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Falmer station," said Mr. Taynton.

The minutes ticked on till ten. Then Morris went to the door.

"I shall go round to his rooms to see if he is there," he said.

"There is no need," said his host, "I will telephone."

The instrument hung in a corner of the room, and with very little delay,
Mills's servant was rung up. His master had not yet returned, but he had
said that he should very likely be late.

"And he made an appointment with you for half-past nine?" asked
Morris again.

"Yes. I cannot think what has happened to detain him."

Morris went quickly to the door again.

"I believe it is all a trick," he said, "and you don't want me to meet
him. I believe he is in his rooms the whole time. I shall go and see."

Before Mr. Taynton could stop him he had opened the front-door and banged
it behind him, and was off hatless and coatless through the pouring
perpendicular rain.

Mr. Taynton ran to the door, as if to stop him, but Morris was already
halfway down the street, and he went upstairs to the drawing-room. Morris
was altogether unlike himself; this discovery of Mills's treachery seemed
to have changed his nature. Violent and quick he always was, but to-night
he was suspicious, he seemed to distrust Mr. Taynton himself. And, a
thing which his host had never known him do before, he had drunk in that
half hour when they sat waiting, close on a bottle of port.

The evening paper lay ready cut for him in its accustomed place, but for
some five minutes Mr. Taynton did not appear to notice it, though evening
papers, on the money-market page, might contain news so frightfully
momentous to him. But something, this strangeness in Morris, no doubt,
and his general anxiety and suspense as to how this dreadful knot could
unravel itself, preoccupied him now, and even when he did take up the
paper and turn to the reports of Stock Exchange dealings, he was
conscious of no more than a sort of subaqueous thrill of satisfaction.
For Boston Copper had gone up nearly a point since the closing price of
last night.

It was not many minutes, however before Morris returned with matted and
streaming hair and drenched clothes.

"He has not come back," he said. "I went to his rooms and satisfied
myself of that, though I think they thought I was mad. I searched them
you understand; I insisted. I shall go round there again first thing
to-morrow morning, and if he is not there, I shall go up to find him in
town. I can't wait; I simply can't wait."

Mr. Taynton looked at him gravely, then nodded.

"No, I guess how you are feeling," he said, "I cannot understand what
has happened to Mills; I hope nothing is wrong. And now, my dear boy, let
me implore you to go straight home, get off your wet things and go to
bed. You will pay heavily for your excitement, if you are not careful."

"I'll get it out of him." said Morris.


Morris, as Mr. Taynton had advised, though not because he advised it, had
gone straight home to the house in Sussex Square. He had stripped off his
dripping clothes, and then, since this was the line of least resistance
he had gone to bed. He did not feel tired, and he longed with that aching
longing of the son for the mother, that Mrs. Assheton had been here, so
that he could just be in her presence and if he found himself unable to
speak and tell her all the hideous happenings of those last days, let her
presence bring a sort of healing to his tortured mind. But though he was
conscious of no tiredness, he was tired to the point of exhaustion, and
he had hardly got into bed, when he fell fast asleep. Outside, hushing
him to rest, there sounded the sibilant rain, and from the sea below
ripples broke gently and rhythmically on the pebbly beach. Nature, too,
it seemed, was exhausted by that convulsion of the elements that had
turned the evening into a clamorous hell of fire and riot, and now from
very weariness she was weeping herself asleep.

It was not yet eleven when Morris had got home, and he slept dreamlessly
with that recuperative sleep of youth for some six hours. Then, as within
the secret economy of the brain the refreshment of slumber repaired the
exhaustion of the day before, he began to dream with strange lurid
distinctness, a sort of resurrection dream of which the events of the two
days before supplied the bones and skeleton outline. As in all very vivid
and dreadful dreams the whole vision was connected and coherent, there
were no ludicrous and inconsequent interludes, none of those breakings
of one thread and hurried seizures of another, which though one is
dreaming very distinctly, supply some vague mental comfort, since even to
the sleeper they are reminders that his experiences are not solid but
mere phantasies woven by imperfect consciousness and incomplete control
of thought. It was not thus that Morris dreamed; his dream was of the
solid and sober texture of life.

