a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Salving of Mr. Stanley Witt Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402071h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2014 Most recent update: May 2014 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan. 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
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
AT last Nicholas Goade was happily situated. He had escaped altogether from the atmosphere of tragedy and gloom, and sat upon his camp stool painting contentedly upon the common adjoining a picturesque village in mid-Devonshire, whose whitewashed cottages, with their fragrant, colour-splashed gardens, snug homesteads and ample population of pleasant-voiced, apple-cheeked maidens, matrons, and kindly-mannered seniors, all betokened an ease of living and happy day-by-day life soothing to the senses and restful to the nerves. It was a land of green meadows, trout streams, and peace, where nobody seemed to have anything to do and plenty of time to do it in. Flip was seated upon her haunches by his side, snapping at flies, and an elderly gentleman, leaning upon a stick, watched his work with puckered lips and a frown upon his forehead.
"Fond of this sort of thing, sir?" Goade presently asked his uninvited companion.
"Not the way you're doing it," was the frank reply.
Goade swung round upon his camp stool at this unexpected criticism. He saw a rather undersized, elderly gentleman, neatly dressed in country clothes, with sensitive features and a not unkindly mouth—a man apparently of about sixty years of age. Accustomed to classifying people on sight, Goade would have put him down as a retired professional man.
"You don't like my little effort?" he queried.
"I think it's horrible," was the prompt response.
"I have been standing here wondering why a grown man like you—a man with a not unintelligent face—should waste his time in such a fashion."
Goade looked dubiously at the awful daub which he had perpetrated, and back again at his critic.
"But I like doing it," he confided. "It amuses me."
"If it amuses you that's a different matter," the elderly gentleman admitted, leaning a little more heavily upon his stick. "You may thank your stars you don't have to do it for a living, I am not a gambler, but I would wager that you have never sold one of your productions in your life."
"You are quite right," Goade acquiesced. "I keep them to decorate my studio."
The little gentleman shivered.
"What a nightmare of a place it must be," he commented.
Half-past twelve sounded from the church clock on the other side of the common. Goade covered up the canvas and prepared for departure.
"In my time," he acknowledged, "I have become hardened to criticism. My work, as a matter of fact, does not find favour with every one. At the same time, if I may be permitted to say so, I have never yet met a stranger who has expressed himself quite so forcibly."
"Then you've been lucky," was the dry retort. "I am something of an artist myself, and I assure you that it is a positive pain to me to contemplate murderous efforts like yours. I abhor all forms of ugliness. I look upon the man who brings into the world of actual things a daub, such as you have just become responsible for, as a criminal—nothing less than a criminal."
"You depress me exceedingly," Goade sighed. "Nevertheless," he went on, casting another and more searching glance at his new friend, "I am quite sure that your frankness is not meant to be offensive. I am now on my way back to the inn. Do me the favour of drinking a glass of sherry with me."
The old gentleman gripped his stick firmly and prepared to accompany his companion.
"On condition," he said, "that you assure me upon your word of honour that not a penny of such income as you may be in enjoyment of comes from dealing in any fashion with your outrageous work, I will accept your hospitality with pleasure."
"I can offer you that assurance with a clear conscience," Goade told him.
They strolled across the common side by side, conversing indifferently upon general topics. The little old gentleman was interested in his companion; and to a less extent Goade reciprocated the sentiment.
"Living in a small neighbourhood," the former said, "one develops a vein of curiosity as to strangers with whom one is brought into contact. I have lived here for twenty-seven years, and I have become as local as the geese, the postmistress, and the vicar. I am curious about you, sir. What might your profession be?"
"Just at present," Goade confided, "I am resting. I have come into quite a considerable sum of money from a certain enterprise with which I was connected, and I am endeavouring to take a holiday."
"I see," the old gentleman murmured. "And your name?"
"Mine is Stanley Witt—Mr. Stanley Witt. I am a retired dealer in curios, second-hand books, ivories, bronzes, and jewellery. Was this enterprise of which you speak a commercial one?"
Goade reflected for a moment. The tracking down through twelve weary months of Ned Bullivant, the greatest criminal New York had ever turned loose upon the world, could scarcely come under such a heading.
"Not exactly," he admitted. "I scarcely know what you would call it. The sort of thing that comes to a man once in a lifetime."
