Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Trent's Last Case The Woman in Black by E.C. (Edmund Clerihew) Bentley

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

I bring this manuscript to an end in my sitting-room at the hotel at
Marlstone. It is four o'clock in the morning. I leave for London by the noon
train from Bishopsbridge, and immediately after arriving I shall place these
pages in your hands. I ask you to communicate the substance of them to the
Criminal Investigation Department.



'I am returning the cheque you sent for what I did on the Manderson case,'
Trent wrote to Sir James Molloy from Munich, whither he had gone immediately
after handing in at the Record office a brief dispatch bringing his work on
the case to an unexciting close. 'What I sent you wasn't worth one-tenth of
the amount; but I should have no scruple about pocketing it if I hadn't taken
a fancy--never mind why--not to touch any money at all for this business. I
should like you, if there is no objection, to pay for the stuff at your
ordinary space-rate, and hand the money to some charity which does not devote
itself to bullying people, if you know of any such. I have come to this place
to see some old friends and arrange my ideas, and the idea that comes out
uppermost is that for a little while I want some employment with activity in
it. I find I can't paint at all: I couldn't paint a fence. Will you try me as
your Own Correspondent somewhere? If you can find me a good adventure I will
send you good accounts. After that I could settle down and work.'

Sir James sent him instructions by telegram to proceed at once to Kurland and
Livonia, where Citizen Browning was abroad again, and town and countryside
blazed in revolt. It was a roving commission, and for two months Trent
followed his luck. It served him not less well than usual. He was the only
correspondent who saw General Dragilew killed in the street at Volmar by a
girl of eighteen. He saw burnings, lynchings, fusillades, hangings; each day
his soul sickened afresh at the imbecilities born of misrule. Many nights he
lay down in danger. Many days he went fasting. But there was never an evening
or a morning when he did not see the face of the woman whom he hopelessly

He discovered in himself an unhappy pride at the lasting force of this
infatuation. It interested him as a phenomenon; it amazed and enlightened him.
Such a thing had not visited him before. It confirmed so much that he had
found dubious in the recorded experience of men.

It was not that, at thirty-two, he could pretend to ignorance of this world of
emotion. About his knowledge let it be enough to say that what he had learned
had come unpursued and unpurchased, and was without intolerable memories;
broken to the realities of sex, he was still troubled by its inscrutable
history. He went through life full of a strange respect for certain feminine
weakness and a very simple terror of certain feminine strength. He had held to
a rather lukewarm faith that something remained in him to be called forth, and
that the voice that should call would be heard in its own time, if ever, and
not through any seeking.

But he had not thought of the possibility that, if this proved true some day,
the truth might come in a sinister shape. The two things that had taken him
utterly by surprise in the matter of his feeling towards Mabel Manderson were
the insane suddenness of its uprising in full strength and its extravagant
hopelessness. Before it came, he had been much disposed to laugh at the
permanence of unrequited passion as a generous boyish delusion. He knew now
that he had been wrong, and he was living bitterly in the knowledge.

Before the eye of his fancy the woman always came just as she was when he had
first had sight of her, with the gesture which he had surprised as he walked
past unseen on the edge of the cliff; that great gesture of passionate joy in
her new liberty which had told him more plainly than speech that her widowhood
was a release from torment, and had confirmed with terrible force the
suspicion, active in his mind before, that it was her passport to happiness
with a man whom she loved. He could not with certainty name to himself the
moment when he had first suspected that it might be so. The seed of the
thought must have been sown, he believed, at his first meeting with Marlowe;
his mind would have noted automatically that such evident strength and grace,
with the sort of looks and manners that the tall young man possessed, might go
far with any woman of unfixed affections. And the connection of this with what
Mr Cupples had told him of the Mandersons' married life must have formed
itself in the unconscious depths of his mind. Certainly it had presented
itself as an already established thing when he began, after satisfying himself
of the identity of the murderer, to cast about for the motive of the crime.
Motive, motive! How desperately he had sought for another, turning his back
upon that grim thought, that Marlowe-- obsessed by passion like himself, and
privy perhaps to maddening truths about the wife's unhappiness--had taken a
leaf, the guiltiest, from the book of Bothwell. But in all his investigations
at the time, in all his broodings on the matter afterwards, he had been able
to discover nothing that could prompt Marlowe to such a deed--nothing but that
temptation, the whole strength of which he could not know, but which if it had
existed must have pressed urgently upon a bold spirit in which scruple had
been somehow paralysed. If he could trust his senses at ail, the young man was
neither insane nor by nature evil. But that could not clear him. Murder for a
woman's sake, he thought, was not a rare crime, Heaven knew! If the modern
feebleness of impulse in the comfortable classes, and their respect for the
modern apparatus of detection, had made it rare among them, it was yet far
from impossible. It only needed a man of equal daring and intelligence, his
soul drugged with the vapours of an intoxicating intrigue, to plan and perform
such a deed.

A thousand times, with a heart full of anguish, he had sought to reason away
the dread that Mabel Manderson had known too much of what had been intended
against her husband's life. That she knew all the truth after the thing was
done he could not doubt; her unforgettable collapse in his presence when the
question about Marlowe was suddenly and bluntly put, had swept away his last
hope that there was no love between the pair, and had seemed to him, moreover,
to speak of dread of discovery. In any case, she knew the truth after reading
what he had left with her; and it was certain that no public suspicion had
been cast upon Marlowe since. She had destroyed his manuscript, then, and
taken him at his word to keep the secret that threatened her lover's life.

But it was the monstrous thought that she might have known murder was brewing,
and guiltily kept silence, that haunted Trent's mind. She might have
suspected, have guessed something; was it conceivable that she was aware of
the whole plot, that she connived? He could never forget that his first
suspicion of Marlowe's motive in the crime had been roused by the fact that
his escape was made through the lady's room. At that time, when he had not yet
seen her, he had been ready enough to entertain the idea of her equal guilt
and her co-operation. He had figured to himself some passionate hysterique,
merciless as a cat in her hate and her love, a zealous abettor, perhaps even
the ruling spirit in the crime.

Then he had seen her, had spoken with her, had helped her in her weakness; and
such suspicions, since their first meeting, had seemed the vilest of infamy.
He had seen her eyes and her mouth; he had breathed the woman's atmosphere.
Trent was one of those who fancy they can scent true wickedness in the air. In
her presence he had felt an inward certainty of her ultimate goodness of
heart; and it was nothing against this that she had abandoned herself a
moment, that day on the cliff, to the sentiment of relief at the ending of her
bondage, of her years of starved sympathy and unquickened motherhood. That she
had turned to Marlowe in her destitution he believed; that she had any
knowledge of his deadly purpose he did not believe.

And yet, morning and evening the sickening doubts returned, and he recalled
again that it was almost in her presence that Marlowe had made his
preparations in the bedroom of the murdered man, that it was by the window of
her own chamber that he had escaped from the house. Had he forgotten his
cunning and taken the risk of telling her then? Or had he, as Trent thought
more likely, still played his part with her then, and stolen off while she
slept? He did not think she had known of the masquerade when she gave evidence
at the inquest; it read like honest evidence. Or--the question would never be
silenced, though he scorned it- -had she lain expecting the footsteps in the
room and the whisper that should tell her that it was done? Among the foul
possibilities of human nature, was it possible that black ruthlessness and
black deceit as well were hidden behind that good and straight and gentle

These thoughts would scarcely leave him when he was alone.

Trent served Sir James, well earning his pay for six months, and then returned
to Paris where he went to work again with a better heart. His powers had
returned to him, and he began to live more happily than he had expected among
a tribe of strangely assorted friends, French, English, and American, artists,
poets, journalists, policemen, hotel-keepers, soldiers, lawyers, business men,
and others. His old faculty of sympathetic interest in his fellows won for
him, just as in his student days, privileges seldom extended to the Briton. He
enjoyed again the rare experience of being taken into the bosom of a
Frenchman's family. He was admitted to the momentous confidence of les jeunes,
and found them as sure that they had surprised the secrets of art and life as
the departed jeunes of ten years before had been.

The bosom of the Frenchman's family was the same as those he had known in the
past, even to the patterns of the wallpaper and movables. But the jeunes, he
perceived with regret, were totally different from their forerunners. They
were much more shallow and puerile, much less really clever. The secrets they
wrested from the Universe were not such important and interesting secrets as
had been wrested by the old jeunes. This he believed and deplored until one
day he found himself seated at a restaurant next to a too well-fed man whom,
in spite of the ravages of comfortable living, he recognized as one of the
jeunes of his own period. This one had been wont to describe himself and three
or four others as the Hermits of the New Parnassus. He and his school had
talked outside cafes and elsewhere more than solitaries do as a rule; but,
then, rules were what they had vowed themselves to destroy. They proclaimed
that verse, in particular, was free. The Hermit of the New Parnassus was now
in the Ministry of the Interior, and already decorated: he expressed to Trent
the opinion that what France needed most was a hand of iron. He was able to
quote the exact price paid for certain betrayals of the country, of which
Trent had not previously heard.

Thus he was brought to make the old discovery that it was he who had changed,
like his friend of the Administration, and that les jeunes were still the
same. Yet he found it hard to say what precisely he had lost that so greatly
mattered; unless indeed it were so simple a thing as his high spirits.

One morning in June, as he descended the slope of the Rue des Martyrs, he saw
approaching a figure that he remembered. He glanced quickly round, for the
thought of meeting Mr Bunner again was unacceptable. For some time he had
recognized that his wound was healing under the spell of creative work; he
thought less often of the woman he loved, and with less pain. He would not
have the memory of those three days reopened.

But the straight and narrow thoroughfare offered no refuge, and the American
saw him almost at once.

His unforced geniality made Trent ashamed, for he had liked the man. They sat
long over a meal, and Mr Bunner talked. Trent listened to him, now that he was
in for it, with genuine pleasure, now and then contributing a question or
remark. Besides liking his companion, he enjoyed his conversation, with its
unending verbal surprises, for its own sake.

Bunner was, it appeared, resident in Paris as the chief Continental agent of
the Manderson firm, and fully satisfied with his position and prospects. He
discoursed on these for some twenty minutes. This subject at length exhausted,
he went on to tell Trent, who confessed that he had been away from England for
a year, that Marlowe had shortly after the death of Manderson entered his
father's business, which was now again in a flourishing state, and had already
come to be practically in control of it. They had kept up their intimacy, and
were even now planning a holiday for the summer. Mr Bunner spoke with generous
admiration of his friend's talent for affairs. 'Jack Marlowe has a natural big
head,' he declared, 'and if he had more experience, I wouldn't want to have
him up against me. He would put a crimp in me every time.'

As the American's talk flowed on, Trent listened with a slowly growing
perplexity. It became more and more plain that something was very wrong in his
theory of the situation; there was no mention of its central figure. Presently
Mr Bunner mentioned that Marlowe was engaged to be married to an Irish girl,
whose charms he celebrated with native enthusiasm.

Trent clasped his hands savagely together beneath the table. What could have
happened? His ideas were sliding and shifting. At last he forced himself to
put a direct question.

Mr Bunner was not very fully informed. He knew that Mrs Manderson had left
England immediately after the settlement of her husband's affairs, and had
lived for some time in Italy. She had returned not long ago to London, where
she had decided not to live in the house in Mayfair, and had bought a smaller
one in the Hampstead neighbourhood; also, he understood, one somewhere in the
country. She was said to go but little into society. 'And all the good hard
dollars just waiting for some one to spraddle them around,' said Mr Bunner,
with a note of pathos in his voice. 'Why, she has money to burn--money to feed
to the birds-- and nothing doing. The old man left her more than half his wad.
And think of the figure she might make in the world. She is beautiful, and she
is the best woman I ever met, too. But she couldn't ever seem to get the habit
of spending money the way it ought to be spent.'

His words now became a soliloquy: Trent's thoughts were occupying all his
attention. He pleaded business soon, and the two men parted with cordiality.

Half an hour later Trent was in his studio, swiftly and mechanically 'cleaning
up'. He wanted to know what had happened; somehow he must find out. He could
never approach herself, he knew; he would never bring back to her the shame of
that last encounter with him; it was scarcely likely that he would even set
eyes on her. But he must get to know!... Cupples was in London, Marlowe was
there .... And, anyhow, he was sick of Paris.

Such thoughts came and went; and below them all strained the fibres of an
unseen cord that dragged mercilessly at his heart, and that he cursed bitterly
in the moments when he could not deny to himself that it was there. The folly,
the useless, pitiable folly of it!

