THE HAMPSTEAD MYSTERY
BY JOHN R. WATSON & ARTHUR J. REES
TO ARTHUR BLACK IN MEMORY OF OLD TIMES
"Hallo! Is that Hampstead Police Station?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"Detective-Inspector Chippenfield of Scotland Yard. Tell Inspector Seldon I want him, and be quick about it."
"Yes, sir. Hang on, sir. I'll put you through to him at once."
Detective-Inspector Chippenfield, of Scotland Yard, waited with the receiver held to his ear. While he waited he scrutinised keenly a sheet of paper which lay on the desk in front of him. It was a flimsy, faintly-ruled sheet from a cheap writing-pad, blotted and soiled, and covered with sprawling letters which had been roughly printed at irregular intervals as though to hide the identity of the writer. But the letters formed words, and the words read:
SIR HORACE FEWBANKS WAS MURDERED LAST NIGHT
WHO DID IT I DONT KNOW SO IT IS NO USE TRYING TO FIND OUT WHO I AM YOU WILL FIND HIS DEAD BODY IN THE LIBRARY AT RIVERSBROOK
HE WAS SHOT THOUGH THE HEART
"Is that you, Inspector Chippenfield?"
"Yes. That you, Seldon? Have you heard anything of a murder out your way?"
"Can't say that I have. Have you?"
"Yes. We have information that Sir Horace Fewbanks has been murdered—shot."
"Mr. Justice Fewbanks shot—murdered!" Inspector Seldon gave expression to his surprise in a long low whistle which travelled through the telephone. Then he added, after a moment's reflection, "There must be some mistake. He is away."
"In Scotland. He went there for the Twelfth—when the shooting season opened."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Yes; he rang me up the day before he left to ask us to keep an eye on his house while he was away."
There was a pause at the Scotland Yard end of the telephone. Inspector Chippenfield was evidently thinking hard.
"We may have been hoaxed," he said at length. "But I have been ringing up his house and can get no answer. You had better send up a couple of men there at once—better still, go yourself. It is a matter which may require tactful handling. Let me know, and I'll come out immediately if there is anything wrong. Stay! How long will it take you to get up to the house?"
"Not more than fifteen minutes—in a taxi."
"Well, I'll ring you up at the house in half an hour. Should our information be correct see that everything is left exactly as you find it till I arrive."
Inspector Seldon hung up the receiver of his telephone, bundled up the papers scattered on his desk, closed it, and stepped out of his office into the next room.
"Anyone about?" he hurriedly asked the sergeant who was making entries in the charge-book.
"Yes, sir. I saw Flack here a moment ago."
"Get him at once and call a taxi. Scotland Yard's rung through to say they've received a report that Sir Horace Fewbanks has been murdered."
"Murdered?" echoed the sergeant in a tone of keen interest. "Who told Scotland Yard that?"
"I don't know. Who was on that beat last night?"
"Flack, sir. Was Sir Horace murdered in his own house? I thought he was in Scotland."
"So did I, but he may have returned—ah, here's the taxi."
Inspector Seldon had been waiting on the steps for the appearance of a cab from the rank round the corner in response to the shrill blast which the sergeant had blown on his whistle. The sergeant went to the door of the station leading into the yard and sharply called:
In response a police-constable, without helmet or tunic, came running up the steps from the basement, which was used as a gymnasium.
"Seldon wants you. Get on your tunic as quick as you can. He is in a devil of a hurry."
Inspector Seldon was seated in the taxi-cab when Flack appeared. He had been impatiently drumming his fingers on the door of the cab.
"Jump in, man," he said angrily. "What has kept you all this time?"
Flack breathed stertorously to show that he had been running and was out of breath, but he made no reply to the official rebuke. Inspector Seldon turned to him and remarked severely:
"Why didn't you let me know that Sir Horace Fewbanks had returned from Scotland?"
Flack looked astonished.
"But he hasn't returned, sir," he said. "He's away for a month at least," he ventured to add.
"Who told you that?"
"The housemaid at Riversbrook—before he went away."
"H'm." The inspector's next question contained a moral rebuke rather than an official one. "You're a married man, Flack?"
"So the housemaid told you he was going away for a month. Well, she ought to know. When did she tell you?"
"A week ago yesterday, sir. She told me that all the servants except the butler were going down to Dellmere the next day—that is Sir Horace's country place—and that Sir Horace was going to Scotland for the shooting and would put in some weeks at Dellmere after the shooting season was over."
"And are you sure he hasn't returned?"
"Quite, sir. I saw Hill, the butler, only yesterday morning, and he told me that his master was sure to be in Scotland for at least a month longer."
"It's very strange," muttered the inspector, half to himself. "It will be a deuced awkward situation to face if Scotland Yard has been hoaxed."
"Beg your pardon, sir, but is there anything wrong about Sir Horace?"
"Yes. Scotland Yard has received a report that he has been murdered."
Flack's surprise was so great that it lifted the lid of official humility which habitually covered his natural feelings.
"Murdered!" he exclaimed. "Sir Horace Fewbanks murdered? You don't say so!"
"But I do say so. I've just said so," retorted Inspector Seldon irritably. He was angry at the fact that the information, whether true or false, had gone direct to Scotland Yard instead of reaching him first.
"When was he murdered, sir?" asked Flack.
"Last night—when you were on that beat."
Flack paled at this remark.
"Last night, sir?" he cried.
"Don't repeat my words like a parrot," ejaculated the inspector peevishly. "Didn't you notice anything suspicious when you were along there?"
"No, sir. Was he murdered in his own house?"
"His dead body is supposed to be lying there now in the library," said Inspector Seldon. "How Scotland Yard got wind of it is more than I know. We ought to have heard of it before them. How many times did you go along there last night?"
"Twice, sir. About eleven o'clock, and then about three."
"And there was nothing suspicious—you saw no one?"
"I saw Mr. Roberts and his lady coming home from the theatre. But he lives at the other end of Tanton Gardens. And I saw the housemaid at Mr. Fielding's come out to the pillar-box. That was a few minutes after eleven. I didn't see anybody at all the second time."
"Nobody at the judge's place—no taxi, or anything like that?"
The taxi-cab turned swiftly into the shady avenue of Tanton Gardens, where Sir Horace Fewbanks lived, and in a few moments pulled up outside of Riversbrook. The house stood a long way back from the road in its own grounds. Inspector Seldon and Flack passed rapidly through the grounds and reached the front door of the mansion. There was nobody about; the place seemed deserted, and the blinds were down on the ground-floor windows. Inspector Seldon knocked loudly at the front door with the big, old-fashioned brass knocker, and rang the bell. He listened intently for a response, but no sound followed except the sharp note of the electric bell as Flack rang it again while Inspector Seldon bent down with his ear at the keyhole. Then the inspector stepped back and regarded the house keenly for a moment or two.
"Put your finger on that bell and keep on ringing it, Flack," he said suddenly. "I see that some of the blinds are down, but there's one on the first floor which is partly up. It looks as though the house had been shut up and somebody had come back unexpectedly."
"Perhaps it's Hill, the butler," said Flack.
"If he's inside he ought to answer the bell. But keep on ringing while I knock again."
The heavy brass knocker again reverberated on the thick oak door, and Inspector Seldon placed his ear against the keyhole to ascertain if any sound was to be heard.
"Take your finger off that bell, Flack," he commanded. "I cannot hear whether anybody is coming or not." He remained in a listening attitude for half a minute and then plied the knocker again. Again he listened for footsteps within the house. "Ring again, Flack. Keep on ringing while I go round the house to see if there is any way I can get in. I may have to break a window. Don't move from here."
Inspector Seldon went quickly round the side of the house, trying the windows as he went. Towards the rear of the house, on the west side, he came across a curious abutment of masonry jutting out squarely from the wall. On the other side of this abutment, which gave the house something of an unfinished appearance, were three French windows close together. The blinds of these windows were closely drawn, but the inspector's keen eye detected that one of the catches had been broken, and there were marks of some instrument on the outside woodwork.
"This looks like business," he muttered.
He pulled open the window, and walked into the room. The light of an afternoon sun showed him that the apartment was a breakfast room, well and solidly furnished in an old-fashioned way, with most of the furniture in covers, as though the occupants of the house were away. The daylight penetrated to the door at the far end of the room. It was wide open, and revealed an empty passage. Inspector Seldon walked into the passage. The drawn blinds made the passage seem quite dark after the bright August sunshine outside, but he produced an electric torch, and by its light he saw that the passage ran into the main hall.
His footsteps echoed in the empty house. The electric bell rang continuously as Flack pressed it outside. Inspector Seldon walked along the passage to the hall, flashing his torch into each room he passed. He saw nothing, and went to the front door to admit Flack.
"That is enough of that noise, Flack," he said. "Come inside and help me search the house above. It's empty on this floor so far as I've been over it. If you find anything call me, and mind you do not touch anything. Where did you say the library was?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Well, look about you on the ground floor while I go upstairs. Call me if you hear anything."
Inspector Seldon mounted the stairs swiftly in order to continue his search.
The staircase was a wide one, with broad shallow steps, thickly carpeted, and a handsome carved mahogany baluster. The inspector, flashing his torch as he ran up, saw a small electric light niche in the wall before he reached the first landing. The catch of the light was underneath, and Inspector Seldon turned it on. The light revealed that the stairs swept round at that point to the landing of the first floor, which was screened from view by heavy velvet hangings, partly caught back by the bent arm of a marble figure of Diana, which faced downstairs, with its other arm upraised and about to launch a hunting spear. By this graceful device the curtains were drawn back sufficiently to give access to the corridor on the first floor.
