Part 4 out of 5
it would be one. It wouldn't be at all a pretty thing to do, but there's
"No, I couldn't do it," said Hazlewood.
"Very well. There's no more to be said."
Pettifer himself had no liking for the plan. It had been his intention
originally to let Hazlewood know that if he wished to get into
communication with Thresk there was a means by which he could do it. But
the fact of Dick's engagement had carried him still further, and now
that he had read the evidence of the trial carefully there was a real
anxiety in his mind. Pettifer sealed up the cuttings in a fresh envelope
and gave them to Hazlewood and went out with him to the door.
"Of course," said the old man, "if your legal experience, Robert, leads
you to think that we should be justified--"
"But it doesn't," Pettifer was quick to interpose. He recognised his
brother-in-law's intention to throw the discredit of the trick upon his
shoulders but he would have none of it. "No, Hazlewood," he said
cheerfully: "it's not a plan which a high-class lawyer would be likely to
commend to a client."
"Then I am afraid that I couldn't do it."
"All right," said Pettifer with his hand upon the latch of the front
door. "Thresk's chambers are in King's Bench Walk." He added the number.
"I simply couldn't think of it," Hazlewood repeated as he crossed the
pavement to his car.
"Perhaps not," said Pettifer. "You have the envelope? Yes. Choose an
evening towards the end of the week, a Friday will be your best chance of
"I will do nothing of the kind, Pettifer."
"And let me know when he is coming. Goodbye."
The car carried Mr. Hazlewood away still protesting that he really
couldn't think of it for an instant. But he thought a good deal of it
during the next week and his temper did not improve. "Pettifer has rubbed
off the finer edges of his nature," he said to himself. "It is a pity--a
great pity. But thirty years of life in a lawyer's office must no doubt
have that effect. I regret very much that Pettifer should have imagined
that I would condescend to such a scheme."
ON THE DOWNS
They went up by the steep chalk road which skirts the park wall to the
top of the conical hill above the race-course. An escarpment of grass
banks guards a hollow like a shallow crater on the very summit. They rode
round it upon the rim, now facing the black slope of Charlton Forest
across the valley to the north, now looking out over the plain and
Chichester. Thirty miles away above the sea the chalk cliffs of the Isle
of Wight gleamed under their thatch of dark turf. It was not yet nine in
the morning. Later the day would climb dustily to noon; now it had the
wonder and the stillness of great beginnings. A faint haze like a veil at
the edges of the sky and a freshness of the air made the world magical to
these two who rode high above weald and sea. Stella looked downwards to
the silver flash of the broad water west of Chichester spire.
"That way they came, perhaps on a day like this," she said slowly, "those
"Your thoughts go back," said Dick Hazlewood with a laugh.
"Not so far as you think," cried Stella, and suddenly her cheeks
took fire and a smile dimpled them. "Oh, I dare to think of many
She rode down the steep grass slope towards the race-course with Dick at
her side. It was the first morning they had ridden together since the
night of the dinner-party at Little Beeding. Mr. Hazlewood was at this
moment ordering his car so that he might drive in to the town and learn
what Pettifer had discovered in the cuttings from the newspapers. But
they were quite unaware of the plot which was being hatched against them.
They went forward under the high beech-trees watching for the great roots
which stretched across their path, and talking little. An open way
between wooden posts led them now on to turf and gave them the freedom of
the downs. They saw no one. With the larks and the field-fares they had
the world to themselves; and in the shade beneath the hedges the dew
still sparkled on the grass. They left the long arm of Halnaker Down upon
their right, its old mill standing up on the edge like some lighthouse on
a bluff of the sea, and crossing the high road from Up-Waltham rode along
a narrow glade amongst beeches and nut-trees and small oaks and bushes of
wild roses. Open spaces came again; below them were the woods and the
green country of Slindon and the deep grass of Dale Park. And so they
drew near to Gumber Corner where Stane Street climbs over Bignor Hill.
Here Dick Hazlewood halted.
"I suppose we turn."
"Not to-day," said Stella, and Dick turned to her with surprise. Always
before they had stopped at this point and always by Stella's wish. Either
she was tired or was needed at home or had letters to write--always
there had been some excuse and no reason. Dick Hazlewood had come to
believe that she would not pass this point, that the down land beyond was
a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground on which she would not trespass. He had
wondered why, but his instinct had warned him from questions. He had
always turned at this spot immediately, as if he believed the excuse
which she had ready.
Stella noticed the surprise upon his face; and the blushes rose again in
"You knew that I would not go beyond," she said.
"But you did not know why?" There was a note of urgency in her voice.
"I guessed," he said. "I mean I played with guesses--oh not seriously,"
and he laughed. "There runs Stane Street from Chichester to London and
through London to the great North Wall. Up that road the Romans marched
and back by that road they returned to their galleys in the water there
by Chichester. I pictured you living in those days, a Boadicea of the
Weald who had set her heart, against her will, on some dashing captain
of old Rome camped here on the top of Bignor Hill. You crept from your
own people at night to meet him in the lane at the bottom. Then came
week after week when the street rang with the tramp of soldiers
returning from London and Lichfield and the North to embark in their
boats for Gaul and Rome."
"They took my captain with them?" cried Stella, laughing with him at
"Yes, so my fable ran. He pined for the circus and the theatre and the
painted ladies, so he went willingly."
"The brute," cried Stella. "And so I broke my heart over a decadent
philanderer in a suit of bright brass clothes and remember it thirteen
hundred years afterwards in another life! Thank you, Captain Hazlewood!"
"No, you don't actually remember it, Stella, but you have a feeling that
round about Stane Street you once suffered great humiliation and
unhappiness." And suddenly Stella rode swiftly past him, but in a moment
she waited for him and showed him a face of smiles.
"You see I have crossed Stane Street to-day, Dick," she said. "We'll ride
on to Arundel."
"Yes," answered Dick, "my story won't do," and he remembered a sentence
of hers spoken an hour and a half ago: "My thoughts do not go back as far
as you think."
At all events she was emancipated to-day, for they rode on until at the
end of a long gentle slope the great arch of the gate into Arundel Park
gleamed white in a line of tall dark trees.
THE LETTER IS WRITTEN
But Stella's confidence did not live long. Mr. Hazlewood was a child at
deceptions; and day by day his anxieties increased. His friends argued
with him--his folly and weakness were the themes--and he must needs repel
the argument though his thoughts echoed every word they used. Never was a
man brought to such a piteous depth of misery by the practice of his own
theories. He sat by the hour at his desk, burying his face amongst his
papers if Dick came into the room, with a great show of occupation. He
could hardly bear to contemplate the marriage of his son, yet day and
night he must think of it and search for expedients which might put an
end to the trouble and let him walk free again with his head raised high.
But there were only the two expedients. He must speak out his fears that
justice had miscarried, and that device his vanity forbade; or he must
adopt Pettifer's suggestion, and from that he shrank almost as much. He
began to resent the presence of Stella Ballantyne and he showed it.
Sometimes a friendliness, so excessive that it was almost hysterical,
betrayed him; more usually a discomfort and constraint. He avoided her
if by any means he could; if he could not quite avoid her an excuse of
business was always on his lips.
"Your father hates me, Dick," she said. "He was my friend until I touched
his own life. Then I was in the black books in a second."
Dick would not hear of it.
"You were never in the black books at all, Stella," he said, comforting
her as well as he could. "We knew that there would be a little struggle,
didn't we? But the worst of that's over. You make friends daily."
"Not with your father, Dick. I go back with him. Ever since that
night--it's three weeks ago now--when you took me home from Little
"No," cried Dick, but Stella nodded her head gloomily.
"Mr. Pettifer dined here that night. He's an enemy of mine."
"Stella," young Hazlewood remonstrated, "you see enemies everywhere," and
upon that Stella broke out with a quivering troubled face.
"Is it wonderful? Oh, Dick, I couldn't lose you! A month ago--before that
night--yes. Nothing had been said. But now! I couldn't, I couldn't! I
have often thought it would be better for me to go right away and never
see you again. And--and I have tried to tell you something, Dick, ever so
"Yes?" said Dick. He slipped his arm through hers and held her close to
him, as though to give her courage and security. "Yes, Stella?" and he
stood very still.
"I mean," she said, looking down upon the ground, "that I have tried to
tell you that I wouldn't suffer so very much if we did part, but I never
could do it. My lips shook so, I never could speak the words." Then her
voice ran up into a laugh. "To think of your living in a house with
somebody else! Oh no!"
"You need have no fear of that, Stella."
They were in the garden of Little Beeding and they walked across the
meadow towards her cottage, talking very earnestly. Mr. Hazlewood was
watching them secretly from the window of the library. He saw that Dick
was pleading and she hanging in doubt; and a great wave of anger surged
over him that Dick should have to plead to her at all, he who was giving
everything--even his own future.
"King's Bench Walk," he muttered to himself, taking from the drawer of
his writing-table a slip of paper on which he had written the address
lest he should forget it. "Yes, that's the address," and he looked at it
for a long time very doubtfully. Suppose that his suspicions were
correct! His heart sank at the supposition. Surely he would be justified
in setting any trap. But he shut the drawer violently and turned away
from his writing-table. Even his pamphlets had become trivial in his
eyes. He was brought face to face with real passions and real facts, he
had been fetched out from his cloister and was blinking miserably in a
full measure of daylight. How long could he endure it, he wondered?