He was driving in his motor, he thought, down the road from the house at
Falmer Park, which through the gate of a disused lodge joins the main
road, that leads from Falmer Station to Brighton. He had just heard from
Sir Richard's own lips who it was who had slandered and blackened him,
but, in his dream, he was conscious of no anger. The case had been
referred to some higher power, some august court of supreme authority,
which would certainly use its own instruments for its own vengeance. He
felt he was concerned in the affair no longer; he was but a spectator of
what would be. And, in obedience to some inward dictation, he drove his
motor on to the grass behind the lodge, so that it was concealed from the
road outside, and walked along the inside of the park-palings, which ran
parallel with it.

The afternoon, it seemed, was very dark, though the atmosphere was
extraordinarily clear, and after walking along the springy grass inside
the railings for some three hundred yards, where was the southeastern
corner of the park enclosure, he stopped at the angle and standing on
tip-toe peered over them, for they were nearly six feet high, and looked
into the road below. It ran straight as a billiard-cue just here, and was
visible for a long distance, but at the corner, just outside the
palings, the footpath over the downs to Brighton left the road, and
struck upward. On the other side of the road ran the railway, and in this
clear dark air, Morris could see with great distinctness Falmer Station
some four hundred yards away, along a stretch of the line on the other
side of it.

As he looked he saw a puff of steam rise against the woods beyond the
station, and before long a train, going Brightonward, clashed into the
station. Only one passenger got out, and he came out of the station into
the road. He was quite recognisable even at this distance. In his dream
Morris felt that he expected to see him get out of the train, and walk
along the road; the whole thing seemed pre-ordained. But he ceased
tiptoeing to look over the paling; he could hear the passenger's steps
when he came nearer.

He thought he waited quietly, squatting down on the mossy grass behind
the paling. Something in his hands seemed angry, for his fingers kept
tearing up the short turf, and the juice of the severed stems was red
like blood. Then in the gathering darkness he heard the tip-tap of
footsteps on the highway. But it never occurred to him that this
passenger would continue on the highroad; he was certainly going over the
downs to Brighton.

The air was quite windless, but at this moment Morris heard the boughs of
the oak-tree immediately above him stir and shake, and looking up he saw
Mr. Taynton sitting in a fork of the tree. That, too, was perfectly
natural; Mr. Taynton was Mills's partner; he was there as a sort of
umpire. He held a glass of port wine in one hand, and was sipping it in a
leisurely manner, and when Morris looked up at him, he smiled at him,
but put his finger to his lips, as if recommending silence. And as the
steps on the road outside sounded close he turned a meaning glance in the
direction of the road. From where he sat high in the tree, it was plain
to Morris that he must command the sight of the road, and was, in his
friendly manner, directing operations.

Suddenly the sound of the steps ceased, and Morris wondered for the
moment whether Mills had stopped. But looking up again, he saw Mr.
Taynton's head twisted round to the right, still looking over the
palings. But Morris found at once that the footsteps were noiseless, not
because the walker had paused, but because they were inaudible on the
grass. He had left the road, as the dreamer felt certain he would, and
was going over the downs to Brighton. At that Morris got up, and still
inside the park railings, followed in the direction he had gone. Then
for the first time in his dream, he felt angry, and the anger grew to
rage, and the rage to quivering madness. Next moment he had vaulted the
fence, and sprang upon the walker from behind. He dealt him blows with
some hard instrument, belabouring his head, while with his left hand he
throttled his throat so that he could not scream. Only a few were
necessary, for he knew that each blow went home, since all the savage
youthful strength of shoulder and loose elbow directed them. Then he
withdrew his left hand from the throttled throat of the victim who had
ceased to struggle, and like a log he fell back on to the grass, and
Morris for the first time looked on his face. It was not Mills at all; it
was Mr. Taynton.

* * * * *

The terror plucked him from his sleep; for a moment he wrestled and
struggled to raise his head from the pillow and loosen the clutch of the
night-hag who had suddenly seized him, and with choking throat and
streaming brow he sat up in bed. Even then his dream was more real to him
than the sight of his own familiar room, more real than the touch of
sheet and blanket or the dew of anguish which his own hand wiped from his
forehead and throat. Yet, what was his dream? Was it merely some
subconscious stringing together of suggestions and desires and events
vivified in sleep to a coherent story (all but that recognition of Mr.
Taynton, which was nightmare pure and simple), or _had it happened_?

With waking, anyhow, the public life, the life that concerned other
living folk as well as himself, became predominant again. He had
certainly seen Sir Richard the day before, and Sir Richard had given him
the name of the man who had slandered him. He had gone to meet that man,
but he had not kept his appointment, nor had he come back to his flat in
Brighton. So to-day he, Morris, was going to call there once more, and if
he did not find him, was going to drive up to London, and seek him there.

But he had been effectually plucked from further sleep, sleep had been
strangled, and he got out of bed and went to the window. Nature, in any
case, had swept her trouble away, and the pure sweet morning was
beginning to dawn in lines of yellow and fleeces of rosy cloud on the
eastern horizon.

All that riot and hurly-burly of thunder, the bull's eye flashing of
lightning, the perpendicular rain were things of the past, and this
morning a sky of pale limpid blue, flecked only by the thinnest clouds,
stretched from horizon to horizon. Below the mirror of the sea seemed as
deep and as placid as the sky above it, and the inimitable freshness of
the dawn spoke of a world rejuvenated and renewed.

It was, by his watch, scarcely five; in an hour it would be reasonable to
call at Mills's flat, and see if he had come by the midnight train. If
not his motor could be round by soon after six, and he would be in town
by eight, before Mills, if he had slept there, would be thinking of
starting for Brighton. He was sure to catch him.

Morris had drawn up the blind, and through the open window came the cool
breath of the morning ruffling his hair, and blowing his nightshirt close
to his skin, and just for that moment, so exquisite was this feeling of
renewal and cleanness in the hour of dawn, he thought with a sort of
incredulous wonder of the red murderous hate which had possessed him the
evening before. He seemed to have been literally beside himself with
anger and his words, his thoughts, his actions had been controlled by a
force and a possession which was outside himself. Also the dreadful
reality of his dream still a little unnerved him, and though he was
himself now and awake, he felt that he had been no less himself when he
throttled the throat of that abhorred figure that walked up the noiseless
path over the downs to Brighton, and with vehement and savage blows
clubbed it down. And then the shock of finding it was his old friend whom
he had done to death! That, it is true, was nightmare pure and simple,
but all the rest was clad in sober, convincing garb of events that had
really taken place. He could not at once separate his dream from reality,
for indeed what had he done yesterday after he had learned who his
traducer had been? He scarcely knew; all events and facts seemed
colourless compared to the rage and mad lust for vengeance which had
occupied his entire consciousness.

Thus, as he dressed, the thoughts and the rage of yesterday began to stir
and move in his mind again. His hate and his desire that justice should
be done, that satisfaction should be granted him, was still in his heart.
But now they were not wild and flashing flames; they burned with a hard,
cold, even light. They were already part of himself, integral pieces and
features of his soul. And the calm beauty and peace of the morning ceased
to touch him, he had a stern piece of business to put through before he
could think of anything else.

* * * * *

It was not yet six when he arrived at the house in which was Mills's
flat. A few housemaids were about, but the lift was not yet working,
and he ran upstairs and rang at the bell. It was answered almost
immediately, for Mills's servant supposed it must be his master
arriving at this early hour, since no one else would come then, and he
opened the door, half dressed, with coat and trousers only put over his
night things.

"Is Mr. Mills back yet?" asked Morris.

"No, sir."

Morris turned to go, but then stopped, his mind still half-suspicious
that he had been warned by his partner, and was lying _perdu_.

"I'll give you another ten shillings," he said, "if you'll let me come in
and satisfy myself."

The man hesitated.

"A sovereign," said Morris.

