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First published in The Strand Magazine, January 1924, as by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes

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The Strand Magazine, January 1924, with "The Philanderer"


"Seriously, my dear, I can't come. You know quite well I would if I could."


THE stable-yard clock struck seven. Leonard Hardwyke, a fine, upstanding man, looking a good deal younger than his age, which was forty-one, jumped up from his chair. Time he went to see the lady whom he facetiously called his missus.

It was Christmas Eve, and to many a cheery house-party gathered together within a motor drive of Allways Place he would have been a welcome addition, had it not been that, according to his rather peculiar moral code, it was not fitting for him to be away from his own quiet, shadowed, house on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Other people might forget what Hardwyke owed to his wife, but he never forgot. At the time of their marriage he had been nearly penniless, and now he was for all practical purposes master of a large fortune.

As he was walking to the door of his pleasant study the telephone bell rang. He turned, took up the receiver, listened for a moment, then called back in a hearty, jovial tone, "Don't tempt me. Cissie! A good man—and I hope I'm a good man—does not leave his wife alone on Christmas Eve!"

A slightly pettish voice answered: "What nonsense! You never see her after half-past eight—you told me so yourself, in the days when I used to feel so sorry for you."

Though he knew she couldn't see him he shook his head. "Seriously, my dear, I can't come. You know quite well I would if I could." There was a tender vibration in his low, caressing voice. Even after he had wearied of a woman Hardwyke always went on being affectionate and courteous; so "Happy Christmas, darling," he murmured.

He heard her say angrily: "I won't wish you a happy Christmas, Leonard. You don't deserve one! You are a hypocrite! Going to spend a pleasant evening with Miss Akbar, I suppose?"


"You are a hypocrite! Going to spend a pleasant
evening with Miss Akbar, I suppose?"

Before he could deny, with real vehemence, that unfair impeachment, Mrs. Langdon hung up the receiver.

Though vexed, he felt a little touched, too. Rather nice of her to be so disappointed, considering what old friends they were, and how long it was since—well, since he had made love to her.

Still, the word hypocrite stung him. Far from being a hypocrite Hardwyke never even pretended to other women than herself that he had more than a grateful affection for his wife. What more could one ask from a man who had married, at twenty-nine, a woman who was forty-three, plain and sickly, and not over good-tempered? It hadn't always been easy, begad! But he had got away with it, and he was happier now than he had been at the beginning of his married life. In those early days, when his Annie used to be ridiculously jealous, it had been awkward, and sometimes very tiresome. But by dint of good humour, of showing her the little attentions that all women love, and also by—well, by being exceedingly careful,—he had lulled her jealousy to sleep, and he was now far happier than many married men of his acquaintance; life had become infinitely easier, too, since Annie had subsided into being a regular invalid, living entirely upstairs in her own charming suite of rooms. Oddly enough she hated doctors, and that, from Hardwyke's point of view, was a good thing. It would have been such a bore if the house had always been full of medicos.

His mind took a sudden twist, He didn't envy the fellow who married Rosalind Akbar. There was a regular little spitfire for you!

And then, as if his thought had brought her, the door opened and Miss Akbar, his wife's companion, came through it, her ardent glance enveloping him as in a blast of flame.

For a moment he felt queerly disconcerted, almost as though he had been caught out doing something he should not do. And yet that was far from being the case. On the contrary, with regard to this young woman he had acted with unusual good sense. Your born philanderer—and Hardwyke was a born philanderer—is very rarely tempted to assume the role of a Don Juan, and, when he is so tempted, that instinct of self-preservation, which is the strongest instinct of all, comes to his aid—and turns him from a Don Juan into a Joseph. It was a long time—indeed, not since early October—since Miss Akbar had sought him out like this, in his own quarters.

"Mrs. Hardwyke is not well to-night," she said, quietly. "I'm afraid she will not be able to see you this evening."

"Then you think it unlikely that she will ask for me to-night?"

"I feel sure she will not do so."

There was a pause, and then: "May I go now?" she asked, with affected humility.

He opened the door for her. "Certainly, Miss Akbar, and thank you for coming yourself."

He shut the door slowly, then went over to the telephone. "16. Paringham, please—Cissie? What luck to catch you like this! My wife's not well, and I've lust had a message to say she doesn't wish to be disturbed to-night, so I'll come along, if I may, as soon as I've had dinner."

