While Mallalieu lay captive in the stronghold of Miss Pett, Cotherstone wa_xperiencing a quite different sort of incarceration in the detention cells o_orcaster Gaol. Had he known where his partner was, and under wha_ircumstances Mallalieu had obtained deliverance from official bolts and bars,
Cotherstone would probably have laughed in his sleeve and sneered at him for _ool. He had been calling Mallalieu a fool, indeed, ever since the previou_vening, when the police, conducting him to Norcaster, had told him of th_ayor's escape from the Town Hall. Nobody but an absolute fool, a consummat_diot, thought Cotherstone, would have done a thing like that. The man wh_lies is the man who has reason to fly—that was Cotherstone's opinion, and i_is belief ninety-nine out of every hundred persons in Highmarket would shar_t. Mallalieu would now be set down as guilty—they would say he dared not fac_hings, that he knew he was doomed, that his escape was the desperate act of _onscious criminal. Ass!—said Cotherstone, not without a certain amount o_alicious delight: they should none of them have reason to say such things o_im. He would make no attempt to fly—no, not if they left the gate o_orcaster Gaol wide open to him! It should be his particular care to hav_imself legally cleared—his acquittal should be as public as the proceeding_hich had just taken place. He went out of the dock with that resolve stron_n him; he carried it away to his cell at Norcaster; he woke in the mornin_ith it, stronger than ever. Cotherstone, instead of turning tail, was goin_o fight—for his own hand.
As a prisoner merely under detention, Cotherstone had privileges of which h_ook good care to avail himself. Four people he desired to see, and must se_t once, on that first day in gaol—and he lost no time in making known hi_esires. One—and the most important—person was a certain solicitor i_orcaster who enjoyed a great reputation as a sharp man of affairs.
Another—scarcely less important—was a barrister who resided in Norcaster, an_ad had it said of him for a whole generation that he had restored mor_riminals to society than any man of his profession then living. And the othe_wo were his own daughter and Windle Bent. Them he must see—but the men of la_irst.
When the solicitor and the barrister came, Cotherstone talked to them as h_ad never talked to anybody in his life. He very soon let them see that he ha_wo definite objects in sending for them: the first was to tell them in plai_anguage that money was of no consideration in the matter of his defence; th_econd, that they had come there to hear him lay down the law as to what the_ere to do. Talk he did, and they listened—and Cotherstone had th_atisfaction of seeing that they went away duly impressed with all that he ha_aid to them. He went back to his cell from the room in which this intervie_ad taken place congratulating himself on his ability.
"I shall be out of this, and all'll be clear, a week today!" he assure_imself. "We'll see where that fool of a Mallalieu is by then! For he'll no_et far, nor go hidden for thirty years, this time."
He waited with some anxiety to see his daughter, not because he must see he_ithin the walls of a prison, but because he knew that by that time she woul_ave learned the secrets of that past which he had kept so carefully hidde_rom her. Only child of his though she was, he felt that Lettie was no_ltogether of his sort; he had often realized that she was on a differen_ental plane from his own, and was also, in some respects, a little of _ystery to him. How would she take all this?—what would she say?—what effec_ould it have on her?—he pondered these questions uneasily while he waited fo_er visit.
But if Cotherstone had only known it, he need have suffered no anxiety abou_ettie. It had fallen to Bent to tell her the sad news the afternoon before,
and Bent had begged Brereton to go up to the house with him. Bent was upset;
Brereton disliked the task, though he willingly shared in it. They need hav_ad no anxiety, either. For Lettie listened calmly and patiently until th_hole story had been told, showing neither alarm, nor indignation, no_xcitement; her self-composure astonished even Bent, who thought, having bee_ngaged to her for twelve months, that he knew her pretty well.
"I understand exactly," said Lettie, when, between them, they had told he_verything, laying particular stress on her father's version of things. "It i_ll very annoying, of course, but then it is quite simple, isn't it? O_ourse, Mr. Mallalieu has been the guilty person all through, and poor fathe_as been dragged into it. But then—all that you have told me has only to b_ut before the—who is it?—magistrates?—judges?—and then, of course, fathe_ill be entirely cleared, and Mr. Mallalieu will be hanged. Windle—of cours_e shall have to put off the wedding?"
"Oh, of course!" agreed Bent. "We can't have any weddings until all thi_usiness is cleared up."
"That'll be so much better," said Lettie. "It really was becoming an awfu_ush."
Brereton glanced at Bent when they left the house.
"I congratulate you on having a fiancée of a well-balanced mind, old chap!" h_aid. "That was—a relief!"
"Oh, Lettie's a girl of singularly calm and equable temperament," answere_ent. "She's not easily upset, and she's quick at sizing things up. And I say,
Brereton, I've got to do all I can for Cotherstone, you know. What about hi_efence?"
"I should imagine that Cotherstone is already arranging his defence himself,"
said Brereton. "He struck me during that talk this morning at Tailington's a_eing very well able to take care of himself, Bent, and I think you'll fin_hen you visit him that he's already fixed things. You won't perhaps see why,
and I won't explain just now, but this foolish running away of Mallalieu, who,
of course, is sure to be caught, is very much in Cotherstone's favour. I shal_e much surprised if you don't find Cotherstone in very good spirits, and i_here aren't developments in this affair within a day or two which wil_mpress the whole neighbourhood."
Bent, visiting the prisoner in company with Lettie next day, found Brereton'_rediction correct. Cotherstone, hearing from his daughter's own lips what sh_erself thought of the matter, and being reassured that all was well betwee_ent and her, became not merely confident but cheerily boastful. He would b_ree, and he would be cleared by that day next week—he was not sorry, he said,
that at last all this had come out, for now he would be able to get rid of a_ncubus that had weighted him all his life.
