THE TRUTH AT LAST

Perhaps had Heron attacked Jerry less suddenly, and had he not shewn by
a few chosen remarks that he knew a good deal, the half-witted creature
might not have confessed. But his weak nature gave way altogether. And
during the next half-hour Geoffrey turned him inside out like a glove.
The story which Heron extracted from the whimpering creature was this
Roper had always suspected, and rightly, that Jenner had hidden the
forged bill before he went to prison. When the man came out, he got to
know the date of his discharge, and set Jerry to follow him in order
that he might see where he went to get the document. Jerry was on the
track for many days, and saw that he procured it from an old friend,
who, ignorant of its value, had taken charge of it. The document was
in a sealed envelope, and Jerry had seen Jenner place it in a red
pocket-book. All this he reported to Roper, and he was then ordered to
follow Jenner, and get it from him at all costs.

Jerry got again on the track of the released prisoner, and followed
him down to Westham. In one way or another the spy kept himself out of
sight, for Jenner, having been Roper’s clerk, knew the lad–as he then
was. The rest may be told in Jerry’s own words, which were many and
rambling:

“He got down here on a misty, rainy night, sir,” he said, fiddling with
his clumsy fingers, “and I kept at his heels. At a wayside pub he took
victuals and drink; I watched the door from the other side of the road,
and ate what I had with me. I daren’t go inside lest he should see me.”

“Didn’t you lose him in the mist?” asked Geoffrey, who was listening
eagerly.

“I never lose anything, sir,” returned Jerry. “I can see anywhere, and
foller like a dog. You don’t slip me! I’ve had enough follering to do
for the master. Well, Jenner he goes to a large pool of water.”

“The Waggoner’s Pond. Go on.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it? I never know’d. Well, there he meets with Mr.
Marshall. Oh, I know’d his voice. I was hiding near them behind a
hedge, I was; and a ghost came past me, sir–a ghost with a long black
dress.”

Heron saw that the man was ignorant that Mrs. Marshall also had been
listening; and this was all the better. It was as well that Jerry had
taken her for a ghost.

“I hate him so, you see,” explained Jerry. “He killed Miss Elsa, and
I was cruel fond of her, I was. Well, them two was talking about the
bill, and Jenner he shewed it to Marshall, but he wouldn’t give it up
till he got money for it. Marshall said he’d give him money when he was
married and after that they parted. I tried to foller Jenner, but I
thought the other–Marshall–‘ud spot me. I didn’t mind, though, as I
know’d Jenner was going to the Turnpike House to see his wife.”

“But you were a stranger! How did you know where that was?”

“I had passed it in the afternoon, and from what Marshall said to
Jenner, I know’d it was the Turnpike House. Well, sir, I scrambled a
lot, and got mixed—- I don’t know where I got. Then I heard a scuffle
and a cry, and saw in the mist two men fighting.”

“Marshall and Job,” thought Heron; then aloud, “Go on!”

“I thought as someone else might be after the red book, so I was going
to run forward when one cove he slipped away, and after groaning awful
the other he went too. He was shaken a lot by the fight. I stayed where
I was for a time, then I creeps forward and lights a match.”

“What did you do that for?”

“I wanted to see if in the fight the red book had been dropped. How
was I to know that one of them wasn’t Jenner in spite of his going on
to the Turnpike! When I casts a light,” he resumed. “I saw something
glittering on the ground. It was a broken link, and I examined it by
another match. There was two links. One piece was a champagne bottle,
just as you said, sir, and the other was my pin with the girl; I
thought they were pretty and saw they were gold, so I puts them into my
coat pocket.”

“How did you lose them, then?” Geoffrey asked, thinking this
explanation perfectly feasible.

“I only lost one–the champagne bottle,” said Jerry quite gravely,
“’cause there was a hole in my pocket I know’d nothing of. The other I
took home and got made into a pin. I never know’d till you spoke where
I lost the one! Was it under the Turnpike window?” he inquired.

“It was found there,” assented Heron.

Jerry scratched his head. “I must have shook it out when I was looking
in at the window,” he muttered.

“Oh, you did look in at the window, then?”

“Of course I did, sir. Wasn’t I follering Jenner? After I picked up the
links I went straight to the Turnpike but didn’t get there for a long
time through having mistook the way. I see a light in the window, and I
sneaks up to it through the bushes. The window was open and Jenner he
was leaning against it. On a table, under the window, I saw a knife,
and the red pocket-book with the bill. Jenner was talking to himself
and cursing some child—-”

“Poor Neil,” muttered Heron.