In twenty-four hours his feeble roots in Paris had been torn out. He was
looking over a leaden sea at the shining fortress-wall of the Dover cliffs.

But though he had instinctively picked out the lines of a set purpose from
among the welter of promptings in his mind, he found it delayed at the very

He had decided that he must first see Mr Cupples, who would be in a position
to tell him much more than the American knew. But Mr Cupples was away on his
travels, not expected to return for a month; and Trent had no reasonable
excuse for hastening his return. Marlowe he would not confront until he had
tried at least to reconnoitre the position. He constrained himself not to
commit the crowning folly of seeking out Mrs Manderson's house in Hampstead;
he could not enter it, and the thought of the possibility of being seen by her
lurking in its neighbourhood brought the blood to his face.

He stayed at an hotel, took a studio, and while he awaited Mr Cupples's return
attempted vainly to lose himself in work.

At the end of a week he had an idea that he acted upon with eager
precipitancy. She had let fall some word at their last meeting, of a taste for
music. Trent went that evening, and thenceforward regularly, to the opera. He
might see her; and if, in spite of his caution, she caught sight of him, they
could be blind to each other's presence--anybody might happen to go to the

So he went alone each evening, passing as quickly as he might through the
people in the vestibule; and each evening he came away knowing that she had
not been in the house. It was a habit that yielded him a sort of satisfaction
along with the guilty excitement of his search; for he too loved music, and
nothing gave him so much peace while its magic endured.

One night as he entered, hurrying through the brilliant crowd, he felt a touch
on his arm. Flooded with an incredible certainty at the touch, he turned.

It was she: so much more radiant in the absence of grief and anxiety, in the
fact that she was smiling, and in the allurement of evening dress, that he
could not speak. She, too, breathed a little quickly, and there was a light of
daring in her eyes and cheeks as she greeted him.

Her words were few. 'I wouldn't miss a note of Tristan,' she said, 'nor must
you. Come and see me in the interval.' She gave him the number of the box.


The following two months were a period in Trent's life that he has never since
remembered without shuddering. He met Mrs Manderson half a dozen times, and
each time her cool friendliness, a nicely calculated mean between mere
acquaintance and the first stage of intimacy, baffled and maddened him. At the
opera he had found her, to his further amazement, with a certain Mrs Wallace,
a frisky matron whom he had known from childhood. Mrs Manderson, it appeared,
on her return from Italy, had somehow wandered into circles to which he
belonged by nurture and disposition. It came, she said, of her having pitched
her tent in their hunting- grounds; several of his friends were near
neighbours. He had a dim but horrid recollection of having been on that
occasion unlike himself, ill at ease, burning in the face, talking with idiot
loquacity of his adventures in the Baltic provinces, and finding from time to
time that he was addressing himself exclusively to Mrs Wallace. The other
lady, when he joined them, had completely lost the slight appearance of
agitation with which she had stopped him in the vestibule. She had spoken
pleasantly to him of her travels, of her settlement in London, and of people
whom they both knew.

During the last half of the opera, which he had stayed in the box to hear, he
had been conscious of nothing, as he sat behind them, but the angle of her
cheek and the mass of her hair, the lines of her shoulder and arm, her hand
upon the cushion. The black hair had seemed at last a forest, immeasurable,
pathless and enchanted, luring him to a fatal adventure .... At the end he had
been pale and subdued, parting with them rather formally.

The next time he saw her--it was at a country house where both were
guests--and the subsequent times, he had had himself in hand. He had matched
her manner and had acquitted himself, he thought, decently, considering--

Considering that he lived in an agony of bewilderment and remorse and longing.
He could make nothing, absolutely nothing, of her attitude. That she had read
his manuscript and understood the suspicion indicated in his last question to
her at White Gables was beyond the possibility of doubt. Then how could she
treat him thus and frankly, as she treated all the world of men who had done
no injury?

For it had become clear to his intuitive sense, for all the absence of any
shade of differentiation in her outward manner, that an injury had been done,
and that she had felt it. Several times, on the rare and brief occasions when
they had talked apart, he had warning from the same sense that she was
approaching this subject; and each time he had turned the conversation with
the ingenuity born of fear. Two resolutions he made. The first was that when
he had completed a commissioned work which tied him to London he would go away
and stay away. The strain was too great. He no longer burned to know the
truth; he wanted nothing to confirm his fixed internal conviction by faith,
that he had blundered, that he had misread the situation, misinterpreted her
tears, written himself down a slanderous fool. He speculated no more on
Marlowe's motive in the killing of Manderson. Mr Cupples returned to London,
and Trent asked him nothing. He knew now that he had been right in those
words--Trent remembered them for the emphasis with which they were spoken--'So
long as she considered herself bound to him... no power on earth could have
persuaded her.' He met Mrs Manderson at dinner at her uncle's large and
tomb-like house in Bloomsbury, and there he conversed most of the evening with
a professor of archaeology from Berlin.

His other resolution was that he would not be with her alone.

But when, a few days after, she wrote asking him to come and see her on the
following afternoon, he made no attempt to excuse himself. This was a formal

While she celebrated the rites of tea, and for some little time thereafter,
she joined with such natural ease in his slightly fevered conversation on
matters of the day that he began to hope she had changed what he could not
doubt had been her resolve, to corner him and speak to him gravely. She was to
all appearance careless now, smiling so that he recalled, not for the first
time since that night at the opera, what was written long ago of a Princess of
Brunswick: 'Her mouth has ten thousand charms that touch the soul.' She made a
tour of the beautiful room where she had received him, singling out this
treasure or that from the spoils of a hundred bric-a-brac shops, laughing over
her quests, discoveries, and bargainings. And when he asked if she would
delight him again with a favourite piece of his which he had heard her play at
another house, she consented at once.

She played with a perfection of execution and feeling that moved him now as it
had moved him before. 'You are a musician born,' he said quietly when she had
finished, and the last tremor of the music had passed away. 'I knew that
before I first heard you.'

'I have played a great deal ever since I can remember. It has been a great
comfort to me,' she said simply, and half-turned to him smiling. 'When did you
first detect music in me? Oh, of course: I was at the opera. But that wouldn't
prove much, would it?'

'No,' he said abstractedly, his sense still busy with the music that had just
ended. 'I think I knew it the first time I saw you.' Then understanding of his
own words came to him, and turned him rigid. For the first time the past had
been invoked.

There was a short silence. Mrs Manderson looked at Trent, then hastily looked
away. Colour began to rise in her cheeks, and she pursed her lips as if for
whistling. Then with a defiant gesture of the shoulders which he remembered
she rose suddenly from the piano and placed herself in a chair opposite to

'That speech of yours will do as well as anything,' she began slowly, looking
at the point of her shoe, 'to bring us to what I wanted to say. I asked you
here today on purpose, Mr Trent, because I couldn't bear it any longer. Ever
since the day you left me at White Gables I have been saying to myself that it
didn't matter what you thought of me in that affair; that you were certainly
not the kind of man to speak to others of what you believed about me, after
what you had told me of your reasons for suppressing your manuscript. I asked
myself how it could matter. But all the time, of course, I knew it did matter.
It mattered horribly. Because what you thought was not true.' She raised her
eyes and met his gaze calmly. Trent, with a completely expressionless face,
returned her look.

'Since I began to know you,' he said, 'I have ceased to think it.' 'Thank
you,' said Mrs Manderson; and blushed suddenly and deeply. Then, playing with
a glove, she added, 'But I want you to know what was true.

I did not know if I should ever see you again,' she went on in a lower voice,
'but I felt that if I did I must speak to you about this. I thought it would
not be hard to do so, because you seemed to me an understanding person; and
besides, a woman who has been married isn't expected to have the same sort of
difficulty as a young girl in speaking about such things when it is necessary.
And then we did meet again, and I discovered that it was very difficult
indeed. You made it difficult.'

'How?' he asked quietly.

'I don't know,' said the lady. 'But yes--I do know. It was just because you
treated me exactly as if you had never thought or imagined anything of that
sort about me. I had always supposed that if I saw you again you would turn on
me that hard, horrible sort of look you had when you asked me that last
question-- do you remember?--at White Gables. Instead of that you were just
like any other acquaintance. You were just'--she hesitated and spread out her
hands--'nice. You know. After that first time at the opera when I spoke to you
I went home positively wondering if you had really recognized me. I mean, I
thought you might have recognized my face without remembering who it was.'

A short laugh broke from Trent in spite of himself, but he said nothing.

She smiled deprecatingly. 'Well, I couldn't remember if you had spoken my
name; and I thought it might be so. But the next time, at the Iretons', you
did speak it, so I knew; and a dozen times during those few days I almost
brought myself to tell you, but never quite. I began to feel that you wouldn't
let me, that you would slip away from the subject if I approached it. Wasn't I
right? Tell me, please.' He nodded. 'But why?' He remained silent.

'Well,' she said, 'I will finish what I had to say, and then you will tell me,
I hope, why you had to make it so hard. When I began to understand that you
wouldn't let me talk of the matter to you, it made me more determined than
ever. I suppose you didn't realize that I would insist on speaking even if you
were quite discouraging. I dare say I couldn't have done it if I had been
guilty, as you thought. You walked into my parlour today, never thinking I
should dare. Well, now you see.'

Mrs Manderson had lost all her air of hesitancy. She had, as she was wont to
say, talked herself enthusiastic, and in the ardour of her purpose to
annihilate the misunderstanding that had troubled her so long she felt herself
mistress of the situation.

'I am going to tell you the story of the mistake you made,' she continued, as
Trent, his hands clasped between his knees, still looked at her enigmatically.
'You will have to believe it, Mr Trent; it is utterly true to life, with its
confusions and hidden things and cross-purposes and perfectly natural mistakes
that nobody thinks twice about taking for facts. Please understand that I
don't blame you in the least, and never did, for jumping to the conclusion you
did. You knew that I was estranged from my husband, and you knew what that so
often means. You knew before I told you, I expect, that he had taken up an
injured attitude towards me; and I was silly enough to try and explain it
away. I gave you the explanation of it that I had given myself at first,
before I realized the wretched truth; I told you he was disappointed in me
because I couldn't take a brilliant lead in society. Well, that was true; he
was so. But I could see you weren't convinced. You had guessed what it took me
much longer to see, because I knew how irrational it was. Yes; my husband was
jealous of John Marlowe; you divined that.

'Then I behaved like a fool when you let me see you had divined it; it was
such a blow, you understand, when I had supposed all the humiliation and
strain was at an end, and that his delusion had died with him. You practically
asked me if my husband's secretary was not my lover, Mr Trent--I have to say
it, because I want you to understand why I broke down and made a scene. You
took that for a confession; you thought I was guilty of that, and I think you
even thought I might be a party to the crime, that I had consented .... That
did hurt me; but perhaps you couldn't have thought anything else--I don't

Trent, who had not hitherto taken his eyes from her face, hung his head at the
words. He did not raise it again as she continued. 'But really it was simple
shock and distress that made me give way, and the memory of all the misery
that mad suspicion had meant to me. And when I pulled myself together again
you had gone.'

She rose and went to an escritoire beside the window, unlocked a drawer, and
drew out a long, sealed envelope.

'This is the manuscript you left with me,' she said. 'I have read it through
again and again. I have always wondered, as everybody does, at your cleverness
in things of this kind.' A faintly mischievous smile flashed upon her face,
and was gone. I thought it was splendid, Mr Trent--I almost forgot that the
story was my own, I was so interested. And I want to say now, while I have
this in my hand, how much I thank you for your generous, chivalrous act in
sacrificing this triumph of yours rather than put a woman's reputation in
peril. If all had been as you supposed, the facts must have come out when the
police took up the case you put in their hands. Believe me, I understood just
what you had done, and I never ceased to be grateful even when I felt most
crushed by your suspicion.'

As she spoke her thanks her voice shook a little, and her eyes were bright.
Trent perceived nothing of this. His head was still bent. He did not seem to
hear. She put the envelope into his hand as it lay open, palm upwards, on his
knee. There was a touch of gentleness about the act which made him look up.

'Can you--' he began slowly.