The question was settled for him that very evening. He and his son were
taking their coffee on a paved terrace by the lawn after dinner. It was a
dark quiet night, with a clear sky of golden stars. Across the meadow the
lights shone in the windows of Stella's cottage.
"Father," said Dick, after they had sat in a constrained silence for a
little while, "why don't you like Stella any longer?"
The old man blustered in reply:
"A lawyer's question, Richard. I object to it very strongly. You assume
that I have ceased to like her."
"It's extremely evident," said Dick drily. "Stella has noticed it."
"And complained to you of course," cried Mr. Hazlewood resentfully.
"Stella doesn't complain," and then Dick leaned over and spoke in the
full quiet voice which his father had grown to dread. There rang in it so
much of true feeling and resolution.
"There can be no backing down now. We are both agreed upon that, aren't
we? Imagine for an instant that I were first to blazon my trust in a
woman whom others suspected by becoming engaged to her and then
endorsed their suspicions by breaking off the engagement! Suppose that
I were to do that!"
Mr. Hazlewood allowed his longings to lead him astray. For a
moment he hoped.
"Well?" he asked eagerly.
"You wouldn't think very much of me, would you? Not you nor any man. A
cur--that would be the word, the only word, wouldn't it?"
But Mr. Hazlewood refused to answer that question. He looked behind him
to make sure that none of the servants were within hearing. Then he
lowered his voice to a whisper.
"What if Stella has deceived you, Dick?"
It was too dark for him to see the smile upon his son's face, but he
heard the reply, and the confidence of it stung him to exasperation.
"She hasn't done that," said Dick. "If you are sure of nothing else,
sir, you may be quite certain of what I am telling you now. She hasn't
He remained silent for a few moments waiting for any rejoinder, and
getting none he continued:
"There's something else I wanted to speak to you about."
"The date of our marriage."
The old man moved sharply in his chair.
"There's no hurry, Richard. You must find out how it will affect your
career. You have been so long at Little Beeding where we hear very
little from the outer world. You must consult your Colonel."
Dick Hazlewood would not listen to the argument.
"My marriage is my affair, sir, not my Colonel's. I cannot take advice,
for we both of us know what it would be. And we both of us value it at
its proper price, don't we?"
Mr. Hazlewood could not reply. How often had he inveighed against
the opinions of the sleek worldly people who would add up advantages
in a column and leave out of their consideration the merits of the
"It would not be fair to Stella were we to ask her to wait," Dick
resumed. "Any delay--think what will be made of it! A month or six weeks
from now, that gives us time enough."
The old man rose abruptly from his chair with a vague word that he would
think of it and went into the house. He saw again the lovers as he had
seen them this afternoon walking side by side slowly towards Stella
Ballantyne's cottage; and the picture even in the retrospect was
intolerable. The marriage must not take place--yet it was so near. A
month or six weeks! Mr. Hazlewood took up his pen and wrote the letter to
Henry Thresk at last, as Robert Pettifer had always been sure that he
would do. It was the simplest kind of letter and took but a minute in the
writing. It mentioned only his miniatures and invited Henry Thresk to
Little Beeding to see them, as more than one stranger had been asked
before. The answers which Thresk had given to the questions in _Notes and
Queries_ were pleaded as an introduction and Thresk was invited to choose
his own day and remain at Little Beeding for the night. The reply came by
return of post. Thresk would come to Little Beeding on the Friday
afternoon of the next week. He was in town, for Parliament was sitting
late that year. He would reach Little Beeding soon after five so that he
might have an opportunity of seeing the miniatures by daylight. Mr.
Hazlewood hurried over with the news to Robert Pettifer. His spirits had
risen at a bound. Already he saw the neighbourhood freed from the
disturbing presence of Stella Ballantyne and himself cheerfully resuming
his multifarious occupations.
Robert Pettifer, however, spoke in quite another strain.
"I am not so sure as you, Hazlewood. The points which trouble me are very
possibly capable of quite simple explanations. I hope for my part that
they will be so explained."
"You hope it?" cried Mr. Hazlewood.
"Yes. I want Dick to marry," said Robert Pettifer.
Mr. Hazlewood was not, however, to be discouraged. He drove back to his
house counting the days which must pass before Thresk's arrival and
wondering how he should manage to conceal his elation from the keen
eyes of his son. But he found that there was no need for him to
trouble himself on that point, for this very morning at luncheon Dick
said to him:
"I think that I'll run up to town this afternoon, father. I might be
there for a day or two."
Mr. Hazlewood was delighted. No other proposal could have fitted in so
well with his scheme. The mere fact that Dick was away would start people
at the pleasant business of conjecturing mishaps and quarrels. Perhaps
indeed the lovers _had_ quarrelled. Perhaps Richard had taken his advice
and was off to consult his superiors. Mr. Hazlewood scanned his son's
face eagerly but learnt nothing from it; and he was too wary to ask any
"By all means, Richard," he said carelessly, "go to London! You will be
back by next Friday, I suppose."
"Oh yes, before that. I shall stay at my own rooms, so if you want me you
can send me a telegram."
Dick Hazlewood had a small flat of his own in some Mansions at
Westminster which had seen very little of him that summer.
"Thank you, Richard," said the old man. "But I shall get on very well,
and a few days change will no doubt do you good."
Dick grinned at his father and went off that afternoon without a word of
farewell to Stella Ballantyne. Mr. Hazlewood stood in the hall and saw
him go with a great relief at his heart. Everything at last seemed to be
working out to advantage. He could not but remember how so very few
weeks ago he had been urgent that Richard should spend his summer at
Little Beeding and lend a hand in the noble work of defending Stella
Ballantyne against ignorance and unreason. But the twinge only lasted a
moment. He had made a mistake, as all men occasionally do--yes, even
sagacious and thoughtful people like himself. And the mistake was already
being repaired. He looked across the meadow that night at the lighted
blinds of Stella's windows and anticipated an evening when those windows
would be dark and the cottage without an inhabitant.
"Very soon," he murmured to himself, "very soon." He had not one single
throb of pity for her now, not a single speculation whither she would go
or what she would make of her life. His own defence of her had now become
a fault of hers. He wished her no harm, he argued, but in a week's time
there must be no light shining behind those blinds.
A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP
Mr. Hazlewood was very glad that Richard was away in London during this
week. Excitement kept him feverish and the fever grew as the number of
days before Thresk was to come diminished. He would never have been able
to keep his secret had every meal placed him under his son's eyes. He was
free too from Stella herself. He met her but once on the Monday and then
it was in the deep lane leading towards the town. It was about five
o'clock in the evening and she was driving homewards in an open fly. Mr.
Hazlewood stopped it and went to the side.
"Richard is away, Stella, until Wednesday, as no doubt you knew," he
said. "But I want you to come over to tea when he comes back. Will Friday
She had looked a little frightened when Mr. Hazlewood had called to the
driver and stopped the carriage; but at his words the blood rushed into
her cheeks and her eyes shone and she pushed out her hand impulsively.
"Oh, thank you," she cried. "Of course I will come."
Not for a long time had he spoken to her with so kind a voice and a face
so unclouded. She rejoiced at the change in him and showed him such
gratitude as is given only to those who render great service, so intense
was her longing not to estrange Dick from his father.
But she had become a shrewd observer under the stress of her evil
destiny; and the moment of rejoicing once past she began to wonder what
had brought about the change. She judged Mr. Hazlewood to be one of those
weak and effervescing characters who can grow more obstinate in
resentment than any others if their pride and self-esteem receive an
injury. She had followed of late the windings of his thoughts. She put
the result frankly to herself.
"He hates me. He holds me in horror."
Why then the sudden change? She was in the mood to start at shadows and
when a little note was brought over to her on the Friday morning in Mr.
Hazlewood's handwriting reminding her of her engagement she was filled
with a vague apprehension. The note was kindly in its terms yet to her it
had a menacing and sinister look. Had some stroke been planned against
her? Was it to be delivered this afternoon?
Dick came at half-past four from a village cricket match to fetch her.
"You are ready, Stella? Right! For we can't spare very much time. I have
a surprise for you."
Stella asked him what it was and he answered:
"There's a house for sale in Great Beeding. I think that you
would like it."
Stella's face softened with a smile.
"Anywhere, Dick," she said, "anywhere on earth."
"But here best of all," he answered. "Not to run away--that's our policy.
We'll make our home in our own south country. I arranged to take you over
the house between half-past five and six this evening."
They walked across to Little Beeding and were made welcome by Mr.
Hazlewood. He came out to meet them in the garden and nervousness made
him kittenish and arch.
"How are you, Stella?" he inquired. "But there's no need to ask. You look
charming and upon my word you grow younger every day. What a pretty hat!
Yes, yes! Will you make tea while I telephone to the Pettifers? They seem
to be late."
He skipped off with an alacrity which was rather ridiculous. But Stella
watched him go without any amusement.
"I am taken again into favour," she said doubtfully.
"That shouldn't distress you, Stella," replied Dick.
"Yet it does, for I ask myself why. And I don't understand this
tea-party. Mr. Hazlewood was so urgent that I should not forget it.
Perhaps, however, I am inventing trouble."
She shook herself free from her apprehensions and followed Dick into the
drawing-room, where the kettle was boiling and the tea-service spread
out. Stella went to the table and opened the little mahogany caddy.
"How many are coming, Dick?" she asked.
"My enemies," said Stella, laughing lightly.
"And you and my father and myself."
