Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Hutchinson's Story Magazine, July 1929

Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September 1942 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-02-05
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Hutchinson's Story Magazine, July 1929, with "The Mallet"

A new short story by the creator of Mr. Chips and the author of "Lost Horizon" is an event—a new detective short story by James Hilton is even more so, since Mr. Hilton's work in this field is virtually unknown to the general public... "The Mallet" has never before been published in America.

"FEEL the revivifying forces of youth coursing through your veins—see the pink flush of health in your cheeks when you catch sight of yourself in the bedroom mirror first thing in the morning—no more aches and pains—no more vague feelings of depression—no more hard-earned money thrown away on doctors and quack medicines! For this, ladies and gentlemen, is not a quack medicine, nor is it a drug—it is Nature's Peerless Herbal Remedy, discovered by myself and prepared after a lifetime of trial and experiment! No other man in the world has the secret of it—no other man in the world can oiler you the key of this wonderful gateway to Health, Strength, and Life! One shilling a box I ask you—no, I'll be even more generous than that—ninepence a box! Ninepence, ladies and gentlemen... Is there any private doctor in this town who would charge you less than half-a-crown for a bottle of his worthless coloured water?... See—I'll tell you what I'll do—it's a special offer and I'll never make it again as long as I live—sixpence! Sixpence!... Who's going to be the first?... Thank you, sir. Two shillings? Thank you—here's your box and here's your one-and-six change. Are you satisfied?... That's right. You're quite sure you're satisfied?... Good. Then permit me to give you your sixpence back as well. Take this little box of Concentrated Health, my dear sir, as a gift from me to the most sensible person in this crowd ... now, ladies and gentlemen, who's going to be the next?... Thank you, madam..."

The loud, far-carrying voice of the cheap-jack echoed across the market square of the little northern town of Finchingfold. The parish clock showed ten minutes to nine; at nine, by order of the municipal authorities, he would have to pack up. Six times already he had gone through his well-worn patter about the marvellous Life-Giving Herb he had discovered years before on the banks of the Orinoco River, in South America. Captured by a fierce tribe of Indians and left by them to die of malaria, he had managed to crawl a few hundred yards into the trackless forest and there had caught sight of a curious unknown plant. Its pleasant aroma had tempted him to taste it, and lo!—within a quarter of an hour the fever had left him and he was a New Man! Prudently gathering an armful of the precious herb, he had escaped with great difficulty to civilization, there to complete his life work by manufacturing the herb in pill form and selling it in the market places of England.

The story went well as a rule; nor had it ever gone better than in Finchingfold on that warm Saturday in July. Was it that the folk of Finchingfold were more than usually "run down" after a broiling week in workshop and factory; or was it that he himself had been particularly eloquent? He could not make up his mind, but the fact remained—and an exceedingly pleasant one—that he had already sold no fewer than ninety-seven boxes that afternoon and evening. Ninety-seven sixpences—two pounds eight-and-six. Cost of boxes, wrappings and pills—say five shillings. Market fee—one shilling. Net profit—two pounds two-and-six. Not bad at all—oh, decidedly not bad.

Doctor Parker Potterson was therefore in a thundering good humour after his day's labour. His face beamed with joviality as he exchanged his last dozen boxes for the sixpences of the crowd. They were just the sort of people he liked best—quiet, respectable working men and their wives, a few farm labourers from the neighbouring countryside, perhaps a sprinkling, too, of better class artisans. Sometimes in the bigger towns there were hooligans who tried to make trouble, or even that far greater nuisance—the "superior" person, often a doctor, who asked awkward questions. But Finchingfold seemed full of exactly the right kind. And that quiet little fellow in the front row who had been the first to buy in the final round—he was just the kind to whom it paid to be generous. Most likely he would find that the pills did him a world of good, and for the next few months would be busily advertising Doctor Parker Potterson's Peerless Herbal Remedy at home, at the workshop, and amongst his friends. Yes, undoubtedly, he was well worth his free box.

