E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE SIMPKINS PLOT
G. A. Birmingham
[Frontispiece: "No thanks. No tea for me."]
T. Nelson & Sons London and Edinburgh Paris: 189, rue Saint-Jacques Leipzig: 35-37 Koeningstrasse
IN MEMORY OF MANY SUMMER EVENINGS WHEN WE DRIFTED HOME, UNTROUBLED BY THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF SIMPKINS.
THE SIMPKINS PLOT.
The platform at Euston was crowded, and the porters' barrows piled high with luggage. During the last week in July the Irish mail carries a heavy load of passengers, and for the twenty minutes before its departure people are busy endeavouring to secure their own comfort and the safety of their belongings. There are schoolboys, with portmanteaux, play-boxes, and hand-bags, escaping home for the summer holidays. There are sportsmen, eager members of the Stock Exchange or keen lawyers, on their way to Donegal or Clare for fishing. There are tourists, the holders of tickets which promise them a round of visits to famous beauty spots. There are members of the House of Lords, who have accomplished their labours as legislators—and their wives, peeresses, who have done their duty by the London season—on their way back to stately mansions in the land from which they draw their incomes. Great people these in drawing-rooms or clubs; greater still in the remote Irish villages which their names still dominate; but not particularly great on the Euston platform, for there is little respect of persons there as the time of the train's departure draws near. A porter pushed his barrow, heavy with trunks and crowned with gun-cases, against the legs of an earl, who swore. A burly man, red faced and broad shouldered, elbowed a marchioness who, not knowing how to swear effectively, tried to wither him with a glance. She failed. The man who had jostled her had small reverence for rank or title. He was, besides, in a hurry, and had no time to spend in apologising to great ladies.
Sir Gilbert Hawkesby was one of his Majesty's judges. He had won his position by sheer hard work and commanding ability. He had not stopped in his career to soothe the outraged dignity of those whom he pushed aside; and he had no intention now of delaying his progress along the railway platform to explain to a marchioness why he had jostled her. It was only by a vigorous use of his elbows that he could make his way; and it ought to have been evident, even to a peeress, that he meant to go from one end of the train to the other. His eyes glanced sharply right and left as he pushed on. He peered through the windows of the carriages. He scanned each figure in the crowd. At last he caught sight of a lady standing beside the bookstall. She wore a long grey cloak and a dark travelling-hat. She stooped over the books and papers on the stall before her; and her face, in profile as Sir Gilbert saw it, was lit by the flaring gas above her head. Having caught sight of her, the judge pushed on even more vigorously than before.
"Here I am, Milly," he said. "I said I'd be in time to see you off, and I am; but owing to—"
The lady at the bookstall turned and looked at him. She flushed suddenly, and then as suddenly grew pale. She raised her hand hurriedly and pulled her veil over her face. Sir Gilbert stared at her in amazement. Then his face, too, changed colour.
"I—I beg your pardon," he said; "I mistook you for my niece. It's quite inconceivable to me how I—a most remarkable likeness. I'm astonished that I didn't notice it before. The fact is—under the circumstances—"
Sir Gilbert was acutely uncomfortable. Never in the course of a long career at the bar had he felt so hopelessly embarrassed. On no occasion in his life, so far as he could remember, had he been reduced to stammering incoherences. It had not occurred to him to apologise to the jostled marchioness a few minutes before. He was now anxious to abase himself before the lady at the bookstall.
"I sincerely beg your pardon," he said. "I should not have dreamed for a moment of intruding myself on you if I had known. I ought to have recognised you. I can't understand—"
The lady laid down the book she held in her hand, and turned her back on Sir Gilbert. She crossed the platform, and entered a carriage without looking back. Sir Gilbert stood stiff and awkward beside the bookstall.
"It's a most extraordinary likeness," he muttered. "I can't understand why I didn't notice it before. I can't have ever really looked at her."
Then, avoiding the carriage which the lady had entered, he walked further along the platform. He was much less self-assertive in his progress. He threaded his way instead of elbowing it through the crowd. The most fragile peeress might have jostled him, and he would not have resented it.
"Uncle Gilbert! Is that you? I was afraid you were going to be late."
The judge turned quickly. A lady, another lady, leaned out of the window of a first-class compartment and greeted him. He stared at her. The likeness was less striking now when he looked at his niece's full face; but it was there, quite unmistakable; a sufficient excuse for the blunder he had made.
"Ah, Milly," he said; "you really are Milly, aren't you? I've just had a most extraordinary encounter with your double. It's a most remarkable coincidence; quite the thing for one of your novels. By the way, how's the new one getting on?"
"Which one? I'm just correcting a set of proofs, and I'm deep in the plot of another. That's what's taking me over to Ireland. I thought I'd told you."
"Yes, yes; local colour you said in your letter. Studying the wild Hibernian on his native soil; but really, Milly, when you've heard my story you won't want to go to Ireland for wild improbabilities. But I can't tell you now. There isn't time. We'll meet in Bally-what-do-you-call-it next week."
"And you'll stay with me, Uncle Gilbert, won't you? The house I've taken appears to be a perfect barrack. According to the agent, there are any amount of spare bedrooms."
"No," said the judge; "I've taken rooms at the hotel. The fact is, Milly, when I'm fishing I like to rough it a bit. Besides, I should only be in your way. You'll be working tremendously hard."
Neither excuse expressed Sir Gilbert's real reason for refusing his niece's invitation. He did not like roughing it, and he did not think it the least likely that his presence in the house would interfere with her work. On the contrary, her work was likely to interfere with his comfort. He was fond of his niece, but he disliked her habit of reading passages from her MSS. aloud in the evenings. She was very much absorbed in her novel-writing, and took her work with a seriousness which struck the judge as ridiculous.
"I'll dine with you occasionally," he said, "but I shall put up at the hotel. By the way, Milly, am I your tenant or are you mine? I left all the arrangements in your hands."
"I took the house and the fishing," she said. "The agent man wouldn't let one without the other; but you have to pay most of the rent. The salmon are the really valuable part of the property, it appears."
"All right," said Sir Gilbert; "so long as the fishing is good I won't quarrel with you over my share of the rent. The house would only have been a nuisance to me. I should have had to bring over servants, and that would have worried your aunt. Ah! Your time's up, I see. Good-bye, Milly, good-bye. Take care of yourself, and don't get mixed up with shady people in your search for originality. I'll start this day week as soon as ever I get your aunt settled down at Bournemouth."
Millicent King, Sir Gilbert Hawkesby's niece, was a young woman of some little importance in the world. The patrons of the circulating libraries knew her as Ena Dunkeld, and shook their heads over her. The gentlemen who add to the meagre salaries they earn in Government offices by writing reviews knew her under both her names, for no literary secrets are hid from them. They praised her novels publicly, and in private yawned over her morality. Many people, her aunt Lady Hawkesby among them, very strongly disapproved of her novels. Certain problems, so these ladies maintained, ought to be discussed only in scientific books, labelled "poison" for the safety of the public, and ought never to be discussed at all by young women. Millicent King, rendered obstinate by these criticisms, plunged deeper and deeper into a kind of mire which, after a time, she began to dislike very much. She had in reality simple tastes of a domestic kind, and might have been very happy sewing baby clothes if she had married a peaceable man and kept out of literary society. Fortunately, or unfortunately—the choice of the adverb depends upon the views taken of the value of detailed analysis of marriage problems—Miss King had not come across any man of a suitable kind who wanted to marry her. She had, on the other hand, met a large number of people who praised, and a few who abused her. She liked the flattery, and was pleased to be pointed out as a person of importance. She regarded the abuse as a tribute to the value of her work, knowing that all true prophets suffer under the evil speaking of a censorious world. Latterly she had begun to consider whether she might not secure the praise, without incurring the blame, by writing novels of a different kind. With a view to perfecting a new story of adventure and perfectly respectable love, she determined to isolate herself for a couple of months. As certain Irishmen played a part in her story, she fixed upon Connacht as the place of her retirement, intending to study the romantic Celt on his native soil. A house advertised in the columns of The Field seemed to offer her the opportunity she desired. She took it and the fishing attached to it; having bargained with her uncle, Sir Gilbert Hawkesby, that she was to be relieved of the duty of catching salmon, and that he should pay a considerable part of the heavy rent demanded by the local agent.
These are a few things better managed in Ireland than in England, and one of them is the starting of important railway trains. The departure, for instance, of the morning mail from the Dublin terminus of the Midland and Great Western Railway is carried through, day after day, with dignity. The hour is an early one, 7 a.m.; but all the chief officiate of the company are present, tastefully dressed. There is no fuss. Passengers know that it is their duty to be at the station not later than a quarter to seven. If they have any luggage they arrive still earlier, for the porters must not be hustled. At ten minutes to seven the proper officials conduct the passengers to their carriages and pen them in. Lest any one of independent and rebellious spirit should escape, and insist on loitering about the platform, the doors of the compartments are all locked. No Irishman resents this treatment. Members of a conquered race, they are meek, and have long ago given up the hope of being able to resist the mandates of official people.
Strangers, Englishmen on tour, are easily recognised by their self-assertive demeanour and ill-bred offences against the solemn etiquette of the railway company. Since it is impossible to teach these people manners or meekness, the guards and porters treat them, as far as possible, with patient forbearance. They must, of course, be got into the train, but the doors of their compartments are not locked. It has been found by experience that English travellers object to being imprisoned without trial, and quote regulations of the Board of Trade forbidding the locking of both doors of a railway carriage. There is nothing to be gained by a public wrangle with an angry Englishman. He cannot be got to understand that laws, those of the Board of Trade or any other, are not binding on Irish officials. There is only one way of treating him without loss of dignity, and that is to give in to him at once, with a shrug of the shoulders.