She raised her hand as she stood before him. 'No, Mr Trent; let me finish
before you say anything. It is such an unspeakable relief to me to have broken
the ice at last, and I want to end the story while I am still feeling the
triumph of beginning it.' She sank down into the sofa from which she had first
risen. 'I am telling you a thing that nobody else knows. Everybody knew, I
suppose, that something had come between us, though I did everything in my
power to hide it. But I don't think any one in the world ever guessed what my
husband's notion was. People who know me don't think that sort of thing about
me, I believe. And his fancy was so ridiculously opposed to the facts. I will
tell you what the situation was. Mr Marlowe and I had been friendly enough
since he came to us. For all his cleverness--my husband said he had a keener
brain than any man he knew--I looked upon him as practically a boy. You know I
am a little older than he is, and he had a sort of amiable lack of ambition
that made me feel it the more. One day my husband asked me what I thought was
the best thing about Marlowe, and not thinking much about it I said, "His
manners." He surprised me very much by looking black at that, and after a
silence he said, "Yes, Marlowe is a gentleman; that's so", not looking at me.

'Nothing was ever said about that again until about a year ago, when I found
that Mr Marlowe had done what I always expected he would do--fallen
desperately in love with an American girl. But to my disgust he had picked out
the most worthless girl, I do believe, of all those whom we used to meet. She
was the daughter of wealthy parents, and she did as she liked with them; very
beautiful, well educated, very good at games--what they call a
woman-athlete--and caring for nothing on earth but her own amusement. She was
one of the most unprincipled flirts I ever knew, and quite the cleverest.
Every one knew it, and Mr Marlowe must have heard it; but she made a complete
fool of him, brain and all. I don't know how she managed it, but I can
imagine. She liked him, of course; but it was quite plain to me that she was
playing with him. The whole affair was so idiotic, I got perfectly furious.
One day I asked him to row me in a boat on the lake--all this happened at our
house by Lake George. We had never been alone together for any length of time
before. In the boat I talked to him. I was very kind about it, I think, and he
took it admirably, but he didn't believe me a bit. He had the impudence to
tell me that I misunderstood Alice's nature. When I hinted at his prospects--I
knew he had scarcely anything of his own--he said that if she loved him he
could make himself a position in the world. I dare say that was true, with his
abilities and his friends--he is rather well connected, you know, as well as
popular. But his enlightenment came very soon after that.

'My husband helped me out of the boat when we got back. He joked with Mr
Marlowe about something, I remember; for through all that followed he never
once changed in his manner to him, and that was one reason why I took so long
to realize what he thought about him and myself. But to me he was reserved and
silent that evening--not angry. He was always perfectly cold and
expressionless to me after he took this idea into his head. After dinner he
only spoke to me once. Mr Marlowe was telling him about some horse he had
bought for the farm in Kentucky, and my husband looked at me and said,
"Marlowe may be a gentleman, but he seldom quits loser in a horse-trade." I
was surprised at that, but at that time--and even on the next occasion when he
found us together--I didn't understand what was in his mind. That next time
was the morning when Mr Marlowe received a sweet little note from the girl
asking for his congratulations on her engagement. It was in our New York
house. He looked so wretched at breakfast that I thought he was ill, and
afterwards I went to the room where he worked, and asked what was the matter.
He didn't say anything, but just handed me the note, and turned away to the
window. I was very glad that was all over, but terribly sorry for him too, of
course. I don't remember what I said, but I remember putting my hand on his
arm as he stood there staring out on the garden and just then my husband
appeared at the open door with some papers. He just glanced at us, and then
turned and walked quietly back to his study. I thought that he might have
heard what I was saying to comfort Mr Marlowe, and that it was rather nice of
him to slip away. Mr Marlowe neither saw nor heard him. My husband left the
house that morning for the West while I was out. Even then I did not
understand. He used often to go off suddenly like that, if some business
project called him.

'It was not until he returned a week later that I grasped the situation. He
was looking white and strange, and as soon as he saw me he asked me where Mr
Marlowe was. Somehow the tone of his question told me everything in a flash.

'I almost gasped; I was wild with indignation. You know, Mr Trent, I don't
think I should have minded at all if any one had thought me capable of openly
breaking with my husband and leaving him for somebody else. I dare say I might
have done that. But that coarse suspicion... a man whom he trusted... and the
notion of concealment. It made me see scarlet. Every shred of pride in me was
strung up till I quivered, and I swore to myself on the spot that I would
never show by any word or sign that I was conscious of his having such a
thought about me. I would behave exactly as I always had behaved, I
determined--and that I did, up to the very last. Though I knew that a wall had
been made between us now that could never be broken down--even if he asked my
pardon and obtained it--I never once showed that I noticed any change.

'And so it went on. I never could go through such a time again. My husband
showed silent and cold politeness to me always when we were alone--and that
was only when it was unavoidable. He never once alluded to what was in his
mind; but I felt it, and he knew that I felt it. Both of us were stubborn in
our different attitudes. To Mr Marlowe he was more friendly, if anything, than
before--Heaven only knows why. I fancied he was planning some sort of revenge;
but that was only a fancy. Certainly Mr Marlowe never knew what was suspected
of him. He and I remained good friends, though we never spoke of anything
intimate after that disappointment of his; but I made a point of seeing no
less of him than I had always done. Then we came to England and to White
Gables, and after that followed--my husband's dreadful end.'

She threw out her right hand in a gesture of finality. 'You know about the
rest- -so much more than any other man,' she added, and glanced up at him with
a quaint expression.

Trent wondered at that look, but the wonder was only a passing shadow on his
thought. Inwardly his whole being was possessed by thankfulness. All the
vivacity had returned to his face. Long before the lady had ended her story he
had recognized the certainty of its truth, as from the first days of their
renewed acquaintance he had doubted the story that his imagination had built
up at White Gables, upon foundations that seemed so good to him.

He said, 'I don't know how to begin the apologies I have to make. There are no
words to tell you how ashamed and disgraced I feel when I realize what a
crude, cock-sure blundering at a conclusion my suspicion was. Yes, I
suspected--you! I had almost forgotten that I was ever such a fool.
Almost--not quite. Sometimes when I have been alone I have remembered that
folly, and poured contempt on it. I have tried to imagine what the facts were.
I have tried to excuse myself.'

She interrupted him quickly. 'What nonsense! Do be sensible, Mr Trent. You had
only seen me on two occasions in your life before you came to me with your
solution of the mystery.' Again the quaint expression came and was gone. 'If
you talk of folly, it really is folly for a man like you to pretend to a woman
like me that I had innocence written all over me in large letters--so large
that you couldn't believe very strong evidence against me after seeing me

'What do you mean by "a man like me"?' he demanded with a sort of fierceness.
'Do you take me for a person without any normal instincts? I don't say you
impress people as a simple, transparent sort of character--what Mr Calvin
Bunner calls a case of open-work; I don't say a stranger might not think you
capable of wickedness, if there was good evidence for it: but I say that a man
who, after seeing you and being in your atmosphere, could associate you with
the particular kind of abomination I imagined, is a fool--the kind of fool who
is afraid to trust his senses .... As for my making it hard for you to
approach the subject, as you say, it is true. It was simply moral cowardice. I
understood that you wished to clear the matter up; and I was revolted at the
notion of my injurious blunder being discussed. I tried to show you by my
actions that it was as if it had never been. I hoped you would pardon me
without any words. I can't forgive myself, and I never shall. And yet if you
could know--' He stopped short, and then added quietly, 'Well, will you accept
all that as an apology? The very scrubbiest sackcloth made, and the grittiest
ashes on the heap....I didn't mean to get worked up,' he ended lamely.

Mrs Manderson laughed, and her laugh carried him away with it. He knew well by
this time that sudden rush of cascading notes of mirth, the perfect expression
of enjoyment; he had many times tried to amuse her merely for his delight in
the sound of it.

'But I love to see you worked up,' she said. 'The bump with which you always
come down as soon as you realize that you are up in the air at all is quite
delightful. Oh, we're actually both laughing. What a triumphant end to our
explanations, after all my dread of the time when I should have it out with
you. And now it's all over, and you know; and we'll never speak of it any

'I hope not,' Trent said in sincere relief. 'If you're resolved to be so kind
as this about it, I am not high-principled enough to insist on your blasting
me with your lightnings. And now, Mrs Manderson, I had better go. Changing the
subject after this would be like playing puss-in-the-corner after an
earthquake.' He rose to his feet.

'You are right,' she said. 'But no! Wait. There is another thing--part of the
same subject; and we ought to pick up all the pieces now while we are about
it. Please sit down.' She took the envelope containing Trent's manuscript
dispatch from the table where he had laid it. 'I want to speak about this.'

His brows bent, and he looked at her questioningly. 'So do I, if you do,' he
said slowly. 'I want very much to know one thing.'

'Tell me.'

'Since my reason for suppressing that information was all a fantasy, why did
you never make any use of it? When I began to realize that I had been wrong
about you, I explained your silence to myself by saying that you could not
bring yourself to do a thing that would put a rope round a man's neck,
whatever he might have done. I can quite understand that feeling. Was that
what it was? Another possibility I thought of was that you knew of something
that was by way of justifying or excusing Marlowe's act. Or I thought you
might have a simple horror, quite apart from humanitarian scruples, of
appearing publicly in connection with a murder trial. Many important witnesses
in such cases have to be practically forced into giving their evidence. They
feel there is defilement even in the shadow of the scaffold.'

Mrs Manderson tapped her lips with the envelope without quite concealing a
smile. 'You didn't think of another possibility, I suppose, Mr Trent,' she

'No.' He looked puzzled.

'I mean the possibility of your having been wrong about Mr Marlowe as well as
about me. No, no; you needn't tell me that the chain of evidence is complete.
I know it is. But evidence of what? Of Mr Marlowe having impersonated my
husband that night, and having escaped by way of my window, and built up an
alibi. I have read your dispatch again and again, Mr Trent, and I don't see
that those things can be doubted.'

Trent gazed at her with narrowed eyes. He said nothing to fill the brief pause
that followed. Mrs Manderson smoothed her skirt with a preoccupied air, as one
collecting her ideas.

'I did not make any use of the facts found out by you,' she slowly said at
last, 'because it seemed to me very likely that they would be fatal to Mr

'I agree with you,' Trent remarked in a colourless tone.

'And,' pursued the lady, looking up at him with a mild reasonableness in her
eyes, 'as I knew that he was innocent I was not going to expose him to that

There was another little pause. Trent rubbed his chin, with an affectation of
turning over the idea. Inwardly he was telling himself, somewhat feebly, that
this was very right and proper; that it was quite feminine, and that he liked
her to be feminine. It was permitted to her--more than permitted--to set her
loyal belief in the character of a friend above the clearest demonstrations of
the intellect. Nevertheless, it chafed him. He would have had her declaration
of faith a little less positive in form. It was too irrational to say she
'knew'. In fact (he put it to himself bluntly), it was quite unlike her. If to
be unreasonable when reason led to the unpleasant was a specially feminine
trait, and if Mrs Manderson had it, she was accustomed to wrap it up better
than any woman he had known.

'You suggest,' he said at length, 'that Marlowe constructed an alibi for
himself, by means which only a desperate man would have attempted, to clear
himself of a crime he did not commit. Did he tell he was innocent?'

She uttered a little laugh of impatience. 'So you think he has been talking me
round. No, that is not so. I am merely sure he did not do it. Ah! I see you
think that absurd. But see how unreasonable you are, Mr Trent! Just now you
were explaining to me quite sincerely that it was foolishness in you to have a
certain suspicion of me after seeing me and being in my atmosphere, as you
said.' Trent started in his chair. She glanced at him, and went on: 'Now, I
and my atmosphere are much obliged to you, but we must stand up for the rights
of other atmospheres. I know a great deal more about Mr Marlowe's atmosphere
than you know about mine even now. I saw him constantly for several years. I
don't pretend to know all about him; but I do know that he is incapable of a
crime of bloodshed. The idea of his planning a murder is as unthinkable to me
as the idea of your picking a poor woman's pocket, Mr Trent. I can imagine you
killing a man, you know... if the man deserved it and had an equal chance of
killing you. I could kill a person myself in some circumstances. But Mr
Marlowe was incapable of doing it, I don't care what the provocation might be.
He had a temper that nothing could shake, and he looked upon human nature with
a sort of cold magnanimity that would find excuses for absolutely anything. It
wasn't a pose; you could see it was a part of him. He never put it forward,
but it was there always. It was quite irritating at times .... Now and then in
America, I remember, I have heard people talking about lynching, for instance,
when he was there. He would sit quite silent and expressionless, appearing not
to listen; but you could feel disgust coming from him in waves. He really
loathed and hated physical violence. He was a very strange man in some ways,
Mr Trent. He gave one a feeling that he might do unexpected things--do you
know that feeling one has about some people? What part he really played in the
events of that night I have never been able to guess. But nobody who knew
anything about him could possibly believe in his deliberately taking a man's
life.' Again the movement of her head expressed finality, and she leaned back
in the sofa, calmly regarding him.

