Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Mr. Pottermack's Oversight
Author: R. Austin Freeman
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800011.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: January 2008
Date most recently updated: February 2011

This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------


MR. POTTERMACK'S OVERSIGHT

* * *

PROLOGUE


The afternoon of a sultry day near the end of July was beginning to
merge into evening. The crimson eye of the declining sun peered out
through chinks in a bank of slaty cloud as if taking a last look at the
great level of land and water before retiring for the night; while
already, in the soft, greenish grey of the eastern sky, the new-risen
moon hung like a globe of pearl.

It was a solitary scene; desolate, if you will, or peaceful. On the one
hand the quiet waters of a broad estuary; on the other a great stretch
of marshes; and between them the sea wall, following faithfully the
curves and indentations of the shore and fading away at either end into
invisibility.

A great stillness brooded over the place. On the calm water, far out
beyond the shallows, one or two coasting craft lay at anchor, and yet
farther out a schooner and a couple of barges crept up on the flood
tide. On the land side in the marshy meadows a few sheep grazed
sedately, and in the ditch that bordered the sea wall the water-voles
swam to and fro or sat on the banks and combed their hair. Sound there
was none save the half-audible wash of the little waves upon the shore
and now and again the querulous call of a sea-gull.

In strange contrast to the peaceful stillness that prevailed around was
the aspect of the one human creature that was visible. Tragedy was
written in every line of his figure; tragedy and fear and breathless
haste. He was running--so far as it was possible to run among the rough
stones and the high grass--at the foot of the sea wall on the seaward
side; stumbling onward desperately, breathing hard, and constantly
brushing away with his hand the sweat that streamed down his forehead
into his eyes. At intervals he paused to scramble up the slope of the
wall among the thistles and ragwort, and with infinite caution, to avoid
even showing his head on the skyline, peered over the top backwards and
forwards, but especially backwards where, in the far distance, the grey
mass of a town loomed beyond the marshes.

There was no mystery about the man's movements. A glance at his clothing
explained everything. For he was dressed in prison grey, branded with
the broad arrow and still bearing the cell number. Obviously, he was an
escaped convict.

Criminologists of certain Continental schools are able to give us with
remarkable exactness the facial and other characteristics by which the
criminal may be infallibly recognized. Possibly these convenient
"stigmata" may actually occur in the criminals of those favoured
regions. But in this backward country it is otherwise; and we have to
admit the regrettable fact that the British criminal inconsiderately
persists in being a good deal like other people. Not that the criminal
class is, even here, distinguished by personal beauty or fine physique.
The criminal is a low-grade man; but he is not markedly different from
other low-grade men.

But the fugitive whose flight in the shelter of the sea wall we are
watching did not conform even to the more generalized type. On the
contrary, he was a definitely good-looking young man rather small and
slight yet athletic and well-knit, with a face not only intelligent and
refined but, despite his anxious and even terrified expression,
suggestive of a courageous, resolute personality. Whatever had brought
him to a convict prison, he was not of the rank and file of its inmates.

Presently, as he approached a bluff which concealed a stretch of the sea
wall ahead, he slowed down into a quick walk, stooping slightly and
peering forward cautiously to get a view of the shore beyond the
promontory, until, as he reached the most projecting point of the wall,
he paused for a moment and then crept stealthily forward, alert and
watchful for any unexpected thing that might be lurking round the
promontory.

Suddenly he stopped dead and then drew back a pace, craning up to peer
over the high, rushy grass, and casting a glance of intense scrutiny
along the stretch of shore that had come into view. After a few moments
he again crept forward slowly and silently, still gazing intently along
the shore and the face of the sea wall that was now visible for nearly a
mile ahead. And still he could see nothing but that which had met his
eyes as he crept round the bluff. He drew himself up and looked down at
it with eager interest.

A little heap of clothes; evidently the shed raiment of a bather, as the
completeness of the outfit testified. And in confirmation, just across
the narrow strip of "saltings," on the smooth expanse of muddy sand the
prints of a pair of naked feet extended in a line towards the water. But
where was the bather? There was only a single set of footprints, so that
he must be still in the water or have come ashore farther down. Yet
neither on the calm water nor on the open, solitary shore was any sign
of him to be seen.

It was very strange. On that smooth water a man swimming would be a
conspicuous object, and a naked man on that low, open shore would be
still more conspicuous. The fugitive looked around with growing
agitation. From the shore and the water his glance came back to the line
of footprints; and now, for the first time, he noticed something very
remarkable about them. They did not extend to the water. Starting from
the edge of the saltings, they took a straight line across the sand,
every footprint deep and distinct, to within twenty yards of the water's
edge; and there they ended abruptly. Between the last footprint and the
little waves that broke on the shore was a space of sand perfectly
smooth and untouched.

What could be the meaning of this? The fugitive gazed with knitted brows
at that space of smooth sand; and even as he gazed, the explanation
flashed upon him. The tide was now coming in, as he could see by the
anchored vessels. But when these footprints were made, the tide was
going out. The spot where the footprints ended was the spot where the
bather had entered the water. Then--since the tide had gone out to the
low-water mark and had risen again to nearly half-tide--some five hours
must have passed since that man had walked down into the water.

All this flashed through the fugitive's brain in a matter of seconds. In
those seconds he realized that the priceless heap of clothing was
derelict. As to what had become of the owner, he gave no thought but
that in some mysterious way he had apparently vanished for good.
Scrambling up the slope of the sea wall, he once more scanned the path
on its summit in both directions; and still there was not a living soul
in sight. Then he slid down, and breathlessly and with trembling hands
stripped off the hated livery of dishonour and, not without a certain
incongruous distaste, struggled into the derelict garments.

A good deal has been said--with somewhat obvious truth--about the
influence of clothes upon the self-respect of the wearer. But surely
there could be no more extreme instance than the present one, which, in
less than one brief minute, transformed a manifest convict into a
respectable artisan. The change took effect immediately. As the fugitive
resumed his flight he still kept off the skyline; but he no longer
hugged the base of the wall, he no longer crouched nor did he run. He
walked upright out on the more or less level saltings, swinging along at
a good pace but without excessive haste. And as he went he explored the
pockets of the strange clothes to ascertain what bequests the late owner
had made to him, and brought up at the first cast a pipe, a
tobacco-pouch, and a box of matches. At the first he looked a little
dubiously, but could not resist the temptation; and when he had dipped
the mouthpiece in a little salt pool and scrubbed it with a handful of
grass, he charged the bowl from the well-filled pouch, lighted it and
smoked with an ecstasy of pleasure born of long deprivation.

Next, his eye began to travel over the abundant jetsam that the last
spring-tide had strewn upon the saltings. He found a short length of old
rope, and then he picked up from time to time a scrap of driftwood. Not
that he wanted the fuel, but that a bundle of driftwood seemed a
convincing addition to his make-up and would explain his presence on the
shore if he should be seen. When he had made up a small bundle with the
aid of the rope, he swung it over his shoulder and collected no more.

He still climbed up the wall now and again to keep a look-out for
possible pursuers, and at length, in the course of one of these
observations, he espied a stout plank set across the ditch and connected
with a footpath that meandered away across the marshes. In an instant he
decided to follow that path, whithersoever it might lead. With a last
glance towards the town, he boldly stepped up to the top of the wall,
crossed the path at its summit, descended the landward side, walked
across the little bridge and strode away swiftly along the footpath
across the marshes.

He was none too soon. At the moment when he stepped off the bridge,
three men emerged from the waterside alley that led to the sea wall and
began to move rapidly along the rough path. Two of them were prison
warders, and the third, who trundled a bicycle, was a police patrol.

"Pity we didn't get the tip a bit sooner," grumbled one of the warders.
"The daylight's going fast, and he's got a devil of a start."

"Still," said the constable cheerfully, "it isn't much of a place to
hide in. The wall's a regular trap; sea one side and a deep ditch the
other. We shall get him all right, or else the patrol from Clifton will.
I expect he has started by now."

"What did you tell the sergeant when you spoke to him on the 'phone?"

"I told him there was a runaway coming along the wall. He said he would
send a cyclist patrol along to meet us."

The warder grunted. "A cyclist might easily miss him if he was hiding in
the grass or in the rushes by the ditch. But we must see that we don't
miss him. Two of us had better take the two sides of the wall so as to
get a clear view."

His suggestion was adopted at once. One warder climbed down and marched
along the saltings, the other followed a sort of sheep-track by the side
of the ditch, while the constable wheeled his bicycle along the top of
the wall. In this way they advanced as quickly as was possible to the
two men stumbling over the rough ground at the base of the wall,
searching the steep sides, with their rank vegetation, for any trace of
the lost sheep, and making as little noise as they could. So for over a
mile they toiled on, scanning every foot of the rough ground as they
passed but uttering no word. Each of the warders could see the constable
on the path above, and thus the party was enabled to keep together.

Suddenly the warder on the saltings stopped dead and emitted a shout of
triumph. Instantly the constable laid his bicycle on the path and
slithered down the bank, while the other warder came scrambling over the
wall, twittering with excitement. Then the three men gathered together
and looked down at the little heap of clothes, from which the discoverer
had already detached the jacket and was inspecting it.

"They're his duds all right," said he. "Of course, they couldn't be
anybody else's. But here's his number. So that's that."

"Yes," agreed the other, "they're his clothes right enough. But the
question is, Where's my nabs himself?"

They stepped over to the edge of the saltings and gazed at the line of
footprints. By this time the rising tide had covered up the strip of
smooth, unmarked sand and was already eating away the footprints, winch
now led directly to the water's edge.

"Rum go," commented the constable, looking steadily over the waste of
smooth water. "He isn't out there. If he was, you'd see him easily, even
in this light. The water's as smooth as oil."

"Perhaps he's landed farther down," suggested the younger warder.

"What for?" demanded the constable.

"Might mean to cross the ditch and get away over the marshes."

The constable laughed scornfully. "What, in his birthday suit? I don't
think. No, I reckon he had his reasons for taking to the water, and
those reasons would probably be a barge sailing fairly close inshore.
They'd have to take him on board, you know; and from my experience of
bargees, I should say they'd probably give him a suit of togs and keep
their mouths shut."

The elder warder looked meditatively across the water.

"Maybe you are right," said he, "but barges don't usually come in here
very close. The fairway is right out the other side. And, for my part, I
should be mighty sorry to start on a swim out to a sailing vessel."

"You might think differently if you'd just hopped out of the jug," the
constable remarked as he lit a cigarette.

"Yes, I suppose I should be ready to take a bit of a risk. Well," he
concluded, "if that was his lay, I hope he got picked up. I shouldn't
like to think of the poor beggar drifting about the bottom of the river.
He was a decent, civil little chap."

There was silence for a minute or two as the three men smoked
reflectively. Then the constable proposed, as a matter of form, to cycle
along the wall and make sure that the fugitive was not lurking farther
down. But before he had time to start, a figure appeared in the
distance, apparently mounted on a bicycle and advancing rapidly towards
them. In a few minutes he arrived and dismounted on the path above them
glancing down curiously at the jacket which the warder still held.

"Those his togs?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the constable. "I suppose you haven't seen a gent bathing
anywhere along here?"

The newcomer shook his head. "No," said he. "I have patrolled the whole
wall from Clifton to here and I haven't seen a soul excepting old
Barnett, the shepherd."

The elder warder gathered up the rest of the clothes and handed them to
his junior. "Well," he said, "we must take it that he's gone to sea. All
that we can do is to get the Customs people to give us a passage on
their launch to make the round of all the vessels anchored about here.
And if we don't find him on any of them, we shall have to hand the case
over to the police."

The three men climbed to the top of the wall and turned their faces
towards the town; and the Clifton patrol, having turned his bicycle
about, mounted expertly and pedalled away at a smart pace to get back to
his station before the twilight merged into night.

At that very moment, the fugitive was stepping over a stile that gave
access from the marshes to a narrow, tree-shaded lane. Here he paused
for a few moments to fling away the bundle of driftwood into the hedge
and refill and light his pipe. Then, with a springy step, he strode away
into the gathering moonlit dusk.



CHAPTER I--MR. POTTERMACK MAKES A DISCOVERY


A conscientious desire on the part of the present historian to tell his
story in a complete and workmanlike fashion from the very beginning
raises the inevitable question. What was the beginning? Not always an
easy question to answer offhand; for if we reflect upon certain episodes
in our lives and try to track them to their beginnings, we are apt, on
further cogitation, to discover behind those beginnings antecedents yet
more remote which have played an indispensable part in the evolution of
events.

As to this present history the whole train of cause and consequence
might fairly be supposed to have been started by Mr. Pottermack's
singular discovery in his garden. Yet, when we consider the matter more
closely, we may doubt if that discovery would ever have been made if it
had not been for the sun-dial. Certainly it would not have been made at
that critical point in Mr. Pottermack's life; and if it had not--but we
will not waste our energies on vain speculations. We will take the safe
and simple course. We will begin with the sun-dial.

It stood, when Mr. Pottermack's eyes first beheld it, in a mason's yard
at the outskirts of the town. It was obviously of some age, and
therefore could not have been the production of Mr. Gallett, the owner
of the yard; and standing amidst the almost garishly new monuments and
blocks of freshly hewn stone, it had in its aspect something rather
downfallen and forlorn. Now Mr. Pottermack had often had secret
hankerings for a sun-dial. His big walled garden seemed to cry out for
some central feature: and what more charming ornament could there be
than a dial which like the flowers and trees amidst which it would stand
lived and had its being solely by virtue of the golden sunshine?

Mr. Pottermack halted at the wide-open gate and looked at the dial (I
use the word, for convenience to include the stone support). It was a
graceful structure with a twisted shaft like that of a Norman column, a
broad base and a square capital. It was nicely lichened and weathered,
and yet in quite good condition. Mr. Pottermack found something very
prepossessing in its comely antiquity. It had a motto, too, incised on
the sides of the capital; and when he had strolled into the yard, and,
circumnavigating the sun-dial, had read it, he was more than ever
pleased. He liked the motto. It struck a sympathetic chord. Sole orto:
spes: decedente pax. It might have been his own personal motto. At the
rising of the sun; hope: at the going down thereof, peace. On his life
the sun had risen in hope: and peace at eventide was his chief desire.
And the motto was discreetly reticent about the intervening period. So,
too, were there passages in the past which he was very willing to forget
so that the hope of the morning might be crowned by peace when the
shadows of life were lengthening.

"Having a look at the old dial, Mr. Pottermack?" said the mason,
crossing the yard and disposing himself for conversation. "Nice bit of
carving, that, and wonderful well preserved. He's counted out a good
many hours in his time, he has. Seventeen thirty-four. And ready to
count out as many again. No wheels to go rusty. All done with a shadder.
No wear and tear about a shadder. And never runs down and never wants
winding up. There's points about a sun-dial."

"Where did it come from?"

"I took it from the garden of Apsley Manor House, what's being rebuilt
and brought up to date. New owner told me to take it away. Hadn't any
use for sun-dials in these days, he said. More hasn't anybody else. So
I've got him on my hands. Wouldn't like him for your garden, I suppose?
He's going cheap."

It appeared, on enquiry, that he was going ridiculously cheap. So cheap
that Mr. Pottermack closed with the offer there and then,

"You will bring it along and fix it for me?" said he.

"I will, sir. Don't want much fixing. If you will settle where he is to
stand, I'll bring him and set him up. But you'd better prepare the site.
Dig well down into the subsoil and make a level surface. Then I can put
a brick foundation and there will be no fear of his settling out of the
upright."

That was how it began. And on the knife-edge of such trivial chances is
human destiny balanced. From the mason's yard Mr. Pottermack sped
homeward with springy step, visualizing the ground-plan of his garden as
he went; and by the time that he let himself into his house by the front
door within the rose-embowered porch he was ready to make a bee-line for
the site of his proposed excavation.

He did not, however; for, as he opened the door, he became aware of
voices in the adjacent room and his housekeeper came forth to inform him
that Mrs. Bellard had called to see him, and was waiting within.
Apparently the announcement was not unwelcome, for Mr. Pottermack's
cheerfulness was in nowise clouded thereby. We might even go far as to
say that his countenance brightened.

Mrs. Bellard was obviously a widow. That is not to say that she was
arrayed in the hideous "weeds" with which, a generation ago, women used
to make their persons revolting and insult the memory of the deceased.
But she was obviously a widow. More obviously than is usual in these
latter days. Nevertheless her sombre raiment was well-considered,
tasteful and becoming; indeed the severity of her dress seemed rather to
enhance her quiet, dignified comeliness. She greeted Mr. Pottermack with
a frank smile, and as they shook hands she said in a singularly
pleasant, musical voice:

"It is too bad of me to come worrying you like this. But you said I was
to."

"Of course I did," was the hearty response; and as the lady produced
from her basket a small tin box, he enquired: "Snails?"

"Snails," she replied; and they both laughed.

"I know," she continued, "it is very silly of me. I quite believe that,
as you say, they die instantaneously when you drop them into boiling
water. But I really can't bring myself to do it."

"Very natural, too," said Pottermack. "Why should you, when you have a
fellow conchologist to do it for you? I will slaughter them this evening
and extract them from their shells, and you shall have their empty
residences to-morrow. Shall I leave them at your house?"

"You needn't trouble to do that. Give them to your housekeeper and I
will call for them on my way home from the shops. But I really do impose
on you most shamefully. You kill the poor little beasts, you clean out
the shells, you find out their names and you leave me nothing to do but
stick them on card, write their names under them, and put them in the
cabinet. I feel a most horrid impostor when I show them at the
Naturalists' Club as my own specimens."

"But, my dear Mrs. Bellard," protested Pottermack, "you are forgetting
that you collect them, that you discover them in their secret haunts and
drag them out to the light of day. That is the really scientific part of
conchology. The preparation of the shells and their identification are
mere journeyman's work. The real naturalist's job is the field work; and
you are a positive genius in finding these minute shells--the pupas and
cochlicopas and such like."

The lady rewarded him with a grateful and gratified smile, and, opening
the little box, exhibited her "catch" and recounted some of the
thrilling incidents of the chase, to which Pottermack listened with
eager interest. And as they chatted, but half seriously, an observer
would have noted that they were obviously the best of friends, and might
have suspected that the natural history researches were, perhaps,
somewhat in the nature of a plausible and convenient pretext for their
enjoying a good deal of each other's society. These little precautions
are sometimes necessary in a country district where people take an
exaggerated interest in one another and tongues are apt to wag rather
freely.

But a close observer would have noted certain other facts. For instance,
these two persons were curiously alike in one respect: they both looked
older to the casual stranger than they appeared on closer inspection. At
a first glance, Mr. Pottermack, spectacled, bearded, and grave, seemed
not far short of fifty. But a more critical examination showed that
first impression to be erroneous. The quick, easy movements and the
supple strength that they implied in the rather small figure, as well as
the brightness of the alert, attentive eyes behind the spectacles,
suggested that the lines upon the face and the white powdering of the
hair owed their existence to something other than the mere effluxion of
time. So, too, with Mrs. Bollard. On a chance meeting she would have
passed for a well-preserved middle-aged woman. But now, as she chatted
smilingly with her friend, the years dropped from her until, despite the
white hairs that gleamed among the brown and a faint hint of
crow's-feet, she seemed almost girlish.

But there was something else; something really rather odd. Each of the
two cronies seemed to have a way of furtively examining the other. There
was nothing unfriendly or suspicious in these regards. Quite the
contrary, indeed. But they conveyed a queer impression of curiosity and
doubt, differently manifested, however, in each. In Mr. Pottermack's
expression there was something expectant. He had the air of waiting for
some anticipated word or action; but the expression vanished instantly
when his companion looked in his direction. The widow's manner was
different, but it had the same curious furtive quality. When
Pottermack's attention was occupied, she would cast a steady glance at
him; and then the lines would come back upon her forehead, her lips
would set, and there would steal across her face a look at once sad,
anxious, and puzzled. Especially puzzled. And if the direction of her
glance had been followed, it would have been traced more particularly to
his profile and his right ear. It is true that both these features were
a little unusual. The profile was almost the conventional profile of the
Greek sculptors--the nose continuing the line of the forehead with no
appreciable notch--a character very seldom seen in real persons. As to
the ear, it was a perfectly well-shaped, proportionate ear. It would
have been of no interest to Lombroso. But it had one remarkable
peculiarity: on its lobule was what doctors call a "diffuse naevus" and
common folk describe as a "port-wine mark." It was quite small, but very
distinct; as if the lobule had been dipped into damson juice. Still, it
hardly seemed to justify such anxious and puzzled consideration.

"What a dreadful pair of gossips we are!" Mrs. Bellard exclaimed, taking
her basket up from the table. "I've been here half an hour by the clock,
and I know I have been hindering you from some important work. You
looked full of business as you came up the garden path."

"I have been full of business ever since--land and fresh-water mollusca.
We have had a most instructive talk."

"So we have," she agreed, with a smile. "We are always instructive;
especially you. But I must really take myself off now and leave you to
your other business."

Mr. Pottermack held the door open for her and followed her down the hall
to the garden path, delaying her for a few moments to fill her basket
with roses from the porch. When he had let her out at the gate, he
lingered to watch her as she walked away towards the village; noting how
the dignified, matronly bearing seemed to contrast with the springy
tread and youthful lissomness of movement.

As he turned away to re-enter the house he saw the postman approaching;
but as he was not expecting any letters, and his mind was still occupied
with his late visitor, he did not wait. Nor when, a minute later, he
heard the characteristic knock, did he return to inspect the letter-box;
which was, just as well in the circumstances. Instead, he made his way
out by the back door into the large kitchen garden and orchard and
followed the long, central path which brought him at length to a high
red brick wall, in which was a door furnished with a knocker and flanked
by an electric bell. This he opened with a latchkey of the Yale pattern,
and, having passed through, carefully shut it behind him.

He was now in what had probably been originally the orchard and kitchen
garden of the old house in which he lived, but which had since been
converted into a flower garden, though many of the old fruit trees still
remained. It was a large oblong space, more than a quarter of an acre in
extent, and enclosed on all sides by a massive old wall nearly seven
feet high, in which were only two openings: the door by which he had
just entered and another door at one side, also fitted with a Yale lock
and guarded, in addition, by two bolts.

It was a pleasant place if quiet and seclusion were the chief desire of
the occupant--as they apparently were, to judge by Mr. Pottermack's
arrangements. The central space was occupied by a large, smooth grass
plot, surrounded by well-made paths, between which and the wall were
wide flower borders. In one corner was a brick-built summer-house; quite
a commodious affair, with a good tiled roof, a boarded floor, and space
enough inside for a couple of armchairs and a fair-sized table. Against
the wall opposite to the summer-house was a long shed or outhouse with
glass lights in the roof, evidently a recently built structure and just
a little unsightly--but that would be remedied when the yew hedge that
had been planted before it grew high enough to screen it from view. This
was the workshop, or rather a range of workshops; for Mr. Pottermack was
a man of many occupations, and, being also a tidy, methodical man, he
liked to keep the premises appertaining to those occupations separate.

On the present occasion he made his way to the end compartment, in which
were kept the gardening tools and appliances, and having provided
himself with a spade, a mallet, a long length of cord, and a half-dozen
pointed stakes, walked out to the grass plot and looked about him. He
was quite clear in his mind as to where the sun-dial was to stand, but
it was necessary to fix the spot with precision. Hence the stakes and
the measuring-line, which came into use when he had paced out the
distances approximately and enabled him, at length, to drive a stake
into the ground and thereby mark the exact spot which would be occupied
by the centre of the dial.

From this centre, with the aid of the cord, he drew a circle some four
yards in diameter and began at once to take up the turf, rolling it up
tidily and setting it apart ready for relaying. And now he came to the
real job. He had to dig right down to the subsoil. Well, how far down
was that? He took off his coat, and, grasping the spade with a resolute
air, gave a vigorous drive into the soil at the edge of the circle. That
carried him through the garden mould down into a fine, yellowish, sandy
loam, a small quantity of which came up on the spade. He noted its
appearance with some interest but went on digging, opening up a shallow
trench round the circumference of the circle.

By the time that he had made a second complete circuit and carried his
trench to a depth of some eight inches, the circle was surrounded by a
ring of the yellow loam, surprisingly bulky in proportion to the shallow
cavity from which it had been derived. And once more his attention was
attracted by its appearance. For Mr. Pottermack amongst his various
occupations included occasionally that of sand-casting. Hitherto he had
been in the habit of buying his casting-sand by the bag. But this loam,
judging by the sharp impressions of his feet where he had trodden in it,
was a perfect casting-sand, and to be had for the taking at his very
door. By way of testing its cohesiveness, he took up a large handful and
squeezed it tightly. When he opened his hand the mass remained hard and
firm and showed the impressions of his fingers perfectly to the very
creases of the skin.

Very pleased with his discovery, and resolving to secure a supply of the
loam for his workshop, he resumed his digging, and presently came down
to a stratum where the loam was quite dense and solid and came up on the
spade in definite coherent lumps like pieces of a soft rock. This, he
decided, was the true subsoil and was as deep as he need go; and having
decided this, he proceeded to dig out the rest of the circle to the same
depth.

The work was hard and, after a time, extremely monotonous. Still Mr.
Pottermack laboured steadily with no tendency to slacking. But the
monotony exhausted his attention, and while he worked on mechanically
with unabated vigour his thoughts wandered away from his task; now in
the direction of the sun-dial, and now--at, perhaps, rather more
length--in that of his pretty neighbour and her spoils, which were still
awaiting his attentions in the tin box.

He was getting near the centre of the circle when his spade cut through
and brought up a piece of spongy, fungus-eaten wood. He glanced at it
absently, and having flung it outside the circle, entered his spade at
the same spot and gave a vigorous drive. As the spade met with more than
usual resistance, he threw a little extra weight on it. And then,
suddenly, the resistance gave way; the spade drove through, apparently
into vacant space. Mr. Pottermack uttered a startled cry, and after an
instant's precarious balancing saved himself by a hair's breadth from
going through after it.

For a moment he was quite shaken--and no wonder. He had staggered back a
pace or two and now stood, still grasping the spade, and gazing with
horror at the black, yawning hole that had so nearly swallowed him up.
But as, after all, it had not, he presently pulled himself together and
began cautiously to investigate. A very little tentative probing with
the spade made everything clear. The hole which he had uncovered was the
mouth of an old well: one of those pernicious wells which have no
protective coping but of which the opening, flush with the surface of
the ground, is ordinarily closed by a hinged flap. The rotten timber
that he had struck was part of this flap, and he could now see the rusty
remains of the hinges. When the well had gone out of use, some one, with
incredible folly, had simply covered it up by heaping earth on the
closed flap.

Mr. Pottermack, having made these observations, proceeded methodically
to clear away the soil until the entire mouth of the well was exposed.
Then, going down on hands and knees, he approached, and cautiously
advancing his head over the edge, peered down into the dark cavity. It
was not quite dark, however, for though the slimy brick cylinder faded
after a few feet into profound gloom, Mr. Pottermack could see, far
down, as it seemed in the very bowels of the earth, a little circular
spot of light on which was the dark silhouette of a tiny head. He picked
up a pebble, and, holding it at the centre of the opening, let it drop.
After a brief interval the bright spot grew suddenly dim and the little
head vanished: and after another brief interval there came up to his ear
a hollow "plop" followed by a faint, sepulchral splash.

There was, then, water in the well; not that it mattered to him, as he
was going to cover it up again. But he was a man with a healthy
curiosity and he felt that he would like to know all about this well
before he once more consigned it to oblivion. Walking across to the
workshop, he entered the metalwork section and cast his eye around for a
suitable sinker. Presently, in the "oddments" drawer, he found a big
iron clock-weight. It was heavier than was necessary, but he took it in
default of anything more suitable, and going back to the well, he tied
it to one end of the measuring-cord. The latter, being already marked in
fathoms by means of a series of knots, required no further preparation.
Lying full-length by the brink of the well, Mr. Pottermack dropped the
weight over and let the cord slip through his hands, counting the knots
as it ran out and moving it up and down as the weight neared the water.

The hollow splash for which he was listening came to his ear when the
hand that grasped the cord was between the fourth and fifth knots. The
depth, therefore, of the well to the surface of the water was about
twenty-seven feet. He made a mental note of the number and then let the
cord slip more rapidly through his hands. It was just after the seventh
knot had passed that the tension of the cord suddenly relaxed, telling
him that the weight now rested on the bottom. This gave a depth of
sixteen feet of water and a total depth of about forty-three feet. And
to think that, but for the merest chance, he would now have been down
there where the clock-weight was resting!

With a slight shudder he rose, and, hauling up the cord, coiled it
neatly and laid it down, with the weight still attached, a few feet away
on the cleared ground. The question that he now had to settle was how
far the existence of the well would interfere with the placing of the
sun-dial. It did not seem to him that it interfered at all. On the
contrary; the well had to be securely covered up in any case, and the
sun-dial on top of the covering would make it safe for ever. For it
happened that the position of the well coincided within a foot with the
chosen site of the dial; which seemed quite an odd coincidence until one
remembered that the position of both had probably been determined by
identical sets of measurements, based on the ground-plan of the garden.

One thing, however, was obvious. Mr. Gallett would have to be informed
of the discovery without delay, for something different from the proposed
brickwork foundation would be required. Accordingly, Mr. Pottermack
slipped on his coat, and, having sought out a hurdle and laid it over
the well--for you can't be too careful in such a case--set off without
delay for the mason's yard. As he opened the front door, he observed the
letter still lying in the wire basket under the letter-slit. But he did
not take it out. It could wait until he came back.

Mr. Gallett was deeply interested, but he was also a little regretful.
The altered arrangements would cause delay and increase the cost of the
job. He would want two biggish slabs of stone, which would take some
time to prepare.

"But why cover the well at all?" said he. "A good well with sixteen feet
of water in it is not to be sneezed at if you gets a hard frost and all
the pipes is bunged up and busted."

But Mr. Pottermack shook his head. Like most town-bred men, he had
rather a dislike to wells, and his own recent narrow escape had done
nothing to diminish his prejudice. He would have no open well in his
garden.

"The only question is," he concluded, "whether the sun-dial will be safe
right over the well. Will a stone slab bear the weight?"

"Lor' bless you," replied Gallett, "a good thick slab of flagstone would
bear St. Paul's Cathedral. And we are going to put two, one on top of
the other to form a step; and the base of the dial itself a good two
foot wide. It will be as strong as a house."

"And when do you think you'll be able to fix it?"

Mr. Gallett reflected. "Let's see. To-day's Toos-day. It will take a
full day to get them two slabs sawn off the block and trimmed to shape.
Shall we say Friday?"

"Friday will do perfectly. There is really no hurry, though I shall be
glad to get the well covered and made safe. But don't put yourself out."

Mr. Gallett promised that he would not, and Pottermack then departed
homeward to resume his labours.

As he re-entered his house, he picked the letter out of the letter-cage,
and, holding it unopened in his hand, walked through to the garden.
Emerging into the open air, he turned the letter over and glanced at the
address; and in an instant a most remarkable change came over him. The
quiet gaiety faded from his face and he stopped dead, gazing at the
superscription with a frown of angry apprehension. Tearing open the
envelope, he drew out the letter, unfolded it and glanced quickly
through the contents. Apparently it was quite short, for, almost
immediately, he refolded it, returned it to its envelope and slipped the
latter into his pocket.

Passing through into the walled garden, he took off his coat, laid it
down in the summer-house and fell to work on the excavation, extending
the circle into a square and levelling the space around the well to make
a bed for the stone slab. But all his enthusiasm had evaporated. He
worked steadily and with care; but his usually cheerful face was gloomy
and stern, and a certain faraway look in his eyes hinted that his
thoughts were not on what he was doing but on something suggested by the
ill-omened missive.

When the light failed, he replaced the hurdle, cleaned and put away the
spade, and then went indoors with his coat on his arm to wash and take
his solitary supper; of which he made short work, eating and drinking
mechanically and gazing before him with gloomy preoccupation. Supper
being finished and cleared away, he called for a kettle of boiling water
and a basin, and, taking from a cupboard a handled needle, a pair of
fine forceps, and a sheet of blotting-paper, laid them on the table with
Mrs. Bellard's tin box. The latter he opened and very carefully
transferred the imprisoned snails to the basin, which he then filled
with boiling water; whereupon the unfortunate molluscs each emitted a
stream of bubbles and shrank instantly into the recesses of its shell.

Having deposited the kettle in the fireplace, Mr. Pottermack drew a
chair up to the table and seated himself with the basin before him and
the blotting-paper at his right hand. But before beginning his work he
drew forth the letter, straightened it out and, laying it on the table,
read it through slowly. It bore no address and no signature; and though
the envelope was addressed to Marcus Pottermack, Esq., it began, oddly
enough, "Dear Jeff."

"I send you this little billy doo," it ran on, "with deep regret, which
I know you will share. But it can't be helped. I had hoped that the last
one would be in fact, the last one, whereas it turns out to have been
the last but one. This is positively my final effort, so keep up your
pecker. And it is only a small affair this time. A hundred--in notes, of
course. Fivers are safest. I shall call at the usual place on Wednesday
at 8 p.m. ('in the gloaming, O! my darling!') This will give you time to
hop up to town in the morning to collect the rhino. And mind I've got to
have it. No need to dwell on unpleasant alternatives. Necessity knows no
law. I am in a devil of a tight corner and you have got to help me out.
So adieu until Wednesday evening."

Mr. Pottermack turned from the letter, and, taking up the mounted
needle, with the other hand picked out of the basin a snail with a
delicate yellow shell (Helix hortensis, var. arenicola) and, regarding
it reflectively, proceeded with expert care to extract the shrivelled
body of the mollusc. But though his attention seemed to be concentrated
on his task, his thoughts were far away, and his eyes strayed now and
again to the letter at his side.

"I am in a devil of a tight corner." Of course he was. The incurable
plunger is always getting into tight corners. "And you have got to help
me out." Exactly. In effect, the money that you have earned by unstinted
labour and saved by self-denial has got to be handed to me that I may
drop it into the bottomless pit that swallows up the gambler's losings.
"This is positively my final effort." Yes. So was the last one, and the
one before that; and so would be the next, and the one that would follow
it, and so on without end. Mr. Pottermack saw it all clearly; realized,
as so many other sufferers have realized, that there is about a
blackmailer something hopelessly elusive. No transaction with him has
any finality. He has something to sell, and he sells it; but behold!
even as the money passes the thing sold is back in the hand of the
vendor, to be sold again and yet again. No covenant with him is binding;
no agreement can be enforced. There can be no question of cutting a
loss, for, no matter how drastic the sacrifice, it is no sooner made
than the status quo ante reappears.

On these truths Mr. Pottermack cogitated gloomily and asked himself, as
such victims often do, whether it would not have been better in the
first place to tell this ruffian to go to the devil and do his worst.
Yet that had hardly seemed practicable. For the fellow would probably
have done his worst:-and his worst was so extremely bad. On the other
hand, it was impossible that this state of affairs should be allowed to
go on indefinitely. He was not by any means a rich man, though this
parasite persisted in assuming that he was. At the present rate he would
soon be sucked dry--reduced to stark poverty. And even then he would be
no safer.

The intensity of his revolt against his intolerable position was
emphasized by his very occupation. The woman for whom he was preparing
these specimens was very dear to him. In any pictures that his fancy
painted of the hoped-for future, hers was the principal figure. His
fondest wish was to ask her to be his wife, and he felt a modest
confidence that she would not say him nay. But how could he ask any
woman to marry him while this vampire clung to his body? Marriage was
not for him--a slave to-day, a pauper to-morrow, at the best; and at the
worst--

The evening had lapsed into night by the time that all the specimens had
been made presentable for the cabinet. It remained to write a little
name-ticket for each with the aid, when necessary, of a handbook of the
British Mollusca, and then to wrap each separate shell, with its ticket,
in tissue paper and pack it tenderly in the small tin box. Thus was he
occupied when his housekeeper, Mrs. Gadby, "reported off duty" and
retired; and the clock in the hall was striking eleven when, having
packed the last of the shells, he made the tin box into a neat little
parcel with the consignee's name legibly written on the cover.

The house was profoundly quiet. Usually Mr. Pottermack was deeply
appreciative of the restful silence that settles down upon the haunts of
men when darkness has fallen upon field and hedgerow and the village has
gone to sleep. Very pleasant it was then to reach down from the
bookshelves some trusty companion and draw the big easy-chair up to the
fireplace, even though, as to-night, the night was warm and the grate
empty. The force of habit did, indeed, even now, lead him to the
bookshelves. But no book was taken down. He had no inclination for
reading to-night. Neither had he any inclination for sleep. Instead, he
lit a pipe and walked softly up and down the room, stem and gloomy of
face, yet with a look of concentration as if he were considering a
difficult problem.

Up and down, up and down he paced, hardly making a sound. And as the
time passed, the expression of his face underwent a subtle change. It
lost none of its sternness, but yet it seemed to clear, as if a solution
of the problem were coming into sight.

The striking of the clock in the hall, proclaiming the end of the day,
brought him to a halt. He glanced at his watch, knocked out his empty
pipe, lit a candle and blew out the lamp. As he turned to pass out to
the stairs, something in his expression seemed to hint at a conclusion
reached. All the anxiety and bewilderment had passed out of his face.
Stern it was still; but there had come into it a certain resolute calm;
the calm of a man who has made up his mind.



CHAPTER II--THE SECRET VISITOR


The following morning found Mr. Pottermack in an undeniably restless
mood. For a time he could settle down to no occupation, but strayed
about the house and garden with an air of such gravity and abstraction
that Mrs. Gadby looked at him askance and inwardly wondered what had
come over her usually buoyant and cheerful employer.

One thing, however, was clear. He was not going to "hop up to town." Of
the previous expeditions of that kind he had a vivid and unpleasant
recollection; the big "bearer" cheque sheepishly pushed across the
counter, the cashier's astonished glance at it, the careful examination
of books, and then the great bundle of five-pound notes, which he
counted, at the cashier's request, with burning cheeks; and his
ignominious departure with the notes buttoned into an inside pocket and
an uncomfortable suspicion in his mind that the ostentatiously
unobservant cashier had guessed at once the nature of the transaction.
Well, that experience was not going to be repeated on this occasion.
There was going to be a change of procedure.

As he could fix his mind at nothing more definite, he decided to devote
the day to a thorough clear-up of his workshops: a useful and necessary
work, which had the added advantage of refreshing his memory as to the
abiding-places of rarely used appliances and materials. And an excellent
distraction he found it; so much so that several times, in the interest
of rediscovering some long-forgotten tool or stock of material, he was
able to forget for a while the critical interview that loomed before
him.

So the day passed. The mid-day meal was consumed mechanically--under the
furtive and disapproving observation of Mrs. Gadby--and dispatched with
indecent haste. He was conscious of an inclination to lurk about the
house on the chance of a brief gossip with his fair friend; but he
resisted it, and, when he came in to tea, the housekeeper reported that
the little package had been duly collected.

He lingered over his tea as if he were purposely consuming time, and
when at last he rose from the table, he informed Mrs. Gadby that he had
some important work to do and was under no circumstances to be
disturbed. Then once more he retired to the walled garden, and having
shut himself in, dropped the key into his pocket. He did not, however,
resume his labours in the workshop. He merely called in there for an
eight-inch steel bolt and a small electric lamp, both of which he
bestowed in his pockets. Then he came out and walked slowly up and down
the grass plot with his hands behind him and his chin on his breast as
if immersed in thought, but glancing from time to time at his watch. At
a quarter to eight he took off his spectacles and put them in his
pocket, stepped across to the well, and picking up the hurdle that still
lay over the dark cavity, carried it away and stood it against the wall.
Then he softly unbolted the side gate, turned the handle of the latch,
drew the gate open a bare inch, and, leaving it thus ajar, walked to the
summer-house, and, entering it, sat down in one of the chairs.

His visitor, if deficient in some of the virtues, had at least that of
punctuality; for the clock of the village church had barely finished
striking the hour when the gate opened noiselessly and the watcher in
the summer-house saw, through the gathering gloom, a large, portly man
enter with stealthy step, close the gate silently behind him and softly
shoot the upper bolt.

Pottermack rose as his visitor approached, and the two men met just
outside the summer-house. There was a striking contrast between them in
every respect, in build, in countenance, and in manner. The newcomer was
a big, powerful man, heavy and distinctly over-fat, whose sly, shifty
face--at present exhibiting an uneasy smile--showed evident traces of
what is commonly miscalled "good living," especially as to the liquid
element thereof; whereas his host, smallish, light, spare, with
clean-cut features expressive of lively intelligence, preserved a stony
calm as he looked steadily into his visitor's evasive eyes.

"Well, Jeff," the latter began in a deprecating tone, "you don't seem
overjoyed to see me. Not an effusive welcome. Aren't you going to shake
hands with an old pal?"

"It doesn't seem necessary," Pottermack replied coldly.

"Oh, very well," the other retorted. "Perhaps you'd like to kiss me
instead." He sniggered foolishly, and, entering the summer-house,
dropped into one of the armchairs and continued: "What about a mild
refresher while we discuss our little business? Looks like being a dry
job, to judge by your mug."

Without replying, Pottermack opened a small cupboard, and taking out a
decanter, a siphon, and a tumbler, placed them on the table by his
guest. It was not difficult to see that the latter had already fortified
himself with one or two refreshers, mild or otherwise, but that was not
Pottermack's affair. He was going to keep his own brain clear. The other
might do as he pleased.

"Not going to join me, Jeff?" the visitor protested. "Oh, buck up, old
chap! It's no use getting peevish about parting with a few pounds. You
won't miss a little donation to help a pal out of a difficulty."

As Pottermack made no reply but sat down and gazed stonily before him,
the other poured out half a tumblerful of whisky, filled up with soda,
and took a substantial gulp. Then he, too, sat silent for a time, gazing
out into the darkening garden. And gradually the smile faded from his
face, leaving it sullen and a little anxious.

"So you've been digging up your lawn," he remarked presently. What's the
game? Going to set up a flagstaff?"

"No. I am going to have a sun-dial there."

"A sun-dial, hey? Going to get your time on the cheap? Good. I like
sun-dials. Do their job without ticking. Suppose you'll have a motto on
it. Tempus fugit is the usual thing. Always appropriate, but especially
so in the case of a man who has 'done time' and fugitted. It will help
to remind you of olden days, 'the days that are no more.'" He finished
with a mirthless cackle and cast a malignant glance at the silent and
wooden-faced Pottermack. There was another interval of strained,
uncomfortable silence, during which the visitor took periodic gulps from
his tumbler and eyed his companion with sullen perplexity. At length,
having finished his liquor, he set down the empty tumbler and turned
towards Pottermack. "You got my letter, I suppose, as you left the gate
ajar?"

"Yes," was the laconic reply.

"Been up to town to-day?"

"No."

"Well, I suppose you have got the money?"

"No, I have not."

The big man sat up stiffly and stared at his companion in dismay.

"But, damn it, man!" he exclaimed, "didn't I tell you it was urgent? I'm
in a devil of a fix. I've got to pay that hundred to-morrow. Must pay
it, you understand. I'm going up to town in the morning to pay. As I
hadn't got the money myself, I've had to borrow it from--you know where;
and I was looking to you to enable me to put it back at once. I must
have that money to-morrow at the latest. You'd better run up to town in
the morning and I'll meet you outside your bank."

Pottermack shook his head. "It can't be done, Lewson. You'll have to
make some other arrangements."

Lewson stared at him in mingled amazement and fury. For a moment he was
too astonished for speech. At length he burst out:

"Can't be done! What the devil do you mean? You've got the money in your
bank and you are going to hand it over, or I'll know the reason why.
What do you imagine you are going to do?"

"I am going," said Pottermack, "to hold you to your agreement, or at
least to part of it. You demanded a sum of money--a large sum--as the
price of your silence. It was to be a single payment, once for all, and
I paid it. You promised solemnly to make no further demands; yet, within
a couple of months, you did make further demands, and I paid again.
Since then you have made demands at intervals, regardless of your solemn
undertaking. Now this has got to stop. There must be an end to it, and
this has got to be the end."

As he spoke, quietly but firmly, Lewson gazed at him as if he could not
trust the evidence of his senses. This was quite a new Pottermack. At
length, suppressing his anger, he replied in a conciliatory tone:

"Very well, Jeff. It shall be the end. Help me out just this time and
you shall hear no more from me. I promise you that on my word of
honour."

At this last word Pottermack smiled grimly. But he answered in the same
quiet, resolute manner:

"It is no use, Lewson. You said that last time and the time before that,
and, in fact, time after time. You have always sworn that each demand
should be positively the last. And so you will go on, if I let you,
until you have squeezed me dry."

On this Lewson threw off all disguise. Thrusting out his chin at
Pottermack, he exclaimed furiously: "If you let me! And how do you think
you are going to prevent me? You are quite right. I've got you, and I'm
going to squeeze you, so now you know. And look here, young fellow, if
that money isn't handed out to me to-morrow morning, something is going
to happen. A very surprised gentleman at Scotland Yard will get a letter
informing him that the late Jeffrey Brandon, runaway convict, is not the
late J. B. but is alive and kicking, and that his present name and
address is Marcus Pottermack, Esquire, of 'The Chestnuts,' Borley,
Bucks. How will that suit you?"

"It wouldn't suit me at all," Mr. Pottermack replied, with unruffled
calm; "but before you do it, let me remind you of one or two facts.
First, the run-away convict, once your closest friend, was to your
knowledge an innocent man--"

"That's no affair of mine," Lewson interrupted. "He was a convict, and
is one still. Besides, how do I know he was innocent? A jury of his
fellow-countrymen found him guilty--"

"Don't talk rubbish, Lewson," Pottermack broke in impatiently. "There is
no one here but ourselves. We both know that I didn't do those forgeries
and we both know who did."

Lewson grinned as he reached out for the decanter and poured out another
half-tumblerful of whisky. "If you knew who did it," he chuckled, "you
must have been a blooming mug not to say."

"I didn't know then," Pottermack rejoined bitterly. "I thought you were
a decent, honest fellow, fool that I was."

"Yes," Lewson agreed, with a low, cackling laugh, "you were a blooming
mug and that's a fact. Well, well; we live and learn."

Still sniggering foolishly, he took a long pull at the tumbler, leering
into the flushed, angry face that confronted him across the table.
Suddenly Pottermack rose from his chair, and, striding out into the
garden, halted some dozen paces away and stood with his back to the
summer-house, looking steadily across the lawn. It was now quite dark,
though the moon showed dimly from time to time through a thinning of the
overcast sky; but still, through the gloom, he could make out faintly
the glimmer of lighter-coloured soil where it had been turned up to
level the ground for the sun-dial. The well was invisible, but he knew
exactly where the black cavity yawned, and his eye, locating the spot,
rested on it with gloomy fixity.

His reverie was interrupted by Lewson's voice, now pitched in a more
ingratiating key.

"Well, Jeff; thinking it over? That's right, old chap. No use getting
pippy."

He paused, and as there was no reply he continued:

"Come now, dear boy, let's settle the business amicably as old pals
should. Pity for you to go back to the jug when there's no need. You
just help me out of this hole, and I will give you my solemn word of
honour that it shall be the very last time. Won't that satisfy you?"

Pottermack turned his head slightly, and speaking over his shoulder,
replied; "Your word of honour! The honour of a blackmailer, a thief and
a liar. It isn't exactly what you would call a gilt-edged security."

"Well," the other retorted thickly, "gilt-edged or not, you had better
take it and shell out. Now, what do you say?"

"I say," Pottermack replied with quiet decision, "that I am not going to
give you another farthing on any condition whatever."

For several seconds Lewson gazed in silent dismay at the shadowy figure
on the lawn. This final, definite refusal was a contingency that he had
never dreamed of, and was utterly unprovided for, and it filled him, for
the moment, with consternation. Then, suddenly, his dismay changed to
fury. Starting up from his chair, he shouted huskily:

"Oh, you won't, won't you? We'll see about that! You'll either pay up or
I'll give you the finest hammering that you've ever had in your life.
When I've done with you, they'll want your finger-prints to find out who
you are."

He paused to watch the effect of this terrifying proposal and to listen
for a reply. Then, as the dim figure remained unmoved and no answer
came, he bellowed: "D' you hear? Are you going to pay up or take a
hammering?"

Pottermack turned his head slightly and replied in a quiet, almost a
gentle tone: "I don't think I'm going to do either."

The reply and the quiet, unalarmed tone were not quite what Lewson had
expected. Trusting to the moral effect of his greatly superior size and
weight, he had bluffed confidently. Now it seemed that he had got to
make good his threat, and the truth is that he was not eager for the
fray. However, it had to be done, and done as impressively as possible.
After pausing for another couple of seconds, he proceeded, with a
formidable air (but unobserved by Pottermack, whose back was still
turned to him), to take off his coat and fling it on the table, whence
it slipped down on to the floor. Then, stepping outside the
summer-house, he bent forward, and, with an intimidating roar, charged
like an angry rhinoceros.

At the sound of his stamping feet Pottermack spun round and faced him,
but then stood motionless until his assailant was within a yard of him,
when he sprang lightly aside, and as the big, unwieldy bully lumbered
past him, he followed him closely. As soon as Lewson could overcome the
momentum of his charge, he halted and turned; and instantly a smart
left-hander alighted on his cheek and a heavy right-hander impinged on
his ribs just below the armpit. Furious with the pain, and utterly taken
aback, he cursed and grunted, hitting out wildly with all the
viciousness of mingled rage and fear for now he realized with amazement
that he was hopelessly outclassed by his intended victim. Not one of his
sledge-hammer blows took effect on that agile adversary, whereas his own
person seemed to be but an unprotected target on which the stinging
blows fell in endless and intolerable succession. Slowly at first, and
then more quickly, he backed away from that terrific bombardment,
followed inexorably by the calm and scientific Pottermack, who seemed to
guide and direct his backward course as a skilful drover directs the
movements of a refractory bullock.

Gradually the pair moved away from the vicinity of the summer-house
across the dark lawn, the demoralized bully, breathing hard and sweating
profusely, reduced to mere defence and evasion while his light-footed
antagonist plied him unceasingly with feint or blow. Presently Lewson
stumbled backwards as his foot sank into the loose, heaped earth at the
margin of the cleared space; but Pottermack did not press his advantage,
renewing his attack only when Lewson had recovered his balance. Then the
movement began again, growing faster as the big man became more and more
terrified and his evasion passed into undissembled retreat; deviously
and with many a zig-zag but always tending towards the centre of the
cleared area. Suddenly Pottermack's tactics changed. The rapid
succession of light blows ceased for an instant and he seemed to gather
himself up as if for a decisive effort. There was a quick feint with the
left; then his right fist shot out like lightning and drove straight on
to the point of the other man's jaw, and as his teeth clicked together
with an audible snap, Lewson dropped like a pole-axed ox, falling with
his body from the waist upwards across the mouth of the well and his
head on the brick edge, on which it struck with a sickening thud.

So he lay for a second or two until the limp trunk began to sag and the
chin came forward on to the breast. Suddenly the head slipped off the
brick edge and dropped into the cavity, shedding its cap and carrying
the trunk with it. The heavy jerk started the rest of the body sliding
forward, slowly at first, then with increasing swiftness until the feet
rose for an instant, kicked at the farther edge and were gone. From the
black pit issued vague, echoing murmurs, followed presently by a hollow,
reverberating splash; and after that, silence.

It had been but a matter of seconds. Even as those cavernous echoes were
muttering in the unseen depths, Pottermack's knuckles were still
tingling from the final blow. From the moment when that blow had been
struck he had made no move. He had seen his enemy fall, had heard the
impact of the head on the brick edge, and had stood looking down with
grim composure on the body as it sagged, slid forward, and at last made
its dreadful dive down into the depths of its sepulchre. But he had
moved not a muscle. It was a horrible affair. But it had to be. Not he,
but Lewson had made the decision.

As the last reverberations died away he approached the forbidding circle
of blackness, and kneeling down at its edge, peered into the void. Of
course, he could see nothing; and when he listened intently, not a sound
came to his ear. From his pocket he brought out his little electric lamp
and threw a beam of light down into the dark cavity. The effect was very
strange and uncanny. He found himself looking down a tube of seemingly
interminable length while from somewhere far away, down in the very
bowels of the earth, a tiny spark of light glowed steadily. So even the
last ripples had died away and all was still down in that underworld.

He replaced the lamp in his pocket, but nevertheless he remained
kneeling by the well-mouth, resting on one hand, gazing down into the
black void and unconsciously listening for some sound from below.
Despite his outward composure, he was severely shaken. His heart still
raced, his forehead was damp with sweat, his body and limbs were
pervaded by a fine, nervous tremor.

