On arriving at Lloyd’s at ten o’clock on the same morning, Marshall found among his letters a typewritten envelope of uncommercial size and shape. Out of curiosity, he opened it the first. The communication enclosed was typed on small, feminine notepaper, and was neither addressed nor signed. It was, in fact, anonymous. Before reading it, he turned again to the envelope, to inspect the postmark. It was stamped Worthing. The only person he could think of as staying at Worthing was Judge.
He read the following words:
“If Mr. Stokes is interested to know how Miss L— spends her time during his temporary absences, it might be as well for him to inquire at Runhill court. There is every reason to believe that she will be there to-morrow (Friday) morning before lunch, for the third time this week, and he may consider the matter of sufficient importance to justify his presence there on the same occasion. Should it not be before lunch, it may be after. It is believed that there are rooms in the house which are not easy to discover.”
Marshall carefully folded the letter, and deposited it in his pocket-cast. Then he sat back, and began to slowly pass his hand over his eyes and forehead.
His first impulse was to ignore the whole business, destroy the note, and say nothing about it to Isbel or anyone else. To start testing the accuracy of a charge, of which, naturally, he did not believe a single word, would be equivalent to admitting that there might be a possibility of truth in it, and that would be a ghastly insult to Isbel . . .
But then there was the question of libel. Some ill-disposed person — probably a woman — was evidently bent on mischief, and it was doubtful how far she would go if no counter-action was taken. The thing obviously was to find out, in the first place, who wrote the letter. The police were out of the question, and private inquiry agents were not much better; he did not intend to have her name bandied about by these professional gentlemen. She herself was the only one who might be ale to throw light on the business. He would show her the letter that same evening when he went down to Brighton, and they would talk it over together. A person who was prepared to go to that criminal length did not spring out of empty space — Isbel would have a tolerable idea who it was, and why she, or he, had done it . . .
Of course, spite was at the bottom of it. But what he could not quite see through was the explicit character of the charge. Where was the sense of quoting time and place, when the writer must be aware that any action taken on the statement would expose the whole damned lie? Probably it was a bit of low cunning. It was thought that he would not take action, an that the poison would continue to rankle in his mind . . . That seemed all right as far as he could see. And in that case he was not at all sure that it might not be good policy to make the move he was not expected to make. Of course, before going to Runhill, to see what game was on foot, he would look Isbel up at Brighton, and very likely take her with him.
He made hurried arrangements with his deputy to carry on during his absence, and immediately afterwards left for Victoria.
It was not long after noon when he arrived at the Gondy Hotel. Mrs. Moor gave an exclamation of surprise when she saw him.
“Good gracious, Marshall! — what can this mean?”
He told a story of having met a man . . . “Where’s Isbel?” he added quickly.
Isbel, it seemed, had been out for two hours, and Mrs. Moor had no idea where she was.
In a very decomposed manner, Marshall muttered something about returning later in the day. He took his departure abruptly — almost rudely. She could not think what had come over him. Probably it was some business worry.
Meanwhile Marshall, with a face which grew sterner each minute, sought his car in the hotel garage. While it was being got out, he produced and lit a cigar. He wished to assure himself that his feelings were tranquil, and that the visit to Runhill he was about to make was a quite ordinary, matter-of-fact transaction, of no special consequence, and undertaken merely as a piece of necessary routine work . . . Perhaps he really did not see, perhaps he did not wish to see, that it can never be an ordinary transaction to test a woman’s honour . . .
He got in, turned up the collar of his rainproof coat, pulled down his crushed-in hat, and started off. It was a quarter to one. He pushed the car along fast to Shoreham, but, once past the houses, he let her go altogether . . . In just over the half hour he reached Runhill Lodge.
Marshall got down . . . “Good afternoon! Is there anyone up at the house?” He had returned the cigar-stump to his mouth when he had spoken.
“The boss is there, sir.”
“Anyone with him?” The keen glint of his eye, as he threw a side-glance, belied his indifferent tone.
“No, sir, he’s by himself. He ain’t been there much above half an hour.”
Marshall remained silent for a minute.
“I’ll walk up to him, I think.”
“Shall I open the gate?”
“No, I said I’d walk up. The car’s quite all right where it is. Thank you, Priday.”
He threw away his stump, passed through the side gate, and started slowly up the drive, with bent head. Priday, after gazing after him for a short time, disappeared again inside the lodge. The dismal, wetting mist made it no sort of day to be out in.
As he approached the house, Marshall saw a small car standing outside the main entrance. It was evidently Judge’s . When he came up to it, he leant over the side, to make a somewhat ashamed, but none the less careful scrutiny of the seats and floor. He hardly dared to confess himself what he feared to see there. It was with heartfelt relief that he failed to detect anything of a compromising character. He crossed to the house. The hall door was unlocked; he opened it, and went straight in.