“I waited a bit to steal the book, when I heard Jenner give a yell, and
saw a kid come into the room looking frightful; he ran at Jenner who
gave a skip and dodged him. The child’s eyes was like diamonds, and
fixed; I never seed anything like the looks of him in my born days.
Jenner he screeched again and pitched himself at the child to fall on
top of him–leastways it looked like it. But I didn’t wait; I saw my
chance, and grabbing the pocket-book I ran like a deer, I did. Just as
I got a little way off a cove jumped out on me and collared my throat
singing out for the red book. I wouldn’t give it up, and shoved it
deeper into my pocket; but he held me down with one hand and dug it out
with the other. My heart!” sighed Jerry rubbing his hand, “didn’t the
master give me beans for not having that pocket-book!”

“Didn’t you know who robbed you?”

“No; I wished I had known. I’d have got the book next week when the
talk of the murder was past. But the master got a scare from that,
though I told him, as I tell you, that it wasn’t me. He said ‘Lie low,’
so I did lie low, and after a time he gave up the idea of getting the
bill, till you came the other day, and he thought you might have it. So
I’ve come to buy it if you will sell.”

“We’ll talk about that later, Jerry. Are you sure Jenner was alive when
you left the window?”

“I swear it! He was just making for the kid.”

“Had he the knife in his hand?”

“Not as I knows, sir. I think it was on the table. Jenner just ran at
the kid with his mouth open; he was in a cruel fright. But I cut and
didn’t wait to see anything.”

“Then, do you think the child killed Jenner?”

“Lor’ no, sir!” cried Jerry, amazed. “A weak little thing like that!
‘Sides, the kid hadn’t the knife. ‘Twas on the table, I’m sure.”

“Can you guess, then, who killed him?”

“No, sir, I can’t. All I know is that I didn’t. But now you know, just
say if I’m to have the bill!”

“I’ll tell you to-morrow morning.”

“I must know to-night; the master wants me back to-night.”

“He can’t have you, then,” said Heron, drily. “You stay here to-night,
I want you to repeat your story to someone else.”

“I won’t then! I was a fool to tell; but I don’t know nothing.”

“You must stay here.”

“I never killed him!” wept Jerry; then he turned sullen and made a grab
at his hat. “I’ll go,” he said, and made for the door.

“Stephen,” called Geoffrey; and Jerry found himself face to face with a
big footman who seized him with iron hands.

“Here! here!” he shouted, struggling and roaring. “Let me go; I never
did nothing to Jenner. Let me go!”

“Lock him up in some empty room, Stephen,” cried Mr. Heron, “and give
him food and wine; he must be kept here all night. I will take the
responsibility. Confound this foot! If I were only able to walk! Oh,
I’ll keep you, Mr. Hutt; we haven’t done with each other yet.”

Jerry’s cunning came suddenly to his aid, and he ceased struggling. “If
you give me grub and wine I’ll stop,” he said. “I ain’t done nothing to
Jenner; and I ain’t afraid.”

“Take him away, Stephen, and do what I tell you,” said Geoffrey,
sharply; and Jerry Hutt soon found himself locked in an out-shed with a
tray of food and a bottle of beer for his supper.

At intervals Stephen, the footman, came in to see that he was safe;
the creature noticed this, and made his plans accordingly. Immediately
after Stephen had departed after one of these peeps, he scrambled up
the rough woodwork and managed to get to the window, which was closed
merely by a hasp, no one having the least idea that the man would
attempt to escape. Jerry broke open the catch, and soon forced his
ungainly body through the opening. Not paying sufficient attention
to his footing, he fell, and alighted on a manure heap some distance
below. “Spoiling my nice new suit,” he grumbled, as he groped round to
get out of the yard in which he now found himself.

There was some little difficulty about this; but he at last discovered
a gate, which led into a by-lane, and was soon out of Mr. Heron’s
grounds, running across country for all he was worth, chuckling at the
way in which he had outwitted his host.

For quite two hours he wandered on; for he had completely lost his
bearings. The night was fine with a high wind; the moon was at the
zenith, and across her silver face passed cloud after cloud. At
intervals the whole landscape became light as day, and he could see
plainly. But he was a comparative stranger, though he had several times
been down looking for the bill by his master’s order.

Suddenly he emerged on to a common overgrown with gorse, and found
himself on a spot where four roads met. Some distance away a white
house looked spectral in the moonlight.

“The Turnpike,” he said aloud. “My gum! And there’s the window I looked
through; the light’s in it now, too–just as it was when Jenner was
killed. I wonder who’s in there!”

