by Edward Oppenheim
Goade, driving the little Ford car with his luggage strapped on behind and Flip seated by his side, reached the outskirts of the city of Exeter on his way southwards. Flip, after a vigorous exchange of ferocious amenities with a dog of similar species attached to a fishmonger's barrow, had settled down to watch with appreciation the slowly unfolding landscape, with its promise of hay-stacks, rabbit-burrows, and other delights. A young man, doubled up on a motor-cycle, suddenly shot out from the dwindling traffic, passed them with a rapid series of explosions, and drew up about fifty yards ahead. He descended, leant the cycle against a tree, and, stepping into the road, held out his hand. Goade brought his car to a standstill, and the young man approached, touching his hat awkwardly.
"Can I have a word with you, sir?" he begged.
Goade looked at him curiously. He was very pale, very thin, indifferently, almost shabbily, dressed. His features were insignificant, as was his whole appearance.
"Haven't I seen you before somewhere?" Goade enquired.
"You may have seen me in the yard or about the Cathedral Arms, sir," the young man replied. "I am the chef there."
"Well, what do you want with me?"
"Just a word if you'd allow me, sir. Could you bring your car to the side of the road. It will take a matter of a minute or two to say what I want to."
They were just past the tram terminus and at the foot of a gentle ascent of smooth road, bordered on each side by the gardens of prosperous-looking villas. Goade did as he was asked, and stopped his engine.
"Now what is it?" he enquired.
"It's about Ed Thorne, sir," the young man confided. "You remember about him."
"I can't say that I do for the moment," Goade acknowledged.
"He's the young man as is to be hung next Thursday week unless the Home Secretary reprieves him. He killed a man one night in the yard of the Cathedral Arms - hit him over the head with a mallet."
"I remember," Goade assented. "What about him?"
"Well, he didn't ought to be hung, sir," the chef said earnestly. "There's been summat kept back in that case, sir. They made Ed out to be just a drunken brute who was jealous because Hawkins had got his job. There was more in it, sir - more in it than ever came out."
"I don't remember the case," Goade confessed. "That generally means, where I am concerned, that it was a one-sided affair. I suppose this man Thorne had a lawyer."
"He had a lawyer all right, sir, but he wasn't no good to Ed because there was no one as could get Ed to open his mouth."
"What's your name?"
"Alfred Mace, sir."
"Well, why do you come to me, Mace?" Goade enquired. "His lawyer's the only man who can do anything. It's too late for any outside interference."
"It's like this, sir," Mace explained eagerly. "There's no one can say anything against the firm of Bulliver & Bulliver. They're the best lawyers we've got in Exeter, but Mr. Ernest Bulliver who took this case on, he's more of a parson than a lawyer - if you follow me. He's as stiff and unbending as though he were fed on parchment. He wasn't the sort of man Ed was likely to cotton to. He just asked Ed if he'd anything to say, and Ed said 'no.' He didn't go round trying to find out for himself if there wasn't something else that might be brought forward. He just took Ed's word, and that meant practically no defence at all. His counsel made a speech full of long words and argued out law cases to make the jury believe it was a case of manslaughter, and he left it at that."
"Do you know something about this that no one else does?" Goade enquired.
"I rightly don't, sir," was the prompt admission, "but I know this much: there's summat that no one knows except Ed which would make things look different."
Goade had intended lunching at Totnes. The young man's earnestness, however, was compelling. He leaned back in his seat with a sigh of resignation, drew out his pipe, and commenced to fill it.
"Tell me about the case," he invited.
