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.