Inspector Seldon looked closely at the figure and the hangings. Something strange about the former arrested his eye. It was standing awry on its pedestal—was, indeed, almost toppling over. He looked up and saw that one of the curtains supported by the arm hung loosely from one of the curtain rings. It was as though some violent hand had torn at the curtain in passing, almost dragging it from the pole and precipitating the figure down the stairs. Immediately beyond the landing, in the corridor, was a door on the right, flung wide open.
The inspector entered the room with the open door. It was a large room forming part of the front of the house—a lofty large room, partly lighted by the half-drawn blind of one of the windows. One side was lined with bookshelves. In the corner of the room farthest from the door, was a roll-top desk, which was open. In the centre of the room was a table, and a huddled up figure was lying beside it, in a dark pool of blood which had oozed into the carpet.
The inspector stepped quickly back to the landing.
"Flack!" he called, and unconsciously his voice dropped to a sharp whisper in the presence of death. "Flack, come here."
When Flack reached the door of the library he saw his chief kneeling beside the prostrate body of a dead man. The body lay clear of the table, near the foot of an arm-chair. Instinctively Flack walked on tiptoe to his chief.
"Is he dead, sir?" he asked.
"Cold and stiff," replied the inspector, in a hushed voice. "He's been dead for hours."
Flack noted that the body was fully dressed, and he saw a dark stain above the breast where the blood had welled forth and soaked the dead man's clothes and formed a pool on the carpet beside him.
Inspector Seldon opened the dead man's clothes. Over his heart he found the wound from which the blood had flowed.
"There it is, Flack," he said, touching the wound lightly with his finger. "It doesn't take a big wound to kill a man."
As he spoke the sharp ring of a telephone bell from downstairs reached them.
"That's Inspector Chippenfield," said Inspector Seldon, rising to his feet. "Stay here, Flack, till I go and speak to him."
"Six-thirty edition: High Court Judge murdered!"
It was not quite 5 p.m., but the enterprising section of the London evening newspapers had their 6.30 editions on sale in the streets. To such a pitch had the policy of giving the public what it wants been elevated that the halfpenny newspapers were able to give the people of London the news each afternoon a full ninety minutes before the edition was supposed to have left the press. The time of the edition was boldly printed in the top right-hand corner of each paper as a guarantee of enterprise if not of good faith. On practical enterprise of this kind does journalism forge ahead. Some people who have been bred up in a conservative atmosphere sneer at such journalistic enterprise. They affect to regard as unreliable the up-to-date news contained in newspapers which are unable to tell the truth about the hands of the clock.
From the cries of the news-boys and from the announcements on the newspaper bills which they displayed, it was assumed by those with a greedy appetite for sensations that a judge of the High Court had been murdered on the bench. Such an appetite easily swallowed the difficulty created by the fact that the Law Courts had been closed for the long vacation. In imagination they saw a dramatic scene in court—the disappointed demented desperate litigant suddenly drawing a revolver and with unerring aim shooting the judge through the brain before the deadly weapon could be wrenched from his hands. But though the sensation created by the murder of a judge of the High Court was destined to grow and to be fed by unexpected developments, the changing phases of which monopolised public attention throughout England on successive occasions, there was little in the evening papers to satisfy the appetite for sensation. In journalistic vernacular "they were late in getting on to it," and therefore their reference to the crime occupied only a few lines in the "stop press news," beneath some late horse-racing results. The Evening Courier, which was first in the streets with the news, made its announcement of the crime in the following brief paragraph:
"The dead body of Sir Horace Fewbanks, the distinguished High Court judge, was found by the police at his home, Riversbrook in Tanton Gardens, Hampstead, to-day. Deceased had been shot through the heart. The police have no doubt that he was murdered."
But the morning papers of the following day did full justice to the sensation. It was the month of August when Parliament is "up," the Law Courts closed for the long vacation, and when everybody who is anybody is out of London for the summer holidays. News was scarce and the papers vied with one another in making the utmost of the murder of a High Court judge. Each of the morning papers sent out a man to Hampstead soon after the news of the crime reached their offices in the afternoon, and some of the more enterprising sent two or three men. Scotland Yard and Riversbrook were visited by a succession of pressmen representing the London dailies, the provincial press, and the news agencies.
The two points on which the newspaper accounts of the tragedy laid stress were the mysterious letter which had been sent to Scotland Yard stating that Sir Horace Fewbanks had been murdered, and the mystery surrounding the sudden return of Sir Horace from Scotland to his town house. On the first point there was room for much varied speculation. Why was information about the murder sent to Scotland Yard, and why was it sent in a disguised way? If the person who had sent this letter had no connection with the crime and was anxious to help the police, why had he not gone to Scotland Yard personally and told the detectives all he knew about the tragedy? If, on the other hand, he was implicated in the crime, why had he informed the police at all?
It would have been to his interest as an accomplice—even if he had been an unwilling accomplice—to leave the crime undiscovered as long as possible, so that he and those with whom he had been associated might make their escape to another country. But he had sent his letter to Scotland Yard within a few hours of the perpetration of the crime, and had not given the actual murderer time to get out of England. Was he not afraid of the vengeance the actual murderer would endeavour to exact for this disclosure which would enable the police to take measures to prevent his escape?
No light was thrown on the cause of the murdered man's sudden return from grouse-shooting in Scotland. The newspaper accounts, though they differed greatly in their statements, surmises, and suggestions concerning the tragedy, agreed on the point that Sir Horace had been a keen sportsman and was a very fine shot. In years past he had made a practice of spending the early part of the long vacation in Scotland, going there for the opening of the grouse season on the 12th of August. This year he had been one of a party of five who had rented Craigleith Hall in the Western Highlands, and after five days' shooting he had announced that he had to go to London on urgent business, but would return in the course of a week or less. It was suggested in some of the newspaper accounts that an explanation of the cause of his return might throw some light on the murder. Inquiries were being made at Craigleith Hall to ascertain the reason for his journey to London, or whether any telegram had been received by him previous to his departure.
The fact that one of the windows on the ground floor of Riversbrook had been found open was regarded as evidence that the murderer had broken into the house. Imprints of footsteps had been found in the ground outside the window, and the police had taken several casts of these; but whether the man who had broken into the house with the intention of committing burglary or murder was a matter on which speculation differed. If the murderer was a criminal who had broken into the house with the intention of committing a burglary, there could be no connection between the return of Sir Horace Fewbanks from Scotland and his murder. The burglary had probably been arranged in the belief that the house was empty, Sir Horace having sent the servants away to his country house in Dellmere a week before. But if the murderer was a burglar he had stolen nothing and had not even collected any articles for removal. The only thing that was known to be missing was the dead man's pocket-book, but there was nothing to prove that the murderer had stolen it. It was quite possible that it had been lost or mislaid by Sir Horace; it was even possible that it had been stolen from him in the train during his journey from Scotland.
It might be that while prowling through the rooms after breaking into the house, and before he had collected any goods for removal, the burglar had come unexpectedly on Sir Horace, and after shooting him had fled from the house. Only as a last resort to prevent capture did burglars commit murder. Had Sir Horace been shot while attempting to seize the intruder? The position in which the body was found did not support that theory. Two shots had been fired, the first of which had missed its victim, and entered the wall of the library. Evidently the murdered man had been hit by the second while attempting to leave the room. It was ingeniously suggested by the Daily Record that the murderer was a criminal who knew Sir Horace, and was known to him as a man who had been before him at Old Bailey. This would account for Sir Horace being ruthlessly shot down without having made any attempt to seize the intruder. The burglar would have felt on seeing Sir Horace in the room that he was identified, and that the only way of escaping ultimate arrest by the police was to kill the man who could put the police on his track. Mr. Justice Fewbanks had had the reputation of being a somewhat severe judge, and it was possible that some of the criminals who had been sentenced by him at Old Bailey entertained a grudge against him.
The question of when the murder was committed was regarded as important. Dr. Slingsby, of the Home Office, who had examined the body shortly after it was discovered by the police, was of opinion that death had taken place at least twelve hours before and probably longer than that. His opinion on this point lent support to the theory that the murder had been committed before midnight on Wednesday. It was the Daily Record that seized on the mystery contained in the facts that the body when discovered was fully clothed and that the electric lights were not turned on. If the murder was committed late at night how came it that there were no lights in the empty house when the police discovered the body? Had the murderer, after shooting his victim, turned out the lights so that on the following day no suspicion would be created as would be the case if anyone saw lights burning in the house in the day-time? If he had done so, he was a cool hand. But if the burglar was such a cool hand as to stop to turn out the lights after the murder why did he not also stop to collect some valuables? Was he afraid that in attempting to get rid of them to a "fence" or "drop" he would practically reveal himself as the murderer and so place himself in danger in case the police offered a reward for the apprehension of the author of the crime?
If Sir Horace had gone to bed before the murderer entered the house it would have been natural to expect no lights turned on. But he had returned unexpectedly; there were no servants in the house, and there was no bed ready for him. In any case, if he intended stopping in the empty house instead of going to a hotel he would have been wearing a sleeping suit when his body was discovered; or, at most, he would be only partially dressed if he had got up on hearing somebody moving about the house. But the body was fully dressed, even to collar and tie. It was absurd to suppose that the victim had been sitting in the darkness when the murderer appeared.
Another difficult problem Scotland Yard had to face was the discovery of the person who had sent them the news of the murder. How had Scotland Yard's anonymous correspondent learned about the murder, and what were his motives in informing the police in the way he had done? Was he connected with the crime? Had the murderer a companion with him when he broke into Riversbrook for the purpose of burglary? That seemed to be the most probable explanation. The second man had been horrified at the murder, and desired to disassociate himself from it so that he might escape the gallows. The only alternative was to suppose that the murderer had confessed his crime to some one, and that his confidant had lost no time in informing the police of the tragedy.