"It doesn't sound much, sir," Mace confessed. "Anyway, listening to what there was at the trial won't take you long. Ed Thorne had been boots at the Cathedral Arms for eight years, and he was kind of keeping company with the young woman who was chambermaid there - Kitty Fields her name was. Ed was a lively sort of chap, always good company, and fond of gadding around. He used to take a drop occasionally, but nothing to harm him. Then there was this other chap, Hawkins. He drove the bus at the Cathedral Arms. Well, everything was all right until he began to court Kitty Fields. Suddenly Ed took to drink and got the sack, and Hawkins got his job. He began to take Kitty Fields out regular, but all of a sudden she changed her mind - wouldn't have anything to do with either of them, and said she was going out to an aunt in Canada. She left sudden-like, and four days afterwards Ed - who had found another place but wasn't living any too steady - came into the yard of the Cathedral Arms, swinging that b - - y hammer. He went straight up to Hawkins, said something which nobody heard, and fetched him one on the head that would have killed a ox. That's all there was to it."
"Well, it looks simple enough," Goade observed. "I'm sorry for your friend, Mace, but, you see, bringing that hammer in with him, and walking straight up to the man who had got his job and killing him - well that's murder, isn't it?"
"It's murder all right, sir," Mace acknowledged. "I ain't denying that; no more ain't any of Ed's friends. But there's what you call extenuating circumstances. That's what you get a reprieve for, isn't it?"
"That's so," Goade assented, "but in this case where are they?"
The chef leaned forward, his dirty-white hands gripping the side of the door.
"Mr. Goade, sir," he said, "it's my belief as there were something more in it. Ed was quiet enough after he'd lost his job. He didn't say naught against Hawkins, and Kitty Fields, she'd gone off; but, if there's one thing I'll swear to God upon, it is that Ed had some other reason for killing Hawkins, and it's that other reason as might provide the extenuating circumstances."
"What makes you think so?"
"For one thing," Mace went on eagerly, "I was leaning out of my scullery window to get a little fresh air, and I seed Ed come along. Hawkins didn't take any particular notice. He and Ed were on pretty good terms. They'd had a drink or two together the night before, but as Ed came near he said something - I couldn't hear the words, but I saw Hawkins start. I saw him look scared to death, mister, and then Ed hit him. Gawd, he did hit him too!" the young man concluded with a little shiver.
"And that's all?"
"That's all. But, mister, I tell you, Ed never ought to swing. Someone ought to make him say what else it was he'd got against Hawkins."
"I'm afraid it's a pretty hopeless affair," Goade decided slowly.
"Don't say that, sir," the chef begged. "Just go and have a word with Mr. Bulliver. If it was only imprisonment I wouldn't say nothing, but I'd a pal once who was a warder at the jail. I've seen them gallows. Ugh!"
The young man dabbed at the perspiration upon his forehead. He was out of condition, and he shivered a little notwithstanding the heat. Goade looked down the long, sunny road and sighed.
"Well, I'll tell you what I'll do," he conceded. "Major Manton's a friend of mine. I'll go back and have a word with him. From what you've told me of the case, however, I tell you frankly that I don't think there's a chance."
"Mister," the other said earnestly, "maybe there ain't. I only know that I'll feel better afterwards for having had a try, and I think you will too. If there's anything you want to see me about, you'll find me in the Cathedral Arms, sir. I'm not reely off duty to-day, but when I heard you'd gone, I had to start out after you."
Goade nodded, turned round, and drove back to Exeter. He made his way direct to the prison, rang the imposing-looking bell, and was duly conducted into Major Manton's apartments. The latter welcomed him with some surprise.
"Hullo, Goade!" he said. "I thought you were off this morning."
"Well, I did start," Goade replied, "but I got held up. Tell me - you have a man here, Thorne, under sentence of death."
"Poor chap, yes, and I'm afraid he'll hang, too."
Goade recounted his adventure of the morning. Manton listened attentively, but his expression was a little dubious.
"Of course if there was anything else between the two men," he commented when Goade had finished - "anything that really reflected discredit upon Hawkins, Thorne might have a chance, simply because of his war record, which was damned good. It was the only thing they had to urge in his favour, however, and it was a pretty thin petition."
"When do you expect the reply from Whitehall?"