'Then,' said Trent, who had followed this with earnest attention, 'we are
forced back on two other possibilities, which I had not thought worth much
consideration until this moment. Accepting what you say, he might still
conceivably have killed in self-defence; or he might have done so by

The lady nodded. 'Of course I thought of those two explanations when I read
your manuscript.'

'And I suppose you felt, as I did myself, that in either of those cases the
natural thing, and obviously the safest thing, for him to do was to make a
public statement of the truth, instead of setting up a series of deceptions
which would certainly stamp him as guilty in the eyes of the law, if anything
went wrong with them.'

'Yes,' she said wearily, 'I thought over all that until my head ached. And I
thought somebody else might have done it, and that he was somehow screening
the guilty person. But that seemed wild. I could see no light in the mystery,
and after a while I simply let it alone. All I was clear about was that Mr
Marlowe was not a murderer, and that if I told what you had found out, the
judge and jury would probably think he was. I promised myself that I would
speak to you about it if we should meet again; and now I've kept my promise.'

Trent, his chin resting on his hand, was staring at the carpet. The excitement
of the hunt for the truth was steadily rising in him. He had not in his own
mind accepted Mrs Manderson's account of Marlowe's character as
unquestionable. But she had spoken forcibly; he could by no means set it
aside, and his theory was much shaken.

'There is only one thing for it,' he said, looking up. 'I must see Marlowe. It
worries me too much to have the thing left like this. I will get at the truth.
Can you tell me,' he broke off, 'how he behaved after the day I left White

'I never saw him after that,' said Mrs Manderson simply. 'For some days after
you went away I was ill, and didn't go out of my room. When I got down he had
left and was in London, settling things with the lawyers. He did not come down
to the funeral. Immediately after that I went abroad. After some weeks a
letter from him reached me, saying he had concluded his business and given the
solicitors all the assistance in his power. He thanked me very nicely for what
he called all my kindness, and said goodbye. There was nothing in it about his
plans for the future, and I thought it particularly strange that he said not a
word about my husband's death. I didn't answer. Knowing what I knew, I
couldn't. In those days I shuddered whenever I thought of that masquerade in
the night. I never wanted to see or hear of him again.'

'Then you don't know what has become of him?'

'No, but I dare say Uncle Burton--Mr Cupples, you know-could tell you. Some
time ago he told me that he had met Mr Marlowe in London, and had some talk
with him. I changed the conversation.' She paused and smiled with a trace of
mischief. 'I rather wonder what you supposed had happened to Mr Marlowe after
you withdrew from the scene of the drama that you had put together so much to
your satisfaction.'

Trent flushed. 'Do you really want to know?' he said.

'I ask you,' she retorted quietly.

'You ask me to humiliate myself again, Mrs Manderson. Very well. I will tell
you what I thought I should most likely find when I returned to London after
my travels: that you had married Marlowe to live abroad.'

She heard him with unmoved composure. 'We certainly couldn't have lived very
comfortably in England on his money and mine,' she observed thoughtfully. 'He
had practically nothing then.'

He stared at her--'gaped', she told him some time afterwards. At the moment
she laughed with a little embarrassment.

'Dear me, Mr Trent! Have I said anything dreadful? You surely must know .... I
thought everybody understood by now .... I'm sure I've had to explain it often
enough... if I marry again I lose everything that my husband left me.'

The effect of this speech upon Trent was curious. For an instant his face was
flooded with the emotion of surprise. As this passed away he gradually drew
himself together, as he sat, into a tense attitude. He looked, she thought as
she saw his knuckles grow white on the arms of the chair, like a man prepared
for pain under the hand of the surgeon. But all he said, in a voice lower than
his usual tone, was, I had no idea of it.'

'It is so,' she said calmly, trifling with a ring on her finger. 'Really, Mr
Trent, it is not such a very unusual thing. I think I am glad of it. For one
thing, it has secured me--at least since it became generally known--from a
good many attentions of a kind that a woman in my position has to put up with
as a rule.'

'No doubt,' he said gravely. 'And... the other kind?'

She looked at him questioningly. 'Ah!' she laughed. 'The other kind trouble me
even less. I have not yet met a man silly enough to want to marry a widow with
a selfish disposition, and luxurious habits and tastes, and nothing but the
little my father left me.'

She shook her head, and something in the gesture shattered the last remnants
of Trent's self-possession.

'Haven't you, by Heaven!' he exclaimed, rising with a violent movement and
advancing a step towards her. 'Then I am going to show you that human passion
is not always stifled by the smell of money. I am going to end the
business--my business. I am going to tell you what I dare say scores of better
men have wanted to tell you, but couldn't summon up what I have summoned
up--the infernal cheek to do it. They were afraid of making fools of
themselves. I am not. You have accustomed me to the feeling this afternoon.'
He laughed aloud in his rush of words, and spread out his hands. 'Look at me!
It is the sight of the century! It is one who says he loves you, and would ask
you to give up very great wealth to stand at his side.'

She was hiding her face in her hands. He heard her say brokenly, 'Please...
don't speak in that way.'

He answered: 'It will make a great difference to me if you will allow me to
say all I have to say before I leave you. Perhaps it is in bad taste, but I
will risk that; I want to relieve my soul; it needs open confession. This is
the truth. You have troubled me ever since the first time I saw you--and you
did not know it--as you sat under the edge of the cliff at Marlstone, and held
out your arms to the sea. It was only your beauty that filled my mind then. As
I passed by you it seemed as if all the life in the place were crying out a
song about you in the wind and the sunshine. And the song stayed in my ears;
but even your beauty would be no more than an empty memory to me by now if
that had been all. It was when I led you from the hotel there to your house,
with your hand on my arm, that--what was it that happened? I only knew that
your stronger magic had struck home, and that I never should forget that day,
whatever the love of my life should be. Till that day I had admired as I
should admire the loveliness of a still lake; but that day I felt the spell of
the divinity of the lake. And next morning the waters were troubled, and she
rose--the morning when I came to you with my questions, tired out with doubts
that were as bitter as pain, and when I saw you without your pale, sweet mask
of composure--when I saw you moved and glowing, with your eyes and your hands
alive, and when you made me understand that for such a creature as you there
had been emptiness and the mere waste of yourself for so long. Madness rose in
me then, and my spirit was clamouring to say what I say at last now: that life
would never seem a full thing again because you could not love me, that I was
taken for ever in the nets of your black hair and by the incantation of your

'Oh, stop!' she cried, suddenly throwing back her head, her face flaming and
her hands clutching the cushions beside her. She spoke fast and disjointedly,
her breath coming quick. 'You shall not talk me into forgetting common sense.
What does all this mean? Oh, I do not recognize you at all--you seem another
man. We are not children; have you forgotten that? You speak like a boy in
love for the first time. It is foolish, unreal--I know that if you do not. I
will not hear it. What has happened to you?' She was half sobbing. 'How can
these sentimentalities come from a man like you? Where is your

'Gone!' exclaimed Trent, with an abrupt laugh. 'It has got right away. I am
going after it in a minute.' He looked gravely down into her eyes. 'I don't
care so much now. I never could declare myself to you under the cloud of your
great fortune. It was too heavy. There's nothing creditable in that feeling,
as I look at it; as a matter of simple fact it was a form of cowardice--fear
of what you would think, and very likely say--fear of the world's comment too,
I suppose. But the cloud being rolled away, I have spoken, and I don't care so
much. I can face things with a quiet mind now that I have told you the truth
in its own terms. You may call it sentimentality or any other nickname you
like. It is quite true that it was not intended for a scientific statement.
Since it annoys you, let it be extinguished. But please believe that it was
serious to me if it was comedy to you. I have said that I love you, and honour
you, and would hold you dearest of all the world. Now give me leave to go.'

But she held out her hands to him.

CHAPTER XIV: Writing a Letter

'If you insist,' Trent said, 'I suppose you will have your way. But I had much
rather write it when I am not with you. However, if I must, bring me a tablet
whiter than a star, or hand of hymning angel; I mean a sheet of note-paper not
stamped with your address. Don't underestimate the sacrifice I am making. I
never felt less like correspondence in my life.'

She rewarded him.

'What shall I say?' he enquired, his pen hovering over the paper. 'Shall I
compare him to a summer's day? What shall I say?'

'Say what you want to say,' she suggested helpfully.

He shook his head. 'What I want to say--what I have been wanting for the past
twenty-four hours to say to every man, woman, and child I met--is "Mabel and I
are betrothed, and all is gas and gaiters." But that wouldn't be a very good
opening for a letter of strictly formal, not to say sinister, character. I
have got as far as "Dear Mr Marlowe." What comes next?'

'I am sending you a manuscript,' she prompted, 'which I thought you might like
to see.'

'Do you realize,' he said, 'that in that sentence there are only two words of
more than one syllable? This letter is meant to impress, not to put him at his
ease. We must have long words.'

'I don't see why,' she answered. 'I know it is usual, but why is it? I have
had a great many letters from lawyers and business people, and they always
begin, "with reference to our communication", or some such mouthful, and go on
like that all the way through. Yet when I see them they don't talk like that.
It seems ridiculous to me.'

'It is not at all ridiculous to them.' Trent laid aside the pen with an
appearance of relief and rose to his feet. 'Let me explain. A people like our
own, not very fond of using its mind, gets on in the ordinary way with a very
small and simple vocabulary. Long words are abnormal, and like everything else
that is abnormal, they are either very funny or tremendously solemn. Take the
phrase "intelligent anticipation", for instance. If such a phrase had been
used in any other country in Europe, it would not have attracted the slightest
attention. With us it has become a proverb; we all grin when we hear it in a
speech or read it in a leading article; it is considered to be one of the best
things ever said. Why? Just because it consists of two long words. The idea
expressed is as commonplace as cold mutton. Then there's "terminological
inexactitude". How we all roared, and are still roaring, at that! And the
whole of the joke is that the words are long. It's just the same when we want
to be very serious; we mark it by turning to long words. When a solicitor can
begin a sentence with, "pursuant to the instructions communicated to our
representative, or some such gibberish, he feels that he is earning his
six-and-eightpence. Don't laugh! It is perfectly true. Now Continentals
haven't got that feeling. They are always bothering about ideas, and the
result is that every shopkeeper or peasant has a vocabulary in daily use that
is simply Greek to the vast majority of Britons. I remember some time ago I
was dining with a friend of mine who is a Paris cabman. We had dinner at a
dirty little restaurant opposite the central post office, a place where all
the clients were cabmen or porters. Conversation was general, and it struck me
that a London cabman would have felt a little out of his depth. Words like
"functionary" and "unforgettable" and "exterminate" and "independence" hurtled
across the table every instant. And these were just ordinary, vulgar, jolly,
red-faced cabmen. Mind you,' he went on hurriedly, as the lady crossed the
room and took up his pen, 'I merely mention this to illustrate my point. I'm
not saying that cab-men ought to be intellectuals. I don't think so; I agree
with Keats--happy is England, sweet her artless cabmen, enough their simple
loveliness for me. But when you come to the people who make up the collective
industrial brain-power of the country .... Why, do you know--'

'Oh no, no, no!' cried Mrs Manderson. 'I don't know anything at the moment,
except that your talking must be stopped somehow, if we are to get any further
with that letter to Mr Marlowe. You shall not get out of it. Come!' She put
the pen into his hand.

Trent looked at it with distaste. 'I warn you not to discourage my talking,'
he said dejectedly. 'Believe me, men who don't talk are even worse to live
with than men who do. O have a care of natures that are mute. I confess I'm
shirking writing this thing. It is almost an indecency. It's mixing two moods
to write the sort of letter I mean to write, and at the same time to be
sitting in the same room with you.'

She led him to his abandoned chair before the escritoire and pushed him gently
into it. 'Well, but please try. I want to see what you write, and I want it to
go to him at once. You see, I would be contented enough to leave things as
they are; but you say you must get at the truth, and if you must, I want it to
be as soon as possible. Do it now--you know you can if you will--and I'll send
it off the moment it's ready. Don't you ever feel that--the longing to get the
worrying letter into the post and off your hands, so that you can't recall it
if you would, and it's no use fussing any more about it?'

'I will do as you wish,' he said, and turned to the paper, which he dated as
from his hotel. Mrs Manderson looked down at his bent head with a gentle light
in her eyes, and made as if to place a smoothing hand upon his rather untidy
crop of hair. But she did not touch it. Going in silence to the piano, she
began to play very softly. It was ten minutes before Trent spoke.

'If he chooses to reply that he will say nothing?'