"Five altogether," said Stella. She began to measure out the tea into the
tea-pot but stopped suddenly in the middle of her work.
"But there are six cups," she said. She counted them again to make sure,
and at once her fears were reawakened. She turned to Dick, her face quite
pale and her big eyes dark with forebodings. So little now was needed to
disquiet her. "Who is the sixth?"
Dick came closer to her and put his arm about her waist.
"I don't know," he said gently; "but what can it matter to us, Stella?
Think, my dear!"
"No, of course," she replied, "it can't make any difference," and she
dipped her teaspoon once more into the caddy. "But it's a little
curious, isn't it?--that your father didn't mention to you that there
was another guest?"
"Oh, wait a moment," said Dick. "He did tell me there would be some
visitor here to-day but I forgot all about it. He told me at luncheon.
There's a man from London coming down to have a look at his miniatures."
"His miniatures?" Stella was pouring the hot water into the tea-pot. She
replaced the kettle on its stand and shut the tea-caddy. "And Mr.
Hazlewood didn't tell you the man's name," she said.
"I didn't ask him," answered Dick. "He often has collectors down."
"I see." Her head was bent over the tea-table; she was busy with her brew
of tea. "And I was specially asked to come this afternoon. I had a note
this morning to remind me." She looked at the clock. "Dick, if we are to
see that house this afternoon you had better change now before the
"That's true. I will."
Dick started towards the door, and he heard Stella come swiftly after
him. He turned. There was so much trouble in her face. He caught her
in his arms.
"Dick," she whispered, "look at me. Kiss me! Yes, I am sure of you," and
she clung to him. Dick Hazlewood laughed.
"I think we ought to be fairly happy in that house," and she let him
go with a smile, repeating her own words, "Anywhere, Dick, anywhere
She waited, watching him tenderly until the door was closed. Then she
covered her face with her hands and a sob burst from her lips. But the
next moment she tore her hands away and looked wildly about the room. She
ran to the writing-table and scribbled a note; she thrust it into an
envelope and gummed the flap securely down. Then she rang the bell and
waited impatiently with a leaping heart until Hubbard came to the door.
"Did you ring, madam?" he asked.
"Yes. Has Mr. Thresk arrived yet?"
She tried to control her face, to speak in a careless and indifferent
voice, but she was giddy and the room whirled before her eyes.
"Yes, madam," the butler answered; and it seemed to Stella Ballantyne
that once more she stood in the dock and heard the verdict spoken. Only
this time it had gone against her. That queer old shuffling butler became
a figure of doom, his thin and piping voice uttered her condemnation. For
here without her knowledge was Henry Thresk and she was bidden to meet
him with the Pettifers for witnesses. But it was Henry Thresk who had
saved her before. She clung to that fact now.
"Mr. Thresk arrived a few minutes ago."
Just before old Hazlewood had come forward out of the house to welcome
her! No wonder he was in such high spirits! Very likely all that great
show of kindliness and welcome was made only to keep her in the garden
for a few necessary moments.
"Where is Mr. Thresk now?" she asked.
"In his room, madam."
"You are quite sure?"
"Will you take this note to him, Hubbard?" and she held it out to
"Will you take it at once? Give it into his hands, please."
Hubbard took the note and went out of the room. Never had he seemed to
her so dilatory and slow. She stared at the door as though her sight
could pierce the panels. She imagined him climbing the stairs with feet
which loitered more at each fresh step. Some one would surely stop him
and ask for whom the letter was intended. She went to the door which led
into the hall, opened it and listened. No one was descending the
staircase and she heard no voices. Then above her Hubbard knocked upon a
door, a latch clicked as the door was opened, a hollow jarring sound
followed as the door was sharply closed. Stella went back into the room.
The letter had been delivered; at this moment Henry Thresk was reading
it; and with a sinking heart she began to speculate in what spirit he
would receive its message. Henry Thresk! The unhappy woman bestirred
herself to remember him. He had grown dim to her of late. How much did
she know of him? she asked herself. Once years ago there had been a month
during which she had met him daily. She had given her heart to him, yet
she had learned little or nothing of the man within the man's frame. She
had not even made his acquaintance. That had been proved to her one
memorable morning upon the top of Bignor Hill, when humiliation had so
deeply seared her soul that only during this last month had it been
healed. In the great extremities of her life Henry Thresk had decided,
not she, and he was a stranger to her. She beat her poor wings in vain
against that ironic fact. Never had he done what she had expected. On
Bignor Hill, in the Law Court at Bombay, he had equally surprised her.
Now once more he held her destinies in his hand. What would he decide?
What had he decided?
"Yes, he will have decided now," said Stella to herself; and a certain
calm fell upon her troubled soul. Whatever was to be was now determined.
She went back to the tea-table and waited.
Henry Thresk had not much of the romantic in his character. He was a busy
man making the best and the most of the rewards which the years brought
to him, and slamming the door each day upon the day which had gone
before. He made his life in the intellectual exercise of his profession
and his membership of the House of Commons. Upon the deeps of the
emotions he had closed a lid. Yet he had set out with a vague reluctance
to Little Beeding; and once his motor-car had passed Hindhead and dipped
to the weald of Sussex the reluctance had grown to a definite regret that
he should once more have come into this country. His recollections were
of a dim far-off time, so dim that he could hardly believe that he had
any very close relation with the young struggling man who had spent his
first real holiday there. But the young man had been himself and he had
missed his opportunity high up on the downs by Arundel. Words which Jane
Repton had spoken to him in Bombay came back to him on this summer
afternoon like a refrain to the steady hum of his car. "You can get what
you want, so long as you want it enough, but you cannot control the price
you will have to pay."
He had reached Little Beeding only a few moments before Dick and Stella
had crossed into the garden. He had been led by Hubbard into the library,
where Mr. Hazlewood was sitting. From the windows he had even seen the
thatched cottage where Stella Ballantyne dwelt and its tiny garden bright
"It is most kind of you to come," Mr. Hazlewood had said. "Ever since we
had our little correspondence I have been anxious to take your opinion on
my collection. Though how in the world you manage to find time to have an
opinion at all upon the subject is most perplexing. I never open the
_Times_ but I see your name figuring in some important case."
"And I, Mr. Hazlewood," Thresk replied with a smile, "never open my mail
without receiving a pamphlet from you. I am not the only active man in
Even at that moment Mr. Hazlewood flushed with pleasure at the flattery.
"Little reflections," he cried with a modest deprecation, "worked out
more or less to completeness--may I say that?--in the quiet of a rural
life, sparks from the tiny flame of my midnight oil." He picked up one
pamphlet from a stack by his writing-table. "You might perhaps care to
look at _The Prison Walls_."
Thresk drew back.
"I have got mine, Mr. Hazlewood," he said firmly. "Every man in England
should have one. No man in England has a right to two."
Mr. Hazlewood fairly twittered with satisfaction. Here was a notable man
from the outside world of affairs who knew his work and held it in
esteem. Obviously then he was right to take these few disagreeable
twists and turns which would ensure to him a mind free to pursue his
labours. He looked down at the pamphlet however, and his satisfaction
was a trifle impaired.
"I am not sure that this is quite my best work," he said timidly--"a
little hazardous perhaps."
"Would you say that?" asked Thresk.
"Yes, indeed I should." Mr. Hazlewood had the air of one making a
considerable concession. "The very title is inaccurate. _The Prison Walls
must Cast no Shadow_." He repeated the sentence with a certain unction.
"The rhythm is perhaps not amiss but the metaphor is untrue. My son
pointed it out to me. As he says, all walls cast shadows."
"Yes," said Thresk. "The trouble is to know where and on whom the shadow
is going to fall."
Mr. Hazlewood was startled by the careless words. He came to earth
heavily. All was not as yet quite ready for the little trick which had
been devised. The Pettifers had not arrived.
"Perhaps you would like to see your room, Mr. Thresk," he said. "Your bag
has been taken up, no doubt. We will look at my miniatures after tea."
"I shall be delighted," said Thresk as he followed Hazlewood to the door.
"But you must not expect too much knowledge from me."
"Oh!" cried his host with a laugh. "Pettifer tells me that you are a
"Then Pettifer's wrong," said Thresk and so stopped. "Pettifer? Pettifer?
Isn't he a solicitor?"
"Yes, he told me that he knew you. He married my sister. They are both
coming to tea."
With that he led Thresk to his room and left him there. The room was over
the porch of the house and looked down the short level drive to the iron
gates and the lane. It was all familiar ground to Thresk or rather to
that other man with whom Thresk's only connection was a dull throb at his
heart, a queer uneasiness and discomfort. He leaned out of the window. He
could hear the river singing between the grass banks at the bottom of the
garden behind him. He would hear it through the night. Then came a
knocking upon his door, and he did not notice it at once. It was repeated
and he turned and said:
Hubbard advanced with a note upon a salver.
"Mrs. Ballantyne asked me to give you this at once, sir."
Thresk stared at the butler. The name was so apposite to his thoughts
that he could not believe it had been uttered. But the salver was held
out to him and the handwriting upon the envelope removed his doubts. He
took it up, said "Thank you" in an absent voice and waited until the door
was closed again and he was alone. The last time he had seen that writing
was eighteen months ago. A little note of thanks, blurred with tears and
scribbled hastily and marked with no address, had been handed to him in
Bombay. Stella Ballantyne had disappeared then. She was here now at
Little Beeding and his relationship with the young struggling barrister
of ten years back suddenly became actual and near. He tore open the
envelope and read.