Yet he was sensible of a feeling of relief. The dreadful thing that he
had nerved himself to do, that he had looked forward to with shuddering
horror, was done. And the doing of it might have been so much worse. He
was relieved to feel the screw-bolt in his pocket--unused; to think that
the body had slipped down into its grave without the need of any hideous
dragging or thrusting. Almost, he began to persuade himself that it had
been more or less of an accident. At any rate, it was over and done
with. His merciless enemy was gone. The menace to his liberty, the
constant fear that had haunted him were no more. At last--at long
last--he was free.

Fear of discovery he had none; for Lewson, in his own interests, had
insisted on strict secrecy as to their acquaintance with each other. In
his own words, "he preferred to sit on his own nest-egg." Hence to all
the world they were strangers, not necessarily even aware of each
other's existence. And the blackmailer's stealthy arrival and his care
in silently shutting the gate gave a guarantee that no one had seen him
enter.

While these thoughts passed somewhat confusedly through his mind, he
remained in the same posture; still unconsciously listening and still
gazing, as if with a certain expectancy, into the black hole before him,
or letting his eyes travel, now and again, round the dark garden.
Presently an opening in the dense pall of cloud that obscured the sky
uncovered the moon and flooded the garden with light. The transition
from darkness to brilliant light--for it was full moon--was so sudden
that Pottermack looked up with a nervous start, as though to see who had
thrown the light on him; and in his overwrought state he even found
something disquieting in the pale, bright disc with its queer, dim,
impassive face that seemed to be looking down on him through the rent in
the cloud like some secret watcher peeping from behind a curtain. He
rose to his feet, and, drawing a deep breath, looked around him; and
then his glance fell on something more real and more justly disquieting.
From the edge of the grass to the brink of the well was a double track
of footprints, meandering to and fro, zig-zagging hither and thither,
but undeniably ending at the well.

Their appearance was sinister in the extreme. In the bright moonlight
they stared up from the pale buff soil, and they shouted of tragedy. To
the police eye they would have been the typical "signs of a struggle";
the tracks of two men facing one another and moving towards the well
with, presently, a single track coming away from it. No one could
mistake the meaning of those tracks; nothing could explain them
away--especially in view of what was at the bottom of the well.

The first glance at those tracks gave Pottermack a severe shock. But he
recovered from it in a moment. For they were mere transitory marks that
could be obliterated in a minute or two by a few strokes of a rake and a
few sweeps of a besom; and meanwhile he stooped over them, examining
them with a curious interest not unmixed with a certain vague
uneasiness. They were very remarkable impressions. He had already noted
the peculiar quality of this loamy soil; its extraordinary suitability
for making casting-moulds. And here was a most striking illustration of
this property. The prints of his own feet were so perfect that the very
brads in his soles were quite clear and distinct, while as to Lewson's,
they were positively ridiculous. Every detail of the rubber soles and
the circular rubber heels came out as sharply as if the impressions had
been taken in moulding-wax. There was the prancing horse of Kent--the
soles were of the Invicta brand and practically new--with the
appropriate legend and the manufacturers' name, and in the central
star-shaped space of the heels was the perfect impression of the screw.
No doubt the singular sharpness of the prints was due to the fact that a
heavy shower in the previous night had brought the loam to that
particular state of dampness that the professional moulder seeks to
produce with his watering-pot.

However, interesting as the prints were to the mechanic's eye, the
sooner they were got rid of the better. Thus reflecting, Pottermack
strode away towards the workshop in quest of a rake and a besom; and he
was, in fact, reaching out to grasp the handle of the door when he
stopped dead and stood for some seconds rigid and still with
outstretched arm and dropped jaw. For in that moment a thought which
had, no doubt, been stirring in his subconscious mind had come to the
surface, and for the first time the chill of real terror came over him.
Suddenly he realized that he had no monopoly of this remarkable loam. It
was the soil of the neighbourhood--and incidentally of the little lane
that led from the town and passed along beside his wall. In that lane
there must be a single track of footprints--big, staring footprints, and
every one of them as good as a signature of James Lewson--leading from
the town and stopping at his gate!

After a few moments of horror-stricken reflection he darted into the
tool-house and brought out a short ladder. His first impulse had been to
open the gate and peer out, but an instant's reflection had shown him
the folly of exposing himself to the risk of being seen--especially at
the very gate to which the tracks led. He now carried the ladder across
to an old pear tree which thrust its branches over the wall, and,
planting it silently where the foliage was densest, crept softly up and
listened awhile. As no sound of footsteps was audible, and as the moon
had for the moment retired behind the bank of cloud, he cautiously
advanced his head over the wall and looked down into the lane. It was
too dark to see far in either direction, but apparently there was no one
about; and as the country quiet was unbroken by any sound, he ventured
to crane farther forward to inspect the path below.

The light was very dim; but even so he could make out faintly a single
track of footprints--large footprints, widely spaced, the footprints of
a tall man. But even as he was peering down at them through the
darkness, trying to distinguish in the vaguely seen shapes some
recognizable features, the moon burst forth again and the light became
almost as that of broad day. Instantly the half-seen shapes started up
with a horrid distinctness that made him catch his breath. There was the
preposterous prancing horse with the legend "Invicta," there was the
makers' name, actually legible from the height of the wall, and there
were the circular heels with their raised central stars and the very
screws clearly visible even to their slots!

Pottermack was profoundly alarmed. But he was not a panicky man. There,
in those footprints, was evidence enough to hang him. But he was not
hanged yet; and he did not mean to be, if the unpleasantness could be
avoided. Perched on the ladder, with his eyes riveted on the tracks of
the man who had come to "squeeze" him, he reviewed the situation with
cool concentration, and considered the best way to deal with it.

The obvious thing was to go out and trample on those footprints until
they were quite obliterated. But to this plan there were several
objections. In the first place, those enormous impressions would take a
deal of trampling out. Walking over them once would be quite useless,
for his own feet were comparatively small, and even a fragment of one of
Lewson's footprints would be easily recognizable. Moreover, the
trampling process would involve the leaving of his own footprints in
evidence; which might be disastrous if it should happen--as it easily
might--that Lewson had been seen starting along the footpath. For this
path, unfrequented as it was, turned off from the main road at the
outskirts of the town where wayfarers were numerous enough. The reason
that it was unfrequented was that it led only to a wood and a stretch of
heath which were more easily approached by a by-road. Finally, he
himself might quite possibly be seen performing the trampling
operations, and that would never do. In short, the trampling scheme was
not practicable at all.

But what alternative was there? Something must be done. Very soon the
man would be missed and there would be a search for him; and as things
stood there was a set of tracks ready to guide the searchers from the
town to his--Pottermack's--very gate. And inside the gate was the open
well. Clearly, something must be done, and done at once. But what?

As he asked himself this question again and again he was
half-consciously noting the conditions. Hitherto, no one had seen
Lewson's footprints at this part of the path. That was evident from the
fact that there were no other fresh footprints--none that trod on
Lewson's. Then, in half an hour at the most, the shadow of the wall
would be thrown over the path and the tracks would then be quite
inconspicuous. And, again, it was now past nine o'clock and his
neighbours were early folk. It was extremely unlikely that any one would
pass along that path until the morning. So there was still time. But
time for what?

One excellent plan occurred to him, but, alas! he had not the means to
carry it out. If only he had possession of Lewson's shoes he could put
them on, slip out at the gate and continue the tracks to some distant
spot well out of his neighbourhood. That would be a perfect solution of
the problem. But Lewson's shoes had vanished for ever from human ken--at
least, he hoped they had. So that plan was impracticable.

And yet, was it? As he put the question to himself his whole demeanour
changed. He stood up on his perch with a new eagerness in his face; the
eagerness of a man who has struck a brilliant idea. For that was what he
had done. This excellent plan, which yielded the perfect solution, was
practicable after all. Lewson's shoes were indeed beyond his reach. But
he had a fine assortment of Lewson's footprints. Now footprints are made
by the soles of shoes. That is the normal process. But by the exercise
of a little ingenuity the process could be reversed; shoe-soles could be
made from footprints.

He descended the ladder, thinking hard; and as the cloud once more
closed over the moon, he fetched the hurdle and placed it carefully over
the mouth of the well. Then he walked slowly towards the
workshop--avoiding the now invaluable footprints--shaping his plan as he
went.



CHAPTER III--MR. POTTERMACK GOES A-SUGARING


The efficient workman saves a vast amount of time by so planning out his
job in advance that intervals of waiting are eliminated. Now Mr.
Pottermack was an eminently methodical man and he was very sensible
that, in the existing circumstances, time was precious. Accordingly,
although his plan was but roughly sketched out in his mind, he proceeded
forthwith to execute that part of it which could be clearly visualized,
filling in the further details mentally as he worked.

The first thing to be done was, obviously, to convert the perishable,
ephemeral footprints, which a light shower would destroy, into solid,
durable models. To this end, he fetched from the workshop the tin of
fine plaster of Paris which he kept for making small or delicate moulds.
By the aid of his little lamp he selected a specially deep and perfect
impression of Lewson's right foot, and into this he lightly dusted the
fine powder, continuing the process until the surface was covered with
an even layer of about half an inch thick. This he pressed down very
gently with the flat end of the lamp, and then went in search of a
suitable impression of the left foot, which he treated in like manner.
He next selected a second pair of prints, but instead of dusting the dry
plaster into them he merely dropped into each a pinch to serve as a mark
for identifying it. His reason for thus varying the method was that he
was doubtful whether it was possible to pour liquid plaster into a loam
mould (for that was what the footprint actually was) without disturbing
the surface and injuring the pattern.

Returning to the workshop, he mixed a good-sized bowl of plaster,
stirring and beating the creamy liquid with a large spoon. Still
stirring, he carried it out, and, going first to the prints which
contained the dry plaster, he carefully ladled into them with the spoon
small quantities of the liquid plaster until they were well filled. By
this time the liquid was growing appreciably thicker and more suitable
for the unprotected prints, to which he accordingly hastened, and
proceeded quickly, but with extreme care, to fill them until the now
rapidly thickening plaster was well heaped up above the surface.

He had now at least, a quarter of an hour to wait while the plaster was
setting, but this he occupied in cleaning out the bowl and spoon ready
for the next mixing, placing the brush and plaster tools in readiness
and pouring out a saucerful of soap-size. When he had made these
preparations, he filled a small jug with water, and making his way to
the first two impressions, poured the water on to them to make up for
that which would have been absorbed by the dry plaster underneath. In
the second pair of impressions, which he ventured to test by a light
touch of the finger, the plaster was already quite solid, and he was
strongly tempted to raise them and see what luck he had had; but he
resisted the temptation and went back to the workshop, leaving them to
harden completely.

All this time, although he had given the closest attention to what he
was doing, his mind had been working actively, and already the
sketch-plan was beginning to shape into a complete and detailed scheme;
for he had suddenly remembered a supply of sheet gutta-percha which he
had unearthed when he turned out the workshop, and this discovery
disposed of what had been his chief difficulty. Now, in readiness for a
later stage of his work, he lighted his Primus stove, and having filled
a good-sized saucepan with water, placed it on the stove to heat. This
consumed the rest of the time that he had allotted for the hardening of
the plaster, and he now went forth with no little anxiety to see what
the casts were like. For they were the really essential element of his
plan on which success or failure depended. If he could get a perfect
reproduction of the footprints, the rest of his task, troublesome as it
promised to be, would be plain sailing.

Very gingerly he insinuated his finger under one of the casts of the
second pair and gently turned it over. And then, as he threw the light
of his lamp on it, all his misgivings vanished in respect of that
foot--the right. The aspect of the cast was positively ridiculous. It
was just the sole of a shoe; snow-white, but otherwise completely
realistic, and perfect in every detail and marking, even to the makers'
name. And the second cast was equally good; so his special precautions
had been unnecessary. Nevertheless, he went on to the first pair, and
they proved to be, if anything, sharper and cleaner, more free from
adherent particles of earth than the others. With a sigh of relief he
picked up the four casts and bore them tenderly to the workshop, where
he deposited them on the bench. There, under the bright electric light,
their appearance was even more striking. But he did not stop to gloat.
He could do that while he was working.

The first proceeding was to trim off the ragged edges with a scraper,
and then came the process of "sizing"--painting with a boiled solution
of soft soap--which also cleaned away the adherent particles of loam.
When the soap had soaked in and "stopped" the surface, the surplus was
washed away under the tap, and then, with a soft brush, an infinitesimal
coating of olive oil was applied. The casts were now ready for the next
stage--the making of the moulds. First, Pottermack filled a shallow tray
with loam from the garden, striking the surface level with a
straight-edge. On this surface the two best casts were laid, sole
upwards, and pressed down until they were slightly embedded. Then came
the mixing of another bowl of plaster, and this was "gauged" extra stiff
in order that it should set quickly and set hard. By the time this had
been poured on--rapidly, but with infinite care to avoid bubbles, which
would have marred the perfection of the moulds--the water in the
saucepan was boiling. Having cleaned out the bowl and spoon, Pottermack
fetched the pieces of gutta-percha from their drawer and dropped them
into the saucepan, replacing the lid. Then he put on his spectacles,
extinguished the lamp, switched off the light, and, passing out of the
workshop, walked quickly towards the house.

As he let himself out of the walled garden and closed the door behind
him, he had a strange feeling as of one awakening from a dream. The
familiar orchard and kitchen garden through which he was now passing,
and the lighted windows of the house which twinkled through the trees,
brought him back to the realities of his quiet, usually uneventful life
and made the tragic interlude of the past hour seem incredible and
unreal. He pondered on it with a sort of dull surprise as he walked up
the long path; on all that had happened since he had last walked along
it a few hours ago. How changed since then was his world--and himself!
Then, he was an innocent man over whom yet hung the menace of the
convict prison. Now, that menace was lifted, but he was an innocent man
no more. Legally--technically, he put it to himself--he was a murderer;
and the menace of the prison was exchanged for that of the rope. But
there was this difference: the one had been an abiding menace that had
been with him for the term of his life; the other was a temporary peril
from which, when he had once freed himself, he would be free for ever.

His appearance in the house was hailed by Mrs. Gadby with a sigh of
relief. It seemed that she had made a special effort in the matter of
supper and had feared lest her trouble should be wasted after all. Very
complacently she inducted him into the dining-room and awaited, with
confidence born of much experience, his appreciative comments.

"Why, bless my soul, Mrs. Gadby!" he exclaimed, gazing at the display on
the table, "it's a regular banquet! Roses, too! And do I see a bottle
under that shawl?"

Mrs. Gadby smilingly raised the shawl, revealing a small wooden tub in
which a bottle of white wine stood embedded in ice. "I thought," she
explained, "that a glass of Chablis would go rather well with the
lobster."

"Rather well!" exclaimed Pottermack. "I should think it will. But why
these extraordinary festivities?"

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Gadby, "you haven't seemed to be quite yourself
the last day or two. Not in your usual spirits. So I thought a nice
little supper and a glass of wine might pick you up a bit."

"And so it will, I am sure," affirmed Pottermack. "To-morrow you will
find me as lively as a cricket and as gay as a lark. And, by the way,
Mrs. Gadby, don't clear the table to-night. I am going out sugaring
presently, and as I may be late getting back I shall probably be ready
for another little meal before turning in. And of course you won't bolt
the door--but I expect you will have gone to bed before I start."

Mrs. Gadby acknowledged these instructions and retired in sedate
triumph. Particularly gratified was she at the evident satisfaction with
which her employer had regarded the Chablis. A happy thought of hers,
that had been. In which she was right in general though mistaken in one
particular. For it was not the wine that had brought that look of
satisfaction to Pottermack's face. It was the ice. Mrs. Gadby's kindly
forethought had disposed of the last of his difficulties.

Before sitting down to supper, he ran up to his bedroom, ostensibly for
the necessary wash and brush up; but first he visited a spacious
cupboard from the ground floor of which he presently took a pair of
over-shoes that he was accustomed to wear in very rainy or snowy
weather. Their upper parts were of strong waterproof cloth and their
soles of balata,[also batata] cemented on to leather inner soles. He
had, in fact, cemented them on himself when the original soles had worn
through, and he still had, in the workshop, a large tin nearly full of
the cement. He now inspected the soles critically, and when, after
having washed and made himself tidy, he went down to the dining-room, he
carried the over-shoes down with him and slipped them out of sight under
the table.

Although he was pretty sharp-set after his strenuous and laborious
evening, he made but a hasty meal; for time was precious and he could
dispose of the balance of the feast when he had finished his task.
Rising from the table, he picked up the over-shoes, and, stealing softly
out into the garden, laid them down beside the path. Then he stole back
to the dining-room, whence he walked briskly to the kitchen and tapped
at the door.

"Good-night, Mrs. Gadby," he called out cheerfully. "I shall be starting
when I've got my traps together. Leave everything as it is in the
dining-room so that I can have a snack when I come in. Good-night!"

"Good-night, sir," the housekeeper responded cordially, presenting a
smiling countenance at the door, "and good luck with the moths, though I
must admit, sir, that they don't seem to me worth all the trouble of
catching them."

"Ah, Mrs. Gadby," said Pottermack, "but you see you are not a
naturalist. You would think better of the moths, I expect, if they were
good to eat." With this and a chuckle, in which the housekeeper joined,
he turned away and went forth into the garden, where, having picked up
the over-shoes, he made his way up the long path to the door of the
walled garden. As he unlocked the door and let himself into the
enclosure, he was again sensible of a change of atmosphere. The vision
of that fatal combat rose before him with horrid vividness and once more
he felt the menace of the rope hanging over him. He went to the ladder
and looked over the wall to see if any new tracks had appeared on the
path to tell of some wayfarer who might hereafter become a witness. But
the path was shrouded in darkness so profound that he could not even see
the tracks that he knew were there; so he descended, and, crossing the
lawn by the well--where some unaccountable impulse led him to stop for a
while and listen--re-entered the workshop, switched on the light and
laid the over-shoes on the bench.

First, he assured himself by a touch that the saucepan was still hot.
Then he turned his attention to the moulds. They were as hard as stone,
and, as he had made them thick and solid, he ventured to use some little
force in trying to separate them from the casts; but all his efforts
failed. Then, since he could not prise them open with a knife for fear
of marking them, he filled a bucket with water and in this immersed each
of the moulds with its adherent cast, when, after a few seconds'
soaking, they came apart quite easily.

He stood for a few moments with the cast of the right foot in one hand
and its mould in the other, looking at them with a sort of amused
surprise. They were so absurdly realistic in spite of their staring
whiteness. The cast was simply a white shoe-sole; the mould an exact
reproduction of the original footprint; and both were preposterously
complete, not only in respect of the actual pattern and lettering but
even of the little trivial accidental characters such as a clean
cut--probably made by a sharp stone--across the neck of the prancing
horse and a tiny angular fragment of gravel which had become embedded in
the rubber heel. However, this was no time for contemplation. The
important fact was that both the moulds appeared to be quite perfect. If
the rest of the operations should be as successful, he would be in a
fair way of winning through this present danger to find a permanent
security.

He began with the right mould. Having first poured into it a little of
the hot water from the saucepan, to take the chill off the surface, he
laid it on a carefully folded towel, spread on the bench. Then with a
pair of tongs he picked out of the saucepan one of the pieces of
gutta-percha--now quite soft and plastic--and laid it in the mould,
which it filled completely, with some overlap. As it was, at the moment,
too hot to work comfortably with the fingers, he pressed it into the
mould with a wet file-handle, replacing this as soon as possible with
the infinitely more efficient thumb. It was a somewhat tedious process,
for every part of the surface had to be pressed into the mould so that
no detail should be missed; but it was not until the hardening of the
gutta-percha as it cooled rendered further manipulation useless that
Pottermack laid it aside as finished and proceeded to operate in like
manner on the other mould.

When both moulds were filled, he immersed them in the cold water in the
bucket in order to cool and harden the gutta-percha more quickly, and
leaving them there, he turned his attention to the over-shoes. The
important question was as to their size. How did they compare with
Lewson's shoes? He had assumed that they were as nearly as possible
alike in size, but now, when he placed one of the over-shoes, sole
upwards, beside the corresponding cast, he felt some misgivings.
However, a few careful measurements with a tape-measure reassured him.
The over-shoes were a trifle larger--an eighth of an inch wider and
nearly a quarter of an inch longer than the casts, so that there would
be a sixteenth overlap at the sides and an eighth at the toe and heel.
That would be of no importance; or if it were, he could pare off the
overlap.

Much encouraged, he fell to work on the over-shoes. He knew all about
batata soles. The present ones--which were of one piece with the flat
heels--he had stuck on with a powerful fusible cement. All that he had
to do now was to warm them cautiously over the Primus stove until the
cement was softened and then peel them off; and when he had done this,
there were the flat leather soles, covered with the sticky cement, all
ready for the attachment of the gutta-percha "squeezes."

There was still one possible snag ahead. The squeezes might have stuck
to the moulds; for gutta-percha is a sticky material when hot. However,
the moulds had been saturated with water and usually gutta-percha will
not stick to a wet surface, so he hoped for the best. Nevertheless it
was with some anxiety that he fished one of the moulds out of the
bucket, and, grasping an overlapping edge of the squeeze with a pair of
flat-nosed pliers, gave a cautious and tentative pull. As it showed no
sign of yielding, he shifted to another part of the overlap and made
gentle traction on that, with no better result. He then tried the piece
of overlap that projected beyond the toe, and here he had better luck;
for, as he gave a firm, steady pull, the squeeze separated visibly from
the mould, and, with a little coaxing, came out bodily.

Pottermack turned it over eagerly to see what result his labours had
yielded, and as his glance fell on the smooth, brown surface he breathed
a sigh of deep satisfaction. He could have asked for no better result.
The squeeze had not failed at a single point. There was the horse with
the little gash in its neck, the inscription and the makers' mark; the
circular heel with its sunk, five-pointed star, the little marks of
wear, and the central screw showing its slot quite distinctly. Even the
little grain of embedded gravel was there. The impression was perfect.
He had never seen the soles of Lewson's shoes, but he knew now exactly
what they looked like. For here before him was an absolutely faithful
facsimile.

Handling it with infinite tenderness--for gutta-percha, when once
softened, is slow to harden completely--he replaced it in the bucket,
and taking out the other mould, repeated the extracting operation with
the same patient care and with a similar happy result. It remained now
only to pare off the overlap round the edges, shave off with a sharp
knife one or two slight projections on the upper surface and wipe the
latter perfectly dry. When this was done, the soles were ready for
fixing on the over-shoes.

Placing the invaluable tin of cement on the bench near the Primus,
Pottermack proceeded to warm the sole of one of the over-shoes over the
flame. Then, scooping out a lump of tough cement, he transferred it to
the warmed sole and spread it out evenly with a hot spatula. The next
operation was more delicate and rather risky; for the upper surface of
the gutta-percha sole had to be coated with cement without warming the
mass of the sole enough to endanger the impression on its under surface.
However, by loading the spatula with melted cement and wiping it swiftly
over the surface, the perilous operation was completed without mishap.
And now came the final stage. Fixing the over-shoe in the bench-vice,
and once more passing the hot spatula over its cemented sole, Pottermack
picked up the gutta-percha sole and carefully placed it in position on
the over-shoe, adjusting it so that the overlaps at the sides and the
toe were practically equal, the larger overlap at the heel being--by
reason of the thickness of the latter--of no consequence.

When the second shoe had been dealt with in a similar manner and with a
like success, and the pair placed on the bench, soles upward, to cool
and harden, Pottermack emptied the bucket, and, carrying it in his hand,
stole out of the workshop and made his way out of the walled garden into
the orchard, where he advanced cautiously along the path. Presently the
house came into view and he saw with satisfaction that the lower part
was in darkness whereas lights were visible at two of the upper
windows--those of the respective bedrooms of Mrs. Gadby and the maid.
Thereupon he walked forward boldly, let himself silently into the house
and tiptoed to the dining-room, where, having closed the door, he
proceeded at once to transfer the ice and the ice-cold water from the
tub to the bucket. Then, in the same silent manner, he went out into the
garden, softly closing the door after him, and took his way back to the
workshop.

Here his first proceeding was to take down from a shelf a large, deep
porcelain dish, such as photographers use. This he placed on the bench
and poured into it the iced water from the bucket. Then, taking up the
shoes, one at a time, he lowered them slowly and carefully, soles
downward, into the iced water and finished by packing the ice round
them. And there he left them to cool and harden completely while he
attended to one or two other important matters.

The first of these was the line of tell-tale footprints leading to the
well. They had served their invaluable purpose and now it was time to
get rid of them; which he did forthwith with the aid of a rake and a
hard broom. Then there must be one or two footprints outside the gate
that would need to be obliterated. He took the broom and rake, and,
crossing to the gate, listened awhile, then softly opened it, listened
again and peered out. Having satisfied himself that there was no one in
sight, he stooped to scrutinize the ground and finally went down on his
hands and knees. Sure enough, there were four footprints that told the
story much too plainly for safety: two diverging from the main track
towards the gate and two more pointing directly towards it. Their
existence was a little disquieting at the first glance, for they might
already have been seen; but a close scrutiny of the ground for signs of
any more recent footprints reassured him. Evidently Lewson was the last
person who had trodden that path. Having established this encouraging
fact, Pottermack, still keeping inside his gate, passed the rake lightly
over the four footprints and then smoothed the surface with the broom.

His preparations were now nearly complete. Re-closing the gate, he went
back to the workshop to prepare his outfit. For though the "sugaring"
expedition was but a pretext, he intended to carry it through with
completely convincing realism. On that realism it was quite conceivable
that his future safety might depend. Accordingly he proceeded to pack
the large rucksack that he usually carried on these expeditions with the
necessary appliances: a store of collecting-boxes, the killing-jar, a
supply of pins, the folding-net, an air-tight metal pot which he filled
with pieces of rag previously dipped into the sugaring mixture and
reeking of beer and rum, and an electric inspection-lamp. When he had
packed it, he laid the net-stick by its side and then turned his
attention to the shoes.

The gutta-percha soles were now quite cold and hard. He dried them
carefully with a soft rag, and as he did so, the little surrounding
overlap caught his eye. It seemed to be of no consequence. It was very
unlikely that it would leave any mark on the ground, unless he should
meet with an exceptionally soft patch. Still, there had been no overlap
on Lewson's shoes, and it was better to be on the safe side. Thus
reflecting, he took from the tool-rack a shoemaker's knife, and having
given it a rub or two on the emery board, neatly shaved away the overlap
on each sole to a steep bevel. Now the impression would be perfect no
matter what kind of ground he met with.

This was the finishing touch, and he was now ready to go forth. Slipping
his arms through the straps of the rucksack, he picked up the net-stick,
took down from a peg his working apron, tucked the shoes under his arm,
switched off the light and went out, crossing the lawn direct to the
side gate. Here he spread the apron on the ground, and, stepping on to
it, listened for a few moments and then softly opened the gate. Having
taken a cautious peep out to assure himself that there was no one in
sight, he slipped on and fastened the over-shoes, and, taking the
inspection-lamp from the rucksack, dropped the battery into his coat
pocket and hooked the bull's-eye into a button-hole. Then, throwing the
light for an instant on the path and marking the correct spot by his
eye, he stepped out sideways, planting his right foot on the smoothly
swept ground a pace in front of the last impression of Lewson's left
foot.

Steadying himself with the net-stick, he pulled the gate to until the
latch clicked; then he put down his left foot a good pace in advance and
set forth on his pilgrimage, carefully adapting the length of his stride
to match, as well as he could judge, that of his long-legged
predecessor.

The country was profoundly quiet, and, though the moon peeped out now
and again, the night was for the most part so dark that he had
occasionally to switch on his lamp to make sure that he was keeping to
the path. The state of affairs, however, that these occasional flashes
revealed was highly encouraging, for though the beaten surface of the
path showed numerous traces of human feet, these were mostly faint and
ill-defined, and none of them looked very recent. They suggested that
few wayfarers used this path, and that the very striking tracks that he
was laying down might remain undisturbed and plainly visible for many
days unless a heavy rain should fall and wash them away.

So Pottermack trudged on, stepping out with conscious effort and keeping
his attention fixed on the regulation of his stride. About half a mile
from home the path entered a small wood, and here the aid of the lamp
was needed continuously. Here, too, the sodden state of the path caused
Pottermack to congratulate himself on his wise caution in shaving off
the overlaps. For in this soft earth they would have shown distinctly
and might have attracted undesirable notice--that is, if any one should
give the footprints more than the passing glance that would suffice for
recognition; which was in the highest degree unlikely.

Presently the path emerged from the wood and meandered across a rough
common, covered with gorse and heather. Eventually, as Pottermack knew,
it joined, nearly at a right angle, a by-road, which in its turn opened
on the main London road. Here, he decided, the tracks could plausibly be
lost; and as he drew near to the neighbourhood of the by-road he kept a
sharp look-out for some indication of its whereabouts. At length he made
out dimly a gate which he recognized as marking a little bridge across
the roadside ditch. At once he stepped off the path into the heather,
and, after walking on some twenty paces, halted, and unfastening the
over-shoes, slipped them off. Then he took off the rucksack, turned out
its contents, and having stowed the shoes at the bottom, repacked it and
put it on again.

Hitherto he had not met or seen a soul since he started, and he was
rather anxious not to meet any one until he was clear of this
neighbourhood. His recent activities had perhaps made him a little
over-conscious. Still, this was the night of the disappearance and here
the tracks faded into the heather. If he were seen hereabouts, he might
hereafter be questioned as to whether he had seen the missing man. No
great harm in that, perhaps; but he had the feeling that it were much
better for him not to be associated with the affair in any way. There
were all sorts of possible snags. For instance, how did he get here
without leaving any footprints on the path by which he would naturally
have come? From which it will be seen that, if conscience was not making
a coward of Mr. Pottermack, it was at least a little unduly stimulating
his imagination. And yet it was as well to err on the right side.

Turning back, he strode on through the heather until he came once more
to the path, which he crossed by a long jump that landed him in the
heather on the farther side. He now struck across the common, making for
a detached coppice that formed an outlier of the wood. As soon as he
reached it he fell to work without delay on the completion of his
programme, pinning the pieces of sugared rag on the trunks of half a
dozen trees. Usually he gave the moths ample time to find the bait and
assemble round it. But to-night, with that incriminating pair of shoes
in his rucksack, his methods were more summary. By the time that he had
pinned on the last rag, one or two moths had begun to flutter round the
first, easily visible in the darkness by the uncanny, phosphorescent
glow of their eyes. Pottermack unfolded his net, and, screwing it on to
the stick switched on his lamp and proceeded to make one or two
captures, transferring the captives from the net to the killing-jar,
and, after the necessary interval, thence to the collecting-boxes.

He was not feeling avaricious to-night. He wanted to get home and bring
his task definitely to an end. He was even disposed to resent the
indecent way in which the moths began to swarm round the rags. They
seemed to be inviting him to make a night of it, as they were doing
amidst the fumes of the rum. But he was not to be tempted. When he had
pinned a dozen specimens in his collecting-box and put a few more in the
lethal jar, he considered that he had done enough to account plausibly
for his nocturnal expedition. Thereupon he packed up, and, leaving the
lepidopterous revellers to the joys of intoxication, he turned away and
strode off briskly in the direction of the by-road, carrying the net
still screwed to the stick. A few minutes' rough walking brought him to
the road, down which he turned in the direction of the town. In another
ten minutes he reached the outskirts of the town and the road on which
his house fronted. At this late hour it was as deserted as the country;
indeed in its whole length he encountered but a single person--a jovial
constable who greeted him with an indulgent smile as he fixed a
twinkling eye on the butterfly net, and, having playfully enquired what
Mr. Pottermack had got in that bag, hoped that he had had good sport,
and wished him good-night. So Pottermack went on his way, faintly amused
at the flutter into which the constable's facetious question had put
him. For if it had chanced that the guardian of the law had been a
stranger and had insisted on examining the bag, nothing could have been
more apparently innocent than its contents. But the guilty man finds it
hard to avoid projecting into the minds of others the secret knowledge
that his own mind harbours.

When Pottermack at last let himself in at his front door and secured it
with bolt and chain, he breathed a sigh of relief. The horrible chapter
was closed. Tomorrow he could clear away the last souvenirs of that
hideous scene in the garden and then, in the peace and security of his
new life, try to forget the price that he had paid for it. So he
reflected as he carried the tub to the scullery and drew into it enough
water to account for the vanished ice; as he washed at the sink, as he
sat at the table consuming the arrears of his supper, and as, at length,
he went up to bed, carrying the rucksack with him.



CHAPTER IV--THE PLACING OF THE SUN-DIAL


When, after breakfast on the following morning, Mr. Pottermack betook
himself, rucksack in hand, to the walled garden, he experienced, as he
closed the door behind him and glanced round the enclosure, curiously
mixed feelings. He was still shaken by the terrific events of the
previous night, and, in his disturbed state, disposed to be pessimistic
and vaguely apprehensive. Not that he regretted what he had done. Lewson
had elected to make his life insupportable, and a man who does that,
does it at his own risk. So Pottermack argued, and he reviewed the
circumstances without the slightest twinge of remorse. Repugnant as the
deed had been to him, and horrible as it had been in the doing--for he
was by temperament a humane and kindly man--he had no sense of guilt. He
had merely the feeling that he had been forced to do something extremely
unpleasant.

When, however, he came to review the new circumstances, he was conscious
of a vague uneasiness. Considered in advance, the making away with
Lewson had been a dreadful necessity, accepted for the sake of the peace
and security that it would purchase. But had that security been
attained? The blackmailer, indeed, had gone for ever with his threats
and his exactions. But that thing in the well--It was actually possible
that Lewson dead might prove more formidable even than Lewson living. It
was true that everything seemed to be quite safe and secret. He,
Pottermack, had taken every possible precaution. But supposing that he
had forgotten something; that he had overlooked some small but vital
detail. It was quite conceivable. The thing had frequently happened. The
annals of crime, and especially of murder, were full of fatal
oversights.

So Mr. Pottermack cogitated as, having picked up the apron, he made his
way to the workshop, where he set to work at once on the tasks that
remained to be done. First he dealt with the shoes. As it would have
been difficult and was quite unnecessary to remove the gutta-percha
soles, he simply shaved off the heels, heated the surface and then stuck
on the original soles of balata.

Next he broke up the plaster moulds and casts into small fragments,
which he carried out in the bucket and shot down the well. Those, he
reflected with a sense of relief as he replaced the hurdle, were the
last visible traces of the tragedy; but even as he turned away from the
well, he saw that they were not. For, glancing at the summer-house, he
observed the decanter, the siphon, and the tumbler still on the table.
Of course, to no eye but his was there anything suspicious or unusual in
their presence there. But the sight of them affected him disagreeably.
Not only were they a vivid and unpleasant reminder of events which he
wished to forget. They revived the doubts that had tended to fade away
under the exhilarating influence of work. For here was something that he
had overlooked. A thing of no importance, indeed, but still a detail
that he had forgotten. Trivial as the oversight was, he felt his
confidence in his foresight shaken.

He walked to the summer-house, and, setting down the bucket outside,
entered and proceeded to clear away these traces. Opening the cupboard,
he caught up the siphon and the decanter and stepped behind the table to
put them on the shelves. As he did so, he felt something soft under his
foot, and when he had closed the cupboard door he looked down to see
what it was. And then his heart seemed to stand still. For the thing
under his foot was a coat--and it was not his coat.

There is a very curious phenomenon which we may describe as deferred
visual sensation. We see something which is plainly before our eyes, but
yet, owing to mental preoccupation, we are unaware of it. The image is
duly registered on the retina; the retina passes on its record to the
brain; but there the impression remains latent until some association
brings it to the surface of consciousness.

Now, this was what had happened to Pottermack. In the moment in which
his glance fell on the coat there started up before him the vision of a
bulky figure flourishing its fists and staggering backwards towards the
well--the figure of a man in shirt-sleeves. In spite of the darkness, he
had seen that figure quite distinctly; he even recalled that the
shirt-sleeves were of a dark grey. But so intense had been his
preoccupation with the dreadful business of the moment that the detail,
physically seen, had passed into his memory without conscious
recognition.

He was literally appalled. Here, already, was a second oversight; and
this time it was one of vital importance. Had any one who knew Lewson
been present when the coat was discovered, recognition would have been
almost certain; for the material was of a strikingly conspicuous and
distinctive pattern. Then the murder would have been out, and all his
ingenious precautions against discovery would have risen up to testify
to his guilt.

All his confidence, all of the sense of security that he had felt on his
return home on the previous night, had evaporated in an instant. Two
obvious things he had forgotten, and one of them might have been fatal.
Indeed, there were three; for he had been within an ace of overlooking
those incriminating footprints that might have led the searchers to his
very gate. Was it possible that there was yet some other important fact
that he had failed to take into account? He realized that it was very
possible indeed; that it might easily be that he should add yet another
instance to the abundant records of murderers who, covering up their
tracks with elaborate ingenuity, have yet left damning evidence plain
for any investigator to see.

He picked up the coat, and, rolling it up loosely, considered what he
should do with it. His first impulse was to drop it in the well. But he
rejected the idea for several reasons. It would certainly float, and
might possibly be seen by the mason when the sun-dial was fixed,
especially if he should throw a light down. And then, if the well
should, after all, be searched, the presence of a separate coat would be
against the suggestion of accident. And it would be quite easy to burn
it in the rubbish destructor. Moreover, in rolling the coat he had
become aware of a bulky object in one of the pockets which recalled
certain statements that Lewson had made. In the end, he tucked the coat
under his arm and, catching up the bucket, took his way back to the
workshop.

It was significant of Pottermack's state of mind that as soon as he was
inside he locked the door; notwithstanding that he was alone in the
walled garden and that both the gates were securely fastened. Moreover,
before he began his inspection he unlocked a large drawer and left it
open with the key in the lock, ready to thrust the coat out of sight in
a moment. Then he unrolled the coat on the bench, and, putting his hand
into the inside breast pocket, drew out a leather wallet. It bulged with
papers of various kinds, mostly bills and letters, but to these
Pottermack gave no attention. The one item in the contents that
interested him was a compact bundle of banknotes. There were twenty of
them, all five-pound notes, as he ascertained by going through the
bundle; a hundred pounds in all--the exact sum that had been demanded of
him. In fact, these notes were understudies of his expected
contribution. They had been "borrowed" by Lewson out of the current cash
to meet some sudden call, and his, Pottermack's, notes were to have been
either paid in place of them or to have enabled Lewson to make good his
loan in the morning.

It seemed a queer proceeding, and to Mr. Pottermack it was not very
intelligible. But the motive was no concern of his; what was his concern
was the train of consequences that would be set going. The obvious fact
was that the little branch bank of which Lewson had had sole charge was
now minus a hundred pounds in five-pound notes. That fact must
inevitably come to light within a day or two; most probably this very
day. Then the hue and cry would be out for the missing manager.

Well, that was all to the good. There would certainly be a hot search
for Lewson. But the searchers would not be seeking the body of a
murdered man. They would be on the look-out for an exceedingly live
gentleman with a bundle of stolen notes in his pocket. As he considered
the almost inevitable course of events, Pottermack's spirits rose
appreciably. The borrowing of those notes had been most fortunate for
him, for it turned what would have been an unaccountable disappearance
into a perfectly accountable flight. It seemed an incredibly stupid
proceeding, for if Pottermack had paid up, the borrowing would have been
unnecessary; if he had not paid up, the "loan" could not have been made
good. However, stupid or not, it had been done; and in the doing it
Lewson had, for the first and last time, rendered his victim a real
service.

When he had inspected the notes, Pottermack replaced them in the wallet,
returned the latter to the pocket whence it had come, rolled up the coat
and bestowed it in the drawer, which he closed and locked. The
consumption of it in the rubbish destructor could be postponed for a
time; and perhaps it might not come to that at all. For the finding of
the notes had, to a great extent, restored Pottermack's confidence; and
already there had appeared in his mind the germ of an idea--vague and
formless at present--that the notes, and perhaps even the coat, might
yet have further useful offices to perform.

As he had now completed his tasks and cleared away--as he hoped--the
last traces of the previous night's doings, he thought it time that he
should show himself to Mrs. Gadby in his normal, everyday aspect.
Accordingly he took the rucksack, a setting-board, and a few other
necessary appliances and made his way to the house, where he established
himself in the dining-room at a table by the window and occupied the
time in setting the moths which he had captured on the previous night.
They were but a poor collection, with an unconscionable proportion of
duplicates, but Pottermack pinned them all out impartially--even the
damaged ones--on the setting-board. It was their number, not their
quality, that would produce the necessary moral effect on Mrs. Gadby
when she came in to lay the table for his mid-day dinner. So he worked
away placidly with an outward air of complete absorption in his task;
but all the while there kept recurring in his mind, like some infernal
refrain, the disturbing question: Was there even now something that he
had forgotten: something that his eye had missed but that other eyes
might detect?

In the afternoon he strolled round to Mr. Gallett's yard to see if all
was going well in regard to the preparations for setting up the
sun-dial. He was anxious that there should be no delay, for though the
presence of the dial would afford him no added security, he had an
unreasonable feeling that the fixing of it would close the horrible
incident. And he did very much want that sinister black hole hidden from
sight for ever. Great therefore, was his relief when he discovered Mr.
Gallett and two of his men in the very act of loading a low cart with
what was obviously the material for the job.

The jovial mason greeted him with a smile and a nod. "All ready, you
see, Mr. Pottermack," said he, indicating the dial-pillar, now swathed
in a canvas wrapping, and slapping one of the stone slabs that stood on
edge by its side. "Could almost have done it to-day, but it's getting a
bit late and we've got one or two other jobs to finish up here. But
we'll have him round by nine o'clock to-morrow morning, if that will
do."

It would do admirably, Mr. Pottermack assured him, adding: "You will
have to bring it in at the side gate. Do you know whereabouts that is?"

"I can't say as I do exactly," replied Gallett. "But I'll bring him to
the front gate and then you can show me where he is to go."

To this Pottermack agreed, and they then strolled together to the gate,
where Mr. Gallett halted, and, having looked up and down the street with
a precautionary air, said in what he meant to be a low tone:

"Rummy report going round the town. Have you heard anything of it?"

"No," replied Pottermack, all agog in a moment.

"What is it?"

"Why, they say that the manager of Perkins's Bank has hopped it. That's
what they say, and I fancy there must be something in it, because I went
there this morning to pay in a cheque and I found the place closed. Give
me a rare turn, because I've got an account there. So I rang the bell
and the caretaker he come and tells me that Mr. Lewson wasn't able to
attend to-day but that there would be some one there later to carry on
till he came back. And so there was, for I went round a couple of hours
later and found the place open and business going on as usual. There was
a youngish fellow at the counter, but there was an elderly gent--rather
a foxy-looking customer--who seemed to be smelling round, taking down
the books and looking into the drawers and cupboards. Looks a bit queer,
don't you think?"

"It really does," Pottermack admitted. "The fact of the bank not being
open at the usual time suggests that Mr. Lewisham--"

"Lewson is his name," Mr. Gallett corrected.

"Mr. Lewson. It suggests that he had absented himself without giving
notice, which is really rather a remarkable thing for a manager to do."

"It is," said Gallett; "particularly as he lived on the premises."

"Did he, indeed?" exclaimed Pottermack. "That makes it still more
remarkable. Quite mysterious, in fact."

"Very mysterious," said Gallett. "Looks as if he had mizzled; and if he
has, why, he probably didn't go away with his pockets empty."

Pottermack shook his head gravely. "Still," he urged, "it is early to
raise suspicions. He may possibly have been detained somewhere. He was
at the bank yesterday?"

"Oh, yes; and seen in the town yesterday evening. Old Keeling, the
postman, saw him about half-past seven and wished him good-night. Says
he saw him turn into the footpath that leads through Potter's Wood."

"Ha," said Pottermack. "Well, he may have lost his way in the wood, or
been taken ill. Who knows? It is best not to jump at conclusions too
hastily."

With this and a friendly nod he turned out of the yard and took his way
homeward, cogitating profoundly. Events were moving even more quickly
than he had anticipated, but they were moving in the right direction.
Nevertheless, he recognized with something like a shudder how near he
had been to disaster. But for the chance moonbeam that had lighted up
the footprints in his garden, he would have overlooked those other
tell-tale tracks outside. And again he asked himself uneasily if there
could be something else that he had overlooked. He was tempted to take a
walk into the country in the direction of the wood to see if there were
yet any signs of a search; for, by Gallett's report, it appeared that
the direction in which Lewson had gone, and even his route, was already
known. But prudence bade him keep aloof and show no more than a
stranger's interest in the affair. Accordingly he went straight home;
and since in his restless state he could not settle down to read, he
betook himself to his workshop and spent the rest of the day in
sharpening chisels and plane-irons and doing other useful,
time-consuming jobs.

True to his word, Mr. Gallett appeared on the following morning almost
on the stroke of nine. Pottermack himself opened the door to him and at
once conducted him through the house out into the orchard and thence to
the walled garden. It was not without a certain vague apprehensiveness
that he unlocked the gate and admitted his visitor, for since that fatal
night no eye but his had looked on that enclosure. It is true that on
this very morning he had made a careful tour of inspection and had
satisfied himself that nothing was visible that all the world might not
see. Nevertheless, he was conscious of a distinct sense of discomfort as
he let the mason in, and still more when he led him to the well.

"So this is where you wants him planted?" said Mr. Gallett, stepping up
to the brink of the well and looking down it reflectively. "It do seem a
pity for to bung up a good well. And you say there's a tidy depth of
water in him."

"Yes," said Pottermack; "a fair depth. But it's a long way down to it."

"So 'tis, seemingly," Gallett agreed. "The bucket would take a bit of
histing up." As he spoke, he felt in his pocket and drew out a folded
newspaper, and from another pocket he produced a box of matches. In
leisurely fashion he tore off a sheet of the paper, struck a match, and,
lighting a corner of the paper, let it fall, craning over to watch its
descent. Pottermack also craned over, with his heart in his mouth,
staring breathlessly at the flaming mass as it sank slowly, lighting up
the slimy walls of the well, growing smaller and fainter as it
descended, while a smaller, fainter spark rose from the depths to meet
it. At length they met and were in an instant extinguished; and
Pottermack breathed again. What a mercy he had not thrown the coat down!

"We'll have to bank up the earth a bit," said Mr. Gallett, "for the
slabs to bed on. Don't want 'em to rest on the brickwork of the well or
they may settle out of the level after a time. And if you've got a spade
handy, we may as well do it now, 'cause we can't get to the side gate
for a few minutes. There's a gent out there a-takin' photographs of the
ground."

"Of the ground!" gasped Pottermack.

"Ay. The path, you know. Seems as there's some footmarks there--pretty
plain ones they looked to me without a-photographin' of em. Well, it's
them footmarks as he's a-takin'."

"But what for?" demanded Pottermack.

"Ah," said Mr. Gallett. "There you are. I don't know, but I've got my
ideas. I see the police inspector a-watchin' of him--all on the broad
grin he was too--and I suspect it's got something to do with that bank
manager that I was tellin' you about."

"Ah, Mr. Lewis?"

"Lewson is his name. There's no news of him and he was seen coming this
way on Wednesday night. Why, he must have passed this very gate."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Pottermack. "And as to his reasons for going away
so suddenly. Is anything--er--?"

"Well, no," replied Gallett. "Nothing is known for certain. Of course,
the bank people don't let on. But there's some talk in the town about
some cash that is missing. May be all bunkum, though it's what you'd
expect. Now, about that spade. Shall I call in my men or can we do it
ourselves?"

Pottermack decided that they could do it themselves, and, having
produced a couple of spades, he fell to work under Gallett's direction,
raising a low platform for the stone slabs to rest on. A few minutes'
work saw it finished to the mason's satisfaction, and all was now ready
for the fixing of the dial.

"I wonder if that photographer chap has finished," said Mr. Gallett.
"Shall we go and have a look?"

This was what Pottermack had been bursting to do, though he had
heroically suppressed his curiosity; and even now he strolled
indifferently to the gate and held it open for the mason to go out
first.

"There he is," said Gallett, "and blow me if he isn't a-takin' of 'em
all the way along. What can he be doing that for? The cove had only got
two feet."

Mr. Pottermack looked out and was no less surprised than the worthy
mason. But he did not share the latter's purely impersonal interest. On
the contrary, what he saw occasioned certain uncomfortable stirrings in
the depths of his consciousness. Some little distance up the path a
spectacled youth of sage and sober aspect had set up a tripod to which a
rather large camera of the box type was attached by a goose-neck
bracket. The lens was directed towards the ground, and when the young
man had made his exposure by means of a wire release, he opened a
portfolio and made a mark or entry of some kind on what looked like a
folded map. Then he turned a key on the camera, and, lifting it with its
tripod, walked away briskly for some twenty or thirty yards, when he
halted, fixed the tripod and repeated the operation. It really was a
most astonishing performance.

"Well," said Mr. Gallett, "he's finished here, at any rate, so we can
get on with our business now. I'll just run round and fetch the cart
along."

He sauntered away towards the road, and Pottermack, left alone, resumed
his observation of the photographer. The proceedings of that mysterious
individual puzzled him not a little. Apparently he was taking a sample
footprint about every twenty yards, no doubt selecting specially
distinct impressions. But to what purpose? One or two photographs would
have been understandable as permanent records of marks that a heavy
shower might wash away and that would, in any case, soon disappear. But
a series, running to a hundred or more, could have no ordinary utility.
And, yet it was not possible that that solemn young man could be taking
all this trouble without some definite object. Now, what could that
object be?

Pottermack was profoundly puzzled. Moreover, he was more than a little
disturbed. Hitherto his chief anxiety had been lest the footprints
should never be observed. Then he would have had all his trouble for
nothing, and those invaluable tracks, leading suspicion far away from
his own neighbourhood to an unascertainable destination, would have been
lost. Well, there was no fear of that now. The footprints had not only
been observed and identified, they were going to be submitted to minute
scrutiny. He had not bargained for that. He had laid down his tracks
expecting them to be scanned by the police or the members of a search
party, to whom they would have been perfectly convincing. But how would
they look in a photograph? Pottermack knew that photographs have an
uncanny way of bringing out features that are invisible to the eye. Now
could there be any such features in those counterfeit footprints? He
could not imagine any. But then why was this young man taking all those
photographs? With his secret knowledge of the real facts, Pottermack
could not shake off an unreasoning fear that his ruse had been already
discovered, or at least suspected.

His cogitations were interrupted by the arrival of the cart, which was
halted and backed up against his gateway. Then there came the laying
down of planks to enable the larger slab to be trundled on rollers to
the edge of the platform. Pottermack stood by, anxious and restless,
inwardly anathematizing the conscientious mason as he tried the surface
of the platform again and again with his level. At last he was
satisfied. Then the big base slab was brought on edge to the platform,
adjusted with minute care and finally let down slowly into its place;
and as it dropped the last inch with a gentle thud, Pottermack drew a
deep breath and felt as if a weight, greater far than that of the slab,
had been lifted from his heart.

In the remaining operations he had to feign an interest that he ought to
have felt but did not. For him, the big base slab was what mattered. It
shut that dreadful, yawning, black hole from his sight, as he hoped, for
ever. The rest was mere accessory detail. But, as it would not do for
him to let this appear, he assumed an earnest and critical attitude,
particularly when it came to the setting up of the pillar on the centre
of the upper slab.

"Now then," said Mr. Gallett as he spread out a thin bed of mortar on
the marked centre, "how will you have him? Will you have the plinth
parallel to the base or diagonal?"

"Oh, parallel, I think," replied Pottermack; "and I should like to have
the word 'spes' on the eastern side, which will bring the word 'pax' to
the western."

Mr. Gallett looked slightly dubious. "If you was thinking of setting him
to the right time," said he, "you won't do it that way. You'll have to
unscrew the dial-plate from the lead bed and have him fixed correct to
time. But never mind about him now. We're a-dealing with the stone
pillar."

"Yes," said Pottermack, "but I was considering the inscription. That is
the way in which it was meant to be placed, I think"; and here he
explained the significance of the motto.

"There now," said Mr. Gallett, "see what it is to be a scholar. And
you're quite right too, sir: you can see by the way the lichen grew on
it that this here 'sole orto' was the north side. So we'll put him round
to the north again, and then I expect the dial will be about right, if
you aren't partickler to a quarter of an hour or so."

Accordingly the pillar was set up in its place and centred with
elaborate care. Then, when the level of the slabs had been tested and a
few slight adjustments made, the pillar was tried on all sides with the
plumb-line and corrected to a hair's breadth.

"There you are, Mr. Pottermack," said Mr. Gallett, as he put the last
touch to the mortar joint and stepped back to view the general effect of
his work; "see that he isn't disturbed until the mortar has had time to
set and he won't want touching again for a century or two. And an
uncommon nice finish he'll give to the garden when you get a bit of
smooth turf round him and a few flowers."

"Yes," said Pottermack, "you've made an extremely neat job of it, Mr.
Gallett, and I'm very much obliged to you. When I get the turf laid and
the flower borders set out, you must drop in and have a look at it."