They entered the low portals of the Chidford Arms, descended a step, and turned towards the comfortable bar parlour. Mr. Witt laid his hand upon his companion's arm.
"For God's sake don't bring that truck inside," he begged. "Some one might ask to look at your work, and another glance at it before I have lunched would ruin my appetite."
Goade unburdened himself and laid his easel and canvas against the wall.
"If you go on like this," he grumbled good-naturedly, "I shall begin to lose confidence in myself."
"The sooner the better," was the eager response. "I think you said that you were on a motor tour. Try fishing. You'll find a stream anywhere round here. Fishing is a reasonable hobby. Better even a bag of golf clubs strapped on behind than that horrible paraphernalia of yours."
They entered the inn parlour, fairly full at that hour of the morning. Goade was greeted with the reserved cordiality accorded to strangers, whilst Mr. Witt, on the other hand, was welcomed enthusiastically. The former, standing a little apart, was able to gauge to a nicety his companion's social position by the nature of the salutations he received. The butcher, the manager from the grocer's shop, and the saddler were cordial but respectful; the doctor, the bank manager, and a prosperous-looking farmer greeted him with friendly equality. Obviously he had established himself as the humorist of the place and an original. More than once his sallies produced little peals of laughter. When, after having returned the compliment of the glass of sherry, he took his leave, most of the others followed him.
"If you've ten minutes to spare before you go away," were his parting words to Nicholas Goade, "and if you really want to know something about the great art of painting, call round at my little house, and I'll show you a landscape which should make you want to destroy every atrocity you have ever perpetrated. Any evening—any time after seven."
"I'll look in with pleasure," Goade promised...
Mr. Witt had scarcely reached the street before he became the subject of conversation amongst the diminished company left behind in the bar parlour.
"It do seem a wonderful thing and a great pleasure," the landlady declared, "to see him almost himself again. It's the first time for a week he's crossed the threshold, and him the most regular of all my customers."
"It was ordained always that he should take his glass of sherry at quarter- past twelve," a farmer remarked.
"Has Mr. Witt been ill?" Goade enquired.
The farmer shook his head; the landlady sighed; the saddler and harness- maker in the corner looked gloomily upon the floor. They all hesitated.
"He do seem to have met with trouble, has Mr. Witt," the landlady confided, turning away as she spoke, with the air of one who has finished the subject.
There was a mystery about Mr. Witt—that Goade gathered easily enough during the next few days, from the landlady and the little crowd of bar loungers who were only too ready to discuss him—but what that mystery might be no one seemed to know. A little more than a fortnight previously he had apparently met with trouble of some undefined sort, and now, without warning or explanation, he was subject to fits of isolation, during which no one saw or heard anything of him. There were rumours of cases full of his most precious possessions being sent away by rail to Exeter, and even to London. At such moments as the conversation touched, however vaguely, upon financial matters, the bank manager, whose lips were sealed by etiquette, retired from the conversation into a gloomy and portentous silence.
In the end Goade became interested. He found himself speculating often as to the cause of Mr. Witt's trouble, to see looming up before him the shadow of that crime in the detection of which he had first won his spurs—the crime of blackmail. He would have made an attempt to gain the little man's confidence, but day after day passed without a further visit from him. Finally, after dinner one night at the Chidford Arms—a dinner of roast veal and bacon, raspberry tart, and Stilton cheese—Flip and her master, equally satisfied with their fare, made their way up the village street and climbed the hill towards the few private residences upon its crest, the second of which had been pointed out to him as the abode of Mr. Witt. For five days now the latter had been invisible, and, curiously enough, Goade himself, as well as the habitués of the Chidford Arms, had missed the little man's genial presence, his caustic remarks, his humorous sallies. He had apparently gone into retreat, and any reference to him or to his affairs had been met with blank silence. Even Goade, whose sensibilities in such matters had become blunted, felt guilty almost of intrusion as he rang the shining doorbell. For several moments nothing happened. Then a trim little maidservant of tender years opened the door and peered out.
"I should like to see Mr. Witt," Goade announced.
The maidservant looked doubtful.
"I don't think he'll see 'e, sir," she replied. "He's none too grand, isn't Mr. Witt—and he's busy."
