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Chapter 26 THE VIRTUES OF SUSPICION

  • During that week Mallalieu was to learn by sad experience that it is a ver_oor thing to acquire information at second hand. There he was, a strictly- guarded—if a cosseted and pampered—prisoner, unable to put his nose outsid_he cottage, and entirely dependent on Chris Pett for any and all news of th_orld which lay so close at hand and was just then so deeply and importantl_nteresting to him. Time hung very heavily on his hands. There were book_nough on the shelves of his prison-parlour, but the late Kitely's taste ha_een of a purely professional nature, and just then Mallalieu had no likin_or murder cases, criminal trials, and that sort of gruesomeness. He wa_onstantly asking for newspapers, and was skilfully put off—it was not withi_hristopher's scheme of things to let Mallalieu get any accurate notion o_hat was really going on. Miss Pett did not take in a newspaper; Christophe_nvariably forgot to bring one in when he went to the town; twice, bein_ressed by Mallalieu to remember, he brought back _The Times_ of the da_efore—wherein, of course, Mallalieu failed to find anything about himself.
  • And it was about himself that he so wanted to hear, about how things were, ho_eople talked of him, what the police said, what was happening generally, an_is only source of information was Chris.
  • Mr. Pett took good care to represent everything in his own fashion. He wa_ssiduous in assuring Mallalieu that he was working in his interest with migh_nd main; jealous in proclaiming his own and his aunt's intention to get hi_lear away to Norcaster. But he also never ceased dilating on the seriou_ature of that enterprise, never wearied in protesting how much risk he an_iss Pett were running; never refrained from showing the captive how ver_lack things were, and how much blacker they would be if it were not for hi_resent gaolers' goodness. And when he returned to the cottage after th_nquest on Stoner, his face was unusually long and grave as he prepared t_ell Mallalieu the news.
  • "Things are looking in a very bad way for you, Mr. Mallalieu," he whispered, when he was closeted with Mallalieu in the little room which the captive no_ated fiercely and loathingly. "They look in a very bad way indeed, sir! I_ou were in any other hands than ours, Mr. Mallalieu, I don't know what you'_o. We're running the most fearful risks on your behalf, we are indeed. Thing_s—dismal!"
  • Mallalieu's temper, never too good, and all the worse for his enforce_onfinement, blazed up.
  • "Hang it! why don't you speak out plain?" he snarled. "Say what you mean, an_e done with it! What's up now, like? Things are no worse than they were, _eckon."
  • Christopher slowly drew off one of the black kid gloves, and blew into i_efore laying it on the table.
  • "No need to use strong language, Mr. Mallalieu," he said deprecatingly, as h_almly proceeded to divest the other hand. "No need at all, sir—betwee_riends and gentlemen, Mr. Mallalieu!—things are a lot worse. The coroner'_ury has returned a verdict of wilful murder—against you!"
  • Mallalieu's big face turned of a queer grey hue—that word murder wa_articularly distasteful to him.
  • "Against me!" he muttered. "Why me particularly? There were two of us charged.
  • What about Cotherstone?"
  • "I'm talking about the inquest" said Christopher. "They don't charge anybod_t inquests—they only inquire in general. The verdict's against you, and yo_nly. And—it was Cotherstone's evidence that did it!"
  • "Cotherstone!" exclaimed Mallalieu. "Evidence against me! He's a liar if——"
  • "I'll tell you—all in due order," interrupted Chris. "Be calm, Mr. Mallalieu, and listen—be judicial."
  • But in spite of this exhortation, Mallalieu fumed and fretted, and whe_hristopher had told him everything he looked as if it only required a littl_esolution on his part to force himself to action.
  • "I've a good mind to go straight out o' this place and straight down to th_olice!" he growled. "I have indeed!—a great mind to go and give myself up, and have things proved."
  • "Do!" said Christopher, heartily. "I wish you would, sir. It 'ud save me an_y poor aunt a world of trouble. Only—it's my duty as a duly qualifie_olicitor of the High Court to inform you that every step you take from thi_aven of refuge will be a step towards the—gallows!"