The gratified mason, having suitably acknowledged these commendations of
his work, gathered up his tools and appliances and departed with his
myrmidons. Pottermack followed them out into the lane and watched the
cart as it retired, obliterating the footprints which had given him so
much occupation. When it had gone, he strolled up the path in the
direction in which the photographer had gone, unconsciously keeping to
the edge and noting with a sort of odd self-complacency the striking
distinctness of the impressions of his gutta-percha soles. The
mysterious operator was now out of sight, but he, too, had left his
traces on the path, and these Pottermack studied with mingled curiosity
and uneasiness. It was easy to see, by the marks of the tripod, which
footprints had been photographed, and it was evident that care had been
taken to select the sharpest and most perfect impressions. Pottermack
had noticed, when he first looked out of the gate with Mr. Gallett, that
the tripod had been set up exactly opposite the gateway and that the
three marks surrounded the particularly fine impression that he had made
when he stepped out sideways on to the smooth-swept path.

On these facts he reflected as he sauntered back to the gate, and
entering, closed it behind him. What could be that photographer's object
in his laborious proceeding? Who could it be that had set him to work?
And what was it possible for a photograph to show that the eye might
fail to see? These were the questions that he turned over uncomfortably
in his mind and to which he could find no answer. Then his glance fell
on the dial, resting immovable on its massive base, covering up the only
visible reminder of the past, standing there to guard for ever his
secret from the eyes of man. And at the sight of it he was comforted.
With an effort he shook off his apprehensions and summoned his courage
afresh. After all, what was there to fear? What could these photographs
show that was not plainly visible? Nothing. There was nothing to show.
The footprints were, it is true, counterfeits in a sense. But they were
not imitations in the sense that a forged writing is an imitation. They
were mechanical reproductions, necessarily true in every particular. In
fact, they were actually Lewson's own footprints, though it happened
that other feet than his were in the shoes. No. Nothing could be
discovered for the simple reason that there was nothing to discover.

So Mr. Pottermack, with restored tranquillity and confidence, betook
himself to the summer-house, and sitting down, looked out upon the
garden and let his thoughts dwell upon what it should be when the little
island of stone should be girt by a plot of emerald turf. As he sat, two
sides of the sun-dial were visible to him, and on them he read the words
"decedente pax." He repeated them to himself, drawing from them a new
confidence and encouragement. Why should it not be so? The storms that
had scattered the hopes of his youth had surely blown themselves out.
His evil genius, who had first betrayed him and then threatened to
destroy utterly his hardly earned prosperity and security; who had cast
him into the depths and had fastened upon him when he struggled to the
surface; the evil genius, the active cause of all his misfortunes, was
gone for ever and would certainly trouble him no more.

Then why should the autumn of his life not be an Indian summer of peace
and tranquil happiness? Why not?



CHAPTER V--DR. THORNDYKE LISTENS TO A STRANGE STORY


"And that," said Mr. Stalker, picking up a well-worn attache-case and
opening it on his knees, "finishes our little business and relieves you
of my society."

"Say 'deprives'," Thorndyke corrected. "That is, if you must really go."

"That is very delicate of you, doctor," Stalker replied as he stuffed a
bundle of documents into the attache-case; "and, by the way, it isn't
quite the finish. There is another small matter which I had nearly
forgotten; something that my nephew, Harold, asked me to hand to you.
You have heard me speak of Harold--my sister's boy?"

"The inventive genius? Yes, I remember your telling me about him."

"Well, he asked me to pass this on to you; thought it might interest
you."

He took from his case a flat disc which looked like a closely rolled
coil of paper tape, secured with a rubber band, and passed it to
Thorndyke, who took it, and, unrolling a few inches, glanced at it with
a slightly puzzled smile.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I had better explain," replied Stalker. "You see, Harold has invented a
recording camera which will take small photographs in a series and mark
each one with its serial number, so that there can be no mistake about
the sequence. It is a box camera and it takes quite a big roll of
kinematograph film with a capacity of something like five hundred
exposures. And the mechanism not only marks each negative with its
number but also shows the number which is being exposed on a little dial
on the outside of the camera. Quite a useful instrument, I should think,
for certain purposes, though I can't, at the moment, think of a case to
which it would be applicable."

"I can imagine certain cases, however," said Thorndyke, "in which it
would be quite valuable. But with regard to these particular
photographs?"

"They are, as you see, a series of footprints--the footprints of a man
who absconded from a country bank and has not been seen since."

"But why did Harold take so many? There must be about a couple of
hundred on this strip."

Stalker chuckled. "I don't think," said he, "that we need go far for the
reason. Harold had got a camera that would take a numbered series and he
had never had a chance to try it. Now here was an undoubted series of
footprints on a footpath and they were those of an absconding man. It
was a chance to show what the camera would do, and he took it. He
professes to believe that these photographs might furnish an important
clue to an investigator like yourself. But, of course, that is all
nonsense. He just wanted to try his new camera. Still, he did the job
quite thoroughly. He took a twenty-five-inch ordnance map with him and
marked each exposure on it, showing the exact position of that
particular footprint. He made an exposure about every twenty yards. You
will see, if you look at the map. I have the three sheets here. He told
me to give them to you with the photographs, so that you could examine
them together if you wanted to--which I imagine you won't. Of course,
the information they give is quite valueless. One or two photographs
would have shown all that there was to show."

"I wouldn't say that," Thorndyke dissented. "The application of the
method to the present case is, I must admit, not at all evident. One or
two photographs would have been enough for simple identification. But I
can imagine a case in which it might be of the highest importance to be
able to prove that a man did actually follow a particular route,
especially if a time factor were also available."

"Which it is, approximately, in the present instance. But it was already
known that the man went that way at that time, so all this elaborate
detail is merely flogging a dead horse. The problem is not which way did
he go, but where is he now? Not that we care a great deal. He only took
a hundred pounds with him--so far as we know at present--so the bank is
not particularly interested in him. Nor am I, officially, though I must
confess to some curiosity about him. There are some rather odd features
in the case. I am quite sorry that we can't afford to call you in to
investigate them."

"I expect you are more competent than I am," said Thorndyke. "Banking
affairs are rather out of my province."

"It isn't the banking aspect that I am thinking of," replied Stalker.
"Our own accountants can deal with that. But there are some other queer
features, and about one of them I am a little uncomfortable. It seems to
suggest a miscarriage of justice in another case. But I mustn't take up
your time with irrelevant gossip."

"But indeed you must," Thorndyke rejoined. "If you have got a queer
case, I want to hear it. Remember, I live by queer cases."

"It is rather a long story," objected Stalker, evidently bursting to
tell it nevertheless.

"So much the better," said Thorndyke. "We will have a bottle of wine and
make an entertainment of it."

He retired from the room and presently reappeared with a bottle of
Chambertin and a couple of glasses; and having, filled the latter, he
provided himself with a writing-pad, resumed his armchair and disposed
himself to listen at his ease.

"I had better begin," said Stalker, "with an account of this present
affair. The man who has absconded is a certain James Lewson, who was the
manager of a little branch of Perkins's Bank down at Borley. He ran it
by himself, living on the premises and being looked after by the
caretaker's wife. It is quite a small affair--just a nucleus with an eye
for the future, for Meux's do most of the business at Borley, such as it
is--and easily run by one man; and everything has gone on quite smoothly
there until last Wednesday week. On that day Lewson went out at about a
quarter-past seven in the evening. The caretaker saw him go out at the
back gate and thought that he looked as if he had been drinking, and on
that account he sat up until past twelve o'clock to see him in safely.
But he never came home, and as he had not returned by the morning, the
caretaker telegraphed up to headquarters.

"Now I happened to be there when the telegram arrived--for I am still on
the board of directors and do a bit of work there--and I suggested that
old Jewsbury should go down to see what had been happening and take a
young man with him to do the routine work while he was going through the
books. And as Harold was the only one that could be spared, he was told
off for the job. Of course, he fell in with it joyfully, for he thought
he saw a possible chance of giving his camera a trial. Accordingly, down
he went, with the camera in his trunk, all agog to find a series of some
kind that wanted photographing. As soon as they arrived, Jewsbury saw at
a glance that some of the cash was missing--a hundred pounds in
five-pound Bank of England notes."

"And the keys?" asked Thorndyke.

"The safe key was missing too. But that had been anticipated, so
Jewsbury had been provided with a master-key. The other keys were in the
safe.

"Well, as soon as the robbery was discovered, Jewsbury had a talk with
the caretaker and the police inspector, who had called to see him. From
the caretaker, a steady old retired police sergeant, Jewsbury gathered
that Lewson had been going to the bad for some time, taking a good deal
more whisky than was good for him. But we needn't go into that. The
police inspector reported that Lewson had been seen at about
seven-thirty--that is, within a quarter of an hour of his leaving the
bank--turning into a footpath that leads out into the country and
eventually to the main London road. The inspector had examined the path
and found on it a track of very distinct and characteristic footprints,
which he was able to identify as Lewson's, not only by the description
given by the caretaker, who usually cleaned Lewson's shoes, but by one
or two fairly clear footprints in the garden near the back gate, by
which Lewson went out. Thereupon, he returned to the footpath and
followed the tracks out into the country, through a wood and across a
heath until he came to a place where Lewson had left the path and gone
off through the heather; and there, of course all traces of him were
lost. The inspector went on and searched a by-road and went on to the
London road, but not a single trace of him could he discover. At that
point where he stepped off the footpath into the heather James Lewson
vanished into thin air."

"Where is the railway station?" Thorndyke asked.

"In the town. There is a little branch station by the London road, but
it is certain that Lewson did not go there, for there were no passengers
at all on that evening. He must have gone off along the road on foot.

"Now, as soon as Harold heard of those footprints, he decided that his
chance had come. The footprints would soon be trodden out or washed away
by rain, and they ought to be recorded permanently. That was his view."

"And a perfectly sound one, too," remarked Thorndyke.

"Quite. But there was no need for a couple of hundred repetitions."

"Apparently not," Thorndyke agreed, "though it is impossible to be
certain even of that. At any rate, a superabundance of evidence is a
good deal better than a deficiency."

"Well, that is what Harold thought, or pretended to think, and in
effect, he nipped off to the Post Office and got the large-scale
ordnance maps that contained his field of operations. Then on the
following morning he set to work, leaving Jewsbury to carry on. He began
by photographing a pair of the footprints in the garden--they are
numbers 1 and 2--and marking them on the map. Then he went off to the
footpath and took a photograph about every twenty yards, selecting the
most distinct footprints and writing down the number of the exposure on
the map at the exact spot on which it was made. And so he followed the
track into the country, through the wood, across the heath to what we
may call the vanishing point. Number 197 is the last footprint that
Lewson made before he turned off into the heather.

"So much for Harold and his doings. Now we come to the queer features of
the case, and the first of them is the amount taken. A hundred pounds!
Can you imagine a sane man, with a salary of six hundred a year,
absconding with such a sum? The equivalent of two months' salary. The
thing seems incredible. And why a hundred pounds only? Why didn't he
take, at least, the whole of the available cash? It is incomprehensible.
And in a few days his monthly salary would have been due. Why didn't he
wait to collect that?

"But there is a partial explanation. Only the explanation is more
incomprehensible than what it explains. By the evening post on the day
on which Jewsbury arrived a letter was delivered, addressed to Lewson,
and, under the circumstances, Jewsbury felt justified in opening it. Its
contents were to this effect:

"DEAR LEWSON,--I expected you to come round last night, as you promised,
to settle up. As you didn't come and have not written, I think it
necessary to tell you plainly that this can't be allowed to go on. If
the amount (97 13s 4d.) is not paid within the next forty-eight hours,
I shall have to take measures that will be unpleasant to both of
us.--Yours faithfully,

"LEWIS BATEMAN

"Now this letter seemed to explain the small amount taken. It suggested
that Lewson was being pressed for payment and that, as he had not got
the wherewith to pay, he had taken the amount out of the cash, trusting
to be able to replace it before the periodical audit. But if so, why had
he not paid Bateman? And why had he absconded? The letter only deepens
the mystery."

"Is it an ascertained fact that he had not the wherewithal to pay?"

"I think I may say that it is. His own current account at the bank
showed a balance of about thirty shillings and he had no deposit
account. Looking over his account, Jewsbury noticed that he seemed to
spend the whole of his income and was often overdrawn at the end of the
month.

"But this letter brought into view another queer feature of the case. On
enquiring of the police inspector, Jewsbury found that the man, Bateman,
is a member of a firm of outside brokers who have offices in Moorgate
Street. Bateman lives at Borley, and he and Lewson seemed to have been
on more or less friendly terms. Accordingly, Jewsbury and the inspector
called on him, and, under some pressure, he disclosed the nature of
Lewson's dealing with his firm. It appeared that Lewson was a regular
'operator,' and that he was singularly unfortunate in his speculations
and that he had a fatal habit of carrying over when he ought to have cut
his loss and got out. As a result, he dropped quite large sums of money
from time to time, and had lost heavily during the last few months. On
the transactions of the last twelve months, Bateman reckoned--he hadn't
his books with him, of course, at Borley--that Lewson had dropped over
six hundred pounds; and in addition, he happened to know that Lewson had
been plunging and losing on the turf.

"Now, where did Lewson get all this money? His account shows no income
beyond his salary, and the debit side shows only his ordinary domestic
expenditure. There are a good many cash drafts, some of which may have
represented betting losses, but they couldn't represent the big sums
that he lost through the bucket shop."

"He didn't pay the brokers by cheque, then?"

"No. Always in notes--five-pound notes; not that there is anything
abnormal in that. As a bank manager, he would naturally wish to keep
these transactions secret. It is the amount that creates the mystery. He
spent the whole of his income in a normal though extravagant fashion,
and he dropped over six hundred pounds in addition. Now, where did he
get that six hundred pounds?"

"Is it certain that he had no outside source of income?" Thorndyke
asked.

"Obviously he had. But since there is no sign of it on the credit side
of his account, he must have received it in cash; which is a mighty
queer circumstance when you consider the amount. Jewsbury is convinced
that he must have been carrying on some kind of embezzlement, and I
don't see what other explanation there can be. But if so, it has been
done with extraordinary skill. Jewsbury has been through the books with
the utmost rigour and with this suspicion in his mind, but he can't
discover the slightest trace of any falsification. And mind you,
Jewsbury is a first-class accountant and as sharp as a needle. So that
is how the matter stands, and I must confess that I can make nothing of
it."

Mr. Stalker paused, and, with a profoundly reflective air, took a sip
from his glass, which Thorndyke had just refilled. The latter waited for
some time with an expectant eye upon his guest and at length remarked:
"You were saying something about a miscarriage of justice."

"So I was," said Stalker. "But that is another story--unless it is a
part of this story, which I begin to be afraid it is. However, you shall
judge. I should like to hear what you think. It carries us back some
fifteen years; that was before I took up the 'Griffin' company, and I
was then assistant manager of Perkins', at the Cornhill office. About
that time it was discovered that quite a long series of forgeries had
been committed. They were very skilfully done and very cleverly managed,
evidently by somebody who knew what customers' accounts it would be safe
to operate on. It was found that a number of forged bearer cheques had
been presented and paid over the counter; and it was further found that
nearly all of them had been presented and paid at the counter of one
man, a young fellow named Jeffrey Brandon. As soon as the discovery was
made it was decided--seeing that the forger was almost certainly an
employee of the bank--to muster the staff and invite them all to turn
out their pockets. And this was done on the following morning. When they
had all arrived, and before the bank opened, they were mustered in the
hall and the position of affairs explained to them; whereupon all of
them, without being invited, expressed the wish to be searched.
Accordingly, a detective officer who was in attendance searched each of
them in turn, without any result. Then the detective suggested that the
office coats, which most of them used and which were hanging in the
lobby, should be fetched by the detective and the porter and searched in
the presence of their owners. This also was done. Each man identified
his own coat, and the detective searched it in his presence. All went
well until we came to nearly the last coat--that belonging to Jeffrey
Brandon and identified by him as his. When the detective put his hand
into the inside breast pocket, he found in it a letter-case; and on
opening this and turning out its contents, he discovered in an inner
compartment three bearer cheques. They were payable to three
different--presumably fictitious--persons and were endorsed in the names
of the payees in three apparently different handwritings.

"On the production of those cheques, Brandon showed the utmost
astonishment. He admitted that the letter-case was his, but denied any
knowledge of the cheques, declaring that they must have been put into
the case by someone else--presumably the forger--while the coat was
hanging in the lobby. Of course, this could not be accepted. No one but
the senior staff knew even of the discovery of the forgery--at least,
that was our belief at the time. And the search had been sprung on the
staff without a moment's warning. Furthermore, there was the fact that
nearly all the forged cheques had been paid at Brandon's counter. What
followed was inevitable. Brandon was kept under observation at the bank
until the ostensible drawers of the cheques had been communicated with
by telegram or telephone; and when they had all denied having drawn any
such cheques, he was arrested and charged before a magistrate. Of
course, he was committed for trial; and when he was put in the dock at
the Old Bailey the only defence he had to offer was a complete denial of
any knowledge of the cheques and a repetition of his statement that they
must have been put into his pocket by some other person for the purpose
of incriminating him. It was not a very convincing defence, and it is
not surprising that the jury would not accept it."

"And yet," Thorndyke remarked, "it was the only defence that was
possible if he was innocent. And there was nothing inherently improbable
in it."

"No. That was what I felt; and when he was found guilty and sentenced to
five years' penal servitude, I was decidedly unhappy about the affair.
For Brandon was a nice, bright, prepossessing youngster, and there was
nothing whatever against him but this charge. And, later, I was made
still more uncomfortable when I had reason to believe that the discovery
of the forgeries had in some way become known, on the day before the
search, to some members of the junior staff. So that what Brandon had
said might easily have been true.

"However, that is the old story. And now as to its connection with the
present one. Brandon had one specially intimate friend at the bank, and
that friend's name was James Lewson. Now, we have never had anything
against Lewson in all these years, or he would never have been a branch
manager. But, from what we know of him now, he is, at least, an
unscrupulous rascal and, if Jewsbury is right, he is an embezzler and a
thief. I can't rid myself of a horrible suspicion that James Lewson put
those forged cheques into Brandon's pocket."

"If he did," said Thorndyke, "hanging would be a great deal too good for
him."

"I quite agree with you," Stalker declared emphatically. "It would have
been a dastardly crime. But I can't help suspecting him very gravely. I
recall the look of absolute amazement on poor Brandon's face when those
cheques were produced. It impressed me deeply at the time, but the
recollection of it impresses me still more now. If Brandon was innocent,
it was a truly shocking affair. It won't bear thinking of."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "There is no tragedy more dreadful than the
conviction of an innocent man. By the way, do you know what became of
Brandon?"

"Indeed I do," replied Stalker. "The poor fellow is beyond the reach of
any possible reparation, even if his innocence could be proved. He died
in an attempt to escape from prison. I remember the circumstances only
too clearly. Soon after his conviction he was sent to the convict prison
at Colport. There, while he was working outside with a gang, he slipped
past the civil guard and made off along the sea wall. He got quite a
good start while they were searching for him in the wrong direction, but
at last they picked up his tracks and set off in pursuit. And presently,
on the seaward face of the wall, they found his clothes and the marks of
his feet where he had walked out across the mud to the sea. They assumed
that he had swum out to some passing vessel, and that is probably what
he tried to do. But no tidings of him could be obtained from any of the
anchored vessels or those that had passed up or down. Then, about six
weeks later, the mystery was solved; for his body was found on the mud
in a creek some miles farther down."

"About six weeks later," Thorndyke repeated. "What time of year was it?"

"He was found about the middle of August. Yes, I know what you are
thinking. But, really, the question of identity hardly arose, although,
no doubt, the corpse was examined as far as was possible. Still, the
obvious facts were enough. A naked man was missing and the body of a
nude man was found just where it was expected to wash ashore. I think we
may take it that the body was Brandon's body. I only wish I could think
otherwise."

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "It is a melancholy end to what sounds like a
very tragic story. But I am afraid you are right. The body was almost
certainly his."

"I think so," agreed Stalker. "And now, I hope I haven't taken up your
time for nothing. You will admit that this Lewson case has some rather
queer features."

"It certainly has," said Thorndyke. "It is most anomalous and puzzling
from beginning to end."

"I suppose," said Stalker, "it would be hardly fair to ask for a few
comments?"

"Why not?" demanded Thorndyke. "This is an entertainment, not a
professional conference. If you want my views on the case, you are
welcome to them and I may say, in the first place, that I do not find
myself quite in agreement with Jewsbury in regard to the
embezzlement--of which, you notice, he can find no evidence. To me there
is a strong suggestion of some outside source of income. We note that
Lewson paid these large sums of money in cash--in five-pound notes. Now
that may have been for secrecy. But where did he get all those notes? He
paid no cheques into his account. He couldn't have stolen the notes from
the bank's cash. There is a distinct suggestion that he received the
money in the same form in which he paid it away. And his conduct on this
occasion supports that view. He just baldly took a hundred pounds out of
cash--in five-pound notes--to meet a sudden urgent call. One feels that
he must have expected to be able to replace it almost at once. The idea
that a man of his experience should have committed a simple, crude
robbery like this is untenable. And then there is the amount: taken,
almost certainly, for this specific purpose. The irresistible suggestion
is that he merely borrowed this money in the confident expectation of
obtaining the wherewith to put it back before it should be missed.

"Then there is the singular suggestion of a change of purpose. Apparently
he started out to pay Bateman. Then why did he not pay him? He had the
money. Instead, he suddenly turns off and walks out into the country.
Why this change of plan? What had happened in the interval to cause him
to change his plans in this remarkable manner? Had he discovered that he
would not be able to replace the money? Even that would not explain his
proceedings, for the natural thing would have been to return to the bank
and put the notes back.

"Again, if he intended to abscond, why go away across the country on
foot? He could easily have taken the train to town and disappeared
there. But the idea of his absconding with that small amount of money is
difficult to accept: and yet he undoubtedly did walk out into the
country. And he has disappeared in a manner which is rather remarkable
when one considers how easy a solitary pedestrian is to trace in the
country. There is even something rather odd in his leaving the footpath
and plunging into the heather, which must have been very inconvenient
walking for a fugitive. Taking the case as a whole, I feel that I cannot
accept the idea that he simply absconded with stolen money. Why he
suddenly changed his plans and made off I am unable to guess, but I am
certain that behind his extraordinary proceedings there is something
more than meets the eye."

"That is precisely my feeling,'" said Stalker, and the more so now that
I have heard your summing-up of the case. I don't believe the man set
out from home with the idea of absconding. I suspect that something
happened after he left the house; that he got some sudden scare that
sent him off into the country in that singular fashion. And now I must
really take myself off. It has been a great pleasure to talk this case
over with you. What about those things of Harold's? Shall I relieve you
of them, now that you have seen them?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "Leave them with me for the present. I should
like to look them over before I hand them back."

"You don't imagine that Harold is right, do you? That these footprints
may yield a clue to the man's disappearance?"

"No. I was not thinking of them in relation to the present case, but in
regard to their general evidential bearing. As you know, I have given a
great deal of attention and study to footprints. They sometimes yield a
surprising amount of information, and as they can be accurately
reproduced in the form of plaster casts, or even photographs, they can
be produced in court and shown to the judge and the jury, who are thus
able to observe for themselves instead of having to rely on the mere
statements of witnesses.

"But footprints, as one meets with them in practice, have this
peculiarity: that, although they are made in a series, they have to be
examined separately as individual things. If we try to examine them on
the ground as a series, we have to walk from one to another and trust
largely to memory. But in these photographs of Harold's we can take in a
whole series at a glance and compare any one specimen with any other. So
what I propose to do is to look over these photographs and see if, apart
from the individual characters which identify a footprint, there are any
periodic or recurring characters which would make it worth while to use
a camera of this type in practice. I want to ascertain, in fact, whether
a consecutive series of footprints is anything more than a number of
repetitions of a given footprint."

"I see. Of course, this is not a continuous series. There are long
intervals."

"Yes. That is a disadvantage. Still, it is a series of a kind."

"True. And the maps?"

"I may as well keep them too. They show the distances between the
successive footprints, which may be relevant, since the intervals are
not all equal."

"Very well," said Stalker, picking up his attache-case. "I admire your
enthusiasm and the trouble you take, and I will tell Harold how
seriously you take his productions. He will be deeply gratified."

"It was very good of him to send them, and you must thank him for me."

The two men shook hands, and when Thorndyke had escorted his guest to
the landing and watched him disappear down the stairs, he returned to
his chambers, closing the "oak" behind him and thereby secluding himself
from the outer world.



CHAPTER VI--DR. THORNDYKE BECOMES INQUISITIVE


Temperamentally, Dr. John Thorndyke presented a peculiarity which, at
the first glance, seemed to involve a contradiction. He was an eminently
friendly man; courteous, kindly and even genial in his intercourse with
his fellow-creatures. Nor was his suave, amicable manner in any way
artificial or consciously assumed. To every man his attitude of mind was
instinctively friendly, and if he did not suffer fools gladly, he could,
on occasion, endure them with almost inexhaustible patience.

And yet, with all his pleasant exterior and his really kindly nature, he
was at heart a confirmed solitary. Of all company, his own thoughts were
to him the most acceptable. After all, his case was not singular. To
every intellectual man, solitude is not only a necessity, it is the
condition to which his mental qualities are subject; and the man who
cannot endure his own sole society has usually excellent reasons for his
objection to it.

Hence, when Thorndyke closed the massive outer door and connected the
bell-push with the laboratory floor above, there might have been
detected in his manner a certain restfulness. He had enjoyed Stalker's
visit. Particularly had he enjoyed the "queer case," which was to him
what a problem is to an ardent chess player. But still, that was only
speculation, whereas with the aid of Harold's photographs he hoped to
settle one or two doubtful points relating to the characters of
footprints which had from time to time arisen in his mind, and thereby
to extend his actual knowledge.

With a leisurely and thoughtful air he moved a few things on the table
to make a clear space, took out from a cupboard a surveyor's boxwood
scale, a pair of needle-pointed spring dividers, a set of paper-weights,
a note-block, and a simple microscope (formed of a watchmaker's doublet
mounted on three legs) which he used for examining documents. Then he
laid the three sheets of the ordnance map in their proper sequence on
the table, with the roll of photographs by their side, drew up a chair
and sat down to his task.

He began by running his eye along the path traversed by the fugitive,
which was plainly marked by a row of dots, each dot having above it a
microscopic number. Dots and numbers had originally been marked with a
sharp-pointed pencil, but they had subsequently been inked in with red
ink and a fine-pointed pen. From the maps he turned his attention to the
photographs, unrolling a length of about nine inches and fixing the
strip with a paper-weight at each end. The strip itself was an inch
wide, and each photograph was an inch and a half long, and every one of
the little oblongs contained the image of a footprint which occupied
almost its entire length and which measured--as Thorndyke ascertained by
taking the dimensions with his dividers--one inch and three-eighths.
Small as the photographs were, they were microscopically sharp in
definition, having evidently been taken with a lens of very fine
quality; and in the corner of each picture was a minute number in white,
which stood out clearly against the rather dark background.

Sliding the little microscope over one of the prints, Thorndyke examined
it with slightly amused interest. For a fugitive's footprint it was a
frank absurdity, so strikingly conspicuous and characteristic was it. If
Mr. Lewson had had his name printed large upon the soles of his shoes he
could hardly have given more assistance to his pursuers. The impression
was that of a rubber sole on which, near the toe, was a framed label
containing the makers' name, J. Dell and Co. Behind this was a panel,
occupied by a prancing horse, and the Kentish motto, "Invicta," beneath
the panel, implied that this was the prancing horse of Kent. The
circular rubber heel was less distinctive, though even this was a little
unusual, for its central device was a five-pointed star, whereas most
star-pattern heels present six points. But not only were all the details
of the pattern distinctly visible; even the little accidental markings,
due to wear and damage, could be plainly made out. For instance, a
little ridge could be seen across the horse's neck, corresponding to a
cut or split in the rubber sole, and a tiny speck on the heel, which
seemed to represent a particle of gravel embedded in the rubber.

When he had made an exhaustive examination of the one photograph, he
went back to numbers 1 and 2 which represented the footprints near the
back gate of the bank, and which were not for his purpose part of the
series. After a brief inspection of them, he placed one of the
paper-weights on them, and, by means of another, exposed about eighteen
inches of the strip. Next, he drew a vertical line down the middle of
the note-block, dividing it into two parts, which he headed respectively
"Right" and "Left." Then he began his comparative study with a careful
examination of number 3, the first print photographed on the footpath.

Having finished with number 3, which was a right foot, he wrote down the
number at the top of the "Right" column, in the middle of the space.
Then he passed to number 5--the next right foot--and having examined it,
wrote down its number. Next, he took, with the dividers, the distance
between the dots marked 3 and 5 on the map, and, transferring the
dividers to the boxwood scale, took off the distance in
yards--forty-three yards--and wrote this down on the note-block opposite
and at the left side of the number 5. From 5 he passed on to 7, 9,11,
13, and so on, following the right foot along the strip until he had
dealt with a couple of yards (the total length of the strip was a little
over twenty-four feet), occasionally turning back to verify his
comparisons, writing down the numbers in the middle of the column with
the distances opposite to them on the left and jotting down in the space
at the right a few brief notes embodying his observations. Then he
returned to the beginning of the strip and dealt with the prints of the
left foot in the same manner and for the same distance along the strip.

One would not have regarded it as a thrilling occupation. Indeed there
was rather a suggestion of monotony in the endless recurrence of
examination, comparison, and measurements of things which appeared to be
merely mechanical repetitions of one another. Nor did the brief and
scanty jottings in the "notes" column suggest that this tedious
procedure was yielding any great wealth of information. Nevertheless,
Thorndyke continued to work at his task methodically, attentively, and
without any symptoms of boredom, until he had dealt with nearly half of
the strip. But at this point his manner underwent a sudden and
remarkable change. Hitherto he had carried on his work with the placid
air of one who is engaged on a mildly interesting piece of routine work.
Now he sat up stiffly, gazing at the strip of photographs before him
with a frown of perplexity, even of incredulity. With intense attention,
he re-examined the last half-dozen prints that he had dealt with; then,
taking a right foot as a starting-point, he followed the strip rapidly,
taking no measurements and making no notes, until he reached the end,
where he found a slip of paper pasted to the strip and bearing the note:
"Footprints cease here. Track turned off to left into heather. Length of
foot, 12 inches. Length of stride from heel to heel, 34 inches."

Having rapidly copied this note on to his block, Thorndyke resumed his
examination with eager interest. Returning to the starting-point, he
again examined a print of the left foot and then followed its successive
prints to the final one at the end of the strip. Again he came back to
the starting-point; but now, taking this as a centre, he began to move
backwards and forwards, at first taking a dozen prints in each
direction, then, by degrees, reducing the distance of his excursions
until he came down to a single print of the right foot--a specially
clear impression, marked with the number 93. This he again examined
through the little microscope with the most intense scrutiny. Then, with
a like concentrated attention, he examined first the preceding
right-foot print, 91, and then the succeeding one, 95. Finally, he
turned to the map to locate number 93, which he found near the middle of
a wall--apparently the enclosing wall of a large garden or
plantation--and exactly opposite a gate in that wall.

From this moment Thorndyke's interest in his original investigations
seemed to become extinct. The little microscope, the scale, even the
photographs themselves, were neglected and unnoticed, while he sat with
his eyes fixed on the map--yet seeming to look through it rather than at
it--evidently immersed in profound thought. For a long time he sat thus,
immovable as a seated statue. At length he rose from his chair, and,
mechanically filling his pipe, began slowly to pace up and down the
room, and to any observer who knew him, had there been one, the intense
gravity of his expression, the slight frown, the compressed lips, the
downcast eyes, as well as the unlighted pipe that he grasped in his
hand, would have testified that some problem of more than common
intricacy was being turned over in his mind and its factors sorted out
and collated.

He had been pacing the room for nearly half an hour when a key was
softly inserted into the latch of the outer door. The door opened and
closed quietly, and then a gentle tap on the knocker of the inner door
heralded the entry of a small gentleman of somewhat clerical aspect and
uncommon crinkliness of countenance, who greeted Thorndyke with a
deprecating smile.

"I hope, sir," said he, "that I am not disturbing you, but I thought
that I had better remind you that you have not had any supper."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "What a memory you have, Polton. And to
think that I, who am really the interested party, should have overlooked
the fact. Well, what do you propose?"

Polton glanced at the table with a sympathetic eye. "You won't want your
things disturbed, I expect, if you have got a job on hand. I had better
put your supper in the little laboratory. It won't take more than five
minutes."

"That will do admirably," said Thorndyke. "And, by the way, I think that
adjourned inquest at Aylesbury is the day after to-morrow, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir, Thursday. I fixed the letter on the appointment board."

"Well, as there is nothing pressing on Friday, I think I will stay the
night there and come back on Friday evening if nothing urgent turns up
in the interval."

"Yes, sir. Will you want anything special in the research case?"

"I shall not take the research case," replied Thorndyke; "in fact, I
don't know that I want anything excepting the one-inch ordnance map,
unless I take that stick of yours."

Polton's face brightened. "I wish you would, sir," he said persuasively.
"You have never tried it since I made it, and I am sure you will find it
a most useful instrument."

"I am sure I shall," said Thorndyke; "and perhaps I might as well take
the little telephoto camera, if you will have it charged."

"I will charge it to-night, sir, and overhaul the stick. And your supper
will be ready in five minutes."

With this Polton disappeared as silently as he had come, leaving his
principal to his meditations.

On the following Friday morning, at about half-past ten. Dr. John
Thorndyke might have been seen--if there had been any one to see him,
which there was not--seated in a first-class smoking-compartment in the
Aylesbury to London train. But he was evidently not going to London,
for, as the train slowed down on approaching Borley station, he pocketed
the folded ordnance map which he had been studying, stood up and took
his stick down from the rack.

Now this stick was the only blot on Thorndyke's appearance. Apart from
it his "turn-out" was entirely satisfactory and appropriate to his
country surroundings without being either rustic or sporting. But that
stick, with a tweed suit and a soft hat, struck a note of deepest
discord. With a frock-coat and a top-hat it might have passed, though
even then it would have called for a Falstaffian bearer. But as a
country stick it really wouldn't do at all.

In the first place it was offensively straight--as straight as a length
of metal tube. It was of an uncomely thickness, a full inch in diameter.
As to the material, it might, by an exceedingly bad judge, have been
mistaken for ebony. In fact, it was, as to its surface, strongly
reminiscent of optician's black enamel. And the handle was no better. Of
the same funereal hue and an unreasonable thickness, it had the stark
mechanical regularity of an elbow-joint on a gas pipe, and, to make it
worse, its end was finished by a sort of terminal cap. Moreover, on
looking down the shaft of the stick, a close observer would have
detected, about fifteen inches from the handle, a fine transverse crack,
suggestive of a concealed joint. A sharp-eyed rural constable would have
"spotted" it at a glance as a walking-stick gun; and he would have been
wrong.

However, despite its aesthetic shortcomings, Thorndyke seemed to set
some store by it, for he lifted it from the rack with evident care, and
with the manner of lifting something heavier than an ordinary
walking-stick; and when he stepped forth from the station, instead of
holding it by its unlovely handle with its ferrule on the ground, he
carried it "at the trail," grasping it by its middle.

On leaving the station precincts, Thorndyke set forth with the confident
air of one who is on familiar ground, though, as a matter of fact, he
had never been in the district before; but he had that power, which
comes by practice, of memorizing a map that makes unvisited regions
familiar and is apt to cause astonishment to the aboriginal inhabitants.
Swinging along at an easy but rapid pace, he presently entered a quiet,
semi-suburban road which he followed for a quarter of a mile, looking
about him keenly, and identifying the features of the map as he went. At
length he came to a kissing-gate which gave access to a footpath, and,
turning into this, he strode away along the path, looking closely at its
surface and once stopping and retracing his steps for a few yards to
examine his own footprints.

A few hundred yards farther on he crossed another road, more definitely
rural in character, and noted at the corner a pleasant-looking house of
some age, standing back behind a well-kept garden, its front entrance
sheltered by a wooden porch which was now almost hidden by a mass of
climbing roses. The side wall of the garden abutted on the footpath and
extended along it for a distance that suggested somewhat extensive
grounds. At this point he reduced his pace to a slow walk, scrutinizing
the ground--on which he could detect, even now, occasional fragmentary
traces of the familiar footprints of Harold's photographs--and noting
how, since crossing the road, he had passed completely out of the last
vestiges of the town into the open country.

He had traversed rather more than half the length of the wall when he
came to a green-painted wooden gate, before which he halted for a few
moments. There were, however, no features of interest to note beyond the
facts that its loop handle was unprovided with a latch and that it was
secured with a Yale lock. But as he stood looking at it with a deeply
reflective air, he was aware of a sound proceeding from within--a
pleasant sound, though curiously out of key with his own thoughts--the
sound of some one whistling, very skilfully and melodiously, the
old-fashioned air, "Alice, where art thou?" He smiled grimly, keenly
appreciative of the whimsical incongruity of these cheerful, innocent
strains with the circumstances that had brought him thither; then he
turned away and walked slowly to the end of the wall where it was joined
by another, which enclosed the end of the grounds. Here he halted and
looked along the path towards a wood which was visible in the distance;
then, turning, he looked back along the way by which he had come. In
neither direction was there any one in sight, and Thorndyke noted that
he had not met a single person since he had passed through the
kissing-gate. Apparently this path was quite extraordinarily
unfrequented.

Having made this observation, Thorndyke stepped off the path and walked
a few paces along the end wall--which abutted on a field--to a spot
where an apple tree in the grounds rose above the summit. Here he
stopped, and, having glanced up at the wall--which was nearly seven feet
high--grasped the uncomely stick with both hands, one on either side of
the concealed joint, and gave a sharp twist. Immediately the stick
became divided into two parts, the lower of which--that bearing the
ferrule--Thorndyke stood against the wall. It could now be seen that the
upper part terminated in a blackened brass half-cylinder, the flat face
of which was occupied by a little circular glass window, and when
Thorndyke had unscrewed the cap from the end of the handle, the latter
was seen to be a metal tube, within which was another little glass
window--the eye-piece. In effect, Polton's hideous walking-stick was a
disguised periscope.

Taking up a position close to the wall, Thorndyke slowly raised the
periscope until its end stood an inch or so above the top of the wall,
with the little window looking into the enclosure. The eye-piece being
now at a convenient level, he applied his eye to it, and immediately had
the sensation of looking through a circular hole in the wall. Through
this aperture (which was, of course, the aperture of the object-glass
above him, reflected by a pair of prisms) he looked into a large garden,
enclosed on all sides by the high wall and having apparently only two
doors or gates, the one at the side, which he had already seen, and
another which appeared to open into another garden nearer the house, and
which, like the side gate, seemed to be fitted with a night-latch of the
Yale type. On one side, partly concealed by a half-grown yew hedge, was
a long, low building which, by the windows in its roof, appeared to be
some kind of workshop; and by rotating the periscope it was possible to
catch a glimpse of part of what seemed to be a summer-house in the
corner opposite the workshop. Otherwise, excepting a narrow flower
border and a few fruit trees ranged along the wall, the whole of the
enclosure was occupied by a large lawn, the wide expanse of which was
broken only by a sun-dial beside which, at the moment, a man was
standing and on man and sun-dial, Thorndyke, after his swift preliminary
survey, concentrated his attention.

The stone pillar of the dial was obviously ancient. Equally obviously
the stone base on which it stood was brand new. Moreover, the part of
the lawn immediately surrounding the base was yellow and faded as if it
had been recently raised and relaid. The manifest inference was that the
dial had but lately been placed in its present position; and this
inference was supported by the occupation in which the man was engaged.
On the stone base stood a Windsor chair, the seat of which bore one or
two tools and a pair of spectacles. Thorndyke noted the spectacles with
interest, observing that they had "curl sides" and were therefore
habitually worn; and since they had been discarded while their owner
consulted a book that he held, it seemed to follow that he must be
near-sighted.

As Thorndyke watched, the man closed the book and laid it on the chair,
when by its shape and size, its scarlet back and apple-green sides, it
was easily recognizable as Whitaker's Almanack. Having laid down the
book, the man drew out his watch, and, holding it in his hand,
approached the pillar and grasped the gnomon of the dial; and now
Thorndyke could see that the dial-plate had been unfixed from its bed,
for it moved visibly as the gnomon was grasped. The nature of the
operation was now quite dear. The man was re-setting the dial. He had
taken out the Equation of Time from Whitaker and was now adjusting the
dial-plate by means of his watch to show the correct Apparent Solar
Time.

At this point--leaving the man standing beside the pillar, watch in
hand--Thorndyke picked up the detached portion of the stick, and
stepping along the wall, glanced up and down the path. So far as he
could see--nearly a quarter of a mile in each direction--he had the path
to himself; and, noting with some surprise and no little interest the
remarkable paucity of wayfarers, he returned to his post and resumed his
observations.

The man had now put away his watch and taken up a hammer and bradawl.
Thorndyke noted the workmanlike character of the former--a rather heavy
ball-peen hammer such as engineers use--and when the bradawl was
inserted into one of the screw-holes of the dial-plate and driven home
into the lead bed with a single tap, he observed the deftness with which
the gentle, calculated blow was delivered with the rather ponderous
tool. So, too, with the driving of the screw; it was done with the
unmistakable ease and readiness of the skilled workman.

Having rapidly made these observations, Thorndyke drew from his hip
pocket the little camera and opened it, setting the focus by the scale
to the assumed distance--about sixty feet--fixing the wire release and
setting the shutter to half a second--the shortest exposure that was
advisable with a telephoto lens. Another peep through the periscope
showed the man in the act of again inserting the bradawl, and,
incidentally, presenting a well-lighted right profile; whereupon
Thorndyke raised the camera and placed it on the top of the wall with
the wire release hanging down and the lens pointed, as well as he could
judge, at the sun-dial. Then, as the man poised the hammer preparatory
to striking, he pressed the button of the release and immediately took
down the camera and changed the film.

Once more he went to the corner of the wall and looked up and down the
path. This time a man was visible--apparently a labourer--coming from
the direction of the town. But he was a long distance away and was
advancing at a pace so leisurely that Thorndyke decided to complete his
business, if possible, before he should arrive. A glance through the
periscope showed the man in the garden driving another screw. When he
had driven it home, he stepped round the pillar to deal with the screws
on the other side. As he inserted the bradawl and balanced the hammer,
presenting now his left profile, Thorndyke lifted the camera to the top
of the wall, made the exposure, took down the camera, and having changed
the film, closed it and put it in his pocket. Then he joined up the two
parts of the stick, fixed the cap on the eye-piece and came out on to
the path, turning towards the town to meet the labourer. But the latter
had now disappeared, having apparently turned into the road on which the
house fronted. Having the path once more to himself, Thorndyke walked
along it to the gate, where he paused and rapped on it smartly with his
knuckles.

After a short interval, during which he repeated the summons, the gate
was opened a few inches and the man whom he had seen within looked out
with an air of slightly irritable enquiry.

"I must apologize for disturbing you," Thorndyke said with disarming
suavity, "but I heard some one within, and there was no one about from
whom I could make my enquiry."

"You are not disturbing me in the least," the other replied, not less
suavely. "I shall be most happy to give you any information that I can.
What was the enquiry that you wished to make?"

As he asked the question, the stranger stepped out on the path, drawing
the gate to after him, and looked inquisitively at Thorndyke.

"I wanted to know," the latter replied, "whether this footpath leads to
a wood--Potter's Wood, I think it is called. You see, I am a stranger to
this neighbourhood."

On this the man seemed to look at him with heightened interest as he
replied:

"Yes, it leads through the wood about half a mile farther on."

"And where does it lead to eventually?"

"It crosses a patch of heath and joins a by-road that runs from the town
to the main London road. Was that where you wanted to go?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "It is the path itself that I am concerned
with. The fact is, I am making a sort of informal inspection in
connection with the case of a man who disappeared a short time ago--the
manager of a local branch of Perkins's Bank. I understand that he was
last seen walking along this path."

"Ah," said the other, "I remember the affair. And is he still missing?"

"Yes. He has never been seen or heard of since he started along this
path. What is the wood like? Is it a place in which a man might lose
himself?"

The other shook his head. "No, it is only a small wood. A sound and
sober man could not get lost in it. Of course, if a man were taken ill
and strayed into the wood, he might die and lie hidden for months. Has
the wood been searched?"

"I really can't say. It ought to have been."

"I thought," said the stranger, "that you might, perhaps, be connected
with the police."

"No," replied Thorndyke. "I am a lawyer and I look after some of the
affairs of the bank. One of the directors mentioned this disappearance
to me a few days ago, and as I happened to be in the neighbourhood
to-day, I thought I would come and take a look round. Perhaps you could
show me where we are on my map. It is a little confusing to a stranger."

He drew out the folded map and handed it to his new acquaintance, who
took it and pored over it as if he found it difficult to decipher. As he
did so, Thorndyke took the opportunity to look him over with the most
searching scrutiny; his face, his hair, his spectacles, his hands and
his feet; and when he had inspected the left side of the face which was
the one presented to him--he crossed as if to took over the man's right
shoulder and examined the face from that side.

"This dotted line seems to be the footpath," said the stranger, tracing
it with the point of a pencil. "This black dot must be my house, and
here is the wood with the dotted line running through it. I think that
is quite clear."

"Perfectly clear, thank you," said Thorndyke, as the other handed him
back the map. "I am very greatly obliged to you and I must again
apologize for having disturbed you."

"Not at all," the stranger returned genially; "and I hope your
inspection may be successful."

Thorndyke thanked him again, and with mutual bows they separated, the
one retiring into his domain, the other setting forth in the direction
of the wood.

For some minutes Thorndyke continued to walk at a rapid pace along the
path. Only when a sharp turn carried him out of sight of the walled
garden did he halt to jot down in his note-book a brief summary of his
observations while they were fresh in his mind. Not that the notes were
really necessary, for, even as he had made those observations, the
significance of the facts that they supplied became apparent. Now, as he
walked, he turned them over again and again.

What had he observed? Nothing very sensational, to be sure. He had seen
a man who had recently set up in his garden a pillar dial on a broad
stone base. The dial was old, but the base was new and seemed to have
been specially constructed for its present purpose. The garden in which
it had been set up was completely enclosed, was extremely secluded, was
remote from its own or any other house, and was very thoroughly secured
against any possible intrusion by two locked gates. The man himself was
a skilled workman, or at least a very handy man; ingenious and
resourceful, too, for he could time a sun-dial, a thing that not every
handy man could do. Then he appeared to have some kind of workshop of a
size suggesting good accommodation and facilities for work, and this
workshop was in a secluded situation, very secure from observation. But
in these facts there would seem to be nothing remarkable; only they were
in singular harmony with certain other facts--very remarkable facts
indeed--that Thorndyke had gleaned from an examination of Harold's
absurd photographs.

And there was the man himself, and especially his spectacles. When
Thorndyke had seen those spectacles lying on the chair while their owner
drove in the screws, looked at his watch, and scrutinized the shadow on
the dial, he had naturally assumed that the man was near-sighted; that
he had taken off his "distance" glasses to get the advantage of his near
sight for the near work. But when the man appeared at the gate, it was
immediately evident that he was not near-sighted. The spectacles were
convex bi-focal glasses, with an upper half of nearly plain glass and a
lower segment distinctly convex, suited for long sight or "old sight." A
near-sighted man could not have seen through them. But neither did their
owner seem to need them, since he had taken them off just when they
should have been most useful--for near work. Moreover, when Thorndyke
had presented the map, the man had looked at it, not through the lower
"reading" segment, but through the weak, upper, "distance" segment. In
short, the man did not need those spectacles at all. So far from being a
convenience, they were a positive inconvenience. Then, why did he wear
them? Why had he put them on to come to the gate? There could be only
one answer. People who wear useless and inconvenient spectacles do so in
order to alter their appearance; as a species of disguise, in fact. Then
it seemed as if this man had some reason for wishing to conceal his
identity. But what could that reason be?

As to his appearance, he was a decidedly good-looking man, with an
alert, intelligent face that was in harmony with his speech and bearing.
His mouth and chin were concealed by a moustache and a short beard, but
his nose was rather handsome and very striking, for it was of that rare
type which is seen in the classical Greek sculptures. His ears were both
well-shaped, but one of them--the right--was somewhat disfigured by a
small "port-wine mark," which stained the lobule a deep purple. But it
was quite small and really inconspicuous.

This was the sum of Thorndyke's observations, to which may be added that
the man appeared to be prematurely grey and that his face, despite its
cheerful geniality, had that indefinable character that may be detected
in the faces of men who have passed through long periods of stress and
mental suffering. Only one datum remained unascertained, and Thorndyke
added it to his collection when, having traversed the wood and the
heath, he returned to the town by way of the by-road. Encountering a
postman on his round, he stopped him and enquired:

"I wonder if you can tell me who is living at 'The Chestnuts' now? You
know the house I mean. It stands at the corner--"

"Oh, I know 'The Chestnuts,' sir. Colonel Barnett used to live there.
But he went away nigh upon two years ago, and, after it had been empty
for a month or two, it was bought by the gentleman who lives there now,
Mr. Pottermack."

"That is a queer name," said Thorndyke. "How does he spell it?"

"P.o.t.t.e.r.m.a.c.k," the postman replied. "Marcus Pottermack, Esq. It
is a queer name, sir. I've never met with it before. But he is a very
pleasant gentleman, all the same."

Thorndyke thanked the postman for his information, on which he pondered
as he made his way to the station. It was a very queer name. In fact,
there was about it something rather artificial; something that was not
entirely out of character with the unwanted spectacles.



CHAPTER VII--THE CRIMINAL RECORDS


On each of the two men who parted at the gate the brief interview
produced its appropriate effects; in each it generated a certain train
of thought which, later, manifested itself in certain actions. In Mr.
Pottermack, as he softly reopened the gate to listen to the retreating
footsteps, once even venturing to peep out at the tall figure that was
striding away up the path, the encounter was productive of a dim
uneasiness, a slight disturbance of the sense of security that had been
growing on him since the night of the tragedy. For the first few days
thereafter he had been on wires. All seemed to be going well, but he was
constantly haunted by that ever-recurring question, "Was there anything
vital that he had overlooked?"

The mysterious photographer, too, had been a disturbing element,
occasioning anxious speculations on the motive or purpose of his
inexplicable proceedings and on the possibility of something being
brought to light by the photographs that was beyond the scope of human
vision. But as the days had passed with no whisper of suspicion, as the
local excitement died down and the incident faded into oblivion, his
fears subsided, and by degrees he settled down into a feeling of
comfortable security.

And after all, why not? In the first few days his own secret knowledge
had prevented him from seeing the affair in its true perspective. But
now, looking at it calmly with the eyes of those who had not that
knowledge, what did Lewson's disappearance amount to? It was a matter of
no importance at all. A disreputable rascal had absconded with a hundred
pounds that did not belong to him. He had disappeared and no one knew
whither he had gone. Nor did any one particularly care. Doubtless the
police would keep a look-out for him; but he was only a minor
delinquent, and they would assuredly make no extraordinary efforts to
trace him.

So Mr. Pottermack argued, and quite justly; and thus arguing came by
degrees to the comfortable conclusion that the incident was closed and
that he might now take up again the thread of his peaceful life, secure
alike from the menace of the law and the abiding fear of impoverishment
and treachery.

It was this new and pleasant feeling of security that had been disturbed
by his encounter with the strange lawyer. Not that he was seriously
alarmed. The man seemed harmless enough. He was not, apparently, making
any real investigations but just a casual inspection of the
neighbourhood, prompted, as it appeared, by a not very lively curiosity.
And as a tracker he seemed to be of no account, since he could not even
find his position on a one-inch map.

But for all that, the incident was slightly disquieting. Pottermack had
assumed that the Lewson affair was closed. But now it seemed that it was
not closed. And it was a curious coincidence that this man should have
knocked at his gate, should have selected him for these enquiries. No
doubt it was but chance; but still, there was the coincidence. Again,
there was the man himself. He had seemed foolish about the map. But he
did not look at all like a foolish man. On the contrary, his whole
aspect and bearing had a suggestion of power, of acute intellect and
quiet strength of character. As Pottermack recalled his appearance and
manner he found himself asking again and again: Was there anything
behind this seemingly chance encounter? Had this lawyer seen those
photographs, and if so, had he found in them anything more than met the
eye? Could he have had any special reason for knocking at this
particular gate? And what on earth could he be doing with that
walking-stick gun?

Reflections such as these pervaded Mr. Pottermack's consciousness as he
went about his various occupations. They did not seriously disturb his
peace of mind, but still they did create a certain degree of unrest, and
this presently revived in his mind certain plans which he had considered
and rejected; plans for further establishing his security by shifting
the field of possible inquiry yet farther from his own neighbourhood.

