with Pratt--and as she went on, from one thing to another, she
saw the men's faces grow graver and graver, and realized that this was a
more anxious matter than she had thought.

"That's all," she said in the end. "I don't think I've forgotten
anything. And even now, I don't know if I've done right to tell you all
this. But--I don't think I could have faced it--alone!"

"My dear Miss Mallathorpe!" said Eldrick earnestly. "You've done the
wisest thing you probably ever did in your life! Now," he went on,
looking at Collingwood, "just let us all three realize what is to me a
more important fact. Nobody would be more astonished than Pratt to know
that you have taken the wise step you have. You agree, Collingwood?"

"Yes!" answered Collingwood, after a moment's reflection. "I think so."

"Miss Mallathorpe doesn't quite see what we mean," said Eldrick, turning
to Nesta. "We mean that Pratt firmly believed, when he told you what he
did, that for your mother's sake and your own, you would keep his
communication a dead secret. He firmly believed that you would never
dare to tell anybody what he told you. Most people--in your
position--wouldn't have told. They'd have let the secret eat their lives
out. You're a wise and a sensible young woman! And the thing is--we
must let Pratt remain under the impression that you are keeping your
knowledge to yourself. Let him continue to believe that you'll remain
silent under fear. And let us meet his secret policy with a secret
strategy of our own!"

Again he glanced at Collingwood, and again Collingwood nodded assent.

"Now," continued Eldrick, "just let us consider matters for a few
minutes from the position which has newly arisen. To begin with. Pratt's
account of your mother's dealings about the foot-bridge is a very clever
and plausible one. I can see quite well that it has caused you great
pain; so before I go any further, just let me say this to you--don't you
attach one word of importance to it!"

Nesta uttered a heartfelt cry of relief.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "If you knew how thankful I should be to know that
it's all lies--that he was lying! Can I really think that--after what I

"I won't ask you to think that he's telling lies--just now," answered
Eldrick, with a glance at Collingwood, "but I'll ask you to believe that
your mother could put a totally different aspect and complexion on all
her actions and words in connection with the entire affair. My
impression, of course," he went on, with something very like a wink at
Collingwood, "is that Mrs. Mallathorpe, when she wrote that letter to
Pratt, intended to have the bridge mended first thing next morning, and
that something prevented that being done, and that when she was seen
about the shrubberies in the afternoon, she was on her way to meet Pratt
before he could reach the dangerous point, so that she could warn him.
What do you say, Collingwood?"

"I should say," answered Collingwood, regarding the solicitor earnestly,
and speaking with great gravity of manner, "that that would make an
admirable line of defence to any charge which Pratt was wicked enough to

"You don't think my mother meant--meant to----" exclaimed Nesta, eagerly
turning from one man to the other. "You--don't?"

"There is no evidence worth twopence against your mother!" replied
Eldrick soothingly. "Put everything that Pratt has said against her
clear out of your mind. Put all recent events out of your mind! Don't
interfere with Pratt--just now. The thing to be done about Pratt is
this--and it's the only thing. We must find out--exactly, as secretly as
possible--what this secret is of which he speaks. What is this hold on
Mrs. Mallathorpe? What is this document to which he refers? In other
words, we must work back to some point which at present we can't see. At
least, I can't see it. But--we may discover it. What do you say,

"I agree entirely," answered Collingwood. "Let Pratt rest in his fancied
security. The thing is, certainly, to go back. But--to what point?"

"That we must consider later," said Eldrick. "Now--for the present, Miss
Mallathorpe,--you are, I suppose, going back home?"

"Yes, at once," answered Nesta. "I have my car at the _Crown Hotel_."

"I should just like to know something," continued Eldrick again, looking
at Collingwood as if for approval. "That is--Mrs. Mallathorpe's present
disposition towards affairs in general and Pratt in particular. Miss
Mallathorpe!--just do something which I will now suggest to you. When
you reach home, see your mother--she is still, I understand, an invalid,
though evidently able to transact business. Just approach her gently and
kindly, and tell her that you are a little--should we say
uncomfortable?--about certain business arrangements which you hear she
has made with Mr. Pratt, and ask her, if she won't talk them over with
you, and give you her full confidence. It's now half-past twelve,"
continued Eldrick, looking at his watch. "You'll be home before lunch.
See your mother early in the afternoon, and then telephone, briefly, the
result to me, here, at four o'clock. Then--Mr. Collingwood and I will
have a consultation."

He motioned Collingwood to remain where he was, and himself saw Nesta
down to the street. When he came back to his room he shook his head at
the young barrister.

"Collingwood!" he said. "There's some dreadful business afloat in all
this! And it's all the worse because of the fashion in which Pratt
talked to that girl. She's evidently a very good memory--she narrated
that conversation clearly and fully. Pratt must be very sure of his hand
if he showed her his cards in that way--his very confidence in himself
shows what a subtle network he's either made or is making. I question if
he'd very much care if he knew that we know. But he mustn't know
that--yet. We must reply to his mine with a counter-mine!"

"What do you think of Pratt's charge against Mrs. Mallathorpe?" asked

Eldrick made a wry face.

"Looks bad!--very, very bad, Collingwood!" he answered. "Art and scheme
of a desperate woman, of course. But--we mustn't let her daughter think
we believe it. Let her stick to the suggestion I made--which, as you
remarked, would certainly make a very good line of defence, supposing
Pratt even did accuse her. But now--what on earth is this document
that's been mentioned--this paper of which Pratt has possession? Has
Mrs. Mallathorpe at some time committed forgery--or bigamy--or--what is
it? One thing's sure, however--we've got to work quietly. We mustn't let
Pratt know that we're working. I hope he doesn't know that Miss
Mallathorpe came here. Will you come back about four and hear what
message she sends me? After that, we could consult."

Collingwood went away to his chambers. He was much occupied just then,
and had little time to think of anything but the work in hand. But as he
ate his lunch at the club which he had joined on settling in Barford, he
tried to get at some notion of the state of things, and once more his
mind reverted to the time of his grandfather's death, and his own
suspicions about Pratt at that period. Clearly that was a point to which
they must hark back--he himself must make more inquiries about the
circumstances of Antony Bartle's last hours. For this affair would not
have to rest where it was--it was intolerable that Nesta Mallathorpe
should in any way be under Pratt's power. He went back to Eldrick at
four o'clock with a suggestion or two in his mind. And at the sight of
him Eldrick shook his head.

"I've had that telephone message from Normandale," he said, "five
minutes ago. Pretty much what I expected--at this juncture, anyway. Mrs.
Mallathorpe absolutely declines to talk business with even her daughter
at present--and earnestly desires that Mr. Linford Pratt may be left

"Well?" asked Collingwood after a pause. "What now?"

"We must do what we can--secretly, privately, for the daughter's sake,"
said Eldrick. "I confess I don't quite see a beginning, but----"

Just then the private door opened, and Pascoe, a somewhat
lackadaisical-mannered man, who always looked half-asleep, and was in
reality remarkably wide-awake, lounged in, nodded to Collingwood, and
threw a newspaper in front of his partner.

"I say, Eldrick," he drawled, as he removed a newly-lighted cigar from
his lips. "There's an advertisement here which seems to refer to that
precious protg of yours, who left you with such scant ceremony. Same
name, anyhow!"

Eldrick snatched up the paper, glanced at it and read a few words aloud.

"INFORMATION WANTED about James Parrawhite, at one time in practice as a



Eldrick looked up at his partner with a sharp, confirmatory glance.