Thus, Miss King, entering upon the final stage of her journey to Ballymoy, reaped the benefit of belonging to a conquering and imperial race. She was, indeed, put into her compartment, a first-class one, ten minutes before the train started; but her door, alone of all the doors, was left unlocked. The last solemn minutes before the departure of the train passed slowly. Grave men in uniform paraded the platform, glancing occasionally at their watches. The engine-driver watched from his cabin for the waving of the green flag which would authorise him to push over his levers and start the train. The great moment had almost arrived. The guard held his whistle to his lips, and had the green flag ready to be unfurled, in his left hand. Then a totally unexpected, almost an unprecedented, thing occurred. A passenger walked into the station and approached the train with the evident intention of getting into it. He was a clergyman, shabbily dressed, imperfectly shaved, red-haired, and wearing a red moustache. He carried a battered Gladstone bag in one hand. The guard glanced at him and then distended his cheeks with air, meaning to blow his whistle.
"Hold on a minute," said the clergyman. "I'm thinking of travelling by this train."
The audacity of this statement shook the self-possession of the guard.
"Can't wait," he said. "Time's up. You ought to have been here sooner."
To say this he was obliged to take the whistle from his lips; and the engine-driver, who had a strict sense of duty, was unable to start.
"As a matter of fact," said the clergyman, "I'm not only here soon enough, I'm an hour and a half too soon. The train I intended to catch is the next one."
The guard put his whistle to his lips again.
"If you blow that thing," said the clergyman, "before I'm in the train, I'll take an action against the company for assault and battery."
The guard hesitated. He did not see how such an action could be sustained in court; but he felt the necessity of thinking over his position carefully before running any risks. The law, especially in Ireland, is a curious thing, and no wise man entangles himself with it if he can help it. Railway guards are all wise men, otherwise they would not have risen to their high positions.
"Now that I am here," said the clergyman, "I may as well go by this train. Excuse me one moment; I want to get a few newspapers."
This was gross impertinence, and the guard was in no mood to stand it. He blew his whistle. The engine shrieked excitedly, and the train started with a violent jerk.
The clergyman seized a handful of newspapers from the bookstall. Clinging to them and his bag he ran across the platform. He tried the doors of two third-class compartments as they passed him, and found them locked. He happened next upon that which was occupied by Miss King, opened the door, and tumbled in.
"I've only got a third-class ticket," he said cheerfully; "but I shall travel first class the whole way now, and I shan't pay a penny of excess fare."
"Won't they make you?" said Miss King.
She realised that she had found an unexpectedly early opportunity of studying the peculiarities of the Irish character, and determined to make the most of it.
"Certainly not," said the clergyman. "The position is this. I have a through ticket—I bought it yesterday—which entitles me to travel on this railway to Donard. If the doors of all the third-class carriages are locked when I arrive at the station, I take it that the company means me to travel first class. Their own action is a clear indication of their intention. There isn't a jury in Ireland would give it against me, even if the case came into court, which, of course, it won't."
"I'm going to Donard, too," said Miss King.
"Are you? It's a wretched hole of a place. I don't advise you to stop there long."
"I'm not staying there at all. I'm driving straight on to Ballymoy."
"If you're at all familiar with Ballymoy, I expect you've heard of me. My name's Meldon, the Reverend J. J. Meldon, B.A. I was curate of Ballymoy once, and everybody who was there in my time will be talking about me still. I'm going back there now for a holiday."
"But I'm quite a stranger," said Miss King. "I've never been in Ballymoy."
Meldon glanced at the bag which lay on the seat before her. There was no label on it, but it bore the initials M. K. in gold letters on its side.
"I suppose," he said, "that you're not by any chance a sister or a niece of Major Kent's?"
"No. I'm not. I don't even know Major Kent. My name is King. Millicent King."
A clergyman is, necessarily, more or less educated. Mr. Meldon had proclaimed himself a bachelor of arts. It was natural to suppose that he would have known the name, even the real name, of a famous living novelist. Apparently he did not. Miss King felt a little disappointed.
"I daresay," said Meldon, without showing any signs of being impressed, "that you're going to stop with the Resident Magistrate."
"No," said Miss King decisively.
"You don't look like the sort of person who'd be going on a visit to the rectory."
Miss King was handsomely dressed. She appeared to be a lady of high fashion; not at all likely to be an inmate of the shabby little rectory at Ballymoy. She shook her head. Then, because she did not like being cross-questioned, she put an end to the conversation by opening her bag and taking out a bundle of typewritten papers. She was quite prepared to study Mr. Meldon as a type, but she saw no reason why Mr. Meldon should study her. He appeared to be filled with an ill-bred curiosity which she determined not to satisfy.
Meldon did not seem to resent her silence in the least. He leaned back in his seat and unfolded one of the papers he had snatched from the bookstall. It was a London evening paper of the day before, and contained a full account of the last scene of a sensational trial which had occupied the attention of the public for some time. A Mrs. Lorimer was charged with the murder of her husband. Her methods, if she had done the deed, were cold-blooded and abominable; but she was a young and good-looking woman, and the public was very anxious that she should be acquitted. The judge, Sir Gilbert Hawkesby, summed up very strongly against her; but the jury, after a prolonged absence from court, found her "not guilty." The paper published a portrait of Mrs. Lorimer, at which Meldon glanced. Suddenly his face assumed an expression of great interest. He studied the portrait carefully, and then looked at Miss King. She sat at the other end of the carriage, and he saw her face in profile as she bent over her papers. Mrs. Lorimer's side face was represented in the picture; and she, too, was bending over something. Meldon laid down the paper and took up another, this time an Irish morning paper. It contained an interview with Mrs. Lorimer, secured by an enterprising reporter after the trial. Meldon read this, and then turned to the magazine page and studied the picture of the lady which appeared there. In it Mrs. Lorimer wore a hat, and it was again her side face which was represented. Meldon looked from it to Miss King. The likeness was quite unmistakable. He took up a third paper, a profusely illustrated penny daily. He found, as he expected, a picture of Mrs. Lorimer. This was a full-length portrait, but the face came out clearly. Meldon took up the Irish paper again, and re-read very carefully the interview with the reporter on the evening of the trial. Then he folded up all three papers and leaned over towards Miss King.
"You must excuse me," he said, "if I didn't recognise you just now. You put me out by giving your name as Miss King. I'm much more familiar with your other name. Everybody is, you know."
Miss King was mollified by the apology. She looked up from her papers and smiled.
"How did you find me out?" she asked.
"By your picture in the papers," he said. "If you'll allow me to say so, it's a particularly good likeness and well reproduced. Of course, in your case, they'd take particular care not to print the usual kind of smudge."
Miss King was strongly inclined to ask for the papers. Her portrait had, she knew, appeared in the Illustrated London News and in two literary journals. She did not know that it had been reproduced in the daily press. The news excited and pleased her greatly. She had a short struggle with herself, in which self-respect triumphed. She did not ask for the papers, but assumed an air of bored indifference.
"They're always publishing my photograph," she said. "I can't imagine why they do it."
"I quite understand now," said Meldon, "why you're going down to Ballymoy. You couldn't go to a better place for privacy and quiet; complete quiet. I'm sure you want it."
"Yes," said Miss King. "I feel that I do. Now that you know who I am, you will understand. I chose Ballymoy because it seemed so very remote from everywhere."
She did not think it necessary to mention that she wanted to study the Irish character. Now that Meldon was talking in an interesting way she felt inclined to encourage him to reveal himself.
"Quite right. It is. I don't know a remoter place. Nobody will know you there, and if anybody guesses, I'll make it my business to put them off the scent at once. But there'll be no necessity for that. There isn't a man in the place will connect Miss King with the other lady. All the same, I don't think I'd stop too long at Doyle's hotel if I were you. Doyle is frightfully curious about people."
"I'm not stopping there," said Miss King. "I have taken a house."
"What house? I know Ballymoy pretty well, and there isn't a house in it you could take furnished, except the place that belonged to old Sir Giles Buckley."
"I've taken that for two months," said Miss King.
Meldon whistled softly. He was surprised. Ballymoy House, even if let at a low rent, is an expensive place to live in.
"My servants went down there yesterday," said Miss King. She opened her bag and groped among the contents as she spoke.
"Would you be very much shocked if I smoked a cigarette?" she asked.
"Not in the least," said Meldon. "I smoke myself."
"I was afraid—being a clergyman—you are a clergyman, aren't you? Some people are so prejudiced against ladies smoking."
"I'm not," said Meldon. "I'm remarkably free from prejudices of any kind. I pride myself on being open-minded. My wife doesn't smoke, but that's merely because she doesn't like it. If she did, I shouldn't make the slightest objection. All the same, you oughtn't to go puffing cigarettes about the streets of Ballymoy. The Major's a bit old-fashioned in some ways, and I don't expect Doyle is accustomed to see ladies smoking. You'll have to be very careful. If you start people talking they may find out who you are, and then there will certainly be unpleasantness."
"Would they disapprove of me?"
"Almost sure to. We Irish have the name of being a wild lot, I know; but—well, if you don't mind my saying so, most of us would be rather shy of you. I don't mind you myself in the least, of course. I'm not that kind of man. Still, your reputation! You've been a good deal in the papers, haven't you?"
Miss King, curiously enough, seemed pleased at this account of her reputation. It is gratifying to a novelist to be famous, and even notoriety is pleasant. She felt that, having braved the censure of Lady Hawkesby, she could afford to despise the morality of the people of Ballymoy.
"The Major?" she said. "You've mentioned him once or twice. What sort of man is he? Does my work shock him?"