On Thorndyke the effects of the meeting were quite different. He had
come doubting if a certain surmise that he had formed could possibly be
correct. He had gone away with his doubts dispelled and his surmise
converted into definite belief. The only unsolved question that remained
in his mind was, "Who was Marcus Pottermack?" The answer that suggested
itself was improbable in the extreme. But it was the only one that he
could produce, and if it were wrong he was at the end of his unassisted
resources.

The first necessity, therefore, was to eliminate the improbable--or else
to confirm it. Then he would know where he stood and could consider what
action he would take. Accordingly he began by working up the scanty
material that he had collected. The photographs, when developed and
enlarged by Polton, yielded two very fair portraits of Mr. Pottermack
showing clearly the right and left profiles respectively; and while
Polton was dealing with these, his principal made a systematic, but not
very hopeful, inspection of the map in search of possible finger-prints.
He had made a mental note of the way in which Pottermack had held the
map, and even of the spots which his finger-tips had touched, and on
these he now began cautiously to operate with two fine powders, a black
and a white, applying each to its appropriate background.

The results were poor enough, but yet they were better than he had
expected. Pottermack had held the map in his left hand, the better to
manipulate the pencil with which he pointed, and his thumb had been
planted on a green patch which represented a wood. Here the white powder
settled and showed a print which, poor as it was, would present no
difficulties to the experts and which would be more distinct in a
photograph, as the background would then appear darker. The prints of
the finger-tips which the black powder brought out on the white
background were more imperfect and were further confused by the black
lettering. Still, Thorndyke had them all carefully photographed and
enlarged to twice the natural size, and, having blocked out on the
negative the surrounding lettering (to avoid giving any information that
might be better withheld), had prints made and mounted on card.

With these in his letter-case and the two portraits in his pocket, he
set forth one morning for New Scotland Yard, proposing to seek the
assistance of his old friend, Mr. Superintendent Miller, or, if he
should not be available, that of the officer in charge of criminal
records. However, it happened fortunately that the Superintendent was in
his office, and thither Thorndyke, having sent in his card, was
presently conducted.

"Well, doctor," said Miller, shaking hands heartily, "here you are,
gravelled as usual. Now what sort of mess do you want us to help you out
of?"

Thorndyke produced his letter-case, and, extracting the photographs,
handed them to the Superintendent.

"Here," he said, "are three finger-prints; apparently the thumb and
first two fingers of the left hand."

"Ha," said Miller, inspecting the three photographs critically. "Why
'apparently'?"

"I mean," explained Thorndyke, "that that was what I inferred from their
position on the original document."

"Which seems to have been a map," remarked Miller, with a faint grin.
"Well, I expect you know. Shall I take it that they are the thumb and
index and middle finger of the left hand?"

"I think you may," said Thorndyke.


"I think I may," agreed Miller; "and now the question is: What about it?
I suppose you want us to tell you whose finger-prints they are; and you
want to gammon us that you don't know already. And I suppose--as I see
you have been faking the negative--that you don't want to give us any
information?"

"In effect," replied Thorndyke, "you have, with your usual acuteness,
diagnosed the position exactly. I don't much want to give any details,
but I will tell you this much. If my suspicions are correct, these are
the finger-prints of a man who has been dead some years."

"Dead!" exclaimed Miller. "Good Lord, doctor, what a vindictive man you
are! But you don't suppose that we follow the criminal class into the
next world, do you?"

"I have been assuming that you don't destroy records. If you do, you are
unlike any government officials that I have ever met. But I hope I was
right."

"In the main, you were. We don't keep the whole set of documents of a
dead man, but we have a set of skeleton files on which the personal
documents--the finger-prints, photographs and description--are
preserved. So I expect we shall be able to tell you what you want to
know."

"I am sorry," said Thorndyke, "that they are such wretchedly poor
prints. You don't think that they are too imperfect to identify, I
hope."

Miller inspected the photographs afresh. "I don't see much amiss with
them," said he. "You can't expect a crook to go about with a roller and
inking-plate in his pocket so as to give you nice sharp prints. These
are better than a good many that our people have to work from. And
besides, there are three digits from one hand. That gives you part of
the formula straight away. No, the experts won't make any trouble about
these. But supposing these prints are not on the file?"

"Then we shall take it that I suspected the wrong man."

"Quite so. But, if I am not mistaken, your concern is to prove whose
finger-prints they are in order that you can say whose finger-prints
they are not. Now, supposing that we don't find them on the files of the
dead men, would it help you if we tried the current files--the records
of the crooks who are still in business? Or would you rather not?"

"If it would not be giving you too much trouble," said Thorndyke, "I
should be very much obliged if you would."

"No trouble at all," said Miller, adding with a sly smile: "only it
occurred to me that it might be embarrassing to you if we found your
respected client's finger-prints on the live register."

"That would be a highly interesting development," said Thorndyke, "though
I don't think it a likely one. But it is just as well to exhaust the
possibilities."

"Quite," agreed Miller; and thereupon he wrote the brief particulars on
a slip of paper which he put into an envelope with the photographs, and,
having rung a bell, handed the envelope to the messenger who appeared in
response to the summons.

"I don't suppose we shall have to keep you waiting very long," said the
Superintendent. "They have an extraordinarily ingenious system of
filing. Out of all the thousands of finger-prints that they have, they
can pounce on the one that is wanted in the course of a few minutes. It
seems incredible, and yet it is essentially simple--just a matter of
classification and ringing the changes on different combinations of
types."

"You are speaking of completely legible prints?" suggested Thorndyke.

"Yes, the sort of prints that we get sent in from local prisons for
identification of a man who has been arrested under a false name. Of
course, when we get a single imperfect print found by the police at a
place where a crime has been committed, a bit more time has to be spent.
Then we have not only got to place the print, but we've got to make
mighty sure that it is the right one, because an arrest and a
prosecution hangs on it. You don't want to arrest a man and then, when
you come to take his finger-prints properly, find that they are the
wrong ones. So, in the case of an imperfect print, you have got to do
some careful ridge-tracing and counting and systematic checking of
individual ridge-characters, such as bifurcations and islands. But, even
so, they don't take so very long over it. The practised eye picks out at
a glance details that an unpractised eye can hardly recognize even when
they are pointed out."

The Superintendent was proceeding to dilate, with professional
enthusiasm, on the wonders of finger-print technique and the efficiency
of the Department when his eulogies were confirmed by the entrance of an
officer carrying a sheaf of papers and Thorndyke's photographs, which he
delivered into Miller's hands.

"Well, doctor," said the Superintendent, after a brief glance at the
documents, "here is your information. Jeffrey Brandon is the name of the
late lamented. Will that do for you?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke, "that is the name I expected to hear."

"Good," said Miller. "I see they have kept the whole of his papers for
some reason. I will just glance through them while you are doing Thomas
Didymus with the finger-prints. But it is quite obvious, if you compare
your photographs with the rolled impressions, that the ridge-patterns
are identical."

He handed Thorndyke the finger-print sheet, to which were attached the
photograph and personal description, and sat down at the table to look
over the other documents, while Thorndyke walked over to the window to
get a better light. But he did not concern himself with the
finger-prints beyond a very brief inspection. It was the photograph that
interested him. It showed, on the same print, a right profile and a full
face; of which he concentrated his attention on the former. A rather
remarkable profile it was, strikingly handsome and curiously classical
in outline, rather recalling the head of Antinous in the British Museum.
Thorndyke examined it minutely, and then--his back being turned to
Miller--he drew from his waistcoat pocket the right profile of Mr.
Pottermack and placed it beside the prison photograph.

A single glance made it clear that the two photographs represented the
same face. Though one showed a clean-shaven young man with the full lips
and strong, rounded chin completely revealed, while the other was a
portrait of a bearded, spectacled, middle-aged man, yet they were
unmistakably the same. The remarkable nose and brow and the shapely ear
were identical in the two photographs; and in both, the lobe of the ear
was marked at its tip by a dark spot.

From the photograph he turned to the description. Not that it was
necessary to seek further proof; and he did, in fact, merely glance
through the particulars. But that rapid glance gathered fresh
confirmation. "Height 5 feet 6 inches, hair chestnut, eyes darkish grey,
small port-wine mark on lobe of right ear," etc. All the details of
Jeffrey Brandon's personal characteristics applied perfectly to Mr.
Marcus Pottermack.

"I don't quite see," said Miller, as he took the papers from Thorndyke
and laid them on the others, "why they kept all these documents. The
conviction doesn't look to me very satisfactory--I don't like these
cases where the prosecution has all its eggs in one basket, with the
possible chance that they may be bad eggs; and it was a devil of a
sentence for a first offence. But as the poor beggar is dead, and no
reconsideration of either the conviction or the sentence is possible,
there doesn't seem much object in preserving the records. Still, there
may have been some reason at the time."

In his own mind, Thorndyke was of opinion that there might have been a
very good reason. But he did not communicate this opinion. He had
obtained the information that he had sought and was not at all desirous
of troubling still waters; and his experience having taught him that Mr.
Superintendent Miller was an exceedingly "noticing" gentleman, he
thought it best to avoid further discussion and take his departure,
after having expressed his appreciation of the assistance that he had
received.

Nevertheless, for some time after he had gone, the Superintendent
remained wrapped in profound thought; and that his cogitations were in
some way concerned with the departed visitor would have been suggested
by the circumstance that he sauntered to the window and looked down with
a speculative eye on that visitor as he strode across the courtyard
towards the Whitehall gate.

Meanwhile Thorndyke's mind was no less busy. As he wended his way
Templewards he reviewed the situation in all its bearings. The wildly
improbable had turned out to be true. He had made a prodigiously long
shot and he had hit the mark: which was gratifying inasmuch as it
justified a previous rather hypothetical train of reasoning. Marcus
Pottermack, Esq., was undoubtedly the late Jeffrey Brandon. There was
now no question about that. The only question that remained was what was
to be done in the matter; and that question would have been easier to
decide if he had been in possession of more facts. He had heard Mr.
Stalker's opinion of the conviction, based on intimate knowledge of the
circumstances, and he had heard that of the Superintendent, based on an
immense experience of prosecutions. He was inclined to agree with them
both; and the more so inasmuch as he had certain knowledge which they
had not.

In the end, he decided to take no action at present, but to keep a
watchful eye for further developments.



CHAPTER VIII--MR. POTTERMACK SEEKS ADVENTURE


In the last chapter it was stated that one of the effects of Thorndyke's
appearance at the side gate of "The Chestnuts," Borley, was to revive in
the mind of its tenant certain projects which had been considered and
rejected. But perhaps the word "rejected" overstates the case. For the
continued existence in a locked drawer in Mr. Pottermack's workshop of a
coat which had once been James Lewson's and a bundle of twenty
five-pound notes implied a purpose which had been abandoned only
conditionally and subject to possible reconsideration.

Again and again, as the destructor which stood in the corner beyond the
tool-shed smoked and flared as he fed it with combustible rubbish, had
he been on the point of flinging into it the coat and the banknotes and
thereby reducing to unrecognizable ash the last visible traces of the
tragedy. And every time his hand had been stayed by the thought that
possibly, in some circumstances as yet unforeseen, these mementoes of
that night of horror might yet be made to play a useful part. So, not
without many a twinge of uneasiness, he had let these incriminating
objects lie hidden in the locked drawer. And now, as it seemed to him,
the circumstances had arisen in which some of them, at least, might be
turned to account.

What were those circumstances? Simply the state of mind of the strange
lawyer. To the people of Borley, including the police, Lewson was a man
who had absconded and vanished. His tracks had shown him striking out
across country towards the London road. Those tracks, it is true, broke
off short on the heath and had not reappeared elsewhere, but no one
doubted that he had gone clear away from the vicinity of Borley and was
now in hiding at a safe distance from his old haunts. The natives of the
district had never given Mr. Pottermack a moment's anxiety. But with
this lawyer the case was different. The disturbing thing about him was
that his curiosity, tepid as it was, concerned itself, not with the man
who had vanished but with the locality from which he disappeared. But
curiosity of that kind, Mr. Pottermack felt, was a thing that was not to
be encouraged. On the contrary, it had better be diverted into a more
wholesome channel. In short, the time had come when it would be
desirable that James Lewson should make his appearance, if only by
proxy, in some district as far removed as possible from the
neighbourhood of "The Chestnuts," Borley.

So it came about that Mr. Pottermack prepared to set forth along that
perilous track beaten smooth by the feet of those who do not know when
to let well alone.

For some days after having come to his decision in general terms he was
at a loss for a detailed plan. Somehow, the stolen notes had got to be
put into circulation. But not by him. The numbers of those notes were
known, and, as soon as they began to circulate, some, at least, of them
would be identified and would be rigorously traced. The problem was how
to get rid of them in a plausible manner without appearing in the
transaction; and for some time he could think of no better plan than
that of simply dropping them in a quiet London street, a plan which he
summarily rejected as not meeting the necessities of the case. The
fruitful suggestion eventually came from a newsboy who was roaring
"Egbert Bruce's Finals!" outside the station. In an instant, Mr.
Pottermack realized that here was the perfect plan, and having purchased
a paper, took it home to extract the details on which he proposed to
base his strategic scheme.

The "finals" related to a somewhat unselect race-meeting which was to
take place in a couple of days' time at Illingham in Surrey, a place
conveniently accessible from Borley and yet remote enough to render it
unlikely that he would be seen there by any of his fellow-townsmen. Not
that his presence there would be in any way suspicious or incriminating,
but, still, the less people knew about his movements the better.

On the appointed day he set forth betimes, neatly but suitably dressed
and all agog for the adventure, tame though it promised to be if it
worked according to plan. To Mrs. Gadby he had explained--quite
truthfully--that he was going to London; and if she had wanted
confirmation of the statement, it could have been supplied by sundry
natives of the town with whom he exchanged greetings on the platform as
he waited for the London train.

But despite his geniality, he made a point of selecting an empty
first-class compartment and shutting himself in. He had no hankering for
human companionship. For, beneath the exhilaration engendered by this
little adventure was an appreciable tinge of nervousness. No foreseeable
contingency threatened his safety; but it is an undeniable fact that a
man who carries, buttoned up in his inside breast pocket, twenty stolen
banknotes, of which the numbers are known to the police, and of his
possession of which he could give no credible account, is not without
some reason for nervousness. And that was Mr. Pottermack's position.
Just before starting, he had disinterred the whole bundle of those fatal
notes and stuffed them into a compartment of the letter-case which he
usually carried in his breast pocket. He had also hunted up another
letter-case, aged, outworn and shabby, into which he had put a
half-dozen ten-shilling notes for the day's expenses and stowed it in
the outside hip pocket of his jacket.

As soon as the train had fairly started, he proceeded to make certain
rearrangements related to his plan of campaign. Taking out the two
letter-wallets--which we may distinguish as the inner and the outer--he
laid them on the seat beside him. From the inner wallet he took out five
of the stolen notes and placed them loosely in a compartment of the
other wallet with their ends projecting so that they were plainly
visible when it was open; and from the outer wallet he transferred four
of the ten-shilling notes to the inner (he had paid for his ticket in
silver). Then he returned the two wallets to their respective pockets
and buttoned up his coat.

From Marylebone Station he walked to Baker Street, where he took a train
for Waterloo and arrived to find the great station filled with a
seething crowd of racegoers. Not, on the whole, a prepossessing crowd,
though all sorts and conditions of men were represented. But Mr.
Pottermack was not hypercritical. At the over-smart, horsey persons, the
raffish sporting men with race-glasses slung over their shoulders, the
men of mystery with handbags or leather satchels, he glanced with
benevolent interest. They had their uses in the economy of nature--in
fact, he hoped to make use of some of them himself. So tolerant, indeed,
was he that he even greeted with a kindly smile the notices pasted up
urging passengers to beware of pickpockets. For in that respect his
condition was unique. In spite of the wallet in his outside pocket, he
enjoyed complete immunity; and as he joined the queue at the
booking-office window, he reflected with grim amusement that, of all
that throng, he was probably the only person who had come expressly to
have his pocket picked.

As he approached the window he drew the wallet from his outside pocket,
and, opening it, inspected its interior with an air of indecision, took
out one of the banknotes, put it back, and, finally dipping into the
other compartment, fished out a ten-shilling note. Holding this in one
hand and the open wallet in the other, he at last came opposite the
window, where he purchased his ticket and moved on to make way for a
large, red-faced man who seemed to be in a hurry. As he walked on slowly
towards the barrier, pocketing the wallet as he went, the crowd surged
impatiently past him; but watching that crowd as it swept on ahead, he
could see no sign of the red-faced man. That gentleman's hurry seemed
suddenly to have evaporated, and it was only when Pottermack was
entering his carriage and turned to look back that he observed his
roseate friend immediately behind him. Instantly he entered the nearly
full compartment, and as he took his seat he was careful to leave a
vacant place on his right hand; and when the red-faced man, closely
following him, plumped down into the vacant space and at once began to
exercise his elbows, he smiled inwardly with the satisfaction of the
fortunate angler who "sees his quill or cork down sink." In short, he
felt a comfortable certainty that he had "got a bite."

It was now a matter of deep regret to him that he had neglected to
provide himself at the bookstall with something to read. A newspaper
would have been so helpful to his friend on the right. However, the
deficiency was made up to a practicable extent by a couple of men who
faced each other from the two corners to his left, and who, having
spread a small rug across their joint knees, were good enough to give a
demonstration for the benefit of the company at large of the immemorial
three-card trick. Towards them Pottermack craned with an expression of
eager interest that aroused in them an unjustified optimism. With
intense concentration the operator continued over and over again to
perform dummy turns, and the professional "mug," who sat opposite to
Pottermack, continued with blatant perversity to spot the obviously
wrong card every time, and pay up his losses with groans of surprise,
while the fourth confederate, on Pottermack's left, nudged him from time
to time and solicited in a whisper his opinion as to which was really
the right card. It is needless to say that his opinion turned out
invariably to be correct, but still he resisted the whispered entreaties
of his neighbour to try his luck "seeing that he was such a dab at
spotting 'em." Under other circumstances he would have invested the
ten-shilling note for the sake of publicity. As things were, he did not
dare to touch the wallet, or even put his hand to the pocket wherein it
reposed. Premature discovery would have been fatal.

As the train sped on and consumed the miles of the short journey, the
operator's invitations to Pottermack to try his luck became more urgent
and less polite; until at length, as the destination drew near, they
degenerated into mere objurgation and epithets of contempt. At length
the train slowed down at the platform. Every one stood up and all
together tried to squeeze through the narrow doorway, Pottermack himself
emerging with unexpected velocity, propelled by a vigorous shove. At the
same moment his hat was lightly flicked off his head and fell among the
feet of the crowd. He would have stooped to recover it, but the
necessity was forestalled by an expert kick which sent it soaring aloft;
and hardly had it descended when it rose again and yet again until,
having taken its erratic flight over the fence, it came at last to rest
in the station-master's garden. By the time it had been retrieved with
the aid of the sympathetic station-master, the last of the passengers
had filed through the barrier and Pottermack brought up the extreme rear
like a belated straggler.

As soon as he had had time to recover from these agitating experiences
his thoughts flew to the wallet and he thrust his hand into his outside
pocket. To his unspeakable surprise, the wallet was still there. As he
made the discovery he was aware of a pang of disappointment, even of a
sense of injury. He had put his trust in the red-faced man, and behold!
that rubicund impostor had betrayed him. It looked as if this plan of
his was not so easy as it had appeared.

But when he came to the turnstile of the enclosure and drew out the
wallet to extract the ten-shilling note--and incidentally to display its
other contents--he realized that he had done the red-faced man an
injustice. The ten-shilling note, indeed, was there, tucked away at the
bottom of its compartment, but otherwise the wallet was empty.
Pottermack could hardly believe his eyes. For a few moments he stood
staring at it in astonishment until an impatient poke in the back and an
imperative command to "pass along, please," recalled him to the present
proceedings, when he swept up and pocketed his change and strolled away
into the enclosure, meditating respectfully on the skill and tact of his
red-faced acquaintance and wishing that he had made the discovery
sooner. For, now, the wallet would need to be recharged for the benefit
of the next artist. This he could have done easily in the empty station,
but in the crowd which surrounded him the matter presented difficulties.
He could not do it unobserved, and it would appear a somewhat odd
proceeding--especially to the eye of a plain-clothes policeman. There
must be a good number of those useful officials in the crowd, and it was
of vital importance that he should not attract the attention of any of
them.

He looked round in some bewilderment, seeking a secluded spot in which
he could refill the outer wallet unnoticed. A vain quest! Every part of
the enclosure, excepting the actual course, was filled with a seething
multitude, varying in density but all-pervading. Here and there a
closely packed mass indicated some juggler, mountebank, thimble artist,
or card expert, and some distance away a Punch and Judy show rose above
the heads of the crowd, the sound of its drum and Pan's pipes and the
unmistakable voice of the hero penetrating the general hubbub. Towards
this exhibition Pottermack was directing his course when shouts of
laughter proceeding from the interior of a small but dense crowd
suggested that something amusing was happening there; whereupon
Pottermack, renouncing the delights of Punch and Judy, began cautiously
to elbow his way towards the centre of attraction.

At this moment a bell rang in the distance, and instantly the whole
crowd was in motion, surging towards the course. And then began a most
singular hurly-burly in Pottermack's immediate neighbourhood. An unseen
foot trod heavily on his toes, and at the same moment he received a
violent shove that sent him staggering to the right against a
seedy-looking person who thumped him in the ribs and sent him reeling
back to the left. Before he could recover his balance some one butted
him in the back with such violence that he flew forward and impinged
heavily on a small man in a straw hat--very much in it, in fact, for it
had been banged down right over his eyes--who was beginning to protest
angrily when some unseen force from behind propelled him towards
Pottermack and another violent collision occurred. Thereafter Pottermack
had but a confused consciousness of being pushed, pulled, thumped,
pinched, and generally hustled until his head swam. And then, quite
suddenly, the crowd streamed away towards the course and Pottermack was
left alone with the straw-hatted man, who stood a few yards away,
struggling to extract himself from his hat and at the same time
feverishly searching his pockets. By the well-known process of
suggestion, this latter action communicated itself to Mr. Pottermack,
who proceeded to make a hasty survey of his own pockets, which resulted
in the discovery that, though the inside wallet, securely buttoned in,
was still intact, the outside, empty one had this time disappeared, and
most of his small change with it.

Strange are the inconsistencies of the human mind. But a little while
ago he had been willing to make a free gift of that wallet to his
red-faced fellow-traveller. Now that it was gone he was quite
appreciably annoyed. He had planned to recharge it with a fresh
consignment to be planted in a desirable quarter, and its loss left him
with the necessity of making some other plausible arrangements, and at
the moment he could not think of any. To put the notes loose in his
pocket seemed to be but inviting failure, for, to the sense of touch
from without, the pocket would appear to be empty.

As he was thus cogitating, he caught the eye of the straw-hatted
gentleman fixed upon him with unmistakable and undissembled suspicion.
This was unpleasant, but one must make allowances. The man was, no
doubt, rather upset. With a genial smile, Mr. Pottermack approached the
stranger and expressed the rather optimistic hope that he had not
suffered any loss; but the only reply that his enquiry elicited was an
inarticulate grunt.

"They have been through my pockets," said Mr. Pottermack cheerfully,
"but I am glad to say that they took nothing of any value."

"Ha," said the straw-hatted gentleman.

"Yes," pursued Pottermack, "they must have found me rather
disappointing."

"Oh," said the other in a tone of sour indifference.

"Yes," said Pottermack, "all they got from me was an empty letter-case
and a little loose silver."

"Ah," said the straw-hatted man.

"I hope," Pottermack repeated, beginning slightly to lose patience,
"that you have not lost anything of considerable value."

For a moment or two the other made no reply. At length, fixing a baleful
eye on Pottermack, he answered with significant emphasis: "If you want
to know what they took, you'd better ask them"; and with this he turned
away.

Pottermack also turned away--in the opposite direction, and some inward
voice whispered to him that it were well to evacuate the neighbourhood
of the man in the straw hat.

He strolled away, gradually increasing his pace, until he reached the
outskirts of the crowd that had gathered at the margin of the course. By
a sound of cheering he judged that some ridiculous horses were careering
along somewhere beyond the range of his vision. But they were of no
interest to him. They did, however, furnish him with a pretext for
diving into the crowd and struggling towards the source of the noise,
and this he did, regardless of the unseemly comments that he provoked
and the thumps and prods that he received in his progress. When, as it
seemed, he had become immovably embedded, he drew a deep breath and
turned to look back. For a few blissful moments he believed that he had
effected a masterly retreat and escaped finally from his suspicious
fellow-victim; but suddenly there emerged into view a too-familiar
battered straw hat, moving slowly through the resisting multitude, and
moving in a bee-line in his direction.

Then it was that Mr. Pottermack became seized with sudden panic. And no
wonder. His previous experiences of the law had taught him that mere
innocence is of no avail; and now, simply to be charged involved the
risk of recognition and inevitable return to a convict prison. But apart
from that, his position was one of extreme peril. On his person at this
very moment were fifteen stolen notes of which he could give no account,
but which connected him with that thing that reposed under the sun-dial.
At the best, those notes might fairly send him to penal servitude; at
the worst, to the gallows.

It is therefore no matter for surprise that the sight of that ominous
straw hat sent a sudden chill down his spine. But Mr. Pottermack was no
coward. Unforeseen as the danger was, he kept his nerve and made no
outward sign of the terror that was clutching at his heart. Calmly he
continued to worm his way through the crowd, glancing back now and again
to note his distance from that relentless hat, and ever looking for a
chance to get rid of those fatal notes. For, if once he could get clear
of those, he would be ready to face with courage and composure the
lesser risk. But no chance ever came. Openly to jettison the notes in
the midst of the crowd would have been fatal. He would have been
instantly written down a detected and pursued pickpocket.

While his mind was busy with these considerations his body was being
skilfully piloted along the line of least resistance in the crowd. Now
and again he made excursions into the less dense regions on the
outskirts, thereby securing a gain in distance, only to plunge once more
into the thick of the throng in the faint hope of being lost sight of.
But this hope was never realized. On the whole, he maintained his
distance from his pursuer and even slightly increased it. Sometimes for
the space of a minute or more the absurd sleuth was lost to his view;
but just as his hopes were beginning to revive, that accursed hat would
make its reappearance and reduce him, if not to despair, at least to the
most acute anxiety.

In the course of one of his excursions into the thinner part of the
crowd, he noticed that, some distance ahead, a bold curve of the course
brought it comparatively near to the entrance to the enclosure. He could
see a steady stream of people still pouring in through the entrance
turnstile, but that which gave exit from the ground was practically
free. No one seemed to be leaving the enclosure at present, so the way
out was quite unobstructed. Noting this fact with a new hope, he plunged
once more into the dense crowd and set a course through it nearly
parallel to the railings. When he had worked his way to a point nearly
opposite to the entrance, he looked back to ascertain the whereabouts of
his follower. The straw-hatted man was plainly visible, tightly jammed
in the thickest part of the crowd and apparently not on amicable terms
with his immediate neighbours. Pottermack decided that this was his
chance and proceeded to take it. Skilfully extricating himself from the
throng, he walked briskly towards the gates and made for the exit
turnstile. As there was no one else leaving the ground, he passed out
unhindered, pausing only for a moment to take a quick glance back. But
what he saw in that glance was by no means reassuring. The straw-hatted
man was, indeed, still tightly jammed in the thick of the crowd; but at
his side was a policeman to whom he appeared to be making a statement as
he pointed excitedly towards the turnstile. And both informer and
constable seemed to be watching his departure.

Pottermack waited to see no more. Striding away from the entrance, he
came to a road on which was a signpost pointing to the station. The
railway being the obvious means of escape, he turned in the opposite
direction, which apparently led into the country. A short distance along
the road, he encountered an aged man, engaged in trimming the hedge, who
officiously wished him good-afternoon and whom he secretly anathematized
for being there. A little farther on, round a sharp turn in the road, he
came to a stile which gave access to a little-used footpath which
crossed a small meadow. Vaulting over the stile, he set out along the
footpath at a sharp walk. His impulse was to run, but he restrained it,
realizing that a running man would attract attention where a mere walker
might pass unobserved, or at least unnoticed. However, he quickly came
to the farther side of the meadow, where another stile gave on a narrow
by-lane. Here Pottermack paused for a moment, doubtful which way to
turn; but the fugitive's instinct to get as far as possible from the
pursuers decided the question. He turned in the direction that led away
from the race-course.

Walking quickly along the lane for a minute or two, he came to a sudden
turn and saw that, a short distance ahead, the lane opened into a road.
At the same moment there rose among a group of elms on his right the
tower of a church; and here the hedgerow gave place to a brick wall,
broken by a wicket-gate, through which he looked into a green and
pleasant churchyard. The road before him he surmised to be the one that
he had left by the stile, and his surmise received most alarming
confirmation. For, even at the very moment when he was entering the
wicket, two figures walked rapidly across the end of the lane. One of
them was a tall, military-looking man who swung along with easy but
enormous strides; the other, who kept up with him with difficulty, was a
small man in a battered straw hat.

With a gasp of horror, Pottermack darted in through the wicket and
looked round wildly for possible cover. Then he saw that the church door
was open, and, impelled, possibly, by some vague idea of sanctuary,
bolted in. For a moment he stood at the threshold looking into the
peaceful, silent interior, forgetting in his agitation even to take off
his hat. There was no one in the church; but immediately confronting the
intruder, securely bolted to a stone column, was a small iron-bound
chest. On its front were painted the words "Poor Box," and above it, an
inscription on a board informed Mr. Pottermack that "The Lord loveth a
Cheerful Giver."

Well, He had one that time. No sooner had Mr. Pottermack's eyes lighted
on that box than he had whipped out his wallet and extracted the notes.
With trembling fingers he folded them up in twos and threes and poked
them through the slit; and when the final pair--as if protesting against
his extravagant munificence--stuck in the opening and refused to go in,
he adroitly persuaded them with a penny, which he pushed through and
dropped in by way of an additional thank-offering. As that penny dropped
down with a faint, papery rustle, he put away his wallet and drew a deep
breath. Mr. Pottermack was his own man again.

Of course, there was the straw-hatted man. But now that those
incriminating notes were gone, so great was the revulsion that he could
truly say, in the words of the late S. Pepys--or at least in a polite
paraphrase of them--that he "valued him not a straw." The entire
conditions were changed. But as he turned with a new buoyancy of spirit
to leave the church, there came to him a sudden recollection of the
red-faced man's skill and ingenuity which caused him to thrust his hands
into his pockets. And it was just as well that he did, for he brought up
from his left-hand coat pocket a battered silver pencil-holder that was
certainly not his and that advertised the identity of its legitimate
owner by three initial letters legibly engraved on its flat end.

On this--having flung the pencil-holder out through the porch doorway
into the high grass of the churchyard--he turned back into the building
and made a systematic survey of his pockets, emptying each one in turn
on to the cushioned seat of a pew. When he had ascertained beyond all
doubt that none of them contained any article of property other than his
own, he went forth with a light heart and retraced his steps through the
wicket out into the lane, and, turning to the right, walked on towards
the road. It had been his intention to return along it to the station,
but when he came out of the lane, he found himself at the entrance to a
village street and quite near to a comfortable-looking inn which hung
out the sign of "The Farmer's Boy." The sight of the homely hostelry
reminded him that it was now well past his usual luncheon hour and made
him aware of a fine, healthy appetite.

It appeared, on enquiry, that there was a cold sirloin in cut and a
nice, quiet parlour in which to consume it. Pottermack smiled with
anticipatory gusto at the report and gave his orders; and within a few
minutes found himself in the parlour aforesaid, seated at a table
covered with a clean white cloth on which was an abundant sample of the
sirloin, a hunk of bread, a slab of cheese, a plate of biscuits and a
jovial, pot-bellied brown jug crowned with a cap of foam.

Mr. Pottermack enjoyed his lunch amazingly. The beef was excellent, the
beer was of the best, and their combined effect was further to raise his
spirits and lower his estimate of the straw-hatted man. He realized now
that his initial panic had been due to those ill-omened notes; to the
fact that a false charge might reveal the material for a real one of
infinitely greater gravity. Now that he was clear of them, the fact that
he was a man of substance and known position would be a sufficient
answer to any mere casual suspicion. His confidence was completely
restored, and he even speculated with detached interest on the possible
chance of encountering his pursuers on his way back to the station.

He had finished the beef to the last morsel and was regarding with tepid
interest the slab of high-complexioned cheese when the door opened and
revealed two figures at the threshold, both of whom halted with their
eyes fixed on him intently. After a moment's inspection, the
shorter--who wore a battered straw hat--pointed to him and affirmed in
impressive tones:

"That's the man."

On this, the taller stranger took a couple of steps forward and said, as
if repeating a formula: "I am a police officer" (it was a perfectly
unnecessary statement. No one could have supposed that he was anything
else). "This--er--gentleman informs me that you picked his pocket."

"Does he really?" said Pottermack, regarding him with mild surprise and
pouring himself out another glass of beer.

"Yes, he does; and the question is, what have you got to say about it?
It is my duty to caution you--"

"Not at all," said Pottermack. "The question is, what has he got to say
about it? Has he given you any particulars?"

"No. He says you picked his pocket. That's all."

"Did he see me pick his pocket?"

The officer turned to the accuser. "Did you?" he asked.

"No, of course I didn't," snapped the other. "Pickpockets don't usually
let you see what they are up to."

"Did he feel me pick his pocket?" Pottermack asked, with the air of a
cross-examining counsel.

"Did you?" the officer asked, looking dubiously at the accuser.

"How could I," protested the latter, "when I was being pulled and shoved
and hustled in the crowd?"

"Ha," said Pottermack, taking a sip of beer. "He didn't see me pick his
pocket, he didn't feel me pick his pocket. Now, how did he arrive at the
conclusion that I did pick his pocket?"

The officer turned almost threateningly on the accuser.

"How did you?" he demanded.

"Well," stammered the straw-hatted man, "there was a gang of pickpockets
and he was among them."

"But so were you," retorted Pottermack. "How do I know that you didn't
pick my pocket? Somebody did."

"Oh!" said the officer. "Had your pocket picked too? What did they take
of yours?"

"Mighty little--just a few oddments of small change. I kept my coat
buttoned."

There was a slightly embarrassed silence, during which the officer, not
for the first time, ran an appraising eye over the accused. His
experience of pickpockets was extensive and peculiar, but it did not
include any persons of Pottermack's type. He turned and directed a
dubious and enquiring look at the accuser.

"Well," said the latter, "here he is. Aren't you going to take him into
custody?"

"Not unless you can give me something to go on," replied the officer.
"The station inspector wouldn't accept a charge of this sort."

"At any rate," said the accuser, "I suppose you will take his name and
address?"

The officer grinned sardonically at the artless suggestion but agreed
that it might be as well, and produced a large, funereal note-book.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Marcus Pottermack," the owner of that name replied, adding "my address
is 'The Chestnuts' Borley, Buckinghamshire."

The officer wrote down these particulars, and then closing the
note-book, put it away with a very definite air of finality, remarking:
"That's about all that we can do at present." But this did not at all
meet the views of the straw-hatted man, who protested plaintively:

"And you mean to say that you are going to let him walk off with my gold
watch and my note-case with five pounds in it? You are not even going to
search him?"

"You can't search people who haven't been charged," the officer growled;
but here Pottermack interposed.

"There is no need," he said suavely, "for you to be hampered by mere
technical difficulties. I know it is quite irregular, but if it would
give you any satisfaction just to run through my pockets, I haven't the
slightest objection."

The officer was obviously relieved. "Of course, sir, if you volunteer
that is a different matter, and it would clear things up."

Accordingly, Pottermack rose and presented himself for the operation,
while the straw-hatted man approached and watched with devouring eyes.
The officer began with the wallet, noted the initials, M. P., on the
cover, opened and considered the orderly arrangement of the stamps,
cards and other contents; took out a visiting-card, read it and put it
back, and finally laid the wallet on the table. Then he explored all the
other pockets systematically and thoroughly, depositing the treasure
trove from each on the table beside the wallet. When he had finished, he
thanked Mr. Pottermack for his help, and turning to the accuser,
demanded gruffly: "Well, are you satisfied now?"

"I should be better satisfied," the other man answered, "if I had got
back my watch and my note-case. But I suppose he passed them on to one
of his confederates."

Then the officer lost patience. "Look here," said he, "you are behaving
like a fool. You come to a race-meeting, like a blooming mug, with a
gold watch sticking out, asking for trouble, and when you get what you
asked for, you let the crooks hop off with the goods while you go
dandering about after a perfectly respectable gentleman. You bring me
traipsing out here on a wild goose chase, and when it turns out that
there isn't any wild goose, you make silly, insulting remarks. You ought
to have more sense at your age. Now, I'll just take your name and
address and then you'd better clear off."

Once more he produced the Black Maria note-book, and when he had entered
the particulars he dismissed the straw-hatted man, who slunk off,
dejected but still muttering.

Left alone with the late accused, the officer became genially and
politely apologetic. But Pottermack would have none of his apologies.
The affair had gone off to his complete satisfaction, and, in spite of
some rather half-hearted protests, he insisted on celebrating the happy
conclusion by the replenishment of the brown jug. Finally, the accused
and the minion of the law emerged from the inn together and took their
way back along the road to the station, beguiling the time by amicable
converse on the subject of crooks and their ways and the peculiar
mentality of the straw-hatted man.

It was a triumphant end to what had threatened to be a most disastrous
incident. But yet, when he came to consider it at leisure, Pottermack
was by no means satisfied. The expedition had been a failure, and he now
wished, heartily, that he had left well alone and simply burnt the
notes. His intention had been to distribute them in small parcels among
various pickpockets, whereby they would have been thrown into
circulation with the certainty that it would have been impossible to
trace them. That scheme had failed utterly. There they were, fifteen
stolen notes, in the poor-box of Illingham church. When the reverend
incumbent found them, he would certainly be surprised, and, no doubt,
gratified. Of course, he would pay them into his bank; and then the
murder would be out. The munificent gift would resolve itself into the
dump of a hunted and hard-pressed pickpocket; and Mr. Pottermack's name
and address was in the note-book of the plain-clothes constable.

Of course, there was no means of connecting him directly with the dump.
But there was the unfortunate coincidence that both he and the stolen
notes were connected with Borley, Buckinghamshire. That coincidence
could hardly fail to be noticed; and, added to his known proximity to
the church, it might create a very awkward situation. In short, Mr.
Pottermack had brought his pigs to the wrong market. He had planned to
remove the area of investigation from his own neighbourhood to one at a
safe and comfortable distance; instead of which, he had laid down a clue
leading straight to his own door.

It was a lamentable affair. As he sat in the homeward train with an
unread evening paper on his knee, he found himself recalling the refrain
of the old revivalist hymn and asking himself "Oh, what shall the
harvest be?"



CHAPTER IX--PROVIDENCE INTERVENES


In his capacity of medico-legal adviser to the "Griffin" Life Assurance
Company, Thorndyke saw a good deal of Mr. Stalker, who, in addition to
his connection with Perkins's Bank, held the post of Managing Director
of the "Griffin." For if the bank had but rarely any occasion to seek
Thorndyke's advice, the Assurance Office was almost daily confronted
with problems which called for expert guidance. It thus happened that,
about three weeks after the date of the Illingham Races, Thorndyke
looked in at Mr. Stalker's office in response to a telephone message to
discuss the discrepancies between a proposal form and the medical
evidence given at an inquest on the late proposer. The matter of this
discussion does not concern us and need not be detailed here. It
occupied some considerable time, and when Thorndyke had stated his
conclusions, he rose to take his departure. As he turned towards the
door, Mr. Stalker held up a detaining hand.

"By the way, doctor," said he, "I think you were rather interested in
that curious case of disappearance that I told you about--one of our
branch managers, you may remember."

"I remember," said Thorndyke; "James Lewson of your Borley branch."

"That's the man," Stalker assented, adding: "I believe you keep a card
index in your head."

"And the best place to keep it," retorted Thorndyke. "But what about
Lewson? Has he been run to earth?"

"No; but the notes that he took with him have. You remember that he went
off with a hundred pounds--twenty five-pound notes, of all of which we
were able to ascertain the numbers. Now, the numbers of those notes were
at once given to the police, who circulated the information in all the
likely quarters and kept a sharp look-out for their appearance. Yet in
all this time, up to a week or two ago, there was not a sign of one of
them. Then a most odd thing happened. The whole lot of them made their
appearance almost simultaneously."

"Very remarkable," commented Thorndyke.

"Very," agreed Stalker. "But there is something still more queer about
the affair. Of course, each note, as it was reported, was rigorously
traced. As a rule there was no difficulty--up to a certain point. And at
that point the trail broke off short, and that point was the possession
of the note by a person known to the police. In every case in which
tracing was possible, the trail led back to an unquestionable crook."

"And were the crooks unable to say where they got the notes?"

"Oh, not at all. They were able, in every case, to give the most lucid
and convincing accounts of the way in which they came into possession of
the notes. Only, unfortunately, not one of them could give 'a local
habitation and a name.' They had all received the notes from total
strangers."

"They probably had," said Thorndyke, "without the stranger's
concurrence."

"Exactly. But you see the oddity of the affair--at least, I expect you
do. Remember that, although the individual notes were reported at
different times, on tracing them to their origin it looks almost as if
the whole of them had come into circulation on the same day; about three
weeks ago. Now, what does that suggest to you?"

"The obvious suggestion," replied Thorndyke, "seems to be that Lewson
had been robbed; that some fortunate thief had managed to relieve him of
the whole consignment at one coup. The only other explanation--and it is
far less probable--is that Lewson deliberately jettisoned an
incriminating cargo."

"Yes," Stalker agreed doubtfully, "that is a possibility; but, as you
say, it is very much less probable. For if he had simply thrown them
away, there would be no reason why they should have been so invariably
traceable to a member of the criminal class; and surely, out of the
whole lot, there would have been one or two honest persons who would
admit to having found them. No, I feel pretty certain that Lewson has
been robbed, and if he has, he must be in a mighty poor way. One is
almost tempted to feel sorry for him."

"He has certainly made a terrible hash of his affairs," said Thorndyke;
and with this, the subject having been exhausted, he picked up his hat
and stick and took his departure.

But as he wended his way back to the Temple he cogitated profoundly on
what Stalker had told him; and very surprised would Mr. Stalker have
been if he could have been let into the matter of those cogitations.
For, as to what had really happened, Thorndyke could make an approximate
guess, though guesses were not very satisfying to a man of his exact
habit of mind. But he had been expecting those notes to reappear, and he
had expected that when they did reappear it would prove impossible to
trace them to their real source.

Nevertheless, though events had befallen, so to speak, according to
plan, he speculated curiously on the possible circumstances that had
determined the issue of the whole consignment at once; and on arrival at
his chambers he made certain notes in his private shorthand which he
bestowed in a small portfolio labelled "James Lewson," which, in its
turn, reposed, safely under lock and key, in the cabinet in which he
kept his confidential documents.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pottermack was passing through a period of tribulation
and gnawing anxiety. Again and again did he curse the folly that had
impelled him, when everything seemed to have settled down so
comfortably, to launch those notes into the world to start a fresh train
of trouble. Again and again did he follow in imagination what appeared
to be the inevitable course of events. With horrid vividness did his
fancy reconstruct the scenes of that calamitous comedy; the astonished
parson lifting the treasure with incredulous joy from the poor-box; the
local bank manager carrying the notes round to the police station; the
plain-clothes constable triumphantly producing his note-book and
pointing to the significant word "Borley"; and finally, the wooden-faced
detective officer confronting him in his dining-room and asking
embarrassing questions. Sometimes his imagination went farther, and,
becoming morbid, pictured Mr. Gallett, the mason, volunteering evidence,
with a resulting exploration of the well. But this was only when he was
unusually depressed.

In his more optimistic moods he presented the other side of the case. If
enquiries were made, he would, naturally, deny all knowledge of the
notes. And who was to contradict him? There was not a particle of
evidence that could connect him with them directly--at least, he
believed there was not. But still, deep down in his consciousness was
the knowledge that he was connected with them; that he had taken them
from the dead man's pocket and he had dumped them in the church. And Mr.
Pottermack was no more immune than the rest of us from the truth that
"conscience does make cowards of us all."

So, in those troublous times, by day and by night, in his walks abroad
and in his solitude at home, he lived in a state of continual
apprehension. The fat was in the fire and he waited with constantly
strained ears to catch the sound of its sizzling; and though, as the
days and then the weeks went by and no sound of sizzling became audible,
the acuteness of his anxiety wore off, still his peace of mind was gone
utterly and he walked in the shadow of dangers unknown and incalculable.
And so he might have gone on indefinitely but for one of those trivial
chances that have befallen most of us and that sometimes produce results
so absurdly disproportionate to their own insignificance.

The occasion of this fortunate chance was a long, solitary walk through
the beautiful Buckinghamshire lanes. Of late, in his disturbed state of
mind, which yielded neither to the charms of his garden nor the
allurements of his workshop, Mr. Pottermack had developed into an
inveterate pedestrian; and on this particular day he had taken a long
round, which brought him at length, tired and hungry, to the town of
Aylesbury, where, at a frowsy restaurant in a by-street, he sat him down
to rest and feed. It was a frugal meal that he ordered, for with the joy
of living had gone his zest for food. Indeed, to such depths of
despondency had he sunk that he actually scandalized the foreign
proprietor by asking for a glass of water.

Now, it happened that on an adjacent chair was an evening paper. It was
weeks old, badly crumpled and none too clean. Almost automatically, Mr.
Pottermack reached out for it, laid it on the table beside him and
smoothed out its crumpled pages. Not that he had any hankering for news;
but, like most of us, he had contracted the pernicious habit of
miscellaneous reading--which is often but an idle substitute for
thought--and he scanned the ill-printed columns in mere boredom. He was
not in the least interested in the Hackney Man who had kicked a cat and
been fined forty shillings. No doubt it served him right--and the cat
too, perhaps--but it was no affair of his, Pottermack's. Nevertheless he
let an inattentive eye ramble aimlessly up and down the page, lightly
scanning the trivial vulgarities that headed the paragraphs, while in
the background of his consciousness, hovering, as it were, about the
threshold, lurked the everlasting theme of those accursed notes.

Suddenly his roving eye came to a dead stop, for it had alighted on the
word "Illingham." With suddenly sharpened attention, he turned back to
the heading and read:

'Sacrilege in a Surrey Church'

'A robbery of a kind that is now becoming increasingly common occurred
late in the afternoon of last Tuesday at the picturesque and venerable
church of Illingham. This was the day of the races on the adjacent
course, and it is believed that the outrage was committed by some of the
doubtful characters who are always to be found at race-meetings. At any
rate, when the sexton entered to close the church in the evening, he
found that the lid of the poor-box had been wrenched open, and, of
course, the contents, whatever they may have been, abstracted. The
rector is greatly distressed at the occurrence, not on account of what
has been stolen--for he remarked, with a pensive smile, that the loss is
probably limited to the cost of repairing the box--but because he holds
strong opinions on the duty of a clergyman to leave his church open for
private prayer and meditation, and he fears that he may be compelled to
close it in future, at least on race-days.'

Mr. Pottermack read this paragraph through, first with ravenous haste
and then again, slowly and with the minutest attention. It was
incredible. He could hardly believe the evidence of his eyes. Yet there
it was, a clear and unmistakable message, of which the marvellous
significance was to be grasped by him alone of all the world.
Providence--which is reported to make some queer selections for its
favourites--had stepped in and mercifully repaired his error.

In a moment he was a new man, or rather the old man restored. For he was
saved. Now could he go abroad with a confident step and look the world
in the face. Now could he take his ease at home in peace and security;
could return with gusto to his garden and know once more the joys of
labour in his workshop. With a fresh zest he fell to upon the remainder
of his meal. He even electrified the proprietor by calling for coffee
and a green Chartreuse. And when he at length went forth refreshed, to
take the road homeward, he seemed to walk upon air.



CHAPTER X--A RETROSPECT


The fortunate ending of the great note-adventure, which had at one time
looked so threatening, had a profound effect on Mr. Pottermack's state
of mind, and through this on his subsequent actions. Wherever the notes
might be circulating, they were, he felt confident, well out of his
neighbourhood; and since they had all fallen into the hands of thieves,
he was equally confident that they would prove untraceable. So far as he
was concerned, they had served their purpose. The field of inquiry
concerning Lewson's disappearance was now shifted from Borley to the
localities in which those notes had made their appearance.

Thus, to Mr. Pottermack it appeared that he was finally rid of Lewson,
alive or dead. The incident was closed. He could now consign the whole
horrible affair to oblivion, forget it if he could, or at least remember
it only as a hideous experience which he had passed through and finished
with, just as he might remember certain other experiences which belonged
to the unhappy past. Now he might give his whole attention to the
future. He was still a comparatively young man, despite the grizzled
hair upon his temples. And Fortune was deeply in his debt. It was time
that he began to collect from her some of the arrears.

Now, whenever Mr. Pottermack let his thoughts stray into the future, the
picture that his fancy painted was wont to present a certain constant
deviation from the present. It was not that the surroundings were
different. Still in imagination he saw himself rambling through the
lovely Buckinghamshire lanes, busying himself in his workshop or whiling
away the pleasant hours in the walled garden among his flowers and his
fruit trees. But in those pictures of the sunny future that was to
indemnify him for the gloomy past there were always two figures; and one
of them was that of the comely, gracious young widow who had already
brought so much sunshine into his rather solitary life.

During the last few strenuous weeks he had seen little of her, indeed he
had hardly seen her at all. Now that he could put behind him for ever
the events that had filled those weeks, now that he was free from the
haunting menace of the blackmailer's incalculable actions and could
settle down to a stable life with his future in his own hands, the time
had arrived when he might begin to mould that future in accordance with
his heart's desire.

Thus reflecting on the afternoon following his visit to Aylesbury, he
proceeded to make the first move. Having smartened himself up in a
modest way, he took down from his shelves a favourite volume to serve as
a pretext for a call, and set forth with it in his pocket towards the
quiet lane on the fringe of the town wherein Mrs. Alice Bellard had her
habitation. And a very pleasant habitation it was, though, indeed, it
was no more than an old-fashioned country cottage, built to supply the
simple needs of some rural worker or village craftsman. But houses, like
dogs, have a way of reflecting the personalities of their owners; and
this little dwelling, modest as it was, conveyed to the beholder a
subtle sense of industry, of ordered care, and a somewhat fastidious
taste.

Pottermack stood for a few moments with his hand on the little wooden
gate, looking up with an appreciative eye at the ripe red brickwork, the
golden tiles of the roof, and the little stone tablet with the initials
of the first owners and the date, 1761. Then he opened the latch and
walked slowly up the path. Through the open window came the sound of a
piano rendering, with no little skill and feeling, one of Chopin's
preludes. He waited at the door, listening, until the final notes of the
piece were played, when he turned and rapped out a flourish on the
brightly burnished brass knocker.

Almost immediately the door opened, revealing a girl of about sixteen,
who greeted him with a friendly smile, and forthwith, without question
or comment inducted him to the sitting-room, where Mrs. Bellard had just
risen from the piano-stool.

"I am afraid," said he, as they shook hands, "that I am interrupting
your playing--in fact, I know I am. I was half inclined to wait out in
the garden and enjoy your performance without disturbing you."

"That would have been foolish of you," she replied, "when there is a
nice, comfortable armchair in which you can sit and smoke your pipe and
listen at your ease--if you want to."

"I do, most certainly," said he. "But first, lest I should forget it,
let me hand you this book. I mentioned it to you once--'The Harvest of a
Quiet Eye.' It is by a nice old west country parson and I think you will
like it."

"I am sure I shall if you do," she said. "We seem to agree in most
things."

"So we do," assented Pottermack, "even to our favourite brands of snail.
Which reminds me that the pleasures of the chase seem to have been
rather neglected of late."

"Yes, I have been quite busy lately furbishing up the house. But I have
nearly finished. In a few days I shall have everything straight and
tidy, and then a-snailing we will go."

"We will," he agreed, "and if we find that we are exhausting the subject
of molluscs, we might, perhaps, give a passing thought to the question
of beetles. They are practically inexhaustible and they are not so
hackneyed as butterflies and moths, and not so troublesome to keep. And
they are really very beautiful and interesting creatures."

"I suppose they are," she said a little doubtfully, "when you have got
over your prejudice against their undeniable tendency to crawliness. But
I am afraid you will have to do the slaughtering. I really couldn't kill
the poor little wretches."

"Oh, I will do that cheerfully," said Pottermack, "if you will make the
captures."

"Very well; then, on that understanding I will consider the beetle
question. And now, would you really like me to play to you a little?"

