BY the side of one of those winding byways which connect a few scattered hamlets upon the lower fringe of Exmoor with the important town of Market Bridgeford, a man stood painting an execrable water colour. A few yards away, drawn up in the shade of the high hedge, was an ancient Ford car; seated by the side of the man, and obviously bored with the whole proceeding, was a small, fat, white dog of the Sealyham type. The man had not the appearance of an artist, as indeed he was not. He was powerfully built, somewhat ruddy of complexion, with shrewd, blue eyes and an indomitable jaw. A physiognomy which might have been on the heavy side was redeemed by a humorous mouth. He had masses of dark brown hair—rather too much of it for careful arrangement—and the fingers which gripped his brush were the fingers of a sculptor rather than of a painter. His name was Nicholas Goade. He was thirty-eight years old, and he was enjoying his first long holiday—earned in somewhat singular fashion—since he joined the force. A month earlier he had arrested single-handed a criminal who for five years had defied the police of New York and London, and had simultaneously been handed a cheque for twenty-five thousand dollars from the former and six months' leave of absence from English headquarters. Hence this long-planned vacation.
Suddenly the peace of the early summer afternoon was curiously disturbed. Flip, the first to realise the approach of the unusual, sat up with a short, warning bark. Goade turned his head, and, with his hand shading his eyes, gazed down the road. A riderless horse was galloping towards them, the thunder of its hoofs becoming each second more distinct. In the far distance, where the road wound its way in to the hills again after a short disappearance in the valley, was a little cloud of dust. There was no other sign of life or movement in this dreaming landscape.
Nicholas Goade thrust his precious canvas into the car and stood for a moment in the middle of the road without any very clear idea as to his course of action. He was a humane man, but he was also a man of common sense, and he had no intention of risking his life or even a serious injury for the sake of a runaway horse who would probably come to a standstill of its own accord as soon as its energies were spent. As a matter of fact, action on his part became unnecessary. The horse, as soon as it caught sight of him, slackened speed, looked around for a moment nervously, and then came on at a walk. It was still terrified, its ears laid back, its coat bathed in sweat, the stirrups jangling against its heaving sides; but it seemed to recognise in the man who confronted it a soothing influence. Goade patted its streaming neck, examined the great weal down its flank, led it on to the turf by the side of the road, and then, climbing into his car, drove in the direction from which the runaway had come.
About half a mile back, on the edge of the common which skirted the road, he came to the spot from which the animal had apparently started. The figure of a man in ordinary riding clothes was lying stretched upon the turf, face downwards and motionless. Goade bent over him, and, accustomed though he was to terrible sights, he felt a little surge of horror at the nature of the injuries to the man's head and neck. He returned to the car, fetched his rug, and, after another glance at the prostrate figure, covered it over. Then, with the instinct which belonged to his profession, he looked around for signs of some struggle between the man and the horse. He was puzzled to find none. The turf was nowhere cut up and, soft and yielding though it was, bore only the imprints of the lightest of hoof marks. The scene of the tragedy was a little inlet of turf, surrounded by gorse bushes—an inlet on to which the horse had presumably turned from the road for some reason. About twenty yards away was a small shed—apparently a shepherd's shelter. There was no human being in sight, nor sign of any vehicle. Goade bent once more over the man's body and felt it with a practised hand. It was still warm. Death could only have taken place a few minutes before. He turned round at the sound of horse's hoofs, slow now and faltering. The animal had followed him up the hill, and, after standing for a moment shivering on the edge of the road, advanced slowly, whinnied, and thrust its head down as though it recognised its prostrate master. Goade examined once more the weal on its side, patted its neck gently, and climbed on to a small hillock. The little cloud of dust on the ribbon of road skirting the hillside had vanished. There was no sign anywhere of pedestrian or vehicle. After a few moments' reflection, he slipped off his shoes, led the horse quietly to the other side of the road, and commenced a closer examination of the little semicircle of turf upon which the accident seemed to have happened. In a quarter of an hour's time he stood upright again and looked around. There was still no sign anywhere of the assistance which was necessary before he could move the dead man. He put on his shoes and made his way along the narrow path towards the shed.
SOON after the little cloud of dust upon the hillside had vanished, George Unwin turned in at the drive of his pleasantly situated, small country home, brought his car to a standstill at the front door, and rang the outside bell which would summon the chauffeur from the garage. He paused for a moment, drawing off his gloves and looking around him as though enjoying the prospect—a pleasant one enough: a vision of a trimly kept lawn with a paddock behind, a profusion of flowers, everywhere signs of well-being and comfort. Humming lightly to himself, he felt one of the back tyres and gave instructions concerning it to the chauffeur, who came hurrying up from the garage. Afterwards he nodded pleasantly to the parlour maid who had opened the door in response to his ring, laid his hat and gloves upon the hall table, and, still humming under his breath, strolled with his habitual air of dignified composure into the room which was given over to him as a study. There was nothing in his manner to denote that within the last quarter of an hour he had committed a brutal murder.
"Is your mistress in, Rose?" he enquired.
"The mistress is resting, sir," the maid replied. "She ordered the little car for this afternoon, but changed her mind. She was complaining of a headache after lunch."
Her master nodded.
"I think I'll have a whisky and soda," he decided. "Bring me the things and I'll help myself."
The maid hastened to obey, and George Unwin mixed himself a drink with steady fingers. Nevertheless, as soon as the girl had departed, he doubled the quantity of whisky and drank half the contents of the tumbler at a gulp. Afterwards he stood and looked at himself carefully in the mirror. There were no signs of any disturbance either in his face, his attire, or the prim arrangement of his collar and tie. He was dressed—as became a respectable solicitor with a large practice—neatly and with a certain decorum which might be taken as a tribute to his profession. His tie was arranged almost as a stock, his collar, spotlessly white, a trifle higher than was altogether customary for country wear. His clothes were of dark serge, quietly fashioned and well fitting. He continued to examine himself with the utmost care. His black hair was unruffled, his eyes perhaps a little brighter than usual, and there was even a faint tinge of colour in his ordinarily pallid cheeks. Satisfied with his scrutiny, he approached a bookshelf, and, withdrawing a volume entitled Practical Criminology from a selected series dealing with the same subject, seated himself in an easychair and buried himself in its contents. He knew the exact chapter of which he was in search, and turned to it eagerly—a chapter containing the confessions of a criminal who had planned a murder for three months, planned and thought out every detail with scientific accuracy, but through some strange chain of circumstances had left one single clue. He devoured the few pages, then, half closing the book, with his finger in the place, gave himself up to thought. Was there anything that he had done or left undone? One by one he went over the events of the afternoon. He had left his office in the neighbouring market town earlier than usual, it was true, but during the summer months this was by no means an unusual occurrence. No one had seen him turn off the main road which would have been the quickest route to his abode, nor had he encountered a single soul along that stretch of lonely byway where, somewhere or other, he knew that he would meet the man whom he sought. They had come together just as he had planned and desired, within a few yards of the shed. He went over in memory the brief words which had passed between them, then the sudden throwing away of the hypocrisy of years, the lurid outburst when once he was sure of his man, the restrained passion of months, blazing in a torrent of words, nerving his arm to that unforgettable deed. It had been almost easier than he had expected. Even a strong man, half stunned, is not so very difficult to kill. George Unwin sat in his chair and gloated. The silent hatred of those miserable months, so well concealed, had spent itself in those wild moments. He became more and more exultant. He told himself that he had made no mistake, that he was safe, and that that silent, gnawing agony at which no one had guessed, which had made his life a hell, had gone. It was early days yet for the new horror to be born.
There was the sound of light footsteps in the hall, and his fingers stiffened upon the volume which he was holding. He threw it down upon the table just as the door opened and his wife entered. He half rose to his feet as he greeted her. His manners were always precise.
"You're home early, George," she remarked.
"There was very little doing at the office. I hope Rose is going to give us tea in the garden."
"Of course she can."
He watched her covertly as she stood with her finger upon the bell. She was a woman of negative complexion, with a graceful figure, lips unusually scarlet, and eyes of elusive colour. She had the air of being a foreigner, although, as a matter of fact, she had been born and lived most of her life in the neighbouring village. As he watched her he remembered some of the legends of the Spaniards who had made a settlement in the vicinity hundreds of years ago. Without a doubt there was foreign blood in her—perhaps in him too. He felt very un-English this afternoon. He felt very unlike George Unwin, Esquire, of Unwin, Brooks & Calvert, solicitors, Clerk to the County Council, Under-Sheriff of the County, the holder of many other public offices. That legend of foreign blood was probably true, or George Unwin, so much respected as the embodiment of legal distinction and upright living, would never have felt the fierce joy he was feeling at that moment.
"I thought perhaps that I should find you motoring," he remarked.
"I don't go out every afternoon," she answered carelessly.
A lie, he told himself. He knew—for days he had known—all about those picnic luncheons, little excursions to the wood, the telephone first to his office to be sure of his movements. He knew very well why he had found her at home that afternoon. From the extension to his office he had listened to her casual enquiry outside to the clerks, heard the reply given according to his instructions—"Mr. Unwin will be coming home early." It had been necessary to keep her out of the way that afternoon. Would she ever guess? he wondered.
She gave him tea in the shade of the cedar tree, and they spoke of indifferent things—their neighbours, a coming tennis tournament. Then, without a tremor in his voice, he introduced the name of the man who was lying dead by the roadside.
"Seen anything of Sir Michael the last few days?"
She shook her head.
"How should I?" she asked. "He very seldom calls unless you are here."
"Liar!" he thought to himself. He studied her with a new and strange interest. Such perfect deceit was in itself an attribute of the science which for years had been his hobby. What a criminal she herself would have made. Perhaps if he had not discovered her secret by the merest chance, he might himself have been her victim. A woman who could deceive like that could also kill.
"Shall we walk down to the hayfield?" she suggested. "Crask says that we shall have quite a crop."
He strolled along by her side, smoking the cigarette which he usually lit after tea—the one cigarette which was to last him until dinner time. Again they spoke of indifferent matters, pleasantly and with no apparent lack of interest. No one could have guessed at the wall between them, the wall which he had seen growing day by day in ever deepening despair. Now and then, as they paraded their little domain—the domain, he reflected, where they were to spend the rest of their lives together—he looked down the drive and along the road. The postman came and went without news, a baker delivered bread, a motor-cyclist friend waved a casual greeting. After all, it was a lonely spot where the man lay dead!
He dressed for dinner with slow deliberation, studying himself the while in the mirror. He had a long, lean face, not unpleasing, although his cheeks were a little sunken—not the face of a murderer, he thought, as he arranged his tie. That was a thing no one would ever believe of him. Well, no one would ever know it. He smiled grimly to himself as he thought of the future—thought of himself fulfilling with dignity all the various offices of the law, a well-respected man in his world, a trifle austere and parchment-like perhaps, in his dealing with human beings; certainly not a person to be suspected of temper, of passion, of the courage which arms a man's will to kill. There was scarcely a soul in the county who would not have laughed at the idea of numbering him amongst that ghostly little company who had qualified for the scaffold—some of whom had walked those few fatal steps, and some who had escaped. He belonged there, all right, but nobody would ever know.
AT dinner time and afterwards the devil entered into George Unwin. He ordered champagne, and he talked to his wife as he had not talked for months past, not since he had guessed, not since he had known. He watched her growing uneasiness—realised, too, that it made her more beautiful. Afterwards they walked in the garden together. His arm went around her waist. He took her hand in his, and, notwithstanding the warmth of the June evening, her fingers seemed icy cold. A nightingale sang, and they paused to listen. He could feel her trembling in his grasp. A torturer's sense seemed born in him in those few moments. He found no pleasure in holding her to him, in the kiss he forced from her shrinking lips, yet he played the expectant lover and felt a horrible joy in her sufferings. In the house she escaped, but he followed her to her little drawing-room. Her respite came by terrible means. He knew what it meant, the ringing of the bell at that unexpected hour. Did she guess, he wondered, that something might have happened, for her eyes shone strangely as she listened to the heavy footsteps in the hall? Rose bustled in with an air of importance.