He heard the slightly mocking words. "Good business! No. I don't mean that, of course—I'm sorry Mrs. Hardwyke isn't well. But I'm glad you're coming, Len. I hope Miss Akbar won't be disappointed!"

He went to the fireplace and sat down, wondering, with a touch of uneasiness, how much local gossip lay behind that acrid remark. He and the girl certainly gave no cause for gossip now—for his wife's companion lived a life quite apart from his own. She had her own sitting-room, where she even took her meals, and though there had been a time when he had chafed at a state of things which had made it almost impossible for him to see much of Rosalind Akbar without the whole household becoming aware of the fact, he was now very glad indeed that it was difficult for them to meet.

Yet how attractive she was! No wonder he had been so strangely and powerfully allured. To-night she was wearing a dull gold frock on which, stencilled here and there, were blue and green Chinese peacocks—emblems of bad luck. The sheaf-like garment showed every point of her beautiful, slender figure, and from the small opening of the neck rose the proud-looking little, narrow head, crowned with an aureole of dark, curling hair.

Then his mind reverted to the evening's amusement before him. He was touched and flattered at the genuine pleasure in Cissie Langdon's voice.

There is something very pleasant to the average man in the knowledge that he is thoroughly well liked by a large circle of neighbours. True, when one is generous and rich, one is very apt to be liked by the people among whom one's lot is cast. But Leonard Hardwyke was well aware that he had had to live down strong prejudice. Everyone in this old-fashioned country neighbourhood had fallen into the habit of thinking that Anne Allways was destined to remain for ever unmarried. That the wealthy, ill-tempered spinster lady, a suspicious-natured invalid to boot, should suddenly return from Brighton one spring with a good-looking husband fourteen years younger than herself had been a nine days' wonder, and certain people had looked very askant, and for a long time, at Leonard Hardwyke.

Now the trouble was not that people disliked him, but that they liked him a thought too much!

Over the shrewd, good-looking face there came a slight smile. The unkind might have called it a fatuous smile—for it was the smile of a man who knows, deep in his heart, that he is almost uncannily attractive to women.

And then he grew suddenly grave, for he had remembered once more Rosalind Akbar. It gave him a touch of discomfort to know that she was close by, on the other side of the house, probably thinking of him with mingled malignity and—well, why not call it "passion" to himself?

She had once talked wildly of killing herself, and it had frightened him badly.


THE fun at Paringham Hall was at its height, though some of the older people were beginning to think of the supper which was to be served immediately the children had been sent off to bed.

Because of the children all sorts of childish games had been played to-night, and now they had come to "Blind Man's Buff." Leonard Hardwyke was the only man over forty in the game, but, as he was in the pink of physical condition, he had enjoyed every minute of it. And the pleasantest minute of all had been that when he had caught the prettiest girl in the room, and, with her willing assent, refused for a whole half-minute to let her go!

They had all sat down to rest for a few moments when the door of the ballroom opened, and there appeared two smiling white-clad nurses. Behind them stood Glencomb, an old family servant who was on terms of respectful friendship with his master's most popular guest. As he had come into the house this evening Leonard Hardwyke had slipped a pound note into Glencomb's hand. "A happy Christmas!" he had exclaimed, and the man had looked at him full of gratified surprise; Mr. Hardwyke had indeed deserved his luck in being married to so rich a lady.

But while the nurses were calling to their unwilling charges to come to bed, there came a look of genuine distress on the butler's face. He threaded his way quietly among the chairs till he reached the place where Hardwyke was leaning over a fair lady murmuring, as was his way, pleasant somethings in her ear; and then. "Mr. Hardwyke," he whispered, "you are wanted on the telephone."

Hardwyke straightened himself. "All right. Glencomb. I'm coming!"

But though his face remained unruffled and smiling, he felt really angry. At one time his wife's companion had fallen into the way of telephoning to him when he was lunching or dining out, and she would take any excuse, however trivial, or at any rate so it had seemed to him. He had told her at last never to telephone unless the matter was really urgent, and of late she had obeyed him.

As they were crossing the hall Glencomb said, quietly: "I'm afraid, sir, that you're going to hear bad news."