"That's our Parrawhite, of course!" he said. "Who's after him, now?" And
he went on to read the rest of the advertisement, murmuring its
phraseology half-aloud: "'in practice as a solicitor at Nottingham and
who left that town six years ago. If the said James Parrawhite will
communicate with the undersigned he will hear something greatly to his
advantage. Any person able to give information as to his whereabouts
will be suitably rewarded. Apply to Halstead & Byner, 56B, St. Martin's
Chambers, London, W.C.' Um!--Pascoe, hand over that Law List."

Collingwood looked on in silence while Eldrick turned over the pages of
the big book which his partner took down from a shelf. He wondered at
Eldrick's apparent and almost eager interest.

"Halstead & Byner are not solicitors," announced Eldrick presently.
"They must be inquiry agents or something of that sort. Anyway, I'll
write to them, Pascoe, at once."

"You don't know where the fellow is," said Pascoe. "What's the good?"

"No--but we know where he last was," retorted Eldrick. He turned to
Collingwood as the junior partner sauntered out of the room. "Rather odd
that Pascoe should draw my attention to that just now," he remarked.
"This man Parrawhite was, in a certain sense, mixed up with Pratt--at
least, Pratt and I are the only two people who know the secret of
Parrawhite's disappearance from these offices. That was just about the
time of your grandfather's death."

Collingwood immediately became attentive. His first suspicions of Pratt
were formed at the time of which Eldrick spoke, and any reference to
events contemporary excited his interest.

"Who was or is--this man you're talking of?" he asked.

"Bad lot--very!" answered Eldrick, shaking his head. "He and I were
articled together, at the same time, to the same people: we saw a lot of
each other as fellow articled clerks. He afterwards practised in
Nottingham, and he held some good appointments. But he'd a perfect mania
for gambling--the turf--and he went utterly wrong, and misappropriated
clients' money, and in the end he got into prison, and was, of course,
struck off the rolls. I never heard anything of him for years, and then
one day, some time ago, he turned up here and begged me to give him a
job. I did--and I'll do him the credit to say that he earned his money.
But--in the end, his natural badness broke out. One afternoon--I'm
careless about some things--I left some money lying in this
drawer--about forty pounds in notes and gold--and next morning
Parrawhite never came to business. We've never seen or heard of him

"You mentioned Pratt," said Collingwood.

"Only Pratt and I know--about the money," replied Eldrick. "We kept it
secret--I didn't want Pascoe to know I'd been so careless. Pascoe didn't
like Parrawhite--and he doesn't know his record. I only told him that
Parrawhite was a chap I'd known in better circumstances and wanted to
give a hand to."

"You said it was about the time of my grandfather's death?" asked

"It was just about then--between his death and his funeral I should
say," answered Eldrick, "The two events are associated in my mind.
Anyway, I'd like to know what it is that these people want Parrawhite
for. If it's money that's come to him, it'll be of no advantage--it'll
only go where all the rest's gone."

Collingwood lost interest in Parrawhite. Parrawhite appeared to have
nothing to do with the affairs in which he was interested. He sat down
and began to tell Eldrick about his own suspicions of Pratt at the time
of Antony Bartle's death; of what Jabey Naylor had told him about the
paper taken from the _History of Barford_; of the lad's account of the
old man's doings immediately afterwards; and of his own proceedings
which had led him to believe for the time being that his suspicions were

"But now," he went on, "a new idea occurs to me. Suppose that that
paper, found by my grandfather in a book which had certainly belonged to
the late John Mallathorpe, was something important relating to Mrs.
Mallathorpe? Suppose that my grandfather brought it across here to you?
Suppose that finding you out, he showed it to Pratt? As my grandfather
died suddenly, with nobody but Pratt there, what was there to prevent
Pratt from appropriating that paper if he saw that it would give him a
hold over Mrs. Mallathorpe? We know now that he has some document in his
possession which does give him a hold--may it not be that of which the
boy Naylor told me?"

"Might be," agreed Eldrick. "But--my opinion is, taking things all
together, that the paper which Antony Bartle found was the one you
yourself discovered later--the list of books. No--I'll tell you what I
think. I believe that the document which Pratt told Miss Mallathorpe he
holds, and to which her mother referred in the letter asking Pratt to
meet her, is probably--most probably!--one which he discovered in
searching out his relationship to Mrs. Mallathorpe. He's a cute
chap--and he may have found some document which--well, I'll tell you
what it might be--something which would upset the rights of Harper
Mallathorpe to his uncle's estates. No other relatives came forward, or
were heard of, or were discoverable when John Mallathorpe was killed in
that chimney accident; but there may be some--there may be one in
particular. That's my notion!--and I intend, in the first place, to make
a personal search of the parish registers from which Pratt got his
information. He may have discovered something there which he's keeping
to himself."

"You think that is the course to adopt?" asked Collingwood, after a
moment's reflection.

"At present--yes," replied Eldrick. "And while I'm making it--I'll do it
myself--we'll just go on outwardly--as if nothing had happened. If I
meet Pratt--as I shall--I shall not let him see that I know anything. Do
you go on in just the usual way. Go out to Normandale Grange now and
then--and tell Miss Mallathorpe to think no more of her interview with
Pratt until we've something to talk to her about. You talk to her
about--something else."

When Collingwood had left him Eldrick laid a telegram form on his
plotting pad, and after a brief interval of thought wrote out a message
addressed to the people whose advertisement had attracted Pascoe's

"HALSTEAD & BYNER, 56B, St. Martin's Chambers, London, W.C.

"I can give you definite information concerning James Parrawhite
if you will send representative to see me personally.

"CHARLES ELDRICK, Eldrick & Pascoe, Solicitors, Barford."

After Eldrick had sent off a clerk with this message to the nearest
telegraph office, he sat thinking for some time. And at the close of his
meditations, and after some turning over of a diary which lay on his
desk, he picked up pen and paper, and drafted an advertisement of his

"TEN POUNDS REWARD will be paid to any person who can give
reliable and useful information as to James Parrawhite, who
until November last was a clerk in the employ of Messrs. Eldrick
& Pascoe, Solicitors, Barford, and who is believed to have left
the town on the evening of November 23.--Apply to Mr. CHARLES
ELDRICK, of the above firm."

"Worth risking ten pounds on--anyway," muttered Eldrick. "Whether these
London people will cover it or not. Here!" he went on, turning to a
clerk who had just entered the room. "Make three copies of this
advertisement, and take one to each of the three newspaper offices, and
tell 'em to put it in their personal column tonight."

He sat musing for some time after he was left alone again, and when he
at last rose, it was with a shake of the head.

"I wonder if Pratt told me the truth that morning?" he said to himself.
"Anyway, he's now being proved to be even deeper than I'd ever
considered him. Well--other folk than Pratt are possessed of pretty good

Before he left the office that evening Eldrick was handed a telegram
from Messrs. Halstead & Byner, of St. Martin's Chambers, informing him
that their Mr. Byner would travel to Barford by the first express next
morning, and would call upon him at eleven o'clock.

"Then they have some important news for Parrawhite," mused Eldrick, as
he put the message in his pocket and went off to his club. "Inquiry
agents don't set off on long journeys at a moment's notice for a matter
of a trifling agency. But--where is Parrawhite?"