By the time that the church clock began the chiming of the hour, Potterson had actually sold out—an event that had happened only once or twice before in his entire experience. He hummed cheerfully to himself as he packed his various impedimenta into the small bag. A stethoscope, a highly-coloured chart of the human body, a fragment of the Life-Giving Herb in its natural state—it was quite easy to transport. Feeling about in his pocket he abstracted another herb, which perhaps in his heart he felt even to be more life-giving; he lit it and puffed with satisfaction. Ah, Life was good. A pocketful of sixpences, a fine cigar, the cool twilight of a summer's day—what could add to the sweetness of such a mixture? Only one thing, and as he thought of it, he licked his lips in anticipation.

Doctor Parker Potterson was a conspicuous figure as he threaded his way amongst the market crowds towards the Crown and Woolpack. To begin with, he was attired in a top-hat and a frock-coat—a costume that is not greatly in favour with Finchingfold on market day. But, apart from that, he was (and well he knew it) a man who would always command attention wherever he went. He was six foot three in height, and correspondingly broad; he really made a splendid advertisement for his Peerless Herbal Pills, which he consumed in public at the rate of a dozen or so a day. Fortunately they were quite harmless. His eyes were a bright and scintillating blue—the kind that rarely failed to fascinate a woman—and his complexion, tanned by years of open-air life, was all that a health vendor could desire.

The private bar of the Crown and Woolpack seemed smaller and more thronged than ever when Potterson's huge figure stepped in through the swing doors. Instinctively people made way for him as he approached the counter—instinctively people always had made way for him. He was well known, of course; George, the bartender, knew what he liked and had it ready for him without waiting for an order. "Warm night, George," he said, enjoying the first exquisite sip of the long-anticipated "double." His deep baritone carried perfectly across the room full of loud conversation. "'Evening, boys," he added, nodding to the room in general, and a confused murmur of salutations returned to him. Everybody was staring at him, thinking about him, admiring him—and suddenly, as he glanced over the top of his glass, he perceived that among the admirers was an extraordinarily pretty young woman.

Now Potterson was extremely susceptible to pretty young women, and to exercise his charm over them was the keenest of all his vanities. Wherefore, with a deliberation and a confidence born of long practice, he smiled at her.

Faintly, yet with undeniable encouragement, she smiled back. His spirits rose even higher. She found him irresistible, of course, as all women did. But, by Jove, she was a good-looker—red-lipped, dark-eyed, oval-faced—an absolute beauty. From her dress and manner and the hand that rested on the edge of the counter, he reckoned to size her up unerringly ... working-class woman—not been married long—husband in a poor job—consequently kept short of money—consequently discontented, rebellious, eager to snatch at what life had denied her... Ay, how well he knew the type, and how well he had profited by its existence!

"'Thirsty weather," he remarked, looking down at her.

"Too thirsty for me," she answered, perhaps a shade crossly. Her voice, he noted, was pleasantly musical.

"Too thirsty, eh? Well, you're in the right place for that, anyway."

"Yes, if my old man would only buy me another drink."

"And won't he?"

"Not 'im. He's scared of me getting drunk. Now, I ask you, do I look like a woman who would get drunk?"

He wondered if she were slightly drunk already. But he replied, rather hoping she were, "Of course you don't. And have another drink with me if your fellow's too mean to give you one."

He had spoken loudly, and the crowd, as he had intended, overheard and began to titter. He liked them to be spectators of his prowess with a woman. In less than a minute he had reached that stage of jeering with her about her husband! Smart work, that!

"Ssh," she whispered, mockingly. "He might hear you, and then he'd knock you down for sayin' that! Better take care, young man!" Across the counter she snapped, "Mine's a gin, George."

The crowd's titter became a gathering roar of laughter, and suddenly Potterson glimpsed the reason for it. The woman's husband was actually standing beside her! Oh, this was really rich—something he would think of and enjoy in retrospect many a time afterwards! A little under-sized hollow-chested man, pale and careworn, shabbily dressed—the sort that is born to say "Sir" to everybody. Then it occurred to him that he had seen the face somewhere before—why—heavens, yes—he was the man to whom he had given the pills that very night, not a quarter of an hour before! What a joke! And how on earth had he managed to net such a splendid creature as that woman? Ah, but life—and especially life as he knew it—was full of such mysteries...

The situation, however, added full spice to his enjoyment. He always took a keen pleasure in emphasising his own power in front of others who lacked it, and nothing gratified him more than to flirt with a pretty woman before the very eyes of a husband who had not the nerve to object. It made him feel "big."