"Be prepared to see me. Be prepared to hear news of me. I will have a
talk with you afterwards if you like. This is a trap. Be kind."
He stood for a while with the letter in his hand, speculating upon its
meaning, until the wheels of a car grated on the gravel beneath his
window. The Pettifers had come. But Thresk was in no hurry to descend. He
read the note through many times before he hid it away in his letter-case
and went down the stairs.
METHODS FROM FRANCE
Meanwhile Stella Ballantyne waited below. She heard Mr. Hazlewood in the
hall greeting the Pettifers with the false joviality which sat so ill
upon him; she imagined the shy nods and glances which told them that the
trap was properly set. Mr. Hazlewood led them into the room.
"Is tea ready, Stella? We won't wait for Dick," he said, and Stella took
her place at the table. She had her back to the door by which Thresk
would enter. She had not a doubt that thus her chair had been
deliberately placed. He would be in the room and near to the table before
he saw her. He would not have a moment to prepare himself against the
surprise of her presence. Stella listened for the sound of his footsteps
in the hall; she could not think of a single topic to talk about except
the presence of that extra sixth cup; and that she must not mention if
the tables were really to be turned upon her antagonists. Surprise must
be visible upon her side when Thresk did come in. But she was not alone
in finding conversation difficult. Embarrassment and expectancy weighed
down the whole party, so that they began suddenly to speak at once and
simultaneously to stop. Robert Pettifer however asked if Dick was playing
cricket, and so gave Harold Hazlewood an opportunity.
"No, the match was over early," said the old man, and he settled
himself in his arm-chair. "I have given some study to the subject of
cricket," he said.
"You?" asked Stella with a smile of surprise. Was he merely playing for
time, she wondered? But he had the air of contentment with which he
usually embarked upon his disquisitions.
"Yes. I do not consider our national pastime beneath a philosopher's
attention. I have formed two theories about the game."
"I am sure you have," Robert Pettifer interposed.
"And I have invented two improvements, though I admit at once that they
will have to wait until a more enlightened age than ours adopts them. In
the first place"--and Mr. Hazlewood flourished a forefinger in the
air--"the game ought to be played with a soft ball. There is at present a
suggestion of violence about it which the use of a soft ball would
"Entirely," Mr. Pettifer agreed and his wife exclaimed impatiently:
"Rubbish, Harold, rubbish!"
Stella broke nervously into the conversation.
"Violence? Why even women play cricket, Mr. Hazlewood."
"I cannot, Stella," he returned, "accept the view that whatever women do
must necessarily be right. There are instances to the contrary."
"Yes. I come across a few of them in my office," Robert Pettifer said
grimly; and once more embarrassment threatened to descend upon the party.
But Mr. Hazlewood was off upon a favourite theme. His eyes glistened and
the object of the gathering vanished for the moment from his thoughts.
"And in the second place," he resumed, "the losers should be accounted to
have won the game."
"Yes, that must be right," said Pettifer. "Upon my word you are in form,
"But why?" asked Mrs. Pettifer.
Harold Hazlewood smiled upon her as upon a child and explained:
"Because by adopting that system you would do something to eradicate the
spirit of rivalry, the desire to win, the ambition to beat somebody else
which is at the bottom of half our national troubles."
"And all our national success," said Pettifer.
Hazlewood patted his brother-in-law upon the shoulder. He looked at him
indulgently. "You are a Tory, Robert," he said, and implied that argument
with such an one was mere futility.
He had still his hand upon Pettifer's shoulder when the door opened.
Stella saw by the change in his face that it was Thresk who was entering.
But she did not move.
"Ah," said Mr. Hazlewood. "Come over here and take a cup of tea."
Thresk came forward to the table. He seemed altogether unconscious that
the eyes of the two men were upon him.
"Thank you. I should like one," he said, and at the sound of his voice
Stella Ballantyne turned around in her chair.
"You!" she cried and the cry was pitched in a tone of pleasure and
"Of course you know Mrs. Ballantyne," said Hazlewood. He saw Stella rise
from her chair and hold out her hand to Thresk with the colour aflame in
"You are surprised to see me again," she said.
Thresk took her hand cordially. "I am delighted to see you again,"
"And I to see you," said Stella, "for I have never yet had a chance of
thanking you"; and she spoke with so much frankness that even Pettifer
was shaken in his suspicions. She turned upon Mr. Hazlewood with a
mimicry of indignation. "Do you know, Mr. Hazlewood, that you have done a
very cruel thing?"
Mr. Hazlewood was utterly discomfited by the failure of his plot, and
when Stella attacked him so directly he had not a doubt but that she had
divined his treachery.
"I?" he gasped. "Cruel? How?"
"In not telling me beforehand that I was to meet so good a friend of
mine." Her face relaxed to a smile as she added: "I would have put on my
best frock in his honour."
Undoubtedly Stella carried off the honour of that encounter. She had at
once driven the battle with spirit onto Hazlewood's own ground and left
him worsted and confused. But the end was not yet. Mr. Hazlewood waited
for his son Richard, and when Richard appeared he exclaimed:
"Ah, here's my son. Let me present him to you, Mr. Thresk. And there's
He leaned back, with a smile in his eyes, watching Henry Thresk. Robert
Pettifer watched too.
"The family?" Thresk asked. "Is Mrs. Ballantyne a relation then?"
"She is going to be," said Dick.
"Yes," Mr. Hazlewood explained, still beaming and still watchful.
"Richard and Stella are going to be married."
A pause followed which was just perceptible before Thresk spoke again.
But he had his face under control. He took the stroke without flinching.
He turned to Dick with a smile.
"Some men have all the luck," he said, and Dick, who had been looking at
him in bewilderment, cried:
"Mr. Thresk? Not the Mr. Thresk to whom I owe so much?"
"The very man," said Thresk, and Dick held out his hand to him gravely.
"Thank you," he said. "When I think of the horrible net of doubt and
assumption in which Stella was coiled, I tell you I feel cold down my
spine even now. If you hadn't come forward with your facts--"
"Yes," Thresk interposed. "If I hadn't come forward with my facts. But I
couldn't well keep them to myself, could I?" A few more words were said
and then Dick rose from his chair.
"Time's up, Stella," and he explained to Henry Thresk: "We have to look
over a house this afternoon."
"A house? Yes, I see," said Thresk, but he spoke slowly and there was
just audible a little inflection of doubt in his voice. Stella was
listening for it; she heard it when her two antagonists noticed nothing.
"But, Dick," she said quickly, "we can put the inspection off."
"Not on my account," Thresk returned. "There's no need for that." He was
not looking at Stella whilst he spoke and she longed to see his face. She
must know exactly how she stood with him, what he thought of her. She
turned impulsively to Mr. Hazlewood.
"I haven't been asked, but may I come to dinner? You see I owe a good
deal to Mr. Thresk."
Mr. Hazlewood was for the moment at a loss. He had not lost hope that
between now and dinner-time explanations would be given which would
banish Stella Ballantyne altogether from Little Beeding. But he had no
excuse ready and he stammered out:
"Of course, my dear. Didn't I ask you? I must have forgotten. I certainly
expect you to dine with us to-night. Margaret will no doubt be here."
Margaret Pettifer had taken little part in the conversation about the
tea-table. She sat in frigid hostility, speaking only when politeness
commanded. She accepted her brother's invitation with a monosyllable.
"Thank you," said Stella, and she faced Henry Thresk, looking him
straight in the eyes but not daring to lay any special stress upon the
words: "Then I shall see you to-night."
Thresk read in her face a prayer that he should hold his hand until she
had a chance to speak with him. She turned away and went from the room
with Dick Hazlewood.
The old man rose as soon as the door was closed.
"Now we might have a look at the miniatures, Mr. Thresk. You will excuse
us, Margaret, won't you?"
"Of course," she answered upon a nod from her husband. The two men passed
through the doors into the great library whilst Thresk took a more
ceremonious leave of Mrs. Pettifer; and as Hazlewood opened the drawers
of his cabinets Robert Pettifer said in a whisper:
"That was a pretty good failure, I must say. And it was my idea too."
"Yes," replied Hazlewood in a voice as low. "What do you think?"
"That they share no secret."
"You are satisfied then?"
"I didn't say that"; and Thresk himself appeared in the doorway and went
across to the writing-table upon which Hazlewood had just laid a drawer
in which miniatures were ranged.
"I haven't met you," said Pettifer, "since you led for us in the great
"No," answered Thresk as he took his seat at the table. "It wasn't quite
such a tough fight as I expected. You see there wasn't one really
reliable witness for the defence."
"No," said Pettifer grimly. "If there had been we should have been
Mr. Hazlewood began to point out this and that miniature of his
collection, bending over Thresk as he did so. It seemed that the two
collectors were quite lost in their common hobby until Robert Pettifer
gave the signal.
Then Mr. Hazlewood began:
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Thresk, for reasons quite outside these
miniatures of mine."
He spoke with a noticeable awkwardness, yet Henry Thresk disregarded it
"Oh?" he said carelessly.
"Yes. Being Richard's father I am naturally concerned in everything
which affects him nearly--the trial of Stella Ballantyne for instance."
Thresk bent his head down over the tray.
"Quite so," he said. He pointed to a miniature. "I saw that at Christie's
and coveted it myself."
"Did you?" Mr. Hazlewood asked and he almost offered it as a bribe. "Now
you gave evidence, Mr. Thresk."