His curiosity got the better of his fear of Mr. Heron, and with a
surprisingly light step–for the man was heavy–he crept through the
jungle of bushes and sneaked along the wall of the house. “Just like
old times,” he said, chuckling. “I hope there ain’t no more murders
though.”

Someone was singing a wild song in a drunken voice; and when the clerk
peered through the window–for there was no blind–he saw a man dancing
in the middle of the room. A cheap oil lamp was on the table, and by
its light the dancer executed his fandango, waving a bottle as he did
so. The apartment was bare, and a horrible smell of petroleum was
wafted to Jerry’s nostrils. In his curiosity he forgot to keep himself
concealed, and Job–for he was the dancer–saw him. He flung himself
across the room, and before Jerry had realised his danger the gypsy had
seized him; by the collar of his coat and was dragging him through the
window. “Come in, come in, Satan!” yelled the drunken man. “We’ll have
another murder! Ho!

“Let me go–let me go!” screeched Jerry; but he was like a rabbit
caught in a snare, and shortly found himself in a heap on a
petroleum-soaked floor, while Job closed the window, Hutt was
terrified; but he could see no means of escape.

“Have a drink,” shouted Job, thrusting the bottle under Mr. Hutt’s nose.

“You let me go,” he whispered, clinging to a chair. “If you don’t, my
master will set the police on to you see if he don’t.”

“The police!” cried Job. “What do I care for them! They can’t do
anything to me; she’ll keep them off–she will. I can shew up her
husband it she don’t. Drink, drink, or I’ll kick you!”

Partly to avert the carrying-out of this threat, and partly because
he was extremely dry with his race across country, Jerry accepted the
offer, and as the ardent spirits went down his throat, he felt his
courage revive.

“I’m Jerry Hutt,” he exclaimed, “and I work for Mr. Roper. I want the
bill–the bill!” He made a grab at the gypsy. “It will lay him by the
heels,” he hissed.

“Lay who by the heels, hang you?” cried Job, pushing him back.

“Why, Marshall–I won’t call him ‘Mister’ Marshall–who killed my poor
dear Miss Elsa.”

Job, half stupid with drink, had yet the sense to gather the meaning
of the words. “Blest if I won’t know of the red pocket-book, too,” he
muttered.

And even as he spoke, Jerry caught the words, and repeated them. “The
red pocket-book,” he shouted. “Do you know where it is? The bill is in
it, and I’ll buy it off you; oh, yes, I will. Fifty pounds.”

Job banged his fist so heavily on the table that the lamp tottered. “I
wish I had it now!” he cried. “Fifty pounds-by gum!”

“Have you the bill there?” asked Jerry, taking another drink.

“No; I haven’t anything,” said Job. “She got it out of me.”

“Got what out of you?”

“Why, the red pocket-book–but the bill wasn’t in it,” he added.

For a moment Jerry stared at the man, then dropped the bottle with a
crash on the floor; it broke, and the liquor forming a pool, added its
fumes to the smell of the petroleum. “You had that red book!” stuttered
Jerry, trying hard to clear his brain. “And it was taken from me! You
live here–you were–you, oh, oh!” He sprang from his seat with a roar.
“You took it from me!”

“Well,” said Job, with a growl, “was you the cove as I fought on that
night, and knocked about so?”

“You robber–you thief!” cried Jerry, crouching for a spring. “Give me
back my property–the book, the bill!” and he flung himself on the
gypsy, who gave a cry of rage.

“I’ll crush you like a fly, as I did before!” Job said, and grappled
with his visitor.

But Job was not the man he had been twelve years before; he could not
hold his own as he had once done. Shouting and cursing, the two men
swayed round the apartment. Finally, they crashed against the table,
and upset the lamp it fell and burst on the floor. Immediately the
woodwork, soaked as it was in petroleum, broke into flame, and in
almost less time than it takes to tell, the whole room was in a blaze.

With a yell of terror, Jerry tried to shake himself free, and leap
through the girdle of fire but Job held him fast.

“No, you don’t!” he shouted. “You die with me, whoever you are! I’ve
made arrangements for this; I never intended to live: but I thought I’d
die alone. Now I’ve got you!” and he made a clutch at Jerry’s throat.

After that the struggle proceeded in silence, for Job held his peace,
and Jerry could not cry out by reason of those two strong hands fast on
his throat. By this time the room was blazing like a furnace, and the
clothes of the two men were in flames. A frightened wayfarer saw the
fire streaming towards the sky–saw two men vaguely struggling in the
flames.

“It is not impossible,” said Geoffrey, thunderstruck.

Mrs. Marshall shook her head. “So possible that I always thought so
myself,” she said.

“My own idea was the same,” remarked Mr. Cass, who was the third person
of the party now assembled in Mr. Heron’s library. “I have told you
several times, Geoffrey, that I believed Mrs. Jenner to be guilty.”

The young man drew a long breath. Even now he could scarcely credit the
news. “So she really did kill her husband?”

“There can be no doubt about it,” said Mr. Cass, pointing to an envelope
lying on the table. “There is a copy of her confession! She signed it
in the presence of the chaplain and the governor of the gaol.”

It was the morning after the burning down of the Turnpike House that
this conversation took place. Information that two charred bodies had
been found among the ruins had led Geoffrey to believe that Jerry had
perished along with Job. Stephen had informed him on the previous
night that the creature had made his escape, and no pursuit had been
attempted. There was no doubt in Geoffrey’s mind that Jerry had gone to
see Job at the Turnpike House; but why he should have done so, and why
it had come about that he and the gypsy should have met their deaths
together, he could not think. Nor was the mystery ever cleared up.
But if the death of Jerry remained a mystery that of Jenner did not.
Towards noon Mr. Cass made his appearance together with his sister to
see Mr. Heron. After some little talk about the fire, Geoffrey detailed
what had been confessed to him on the previous night.

“How did it all come about?” he asked now.

“That’s what I want to know,” said Inez. “Sebastian has told me nothing
beyond the bare fact as yet.”

“Because I want to tell the story once and for all, and then put it out
of my mind,” said her brother, solemnly. “You see, Heron, my sister and
you both know all about this case. What you have told us about Jerry
Hutt’s visit supplies the last link which brings the crime home to Mrs.
Jenner. I am not going to tell anyone else how the murder took place.
I have asked the governor and the chaplain not to tell Neil the truth
when he goes up for the funeral. He has had enough trouble, poor boy;
I, for one, do not want him to have any more. He believes now that his
mother is innocent—-”

“Oh, indeed!” interrupted Mrs. Marshall, with a haughty curl of her
lip. “And who does he believe guilty?”

“Job, the gypsy. He thinks that the man set fire to the Turnpike House
and destroyed himself, so as to escape the penalty of his crime. I
think it only merciful that he should be allowed to remain under that
impression.”

“I quite agree with you,” said Heron, heartily. “And you, Mrs.
Marshall?”

She bowed her head. “I have no ill-will towards the young man, although
I hated his mother. But she has gone to her account, so I will say no
more about her. As to Neil Webster, as he calls himself—-”

“And will continue to call himself,” interposed Mr. Cass, sternly.

“I will say nothing to him,” continued Mrs. Marshall, taking no notice
of this interruption. “I do not wish to visit the sins of the parents
upon the children; but with one parent murdered and the other parent
a murderess, I don’t see how the young man can turn out well. And I
sincerely hope that he will not marry that unfortunate Jenny Brawn.”

“If he asks her to marry him, she will not accept him blindly,” said
Mr. Cass, “for I intended to tell her the whole story–suppressing the
fact that Mrs. Jenner was guilty.”

“That is well,” put in Geoffrey. “But I should like to hear the story
of Mrs. Jenner’s crime.”

“I can tell it to you in a few words,” said Mr. Cass. “The clerk’s tale
has brought the story up to the time when Jenner flung himself on the
child. Well, Mrs. Jenner heard his cry, and rushed down into the room.
Jenner was mad with rage at the uncanny hatred shewn to him by his own
son, and had him by the hair of the head, shaking him as a terrier
does a rat. Mrs. Jenner rushed at him–she thought he would kill the
child–they struggled, and he struck her. While this was going on she
found herself near the table, and seeing the knife, blindly snatched
it up, throwing her husband to one side. Then, clutching the child to
her breast and holding out the knife to keep off the infuriated man,
she tried to make her escape from the house. But Jenner was blind with
fury, both against the child and against his wife who had instilled
such hatred into the mind of the boy. He rushed at her; she cried out
that she was holding the knife, but he took no notice of her, and ran
up against the blade, which buried itself in his heart. He fell, and
his wife fainted with the insensible child in her arms. It was when
she came to herself some time afterwards that she recalled what she
had done. But it was by accident that she had killed him–and this she
swore most solemnly; she denied that she had ever intended murder. Then
she fled from the house into the darkness until she fell insensible
under a hedge. The rest you know.”

Mrs. Marshall laughed again at this account. “I believe she killed him
on purpose,” she said.

“She had every reason to do it,” Mr. Cass said, coldly, “but all the
same, I believe she has spoken the truth. Jenner died by accident.”

“If this is so,” said Geoffrey, slowly, “and I see no reason to
disbelieve it, why did Mrs. Jenner tell Neil that she had killed his
father?”

“I asked her that, and her answer was that she was afraid, if Neil
reopened the case, some evidence might be brought forward to prove that
she had really committed the murder. She had told her son that she was
innocent, and she did not wish him to learn the truth. It was only on
my giving a promise not to tell him that she consented to make the
confession. She wants him to think of her only as a mother who loved
him–not as a murderess.”

“Humph!” remarked Geoffrey, doubtfully. “A queer way of shewing her
love, to put it into the head of an imaginative neurotic creature like
Neil that he himself was guilty!”

“It will not do him any harm,” said Mr. Cass. “I don’t pretend to say
that I approve of her clearing her own name at the expense of Neil’s
peace of mind: but it is not for us to judge, and before she died she
repented of having made that statement.”

“Did she know how the red pocket-book was stolen?” asked Geoffrey,
abruptly.

“No; she had been so busy struggling with Jenner for possession of the
child, she said, that she took no notice of anyone at the window. That
was why Jerry, as you say, was able to put his hand in and take the
book. It was lucky for the clearing-up of the case that Jenner had sewn
the bill inside the toy horse. If Roper had got hold of it, he would
have made it hot for Marshall. He hates him like poison on account
of—-”

“I have heard enough of that story,” interrupted Mrs. Marshall, “and
you seem to forget, Sebastian, that if the bill had really been in the
pocket-book I should have got it through Job. I am tired of it all. I
hope it is all ended for ever.”

“Yes, Inez. You will hear no more about it. In a few days Mrs. Jenner
and her story will be buried, and we will all try and forget the past.
Neil must never know.”

“I shall not tell him.”

“Nor I,” said Mrs. Marshall, with, for her, remarkable generosity. “No
one knows the truth but ourselves, and we will keep silence. What about
those poor wretches who have been burnt?”

“Well, Geoffrey must tell how Jerry Hutt came to see him, and in some
way we must prove the remains to be his. After all, the corpse–what is
left of it–may not be Jerry!”

“I think it is,” said Heron. “Indeed, I am certain of it. I expect he
and Job got quarrelling about the bill, and Job set fire to the house
in order to burn them both. Jerry did not burn willingly, I am sure of
that. Job no doubt detained him in the burning house until it was too
late.”

Mrs. Marshall shuddered. Job, indeed, was wicked, as well she knew. But
now she was relieved from his blackmailing, and had only her husband
to deal with. And she resolved–now that she was in possession of the
bill–to make short work of him. Her thoughts still seemed inclined to
separation and the Romish Church.

“Well, good-bye, Geoffrey,” Mr. Cass said, shaking hands. “I hope
your ankle will soon be right. Ruth is coming over to see you. But,
remember, not a word to her.”

“Not a word,” said the young man. “But I say, Cass, if I were you
I should burn that copy of the confession. The original, in the
possession of the authorities, will be sufficient to prove Mrs.
Jenner’s guilt should anyone else be accused, which is not likely after
all. Burn it.”

“I intend to do so.” And Mr. Cass dropped the document into the fire.
“I only brought it back so that you might be sure she was guilty. Ah,
it is in ashes already! I wish we could get rid of all our painful
memories so easily!” But to the end of my life I shall never forget
this case. And these were the last words they spoke on the subject,
for both Mr. Cass and Geoffrey ever afterwards carefully avoided all
mention of it. Nor was there even the Turnpike House to remind them of
the tragedy, for it had been burnt to the ground. And Mr. Heron had the
site ploughed and enclosed in the field adjoining; so that the next
year corn waved where the blood-stained habitation had stood.

Mrs. Marshall carried out her intention of separating from her husband;
she gave him a portion of her money, and made him a present of the
forged bill, and he betook himself and his money to Paris. Neil
buried his mother and mourned her for many months. Then he made his
reappearance in public, and was more successful than ever. Now that
time was healing his wounds, he began to think about his future, and
the first thing he did was to ask Jennie Brawn to share it with him.
She, poor girl, accepted him with joy; and at once sent the good news
to Ruth. Mr. Cass thereupon went up to London, and called upon the
girl at his daughter’s house, for she was still teaching Mrs. Chisel’s
children. He told her the whole story, not thinking it fair that she
should marry Neil in ignorance of the truth. And at first she was
horrified; but declared that nothing could alter her determination to
marry him.

“I love him,” she said, and that was all.