Mrs Manderson looked over her shoulder. 'Of course he dare not take that line.
He will speak to prevent you from denouncing him.'

'But I'm not going to do that anyhow. You wouldn't allow it--you said so;
besides, I won't if you would. The thing's too doubtful now.'

'But,' she laughed, 'poor Mr Marlowe doesn't know you won't, does he?'

Trent sighed. 'What extraordinary things codes of honour are!' he remarked
abstractedly. 'I know that there are things I should do, and never think twice
about, which would make you feel disgraced if you did them--such as giving any
one who grossly insulted me a black eye, or swearing violently when I barked
my shin in a dark room. And now you are calmly recommending me to bluff
Marlowe by means of a tacit threat which I don't mean; a thing which hews most
abandoned fiend did never, in the drunkenness of guilt--well, anyhow, I won't
do it.' He resumed his writing, and the lady, with an indulgent smile,
returned to playing very softly.

In a few minutes more, Trent said: 'At last I am his faithfully. Do you want
to see it?' She ran across the twilight room, and turned on a reading lamp
beside the escritoire. Then, leaning on his shoulder, she read what follows:



At this point Mrs Manderson raised her eyes quickly from the letter. Her dark
brows were drawn together. 'Two persons?' she said with a note of enquiry.

'Your uncle is the other. I sought him out last night and told him the whole
story. Have you anything against it? I always felt uneasy at keeping it from
him as I did, because I had led him to expect I should tell him all I
discovered, and my silence looked like mystery-making. Now it is to be cleared
up finally, and there is no question of shielding you, I wanted him to know
everything. He is a very shrewd adviser, too, in a way of his own; and I
should like to have him with me when I see Marlowe. I have a feeling that two
heads will be better than one on my side of the interview.'

She sighed. 'Yes, of course, uncle ought to know the truth. I hope there is
nobody else at all.' She pressed his hand. 'I so much want all that horror
buried--buried deep. I am very happy now, dear, but I shall be happier still
when you have satisfied that curious mind of yours and found out everything,
and stamped down the earth upon it all.' She continued her reading.



What a very stiff letter!' she said. 'Now I am sure you couldn't have made it
any stiffer in your own rooms.'

Trent slipped the letter and enclosure into a long envelope. 'Yes,' he said,
'I think it will make him sit up suddenly. Now this thing mustn't run any risk
of going wrong. It would be best to send a special messenger with orders to
deliver it into his own hands. If he's away it oughtn't to be left.'

She nodded. 'I can arrange that. Wait here for a little.'

When Mrs Manderson returned, he was hunting through the music cabinet. She
sank on the carpet beside him in a wave of dark brown skirts. 'Tell me
something, Philip,' she said.

'If it is among the few things that I know.'

'When you saw uncle last night, did you tell him about--about us?' 'I did
not,' he answered. 'I remembered you had said nothing about telling any one.
It is for you--isn't it?--to decide whether we take the world into our
confidence at once or later on.'

'Then will you tell him?' She looked down at her clasped hands. 'I wish you to
tell him. Perhaps if you think you will guess why .... There! that is
settled.' She lifted her eyes again to his, and for a time there was silence
between them.

He leaned back at length in the deep chair. 'What a world!' he said. 'Mabel,
will you play something on the piano that expresses mere joy, the genuine
article, nothing feverish or like thorns under a pot, but joy that has decided
in favour of the universe? It's a mood that can't last altogether, so we had
better get all we can out of it.'

She went to the instrument and struck a few chords while she thought. Then she
began to work with all her soul at the theme in the last movement of the Ninth
Symphony which is like the sound of the opening of the gates of Paradise.

CHAPTER XV: Double Cunning

An old oaken desk with a deep body stood by the window in a room that
overlooked St James s Park from a height. The room was large, furnished and
decorated by some one who had brought taste to the work; but the hand of the
bachelor lay heavy upon it. John Marlowe unlocked the desk and drew a long,
stout envelope the back of the well.

'I understand,' he said to Mr Cupples, 'that you have read this.'

'I read it for the first time two days ago,' replied Mr Cupples, who, seated
on a sofa, was peering about the room with a benignant face. 'We have
discussed it fully.'

Marlowe turned to Trent. 'There is your manuscript,' he said, laying the
envelope on the table. 'I have gone over it three times. I do not believe
there is another man who could have got at as much of the truth as you have
set down there.'

Trent ignored the compliment. He sat by the table gazing stonily at the fire,
his long legs twisted beneath his chair. 'You mean, of course, he said,
drawing the envelope towards him, 'that there is more of the truth to be
disclosed now. We are ready to hear you as soon as you like. I expect it will
be a long story, and the longer the better, so far as I am concerned; I want
to understand thoroughly. What we should both like, I think, is some
preliminary account of Manderson and your relations with him. It seemed to me
from the first that the character of the dead man must be somehow an element
in the business.'

'You were right, Marlowe answered grimly. He crossed the room and seated
himself on a corner of the tall cushion-topped fender. 'I will begin as you

'I ought to tell you beforehand, said Trent, looking him in the eyes, 'that
although I am here to listen to you, I have not as yet any reason to doubt the
conclusions I have stated here.' He tapped the envelope. 'It is a defence that
you will be putting forward--you understand that?'

'Perfectly.' Marlowe was cool and in complete possession of himself, a man
different indeed from the worn-out, nervous being Trent remembered at
Marlstone a year and a half ago. His tall, lithe figure was held with the
perfection of muscular tone. His brow was candid, his blue eyes were clear,
though they still had, as he paused collecting his ideas, the look that had
troubled Trent at their first meeting. Only the lines of his mouth showed that
he knew himself in a position of difficulty, and meant to face it.

'Sigsbee Manderson was not a man of normal mind,' Marlowe began in his quiet
voice. 'Most of the very rich men I met with in America had become so by
virtue of abnormal greed, or abnormal industry, or abnormal personal force, or
abnormal luck. None of them had remarkable intellects. Manderson delighted too
in heaping up wealth; he worked incessantly at it; he was a man of dominant
will; he had quite his share of luck; but what made him singular was his
brainpower. In his own country they would perhaps tell you that it was his
ruthlessness in pursuit of his aims that was his most striking characteristic;
but there are hundreds of them who would have carried out his plans with just
as little consideration for others if they could have formed the plans.

'I'm not saying Americans aren't clever; they are ten times cleverer than we
are, as a nation; but I never met another who showed such a degree of sagacity
and foresight, such gifts of memory and mental tenacity, such sheer force of
intelligence, as there was behind everything Manderson did in his money-making
career. They called him the "Napoleon of Wall Street" often enough in the
papers; but few people knew so well as I did how much truth there was in the
phrase. He seemed never to forget a fact that might be of use to him, in the
first place; and he did systematically with the business facts that concerned
him what Napoleon did, as I have read, with military facts. He studied them in
special digests which were prepared for him at short intervals, and which he
always had at hand, so that he could take up his report on coal or wheat or
railways, or whatever it might be, in any unoccupied moment. Then he could
make a bolder and cleverer plan than any man of them all. People got to know
that Manderson would never do the obvious thing, but they got no further; the
thing he did do was almost always a surprise, and much of his success flowed
from that. The Street got rattled, as they used to put it, when known that the
old man was out with his gun, and often his opponents seemed to surrender as
easily as Colonel Crockett's coon in the story. The scheme I am going to
describe to you would have occupied most men long enough. Manderson could have
plotted the thing, down to the last detail, while he shaved himself.

'I used to think that his strain of Indian blood, remote as it was, might have
something to do with the cunning and ruthlessness of the man. Strangely
enough, its existence was unknown to any one but himself and me. It was when
he asked me to apply my taste for genealogical work to his own obscure family
history that I made the discovery that he had in him a share of the blood of
the Iroquois chief Montour and his French wife, a terrible woman who ruled the
savage politics of the tribes of the Wilderness two hundred years ago. The
Mandersons were active in the fur trade on the Pennsylvanian border in those
days, and more than one of them married Indian women. Other Indian blood than
Montour's may have descended to Manderson, for all I can say, through previous
and subsequent unions; some of the wives' antecedents were quite untraceable,
and there were so many generations of pioneering before the whole country was
brought under civilization. My researches left me with the idea that there is
a very great deal of the aboriginal blood present in the genealogical make-up
of the people of America, and that it is very widely spread. The newer
families have constantly intermarried with the older, and so many of them had
a strain of the native in them-and were often rather proud of it, too, in
those days. But Manderson had the idea about the disgracefulness of mixed
blood, which grew much stronger, I fancy, with the rise of the negro question
after the war. He was thunderstruck at what I told him, and was anxious to
conceal it from every soul. Of course I never gave it away while he lived, and
I don't think he supposed I would; but I have thought since that his mind took
a turn against me from that time onward. It happened about a year before his

'Had Manderson,' asked Mr Cupples, so unexpectedly that the others started,
'any definable religious attitude?'

Marlowe considered a moment. 'None that ever I heard of,' he said. 'Worship
and prayer were quite unknown to him, so far as I could see, and I never heard
him mention religion. I should doubt if he had any real sense of God at all,
or if he was capable of knowing God through the emotions. But I understood
that as a child he had had a religious upbringing with a strong moral side to
it. His private life was, in the usual limited sense, blameless. He was almost
ascetic in his habits, except as to smoking. I lived with him four years
without ever knowing him to tell a direct verbal falsehood, constantly as he
used to practise deceit in other forms. Can you understand the soul of a man
who never hesitated to take steps that would have the effect of hoodwinking
people, who would use every trick of the markets to mislead, and who was at
the same time scrupulous never to utter a direct lie on the most insignificant
matter? Manderson was like that, and he was not the only one. I suppose you
might compare the state of mind to that of a soldier who is personally a
truthful man, but who will stick at nothing to deceive the enemy. The rules of
the game allow it; and the same may be said of business as many business men
regard it. Only with them it is always wartime.'

'It is a sad world,' observed Mr Cupples.

'As you say,' Marlowe agreed. 'Now I was saying that one could always take
Manderson's word if he gave it in a definite form. The first time I ever heard
him utter a downright lie was on the night he died; and hearing it, I believe,
saved me from being hanged as his murderer.'

Marlowe stared at the light above his head and Trent moved impatiently in his
chair. 'Before we come to that,' he said, 'will you tell us exactly on what
footing you were with Manderson during the years you were with him?'

'We were on very good terms from beginning to end,' answered Marlowe. 'Nothing
like friendship--he was not a man for making friends---but the best of terms
as between a trusted employee and his chief. I went to him as private
secretary just after getting my degree at Oxford. I was to have gone into my
father's business, where I am now, but my father suggested that I should see
the world for a year or two. So I took this secretaryship, which seemed to
promise a good deal of varied experience, and I had let the year or two run on
to four years before the end came. The offer came to me through the last thing
in the world I should have put forward as a qualification for a salaried post,
and that was chess.'

At the word Trent struck his hands together with a muttered exclamation. The
others looked at him in surprise.

'Chess!' repeated Trent. 'Do you know,' he said, rising and approaching
Marlowe, 'what was the first thing I noted about you at our first meeting? It
was your eye, Mr Marlowe. I couldn't place it then, but I know now where I had
seen your eyes before. They were in the head of no less a man than the great
Nikolay Korchagin, with whom I once sat in the same railway carriage for two
days. I thought I should never forget the chess eye after that, but I could
not put a name to it when I saw it in you. I beg your pardon,' he ended
suddenly, resuming marmoreal attitude in his chair.

'I have played the game from my childhood, and with good players,' said
Marlowe simply. 'It is an hereditary gift, if you can call it a gift. At the
University I was nearly as good as anybody there, and I gave most of my brains
to that and the OUDS and playing about generally. At Oxford, as I dare say you
know, inducements to amuse oneself at the expense of one's education are
endless, and encouraged by the authorities. Well, one day toward the end of my
last term, Dr Munro of Queen's, whom I had never defeated, sent for me. He
told me that I played a fairish game of chess. I said it was very good of him
to say so. Then he said, "They tell me you hunt, too." I said, "Now and then."
He asked, "Is there anything else you can do? "No," I said, not much liking
the tone of the conversation-the old man generally succeeded in putting
people's backs up. He grunted fiercely, and then told me that enquiries were
being made on behalf of a wealthy American man of business who wanted an
English secretary. Manderson was the name, he said. He seemed never to have
heard it before, which was quite possible, as he never opened a newspaper and
had not slept a night outside the college for thirty years. If I could rub up
my spelling-as the old gentleman put it--I might have a good chance for the
post, as chess and riding and an Oxford education were the only indispensable

'Well, I became Manderson's secretary. For a long time I liked the position
greatly. When one is attached to an active American plutocrat in the prime of
life one need not have many dull moments. Besides, it made me independent. My
father had some serious business reverses about that time, and I was glad to
be able to do without an allowance from him. At the end of the first year
Manderson doubled my salary. "It's big money," he said, "but I guess I don't
lose." You see, by that time I was doing a great deal more than accompany him
on horseback in the morning and play chess in the evening, which was mainly
what he had required. I was attending to his houses, his farm in Ohio, his
shooting in Maine, his horses, his cars, and his yacht. I had become a walking
railway-guide and an expert cigar-buyer. I was always learning something.

'Well, now you understand what my position was in regard to Manderson during
the last two or three years of my connection with him. It was a happy life for
me on the whole. I was busy, my work was varied and interesting; I had time to
amuse myself too, and money to spend. At one time I made a fool of myself
about a girl, and that was not a happy time; but it taught me to understand
the great goodness of Mrs Manderson.' Marlowe inclined his head to Mr Cupples
as he said this. 'She may choose to tell you about it. As for her husband, he
had never varied in his attitude towards me, in spite of the change that came
over him in the last months of his life, as you know. He treated me well and
generously in his unsympathetic way, and I never had a feeling that he was
less than satisfied with his bargain--that was the sort of footing we lived
upon. And it was that continuance of his attitude right up to the end that
made the revelation so shocking when I was suddenly shown, on the night on
which he met his end, the depth of crazy hatred of myself that was in
Manderson's soul.'

The eyes of Trent and Mr Cupples met for an instant.

'You never suspected that he hated you before that time?' asked Trent; and Mr
Cupples asked at the same moment, 'To what did you attribute it?'

'I never guessed until that night,' answered Marlowe, 'that he had the
smallest ill-feeling toward me. How long it had existed I do not know. I
cannot imagine why it was there. I was forced to think, when I considered the
thing in those awful days after his death, that it was a case of a madman's
delusion, that he believed me to be plotting against him, as they so often do.
Some such insane conviction must have been at the root of it. But who can
sound the abysses of a lunatic's fancy? Can you imagine the state of mind in
which a man dooms himself to death with the object of delivering some one he
hates to the hangman?'

Mr Cupples moved sharply in his chair. 'You say Manderson was responsible for
his own death?' he asked.

Trent glanced at him with an eye of impatience, and resumed his intent watch
upon the face of Marlowe. In the relief of speech it was now less pale and

'I do say so,' Marlowe answered concisely, and looked his questioner in the
face. Mr Cupples nodded.

'Before we proceed to the elucidation of your statement,' observed the old
gentleman, in a tone of one discussing a point of abstract science, 'it may be
remarked that the state of mind which you attribute to Manderson-'

'Suppose we have the story first,' Trent interrupted, gently laying a hand on
Mr Cupples's arm. 'You were telling us,' he went on, turning to Marlowe, 'how
things stood between you and Manderson. Now you tell us the facts of what
happened that night?'

Marlowe flushed at the barely perceptible emphasis which Trent laid upon the
word 'facts'. He drew himself up.

Bunner and myself dined with Mr and Mrs Manderson that Sunday evening,' he
began, speaking carefully. 'It was just like other dinners at which the four
of us had been together. Manderson was taciturn and gloomy, as we had latterly
been accustomed to see him. We others kept a conversation going. We rose from
the table, I suppose, about nine. Mrs Manderson went to the drawing-room, and
Bunner went up to the hotel to see an acquaintance. Manderson asked me to come
into the orchard behind the house, saying he wished to have a talk. We paced
up and down the pathway there, out of earshot from the house, and Manderson,
as he smoked his cigar, spoke to me in his cool, deliberate way. He had never
seemed more sane, or more well-disposed to me. He said he wanted me to do him
an important service. There was a big thing on. It was a secret affair. Bunner
knew nothing of it, and the less I knew the better. He wanted me to do exactly
as he directed, and not bother my head about reasons.

'This, I may say, was quite characteristic of Manderson's method of going to
work. If at times he required a man to be a mere tool in his hand, he would
tell him so. He had used me in the same kind of way a dozen times. I assured
him he could rely on me, and said I was ready. "Right now?" he asked. I said
of course I was.

'He nodded, and said--I tell you his words as well as I can recollect them--
attend to this. There is a man in England now who is in this thing with me. He
was to have left tomorrow for Paris by the noon boat from Southampton to
Havre. His name is George Harris--at least that's the name he is going by. Do
you remember that name?" "Yes," I said, "when I went up to London a week ago
you asked me to book a cabin in that name on the boat that goes tomorrow. I
gave you the ticket." "Here it is," he said, producing it from his pocket.

'"Now," Manderson said to me, poking his cigar-butt at me with each sentence
in a way he used to have, "George Harris cannot leave England tomorrow. I find
I shall want him where he is. And I want Bunner where he is. But somebody has
got to go by that boat and take certain papers to Paris. Or else my plan is
going to fall to pieces. Will you go?" I said, "Certainly. I am here to obey

'He bit his cigar, and said, "That's all right; but these are not just
ordinary orders. Not the kind of thing one can ask of a man in the ordinary
way of his duty to an employer. The point is this. The deal I am busy with is
one in which neither myself nor any one known to be connected with me must
appear as yet. That is vital. But these people I am up against know your face
as well as they know mine. If my secretary is known in certain quarters to
have crossed to Paris at this time and to have interviewed certain people--and
that would be known as soon as it happened--then the game is up." He threw
away his cigar-end and looked at me questioningly.

'I didn't like it much, but I liked failing Manderson at a pinch still less. I
spoke lightly. I said I supposed I should have to conceal my identity, and I
would do my best. I told him I used to be pretty good at make-up.

'He nodded in approval. He said, "That's good. I judged you would not let me
down." Then he gave me my instructions. "You take the car right now," he said,
"and start for Southampton--there's no train that will fit in. You'll be
driving all night. Barring accidents, you ought to get there by six in the
morning. But whenever you arrive, drive straight to the Bedford Hotel and ask
for George Harris. If he's there, tell him you are to go over instead of him,
and ask him to telephone me here. It is very important he should know that at
the earliest moment possible. But if he isn't there, that means he has got the
instructions I wired today, and hasn't gone to Southampton. In that case you
don't want to trouble about him any more, but just wait for the boat. You can
leave the car at a garage under a fancy name--mine must not be given. See
about changing your appearance--I don't care how, so you do it well. Travel by
the boat as George Harris. Let on to be anything you like, but be careful, and
don't talk much to anybody. When you arrive, take a room at the Hotel St
Petersbourg. You will receive a note or message there, addressed to George
Harris, telling you where to take the wallet I shall give you. The wallet is
locked, and you want to take good care of it. Have you got that all clear?"

'I repeated the instructions. I asked if I should return from Paris after
handing over the wallet. "As soon as you like," he said. "And mind this--
whatever happens, don't communicate with me at any stage of the journey. If
you don't get the message in Paris at once, just wait until you do--days, if
necessary. But not a line of any sort to me. Understand? Now get ready as
quick as you can. I'll go with you in the car a little way. Hurry."

'That is, as far as I can remember, the exact substance of what Manderson said
to me that night. I went to my room, changed into day clothes, and hastily
threw a few necessaries into a kit-bag. My mind was in a whirl, not so much at
the nature of the business as at the suddenness of it. I think I remember
telling you the last time we met'-he turned to Trent--'that Manderson shared
the national fondness for doings things in a story-book style. Other things
being equal, he delighted in a bit of mystification and melodrama, and I told
myself that this was Manderson all over. I hurried downstairs with my bag and
rejoined him in the library. He handed me a stout leather letter-case, about
eight inches by six, fastened with a strap with a lock on it. I could just
squeeze it into my side-pocket. Then I went to get the car from the garage
behind the house.

'As I was bringing it round to the front a disconcerting thought struck me. I
remembered that I had only a few shillings in my pocket.

'For some time past I had been keeping myself very short of cash, and for this
reason--which I tell you because it is a vital point, as you shall see in a
minute. I was living temporarily on borrowed money. I had always been careless
about money while I was with Manderson, and being a gregarious animal I had
made many friends, some of them belonging to a New York set that had little to
do but get rid of the large incomes given them by their parents. Still, I was
very well paid, and I was too busy even to attempt to go very far with them in
that amusing occupation. I was still well on the right side of the ledger
until I began, merely out of curiosity, to play at speculation. It's a very
old story-- particularly in Wall Street. I thought it was easy; I was lucky at
first; I would always be prudent--and so on. Then came the day when I went out
of my depth. In one week I was separated from my toll, as Bunner expressed it
when I told him; and I owed money too. I had had my lesson. Now in this pass I
went to Manderson and told him what I had done and how I stood. He heard me
with a very grim smile, and then, with the nearest approach to sympathy I had
ever found in him, he advanced me a sum on account of my salary that would
clear me. "Don't play the markets any more," was all he said.

'Now on that Sunday night Manderson knew that I was practically without any
money in the world. He knew that Bunner knew it too. He may have known that I
had even borrowed a little more from Bunner for pocket-money until my next
cheque was due, which, owing to my anticipation of my salary, would not have
been a large one. Bear this knowledge of Manderson's in mind.

'As soon as I had brought the car round I went into the library and stated the
difficulty to Manderson.

'What followed gave me, slight as it was, my first impression of something odd
being afoot. As soon as I mentioned the word "expenses'' his hand went
mechanically to his left hip-pocket, where he always kept a little case
containing notes to the value of about a hundred pounds in our money. This was
such a rooted habit in him that I was astonished to see him check the movement
suddenly. Then, to my greater amazement, he swore under his breath. I had
never heard him do this before; but Bunner had told me that of late he had
often shown irritation in this way when they were alone. "Has he mislaid his
note-case?" was the question that flashed through my mind. But it seemed to me
that it could not affect his plan at all, and I will tell you why. The week
before, when I had gone up to London to carry out various commissions,
including the booking of a berth for Mr George Harris, I had drawn a thousand
pounds for Manderson from his bankers, and all, at his request, in notes of
small amounts. I did not know what this unusually large sum in cash was for,
but I did know that the packets of notes were in his locked desk in the
library, or had been earlier in the day, when I had seen him fingering them as
he sat at the desk.

'But instead of turning to the desk, Manderson stood looking at me. There was
fury in his face, and it was a strange sight to see him gradually master it
until his eyes grew cold again. "Wait in the car," he said slowly. "I will get
some money." We both went out, and as I was getting into my overcoat in the
hall I saw him enter the drawing-which, you remember, was on the other side of
the entrance hall.

'I stepped out on to the lawn before the house and smoked a cigarette, pacing
up and down. I was asking myself again and again where that thousand pounds
was; whether it was in the drawing-room, and if so, why. Presently, as I
passed one of the drawing-room windows, I noticed Mrs Manderson's shadow on
the thin silk curtain. She was standing at her escritoire. The window was
open, and as I passed I heard her say, "I have not quite thirty pounds here.
Will that be enough?" I did not hear the answer, but next moment Manderson's
shadow was mingled with hers, and I heard the chink of money. Then, as he
stood by the window, and as I was moving away, these words of his came to my
ears--and these at least I can repeat exactly, for astonishment stamped them
on my memory--"I'm going out now. Marlowe has persuaded me to go for a
moonlight run in the car. He is very urgent about it. He says it will help me
to sleep, and I guess he is right."

I have told you that in the course of four years I had never once heard
Manderson utter a direct lie about anything, great or small. I believed that I
understood the man's queer, skin-deep morality, and I could have sworn that if
he was firmly pressed with a question that could not be evaded he would either
refuse to answer or tell the truth. But what had I just heard? No answer to
any question. A voluntary statement, precise in terms, that was utterly false.
The unimaginable had happened. It was almost as if some one I knew well, in a
moment of closest sympathy, had suddenly struck me in the face. The blood
rushed to my head, and I stood still on the grass. I stood there until I heard
his step at the front door, and then I pulled myself together and stepped
quickly to the car. He handed me a banker's paper bag with gold and notes in
it. "There's more than you'll want there," he said, and I pocketed it

'For a minute or so I stood discussing with Manderson--it was by one of those
tours de force of which one's mind is capable under great excitement--points
about the route of the long drive before me. I had made the run several times
by day, and I believe I spoke quite calmly and naturally about it. But while I
spoke my mind was seething in a flood of suddenly born suspicion and fear. I
did not know what I feared. I simply felt fear, somehow--I did not know how--
connected with Manderson. My soul once opened to it, fear rushed in like an
assaulting army. I felt--I knew--that something was altogether wrong and
sinister, and I felt myself to be the object of it. Yet Manderson was surely
no enemy of mine. Then my thoughts reached out wildly for an answer to the
question why he had told that lie. And all the time the blood hammered in my
ears, "Where is that money?" Reason struggled hard to set up the suggestion
that the two things were not necessarily connected. The instinct of a man in
danger would not listen to it. As we started, and the car took the curve into
the road, it was merely the unconscious part of me that steered and controlled
it, and that made occasional empty remarks as we slid along in the moonlight.
Within me was a confusion and vague alarm that was far worse than any definite
terror I ever felt.

'About a mile from the house, you remember, one passed on one's left a gate,
on the other side of which was the golf-course. There Manderson said he would
get down, and I stopped the car. "You've got it all clear?" he asked. With a
sort of wrench I forced myself to remember and repeat the directions given me.
"That's OK," he said. "Goodbye, then. Stay with that wallet." Those were the
last words I heard him speak, as the car moved gently away from him.'

Marlowe rose from his chair and pressed his hands to his eyes. He was flushed
with the excitement of his own narrative, and there was in his look a horror
of recollection that held both the listeners silent. He shook himself with a
movement like a dog's, and then, his hands behind him, stood erect before the
fire as he continued his tale.

'I expect you both know what the back-reflector of a motor car is.'

Trent nodded quickly, his face alive with anticipation; but Mr Cupples, who
cherished a mild but obstinate prejudice against motor cars, readily confessed
to ignorance.

'It is a small round or more often rectangular mirror,' Marlowe explained,
'rigged out from the right side of the screen in front of the driver, and
adjusted in such a way that he can see, without turning round, if anything is
coming up behind to pass him. It is quite an ordinary appliance, and there was
one on this car. As the car moved on, and Manderson ceased speaking behind me,
I saw in that mirror a thing that I wish I could forget.'

Marlowe was silent for a moment, staring at the wall before him.

'Manderson's face,' he said in a low tone. 'He was standing in the road,
looking after me, only a few yards behind, and the moonlight was full on his
face. The mirror happened to catch it for an instant.

'Physical habit is a wonderful thing. I did not shift hand or foot on the
controlling mechanism of the car. Indeed, I dare say it steadied me against
the shock to have myself braced to the business of driving. You have read in
books, no doubt, of hell looking out of a man's eyes, but perhaps you don't
know what a good metaphor that is. If I had not known Manderson was there, I
should not have recognized the face. It was that of a madman, distorted,
hideous in the imbecility of hate, the teeth bared in a simian grin of
ferocity and triumph; the eyes .... In the little mirror I had this glimpse of
the face alone. I saw nothing of whatever gesture there may have been as that
writhing white mask glared after me. And I saw it only for a flash. The car
went on, gathering speed, and as it went, my brain, suddenly purged of the
vapours of doubt and perplexity, was as busy as the throbbing engine before my
feet. I knew.

'You say something in that manuscript of yours, Mr Trent, about the swift
automatic way in which one's ideas arrange themselves about some new
illuminating thought. It is quite true. The awful intensity of ill-will that
had flamed after me from those straining eyeballs poured over my mind like a
searchlight. I was thinking quite clearly now, and almost coldly, for I knew
what--at least I knew whom--I had to fear, and instinct warned me that it was
not a time to give room to the emotions that were fighting to possess me. The
man hated me insanely. That incredible fact I suddenly knew. But the face had
told me, it would have told anybody, more than that. It was a face of hatred
gratified, it proclaimed some damnable triumph. It had gloated over me driving
away to my fate. This too was plain to me. And to what fate?

'I stopped the car. It had gone about two hundred and fifty yards, and a sharp
bend of the road hid the spot where I had set Manderson down. I lay back in
the seat and thought it out. Something was to happen to me. In Paris?
Probably--why else should I be sent there, with money and a ticket? But why
Paris? That puzzled me, for I had no melodramatic ideas about Paris. I put the
point aside for a moment. I turned to the other things that had roused my
attention that evening. The lie about my "persuading him to go for a moonlight
run". What was the intention of that? Manderson, I said to myself, will be
returning without me while I am on my way to Southampton. What will he tell
them about me? How account for his returning alone, and without the car? As I
asked myself that sinister question there rushed into my mind the last of my
difficulties: "Where are the thousand pounds?" And in the same instant came
the answer: "The thousand pounds are in my pocket."

'I got up and stepped from the car. My knees trembled and I felt very sick. I
saw the plot now, as I thought. The whole of the story about the papers and
the necessity of their being taken to Paris was a blind. With Manderson's
money about me, of which he would declare I had robbed him, I was, to all
appearance, attempting to escape from England, with every precaution that
guilt could suggest. He would communicate with the police at once, and would
know how to put them on my track. I should be arrested in Paris, if I got so
far, living under a false name, after having left the car under a false name,
disguised myself, and travelled in a cabin which I had booked in advance, also
under a false name. It would be plainly the crime of a man without money, and
for some reason desperately in want of it. As for my account of the affair, it
would be too preposterous.

'As this ghastly array of incriminating circumstances rose up before me, I
dragged the stout letter-case from my pocket. In the intensity of the moment,
I never entertained the faintest doubt that I was right, and that the money
was there. It would easily hold the packets of notes. But as I felt it and
weighed it in my hands it seemed to me there must be more than this. It was
too bulky. What more was to be laid to my charge? After all, a thousand pounds
was not much to tempt a man like myself to run the risk of penal servitude. In
this new agitation, scarcely knowing what I did, I caught the surrounding
strap in my fingers just above the fastening and tore the staple out of the
lock. Those locks, you know, are pretty flimsy as a rule.'

Here Marlowe paused and walked to the oaken desk before the window. Opening a
drawer full of miscellaneous objects, he took out a box of odd keys, and
selected a small one distinguished by a piece of pink tape.

He handed it to Trent. 'I keep that by me as a sort of morbid memento. It is
the key to the lock I smashed. I might have saved myself the trouble, if I had
known that this key was at that moment in the left-hand side-pocket of my
overcoat. Manderson must have slipped it in, either while the coat was hanging
in the hall or while he sat at my side in the car. I might not have found the
tiny thing there for weeks: as a matter of fact I did find it two days after
Manderson was dead, but a police search would have found it in five minutes.
And then I--I with the case and its contents in my pocket, my false name and
my sham spectacles and the rest of it--I should have had no explanation to
offer but the highly convincing one that I didn't know the key was there.'

Trent dangled the key by its tape idly. Then: 'How do you know this is the key
of that case?' he asked quickly.

'I tried it. As soon as I found it I went up and fitted it to the lock. I knew
where I had left the thing. So do you, I think, Mr Trent. Don't you?' There
was a faint shade of mockery in Marlowe's voice.

'Touche,' Trent said, with a dry smile. 'I found a large empty letter-case
with a burst lock lying with other odds and ends on the dressing-table in
Manderson's room. Your statement is that you put it there. I could make
nothing of it.' He closed his lips.

'There was no reason for hiding it,' said Marlowe. 'But to get back to my
story. I burst the lock of the strap. I opened the case before one of the
lamps of the car. The first thing I found in it I ought to have expected, of
course, but I hadn't.' He paused and glanced at Trent.

'It was--' began Trent mechanically, and then stopped himself. 'Try not to
bring me in any more, if you don't mind,' he said, meeting the other's eye. 'I
have complimented you already in that document on your cleverness. You need
not prove it by making the judge help you out with your evidence.'

'All right,' agreed Marlowe. 'I couldn't resist just that much. If you had
been in my place you would have known before I did that Manderson's little
pocket- case was there. As soon as I saw it, of course, I remembered his not
having had it about him when I asked for money, and his surprising anger. He
had made a false step. He had already fastened his note-case up with the rest
of what was to figure as my plunder, and placed it in my hands. I opened it.
It contained a few notes as usual, I didn't count them.

'Tucked into the flaps of the big case in packets were the other notes, just
as I had brought them from London. And with them were two small wash-leather
bags, the look of which I knew well. My heart jumped sickeningly again, for
this, too, was utterly unexpected. In those bags Manderson kept the diamonds
in which he had been investing for some time past. I didn't open them; I could
feel the tiny stones shifting under the pressure of my fingers. How many
thousands of pounds' worth there were there I have no idea. We had regarded
Manderson's diamond- buying as merely a speculative fad. I believe now that it
was the earliest movement in the scheme for my ruin. For any one like myself
to be represented as having robbed him, there ought to be a strong inducement
shown. That had been provided with a vengeance.

'Now, I thought, I have the whole thing plain, and I must act. I saw instantly
what I must do. I had left Manderson about a mile from the house. It would
take him twenty minutes, fifteen if he walked fast, to get back to the house,
where he would, of course, immediately tell his story of robbery, and probably
telephone at once to the police in Bishopsbridge. I had left him only five or
six minutes ago; for all that I have just told you was as quick thinking as I
ever did. It would be easy to overtake him in the car before he neared the
house. There would be an awkward interview. I set my teeth as I thought of it,
and all my fears vanished as I began to savour the gratification of telling
him my opinion of him. There are probably few people who ever positively
looked forward to an awkward interview with Manderson; but I was mad with
rage. My honour and my liberty had been plotted against with detestable
treachery. I did not consider what would follow the interview. That would
arrange itself.

'I had started and turned the car, I was already going fast toward White
Gables, when I heard the sound of a shot in front of me, to the right.

'Instantly I stopped the car. My first wild thought was that Manderson was
shooting at me. Then I realized that the noise had not been close at hand. I
could see nobody on the road, though the moonlight flooded it. I had left
Manderson at a spot just round the corner that was now about a hundred yards
ahead of me. After half a minute or so, I started again, and turned the corner
at a slow pace. Then I stopped again with a jar, and for a moment I sat
perfectly still.

'Manderson lay dead a few steps from me on the turf within the gate, clearly
visible to me in the moonlight.'

Marlowe made another pause, and Trent, with a puckered brow, enquired, 'On the

'Obviously,' remarked Mr Cupples. 'The eighth green is just there.' He had
grown more and more interested as Marlowe went on, and was now playing
feverishly with his thin beard.

'On the green, quite close to the flag,' said Marlowe. 'He lay on his back,
his arms were stretched abroad, his jacket and heavy overcoat were open; the
light shone hideously on his white face and his shirt-front; it glistened on
his bared teeth and one of the eyes. The other ... you saw it. The man was
certainly dead. As I sat there stunned, unable for the moment to think at all,
I could even see a thin dark line of blood running down from the shattered
socket to the ear. Close by lay his soft black hat, and at his feet a pistol.

'I suppose it was only a few seconds that I sat helplessly staring at the
body. Then I rose and moved to it with dragging feet; for now the truth had
come to me at last, and I realized the fullness of my appalling danger. It was
not only my liberty or my honour that the maniac had undermined. It was death
that he had planned for me; death with the degradation of the scaffold. To
strike me down with certainty, he had not hesitated to end his life; a life
which was, no doubt, already threatened by a melancholic impulse to
self-destruction; and the last agony of the suicide had been turned, perhaps,
to a devilish joy by the thought that he dragged down my life with his. For as
far as I could see at the moment my situation was utterly hopeless. If it had
been desperate on the assumption that Manderson meant to denounce me as a
thief, what was it now that his corpse denounced me as a murderer?

'I picked up the revolver and saw, almost without emotion, that it was my own.
Manderson had taken it from my room, I suppose, while I was getting out the
car. At the same moment I remembered that it was by Manderson's suggestion
that I had had it engraved with my initials, to distinguish it from a
precisely similar weapon which he had of his own.

'I bent over the body and satisfied myself that there was no life left in it.
I must tell you here that I did not notice, then or afterwards, the scratches
and marks on the wrists, which were taken as evidence of a struggle with an
assailant. But I have no doubt that Manderson deliberately injured himself in
this way before firing the shot; it was a part of his plan.

'Though I never perceived that detail, however, it was evident enough as I
looked at the body that Manderson had not forgotten, in his last act on earth,
to tie me tighter by putting out of court the question of suicide. He had
clearly been at pains to hold the pistol at arm's length, and there was not a
trace of smoke or of burning on the face. The wound was absolutely clean, and
was already ceasing to bleed outwardly. I rose and paced the green, reckoning
up the points in the crushing case against me.

