’Ah, good-evening, Mr Truman! There has been some mistake, I hear; but it’s by the greatest good luck you came to me. Here is your missing property, eh?’ She smiled and held out the bag.
Butcher Truman stared at it. ‘Send I may never—’ he began; and with that his gaze, travelling past the bag, fell on Doctor Unonius. ‘You?’ he stuttered, clenching his thick fists. ’You? . . . Oh, by—, let me get at ‘im!’
But Mrs Tresize very deftly stepped in front of him as he came on menacing.
‘If you are not a fool,’ she said sharply, ’you will waste no time, but hurry along and pay the carriers. They, for their part, won’t waste any time with neat brandy. In ten minutes or so they’ll be wanting your blood in a bottle—and, if it’s all the same to you, Mr Truman, I’d rather they didn’t start hunting you through these premises. What’s more,’ she added, as he hesitated, ’the riding-officer was close on your track just now. You owe it to Doctor Unonius here, that he has overrun it.’
The butcher clutched at his bag, and made as if to open it.
‘You needn’t trouble,’ Mrs Tresize assured him sweetly. ’Your money’s good—and so will be mine when it comes to settling, for all that I’m reported “near.” Good-night!’
‘Good-night!’ growled Butcher Truman, and lurched forth with his bag. The widow, staring after him, broke into a laugh.
‘Tryphena,’ she said, ’fetch the doctor’s horse and harness him quick! We must get him out of this, good man. Are the tubs stowed?’
’All of ’em, missus. I counted the four dozen.’
’Four dozen is forty-eight; and that doctor’—she turned to him— ‘is not my age, by a very long way.’
But when Dapple had been harnessed, and the doctor drove off (after looking at his watch and finding that it indicated ten minutes to four), Mrs Tresize lingered at the back door a moment before ordering Tryphena to shut and bolt it.
‘There was nothing else to do but lie,’ she said to herself, meditatively. ‘But, all the same, it’s lost him for me.’
So indeed it had. Doctor Unonius could not overlook a falsehood, and from that hour his thoughts never rested upon the widow Tresize as a desirable woman to wed.
But he had grave searchings of conscience on the part he had been made to play. Undoubtedly he had misled Mr Rattenbury, and—all question of public honesty apart—had perhaps injured that young officer’s chances of promotion.
The thought of it disturbed his sleep for weeks. In the end he decided to make a clean breast to Mr Rattenbury, as between man and man; and encountering him one afternoon on the Lealand road, drew up old Dapple and made sign that he wished to speak.
It’s about Mrs Tresize—’ he began.
‘You’ve heard, then?’ said Mr Rattenbury.