"I should like it immensely. I seem to hear so little music nowadays,
and you play so delightfully. But are you sure you don't mind?"

She laughed softly as she sat down at the piano. "Mind, indeed!" she
exclaimed. "Did you ever know a musician who wasn't only too delighted
to play to a sympathetic listener? It is the whole joy and reward of the
art. Now, you just sit in that chair and fill your pipe, and I will play
to you some of the things that I like playing to myself and that you
have got to like too."

Obediently Pottermack seated himself in the easy-chair and reflectively
filled his pipe while he watched the skilful hands moving gracefully
with effortless precision over the keyboard. At first she kept to
regular pianoforte music, mostly that of Chopin: one or two of the
shorter nocturnes, a prelude and a polonaise, and a couple of
Mendelssohn's "Lieder." But presently she began to ramble away
reminiscently among all sorts of unconventional trifles: old-fashioned
songs, country dances, scraps of church music, and even one or two
time-honoured hymn tunes. And as she played these simple melodies,
softly, tastefully, and with infinite feeling, she glanced furtively
from time to time at her visitor until, seeing he was no longer looking
at her but was gazing dreamily out of the window, she let her eyes rest
steadily on his face. There was something very curious in that long,
steady look; a strange mingling of sadness, of pity and tenderness and
of yearning affection with a certain vague anxiety as if something in
his face was puzzling her. The eyes that dwelt on him with such soft
regard yet seemed to ask a question.

And Pottermack, sitting motionless as a statue, grasping his unlighted
pipe, let the simple, homely melodies filter into his soul and deliver
their message of remembrance. His thoughts were at once near and far
away; near to the woman at his side, yet far away from the quiet room
and the sunlit garden on which his eyes seemed to rest. Let us for a
while leave him to his reverie, and if we may not follow his thoughts,
at least--in order that we may the better enter into the inwardness of
this history--transport ourselves into the scenes that memory is calling
up before his eyes.

Fifteen years ago there was no such person as Marcus Pottermack. The
sober, middle-aged man, greyheaded, bearded, spectacled, who sits
dreaming in the widow's parlour, was a handsome, sprightly youth of
twenty-two--Jeffrey Brandon by name--who, with his shapely, clean-shaven
face and his striking Grecian nose, had the look and manner of a young
Olympian. And his personality matched his appearance. Amiable and kindly
by nature, with a gay and buoyant temperament that commended him alike
to friends and strangers, his keen intelligence, his industry and energy
promised well for his worldly success in the future.

Young as he was, he had been, at this time, engaged for two years. And
here again he was more than commonly fortunate. It was not merely that
the maiden of his choice was comely, sweet-natured, clever and
accomplished; or that she was a girl of character and spirit; or even
that she had certain modest expectations. The essence of the good
fortune lay in the fact that Jeffrey Brandon and Alice Bentley were not
merely lovers; they were staunch friends and sympathetic companions,
with so many interests in common that it was incredible that they should
ever tire of each other's society.

One of their chief interests--perhaps the greatest--was music. They were
both enthusiasts. But whereas Jeffrey's accomplishments went no farther
than a good ear, a pleasant baritone voice and the power of singing a
part at sight, Alice was really a musician. Her skill at the piano was
of the professional class; she was a fair organist, and in addition she
had a good and well-trained contralto voice. Naturally enough, it
happened that they drifted into the choir of the little friendly
Evangelical church that they attended together, and this gave them a new
and delightful occupation. Now and again Alice would take a service at
the organ; and then there were practice nights and preparations for
special services, musical festivals or informal sacred concerts which
kept them busy with the activities that they both loved. And so their
lives ran on, serenely, peacefully, filled with quiet enjoyment of the
satisfying present, with the promise of a yet more happy future when
they should be married and in full possession of each other.

And then, in a moment, the whole fabric of their happiness collapsed
like a house of cards. As if in an incomprehensible nightmare, the
elements of that tragedy unfolded: the amazing accusation, the still
more amazing discovery; the trial at the Old Bailey Sessions, the
conviction, the sentence; the bitter, despairing farewell, and, last of
all, the frowning portals of the convict prison.

Of course, Alice Bentley scouted the idea of her lover's guilt. She
roundly declared that the whole affair was a plot, a wicked and foolish
miscarriage of justice, and she announced her intention of meeting him
at the prison gate when he should be set free, to claim him as her
promised husband, that she might try to make up to him by her devotion
and sympathy what he had suffered from the world's injustice. And when
it was coldly pointed out to her that he had had a fair trial and had
been found guilty by a jury of his fellow-countrymen, she broke away
indignantly and thereafter withdrew herself from the society of these
fair-weather friends.

Meanwhile, the unfortunate Jeffrey, meditating in his prison cell, had
come with no less resolution to his decision. In so far as was possible
he would bear the burden of his misfortune alone. Deeply, passionately
as he loved the dear girl who, almost alone of all the world, still
believed in his innocence, he must cast her out of his life for ever. He
gloried in her loyalty, but he could not accept her sacrifice.
Alice--his Alice--should never marry a convict. For that was what he
was: a convicted thief and forger; and nothing but a miracle could alter
his position. The fact that he was innocent was beside the mark, since
his innocence was known only to himself and one other--the nameless
villain who had set this infamous trap for him. To all the rest of the
world he was a guilty man; and the world was right according to the
known facts. He had had a fair trial, a perfectly fair trial. The
prosecution had not been vindictive, the judge had summed up fairly, and
the jury had found him guilty; and the jury had been right. On the
evidence before them, they could have found no other verdict. He had no
complaint against them. No one could have guessed that all the evidence
was false and illusory. From which it followed that he must go through
life stamped as a convicted thief, and as such could never be a possible
husband for Alice Bentley.

But he realized very clearly that Alice, certain as she was of his
innocence, would utterly refuse to accept this view. To her he was a
martyr, and as such she would proclaim him before all the world. On his
release, she would insist on the restoration of the status quo ante. Of
that he felt certain; and hour after hour, in his abundant solitude, he
sought vainly a solution of the problem. How should he meet her demand?
Letters he knew would be useless. She would wait for the day of his
release, and then--The prospect of having, after all, to refuse her
love, to repudiate her loyalty, was one that wrung his heart to
contemplate.

And then, in the most unforeseen way, the problem was solved. His escape
from the gang was totally unpremeditated. He just saw a chance, when the
attention of the civil guard was relaxed, and took it instantly. When he
found the absent bather's clothes upon the shore and hastily assumed
them in place of his prison suit, he suspected that the bather was
already dead, and the report which he read in the next day's paper
confirmed this belief. But during the next few weeks, as he tramped
across country to Liverpool--subsisting, not without qualms, on the
little money that he had found in the unknown bather's pockets, eked out
by an occasional odd job--he watched the papers eagerly for further
news. For six long weeks he found nothing either to alarm or reassure
him. Indeed, it was not until he had secured a job as deck-hand on an
American tramp steamer and was on the point of departure that he learned
the welcome tidings. On the very night before the ship was due to sail,
he was sitting in the forecastle, watching an evening paper that was
passing round from hand to hand, when the man who was reading it held it
towards him, pointing with a grimy forefinger to a particular paragraph.

"I call that damned hard luck, I do," said he. "Just you read it, mate,
and see what you think of it."

Jeffrey took the paper, and, glancing at the indicated paragraph,
suddenly sat up with a start. It was the report of an inquest on the
body of a man who had been found drowned; which body had been identified
as that of Jeffrey Brandon, a convict who had recently escaped from
Colport Gaol. He read it through slowly, and then, with an inarticulate
mumble, handed the paper back to his sympathetic messmate. For some
minutes he sat dazed, hardly able to realize this sudden change in his
condition. That the bather's body would, sooner or later, be found he
had never doubted. But he had expected that the finding of it and its
identification would solve the mystery of his escape and immediately
give rise to a hue and cry. Never had he dreamed that the body could be
identified as his.

But now that this incredible thing had happened, he would be simply
written off and forgotten. He was free. And not only was he free; Alice
was free too. Now he would quietly pass out of her life without
bitterness or misunderstanding; not forgotten, indeed, but cherished
only, in the years to come, with loving remembrance.

Nevertheless, when at daybreak on the morrow the good ship Potomac of
New Orleans crossed the Mersey bar, the new deck-hand, Joe Watson,
looked back at the receding land with a heavy heart and a moistening
eye. The world was all before him. But it was an empty world. All that
could make life gracious and desirable was slipping away farther with
each turn of the propeller, and a waste of waters was stretching out
between him and his heart's desire.

His life in America need not be followed in detail. He was of the type
that almost inevitably prospers in that country. Energetic, industrious,
handy, ready to put his heart into any job that offered; an excellent
accountant with a sound knowledge of banking business and general
finance, he was not long in finding a position in which he could prove
his worth. And he had undeniably good luck. Within a year of his
landing, almost penniless, he had managed, by hard work and the most
drastic economy, to scrape together a tiny nest-egg of capital. Then he
met with a young American, nearly as poor as himself but of the stuff of
which millionaires are made; a man of inexhaustible energy, quick,
shrewd and resolute, and possessed by a devouring ambition to be rich.
But notwithstanding his avidity for wealth, Joseph Walden was singularly
free from the vices of his class. He looked to become rich by work, good
management, thrift, and a reputation for straight dealing. He was a man
of strict integrity, and, if a little blunt and outspoken, was still a
good friend and a pleasant companion.

With his shrewd judgment, Walden saw at once that his new friend would
make an ideal collaborator in a business venture. Each had special
qualifications that the other lacked, and the two together would form a
highly efficient combination. Accordingly the two young men pooled
forces and embarked under the style and title of the Walden Pottermack
Company. (Jeffrey had abandoned the name of Joe Watson on coming ashore,
and, moved by some whimsical sentiment, had adopted as his godparent the
ship which had carried him away to freedom and the new life. With a
slight variation of spelling, he was now Marcus Pottermack.)

For some time the new firm struggled on under all the difficulties that
attend insufficient capital. But the two partners held together in
absolute unison. They neglected no chances, they spared no effort, they
accepted willingly the barest profits, and they practised thrift to the
point of penury. And slowly the tension of poverty relaxed. The little
snowball of their capital began to grow, imperceptibly at first, but
then with a constantly increasing acceleration--for wealth, like
population, tends to increase by geometrical progression. In a year or
two the struggles were over and the company was a well-established
concern. A few more years and the snowball had rolled up to quite
impressive dimensions. The Walden Pottermack Company had become a
leading business house, and the partners men of respectable substance.

It was at this point that the difference between the two men began to
make itself apparent. To the American, the established prosperity of the
firm meant the attainment of the threshold of big business with the
prospect of really big money. His fixed intention was to push the
success for all that it was worth, to march on to greater and yet
greater things, even unto millionairedom. Pottermack, on the other
hand, began to feel that he had enough. Great wealth held out no
allurements for him. Nor did he, like Walden, enjoy the sport of winning
and piling it up. At first he had worked hard for a mere livelihood,
then for a competence that should presently enable him to live his own
life. And now, as he counted up his savings, it seemed to him that he
had achieved his end. With what he had he could purchase all that he
desired and that was purchasable.

It was not purchasable in America. Grateful as he was to the country
that had sheltered him and taken him to her heart as one of her own
sons, yet he found himself from time to time turning a wistful eye
towards the land beyond the great ocean. More and more, as the time went
on, he was conscious of a hankering for things that America could not
give; for the sweet English countryside, the immemorial villages with
their ancient churches, their oast-houses and thatched barns, for all
the lingering remains of an older civilization.

And there was another element of unrest. All through the years the image
of Alice had never ceased to haunt him. At first it was but as the
cherished memory of a loved one who had died and passed out of his life
for ever. But as the years ran on there came a subtle change. Gradually
he began to think of their separation, not as something final and
irretrievable but as admitting in a vague and shadowy way of the idea of
reunion this side of the grave. It was very nebulous and indefinite, but
it clung to him persistently, and ever the idea grew more definite. The
circumstances were, indeed, changed utterly. When he left her, he was a
convict, infamous in the eyes of all the world. But the convict, Jeffrey
Brandon, was dead and forgotten, whereas he, Marcus Pottermack, was a
man of position and repute. The case was entirely altered.

So he would argue with himself in moments of expansiveness. And then he
would cast away his dreams, chiding himself for his folly and telling
himself that doubtless, she had long since married and settled down, that
dead he was and dead he must remain, and not seek to rise again like
some unquiet spirit to trouble the living.

Nevertheless, the leaven continued to work, and the end of it was that
Mr. Pottermack wound up his business affairs and made arrangements for
his retirement. His partner regretfully agreed to take over his interest
in the company--which he did on terms that were not merely just but
generous--and thus his commercial life came to an end. A week or two
later he took his passage for England.

Now, nebulous and shadowy as his ideas had been with reference to Alice,
partaking rather of the nature of day-dreams than of thoughts implying
any settled purpose, no sooner had he landed in the Old Country than he
became possessed by a craving, at least to hear of her, to make certain
that she was still alive, if possible to see her. He could not conceal
from himself some faint hope that she might still be unmarried. And if
she were--well, then it would be time for him to consider what he would
do.

His first proceeding was to establish himself in lodgings in the old
neighbourhood, where he spent his days loitering about the streets that
she had been used to frequent. On Sundays he attended the church with
scrupulous regularity, modestly occupying a back seat and lingering in
the porch as the congregation filed out. Many familiar faces he noted,
changed more or less by the passage of time; but no one recognized in
the grey-haired, bearded, spectacled stranger the handsome youth whom
they had known in the years gone by. Indeed, how should they, when that
youth had died, cut off in the midst of his career of crime?

He would have liked to make some discreet enquiries, but no enquiries
would have been discreet. Above all things, it was necessary for him to
preserve his character as a stranger from America. And so he could do no
more than keep his vigil in the streets and at the church, watching with
hungry eyes for the beloved face--and watching in vain.

And then at last, after weeks of patient searching with ever-dwindling
hope, he had his reward. It was on Easter Sunday, a day which had, in
old times, been kept as the chief musical festival of the year.
Apparently the custom was still maintained, for the church was unusually
full and there was evidently a special choir. Mr. Pottermack's hopes
revived, though he braced himself for another disappointment. Surely, he
thought, if she ever comes to this church, she will come to-day.

And this time he was not disappointed. He had not long been seated on
the modest bench near the door when a woman, soberly dressed in black,
entered and walked past him up the aisle, where she paused for a few
moments looking about her somewhat with the air of a stranger. He knew
her in a moment by her figure, her gait, and the poise of her head. But
if he had had any doubt, it would have been instantly dispelled when she
entered a pew, and, before sitting down, glanced back quickly at the
people behind her.

For Pottermack it was a tremendous moment. It was as if he were looking
on the face of one risen from the dead. For some minutes after she had
sat down and become hidden from his sight by the people behind her he
felt dazed and half-incredulous of the wonderful vision that he had
seen. But as the effects of the shock passed, he began to consider the
present position. That single instantaneous glance had shown him that
she had aged a little more than the lapse of time accounted for. She
looked graver than of old, perhaps even a thought sombre, and something
matronly and middle-aged in the fashion of her dress made disquieting
suggestions.

When the long service was ended, Pottermack waited on his bench watching
her come down the aisle and noting that she neither spoke to nor seemed
to recognize any one. As soon as she had passed his bench, he rose and
joined the throng behind her. His intention was to follow her and
discover, if possible, where she lived. But as they came into the
crowded porch he heard an elderly woman exclaim in a markedly loud tone:

"Why, surely it is Miss Bentley!"

"Yes," was the reply in the well-remembered voice. "At least, I was Miss
Bentley when you knew me. Nowadays I am Mrs. Bellard."

Pottermack, standing close behind her and staring at a notice-board,
drew a deep breath. Only in that moment of bitter disappointment did he
realize how much he had hoped.

"Oh, indeed," said the loud-spoken woman. "Mrs. Bennett--it was Bennett
that you said?"

"No, Bellard--B.e.l.l.a.r.d."

"Oh, Bellard. Yes. And so you are married. I have often wondered what
became of you when you stopped coming to the church after--er--all those
years ago. I hope your good husband is well."

"I lost my husband four years ago," Mrs. Bellard replied in a somewhat
dry, matter-of-fact tone.

Pottermack's heart gave a bound and he listened harder than ever.

"Dear, dear!" exclaimed the other woman. "What a dreadfully sad thing!
And are there any children?"

"No; no children."

"Ah, indeed. But perhaps it is as well, though it must be lonely for
you. Are you living in London?"

"No," replied Mrs. Bellard, "I have only just come up for the week-end.
I live at Borley in Buckinghamshire--not far from Aylesbury."

"Do you? It must be frightfully dull for you living all alone right down
in the country. I do hope you have found comfortable lodgings."

Mrs. Bellard laughed softly. "You are pitying me more than you need,
Mrs. Goodman. I am not dull at all, and I don't have to live in
lodgings. I have a house to myself. It is only a very small one, but it
is big enough and it is my own; so I am secure of a shelter for the rest
of my life."

Here the two women drifted out of distinct ear-shot, though their voices
continued to be audible as they walked away, for they both spoke in
raised tones, Mrs. Goodman being, apparently, a little dull of hearing.
But Pottermack had heard enough. Drawing out his pocket-book, he
carefully entered the name and the address, such as it was, glancing at
the notice-board as if he were copying some particulars from it. Then he
emerged from the porch and walked after the two women; and when they
separated, he followed Mrs. Bellard at a discreet distance, not that he
now had any curiosity as to her present place of abode, but merely that
he might pleasure his eyes with the sight of her trim figure tripping
youthfully along the dull suburban street.

Mr. Pottermack's joy and triumph were tempered with a certain curiosity,
especially with regard to the late Mr. Bellard. But his cogitations were
not permitted to hinder the necessary action. Having no time-table, it
being Sunday, he made his way to Marylebone Station to get a list of the
week-day trains; and at that station he presented himself on the
following morning at an unearthly hour, suitcase in hand, to catch the
first train to Borley. Arrived at the little town, he at once took a
room at the Railway Inn, from whence he was able conveniently to issue
forth and stroll down the station approach as each of the London trains
came in.

It was late in the afternoon when, among the small crowd of passengers
who came out of the station, he saw her, stepping forward briskly and
carrying a good-sized handbag. He turned, and, walking back slowly up
the approach, let her pass him and draw a good distance ahead. He kept
her in sight without difficulty in the sparsely peopled streets until,
at the outskirts of the town, she turned into a quiet by-lane and
disappeared. Thereupon he quickened his pace and entered the lane just
in time to see her opening the garden gate of a pleasant-looking
cottage, at the open door of which a youthful maidservant stood,
greeting her with a welcoming grin. Pottermack walked slowly past the
little house, noting the name, "Lavender Cottage," painted on the gate,
and went on to the top of the lane, where he turned and retraced his
steps, indulging himself as he passed the second time with a long and
approving look at the shrine which held the object of his worship.

On his return to the inn he proceeded to make enquiries as to a reliable
house-agent, in response to which he was given, not only the name of a
recommended agent but certain other more valuable information. For the
landlord, interested in a prospective new resident, was questioning
Pottermack as to the class of house that he was seeking when the
landlady interposed.

"What about 'The Chestnuts,' Tom, where Colonel Barnett used to live?
That's empty and for sale--been empty for months. And it's a good house
though rather out-of-the-way. Perhaps that might suit this gentleman."

Further details convinced Mr. Pottermack that it would, and the upshot
was that on the very next day, after a careful inspection, the deposit
was paid to the agents, Messrs. Hook and Walker, and a local solicitor
was instructed to carry out the conveyance. Within a week the principal
builder of the town had sent in his estimates for repairs and
decoration, and Mr. Pottermack was wrestling with the problem of
household furnishing amidst a veritable library of catalogues.

But these activities did not distract him from his ultimate object.
Realizing that, as a stranger to the town, his chance of getting a
regular introduction to Mrs. Bellard was infinitely remote, he decided to
waive the conventions and take a short-cut. But the vital question was,
Would she recognize him? It was a question that perplexed him profoundly
and that he debated endlessly without reaching any conclusion. Of
course, under normal circumstances there would be no question at all.
Obviously, in spite of his beard, his spectacles, and his grey hair, she
would recognize him instantly. But the circumstances were very far from
normal. To her, he was a person who had died some fifteen years ago. And
the news of his death would have come to her, not as a mere rumour or
vague report, but as an ascertained fact. He had been found dead and
identified by those who knew him well. She could never have had a
moment's doubt that he was dead.

How, then, would she react to the conflict between her knowledge and the
evidence of her senses? Which of the two alternate possibilities would
she accept? That a dead man might come to life again or that one human
being might bear so miraculous a resemblance to another? He could form
no opinion. But of one thing he felt confident. She would certainly be
deeply impressed by the resemblance, and that state of mind would easily
cover anything unconventional in the manner of their meeting.

His plan was simple to crudeness. At odd times, in the intervals of his
labours, he made it his business to pass the entrance of the
lane--Malthouse Lane was its name--from whence he could see her house.
For several days no opportunity presented itself. But one morning, a
little more than a week after his arrival, on glancing up the lane, he
perceived a manifestly feminine hat above the shrubs in her garden.
Thereupon he turned boldly into the little thoroughfare and walked on
until he was opposite the cottage, when he could see her, equipped with
gardening gloves and a rather juvenile fork, tidying up the borders.
Unobserved by her, he stepped up to the wooden palings, and, lifting his
hat, enquired apologetically if she could inform him whether, if he
followed the lane, he would come to the Aylesbury road.

At the first sound of his voice she started up and gazed at him with an
expression of the utmost astonishment; nor was her astonishment
diminished when she looked at his face. For an appreciable time she
stood quite still and rigid, with her eyes fixed on him and her lips
parted as if she had seen a spectre. After an interval, Pottermack--who
was more or less prepared, though his heart was thumping almost
audibly--repeated his question, with apologies for intruding on her;
whereupon, recovering herself with an effort, she came across to the
palings and began to give him some directions in a breathless, agitated
voice, while the gloved hand that she rested on the palings trembled
visibly.

Pottermack listened deferentially and then ventured to explain his
position: that he was a stranger, about to settle in the district and
anxious to make himself acquainted with his new surroundings. As this
was received quite graciously, he went on to comment in admiring terms
on the appearance of the cottage and its happy situation in this
pleasant leafy lane. Through this channel they drifted into amicable
conversation concerning the town and the surrounding country, and as
they talked--Pottermack designedly keeping his face partially turned
away from her--she continued to watch him with a devouring gaze and with
a curious expression of bewilderment and incredulity mingled with
something reminiscent, far away and dreamy. Finally, encouraged by his
success, Pottermack proceeded to expound the embryonic state of his
household, and enquired if by any chance she happened to know of a
reliable middle-aged woman who would take charge of it.

"How many are you in family?" Mrs. Bellard asked with ill-concealed
eagerness.

"My entire family," he replied, "is covered by one rather shabby hat."

"Then you ought to have no difficulty in finding a housekeeper. I do, in
fact," she continued, "know of a woman who might suit you, a middle-aged
widow named Gadby--quite a Dickens name, isn't it? I know very little
about her abilities, but I do know that she is a pleasant, good-natured,
and highly respectable woman. If you like, and will give me your
address, I will send her to see you."

Mr. Pottermack jumped at the offer, and having written down his name and
his address at the inn (at the former of which she glanced with eager
curiosity) he thanked her warmly, and, wishing her good-morning with a
flourish of the shabby hat, went on his way rejoicing. That same
evening, Mrs. Gadby called at the inn and was promptly engaged; and a
very fortunate transaction the engagement proved. For, not only did she
turn out to be an incomparable servant, but she constituted herself a
link between her employer and her patroness. Not that the link was
extremely necessary, for whenever Pottermack chanced to meet Mrs.
Bellard--and it was surprising how often it happened--she greeted him
frankly as an acknowledged acquaintance; so that gradually--and not so
very gradually either--their footing as acquaintances ripened into that
of friends. And so, as the weeks passed and their friendship grew up
into a pleasant, sympathetic intimacy, Mr. Pottermack felt that all was
going well and that the time was at hand when he should collect some of
the arrears that were outstanding in his account with Fortune.

But Fortune had not done with him yet. The card that she held up her
sleeve was played a few weeks after he had entered into occupation of
his new house and was beginning to be comfortably settled. He was
standing by the counter of a shop where he had made some purchases when
he became aware of some person standing behind him and somewhat to his
left. He could not see the person excepting as a vague shadow, but he
had the feeling that he was being closely scrutinized. It was not a
pleasant feeling, for, altered as he was, some inopportune recognition
was always possible; and when the person moved from the left side to the
right, Mr. Pottermack began to grow distinctly apprehensive. His right
ear bore a little purple birthmark that was highly distinctive, and the
movement of the unknown observer associated itself very disagreeably in
his mind with this mark. After enduring the scrutiny for some time with
growing uneasiness, he turned and glanced at the face of the
scrutinizer. Then he received a very distinct shock, but at the same
time was a little reassured. For the stranger was not a stranger at all,
but his old friend and fellow-clerk, James Lewson.

Involuntarily his face must have given some sign of recognition, but
this he instantly suppressed. He had no fear of his old friend, but
still, he had renounced his old identity and had no intention of
acknowledging it. He had entered on a new life with a new personality.
Accordingly, after a brief glance, as indifferent as he could make it,
he turned back to the counter and concluded his business. And Lewson,
for his part, made no outward sign of recognition, so that Pottermack
began to hope that he had merely noticed an odd resemblance, without any
suspicion of actual identity. After all, that was what one would expect,
seeing that the Jeffrey Brandon whom he resembled had been dead nearly
fifteen years.

But when he left the shop and went his way through the streets on other
business, he soon discovered that Lewson was shadowing him closely. Once
or twice he put the matter to the test by doubling back or darting
through obscure passages and by-ways; and when he still found Lewson
doggedly clinging to his skirts, he had to accept the conviction that he
had been recognized and deal with the position to the best of his
discretion. Accordingly, he made straight for home; but instead of
entering by the front door, he took the path that skirted the long wall
of his garden and let himself in by the small side gate, which he left
unlatched behind him. A minute later, Lewson pushed it open and looked
in then, seeing that the garden was unoccupied save by Pottermack, he
entered and shut the gate.

"Well, Jeff," he said genially, as he faced Pottermack, "so here you
are. A brand--or shall we say a Brandon--snatched from the burning. I
always wondered if you had managed to do a mizzle, you are such an
uncommonly downy bird."

Pottermack made a last, despairing effort. "Pardon me," said he, "but I
fancy you must be mistaking me for----"

"Oh, rats," interrupted Lewson. "Won't do, old chap. Besides, I saw that
you recognized me. No use pretending that you don't know your old pal,
and certainly no use pretending that he doesn't know you."

Pottermack realised the unwelcome truth and, like a wise man, bowed to
the inevitable.

"I suppose it isn't," he admitted, "and, for that matter, I don't know
that there is any reason why I should. But you will understand that--"

"Oh, I understand well enough," said Lewson. "Don't imagine that I am
offended. Naturally you are not out for digging up your old
acquaintances, especially as you seem to have feathered your nest pretty
well. Where have you been all these years?"

"In the States. I only came back a few weeks ago."

"Ah, you'd have been wiser to stay there. But I suppose you made a pile
and have come home to spend it."

"Well, hardly a pile," said Pottermack, "but I have saved enough to live
on in a quiet way. I am not expensive in my habits."

"Lucky beggar!" said Lewson, glancing around with greedy eyes. "Is this
your own place?"

"Yes, I have just bought it and moved in. Got it remarkably cheap, too."

"Did you? Well, I say again, lucky beggar. It's quite a lordly little
estate."

"Yes, I am very pleased with it. There's a good house and quite a lot of
land, as you see. I hope to live very comfortably here."

"You ought to, if you don't get blown on; and you never need be if you
are a wise man."

"No, I hope not," said Pottermack, a little uneasily. He had been
looking at his old friend and was disagreeably impressed by the change
that the years had wrought. He was by no means happy to know that his
secret was shared with this unprepossessing stranger--for such he,
virtually, was. But still he was totally unprepared for what was to
follow.

"It was a lucky chance for me," remarked Lewson, "that I happened to
drop in at that shop. Best morning's work that I have done for a long
time."

"Indeed!" said Pottermack, looking a little puzzled.

"Yes. I reckon that chance was worth a thousand pounds to me."

"Was it really? I don't quite see how."

"Don't you?" demanded Lewson, with a sudden change of manner. "Then I'll
explain. I presume you don't want the Scotland Yard people to know that
you are alive and living here like a lord?"

"Naturally I don't."

"Of course you don't. And if you show a proper and liberal spirit
towards your old pal, they are never likely to know."

"But," gasped Pottermack, "I don't think I quite understand what you
mean."

"You are devilish thick-headed if you don't," said Lewson. "Then I'll
put in a nutshell. You hand me over a thousand pounds and I give you a
solemn undertaking to keep my mouth shut for ever."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I hop off to Scotland Yard and earn a small gratuity by giving
them the straight tip."

Pottermack recoiled from him in horror. He was thunderstruck. It was
appalling to find that this man, whom he had known as an apparently
decent youth, had sunk so low. He had actually descended to
blackmail--the lowest, the meanest, and the shabbiest of crimes. But it
was not the blackmail alone that filled Pottermack's soul with loathing
of the wretch who stood before him. In the moment in which Lewson made
his demand, Pottermack knew the name of the villain who had forged those
cheques and had set the dastardly trap in which he, Pottermack, was, in
effect, still held.

For some moments he was too much shocked to reply. When at length he
did, it was merely to settle the terms of the transaction. He had no
choice. He realized that this was no empty threat. The gleam of malice
in Lewson's eye was unmistakable. It expressed the inveterate hatred
that a thoroughly base man feels towards one on whom he has inflicted an
unforgivable injury.

"Will a crossed cheque do for you?" he asked.

"Good Lord! no!" was the reply; "nor an open one either. No cheques for
me. Hard cash is what I should prefer, but as that might be difficult to
manage I'll take it in notes--five-pound notes."

"What, a thousand pounds!" exclaimed Pottermack. "What on earth will the
people at the bank think?"

Lewson sniggered. "What would they think, old chap, if I turned up with
an open cheque for a thousand pounds? Wouldn't they take an interest in
the endorsement? No, dear boy, you get the notes--fivers, mind. They
know you. And look here, Jeff. This is a strictly private transaction.
Neither of us wants it to leak out. It will be much safer for us both if
we remain tee-total strangers. If we should meet anywhere, you needn't
take off your hat. I shan't. We don't know one another. I don't even
know your name. By the way, what is your name?"

"Marcus Pottermack."

"God, what a name! However, I'll forget it if I can. You agree with me?"

"Certainly," replied Pottermack with unmistakable sincerity. "But where
and how am I to hand you over the money?"

"I was coming to that," said Lewson. "I will come along here and collect
it on Thursday night--that will give you time to get the notes. I shall
come after dark, about nine o'clock. You had better leave this gate
unlatched, and then, if I see that the coast is clear, I can pop in
unobserved. Will that do?"

Pottermack nodded. "But there is one thing more, Lewson," said he. "This
is a single, final transaction. I pay you a thousand pounds to purchase
your silence and secrecy for ever!"

"That is so. In saecula saeculorum."

"There will be no further demands?"

"Certainly not," Lewson replied indignantly. "Do you think I don't know
what a square deal is? I've given you my solemn promise and you can
trust me to keep it."

Pottermack pursued the matter no farther; and as the calamitous business
was now concluded, he softly opened the gate, and, having ascertained
that no one was in sight, he let his visitor out and watched the big
burly figure swaggering townwards along the little path that bordered
his wall.

Closing the gate, he turned back into the garden, his heart filled with
bitterness and despair. His dream was at an end. Never, while this
horse-leech hung on to him, could he ask Alice Bellard to be his wife.
For his prophetic soul told him only too truly that this was but a
beginning; that the blackmailer would come again and again and yet
again, always to go away still holding the thing that he had sold.

And so it befell; and so the pitiless extortion might have gone on to
its end in the ruin and impoverishment of the victim but for the timely
appearance of the sundial in Mr. Gallett's yard.



CHAPTER XI--MR. POTTERMACK'S DILEMMA


The sound of the piano faded away in a gradual diminuendo and at last
stopped. A brief interval of silence followed.

Then Mr. Pottermack, withdrawing his gaze from the infinite distance
beyond the garden, turned to look at his hostess and found her regarding
him with a slightly quizzical smile.

"You haven't lit your pipe after all, Mr. Pottermack," said she.

"No," he replied. "My savage breast was so effectually soothed by your
music that tobacco would have been superfluous. Besides, my pipe would
have gone out. It always does when my attention is very completely
occupied."

"And was it? I almost thought you were dozing."

"I was dreaming," said he; "day-dreaming; but wide awake and listening.
It is curious," he continued after a pause, "what power music has to
awaken associations. There is nothing like it, excepting, perhaps,
scents. Music and odours, things utterly unlike anything but themselves,
seem to have a power of arousing dormant memories that is quite lacking
in representative things such as pictures and statues."

"So it would seem," said Mrs. Bellard, "that I have been, in a fashion,
performing the function of an opium pipe in successful competition with
the tobacco article. But it is too late to mend matters now. I can hear
Anne approaching with the tea-things."

Almost as she spoke, the door opened and the maid entered, carrying a
tray with anxious care, and proceeded to set out the tea-things with the
manner of one performing a solemn rite. When she had gone and the tea
was poured out, Mrs. Bellard resumed the conversation.

"I began to think you had struck me off your visiting list. What have
you been doing with yourself all this time?"

"Well," Pottermack replied evasively--for, obviously, he could not go
into details--"I have been a good deal occupied. There have been a lot
of things to do; the sun-dial, for instance. I told you about the
sun-dial, didn't I?"

"Yes, but that was a long time ago. You said you were going to show it
to me when it was set up, but you never have. You haven't even shown it
to Mrs. Gadby. She is quite hurt about it."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr. Pottermack; "how self-centred we old bachelors
get! But this neglect must be remedied at once. When can you come and
see it? Could you come round and have tea with me tomorrow?"

"Yes. I should like to; but I can't come very early. Will a quarter to
five do?"

"Of course it will. We can have tea first and then make a leisurely
survey of the sun-dial and the various other things that I have to show
you."

Thus the arrangement was made, very much to Mr. Pottermack's
satisfaction, for it enabled him to postpone to the morrow a certain
very momentous question which he had thought of raising this very
afternoon, but which now appeared a little inopportune. For a delicate
question must be approached cautiously through suitable channels, and no
such means of approach had presented themselves or seemed likely to.
Accordingly, relieved of the necessity of looking for an opening, Mr.
Pottermack was able to give his whole attention to making himself
agreeable, and eventually took his departure in the best of spirits,
looking forward with confidence to the prospects of the morrow.

The tea, as arranged by Mrs. Gadby in the pleasant dining-room of "The
Chestnuts," was a triumphant success. It would have been an even greater
success if the fair visitor had happened to have been on short commons
for the preceding week. But the preposterous abundance at least
furnished the occasion of mirth, besides serving as an outlet for Mrs.
Gadby's feelings of regard and admiration towards the guest and a
demonstration of welcome.

"It is really very nice of her," said Mrs. Bellard, glancing smilingly
round the loaded table, "and tactful too. It is a compliment to us both.
It implies that she has cause to be grateful to me for introducing her
here, and you are that cause. I expect she has a pretty comfortable
time."

"I hope so," said Pottermack. "I have, thanks to her and to you. And she
keeps the house in the most perfect order. Would you like to look over
it presently?"

"Naturally I should. Did you ever meet a woman who was not devoured by
curiosity in regard to a bachelor's household arrangements? But I am
really more interested in the part of the premises that is outside Mrs.
Gadby's domain; the part that reflects your own personality. I want
especially to see your workshop. Am I to be allowed to?"

"Undoubtedly you are; in fact, if we have finished, as it seems we have,
you shall be introduced to it forthwith."

They rose, and, passing out at the back door, walked together up the
long path through the kitchen garden and orchard until they came to the
gate of the walled garden, which Pottermack unlocked with his Yale key.

"This is very impressive and mysterious," said Mrs. Bellard as the gate
closed and the spring-latch snapped. "I am quite proud to be admitted
into this holy of holies. It is a delightful garden," she continued,
letting her eyes travel round the great oblong enclosure, "so perfectly
peaceful and quiet and remote. Here one is cut off from all the world,
which is rather restful at times."

Mr. Pottermack agreed, and reflected that the present was one of those
times. "When I want to be alone," he remarked, "I like to be definitely
alone and secure from interruption."

"Well, you are secure enough here, shut in from the sight of any human
eye. Why, you might commit a murder and no one would be any the wiser."

"So I might," agreed Mr. Pottermack, rather taken aback. "I hadn't
thought of that advantage, and, of course, you understand that the place
wasn't laid out with that purpose in view. What do you think of the
sun-dial?"

"I was just looking at it and thinking what a charming finish it gives
to the garden. It is delightful, and will be still more so when the new
stone has weathered down to the tone of the old. And I think you told me
that there is a well underneath. That adds a sort of deliciously
horrible interest to it."

"Why horrible?" Pottermack enquired uncomfortably.

"Oh, don't you think wells are rather gruesome things? I do. There is
one in my garden, and it gives me the creeps whenever I lower the bucket
and watch it sinking down, down that black hole and vanishing into the
bowels of the earth."

"Yes," said Pottermack, "I have that feeling myself. Probably most
town-bred people have. And they are really rather dangerous, especially
when they are unguarded as this one was. That was why I took the
opportunity to cover it up."

By this time they were close up to the dial, and Mrs. Bellard walked
round it to read the motto. "Why do they always write these things in
Latin?" she asked.

"Partly for the sake of brevity," he replied. "Here are five Latin
words. The equivalent in English is: 'At the rising of the sun, hope: at
the going down thereof, peace.'"

"It is a beautiful motto," she said, looking wistfully and a little
sadly at the stone pillar. "The first part is what we all know by
experience; the second is what we pray for to compensate us for the
sorrows and disillusionments of the years that come between. But now let
us go and look at the workshop."

Pottermack conducted her behind the yew hedge into the range of
well-lighted workrooms, where he exhibited, not without a touch of
pride, his very complete outfit. But the fair widow's enthusiastic
interest in the tools and appliances rather surprised him; for women are
apt to look on the instruments of masculine handicraft with a slightly
supercilious eye. No general survey satisfied her. He had to display his
"plant" in detail and explain and demonstrate the use of each appliance:
the joiner's bench with its quick-grip vice; the metalwork bench with
its anvil and stakes and the big brazing-jet; the miniature forge, the
lathe, the emery-wheel, and the bench-drill. She examined them all with
the closest attention and with a singularly intelligent grasp of their
purposes and modes of action. Pottermack became so absorbed in the
pleasure of exhibiting his treasures that, for the moment, he almost
forgot his main purpose.

"I am glad I have seen the place where you work," she said, as they came
out into the garden. "Now I can picture you to myself among your
workshop gods, busy and happy. You are happy when you are working there,
aren't you?"

She asked the question with so much concern that Pottermack was fain to
reply:

"Every workman, I think, is happy when he is working. Of course, I mean
a skilled man, working with his hands and his brain, creating something,
even if it is only a simple thing. Yes, I am happy when I am doing a
job, especially if it is a little difficult."

"I understand; for a little extra planning and thought. But are you, in
general, a happy man? Do you find life pleasant? You always seem very
cheerful and yet sometimes I wonder if you really enjoy life."

Pottermack reflected a few moments. "You are thinking," said he, "of my
solitary and apparently friendless state, though I am not friendless at
all, seeing that I have you--the dearest and kindest friend that a man
could wish for. But in a sense you are right. My life is an incomplete
affair, and these activities of mine, pleasant as they are, serve but as
makeshifts to fill a blank. But it could easily be made complete. A word
from you would be enough. If you were my wife there would be nothing
left in the world for me to covet. I should be a perfectly happy man."

He paused and looked at her, and was a little disconcerted to see that
her eyes had filled and that she was looking down with an evident
expression of distress. As she made no answer, he continued, more
eagerly:

"Why should it not be, Alice? We are the very best of friends--really
devoted and affectionate friends. We like the same things and the same
ways of life. We have the same interests, the same pleasures. We should
try to make one another happy, and I am sure we should succeed. Won't
you say the word, dear, and let us join hands to go our ways together
for the rest of our lives?"

She turned and looked in his face with brimming eyes and laid her hand
on his arm.

"Dear friend," she said, "dearest Marcus, I would say yes, joyfully,
thankfully, if only it were possible. I have given you my friendship, my
most loving friendship, and that is all I have to give. It is impossible
for me to be your wife."

Pottermack gazed at her in dismay. "But," he asked huskily, "why is it
impossible? What hinders?"

"My husband hinders," she replied in a low voice.

"Your husband!" gasped Pottermack.

"Yes. You have believed, as every one here believes, that I am a widow.
I am not. My husband is still alive. I cannot and will not live with him
or even acknowledge him. But he lives, to inflict one more injury on me
by standing between you and me. Come," she continued, as Pottermack,
numb with amazement, gazed at her in silence, "let us go and sit down in
the summer-house and I will tell you the whole pitiful story."

She walked across the lawn, and Pottermack accompanied her with
half-unconscious reluctance. Since that fatal night he had made little
use of the summer-house. Its associations repelled him. Even now he
would, by choice, have avoided it; and it was with a certain vague
discomfort that he saw his beloved friend seat herself in the chair that
had stood vacant since that night when Lewson had sat in it.

"I will tell you my story," she began, "from the time when I was a girl,
or perhaps I should say a young woman. At that time I was engaged to a
young man named Jeffrey Brandon. We were devotedly attached to each
other. As to Jeffrey, I need say no more than that you are--allowing
forthe difference of age--quite extraordinarily like him; like in
features, in voice, in tastes, and in nature. If Jeffrey had been alive
now, he would have been exactly like you. That is what attracted me to
you from the first.

"We were extremely happy--perfectly happy--in our mutual affection, and
we were all-sufficient to one another. I thought myself the most
fortunate of girls, and so I was; for we were only waiting until I
should come into a small property that was likely to fall to me shortly,
when we should have had enough to marry upon comfortably. And then, in a
moment, our happiness was shattered utterly. A most dreadful thing
happened. A series of forgeries was discovered at the bank where Jeffrey
was employed. Suspicion was made to fall upon him. He was prosecuted,
convicted--on false evidence, of course--and sentenced to a term of
penal servitude.

"As soon as he was convicted, he formally released me from our
engagement, but I need not say that I had no intention of giving him up.
However, the question never arose. Poor Jeffrey escaped from prison, and
in trying to swim out to some ship in the river was drowned. Later, his
body was recovered and taken to the prison, where an inquest was held. I
went down, and by special permission attended the funeral and laid a
wreath on the grave in the prison cemetery. And that was the end of my
romance.

"When Jeffrey died, I made up my mind that I was a spinster for life;
and so I ought to have been. But things fell out otherwise. Besides me,
Jeffrey had one intimate friend, a fellow-clerk at the bank named James
Lewson. Of course, I knew him fairly intimately, and after Jeffrey's
conviction I saw a good deal of him. Indeed, we became quite
friendly--which we had hardly been before--by reason of the firm belief
that he expressed in Jeffrey's innocence. Every one else took the poor
boy's guilt for granted, so, naturally, I was drawn to the one loyal
friend. Then, when Jeffrey died and was lost to me for ever, he took
every opportunity of offering me comfort and consolation; and he did it
so tactfully, was so filled with grief for our lost friend and so eager
to talk of him and keep his memory green between us, that we became
greater friends than ever.

"After a time, his friendship took on a more affectionate and
demonstrative character, and finally he asked me plainly to marry him.
Of course, I said no; in fact, I was rather shocked at the proposal, for
I still felt that I belonged to Jeffrey. But he was quietly persistent.
He took no offence, but he did not pretend to accept my refusal as
final. Especially he urged on me that Jeffrey would have wished that I
should not be left to go through life alone, but that I should be
cherished and protected by his own loyal and devoted friend.

"Gradually his arguments overcame my repugnance to the idea of the
marriage, though it was still distasteful to me, and when he asked for
my consent as a recognition and reward of his loyalty to Jeffrey, I at
last gave way. It appeared ungrateful to go on refusing him; and after
all, nothing seemed to matter much now that Jeffrey was gone. The end of
it was that we were married just before he started to take up an
appointment in a branch of the bank at Leeds.

"It was not long before the disillusionment came, and when it did come,
I was astonished that I could have been so deceived. Very soon I began
to realize that it was not love of me that had made him such a
persistent suitor. It was the knowledge that he had gathered of the
little fortune that was coming to me. His greediness for money was
incredible; and yet he was utterly unable to hold it. It ran through his
hands like water. He had a fair salary, but yet we were always poor and
usually in debt. For he was an inveterate gambler--a gambler of that
hopeless type that must inevitably lose. He usually did lose at once,
for he was a reckless plunger, but if by chance he made a coup, he
immediately plunged with his winnings and lost them. It was no wonder
that he was always in difficulties.

"When, at last, my little property came to me, he was deeply
disappointed; for it was tied up securely in the form of a trust, and my
uncle, who is a solicitor, was the managing trustee. And a very careful
trustee he was, and not at all well impressed by my husband. James
Lewson had hoped to get control of the entire capital, instead of which
he had to apply to me for money when he was in difficulties and I had to
manage my trustee as best I could. But in spite of this, most of the
income that I received went to pay my husband's debts and losses.

"Meanwhile our relations grew more and more unsatisfactory. The
disappointment due to the trust, and the irritation at having to ask me
for money and explain the reasons for his need of it, made him sullen
and morose, and even, at times, coarsely abusive. But there was
something more. From the first I had been dismayed at his freedom in the
matter of drink. But the habit grew upon him rapidly, and it was in
connection with this that the climax of our disagreement came about and
led to our separation.

"I understand that drink has different effects on different types of
men. On James Lewson its effects began with the loss of all traces of
refinement and a tendency to coarse facetiousness. The next stage was
that of noisy swagger and boasting, and then he soon became quarrelsome
and even brutal. There were one or two occasions when he threatened to
become actually violent. Now it happened more than once that, when he
had drunk himself into a state of boastful exaltation, he spoke of
Jeffrey in a tone of such disrespect and even contempt that I had to
leave the room to avoid an open, vulgar quarrel. But on the final
occasion he went much farther. He began by jeering at my infatuation for
'that nincompoop,' as he called him, and when I, naturally, became
furiously angry and was walking out of the room, he called me back, and,
laughing in my face, actually boasted to me--to me!--that his was the
master mind that had planned and carried out the forgeries and then set
up 'that mug, Jeff,' as the man of straw for the lawyers to knock down.

"I was absolutely thunderstruck. At first I thought that it was mere
drunken fooling. But then he went on to give corroborative details,
chuckling with idiotic self-complacency, until at last I realized that
it was true; that this fuddled brute was the dastardly traitor who had
sent my Jeffrey to his death.

"Then I left him. At once I packed a small suitcase and went out and
took a room at an hotel in the town. The next day I returned and had an
interview with him. He was mightily flustered and apologetic. He
remembered quite well what he had said, but tried to persuade me that it
was a mere drunken joke and that it was all a fabrication, invented to
annoy me. But I knew better. In the interval I had thought matters over,
and I saw how perfectly his confession explained everything and agreed
with what I now knew of him; his insatiable greed for money, his
unscrupulousness, his wild gambling, and the reckless way in which he
contracted debts. I brushed aside his explanations and denials and
presented my ultimatum, of which the terms were these:

"We should separate at once and completely, and henceforth be as total
strangers, not recognizing one another if we should ever meet. I should
take my mother's maiden name, Bellard, and assume the status of a widow.
He should refrain from molesting me or claiming any sort of acquaintance
or relationship with me.

"If he agreed to these terms, I undertook to pay him a quarterly
allowance and to take no action in respect of what I had learned. If he
refused, I should instruct my uncle to commence proceedings to obtain a
judicial separation and I should state in open court all that I knew. I
should communicate these facts to the directors of the bank; and if, in
my uncle's opinion, any prosecution were possible--for perjury or any
other offence connected with the forgeries--I should instruct him to
prosecute.

"My ultimatum took him aback completely. At first he tried to bluster,
then he became pathetic and tried to wheedle. But in the end, when he
saw that I was not to be moved from my resolution, he gave way. I could
see that my threats had scared him badly, though, in fact, I don't
believe that I could have done anything. But perhaps he knew better.
There may have been some other matters of which I had no knowledge. At
any rate, he agreed, with the one stipulation, that the quarterly
allowance should be paid in notes and not by a cheque.

"As soon as I had settled the terms of the separation I moved to
Aylesbury, where my mother's people had lived, and stayed there in
lodgings while I looked for a small, cheap house. At length I found the
cottage at Borley, and there I have lived ever since, as comfortably as
my rather straitened means would let me. For, of course, the allowance
has been rather a strain, though I have paid it cheerfully as the price
of my freedom; and I may say that James Lewson has kept to the terms of
our agreement with one exception--an exception that I expected. He has
not been satisfied with the allowance. From time to time, and with
increasing frequency, he has applied for loans--which, of course, meant
gifts--to help him out of some temporary difficulty; and sometimes--but
not always--I have been weak enough to supply him.

"But I was not to be left completely in peace. When I had been settled
in Borley for about a year, I received a letter from him informing me
that 'by a strange coincidence' he had been appointed to the managership
of the Borley branch of the bank. Of course, I knew that it was no
coincidence at all. He had engineered the transfer himself."

"With what object, do you suppose?" asked Pottermack.

"It may have been mere malice," she replied, "just to cause me annoyance
without breaking the terms of the agreement. But my impression is that
it was done with the deliberate purpose of keeping me in a state of
nervous unrest so that I should be the more easily prevailed on to
comply with his applications for money. At any rate, those applications
became more frequent and more urgent after he came to live here, and
once he threw out a hint about calling at my house for an answer. But I
put a stop to that at once."

"Did you ever meet him in Borley?" Pottermack asked.

"Yes, once or twice. But I passed him in the street without a glance of
recognition and he made no attempt to molest me. I think he had a
wholesome fear of me. And, of course, I kept out of his way as much as I
could. But it was an immense relief to me when he went away. You heard
of his disappearance, I suppose? It was the talk of the town at the
time."

"Oh yes," replied Pottermack. "My friend, Mr. Gallett, the mason, was
the first to announce the discovery. But I little thought when I heard
of it how much it meant to you--and to me. What do you suppose has
become of him?"

"I can't imagine. It is a most mysterious affair. There is no reason
that I can think of why he should have absconded at all. I can only
suppose that he had done something which he expected to be found out but
which has not come to light. Perhaps the most mysterious thing about it
is that he has never applied to me for money. He would know quite well
that I should at least have sent him his allowance, and that he could
depend on me not to betray him, profoundly as I detest him."

Mr. Pottermack cogitated anxiously. He loathed the idea of deceiving
this noble, loyal-hearted woman. Yet what could he do? He was committed
irrevocably to a certain line of action, and in committing himself he
had unconsciously committed her. He had embarked on a course of
deception and had no choice but to follow it. And with regard to the
future, he could honestly assure himself that whatever made for his
happiness would make for hers.

"Do you think he may have gone abroad?" he asked.

"It is impossible to say," she replied. "I have no reason to suppose he
has, excepting his extraordinary silence."

"It is even possible," Pottermack suggested in a slightly husky voice,
"that he may be dead."

"Yes," she admitted, "that is possible, and it would certainly account
for his silence. But is it any use guessing?"

"I was only thinking," said Pottermack, "that if he should happen to
have died, that would--er--dispose of our difficulties."

"Not unless we knew that he was dead. On the contrary. If he should have
died and his death should remain undiscovered, or, what is the same
thing, if he should have died without having been identified, then I
should be bound to him beyond any possible hope of release."

Pottermack drew a deep breath, and unconsciously his glance fell on the
sun-dial.

"But," he asked in a low tone, "if it should ever become known as an
ascertained fact that he was dead? Then, dear Alice, would you say yes?"

"But have I not said it already?" she exclaimed. "Did I not tell you
that, if I were free, I would gladly, thankfully take you for my
husband? Then, if that is not enough, I say it again. Not that it is of
much use to say it, seeing that there is no reason to suppose that he is
dead or likely to die. I only wish there were. It may sound callous to
express such a wish, but it would be mere hypocrisy to pretend to any
other feeling. He ruined poor Jeffrey's life and he has ruined mine."

"I wouldn't say that," Pottermack protested gently. "The sands of your
life have yet a long time to run. There is still time for us both to
salve some happy years from the wreckage of the past."

"So there is," she agreed. "I was wrong. It is only a part of my life
that has been utterly spoiled. And if you, too, have been through stormy
weather--as I, somehow, think you have--we must join forces and help one
another with the salvage work. But we shall have to be content to be
friends, since marriage is out of our reach."

