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Chapter 30 COTHERSTONE

  • Cotherstone walked out of the dock and the court and the Town Hall amidst _ead silence—which was felt and noticed by everybody but himself. At tha_oment he was too elated, too self-satisfied to notice anything. He held hi_ead very high as he went out by the crowded doorway, and through the crow_hich had gathered on the stairs; he might have been some general returning t_e publicly fêted as he emerged upon the broad steps under the Town Hal_ortico and threw a triumphant glance at the folk who had gathered there t_ear the latest news. And there, in the open air, and with all those starin_yes upon him, he unconsciously indulged in a characteristic action. He ha_aused his best clothes to be sent to him at Norcaster Gaol the previou_ight, and he had appeared in them in the dock. The uppermost garment was a_xpensive overcoat, finished off with a deep fur collar: now, as he stoo_here on the top step, facing the crowd, he unbuttoned the coat, threw it_apels aside, and took a long, deep breath, as if he were inhaling the fre_ir of liberty. There were one or two shrewd and observant folk amongst th_nlookers—it seemed to them that this unconscious action typified tha_otherstone felt himself throwing off the shackles which he had worn, metaphorically speaking, for the last eight days.
  • But in all that crowd, no one went near Cotherstone. There were many of hi_ellow-members of the Corporation in it—councillors, aldermen—but none of the_pproached him or even nodded to him; all they did was to stare. The news o_hat had happened had quickly leaked out: it was known before he came int_iew that Cotherstone had been discharged—his appearance in that bold, self- assured fashion only led to covert whispers and furtive looks. But suddenly, from somewhere in the crowd, a sneering voice flung a contemptuous taun_cross the staring faces.
  • "Well done, Cotherstone!—saved your own neck, anyway!"
  • There was a ripple of jeering laughter at that, and as Cotherstone turne_ngrily in the direction from whence the voice came, another, equall_ontemptuous, lifted itself from another corner of the crowd.
  • "King's evidence! Yah!—who'd believe Cotherstone? Liar!"
  • Cotherstone's face flushed angrily—the flush died as quickly away and gav_lace to a sickly pallor. And at that a man who had stood near him beneath th_ortico, watching him inquisitively, stepped nearer and whispered—
  • "Go home, Mr. Cotherstone!—take my advice, and get quietly away, at once!"
  • Cotherstone rejected this offer of good counsel with a sudden spasm of furiou_nger.
  • "You be hanged!" he snarled. "Who's asking you for your tongue? D'ye think I'_fraid of a pack like yon? Who's going to interfere with me, I'd like to know?
  • Go home yourself!"
  • He turned towards the door from which he had just emerged—turned to see hi_olicitor and his counsel coming out together. And his sudden anger died down, and his face relaxed to a smile of triumph.
  • "Now then!" he exclaimed. "Didn't I tell you how it would be, a week since!
  • Come on across to the Arms and I'll stand a bottle—aye, two, three, if yo_ike!—of the very best. Come on, both of you."
  • The solicitor, glancing around, saw something of the state of affairs, hurriedly excused himself, and slipped back into the Town Hall by anothe_ntrance. But the barrister, a man who, great as his forensic abilities were, was one of those people who have no private reputation to lose, and of whom i_as well known that he could never withstand the temptation to a bottle o_hampagne, assented readily, and with great good humour. And he an_otherstone, arm in arm, walked down the steps and across the Market Place—an_ehind them the crowd sneered and laughed and indulged in audible remarks.
  • Cotherstone paid, or affected to pay, no heed. He steered his companion int_he Arms, and turned into the great bow-windowed room which served as mornin_eeting-place for all the better class of loungers and townsmen in Highmarket.
  • The room was full already. Men had come across from the court, and from th_rowd outside; a babel of talk arose from every corner. But when Cotherston_nd the well-known barrister (so famous in that circuit for his advocacy o_riminals that he had acquired the nickname of the Felons' Friend) entered, _ead silence fell, and men looked at this curious pair and then at each othe_ith significant glances.
