The Tallyrand Maxim - J. S. Fletcher - ebook
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It's old Mr. Bartle, sir, he whispered. He's in your room there -- dead! Dead? exclaimed Eldrick. Dead! Pratt shook his head again. He came up not so long after you'd gone, sir, he said. Everybody had gone but me -- I was just going. Wanted to see you about something I don't know what. He was very tottery when he came in -- complained of the stairs and the fog. I took him into your room, to sit down in the easy chair. And -- he died straight off. Just, concluded Pratt, just as if he was going quietly to sleep!

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THE TALLYRAND MAXIM

by J.S. Fletcher

Published by Aeterna Classics 2018

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER I

DEATH BRINGS OPPORTUNITY

Linford Pratt, senior clerk to Eldrick & Pascoe, solicitors, of Barford, a young man who earnestly desired to get on in life, by hook or by crook, with no objection whatever to crookedness, so long as it could be performed in safety and secrecy, had once during one of his periodical visits to the town Reference Library, lighted on a maxim of that other unscrupulous person, Prince Talleyrand, which had pleased him greatly. "With time and patience," said Talleyrand, "the mulberry leaf is turned into satin." This seemed to Linford Pratt one of the finest and soundest pieces of wisdom which he had ever known put into words.

A mulberry leaf is a very insignificant thing, but a piece of satin is a highly marketable commodity, with money in it. Henceforth, he regarded himself as a mulberry leaf which his own wit and skill must transform into satin: at the same time he knew that there is another thing, in addition to time and patience, which is valuable to young men of his peculiar qualities, a thing also much beloved by Talleyrand—opportunity. He could find the patience, and he had the time—but it would give him great happiness if opportunity came along to help in the work. In everyday language, Linford Pratt wanted a chance—he waited the arrival of the tide in his affairs which would lead him on to fortune.

Leave him alone—he said to himself—to be sure to take it at the flood. If Pratt had only known it, as he stood in the outer office of Eldrick & Pascoe at the end of a certain winter afternoon, opportunity was slowly climbing the staircase outside—not only opportunity, but temptation, both assisted by the Devil. They came at the right moment, for Pratt was alone; the partners had gone: the other clerks had gone: the office-boy had gone: in another minute Pratt would have gone, too: he was only looking round before locking up for the night. Then these things came—combined in the person of an old man, Antony Bartle, who opened the door, pushed in a queer, wrinkled face, and asked in a quavering voice if anybody was in.

"I'm in, Mr. Bartle," answered Pratt, turning up a gas jet which he had just lowered. "Come in, sir. What can I do for you?"

Antony Bartle came in, wheezing and coughing. He was a very, very old man, feeble and bent, with little that looked alive about him but his light, alert eyes. Everybody knew him—he was one of the institutions of Barford—as well known as the Town Hall or the Parish Church. For fifty years he had kept a second-hand bookshop in Quagg Alley, the narrow passage-way which connected Market Street with Beck Street. It was not by any means a common or ordinary second-hand bookshop: its proprietor styled himself an "antiquarian bookseller"; and he had a reputation in two Continents, and dealt with millionaire buyers and virtuosos in both.

Barford people sometimes marvelled at the news that Mr. Antony Bartle had given two thousand guineas for a Book of Hours, and had sold a Missal for twice that amount to some American collector; and they got a hazy notion that the old man must be well-to-do—despite his snuffiness and shabbiness, and that his queer old shop, in the window of which there was rarely anything to be seen but a few ancient tomes, and two or three rare engravings, contained much that he could turn at an hour's notice into gold. All that was surmise—but Eldrick & Pascoe—which term included Linford Pratt—knew all about Antony Bartle, being his solicitors: his will was safely deposited in their keeping, and Pratt had been one of the attesting witnesses.

The old man, having slowly walked into the outer office, leaned against a table, panting a little. Pratt hastened to open an inner door.

"Come into Mr. Eldrick's room, Mr. Bartle," he said. "There's a nice easy chair there—come and sit down in it. Those stairs are a bit trying, aren't they? I often wish we were on the ground floor."

He lighted the gas in the senior partner's room, and turning back, took hold of the visitor's arm, and helped him to the easy chair. Then, having closed the doors, he sat down at Eldrick's desk, put his fingers together and waited. Pratt knew from experience that old Antony Bartle would not have come there except on business: he knew also, having been at Eldrick & Pascoe's for many years, that the old man would confide in him as readily as in either of his principals.