Thresk never lifted his head.
"You have no doubt read the evidence I gave," he said, peering from this
delicate jewel of the painter's art to that.
"To be sure."
"And since your son is engaged to Mrs. Ballantyne, I suppose that you
were satisfied with it"--and he paused to give a trifle of significance
to his next words--"as the jury was."
"Yes, of course," Mr. Hazlewood stammered, "but a witness, I think, only
answers the questions put to him."
"That is so," said Thresk, "if he is a wise witness." He took one of the
miniatures out of the drawer and held it to the light. But Mr. Hazlewood
was not to be deterred.
"And subsequent reflection," he continued obstinately, "might suggest
that all the questions which could throw light upon the trial had not
Thresk replaced the miniature in the drawer in front of him and leaned
back in his chair. He looked now straight at Mr. Hazlewood.
"It was not, I take it, in order to put those questions to me that you
were kind enough, Mr. Hazlewood, to ask me to give my opinion on your
miniatures. For that would have been setting a trap for me, wouldn't it?"
Hazlewood stared at Thresk with the bland innocence of a child. "Oh no,
no," he declared, and then an insinuating smile beamed upon his long
thin face. "Only since you _are_ here and since so much is at stake for
me--my son's happiness--I hoped that you might perhaps give us an answer
or two which would disperse the doubts of some suspicious people."
"Who are they?" asked Thresk.
"Neighbours of ours," replied Hazlewood, and thereupon Robert Pettifer
stepped forward. He had remained aloof and silent until this moment. Now
he spoke shortly, but he spoke to the point:
"I for one."
Thresk turned with a smile upon Pettifer.
"I thought so. I recognised Mr. Pettifer's hand in all this. But he ought
to know that the sudden confrontation of a suspected person with
unexpected witnesses takes place, in those countries where the method is
practised, before the trial; not, as you so ingeniously arranged it this
afternoon, two years after the verdict has been given."
Robert Pettifer turned red. Then he looked whimsically across the table
at his brother-in-law.
"We had better make a clean breast of it, Hazlewood."
"I think so," said Thresk gently.
Pettifer came a step nearer. "We are in the wrong," he said bluntly. "But
we have an excuse. Our trouble is very great. Here's my brother-in-law to
begin with, whose whole creed of life has been to deride the authority of
conventional man--to tilt against established opinion. Mrs. Ballantyne
comes back from her trial in Bombay to make her home again at Little
Beeding. Hazlewood champions her--not for her sake, but for the sake of
his theories. It pleases his vanity. Now he can prove that he is not as
Mr. Hazlewood did not relish this merciless analysis of his character. He
twisted in his chair, he uttered a murmur of protest. But Robert Pettifer
waved him down and continued:
"So he brings her to his house. He canvasses for her. He throws his son
in her way. She has beauty--she has something more than beauty--she
stands apart as a woman who has walked through fire. She has suffered
very much. Look at it how one will, she has suffered beyond her deserts.
She has pretty deferential ways which make their inevitable appeal to
women as to men. In a word, Hazlewood sets the ball rolling and it gets
beyond his reach."
"Yes, I understand that."
"Finally, Hazlewood's son falls in love with her--not a boy mind, but a
man claiming a man's right to marry where he loves. And at once in
Hazlewood conventional man awakes."
"Dear me, no," interposed Harold Hazlewood.
"But I say yes," Pettifer continued imperturbably. "Conventional man
awakes in him and cries loudly against the marriage. Then there's myself.
I am fond of Dick. I have no child. He will be my heir and I am not poor.
He is doing well in his profession. To be an Instructor of the Staff
Corps at his age means hard work, keenness, ability. I look forward to a
great career. I am very fond of him. And--understand me, Mr. Thresk"--he
checked his speech and weighed his words very carefully--"I wouldn't say
that he shouldn't marry Stella Ballantyne just because Stella Ballantyne
has lain under a grave charge of which she has been acquitted. No, I may
be as formal as my brother-in-law thinks, but I hold a wider faith than
that. But I am not satisfied. That is the truth, Mr. Thresk. I am not
sure of what happened in that tent in far-away Chitipur after you had
ridden away to catch the night mail to Bombay."
Robert Pettifer had made his confession simply and with some dignity.
Thresk looked at him for a few moments. Was he wondering whether he
could answer the questions? Was he hesitating through anger at the
trick which had been played upon him? Pettifer could not tell. He waited
in suspense. Thresk pushed his chair back suddenly and came forward from
behind the table.
"Ask your questions," he said.
"You consent to answer them?" Mr. Hazlewood cried joyously, and Thresk
replied with coldness:
"I must. For if I don't consent your suspicions at once are double what
they were. But I am not pleased."
"Oh, we practised a little diplomacy," said Hazlewood, making light of
"Diplomacy!" For the first time a gleam of anger shone in Thresk's eyes.
"You have got me to your house by a trick. You have abused your position
as my host. And but that I should injure a woman whom life has done
nothing but injure I should go out of your door this instant."
He turned his back upon Harold Hazlewood and sat down in a chair opposite
to Robert Pettifer. A little round table separated them. Pettifer, seated
upon a couch, took from his pocket the envelope with the press-cuttings
and spread them on the table in front of him. Thresk lolled back in his
chair. It was plain that he was in no terror of Pettifer's examination.
"I am at your service," he said.
The afternoon sunlight poured into the room golden and clear. Outside the
open windows the garden was noisy with birds and the river babbled
between its banks. Henry Thresk shut his ears against the music. For all
his appearance of ease he dreaded the encounter which was now begun.
Pettifer he knew to be a shrewd man. He watched him methodically
arranging his press-cuttings in front of him. Pettifer might well find
some weak point in his story which he himself had not discovered; and
whatever course he was minded afterwards to take, here and now he was
determined once more to fight Stella's battle.
"I need not go back on the facts of the trial," said Pettifer. "They are
fresh enough in your memory, no doubt. Your theory as I understand it ran
as follows: While you were mounting your camel on the edge of the camp to
return to the station and Ballantyne was at your side, the thief whose
arm you had both seen under the tent wall, not knowing that now you had
the photograph of Bahadur Salak which he wished to steal, slipped into
the tent unperceived, took up the rook-rifle--"
"Which was standing by Mrs. Ballantyne's writing-table," Thresk
"The cartridges were lying open in a drawer."
"And shot Ballantyne on his return."
"Yes," Thresk agreed. "In addition you must remember that when Captain
Ballantyne was found an hour or so later Mrs. Ballantyne was in bed
"Quite so," said Pettifer. "In brief, Mr. Thresk, you supplied a
reasonable motive for the crime and some evidence of a criminal. And I
admit that on your testimony the jury returned the only verdict which it
was possible to give."
"What troubles you then?" Henry Thresk asked, and Pettifer replied drily:
"Various points. Here's one--a minor one. If Captain Ballantyne was shot
by a thief detected in the act of thieving why should that thief risk
capture and death by dragging Captain Ballantyne's body out into the
open? It seems to me the last thing which he would naturally do."
Thresk shrugged his shoulders.
"I can't explain that. It is perhaps possible that not finding the
photograph he fell into a blind rage and satisfied it by violence towards
the dead man."
"Dead or dying," Mr. Pettifer corrected. "There seems to have been some
little doubt upon that point. But your theory's a little weak, isn't it?
To get away unseen would be that thief's first preoccupation, surely?"
"Reasoning as you and I are doing here quietly, at our ease, in this
room, no doubt you are right, Mr. Pettifer. But criminals are caught
because they don't reason quietly when they have just committed a crime.
The behaviour of a man whose mind is influenced by that condition cannot
be explained always by any laws of psychology. He may be in a wild panic.
He may act as madmen act, or like a child in a rage. And if my
explanation is weak it's no weaker than the only other hypothesis: that
Mrs. Ballantyne herself dragged him into the open."
Mr. Pettifer shook his head.
"I am not so sure. I can conceive a condition of horror in the wife,
horror at what she had done, which would make that act not merely
possible but almost inevitable. I make no claims to being an imaginative
man, Mr. Thresk, but I try to put myself into the position of the wife";
and he described with a vividness for which Thresk was not prepared the
scene as he saw it.
"She goes to bed, she undresses and goes to bed--she must do that if
she is to escape--she puts out her light, she lies in the dark awake,
and under the same roof, close to her, in the dark too, is lying the man
she has killed. Just a short passage separates her from him. There are
no doors--mind that, Mr. Thresk--no doors to lock and bolt, merely a
grass screen which you could lift with your forefinger. Wouldn't any and
every one of the little cracks and sounds and breathings, of which the
quietest and stillest night is full, sound to her like the approach of
the dead man? The faintest breath of air would seem a draught made by
the swinging of the grass-curtain as it was stealthily lifted--lifted by
the dead man. No, Mr. Thresk. The wife is just the one person I could
imagine who would do that needless barbarous violence of dragging the
body into the open--and she would do it, not out of cruelty, but because
she must or go mad."
Thresk listened without a movement until Robert Pettifer had finished.
Then he said:
"You know Mrs. Ballantyne. Has she the strength which she must have had
to drag a heavy man across the carpet of a tent and fling him outside?"
"Not now, not before. But just at the moment? You argued, Mr. Thresk,
that it is impossible to foresee what people will do under the immediate
knowledge that they have committed a capital crime. I agree. But I go a
little further. I say that they will also exhibit a physical strength
with which it would be otherwise impossible to credit them. Fear lends
it to them."