The hall was grey, sombre, and silent. He wondered which would be the likeliest part of the house to start looking for Judge . . . Nine chances out of ten, he would be upstairs in his favourite lurking-spot — the East Room. It might be good sense to go there first . . . What did that damned correspondence mean by there being rooms hard to find? . . . Oh, hell! Isbel couldn’t be there. Priday said no one was there except Judge . . . why the devil was he wasting precious time in mooning in the hall, when he ought by now to be up at the top of the house? . . .
He made for the main staircase and raced up, three steps at a time. Without pausing on the landing, he immediately attacked the upper flight, and in less than a minute was groping his way through the black darkness of the upstairs corridor.
He saw at once that the door of the East Room was standing open. Upon getting closer he saw something else. A man was lying, huddled and motionless, on the floor, near one of the walls. It required no flash of inspiration to guess that it was Judge — but what had happened to him? Was he asleep, fainting, or drunk? . . . He leapt over to him, and pulled his face round . . . then let go again in horror. The man was dead! . . .
There was no doubt of the fact, and there was little doubt of the cause of death. The discoloured face told its own story — apoplexy! . . . To make quite sure, he tested the heart. After crouching for at least five minutes, with his hand on Judge’s naked chest, he saw that it was hopeless to go on — there was not the faintest whisper of a heart-beat.
He did whatever he thought was immediately necessary, then walked away and downstairs, to fetch assistance.
The unexpected tragedy had put his own affair entirely out of his head. He had forgotten Isbel’s connection with the house, and, for the moment, almost her very existence. He was too preoccupied with his immediate plans for action to see anything around him; otherwise, upon reaching the head of the main staircase, he would have at once perceived, straight ahead of him, Isbel herself, sitting in a chair near the other end of the hall. As it was, it was not until he was close upon her that he jumped back with a start . . . Her face was white, her eyes were closed, her clothing appeared to be wet and stained with mud, while her whole attitude was one of lassitude and exhaustion.
“Isbel! What does this mean? . . . ” He came on again until he nearly stood over her. She opened her eyes slowly and looked up with weary indifference, manifesting no surprise at his presence, nor, indeed, any emotion whatever.
“How did you get here?” was all she asked.
“Never mind me. How did you come to be in this house?”
“I fainted outside, and came in to sit down, before going home.”
“Outside? But what were you doing outside? What are you doing in this part of the world at all?”
It was several seconds before she answered.
“Don’t be hard on me, Marshall, I can’t explain now . . . I have a confession to make — but not now.”
He whipped the anonymous letter out of his pocket-case, and handed it to her. “Will you read that?”
She did so, while he watched her closely; his heart sank, as he saw that she showed neither astonishment nor indignation. She read it through twice, quite apathetically, and then passed it back without a word.
“Well? . . . ” demanded Marshall.
“I know who wrote that. Is that what you want?”
“Never mind who wrote it. Is it true?”
“Perhaps it isn’t true; but it was written in good faith. I meant to come here this morning with Mr. Judge, but he disappointed me.”
“I see . . . May I ask why . . .?"— but he was unable to finish.
“Why, I wished to be here with him? . . . ” She smiled bitterly. “Please don’t press me to give explanation which you won’t receive.”
There was dead silence.
“Then you haven’t seen him to-day?” asked Marshall.
“I can’t say — I don’t know. I don’t know whom I’ve seen, and whom I haven’t seen. I have fainted. I don’t know anything.”
“So perhaps you don’t know where he is at this moment?”
“That I’ll swear to, Marshall. I’ve only just this minute entered the house for the first time.”
“Then I’ll tell you. He’s upstairs in the East Room” . . . He looked at her, to see if she were as ignorant of the tragedy as her words and manner professed, but she did not even appear interested.
“Dead,” he added, suddenly and brutally.
Isbel half-rose from her eat, and turned such a greenish colour that he thought she was about to swoon again, but he did not go to her assistance. She recovered herself by an effort.
“Have you killed him?” she demanded quietly.
“I have not. I don’t believe in private assassinations. He has had some sort of fit — and now I’m off to tell Priday and fetch a doctor . . . We had better resume this very interesting conversation later. And if I may venture to offer a suggestion — there will probably be an inquest, and, if you have no special desire to appear among the witnesses, it would be as well for you to lose no time in getting clear of the premises. Does anyone know you’re here, barring Judge himself?”
“Then how did you get in?”
“By another gate.”
“Well, take my advice, and go out the same way. Can you find your way on to the main Steyning road?”
“I expect so.”
“Then walk on, and I’ll pick you up in the car further on. I’ve got to fetch a doctor, so you’ll be there as son as I shall . . . Go now — don’t waste time.”
Isbel remained sitting.
“Marshall! . . . ”
“What is it?”
“How long has he been dead?”