To the little man he said, with patronizing condescension: "Too bad, my good man, to make myself known to your wife without your permission—but then, that's your fault for having such a darned pretty wife! Somebody'll steal her from you some day, you bet—especially if you don't give her what she asks for. Anyhow you'll join us both in a drink, won't you?"

The man smiled sheepishly (how well Potterson knew his type also), and said he would have a "bitter."

Potterson went on, taking care that all the bar should hear: "Your wife was warning me about you just now—told me I'd better be careful or you'd knock me down. Glad to see you don't intend to, after all. I should hate to be knocked down."

Again the man smiled sheepishly. The crowd laughed in derision, and even the woman could not forbear a titter at her husband's expense. "I won't let him," she said, with mock pity in her voice. "He's a real tiger when he's roused—you'd never believe... Ain't you, Bert?" she added, sipping her gin.

"Don't give in to him," said Potterson, keeping up the banter. "He's a terrible fighter, I can see, but you'll win in the end, if you tackle him the right way. Fight and win is my motto in this world." He relapsed a little into his market-place manner. "If you want health, get it—it's there for you to have. If you want wealth—same thing—fight and win it! If you want to talk to a pretty woman in a pub—well, there's no reason why you shouldn't, is there?"

The woman giggled delightfully.

"Have another drink with me, my dear," resumed Potterson, well pleased with his rate of progress. "George, another gin for the lady and another double for me. And this gentleman will take another bitter, I daresay... Yes, after a fairly adventurous life all over the world I think I can claim that I've won pretty nearly all I ever wanted to win. I'm not grumbling. Life's a grand thing when you can say that."

"But a rotten thing when you can't," put in a man's voice from the crowd.

Potterson heard and welcomed the interruption, it made him more the centre of attention than ever. "But you can, sir!" he thundered, fixing the crowd in general with his carefully-practised Napoleonic stare. "To a man who has red blood in his veins, life is bursting with prizes ripe for capture!" (One of his stock phrases, that was.) "You want something—very well, if you're a man—a Man in the fullest sense of the word—you get it! Fight for it, if need be—but get it—that's the main thing! Why, if I were to tell you half the things that have happened in my own life—" He drained his tumbler at a gulp, and through the glass he saw the little man looking up at him eagerly, evidently contemplating some remark. "Yes?" he said encouragingly, as a schoolmaster might interrogate a small child.

"Mister," began the man, with obvious shyness and embarrassment. His voice lacked even the semblance of refinement that his wife's had. "Mister, you'll excuse me makin' bold to ask you a question—but what you says interests me a good deal. Now, I'm a bit of a readin' man—in my spare time, o' course—and I've heard about the philosophy of that German fellow Nitsky—or whatever 'is name is—"

Potterson's lip curled. Again he recognized the type—one of those down-at-heels fellows you found in public libraries poring over queer books. "Nitsky my foot!" he cried, winking boldly at the woman. "Never heard of the chap and don't want to. I have my own philosophy—my own rules of life—just as I have my own rules of health. And my own are quite good enough for me."

"But Nitsky says—"

"To hell with what Nitsky says. Look here, my good man, it's not a bit of use your stuffing me with the damfool nonsense of some damned foreigner. What I want—and what I'll listen to with pleasure—are your own ideas, if you've got any."

The man flushed under the brutality of the sarcasm. "Well, sir," he resumed, respectfully, "if you'll let me put it in my own way, mebbe I can explain. It seems to me—not being an eddicatcd man, o' course—but it seems to me that it ain't much use expectin' to get everythin' in this world."

"And why not?"

"Because there ain't enough of everythin' to go round."

"There's enough for you, my man, if you go in and get it!"

"But some other fellow may get it first."

"Then take it off him."

"Fight 'im, you mean, mister?"

Potterson roared as he might have done across a market place. The naïveté of the little fellow went to his brain as intoxicatingly as the whisky; never had he met a more perfect foil to his own self-conceit. "Yes, my good fellow, fight him! Most things worth having have to be fought for! Lord, when I look back and think of the fights I've had—"

"You, mister?"

"Well, do you think I've never had to put up my fists to a man? Look!" With a sweeping gesture he rolled up his sleeve and bared his arm above the elbow. "Look at that muscle, sir! Feel it! Hard as iron, eh? It's years since my real fighting days, but I'll wager tonight I could kill a man with one blow of this arm of mine if I was driven to it!"