Hardwyke felt startled—nay, more, frightened.

Good God! how awful it would be for him if that foolish girl had done anything terrible, irreparable! He had an inconveniently vivid imagination, and now he saw Rosalind Akbar stretched out on the floor of her sitting-room—the small automatic pistol which he had once seen in her possession lying by her side....

The telephone was in a tiny room leading to the domestic quarters of Paringham Hall, and after the butler had shut the door on him. Hardwyke, taking up the receiver, called out: "What's the matter?"

Silence—disconcerting silence.

He waited impatiently. And then, just as he was going to try and get through again, he heard the question uttered in a woman's voice. "Is that Mr. Hardwyke himself?"

His heart stood still, for it was not Rosalind Akbar's voice. "Yes, yes—of course it is I. Who are you?"

"I'm Miss Dakin, the parish nurse, Mr. Hardwyke. I'm afraid I'm going to give you a great shock. Mrs. Hardwyke is dead."

He was so amazed, so astounded, that the meaning of the words just uttered in that quiet, toneless voice did not carry their full significance to his brain.

He said in a dazed voice: "My wife—dead?"

"She was already dead when I was sent for. It must have been very sudden."

"Is Dr. Fenner there?"

"He is out at a bad case, and they don't expect him back for another hour."

"I see. Thank you. I'll come home at once, of course." As he went out of the room it was a comfort to see the butler waiting for him at the end of the passage.

"You were right, Glencomb. I've had very bad news. Mrs. Hardwyke has died suddenly. I must go home at once. Will you tell Mrs. Langdon?"

"I feared it was something very serious, sir, from the way the lady spoke. I've sent round for your car, and meanwhile I do hope you'll just have a little supper—I've got it all ready on a tray for you."

There came a lump in Hardwyke's throat. What a good fellow Glencomb was! What good friends he had in every class of life! He put out his hand and clasped the other man's, warmly.

And then, standing there in the stone passage, he began to eat the cold chicken and pâté-de-foie-gras mousse. But though a few minutes ago he had felt quite hungry, he ate very little now. Still, he did manage to put away the whole of the half bottle of excellent champagne Glencomb had also thoughtfully provided.

Poor Annie—poor, dear Annie! Well, he had made her as happy as any man could have made her. She had told him so, albeit a little grudgingly, on the occasion of his last birthday, when she had given him a big cheque to buy a new hunter. He remembered, too, that she had re-made her will this autumn, in deference to a suggestion of his. Several of the people to whom she had left money in her last will, made at the time of their marriage, had died.

IN the daylight it took not much more than a quarter of an hour to reach Allways Place, but the chauffeur was agreeably aware that he had to deal with a master who never cared to take risks. Besides, where was the use of hurrying now? So Hardwyke had a little time for thought as he sat back in his luxurious car.

He told himself, as men are apt to tell themselves at such moments, that it's the unexpected which always happens in life. Why, the last time the great London specialist, who was the only doctor she liked, had seen his wife, he had said that he saw no reason why she shouldn't live till eighty! Hardwyke had always supposed that he would outlive her, a reasonable belief, as she was fourteen years older than himself, and during the first three or four years of their married life he had sometimes thought of what would happen when she died. But that kind of secret speculation had now been absent from his mind for a long time.

Yet how this unexpected event would alter his life! How it would free him from a kind of bondage he had never allowed to weigh on him, but which he had felt to be there—good God, yes!—all the time. Although they would both have denied it, it was, of course, a fact that he had never been free to go away, to do anything that he really wanted to do, without her permission. Poor Annie hadn't asked much of her husband, but he had almost always to be with her while she ate her lunch, when she drank her afternoon tea and during her plain little supper.

He had grown very fond of Allways Place, the charming Elizabethan manor-house of which he had become master in so curious and romantic a way—Hardwyke always liked to think of his marriage as curious and romantic—but, even so, how glad he would be to get away from it for a while.

He suddenly remembered, with a feeling of real gratitude and emotion, that with regard to that recent will of hers his wife had made one very important alteration. In her first will she had put in a clause common enough in men's wills, but uncommon in a woman's will. This was that in the case of his re-marriage he should only have a thousand a year. But she had cut out that clause, leaving him absolutely free, and sole owner of her considerable fortune. He thought with emotion that she needn't have altered that clause. Marry again? Not he! To Leonard Hardwyke's mind a rich bachelor's life was the ideal life.