"I expect it does," said Meldon. "I haven't seen him for some time, and so we haven't discussed you. But from what I know of him I should say that your work, as you call it, will shock him frightfully. You can't altogether blame him. He's a bachelor, and has very strict ideas about a wife's duty to her husband."
Miss King was moved by a desire to startle Meldon. She was really engaged on quite an innocent novel, but she chose to pretend that she was going on in her old way.
"What will he say," she said, "when he finds out that I'm going on with my work under his very eyes, so to speak, in Ballymoy?"
Meldon sat up suddenly.
"You don't mean that? Surely you can't intend—"
"Now you're shocked," said Miss King, "and you said you wouldn't be."
"I am a little. I didn't think I could be. But I am. I never imagined—"
"But that's exactly what I'm going to Ballymoy for. I want complete quiet in a lonely place where I shan't be disturbed."
"Of course, it's no business of mine," said Meldon. "But don't you think that perhaps you've done enough?"
"No. I have a great deal to do yet. If it were simply a question of earning money—"
Meldon looked at her. She was very well dressed. The bag which lay open at her side was fitted with silver-topped bottles. Her cigarette case appeared to be of gold. She was travelling first class. She had taken Ballymoy House for two months. He was quite ready to believe that she did not want money.
"Do you mean to say that you're doing it simply for amusement?" he asked.
"No. Not amusement." Her voice dropped to a kind of solemn whisper. "For the love of my art."
Miss King took herself very seriously indeed, and was accustomed to talk a good deal about her art. Literary people who might have known better, and critics who certainly did know better, encouraged her. They also talked about her art.
"Of course, if you look at it that way," said Meldon, "there's no more to be said; but you mustn't expect me to help you."
"No. As a clergyman I can't possibly do it. Nor will the Major, unless he's greatly changed. I don't expect Doyle will either. He's president of the local branch of the League, but I'm sure he draws the line at—"
"But I don't want any of you to help me. Why should I?"
"I'm glad to hear that, at all events," said Meldon. "For, unless under very exceptional circumstances, I couldn't conscientiously assist you in any way."
"You said just now," said Miss King, "that you had no prejudices, and that nothing shocked you."
"Very few things do," said Meldon. "In fact I can't recollect ever having been shocked before; but this idea is a little new to me. I candidly confess that I never—hullo! We're slowing down into a station. Now I expect there'll be trouble about my ticket."
There was—considerable trouble. But Meldon emerged from it victoriously. He flatly refused to move from the carriage in which he sat. The guard, the station-master, a ticket-collector, and four porters gathered round the door and argued with him. Meldon argued fluently with them. In the end they took his name and address, threatening him with prosecution. Then, because the train was a mail train and obliged to go on, the guard blew his whistle and Meldon was left in peace.
"It's a nuisance," he said to Miss King, "being worried by those men. I wanted to send a telegram, but I couldn't. If I'd ventured out of the carriage they'd never have let me back again. The Major won't be expecting me till the next train. I only caught this one by accident."
"Yes. The fact is I was up early this morning, wakened by my little daughter, a baby not quite two years old yet. I told you I was married, didn't I? The poor child was upset by the journey from England, and didn't sleep properly. When she had me wakened I thought I might as well get up. I intended to stroll up towards the station quietly. I walked rather faster than I meant to, and when I got within about three hundred yards of the station I discovered that I might just catch this train by running; so, of course, I ran. I'm very glad I did now. If I hadn't I shouldn't have met you."
"What did you do with the baby?"
"I didn't drop her on the way, if that's what you're thinking of. I'm not that kind of man at all, and I am particularly fond of the child. I scarcely ever complain when she keeps me awake at night, though many men I know would want to smother her. She and my wife are stopping with my mother-in-law in Rathmines. I'm going down for a fortnight's yachting with the Major. I might persuade him to give you a day's sailing, perhaps, if he doesn't find out who you are, and we succeed in keeping it dark about your going on with your work. I daresay it would cheer you up to go out on the bay. I expect you find your work pretty trying."
"It is very trying. I often feel completely exhausted at the end of the day."
"Nerve strain," said Meldon. "I don't wonder. It's a marvel how you stand it."
"Then I can't sleep," said Miss King. "Often I can't sleep for two or three nights together."
"It surprises me to hear that you ever sleep at all. Don't they haunt you? I've always heard—"
"Yes, your people, if that's what you call them. I'd have thought they'd never have let you alone."
"Some of them do haunt me. I often cry when I think of them. It's very foolish, of course; but in spite of myself I cry."
"Then why on earth do you go on with it?"
"It's my art," said Miss King.
"I'm not an artist myself," said Meldon, "in any sense of the word, so I can't exactly enter into your feelings; but I should say, speaking as a complete outsider, that the proper thing for you would be to drop the whole thing, take to smoking a pipe instead of those horrid scented cigarettes, drink a bottle of porter before you go to bed, and then sleep sound."
Miss King sighed. There was something in the ideal which Meldon set before her which was very attractive. The details she ignored. Bottled porter was not a drink she cared for, and no woman, however emancipated, likes a pipe. In spite of the satisfaction she found in her literary success, there was in her a desire for quiet and restful ways of life. There was no doubt that she would sleep sounder at night if she lived simply, somewhere in the country, and forgot the excitements of the novelist's art. Meldon, indeed, did not seem to enjoy absolutely unbroken rest at night; but Miss King's imagination, although she wrote improper novels, did not insist on representing a baby as an inevitable part of domesticated life. She got no further than the dream of a peaceful house, with the figure of an inoffensive husband somewhere in the background.
Meldon stretched himself in a deep chair and lit his pipe. He had dined to his own satisfaction, eating with an appetite whetted by the long drive from the railway station. He had before him a clear fortnight's holiday, and intended to enjoy it to the full. Major Kent's house was comfortable; his tobacco, which Meldon smoked, was good; his yacht, the Spindrift, lay ready for a cruise.
"To-morrow," he said, "I shall stroll round and see my old friends. I'm bound to do that; and, in point of fact, I want to. It's three years since I left, and I'm longing for a look at Doyle and the rest of them. The next day, if the weather is any way moderate, we can go sailing. I suppose Ballymoy isn't much changed. I shall find every one exactly as I left them. Things don't alter much in places like this where you take life easy."
"The place is changed," said Major Kent; "changed for the worse. You'd hardly know it."
"Nothing has happened to Doyle, I hope. I'd be sorry if poor Doyle had taken to drink, or gone bankrupt, or got married, or anything of that sort. I always liked Doyle."
"Doyle," said the Major sadly, "is suffering like everybody else."
"No. Father Morony's alive still."
"They're not piling on the rates under the pretence of getting a water supply, or running schemes of technical education, or giving scholarships in the new university, are they? Doyle would have more sense than to allow them to break out into any reckless waste of public money."
"Then what's the matter with you? I've noticed that you're looking pretty glum ever since I arrived. Let's have the trouble, whatever it is. I have a fortnight before me, and I need scarcely say, Major, that if I can set things right in the place, I don't mind sacrificing my holiday in the least. I'm quite prepared to turn to and straighten out any tangle that may have arisen since I left."
"I'm sure you'd do your best, J. J."—the Major dropped naturally into his old way of addressing his friend by his initials—"but I don't think you can help us this time."
Major Kent sighed heavily and struck a match. His pipe had gone out.
"I certainly can't," said Meldon, "if you won't tell me what it is that troubles you."
"It's that damned Simpkins," said the Major.
"Simpkins may or may not be damned hereafter," said Meldon. "I offer no opinion on that point until I hear who he is and what he's done. He can't be damned yet, assuming him to be still alive. That's an elementary theological truth which you ought to know; and, in fact, must know. It will be a great deal more satisfactory to me if you use language accurately. Say that 'damnable Simpkins' if you're quite sure he deserves it; but don't call him damned until he is."
"He does deserve it."
"If he does," said Meldon—"I'm not, of course, certain yet that he does—but if he does, I'll do my best to see that he gets it; but I won't act in the dark. I have a sense of justice and a conscience, and I absolutely decline to persecute and harry a man simply because you don't like him. Who is this Simpkins? Is he any kind of government inspector?"
"He's an agent that they've sent down here to manage the Buckley estates."
"Well, I don't see anything wrong about that. I suppose there must be an agent. I could understand Doyle objecting to him on the ground of his profession. Doyle is the President of the League, and, of course, he's ex officio obliged to dislike land agents passionately; but I didn't expect you to take that line, Major. You're a loyalist. At least you used to be when I was here, and it's just as plainly your duty to support agents as it is Doyle's to abuse them."
"I don't object to him because he's an agent," said Major Kent. "I object to him because he's a meddlesome ass, and keeps the whole place in continual hot water."
"Very well. That's a distinct and definite charge. If you can prove it, I'll take the matter up and deal with the man. Pass the tobacco."
Meldon filled and lit his pipe. Then he got up and walked across to Major Kent's writing-table. He chose out a pen, took a quantity of notepaper and a bottle of ink. With them he returned to his armchair and sat down. He put the ink-bottle on the arm of the chair and, crossing his legs, propped the paper on his knee.
"Do be careful, J. J.," said the Major. "You'll certainly upset that ink-bottle, and this is a new carpet."
"We are engaged now," said Meldon, "on a serious investigation. You have demanded that a certain man should be punished in a perfectly frightful manner. I've agreed to carry out your wishes, if—mark my words—if he deserves it. You ought not to be thinking of carpets or ink-bottles. Your mind ought to be concentrated on a single effort to tell the truth. It's not such an easy thing to tell the truth as you think. Lots of men try to and fail. In fact, I'm not sure that any man could tell the truth unless he's had some training in metaphysics and theology. When I was in college I took honours in logic—"
"You've often mentioned that to me before," said the Major. "It's one of the things about you that I have most firmly fixed in my mind."