He awaited the arrival of Mr. Byner next morning with considerable
curiosity. And soon after eleven there was shown in to him, a smart,
well-dressed, alert-looking young man, who, having introduced himself as
Mr. Gerald Byner, immediately plunged into business.

"You can tell me something of James Parrawhite, Mr. Eldrick?" he began.
"We shall be glad--we've been endeavouring to trace him for some months.
It's odd that you didn't see our advertisement before."

"I don't look at that sort of advertisement," replied Eldrick. "I
believe it was by mere accident that my partner saw yours yesterday
afternoon. But now, a question or two first. What are you--inquiry

"Just so, sir--inquiry agents--with a touch of private detective
business," answered Mr. Gerald Byner with a smile. "We undertake to find
people, to watch people, to recover lost property, and so on. In this
case we're acting for Messrs. Vickers, Marshall & Hebbleton, Solicitors,
of Cannon Street. They want James Parrawhite badly."

"Why?" asked Eldrick.

"Because," replied Byner with a dry laugh, "there's about twenty
thousand pounds waiting for him, in their hands."

Eldrick whistled with astonishment.

"Whew!" he said. "Twenty thousand--for Parrawhite! My good sir--if
that's so, and if, as you say, you've been advertising----"

"Advertising in several papers," interrupted Byner. "Dailies, weeklies,
provincials. Never had one reply, till your wire."

"Then--Parrawhite must be dead!" said Eldrick. "Or--in gaol, under
another name. Twenty thousand pounds--waiting for Parrawhite! If
Parrawhite was alive, man, or at liberty, he wouldn't let twenty
thousand pence wait five minutes! I know him!"

"What can you tell me, Mr. Eldrick?" asked the inquiry agent.

Eldrick told all he knew--concealing nothing. And Byner listened
silently and eagerly.

"There's something strikes me at once," he said. "You say that with him
disappeared three or four ten-pound notes of yours. Have you the numbers
of those notes?"

"I can't say," replied Eldrick, doubtfully. "I haven't, certainly.
But--they were paid in to our head-clerk, Pratt, and I think he used to
enter such things in a sort of day-ledger. I'll get it."

He went into the clerks' office and presently returned with an oblong,
marble-backed book which he began to turn over.

"This may be what you ask about," he said at last. "Here, under date
November 23, are some letters and figures which obviously refer to
bank-notes. You can copy them if you like."

"Another question, Mr. Eldrick," remarked Byner as he made a note of the
entries. "You say some cheque forms were abstracted from a book of yours
at the same time. Have you ever heard of any of these cheque forms being
made use of?"

"Never!" replied Eldrick.

"No forgery of your name or anything?" suggested the caller.

"No," said Eldrick. "There's been nothing of that sort."

"I can soon ascertain if these bank-notes have reached the Bank of
England," said Byner. "That's a simple matter. Now suppose they

"Well?" asked Eldrick.

"You know, of course," continued Byner, "that it doesn't take long for a
Bank of England note, once issued, to get back to the Bank? You know,
too, that it's never issued again. Now if those notes haven't been
presented at the Bank--where are they? And if no use has been made of
your stolen cheques--where are they?"

"Good!" agreed Eldrick. "I see that you ought to do well in your special
line of business. Now--are you going to pursue inquiries for Parrawhite
here in Barford, after what I've told you?"

"Certainly!" said Byner. "I came down prepared to stop awhile. It's
highly important that this man should be found--highly important," he
added smiling, "to other people than Parrawhite himself."

"In what way?" asked Eldrick.

"Why," replied Byner, "if he's dead--as he may be--this money goes to
somebody else--a relative. The relative would be very glad to hear he is
dead! But--definite news will be welcome, in any case. Oh, yes, now that
I've got down here, I shall do my best to trace him. You have the
address of the woman he lodged with, you say. I shall go there first, of
course. Then I must try to find out what he did with himself in his
spare time. But, from all you tell me, it's my impression he's
dead--unless, as you say, he's got into prison again--possibly under
another name. It seems impossible that he should not have seen our

"You never advertised in any Yorkshire newspapers?" asked Eldrick.

"No," said Byner. "Because we'd no knowledge of his having come so far
North. We advertised in the Midland papers. But then, all the London
papers, daily and weekly, that we used come down to Yorkshire."

"Parrawhite," said Eldrick reflectively, "was a big newspaper reader. He
used to go to the Free Library reading-room a great deal. I begin to
think he must certainly be dead--or locked up. However, in supplement of
your endeavours, I did a little work of my own last night. There you
are!" he went on, picking up the local papers and handing them over. "I
put that in--we'll see if any response comes. But now a word, Mr. Byner,
since you've come to me. You have heard me mention my late

"Yes," answered Byner.

"Pratt has left us, and is in business as a sort of estate agent in the
next street," continued Eldrick. "Now I have particular reasons--most
particular reasons!--why Pratt should remain in absolute ignorance of
your presence in the town. If you should happen to come across him--as
you may, for though there are a quarter of a million of us here, it's a
small place, compared with London--don't let him know your business."

"I'm not very likely to do that, Mr. Eldrick," remarked Byner quietly.

"Aye, but you don't take my meaning," said Eldrick eagerly. "I mean
this--it's just possible that Pratt may see that advertisement of yours,
and that he may write to your firm. In that case, as he's here, and
you're here, your partner would send his letter to you. Don't deal with
it--here. Don't--if you should come across Pratt, even let him know your

"When I've a job of this sort," replied Byner, "I don't let anybody know
my name--except people like you. When I register at one of your hotels
presently, I shall be Mr. Black of London. But--if this Pratt wanted to
give any information about Parrawhite, he'd give it to you, surely, now
that you've advertised."

"No, he wouldn't!" asserted Eldrick. "Why? Because he's told me all he
knows--or says he knows--already!"

The inquiry agent looked keenly at the solicitor for a moment during
which they both kept silence. Then Byner smiled.

"You said--'or says he knows,'" he remarked. "Do you think he didn't
tell the truth about Parrawhite?"

"I should say--now--it's quite likely he didn't," answered Eldrick. "The
truth is, I'm making some inquiry myself about Pratt--and I don't want
this to interfere with it. You keep me informed of what you find out,
and I'll help you all I can while you're here. It may be----"

A clerk came into the room and looked at his master.

"Mr. George Pickard, of the _Green Man_ at Whitcliffe, sir," he said.

"Well?" asked Eldrick.

"Wants to see you about that advertisement in the paper this morning,
sir," continued the clerk.

Eldrick looked at Byner and smiled significantly. Then he turned towards
the door.

"Bring Mr. Pickard in," he said.



The clerk presently ushered in a short, thick-set, round-faced man,
apparently of thirty to thirty-five years of age, whose chief personal
characteristics lay in a pair of the smallest eyes ever set in a human
countenance and a mere apology for a nose. But both nose and eyes
combined somehow to communicate an idea of profound inquiry as the round
face in which they were placed turned from the solicitor to the man from
London, and a podgy forefinger was lifted to a red forehead.

"Servant, gentlemen," said the visitor. "Fine morning for the time of

"Take a chair, Mr. Pickard," replied Eldrick. "Let me see--from the
_Green Man_, at Whitcliffe, I believe?"

"Landlord, sir--had that house a many years," answered Pickard, as he
took a seat near the wall. "Seven year come next Michaelmas, any road."

"Just so--and you want to see me about the advertisement in this
morning's paper?" continued Eldrick. "What about it--now?"

The landlord looked at Eldrick and then at Eldrick's companion. The
solicitor understood that look: it meant that what his caller had to say
was of a private nature.