"You might enquire," Goade persisted. "He asked me to come. I won't keep him long."
The little maidservant departed reluctantly, leaving Goade in a small but cosily furnished hall, redeemed from mediocrity by a wonderful Georgian grandfather's clock and a Chippendale table upon which was a rose bowl of Nankin china. She was absent two or three minutes, at the end of which a door on the ground floor suddenly opened and Mr. Witt looked out. He was collarless and his clothes were dusty. He carried in his hand a hammer.
"What do you want?" he asked sharply.
"I called to have a look at your picture," Goade explained. "If you remember, you offered to show it to me. I've been a little discouraged with my own work the last few days."
"Discouraged! I should think so," was the acid rejoinder. "I can't show you my picture to-night. I'm too busy. Come again in a week or so."
"But, my dear sir," Goade protested, "I sha'n't be here in a week or so. I'm just a tourist. I may move on to-morrow or the next day."
"And paint more pictures?" Mr. Witt enquired, with a shudder.
"And paint more pictures," Goade acquiesced. "I have finished quite a good one with the church tower in the distance, and the geese on the common. Wonderful foreground the geese make! I thought of going south and trying to get the colouring of the moors."
Mr. Witt shivered.
"Come in!" he invited abruptly, standing away from the door.
Goade accepted the invitation and entered an unexpectedly large and pleasant-looking apartment in a state of great disorder. There were two packing cases upon the floor, one of which was half filled with books and a number of statuettes carefully wrapped up in paper. There were empty spaces upon the walls, in the bookcases, and upon the brackets. Mr. Witt took his visitor by the arm and led him to a small canvas hanging in a recess—a landscape deep and rich in colouring.
"That's the real thing," he pointed out. "I don't suppose it's much use talking to you about it. I should think you know about as much of art as my little maid-of-all-work. Consider for a moment that grouping and perspective. If you were to attempt to paint cows that size you'd have them travelling out of the canvas. Look at the beauty of the colouring, too, the slant of that rain on the horizon, so faint one might call it no more than a suggestion, and yet if you analyse it, there it all is. I daresay you don't appreciate it, but, if you looked at it long enough and often enough, you'd probably end by throwing your palette away."
"I know enough to realise that it is a very wonderful picture," Goade admitted. "You have other interesting things too. That, for instance, is a beautiful bronze."
"It ought to be," Mr. Witt acknowledged. "I gave ninety pounds for it as a dealer at the Exford sale."
"And you are now parting with it," Goade remarked, glancing at the half- empty case, and taking his courage into both hands. "Why?"
"That is my business," was the curt reply.
Uninvited, Goade sank into an easy-chair.
"Can I stay for quarter of an hour?" he asked. "I should like to smoke a cigarette with you, if I may?"
"I am expecting a visitor," Mr. Witt said dubiously.
"My staying need not interfere with him. When he comes I will go."
"But I don't want you here when he comes."
Goade showed no signs of moving.
"Mr. Witt," he said, "on our first meeting you indulged in very plain speaking with me. I wasn't annoyed, but I am going to take the liberty of adopting the same tactics with you. Why are you selling off all your belongings like this? Why do you have these periodical fits of behaving like a frightened criminal? Why do you keep a pile of newspapers by your side dealing with the Frangford Murder Case? And who is this young man you are harbouring in the house?"
"Of all the impertinence—!" Mr. Witt began.
"Nothing of the sort," Goade interrupted—"friendly interest—nothing more or less than that. If I didn't believe that I could help you, I shouldn't have said a word."
"How the devil can you or any one else help me?" Mr. Witt groaned.
Goade settled himself a little more comfortably in his chair.
"I'll see about that when you've told me the whole story," he replied.
Mr. Witt glanced helplessly around. His visitor looked the personification of strength and self-reliance as he lounged in his chair, and for the first time the little man ached for a confidant. He pointed towards the pile of newspapers.
"Have you read the Frangford Murder Case?" he asked.
"Every line," Goade admitted. "Rather a hobby of mine, these cases."
"You know that the cashier of the Frangford Bank was murdered, and two of the bank clerks from the main office who were due to take their holiday on the following day have not been heard of?"
"Quite so," Goade agreed. "The names of the two young men are Stephen Hannaford and—by Jove!"
