Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 15 ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

  • Although Stoner hailed from Darlington, he had no folk of his own lef_here—they were all dead and gone. Accordingly he put himself up at a chea_otel, and when he had taken what its proprietors called a meat tea, h_trolled out and made for that part of the town in which his friend Myler ha_et up housekeeping in a small establishment wherein there was just room for _ouple of people to turn round. Its accommodation, indeed, was severely taxe_ust then, for Myler's father and mother-in-law had come to visit him an_heir daughter, and when Stoner walked in on the scene and added a fifth th_iny parlour was filled to its full extent.
  • "Who'd ha' thought of seeing you, Stoner!" exclaimed Myler joyously, when h_ad welcomed his old chum, and had introduced him to the family circle. "An_hat brings you here, anyway? Business?"
  • "Just a bit of business," answered Stoner. "Nothing much, though—only a cal_o make, later on. I'm stopping the night, though."
  • "Wish we could ha' put you up here, old sport!" said Myler, ruefully. "But w_on't live in a castle, yet. All full here!—unless you'd like a shakedown o_he kitchen table, or in the wood-shed. Or you can try the bath, if you like."
  • Amidst the laughter which succeeded this pleasantry, Stoner said that h_ouldn't trouble the domestic peace so far—he'd already booked his room. An_hile Myler—who, commercial-traveller like, cultivated a reputation fo_it—indulged in further jokes, Stoner stealthily inspected the father-in-law.
  • What a fortunate coincidence! he said to himself; what a lucky stroke! Ther_e was, wanting badly to find out something about Wilchester—and here, elbo_o elbow with him, was a Wilchester man! And an elderly Wilchester man,
  • too—one who doubtless remembered all about Wilchester for many a long year.
  • That was another piece of luck, for Stoner was quite certain that i_otherstone had ever had any connexion with Wilchester it must have been _ong, long time ago: he knew, from information acquired, that Cotherstone ha_een a fixture in Highmarket for thirty years.
  • He glanced at Myler's father-in-law again as Myler, remarking that when ol_riends meet, the flowing bowl must flow, produced a bottle of whisky from _rand-new chiffonier, and entreated his bride to fetch what he poeticall_escribed as the crystal goblets and the sparkling stream. The father-in-la_as a little apple-faced old gentleman with bright eyes and a ready smile, wh_vidently considered his son-in-law a born wit, and was ready to laugh at al_is sallies. A man of good memory, that, decided Stoner, and wondered how h_ould diplomaticaly lead Mr. Pursey to talk about the town he came from. Bu_r. Pursey was shortly to talk about Wilchester to some purpose—and with n_rawing-out from Stoner or anybody.
  • "Well," remarked Myler, having supplied his guests with spirituou_efreshment, and taken a pull at his own glass. "I'm glad to see you, Stoner,
  • and so's the missis, and here's hoping you'll come again as often as the fro_ent to the water. You've been having high old times in that back-of-beyon_own of yours, haven't you? Battles, murders, sudden deaths!—who'd ha' though_ slow old hill-country town like Highmarket could have produced so muc_xcitement! What's happened to that chap they collared?—I haven't had time t_ook at the papers this last day or two—been too busy."
  • "Committed for trial," answered Stoner. "He'll come up at Norcaster Assize_ext month."
  • "Do they think he did it?" asked Myler. "Is it a sure thing?"
  • Before Stoner could reply Mr. Pursey entered the arena. His face displayed th_leased expression of the man who has special information.
  • "It's an odd thing, now, David," he said in a high, piping voice, "a very od_hing, that this should happen when I come up into these parts—almost a_oreign to me as the Fiji Islands might be. Yes, sir," he went on, turning t_toner, "it's very odd! I knew that man Kitely."
  • Stoner could have jumped from his seat, but he restrained himself, an_ontrived to show no more than a polite interest.
  • "Oh, indeed, sir?" he said. "The poor man that was murdered? You knew him?"
  • "I remember him very well indeed," assented Mr. Pursey. "Yes, although I onl_et him once, I've a very complete recollection of the man. I spent a ver_leasant evening with him and one or two more of his profession—better sort o_olice and detectives, you know—at a friend's of mine, who was one of ou_ilchester police officials—oh, it's—yes—it must be thirty years since. They'_ome from London, of course, on some criminal business. Deary me!—the tale_hem fellows could tell!"
  • "Thirty years is a long time, sir," observed Stoner politely.
  • "Aye, but I remember it quite well," said Mr. Pursey, with a confident nod. "_now it was thirty years ago, 'cause it was the Wilchester Assizes at whic_he Mallows & Chidforth case was tried. Yes—thirty years. Eighteen hundred an_ighty-one was the year. Mallows & Chidforth—aye!"
  • "Famous case that, sir?" asked Stoner. He was almost bursting with excitemen_y that time, and he took a big gulp of whisky and water to calm himself.
  • "Something special, sir? Murder, eh?"
  • "No—fraud, embezzlement, defalcation—I forget what the proper legal term 'u_e," replied Mr. Pursey. "But it was a bad case—a real bad 'un. We'd a workin_en's building society in Wilchester in those days—it's there now for tha_atter, but under another name—and there were two better-class young workmen,
  • smart fellows, that acted one as secretary and t'other as treasurer to it.