"It's all right, Mr. Pickard," he remarked reassuringly. "This gentleman
is here on just the same business--whatever you say will be treated as
confidential--it'll go no further. You've something to tell about my
late clerk, James Parrawhite."

Pickard, who had been nervously fingering a white billycock hat, now put
it down on the floor and thrust his hands into the pockets of his
trousers as if to keep them safe while he talked.

"It's like this here," he answered. "When I saw that there advertisement
in the paper this mornin', says I to my missus, 'I'll away,' I says,
'an' see Lawyer Eldrick about that there, this very day!' 'Cause you
see, Mr. Eldrick, there is summat as I can tell about yon man 'at you
mention--James Parrawhite. I've said nowt about it to nobody, up to now,
'cause it were private business atween him and me, as it were, but I
lost money over it, and of course, ten pound is ten pound, gentlemen."

"Quite so," agreed Eldrick, "And you shall have your ten pounds if you
can tell anything useful."

"I don't know owt about it's being useful, sir, nor what use is to be
made on it," said Pickard, "but I can tell you a bit o' truth, and you
can do what you like wi' what I tell. But," he went on, lowering his
voice and glancing at the door by which he had just entered, "there's
another name 'at 'll have to be browt in--private, like. Name, as it so
happens, o' one o' your clerks--t' head clerk, I'm given to
understand--Mr. Pratt."

Eldrick showed no sign of surprise. But he continued to look
significantly at Byner as he turned to the landlord.

"Mr. Pratt has left me," he said. "Left me three weeks ago. So you
needn't be afraid, Mr. Pickard--say anything you like."

"Oh, I didn't know," remarked Pickard. "It's not oft that I come down in
t' town, and we don't hear much Barford news up our way. Well, it's this
here, Mr. Eldrick--you know where my place is, of course?"

Eldrick nodded, and turned to Byner.

"I'd better explain to you," he said. "Whitcliffe is an outlying part of
the town, well up the hills--a sort of wayside hamlet with a lot of our
famous stone quarries in its vicinity. The _Green Man_, of which our
friend here is the landlord, is an old-fashioned tavern by the
roadside--where people are rather fond of dropping in on a Sunday, I
fancy, eh, Mr. Pickard?"

"You're right, sir," replied the landlord. "It makes a nice walk out on
a Sunday. And it were on a Sunday, too, 'at I got to know this here
James Parrawhite as you want to know summat about. He began coming to my
place of a Sunday evenin', d'ye see, gentlemen?--he'd walk across t'
valley up there to Whitcliffe and stop an hour or two, enjoyin' hisself.
Well, now, as you're no doubt well aweer, Mr. Eldrick, he were a reight
hand at talkin', were yon Parrawhite--he'd t' gift o' t' gab reight
enough, and talked well an' all. And of course him an' me, we hed bits
o' conversation at times, 'cause he come to t' house reg'lar and
sometimes o' week-nights an' all. An' he tell'd me 'at he'd had a deal
o' experience i' racin' matters--whether it were true or not, I couldn't
say, but----"

"True enough!" said Eldrick. "He had."

"Well, so he said," continued Pickard, "and he was allus tellin' me 'at
he could make a pile o' brass on t' turf if he only had capital. An' i'
t' end, he persuaded me to start what he called investin' money with him
i' that way--i' plain language, it meant givin' him brass to put on
horses 'at he said was goin' to win, d'ye understand?"

"Perfectly," replied Eldrick. "You gave him various amounts which he was
to stake for you."

"Just so, sir! And at first," said Pickard, with a shake of the head,
"at first I'd no great reason to grumble. He cert'ny wor a good hand at
spottin' a winner. But as time went on, I' t' greatest difficulty in
gettin' a settlement wi' him, d'ye see? He wor just as good a hand at
makin' excuses as he wor at pickin' out winners--better, I think! I
nivver knew wheer I was wi' him--he'd pay up, and then he'd persuade me
to go in for another do wi' t' brass I'd won, and happen we should lose
that time, and then of course we had to hev another investment to get
back what we'd dropped, and so it went on. But t' end wor this
here--last November theer wor about fifty to sixty pound o' mine i' his
hands, and I wanted it. I'd a spirit merchant's bill to settle, and I
wanted t' brass badly for that. I knew Parrawhite had been paid, d'ye
see, by t' turf agent, 'at he betted wi', and I plagued him to hand t'
brass over to me. He made one excuse and then another--howsumivver, it
come to that very day you're talkin' about i' your advertisement, Mr.
Eldrick--the twenty-third o' November----"

"Stop a minute, Mr. Pickard," interrupted Eldrick. "Now, how do you
know--for a certainty--that this day you're going to talk about was the
twenty-third of November?"

The landlord, who had removed his hands from his pockets, and was now
twiddling a pair of fat thumbs as he talked, chuckled slyly.

"For a very good reason," he answered. "I had to pay that spirit bill I
tell'd about just now on t' twenty-fourth, and that I'm going to tell
you happened t' night afore t' twenty-fourth, so of course it were t'
twenty-third. D'ye see?"

"I see," asserted Eldrick. "That'll do! And now--what did happen?"

"This here," replied Pickard. "On that night--t' twenty-third
November--Parrawhite came into t' _Green Man_ at about, happen,
half-past eight. He come into t' little private parlour to me, bold as
brass--as indeed, he allers wor. 'Ye're a nice un!' I says. 'I've
written yer three letters durin' t' last week, and ye've nivver answered
one o' 'em!' 'I've come to answer i' person,' he says. 'There's nobbut
one answer I want,' says I. 'Wheer's my money?' 'Now then, be quiet a
bit,' he says. 'You shall have your money before the evening's over,' he
says. 'Or, if not, as soon as t' banks is open tomorrow mornin',' he
says. 'Wheer's it coomin' from?' says I. 'Now, never you mind,' he says.
'It's safe!' 'I don't believe a word you're sayin',' says I. 'Ye're
havin' me for t' mug!--that's about it.' An' I went on so at him, 'at i'
t' end he tell'd me 'at he wor presently goin' to meet Pratt, and 'at he
could get t' brass out o' Pratt an' as much more as iwer he liked to ax
for. Well, I don't believe that theer, and I said so. 'What brass has
Pratt?' says I. 'Pratt's nowt but a clerk, wi' happen three or four
pound a week!' 'That's all you know,' he says. Pratt's become a gold
mine, and I'm going to dig in it a bit. What's it matter to you,' he
says,' so long as you get your brass?' Well, of course, that wor true
enough--all 'at I wanted just then were to handle my brass. And I tell'd
him so. 'I'll brek thy neck, Parrawhite,' I says, 'if thou doesn't bring
me that theer money eyther to-night or t' first thing tomorrow--so now!'
Don't talk rot!' he says. 'I've told you!' And he had money wi' him
then--'nough to pay for drinks and cigars, any road, and we had a drink
or two, and a smoke or two, and then he went out, sayin' he wor goin' to
meet Pratt, and he'd be back at my place before closin' time wi' either
t' cash or what 'ud be as good. An' I waited--and waited after closin'
time, an' all. But I've nivver seen Parrawhite from that day to
this---nor heerd tell on him neither!"

Eldrick and Byner looked at each other for a moment Then the solicitor
spoke--quietly and with a significance which the agent understood.

"Do you want to ask Mr. Pickard any questions?" he said.

Byner nodded and turned to the landlord.