"There's a nasty fog coming on outside," said Bartle, after a fit of coughing. "It gets on my lungs, and then it makes my heart bad. Mr. Eldrick in?"

"Gone," replied Pratt. "All gone, Mr. Bartle—only me here."

"You'll do," answered the old bookseller. "You're as good as they are." He leaned forward from the easy chair, and tapped the clerk's arm with a long, claw-like finger. "I say," he continued, with a smile that was something between a wink and a leer, and suggestive of a pleased satisfaction. "I've had a find!"

"Oh!" responded Pratt. "One of your rare books, Mr. Bartle? Got something for twopence that you'll sell for ten guineas? You're one of the lucky ones, you know, you are!"

"Nothing of the sort!" chuckled Bartle. "And I had to pay for my knowledge, young man, before I got it—we all have. No—but I've found something: not half an hour ago. Came straight here with it. Matters for lawyers, of course."

"Yes?" said Pratt inquiringly. "And—what may it be?" He was expecting the visitor to produce something, but the old man again leaned forward, and dug his finger once more into the clerk's sleeve.

"I say!" he whispered. "You remember John Mallathorpe and the affair of—how long is it since?"

"Two years," answered Pratt promptly. "Of course I do. Couldn't very well forget it, or him."

He let his mind go back for the moment to an affair which had provided Barford and the neighbourhood with a nine days' sensation. One winter morning, just two years previously, Mr. John Mallathorpe, one of the best-known manufacturers and richest men of the town, had been killed by the falling of his own mill-chimney. The condition of the chimney had been doubtful for some little time; experts had been examining it for several days: at the moment of the catastrophe, Mallathorpe himself, some of his principal managers, and a couple of professional steeple-jacks, were gathered at its base, consulting on a report. The great hundred-foot structure above them had collapsed without the slightest warning: Mallathorpe, his principal manager, and his cashier, had been killed on the spot: two other bystanders had subsequently died from injuries received. No such accident had occurred in Barford, nor in the surrounding manufacturing district, for many years, and there had been much interest in it, for according to the expert's conclusions the chimney was in no immediate danger.

Other mill-owners then began to examine their chimneys, and for many weeks Barford folk had talked of little else than the danger of living in the shadows of these great masses of masonry.

But there had soon been something else to talk of. It sprang out of the accident—and it was of particular interest to persons who, like Linford Pratt, were of the legal profession. John Mallathorpe, so far as anybody knew or could ascertain, had died intestate. No solicitor in the town had ever made a will for him. No solicitor elsewhere had ever made a will for him. No one had ever heard that he had made a will for himself. There was no will. Drastic search of his safes, his desks, his drawers revealed nothing—not even a memorandum. No friend of his had ever heard him mention a will. He had always been something of a queer man. He was a confirmed bachelor. The only relation he had in the world was his sister-in-law, the widow of his deceased younger brother, and her two children—a son and a daughter. And as soon as he was dead, and it was plain that he had died intestate, they put in their claim to his property.

John Mallathorpe had left a handsome property. He had been making money all his life. His business was a considerable one—he employed two thousand workpeople. His average annual profit from his mills was reckoned in thousands—four or five thousands at least. And some years before his death, he had bought one of the finest estates in the neighbourhood, Normandale Grange, a beautiful old house, set amidst charming and romantic scenery in a valley, which, though within twelve miles of Barford, might have been in the heart of the Highlands. Therefore, it was no small thing that Mrs. Richard Mallathorpe and her two children laid claim to. Up to the time of John Mallathorpe's death, they had lived in very humble fashion—lived, indeed, on an allowance from their well-to-do kinsman—for Richard Mallathorpe had been as much of a waster as his brother had been of a money-getter. And there was no withstanding their claim when it was finally decided that John Mallathorpe had died intestate—no withstanding that, at any rate, of the nephew and niece. The nephew had taken all the real estate: he and his sister had shared the personal property. And for some months they and their mother had been safely installed at Normandale Grange, and in full possession of the dead man's wealth and business.

All this flashed through Linford Pratt's mind in a few seconds—he knew all the story: he had often thought of the extraordinary good fortune of those young people. To be living on charity one week—and the next to be legal possessors of thousands a year!—oh, if only such luck would come his way!

"Of course!" he repeated, looking thoughtfully at the old bookseller. "Not the sort of thing one does forget in a hurry, Mr. Bartle. What of it?"

Antony Bartle leaned back in his easy chair and chuckled—something, some idea, seemed to be affording him amusement.

"I'm eighty years old," he remarked. "No, I'm more, to be exact. I shall be eighty-two come February. When you've lived as long as that, young Mr. Pratt, you'll know that this life is a game of topsy-turvy—to some folks, at any rate. Just so!"

"You didn't come here to tell me that, Mr. Bartle," said Pratt. He was an essentially practical young man who dined at half-past six every evening, having lunched on no more than bread-and-cheese and a glass of ale, and he also had his evenings well mapped out. "I know that already, sir."

"Aye, aye, but you'll know more of it later on," replied Bartle. "Well—you know, too, no doubt, that the late John Mallathorpe was a bit—only a bit—of a book-collector; collected books and pamphlets relating to this district?"

"I've heard of it," answered the clerk.

"He had that collection in his private room at the mill," continued the old bookseller, "and when the new folks took hold, I persuaded them to sell it to me. There wasn't such a lot—maybe a hundred volumes altogether—but I wanted what there was. And as they were of no interest to them, they sold 'em. That's some months ago. I put all the books in a corner—and I never really examined them until this very afternoon. Then—by this afternoon's post—I got a letter from a Barford man who's now out in America. He wanted to know if I could supply him with a nice copy of Hopkinson's History of Barford. I knew there was one in that Mallathorpe collection, so I got it out, and examined it. And in the pocket inside, in which there's a map, I found—what d'ye think?"

"Couldn't say," replied Pratt. He was still thinking of his dinner, and of an important engagement to follow it, and he had not the least idea that old Antony Bartle was going to tell him anything very important. "Letters? Bank-notes? Something of that sort?"

The old bookseller leaned nearer, across the corner of the desk, until his queer, wrinkled face was almost close to Pratt's sharp, youthful one. Again he lifted the claw-like finger: again he tapped the clerk's arm.

"I found John Mallathorpe's will!" he whispered. "His—will!"

Linford Pratt jumped out of his chair. For a second he stared in speechless amazement at the old man; then he plunged his hands deep into his trousers' pockets, opened his mouth, and let out a sudden exclamation.

"No!" he said. "No! John Mallathorpe's—will? His—will!"

"Made the very day on which he died," answered Bartle, nodding emphatically.

"Queer, wasn't it? He might have had some—premonition, eh?"

Pratt sat down again.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"Here in my pocket," replied the old bookseller, tapping his rusty coat. "Oh, it's all right, I assure you. All duly made out, signed, and witnessed. Everything in order, I know!—because a long, a very long time ago, I was like you, an attorney's clerk. I've drafted many a will, and witnessed many a will, in my time. I've read this, every word of it—it's all right. Nothing can upset it."

"Let's see it," said Pratt, eagerly.

"Well—I've no objection—I know you, of course," answered Bartle, "but I'd rather show it first to Mr. Eldrick. Couldn't you telephone up to his house and ask him to run back here?"

"Certainly," replied Pratt. "He mayn't be there, though. But I can try.You haven't shown it to anybody else?"

"Neither shown it to anybody, nor mentioned it to a soul," said Bartle. "I tell you it's not much more than half an hour since I found it. It's not a long document. Do you know how it is that it's never come out?" he went on, turning eagerly to Pratt, who had risen again. "It's easily explained. The will's witnessed by those two men who were killed at the same time as John Mallathorpe! So, of course, there was nobody to say that it was in evidence. My notion is that he and those two men—Gaukrodger and Marshall, his manager and cashier—had signed it not long before the accident, and that Mallathorpe had popped it into the pocket of that book before going out into the yard. Eh? But see if you can get Mr. Eldrick down here, and we'll read it together. And I say—this office seems uncommonly stuffy—can you open the window a bit or something?—I feel oppressed, like."

Pratt opened a window which looked out on the street. He glanced at the old man for a moment and saw that his face, always pallid, was even paler than usual.

"You've been talking too much," he said. "Rest yourself, Mr. Bartle, while I ring up Mr. Eldrick's house. If he isn't there, I'll try his club—he often turns in there for an hour before going home."

He went out by a private door to the telephone box, which stood in a lobby used by various occupants of the building. And when he had rung up Eldrick's private house and was waiting for the answer, he asked himself what this discovery would mean to the present holders of the Mallathorpe property, and his curiosity—a strongly developed quality in him—became more and more excited. If Eldrick was not at home, if he could not get in touch with him, he would persuade old Bartle to let him see his find—he would cheerfully go late to his dinner if he could only get a peep at this strangely discovered document. Romance! Why, this indeed was romance; and it might be—what else? Old Bartle had already chuckled about topsy-turvydom: did that mean that—

The telephone bell rang: Eldrick had not yet reached his house. Pratt got on to the club: Eldrick had not been there. He rang off, and went back to the private room.

"Can't get hold of him, Mr. Bartle," he began, as he closed the door. "He's not at home, and he's not at the club. I say!—you might as well let me have a look at——"

Pratt suddenly stopped. There was a strange silence in the room: the old man's wheezy breathing was no longer heard. And the clerk moved forward quickly and looked round the high back of the easy chair….

He knew at once what had happened—knew that old Bartle was dead before he laid a finger on the wasted hand which had dropped helplessly at his side. He had evidently died without a sound or a movement—died as quietly as he would have gone to sleep. Indeed, he looked as if he had just laid his old head against the padding of the chair and dropped asleep, and Pratt, who had seen death before, knew that he would never wake again. He waited a moment, listening in the silence. Once he touched the old man's hand; once, he bent nearer, still listening. And then, without hesitation, and with fingers that remained as steady as if nothing had happened, he unbuttoned Antony Bartle's coat, and drew a folded paper from the inner pocket.

CHAPTER II

IN TRUST

As quietly and composedly as if he were discharging the most ordinary of his daily duties, Pratt unfolded the document, and went close to the solitary gas jet above Eldrick's desk. What he held in his hand was a half-sheet of ruled foolscap paper, closely covered with writing, which he at once recognized as that of the late John Mallathorpe. He was familiar with that writing—he had often seen it. It was an old-fashioned writing—clear, distinct, with every letter well and fully formed.

"Made it himself!" muttered Pratt. "Um!—looks as if he wanted to keep the terms secret. Well——"

He read the will through—rapidly, but with care, murmuring the phraseology half aloud.

"This is the last will of me, John Mallathorpe, of Normandale Grange, in the parish of Normandale, in the West Riding of the County of York. I appoint Martin William Charlesworth, manufacturer, of Holly Lodge, Barford, and Arthur James Wyatt, chartered accountant, of 65, Beck Street, Barford, executors and trustees of this my will. I give and devise all my estate and effects real and personal of which I may die possessed or entitled to unto the said Martin William Charlesworth and Arthur James Wyatt upon trust for the following purposes to be carried out by them under the following instructions, namely:—As soon after my death as is conveniently possible they will sell all my real estate, either by private treaty or by public auction; they shall sell all my personal property of any nature whatsoever; they shall sell my business at Mallathorpe's mill in Barford as a going concern to any private purchaser or to any company already in existence or formed for the purpose of acquiring it; and they shall collect all debts and moneys due to me. And having sold and disposed of all my property, real and personal, and brought all the proceeds of such sales and of such collection of debts and moneys into one common fund they shall first pay all debts owing by me and all legal duties and expenses arising out of my death and this disposition of my property and shall then distribute my estate as follows, namely: to each of themselves, Martin William Charlesworth and Arthur James Wyatt, they shall pay the sum of five thousand pounds; to my sister-in-law, Ann Mallathorpe, they shall pay the sum of ten thousand pounds; to my nephew, Harper John Mallathorpe, they shall pay the sum of ten thousand pounds; to my niece, Nesta Mallathorpe, they shall pay the sum of ten thousand pounds. And as to the whole of the remaining residue they shall pay it in one sum to the Mayor and Corporation of the borough of Barford in the County of York to be applied by the said Mayor and Corporation at their own absolute discretion and in any manner which seems good to them to the establishment, furtherance and development of technical and commercial education in the said borough of Barford. Dated this sixteenth day of November, 1906.

Signed by the testator in the presence of us both present at the same time who in his presence } JOHN MALLATHORPE and in the presence of each other have hereunto set our names as witnesses.

  HENRY GAUKRODGER, 16, Florence Street,  Barford, Mill Manager.

  CHARLES WATSON MARSHALL, 56, Laburnum Terrace,  Barford, Cashier."

As the last word left his lips Pratt carefully folded up the will, slipped it into an inner pocket of his coat, and firmly buttoned the coat across his chest. Then, without as much as a glance at the dead man, he left the room, and again visited the telephone box. He was engaged in it for a few minutes. When he came out he heard steps coming up the staircase, and looking over the banisters he saw the senior partner, Eldrick, a middle-aged man. Eldrick looked up, and saw Pratt.

"I hear you've been ringing me up at the club, Pratt," he said. "What is it?"

Pratt waited until Eldrick had come up to the landing. Then he pointed to the door of the private room, and shook his head.

"It's old Mr. Bartle, sir," he whispered. "He's in your room there—dead!"

"Dead?" exclaimed Eldrick. "Dead!"

Pratt shook his head again.

"He came up not so long after you'd gone, sir," he said. "Everybody had gone but me—I was just going. Wanted to see you about something I don't know what. He was very tottery when he came in—complained of the stairs and the fog. I took him into your room, to sit down in the easy chair. And—he died straight off. Just," concluded Pratt, "just as if he was going quietly to sleep!"

"You're sure he is dead?—not fainting?" asked Eldrick.

"He's dead, sir—quite dead," replied Pratt. "I've rung up Dr. Melrose—he'll be here in a minute or two—and the Town Hall—the police—as well. Will you look at him, sir?"

Eldrick silently motioned his clerk to open the door; together they walked into the room. And Eldrick looked at his quiet figure and wan face, and knew that Pratt was right.

"Poor old chap!" he murmured, touching one of the thin hands. "He was a fine man in his time, Pratt; clever man! And he was very, very old—one of the oldest men in Barford. Well, we must wire to his grandson, Mr. Bartle Collingwood. You'll find his address in the book. He's the only relation the old fellow had."

"Come in for everything, doesn't he, sir?" asked Pratt, as he took an address book from the desk, and picked up a sheaf of telegram forms.

"Every penny!" murmured Eldrick. "Nice little fortune, too—a fine thing for a young fellow who's just been called to the Bar. As a matter of fact, he'll be fairly well independent, even if he never sees a brief in his life."

"He has been called, has he, sir?" asked Pratt, laying a telegram form on Eldrick's writing pad and handing him a pen. "I wasn't aware of that."

"Called this term—quite recently—at Gray's Inn," replied Eldrick, as he sat down. "Very promising, clever young man. Look here!—we'd better send two wires, one to his private address, and one to his chambers. They're both in that book. It's six o'clock, isn't it?—he might be at his chambers yet, but he may have gone home. I'll write both messages—you put the addresses on, and get the wire off—we must have him down here as soon as possible."

"One address is 53x, Pump Court; the other's 96, Cloburn Square," remarked Pratt consulting the book. "There's an express from King's Cross at 8.15 which gets here midnight."

"Oh, it would do if he came down first thing in the morning—leave it to him," said Eldrick. "I say, Pratt, do you think an inquest will be necessary?"

Pratt had not thought of that—he began to think. And while he was thinking, the doctor whom he had summoned came in. He looked at the dead man, asked the clerk a few questions, and was apparently satisfied. "I don't think there's any need for an inquest," he said in reply to Eldrick. "I knew the old man very well—he was much feebler than he would admit. The exertion of coming up these stairs of yours, and the coughing brought on by the fog outside—that was quite enough. Of course, the death will have to be reported in the usual way, but I have no hesitation in giving a certificate. You've let the Town Hall people know? Well, the body had better be removed to his rooms—we must send over and tell his housekeeper. He'd no relations in the town, had he?"

"Only one in the world that he ever mentioned—his grandson—a young barrister in London," answered Eldrick. "We've just been wiring to him. Here, Pratt, you take these messages now, and get them off. Then we'll see about making all arrangements. By-the-by," he added, as Pratt moved towards the door, "you don't know what—what he came to see me about?"

"Haven't the remotest idea, sir," answered Pratt, readily and glibly."He died—just as I've told you—before he could tell me anything."

He went downstairs, and out into the street, and away to the General Post Office, only conscious of one thing, only concerned about one thing—that he was now the sole possessor of a great secret. The opportunity which he had so often longed for had come. And as he hurried along through the gathering fog he repeated and repeated a fragment of the recent conversation between the man who was now dead, and himself—who remained very much alive.

"You haven't shown it to anybody else?" Pratt had asked.

"Neither shown it to anybody, nor mentioned it to a soul," Antony Bartle had answered. So, in all that great town of Barford, he, Linford Pratt, he, alone out of a quarter of a million people, knew—what? The magnitude of what he knew not only amazed but exhilarated him. There were such possibilities for himself in that knowledge. He wanted to be alone, to think out those possibilities; to reckon up what they came to. Of one thing he was already certain—they should be, must be, turned to his own advantage.

It was past eight o'clock before Pratt was able to go home to his lodgings. His landlady, meeting him in the hall, hoped that his dinner would not be spoiled: Pratt, who relied greatly on his dinner as his one great meal of the day, replied that he fervently hoped it wasn't, but that if it was it couldn't be helped, this time. For once he was thinking of something else than his dinner—as for his engagement for that evening, he had already thrown it over: he wanted to give all his energies and thoughts and time to his secret. Nevertheless, it was characteristic of him that he washed, changed his clothes, ate his dinner, and even glanced over the evening newspaper before he turned to the real business which was already deep in his brain. But at last, when the maid had cleared away the dinner things, and he was alone in his sitting-room, and had lighted his pipe, and mixed himself a drop of whisky-and-water—the only indulgence in such things that he allowed himself within the twenty-four hours—he drew John Mallathorpe's will from his pocket, and read it carefully three times. And then he began to think, closely and steadily.

First of all, the will was a good will. Nothing could upset it. It was absolutely valid. It was not couched in the terms which a solicitor would have employed, but it clearly and plainly expressed John Mallathorpe's intentions and meanings in respect to the disposal of his property. Nothing could be clearer. The properly appointed trustees were to realize his estate. They were to distribute it according to his specified instructions. It was all as plain as a pikestaff. Pratt, who was a good lawyer, knew what the Probate Court would say to that will if it were ever brought up before it, as he did, a quite satisfactory will. And it was validly executed. Hundreds of people, competent to do so, could swear to John Mallathorpe's signature; hundreds to Gaukrodger's; thousands to Marshall's—who as cashier was always sending his signature broadcast. No, there was nothing to do but to put that into the hands of the trustees named in it, and then….

Pratt thought next of the two trustees. They were well-known men in the town. They were comparatively young men—about forty. They were men of great energy. Their chief interests were in educational matters—that, no doubt, was why John Mallathorpe had appointed them trustees. Wyatt had been plaguing the town for two years to start commercial schools: Charlesworth was a devoted champion of technical schools. Pratt knew how the hearts of both would leap, if he suddenly told them that enormous funds were at their disposal for the furtherance of their schemes. And he also knew something else—that neither Charlesworth nor Wyatt had the faintest, remotest notion or suspicion that John Mallathorpe had ever made such a will, or they would have moved heaven and earth, pulled down Normandale Grange and Mallathorpe's Mill, in their efforts to find it.

But the effect—the effect of producing the will—now? Pratt, like everybody else, had been deeply interested in the Mallathorpe affair. There was so little doubt that John Mallathorpe had died intestate, such absolute certainty that his only living relations were his deceased brother's two children and their mother, that the necessary proceedings for putting Harper Mallathorpe and his sister Nesta in possession of the property, real and personal, had been comparatively simple and speedy. But—what was it worth? What would the two trustees have been able to hand over to the Mayor and Corporation of Barford, if the will had been found as soon as John Mallathorpe died? Pratt, from what he remembered of the bulk and calculations at the time, made a rapid estimate. As near as he could reckon, the Mayor and Corporation would have got about £300,000.

That, then—and this was what he wanted to get at—was what these young people would lose if he produced the will. Nay!—on second thoughts, it would be much more, very much more in some time; for the manufacturing business was being carried on by them, and was apparently doing as well as ever. It was really an enormous amount which they would lose—and they would get—what? Ten thousand apiece and their mother a like sum. Thirty thousand pounds in all—in comparison with hundreds of thousands. But they would have no choice in the matter. Nothing could upset that will.

He began to think of the three people whom the production of this will would dispossess. He knew little of them beyond what common gossip had related at the time of John Mallathorpe's sudden death. They had lived in very quiet fashion, somewhere on the outskirts of the town, until this change in their fortunes. Once or twice Pratt had seen Mrs. Mallathorpe in her carriage in the Barford streets—somebody had pointed her out to him, and had observed sneeringly that folk can soon adapt themselves to circumstances, and that Mrs. Mallathorpe now gave herself all the airs of a duchess, though she had been no more than a hospital nurse before she married Richard Mallathorpe. And Pratt had also seen young Harper Mallathorpe now and then in the town—since the good fortune arrived—and had envied him: he had also thought what a strange thing it was that money went to young fellows who seemed to have no particular endowments of brain or energy. Harper was a very ordinary young man, not over intelligent in appearance, who, Pratt had heard, was often seen lounging about the one or two fashionable hotels of the place. As for the daughter, Pratt did not remember having ever set eyes on her—but he had heard that up to the time of John Mallathorpe's death she had earned her own living as a governess, or a nurse, or something of that sort.

He turned from thinking of these three people to thoughts about himself. Pratt often thought about himself, and always in one direction—the direction of self-advancement. He was always wanting to get on. He had nobody to help him. He had kept himself since he was seventeen. His father and mother were dead; he had no brothers or sisters—the only relations he had, uncles and aunts, lived—some in London, some in Canada. He was now twenty-eight, and earning four pounds a week. He had immense confidence in himself, but he had never seen much chance of escaping from drudgery. He had often thought of asking Eldrick & Pascoe to give him his articles—but he had a shrewd idea that his request would be refused. No—it was difficult to get out of a rut. And yet—he was a clever fellow, a good-looking fellow, a sharp, shrewd, able—and here was a chance, such a chance as scarcely ever comes to a man. He would be a fool if he did not take it, and use it to his own best and lasting advantage.

And so he locked up the will in a safe place, and went to bed, resolved to take a bold step towards fortune on the morrow.

CHAPTER III

THE SHOP-BOY

When Pratt arrived at Eldrick & Pascoe's office at his usual hour of nine next morning, he found the senior partner already there. And with him was a young man whom the clerk at once set down as Mr. Bartle Collingwood, and looked at with considerable interest and curiosity. He had often heard of Mr. Bartle Collingwood, but had never seen him. He knew that he was the only son of old Antony Bartle's only child—a daughter who had married a London man; he knew, too, that Collingwood's parents were both dead, and that the old bookseller had left their son everything he possessed—a very nice little fortune, as Eldrick had observed last night. And since last night he had known that Collingwood had just been called to the Bar, and was on the threshold of what Eldrick, who evidently knew all about it, believed to be a promising career. Well, there he was in the flesh; and Pratt, who was a born observer of men and events, took a good look at him as he stood just within the private room, talking to Eldrick.

A good-looking fellow; what most folk would call handsome; dark, clean-shaven, tall, with a certain air of reserve about his well-cut features, firm lips, and steady eyes that suggested strength and determination. He would look very well in wig and gown, decided Pratt, viewing matters from a professional standpoint; he was just the sort that clients would feel a natural confidence in, and that juries would listen to. Another of the lucky ones, too; for Pratt knew the contents of Antony Bartle's will, and that the young man at whom he was looking had succeeded to a cool five-and-twenty thousand pounds, at least, through his grandfather's death.

"Here is Pratt," said Eldrick, glancing into the outer office as the clerk entered it. "Pratt, come in here—here is Mr. Bartle Collingwood, He would like you to tell him the facts about Mr. Bartle's death."

Pratt walked in—armed and prepared. He was a clever hand at foreseeing things, and he had known all along that he would have to answer questions about the event of the previous night.

"There's very little to tell, sir," he said, with a polite acknowledgment of Collingwood's greeting. "Mr. Bartle came up here just as I was leaving—everybody else had left. He wanted to see Mr. Eldrick. Why, he didn't say. He was coughing a good deal when he came in, and he complained of the fog outside, and of the stairs. He said something—just a mere mention—about his heart being bad. I lighted the gas in here, and helped him into the chair. He just sat down, laid his head back, and died."

"Without saying anything further?" asked Collingwood.

"Not a word more, Mr. Collingwood," answered Pratt. "He—well, it was just as if he had dropped off to sleep. Of course, at first I thought he'd fainted, but I soon saw what it was—it so happens that I've seen a death just as sudden as that, once before—my landlady's husband died in a very similar fashion, in my presence. There was nothing I could do, Mr. Collingwood—except ring up Mr. Eldrick, and the doctor, and the police."