"Yes," Thresk interrupted quickly, "but don't you see, Mr. Pettifer, that
you are implying the existence of an emotion in Mrs. Ballantyne which the
facts prove her to have been without--fear, panic? She was found quietly
asleep in her bed by the ayah when she came to call her in the morning.
There's no doubt of that. The ayah was never for a moment shaken upon
that point. The pyschology of crime is a curious and surprising study,
Mr. Pettifer, but I know of no case where terror has acted as a
Mr. Pettifer smiled and turned altogether away from the question.
"It is, as I said, a minor point, and perhaps one from which any
sort of inference would be unsafe. It interested me. I lay no great
stress upon it."
He dismissed the point carelessly, to the momentary amusement of Henry
Thresk. The art of slipping away from defeat had been practised with
greater skill. Thresk lost some part of his apprehension but none of his
"Now, however, we come to something very different," said Pettifer,
hitching himself a little closer to his table and fixing his eyes upon
Thresk. "The case for the prosecution ran like this: Stephen Ballantyne
was, though a man of great ability, a secret drunkard who humiliated his
wife in public and beat her in private. She went in terror of him. She
bore on more than one occasion the marks of his violence; and upon that
night in Chitipur, perhaps in a panic and very likely under extreme
provocation, she snatched up her rook-rifle and put an end to the whole
"Yes," Thresk agreed, "that was the case for the Crown."
"Yes, and throughout the sitting at the Stipendiary's inquiry before you
came upon the scene that theory was clearly developed."
Thresk's confidence vanished as quickly as it had come. He realised
whither Pettifer's questions were leading. There was a definitely weak
link in his story and Pettifer had noticed it and was testing it.
"Now," the solicitor continued--"and this is the important point--what
was the answer to that charge foreshadowed by the defence during those
days before you appeared?"
Thresk answered the question quickly, if answer it could be called.
"The defence had not formulated any answer. I came forward before the
case for the Crown finished."
"Quite so. But Mrs. Ballantyne's counsel did cross-examine the witnesses
for the prosecution--we must not forget that, Mr. Thresk--and from the
cross-examination it is quite clear what answer he was going to make. He
was going--not to deny that Mrs. Ballantyne shot her husband--but to
plead that she shot him in self-defence."
"Oh?" said Thresk, "and where do you find that?"
He had no doubt himself in what portion of the report of the trial a
proof of Pettifer's statement was to be discovered, but he made a
creditable show of surprise that any one should hold that opinion at all.
Pettifer selected a column of newspaper from his cuttings.
"Listen," he said. "Mr. Repton, a friend of Mrs. Ballantyne, was called
upon a subpoena by the Crown and he testified that while he was a
Collector at Agra he went up with his wife from the plains to the
hill-station of Moussourie during a hot weather. The Ballantynes went up
at the same time and occupied a bungalow next to Repton's. One night
Repton's house was broken into. He went across to Ballantyne the next
morning and advised him in the presence of his wife to sleep with a
revolver under his pillow."
"Yes, I remember that," said Thresk. He had indeed cause to remember it
very well, for it was just this evidence given by Repton with its clear
implication of the line which the defence meant to take that had sent him
in a hurry to Mrs. Ballantyne's solicitor. Pettifer continued by reading
Repton's words slowly and with emphasis.
"'Mrs. Ballantyne then turned very pale, and running after me down the
garden like a distracted woman cried: "Why did you tell him to do that?
It will some night mean my death."' This statement, Mr. Thresk, was
elicited in cross-examination by Mrs. Ballantyne's counsel, and it could
only mean that he intended to set up a plea of self-defence. I find it a
little difficult to reconcile that intention with the story you
Henry Thresk for his part knew that it was not merely difficult, it was,
in fact, impossible. Mr. Pettifer had read the evidence with an accurate
discrimination. The plea of self-defence was here foreshadowed and it was
just the certainty that the defence was going to rely upon it for a
verdict which had brought Henry Thresk himself into the witness-box at
Bombay. Given all that was known of Stephen Ballantyne and of the life he
had led his unhappy wife, the defence would have been a good one, but for
a single fact--the discovery of Ballantyne's body outside the tent. No
plea of self-defence could safely be left to cover that. Thresk himself
wondered at it. It struck at public sympathy, it seemed the act of a
person insensate and vindictive. Therefore he had come forward with his
story. But Mr. Pettifer was not to know it.
"There are three things for you to remember," said Thresk. "In the first
place it is too early to assume that self-defence was going to be the
plea. Assumptions in a case of this kind are very dangerous, Mr.
Pettifer. They may lead to an irreparable injustice. We must keep to the
fact that no plea of self-defence was ever formulated. In the second
place Mrs. Ballantyne was brought down to Bombay in a state of complete
collapse. Her married life had been a torture to her. She broke down at
the end of it. She was indifferent to anything that might happen."
Pettifer nodded. "Yes, I can understand that."
"It followed that her advisers had to act upon their own initiative."
"And the third point?" Pettifer asked.
"Well, it's not so much a point as an opinion of mine. But I hold it
strongly. Her counsel mishandled the case."
Pettifer pursed up his lips and grunted. He tapped a finger once or twice
on the table in front of him. He looked towards Thresk as if all was not
quite said. Harold Hazlewood, to whom the position of a neglected
listener was rare and unpalatable, saw an opportunity for intervention.
"The three points are perhaps not very conclusive," he said.
Thresk turned towards him coldly:
"I promised to answer such questions as Mr. Pettifer put to me. I am
doing that. I did not undertake to discuss the value of my answers
"No, no, quite so," murmured Mr. Hazlewood. "We are very grateful, I am
sure," and he left once more the argument to Pettifer.
"Then I come to the next question, Mr. Thresk. At some moment in this
inquiry you of your own account put yourself into communication with Mrs.
Ballantyne's advisers and volunteered your evidence?"
"Isn't it strange that the defence did not at the very outset get into
communication with you?"
"No," replied Thresk. Here he was at his ease. He had laid his plans well
in Bombay. Mr. Pettifer might go on asking questions until midnight upon
this point. Thresk could meet him. "It was not at all strange. It was not
known that I could throw any light upon the affair at all. All that
passed between Ballantyne and myself passed when we were alone; and
Ballantyne was now dead."
"Yes, but you had dined with the Ballantynes on that night. Surely it's
strange that since you were in Bombay Mrs. Ballantyne's advisers did not
seek you out."
"Yes, yes," added Mr. Hazlewood, "very strange indeed, Mr.
Thresk--since you were in Bombay"; and he looked up at the ceiling and
joined the tips of his fingers, his whole attitude a confident
question: "Answer that if you can."
Thresk turned patiently round.
"Hasn't it occurred to you, Mr. Hazlewood, that it is still more strange
that the prosecution did not at once approach me?"
"Yes," said Pettifer suddenly. "That question too has troubled me"; and
Thresk turned back again.
"You see," he explained, "I was not known to be in Bombay at all. On the
contrary I was supposed to be somewhere in the Red Sea or the
Mediterranean on my way back to England."
Mr. Pettifer looked up in surprise. The statement was news to him and if
true provided a natural explanation of some of his chief perplexities.
"Let me understand that!" and there was a change in his voice which
Thresk was quick to detect. There was less hostility.
"Certainly," Thresk answered. "I left the tent just before eleven to
catch the Bombay mail. I was returning direct to England. The reason
why Ballantyne asked me to take the photograph of Bahadur Salak was
that since I was going on board straight from the train it could be no
danger to me."
"Then why didn't you go straight on board?" asked Pettifer.
"I'll tell you," Thresk replied. "I thought the matter over on the
journey down to Bombay, and I came to the conclusion that since the
photograph might be wanted at Salak's trial I had better take it to the
Governor's house at Bombay. But Government House is out at Malabar Point,
four miles from the quays. I took the photograph out myself and so I
missed the boat. But there was an announcement in the papers that I had
sailed, and in fact the consul at Marseilles came on board at that port
to inquire for me on instructions from the Indian Government."
Mr. Pettifer leaned back.
"Yes, I see," he said thoughtfully. "That makes a difference--a big
difference." Then he sat upright again and said sharply:
"You were in Bombay then when Mrs. Ballantyne was brought down from
"And when the case for the Crown was started?"
"And when the Crown's witnesses were cross-examined?"
"Why did you wait then all that time before you came forward?" Pettifer
put the question with an air of triumph. "Why, Mr. Thresk, did you wait
till the very moment when Mrs. Ballantyne was going to be definitely
committed to a particular line of defence before you announced that you
could clear up the mystery? Doesn't it rather look as if you had remained
hidden on the chance of the prosecution breaking down, and had only come
forward when you realised that to-morrow self-defence would be pleaded,
the firing of that rook-rifle admitted and a terrible risk of a verdict
of guilty run?"
Thresk agreed without a moment's hesitation.
"But that's the truth, Mr. Pettifer," he said, and Mr. Pettifer
"Consider my position"--Thresk drew up his chair close to the table--"a
barrister who was beginning to have one of the large practices, the
Courts opening in London, briefs awaiting me, cases on which I had
already advised coming on. I had already lost a fortnight. That was bad
enough, but if I came forward with my story I must wait in Bombay not
merely for a fortnight but until the whole trial was completed, as in the
end I had to do. Of course I hoped that the prosecution would break down.
Of course I didn't intervene until it was absolutely necessary in the
interests of justice that I should."