"Did Parrawhite tell you where he was going to meet Pratt?" he asked.

"He did," replied Pickard. "Near Pratt's lodgin' place."

"Did--or does--Pratt live near you, then?"

"Closish by--happen ten minutes' walk. There's few o' houses--a sort o'
terrace, like, on t' edge o' what they call Whitcliffe Moor. Pratt
lodged--lodges now for all I know to t' contrary--i' one o' them."

"Did Parrawhite give you any idea that he was going to the house in
which Pratt lodged?"

"No! He were not goin' to t' house. I know he worn't. He tell'd me 'at
he'd a good idea what time Pratt 'ud be home, 'cause he knew where he
was that evening and he were goin' to meet him just afore Pratt got to
his place. I know where he'd meet him."

"Where?" asked Byner. "Tell me exactly. It's important."

"Pratt 'ud come up fro' t' town i' t' tram," answered Pickard. "He'd
approach this here terrace I tell'd you about by a narrow lane that runs
off t' high road. He'd meet him there, would Parrawhite."

"Did you ever ask any question of Pratt about Parrawhite?"

"No--never! I'd no wish that Pratt should know owt about my dealin's
with Parrawhite. When Parrawhite never come back--why, I kep' it all to
myself, till now."

"What do you think happened to Parrawhite, Mr. Pickard?" asked Byner.

"Gow, I know what I think!" replied Pickard disgustedly. "I think 'at if
he did get any brass out o' Pratt--which is what I know nowt about, and
hewn't much belief in--he went straight away fro' t' town--vanished! I
do know this--he nivver went back to his lodgin's that neet, 'cause I
went theer mysen next day to inquire."

Eldrick pricked up his ears at that. He remembered that he had sent
Pratt to make inquiry at Parrawhite's lodgings on the morning whereon
the money was missing.

"What time of the day--on the twenty-fourth--was that, Mr. Pickard?" he

"Evenin,' sir," replied the landlord. "They'd nivver seen naught of him
since he went out the day before. Oh, he did me, did Parrawhite! Of
course, I lost mi brass--fifty odd pounds!"

Byner gave Eldrick a glance.

"I think Mr. Pickard has earned the ten pounds you offered," he said.

Eldrick took the hint and pulled out his cheque-book.

"Of course, you're to keep all this private--strictly private, Mr.
Pickard," he said as he wrote. "Not a word to a soul!"

"Just as you order, sir," agreed Pickard. "I'll say nowt--to nobody."

"And--perhaps tomorrow--perhaps this afternoon--you'll see me at the
_Green Man_," remarked Byner. "I shall just drop in, you know. You
needn't know me--if there's anybody about."

"All right, sir--I understand," said Pickard.

"Quiet's the word--what? Very good--much obliged to you, gentlemen."

When the landlord had gone Eldrick motioned Byner to pick up his hat.
"Come across the street with me," he said. "I want us to have a
consultation with a friend of mine, a barrister, Mr. Collingwood. For
this matter is assuming' a very queer aspect, and we can't move too
warily, nor consider all the features too thoroughly."

Collingwood listened with deep interest to Eldrick's account of the
morning's events. And once again he was struck by the fact that all
these various happenings in connection with Pratt, and now with
Parrawhite, took place at the time of Antony Bartle's death, and he said

"True enough!" agreed Eldrick.

"And once more," pointed out Collingwood. "We're hearing of a hold!
Pratt claims to have a hold on Mrs. Mallathorpe--now it turns out that
Parrawhite boasted of a hold on Pratt. Suppose all these things have a
common origin? Suppose the hold which Parrawhite had--or has--on Pratt
is part and parcel of the hold which Pratt has on Mrs. Mallathorpe? In
that case--or cases--what is the best thing to do?"

"Will you gentlemen allow me to suggest something?" said Byner. "Very
well--find Parrawhite! Of all the people concerned in this, Parrawhite,
from your account of him, anyway, Mr. Eldrick, is the likeliest person
to extract the truth from."

"There's a great deal in that suggestion," said Eldrick. "Do you know
what I think?" he went on, turning to Collingwood, "Mr. Byner tells me
he means to stay here until he has come across some satisfactory news of
Parrawhite or solved the mystery of his disappearance. Well, now that
we've found that there is some ground for believing that Parrawhite was
in some fashion mixed up with Pratt about that time, why not place the
whole thing in Mr. Byner's hands--let him in any case see what he can do
about the Parrawhite-Pratt business of November twenty-third, eh?"

"I take it," answered Collingwood, looking at the inquiry agent, "that
Mr. Byner having heard what he has, would do that quite apart from us?"

"Yes," said Byner. "Now that I've heard what Pickard had to say, I
certainly shall follow that up."

"I am following out something of my own," said Collingwood, turning to
Eldrick. "I shall know more by this time tomorrow. Let us have a
conference here--at noon."

They separated on that understanding, and Byner went his own ways. His
first proceeding was to visit, one after another, the Barford newspaper
offices, and to order the insertion in large type, and immediately, of
the Halstead-Byner advertisement for news of Parrawhite. His second was
to seek the General Post Office, where he wrote out and dispatched a
message to his partner in London. That message was in cypher--translated
into English, it read as follows:--

"If person named Pratt sends any communication to us _re_
Parrawhite, on no account let him know I am in Barford, but
forward whatever he sends to me at once, addressed to H.D.
Black, Central Station Hotel."



When Collingwood said that he was following out something of his own, he
was thinking of an interesting discovery which he had made. It was one
which might have no significance in relation to the present
perplexities--on the other hand, out of it might come a good deal of
illumination. Briefly, it was that on the evening before this
consultation with Eldrick & Byner, he had found out that he was living
in the house of a man who had actually witnessed the famous catastrophe
at Mallathorpe's Mill, whereby John Mallathorpe, his manager, and his
cashier, together with some other bystanders, had lost their lives.

On settling down in Barford, Collingwood had spent a couple of weeks in
looking about him for comfortable rooms of a sort that appealed to his
love of quiet and retirement. He had found them at last in an old house
on the outskirts of the town--a fine old stone house, once a farmstead,
set in a large garden, and tenanted by a middle-aged couple, who having
far more room than they needed for themselves, had no objection to
letting part of it to a business gentleman. Collingwood fell in love
with this place as soon as he saw it. The rooms were large and full of
delightful nooks and corners; the garden was rich in old trees; from it
there were fine views of the valley beneath, and the heather-clad hills
in the distance; within two miles of the town and easily approached by a
convenient tram-route, it was yet quite out in the country.

He was just as much set up by his landlady--a comfortable, middle-aged
woman, who fostered true Yorkshire notions about breakfast, and knew how
to cook a good dinner at night. With her Collingwood had soon come to
terms, and to his new abode had transferred a quantity of books and
pictures from London. He soon became acquainted with the domestic
menage. There was the landlady herself, Mrs. Cobcroft, who, having no
children of her own, had adopted a niece, now grown up, and a teacher in
an adjacent elementary school: there was a strapping, rosy-cheeked
servant-maid, whose dialect was too broad for the lodger to understand
more than a few words of it; finally there was Mr. Cobcroft, a
mild-mannered, quiet man who disappeared early in the morning, and was
sometimes seen by Collingwood returning home in the evening.

Lately, with the advancing spring, this unobtrusive individual was seen
about the garden at the end of the day: Collingwood had so seen him on
the evening before the talk with Eldrick and Byner, busied in setting
seeds in the flower-beds. And he had asked Mrs. Cobcroft, just then in
his sitting-room, if her husband was fond of gardening.