He could feel the woman's admiration on him like a warm glow; how she must contrast his splendid strength and virility with the spongy weakness of her little whelp of a husband! With her eyes so eagerly looking upwards to him, and the whisky fumes pleasantly simmering in his head, he felt a veritable Superman. Was he not a Superman? Could he not dominate a whole multitude by the magic of his voice and personality? Was not this very ordinary little public-house crowd hanging upon his every word? His heart swelled with pride; he would show them all what sort of a fellow he was. "Drinks all round on me, George," he cried, loudly, and gloried in the respectful murmur of thanks that followed. How easy it was to handle these people! A loud voice and a free drink—or a free box of pills, for that matter—and they were his entirely...

"Kill?" he heard the woman whisper, and the awe with which she spoke the word gave him the most rapturous sensation of power. "Guess I wouldn't like to quarrel with you, then, young feller."

He liked the way she called him "young feller"; he was fifty-seven and his hair beneath the dye was an already silvering grey. He laughed loudly and put his huge hand on her shoulder—it always marked a stage when you first touched a woman. And she winced, too—how delightful that was! "My dear, you never need have any fear of me. Never in my life have I raised my hand to a woman. But, by God, if it was a man I was up against—"

"What would you do?" she breathed in an eager whisper, her dark eyes smouldering.

"Do?" He took a gulp of whisky to gain inspiration. "What would I do? I think I'd better not tell you, m'dear. Not nice for a lady to know about."

Suddenly her attitude changed. She began to laugh at him—mockingly—as formerly she had laughed at her husband. She was drunk, of course—quite drunk. "Go on, young feller—but I don't believe you! You can brag about all you would do all right—so can anybody. But I'll bet you never have done anything!"

"Haven't I?" He leered down at her with a sharp half-angry light in his eyes. He could not endure to be jeered at—but she looked damnably pretty over it, he had to admit. God—she was a fine little creature. If only... But he had to nerve himself for the mental effort of answering her. "That shows how little you know of me," he said. "I'm not a boaster. I don't go round telling everybody what I've done. I've done things, as a matter of fact, that nobody would believe."

"An' I'm not surprised, either. We ain't all fools, even if we do buy your sugar-and-soap pills!"

He was angry then—furiously angry, and the crowd's laugh, for the first time directed against himself, stung him in his weakest spot. "My good woman," he said, carefully controlling himself. "Like all women, you're damned unreasonable. You want to know too much. Nevertheless, I'll tell you—if you want to know, and if you don't believe it, I can't help it—it's the truth, anyway. I've not lived the life of a lounge-lizard. I've seen the world. I've lived with the raw, naked elementals of life." (Another of his stock phrases.) "I've had to fight. I've had to kill. Up the Orinoco River, when I was attacked by Indians with poisoned darts, I put three of them to sleep with my bare fists and nothing else!"

"Oh, out there—that don't count. Anythin' can happen in them sort o' places. It's over here that matters to most of us. An' if you was to kill a man in England with nothin' but your bare fists, you'd be copped by the police the next day and sent to swing within three months."

"Perhaps," he answered cautiously. "Perhaps not." He was glad that the little man was preparing for another of his plaintive interventions. He heard him say: "She's right, mister—if you don't mind me sayin' so. A feller with your strength might easily kill a chap, but the trouble begins arterwards when the cops are out agin you."

So the little man was turning on him, too? Ah, well, he knew how to deal with him. A little heavy sarcasm. "Cops, eh? So you're afraid of them, are you?"

"I daresay I might be, mister, if I'd done a murder."

"Murder! Murder? Who in the name of ten thousand devils was talking about murder?" For the moment his heart stopped beating—then raced on faster than ever as his brain came to the rescue. Murder?... Very well, if they wanted to talk about it, he'd show them. He said, with studied insolence in voice and manner, "Oh, you would be afraid, naturally, whether you'd done a murder or not. You were born that way."

He waited for the general laugh and then continued, gathering impetus: "But let me tell you, sir, that the Man who is sure of Himself—the Man, that is, who is a Man in the fullest sense of the word" (he had used that phrase before, but no matter)—"that Man, I say, is not afraid of the police or of anything or anybody in the whole world!" He paused impressively, enjoying the echoes of his voice.