HE had thought Miss Akbar would meet him at the front door, and he was relieved to see no one there but his wife's old, old butler, a man whom it had taken him a long time to win round, but with whom he was now on the very best of terms. Why. there were actually tears in the old fellow's eyes. How touching!

"The parish nurse has stayed on, sir," said the man in a quavering voice. "She thought you might like to see her; she's in the study."

Hardwyke felt glad that no word was said as to Miss Akbar. He suspected that there had been, among the servants, just a little talk this last summer concerning his friendship with his wife's companion. That sort of person is so apt to suspect evil where no evil exists. Still, it was a relief to know that Rosalind Akbar would, of course, leave Allways Place immediately after the funeral.

He hurried off to his study, and the parish nurse stood up as he came in. Like everyone else in the village, she was on the best of terms with him.

As he shook hands with her he murmured: "This is terribly sudden. Miss Dakin. Somehow I can't believe it even now! I was with Mrs. Hardwyke while she had her tea this afternoon, and I thought her rather better than usual."

"Miss Akbar says that Mrs. Hardwyke began to feel ill about half-past six, and that from then she grew worse and worse. I'm sorry, Mr. Hardwyke, that I wasn't sent for before. I might have done something to alleviate her pain."

"Had she pain?" he said, startled and very sorry.

"Yes, I'm afraid she had a good deal of pain. But Miss Akbar gave her some morphia pills which Mrs. Hardwyke had had by her for a long time."

He said, bewildered: "But I don't understand why she died."

"Her heart must have given way."

He caught at that. "The big London man we had down some time ago told me her heart was not in good trim."

There was a pause, and then Hardwyke said, solicitously: "I do hope you've had some supper, Miss Dakin?"

It was that sort of thoughtfulness that made people like the man so much. He was kind to any woman that came across his path.

She said, gratefully: "Yes, indeed, I've had some supper. Mr. Hardwyke—and a glass of your wonderful old port as well."

"That's right!" he exclaimed. "Have another glass now, before you go out into the cold." And though she protested, he rang the bell. "I'm glad old England hasn't gone dry yet, eh?"

The parish nurse smiled, for the first time that evening.

After he had ordered the wine from the butler, he turned to her again. "I suppose poor Miss Akbar is worn out; and that you sent her to bed?"

She looked rather surprised. "No, I don't think she's gone to bed, Mr. Hardwyke. I'm sure she meant to sit up to see you. She was in here just now. but when we heard the motor she left the room. I wonder where she can be?"

And then he realized that the strange girl didn't mean to see him for the first time after his wife's death in the presence of another woman. But if she thought he was going to choose such a moment as this to be sentimental she was mistaken; the idea was revolting—revolting!

He poured out a glass of port for the nurse, and then he took her to the front door and put her into his motor as carefully, as courteously, so she said to herself, as if she had been the first lady in the land.

Slowly, with lagging steps, he turned back into the house. "If Miss Akbar has not gone to bed, I should like to see her," he said to the butler; and then, as if by an afterthought: "Oh, and at the same time Miss Brown might come down."

Brown was his wife's maid, and his firm ally.

"Miss Brown has gone to bed, sir. Miss Akbar is already in the study—I saw her go in there just now."

Then he had been right? She had been waiting for the other woman to go before she saw him.

Straightening himself instinctively, he opened the door of the study.

His wife's companion was standing by the fire, and her head was bent down, as if she were listening to something. She did not look up as he opened the door, and a sensation of irritation swept over Leonard Hardwyke. Why couldn't she be ordinary, natural? Alas, he knew well enough that she was being absolutely herself; in fact, the thing about Rosalind Akbar that he had found unpleasantly disconcerting was that she was always, first and last, a child of nature.

She looked round at him, and he was horrified at the change in her face; it was entirely drained of colour; and suddenly he was ashamed of his unkind thoughts, for she had evidently gone through an awful ordeal.

"Sit down," he said, kindly, "sit down, Rosalind. I'm more sorry than I can say that I was out to-night."

"Its the first time, Mr. Hardwyke, that I've ever seen anybody die, or even anybody dead," she muttered in a low, shaky voice.