The newspaper accounts of the case threw some light on the private and domestic affairs of the victim. He was a widower with a grown-up daughter; his wife, a daughter of the late Sir James Goldsworthy, who changed his ancient family patronymic from Granville to Goldsworthy on inheriting the great fortune of an American kinsman, had died eight years before. Sir Horace's Hampstead household consisted of a housekeeper, butler, chauffeur, cook, housemaid, kitchenmaid and gardener. With the exception of the butler the servants had been sent the previous week to Sir Horace's country house in Dellmere, Sussex. It appeared that Miss Fewbanks spent most of her time at the country house and came up to London but rarely. She was at Dellmere when the murder was committed, and had been under the impression that her father was in Scotland. According to a report received from the police at Dellmere the first intimation that Miss Fewbanks had received of the tragic death of her father came from them. Naturally, she was prostrated with grief at the tragedy.
The butler who had been left behind in charge of Riversbrook was a man named Hill, but he was not in the house on the night of the tragedy. He was a married man, and his wife and child lived in Camden Town, where Mrs. Hill kept a confectionery shop. Hill's master had given him permission to live at home for three weeks while he was in Scotland. The house in Tanton Gardens had been locked up and most of the valuables had been sent to the bank for safe-keeping, but there were enough portable articles of value in the house to make a good haul for any burglar. Hill had instructions to visit the house three times a week for the purpose of seeing that everything was safe and in order. He had inspected the place on Wednesday morning, and everything was as it had been left when his master went to Scotland. Sir Horace Fewbanks had returned to London on Wednesday evening, reaching St. Pancras by the 6.30 train. Hill was unaware that his master was returning, and the first he learned of the murder was the brief announcement in the evening papers on Thursday.
Inspector Chippenfield, who had come into prominence in the newspapers as the man who had caught the gang who had stolen Lady Gladville's jewels—which included the most costly pearl necklace in the world—was placed in charge of the case. It was to his success in this famous case that he owed his promotion to Inspector. He had the assistance of his subordinate, Detective Rolfe. So generous were the newspaper references to the acumen of these two terrors of the criminal classes that it was to be assumed that anything which inadvertently escaped one of them would be pounced upon by the other.
On the morning after the discovery of the murdered man's body, the two officers made their way to Tanton Gardens from the Hampstead tube station. Inspector Chippenfield was a stout man of middle age, with a red face the colour of which seemed to be accentuated by the daily operation of removing every vestige of hair from it. He had prominent grey eyes with which he was accustomed to stare fiercely when he desired to impress a suspected person with what some of the newspapers had referred to as "his penetrating glance." His companion, Rolfe, was a tall well-built man in the early thirties. Like most men in a subordinate position, Rolfe had not a high opinion of the abilities of his immediate superiors. He was sure that he could fill the place of any one of them better than it was filled by its occupant. He believed that it was the policy of superiors to keep junior men back, to stand in their light, and to take all the credit for their work. He was confident that he was destined to make a name for himself in the detective world if only he were given the chance.
When Inspector Chippenfield had visited Riversbrook the previous afternoon, Rolfe had not been selected as his assistant. A careful inspection of the house and especially of the room in which the tragedy had been committed had been made by the inspector. He had then turned his attention to the garden and the grounds surrounding the house.
Whatever he had discovered and what theories he had formed were not disclosed to anyone, not even his assistant. He believed that the proper way to train a subordinate was to let him collect his own information and then test it for him. This method enabled him to profit by his subordinate's efforts and to display a superior knowledge when the other propounded a theory by which Inspector Chippenfield had also been misled.
When they arrived at the house in which the crime had been committed, they found a small crowd of people ranging from feeble old women to babies in arms, and including a large proportion of boys and girls of school age, collected outside the gates, staring intently through the bars towards the house, which was almost hidden by trees. The morbid crowd made way for the two officers and speculated on their mission. The general impression was that they were the representatives of a fashionable firm of undertakers and had come to measure the victim for his coffin. Inside the grounds the Scotland Yard officers encountered a police-constable who was on guard for the purpose of preventing inquisitive strangers penetrating to the house.
"Well, Flack," said Inspector Chippenfield in a tone in which geniality was slightly blended with official superiority. "How are you to-day?"
"I'm very well indeed, sir," replied the police-constable. He knew that the state of his health was not a matter of deep concern to the inspector, but such is the vanity of human nature that he was pleased at the inquiry. The fact that there was a murdered man in the house gave mournful emphasis to the transience of human life, and made Police-Constable Flack feel a glow of satisfaction in being very well indeed.
Inspector Chippenfield hesitated a moment as if in deep thought. The object of his hesitation was to give Flack an opportunity of imparting any information that had come to him while on guard. The inspector believed in encouraging people to impart information but regarded it as subversive of the respect due to him to appear to be in need of any. As Flack made no attempt to carry the conversation beyond the state of his health, Inspector Chippenfield came to the conclusion that he was an extremely dull policeman. He introduced Flack to Detective Rolfe and explained to the latter:
"Flack was on duty on the night of the murder but heard no shots. Probably he was a mile or so away. But in a way he discovered the crime. Didn't you, Flack? When we rang up Seldon he came up here and brought Flack with him. He'll be only too glad to tell you anything you want to know."
Rolfe took an official notebook from a breast pocket and proceeded to question the police-constable. The inspector made his way upstairs to the room in which the crime had been committed, for it was his system to seek inspiration in the scene of a crime.
Tanton Gardens, a short private street terminating in a cul-de-sac, was in a remote part of Hampstead. The daylight appearance of the street betokened wealth and exclusiveness. The roadway which ran between its broad white-gravelled footwalks was smoothly asphalted for motor tyres; the avenues of great chestnut trees which flanked the footpaths served the dual purpose of affording shade in summer and screening the houses of Tanton Gardens from view. But after nightfall Tanton Gardens was a lonely and gloomy place, lighted only by one lamp, which stood in the high road more to mark the entrance to the street than as a guide to traffic along it, for its rays barely penetrated beyond the first pair of chestnut trees.
The houses in Tanton Gardens were in keeping with the street: they indicated wealth and comfort. They were of solid exterior, of a size that suggested a fine roominess, and each house stood in its own grounds. Riversbrook was the last house at the blind end of the street, and its east windows looked out on a wood which sloped down to a valley, the street having originally been an incursion into a large private estate, of which the wood alone remained. On the other side a tangled nutwood coppice separated the judge's residence from its nearest neighbours, so the house was completely isolated. It stood well back in about four acres of ground, and only a glimpse of it could be seen from the street front because of a small plantation of ornamental trees, which grew in front of the house and hid it almost completely from view. When the carriage drive which wound through the plantation had been passed the house burst abruptly into view—a big, rambling building of uncompromising ugliness. Its architecture was remarkable. The impression which it conveyed was that the original builder had been prevented by lack of money from carrying out his original intention of erecting a fine symmetrical house. The first story was well enough—an imposing, massive, colonnaded front in the Greek style, with marble pillars supporting the entrance. But the two stories surmounting this failed lamentably to carry on the pretentious design. Viewed from the front, they looked as though the builder, after erecting the first story, had found himself in pecuniary straits, but, determined to finish his house somehow, had built two smaller stories on the solid edifice of the first. For the two second stories were not flush with the front of the house, but reared themselves from several feet behind, so that the occupants of the bedrooms on the first story could have used the intervening space as a balcony. Viewed from the rear, the architectural imperfections of the upper part of the house were in even stronger contrast with the ornamental first story. Apparently the impecunious builder, by the time he had reached the rear, had completely run out of funds, for on the third floor he had failed altogether to build in one small room, and had left the unfinished brickwork unplastered.
The large open space between the house and the fir plantation had once been laid out as an Italian garden at the cost of much time and money, but Sir Horace Fewbanks had lacked the taste or money to keep it up, and had allowed it to become a luxuriant wilderness, though the sloping parterres and the centre flowerbeds still retained traces of their former beauty. The small lake in the centre, spanned by a rustic hand-bridge, was still inhabited by a few specimens of the carp family—sole survivors of the numerous gold-fish with which the original designer of the garden had stocked the lake.
Sir Horace Fewbanks had rented Riversbrook as a town house for some years before his death, having acquired the lease cheaply from the previous possessor, a retired Indian civil servant, who had taken a dislike to the place because his wife had gone insane within its walls. Sir Horace had lived much in the house alone, though each London season his daughter spent a few weeks with him in order to preside over the few Society functions that her father felt it due to his position to give, and which generally took the form of solemn dinners to which he invited some of his brother judges, a few eminent barristers, a few political friends, and their wives. But rumour had whispered that the judge and his daughter had not got on too well together—that Miss Fewbanks was a strange girl who did not care for Society or the Society functions which most girls of her age would have delighted in, but preferred to spend her time on her father's country estate, taking an interest in the villagers or walking the country-side with half a dozen dogs at her heels.
Rumour had not spared the dead judge's name. It was said of him that he was fond of ladies' society, and especially of ladies belonging to a type which he could not ask his daughter to meet; that he used to go out motoring, driving himself, after other people were in bed; and that strange scenes had taken place at Riversbrook. Flack had told his wife on several occasions that he had heard sounds of wild laughter and rowdy singing coming from Riversbrook as he passed along the street on his beat in the small hours of the morning. Several times in the early dawn Flack had seen two or three ladies in evening dress come down the carriage drive and enter a taxi-cab which had been summoned by telephone.
When Rolfe had finished questioning Police-Constable Flack and joined his chief upstairs, the latter, who had been going through the private papers in the murdered man's desk in the hope of alighting on a clue to the crime, received him genially.
"Well," he said, "what do you think of Flack?"
Rolfe had obtained from the police-constable a straightforward story of what he had seen, and in this way had picked up some useful information about the crime which it would have taken a long time to extract from the inspector, but he was a sufficiently good detective to have learned that by disparaging the source of your information you add to your own reputation for acumen in drawing conclusions in regard to it. He nodded his head in a deprecating way and emitted a slight cough which was meant to express contempt.