Mr. Witt nodded shortly.
"John Eardley-Witt was the name of the other one," he said. "The 'Eardley' wraps it up a little—an uncle on his mother's side left him a small sum of money and the name—but John Eardley-Witt is my son."
"You are sure that they are definitely suspected?" Goade asked. "The newspapers seem to be very vague about the matter."
"You are, I suppose, the sort of fellow who can keep his mouth shut?" Mr. Witt demanded.
"I have the reputation of being a safe confidant," Goade declared.
"Very well then," the other went on. "My son is lying in Plymouth, waiting for a chance to get away to South America. Hannaford is upstairs at the present moment. That's as much as they have had of their holiday."
"The young man I saw with the pale face peering out from behind the curtains?" Goade asked.
Mr. Witt stared at him.
"Either you must have damned good eyes or the young fellow's a bigger fool than I thought he was," he remarked sharply.
"I have the knack of observation," Goade admitted. "I picked it up early in life. It goes with my profession."
"What is your profession?" Mr. Witt enquired. "Not that it matters what the devil you call yourself, so long as you don't call yourself an artist."
"Then we'll let my profession alone for the minute," Goade decided. "Now, get on with the story. What's young Hannaford doing here?"
"He's come for money. He's been twice before."
"What do they want money for? If they committed the murder, they got away with fifteen hundred pounds."
"They daren't use it," Mr. Witt confided. "It was all in Bank of England notes."
"How much have you parted with altogether?" Goade enquired.
"I have sold nearly a thousand pounds' worth of my belongings," Mr. Witt confessed, with a little groan. "My picture will have to go now."
"I shouldn't let it," Goade advised. "What have you done—sold the things outright?"
"Pawned them," was the bitter reply.
"Keep the tickets carefully. You never can tell what may happen. Let me talk to that young man upstairs."
"What on earth would be the use of that? You'd only frighten him to death."
"I'd like to hear his story."
"I've heard it once," Mr. Witt groaned. "I don't want to hear it again. Besides, what's the good?"
"Look here," Goade begged, "fetch him down. Let him think I'm an old friend of the family. Things can't seem any worse to you than they do now, can they? Well, give me a chance!"
"I don't think he'll come," Mr. Witt said doubtfully. "He's terrified if the doorbell rings."
"We'll go to him then," Goade insisted, rising.
Eventually, after a little more persuasion on the latter's part, they did so. Mr. Witt led the way upstairs, and opened the door of a pleasantly furnished bedroom. Its occupant was sprawling in an easy-chair, with his feet upon another, smoking a cigarette, a half-empty tumbler by his side and a decanter and syphon upon the dressing table. The windows were closed, and the room was foetid with tobacco smoke. The young man—a thin, pale youth with a bad complexion and weedy figure—sprang to his feet and cowered back as he realised the presence of a stranger. He wore a blue serge suit badly out of shape and in need of brushing. He had kicked off his shoes and was sitting in his socks. His linen was not irreproachable.
"Who's this, Mr. Witt?" he demanded. "Who've you brought here?"
"An old friend, Stephen," Mr. Witt replied. "He's all right. He's not giving anything away."
"What does he want, then?" the young man continued peevishly.
Goade seated himself on the edge of the bed.
"I thought I'd like to ask you a few questions if you didn't mind," he suggested. "I might be able to help you."
"What sort of questions?"
"About the case," Goade answered bluntly. "What made you do it?"
The young man puffed viciously at his cigarette.
"John and I were always hard up," he explained. "These banks starve us, and then expect us to live and dress like gentlemen. I was in debt; so was John. They were bound to find it out sooner or later, and then we should have had to go. We were both out at the Frangford Branch for two months last winter. We couldn't help seeing how easy it would be. We talked about it until the idea grew on us. We couldn't think about anything else. Harrigan, the man over there, was all alone, and the day we made up our minds we knew he must have at least fifteen hundred pounds. There are some big factories near, with pay-day on Friday afternoon. Well, we just did it. That's all."
"Robbery is one thing," Goade observed. "Murder is another."
"I swear we never meant to shoot him," the young man declared, gripping the side of the chair. "Neither of us had ever handled a revolver before in our lives. We only meant to frighten him. I can swear that. John can swear it. The beastly thing went off."