And then, still speaking in tremulous tones, she added: "I thought she would just lie back and die quietly. But she had such awful pain till we found some old morphia pills. Brown didn't want to give them to her, but they acted very quickly and were such a comfort! Brown thinks that perhaps they hastened her death?" She looked round her timorously, as if afraid that the walls might hear.

"I don't think morphia acts in that way at all," he said, shortly. "And, if it did, who could wish anyone to linger on in agony? I have a horror of the modern way of prolonging life a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours."

"So have I," she murmured, almost inaudibly.

He could see her lips twitching, and felt concerned about her, while yet again irritated. After all, she hadn't cared for her employer; she had actually disliked her.

BUT women are queer creatures! Leonard Hardwyke had all your philanderer's instinctive contempt for the other sex, though at times an infinite indulgence for, and understanding of, women.

He said abruptly: "I will, of course, sit up for Dr. Fenner. But you had better go to bed. The parish nurse has told me everything."

"I don't see how she can have told you anything, for I didn't send for her till after—after—"

He broke in impatiently: "I know that. But she told me enough to say everything that is necessary to Dr. Fenner."

The thought of sitting up here with the girl—as he used sometimes to sit up with her after the servants had all gone to bed, in the dangerous, foolish days that now seemed so long ago—was intolerable, the more so that Dr. Fenner might not come to-night after all.

She got up, like an automaton, and again he was frightened by the ghastly look of her face. "It was terrible," she said, brokenly. "Her suffering, I mean. And yet how callous people are! Brown thought it quite natural, and even Miss Dakin, when I told her about it, didn't seem to mind very much."

He took her cold hand and chafed it.

"Now look here, my dear!" He forced her down into her chair again. "You must try and pull yourself together! I know you've had a very terrible experience, and I'm bitterly sorry that I went out to-night, and that you faced it alone. But you always did your duty by Mrs. Hardwyke, and I'm sure you thought of everything a kind heart could suggest your doing for her to-night, and—"

She interrupted him roughly. "How does it feel to be free?" she asked, looking up into his face.

He winced, shocked at the atrocious taste of the question.

"You've often told me yourself," she went on, breathlessly, "that you were bound—not free! Now you are free, Leonard Hardwyke—how does it feel to be free?"

He looked round him nervously. Supposing one of the servants happened to be listening at the door! What a horrid thing to have whispered about him—that he had said he felt bound, not free! And what a fool he had been to say it to his wife's companion—to this hysterical, malicious girl! Hardwyke had said that sort of thing to so many women, but this was the first time a woman had been so unkind as to taunt him with it.

"It was wrong of me to say that—very wrong, Miss Akbar;" he spoke rather louder than usual. "Every married man is in a sense bound. But though you may find it difficult to believe it, I had a very real, indeed a deep, affection for my poor wife."

"Had you?" She started up from the chair where he had placed her. "Then, indeed, am I of all women the most miserable!"

"Don't talk like that," he said in a low voice—what to herself the unhappy girl called his "old" voice. "You are making me very miserable, Rosalind."

"Mr. Hardwyke "—she took a step nearer to him and gazed into his face with so strange and despairing a look that for the first time in his long, selfish life he felt ashamed of having made love to a woman—ashamed, as well as bitterly sorry—"do you think your wife died a natural death?"


"Mr. Hardwyke, do you think your wife died a natural death?"

"Of course I do. She was always an invalid, and her heart was in a bad state. I suppose she must have eaten something to-day at lunch that disagreed with her. Acute pain followed, and her heart gave way."

"You really believe that?" The girl looked at him fixedly.

"What else can I believe?"

He was puzzled by her manner. Was she trying to prolong their interview? Was she afraid of going off to bed. He hardly liked to suggest that she should take one of his poor wife's sleeping draughts, though that would be the wisest thing she could do.

Then there fell on his affrighted ears the words, uttered slowly and very distinctly:

"I killed Mrs. Hardwyke. I gave her a large dose of antimony. No one else will ever know the truth, but I wish you to know at what a cost you have been made free."

Her voice rising almost into a scream, she went on, speaking more and more quickly:

"It's all very well for you to pretend now that you weren't unhappy—that you were attached to your wife. I know better! I know that you were wretched. But don't be afraid—you'll never see me again after to-morrow. My work is done here. I didn't mean you to know this—no one else will ever know."

