The Talleyrand Maxim by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XX. The Green Man
Byner, in taking his firm's advertisement for Parrawhite to the three Barford newspaper offices, had done so with a special design--he wanted Pratt to see that a serious wish to discover Parrawhite was alive in more quarters than one. He knew that Pratt was almost certain to see Eldrick's advertisement in his own name; now he wanted Pratt to see another advertisement of the same nature in another name. Already he had some suspicion that Pratt had not told Eldrick the truth about Parrawhite, and that nothing would suit him so well as that Parrawhite should never be heard of or mentioned again: now he wished Pratt to learn that Parrawhite was much wanted, and was likely to be much mentioned--wherefore the supplementary advertisements with Halstead & Byner's name attached. It was extremely unlikely that Pratt could fail to see those advertisements.
There were three newspapers in Barford: one a morning journal of large circulation throughout the county; the other two, evening journals, which usually appeared in three or four editions. As Byner stipulated for large type, and a prominent position, in the personal column of each, it was scarcely within the bounds of probability that a townsman like Pratt would miss seeing the advertisement. Most likely he would see it in all three newspapers. And if he had also seen Eldrick's similar advertisement, he would begin to think, and then----
"Why, then," mused Byner, ruminating on his design, "then we will see what he will do!"
Meanwhile, there was something he himself wanted to do, and on the morning following his arrival in the town, he set out to do it. Byner had been much struck by Pickard's account of his dealings with James Parrawhite on the evening which appeared to be the very last wherein Parrawhite was ever seen. He had watched the landlord of the Green Man closely as he told his story, and had set him down for an honest, if somewhat sly and lumpish soul, who was telling a plain tale to the best of his ability. Byner believed all the details of that story--he even believed that when Parrawhite told Pickard that he would find him fifty pounds that evening, or early next day, he meant to keep his word. In the circumstances--as far as Byner could reckon them up from what he had gathered--it would not have paid Parrawhite to do otherwise. Byner put the situation to himself in this fashion--Pratt had got hold of some secret which was being, or could be made to be, highly profitable to him. Parrawhite had discovered this, and was in a position to blackmail Pratt. Therefore Parrawhite would not wish to leave Pratt's neighbourhood--so long as there was money to be got out of Pratt, Parrawhite would stick to him like a leech. But if Parrawhite was to abide peaceably in Barford, he must pay Pickard that little matter of between fifty and sixty pounds. Accordingly, in Byner's opinion, Parrawhite had every honest intention of returning to the Green Man on the evening of the twenty-third of November after having seen Pratt. And, in Byner's further--and very seriously considered--opinion, the whole problem for solution--possibly involving the solution of other and more important problems--was this: Did Parrawhite meet Pratt that night, and if he did what took place between them which prevented Parrawhite from returning to Pickard?
It was in an endeavour to get at some first stage of a solution of this problem that Byner, having breakfasted at the Central Hotel on his second day in the town, went out immediately afterwards, asked his way to Whitcliffe, and was directed to an electric tram which started from the Town Hall Square, and after running through a district of tall warehouses and squat weaving-sheds, began a long and steady climb to the heights along the town. When he left it, he found himself in a district eminently characteristic of that part of the country. The tram set him down at a cross-roads on a high ridge of land. Beneath him lay Barford, its towers and spires and the gables of its tall buildings showing amongst the smoke of its many chimneys. All about him lay open ground, broken by the numerous stone quarries of which Eldrick had spoken, and at a little distance along one of the four roads at the intersection of which he stood, he saw a few houses and cottages, one of which, taller and bigger than the rest, was distinguished by a pole, planted in front of its stone porch and bearing a swinging sign whereon was rudely painted the figure of a man in Lincoln green. Byner walked on to this, entered a flagged hall, and found himself confronting Pickard, who at sight of him, motioned him into a little parlour behind the bar.
"Mornin', mister," said he. "You'll be all right in here--there's nobody about just now, and if my missis or any o' t' servant lasses sees yer, they'll tak' yer for a brewer's traveller, or summat o' that sort. Come to hev a look round, like--what?"
