Had the Mayor of Highmarket, lying there sullen and suspicious, only know_hat was taking place close to him at that very moment, only known what ha_een happening in his immediate vicinity during the afternoon and evening, h_ight have taken some course of action which would have prevented what wa_hortly to come. But he knew nothing—except that he was angry, and full o_oubts, and cursed everything and everybody that had led to this evil turn i_is fortunes, and was especially full of vindictiveness towards the man an_oman in the next room, who, as he felt sure, were trying to take advantage o_is present helplessness. And meanwhile, not far away, things were goin_n—and they had been going on all that day since noon.
Brereton, going away from Highmarket Town Hall after the dramatic discharge o_otherstone, was suddenly accosted by a smart-looking young man whom, at firs_lance, he knew to be in some way connected with the law.
"Mr. Gifford Brereton?" inquired this stranger. "I have a note for you, sir."
Brereton took the note and stepped aside into a quiet corner: the young ma_ollowed and stood near. To Brereton's surprise he found himself looking at _etter in the handwriting of a London solicitor who had two or three time_avoured him with a brief. He hastily glanced through its contents:—
> "The Duke's Head Hotel"
> "Dear Mr. Brereton,—
> "I have just arrived at this place on business which is closely connecte_ith that which you have in hand. I shall be much obliged if you join me her_t once, bringing with you the daughter of your client Harborough—it i_mportant that she should accompany you. The bearer will have a car i_eadiness for you.
> Yours sincerely, > "H. C. Carfax."
Brereton put the note in his pocket and turned to the messenger.
"Mr. Carfax wishes me to return with you to Norcaster," he remarked. "H_entions a car."
"Here, Mr. Brereton—round the corner—a good one, that will run us there i_wenty minutes," replied the messenger.
"There's a call to make first," said Brereton. He went round the corner wit_is companion and recognized in the chauffeur who waited there a man who ha_nce or twice driven him from Norcaster of late. "Ah!" he said, "I daresay yo_now where Mrs. Northrop lives in this town—up near the foot of the Shawl? Yo_o?—run us up there, then. Are you one of Mr. Carfax's clerks?" he asked whe_e and the messenger had got into the car. "Have you come down with him fro_ondon?"
"No, sir—I am a clerk at Willerby & Hargreaves' in Norcaster," replied th_essenger. "Carfax and Spillington are our London agents. Mr. Carfax and som_ther gentlemen came down from town first thing this morning, and Mr. Carfa_ot me to bring you that note."
"You don't know what he wants to see me about?" asked Brereton, who wa_lready curious to the point of eagerness.
"Well, sir, I have a pretty good idea," answered the clerk, with a smile, "bu_ think Mr. Carfax would rather tell you everything himself. We shall soon b_here, Mr. Brereton—if the young lady doesn't keep us."
Brereton ran into Northrop's house and carried Avice off with scant ceremony.
"This, of course, has something to do with your father's case," he said, as h_ed her down to the car. "It may be—but no, we won't anticipate! Only—I'_ertain things are going to right themselves. Now then!" he called to th_river as they joined the clerk. "Get along to Norcaster as fast as you can."
Within half an hour the car stopped at the old-fashioned gateway of the Duke'_ead in Norcaster market-place, and the clerk immediately led his tw_ompanions into the hotel and upstairs to a private sitting-room, at the doo_f which he knocked. A voice bade him enter; he threw the door open an_nnounced the visitors.
"Miss Harborough—Mr. Brereton, Mr. Carfax," he said.
Brereton glanced sharply at the men who stood in the room, evidently expectan_f his and his companion's arrival. Carfax, a short, middle-aged man, quic_nd bustling in manner, he, of course, knew: the others were strangers. Two o_hem Brereton instantly set down as detectives; there were all the marks an_igns of the craft upon them. They stood in a window, whispering together, an_t them Brereton gave but a glance. But at the fourth man, who stood on th_earthrug, he looked long and hard. And his thoughts immediately turned to th_ight on which he and Avice had visited the old woman who lived in the lonel_ouse on the moors and to what she had said about a tall man who had me_arborough in her presence—a tall, bearded man. For the man who stood ther_efore him, looking at Avice with an interested, somewhat wistful smile, was _all, bearded man—a man past middle age, who looked as if he had seen a goo_eal of the far-off places of the world.
Carfax had hurried forward, shaken hands with Brereton, and turned to Avic_hile Brereton was making this rapid inspection.
"So here you are, Brereton—and this young lady, I suppose, is Mis_arborough?" he said, drawing a chair forward. "Glad you've come—and I daresa_ou're wondering why you've been sent for? Well—all in good time, bu_irst—this gentleman is Mr. John Wraythwaite."
The big man started forward, shook hands hastily with Brereton, and turne_ore leisurely to Avice.
"My dear young lady!" he said. "I—I—the fact is, I'm an old friend of you_ather's, and—and it will be very soon now that he's all right—and all tha_ort of thing, you know! You don't know me, of course."
Avice looked up at the big, bearded figure and from it to Brereton.
"No!" she said. "But—I think it was you who sent that money to Mr. Brereton."
"Ah! you're anticipating, young lady!" exclaimed Carfax. "Yes—we've a lot o_alking to do. And we'd better all sit down and do it comfortably. On_oment," he continued, and turned away to the two men in the window, who, after a few words with him, left the room. "Now then—we'll do our first par_f the business, Brereton!" he went on, as they all took seats at a table nea_he fire. "You, of course, don't know who this gentleman is?"
"Not at all," replied Brereton.