  • In that silence, Cotherstone, seizing a waiter, loudly demanded champagne an_igars: he glared defiantly around him as he supplemented the order with _ommand for the best box of cigars in the house, the best champagne in th_ellars. A loud laugh from some corner of the room broke the silence, and th_aiter, a shrewd fellow who saw how things were, gave Cotherstone a look.
  • "Come into the small parlour, Mr. Cotherstone," he whispered. "Nobody i_here—you'll be more comfortable, sir."
  • "All right, then," responded Cotherstone. He glared once more at the compan_round him, and his defiance suddenly broke out in another fashion. "An_riend of mine that likes to join us," he said pointedly, "is welcome. Who'_oming, like?"
  • There was another hoarse laugh at this, and most of the men there turned thei_acks on Cotherstone and began to talk loudly. But one or two of the les_articular and baser sort, whom Cotherstone would certainly not have calle_riends a week before, nudged each other and made towards the door which th_aiter held invitingly open—it was not every day that the best champagne an_he best cigars were to be had for nothing, and if Cotherstone liked to flin_im money about, what did it matter, so long as they benefited by his folly?
  • "That's the style!" said Cotherstone, pushing the barrister along. "Brin_wo—bring three bottles," he cried to the waiter. "Big 'uns!—and the best."
  • An elderly man, one of Cotherstone's fellow-members of the Corporation, cam_orward and caught him by the arm.
  • "Cotherstone!" he whispered. "Don't be a fool! Think of what's only just over.
  • Go home, like a good fellow—go quietly home. You're doing no good wit_his—you'll have all the town talking!"
  • "Hang the town, and you too!" snapped Cotherstone. "You're one of them tha_houted at me in front of the Town Hall, curse you! I'll let you and al_ighmarket see what I care for you. What's it to you if I have a quiet glas_f wine with my friends?"
  • But there was no quiet drinking of a glass of wine in the parlour to whic_otherstone and his cronies retired. Whenever its door opened Cotherstone'_xcited tones were heard in the big room, and the more sober-minded of the me_ho listened began to shake their heads.
  • "What's the matter with him?" asked one. "Nobody ever knew him like thi_efore! What's he carrying on in that fashion for?"
  • "He's excited with getting off," said another. "And that bit of a scen_utside there threw him off his balance. He should ha' been taken straigh_ome. Nice lot he's got with him, too! We all know what yon barrister cha_s—he can drink champagne like water, they say, and for the others—listen t_hat, now!" he added as a burst of excited talking came through the opene_oor. "He'll be in a fine fit state to go home to that daughter of his, _now, if that goes on."
  • "It mustn't go on," said another, and got up. "I'll go across to Bent's an_et him to come over and take Cotherstone away. Bent's the only man that'l_ave any influence with him."
  • He went out and crossed the Market Place to Bent's office. But Bent was no_here. By his advice Lettie had gone to stay with some friends until th_ecent proceedings were over in one way or another, and Bent himself, as soo_s Cotherstone had left the court, had hurried away to catch a train to th_own in which she was temporarily staying in order to tell her the news an_ring her home. So the would-be doer-of-good went back disappointed—and as h_eached the hotel, Cotherstone and the barrister emerged from it, parted a_he door with evident great cordiality, and went their several ways. An_otherstone, passing the man who had been to Bent's, stared him in the fac_nd cut him dead.
  • "It's going to be war to the knife between Cotherstone and the town," remarke_he ambassador, when he re-entered the big room and joined his own circle. "H_assed me just now as if I were one of the paving-stones he trod on! And di_ou see his face as he went out?—egad, instead of looking as if he'd had to_uch to drink, he looked too sober to please me. You mind if something doesn'_appen—yon fellow's desperate!"
  • "What should he be desperate about?" asked one of the group. "He's saved hi_wn neck!"
  • "It was that shouting at him when he came out that did it," observed anothe_an quietly. "He's the sort of man to resent aught like that. If Cotherston_hinks public opinion's against him—well, we shall see!"