He spoke so calmly, there was so much reason in what he said, that
Pettifer could not but be convinced.
"I see," he said. "I see. Yes. That's not to be disputed." He remained
silent for a few moments. Then he shuffled his papers together and
replaced them in the envelope. It seemed that his examination was over.
Thresk rose from his chair.
"You have no more questions to ask me?" he inquired.
Pettifer came round the table and stood in front of Henry Thresk.
"Did you know Mrs. Ballantyne before you went to Chitipur?"
"Yes," Thresk replied.
"Had you seen her lately?"
"When had you last seen her?"
"Eight years before, in this neighbourhood. I spent a holiday close
by. Her father and mother were then alive. I had not seen her since. I
did not even know that she was in India and married until I was told so
Thresk was prepared for that question. He had the truth ready and he
spoke it frankly. Mr. Pettifer turned away to Hazlewood, who was watching
"We have nothing more to do, Hazlewood, but to thank Mr. Thresk for
answering our questions and to apologise to him for having put them."
Mr. Hazlewood was utterly disconcerted. After all, then, the marriage
must take place; the plot had ignominiously failed, the great questions
which were to banish Stella Ballantyne from Little Beeding had been put
and answered. He sat like a man stricken by calamity. He stammered out
reluctantly a few words to which Thresk paid little heed.
"You are satisfied then?" he asked of Pettifer; and Pettifer showed him
unexpectedly a cordial and good-humoured face.
"Yes. Let me say to you, Mr. Thresk, that ever since I began to study
this case I have wished less and less to bear hardly upon Mrs.
Ballantyne. As I read those columns of evidence the heavy figure of
Stephen Ballantyne took life again, but a very sinister life; and when I
look at Stella and think of what she went through during the years of
her married life while we were comfortably here at home I cannot but feel
a shiver of discomfort. Yes, I am satisfied and I am glad that I am
satisfied"; and with a smile which suddenly illumined his dry parched
face he held out his hand to Henry Thresk.
It was perhaps as well that the questions were over, for even while
Pettifer was speaking Stella's voice was heard in the hall. Pettifer had
just time to thrust away the envelope with the cuttings into a drawer
before she came into the room with Dick. She had been forced to leave the
three men together, but she had dreaded it. During that one hour of
absence she had lived through a lifetime of terror and anxiety. What
would Thresk tell them? What was he now telling them? She was like one
waiting downstairs while a surgical operation is being performed in the
theatre above. She had hurried Dick back to Little Deeding, and when she
came into the room her eyes roamed round in suspense from Thresk to
Hazlewood, from Hazlewood to Pettifer. She saw the tray of miniatures
upon the table.
"You admire the collection?" she said to Thresk.
"Very much," he answered, and Pettifer took her by the arm and in a voice
of kindness which she had never heard him use before he said:
"Now tell me about your house. That's much more interesting."
IN THE LIBRARY
Henry Thresk took Mrs. Pettifer in to dinner that night and she found him
poor company. He tried indeed by fits and starts to entertain her, but
his thoughts were elsewhere. He was in a great pother and trouble about
Stella Ballantyne, who sat over against him on the other side of the
table. She wore no traces of the consternation which his words had caused
her a couple of hours before. She had come dressed in a slim gown of
shimmering blue with her small head erect, a smile upon her lips and a
bright colour in her cheeks. Thresk hardly knew her, he had to tell
himself again and again that this was the Stella Ballantyne whom he had
known here and in India. She was not the girl who had ridden with him
upon the downs and made one month of his life very memorable and one day
a shameful recollection. Nor was she the stricken creature of the tent in
Chitipur. She was a woman sure of her resources, radiant in her beauty,
confident that what she wore was her colour and gave her her value. Yet
her trouble was greater than Thresk's, and many a time during the course
of that dinner, when she felt his eyes resting upon her, her heart sank
in fear. She sought his company after dinner, but she had no chance of a
private word with him. Old Mr. Hazlewood took care of that. One moment
Stella must sing; at another she must play a rubber of bridge. He at all
events had not laid aside his enmity and suspected some understanding
between her and his guest. At eleven Mrs. Pettifer took her leave. She
came across the room to Henry Thresk.
"Are you staying over to-morrow?" she asked, and Thresk with a
"I wish that I could. But I have to catch an early train to London.
Even to-night my day's work's not over. I must sit up for an hour or
two over a brief."
Stella rose at the same time as Mrs. Pettifer.
"I was hoping that you would be able to come across and see my
little cottage to-morrow morning," she said. Thresk hesitated as he
took her hand.
"I should very much like to see it," he said. He was in a very great
difficulty, and was not sure that a letter was not the better if the more
cowardly way out of it. "If I could find the time."
"Try," said she. She could say no more for Mr. Hazlewood was at her elbow
and Dick was waiting to take her home.
It was a dark clear night; a sky of stars overarched the earth, but
there was no moon, and though lights shone brightly even at a great
distance there was no glimmer from the road beneath their feet. Dick
held her close in his arms at the door of her cottage. She was very
still and passive.
"You are tired?" he asked.
"I think so."
"Well, to-night has seen the last of our troubles, Stella."
She did not answer him at once. Her hands clung about his shoulders and
with her face smothered in his coat she whispered:
"Dick, I couldn't go on without you now. I couldn't. I wouldn't."
There was a note of passionate despair in her voice which made her words
suddenly terrible to him. He took her and held her a little away from
him, peering into her face.
"What are you saying, Stella?" he asked sternly. "You know that nothing
can come between us. You break my heart when you talk like that." He drew
her again into his arms. "Is your maid waiting up for you?"
"Call her then, while I wait here. Let me see the light in her room. I
want her to sleep with you to-night."
"There's no need, Dick," she answered. "I am unstrung to-night. I said
more than I meant. I swear to you there's no need."
He raised her head and kissed her on the lips.
"I trust you, Stella," he said gently; and she answered him in a low
trembling voice of so much tenderness and love that he was reassured.
"Oh, you may, my dear, you may."
She went up to her room and turned on the light, and sat down in her
chair just as she had done after her first dinner at Little Beeding. She
had foreseen then all the troubles which had since beset her, but she had
seemed to have passed through them--until this afternoon. Over there in
the library of the big house was Henry Thresk--the stranger. Very likely
he was at this moment writing to her. If he had only consented to come
over in the morning and give her the chance of pleading with him! She
went to the window and, drawing up the blind, leaned her head out and
looked across the meadow. In the library one of the long windows stood
open and the curtain was not drawn. The room was full of light. Henry
Thresk was there. He had befriended her this afternoon as he had
befriended her at Bombay, for the second time he had won the victory for
her; but the very next moment he had warned her that the end was not yet.
He would send her a letter, she had not a doubt of it. She had not a
doubt either of the message which the letter would bring.
A sound rose to her ears from the gravel path below her window--the sound
of a slight involuntary movement. Stella drew sharply back. Then she
leaned out again and called softly:
He was standing a little to the left of the window out of reach of the
light which streamed out upon the darkness from the room behind her. He
moved forward now.
"Oh, Dick, why are you waiting?"
"I wanted to be sure that all was right, Stella."
"I gave you my word, Dick," she whispered and she wished him
good-night again and waited till the sound of his footsteps had
altogether died away. He went back to the house and found Thresk still
at work in the library.
"I don't want to interrupt you," he said, "but I must thank you again. I
can't tell you what I owe you. She's pretty wonderful, isn't she? I feel
coarse beside her, I tell you. I couldn't talk like this to any one else,
but you're so sympathetic."
Henry Thresk had responded with nothing more than a grunt. He sat
slashing at his brief with a blue pencil, all the while that Dick
Hazlewood was speaking, and wishing that he would go to bed. Dick however
"Did you ever see a woman look so well in a blue frock? Or in a black one
either? There's a sort of painted thing she wears sometimes too. Well,
perhaps I had better go to bed."
"I think it would be wise," said Thresk.
Young Hazlewood went over to the table in the corner and lit his candle.
"You'll shut that window before you go to bed, won't you?"
Hazlewood filled for himself a glass of barley-water and drank it,
contemplating Henry Thresk over the rim. Then he went back to him,
carrying his candle in his hand.
"Why don't you get married, Mr. Thresk?" he asked. "You ought to, you
know. Men run to seed so if they don't."
"Thank you," said Thresk.
The tone was not cordial, but mere words were an invitation to Dick
Hazlewood at this moment. He sat down and placed his lighted candle on
the table between Thresk and himself.
"I am thirty-four years old," he said, and Thresk interposed without
glancing up from his foolscap:
"From your style of conversation I find that very difficult to believe,
"I have wasted thirty-four complete years of twelve months each,"
continued the ecstatic Captain, who appeared to think that on the very
day of his birth he would have recognised his soul's mate. "Just jogging
along with the world, a miracle about one and not half an eye to perceive
it. You know."
"No, I don't," Thresk observed. He lifted the candle and held it out to
Dick. Dick got up and took it.
"Thank you," he said. "That was very kind of you. I told you--didn't
I?--how sympathetic I thought you."
Thresk was not proof against his companion's pertinacity. He broke into a
laugh. "Are you going to bed?" he pleaded, and Dick Hazlewood replied,
"Yes I am." Suddenly his tone changed.
