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Chapter 17 IN THE CELL

  • What followed was like a sort of nightmare to Merriton. That he should b_rrested for the murder of Dacre Wynne reeled drunkenly in his brain.
  • Murderer! They were calling him a murderer! The liars! The fools! Calling hi_ murderer, were they? And taking the word of a crawling worm like Borkins, _an without honour and utterly devoid of decency, who could stand up befor_hem and tell them a story that was a tissue of lies. It was appalling! What _iend incarnate this man Cleek was! Coming here at Nigel's own bidding, an_hen suddenly manipulating the evidence, until it caught him up in it_rithing coils like a well-thrown lasso. Oh, if he had only let well enoug_lone and not brought a detective to the house. Yet how was he to know tha_he man would try to fix a murder on him, himself? Useless for him to speak, to deny. The revolver-shot and the cruel little bullet (which showed ther_ere others who possessed that sort of fire-arm besides himself) proved to_asily, upon the circumstantial evidence theory at all events, that his wor_as naught.
  • He went through the next hour or two like a man who has been tortured. Silent, but bearing the mark of it upon his white face and in his haggard eyes. An_ndeed his situation was a terrible and strange one. He had set the wheels o_he law in motion; he himself had brought the relentless Hamilton Cleek int_he affair and now he was called a murderer!
  • In the little cell where they placed him, away from the gaping, murmuring, gesticulating knot of villagers that had marked his progress to the police- station—for news flies fast in the country, especially when there is a viper- tongue like Borkins's to wing it on its way—he was thankful for the momentar_eace and quiet that the place afforded. At least he could _think_ —think an_ace up and down the narrow room with its tiny barred window too high for _an to reach, and its hard camp bedstead with the straw mattress, and g_hrough the whole miserable fabrication that had landed him there.
  • The second day of confinement brought him a visitor. It was 'Toinette. Hi_ailer—a rough-haired village-hand who had taken up with the "Force" and wor_he uniform as though it belonged to someone else (which indeed i_ad)—brought him news of her arrival. It cut him like a lash to see her thus, and yet the longing for her was so great that it superseded all else. So h_aced the man with a grim smile.
  • "I suppose, Bennett, that I shall be allowed to see Miss Brellier? You hav_ade enquiries?"
  • "Yes, sir." Bennett was crestfallen and rather ashamed of his duty.
  • "Any restrictions?"
  • Bennett hedged.
  • "Well—if you please—Sir Nigel—that is—"
  • "What the devil are they, then?"
  • "Constable Roberts give orders that I was to stay 'ere with you—but I can tur_e back," returned Bennett, with flushing countenance. "Shall I show the lad_n?"
  • "Yes."
  • She came. Her frock was of some clinging gray material that made her look mor_airy-like than ever. A drooping veil of gray gauze fell like a mist befor_er face, screening from him the anguished mirrors of her eyes.
  • "Nigel! My poor, poor Nigel!"
  • "Little 'Toinette!"
  • "Oh, Nigel—it seems impossible—utterly! That you should be thought to hav_illed Dacre. You of all people! Poor, peace-loving Nigel! Something must b_one, dearest; something _shall_ be done! You shall not suffer so, for someon_lse's sin—you shall not!"
  • He smiled at her wanly, and told her how beautiful she was. It was useless t_xplain to her the utter futility of it all. There was the revolver and ther_he bullet. The weapon was his—of the bullet he could say nothing. He had onl_old the truth—and they had not believed him.
  • "Yes see, dear," he said, patiently, "they do not believe me. They say _illed him, and Borkins—lying devil that he is—has told them a story of ho_he thing was done; sworn, in fact, that he saw it all from the kitche_indow, saw Wynne lying in the garden path, dying, after I fired at him. O_ourse the thing's an outrageous lie, but—they're acting upon it."
  • " _Nigel!_ How dared he?"
  • "Who? Borkins? That kind of a devil dares anything… . How's your uncle, dear?
  • He has heard, of course?"
  • Her face brightened, her eyes were suddenly moist. She put her hands upon hi_houlders and tilted her chin so that she could see his eyes.
  • "Uncle Gustave told me to tell you that he does not believe a word of it, dearest!" she said, softly. "And he is going to make investigations himself.
  • He is so unhappy, so terribly unhappy over it all. Such a tangled web as i_s, such a wicked, wicked plot they have woven about you! Oh, Nigel dearest— _why_ did you not tell me that they were detectives, these friends of your_ho were coming to visit? If you had only said—"
  • He held her a moment, and then, leaning forward, kissed her gently upon th_orehead.
  • "What then, _p'tite_?"
  • "I would have made you send them away—I would! I would!" she cried, vehemently. "They should not have come—not if I had wired to them myself!
  • Something told me that day, after you were gone, that a dreadful thing woul_appen. I was frightened for you—frightened! And I could not tell why! I kep_aughing at myself, trying to tease myself out of it, as though it wer_imply—what you call it?—the 'blues'. And now—this!"
  • He nodded.
  • "And now—this," he said, grimly, and laughed.
  • Bennett, hand upon watch, turned apologetically at this juncture.
  • "Sorry, Sir Nigel," he said, "but time's up. Ten minutes is the time allowed _risoner, and—and—I'm afeared the young leddy must go. It 'urts me to tel_ou, sir, but—you'll understand. Dooty is dooty."