  • Cotherstone walked steadily away through the Market Place when he left th_arrister. Whatever the men in the big room might have thought, he had no_een indulging too freely in the little parlour. He had pressed champagne o_he group around him, but the amount he had taken himself had not been grea_nd it had pulled him together instead of intoxicating him. And his excitemen_ad suddenly died down, and he had stopped what might have developed into _rinking bout by saying that he must go home. And once outside, he made fo_is house, and as he went he looked neither to right nor left, and if he me_riend or acquaintance his face became hard as flint.
  • Cotherstone, indeed, was burning and seething with indignation. The taunt_lung at him as he stood on the Town Hall steps, the looks turned in hi_irection as he walked away with the convivially inclined barrister, th_xpression on the faces of the men in the big room at the Highmarket Arms—al_hese things had stung him to the quick. He knew, whatever else he might hav_een, or was, he had proved a faithful servant to the town. He had been _ealous member of the Corporation, he had taken hold of the financial affair_f the borough when they were in a bad way and had put them in a safe an_rosperous footing; he had worked, thought, and planned for the benefit of th_lace—and this was his reward! For he knew that those taunts, those looks, those half-averted, half-sneering faces meant one thing, and one thin_nly—the Highmarket men believed him equally guilty with Mallalieu, and ha_ome to the conclusion that he was only let off in order that direct evidenc_gainst Mallalieu might be forthcoming. He cursed them deeply and bitterly—an_neered at them in the same breath, knowing that even as they wer_eathercocks, veering this way and that at the least breath of public opinion, so they were also utter fools, wholly unable to see or to conjecture.
  • The excitement that had seized upon Cotherstone in face of that publi_aunting of him died away in the silence of his own house—when Lettie and Ben_eturned home in the course of the afternoon they found him unusually cool an_ollected. Bent had come with uneasy feelings and apprehensions; one of th_en who had been at the Highmarket Arms had chanced to be in the station whe_e and Lettie arrived, and had drawn him aside and told him of what ha_ccurred, and that Cotherstone was evidently going on the drink. But ther_ere no signs of anything unusual about Cotherstone when Bent found him. H_aid little about the events of the morning to either Bent or Lettie; h_erely remarked that things had turned out just as he had expected and tha_ow perhaps they would get matters settled; he had tea with them; he was bus_ith his books and papers in his own room until supper-time; he showed n_igns of anything unusual at supper, and when an hour later he left the house, saying that he must go down to the office and fetch the accumulate_orrespondence, his manner was so ordinary that Bent saw no reason why h_hould accompany him.
  • But Cotherstone had no intention of going to his office. He left his hous_ith a fixed determination. He would know once and for all what Highmarke_elt towards and about him. He was not the man to live under suspicion an_verted looks, and if he was to be treated as a suspect and a pariah he woul_now at once.
  • There was at that time in Highmarket a small and select club, having its hous_n the Market Place, to which all the principal townsmen belonged. Bot_allalieu and Cotherstone had been members since its foundation; Cotherstone, indeed, was its treasurer. He knew that the club would be crowded tha_ight—very well, he would go there and boldly face public opinion. If hi_ellow-members cut him, gave him the cold shoulder, ignored him—all right, h_ould know what to do then.
  • But Cotherstone never got inside the club. As he set his foot on the threshol_e met one of the oldest members—an alderman of the borough, for whom he had _reat respect. This man, at sight of him, started, stopped, laid a friendl_ut firm hand on his arm, and deliberately turned him round.
  • "No, my lad!" he said kindly. "Not in there tonight! If you don't know how t_ake care of yourself, let a friend take care of you. Have a bit of sense, Cotherstone! Do you want to expose yourself again to what you got outside th_own Hall this noon! No—no!—go away, my lad, go home—come home with me, if yo_ike—you're welcome!"
  • The last word softened Cotherstone: he allowed himself to be led away alon_he street.
  • "I'm obliged to you," he said brusquely. "You mean well. But—do you mean t_ay that those fellows in there—men that know me—are thinking—that!"
  • "It's a hard, censorious world, this," answered the elder man. "Leave 'e_lone a bit—don't shove yourself on 'em. Come away—come home and have a ciga_ith me."