"Who was holding it at the time?" Goade asked.
The young man was suddenly silent.
"We've both sworn," he said, "never to tell that."
"Why do you want all this money from Mr. Witt?" Goade continued. "The passages won't cost much."
"We've had to pay several hundred pounds to a man who saw us near Frangford," Hannaford groaned. "He's got to know where John is, and he's soaking us all the time. It's costing a hell of a lot too, for John to lie low. It's a snug place, but they've got an idea we're in trouble, and they charge like the devil. With any luck, though, we'll be off next week to South America."
"Have you ever been in trouble before?"
"No," the young man snapped. "I don't know who you are, but I don't like your questions. Take him away, please, Mr. Witt. It's bad enough hanging round here while you raise the money, without having strangers coming in to frighten one."
Goade rose to his feet.
"Well, it's a bad job," he admitted. "I'm afraid there's nothing any one can do to help either of you."
"Of course there isn't," was the irritable rejoinder. "The money's what we want, the money as quick as it can be got hold of. And don't run out of whisky, Mr. Witt. My nerves are something terrible, especially in the night. The rest of that bottle won't last long."
The two men descended the stairs in silence. Mr. Witt had lost all his peppery manner. The gleam had gone from his eyes, his mouth had weakened, was almost inclined to tremble. Goade laid his hand protectively upon his shoulder.
"Look here, my friend," he said, "there doesn't seem much to be done, but I wouldn't give up hope. I shall be away to-morrow all day—got to run up to Barnstable. When do you expect to get the money for the things you're sending off now?"
"Not until Thursday morning at the earliest," Mr. Witt replied.
"Very well, then. Don't part with your young man before then. Keep him here until I come back."
Mr. Witt looked up quickly.
"Anything in your mind?"
"Nothing definite—just an idea. The great thing is not to part with the young man until I am back on Thursday."
"No fear of that," Mr. Witt sighed. "I can't get the cheque before then, and afterwards I'll have to go to the bank and cash it."
"Has your son written you himself at all?"
Mr. Witt shook his head.
"It wouldn't be safe," he answered, with a groan. "It's a small place this, and they'd even know his handwriting at the post-office."
"I had forgotten that," Goade admitted thoughtfully. "Until Thursday then."
Thursday was a morning of disappointment for Mr. Witt. The post brought neither the cheque from Exeter which he was expecting nor any message from his new friend, to whose return he had been looking forward with a faint, scarcely acknowledged hope of help. His breakfast was barely finished when there came a stamping on the ceiling. With a little shudder, he ascended to meet his unwelcome guest. Stephen Hannaford, in his night attire—he had just apparently scrambled out of bed—was even more unprepossessing than in the daytime. His eyes were terribly bloodshot, and his hands were shaking.
"Have you got the cheque?" he demanded.
"It hasn't come," Mr. Witt admitted.
The young man's language was such that his host covered his ears with his hands.
"You want your son to swing, do you, and me too?" the infuriated youth exclaimed. "Look here," he went on, "a promise is a promise, but if it comes to saving my neck I'll tell you something. It wasn't I who carried the revolver. I can prove that. It was your son who'll have to swing, not me. I may get a lifer, but he'll go to the scaffold."
Mr. Witt closed his eyes for a moment. The strain of the last few days had been great, and he was feeling giddy.
"I sent away everything I possessed of value," he announced in a dull tone. "I begged that the cheque should be posted yesterday. It will certainly come by the second post."
"What time's that?"
"In time to get notes from the bank?"
"In plenty of time."
The young man crawled back into bed.
"Send me up some more tea," he directed, "and I want two more tins of Gold Flake cigarettes. Tell that tweeny of yours to look alive."
Mr. Witt turned towards the door and did the bidding of his unpleasant visitor. Afterwards he locked himself into his own room. In his way he was a proud man, and he had reached the limits of his endurance. No one ever knew—he scarcely remembered himself—how he spent the morning. There was a pretence of lunch, a restless pacing of the room, the postman's arrival, the expected letter, and a cheque for nine hundred pounds.
"How much is it?" Hannaford called over the banisters.
"Nine hundred pounds."
