THE HUNT BALL MYSTERY
BY SIR WILLIAM MAGNAY, Bt.
Author of "A Prince of Lovers," "The Mystery of the Unicorn," etc., etc.
I THE INTRUDER
II THE STAINED FLOWERS
III THE STREAK ON THE CUFF
IV THE MISSING GUEST
V THE LOCKED ROOM
VI THE MYSTERY OF CLEMENT HENSHAW
VII THE INCREDULITY OF GERVASE HENSHAW
VIII KELSON'S PERPLEXITY
IX THE CLOAK OF NIGHT
X AN ALARMING DISCOVERY
XI GIFFORD'S COMMISSION
XII HAD HENSHAW A CLUE?
XIII WHAT GIFFORD SAW IN THE WOOD
XIV GIFFORD'S PERPLEXITY
XV ANOTHER DISCOVERY
XVI AN EXPLANATION
XVII WHAT A GIRL SAW
XVIII THE LOST BROOCH
XIX IN THE CHURCHYARD
XX AN INVOLUNTARY EAVESDROPPER
XXI GIFFORD CONTINUES HIS STORY
XXII HOW GIFFORD ESCAPED
XXIII EDITH MORRISTON'S STORY
XXIV HOW THE STORY ENDED
XXVI ISSUE JOINED
XXVII GIFFORD'S REWARD
"I'm afraid it must have gone on in the van, sir."
"Gone on!" Hugh Gifford exclaimed angrily. "But you had no business to send the train on till all the luggage was put out."
"The guard told me that all the luggage for Branchester was out," the porter protested deprecatingly. "You see, sir, the train was nearly twenty minutes late, and in his hurry to get off he must have overlooked your suit-case."
"The very thing I wanted most," the owner returned. "I say, Kelson," he went on, addressing a tall, soldierly man who strolled up, "a nice thing has happened; the train has gone off with my evening clothes."
Kelson whistled. "Are you sure?"
"Quite." Gifford appealed to the porter, who regretfully confirmed the statement.
"That's awkward to-night," Kelson commented with a short laugh of annoyance. "Look here, we'd better interview the station-master, and have your case wired for to the next stop. I am sorry, old fellow, I kept you talking instead of letting you look after your rattle-traps, but I was so glad to see you again after all this long time."
"Thanks, my dear Harry, you've nothing to blame yourself about. It was my own fault being so casual. The nuisance is that if I don't get the suit-case back in time I shan't be able to go with you to-night."
"No," his friend responded; "that would be a blow. And it's going to be a ripping dance. Dick Morriston, who hunts the hounds, is doing the thing top-hole. Now let's see what the worthy and obliging Prior can do for us."
The station-master was prepared to do everything in his power, but that did not extend to altering the times of the trains or shortening the mileage they had to travel. He wired for the suit-case to be put out at Medford, the next stop, some forty miles on, and sent back by the next up-train. "But that," he explained, "is a slow one and is not due here till 9.47. However, I'll send it on directly it arrives, and you should get it by ten o'clock or a few minutes after. You are staying at the Lion?"
"Not more than ten or twelve minutes' drive. I'll do my best and there shall be no delay."
The two men thanked him and walked out to the station yard, where a porter waited with the rest of Gifford's luggage.
"There is a gentleman here going to the Lion" he said with a rather embarrassed air; "I told him your fly was engaged, sir; but he said perhaps you would let him share it with you."
Kelson looked black. "I like the way some people have of taking things for granted. Cheek, I call it. He had better wait or walk."
"The gentleman said he was in a hurry, sir," the porter observed apologetically.
"No reason why he should squash us up in the fly," Kelson returned. "I'll have a word with the gentleman. Where is he?"
"I think he is in the fly, sir."
"The devil he is! We'll have him out, Hugh. Infernally cool." And he strode off towards the waiting fly.
"Better see what sort of chap he is before you go for him, Harry," Gifford said deprecatingly as he followed. He knew his masterful friend's quick temper, and anticipated a row.
"If you don't mind, this is my fly, sir," Kelson was saying as Gifford reached him.
"The porter told me it was the Golden Lion conveyance," a strong, deeply modulated voice replied from the fly.
"And I think he told you it was engaged," Kelson rejoined bluffly.
"I did not quite understand that," the voice of the occupant replied in an even tone. "I am sorry if there has been any misunderstanding; but as I am going to the hotel—"
"That is no reason why you should take our fly," Kelson retorted, his temper rising at the other's coolness. "I must ask you to vacate it at once," he added with heat.
"How many of you are there?" The man leaned forward showing in the doorway a handsome face, dark almost to swarthiness. "Only two? Surely there is no need to turn me out. You don't want to play the dog in the manger. There is room for all three, and I shall be happy to contribute my share of the fare."
"I don't want anything of the sort—"
Kelson was beginning angrily when Gifford intervened pacifically.
"It is all right, Harry. We can squeeze in. The fellow seems more or less a gentleman; don't let's be churlish," he added in an undertone.
"But it is infernal impudence," Kelson protested.
"Yes; but we don't want a row. It is not as though there was another conveyance he could take."
"All right. I suppose we shall have to put up with the brute," Kelson assented grudgingly. "But I hate being bounced like this."
Gifford took a step to the carriage-door. "I think we can all three pack in," he said civilly.
"I'll take the front seat, if you like," the stranger said, without, however, showing much inclination to move.
"Oh, no; stay where you are," Gifford answered. "I fancy I am the smallest of the three; I shall be quite comfortable there. Come along, Harry."
With no very amiable face Kelson got in and took the vacant seat by the stranger. His attitude was not conducive to geniality, and so for a while there was silence. At length as they turned from the station approach on to the main road the stranger spoke. His deep-toned voice had a musical ring in it, yet somehow to Gifford's way of thinking it was detestable. Perhaps it was the speaker's rather aggressive and, to a man, objectionable personality, which made it seem so.
"I am sorry to inconvenience you," he said, more with an air of saying the right thing than from any real touch of regret. "On an occasion like this they ought to provide more conveyances. But country towns are hopeless."
"Oh, it is all right," Gifford responded politely. "The drive is not very long."
"A mile?" The man's musical inflection jarred on Gifford, who began to wonder whether their companion could be a professional singer. One of their own class he certainly was not.
"I presume you gentlemen are going to the Hunt Ball?" he asked.
"Yes," Gifford answered.
"Rather a new departure having it in a private house," the man said. "Quite a sound idea, I have no doubt Morriston will do us as well—much better than we should fare at the local hotel or Assembly Rooms."
"Are you going?" They were the first words Kelson had uttered since the start, and the slight surprise in their tone was not quite complimentary. It must have so struck the other, seeing that he replied with a touch of resentment:
"Yes. Why not?"
"No reason at all," Kelson answered, except that I don't remember to have seen you out with the Cumberbatch."
"I dare say not," the other rejoined easily. "It is some years since I hunted with them. I'm living down in the south now, and when I'm at home usually turn out with the Bavistock. Quite a decent little pack, faute de mieux; and Bobby Amphlett, who hunts them, is a great pal of mine."
"I see," Kelson observed guardedly. "Yes, I believe they are quite good as far as they go."
The stranger gave a short laugh. "They, or rather a topping old dog-fox, took us an eleven mile point the other day, which was good enough in that country. Being in town I thought I would run down to this dance for old acquaintance' sake. Dare say one will meet some old friends."
"No doubt," Kelson responded dryly.
"As you have been good enough to ask me to share your fly," the man observed, with a rather aggressive touch of irony, "I may as well let you know who I am. My name is Henshaw, Clement Henshaw."
"Any relation to Gervase Henshaw?" Gifford asked.
"He is my brother. You know him?"
"Only by reputation at my profession, the Bar. And I came across a book of his the other day."
"Ah, yes. Gervase scribbles when he has time. He is by way of being an authority on criminology."
"And is, I should say," Gifford added civilly.
"Yes; he is a smart fellow. Has the brains of the family. I'm all for sport and the open-air life."
"And yet," thought Gifford, glancing at the dark, rather intriguing face opposite to him, "you don't look a sportsman. More a viveur than a regular open-air man, more at home in London or Paris than in the stubbles or covert." But he merely nodded acceptance of Henshaw's statement.
"My name is Kelson," the soldier said, supplying an omission due to Henshaw's talk of himself. "I have hunted this country pretty regularly since I left the Service. And my friend is Hugh Gifford."
"Gifford? Did not Wynford Place where we are going to-night belong to the Giffords?" Henshaw asked, curiosity overcoming tact.
"Yes," Gifford answered, "to an uncle of mine. He sold it lately to Morriston."
"Ah; a pity. Fine old place," Henshaw observed casually. "Naturally you know it well."
"I have had very good times there," Gifford answered, with a certain reserve as though disinclined to discuss the subject with a stranger. "I have come down now also for old acquaintance' sake," he added casually.
"I see," Henshaw responded. "Not altogether pleasant, though, to see an old family place in the hands of strangers. Personally, when a thing is irrevocably gone, as, I take it, Wynford Place is, I believe in letting it slide out of one's mind, and having no sentiment about it."
"No doubt a very convenient plan," Gifford replied dryly. "All the same, if I can retrieve my evening kit, which has gone astray, I hope to enjoy myself at Wynford Place to-night without being troubled with undue sentimentality."
"Good," Henshaw responded with what seemed a half-smothered yawn. "Regret for a thing that is gone past recall does not pay; though as long as there is a chance of getting it I believe in never calling oneself beaten. Here we are at the Lion."
THE STAINED FLOWERS
"What do you think of our acquaintance?" Gifford said as they settled down in the private room of Kelson, who made the Golden Lion his hunting quarters.
"Not much. In fact, I took a particular dislike to the fellow. Wrong type of sportsman, eh?"
"Decidedly. Fine figure of a man and good-looking enough, but spoilt by that objectionable, cock-sure manner."
"And I should say a by no means decent character."
"A swanker to the finger-tips. And that implies a liar."
"Not worth discussing," Kelson said. "He goes to-morrow. I made a point of inquiring how long he had engaged his room for. One night."
"Good. Then we shan't be under the ungracious necessity of shaking him off. I can't tell you how sick I am, Harry, at the loss of my things."
"No more than I am, my dear fellow. If only a suit of mine would fit you. But that's hopeless."
They both laughed ruefully at the idea, for Captain Kelson looked nearly twice the size of his friend.
"We'll hope they'll arrive in time for you to see something of the fun at any rate," Kelson said. "I'm in no hurry; I'll wait with you."
"You will do nothing of the sort, Harry," Gifford protested. "Do you think I can't amuse myself for an hour or two alone? You'll go off at the proper time. Absurd to wait till every decent girl's card is full."
"I don't like it, Hugh."
"Nor do I. But it is practically my fault in not looking sharper after my luggage, and better one should suffer than two."
So it was arranged that Captain Kelson should go on alone and his guest should follow as soon as his clothes turned up and he could change into them.
That settled, they sat down to dinner.
"Tell me about the Morristons, Harry," Gifford said. "He is a very good fellow, isn't he?"
"Dick Morriston? One of the best. Straight goer to hounds and straight in every other capacity, I should say. You know they used to live at Friar's Norton, near here, before they bought your uncle's place."
"Yes, I know. What is the sister like?"
"A fine, handsome girl," Kelson answered, without enthusiasm. "Rather too cold and statuesque for my taste, although I have heard she has a bit of the devil in her. Quite a sportswoman, and as good after hounds as her brother. They say she had a thin time of it with her step-mother, and has come out wonderfully since the old lady died. Lord Painswick, who lives near here, is supposed to be very sweet on her. Perhaps the affair will develop to-night. The ball will be rather a toney affair."
"Morriston has plenty of money?"
"Heaps. And the sister is an heiress too. The old man did not nearly live up to his income and there were big accumulations."
"Which enabled the son to buy our property," Gifford said with a tinge of bitterness. "Well, it might have been worse. Wynford has not passed into the hands of some Jew millionaire or City speculator, but has gone to a gentleman, a good fellow and a sportsman, eh?"
"Yes; Dick Morriston is all that. As the place had to go, you could not have found a better man to succeed your people."
When the time came to start for the ball Gifford went down to see his friend off and to repeat his orders concerning the immediate delivery of his suit-case when it should arrive. Henshaw was in the hall, bulking big in a fur coat and complaining in a masterful tone of the unpunctuality of his fly. A handsome fellow, Gifford was constrained to acknowledge, and of a strong, positive character; the type of man, he thought, who could be very fascinating to women—and very brutal.
He dropped his rather bullying manner as he caught sight of the two friends; and, noticing Gifford's morning clothes, made a casually sympathetic remark on his bad luck.
"Oh, I shall come on when my things arrive, which ought to be soon," Gifford responded coldly, disliking the man and his rather obvious insincerity.
"We might have driven over together," Henshaw said, addressing Kelson. "But I hardly cared to propose it after the line you took at the station."
There was an unpleasant curl of the lip as he spoke the words almost vindictively, as though with intent to put Kelson in the wrong.
But his sneer had no effect on the ex-Cavalryman.
"I am driving over in my own trap," he replied coolly, ignoring the other's intent. "You will be a good deal more comfortable in a closed carriage."
"Decidedly," Henshaw returned with a laugh. "I am not so fond of an east wind as to get more of it than can be helped. And, after all, it is best to go independently to an affair of this sort. One may get bored and want to leave early."
Kelson nodded with a grim appreciation of the man's trick of argument, and went out to his waiting dog-cart. Henshaw's fly drove up as Gifford turned back from the door.
"I suppose we shall see you towards midnight," he said lightly as he passed Gifford, his tone clearly suggesting his utter indifference in the matter.
"I dare say," Gifford replied, and as he went upstairs he heard an order given for "Mr. Henshaw's fire in number 9 to be kept up against his return."
Alone in the oak-panelled sitting-room Gifford settled down to wait for his clothes. He skimmed through several picture-papers that were lying about, and then took up a novel. But a restless fit was on him, and he could not settle down to read. He threw aside the book and began thinking of the old property which his uncle had muddled away, and recalling the happy times he had spent there from his schooldays onwards. Memories of the rambling old house and its park crowded upon him. By force of one circumstance or another he had not been there for nearly ten years, and a great impatience to see it again took hold of him. He looked at the clock. At the best, supposing there were no hitch, his suit-case could hardly arrive for another hour and a half. Wynford Place was a bare mile away, perhaps twenty minutes' walk; the night was fine and moonlight, he was getting horribly bored in that room; he would stroll out and have a look at the outside of the old place. After all, it was only the exterior that he could expect to find unaltered; doubtless the Morristons with their wealth had transformed the interior almost out of his knowledge. Anyhow he would see that later. Just then he simply longed for a sight of the ancient house with its detached tower and the familiar landmarks.
Accordingly he filled a pipe, put on a thick overcoat and a golf cap and went out, leaving word of his return within the hour.
But it was a good two hours before he reappeared, and the landlord, who met him with the news that the missing suit-case had been awaiting him in his room since twenty minutes past ten, was struck by a certain peculiarity in his manner. It was nothing very much beyond a suggestion of suppressed excitement and that rather wild look which lingers in a man's eyes when he is just fresh from a dispute or has experienced a narrow escape from danger. Then Gifford ordered a stiff glass of spirits and soda and drank it off before going up to change.
"Shall you be going to Wynford Place, sir?" the landlord inquired as he glanced at the clock.
Gifford hesitated a moment. "Yes. Let me have a fly in a quarter of an hour," he answered.
But it was more than double that time when he came down dressed for the dance.
The old house looked picturesque enough in the moonlight as he approached it. All the windows in the main building were lighted up, and there was a pleasant suggestion of revelry about the ivy-clad pile. Standing some dozen yards from the house, but connected with it by a covered way, was a three-storied tower, the remains of a much older house, and from the lower windows of this lights also shone.
Gifford entered the well-remembered hall and made his way, almost in a dream, to the ball-room, where many hunting men in pink made the scene unusually gay. Unable for the moment to catch sight of Kelson, he had to introduce himself to his host, who had heard of his mishap and gave him a cheerily sympathetic welcome. Richard Morriston was a pleasant-looking man of about five or six-and-thirty, the last man, Gifford thought, he would bear a grudge against for possessing the old home of the Giffords.
"I'm afraid you must look upon me rather in the light of an intruder here," Morriston said pleasantly.
"A very acceptable one so far as I am concerned," Gifford responded with something more than empty civility.
"It is very kind of you to say so," his host rejoined. "Anyhow the least I can do is to ask you with all sincerity to make yourself free of the place while you are in the neighbourhood. Edith," he called to a tall, handsome girl who was just passing on a man's arm, "this is Mr. Gifford, who knows Wynford much better than we do."
Miss Morriston left her partner and held out her hand. "We were so sorry to hear of your annoying experience," she said. "These railway people are too stupid. I am so glad you retrieved your luggage in time to come on to us."
Gifford was looking at her with some curiosity during her speech, and quickly came to the conclusion that Kelson's description of her had certainly not erred on the side of exaggeration. She looked divinely handsome in her ball-dress of a darkish shade of blue, relieved by a bunch of roses in her corsage and a single diamond brooch. Statuesque, too statuesque, Kelson had called her; certainly her manner and bearing had a certain cold stateliness, but Gifford had penetration enough to see that behind the reserve and the society tone of her welcome there might easily be a depth of feeling which his friend with a lesser knowledge of human nature never suspected. An interesting girl, decidedly, Gifford concluded as he made a suitable acknowledgment of her greeting, and, I fancy, my friend Harry takes a rather too superficial view of her character, he thought, as strolling off in search of Kelson, he found himself watching his hostess from across the room with more than ordinary interest.
He soon encountered Kelson coming out of a gaily decorated passage which he knew led to the old tower. He had a pretty girl on his arm, tall and fair, but with none of Miss Morriston's dignified coldness. This girl had a sunny, laughing face, and Gifford thought he understood why his friend had not been enthusiastic over the probable Lady Painswick.
Kelson, receiving him with delight, introduced him, with an air of proprietorship it seemed, to his companion, Miss Tredworth.
"Have you been exploring the old tower?" Gifford asked.
"We've been sitting out there," Kelson answered with a laugh. "They have converted the lower rooms into quite snug retreats."
"In my uncle's day they were anything but snug," Gifford observed. "I remember we used to play hide-and-seek up there."
He spoke with preoccupation, his eyes fixed on a bunch of white flowers which the girl wore on her black dress. They were slightly blotched and sprinkled with a dark colour in a way which was certainly not natural, and Gifford, held by the peculiar sight, looked in wonder from the flowers to the girl's face.
"You must give Gifford a dance," Kelson said, breaking up the rather awkward pause.
"I'm afraid my card is full," Miss Tredworth said, holding it up.
Kelson laughed happily. "Then he shall have one of mine."
But Gifford protested. "Indeed I won't rob you, Harry," he declared. "I'm tired, and should be a stupid partner."
"Tired?" Kelson remonstrated. "Why, you have been resting at the Lion waiting for your things while we have been dancing our hardest."
"Resting? No; I went out for a walk," Gifford replied.
"The deuce you did! Where did you go to?"
"Oh, nowhere particular," Gifford answered rather evasively. "Just about the town."
THE STREAK ON THE CUFF
Hugh Gifford did not stay very long at the dance. He took a mouthful of supper, and then told Kelson that he had a headache and was going to walk back to the Golden Lion.
Kelson was distressed. "My dear fellow, coming so late and going so early, it's too bad. This is the best time of the night. I hope the old place with its memories hasn't distressed you."
"Oh, no," was the answer. "But something has upset me. I'll get back and turn in. By the way, I don't see that man Henshaw."
"No," Kelson replied casually; "I haven't seen him lately. But then I've had something better to think about than that ineffable bounder. He was here all right in the early part of the evening. One couldn't see anything else."
"More or less. Well, if you will go, old fellow, do make yourself comfortable at the Lion and call for anything you fancy. I'm dancing this waltz."
Gifford left the dance and went back to the hotel. He seemed perplexed and worried, so much so that for some time he paced his room restlessly and then, instead of turning in, he went back to the sitting-room, lighted a pipe, and settled himself there to await his friend's return.
It was nearly three o'clock when Kelson came in.
"Why, Hugh!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Still up?"
"I didn't feel like sleeping," Gifford answered, "and if I'm to keep awake I'd rather stay up."
Kelson looked at him curiously. "I hope the visit to your old home hasn't been too much for you," he remarked with the limited sympathy of a strong man whose nerves are not easily affected.
"Oh, no," Gifford assured him. "Although somehow I did feel rather out of it. I have had rather a teasing day, but I shall be all right in the morning, and am looking forward to a run round the scenes of my childhood."
"Good," Kelson responded, relieved to think his friend's visit was not after all going to be as dismal as he had begun to fear. "Well, Hugh," he added gaily. "I have a piece of news for you."
"Not that you are engaged?"
Something, an almost apprehensive touch, in Gifford's tone rather took his friend aback.
"To Miss—the girl you were dancing with?"
Again Gifford's tone gave a check to Kelson's enthusiasm.
It was with a more serious face that he replied, "Muriel Tredworth, the best girl in England. I hope, my dear Hugh, you are not going to say you don't think so."
"Certainly not," Gifford answered promptly. "I never saw or heard of her before to-night."
Kelson laughed uncomfortably. A man in love and in the flush of acceptance wants something more than a lukewarm reception of the news. "I'm glad to hear it," he responded dryly. "From your tone one might almost imagine that you knew something against Muriel."
"Heaven forbid!" Gifford ejaculated fervently.
"You don't congratulate me," his friend returned with a touch of suspicion.
Gifford forced a laugh. "My dear Harry, you have taken my breath away. You deserve the best wife in the kingdom, and I sincerely hope you have got her," he said, not very convincingly.
His half-heartedness, not too successfully masked, evidently struck Kelson. "One would hardly suppose you thought so," he said in a hurt tone. "I wish," he added warmly, "if there is anything at the back of your words you would speak out. I should hope we are old friends enough for that."
Gifford glanced at the worried face of the big, simple-minded sportsman, more or less a child in his knowledge of the subtleties of human nature, and as he did so his heart smote him.
"We are, and I hope we always shall be," he declared, grasping his hand. "You are making too much of my unfortunate manner to-night, and I'm sorry. With all my heart I congratulate you, and wish you every blessing and all happiness."
There was an unmistakable ring of sincerity in his speech now, and, without going aside to question its motive, as a more penetrating mind might have done, Kelson accepted his friend's congratulations without question.
"Thanks, old fellow," he responded, brightening as he returned the grasp of Gifford's hand. "I was sure of your good wishes. You need not fear I have made a mistake. Muriel is a thorough good sort, and we shall suit each other down to the ground. We've every chance of happiness."
Before Gifford could reply there came a knock at the door. The landlord entered.
"Beg your pardon, captain," he said, "I'm sorry to trouble you, but could you tell me whether they are keeping up the Hunt Ball very late?"
"No, Mr. Dipper," Kelson answered. "It was all over long ago. I was one of the last to come away. We left to the strains of the National Anthem."
Mr. Dipper's face assumed a perplexed expression.
"Thank you, captain," he said. "My reason for asking the question is that Mr. Henshaw, who has a room here, has not come in."
"Not come in?" Kelson repeated. "Too bad to keep you up, Mr. Dipper."
"Well, captain," said the landlord, "you see it is getting on for four o'clock, and we want to lock up. Of course if the ball was going on we should be prepared to keep open all night if necessary. But my drivers told me an hour ago it was over."
"So it was. I wonder"—Kelson turned to Gifford—"what can have become of the egregious Henshaw. I don't think, as I told you in the ball-room, I have seen him since ten o'clock."
Gifford shrugged. "Unless he has come across friends and gone off with them."
"He couldn't well do that without calling here for his things," Kelson objected. "I suppose he did not do that, unknown to you?" he asked the landlord.
"No, captain. His things are all laid out in his room, and the fire kept up as he ordered."
"Then I don't know what has become of him," Kelson returned, manifestly not interested in the subject. "I certainly should not keep open any longer. If Mr. Henshaw turns up at an unreasonable hour, let him wait and get in when he can. Don't you think so, Hugh?"
Gifford nodded. "I think, considering the hour, Mr. Dipper will be quite justified in locking up," he answered.
"Thank you, gentlemen; I will. Goodnight," and the landlord departed.
Kelson turned to a side table and poured out a drink.
"Decent fellow, Dipper, and uniformly obliging," he said. "I certainly don't see why he should be inconvenienced and kept out of his bed by that swanker, who has probably gone off with some pal and hasn't had the decency to leave word to that effect. Bad style of man altogether. Hullo! What's this?"
"What's the matter?"
Gifford crossed to Kelson, who was looking at his shirt-cuff.
A dark red streak was on the white linen.
"Hanged if it doesn't look like blood," Kelson said, holding it to the light.
Gifford caught his arm and scrutinized the stain.
"It is blood," he said positively.
THE MISSING GUEST
Next morning Captain Kelson took his guest for a long drive round the neighbourhood. Before starting he asked the landlord at what time Henshaw had returned.
"He didn't come in at all, captain," Dipper answered in an aggrieved tone. "His fire was kept up all night for nothing."
"I suppose he has been here this morning," Kelson observed casually.
"No," was the prompt reply. "Nothing has been seen or heard of him here since he left last night for the ball."
Kelson whistled. "That looks rather queer, doesn't it, Hugh?"
Gifford nodded. "Very, I should say. What do you make of it?" he asked the landlord.
That worthy spread out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "It's beyond me, gentlemen. We can none of us make it out. I've never known anything quite like it happen all the years I've been in the business."
"Oh, you'll have an explanation in the course of the morning all right," said Kelson with a smile at the host's worry. "Don't take it too seriously; it isn't worth it. You've got Mr. Henshaw's luggage, which indemnifies you, and he is manifestly a person quite capable of taking care of himself."
Mr. Dipper gave a doubtful jerk of the head. "It is very mysterious all the same."
Kelson laughed as he went off with his friend.
"I'm afraid I can't get up much interest in the doings of the objectionable Henshaw," he remarked lightly as they started off. "Such men as he know what they are about, and are not too punctilious with regard to other people's inconvenience."
"No," Gifford responded quietly. "All the same, his non-appearance is a little mysterious."
Kelson blew away the suggestion of mystery in a short, contemptuous laugh.
"Oh, he is probably up to some devilry with some fool of a girl," he said in an offhand tone. "I know the type of man. They have a keen scent for impressionable women, of whom a fellow of that sort has always half-a-dozen in tow. No doubt that is what he came down here for—a tender adventure. That's the only kind of hunting he is keen on, take my word for it."
"I quite agree with you there," Gifford answered with conviction, and the subject dropped.
When they returned for luncheon they found that nothing had been heard of the Golden Lion's missing guest.
"It is rather an extraordinary move of our friend's," Kelson observed with a laugh. "He surely can't be living all this time in his evening clothes. Not but what a man like that would not let a trifle stand in his way if he had some scampish sport in view. No doubt he is up to a dodge or two by way of obviating these little difficulties."
In the afternoon the two friends went up to Wynford Place to call after the dance. Kelson had naturally been much more inclined to drive over to the Tredworths, about seven miles away, in order to settle his betrothal, but Gifford suggested that the duty call should be paid first, and so it was arranged. To Kelson's delight he heard that Muriel Tredworth and her brother were coming over next day to stay with the Morristons for another dance in the neighbourhood and a near meet of the hounds; so he, warming to the Morristons, chatted away in all a lover's high spirits.
"By the way," he said presently, as they sat over tea, "rather an extraordinary thing has happened at the Golden Lion."
"What's that?" asked his host.
"Did you notice a man named Henshaw here last night? A big, dark fellow, probably a stranger to you, but by way of being a former follower of the Cumberbatch."
"An old fellow?" Morriston asked.
"Oh, no. About six-and-thirty, I should say; eh, Hugh?"
"Under forty, certainly," Gifford answered.
"Tall and very dark, almost to swarthiness; of course I remember the man."
Morriston exclaimed with sudden recollection. "I introduced him to a partner."
"I noticed the fellow," observed Lord Painswick, who also was calling. "Theatrical sort of chap. What has he done?"
Kelson laughed. "Simply disappeared, that's all."
"Disappeared!" There was a chorus of interest.
"How do you mean?" Morriston asked.
"Left the hotel at nine last night and has never turned up since," Kelson said with an air of telling an amusing story. "Poor Host Dipper is taking it quite tragically, notwithstanding the satisfactory point in the case that the egregious Henshaw's elaborate kit still remains in his unoccupied bedroom."
"Do you mean to say he never came back all night?" Miss Morriston asked.
"Never," Kelson assured her. "Old Dipper came to us, half asleep, at four o'clock to ask whether he was justified in locking up the establishment."
"And nothing has been seen or heard of the man since," Gifford put in.
"That is queer," Morriston said, as though scarcely knowing whether to take it seriously or otherwise. "Now I come to think of it I don't recollect seeing anything of the man after quite the first part of the evening. Did you, Painswick?"
"No, can't say I did," Painswick answered.
"And," observed Kelson, "he was not a man to be easily overlooked when he was on show. I missed him, not altogether disagreeably, after the early dances."
"What is the idea?" Edith Morriston inquired. "Is there any theory to account for his disappearance?"
"No," Kelson answered, "unless a discreditable one. Gone off at a tangent."
"And still in his evening things?" Painswick said with a laugh. "Rather uncomfortable this weather."
"That reminds me," Morriston said with sudden animation, "one of the footmen brought me a fur coat and a soft hat this morning and asked me if they were mine. They had been unclaimed after the dance and he had ascertained that they belonged to none of the men who were staying here. Nor were they mine."
"That is most curious," Kelson said with a mystified air. "Henshaw was wearing a fur coat and soft hat when we saw him in the hall of the Lion just before starting. Don't you remember, Hugh?"
"Yes; certainly he was," Gifford answered.
"Then they must be his," Morriston concluded.
"And where is he—without them?" Painswick added with a laugh. "Dead of cold?"
"It is altogether quite mysterious," Morriston observed with a puzzled air. "He can't be here still."
"Hardly," his sister replied. "You know him?" she asked Kelson.
"Quite casually. So far as nearly coming to a rough and tumble with the fellow for his cheek in scoffing our fly at the station constitutes an acquaintance. Gifford acted as peacemaker, and we put up with the fellow's company to the town. But neither of us imbibed a particularly high opinion of the sportsman, did we, Hugh?"
"No," Gifford assented; "his was not a taking character, to men at any rate; and we rather wondered how he came to be going to the Cumberbatch Ball."
"No doubt he got his ticket in the ordinary way," Morriston said.
"It only shows, my dear Dick," his sister observed, "you may quite easily run risks in giving a semi-public dance in your own house."
Morriston laughed. "Oh, come, Edith," he protested, "we need not make too much of it. We don't know for certain that the man was a queer character."
"One finds objectionable swaggerers everywhere," Painswick put in.
"Anyhow," said Kelson, "if this Henshaw was a bad lot he had the decency to efface himself promptly enough. The puzzle is, what on earth has become of him?"
"I don't know, Mr. Gifford," Morriston said as the two friends were leaving, "whether you would care for a ramble over the old place. A man named Piercy has written to me for permission to go over the house; he is, it appears, writing a book on the antiquities of the county. I have asked him to luncheon to-morrow, and we shall be delighted if you and Kelson will join us as a preliminary to a personally conducted tour of the house. Charlie Tredworth and his sister are coming over for a week's stay, so we shall be quite a respectable party."
Naturally Kelson accepted the invitation with alacrity, and Gifford could do no less than fall in with the arrangement.
"Hope you won't mind going over to Wynford," Kelson said as they drove back. "If it is at all painful to you from old associations, I'll make an excuse for you."
Gifford hesitated a moment. "Oh, no," he answered. "I'll come. There is no use in being sentimental about the place going out of our family, and these Morristons are quite the right sort of people to have it. A splendidly thoroughbred type of girl, Miss Morriston."
Kelson laughed. "Oh, yes; a magnificent creature; cut out for a duchess. Only, you know, my dear Hugh, if I married a woman like that I should always be a little afraid of her. A magnificent chatelaine and all that, but too cold for my taste."
"You think there is no deep feeling under the ice of her manner?"
"I don't know," Kelson replied, as though the idea was quite novel to him. "Never got so far as to think of that. I like a girl with whom you can get on without going through the process of thawing her first. And with Edith Morriston I should say it would be a slow process. Anyhow, she is just the girl for Painswick, who is evidently after her."
"I should say that with him the ice is a little below the surface," Gifford ventured.
Kelson laughed. "You've hit it, Hugh. He's easy enough, but scratch him and you come upon a very straight-laced aristocrat. He and the statuesque Edith Morriston are made for one another."
As they entered the Golden Lion the landlord met them.
"Well, Mr. Dipper, any news of your missing guest?" Kelson inquired with characteristic cheeriness, ignoring the troubled expression on that worthy's face.
"No, captain; and we can't imagine what has happened to Mr. Henshaw. There are three telegrams come for him, and I have just got one, reply-paid, to ask whether he is staying here."
"And you replied?"
"Went to Hunt Ball 9 last night. Not been here since," Dipper quoted. "It is rather awkward and unpleasant for me, sir," he added uncomfortably.
"Oh, you've no responsibility in the matter," Kelson assured him. "Don't you worry about it, Mr. Dipper. If the man goes out and does not choose to come back, that, beyond the payment of your charges, can be no affair of yours. Isn't that so, Hugh?"
"Certainly," Gifford assented.
Still their host looked anything but satisfied.
"Yes, sir, that's quite right; all the same, we are beginning not to like the look of it. It is very mysterious."
"It is, Mr. Dipper, to say the least of it," Kelson replied. "Still from such opinion as we were able to form of Mr. Henshaw I don't think it worth while making much fuss about it. He'll turn up all right and probably call you a fool for your pains."
"I would not worry about it if I were you," Gifford said quietly.
As they turned to go upstairs a telegraph boy came in and handed his message to the landlord, who read it and handed it to Kelson.
"Please wire me without fail directly Mr. Henshaw returns. Gervase Henshaw, 8, Stone Court, Temple, London," Kelson read.
"That's his brother," Gifford observed.
"All right," said Kelson. "Let him worry if he likes. All you have to do, Mr. Dipper, is what he asks you there."
He went upstairs with Gifford, leaving the landlord reperusing the telegram, his plump face dark with misgiving.
THE LOCKED ROOM
That night the missing man did not return, nor was anything heard of him. The morning brought no news, and even Kelson began to think there might be something serious in it.
"If it was anybody but that man," he said casually over a hearty breakfast, "I should say it would be worth while taking steps to find out what had become of him. But that fellow can take care of himself; and when you come to think of it, his coming down here, an outsider, to the ball, was in itself rather fishy."
Gifford agreed, and they fell to discussing the day's plans. Kelson was going to drive over to have the momentous interview with Miss Tredworth's father. He anticipated no difficulty there; still, as he said, "The thing has got to be done, and the sooner it is over the better."
"Why not go to-morrow?" Gifford suggested. "There will be rather a rush to-day."
Kelson, a man of action, scoffed at the idea. "Oh, no; Muriel and Charlie are coming over to Wynford to luncheon. I shall simply get the thing settled and drive back with them."
So it was arranged. Gifford spent the morning in a stroll about the familiar neighbourhood, and when luncheon time came they all met at Wynford Place. Miss Morriston was not present. Her brother apologized for her absence, saying she had been obliged to keep an engagement to lunch with a friend, but that she had promised to return quite early in the afternoon. Mr. Piercy, the antiquarian, proved to be by no means as dry as his pursuit suggested. He was a lively little man with a fund of interesting stories furnished by the lighter side of his work, and altogether the luncheon was quite amusing.
When it was over Morriston suggested that, not to waste the daylight, they should begin their tour of the house; he called upon Gifford to share the duties of guidance, and the party moved off.
"Hope you haven't been bored all the morning, Hugh," Kelson said to his friend as they found themselves side by side. "Any news at the Lion? Has Henshaw turned up yet?"
Gifford shook his head. "No. Host Dipper has had another telegram of inquiry from the brother, but had nothing to tell him in return."
Kelson's face became grave. "It really does begin to look serious," he remarked.
"Yes; Dipper has been interviewing the police on the subject."
"Has he? Well, I only hope Henshaw has not been playing the fool, or worse, and caused all this fuss for nothing."
The party moved on to the great hall where the dancing had taken place, and so to the passage connecting the main building with the ancient tower.
"Now this is the part which will no doubt interest you most, Mr. Piercy," Morriston said; "this fourteenth century tower, which is to-day in a really wonderful state of preservation."
"Ah, yes," the archaeologist murmured; "they could build in those days."
They examined the two lower rooms on the ground and first floors, remarked on the thickness of the walls, shown by the depth of the window embrasures, which in older days had been put to sterner purposes; they admired the solid strength of the ties and hammer-beams in the roofs, and scrutinized the few articles of ancient furniture and tapestry the rooms contained, and the massive oaken iron-bound door which admitted to the garden.
"Now we will go up to the top room," Morriston proposed. "It is used only for lumber, but there is quite a good view from it."
He preceded the rest of the party up the winding stairs to the topmost door.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed, pushing at it, "the door is locked. And the key appears to have been taken away," he added, bending down and feeling about in the imperfect light.
The whole party was consequently held up on the narrow stairs. "I'll go and ask what has become of the key," Morriston said, making his way past them.
In a minute he returned, presently followed by the butler.
"How is it that this top door is locked, Stent?" he asked. "And where is the key?"
"I don't know, sir. Alfred mentioned this morning that the door was locked and the key taken away; we thought you must have locked it, sir."
"I? No, I've not been up here since the morning of the ball, when I had those old things brought up from the lower room to be out of the way."
"Did you lock the door then, sir?"
"No. Why should I? I am certain I did not. Perhaps one of the men did. Just go and inquire. And have the key looked for."
"Very good, sir."
"This is rather provoking," Morriston said, as they waited. "I particularly wanted to show you the view, which should be lovely on a clear day like this. If we have to wait much longer the light will be going. Besides, it is quite a quaint old room with a curious recess formed by the bartizan you may have noticed from outside."
Presently the butler returned accompanied by a footman with several keys.
"We can't find the right key, sir," he announced. "No one seems to have seen it. Alfred has brought a few like it, thinking one might possibly fit."
None of them, however, would go into the lock, not even the smallest of them.
"I can't make it out, sir," said the man, kneeling to get more effectively to work. But no key would enter. The footman at last took a box of matches from his pocket, struck a light and, holding it to the key-hole, peered in.
"Why, the key is in the lock, on the other side, sir," he said in astonishment.
"Then the door can't be locked," Morriston said, pushing it.
The footman rose and pushed too, but the door showed no sign of yielding; it was fastened sure enough.
"This is strange," Morriston said. "Hi! Is any one in there?" he shouted; but no response came.
"Are you sure the key is in the door on the inside?" he asked.
"Certain, sir. Will you look for yourself, sir?" the man replied, striking another match and holding it so that his master could convince himself.
"No doubt about that," Morriston declared, as he rose from his scrutiny. "It is the most extraordinary thing I have ever known. Can you account for it, Stent?"
The butler shook his head. "No, sir. Unless someone is in there now."
Morriston again shouted, but no answer came.
"I presume there is no way out of the room but this door," Piercy asked.
"None," Morriston answered; "except the window, and that is, I should say, quite eighty feet from the ground; eh, Mr. Gifford?"
"A sheer drop of quite that distance," he answered.
"A prohibitive mode of exit," Piercy observed with a smile.
"Yes," Morriston said. "I can't understand it at all. Besides, who would be likely to want to play tricks here? We have had no sign of burglars, and in any case they would hardly have been able to bring a ladder long enough to reach up to that window. Well, we must have the mystery cleared up. I think, Stent, you had better send one of the men on a bicycle into Branchester to fetch a locksmith and have the door opened somehow. Have it explained to him that it may be a tough job. In the meantime we may as well go and view the tower from the outside, as we can't get in."
Accordingly the whole party went down into the hall and so out to the garden, where they strolled round the house, Piercy meanwhile taking notes of its architectural features. As they came to the tower the rays of a late winter sun were striking it almost horizontally, lighting it up in a picturesque glow. Piercy, with his archaeological knowledge, was able to tell the owner and Gifford a good deal about the ancient structure of which they had previously been ignorant.
"The sunset would have been worth seeing from that top window," Morriston said, evidently perplexed and annoyed over the mystery of the locked door. "I can't make out what has happened."
"The person who locked the door assuredly did not make his exit by the window," Kelson remarked with a laugh, as he looked up at the sheer surface of the upper wall; "unless he was bent on suicide, in which case we should have found what was left of him at the foot of the tower."
As they went on round the house, Miss Morriston was seen coming up the drive. Her brother hurried forward to meet her.
"I say, Edith," he exclaimed, "we are in a great fix. Can you explain how the door of the top room in the tower comes to be locked with the key inside?"
Miss Morriston looked surprised. "What, Dick?"
"We can't get in," Morriston explained. "We found the door locked and the key missing, and then when Alfred tried another key, he found the right one was in the lock but inside the room."
Miss Morriston thought a moment. "My dear Dick, the door can't be locked."
"It is, I tell you," he returned; "most certainly locked. We have tried it and found it quite fast."
"Then there must be someone in the room," his sister said.
"That," Morriston replied, "seems the only possible explanation. But I shouted several times and got no answer."
"Someone playing you a trick," and the girl laughed.
"But who? who?" he returned.
His sister gave a shrug. "Oh, you'll find out soon enough," she replied, with a smile.
"I shall," he replied, as two men appeared making for the servants' entrance. "Here comes Henry with the locksmith."
Miss Morriston in her stately way looked amused.
"My dear old Dick, you have been making a fuss about it. You will probably find the door open when you go up."
"And I'll know who has been playing this stupid trick," Morriston said wrathfully.
"A footman making love to a housemaid turned the key in a panic at being trapped," Kelson said to his host.
"I dare say," Morriston replied with a laugh of ill-humour. "And he'll have to pay for his impudence."
That explanation by its feasibility was generally accepted as the simple solution of the mystery.
"Come along!" Morriston called. "We'll all go up, and see whether the door is open or not. We shall just be in time to catch the sunset."
He led the way through the hall and the corridor beyond and so up the winding stairs.
"What, not open yet?" he exclaimed as the last turn showed the workman busy at the lock. "Well, this is extraordinary."
The locksmith was kneeling and working at the door, while the footman stood over him holding a candle.
"The key is in the lock, inside, isn't it?" Morriston asked.
"Yes, sir," the man answered. "There is no doubt about that."
"How do you account for it?"
The man looked up from his task and shook his head.
"Can't account for it, sir. Unless so be as there is someone inside."
"Can you open it?"
"Yes, sir. I'll have it turned in a minute."
He took from his bag a long pair of hollow pliers which he inserted in the lock and then screwed tightly, clutching the end of the key. Then fitting a transverse rod to the pliers and using it as a lever he carefully forced the key round, and so shot back the lock.
There was a short pause while the man unscrewed his instrument; then he stepped back and pushed open the door.
Morriston went in quickly. "There is the key, sure enough," he said, looking round at the inside of the door. He took a couple of steps farther into the room, only to utter an exclamation of intense surprise and horror; then turned quickly with an almost scared face.
"Go back!" he cried hoarsely, holding up his hands with an arresting gesture. "Kelson, Mr. Gifford, come here a moment and shut the door. Look!" he said in a breathless whisper, pointing to the floor beneath the window through which the deep orange light of the declining sun was streaming.
An exclamation came from Kelson as he saw the object which Morriston indicated, and he turned with a stupefied look to Gifford. "My—!"
Gifford's teeth were set and he fell a step backward as though in repulsion. On the floor between the window and an old oak table which had practically hidden it from the doorway, lay the body of a man in evening clothes, one side of his shirt-front stained a dark colour. Although the face lay in the shadow of the high window-sill, there was no mistaking the man's identity.
"Henshaw!" Kelson gasped.
THE MYSTERY OF CLEMENT HENSHAW
It was the missing man, Henshaw, sure enough. The swarthy hue of his face had in death turned almost to black, but the features, together with the man's big, muscular figure were unmistakable. For some moments the three men stood looking at the body in something like bewilderment, scarcely realizing that so terrible a tragedy had been enacted in that place, amid those surroundings.
"Suicide?" Kelson was the first to break the silence.
"Must have been," Morriston responded "or how could the door have been locked from the inside. I will send at once for the police, and we must have a doctor, although that is obviously useless." He went to the door, then turned. "Will you stay here or—"
Kelson made an irresolute movement as though wavering between the implied invitation to quit the room and an inclination not to run away from the grim business. He glanced at Gifford, who showed no sign of moving.
"Just as you like," he replied in a hushed voice. "Perhaps we had better stay here till you come back."
"All right," Morriston assented. "Don't let any one come in, and I suppose we ought not to move anything in the room till the police have seen it."
He went out, closing the door.
"I can't make this out, Hugh," Kelson said, pulling himself together and moving to the opposite side of the room.
"No," Gifford responded mechanically.
"He," Kelson continued, "certainly did not give one the idea of a man who had come down here to make away with himself."
"On the contrary," his friend murmured in the same preoccupied tone.
"What do you think? How can you account for it?" Kelson demanded, as appealing to the other's greater knowledge of the world.
It seemed to be with an effort that Gifford released himself from the fascination that held his gaze to the tragedy. "It is an absolute mystery," he replied, moving to where his friend stood.
"A woman in it?"
For a moment Gifford did not answer. Then he said, "No doubt about it, I should imagine."
"It's awful," Kelson said, driven, perhaps for the first time in his life, from his habitually casual way of regarding serious things, and maybe roused by Gifford's apathy. "We didn't like—the man did not appeal to us; but to die like this. It's horrible. And I dare say it happened while the dance was in full swing down there. Why, man, Muriel and I were in the room below. I proposed to her there. And all the time this was just above us."
"It is horrible; one doesn't like to think of it," Gifford said reticently.
"I cannot understand it," Kelson went on, with a sharp gesture of perplexity. "I can imagine some sort of love affair bringing the poor fellow down to this place; but that he should come up here and do this thing, even if it went wrong, is more than I can conceive. Taking the man as we knew him it is out of all reason."
"Yes," Gifford assented. "But we don't know yet that it is a case of suicide."
"What else?" Kelson returned. "How otherwise could the door have been locked. Unless—" He glanced sharply at the deep recess, or inner chamber, formed by the bartizan, hesitated a moment, and then going quickly to it, looked in.
"No, nothing there," he announced with a breath of relief. "I had for the moment an idea it might have been a double tragedy," he added with a shudder.
"So we are forced back to the suicide theory," Gifford remarked. He had gone to the landing outside the door.
"Yes," Kelson replied as he joined him. "But as to the woman in the case, who could she possibly have been? I knew most of the girls who were at the dance, and the idea of a tragedy with any one of them seems inconceivable."
"One would think so," Gifford responded. "And yet—"
"You think it possible?" Kelson demanded incredulously.
"Possible, if far from probable," the other answered with conviction. "There are women who can be as secret as the grave, at any rate so far as appearances to the outer world are concerned. I wonder whom he danced with. Do you remember?"
"No. I seem to recollect him with a girl in a light green dress, but that does not take us far."
Footsteps on the stairway announced their host's return.
"The police will be here, directly," he reported, "and, I hope, a doctor. I have done my best to keep it from the ladies, and I don't think that, so far, any of them has an exact idea of what made me turn them back. Just as well the horror should be kept dark as long as possible. It is such an awful blow to me that I can scarcely realize it yet."
"Miss Morriston does not know?" Kelson asked.
"No. And I only hope it won't give her a dislike to the house when she does. For I am hoping to have her here a good deal with me, even if she marries."
A police inspector accompanied by a detective and a constable now arrived. Morriston took them into the room of death. Gifford grasped Kelson's arm.
"I don't think there is any use in our staying here," he suggested. "Let us go down."
The other man nodded, and they began to descend.
"You are not going, Kelson?" Morriston cried, hurrying to the door.
"We thought we could be of no use and might be in the way," Gifford replied.
"Oh, I wish you would stay," Morriston urged, going down a few steps to them. "I know it is not pleasant; on the contrary it's a ghastly affair; but I should like to have you with me till this police business is over. I won't ask you to stay up here, but if you don't mind waiting downstairs I should be so grateful. I might want your advice. You'll find the rest of the party in the drawing-room."
The two could do no less than promise, and, with a word of thanks, Morriston went back to the officials.
As the two men crossed the hall the drawing-room door opened and Miss Morriston came out.
"Is my brother coming?" she asked.
"He will be down soon," Gifford answered in as casual a tone as he could assume.
The girl seemed struck by the gravity of their faces as she glanced from one to the other. "I hope nothing is wrong," she observed, with just a shade of apprehension.
There was a momentary pause as each man, hesitating between a direct falsehood, the truth, and a plausible excuse, rather waited for the other to speak.
Gifford answered. "No, nothing that you need worry about, Miss Morriston. Your brother will tell you later on."
But the hesitation seemed to have aroused the girl's suspicions. "Do tell me now," she said, with just a tremor of anxiety underlying the characteristic coldness of her tone. "Unless," she added, "it is something not exactly proper for me to hear."
Kelson quickly availed himself of the loophole she gave him. "You had better wait and hear it from Dick," he said, suggesting a move towards the drawing-room. "In the meantime there is nothing you need be alarmed about."
"It all sounds very mysterious," Miss Morriston returned, her apprehension scarcely hidden by a forced smile. "I must go and ask Dick—"
As she turned towards the passage leading to the tower Kelson sprang forward and intercepted her. "No, no, Miss Morriston," he remonstrated with a prohibiting gesture, "don't go up there now. Take my word for it you had better not. Dick will be down directly to explain what is wrong."
For a few moments her eyes rested on him searchingly.
"Very well," she said at length. "If you say I ought not to go, I won't. But you don't lessen my anxiety to know what has happened."
"There is no particular cause for anxiety on your part," Kelson said reassuringly.
She had turned and now led the way to the drawing-room. As they entered they were received by expectant looks.
"Well, is the mystery solved?" young Tredworth inquired.
Kelson gave him a silencing look. "You'll hear all about it in good time," he replied between lightness and gravity.
Piercy rose to take his leave.
"Oh, you must not go yet," Miss Morriston protested. "They are just bringing tea."
"But I fear I may be in the way if there is anything—" he urged.
"Oh, no," his hostess insisted. "I don't know of anything wrong. At least neither Captain Kelson nor Mr. Gifford will admit anything. You must have tea before your long drive."
The subject of the mystery in the tower was tacitly dropped, perhaps from a vague feeling that it was best not alluded to, at any rate by the ladies, and the conversation flowed, with more or less effort, on ordinary local topics. Tea over, Piercy took his leave.
"You must come again, Mr. Piercy, while you are in this part of the county," Miss Morriston said graciously, "when you shall have no episodes of lost keys to hinder your researches. My brother shall write to you."
Kelson took the departing visitor out into the hall to see him off.
"You'll see it all in the papers to-morrow, I expect," he said in a confidential tone, "so there is no harm in telling you there has been a most gruesome discovery in that locked room. A man who was here at the Hunt Ball, has been found dead; suicide no doubt. The police are here now."
"Good heavens! A mercy the ladies did not see it."
"Yes; they'll have to know sooner or later. The later the better."
"Yes, indeed. Any idea of the cause of the sad business?"
"None, as yet. A complete mystery."
"Probably a woman in it."
"Not unlikely. Good-bye."
As Kelson turned from the door, Morriston and another man appeared at the farther end of the hall and called to him.
"You know Dr. Page," he said as Kelson joined them.
"A terrible business this, doctor," Kelson observed as they shook hands.
The medico drew in a breath. "And at first sight in the highest degree mysterious," he said gravely.
"Dr. Page," said Morriston, "has made a cursory examination of the body. The autopsy will take place elsewhere. The police are making notes of everything important, and after dark will remove the body quietly by the tower door. So I hope the ladies will know nothing of the tragedy just yet."
As they were speaking a footman had opened the hall-door and now approached with a card on a salver. "Can you see this gentleman, sir?" he said.
Morriston took the card, and as he glanced at it an expression of pain crossed his face. He handed it silently to Kelson, who gave it back with a grave nod. It was the card of "Mr. Gervase Henshaw, II Stone Court, Temple, E.G."
THE INCREDULITY OF GERVASE HENSHAW
"Show Mr. Henshaw into the library," Morriston said to the footman. "This is horribly tragic," he added in a low tone to Kelson, "but it has to be gone through, and perhaps the sooner the better. His brother?"
"Yes; he mentioned him on our way from the station the other evening. At any rate he will be able to see the situation for himself."
"You will come with me?" Morriston suggested. "You might fetch your friend, Gifford."
Kelson nodded, opened the drawing-room door and called Gifford out, while Morriston waited in the hall.
"The brother has turned up," he said as the two men joined him. "No doubt to make inquiries. What are we to say to him?"
"There is nothing to be said but the bare, inevitable truth," Gifford answered. "You can't now break it to him by degrees."
Morriston led the way to the library. By the fire stood a keen-featured, sharp-eyed man of middle height and lithe figure, whose manner and first movements as the door opened showed alertness and energy of character. There was a certain likeness to his brother in the features and dark complexion as well as in a suggestion of unpleasant aggressiveness in the expression of his face, but where the dead man's personality had suggested determination overlaid with an easy-going, indulgent spirit of hedonism this man seemed to bristle with a restless mental activity, to be all brain; one whose pleasures lay manifestly on the intellectual side. One thing Gifford quickly noted, as he looked at the man with a painful curiosity, was that the face before him lacked much of the suggestion of evil which in the brother he had found so repellent. This man could surely be hard enough on occasion, the strong jaw and a certain hardness in the eyes told that, but except perhaps for an uncomfortable excess of sharpness, there was none of his brother's rather brutally scoffing cast of expression.
Henshaw seemed to regard the two men following Morriston into the room with a certain apprehensive surprise.
"I hope you will pardon my troubling you like this," he said to Morriston, speaking in a quick, decided tone, "but I have been rather anxious as to what has become of my brother, of whom I can get no news. He came down to the Cumberbatch Hunt Ball, which I understand was held in this house, and from that evening seems to have mysteriously disappeared. He had an important business engagement for the next day, Wednesday, which he failed to keep, and this may mean a considerable loss to him. Can you throw any light on his movements down here?"
Morriston, dreading to break the news abruptly, had not interrupted his questions.
"I am sorry to say I can," he now answered in a subdued tone.
"Sorry?" Henshaw caught up the word quickly. "What do you mean? Has he met with an accident?"
"Worse than that," Morriston answered sympathetically.
Henshaw with a start fell back a step.
"Worse," he repeated. "You don't mean to say—"
"He is dead."
"Dead!" Surprise and shock raised the word almost to a shout. "You—"
"We have," Morriston said quietly, "only discovered the terrible truth within the last hour or so."
"But dead?" Henshaw protested incredulously. "How—how can he be dead? How did he die? An accident?"
"I am afraid it looks as though by his own hand," Morriston answered in a hushed voice.
The expression of incredulity on Henshaw's face manifestly deepened. "By his own hand?" he echoed. "Suicide? Clement commit suicide? Impossible! Inconceivable!"
"One would think so indeed," Morriston replied with sympathy. "May I tell you the facts, so far as we know them?"
"If you please," The words were rapped out almost peremptorily.
Morriston pointed to a chair, but his visitor, in his preoccupation, seemed to take no notice of the gesture, continuing to stand restlessly, in an attitude of strained attention.
The other three men had seated themselves. Morriston without further preface related the story of the locked door in the tower and of the subsequent discovery when it had been opened. Henshaw heard him to the end in what seemed a mood of hardly restrained, somewhat resentful impatience.
"I don't understand it at all," he said when the story was finished.
"Nor do any of us," Morriston returned promptly. "The whole affair is as mysterious as it is lamentable. Still it appears to be clearly a case of suicide."
"Suicide!" Henshaw echoed with a certain scornful incredulity. "Why suicide? In connexion with my brother the idea seems utterly preposterous."
"The door locked on the inside," Morriston suggested.
"That, I grant you, is at first sight mysterious enough," Henshaw returned, his keen eyes fixed on Morriston. "But even that does not reconcile me to the monstrous improbability of my brother, Clement, taking his own life. I knew him too well to admit that."
"Unfortunately," Morriston replied, sympathetically restraining any approach to an argumentative tone, "your brother was practically a stranger to me, and to us all. My friends here, Captain Kelson and Mr. Gifford, met him casually at the railway station and drove with him to the Golden Lion in the town, where they all put up."
Henshaw's sharp scrutiny was immediately transferred from Morriston to his companions.
"Can you, gentlemen, throw any light on the matter?" he asked sharply.
"None at all, I am sorry to say," Kelson answered readily. "I may as well tell you how our very slight acquaintance with him came about."
"If you please," Henshaw responded, in a tone more of command than request.
Kelson, naturally ignoring his questioner's slightly offensive manner, thereupon related the circumstances of the encounter at the station-yard and of the subsequent drive to the town, merely softening the detail of their preliminary altercation. Henshaw listened alertly intent, it seemed, to seize upon any point which did not satisfy him.
"That was all you saw of my unfortunate brother?" he demanded at the end.
"We saw him for a few moments in the hall of the hotel just as we were starting," Kelson answered.
"You drove here together? No?"
"No; your brother took an hotel carriage, and I drove in my own trap."
"With Mr. ——?" he indicated Gifford, who up to this point had not spoken.
"No," Gifford answered. "I came on later. A suit-case with my evening things had gone astray—been carried on in the train, and I had to wait till it was returned."
Henshaw stared at him for a moment sharply as though the statement had about it something vaguely suspicious, seemed about to put another question, checked himself, and turned about with a gesture of perplexity.
"I don't understand it at all," he muttered. Then suddenly facing round again he said sharply to Gifford, "Have you anything to add, sir, to what your friend has told me?"
"I can say nothing more," Gifford answered.
Henshaw turned away again, and seemed as though but half satisfied.
"The facts," he said in a lawyer-like tone, "don't appear to lead us far. But when ascertained facts stop short they may be supplemented. Apart from what is actually known—I ask this as the dead man's only brother—have either of you gentlemen formed any idea as to how he came by his death?"
He was looking at Morriston, his cross-examining manner now softened by the human touch.
"It has not occurred to me to look beyond what seems the obvious explanation of suicide," Morriston answered frankly.
Henshaw turned to Kelson. "And you, sir; have you any idea beyond the known facts?"
"None," was the answer, "except that he took his own life. The door locked on—"
Henshaw interrupted him sharply. "Now you are getting back to the facts, Captain Kelson. I tell you the idea of my brother Clement taking his own life is to me absolutely inconceivable. Have you any idea, however far-fetched, as to what really may have happened?"
Kelson shook his head. "None. Except I must say he looked to me the last man who would do such an act."
"I should think so," Henshaw returned decidedly. Then he addressed himself to Gifford. "I must ask you, sir, the same question."
"And I can give you no more satisfactory answer," Gifford said.
"As a man with knowledge of the world as I take you to be?" Henshaw urged keenly.
"At least you agree with your friend here, that my poor brother did not strike one as being a man liable to make away with himself?"
"Certainly. But one can never tell. I knew nothing of him or his affairs."
"But I did," Henshaw retorted vehemently. "And I tell you, gentlemen, the thing is utterly impossible. But we shall see. The body—is it here?"
"The police have charge of it in the room where he was found. It is to be removed at nightfall. You will wish to see it?" Morriston answered.
Morriston led the way to the tower, explaining as he went the arrangements on the night of the ball. Henshaw spoke little, his mood seemed dissatisfied and resentful, but his sharp eyes seemed to take everything in. Once he asked, "Did my brother dance much?"
"He was introduced to a partner," Morriston replied. "But after that no one seems to have noticed him in the ball-room."
"You mean he disappeared quite early in the evening?"
"Yes; so far as we have been able to ascertain," Morriston answered. "Naturally, before this awful discovery we had been much exercised by his mysterious disappearance and failure to return to the hotel."
"All the same," Henshaw returned sourly, "one can hardly accept the inference that he came down here for the express purpose of making away with himself in your house."
"No, I cannot understand it," Morriston replied, as he turned and began to ascend the winding stairway.
On the threshold of the topmost floor he paused.
"This is the door we found locked on the inside," he observed quietly.
Henshaw gave a keen look round, and nodded. Morriston pushed open the door and they entered.
The body of Clement Henshaw still lay on the floor in charge of the detective and the inspector, the third man having been despatched to the town to make arrangements for its removal. With a nod to the officials, Henshaw advanced to the body and bent over it. "Poor Clement!" he murmured.
After a few moments' scrutiny, Henshaw turned to the officers. "I am the brother of the deceased," he said, addressing more particularly the detective. "What do you make of this?"
The question was put in the same sharp, business-like tone which had characterized his utterances in the library.
"Judging by the door being locked on the inside," the detective answered sympathetically, "it can only be a case of suicide."
Henshaw frowned. "It will take a good deal to persuade me of that," he retorted. "Mr. ——"
"Mr. Finch. Did the doctor say suicide?"
"I did not hear him express a definite opinion. Did you, inspector?"
"No, Mr. Finch. I rather presumed the doctor took it for granted."
"Took it for granted!" Henshaw echoed contemptuously. "I'm not going to take it for granted, I can tell you. Did the doctor examine the body?"
"He made a cursory examination. He is arranging to meet the police surgeon for an autopsy to-morrow morning."
On the table lay a narrow-bladed chisel, the lower portion of the bright steel discoloured with the dark stain of blood.
The inspector pointed to it.
"That is the instrument with which the wound must have been made," he remarked in a subdued tone. "It was found lying beside the body."
Henshaw took it up and ran his eyes over it. "How could he have got this?" he demanded, looking round with what seemed a distrustful glance.
"I can only suggest," Morriston answered, "that one of my men must have left it when some work was done here a few days ago."
"That is so apparently, Mr. Morriston," the detective corroborated. "It has been identified by Haynes, the estate carpenter."
Henshaw put down the chisel and for some moments kept silence, tightening his thin lips as though in strenuous thought. Then suddenly he demanded, "Beyond the fact that the door was found locked from within, what reason have you for your conclusion?"
Mr. Finch shrugged. "We don't see how it could be otherwise, sir," he replied with quiet conviction. "Clearly the deceased gentleman must have been alone in the room when he died."
"Might he not have locked the door after the wound was given?" Henshaw suggested in a tone of cross-examination.
"Dr. Page was of opinion that death, or at any rate unconsciousness, must have been almost instantaneous," Finch rejoined respectfully.
"Even supposing the autopsy bears out that view I shall not be satisfied," Henshaw declared.
The inspector took up the argument.
"You see, sir, taking into consideration the position of the room it would be impossible for any second party who may have been here with the deceased to leave it undiscovered except by the door. To drop from this window, which is the only one large enough to admit of an adult body passing through, would mean pretty certain death. Anyhow the party would have been so injured that getting clear away would be out of the question. Will you see for yourself, sir?"
He threw back the window and invited Henshaw to look down. The argument seemed conclusive.
"Was the window found open or shut?"
"It was found unlatched, sir," Finch answered. "But the servants think that it was opened that morning and owing to the extra work in the house that day its fastening in the evening was overlooked."
"Even if a second person had let himself down from the window," the inspector argued, "the rope would have been here."
Henshaw kept silence, seemingly indifferent to the officials' arguments. "I can only tell you I am far from satisfied with the suicide theory," he said at length. "My brother was not that sort of man. He had nerves of iron; he was in love with life and all it meant to him, and he made it a rule never to let anything worry him. Let the other fellow worry, was his motto. Well, we shall see."
He turned towards the door, and as he did so he caught sight of a cardboard box in which was a collection of various articles, jewellery, a watch and chain, money, a pocket-handkerchief, a letter, and a dance programme.
"The contents of deceased's pockets," the inspector observed, answering Henshaw's glance of curiosity. "We have collected and made a list of them, and they will in due course be handed to you, or to his heir, on the coroner's order."
"Is that a letter? May I see it?"
As the official hesitated, Henshaw had snatched the paper, a folded note, and rapidly ran his eye through its contents. Then he gave a curious laugh, as he turned over the paper as though seeking an address, and laid it back in the box.
"A note from my brother to an anonymous lady," he observed quietly. "Perhaps if we could find out whom it was meant for she would throw some light on the mystery."
"What do you think of Mr. Gervase Henshaw?" Kelson said, as, late in the afternoon, he and Gifford walked towards the town together. Henshaw had left Wynford Place half an hour previously, having kept to the end his attitude of resentful incredulity.
"A nailer," Gifford answered shortly.
"Yes," Kelson agreed. "He gives one the idea of a man who will make trouble if he can. As offensive as his brother was, I should say, although in a different line. I did not detect one sign of any consideration for the Morristons in their horribly unpleasant position."
"No," Gifford agreed. "I was very sorry for Morriston. He behaved extremely well, considering the irritatingly antagonistic line the man chose to take up."
"Brainy man, Henshaw; unpleasantly sharp, eh?"
"Yes," Gifford replied. "Added to his legal training he is by way of being an expert in criminology."
"I do hope," Kelson remarked thoughtfully, "he is not going to make himself unpleasant down here. The scandal will be quite enough without that. Horribly rough luck on the Morristons as new-comers here to have an affair like this happening in their house. I can't think what brought the man down here."
"No; he came with a purpose, that's certain."
"A woman in it, no doubt. One can quite sympathize with the brother's incredulity as to the suicide theory, though hardly with his manner of showing it. The dead man was not that sort. The idea is simply staggering."
Gifford made no response, and for a while they walked on in silence. Presently he asked, "How did you get on to-day—I mean with Colonel Tredworth?"
"Oh, everything went off beautifully," Kelson answered, his tone brightening with the change of subject. "The old boy gave me his consent and his blessing. I've scarcely been able as yet to appreciate my luck, with this affair at Wynford Place intervening."
"No," Gifford responded mechanically. "It is calculated to drive everything else out of one's head."
"It is suggested," said Kelson, "that we should be married quite soon. The Tredworths are going abroad next month and don't propose to hurry back. So it means that if the wedding does not take place before they leave it must be postponed till probably the autumn."
"I should think the latter would be the best plan."
Kelson turned quickly to his companion. "To postpone it?" he exclaimed in a rather hurt tone. "Why on earth should we? We have nothing to wait for, I mean money or anything of that sort."
"No; but settlements take a long time to draw up."
"Not if the lawyers are told to hurry up with them."
"Then you will have to find a house, and get furniture. And there is the trousseau," Gifford urged.
"Oh," Kelson returned with a show of impatience, "all these details can be got over in two or three weeks if we set ourselves to do it. I don't believe in waiting once the thing is settled."
"I don't believe in rushing matters," Gifford rejoined. "Least of all matrimony."
Kelson stopped dead. "Why, Hugh," he said in an expostulatory tone, "what is the matter with you? You are most confoundedly unsympathetic. Any one would think you did not want me to marry the girl."
"I certainly don't want you to be in too great a hurry," Gifford returned calmly.
"But why? Why?"
"I feel it is a mistake."
Kelson laughed. "You are not going to suggest we don't know our own minds."
"Hardly. But why not wait till the family returns? Of course it is no business of mine."
"No," Kelson replied with a laugh of annoyance; "and you can't be expected to enter into my feelings on the subject. But I think you might be a little less grudging of your sympathy."
"You quite mistake me, Harry," Gifford replied warmly. "It is only in your own interest that I counsel you not to be in a hurry."
"But why? What, in heaven's name, do you mean?" Kelson demanded, vaguely apprehensive.
"It is a mistake to rush things, that is all," was the unsatisfactory answer.
"If I saw the slightest chance of danger I would not hesitate to take your advice," Kelson said. "But I don't. Nor do you. Since when have you become so cautious?"
Gifford forced a laugh. "It is coming on with age."
Kelson clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't encourage it, my dear Hugh. It will spoil all the enjoyment in your life, and in other people's too, if you force the note. I promise you I won't hurry on the wedding more than is absolutely necessary."
"Very well," Gifford responded, and the subject dropped.
They had finished dinner, at which the absorbing subject of the tragedy at Wynford Place was the main topic of their conversation, when the landlord came in to say that Mr. Gervase Henshaw, who was staying at the hotel, would like to see them if they were disengaged.
Kelson looked across at his friend. "Shall we see him?"
Gifford nodded. "We had better hear what he has to say. We don't want him worrying Morriston."
"Ask Mr. Henshaw up," Kelson said to the landlord, and in a minute he was ushered in.
With a quick, decisive movement Henshaw took the seat to which Kelson invited him.
"I trust you won't think me intrusive, gentlemen," he began in his sharp mode of speaking, "but you will understand I am very much upset and horribly perplexed by the terrible fate which has overtaken my poor brother. I am setting myself to search for a clue, if ever so slight, to the mystery, the double mystery, I may say, and it occurred to me that perhaps a talk with you gentlemen who are, so far, the last known persons who spoke with him, might possibly give me a hint."
"I'm afraid there is very little we can tell you," Gifford replied. "But we are at your service."
"Thank you." It seemed the first civil word of acknowledgment they had heard him utter. "First of all," he proceeded, falling back to his dry, lawyer-like tone, "I have been to see the medical man who was summoned to look at the body, Dr. Page. He tells me that, so far as his cursory examination went, the position of the wound hardly suggests that it was self-inflicted."
"Is he sure of it?" Kelson asked.
"He won't be positive till he has made the autopsy," Henshaw answered. "He merely suggests that it was a very awkward and altogether unlikely place for a man to wound himself. Anyhow that guarded opinion is enough to strengthen my inclination to scout the idea of suicide."
"Then," said Kelson, "we are faced by the difficulty of the locked door."
Henshaw made a gesture of indifference.
"That at first sight presents a problem, I admit," he said, "but not so complete as to look absolutely insoluble. I have, as you may be aware, made a study of criminology, and in my researches, which have included criminality, have come across incidents which to the smartest detective brains were at the outset quite as baffling. Clement's tragic end is a great blow to me, and I am not going quietly to accept the easy, obvious conclusion of suicide. I knew and appreciated my brother better than that. I mean to probe this business to the bottom."
"You will be justified," Kelson murmured.
"I think so—by the result," was the quick rejoinder.
Gifford spoke. "What do you think was the real object in your brother coming down here?"
Henshaw looked at his questioner keenly before he answered. "It is my opinion, my conviction, there was a lady in the case. May I ask what prompted you to ask the question?"
Gifford shrugged. "Some idea of the sort was in my own mind," he replied, with a reserve which could scarcely be satisfying to Henshaw.
"Perhaps," he said keenly, "you have also an idea who the lady was."
Gifford shook his head. "Not at all," he returned promptly.
"Then why should the idea have suggested itself to you," came the cross-examining rejoinder.
"Your brother was not a member of the Hunt, and it seemed to us—curious."
Henshaw took him up quickly. "That he should come to the ball? No doubt. I will be perfectly frank with you, as I expect you to be with me. It is perhaps not quite seemly to discuss my brother's failings at this time, but we want to get at the truth about his death. He had, I fear, rather irregular methods in his treatment of women. One can hardly blame him, poor fellow. His was a fascinating personality, at any rate so far as women were concerned. They ran after him, and one can scarcely blame him if he acquired a derogatory opinion of them. After all, he held them no cheaper than they made themselves in his eyes. That note I looked at which came from his pocket was written by him to make an assignation."
"Was it addressed?" Gifford put the question quickly, almost eagerly.
"No," Henshaw answered. "I wish it had been. In that case we should be near the end of the mystery."
Kelson was staring at the glib speaker with astounded eyes. "Do you suppose a woman killed your brother?" he almost gasped.
"Such things have been known," Henshaw returned with the flicker of an enigmatical smile. "But no, I don't suggest that—yet. At present I have got no farther than the conviction that Clement did not kill himself. I mean to find out for whom that note of his was intended."
"Not an easy task," Gifford remarked, with his eye furtively on Kelson, who had become strangely interested.
"It may or may not be easy," Henshaw returned. "But it is to be done. The woman who, intentionally or otherwise, drew my brother down here has to be found, and I mean to find her."
Kelson was now staring almost stupidly at Gifford.
"Neither of you gentlemen saw my brother dancing?" Henshaw demanded sharply.
"I saw nothing of him at all in the ballroom," Gifford answered, "as I did not arrive till about midnight. Did you see him, Harry?" he asked, as though with the design of rousing Kelson from his rather suspicious attitude.
Kelson seemed to pull himself together by an effort.
"No—yes; I caught a glimpse of him, I think, with a girl in green."
"You know who she was?" Henshaw demanded.
"I've not the vaguest idea," Kelson answered mechanically. "I did not see her face."
Henshaw rose. Perhaps from Kelson's manner he gathered that the men were tired, and had had enough of him. He shook hands, with a word of thanks and an apology. "We may know more after the inquest to-morrow afternoon," he remarked, "although I doubt it. You will let me consult you again, if necessary? Thanks. Goodnight."
As the door closed on Henshaw, Kelson turned quickly to Gifford with a scared face. "Hugh!" he cried hoarsely, in a voice subdued by fear. "The blood stain on my cuff that night. How did it come there? Was it—?"
Gifford forced a smile. "My dear Harry, how absurd! What could that have had to do with it?"
Kelson gave an uncomfortable laugh. "It is a grim coincidence," he said.
THE CLOAK OF NIGHT
At the inquest which was held next day nothing was elicited which could offer any solution of the mystery of Clement Henshaw's death. It seemed to be pretty generally accepted to be a case of suicide, although that view was opposed in evidence, not only by Gervase Henshaw on general grounds, but also by the medical witnesses, who had grave doubts whether the mortal wound had been self-inflicted.
"Just possible but decidedly improbable, both from the position of the wound and the direction of the blow," was Dr. Page's opinion.
It was a downward, oblique stab in the throat which had pierced the larynx and penetrated the jugular vein. The deceased would have been unable to cry out and would probably have quickly become insensible from asphyxiation. Unless he was left-handed the stab could scarcely have been self-given.
The police authorities committed themselves to no definite theory at that stage, and at their request the inquiry was adjourned for a month.
Morriston, leaving the hall with Kelson and Gifford, asked them to walk back with him to Wynford Place.
"Let us throw off this depressing business as well as we can," he said. "Of course I have had to break it to my sister and the others; they would have seen it to-day in print. Thank goodness the papers don't look beyond the suicide idea, so they are not making much fuss about it. If they took a more sensational view, as I fear they will now after the medical evidence, it would be a terrible nuisance."
"I hope the ladies were not much upset when you told them," Gifford remarked.
"Well, they already had an idea that something was seriously wrong, and that took the edge off the announcement. Of course they were horribly shocked at the idea of the tragedy so close at hand, though I softened the details as well as I could."
"If the suicide idea is to be abandoned," said Kelson, speaking with an unusually gloomy, preoccupied air, "the police have an uncommonly difficult and delicate task before them."
"Yes, indeed," Morriston responded. "And I should say that abnormally keen person, the brother, will keep them up to collar."
"He means to," Kelson replied rather grimly. "We had him for an hour last night cross-examining us, naturally to no purpose; we could tell him nothing."
"He won't leave a stone unturned," Morriston said. "He proposes to return here after the funeral in town."
"And I should say," observed Kelson, "if the mystery is to be solved he is the man to solve it. What do you think, Hugh?"
Gifford seemed to rouse himself by an effort from an absorbing train of thought. "Oh, yes," he answered. "Except that it is possible to be a little too clever and so overlook the obvious."
"If," said Morriston, obsessed by the subject, "the case is not one of suicide it must be one of murder. Where is Mr. Gervase Henshaw, or any one else, going to look for the criminal?"
"Not among your guests, let's hope," Kelson said with a touch of uneasiness.
"For one thing," Morriston replied, "they, or a good part of them, were not exactly my guests. I can't tell who may have got a ticket and been present. There was a great crowd. We may have easily rubbed shoulders with the murderer, if murder it was."
"Yes, so we may," said Kelson alertly, though with something of a shudder.
"Not a pleasant idea," continued Morriston. "But I don't see, if a bad character did get in and mix with the company, why he should have done a fellow guest to death, nor how he contrived to leave his victim and get out of the room after he had locked the door."
"If the two men had a row over a girl, or anything else," Kelson said, "there is still that difficulty to be surmounted."
Gifford spoke. "From what one could judge of the dead man's personality and character it is not a far-fetched supposition that he must have had enemies."
"Down here?" Morriston objected incredulously. "Where he was a stranger? Unless some ingenious person, bent on vengeance, tracked him here and then lured him into the tower. Then how did the determined pursuer contrive to leave him and the key inside the locked room?"
At Wynford Place, where they had now arrived, they found several callers. The subject of the tragedy was naturally uppermost in everybody's mind, and the principal topic of conversation. Morriston and his companions were eagerly questioned as to what had come out at the inquest, but, except that the medical evidence was rather sceptical of the suicide theory, were unable to relieve the curiosity.
"I think, my dear Dick," remarked Lord Painswick, who was there, "we can furnish more evidence in this room than you seem to have got hold of at the inquest." And he looked round the company with a knowing smile.
"What do you mean, Painswick?" Morriston asked eagerly. "Has anything more come to light?"
"Only we have had a lady here, Miss Elyot, who says she danced with the poor fellow."
"I only just took a turn with him, for the waltz was nearly over when he asked me," said the girl thus alluded to.
"Did you wear a green dress?" Kelson asked eagerly.
"Only that it must have been you I saw with him."
"And can you throw any light on the mystery?" Morriston asked.
The girl shook her head. "None at all, I'm afraid."
"Did Mr. Henshaw's manner or state of mind strike you as being peculiar?"
"Not in the least," Miss Elyot answered with decision. "During the short time we were together our talk was quite commonplace, mostly of the changes in the county."
"Did he, Henshaw, know it formerly?" Morriston asked with some surprise.
"Oh, yes," Miss Elyot answered, "he used to stay with some people over at Lamberton; you remember the Peltons, Muriel?" she turned to Miss Tredworth. "Of course you do."
"Oh, yes," Muriel Tredworth answered. "I remember them quite well, although we didn't know much about them."
"Don't you recollect," Miss Elyot continued, "meeting this very Mr. Henshaw at a big garden party they gave. I know you played tennis with him."
"Did I?" Miss Tredworth replied. "What a memory you have, Gladys. You can't expect me to recollect every one of the scores of men I must have played tennis with."
As she spoke she caught Gifford's eye; he was watching her keenly, more closely perhaps than manners or tact warranted. "And do you find the place much changed since your time, Mr. Gifford?" she inquired, as though to relieve the awkwardness.
"Not as much as I could have imagined," he answered, through what seemed a fit of preoccupation.
"Mr. Gifford has not had much opportunity yet of seeing how far it has altered, with this tragic affair to upset everything," Morriston put in.
"No, it has been a most unlucky time for him to revisit Wynford," Miss Morriston added in her cold tone. "I hope Mr. Gifford is not going to hurry away from the neighbourhood in consequence."
"Not if I can prevent it," Kelson replied, with a laugh.
"I hope," Morriston said hospitably, "that whether his stay be short or long Mr. Gifford will consider himself quite at home here. And I need not say, my dear Kelson, that invitation includes you."
Both men thanked him. "We have already done a little trespassing in your park," Kelson observed with a laugh.
"Please don't call it trespassing again," Miss Morriston commanded. "Let me give you another cup of tea, Muriel."
"The old house looks most picturesque by moon-light," observed Lord Painswick. "I was quite fascinated by it the other night."
"There is a full moon now," Gifford said. "We will stroll round and admire when we leave."
"Don't stroll over the edge of the haha as I very nearly did one night," Morriston said laughingly. "When it lies in the shadow of the house it is a regular trap."