“Priday says he’s only been in the house half an hour. That was fifteen minutes ago, perhaps. He can’t have been dead long. Why?”
“Because I feel as if something has snapped inside me since I feel down in that faint. It must have been at the same time . . . Do you think it strange that I don’t express a wish to go up and see him?”
“I’m exceedingly sorry, Isbel, but I can’t enter into your wishes of feelings. Of course, there’s not the slightest need for you to go up, and I strongly advise you not to . . . ”
She directed a pitiful smile towards him. “I know there’s no going back to the old state. Please don’t imagine that I even wish to. I merely want to tell you that perhaps my feelings towards him were not altogether what you think they were. I . . . ”
“But you came here to meet him?”
Isbel dived into her handbag impulsively. “Marshall, you’ve shown me a letter; now I’ll show you one . . . Read that.”
He took it rather unwillingly, and skimmed it through.
“Who is this Mrs. Richborough he speaks about?”
“The person who wrote to you.”
“It seems a fatal business all round. And is this letter of Judge’s a blind, or did it really extend no further?”
“I wish you to believe that Mr. Judge was a man of honour . . . That’s all. Now I’ll go . . . I won’t insult you by expressing my sorrow for the position I’ve put you in . . . You have always been good to me, and I’m afraid I’ve repaid you in the meanest possible way . . . Good-bye, for the time being!”
She got up, and started to stumble towards the door.
“Do you feel yourself able to walk as far as I proposed?” Marshall asked in a singular tone.
She stopped to look back over her shoulder. “It seems to me that I have no alternative.”
“That’s quite true. I can’t come with you, for I have this awful business to attend to. How long will it take you to get clear of the grounds by the way you’re going?”
“I don’t know — ten minutes . . . ”
“I’ll sit here for ten minutes by my watch, and then make my way to the lodge. Walk on towards Steyning, and, if I haven’t picked you up by the time you have reached there, wait fir me at the station. Is that clear?”
“Incidentally, how did you get here?”
“By hired car form Worthing, but I dismissed the driver short of the house.”
“All right, then — you’d better clear off.”
He sat down in the chair which she had vacated, and pulled out his watch. Isbel hesitated a moment, as if she wished to say something more, then a flash of anger at her own weakness seemed to come across her, for she suddenly straightened herself, and walked directly to the door.
Ten minutes later Marshall rose, left the house, and started down the drive towards the lodge.
* * *
It was nearing four o’clock when he and Isbel returned to the Gondy together. Isbel went straight to her room. Marshall sought Mrs. Moor, and, without beating around the bush, informed her that the engagement was broken off, by mutual agreement. He referred her to Isbel for all explanations. She was greatly upset, but had too much good sense to attempt to combat his decision there and then, without learning more about the affair. She wished him godspeed, and begged him, with tears in her eyes, at least to leave the road open for future negotiations. However, he declined to make any kind of promise, or to discuss things with her at all . . . He spent the night at the hotel, but dined out, and retired to his room early. On the following morning he packed his belongings, settled his bill, and started back to town in the car, without having attempted previously to see Mrs. Moor for the purpose of saying farewell.
* * *
The inquest was held on Tuesday. Marshall was called upon to give evidence as to the finding of the body, but everything was purely formal. The medical witness certified that death was due to cerebral hemorrhage, and the jury returned their verdict accordingly. Isbel did not attend.
The two ladies returned to Kensington, as arranged, in the middle of the week. Isbel refused to discuss matters with her aunt, or to see any of her friends. Blanche behaved with great tact; she neither wrote to her, nor called, but she was continually sending flowers and kind messages by way of Mrs. Moor, and Isbel was not ungrateful . . . a few weeks afterwards, aunt and niece went to the Riveira.
* * *
Blanche thought the occasion propitious to resume a correspondence with her friend, and Isbel aquiesced, though without any particular pleasure. The first letters were very correct, but, as time passed, Marshall’s name began to appear on Blanche’s side with greater frequency. In the beginning Isbel thought that it was an unintentional blundering against good taste. It was not long before she realised that the thin end of the wedge had become too securely hammered in to be easily dislodged. She passed over the allusions in silence.
Then the time came for them to return home. It was March. “ . . . I want to know how we’re to stand, Billy,” she wrote her friend. “We see a good deal of Marshall in these days. If you happen to run up against him in my house, may I take it that you will behave towards him with common politeness? . . . ”
Isbel wrote back: “ . . . If Marshall is able to endure my society, I shall certainly be able to endure his . . . ”
On the evening of the same day that Blanch received this letter, she showed these lines to Marshall himself. He coloured violently.
“Well — how am I to answer?” she demanded.
“Tell her I’m not quite a savage.”
“Is that all?”
“Don’t you think we’d better take one step at a time?” asked Marshall.
Blanche smiled, and suddenly grasped his wrist.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11