"You mean, mister, that a man oughter be able to do a murder an' not be found out?"

"I mean, sir, that a man ought to be Successful. That's my creed—my rule of life. If he commits murder, it ought to be a successful murder. And the successful murder isn't found out."

"You think it possible, then, mister?"

"Possible? Of course it's possible. Everything in this world is possible to the Man who knows his job. What do you suppose happens when a fellow pulls off a really well-planned affair?"

"You think the police don't get him?"

"My good man, the police aren't even called in. Nobody dreams of 'em. The Verdict is Accident, maybe, or perhaps even Suicide. I tell you, sir, the battle is half lost when the word murder is first mentioned."

"'Alf lost? You mean 'alf won, mister?"

"Won? No—lost, of course. Oh, well, looking at it from the police point of view, naturally..." He signalled for another drink. "Bah—the police—what are they? They ain't got an idea in their heads, most of 'em."

"Ah, but mister, they gets 'old of ideas, some'ow. It's a queer thing, the way they gets 'old of clues an' things. Now my cousin's brother-in-law's at Scotland Yard, and 'e tells me some o' the things that goes on."

"And you believe him, of course. You would. Naturally what a policeman says about himself is very pleasant to hear. But all the time they know—they all know from experience—that the well-planned crime is never found out!"

He stopped, rather wondering what he had been talking about. He was being pretty eloquent, anyhow—he could see how closely he had seized on the attention of the whole room. Ah, yes, the question of crime and being found out—funny sort of argument to have, but taproom conversations did lead up to queer things. He took a gulp of neat whisky and added, "Yes, sir, there are men walking the streets of this country to-day, respected and worthy citizens, who, if the truth were known, would be queuing up for the scaffold. If the truth were known, mark you. But it isn't. And it never will be. The affair was well planned."

"Though they say, mister, that somethin' always gives you away."

"Not if you've a ha'porth of brains," he snapped, contemptuously. "Of course, if you haven't, you'd better lead a respectable life." He laughed loudly and finished his glass. Strange how he had been driven to lecture a bar-parlour on such a topic! "Same again, George," he muttered.

The woman was smiling at him provokingly. "Seems to me, then, young fellow, that if I ever want to kill anybody I'd better come to you for advice?"

She was still half-mocking him, but he could see the light of admiration winning through again. It exhilarated him, made him want to renew his conquest to the full. "Well, m'dear, it's not for me to say—but I guess I can give most people good advice about most things."

"Still," continued the little man, with naïve seriousness, "I don't think I'd ever kill anybody, even if I knew 'ow. Not that there ain't some folks as deserve to be put out. My brother, f'rinstance. Lives up at Millport in a swell 'ouse—servants, motor-cars—all that. Rollin' in money—did me out o' my share when my father died. Made 'is fortune doing other people since—wouldn't gimme a penny, not if I was starvin', 'e wouldn't. Sometimes I sees 'im at the station of an evenin'—'e 'as a factory 'ere—I sees 'im steppin' into 'is first-class kerridge on the Millport train—and I could kill 'im with my own 'ands, straight, I could."

Potterson stared at him with a certain interest; it was extraordinary that such a mild little fellow should nourish such a hatred. Hardly what one would expect—hardly even what he, Potterson, the student of human nature, would have expected. "Well, why don't you kill him?" he said, with a wink at the crowd.

"I ain't got the courage, that I 'aven't," replied the other. His frankness was so amusing. Potterson began to struggle with whiskified laughter. "Besides, mister, come to think of it, I dunno as there'd be any way. 'E's so scared of burglars nobody'd ever get in 'is 'ouse."

"Better kill him in the street, then," said Potterson, almost hysterically. Really, the fellow was as good as a music-hall.

"No, mister—that wouldn't do, either, with everybody lookin' on."

"Oh, don't—don't," Potterson cried, holding his sides with merriment. "Oh, Lord—you make me laugh more than I've laughed for months! I think I know now why your wife married you—she thought you were the damn funniest thing she'd ever seen!" He laughed till the tears streamed from his eyes and mingled with the perspiration on his nose and cheeks. "Besides," he added, pulling himself together, "you're wrong. There is a way. There always is."

"No, mister. Not with 'im. Even you couldn't find one."