"Well, they have to keep it a day or two. Let's see, to-day is Tuesday. I should think they'd probably keep it there till Saturday. We shall get it back on Monday, and, unless anything fresh turns up, I'm afraid it's five to one against a reprieve."
"I suppose you could get me a few minutes with this man Thorne?"
"Of course I could, if you like."
"I'd better do the thing properly," Goade reflected, "and see his solicitor first."
"Bulliver & Bulliver. You'll find them next door but one to the hotel. Pretty starchy card, Ernest Bulliver. If you decide to step over and have a word with Thorne, be here at three o'clock, and I'll see to it. . ."
Goade made his way to the solicitor's office. He waited for a quarter of an hour in a dingy waiting-room whose walls were hung with the announcements of sales and plans of building lots. Eventually a lanky youth took him out into the passage, opened one of several doors, and ushered him into a very solemn and bare-looking apartment. A tall, thin man rose from behind a desk to greet him - a pale man, with black hair, rather long, but plastered down at the sides and at the back. He was dressed in sombre clothes, and resembled a super-verger.
"Mr. Goade," he said gloomily, glancing at the card. "Kindly be seated."
Goade accepted the chair which was offered and laid his hat upon the table.
"I am not professionally interested in the case, Mr. Bulliver," he began, "although, as you will gather from my card, I am connected with Scotland Yard. I wanted to have a word with you, however, about this man Thorne."
"Perfectly hopeless affair," Mr. Bulliver declared, leaning a little back in his chair. "I couldn't get the shadow of a defence out of him. All that he said to me from beginning to end was: 'I meant to kill the man, and I'm glad I did.' "
"He never specifically stated the reason, I suppose?"
"Never," the lawyer replied. "One concludes that it was because Hawkins had supplanted him in his post. That class of person, I daresay, regards those matters very seriously, and there is no doubt that, without having had sufficient to drink to confuse the issue, Thorne had been drinking before he worked himself up to that murderous frame of mind."
"There was a girl," Goade ventured, "to whom both men were attached."
"Quite true. I caused enquiries to be made. She, however, had left for Canada before this regrettable event, and it transpired in the course of my enquiries that the two men had been together and on moderately friendly terms many times since she had left the hotel."
"That makes the affair seem more hopeless than ever," Goade admitted. "With whom did the girl live whilst in England?"
"With her uncle and aunt - Morton by name. If you wish for their address, I can provide you with it. In fact, I happen to remember it: One Ash Farm, Trawlee. Trawlee is about sixteen miles from here - rather an out-of-the-way place."
"Thank you very much," Goade said, rising to his feet. "I presume if I should think it worth while to have a word with the prisoner, you would have no objection?"
"Not the slightest," Mr. Bulliver assured him. "A petition for a reprieve has gone up as a matter of course. I fear the result is hopeless. Good morning, Mr. Goade."
At a few minutes after three that afternoon Goade, accompanied by the Governor, was ushered into the condemned cell - one of three cut off from the remainder of the prison and a little larger than those in general use. Thorne, a well-set-up young man with good features, but with terrible lines about his face, was seated at a table by the side of a warder. There was a box of dominoes before him, but it was unopened.
"Thorne," Major Manton announced, "this is Mr. Goade of Scotland Yard. A friend of yours has interested him in your case, and he would like to ask you a question or two."
Thorne's mouth tightened.
"It is very kind of the gentleman," he acknowledged civilly, "but there's no use in asking me questions. I have nothing further to say."
Goade seated himself on a bench opposite. For a moment he studied the condemned man in silence.
"Have you any relatives, Thorne?" he asked.
"No very near ones, sir."
"Near or distant, you ought to think of them in a case like this," Goade pointed out. "There's a petition for a reprieve, as I daresay you know. As things are at present, I tell you frankly that I do not think the reprieve will be granted."
"I never thought it would, sir."