* * * * *

He went back to Sussex Square after this, roused Martin, ordering him to
bring the motor round at once, and drank a cup of tea, for he would
breakfast in town. His mother he expected would be back during the
morning, and at the thought of her he remembered that this was June 24th,
her birthday, and that his present to her would be arriving by the early
post. He gave orders, therefore, that a packet for him from Asprey's was
not to be unpacked, but given to her on her arrival with her letters. A
quarter of an hour later he was off, leaving Martin behind, since there
were various businesses in the town which he wanted him to attend to.

Mr. Taynton, though an earlier riser than his partner, considered that
half past nine was soon enough to begin the day, and punctually at that
time he came downstairs to read, as his custom was, a few collects and
some short piece of the Bible to his servants, before having his
breakfast. That little ceremony over he walked for a few minutes in his
garden while Williams brought in his toast and tea-urn, and observed that
though the flowers would no doubt be all the better for the liberal
watering of the day before, it was idle to deny that the rain had not
considerably damaged them. But his attention was turned from these things
to Williams who told him that breakfast was ready, and also brought him a
telegram. It was from Morris, and had been sent off from the Sloane
Square office an hour before.

"Mills is not in town; they say he left yesterday afternoon. Please
inform me if you know whether this is so, or if you are keeping him from
me. Am delayed by break-down. Shall be back about five. - Morris,
Bachelors' Club."

Mr. Taynton read this through twice, as is the habit of most people with
telegrams, and sent, of course, the reply that all he knew was that his
partner intended to come back last night, since he had made an
appointment with him. Should he arrive during the day he would telegraph.
He himself was keeping nothing from Morris, and had not had any
correspondence or communication with his partner since he had left
Brighton for town three days before.

The telegram was a long one, but Mr. Taynton still sat with poised
pen. Then he added, "Pray do nothing violent, I implore you." And he
signed it.

* * * * *

He sat rather unusually long over his breakfast this morning, though he
ate but little, and from the cheerful smiling aspect of his face it would
seem that his thoughts were pleasant to him. He was certainly glad that
Morris had not yet come across Mills, for he trusted that the lapse of a
day or two would speedily calm down the lad's perfectly justifiable
indignation. Besides, he was in love, and his suit had prospered; surely
there were pleasanter things than revenge to occupy him. Then his face
grew grave a moment as he thought of Morris's mad, murderous outburst of
the evening before, but that gravity was shortlived, and he turned with a
sense of pleasant expectation to see recorded again the activity and
strength of Boston Coppers. But the reality was far beyond his
expectations; copper had been strong all day, and in the street afterward
there had been renewed buying from quarters which were usually well
informed. Bostons had been much in request, and after hours they had had
a further spurt, closing at £7 10S. Already in these three days he had
cleared his option, and at present prices the shares showed a profit of a
point. Mills would have to acknowledge that his perspicacity had been at
fault, when he distrusted this last purchase.

He left his house at about half-past ten, and again immured himself in
the birdcage lift that carried him up to his partner's flat, where he
inquired if he had yet returned. Learning he had not, he asked to be
given pen and paper, to write a note for him, which was to be given to
him on his arrival.

"Dear Mills,

"Mr. Morris Assheton has learned that you have made grave accusations
about him to Sir Richard Templeton, Bart. That you have done so appears
to be beyond doubt, and it of course rests with you to substantiate them.
I cannot of course at present believe that you could have done so without
conclusive evidence; on the other hand I cannot believe that Mr. Assheton
is of the character which you have given him.

"I therefore refrain, as far as I am able, from drawing any conclusion
till the matter is cleared up.

"I may add that he deeply resents your conduct; his anger and indignation
were terrible to see.

"Sincerely yours,

"Edward Taynton. Godfrey Mills, Esq."

Mr. Taynton read this through, and glanced round, as if to see whether
the servants had left the room. Then he sat with closed eyes for a
moment, and took an envelope, and swiftly addressed it. He smudged it,
however, in blotting it, and so crumpled it up, threw it into the
waste-paper basket. He then addressed a second one, and into this he
inserted his letter, and got up.

The servant was waiting in the little hall outside.

"Please give this to Mr. Mills when he arrives," he said. "You expected
him last night, did you not?"

Mr. Taynton found on arrival at his office that, in his partner's
absence, there was a somewhat heavy day of work before him, and foresaw
that he would be occupied all afternoon and indeed probably up to dinner
time. But he was able to get out for an hour at half-past twelve, at
which time, if the weather was hot, he generally indulged in a swim. But
today there was a certain chill in the air after yesterday's storm, and
instead of taking his dip, he walked along the sea front toward Sussex
Square. For in his warm-hearted way, seeing that Morris was, as he had
said, to tell his mother today about his happy and thoroughly suitable
love affair, Mr. Taynton proposed to give a little _partie carrée_ on the
earliest possible evening, at which the two young lovers, Mrs. Assheton,
and himself would form the table. He would learn from her what was the
earliest night on which she and Morris were disengaged, and then write
to that delightful girl whose affections dear Morris had captured.

But at the corner of the square, just as he was turning into it, there
bowled swiftly out a victoria drawn by two horses; he recognised the
equipage, he recognised also Mrs. Assheton who was sitting in it. Her
head, however, was turned the other way, and Mr. Taynton's hand, already
half-way up to his hat was spared the trouble of journeying farther.

But he went on to the house, since his invitation could be easily
conveyed by a note which he would scribble there, and was admitted by
Martin. Mrs. Assheton, however, was out, a fact which he learned with
regret, but, if he might write a note to her, his walk would not be
wasted. Accordingly he was shown up into the drawing-room, where on the
writing-table was laid an open blotting-book. Even in so small a detail
as a blotting-book the careful appointment of the house was evident, for
the blotting-paper was absolutely clean and white, a virgin field.

Mr. Taynton took up a quill pen, thought over for a moment the wording of
his note and then wrote rapidly. A single side of notepaper was
sufficient; he blotted it on the pad, and read it through. But something
in it, it must be supposed, did not satisfy him, for he crumpled it up.
Ah, at last and for the first time there was a flaw in the appointment of
the house, for there was no wastepaper basket by the table. At any rate
one must suppose that Mr. Taynton did not see it, for he put his rejected
sheet into his pocket.

He took another sheet of paper, selecting from the various stationery
that stood in the case a plain piece, rejecting that which was marked
with the address of the house, wrote his own address at the head, and
proceeded for the second time to write his note of invitation.

But first he changed the quill for his own stylograph, and wrote with
that. This was soon written, and by the time he had read it through it
was dry, and did not require to be blotted. He placed it in a plain
envelope, directed it, and with it in his hand left the room, and went
briskly downstairs.

Martin was standing in the hall.

"I want this given to Mrs. Assheton when she comes in, Martin," he said.

He looked round, as he had done once before when speaking to the boy.

"I left it at the door," he said with quiet emphasis. "Can you remember
that? I left it. And I hope, Martin, that you have made a fresh start,
and that I need never be obliged to tell anybody what I know about you.
You will remember my instructions? I left this at the door. Thank you.
My hat? Yes, and my stick."

Mr. Taynton went straight back to his office, and though this morning
there had seemed to him to be a good deal of work to be got through, he
found that much of it could be delegated to his clerks. So before leaving
to go to his lunch, he called in Mr. Timmins.

"Mr. Mills not been here all morning?" he asked. "No? Well, Timmins,
there is this packet which I want him to look at, if he comes in before
I am back. I shall be here again by five, as there is an hour's work for
me to do before evening. Yes, that is all, thanks. Please tell Mr. Mills
I shall come back, as I said. How pleasant this freshness is after the
rain. The 'clear shining after rain.' Wonderful words! Yes, Mr. Timmins,
you will find the verse in the second book of Samuel and the
twenty-third chapter."


Mr. Taynton made but a short meal of lunch, and ate but sparingly, for
he meant to take a good walk this afternoon, and it was not yet two
o'clock when he came out of his house again, stick in hand. It was a
large heavy stick that he carried, a veritable club, one that it would
be easy to recognise amid a host of others, even as he had recognised it
that morning in the rather populous umbrella stand in the hall of Mrs.
Assheton's house. He had, it may be remembered, more office work to get
through before evening, so he prepared to walk out as far as the limits
of the time at his disposal would admit and take the train back. And

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Online LibraryE.F. BensonThe Blotting Book → online text (page 5 of 9)