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CHAPTER V TIDD versus RENSHAW
The head of a big office or business house cannot move out of his orbit without creating perturbations. Brownlow, the head clerk and second in command of the Pettigrew business, was to learn this fact to his cost.

Brownlow was a man of forty-five, whose habits and ideas seemed regulated by clockwork. He lived at Hampstead with his wife and three children, and went each day to the office. That was the summary of his life as read by an outsider. Often the bald statement covers everything. It almost did in the case of Brownlow. He had no initiative. He kept things together, he was absolutely perfect in routine, he had a profound knowledge of the law, he was correct, a good husband and a good father, but he had no initiative, and, outside of the law, very little knowledge of the world.

Imagine this correct gentleman, then, seated at his desk on the morning of the day after that on which Simon made his poaching [Pg 222]arrangements with Horn. He was turning over some papers when Balls, the second in command, came in. Balls was young and wore eyeglasses and had ambitions. He and Brownlow were old friends, and when together talked as equals.

"I've had that James man just in to see me," said Balls. "Same old game; wanted to see Pettigrew. He knows I have the whole thread of the case in my hands, but that's nothing to him, he wants to see Pettigrew."

"I know," said Brownlow. "I've had the same bother. They will see the head."

"When's he back?" asked Balls.

"I don't know," said Brownlow.

"Where's he gone?"

"I don't know," said Brownlow. "I only know he's gone, same as this time last year. He was a month away then."

"Oh, Lord!" said Balls, who had only joined the office nine months before and who knew nothing of last year's escapade. "A month more of this sort of bother—a month!"

"Yes," said Brownlow. "I had it to do last year, and he left no address, same as now." Then, after a moment's pause, "I'm worried about him. I can't help it, there was a strange thing happened last year. I've never told it to a soul before. He called me in one day to his[Pg 223] room and he showed me a bundle of bank-notes. 'See here, Brownlow,' said he, 'did you put these in my safe?' I'd never seen the things before and I have no key to his private safe. I told him I hadn't. He showed me the notes, ten thousand pounds' worth. Ten thousand pounds' worth, he couldn't account for—asked me if I'd put them in his safe. I said 'No,' as I told you. 'Well, it's very strange,' said he. Then he stood looking at the floor. Then he said all of a sudden, 'It doesn't matter.' Next day he went off on a month's holiday, sending word for me to carry on."

"Queer," said Balls.

"More than queer," replied Brownlow. "I've put it down to mental strain; he's a hard worker."

"It's not mental strain," said Balls. "He's as alive as you or me and as keen, and he doesn't overwork; it's something else."

"Well, I wish it would stop," said Brownlow, "for I'm nearly worried to death with clients writing to see him and trying to invent excuses, and my work is doubled."

"So's mine," said Balls. He went out and Brownlow continued his business. He had not been engaged on it for long when Morgan, the office-boy, appeared.

"Mr. Tidd, sir, to see Mr. Pettigrew."

"Show him in," said Brownlow.

A moment later Mr. Tidd appeared.

Mr. Tidd was a small, slight, old-maidish man; he walked lightly, like a bird, and carried a tall hat with a black band in one hand and a tightly-folded umbrella in the other. Incidentally he was one of Pettigrew's best clients.

"Good morning," said Mr. Tidd. "I've called to see Mr. Pettigrew with regard to those papers."

"Oh yes," said Brownlow. "Sit down, Mr. Tidd. Those papers—Mr. Pettigrew has been considering them."

"Is not Mr. Pettigrew in?"

"No, Mr. Tidd, he's not in just at present."

"When is he likely to return?"

"Well, that's doubtful; he has left me in charge."

The end of Mr. Tidd's nose moved uneasily.

"You are in charge of my case?"

"Yes, of the whole business."

"I can speak confidentially?"

"Absolutely."

"Well, I have decided to stop proceedings—in fact, I am caught in a hole."

"Oh!"

"Yes. Mrs. Renshaw has, in some illicit[Pg 225] manner, got a document with my signature attached—a very grave document. This is strictly between ourselves."

"Strictly."

"And she threatens to use it against me."

"Yes."

"To use it against me, unless I return to her at once the letter of hers which I put in Mr. Pettigrew's keeping."

"Oh!"

"Yes. She is a violent and very vicious woman. I have not slept all night. I live, as you perhaps know, at Hitchin. I took the first train I could conveniently catch to town this morning."

The horrible fact was beginning to dawn on Brownlow that Simon had not brought those papers back to the office. He said nothing; his lips, for a moment, had gone dry.

"How she got hold of that document with my name to it I cannot tell," said Mr. Tidd, "but she will use it against me most certainly unless I return that letter."

"Perhaps," said Brownlow, recovering himself, "perhaps she is only threatening—bluffing, as they call it."

"Oh no, she's not," said the other. "If you knew her you would not say that; no, indeed,[Pg 226] you would not say that. She is the last woman to threaten what she will not perform. Till that document is in her hands I will not feel safe."

"You must be careful," said Brownlow, fighting for time. "How would it be if I were to see her?"

"Useless," said Mr. Tidd.

"May I ask——"

"Yes?"

"Is the document to which your name is attached, and which is in her possession, is it—er—detrimental—I mean, plainly, is it likely to do you a grave injury?"

"The document," said Mr. Tidd, "was written by me in a moment of impulse to a lady who is—another gentleman's wife."

"It is a letter?"

"Yes, it is a letter."

"I see. Well, Mr. Tidd, your document, the one you are anxious to return in exchange for this document, is in the possession of Mr. Pettigrew; it is quite safe."

"Doubtless," said Mr. Tidd, "but I want it in my hands to return it myself to-day."

"I sent it with the other papers to Mr. Pettigrew's private house," said Brownlow, "and he has not yet returned it."

"Oh! But I want it to-day."

"It's very unfortunate," said Brownlow, "but he's away—and I'm afraid he must have taken the papers with him for consideration."

"Good heavens!" said Tidd. "But if that is so what am I to do?"

"You can't wait?"

"How can I wait?"

"Dear me, dear me," said Brownlow, almost driven to distraction, "this is very unfortunate."

Tidd seemed to concur.

His lips had become pale. Then he ............
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