The Borough Treasurer
The Borough Treasurer
FOR SOME MOMENTS AFTER KITELY had left him, Cotherstone stood vacantly staring at the chair in which the blackmailer had sat. As yet he could not realize things. He was only filled with a queer, vague amazement about Kitely himself. He began to look back on his relations with Kitely. They were recent-very recent, only of yesterday, as you might say. Kitely had come to him, one day about three months previously, told him that he had come to these parts for a bit of a holiday, taken a fancy to a cottage which he, Cotherstone, had to let, and inquired its rent. He had mentioned, casually, that he had just retired from business, and wanted a quiet place wherein to spend the rest of his days. He had taken the cottage, and given his landlord satisfactory references as to his ability to pay the rent-and Cotherstone, always a busy man, had thought no more about him. Certainly he had never anticipated such an announcement as that which Kitely had just made to him-never dreamed that Kitely had recognized him and Mallalieu as men he had known thirty years ago.
It had been Cotherstone's life-long endeavour to forget all about the event of thirty years ago, and to a large extent he had succeeded in dulling his memory. But Kitely had brought it all back-and now everything was fresh to him. His brows knitted and his face grew dark as he thought of one thing in his past of which Kitely had spoken so easily and glibly-the dock. He saw himself in that dock again-and Mallalieu standing by him. They were not called Mallalieu and Cotherstone then, of course. He remembered what their real names were-he remembered, too, that, until a few minutes before, he had certainly not repeated them, even to himself, for many a long year. Oh, yes-he remembered everything-he saw it all again. The case had excited plenty of attention in Wilchester at the time-Wilchester, that for thirty years had been so far away in thought and in actual distance that it might have been some place in the Antipodes. It was not a nice case-even now, looking back upon it from his present standpoint, it made him blush to think of. Two better-class young working-men, charged with embezzling the funds of a building society to which they had acted as treasurer and secretary!-a bad case. The Court had thought it a bad case, and the culprits had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment. And now Cotherstone only remembered that imprisonment as one remembers a particularly bad dream. Yes-it had been real.
His eyes, moody and brooding, suddenly shifted their gaze from the easy chair to his own hands-they were shaking. Mechanically he took up the whisky decanter from his desk, and poured some of its contents into his glass-the rim of the glass tinkled against the neck of the decanter. Yes-that had been a shock, right enough, he muttered to himself, and not all the whisky in the world would drive it out of him. But a drink-neat and stiff-would pull his nerves up to pitch, and so he drank, once, twice, and sat down with the glass in his hand-to think still more.
That old Kitely was shrewd-shrewd! He had at once hit on a fact which those Wilchester folk of thirty years ago had never suspected. It had been said at the time that the two offenders had lost the building society's money in gambling and speculation, and there had been grounds for such a belief. But that was not so. Most of the money had been skilfully and carefully put where the two conspirators could lay hands on it as soon as it was wanted, and when the term of imprisonment was over they had nothing to do but take possession of it for their own purposes. They had engineered everything very well-Cotherstone's essentially constructive mind, regarding their doings from the vantage ground of thirty years' difference, acknowledged that they had been cute, crafty, and cautious to an admirable degree of perfec