"Leg it down to the bank then, quick," the young man enjoined eagerly. "Call at the garage coming back and order the car to take me to Plymouth. There's a moon to-night, and I'll get there by four o'clock."
Mr. Witt brushed himself mechanically, put on his hat, picked up his gloves and stick, and made his way, silent and ghostlike, through the streets of the little market town. He was scarcely conscious of the greetings he received, of the sympathetic glances his appearance provoked. He wrote out an open cheque and handed it across the counter, together with his credit, stated his wishes in brief words, and buttoned up the pile of notes in his breast pocket. Then he turned to climb the hill again homewards. He was brought to a standstill by the noisy clatter of an ancient Ford car and the yapping of a small white dog. Mr. Goade, looking a little tired, drew up at the side of the path. "Young man still with you?" he asked.
"He is still there," Mr. Witt acknowledged. "I've just got the money for him. He's going this afternoon."
"Is he?" Goade murmured under his breath. "Well, get in, Mr. Witt. I'll drive you home."
Mr. Witt mounted the car in silence. His half-wistful glance of enquiry towards Goade elicited no response. After all, what could Goade or any man do?
"I've got to call at a garage," Mr. Witt announced.
"For a car to take the young man down to Plymouth. He hopes they'll get off on Saturday now. They've got their berths all right, if they can stop this other fellow's mouth."
"We'll see about the car presently," Goade said. "There's just one word I want to have with your young friend first."
"He's in a nasty temper," Mr. Witt groaned.
"I'll humour him all right," Goade promised.
He pulled up outside the gate and followed his companion into the house. The young man was waiting at the top of the staircase.
"Have you brought the money?" he demanded. "Where's the car?"
"I have the money," Mr. Witt assured him. "The car will be here presently. Mr. Goade wants one word with you."
"Blast Mr. Goade!" the young man exclaimed angrily. "I've no time for fooling about with any one. You ought to know that."
"I sha'n't keep you a moment," Goade promised, with spurious good humour. "Come along down to the sitting room."
Hannaford descended the stairs with sullen reluctance. Goade waited until he was well inside the room. Then, with his back to the door, he advanced towards the chair into which the young man had thrown himself.
"Hold out your hands," he ordered.
"What the hell for?"
"For these," Goade replied, drawing a pair of handcuffs from his pocket.
Hannaford made a dash for the door, but he was as pulp in his captor's grasp. With one hand Goade held his wrists together, then pushed him back into his chair.
"Stay there!" he directed.
"Who are you?" the young man spluttered. "What are you doing with those things?"
"I'm a detective officer—pretty well known at Scotland Yard," Goade acknowledged. "I'm supposed to be down here on a holiday, but I'm never above doing a stroke of work when necessary."
"You're betraying my trust," Mr. Witt cried bitterly. "You accepted my confidence. You gave me your word."
Goade led him to a chair.
"You sit down, my friend," he enjoined, "and don't you worry. I put the handcuffs on him to keep him quiet, but the only charge I've got against him is of obtaining money under false pretences. When we've got the money back, we'll decide how to deal with him later."
"But the bank robbery?" Mr. Witt exclaimed.
Goade laughed scornfully.
"I don't know anything about your son, Mr. Witt," he said—"I shall know more about him presently—but as regards this young man, he hasn't got the pluck to steal an old lady's reticule. The man who robbed the bank and shot the cashier will be arrested this afternoon, and I can assure you he's a very different type of person from this."
There was a moist gleam in Mr. Witt's eyes, and he was trembling violently. Goade patted him soothingly upon the shoulder.
"Look here, Mr. Witt," he explained, "it's really quite a simple matter. Your son's holiday and this young man's commenced the day after the murder and robbery. This was simply a coincidence. They may have started off to spend a portion of it together; that I don't know. One newspaper only spoke of two clerks being missing—a statement which was afterwards contradicted. This young man Hannaford thought out a very ingenious scheme. He brought you the newspaper in case you hadn't seen it, and, as I gather, confessed that he and your son had committed the robbery and shot the cashier. They have neither of them done anything of the sort. Your son, from all I can hear, is a young man in excellent repute. Our friend who is wearing those handcuffs so gracefully had been given notice by the manager to leave at the expiration of his holiday. Now, are you getting hold of things, Mr. Witt? It seems simpler every moment, eh?"