"Couldn't I?" Reaction, after the hysteria of laughing so much, gave him a tone that was curt and almost angry. "Couldn't I, my little fellow? Don't you be too sure what I could do and couldn't do!"

He felt the woman's hand on his arm like a bar of fire—another stage, when the woman first did the touching. "I suppose you think you could, eh?" she whispered.

"M'dear"—he began, thickly; he wondered if he might dare to put an encircling arm round her waist. He was almost doing so when she turned on him fiercely, "None of that!" What a little spitfire she was! Hopelessly drunk, of course... He heard her continuing, "All talk—brag—boast—no proof—that's the sort he is!"

One or two of the crowd tittered and chuckled; he felt a dull angry flush mounting to his cheeks and stabbing his eyes from the inside. Making fun of him, was she? He'd show her—and the rest, too. "Look here!" he shouted, moving as if to take off his coat. "If there's any man here who thinks I'm nothing but a boaster, let him come up and tell me so—man to man! And if there's any woman thinks so, let her keep her damned mouth shut!"

"Rot!" retorted the woman. "I dare you to prove what you say. You say there was always a way of killin' a chap if you wanted to. Well, to prove that, you gotter take a test case. Take my 'usband's brother—'e'll do as good as any. 'Ow would you work the trick with 'im?"

He felt the crowd veering away from him in sympathy—a thing he could never endure. "Aye, that's a fair question," he heard someone say. Other voices came to his ears—eager, critical, derisive voices. And at the same time, looking down at the woman's face so close to his own, he was filled with an overmastering, intolerable longing to subdue her, to justify himself before her, to make himself forever memorable in her life. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. That woman at Portsmouth—nothing to her. Nor the little French girl. Nor even Maudie Raines—Maudie who years before had driven him to such madness that...

"Same again, George," he muttered. Then he gritted his teeth and fortified himself for a new struggle. "You're a fine pack of fools," he cried irritably at last. "How the hell can I tell what the best plan would be when I don't know the man or his ways or anything about him?"

"I'll tell you," whispered the woman. "I'll answer anything you want to know about 'im."

Her eyes, lustrous and burning, seemed to swim into his seething brain. She would tell him. Could it be that she wanted him to succeed before her husband, before the crowd? Was she on his side? Extraordinary—there was something in her eyes—in the way she looked at him—that reminded him of Maudie Raines... He began to speak loudly, in something of his market-place manner, yet with greater emphasis than he usually employed. "Ladies and gentlemen," he cried, "I accept the challenge. I'm a man of my word and I mean every single word that I say. No nonsense about Parker Potterson. He's straight—he delivers the goods. Mind you—in my opinion, this is an entirely abshurd—absurd argument—discussing how to kill a man who is living a few miles away at this preshent moment—and who, despite our friend here, is probably a very decent and respectable member of the community. It is, I repeat, an absurd business altogether—and, if I may say so, in very bad taste. It was that, and that alone, that made me reluctant at first to enter into it. But"—and here his voice acquired a rich cathedral tone—"but having had my word doubted, ladish—ladies and gentlemen—having had foul ashpershions cast upon my good faith—what can I do but take up the challenge, good tashte or bad tashte?"

"Get to the point, mister," cried a voice in the crowd, and Potterson turned upon it savagely. "I'll get to the point in my time, shir, and not in yours! And if you dare to interrupt me again I'll knock your damned head off!"

He paused to appreciate the silence; but, by God, he was getting them—calming them—thrilling them with his words—how marvellous it was to be able to do that! The old sense of power was on him again, but more than ever before—more than ever before in his life; a Berserker fierceness hammered at his temples. He would show them—never in Finchingfold would that night at the Crown and Woolpack be forgotten. "Ladies and gentlemen—where wash I? Ah, I remember... Thish gentleman—unknown to me—who lives at Millport... Very well, I accept the challenge. But"—and he leered down at the woman—"but you must always bear in mind that because I could do a thing, it doesn't follow that anybody else could!"

"Never mind. Tell us how you would do it."

"I'm going to. I'm going to make you realize that Parker Potterson is a man of his word. If Parker Potterson saysh he can do a thing, then he can do it. Now then..." He turned to the little man. "Did I, shir, or did I not—hear you remark a moment or so ago that you often saw your brother at Finchingfold Shtation—shtepping into a firsht-class carriage on the train for Millport?"

