THE MASTER DETECTIVE
Being Some Further Investigations of Christopher Quarles
BY PERCY JAMES BREBNER
AUTHOR OF "CHRISTOPHER QUARLES."
I. THE STRANGE CASE OF SIR GRENVILLE RUSHOLM II. THE KIDNAPING OF EVA WILKINSON III. THE DELVERTON AFFAIR IV. THE MYSTERIOUS HOUSE IN MANLEIGH ROAD V. THE DIFFICULTY OF BROTHER PYTHAGORAS VI. THE TRAGEDY IN DUKE'S MANSIONS VII. THE STOLEN AEROPLANE MODEL VIII. THE AFFAIR OF THE CONTESSA'S PEARLS IX. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MADAME VATROTSKI X. THE MYSTERY OF THE MAN AT WARBURTON'S XI. THE STRANGE CASE OF DANIEL HARDIMAN XII. THE CRIME IN THE YELLOW TAXI XIII. THE AFFAIR OF THE JEWELED CHALICE XIV. THE ADVENTURE OF THE FORTY-TON YAWL XV. THE SOLUTION OF THE GRANGE PARK MYSTERY
THE MASTER DETECTIVE
THE STRANGE CASE OF SIR GRENVILLE RUSHOLM
Sir Grenville Rusholm, Baronet, was dead. The blinds were down at the Lodge, Queen's Square. For the last few days lengthy obituary notices had appeared in all the papers, innumerable wreaths and crosses had arrived at the house, and letters of sympathy and condolence had poured in upon Lady Rusholm. The dead man had filled a considerable space in the social world, although politically he had counted for little. Politics were not his metier, he had said. He had consistently refused to stand for parliament, his wealth had supported neither party, and perhaps his social success was due more to his wife's charm than to his own importance.
To-day the funeral was to take place. By his own desire his body was not being taken to Moorlands, the family seat in Gloucestershire, but was to be buried at Woking. The family chapel did not appeal to him. Indeed, he had never spent much of his time at Moorlands, preferring his yacht or the Continent when he was not at Queen's Square.
Last night the coffin had been brought downstairs and placed in the large drawing-room, the scene of many a brilliant function, although by day it was a somewhat dreary apartment. The presence of the coffin there added to the depression, and the scent of the flowers was almost overpowering.
Many of the mourners were going direct to Woking, but there was a large number of guests at the house who were received by the young baronet. Naturally, Sir Arthur was of a sunny disposition, and his personality and expectations had made him a favorite in society since he had left Cambridge a year ago. To-day his face was more than grave. It was drawn as if he were in physical pain, and it was evident how keenly he felt his father's death. Lady Rusholm did not appear until the undertakers entered the house. She came down the wide stairs, a pathetic figure in her deep mourning, heavier than present-day fashion has made customary. She spoke to no one, but went straight to the drawing-room and, standing just inside the doorway, watched the men whose business is with death, as if she feared some indignity might be offered to her dear one. In a few moments her husband must pass out of that room for ever, and it was hardly wonderful if she visualized for an instant the many occasions on which he had been a central figure there.
The bearers stooped to lift the coffin from the trestles on to their shoulders, then they straightened themselves under their burden, but they did not move, at least only to start slightly, while their faces changed from gravity to horror. Lady Rusholm uttered a short cry, and there was consternation in the faces of the guests in the hall. There could be no mistake; the sound, though dull and muffled, was too loud for that. It was a knock from inside the coffin.
The man in charge whispered to the bearers. No, none of them had inadvertently caused the sound. The coffin was replaced on the trestles, and for a moment there was silence. No one moved; every one was waiting for that knock again. It did not come.
The chief man stood looking at the coffin, then at the carpet, and, after some hesitation, he crossed the room to Sir Arthur, who stood in the doorway beside his mother.
"Was—was anything put into the coffin?" he whispered. "Something which Sir Grenville wished buried with him, something which may have slipped?"
"I think—I think the coffin should be opened," whispered Dr. Coles, the family physician.
"But he is dead! You know he is dead, doctor!"
"A trance—sometimes a mistake may happen, Sir Arthur. It was a distinct knock. The coffin should certainly be opened."
It was Lady Rusholm who spoke, in a strained and unnatural voice.
Sir Arthur tried to persuade his mother to leave the room while this was done, but she would not go. With a great effort she calmed herself and remained with her son, the doctor, and two or three guests while the coffin was unscrewed. The lid was lifted off, and for a moment no one spoke.
"Empty!" the doctor cried.
As he spoke Lady Rusholm swayed backwards, and would have fallen had not her son caught her.
There were two masses of lead in the coffin. There was no body.
Sir Arthur Rusholm immediately communicated with Scotland Yard, and the utter confusion which followed this gruesome discovery had only partially subsided when I, Murray Wigan, entered the house to enquire into a mystery which was certainly amongst the most remarkable I have ever had to investigate.
Some of those invited to the funeral had left the house before I arrived, but the more personal friends were still there, and the story as I have set it down was corroborated by different people with a wealth of detail which seemed to leave nothing unsaid. Besides interviewing Sir Arthur and the doctor, I saw Lady Rusholm for a few moments. She was exceedingly agitated, as was natural, and I only asked her one or two questions of a quite unimportant nature, but I was glad to see her. I like to get into personal touch with the various people connected with my cases as soon as possible.
I was in the house two hours or more, questioning servants, examining doors and windows, and, to be candid, my investigations told me little. When I left Queen's Square I knew I had a complex affair to deal with, and it was natural my thoughts should fly to the one man who might help me. If I could only interest Christopher Quarles in the case!
I remember speaking casually of a well-known person once and being met with the question: Who is he? It may be that some of you have never heard of Christopher Quarles, professor of philosophy, and one of the most astute crime investigators of this or any other time. It has been my privilege to chronicle some of our adventures together, and his help has been of infinite benefit to me. Without it, not only should I have failed to elucidate some of those mysteries the solving of which have made me a power in the detective force, but I should never have seen his granddaughter, Zena, who is shortly to become my wife.
For some months past the professor had given me no assistance at all. He would not be interested in my cases, and would not enter the empty room in his house in Chelsea where we had had so many discussions. It was a fad of his that he could think more clearly in this room, which had only three chairs and an old writing table in it, yet perhaps I ought not to call it a fad, remembering the results of some of our consultations there.
Months ago we had investigated a curious case in which jewels had been concealed in a wooden leg. The solution had brought us a considerable reward, and upon receiving the money Quarles had declared he would investigate no more crimes. He had kept his word, had locked up the empty room, and although I think I had sorely tempted him to break his vow on more than one occasion, I had never quite succeeded.
As I got into a taxi I considered how very seldom it is that the ruling passion ever dies. The Queen's Square mystery ought to shake Quarles's resolution if anything could.
Zena was out when I got to Chelsea, but the professor seemed pleased to see me.
"Are you out of work, Wigan?" he asked, looking at the clock.
I did not want him to think I had come with any deliberate intention, so I answered casually:
"No. As a fact I am rather busy. I came out to Chelsea to think. Chelsea air is rather good for thinking, you know."
"It used to be," he answered. "I'm glad I have given up criminal hunting, Wigan."
"I still find excitement in it," I answered carelessly, "and really I think criminals have grown cleverer since your time."
He looked at me sharply. I thought the remark would pique his curiosity.
"That means you have had some failures lately."
"On the contrary, I have been remarkably successful."
"Glad to hear it," he returned. "What makes you say criminals are more clever then?"
"The Queen's Square Mystery."
"I don't read the papers as carefully as I did," he remarked.
"It only happened this morning," I answered. "I daresay you noticed that Sir Grenville Rusholm died the other day. Some one has stolen his body, that is all."
"Yes, it is rather a curious case, but we won't talk about it. I know that sort of thing doesn't interest you now."
I talked of other things—anything and everything—but I noted that he was restless and uninterested.
"What did Sir Grenville die of?" he asked suddenly.
"A sudden and most unexpected collapse after influenza."
"And the body has been stolen?"
"I should like to hear about it, Wigan."
I hesitated until he began to get angry, and then I told him the story as I have told it here. I had just finished when Zena came in.
"You, Murray! What has brought you here at this hour of the day?" she asked in astonishment.
"Two pieces of lead," murmured Quarles.
"A case! Have you got interested in a case, dear? I am glad. What is the mystery, Murray?"
"Where is the key of my room, Zena?" Quarles asked.
She took it from the drawer in a cabinet.
"I am not going to begin again," said the professor, "but this—this is an exception. Come with us, Zena. Come and ask some of your absurd questions. I wonder whether my brain is atrophied. There are cleverer criminals than there used to be in my time, are there, Wigan? We shall see."
He led the way to the empty room at the back of the house, muttering to himself the while, and Zena and I smiled at each other behind his back as we followed him. He was like an old dog on the trail again, and I did not believe for a moment this case would be an exception.
"Tell the story, Wigan," he said when we were seated. "All the details, mind, great and small."
So I went through the facts again.
"I made a careful study of the house and garden," I went on. "The Lodge is a corner house, the garden is small, and a garage with an opening into the other road—Connaught Road—has been built there. A 'Napier' car was in the garage."
"Did you see the chauffeur?" asked Quarles.