He put his hands heavily on her shoulders. "I don't believe a word of what you've been saying. You can't frighten me. you silly little fool! How dare you tell such a wicked, silly, dangerous lie?"

"Very well—go on believing that she died a natural death! I don't care!" she cried, hysterically.

He let her go. "I—I don't know what to believe," he muttered, and it was the truth.

There came a curious look over her pallid face. "I'm not like you," she cried, passionately. "I haven't had an easy, sheltered life. I've had to think things out for myself, Mr. Hardwyke, and I'm not a bit sorry for what I've done! What upset me was seeing her suffer."

And then she repeated the curious phrase he had heard her utter—was it a few minutes, or hours ago? "I thought she would simply lie back and die. You told me yourself, during the short time you really loved me, that her heart might give way at any time."

He was gazing at her with a feeling of growing horror and repulsion. This was surely a nightmare he was living through! But what an awful nightmare.

"I ask you to confess," he said, firmly, "that what you have just told me is not true. That you said it only—"

"—To pay you out for all the unhappiness, the misery, the shame, you have caused me. Mr. Hardwyke, do you think—Very well—have it so!"

"The shame?" he repeated. "I don't know what you mean. We have nothing to be ashamed of—far from it."

She said, violently: "So you think, no doubt. But I am ashamed—horribly, debasedly ashamed, of having loved such a creature as you. However, as I said just now, I'm going away to-morrow—you'll never be troubled with me any more."

He put up a warning hand. His quick ears had caught the sound of a motor rushing swiftly up the avenue. "There's Dr. Fenner!" he exclaimed.

He took her hand again. "I bitterly regret the suffering I have caused you. Still, you shouldn't have done what you did just now. It was a very cruel punishment for my having loved you. Come! Admit that it was!"

But her face, now, was the face of a mask.

She wrenched her hand away. "You can make Brown get up—if the doctor really wants to hear what went on this evening," she said in a hard voice, and then she left the room.

A few moments later the country doctor was shown in, and the two men shook hands in silence.

"I'm more sorry than I can say that I was out," began Dr. Fenner. "That parish nurse of ours is a good soul—she waited up till she heard me go by, and then she ran out and hailed me. So I've heard it all from her, and I fear, from what she says, that I could have done very little."

"I shall never forgive myself." said Leonard Hardwyke in a broken voice, "for having been out to-night. But I got a message from my poor wife saying that she didn't feel very well, and urging me to accept Mrs Langdon's invitation. They had a children's party over at Paringham, and I'm awfully fond of the kiddies, as you know, doctor."

"I do, indeed!" The doctor's own children were among Leonard Hardwyke's warm friends and grateful admirers. He went on: "I'll see the coroner to-morrow, and try and get everything settled as soon as possible."

A feeling of icy fear suddenly clutched at Leonard Hardwyke's heart.

"The coroner?"

Dr. Fenner looked surprised. "I thought you realized that there'll have to be an inquest. Mrs. Hardwyke's dislike to members of my profession was unfortunate, in a way. If only I'd seen her within the last two or three weeks I could have signed the death certificate at once. But I haven't seen Mrs. Hardwyke since Armstrong came down from London, and that's months ago."

"I suppose it is," said Hardwyke, mechanically. "But there won't have to be a post-mortem, will there?"

"I'm afraid there will, Hardwyke." The doctor looked uncomfortable. It is odd what a dislike even sensible people have to that simple affair.

He added: "Besides, I'm sure that for your own sake you'd like to know why Mrs. Hardwyke died?"

"I thought we did know," said the other in a low voice,

"We don't know in the least what set up the violent internal inflammation. From what your wife's maid told the parish nurse, it does seem to me a little mysterious."

"They gave her some morphia pills," said Hardwyke, in an almost inaudible voice.

He felt as if his teeth were chattering, and it was a most disturbing feeling. He was remembering how, one day in the harness-room, he had told Rosalind Akbar of a famous antimony poisoning case called the Bravo Mystery. It had been recalled to his mind because there, on a shelf of his harness-room, was a bottle of the perilous stuff, a survival of the days when horses' coats were treated with antimony to make them bright. Fool, fool, fool that he had been!