  • "Yes, doubtless, Bennett, though some people's idea of it is different fro_thers'," returned Merriton, with a bleak smile. "Have no fear, 'Toinette.
  • There is still plenty of time, and I shall engage the finest counsel in th_and to stand for me. This knot shall be broken somehow, this tissue of lie_ust have a flaw somewhere. And nowadays circumstantial evidence, you know, doesn't hold too much water in a court of law. God bless you, little
  • 'Toinette."
  • She clung to him a moment, her face suddenly lightening at the tenor of hi_ords—so bravely spoken, with so little conviction behind them. But they ha_elped her, and for that he was glad.
  • When she had gone, he sat down on the edge of his narrow bed and dropped hi_ace in the cup of his hands. How hopeless it seemed. What chance had he of _uture now—with Cleek against him? Cleek the unraveller of a thousand riddle_hat had puzzled the cleverest brains in the universe! Cleek would never admi_o having made a blunder this time—though there was a sort of gri_atisfaction in the knowledge that he _had_ blundered, though he himself wa_he victim.
  • … He sat there for a long time, thinking, his brain wearied, his heart lik_ead. Bennett's heavily-booted feet upon the stone floor brought him bac_gain to realities.
  • "There's another visitor, sir," said he. "A gentleman. Seen 'im up at th_owers, I 'ave. Name of West, sir. Constable Roberts says as 'ow you may se_im."
  • How kind of the constable, thought Nigel bitterly. His mouth twisted into _ry smile. Then his eyes lightened suddenly. Tony West, eh? So all the rat_adn't deserted the sinking ship, after all. There were still the old doctor, who came, cheering him up with kind words, bringing him books that he though_e could read—as though a man _could_ read books, under such circumstances—an_ow Tony West—good old West!
  • West strode in, his five-feet-three of manhood looking as though it were read_o throw the jailer's six-feet-one out of the window upon request, and seize_igel's hand, wringing it furiously.
  • "Good old Nigel! Gad! but it's fine to see you. And what fool put you in thi_diotic predicament? Wring his damned neck, I would. How are you, old sport?"
  • Under such light badinage did West try to conceal his real feeling but ther_as a tremour of the lips that spoke so banteringly.
  • Good old West! A friend in a thousand.
  • "Nice sort of place for the Squire of the Manor to be disporting himself, isn't it?" returned Merriton, fighting his hardest to keep his composure an_eply in the same light tone. "I—I—damn it, Tony, you don't believe it, d_ou?"
  • West went red to the rim of his collar. He choked with the vehemence of hi_esponse.
  • "Believe it, man? D'you think I'm crazy? What sort of a fool would I be t_elieve it? Wasn't I there, that night, with you? Wait until I give m_vidence in court. Bullet or no bullet, you're no—no murderer, Nigel; I'_wear my life away on that. There were others on worse terms with Wynne tha_ou, old chap. There was Stark, for one. Stark used to borrow money from hi_n the old days, you know, until they had a devil of a shindy over an I.O.U.
  • and the friendship bust. You'd no more reason to kill him than Lester Stark, _wear. Or me, for that matter."
  • "No, I'd no reason to kill him, Tony. But they'll take that quarrel we ha_ver the Frozen Flame that night, and bring it up against me in court. They'l_ring everything against me; everything that can be twisted or turned o_ullied into blackening my name. If ever I get scot-free, I'll kill that ma_orkins."
  • West put up his hand suddenly.
  • "Don't," he said, quietly; "or they'll be putting that against you, too.
  • Believe me, Nigel, old boy, the Law's the greatest duffer on earth. By th_ay, here's a piece of news for you! Heard it as I stopped in at the Tower_his morning. Saw that man Headland, the detective. He told me to tell you, and I clean forgot. But they found an I.O.U. on Wynne's body, an I.O.U. fo_wo thou'—in Lester Stark's name. Dated two nights before the party. Looks _it funny, that, doesn't it?"
  • Funny? Merriton felt his heart suddenly bound upward, and as suddenly dro_ack in his breast like lead. Glad that there was a chance for another pal t_ome under the same brutal sway as he had? What sort of a friend was he, anyway? But an I.O.U.!… And in Lester Stark's name! He remembered the blac_ooks that passed between the two of them that night, remembered them a_hough they had been but yesterday. He jerked his chin up.
  • "What're they going to do about it?"
  • "Headland told me to tell you that he was going to investigate the matte_urther. That you were to keep up your heart… . Seemed a decent sort of _hap, I must say."
  • Keep up his heart!… And there was a chance of someone else taking his share o_he damnable thing, after all!… But Lester Stark wouldn't _kill_. Perhap_ot—and yet, some months ago he had told him to his face that he'd like t_end Wynne's body to burn in hell!… H'm. Well, he would have to keep his mout_hut upon _that_ conversation, at all events, or they'd have poor Stark by th_eels the next minute… . But somehow his heart had lightened. Cleek didn'_eem such a bad chap, after all. And they couldn't hang him yet, anyhow.
  • For the rest of the long, dreary day the memory of that I.O.U. with Leste_tark's name sprawled across the bottom of it, in the dashing caligraphy tha_e knew, danced before his mind's eye like a fleeting hope, making the da_ess long.