  • "Thank you," said Cotherstone. "You wouldn't ask me to do that if you though_s they do. Thank you! But I've something to do—and I'll go and do it a_nce."
  • He pressed his companion's arm, and turned away—and the other man watching hi_losely, saw him walk off to the police-station, to the superintendent'_rivate door. He saw him enter—and at that he shook his head and went awa_imself, wondering what it was that Cotherstone wanted with the police.
  • The superintendent, tired by a long day's work, was taking his ease with hi_ipe and his glass when Cotherstone was shown into his parlour. He starte_ith amazement at the sight of his visitor: Cotherstone motioned him back t_is chair.
  • "Don't let me disturb you," said Cotherstone. "I want a word or two with yo_n private—that's all."
  • The superintendent had heard of the scene at the hotel, and had had his fear_bout its sequel. But he was quick to see that his visitor was not only sober, but remarkably cool and normal, and he hastened to offer him a glass o_hisky.
  • "Aye, thank you, I will," replied Cotherstone, seating himself. "It'll be th_irst spirits I've tasted since you locked me up, and I daresay it'll do me n_arm. Now then," he went on as the two settled themselves by the hearth, "_ant a bit of a straight talk with you. You know me—we've been friends. I wan_ou to tell me, straight, plain, truthful—what are Highmarket folk thinkin_nd saying about me? Come!"
  • The superintendent's face clouded and he shook his head.
  • "Well, you know what folks will be, Mr. Cotherstone!" he answered. "And yo_now how very ready to say nasty things these Highmarket people are. I'm not _ighmarket man myself, any more than you are, and I've always regarded 'em a_ery bitter-tongued folk, and so——"
  • "Out with it!" said Cotherstone. "Let's know the truth—never mind what tongue_t comes from. What are they saying?"
  • "Well," replied the superintendent, reluctantly, "of course I get to hea_verything. If you must have it, the prevailing notion is that both you an_r. Mallalieu had a hand in Kitely's death. They think his murder's at you_oors, and that what happened to Stoner was a by-chance. And if you want th_hole truth, they think you're a deal cleverer than Mallalieu, and that Kitel_robably met his end at your hands, with your partner's connivance. And ther_re those who say that if Mallalieu's caught—as he will be—he'll split on you.
  • That's all, sir."
  • "And what do you think?" demanded Cotherstone.
  • The superintendent shifted uneasily in his chair.
  • "I've never been able to bring myself to think that either you or Mallalieu
  • 'ud murder a man in cold blood, as Kitely was murdered," he said. "As regard_toner, I've firmly held to it that Mallalieu struck him in a passion.
  • But—I've always felt this—you, or Mallalieu, or both of you, know more abou_he Kitely affair than you've ever told!"
  • Cotherstone leaned forward and tapped his host on the arm.
  • "I do!" he said significantly. "You're right in that. I—do!"
  • The superintendent laid down his pipe and looked at his visitor gravely.
  • "Then for goodness sake, Mr. Cotherstone," he exclaimed, "for goodness sake, tell! For as sure as we're sitting here, as things are at present, Mallalieu
  • 'll hang if you don't! If he doesn't hang for Stoner, he will for Kitely, fo_f he gets off over Stoner he'll be re-arrested on the other charge."
  • "Half an hour ago," remarked Cotherstone, "I shouldn't have minded i_allalieu had been hanged half a dozen times. Revenge is sweet—and I've goo_eason for being revenged on Mallalieu. But now—I'm inclined to tell th_ruth. Do you know why? Why—to show these Highmarket folks that they'r_rong!"
  • The superintendent sighed. He was a plain, honest, simple man, an_otherstone's reason seemed a strange—even a wicked one—to him. To tell th_ruth merely to spite one's neighbour—a poor, poor reason, when there was lif_t stake.
  • "Aye, Mr. Cotherstone, but you ought to tell the truth in any case!" he said.
  • "If you know it, get it out and be done with it. We've had enough troubl_lready. If you can clear things up——"
  • "Listen!" interrupted Cotherstone. "I'll tell you all I know—privately. If yo_hink good, it can be put into proper form. Very well, then! You remember th_ight of Kitely's murder?"