"And I won a prize for proving the accuracy of the Thirty-nine Articles. Consequently, I may say, without boasting, that I'm more or less of an expert in the matter of truth. My mind is trained. Yours, of course, isn't. That's why I'm trying to help you to tell the truth. But I won't—in fact, I can't—go on helping you if you wander off on to side issues about ink-bottles and carpets."
He waved his hand oratorically as he spoke, and tipped the ink-bottle off the arm of the chair.
"There," said the Major, "I knew you'd do that."
"Never mind," said Meldon. "I have a pencil in my pocket. I'll work with it."
The Major seized the blotting-paper from his writing-table and went down on his knees on the carpet.
"When you've finished making that mess worse than it is," said Meldon, "and covering your own fingers all over with ink in such a way that it will take days of careful rubbing with pumice-stone to get them clean, perhaps you'll go on telling me why you call this fellow Simpkins a meddlesome ass. I was up early this morning, owing to the baby's being restless during the night. Did I mention to you that she's got whooping-cough? Well, she has, and it takes her in the form of a rapid succession of fits, beginning at 10 p.m. and lasting till eight the next morning. That was what happened last night, so, as you'll readily understand, I want to get to bed in good time to-night. It may, it probably will, take hours to drag your grievance out of you, and I don't see any use in wasting time at the start."
"I paid twenty guineas for that carpet," said the Major. "It's a Persian one."
"Has that anything to do with Simpkins? Did he force you to buy the carpet, or did he try to prevent you?"
"No, he didn't. I wouldn't let the beast inside this house."
"Very well then. Don't go on about the carpet. Tell me plainly and straightforwardly why you call Simpkins a meddlesome ass."
"Because he pokes his nose into everybody's business," said the Major, "and won't let people alone."
Meldon took a note on a sheet of paper.
"Good," he said. "Simpkins—meddlesome ass—pokes his nose into everybody's business. Now, who is everybody?"
"Who is what, J. J.?"
"Who is everybody? That's plain enough, isn't it? For instance, are you everybody?"
"No, I'm not. How could I be?"
"Then I take it that Simpkins has not poked his nose into your business. Is Doyle everybody?"
"He has poked his nose into my business."
"Be careful now, Major. You're beginning to contradict yourself. What business of yours has he poked his nose into? Was it the carpet?"
"No. I told you he had nothing to do with the carpet. He made a beastly fuss about my fishing in the river above the bridge. He threatened to prosecute me."
"He may have been perfectly justified in that," said Meldon. "What right have you to fish in the upper part of the river?"
"I always fished there. I've fished there for thirty years and more."
"These questions of fishing rights," said Meldon, "are often extremely complicated. There may very well be something to be said on both sides. I don't think I can proceed to deal with Simpkins in the way you suggest, unless he has done something worse than interfere with your fishing. What else have you got against him?"
"He tried to stir up the dispensary doctor to prosecute Doyle on account of the insanitary condition of some of his houses."
"I expect he was perfectly right there," said Meldon. "From what I recollect of those houses that Doyle lets I should say that he richly deserves prosecution."
"Nobody was ever ill in the houses," said the Major. "There hasn't been a case of typhoid in the town as long as I can remember."
"That's not the point," said Meldon. "You're looking at the matter in the wrong way altogether. There never is typhoid anywhere until you begin to be sanitary. The absence of typhoid simply goes to show that sanitation has been entirely neglected. That's probably one of Simpkins' strongest points."
"If that's so, we'd be better without sanitation."
"Certainly not," said Meldon. "You might just as well say that we'd be better without matches because children never died of eating the heads off them before they were invented. Which reminds me that I caught the baby in the act of trying to swallow a black-headed pin the other day; and that, of course, would have been a great deal worse than getting whooping-cough. The thing had been stuck into the head of a woolly bear by way of an eye. She pulled it out, which I think shows intelligence, and—"
"I thought you said, J. J., that you wanted to get through with this enquiry and go to bed."
"I do," said Meldon. "But I naturally expected you'd take some interest in the mental development of my baby. After all, she's your godchild. You wouldn't have liked it if she'd swallowed that pin. However, if you don't care to hear about her, I won't force her on your attention. Go on about Doyle and the drains. What happened?"
"The doctor refused to act, of course," said the Major.
"Naturally," said Meldon; "he didn't care about bringing typhoid into the town."
"You'd have thought Simpkins would have dropped it then, but he didn't. He reported the doctor to the Board of Guardians for neglect of duty."
"We're getting on," said Meldon, taking a note on a fresh sheet of paper. "You started out to prove that Simpkins is a meddlesome ass. You've got half way. He's certainly an ass. Didn't he know that Doyle was chairman of the Board of Guardians?"
"He must have known that, of course."
"Then he's an ass. No one who wasn't an ass could possibly expect Doyle to pass a vote of censure on the doctor for not prosecuting him about his drains. You needn't elaborate that point further. I admit it. But I don't see yet that you've proved any actual malice. Lots of quite good men are asses, and mean to do what's right. Simpkins may have been acting from a mistaken sense of duty."
"He wasn't. He was acting from a fiendish delight in worrying peaceable people."
"Prove that," said Meldon, "and I'll make the man sorry for himself. There's no crime I know more detestable than nagging and worrying with the intention of making other people uncomfortable. In a properly civilised society men who do that would be hanged."
"I wish Simpkins was hanged."
"Prove your point," said Meldon, "and I'll see that he is hanged, or at all events killed in some other way."
"There's no use talking that way, J. J. You can't go out and murder the man."
"It won't be murder in this case," said Meldon. "It will be a perfectly just execution, and I shan't do it myself. I'm a clergyman, and not an executioner. But I'll see that it's done once I'm perfectly satisfied that he deserves it."
"He had a row with the rector at a vestry meeting," said the Major, "about the heating of the church."
"That settles it," said Meldon. "I ask for nothing more. The man who's capable of annoying the poor old rector, who has chronic bronchitis and must keep the church up to a pretty fair temperature—"
"What Simpkins said was that the church wasn't hot enough."
"It's all the same," said Meldon. "The point is that he worried the rector, who's not physically strong enough to bear it, and who certainly does not deserve it. I didn't mind his attacking you or Doyle. You can both hit back, and if you were any good would have hit back long ago in a way which Simpkins would have disliked intensely. But a clergyman is different. He can't defend himself. He is obliged, by the mere fact of being a clergyman, to sit down under every species of insult which any ill-conditioned corner-boy chooses to sling at him. There was a fellow in my parish, when I first went there, who thought he'd be perfectly safe in ragging me because he knew I was a parson. No later than this morning a horrid rabble of railway porters, and people of that sort, tried to bully me, because, owing to their own ridiculous officiousness, I was forced to travel first class on a third-class ticket. They thought they could do what they liked with impunity when they saw I was a clergyman. You don't know how common that kind of anti-clerical spirit is. Simpkins is evidently swelled out with it. It's going now, like an epidemic. Look at France and Italy. The one chance we have of keeping Ireland free from it is to isolate each case the moment it appears. By far the wisest thing we can do is to have Simpkins killed at once."
"I don't quite see how you are going to manage it, J. J., without being hanged yourself."
"Is he a married man?"
"No, he isn't."
"Then the matter's perfectly simple. I don't think I mentioned to you, Major, that I travelled down in the train to-day with a professional murderess."
"Do try to talk sense, J. J."
"Her speciality is husbands," said Meldon. "I don't know exactly how many she has done for in her time, but there must be several. She said their ghosts haunted her at night, and that sometimes she couldn't sleep on account of them."
"I suppose," said Major Kent, "that it amuses you to babble like an idiot in an asylum."
"It doesn't amuse me in the least. I feel desperately depressed when I think of those poor fellows lying in their graves with ounces and ounces of strychnine in their stomachs. That's not the kind of thing I consider amusing, though you may. Miss King doesn't consider it amusing either. She said she often cries when she thinks of her victims, and very often she can't sleep at night."
"Miss King!" said the Major. "That's the name of the lady who has taken Ballymoy House for the summer."
"Exactly. The lady whom I propose to marry to your friend Simpkins."
"Good Lord! J. J. Why? What has the poor woman done?"
"It's not so much what she has done," said Meldon, "that makes me think she'd be a suitable match for Simpkins. It's what she will do. She'll murder him."
"It's not nonsense. She will. She told me herself that she has come to Ballymoy for the express purpose of murdering another husband. She said she wanted quiet and security from interruption in order to go on with her work."
"You're going mad, J. J.; stark mad. I'm sorry for you."
"I got into the carriage with her this morning by the merest accident," said Meldon. "If the baby hadn't got whooping-cough a fortnight ago, and kept me awake all night, I shouldn't have caught the early train. I didn't mean to catch it. Directly I looked at her I saw that she was a remarkable woman. You've not seen her yet?"
"No," said the Major, "I haven't, and I don't particularly want to."
"Her face seemed more or less familiar to me," said Meldon. "You'll recognise it, too, when you see it. Or more probably you won't. I suppose you still read nothing but The Times, and it doesn't publish the portraits of celebrities."
"Is Miss King a celebrity? I never heard of her."
"Not under that name; but when I mention that her real name is Mrs. Lorimer, you'll remember all about her."
"The woman who was tried the other day for murdering her husband, and got off."
"Precisely," said Meldon. "I happened, by the merest chance, to have five portraits of her in three different papers. I compared them carefully with Miss King, and I haven't the slightest doubt that she's the same woman."
"You're probably quite mistaken," said the Major. "Those pictures in the daily papers are never the least like the person they're supposed to represent."