"The police sergeant would like to speak to you, sir," she announced.
Even then he would not spare her. Malice was ablaze in him that night.
"Ask the sergeant to step in," he directed carelessly.
The sergeant presented himself—a large man, excited and perspiring. He saluted Unwin with the deep respect due to the arch-representative of the law. He looked towards Mrs. Unwin and made mysterious signs.
"What is it, Sergeant?" Unwin asked. "Speak up."
"It's a fair nasty business," the man answered, turning his cap over. "I was thinking maybe the lady mightn't like to hear."
She leaned forward in her chair.
"Go on, Sergeant," she insisted.
"There's been a bad accident—a real bad 'un."
"Any one hurt?" Unwin asked.
"Who is it?" his wife demanded, in a whisper which seemed to crackle through the twilight of the room.
"It's Sir Michael, sir and lady," the man confided ponderously. "Met with an accident while he was out riding, seemingly."
"Seriously hurt?" Unwin enquired.
The sergeant shook his head.
"He were stone dead when they found him, sir. A tourist gentleman from London had been sitting by the body for an hour and more, waiting for someone to pass. It were down on the Cudfield Lane, where not many do find their way."
George Unwin held a glass of water to his wife's lips, but she waved it away. She was deathly pale, but she showed no signs of fainting.
"You mean that he is dead, Sergeant?"
"That surely is so," the man admitted reluctantly. "And a terrible thing for all of us, for a better man or landlord never was. He must have fell on his head, they reckon, and that bay mare of his got obstreperous and kicked him as he lay."
"This is terrible news," George Unwin said, wondering at the solemnity of his own tone. "Where have they taken the body, Sergeant?"
"That's just what I'm here for, to know your wishes, Mr. Unwin. A farm wagon was all that come along, and they moved 'un to the Red Cow at Cudfield, and laid 'un in the parlour there. The inspector, he sent me up right away to know if you'd any special wish about the inquest, or if it could be held there."
For a single moment Unwin almost lost control of himself. Strange, with his perfect memory, his grasp of detail, his careful consideration of all that had happened, of all that might happen, he had forgotten one thing—he was the coroner, and it was his office to send this man to his grave!... When he spoke, however, it was after not undue hesitation, though he scarcely recognised his own voice. It seemed to come to him from a long way off.
"The body had better remain where it is," he directed. "The inquest can be held in the market room at the inn."
The sergeant took his leave and departed under the escort of the parlourmaid for entertainment in the kitchen. George Unwin and his wife were left alone in the room. It seemed to have grown darker during the last few minutes. Unwin bent over the lamp. He was stopped by his wife's staccato cry.
"Don't do that, George. I can't bear it. Listen! Turn towards me. I want to see your face."
He turned around without hesitation, even with deliberation. Their eyes met: hers afire with passionate, hysterical questioning, his face a mask.
"You knew?" she faltered.
"Be reasonable," he answered. "How was it possible? Besides, why should I have kept it from you all this time?"
She said nothing more. Presently she looked away from him. She seemed to be gazing through the walls, and there was a horror in her face which awed him in spite of himself. He moved uncomfortably about.
"You take this hardly, Julia," he said. "He was an old friend and neighbour, of course, but, after all, we saw very little of him."
She made no reply. There was something about her dumbness which for the first time brought a tremor of icy fear into his heart.
GEORGE UNWIN had never more perfectly embodied the dignity and sufficiency of the law than at the inquest over which, in due course, he presided. It was he himself who, in the little room where the remains of the dead man had been placed, drew the sheet from his face, and, with the doctor by his side, explained the injuries. In his seat at the head of the long table in the market room afterwards, his grave, sympathetic voice seemed almost to have attained a new note of humanity.