"I want to have a look at the place where you told us Parrawhite was to meet Pratt that night," replied Byner. "I thought you would perhaps be kind enough to show me where it is."
"I will, an' all--wi' pleasure," said the landlord, "but ye mun hev a drop o' summat first--try a glass o' our ale," he went on, with true Yorkshire hospitality. "I hev some bitter beer i' my cellar such as I'll lay owt ye couldn't get t' likes on down yonder i' Barford--no, nor i' London neyther!--I'll just draw a jug."
Byner submitted to this evidence of friendliness, and Pickard, after disappearing into a dark archway and down some deeply worn stone steps, came back with a foaming jug, the sight of which seemed to give him great delight. He gazed admiringly at the liquor which he presently poured into two tumblers, and drew his visitor's attention to its colour.
"Reight stuff that, mister--what?" he said. "I nobbut tapped that barril two days since, and I'd been keepin' it twelve month, so you've come in for it at what they call t' opportune moment. I say!" he went on, after pledging Byner and smacking his lips over the ale. "I heard summat last night 'at might be useful to you and Lawyer Eldrick--about this here Parrawhite affair."
"Oh!" said Byner, at once interested. "What now?"
"You'll ha' noticed, as you come along t' road just now, 'at there's a deal o' stone quarries i' this neighbourhood?" replied Pickard. "Well, now, of course, some o' t' quarry men comes in here. Last night theer wor sev'ral on 'em i' t' bar theer, talkin', and one on 'em wor readin' t' evenin' newspaper--t' Barford Dispatch. An' he read out that theer advertisement about Parrawhite--wi' your address i' London at t' foot on it. Well, theer wor nowt said, except summat about advertisin' for disappeared folk, but later on, one o' t' men, a young man, come to me, private like. 'I say, Pickard,' he says, 'between you an' me, worrn't t' name o' that man 'at used to come in here on a Sunday sometimes, Parrawhite? It runs a' my mind,' he says, ''at I've heerd you call him by that name.' 'Well, an' what if it wor?' I says. 'Nay, nowt much,' he says, 'but I see fro' t' Dispatch 'at he's wanted, and I could tell a bit about him,' he says. 'What could ye tell?' says I--just like that theer. 'Why,' he says, 'this much--one night t' last back-end----"
"Stop a bit, Mr. Pickard," interrupted Byner. "What does that mean--that term 'back-end'?"
"Why, it means t' end o' t' year!" answered the landlord. "What some folks call autumn, d'ye understand? 'One night t' last back-end,' says this young fellow, 'I wor hengin' about on t' quiet at t' end o' Stubbs' Lane,' he says: 'T' truth wor,' he says, 'I wor waitin' for a word wi' a young woman 'at lives i' that terrace at t' top o' Stubbs' Lane--she wor goin' to come out and meet me for half an hour or so. An,' he says, 'I see'd that theer feller 'at I think I've heerd you call Parrawhite, come out o' Stubbs' Lane wi' that lawyer chap 'at lives i' t' Terrace--Pratt. I know Pratt,' he says, ''cause them 'at he works for--Eldricks--once did a bit o' law business for me.' 'Where did you see 'em go to, then?' says I. 'I see'd 'em cross t' road into t' owd quarry ground,' he says. 'I see'd 'em plain enough, tho' they didn't see me--I wor keepin' snug agen 't wall--it wor a moonlit night, that,' he says. 'Well,' I says, 'an' what now?' 'Why,' he says, 'd'yer think I could get owt o' this reward for tellin that theer?' So I thowt pretty sharp then, d'ye see, mister. 'I'll tell yer what, mi lad,' I says. 'Say nowt to nobody--keep your tongue still--and I'll tell ye tomorrow night what ye can do--I shall see a man 'at's on that job 'tween now and then,' I says. So theer it is," concluded Pickard, looking hard at Byner. "D'yer think this chap's evidence 'ud be i' your line?"
"Decidedly I do!" replied Byner. "Where is he to be found?'
"I couldn't say wheer he lives," answered the landlord. "But it'll be somewhere close about; anyway, he'll be in here tonight. Bill Thomson t' feller's name is--decent young feller enough."
"I must contrive to see him, certainly," said Byner. "Well, now, can you show me this Stubbs' Lane and the neighbourhood?"
"Just step along t' road a bit and I'll join you in a few o' minutes," assented Pickard. "We'd best not be seen leavin t' house together, or our folk'll think it's a put-up job. Walk forrard a piece."
Byner strolled along the road a little way, and leaned over a wall until Mr. Pickard, wearing his white billycock hat and accompanied by a fine fox-terrier, lounged up with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat. Together they went a little further along.
"Now then!" said the landlord, crossing the road towards the entrance of a narrow lane which ran between two high stone walls. "This here is Stubbs' Lane--so called, I believe, 'cause an owd gentleman named similar used to hev a house here 'at's been pulled down. Ye see, it runs up fro' this high-road towards yon terrace o' houses. Folks hereabouts calls that terrace t' World's End, 'cause they're t' last houses afore ye get on to t' open moorlands. Now, that night 'at Parrawhite wor aimin' to meet Pratt, it wor i' this very lane. Pratt, when he left t' tram-car, t' other side o' my place, 'ud come up t' road, and up this lane. And it wor at t' top o' t' lane 'at Bill Thomson see'd Pratt and Parrawhite cross into what Bill called t' owd quarry ground."
"Can we go into that?" asked Byner.
"Nowt easier!" said Pickard. "It's a sort of open space where t' childer goes and plays about: they hev'n't worked no stone theer for many a long year--all t' stone's exhausted, like."
He led Byner along the lane to its further end, pointed out the place where Thomson said he had seen Pratt and Parrawhite, and indicated the terrace of houses in which Pratt lived. Then he crossed towards the old quarries.
"Don't know what they should want to come in here for--unless it wor to talk very confidential," said Pickard. "But lor bless yer!--it 'ud be quiet enough anywheer about this neighbourhood at that time o' neet. However, this is wheer Bill Thomson says he see'd 'em come."
He led the way amongst the disused quarries, and Byner, following, climbed on a mound, now grown over with grass and weed, and looked about him. To his town eyes the place was something novel. He had never seen the like of it before. Gradually he began to understand it. The stone had been torn out of the earth, sometimes in square pits, sometimes in semi-circular ones, until the various veins and strata had become exhausted. Then, when men went away, Nature had stepped in to assert her rights. All over the despoiled region she had spread a new clothing of green. Turf had grown on the flooring of the quarries; ivy and bramble had covered the deep scars; bushes had sprung up; trees were already springing. And in one of the worn-out excavations some man had planted a kitchen-garden in orderly and formal rows and plots.
"Dangerous place that there!" said Pickard suddenly. "If I'd known o' that, I shouldn't ha' let my young 'uns come to play about here. They might be tummlin' in and drownin' theirsens! I mun tell my missis to keep 'em away!"
Byner turned--to find the landlord pointing at the old shaft which had gradually become filled with water. In the morning sunlight its surface glittered like a plane of burnished metal, but when the two men went nearer and gazed at it from its edge, the water was black and unfathomable to the eye.
"Goodish thirty feet o' water in that there!" surmised Pickard. "It's none safe for childer to play about--theer's nowt to protect 'em. Next time I see Mestur Shepherd I shall mak' it my business to tell him so; he owt either to drain that watter off or put a fence around it."
"Is Mr. Shepherd the property-owner?" asked Byner.
"Aye!--it's all his, this land," answered Pickard. He pointed to a low-roofed house set amidst elms and chestnuts, some distance off across the moor. "Lives theer, does Mestur Shepherd--varry well-to-do man, he is."
"How could that water be drained off?" asked Byner with assumed carelessness.
"Easy enough!" replied Pickard. "Cut through yon ledge, and let it run into t' far quarry there. A couple o' men 'ud do that job in a day."
Byner made no further remark. He and Pickard strolled back to the Green Man together. And declining the landlord's invitation to step inside and take another glass, but promising to see him again very soon, the inquiry agent walked on to the tram-car and rode down to Barford to keep his appointment with Eldrick and Collingwood at the barrister's chambers.