"What is necessary," Goade continued, "to give those who are anxious for your life to be spared a chance, is that there should be extenuating circumstances discovered for your attack upon Hawkins. Were there any?"
"None that I can mention, sir," was the firm reply. "The dog deserved to die, and he's dead."
"Why did he deserve to die?" Goade demanded.
"That's my business, sir."
"Your refusal to answer that question," Goade said, "will cost you this last chance of your life. You realise that?"
"It is no use changing your mind," Goade warned him deliberately, "at the last moment - the night before you are to die, for instance. It would be too late then. You realise what 'too late' means?"
"I do," Thorne assented, almost defiantly. "I faced death most days for years out in France for the sake of killing a German or two I didn't particularly hate. I'll face death a good deal more cheerfully for having sent a man out of the world who didn't have no rightful place there."
Goade rose reluctantly to his feet.
"You won't tell me what those last words were that you said to Hawkins before you killed him?"
For the first time Thorne showed some sign of emotion.
"There wasn't anyone heard them?" he asked quickly.
"No one heard them," Goade admitted, "but the little chef at the Cathedral Arms - Alfred Mace - was leaning out of the scullery window, and he heard you say something."
Thorne was obviously relieved. He even smiled.
"Good little Alf!" he murmured. "He's the right sort, Alf! I bet it was he started you on this."
"It was," Goade admitted. "What was it you said to Hawkins? Come on, Thorne. Don't be obstinate. Give yourself a chance. Life's worth having for a young fellow like you."
Thorne shook his head.
"You mean kindly, sir," he said, "but you're wasting breath."
The Governor put back his watch. He laid his hand on Goade's shoulder.
"Time's up, I'm afraid," he announced.
"And a good job, too," Thorne declared. "I don't mean that unkindly, sir," he added, turning to Goade, "but I've finished with everything, and it don't do me no good to be made to think. I'd as soon to-morrow was Thursday week as not."
They left him then; Goade, especially, with regret. There was nothing else to be done.
"Hopeless sort of chap," the Governor remarked. "I wish to God we could do something to help him. I hate my job on Thursday week like poison."
"I wish I could save you from it," Goade reflected. "I like the fellow."
At five o'clock that afternoon Goade drove up to the front door of one of the barest and gloomiest-looking farmhouses he had come across in the county. It was plainly whitewashed in front, without a scrap of garden or vegetation of any sort. There were weeds growing almost out of the wall; a general air of poverty everywhere. Goade's summons was answered after a moment's delay by a tall, round-shouldered man, white-bearded and white-whiskered, with lowering forehead and forbidding expression.
"Mr. Morton?" Goade enquired.
"That be my name," the man replied. "I don't know you."
"My name is Goade. Can I come in for a moment? I want a word with you."
"What about?" the farmer demanded. "If you've come about them machines - - "
"I haven't," Goade interrupted. "I want to speak to you about your niece, Kitty Fields."
The man stood back from the door and led the way into the kitchen. A woman was seated in a high-backed chair, knitting. The floor was of bare stone, the table and dresser of common deal. There was not even a hearthrug in front of the fire. The whole place carried out the promise of the exterior - cold and poverty-stricken. The farmer jerked his thumb at Goade.
"He's cum abaht Kitty," he announced.
"What about her?" the woman asked. "She's in Canadie."
"Will you give me her address, please," Goade begged.
"Why?" the farmer demanded.
"I am not at liberty to say for the moment," was the guarded reply. "It is certainly for nothing to her disadvantage."
The phrase sounded suddenly legal. There was a gleam in the old man's eyes. The woman laid down her knitting.
"Might it be a legacy?" the former enquired.
"It's sure-ly old Margaret over to Parracombe," the woman put in. "She were worth a tidy bit."
Goade remained silent. The woman rose and took an envelope from underneath a teapot upon the chimney-piece.
"There it be," she said.
"It's a powerful long way off," the farmer pointed out. "Ten days for a letter there, and ten for a reply. Is it naught we can have any concern in?"