He came back to the awful present to hear the doctor say: "I'm glad of that; morphia was the very best thing they could have given her."

WHILE these words were being uttered a thousand disconnected, questioning thoughts were rushing through Hardwyke's brain. Could he make an appeal here and now to Dr. Fenner? Would the promise of money—of a great deal of money—do any good? Reason answered "No," for Fenner was an honest man—far, far too honest. Then could nothing be done to stop what he now realized was going to happen? Again his clear, acute brain supplied the despairing answer—nothing.

"If you don't mind, I'll write to the coroner here. Then I'll drop it in his letter-box—it's only a minute out of my way."

The doctor walked across to the fine old writing bureau, and Hardwyke, sitting down, stared into the fire. Then, suddenly, he experienced a most peculiar and terrible hallucination.

Against the ancient iron fire-back, emblazoned with the Allways coat of arms at which he was staring with unseeing eyes, there was gradually formed a luminous square, across which stretched a platform on which stood a group of men. Of these men he only recognized Colonel Knox, Governor of the county prison, though there was a clergyman there, and a man who was obviously a doctor. To their left stood two men in uniform—warders? —holding a queer-looking, trussed-up, blindfolded figure, who looked at once familiar and unfamiliar. Was it—could it be—himself? He stared on at the mirage-like vision; and, gradually, he saw that behind that curious group of men there rose a square erection of beams, recalling to his mind the swing which had been his midsummer gift to Dr. Fenner's children.

Covering his face with his right hand, he shut his eyes, and when, at last, he looked again, there was nothing there.

Agonized, incoherent, unconnected thoughts and questionings—answers to these questionings, sometimes consoling, sometimes fearsome—jostled one another in hi; excited brain. The one rock to which he clung was his belief in the law of his country. In England there is no such thing as a miscarriage of justice; and then he remembered the Beck case.

Even so, what an infinite comfort to know that he was an absolutely innocent man. But he forced himself to face the fact that appearances would be terribly—terribly, but surely not absolutely?—against him. His brain marshalled them silently all before him. Even his wife's recent will would provide a motive, coupled with his idiotic, crazy, while yet, yes, absolutely innocent, flirtation with Rosalind Akbar.

Who among all the men he now called friends, who among the women with whom he had had tender passages, would believe him innocent? Not one? Not one.

Even if Rosalind Akbar confessed the truth, who would believe that she was telling the whole truth? All he could hope for and fight for was the horrible thing called "the benefit of the doubt." That would leave him life, but very little else that such a man as himself valued. He had always been dependent—foolishly, extravagantly so—on the good opinion of his fellows. Henceforth, if the best that could befall him came to pass, he would be an Ishmael, a moral leper. Nowhere could he go in the English-speaking, English-reading, world without being pointed at as the man who, though he had escaped punishment—escaped punishment, good God!—had been tried for murder, and was probably guilty.

There came over him an intense feeling of pity for himself. His eyes began to smart with unshed tears. He told himself that he had done nothing to deserve the horrible thing that was relentlessly coming on him, and that he was a much better man, morally, than many of the men with whom life had brought him in contact. Yet they were free, while he was trapped, as a result of having merely—philandered.

He groaned, and the doctor, startled, turned sharply round in his chair.

Hardwyke was standing in the middle of the room. His face was twitching, his hands were, as if unconsciously, clasping and unclasping one another. And then, as he caught the other's look of amazement, he forced himself to smile—and it was a horrible smile.

"Fenner, I—I want to ask you something in confidence."


"Fenner, I—I want to ask you something in confidence."

"Yes, Hardwyke?"

The doctor's voice was very cold.

"Is there anything in common between morphia and antimony?"

He tried to say the words lightly, but as soon as they had left his twitching lips he knew that he had failed.

"Good God—no—man!"

And then Dr. Fenner asked, in a low, strained voice: "Is there any antimony in this house?"

"Yes—no—there may be, in the harness-room."

The doctor got up and took a step forward. He laid his hand heavily on the other's shoulder. "I'd no right to ask you that question, Hardwyke. I'll forget your answer. But remember that anything you say from now on—may be used in evidence against you."

That same night Rosalind Akbar shot herself, and on the third of January Leonard Hardwyke was arrested on the charge of having murdered his wife.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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