A Sporting Gesture
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
THE MAN seemed to bring with him into the sedate atmosphere of Malcolm Gossett's simply furnished office an alien note of vibrant emotion, a queer impression of drama close at hand likely to blaze up at any moment. In his person he was difficult to place—a long, gaunt human being who might either BE a habitual invalid or recovering from some recent illness. His cheeks fell in a little, there were hollows under his eyes and his black hair was faintly streaked with grey. Whatever or whoever he might have been. Gossett never for a moment believed that he was Mr. 1 lerbert Amos of Sydney, or that he followed any such unenterprising profession as that of an agent for various steamship lines. There was a lurking fear of life behind those restless eses, an utter lack of everyday poise in his continual change of attitude. Gossett was not in the least surprised at his abrupt question.
'1 have been told. Mr. Gossett,” he said, “that you are not connected in any wav with the police?”
“You have lxx>n correctly informed,” the other assured him. "My hobby is to work for innocent people who arc in trouble through no direct fault of their own.”
“Through no direct fault of their own.” the visitor repeated reflectively. “Well, 1 supinóse that’s as grxxl a way of putting it as any. At the same time, it's not very often that an utterly innocent |x*rson walks into misfortune. My name isn't Herbert Amos. Mr. Gossett.”
‘T never thought it was.”
“1 have never been to Australia in my life.”
“1 am not surprised.”
”1 know nothing about steamship linos. My profession was something quite different. You are sure that you don't recognize me?”
"To the lx*st of my Ix'lief, 1 have never seen you before," Gossett declared.
“Does it help il 1 tell you that 1 was a tutor when I had a profession?”
Gossett was silent for a moment. He knew now whence had come that sense of repugnance which he had felt from the moment of his visitor's entrance, lie stiffened involuntarily.
'Tes, that helps.” he admitted. “You are Vivian Townsend.”
"Quite right.” the other assented.
Gossett was silent. His mind was travelling back to the autumn of the year before last. He knew that it was only by a miracle that the man opposite him had not been placed upon trial for murder. He remembered the groaning and gnashing of teeth at Scotland Yard when day after day failed to pnxiuce that last thread of evidence so intensely wanted.
“Wlvat can I do for you?" he asked at length.
Townsend ignored the question altogether. He, too, seemed to have gone into something of a reverie, and when he spoke he clothed his train of thought w ith words.
“One year I stuck it out in England.” he reflected. "I knew perfectly well that nine-tenths of the people I brushed shoulders with every day believed that 1 had murdered that boy. 1 knew |X*rfectly well that I was never outside the surveillance of the police, that they were all the time straining every nerve to bring the tiling home to me. I couldn’t get a job, of course, but that didn't worry me. I had enough to live on. 1 fished in the spring and 1 shot in the autumn. Games were impossible for me because I had no friends. I develop'd a new sense. I always knew when a detective was on my track. I knew it when 1 came into a strange place, or sometimes when I was in my cottage in Devonshire. They never left me alone. The day I left England they followed me down to the boat, they lingered over my passport, they hated letting me leave the country. I'm surprised they didn't frame up some sort of charge against me; one of those things you know the ropes, don't you? where you’re remanded time after time and kept safely under observation.”
“They don’t do that,” Gossett said, “unless you’ve definitely been in trouble before.”
“They didn’t anyway,” Townsend admitted. “I lived in Florence for several months. The pictures helped me to forget. Then the w hispers began and I left. 1 went up to the Black Forest and into Hungary. I was in Warsaw* some months. 1 tried the other side of life and found what a horrible city Paris can lx* for the tired man with some remnants of taste. I wandered about the Pyrenees for several months, nearly succeeded in losing my life there, and when 1 came out of hospital 1 had no heart for any new place. I came home.”
“Why?” Gossett asked.
"For two reasons. The first is the unbelievable one I did not kill Arthur Malierton.”
( ¡ossett remained silent. 1 le could think of nothing to say.
“The second reason you will find in The Times of this morning." his visitor continued. “You haven't read your newsjiapers yet perhaps?”
“Not yet. You are an early caller.”
“Turn to page fifteen.” Townsend directed. “The third item under ’Wills and Bequests.' "
Gossett did as he was bidden. The other quoted from memory.
“ ‘To my nephew* Vivian Townsend, in the belief that a great wrong has been done to him in the thoughts of many of us, I leave the residue of my estate which I estimate at something over five hundred thousand pounds. It is my desire that he should ignore the past and honestly do his best to re-establish himself in the good opinions of his fellowmen.’
“This is most astounding,” Gossett commented.
His client smiled bitterly.
“Really?” he remarked. “I am next in succession. The baronetcy is mine. I am Sir Vivian Tow*nsend whether I wish to lx or not. Why should my uncle not have changed his mind concerning my guilt?”
“Everyone is at liberty to do that, of course,” Gossett admitted.
“But you yourself?”
“If you insist.” was the quiet reply, “I am afraid I agree with all the authorities of Scotland Yard and nine-tenths of the general public.”
“You still believe that I was guilty?”
“I have always believed it.”
TOWNSEND produced a case and. after a glance at the man at the other side of the desk, lit a cigarette. His long fingers were bony and the knuckles seemed almost as though they were bursting through his flesh. He smoked for a moment in silence.
"Even now I ask myself why you have come back," Gossett said. “How can you be sure that the police have not stumbled across that missing link of evidence?”
“First of all because it doesn't exist,” Townsend replied, “and secondly because there was never any particular
significance in my absence from England. I took no pains to keep my whereabouts secret. 1 had letters and books sent to me all the time. If there had been any object in it, the police could have found me.”
Despite his firm convictions. Gossett’s attitude toward his visitor was changing. A certain steely note had gone ■ from his voice.
“You were my second choice,” the latter confided. “I went first to Scotland Yard.”
“You went where?” Gossett gasjxd incredulously.
“I went to Scotland Yard. I was there yesterday. I asked for an interview with the sub-commissioner and I never saw a man more amazed in my life. All the records of the case and the detectives concerned in it were brought into the room. 1 hey threshed the whole case out again point by point, with me, the possible criminal, helping them all the time.”
But what on earth made you do such a thing?” Gossett demanded.
“It didn’t seem to me so very unreasonable,” Townsend replied. “I pointed out that it was an utter impossibility for me to carry out the conditions of my uncle’s bequest, to take up a prominent position in the county, to go back to my clubs and challenge my old friends while things were in this pitiful condition. I gave them several pieces of informa-
tion which they lacked. Beyond that I could not go. I begged them to arrest me and put me on trial for my life. If I received a verdict of ‘Not Guilty,’ that I thought would go as far as anything else in the world toward giving me a fresh start. If they found me guilty, w'ell. that would have been an end of it.”
"You will forgive my saying that you're a most amazing person.” Gossett exclaimed.
“You can say anything you like. I am telling you the truth. They were all very pleasant to me there after they got over their stupeia 'tion. They regretted very much that they were not in a position to accede to my wishes, but the evidence of my guilt was not yet conclusive. They wished me good-day and the sub-commissioner shook hands. I have been wandering ever since whether he did it because I
was a baronet or whether he had come to believe that after all there must be some slight doubt as to my guilt. 1 lowever. there it is. I said good-bv to them all and I came to you.” “Well, what can I do? I am t put you in the witness box for the whole world to hear what you have to say,” Gossett reminded him almost genially.
“You can’t.’’ Townsend admitted, “but you might answer me this question. Supjx>sing l entrust you with a great confidence on the understanding that as man to man. as adviser to client, you will never betray it; supjx>sing I tell you who really murdered that unfortunate young man. will it help you to clear my name?”
Gossett was dumb for several moments. Doubt entered into his mind. For the first time, he felt confused.
“If you know who killed the lad.” he asked at last; “if you didn't murder him yourself and you know who did. why didn’t you tell Scotland Yard?” Townsend smiled grimly.
“I came here to ask questions, not to answer them.” he replied. "Tell me this are you willing to accept the confidence I offer in absolute and inviolable secrecy?”
“I should prefer to lx* without it." was the definite reply.
Gossett leaned forward and himself lit a cigarette. A very large share of his suspicious dislike of his visitor was jxissing.
“Remember this.” lie said. “Except for that fatal absence of an eyewitness, the evidence against you at the inquest was conclusive. The only way today to prove your innocence would lx* to bring home the crime to the really guilty person. If you once confide in me on the terms you have stated I could never prove your innocence, even if I chanced to discover the criminal for myself.”
“1 am to understand then,” Townsend summed up after a moment's reflect ion, "that my innocence can never Is1 proved except at the expense of the real criminal?”
"I think you may take that as being the truth.” Gossett assented. "You set.-, the ramifications of the case are too narrow.”
The visitor stoo|x*d for his hat. Gossett was suddenly unwilling to let him depart.
"1 hold no official |x>sition in life.” he said, "so I am not bound to talk to you of principles, but I must remind you of this. Sir Vivian. If you know the name of the murderer you ought to leave yourself out of the question altogether. It is your duty to society to publish it.”
Townsend laughed, not altogether pleasantly.
“I have my own code,” he confided. “As a man of common sense I ask you: Do you think after all the hell I have been through 1 am likely to weaken now? The agony of the whole thing is jjiist. I am like Prometheus hardened even to the plucking at my vitals.”
He picked up his hat. Gossett was still loath to let him go.
“Tell me.” he asked, "what on earth induced you to attempt such a ridiculous alibi?”
Townsend shrugged his shoulders. “Assuming that you are right.” he said, “and that it was a ridiculous alibi. I was willing to try anything to get clear.”
“Even to the extent of jxrjuring yourself?”
‘Perjury,” the other observed, "is not a capital crime. Gossett was unexjx-ctedly frank.
“I hate letting you go away,” he admitted. "I feel there ought to lx* some way of helping you. W ill you leave me your address?”
“1 have hidden myself in a cosmo|x>litan hotel. Iownsend replied. “Milan Court. 10b. I have not had the courage yet to face a club or to give the necessary references to a house agent.”
“If anything occurs to me ” Gossett began.
"I don’t suppose it will," the departing visitor interrupted almost roughly. “If you take my advice you will sit back and forget my visit.”
Continued on page 51
Continued from page 11
GOSSETT certainly did sit back in his chair, perhaps he tried to forget his visitor, but the so often described features of that fateful afternoon were stealing into his mind. Gradually they took definite shape. The dreary country, the long empty stretches of rising and falling moorland, with the silvery creeks of salt water piercing the softer bog land, dank and sullen. Five geese, one a little in front, flying high overhead, their honk honk, a strange unmusical cry. the only sound to disturb the brooding silence. Grey flickers of mist hung phantomlike in unexpected places, appearing and disappearing so that the boundaries of vision seemed always changing. The lake was there though, always the lake, and in the boat pulled back among the rushes, the one watching figure. The ducks were late that night. The silence after the geese had passed was a dreary, miserable thing. A jacksnipe rose from among the marshes with its quaint tapping sound. A curlew rose from a bush not far away with a long melancholy call, and almost immediately afterward, with a whir and a huge rustle of wings, a blackcock forsook its shelter, flew up wind a little way and wheeled.
Then from the centre of this curiously broken tranquillity came the sound of a cry -this time a human one—shrill and terrible, ringing through the twilight. There was a splash in the water. The slim figure in the boat had disappeared. Another and a taller figure was bending over the shallow water. There was a gurgling murmur of agony. Then silence. The stooping figure remained immovable. Again silence. Then two figures. There must have been two figures—one stealing away through the plentiful cover of that rushy wilderness, the other hastening toward the boat. Their footsteps must have been noiseless on the black mud, their outline almost invisible, even to one another, in the deepening gloom. The ducks came at last, a long irregular flight. They flew low and they flew straight, and they passed over the well-hidden boat. No gun was raised against them, however. The flurry of their wings passed like a sigh of the night. Again there was silence . . .
Gossett sat up in his chair with a little exclamation of impatience. It was strange how that murder upon Tarlton Tarn had always dwelt so vividly in his memory, how lie had pored over the descriptions of it and the illustrations. He had visualized it so often to himself. He had seen the lonely figure pushing his way through the reeds and wading his way through the water to where the lad was standing with a charge of number four shot in his gun, heard the muffled greeting, the pitiful cry, the struggle so soon over. He had seen the man stand up alone at the back of the boat to regain his breath, seen him look up toward the sky, in which here and there now pale stars were glimmering. But in all Gossett's mental reconstructions there had been one figure and one figure only. From whereabouts in that glimmering landscape could have come the second? Who could it have been with courage to murder a weakling boy and slip away off the edge of the world?
“A lady to see you, sir.”
Gossett pulled himself together with a start. What folly to waste his thoughts upon an empty theme.
“Any name?” he asked briskly.
“She wouldn’t give it, sir,” the boy replied.
Gossett was only too glad to have his barren train of thought disturbed.
“Show her in,” he directed.
Then, as he recognized his visitor, he failed for a moment in his usual ceremonious little speech of greeting. She smiled at him very graciously, however, and.addressed him in one of the pleasantest voices he had ever heard.
“You are Mr. Gossett, are you not?” she said. “You were pointed out to me once at the theatre. You and your extraordinarily pretty wife. I am Lady Mallerton.”
GOSSETT bowed and resumed his seat.
“The illustrated papers of today—” he observed.
“Oh, yes, I know what you're going to say,” she interrupted. “You mustn’t think I like having my photographs taken though, because I really don’t. My friends all tell me that I’m fatally good-natured and I certainly have a weakness for saying yes to anyone who asks a favor nicely . . . Mr. Gossett, I do hope you’re going to be able to help me.” “It will give me great pleasure if I can,” he assured her truthfully.
“Of course you remember the Tarlton Tarn drowning case?” she asked.
“I can assure you that I do.” he told her after a brief but understandable pause. “No case of its sort—no inconclusive case, at any rate—has interested me so much for years.” She shivered a little and her tone became more serious.
“You probably remember,” she went on, “that my husband and I were staying at Mallerton with Arthur and Mr. Townsend, his tutor.”
“The only guests, I believe,” Gossett observed.
“We were the only guests.” she assented. “Now I consider myself in the confessional, Mr. Gossett. I was guilty of a very foolish action directly after Arthur's body was found. I never realized that it made any particular difference—at the time I didn’t dream it would make any but I've been so worried about it lately I don't know what to do.”
“Tell me aboutit, please,“Gossett invited. “Well, to explain it I must tell you this,” she went on. “My husband, Lord Mallerton, is an extraordinarily jealous man. I íe hasn’t the slightest cause because, although I used to flirt a little, as most girls do, before I married, I settled down afterward as any reasonable person does. He was actually stupid enough to be jealous of Mr. Townsend.”
“The afternoon when the accident happened, my husband was in a miserable temper. Of course, you know that the boy Arthur was the most terrible young person in the world. Sometimes he was scarcely human. He was an orphan from his early childhood and we used to do what we could to look after him for the sake of the family. But it was difficult.”
“I’ve heard some very unpleasant stories about him,” Gossett admitted.
“Well, I think that Henry—my husband —had had about all he could stand that day, and after lunch he took his gun and went off by himself. Mr. Townsend was taking Arthur out duck shooting. I walked with them some of the way, and then I persuaded Mr. Townsend to come and play nine holes of golf with me at a private course we had close to the lake. I asked Arthur, too, of course, but he wouldn’t come —said he much preferred to be alone -so I took Mr. Townsend off. I think I ought to tell you perhaps that Mr. Townsend was, I think, rather fond of me, and in a very simple and harmless way I was fond of him, although I very seldom dared be with him for fear of my husband. After we’d played golf for about an hour and a half Mr. Townsend thought he’d better go back and look after Arthur. This was when I did the silly thing. I begged him, too earnestly perhaps, not to say that he had stayed the
1 afternoon with me, and he promised me ¡solemnly that he would not. He went off back and you know what happened. He found that Arthur had fallen overboard and, hampered by his heavy wading boots, had been practically helpless and was drowned. All this is an old story so I won't dwell upon it, but the unfortunate part of the whole thing is that Mr. Townsend, remembering his promise to me, gave a most improbable and suspicious account of the way he had spent the afternoon. He was cross-examined very severely, and directly he left the box people began to whisper. They have been whispering, I believe, ever since.”
“There are a great many people,” Gossett said gravely, “who believe that he was guilty of that young man's death.”
“I know,” she admitted, “and I have always felt terribly to blame. But, Mr. Gossett,” she went on earnestly, “I can assure you I never dreamed after that terrible thing had happened that Vivian— i that Mr. Townsend, 1 mean—would still ; have made up a story about how he had . spent the afternoon. I was simply astonished when I heard him give that garbled account of his doings. I nearly sprang up and contradicted him. Many times since I ^ have wished that I had. It would have been the simplest thing in the world for me to have declared that Mr. Townsend had been playing golf with me and that I had asked him to keep our afternoon a secret from my husband. No one would have thought much the worse of me because they know how jealous Henry is, and he wouldn’t, of course, have bothered about it seriously. But I didn’t get up at the time and the damage , was done. If I had made a statement after! ward Mr. Townsend would have been guilty of perjury, and everyone would have thought that there was a great deal more in our harmless afternoon than appeared on the i surface.”
“It was very unfortunate,” Gossett re; marked thoughtfully. “Still, you must j remem her. Lady Mallerton, that Mr. Townsend would always have come in for a certain amount of blame. For one thing, people would have said, as they did say, that he was paid to look after the lad and not to leave him alone for two hours in the afternoon. Then you will remember that, according to the evidence, Townsend, who seems to have been by no means an ideal tutor, had lost his temper with the boy twice the day before and threatened to leave him. These things help suspicions along, you know, i besides that stupid story of having gone for a I long walk and lost his way.”
I ADY MALLERTON reflected for a L_ moment.
“Yes.” she admitted, “there is always that. However, what I came to ask you is this. You know that Mr. Townsend has been left a large sum of money on condition that he comes back to England and resumes his place in society. I’m afraid it’s going to be terribly difficult for him. and I want to 1 know whether it would help if I were to go to Scotland Yard and tell them the truth.”
Gossett made no reply for several mo1 ments. When he sjx>ke it was half to himself.
“Townsend was on his oath at the inquest.” he mused. “They’d have to arrest i him for perjury. The case would all come up again and I’m afraid your husband would ¡scarcely believe the account of that j afternoon.”
“I may tell you in confidence. Mr. Gossett, that I have had a great deal of trouble with my husband lately. I should hate to hurt him. of course, and I have always been jealous of my own reputation, but if I thought this would do Vivian Townsend any good I should go to Scotland Yard at once.”
“If you ask me for my advice—given, you must remember, almost on the spur of the moment.” he said. "I should recommend you to do nothing of the sort at present. Town! send lias yet to make his effort to re-establish himself. If he finds it impossible, then we might consider the question again. If he succeeds without your confession, as he very 1 likely may do, then you will be glad that you
have left things as they are. They don’t let men off altogether for perjury, you must remember, even when it’s done without criminal import.”
“I suppose not,” she murmured.
“May I ask you a question?” he ventured. “Why, of course.”
“You are quite sure in your own mind. I suppose, that Townsend was not responsible for Arthur Mallerton’s death?”
There was a look almost of horror in her kindly eyes.
“Why, of course.” she declared. “Vivian Townsend would never dream of doing such a thing. Arthur was an awkward, clumsy boy and, in those boots they wear for wading, if he once fell overboard I’m sure he’d never have been able to save himself.”
“At the inquest,” Gossett reminded her, “both the coroner and the jury seemed to find it quite inexplicable that he should have fallen out.”
“He probably got up to fire his gun and slipped.”
“But no shots had been fired from his gun,” Gossett pointed out.
“Now that you mention it I remember that,” she confessed. “At the same time, nothing of that sort makes any difference to me. I never dreamed of the possibility of Mr. Townsend having drowned that poor boy. I’m quite sure he didn’t. He is really a very kindly man, although in those days he had bad luck and he was certainly very impatient at times. And as for Arthur—well, my husband loathed him just as much as Mr. Townsend and everyone of the servants did; anyone, in short, who had anything to do with him.”
“It was unfortunate for Townsend, too, of course,” Gossett reflected, “that he and the boy Arthur had been quarrelling so violently during the last few days.”
“No one could keep on pleasant terms with Arthur,” Lady Mallerton declared with a shiver. “He was an utterly impossible youth. If he had grown up—well, it is a terrible thing to think that he would have represented all the dignity and wealth of the house of Mallerton.”
There was a brief silence. Lady Mallerton prepared to take her leave.
“You wish for a little time before you answer my question, Mr. Gossett?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“I have made up my mind,” he said, “taking all the circumstances into account, what I should do in your place. I should make your confession to an official at Scotland Yard. If you like, I will take you there myself.”
“It would be a terrible load off my mind,” she sighed.
“But first.” he insisted, “you must tell your husband what you propose to do.”
She shrank back in her chair.
"He will have to know', of course,” she admitted. “He will probably bluster and shout and drink too much for several days, and that will be the end of it. I would rather put off telling him, though, until the thing was done.”
“You have asked for my advice,” Gossett told her quietly, “and I look upon this point as of some importance. I should recommend you to tell your husband first what you propose to do.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Nothing that he could say,” she argued, "would induce me to change my mind.” “Nevertheless.” he concluded, rising to his feet, “that you should tell your husband first before you go with me to Scotland Yard must remain an integral part of my advice. Think it over. Townsend has not begun his battle yet. There is plenty of time.”
Lady Mallerton took her leave, unable to account even to herself for the vague sense of trouble which had more than ever depressed her during the last few minutes of her interview'.
SIR VIVIAN TOWNSEND, your ladyship,” the butler announced a few mornings later.
Lady Mallerton, an eager hostess, rose to her feet and held out both her hands.
“How nice of you, dear Vivian, to come
early,” she said. “I wanted to have just a word with you before lunch.”
The butler had already left the room. They were alone in a charmingly furnished morning room looking out on Berkeley Square.
“I could scarcely believe it,” Townsend confided with a grim little smile, “when I got your note inviting me to lunch and saying that your husband insisted upon my coming. He didn’t trouble about showing me many civilities in the old days.”
“Never mind about that,” she begged “Sit down on the comer of this divan. Henry is riding in the park this morning and I know he will be a few minutes late. He hates riding in London, but he fancies it is good for his figure.”
The door was once more opened and a footman entered. He served cocktails and departed. Lady Mallerton pushed the cigarettes across the little ormolu table.
“Vivian,” she began impressively, “I wrent to that man yesterday, whom people talk about so much—Malcolm Gossett. He gave me some advice. He suggested that I should go to Scotland Yard with him and tell them the story of my stupid request to you.”
“He had no right to do anything of the sort,” Townsend declared, with a note of rising anger in his tone.
“My dear,” Lady Mallerton objected, “he had a perfect right to give any advice which he thought wras good. I must tell you this, though. He made a proviso that I should first tell my husband what I was about to do.”
“Have you told him?”
“I told him last night.”
“And I am invited to luncheon today?” Townsend asked, a little bewildered.
“He insisted upon it. To tell you the truth, Vivian, I was never so astonished in my life. You know how he loses his temper; what a passion he used to fly into about trifles sometimes at Mallerton. He listened to everything I had to say perfectly calmly, even made me repeat it twice. When I began to excuse myself he simply waved his hand.;
“ ‘You were quite right,’ he said. ‘I should certainly have gone off the deep end if I had known you had spent the afternoon with Townsend. I am like that, always have been—a foul, jealous temperament.’ ”
There was a moment’s pause. Lady Mallerton was nervously twisting and untwisting her fingers.
“I thought at first,” she went on, “that he was going to be more than usually brutal, that he was commencing quietly just out of devilment, but he wasn’t. He was in such a mood as I have never known him in before. He was even—affectionate. I went to
Scotland Yard this morning, and they are considering what to do. You may be arrested for perjury at any moment. If you are, the truth will be told about how you spent your time that afternoon and the whole world will know for certain that Arthur’s death was accidental.”
TOWNSEND was seated dumb and motionless in his chair. His eyes seemed to be looking through the woman at his side, his fingers strayed across the table, gripped the stem of his wineglass. He finished what remained of the cocktail. He seemed absolutely unconscious of her action when she leaned over and refilled his glass.
“I cannot tell,” she went on, “what has come to Henry. I heard him come to bed at four o’clock this morning but he had not been out. He must have been sitting in his study all the time. I called out to him but I was too late, he had just closed his door. You need not be in the least nervous, Vivian. I am sure he has made up his mind to be absolutely civil to you. May I tell you something?”
“I believe,” she went on confidentially, “that he really thought you had murdered Arthur. You see, your explanation of why you left the boy for all that time was terribly unconvincing. Perhaps that is because you are used to speaking the truth and you turned out rather a bad liar. Anyway his whole attitude has changed now. I
believe that if he can he wants to be helpful to you in life. If he does, you nust let him, please, for my sake. Remember it is. after all. a sporting gesture on his part. He believes that he has done you a wrong in his mind and he wants to make up for it.”
“I see,” Townsend murmured absently. “Yes, of course I shall accept anything he wants to do for me in the right spirit.” “There is something about the club,” she began.
He nodded. His thoughts still seemed immeasurably far away.
“Yes. they rather put it across me on Wednesday,” he confessed. “I shall stick it out as long as I can for the old man’s sake, but I had a bad time.”
She patted his hand.
"Never mind, my dear.” she said. “If Henry wants to be your friend, let him be. He is a strange man, as you know, but he is very popular in London and he has heaps of friends. He was Arthur’s nearest relative. If he takes up your cause that ought to end all the gossip.”
“Yes,” Townsend murmured. “Certainly, so it should.”
“I just wanted to prepare you,” she continued. “Henry will be down in a moment now. I am so glad you are going to be reasonable about it. There were days, you know, Vivian, when you and I were inclined to be a little sentimental. It will be easier to forget those if we are really friends, with Henry’s knowledge and sanction, if I can see you often here, as I hope we shall, without always being in dread of a jealous husband. He was speaking yesterday of a big dinner to be given specially for you and a big one also at his club. Here he is.”
Lord Mallerton, burly, high-colored, a fine figure of a man of the coarser aristocratic type, entered the room. He had changed since riding and his town clothes seemed somehow or other unsuitable attire for his great limbs and swelling shoulders. He greeted Townsend with an affable smile.
“I am glad you came, Townsend.’’ he said. “You and I have got to have a few words together after lunch. My wife's told me about that little matter of your game of golf with her and I see the point. She is quite right. Jolly sporting of you to have run the risk you did. We are going to try and put it right for you. Have another cocktail?” Townsend lifted his glass to his lips.
“This is my second,” he confessed. “You are very kind, Lord Mallerton.”
Lady Mallerton looked from one to the other. She was perhaps a trifle disappointed. Nevertheless she led her guest into lunch a few minutes later, and during the meal it was she who sustained most of the conversation. Afterward she left them for a time. Mallerton lit a huge cigar and helped himself to a double brandy. Townsend followed suit in a milder fashion.