"It looks very much like a case of burglary and murder," he said.
He was anxious to know what theory his superior officer had formed.
"And how do you fit in the letter advising us of the murder?" asked the inspector.
He produced the letter from his pocket-book and looked at it earnestly.
"There were two of them in it—one a savage ruffian who will stick at nothing, and the other a chicken-hearted specimen. They often work in pairs like that."
"So your theory is that one of the two shot him, and the other was so unnerved that he sent us the letter and put us on the track to save his own neck?"
"Something like that."
"It is not impossible," was the senior officer's comment. "Mind you, I don't say it is my theory. In fact, I am in no hurry to form one. I believe in going carefully over the whole ground first, collecting all the clues and then selecting the right one."
Rolfe admitted that his chief's way of setting to work to solve a mystery was an ideal one, but he made the reservation that it was a difficult one to put into operation. He was convinced that the only way of finding the right clue was to follow up every one until it was proved to be a wrong one.
Inspector Chippenfield continued his study of the mysterious message which had been sent to Scotland Yard. It was written on a sheet of paper which had been taken from a writing pad of the kind sold for a few pence by all stationers. It was flimsy and blue-lined, and the message it contained was smudged and badly printed. But to the inspector's annoyance, there were no finger-prints on the paper. The finger-print expert at Scotland Yard had examined it under the microscope, but his search for finger-prints had been vain.
"Depend upon it, we'll hear from this chap again," said the inspector, tapping the sheet of paper with a finger. "I think I may go so far as to say that this fellow thinks suspicion will be directed to him and he wants to save his neck."
"It's a disguised hand," said Rolfe. "Of course he printed it in order not to give us a specimen of his handwriting. There are telltale things about a man's handwriting which give him away even when he tries to disguise it. But he's tried to disguise even his printing. Look how irregular the letters are—some slanting to the right and some to the left, and some are upright. Look at the two different kinds of 'U's.'"
"He's used two different kinds of pens," said Inspector Chippenfield. "Look at the difference in the thickness of the letters."
"The sooner he writes again the better," said Rolfe. "I am curious to know what he'll say next."
"My idea is to find out who he is and make him speak," said the inspector, "Speaking is quicker than writing. I could frighten more out of him in ten minutes than he would give away voluntarily in a month of Sundays."
Again Rolfe had to admit that his chief's plan to get at the truth was an ideal one.
"Have you any idea who he is?" he asked.
Inspector Chippenfield had brought his methods too near to perfection to make it possible for him to fall into an open trap.
"I won't be very long putting my hand on him," he said.
"But this thing has been in the papers," said Rolfe. "Don't you think the murderer will bolt out of the country when he knows his mate is prepared to turn King's evidence against him?"
"Ah," said Inspector Chippenfield, "I haven't adopted your theory."
"Then you think that the man who wrote this note knew of the murder but doesn't know who did it?"
"Now you are going too far," said Inspector Chippenfield.
The inspector was so wary about disclosing what was in his mind in regard to the letter that Rolfe, who disliked his chief very cordially, jumped to the conclusion that Inspector Chippenfield had no intelligible ideas concerning it.
"If it was burglars they took nothing as far as we can ascertain up to the present," said Inspector Chippenfield after a pause.
"They were surprised to find anyone in the house. And after the shot was fired they immediately bolted for fear the noise would attract attention."
"What knocks a hole in the burglar theory is the fact that Sir Horace was fully dressed when he was shot," said the inspector. "Burglars don't break into a house when there are lights about, especially after having been led to believe that the house was empty."
"So you think," said Rolfe, "that the window was forced after the murder with the object of misleading us."
"I haven't said so," replied the inspector. "All I am prepared to say is that even that was not impossible."
"It was forced from the outside," continued Rolfe. "I've seen the marks of a jemmy on the window-sill. If it was forced after the murder the murderer was a cool hand."
"You can take it from me," exclaimed Inspector Chippenfield with unexpected candour, "that he was a cool hand. We are going to have a bit of trouble in getting to the bottom of this, Rolfe."
"If anyone can get to the bottom of it, you can," said Rolfe, who believed with Voltaire that speech was given us in order to enable us to conceal our thoughts.
Inspector Chippenfield was so astonished at this handsome compliment that he began to think he had underrated Rolfe's powers of discernment. His tone of cold official superiority immediately thawed.
"There were two shots fired," he said, "but whether both were fired by the murderer I don't know yet. One of them may have been fired by Sir Horace. Just behind you in the wall is the mark of one of the bullets. I dug it out of the plaster yesterday and here it is." He produced from a waistcoat pocket a flattened bullet. "The other is inside him at present." He waved his hand in the direction of the room in which the corpse lay.
"Of course you cannot say yet whether both bullets are out of the same revolver?" said Rolfe.
"Can't tell till after the post-mortem," said the inspector. "And then all we can tell for certain is whether they are of the same pattern. They might be the same size, and yet be fired out of different revolvers of the same calibre."
"Well, it is no use theorising about what happened in this room until after the post-mortem," said Rolfe.
"You'd better give it some thought," suggested the inspector. "In the meantime I want you to interview the people in the neighbourhood and ascertain whether they heard any shots. They'll all say they did whether they heard them or not—you know how people persuade themselves into imagining things so as to get some sort of prominence in these crimes. But you can sift what they tell you and preserve the grain of truth. Try and get them to be accurate as to the time, as we want to fix the time of the crime as near as possible. Ask Flack to tell you something about the neighbours—he's been in this district fifteen years, and ought to know all about them. While you're away I'll go through these private papers. I want to find out why he came back from Scotland so suddenly. If we knew that the rest might be easy."
"I haven't seen the body yet," said Rolfe. "I'd like to look at it. Where is it?"
"I had it removed downstairs. You will find it in a big room on the left as you go down the hall. By the by, there is another matter, Rolfe. This glove was found in the room. It may be a clue, but it is more likely that it is one of Sir Horace's gloves and that he lost the other one on his way up from Scotland. It's a left-hand glove—men always lose the right-hand glove because they take it off so often. I've compared it with other gloves in Sir Horace's wardrobe, and I find it is the same size and much the same quality. But find out from Sir Horace's hosier if he sold it. Here's the address of the hosiers,—Bruden and Marshall, in the Strand."
Rolfe went slowly downstairs into the room in which the corpse lay, and closed the door behind him. It was a very large room, overlooking the garden on the right side of the house. Somebody had lowered the Venetian blinds as a conventional intimation to the outside world that the house was one of mourning, and the room was almost dark. For nearly a minute Rolfe stood in silence, his hand resting on the knob of the door he had closed behind him. Gradually the outline of the room and the objects within it began to reveal themselves in shadowy shape as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light. He had a growing impression of a big lofty room, with heavy furniture, and a huddled up figure lying on a couch at the end furthest from the window and deepest in shadow.
He stepped across to the window and gently raised one of the blinds. The light of an August sun penetrated through the screen of trees in front of the house and revealed the interior of the room more clearly. Rolfe was amazed at its size. From the window to the couch at the other end of the room, where the body lay, was nearly thirty feet. Glancing down the apartment, he noticed that it was really two rooms, divided in the middle by folding doors. These doors folded neatly into a slightly protruding ridge or arch almost opposite the door by which he had entered, and were screened from observation by heavy damask curtains, which drooped over the archway slightly into the room.
Evidently the deceased judge had been in the habit of using the divided rooms as a single apartment, for the heavier furniture in both halves of it was of the same pattern. The chairs and tables were of heavy, ponderous, mid-Victorian make, and they were matched by a number of old-fashioned mahogany sideboards and presses, arranged methodically at regular intervals on both sides of the room. Rolfe, as his eye took in these articles, wondered why Sir Horace Fewbanks had bought so many. One sideboard, a vast piece of furniture fully eight feet long, had a whisky decanter and siphon of soda water on it, as though Sir Horace had served himself with refreshments on his return to the house. The tops of the other sideboards were bare, and the presses, use in such a room Rolfe was at a loss to conjecture, were locked up. The antique sombre uniformity of the furniture as a whole was broken at odd intervals by several articles of bizarre modernity, including a few daring French prints, which struck an odd note of incongruity in such a room.
The murdered man had been laid on an old-fashioned sofa at the end of this double apartment which was furthest from the window. Rolfe walked slowly over the thick Turkey carpets and rugs with which the floor was covered, glanced at the sofa curiously, and then turned down the sheet from the dead man's face.
At the time of his death Sir Horace Fewbanks was 58 years of age, but since death the grey bristles had grown so rapidly through his clean-shaven face that he looked much older. The face showed none of the wonted placidity of death. The mouth was twisted in an ugly fashion, as though the murdered man had endeavoured to cry for help and had been attacked and killed while doing so. One of Sir Horace's arms—the right one—was thrust forward diagonally across his breast as if in self-defence, and the hand was tightly clenched. Rolfe, who had last seen His Honour presiding on the Bench in the full pomp and majesty of law, felt a chill strike his heart at the fell power of death which did not even respect the person of a High Court judge, and had stripped him of every vestige of human dignity in the pangs of a violent end. The face he had last seen on the Bench full of wisdom and austerity of the law was now distorted into a livid mask in which it was hard to trace any semblance of the features of the dead judge.
Rolfe's official alertness of mind in the face of a mysterious crime soon reasserted itself, however, and he shook off the feeling of sentiment and proceeded to make a closer examination of the dead body. As he turned down the sheet to examine the wound which had ended the judge's life, it slipped from his hand and fell on the floor, revealing that the judge had been laid on the couch just as he had been killed, fully clothed. He had been shot through the body near the heart, and a large patch of blood had welled from the wound and congealed in his shirt. One trouser leg was ruffled up, and had caught in the top of the boot.