  • Mallalieu shrank back in his chair and stared at Mr. Pett's sharp features.
  • His own blanched once more.
  • "You're sure of that?" he demanded hoarsely.
  • "Certain!" replied Christopher. "No doubt of it, sir. I know!"
  • "What's to be done, then?" asked the captive.
  • Christopher assumed his best consultation-and-advice manner.
  • "What," he said at last, "in my opinion, is the best thing is to wait and se_hat happens when Cotherstone's brought up before the bench next Tuesday.
  • You're safe enough until then—so long as you do what we tell you. Although al_he country is being watched and searched, there's not the ghost of a notio_hat you're in Highmarket. So remain as content as you can, Mr. Mallalieu, an_s soon as we learn what takes place next Tuesday, we'll see about that pla_f ours."
  • "Let's be knowing what it is," grumbled Mallalieu.
  • "Not quite matured, sir, yet," said Christopher as he rose and picked up th_ilk hat and the kid gloves. "But when it is, you'll say—ah, you'll say it's _ost excellent one!"
  • So Mallalieu had to wait until the next Tuesday came round. He did the waitin_mpatiently and restlessly. He ate, he drank, he slept—slept as he had neve_lept in his life—but he knew that he was losing flesh from anxiety. It wa_ith real concern that he glanced at Christopher when that worthy returne_rom the adjourned case on the Tuesday afternoon. His face fell when he sa_hat Christopher was gloomier than ever.
  • "Worse and worse, Mr. Mallalieu!" whispered Christopher mysteriously when h_ad shut the door. "Everything's against you, sir. It's all centring an_astening on you. What do you think happened? Cotherstone's discharged!"
  • "What!" exclaimed Mallalieu, jumping in his chair. "Discharged! Why, then, they'd have discharged me!"
  • Christopher laid his finger on the side of his nose.
  • "Would they?" he said with a knowing wink. "Not much they wouldn't.
  • Cotherstone's let loose—to give evidence against you. When you're caught!"
  • Mallalieu's small eyes began to bulge, and a dull red to show on his cheek. H_ooked as if he were bursting with words which he could not get out, an_hristopher Pett hastened to improve the occasion.
  • "It's my opinion it's all a plant!" he said. "A conspiracy, if you like, between Cotherstone and the authorities. Cotherstone, he's got the smartes_olicitor in Norcaster and the shrewdest advocate on this circuit—you know
  • 'em, Mr. Mallalieu—Stilby's the solicitor, and Gradston the barrister—and i_trikes me it's a put-up job. D'ye see through it? First of all, Cotherston_ives evidence at that inquest: on his evidence a verdict of murder i_eturned against—you! Now Cotherstone's discharged by the magistrates—n_urther evidence being offered against him. Why? So that he can give evidenc_efore the magistrates and at the Assizes against—you! That is—when you'r_aught."
  • "They've got to catch me yet," growled Mallalieu. "Now then—what about thi_lan of yours? For I'm going to wait no longer. Either you tell me what you'r_oing to do for me, or I shall walk out o' that door as soon as it's dar_onight and take my chances. D'ye hear that?"
  • Christopher rose, opened the door, and softly called Miss Pett. And Miss Pet_ame, took a seat, folded her thin arms, and looked attentively at her learne_ephew.
  • "Yes, sir," said Christopher, resuming the conversation, "I hear that—and w_re now ready to explain plans and discuss terms. You will, of course, recompense us, Mr. Mallalieu?"
  • "I've said all along that you'd not lose by me," retorted Mallalieu. "Aught i_eason, I'll pay. But—this plan o' yours? I'm going to know what it is befor_e come to any question of paying. So out with it!"
  • "Well, it's an excellent plan," responded Christopher. "You say that you'll b_afe if you're set down in a certain part of Norcaster—near the docks. No_hat will suit our plans exactly. You're aware, of course, Mr. Mallalieu, tha_y aunt here is about to remove her goods and chattels—bequeathed by Mr.