"Yes. The car had not been used for a week. I could find no trace of an entry having been made from the garden, but the latch of one of the French windows of the drawing-room was unfastened. When I saw it this window could be pushed open from outside. No one seems to have undone it that morning, so the fact is significant."
"Besides the servants only five people slept in the house that night—Lady Rusholm, her son, two elderly ladies—cousins of Sir Grenville's who had come from Yorkshire for the funeral—and a Mr. Thompson, a friend of the family who was staying in the house when Sir Grenville died."
"Who closed the windows after the body was taken to the drawing-room?" asked Quarles.
"One of the undertaker's men."
"Is he positive he fastened them?"
"He is, but under the circumstances he is not anxious to swear to it."
"And the door of the room, had that been kept locked?"
"Yes. The key was in Sir Arthur's possession."
"Who first entered the room this morning?"
"Sir Arthur when he took in two or three wreaths which arrived late last night. The room was just as it had been left on the previous day. The wreaths and crosses were not disarranged in any way."
"And there were only two pieces of lead in the coffin when it was opened?" queried Zena.
"A large lump and a small one," I answered.
"Couldn't they have been packed in such a way that they would not have slipped?"
"Of course they could. No doubt that was the intention, but the work was badly done because the thieves did it hurriedly," I answered.
"One of your foolish questions, Zena," said Quarles, looking keenly at her. He always declared that her foolish inquiries put him on the right road.
"It is a good thing the lead did slip, or the gruesome theft might never have been discovered," she said.
"Was the coffin a very elaborate one?" Quarles asked, after nodding an acquiescence to Zena's remark.
"No, quite a plain one."
"Has the drawing-room more than one door?"
"Only one into the hall. There is a small room out of the drawing-room—a small drawing-room in fact. Lady Rusholm does her correspondence there. It can only be reached by going through the large room, and the door between the rooms was locked. Sir Arthur got the key from his mother and opened the door for me."
"What could any one want with a dead body?" asked Zena.
"If we could answer that question we should be nearing the end of the affair," said Quarles. "Years ago there were two men—Burke and Hare—who—"
"Oh, the day of resurrectionists is past," I said.
"Don't be so dogmatic," returned Quarles sharply. "A corpse has been stolen; can you suggest any use a corpse can be put to if it is not to serve some anatomical or medical purpose? Remember, Wigan, that mentally and materially there is always a tendency to move in a circle. What has been will be again—altered according to environment—but practically the same. Always start with the assumption that a similar case has happened before. Our difficulties would be much greater if Solomon had been wrong, and there were constantly new things under the sun. Undoubtedly there are some interesting points in this case. Have you arrived at a theory?"
"No, at least only a very vague one. Sir Arthur seems certain that his father had no enemies, and my theory would require an enemy; some one who, having failed to injure him in life, had found an opportunity of wreaking vengeance on the dead clay by preventing the body having Christian burial."
"That is a very interesting idea, Wigan; go on."
"I daresay you remember that the Rusholm baronetcy caused some excitement about twenty years ago. The papers have recalled it in connection with Sir Grenville's death. Sir John Rusholm—the baronet at that time—was a very old man, and during the two years before his death several relations died. He had no son living, so the heir was a nephew, the son of a much younger brother who had gone to Australia and died there. This nephew had not been heard of for a long time, and as soon as he became the heir, Sir John advertised for him in the Australian papers. There was no answer, and the Yorkshire Rusholms, who are poor, expected to inherit. Then at the very time when Sir John was on his death-bed news came of the nephew. He had been in India for some years, had proposed there, had married and had a son. There had been so many lives between him and the title that he had thought nothing about it until a chance acquaintance had shown him the advertisement in an old Australian paper. He wrote that he was starting for England at once, but Sir John was dead when he arrived. That is how Sir Grenville came into the property."
"Was his claim disputed?" asked Zena.
"Oh, no, there was no question about it. He had family papers which only the nephew could possibly have, and you may depend the Yorkshire Rusholms would have found a flaw in the title if they could. Their disappointment must have been great, and if I could discover that Sir Grenville had an enemy amongst them—some relation he had refused to help, for instance—I should want to know all about him."
"Yours is a very interesting idea," said Quarles. "Do you happen to know who Lady Rusholm was?"
"The daughter of a tea planter in Ceylon. Her social success here has been very great, as you know."
"A very charming woman I should say," said the professor. "I saw her once—not many months ago. She was distributing the prizes at a technical institute in North London. I remember how well she spoke, and what an exceedingly poor second the chairman was in spite of his being a Member of Parliament. You have got a constable at The Lodge, I suppose?"
"Two. I have given instructions that no one is to be allowed in the room, on any pretext whatever."
"Good. You and I will go there to-morrow. I'll be your assistant, Wigan—say an expert in finger prints. I'll meet you outside The Lodge at ten o'clock. There are so many clues in this case, the difficulty is to know which one to follow, I must have a few quiet hours to decide."
I smiled. It was like Quarles to make such a statement, especially after I had declared that criminals were becoming cleverer. Never were clues more conspicuous by their absence, I imagine. I was, however, delighted to have the professor's help. It was like old times.
The next morning I met Quarles in Queen's Square, and his appearance was proof of his enthusiasm. He posed as rather a feeble, inquisitive old man who could talk of nothing but finger prints and their significance. Sir Arthur was evidently not impressed with his ability to solve any mystery. When we entered the drawing-room he seemed lost in admiration of the apartment, and did not even glance at the open coffin which stood on the trestles. He walked to the window, drew aside the blind, and looked into the garden. Then he looked into the small room.
"No other exit here but the window. An entrance might have been made by that window."
"The door between the two rooms was locked," said Sir Arthur. "I had to get the key from my mother when Mr. Wigan wanted to go in. It is my mother's special room, but she had been so occupied in nursing my father that she had not used it for more than a week."
Then Quarles looked at the wreaths, wanted to know which ones had been left near the coffin when the room was locked for the night, and the wreaths which Sir Arthur pointed out he examined carefully. Then he pointed to a large cross lying on an armchair.
"Has that one been there all the time?"
Sir Arthur explained that two or three wreaths had come late in the evening. He had himself brought them into the room on the morning of the funeral. That cross was one of them.
"Ah, it is a pity you didn't bring them in that night. You might have surprised the villains at work."
"We were in bed by eleven. Do you imagine they began before that?"
"Possibly," said Quarles, as he turned his attention to the coffin. He examined the lid with a lens, for the finger marks, he said, which one might expect to find near the screw holes. Then he studied the sides of the coffin. The two pieces of lead did not appear to interest him very much, but he asked me to push the smaller piece from the foot of the coffin. He examined the lining, felt the padding, tried its thickness with the point of a penknife, and in doing so he slit the lining.
"Sorry," he said. "My old hands are not as steady as they used to be. Quite a thick padding, and quite a substantial coffin."
He had brought out some of the padding with his knife, and this left part of the floor of the coffin near the foot visible. This he tapped with the handle of his penknife to test its thickness.
"Quite an ordinary coffin—plain but good," he went on, looking at the brass fittings.
"It was my father's wish that it should be so," said Sir Arthur.
"Strange what a lot of trouble some men take about their funerals, while others never trouble at all," said the professor, looking round the room again. "I suppose, Sir Arthur, like the rest of us your father had enemies."
"Not that I know of."
"An old rival, for instance, in your mother's affections."
"There was nothing of the kind. Mr. Thompson, who is still in the house—you saw him yesterday, Mr. Wigan—will endorse this. He knew my mother before her marriage."
"Still, some people must have envied your father. But for him, another branch of the family would have inherited the estates, I understand. Has he always been on friendly terms with this branch of the family?"
"Always, and has helped them considerably."
"Experience teaches us that it is often the most difficult thing to forgive those who do us favors," said Quarles sententiously.
"Do you believe that some one out of wanton cruelty has stolen the body with no purpose beyond mere revenge?"
"It looks like it, Sir Arthur. The body will probably be discovered presently. Possibly the thief will furnish you with a clue so that you may know he or she has taken revenge. I am afraid there is nothing to be done but to wait. I feel greatly for Lady Rusholm."
"The waiting will be dreadful. I am trying to persuade my mother to go away at once."
"Why not? You will remain in London, of course. Your father's papers may throw some light on the mystery."
"I have interviewed lawyers, and I have already gone through some of his private papers. I do not think any light will come that way. Do you want to look at anything else in the house?"
"I think not," I said.
"My specialty is finger prints," said Quarles, "nothing else. In this case my specialty has proved useless." When we left the house Quarles turned toward Connaught Road.
"Is it your real opinion that the only thing to do is to wait?" I asked.
"Let's go and see if we can find any more finger prints," he chuckled.
The garage was shut. Cut into the big gates was a small door.
"Not a difficult lock," said Quarles. "I may have a key that will fit it. We must get in somehow."
"There is a door into the garage from the garden. We could have gone that way."
"And advertised ourselves to the servants. I wanted to avoid that."
He found a key to open the door, and he made no pretense of looking for finger prints now. He examined the car. It was a big one—open—with a cape hood—capable of carrying five or six persons besides the driver. He was interested in the seating accommodation, and the make of the car generally. There was a window which had a shutter to it high up in the garage looking into the side road, and a small window at the back looking into the garden which had no shutter. Quarles got on a stool to examine the frame of this window, and then inspected the cloths for cleaning and the towels which were in the garage.
"Come on. The interest of this place is soon exhausted," he said.