"Mr. Pratt made himself very useful last night in making arrangements," remarked Eldrick, looking at Collingwood. "As it is, there is very little to do. There will be no need for any inquest; Melrose has given his certificate. So—there are only the funeral arrangements. We can help you with that matter, of course. But first you'd no doubt like to go to your grandfather's place and look through his papers? We have his will here, you know—and I've already told you its effect."

"I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Pratt," said Collingwood, turning to the clerk. He turned again to Eldrick. "All right," he went on. "I'll go over to Quagg Alley. Bye-the-bye, Mr. Pratt—my grandfather didn't tell you anything of the reason of his call here?"

"Not a word, sir," replied Pratt. "Merely said he wanted Mr. Eldrick."

"Had he any legal business in process?" asked Collingwood.

Eldrick and his clerk both shook their heads. No, Mr. Bartle had no business of that sort that they knew of. Nothing—but there again Pratt was prepared.

"It might have been about the lease of that property in Horsebridge Land, sir," he said, glancing at his principal. "He did mention that, you know, when he was in here a few weeks ago."

"Just so," agreed Eldrick. "Well, you'll let me know if we can be of use," he went on, as Collingwood turned away. "Pratt can be at your disposal, any time."

Collingwood thanked him and went off. He had travelled down from London by the earliest morning train, and leaving his portmanteau at the hotel of the Barford terminus, had gone straight to Eldrick & Pascoe's office; accordingly this was his first visit to the shop in Quagg Alley. But he knew the shop and its surroundings well enough, though he had not been in Barford for some time; he also knew Antony Bartle's old housekeeper, Mrs. Clough, a rough and ready Yorkshirewoman, who had looked after the old man as long as he, Collingwood, could remember. She received him as calmly as if he had merely stepped across the street to inquire after his grandfather's health.

"I thowt ye'd be down here first thing, Mestur Collingwood," she said, as he walked into the parlor at the back of the shop. "Of course, there's naught to be done except to see after yer grandfather's burying. I don't know if ye were surprised or no when t' lawyers tellygraphed to yer last night? I weren't surprised to hear what had happened. I'd been expecting summat o' that sort this last month or two."

"You mean—he was failing?" asked Collingwood.

"He were gettin' feebler and feebler every day," said the housekeeper. "But nobody dare say so to him, and he wouldn't admit it his-self. He were that theer high-spirited 'at he did things same as if he were a young man. But I knew how it 'ud be in the end—and so it has been—I knew he'd go off all of a sudden. And of course I had all in readiness—when they brought him back last night there was naught to do but lay him out. Me and Mrs. Thompson next door, did it, i' no time. Wheer will you be for buryin' him, Mestur Collingwood?"

"We must think that over," answered Collingwood.

"Well, an' theer's all ready for that, too," responded Mrs. Clough. "He's had his grave all ready i' the cemetery this three year—I remember when he bowt it—it's under a yew-tree, and he told me 'at he'd ordered his monnyment an' all. So yer an' t' lawyers'll have no great trouble about them matters. Mestur Eldrick, he gev' orders for t' coffin last night."

Collingwood left these gruesome details—highly pleasing to their narrator—and went up to look at his dead grandfather. He had never seen much of him, but they had kept up a regular correspondence, and always been on terms of affection, and he was sorry that he had not been with the old man at the last. He remained looking at the queer, quiet, old face for a while; when he went down again, Mrs. Clough was talking to a sharp-looking lad, of apparently sixteen or seventeen years, who stood at the door leading into the shop, and who glanced at Collingwood with keen interest and speculation.

"Here's Jabey Naylor wants to know if he's to do aught, Mestur," said the housekeeper. "Of course, I've telled him 'at we can't have the shop open till the burying's over—so I don't know what theer is that he can do."

"Oh, well, let him come into the shop with me," answered Collingwood. He motioned the lad to follow him out of the parlour. "So you were Mr. Bartle's assistant, eh?" he asked. "Had he anybody else?"

"Nobody but me, sir," replied the lad. "I've been with him a year."

"And your name's what?" inquired Collingwood.

"Jabez Naylor, sir, but everybody call me Jabey."