  • Kitely, deceased—from this house? Very well—the removal's to take plac_omorrow. I have already arranged with Mr. Strawson, furniture remover, t_end up a couple of vans tomorrow morning, very early. Into those vans th_urniture will be placed, and the vans will convey it to Norcaster, whenc_hey will be transshipped bodily to London, by sea. Mr. Mallalieu—you'll leav_ere, sir, in one of those vans!"
  • Mallalieu listened, considered, began to see possibilities.
  • "Aye!" he said, with a cunning glance. "Aye!—that's not a bad notion. I ca_ee my way in that respect. But—how am I going to get into a van here, and go_ut of it there, without the vanmen knowing?"
  • "I've thought it all out," answered Christopher. "You must keep snug in thi_oom until afternoon. We'll get the first van off in the morning—say by noon.
  • I'll so contrive that the second van won't be ready to start until after it'_usk. When it is ready the men'll go down to fetch their horses—I'll give 'e_omething to get themselves a drink before they come back—that'll delay 'em _it longer. And while they're away, we'll slip you into the van—and I shall g_ith that van to Norcaster. And when we get to the shed at Norcaster where th_ans are to be left, the two men will go away with their horses—and I shal_et you out. It's a good plan, Mr. Mallalieu."
  • "It'll do, anyhow," agreed Mallalieu, who felt heartily relieved. "We'll tr_t. But you must take all possible care until I'm in, and we're off. The leas_it of a slip——"
  • Mr. Pett drily remarked that if any slips occurred they would not be of hi_aking—after which both he and his aunt coughed several times and looked a_he guest-prisoner in a fashion which seemed to invite speech from him.
  • "All right then," said Mallalieu. "Tomorrow, you say? All right—all right!"
  • Miss Pett coughed again and began to make pleats in her apron.
  • "Of course, Christopher," she said, addressing her nephew as if there were n_ther person present, "of course, Mr. Mallalieu has not yet stated his terms."
  • "Oh!—ah!—just so!" replied Christopher, starting as from a pensive reverie.
  • "Ah, to be sure. Now, what would you say, Mr. Mallalieu? How do you fee_isposed, sir?"
  • Mallalieu looked fixedly from aunt to nephew, from nephew to aunt. Then hi_ace became hard and rigid.
  • "Fifty pound apiece!" he said. "That's how I'm disposed. And you don't get a_ffer like that every day, I know. Fifty pound apiece!"
  • Miss Pett inclined her turbaned head towards her right shoulder and sighe_eavily: Mr. Pett folded his hands, looked at the ceiling, and whistled.
  • "We don't get an offer like that every day!" he murmured. "No!—I should thin_e didn't! Fifty pound apiece!—a hundred pound altogether—for saving a fellow- creature from the gallows! Oh, Mr. Mallalieu!"
  • "Hang it!—how much money d'ye think I'm likely to carry on me?—me!—in m_nfortunate position!" snarled Mallalieu. "D'ye think——"
  • "Christopher," observed Miss Pett, rising and making for the door, "I shoul_uggest that Mr. Mallalieu is left to consider matters. Perhaps when he'_eflected a bit——"
  • She and her nephew went out, leaving Mallalieu fuming and grumbling. And onc_n the living-room she turned to Christopher with a shake of the head.
  • "What did I tell you?" she said. "Mean as a miser! My plan's much the best.
  • We'll help ourselves—and then we can snap our fingers at him. I'll give him a_xtra strong nightcap tonight, and then… ."
  • But before the close of that evening came Mallalieu's notions underwent _hange. He spent the afternoon in thinking. He knew that he was in the powe_f two people who, if they could, would skin him. And the more he thought, th_ore he began to be suspicious—and suddenly he wondered why he slept s_eavily at night, and all of a sudden he saw the reason. Drugged!—that ol_he-devil was drugging his drink. That was it, of course—but it had been fo_he last time: she shouldn't do it again.
  • That night when Miss Pett brought the hot toddy, mixed according to the recip_f the late Kitely, Mallalieu took it at his door, saying he was arrayed fo_leep, and would drink it when in bed. After which he carefully poured it int_ flower-pot that graced his room, and when he presently lay down it was wit_yes and ears open and his revolver ready to his right hand.