"Stella had a very good friend in you, Mr. Thresk. I am sure she still
has one," and without waiting for any answer he went upstairs. His
bedroom was near to the front in the side of the house. It commanded a
view of the meadow and the cottage and he rejoiced to see that all
Stella's windows were dark. The library was out of sight round the corner
at the back, but a glare of light from the open door spread out over the
lawn. Hazlewood looked at his watch. It was just midnight. He went to bed
In the library Thresk strove to concentrate his thoughts upon his brief.
But he could not, and he threw it aside at last. There was a letter to be
written, and until it was written and done with his thoughts would not be
free. He went over to the writing-table and wrote it. But it took a long
while in the composition and the clock upon the top of the stable was
striking one when at last he had finished and sealed it up.
"I'll post it in the morning at the station," he resolved, and he went
to the window to close it. But as he touched it a slight figure wrapped
in a dark cloak came out of the darkness at the side and stepped past him
into the room. He swung round and saw Stella Ballantyne.
"You!" he exclaimed. "You must be mad."
"I had to come," she said, standing well away from the window in the
centre of the room as though she thought he would drive her out. "I heard
you say you would be sitting late here."
"How long have you been waiting out there?"
"A little while...I don't know...Not very long. I wasn't sure that you
Thresk closed the window and drew the curtain across it. Then he crossed
the room and locked the doors leading into the dining-room and hall.
"There was no need for you to come," he said in a low voice. "I have
written to you."
"Yes." She nodded her head. "That's why I had to come. This afternoon you
spoke of leaving your pipe behind. I understood," and as he drew the
letter from his pocket she recoiled from it. "No, it has never been
written. I came in time to prevent its being written. You only had an
idea of writing. Say that! You are my friend." She took the letter from
him now and tore it across and again across. "See! It has never been
written at all."
But Thresk only shook his head. "I am very sorry. I see to-night the
stricken woman of the tent in Chitipur. I am very sorry," and Stella
caught at the commiseration in his voice. She dropped the cloak from her
shoulders; she was dressed as she had been at the dinner some hours
before, but all her radiance had gone, her cheeks trembled, her eyes
"Sorry! I knew you would be. You are not hard. You couldn't be. You must
come close day by day in your life to so much that is pitiful. One can
talk to you and you'll understand. This is my first chance, the first
real chance I have ever had, Henry, the very first."
Thresk looked backwards over the years of Stella Ballantyne's unhappy
life. It came upon him with a shock that what she said was the bare
truth; and remorse followed hard upon the heels of the shock. This was
her first real chance and he himself was to blame that it had come no
earlier. The first chance of a life worth the living--it had been in his
hands to give her and he had refused to give it years ago on Bignor Hill.
"It's quite true," he admitted. "But I don't ask you to give it up,
Stella." She looked at him eagerly. "No! You would have understood that
if you had read my letter instead of tearing it up. I only ask you to
tell your lover the truth."
"He knows it," she said sullenly.
"He does! He does!" she protested, her voice rising to a low cry.
"Hush! You'll be heard," said Thresk, and she listened for a moment
anxiously. But there was no sound of any one stirring in the house.
"We are safe here," she said. "No one sleeps above us. Henry, he knows
"Would you be here now if he did?"
"I came because this afternoon you seemed to be threatening me. I didn't
understand. I couldn't sleep. I saw the light in this room. I came to ask
you what you meant--that's all."
"I'll tell you what I meant," said Thresk, and Stella with her eyes
fixed upon him sank down upon a chair. "I left my pipe behind me in the
tent on the night I dined with you. Your lover, Stella, doesn't know
that. I came back to fetch it. He doesn't know that. You were standing
by the table--" and Stella Ballantyne broke in upon him to silence the
words upon his lips.
"There was no reason why he should know," she exclaimed. "It had nothing
to do with what happened. We know what happened. There was a thief"--and
Thresk turned to her then with such a look of sheer amazement upon his
face that she faltered and her voice died to a murmur of words--"a lean
brown arm--a hand delicate as a woman's."
"There was no thief," he said quietly. "There was a man delirious with
drink who imagined one. There was you with the bruises on your throat and
the unutterable misery in your eyes and a little rifle in your hands.
There was no one else."
She ceased to argue; she sat looking straight in front of her with a
stubborn face and a resolution to cling at all costs to her chance of
"Come, Stella," Thresk pleaded. "I don't say tell every one. I do say
tell him. For unless you do I must."
Stella stared at him.
"You?" she said. "You would tell him that you came back into the tent
and saw me?"
"Oh, much more--that I lied at the trial, that the story which secured
your acquittal was false, that I made it up to save you. That I told it
again this afternoon to give you a chance of slipping out from an
She looked at Thresk for a moment in terror. Then her expression changed.
A wave of relief swept over her; she laughed in Thresk's face.
"You are trying to frighten me," she said. "Only I know you. Do you
realise what it would mean to you if it were ever really known that you
had lied at the trial?"
"Your ruin. Your absolute ruin."
"Worse than that."
Stella laughed again.
"And you would run the risk of the truth becoming known by telling it to
so much as one person. No, no! Another, perhaps--not you! You have had
one dream all your life--to rise out of obscurity, to get on in the
world, to hold the high positions. Everything and every one has been
sacrificed to its fulfilment. Oh, who should know better than I?" and she
struck her hands together sharply as she uttered that bitter cry. "You
have lain down late and risen early, and you have got on. Well, are you
the man to throw away all this work and success now that they touch
fulfilment? You are in the chariot. Will you step down and run tied to
the wheels? Will you stand up and say, 'There was a trial. I perjured
myself'? No. Another, perhaps. Not you, Henry."
Thresk had no answer to that indictment. All of it was true except
its inference, and it was no news to him. He made no effort to
"You are not very generous, Stella," he replied gently. "For if I lied, I
saved you by the lie."
Stella was softened by the words. Her voice lost its hardness, she
reached out her hand in an apology and laid it on his arm.
"Oh, I know. I sent you a little word of thanks when you gave me my
freedom. But it won't be of much value to me if I lose--what I am
fighting for now."
"So you use every weapon?"
"But this one breaks in your hand," he said firmly. "The thing you think
it incredible that I should do I shall do none the less."
Stella looked at him in despair. She could no longer doubt that he really
meant his words. He was really resolved to make this sacrifice of himself
and her. And why? Why should he interfere?
"You save me one day to destroy me the next," she said.
"No," he replied. "I don't think I shall do that, Stella," and he
explained to her what drove him on. "I had no idea why Hazlewood asked me
here. Had I suspected it I say frankly that I should have refused to
come. But I am here. The trouble's once more at my door but in a new
shape. There's this man, young Hazlewood. I can't forget him. You will be
marrying him by the help of a lie I told."
"He loves me," she cried.
"Then he can bear the truth," answered Thresk. He pulled up a chair
opposite to that in which Stella sat. "I want you to understand me, if
you will. I don't want you to think me harsh or cruel. I told a lie upon
my oath in the witness-box. I violated my traditions, I struck at my
belief in the value of my own profession, and such beliefs mean a good
deal to any man." Stella stirred impatiently. What words were these?
Traditions! The value of a profession!
"I am not laying stress upon them, Stella, but they count," Thresk
continued. "And I am telling you that they count because I am going to
add that I should tell that lie again to-morrow, were the trial to-morrow
and you a prisoner. I should tell it again to save you again. Yes, to
save you. But when you go and--let me put it very plainly--use that lie
to your advantage, why then I am bound to cry 'stop.' Don't you see that?
You are using the lie to marry a man and keep him in ignorance of the
truth. You can't do that, Stella! You would be miserable yourself if you
did all your life. You would never feel safe for a moment. You would be
haunted by a fear that some day he would learn the truth and not from
you. Oh, I am sure of it." He caught her hands and pressed them
earnestly. "Tell him, Stella, tell him!"
Stella Ballantyne rose to her feet with a strange look upon her face. Her
eyes half closed as though to shut out a vision of past horrors. She
turned to Thresk with a white face and her hands tightly clenched.
"You don't know what happened on that night, after you rode away to catch
"I think you ought to know--before you sit in judgment"; and so at last
in that quiet library under the Sussex Downs the tragic story of that
night was told. For Thresk as he listened and watched, its terrors lived
again in the eyes and the hushed voice of Stella Ballantyne, the dark
walls seemed to fall back and dissolve. The moonlit plain of far-away
Chitipur stretched away in front of him to the dim hill where the old
silent palaces crumbled; and midway between them and the green
signal-lights of the railway the encampment blazed like the clustered
lights of a small town. But Thresk learnt more than the facts. The
springs of conduct were disclosed to him; the woman revealed herself,
dark places were made light; and he bowed himself beneath a new burden
"You came back to the tent," she began, "and ever since then you have
misunderstood what you saw. For this is the truth: I was going to
Thresk was startled as he had not expected to be; and a great wave of
relief swept over him and uplifted his soul. Here was the simplest
explanation, yet it had never occurred to him. Always he had been
besieged by the vision of Stella standing quietly by the table,
deliberately preparing her rifle for use, always he had linked up that
vision with the death of Stephen Ballantyne in a dreadful connection. He
did not doubt that she spoke the truth now. Looking at her and noticing
the anguish of her face, he could not doubt it. So definite a
premeditation as he had imagined there had not been, and relief carried
him to pity.
"So it had come to that?" he said.
"Yes," replied Stella. "And you had your share in bringing it to
that--you who sit in judgment."
"I!" Thresk exclaimed.
"Yes, you who sit in judgment. I am not alone. No, I am not alone. A
crime was committed? Then you must shoulder your portion of the blame."