"It's a nice change for him, sir," answered the landlady. "He's kept
pretty close at it all day in the office yonder at Mallathorpe's Mill,
and it does him good to get a bit o' fresh air at nights, now that the
fine weather's coming on. That was one reason why we took this old
place--it's a deal better air here nor what it is in the town."

"So your husband is at Mallathorpe's Mill, eh?" asked Collingwood.

"Been there--in the counting-house--boy and man, over thirty years,
sir," replied Mrs. Cobcroft.

"Did he see that terrible affair then--was it two years ago?"

The landlady shook her head and let out a weighty sigh.

"Aye, I should think he did!" she answered. "And a nice shock it gave
him, too!--he actually saw that chimney fall--him and another clerk were
looking out o' the counting-house window when it gave way."

Collingwood said no more then--except to remark that such a sight must
indeed have been trying to the nerves. But for purposes of his own he
determined to have a talk with Cobcroft, and the next evening, seeing
him in his garden again, he went out to him and got into conversation,
and eventually led up to the subject of Mallathorpe's Mill, the new
chimney of which could be seen from a corner of the garden.

"Your wife tells me," observed Collingwood, "that you were present when
the old chimney fell at the mill yonder?"

Cobcroft, a quiet, unassuming man, usually of few words, looked along
the hillside at the new chimney, and nodded his head. A curious,
far-away look came into his eyes.

"I was, sir!" he said. "And I hope I may never see aught o' that sort
again, as long as ever I live. It was one o' those things a man can
never forget!"

"Don't talk about it if you don't want to," remarked Collingwood. "But
I've heard so much about that affair that----"

"Oh, I don't mind talking about it," replied Cobcroft. He leaned over
the fence of his garden, still gazing at the mill in the distance.
"There were others that saw it, of course: lots of 'em. But I was close
at hand--our office was filled with the dust in a few seconds."

"It was a sudden affair?" asked Collingwood.

"It was one of those affairs," answered Cobcroft slowly, "that some folk
had been expecting for a long time--only nobody had the sense to see
that it might happen at some unexpected minute. It was a very old
chimney. It looked all right--stood plumb, and all that. But Mr,
Mallathorpe--my old master, Mr. John Mallathorpe, I'm talking of--he got
an idea from two or three little things, d'ye see, that it wasn't as
safe as it ought to be. And he got a couple of these professional
steeplejacks to examine it. They made a thorough examination, too--so
far as one could tell by what they did. They'd been at the job several
days when the accident happened. One of 'em had only just come down when
the chimney fell. Mr. Mallathorpe, himself, and his manager, and his
cashier, had just stepped out of the counting-house and crossed the yard
to hear what this man had got to say when--down it came! Not the
slightest warning at the time. It just--collapsed!"

"You saw the actual collapse?" asked Collingwood.

"Aye--didn't I?" exclaimed Cobcroft. "Another man and myself were
looking out of the office window, right opposite. It fell in the
queerest way--like this," he went on, holding up his garden-rake.
"Supposing this shaft was the chimney--standing straight up. As we
looked we saw it suddenly bulge out, on all sides--it was a square
chimney, same size all the way up till you got to the cornice at the
top--bulge out, d'ye see, just about half-way up--simultaneous, like.
Then--down it came with a roar that they heard over half the town! O'
course, there were some two or three thousands of tons of stuff in that
chimney--and when the dust was cleared a bit there it was in one great
heap, right across the yard. And it was a good job," concluded Cobcroft,
reflectively, "that it fell straight--collapsed in itself, as you might
say--for if it had fallen slanting either way, it 'ud ha' smashed right
through some of the sheds, and there'd ha' been a terrible loss of

"Mr. John Mallathorpe was killed on the spot, I believe?" suggested

"Aye--and Gaukrodger, and Marshall, and the steeplejack that had just
come down, and another or two," said Cobcroft. "They'd no chance--they
were standing in a group at the very foot, talking. They were all killed
there and then--instantaneous. Some others were struck and injured--one
or two died. Yes, sir,--I'm not very like to forget that!"

"A terrible experience!" agreed Collingwood. "It would naturally fix
itself on your memory."

"Aye--my memory's very keen about it," said Cobcroft. "I remember every
detail of that morning. And," he continued, showing a desire to become
reminiscent, "there was something happened that morning, before the
accident, that I've oft thought over and has oft puzzled me. I've never
said aught to anybody about it, because we Yorkshiremen we're not given
to talking about affairs that don't concern us, and after all, it was
none o' mine! But you're a law gentleman, and I dare say you get things
told to you in confidence now and then, and, of course, this is between
you and me. I'll not deny that I have oft thought that I would like to
tell it to a lawyer of some sort, and find out how it struck him."

"Anything that you like to tell me, Mr. Cobcroft, I shall treat as a
matter of confidence--until you tell me it's no longer a secret,"
answered Collingwood.

"Why," continued Cobcroft, "it isn't what you rightly would call a
secret--though I don't think anybody knows aught about it but myself! It
was just this--and it may be there's naught in it but a mere fancy o'
mine. That morning, before the accident happened, I was in and out of
the private office a good deal--carrying in and out letters, and account
books, and so on. Mr. John Mallathorpe's private office, ye'll
understand, sir, opened out of our counting-house--as it does still--the
present manager, Mr. Horsfall, has it, just as it was. Well, now, on one
occasion, when I went in there, to take a ledger back to the safe, Mr.
Mallathorpe had his manager and cashier, Gaukrodger and Marshall in with
him. Mr. Mallathorpe, he always used a stand-up desk to write at--never
wrote sitting down, though he had a big desk in the middle of the room
that he used to sit at to look over accounts or talk to people. Now when
I went in, he and Gaukrodger and Marshall were all at this stand-up
desk--in the window-place--and they were signing some papers. At least
Gaukrodger had just signed a paper, and Marshall was taking the pen from
him. 'Sign there, Marshall,' says Mr. Mallathorpe. And then he went on,
'Now well sign this other--it's well to have these things in duplicate,
in case one gets lost.' And then--well, then, I went out, and--why, that
was all."

"You've some idea in your mind about that," said Collingwood, who had
watched Cobcroft closely as he talked. "What is it?"

Cobcroft smiled--and looked round as if to ascertain that they were
alone. "Why!" he answered in a low voice. "I'll tell you what I did
wonder--some time afterwards. I dare say you're aware--it was all in the
papers--that Mr. John Mallathorpe died intestate?"

"Yes," asserted Collingwood. "I know that."

"I've oft wondered," continued Cobcroft, "if that could ha' been his
will that they were signing! But then I reflected a bit on matters. And
there were two or three things that made me say naught at all--not a
word. First of all, I considered it a very unlikely thing that a rich
man like Mr. John Mallathorpe would make a will for himself. Second--I
remembered that very soon after I'd been in his private office Marshall
came out into the counting-house and gave the office lad a lot of
letters and documents to take to the post--some of 'em big
envelopes--and I thought that what I'd seen signed was some agreement or
other that was in one of them. And third--and most important--no will
was ever found in any of Mr. John Mallathorpe's drawers or safes or
anywhere, though they turned things upside down at the office, and, I
heard, at his house as well. Of course, you see, sir, supposing that to
have been a will--why, the only two men who could possibly have proved
it was were dead and gone! They were killed with him. And of course, the
young people, the nephew and niece, they came in for everything--so
there was an end of it. But--I've oft wondered what those papers were.
One thing is certain, anyway!" concluded Cobcroft, with a grim laugh,
"when those three signed 'em, they were picking up their pens for the
last time!"