"I might have been mistaken, though I very seldom am; but in this case I certainly was not. She seemed quite pleased when I said I recognised her, and told me frankly that she had murdered several husbands, and hoped to live to murder many more. I urged her to give it up. Being a clergyman I was bound to do that. But it wasn't the least use. She said it was her art; and you know, Major, when people start talking about art, it simply means that they are dead to all sense of morality. It doesn't in the least matter what the art is. The effect is always the same. That's the reason I've made up my mind not to allow my daughter to learn drawing. I won't have her moral sense blunted while she's young. I don't deny that pictures and books and music are great things in their way, but a simple sense of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, are much more important. I'm sure you agree with me in that."
"I wish to goodness you had some sense of right and wrong yourself."
"I have," said Meldon, "If I hadn't I should simply enjoy myself during this holiday, as I'm quite entitled to do. Instead of which I mean to devote my time to the troublesome task of marrying Simpkins, whom I don't know at all, to a lady whom I have only seen once. If I hadn't a remarkably pushing sort of a conscience I wouldn't sacrifice myself in that way."
"She won't marry Simpkins," said the Major.
"Oh yes, she will. I don't anticipate any difficulty about that part of the programme."
"Wait till you've seen Simpkins. Wait till you've talked to him. No woman would marry Simpkins."
"Miss King will," said Meldon. "She wants a man on whom to practise her art, and she'll be all the better pleased if he's a particularly undesirable kind of beast. She won't find herself regretting him afterwards. Now that we have that settled, Major, I think I'll dodge off to bed. I don't mind confessing to you that I'm just as glad that I shan't have the baby in her little cot beside me. I'm extremely fond of the child, but she's a little trying at night; the fits of coughing come on at such frequent intervals."
Major Kent, like most men who lead an open-air life, had a healthy appetite at breakfast-time. His table was always well supplied with eggs, bacon, and, when possible, fish. In honour of Meldon's visit, he had a cold ham on the sideboard, and a large dish of oatmeal porridge. He was a man of primitive hospitality, and he surveyed the feast with an air of proud satisfaction while he waited for his guest. He had to wait for a quarter of an hour, and his glow of pleasure was beginning to give way to a feeling of irritation when Meldon burst into the room.
"This place," he said, by way of apology for his unpunctuality, "is certainly the sleepiest in the world. I had forgotten how sleepy it is. I didn't so much as turn round in bed for nine solid hours, and I assure you I never felt less inclined to get up in my life. I daresay I'll get over it in a day or two; but just at present I feel that the night wasn't long enough."
"Have some breakfast," said the Major, "and then you can go to sleep again."
Meldon helped himself to porridge and milk.
"No, I can't," he said. "I've too much to do."
He worked through a helping of bacon and eggs. Then he attacked the cold ham.
"There's nothing," he said, "like a good breakfast when you have a hard day's work before you. I expect to be pretty busy, and I'll hardly be in for lunch. I suppose you've no objection to my making myself a few sandwiches before I start? I may pick up a meal somewhere in the course of the day, but I may not. It's always well to be on the safe side."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to marry Simpkins to Miss King, of course. I thought we settled that last night."
"Don't keep up that joke, J. J. It was all very well pulling my leg last night, and I didn't mind it a bit; but a thing like that gets to be stale the next morning."
"There's no joke that I can see," said Meldon. "If you read the papers with any sort of attention lately, you'd understand that Mrs. Lorimer is the last woman in the world who can be regarded as comic."
"We weren't talking about Mrs. Lorimer."
"Yes, we were. We were talking about Miss King, and she is Mrs. Lorimer; although at present she prefers to be called Miss King. I think she's quite right. It would be extremely bad taste to go on using poor Lorimer's name after what she did to him. He wouldn't like it. You wouldn't like it yourself, Major, if she'd killed you."
"I don't know that she did kill him," said the Major. "Even supposing that you're right in identifying the two women—which of course you're not—you'd still have no earthly right to assume that Mrs. Lorimer is a murderess. The jury found her innocent."
"Of course it did. Any jury would. She's a most attractive-looking woman. You'd have found her innocent yourself if you'd been on that jury."
"I would not."
"Yes, you would. I've seen her, remember. You haven't, so you can't possibly tell what you'd have done."
"I don't see," said the Major, "that her being good-looking proves that she murdered her husband."
"No, it doesn't, but it accounts for the jury letting her off. The evidence was amply sufficient for a conviction, and the judge summed up dead against her. And any way it doesn't matter to us about the evidence, for she owned up to me in the train. I told her I'd keep her secret for her, and I don't intend to tell anybody except you. Apart from her feelings altogether it wouldn't suit us for the story to get out in Ballymoy. Simpkins would be choked off at once if he knew it. Men have such a ridiculous prejudice against marrying a woman with any sort of past."
"I don't think Simpkins would mind," said the Major, "if he thought she had any money. That's the kind of beast he is."
"She has plenty," said Meldon, "Lorimer's, I daresay. At least she looks as if she had plenty, and that's the same thing in this case. If Simpkins marries her, it's extremely unlikely that he'll live long enough to find out whether she really has a large fortune, or is simply spending her capital."
After breakfast Major Kent returned to the subject of Miss King.
"I suppose," he said, "that you're absolutely certain that you've got a hold of the right woman? You couldn't be making any sort of mistake?"
"I told you last night that I was certain, and I gave you my reasons; pretty convincing ones I imagine—the sort of reasons that would be conclusive to any man at all accustomed to criminal investigation. I don't myself see how you can get behind the portrait and the lady's own confession."
"You couldn't possibly have mistaken about that, could you? I mean she couldn't have been confessing anything else which you could have taken up to mean murder?"
"No, she couldn't. In the first place, it isn't at all likely that there would be two attractive-looking lady criminals, travelling about in trains at the same time, both wanting to confess what they had done. In the second place, her crime must have been pretty serious, for she was particularly anxious to find out whether it was likely to shock you."
"Yes, you. She mentioned you by name, and asked particularly whether you'd be likely to be shocked, when you found out who she was. Now, if she had simply been slipping trifling articles off shop counters into her muff, she wouldn't have expected you to be shocked. That's what makes me say her crime was a serious one."
"Still," said the Major, "even supposing she really was afraid of shocking me; though I can't see how she came to consider me at all—"
"She did. You may take that for certain."
"There are other things besides murder that I should strongly disapprove of."
"You're thinking of divorce court proceedings now. But she's not that sort of woman at all. I had every opportunity of studying her character in the train, and I'm certain that she wouldn't mix herself up with anything of a disreputable kind. Whatever poor Lorimer may have had to complain of—and I don't in the least deny that he had a grievance—he'd have been the last man to accuse her of anything of that sort. I never met a woman who impressed me more strongly as being thoroughly respectable."
"Come now, J. J. Murder! Surely murder—"
"Not when treated as an art. De Quincey wrote an essay on the subject. If you'd read it, you'd know better than to mix up artistic murder with the commonplace assassinations of the ordinary burglar. You might just as well say that Beethoven is the same sort of person as the Italian organ-grinder who plays abominable tunes under your window, in the hope of your giving him twopence to go away."
"Nothing you've said so far," said the Major, "convinces me in the least that your identification of the lady is certain, or even likely to be right."
"I knew you'd be sceptical. You always are sceptical about anything the least out of the common; so while I was shaving this morning I arranged the evidence in such a way that you can't possibly escape from it. In the first place, there are the portraits. I don't dwell on them because you haven't seen Miss King, and so they won't—for the present—carry much weight with you. In the second place, there is her confession. You choose to consider that I was mistaken about that, and that Miss King was really confessing something of quite a different kind. I say nothing about the improbability of my being mistaken in a perfectly simple matter. I simply leave the confession on one side, and offer you corroborative evidence of a quite unmistakable description. Here's a copy of a Dublin paper. I put it in my pocket on purpose to show it to you. I suppose you'll believe what you see printed in a newspaper?"
"It depends very much what it is. I don't believe everything I see in papers."
"That, if you'll excuse my saying so, seems to me to be carrying your habit of scepticism to the verge of actual mania. I don't think you ought to adopt that kind of attitude, Major. If you had been trained in theology, or even secular metaphysics, it might be excusable; though then, of course, you wouldn't do it. But in a simple and almost entirely uneducated country gentleman like you, it's simply grotesque."
"Go on about the newspaper, J. J."
"Here it is for you; but I don't see that it's much use giving it to you if your mind is made up beforehand to disbelieve every word that's in it."
He took a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Major Kent, indicating with his thumb a column on the middle page.
"The Lorimer Case. Judge's Charge to the Jury. Acquittal.
"Scene outside the Court. Enthusiasm of the Crowd. A Demonstration."
The Major read aloud the heavily-leaded lines which filled half the column.
"Skip that part," said Meldon. "The cheers don't matter to us, though I daresay Miss King enjoyed them at the time. Go on to the bottom of the next column where you see the words 'An Interview' in large print."
"Our representative," read the Major, "called this evening at Mrs. Lorimer's hotel. He was at once shown up to her sitting-room, where he found her—"
"Go on," said Meldon; "that part about her being cool and unembarrassed, and the next bit about her wearing a well-cut grey travelling-dress, isn't important; though, as a matter of fact, her dress was grey."
The Major skipped a paragraph, and then began to read again.
"'I always felt quite certain,' said Mrs. Lorimer, in reply to a question asked by our representative, 'about what the jury's verdict would be. I have perfect confidence in the commonsense and justice of Englishmen. In fact, I had all my arrangements made, through my solicitors, for my movements after the trial. I have taken a house in a very quiet neighbourhood, where I shall be free from all inquisitive publicity.'"