"That's right, mister. 'E travels every day back'ards and for'ards."

"Good. That givesh me an idea. He musht be killed on the train."

"But 'ow, mister?"

"Ah, that'sh jusht where the brains comesh in. But it'sh ver' simple. Get into the next carriage when hish train leavesh in an evening. Make sure hish carriage and yoursh are empty—mosht likely they are, ash he travelsh firsht. Then..." He stopped, caught his breath rather wildly, and added: "Ishn't there a long tunnel between Finchingfold and Millport?"

"That's right, mister. You know the line, then?"

"Never you mind what I know—it'sh a deal more'n you ever will, anyway... Ver'good—the tunnel, then. All you gotter do is to wait till the train entersh the tunnel, slip out of your compartment along the footboard and get in hish compartment, then kill your man—"

"Kill 'im?"

"Yesh—kill him—you can't get out of that!"

"But 'ow?"

"How th'hell d'you think? Heapsh of waysh... Throttle him if y'like. Or a hammer. Know how t'ushe a hammer?"

"Tidy-sized mallet might do," said the man, with fatuous simplicity. "I'm a carpenter by trade, I am, an' I'm pretty well used to a mallet."

Potterson's eyes lit up with a hectic gleam. "Shplendid! Glad to hear y'can do shomething. An' a mallet'sh all right—jusht as good as a hammer—perhapsh better."

"But what abart after that, mister? My cousin's brother-in-law, what I was tellin' you of, 'e ses to me that the real trouble abart these things is gettin' rid o' the body arterwards."

"Cousin'sh brother-in-law'sh a fool. Dishpose of the body—eashy to any man of brainsh!"

"Well, 'ow abart it?"

"Eashy, I tell you."

"But—in this 'ere case, mister—on a train?"

"Eashy. Ain't there a river to crosh—an' a big bridge—jusht before the train getsh to Millport?"

"That's right, mister. Three-arch bridge over the River Fayle."

"Dammit, then—can't y'shee? Eashy to any man of brainsh. Ash train croshes bridge, open door an' throw body over par—parapet into river! Heh? Ain't that a good plan? Now would you—would you have thought of that, hey? Or you, m'dear?" He turned to the woman, eager to taste the reward of his triumph.

She laughed. "Somebody'd see you from the tow-path, most likely."

"Ah! ... that'sh clever of you, m'dear. Thish li'l plan o' mine worksh besht in winter. Nobody on tow-path in winter—choosh nice rainy night in December—November—Chrishmash... An' lishen to me—it'sh a damn good plan, I tell you—becosh—becosh when the body comesh ashore—they'll shay—poor feller—shad accshident—fell backwardsh—mark on hish head where he hit par—parapet. An' thoshe who don't believe that'll shay—'coursh it'sh shuicide really, on'y relativesh tryin' t'hush thingsh up..." God—what was he talking about—what had he been saying? Who, anyway, had begun this fool argument? He was mad; the room was whirling round and round; his brain was on fire.

The woman was still laughing. "Yes, it's a plan all right, I'll grant that. Only I'd like to see my Bert throwin' the body out, that's all! Why, 'e couldn't 'ardly throw a dead cat over a fence!"

For the second time that night Potterson laughed till the tears ran down from his whisky-sodden eyes. Triumph! He had scored over them all. She was laughing with him now, not at him; he could feel her yielding to him—realizing his power and strength as he had willed her to. Lord—what a grand world it was for those who were born to be natural lords over their fellows!

"Mebbe he couldn't!" he cried hoarsely. "But I never guar-guaranteed he could, did I? It'sh a job for a man of shtrength, not for a weakling! All th'world ish open to th'man of shtrength—shtrength and brainsh—both t'gether—an' the weakesht goesh to th'wall!" It was the eternal saga of his dreams.

"Well, mister," said the little man, "you've give me a fair answer, I'll say that. An' now p'rhaps you'll 'ave just a last drink with me?"

"Dummind. 'Nother one, Georsh."

He knew he was perfectly drunk—too drunk to know what he was doing or saying. Yet a blind insensate pride in himself made him believe that never, never had he triumphed so mightily. And all because of the woman. But for her a little idle boasting, might have been—but nothing else. It was she who had driven him to claim this strange and utmost triumph. She was the sort he would do anything for—just as he had done for Maudie Raines so many years ago. Always women had been his weakness—his weakness by making him feel so strong. There was nothing he would not have done for a woman he fancied. And there was nothing still that he would not do. At fifty-seven the same fire was in him—the same as at twenty-seven...