"This is a case, gentlemen," he said, glancing down at the little company—five farmers, one gamekeeper, a retired school-master, a labourer, and village tradespeople—"which will, I think, present no difficulties to you. The doctor will tell you that the injuries from which our dearly loved and respected neighbour died were undoubtedly caused by the iron shoe of a horse. How Sir Michael came to be thrown, we shall unfortunately never know, but it seems to me most probable that his horse stumbled, that they both fell, and that the kicking took place without any viciousness on the part of the animal whilst it was struggling to regain its feet. That, however, must remain a matter of speculation. It is just one of those terrible accidents which happen sometimes and for which we cannot altogether account. We were to have had here as a witness the gentlemen who discovered the body, but I imagine that he will have little further light to throw upon what has happened. Your verdict will naturally be one of 'Accidental Death', and I trust that you will add to it the customary expression of condolence with the relatives of the deceased."
There was a subdued murmur of acquiescence.
" 'Accidental Death' it be, sure enough," one of the farmers observed, "and a cruel, unlucky thing. It do seem a queer business to me, though, that Sir Michael should have been thrown. He were a rare 'un on a horse."
"What probably happened," Unwin pointed out, "was that the animal, startled by something in the lane, shied sideways on to the little piece of turf where the body was found. He probably stumbled in mounting from the lane—there is a slight incline—and then fell. The finest horseman in the world can do nothing with a stumbling horse."
"That be true, sir," one of the farmers agreed.
"What about the gentleman as found the body? Us'd like to have seen him," someone else interposed.
"He was summoned to the inquest," Unwin explained, "and, as you know, we waited ten minutes for him. It seemed scarcely worth while, in view of the fact that he can have nothing fresh to tell us, to adjourn, but, if you gentlemen wish it, we can easily do so. I am only anxious not to take up another afternoon just about harvest time."
There was the sound of a motor horn outside. George Unwin looked up quickly. To him there was a note of something sinister in its shrill hooting. His composure, however, never wavered.
"Perhaps this is our missing witness," he said, leaning back in his chair.
There was a moment's silence, and then a knock at the door, which was opened by the police sergeant. Nicholas Goade entered, followed by a tall, slight man of military appearance.
"Here be Chief Constable," one of the farmers whispered, nudging his neighbour. "What be he wanting, I wonder?"
The coroner greeted the newcomers with dignity, and chairs were provided for them.
"We have been hoping for your evidence, sir," he remarked, addressing Nicholas Goade. "You were summoned for two-thirty."
"I must offer my apologies," was the quiet reply. "I was told three-thirty. In any case—"
He broke off and turned towards his companion. The Chief Constable whispered in Unwin's ear, and there was silence for several moments in the room. Unwin inclined his head once or twice as though in sympathy with the words to which he was listening. Once he half-started and glanced towards Goade. At no other time did his face betray the slightest emotion. Finally he turned to the jury.
"Gentlemen," he said, "Captain Faulkener here has laid before me certain facts which I think should be investigated. He points out that you have not had an opportunity of visiting the scene of this terrible accident. Personally I admit that I scarcely thought it necessary, but, as Captain Faulkener thinks otherwise, I am afraid I must trouble you to make the journey. Would tomorrow afternoon be suitable?"
There was a murmur of assent.
"Then let it be to-morrow," Unwin decided. "Conveyances shall be here at the inn at two o'clock. That is agreeable to you also, Captain Faulkener?"
"Perfectly," the Chief Constable replied. "I am sorry to have to interfere in the matter at all, Unwin. It certainly seems a clear enough case, but there are one or two minor points which I think had better be cleared up. Our friend Mr. Goade here must be considered."
"It is my wish," George Unwin concluded, with a dignified little bow, "to conduct these proceedings strictly according to the law and with due consideration to any theories which you gentlemen may have to advance. Gentlemen of the Jury, I need not detain you longer. The inquest is adjourned until two o'clock to-morrow afternoon."
There was nothing to call George Unwin to his office in Market Bridgeford that afternoon, but on leaving the inquest he deliberately made his way there instead of homeward. He sat in his private room, transacting insignificant business until the last of his clerks, with an apologetic cough, ventured to suggest that the hour for closing had arrived. At the Crown Hotel, where his car stood in the yard, he entered the bar parlour amidst many respectful salutations, and drank a glass of old sherry. He was a person of consequence in the little company, and was treated as such. The general topic of interest naturally enough was the adjourned inquest. He waved the subject away with a gesture of depreciation when it was mooted.
"After to-morrow," he told them, "we can discuss the matter. Until then 'sub judice.' You understand?"
No one understood, but they shook their heads solemnly. Presently he lit a cigarette, and departed amidst a chorus of friendly farewells—a man highly thought of amongst them all, a man who upheld the dignity of the law, taking his place with the Bank, the Church, and the Squire amidst the Forces of the County... He reached home only a short time before dinner. Again he scrutinised his face as he leaned towards the mirror to straighten his tie. Was it his fancy, he wondered, or were there really shadows under his eyes? The heat, he told himself. It had been a trying day, and that sudden break in the middle of the inquest was, to say the least of it, disturbing. He would have liked that verdict of "Accidental Death" safely recorded.
Julia was late for dinner—wandering in the garden, it seemed—he wondered whether with the object of avoiding him? During the service of the meal they spoke only of the heat, the crop of hay, the roses. Afterwards he felt suddenly weary. He had no longer the enterprise for wandering through the gardens, or the devilment for playing the torturer. He sat on a seat under the cedar tree and sipped his coffee. His wife, after a few minutes' hesitation, seated herself by his side. It was not, however, until the twilight deepened that she spoke.
"Is it all over?" she asked.
"No," he answered. "The inquest is adjourned."
He heard the quick intake of her breath—a little stabbing sound through the silence.
He knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"Faulkener, the Chief Constable, arrived with the man who found the body just as the jury were giving their verdict. Faulkener thought it better that the jury should visit the spot. They are going there to-morrow afternoon."
"Who was this man who found him?" she enquired.
"His name, if I remember rightly, was Nicholas Goade. He called himself an artist."
A flash of summer lightning opened the sky.
She gave a little moan.
"I think that there is a storm coming," she murmured.
"I too," he acquiesced. "Shall we move indoors?"
She shook her head.
"Tell me," she whispered, "what does this adjourned inquest really mean?"
Their eyes met. It seemed to him in that awful moment that each knew the other's secret.
"Simply a waste of time," he assured her briefly. "Nothing more will ever be known of the manner of Sir Michael's death than is known at this moment."
For a long time she sat in silence. A jagged tongue of black cloud crept across the sky. Once more the heavens opened, and this time the thunder followed. Large drops of rain fell upon them. He rose to his feet and held out his hand.
"Come along!" he insisted. "Quickly! You know that you are frightened of lightning. Come!"
She shrank still farther back in her chair, and he knew that it was no longer the lightning which she feared. He turned and left her. The rain, beating through her thin garments, wetted her to the skin. As soon as he had disappeared, she rose and made her way into the house by the back entrance.
THERE was a remarkable metamorphosis in the lonely Devonshire lane when, on the following afternoon, the four motor cars came sobbing up the hill and stopped opposite that semicircular piece of turf. A dozen policemen were there, holding a cord which enclosed seventy or eighty yards of common and included the shed. The members of the jury stood aimlessly about, looking down at the turf, still uncertain as to why they had been brought there. Captain Faulkener passed his arm through George Unwin's and drew him a little on one side.
"Before we go any further, Unwin," he said, "I think you'd better get a grip of this business. Our friend Goade here, who happened in upon this affair, is quite a famous detective from Scotland Yard—the man, by the way, who got the twenty-five thousand dollars' reward for arresting Ned Bullivant. He came over to see me yesterday morning and drew my attention to certain facts. I must confess that at first I was inclined to consider his theory ridiculous. In the end, however, he converted me."
"And what might be his theory?" George Unwin enquired, a little formally.
"In the first place," the other continued, "the wounds upon Sir Michael's head are of a somewhat curious shape. As Mr. Goade has pointed out, they appear to have been made by a horseshoe, but scarcely by the rear portion of it. He has instituted a thorough search amongst the gorse bushes around, and about twenty yards away one of the men whom I have detailed over here discovered a loose horseshoe, upon which were marks of blood at a spot exactly coinciding with the worst of the wounds. They found the horseshoe, as I told you, about twenty yards away—just about the distance, you see, that a man might throw it from the scene of the accident."
"You have the horseshoe?"
"Naturally. It is there for production before the jury. Further, as Goade has also pointed out, there is no sign whatever of the turf being cut up by the struggling of a fallen horse. On the other hand, there are marks of two distinct sets of footprints. Sir Michael, too, notoriously never used his whip, yet on the side of his mare there is to-day—I have seen her in the stables—a tremendous weal."
The Chief Constable nodded gravely.
"Goade made a thorough search of the place whilst he was waiting. You see that little shed?"
Unwin glanced at it and away again almost immediately.
"Underneath a stone there," the Chief Constable confided, "I found this."
Unwin took the scrap of paper into his hand. The words suddenly danced before his eyes. The sweat from his fingers smudged the ink. He stared at the four words scrawled on a half sheet of his own notepaper, battling all the time with a sickly horror. His death warrant written in the frail caligraphy he knew so well!
"Be careful. George suspects!"
"From all this, as you may imagine," Captain Faulkener continued, glancing over his shoulder at the little group of men standing about in the sunlight, "Goade has elaborated a perfectly reasonable and, to my mind, convincing theory. He found distinct traces of a car in the road which came just as far as here and no farther. His theory is that Sir Michael—poor old Michael; we all know that his reputation was none of the best—has been making assignations here with some young woman of the neighbourhood. Her husband or lover got jealous. She took alarm and left this note for him in the shed, which was without a doubt their meeting place. He came up as usual and found the husband or lover lying in wait. The murderer, whoever he may be, attacked Sir Michael with this horseshoe, stunned him with it unexpectedly, deliberately killed him, struck his horse that terrible blow so that it should gallop off, and left him lying here, apparently the victim of an accident. What do you think of that, Unwin?"
"Amazing!" was the toneless reply. "Really, I must express my congratulations to Mr. Goade."
"Don't hurry for a moment," the Chief Constable begged. "He is showing the jury the shed. Here they come."
"They have seen now everything that is necessary," Unwin declared. "We will go back to the village and reopen the inquest. I must confess that in the light of all this my instructions to the jury were ill-founded. 'Wilful Murder against some Person or Persons Unknown' it will have to be this time, I'm afraid."
Captain Faulkener shook his head gravely.
Glancing around, Unwin was suddenly aware that two of the attendant policemen had drawn a little closer to him. His hand disappeared for a moment into his waistcoat pocket, and afterwards his fingers rested upon his lips.
"Not necessarily unknown, I am afraid, Unwin," his companion said solemnly. "The writing on that slip of paper—your stationery, by the by—has already been identified as the writing of your wife. The marks of the car which drew up here have been traced to your drive. The blood-stained horseshoe thrown into the gorse bushes was one you stopped to pick up just outside Cudfield village. This is a very painful duty for me, Unwin, but I am afraid I must ask you to consider yourself under arrest."
The handcuffs were on his wrists before he could move. He followed with his eyes the winding road through the valley and around the hills to where he could catch a distant glimpse of his own house. The road seemed suddenly to stagger before his eyes. Two larks were singing directly above his head. A puff of hay- scented breeze was wafted across the road to mingle with the perfume of the sun-warmed gorse and wild thyme. The skies began to dance. Inside he felt the breaking of the waves. They were looking at him curiously now, crowding up towards him—his jury! He summoned all his strength.
"Gentlemen of the Jury," he faltered, "your verdict must be 'Wilful Murder against George Unwin.' I killed him. Thank God I killed him!"
"A strange fellow," they decided at the Farmers' Dinner on the following Saturday. "For five-and-twenty years a stern, law-abiding, conscientious official of the law, and then—a murderer!"
"Criminologically an amazingly interesting study," his successor, the deputy coroner, declared.
"A drop of foreign blood somewhere," one of the twelve jurymen insisted.