"There," said Meldon, "those are almost the exact words Miss King used to me in the train."
The Major went on, reading aloud.
"'May I ask,' said our representative, 'in what part of the country—?' 'No,' said Mrs. Lorimer, smiling. 'You may not ask that; or, if you do, I shall not answer you. But you may do this for me, if you like. You may tell the hall porter to order a cab for me, a four-wheeler. I have a good deal of luggage.'"
"She had," said Meldon; "I saw it when we got out at Dunbeg station, and it wasn't all there, for one of her trunks had got lost on the way."
"'Our representative,' read the Major, 'shook hands with Mrs. Lorimer as she entered the cab. The order given to the driver was Euston station. Thus a lady of great personal charm, whose terrible experience has for some weeks focussed the attention of the civilised world upon the affairs of her private life passes—'"
"You needn't go on," said Meldon. "The rest of the article is mere piffle. The essential part is what you've read out, and I imagine it ought to pretty well clinch the matter. She drove to Euston, intending to travel from that station to some very quiet neighbourhood in which she had taken a house beforehand. Now where could you possibly find a quieter neighbourhood than this?"
"I don't see that you've proved your point, J. J. There are a lot of other places for which you might start from Euston."
"Not so many quiet neighbourhoods. Think of where the London and North-Western Railway runs. Lancashire! You wouldn't call Bolton a quiet neighbourhood, I suppose. North Wales! You know what it is at this season of the year, thick with holiday people. No. You may take it for certain that if she left Euston she came to Ireland. Now all English people head straight for the west as soon as they land in this country, especially those who have any kind of a past that they are anxious to keep dark. Dublin and Wicklow are just as thick with people as England is. Nobody ever stops half-way across the country. Besides, there wasn't another woman in the train with me who could possibly have been Mrs. Lorimer."
Major Kent rose from his chair and knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
"I don't suppose, J. J., that it's any use telling you that you're going to make an ass of yourself."
"Not a bit, because it isn't true. I'm going to proceed in the most circumspect and cautious manner. Not that I'm the least afraid of making an ass of myself. I should never do that under any circumstances. But because I have a conscience and I am afraid of doing a grave injustice, I am going to convince myself first of all that this fellow Simpkins really deserves to be killed. I admit the force of all you said about him last night, especially that part about the heating of the church; but it's a serious thing to condemn a man to death. It's a thing that you can't undo again once you've done it. I must see the man myself before I take any further steps."
"You can't have him here, J. J. He's a horrid little cad, and I won't have him inside this house."
"I'm not asking you to, at present. Later on if it becomes necessary in the interests of justice to patch up some appearance of a reconciliation between you and him I shall, of course, ask him here; but in the meanwhile—"
"You may entertain him yourself, if you do."
"I may. But that won't deter me from doing my duty. You haven't had the education in philosophy and literature, Major, that you ought to have had; but the years that you spent in the army ought to have taught you that no amount of unpleasantness should prevent a man doing his duty. I thought that was one of the things which military life impressed on me. Suppose now that it was your duty to stand in a pool of water on a wintry night looking out for the approaching army of a powerful enemy. You wouldn't like doing it because you'd know that you'd have a cold in your head next day which would probably last you for the rest of that particular campaign. But would you allow that fact to interfere with your duty? I'll give you credit, Major, for not even considering your own comfort in the matter. You'd stand in the pool. You wouldn't so much as splash about, and when your feet got wet you'd bear it without grumbling. Why can't you admit that I am actuated by the same sort of motives in doing my duty?"
"But is it your duty? I can't see, really, that there's any need for you to mix yourself up in it at all."
"It is my duty," said Meldon, "for several reasons. In the first place you are my friend, and you've always been kind to me; so it's plainly my duty to do you a good turn when I can. Next, I liked what I saw of Miss King. I'm convinced that she's in earnest about her art, and is really working at it simply for art's sake and not from any selfish motives. Therefore, as an educated man, it's my duty to help her if I can, without outraging my own conscience or acting in any way unsuitable for a clergyman. Assuming Simpkins to be the kind of man you describe, it is a public duty, the duty of every good citizen, to put him out of the world altogether. He's nothing but a nuisance here, and he can't be really happy. I imagine that even for his own sake he'd be a great deal better dead. He may not see that himself, but it's very likely to be true. What's the use of his dragging out a miserable existence in a place where he is getting more and more unpopular every year? He can't like it. Where does he live?"
"He lives," said Major Kent, "in that little house just beyond the police barrack."
"That won't save him," said Meldon. "Miss King would laugh at our police after slipping through the fingers of the Scotland Yard authorities, and any way he'd have to go and live with her once they're married. I'll call there."
"At this time of day," said the Major, "he'll probably be in his office, next to Doyle's hotel."
"I'll leave a card at his house first," said Meldon. "It's only civil. Then I'll go on to the office. I suppose you can send me in, Major? I'll walk back. I wouldn't like to keep your horse in town all day. I shall probably be a long time. I can't scamp the business, you know. I must thoroughly investigate Simpkins. After that, I'll look in and have a chat with Doyle."
Mr. Eustace St. Clair Simpkins preferred to have his letters addressed "E. St. Clair-Simpkins, Esq.," as if his second Christian name were part of his surname. He belonged by birth to the haute aristocratie, and believed that the use of a hyphen made this fact plain to the members of the middle classes with whom he came in contact. He was a man of thirty-five years of age, but looked slightly older, because his hair was receding rapidly from the left side of his forehead. He had enjoyed, for a time, the education afforded by one of the greatest of the English public schools; but at the age of sixteen, being then classed with boys so small that he looked ridiculous among them, he was removed at the special request of the headmaster. A private tutor, heavily paid, took him in hand, but was no more successful with him than the schoolmasters had been. At the age of eighteen he was found unfit to pass any of the examinations which open the way to gentlemanly employment. Various jobs were found for him by his desponding parents, but on every occasion he was returned to them politely. He drifted at last into an Irish land-agent's office. Mr. Tempest was a successful man of business, and managed estates in various parts of the country from his Dublin office. He was under an obligation to a London solicitor, whose wife was the sister of Mrs. Simpkins, the mother of Eustace St. Clair. He felt that he could not very well refuse to give the young man such a chance as a clerkship afforded. Things went on fairly satisfactorily until Mr. Simpkins conceived the idea of marrying his employer's daughter. He reasoned, quite rightly, that Miss Tempest, being an only child, was likely to have a substantial fortune. Mr. Tempest, unimpressed by the hyphened St. Clair, was unwilling to allow the courtship to proceed. He sent Mr. Simpkins down to Ballymoy, and charged him with the management of such parts of the Buckley estate as were not already sold to tenants.
Mr. Simpkins, for the first time in his life, felt that he had found a position which really suited him. There was very little work to do. He received the ground rents of the town of Ballymoy; saw that Ballymoy House was kept in repair and the grounds in tolerable order; and let the fishing of the river every year by means of advertisements in sporting papers. Many men would have found the life dull, but Mr. Simpkins had a busy and vigorous mind of a sort not uncommon among incompetent people. By temperament he was a reformer of minor abuses, and Ballymoy afforded him an almost unique opportunity for the exercise of his powers. There were, of course, difficulties. The inhabitants of Ballymoy, long unaccustomed to the presence of a reformer amongst them, had drifted into quiet, easy ways of living. Mr. Simpkins, who was not lacking in a certain quality of quiet persistence, troubled every one with fine impartiality, and became exceedingly unpopular in Ballymoy. The Resident Magistrate hated being obliged to enforce unnecessary laws such as that which forbids cyclists to ride on footpaths, and that which ordains the carrying of lighted lanterns on carts at night. The postman, at the other end of the official scale, liked loitering on his rounds, and had adopted a pleasant habit of handing on letters to any wayfarer who might be supposed to be proceeding in the direction of the place to which the letters were addressed. Every one with a public duty of any sort to perform was stimulated by Mr. Simpkins, and consequently came to hate him.
After a while Mr. Doyle, on whom, as chief citizen, the duty naturally devolved, got up a petition to Mr. Tempest. The necessity for removing Mr. Simpkins was presented in the strongest terms. Mr. Tempest, who was a man of wide experience and kindly heart, sympathised with Mr. Doyle and the others who signed the petition, but he did not recall Mr. Simpkins. He knew of no place in Ireland further from Dublin than Ballymoy is; and it appeared to him above all things desirable to keep Mr. Simpkins at a distance. It was better, in his opinion, that Ballymoy should suffer, than that his own house should be haunted on Sundays and his office disorganised on week-days by Mr. Simpkins. He acknowledged the receipt of the Ballymoy petition, and promised, mendaciously, to consider the matter.
Meldon drove into Ballymoy on the first morning of his holiday, and went straight to Mr. Simpkins' house. He left a card there, and then walked on to the office. Mr. Simpkins was in the office, and Meldon greeted him with a warmth which seemed actually affectionate. Mr. Simpkins was surprised, and rubbed his hand, which had been hurt by the hearty way in which Meldon shook it.
"Is there," he asked, in a puzzled tone, "anything that I can do for you?"
"Nothing," said Meldon; "nothing whatever. If there was I'm sure you'd do it, and I shouldn't hesitate to ask you. But there isn't. I simply called in to have a chat. You won't mind if I smoke, will you?"
"I never smoke in my office," said Simpkins. "I dislike free and easy and slipshod ways of doing business."
Meldon filled and lit his pipe.
"You're perfectly right," he said. "There's nothing impresses the intelligent stranger so unfavourably as the smell of tobacco in an office when he comes into it in the hope of doing business with a competent man. I wish you would impress your idea on that subject, and I may say a good many other subjects, on the people of this town. They are lamentably deficient in what I may call the etiquette of commercial life; and yet all these little points count for a lot. You and I know that."