While he was drinking he made to put his arm round the woman's waist and this time she did not repulse him. His head throbbed and sang with exhilaration. He was winning her! His arm closed round her, and again he felt that entrancing delicate shrinking of her body away from him. She shrank, but somehow diffidently, almost invitingly.

"Satishfied I'm a man of my word, m'dear?" he hiccupped, and she replied:

"I'll certainly say you are if you'll answer me just one more question. You know, they always do say that it's the little things as gets a man down, as often as not. Now take that mallet, f'rinstance. What'd you do with it afterwards? If you was to throw it into the river with the body it'd float and be washed ashore somewhere, and then, mebbe, with the bloodstains on it, it'd give you away—quite likely, anyhow'. So you see, young feller, that looks to me the weak spot in your plan—that mallet. Couldn't you get rid of it some way or another?"

"Yes, mister," the little man echoed in his plaintive whine. "I 'adn't thought o' that, I admit—but my old gel—she's a reg'lar smart 'un—trust 'er for not missin' anythin'."

A murmur went round the bystanders. "Yes, I reckon 'e's got you there, mister! Tell us what you'd do with the mallet!"

The mallet... What would he do with it? Potterson fought for coherence—for coherence to think as well as to speak. The Mallet... extraordinary that anyone should be asking him questions about a mallet!

He glanced down and saw the woman's eyes fixed on him. His brain reeled with joy; he began to tremble. She was his; she no longer shrank away from his touch or even tried to—he could feel her breath rising and falling like a livid ache in his own body. It was his moment—the moment for which he had always lived.

"The mallet—the mallet—tell me!" she whispered, and he knew then that he would answer even that last question—that last question and answer that would remove the final barrier between himself and her! "Mallet?" he roared, in a voice that made passers-by in the market place outside stop to wonder what was happening. "Yesh—'course you oughter deshtroy th'malletl Think Parker Pottershon'sh fool enough t'forget important thin' li' that? Yesh ... gotter deshtroy mallet—altogether—shome-how..."

"But, 'ow, that's the question, mister?" queried the little man, with that strange, half-pathetic, half-exasperating patience.

Potterson smiled then—a wide, uncanny smile from which all the light had gone out except the hideous light of evil. "That'sh right. Lemme think. How deshtroy mallet? Ah... Idea. Idea o' mine—brainsh full o' good ideash—heh? Ain't there a slag-heap jusht outshide Millport Shtation—one o' them burnin' shlag-heapsh near gashworksh?"

"That's right, mister."

"Then, by God, ain't it eashy—eashy as kishin' a pretty woman like yo' wife—throw mallet on shlag-heap—an' in a minute—two minitsh—all burned to shinder!"

And with a strange weakness in all his limbs he reeled towards the face that at that final moment sharply eluded his.

"So that's how you did it?" said the little man suddenly, speaking in a different voice and, as it were, from a different world. "I'd always had my suspicions, ever since they found that half-burned mallet on the edge of the slag-heap. You aimed badly, I'm afraid..." And in a more level voice he added: "Parker Potterson, alias Richard Morley, I arrest you for the willful murder of Thomas Raines on the night of December the twelfth, Eighteen-Ninety-Eight..."

Two of the bystanders seized his arms and led him away, the little man and the woman following...

"What puzzles me," remarked the latter some hours later as she discussed the whole affair with her famous, though somewhat diminutive husband, "is why he troubled to throw the mallet on the slag-heap at all? Why not simply have put it in a bag and carried it through the station barrier in the ordinary way? He could easily have destroyed it afterwards."

"True," answered Detective-Inspector Howard, of Scotland Yard, "but then that wouldn't have been Morley. Some criminals are not clever enough, but Morley was too clever. That mallet on the slag-heap was the one quite unnecessary touch of genius that let him down. And he was so proud of it that years afterwards he couldn't resist the temptation to brag about it to a pretty woman." He gave his wife an affectionate glance as he added: "Well, Maud, it was your triumph, chiefly—you played a dashed unpleasant part remarkably well. But it was the mallet that finished him—as surely as it finished your poor father thirty years ago."