In less than a quarter of an hour we were walking along Connaught Road again.
"By the way, what is Dr. Coles's address?" asked Quarles.
I gave it to him. It was a turning off Connaught Road.
"I shall go and see him, and then I have a call to make elsewhere. Come to Chelsea to-night, Wigan. Take my word for it, criminals are no cleverer than they used to be."
When I went to Chelsea that evening I found the professor and Zena waiting for me in the empty room. He was evidently impatient to talk.
"My brain may possibly require oiling, Wigan, but Zena's questions are just as absurd as they ever were," he began. "She wanted to know why the lead had been packed so carelessly, and what use a dead body could be to any one. No bad points of departure for an inquiry. Now, when the coffin was opened after the knock had been heard, a little sawdust from the screw holes fell on the carpet. It was there when we went into the room this morning. We may reasonably argue that some sawdust must have fallen when the coffin was opened during the night. But no one seems to have noticed it."
"It might easily have escaped casual notice even if the thieves neglected to remove it, which is unlikely," I returned.
"It would not be so easy to remove, for the carpet is a thick one, and the thieves would be in a hurry, you know. Also there were wreaths about and I could find no trace of sawdust in them. But further, the screw holes show a clear, perfect thread which one would hardly expect if the coffin had been opened and closed again. Small points, but they promote speculation. Yesterday, before I met you in Queen's Square, I went to see the undertakers, and the man who was in charge of the arrangements says emphatically that there was no sign of the coffin having been opened. A little sawdust was the first thing he looked for."
"Are you trying to prove that the lead was already in the coffin when it was taken to the drawing-room?" I asked.
"No. I am only trying to show that it is doubtful whether the coffin was opened in the drawing-room."
"The change could not have been made in the bedroom, or the lead would have slipped during the journey downstairs," I said.
"I agree, and we are therefore forced to the assumption that the body was actually carried to the drawing-room, yet we are doubtful whether the coffin was opened there."
"I have no doubt," I returned.
"That is a mistake on your part, Wigan. Doubts are often the forerunners of convictions. My doubt led me to a curious discovery. When I went to the undertaker's I saw the men who actually made the coffin. It was a very plain coffin, less expensive than might have been expected for a man in Sir Grenville's position. Now one of the men, in answer to a careful question or two, mentioned a curious fact. In the floor of the coffin, close to the foot of it, there was a wart in the wood. This morning you saw me slit the lining and remove some of the padding. There was no wart in the floor of the coffin, Wigan."
"You mean the coffins were changed?" said Zena.
"I do. One with the body in it was removed, and another with lead in it was placed on the trestles in its stead. The plainer the coffin the easier it would be to duplicate it by description. The makers of the second coffin would not have the original before them to copy, you must remember."
"But only Lady Rusholm and her son could possess the necessary knowledge to give such a duplicate order," I said.
"You forget Mr. Thompson. He was an intimate friend, and staying in the house at the time."
"I do not understand why the lead was not packed securely," said Zena.
"It puzzles me," said Quarles. "I could only find one answer. It was such an obvious blunder that it must have been intentional. The lumps of lead endorsed this idea. Whilst the large piece was flat and difficult to move, the small piece was like a ball and meant to roll and strike the side the moment the coffin was moved. It was presumably necessary that the theft should be discovered, and your ingenious idea of a revengeful enemy appealed to me, Wigan. I elaborated the idea to Sir Arthur, you will remember."
I had nothing to say—no fault to find with his argument so far. Quarles rather enjoyed my silence, I fancy.
"Sir Arthur unconsciously gave me a great deal of information," he went on. "First, it was curious that the wreaths which came that night should be left in the hall. It would have been more natural to place them in the drawing-room. Why were they not put there? It looked as if there were a desire not to open the room again. Another wreath might have come later when it would have been very inconvenient to open the door, and not to have put the other wreath into the room might have caused comment in the light of after events. Again, influenza is a fairly common complaint, and Sir Grenville died of a sudden and unexpected collapse; yet Sir Arthur said it was by his father's desire that the coffin was plain. A man suffering from influenza does not expect to die, and it seemed strange to me that he should arrange details of his funeral. By itself it is not a very important point, since Sir Grenville's wishes may have been known for a long time, but almost in the same breath, emphasis was laid on the fact that Lady Rusholm had not used the small room out of the drawing-room for more than a week. Why not? There was absolutely no reason why she should not continue to do her correspondence there, since her husband was not seriously ill and could not require constant nursing. I think an excuse was wanted for locking up that room, and I believe you will find that none of the servants have entered the room during this period, and that the blind has been down all the time. I believe the duplicate coffin was hidden there."
"But how was the duplicate coffin got into the house?" asked Zena.
"In much the same way as the real coffin was got out of it, I imagine. You remember the arrangement of the motor, Wigan; its size and swivel seats give ample room to put the coffin on the floor of the car. In the dead of night the coffin was carried across the garden, placed in the car and driven away. On some previous night the same car had driven away and brought back the duplicate coffin."
"The chauffeur said the car had not been out for a week," I said.
"So far as he knew," Quarles returned. "It was cleaned afterwards. There is a shutter to the window in Connaught Road, and over the window looking into the garden one of the towels had been nailed, clumsily, and with large nails which were still on a shelf. I found the towel with the nail holes in it."
"Where was the body taken?" asked Zena.
"That I do not know."
"And what was the use of it to any one?"
"Ah, I think I can answer that," said Quarles. "I had an interesting talk with Dr. Coles after I left you to-day, Wigan. He told me he was not altogether surprised at Sir Grenville's sudden collapse. The attack of influenza was comparatively slight, but when Mr. Thompson arrived unexpectedly from India it was evident to the doctor that he had brought bad news. Both Sir Grenville and his wife were worried. Coles says Sir Grenville was a man of a nervous temperament, who would have been utterly lost without his wife. The doctor believes the sudden worry occasioned the collapse."
"He had no suspicion of suicide, I suppose?"
"As a matter of form I put the question to him. I even suggested the possibility of foul play. He scouted both ideas, and enlarged upon the affectionate relations which existed between husband and wife. He imagined the trouble had something to do with financial affairs. To-day, you will remember, Wigan, Sir Arthur spoke about his mother going away. That is not quite in keeping with the rest of her actions. We have ample testimony and proof that Lady Rusholm is courageous and resourceful. Dr. Coles is greatly impressed with her character; her personality appealed to me when I heard her speak at the technical institute. She would be present when the undertakers were removing the body, which is not customary. She remained while the coffin was opened, and although she apparently fainted—it was her son who caught her, remember—she saw you soon afterwards. It seems to me two questions naturally ask themselves. What was the ill news Mr. Thompson brought from India? Was Lady Rusholm prepared for that knock from the coffin?"
"We are becoming speculative, indeed," I said.
"Are we? Consider for a moment the amount of evidence we have that the theft of the body could only be contrived with the knowledge and help of Lady Rusholm, her son, or Mr. Thompson; or, which is more likely, by the connivance of all three. Then try to imagine their purpose. What use could they make of a dead body? Why take such trouble that the theft should be discovered?"
"We have not accumulated enough facts to tell us," I answered.
"I think we may indulge in a guess," said Quarles. "Sir Grenville, on his own showing, had not expected to come into the title. Has it occurred to you, Wigan, how exceedingly complete his claim was? Every possible doubt seems to have been considered and arranged for. It was almost too complete. Now, supposing Sir Grenville was not really Sir Grenville Rusholm, supposing he had acquired the family knowledge and papers from the real man—when that man was dying, perhaps—and in due time used them to claim the estates. For about twenty years he has enjoyed the result of his fraud, his intimate friend, Mr. Thompson, being in his confidence, and very likely receiving some of the spoil. Suddenly Mr. Thompson learns that some one else knows the secret, and hurries to England to warn Sir Grenville."
"But why steal the body?" asked Zena.
"On leaving Dr. Coles, Wigan, I went to see Professor Sayle, who, with the exception of the German physician Hauptmann, probably knows more about oriental diseases and medicine than any man living. He proved to me that it is possible by means of a certain vegetable drug to produce apparent death. Fakirs often use it. The ordinary medical man would certainly be deceived. Ultimately actual death would ensue were not the antidote to the drug administered, but the suspension of life will continue for a considerable time."
"It is pure speculation," I said.
"We have got to explain the theft of a dead body. I explain it by saying there was no dead body," said Quarles sharply, as if I were denying a self-evident fact. "I go still further. Judging by Coles's description of the man calling himself Sir Grenville, I doubt his courage for carrying through either the original fraud or the plan of escape. I believe his wife was the moving spirit throughout, and it is quite possible the drug was administered without her husband's knowledge."
"And where is the body now?" asked Zena.
"I do not know, but you tempt me to guesswork. Sir Grenville was a keen yachtsman, and probably he is on board his yacht still resting in his coffin, waiting for his wife to bring the antidote to the drug. His son and Mr. Thompson took the body that night in the car. There must have been two of them to deal with the burden, for I imagine the yacht had no crew on her at the time. They would hardly take others into their confidence. As everything had to be accomplished between eleven o'clock at night and before dawn the next day, I imagine the yacht was lying somewhere in the Thames estuary. I grant this is guesswork, Wigan."
"I do not see why it was necessary the theft should become known," I said.
