Chapter XXI. The Interrupted Flight
 

Twenty-four hours after he had seen Stoner fall headlong into Hobwick Quarry, Mallalieu made up his mind for flight. And as soon as he had come to that moment of definite decision, he proceeded to arrange for his disappearance with all the craft and subtlety of which he was a past master. He would go, once and for all, and since he was to go he would go in such a fashion that nobody should be able to trace him.

After munching his sandwich and drinking his ale at the Highmarket Arms, Mallalieu had gone away to Hobwick Quarry and taken a careful look round. Just as he had expected, he found a policeman or two and a few gaping townsfolk there. He made no concealment of his own curiosity; he had come up, he said, to see what there was to be seen at the place where his clerk had come to this sad end. He made one of the policemen take him up to the broken railings at the brink of the quarry; together they made a careful examination of the ground.

"No signs of any footprints hereabouts, the superintendent says," remarked Mallalieu as they looked around. "You haven't seen aught of that sort!"

"No, your Worship--we looked for that when we first came up," answered the policeman. "You see this grass is that short and wiry that it's too full of spring to show marks. No, there's naught, anywhere about--we've looked a goodish way on both sides."

Mallalieu went close to the edge of the quarry and looked down. His sharp, ferrety eyes were searching everywhere for his stick. A little to the right of his position the side of the quarry shelved less abruptly than at the place where Stoner had fallen; on the gradual slope there, a great mass of bramble and gorse, broom and bracken, clustered: he gazed hard at it, thinking that the stick might have lodged in its meshes. It would be an easy thing to see that stick in daylight; it was a brightish yellow colour and would be easily distinguished against the prevalent greens and browns around there. But he saw nothing of it, and his brain, working around the event of the night before, began to have confused notions of the ringing of the stick on the lime-stone slabs at the bottom of the quarry.

"Aye!" he said musingly, with a final look round. "A nasty place to fall over, and a bad job--a bad job! Them rails," he continued, pointing to the broken fencing, "why, they're rotten all through! If a man put his weight on them, they'd be sure to give way. The poor young fellow must ha' sat down to rest himself a bit, on the top one, and of course, smash they went."

"That's what I should ha' said, your Worship," agreed the policeman, "but some of 'em that were up here seemed to think he'd been forced through 'em, or thrown against 'em, violent, as it might be. They think he was struck down--from the marks of a blow that they found."

"Aye, just so," said Mallalieu, "but he could get many blows on him as he fell down them rocks. Look for yourself!--there's not only rough edges of stone down there, but snags and roots of old trees that he'd strike against in falling. Accident, my lad!--that's what it's been--sheer and pure accident."

The policeman neither agreed with nor contradicted the Mayor, and presently they went down to the bottom of the quarry again, where Mallalieu, under pretence of thoroughly seeing into everything, walked about all over the place. He did not find the stick, and he was quite sure that nobody else had found it. Finally he went away, convinced that it lay in some nook or cranny of the shelving slope on to which he had kicked it in his sudden passion of rage. There, in all probability, it would remain for ever, for it would never occur to the police that whoever wielded whatever weapon it was that struck the blow would not carry the weapon away with him. No--on the point of the stick Mallalieu began to feel easy and confident.

He grew still easier and more confident about the whole thing during the course of the afternoon. He went about the town; he was in and out of the Town Hall; he kept calling in at the police-station; he became certain towards evening that no suspicion attached to himself--as yet. But--only as yet. He knew something would come out. The big question with him as he went home in the evening was--was he safe until the afternoon of the next day? While he ate and drank in his lonely dining-room, he decided that he was; by the time he had got through his after-dinner cigar he had further decided that when the next night came he would be safely away from Highmarket.

But there were things to do that night. He spent an hour with a Bradshaw and a map. While he reckoned up trains and glanced at distances and situations his mind was busy with other schemes, for he had all his life been a man who could think of more than one thing at once. And at the end of the hour he had decided on a plan of action.

Mallalieu had two chief objects in immediate view. He wanted to go away openly from Highmarket without exciting suspicion: that was one. He wanted to make it known that he had gone to some definite place, on some definite mission; that was the other. And in reckoning up his chances he saw how fortune was favouring him. At that very time the Highmarket Town Council was very much concerned and busied about a new water-supply. There was a project afoot for joining with another town, some miles off, in establishing a new system and making a new reservoir on the adjacent hills, and on the very next morning Mallalieu himself was to preside over a specially-summoned committee which was to debate certain matters relating to this scheme. He saw how he could make use of that appointment. He would profess that he was not exactly pleased with some of the provisions of the proposed amalgamation, and would state his intention, in open meeting, of going over in person to the other town that very evening to see its authorities on the points whereon he was not satisfied. Nobody would see anything suspicious in his going away on Corporation business. An excellent plan for his purpose--for in order to reach the other town it would be necessary to pass through Norcaster, where he would have to change stations. And Norcaster was a very big city, and a thickly-populated one, and it had some obscure parts with which Mallalieu was well-acquainted--and in Norcaster he could enter on the first important stage of his flight.

And so, being determined, Mallalieu made his final preparations. They were all connected with money. If he felt a pang at the thought of leaving his Highmarket property behind him, it was assuaged by the reflection that, after all, that property only represented the price of his personal safety--perhaps (though he did not like to think of that) of his life. Besides, events might turn out so luckily that the enjoyment of it might be restored to him--it was possible. Whether that possibility ever came off or not, he literally dared not regard it just then. To put himself in safety was the one, the vital consideration. And his Highmarket property and his share in the business only represented a part of Mallalieu's wealth. He could afford to do without all that he left behind him; it was a lot to leave, he sighed regretfully, but he would still be a very wealthy man if he never touched a pennyworth of it again.

From the moment in which Mallalieu had discovered that Kitely knew the secret of the Wilchester affair he had prepared for eventualities, and Kitely's death had made no difference to his plans. If one man could find all that out, he argued, half a dozen other men might find it out. The murder of the ex-detective, indeed, had strengthened his resolve to be prepared. He foresaw that suspicion might fall on Cotherstone; deeper reflection showed him that if Cotherstone became an object of suspicion he himself would not escape. And so he had prepared himself. He had got together his valuable securities; they were all neatly bestowed in a stout envelope which fitted into the inner pocket of a waistcoat which he once had specially made to his own design: a cleverly arranged garment, in which a man could carry a lot of wealth--in paper. There in that pocket it all was--Government stock, railway stock, scrip, shares, all easily convertible, anywhere in the world where men bought and sold the best of gilt-edged securities. And in another pocket Mallalieu had a wad of bank-notes which he had secured during the previous week from a London bank at which he kept an account, and in yet another, a cunningly arranged one, lined out with wash-leather, and secured by a strong flap, belted and buckled, he carried gold.

Mallalieu kept that waistcoat and its precious contents under his pillow that night. And next morning he attired himself with particular care, and in the hip pocket of his trousers he placed a revolver which he had recently purchased, and for the first time for a fortnight he ate his usual hearty breakfast. After which he got into his most serviceable overcoat and went away townwards ... and if anybody had been watching him they would have seen that Mallalieu never once turned his head to take a look at the house which he had built, and might be leaving for ever.

Everything that Mallalieu did that morning was done with method. He was in and about his office and his yard for an hour or two, attending to business in his customary fashion. He saw Cotherstone, and did not speak to him except on absolutely necessary matters. No word was said by either in relation to Stoner's death. But about ten o'clock Mallalieu went across to the police-station and into the superintendent's office, and convinced himself that nothing further had come to light, and no new information had been given. The coroner's officer was with the police, and Mallalieu discussed with him and them some arrangements about the inquest. With every moment the certainty that he was safe increased--and at eleven o'clock he went into the Town Hall to his committee meeting.

Had Mallalieu chanced to look back at the door of the police-station as he entered the ancient door of the Town Hall he would have seen three men drive up there in a motor-car which had come from Norcaster--one of the men being Myler, and the other two Norcaster detectives. But Mallalieu did not look back. He went up to the committee-room and became absorbed in the business of the meeting. His fellow committee-men said afterwards that they never remembered the Mayor being in such fettle for business. He explained his objections to the scheme they Were considering; he pointed out this and urged that--finally, he said that he was so little satisfied with the project that he would go and see the Mayor of the sister town that very evening, and discuss the matter with him to the last detail.

Mallalieu stepped out of the committee-room to find the superintendent awaiting him in the corridor. The superintendent was pale and trembling, and his eyes met Mallalieu's with a strange, deprecating expression. Before he could speak, two strangers emerged from a doorway and came close up. And a sudden sickening sense of danger came over Mallalieu, and his tongue failed him.

"Mr. Mayor!" faltered the superintendent. "I--I can't help it! These are officers from Norcaster, sir--there's a warrant for your arrest. It's--it's the Stoner affair!"