Goade carefully pocketed the envelope, and evaded a direct response.
"Have you heard from your niece since she reached Canada?" he asked.
The woman shook her head.
"Kitty was no scholard," she said. "She'll write some day."
"What boat did she go on?" Goade persisted.
"It wur the boat as left Southampton July 1st," the old man declared. "Arrytoba, or summat like that."
"And when did your niece leave here?"
"Two days afore. She'd summat against Exeter, and she wouldn't go there, so she had to drop down to Foulsham and take a train from there. She took the carrier's cart to Foulsham on the Thursday as the steamer sailed on the Saturday."
"Was your niece engaged?" Goade enquired.
"Not as I knows on," the woman answered, a little doggedly. "She was never one to talk about her affairs."
"She never spoke, for instance, of a young man named Hawkins, or another called Ed Thorne?"
"Never spoke of any young man at all," the farmer declared. "Might it be a matter of a legacy?" he persisted, with a sudden gleam of cunning in his eyes.
"I may have to come and see you again," Goade replied. "If so, I'll tell you more about it then."
He took his leave, somehow glad to be in the fresh air again. Flip, who had been on a voyage of investigation, came flying round the corner, pursued by a flock of geese. Inside the room, the farmer and his wife sat looking at one another in chilly silence.
Four glorious days of summer passed, days during which Flip ought to have been smelling for rats under hay-stacks, or attempting to insinuate her fat little body into the utterly inadequate refuges of the elusive rabbit. Goade himself should have been endeavouring to reproduce on canvas the shadows on the Dartmoor moors, the sedater beauties of sheltered homesteads, or the purple glories of the encircling hills. The Fates, however, had ordained things differently. Flip and her master remained in Exeter: the former frankly and unaffectedly bored; the latter, as he pieced together the fragments of a commonplace story, a little wearied, yet all the time in some measure inspired by that curious background - the saving of a man's life. On the evening of the fourth day he felt justified in sending a special despatch to his Chief at Scotland Yard:
Please see Home Secretary re: petition for reprieve of Edward Thorne, lying under sentence of death at Exeter Jail. Let matter remain in statu quo until you hear from me to-morrow or next day. Fresh influence of motive possible which may affect decision
On the fifth day Goade knocked at the inhospitable door of One Ash Farm. The farmer came to him from the stack-yard, looking mouldier than ever in a suit of threadbare corduroys.
"You be here again?" he observed, in a tone of questioning hostility. "Be there any news of that legacy?"
Goade looked at him coldly - a strange, depressing figure he seemed, with that covetous gleam of the eyes, the hard, thin lips. The front door opened and the farmer's wife also presented herself. She was holding a potato in one hand and a paring-knife in the other.
"Is it about the legacy?" she demanded, peering at him through her steel-rimmed spectacles.
"I have brought you news of your niece," Goade replied.
"From Canadie?" the old man asked.
Goade shook his head.
"Your niece," he confided, "never went to Canada."
"She left here, as you told me, to take the carrier's cart to Foulsham. She told the carrier she would wait for the bus. She told the bus she was going by the carrier. She never sailed upon the Arizona. She never went to Canada. She never went more than a quarter of a mile away."
The farmer and his wife drew close together.
"Who be you what know all that?" the former demanded.
"I'm a detective officer from Scotland Yard," Goade said, "and, on behalf of the poor man who lies sentenced to death in Exeter Jail, I have made it my business to discover your niece's whereabouts. The night she left your house she went no farther than the pit which you call the 'Bottomless Tarn' on the other side of the lane. She drowned herself there. They are bringing the body here now."
He pointed to the little company who were carrying a gate, upon which lay something covered by a piece of sackcloth, up that flinty, barren drive. The sun flashed upon the buttons of their uniforms. The farmer shivered.