"It would occasion delay in the settlement of the estate. It placed difficulties in the way of the rightful heir, It would help to throw a distinct doubt whether, in spite of all the evidence that might be forthcoming, Sir Grenville had committed fraud. There was even a possibility that the son might be left in possession after all. I daresay we shall learn more when we tackle Lady Rusholm and her son to-morrow."
When we went to Queen's Square next morning we found that Lady Rusholm was gone. She had, in fact, already gone when her son told us he was trying to persuade her to go. Mr. Thompson had left later in the day.
We found that even Quarles's guesswork was very near the actual facts, although he had hardly given Lady Rusholm sufficient credit for the working out of the scheme. The real heir, Sir John's nephew, had died in Ceylon before Baxter—that was Sir Grenville's real name—had married. On his death-bed he had entrusted his papers to Baxter to send to England, and Baxter had shown them to his future wife. The scheme came full grown into her head. They left Ceylon to meet again in India, and there they were married, Baxter giving his name as Grenville Rusholm. Thompson was their only confidant. He could not be left out because he had known all about Rusholm. There was one other who knew, but they believed him to be dead. He was a wanderer, somewhat of a ne'er-do-well, and to Thompson's consternation, after twenty years, he had turned up in Calcutta very much alive. He was going to England to expose the fraud. He did not suspect Thompson, who came to England first.
All this we heard from the son who for a short hour or two had called himself Sir Arthur Rusholm. He was able to prove quite conclusively that he was in entire ignorance of the fraud until Thompson's arrival. His mother confessed everything to him then. It was she who had planned how to get out of the difficulty. The duplicate coffin had been made at Harwich, for a yachtsman who was to be taken abroad to be buried, they had explained, but it was brought to Queen's Square and hidden in the small drawing-room as Quarles had surmised. It was only to spare his mother and father that the son had entered into the scheme, and I fancy Quarles was a little annoyed that he had not suspected this.
Mrs. Baxter was not caught. Indeed, there were many people who disbelieved the whole story of the fraud, even when the man who knew arrived from India—a very strong proof of Mrs. Baxter's charm and personality. I have heard from her son that she is in South America, and that her husband is not dead. So far as I am aware the new baronet has taken no steps to bring them to justice.
As Quarles says, she is a genius, and it would be a thousand pities if she were in prison.
THE KIDNAPING OF EVA WILKINSON
The Queen's Square affair seemed to have exhausted Quarles's enthusiasm. I tried to interest him in several cases without success, and I began to think we really had done our last work together, when on his own initiative he mentioned Ewart Wilkinson to me. He had a personal interest in the man; I had only just heard his name.
The multi-millionaire is not such a figure in this country as he is in America, but Ewart Wilkinson was undoubtedly on the American scale. He had made his money abroad, how or exactly where remained matters of uncertainty, and if one were inclined to believe the stories told in irresponsible journals, there must have been much in the past which he found it wiser not to talk about. With such tales I have nothing to do. I never met the millionaire, was, in fact, quite uninterested in him until his wealth was concerned in a case which came into my hands.
With Christopher Quarles it was different. For a few days on one occasion he had stayed in the same house with the millionaire in Scotland, and had been impressed with him. Wilkinson was rough, but a diamond under the rough, according to Quarles. He may have had his own ideas of what constituted legitimate business, but whatever his shortcomings, the professor found in him a vein of sentiment which was attractive. He had a passion for his only daughter which appealed to Quarles, partly, no doubt, because it made him think of Zena, and there was a strain of melancholy in him which made him apprehensive that his wealth would not be altogether for his daughter's good. He had talked in this way to Quarles. For all we knew to the contrary, conscience may have been pricking him, but the fact remained that he was prophetic.
Wherever and in whatever way Ewart Wilkinson made his money, he undoubtedly had it. He rented a house in Mayfair, and purchased Whiteladies in Berkshire. The Elizabethan house, built on to the partial ruins of an old castle, has no doubt attracted many of you when motoring through South Berkshire. Having bought a beautiful home, he looked for a beautiful wife to put in it. Perhaps she was in the nature of a purchase, too, for he married Miss Lavory, the only daughter of Sir Miles Lavory, Bart., who put his pride in his pocket when he consented to an alliance with mere millions. It was said that Miss Lavory was driven into the match, but however this may be, Ewart Wilkinson proved a devoted husband, and his wife had ten years of a happy married life in the midst of luxury. She died when her daughter was eight.
For ten years after her mother's death Eva Wilkinson and her father were hardly ever separated, and then Ewart Wilkinson died suddenly. He left practically the whole of his vast fortune to his daughter; and her uncle, Mrs. Wilkinson's brother Michael, who had recently succeeded his father in the baronetcy, was left her guardian. There was a curious clause in the will. Wilkinson, possibly because one or two cases had happened in America at the time the will was made—half a dozen years before his death—seemed particularly afraid that the heiress might be kidnaped, and her guardian was enjoined to watch over her in this respect especially. Within six months of his death the very thing he feared happened. Eva Wilkinson was at Whiteladies at the time with her companion, Mrs. Reville. After dinner one evening she went alone on to the terrace, and from that moment had entirely disappeared. A telegram was sent that night to Sir Michael, who was in London, Scotland Yard was informed, and the mystery was given me to solve.
I had commenced my inquiries when on going to Chelsea in the evening Quarles told me he had met Ewart Wilkinson about three years before, and under the circumstances he was very interested in the mystery.
"The fact that he was afraid of something happening to his daughter suggests that he had some reason for his fear," I said.
"It does, Wigan—it does! He mentioned this very thing to me three years ago, and I thought then there was some one in his past of whom he was afraid."
"And his past seems to be a closed book," I returned.
"Eva Wilkinson must be between eighteen and nineteen," Zena remarked. "Kidnaping a girl of that age is a different thing from kidnaping a child."
"True!" said Quarles.
"Isn't it more probable that she went away willingly?" said Zena.
"You don't help me, my dear," said the professor with a frown, and the suggestion seemed to irritate him. It stuck in his mind, however, for when we went to see Sir Michael the idea was evidently behind his first question.
"Is there any love affair?" asked Quarles. "Any reason which might possibly induce the girl to go away of her own accord?"
The suggestion seemed to bring a ray of hope into Sir Michael's despair.
"I think she is too sensible a girl to do anything of the kind, but there was a little affair, not very serious on her side, I fancy, and there was probably a desire for money on the man's part. Young Cayley has seen Eva at intervals since they were children, but in her father's lifetime there was no question of love. Directly after Wilkinson's death, however, Edward Cayley came prominently on the scene. I talked to Eva about him, and although she was inclined to be angry, I think it was rather with herself than at my interference."
"Cayley is quite a poor man, I presume?" said Quarles.
"Yes; but that did not influence me. He is not the kind of man I should like my niece to marry. Oh! I have nothing definite against him."
"May I ask whether, as guardian, you have control over your niece's choice?" I asked.
"Until she is twenty-one, after that none at all," he answered. "If she marries without my consent before she is of age, I am empowered to distribute a million of money to certain specified hospitals and charities. She has only to wait until she is twenty-one to do exactly as she likes. It was my brother-in-law's way of ensuring that his daughter should not act with undue haste. Perhaps, for my own sake, I ought to explain that in no way, nor under any circumstances, can I benefit under the will. When my sister married Mr. Wilkinson, he behaved very generously to my father, paying off the mortgages on our estate; in short, delivered us from a very difficult position. Naturally, we never expected any place in the will, but I hear the omission has caused some people to speculate, and now that this has happened there may be people who will speculate about me personally."
"You certainly have a very complete answer," I returned. "What is your own opinion of your niece's disappearance?"
"I think she has been kidnaped, possibly for the sake of ransom, possibly because—" and then he paused for a moment. "You know Mr. Wilkinson was afraid of this very thing?"
"Three years ago he mentioned it to me," said Quarles.
"You knew him, then?"
"I was staying in the same house with him in Scotland; his daughter was not there. Such a fear, Sir Michael, suggests something in the past, something Mr. Wilkinson kept to himself."
"I do not know of anything," was the answer. "Of course, I have seen paragraphs in scandalous journals concerning his wealth, but I knew Ewart Wilkinson extremely well. He was, and always has been, I am convinced, a perfectly straightforward man."
This conversation took place early on the morning following the night of Eva Wilkinson's disappearance, and afterwards Sir Michael journeyed down with us to Whiteladies. The local police were already scouring the country, and under intelligent supervision had accomplished a great deal of the spade work. I may just state the facts as far as they were known.
Mrs. Reville, who was in the drawing-room when the girl went out on the terrace, had heard nothing. A quarter of an hour or twenty minutes later she went out herself with the intention of telling Eva that she ought to put on a wrap. The girl was nowhere to be seen, and calling brought no answer. Becoming alarmed, Mrs. Reville summoned the servants, and their search proving fruitless, she had a telegram sent to Sir Michael. When I questioned her with regard to Cayley, she was sure there was nothing serious in the affair. He certainly could have had nothing to do with Eva's disappearance, she declared, for he had gone to Paris two days before. Since Sir Michael had spoken to Eva about him he had hardly visited Whiteladies at all.