"Very good!" continued Carfax, rubbing his hands as if in enjoyment of th_ituation. "Then you've some interesting facts to hear about him. To begi_ith, he's the man who, when your client, this young lady's father, is brough_p at these coming Assizes, will prove a complete _alibi_ on his behalf. I_ther words, he's the man with whom Harborough was in company during th_vening and the greater part of the night on which Kitely was murdered."
"I thought so," said Brereton. He looked reflectively at Mr. Wraythwaite. "Bu_hy did you not come forward at once?" he asked.
"My advice—my advice!" exclaimed Carfax hastily. "I'm going to explain th_easons. Now, you won't understand, Brereton, but Miss Harborough, I think, will know what I mean, or she'll have some idea, when I say that thi_entleman is now—now, mind you!—Mr. Wraythwaite of Wraye."
Avice looked up quickly with evident comprehension, and the solicitor nodded.
"You see—she knows," he went on, turning to Brereton. "At least, that convey_omething to her. But it doesn't to you. Well, my dear sir, if you were _ative of these parts it would. Wraye is one of the oldest and most histori_states between here and the Tweed—everybody knows Wraye. And everybody know_oo that there has been quite a romance about Wraye for some time—since th_ast Wraythwaite died, in fact. That Wraythwaite was a confirmed old bachelor.
He lived to a great age—he outlived all his brothers and sisters, of whom he'_ad several. He left quite a tribe of nephews and nieces, who were distribute_ll over the world. Needless to say, there was vast bother and trouble.
Finally, one of the nephews made a strong claim to the estate, as being th_ldest known heir. And he was until recently in good trim for establishing hi_laim, when my client here arrived on the scene. For he is the eldes_ephew—he is the rightful heir—and I am thankful to say that—only within thi_ast day or two—his claim has been definitely recognized and established, an_ll without litigation. Everything," continued Carfax, again rubbing his hand_ith great satisfaction, "everything is now all right, and Mr. Wraythwaite o_raye will take his proper and rightful place amongst his own people."
"I'm exceedingly glad to hear it," said Brereton, with a smile at the big man, who continued to watch Avice as if his thoughts were with her rather than wit_is solicitor's story. "But—you'll understand that I'd like to know how al_his affects my client?"
"Ye—yes!" said Mr. Wraythwaite, hastily. "Tell Mr. Brereton, Carfax—never min_e and my affairs—get on to poor Harborough."
"Your affair and Harborough's are inextricably mixed, my dear sir," retorte_arfax, good-humouredly. "I'm coming to the mingling of them. Well," h_ontinued, addressing himself again to Brereton. "This is how things are—o_ere. I must tell you that the eldest brother of the late Squire of Wray_arried John Harborough's aunt—secretly. They had not been married long befor_he husband emigrated. He went off to Australia, leaving his wife behind unti_e had established himself—there had been differences between him and hi_amily, and he was straitened in means. In his absence our friend here wa_orn—and at the same time, sad to say, his mother died. The child was brough_p by Harborough's mother—Mr. Wraythwaite and Harborough are foster-brothers.
It remained in the care of Harborough's mother—who kept the secret of th_arriage—until it was seven years old. Then, opportunity occurring, it wa_aken to its father in Australia. The father, Matthew Wraythwaite, made a bi_ortune in Australia, sheep-farming. He never married again, and the fortune, of course, came at his death to his only son—our friend. Now, he had been tol_f the secret marriage of his father, but, being possessed of an ample fortun_imself, he concerned himself little about the rest of the old family.
However, a year or so ago, happening to read in the newspapers about the deat_f the old Squire, his uncle, and the difficulty of definitely deciding th_eal heirship, he came over to England. But he had no papers relating to hi_ather's marriage, and he did not know where it had taken place. At that tim_e had not consulted me—in fact, he had consulted no one. If he had consulte_e," continued Carfax, with a knowing wink at Brereton, "we should have pu_im right in a few hours. But he kept off lawyers—and he sought out the onl_an he could remember—his foster-brother, Harborough. And by Harborough'_dvice, they met secretly. Harborough did not know where that marriage ha_aken place—he had to make inquiries all over this district—he had to searc_egisters. Now and then, my client—not my client then, of course—came to se_arborough; when he did so, he and Harborough met in quiet places. And on th_ight on which that man Kitely was murdered," concluded the solicitor,
"Harborough was with my client from nine o'clock until half-past four in th_orning, when he parted with him near Hexendale railway station. Mr.
Wraythwaite will swear that."
"And fortunately, we have some corroboration," observed Brereton, with _lance at Avice, "for whether Mr. Wraythwaite knows it or not, his meetin_ith Harborough on the moors that particular night was witnessed."
"Capital—capital!" exclaimed Carfax. "By a credible—and creditable—witness?"
"An old woman of exceptional character," answered Brereton, "except that sh_ndulges herself in a little night-poaching now and then."
"Ah, well, we needn't tell that when she goes into the witness-box," sai_arfax. "But that's most satisfactory. My dear young lady!" he added, turnin_o Avice, "your father will be released like—like one o'clock! And then, _hink," he went on bustling round on the new Squire of Wraye, "then, my dear, I think Mr. Wraythwaite here——"
"Leave that to me, Carfax," interrupted Mr. Wraythwaite, with a nod at Avice.
"I'll tell this young lady all about that myself. In the meantime——"
"Ah, just so!" responded Carfax. "In the meantime, we have something not s_nteresting or pleasing, but extremely important, to tell Mr. Brereton.
Brereton—how are things going? Has any fresh light been thrown on the Kitel_urder? Nothing really certain and definite you say? Very well, my dea_ir—then you will allow me to throw some light on it!"
So saying, Carfax rose from his chair, quitted the room—and within anothe_inute returned, solemnly escorting the two detectives.