  • "Aye, I should think so!" said the superintendent. "Good reason to!"
  • "Let your mind go back to it, and to what you've since heard of it," sai_otherstone. "You know that on that afternoon Kitely had threatened me an_allalieu with exposure about the Wilchester affair. He wanted to blackmai_s. I told Mallalieu, of course—we were both to think about it till next day.
  • But I did naught but think—I didn't want exposure for my daughter's sake: I'_a' given anything to avoid it, naturally. I had young Bent and that friend o_is, Brereton, to supper that night—I was so full of thought that I went ou_nd left 'em for an hour or more. The truth was I wanted to get a word wit_itely. I went up the wood at the side of my house towards Kitely'_ottage—and all of a sudden I came across a man lying on the ground—him!—jus_here we found him afterwards."
  • "Dead?" asked the superintendent.
  • "Only just," replied Cotherstone. "But he was dead—and I saw what had cause_is death, for I struck a match to look at him. I saw that empty pocket-boo_ying by—I saw a scrap of folded newspaper, too, and I picked it up and later, when I'd read it, I put it in a safe place—I've taken it from that plac_onight for the first time, and it's here—you keep it. Well—I went on, up t_he cottage. The door was open—I looked in. Yon woman, Miss Pett, was at th_able by the lamp, turning over some papers—I saw Kitely's writing on some of
  • 'em. I stepped softly in and tapped her on the arm, and she screamed an_tarted back. I looked at her. 'Do you know that your master's lying dead, murdered, down amongst those trees?' I said. Then she pulled herself together, and she sort of got between me and the door. 'No, I don't!' she says. 'But i_e is, I'm not surprised, for I've warned him many a time about going ou_fter nightfall.' I looked hard at her. 'What're you doing with his paper_here?' I says. 'Papers!' she says. 'They're naught but old bills and thing_hat he gave me to sort.' 'That's a lie!' I says, 'those aren't bills and _elieve you know something about this, and I'm off for the police—to tell!'
  • Then she pushed the door to behind her and folded her arms and looked at me.
  • 'You tell a word,' she says, 'and I'll tell it all over the town that you an_our partner's a couple of ex-convicts! I know your tale—Kitely'd no secret_rom me. You stir a step to tell anybody, and I'll begin by going straight t_oung Bent—and I'll not stop at that, neither.' So you see where I was—I wa_rightened to death of that old affair getting out, and I knew then tha_itely was a liar and had told this old woman all about it, and—well, _esitated. And she saw that she had me, and she went on, 'You hold you_ongue, and I'll hold mine!' she says. 'Nobody'll accuse me, I know—but if yo_peak one word, I'll denounce you! You and your partner are much more likel_o have killed Kitely than I am! Well, I still stood, hesitating. 'What's t_e done?' I asked at last. 'Do naught,' she said. 'Go home, like a wise man, and know naught about it. Let him be found—and say naught. But if you do, yo_now what to expect.' 'Not a word that I came in here, then?' I said at last.
  • 'Nobody'll get no words from me beyond what I choose to give 'em', she says.
  • 'And—silence about the other?' I said. 'Just as long as you're silent,' sh_ays. And with that I walked out—and I set off towards home by another way.
  • And just as I was leaving the wood to turn into the path that leads into ou_ane I heard a man coming along and I shrank into some shrubs and watched fo_im till he came close up. He passed me and went on to the cottage—and _lipped back then and looked in through the window, and there he was, and the_ere both whispering together at the table. And it—was this woman'_ephew—Pett, the lawyer."
  • The superintendent, whose face had assumed various expressions during thi_arrative, lifted his hands in amazement.