The servants had searched everywhere—in the house, in the grounds, and in the ruins, and later the police had gone over the same ground, and had searched everywhere on the estate; not a sign of the missing girl had been found. A footman, however, said he had heard a motor-car in the road about the time of the disappearance. He had listened, wondering who was coming to Whiteladies at that hour. The house stood in one corner of the estate, and there was a public road quite close to it, but it was a road little frequented. The marks of a car, which had stopped and turned at a point near the house, were plainly visible, and so far this was the only clue forthcoming. It proved an important one, because a tramp was found by the police who had seen a closed car traveling at a great speed toward the London road. The time, which he was able to fix very definitely, was about a quarter of an hour after Eva Wilkinson had gone on to the terrace.
"Has the tramp been detained?" Quarles asked, and being answered in the negative, said he ought to have been.
The professor examined the marks of the car minutely. There were two cars at Whiteladies, but neither of the tire markings were those of the car which had turned in the road.
It is only natural, I suppose, that when a number of persons are brought in contact with a mystery their behavior should tend to become unnatural. It is one of a detective's chief difficulties to determine between innocent and suspicious actions, the latter being often the result of temperament or of a desire to emphasize innocence. I never found a decision more difficult than in the case of Eva Wilkinson's maid, a girl named Joan Perry; and because I could not decide in her case I was also suspicious of her young man Saunders, a gamekeeper on the estate. Joan Perry, a little later in the day, claimed to have made a remarkable discovery. A coat and skirt and a pair of walking shoes had been removed from her mistress's wardrobe.
"What made you inspect her wardrobe?" I asked.
The question seemed to confuse her, but she finally said it was because she wondered whether Miss Eva had gone away on purpose. According to Perry the affair with Edward Cayley was a serious one. To some extent her young mistress had confided in her, she declared.
"Then she would hardly have gone away without letting you into the secret," I said.
"That is what I cannot understand," she answered.
Quarles agreed with me that this lent color to the idea that Eva Wilkinson had gone of her own accord.
"It is possible—even probable," he said, "but if she did, I take it she has been deceived and walked into a trap. If we can find that car we shall be on the right road."
When we set out on this quest in one of the motors at Whiteladies we had considerable success. The car had taken the direct road to London. We heard of it at an inn on the outskirts of Beading. It had stopped there, and a man had had his flask filled with brandy. A lady who was with him was not very well, he said. Chance helped us farther. The car had stopped by a roadside cottage. A man had come to the door full of apologies, but seeing a light in the window he ventured to ask if they could oblige him with a box of matches. He was quite a gentleman—young, dark, and very merry—the woman told us. He had led her to suppose that he and a lady were making a runaway match of it, because he had declared that there would certainly be a chase after them, but they had got a good start. The car had been drawn up on the side of the road at a little distance from the cottage, and it was undoubtedly the car we were after. The tire markings were quite distinct in the damp ground. At Hounslow we found the car itself. There had been an accident. Two men had walked into a garage, saying they had left the car on the roadside. Would the garage people have it brought in and repaired? The car should be sent for in a day or two. One man made a payment on account, and gave his name as Julius Hoffman, staying at the Langham Hotel.
The car was of an old type, but the man at the garage said the engines were in good condition. The tires were burst, otherwise there was nothing much the matter with the car beyond its age.
"Was anything found in the car?" I asked.
"An old glove and a handkerchief," and the man took them out of a drawer.
The glove told us nothing, but the handkerchief was a lady's, and had "E. W." embroidered on it.
"This is a police matter," I told the man. "A watch will be kept on the premises in case the car is claimed, which is very unlikely, I fancy."
Quarles was perplexed.
"I don't understand it, Wigan. That car looks to me as if it had been purposely abandoned. Had they another car waiting, or was Hounslow their destination? Of course you must warn the police here, but—well, I do not understand it. I am going straight back to Chelsea."
"I will see the Hounslow police, and then go on to the Langham," I returned.
"Of course, that's just ordinary detective work, and out of my line," Quarles said somewhat curtly, "but I don't suppose your inquiries will lead anywhere."
In this surmise he was perfectly correct. No one of the name of Julius Hoffman was known at the Langham. The Hounslow police made no discovery, and the car was not claimed.
Later, the press circulated a description of Eva Wilkinson, with the result that scores of letters were received, most of them obviously written by amateur detectives, or by those peculiar kind of imbeciles whose imagination is so vivid that any person seems to fit the description of the person missing. The information in a few of these letters seemed definite enough to follow up, but in every case I drew blank. I gave my chief attention to learning the recent movements of known gangs who might be concerned in an enterprise of this sort, and at the end of two days this persistency brought a result. I received a letter posted in the West-central district, written, or rather scrawled, in printed letters. It was as follows:
"You may be on the right scent or you may not, but take warning. If you got to know anything, it would be the worse for E.W. We are in earnest, and our advice is, leave the job alone. No harm will come to the old devil's daughter, if you mind your own business. She'll turn up again all right. If you don't mind your own business you'll probably find her presently, and can bury her. You'll find her dead,—THE LEAGUE."
With this letter I went to Chelsea, and the professor met me with a letter in his hand. He had received a like communication—word for word the same.
"An exact copy shows a barrenness of ideas," said I.
"But they have begun to move, Wigan. That is a great thing, and what I have been waiting for. Come and talk it over. For once Zena is no help. All she says is that this is not an ordinary case of kidnaping. Well, it certainly is a little out of the ordinary. That car, Wigan, the tramp who saw it, the stoppages it made, the handkerchief in it—does anything strike you?"
"Since we picked up the trail so easily to begin with, I do not quite understand the subsequent difficulty," I said. "From Hounslow a much more astute person must have taken charge of the enterprise."
"A booby trap, Wigan. It was prepared for us, and we walked into it, I am a trifle sick at having done so, but perhaps it will serve us a good turn in the end. The tramp no doubt was in the business. His definite information to the police started us. If that car had wanted to escape notice, do you suppose it would have pulled up outside Reading, or at a cottage, where it obligingly left its imprint on the roadside? Why should the man explain the filling of a flask at a public house? Why should he talk of a runaway match to the woman at that cottage? He was laying a trail. Miss Wilkinson's handkerchief was found in that car, but I wager she was never in the car herself."
"I think you are right, but it doesn't help us to the truth, does it?"
"Every possibility proved impossible helps us," Quarles answered. "This is a case for negative argument, so we next ask whether Eva Wilkinson left the terrace willingly. I think we must say 'no.'"
"Do not forget the missing coat and skirt," I said.
"That is one of the reasons why I say 'no,'" he returned. "If she had intended to go away she would have arranged to take more than a coat and skirt. Besides, Eva Wilkinson is evidently not a fool. The only person one can imagine her going away with is Cayley, and why should she go away with him? If she married him before she was twenty-one, she forfeited a million of money; well, she knew the penalty. Even if she would not wait until she was of age, there is still no conceivable reason why she should run away. We are forced, therefore, to the assumption that she was kidnaped."
"I have never doubted it," I answered.
"I confess to some uncertainty," said Quarles, "but these letters put a new complexion on the affair, I admit. Some one is out for money, Wigan, and that fact is—"
He stopped short as a servant entered the room saying that I was wanted on the telephone. I had left word that I was going to Chelsea. I was informed that Sir Michael Lavory had telephoned for me to go and see him at once. He said he had received a letter which was of the gravest importance.
"Similar to ours, no doubt," said the professor when I repeated the message to him. "We will go at once, Wigan, but I do not think there is anything to be done until the scoundrels have made a further move. It won't be many hours before they do so."
In the taxi he did not continue his negative arguments, and he was not restless, as he usually was when upon a keen scent. No doubt he had a theory, but I was convinced he was not satisfied with it himself.
Sir Michael, who had a flat in Kensington, was not alone. A young man was with him, and Sir Michael introduced Mr. Edward Cayley.
"He has just arrived—came in ten minutes after I had received this letter."
Cayley's presence there was rather a surprise, but I noted that his appearance did not correspond with the woman's description of the young man who had asked for a box of matches.
"I came as soon as I heard the news about Miss Wilkinson," Cayley said in explanation.
"How did you hear it?" Quarles asked.
"There was a paragraph in Le Gaulois. I left Paris at once and came to Sir Michael, thinking it a time when any little disagreement between us would be easily forgotten."
"You can quite understand that I agree with Mr. Cayley," Sir Michael said, "especially in the face of this letter."
"I can guess the contents of it," I said. "We have had letters too."
But I was mistaken. This communication was scrawled in the same printed letters, was signed in the same way, but its purport was entirely different.
"Sir,—Your niece is in our hands, and you may be sure that she is securely hidden. Every move you take on her behalf increases her danger. There is only one means of rescue—ransom. Within forty-eight hours you shall pay to the credit of James Franklin with the Credit Lyonnais, Paris, the sum of a quarter of a million sterling, a small sum when Wilkinson's wealth is considered, and the means he used to amass it. The moment the money is in our hands, and you may be sure we have left open no possibility of your tricking us, your niece shall be set at liberty. Delay or refuse, and your niece dies. In case you should deceive yourself and think this is not genuine, that we are powerless to carry out our threat, your niece herself has endorsed this letter."
Quarles looked at the endorsement.
"Is that Miss Wilkinson's signature?" he asked.
"It is," Sir Michael answered.
"I could swear to it anywhere," said Cayley. "The money is a small matter when Eva has to be considered. We may succeed in tricking the scoundrels later, but the money must be paid."
"If it is, you may depend they will get clear off," said Quarles. "They have made their arrangements cleverly enough for that."