The corpse presented a repellent spectacle, but Rolfe, who had seen unpleasant sights of various kinds in his career, bent over the body with keen interest, noting these details, with all his professional instincts aroused. For though Rolfe had not yet risen very high in the police force, he had many of the qualities which make the good detective—observation, sagacity, and some imagination. The extraordinary crime which he had been called upon to help unravel presented a baffling mystery which was likely to test the value of these qualities to the utmost.
Rolfe looked steadily at the corpse for some time, impressing a picture of it in every detail on his mental retina. Struck by an idea, he bent over and touched the patch of blood in the dead man's breast, then looked at his finger. There was no stain. The blood was quite congealed. Then he tried to unclench the judge's right hand, but it was rigid.
As Rolfe stood there gazing intently at the corpse, and trying to form some theory of the reason for the murder, certain old stories he had heard of Sir Horace Fewbanks's private life and character recurred to him. These rumours had not been much—a jocular hint or two among his fellows at Scotland Yard that His Honour had a weakness for a pretty face and in private life led a less decorous existence than a judge ought to do. Rolfe wondered how much or how little truth was contained in these stories. He glanced around the vast room. Certainly it was not the sort of apartment in which a High Court judge might be expected to do his entertaining, but Rolfe recalled that he had heard gossip to the effect that Sir Horace, because of his virtual estrangement from his daughter, did very little entertaining beyond an occasional bridge or supper party to his sporting friends, and rarely went into Society.
Rolfe began to scrutinise the articles of furniture in the room, wondering if there was anything about them which might reveal something of the habits of the dead man. He produced a small electric torch from his pocket, and with its light to guide him in the half-darkened room, he closely inspected each piece of furniture. Then, with the torch in his hand, he returned to the sofa and flashed it over the dead body. He started violently when the light, falling on the dead man's closed hand, revealed a tiny scrap of white. Eagerly he endeavoured to release the fragment from the tenacious clutch of the dead without tearing it, and eventually he managed to detach it. His heart bounded when he saw that it was a small torn piece of lace and muslin. He placed it in the palm of his left hand and examined it closely under the light of his torch. To him it looked to be part of a fashionable lady's dainty handkerchief. He was elated at his discovery and he wondered how Inspector Chippenfield had overlooked it. Then the explanation struck him. The small piece of lace and muslin had been effectually hidden in the dead man's clenched hand, and his efforts to open the hand had loosened it.
"Well, Rolfe," said Inspector Chippenfield, when his subordinate reappeared, "you've been long enough to have unearthed the criminal or revived the corpse. Have you discovered anything fresh?"
"Only this," replied Rolfe, displaying the piece of handkerchief.
The find startled Inspector Chippenfield out of his air of bantering superiority.
"Where did you get that?" he stammered, as he reached out eagerly for it.
"The dead man had it clenched in his right hand. I wondered if he had anything hidden in his hand when I saw it so tightly clenched. I tried to force open the fingers and that fell out."
Inspector Chippenfield was by no means pleased at his subordinate's discovery of what promised to be an important clue, especially after the clue had been missed by himself. But he congratulated Rolfe in a tone of fictitious heartiness.
"Well done, Rolfe!" he exclaimed. "You are coming on. Anyone can see that you've the makings of a good detective."
Rolfe could afford to ignore the sting contained in such faint praise.
"What do you make of it?" he asked.
"Looks as though there is a woman in it," said the inspector, who was still examining the scrap of lace and muslin.
"There can't be much doubt about that," replied Rolfe.
"We mustn't be in a hurry in jumping at conclusions," remarked the inspector.
"No, and we mustn't ignore obvious facts," said Rolfe.
"You think a woman murdered him?" asked the inspector.
"I think a woman was present when he was shot: whether she fired the shot there is nothing to show at present. There may have been a man with her. But there was a struggle just before the shot was fired and as Sir Horace fell he grasped at the hand in which she was holding her handkerchief. Or perhaps her handkerchief was torn in his dying struggles when she was leaning over him."
"You have overlooked the possibility of this having been placed in the dying man's hand to deceive us," said the inspector.
"If the intention was to mislead us it wouldn't have been placed where it might have been overlooked."
As the inspector had overlooked the presence of the scrap of handkerchief in the dead man's hand, he felt that he was not making much progress with the work of keeping his subordinate in his place.
"Well, it is a clue of a sort," he said. "The trouble is that we have too many clues. I wish we knew which is the right one. Anyway, it knocks over your theory of a burglary," he added in a tone of satisfaction.
"Yes," Rolfe admitted. "That goes by the board."
"What is your name?"
"James Hill, sir."
"That is an alias. What is your real name?" Inspector Chippenfield glared fiercely at the butler in order to impress upon him the fact that subterfuge was useless.
"Henry Field, sir," replied the man, after some hesitation.
Inspector Chippenfield opened the capacious pocketbook which he had placed before him on the desk when the butler had entered in response to his summons, and he took from it a photograph which he handed to the man he was interrogating.
"Is that your photograph?" he asked.
Police photographs taken in gaol for purposes of future identification are always far from flattering, and Henry Field, after looking at the photograph handed to him, hesitated a little before replying:
"So, Henry Field, in November 1909 you were sentenced to three years for robbing your master, Lord Melhurst."
"Let me see," said the inspector, as if calling on his memory to perform a reluctant task. "It was a diamond scarf-pin and a gold watch. Lord Melhurst had come home after a good day at Epsom and a late supper in town. Next morning he missed his scarf-pin and his watch. He thought he had been robbed at Epsom or in town. He was delightfully vague about what had happened to him after his glorious day at Epsom, but unfortunately for you the taxi-cab driver who drove him remembered seeing the pin on him when he got out of the cab. As you had waited up for him suspicion fell on you, and you were arrested and confessed. I think those are the facts, Field?"
"Yes, sir," said the distressed looking man who stood before him.
"I think I had the pleasure of putting you through," added the inspector.
The butler understood that in police slang "putting a man through" meant arresting him and putting him through the Criminal Court into gaol. He made the same reply:
"I'm glad to see you bear me no ill-will for it," said Inspector Chippenfield. "You don't, do you?"
"I never forget a face," pursued the officer, glancing up at the face of the man before him. "When I saw you yesterday I knew you again in a moment, and when I went back to the Yard I looked up your record."
The butler was doubtful whether any reply was called for, but after a pause, as an endorsement of the inspector's gift for remembering faces, he ventured on:
"And how did you, an ex-convict, come to get into the service of one of His Majesty's judges?"
"He took me in," replied the butler.
"You mean that you took him in," replied the inspector, with a pleasant laugh at his own witticism.
"No, sir, I didn't take him in," declared the butler. He had not joined in the laugh at the inspector's joke.
"Get away with you," said Inspector Chippenfield. "You don't expect me to believe that you told him you were an ex-convict? You must have used forged references."
"No, sir. He knew I was a—" Hill hesitated at referring to himself as an ex-convict, though he had not shrunk from the description by Inspector Chippenfield. "He knew that I had been in trouble. In fact, sir, if you remember, I was tried before him."
"The devil you were!" exclaimed Inspector Chippenfield, in astonishment. "And he took you into his service after you had served your sentence. He must have been mad. How did you manage it?"
"After I came out I found it hard to get a place," said Hill, "and when Sir Horace's butler died I wrote to him and asked if he would give me a chance. I had a wife and child, sir, and they had a hard struggle while I was in prison. My wife had a shop, but she sold it to find money for my defence. Sir Horace told me to call on him, and after thinking it over he decided to engage me. He was a good master to me."
"And how did you repay him," exclaimed Inspector Chippenfield sternly, "by murdering him?"
The butler was startled by the suddenness of the accusation, as Inspector Chippenfield intended he should be.
"Me!" he exclaimed. "As sure as there is a God in Heaven I had nothing to do with it."
"That won't go down with me, Field," said the police officer, giving the wretched man another prolonged penetrating look.
"It's true; it's true!" he protested wildly. "I had nothing to do with it. I couldn't do a thing like that, sir. I couldn't kill a man if I wanted to—I haven't the nerve. But I knew I would be suspected," he added, in a tone of self-pity.
"Oh, you did?" replied Inspector Chippenfield. "And why was that?"
"Because of my past."
"Where were you on the date of the murder?"
"In the morning I came over here to look round as usual, and I found everything all right."
"You did that every day while Sir Horace was away?"
"Not every day, sir. Three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays."
"Did you enter the house or just look round?"
"I always came inside."
"To make quite sure that everything was all right."
"And was everything all right the morning of the 18th?"
"You are quite sure of that? You looked round carefully?"
"Well, sir, I just gave a glance round, for of course I didn't expect anything would be wrong."
Inspector Chippenfield fixed a steady glance on the butler to ascertain if he was conscious of the trap he had avoided.
"Did you look in this room?"
"Yes, sir. I made a point of looking in all the rooms."
"You are sure that Sir Horace's dead body was not lying here?" Inspector Chippenfield pointed beside the desk where the body had been found.
"Oh, no, sir. I'd have seen it if it had."
"There was no sign anywhere of his having returned from Scotland?"
"You didn't know he was returning?"
"What time did you leave the house?"
"It would be about a quarter past twelve, sir."
"And what did you do after that?"
"I went home and had my dinner. In the afternoon I took my little girl to the Zoo. I had promised her for a long time that I would take her to the Zoo."
"And what did you do after visiting the Zoo?"
"We went home for supper. After supper my wife took the little girl to the picture palace in Camden Road. It was quite a holiday, sir, for her."
"And what did you do while your wife and child were at the pictures?"
"I stayed at home and minded the shop. When they came home we all went to bed. My wife will tell you the same thing."
"I've no doubt she will," said the inspector drily. "Well, if you didn't murder Sir Horace yourself when did you first hear that he had been murdered?"
"I saw it in the papers yesterday evening."
"And you immediately came up here to see if it was true?"
"And you were taken to the Hampstead Police Station to make a statement as to your movements on the day and night of the murder?"
"And the story you have just told me about the Zoo and the pictures and the rest is virtually the same as the statement you made at the station?"
"Do you know if Sir Horace kept a revolver?"
"I think he did, sir."
"Where did he keep it?"
"In the second drawer of his desk, sir."
"Well, it's gone," remarked Inspector Chippenfield without opening the drawer. "What sort of a revolver was it? Did you ever see it? How do you know he kept one?"
"Once or twice I saw something that looked like a revolver in that drawer while Sir Horace had it open. It was a small nickel revolver."
"Sir Horace always locked his desk?"
"None of your keys will open it, of course?"
"No, sir. That is—I don't know, sir. I've never tried."
Inspector Chippenfield grunted slightly. That trap the butler had not seen until too late. But of course all servants went through their masters' private papers when they got the chance.
"Do you know if Sir Horace was in the habit of carrying a pocket-book?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; he was."
"What sort of a pocket-book?"
"A large Russian leather one with a gold clasp."
"Did he take it away with him when he went to Scotland? Did you see it about the house after he left?"
"No, sir. I think he took it with him. It would not be like him to forget it, or to leave it lying about."
"And what sort of a man was Sir Horace, Field?"
"A very good master, sir. He could be very stern when he was angry, but I got on very well with him."
"Quite so. Do you know if he had a weakness for the ladies?"
"Well, sir, I've heard people say he had."
"I want your own opinion; I don't want what other people said. You were with him for three years and kept a pretty close watch on him, I've no doubt."
"Speaking confidentially, I might say that I think he was," said Hill.
He glanced apprehensively behind him as if afraid of the dead man appearing at the door to rebuke him for presuming to speak ill of him.
"I thought as much," said the inspector. "Have you any idea why he came down from Scotland?"
"Well, that will do for the present, Field. If I want you again I'll send for you."
"Thank you, sir. May I ask a question, sir?"
"What is it?"
"You don't really think I had anything to do with it, sir?"
"I'm not here, Field, to tell you what I think. This much I will say: If I find you have tried to deceive me in any way it will be a bad day for you."
Grave, taciturn, watchful, secret and suave, with an appearance of tight-lipped reticence about him which a perpetual faint questioning look in his eyes denied, Hill looked an ideal man servant, who knew his station in life, and was able to uphold it with meek dignity. From the top of his trimly-cut grey crown to his neatly-shod silent feet he exuded deference and respectability. His impassive mask of a face was incapable—apart from the faint query note in the eyes—of betraying any of the feelings or emotions which ruffle the countenances of common humanity.
On the way downstairs, Hill saw Police-Constable Flack in conversation with a lady at the front door. The lady was well-known to the butler as Mrs. Holymead, the wife of a distinguished barrister, who had been one of his master's closest friends. She seemed glad to see the butler, for she greeted him with a remark that seemed to imply a kinship in sorrow.
"Isn't this a dreadful thing, Hill?" she said.
"It's terrible, madam," replied Hill respectfully.
Mrs. Holymead was extremely beautiful, but it was obvious that she was distressed at the tragedy, for her eyes were full of tears, and her olive-tinted face was pale. She was about thirty years of age; tall, slim, and graceful. Her beauty was of the Spanish type: straight-browed, lustrous-eyed, and vivid; a clear olive skin, and full, petulant, crimson lips. She was fashionably dressed in black, with a black hat.
"The policeman tells me that Miss Fewbanks has not come up from Dellmere yet," she continued.
"No, madam. We expect her to-morrow. I believe Miss Fewbanks has been too prostrated to come."
"Dreadful, dreadful," murmured Mrs. Holymead. "I feel I want to know all about it and yet I am afraid. It is all too terrible for words."
"It has been a terrible shock, madam," said Hill.
"Has the housekeeper come up, Hill?"
"No, madam. She will be up to-morrow with Miss Fewbanks."
"Well, is there nobody I can see?" asked Mrs. Holymead.
Police-Constable Flack was impressed by the spectacle of a beautiful fashionably-dressed lady in distress.
"The inspector in charge of the case is upstairs, madam," he suggested. "Perhaps you'd like to see him." It suddenly occurred to him that he had instructions not to allow any stranger into the house, and police instructions at such a time were of a nature which classed a friend of the family as a stranger. "Perhaps I'd better ask him first," he added, and he went upstairs with the feeling that he had laid himself open to severe official censure from Inspector Chippenfield.
He came downstairs with a smile on his face and the message that the inspector would be pleased to see Mrs. Holymead. In his brief interview with his superior he had contrived to convey the unofficial information that Mrs. Holymead was a fine-looking woman, and he had no doubt that Inspector Chippenfield's readiness to see her was due to the impression this information had made on his unofficial feelings.
Mrs. Holymead was conducted upstairs and announced by the butler. Inspector Chippenfield greeted her with a low bow of conscious inferiority, and anticipated Hill in placing a chair for her. His large red face went a deeper scarlet in colour as he looked at her.
"Flack tells me that you are a friend of the family, Mrs. Holymead. What is it that I can do for you? I need scarcely say, Mrs. Holymead, that your distinguished husband is well known to us all. I have had the pleasure of being cross-examined by him on several occasions. Anything you wish to know I'll be pleased to tell you, if it lies within my power."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Holymead.
She seemed to be slightly nervous in the presence of a member of the Scotland Yard police, in spite of his obvious humility in the company of a fashionable lady who belonged to a different social world from that in which police inspectors moved. It took Inspector Chippenfield some minutes to discover that the object of Mrs. Holymead's visit was to learn some of the details of the tragedy. As one who had known the murdered man for several years, and the wife of his intimate friend, she was overwhelmed by the awful tragedy. She endeavoured to explain that the crime was like a horrible dream which she could not get rid of. But in spite of the repugnance with which she contemplated the fact that a gentleman she had known so well had been shot down in his own house she felt a natural curiosity to know how the dreadful crime had been committed.
Inspector Chippenfield availed himself of the opportunity to do the honours of the occasion. He went over the details of the tragedy and pointed out where the body had been found. He showed her the bullet mark on the wall and the flattened bullet which had been extracted. Although from the mere habit of official caution he gave away no information which was not of a superficial and obvious kind, it was apparent he liked talking about the crime and his responsibilities as the officer who had been placed in charge of the investigations. He noted the interest with which Mrs. Holymead followed his words and he was satisfied that he had created a favourable impression on her. It was his desire to do the honours thoroughly which led him to remark after he had given her the main facts of the tragedy:
"I'm sorry I cannot take you to view the body. It is downstairs, but the fact is the Home Office doctors are in there making the post-mortem to extract the bullet."
Mrs. Holymead shuddered at this information. The fact that such gruesome work as a post-mortem examination was proceeding on the body of a man whom she had known so well brought on a fit of nausea. Her head fell back as if she was about to faint.
"Can I have a glass of water?" she whispered.
A fainting woman, if she is beautiful and fashionably dressed, will unnerve even a resourceful police official. Had she been one of the servants Inspector Chippenfield would have rung the bell for a glass of water to throw over her face, and meantime would have looked on calmly at such evidence of the weakness of sex. But in this case he dashed out of the room, ran downstairs, shouted for Hill, ordered him to find a glass, snatched the glass from him, filled it with water, and dashed upstairs again. His absence from the room totalled a little less than three minutes, and when he held the glass to the lady's lips he was out of breath with his exertions.
Mrs. Holymead took a sip of water, shuddered, took another sip, then heaved a sigh, and opened to the full extent her large dark eyes on the man bending over her, who felt amply repaid by such a glance. She thanked him prettily for his great kindness and took her departure, being conducted downstairs, and to her waiting motor-car at the gate, by Inspector Chippenfield. That officer went back to the house with a pleased smile on his features. But he would not have been so pleased with himself if he had known that his brief absence from the room of the tragedy for the purpose of obtaining a glass of water had been more than sufficient to enable the lady to run to the open desk of the murdered man, touch a spring which opened a secret receptacle at the back of it, extract a small bundle of papers, close the spring, and return to her chair to await in a fainting attitude the return of the chivalrous police officer.
Mrs. Holymead's return to her home in Princes Gate was awaited with feverish anxiety by one of the inmates. This was Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chiron, a French girl of about twenty-eight, who was a distant connection of Mrs. Holymead's by marriage. A cousin of Mrs. Holymead's had married Lucille Chiron, the younger sister of Gabrielle, two years ago. Mrs. Holymead on visiting the French provincial town where the marriage was celebrated, was attracted by Gabrielle. As the Chiron family were not wealthy they welcomed the friendship between Gabrielle and the beautiful American who had married one of the leading barristers in London, and finally Gabrielle went to live with Mrs. Holymead as a companion.
From the window of an upstairs room which commanded a view of the street, Gabrielle Chiron waited impatiently for the return of the motor-car in which Mrs. Holymead had driven to Riversbrook. When at length it turned the corner and came into view, she rushed downstairs to meet Mrs. Holymead. She opened the street door before the lady of the house could ring. Her gaze was fixed on a hand-bag which Mrs. Holymead carried—a comparatively big hand-bag which the lady had taken the precaution to purchase before driving out to Riversbrook.
The French girl's face lighted up with a smile as she saw by the shape of the bag that it was not empty.
"Have you got them?" she whispered.
"Yes," was the reply. "I followed out your plan—it worked without a hitch."
"Ah, I knew you would manage it," said the girl. "I would have gone, but it was best that you should go. These police agents do not like foreigners—they would be suspicious if I had gone."
"There was a big red-faced man in charge—Inspector Chippenfield, they called him," said Mrs. Holymead. "He was in the library as you said he would be—he was sitting there calmly as if he did not know what nerves were. He knew me as a friend of the family and was quite nice to me. I saw as soon as I went in that the desk was open—he had been examining Sir Horace's private papers. I asked him to tell me about the—about the tragedy. He piled horror on horror and then I pretended to faint. He ran down stairs for a glass of water, and that gave me time to open the secret drawer. They are here," she added, patting the hand-bag affectionately; "let us go upstairs and burn them."
There was unpleasant news for Inspector Chippenfield when Miss Fewbanks arrived at Riversbrook accompanied by the housekeeper, Mrs. Hewson. In the first place, he learnt with considerable astonishment that it was Miss Fewbanks's intention to stay at the house until after the funeral, and for that purpose she had brought the housekeeper to keep her company in the lonely old place. Although they had taken up their quarters in the opposite wing of the rambling mansion to that in which the dead body lay, it seemed to Inspector Chippenfield—whose mind was very impressionable where the fair sex was concerned—that Miss Fewbanks must be a very peculiar girl to contemplate staying in the same house with the body of her murdered father for nearly a week. He was convinced that she must be a strong-minded young woman, and he did not like strong-minded young women. He preferred the weak and clinging type of the sex as more of a compliment to his own sturdy manliness.
His unfavourable impression of Miss Fewbanks was deepened when he saw her and heard what she had to tell him. The girl had come up from the country filled with horror at the crime which had deprived her of a father, and firmly determined to leave no stone unturned to bring the murderer to justice. It was true that she and her father had lived on terms of partial estrangement for some time past because of his manner of life, but all the girl's feelings of resentment against him had been swept away by the news of his dreadful death, and all she remembered now was that he was her father, and had been brutally murdered.
When she sent for Inspector Chippenfield she had visited the room in which lay the body of her father. It had been placed in a coffin which was resting on the undertaker's trestles in the bay embrasure of the big room with the folding doors. There was nothing in the appearance of the corpse to suggest that a crime had been committed, but it had been impossible for the undertaker's men to erase entirely the distortion of the features so that they might suggest the cold, calm dignity of a peaceful death. The ordeal of looking on the dead body of her father had nerved her to carry through resolutely the task of discovering the author of the crime.
She awaited the coming of the inspector in a small sitting-room, and when he entered she pointed quickly to a chair, but remained standing herself. In appearance Miss Fewbanks was a charming girl of the typical English type. She was of medium height, slight, but well-built, with fair hair and dark blue eyes, an imperious short upper lip and a determined chin, and the clear healthy complexion of a girl who has lived much out of doors. The inspector noted all these details; noted, too, that although her breast heaved with agitation she had herself well under control; her pretty head was erect, and one of her small hands was tightly clenched by her side.
"Have you found out—anything?" she asked the inspector as he entered.
The girl had chosen a vague word because she felt that there were many things which must come to light in unravelling the crime, but, from the police point of view of Inspector Chippenfield, the question whether he had found out anything was a stinging reflection on his ability.
"I consider it inadvisable to make any arrest at the present stage of my investigations," he said, with cold official dignity.
"Do you think you know who did it?" asked the girl.
"It is my business to find out," replied the inspector, in a voice that indicated confidence in his ability to perform the task.
The girl was too unsophisticated to follow the subtle workings of official pride. "The papers call it a mysterious crime. Do you think it is mysterious?"
"There are certainly some mysterious features about it," said the inspector. "But I do not regard them as insoluble. Nothing is insoluble," he added, in a sententious tone.
"If there are mysteries to be solved you ought to have help," said the young lady.
She glanced at Mrs. Hewson significantly, and then proceeded to explain to Inspector Chippenfield what she meant.
"I have asked Mr. Crewe, the celebrated detective, to assist you. Of course you know Mr. Crewe—everybody does. I know you are a very clever man at your profession, but in a thing of this kind two clever men are better than one. I hope you will not mind—there is no reflection whatever on your ability. In fact, I have the utmost confidence in you. But it is due to my father's memory to do all that is possible to get to the bottom of this dreadful crime. If money is needed it will be forthcoming. That applies to you no less than to Mr. Crewe. But I hope you will be able to carry out your investigations amicably together, and that you will be willing to assist one another. You will lose nothing by doing so. I trust you will place at Mr. Crewe's disposal all the facilities that are available to you as an officer of the police."
This statement was so clear that Inspector Chippenfield had no choice but to face the conclusion that Miss Fewbanks had more faith in the abilities of a private detective to unravel the mystery than she had in the resources of Scotland Yard. He would have liked to have told the young lady what he thought of her for interfering with his work, and he determined to avail himself of the right opportunity to do so if it came along. But the statement that money was not to be spared had a soothing influence on his feelings. Of course, officers of Scotland Yard were not allowed to take gratuities however substantial they might be, but there were material ways of expressing gratitude which were outside the regulations of the department.
"I shall be very pleased to give Mr. Crewe any assistance he wants," said Inspector Chippenfield, bowing stiffly.
It was seldom that he took a subordinate fully into his confidence, but after he left Miss Fewbanks he flung aside his official pride in order to discuss with Rolfe the enlistment of the services of Crewe. Rolfe was no less indignant than his chief at the intrusion of an outsider into their sphere. Crewe was an exponent of the deductive school of crime investigation, and had first achieved fame over the Abbindon case some years ago, when he had succeeded in restoring the kidnapped heir of the Abbindon estates after the police had failed to trace the missing child. In detective stories the attitude of members of Scotland Yard to the deductive expert is that of admiration based on conscious inferiority, but in real life the experts of Scotland Yard have the utmost contempt for the deductive experts and their methods. The disdainful pity of the deductive experts for the rule-of-thumb methods of the police is not to be compared with the vigorous scorn of the official detective for the rival who has not had the benefit of police training.
"Look here, Rolfe," said Inspector Chippenfield, "we mustn't let Crewe get ahead of us in this affair, or we'll never hear the last of it. It's scandalous of a man like Crewe, who has money of his own and could live like a gentleman, coming along and taking the bread out of our mouths by accepting fees and rewards for hunting after criminals. Of course I know they say he is lavish with his money and gives away more than he earns, but that's all bosh—he sticks it in his own pocket, right enough. One thing is certain: he gets paid whether he wins or loses; that is to say, he gets his fee in any case, but of course if he wins something will be added to his fee. In the meantime all you and I get is our salaries, and, as you know, the pay of an inspector isn't what it ought to be."
Rolfe assured his superior of his conviction that the pay at Scotland Yard ought to be higher for all ranks—especially the rank and file. He also declared that he was ready to do his best to thwart Crewe.
"That is the right spirit," commented Inspector Chippenfield approvingly. "Of course we'll tell him we're willing to help him all we can, and of course hell tell us we can depend on his help. But we know what his help will amount to. He'll keep back from us anything he finds out, and we'll do the same for him. But the point is, Rolfe, that you and I have to put all our brains into this and help one another. I'm not the man to despise help from a subordinate. If you have any ideas about this case, Rolfe, do not be afraid to speak out, I'll give them sympathetic consideration."
"I know you will," said Rolfe, who was by no means sure of the fact. "You can count on me."
"As you know, Rolfe, there have been cases in which men from the Yard haven't worked together as amicably as they ought to have done. It used to be said when I was one of the plain-clothes men that the man in charge got all the credit and the men under him did all the work. But as an inspector I can tell you that is very rarely the case. In my reports I believe in giving my junior credit for all he has done, and generally a bit more. It may be foolish of me, but that is my way. I never miss a chance of putting in a good word for the man under me."
"It would be better if they were all like that," said Rolfe.
"Well, it's a bargain, Rolfe," said Inspector Chippenfield. "You do your best on this job and you won't lose by it. I'll see to that. But in the meantime we don't want to put Crewe on the scent. Let us see how much we'll tell him and how much we won't."
"He'll want to see the letter sent to the Yard about the murder," said Rolfe. "The Daily Recorder published a facsimile of it this morning."
"Yes, I knew about that. Well, he can have it. But don't say anything to him about that lace you found in the dead man's hand—or at any rate not until you find out more about it. The glove he can have since it is pretty obvious that it belonged to Sir Horace. We'll spin Crewe a yarn that we are depending on it as a clue."
Crewe arrived during the afternoon to inspect the house and the room in which the crime had been committed. There was every appearance of cordiality in the way in which he greeted the police officials.
"Delighted to see you, Inspector," he said. "Who is working this case with you? Rolfe? Don't think we have met before, Rolfe, have we?"
Rolfe politely murmured something about not having had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Crewe, but of always having wanted to meet him, because of his fame.
"Very good of you," replied Crewe. "This is a very sad business. I understand there are some attractive points of mystery in the crime. I hope you haven't unravelled it yet before I have got a start. You fellows are so quick."
"Slow and sure is our motto," said Inspector Chippenfield, feeling certain that a sneer and not a compliment had been intended. "There is nothing to be gained in arresting the wrong man."
"That's a sound maxim for us all," said Crewe. "However, let's get to business. I rang up the Yard this morning and they told me you were in charge of the case and that I'd probably find you here. Can you let me have a look at the original of that letter which was sent to Scotland Yard informing you of the murder? There is a facsimile of it in the Daily Recorder this morning, and from all appearances there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from it. But the original is the thing."
"Here you are," said the inspector, producing his pocket-book, taking out the paper, and handing it to Crewe. "What do you make of it?"
Crewe sat down, and placing the paper before him took a magnifying glass from his pocket. As he sat there, in his grey tweed suit, his hat pushed carelessly back from his forehead, he might have been mistaken for a young man of wealth with no serious business in life, for his clothes were of fashionable cut, and he wore them with an air of distinction. But a glance at his face would have dispelled the impression. The clear-cut, clean-shaven features riveted attention by reason of their strength and intelligence, and though the dark eyes were rather too dreamy for the face, the heavy lines of the lower jaw indicated the man of action and force of character. The thick neck and heavily-lipped firm mouth suggested tireless energy and abounding vitality.
"At least two people have had a hand in it," he said, after studying the paper for a few minutes.
"In the murder?" asked the inspector, who was astonished at a deduction which harmonised with a theory which had begun to take shape in his mind.
"In writing this," said Crewe, with his attention still fixed on the paper. "But of course you know that yourself."
"Of course," assented the inspector, who was surprised at the information, but was too experienced an official to show his feelings. "And both hands disguised."
"Disguised to the extent of being printed in written characters," continued Crewe. "It is so seldom that a person writes printed characters that any method in which they are written suggests disguise. The original intention of the two persona who wrote this extraordinary note was for each to write a single letter in turn. That system was carried as far as 'Sir Horace' or, perhaps, up to the 'B' in 'Fewbanks.' After that they became weary of changing places and one of them wrote alternate letters to the end, leaving blanks for the other to fill in. That much is to be gathered from the variations in the spaces between the letters—sometimes there was too much room for an intermediate letter, sometimes too little, so the letter had to be cramped. Here and there are dots made with the pen as the first of the two spelled out the words so as to know what letters to write and what to leave blank. Look at the differences in the letter 'U.' One of the writers makes it a firm downward and upward stroke; the other makes the letter fainter and adds another downward stroke, the letter being more like a small 'u' written larger than a capital letter. The differences in the two hands are so pronounced throughout the note that I am inclined to think that one of the writers was a woman."
"Exactly what I thought," said Inspector Chippenfield, looking hard at Crewe so that the latter should not question his good faith.
"Then there are sometimes slight differences in the alternate letters written by the same hand. Look at the 'T' in 'last' and the 'T' in 'night'—the marked variation in the length and angle of the cross stroke. It is evident that the writers were labouring under serious excitement when they wrote this."
Rolfe was so interested in Crewe's revelations that he stood beside the deductive expert and studied the paper afresh.
"And now, about finger-prints?" asked Crews.
"None," was the reply of the inspector, "We had it under the microscope at Scotland Yard."
"None?" exclaimed Crewe, in surprise. "Why adopt such precautions as wearing gloves to write a note giving away this startling secret?"
"Easy enough," replied Inspector Chippenfield. "The people who wrote the note either had little or nothing to do with the murder, but were afraid suspicion might be directed to them, or else they are the murderers and want to direct suspicion from themselves."
"And now for the bullets," said Crewe, "I understand two shots were fired."
"From two revolvers," said the inspector. "Here are both bullets. This one I picked out of the wall over there. You can see where I've broken away the plaster. This one—much the bigger one of the two—was the one that killed Sir Horace. The doctor handed it to me after the post-mortem."
"Did Sir Horace keep a revolver?"
"The butler says yes. But if he did it's gone."
Crewe stood up and examined the hole in the wall where Inspector Chippenfield had dug out the smaller bullet.
"Sir Horace made a bid for his life but missed. Of course, he had no time to take aim while there was a man on the other side of the room covering him, but in any case those fancy firearms cannot be depended upon to shoot straight."
"You think Sir Horace fired at his murderer—fired first?" asked Rolfe.
"This small bullet suggests one of those fancy silver-mounted weapons that are made to sell to wealthy people. Sir Horace was a bit of a sportsman, and knew something about game-shooting, but, I take it, he had no use for a revolver. I assume he kept one of those fancy weapons on hand thinking he would never have to use it, but that it would do to frighten a burglar if the occasion did arise."
"And when he was held up in this room by a man with a revolver he made a dash for his own revolver and got in the first shot?" suggested Rolfe, with the idea of outlining Crewe's theory of how the crime was committed.
"It is scarcely possible to reconstruct the crime to that extent," said Crewe with a smile. "But undoubtedly Sir Horace got in the first shot. If he fired after he was hit his bullet would have gone wild—would probably have struck the ceiling—whereas it landed there. Let us measure the height from the floor." He pulled a small spool out of a waistcoat pocket and drew out a tape measure. "A little high for the heart of an average man, and probably a foot wide of the mark."
"And what do you make of the disappearance of Sir Horace's revolver?" asked Rolfe, who seemed to his superior officer to be in danger of displaying some admiration for deductive methods.
"I'm no good at guess-work," replied Crewe, who felt that he had given enough information away.
"Well," said Rolfe, "here is a glove which was found in the room. The other one is missing. It might be a clue."
Crewe took the glove and examined it carefully. It was a left-hand glove made of reindeer-skin, and grey in colour. It bore evidence of having been in use, but it was still a smart-looking glove such as a man who took a pride in his appearance might wear.
"Burglars wear gloves nowadays," said Crewe, "but not this kind. The india-rubber glove with only the thumb separate is best for their work. They give freedom of action for the fingers and leave no finger-prints. Have you made inquiries whether this is one of Sir Horace's gloves?"
"Well, it is the same size as he wore—seven and a half," said Inspector Chippenfield. "The butler is the only servant here and he can't say for certain that it belonged to his master. I've been through Sir Horace's wardrobe and through the suit-case he brought from Scotland, but I can find no other pair exactly similar. Rolfe took it to Sir Horace's hosier, and he is practically certain that the glove is one of a pair he sold to Sir Horace."
"That should be conclusive," said Crewe thoughtfully.
"So I think," replied the inspector.
"Well, I'll take it with me, if you don't mind," said Crewe. "You can have it back whenever you want it. Let me have the address of Sir Horace's hosier—I'll give him a call."
"Take it by all means," said the inspector cordially, referring to the glove. And with a wink at Rolfe he added, "And when you are ready to fit it on the guilty hand I hope you will let us know."
Crewe made a careful inspection of the house and the grounds. He took measurements of the impressions left on the sill of the window which had been forced and also of the foot-prints immediately beneath the window. He had a long conversation with Hill and questioned him regarding his movements on the night of the murder. He also asked about the other servants who were at Dellmere, and probed for information about Sir Horace's domestic life and his friends. As he was talking to Hill, Police-Constable Flack came up to them with a card in his hand. Hill looked at the card and exclaimed:
"Mr. Holymead? What does he want?"
"He asked if Miss Fewbanks was at home."
Hill took the card in to Miss Fewbanks, and on coming out went to the front door and escorted Mr. Holymead to his young mistress. Crewe, as was his habit, looked closely at Holymead. The eminent K.C. was a tall man, nearly six feet in height, with a large, resolute, strongly-marked face which, when framed in a wig, was suggestive of the dignity and severity of the law. In years he was about fifty, and in his figure there was a suggestion of that rotundity which overtakes the man who has given up physical exercise. He was correctly, if sombrely, dressed in dark clothes, and he wore a black tie—probably as a symbol of mourning for his friend. His gloves were a delicate grey.
Crewe sought out Hill again and questioned him closely about the relations which had existed between Sir Horace Fewbanks and Mr. Holymead, whose enormous practice brought him in an income three times as large as the dead judge's, and kept him constantly before the public. Hill was able to supply the detective with some interesting information regarding the visitor, and, in contrast to his manner when previously questioned at random by Crewe, concerning his young mistress's habits, seemed willing, if not actually anxious, to talk. He had heard from Sir Horace's housekeeper that his late master and Mr. Holymead had been law students together, and after they were called to the Bar they used to spend their holidays together as long as they were single.
When they were married their wives became friends. Mrs. Holymead had died fourteen years ago, but Mrs. Fewbanks—Sir Horace had not been a baronet while his wife was alive—had lived some years longer. Mr. Holymead had married again. His second wife was a very beautiful young lady, if he might make so bold as to say so, who had come from America. The butler added deprecatingly that he had been told that both Sir Horace and Mr. Holymead had paid her some attention, and that she could have had either of them. She was different to English ladies, he added. She had more to say for herself, and laughed and talked with the gentlemen just as if she was one of themselves. Hill mentioned that she had been out to see Miss Fewbanks the previous day, but that Miss Fewbanks had not come up from Dellmere then, so she had seen Inspector Chippenfield instead.
While Crewe and the butler were talking a boy of about fourteen, with the shrewd face of a London arab, approached them with an air of mystery. He came down the hall with long cautious strides, and halted at each step as if he were stalking a band of Indians in a forest.
"Well, Joe, what is it?" asked Crewe, as he came to a halt in front of them.
"If you don't want me for half an hour, sir, I'd like to take a run up the street. There is a real good picture house just been opened." The boy spoke eagerly, with his bright eyes fixed on Crewe.
"I may want you any minute, Joe," replied Crewe. "Don't go away."
The boy nodded his head, and turned away. As he went down the hall again to the front door he gave an imitation of a man walking with extended arms across a plank spanning a chasm.
"Picture mad," commented Crewe, as he watched him.
"I didn't quite understand you, sir," replied the butler.
"Spends all his spare time in cinemas," said Crewe, "and when he is not there he is acting picture dramas. His ambition in life is to be a cinema actor."
Crewe engaged Police-Constable Flack in conversation while waiting for Mr. Holymead to take his departure. Flack had so little professional pride that he was pleased at meeting a gentleman who usurped the functions of a detective without having had any police training, and who could beat the best of the Scotland Yard men like shelling peas, as he confided to his wife that night. He was especially flattered at the interest Crewe seemed to display in his long connection with the police force, and also in his private affairs. The constable was explaining with parental vanity the precocious cleverness of his youngest child, a girl of two, when Holymead made his appearance, and he became aware that Mr. Crewe's interest in children was at an end.