Simpkins hesitated. He was at first inclined to be angry. Meldon was smoking vigorously, and his tobacco was of the kind described as "full-flavoured." But the remarks about the etiquette of business were certainly sound. Mr. Simpkins really believed that he had a mission to teach manners and method to the people of Ballymoy.
"Would you mind telling me," he said at last, "who you are?"
"Not in the least," said Meldon; "I shall be quite pleased. At the same time I think I ought to point out to you that, if you'd been on speaking terms with Major Kent, you'd have heard all about me weeks ago, and very likely would have been asked to dinner to meet me last night. Why have you quarrelled with the poor Major? He's a nice enough sort of man, and most people find him easy enough to get on with."
"It was he who quarrelled with me. I had no intention—"
"So it was. I remember that now; something about fishing, wasn't it? Curious how people will lose their tempers about ridiculous little trifles. That's the worst of places like this. The people who have never lived anywhere else become irritable and take offence about nothing, simply because their minds are cut off from wider interests. You and I, now, know that no fish in the world, however large, is worth fighting about. We wouldn't, either of us, mind a bit if some other fellow came along and hooked the whale which we had marked down as our private prey."
Simpkins was puzzled again. The doctrine about fishing rights struck him as slightly socialistic. It might possibly be applicable in the case of whales, but society could scarcely survive as an organised whole if many men regarded the possession of salmon as of no importance. At the same time he was pleased; it gratified him immensely to be hailed as a fellow citizen of a larger world.
"Would you mind," he said, speaking in quite a friendly tone, "telling me your name?"
"Not in the least," said Meldon. "I said so before. As a matter of fact, so far from having any wish to conceal my name from you, I went round to your house before I called here and left my card on you. You'll find it there when you get back. I always like to be strict in the observance of the rules of civilised society. I particularly dislike the slack ways into which people in places like this are inclined to drift. I must say for the Major, he's not as bad as the rest in that respect. He always dresses for dinner."
"So do I."
"I'm glad to hear it. That ought to be a bond of union between you and the Major. You must be the only two men in Ballymoy who do. By the way, have you met Miss King?"
"No. She arrived yesterday, I hear; but I haven't seen her."
"You ought to go up and call on her at once. You'll like her, I'm sure. She's very good-looking."
He paused for a moment. The announcement did not seem to excite Simpkins' interest. He was, indeed, not of the temperament which is strongly moved by beauty or personal charm.
"She's also very rich," said Meldon.
"I thought she must be pretty well off when she took Ballymoy House."
"She is. And what's more, she's uncommonly well connected. Her uncle is an earl. I forget at this moment what his exact title is; but I know he's an earl, and I have it on very good authority that he's likely to be made a marquis quite soon."
He paused, and was gratified to observe that Simpkins appeared to be greatly interested by this information about Miss King. He pursued his advantage at once.
"I shall call on her myself," he said, "though there's not really much use in my making myself agreeable to her. I'm married already. The Major would have told you that, too, if you'd been on speaking terms with him. You really must make it up with the Major, Simpkins. I hope to see a good deal of you while I'm in Ballymoy, and it will be most inconvenient for me if you won't speak to the Major while I'm staying in his house."
"Did you say that you knew Miss King?"
"Not intimately," said Meldon; "at least not very intimately. I travelled down in the train with her yesterday, and we had a pleasant chat together. If I wasn't married already—but there's no use talking about that. And I don't for a moment suppose that the Major will care about having a try. He's a confirmed old bachelor. Though it would be a right good thing for him if he did. Miss King must have a whole pot of money, and she looks to me the sort of woman whom it would be quite easy to marry. I'm afraid I must be going now. I'm so glad I caught you, Simpkins. I've heard a lot about you during the short time I've been in Ballymoy; and I may say, without the least wish to flatter, that I was most anxious to meet you. Good-bye, and be sure to call on Miss King. It's a pity to think of that poor girl all alone in a great barrack of a place like Ballymoy House, without a civilised creature to speak to."
Meldon left the Office very well satisfied with himself. He went next into the hotel. The day was hot, and there was very little going on in the town. The streets were almost empty, for the country people were busy on their farms. The hotel appeared to be entirely deserted. The waiter had left the coffee room, and gone to visit a friend in the police barrack. The barmaid, after finishing one penny novel, had gone into the shop next door to borrow another from the milliner. Meldon penetrated to the kitchen, and found an untidy maid asleep, very uncomfortably, on an upright chair. She woke with a start when he banged a frying-pan against the front of the oven.
"I hope I haven't startled you," he said politely. "I shall be greatly obliged if you will tell me where Mr. Doyle is to be found."
"He's within in his own room; and what's more, the doctor's along with him, and he did say that nobody was to be let next or nigh him by reason of his being busy."
"If he's busy," said Meldon, "he's the only man in Ballymoy that is, excepting myself; and any way that prohibition doesn't apply to me. I'm an old friend. I'll just step in and see him. You needn't announce me. If you like you can go to sleep again; but if I were you I'd be beginning to get the dinner. It's near twelve o'clock."
"Is it, then?"
"It is. Is your name Bridget or Mary?"
"It's Sabina they call me."
"You're not a bad-looking girl, Sabina; and if you'd attend to your business instead of going to sleep in the middle of the day, you might die a rich woman yet."
"I would not, then. How would the like of me be rich?"
"You certainly won't be," said Meldon, "if you don't do your work."
"The potatoes is in the pot," said Sabina.
"They may be; but Mr. Doyle will be looking for more than potatoes at dinner time. He doesn't look as if he lived entirely on potatoes."
Sabina grinned. Doyle was a portly man.
"It won't take me long to fry a couple of rashers," she said, "once the grease is hot."
"And is fried bacon and potatoes all you're going to give the poor man? What wages does he pay you?"
"Very well. Now listen to me, Sabina. You put your back into it and cook the man a decent dinner. Give him soup, and then a nicely done chop with a dish of spinach and some fried potatoes. After that a sweet omelette—"
"Glory be to God!" said Sabina.
"And then a little savoury, tomato and olives, beaten to a cream, with the yolk of a hard-boiled egg served up on toast, cut into dice."
"Arrah, what talk!" said Sabina.
"Get him accustomed to that sort of dinner for three weeks or a month, and then ask him for a rise in your wages. He'll give it to you."
"He would not."
"He would. Any man would. The mistake you make is half-starving him. That makes his temper bad, and—"
"I wouldn't say then that ever I heard a cross word out of his mouth," said Sabina, "unless it might be when he'd be talking of Mr. Simpkins or the like."
"I suppose he swears then," said Meldon.
"He does terrible."
"I don't wonder. I never swear myself. Being a clergyman, I can't, of course. But from what I've seen of Mr. Simpkins, and from what I've heard about him, I should think he'd make most men swear. Do you know him at all intimately, Sabina?"
"I do not; but the girl that's with him beyond in the house is a cousin of my own, and I hear her talking about him. She does be saying that the like of him for nonsensical goings on she never seen. She—"
"Thank you," said Meldon. "I don't want to hear your cousin's views of Mr. Simpkins' domestic arrangements. She's red-haired, if she's the girl that opened the door to me a while ago, and I never knew one of her colour that spoke the truth."
Sabina was loyal to her family. She resented Meldon's remark.
"If you were to put me on my oath," she said, "I wouldn't call the hair that's on your own head black, nor yet yellow."
"My hair," said Meldon, "is what's called auburn; and in any case I have more strength of character than to be driven into untruthfulness by the colour of my hair. Did you say it was Dr. O'Donoghue was inside with Mr. Doyle?"
"It is," said Sabina.
"I suppose, now, he isn't particularly fond of Mr. Simpkins either."
Sabina grinned broadly.
"From the pleasant way in which you're smiling," said Meldon, "I think I may take it for granted that Dr. O'Donoghue wouldn't go far out of his way to find out exactly the kind of medicine that would cure Mr. Simpkins if by any chance he happened to fall sick."
"He would not. But they do say he'd poison him if he got the chance."
"I don't want him to do that. I should be very sorry if he did. All I want to be sure of is that the doctor wouldn't put himself out to cure Mr. Simpkins if anybody else poisoned him."
"The Lord save us!" said Sabina. "Is it murder you're thinking of?"
"It is not," said Meldon. "Don't get any foolish idea of that kind into your head. I'm not a murderer. I'm merely putting what is called a supposititious case, with a view to finding out what Dr. O'Donoghue's real feelings are. I don't suppose you know what a supposititious case is?"
"I do not. It was a backward place where I was reared, and I wasn't kept to school regular; and what's more, the Irish wasn't taught in them times."
"It wouldn't have helped you much if it was," said Meldon. "A supposititious case is the same thing, very nearly, as a hypothetical proposition. It consists of two parts, a protasis and an apodosis. For instance—"
"It's laughing at me you are."
"It is not, but trying to educate you a little. For instance, I should be putting a hypothetical case if I were to say, 'Supposing you cooked the dinner I described every day for Mr. Doyle—'"
"I couldn't do it then, for I wouldn't be fit."
"That's exactly what makes it a supposititious case," said Meldon. "Now perhaps you'll understand that I don't intend to poison Mr. Simpkins myself."
"Nor the doctor won't do it for you," said Sabina.
"You said a minute ago that he would."
"He would not, for he's a nice gentleman, as simple and innocent as a child, only an odd time when his temper would be riz."
"Any way he won't be asked to. Good-bye, Sabina. I'll look in and see you next time I'm passing. Don't let that red-haired cousin of yours be putting phosphorous paste, or any of those patent rat poisons, into Mr. Simpkins' food. She'll get herself into trouble if she does."
Meldon opened the door of Mr. Doyle's private sitting-room without knocking and walked in. The hotel keeper and Dr. O'Donoghue were sitting at opposite ends of the table, with a bottle of whisky and a jug of water between them. Doyle, who was placed with his back to the door, spoke without looking round.
"Didn't I tell you, Sabina Gallagher," he said, "that if you came into this room, interrupting me and the doctor, I'd cut the two ears off you, and send you back to your mother with them in a box in the well of the car? Did I tell you that or did I not? And now nothing will do you but to fling open the door as if the Lord-Lieutenant and the rest of them playboys beyond in Dublin Castle was—"
The expression of Dr. O'Donoghue's face made Mr. Doyle pause. He turned and saw Meldon standing on the threshold.
"Be damn!" he said, "if it isn't Mr. Meldon. The Major was telling me last week he was expecting you. You're looking well, so you are. England agrees with you."
"I can't say as much for you," said Meldon. "You're getting fat. You ought to take more exercise. Why don't you start a golf links? It would do you all the good in the world, and be an attraction to the hotel besides."
"If I'm putting on flesh," said Doyle, "it's a queer thing, for the life's fair tormented out of me."
"Simpkins, I suppose," said Meldon.
"The same," said Doyle. "The like of that man for making trouble in a place I never seen; no, nor nobody else."
"I hear," said Meldon, "that the doctor's thinking of poisoning him."
"Whoever told you that told you a lie," said Dr. O'Donoghue; "not but what—"
"Myself and the doctor," said Doyle, "was making up plans when you come in on us. We was thinking of what you might call an ambuscade, worked so as we'd get the better of him without his being able to take the law of us; and he's mighty fond of the law, that same gentleman—too fond."
"If I can be of any help to you," said Meldon, "you can count on me. I have a good deal of natural talent for ambuscades. Trot out the details of your scheme, and I'll be able to tell you in two words whether it's workable or not."
"They do say," said Doyle, "that he has the fishing let to an English gentleman; and he's mighty particular about preserving it. Now the doctor here has the name of being a good fisherman."
"If he goes poaching," said Meldon, "he'll get the worst of it. The Major appears to have tried that on, and he simply made things unpleasant for himself, without annoying Simpkins in the least."
"It's not poaching we're thinking of," said Doyle; "but—you know I'm a magistrate these times, on account of being the Chairman of the Urban Council."
"I know that; but if you're thinking of dragging up Simpkins before the Petty Sessions on a bogus charge, you may as well put the idea out of your head at once. It won't work. You'll have the Major on the Bench with you, and though he doesn't like the man, I don't think he'd commit him to prison for cruelty to children, or breaking windows while under the influence of drink, or anything of that sort, unless he'd really done it."
"I wouldn't do the like," said Doyle, "and no more would the doctor."
"Our plan," said the doctor, "is to get a salmon, a large salmon."
"Poach it?" said Meldon.
"No; buy it. Doyle would buy it. Then he'd give it to me in the presence of several witnesses—"
"Sabina would do for one," said Meldon, "She's a most intelligent girl, and I'm sure she'd swear anything afterwards that she was wanted to."
"She wouldn't have to swear anything but the truth," said Doyle.
"Of course not," said Meldon. "But lots of people won't do even that."
"I'd go up the river," said Dr. O'Donoghue, "and I'd take my rod and landing-net and the salmon with me, and I'd sit down on the bank and wait."
"Simpkins," said Doyle, "does be walking up along the river every evening, so the doctor wouldn't be there for very long before he'd be caught."
"I see," said Meldon. "The idea would be for Simpkins to prosecute the doctor for poaching that salmon, and then to trot out Sabina in court to prove—"
"Sabina and the rest of the witnesses," said Doyle. "We'd have plenty."
"It's not a bad ambuscade at all," said Meldon.
"The Major," said Doyle, "would talk straight to him off the Bench, the way he'd feel small; and I'd have a word or two myself to say to him after the Major was done. And the police would be standing round smiling like—"
"I can't imagine anything more unpleasant," said Meldon, "than being grinned at by a policeman. All the same, I think it will be better not to catch him in that ambuscade."
"And why not?" said Doyle.
"The fact is," said Meldon, "I'm thinking of dealing with the man myself, and I'd rather he was left entirely in my hands for the present."
"Be damn!" said Doyle, "but I wouldn't ask better than just for yourself to take in hand and hunt him out of the place altogether."
"It's you could do it," said Dr. O'Donoghue.
"It is," said Doyle. "Divil the better man at devising of ambuscades ever I come across, and I've known some in my day that you might call gladiators."
"I'm not precisely a professional gladiator," said Meldon modestly; "but I've studied strategy a little in my time, and I rather think I'll get the better of Mr. Simpkins. I suppose now you would not object to attending his funeral?"
"I would not," said Doyle, "if so be there was no risk of my being hanged for any share I might have in bringing the same about."
"There's not the least chance of that," said Meldon. "You won't have to do anything except refrain from making a public fool of the man with any kind of tricks about salmon for the next fortnight."
"What is it you're thinking of doing?" asked Doyle.
"The doctor," said Meldon, "will of course have to sign the death certificate."
"I'll do that," said Dr. O'Donoghue, "as soon as ever you satisfy me that the man's dead. If there isn't a hole drilled in his skull with a bullet, I'll say it's heart failure that finished him. After the way he behaved to me, I can't be expected to make a post mortem of him. I daresay the Major was telling you what he did."
"I hear he wanted you to put some ridiculous sanitary act in force against poor Doyle. That, of course, was quite intolerable."
"There was worse besides that," said Dr. O'Donoghue gloomily.
"He had it put out against the doctor," said Doyle, "that old Biddy Finnegan died for the want of proper medical attendance, and her a woman of near ninety, that was bound to die any way, and would have died sooner, most likely, if the doctor hadn't let her alone the way he did."
"That old woman," said the doctor, "wasn't neglected. She had a bottle by her, when she died, that I sent out to her less than a week before, and she hadn't the half of it drunk. What's more, I wouldn't have minded a bit if Simpkins had had any right to be interfering; but he hadn't. Thady Flanagan—that's married to old Biddy's grand-daughter—was contented enough with the way she died, and asked me civilly would I have any objection to his taking home the half-bottle of medicine for the use of one of his own children. What I say is, that if the woman's own relations had no complaint to make, what business had Simpkins to be putting in his oar? What aggravated me was that kind of gratuitous and unnecessary interfering."
"I quite see your point," said Meldon. "It's—"
"You've only heard the half of it," said Doyle. "The doctor's backward in telling you, and small blame to him; but Simpkins wrote off to the Local Government Board, preferring a lot of charges against the doctor, and against myself as Chairman of the Board of Guardians—things you'd wonder any man would have the face to say."
"What happened?" said Meldon.
"We've quietened them down for the present," said Doyle, "but there was a lot of talk of a sworn enquiry. And what did Simpkins do it for if it wasn't just the delight he takes in destroying the peace of the town? You know very well, Mr. Meldon, the way we all pulled together here, Catholics and Protestants, and never had any bad feeling. And where's the good of bringing in the Local Government Board to be stirring up strife among us? But that's not all he did, nor the half or it. He wrote a letter last October to the Inspector-General of the Police, complaining of the sergeant beyond, that he wasn't doing his duty."
"I wouldn't expect you to be taking the part of the police," said Meldon. "You always went in for being a strong Nationalist."
"And so I am," said Doyle. "And so's the doctor. In a general way there isn't two men in Ireland that hates the police worse than the doctor and myself; but the sergeant was a decent, poor man, with a long family dependent on him, and I never heard tell of his doing any harm to any one."
"Perhaps," said Meldon, "that was the reason Mr. Simpkins complained of him. After all, Doyle, we must be reasonable. What are the police for, if it isn't to do harm to people—objectionable people? A policeman who never injures anybody isn't worth his keep. If what you say about the sergeant is true, or anything like true, Simpkins was evidently perfectly justified in acting as he did."
"You won't say that," said Doyle, "when you hear the way it happened. There's two apple trees in the garden at the back of the house Simpkins lives in."
"I remember them," said Meldon; "but there never were any apples on them in my time."
"There were apples on them last year," said Doyle, "however they came there. Simpkins did be saying it was on account of the way he pruned the trees; but he'd be talking a long time before I'd believe the like of that. Any way, the apples were there, and a good many of them. I didn't see them myself, but they tell me there might have been up to ten stone altogether. Well, one night the half of them was gone. The gossures from about the town had them ate."
"Of course they had," said Meldon. "What would you expect?"
"What nobody would expect," said Doyle, "was the temper Simpkins was in in the morning. He was up and down, in and out of the police barrack, cursing all sorts. Well, the sergeant came out and looked at the trees, and he asked Simpkins did he have the apples counted before they were took, and would he be prepared to swear to them if so be that the police found them for him. You'd think that would have pacified him, but it didn't. So the sergeant, who wanted to do the best he could for the peace of the town, went down to the house again after he had his dinner ate, and two constables along with him, and asked the girl that does be with Mr. Simpkins—"
"Sabina's red-haired cousin," said Meldon.
"Asked her," said Doyle, "was there ever a boy about the place at night; which of course there wasn't, her being a respectable girl that wasn't keeping company with any boy, unless it might be walking out now and then of a Sunday with Jamesy Carroll. Believe you me, it took the sergeant all he knew to quieten down her mother that was over at the barracks asking for the name of the villain that was taking away her daughter's character. That night the rest of the apples was took, and Simpkins was fit to be put in the asylum in the morning. He said the sergeant was an incompetent jackass.—Wasn't them the words he used, doctor?"