"But you forget—"
"I forget nothing, Mr. Cayley."
"I feel that it must be paid," said Sir Michael. "If you can devise any way of tripping up the villains, do, but Eva's signature—"
"Look at it, Sir Michael," said Quarles. "I do not doubt that it is her signature, but I think it was scribbled on that piece of paper before the letter was written, and certainly a different ink was used."
Sir Michael took the letter and looked at it carefully.
"Yes—yes, I think you are right," he said after a pause. "What do you advise?"
"Delay," said the professor promptly. "They are out for money, for a quarter of a million. They will not hurt Miss Wilkinson while there is any chance of their getting the money."
"How long would you make the delay?" Cayley asked.
"At least until after Mr. Wigan and I have visited Whiteladies again. We propose to go there to-morrow."
"I was going down to-morrow after seeing the solicitors about this money," said Sir Michael.
"That will be excellent," said Quarles. "You will be able to assist us in a little investigation we want to make at Whiteladies. May I suggest that you should arrange preliminaries with the solicitors so as not to waste time, but tell them to await your instructions before taking final steps? There may be nothing in our idea, but there may be a great deal in it."
"You do not wish to tell me what it is?"
"Not until to-morrow evening."
I was watching Cayley. I saw the ghost of a smile on his lips for a moment. He evidently saw through Quarles's reticence, and knew that the professor would not speak before him.
"It will be evening before we reach Whiteladies," Quarles went on, "because there is an important inquiry we must make in London first."
"Very well," said Sir Michael. "I will delay until to-morrow night."
"There can be no harm in that," Cayley said. "We are given forty-eight hours. I should like to do the scoundrels, but I cannot forget that revenge may be as much a motive as money."
"I am not losing sight of that fact," said Quarles, "but I have little doubt it is the money."
As we drove back to Chelsea the professor was silent, but when we were in the empty room he began to talk quickly.
"I am puzzled, Wigan. Before we went out I was saying some one was out for money, and the letter Sir Michael has received proves it. We were engaged upon a negative argument, and I should have gone on to show why it was unlikely Cayley had had anything to do with the affair. I confess that his sudden appearance to-night tends to knock holes in the argument I should have used. He comes from Paris, the money is to be paid to the Credit Lyonnais, Paris. He is keen that the money should be paid, had evidently been persuading Sir Michael that it ought to be paid. This tends to confuse me, and I cannot forget Zena's remark about the girl's age and that this is not an ordinary kidnaping case. If Cayley had met her on the terrace she would naturally stroll away with him if he asked her to do so. At a safe distance from the house he, and a confederate, perhaps, may have secured her."
"But why?" I asked.
"He may want a quarter of a million of money and yet have no desire to marry. It is a theory, but unsatisfactory, I admit. One thing, however, we may take as certain. Eva Wilkinson was not driven away in that car. We have no news of any suspicious car being seen in any other direction, nor of any suspicious people being seen about, and it seems obvious that a false trail was laid for us. Wigan, it is quite possible that the girl never left Whiteladies at all, that she is hidden there now, in fact. Doesn't the disappearance of that coat and skirt tend to corroborate this? She was in evening dress at the time. It would be natural to get her another dress."
"That would mean confederates in the house," I said.
"Exactly. This girl Perry, perhaps, in league with her lover, the gamekeeper; or it may be Mrs. Reville herself. We are going down to Whiteladies to-morrow to try and find out, and we are going circumspectly to work, Wigan. You shall go to the house in the ordinary way, while I stroll across to the ruins. They are a likely hiding place. It will be dark, and I may chance upon some one keeping watch. In a few words you can explain our idea to Sir Michael, and then, without letting the servants know, you can come and find me in the ruins."
It was nearly dark when we arrived at Whiteladies on the following day, and as arranged, I left Quarles before we reached the lodge gates—in fact, helped him over a fence into the park before I went on to the house alone. Near the front door I found Mrs. Reville giving a couple of pug dogs a run. She told me Sir Michael was expecting me, and led the way into the hall.
"I think he is in the library," she said, and opened a door. "Oh, I am sorry, I thought you were alone, Sir Michael. It is Mr. Wigan."
He called out for me to enter. He was standing by a writing table, talking to a young farmer, apparently a tenant on the estate because Sir Michael was dismissing him with a promise to consider certain repairs to some outbuildings. As the farmer passed me on his way to the door Sir Michael held out his hand.
"You are later than I expected, and I thought Mr. Quarles—"
Then he laughed. I had been seized from behind, a rope was round me, binding my arms to my side, a sudden jerk had me on my back. In that instant Sir Michael was upon me, and I was gagged and trussed almost before I realized what had happened. Never did the veriest tyro walk more innocently into a trap.
"That's well done," said Sir Michael to the farmer. "You had better go and see that the other has been taken as successfully."
Alone with me, he removed the revolver from my hip pocket and placed it in a drawer, which he locked.
"Rather a surprise for you, Mr. Wigan. I am afraid Scotland Yard is likely to lose an officer, and your friend Quarles is an old man who has had a very good inning. I do not know exactly where he is at the present moment, but somewhere about the grounds he has been caught and is in a similar condition to yourself. You have both been very carefully shadowed to-day. The quarter of a million will be paid, Mr. Wigan, and my niece will reappear. She will be none the worse for her adventure—will thank me for all the trouble I have taken to rescue her from the kidnapers her father dreaded so much—and she will never suspect that the bulk of the ransom money has gone into my pocket. It is money sorely needed, I can assure you. I shall probably give my consent to her marriage with Cayley; her marriage will make my guardianship less irksome. He will be as unsuspicious of me as Eva. I prevailed upon him not to come to Whiteladies until to-morrow by suggesting that you were foolish enough to suspect him. I think it has all been rather cleverly managed. The only regrettable thing will be the death of two—two brilliant detectives. It may interest you to know that you will be found dead—shot—which will account for my having waited for you in vain at Whiteladies to-night. You have helped me greatly by being secretive to-day and not arriving here until after dark. Your death will be a nine days' wonder, but it will be a mystery which will not be solved, I fancy."
His cold-blooded manner left no doubt of his sinister intention, and I felt convinced that Quarles had been trapped just as I had been. Sir Michael laughed again as he bent over me to make sure that my bonds were secure. Then he stood erect suddenly.
"Don't move," said a voice, "or I shall fire."
He did move, and a bullet ripped into a picture just behind him. With an oath he stood perfectly still. A door had opened across the room and a girl stood there. It was Joan Perry.
"I missed you on purpose," she said. "I shall not miss a second time. Cut those ropes."
For a moment he stood still, then he moved again, but not with the intention of setting me free; the next instant he stumbled, as if his leg had suddenly given way, and he let out a savage oath.
"To show you I do not miss," said the girl. "Cut those ropes, or the third bullet finds your heart."
Sir Michael took a knife from his pocket, and the girl came a little closer, but not near enough to give him a chance of grabbing at her. Her calm deliberation was wonderful.
"Do more than cut the ropes and you are a dead man," she said.
The instant my arms were free I had the gag from my mouth and could do something in my own defense. I was quickly on my feet.
"Keep him covered," I said to Perry. "I think we change places, Sir Michael."
Physically he was not a powerful man, and with Joan Perry near him he seemed to have lost his nerve. Her courage had shaken him badly, and he made no resistance. I was not long in having him bound and handcuffed.
"I have to thank you," I said, turning to the girl.
"Not yet. There is more to do. Mrs. Reville is in it, and Mr. Quarles has no doubt been caught in the grounds, as he said. I will ring. The servants are honest, and I expect Mr. Saunders is in the house by now. He usually comes up in the evening."
Fortunately Mrs. Reville had not heard the revolver shots, or she might have given the alarm to the two men who had secured the professor in the ruins, and they would very probably have killed him. I took the lady by strategy. I sent a servant to tell her that Sir Michael wished to speak to her, a summons which she had evidently been expecting, and I secured her as she came down the stairs. Then, leaving her and Sir Michael in charge of Perry and Saunders and a footman, I went with other servants to rescue Quarles. We took the confederates in the ruins by surprise, but in my anxiety that no harm should come to the professor, who was bound just as I had been, they managed to get away.
Now that he was captured, Sir Michael Lavory's pluck entirely deserted him, and he told us where to find his niece. She was in a secret chamber under a tower in the ruins. She had been caught that night at the end of the terrace by Sir Michael's accomplices, had been rendered unconscious by chloroform, and taken to the tower.
Quarles's deductions so far as they went were right, but they had not gone nearly far enough. Neither of us had thought of Sir Michael as the criminal, and had it not been for the maid Perry I have little doubt that this would have been our last case. Perry herself had not suspected Sir Michael until that day, but she had always been suspicious of Mrs. Reville. That morning, however, when Sir Michael arrived at Whiteladies, she had chanced to overhear a conversation. She heard Sir Michael tell Mrs. Reville there would be visitors that evening, and suggested that she should be near the front door at the time to admit them, as it would be well if they were not seen by the servants. Perry did not understand who the visitors were to be, but she thought such secrecy might be connected with her young mistress, and she had hidden herself earlier in the evening in the small room adjoining the library.
"It is fortunate Saunders taught me how to use a revolver," she said, when Quarles thanked and complimented her.
"A narrow escape, Wigan," the professor said to me. "One of our failures, eh? The fear expressed in the will, the fact that Sir Michael could not benefit by the death of his niece, confused me. He is a very clever scoundrel, making no mistake, making no attempt to implicate any one. His treatment of Cayley on his sudden return from Paris was a masterpiece of diplomacy; so was his handling of us from the first. He concocted no complicated story, so ran no risk of contradicting himself. He was simple and straightforward, and when a villain is that a detective is practically helpless. I was thoroughly deceived, Wigan, I admit it, and it is certain that had it not been for Joan Perry I should not be alive to say so, and you would not be here to listen. Do you know, I should not be surprised if it was the fear expressed in the will which gave Sir Michael the idea of kidnaping his niece and putting the ransom into his own pocket."
At his trial Sir Michael confessed that the will had given him the idea. Personally I think he got far too light a sentence.
As I hear that Cayley and Miss Wilkinson are to be married shortly, I suppose her guardian's consent to her marriage has been obtained; at any rate, it will be a good thing for her to have a husband to protect her from such a guardian. I hear, too, that Saunders and Perry are to be married on the same day as their mistress, and I am quite sure of one thing, two of the handsomest wedding presents Joan Perry receives will come from Christopher Quarles and myself.
THE DELVERTON AFFAIR
After our experience at Whiteladies Christopher Quarles went into Devonshire. He declared that excitement of that kind was a little too much for a man of his years and he must take a long rest to recuperate and get his nerves in order. Under no circumstances whatever was I to bother him with any problems. Had I been able to do so I should have gone away too. Sir Michael Lavory had succeeded in giving me the jumps. In her letters Zena told me the professor was playing golf, and knowing something of him as a golfer, I rather pitied the men he induced to play with him. It was not so much that he was a very bad player, it was the peculiar twist in his brain which convinced him that he was a good one. To give him a hint was to raise his anger at once.
One morning I received a letter from him, two pages of golf talk, in which he opined he was playing at about five handicap—pure imagination, of course, because he never kept a card and didn't count his foozled shots—and then he came to the raison d'etre of his letter.
"I want you to look up a case," he wrote. "It happened about three years ago. A man named Farrell, partner in the firm of Delverton Brothers of Austin Friars, was found dead in his office. An open verdict was returned. It may have been a case of suicide. Get all the facts you can. If you can obtain any information from some who were interested in the tragedy, do. I am not sure that the result of your inquiries will interest me, but it may. Send me along a full report, it may bring me back to Chelsea, but I am so keen to put another fifty yards on to my drive that I may remain here for three months. Why live in Chelsea when there is such a place as Devonshire?"
I remembered that the Delverton case had caused a considerable amount of excitement at the time, and had remained an unsolved mystery, but I knew no more than this. Three years ago I had been away from London engaged on an intricate investigation, with neither time nor inclination to think of anything else.
As it happened there was little difficulty in getting a very full account of the affair. It had been in the hands of Detective Southey, since retired, and it was a persistent grievance with him that this case had beaten him. He was delighted to talk about it when I went to see him in his little riverside cottage at Twickenham.
Delverton Brothers were foreign bankers, and at the time of the tragedy consisted of three partners, John and Martin Delverton, who were brothers, and Thomas Farrell, their nephew. John Delverton was an invalid, and for a year past had only come to the office for an hour once or twice a week. He had died about six months after the tragedy.
One day during a Stock Exchange settlement Thomas Farrell left the office early, and Martin Delverton was there until seven o'clock. When he left the only clerks remaining in the outer office were Kellner, the second in seniority on the staff, and a junior named Small.
These two left the office together ten minutes after Mr. Delverton had gone. Next morning when the housekeeper went to the offices he found Thomas Farrell sitting at the table in his private room, his head fallen on his arms, which were stretched across the table. He had died from the effects of poison, yet the tumbler beside him showed no traces of poison.
Medical evidence proved that he had been dead some hours, but there was nothing to show at what time he had returned to the office.
"In view of the doctor's statement it must have been between ten minutes past seven and midnight," Southey told me. "The poison would produce intense drowsiness, then sleep from which there was no waking. The time of its action would vary in different individuals. I am inclined to think it was late when he returned. He was a well-known figure in Austin Friars and Throgmorton Street, and had he been about earlier in the evening some one would almost certainly have seen him. That part of the world is alive to a late hour during a Stock Exchange settlement. The offices consist of a large outer room, which accommodates seven or eight clerks, and two private rooms opening into one another, but opening into the outer office only from the first room. This first room, which is the larger of the two, the brothers Delverton occupied, Farrell having the smaller inner room. From this there is a side door which gives on to a short passage leading into Austin Friars. The partners used this side door constantly, each of them having a key to the Yale lock, and we know from Mr. Delverton that Farrell went out by the side door that afternoon. Presumably he returned by it. Everything seemed to point to suicide, and possibly had there been a shadow of a motive for Farrell taking his own life, a verdict of suicide would have been returned. Apparently there was no motive. His affairs were in perfect order, he was shortly to be married, and the only person who suggested that he had looked in any way worried recently was the junior clerk, Small."
"What of the woman he was to have married?"
"She was a Miss Lester, and she introduces a complication. Her people were comparatively poor, her father being a clerk in a City bank. Mr. Farrell, according to Miss Lester, had helped her father out of some difficulty, and it was undoubtedly parental persuasion which had arranged the marriage. It was a case of gratitude rather than love. But that is not all. At the Lesters' house there was another constant visitor, a young doctor named Morrison, and he and Farrell became friends in spite of the fact that they were two angles of a triangle, Ruth Lester being the third angle. The position was this: Morrison was in love with the girl, but remained silent because he was too poor to marry; the girl loved him, but, thinking that he was indifferent, consented to marry Farrell. Whether Farrell was aware of this it is impossible to say. Now on the very day of Farrell's death, Dr. Morrison called and asked for him at the offices in Austin Friars. The clerk took in his name, and was told by Mr. Delverton that Mr. Farrell had left for the day. This was the first intimation the clerks had that he had left, and seems an indirect proof that no one in the office could have had anything to do with the tragedy. Farrell had been gone about an hour then. Morrison left no message, merely asked that Mr. Farrell should be told he had called."
"What was Morrison's explanation?" I asked.
"He said Farrell had requested him to call. He was going to give him a tip for a little flutter in the mining market."
"Is it known where Farrell went that afternoon?"
"I see you think the doctor's explanation thin, just as I did. Farrell told his partner that he had an appointment with Miss Lester; Miss Lester says there was no appointment. Naturally I at once speculated whether Farrell and Morrison had met later in the afternoon. I followed that trail every inch of the way. The doctor was poor and somewhat in debt, and—"
"And Farrell, who died by poison, which is significant, was his rival?" I said.
"I thought of all that," Southey returned. "Fortunately for him the doctor could account for every hour of his time. Of course, the man in the street was suspicious of him—is still, perhaps, to some extent, but it hasn't prevented his getting on. He married Ruth Lester, and I hear is getting a good practise together."
"What conclusion did you come to?"
"I am inclined to think there was some international reason at the back of the mystery, some difficulty with a foreign government, it may be. If Farrell had become mixed up in such an affair suicide might be the way out. I suggested this to Mr. Delverton, and he did not scout it as altogether a ridiculous idea. These foreign bankers are sometimes very much behind the scenes in European politics."
"Do you know whether the invalid brother was at the office that day?" I asked.
"He was not. He was quite incapacitated at the time."
I hunted up one or two points which occurred to me, and then went to Austin Friars to call upon Mr. Delverton.
He was out of town, yachting, but his partner came into the clerks' office to see me. I told him that my business with Mr. Delverton was private.
This partner, I discovered, was Kellner, who had formerly been a clerk in the firm. He was the man who, with the junior, had been the last to leave the office on the night of the tragedy. He was worth a little attention, and I spent two days making inquiries about him. He was as smart a man of business as could be found within a mile radius of the Royal Exchange, I was informed, a wonderful linguist, with a profound knowledge of financial matters. Now he was a wealthy man, but three years ago he had been in very low water.
This discovery sent me to Twickenham again. I said nothing about Kellner having become a partner in Delverton Brothers'; I merely asked Southey whether he had satisfactorily accounted for his time on the fatal night.
"Didn't I tell you?" said Southey. "Oh, yes, he had an absolute alibi; so had the youth Small. I made them my first business."
I did not call on Dr. Morrison, but I went to his neighborhood, and asked a few questions. Everybody spoke well of the doctor, which, of course, might mean much or little, and I was fortunate enough to see him with his wife in a motor. He looked like a doctor, a forceful and self-reliant man, not one to lose his head or give himself away. He would be likely to carry through any enterprise he set his mind to. His wife, without being beautiful, was attractive, the kind of woman you begin to call pretty after you have known her a little while.
That night I wrote a full report to Christopher Quarles with my own comments in the margin, and three days later I had a wire from Zena, saying they were returning to Chelsea at once.
There was no need to ask the professor whether the case interested him or not. He began by being complimentary about my report, praised my astuteness in not calling upon the doctor, and he made me give him a verbal description of Morrison and his wife.
"Of course, Wigan, looks count for nothing, but they are often misleading evidence, and we are told to beware of that man of whom every one speaks well. The most saintly individual I ever knew had a strong likeness to a notorious criminal I once saw, and on a slight acquaintance you and I would probably have trusted Cleopatra or Helen of Troy, neither of them very estimable women, I take it. Now apparently this doctor and his wife are near the center of this mystery."
"It seems so, but—"
"Believe me, I am making no accusation," he interrupted; "indeed, I am more inclined to argue that they occupy an eccentric point within the circle rather than the true center. Still, we must not overlook one or two facts which you have duly emphasized in your report. The rivalry between Morrison and Farrell does supply, as you say, a motive for the crime, if crime it was, and it is the only motive that is apparent. Again, a doctor could obtain and make use of poison with less risk than most men. And, again, it is curious the doctor should call on Farrell on that particular day. The visit might be a subtle move to establish his innocence. True, according to Southey, his time after the visit was accounted for, but how about the time before the visit? Farrell had already left the office an hour, and might have met Morrison."
"Do you suggest he was poisoned then, and came back hours afterwards to die in the office?"
"You think that unlikely?"
"Still, we must recollect the action of this particular poison," said Quarles. "It produces drowsiness, the time necessary to get to this condition varying in different persons, and the doctor, knowing Farrell, might be able to gage how long it would take in his case. Of course, we labor under difficulties. Three years having passed, we cannot rely on direct investigation. Purposely I gave you no bias when I asked you to gather up the known facts, and from your report I judge you have come to the conclusion that Farrell committed suicide, possibly driven into a corner by some international complication."
"Yes, on the whole, I lean to that idea."
"It is not the belief of Mr. Delverton himself."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"I met Martin Delverton in Devonshire. He was yachting round the coast and came ashore for golf. We played together several times, and became quite friendly. It was not until he began to talk about it that I remembered there had ever been a Delverton mystery. Practically he gave me the same history of the case as your report does, missing some points certainly, but enlarging considerably on others. That the villain had escaped justice seemed to rankle in his mind, and he was contemptuous of the intelligence of Scotland Yard. The tragedy, he said, had hastened his brother's end, and I judged he had no great love for the Morrisons."
"He knew who you were, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; and included my intelligence in the sneer at Scotland Yard. He argued the point with me until he forced me to admit that there was a large element of luck in most of my successes."
"You admitted that?" I exclaimed.
"I did. I had just beaten him three up and two to play, so was in an angelic frame of mind. Even then he would not let me alone. He wanted to know how I should have gone to work had the case been in my hands. To his evident delight I gave him arguments on the lines of our empty room conferences, making one thing especially clear, that I should have enquired far more closely about the Morrisons than had been done. This interested him immensely, and he did not attempt to hide from me the fact that his suspicions lay in the same direction. He became keen that I should look into the mystery; indeed, he challenged my skill. I am taking up that challenge, and I am going to tell the world the truth about Farrell's death."
"You know it?"
"Not yet, but the key to it is in this report of yours. Do you know what has become of the junior clerk, Small?"
"No. He left the firm to go abroad, I understand."
"I should like to have asked him whether John Delverton, the invalid partner, had seemed worried when he was last at the office."
"He was not at the office that day. I asked that question, and Southey is certain upon the point."
"Farrell might have left early to see him."
"Of course, we might question Kellner," I suggested.
"Kellner has the interests of the firm at heart, and is not personally connected with the affair. I don't suppose he will be pleased to have the old mystery raked up; naturally he will fear damage to the firm. I do not think he would be inclined to help us in any way, and I can imagine his being angry with Delverton for mentioning the affair to me."
"Still, I think there is something that wants explaining about Mr. Kellner," said Zena, "You evidently thought so too, Murray, since you made such minute inquiries about him."
"I do not think there is anything against him," I answered.
"I am not very interested in Kellner's past," said the professor, "and as we cannot get hold of Small we must do a little guessing."
"Is there anything further for me to do?" I asked.
"One thing. I want you to get hold of some stockbroker you know, and get him to tell you whether there was any kind of panic here, or on the Continent, with regard to any foreign securities between three and four years ago. Find out, if you can, the names of any members of the House who were hammered during that period, and the names of any firms considered shaky at the time. I am not hoping for much useful information, but we may learn something to assist our guesswork."
The information I obtained on the following day amounted to little. As my friend in Threadneedle Street said, three years on the Stock Exchange are a lifetime. In the different markets there had been several crises during the period I mentioned, and certain men, chiefly small ones, had gone under. As for shaky firms, it was impossible to speak unless you were closely interested. A good firm, under temporary stress, would probably be bolstered up, and a week or two might find it in affluence again.
I went to Chelsea with the information, such as it was, but only saw Zena. Quarles was out, and I did not see him for nearly a week. Then he 'phoned to me to call for him one evening and to come in evening dress.
"I am dining with Mr. Delverton to-night," he said, "and I asked him if I might bring you. He returned to town at the beginning of the week, and I have seen him two or three times, once at the office in Austin Friars. I did not see Kellner, he happened to be away that day."
Martin Delverton lived in Dorchester Square, rather a pompous house, and he was rather a pompous individual. Of course he wasn't a bit like Quarles in appearance, yet I was struck by a certain characteristic resemblance between them. They both had that annoying way of appearing to mean more than they said, and of watering down their arguments to meet the requirements of your inferior intellect.
I had become accustomed to it in Quarles, but in a stranger I should have resented it had not the professor told me of the peculiarity beforehand, and warned me not to be annoyed.
He gave us an excellent dinner, and our conversation for a time had nothing to do with the mystery.
"Well, Mr. Quarles, have you brought this affair to a head?" Mr. Delverton asked at last.
"I think so."
"Sufficiently to bring the criminal to book?"
"If not, I could hardly claim success, could I?"
"You might claim it," laughed Delverton, "but I should not be satisfied. Possibly I have my own opinion, but I trust nothing I have said has influenced you and led you to a wrong conclusion. I do not want you to get me into trouble by saying that I suggested who the criminal was."
"Not if I could prove that the solution was correct?"
"That might be a different matter, of course."
"It would prove your astuteness, Mr. Delverton," said Quarles. "Mine would be only the spade work which any one can do when he has been told how. Perhaps you will let me explain in my own way, and I will go over the old ground as little as possible, since we three are aware of the main facts and the investigations which originally took place. First, then, the manner of Mr. Farrell's death. Now, since he was found in his own private office, sitting at his own desk, with a tumbler beside him, it is evident that if he did not commit suicide it was intended that it should appear as if he had done so. To believe it a case of suicide is the simplest solution. He could enter the office by the side door at his will, he could poison himself there at his leisure, and it would never occur to him to imagine that any one would afterwards suspect he had met his death in any other way. The one thing missing is the motive. The only person even to suggest that Farrell had looked worried was the junior clerk, Small, and his uncorroborated opinion does not count for much. Besides, his affairs were in order, and he was about to be married. You must stop me, Mr. Delverton, if I make any incorrect statements."
"Certainly. So far you have merely repeated what every one knows."
"Except in one minor particular," said Quarles. "I lay special emphasis on the desire of some one to show that it was a case of suicide. If we deny suicide this becomes an important point, for we have to enquire when and how the poison was administered. Did Farrell at some time before midnight bring some one back to the office with him? For what purpose was he brought there? How was the poison administered? We have evidence that it was not drunk out of the glass on the table, no trace of poison being found, and we can hardly suppose that Farrell would swallow a tablet at any one's bidding. Since there was an evident desire to make it appear a case of suicide, we should expect to find traces of poison in the glass; it would have made it appear so much more like suicide. But we are denying that it was suicide, so we are forced to the conclusion that some one was present with Farrell in the office, and also that the somebody ought to have allowed traces of the poison to remain in the glass. That innocent tumbler is a fact we must not lose sight of. You see, Mr. Delverton, I am not working along quite the same line as the original investigation took."
"No; and I am very interested. Still, I think a man might take a tablet were it offered by one he looked upon as a friend. It might be for headache."
"Did Mr. Farrell suffer from headaches?" Quarles inquired.
"Not that I am aware of. I am only putting a supposititious case."
"Ah, but we are bound to stick to what we know, or we shall find ourselves in difficulties," the professor returned. "Now, I understand that when you left the office that evening only two of the clerks were there, and they left the office together about ten minutes afterwards. The junior clerk we may dismiss from our minds, but Kellner merits some attention. It appears that his subsequent movements that evening are accounted for; still, it is a fact that he directly profited by Mr. Farrell's death. Shortly afterwards he became a partner in the firm."
"He had no reason at the time to suppose he would be a partner," said Delverton.
"And would not have become one but for Farrell's death, I take it?"
"He might. It is really impossible to say. Left alone, I took in Kellner because he was the most competent man I knew. I may add that I have not regretted it."
"Had the detective who had the case in hand known that Kellner was to become a partner, he would undoubtedly have given him more attention," said Quarles. "He does not seem to have discovered that Kellner was in financial straits at the time."
"Was he?" said Delverton.
"I have found that it was so," I answered.
"I am surprised to hear it; but, after all, a clerk's financial difficulties—" And he laughed as a man will who always thinks in thousands.
"We come to another person who profited by Farrell's death, Dr. Morrison," said Quarles. "He married Miss Lester not long afterwards. It is known that he was friendly, or apparently friendly, with his rival, for such Farrell was, although he may not have been aware of the fact; and, curiously enough, Morrison called at the office in Austin Friars on the fatal day, and wanted to see Farrell an hour or so after he had left."