"My dear," said Pottermack, "if you say that you would be willing to
have me for your husband that is all I ask."

They went forth from the summer-house and walked slowly, hand in hand,
round the old garden; and Pottermack, anxious to conceal his bitter
disappointment, chatted cheerfully about his fruit trees and the flowers
that he meant to plant in the sunny borders. Very soon they seemed to be
back on the old footing, only with a new note of affection and intimacy
which made itself evident when Pottermack, with his hand on the latch of
the gate, drew his companion to him and kissed her before they passed
through together into the orchard.

He walked with her back to the cottage and said good-bye at the little
wooden gate.

"I hope, dear," she whispered, as she held his hand for a moment, "that
you are not very, very disappointed."

"I am not thinking of disappointments," he replied cheerily. "I am
gloating over the blessings that I enjoy already and hoping that Fortune
may have something to add to them later on."

But despite his assumed cheeriness of manner, Mr. Pottermack took his
way homeward in a profoundly depressed state of mind. The dream of
settled happiness that had haunted him for years, vague and unreal at
first but ever growing more definite and vivid, had been shattered in
the very moment when it seemed to have become a reality. He thought
bitterly of the later years in America when his purpose of seeking his
lost love had been forming, almost unrecognized by himself as a thing
actually intended; of his long search in London with its ultimate
triumph; of the patient pursuit of the beloved object to this place and
the purchase of his house; of the long untiring effort, always bringing
him nearer and nearer to success. And then, when he seemed to have
conquered every difficulty, to have his treasure within his very grasp,
behold an obstacle undreamed of and apparently insuperable.

It was maddening; and the most exasperating feature of it was that the
obstacle was of his own creating. Like most men who have committed a
fatal blunder, Mr. Pottermack was impelled to chew the bitter cud of the
might-have-been. If he had only known! How easy it would have been to
arrange things suitably! Looking back, he now saw how unnecessary had
been all that laborious business of the gutta-percha soles. It had been
the result of mere panic. He could see that now. And he could have met
the conditions so much more simply and satisfactorily. Supposing he had
just made a few footprints in the soft earth leading to the well--he
could have done that with the plaster casts--flung down the coat by the
brink and gone out on the following morning and informed the police.
There would have been no risk of suspicion. Why should there have been?
He would have told a perfectly convincing story. He could have related
how he had gone out in the evening, leaving his gate unlocked, had
returned in the dark and found it ajar; had discovered in the morning
strange footprints and a coat, suggesting that some stranger had strayed
into the garden and, in the darkness, had fallen down the well. It would
have been a perfectly natural and straightforward story. Nobody would
have doubted it or connected him with the accident. Then the well would
have been emptied, the body recovered and the incident closed for ever.

As it was, the situation was one of exasperating irony. He was in a
dilemma from which there seemed to be no escape. He alone, of all the
world, knew that Alice Bellard was free to marry him; and that knowledge
he must carry locked up in his breast for the remainder of his life.



CHAPTER XII--THE UNDERSTUDY


Readers who have followed this history to its present stage will have
realized by this time that Mr. Pottermack was a gentleman of uncommon
tenacity of purpose. To the weaker vessels the sudden appearance of an
apparently insuperable obstacle is the occasion for abandoning hope and
throwing up the sponge. But Mr. Pottermack was of a tougher fibre. To
him a difficulty was not a matter for wringing of hands but for active
search for a solution.

Hence it happened that the black despair that enveloped and pervaded him
after his proposal to Alice Bellard soon began to disperse under the
influence of his natural resiliency. From profitless reflections on the
might-have-been he turned to the consideration of the may-be. He began
to examine the obstacle critically, not as a final extinguisher of his
hopes, but as a problem to be dealt with.

Now what did that problem amount to? He, Marcus Pottermack, desired to
marry Alice Bellard. That had been the darling wish and purpose of his
life and he had no intention of abandoning it. She, on her side, wished
to marry him, but she believed that her husband was still alive. He,
Pottermack, knew that the said husband was dead, but he could not
disclose his knowledge. Yet until the fact of the husband's death was
disclosed, the marriage was impossible and must remain so for ever. For
there is this unsatisfactory peculiarity about a dead man: that it is
hopeless to look forward to the possibility of his dying. Thus the
problem, put in a nutshell, amounted to this: that James Lewson, being
dead de facto, had got to be made dead de jure.

But how was this to be done? It is hardly necessary to say that, at
first, a number of wild-cat schemes floated through Mr. Pottermack's
mind, though they found no lodgment there. For instance, he actually
considered the feasibility of dismounting the sun-dial, fishing up the
body and planting it in some place where it might be found. Of course,
the plan was physically impossible even if he could have faced the
horrors of its execution.

Then he turned his attention to the now invaluable coat. He conceived
the idea of depositing it at the edge of a cliff or on the brink of a
river or dock. But this would not have served the required purpose.
Doubtless it would have raised a suspicion that the owner was dead. But
suspicion was of no use. Absolute certainty was what was needed to turn
the wife into a widow. In connection with this idea, he studied the law
relating to Presumption of Death; but when he learned that, about 1850,
the Court of Queen's Bench had refused to presume the death of a person
who was known to have been alive in the year 1027, he decided that the
staying power of the law was considerably greater than his own and
finally abandoned the idea.

Nevertheless his resolution remained unshaken. Somehow James Lewson
would have to be given the proper, recognized status of a dead man.
Though no practicable scheme presented itself, the problem was ever
present in his mind. By day and by night, in his work in the garden, in
his walks through the quiet lanes, even in the fair widow's pleasant
sitting-room, his thoughts were constantly busy with the vain search for
some solution; and so they might have continued indefinitely but for a
chance circumstance that supplied him with a new suggestion. And even
then, the suggestion was so indirect and so little related to the nature
of his problem that he had nearly missed it.

From time to time, Mr. Pottermack was in the habit of paying a visit to
London for the purpose of making various purchases, particularly of
tools and materials. On one of these occasions, happening to be in the
neighbourhood of Covent Garden, and realizing suddenly that the day was
Friday, it occurred to him to, look in at the auction rooms in King
Street, hard by and see what was going. For the Friday sales of
"miscellaneous property" are of special interest to those who use tools,
appliances, or scientific instruments, and Pottermack had on one or two
previous occasions picked up some very useful bargains.

But this time he seemed to have drawn a blank; for when he ran his eye
over the catalogue which was fixed to the doorpost he found, to his
disgust, that the principal feature was "The valuable collection brought
together by a well-known Egyptologist, lately deceased." He was on the
point of turning away when he noticed, near the end of the catalogue,
"another property" consisting of a quantity of model-maker's tools and
appliances; whereupon he entered the office, and, having provided
himself with a catalogue, made his way to the inner room where the tools
were on view. These he looked over critically, marking here and there a
"Lot" which might be worth buying if it should go cheaply enough. Then,
having finished his actual business, he proceeded rather aimlessly to
browse round the room, catalogue in hand, glancing at the various items
of the Egyptologist's collection.

There is always something impressive about the relics of Ancient Egypt.
Their vast antiquity, the evidence that they present of strange
knowledge and a rather uncanny skill, with suggestions of a state of
mind by no means primitive, yet utterly unlike our own, gives them a
certain weird quality that makes itself felt by most observers.
Pottermack was distinctly aware of it. As he looked over the collection
of venerable objects--the ushabti figures, the wooden head-rests, the
pre-dynastic painted vases, the jar-sealings, the flint implements and
copper tools and weapons--he had the feeling that the place was unworthy
of them. Particularly in regard to the wooden and stone steles, the
portrait statuettes, the canopic jars and other pious memorials of the
dead, did he feel that their presence here, offered for sale in the
public market, was an affront to their sacred character. As to the
coffins, and above all the mummies, their exposure here seemed to him
positively indecent. Here were the actual bodies of deceased ladies and
gentlemen, persons of rank and station in their day, as the inscriptions
testified, catalogued as mere curios, with the auctioneer's ticket
pasted on their very coffins or even on their funeral vesture.

Mr. Pottermack halted by a large open box into which a much-damaged
mummy had been crammed and lay, partly doubled up, amidst a litter of
broken wood. The ticket, stuck on the linen bandage in which the body
was swathed, marked it as "Lot 15"; and reference to the catalogue
elicited the further particulars: "Mummy of an official with portions of
wooden coffin (a.f.)," while a label attached to the mummy identified the
deceased as "Khama-Heru, a libationer of the 19th or 20th dynasty."

Mr. Pottermack stood by the box, looking down distastefully, almost
resentfully, at the shapeless figure, wrapped in its bulky swathings,
and looking like a gigantic rag doll that had been bundled into a
rubbish-box. That great rag doll had once been a respected attendant at
feasts and solemn ceremonials. Presently it would be put up "with all
faults" and probably knocked down for a few shillings to some
speculative curio dealer. And as he reflected thus, the words of Sir
Thomas Browne floated through his mind: "The Egyptian mummies which Time
or Cambyses hath spared, Avarice now consumeth." Vain, indeed, were the
efforts of the pious Mizraim to achieve even physical immortality.

He had turned away and was beginning to move slowly towards the door.
And then, suddenly, in a moment of time, two separate ideas, apparently
unrelated, linked themselves together and evolved a third. And a very
strange one that newly evolved idea was. Mr. Pottermack was quite
startled. As it flashed into his mind, he stopped dead, and then,
retracing his steps, halted once more beside the box. But now, as he
looked down on the great rag doll that had once been Khama-Heru, no
distaste or resentment was in his eye, but rather an eager curiosity
that estimated and measured and sought for details. He inspected
critically the fracture where the brittle corpse had been doubled up to
jam it in the box; the spot where part of a shrivelled nose peeped
through a hole in the rotten linen. The history of this thing interested
him no more. What it had been was no concern of his. Its importance to
him was in what it was now. It was a dead body--a dead human body; the
body of a man; of a tall man, so far as he could judge.

He made a pencil mark on his catalogue opposite Lot 15, and then, having
glanced at his watch, walked out into King Street, there to pace up and
down until it should be time for the auction to begin; and meanwhile to
try to fashion this startling but rather nebulous idea into a more
definite shape; to decide, in short, the part which the late Khama-Heru
could be given to play in his slightly involved affairs.

The actual acquirement of the gruesome relic presented no difficulties.
It is true that the auctioneer made some conscientious efforts to invest
Lot 15 with some semblance of value. But his plausible suggestions as to
the "trifling restorations" that might be necessary aroused no
enthusiasm. He had to start the bidding himself--at ten shillings; and
at fifteen the hammer descended to confirm Mr. Pottermack in the lawful
possession of a deceased libationer. Thereupon the money was handed in
and the box handed out, and when it had its lid nailed on and a length
of cord tied round it, it was conveyed out to the pavement, whence it
was presently transferred to the roof of a cab and in due course
transported to Marylebone Station to await the next train to Borley.

The advent of Khama-Heru, deceased, to "The Chestnuts," Borley,
inaugurated a radical change in Mr. Pottermack's habits and mental
state. Gone was the restless indecision that had kept him mooning about,
thinking everlastingly and getting nothing done. Now, his mind was, in a
measure, at rest. He had a job, and if all the details of that job were
not yet clear to him, still he could, as in any other job, get on with
the part that he knew while he was planning out the remainder.

The first problem was to dispose of the box--and of the occupant when he
should emerge. In the first place, it had been conveyed through the side
gate to the workshop, where it at present reposed. But this would never
do, especially when the emergence should take place. For, of late, Alice
Bellard had taken to bringing him little commissions and sitting by him
in the workshop babbling cheerfully while he carried them out. Which was
exceedingly pleasant. But two is company, and, assuredly, Khama-Heru
would have made a very undesirable third. And there was another point.
At present, in his box with the fragments of the coffin and the
auctioneer's ticket, K.-H. was harmless enough; a mere fifteen
shillings' worth of miscellaneous property. But after a few "trifling
restorations" (of a rather different kind from those contemplated by the
auctioneer) the said K.-H. would present a highly compromising
appearance. Arrangements would have to be made for keeping him in strict
retirement.

The conditions were met fairly well by emptying the tool-house. The
roller and the lawn-mower could rest safely outside under a tarpaulin,
and the garden tools could be stowed at the end of the metal-shop. When
this had been done and the tool-house door fitted with a really safe
lock, Pottermack dragged the box thither; and having taken off the lid,
strengthened it, and fitted it with a pair of stout hinges and a good
lever lock, he felt that he had made things secure for the present. The
tool-house was furnished with a long bench for the storage of
flower-pots, and, as it was lighted only by a window in the roof, he
would be able to work there conveniently and safe from observation.

His first proceeding was to unroll the mummy, to unwind the countless
yards of rotten linen bandage with which it had been covered. He wanted
to see what the mummy itself was like and whether it was complete. But
when he had got all the wrappings off and looked at the thing as it lay
on the bench, he was appalled at its appearance. In its wrappings it had
been gruesome enough--a great, horrible rag doll; but divested of those
wrappings it was ghastly. For now it revealed itself frankly for what it
was--a dead man; dry, shrivelled, unnatural, but still undeniably the
dead body of a man.

Pottermack stood by the bench gazing at it distastefully and with
something of the compunction that he had felt in the auction room. But
it was of no use being squeamish. He had bought the thing for a specific
and most necessary purpose, and that purpose had got to be carried into
effect. Gulping down his qualms, therefore, he set himself to make a
systematic examination.

Apparently the body was quite complete. The abdomen looked a little
queer, but probably that was due to the drying, though there were
unmistakable signs of its having been opened. Both legs were partially
broken off at the hip-joints, just hanging on loosely by a few strings
of dried flesh. But the bones seemed quite uninjured. The head was in
the same condition as the legs, detached from the spine save for one or
two strands of dry muscle, and at the moment rolled over on its side
with its face turned towards Pottermack. And a grisly face it was; for
despite the shrivelled nose, the papery ears, the sunken eyes, and the
horrid sardonic grin, it had a recognizable human expression. Looking at
it with shuddering interest, Pottermack felt that he could form a fairly
clear idea as to what Khama-Heru must have looked like when alive.

Careful measurement with a two-foot rule showed that the body was just
under five feet nine inches in length. Allowing for shrinkage in drying,
his height had probably been well over five feet ten; enough to make him
a passable understudy for James Lewson. Unfortunately, there was no
facial resemblance whatever, but this, Pottermack hoped, would be of no
consequence. The dimensions were what really mattered. But, of course,
the body was useless for Pottermack's purpose in its present rigid,
brittle state, and the important question was how far it could be
softened and rendered flexible. Pottermack decided to make a tentative
experiment on one shoulder by leaving it for an hour or two under
several thicknesses of wet rag; which he did, with results that were, on
the whole, satisfactory. The moistened flesh and skin swelled up
appreciably and took on a much more natural appearance, and the arm now
moved freely at the shoulder-joint. But it was evident that this
treatment must not be applied prematurely, or other, less desirable
changes would set in. He accordingly allowed the moistened area to dry
thoroughly and then put the mummy away in its box, there to remain
hidden until the other preparations had been completed.

These were of two kinds. First, the understudy had to be provided with a
"make-up" which would be perfectly convincing under somewhat rigorous
conditions; and secondly, a suitable setting had to be found for the
little drama in which the understudy should play his part. Both gave Mr.
Pottermack considerable occupation.

In connection with the make-up, it happened most fortunately that he had
preserved the copy of the local paper containing the announcement of the
disappearance with the description of the missing man issued by the
police. With native caution, Mr. Pottermack had used the paper to line a
drawer, and he now drew it forth and studied its remarkably full
details. The coat was in his possession; most fortunately, since it was
of a conspicuous pattern and would have been almost impossible to
duplicate. The other clothing--the pin-head worsted waistcoat and
trousers, the plain grey cotton shirt, the collar, neck-tie, and
underclothing--was all of a kind that could be easily matched from the
description, aided in some cases by his own memory; and the shoes, which
were described minutely, could be duplicated with ease at any large
shoe-retailers, while as to the rubber soles, they were of a pattern
that were turned out by the thousand.

Nevertheless, the outfit for the deceased gave him endless trouble and
occasioned numerous visits to London. The clothing called for tactful
manoeuvring, since it was obviously not for his own wear. The "Invicta"
sole manufacturers had to be found through the directory, and the
circular heels, with their five-pointed stars, involved a long and
troublesome search; for most of the star-pattern heels have six-pointed
stars. And even when the outfit had been obtained the work was not at an
end. For all the things were new. They had to be "conditioned" before
they would be ready for the final act. The garments had to be worn, and
worn roughly (in the garden and workshop, since their size made them
entirely unpresentable), to produce marks of wear and convincing
creases. The shoes, when the soles had been stuck on and a knife-cut
made across the neck of the horse on the right sole, had to be taken out
for long nocturnal walks on rough roads, having been previously fitted
with two pairs of inner cork soles to prevent them from dropping off.
The underclothing would require to be marked, but this Pottermack
prudently put off until the last moment. Still, all these preparatory
activities took up a good deal of time and gave a considerable amount of
trouble. Not that time was of any importance. There was no hurry. Now
that Pottermack had a plan his mind was at rest.

Moreover, he had certain distractions, besides his frequent visits to
Lavender Cottage. For, in addition to these preparations connected with
the costume of the actor, there were others concerned with the scene of
the drama. A suitable setting had to be found for James Lewson's
next--and, as Pottermack devoutly hoped, final--appearance.

The place must of necessity be close at hand and ought to be on the line
of Lewson's known route. This left, practically, the choice between the
heath and the wood. The former he rejected as too exposed for his
purpose and too much frequented to be perfectly convincing. Of the wood
he knew little excepting that few persons seemed ever to enter it,
probably for the reason that had led him to avoid it; that, owing to its
neglected state, it was choked by almost impenetrable undergrowth.

Now he decided to explore it thoroughly, and since the path which
meandered through it divided it into two nearly equal parts, he proposed
to make a systematic exploration of each part separately.

He began with the part that lay to the left of the path, which was, if
possible, less frequented than the other. Choosing a place where the
undergrowth was least dense, he plunged in and began to burrow through
the bushes, stooping low to avoid the matted twigs and branches and
keeping an eye on a pocket-compass that he held in his left hand. It was
a wearisome and uncomfortable mode of progression, and had the
disadvantage that, doubled up as he was, he could see little but the
compass and the ground at his feet. And it nearly brought him to
disaster; for he had been blundering along thus for about ten minutes in
as near to a straight line as was possible, when he suddenly found
himself at the edge of what looked like a low cliff. Another step
forward and he would have been over the brink.

He stopped short, and, straightening his back, drew aside the branches
of the tall bushes and looked down. Beneath him was what had evidently
been a gravel-pit; but it must have been disused for many years, for its
floor was covered, not only with bushes but trees of quite a respectable
size. It seemed to him that this place was worth a closer examination.
And since the pit had been produced by excavation, there must obviously
be some passage-way to the bottom, up and down which the carts had
passed when the gravel was being dug.

Accordingly he began to make his way cautiously along the brink, keeping
a safe distance from the possibly crumbling edge. He had proceeded thus
for a couple of hundred yards when he came to the edge of a sunken
cart-track, and following this, soon reached the entrance. Walking down
the rough track, in which the deep cart-ruts could still be made out, he
reached the floor of the pit and paused to look around; but the trees
that had grown up and the high bushes made it impossible to see across.
He therefore embarked on a circumnavigation of the pit, wading through
beds of tall nettles that grew luxuriantly right up to the cliff-like
face of the gravel.

He had made nearly half the circuit of the pit when he perceived, some
distance ahead, a large wooden gate which guarded the entrance to a
tunnel or excavation of some kind. It had two leaves, in which he
could see, as he came nearer, a wicket which stood half open.
Approaching and peering in through the opening, he found the cavity to
be an artificial cave dug in the hard gravel, apparently to serve as a
cart-shelter, for the floor was marked by a pair of wide ruts and the
remains of a broken sway-bar lay close to one side.

Deeply interested in this excavation, Mr. Pottermack pulled open the
wicket-gate--in the lock of which a rusty key still remained--and
stepping in through the opening, looked critically around the interior.
That it had been for many years disused, so far as its original purpose
was concerned, followed from the state of the pit and the absence of any
signs of recent digging. But yet the cave itself showed traces of
comparatively recent occupation; and those traces threw considerable
light on the character of the occupants. A sooty streak up one wall,
fading away on the roof, and a heap of wood-ashes mixed with fragments
of charcoal, told of not one fire but a series of fires lit on the same
spot. Beside the long-extinct embers lay a rusty "billy," originally
made from a bully-beef tin fitted with a wire handle; fragments of
unsavoury rags and a pair of decayed boots spoke of changes of costume
that could certainly not have been premature; while numbers of bird and
rabbit bones strewn around hinted at petty poaching, with, perchance, a
fortunate snatch now and again in the vicinity of a farmyard.

Mr. Pottermack viewed these relics of the unknown nomad with profound
attention. Like most resourceful men, he was quick to take a suggestion.
And here, in the pit, the cavern, and these unmistakable relics, was a
ready-made story. His own scheme had hardly advanced beyond the stage of
sketchy outline. He knew broadly what he intended, but the details had
not yet been filled in. Now he could complete the sketch in such detail
that nothing would remain but the bare execution; and even that had been
robbed of its chief difficulties by the discovery of this cavern.

He paced slowly up and down the echoing chamber, letting his imagination
picture the dramatic climax and congratulating himself on this fortunate
discovery. How astonishingly well it all came together! The place and
the circumstances might have been designed for the very purpose. No need
now to puzzle out a plausible cause of death. The empty poison-bottle
and the discharged pistol-bullet, which he had considered alternatively,
could now be discarded. The cause of death would be obvious. He had
nearly broken his own neck coming here in broad daylight. If he had come
in the dark, he would have broken it to a certainty.

Then there were the vanished notes and the necessarily empty
pockets--necessarily empty, since, as he did not know what they had
contained, he would not dare to introduce contents. He had hoped that a
reasonable inference would be drawn. But now no inference would be
needed. Even the most guileless village constable, when he had seen
those fowl and rabbit bones, would understand how deceased's pockets
came to be empty.

From reflections on the great denouement Pottermack recalled his
thoughts to the practical details of procedure. He proposed forthwith to
take over the reversion of the late resident's tenancy. But he could not
leave it in its present unguarded state. When the time came for him to
occupy it he would require "the use and enjoyment of the said messuage
and premises" in the strictest privacy. It would never do to have casual
callers dropping in there in his absence. He must see how the place
could be made secure.

Inspection of the entrance showed that the large gates were fastened on
the inside by massive bars of wood thrust through great iron staples.
Consequently, when the wicket-gate was locked the cave was absolutely
secure from intrusion. The important question now was as to the lock of
the wicket-gate. Was it possible to turn the key? A few strenuous
wrenches answered the question in the negative. It is true that, by a
strong effort, the rusty key could be made to turn backwards, but by no
effort whatever could it be made to shoot the bolt. Key and lock were
both encrusted with the rust of years.

There was only one thing to be done. The key must be taken away and
scraped clean. Then, with the aid of oil or paraffin, it would probably
be possible to make the lock work. By putting out all his strength,
Pottermack managed to turn the key backwards far enough to enable him to
pull it out of the lock; whereupon, having dropped it in his pocket, he
retraced his steps to the entrance to the pit and walked up the sloping
cart-track until it emerged on the level, when he halted, and having
consulted his compass, set forth, holding it in his hand, and trying by
means of the ruts to find the track along which the carts used to pass
to and fro across the road.

As the matter was of considerable importance (since the cave was to be
the scene of some momentous operations and it was necessary for him to
be able to find his way to it with ease and certainty), he took his time
over the survey, tracing the ruts until they faded away into the younger
undergrowth, and thereafter identifying the overgrown track by the
absence of large bushes or trees. From time to time he jotted down a
note of the compass-bearing and sliced off with his knife a piece of
bark from one of the larger branches of a bush or the trunk of a
sapling, and so proceeded methodically, leaving an inconspicuously
blazed trail behind him until at last he came out on to the path. Here
he paused and looked about him for a landmark, his natural caution
restraining him from making an artificial mark; nor was this necessary,
for exactly opposite to the point where he had emerged, a good-sized
beech tree stood back only a few yards from the path.

Having taken a good look at the tree, that he might recognize it at the
next visit, he pocketed his compass and started homewards, counting his
paces as he went until he reached the place where the path entered the
wood, when he halted and wrote down in his pocket-book the number of
paces. That done, his exploration was finished for the time being. The
rest of the day he devoted to cleaning the key, to drawing on a card a
little sketch-map of his route from the notes in his pocket-book, and to
one or two odd jobs connected with the great scheme.

We need not follow his proceedings in minute detail. On the following
day, having furnished himself with the cleaned key, a small spanner, a
bottle of paraffin mixed with oil, and one or two feathers, he returned
to the cave, finding his way thither without difficulty by the aid of
his map. There he made a determined attack on the rusty lock, oiling its
interior parts freely and turning the key--also oiled--by means of the
spanner. At length its corroded bolt shot out with a reluctant groan;
and when this, too, had been oiled and shot back and forth a few times,
Pottermack shut the wicket, locked it and carried off the key in his
pocket, with the comfortable feeling that he now had a secure place in
which the highly compromising final operations could be carried out in
reasonable safety.

And now the time drew nigh for those final operations to be proceeded
with. The costume was complete and its various items had been brought by
wear and rough usage to a suitable condition. The waning summer hinted
at the approach of autumn and the weather would presently be such as to
render woodland expeditions, especially of a nocturnal kind,
disagreeable and difficult. And then Pottermack, though not in any way
hustled, was beginning to look forward a little eagerly to the end of
this troublesome, secret business. He yearned to feel that the tableau
was set and that he could wait quietly for the denouement. Also, he was
getting to feel very strongly that he would be glad to be relieved of
the society of Khama-Heru.

But meanwhile that ancient libationer became daily a more and more
undesirable tenant. For the time had come for the course of treatment
that should render him at once more convincing and more portable. His
condition when first unrolled from his wrappings was that of a wooden
effigy, hard and stiff as a board. In that state he could never be got
into his clothes, nor could he be transported to the cave under the
necessary conditions of secrecy; nor could he effectively impersonate
the late James Lewson. The work that the embalmers had done so well
would have to be undone. After all, he had had some four thousand years
of physical immortality, so the embalmers' fees would not have been
thrown away.

There was no difficulty about the treatment. Pottermack simply wrapped
the mummy in several thicknesses of wet rag, poured a can of water over
it, and, having enclosed it in an outer covering of tarpaulin, left it
to macerate for forty-eight hours. When, at the end of that time, he
uncovered it, he was at once encouraged and appalled. The last trace of
the museum atmosphere was dissipated. It was a mummy no more but just an
unburied corpse. The dry muscles had absorbed the moisture and swelled
up to an unexpected bulk; the parchment-like skin had grown soft and
sodden, and the skeleton hands had filled out and looked almost natural
save for the queer, dirty orange colour of the fingernails. And even
that, when Pottermack had observed it with a strong suspicion that it
was an artificial stain, disappeared almost completely after a cautious
application of chlorinated soda. In short, Khama-Heru seemed already to
call aloud for the coroner. All, then, was going well so far. But
Pottermack realized only too clearly that the part that was done was the
easy part. The real difficulties had now to be faced; and when he
considered those difficulties, when he reflected on the hideous risks
that he would have to run, the awful consequences of a possible
miscarriage of his plans, he stood aghast.

But still with unshaken resolution he set himself to plotting out the
details of the next move.



CHAPTER XIII--THE SETTING OF THE TABLEAU


The task which confronted Mr. Pottermack in the immediate future
involved a series of operations of greatly varying difficulty. The
materials for the "tableau" had to be transported from the workshop and
tool-house to the cave in the gravel-pit. Thither they would be conveyed
in instalments and left safely under lock and key until they were all
there, ready to be "assembled." In the case of the clothing, the
conveyance would be attended by no difficulties and little risk. It
could be done quite safely by daylight. But the instalments of
Khama-Heru, particularly the larger ones, would have to be transported,
not merely after dark, but so late as to make it practically certain
that he would have the path and the wood to himself.

The latter fact had been evident from the beginning, and in view of it,
Pottermack had provided himself with a night-marching compass (having a
two-inch luminous dial and direction-pointer) and an electric lamp of
the police pattern; so that he was now ready to begin; and as he had
decided to convey the clothing first, he commenced operations by making
a careful survey of the separate items and putting the necessary
finishing touches to them.

It was now for the first time that he made a thorough examination of
Lewson's coat and of the contents of the letter-case. And it was just as
well that he did; for among those contents was a recent letter from
Alice, refusing a "loan" (probably that letter had precipitated the
catastrophe). It was unsigned and bore no address, but still it might
have given trouble, even if no one but himself should have been able to
identify the very characteristic handwriting. Accordingly he burned it
forthwith and went still more carefully through the remaining papers;
but there was nothing more that interested him. They consisted chiefly
of tradesmen's bills, demands for money owing, notes of racing
transactions, a letter from his broker, and a few visiting-cards--his
own--all of which Pottermack returned to their receptacle. The other
pockets contained only a handkerchief, marked "J. Lewson," a leather
cigarette-case, and a loose key which looked like a safe key. The key he
transferred to the trousers pocket, the cigarette-case he burned, and
the handkerchief he retained as a guide to the next operation, that of
marking the underclothing. This he did with great care, following his
copy closely and placing the marks in accordance with the particulars in
the police description, using a special ink of guaranteed durability.

When the "properties" were ready for removal he considered the question
of time. This need not be a nocturnal expedition. There would be nothing
suspicious in his appearance, and he had, in fact, during his
exploration of the wood, not met or seen a single person. Still, it
might be better to make his visit to the pit after dusk, when, even if
he should be seen, he would not be recognized, and the nature of his
proceedings there would not be clearly observable.

Accordingly he prepared for his start with the first instalment as the
sun was getting low in the west. Lewson's coat he put on in lieu of his
own, covering it with a roomy showerproof overcoat. The trousers and
waistcoat he stowed neatly at the bottom of his rucksack with his
moth-collecting kit and folding-net above them. Then, with the net-staff
in his hand, he let himself out of the side gate just as the crimson
disc of the sun began to dive behind a bank of slaty cloud.

The expedition was quite uneventful. He tramped along the path in the
gloaming, a solitary figure in the evening landscape; he followed it
into the wood and along to the now familiar beech tree; and in all the
way he met not a soul. He turned off on the almost indistinguishable
track, finding no need for his sketch-map and only glancing at the
inconspicuous blazings on bush and sapling. By the time he reached the
entrance to the pit, the dusk had closed in but even now there was light
enough for him to find his way down the sloping cart-track, and even to
note that apparently since his last visit, inasmuch as he had not
noticed it before, a small tree had toppled over the edge of the cliff,
bringing down with it a little avalanche of stones and gravel. He looked
up and made a slight detour, picking his way cautiously among the fallen
stones; and, preoccupied as he was, that fallen tree and those heaped
and scattered stones started a train of thought of which he was hardly
conscious at the time.

When he had shed Lewson's coat and by the light of a little, dim
pocket-lamp unpacked the trousers and waistcoat, he threw them down in a
corner at the back of the cave. Apprehensively he glanced round for some
trace of recent visitors (though he knew there could have been none);
then he extinguished the lamp, passed out through the wicket, shut the
little gate, locked it, and, having pocketed the key, turned away with a
sigh of relief. The first instalment was delivered. It wasn't much, but
still, he had made a beginning.

On his way back through the wood he made use of the night-compass; not
that he seemed greatly to need it, for he found his way with an ease
that surprised him. But it was obviously a useful instrument and it was
well that he should acquire experience in its management, for there were
circumstances that might possibly arise in which it would be invaluable.
It would be a fearsome experience to be lost at night in the
wood--especially with one of the later instalments.

The easy success of this first expedition had a beneficial moral effect,
and with each of the succeeding journeys the strangeness of the
experience wore off more and more. Even in the twilight he threaded the
blazed track through the wood quite readily without reference to the
blazings; and the return in the dark, with the glowing compass in his
hand, was hardly more difficult. Half a dozen of these evening
jaunts found the entire costume--clothes, shoes, cap, socks,
underclothing--stored under lock and key in the cave--waiting for the
arrival of the wearer.

But now came the really formidable part of the undertaking, and as
Pottermack contemplated those next few journeys he quailed. There was
now no question of setting forth in the gloaming; these journeys would
have to be made in the very dead of night. So he felt; and even as he
yielded to the feeling as to something inevitable, he knew that the
reason for it was largely psychological; that it was determined by his
own mental state rather than by external circumstances. Admittedly, a
human head is an awkward thing to pack neatly in a rucksack. Still, it
is of no great size. Its longest diameter, including the lower jaw, is
no more than nine or ten inches. A half-quartern loaf and a bottle of
beer would make a bigger bulge; yet with these, Pottermack would have
gone abroad gaily, never dreaming of having his burden challenged.

He knew all this. And yet as he took up the head (it came off in his
hands owing to the frayed-out condition of the softened muscle and
ligament) a thrill of horror ran through him at the thought of that
journey. The thing seemed to grin derisively in his face as he carried
it from the tool-house to the workshop; and when he laid it down on the
sheet of brown paper on the bench, the jaws fell open as if it were
about to utter a yell.

He wrapped it up hastily and thrust it into the rucksack, and then, by
way of feeble and futile precaution stuffed the sugaring-tin and
collecting-box on top. With creeping flesh he slung the package on his
back and, grasping the net-stick, went out across the garden to the
gate. He was frankly terrified. When he had passed out of the gate, he
stood for some seconds irresolute, unwilling to shut it behind him; and
when at last he closed it softly, the click of the spring-latch shutting
him out definitely gave him such a qualm that he could hardly resist the
impulse to reopen the gate, or, at least, to leave the key in the lock
ready for instant use.

Once started, he strode forward at a rapid pace, restraining himself by
an effort from breaking into a run. It was a pitch-dark night, near to
new moon and overcast as well; so dark that he could barely see the path
in the open, and only a slightly intenser gloom told him when he had
entered the wood. Here he began to count his paces and strain his eyes
into the blackness ahead; for, anticipating some nervousness on this
journey, he had taken the precaution when returning from the last to
spread a sheet of newspaper at the foot of the beech tree (which formed
his "departure" for the cart-track and the gravel-pit) and weight it
with a large stone. For this patch of light on the dark background he
looked eagerly as he stumbled forward, peering into utter blackness and
feeling his way along the path with his feet; and when he had counted
out the distance and still saw no sign of it, he halted, and, listening
fearfully to the stealthy night sounds of the wood, looked anxiously
both ahead and behind him.

Nothing whatever could be seen. But perhaps it was too dark for even a
white object to show. Perhaps he had counted wrong, or possibly in his
haste he had "stepped out" or "stepped short." Reluctantly he drew out
his little pocket-lamp (he did not dare to use the powerful
inspection-lamp, though he had it with him) and let its feeble glimmer
travel around him. Somehow the trees and bushes looked unfamiliar; but
doubtless everything would look unfamiliar in that deceptive glimmer.
Still, he had begun to know this path pretty well, even by night.
Eventually he turned back and slowly retraced his steps, throwing the
dim lamplight on the path ahead. Presently, out of the greenish gloom
with its bewildering shadows there sprang a spot of white; and hurrying
forward, he recognized with a sigh of relief the sheet of paper lying at
the foot of the beech.

From this point he had no more difficulty. Plunging forward into the
cellar-like darkness, he went on confidently, guided by the trusty
compass which glowed only the more brightly for the impenetrable gloom
around. Now and again he stopped to let the swinging dial come to rest
and to verify his position by a momentary flash of the lamp. Soon he
felt the familiar ruts beneath his feet and came out into the mitigated
obscurity of the open track; then, following it down the slope, found
his way through the nettles under the cliff, over the remains of the
avalanche, until he reached the gate of the cave. A few minutes more and
he had discharged his ghastly cargo, locked it into its new abode, and
started, free at last from his horrid incubus, on the homeward journey,
noting with a certain exasperation how, now that it was of no
consequence, he made his way through the wood almost as easily as he
would have done by daylight.

But it had been a harrowing experience. Short as had been the journey
and light the burden, he stumbled in at his gate as wearily as if he had
tramped a dozen miles with a sack of flour on his back. And yet it was
but the first and by far the easiest of these midnight expeditions. He
realized that clearly enough as he stole silently into the house while a
neighbouring church clock struck two. There were three more instalments;
and of the last one he would not allow himself to think.

But events seldom fall out precisely as we forecast them. The next two
'trips' gave Pottermack less trouble than had the first, though they
were undeniably more risky. The safe conveyance of the first instalment
gave him confidence, and the trifling, but disconcerting, hitch in
finding the 'departure' mark suggested measures to prevent its
repetition. Still, it was as well that he had transported the easiest
load first, for the two succeeding ones made call enough on his courage
and resolution. For whereas the head had merely created a conspicuous
bulge in the rucksack, the legs refused to be concealed at all. Doubled
up as completely as the softened muscles and ligaments permitted, each
made an unshapely, elongated parcel over twenty inches in length, of
which nearly half projected from the mouth of the rucksack.

However, the two journeys were made without any mishap. As on the
previous occasions, Pottermack met nobody either on the path or in the
wood, and this circumstance helped him to brace up his nerves for the
conveyance of the final instalment. Indeed, the chance of his meeting
any person at one or two in the morning in this place, which was
unfrequented even by day, was infinitely remote. At those hours one
could probably have walked the whole length of the town without
encountering a single human being other than the constables on night
duty; and it was certain that no constable would be prowling about the
deserted countryside or groping his way through the wood.

So Pottermack argued, and reasonably enough; but still he shied at that
last instalment. The headless trunk alone was some twenty-six inches
long, and, with the attached arms, was a bulky mass. No disguise was
possible in its conveyance. It would have to be put into a sack and
frankly carried on his shoulder. Of course, if he met nobody, this was
of no consequence apart from the inconvenience and exertion; and again
he assured himself that he would meet nobody. There was nobody to meet.
But still--well, there was no margin for the unexpected. The appearance
of a man carrying a sack at one o'clock in the morning was a good deal
more than suspicious. No rural constable or keeper would let him pass.
And a single glance into that sack--

However, it was useless to rack his nerves with disquieting
suppositions. There was pretty certainly not a human creature abroad in
the whole countryside, and at any rate the thing had got to be taken to
the cave. Quivering with disgust and apprehension, he persuaded the limp
torso into the sack that he had obtained for it, tied up the mouth, and,
hoisting it on his shoulder, put out into the darkness.

As soon as he had closed the gate he set off at a quick walk. He had no
inclination to run this time, for his burden was of a very substantial
weight from the moisture that it had absorbed. From time to time he had
to halt and transfer it from one shoulder to the other. He would have
liked to put it down and rest for a few moments, but did not dare while
he was in the open. An unconquerable terror urged him forward to the
shelter of the wood and forbade him to slacken his pace, though his
knees were trembling and the sweat trickled down his face. Yet he kept
sufficient presence of mind to make sure of his "departure," counting
his paces from the entrance to the wood and showing the glimmer of his
little lamp as his counting warned him of his approach to the beech
tree. Soon its light fell on the sheet of paper, and, with a sigh of
relief, he turned off the path into the old cart-track.

Once off the path, his extreme terror subsided and he followed the track
confidently with only an occasional flash of his lamp to pick up a blaze
on bush or tree and verify his direction. He even contemplated a brief
rest, and he had, in fact, halted and was about to lower his burden from
his shoulders when his ear seemed to catch a faint sound of movement
somewhere within the wood. Instantly all his terrors revived. His limbs
trembled and his hair seemed to stir under his cap as he stood
stock-still with mouth agape, listening with almost agonized intentness.

Presently he heard the sound again; the sound of something moving
through the undergrowth. And then it became quite distinct and clearly
recognizable as footfalls--the footsteps of two persons at least, moving
rather slowly and stealthily; and by the increasing distinctness of the
sounds, it was evident that they were coming in his direction. The
instant that he recognized this, Pottermack stole softly off the track
into the dense wood until he came to a young beech tree, at the foot of
which he silently deposited the sack, leaning it against the bole of the
tree. Then in the same stealthy manner he crept away a dozen paces or so
and again halted and listened. But now the sounds had unaccountably
ceased; and to Pottermack the profound silence that had followed them
was sinister and alarming. Suddenly there came to him distinctly a
hoarse whisper:

"Joe, there's some one in the wood!"

Again the deathly silence descended. Then the sack, which must have been
stood up insecurely, slipped from the bole of the tree and rolled over
among the dead leaves.

"J'ear that?" came the hushed voice of the unseen whisperer.

Pottermack listened intently, craning forward in an effort to locate the
owner of the voice. In fact, he craned a little too far and had to move
one foot to recover his balance. But the toe of that foot caught against
a straggling root and tripped him up, so that he staggered forward a
couple of paces, not noisily, but still very audibly.

Instantly the silence of the wood was dissipated. A startled voice
exclaimed: "Gawd! Look out!" and then Joseph and his companion took to
undissembled flight, bursting through the undergrowth and crashing into
the bushes like a couple of startled elephants. Pottermack made a noisy
pretence of pursuit which accelerated the pace of the fugitives; then he
stood still, listening with grateful ears to the hurried tramplings as
they gradually grew faint in the distance.

When they had nearly died away, he turned, and re-entering the dense
wood, made his way, with the aid of the little lamp, towards the beech
where he had put down the sack. But the beech was not exactly where he
had supposed it to be, and it took him a couple of minutes of frantic
searching to locate it. At last the feeble rays of his lamp fell on the
slender trunk, and he hurried forward eagerly to retrieve his treasure.
But when he reached the tree and cast the light of his lamp on the
buttressed roots, the sack was nowhere to be seen. He gazed in
astonishment at the roots and the ground beyond, but the sack was
certainly not there. It was very strange. He had heard the sack fall
over and roll off the roots, but it could not have rolled out of sight.
Was it possible that the poachers, or whatever they were, could have
picked it up and carried it away? That seemed quite impossible, for the
voice had come from the opposite direction. And then the simple
explanation dawned on him. This was the wrong tree.

As he realized this, his self-possession forsook him completely. With
frantic haste he began to circle round, thrusting through the
undergrowth, peering with starting eyes at the ground carpeted with last
year's leaves on which the light fell from his lamp. Again and again a
tall, slender trunk lured him on to a fresh disappointment. He seemed to
be bewitched. The place appeared to be full of beech trees--as in fact
it was, being a beech wood. And with each failure he became more wildly
terrified and distraught. All sense of direction and position was gone.
He was just blindly seeking an unknown tree in a pitch-dark wood.

Suddenly he realized the horrid truth. He was lost. He had no idea
whatever as to his whereabouts. He could not even guess in which
direction the track lay, and as to his hideous but precious burden, he
might have strayed half a mile away from it. He stopped short and tried
to pull himself together. This sort of thing would never do. He might
wander on, at this rate, until daylight or topple unawares into the pit
and break his neck. There was only one thing to be done. He must get
back to the path and take a fresh departure.

As this simple solution occurred to him, his self-possession became
somewhat restored and he was able to consider his position more calmly.
Producing his compass and opening it, he stood quite still until the
dial came to rest. Then he turned slowly, so as not to set it swinging
again, until the luminous "lubber-line" pointed due west. He had only to
keep it pointing in that direction and it would infallibly lead him to
the path, which ran nearly north and south. So, with renewed confidence,
he began to walk forward, keeping his eye fixed on that invaluable
direction-line.

He had been walking thus some three or four minutes, progressing slowly
of necessity since he had to push straight forward through the
undergrowth, when he tripped over some bulky object and butted rather
heavily into the trunk of a tree. Picking himself up, a little shaken by
the impact, he snatched out his lamp and threw its light on the object
over which he had stumbled. And then he could hardly repress a shout of
joy.

It was the sack.

How differently do we view things under different circumstances. When
Pottermack had started, the very touch of that sack with its damp,
yielding inmate had sent shudders of loathing down his spine. Now he
caught it up joyfully, he could almost have embraced it, and as he set
forward in the new direction he steadied it fondly on his shoulder. For
he had not only found the sack, he had recovered his position. A dozen
paces to the north brought him to the spot from whence he had stepped
off the track into the wood. Now he had but to turn east and resume his
interrupted journey.

But the meeting with those two men had shaken his confidence. He stole
on nervously along the cart-track, and when he reached the pit, he
peered apprehensively into the darkness on every side, half expecting to
detect some lurking figure watching him from among the high nettles.
Only when he had at last deposited his burden in the cave and locked and
tried the wicket was his mind even moderately at rest; and even then
throughout the homeward journey his thoughts occupied themselves in
picturing, with perverse ingenuity, all the mischances that might
possibly have befallen him and that might yet lie in wait to defeat his
plans in the very moment of their accomplishment.

He arrived home tired, shaken, and dispirited, inclined rather to let
his thoughts dwell on the difficulties and dangers that lay ahead than
to congratulate himself on those that he had surmounted. As he crept
noiselessly up to bed and thought of the gruesome task that had yet to
be accomplished, he resolved to give himself a day or two's rest to
steady his nerves before he embarked on it. But the following day saw a
change of mind. Refreshed even by the short night's sleep, as soon as he
had risen he began to be possessed by a devouring anxiety to finish this
horrible business and be done with it. Besides which, common sense told
him that the presence of the body and the clothes in the cave
constituted a very serious danger. If they should be discovered, very
awkward enquiries might be set on foot, and at the best his scheme would
be "blown on" and rendered impossible for ever after.

A long nap in the afternoon further revived him, and as the evening wore
on he began to be impatient to get on the road. This time there were no
special preparations to make and no risks in the actual journeys, either
going or returning. The recollection of those two men occasioned some
passing thoughts of means of defence, for they had obviously been out
for no good, as their precipitate retreat showed. He even considered
taking a revolver, but his thorough-going British dislike of lethal
weapons, which his long residence in the States had accentuated rather
than diminished, made him reject the idea. The net-staff was quite a
good weapon, especially in the dark; and, in fact, he was not
particularly nervous about those men, or any others, so long as he bore
no incriminating burden.

When at last he started, just after midnight, he carried the rucksack
slung from his shoulders and the stout net-stick in his hand. But the
former contained nothing but a bona fide collecting outfit, including
the inspection-lamp, so even a police patrol had no terrors for him.
Naturally, it followed that he neither met, saw, nor heard a single
person either on the path or in the wood. Swinging easily along the now
familiar way, he made his departure almost by instinct and threaded the
cart-track with hardly a glance at the compass. And all too soon--as it
seemed to him--he found himself at the gate of the cave with the last
horrid task immediately confronting him.

It was even worse than he had expected, for he had never dared to let
his imagination fill in all the dreadful details. But now, when he had
locked himself in and hung the inspection-lamp on a nail in the gate so
that a broad beam of light fell on the grisly heap, he stood, shivering
and appalled, struggling to brace up his courage to begin. And at last
he brought himself to the sticking point and fell to work.

We need not share his agonies. It was a loathly business. The
dismembered parts had to be inducted separately into their garments,
leaving the "assembling" for a later stage; and the sheer physical
difficulty of persuading those limp, flabby, unhelpful members into the
closer-fitting articles of clothing was at once an aggravation and a
distraction from the horror of the task. And with it all, it was
necessary to keep the attention wide awake. For there must be no
mistakes. A time would come when the clothing would be submitted to
critical examination and the slightest error might rouse fatal
suspicions. So Pottermack told himself as, with trembling fingers, he
buttoned the waistcoat on the headless, legless torso; only to discover,
as he fastened the last button, that he had forgotten the braces.

At length the actual clothing was completed. The legs, encased in
underclothing, trousers, socks and shoes, lay on the floor, sprawling in
hideous, unnatural contortion; the trunk, fully dressed even to collar
and neck-tie, reposed on its back with its arms flung out and the brown,
claw-like hands protruding from the sleeves; while, hard by, the head
seemed to grin with sardonic amusement at the cloth cap that sat
incongruously on its ancient cranium. All was now ready for the
"assembling."

This presented less difficulty, but the result was far from
satisfactory. For no kind of fastening was permissible. The legs were
joined to the trunk by the trousers only, secured precariously by the
braces. As to the head, it admitted of no junction, but would have to be
placed in position as best it could. However, bad as the "assemblage"
was, it would answer well enough if there were no premature discovery.

Having seen everything ready for the final act, Pottermack switched off
the lamp and stood awhile to let his eyes grow accustomed to the
darkness before he should venture outside. It was not a situation that
was helpful to a man whose nerves were already on edge. All sorts of
sinister suggestions awakened in his mind in connection with the ghastly
figure that sprawled unseen within a few inches of his feet. And then he
became acutely sensible of the sepulchral silence of the place; a
silence which was yet penetrated by sounds from without, especially by
the hootings of a company of owls, whose derisive "hoo-hoos" seemed
particularly addressed to him with something of a menacing quality. At
length, finding the suspense unbearable, he unlocked the wicket and
looked out. By now his eyes had recovered from the glare of the lamp
sufficiently for him to be able to see the nearer objects distinctly and
to make out the shadowy mass of the cliff close at hand. He peered into
the gloom on all sides and listened intently. Nothing seemed to be
moving, nor could his ear detect aught but the natural sounds of the
woods.

He turned back into the cave, and, guided by a momentary glimmer of his
small lamp, carefully gathered up the limp, headless effigy and lifted
it with infinite precaution not to disturb the insecure fastenings that
held its parts together. Thus he carried it tenderly out through the
wicket, and, stepping cautiously over the rough ground and through the
rank vegetation, bore it to "the appointed place"--the place where the
fallen tree and the scattered stones and gravel marked the site of the
"avalanche." Here, close by the tree, he laid it down, and, having
inspected it rapidly by the light of the lamp and made a few
readjustments, he went back and fetched out the head. This he laid in
position by what was left of the neck and supported it in the chosen
posture by packing handfuls of gravel round it. When the arrangement was
completed he threw the feeble glimmer of the lamp on it once more and
looked it over quickly. Then, satisfied that its appearance was as
convincing as he could make it, he gathered a few stones and laid them
on it, sprinkled over it a handful or two of gravel, and, finally,
pulled the high nettles down over it until it was almost hidden from
view.

And with that, his task was finished. Now, all he had to do was to get
clear of the neighbourhood and wait for whatever might happen. With a
sigh of relief he turned away and re-entered the cave, for the last
time, as he hoped. Shutting himself in once more, he made a thorough
examination of the place by the light of the inspection-lamp to make
sure that he had left no traces of his tenancy. The remains of the
tramp's fire, the billy, and the fowl and rabbit bones, he left intact;
and, having satisfied himself that there was nothing else, he slipped on
his rucksack, picked up his net-stick and went out, leaving the
wicket-gate ajar with the key in the outside of the lock as he had
found it.

Very different were his feelings this night as he wended homewards
through the woods from what they had been on the night before. Now he
cared not whom he might meet--though he was better pleased that he met
nobody. His task was done. All the troublesome secrecy and scheming was
over, and all the danger was at an end. His premises were purged of
every relic of that night of horror and release. Now he could go back to
his normal life and resume his normal occupations. And as to the future;
at the worst, a premature discovery might expose the fraud and spoil his
plans. But no one would connect him with the fraud. He had given no name
to the auctioneer. If suspicion fell on any one, it would fall on the
fugitive, James Lewson.

But it was infinitely unlikely that the fraud would be detected. And if
it were not, if all went well, James Lewson would be given a decent,
reasonable death, and, in due course, a suitable burial. And--again in
due course--Alice Bellard would become Mrs. Pottermack.



CHAPTER XIV--THE DISCOVERY


It will not appear surprising that for some days after his final
expedition Mr. Pottermack's thoughts were almost exclusively occupied by
the product of that night's labour. Indeed, his interest in it was so
absorbing that on the very next day he was impelled to pay it a visit of
inspection. He did not, however, go down to the gravel-pit, but,
approaching it from above, found his way easily to that part of the
brink from which the tree had fallen, carrying the 'avalanche' with it.
Here, going down on hands and knees, he crept to the extreme edge and
peered over. There was not much to see. There lay the fallen tree, there
was the great bed of nettles, and in the midst of it an obscure shape
displaying at one end a pair of shoes and at the other, part of a shabby
cap.

It was surprisingly inconspicuous. The tall nettles, which he had pulled
down across it, concealed the face and broke the continuity of the
figure so that its nature was not evident at the first glance. This was
eminently satisfactory, for it multiplied the improbabilities of early
discovery. It was unlikely that any one would come here at all, but if
some person should chance to stray hither, still it was unlikely that
the body would be observed.

Considerably reassured, Mr. Pottermack backed away from the insecure
edge and went his way, and thereafter firmly resisted the strong impulse
to repeat his visit. But, as we have said, that grim figure, though out
of sight, was by no means out of mind; and for the next week or two Mr.
Pottermack was uncomfortably on the qui vive for the rumour of
discovery. But as the weeks went by and still the body lay undiscovered,
his mind settled down more and more to a state of placid expectancy.

The summer came to an end with a month of steady rain that made the
woods impossible for wayfarers despite the gravel soil. The autumn set
in mild and damp. Hedgerow elms broke out into patches of yellow, and
the beeches in the wood, after a few tentative changes, burst out into a
glory of scarlet and crimson and orange. But their glory was
short-lived. A sudden sharp frost held them in its grip for a day or
two; and when it lifted, the trees were bare. Their gay mantles had
fallen to form a carpet for the earth at their feet.

Then came the autumn gales, driving the fallen leaves hither and
thither, but sooner or later driving most of them into the gravel-pit,
whence there was no escape. And there they accumulated in drifts and
mounds, moving restlessly round their prison as the winds eddied beneath
the cliffs, and piling up in sheltered places, smothering the nettles
and flattening them down by their weight.

Once, at this time, Mr. Pottermack was moved to call on the disguised
libationer. But when he crawled to the edge of the pit and looked down,
the figure was invisible. Even the nettles were hidden. All that was to
be seen was a great russet bank, embedding the fallen tree, and
revealing to the expert eye a barely perceptible elongated prominence.

These months of waiting were to Pottermack full of peace and quiet
happiness. He was not impatient. The future was rich in promise and it
was not so far ahead but that it seemed well within reach. He had no
present anxieties, for the danger of premature discovery was past, and
every month that rolled away added its contribution of security as to
the final result. So he went his way and lived his life, care-free and
soberly cheerful.

There were, indeed, times when he was troubled with twinges of
compunction with regard to his beloved friend, for whom these Titanic
labours had been undertaken. For Alice Bellard was acutely aware of the
unsatisfactory nature of their relationship. She realized that simple,
almost conventional friendship is no sort of answer to passionate love,
and she made it clear to Pottermack that it was an abiding grief to her
that she had no more to give. He yearned to disillusion her; to let her
share his confident hopes that all would yet be well. But how could he?
It was unavoidable that, in deceiving all the world, he must deceive
her.

But, in fact, he was not deceiving her. He was merely conveying to her
the actual truth by an indirect and slightly illusory method. So he
argued in regard to his ultimate purpose; and as to this intervening
period--well, obviously he could not make her an accessory to his
illegal actions. So he had to put up, as best he could, with her
grateful acknowledgments of his patience and resignation, his cheerful
acceptance of the inevitable; feeling all the time an arrant humbug as
he realized how far he had been from any such acceptance.

Thus, in quiet content and with rising hopes, he watched the seasons
pass; saw the countryside mantled with snow, heard "the ring of gliding
steel" on icebound ponds and streams, and walked with smoking breath on
the hard-frozen roads. And still, as the sands of time trickled out
slowly, he waited, now hardly expectant and not at all impatient but
rather disposed to favour a little further delay. But presently the
winter drew off her forces reluctantly, like a defeated army, with rear
guard actions of rain and howling gales. And then the days began to
lengthen, the sunbeams to shed a sensible warmth; the birds ventured on
tentative twitterings and the buds made it clear that they were getting
ready for business. In short, the spring was close at hand; and with the
coming of spring, Mr. Pottermack's fancy lightly turned to thoughts of
inquests.

For the time had come. The long months of waiting had been all to the
good. They had given the crude understudy time to mature, to assimilate
itself to its setting and to take on the style of the principal actor.
But the preparatory stage must not be unduly prolonged or it might
defeat its own end. There might come a stage at which the transformation
would be so complete as not only to prevent the detection of the
imposture but to render identification even of the counterfeit
impossible. Hence, as the spring sunshine brightened and the buds began
to burst, Mr. Pottermack's expectancy revived, not untinged with
anxiety. Hopefully his thoughts dwelt on primrose-gatherers and rambling
juveniles in search of birds' nests and eggs; and when still no news was
heard from the gravel-pit, he began seriously to consider the
abandonment of his purely passive attitude and the adoption of some
active measures to bring about the discovery.

It was a difficult problem. The one thing that was quite clear to him
was that he must on no account appear personally in the matter. He could
not say exactly why. But he had that feeling, and probably he was right.
But if he could not appear in it himself, how was the thing to be
managed? That was the question that he put to himself a hundred times in
a day, but to which he could find no answer. And as events fell out, no
answer had, after all, to be found, for a contingency that he had never
contemplated arose and solved his problem for him.

It happened that on a fine sunny day after a spell of wet he was moved
to take a walk along the path through the wood, which he had not done
for a week or two. He was conscious of a rather strong desire to pay a
visit to the pit and see for himself how matters were progressing, but
he had no intention of yielding to this weakness; for the nearer the
discovery, the more necessary it was for him to keep well in the
background. Accordingly he trudged on, propounding to himself again and
again that seemingly unanswerable question, and meanwhile picking up
half-unconsciously the old landmarks. He had approached within a few
yards of the well-remembered "departure" beech tree when he suddenly
caught sight of a new feature that brought him instantly to a stand.
Right across the path, cutting deep into the soft loam of the surface,
was a pair of cart-ruts with a row of large hoof-marks between them.
They were obviously quite fresh, and it was clear, by the depth and
width of the ruts and by the number of hoof-prints and the fact that
they pointed in both directions, that they had been made by more than
one cart, or at least by more than one journey to and fro of a single
cart.

As he was standing eagerly examining them and speculating on what they
portended, a hollow rumbling on his right heralded the approach of an
empty cart from the west. A few moments later it came into sight through
an opening just beyond the beech, the carter, dismounted, leading his
horse by the bridle. Seeing Pottermack, he touched his hat and civilly
wished him good morning.

"Now, where might you be off to?" Pottermack enquired genially.

"To the old gravel-pit, sir," was the reply. "'Tis many a year since any
gravel was dug there. But Mr. Barber he's a-makin' a lot of this here
concrate stuff for to put into the foundations of the new houses what
he's buildin', and he thought as it were foolishness to send for gravel
to a distance when there's a-plenty close at hand. So we're a-openin' up
the old pit."

"Where about is the pit?" asked Pottermack. "Is it far from here?"

"Far! Lor' bless yer, no, sir. Just a matter of a few hundred yards. If
you like to walk along with me, I'll show you the place."

Pottermack accepted the offer promptly, and as the man started his horse
with a friendly "gee-up," he walked alongside, following the new ruts
down the familiar track--less familiar now that the great hoofs and the
wide cart wheels had cleared an open space--until they came out at the
top of the rough road that led down to the pit. Here Pottermack halted,
wishing his friend "good morning," and stood watching the cart as it
rumbled down the slope and skirted the floor of the pit towards a spot
where a bright-coloured patch on the weathered "face" showed the
position of the new working.

Here Pottermack could see two men loosening the gravel with picks and
two more shovelling the fallen stuff into a cart that was now nearly
full. The place where they were at work was on the right side of the
pit, as Pottermack stood, and nearly opposite to the cave, the gates of
which he could see somewhat to his left. Standing there, he made a rapid
mental note of the relative positions, and then, turning about, made his
way back to the path, cogitating profoundly as he went.

How long would it be before one of those men made the momentous
discovery? Or was it possible that they might miss it altogether? The
British labourer is not by nature highly observant, nor has he an
excessively active curiosity. Nearly the whole width of the pit
separated them from the remains. No occasion need arise for them to
stray away from the spot where their business lay. But it would be
exasperating if they should work there for a week or two and then go
away leaving the discovery still to be made.

However, it was of no use to be pessimistic. There was a fair
probability that one of them would at least go round to the cave. Quite
possibly it might again be put to its original use as a cart-shelter.
For his part, he could do no more than wait upon the will of Fortune and
meanwhile hold himself prepared for whatever might befall. But in spite
of the latter discreet resolution, the discovery, when it came, rather
took him by surprise. He was lingering luxuriously over his
after-breakfast pipe some four or five days after his meeting with the
carter, idly turning over the leaves of a new book, while his thoughts
circled about the workers in the pit and balanced the chances of their
stumbling upon that gruesome figure under the cliff, when a familiar
knock at the front door dispelled his reverie in an instant and turned
his thoughts to more pleasant topics. He had risen and was about to go
to the door himself, but was anticipated by Mrs. Gadby, who, a few
moments later, announced and ushered in Mrs. Bellard.

Pottermack advanced to greet her, but was instantly struck by something
strange and disquieting in her appearance and manner. She stopped close
by the door until the housekeeper's footsteps had died away, then,
coining close to him, exclaimed almost in a whisper:

"Marcus, have you heard--about James, I mean?"

"James!" repeated Pottermack helplessly, his wits for the moment
paralysed by the suddenness of the disclosure; then, pulling himself
together with a violent effort, he asked: "You don't mean to say that
fellow has turned up again?"

"Then you haven't heard. He is dead, Marcus. They found his body
yesterday evening. The news is all over the town this morning."

"My word!" exclaimed Pottermack. "This is news with a vengeance! Where
was he found?"

"Quite near here. In a gravel-pit in Potter's Wood. He must have fallen
into it the very night that he went away."

"Good gracious!" ejaculated Pottermack. "What an astonishing thing! Then
he must have been lying there all these months! But--er--I suppose there
is no doubt that it is Lewson's body?"

"Oh, not the least. Of course the body itself was quite unrecognizable.
They say it actually dropped to pieces when they tried to pick it up.
Isn't it horrible? But the police were able to identify it by the
clothes and some letters and visiting-cards in the pockets. Otherwise
there was practically nothing left but the bones. It makes me shudder to
think of it."

"Yes," Pottermack admitted calmly, his self-possession being now
restored, "it does sound rather unpleasant. But it might have been
worse. He might have turned up alive. Now you are rid of him for good."

"Yes, I know," said she; "and I can't pretend that it isn't a great
relief to know that he is dead. But still--what ought I to do, Marcus?"

"Do?" Pottermack repeated in astonishment.

"Yes. I feel that I ought to do something. After all, he was my
husband."

"And a shocking bad husband at that. But I don't understand what you
mean. What do you suppose you ought to do?"

"Well, don't you think that somebody--somebody belonging to him--ought
to come forward to--to identify him?"

"But," exclaimed Pottermack, "you said that there is nothing left of him
but his bones. Now, my dear, you know you can't identify his bones.
You've never seen them. Besides, he has been identified already."

"Well, say, to acknowledge him."

"But, my dear Alice, why on earth should you acknowledge him, when you
had, years ago, repudiated him, and even taken another name to avoid
being in any way associated with him? No, no, my dear, you just keep
quiet and let things take their course. This is one of those cases in
which a still tongue shows a wise head. Think of all the scandal and
gossip that you would start if you were to come forward and announce
yourself as Mrs. Lewson. You would never be able to go on living here. I
take it that no one in this place knows who you are?"

"Not a soul."

"And how many people altogether know that you were married to him?"

"Very few, and those practically all strangers. We lived a very solitary
life at Leeds."

"Very well. Then the least said the soonest mended. Besides," he added,
as another highly important consideration burst on him, "there is our
future to think of. You are still willing to marry me, dear, aren't
you?"

"Yes, Marcus, of course I am. But please don't let us talk about it
now."

"I don't want to, my dear, but we have to settle this other matter. The
position now is that we can get married whenever we please."

"Yes, there is no obstacle now."

"Then, Alice dearest, don't let us make obstacles. But we shall if we
make known the fact that you were Lewson's wife. Just think of the
position. Here were you and your husband in the same town, posing as
total strangers. And here were you and I, intimate friends and generally
looked upon almost as an engaged couple. Now, suppose that we marry in
the reasonably near future. That alone would occasion a good deal of
comment. But suppose that it should turn out that Lewson met his death
by foul means. What do you imagine people would say then?"

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Alice. "I had never thought of that. Of
course, people--or at any rate, some people--would say that we had
conspired to get him out of the way. And really, that is what it would
look like. I am glad I came and consulted you."

Pottermack drew a deep breath. So that danger was past. Not that it had
been a very obvious danger. But instinct warned him--and it was a
perfectly sound instinct--to avoid at all costs having his personality
in any way connected with that of James Lewson. Now he would be able to
watch the course of events at his ease, and to all appearance from the
detached standpoint of a total stranger. Nor was Alice less relieved.
Some obscure sense of loyalty had seemed to impel her to proclaim her
relationship to the dead wastrel. But she was not unwilling to be
convinced of her mistake; and when presently she went away, her heart
was all the lighter for feeling herself excused from the necessity of
laying bare to the public gaze the sordid details of her domestic
tragedy.

When she was gone, Pottermack reflected on the situation and considered
what he had better do. Caution conflicted with inclination. He was on
the very tiptoe of curiosity, but yet he felt that he must show no undue
interest in the affair. Nevertheless, it was desirable that he should
know, if possible, what had really happened and what was going to be
done about it. Accordingly he decided to go forth and perambulate the
town and passively permit the local quidnuncs to supply him with the
latest details.

He did not, however, add much to his knowledge excepting in one
important respect, which was that the date of the inquest was already
fixed. It was to take place at three o'clock in the afternoon on the
next day but one; and having regard to the public interest in the case,
the inquiry was to be held in the Town Hall. When he had ascertained
this fact, and that the public would have free access to the hall during
the proceedings, he went home and resolved to manifest no further
interest in the case until those proceedings should open.

But the interval was one of intense though suppressed excitement. He
could settle to nothing either in the workshop or in the garden. He
could only seek relief in interminable tramps along the country roads.
His mind seethed with mingled anxiety and hope. For the inquest was the
final scene of this strange drama of which he was at once author and
stage manager; and it was the goal of all his endeavours. If it went off
successfully, James Lewson would be finished with for ever; he would be
dead, buried, and duly registered at Somerset House; and Marcus
Pottermack could murmur "Nunc dimittis" and go his way in peace.

Naturally enough, he was punctual, and more than punctual, in his
attendance at the Town Hall on the appointed day, for he arrived at the
entrance nearly half an hour before the time announced for the opening
of the inquiry. However, he was not alone. There were others still more
punctual and equally anxious to secure good places. In fact, there was
quite a substantial crowd of early place-seekers which grew from moment
to moment. But their punctuality failed to serve its purpose, since the
main doors were still closed and a constable stationed in front of them
barred all access. Some of them strayed into the little square or yard
adjoining, apparently for the satisfaction of looking at the closed door
of the mortuary on its farther side.

Pottermack circulated among the crowd, speaking to no one but listening
to the disjointed scraps of conversation that came his way. His state of
mind was very peculiar. He was acutely anxious, excited, and expectant.
But behind these natural feelings he had a queer sense of aloofness, of
superiority to these simple mortals around him, including the coroner
and the police. For he knew all about it, whereas they would presently
grope their way laboriously to a conclusion, and a wrong conclusion at
that. He knew whose were the remains lying in the mortuary. He could
have told them that they were about to mistake the scanty vestiges of a
libationer of the nineteenth or twentieth dynasty for the body of the
late James Lewson. So it was that he listened with a sort of indulgent
complacency to the eager discussions concerning the mysterious end of
the deceased branch manager.

Presently a report began to circulate that a gentleman had been admitted
to the mortuary by the sergeant and, as the crowd forthwith surged
along in that direction, he allowed himself willingly to be carried with
it. Arrived at the little square, the would-be spectators developed a
regular gyratory movement down one side and up the other, being kept on
the move by audible requests to "pass along, please." In due course
Pottermack came in sight of the mortuary door, now half open and guarded
by a police-sergeant who struggled vainly to combine the incompatible
qualities of majestic impassivity and a devouring curiosity as to what
was going on inside.

At length Pottermack reached the point at which he could see in through
the half-open door, and at the first glance his "superiority complex"
underwent sudden dissolution. A tall man, whose back was partly turned
towards him, held in his hand a shoe, the sole of which he was examining
with concentrated attention. Pottermack stopped dead, gazing at him in
consternation. Then the sergeant sang out his oft-repeated command and
Pottermack was aware of increasing pressure from behind. But at the very
instant when he was complying with the sergeant's injunction to "pass
along," the tall man turned his head to look out at the door and their
eyes met. And at the sight of the man's face Pottermack could have
shrieked aloud.

It was the strange lawyer.

For some moments Pottermack's faculties were completely paralysed by
this apparition. He drifted on passively with the crowd in a state of
numb dismay. Presently, however, as the effects of the shock passed off
and his wits began to revive, some of his confidence revived with them.
After all, what was there to be so alarmed about? The man was only a
lawyer, and he had seemed harmless enough when they had talked together
at the gate. True, he had seemed to be displaying an unholy interest in
the soles of those shoes. But what of that? Those soles were all
correct, even to the gash in the horse's neck. They were, in fact, the
most convincing and unassailable part of the make-up.

But, encourage himself as he would, the unexpected appearance of this
lawyer had given his nerves a nasty jar. It suggested a number of rather
disquieting questions. For instance, how came this man to turn up at
this "psychological moment" like a vulture sniffing from afar a dead
camel in the desert? Why was he looking at those soles with such
extraordinary interest? Was it possible that he had seen those
photographs? And if so, might they have shown something that was
invisible to the unaided eye?

These questions came crowding into Mr. Pottermack's mind, each one more
disquieting than the others. But always he came back to the most
disquieting one of all. How, in the name of Beelzebub, came this lawyer
to make his appearance in the Borley mortuary at this critical and most
inopportune moment?

It was natural that Mr. Pottermack should ask himself this very
pertinent question; for, in truth, it did appear a singular coincidence.
And inasmuch as coincidences usually seem to demand some explanation, we
may venture to pursue the question that the reader may attain to the
enlightenment that was denied to Mr. Pottermack.



CHAPTER XV--DR. THORNDYKE'S CURIOSITY IS AROUSED


The repercussions of Mr. Pottermack's activities made themselves felt at
a greater distance than he had bargained for. By the agency of an
enterprising local reporter they became communicated to the daily press,
and thereby to the world at large, including Number 5A King's Bench
Walk, Inner Temple, London, E.C., and the principal occupant thereof.
The actual purveyor of intelligence to the latter was Mr. Nathaniel
Polton, and the communication took place in the afternoon of the day
following the discovery. At this time Dr. Thorndyke was seated at the
table with an open brief before him, jotting down a few suggestions for
his colleague, Mr. Anstey, when to him entered Nathaniel Polton
aforesaid, with a tray of tea-things in one hand and the evening paper
in the other. Having set down the tray, he presented the paper, neatly
folded into a small oblong, with a few introductory words.

"There is a rather curious case reported in the Evening Post, sir. Looks
rather like something in our line. I thought you might be interested to
see it, so I've brought you the paper."

"Very good of you, Polton," said Thorndyke, holding out his hand with
slightly exaggerated eagerness. "Curious cases are always worth our
attention."

Accordingly he proceeded to give his attention to the marked paragraph;
but at the first glance at the heading, the interest which he had
assumed out of courtesy to his henchman became real and intense. Polton
noted the change, and his lined face crinkled up into a smile of
satisfaction as he watched his employer reading the paragraph through
with a concentration that, even to him, seemed hardly warranted by the
matter. For, after all, there was no mystery about the affair, so far as
he could see. It was just curious and rather gruesome. And Polton had a
distinct liking for the gruesome. So, apparently, had the reporter, for
he used that very word to lend attraction to his heading. Thus:--
'Gruesome discovery at Borley.'

'Yesterday afternoon some labourers who were digging gravel in a pit in
Potter's Wood, Borley, near Aylesbury, made a shocking discovery. When
going round the pit to inspect a disused cart-shelter, they were
horrified at coming suddenly upon the much-decomposed body of a man
lying at the foot of the perpendicular 'face,' down which he had
apparently fallen some months previously. Later it was ascertained that
the dead man is a certain James Lewson, the late manager of the local
branch of Perkins's Bank, who disappeared mysteriously about nine months
ago. An inquest on the body is to be held at the Town Hall, Borley, on
Thursday next at 3 p.m., when the mystery of the disappearance and death
will no doubt be elucidated.'

"A very singular case, Polton," said Thorndyke, as he returned the paper
to its owner. "Thank you for drawing my attention to it."

"There doesn't seem to be any mystery as to how the man met his death,"
remarked Polton, cunningly throwing out this remark in the hope of
eliciting some illuminating comments. "He seems to have just tumbled
into the pit and broken his neck."

"That is what is suggested," Thorndyke agreed. But there are all sorts
of other possibilities. It would be quite interesting to attend the
inquest and bear the evidence."

"There is no reason why you shouldn't, sir," said Polton. "You've got no
arrangements for Thursday that can't easily be put off."

"No, that is true," Thorndyke rejoined. "I must think it over and
consider whether it would be worth giving up the time."

But he did not think it over, for the reason that he had already made up
his mind. Even as he read the paragraph, it was clear to him that here
was a case that called aloud for investigation.

The call was twofold. In the first place he was profoundly interested in
all the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of James Lewson. In
any event he would have wished to make his understanding of the case
complete. But there was another and a more urgent reason for inquiry.
Hitherto his attitude had been simply spectatorial. Neither as a citizen
nor as an officer of the law had he felt called upon to interfere. Now
it became incumbent on him to test the moral validity of his position;
to ascertain whether that detached attitude was admissible in these new
circumstances.

The discovery had taken him completely by surprise. Some developments he
had rather expected. The appearance of the stolen notes, for instance,
had not surprised him at all. It had seemed quite "according to plan";
just a manoeuvre to shift the area of inquiry. But this new development
admitted of no such explanation; for if it was an "arrangement" of some
kind, what could be the motive? There appeared to be none.

He was profoundly puzzled. If this was really James Lewson's body, then
the whole of his elaborate scheme of reasoning was fallacious. But it
was not fallacious. For it had led him to the conclusion that Mr. Marcus
Pottermack was Jeffrey Brandon, deceased. And investigation had proved
beyond a doubt that that conclusion was correct. But a hypothesis which,
on being applied, yields a new truth--and one that is conditional upon
its very terms--must be true. But again, if his reasoning was correct,
this could not be Lewson's body.

But if it was not Lewson's body, whose body was it? And how came it to
be dressed in Lewson's clothes--if they really were Lewson's clothes
and not a carefully substituted make-up? It was here that the question
of public policy arose. For here was undoubtedly a dead person. If that
person proved to be James Lewson, there was nothing more to be said. But
if he were not James Lewson, then it became his, Thorndyke's, duty as a
citizen and a barrister to ascertain who he was and how his body came to
be dressed in Lewson's clothes; or, at least, to set going inquiries to
that effect.

That evening he rapidly reviewed the material on which his reasoning had
been based. Then, unrolling the strip of photographs, he selected a pair
of the most distinct--showing a right and a left foot--and, with the aid
of the little document microscope, made an enlarged drawing of each on
squared paper to a scale of three inches to the foot, i.e. a quarter of
the natural size. The drawings, however, were little more than outlines,
showing none of the detail of the soles; but the dimensions were
accurately rendered, excepting those of the screws which secured the
heels, which were drawn disproportionately large and the position of the
slots marked in with special care and exactness.

With these drawings in his pocket and the roll of photographs in his
attache-case for reference if any unforeseen question should arise,
Thorndyke started forth on the Thursday morning en route for Borley. He
did not anticipate any difficulties. An inquest which he had attended at
Aylesbury some months previously had made him acquainted with the
coroner who would probably conduct this inquiry; but in any case, the
production of his card would secure him the necessary facilities.

It turned out, however, that his acquaintance was to conduct the
proceedings, though he had not yet arrived when Thorndyke presented
himself at the Town Hall nearly an hour before the time when the inquest
was due to open. But the police officer on duty, after a glance at his
card, showed him up to the coroner's room and provided him with a
newspaper wherewith to while away the time of waiting; which Thorndyke
made a show of reading, as a precaution against possible attempts at
conversation, until the officer had retired, when he brought forth the
two drawings and occupied himself in memorizing the dimensions and other
salient characteristics of the footprints.

He had been waiting close upon twenty minutes when he heard a quick step
upon the stair and the coroner entered the room with extended hand.

"How do you do, doctor?" he exclaimed, shaking Thorndyke's hand warmly.
"This is indeed an unexpected pleasure. Have you come down to lend us a
hand in solving the mystery?"

"Is there a mystery?" Thorndyke asked.

"Well, no, there isn't," was the reply, "excepting how the poor fellow
came to be wandering about the wood in the dark. But I take it, from
your being here, that you are in some way interested or concerned in the
case."

"Not in the case," replied Thorndyke. "Only in the body. And my interest
in that is rather academic. I understand that it is known to have been
lying exposed in the open for nine months. Now, I have never had an
opportunity of inspecting a body that has been exposed completely in the
open for so long. Accordingly, as I happened to be in the neighbourhood,
I thought that I would ask your kind permission just to look it over and
make a few notes as to its condition."

"I see; so that you may know exactly what a nine-months-old exposed body
looks like, with a view to due future contingencies. But of course, my
dear doctor, I shall be delighted to help you to this modest extent.
Would you like to make your inspection now?"

"How will that suit you?"

"Perfectly. The jury will be going in to view the remains in about half
an hour, but they won't interfere with your proceedings. But you will
probably be finished by then. Are you coming to the inquest?"

"I may as well, as I have nothing special to do for an hour or two; and
the evidence may help me to amplify my notes."

"Very well," said the coroner, "then I will see that a chair is kept for
you. And now I will tell Sergeant Tatnell to take you to the mortuary
and see that you are not disturbed while you are making your notes."

Hereupon, the sergeant, being called in and given his instructions, took
Thorndyke in custody and conducted him down a flight of stairs to a side
door which opened on a small square, on the opposite side of which was
the mortuary. A considerable crowd had already collected here, in front
of the Town Hall and at the entrance of the square, and by its members
Thorndyke's emergence with the sergeant by no means passed unnoticed;
and when the latter proceeded to unlock the mortuary door and admit the
former, there was a general movement of the crowd into the square with a
tendency to converge on the mortuary door.

The sergeant, having admitted Thorndyke, gazed at him hungrily as he
pointed out the rather obvious whereabouts of the corpse and the
clothing. Then, with evident reluctance, he retired, leaving the door
half open and stationing himself on guard in a position which commanded
an unobstructed view of the interior. Thorndyke would rather have had
the door closed, but he realized the sergeant's state of mind and viewed
it not unsympathetically. And a spectator or two was of no consequence
since he was merely making an inspection.

As the sergeant had obligingly explained, the body was in the open shell
or coffin which rested on one of the tables, while the clothing was laid
out on an adjoining table in a manner slightly reminiscent of a rummage
sale or a stall in the Petticoat Lane Market. Having put down his
attache-case, Thorndyke began his inspection with the clothing, and,
bearing in mind the sergeant's eye, which was following his every
movement, he first looked over the garments, one by one, until he came
naturally to the shoes. These he inspected from various points of view,
and when he had minutely examined the uppers he picked up the right
shoe, and, turning it over, looked at the heel. And in the instant that
his glance fell on it his question was answered.

It was not Lewson's shoe.

Putting it down, he picked up the left shoe and inspected it in the same
manner. It gave the same answer as the right had done, and each
confirmed the other with the force of cumulative evidence. These were
not James Lewson's shoes. There was no need to apply the measurements
that he had marked on his diagrams. The single fact which he had
elicited settled the matter.

It was quite a plain and obvious fact, too, though it had escaped the
police for the simple reason that they were not looking for a
discrepancy in the position of the screws. But it was absolutely
conclusive. For the central screw by which a circular rubber heel is
secured is of necessity a fixture. When once it is driven in, it remains
immovable so long as the heel continues in position. For if the screw
turns in the slightest degree, its hold is loosened, it unscrews from
its hole and the heel comes off. But these heels had not come off. They
were quite firmly attached, as Thorndyke ascertained by grasping them
and as was proved by the extent to which they were worn down. Therefore
the screws could not have moved. But yet their slots were at a totally
different angle from the slots of the screws in Lewson's shoes.

He was standing with the shoe in his hand when a sharply spoken command
from the sergeant to "pass along, please" caused him half-unconsciously
to turn his head. As he did so, he became aware of Mr. Pottermack gazing
at him through the half-open door with an expression of something very
like consternation. The glance was only momentary, for, even as their
eyes met, Pottermack moved away in obedience to the sergeant's command,
reinforced by a vigorous vis a tergo applied by the spectators in his
rear.

Thorndyke smiled grimly at the coincidence--which was hardly a
coincidence at all--and then returned to the consideration of the shoes.
He had thoroughly memorized his drawings, but still, his rigorously
exact mind demanded verification. Accordingly he placed both shoes sole
uppermost and--with his back to the sergeant--produced the drawings from
his pocket for comparison with the shoes. Of course he had made no
mistake. In the drawing of the right foot, the slot of the screw was at
a right angle to the long axis of the shoe--in the position of the
hands of a clock at a quarter to three; in the right shoe before him,
the slot was oblique--in the position of the clock-hands at five minutes
past seven. So with the left; in the drawing it was in the position of
ten minutes to four; in the mortuary shoe it was in that of twenty
minutes to two.

The proof was conclusive, and it justified Thorndyke's forecast. For he
had assumed that if the shoes on the discovered body were counterfeits,
the one detail which the counterfeiter would overlook or neglect would
be the position of the screw-slots; while, by the ordinary laws of
probability, it was infinitely unlikely that the positions of the slots
would happen to match in both feet by mere chance.

But, this point being settled, a more important one arose. If the shoes
were not Lewson's shoes, the body was probably not Lewson's body. And if
it were not, then it was the body of some other person; which conclusion
would raise the further question. How was that body obtained? This was
the vitally important issue, for it would appear that the having
possession of a dead human body almost necessarily implies the previous
perpetration of some highly criminal act.

So Thorndyke reflected, a little anxiously, as he stood by the open
shell, looking down on the scanty remains of what had once been a man.
His position was somewhat difficult, for, since he had never seen Lewson
and knew nothing of his personal characteristics beyond his approximate
age and what he had inferred from the footprints--that he was a man
approaching six feet in height, which appeared to be also true of the
body in the shell--he had no effective means of identification.
Nevertheless, it was possible that a careful examination might bring
into view some distinctive characters that would furnish a basis for
further inquiry when the witnesses should presently be called.

Thus encouraging himself, he began to look over the gruesome occupant of
the shell more critically. And now, as his eye travelled over it, he
began to be conscious of an indefinite something in its aspect that was
not quite congruous with the ostensible circumstances. It seemed to have
wasted in a somewhat unusual manner. Then his attention was attracted by
the very peculiar appearance of the toe-nails. They showed a distinct
orange-yellow coloration which was obviously abnormal, and when he
turned for comparison to the finger-nails, traces of the same unnatural
colour were detectable though much less distinct.

Here was a definite suggestion. Following it up, he turned his attention
to the teeth, and at once the suggestion was confirmed. These were the
teeth of no modern civilized European. The crowns of the molars,
cuspless and ground down to a level surface, spoke of the gritty meal
from a hand-quern and other refractory food-stuffs beyond the powers of
degenerate civilized man. Still following the clue, Thorndyke peered
into the nasal cavities, the entrance to which had been exposed by the
almost complete disappearance of the nose. With the aid of a tiny pocket
electric lamp, he was able to make out on both sides extensive fractures
of the inner bones--the turbinates and ethmoid. In the language of the
children's game, he was "getting warm"; and when he had made a close and
prolonged examination of the little that was left of the abdomen, his
last lingering doubts were set at rest.

He stood up, at length, with a grim but appreciative smile, and
recapitulated his findings. Here was a body, found in a gravel-pit,
clothed in the habiliments of one James Lewson. The toe- and finger-nails
were stained with henna; the teeth were the characteristic teeth of
somewhat primitive man; the ethmoid and turbinate bones were fractured
in a manner incomprehensible in connection with any known natural agency
but in precisely the manner in which they would have been damaged by the
embalmer's hook; there was not the faintest trace of any abdominal
viscera, and there did appear to be--though this was not certain, owing
to the wasted condition of the remains--some signs of an incision in the
abdominal wall; and finally, the hair showed evidence of chemical
corrosion, not to be accounted for by any mere exposure to the weather.
In short, this body displayed a group of distinctive features which,
taken collectively, were characteristic of, and peculiar to, an Egyptian
mummy; and that it was an Egyptian mummy he felt no doubt whatever.

He hailed the conclusion with a sigh of relief. He had come here
prepared to intervene at the inquest and challenge the identity of the
corpse if he had found any evidence of the perpetration of a crime. But
he would have been profoundly reluctant to intervene. Now there was no
need to intervene, since there was no reason to suppose that any crime
had been committed. Possession of an Egyptian mummy does not imply any
criminal act. Admittedly, these proceedings of Mr. Pottermack's were
highly irregular. But that was a different matter. Allowance had to be
made for special circumstances.

Nevertheless, Thorndyke was not a little puzzled. Acting on his
invariable principle, he had disregarded the apparent absence of motive
and had steadily pursued the visible facts. But now the question of
motive arose as a separate problem. What could be the purpose that lay
behind this quaint and ingenious personation of a dead man? Some motive
there must have been, and a powerful motive too. Its strength could be
measured by the enormous amount of patient and laborious preparation
that the result must have entailed, to say nothing of the risk. What
could that motive have been? It did not, apparently, arise out of the
original circumstances. There must be something else that had not yet
come into view. Perhaps the evidence at the inquest might throw some
light upon it.

At any rate, no crime had been committed, and as to this dummy inquest,
there was no harm in it. On the contrary, it was all to the good. For it
would establish and put on record a fact which otherwise would have gone
unascertained and unrecorded, but which ought, on public grounds, to be
duly certified and recorded.

As Thorndyke reached this comfortable conclusion, the sergeant
announced the approach of the jury to view the body; whereupon he picked
up his attache-case, and, emerging from the mortuary, made his way to
the court-room and took possession of a chair which a constable was
holding in reserve for him, close to that which was to be occupied by the
coroner.



CHAPTER XVI--EXIT KHAMA-HERU


Having taken his seat--and wished that it had been a little farther from
the coroner's--Thorndyke glanced round the large court-room, noting the
unusual number of spectators and estimating from it the intense local
interest in the inquiry. And as his eye roamed round, it presently
alighted on Mr. Pottermack, who had secured a seat in a favourable
position near the front and was endeavouring, quite unsuccessfully, to
appear unaware of Thorndyke's arrival. So unsuccessful, indeed, were his
efforts that inevitably their eyes met, and then there was nothing for
it but to acknowledge as graciously as he could the lawyer's friendly
nod of recognition.

Pottermack's state of mind was one of agonized expectation. He struggled
manfully enough to summon up some sort of confidence. He told himself
that this fellow was only a lawyer, and that lawyers know nothing about
bodies. Now, if he had been a doctor it might have been a different
matter. But there was that accursed shoe. He had certainly looked at
that as if he saw something unusual about it; and there was no reason
why a lawyer shouldn't know something about shoes. Yet what could he
have seen in it? There was nothing to see. It was a genuine shoe, and
the soles and heels were unquestionably correct in every detail. He,
Pottermack, could hardly have distinguished them from the originals
himself.

So his feelings oscillated miserably between unreasonable hope and an
all too reasonable alarm. He would have got up and gone out but that
even his terrors urged him to stay at all costs and hear what this
lawyer should say when his turn came to give evidence. And thus, though
he longed to escape, he remained glued to his chair, waiting, waiting
for the mine to blow up; and whenever his roving glance fell, as it
constantly did from minute to minute, on the sphinx-like countenance of
that inopportune lawyer, a cold chill ran down his spine.

Thorndyke, catching from time to time that wandering, apprehensive gaze,
was alive to Mr. Pottermack's condition and felt a humane regret that it
was impossible to reassure him and put an end to his sufferings. He
realized how sinister a significance his unexpected arrival would seem
to bear to the eyes of the self-conscious gamester, sitting there
trembling for the success of his last venture. And the position was made
even worse when the coroner, re-entering with the jury, stopped to
confer with him before taking his seat.

"You had a good look at the body, doctor?" he asked, stooping and
speaking almost in a whisper. "I wonder if it would be fair for me to
ask you a question?"

"Let us hear the question," Thorndyke replied cautiously.

"Well, it is this: the medical witness that I am calling is the police
surgeon's locum tenens. I don't know anything about him, but I suspect
that he hasn't had much experience. He tells me that he can find nothing
definite to indicate the cause of death, but that there are no signs of
violence. What do you say to that?"

"It is exactly what I should have said myself if I had been in his
place," Thorndyke replied. "I saw nothing that gave any hint as to the
cause of death. You will have to settle that question on evidence other
than medical."

"Thank you, thank you," said the coroner. "You have set my mind
completely at rest. Now I will get on with the inquiry. It needn't take
very long."

He retired to his chair at the head of the long table, on one side of
which sat the jury and on the other one or two reporters, and having
seen that his writing materials were in order, prepared to begin. And
Thorndyke, once more meeting Mr. Pottermack's eye, found it fixed on him
with an expression of expectant horror.

"The inquiry, gentlemen," the coroner began, "which we are about to
conduct concerns the most regrettable death of a fellow-townsman of
yours, Mr. James Lewson, who, as you probably know, disappeared rather
mysteriously on the night of the 23rd of last July. Quite by chance, his
dead body was discovered last Monday afternoon, and it will be our duty
to inquire and determine how, when, and where he met with his death. I
need not trouble you with a long preliminary statement, as the testimony
of the witnesses will supply you with the facts and you will be entitled
to put any questions that you may wish to amplify them. We had better
begin with the discovery of the body and take events in their
chronological order. Joseph Crick."

In response to this summons a massively built labourer rose and advanced
sheepishly to the table. Having been sworn, he deposed that his name was
Joseph Crick and that he was a labourer in the employ of Mr. Barber, a
local builder.

"Well, Crick," said the coroner, "now tell us how you came to discover
this body."

The witness cast an embarrassed glance at the eager jurymen, and, having
wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, began: "'Twere last Monday
afternoon--"

"That was the thirteenth of April," the coroner interposed.

"Maybe 'twere," the witness agreed cautiously, "I dunno. But 'twere last
Monday afternoon. Me and Jim Wurdle had been workin' in the pit
a-fillin' the carts with gravel. We'd filled the last cart and seen her
off, and then, as it were gettin' on for knockin'-off time, we lights
our pipes and goes for a stroll round the pit to have a look at the old
shelter-place where they used to keep the carts in the winter. We'd got
round to the gate and Jim Wurdle was a lookin'-in when I happened to
notice a tree that had fell down from the top of the face. And then I
see something layin' by the tree what had got a cap at one end and a
pair of shoes at the other. Give me a regler start, it did. So I says to
Jim Wurdle I says, Jim, I says, that's a funny-lookin' thing over yonder
long-side the tree, I says. Looks like some one a-layin' down there, I
says. So Jim Wurdle he looks at it and he says, 'right you are, mate,'
he says, 'so it do,' he says. So we walked over to have a look at it and
then we see as 'twere a dead man, or leastways a man's skillinton. Give
us a rare turn, it did, to see it a-layin' there in its shabby old
clothes with the beedles a-crawlin' about on it."

"And what did you do then?" asked the coroner.

"We sung out to the other chaps t'other side of the pit and told them
about it, and then we set off for the town as hard as we could go until
we come to the police station, where we see Sergeant Tatnell and told
him about it; and he sent us back to the pit to wait for him and show
him where it were."

When the coroner had written down Crick's statement he glanced at the
jury and enquired: "Do you wish to ask the witness any questions,
gentlemen?" And as nobody expressed any such wish, he dismissed Crick
and called James Wurdle, who, in effect, repeated the evidence of the
previous witness and was in his turn dismissed.

The next witness was Inspector Barnaby of the local police force, a
shrewd-looking man of about fifty, who gave his evidence in the concise,
exact manner proper to a police officer.

"On Monday last, the thirteenth of April, at five twenty-one p.m., it
was reported to me by Sergeant Tatnell that the dead body of a man had
been discovered in the gravel-pit in Potter's Wood. I obtained an empty
shell from the mortuary, and, having put it on a wheeled stretcher,
proceeded with Sergeant Tatnell to the gravel-pit, where the previous
witnesses showed us the place where the body was lying. We found the
body lying at the foot of the gravel-face close to a tree that had
fallen from the top. I examined it carefully before moving it. It was
lying in a sprawling posture, not like that of a sleeping man but like
that of a man who had fallen heavily. There were a few stones and some
gravel on the body, but most of the gravel which had come down with the
tree was underneath. The body was in an advanced stage of decay; so much
so that it began to fall to pieces when we lifted it to put it into the
shell. The head actually dropped off, and we had great trouble in
preventing the legs from separating."

An audible shudder ran round the court at this description and the
coroner murmured, "Horrible! horrible!" But the inspector proceeded in
matter-of-fact tones:

"We conveyed the remains to the mortuary, where I removed the clothing
from the body and examined it with a view to ascertaining the identity
of deceased. The underclothing was marked clearly 'J. Lewson' and in the
breast pocket of the coat I found a letter-case with the initials 'J.L.'
stamped on the cover. Inside it were a number of visiting-cards
bearing the name 'Mr. James Lewson' and the address 'Perkins's Bank,
Borley, Bucks,' and some letters addressed to James Lewson, Esquire, at
that address. In one of the trousers pockets I found a key, which looked
like a safe key, and as there seemed to be no doubt that the body was
that of Mr. Lewson, the late manager of the Borley branch of Perkins's
Bank, I cleaned the rust off the key and showed it to Mr. Hunt, the
present manager, who tried it in the lock of the safe and found that it
entered and seemed to fit perfectly."

"Did it shoot the bolt of the lock?" one of the jurors asked.

"No," replied the inspector, "because, after Mr. Lewson went away and
took the key with him, the manager had the levers of the lock altered
and a pair of new keys made. But the old duplicate key was there, and
when we compared it with the key from the body, it was obvious that the
two keys were identical in pattern."

"Did you take any other measures to identify the body?" the coroner
asked.

"Yes, sir. I checked the clothing carefully, garment by garment, by the
description that we issued when Mr. Lewson disappeared, and it
corresponded to the description in every respect. Then I got the
caretaker from the bank to look it over, and he identified the clothes
and shoes as those worn by Mr. Lewson on the night when he disappeared."

"Excellent," said the coroner. "Most thorough and most conclusive. I
think, gentlemen, that we can fairly take it as an established fact that
the body is that of Mr. James Lewson. And now. Inspector, to return to
the clothing; you have mentioned two articles found by you in deceased's
pockets. What else did you find?"

"Nothing, sir. With the exception of those two articles--which I handed
to you--the pockets were all completely empty."

"And the letter-case?"

"That contained nothing but letters, bills, cards, and a few stamps;
nothing but what was in it when I gave it to you."

Here the coroner opened his attache-case, and, taking from it the
letter-wallet, the letters, cards, bills, and other contents, placed
them, together with the key, on a wooden office tray which he pushed
along the table for the jurymen's inspection. While they were curiously
poring over the tray, he continued his examination.

"Then you found nothing of value on the person of deceased?"

"With the exception of the stamps, nothing whatsoever. The pockets were
absolutely empty."

"Do you happen to know if deceased, at the time of his disappearance,
had any valuable property about him?"

"Yes, sir. It is nearly certain that when he went away at about eight
o'clock on the night of Wednesday, the twenty-third of last July, he had
on his person one hundred pounds in five-pound Bank of England notes."

"When you say that it is nearly certain, what does that certainty amount
to?"

"It is based on the fact that after he had gone, banknotes to that
amount were found to be missing from the bank."

"And is it known what became of those notes?"

"Yes, sir. Their numbers were known and they have now all been
recovered. As soon as they appeared in circulation they were traced; and
in nearly every case traced to some person who was known to the police."

"Is it certain that these notes were taken by deceased and not by some
other person?"

"Yes, practically certain. Deceased was in sole charge, and he had one
key on his person and the other locked in the safe, where it was found
when the lock was picked. But, if you will allow me, sir, I should like
to say, in justice to deceased, that he had, apparently, no intention of
stealing these notes, as was thought at first. Certain facts came to
light later which seemed to show that he had merely borrowed this money
to meet a sudden urgent call and that he meant to replace it."

"I am sure every one will be very glad to hear that," said the coroner.
"We need not go into the circumstances that you mention, as they do not
seem relevant to this inquiry. But these notes raise an important point.
If they were on his person when he went away and they were not on his
body when it was found, and if, moreover, they are known to have been in
circulation since his death, the question of robbery arises, and with it
the further question of possible murder. Can you give us any help in
considering those questions?"

"I have formed certain opinions, sir, but, of course, it is a matter of
guesswork."

"Never mind, Inspector. A coroner's court is not bound by the strict
rules of evidence; and, besides, yours is an expert opinion. Let us hear
what view you take of the matter."

"Well, sir, my opinion is that deceased met his death by accident the
night that he went away. I think that he fell into the pit in the dark,
dislodging a lot of gravel and pulling the small tree down with him.
Both the body and the tree were on top of the heap of gravel, but yet
there was a good deal of gravel and some stones on the body."

The coroner nodded and the witness proceeded:

"Then I think that, about a month later, some tramp found the body and
went through the pockets, and when he discovered the notes, he cleared
off and said nothing about having seen the body."

"Have you any specific reasons for this very definite theory?"

"Yes, sir. First, there is clear evidence that the pit has been
frequented by one or more tramps. Quite close to where the body was
discovered is an old cart-shelter, dug out of the gravel, and that
shelter has been used from time to time by some tramp or tramps as a
residence. I found in it a quantity of wood-ashes and charcoal and large
sooty deposits on the wall and roof, showing that many fires had been
lit there. I also found an old billy, or boiling-can, a lot of rags and
tramps' raffle and a quantity of small bones--mostly rabbits' and fowls'
bones. So tramps have certainly been there.

"Then the state of deceased's pockets suggests a tramp's robbery. It was
not only the valuables that were taken. He had made a clean sweep of
everything. Not a thing was left. Not even a pipe or a packet of
cigarettes or even a match-box."

"And as to the time that you mentioned?"

"I am judging by the notes. A sharp look-out was kept for them from the
first. A very sharp look-out. But for fully a month after the
disappearance not one of them came to light. And then, suddenly, they
began to come in one after the other and even in batches, as if the
whole lot had been thrown into circulation at once. But if it had been a
case of robbery with violence, the robber would have got rid of the
notes immediately, before the hue and cry started."

"So you consider that the possibility of robbery with murder may be
ruled out?"

"On the facts known to me, sir, I do--subject, of course, to the medical
evidence."

"Exactly," said the coroner. "But in any case you have given us most
valuable assistance. Is there any point, gentlemen, that is not quite
clear, or any question that you wish to put to the inspector? No
questions? Very well. Thank you, Inspector."

The next witness called was the police surgeon's deputy, a youngish
Irishman of somewhat convivial aspect. Having been sworn, he deposed
that his name was Desmond M'Alarney, that he was a Doctor of Medicine
and at present acting as locum tenens for the police surgeon, who was
absent on leave.

"Well, doctor," said the coroner, "I believe that you have made a
careful examination of the body of deceased. Is that so?"

"I have made a most careful examination, sir," was the reply, "though as
to calling it a body, I would rather describe it as a skeleton."

"Very well!" the coroner agreed good-humouredly, "call it what you like.
Perhaps we may refer to it as the remains."

"Ye may," replied the witness, "and mighty small remains, by the same
token. But such as they are, I have examined them with the greatest
care."

"And did your examination enable you to form any opinion as to the cause
of death?"

"It did not."

"Did you find any injuries or signs of violence?"

"I did not."

"Were any of the bones fractured or injured in any way?"

"They were not."

"Can you give us no suggestion as to the probable cause of death?"

"I would suggest, sir, that a twenty-foot drop into a gravel-pit is a
mighty probable cause of death."

"No doubt," said the coroner. "But that is hardly a matter of medical
evidence."

"'Tis none the worse for that," the witness replied cheerfully.

"Can you say, definitely, that deceased did not meet his death by any
kind of homicidal violence?"

"I can not. When a body is rejuiced to a skeleton, all traces of
violence are lost so long as there has been no breaking of bones. He
might have been strangled or smothered or stabbed or had his throat cut
without leaving any marks on the skeleton. I can only say that I found
no indications of any kind of homicidal violence or any violence
whatsoever."

"The inspector has suggested that deceased met his death by
accident--that is by the effects of the fall, and that appears to be
your opinion too. Now, if that were the case, what would probably be the
immediate cause of death?"

"There are several possible causes, but the most probable would be
shock, contusion of the brain, or dislocation of the neck."

"Would any of those conditions leave recognizable traces?"

"Contusion of the brain and dislocation of the neck could be recognized
in the fresh body but not in a skeleton like this. Of course, if the
dislocation were accompanied--as it very often is--by fracture of the
little neck-bone known as the odontoid process of the axis, that could
be seen in the skeleton. But there is no such fracture in the skeleton
of deceased. I looked for it particularly."

"Then we understand that you found nothing definite to indicate the
cause of death?"

"That is so, sir."

"Do you consider that the appearance of the body, in a medical sense, is
consistent with a belief that deceased was killed by the effects of the
fall?"

"I do, sir."

"Then," said the coroner, "that seems to be about all that we can say as
to the cause of death. Do the jury wish to put any questions to the
medical witness? If not, we need not detain the doctor any longer."

As Dr. M'Alarney picked up an uncommonly smart hat and retired, the
coroner glanced quickly over his notes and then proceeded to address the
jury.

"I need not occupy your time, gentlemen, with a long summing-up. You
have heard the evidence and probably have already arrived at your
conclusions. There are certain mysterious circumstances in the case, as,
for instance, how deceased came to be wandering about in the wood at
night. But these questions do not concern us. We have to consider only
how deceased met his death, and as the doctor justly remarked, the fact
that the body was found at the bottom of a gravel-pit, having evidently
fallen some eighteen or twenty feet, offers a pretty obvious
explanation. The only suspicious circumstance was that deceased had
clearly been robbed either before or after death. But you have heard the
opinion of a very able and experienced police inspector, and the
excellent reasons that he gave for that opinion. So I need say no more,
but will now leave you to consider your verdict."

During the short interval occupied by the discussions of the jurymen
among themselves, two members of the audience were engaged busily in
reviewing the evidence in its relation to the almost inevitable verdict.
To Thorndyke the proceedings offered an interesting study in the
perverting effect upon the judgment of an unconscious bias, engendered
by the suggestive power of a known set of circumstances. All the
evidence that had been given was true. All the inferences from that
evidence were sound and proper inferences, so far as they went. Yet the
final conclusion which was going to be arrived at would be wildly
erroneous, for the simple reason that all the parties to the inquiry had
come to it already convinced as to the principal fact--the identity of
the deceased person--which had accordingly been left unverified.

As to Pottermack, his state of mind at the close of the inquiry was one
of astonished relief. All through the proceedings he had sat in
tremulous expectancy, with a furtive eye on the strange lawyer,
wondering when that lawyer's turn would come to give his evidence and
what he would have to say. That the stranger had detected some part, at
least, of the fraud he had at first little doubt, and he expected no
less than to hear the identity of the body challenged. But, as the time
ran on and witness after witness came forward guilelessly and disgorged
the bait for the nourishment of the jury, his fears gradually subsided
and his confidence began to revive. And now that the inquiry was really
over and they had all gobbled the bait and got it comfortably into their
gizzards; now that it was evident that this lawyer had nothing to say,
after all, in spite of his preposterous porings over those admirable
shoes, Mr. Pottermack was disposed just a little to despise himself for
having been so easily frightened. The "superiority complex" began to
reassert itself. Here he sat, looking upon a thoroughly bamboozled
assembly, including a most experienced police inspector, a coroner, a
lawyer, and a doctor. He alone of all that assembly, indeed of the whole
world, knew all about it.

But perhaps his alarm had been excusable. We get into the habit too much
importance to these lawyers and doctors. We credit them with knowing a
great deal more than they do. But, at any rate, in this case it was all
to the good. And as Mr. Pottermack summed up in this satisfactory
fashion, the foreman of the jury announced that the verdict had been
agreed on.

"And what is your finding, gentlemen, on the evidence that you have
heard?" the coroner asked.

"We find that the deceased, James Lewson, met his death on the night of
the twenty-third of last July by falling into a gravel-pit in Potter's
Wood."

"Yes," said the coroner. "That amounts to a verdict of Death by
Misadventure. And a very proper verdict, too, in my opinion. I must
thank you, gentlemen, for your attendance and for the careful
consideration which you have given to this inquiry, and I may take this
opportunity of telling you what I am sure you will be glad to hear, that
the directors of Perkins's Bank have generously undertaken to have the
funeral conducted at their expense."

As the hall slowly emptied, Thorndyke lingered by the table to exchange
a few rather colourless comments on the case with the coroner. At
length, after a cordial handshake, he took his departure, and, joining
the last stragglers, made his way slowly out of the main doorway,
glancing among the dispersing crowd as he emerged; and presently his
roving glance alighted on Mr. Pottermack at the outskirts of the throng,
loitering irresolutely as if undecided which way to go.