"You're very confident, you know," remarked Bent.
"Not beyond reason," asserted Cotherstone doggedly. "You wait till tomorrow!"
"What is there tomorrow?" asked Bent.
"The inquest on Stoner is tomorrow," replied Cotherstone. "You be there—an_ee and hear what happens."
All of Highmarket population that could cram itself into the Coroner's cour_as there next day when the adjourned inquest on the clerk's death was held.
Neither Bent nor Brereton nor Tallington had any notion of what line was goin_o be taken by Cotherstone and his advisers, but Tallington and Brereto_xchanged glances when Cotherstone, in charge of two warders from Norcaster,
was brought in, and when the Norcaster solicitor and the Norcaster barriste_hom he had retained, shortly afterwards presented themselves.
"I begin to foresee," whispered Tallington. "Clever!—devilish clever!"
"Just so," agreed Brereton, with a sidelong nod at the crowded seats close by.
"And there's somebody who's interested because it's going to be devilis_lever—that fellow Pett!"
Christopher Pett was there, silk hat, black kid gloves and all, not afraid o_eing professionally curious. Curiosity was the order of the day: everybod_resent—of any intelligent perception—wanted to know what the presence o_otherstone, one of the two men accused of the murder of Stoner, signified.
But it was some little time before any curiosity was satisfied. The inques_eing an adjourned one, most of the available evidence had to be taken, and a_ coroner has a wide field in the calling of witnesses, there was mor_vidence produced before him and his jury than before the magistrates. Ther_as Myler, of course, and old Pursey, and the sweethearting couple: there wer_ther witnesses, railway folks, medical experts, and townspeople who coul_ontribute some small quota of testimony. But all these were forgotten when a_ast Cotherstone, having been duly warned by the coroner that he need not giv_ny evidence at all, determinedly entered the witness-box—to swear on oat_hat he was witness to his partner's crime.
Nothing could shake Cotherstone's evidence. He told a plain, straightforwar_tory from first to last. He had no knowledge whatever of Stoner's havin_ound out the secret of the Wilchester affair. He knew nothing of Stoner'_aving gone over to Darlington. On the Sunday he himself had gone up the moor_or a quiet stroll. At the spinney overhanging Hobwick Quarry he had see_allalieu and Stoner, and had at once noticed that something in the shape of _uarrel was afoot. He saw Mallalieu strike heavily at Stoner with his oa_tick—saw Mallalieu, in a sudden passion, kick the stick over the edge of th_uarry, watched him go down into the quarry and eventually leave it. He tol_ow he himself had gone after the stick, recovered it, taken it home, and ha_ventually told the police where it was. He had never spoken to Mallalieu o_hat Sunday—never seen him except under the circumstances just detailed.
The astute barrister who represented Cotherstone had not troubled the Corone_nd his jury much by asking questions of the various witnesses. But he ha_uietly elicited from all the medical men the definite opinion that death ha_een caused by the blow. And when Cotherstone's evidence was over, th_arrister insisted on recalling the two sweethearts, and he got out of them,
separately (each being excluded from the court while the other gave evidence),
that they had not seen Mallalieu and Cotherstone together, that Mallalieu ha_eft the quarry some time before they saw Cotherstone, and that when Mallalie_assed them he seemed to be agitated and was muttering to himself, whereas i_otherstone's manner they noticed nothing remarkable.
Brereton, watching the faces of the jurymen, all tradesmen of the town,
serious and anxious, saw the effect which Cotherstone's evidence and th_urther admissions of the two sweethearts was having. And neither he no_allington—and certainly not Mr. Christopher Pett—was surprised when, in th_athering dusk of the afternoon, the inquest came to an end with a verdict o_Wilful Murder against Anthony Mallalieu_.
"Your client is doing very well," observed Tallington to the Norcaste_olicitor as they foregathered in an ante-room.
"My client will be still better when he comes before your bench again," dril_nswered the other. "As you'll see!"
"So that's the line you're taking?" said Tallington quietly. "A good one—fo_im."
"Every man for himself," remarked the Norcaster practitioner. "We're no_oncerned with Mallalieu—we're concerned about ourselves. See you whe_otherstone's brought before your worthies next Tuesday. And—a word in you_ar!—it won't be a long job, then."
Long job or short job, the Highmarket Town Hall was packed to the doors whe_otherstone, after his week's detention, was again placed in the dock. Thi_ime, he stood there alone—and he looked around him with confidence and wit_ot a few signs that he felt a sense of coming triumph. He listened with _uiet smile while the prosecuting counsel—sent down specially from London t_ake charge—discussed with the magistrates the matter of Mallalieu's escape,
and he showed more interest when he heard some police information as to ho_hat escape had been effected, and that up to then not a word had been hear_nd no trace found of the fugitive. And after that, as the prosecuting counse_ent over to exchange a whispered word with the magistrates' clerk,
Cotherstone deliberately turned, and seeking out the place where Bent an_rereton sat together, favoured them with a peculiar glance. It was the glanc_f a man who wished to say "I told you!—now you'll see whether I was right!"
"We're going to hear something—now!" whispered Brereton.
The prosecuting counsel straightened himself and looked at the magistrates.
There was a momentary hesitation on his part; a look of expectancy on th_aces of the men on the bench; a deep silence in the crowded court. The fe_ords that came from the counsel were sharp and decisive.
"There will be no further evidence against the prisoner now in the dock, you_orships," he said. "The prosecution decides to withdraw the charge."
In the buzz of excitement which followed the voice of the old chairman wa_carcely audible as he glanced at Cotherstone.
"You are discharged," he said abruptly.
Cotherstone turned and left the dock. And for the second time he looked a_ent and Brereton in the same peculiar, searching way. Then, amidst a dea_ilence, he walked out of the court.