  • They'd full control, those two had, and they were trusted, aye, as if they'_een the Bank of England! And all of a sudden, something came out, and it wa_ound that these two, Mallows, treasurer, Chidforth, secretary, had made awa_ith two thousand pounds of the society's money. Two thousand pounds!"
  • "Two thousand pounds?" exclaimed Stoner, whose thoughts went like lightning t_he half-sheet of foolscap. "You don't say!"
  • "Yes—well, it might ha' been a pound or two more or less," said the old man,
  • "but two thousand was what they called it. And of course Mallows and Chidfort_ere prosecuted—and they got two years. Oh, yes, we remember that case ver_ell indeed in Wilchester, don't we, Maria?"
  • "And good reason!" agreed Mrs. Pursey warmly. "There were a lot of poor peopl_early ruined by them bad young men."
  • "There were!" affirmed Mr. Pursey. "Yes—oh, yes! Aye—I've often wondered wha_ecame of 'em—Mallows and Chidforth, I mean. For from the time they got out o_rison they've never been heard of in our parts. Not a word!—they disappeare_ompletely. Some say, of course, that they had that money safely planted, an_ent to it. I don't know. But—off they went."
  • "Pooh!" said Myler. "That's an easy one. Went off to some colony or other, o_ourse. Common occurrence, father-in-law. Bert, old sport, what say if we ris_n our pins and have a hundred at billiards at the Stag and Hunter—good tabl_here."
  • Stoner followed his friend out of the little house, and once outside took hi_y the arm.
  • "Confound the billards, Dave, old man!" he said, almost trembling wit_uppressed excitement. "Look here!—d'you know a real quiet corner in the Sta_here we can have an hour's serious consultation. You do?—then come on, an_'ll tell you the most wonderful story you ever heard since your ears wer_pened!"
  • Myler, immediately impressed, led the way into a small and vacant parlour i_he rear of a neighbouring hostelry, ordered refreshments, bade the girl wh_rought them to leave him and his friend alone, and took the liberty o_ocking the door on their privacy. And that done he showed himself such _erfect listener that he never opened his lips until Stoner had set fort_verything before him in detail. Now and then he nodded, now and then hi_harp eyes dilated, now and then he clapped his hands. And in the end he smot_toner on the shoulder.
  • "Stoner, old sport!" he exclaimed. "It's a sure thing! Gad, I never heard _learer. That five hundred is yours—aye, as dead certain as that my nose i_ine! It's—it's—what they call inductive reasoning. The initials M. an_.—Mallows and Chidforth—Mallalieu and Cotherstone—the two thousand pounds—th_act that Kitely was at Wilchester Assizes in 1881—that he becam_otherstone's tenant thirty years after—oh, I see it all, and so will a judg_nd jury! Stoner, one, or both of 'em killed that old chap to silence him!"
  • "That's my notion," assented Stoner, who was highly pleased with himself, an_y that time convinced that his own powers, rather than a combination of luck_ircumstances, had brought the desired result about. "Of course, I've worke_t out to that. And the thing now is—what's the best line to take? What woul_ou suggest, Dave?"
  • Myler brought all his business acumen to bear on the problem presented to him.
  • "What sort of chap is this Tallington?" he asked at last, pointing to the nam_t the foot of the reward handbill.
  • "Most respectable solicitor in Highmarket," answered Stoner, promptly.
  • "Word good?" asked Myler.
  • "Good as—gold," affirmed Stoner.
  • "Then if it was me," said Myler, "I should make a summary of what I knew, o_aper—carefully—and I should get a private interview with this Tallington an_ell him—all. Man!—you're safe of that five hundred! For there's no doubt,
  • Stoner, on the evidence, no doubt whatever!"
  • Stoner sat silently reflecting things for a while. Then he gave his friend _ly, somewhat nervous look. Although he and Myler had been bosom friends sinc_hey were breeched, Stoner was not quite certain as to what Myler would say t_hat he, Stoner, was just then thinking of.
  • "Look here," he said suddenly. "There's this about it. It's all jolly well,
  • but a fellow's got to think for himself, Dave, old man. Now it doesn't matte_ twopenny cuss to me about old Kitely—I don't care if he was scragged twic_ver—I've no doubt he deserved it. But it'll matter a lot to M. & C. i_hey're found out. I can touch that five hundred easy as winking—but—you tak_y meaning?—I daresay M. & C. 'ud run to five thousand if I kept my tongu_till. What?"
  • But Stoner knew at once that Myler disapproved. The commercial traveller'_omely face grew grave, and he shook his head with an unmistakable gesture.
  • "No, Stoner," he said. "None o' that! Play straight, my lad! No hush-mone_ransactions. Keep to the law, Stoner, keep to the law! Besides, there'_thers than you can find all this out. What you want to do is to get in first.
  • See Tallington as soon as you get back."
  • "I daresay you're right," admitted Stoner. "But—I know M. & C, and I kno_hey'd give—aye, half of what they're worth—and that's a lot!—to have thi_ept dark."
  • That thought was with him whenever he woke in the night, and as he strolle_ound Darlington next morning, it was still with him when, after an earl_inner, he set off homeward by an early afternoon train which carried him t_igh Gill junction; whence he had to walk five miles across the moors an_ills to Highmarket. And he was still pondering it weightily when, in one o_he loneliest parts of the solitudes which he was crossing, he turning th_orner of a little pine wood, and came face to face with Mallalieu.