The truth is that the elation at the triumphant success of his plan had
begotten in that gentleman a spirit of mischief. Under the influence of
the "superiority complex" he was possessed with a desire to exchange a
few remarks with the strange lawyer; perhaps to "draw" him on the
subject of the inquest; possibly even to "pull his leg"--not hard, of
course, which would be a liberty, but just a gentle and discreet tweak.
Accordingly he hovered about opposite the hall, waiting to see which way
the lawyer should go; and as Thorndyke unostentatiously steered in his
direction, the meeting came about quite naturally, just as the lawyer
was turning--rather to Mr. Pottermack's surprise--away from the
direction of the station.

"I don't suppose you remember me," he began.

But Thorndyke interrupted promptly: "Of course I remember you, Mr.
Pottermack, and am very pleased to meet you again."

Pottermack, considerably taken aback by the mention of his name, shook
the proffered hand and cogitated rapidly. How the deuce did the fellow
know that his name was Pottermack? He hadn't told him.

"Thank you," he said. "I am very pleased, too, and rather surprised. But
perhaps you are professionally interested in this inquiry."

"Not officially," replied Thorndyke. "I saw a notice in the paper of
what looked like an interesting case, and, being in the neighbourhood, I
dropped in to see and hear what was going on."

"And did you find it an interesting case?" Pottermack asked.

"Very. Didn't you?"

"Well," replied Pottermack, "I didn't bring an expert eye to it as you
did, so I may have missed some of the points. But there did seem to be
some rather queer features in it. I wonder which of them in particular
you found so interesting?"

This last question he threw out by way of a tentative preliminary to
"drawing" the lawyer, and he waited expectantly for the reply.

Thorndyke reflected a few moments before answering it. At length he
replied;

"There was such a wealth of curious matter that I find it difficult to
single out any one point in particular. The case interested me as a
whole, and especially by reason of the singular parallelism that it
presented to another most remarkable case which was related to me in
great detail by a legal friend of mine, in whose practice it occurred."

"Indeed," said Mr. Pottermack, still intent on tractive operations; "and
what were the special features in that case?"

"There were many very curious features in that case," Thorndyke replied
in a reminiscent tone. "Perhaps the most remarkable was an ingenious
fraud perpetrated by one of the parties, who dressed an Egyptian mummy
in a recognizable suit of clothes and deposited it in a gravel-pit."

"Good gracious!" gasped Pottermack, and the "superiority complex" died a
sudden death.

"Yes," Thorndyke continued with the same reminiscent air, observing that
his companion was for the moment speechless, "it was a most singular
case. My legal friend used to refer to it, in a whimsical fashion, as
the case of the dead man who was alive and the live man who was dead."

"B-but," Pottermack stammered, with chattering teeth, "that sounds like
a c-contradiction."

"It does," Thorndyke agreed, "and of course it is. What he actually
meant was that it was a case of a living man who was believed to be
dead, and a dead man who was believed to be alive--until the mummy came
to light."

Pottermack made no rejoinder. He was still dumb with amazement and
consternation. He had a confused feeling of unreality as if he were
walking in a dream. With a queer sort of incredulous curiosity he looked
up at the calm, inscrutable face of the tall stranger who walked by his
side and asked himself who and what this man could be. Was he, in truth,
a lawyer--or was he the Devil? Stranger as he certainly was, he had some
intimate knowledge of his--Pottermack's--most secret actions; knowledge
which could surely be possessed by no mere mortal. It seemed beyond
belief.

With a violent effort he pulled himself together and made an attempt to
continue the conversation. For it was borne in on him that he must, at
all costs, find out what those cryptic phrases meant and how much this
person--lawyer or devil--really knew. After all, he did not seem to be a
malignant or hostile devil.

"That must have been a most extraordinary case," he observed at length.
"I am--er--quite intrigued by what you have told me. Would it be
possible or admissible for you to give me a few details?"

"I don't know why not," said Thorndyke, "excepting that it is rather a
long story, and I need not say highly confidential. But if you know of
some place where we could discuss it in strict privacy, I should be
pleased to tell you the story as it was told to me. I am sure it would
interest you. But I make one stipulation."

"What is that?" Pottermack asked.

"It is that you, too, shall search your memory, and if you can recall
any analogous circumstances as having arisen within your experience or
knowledge, you shall produce them so that we can make comparisons."

Pottermack reflected for a few moments, but only a few. For his native
common sense told him that neither secrecy nor reservation was going to
serve him.

"Very well," he said, "I agree; though until I have heard your story I
cannot judge how far I shall be able to match it from my limited
experience. But if you will come and take tea with me in my garden,
where we shall be quite alone, I will do my best to set my memory to
work when I have heard what you have to tell."

"Excellent," said Thorndyke. "I accept your invitation with great
pleasure. And I observe that some common impulse seems to have directed
us towards your house, and even towards the very gate at which I had the
good fortune to make your acquaintance."

In effect, as they had been talking, they had struck into the footpath
and now approached the gate of the walled garden.



CHAPTER XVII--DR. THORNDYKE RELATES A QUEER CASE


Mr. Pottermack inserted the small, thin key into the Yale lock of the
gate and turned it while Thorndyke watched him with a faint smile.

"Admirable things, these Yale locks," the latter remarked as he followed
his host in through the narrow gateway and cast a comprehensive glance
round the walled garden, "so long as you don't lose the key. It is a
hopeless job trying to pick one."

"Did you ever try?" asked Pottermack.

"Yes, and had to give it up. But I see you appreciate their virtues.
That looks like one on the farther gate."

"It is," Pottermack admitted. "I keep this part of the garden for my own
sole use and I like to be secure from interruption."

"I sympathize with you," said Thorndyke. "Security from interruption is
always pleasant, and there are occasions when it is indispensable."

Pottermack looked at him quickly but did not pursue the topic.

"If you will excuse me for a minute," he said, "I will run and tell my
housekeeper to get us some tea. You would rather have it out here than
in the house, wouldn't you?"

"Much rather," replied Thorndyke. "We wish to be private, and here we
are with two good Yale locks to keep eavesdroppers at bay."

While his host was absent he paced slowly up and down the lawn,
observing everything with keen interest but making no particular
inspections. Above the yew hedge he could see the skylighted roof of
what appeared to be a studio or workshop, and in the opposite corner of
the garden a roomy, comfortable summer-house. From these objects he
turned his attention to the sun-dial, looking it over critically and
strolling round it to read the motto. He was thus engaged when his host
returned with the news that tea was being prepared and would follow
almost immediately.

"I was admiring your sun-dial, Mr. Pottermack," said Thorndyke. "It is a
great adornment to the garden and a singularly happy and appropriate
one; for the flowers, like the dial, number only the sunny hours. And it
will look still better when time has softened the contrast between the
old pillar and the new base."

"Yes," Pottermack agreed, a trifle uneasily, "the base will be all the
better for a little weathering. How do you like the motto?"

"Very much," replied Thorndyke. "A pleasant, optimistic motto, and new
to me. I don't think I have ever met with it before. But it is a proper
sun-dial motto: 'Hope in the morning, Peace at eventide.' Most of us
have known the first and all of us look forward to the last. Should I be
wrong if I were to assume that there is a well underneath?"

"N-no," stammered Pottermack, "you would not. It is an old well that had
been disused and covered up. I discovered it by accident when I was
levelling the ground for the sun-dial and very nearly fell into it. So I
decided to put the sun-dial over it to prevent any accidents in the
future. And mighty glad I was to see it safely covered up."

"You must have been," said Thorndyke. "While it was uncovered it must
have been a constant anxiety to you."

"It was," Pottermack agreed, with a nervous glance at his guest.

"That would be about the latter part of last July," Thorndyke suggested
with the air of one recalling a half-forgotten event; and Mr. Pottermack
breathlessly admitted that it probably was.

Here they were interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Gadby, for whom the
gate had been left open, followed by a young maid, both laden with the
materials for tea on a scale suggestive of a Sunday School treat. The
housekeeper glanced curiously at the tall, imposing stranger, wondering
inwardly why he could not come to the dining-room like a Christian. In
due course the load of provisions was transferred to the somewhat
inadequate table in the summer-house and the two servants then retired,
Mrs. Gadby ostentatiously shutting the gate behind her. As its lock
clicked, Mr. Pottermack ushered his guest into the summer-house,
offering him the chair once occupied by James Lewson and since
studiously avoided by its owner.

When the hospitable preliminaries had been disposed of and the tea
poured out, Thorndyke opened the actual proceedings with only the
briefest preamble.

"I expect, Mr. Pottermack, you are impatient to hear about that case
which seemed to pique your curiosity so much, and as the shadow is
creeping round your dial, we mustn't waste time, especially as there is
a good deal to tell. I will begin with an outline sketch of the case, in
the form of a plain narrative, which will enable you to judge whether
anything at all like it has ever come to your knowledge.

"The story as told to me by my legal friend dealt with the histories of
two men, whom we will call respectively Mr. Black and Mr. White. At the
beginning of the story they appear to have been rather intimate friends,
and both were employed at a bank, which we will call Alsop's Bank. After
they had been there some time--I don't know exactly how long--a series
of forgeries occurred, evidently committed by some member of the staff
of the bank. I need not go into details. For our purpose the important
fact is that suspicion fell upon Mr. White. The evidence against him was
striking, and, if genuine, convincing and conclusive. But to my friend
it appeared decidedly unsatisfactory. He was strongly disposed to
suspect that the crime was actually committed by Mr. Black and that he
fabricated the evidence against Mr. White. But, however that may have
been, the Court accepted the evidence. The jury found Mr. White guilty
and the judge sentenced him to five years' penal servitude.

"It was a harsh sentence, but that does not concern us, as Mr. White did
not serve the full term. After about a year of it, he escaped and made
his way to the shore of an estuary, and there his clothes were found and
a set of footprints across the sand leading into the water. Some six
weeks later a nude body was washed up on the shore and was identified as
his body. An inquest was held and it was decided that he had been
accidentally drowned. Accordingly he was written off the prison books
and the records at Scotland Yard as a dead man.

"But he was not dead. The body which was found was probably that of some
bather whose clothes Mr. White had appropriated in exchange for his own
prison clothes. Thus he was able to get away without hindrance and take
up a new life elsewhere, no doubt under an assumed name. Probably he
went abroad, but this is only surmise. From the moment of his escape
from prison he vanishes from our ken, and for the space of about fifteen
years remains invisible, his existence apparently unknown to any of his
former friends or acquaintances.

"This closes the first part of the history; the part which deals with
the person whom my friend whimsically described as 'the dead man who was
alive.' And now, perhaps, Mr. Pottermack, you can tell me whether you have
ever heard of a case in any way analogous to this one."

Mr. Pottermack reflected for a few moments. Throughout Thorndyke's
recital he had sat with the feeling of one in a dream. The sense of
unreality had again taken possession of him. He had listened with a
queer sort of incredulous curiosity to the quiet voice of this
inscrutable stranger, relating to him with the calm assurance of some
wizard or clairvoyant the innermost secrets of his own life; describing
actions and events which he, Pottermack, felt certain could not possibly
be known to any human creature but himself. It was all so unbelievable
that any sense of danger, of imminent disaster, was merged in an
absorbing wonder. But one thing was quite clear to him. Any attempt to
deceive or mislead this mysterious stranger would be utterly futile.
Accordingly he replied:

"By a most strange coincidence it happens that a case came to my
knowledge which was point by point almost identical with yours. But
there was one difference. In my case, the guilt of the person who
corresponds to your Mr. Black was not problematical at all. He admitted
it. He even boasted of it and of the clever way in which he had set up
Mr. White as the dummy to take all the thumps."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "That is extremely interesting. We must
bear that point in mind when we come to examine the details. Now I go on
to the second part of the narrative; the part that deals with the 'live
man who was dead.'

"After the lapse of some fifteen years, Mr. White came to the surface,
so to speak. He made his appearance in a small country town, and from
his apparently comfortable circumstances he seemed to have prospered in
the interval. But here he encountered a streak of bad luck. By some
malignant chance, it happened that Mr. Black was installed as manager of
the branch bank in that very town, and naturally enough they met. Even
then all might have been well but for an unaccountable piece of
carelessness on Mr. White's part. He had, by growing a beard and taking
to the use of spectacles, made a considerable change in his appearance.
But he had neglected one point. He had, it appears, on his right ear a
small birth-mark. It was not at all conspicuous, but when once observed
it was absolutely distinctive.

"But," exclaimed Pottermack, "I don't understand you. You say he
neglected this mark. But what could he possibly have done to conceal
it?"

"He could have had it obliterated," replied Thorndyke. "The operation is
quite simple in the case of a small mark. The more widespread
'port-wine' mark is less easy to treat; but a small spot, such as I
understand that this was, can be dealt with quite easily and
effectively. Some skin surgeons specialize in the operation. One of them
I happen to know personally: Mr. Julian Parsons, the dermatologist to
St. Margaret's Hospital."

"Ha," said Mr. Pottermack.

"But," continued Thorndyke, "to return to our story. Mr. White had left
his birth-mark untreated, and that was probably his undoing. Mr. Black
would doubtless have been struck by the resemblance, but the birth-mark
definitely established the identity. At any rate, Mr. Black recognized
him and forthwith began to levy blackmail. Of course, Mr. White was an
ideal subject for a blackmailer's operations. He was absolutely
defenceless, for he could not invoke the aid of the law by reason of his
unexpired sentence. He had to pay, or go back to prison--or take some
private measures.

"At first, it appears that he accepted the position and paid. Probably
he submitted to be bled repeatedly, for there is reason to believe that
quite considerable sums of money passed. But eventually Mr. White must
have realized what most blackmailers' victims have to realize: that
there is no end to this sort of thing. The blackmailer is always ready
to begin over again. At any rate, Mr. White adopted the only practicable
alternative to paying out indefinitely. He got Mr. Black alone in a
secluded garden in which there was a disused well. Probably Mr. Black
came there voluntarily to make fresh demands. But however that may have
been, Mr. Black went, dead or alive, down into the well."

"In the case which came to my knowledge," said Pottermack, "it was to
some extent accidental. He had become rather violent, and in the course
of what amounted to a fight he fell across the opening of the well,
striking his head heavily on the brick coping, and dropped down in a
state of insensibility."

"Ah," said Thorndyke, "that may be considered, as you say, to some
extent accidental. But probably to a rather small extent. I think we may
take it that he would have gone down that well in any case. What do you
say?"

"I think I am inclined to agree with you," replied Pottermack.

"At all events," said Thorndyke, "down the well he went. And there seemed
to be an end of the blackmailer. But it was not quite the end, and the
sequel introduces a most interesting feature into the case.

"It appears that the path by which Mr. Black approached Mr. White's
premises was an earth path, and owing to the peculiar qualities of the
soil in that locality, it took the most extraordinarily clear
impressions of the feet that trod on it. Now, it happened that Mr. Black
was wearing shoes with rubber soles and heels of a strikingly
distinctive pattern, which left on the earth path impressions of the
most glaringly conspicuous and distinctive character. The result was a
set of footprints, obviously and certainly those of Mr. Black, leading
directly to Mr. White's gate and stopping there. This was a most
dangerous state of affairs, for as soon as the hue and cry was
raised--which it would be immediately in the case of a bank manager--the
missing Black would be traced by his footprints to Mr. White's gate. And
then the murder would be out.

"Now what was Mr. White to do? He could not obliterate those footprints
in any practicable manner. So he did the next best--or even
better--thing. He continued them past his gate, out into the country and
across a heath, on the farther side of which he allowed them discreetly
to fade away into the heather.

"It was an admirable plan, and it succeeded perfectly. When the hue and
cry was raised, the police followed those tracks like bloodhounds until
they lost them on the heath. A photographer with a special camera
patiently took samples of the footprints along the whole route, from the
place where they started to where they were lost on the heath. But no
one suspected Mr. White. He did not come into the picture at all. It
seemed that he had now nothing to do but to lie low and let the affair
pass into oblivion.

"But he did nothing of the kind. Instead, he embarked on a most
unaccountable proceeding. Months after the disappearance of Mr. Black,
when the affair had become nearly forgotten, he proceeded deliberately
to revive it. He obtained an Egyptian mummy, and having dressed it in
Mr. Black's clothes, or in clothes that had been specially prepared to
counterfeit those of Mr. Black, he deposited it in a gravel-pit. His
reasons for doing this are unknown to my legal friend and are difficult
to imagine. But whatever the object may have been, it was attained, for
in due course the mummy was discovered and identified as the body of Mr.
Black, an inquest was held and the mystery of the disappearance finally
disposed of.

"That is a bare outline of the case, Mr. Pottermack; just sufficient to
enable us to discuss it and compare it with the one that you have in
mind."

"It is a very remarkable case," said Pottermack, "and the most
remarkable feature in it is its close resemblance to the one of which I
came to hear. In fact, they are so much alike that--"

"Exactly," interrupted Thorndyke. "The same thought had occurred to us
both--that your case and the one related by my legal friend are in
reality one and the same."

"Yes," agreed Pottermack, "I think they must be. But what is puzzling me
is how your legal friend came by the knowledge of these facts, which
would seem to have been known to no one but the principal actor."

"That is what we are going to consider," said Thorndyke. "But before we
begin our analysis, there is one point that I should like to clear up.
You said that Mr. Black had explicitly admitted his guilt in regard to
those forgeries. To whom did he make that admission?"

"To his wife," replied Pottermack.

"His wife!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "But it was assumed that he was a
bachelor."

"The facts," said Pottermack, "are rather singular. I had better fill in
this piece of detail, which apparently escaped your legal friend's
investigations.

"Mr. White, in the days before his troubles befell, was engaged to be
married to a very charming girl to whom he was completely devoted and
who was equally devoted to him. After Mr. White's reported death, Mr.
Black sought her friendship and later tried to induce her to marry him.
He urged that he had been Mr. White's most intimate friend and that
their marriage was what the deceased would have wished. Eventually she
yielded to his persuasion and married him, rather reluctantly, since her
feeling towards him was merely that of a friend. What his feeling was
towards her it is difficult to say. She had some independent means, and
it is probable that her property was the principal attraction. That is
what the subsequent history suggests.

"The marriage was a failure from the first. Black sponged on his wife,
gambled with her money and was constantly in debt and difficulties. Also
he drank to an unpleasant extent. But she put up with all this until one
day he let out that he had committed the forgeries, and even boasted of
his smartness in putting the suspicion on White. Then she left him, and,
assuming another name, went away to live by herself, passing herself off
as a widow."

"And as to her husband? How came he to allow this?"

"First, she frightened him by threatening to denounce him; but she also
made him an allowance on condition that he should not molest her. He
seems to have been rather scared by her threats and he wanted the money,
so he took the allowance and as much more as he could squeeze out of
her, and agreed to her terms.

"Later Mr. White returned to England from America. As he had now quite
shed his old identity and was a man of good reputation and comfortably
off, he sought her out in the hopes of possibly renewing their old
relations. That, in fact, was what brought him to England. Eventually he
discovered her, apparently a widow, and had no difficulty in making her
acquaintance."

"Did she recognize him?"

"I think we must assume that she did. But nothing was said. They
maintained the fiction that they were new acquaintances. So they became
friends. Finally he asked her to marry him, and it was then that he
learned, to his amazement, that she had married Mr. Black."

Thorndyke's face had suddenly become grave. He cast a searching glance
at Mr. Pottermack and demanded: "When was this proposal of marriage
made? I mean, was it before or after the incident of the well?"

"Oh, after, of course. No marriage could have been thought of by Mr.
White while he was under the thumb of the blackmailer, with the choice
of ruin or the prison before him. It was only when the affair was over
and everything seemed to be settling down quietly that the marriage
seemed to have become possible."

Thorndyke's face cleared and a grim smile spread over it. "I see," he
chuckled. "A quaint situation for Mr. White. Now, of course, one
understands the mummy. His function was to produce a death certificate.
Very ingenious. And now I gather that you would like an exposition of
the evidence in this case?"

"Yes," replied Pottermack. "Your legal friend seems to have had
knowledge of certain actions of Mr. White's which I should have supposed
could not possibly have been known to any person in the world but Mr.
White himself. I should like to hear how he came by that knowledge if
you would be so kind as to enlighten me."

"Very well," said Thorndyke, "then we will proceed to consider the
evidence in this case; and I must impress on you, Mr. Pottermack, the
necessity of discriminating clearly between what my legal friend knew
and what he inferred, and of observing the point at which inference
becomes converted into knowledge by verification or new matter.

"To begin with what my friend knew, on the authority of a director of
Mr. Black's bank. He knew that Mr. Black had disappeared under very
mysterious circumstances. That he had received an urgent and threatening
demand from a creditor for the payment of a certain sum of money. That
before starting that night he had taken from the monies belonging to the
bank a sum of money in notes exactly equal to the amount demanded from
him. The reasonable inference was that he set out intending to call on
that creditor and pay that money; instead of which, he appeared to have
walked straight out of the town into the country, where all trace of him
was lost.

"Then my friend learned from the director that, whereas the books of the
bank showed Mr. Black's known income and ordinary expenditure, there was
evidence of his having paid away large sums of money on gambling
transactions, always in cash--mostly five-pound notes; that these sums
greatly exceeded his known income, and that his account showed no trace
of their having been received. Since he must have received that money
before he could have paid it away, he must clearly have had some unknown
source of income; and since he had paid it away in cash, and there was
no trace of his having received any cheques to these amounts, the
inference was that he had received it in cash. I need not remind you,
Mr. Pottermack, that the receipt of large sums of money in notes or
specie is a very significant and rather suspicious circumstance."

"Might not these sums represent his winnings?" Pottermack asked.

"They might, but they did not, for all the transactions that were traced
resulted in losses. Apparently he was the type of infatuated gambler who
always loses in the end. So much for Mr. Black. Next, my friend learned
from the director the circumstances of the forgeries, and he formed the
opinion--which was also that of the director--that Mr. White had been a
victim of a miscarriage of justice and that the real culprit had been
Mr. Black. He also learned the particulars of Mr. White's escape from
prison and alleged death. But he differed from the director in that,
being a lawyer with special experience, he did not accept that death as
an established fact, but only as a probability, reserving in his mind
the possibility of a mistaken identity of the body and that Mr. White
might have escaped and be still alive.

"Thus, you see, Mr. Pottermack, that my friend started with a good deal
of knowledge of this case and the parties to it. And now we come to some
facts of another kind which carry us on to the stage of inference. The
director who furnished my friend with the information that I have
summarized also put into his hands a long series of photographs of the
footprints of Mr. Black, taken by an employee of the bank on the second
morning after the disappearance."

"For what purpose?" asked Mr. Pottermack.

"Principally, I suspect, to try a new camera of a special type, but
ostensibly to help the investigators to discover what had become of the
missing man. They were handed to my friend for his inspection and
opinion as to their value for this purpose. Of course, at the first
glance they appeared to be of no value at all, but as my friend happens
to be deeply interested in footprints as material for evidence, he
retained them for further examination in relation to a particular point
which he wished to clear up. That point was whether a series of
footprints is anything more that a mere multiple of a single footprint;
whether it might be possible to extract from a series any kind of
evidence that would not be famished by an individual footprint.

"Evidently, those photographs offered an exceptional opportunity for
settling this question. They were in the form of a long paper ribbon on
which were nearly two hundred numbered photographs of footprints, and
they were accompanied by a twenty-five-inch ordnance map on which each
footprint was indicated by a numbered dot. The row of dots started at
the bank, and then, after a blank interval, entered and followed a
footpath which passed along a wall in which was a gate, and which
enclosed a large garden or plantation; beyond the wall the dots
continued, still on the footpath, between some fields, through a wood
and across a heath, on the farther side of which they stopped. A note at
the end of the ribbon stated that here the missing man had turned off
the path into the heather and that no further traces of him could be
found."

"Well," remarked Pottermack. "the police could see all that for
themselves. It doesn't seem as if the photographs gave any further
information."

"It does not." Thorndyke agreed. "And yet a careful examination of those
photographs led my friend to the conviction that the missing man had
entered the gate in the wall and had never come out again."

"But," exclaimed Pottermack, "I understood you to say that the
footprints continued past the wall, through the wood and out across the
heath."

"So they did. But a careful scrutiny of the photographs convinced my
friend that this was not a single series of footprints, made by one man
but two series, made by two different men. The first series started from
the bank and ended at the gate. The second series started from the gate
and ended on the heath."

"Then the footprints were not all alike?"

"That," replied Thorndyke, "depends on what we mean by 'alike.' If you
had taken any one footprint from any part of the whole series and
compared it with any other corresponding footprint--right or left--in
any other part of the series, you would have said that they were
undoubtedly prints of the same foot."

"Do I understand you to mean that every footprint in the whole series
was exactly like every other footprint of the same side?"

"Yes. Every right footprint was exactly like every other right
footprint, and the same with the left. That is, considered as individual
footprints."

"Then I don't see how your friend could have made out that the whole
series of footprints, all indistinguishably alike, consisted of two
different series, made by two different men."

Thorndyke chuckled. "It is quite a subtle point," he said, "and yet
perfectly simple. I am a little surprised that it had not occurred to
Mr. White, who seems to have been an acute and ingenious man. You see,
the difference was not between the individual footprints but between
certain periodic characters in the two series."

"I don't think I quite follow you," said Pottermack.

"Well, let us follow my legal friend's procedure. I have told you that
his object in examining these photographs was to ascertain whether
footprints in series present any periodic or recurrent characters that
might be of evidential importance. Now, a glance at these photographs
showed him that these footprints must almost certainly present at least
one such character. They were the prints of shoes with rubber soles of a
highly distinctive pattern and circular rubber heels. Now, Mr.
Pottermack, why does a man wear circular rubber heels?"

"Usually, I suppose, because if he wears ordinary leather heels he wears
them down all on one side."

"And how do the circular heels help him?"

"In the case of circular heels," Pottermack replied promptly, "the wear
does not occur all at one point, but is distributed round the whole
circumf--"

He stopped abruptly with his mouth slightly open and looked at
Thorndyke.

"Exactly," said the latter, "you see the point. A circular heel is
secured to the shoe by a single, central screw. But it is not a complete
fixture. As the wearer walks, the oblique impact as it meets the ground
causes it to creep round; very slowly when the heel is new and tightly
screwed on, more rapidly as it wears thinner and the central screw-hole
wears larger. Of course, my friend knew this, but he now had an
opportunity of making his knowledge more exact and settling certain
doubtful points as to rapidity and direction of rotation. Accordingly he
proceeded, with the ribbon of photographs and the ordnance map before
him, to follow the track methodically, noting down the distances and the
rate and direction of rotation of each heel.

"His industry was rewarded and justified within the first dozen
observations, for it brought to light a fact of considerable importance,
though it does not happen to be relevant to our case. He found that both
heels revolved in the same direction--clock-wise--though, of course,
since they were in what we may call 'looking-glass' relation, they ought
to have revolved in opposite directions."

"Yes," said Pottermack, "it is curious, but I don't see what its
importance is."

"Its importance in an evidential sense," replied Thorndyke, "is this:
the anomaly of rotation was evidently not due to the shoes but to some
peculiarity in the gait of the wearer. The same shoes on the feet of
another person would almost certainly have behaved differently. Hence
the character of the rotation might become a test point in a question of
personal identity. However, that is by the way. What concerns us is that
my friend established the fact that both heels were rotating quite
regularly and rather rapidly. Each of them made a complete rotation in
about a hundred and fifty yards.

"My friend, however, did not accept this result as final, but continued
his observations to ascertain if this regular rate of rotation was
maintained along the whole of the track. So he went on methodically
until he had examined nearly half of the ribbon. And then a most
astonishing thing happened. Both the heels suddenly ceased to revolve.
They stopped dead, and both at the same place.

"Now, the thing being apparently an impossibility, my friend thought
that he must have made some error of observation. Accordingly he went
over this part of the ribbon again. But the same result emerged. Then,
abandoning his measurements, he went rapidly along the whole remaining
length of the ribbon to the very end, but still with the same result.
Throughout the whole of that distance, neither heel showed the slightest
sign of rotation. So it came to this: the photographs from number 1 to
number 92 showed both heels rotating regularly about once in every
hundred and fifty yards; from number 93 to number 197 showed the heels
completely stationary.

"My friend was profoundly puzzled. On the showing of the photographs,
the heels of this man's shoes which had been turning quite freely and
regularly as he walked, had, in an instant, become immovably fixed. And
both at the same moment. He tried to think of some possible explanation,
but he could think of none. The thing was utterly incomprehensible. Then
he turned to the ordnance map to see if anything in the environment
could throw any light on the mystery. Searching along the row of dots
for number 93 he at length found it--exactly opposite the gate in the
wall.

"This was a decidedly startling discovery. It was impossible to ignore
the coincidence. The position was that this man's heels had been turning
freely until he reached the gate; after passing the gate his heels had
become permanently fixed. The obvious suggestion was that this
mysterious change in the condition of the heels was in some way
connected with the gate. But what could be the nature of the connection?
And what could be the nature of the change in the shoes?

"To the first question the suggested answer was that the man might have
gone in at the gate; and while he was inside, something might have
happened to his shoes which caused the heels to become fixed. But still
the difficulty of the shoes remained. What could cause revolving heels
to become fixed? To this question my friend could find no answer. The
possibility that the heels had been taken off and screwed on again more
tightly would not have explained their complete immobility; and, in
fact, they had not been. The screws showed plainly in many of the
photographs, and the position of their slots in all was identical. The
footprints in the second series--those past the gate--were in every
respect the exact counterparts of those in the first series--those from
the town to the gate. The only condition that my friend could think of
as agreeing with the physical facts was that which would have occurred
if the prints in the second series had been made, not by the shoes
themselves but by some sort of reproductions of them, such as plaster
casts or casts in some other material."

"That sounds rather a far-fetched suggestion," remarked Pottermack.

"It does," Thorndyke agreed; "and in fact my friend did not entertain it
seriously at first. He merely noted that the appearances were exactly
such as would be produced by making impressions with casts; in which, of
course, since the soles and heels would be all in one piece, no movement
of the heels would be possible. But, Mr. Pottermack, we must bear in
mind whose footprints these were. They were the footprints of a man who
had disappeared in the most mysterious and unaccountable manner. The
whole affair was highly abnormal. No reasonable explanation was possible
either of the disappearance or of the singular character of the
footprints. But in the absence of a reasonable explanation, it is
admissible to consider an unreasonable one, if it agrees with the known
facts. The cast theory did agree with the physical facts, and, on
reflection, my friend decided to adopt it as a working hypothesis and
see what came of it.

"Now, if the footprints from the gate to the heath were counterfeits of
Black's footprints, made with shoes the soles and heels of which were
mechanical reproductions of the soles and heels of Black's shoes, it
followed that the wearer of these shoes was not Black, but some other
person, in which case Black's own footprints ended at the gate. This at
once got rid of the most unaccountable feature of the disappearance--the
nocturnal flight out into the country; for if his footprints ended at
the gate he must have gone in. But there was nothing at all abnormal
about his calling at a house quite close to, and, in fact, almost in the
town, from which he could have easily gone to keep his appointment with
his creditor. Thus far, the hypothesis seemed to simplify matters.

"But it not only followed that Black must have gone in at the gate, it
followed that he could never have come out. For the footprints that went
on were not his, and there were no footprints going back towards the
town."

"He might have come out another way; by the front door, for instance,"
Pottermack suggested.

"So he might," Thorndyke agreed, "under different circumstances. But the
counterfeit footprints showed that he did not. For if the continuing
footprints were counterfeits, made by some other person, what could have
been their purpose? Clearly their purpose could have been no other than
that of concealing the fact that Black had gone in at the gate. But if
he had come out of the premises, there could have been no reason for
concealing the fact that he had gone in.

"If, however, he did not come out, then, obviously, he remained inside.
But in what condition? Was he alive and in hiding? Evidently not. In the
first place, he had no occasion to hide, since he could have gone back
to the bank and replaced the money. But the conclusive evidence that he
was not in hiding was the counterfeit footprints. No mechanical
reproduction of the shoes would have been necessary if Black had been
there. Black's own shoes would have been borrowed and used to make the
false footprints. But, obviously, the whole set of circumstances was
against the supposition that he could be alive. If the evidence was
accepted that he went in and was never seen again, the most obvious
inference was that he had been made away with. And this inference was
strongly supported by the troublesome and elaborate measures that had
been taken to conceal the fact that he had gone in at the gate.
Accordingly my friend adopted the view, provisionally, that Mr. Black
had been made away with by some person inside the gate, hereinafter
referred to as the tenant.

"But the adoption of this view at once raised two questions. First, how
came it to be necessary to make reproductions of the dead man's shoes?
Why did not the tenant simply take the shoes off the corpse and put them
on his own feet? If he had done this, if he had made the false
footprints with the dead man's own shoes, the illusion would have been
perfect. No detection would have been possible. Why had he not done it?
The shoes themselves could have presented no difficulty. They were large
shoes, and large shoes can, with suitable preparation, be worn even by a
small man.

"The answer that suggested itself was that, for some reason, the shoes
were not available; that by the time that the necessity for the false
footprints had been perceived, the shoes had in some way become
inaccessible. But how could they have become inaccessible? Could the
body have been buried? Apparently not. For it would have been much less
trouble to dig up a body and recover the shoes than to make a pair of
reproductions of them. Could it have been burned? Evidently not. Apart
from the extreme difficulty of the operation, there had not been time.
The false footprints were made on the very night of the disappearance
since they were traced by the police the next morning.

"The possibility that the body might have been conveyed away off the
premises had to be borne in mind. But it was highly improbable, for many
obvious reasons and it did not dispose of the difficulty. For it would
surely have been easier and quicker to go--at night--and retrieve the
shoes than to make the counterfeits. Indeed, when my friend considered
the immense labour that the making of those reproductions must have
entailed, to say nothing of the great expenditure of time, just when
every moment was precious, he felt that nothing but the absolute
physical impossibility of getting access to the original shoes would
explain their having been made.

"Now, what conditions would have rendered those shoes totally
inaccessible? Remember the circumstances. Inasmuch as the sham
footprints were found on the following morning, they must have been made
that night. But before they could be made, the counterfeit soles must
have been made, and the making of them must have been a long and tedious
piece of work. It therefore followed that the tenant must have begun
work on them almost immediately after the death of Mr. Black. From this
it followed that the body of Mr. Black must have been immediately
disposed of in such a way as at once to become inaccessible.

"What methods of disposing of a body would fulfil these conditions? My
friend could think of only three, all very much alike: the dropping of
the body down a dene-hole, or into a cess-pit, or into a disused well.
Any of these methods would at once put the body completely out of reach.
And all these methods had a special probability in this particular case.
The great difficulty that confronts the would-be murderer is the
disposal of the body. Hence the knowledge that there was available a
means of immediately, securely, and permanently hiding the body might be
the determining factor of the murder. Accordingly, my friend was
strongly inclined to assume that one of these three methods was the one
actually employed.

"As to the particular method, the question was of no great importance.
Still, my friend considered it. The idea of a dene-hole was at once
excluded on geological grounds. Dene-holes are peculiar to the chalk.
But this was not a chalk district.

"The cess-pit was possible but not very probable; for if in use, it
would be subject to periodical clearance, which would make it quite
unsuitable as a hiding-place, while cess-pits which become superseded by
drainage are usually filled in and definitely covered up. A well, on the
other hand, is often kept open for occasional and special use after the
laying on of a pipe service."

"Your friend," remarked Pottermack, "seems to have taken it for granted
that a well actually existed."

"Not entirely," said Thorndyke. "He looked up an older map and found
that this house had formerly been a farm-house, so that it must once
have had a well; and as it now fronts on a road in which other houses
have been built and which is virtually a street, it is pretty certainly
connected with the water-service. So that it was practically certain
that there was a well, and that well would almost certainly be out of
use.

"And now, having deduced a reason why the counterfeit soles should have
been necessary, he had to consider another question. If the original
shoes were inaccessible, how could it have been possible to make the
counterfeits, which were, apparently, casts of the originals? At first
it looked like an impossibility. But a little reflection showed that the
footprints themselves supplied the answer. Mr. Black's own footprints on
the path were such perfect impressions that a little good plaster poured
into selected samples of them would have furnished casts which would
have been exact reproductions of the soles and heels of Mr. Black's
shoes. Possibly there were equally good footprints inside the premises,
but that is of no consequence. Those on the footpath would have answered
the purpose perfectly.

"I may say that my friend tested this conclusion and got some slight
confirmation. For if the false footprints were impressions of
reproductions, not of the original shoes but of some other footprints,
one would expect to find the accidental characters of those particular
footprints as well as those of the shoes which produced them. And this
appeared to be the case. In one of the points of the star on the left
heel a small particle of earth seemed to have adhered. This was not to
be found in Black's own footprints, but it was visible in all the
footprints of the second series, from the gate to the heath. And the
fact that it never changed along the whole series suggested that it was
really a part of the cast, due to an imperfection in the footprint from
which it was made.

"That brings us to an end of my friend's train of reasoning in regard to
the actual events connected with Mr. Black's disappearance. His
conclusions were, you observe, that Mr. Black went in at the gate; that
he was thereafter made away with by some person inside whom we have
called the tenant; that his body was deposited by the tenant in some
inaccessible place, probably a disused well; and that the tenant then
made a set of false footprints to disguise the fact that Mr. Black had
gone in at the gate.

"The questions that remained to be considered were; first, What could be
the tenant's motive for making away with Mr. Black? and second, Who was
the tenant? But before we deal with his inferences on those points, I
should like to hear any observations which you may have to make on what
I have told you."

Mr. Pottermack pondered awhile on what he had heard, and as he
reflected, he laid a disparaging hand on the teapot.

"It is rather cool," he remarked apologetically; "but such as it is, can
I give you another cup?"

"Prolonged exposition," Thorndyke replied with a smile, "is apt to have
a cooling effect upon tea. But it also creates a demand for liquid
refreshment. Thank you, I think another cup would cheer, and we can
dispense with the inebriation."

Mr. Pottermack refilled both the cups and put down the teapot, still
cogitating profoundly.



CHAPTER XVIII--THE SUN-DIAL HAS THE LAST WORD


"Your legal friend," Mr. Pottermack said at length, "must be a man of
extraordinary subtlety and ingenuity if he deduced all that you have
told me from the mere peculiarities of a set of footprints, and only
photographs at that. But what strikes me about it is that his
reconstruction was, after all, pure speculation. There were too many
'ifs.'"

"But, my dear Mr. Pottermack," exclaimed Thorndyke, "it was all 'ifs.'
The whole train of reasoning was on the plane of hypothesis, pure and
simple. He did not, at this stage, assume that it was actually true, but
merely true conditionally on the facts being what they appeared to be.
But what does a scientific man do when he sets up a working hypothesis?
He deduces from it its consequences, and he continues to pursue these so
long as they are consistent with the facts known to him. Sooner or
later, this process brings him either to an impossibility or a
contradiction--in which case he abandons the hypothesis--or to a
question of fact which is capable of being settled conclusively, yes or
no.

"Well, this is what my friend did. So far we have seen him pursuing a
particular hypothesis and deducing from it certain consequences. The
whole thing might have been fallacious. But it was consistent, and the
consequences were compatible with the known facts. Presently we shall
come to the question of fact--the crucial experiment which determines
yes or no, whether the hypothesis is true or false. But we have to
follow the hypothetical method a little farther first.

"The questions that remained to be considered were: first, What could
have been the tenant's motive for killing Mr. Black? and second, Who was
the tenant? My friend took the questions in this order because the
motive might be arrived at by reasoning, and, if so arrived at, might
throw light on the personality of the tenant; whereas the identity of
the tenant, taken by itself, was a matter of fact capable of being
ascertained by enquiry, but not by reasoning apart from the motive.

"Now, what motives suggest themselves? First, we must note that my
friend assumed that the homicide was committed by the tenant himself,
that is, by the proprietor of the premises and not by a servant or other
person. That is a reasonable inference from the facts that the person,
whoever he was, appeared to have command of all the means and materials
necessary for making the counterfeits, and also that he must have had
full control of the premises, both at the time and in the future, in
order to hide the body and ensure that it should remain hidden. Well,
what motive could a man in this position have had to kill Mr. Black?

"There is the motive of robbery, but the circumstances seem to exclude
it as not reasonably probable. It is true that Black had a hundred
pounds on his person, but there is no reason to suppose that any one
knew that he had; and in any case, so small a sum, relatively, furnishes
a quite insufficient motive for murder in the case of an apparently
well-to-do man such as the tenant. My friend decided that robbery,
though possible, was highly improbable.

"The possibilities that Black's death might have been the result of a
quarrel or of some act of private vengeance had to be borne in mind, but
there were no means of forming any opinions for or against them. They
had to be left as mere speculative possibilities. But there was another
possibility which occurred to my friend, the probabilities of which were
susceptible of being argued, and to this he turned his attention. It was
based upon the application of certain facts actually known and which we
will now consider.

"First, he noted that Mr. Black came to this place voluntarily, and that
he came expressly to visit the premises within the gate is proved by the
fact that this is the last house on that path. Beyond it is the country.
There is no other human habitation to which he could have been bound.
Now Mr. Black was, at this moment, in acute financial difficulties. He
had borrowed a hundred pounds from the bank's money, and this hundred
pounds he was about to pay away to meet an urgent demand. But that
hundred pounds would have to be replaced, and it was of the utmost
importance that it should be replaced without delay. For if a surprise
inspection should have occurred before it was replaced, he stood to be
charged with robbery. The circumstances, therefore, seemed to suggest
that he had taken it with the expectation of being able to replace it
almost immediately.

"Now, you will remember that it transpired after his disappearance that
Mr. Black had some mysterious unknown source of income; that he had
received on several occasions large sums of money, which had apparently
come to him in the form of cash and had been paid away in the same
form--always in five-pound notes. These monies did not appear in his
banking account or in any other account. They were unrecorded--and,
consequently, their total amount is not known. But the sums that he is
known to have received were ascertained by means of the discovery of
certain payments that he had made. I need not point out to you the great
and sinister significance of these facts. When a man who has a banking
account receives large payments in cash, and when, instead of paying
them into his account, he pays them away in cash, it is practically
certain that the monies that he has received are connected with some
secret transaction, and that transaction is almost certainly an illicit
one. But of all such transactions, by far the commonest is blackmail. In
fact, one would hardly be exaggerating if one were to say that evidence
of secret payments of large sums in coin or notes is presumptive
evidence of blackmail. Accordingly my friend strongly suspected Mr.
Black of being a blackmailer.

"And now, assuming this to be correct, see how admirably the assumption
fits the circumstances. Mr. Black is at the moment financially
desperate. He has taken certain money, which is not his, to pay an
urgent and threatening creditor. Instead of going direct to that
creditor, he comes first to this house. But he does not enter by the
front door. He goes to a gate which opens on an unfrequented lane and
which gives entrance to a remote part of the grounds, and he does this
late in the evening. There is a manifestly secret air about the whole
proceeding.

"And now let us make another assumption."

"What, another!" protested Pottermack.

"Yes, another; just to see if it will fit the circumstances as the
others have done. Let us assume that the tenant was the person from whom
Mr. Black had been extorting those mysterious payments; the victim whom
he had been blackmailing. That he had called in on his way to his
creditor to see if he could squeeze him for yet another hundred, so that
the notes could be replaced before they could be missed. That the
victim, being now at the end of his patience and having an opportunity
of safely making away with his persecutor, took that opportunity and
made away with him. Is it not obvious that we have a perfectly
consistent scheme of the probable course of events?"

"It is all pure conjecture," objected Pottermack.

"It is all pure hypothesis," Thorndyke admitted, "but you see that it
all hangs together, it all fits the circumstances completely. We have
not come to any inconsistency or impossibility. And it is all
intrinsically probable in the special conditions; for you must not
forget that we are dealing with a set of circumstances that admits of no
normal explanation.

"And now for the last question. Assuming that Mr. Black was a
blackmailer and that the tenant was his victim, was it possible to give
that victim a name? Here my friend was handicapped by the fact that Mr.
Black was a complete stranger, of whose domestic affairs and friends and
acquaintances he had no knowledge. With one exception. He had knowledge
of one of Mr. Black's friends. That friend, it is true, was alleged to
be dead. But it was by no means certain that he was dead. And if he were
not dead, he was a perfectly ideal subject for blackmail, for he was an
escaped convict with a considerable term of penal servitude still to
run. My friend was, of course, thinking of Mr. White. If he should have
attained to something approaching affluence and should be living in
prosperous and socially desirable circumstances, he would allow himself
to be bled to an unlimited extent rather than suffer public disgrace and
be sent back to prison. And the person who would be, of all others, the
most likely to recognize him and in the best position to blackmail him
would be his old friend Mr. Black.

"Bearing these facts in mind, my friend was disposed to waive the prima
facie improbability and assume, provisionally, that the tenant was Mr.
White. It was certainly rather a long shot."

"It was indeed," said Pottermack. "Your friend was a regular Robin
Hood."

"And yet," Thorndyke rejoined, "the balance of probability was in favour
of that assumption. For against the various circumstances that suggested
that the tenant was Mr. White there was to be set only one single
improbability, and that not at all an impressive one: the improbability
that a body--found drowned after six weeks' immersion and therefore
really unrecognizable--should have been wrongly identified. However, my
friend did feel that (to continue the metaphor, since you seem to
approve of it) the time had come to step forward and have a look at the
target. The long train of hypothetical reasoning had at length brought
him to a proposition the truth of which could be definitely tested. The
tenant's identity with Mr. White was a matter of fact which could be
proved or disproved beyond all doubt. Of course, the test would not be a
real experimentum crucis, because it would act in only one direction. If
it should turn out that the tenant was not Mr. White, that would not
invalidate the other conclusions, but if it should turn out that he was
Mr. White, that fact would very strongly confirm those conclusions.

"My friend, then, left his photographs and his ordnance map and made a
journey to the scene of these strange events to inspect the place and
the man with his own eyes. First he examined the path and the exterior
of the premises, and then he made a survey of the grounds enclosed by
the wall."

"How did he do that?" enquired Pottermack. "It was a pretty high
wall--at least, so I understand."

"He made use of an ancient optical instrument which has been recently
revived in an improved form under the name of 'periscope.' The old
instrument had two mirrors; the modern one has two total-reflection
prisms in a narrow tube. By projecting the upper or objective end of the
tube above the top of the wall, my friend was able, on looking into the
eye-piece, to get an excellent view of the premises. What he saw was a
large garden, completely enclosed by four high walls in which were two
small gates, each provided with a night-latch and therefore capable of
being opened only from within or by means of a latchkey. A very secure
and secluded garden. On one side of it was a range of out-buildings
which, by the glazed lights in their roofs, appeared to be studios or
workshops. Near one end of the lawn was a sun-dial on a very wide stone
base. The width of the base was rather remarkable, being much greater
than is usual in a garden dial. A glance at it showed that the dial had
been quite recently set up, for, though the stone pillar was old, the
base stones were brand new. Moreover, the turf around it had been very
recently laid and some of the earth was still bare. Further proof of its
newness was furnished by a gentleman who was, at the moment, engaged,
with the aid of Whitaker's Almanack and his watch, in fixing the
dial-plate in correct azimuth.

"This gentleman--the mysterious tenant--naturally engaged my friend's
attention. There were several interesting points to be noted concerning
him. The tools that he used were workmen's tools, not amateurs', and he
used them with the unmistakable skill of a man accustomed to tools. Then
he had laid aside his spectacles, which were 'curl-sided' and therefore
habitually worn. It followed, then, that he was near-sighted; for if he
had been old-sighted or long-sighted he would have needed the spectacles
especially for the close and minute work that he was doing.

"When he had made these observations, my friend proceeded to take a
couple of photographs--a right and a left profile."

"How did he manage that?" demanded the astonished Pottermack.

"By placing his camera on the top of the wall. It was a special, small
camera, fitted with a four-point-five Ross-Zeiss lens and a cord
release. Of course, he made the exposure with the aid of the periscope.

"When he had exposed the photographs, he decided to have a nearer view
of the tenant. Accordingly he went round and knocked at the gate, which
was presently opened by the gentleman of the sun-dial, who was now
wearing his spectacles. Looking at those spectacles, my friend made a
very curious discovery. The man was not near-sighted, for the glasses
were convex bi-focals, the upper part nearly plain glass. Now, if he had
not needed those spectacles for near work, he certainly could not need
them for distance. Then, obviously, he did not need them at all. But, if
so, why was he wearing them? The only possible explanation was that they
were worn for their effect on his appearance; in short, for the purpose
of disguise.

"As this gentleman was answering some questions about the locality my
friend handed him a folded map. This he did with two objects: that he
might get a good look at him unobserved, and that he might possibly
obtain some prints of his finger-tips. As to the first, he was able to
make a mental note of the tenant's salient characteristics and to
observe, among other peculiarities, a purplish mark on the lobe of the
right ear of the kind known to surgeons as a capillary naevus."

"And the finger-prints?" Pottermack asked eagerly.

"They were rather a failure, but not quite. When my friend developed
them up, though very poor specimens, they were distinct enough to be
recognizable by an expert.

"Now you will have noticed that everything that my friend observed was
consistent with, and tended to confirm, the conclusions that he had
arrived at by hypothetical reasoning. But the actual test still remained
to be applied. Was the tenant Mr. White or was he not? In order to
settle this question, my friend made enlargements of the photographs of
the tenant and also of the finger-prints, and, with these in his pocket,
paid a visit to Scotland Yard."

At the mention of the ill-omened name, Pottermack started and a sudden
pallor spread over his face. But he uttered no sound, and Thorndyke
continued:

"There he presented the finger-prints as probably those of a deceased
person, photographed from a document, and asked for an expert opinion on
them. He gave no particulars and was not asked for any; but the experts
made their examination and reported that the finger-prints were those of
a convict named White who had died some fifteen years previously. My
friend had, further, the opportunity of inspecting the prison
photographs of the deceased White and of reading the personal
description. Needless to say, they agreed completely in every
particular, even to the capillary naevus on the ear.

"Here, then, my legal friend emerged from the region of hypothesis into
that of established fact. The position now was that the person whom we
have called 'the tenant' was undoubtedly the convict, White, who was
universally believed to be dead. And since this fact had been arrived at
by the train of reasoning that I have recited, there could be no doubt
that the other, intermediate, conclusions were correct; that, in fact,
the hypothesis as a whole was substantially true. Do you agree with that
view?"

"There seems to be no escape from it," replied Pottermack; and after a
brief pause he asked, a little tremulously: "And what action did your
legal friend take?"

"In respect of the identity of the tenant? He took no action. He now
considered it perfectly clear that Mr. White ought never to have been a
convict at all. That unfortunate gentleman had been the victim of a
miscarriage of justice. It would have been actually against public
policy to disclose his existence and occasion a further miscarriage.

"With regard to the killing of Mr. Black, the position was slightly
different. If it comes to the knowledge of any citizen--and especially a
barrister, who is an officer of justice--that a crime has been
committed, it is the duty of that citizen to communicate his knowledge
to the proper authorities. But my friend had not come by any such
knowledge. He had formed the opinion--based on certain inferences from
certain facts--that Mr. Black had been killed. But a man is not under
any obligation to communicate his opinions.

"This may seem a little casuistical. But my friend was a lawyer, and
lawyers are perhaps slightly inclined to casuistry. And in this case
there were certain features that encouraged this casuistical tendency.
We must take it, I think, that a man who suffers a wrong for which the
law provides a remedy and in respect of which it offers him protection
is morally and legally bound to take the legal remedy and place himself
under the protection of the law. But if the law offers him no remedy and
no protection, he would appear to be entitled to resume the natural
right to protect himself as best he can. That, at any rate, is my
friend's view.

"Of course, the discovery of the alleged body of Mr. Black in the
gravel-pit seemed to put an entirely new complexion on the affair. My
friend was greatly perturbed by the news. It was hardly conceivable that
it could really be Mr. Black's body. But it was some person's body, and
the deliberate 'planting' of a dead human body seemed almost inevitably
to involve a previous crime. Accordingly, my friend started off,
hot-foot, to investigate. When the deceased turned out to be a mummy,
his concern with the discovery came to an end. There was no need for him
to interfere in the case. It was a harmless deception and even useful,
for it informed the world at large that Mr. Black was dead.

"That, Mr. Pottermack, is the history of the dead man who was alive and
the live man who was dead; and I think you will agree with me and my
legal friend that it is a most curious and interesting case."

Pottermack nodded, but for some time remained silent. At length, in a
tone the quietness of which failed to disguise the suppressed anxiety,
he said:

"But you have not quite finished your story."

"Have I not?" said Thorndyke. "What have I forgotten?"

"You have not told me what became of Mr. White."

"Oh, Mr. White. Well, I think we can read from here upon your sun-dial a
few words that put his remaining history in a nutshell. 'Sole decedente
pax.' He had the mark removed from his ear, he married his old love and
lived happy ever after."

"Thank you," said Mr. Pottermack, and suddenly turned away his head.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia