“Having seen,” Girdlestone continued, “that this sad necessity might arise, I had made every arrangement some time before. This building is, as you may have observed in your drive, situated in a lonely and secluded part of the country. It is walled round too in such a manner that any one residing here is practically a prisoner. I removed the lady so suddenly that no one can possibly know where she has gone to, and I have spread such reports as to her condition that no one down here would be surprised to hear of her decease.”
“But there is bound to be an inquiry. How about a medical certificate?” asked Ezra.
“I shall insist upon a coroner’s inquest,” his father answered.
“An inquest! Are you mad?”
“When you have heard me I think that you will come to just the opposite conclusion. I think that I have hit upon a scheme which is really neat—neat in its simplicity.” He rubbed his hands together, and showed his long yellow fangs in his enjoyment of his own astuteness.
Burt and Ezra leaned forward to listen, while the old man sank his voice to a whisper.
“They think that she is insane,” he said.
“There’s a small door in the boundary wall which leads out to the railway line.”
“Well, what of that?”
“Suppose that door to be left open, would it be an impossible thing for a crazy woman to slip out through it, and to be run over by the ten o’clock express?”
“If she would only get in the way of it.”
“You don’t quite catch my idea yet. Suppose that the express ran over the dead body of a woman, would there be anything to prove afterwards that she was dead, and not alive at the time of the accident? Do you think that it would ever occur to any one’s mind that the express ran over a dead body?”
“I see your meaning,” said his son thoughtfully. “You would settle her, and then put her there.”
“Of course. What could be more delightfully simple. Friend Burt here does his work; we carry her through the garden gate, and lay her on the darkest part of the rails. Then we miss her at the house. There is an alarm and a search. The gate is found open. We naturally go through with lanterns, and find her on the line. I don’t think we need fear the coroner, or any one else then?”
“He’s a sharp ‘un, is the guv’nor,” cried Burt, slapping his thigh enthusiastically. “It’s the downiest lay I have heard this many a day.”
“I believe you are the devil incarnate,” said Ezra, looking at his father with a mixture of horror and of admiration. “But how about Jorrocks and Stevens and Rebecca? Would you trust them?”
“Certainly not!” Girdlestone answered. “It is not necessary. Mr. Burt can do his part of the business out of doors. We can entice her out upon some excuse. There is no reason why any one should have a suspicion of the truth.”
“But they know that she is not mad.”
“They will think that she did it on purpose. The secret will be locked up in our three breasts. After one night’s work our friend here goes to the colonies a prosperous man, and the firm of Girdlestone holds up its head once more, stainless and irreproachable.”
“Speak low!” said Ezra, in a whisper. “I hear her coming downstairs.”
They listened to her light springy footstep as it passed the door.
“Come here, Burt,” he said, after a pause. “She is at work on the lawn.
Come and have a look at her.”
They all went over to the window, and looked out. It was then that
Kate, glancing up, saw the three cruel faces surveying her.
“She’s a rare well-built ‘un,” said Burt, as he stepped back from the window. “It is the ugliest job as ever I was on.”
“But we can rely upon you?” Girdlestone asked, looking at him with puckered eyes.
“You bet—as long as you pay me,” the navvy answered phlegmatically, and went back to his pipe and to Mrs. Jorrocks’ bottle of Hollands.