"How long was it--after you saw the signing of those papers--that the
accident occurred?" asked Collingwood.

"It 'ud be twelve or fifteen minutes, as near as I can recollect,"
replied Cobcroft. "A few minutes after I'd left the private office,
Gaukrodger came out of it, alone, and stood at the door leading into the
yard, looking up at the chimney. The steeple-jack was just coming down,
and his mate was waiting for him at the bottom. Gaukrodger turned back
to the private office and called Mr. Mallathorpe out. All three of 'em,
Mallathorpe, Gaukrodger, Marshall, went out and walked across the yard
to the chimney foot. They stood there talking a bit--and then--down it

Collingwood thought matters over. Supposing that the document which
Cobcroft spoke of as being in process of execution before him were
indeed duplicate copies of a will. What could have been done with them,
in the few minutes which elapsed between the signing and the catastrophe
to the chimney? It was scarcely likely that John Mallathorpe would have
sent them away by post. If they had been deposited in his own pocket,
they would have been found when his clothing was removed and examined.
If they were in the private office when the three men left it----

"You're sure the drawers, safe and so on in Mr. Mallathorpe's room were
thoroughly searched--after his death?" he asked.

"I should think they were!" answered Cobcroft laconically. "I helped at
that, myself. There wasn't as much as an old invoice that was not well
fingered and turned over. No!--I came to the conclusion that what I'd
seen signed was some contract or something--sent off there and then by
the lad to post."

Collingwood made no further remark and asked no more questions. But he
thought long and seriously that night, and he came to certain
conclusions. First: what Cobcroft had seen signed was John Mallathorpe's
will. Second: John Mallathorpe had made it himself and had taken the
unusual course of making a duplicate copy. Third: John Mallathorpe had
probably slipped the copy into the _History of Barford_ which was in his
private office when he went out to speak to the steeple-jack. Fourth:
that copy had come into Linford Pratt's hands through Antony Bartle.

And now arose two big questions. What were the terms of that will?
And--where was the duplicate copy? He was still putting these to himself
when noon of the next day came and brought Eldrick and Byner for the
promised serious consultation.



Byner, in taking his firm's advertisement for Parrawhite to the three
Barford newspaper offices, had done so with a special design--he wanted
Pratt to see that a serious wish to discover Parrawhite was alive in
more quarters than one. He knew that Pratt was almost certain to see
Eldrick's advertisement in his own name; now he wanted Pratt to see
another advertisement of the same nature in another name. Already he had
some suspicion that Pratt had not told Eldrick the truth about
Parrawhite, and that nothing would suit him so well as that Parrawhite
should never be heard of or mentioned again: now he wished Pratt to
learn that Parrawhite was much wanted, and was likely to be much
mentioned--wherefore the supplementary advertisements with Halstead &
Byner's name attached. It was extremely unlikely that Pratt could fail
to see those advertisements.

There were three newspapers in Barford: one a morning journal of large
circulation throughout the county; the other two, evening journals,
which usually appeared in three or four editions. As Byner stipulated
for large type, and a prominent position, in the personal column of
each, it was scarcely within the bounds of probability that a townsman
like Pratt would miss seeing the advertisement. Most likely he would see
it in all three newspapers. And if he had also seen Eldrick's similar
advertisement, he would begin to think, and then----

"Why, then," mused Byner, ruminating on his design, "then we will see
what he will do!"

Meanwhile, there was something he himself wanted to do, and on the
morning following his arrival in the town, he set out to do it. Byner
had been much struck by Pickard's account of his dealings with James
Parrawhite on the evening which appeared to be the very last wherein
Parrawhite was ever seen. He had watched the landlord of the _Green Man_
closely as he told his story, and had set him down for an honest, if
somewhat sly and lumpish soul, who was telling a plain tale to the best
of his ability. Byner believed all the details of that story--he even
believed that when Parrawhite told Pickard that he would find him fifty
pounds that evening, or early next day, he meant to keep his word. In
the circumstances--as far as Byner could reckon them up from what he had
gathered--it would not have paid Parrawhite to do otherwise. Byner put
the situation to himself in this fashion--Pratt had got hold of some
secret which was being, or could be made to be, highly profitable to
him. Parrawhite had discovered this, and was in a position to blackmail
Pratt. Therefore Parrawhite would not wish to leave Pratt's
neighbourhood--so long as there was money to be got out of Pratt,
Parrawhite would stick to him like a leech. But if Parrawhite was to
abide peaceably in Barford, he must pay Pickard that little matter of
between fifty and sixty pounds. Accordingly, in Byner's opinion,
Parrawhite had every honest intention of returning to the _Green Man_ on
the evening of the twenty-third of November after having seen Pratt.
And, in Byner's further--and very seriously considered--opinion, the
whole problem for solution--possibly involving the solution of other and
more important problems--was this: Did Parrawhite meet Pratt that night,
and if he did what took place between them which prevented Parrawhite
from returning to Pickard?

It was in an endeavour to get at some first stage of a solution of this
problem that Byner, having breakfasted at the _Central Hotel_ on his
second day in the town, went out immediately afterwards, asked his way
to Whitcliffe, and was directed to an electric tram which started from
the Town Hall Square, and after running through a district of tall
warehouses and squat weaving-sheds, began a long and steady climb to the
heights along the town. When he left it, he found himself in a district
eminently characteristic of that part of the country. The tram set him
down at a cross-roads on a high ridge of land. Beneath him lay Barford,
its towers and spires and the gables of its tall buildings showing
amongst the smoke of its many chimneys. All about him lay open ground,
broken by the numerous stone quarries of which Eldrick had spoken, and
at a little distance along one of the four roads at the intersection of
which he stood, he saw a few houses and cottages, one of which, taller
and bigger than the rest, was distinguished by a pole, planted in front
of its stone porch and bearing a swinging sign whereon was rudely
painted the figure of a man in Lincoln green. Byner walked on to this,
entered a flagged hall, and found himself confronting Pickard, who at
sight of him, motioned him into a little parlour behind the bar.

"Mornin', mister," said he. "You'll be all right in here--there's nobody
about just now, and if my missis or any o' t' servant lasses sees yer,
they'll tak' yer for a brewer's traveller, or summat o' that sort. Come
to hev a look round, like--what?"

"I want to have a look at the place where you told us Parrawhite was to
meet Pratt that night," replied Byner. "I thought you would perhaps be
kind enough to show me where it is."

"I will, an' all--wi' pleasure," said the landlord, "but ye mun hev a
drop o' summat first--try a glass o' our ale," he went on, with true
Yorkshire hospitality. "I hev some bitter beer i' my cellar such as I'll
lay owt ye couldn't get t' likes on down yonder i' Barford--no, nor i'
London neyther!--I'll just draw a jug."

Byner submitted to this evidence of friendliness, and Pickard, after
disappearing into a dark archway and down some deeply worn stone steps,
came back with a foaming jug, the sight of which seemed to give him
great delight. He gazed admiringly at the liquor which he presently
poured into two tumblers, and drew his visitor's attention to its

"Reight stuff that, mister--what?" he said. "I nobbut tapped that barril
two days since, and I'd been keepin' it twelve month, so you've come in
for it at what they call t' opportune moment. I say!" he went on, after
pledging Byner and smacking his lips over the ale. "I heard summat last
night 'at might be useful to you and Lawyer Eldrick--about this here
Parrawhite affair."

