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sorts of stories were told about it, but the detailed statement of the circumstances appearing in the county paper, inspired, so people said, by Mr. Warrender, was generally regarded as the authorised version. It appeared from this that Mr. Carew, having engaged in a game at ecarté with one of the gentlemen present, playing for very high stakes, enjoyed a very remarkable run of luck, which attracted the attention of his host, Mr. Warrender, and of Mr. Fosbrooke, who had on previous occasions lost heavily to Mr. Carew. During a temporary move from the card table an opportunity of examining the cards was seized, and the fact clearly established that Mr. Carew was playing with a marked pack. The cards were handed to Sir John Willoughby, who certified unhesitatingly to the fact. Mr. Warrender explained that he had been acquainted with Mr. Carew for many years, and had been associated with him in turf speculations, running horses jointly under the racing name of Church. The results of the partnership had been so disastrous to Mr. Warrender that he had been led reluctantly to question his partner's honesty and good faith, and had, in spite of his prepossessions, been impressed with the opinion, which, he understood, had been publicly expressed by Mr. Fosbrooke, that Carew was addicted to unfair practices. On the present occasion, therefore, both he and Mr. Fosbrooke had bestowed more attention on the doings of Mr. Carew than he would otherwise have thought of doing. Fosbrooke confirmed Warrender's statements, as it seemed, with some little hesitation, and a violent scene followed. Carew declared that he was the victim of a vile conspiracy, that Warrender meant to ruin him, and that Fosbrooke was a broken-down gambler and roué, a mere hanger-on of Warrender's, who would perjure himself to order. The circumstances of the case, however, were too strong for Carew, and he was compelled to leave Elmesthorpe at once. The London papers got hold of the story, which was also told at the clubs by Sir John Willoughby. Carew was invited to resign his membership at two of them, which he declined to do, and after a brief enquiry he was expelled. Things were made so hot for him that, after a vain struggle to hold his own, he threw up his appointment and went abroad. He is now, I believe, flourishing somewhere in the States, and London society knows him no more.
At the time I had no disposition to question the justice of Carew's condemnation. Nowadays, although heartily disliking the man, I am disposed to believe that he was really innocent of the charge for which he suffered, and that he was, as he said, the victim of a plot conceived by Warrender, partly for revenge and partly with the object of ridding himself of an inconvenient associate. That Fosbrooke was an active party to the plot I should be sorry to believe, the more so as he is now my brother
in-law. Warrender took him up, I am convinced, solely to use him against Carew. When he had served his purpose he let him drop again, but Percy had got a fresh start and succeeded, through the influence of some old friends, in getting a snug little Colonial appointment, which he still fills under the direction of Loo, whom he came over to marry three years afterwards, and who rules him, manages the department, and tyrannizes over local society with the energy and strength of purpose for which she was always remarkable.
Six months after Carew's disappearance from the scene Warrender and Mrs. West were married. No prior announcement was made of the imminence of the event, which came as a thunderbolt upon Avonham society. The marriage was celebrated in London, and three months elapsed before the happy couple made their re-appearance among us. The bloom of the honeymoon was pretty well worn off them, but Mr. Warrender's cheerful manner and charming deference to his wife were the theme of admiring remarks from the Avonham ladies, who pitied him his hard fate in being tied to a cold, unresponsive, and frightened-looking woman. Mrs. Warrender was sadly changed for the worse since her marriage; the old intimacy between her and my wife dwindled down to a mere exchange of formal courtesies, and as the business both of hers and of Warrender's estates drifted gradually out of our hands her confidential relations with my partner were entirely suspended. George and I kept upon friendly, but not intimate, terms. Occasionally we dined at each other's houses, occasionally met in town or the hunting field, but of his affairs or the conditions of his domestic life I knew nothing. Only on two occasions henceforth was I to be brought again behind the scenes.
One day in October a groom galloped into Avonham with a note from Mrs. Warrender for my partner. "Cecil is lost, and my husband left home this morning. I am nearly distracted. Will you come and help me, Mr. Forster?"
We both went. Cecil West was a troublesome and daring young pickle, always up to mischief, and always in dangerous places. George had yielded to his wife's request and had kept the boy at home instead of sending him to a good school, where he would have found his level. The consequence was that the boy did what he pleased; his step-father never noticed him or interfered with him, and his mother's authority went for nothing. When we reached Elmesthorpe we found that Warrender had left home that morning for a couple of days' shooting at Sir John Willoughby's. Shortly after his departure the boy was missed, and the whole establishment had been enlisted in the
search for him all day. They were dragging the ornamental water in the park when we arrived, and here the object of our search was discovered.
Poor woman! her face was cold and set, and her eyes dry as she turned away from looking at her boy's dead body, with the muttered remark, "I shall be the next, now."
We waited until Warrender, who had been sent for, reached home that evening; and as we drove out of the park gates Forster relieved his pent-up feelings with a big oath, an undeserved cut at his favourite mare, and the remark, "I wish to God I could find out the truth." I was silent, for I knew where his suspicions tended. In spite of myself I felt their influence upon my own mind, and knew not what to believe or think.
Mrs. Warrender was a rich woman now, but the shock of her son's death affected her strangely, people said. She visited no more among us, and was rarely seen even in her carriage driving through the streets of Avonham. Warrender came and went as usual, shook his head and spoke with grave concern of the state of his wife's health-a model husband all Avonham agreed. There was never a hint of unkindness on his part. All the servants at the hall were prepared to testify to his unvarying courtesy and gentleness of manner to his invalid wife. spring came on it was reported that her health had broken down utterly, and that she was going into a decline. She was regularly attended by Mr. Thorpe, a sleepy, purblind practitioner of the old school, who had assisted in bringing into the world all the present generation of dwellers on that country side within a ten-mile circuit. Forster went and interviewed the old gentleman on his own account about Mrs. Warrender's health, but got no satisfaction from him. Then a clever young fellow from London, Dr. Mason, came down and bought a share in Thorpe's practice. We all took to him immensely. "I wish you would go and see my old client, Mrs. Warrender," said Forster to him at our house one evening. "I am anxious about her, and am sure that your partner does not understand her case."
"Impossible," said Mason laughing. "The old gentleman won't give me a chance with the nobility and landed gentry. I get the parish, and a few crumbs in the shape of professional men like you and Lydon, who never have anything the matter with you."
However, it was a very cold March, and fortunately Mr. Thorpe got a severe attack of bronchitis, so that Mason had to take up the county family part of the practice. Amongst other houses which he visited was Elmesthorpe Hall, and after each of his visits it came about that he and Forster met and had quiet dis
cussions together. I had a suspicion that Forster had established by some means a mode of communication with the house, but I was altogether in the dark as to what was going on until Forster called me into his room one evening as we were preparing to leave the office, and said :
"I want you to be ready to drive to Elmesthorpe with me to-night, Lydon."
"To-night," I said, "impossible. I have an engagement." "Fifty engagements must not stand in the way. It is a matter of life and death. Listen, there is foul play going on. Honoria Warrender is dying of poison artfully administered. have suspected it, but could never have proved it if that old fool Thorpe had not providentially been taken ill. Mason found it out at once, but the nature of the poison and the mode of its administration baffled him for a long time. We have reason to believe that the draughts he gives Mrs. Warrender to be taken in the night are tampered with. She is in such a condition that any agitation would be fatal, and he dare not warn her, so we are going over to-night to arrive at the hall just after ten o'clock, at which hour Mr. Warrender always goes to bid his wife good-night."
"What a mad scheme!" I exclaimed. "How are you going to enter the house without Warrender's knowledge, and how are you going to account for the intrusion if he sees us?"
"I am not afraid of consequences," said Forster. "Mason will account for his presence, if need be, by pleading professional anxiety, and besides we shall be admitted by the maid, so that there will be no alarm given until we have seized the pièce de conviction-the poisoned draught."
It was a mad scheme, unlike my sober-minded partner's calm way of setting about things. But he was determined upon his course, and I agreed to accompany him and Dr. Mason, albeit with much misgiving. All went off well. We reached Elmesthorpe at ten o'clock, put up the trap at the village inn, and walked up to the hall. A side-door was left open, and here we found Mrs. Warrender's maid awaiting us.
"Come up at once," said the girl, "and walk softly, 'cos he ain't only just left missus's room.'
I never felt so like a professional burglar in my life as I did when stealing on tiptoe up the back stairs of my old friend's house, intent upon what-proving my said friend to be a cowardly murderer. When we reached the corridor at the top of the main staircase the maid hurried Mason on to her mistress's room, and Forster and I were left on guard. To my horror we heard a footstep in the hall below, and presently George Warrender appeared on the stairs. It took a great deal to disturb his composure, and there was only the slightest possible contraction of the brow as he remarked
"Good evening, gentlemen; may I ask what extraordinary circumstance procures me the honour of meeting with you under these unusual circumstances?"
I felt too foolish to say anything, but Forster replied
"We did not expect to see you, Mr. Warrender, on this occasion. We only accompanied Dr. Mason, who was anxious to see your wife to-night, and to change her sleeping draught." "Is Mason with my wife now?" said Warrender.
"I must say that young man's idea of courtesy is rudimentary. When he leaves Mrs. Warrender I should like to see him in my study-you also. It is a matter of taste, of course, but don't you think it would look better if you waited for your confederate in the dining-room, or anywhere else than on the bedroom floor."
He turned and went downstairs again with a calm expression of contempt on his face.
Mason appeared the next moment with a bottle in his hand. "It is all right. My suspicions were verified. This has been tampered with, and the case is clear."
Then we told him what had happened, and together we went to Warrender's study. The door was closed, but unlocked, and after knocking we opened it and went in. He was sitting very still in his chair in front of a library table. I went up to him and touched him on the shoulder. He was quite dead; his hand rested upon an open drawer in the table, wherein lay an empty vial, an old fashioned signet-ring, and a heavy gold watch. Forster pointed to these with a meaning look at me. "A case of heart disease, I suppose, doctor?" said he. There was a slight pause.
"Yes," replied Mason; "angina pectoris. It has brought a merciful death."
And so it is commonly reported to this day.