"Oh, it's simple enough," Hannaford muttered. "If you hadn't come blundering along, it would have worked out all right too."
"It might have," Goade admitted. "Yours wasn't a bad scheme," he continued, "but what should you have done if Mr. Witt's son had written to his father about his holiday or anything, or come down here?"
"I sent a telegram in Mr. Witt's name from a village near here," the young man confessed surlily. "I told him that his father had gone on a fortnight's motoring tour with a friend and would meet him at the Grand Hotel, Llandudno."
"Capital!" Goade approved. "Very ingenious indeed! And now what about the rest of that money?"
"I've spent it."
"I think not. A little inconvenient for you, perhaps, but allow me to search."
Resistance was hopeless. Goade thrust his hand into the pocket of the young man's coat and drew out a packet of notes, which he laid upon the table.
"All there?" he asked.
"All except ten pounds."
Mr. Witt's elbows were upon the table. He was leaning forward, and his face was hidden in his hands. Goade patted him on the back.
"Now, what shall we do with this young man," he asked. "He deserves—well, God knows what he deserves! The 'cat' would be my idea, but I'll leave it to you. I'm the law, but I'm the law on a holiday. You've got practically all your money back. You've got the pawn tickets to re-collect your treasures. Nothing will ever recompense you for the days of suffering you must have had. You can get him twelve months' imprisonment, if that's any satisfaction, or you can throw him out of the house."
Mr. Witt stood up. He was already looking better. Some of the lines upon his face had gone, but there was a mistiness about his eyes which changed his whole expression.
"I don't want to prosecute him," he said. "Send him away. I hate the sight of him."
The young man stood up, and Goade, with an expert touch, relieved him of the handcuffs. Then, with his hand upon his collar, he marched him out of the room, marched him to the front door, and, picking him up, sent him sprawling through the rose bushes.
"So that's that!" he remarked, looking in through the window at Mr. Witt. "You'll like to be alone for an hour or so?"
"It's true? It's all true?" the little man insisted.
"Of course it is," Goade assured him. "You know I'm used to hearing stories and confessions, and I knew there was something wrong about that young man's tale. I've been to Bristol and had an hour's talk on the telephone with Scotland Yard since I saw you. They speak very highly of your son at the bank. By the by, I'm expecting you to bring him to dinner to-night at the inn. He'll be here within an hour or so. Half-past seven. Don't trouble to change. I haven't those sort of clothes myself... That's all right!"
Goade hurried off, started up the Ford, and drove down to the inn.
"This is all very well, Miss Flip," he confided, "but it's beginning to be a sort of 'busman's holiday' for me."
At half-past seven Mr. Witt, his old self, bright-eyed and happy, came into the bar parlour, accompanied by a tall, sunburnt young man whom he introduced to Goade as his son. He was carrying a brown-paper parcel under his arm, which for a moment, however, he ignored. The bar parlour was full, and there was a little chorus of acclamation as its occupants realised the change in their very popular neighbour. Everyone was anxious, too, to shake hands with his son.
"Gentlemen," Mr. Witt invited, "give your orders, please. I want you all to take a glass of wine with me and drink to the health of my friend here—Mr. Nicholas Goade. He's the worst painter in the world, but the best of fellows, and he has just done me a very great service."
There was more acclamation, a quarter of an hour or so of good fellowship, and afterwards Goade led the way to the table in the coffee room which was laid for dinner. There was a gold-foiled bottle in an ice pail, and another in reserve. Mr. Witt reverently undid the strings of the parcel which he had been carrying.
"Mr. Goade," he said, "I am taking the liberty of bringing you a small present. If it has the effect upon your taste I imagine it may have, you will perhaps change your hobby."
Mr. Goade accepted the picture with a little word of protest. It was a very beautiful picture, though, and the more he looked at it, the more he realised the things which had been in its donor's mind.
"And in return," Mr. Witt concluded, as they seated themselves at the table, "I am going to ask you to give me that little canvas I saw you working on the first time we met—the one with the church behind and the geese in the foreground."
"It's a damned bad picture," Goade acknowledged a little ruefully, "but you shall have it."
"It's a damn bad picture," Mr. Witt agreed fervently, "but I want it."
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia