E. Phillips Oppenheim.

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wrong hands might ruin me. Mr. Palliser had a key to that safe. Have
you ever seen it open?"

"Never, sir."

"When did Mr. Palliser arrive here?"

"On the evening train of the Monday, sir, that you arrived by on the

"Tell me, did he receive any visitors at all on the Tuesday?"

"There was a man came over from a house near Lynton, sir, said his name
was Miller."

"Have you any idea what he wanted?"

"No certain idea, sir," Robert replied doubtfully. "Now I come to think
of it, though, it seemed as though he had come to make Mr. Palliser
some sort of an offer. After I had let him out, he came back and said
something to Mr. Palliser about three thousand pounds, and Mr.
Palliser said he would let him know. I got the idea, somehow or other,
that the transaction, whatever it might have been, was to be concluded
on Tuesday night."

"Why didn't you tell me this before, Robert?" his master enquired.

"Other things drove it out of my mind, sir," the man confessed. "I
didn't look upon it as of much consequence. I thought it was something
to do with Mr. Palliser's private affairs."

Tallente glanced at the safe.

"I saw this man Miller at the station," he said, "when I arrived."

"That would be on his way back from here, sir," Robert acquiesced. "I
gathered that he was coming back again after dinner in a car."

"Did you hear a car at all that night?"

"I rather fancied I did," the man asserted. "I didn't take particular
notice, though."

Tallente frowned.

"I am very much afraid, Robert," he said, "that wherever Mr. Palliser
is, those papers are."

Robert shivered.

"Very good, sir," he said, in a low tone.

"Any speculations as to that young man's whereabouts," Tallente
continued thoughtfully, "must necessarily be a matter of pure guesswork,
but supposing, Robert, he should have wandered in that mist the wrong
way - turned to the left, for instance, outside this window, instead of
to the right - he might very easily have fallen over the cliff."

"The walk is very unsafe in the dark, sir," Robert acquiesced, looking
down at the carpet.

"It was not my intention," Tallente remarked thoughtfully, "to kill the
young man. A brawl in front of the windows was impossible, so I took
him with me to the lookout. I suppose he was tactless and I lost my
temper. I struck him on the chin and he went backwards, through that
piece of rotten paling, you know, Robert - "

"I know, sir," the man interrupted, with a little moan. "Please don't!"

Tallente shrugged his shoulders.

"I took him at no disadvantage," he said coolly. "He knew how to use
the gloves and he was twenty years younger than I. However, there it is.
Backwards he went, all legs and arms and shrieks. And with him went the
papers he had stolen. - At twelve o'clock to-night, Robert, I must go
down after him."

"It's impossible, sir! It's a sheer precipice for four hundred feet!"

"Nothing of the sort," was the cool reply. "There are heaps of ledges
and little clumps of pines and yews. All that you will have to do is to
pull up the rope when I am ready. You can fasten it to a tree when I go

"It's not worth it, sir," the man protested anxiously. "No one will
ever find the body down there."

"Send the boy home to stay with his parents to-night," Tallente
continued. "Your wife, I suppose, can be trusted?"

"She is living up at the garage, sir," Robert answered. "Besides, she
is deaf. I'll tell her that I am sleeping in the house to-night as you
are not very well. And forgive me, sir - her ladyship left a message.
She hoped you would lunch with her to-morrow."

Tallente strolled out again in a few minutes, curiously impatient of the
restraint of walls, and clambered up the precipitous field at the back
of the Manor. Far up the winding road which led back into the world, a
motor-car was crawling on its way up over. He watched it through a pair
of field glasses. Leaning back in the tonneau with folded arms, as
though solemnly digesting a problem, was Inspector Gillian. Tallente
closed the glasses with a little snap and smiled.

"The Bucket type," he murmured to himself, "very much the Bucket type."


The moon that night seemed to be indulging in strange vagaries, now
dimly visible behind a mist of thin grey vapour, now wholly obscured
behind jagged masses of black cloud, and occasionally shining
brilliantly from a little patch of clear sky. Tallente waited for one
of the latter moments before he finally tested the rope which was wound
around the strongest of the young pine trees and stepped over the rustic
wooden paling at the edge of the lookout He stood there balanced between
earth and sky, until Robert, who watched him, shivered. "There is
nothing to fear," his master said coolly. "Remember, I am an old hand
at mountain climbing, Robert. All the same, if anything should happen,
you'd better say that we fancied we heard a cry from down below and I
went to see what it was. You understand?"

"Yes, sir!"

Tallente took a step into what seemed to be Eternity. The rope cut into
his hands for the first three or four yards, as the red sand crumbled
away beneath his feet, and he was obliged to grip for his life.
Presently he gained a little ledge, from which a single yew tree was
growing, and paused for breath.

"Are you all right, sir?" Robert called out from above.

"Quite," was the confident answer. "I shall be off again in a minute."

Tallente's head had been the wonder even of members of the Alpine Club,
years ago in Switzerland. He found himself now in this strangest of all
positions, absolutely steady and unmoved. Sheer below him, dark,
rushing waves broke upon the rocks, sending showers of glittering spray
upwards. Above, the little lookout with its rustic paling seemed almost
more than directly overhead. The few stars and the fugitive moon seemed
somehow set in a different sky. He felt a new kinship with a great gull
who came floating by. He had become himself a creature of the wild
places. Presently he began once more to let himself down, hand over
hand, to where the next little clump of trees showed a chance of a
precarious foothold. The rope chafed his fingers but he remained
absolutely steady. Once he trusted for a moment to a yew tree, growing
out of a fissure in the rock, which came out by the roots and went
hurtling down into space. From overhead he heard Robert's terrified
cry. The rope stood the strain of his sudden clutch, however, and all
was well. A little lower down, holding on with one hand, he took his
torch from his pocket and examined the surface of the cliff. Nothing
apparently had been disturbed, nor was there any sign of any heavy body
having been dashed through the undergrowth. Soon he went on again,
and, working a little to the left, stood for a moment upon a green,
turf-covered crag, a tiny plateau covered with the refuse of seagulls
and a few stunted trees, from amongst which a startled hawk rose with a
wild cry. He waited here until the moon shone once more and he could
see the little strip of shingle below. Nowhere could he find any trace
of the thing he sought.

At the end of half an hour's climbing, he reached the end of the rope.
The little cove, filled with tumbled rocks and a narrow strip of beach,
was still about eighty feet below. The slope here was far less
precipitous and there was a foothold in many places amongst the thinly
growing firs and dwarfed oaks. Calmly he let go the rope and commenced
to scramble. More than once his foot slipped, but he was always in a
position to save himself. The time came at last when he stood upon the
pebbly beach, surprised to find that his knees were shaking and his
breath coming fast. The little place was so enclosed that when he
looked upwards it seemed as though he were at the bottom of a pit, as
though the stars and the doubtful moon had receded and he was somehow in
the bowels of the earth instead of being on the sea level. There were
only a few feet of the shingle dry, and a great wave, breaking amongst
the huge rocks, drenched him with spray. He proceeded with his task,
however, searching methodically amongst the rocks, scanning the pebbly
beach with his torch, always amazed that nowhere could he find the
slightest trace of what he sought. Finally, drenched to the skin and
utterly exhausted, he commenced once more the upward climb. He was an
hour reaching the end of the rope. Then he blew the whistle and the
rest was easy. Nevertheless, when the paling came into sight and he
felt Robert's arms under his shoulders, he reeled over towards the seat
and lay there, his clothes caked in red mud, the knees of his
knickerbockers cut, blood on his hands and forehead, breathless. Robert
forced brandy down his throat, however, and in a moment or two he was
himself again.

"A miracle!" he gasped. "There is nothing there."

"There was something dark, I fancied, upon the strip of beach, sir,"
Robert ventured.

"I thought so too. It was a tarred plank of timber."

"Then the tide must have reached him."

Tallente rose to his feet and looked over.

"The sea alone knows," he said. "For the first time, though, Robert, I
feel inclined to agree with the newspapers, who speak of the strange
disappearance of the Honourable Antimony Palliser. Could any man go
backwards over that palisading, do you think, and save his life?"

Robert shook his head.

"Miracles can't happen, sir," he muttered.

"Nevertheless," Tallente said, a little gloomily, "the sea never keeps
what the land gives it. My fate will rest with the tides."

Robert suddenly gripped his master's arm. The moon had disappeared
underneath a fragment of cloud and they stood in complete darkness.
Both men listened. From one of the paths which led through the grounds
from the beach, came the sound of muffled footsteps. A startled owl
flew out and wheeled over their heads with a queer little cry.

"Who's that in the grounds, Robert?" Tallente demanded.

"I've no idea, sir," the latter replied, his voice shaking. "The
cottage is empty. The boy went home - I saw him start off. There is no
one else about the place."

Nevertheless, the footsteps came nearer. By and by, through the trees,
came the occasional flash of an electric torch. Robert turned towards
the house but Tallente gripped him by the arm.

"Stop here," he muttered. "We couldn't get away. Any one would hear
our footsteps along this flinty path. Besides, there is the rope."

"It's someone else searching!" Robert whispered hoarsely.

The light grew nearer and nearer. A little way below, the path branched
to the right and the left. To the left it encircled the tennis lawn and
led to the Manor or back to the road. The path to the right led to the
little lookout upon which the two men were standing. The footsteps for
a moment hesitated. Then the light flashed out and approached. Whoever
the intruder might be, he was making his way directly towards them.
Tallente shrugged his shoulders.

"We must see this through, Robert," he said. "We were in a tighter
corner at Ypres, remember. Keep as quiet as you can. Now, then."

Tallente flashed on his own torch.

"Who's there?" he asked sternly.

There was no answer. The torch for a moment remained stationary, then
it began again to advance.

"What are you doing in my grounds?" Tallente demanded. "Who are you?"

A shape loomed into distinctness. A bulky man in dark clothes came into

"I am Gillian - Inspector Gillian. What are you doing out here, Mr.

Tallente laughed a little scornfully.

"It seems to me that the boot is on the other leg," he said. "I should
like to know what the mischief you mean by wandering around my grounds
at this hour of the night without my permission?"

The inspector completed his climb and stood in the little circle of
light. He took note of the rope and of Tallente's condition.

"My presence here, sir," the inspector announced, "is connected with the
disappearance of the Honourable Anthony Palliser."

"Confidence for confidence," Tallente replied. "So is mine."

The inspector moved to the palisading. The top rail had been broken, as
though it had given under the weight of some heavy body. He held up the
loose fragment, glanced downwards into the dark gulf and back again to
Tallente. "You've been over there," he said. "I have," Tallente
admitted. "I've made a search that I don't fancy you'd have tackled
yourself. I've been down the cliff to the beach."

"What reason had you for supposing that you might discover Mr.
Palliser's body there?" the other asked bluntly.

Tallente sat on the stone seat and lit a cigarette.

"I will take you into my confidence, Mr. Inspector," he said. "This
afternoon I strolled round here with a lady caller, just before you
came, and I fancied that I heard a faint cry. I took no notice of it at
the time, but to-night, after dinner, I wandered out here again, and
again I fancied I heard it. It got on my nerves to such an extent that
I fetched Robert here, a coil of rope, put on some shoes with spikes and
tried to remember that I was an Alpine climber."

"You've been down to the beach and back, sir?" the inspector asked,
looking over a little wonderingly.

"Every inch of the way. The last eighty feet or so I had to scramble."

"Did you discover anything, sir?"

"Not a thing. I couldn't even find a broken twig in any of the little
clumps of outgrowing trees. There wasn't a sign of the sand having been
disturbed anywhere down the face of the cliff, and I shouldn't think a
human being had been on that beach during our lifetimes. I have had my
night's work for nothing."

"It was just the cry you fancied you heard which made you undertake this


The inspector held up the broken rail.

"When was this smashed?" he enquired.

"I have no idea," Tallente answered. "All the woodwork about the place
is rotten."

"Doesn't it occur to you, sir, as being an extraordinarily dangerous
thing to put it back in exactly the same position as though it were

"Iniquitous," Tallente agreed.

The inspector made a mental note. Tallente threw the remains of his
cigarette into the sea. "I am going to bed now." he said. "Can I offer
you any refreshment, Mr. Inspector, or are your investigations not yet

"I thank you, sir, but I require nothing. I have some men up in the
wood there and I shall join them presently. I am staying in the

Tallente pointed to the rope.

"If you would care to search for yourself, Mr. Inspector, we'll help
you down."

The man shook his head.

"Scarcely a job for a man of my build, sir. I have a professional
climber coming to-morrow. I wish you had informed me of your intention
to go down to-night."

"If you had informed me of your intention to remain in the neighborhood,
that might have been possible," was the cool reply. The man took the
loose wooden rail from its place and held it under his arm. "Walking
off with a portion of my fence, eh?" Tallente asked.

The inspector made no direct reply. He turned his torch on to the
broken end.

"A clue?" Tallente asked him lightly. The other turned away. "It is
not my place, sir," he announced, "to share any discovery I might make
with a person who has deliberately refused to assist the law."

"No one has convinced me yet," Tallente replied, "that Palliser's
disappearance is a matter in which the law need concern itself." The
inspector coughed. "I wish you good night, sir." He disappeared along
the narrow path. They listened to his retreating footsteps. Tallente
picked up his end of the rope. "I was right," he said, as he led the
way back to the house. "Quite the Inspector Bucket type."


At noon the next day, Tallente, nervously as well as physically
exhausted with the long climb from the Manor, turned aside from the
straight, dusty road and seated himself upon a lichen-covered boulder.
He threw his cap on the ground, filled and lighted an old briar pipe,
and gazed with a queer mixture of feelings across the moorland to where
Woolhanger spread itself, a queer medley of dwelling house and farm
buildings, strangely situated at the far end of the table-land he was
crossing, where the moor leaned down to a great hollow in the hills.
The open stretch of common which lay between him and his destination had
none of the charm of the surrounding country. It was like a dark spot
set in the midst of the rolling splendours of the moorland proper.
There were boulders of rock of unknown age, dark patches of peat land,
where even in midsummer the mud oozed up at the lightest footfall, pools
and sedgy places, the home and sometimes the breeding place of the
melancholy snipe. Of colour there was singularly little. The heather
bushes were stunted, their roots blackened as though with fire, and even
the yellow of the gorse shone with a dimmer lustre. But in the
distance, a flaming carpet of orange and purple stretched almost to the
summit of the brown hills of kindlier soil, and farther round,
westwards, richly cultivated fields, from which the labourers seemed to
hang like insects in the air, rolled away almost to the clouds.

Tallente looked at them a little wearily, impressed with the allegorical
significance of his position. It seemed to him that he was in the land
to which he belonged, the barren land of desolation and failure. The
triumphs of the past failed for a moment to thrill his pulses. The
memory of his well-lived and successful life brought him not an atom of
consolation. The present was all that mattered, and the present had
brought him to the gates of failure. - After all, what did a man work
for, he wondered? What was the end and aim of it all? Life at
Martinhoe Manor, with a faithful but terrified manservant, bookshelves
ready to afford him the phantasmal satisfaction of another man's
thoughts, sea and winds, beauties of landscape and colour, to bring him
to the threshold of an epicurean pleasure which needed yet that one
pulsating link with humanity to yield the full meed of joy and content.
It all came back to the old story of man's weakness, he thought, as he
rose to his feet, his teeth almost savagely clenching his pipe. He had
become a conqueror of circumstances only to become a victim of the
primitive needs of life.

At about a quarter of a mile from the house, the road branched away to
the left to disappear suddenly over the edge of a drop of many hundreds
of feet. Tallente passed through a plain white gate, down an avenue of
dwarfed oaks, to emerge into an unexpectedly green meadow, cloven
through the middle with a straight white avenue. Through another gate
he passed into a drive which led through flaming banks of rhododendrons,
now a little past their full glory, to the front of the house, a long
and amplified building which, by reason of many additions, had become an
abode of some pretensions. A manservant answered his ring at once and
led him into a cool, white stone hall, the walls of which were hung from
floor to ceiling with hunting and sporting trophies.

"Her ladyship is still at the farm, sir," the man announced. "She said
if you came before she returned would you care to step round?"

Tallente signified his assent and was led through the house, across a
more extensive garden, from which a marvellous view of the valley and
the climbing slopes behind held him spellbound, by the side of a small,
quaintly shaped church, to a circular group of buildings of considerable
extent. The man conducted him to the front of a white-plastered cottage
covered with roses, and knocked at the door.