"What passed between you three the night she left," Goade continued, "no one, I suppose, will ever know. You may have understood, or you may not; but, if you refused to receive her living, you can scarcely refuse to receive her dead."
The farmer groped his way towards the front door and held it wide open. The melancholy procession crossed the threshold. Goade started up his car and Faulkener climbed in with him, taking Flip on to his knee.
"I've left the Inspector in charge," he said. "There's nothing to be done there. You've got the letter?"
"I've got it in my tin fly-case," Goade replied. "The ink's run, of course, and it's a sodden mess; still, I hope we'll be able to make something of it. The address is clear enough, anyway."
"For Hawkins?" Faulkener asked.
"For Hawkins," Goade assented.
Faulkener, who rather prided himself upon his limousine, held on to the side of the car. He had slipped a little upon the smooth upholstery, and was being badly jolted.
"I say, Goade," he complained, "why the devil don't you get a decent little car?"
Goade laughed softly. Flip, who was exceedingly uncomfortable, had leaned over to lick his hand on the steering-wheel.
"I expect for the same reason," he replied, "that I am not keen about a really thoroughbred dog."
Late on the following afternoon there was a little commotion in the cell where Thorne still sat, like a man slowly drifting into a state of mummification. An outside warder had sent in a message. The attendant rose to his feet. He cast a pitying glance at his companion.
"The Governor," he announced.
Thorne rose a little wearily to his feet. Already in imagination he had so often been through the hideous ante-climax, which, out of sheer kindliness, his warders had explained to him. The Governor came in, but his expression was scarcely what the warders had expected.
"Thorne," he said, "I am happy to tell you that the petition for your reprieve has been accorded a favourable hearing by the Home Secretary. Your sentence has been commuted to penal servitude."
Thorne stood there with twitching hands and twitching face. Into his eyes there seemed to have crept a wonderful light. He looked through the Governor out of the walls into the sunlight. Manton afterwards confessed, when he could be induced to talk of that moment, that he had never felt so small a being.
"Reprieved!" Thorne repeated. "Why?"
The Governor took a step forward. He leaned towards the bewildered man; his tone was very kindly.
"Thorne," he continued, "now I come to bad news. The young woman with whom you once kept company - Kitty Fields - has been discovered drowned in a pit near her uncle's farm. Upon her was found a letter addressed to Hawkins, the man you killed."
Some part of his unnatural strength seemed to desert the man. He trembled visibly. The Governor made a sign to the warder by his side, and they assisted him towards a chair.
"Sit down, Thorne," the Governor enjoined. "The letter was a terrible condemnation of Hawkins. She spoke of having sent word to you, of having told you the truth, of having told you, too, that she was about to become a mother. What did you do with that letter?"
"I swallowed it after I had killed Hawkins," Thorne confessed after a moment's hesitation. "I killed him a quarter of an hour after I had read it."
There was a silence. Never since he had entered the condemned cell had the man faltered. Manton saw the collapse coming, and turned away.
"We shan't keep you here as long as you fancy, Thorne," he said, raising his voice a little. "You'll have years of freedom later on. You can change his cell at once," he added, turning to the chief warder. "Look after him well." . . .
Goade pulled up the car by the side of the road. They were in a very beautiful country lane twenty miles away from Exeter. On one side of them was a hedge, from which the late honeysuckle still drooped; on the other a field of gold. Flip made a dart for a promising-looking corn-sheaf and yelped with delight at the bolting of a rabbit. Goade, strolling after her, threw himself upon the stubble, and produced from his knapsack a flask of whisky, a bottle of Perrier, a tumbler, his pipe, and a tobacco-pouch. He mixed his drink with the air of a man who has earned it. Flip's ecstatic yapping was the only sound to be heard except the twittering of some birds in the hedge and the distant humming of a corn-cutting machine.
"Well, thank God we're clear away this time!" Goade murmured, as he raised his tumbler to his lips.
End of The Murderer by Edward Oppenheim