“I thought I’d just have it out with you for once and for all,” she continued. “I told Joseph that I’d no doubt your bark was worse than your bite. And what he can see to be afraid of in you I can’t think. Nervous disposition, I s’pose. Good evening.”
She gave her head a little toss and, returning to the pantry, closed the door after her. Captain Bowers, still somewhat dazed, returned to his chair and, gazing at the “Rules,” which still lay on the table, grinned feebly in his beard.
To keep such a romance to himself was beyond the powers of Mr. Chalk. The captain had made no conditions as to secrecy, and he therefore considered himself free to indulge in hints to his two greatest friends, which caused those gentlemen to entertain some doubts as to his sanity. Mr. Robert Stobell, whose work as a contractor had left a permanent and unmistakable mark upon Binchester, became imbued with a hazy idea that Mr. Chalk had invented a new process of making large diamonds. Mr. Jasper Tredgold, on the other hand, arrived at the conclusion that a highly respectable burglar was offering for some reason to share his loot with him. A conversation between Messrs. Stobell and Tredgold in the High Street only made matters more complicated.
“Chalk always was fond of making mysteries of things,” complained Mr. Tredgold.
Mr. Stobell, whose habit was taciturn and ruminative, fixed his dull brown eyes on the ground and thought it over. “I believe it’s all my eye and Betty Martin,” he said, at length, quoting a saying which had been used in his family as an expression of disbelief since the time of his great-grandmother.
“He comes in to see me when I’m hard at work and drops hints,” pursued his friend. “When I stop to pick’em up, out he goes. Yesterday he came in and asked me what I thought of a man who wouldn’t break his word for half a million. Half a million, mind you! I just asked him who it was, and out he went again. He pops in and out of my office like a figure on a cuckoo-clock.”
[Illustration: “He pops in and out of my office like a figure on a cuckoo-clock.”
Mr. Stobell relapsed into thought again, but no gleam of expression disturbed the lines of his heavy face; Mr. Tredgold, whose sharp, alert features bred more confidence in his own clients than those of other people, waited impatiently.
“He knows something that we don’t,” said Mr. Stobell, at last; “that’s what it is.”
Mr. Tredgold, who was too used to his friend’s mental processes to quarrel with them, assented.
“He’s coming round to smoke a pipe with me to-morrow night,” he said, briskly, as he turned to cross the road to his office. “You come too, and we’ll get it out of him. If Chalk can keep a secret he has altered, that’s all I can say.”
His estimate of Mr. Chalk proved correct. With Mr. Tredgold acting as cross-examining counsel and Mr. Stobell enacting the part of a partial and overbearing judge, Mr. Chalk, after a display of fortitude which surprised himself almost as much as it irritated his friends, parted with his news and sat smiling with gratification at their growing excitement.