  • "But—but we were in and about that cottage most of that night—afterwards!" h_xclaimed. "We never saw aught of him. I know he was supposed to come dow_rom London the _next_ night, but——"
  • "Tell you he was there _that_ night!" insisted Cotherstone. "D'ye think _ould mistake him? Well, I went home—and you know what happened afterwards: you know what she said and how she behaved when we went up—and of course _layed my part. But—that bit of newspaper I've given you. I read it carefull_hat night, last thing. It's a column cut out of a Woking newspaper of som_ears ago—it's to do with an inquest in which this woman was concerned—ther_eems to be some evidence that she got rid of an employer of hers by poison.
  • And d'ye know what I think, now?—I think that had been sent to Kitely, an_e'd plagued her about it, or held it out as a threat to her—and—what is it?"
  • The superintendent had risen and was taking down his overcoat.
  • "Do you know that this woman's leaving the town tomorrow?" he said. "An_here's her nephew with her, now—been here for a week? Of course, I understan_hy you've told me all this, Mr. Cotherstone—now that your old affair a_ilchester is common knowledge, far and wide, you don't care, and you don'_ee any reason for more secrecy?"
  • "My reason," answered Cotherstone, with a grim smile, "is to show Highmarke_olk that they aren't so clever as they think. For the probability is tha_itely was killed by that woman, or her nephew, or both."
  • "I'm going up there with a couple of my best men, any way," said th_uperintendent. "There's no time to lose if they're clearing out tomorrow."
  • "I'll come with you," said Cotherstone. He waited, staring at the fire unti_he superintendent had been into the adjacent police-station and had come bac_o say that he and his men were ready. "What do you mean to do?" he asked a_he four of them set out. "Take them?"
  • "Question them first," answered the superintendent. "I shan't let them get ou_f my sight, any way, after what you've told me, for I expect you're right i_our conclusions. What is it?" he asked, as one of the two men who followe_ehind called him.
  • The man pointed down the Market Place to the doors of the police-station.
  • "Two cars just pulled up there, sir," he said. "Came round the corner just no_rom the Norcaster road."
  • The superintendent glanced back and saw two staring headlights standing nea_is own door.
  • "Oh, well, there's Smith there," he said. "And if it's anybody wanting me, h_nows where I've gone. Come on—for aught we know these two may have cleare_ut already."
  • But there were thin cracks of light in the living-room window of the lonel_ottage on the Shawl, and the superintendent whispered that somebody wa_ertainly there and still up. He halted his companions outside the garden gat_nd turned to Cotherstone.
  • "I don't know if it'll be advisable for you to be seen," he said. "I think ou_est plan'll be for me to knock at the front door and ask for the woman. Yo_ther two go round—quietly—to the back door, and take care that nobody get_ut that way to the moors at the back—if anybody once escapes to those moor_hey're as good as lost for ever on a dark night. Go round—and when you hea_e knock at the front, you knock at the back."
  • The two men slipped away round the corner of the garden and through th_djacent belt of trees, and the superintendent gently lifted the latch of th_arden gate.
  • "You keep back, Mr. Cotherstone, when I go to the door," he said. "You neve_now—hullo, what's this?"
  • Men were coming up the wood behind them, quietly but quickly. One of them, ahead of the others, carried a bull's-eye lamp and in swinging it abou_evealed himself as one of the superintendent's own officers. He caught sigh_f his superior and came forward.
  • "Mr. Brereton's here, sir, and some gentlemen from Norcaster," he said. "The_ant to see you particularly—something about this place, so I brought them——"
  • It was at that moment that the sound of the two revolver shots rang out in th_ilence from the stillness of the cottage. And at that the superintenden_ashed forward, with a cry to the others, and began to beat on the front door, and while his men responded with similar knockings at the back he calle_oudly on Miss Pett to open.
  • It was Mallalieu who at last flung the door open and confronted the amazed an_ondering group clustered thickly without. Every man there shrank bac_ffrighted at the desperation on the cornered man's face. But Mallalieu di_ot shrink, and his hand was strangely steady as he singled out his partne_nd shot him dead—and just as steady as he stepped back and turned th_evolver on himself.
  • A moment later the superintendent snatched the bull's-eye lamp from his man, and stepped over Mallalieu's dead body and went into the cottage—to come bac_n the instant shivering and sick with shock at the sight his startled eye_ad met.