’Yes, the old game. It hasn’t been played before in my time, and my men had almost forgotten the trick of it. The horses need training, you see, and we reckoned the trained ones had all died out.’
‘Horses?’ repeated Doctor Unonius. ’Then that accounts for the noise I heard—’
‘Eh?’ queried Mr Rattenbury sharply.
’A sound of galloping, as it were. I opened the window to look, but could see nothing.
Mrs Tresize caught her breath. ‘Yes, yes,’ she put in, ’Doctor Unonius opened the window. You wouldn’t charge him with making signals, I hope?’
‘But—’ began Doctor Unonius and Mr Rattenbury together. The doctor was about to say that, the road being hidden from this downstairs window, it followed that the window could not be seen from the road. But the riding-officer had the louder voice and bore him down.
‘But,’ he objected, ’the light was shown from an upstairs window, ma’am.’
‘To be sure,’ the widow squared her chin and glanced at Doctor Unonius defiantly—’and what should the doctor be doing here except attending on the sick? And where should my poor maid Tryphena be lying at this moment but upstairs and in bed with the colic?’
The doctor, on a sudden confronted with this amazing lie, cast up his hands a little way, and so, averting his eyes, turned slowly round to the fireplace. His brain swam. For the moment he could scarcely have been more helpless had some one dealt him a blow in the wind. His nature so abhorred falsehood that he blushed even to suspect it. To have it flung at him thus brazenly—
As he recovered his wits a little he heard the widow say,—
‘And as for the horses, they never came this way.’
‘Is that so?’ Mr Rattenbury swung round upon the doctor.
‘They—they certainly did not pass along the road outside,’ said Doctor Unonius, speaking as in a dream. ’The noise of galloping turned off at some distance below the house, and seemed to die away to the northward.’
‘Then I’ve made a cursed mess of this,’ said the riding-officer, snatching up his hat. ’Your pardon, ma’am! and if you won’t forgive me to-night, I’ll call and apologise to-morrow.’
He was gone. They heard the clatter of his horse’s hoofs down the road, and listened as it died away.