"This is her ladyship's office, sir," he announced.

Lady Jane's invitation to enter was clear and friendly. Tallente found
her seated behind a desk, talking to a tall man in riding clothes, who
swung around to eye the newcomer with a curiosity which seemed somehow
not altogether friendly. Lady Jane held out her hand and smiled

"Do come in, Mr. Tallente," she begged. "I can't tell you how glad I
am to see you. Now you will believe, won't you, that I am not
altogether an idler in life? This is my agent, Mr. Segerson - Mr.

Lionel Segerson held out his hand. He was a tall, well-built young
Devonian, sunburnt, with fair curly hair, a somewhat obstinate type of
countenance, and dressed in the dandified fashion of the sporting

"Glad to know you, Mr. Tallente," he said, in a tone which lacked
enthusiasm. "I hope you're going to stay down in these parts for a

Tallente made only a monosyllabic reply, and Lady Jane, with a little
gesture of apology, continued her conversation with Segerson.

"I should like you," she directed, "to see James Crockford for yourself.
Try and explain my views to him - you know them quite well. I want him
to own his land. You can tell him that within the last two years I have
sold eleven farms to their tenants, and no one could say that I have not
done so on easy terms. But I need further convincing that Crocker is in
earnest about the matter, and that he will really work to make his farm
a success. In five good years he has only saved a matter of four
hundred pounds, although his rental has been almost insignificant. That
is the worst showing of any of the tenants on the estate, and though if
I had more confidence in him I would sell on a mortgage, I don't feel
inclined to until he has shown that he can do better. Tell him that he
can have the farm for two thousand pounds, but he must bring me eight
hundred in cash and it must not be borrowed money. That ought to
satisfy him. He must know quite well that I could get three thousand
pounds for it in the open market."

"These fellows never take any notice of that," Segerson remarked.
"Ungrateful beggars, all of them. I'll tell him what you say, Lady

"Thank you."

"Anything else?" the young man asked, showing a disposition to linger.

"Nothing, thanks, until to-morrow morning." There was even then a slight
unwillingness in his departure, which provoked a smile from Lady Jane as
the door closed.

"The young men of to-day are terribly spoilt," she said. "He expected
to be asked to lunch."

"I am glad he wasn't," Tallente observed.

She laughed.

"Why not? He is quite a nice young man."

"No doubt," Tallente agreed, without conviction. "However, I hate young
men and I want to talk to you."

"Young men are tiresome sometimes," she agreed, rising from her chair.

"And older ones too, I am afraid!"

She closed her desk and he stood watching her. She was wearing an
extraordinarily masculine garb - a covert-coating riding costume, with
breeches and riding boots concealed under a long coat - but she
contrived, somehow, to remain altogether feminine. She stood for a
moment looking about her, as though wondering whether there were
anything else to be done, a capable figure, attractive because of her
earnest self-possession.

"Sarah," she called out.

The sound of a typewriter in an inner room ceased. The door was opened
and a girl appeared on the threshold.

"You won't see me again to-day unless you send up for me," her mistress
announced. "Let me have the letters to sign before five. Try and get
away early, if you can. The car is going in to Lynton. Perhaps you
would like the ride?"

"I should enjoy it very much, your ladyship," the girl replied
gratefully. "There is really very little to do this afternoon."

"You can bring the letters whenever you like, then," Lady Jane told her,
"and let Martin know that you are going in with him."

"You study your people, I see," Tallente remarked, as they strolled
together back to the house.

"I try," she assented. "I try to do what I can in my little community
here, very much as you, in a far greater way, try to study the people in
your political programme. Of course," she went on, "it is far easier
for me. The one thing I try to develop amongst them is a genuine, not
a false spirit of independence. I want them to lean upon no one. I
have no charities in connection with the estate, no soup kitchens or
coal at Christmas, or anything of that sort. My theory is that every
person is the better for being able to look after himself, and my idea
of charity is placing him in a position to be able to do it. I don't
want to be their Lady of the Manor and accept their rents and give them
a dinner. I try to encourage them to save money and to buy their own
farms. The man here who owns his own farm and makes it pay is in a
position to lead a thoroughly self-respecting and honourable life. He
ought to get what there is to be got out of life, and his children

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 3 of 19)