"Oh!" said Byner, at once interested. "What now?"

"You'll ha' noticed, as you come along t' road just now, 'at there's a
deal o' stone quarries i' this neighbourhood?" replied Pickard. "Well,
now, of course, some o' t' quarry men comes in here. Last night theer
wor sev'ral on 'em i' t' bar theer, talkin', and one on 'em wor readin'
t' evenin' newspaper--t' _Barford Dispatch_. An' he read out that theer
advertisement about Parrawhite--wi' your address i' London at t' foot on
it. Well, theer wor nowt said, except summat about advertisin' for
disappeared folk, but later on, one o' t' men, a young man, come to me,
private like. 'I say, Pickard,' he says, 'between you an' me, worrn't t'
name o' that man 'at used to come in here on a Sunday sometimes,
Parrawhite? It runs a' my mind,' he says, ''at I've heerd you call him
by that name.' 'Well, an' what if it wor?' I says. 'Nay, nowt much,' he
says, 'but I see fro' t' _Dispatch_ 'at he's wanted, and I could tell a
bit about him,' he says. 'What could ye tell?' says I--just like that
theer. 'Why,' he says, 'this much--one night t' last back-end----"

"Stop a bit, Mr. Pickard," interrupted Byner. "What does that mean--that
term 'back-end'?"

"Why, it means t' end o' t' year!" answered the landlord. "What some
folks call autumn, d'ye understand? 'One night t' last back-end,' says
this young fellow, 'I wor hengin' about on t' quiet at t' end o' Stubbs'
Lane,' he says: 'T' truth wor,' he says, 'I wor waitin' for a word wi' a
young woman 'at lives i' that terrace at t' top o' Stubbs' Lane--she wor
goin' to come out and meet me for half an hour or so. An,' he says, 'I
see'd that theer feller 'at I think I've heerd you call Parrawhite, come
out o' Stubbs' Lane wi' that lawyer chap 'at lives i' t' Terrace--Pratt.
I know Pratt,' he says, ''cause them 'at he works for--Eldricks--once
did a bit o' law business for me.' 'Where did you see 'em go to, then?'
says I. 'I see'd 'em cross t' road into t' owd quarry ground,' he says.
'I see'd 'em plain enough, tho' they didn't see me--I wor keepin' snug
agen 't wall--it wor a moonlit night, that,' he says. 'Well,' I says,
'an' what now?' 'Why,' he says, 'd'yer think I could get owt o' this
reward for tellin that theer?' So I thowt pretty sharp then, d'ye see,
mister. 'I'll tell yer what, mi lad,' I says. 'Say nowt to nobody--keep
your tongue still--and I'll tell ye tomorrow night what ye can do--I
shall see a man 'at's on that job 'tween now and then,' I says. So theer
it is," concluded Pickard, looking hard at Byner. "D'yer think this
chap's evidence 'ud be i' your line?"

"Decidedly I do!" replied Byner. "Where is he to be found?'

"I couldn't say wheer he lives," answered the landlord. "But it'll be
somewhere close about; anyway, he'll be in here tonight. Bill Thomson t'
feller's name is--decent young feller enough."

"I must contrive to see him, certainly," said Byner. "Well, now, can you
show me this Stubbs' Lane and the neighbourhood?"

"Just step along t' road a bit and I'll join you in a few o' minutes,"
assented Pickard. "We'd best not be seen leavin t' house together, or
our folk'll think it's a put-up job. Walk forrard a piece."

Byner strolled along the road a little way, and leaned over a wall until
Mr. Pickard, wearing his white billycock hat and accompanied by a fine
fox-terrier, lounged up with his thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat. Together they went a little further along.

"Now then!" said the landlord, crossing the road towards the entrance of
a narrow lane which ran between two high stone walls. "This here is
Stubbs' Lane--so called, I believe, 'cause an owd gentleman named
similar used to hev a house here 'at's been pulled down. Ye see, it runs
up fro' this high-road towards yon terrace o' houses. Folks hereabouts
calls that terrace t' World's End, 'cause they're t' last houses afore
ye get on to t' open moorlands. Now, that night 'at Parrawhite wor
aimin' to meet Pratt, it wor i' this very lane. Pratt, when he left t'
tram-car, t' other side o' my place, 'ud come up t' road, and up this
lane. And it wor at t' top o' t' lane 'at Bill Thomson see'd Pratt and
Parrawhite cross into what Bill called t' owd quarry ground."

"Can we go into that?" asked Byner.

"Nowt easier!" said Pickard. "It's a sort of open space where t' childer
goes and plays about: they hev'n't worked no stone theer for many a long
year--all t' stone's exhausted, like."

He led Byner along the lane to its further end, pointed out the place
where Thomson said he had seen Pratt and Parrawhite, and indicated the
terrace of houses in which Pratt lived. Then he crossed towards the old

"Don't know what they should want to come in here for--unless it wor to
talk very confidential," said Pickard. "But lor bless yer!--it 'ud be
quiet enough anywheer about this neighbourhood at that time o' neet.
However, this is wheer Bill Thomson says he see'd 'em come."

He led the way amongst the disused quarries, and Byner, following,
climbed on a mound, now grown over with grass and weed, and looked about
him. To his town eyes the place was something novel. He had never seen
the like of it before. Gradually he began to understand it. The stone
had been torn out of the earth, sometimes in square pits, sometimes in
semi-circular ones, until the various veins and strata had become
exhausted. Then, when men went away, Nature had stepped in to assert her
rights. All over the despoiled region she had spread a new clothing of
green. Turf had grown on the flooring of the quarries; ivy and bramble
had covered the deep scars; bushes had sprung up; trees were already
springing. And in one of the worn-out excavations some man had planted a
kitchen-garden in orderly and formal rows and plots.

"Dangerous place that there!" said Pickard suddenly. "If I'd known o'
that, I shouldn't ha' let my young 'uns come to play about here. They
might be tummlin' in and drownin' theirsens! I mun tell my missis to
keep 'em away!"

Byner turned--to find the landlord pointing at the old shaft which had
gradually become filled with water. In the morning sunlight its surface
glittered like a plane of burnished metal, but when the two men went
nearer and gazed at it from its edge, the water was black and
unfathomable to the eye.

"Goodish thirty feet o' water in that there!" surmised Pickard. "It's
none safe for childer to play about--theer's nowt to protect 'em. Next
time I see Mestur Shepherd I shall mak' it my business to tell him so;
he owt either to drain that watter off or put a fence around it."

"Is Mr. Shepherd the property-owner?" asked Byner.

"Aye!--it's all his, this land," answered Pickard. He pointed to a
low-roofed house set amidst elms and chestnuts, some distance off across
the moor. "Lives theer, does Mestur Shepherd--varry well-to-do man, he

"How could that water be drained off?" asked Byner with assumed

"Easy enough!" replied Pickard. "Cut through yon ledge, and let it run
into t' far quarry there. A couple o' men 'ud do that job in a day."

Byner made no further remark. He and Pickard strolled back to the _Green
Man_ together. And declining the landlord's invitation to step inside
and take another glass, but promising to see him again very soon, the
inquiry agent walked on to the tram-car and rode down to Barford to keep
his appointment with Eldrick and Collingwood at the barrister's

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