“Take the men out. Parkins.” his master ordered the butler. “We shan't require anything else. 1 want a few words with Sir Vivian.”
The murmured response was scarcely audible, but the door was closed a few seconds later. Lord Mallerton turned toward his guest.
“I hear that you commenced the battle at the Potentates’ Club on W ednesday. Townsend.” he said.
“And I got it in the neck,” was the somewhat dry reply.
‘ 1 am going to deal with that. You stirred them up more than you know. There is a committee meeting at three o’clock this afternoon to discuss whether in the rules there is any way of getting rid of a man liable to be arrested for murder at any moment.”
“They need not trouble,” Townsend said wearily. “I shan't resign. It is against the spirit of my old uncle’s wishes, but I shan't enter the club again.”
‘A ou will enter it this afternoon and in less than half an hour,” Mallerton declared. “I am chairman of the committee, and I
shall ask you to take my word for it that 1 have a satisfactory way of dealing with the affair which entails your presence.’’
“I would very much rather—” Townsend began.
“I know' you would.” Mallerton interrupted. “I shan't ask many favors of you in this world, Townsend, but 1 ask you this one. Put yourself in my hands so far as regards this matter. I f you want to carry out your uncle's behests I am out to help you. The car’s at the door now. You are coming with me to the Potentates’ Club, and for the next hour you are going to do exactly as . I ask you. After that you can go your own way. With all my faults I am no liar, as you know, and I promise that you will become a popular member of the club in no time.”
"I have no alternative. Lord Mallerton,” his guest said. “Since you put it like that,, I am in your hands.”
Mallerton glanced at his watch.
“Sound fellow,” he observed. “Time wre were off.”
AN EVENT w'hich had never happened f \ before took place that afternoon in the sacred committee room of the Potentates’ Club. An emergency committee meeting ; was held to consider a certain matter with regard to one of their members, and at the urgent request, almost insistence, of the chairman, the member in question was permitted to be present without power of speech and established comfortably in an easy chair at the lire. There were eleven I members of the committee. They were all j shocked men. but they all loved Henry Mallerton. Not one of them doubted but : that he had some curious reason for this j outrageous request. He certainly did not keep them long in suspense.
"Gentlemen of the committee.” he said, j tapping the table with the little ivory hammer which was always placed by his side in right of his office, "this is an emergency meeting to discover how you can get rid of a member of the club who is liable to be arrested for the crime of murder at any moment. 1 am here to tell you how you can do it. You can do it by exacting a promise on his word of honor from that member never after today to enter the premises. Will that be sufficient?”
There was a little uncertain murmur of voices. Townsend sat up in his place and his eyes flashed. He remembered, however, the embargo of silence.
"Will he give that promise?” one of the senior members of the committee ventured to ask.
"He will give it.” Lord Mallerton replied.
Another member coughed.
“Are you in a position, Mr. Chairman.” he asked, "to pledge your word on behalf of another man?”
“I do not do anything of the sort.” Mallerton announced. "I give the pledge on my own behalf. I am the man who is liable to be arrested for murder—if I am found alive anywhere after today. It is I who murdered my nephew Arthur. Although l feel at this moment life ebbing away from me, although hell is there for me just beyond the w'alls of this room, I am glad and proud to think I had the courage to do it. My time was pretty well up anyhow, and the Maliertons who’ll come after me the old general and his brcxxl they’re all right. As for the lad. you can take my word for it, he was not only a degenerate, he was a criminal degenerate. Yet. according to our beastly laws, he could have married. That would have meant the end of the house of Mallerton.”
If such a thing is conceivable there was a pandemonium of exclamations. Lord Mallerton’s head had fallen back upon the chair in which he seemed to be already crumpling up. One of the members of the committee swore to the rest of his days that he felt death stealing into the room. Townsend alone, who had guessed a few seconds before what was coming, kept his pledge of silence.