'I was the last to be seen with Manderson. I had persuaded him--so he had lied
to his wife and, as I afterwards knew, to the butler--to go with me for the
drive from which he never returned. My pistol had killed him. It was true that
by discovering his plot I had saved myself from heaping up further
incriminating facts--flight, concealment, the possession of the treasure. But
what need of them, after all? As I stood, what hope was there? What could I

Marlowe came to the table and leaned forward with his hands upon it. 'I want,'
he said very earnestly, 'to try to make you understand what was in my mind
when I decided to do what I did. I hope you won't be bored, because I must do
it. You may both have thought I acted like a fool. But after all the police
never suspected me. I walked that green for a quarter of an hour, I suppose,
thinking the thing out like a game of chess. I had to think ahead and think
coolly; for my safety depended on upsetting the plans of one of the
longest-headed men who ever lived. And remember that, for all I knew, there
were details of the scheme still hidden from me, waiting to crush me.

'Two plain courses presented themselves at once. Either of them, I thought,
would certainly prove fatal. I could, in the first place, do the completely
straightforward thing: take back the dead man, tell my story, hand over the
notes and diamonds, and trust to the saving power of truth and innocence. I
could have laughed as I thought of it. I saw myself bringing home the corpse
and giving an account of myself, boggling with sheer shame over the absurdity
of my wholly unsupported tale, as I brought a charge of mad hatred and
fiendish treachery against a man who had never, as far as I knew, had a word
to say against me. At every turn the cunning of Manderson had forestalled me.
His careful concealment of such a hatred was a characteristic feature of the
stratagem; only a man of his iron self-restraint could have done it. You can
see for yourselves how every fact in my statement would appear, in the shadow
of Manderson's death, a clumsy lie. I tried to imagine myself telling such a
story to the counsel for my defence. I could see the face with which he would
listen to it; I could read in the lines of it his thought, that to put forward
such an impudent farrago would mean merely the disappearance of any chance
there might be of a commutation of the capital sentence.

'True, I had not fled. I had brought back the body; I had handed over the
property. But how did that help me? It would only suggest that I had yielded
to a sudden funk after killing my man, and had no nerve left to clutch at the
fruits of the crime; it would suggest, perhaps, that I had not set out to kill
but only to threaten, and that when I found that I had done murder the heart
went out of me. Turn it which way I would, I could see no hope of escape by
this plan of action.

'The second of the obvious things that I might do was to take the hint offered
by the situation, and to fly at once. That too must prove fatal. There was the
body. I had no time to hide it in such a way that it would not be found at the
first systematic search. But whatever I should do with the body, Manderson's
not returning to the house would cause uneasiness in two or three hours at
most. Martin would suspect an accident to the car, and would telephone to the
police. At daybreak the roads would be scoured and enquiries telegraphed in
every direction. The police would act on the possibility of there being foul
play. They would spread their nets with energy in such a big business as the
disappearance of Manderson. Ports and railway termini would be watched. Within
twenty-four hours the body would be found, and the whole country would be on
the alert for me--all Europe, scarcely less; I did not believe there was a
spot in Christendom where the man accused of Manderson's murder could pass
unchallenged, with every newspaper crying the fact of his death into the ears
of all the world. Every stranger would be suspect; every man, woman, and child
would be a detective. The car, wherever I should abandon it, would put people
on my track. If I had to choose between two utterly hopeless courses, I
decided, I would take that of telling the preposterous truth.

'But now I cast about desperately for some tale that would seem more plausible
than the truth. Could I save my neck by a lie? One after another came into my
mind; I need not trouble to remember them now. Each had its own futilities and
perils; but every one split upon the fact--or what would be taken for
fact--that I had induced Manderson to go out with me, and the fact that he had
never returned alive. Notion after notion I swiftly rejected as I paced there
by the dead man, and doom seemed to settle down upon me more heavily as the
moments passed. Then a strange thought came to me.

'Several times I had repeated to myself half-consciously, as a sort of
refrain, the words in which I had heard Manderson tell his wife that I had
induced him to go out. "Marlowe has persuaded me to go for a moonlight run in
the car. He is very urgent about it." All at once it struck me that, without
meaning to do so, I was saying this in Manderson's voice.

'As you found out for yourself, Mr Trent, I have a natural gift of mimicry. I
had imitated Manderson's voice many times so successfully as to deceive even
Bunner, who had been much more in his company than his own wife. It was, you
remember'--Marlowe turned to Mr Cupples--'a strong, metallic voice, of great
carrying power, so unusual as to make it a very fascinating voice to imitate,
and at the same time very easy. I said the words carefully to myself again,
like this--' he uttered them, and Mr Cupples opened his eyes in
amazement--'and then I struck my hand upon the low wall beside me. "Manderson
never returned alive?" I said aloud. "But Manderson shall return alive!" '

'In thirty seconds the bare outline of the plan was complete in my mind. I did
not wait to think over details. Every instant was precious now. I lifted the
body and laid it on the floor of the car, covered with a rug. I took the hat
and the revolver. Not one trace remained on the green, I believe, of that
night's work. As I drove back to White Gables my design took shape before me
with a rapidity and ease that filled me with a wild excitement. I should
escape yet! It was all so easy if I kept my pluck. Putting aside the unusual
and unlikely, I should not fail. I wanted to shout, to scream!

'Nearing the house I slackened speed, and carefully reconnoitred the road.
Nothing was moving. I turned the car into the open field on the other side of
the road, about twenty paces short of the little door at the extreme corner of
the grounds. I brought it to rest behind a stack. When, with Manderson's hat
on my head and the pistol in my pocket, I had staggered with the body across
the moonlit road and through that door, I left much of my apprehension behind
me. With swift action and an unbroken nerve I thought I ought to succeed.'

With a long sigh Marlowe threw himself into one of the deep chairs at the
fireside and passed his handkerchief over his damp forehead. Each of his
hearers, too, drew a deep breath, but not audibly.

'Everything else you know,' he said. He took a cigarette from a box beside him
and lighted it. Trent watched the very slight quiver of the hand that held the
match, and privately noted that his own was at the moment not so steady.

'The shoes that betrayed me to you,' pursued Marlowe after a short silence,
'were painful all the time I wore them, but I never dreamed that they had
given anywhere. I knew that no footstep of mine must appear by any accident in
the soft ground about the hut where I laid the body, or between the hut and
the house, so I took the shoes off and crammed my feet into them as soon as I
was inside the little door. I left my own shoes, with my own jacket and
overcoat, near the body, ready to be resumed later. I made a clear footmark on
the soft gravel outside the French window, and several on the drugget round
the carpet. The stripping off of the outer clothing of the body, and the
dressing of it afterwards in the brown suit and shoes, and putting the things
into the pockets, was a horrible business; and getting the teeth out of the
mouth was worse. The head--but you don't want to hear about it. I didn't feel
it much at the time. I was wriggling my own head out of a noose, you see. I
wish I had thought of pulling down the cuffs, and had tied the shoes more
neatly. And putting the watch in the wrong pocket was a bad mistake. It had
all to be done so hurriedly.

'You were wrong, by the way, about the whisky. After one stiffish drink I had
no more; but I filled up a flask that was in the cupboard, and pocketed it. I
had a night of peculiar anxiety and effort in front of me and I didn't know
how I should stand it. I had to take some once or twice during the drive.
Speaking of that, you give rather a generous allowance of time in your
document for doing that run by night. You say that to get to Southampton by
half-past six in that car, under the conditions, a man must, even if he drove
like a demon, have left Marlstone by twelve at latest. I had not got the body
dressed in the other suit, with tie and watch-chain and so forth, until nearly
ten minutes past; and then I had to get to the car and start it going. But
then I don't suppose any other man would have taken the risks I did in that
car at night, without a headlight. It turns me cold to think of it now.

'There's nothing much to say about what I did in the house. I spent the time
after Martin had left me in carefully thinking over the remaining steps in my
plan, while I unloaded and thoroughly cleaned the revolver using my
handkerchief and a penholder from the desk. I also placed the packets of
notes, the note- case, and the diamonds in the roll-top desk, which I opened
and relocked with Manderson's key. When I went upstairs it was a trying
moment, for though I was safe from the eyes of Martin, as he sat in his
pantry, there was a faint possibility of somebody being about on the bedroom
floor. I had sometimes found the French maid wandering about there when the
other servants were in bed. Bunner, I knew, was a deep sleeper, Mrs Manderson,
I had gathered from things I had heard her say, was usually asleep by eleven;
I had thought it possible that her gift of sleep had helped her to retain all
her beauty and vitality in spite of a marriage which we all knew was an
unhappy one. Still it was uneasy work mounting the stairs, and holding myself
ready to retreat to the library again at the least sound from above. But
nothing happened.

'The first thing I did on reaching the corridor was to enter my room and put
the revolver and cartridges back in the case. Then I turned off the light and
went quietly into Manderson's room.

'What I had to do there you know. I had to take off the shoes and put them
outside the door, leave Manderson's jacket, waistcoat, trousers, and black
tie, after taking everything out of the pockets, select a suit and tie and
shoes for the body, and place the dental plate in the bowl, which I moved from
the washing-stand to the bedside, leaving those ruinous finger-marks as I did
so. The marks on the drawer must have been made when I shut it after taking
out the tie. Then I had to lie down in the bed and tumble it. You know all
about it--all except my state of mind, which you couldn't imagine and I
couldn't describe.

'The worst came when I had hardly begun my operations: the moment when Mrs
Manderson spoke from the room where I supposed her asleep. I was prepared for
it happening; it was a possibility; but I nearly lost my nerve all the same.
However ....

'By the way, I may tell you this: in the extremely unlikely contingency of Mrs
Manderson remaining awake, and so putting out of the question my escape by way
of her window, I had planned simply to remain where I was a few hours, and
then, not speaking to her, to leave the house quickly and quietly by the
ordinary way. Martin would have been in bed by that time. I might have been
heard to leave, but not seen. I should have done just as I had planned with
the body, and then made the best time I could in the car to Southampton. The
difference would have been that I couldn't have furnished an unquestionable
alibi by turning up at the hotel at 6.30. I should have made the best of it by
driving straight to the docks, and making my ostentatious enquiries there. I
could in any case have got there long before the boat left at noon. I couldn't
see that anybody could suspect me of the supposed murder in any case; but if
any one had, and if I hadn't arrived until ten o'clock, say, I shouldn't have
been able to answer, "It is impossible for me to have got to Southampton so
soon after shooting him." I should simply have had to say I was delayed by a
breakdown after leaving Manderson at half-past ten, and challenged any one to
produce any fact connecting me with the crime. They couldn't have done it. The
pistol, left openly in my room, might have been used by anybody, even if it
could be proved that that particular pistol was used. Nobody could reasonably
connect me with the shooting so long as it was believed that it was Manderson
who had returned to the house. The suspicion could not, I was confident, enter
any one's mind. All the same, I wanted to introduce the element of absolute
physical impossibility; I knew I should feel ten times as safe with that. So
when I knew from the sound of her breathing that Mrs Manderson was asleep
again, I walked quickly across her room in my stocking feet, and was on the
grass with my bundle in ten seconds. I don't think I made the least noise. The
curtain before the window was of soft, thick stuff and didn't rustle, and when
I pushed the glass doors further open there was not a sound.'

'Tell me,' said Trent, as the other stopped to light a new cigarette, 'why you
took the risk of going through Mrs Manderson's room to escape from the house.
I could see when I looked into the thing on the spot why it had to be on that
side of the house; there was a danger of being seen by Martin, or by some
servant at a bedroom window, if you got out by a window on one of the other
sides. But there were three unoccupied rooms on that side; two spare bedrooms
and Mrs sitting-room. I should have thought it would have been safer, after
you had done what was necessary to your plan in Manderson's room, to leave it
quietly and escape through one of those three rooms .... The fact that you
went through her window, you know,' he added coldly, 'would have suggested, if
it became known, various suspicions in regard to the lady herself. I think you
understand me.'

Marlowe turned upon him with a glowing face. 'And I think you will understand
me, Mr Trent,' he said in a voice that shook a little, 'when I say that if
such a possibility had occurred to me then, I would have taken any risk rather
than make my escape by that way.... Oh well!' he went on more coolly, 'I
suppose that to any one who didn't know her, the idea of her being privy to
her husband's murder might not seem so indescribably fatuous. Forgive the
expression.' He looked attentively at the burning end of his cigarette,
studiously unconscious of the red flag that flew in Trent's eyes for an
instant at his words and the tone of them.

That emotion, however, was conquered at once. 'Your remark is perfectly just,'
Trent said with answering coolness. 'I can quite believe, too, that at the
time you didn't think of the possibility I mentioned. But surely, apart from
that, it would have been safer to do as I said; go by the window of an

Book of the day: